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Abbeokuta; or Sunrise within the Tropics
An Outline of the Origin and Progress of the Yoruba Mission

By Sarah Tucker

New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1854.

Chapter XI. The Rev. J. C. Müller

"Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth. Yea, earth the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours, and their works do follow them."--Revelation xiv. 13.

The course of the Rev. J. C. Müller was so short, and yet so bright, and his journals give us so interesting a specimen of missionary work, that we are tempted to devote this chapter to a separate account of his labours.

He had landed at Badagry in January 1848, accompanied by one whose heart, like his own, glowed with love to God and man, and whose sympathy and help, in weal and in woe, he fondly hoped to have enjoyed for many years. But God, in His wisdom, saw fit to take her from him; and on the 26th of February, a month after their landing, Mrs. Müller was carried off by fever, leaving her husband alone, yet not alone; cast down, but not forsaken. This loss of his earthly treasure, far from paralysing his energies, or damping his zeal, only quickened his intense desire that the name of Jesus might be known among the heathen; and, ripening fast as he was himself for glory, he was the more stirred [139/140] up to work while yet it was called day. He set off immediately for Abbeokuta; and when Mr. Townsend left it in May 1848, he took the charge of the district of Aké, while Mr. Crowther continued in that of Igbein, in the southern part of the town.

At Aké, Mr. Müller proved himself a faithful pastor to the congregation Mr. Townsend had left behind; but his predominant desire was to bring other sheep into the fold; and his delight was to tread in the steps of his Divine Master, and go from town to town, "preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God." [Luke viii. 1.] Taking with him one or other of those faithful men, Andrew Wilhelm and William Goodwill, as interpreters, he would set out early in the morning; and, returning home in the middle of the day for rest and refreshment, would again take up his favourite employment, and walk and teach again till evening.

The northern part of Abbeokuta was included in his district; and day after day, the hills of Ikija, or of Bagura, the narrow streets of the lower towns, or the banks of the different winding streams that flow into the Ogun, heard the joyful sound of salvation by a merciful redeemer. His zeal and holy boldness were quickened by the sights and sounds that continually met him. Now, in long procession, the people were carrying idols on their heads, and [140/141] shouting in honour of the deities; at another time, a company of women were drumming, dancing, and tittering hideous cries, as their religious worship. Here two Babbalawos [Priests of Ifa] were dispensing blessings to those who would purchase them for cowries; and there a woman, with an image of the devil, promised happiness to whoever touched it. Priests and priestesses of the different deities abounded; and if he entered the house of a chief, the figures of Orisha and of Obbafulo showed that earthly riches, and success in war, were the objects of supreme desire.

He followed too the example of his Lord in his mode of teaching, and in taking the subjects of his addresses from the spot on which he stood, or the objects with which he was surrounded. A projecting rock at Ijemmo served him for a pulpit, as he unfolded to the numbers seated at its base the infinite value of the true "shadow of a great rock in a weary land." The spreading tree under which he sometimes rested, while a company gathered round him, furnished him with an illustration of the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. At one time, crossing the little stream that divides Ilugun from its neighbouring township, he stopped and drew attention to the cleansing power of its waters, and led his hearers to the blood of Jesus, that cleanseth from all sin. At another [141/142] place, he met above a hundred people coming up from the river, with calabashes of water, and arrested their steps, and fixed their attention, by crying out in the words of the prophet, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!" and then spoke to them of that salvation which is indeed as "wino and milk, without money and without price."

The markets afforded him abundant opportunities; sometimes thousands were to be found congregated together; and no sooner did he stand still among them, than a group, sometimes more and sometimes fewer, would gather round him, while the corn, the salt, the dry wood, exposed for sale, supplied him with topics for instruction and solemn warning. There seems to have been an earnestness and holy unction about his preaching, that peculiarly attracted the people; they often literally thronged him, and some among his listeners would occasionally follow him from place to place, that they might hear more of those wonderful things of which he spoke. They were almost always serious and attentive; though now and then a Mohammedan or a babbalawo would begin to cavil; but even in such cases, generally speaking, Mr. Müller had no need to answer the objectors; some one among the crowd would of his own accord do it for him. On one occasion, as he and his interpreter were walking along, they heard voices calling to them to stop, [142/143] and asking why they should have Leon passed by. They stood still, and soon a number was collected, to whom, as usual, they declared the gospel. Some of those present began to talk in praise of their Orisha, when a young man, a, stranger, silenced them by saying, "If the missionary carried about some strange image you would fall down and worship it; but it is his speaking the truth that offends you. Truth is always bitter. You know that country fashions are folly; he speaks the truth, let us submit to it." And sometimes on a second visit to a spot, they received a friendly welcome from some of those very people who had before been angry. Many were evidently, at least for a time, seriously impressed; among other instances, we may notice that of a woman, bearing with her the figure of the devil, who happening to pass along, while Mr. Müller was speaking, stayed to listen, when presently she was seen to throw the image to the ground. Another time, while preaching to the people Christ Jesus, and him crucified, they exclaimed with one voice, "We will serve him whom you preach to us." The mere fact of the missionaries coming so far for their benefit struck them much. "Is it true," said one of a company of women whom he stopped as they were drumming and making country fashion, "Is it true that white men walk over the sea?" "Yes," was the answer, "and only that we may [143/144] declare unto you that gospel whereby ye may be saved;" and they quietly listened while he went on to tell them the words of eternal truth. Another day, when preaching to a large number, a man interrupted him by saying something in praise of Ifa. He was immediately answered by a young man, who exclaimed that if they had no other proof of the truth of God's word, than that the missionaries had left their own country, and all that was dear to them, and had come over the sea to declare it to them, this alone ought to be enough to lead them to believe it. It was upon this occasion that Mr. Müller was particularly struck with one young woman, who, indifferent and insensible to all around, appeared absorbed in what she heard; her eyes were rivetted on the messenger of good tidings, and she seemed, like Mary, to ponder them in her heart; for when he ceased to speak, she anxiously enquired of him, "How can I pray to God?" and went on to ask how she might find peace and happiness for her soul.

