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Metlakahtla and the North Pacific Mission of the Church Missionary Society

By Eugene Stock

London: Church Missionary House, 1880.

Chapter VI. Metlakahtla--Spiritual Results

While the work at Metlakahtla was thus prospering materially, and increasing in general moral influence, under the blessing of Him without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy, higher spiritual blessings were not withheld. Fresh classes of candidates for baptism had been formed during the last winter at Fort Simpson, and were continued diligently at the new settlement; and in April, 1862, the Bishop of Columbia, at Mr. Duncan's request, took the journey to Metlakahtla to baptize as many as might be found ready. But before this, one of the most interesting converts, a miracle of grace indeed, had been baptized, in the urgency of his special case, by Mr. Duncan himself. This was Quthray, a cannibal chief, one of the two men whose horrible orgies had met the eye of the newly-arrived missionary, at Fort Simpson, four years and a half before, and who has also been already mentioned as the one man who sullenly refused to kneel at Mr. Duncan's second service. He had, however, become one of the most regular and earnest attendants at the services and classes, and gave unmistakable evidence that Divine grace had indeed changed his heart. He joined the Metlakahtla party, but had not been there long before he fell ill. In October he passed away, a ransomed soul, to be a jewel in His crown who came to seek and to save the lost:--

"Saturday, 18th October, 1862.--Just as I was rising this morning I received intelligence that poor Quthray, the young cannibal chief, was dying. I have frequently visited him during his illness, and was with him for a long time a few nights ago. As he has long and earnestly desired baptism, and expressed in such clear terms his repentance for his sins, and his faith in the Saviour of sinners, I told him that I would myself baptize him before he died, unless a minister from Victoria arrived in time to do it. He always appeared most thankful for my visits, and, with the greatest force he could command, thanked me for my promise. Accordingly this morning I proceeded to the solemn work of admitting a brand plucked from the burning into the visible Church of Christ by baptism. Though I was not sent here to baptize, but to preach the Gospel, yet I had no fear but that I was doing what was pleasing to God in administering that sacred rite to the poor dying man, as an officially appointed person was not within several hundred miles of him. I found the sufferer apparently on the very verge of eternity, but quite sensible, supported by his wife on one side, and another woman on the other, in a sitting posture on his lowly couch spread upon the ground. I addressed him at once, reminding him of the promise I had made to him, and why I also spoke some words of advice to him, to which he paid most earnest attention, though his cough would scarcely permit him to have a moment's rest. A person near expressed a fear that he did not understand what I said, being so weak and near death, but he quickly, and with great emphasis, exclaimed, 'I hear, I understand' While I was praying his expression of countenance was most lovely. With his face turned upward, he seemed to be deeply engaged in prayer. I baptized him, and gave him the name of Philip Atkinson. I earnestly besought the Lord to ratify in heaven what He had permitted me to do in His name, and to receive the soul of the poor dying penitent before Him. He had the same resignation and peace which he has evinced throughout his sickness, weeping for his sins, depending all upon the Saviour, confident of pardon, and rejoicing in hope.

"This is the man of whom I have had to write more than once to the Society. Oh the dreadful and revolting things I have witnessed him do! He was one of the two principal actors in the first horrid scene I saw at Fort Simpson about four and a half years ago, an account of which I sent home, namely, that of a poor slave woman being murdered in cold blood, thrown on the beach, and then torn to pieces and eaten by two naked savages, who were supported by a crew of singers and the noise of drums. This man was one of those naked cannibals. Glorious change! See him clothed and in his right mind, weeping--weeping sore for his sins-- expressing to all around his firm belief in the Saviour, and dying in peace. Bless the Lord for all His goodness."

It was on April 21st, 1863, that the Bishop baptized at Metlakahtla fifty-nine adults and some children. On the 19th, Sunday, he landed from the "Devastation;" and for two days he was incessantly occupied in examining the candidates. His account is deeply interesting:--

"We were met by the whole village, who stood on the bank, in a long line--as fine a set of men and as well-dressed as could anywhere be seen where men live by their daily toil--certainly no country village in England would turn out so well-clad an assemblage.

