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Borneo Church Mission

From The Colonial Church Chronicle, and Missionary Journal, Vol. IV (August, 1850), pages 68-72.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007


THE question is often asked, why it is that Missionary efforts in these days have been crowned with so little success,--why it is that the expenditure of so much time and labour, and of funds so large as those which have within the last fifty years been subscribed for Missionary objects, has not been followed by corresponding results? Comparison is made between the labours of the first preachers of the Divine message in the age of the Apostles, and those of their successors in our own times; and the latter, we are told, are weighed against the former and found wanting. There, it is said, we see a few uneducated men, with few earthly resources, but great in faith and energy, amid privation and danger, and with much bodily suffering, drawing thousands to the faith, and founding Churches by which the politic superstitions of the Cæsars, the subtle philosophy of the Academy, were overthrown; while here are Societies with princely incomes, with educated Missionaries, and under imperial protection, utterly failing to overturn systems of idolatry at once as absurd as they are antiquated. Upon this accusation an argument is founded by the Romanist, to prove that we are wanting in that apostolic succession, without which, it is said, there can be no true Church, and that as upon the Church alone the blessing of the Lord was bestowed, we must not hope for Missionary successes so long as we are separated from the Holy Apostolic See. By another party we are told that this is a proof that our religion itself is worn out; that the esoteric doctrines of Christianity were well suited to the more barbarous ages of the world, but will not do for the nineteenth century. [(1) "The first Missionaries," they say, "believed in what they preached. You have no faith in what you say; at least the more enlightened of your party have not, although they will not own it."]

By others, belonging, perhaps, to our own Church, the same [68/69] proposition is assumed to be true, and it is made the foundation of an argument against all Missionary efforts whatsoever: they say, "Without miraculous gifts you will fail to make any impression. You may appeal to the purity and greatness of your doctrine, but the Mahommedan, the Hindoo, or the Buddhist, will tell you that the same truths will be found veiled among the mysteries of their own faiths. Do you appeal to the Bible as a standing miracle, they will themselves claim the same honour for their Koran, their Shasters, and their Vedas;" and we are told we must wait for some sign from heaven to do that for which we are incompetent. A charge so grave as this from so many quarters cannot be treated with contempt. That it is not true, we may appeal to the pages of this publication and to the hearts of its readers; but can we say that it is without colour of truth? And if we cannot, must we not investigate the cause? God forbid that we should doubt the Apostolic mission of our Church, the truth of our holy religion, or the faith and self-devotion of our Missionaries, who in tropical climates, in various positions of difficulty and danger, are now labouring in their sacred calling. But may not the reason of our want of success be, that while the conversion of the heathen nations subject to our sway would seem to be a national duty, our efforts for this purpose have been wanting in a national character? Nor is this all: the Apostles went forth upon their mission armed with the gifts of tongues and of healing; to these they could appeal as their credentials, and at once arrest the attention and overpower the understanding. While, however, these miraculous powers are denied to us, we surely are entrusted with means of influence which divine Providence may have designed expressly to replace them. We have a national character in which the crafty Hindoo, however false himself, has learned to place implicit reliance; we have a national greatness, which seems to hold at its disposal the empires of the East; we have a perfect ecclesiastical system, a pure and apostolic Church, to which we can point as the basis of our character and the cause of our greatness. We have, indeed, no miraculous powers, but we have a scientific knowledge scarcely less wonderful: we have no miraculous gift of tongues, but we have opportunities of sending forth Missionaries instructed in the language of almost every known race of men upon the earth: we have no supernatural gift of healing, but our knowledge of medicine and surgery, sciences which most especially deserve the name of Christian, have attained a perfection until the present age and in other countries unknown. Have these powers been brought worthily to bear upon this great work? We think not. Something has indeed been done, but sufficient only to show what remains to be done; and hence it may be that the blessing of success has not been more largely given to us.

If this view of Missionary success be correct, it will be found that in no quarter are there more reasonable grounds for confidence and hope than in the Borneo Mission, whether we look to the circumstances of the Mission itself, or to the course adopted by its founders. We may presume that the readers of the Colonial [69/70] Chronicle are familiar with the history of Sir J. Brooke, the present Rajah of Sarâwak, the Christian ruler of a Mahommedan and heathen land. It has fallen upon him with peculiar fitness to originate the Mission; and hence it is that, carried on under his own inspection, guided by his advice, and strengthened by his influence, it may claim for itself a nationality which such a work can rarely possess. The new religion presented to the natives is the religion of "their white friend," as they call their Rajah; and for this reason it is, as well as for the manner in which operations have been commenced by the Missionary mixing freely with the natives, and offering them medical assistance, and secular as well as religious instruction, that the Mission has been introduced without exciting the Mahommedan prejudices of the Malay, and that we have now the satisfaction of announcing that the Missionary Church of St. Thomas, reared with the consent of the entire population, now crowns the Church Hill at Sarâwak. The material portion of the institution may indeed be considered as complete, the church and mission house being finished, and the school in active operation. In addition to this, a home school has been formed, and a number of orphan children have been collected, who, having received the holy rite of baptism from the Missionary, are now being educated by him as Christians, apart from native influence. A translation of the Church Catechism and of some of the prayers of our Liturgy has moreover been made

Nor is this all: even with the Malay population, and in a religious point of view, considerable ground appears to have been gained by the missionary, Mr. M'Dougall. Thus, in a letter lately received from him, he says: "Islamism meets me at every turn. Our Sarâwak Malays are orthodox Mahommedans, but they are neither bigoted, nor well taught in their own tenets; indeed, they often come to me to read the Koran to them, as they have no Malay translation, and there are very few of them except the Imam and a few of the Hadgis, who understand anything of Arabic. They do not appear to have any enmity to me as a Christian minister; indeed I often have religious conversations with some of the best instructed and most respectable of them; they read the Psalms of David with me, and some have read parts of the history of our Lord. I have ventured to distribute a few copies of the Malay Bible, and many of the Psalms, to those who are likely to read them and not use them for waste paper, as is too commonly the fate of books distributed indiscriminately to natives."

