Project Canterbury

Vernon Harold Starr 1882-1918 and after

By John Oxenham

[London]: Church Missionary Society, [1918]

Chapter IV. And After that the Full Corn in the Ear

Shall he who sows dream of the ears already,
Or grasp at once his summer's fruitful prime?
God's harvest waits for those of purpose steady,
All in His own good time.

Nearly 1900 years ago a young Galilean, poor and a peasant, was hunted down by His enemies till He was at last captured by night in a garden, and then killed in the most cruel way they knew, by the method of crucifixion. "That is the end!" they said triumphantly, and they saw His body put into a rock tomb and sealed, lest any fanatical follower of His should attempt to raise sentimental stories as to the reality of His death. But the paradoxes of God are such that those followers did not try to hide the fact of their Leader's death, though they understood it so little. Instead they proclaimed it, for they realized it was to be the beginning, and the foundation, of the one unconquerable Force that this world holds. Truly things were not what they seemed

Neither are they to-day. "A man spends his life for these people, and that is the end," said an officer.

Is it the end? This is the crux of the whole matter. Doubtless to many it seems the end, but in reality it is the beginning. "The cutting of the corn is the sign of harvest."

"Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."

The Master, with thirty years of strenuous pre paration and but three years of public service in preaching and healing; the servant, with twenty- seven years of careful training and unceasing labour, followed by but seven years of service--the same kind of service, preaching and healing. The coming treacherously with swords and staves by night, the four wounds and the pierced side, and the giving up each his life in the midst of his work and the fulness of his strength, and at the hands of those for whom he spent his days. There is no thought of comparing the one life with the Other, save as the humblest servant may follow in his Master's steps and catch thereby some faint reflection, and yet one who knew Vernon Starr said truly: "His life was very Christ like, and his death not unlike the Lord's."

But it was the Indians, and not alone his special friends, who saw this. "He had not died as we people die," said a non-Christian; and another: "He did not die, he gave his life." Some Mohammedan women who had often attended the hospital came to the house, and to show their sympathy asked if there would be wailing. "Do the relatives of that Indian soldier, who is sent for to go to far Wilayat (England) to receive the coveted reward at the hand of the King-Emperor himself, mourn and wail?" And they understood. "To mourn would not be suitable--it could not be," they agreed.

An object lesson is for children, and Starr had always had a gift for speaking to children. The dictionary explains that the point of an object lesson is to make some abstract meaning clear, some indefinable lesson plain. "He has shown us what self-sacrifice is," wrote a Parsi. And the meaning of this lesson? Surely what the Great War has also taught, the relative importance of GOD--and the rest; that His purpose of the ages is to be carried out, and will be, whether by "the wrath of man" or by his willing co-operation; and it is by sacrifice God is working that purpose out, whether in France or on our frontier, in the same way in these strange days as it had to be nearly 1900 years ago. Soldiers, statesmen, missionaries, must all be Empire builders; for the progress of the world and the peace of the nations are ultimately working up to the same thing--the bringing in of the reign of the Prince of Peace, that which even as far back as the days of Hosea was spoken of as "His coming, which is as sure as the dawn."

The law of the buried seed is still the law of the Kingdom--" the full corn in the ear" comes without fail afterwards, for it is the harvest. To the man with enough vision to see life in its true perspective the manner of Starr's death is no mystery. Our vision is short-sighted if it seems strange that a life still young and particularly full of promise should have been so suddenly harvested. A man's life is to be measured not by its length of years, but by its capacity for service. "We live in deeds, not years." It is not tale of years that tell the whole of man's success or failure, but the soul he brings to them, the song he sings to them, the steadfast gaze he fixes on the goal." If the object of life is to advance the Kingdom--in short, to be of service to God and man--and if God can do more through a man's death than through many years of strenuous labour, then his death becomes simply a part of, an incident in, his life of service: neither his life nor his work are cut short, nor is his service done, because he dies."

And here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reason able, holy, and living sacrifice; . . . and we beseech Thee to accept this our . . . service." We have, most of us, often made this our petition in the Holy Communion service--then why think it strange if now and again God honours a man by the acceptance of the offering as part of his service? If to offer the sacrifice is "reasonable," why not the full acceptance of it also? It has been well said: "We may pray for ever, but if we do not present our bodies a living sacrifice no flame will fall, and if it falls there will be no offering for it to consume. We have but one life to offer; it is our all." The corn is cut that it may be made of still further use; the life which is lived for others here is just carried on into a further stage of joyful service "alive for evermore," "they rest from their labours, and they serve Him day and night." Is this too far-fetched a belief for the present practical age? Surely it is the only common-sense view left for us to hold in the face of to-day, when it is the young, the strong, and the brave who are thronging into the courts of heaven. It is the only view we dare to take, that the lives are not unfinished but more quickly perfected. No man was ever nearer the truth than Browning, when lie said:--

Whatever they are, we seem;
Imagine the thing they know.
All things they do we dream:
Can heaven be else but so?

If God seems to call off those who are most needed and most fitted for His service here, it is because it is promotion to a higher service in the greater empire, an exchange of the service of earth for that of heaven. What if the whole service of this world is but the preparation and training for the life of the next, when "His servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face"?

It is indeed strange that logical folk are left who can doubt the certainty of a life beyond--and surely they alone are to be pitied--more than the wounded or the prisoner, and far more than the bereaved! Death cannot kill what never dies," cries the famous Quaker, Penn; and if the personality cannot die, how can the man after death be anything but what he was before--the ideals, the loves, the hopes, the aims unchanged, yea, rather intensified. Can the life-long purpose that marked the man, whatever it was, be lost in a moment? "What, are we greater fools there than we are here?" George Macdonald tersely asked. Death, life's greatest reality, is but transition, and a small thing in comparison with what comes after it.