"At three the bell was rung, and almost instantly the whole population were wending their way to church. There were hymns and prayers in Tsimshean. They repeated the answers to a catechism in Tsimshean. I addressed them, and offered prayers in English, which were interpreted by Mr. Duncan. There was much earnest response. The service lasted one hour and three quarters. There was an evidence of devotion. Mr. Duncan plays the accordion.

"Monday, April 20th.--Got to the Mission-house at eight to breakfast. Afterwards engaged the whole day seeing catechumens till one o'clock next morning. One after another the poor Indians pressed on to be examined. They had been under training for periods varying from eight months to three years. They had long been looking for a minister to admit them to baptism. It was a strange yet intensely interesting sight in that log cabin, by the dim glimmer of a small lamp, to see just the countenance of the Indian, sometimes with uplifted eyes, as he spoke of the blessedness of prayer--at other times, with downcast melancholy, as he smote upon his breast in the recital of his penitence. The tawny face, the high cheek-bone, the glossy jet-black flowing hair, the dark, glassy eye, the manly brow, were a picture worthy the pencil of the artist. The night was cold--I had occasionally to rise and walk about for warmth--yet there were more. The Indian usually retires as he rises, with the sun, but now he would turn night into day if he might only be allowed to 'have the sign,' and be fixed in the good ways of God.

"Tuesday, April 21st.--Immediately after breakfast, having had prayer, the work again began. Catechumens came in, and, one by one, were sifted; some, to their grief, were deferred. One man came and begged he might be passed, for he might not live till the next visit of a clergyman. Another brought a friend, and said, if I would only admit his wife to baptism, they would promise for her she should persevere and live to God. Another, a fine child of fourteen, I had thought too young to answer for herself--one who had always shown remarkable love for instruction, and had stood by the school when the many were its foes. She came with tears of entreaty which were irresistible and beautiful, and lovely was the sensitive intelligence which beamed upon her devotional features when afterwards she received the waters of baptism. Till four o'clock was I thus engaged, an hour after the time appointed for the baptisms.

"The peculiar suitableness of the questions in the Baptismal Service to the case of converts from heathenism was very remarkably illustrated throughout the examination. Converts from heathenism can fully realize renunciation of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Amongst these Indians, pomp of display, the lying craft of malicious magic, as well as all sins of the flesh, are particularly glaring, and closely connected with heathenism. To them these things are part and parcel of heathenism. So are the truths of the Creed in strongest contrast to the dark and miserable fables of their forefathers; and heartily can they pledge themselves to keep the holy will of God all the days of their life, seeing in Him a loving and true Father, of whom now so lately, but so gladly, they have learnt to know.

"I first drew forth their views of the necessity of repentance, its details, and their own personal acquaintance with it. I then questioned them as to the Three Persons of the Trinity, and the special work of each, with allusion to the Judgment, and the state of the soul hereafter, inquiring into their private devotion, to learn their personal application of repentance and faith, I questioned their anxiety for baptism, and demanded proof of their resolution to keep the will of God for their guide, to speak for God, and to labour for God's way all their life long. I sought to find out the circumstances under which they first became seriously inclined, and to trace their steps of trial and grace. Admitting them to the promise of baptism, I exhorted them to earnest prayer and devotion, as a special preparation, until the time came.

"The examination concluded, the candidates, to the number of fifty-six, were assembled in the church, and ranged in a large circle, in the midst of which the ceremony was to take place.

"The impressiveness of the occasion was manifest in the devout and reverent manner of all present. There were no external aids, sometimes thought necessary for the savage mind, to produce or increase the solemnity of the scene. The building is a bare and unfinished octagon of logs and spars--a mere barn--sixty feet by sixty, capable of containing 700 persons. The roof was partly open at the top; and, though the weather was still cold, there was no fire, A simple table, covered with a white cloth, upon which stood three hand-basins of water, served for the font, and I officiated in a surplice. Thus there was nothing to impress the senses, no colour, or ornament, or church decoration, or music. The solemnity of the scene--was produced by the earnest sincerity and serious purpose with which these children of the Far West were prepared to offer themselves to God, and to renounce for eer the hateful sins and cruel deeds of their heathenism; and the solemn stillness was broken only by the breath of prayer. The responses were made with earnestness and decision. Not an individual was there whose lips did not utter in their own expressive tongue their hearty readiness to believe and to serve God."

