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Faber Studied Chinese Culture So He Could Share Christianity

He gave his life in work to convert the Chinese.

ERNST FABER lived the kind of life that colleagues would remember as “useful.” Born at Koberg, Germany in 1839, he determined early to become a missionary and entered the Seminary at Barmen before he was twenty. Not content with theological knowledge alone, he studied botany and zoology to widen his understanding. After six years of higher education, he sailed for China with the Rhenish Missionary Society. 

For many years he evangelized in Canton Province, establishing schools and providing medical assistance to the Chinese when he could. All the while, he studied the botany and zoology of China, and began producing valuable books in Chinese, English, and German. 

One of those, in Chinese, was Civilization—Chinese and Christian—still in print early in the twenty-first century. Fellow workers said that his Chinese commentaries on Mark and Luke were the best ever done in that language. 

In 1870, Faber became engaged, but his fiancée died in Germany before they could get married. He remained a lifelong bachelor, pouring his time and energy into his work. Eventually he worked almost exclusively on literary projects, convinced that the way to change the hearts of the educated class in China was through books. His decision seemed confirmed when he developed throat problems that made it increasingly difficult for him to speak.

 Faber believed in carrying the gospel to all lands simply because Christ commanded it. He spoke of this in a short book he published two years before his death, China in the Light of History. He was convinced that every missionary had to make a personal appropriation of the Christian life in order to shine forth as an example. He thought mission work would succeed best if Christians built on points of agreement between local cultures and Christian teachings. To this end he listed areas of agreement between Confucianism and Christianity, areas of antagonism, and areas in which Confucianism was deficient. One such area was its lack of understanding of sin and the need of a savior. 

Faber died of dysentery in Qingdao on this day, 26 September 1899. His remains were buried in a German cemetery there. 

After his death, a note was found among his papers, which read in part: “I wish to state that in joyful faith in Jesus Christ the Savior of all men, who has had mercy on me and prepared me by His Holy Spirit, I depart from this terrestrial world.”

Dan Graves

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For more on the impact of missionaries such as Faber on China, see Christian History #98 How the Church in China Survived and Thrived in the 20th Century

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