H. A. (Herbert Alfred) Birks.

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

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Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 5 of 46)
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Crovemment House, Lahore, and son of the latest biographer
of Henry Martyn, has recently recorded his impressions
thus : —

'There is one striking feature of Bishop French's general
influence which I had several opportunities of seeing, that is the
effect his example, no less than his teaching, had on young men
out here, those fine young fellows you meet in any Indian canton-
ment — men who are as plucky, honourable, and straight as one
could wish for, but who don't think so much of the deeper pur-
poses of their existence as they might. Several of these lads have
told me, perhaps not directly, but none the less plainly, how the
revelation Bishop French could not help giving to every one of
his own big and chivalrous heart made them feel better men and
do their round of parade or stables or whatever came to their hand
with a keener sense of duty. With all his scholarship and culture
he was simple and fearless, and the large sympathy he had with
humanity in all its phases had its origin and inspiration in the
highest teachings of his Master. I often think if he had been
a soldier he would have been very like General Gordon.'


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HapSoi Koi Mrjboi Koi ^EXafUTtu . . . oKovofuv \a\owTOiv avrStP raU ^fi€T€p€us
ykwrtrais ra fityaXtta rod Qtov. — Acta iL 9-12.

* I have wandered through many regions of the world, and everywhere
have I mingled with the people. In each comer I have gathered some-
thing of good. From every sheaf I have gleaned an ear.'— The Persian
poet, Sadi.

* If we furnish Him (Christ) with candid, willing, unselfish disciples,
ready to go where they are sent, to stay where they are bidden, to call
nothing unpromising which He points to as a task for our attention, He
will teach. He will plan, He will execute through us as surely as He did
by His apostles.

* In the New Testament we see and hear Him exactly as He was in
their lifetime and His own ; through all the pages of history we mark
the same living hand ruling and judging ; and it ought not to be too
hard, even in these striking, stirring times of our own, for faithful hearts
to find His new paths of ever-changing progress, when He Himself has
sent them to be His interpreters and pioneers, the living Christ, the
thinking Christ, the speaking Christ, the reigning Christ, Emmanuel,
God with us.*— Archbishop Benson (at his enthronization, 1883;

• quoted in French's Persian diary).

It might be supposed that the vast provinces of the
Punjab and Sindh would have ajfforded sufficient scope
for the energies of one man, already worn with sickness
and broken by remorseless and unsparing exposure to
a tropic heat. But the same undaunted spirit which had
carried Bishop French beyond the frontier to cheer our
toiling troops at Candahar, carried him fiirther still, when
at the close of 1882 a plain call came to him to visit Persia,
and confirm the souls of the disciples, and cheer the hearts
of those who were there labouring to spread the kingdom of

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God. It was nothing that he greatly needed rest ; it was
nothing that he had set himself an immense task— no less
than the collection of at least £4,000 for his cathedral —
during the brief months of his leave in England. A call to
follow in the steps of Henry Martyn had irresistible attrac-
tions; and, as the task had not been a self-chosen one, in
spite of his distrust of his unworthiness, he felt he could
obey the summons without fear. On December 22, 1882,
he wrote to Mrs. French, who had returned to England the
preceding year : —

'The eve of the 21st' (the eve, that is, of his own consecration
day) 'brought me a formal commission from the Bishop of
London, at the request of the Church Missionary Society, to visit
their missions in Persia ; so I seem to be shut up to that course,
and I really have no liberty to decline it. It is a great privilege
in one way, yet must involve many heavy crosses and sufferings,
perhaps in excess of what I have known hitherto. I dare not
hope to reach you before July, I fear, as it is no use rushing
through places of such unusual importance, and reached with
such difficulty.'

The intervening months were very fiiUy occupied with
the Calcutta synod and varied visitations, including two
of his old missionary posts. At Dera Ismail Khan his
life was really in some danger from the violence excited by
his preaching to the Afghans in the bazaar ; and at Lahore,
towards the close of February, he had the pleasure of
consecrating the new chapel of the Divinity School, and
next day held an ordination in it for three native deacons.