The following are some of the Bishop's notes of the examination:--

"Legaic (principal chief), aged 40.--Answers:--We must put away all our evil ways. I want to take hold of God. I believe in God the Father, who made all things, and in Jesus Christ. I constantly cry for my sins when I remember them. I believe the good will sit near to God after death. Am anxious to walk in God's ways all my life. If I turn back it will be more bitter for me than before. I pray God to wipe out my sins; strengthen me to do right; pity me. My prayers are from my heart. I think sometimes God does not hear me, because I do not give up all my sins. My sins are too heavy. I think we have not strength of ourselves.

"Neeash-lakah-noosh (called 'the Lame Chief'; he is blind also of an eye; fine old man), aged 70--Answers:--When asked if he wished to become a Christian, said--For that object I came here with my people. I have put away all lying ways, which I have long followed. I have trusted in God. We want the Spirit of God. Jesus came to save us. He compensated for our sins. Our Father made us, and loved us because we are His work. He wishes to see us with Him because He loves as. When asked about the judgment, said, The blood of Jesus will free those who believe from condemnation. Remarks--Under regular instruction for a year, and before that for some time by his daughter. Is most consistent, trying to do simply what is right. The other day was benighted on Saturday, on his way to spend the Sunday at Metlakahtla, seven miles off. Would not come on, nor let his people gather herring spawn, close under their feet, he rested the Lord's Day, according to the commandment.

"Lappigh Kumlee, aged 30--Answers--I have given up the lucrative position of sorcerer. Been offered bribes to practise my art secretly. I have left all my mistaken ways. My eyes have been bored (enlightened). I cry every night when I remember my sins. The great Father Almighty sees everything. If I go up to the mountains He sees me. Jesus died for our sins upon the cross to carry our sins away. Remarks--Dates his change from seeing a convert reading a book, and he felt ashamed that he knew nothing, and he determined to learn, and soon he found his own system false. In one case, when his spirit said there would be recovery, death came; in another, when he foretold death, life remained.

"Thrak sha kawn (sorcerer), aged 50--Answers--I wish to give up all wicked ways. Have been a medicine-man, and know the lies of heathenism. I believe in the great Father who made us, in Jesus who died on the cross that God would pity us. I want the Spirit of God to touch my heart. We must all stand before God. God will measure our ways. No one to be his master but God. I will not keep my eyes on the ground any more but will look up to heaven all my life. Remarks--He has had to bear much scorn, and to go through much struggle.

"Wahthl (wife of Legaic), aged 40--Answers--I wish to put away evil and have a clean heart. Feel the pain of the remembrance of sin so bad I would sometimes like to die. I want to seek God's face, but feel little hope, still I determine to persevere, though miserable. Loss of relatives, and finding no peace and rest, and feeling in darkness led me to look to God. I know that God sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins. Remarks--About nine months under regular instruction. She is evidently anxious for her soul, knows the truth, but her sins are such a burden that she has not found peace. She has been anxious her husband should go forward in good.

"Loosl (widow of the cannibal chief who died penitent), aged 25-- Answers--I know how blind I have been. Was first turned to God by the news of the Saviour. Was struck that He came down amongst us. God is a spirit full of love. Christ came to carry away our sins. We must pray for the Spirit to help us. I confess my sins to God and cry for pity. I pray for my friends. After death the judgment. We must stand before God. Jesus will answer for those who trust in Him. Remarks.--Upheld her husband in his wickedness. Was turned by his turning at his death.

"Nishah-kigh (chieftainess of the Nishkahs), aged 45--Answers:--I must leave all evil ways. I feel myself a sinner in God's sight. I believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. God sends down His Spirit to make us good. Jesus is in heaven, and is writing our names in God's book. I feel God's Word is truth. Have been for some time accustomed regularly to pray. Remarks.--Two years ago she was found giving Christian instruction to a sick and dying person. Her husband tells me she passed much time in devotion. When she first heard the Word of God her sorrow was great, and her penitence more than she could bear. Some five years she has been earnestly seeking God.

