H. A. (Herbert Alfred) Birks.

The life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore online

. (page 30 of 46)
Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 30 of 46)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

a doorway to escape observation, Mahmood by name. I had a
little private chat vnth him in the best Arabic I could command.

Yesterday I turned my little sitting-room here into a chapel,
and had ten worshippers — prayers, sermon (Bom. vi. 5), and
Holy Communion, to which seven stayed, mostly Presby-
terians, whom I could not possibly exclude. These dear, good
American missionaries and professors will sit much nearer to the
Lamb at His supper table, I believe, than I shall, and I should
blush, if admitted there, to think that I had warned them off
the eucharistic table on earth.

^ Mr. and Mrs. Worsley 's work among the Druses has recently been
banded over by them under a trust to Bishop Blytb.

Digitized by



The young sheikh with whom I stay still, comes to read the
Bible. There is much good and hopeful in him. I told him the
other day if he and I could build a church together on the Lebanon,
and he be trained in England for the diaconate at St. Augustine's
or elsewhere, what good might come all over these Lebanon heights.
I fear he is still far from the kingdom of Grod, though the Saviour
might speak differently of him.

Mrs. Mott and her sister called two days since. I am trying to
help her a little as out of my reduced means I am able, but India
drains most of what I can spare. My quiet manner of life with
a dragoman who waits and cooks, and a poor widow who cleans
dishes — one dish it is generally — helps me to have a little balance
for these causes.

Such a synod as that of Lambeth is really of historical interest
in Church annals. I do hope we shall lie very low in grateful
acknowledgement before Him who has raised the beggar from
the dunghill to such a throne of glory. I often think of Saul's
rebuke, * When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not
head of the tribes of Israel ? ' I think the archbishop wishes to
keep us humble and sensible of being entrusted with a most
solemn and critical charge.

One of the most famous young Oxonians spent the day with
me at Miss Smith's, near Dair-ul-Kamar. Mr. Margoliouth. He is
doing much what I am, throwing his heai-t into Arabic studies,
and I think really interested in the Eastern Churches

Good Mrs, Mott would have my photograph taken here at
Beyrout in my episcopal garb. So I have sent you the only one
likely ever to exist after this fashion. It represents me, as usual,
half asleep, which, in spite of my various faults, is perhaps scarcely
the most notable one, any more than with any other of the
Frenches and Valpys. . . . The thistles of Lebanon are among
its most beautiful flowers, thorny as they are. It helps one to
understand why the thistle that was in Lebanon was so elated as
to write to the cedar that was in Lebanon, * Give thy daughter to
my son.'

From Aitat the bishop went up higher to Brumana,
which he thus described in a letter to his sister, Mrs.
Sheldon, August i8, 1888 :—

*I have been over a week in my new residence. . . . Very
little English is talked here, only I have not quite so much work
among the Druses as I had. I am further up in the hills, and in
pine groves partly, instead of the figs and mulberries. Maronites
and Greek Christians predominate, with the ubiquitous Eomans
also, who have a large girls' school and foundling hospital in
Binimana ; and on a mountain seven miles off, to which I walked
yesterday, partly riding on a donkey I picked up of the fine
mountain breed, I found a large monastery and school of

Digitized by



Franciscan monks, with whom I lunched and told them of my
work in India. The only Protestants here are "Friends," with
whom I stayed two days last week. They have some English
lady teachers of that sect. . . . The head of the [Friends'] schools
was King Theodore's prisoner in Abyssinia, and had a marvellous
deliverance on Lord Napier's arrival at Magdala, the chiefs all
burning to be allowed to massacre them, and only the king pro-
tecting them and sending them to the British camp. He was
sent by Bishop Gobat to Abyssinia, but seems to have fallen
among "the Friends" in England and adopted their tenets. . . .
I have four little rooms in a small paved courtyard, part of it
pillared colonnade fashion, with festoons of vines above, and a few
clusters hanging through a grating ; facing me hills, beautifully
grouped and crowned with churches and monasteries, with the
sea-expanse beyond. It would have been difficult to find a spot better
suited to the purpose I had in view— of rest, with a moderate
amount of work to do. On a teri'ace in front of the one door
which shuts in all my little couii and its primitive cottages, I sit
in the evening sometimes, and men and children gather round,
and I read out of the Bible to them.

