IN 1865 I visited Palestine, that land consecrated as the place where the Son of God tabernacled in the flesh. With all its desolation it is the dearest of all lands to the Christian. Its forests are cut down; on its barren hillsides the rocks tell us that no longer does the fig tree blossom, nor the vine bear fruit. The wandering Bedouin sweeps over the desert with his robber bands, and the Moslem makes the freed-men of Jehovah his slaves. In Judea the child of Abraham is the man of the trembling eye and wandering foot. And yet it is the same land where Abraham pitched his tent, and where Jacob fed his flocks; where Moses gazed at Pisgah, and where David and Solomon ruled. It has within its borders the pathways and abiding-places of Jesus, the only Begotten Son of God. Everywhere some memorial of the Saviour is found. Although it has been trodden under foot by the heel of Gentile armies, and its bosom scarred with the battles of contending hosts, it is the same land; and he who travels there with a thoughtful heart will see everywhere the finger of God.
There is no tramp of busy feet, no whistling car, no cry as of men who strive, no glitter and show to cheat the heart of God's lesson. Its hillsides and valleys, its crumbling cities and villages, its broken columns and spoiled fountains speak of the dim past, and hush to silence every thought save to read there transactions between God and man.
It is a strange and mysterious ordering of the Providence of God that in this restless world of change the habits and customs of Judea are unchanged. It remains a silent witness of the truth of the revelation of God. The Arab shepherd's tent is to-day as when Joseph's brethren fed their father's flocks at Dothan. The gray-haired patriarch sits in the door of the tent, as did Abraham at Mamre; while beside it are the women grinding at the mill with the upper and nether millstone. The swarthy maiden, another Rebecca, draws water at the well, and hastens to let down the pitcher from her head to give the traveller drink. The people sleep upon a simple mat which any child might take up. The household, in village or city, walk on the roofs of the dwellings. The women still wear the close veil, earrings, and bracelets; and the burnos is the same outer garment which the law of Moses returned to its owner before eventide. The simple meal is Abigail's gift to David, "a dressed kid, parched corn, clusters of raisins, and dried figs."
Not less interesting is the character of the country. The palm tree, the olive, and the sycamore are still seen; the few gardens and vineyards yield the same productions, while the mountains stand round about Jerusalem. The dreary waste of the Dead Sea and the Desert of Temptation are unchanged. To-day, as of old, Sharon is a garden of flowers, the dew falls on Hermon, and the cedars grow on Lebanon. I found the Bible of my childhood the best of guidebooks.
It is in this rich field of clustering association that Palestine offers its holiest charms. The undesigned coincidences which appear with every day's journey make the traveller feel as if he were living in the days of gospel history.
For instance, far away in the distance a sower is scattering his seed; upon reaching the place one sees in the narrow bridle-path the seed to be trodden under foot by the horses. On one side the Spina Christi hugs the earth while it pierces the heart with its blood-stained memory; on the other side the rock crops out to the surface, and scattered about are patches of rich soil. One finds one's self listening to the parable of Jesus. Yonder on the hillside are a shepherd and his sheep, not as elsewhere with a faithful dog guiding the flock, but the shepherd goes before and leadeth them out--he calleth his sheep by name, and they hear his voice and follow him whithersoever he goeth. And so the Great Shepherd of Israel is pleading with one's heart as one looks upon this pastoral scene.
The wild flowers of every tint spring up where-ever there is a bit of earth--the violet, the daisy, the anemone--reminding one of home; and a hundred varieties, with a color richer than any of these dear home sisters, preach again the sermon on the mount.
The Eastern name of water, "Gift of God," tells why Jesus should have said to the poor bewildered woman of Samaria, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldst have asked . . . living water."
It is plain that this is the land where Jesus found sermons for his untutored hearers in everything which their eyes saw. The village or ruined fortress on the hillside, which at eventide casts its light afar, the woman kneading bread in the door of the tent, the shepherd dividing his sheep from the goats, the countless sparrows of the air. For Him everything held a sermon to lead bewildered men to find fellowship with God.
It is perhaps fortunate if one enters Palestine after a sojourn in Egypt where the hoary antiquities, which for over forty centuries have defied storm and tempest, so far antedate the scenes of gospel history that it makes it a simple matter to realize events which happened only nineteen hundred years ago. To one who has familiarized his mind with the pyramids of Gizeh, the tombs of Memphis, or the temples of Thebes, marvels which challenged admiration when Abraham came into Egypt or when Joseph was sold a slave in Potiphar's house, there will be little difficulty in grasping the reality of Bethany, Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives, with their sacred associations. I found it much harder to realize the fact that when Herodotus entered Egypt the pyramids had stood through more than two thousand years of history than I did to feel myself following the footsteps of my Master and lingering in His abiding-places.