"Nayahk (wife of Lappligheumlee, a sorcerer), aged 25.--Answers:--Answers well and clearly upon the separate work of each Person of the Trinity. Prays for pardon--for the Holy Spirit. Remarks--Suffered much from the mockery of her husband. At her earnest demand he gave up devilry. Been consistent in the midst of opposition; adhered to the Mission when many were against. Has been a blessing to her family, all of whom have renounced heathenism. Her husband, the sorcerer, laments his past life, and would be the first to put his foot upon the evil system.

"Ad-dah-kippi (wife of a Christian Indian), aged 25.--Answers:--I must put away sin. I know I have been making God angry, but must put away all my old ways, lies, and the evil of my fathers. God gave us commandments. God would not hear us till we put away our sins, Jesus would make peace for us and add His Spirit. Am resolved to endeavour to live to God all my life. Was much moved last fishing at my sinfulness, and then repented strongly, and resolved to walk with God. I pray morning, noon, and night for pardon and God's Spirit. Remarks.--Had opposed her husband, who is a Christian."

One of those baptized, it will be seen, was the famous head-chief himself, Legaic, the same who had threatened Mr. Duncan's life four years before. He had been a ferocious savage, and had committed every kind of crime. After he first began to attend the school, he twice fell back; but the Spirit of God was at work in his heart, and when the removal to Metlakahtla took place, he deliberately gave up his position as head-chief of the Tsimshean tribes in order to join the colony. Constant inducements were held out to him to return; and on one occasion he actually gave way. He gathered the Indians together, on the Metlakahtla beach, told them he could hold out no longer, and was going back to his old life--that he could not help it, for he was being pulled away--that he knew it was wrong, and perhaps he should perish for ever, but still he must go. In tears he shook the hand of each in turn, and then stepping alone into his canoe, paddled rapidly away from his weeping friends. He went a few miles along the coast, and then, as darkness came on, put the canoe ashore. The night was one of such misery, he afterwards said, as no words could describe. "A hundred deaths would not equal the sufferings of that night." On his knees he wept and prayed for pardon, and for strength to return; and next day he again appeared at Metlakahtla, to the joy of all.

Legaic, who before was "a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious," was baptized by the name of Paul. In him indeed did "Jesus Christ show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them who shall hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting."

The Rev. R. J. Dundas, who visited Metlakahtla six months later, and baptized thirty-nine more adults and thirteen children, thus wrote of Paul Legaic and his daughter Sarah:--

"I paid a visit to the wife of the chief Paul Legaic. He it was who nearly took Mr. Duncan's life at the head of the medicine-band attacking the school. They were both baptized by the Bishop last April. Legaic was the wealthiest chief of the Tsimsheans at Fort Simpson. He has lost everything--has had to give up everything by his conversion to Christianity. It was with many of them literally a 'forsaking of all things to follow Christ.'--His house is the nicest and best situated in the village. A very little labour and expense in way of internal fittings would make it quite comfortable. He and his wife have one child only, a young girl of fourteen. She was a modest-looking, pleasing child--very intelligent--one of the first class in the school. She did not look like one who had ever been 'possessed with a devil;' and yet this is the child whom, three years ago, her teacher saw naked in the midst of a howling band, tearing and devouring the bleeding dog. How changed! She who 'had the unclean spirit' sits now at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in her right mind."

On the occasion of a visit paid soon after this by Mr. Duncan to Fort Simpson, Legaic, again like his great namesake, boldly preached the faith which once he destroyed. Mr. Duncan wrote:--

"Feb. 6, 1864.--I have just returned from a visit to Fort Simpson. I went to proclaim the Gospel once more to the poor unfeeling heathen there. I laid the Gospel again distinctly before them, and they seemed much affected. The most pleasing circumstance of all, and which I was not prepared to expect, was, that Paul Legaic and Clah (the one in times past a formidable enemy and opposer, and the other one among the first to hear and greet the Gospel) sat by me, one on either side. After I had finished my address on each occasion they got up and spoke, and spoke well.

