The Protestant Missions — September 3, 2010 at 9:58 pm

William Elliot Griffis (September 17, 1843 – February 5, 1928)


Photograph of William Elliot Griffis and his class of Japanese students

In the early part of 1871, Mr. W. E. Griffis (who afterwards wrote many well-known books upon Japan) went to Fukui as a teacher of English; and in the latter part of the same year Mr. E. W. Clark went in the same capacity to Shizuoka. Both of these gentlemen found opportunities for doing Christian work while in these interior cities. The contract that Mr. Clark was asked to sign did, indeed, contain a clause forbidding him to say anything about Christianity. “It was a great dilemma,” he says, “for I had spent all my money in coming to Japan and getting ready to go into the interior.” Some of his friends urged him to accept the condition, and the Japanese interpreter advised him to sign the agreement and then disregard it. He felt that a principle was at stake and stood firm, saying that unless the clause was struck out he must refuse to go.

“It is impossible,” he added, “for a Christian to dwell three years in the midst of a pagan people and yet keep silence on the subject nearest his heart.” His firmness triumphed, and the clause was struck out. He began a Bible class the very first Sunday he was in Shizuoka, and kept it up all the time he was there.

Nakamura Masanao (中村 正直?, 24 June 1832 – 7 June 1891) was a Japanese educator and leader of the Meiji Enlightenment in Meiji period. He also went by his pen-name of Nakamura Keiu. Born to a samurai family in Edo, Nakamura was originally a Confucian scholar. He was selected by the Tokugawa bakufu to study in Great Britain, where he mastered the English language.

Near the close of 1871, while the persecutions were still being directed against the Roman Catholics, a remarkable pamphlet was published by Mr. Nakamura Masanao, one of the best known teachers of Chinese in the country. It was written as though by a foreigner who, having spent some time in Japan, ventured to send a memorial to the Emperor. The writer begins by praising the liberal spirit shown by His Majesty’s Government in adopting various things that have come from foreign lands, but expresses regret that it still adhered to its severe laws against Christianity. His Majesty did not seem to be aware that the secret of the wealth and power of Western nations was in their religion.

“The industry, patience, and perseverance displayed in their arts, inventions, and machinery, all have their origin in the faith, hope, and charity of their religion. In general we may say that the condition of Western countries is but the outward leaf and blossom of their religion, and religion is the root and foundation on which their prosperity depends. Now Your Majesty’s subjects, pleased with the branches and foliage, wish to make them all their own; and try to imitate them. This is more ridiculous than the mimicry of apes, and it seems to me that it is a delusion to reject the very cause of the prosperity of these nations. When the heart and will are wrong, the words and conduct are also wrong; and when the root of a tree is bad, the branches and leaves are also bad. Does Your Majesty judge the Western religion to be evil? Then the Western nations must themselves be evil. And if those nations are corrupt, then their charitable and brave men are bad men, and the wonderful arts and inventions of those countries must be bad. So, too, all industry, patience, and vigour must likewise be evil. In that case the new laws which Your Majesty has introduced must be bad. The teachers employed in the schools for foreign learning are also bad men. The merchants from foreign lands who are permitted to trade in Japan are bad merchants. The telegraphs, steam-vessels, and steam-engines, and all such conveniences are bad things. Why does not Your Majesty command them all to be destroyed, the bad teachers to be expelled from the country, the bad merchants to be put to death, and the bad laws to be repealed? ”

The writer goes on to say that Japan will be despised by Western nations so long as it exhibits such unreasonable hatred of Christianity; and declares that Japan cannot make due progress without accepting that religion. He says : “So long as Your Majesty does not repeal the prohibitory laws against Christianity, however assiduously the nation may endeavour to acquire the arts and civil reforms of Europe, it can never attain to the true European civilisation; and Japan may be likened to a manikin with face and eyes, and hands and feet, but without a soul. Can the manikin vie with a living man in the civilities of social intercourse? If Your Majesty should at last desire to establish Christianity in Japan, he should first of all be baptised himself, and become the chief of the church, and be called the leader of the millions of his people. Should Your Majesty come to such a decision, how great will be the respect and love accorded to him by the sovereigns of Europe from that time forward I How the people of the Western countries will pray for his happiness !….. The praises of Japan will ascend to the heaven, and the voice of her admiration will reach to the uttermost parts of the earth.”

During the closing week of 1871, the missionaries in Yokohama united with several English-speaking residents in a series of prayer-meetings. These were continued through the Week of Prayer in January of the next year. Dr. Verbeck in writing of them says:  ”Some Japanese students connected with the private classes taught by the missionaries were present through curiosity or through a desire to please their teachers, and some perhaps from a tiny interest in Christianity. It was concluded to read the Acts in course day after day; and that the Japanese present might take part intelligently in the service, the Scripture of the day was translated extemporaneously into their language. The meetings grew in interest and were continued from week to week until the end of February. After a week or two the Japanese for the first time in the history of the nation, were on their knees in a Christian prayer-meeting, entreating God with great emotion, with the tears streaming down their faces, that He would give His Spirit to Japan as to the early church and to the people around the Apostles. These prayers were characterised by intense earnestness. Captains of men-of-war, English and American, who witnessed the scene, wrote to us: ‘ The prayers of these Japanese take the heart out of us.’ A missionary wrote that the intensity of feeling was such that he feared often that he would faint away in the meetings. Half a dozen perhaps of the Japanese thus publicly engaged in prayer; but the number present was much larger. This is the record of the first Japanese Prayer-meeting.

” As a direct fruit of these prayer-meetings, the first Japanese Christian church was organized at Yokohama on March l0th, 1872.

Mr. Ballagh, too, assisted by Mr. Ogawa and other brethren, was chiefly instrumental, under the divine blessing, in bringing about the organisation of this church. Mr. Ogawa was chosen as an elder and Mr. Nimura a deacon of the young church. The members gave their church the catholic name of ‘The Church of Christ in Japan and drew up their own church constitution, a simple evangelical creed, together with some rules of church government, according to which the government was to be in the hands of the pastor and elders, with the consent of the members.”

The substance of the first of these rules was: “Our church is not partial to any sect, believing only in the name of Christ in whom all are one, and believing that all who take the Bible as their guide, diligently studying it, are Christ’s servants and our brothers. For this reason all believers on earth belong to Christ’s family of brotherly love.” Mr. Ballagh acted as the first pastor of this church.

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