Chapter XI. The Home Call--and After
BUT it was not to be. Bishop French was already weakened by fever, and at Sib he broke down altogether. With deep reluctance he allowed himself to be taken back to Muscat, where he was attended by Dr. Jayaker, an Indian surgeon in the service of the British Government. Against his wish, he was moved, almost unconscious, to the Residency, where he was kindly received by Colonel Mockler. He was beyond writing; indeed, his last letter home had been posted on May 3, two days before he left for Sib. He quickly sank, and died at noon on the 14th.
The last offices were performed by Christians, Goanese Roman Catholics who had heard of him; and their whole small community attended the funeral the same evening. The coffin was covered with the British flag, and the service was read by Colonel Mockler.
Mr. Maitland went to Muscat in the following September, and obtained the details of the Bishop's last days on earth. "The first telegram," he wrote, "gave sunstroke as the cause of death; . . . but it has gradually come home to me that it was not sunstroke, and a conversation I had with Dr. Jayaker . . . confirms the idea that death was due, not to any special stroke, but to the effects of the great heat upon the Bishop's enfeebled constitution, which produced exhaustion, and then failure of the brain, and finally of the heart. . . . The whole task he attempted was beyond his physical powers. He attempted a mode of life which would have taxed a young man's strength in a climate that crushed him."
The little Christian cemetery at Muscat is most picturesquely situated at the foot of almost perpendicular cliffs rising from a little cove, and is reached by boat, by rounding a rocky point to the south of the city; "a wild, barren spot, but not altogether arid." An Indian chaplain who visited the place two or three years later found "three trees out of the very few Muscat can boast of, in full leaf," also "a shrub, a kind of broom, with smooth green leaves and pink flowers." A wooden cross had been put up temporarily by Colonel Mockler, but a permanent tomb of white Jaipur marble was afterwards erected, with a recumbent cross. The inscription simply gives the name, office, and date, and two texts in English and Arabic, viz.: "Except a corn of wheat," etc., and "Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." In the Cathedral at Lahore a brass was put up with a fuller inscription, including French's favourite text, on which he had preached the C.M.S. annual sermon, and also before the University of Cambridge:
"A minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the Gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost" (Rom. xv. 16).
No text could be more suitable for a memorial of Bishop French. "A minister" (leitourgoV) ..."ministering" (ierourgounta)--offering sacrifice as a priest. What was the sacrifice offered? Not "the Gospel of God," as at first sight we might read it, but the Gentile world (prosfora twn eqnwn). That is exactly what French desired to share in. St. Paul, in taking his share, describes himself as "making it my aim (marg. being ambitious, filotimoumenon) so to preach the Gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man's foundation" (Rom. xv. 20); and this, partly in letter and altogether in spirit, was one characteristic feature of French's career. And the priestly character of missionary work, which St. Paul, in this one place, claims as attaching to his own, is precisely what French also gloried in.
Scarcely less suitable are the texts at his grave itself. "Even as the Son of Man": to be like Christ was his dearest desire. "Not to be ministered unto, but to minister": no words could more truly describe his life; "minister" here (Sia/cove'w) being, not officiating as a priest, but "serving" God and man as a servant. And surely, like his Divine Master, he was a "corn of wheat" fallen into the earth and dying, that it might bring forth much fruit.
That "fruit," however, was not to be gathered, as French hoped, by the C.M.S. or by any Church of England agency. In the Turkish coasting steamer which had taken him down the Red Sea was another missionary passenger, Samuel W. Zwemer, of the American (Dutch) Reformed Church, who also was projecting a Mission in Eastern Arabia. The Bishop took possession of the land by laying his weary body under the cliffs of Muscat. Zwemer took possession, in the happy providence of God, by living and working on that wild coast for many years, establishing a permanent and important Mission. He has lost his brother, and other fellow-workers, in the service of that Mission; and, on the other hand, by marrying an Australian lady attached to the C.M.S. Mission at Bagdad, he provided for the much-needed work among the Arabian women. He is now known all over the world as one of the very first authorities on Missions to Mohammedans. His book on Arabia, published in 1900, has become the classical work on the subject. His quarterly review, The Moslem World, is read with keen interest in Europe and America.
