IN his pleasant home in Tunbridge Wells, the name of which recalled happy days in far-off Ceylon, the aged saint of God continued to find an outlet for his energies in more ways than one. He was asked to take a service every Sunday at the General Hospital, and, to within three years of his death, he never missed leaving his house sharp at 9 a.m. for the service at 9.30, after which he would go straight to his own Church for morning service. Every Thursday, with great regularity, he visited either the men's or the women's wards in the same Hospital. Often, during the last few months of his life, when he had to go about in a bath-chair, one or another would stop by his chair and ask to be allowed to shake hands.
"You used to come and see me in the Hospital, sir, and I shan't forget your beautiful sermons and your kindly words."
"You visited me all the six weeks I was in Hospital," said another, and thus the dear saint of God was cheered as he realised that his ministry had not been in vain.
He also interested himself greatly in collecting funds for the Christian Colportage Association, a Society which has for its object the distribution of pure and helpful literature in the towns and villages. This entailed a good deal of correspondence, but "Padre" Rowlands kept it up until the last illness, which suddenly curtailed all his activities.
At "Lindula" he entertained from time to time friends from Ceylon, and nothing cheered the veteran so much as the latest news from the little country which kept always a warm corner of his heart. The writer remembers a warm summer day in 1924, when, passing through Bath by car, he caught sight of the familiar figure of "Padre" Rowlands. How his face lit up at the sight of one with the latest news from the "Front," and how many were the questions about this person and that!
And now we come to the sad details of the last illness. "It was heart-rending," his daughter writes, "to those who loved him to see one who had always been so alert in mind and body rendered helpless by the paralytic seizure which laid him low in February 1926, before which he had had weeks of very serious heart trouble."
In spite of this, however, a letter received after his "Home-call" some months later, bears witness to the fact that even during these days of helplessness and weakness his face betokened the joy that was in him, and which nothing could take away, even though physical infirmities did sometimes cause a temporary cloud to pass over him. The writer of the letter says: "I shall miss that radiant face and gracious presence on my 'daily round.' I always looked on that bath-chair as a 'lighthouse,' with the brightest light in it. I always looked out for it and was cheered."
The "Home-call" came on September 25, 1927, when Padre Rowlands, having fought a good fight and finished his course, entered into the rest he had so worthily won.
Those who were with him just before he entered into the Presence of his Lord had the joy of seeing his dear face light up every now and then with the sweetest smile, even when he was beyond speech and only half conscious of what was going on around him, and they felt sure that he was already getting glimpses of the glory beyond.
At his own request, Padre Rowlands was laid to rest amongst his former parishioners at Bon-church, and the words of committal were read by his friend and fellow-missionary of former days, the Rev. Hugh Horsley.
On a late September evening, with the tints of early autumn barely colouring the stately elms around the little churchyard, the singing of the well-known hymn "For all the Saints," by the choir, but echoed the thoughts of the many friends who came to pay their respects to the "faithful warrior" whose earthly remains were there laid to rest.
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes the rest;
Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest.
But, lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day:
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way.
From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Many were the tributes of loving sympathy which were received from friends at home and abroad when the news of the passing of Padre Rowlands became known. Those of most value, as far as this memoir is concerned, are those which were sent from private individuals, from, whose letters the extracts are given.
The late Bishop Chavasse of Liverpool wrote:
"I knew and loved your dear brother, and he seems to stand before me as I write. And now your dear father has joined him--one a missionary martyr indeed, the other in will. . . . I felt that to be with him was a benediction."
From a friend in Beckenham:
"It was with a sense of personal loss that I read of your father's death a couple of days ago. I knew him very slightly, but even so I could not fail to appreciate the wonderful way that he just radiated the Light that was in him."
From another friend in Tunbridge Wells:
"We feel it was a privilege to have known such a dear saint of God. His sweet smile was most refreshing. One feels that the words of Solomon are so true, 'The memory of the just is blessed.' His beautiful life does indeed help those who are still journeying through life, for it shows what the grace of God can do for a man who is controlled by the Spirit of God."
From Tunbridge Wells:
"A very wide Christian circle in Tunbridge Wells (and a far wider one beyond) has suffered a deep bereavement by the Home-call which has just come to your precious father, and many hearts will feel a distinct sense of loneliness in the thought that his radiant smile and genial greeting are for ever past. Those of us who were privileged to enjoy his intimacy and fellowship will feel our lives to be greatly impoverished by his absence, and the lack of his gleesome testimony. How we all loved him! It seems unrealisable that he has gone. But we know whither he has gone, and it is lovely to think of him as being with his adorable Lord and Saviour, who was so unspeakably real and precious to him. 'Absent from the body, at home with God.' The ear of corn was fully ripe, and the Husbandman joyously gathered it into the heavenly garner. We shall never forget him, and we shall never cease to praise God for his faithful life and ministry."
From a retired planter:
"Your father was, I think, the most universally beloved man I ever knew. In his life he seemed to get very near to Christ, and now he is with Him."
From a retired planter:
"I always felt a deep reverence for my dear friend of sixty-five years; we first met in Ceylon in 1862. What a splendid, noble life he has spent, and now he has earned his crown!"
From a retired planter:
"How utterly your father spent his sweet life for his fellow-men, and now he has earned his rest! We both feel a sense of deep gratitude for the privilege of having known so holy and so perfectly human a man. ... It is wonderful to think of him on the other side, and .the welcome he will have."
From a former fellow-missionary in Ceylon:
"All who ever came in contact with him had the highest possible regard for him, and those who knew him as a missionary in Ceylon will never forget him. One always felt the better for meeting him, for he brought a bit of Heaven with him wherever he went. He was a wonderful missionary, and his life had a wonderful influence in Ceylon. . . . His was indeed a life for which we can praise God, and also pray that we may have grace to follow his example."
From a friend in Ceylon:
"If ever there was a saint on earth, he was one, and I hope he will remember us and our poor wavering faith where he is gone. . . .
"So very many hearts in Ceylon will feel regret at his passing, but I think we will all congratulate ourselves on having known him, and having had him so long with us."
From another friend in England:
"It must have been a great privilege to have had such a father. I esteem it a great privilege to have known him. Your father was one of the unanswerable arguments for Christianity."
From a planter in Ceylon:
"If ever the angels sang when a soul entered Heaven, they did when Padre Rowlands entered it the other day."
The Rev. A. K. Finnimore, a former Ceylon planter, afterwards a fellow-worker with the Rev. W. E. Rowlands in the Tamil Coolie Mission, writes as follows:
"I think I am amongst those who have known Mr. Rowlands longest. I first met him in 1879, I think. I can so well remember seeing him come riding down the winding road to my bungalow on Dawatagas, in Pusseflawa. In 1882, when I left Ceylon to come home and take Orders, he sent me a message by a friend. The message was: 'Tell him to be sure and join C.M.S.' In the autumn of 1885, after the Dismissal Meeting, he pressed through the crowd, and came and shook me by the hand, and wished me 'God-speed.' We did not meet again till 1908, and then we were both in Ceylon again to renew our missionary work. I cannot tell you how much I loved him, and admired his wonderful example. We shall never know till we all meet again in the Eternal Life how many have been turned away from evil, and started on the toad to everlasting happiness by his influence. Thank God for such a life!"