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An Apostle of the North
Memoirs of the Right Reverend William Carpenter Bompas, D.D.

By H.A. Cody, B.A.

London: Seely, 1908.

Chapter XX. "Northern Lights on the Bible"

"Blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee; in whose heart are Thy ways.
Who going through the vale of misery use it for a well, and the pools are filled with water."
Ps. lxxxiv. 5, 6.

IN the far northland there are two books the missionary always has with him: one, the great volume of Revelation, the other, the book of Nature. No matter where he goes, over what lonely trails he winds his devious way, his companions may be the squalid savage, his dwelling-place the rude lodge, snow-house, or log hut, his library is ever with him.

These two books Bishop Bompas studied in no ordinary degree, and when we consider the delight he found in the work, we begin to understand why the northland was so dear to him.

For years he had studied the Bible in English, Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac. In early days he loved the sacred volume, and ever found pleasure in discovering new meanings. As he wandered over the vast regions of the North, he realized how much the country might produce in the way of illustrating many passages of Holy Scripture. If he could not tell his discoveries by word of mouth, he could write them down for the benefit of those who would come after.

For twenty-five years, as he moved about, he gained new light and wonderful lessons. These he embodied in a most fascinating little book, which he aptly named "Northern Lights on the Bible." This book, of 207 pages, is an interesting commentary on fifty passages of Scripture, retouched by illustrations from the far North. Though a record of the Bishop's experiences, yet he never once mentions himself in the book, but remains ever in the background with that humility so characteristic of the man. If he wishes to tell of some event in which he took part, it is always in the third person.

Taking such subjects as "rivers," "gold," "storms," "skins," and "pine-trees," and beginning with an appropriate verse from the Bible, he weaves beautiful patterns from his rich storehouse of knowledge. We walk among richly-scented pines and cedars, but instead of a lonely forest, pictures of "an ark of gopher wood," and King Solomon's stately temple, adorned with the cedars of Lebanon, rise before the mind. Then, while lost in admiration, we are suddenly aroused, reminded that the trees teach lessons of strength, security, growth, and freshness for those who wait upon the Lord.

The following extracts will serve to show the Bishop's method of handling his subjects in this interesting book:

"'Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon.'
JOSH. x. xii.

"Without the slightest wish to invalidate the miracle here recorded, or to diminish its stupendous character, it may not be uninteresting to suggest some modes in which it may have pleased the Almighty to accomplish the eflfeet without a suspension of the laws of Nature.

"It may be rightly held to enhance the power and glory of Almighty God, if it can be shown that He is able to compass the most surprising results without travelling outside of the ordinary routine of His work.

"It appears most unreasonable to attempt a denial that the Author of what are called Nature's laws can dispense with them on occasion, but it may be more allowable to suppose that He may have seldom occasion to do so, in order to effect His every volition.

"To use common and unworthy illustrations, the owner of a watch can move its hands at will without disturbing its works; the master of a power-loom may introduce a new pattern without arresting the machinery; or the driver of an engine may reverse its action on an incline without retarding the train.

"In Arctic regions it is well known that the cold and mists of the air produce singular appearances of displacement of the sun and moon by reflection or refraction in the air, which are not easily explained.

"By refraction the Arctic sun may remain visible above the horizon for some time after that calculated for its setting; and by a parhelion, or mock sun, it may be seen in mid-heaven when near its setting.

"Now, it would appear from the account in Joshua that through some deflection of the polar current of the upper atmosphere, an Arctic temperature was produced for the time in the region of the clouds, and not far above the surface of the earth. This is implied in the congelation of the atmospheric vapours so suddenly into huge hailstones before the moisture had time to be shaped into drops.

"This cold, adjacent to the almost tropical heat of a Syrian sun, must produce such evaporation and mists as would be highly conducive to the formation of a parhelion, and all the phenomena of a highly refracting atmosphere, if not to an actual reflection, as seen in the mirage.

"It does not seem useless to suggest that any who find their faith stumbled by Joshua's surprising miracle, from being unable to imagine the means by which it was wrought without subversion of astronomical science, may find a stumbling-block removed from their way by being reminded how often without miracle an Arctic sun is apparently displaced.

