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A history of the British and Foreign Bible Society online

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startling approval the revolution which tumbled Charles
X. from the throne of France? It was a grim object-lesson
to the country, and to its rulers, how a people might
obtain in three days the reforms which had been refused
through fifteen years of constitutional agitation.

As late as 1830 the innumerable petitions presented to
the House of Commons from every county distinctly showed
the distress that prevailed in all parts of the kingdom,
and in every branch of industry ; ^ yet during this long
interval of suffering and trouble the Bible Society was
extending its operations in all directions, and it was chiefly
among the classes who most keenly felt the burden of
heavy taxes, dear food, low wages, and commercial depres-
sion that the new Branches and Associations were being
formed. It is astonishing that in such conditions the
work did not either come to a standstill for lack of
means, or dwindle away into insignificant proportions.
That it did not, — that on the contrary it maintained a
high average level, is perhaps the most convincing evidence
that the Society was a living power among the other moral,
social, and political powers of the age, the influence of
which, though it cannot be gauged by statistics, was none
the less real, penetrating, and pervasive. Glance at the
following figures, and endeavour to deduce from them
some conception of their spiritual import. They show the
remittances from the Auxiliary Societies, and the amount
' Molesworth, History of the Reform Bill of i>i^2, pp. 78-95.


received for the sale of Bibles and Testaments, apart from
the resources derived from legacies, donations, annual
subscriptions, etc.

From Auxiliaries.

By Sales.


























In the following year a change was made in the method
of entry. The remittances from the Auxiliaries were no
longer shown in the gross, but were divided into "free"
contributions, applicable to the general purposes of the
Society, and the amounts for which supplies of the
Scriptures were to be returned, and these last were added
to the sale figures.

Free Contributions.

For Scriptures.


















No doubt the decline in the last two years, as in those
which succeeded, represents most saliently the effect of
the Apocrypha controversy, and the secession of the great
Scottish Auxiliaries which was among its unhappy con-
sequences ; but it must not be forgotten that it bears,
probably to no inconsiderable extent, the trace of the
disastrous December of 1825, when the mania for specula-
tion involved thousands of innocent victims in unparalleled
ruin and desolation. Commercial panic followed the first
metropolitan failures ; about seventy Banks stopped pay-
ment ; public companies, firms, and private concerns were
swept away wholesale. The three millions, which was the
outside limit to which the Government induced the Bank of
England authorities to make advances to private individuals

1834] ''MONTHLY EXTRACTS'* 325

on various securities, affords but a vague indication of the
wide-spread catastrophe.

The following table brings us up to 1830 : —

Free Contributions.

For Scriptures.














Bearing in mind the condition of the country, it is
impossible to look at these figures — one series showing,
from 1824 to 1830, ;^263,793 spent on the circulation of
the Scriptures, the other ;^249,354 freely devoted to the
Bible cause — without being convinced that there is an
aspect of the work of the Society as inscrutable to the
historian as is the dark side of the moon to the astronomer.
One can only conjecture to how many thousands, in those
years of violence and distress, the Word of God was a
restraint and a warning,^ a strength and a consolation,
the well of hope and the bread of a fixed trust ; among
how many of the educated and powerful it awoke a sense
of justice and a sympathy with humanity, accompanied
by a better wisdom for the guidance and rule of the

We may now turn to the record of events.

In August 181 7 the Committee gave effect to the happy
idea of publishing monthly a sheet of extracts selected from
its voluminous and singularly interesting correspondence.
"Monthly Extracts" was a small and unpretentious issue
of four double-column quarto pages, afterwards modified
to eight octavo ; but it served to keep the Committee in
touch with its Auxiliaries and Associations, whose meetings
were thus enlivened by brief notes of events at home, and

^ Adverting to the turbulent state of the country, Lord Teignmouth wrote in
October 1819 : "I cannot but flatter myself with a belief that matters would have
been much worse if the Bible Society, with all its confederations, had never existed ;
and I am willing to beheve that our Institution has promoted a religious feeling, which
will in some degree counteract the machinations of treason and blasphemy." — Memoir
of the Life and Correspondence of John, Lord Teignmouth, vol. ii. p. 359.


by vivid glimpses of men and manners in remote countries
and of the Bible work prosecuted among peoples whose
very names were often a new sound in their ears. To the
poorer subscribers in particular these pages were a source
of surprise and delight, and the demand for them quickly
rose to 40,000 copies a month. Even to this day much
that they contain may be read with pleasure, and here
and there one meets with passages which can still quicken
the pulse or bring a mist to the eyes.

