Project Canterbury

The Captive Missionary
Being an Account of the Country and People of Abyssinia.

By the Rev. Henry A. Stern.

London: Cassell, Petter and Galpin, 1868.

Chapter XVI

Hostile Movements--Sham Exploits--Valour at Zero--Plans of Escape--The lucky and unlucky Fugitives--Amba Desertions--Galla Hospitality--Midnight Assassins-- Merited Penalty--Death of Aboona Salama--The Apostles of Abyssinia--Spread of Christianity--Truth and Error Blended--Abstruse Dogmas--Theological Squabbles--Indifference of the Laity--Advent of the Jesuits--Laxity of Morals--Protestant Missions--Unsatisfactory Converts--Enlightened Metropolitan--The successful Rebel--Artful Intimidation--Bishop Gobat's Efforts.

Our Magdala home, which, with the exception of the short intervals that it was occupied by the king, always maintained a gravity that was in perfect unison with the numerous unfortunate beings who were lodged on its rocky heights, before the rainy season of 1867 underwent a most indecorous transition. There were exciting reports from the royal camp, from our hostile neighbours the Gallas, and from various provinces in possession of various rebel chiefs. One day it was rumoured that the Wagshum, the acknowledged ruler of Tigré, Lasta, and the adjacent provinces, was moving southward, and would, ere long, besiege our isolated Amba; the next that the king had quitted his fence at [319/320] Debra Tabor, and was marching in our direction; and then, again, it was positively asserted that both reports were false, but that it was quite certain that the Gal la chiefs had proclaimed a levee en masse, and were overrunning every vestige of their spoiler's usurped domain. Such and similar stirring tales of contest and pillage, triumphs and defeats, diffused a wonderful taste for battle and slaughter among all classes, till from the lowest menial at Salamegee, up to the big Ras on the fortress, every contemptible poltroon babbled and chattered as if he were the champion of Abyssinia and the prop of the convulsed realm.

The garrison, confined to an isolated rock, where neither fame nor glory could be won, were most anxious for an opportunity to display their prowess. Their desire was soon to be gratified. I no longer recollect the exact day or hour, nor whether the sky was serene or cloudy, bright or obscure; all I remember is that the occasion was worthy of the men. Without giving the exact day, I can vouch that it occurred in June, 1867. Well, one day in that last month of the Abyssinian highland summer, an officer, or set of officers, sat gazing on the fissured basaltic cliffs that invest with a gloomy [320/321] aspect the wild scenery around Magdala. [The king, to compensate the garrison for the pay he could not give, conferred titles and honours on every ruffian on the Amba. His dignities, the ingrates, who wanted bread, did not appreciate.] Something that seemed to move attracted their wistful stare. They looked again, and their sharp eyes discerned distinctly one or more figures threading their way down perpendicular paths into the chasm that separates Magdala from the Galla plain. To be thoroughly convinced that it was no optical illusion, telescopes were drawn out, and wonderful to relate, the glasses were so perfect that their magnifying power exaggerated an old woman and her two children, or, as a malicious wag told me, half a dozen apes, into a great army. A council of war was instantly convoked, and in this wise conclave it was unanimously decided that the garrison must prove their loyalty, and maintain untarnished their notorious fame. Rusty muskets and unwieldy swords, which had never done any great or useful service, were instinctively grasped and ostentatiously paraded before the Amba rabble. Sundown was the time fixed for the march of the expeditionary force. Beitwodet Damask, a consummate bottle hero, wras by unanimous voice of the chiefs, appointed leader of the brave band. Punctual to a minute he made his appearance on the open space in front of our prison, where the veterans gave him a cordial reception. He was clad in silks, and adorned with a leopard lamd (substitute for a cloak), beneath which gleamed pistols, sword, [321/322] powder-flask, and all sorts of weapons and ammunition, perfectly innocuous appendages to our terrible neighbour's person.

As it was anticipated, at the sight of the chivalrous host, the poor woman and her youthful companions, or it may be the apes, disappeared, and the whole company, full of glee that the enemy had decamped, came back to their Aniba home. Beitwodet Damask and his staff, covered with imaginary laurels, and panting for some potent draughts of arackee, immediately on their return, repaired to the prison of her Majesty's representative, and partook of copious libations. [Mr. Rassam is a most temperate man, but as he had always an abundance of arackee and tedj for every thirsty native who came to visit him, it may easily be imagined that he was never many hours without company.]