'Immediately adjoining my lodgings is a solidly-built new
Greek church, where I attended a rather interesting funeral
one day. The whole of the congregation must have been assem-
bled. The corpse was of a young man of twenty-two years, of
good family, who had a young widow and babe surviving.
He was laid in a bed in the centre of the church, with face
uncovered, and many pressed around to kiss him, and cover him
with flowers amid sobs and tears, while the four priests in a row
sang or monotoned the prayers. When this was over there was
quite a scene of bitter wiuling. Then the coffin was brought in,
and the corpse was laid in it, and a few nails driven in to fasten it.
Then it was carried out to the adjoining cemetery, the four priests
going before. I suppose the service lasted an hour and a half.'

To Mrs. French. ,^ „, ^

I have been gaining much help from the Life of St Vincent de
Paul, It has comforted me much under present uncei-tainties.
A passage I copied out this morning seemed just what I wanted.

^Son humility le poi-tait toujours h se d^fier de ses propres
lumi^res, et une de ses maximes etait de ne se point ingerer de
soi-mdme dans les desseins de Dieu : il se contentait d'invoquer le
Saint-Esprit, en attendant qu'il lui plCit faire connaitre ce qui lui
serait le plus agreable.'

For both of us such words seem very appropriate and helpful.
I should like to be found worthy of a little more missionary work
before my course is ended, but I feel I must patiently abide in the
Lord and wait for His good pleasure. He has been so good to us
in time past that it would be a sin to doubt His loving care for

T 2

Digitized by



us. ... If the Archbishop of Canterbury had an unlimited
number of clergy (like the Pope), whom he could send to spread
the more perfect Gospel, both of truth and unity, evangelical
doctrine and church order, it would seem as if this was just the
time, but our missions are too often feebly manned. . . . Our
bishops would do more to fix and establish men but for the
extreme Low party, which is always threatening them with pro-
secutions, and abusing all order and discipline as mere Roman
innovation, and savouring of the harlot. Certainly Bome is the
Church's * great mystery,' as the Eevelation represents it, with its
unaccountable mixture of good and evil.

To Mbs. Sheldon.

Brumana, September 10.
What could the good Archbishop of York mean in his synodical
sermon by saying that the slopes of Lebanon were barren, and its
ancient orchards, vineyards, and olive-gardens waste ? The whole
of Lebanon, except where rocky heights of vast depth forbid
blasting and turfing over, is a sheet of rich green vegetation !
... I cannot help thinking that our Church has in the future
a path of special usefulness chalked out for it, in the reviving and
evangeb'zing of these Eastern Churches, in following out which it
will, I trust, never look with scornful and jealous indifference on
the grand and signally successful efforts made so long by the
American Presbyterians in particular, and their grand system of
high schools. ... I think you seem to understand my position
here better than most. It is a genuine post of work entrusted to
me by Bishop Blyth, as one of his clergy put in charge of Lebanon

work. I should scarcely be happy otherwise. Some of 's

friends seem to have expressed themselves to the effect that
I ought to undertake some definite post of duty at once ! As if
my nine or ten hours a day of hard work were mere idling or
self-pleasing ! The fact is, I don't like always talking about what
I am doing, or my life here would tell a different story with its
missionary visits to the villages and to the monasteries, with many
visits received in my own house, all of which (except the English
work on Sunday) have to be in a strange and difficult tongue.
This of course is not all I could wish, as I speak and under-
stand the tongue but imperfectly, still it does not make the work
less definite, or less befitting my position here, I trust. If my
strength is spai*ed for visiting and examining the other large
schools I propose to see before Christmas, I think the year will
not have been one of the least fully occupied or most uselessly.

To Cykil.

Brumana, September 22.
The people here are mostly friendly and blithe-hearted, but
somewhat shallow and superficial in their moral and religious

Digitized by



views, and to touch their hearts seems hard, as the sense of sin
is sorely deficient. Kepentance and conversion is all very well
for Jews and Druses, they seem to think, but for baptized Chiis-
tians, who have a priest to have recourse to for services and for
visits in sickness, such ideas are irrelevant However, as the
Bible becomes more circulated amongst them, and Protestant
schools more spread, they will be gradually enlightened, I trust,
the laity in advance of the priests, who are not reached much by
the Americans. The Bomans, and the various bodies in submis-
sion to the Pope, such as the Maronites, Greek Catholics, Syrian
Catholics and others, do their best of course to keep the word of
God out, but as St. Paul says, *The word of God is not bound,'
and it finds its way in spite of them into some homes and hearts ;
I hope into many.

