"I pray to God, to Whom belong
All souls of every race on earth."
IN 1889 the Bishop attended the Lambeth Conference, returning to his Diocese in May, 1890. Six months later he wrote the letter now to be quoted. His account of the death-bed of one of his Indians seems an echo of the words "O death, where is thy sting?" and proves that the Gospel is able now as of old to lighten the dark valley to those passing through it, and to comfort the hearts of those left behind. Such a scene lends fresh emphasis to the appeal from an Indian chief who longed that his own tribe should have the same privileges, and which had, for the time at least, to be refused. No wonder that the Bishop writes with a sense of shame; but one cannot but ask, whose should the shame be? Theirs who go, or theirs who stay away? However, this time Christians in England responded, as will be seen from the next letter. Immediate steps were taken to send the necessary funds, and two days after the telegram arrived the Evangeline was ready to carry the good news to the waiting chief.
"Metlakatla, Nov. 5th, 1890.
"The widow of Moses Venn, one of the best old men I have known, paid me a visit to-day. I had administered the Holy Communion to him last night, after Evening Prayer. He was then dying, but fully conscious, and with signs of inward peace stamped upon his wan face. When I had duly prepared, I asked how many present wished to communicate with the dying chief. In answer, ten knelt at once on the floor. The dear old wife sat still where she was, beside the sick man on the bed. She is a woman of strong mind, but withal most tender and affectionate. My voice, I am sure, betrayed my own emotion, though I strove to check it. I knew how worthy the old chief was. His life has been unblemished from the time I learnt to honour him ten years ago. True and steadfast in the faith, wise in his household, and a peacemaker in the settlement of unavoidable disputes, it was to be expected that his death-bed would be attended by many. Hence the house-door had to be locked before I began the service, to prevent crowding. I do not know a people who honour the Lord's Table more consistently than these. The Spirit of the Lord was with us as we broke the bread. There meekly kneeled the faithful, by whom the Body and Blood of Christ were verily and indeed taken. I am not a stranger here, nor a novice. After a ministry in many lands for a quarter of a century, I count it a high privilege to minister to such a company of disciples as knelt around me last night. Moses' old widow came in just as we were assembling in the chapel for Morning Prayers, and joined us. Then she came with me into my study. She seemed so composed, that I thought the sick one had rallied. Her opening words fixed that idea. Thus she spoke, very calmly, 'Chief, you saw Moses last night, and how he rested free from pain and full of heart peace. As this morning dawned, that best half of my flesh slept soundly.' I thought she meant natural sleep, and said in reply, 'Wonderful!'
"'I had not watched the clock, because I loved to look on his smile.'
"It dawned on me that he was dead.
"'I said to our sons and daughters and their children, I said it slowly, "Make no weeping; is he not now peacefully going away with Jesus--with Jesus! "By this time I was sure the old man was dead. "Do you not see the shadow of his soul resting on him?" She meant the smile on his face. She continued her story in exact detail. "His soul left its work. Look on his face. Notice the smile. Make no weeping. Look out at the window. The sky is cloudless--so his face. Will you with tears bring in clouds? Make .no mist arise. His soul is joyful. The half of my life--no, the whole of my joy is gone; no, no, I must not say so. Some of his joy stays in my heart." So I stopped weeping, but our hearts were tearful. My words could not wipe away tears from our hearts, though we knew how he was with Jesus in heaven.'
"I then remembered that the dear old man had entrusted me with his will. Mr. Collison had written it at his dictation, and Messrs. McCullagh and Hall had witnessed it with their signatures. She asked me to translate it for her. I will transcribe a part of it. Thus it runs:--'This is to testify that after my death, my tribe or any member of it may not erect any large stone or monument over my grave or in any other place as a record of my chieftainship. O only desire a nice stone not exceeding four feet in height, and a tablet in marble or brass erected in the church suited to record the memory of one who has departed in the faith of the Gospel.'
"'La! Aabuku: uwha!" ('Ha! I remember certainly!') so she said when I had finished. Then she told me this story. 'At that time (in 1888) there was a turning back to former evil ways at Fort Simpson. The sin reached Kincolith. My uncle, chief B. Gokshau, was dying. He called his tribe to his side, and exhorted them to raise four lofty stones over his grave, and to spare no ancient ceremony al the installation of his successor. Then Moses called his household together, and told them of all these things. He was a strong man, but as he spoke he cried like a woman, because of the report. Thereupon he further exhorted his sons Peter and Charles to take good heed that after his death he should be buried as a Christian, without any sign of pride or waste. So he commanded. Then he went to Mr. Collison, and dictated that law you have now translated in my ears. He said he would do so. He said he had done it. He never changed. So shall it be as his hear desired.' Certainly it was a noble testimony!
