Born a Jewish lad in Bavaria, Germany, in 1796, Joseph Wolff, at the age of thirteen, embraced the Christian faith and was cast out by his family. Always seeking knowledge, he became one of the most learned men of his time. Not only did he have a knowledge of twenty-seven languages, in addition to many dialects, but he was a scholar in the sacred literature of Jews, Mohammedans, and Christians.
In 1831, the same year that William Miller began to preach, Joseph Wolff set out for a journey to Bokhara in the heart of Asia. It was very wild country, with a savage king. When they were about half way to Bokhara, his companions came to him and said: “Hadji Wolff [hadji means holy man], we are now coming to a very dangerous city, the city of Burchund. They will never allow a Christian within its walls. If they discover one, they will put him to death. Yet we must pass through Burchund to go to Bokhara.”
They decided that they would time their arrival to enter the city just as the gates were closing at sundown. If they were careful, they believed that they could stay at an inn, leaving in the morning as soon as the gates opened without attracting any attention.
The next morning they left the city without incident, believing that they had safely passed the city and that all danger was past; but this was not the case. Though Wolff had kept in the background, though he was dressed like all of those around him and could speak the language, there is something that Christians cannot hide; in their language and actions, they are like Jesus.
Someone suspected Wolff; and after he had left, this person went to the ameer, the ruler of the city, and told him: “Do you know that there was a Christian dog within the city of Burchund this night? He is on his way to Bokhara, and has left unpunished.”
The ameer immediately sent armed horsemen to bring Joseph back. By the end of the day, they had overtaken Wolff. Dragging him from his horse, they forced him to walk all of the way back to Burchund. When they arrived, Wolff, bruised and worn, was given no rest. The ameer called his counselors around him in his council chamber. They brought Wolff in, and standing him before them, began asking questions.
“What is your name?”
“It is Joseph Wolff.”
“Where do you come from?”
“I come from the great kingdom of England.”
“How far is that?”
“In a direct line, through Constantinople and then by land, it is seven thousand miles; but as I have come, it is fifteen thousand miles.”
“And where do you go?”
“I go to the kingdom and city of Bokhara.”
“For what purpose?”
“I go to find my people, the Jews, and to carry to them the glorious message of a soon-coming Saviour, even Jesus Christ the mighty, Who shall bring judgment to the good and the evil and restore all things in perfectness, as at the beginning.”
The ameer, astonished that anyone would confess Christ when such a confession meant death, exclaimed in amazement, “You are a Christian, then?”
Wolf replied, “I am a humble follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Still more amazed, the ameer asked, “Why do you mind what they believe in Bokhara? Why do you not stay at home with your family, eat, drink, and be merry?”
To this Wolff replied, quoting first a Mohammedan poet: “Sadi says, ‘The world, O brother, remains not to anyone. Fix therefore thy heart on the Creator of the world, and it shall be well with thee.’ I have found out by the reading of this Book, and he held out his Bible, that one can bind one’s heart to God only by believing in Jesus; and believing this, I am like one who walks in a beautiful garden and smells the odor of the roses and hears the warbling of the nightingales; and I do not like to be the only one so happy. Therefore I go about the world inviting others to walk with me arm in arm in that same beautiful garden.”
When they heard this, all the room rose as one man, clapping their hands and crying, “A holy man! A holy man! Drunk with the love of God! Sit down! Read to us from your Book.”
Suddenly, by the wisdom of the reply that God had given him, Wolff’s state was changed from that of a prisoner about to be condemned to death as a “Christian dog,” to that of an honored guest.
Wolff opened his Bible to Isaiah and to the Gospels and read to them the prophecies and stories of Jesus: how He was born a babe in Bethlehem while the shepherds watched and the angels sang; how as He grew up He went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; how wicked men took Him and slew Him upon the cross on Calvary, but God raised Him from the dead on the third day; how He ascended to heaven, where He now sits on the right hand of the throne of God, soon to come as a glorious King and bring his reward to the faithful and His judgment to the wicked. At last, overcome with weariness, he could go on no longer.
They then asked him if he had any more Books like the one from which he was reading. “Oh, yes,” Wolff replied, “I have many of them.” He sent his servant, who returned with armloads of books. Wolff gave a Bible to all of the men in the room, who were, perhaps, the only men in the whole city who could read.
They then said to him, “Hadji, Wolff, you cannot leave us now. You must stay with us and teach us.” For two whole weeks Wolff stayed with them and taught them. When at last he said that he must go on his journey, they brought him in honor to the gate of their city, the ameer and all of his chief men accompanying him, to bid him farewell. They loaded him with gifts; and as he departed they cried; “God go with you! Allah be with you, Hadji Wolff. You came to us. We thought that you were an enemy, but God has shown us that you are our friend; for you are a man who is drunk with the love of God!”