"Hailstones of dangerous size, as described by Joshua, are not unusual in the Western Saskatchewan. In Arctic regions hail is infrequent, as the cold of the upper air forms the vapours into snow before they condense into water.

"It is singular that in Arctic latitudes the winter temperature on a mountain height is milder than on a lower level. This, again, may be owing to upper equatorial currents of air.

"Mild weather is associated in Arctic climes, as elsewhere, with a cloudy sky, and intense frost with a clear atmosphere, but it is not so certain how they are connected.

"It seems most probable that the casual deflection downward of a warm current in the upper air, both deposits its moisture in the form of cloud, and raises the temperature on the earth's surface. A clear sky, on the other hand, shows that the air is dry and deficient in moisture, the suction of which by evaporation intensifies the cold.

"The old explanation of the nightly radiation to a clear sky of the heat acquired by the earth the previous day appears quite inapplicable to polar regions, where, in the sun's absence, there is no daily accession of heat to be radiated, and the covering of snow and ice seems impervious to radiation from below.

"Somewhat similar considerations may apply to the surprising miracle recorded in 2 Kings xx. and Isa. xxxviii. 8, as have been ventured on in regard to that of Joshua x. In the case of Hezekiah's miracle, we have also a hint of an unusual rarefaction of the air. For the miracle of the sun-dial appears to have immediately preceded the deadly simoom by which 185,000 of the Assyrian army were slain in one night. It may be thought that an apparent elevation of the sun, either by refraction or reflection, produced, in obedience to the fiat of the Almighty, the stated effect on the sun-dial; and the agent employed may have been a mist or fog in connexion with that peculiar state of the atmosphere which presages a coming storm. In Hezekiah's time it would seem to have been the rising, and in Joshua's case the setting, sun, that was apparently retarded for a time, though it is not definitely stated in either case that the day was in the end actually lengthened.

"' Oreb and Zeeb.'
JUDG. viii. 3.

"These two marauding chiefs of the Midianites come before us in the history of the Judge Gideon. They were truly dwellers in the wilds, and came up with their numerous bands to prey upon the harvests and stores of the defenceless Israelite.

"Such forays have been often made in modern times by wild tribes of North-American Indians, but the natives of the extreme North are at present inoffensive.

"It may be worth while to notice how well the names of the Midian chiefs would befit a modern Indian brave. Translated, they are the Haven and the Wolf. The reference is to the feasts provided for birds and beasts of prey by these plundering chieftains, who almost exhibited the same spirit as those greedy animals. Many a modern Indian has a similar appellation. The Crow or the Fox, and other such names, borrowed from animals, are frequent among present Indian chiefs.

"Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings or leaders of Midian, had similarly significant names. These may be rendered 'Slaughter' and 'Wandering Shade.' So a recent Indian chief in the Saskatchewan plain was called 'Wandering Spirit,' an idea very similar to that of Zalmunna, both implying the consignment to the shades of d,eath of the victims of their fury.

"It may be noted also that it is now generally the custom to translate into English the native Indian names, both for the preservation of their significance and for avoiding the uncouth syllables of a barbarous tongue.

"It might be well if the Hebrew names, which are all significant and appropriate to the occasion of their occurrence, were also translated for a like reason.

"Places in the North-West have also generally their Indian names translated into English when spoken of by Europeans, such as Flint River, Axe Lake, or Stony Mountain. Scripture names are similar, only buried for us in unattractive Hebrew, as, for example, the rivers of Paradise might be called Spreading, Coiling, Gladness, and Fertile. . . .

"Even an inanimate object, when seen for the first time by an Indian, will be named readily, according to its use. So a table is a thing to eat on, a chair a thing to sit on, and so forth. These became the permanent designations of those objects in the Indian tongue. . . .

"The names of the Hebrews appear to have been mostly given to them at birth, and to have been bestowed by the mother in commemoration of joy and gratitude at the birth of offspring. The names of the kings above mentioned may have been possibly assumed in after life.

"The Indian children are also generally named by the mother, and called from some characteristic of the infant, or from some circumstance attending the birth. They have not been taught till recently the feeling of gratitude to God on such an occasion, and the Christian converts, of course, give their children usual Christian names.

