China’s first Protestant pastor repeatedly faced persecution and death since preaching the Gospel was a capital crime in China during most of his 40-year career. Liang Fa was born in 1789 to a poor farming family in a village southwest of Guangzhou. At age 15 he went to Guangzhou to find work, eventually becoming a printer’s apprentice. Robert Morrison arrived in Guangzhou in 1807 as the first Protestant missionary to China, and his colleague William Milne followed six years later. Since direct evangelism was prohibited by law, they primarily focused on translation work and on producing tracts and other literature. Liang Fa began to work with Morrison in 1813, and two years later Morrison sent him to Malacca to work with Milne as a printer. Liang Fa had initially been very hostile to the gospel, but he came to see it had a power not found in the traditional religions he had tried, a power that could deliver him from the bondage of sin. Liang Fa came to Christ under Milne’s ministry and was baptized by him on November 3, 1816, less than two years after Morison had baptized the first mainland Chinese Protestant Christian, Cai Gao (蔡高弟兄). In 1819 Liang Fa returned to his home village to marry and to preach the Gospel to his people. He saw his new wife come to Christ the following year, and they had a long and happy marriage despite many separations. His preaching led to beatings and fines, and finally he fled to Malacca to rejoin Milne, leaving his young wife behind. Milne died in 1822, and Liang Fa retuned to Guangzhou where he studied under Morrison and was ordained by him in 1823. Morrison died in 1834, and Liang Fa was forced to flee to Singapore later that year after being arrested for distributing tracts at Imperial Examination sites. The ban on preaching the Gospel was finally lifted in 1845, and for most of the rest of his life, Liang Fa worked as an evangelist in two Christian hospitals in Guangzhou. His wife went to be with the Lord in 1849 and he joined her in 1855 at age 66.
Liang Fa preached the gospel and distributed tracts to many thousands when the soil in China was very rocky, but the few thousands who became Christians then have multiplied to millions in the century and a half since his death. He wrote more than twenty commentaries and tracts, the most famous being Good Words to Admonish the Age. Although it was misused by leaders of the Taiping Rebellion, this work was a true blessing to many thousands of others. Prof. P. Richard Bohr has written, “Good Words is the most complete statement of Protestant doctrine by a Chinese during the first half of the nineteenth century.” In addition, Two Friends was a tract published by Milne when he and Liang Fa worked together in Malacca. Prof. Daniel Bays has described it as “the most famous of all nineteenth century Christian tracts” in China and estimates that as many as two million copies may have been distributed. Liang Fa’s role in its writing is not clear, but since it was published only five years after Milne arrived in China with an unusual appeal to the Chinese heart, these circumstances bespeak significant assistance from someone like Liang Fa.
[A]lthough in the age in which we live we may not see the results, yet we may leave that on record which will transmit the true principles of the Gospel to others, in the hope of converting men of succeeding generations.
Chinas First Preacher Liang A-Fa. George Hunter McNeur (Oxford University Press, China Agency, 1934), p. 46.