It was encouraging to hear the testimony of the people, and even of some of the chiefs, as to the general improvement in Abbeokuta since anything of Christianity had been known there. Even one of the babbalawos, in conversation with Mr. Muller, volunteered an observation to the same effect, saying, that the town hn formerly been notorious for rapine [144/145] and cruelty, but that now persons and property were tolerably secure. "We old men," he continued, "are sure that good will come from preaching God's Word here. Preach, preach--do not mind what some say, but persevere. God will do his work in his own time." So spake this friendly babbalawo, but Mr. Müller could not let him go without a serious warning--not to turn a deaf ear himself to that Word of God, lest it should be said of him, and others like himself, Woe unto thee, Abbeokuta! for if the mighty words that have been spoken in thee had been spoken in cities beyond thee, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

Our readers will not be surprised at the blessing that attended these evangelising labours of Mr. Müller, and the more pastoral ones of Mr. Crowther. On December 24, 1848, Mr. Müller reports, "A crowded congregation, many standing," and on Christmas-day: "Divine worship exceedingly well attended; the people flocked in from all quarters, and the attention was marked throughout the whole service. The novelty and curiosity of our preaching have nearly passed away, and I hope and believe they come from a desire to hear the truth. It has been the same at Igbein for the two last Sabbaths; I believe our heavenly Father is powerfully drawing myriads of this people to His Son. Even now is He shaking the Abbeokuta heaven and earth; He that [145/146] is the desire of this people is come, and Jehovah is about to fill this land with glory." There was not much Christmas feasting at Aké on that day; for so many persons came into the compound that they might spend the day more quietly than they could do at home, and the opportunity of talking to them was so inviting, that Mr. Müller and his assistants "had not time so much as to eat."

For eighteen months Mr. Müller thus continued his work, never relaxing in it, except when prevented by ministerial work at home, or when incapacitated by illness and over-fatigue. In the course of those eighteen months, the thirty candidates for baptism who had been left in his charge, had increased to one hundred and thirty-nine, besides more than thirty whom he had had the privilege of baptising.

Speaking of those whom he had thus baptised, Mr. Müller says, "They are all stedfast people, and know what they are about; they have experienced the vanity and evil of the world, and have tasted that the Lord is gracious. There is much personal piety among the baptised and the candidates. They are exposed to sun and rain, to storms and calms, but they are not exposed to European influence; and at present, they take it for granted, that every Englishman must be a good man."

Among the candidates at this time was a balogun, or war-chief, who, on his first visit to Mr. Müller, [146/147] told him that he had long been dissatisfied with country-fashion, and had thought of embracing Jtfahommedanism, but having one day heard the Word of God when working at his farm, he desired to hear it also at church; he came, and was so deeply interested, that from that time he determined to serve the true and living God.

There were several interesting cases of inquirers of whom it is not related whether they were ever baptised, or even became candidates for baptism, though most probably they did so. One of these was a soldier and kidnapper, who one day came to Mr. Müller, saying that when he awoke that morning the thought came across his mind that his ways were not good, and that he would go to the white man and ask about the ways of God. The missionary had some conversation with him, and he was evidently much impressed.

There was also another kidnapper who had, by seizing a man belonging to Ijaye, occasioned hostilities between that place and Abbeokuta. He was, according to the recent law, sentenced to death, but was spared at the intercession of Sagbua; and, Struck with astonishment at his unexpected deliverance, acknowledged that it was God who had rescued him, and became a regular attendant at the Sunday-school, and at church. Another time Mr. Müller was visited by a young man who came to him [147/148] with twenty of his companions. "I heard," said he, "that God's messenger lives here, and I am come to ask the will of God." After some earnest conversation, the question of the Philippian jailer was again asked in Abheokuta in nearly the same words; and the same reply was given. The next day the young man was at church and much interested in what he heard.