The Protestants appear to me to lack a high tone of moi-al
elevation and of devout prayerfulness and self-devotion, making
religion to consist too much in correct notions of doctrine as to
justification, and in resisting all ntual, sacerdotal, sacramental
notions as abominations. The temperate views of our Church on
these subjects, with its moderate, solemn, searching ritual, and
reverent, devout, quiet spirit, encouraging so much the soul's
breathing after holiness and close imitation of Christ, seem to be
just what is wanted to bring the Bible home to the heart and life
in the power of the blessed Spirit, for which it witnesses so
sacredly and steadily and with such vivid reality. Both Home
and Geneva will do what they can to prevent the entrance of the
Church of England and its influences, and it may not be God's
will that we should find admission at present.

I try and thread my way about these rocky pathways amid
vines and mulberries to the villagea We sit on the rocks and
have a talk together, but the priests look after me pretty sharply,
so I have to act warily and make no demonstration. Yesterday
I got to a village three miles off on the road to Sineen, the loftiest
of the Lebanon heights. I got a little company of children and
elders about me, and was emptying my pockets of their contents
of Testaments, when two Boman priests and a deacon, very
gentlemanly and fairly courteous men, came up to see what I was
about, so there is an end of my work for that afternoon, as they
see me safely out of the village before they say ' Good night.'
However, I had a little Arabic converse with the people before
they discovered me. I get a pretty good number of visits from
the people round me, which are generally ended by a little
Bible reading, so I seem in some small measure to have got
back to my old missionary lines of work, and shall be glad
if God allows me to see this door open again before me, and
no man to shut it. I feel I must no more seek any great
things for myself, but be content with small and humble spheres
of duty.

Digitized by



To Mrs. Kxox.

Brumana, October 4.

I am almost sorry to be leaving Lebanon, as it has yielded me
to some considerable extent the place of solitude and retreat
I craved so long and felt so needful. ... I have never had before
such an opportunity for witnessing against Rome, and testifying
to the great Eeformation doctrines of our Church. It grieves me
to see the pall of darkness, which the Chui-ch of Rome seems
labouring to spread over all these lands, though its sisterhoods are
working as usual with extreme devotion, and sowing much seed
that would be most precious, if it were not grievously blighted by
Mariolatry and bitter opposition to the spread of the Bible. The
priests are notorious in these lands for their Bible-burning.
They have watched most jealously and resolutely my efforts to
circulate the Bible in these Lebanon villages around Brumana.
... In my walks I usually carry my coat on my arm, its pockets
full of Testaments and children's books, which said pockets always
return empty, or nearl]^ so.

I speak Arabic better, but am far as yet from undei*standing
freely the vulgar dialect, especially when spoken by the women,
whose rapidity of utterance beats me rather distressingly. How-
ever, each month one gets one rung of the ladder higher in this
also, and I have six more months at any rate, please God, before
I turn my steps direct homewards.

The pines on the Lebanon seem to me the most graceful trees
I have ever seen. I can't help thinking of them as the ladies of
the vegetable world. Such attractiveness is there in theii* forms,
rich colours of leaf and bark, and even their gestures and delicacy
of bend on the hillnsides — a complete picture of sweetness and
dignity. The bold way in which the hills throw out their strong
rocky roots, b'ke massive buttresses, cannot but remind one of the
striking prophetic image, ' For He shall cast forth His roots like

I should like to have been able to traverse the loftier heights,
which are full of remains of old pagan and Phoenician temples of
Baal, records of the degrading yet doubtless beautiful and bewitch-
ing Thammuz worship, towards which the people of Israel were
constantly being beguiled, and against which the prophets of God,
as Jeremmh, Ezekiel, and Hosea, protested so manfully.

