Calvin Wilson Mateer: A Biography

Jul 30, 2012 by

Here’s a wild little biography about someone you may never have heard about (at least I hadn’t!).  Calvin Wilson Mateer A Biography is the story of his forty-five years as a missionary in Shantung, China. Originally published in 1911, reading this is like stepping into a time machine. Calvin Wilson Mateer and his wife Julia Brown Mateer traveled to Dengzhou China in 1864 and served as a christian missionary in China for 45 years. In 1907 he translated the bible into Mandarin Chinese.

Here are a few paragraphs to give you a feel for this biography:  “The first body of native Christians with whose oversight he had anything to do was that very small band that had been gathered into the church at Tengchow. Mills was the senior missionary, and as such he presided over that little flock until his death. In 1867 he was installed as the pastor, and he continued in this office nearly twenty years. During this long period Dr. Mateer at times supplied the pulpit and cared for the church in Mills’s absence or illness, but for most of the time it was only as a sort of adviser that he could render help in that field.  We have no reason to think specially unfavorably of Chinese converts because some of those with whom he then had to do at Tengchow, or elsewhere, proved themselves, to him, to be a discouraging set of professing Christians. Were not a good many of Paul’s converts very much of the same grade when he traveled among the churches, and wrote his letters? Did it not take much patience, and Mercy, and persistence on the part of Christ to make anything worth while out of his select disciples? Yet these constituted the membership of the primitive church from which even the missionaries of our day have originated.

At any rate some of the earliest experiences of Dr. Mateer with the native Christians were of a very depressing sort. In his Journal, under date of March 17, 1864, he made this record: Since coming to Tengchow there have been great difficulties in the native church. Several of the members were accused by common fame of various immoral practices, one of smoking opium, another of lying and conforming to idolatrous practices, and another of breaking the Sabbath. The second of these confessed his fault, and was publicly reproved; the third also confessed, and on his profession of penitence was restored to the confidence of the church. But though the first confessed to the use of the ashes of opium, he gave no certain assurance of amendment; and he was suspended, and so remains. These matters gave us all a great deal of anxiety and sorrow of heart. It is sad thus to find that even those who profess the name of Christ are so much under the power of sin. It is one of the great discouragements of the missionary work. Yet God is able to keep even such weak ones as these unto eternal life. Under date of September 15, 1866, he told of a worse case of discipline: We had a hearing with the accused, and gave him notice that he would be tried, and of the charges and witnesses. We wrote to Mr. Corbett at Chefoo, to get depositions for us. He did so, and we met, and tried him. The evidence was sufficient to convict him of lying, and of forging an account, and of adultery; notwithstanding, he denied it all, endeavoring to explain away such evidence as he was forced to admit. We decided to excommunicate him, and it was done two weeks ago. It must not be supposed that there was a great deal of such discouraging work ; as a rule, the native Christians tried to live correct lives; and the worst that could be said of most of them at those early dates was that they were ‘babes’ in Christ. But we cannot appreciate what the missionary needs to do as to the professed converts unless we look at this depressing phase. Besides, incidentally we are thus shown one of the methods by which the native Christians were trained in the conduct of their own churches. Each case is dealt with just as is required by the regulations of the denomination with which the church is associated. The same formalities and processes are employed as if in the United States; the same fairness and fullness of investigation, with witnesses and hearing of the accused; and the same effort neither to fall below nor to exceed what justice and charity combined demand for the good of the individual and of the organization as a whole. As to this, in these particular cases no exceptional credit can be claimed for Dr. Mateer; but we can be perfectly sure that it commanded his hearty approbation. This was a practical school also in which was called into exercise a quality of which a young missionary, and especially a man of his type, seldom has enough, that of minghng a firm adherence to truth and righteousness with a forbearing kindness that will not break a bruised reed or quench the smoking flax. Gradually this became so characteristic of him that the boys in his school and the Christians in the churches were accustomed to come to him and unburden themselves not only of sorrows, but of faults, with no expectation that he would condone wrong or shield them from its just consequences, but confident that he would feel for them, and help them if he could. Nor was it to these classes alone that his heart and hands opened. As they came to know him better, the professor in the imperial university sought his advice and the coolie turned to him in his need ; and never in vain. But there was a brighter side to the experience of those early days. Several of the boys in the school were converted. What joy this afforded, we who live in Christian lands cannot appreciate. The little church at Tengchow also steadily moved forward in those early days of its history.”





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