From accounts received from visitors lately returned from Sarâwak, including naval officers in her Majesty's service, commanding vessels that have touched at the port, it would appear, indeed, that Mr. M'Dougall has already gained much favour and influence with the natives; a happy result, to which a competent knowledge of surgery and medicine has probably greatly contributed.

But while this progress has been made among the Malays, a far more extensive prospect of success has been opened among the Dyaks. The security of life and property which, under the rule of Sir J. Brooke, is possessed by the Dyaks in the Sarâwak territory, has not [70/71] only greatly increased their numbers there, but also promises to effect an entire revolution in their habits and manners. Emerging from utter barbarism, they may be said to be in a transition state, and are fast adopting the customs, language, and even the religion, of the Malay. Religion of their own, they can scarcely be said to have, unless a vague fear of ghosts, and a reverence for certain trees of the forest, can be so called. As therefore they advance in civilization, it is manifest that they must acquire a religion; and the great question now is, whether this religion is to be that of our Saviour Christ, or of the false prophet. Recent events, moreover, by which a severe blow has been struck against piracy, the false chivalry of the Eastern Archipelago, have opened to the European missionaries vast regions scarcely known as yet, except by name. It is a remarkable fact that this should be so, while at the same time the rapid increase of the population at Sarâwak--no longer the Goshen in which alone peace is to be found--is likely to receive a check from the increased tranquillity of the surrounding countries. As evidence of the correctness of these views, and of the general prospects of the Mission, the following extract from a letter lately written by Sir J. Brooke, from Penang, to the Rev. Mr. M'Dougall, deserves great attention. He says:

"27th April, 1850.--Recent events have opened a large field for your labours, and those of others; and I think it very desirable that you should point this out to the Committee at home, so that they may endeavour to place the Mission on a higher footing than at present." After recounting by name numerous tribes, the number of which cannot be computed at less than 50,000 souls, and among whom he mentions certain portions of the notorious Sakarran and Sarebas Dyak tribes, he adds: "Landu, in Sarâwak, likewise, is a place wherein missionary labours can be hopefully and safely commenced, and where, in my opinion, they would be appreciated. Sinbas itself may not be beyond our efforts, if efficient men were to be had. As we suppress piracy and head-taking, the hope of success increases; and to effect these objects is a task worthy of the Christian missionary, as well as the statesman. Urge, therefore, an efficient organization, and a supply of labourers to till the field; for you can do no more than regulate and superintend those under you, and cannot well be spared from head-quarters at Sarâwak, if a system of education is aimed at. Without dictating, I would suggest that several young men should be sent out: a man advanced in age is fixed in habits, and both his habits and his tongue require the requisite facility and obedience. Young men should be obedient, and should learn the Dyak language, and would live in the places I have named. And in the event of this increase being made, there should be powers vested in you of controlling and arranging their functions. I cannot but believe that the result of such an effort as I have named would prove satisfactory. The Dyaks, as I know, have but a slight hold on their present religion, and if they begin to profess Christianity, the example of a few will bring over the entire body in any place. I cannot enter into details, but my fear is, that the funds of the Borneo Mission are inadequate [71/72] for such a plan as I have proposed. If it be so, could any assistance be procured? I cannot answer this question, but it is worthy of your consideration and of the consideration of the home authorities. Think of this, will you? and recommend what is right; but do not lack efficiency, for little can be expected where little is attempted."

Mr. M'Dougall also, in a letter dated March 6, writes: "Our prospects of being able to lay the foundation of extensive missionary labours are increasing daily; nothing hinders now but want of labourers. Tribes upon tribes of Dyaks have asked me to send them teachers; some have even expressed their desire to become 'white men,' meaning Christians, at once, and wish me to baptize them at once; but until I have missionaries to place among them and prepare them better, I do not dare to do so; for while I am alone, it would only arouse Mahommedan jealousy and suspicion, and in my absence the Malays would counteract all I might have effected; whereas if I had European clergymen or catechists to place among the tribes, they would effectually prevent all Malay intrigue or opposition, for when a European is present, the Malay has little or no influence over the Dyak."

In answer to these appeals, the Committee of Management are desirous of at once sending two missionaries to Sarâwak; one to take charge of the schools, the other as a travelling missionary among the Dyaks. Fit persons, we trust, will soon be found, as it is manifest that in so large a field a single solitary labourer can do little. The inducements to any young man of energy and enthusiasm are not small; a free scope for his individual exertions, far different from the confined and crowded sphere which in this country might alone be open to him; a prospect of success rarely equalled, and that success a prize which only they who would dare to go can perhaps fairly appreciate. The prizes of human ambition may appear dazzling in the prospect, but far higher is the honour to be gained by those whose names will be written in the eternal story of mankind, as the founders of Churches, the Apostles of the nations! B.

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