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Solomon Ginsburg

Solomon GinsburgMany years ago in a Polish village a rabbi's boy of thirteen years was listening to the discussions of the learned Talmudists gathered in his father's home. He happened to open at the 53rd chapter of Isaiah in the Old Testament before him. Noticing on the margin the scribbled remark, "To whom does the prophet refer?" he passed on the question, innocently enough, to his father. The latter looked up in surprise. A profound quiet seemed to come over the group. When the question was repeated, the father snatched the book from the boy's hand and deliberately slapped his face.

Years passed. The boy, now man-grown, emigrated to the London East End. One Sunday afternoon he was accosted on the street by a Jewish Christian who asked him if he would not like to have the 53rd chapter of Isaiah explained to him. Indeed he would! He recalled the rebuff of his boyhood days. So he listened to the explanation and later read the New Testament, was convicted of its truth, confessed Christ, and as a consequence, was driven from home with curses, broomsticks, and hot water.

When the community in Poland heard of his apostasy, they sent a delegation of graybeards to convince him of his wickedness. Finding, him immovable, they proceeded to disinherit and excommunicate him. "Cursed be he by day, cursed by night: cursed when standing and cursed when lying down; cursed when eating and cursed when drinking" and so on through a long formula. His heart sank within him, but it was for a moment only. Suddenly he saw the Lord upon the cross with outstretched arms and over the cross the words in shining letters, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13), and his heart was filled with joy.

Later his brethren according to the flesh proceeded to make real the spoken curse. When addressing open-air meetings in East London he was attacked, thrown down, and kicked until nearly dead. When he came to himself, he was in a garbage box, skull cracked, and body covered with bruises. On another occasion he was invited to a shoe factory to speak to Jewish workingmen. The invitation, however, was but a trap to destroy him. When he entered the room, there was a general uprising. The Jewish shoemakers rushed on him with hammers, knives, and lasts and threw him down a spiral staircase with the deliberate intention of killing him. But he caught the railing as he fell and escaped by sliding astride the banister.

This indomitable convert to Christ was Solomon Ginsburg. He went later to Dr. Guinness' Harley House, East London, to prepare for foreign work and when a favorable opening came, dedicated himself, to the evangelization of Brazil. For over thirty years he served the Lord with ceaseless devotion and wonderful success in that vast land.

Why did he give himself to the evangelization of Roman Catholics? Because he believed the Roman Church to be the great hindrance to the evangelization of both Jew and Gentile, and not the least of the Jew. "If there is one thing that is drilled into a young Jewish heart," he wrote in his autobiography, "it is hatred of idol-worship. I can never forget an incident that happened as I was once walking with my father through the streets of Warsaw. We were passing a Catholic church out of which a great number of people were coming. He took me into the building and called my attention to multitudes kneeling and praying to an idol, in the form of a human body, that was stretched under the altar. He asked me if I remembered the Ten Commandments. I answered in the affirmative. He then asked me to repeat to him the second commandment and I did. Then he said: "These Christians affirm that theirs is the true religion; but you have sense enough to see how far they are from the truth."

So the converted Jew followed God's leading to Brazil—to Brazil by way of Portugal, for he stayed some months in the mother-country for language study. He soon mastered Portuguese, and with Jewish intensity started then and there on mission work. Though but a month in the land he had composed a tract in Portuguese, "Sao Pedro nunca foi papa" ("St. Peter was never a Pope"), and began selling copies on trains and in the streets. When three thousand had been disposed of he wrote a second, "The Religion of Rags and Bones," with severe animadversions on relics and idolatries. After he had sold a few hundred of these, he was warned that he had better leave the land. The Jesuits were preparing to imprison him. So he embarked for Rio de Janeiro, reaching the Brazilian metropolis in June, 1890.

Backing him at this time was no society. He was a colporteur making the barest living by selling Bibles and religious books. One day he sold a hundred copies of the Gospel of John to persons coming out of the Catholic church on Ouvidor Street. He was on hand in outlying towns on market days "putting my Jewish instinct for salesmanship" into action. At Cabo he sold out his stock on four successive Saturdays. On the fifth Saturday he noticed a crowd of rowdies making for him, clubs in hand, and led by the parish priest. He evaded them and took the train back to Pernambuco, selling Bibles all along the road and reaching home with satchel empty as usual. Today there is a splendidly organized Baptist church in Cabo.