The old port of Jaffa looks out upon the Mediterranean from the hillside on which it is perched, with its picturesque background of orange gardens and groves of mulberry and sycamore and fig trees. It has no harbor, but a ledge of rocks forms a breakwater behind which in pleasant weather the feluccas with their long lateen sails are seen.
In one of my first walks, a little Arab said to me: "Christian, you see Simon Tanner house? All English see him." I followed my dusky guide to the old ruin which bears the tradition of Simon the Tanner's house, by the seaside, and I confess that without raising any question of identity, it was like rewriting history to stand there and recall the wonderful vision of, as it were, "a great sheet let down by the four corners from heaven."
From the quay at my feet Jonah sailed for Tar-shish; and yonder Hiram's ships of Tyre brought the gold, the hewn timber, and the precious stones for Solomon's Temple; while from this point those world-renowned Phoenician galleys sailed.
It has blessed memories of apostolic preaching, of miracles of healing, and a long line of martyrs of Christ.
The beauty of a distant view of the Holy City is lost by an approach from the Jaffa road; and yet I am sure that no Christian ever looked for the first time upon Jerusalem that he did not cry from the depth of his heart, "Beautiful, beautiful is Mt. Zion, the joy of the whole earth!"
On the hill which overlooks the city I was met by one of the good deaconesses of Kaiserworth and her school of Arab children who had come to welcome an American bishop with a song.
Eastward wound the rocky road leading down to Jericho, and on the right the undulating country toward Bethlehem; while at my feet lay the Valley of Hinnom and Aceldama, and beyond the Kedron beautiful Mt. Olivet.
The desolation on every side melts the heart to tenderness and blinds the eyes with tears; thoughts chase each other strangely as one remembers that he is looking on the home of Melchisedec the King of Salem, and that upon this hillside Abraham came to offer Isaac, and Solomon built a house for the Lord which was the glory of all lands; and, above all, that here Jesus had walked, teaching the people, and had watered the earth with His tears and His blood.
One sees many traditional sights of holy places, but I am not aware that any scholar has questioned that the Mosque of Omar stands on the site of the Temple on Mt. Moriah.
The Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrow which our blessed Lord trod to the cross, begins near the Mosque of Omar. Faith does not require that one should believe that the events which are commemorated at the stations along this street happened at the exact places, and yet no thoughtful person can walk through that lonely street without the deepest emotions; for somewhere near there was a Via Dolorosa pressed by the feet of Jesus.
To me it mattered little whether it lay fifty feet on one side, or fifty feet on the other side. I did not need the privilege of St. Thomas, to put my finger in the print of the nail. I did not go to Palestine as an engineer, with compass and level to identify every sight, but simply as a Christian to join the crowd of loving hearts who were there to know more of Jesus. No man can be envied who can find no better occupation than that of heaping doubts upon the religion of Christ.
Although I had visited the Holy Sepulchre often, and at the time of the impressive ceremonies of the fete day, I was most touched by the sight of a Russian, a Syrian, a Copt mother from Egypt, a Frenchman, and an Englishman who were waiting with devout faces for admission, showing as it did the love of divers creeds and nations for that one grave, for the light which it has shed upon all other graves.
As I sat one day on the top of Mt. Olivet, my guide, Abraham, an old Hebrew resident of Jerusalem, pointing far away beyond the Joppa Gate, said:--
"That is Aceldama."
"Abraham, what do you mean by Aceldama? "I asked.
"Surely," he replied, "the field of blood."
"But was there a field of blood?" I asked. I shall never forget the look of sadness, as he said, with deep feeling:--
"It is a tradition of my fathers that it was bought with the blood of Jesus." And then he added, "It was a mistake to crucify Jesus; he must have been a prophet of God or we should not be strangers in the land of our fathers."
The route to Bethlehem led us past Rachael's tomb, to which my faithful Abraham pointed, with the words, "It is the grave of our Mother Rachael, and the only piece of public property which we own in the land of our fathers."
In making the journey to the Dead Sea it is necessary to rest a night at Mar Saba, a convent perched like an eagle's nest in the cleft of the rock. From this anchorites' home to the Dead Sea it is a breakneck ride along the edge of the Quarranta, the desert of temptation. It is a region of desolation with no sign of a living thing. The earth is torn into vast chasms, while here and there are sandhills which the wind has pressed so closely that they look as if covered by canvas and strained to the earth.
