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H. A. (Herbert Alfred) Birks.

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

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March 10. I thought, having been here a month, it was time
we should pay our respects to H. H. the Sultan of Muscat, a
nephew of the Sultan of Zanzibar, so I wrote to Colonel Mockler
to ask him to be so kind as to introduce us, and he readily
suggested that after breakfasting at the consulate this morning
we should accompany him to the palace (not a Windsor quite)
at 10 a. m. This accordingly was done. So after a pull across
a rather unpleasantly rolling sea we were kindly entertained at
the residency and made our call at the palace.

The sultan must be about thirty years of age, fairly pleasing and
dignified, courteous, too, and affable, not exactly striking in any
way. He was almost quite uneducated until about a year ago
he succeeded to his father's office. The apartment was very plain,
high above and facing the sea ; one ornamental sofa only, which-
the resident and myself occupied, the sultan occupying a solitary
chair and quite an ordinary one on the left, one minister of state
standing between us to translate, for H. H. does not know classical
and pure Arabic, never having learnt it, but only the rough vulgar
vernacular of Oman, which takes time to acquire. With his
ministers, who are scholars and highly educated, I could fairly
well hold converse. The sultan was so friendly as to offer me
one of his foi-ts to reside in! I am afraid it would not have
attracted you, else I might have given it a second thought. The
prime minister is really a learned man, and talked about Plato
and Socrates with fervour. Had time served I meant to tell him
of the wonderful discovery of the lost work of Aristotle on the
Politics of Ancient Athens. The commander-in-chief and two
other ministers of Muscat were seated in due order of precedence.
I tried to get His Highness to understand that human sciences are
passing, only God's truth abides. . . •

It would take a ver?/ little, 1 think, to send Mr. Maitland back to
work with me altogether. He seems to take so well to the Arabs
and Arabic, but I dare not treacherously raise a finger to steal
him from the work he is charged with, and where he is so greatly
and justly beloved I ... I do hope to cling on here, and in the
hills within fifty or a hundred miles until next cold season, at
least if my health and strength are spared, but I must always feel
how critical these are, and not be over sanguine. Colonel Mockler



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376 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

expects his wife and three babes on the 22nd. I told him I did
hope we might all join here in an Easter-day service, the first
perhaps ever held in these regions. I sat an hour with the
American consul to-day, whose house we occupy in this suburb,
and tried to arrange with him to join in the Easter service. He
is a Presbyterian, but I hope he will.

To Mbs. French.

Muscat, March 23, 1891.

... I am so glad the weather keeps cool at present, though the
consul thinks we cannot count upon it long. His wife and three
youngest out of six (all under five, the last two were twins),
joined him yesterday, and I hope to call and pay my respects
to-morrow. . . . The work is a great effort, and one has to hang
upon God hourly for strength. My Afghan experiences came
nearest to this, but I think this beats them alL ... I have had
a week of solitude now, but the work holds me so close that
I have not much time to think about solitude. I "wish I might
find Dupanloup's words true : * La solitude est la m6re de grandes
pens^es, de fortes convictions, de prof ends aper^us.' ... I must
begin this mail my plan of copying out my diary on missionary
topics separately, so that you may be saved that labour. Your
head must be saved all I can save it

It is premature to speak of the prospects of a mission being
founded here. I am often amazed and startled to find the
message borne with as it is, and sometimes listened to with pro-
found attention by the Arabs, though I go out trembling every
day, and wondering what will come next As it is more and
more understood and noised about what I am come for, and
the growing clearness of my diction and ease of speech an-est
more attention, the opposition is likely to be more organized and
embittered. I think my plan is more after the apostles' model
than our usual itinerations in India ; a day or two and no
more spent in most places we pass through (though in such
centres as Jaipur, Alwar, Bhurtpur, &c., we used to stay longer);
but three or six months seemed usually allotted by the apostles to
large cities and towns, and I always wondered why we did not
carry out this method of operation. After a month or so I hope
to get out into camp. ... I feel very much in the dark as to the
possibility of accomplishing this, but I am generally told it is
possible.

Notes fbom Diaby.