"Among the Hebrews many names were patronymics, that is, the son is called by his father's name, as Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus (Mark x. 46). In the far West, somewhat strangely, the habit is just the contrary, and as soon as a son is born both father and mother drop their previous names, and are thenceforth known by the name of the son, as William's father or John's mother.

"An Indian has great shyness in mentioning his name, and if he wishes you to know it he will ask his friend to tell you. If you wish to know an Indian's name, it is needful to ask this, not of himself, but of his companion, when you will obtain a ready answer.

"Modern critics are apt to indulge in some display of learning, by deciphering from the hierogylphics of some ancient Egyptian papyrus a name which is supposed, by its similarity, to illustrate some Scripture appellation, or even to be its source or derivation.

"A readier match for the Hebrew names might be found among the present Indians of the North-West. The father of King Saul was named Fowler or Snarer (1 Sam. ix. 1). A modern Esquimaux chief was named Grouse-snare. An Indian chiefs name, Large-foot, may be .compared with the patriarch Israel's first name, Heel. More exact parallels might be found, for there is hardly a common object or a living animal, but what has furnished a name to a Hebrew of the Old World, or to an Indian of the New.


"'Nor the moon by night.'
Ps. cxxi. 6.

"In expounding this text, commentators have been at some pains to discover tradition and examples of the injurious effect of the moon's rays on a sleeper exposed to their glare. The words lunatic, mooned, moonstruck, betray the same idea. On the other hand all travellers in the North are accustomed constantly to sleep exposed to the moonbeams without being conscious of any injurious effects from them. It may be suspected that night-dew and malarious vapours are more noxious than moonshine.

"The promise of the text may also be held to have a fulfilment to the Arctic traveller in that Aurora, or Northern Lights, which, when there is no moon, frequently tempers for him the midnight darkness. . . .

"The shape and apparent height of the Aurora varies much. It does not seem to appear without some kind of a cloud, mist, or vapour on which to exhibit itself. It seems often, therefore, to follow vaguely the course of some river or frozen lake, or the direction to which the wind may drive the exhalations rising from such a source. After a brilliant display of the Aurora, as morning dawns, a slight cloud will mostly be seen remaining in the position from which the chief coruscations appeared to emanate.

"At times the Aurora descends till it is very close overhead, just as clouds sometimes do. The movements of its gleams are then very rapid, and resemble the foldings of a great fiery pennon waving in a strong breeze. It is, however, hard to compare the Aurora's display to anything earthly, unless indeed to the 'brush' from an electrical machine.

"It has been much questioned whether the Aurora is audible. Those who think they have heard it, describe the sound as being like the rustling of silk drapery. This calls to mind the expression of St. Peter, that when the heavens, being on fire, shall dissolve, they shall pass away with a rustling noise (2 Pet. iii. 10).

"In severe frost the listening ear will always detect some sound caused by congealing moisture, and even the human breath makes a sort of sawing sound in condensing and freezing from the lips. These sounds may have been attributed by some to the Aurora.

"Certainly a vivid display of the Aurora over the whole sky helps us to picture the day when the heavens shall be on fire, as the blazing of an extensive forest feebly portrays the day when the earth also, and the works that-are therein, shall be burned up.

"Most of the Arctic winter travelling is made at night time, because the day is so scanty, and the Aurora is then a pleasant and salutary guide and companion. It cannot fail to remind a devout Christian of Israel's pillar of fire of old, which may have resembled the Aurora in its flash.

"When the light of the Aurora breaks out in the night time with a cloudy sky, it is difficult to distinguish the light from day-break, and an unwary traveller may thus be deceived in the hour. We may then say with David, 'The Lord my God will enlighten my darkness' (Ps. xviii. 28).

"It may be remarked that in the snowy regions of the North, the winter nights, even without the Aurora, are by no means of pitchy darkness. The reflection from the white carpet of snow is enough to make visible trees, rocks, etc., for some short distance, and the traveller needs not to grope his way in the forest, though care is requisite that his face be not cut at night with a random branch.

"The twilight also is so long, that even when the sun does not rise at all, a slight streak of day dawn will be visible in the south-east, in a clear sky, soon after 7 a.m., and the last streak will not expire till nearly 5 p.m.

