Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Sketch of the Life of William E. Philip,
Missionary at Hankey, From the Scottish Congregational Magazine


A religious periodical contains many instances of premature mortality. Little as men think of death, and brief as the impression which it makes is, there is enough in a sudden removal to strike for a season, and lead to serious thought. In looking over the pages of a magazine for a series of years, we can discover not a few memoirs by the same writer, and by and bye our eye lights upon one of himself. It is instructive to dwell on this. We are taught by it the unutterable importance of having the heart right with God, and the preciousness of that hope which maketh not ashamed. It not unfrequently happens that the survivor anticipated the record of his own death before that of his friend, and that he who is gone would have discharged that duty he is now called on to perform. But Jesus has the keys of death. They could not be in better hands than in His, who has deprived the enemy of his sting. He may use them at a time and in a way, perplexingly mysterious to us. Still, he does use them; and however baffling the employment of them in a particular case (such as the one wo have now to record) is, we may rest assured that it is our ignorance which makes us doubt, and that when it shall be dispelled in tho land of light, we shall gratefully acknowledge the kindness which we saw not on earth, and bow to the wisdom with which that kindness was blended.

William E. Philip was born in Aberdeen, on the 31st of July, 1814. His father, Dr. Philip, was at that time pastor of the Congregational church which meets in George-Street chapel, there. It is well known that for many years he has occupied the highly responsible situation of superintendent of the London Missionary Society’s missions in Africa. He has achieved much for the degraded Hottentots, and his memory will be embalmed in their affections as their emancipator from a brutal thraldom. Every reader of missionary intelligence is able to tell the superiority of his mother's mental powers, and the very efficient aid she has lent her husband in his unwearied labours of benevolence. Tho energies of his parents being consecrated to the cause of Christ, they dedicated William to the same service, from his birth. His temper was naturally impetuous, and his daring spirit occasioned them much anxiety. But though often hurried by his rashness into mischief, he had a warm affectionate heart, and a remarkable tenderness of conscience, which caused him bitter regret and many tears on account of his foolish conduct. Trusting in the promise, “I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed,*' his parents continued instant in prayer in his behalf, and persevered in their efforts to train him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

When in his eighth year, he was sent to England, and remained there at school for nearly six years. During a part of that time his parents were in England, and he spent his holidays under their roof. On their return to the Gape in 1829, he was sent to his native place to pursue his studies at college, and qualify himself for the medical profession. While there he was deprived of that influence which had hitherto controlled him, and finding himself free, plunged into a career of youthful folly and unsteadiness. Losing all relish for the quiet acquisition of knowledge, he abandoned his studies and embarked on a sea-faring life. It is unnecessary to detail the sorrow of heart which the step occasioned to his parents,—none could enter into but such as have been tried in the same way,—and it is equally unnecessary to relate the anxiety—the wretchedness—the bitter remorse which it entailed on himself. His own expressions, in after years, when recounting the mercies of the Lord, and mourning over his sins, will convey a sufficient idea of both. “In John Newton's works I have found much comfort; I feel a kindred sympathy with such a man, for I, too, am one of those astounding instances of the long-suffering and mercy of God. In my rashness and filial impiety I have exceeded him far!'

On his second voyage he touched at the Cape, and his parents considered it to be their duty to detain him at home, in order that he might receive that education which would fit him for the calling he had entered on. He accordingly studied navigation, and in a few months Providence favoured him by an introduction to Captain Brown of “The Duke of Roxburgh," who was in want of a third officer. Captain Brown was a truly good man, who kindly watched over him, not only on the passage, but during the whole time he was in London, and acted towards him the part of a Christian father to a beloved son. His attention and care were blessed of God in leading him to the Saviour, so that by the time he again embarked, his mind appeared to have come under the power of religion, and to be resolved to serve the Lord, and follow him fully. He always spoke of the captain with much gratitude, and his parents deeply feel that they never can repay the debt of obligation they are under to him, whom God made the instrument of turning their tears into joy. They thought all things were against them when he went to sea, but they were mercifully taught that an unerring hand was following His own plans of love. Captain Brown did not return to sea, but found him a place in a South Sea Whaler. During the voyage the captain died, and William’s religious convictions making him desire to quit a sailor’s life, he left the vessel at the Mauritius, and the first intelligence he heard respecting it was, that it was wrecked six days after leaving that island.

A very striking change took place upon him at his conversion, and it was easily seen that a total alteration had been made upon all his views and feelings. His wish now was to be employed in the mission; but although his parents praised God for the change effected upon him, they conld not immediately comply with his desire. They felt that time was required to test the reality of his conversion, and prudently advised him to turn his attention to some other profession. Land-surveying seemed most congenial to his tastes and previous studies, and, after a few months’ application, he passed his examination with great credit to himself, and was licensed as one of the government surveyors. Ho entered on the discharge of his duties with all his constitutional ardour, and soon gained the approbation of his superiors in office. It will be seen hereafter of what essential use these acquirements were in his future career.

His father, after a sufficient time had elapsed, finding that he continued steadfast in the faith, and unchanged in his resolution to devote himself to missionary work, brought him to England in 1836. In that year he began his studies at the University of Glasgow, and also at the Theological Academy, under Dr. Wardlaw, and the late Mr. Ewing, and Mr. MacKenzie. Before coming to Glasgow he had made considerable advances in various branches of study. His acquaintance with history, philosophy, and belles-lettres, was far beyond the average, and gave him a position in the estimation of others which few in his circumstances attain. He pursued the study of metaphysics with avidity, and was a passionate admirer of such poetry as that of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley. While he attended the University Classes he did not bend his mind much on classical or scientific acquirements. His medical studies were all in all with him, and he so elevated his study of, and desire for, medical knowledge, as to cast every thing else into the shade. In 1840 he took out his diploma as surgeon. Although he thus completed his studies, he had turned his attention to the principles of the Homoeopathic system, and spent much time in the investigation of them. The result was that he embraced the system with enthusiastic ardour, and determined to practise it.