March 16th. A long afternoon in the town. Some solemn and
serious preachings in companies of educated people. They cost
a great effort^ and I had to throw myself on God*s help to carry
me through. I was thus able to speak to the chief men with some
authority which God gave me, and v^ith pointed appeals. It was



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NOTES FROM DIARY 377

chiefly in coffee-shops (as it seemed) that these gatherings (or
mujlises as they are called) take place. I had not discovered
them before.

lyth. A still more hopeful day than yesterday. Two hours
spent in Muscat hospital learning names of diseases and medicines
and colloquial expressions required for finding out symptoms.
After this tried in vain for some time to find hearers and a house
to can-y the message to. At last made my way to some suburban
gardens, well-cultivated fields, and palm-groves on a side of Muscat
I had not seen— a really picturesque scene for the eye to rest
on with so much surrounding barrenness. Sitting by an old wall
I had a long conversation with some ten or twelve adults and
a few intelligent boys. Went carefully through St. John iii. and
Romans vi. (most of it), dwelling on the chief points in succession.
I had the happiness of fi^ding one in thorough sympathy with the
message— an Indian but well acquainted with Arabic, and he really
pleaded nobly for the Gospel with opponents He carried off
a New Testament. As the sea was too rough for a small boat to
return at 2 p.m., I sat by the roadside in a quiet street, reading
my New Testament ; but a neighbouring Arab gentleman came
out, and with politest courtesy beckoned me to come into his
house. He had coffee and refreshments brought, and I read him
and his fi-iends some Scriptural portions.

19^/1. Tried in vain at a number of mosques to get an Arab
sheikh as an additional teacher, but was cheered by being able to
give two brief but pointed addresses at the door of a house which
seemed a small mosque, where the chief listener and questioner
was quite an educated and eloquent old lady, who asked repeatedly
and with energy, * Kam suhhaf Allah ? ' * How many books of God
are there?' i.e. in the Old and New Testamenta She seemed
singularly interested about the matter, and I left the group deep
and warm in discussion. The second address was in a broader
space under an archway at the entrance to a merchant's shop, who
seemed thoughtfully to grasp what was said.

20th. Over to Muscat, where occasion found for two long
pleadings. The first under a sort of arcade or portico, where an
old gentleman was sitting, who seemed very affable and popular
among his fellow-citizens. Not one passed by but he rose to greet
him, and they made profound obeisance in Oriental fashion.
I tiied hard but in vain to get an attentive hearing. He was
hopelessly indifferent to all serious things, and engrossed the
attention of all disposed to listen. I then got entrance into
a large mosque outside the gate, and there first accosted an aged
Beloochee, who said he was a higi or pilgiim to Mecca, of which
he had a high conceit. His Koran, he said, was enough for him,
and contained all he need know for both worlds, the best and
most perfect of all knowable things. A young man came in, and
with him or following him, a learned man of considerable ability
and pretension, full of questioning and objections, yet willing to



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378 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

listen and be instructed also. Others listened also, but these two
went into the more vital and distinctive teachings of the Gospel
more eagerly and thoughtfully. The young man went so far as to
beg for the whole book and tallc of buying it. Lunched after
with the consul and Colonel Mockler, who said his exiierience of
Mohammedanism was that it was the greatest curse to a country,
yet useful as a means to civilize out of barbarism, and a preparing
of the way for the higher truths of the Gospel,

22nd. To-day five or six hours devoted to a picturesque village
(Sudar), on a further side of Muscat, situated on a cove of the sea
with plenty of palms— a really pleasant scene to look on when it
suddenly breaks on you from the top of the intervening hill
reached by a rocky pathway. Three addresses I found the way
open for. The first was in a coffee-house outside the city gate.
The headman invited me in, and seemed as if he could not resist
the few simple words spoken, I trust by God's good Spirit, to his
heart and conscience. It was a hopeful half hour or more spent
with him. I hope I shall hear of him again. The next audience
small and bittei*, * nothing but Mahomet and the Koran could
satisfy an Arab.' I say but little about them therefore. The
third address was at a muallim's (schoolmaster's) house, whom
I put on as a teacher for an hour to enlist his sympathy
and interest, if possible, and read with him (as it was Palm
Sunday) Luke xxiiL and xxiv. He was very attentive and made no
objection. Christ's suflferings firat, and His resurrection and ascen-
sion glory came out so stiikingly in these chapters, and the penitent
thief and the Gospel message to every creature. He told me
a story, of which I only caught the drift, of an Arabic chief or
king who was attracted towards the Word of God and tried to
teach his people. I wish I might be able to get the whole
account more clearly when able more thoroughly to decipher
their smooth and rapid utterances. I quoted to him of course
Ps. Ixxii., * The kings of Arabia and Seba shall offer gifts.'