In 1815, as we have seen, a Marine Bible Society — the
first of the kind — was formed on board one of the Govern-
ment packets on the Falmouth station. Earlier still, in
1813, the Thames Union Bible Committee, composed of
the secretaries and a representative of each of the four
Auxiliaries bordering on the river (the London, Blackheath,
East London, and Southwark) had given attention to the
needs of the sea-going population ; similar Associations
had been formed at Whitby, Hull, and Aberdeen ; and
among individual agencies Lady Grey had distributed
many thousands of volumes among British ^nd foreign
mariners at Portsmouth. It was now felt, however, that
a more systematic effort should be made in this direction ;
and on the 29th January 1818, under the chairmanship of
the Lord Mayor (the Right Hon. C. Smith, M.P.) and
the patronage of a list of vice-presidents which included
Lord Melville, Lord Exmouth, Lord Calthorpe, Lord
Gambier, the Hon. Nicolas Vansittart, the two Grants,
William Wilberforce, and other distinguished persons,
the Merchant Seamen's Auxiliary Bible Society was in-
augurated at the Mansion House "to provide Bibles for
at least 120,000 British seamen now destitute of them."
An agent was appointed, whose duty it was to visit every
outward-bound ship that brought up at Gravesend, or
stopped long enough for boarding, to see how she was
supplied with the Holy Scriptures, how many of the crew


could read, and to provide by sale to the men individually,
or otherwise, sufficient books for their use.

Between the Februaries of 18 18 and 1819 Lieut. Cox,
who was stationed at Gravesend, supplied as many as
1 68 1 vessels, whose crews numbered 24,765 men, of whom
21,671 were able to read. He found on board 1475 Bibles
and 725 Testaments, the private property of officers and
seamen, but no copies for general use. There were up-
wards of 590 ships (6149 men, of whom 5490 could read)
in which there was no copy of the Scriptures. In many
other cases there was but a solitary volume. On the other
hand, a number of Scottish vessels were better provided.
On board the Mary of Kirkcaldy belonging to Henry
Oliphant — one likes to preserve the good man's name —
every hand had his Bible, from Sandy Craig, the master,
to the cabin-boy. It was the same with a Dutchman,
carrying a crew of twelve. Here there were prayers, sing-
ing, and reading daily, and grace was said before and after
meals. Occasionally both captains and men made such
donations as they could afford, to help the Society and
defray the expenses it was put to. Several mates got per-
mission to call the men aft in the evening to hear the
Word of God ; and it became a common practice for those
who could read to teach those who could not. At times
amusing or interesting little incidents occurred. A very
old man in a French craft, with apples from Gravelines,
was delighted with a copy of the New Testament, and
earnestly begged the agent to take its value in "rosy-
cheeks." Captain Lorand of the Dugay Trowen \Duguay
Trouijt] of La Rochelle, had possessed a French Testament
in the old days when he was a prisoner of war, but had
unhappily lost it; "he greedily received the present of
another, and promised to read the good book to all under
his authority." "Sir," said the captain of another vessel,
"we are all glad to see you. The Testaments you sold


here on your last visit were given away at Prince Edward
Island [off Nova Scotia] by those who bought them, and
they were highly prized indeed, equal to old gold ! "
During the year, 1705 Bibles and 4068 Testaments were
gratuitously furnished to these ships for the use of the
crews, and 390 Bibles and 207 Testaments were sold to
the seamen at half price.

No long interval elapsed before Seamen's Societies were
established in various sea-ports ; the small coasting craft
were not overlooked, and the Naval and Military Bible
Society extended its work to the inland traffic on our
rivers and canals.