At length, on March 15, being en route for the coast, he
wrote of the departure from Lahore in words which plainly
show how greatly he was valued in his diocese : —

' The missionaries, gathered for the Church Conference, rallied
round me at the station, and the college students, scarcely any-
body else ; indeed I had kept my time of departure pretty secret.
What was far better than crowding to the station was that on
the Tuesday evening (the eve of my departure) the congregation,
gathered for the confirmation of twenty-eight young people, was
nearly as large as an Easter Sunday congregation. No doubt
Mr. Fumeaux's valued ministry had much to do with this, and,
perhaps, a little also the knowledge it was my farewell address to
them. I was helped and strengthened for the effort beyond hope.

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To see the galleries filled on a week-day was passing strange, and
Mr. F. seemed full of joy and thankfulness.

* I know not how to praise God enough that these last weeks
exceeded, I think, in interest all other weeks of my episcopate.
I dare not therefore call myself a broken-down man, but I feel
I could not have held out much longer.'

^Karachi, March 16. Karachi reached at 8.30 this morning.
I love to think of Jacob's journeying, and God's fatherly guidance
of him all the way ; and the angelic visits, though I fear I may
be almost presumptuous in asking to have Bethels and Peniels
even a little like his. So ends, for the present at least, our corre-
spondence from India.'

The origin and special difl&culties of the Persian mission,
which Bishop French was now about to visit, here call for
some remark, for all the details will be read with a more
vivid interest when we remember the great thoughts and
aims that gave a sacred unity of purpose to the laborious
course of daily marching. Here was no idle globe-trotter
upon a holiday excursion, but in every step of the way he
was sustained and carried forward by one lofty inspiration,
the longing for God's glory and the weal of men.

It is remarkable that mission work amongst the native
Persians has not at any time been due to the initiation of
the great societies. Henry Martyn only lingered in the
country on his homeward journey, burning himself out for
God, that he might perfect his translation of the Persian
Scriptures. Ten months in 1811-12 he passed at Shiraz,
disputing with the men of learning, then died at Tocat,
near the Black Sea littoral. The work appeared to die with
him, so far as Persia was concerned. The Americans estab-
lished a mission amongst the ancient Eastern Churches at
Oroomiah, but the Mohammedans of the great cities re-
mained untouched till Mr. Bruce, French's old colleague
in the Derajat, entered the land again in 1869 ; next year
the Americans also began to labour among Moslems, but
to the English Church belongs the credit of first attempting
to renew, however tardily, the efforts of the sainted

The story of Mr. Brace's visit is full of interest. When
French was stricken down by sunstroke in the Derajat,

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bruce's visit, famine 39

for eight years Bruce continued in tlie forefront, and then,
returning for a brief and well-deserved furlough, he heard
some officer speak of the great facilities for travelling in
Persia. The Persian language is of use throughout all
Northern India. On reaching England, Bruce chanced to
mention this in conversation with Mr. Venn, the secretary of
the C. M. Society. He himself had not attached importance
to it, but to his great surprise Mr. Venn's eyes filled with
tears, and he said, ' Oh, do go to Persia I I am so thankful
for this opening; it is one of those things we looked in
vain for in times past, but which God is giving us now.'
Accordingly, though still attached to the Indian mission,
Bruce stopped in Persia on his way, nominally to perfect
himself in the Persian language. He found openings for
preaching beyond his hopes, and that the Persians would
visit him at his house for religious conversations. When^
he was preparing to go back to his Indian station, another
letter came from Mr. Venn : * If you can see your way to
improving Martyn's version of the New Testament, then
stay in Persia ; if not, go to your post in India.'

It was a momentous question to be called upon to
settle, and the communications with England were so
slow that Mr. Bruce had only his own judgement to depend
upon. He sought a sign firom God, and at that very
time nine Moslems came to him and asked for baptism.
This was the turning-point that brought him to remain.
Then followed the great famine, in which, assisted by
George Maxwell Gordon, he was the means of dispensing
relief to the amount of over £16,000, and saving thousands
of lives. He began by asking for £200 in England, and
jnote and more kept pouring in, in answer to his prayers
and in accordance with his dire necessities. The most
extraordinary incident was the provision of some £6,000,
gathered in pennies and sixpences from the poor Germans
of Wurtemberg by the indefatigable efforts of Pastor
Haas, and sent out in successive instalments of £1,000,
with this most Christian message : * The Moslems hate the
Christians, but Christ has told us, " Love your enemies."