He would go into the most dangerous quarters of Pernambuco with the gospel, into dens of thieves and cut-throats that even the police feared to enter. One of his converts of those days was a giant desperado, well named Herculano, whose profession was that of hired assassin for an influential politician. This man, after his conversion, became an earnest and quiet Christian. The apostle Paul might well be described as a wandering Jew in Asia Minor. A similar title Mr. Ginsburg gives himself in his vivid autobiography. His were Derbe and Lystra experiences in Brazil. For example:

The train took him on one occasion to Queimados, the terminal of the railway. It was Saturday and market day, with thousands of strangers in town. Gambling, drinking, and crime were the order of the day. Ginsburg set up his little Bilhorn organ in the most public part of the marketplace and started singing hymns. A crowd collected and began to throw coins to him, thinking that he was singing for money. This gave him his chance to tell them of a free gospel without money or price. All ears and hearts drank in the message as he developed it from point to point.

Later we find Mr. Ginsburg evangelizing in Campos, laying the foundation for the Baptist Church there. This now includes sixty organized self-supporting congregations with a membership of 8,000, together with 150 preaching places that in a decade will be self-supporting. In San Fidelio, a large town in the state of Campos, he was arrested and condemned to a dungeon, six by fifteen feet, into which were crowded forty criminals. Fortunately he was allowed to camp outside in the corridor during his incarceration. In the town of Nazareth he again narrowly escaped assassination. The local priest had arranged with a bandit to kill him while he was preaching in the open air. Ginsburg was informed of the conspiracy but stood to his guns and preached for two hours, giving the people not only the gospel but a straight account of the folly of purgatory, the confessional, and other Romish inventions. He was not once interrupted.

The hired desperado, it seems, had taken a drink to nerve him for his murderous task. This fortunately put him to sleep and when he awoke the meeting and his opportunity were both over. Later, strange to say, he was converted and with tears streaming over his cheeks, told the church the whole story of his engagement to murder. Years afterwards, when in the state police, this same man was sent to protect Mr. Ginsburg at Limoeirio, where a band of assassins were again threatening the evangelist's life.

Ginsburg was not the only one persecuted. Converts in all parts of Brazil also had to face fiery trials. Churches were burned, believers flogged, and at times their homes set on fire. Record is made of their being turned out of beds at night into their yards where masked ruffians, leather whips in hand, awaited them. "The believer—man, woman, or child, would be forced to pass through the line, while each ruffian would strike at the poor victim. Often these fell lifeless. At one farmhouse a woman was in a hammock with her week-old baby. The hammock was cut, the falling child killed, and the mother forced to pass through a double line, each man striking her almost naked body with all his strength."

When Solomon Ginsburg was converted in London he was cut off from his livelihood, and with other Jewish converts was given work in a press-room for his bare living expenses. This proved a valuable experience later, for it gave him the practical training that stood him in good stead when he took charge of the Baptist Mission Press in Brazil. Out from this press goes a constant stream of evangelical literature. One type of work is especially fruitful. The seven hundred and fifty prisons of Brazil are supplied with Testaments, hymnbooks, and other literature. The director of the Bahia penitentiary has officially reported to the government on the wonderful way it has told on the behavior of the prisoners. Thirty-five of them came each Sunday afternoon to the Bible class. Mr. Ginsburg wrote in 1922: "Every time I pass through the city of Bahia it is one of my great privileges to preach to the three hundred and fifty prisoners. One person converted in these meetings walked three hundred miles from Bahia to his home town just to tell relatives of the Lord's work in his soul."

In 1891 when Solomon Ginsburg joined the Baptist mission, there were two flourishing churches and a number of smaller churches and out-stations in the interior. By 1920 the number of churches had reached 820, with a total membership of 20,155. In this great advance the converted rabbi's son played an important part, so that some even single him out as the Apostle of Brazil. the first piece of property bought by the Baptist denomination in Brazil was the old Jesuit prison in Bahia where men in the past suffered long confinement for conscience' sake. The omen is a good one. Wherever the Jesuit is supplanted by the son of Israel who has seen Christ on the Damascus road, nobler and happier days are in store for that land.

From A Book of Protestant Saints by Ernest Gordon. Chicago: Moody Press, ©1946.

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