"Legaic completely shamed and confounded an old man, who, in replying to my address, had said that I had come too late to do him and other old people good; that, had I come when the first white traders came, the Tsimsheans had long since been good; but they had been allowed to grow up in sin; they had seen nothing among the first whites who came amongst them to unsettle them in their old habits, but these had rather added to them fresh sins, and now their sins were deep laid, they (he and the other old people) could not change. Legaic interrupted him, and said, 'I am a chief, a Tsimshean chief. You know I have been bad, very bad, as bad as any one here. I have grown up and grown old in sin, but God has changed my heart, and He can change yours. Think not to excuse yourselves in your sins by saying you are too old and too bad to mend. Nothing is impossible with God. Come to God; try His way; He can save you.' He then exhorted all to taste God's way, to give their hearts to Him, and to leave all their sins; and then endeavoured to show them what they had to expect if they did so--not temporal good, not health, long life, or ease or wealth, but God's favour here and happiness with God after death."

Legaic had been well known to the traders and others on the coast, and the change in him caused the greatest astonishment among them. "Mr. Duncan's Grand Vizier" they called him. One visitor wrote in the Victoria paper:--

"Take a walk near the church, and you may see the mighty chief of Fort Simpson (Legaic) standing under the porch of his well-built house, ornamented with fancy casing around where the gutters should be, but are not, and also around the windows. Legaic! why, I remember him myself, some ten years ago, the terrifying murderer of women as well as men, now lamb-led by the temperate hand of Christianity--a Church-going example--an able ally of the Temperance Society, though not having signed the pledge."

For seven years this once dreaded savage led a quiet and consistent Christian life at Metlakahtla as a carpenter. In 1869, he was taken ill at Fort Simpson, on his way home, after a journey to Nass River. He at once sent this short note to Mr. Duncan:--

"Dear Sir,--I want to see you. I always remember you in my mind. I shall be very sorry if I shall not see you before I go away, because you showed me the ladder that reaches to heaven, and I am on that ladder now. I have nothing to trouble me, I only want to see you."

But Mr. Duncan, to his great sorrow, was quite unable to get away from his incessant duties at Metlakahtla. A second and third summons followed in quick succession, and presently came the news of his death, accompanied by a few unfinished lines:--

"My dear Sir,--This is my last letter, to say I am very happy. I am going to rest from trouble, trial, and temptation. I do not feel afraid to meet my God. In my painful body I always remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Well may we say, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"

Reverting to the history of the Mission, we find that in 1866 the Bishop of Columbia paid a second visit to Metlakahtla, and after careful examination, baptized sixty-five adult converts on Whit Sunday in that year. "I truly believe," he wrote, "that most of these are sincere and intelligent believers in Christ, as worthy converts from heathenism as have ever been known in the history of the Church." And in the autumn of the following year Mr. Cridge, then Dean of Victoria, who had from the first manifested the deepest interest in the Mission, stayed for some weeks at the settlement, and on September 8th baptized ninety-six adult Indians and eighteen children.

Dean Cridge was struck by the advanced age of the candidates presented to him. Twenty-six were over fifty; and one man, who was sixty-five, said, "I feel like an infant, not able to say much; but I know that my heart is turned to God, and that He has given His Son to wash away my sins in His blood."

"When he entered the room to be examined, he knelt down and offered a silent prayer. While speaking of his sins he showed emotion, and covered his face. Amongst other answers, these are some of his words: 'I repent very much of my past sins before Jesus.' I asked why Christians were not afraid to die; he said, 'Faith in God will make us not afraid to die,' I baptized him Jeremiah; he is about forty years of age. His wife was not less satisfactory in the testimony she gave of a true conversion to God, and was added by baptism at the same time with her husband to the fold of Christ."

What can we say to such tokens of true knowledge and faith as these, but that the words of our Lord to Peter are still applicable to many even of the most degraded heathen in our own day?--"Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is it Heaven!"

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