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This money is collected from poor Germans, and we wish
it to be distributed, without the least distinction of creed
and race, to Moslem, Jew, and Christian/ When the stress
of the visitation was over, enough remained of this sub-
scription to form an orphanage as a more permanent

Though Mr. Venn personally always supported Mr. Bruce
in remaining in Persia, the difficulties of occupying it as
a permanent station were very great, and it was not till
1876 that the Society was willing to number it among
their authorized endeavours.

The Mohammedan lands of the East, although they are
the Bible lands, the very cradle of our Christianity, have
hitherto at all times proved the least assailable by any
mission force. At no spot probably throughout these
regions have as many as ten Moslem converts been brought
together and formed into a native congregation. Brcligious
bigotry and political oppression have practically closed the
door. Except in India, under the protection of our British
Government, for any Moslem to become a Christian is, as
it were, to yield himself to death. Persia is no exception
to this common rule. The missionary, under consular pro-
tection, may be comparatively safe ; but what about his
converts ? It is indeed hard at times to advise them what
course to follow. At the time that Bishop French went to
Persia, Dr. Bruce had been a good deal blamed for baptizing
some thirty of them secretly. Some of those who were
baptized went to India, where they could believe without
the loss of life ; others believed in secret, and were not
baptized. This is one difficulty of the mission. Dr. Bruce
says, * One can but set before them Christ's own command
about confessing Him, and His command, " If they persecute
you in one city, flee to another," and leave them to judge
for themselves.'

Another special difficulty of the Persian mission is its
relation to the old Armenian Church. For some three
hundred years a body of oppressed and drown-trodden
Christians, deeply sunk in superstition, have been settled

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at Julfa, a suburb of Ispahan, and in some of the villages of
the surrounding districts. The successive bishops have been
men of some education but no spiritual power, who never
visited the villages, and only viewed them as a source of
revenue. The priests have been almost illiterate, and taken
straight from the plough ; and both priests and people have
been too often sunk in debt, and in bondage to drink, which
they secretly supply to the more wealthy Moslems, for whom
it is strictly forbidden by the Koran. Still some sort of
witness for Christ these feeble Christians bore, and many
delicate and critical questions inevitably arose in dealing
with them. The ecclesiastical position was further com-
plicated by the fact that a small mission of the Eomish
Propaganda had settled in the land.

Dr. Bruce has never sought directly to proselytize among
the Armenian Christians ; he has always been ready to
cultivate friendly relations with them, and to encourage
reforms within their own body, but he could not refuse
to attach to himself a little congregation of those who
sought his counsel, and, at the urgent and repeated request
of a body of Armenian gentlemen, he undertook to super-
intend their school, if they would place it close to his own
compound. For some time the Armenian priests continued
to instruct the children, then they opposed the school and
sought to turn away the Moslem pupils. Now they have
opened a very fair school of their own, but still some even
of the priests' own children continue to attend the mission

Face to face with the heads of the Eomish and Armenian
Churches, his little body of adherents obtained for Dr. Bruce
a recognized position in dealing with the native rulers, and
formed a nucleus of worshippers amongst whom Moslem
inquirers could mingle in small numbers to obtain instruc-
tion without attracting notice.

These remarks suffice to indicate the difficulties of the
Persian mission, and may elucidate allusions in the bishop's
journals. Dr. Bruce*s own chief work has been the revision
of Henry Martyn's New Testament, and the still older and

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more faulty rendering of the Old Testament Scriptures.
The Nestorian and Armenian colporteurs of the Bible
Society are ready to spread these writings broad-cast
through the land, and thus the great fortress of Satan will
be sapped and mined, the leaven will spread silently, the
seed will spring up secretly, one knows not how. Dr. Bruce
is now — in 1895 — in England, passing through the press this
finished Bible, which has cost him three and twenty years of
unremitting labour. This is one sign of happy augury.
Another is that Persia has offered its first martyrs in the
nineteenth century (in early days of Christianity it had
its many martyrs) to the cause of Christ. One case deserves
especial mention.