The craving for glory which this silly demonstration had kindled in the hearts of our garrison demanded that something more worthy of their prowess should be attempted. The cry that the king's beeves--plundered from the peasants in Dembea and Begemeder--were in peril of being seized by the Wollos afforded the most splendid opportunity. The affair appeared more serious than some of the incredulous Frendjoj were disposed to believe. A real Wollo chief, of Masha, six hours southward of Magdala, in obedience to the behest of his mistress Mastiad (looking-glass), had actually [322/323] quitted his verdant plain, and was threading his path down the deep valleys and dells on which pastured the royal herds. To oppose this genuine foe it became necessary that stratagem, valour, and numerical strength should be judiciously combined. More than half the garrison were ordered to arm; and as it was no longer a mere phantom of the imagination they were to encounter, their hot intrepidity suddenly sank far below zero. No deafening war-whoop rang through the air; no shrill, defiant shouts startled the ear; no dancing and capering gladdened the crowd's staring gaze; all, as if engaged in a sad and melancholy funeral procession, marched out of their impregnable fortress. The enemy, who was well aware of what mettle his opponents were made, tried to lure them away from beneath the shadow of their Aniba, where they had made their camp; but the braves of Magdala, faithful to their cowardly instinct, would not stray far out of the reach of their safe shelter; and Madame Mas-tiad's commander, instead of getting, by artful manoeuvre, four or five hundred of King Theodore's garrison, had to content himself with Daunt and Dalanla, of late the granaries of Magdala, which, pro tempore, he occupied.

But, it may be said, why, if you were surrounded by such a pusillanimous set, didn't you make an effort to escape? Frequently did we discuss this [323/324] topic in all its phases. Myself, Dr. Blanc, Mr. Prideaux, and one or two more were quite ready to risk the danger the attempt would involve. Thirty men, friends of Negousee, a sincere and honest Christian, were willing, as he assured me, to second our enterprise, at the hazard of their own lives. Happily, we were not of one opinion; had no weapons of defence; were shackled in heavy irons, and closely watched by vigilant guards. These circumstances united to render the undertaking, if not hopeless, exceedingly doubtful.

At the very time that we were meditating on some plan to escape the clutches of Theodore, two prisoners in the common gaol--one, Lidj Bacharee, a Tigré noble, and Weleda Arogai, a Shoa lad--tried to run away. The plot was well contrived; and had the legs of the elder prisoner been as agile as those of the younger, success would have been the reward of their reckless temerity. They had both succeeded in bursting their fetters, and, dressed in female garb, with water-jars on their backs, were wending their way across the Amba, as if they were going to the springs. The lad, who had only been chained on his ankles, walked firmly and erect; not so his partner in the projected flight. Fettered for many months on hands and feet, his bent frame and stiffened limbs sadly impeded his onward progress. The youth, afraid lest his companion's [324/325] movements should betray their flight, ran on and escaped. Lidj Bacharee strove hard to follow, but his tottering and limping gait attracted the attention of an ennobled Colonel. The gallant officer, who thought that the staggering fugitive was an elated damsel, on her way home from a drunken bout, approached nearer, and, to his surprise, the gay dame proved to be a runaway prisoner. Well aware that the desperate man would not without a struggle yield himself up to his captor, he shouted with all his strength for help. At the cry of the great man numbers hastened to the spot; and the miserable fugitive, after a most cruel and inhuman treatment, was, bleeding and almost lifeless, borne back to his cell. This important event was, in due course, reported to the king, who ordered that the culprit's hands and feet should be wrenched off, and his body cast down the Amba precipice. The royal command was promptly executed.

The severity of the penalty inflicted on Lidj Bacharee did not deter others from imitating his example. On September 5th, 1867, several soldiers of the garrison, and two officials of note--one a guardian of the king's treasury, and the other nominally a member of the council, but virtually a hostage for the good conduct of his family--took French leave of the Amba, and went over to the Gallas. The followers of the Prophet gave a most [325/326] hospitable and generous reception to the runaway Christians.