While Bishop French was ending his earthly career at Muscat, his old companion and brother Bishop, Edward Craig Stuart, who had gone to India with him in 1850 and shared in his earliest labours at Agra, was ably and wisely administering the diocese of Waiapu in New Zealand. But the sequel is one of deep interest. Less than a year after French's home-call, two C.M.S. men go out to Australia and New Zealand to stir up the Churches there to take their part in the evangelisation of the heathen world. To one of them--the present biographer--Bishop Stuart opens his heart. Should he not follow his old comrade's example, give up his bishopric, and devote his remaining days to preaching Christ to the Mohammedans? A learned New Zealand missionary in Persia, Mr. St. Clair Tisdall, sees in the C. M. Intelligencer an account of the awakening of some Christian hearts in his colonial home to the claims of the heathen. He writes to Bishop Stuart: Come to Persia! That letter is God's message; and the Diocese of Waiapu is called upon to bid farewell to its Chief Pastor. Stuart comes to England, tells the C.M.S. circle at the May meeting of 1894 of the Lord's call to him, takes leave of the Society on the 44th anniversary of the first sailing of himself and French to India (September 11), and starts the next day for Persia. And in Persia he is permitted by the grace of God to labour, with short intervals, for over fifteen years; until at last, in his eighty-fourth year, he is brought to England to die, and enters into rest on March 15, 1911. Thus, together French and Stuart went in the name of the Lord to India; together they planned St. John's College; twenty-seven years later--within a few weeks of each other--they were consecrated Bishops in the Church of God; each in his turn gave up his bishopric to become again a simple missionary; each set himself to make known the Gospel to the Mohammedans of Western Asia; and only at the end was the parallel broken by one outliving the other twenty years. Is there any case quite like this in all Church history? And have we any nobler examples of self-sacrificing devotion than are furnished by the careers of Thomas Valpy French and Edward Craig Stuart?
Let us close our story with two utterances of rare beauty. First, Bishop French's own request for prayer sent from Muscat to the band called "Watchers and Workers"--a prayer, be it noted, not for himself, but for the Arab race for whose evangelisation he laid down his life:
"I long for the prayers of your little band of intercessors offering this simple request, that, as the Arab has been so grievously a successful instrument in deposing Christ from His throne (for this long season only), in so many fair regions of the East ... so the Arab may, in God's good providence, be at least one of the main auxiliaries and reinforcements in restoring the Great King, and reseating Him on David's throne of judgment and mercy, and Solomon's throne of peace, and, above all, God's throne of righteousness."
And, secondly, the fine poem in which Archdeacon A. E. Moule commemorated the heroic Bishop:
In memory of
THOMAS VALPY FRENCH
[Church Missionary Intelligencer, July 1891, p. 510.]
WHERE Muscat fronts the Orient sun
'Twixt heaving sea and rocky steep,
His work of mercy scarce begun,
A saintly soul has fallen asleep:
Who comes to lift the Cross instead?
Who takes the standard from the dead?
Where, under India's glowing sky,
Agra the proud, and strong Lahore,
Lift roof and gleaming dome on high,
His "seven-toned" tongue is heard no more:
Who comes to sound alarm instead?
Who takes the clarion from the dead?
Where white camps mark the Afghan's bound,
Prom Indus to Suleiman's range,
Through many a gorge and upland--sound
Tidings of joy divinely strange:
But there they miss his eager tread;
Who comes to toil then for the dead?
Where smile Cheltonian hills and dales,
Where stretches Erith down to shore
Of Thames, wood-fringed and fleck'd with sails,
His holy voice is heard no more.
Is it for nothing he is dead?
Send forth your children in his stead!
Far from fair Oxford's groves and towers,
Her scholar Bishop dies apart;
He blames the ease of cultured hours
In death's still voice that shakes the heart.
Brave saint! for dark Arabia dead!
I go to fight the fight instead!
O Eastern-lover from the West!
Thou hast out-soared these prisoning bars;
Thy memory, on thy Master's breast,
Uplifts us like the beckoning stars.
We follow now as thou hast led;
Baptize us, Saviour, for the dead!
A. E. M.