Walter Lowrie (1784-1868): Champion Of Presbyterian Missions -- By: Rob Hill

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 06:1 (Jan 2014)
Article: Walter Lowrie (1784-1868): Champion Of Presbyterian Missions
Author: Rob Hill


Walter Lowrie (1784-1868): Champion Of Presbyterian Missions

Rob Hill

On December 6, 1838, Walter Lowrie, the corresponding secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, stood behind the pulpit and addressed the large congregation gathered in the Brick Church, New York City. His task that day was to convey “farewell counsels” to John Mitchell and Robert Orr, the first missionaries sent to China by the Presbyterian Board. As he spoke, Lowrie expressed the urgent needs of this field of labor where one quarter of the earth’s population both lived and died without knowledge of the Savior. He also admitted the many difficulties— even life-threatening difficulties—the missionaries would surely face. However, as he drew near the close of his address, his voice spoke with conviction and hope: “Nothing can be more certain than that these efforts are in obedience to the Saviour’s commands; that this is His plan for the extension of His kingdom; that He is with His servants always, even unto the end; that His glory will be promoted by the heathen being brought into His fold; and, finally, that this is His work, and He will bring it to pass.”1 With these words of encouragement, these laborers were thrust into the fields “white unto harvest.”

Though largely forgotten today, Walter Lowrie was well known in his generation; in the nineteenth century, his name was synonymous with Presbyterian foreign missions. He served as the first corresponding secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, a position which he held from the board’s founding in 1837 to his retirement at eighty years of age in 1865. His life embodied the missionary spirit, both in his indefatigable zeal for Christ’s kingdom and in his own

personal sacrifice. His spirit motivated and inspired scores of Presbyterian missionaries who followed Christ’s last command in taking the gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth. Reflecting on the early days of the modern missionary movement in the nineteenth century, Robert Speer comments, “It has been true throughout that the missionary movement has been given its direction and has achieved its effects scarcely more through its agents on the field than through the men who have been its representatives and administrators at home.”2 As a champion of Presbyterian missions at home, Lowrie’s life deserves to be remembered today.

His Early Years

Walter Lowrie was born on December 10, 1784, in Edinburgh, Scotland, as the fifth child of John and Catherine Lowrie. When he was just eight years old,...

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