Our Amba chiefs were in great perplexity and distress. To retrieve their character with the king, who would hold them responsible for these desertions, they resolved to surprise the village where the fugitives had taken refuge. Four hundred men of the garrison were selected for this arduous duty. They were all, more or less, practised thieves and murderers, so that the errand on which they were about to embark suited their tastes and inclinations. Full of hope that they would avenge the injury done to their king, and enrich their own beggarly homes with Galla slaves and cattle, they started in the greatest glee.

Damash, who was again commander-in-chief, paid a visit to his friend Mr. Rassam. On his approach I crept into my hut, as I had no inclination to admire or to bow before the buffoon, whose fingers ached to murder sleeping women and children. The poor villagers, wrapt in profound slumbers, did not dream of any dangers till the assassins and kidnappers had invaded their dwellings. Quick as lightning spread the alarm to the neighbouring hamlets, but ere help and assistance could be rendered to the surprised, more than a score lay weltering in their blood. The execrable robbers, laden with booty, and about three hundred head of cattle, [326/327] were most anxious to retrace their steps before dawn exposed them to the spears of the Galla horse. Housed to desperation, Mahomed Hamza, the chief of the invaded village, with a dozen horsemen, charged the contemptible banditti, and for ever silenced many a blustering' tongue. By this time about fifty horsemen more had come to join their countrymen, and the small band of brave and fearless men completely routed the dastardly assailants. Many were killed, others seriously wounded, and nearly all deprived of their arms. The news of defeat created the utmost consternation on the Amba. Men, women, and children rushed about in the wildest frenzy. Towards evening the crestfallen braves returned to their Amba. They looked dreadfully woebegone; and em they crept along, bemoaning their own misfortunes, or the fate of a fallen companion, I could have pitied them had they gone out to fight an open enemy in the bright daylight, and not to murder an unsuspecting number of peasants during the murky hours of midnight. Damash, minus leopard-skin, shield, pistol, and gun, was invisible for ten days. He pretended that in the fight he had received a wound; but it was positively stated that in his precipitate flight before the Gallas he had lost his footing, and toppled down the side of a precipice, that brought his skin, and dress to grief.

[328] On October 25th, our good friend Aboona Salama, after a lingering illness, breathed his last. The old prisoners deeply lamented the death of their firm and constant friend. Many were his trials and troubles daring our chequered captivity; but, whether the king treated him as a friend or enemy, he never neglected an opportunity to ameliorate, at least, our position, if he could not effect our release. Till within a few weeks of his demise he laboured and toiled, formed plans, and enlisted support, to ensure our mutual safety. His measures were well concerted, and, had the blustering rebels seconded the enterprise, the Amba might have ceased to be Theodore's before the close of 1867.

The demise of the worthy metropolitan diffused a gloom over our fortress. Weeping and lamentations resounded from every nook and corner. They were the expressions of honest grief--an affecting tribute to departed worth.

Aboona Salama, the hundred-and-tenth Bishop of the Abyssinian Church, was, like his predecessors,;.t. Copt. The connection of that remote country with the see of St. Mark dates back to those early ages when Christianity, with the vigour of youth and the energy of a Divine impulse, undaunted by obstacles, pressed forward to the conquest of a whole universe.

It was in the year A.D. 330 that two pious young men, the sons of a Syrian merchant, on their voyage [328/329] to India, were driven by adverse winds to seek refuge on the coast of Africa. Prompted by a laudable ambition of subjugating that remote and benighted country to the sway of the Redeemer, the two exiles immediately applied themselves to achieve this glorious enterprise. The vagaries of an ill-formed Judaism, blended with the polluting system of Paganism, which till then constituted the religion of the land, could not long withstand the simple, pure, and rational creed announced by the pious foreigners. To abandon, however, rites and ceremonies which had entwined themselves around every act of life, and to adopt a belief more sublime and ethereal, did not appear in harmony with the tastes and inclinations of those mountaineers. Fromentius and his companion Edesius, the two devout preachers, perceived the difficulty, and, had their abilities been equal to the task, they might have tried, by humble persuasion and skilful reasoning, to burst the cobwebs of falsehood and imposition woven by clumsy hands; but, unable to cope with the shallow sophistries of the champions of the established religion, they consented to a compromise, and thus some of the institutions of the Jews and the superstitions of the surrounding Pagans became interwoven with the spiritual doctrines of the Gospel.