March 23. Went out rather in fear and trembling, but was
much rebuked for my doubtings by finding two or three men in
a party gathered round the kazi's house (a man of dignified
bearing), who seemed riveted by portions of Psalms, and especially
Eph. V. and part of vi., on which I dwelt at length. One of them
seemed fully alive to the meaning and puipose of holy baptism.

24//*. Had not much to encourage me, though I hope I secui-ed
the services of an able and more finished Arab scholar, an Arab
himself, than the one who helps me at present.

25th. Sharp and stormy encounter to-day, with scurrilous and
almost furious abuse from two or three men with stentoiian
voices. I was enabled to possess my soul in patience, I hope, and
learned the lesson not to read in front of a coffee-shop open to the
street, as it collects a crowd, but rather inside. During two hours
with my aged sheikh I tried to bring to bear on him Daniel's
witness to our Lord — *The stone cut without hands,' *The form



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NOTES FROM DIARY 379

of the fourth was like the Son of God/ &c. I fear he is too aged
and conscience deadened to take in these truths now.

26th. Brought five or six men home from the streets this
morning, some of them seemed ready recipients of the Word.
They seemed to take in very well the ti-ue explanation of the
imagery of baptism, *the death unto sin and new birth unto
righteousnesa' Only one was educated, though all were intelli-
gent and thoughtful, quiet listeners, and ready to ask questions
sensibly. Two of them sat an hour and a-half, but asked for
some bread at the close, which I gave them.

In the afternoon I sat an hour in what is evidently the chief
mosque of this suburb of Muttra, quite adorned in state and
style in its appendage of courts, quarters for moollahs and
disciples, chairs in rows, even an English arm-chair, which in
the sheikh's absence I was asked by his sons, fine boys, to occupy ;
but I declined, as I said I belonged to the fakir class. There was
a cushioned dais also on one side. All these were immediately below
the raised platform where prayers go on. The court nicely shaded
with vines and palms. I never saw so comfortable and luxurious
a mosque. The dresses of the sheikh and head imam and his
family were all to match, tasteful and handsome. I told them
I was come to see the head teacher and I loved all lovers of God
and those who sought the true knowledge of Him. I said also
that as this was our great festival time and I had no brother in
Christ to read his services with, I was come to read the lessons for
the season or some of them with him and his friends. The great
man appeared at last, a fine man and princelily dressed, and I was
getting on hopefully with Luke xxiii. and xxiv., commenting upon
it, till, alas ! my vociferous and stormy opponent of yesterday (the
antichrist of the place it seems) suddenly appeared on the scene !
As he began again to mock, I told him as he had his full say and
more yesterday, he might rest quiet to-day, and he did seem
a little bit ashamed then, but he kept hitting all the hard hits he
could at St. Luke's witness in the two great chapters, so that they
might be heard to less purpose'. However, it was the most
learned and aristocratic audience I have yet come across, and to
be allowed to read and comment on such chapters in a chief
mosque, speaks hopefully for the prospect of a mission here being
now or eventually opened ; but one must speak humbly and softly :
a very little might dash my hopes to the ground. May it come
true here. *The Lord is king and hath put on glorious apparel.'
I was invited afterwards into a smaller mosque, but there was no
entrance for the word there. It was Indian (Mahratta), I found,
not Arab ; nor could I find an open door to other mosques I made



^ His name was Yusuf. So when the bishop came to the account of
Joseph of Arimathea, he read it twice over, and said, ^ What a strange
difference between the two Yusufs ; I pray God you may yet be like him.'