A ride of two hours brings one to the River Jordan. The river varies in depth from three to ten feet, and is from fifty to two hundred feet in width. We missed the exciting scene of the annual bathing of the pilgrims, but I had the far greater privilege of baptizing a fellow traveller in water consecrated by the baptism of the Saviour.
While at Mar Saba the heat and the fleas had been so disturbing that sleep had been impossible, and we had spent the night in conversation. I had been asked by one of our number, a Quaker from Philadelphia, to give the views of our Church upon baptism. I said that our Saviour established a kingdom on earth of which He was the King; that He made the door of entrance Christian baptism in words the depth of which no man could fathom:--
"Verily I say unto you that except a man is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."
Nicodemus asked our Lord two questions. The one, as to the mystery, he did not answer, for it belonged to the Government of God; the other, as to duty, our Lord answered so plainly that it has been a law of the Christian Church for eighteen hundred years. I used the comparison of a foreigner receiving citizenship, that it was not the office, it was not the form, but it was the nation which stood behind the form, which conferred the boon of citizenship on the alien. Only in the nation's way could he receive it. So here, there must be the repentance which is turning to God, the faith which looks to Christ as the Saviour, and obedience to Christ in receiving the Sacrament of His appointment.
The little company all seemed much interested in the conversation, especially a young Harvard man who had been with me during the journey from Cairo and whose thoughtful questions on several occasions, when speaking of spiritual truths, had shown his deep interest. He said to me after we left the Dead Sea:--
"Bishop, I cannot tell you how deeply I feel in this matter; I cannot bear to go by the place where our Saviour was baptized, unbaptized. Will you baptize me? "
"If thou believest, thou mayest," I answered, and when we reached the Jordan I administered the blessed Sacrament to my friend in the presence of a company of Christian pilgrims and a crowd of Arabs.
The scene from the hills back of the ancient site of Jericho is one of the most beautiful upon which I have ever looked. The eye takes in the sweep of the Jordan at the foot of the hills of Moab, a vast amphitheatre from thirty to fifty miles in extent, while northward are the snow-capped mountains of Lebanon. Eastward, at the foot of these hills, Israel crossed the Jordan. Here Naaman was healed of his leprosy, and yonder the blind man cried, "Jesu, mercy." A babbling spring near by still bears the name of Elisha, because he healed it of its bitter waters. Behind is the dreary road from Jerusalem to Jericho, where, as in our Saviour's time, the traveller, unless guarded by Arab soldiers, would fall among thieves who would wound him, strip him of his raiment, and leave him half dead.
It was while travelling over this road, faint and burning with the beginning of Syrian fever, that I crept under the shadow of a rock, and understood as never before the meaning of the prophecy, "He shall be to His people like the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."
Upon reaching Jerusalem Bishop Gobat took me to his home, and I owe my life, under God, to the care of his family and of the faithful deaconesses of Kaiserworth.
During that long illness, when vibrating between life and death, my good Abraham came often to my bedside, and with uplifted hands prayed:--
"May the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, bring thee safe to thy kindred."
Were these pages a chronicle of my journey through the blessed land of our Saviour, they would soon multiply into a volume, for the overwhelming thoughts and memories which fill the heart amid scenes so sacred, tempt to a detailed description of places and impressions quite out of place in a mere collection of brief incidents of a busy life.
On my way to Paris I had a relapse, and was carefully nursed by Mr. Richard Kingsland, of New York. Upon my arrival I heard of the assassination of President Lincoln. No words can describe the feeling of sorrow which pervaded all classes, as if his death were a personal bereavement.
My dear friends, Dr. Theodore Evans and his wife, took me to their home and cared for me until restored to health.
Dr. Evans was warden of the American Church in Paris. His brother, Dr. Thomas Evans, who saved the Empress Eugenie from the violence of a Parisian Commune, will be held in grateful remembrance by all who honor brave men.
Emperor Napoleon said one day to Dr. Theodore Evans, "Next Sunday there will be a fete at the palace, and we shall expect you to be present."
Dr. Evans replied, "Sire, on that day I serve another King."
"But," said the Emperor, "suppose I send for you to do some work for me?"
"Sire," was the answer, "if it is to relieve pain, I shall go; but if it is to do work which can be done as well another day, I cannot go. If not loyal to my God, I shall not be loyal to my sovereign."
Napoleon responded, "Monsieur Evans, I respect America more than ever before."