"The constant displays of the Aurora are associated in the North with a highly electrical state of the air, so that clothes, blankets, and furs will crackle and sparkle at night when removed or disturbed, and the human hair scintillates in the dark.

"The force of the earth's magnetism is also strong, but the use of a mariner's compass needs care, as within the Arctic circle the compass may point as much east as north, until in approaching the magnetic pole the attraction is so nearly perpendicular as to render the compass useless as a guide for direction.


"'Bury thy dead.'
GEN. xxiii. 6.

"The anxiety, which Scripture shows to have existed from the earliest times, for the suitable interment of deceased relations is a natural one, especially in places where unclean animals prowling for prey are likely to disturb the remains.

"In the great North-West, where the ground throughout the long winter is frozen to a considerable depth, the interment of the dead is no easy matter. The grave has to be chopped, rather than dug, either with the axe or pick, if the latter tool is at hand, which is seldom the case. The work is laborious, and sometimes beyond the power of the relatives of the deceased Indian.

"Probably for this reason the original custom of many tribes of Indians, before the introduction of Christianity among them, was to suspend their dead on high stages elevated on poles from the ground, and thus beyond the reach of predatory animals. By this means the need of hewing the frozen ground was avoided.

"It was customary also to place with the body of the deceased the articles he required for daily use in life, his bow and arrows, or in later times his gun and hatchet, his pipe and fire-bag. These customs have waned before the light of the Gospel, but it is still difficult to wean the Indian from all superstition regarding the dead, or to convince him that the corpse does not retain some life or consciousness, that it is no longer the dwelling, but only the forsaken shell of a spirit, that has winged its flight elsewhere.

"The wailings of an Indian over his lost relative, and especially of a mother over her lost children, are piercing and heartrending; but it is pleasant to see the contrast in this respect between those who are still ignorant of the Gospel, and such as have received it. The Christian converts have now learned to accept their bereavements as from God's hand in silence and submission, and their mute grief is more impressive than the loud lamentation of the heathen.

"If a conversation is begun with an elderly Indian female, she will generally turn the subject to the number of children she has lost, and these she will count on her fingers. It often takes the whole ten to number her little ones deceased. The severe climate and constant removals, with uncertain food, are very fatal to infant and child life in the North, and the only comfort is to trust that such little ones are gathered by our gracious Saviour to His arms, before they have become the prey of vice and sin, either among heathen, or, what is perhaps worse, among only nominal Christians.

"In some instances the Indian mothers literally cry their eyes out; and if you ask a blind woman how she lost her vision, she may answer that it was by weeping too hard for her lost relatives, and dimness of sight is attributed to the same cause.

"Some Indians cling tenaciously to a love of life, others exhibit great indifference about it. If a sick Indian despair of recovery, he may die of mere hopelessness. A medicine man may also take the life of an Indian by telling him that he is going to die. The Indian may go home and sicken, and expire from the very expectation of it.

"Sometimes an Indian will carry about with him the corpse of a deceased child half the winter, waiting for the thawing of the ground in spring to bury it suitably. It is, however, more common to notice unseemly haste in disposing of the remains of one deceased. In Scripture we have instances of hasty interment, as in Acts v. 6-10, where the burial followed immediately upon the death. With the Indian, what is termed in that chapter the winding up of the dead, or the wrapping round of the body, sometimes takes place before the breath has left it. The relatives may have a superstitious fear of touching a corpse after death. There is no fear of resuscitation in a climate where the frame is stiffly frozen as soon as removed from the camp fire.

"On the Pacific coast it is the custom for the chiefs to be buried each at the door of his house, and they are careful not to disturb the remains. An Indian in the North is often buried under the place occupied by his camp fire, because the ground there has been softened by the heat. The Indians will remove at once from a place where one of their camp has died, and will avoid the place in future.

"As the natives have such a superstitious dread of a place of burial, it does not seem well to follow in that country the European custom of placing the graves round the church.

"A body interred in the constantly frozen ground of the extreme North might remain unchanged till the world's end, so complete is the action of frost in arresting the decay of substances congealed by it. It is possibly this idea that makes the Indian more superstitious about the place of his dead."

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