The conversion of Ethiopia, and the consecration of Fromentius by the hands of Athanasius, [329/330] the patriarch of Alexandria, brought many able ecclesiastics to the country, who laudably exerted themselves to eradicate error, and to establish an unadulterated Christianity. They translated the Bible, and some of the best works of the most distinguished Greek fathers into Gheez, the sacred language of Ethiopia; compiled a liturgy; established schools, and did all in their power to give life and spirit to the newly-organised church, which, under the good providence of God, seemed destined to be a blessing to enthralled Africa.

The fire of enthusiasm for the new faith kindled in the breasts of the susceptible children of those sunny lands, found sympathy in kindred bosoms, and the sacred sparks, wafted from province to province, spread far and wide, till, from the burnt-up plains of the Soudan, in the north-west, to the picturesque mountain-fastnesses of Gurague, in the south, the anthem of praise floated along scenes hitherto only vocal with the shouts of revelry and the songs of debauchery. This zeal, which derived its impulse from an ardent temperament, and not from the life-giving energy of the Scriptures, communicated its impress to the converts, and they became languid and nerveless Christians. For a time, the fervour of the few truly devout stemmed the tide of corruption that sought to mingle its noxious waters with the wholesome stream that emanated from [330/331] beneath the throne on high; but that tide proved too strong, and elaborate ceremonies were permitted to supplant the essentials of a saving faith. In the absence of a truly inspired creed, that might have enlisted the sympathies and devotions of the intelligent, pious men worried and perplexed their minds with fanciful speculations and abstruse dogmas. Councils and their decrees formed the themes of discussion, and, when these profound topics exceeded the grasp of their weak intellects, they found food for the indulgence of their infatuated spirits in debates and strifes about meat and drink, sin and penance, saints and devils, till their whole system of theology degenerated into a mazy labyrinth of contemptible and even obscene follies.

The sword of the Spirit was now laid aside, and weapons of another metal grasped. Party was leagued against party, and that, too, with an intensity of rancour that threatened to split the Church into countless sections. Priests, monks, and debterahs entered the sanctuary, not adorned with the submissive graces and virtues of the Gospel, but inflated with an unprofitable argument on some senseless tenet. There were men who defended asceticism, and men who opposed it; those who wanted to worship every saint, and those who wanted only to worship the most renowned for their miraculous exploits; partisans for two births of [331/332] Christ, and partisans for three; ecclesiastics who maintained that sin is pardoned in this world, and ecclesiastics who asserted that it was in the next; defendants of vice, and supporters of virtue; in fact, these and similar fanciful speculations were debated with such ardour, that the truth was entirely buried under the rank luxuriance of error, and the Church in Africa, around which so many hopes for that benighted continent clustered, became at last a caricature on our Christianity, and a libel on the Grospel.

The theological quarrels of ecclesiastics did not disturb the repose of the ease-loving laity, or undermine the unity of the church. Fond of pleasure, the licentious Ethiopian had no inclination to worry his dull brain with questions that were confined to an arena on which he never ventured. He kissed the cross, worshipped the rude pictures of Mary and St. George painted on the mud walls of the church, strictly observed the numerous prescribed fasts, repeated certain prayers in an unknown tongue, and if all this did not atone for lying, stealing, drunkenness, fornication, &c, he gave an extra jar of honey to the father confessor, and the compact between his low inclinations on earth and his promised hope of heaven was inviolate for ever.

The advent of the Jesuits and their unhallowed proceedings inaugurated a new era. Useful as allies against the abhorred Mahometan invaders, but [332/333] suspected as promulgators of doctrines opposed to the established belief, the foreigners met with a doubtful reception on the Abyssinian Alps. Their efforts to wrest a legitimate dependency of St. Mark, and to annex it to the see of St. Peter, roused the fiery passions of the indolent highlander, and at the behest of the priest he unsheathed his rusty sword in defence of the Church. Had the emissaries of the Pope restricted their labours to mere teaching, the disasters that befel their cause might have been warded off; but stimulated by pride and arrogance, they commanded where they ought to have entreated, and used coercion where they ought to have applied persuasion; hence their failure and defeat, exile and death.