There was one very painful case of backsliding that occurred among the candidates. This was a babbalawo of the name of Olishido; he was a venerable old man who heard the word with wonder and with joy, and appeared to receive it to his soul's salvation; but his fellow-priests could not bear to lose him thus, and one day when Mr. Muller, having missed him from church, went to seek him, he found a host of these men gathered round him and preparing a sacrifice, of which they compelled Olishido to partake. His heart wept for the poor man, who evidently joined them against his convictions and his inclinations. The shepherd did not give up this straying sheep; he continued to visit him, though we fear without any satisfactory result, for the last we hear of him is that he was convinced of his guilt, but still afraid to confess Christ openly.

This fear of man kept back another person from becoming a candidate. It was a priestess, who had formerly been a violent opponent, but who was [148/149] pricked in her heart, and became anxious and uneasy. She had not, however, courage to come forward openly, because as she had long deceived so many persons by her pretended enchantments, she feared lest if it were known she had embraced the new religion she should in revenge be given to Oro, or in other words, be murdered.

One of those whom Mr. Muller baptised was Mary Ije, the mother of Mr. Thomas King, a catechist at Sierra Leone. She was a very aged woman, and had found it impossible to learn the creed or the ten commandments; but the general state of her mind, her consistent conduct, and the simple earnestness with which, in answer to some question, she replied, "I look to Jesus alone for the saving of my soul," were satisfactory evidences of a meetness for the rite. Another of the baptised was Susanna Kutè. While yet only a candidate she had suffered much for her faith in Christ, and had been seized and put in chains on no other ground than her attendance at church and at the classes. Mr. Muller obtained her release through the friendly intervention of Ogubonna, and the patience and gentleness of her conduct during her trial so moved the heart of her persecutor, that very soon afterwards she had the satisfaction of seeing him become a regular attendant at church and at the Sunday school.

[150] Several similar instances occurred about this time; they were the precursors of the violent persecutions that broke out in October of this same year (1849), but as we intend to reserve the particulars of this for a separate chapter, we shall here only state that although these individual cases occurred in the district, and though Mr. Müller was greatly hindered in his visits to the distant quarters of the town, yet, on the whole, the converts and congregation of Aké remained throughout unmolested.

But before the persecution ceased, our missionary's health became the source of great uneasiness to his friends; frequent attacks of illness laid him aside for days together, and these illnesses were increased by the impossibility of his having the food he required. Yams, plantains, and Indian corn were unfit for him; neither rice, flour, nor biscuits could at this time be procured from Badagry; and he was reduced to meat or fowls as his only nourishment. He had been much interested in building the mission-house and church at the new station of Ikija at the north-west extremity of the town, two miles from Aké, and three from Igbein. The church was erected by the contributions of friends in England, through that faithful friend of missionary work, Miss Barber, of Brighton; and stands on rising ground, the property of the mission, in the open road, and not within the compound.

[151] Mr. Müller moved into his new residence in April; and for a time, the change appeared to benefit him, but his attacks soon returned again. [There seems little doubt but that these attacks were sometimes brought on by over-exertion, or by exposure to heavy rains. But it seemed as if he could not do enough for what he called his "beloved Abbeokuta."]

It is very affecting to read his journals during this spring of 1850, to mark how every respite from pain and sickness was seized upon to resume his Sunday-work in the church and in the schools, and, when possible, to return again to his preaching in the streets. The last entry in his journal is on May 26, when he speaks of a good attendance at the services, but that he himself was too ill to take any part in them. Mr. Hinderer, who was now residing at Aké, found him on the 7th of June so ill that he determined not to leave him again; and except when kindly relieved by Mr. Crowther, watched him unceasingly by day and night. It was a period of severe trial to them both; and during the last night more especially, for Mr. Müller's weakness prevented him from speaking so as to be understood, and the anxiety and fatigue of the nine preceding days and nights had so shaken the nerves of Mr. Hinderer, that when he attempted to speak words of consolation to his dying brother, he found his sentences were so incoherent that he was obliged to [151/152] desist. "We could," he says, "do no more than look at one another, but why art thou troubled at this, O my soul? The Sun of righteousness, when lighting a happy soul through the valley of the shadow of death to its future home above, needs not thy smoking flax to increase his brightness."

The spirit of this man of God fled at day-break of June 16, 1850, and it adds another to the many touching incidents of his history, that the church in which he had hoped to proclaim the tidings of salvation by a crucified Redeemer, was first opened for Divine service on the Sunday after his death.

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