Henry Martyn was born in Cornwall, England in 1781. His father was a well-to-do businessman, and Henry grew up amid comforts. He proved intelligent, excelled in school, and went on to Cambridge, graduating with honors in mathematics. The writings of missionary David Brainard helped bring Martyn to Christian surrender, and he soon contemplated foreign missions.
“Let me forget the world,” he said, “and be swallowed up in a desire to glorify God.”
But he couldn’t forget Lydia Grenfell. Henry was deeply in love with Lydia, though she had no desire for Asian missionary service. A vicious war tore the young man apart. Should he go to India with God, or remain in England with Lydia? He awakened throughout the night, his mind full of Lydia. He called her his “beloved idol.” But, determined to do God’s will, he said a final goodbye and set sail.
At daybreak on May 16, 1805, Martyn went ashore at Calcutta and was met by William Carey who soon nudged him into translation work. Martyn lost himself in ministry, preaching, establishing schools, and translating the Bible into three Asian languages. All the while he brooded over Lydia. On July 30, 1806, after much deliberation, he wrote, proposing marriage. Letters traveled slowly, and a year passed before he received a reply. Lydia’s rejection hit the young man like a thunderbolt, and his health, always frail, began to falter. He wrote asking her to reconsider. She would not, though she agreed to correspond friend-to-friend.
In 1810 his Hindustani New Testament ready for the printer, Martyn traveled to Persia hoping to recover his health. By 1812 he had grown so weak that an overland trip to England seemed the only solution. It would also, he knew, bring him to Lydia. He set out but didn’t make it, dying en route at age 31. When his journal was opened, the name Lydia, like the droning of sad music, was found on almost every page. But Henry Martyn had fulfilled his objective in coming to India. He had been swallowed up in a desire to glorify God, and the New Testament was read in three new languages.
Please listen, God, and answer my prayer! I feel hopeless, And I cry out to you from a faraway land. Lead me to the rock high above me. Let me live with you forever And find protection under your wings, my God. (Psalm 61:1,2,4)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). May 16.