The religious war in which the wliite strangers had plunged the nation did not improve their minds or enhance their moral and religious character. Elated with their unexpected success over men who, whilst they professed to proclaim the message of love, wielded the sword dripping with blood, the whole nation abandoned itself to a rapturous jubilee. Priests relaxed the discipline of their flocks, and their flocks closed their eyes to the frailties of the priests. Gross immorality and debasing corruption broke down the feeble restraint which a few undefined religious ideas had erected, and the most scandalous saturnalia were sanctioned, if not actually licensed, [333/334] by an indulgent Church. "Give! give!" was the motto of the spiritual father, and so long as perfect Maria Theresa dollars dropped into his hand, and jars of hydromel ornamented the walls of his home, every sin found a pardon and every excess an excuse. The Aboona might have done much to check this shameful laxity of discipline; but, indifferent to his charge, ignorant of the language, and very often, if not generally, a stranger to the saving truth of the doctrines he pretended to guard, his vast revenues occupied more of his time and attention than the welfare of the diocese committed to his trust.

Within the last half century a solicitude for the regeneration of this remote and isolated land awoke in the bosom of some generous and benevolent gentlemen connected with the Church Missionary Society. Several missionaries promptly volunteered to embark on this noble errand. Their zeal, combined with considerable abilities, adapted them for this arduous task. Immediately after their settlement on this new and untried missionary field they began to sow the spiritual seed, which, if it had taken root, might ere now have clothed those mountains with a fairer crop than even beneficent nature so spontaneously supplies. Not to shock the prejudices of the natives by a precipitate attack on their deformed Church, they confined their toils to the circulation of God's Word, the writing and [334/335] translation of useful books, and friendly social intercourse with the people. [The Rev. Mr. Isenberg, of the Church Missionary Society, wrote and translated several excellent works.] Their exemplary life, meek deportment, and unostentatious piety won the affections and removed the prejudices entertained against white men. The contrast between the doctrines promulgated by the strangers and those inculcated by their own priests enlisted attention and excited inquiry. These symptoms of a change in the sentiments of some of the people caused an alarm in the stronghold of superstition, and measures were quickly adopted to arrest the obnoxious movement. Had the Word of Life penetrated the heart, the assault made on it would no doubt have imparted to it more strength and a deeper root; unfortunately it had only affected a few minds, and those not the most honest and upright, and consequently the faintest clamour excited their fears and made them recoil from the unexpected danger they had provoked. Political designs and other odious intentions were now imputed to the missionaries, and though the charges were disproved by the exaggerations of the inventors, the rulers willingly lent their ears to the stories, and the messengers of the cross received peremptory orders to quit the country.

About this period the episcopal chair, which [335/336] for several years had been vacant, was, after much trouble and heavy expense, again occupied by a Coptic priest. The new primate, who had reluctantly accepted the exalted post to which he was elevated, entered upon his vast diocese at a time most propitious to his high and lofty aspirations. Dejatch Oubie, of Tigré, had crushed every pretender, and was firmly installed as the sole ruler of the whole country that stretches from the rugged mountain ranges through which the Tacazze forces its noisy passage down to the sultry plains that skirt the blue waters of the Egyptian Sea, Ras Ali, the voluptuous governor of the Amhara provinces, was quietly pursuing his peculiar pleasures at Debra Tabor, glad enough to bless Tecla Haimanout, or Mahomet, as the whim dictated, if neither rancorous priests nor restless chiefs marred the coarse revels in which he found his delight. Dejatch Goshou, the martial, brave, and generous prince of Godjam, who could boast of a noble line of ancestry, was content with the patrimonial domain and an occasional foray into the adjacent Pagan Galla territory; and Sahala Salasie, the sovereign of Shoa, though anxious to acquire fame, had his ambition curbed by the turbulent Wollo Gallas, and was obliged to seek for laurels on the dreary field of priestly polemics and absurd monkish discussions. Admired and venerated, the youthful Aboona (he [336/337] was then about twenty-two) had only to exert his influence, and to apply his energies, and he might have achieved a work equal to, if not more glorious than that of his namesake, the founder of the Christian Church on the Alpine scenery of Abyssinia. God had to some extent, as I often told him, prepared him for that work. Well versed in the Bible, and tolerably conversant with the doctrines of the Reformed Church of England, which he had imbibed in the missionary school under the late Mr. Lieder, at Cairo, the ardour of his temper needed only the live coal from the altar above, and the darkness in which the Church is shrouded would, like the vapours which during the rainy season spring up in the morning from every valley and ravine, have disappeared before the light of truth and the communication of the Gospel message.