"Last Sunday we had our harvest festival. The Indians tried in vain to catch some salmon for decoration purposes. They brought all kinds of foods from sea shore and river, from forest and garden. Mr. and Mrs. Gurd superintended, and I believe suggested the whole thing. But I was shocked or thrilled through as I entered the church from the vestry. A burst of brass-band music resounded through the church (the largest in the province). It ceased as I knelt in the chancel to say a silent prayer, and was not resumed. The surprise sent the blood coursing along from my heart. It was an innovation. I had not been consulted. 'Why should they,' &c., &c. Then pleasure arose in my mind because I knew they would not have done it if they had not thought I should be pleased. Therefore I was pleased, and I am bound to say that the suddenness of the musical outburst so affected my heart that more of it than usual leaped out and got into the service, and kept in to the very close! Mr. Gurd preached in Zimshian in the afternoon, I in English in the evening according to our custom, for the benefit of the English and the English-speaking people, I saw three Chinese there also. The Sunday before there were several Japanese.
"Just before my last long journey a Japanese called and asked to see me. I was occupied elsewhere, and was not to be found. So he shyly told Miss Dickenson (the young lady trained as a nurse who has come out to help us without salary) that he loved Jesus; he belonged to Him as she did. Then he took 3 dols., equal to 12s. 6d., from his pocket, and gave them into her hand, saying, 'I am a poor man. I work to live. My money is few, but I give this to you to help the work of God.' Then he went away. He was baptized by a missionary in Japan, and since then came across the ocean for the same sort of reasons that induce English people to emigrate. The delightful part of it was his identifying himself with God's people, who were strangers to him, and entrusting them with his offerings.
"You would be surprised to know how I am often distracted by the demands made on mo to provide the means of grace for people. There are some white people who are really angry with me, and say I care not for their souls because I cannot send them a clergyman or go myself. I cannot send what I have not got, and as for going myself, I am always going myself--am forced to go! There is now beside me (I generally have company as I write my letters) an Indian chief from a distance of 250 miles. What has he come here for? To wring out of me a promise of sending to his tribe the Word of Life. I first said to him and those of our own people who introduced him, 'Wait a fortnight and I will open my mouth.' So I sent hither and thither to consult with some of our senior missionaries to know what could be done. Here is what one writes: 'I am sorry you have asked me to open this Mission, because it is a very painful task to ask you not to lay this burden upon me. I see fully the necessity of accepting the invitation of the chief. A wise man would soon gather a united band of Christians around him, but I feel I cannot leave my fifteen villages and two thousand souls even to enter such an inviting field.'
"Well, now, what am I to do'? Here is this chief, who seems to know that my answer will decide the question of eternal life for many of the souls he pleads for. I am torn asunder by the claims urged upon me. I am ashamed--! am afraid; I scarcely dare face that Indian chief. Shall I not see him at the last judgment! Will he not say, 'I offered you an open door. Souls clung to you as I pleaded for them. You let them drop. See them!' I wish my readers could answer for me, and make for me a way of escape. My heart leaps up at the bold venture that would say, 'Go home. Be of good cheer. The Gospel shall be preached to your people. Your children shall be brought to Jesus for blessing'--and then trust to the Lord to provide. I confess I have not that bold faith or assurance. When this Indian chief is going back to his people with their fate on his heart, I shall feel ashamed--baffled, beaten, disgraced. Time will perhaps blunt this my longing and my sense of failure, but it will not help these Heathen with outstretched hands towards me. They cannot keep them stretched out, and--what then? It is your fault, your despising and rejecting, your indifference to the Man of Sorrows pleading through this Indian chief--your sin! Here sits in silence this powerful chief, accusing the Church of Jesus of allowing him and his people to turn their eyes down to the ground, and stagger back into the shadows that will grow blacker since they looked out towards the light in new-born hope. Weakly I inquire if he cannot stay a little longer?--I have done. We are discomfited. The Prince of "Darkness wins this tribe offered to ns by the Crucified One!
"We have had a lovely summer. When I came back from one of my trips I found Mrs. Ridley full of delight with our pretty garden. She does love it. 'There is a perfect rose seven inches in diameter. Look at the others. Are they not lovely r See these carnations! There is a sunflower eight feet six inches in height, and ten inches in diameter.' I am taken all round, and shown all the beauties that had sprung up in my absence. Then I ask, 'How have the boys, my eight Indian boys, and the seven Indian girls behaved? How do the day-schools progress? Tell me all the news, news from home, news from the neighbourhood.'
"So it happens when I return from time to time. Formerly Mrs. Ridley accompanied me a good deal, now her home work of superintending, teaching, visiting the sick and others, takes up much time. How can she go now? Impossible. There is a round of work that brooks no intermission. She lately added to our institutions a Home for Indian girls, where they are as carefully watched, guarded, and taught as in a good boarding-school in England. The opening took place soon after my return from a long journey into the interior.