In ten years a remarkable change is to be noted in the
character of the sea-faring population. During the year
1829, in the crowd of shipping visited at Gravesend only
four vessels (with crews numbering 47 men) were found to
be wholly destitute of the Scriptures ; and these four were
foreigners. One thousand ships were boarded, and of
these only 250 were now visited for the first time. In these
250 vessels there were 3891 men, of whom 3483 could
read, and there were among them 1966 Bibles and 92
Testaments. Contrast this with the 1475 Bibles and 725
Testaments found among 24,765 men in 1818-19. A still
more satisfactory condition of things appears in the report
for 1830. In the first year of this kind of work, only 597
copies of the Scriptures had been sold to the seamen ; 5773
had been left on the ships without payment. Now 5369
copies were sold, and the agents — their number had been
increased to three, two on the upper reaches of the river, and
the third at Gravesend — had not found it necessary to leave
more than three Bibles and seventeen Testaments unpaid for.

Here we have evidence not only that such an Auxiliary
was greatly wanted, but that the opportunities which
it afforded were appreciated. It need scarcely be added
that its exertions were heartily encouraged by the



Committee. At the outset a supply of the Scriptures to
the value of ;£'io6i was voted, and other liberal grants
were made in later years. During the whole period now
under review Bibles and Testaments to the value of ;^440i
were distributed at the expense of the Society to British
soldiers and sailors, and to foreign seamen and fishermen
who frequented our coasts.

In 181 7 two of the Secretaries, Mr Hughes and Mr
Owen, were prostrated by a long and severe illness. The
former made a steady recovery, but Mr Owen's health was
so far from being restored that in the following year the
Committee prevailed on him to make a tour on the
Continent, in the course of which he would have oppor-
tunities of inspecting a number of the foreign Auxiliaries.
Accompanied by the Assistant Foreign Secretary, Mr
Ronneberg, he started on the 25th August, visited Paris,
Strasburg, Waldbach, Colmar, Miilhausen, Basel, Constance,
St Gall, Berne, Lausanne, Geneva and other centres of
Bible interest in Switzerland ; and returned home by way
of Paris on the 2nd December. ^

Perhaps the most interesting episode in this journey
was the brief sojourn at Waldbach, where he spent a
Sunday with the aged Oberlin, and accompanied him to
one of the three churches in his extensive mountain cure.
"Mr Oberlin took the lead, in his ministerial attire^ a
large beaver and flowing wig, — mounted on a horse
brought for that purpose, according to custom, by one of
the bourgeois of the village, whose turn it was to have the
honour of fetching his pastor and receiving him to dinner
at his table." The evening of that day was spent in
edifying conversation, and closed with a French hymn, in
which all the household united. The following morning

He left Paris by carriage on Monday afternoon, travelled the whole of Tuesday
night, was fortunate enough to encounter no wolves, and reaching Calais on Wednesday
morning, sailed at noon with the prospect of a quick passage. The wind changed,
however, " and after tacking for some hours along the French coast, we came safely
to a mooring in Dover roads, at 8 o'clock in the evening."


he was introduced to two of the good women whose
humble ministry among the poor of their rude hill
villages had given rise to the scheme of Female
Associations. Here were Sophia Bernard and Catharine
Scheiddegger. Addressing them by name, Owen told them
that he had now known them for nearly fourteen years,
and that the account of their services, communicated by
the pastor whom they so greatly assisted, had stirred up the
zeal of many to labour after their example. "Oh, sir,"
said Sophia Bernard, as the tears sprang to her eyes,
"this does indeed humble us!" — a strange and beautiful
answer to fall from any lips, but wonderful in its lowliness
and grace on the lips of a poor peasant woman among the
wilds of the Vosges. Maria Schepler, the third of that
sisterhood, had been taken to her rest.