His first object was to stifle puerile debates and glaring abuses, and when he saw that these efforts were only productive of bluster and noise, he intended, as I heard from his own lips, to change his tactics, and seek, by such means as the establishment of schools, the encouragement of learning, and the diminution of the swarms of lazy priests, to sap the Jewish and Pagan element which had disfigured the Christianity of the Church. His intentions were good, but the means he used worthless. He wanted to improve, and not to renew; to uproot, and not [337/338] to plant; hence he provoked violent agitation, but did not develop any regenerating influence. He roused vehement hostilities, but did not initiate any permanent reform. Failure and disappointment might, perhaps, have ripened his judgment, and taught him to leave profitless speculations to the lovers of such themes, and to occupy himself with the Word which reveals life and immortality, but unfortunately the history of Abyssinia assumed a new phase.

Kasa, the future conqueror of the dismembered empire, at this very crisis had already, by his prowess-and daring, elicited the applause and admiration of the multitude. The conquest of Tigré and the captivity of its chief completed the triumph. Aboona Salama, the friend of the deposed ruler, was unfavourably disposed towards the impetuous victor, and presuming on his position, he did not even attempt to conceal his dislike. Kasa knew this, but as it was his interest to cultivate the friendship of the primate, he disguised his rankling resentment beneath the bland smile of meek submissiveness.

The sword had prevailed, and Tigré, Amhara, Godjam, and the independent kingdom of Shoa, unanimously declared Kasa the invincible successor of Menilek, and restorer of Ethiopian glory. The incense of adulation, so profusely offered by an [338/339] enthusiastic nation to the popular hero, did not soften the Aboona's prejudices, and he hesitated to pour on his head the sacred moron, the symbol which would constitute him the anointed of the Lord, and the chosen monarch of the realm. Artful intrigues, which often did him more service than the sword he then so adroitly wielded, here also came to his support, and the bishop, as already stated, received an intimation that if he refused to anoint the descendant of Solomon to be king of Ethiopia, there was another Church dignitary in the kingdom, the head of the Romish mission, who would not scruple to perform that solemn rite. The terrified primate, who in imagination already saw the Church reft into hostile camps, and the country drenched in the blood of a religious war, at length yielded to the universal request, and to the delight of myriads, who lived to curse the fatal day, Kasa was crowned by the pompous name of Theodorus, negoos negest, King of Kings of Ethiopia.

The crafty monarch and the intrepid prelate were now apparently reconciled, though it was easy to prognosticate that the pretensions of the one and the spiritual authority claimed by the other would in a very short time lead to a serious and perhaps permanent rupture.

Had the Aboona possessed all the virtues that [339/340] can adorn the Christian's character; had he joined to the meekness of a child the spotless purity of an angel; nay, had his life been a mirror of all that is ennobling and sublime, even then it would have been impossible for him to avert the struggle in which, for years, he was destined to be engaged with the capricious monarch.