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380 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH

trial of. At the door of one I found the old lady again, the Arab
Priscilla, here ! who spoke two days ago as I mentioned, but she
was very stout for Mohammed and the Koran to-day, and offered
to come and teach me, which I said she could do, if she would
bring a husband or brother with her as was proper (though she
must be not far from sixty), and if she would learn fi-om my book as
well as teach me. She is quite a character in her way. I never met
with more than two or three in India like her — two Christian native
ladies and one the Sikh lady on the way to Amamath. She is
of very ready and fluent speech, but could only dictate and
dogmatize, whereas the mooUah brought arguments of the kind
the Mohammedans and Arians naturally employ as to the human
weakness our Lord condescended to, of which so much has been
made in the Lux Mundi question. Strange to have the same both
here and there by quite different reasonersi There are many
schools in both Muscat and Muttra, the joint towns. Girls as
well as boys read up to nine or ten, chiefly the Kioran. Doubtless
they will be primed now very diligently to resist the Gospel, but
* The Lamb shall overcome them.'

Easter Eve {March 28). Some rather singular experiences this
afternoon, yet on the whole hopefuL I found an empty roofed
shed near one of the gates of the town, and a pile of clean stones
which did for a bench to sit on, and I read for a while to myself,
except to one and another who came and went after showing little
interest. Then two or three women came and became abusive,
repeating the Kalima with names of God and their prophet loudly
— and these grew to be ten or twelve. One violent lady is
unpleasant, but ten or twelve at once a real trial. I did not
know how it would end. I tried various passages to draw their
attention, e. g. one from Ez. xxxvi., * A new heart will I give you,
and a right spirit ' ; ' I will take away the heart of stone,' and pointed
out that the names on the lips were of little use, but the truths
and the Spirit of God indwelling in the heart This they under-
stood and repeated one to the other, yet still continued vehement
and noisy at times, so I said * There is no reason why the Arabs
and English should flght. The Arabs are a flne, generous, noble
race, so are the English, they ought to be friends, not enemies.
We both profess to believe in the prophets and apostles of Christ ! '
This a little softened them. Afterwards I told them of their
great sage, Abd-ul-Kadir's two prayers, which, if answered, he said
he would never ask another : (i) the death in which is no life, and
(2) the life in which is no death. This took much with some of
them, though some tried to ridicule it ; but I think they felt it,
and I pressed on them the death and life which can only come to
us in union with Christ. Two or three men by this time had
joined in listening, one of whom seemed remarkably impressed
till his fellow rebuked him sharply, but he stuck to his point.
Those words are truej are b-ue, are true, he repeated emphatically ;
but 'oh,' he said, 'how am I ever to learn and become possessed



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EASTER AT MUSCAT 381

of these your great truths ? ' I gave him a New Testament I had
with me and invited a visit. Walking afterwards about twenty
yards from the shed I was invited by three or four women to
come in and read more * ta'al,' ^ ta'al ' (come in, come in), but as they
seemed all women, and the one who called loudest was singularly
handsome, and it would be an audience of ladies altogether,
I thought it best to decline. I told the women of the Marys
coming and finding the grave empty on Easter morning. I could
not help thinking what a contrast Lydia's prayer-meeting at
Philippi was to my party here !

To Mbs. French.

Easter Day, Muscat, March 29.

I cannot on such a festival, a great day of holy rejoicing,
begin any letter till I have begun one to you, though having just
returned after eight hours spent in duty of various kinds, my head
is not fit for very much, yet my thoughts must turn to you after
turning Christwards for so much of the day. I pleaded for you
and all ours in the earliest hours of the day that a special Easter
blessing from the risen Lord might rest on our home with all its
peace and power and help for service.

About 7 a.m., after a light breakfast, I started for Muscat,
according to agreement. By nine all things were fairly in order,
and the four who composed the congregation were seated. The
thoughts of the day and its glorious truths had so possessed me
that I was able to enjoy the subject (the same I took at Deptford,
Easter, 1890), * Reckon yourselves indeed to be dead unto sin,
and alive unto God,' and the thoughts of the context before and
after, and to enjoy also the Holy Communion with Colonel and
Mrs. Mockler. The service took about one hour and a half. We
had two hymns, * Jesus Christ is risen to-day ' and * Oh, what the
joy ! ' Since then I have been trying for some hours to awaken
serious thoughts of the day and intelligent ideas of its meaning
in many souls, Arab, Indian, and others, but have failed to meet
with any such response as would have refreshed and gladdened me.
Some may have been set thinking, however, and the fruit yet
appear. It has been to iw<? a * going forth weeping, bearing forth
precious seed,' apparently over a very ungenial barren drought-
stricken soil. . . . The most sustained address to educated men
I was able to give was at a house where my servant has found
a vacant room or two for me whore I can stop in Muscat itself
during the hot hours for the next month, instead of returning
by boat under the perilous scorching sun. I just saw it hastily
in p&ssing this morning, and gave an Easter address in the
verandah of it down below to several men evidently of learning
and distinction. I want to get hold of the learned men, if I can,
because of their influence on others, but I do not forget the words,
' Thou hast revealed them to babes,' and * not many wise,' &c.