A convert of the American mission was recently cast into
a loathsome dungeon at Tabriz, and kept in durance for
eleven months. At any time he might have had his liberty
by the denial of the faith of Christ, but he would not deny.
At last some outlawed fellow-prisoners fell on him, and took
it by turns to choke him, between each assault asking
whether Christ or Ali (the great Shiah hero) were the true
prophet of God. He always answered, * Christ I ' Next day
the doctor found him in a dying state, and he told him,
* Yes, sir ; I always knew when I embraced the Christian
faith that I was putting a knife to my own throat ; but I do
not regret it.'

One other fact of interest must be recorded. Bishop
Stuart, French's old colleague at Agra, has resigned his
see at Waiapu to work in Persia as a simple missionary.
His services, especially in all that concerns the organization
of the infant church, and its relations with its elder neigh-
bours, will be of greatest value. It is remarkable to see the
man who sailed with French, who was married the same
year with him, and consecrated bishop the same week with
him, thus follow him again to this old field of labour,
devoting his last years to these forlorn outposts of Eastern

These words may introduce the bishop's journals. The
fact that they concern the field of Martyn's labours must

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be tlie one excuse if they appear to occupy a dispropor-
tioned space in the biography.

The whole distance from Bushire to the Caspian, with
very small exceptions, had to be covered on horseback (or
else on foot where riding was too difficult), and the fatigue
to the bishop was much increased by the fact that, though
he rode so much, he never had acquired the art of * easy
horsemanship ^.'

From Karachi the bishop sailed across to Muscat, and in
view of the approaching perils on his march he took the
wise precaution of drawing up his will to forward it to

He reached Muscat upon March 20. It was his first
view of the place where he was destined, after eight more
years of labour, to conclude his life of witnessing, and
here he came upon the line of Henry Martyn's journey.
Martyn had written to his Lydia: —

^Muscat, April 22, 1811. I am now in Arabia Felix, To judge
from the aspect of the country it has little pretensions to the
name, unless bumiug barren rocks convey an idea of felicity ;
but perhaps there is a promise in reserve for the land of Joktan ;
their land may one day be blest indeed.'

And in his diary he added : —

* In a small cove, surrounded by bare rocks heated through, out
of reach of air as well as wind, lies the good ship Benares^ in
the great cabin of which lie I. Praise to His grace who fulfils
to me a promise I have scarce a right to claim — **I am with thee,
and will keep thee, in all places whither thou goest." '

How like the bishop's words about the Bethels and
Penielsl But the resemblance in the experience of the

* The whole of the country covered by the bishop in this expedition
has been most carefully described by the Hon. G. N. Curzon, M.P., in his
two portly volumes on Petsiay which give not only the experience of
a most practised and acute observer, but also the full fruits of a careful
study of the works of every previous explorer. The book, which is
admirably illustrated, is likely to prove the standard work upon its
subject for many years to come.

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two pioneers does not end there. Martyn describes the
Imam as a man who had obtained the throne by murder-
ing his uncle, and was then engaged in fighting with the
Wahabees to keep it, whilst in his wazir or chief minister
pride and stupidity seemed to contend for empire. *We
are all impatient,' he adds, * to get away fix)m this place.
We saw nothing but what was Indian or worse.'