King Theodoras was firmly seated on his throne. Falsehood, intermingled with some truth, united in proclaiming his fame. He was represented as a mild, just, and affable ruler; a friend of foreigners, and a protector of the rights of the people. Christian philanthropists again turned their compassionate gaze towards Abyssinia, and under the auspices of a sovereign so lauded, anticipated that their benevolent labours would this time not disappoint their fondly cherished expectations. Bishop Gobat, who was tolerably acquainted with the country and its inhabitants, promptly embarked on this charitable enterprise. Now, as all previous attempts for the conversion of this people undertaken by ordained missionaries with superior abilities had failed, it was deemed advisable to try a different plan, and to send out artisans to instruct in the truths of the Gospel, to circulate the Amharic Scriptures, and if necessary, to teach a useful trade. The Chrishona near Basle provided the men, and the Jerusalem Diocesan Fund the means of their support. The [340/341] rugged, up-hill path of the missionary was, however, soon abandoned by these men for the more remunerative and easy service of the king, and all, with the exception of Mr. Flad, whom I engaged to labour among the Falashas, became royal workmen. [Mr. Flad accompanied me on my first missionary tour as assistant and interpreter, and before I left Abyssinia, I engaged him to labour conjointly with. Messrs. Bronkhorst and Josephson among the Falashas, in connection with the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews.]

The incipient efforts for this long-neglected and almost forgotten tribe were attended with more than ordinary success on the wide field of foreign missions, whether among Jews or Gentiles. Schools were founded, Scripture-readers appointed, preaching tours initiated, and in a very limited period, upwards of fifty individuals formed into a nucleus for a future reformed Church in the heart of Abyssinia. Some of the persons who were baptised after my first departure from the country, candour compels me to confess, were neither enlightened nor conscientious Christians; but if a small number did not shape their actions and conduct in strict conformity to the Gospel, there were not wanting others, and they constituted the majority, whose private and public life might have challenged the most rigorous scrutiny.

The introduction into the Abyssinian Church of a body of men who would combat error and satisfy [341/342] inquiry was, under existing restricted circumstances, the best leaven to move an idolatrous, corrupt mass. The experiment, though precarious and unsafe, could not be condemned. Here was a band of believers baptised into a fallen Church, and yet not absorbed into that Church--virtually adherents to the creed of the Protestants, and yet nominally attached to what may be termed the religion of the Abyssinians--avowedly followers of an infallible and Divine Revelation, and yet apparently leaning to erroneous and human traditions. These were certainly paradoxes, but paradoxes capable of an easy solution. The Aboona, tossed about on a sea of doubt, fear, and uncertainty, was not hostile to the spread of the Gospel, but solicitous to prevent stormy combats and violent agitation. He was desirous to uphold the power of the hierarchy, without obstructing the few rays of light which might have tinged, but not irradiated, the clouds of ignorance in which that body was enshrouded. He wanted to graft a few good twigs on the decayed rotten trunk, but did not wish that it should resuscitate and vivify the whole tree. What our labours, under all these difficulties, would have achieved, had not more serious impediments obstructed their promising progress, is beyond the reach of speculation.

The light of Divine truth, diffused over many [342/343] a hill and dell, had already dispersed much mental darkness and spiritual night. It had taught the Falasha to reject the childish tenets and unauthorised requisitions of fanatical dreamers and self-righteous ascetics, and turned their inquiry to that Word which neither burdens reason nor enslaves the soul; it had infused its life-giving energy into the mind of many a Christian priest, and unveiled to his astonished gaze the heaven-revealed wisdom which theological disputes and passions had most effectually obscured; it had penetrated half a score of schools for the young, and led the pupils to pity that credulous simplicity which trusts in a silken cord fastened round the neck, or a parchment charm pendant over the bosom, and not in the all-prevailing merits of a compassionate Saviour. A day of grace had evidently dawned for some districts, and it required only, humanly speaking, a little more of the Spirit's impulse, and the dismal shadows of superstition and idolatry would have fled before the illuminating beams emanating from the sacred Scriptures. Unhappily, events occurred which put an end to our mission, and the hopes which clustered around it. We need not, however, mourn over the waste of labour and toil, health and strength, which were expended in its prosecution. A deep impression has been made on the minds of a vast number of individuals, which [343/344] will not die nor become obliterated. The Abyssinians are a reflecting people, and the lessons they have been taught, the Scriptures they now possess, as well as the splendid example of Christian charity and forbearance so nobly displayed by the conquerors of King Theodore and the destroyers of his impregnable fortress, will, for years to come, form a theme that must keep alive a spirit of discussion, and exert a salutary influence on the whole land.

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