The Syrians are a very imaginative, poetic, dramatic sort of
people, and one can well understand how their mystic and romantic
rites of heathenism, which tried to be in such close sympathy
with nature and its changeful seasons, its charms of storm and
sunshine, death and revival, had a grievously magical effect on
God's own Church in the East when its heart fell away. I hope
to see a little more of the Mohammedans of Syria and also of the
British Syrian schools during my journey, besides visits to some
few of the holy places. . . •

Digitized by



The bishop had intended to go first to Damascus, but the
illness of his dragoman Hadoori, whom he had to leave in
hospital at Beyrout, determined him to change his plan
and accept an invitation from Mr. Hall, of Jaffa, to take
part in a missionary conference there in November. The
rest, the extracts from his letters will make clear.

To Mrs. French.

Mar Elias, Monasteiy on Mount Carmel, near HaifFa, Oct. 23.
This monastery of Carmelite fathers is of ancient foundation,
and stands on a projecting height of Carmel about 200 feet above
the bay of Haiffa. I preferred coming up here to staying on the
seashore at a German hotel, partly for economy's sake, and partly
because of the rather stifling heat below at this season. All is
delightfully clean, and the fare, though somewhat meagre, is
sufficient, and the fathers tolerably civil. They have spacious
grounds all round the convent, and eke out of the rocky soil all
they can for olive and fig plantations. One of them is a Belgian
monk, an old Indian missionary, of eighty years of age, I should
think, decrepit and worn : he says he will often pray for me that
we may meet in heaven. The library has nothing to boast of in
the way of precious and antique treasures, as sixty years ago the
monks were massacred, and their buildings burnt, and their
possessions have been slowly recovered and held by precarious
tenure. There is a tomb of the Fi-ench sick and wounded, who
were left by Napoleon at Acre and massacred by the Turkish
troops in their hospital with their attendant monks. Our Lady of
Carmel is a great object of worship here, and attracts pilgrims
from all over Europe. Underneath the house is a grotto of
Elijah the prophet, where he is said to have resided, and which
is visited once a year by crowds of Druses and Moslems, all of
whom regard him with awe, and an oath taken by the prophet
Elijah is held most sacredly binding.

To Mrs. Moulson.
Nazareth, Galilee, Holy Land, Oct 26.
It is not often that one is privileged to give such an address as
the one with which I head this letter. ... It is indeed a wonder-
ful place to look upon from the heights which hem it in and form
a setting to the rich jeweL On every knoll almost is some Cbris^
tian church, Greek, Boman, Maronite, English or other. The
Latin is said to be on the site of the synagogue from which that
first most gracious sermon was preached in Nazareth. Almost all
over the slopes, which form the circular basin or concavity, are
built white houses, seldom in streets or rows of buildings, but

Digitized by



each in its distinct little courtyard, too glaring in their whiteness
in full sunlight, but lovely doubtless under shadow or clouds or
at sunset, not hovels nor yet palaces, but mostly of moderate

I could not find any inn or caravanserai, but I remembered the
name of one of the C. M. S. native schoolmastei-s here, so to his
house I resorted, and was pressed to occupy two rooms. . . . He
talks English, but I laid an embargo the first minute on all lan-
guage but Arabic, and I heard his examination of three classes in
Scripture this morning, so I hope to use well these five or six days
for adding to my stock in this wonderful tongue. A little fawn-
coloured dove is the companion of my studies, pacing the room
in fearless freedom, and reminding me of the Descent at the holy

It took me seven hours to reach this in a carriage from Haiffa
at the north foot of Mount Carmel, with a bright view of Acco or
Acre in the distance. The promontory beyond it of Kas Nakoor
prevents Tyre from being Visible. . . . Every grand historical scene
and every fine natural position, whether surpassing height or cool
grotto, is fought for by Bomans and Greeks, and the Bomans
usually bear off the laurels of triumph. The most despised is the
poor Church of England, of which it might be said, * This is Zion,
which no man seeketh after.'

To have as yesterday, the heights of Carmel, the Mediterranean,
the great stretch of the Esdraelon valley, and the first sight of
Nazai-eth, made a day of unique privilege, indeed not soon to be

To Mbs. Sheldon.

Nazareth, Festival of SS. Simon and Jude, Oct 28.