To his rest too had departed Henry Gottfried, the
pastor's dear son. In 1816, while making, at the expense
of the Society, a circuit of 1800 miles among the
Protestant Churches in the South of France for the
purpose of arranging a more adequate supply of the
Scriptures, he assisted in extinguishing a fire that had
broken out in the night in a town on his route. He
caught a severe cold, and consumption set in. On his
return to Alsace he remained some time at Rothau where
his brother Charles was both minister and doctor, but
when he found his malady left little hope of recovery, he
longed to return to his birthplace on the mountain. Twelve
of the hill-folk offered to carry him up on a litter ; but he
could not bear exposure to the keen air, and he was laid
in a covered cart, the kindly peasants going on in front
and removing every loose stone on the rough road. On
the i6th November 1817, without a struggle or a sigh, his
spirit passed to the better life.

' ' It was not without many an effort that I tore myself
away," writes Owen, "and hurried from Ban de la Roche,


that seat of simplicity, piety, and true Christian refinement."
The aged pastor, who from almost the beginning of the
Society had been a distributor of the Scriptures, and who
had extended his exertions far beyond the bounds of his
own jurisdiction, had still some years of usefulness before
him. In 1820 he was visited by Dr and Mrs Steinkopff and
the Rev. Francis Cunningham, of Pakefield, Suffolk ; in the
following year he received a grant of Bibles and Testa-
ments to the value of jCyo for his depot. He was then
grown feeble with age, but though the end was drawing near
it came slowly. On Sunday, the 28th May 1826, in his eighty-
sixth year, he was seized with shiverings and faintings, and
three days later — on the ist June — the passing-bell was heard
among the hills. The pastor, the benefactor, the intimate
friend of over half a century was gone. He was buried near
his son in the little churchyard on the 5th, in clear sunshine,
after four days of rain. His clerical robes and his Bible
were laid on his coffin ; to his pall was affixed the decoration
of the Legion of Honour, awarded by Louis XVI IL "for
services rendered to an extensive population." In front
walked the oldest of his parishioners, bearing a cross to plant
on his grave. On the cross were inscribed the familiar
words "Papa Oberlin." That simple-hearted tribute was
the work of another good woman — Louisa Schepler, who
had entered his service as a young girl, when his wife was
still living ; who mothered the little children she left
behind ;

" And all for love, and nothing for reward,"

had remained for forty-two years his devoted housekeeper.
The people he loved came in crowds from the five hamlets ;
the school-children, who were the apple of his eye,
accompanied him to his last resting-place; all round the
graveyard knelt in silent prayer groups of Roman Catholic
women in deep mourning.


Shortly after his return home, Mr Owen published Brief
Extracts from Letters on the Objects and Connexions of the British
and Foreign Bible Society ; and in the course of 18 19 he was
engaged on the third volume of his History of the Society.
The first two volumes, which closed with the celebration
of the tenth anniversary, had been published in 1816, with
a dedication to the President, Lord Teignmouth. The
third, which appeared in 1820, and was inscribed to Mr
Vansittart,^ who long afterwards as Lord Bexley became
the second President, carried the record of events up to the
fifteenth anniversary, an occasion rendered memorable by
three incidents — the presentation of the first copies of the
Turkish Testament, the assurance given of the goodwill
of the French Government, and the declaration of H.R.H.
the Duke of Gloucester, who, in acknowledging a vote of
thanks to himself and their Royal Highnesses the Dukes of
York, Kent, Cumberland, Sussex and Cambridge, said :
' ' I am satisfied that I am speaking the sentiments of my
illustrious relatives as well as my own, when I testify to you
our gratitude for your kindness to us, and express the
greatest anxiety and readiness to render the warmest
assistance — I say the warmest assistance — to this good, this
great, this glorious cause."

Mr Owen's History was a masterly achievement of a most
difficult task — a well-ordered, engrossing and trustworthy
narrative ; still aglow with the fervid spirit of the author,
and lacking little but that pictorial element of personality
which is so valuable after the lapse of a century, but which
could hardly be expected from one writing of the living men
in the very thick of events. In 1822 he issued Two Letters
on the Subject of the French Bible, in reply to a charge of
Socinianism brought against that particular version. These
productions of his ever-ready pen were among his last

' Mr Vansittart had accepted the office of Vice-President at Lord Teignmonth's
earnest request.


labours on behalf of the institution which he loved with a
zeal as disinterested as it was indefatigable.