"We have now a boys' boarding-school, another for girls, a mixed day-school of girls and small boys, and a day-school for big boys; a Sunday-school for children, another for adults. We have an average of more than sixty at our daily mooting for prayer. Sewing classes, Dorcas parties, missionaries' prayer union--a constant stream of visitors, who come chiefly for instruction; tea parties, brass-band practisings, choir practices, and many other agencies for increasing knowledge, sacred and secular, and for advancing the arts of civilization. This is the only community of Indians I know that has a natural increase of the population. Crime is almost unknown; the standard of moral conduct is higher than that of any other place I ever lived at. Purity of life leads to health, and that to happy homes full of chubby children. Such is the actual condition of Metlakatla, and it has a hopeful future.
"What is better than the growth of only one place is the spread of the Gospel in every direction. Ten years ago I found in the diocese but two clergy, now ten and a candidate for holy orders; then two churches, now there are ten, and three projected. Then not one of the languages had been reduced to writing, now we have printed hooks in Zimshian, Haida, and Nishga. In this enumeration I do not include our work among the Kwagutl, where Messrs. Hall, Corker, and Brotchie are working. Yet there is much land to be won for Christ. Forward is the order.
"I have not the leisure I once had for translational work, but now several good linguists are engaged in it. The pure Word of God, not a haphazard, slipshod, extempore translation, is used in all our congregations. The last new missionary that joined us was able to read the prayers and the gospels in the Native tongue after two months' residence. In four months he read his own sermon. This proved a diligent use of means. These means had no existence eight years ago. The printing-press is now a precious auxiliary to our work,
"Have we not good reason for rejoicing over what God has wrought? May we not count our treasures and boldly challenge those who trust in other methods of elevating the uncivilized races of the earth, to show results equal to those consequent on preaching Apostolic doctrine? The Bible is the Book for perishing souls. Its words are still winged with a Divine power to convert, to build up, and to ripen for eternity. We could not do without it, and those who try will waste their pains."
The following letter is not in chronological order, but as it is occupied with the subject of the response to the Indian Chief's appeal it seems better to place it here. By the time that the Bishop could use the funds so generously provided, a Canadian Society had undertaken the work, but it will be seen from a later letter that the money was applied for the furtherance of the Gospel in another direction:--
"Metlakatla, June 7th, 1891.
"The telegram about the Indian Chief's appeal reached me late on April 1st; on the 3rd the steamer Evangeline was ready for sea. A hurricane squall, worthy of the tropics, on the next day, did fearful damage along the coast, and threatened to sink the ship at her moorings. The 5th was Sunday; on Monday she sailed and had a fine passage. As I was crippled with rheumatism, I sent, as the Church's messenger, the best man I could find. Besides a letter to the chief, I had carefully prepared him for his embassy, and he fulfilled it excellently.
"Five months had then elapsed since the appeal came, and I thought it possible that as it failed here it might be repeated in some other quarter. This had happened in the case of the most southerly of the three villages. Its chief had gone beyond the bounds of my diocese, and he was persuaded to migrate with his tribe, and building materials were given him and others to erect new houses at a Christian mission station far to the south, and worked by another Society. As soon as the news arrived that I could help them, the migrants were for returning to their old homes and putting themselves under our instruction. But I had told Charles Ryan, our messenger, that in such a case I should consider them already provided for, and would not disturb such plans. Then he retraced his steps some fifty-five miles to the nearest of the three villages from which the appeal was made. He had found the most distant village permanently deserted, as it appeared from the quite empty and dismantled houses. At the nearest a few old people remained, the whole able-bodied section of the community having gone off to their hunting. In this village there was great joy at the prospect of having a missionary. The chief was away, but the letter I had written was explained and left behind for him. He may not return for months, and then may find a difficulty in meeting with a literate person to write for him his reply.
"In the meantime I am looking for a suitable missionary to break ground there in the autumn. The present prospect is the inviting of the Indians of the two nearest villages and the building up a much smaller work than would have been likely had I been sooner in the field. That all who sought the blessing of the Gospel will now be brought under its saving influence must be a source of gladness to those hearts that have yearned for their salvation.
"You now see how the matter stands. If it be asked whether it is prudent to lay out money on the rescue of so small a community, only perhaps between 100 and 150 souls, I would reply by asking what would be thought of the Government if, hearing of so many starving to death, they did not succour them promptly? Souls appeal to Christians because Jesus died for them. I know no grander or more apostolic missionary than Bishop French. Would he not gladly lay down his life to win an Arab for Christ? What would he not do or dare to win a hundred? Let but a man be sent by the Holy Ghost, and I shall expect to see these remnants of once powerful tribes united in the bonds of the Gospel.
"I may not exactly tell you how the reading of Mr. Fenn's telegram affected me. It rebuked me--it rejoiced me. First, it struck me dumb. Then gratitude, like a peaceful vision, possessed me. I saw those favoured servants of Christ placing their money at His feet and His acceptance of it. They will have treasures in heaven incorruptible.
"Your letter to me, and letters from Clifton, Leamington, and several other places, as well as the paragraphs in the Gleaner, come like waves of cheer from God. To Him be praise and thanks for all."