French's account of it was not much more cheerful. He
wrote to Mrs. French : —

'I am seated here in the resident's house, having landed for
the few hours the Burmah stops in harbour to see the place
and its curiosities, and to inquire whether any congregation could
be gathered, as it is the Tuesday in Holy Week. In both objects
I am disappointed. There are no curiosities, and apparently no
congregation, the few residents being Roman Catholic for the
most part. The bazaars are all roofed in, and only about four
feet across ; positively insufferable, I should think, in hot weather.
The people talk a medley of tongues, chiefly Arabic. Some also
Persian, Hindustani, and Suahili from Africa, with SardL . . The
harbour is a delightfully landlocked and enclosed one, like the
Valetta harbour, only smaller^ and surrounded with rocks of
great boldness and sternness, many of them crowned with foita,
especially two ( Jalali and Mirani) of Portuguese engineering, on
two opposite rocky crests, as old as the great Admiral Albu-
querque's day, who was the famous captain of this part of the
world, and performed many great engineering as well as military
and statesmanlike achievements. . . A great multitude of African
slaves, both men and women, are kept here, and Colonel Grant
will have it they cling to their slavery with a very decided pre-
ference, and refuse freedom when offered it I am thoroughly
disappointed in this place, of which one had read so much. . . . The
Arab tribes all around continually make raids, and bloodthirsty
feuds seem incessantly renewed. Lately, forty of one hostile
tribe fought with sixty of another hard by the great mountain-
gate, which shuts in the hilly passes in rear of the town, and
thirty-three were killed in hand-to-hand conflict. It is the old
story, ** His hand against every man." Dates ai-e the chief export,
rock salt also and donkeys ! *

To Mr. Clark the bishop further described the city *as
an utter wreck of its past greatness and renown/ and the
Sultan as a * poor sunken and demoralized creature, afraid
each day of being poisoned by his son.' In another letter
from Muscat, written to his son Basil at Cambridge, the

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bishop ftirtlier spoke of his own feelings in starting on
this journey: —

*My brain had almost reached the neplus ultra of exertion and
exhaustion, and just in time God has given me a temporary
release from the tension of work and responsibility. Perhaps
a little work may be given me to do in Persia, though by what
open door I can enter does not yet. clearly appear. Fatigue,
weariness, sea-sickness, have retarded my progress in Persian
sadly the last weeks, though I did a little en route for Quettah
and Dera Ismail. I find the moollahs in Muscat understand me
fairly. If I had only the more perfect love and holiness of
a Martyn, words and thotights would doubtless find vent some-
how. I pray it may not be quite a wasted opportunity of
speaking for my Master, if He has a people in these cities. To
approach the heart of a new people for the first time is not an
easy matter. But my privilege has more often been to report on
work and to set others to work better than myself than to effect
much personally. It is something even to be allowed to screen
one's own ineffectiveness behind this shelter, and to rejoice at
others' successes may possibly be one of the greatest joys of

On leaving Muscat he spent a singularly interesting day
at Jask, ' a most desolate spot in sandy wastes, and almost
seagirt, where a very few telegraph clerks and their families
manage to live, never seeing a clergyman except on such
strange occasions as this little visit.' He held a confirmation
there for two married ladies, the whole congregation
amounting to twelve, and afterwards consecrated the little
cemetery at the extreme point of the promontory, and
washed on three sides by the sea, containing six graves
already, chiefly of by-passing sailors.

Eemembering how his own bones were laid in just such
a desolate spot, it is touching to read in his diary his special
form of service, commencing with Psalms 139 and 23 and 90,
and closing with the hymn, 'Brief life is here our portion/
After the service three children of Mr. and Mrs. Thornton
brought all their little stock of shells (with which the
coast abounds) to give for his cathedral fiind. * I vras so
pleased,' said the bishop, ' and told them it was for Jesus,
and hoped all their life they would work for Him and please

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On Good Friday, March 23, lie was at Lingah, a long low
reach of town with pointed windows and chased fronts of
merchants' houses, where were the oflGlces of the Bahrein
pearl fisheries ; long lines of palm-groves, a curious scarped
hill above the city^ high bare sand-hills beyond it, and
native craft to seaward, complete his little picture of the
place. From hence he wrote to Basil : —

' Was the merchantman Jesus seeking souls, or the soul seek-
ing happiness and finding it in Jesus? Doddridge seems to
think the former when he says, "Pearl of price by Jesus sought,"
speaking of the soul. Both are beautiful thoughts, perhaps this
the more so. We passed over a coral reef this morning where
pearls are found, and I could not help asking the native agent,
who came on board, whether he could get me a few to sell at the
bazaar in London for the cathedral, but he had none with him.
If he had he would probably have tried to cheat me, for they are
a sadly degraded people, though once so great under Cyrus and
afterwards under Sapor II [alias Shahpor],

Online LibraryH. A. (Herbert Alfred) BirksThe life and correspondence of Thomas Valpy French, first bishop of Lahore → online text (page 5 of 46)