Notwithstanding the benefit derived from his continental
tour, his strength gradually declined, and he died at
Ramsgate on the 26th September 1822, at the comparatively
early age of fifty-six, leaving a widow and several children.
He was buried by the side of Granville Sharp in the church-
yard at Fulham, the curacy of which he had resigned in
1813, when Bishop Randolph required his residence in
the parish. At Park Chapel, Chelsea, where he had also
been minister, his funeral sei-mon was preached by his friend
the Rev. William Dealtry ; another appreciation of his
character and his services was pronounced by his colleague
Mr Hughes, at Dr Winter's Meeting House, New Court,
Carey Street ; nor were there wanting a Tribute of Gratitude
and an Ode to his memory. His loss was deeply felt by
the Society and by the Committee, who in a touching
memorial gave expression to their affection and to their
gratitude to God "for having so long granted the Society
the benefit of the zeal and talents of their beloved

After a long and anxious search a successor was found
in the Rev. Andrew Brandram, M.A., curate of Beckenham,
Kent, and late of Oriel College, Oxford ; and a resolution
was now adopted to attach to the post of Secretary, hitherto
gratuitously filled, a salary of ;^300 a year — an amount,
it was frankly stated, which represented rather "an
economical attention to the finances of the Society than
compensation for services which no salary could adequately

Mr Owen's last days were darkened by the storm of
controversy which was now gathering over the Society.
When the institution was formed even the most sanguine
were unprepared for its sudden development. The rapid


adoption of its principles and the spread of its operations
abroad were neither anticipated nor provided for. The
knowledge of ecclesiastical affairs on the Continent was at
the best imperfect, and the character of the versions of the
Scriptures used by Protestants, Catholics, and the Greek
Church had not been the object of any particular attention.
In framing the constitution of the Society the founders had
very carefully guarded against the insertion of Notes or
Comments (and in the grants which the Committee bestowed
on foreign Auxiliaries that essential condition was constantly
kept in view) ; but as in this country there was no impedi-
ment to the omission of the Apocrypha, the possibility of
difficulties arising among the Churches abroad in regard to
these books never presented itself to the early Committees.

The uncanonical writings known as the Apocrypha
were at an early date interspersed in the Septuagint, in
what were regarded as their appropriate places, among
the inspired books of the Old Testament ; thence they
were transferred to the Vulgate ; and from these Greek
and Latin texts to the translations in various languages.
At the Reformation they were withdrawn from the
canonical Scriptures, and — prefaced, as a rule, with some
indication of their true character — were placed by them-
selves in a distinct part of the volume. The Council of
Trent, however, declared the Apocrypha "sacred and
canonical," and entitled to the same veneration as the
rest of the Old Testament ; and although at first the pro-
logues and monitory notes of St Jerome were retained in
Roman Catholic Bibles, they gradually disappeared in sub-
sequent editions, and full effect was given to the Tridentine

When therefore in the early years of the Society's
continental operations the Committee complied with the
urgent petition made for the Scriptures, it was only
natural that their liberal assistance should be employed by


the continental Auxiliaries in distributing them in the form
sanctioned by the Churches to which they belonged — in
the case of the Reformed Churches generally with the
Apocrypha included in the sacred volume in a place
apart ; in that of the Romish and Greek versions with
the uncanonical books interspersed, with or without any
mark of differentiation, among the inspired writings of the
Canon. And it is as well to observe that it was only in
regard to foreign Churches, and then only in respect of
versions in which the Apocrypha already existed, that this
question arose ; at no time was the idea entertained of
introducing the Apocrypha into the new translations
initiated, adopted, or assisted by the Society.

In the first instance it does not appear that in assisting
foreign societies any stipulation or indeed any reference
was made by the Committee with respect to the un-
canonical books, but when the Bible began to appear
without the Apocrypha, or when proposals were made for
editions in which it should be excluded, great uneasiness
began to be felt by the foreign Auxiliaries. Popular
prejudice looked askance at the "imperfect" versions, and
ecclesiastical jealousy resented any "tampering with
recognised standards." As early as 1812 an attempt was

Online LibraryWilliam CantonA history of the British and Foreign Bible Society → online text (page 27 of 42)