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382 LIFE OF BISHOP FRENCH



Notes from Diary continued.

April I. At a village named Matthera made several vain attempts
to get an audience together. One portion of the village is assigned
to lepers only, of whom there is a large number, perhaps fifty
families, of whom various members are thus afflicted. They sit at
all the corners of the streets in Muscat begging alms. On the
way home I visited a Hindu enquirer, settled here, however,
and able to speak Arabic as well as Hindustani. I used both
languages with him ; but when I spoke in Arabic several women
from the neighbourhood came up and listened apparently with
much interest. It was pleasant to hear the Hindu wife expound-
ing to the Arab women what I said in Hindustani.

On the 5th I visited the lepers' village again, and addressed
myself specially to them, dwelling on the incident of the t«n lepers
in St. Luke. Even among them I could not get a steady congre-
gation, though they wei"^ eager for alms ! Several houses, how-
ever, I was called into to converse. One of the poor lepei-s seemed
quite a scholar, a sort of mooUah for the rest. He was copying
out in bright colours something like an illuminated scroll — some
Mohammedan work of theology. I laid it upon him to try to teach
his followers the main truths he had been listening to out of the
Gospel, and would have given him a bible to make a beginning, in
hopes of giving him further instruction myself, but he dreaded
making enemies of all the people about.

On the 6th, sitting under the friendly shadow of a wall about
midday, addressed several well-educated and thoughtful gentle-
men, and expounded to them (with some interruptions and
objections of course) Eomans iii. and iv : God's righteousness and
man s unrighteousness, and God's plan, the one only perfect
and effectual one, for passing over from one to the other. I dwelt
much on the Koran's denial of the two fundamental grounds of all
our faith, the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and
the teaching in these two chapters on these points especially.
One old man seemed impressed a little and I gave him my one
remaining Arabic New Testament. I have, however, a fresh
stock just received of Arabic bibles. In the afternoon had an
hour at an old lady's girls' school, of which there are not a few
here. Many girls read till ten or eleven years of age, so the
female population is more educated than I have seen elsewhere.
This old lady is quite a character. I had had two or three long
conversations with her before, but she always gets back to one
simple expression in the Koran — * He never begat nor was begot-
ten ' — so the worship of our Lord has and can have no place in
their belief. With this one word they set at nought all Christian
teaching to begin with. I opposed to it St. John's simple witness,
* This is the record that God hath given to us eternal life, and this
life is in His Son.' She allowed me to give my message and kept



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NOTES FROM DIARY 383

in order some rather unruly youths outside with a switch she
used to effect !

'jth. Oppressed with weariness and hot wind to-day, but forced
myself out, and was more than rewarded by two quite lengthened
opportunities of opening up some of the grandest truths of the
Gospel. One in this place at a shop where once or twice before
I had been invited to speak. To-day a most venerable and
dignified old teacher or sheik came and took part with much
gravity and quiet intelligence and rebuked a very violent African,
whose resistance to the Gospel was most bitter, though intensely
ignorant.

Qth. A long morning in Muscat and had occasion for two or
three sustained addresses. In one had a hearer, the most learned,
I think (with one or two exceptions), I have come across : to whom
the Arab poets seemed child's play almost. I pressed him on the
weakness of the Cross as God's power, and on the foolish attempt
of the Moslems by one word of their Koran quoted above to think
to root out the whole foundation of Gospel truth. I took a bible
to a mosque, to which I had promised it some days ago ; but the
muallim (or head-teacher), though willing at first to accept it, was



Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 41 of 46)