Project Canterbury  

Charles Johnson of Zululand

By A. W. Lee

[no place:] The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1930.

Chapter XV. Closing days

THE end of the great war found the archdeacon an aged man. In years he was but 68, an age at which many a man is assuming greater responsibilities than he has hitherto known. But the life of hard work, privation and adventure that he had lived had not predisposed him to live to a really old age in full vigour. His strength of body began to fail, though his mind and spirit were as clear and vigorous as ever. Gradually he withdrew from his work, leaving the care of it more and more to others. He became the consultant of the whole diocese, though now but seldom able to travel about in it. His vast experience and his ripe wisdom were of the utmost use to the generation of missionary priests now rising to carry on what he and his compeers had so brilliantly begun. He served upon boards and committees both diocesan and secular. His flair for business never changed. Upon such boards as those dealing with trusteeships, finance, marriage laws for natives, education and the like he was to the end a prominent figure. At the synods of the diocese he remained a most forceful personality. Not so eager in debate as he had once been, he had learned how to bide his time and to deliver his opinion at the moment when it was most necessary to sway the minds of his hearers. His courtesy and consideration for others increased with age, though they had always been amongst his most conspicuous traits. It delighted him to see the keenness of the younger generation of missionary-priests. They were "boys" to him, his boys, some of them, trained in his school, encouraged by his example, supported by his opinions, though some amongst them had almost passed middle life.

Three out of his four sub-districts were taken over by his junior colleague, the Rev. C. E. Carey-Brenton, now Archdeacon of Swaziland. His own sub-district of St. Augustine's was served by a native priest, while the routine work of the great station itself was presided over and largely directed by Mrs. Johnson. [Mrs. Johnson died in February, 1930, after this book was written.--Ed.]

In one way this period of decline was of the greatest value to the work which he had created. He had brought into being a huge machine, the smooth working of which had depended for many years upon his own vigorous personality. With him present things went smoothly. If he had been suddenly withdrawn during the period of its dependence upon him the machine might easily have ceased to function. As things fell out his withdrawal was so gradual that time was allowed for other hands to master the mechanism and to assume control. There was inevitably a perceptible slowing down of its working, but it was never out of gear, and was always capable of being speeded up. This period of his life, though clouded by ill-health, was not the least happy time he had spent. There was so much he could be thankful for. His life's work was flourishing around him. His spiritual sons and daughters were striving, with many failures and falls from grace, to live the new life he had for so many years proclaimed to them. He had emerged from under the weight of debt which had for so long hindered him. He was held in honour by the government, which appointed him to serve it as a native commissioner, and by the Church for which he had worked so faithfully. He could look back upon his long life and re-live its incidents, tasting afresh the poignancy of defeat and the intoxication of success. One sentence was frequently upon his lips. "If I had to live my life over again," he was wont to say, "I would choose no other walk in it than that of a missionary-priest." With all its hardships, its crushing responsibilities, its disappointments, he saw clearly that there was no other way of life which brought such satisfactions, which called for the employment of so many fine qualities, which provided a better way of serving God and man.

Into the details of his passing no attempt shall be made here to enter. He died, aged 77, on the eve of All Saints' Day, 1927, in Durban, where he had been taken for treatment. He was buried in the chapel of the great church which he had built at St. Augustine's; "Founder's Chapel" as it is now known.

As he had lived, so he died, a humble, sincere Christian man, unafraid, trusting in God's infinite mercy, casting all his care upon Jesus, knowing that he cared for him.

He died leaving behind him his great adventure on earth, facing in humble confidence the still greater adventure that awaits all Christian souls beyond the veil.

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