They say: "We must go out into the darkness, each soul alone." I do not think so---sure it is we need not; yet, that there may be no fear, it is well to have already made the acquaintance of the Pilot before the call comes to put out to sea. They say that "we can carry nothing with us." If heaven's table of addition be "only what I give I have," then men like Starr have accumulated wealth to take over with them.

It was Charles Kingsley who was wont to say:--

It is not darkness you are going to, for Christ is Light
It is not lonely, for Christ is with you
It is not an unknown country, for Christ is there.

"An unknown country?" The vague and gloomy region of departed shades? "Why, death is sunrise," says Henry Drummond, the scientist. It is the one clear call into the glad Presence of Him Who said "I go to prepare a place for you . . . that where I am, there ye may be also."

There, where all the bright company of heaven
Hold him in their high comradeship.

Little wonder that Kingsley was once heard to exclaim: "God forgive me if I look forward to death with a huge and reverent curiosity."

It is comfortable to believe all this: it is better to experience it if "to die is gain."

Vernon Starr's death, in the minds of those who saw, left no possibility of doubt on two points--the reality of Christ and the nearness of the Unseen World. To have watched by such a death-bed, though for but few hours, marks an epoch in the life; it is a more striking proof of "the reality of things unseen" than volumes of evidences. Of Vernon Starr's passing a friend wrote: "I think that I have never so felt the reality of the triumph of Eternal Life over physical Death, for in that dastardly blow it seemed as if the forces of evil would triumph, but I should think that few events have really redounded more to glory of God. ... It is a chapter of wonders. . . . Death does not fit in with one's thoughts of him."

So the message of the personal Christ to folks of the twentieth century is the same as to those of the first century: "He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it." Thus all are called to follow "God's great Hero," the Man Christ Jesus, to the uttermost. We must lose to find, for along His roads the apparent finder is the loser, and the apparent losers are at the winning post. Then let our spirit as folk of the twentieth century be the same as that of the folk in the first, who rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame, or anything else, for His name.

One other quotation: "What a splendid life of service he has crowded into those few years. How often, as I begged him to cease doing 'absolutely nothing' (as he jokingly called it) and take some bodily recreation, I could not help admiring the grand spirit of devotion to his Master which made him think of nothing but the work and the witness to which he was called. Now no more the clanging of the out-patient bell, but instead ' the song of them that had gotten the victory.'

On the block of Kashmir granite below the Cross, "the emblem of victory" that marks the grave, is the following inscription:--

In ever sacred memory of Vernon Harold Starr, MB., B.S., London, who laid down his life for Christ at the hands of his murderers, when in charge of the Mission Hospital, Peshawar, on 17 March, 1918, aged 35.

"As always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. I. 20).

O Death, where is thy sting?
Death is swallowed up in VICTORY (1 Cor. xv. 54).

In conclusion.

Let no man think this book pious, for that is a word which savours of sham and unreality, and there is nothing so real to the man who has discovered God as his religion.

Neither let it appear sad. It is meant by the writer rather as a Te Deum of praise; for there is no sadness in a religion where calamity and loss have their overweights of compensation, and where death does not exist save as the birthday of life. Rather it ends in "the blessing of the Lord which addeth no sorrow with it." "Death only dies."

And let it not seem a life story ending in tragedy. A great visionary' has aptly put it, "Blessed is he of whom it is said that he so loved giving that he was glad to give his life." He of whom this book tells gladly gave all that he had, not excepting his life; and "God loveth a cheerful giver."

It is no tragedy--though because the doctor was murdered, some have mistaken it for such. It is rather an inspiration "to those who shall come after." The same visionary has said, "The death of a hero convinces all of eternal life; they are unable to call it a tragedy."

An Army officer writes: "I always admired him, but the manner of his death was the crowning act of his life."

Is there room for tragedy? Rather "with all the company of heaven let us praise."

Is there room for death? One is inclined to agree with the naval officer who, after witnessing the scenes of that fierce battle of Jutland, wrote: "I am not sure that there is such a thing as death any longer."

"O Death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" It simply is not, for God "giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Laus Dei.

The strife is o'er, the battle done,
Now is the Victor's triumph won
O let the song of praise be sung. Alleluia.

Death's mightiest powers have done their worst,
But Jesus hath His foes dispersed;
Let shouts of praise and joy outburst. Alleluia.

On the third morn He rose again,
Glorious in majesty to reign
O let us swell the joyful strain. Alleluia.

Lord, by the strife which wounded Thee,
From death's dread sting Thy servants free,
That we may live and sing to Thee.' Alleluia.

[The hymn sung at the service in the cemetery, on the evening of 18 March, 1918.]

DONALD HANKEY: "A Student in Arms."

TO V. H. S.,


V ictory!
E nter thy rest, my martyr true,
Ring out the news the country through-
N ot for nought was thy life laid down:
O ver the place where the seed was sown
N ight shall break into heaven's blue.

H eart of his heart--brave child of mine,
A ll the Sorrow, the pain, is thine;
R est and glory are his with Me,
O nly patient waiting for thee.
L ove is endless--lift up thine eyes;
D awn crowns the night of sacrifice.

S on of service,--thy furlough won;
T rue physician, thy last round done;
A rise! heaven's service waits for thee;
R eturn, most faithful son, to Me,
R ejoicing, hear thy Lord's "Well done!"

[His needed furlough was overdue, as he had been over seven years in India, but owing to the war and the shortage of staff it was obliged to be indefinitely postponed.]

Project Canterbury