. . . Winding round by many curvatures of hill and dale, at
length one has the surprise of finding oneself within the outskirts
of the village itself, which by this entrance unfolds itself very
gi'adually from behind clefts which partly conceal it The views
of the whole basin, in the heart of which and up two sides of
which the little town is built, are best obtained from the opposite

I was not prepared to find anything so unique and remarkable
in its conformation, as is the place whose name has rung in men's
eara and stirred men's hearts with such varied emotions ever since
the blessed Saviour, Jesus the Prophet of Nazai'eth of Galilee, was
brought up there, and nursed those high and heavenly thoughts
and inspired words, which have healed so many broken hearts,
and lifted so many from earth" to heaven, and helped to make the
worn and withered world new again. . . .

I got up before daylight this morning to pay a visit to the early
services at both the rival grottoes of the Annunciation. The Latin
was the more largely attended, but the whole service was simply

Digitized by



a succession of masses, perfonned in an inaudible monotone, at
which the Arab congregation looked on in silence ; no sermon or
scripture-reading, or response. . . . The Greek service was a little
more audible. The Greek bishop on his throne looked lofty and
solemn enough, but there is no preaching there I am told, except
it be at some great and scarce festivals.

I got back by 7.30 and got ready for our Church of England
service at 9 a.m., at which I had promised to preach, partly in
English by interpreter, and partly (as I now am able) in not very
perfect Arabic. ... I shall count it a matter of thankful praise
I trust through life that I was allowed to make this venture amid
the scenes of our Lord's first entrance on His ministry. The
church was really well filled, the men largely preponderating
over the women, and they bore most kindly with nearly an hour's
sermon on Kev. xxiL 12, 13, in which I compared the double
character of this last sermon of the risen Lord, as regards gracious
invitation on the one hand, and solemn, terrible warning on the
other, with the same double character of his first sermon at

To Mrs. French.

Nazareth, Oct, 29.

I have just returned from a visit to Miss Adams and her
beautiful school, nobly and grandly housed on one of the loftiest
heights, fifteen of which, says Dean Stanley, shut Nazareth in
as the lips of a chalice or basin. The basilica-like character of the
place struck me at once. How Miss Dickson, the first lady prin-
cipal, managed to build for herself a Windsor Castle like this on
the heights of a Mohammedan town I am at a loss to divine, and
to shut it in with such fortress walls as only an artilleiy force of
72-pounders, or a sharp shock of earthquake, would seem likely to

The Beyrout schools of the same kind are either Latin or
Presbyterian. The latter were secured by adroitly using the
influence of the Prince of Wales, when he visited Beyrout, to
request permission to build them ; and the Latins stay them-
selves on French statesmanship, and the incessant intrigues
and wiles of the Jesuits. Here for once the Church of Eng-
land has asserted itself, and is regarded of course with great

I addressed the school of about eighty young Syrian ladies \ as
yesterday, partly in Arabic and partly in English, from Heb. vi.
and its lessons. The bright and eager answers of the children
quite surprised me.

I managed the walk this afternoon to Cana with Mr. Ewing.
. . . Cana can hardly be what it once was, being now composed
of small huts of loose stones and mud for mortal-, and only two

^ Rather orphan girls.

Digitized by



or three buildings at all noticeable, chiefly the Greek and Latin

The Greek priest, with whom we sat half an hour, lives in
a very homely way. He was interested about India, and wanted
to know the subject of my sermon yesterday, so we had the
gospel brought and talked over a part of Rev. xxiL He would
not hear at all of the rival Cana a few miles off, and I think the
old tradition on this head is fairly reliable.

To Basil.

Mahrakah, or Place of Burning, i.e. of the sacrifice offered by
Elijah on the tap of Carmel in sight of the Mediterranean.
Oct 31 (Eve of festival of All Saints).

I thought it was well worth while turning aside six hours or so
from the straight route between Nazareth and Shechem in order
to see the scene of this great historical event, the victory of the
prophet of fire over Jezebel and the prophets of Baal. Few
battlefields of the world can be so really glorious in their results
and rich in impressive lessons. . . .

To a little congregation of Druses up here I have been trying
to give a simple gospel sermon in Arabic, and with more freedom
than I could achieve before except in the sermon in the English
chuixsh at Nazareth. It is not often such a text is afforded as the
sight of Nazareth in the distance, with its remembrances of the
gracious and comfortable preaching of the Nazarene, as compared
with the condign and terrible severity exercised by the prophet of

Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 30 of 46)