His mental powers were superior. His intellect was strong, but not acute. He could see a principle, but could not trace all the subordinate facts which bore upon it, and made it so. He could comprehend the force of an argument as a whole, but, unless it as a whole was weak, he could not meet it. The tendency of his mind was to get at a general law, and if he could not find this, he was apt to throw away, as untrue, what seemed to require to have some ultimate element to which it could be traced. This he did not struggle against, and from it flowed many of the defects which were visible to others. He could not bear to wait at the gate of the temple of truth until she opened it, when he had become quite prepared to receive her. He would knock, and, if she came not out soon, he would turn away after some form which appeared to beckon him on to what was real, away from the false position to which he was looking. This disposition tempted him to leap to conclusions which he abandoned in maturer years. It made him ambitious, made him run down any opinion or any author without qualification, and made him less condescending and sympathising with men of inferior mind than he ought to have been. This, too, made him apparently careless of what others said regarding him. He did not labour hard to get a prize, because he estimated at a low rato a prize itself. The only two which he gained were, the 4th prize in the first division of the logic class; and a prize “for the best comparative remarks on the most distinguished English poets of the 17th century.” Yet there was not a closer student in the University at the time. He generally sat twelve hours a-day in his study, most of which, when not occupied with medical pursuits, he spent in perusing the best English writers, and, having uncommon facility in assimilating what he read, he was constantly amassing knowledge, which he thought would be of more service to him in future life than those acquisitions which would have secured him many a prize, had he given his energies to their attainment. Fully aware that the Hottentots, among whom he was to pass his days, could derive but little benefit from his being minutely versed in the nicer shades of a critical acquaintance with the ancient languages, he deemed it to be his duty to keep them in remembrance, and get as extensive an amount of general information as was within his reach. His heart was fixed, with firm purpose, on the elevation of that people in religion and civilisation; and this made him sacrifice the study of certain branches of knowledge, on which, in other circumstances, he would have felt it to be right to bestow the utmost diligence and attention.

He was not communicative to strangers ; he did not open his heart at once; and only thorough acquaintance ever got his backwardness overcome. This produced a bad impression of him in the minds of many; yet he was free and hearty with those who knew him, and indulged sometimes in an exuberant buoyancy of spirit.

Truth compels the writer to mention these things, which seem to give an unfavourable view of the deceased. But he does so, in order to furnish a warning to students. His early college days were better than his last—there was more humility, more earnestness, more simple-mindedness. He latterly disrelished books of practical divinity, this had an unfavourable effect upon his piety, as it had no means of nourishment so much needed at college. Eminent piety would have made all his powers and qualities produce a holy influence. A life at college is a time of danger. With the light which subsequent experience sheds upon spiritual things, many ministers shudder at it, and wonder that they were kept from falling away. In looking back on the thoughtlessness, the prayerlessness, the self-seeking, the only relief they have is in the prayer, “Remember not the sins of my youth nor my transgressions.” The writer would with all affectionate earnestness beseech students to practise prayer, to secure time for devotional reading, and to maintain right views of the solemn work that is before them. The deadening influence of their pursuits is a real evil, and sure he is, that no one could speak more emphatically on this point than his departed friend would do now.

With all these short-comings, he had a heart gushing with benevolence towards man, and longed for the time when he would be on the mission field, saying, “Let us work hard on the mission field, and no matter though we die all the sooner for that, we shall have accomplished something.” Even when away for a brief space of time from study and its influence, this feeling gained strength. When in Arran, it delighted him on a Sabbath morning to go from house to house before sorvice, to talk with the people and urge them to come and hear the gospel. During his attendance at the hospital, he rescued a poor unfortunate girl from a life of infamy, interested himself in her behalf, got her sent to the country, frequently visited her, and manifested a strong desire for her eternal welfare. These circumstances gave promise of what he would be and do on the missionary field. The beautiful and the good in man he often expatiated on, and he lingered with rapture on the themes of man s immortality and the Almightiness of God. When engaged in prayer, there were the profoundest awe and the richest pathos—his soul seeming to be absorbed in the glories of the character of the Eternal. His tone of general conversation was elevated, and he entertained the most profound contempt for any thing approaching to slander.

The time having now come when Mr. Philip had to enter on the proper work of a missionary, he left Cape Town, and spent a few months itt visiting* the different missionary stations. When the long process of preparation through which, in the Providence of God, he had to pass is considered, it must be interesting to ascertain the impressions produced o® his mind in the course of his tour. In a letter to the writer he says, UI cannot give you any adequate description of what the missionary work has effected in this colony. I have been surprised with all that I have seen; and so entire a change upon the character of a people in ro short a time, has not, I think, been witnessed in the history of the *ori<L Most of the members of the church meet together in the chapel •roiy morning before day-light for prayer, and every evening a meeting conducted by the missionary. Since I have seen the prosperity of the missionary work, I can from my heart say, that I would not exchange it for the best bishoprick in England or Scotland. But I cannot convey t° yon my views and feelings with regard to the glorious work in after. I only wish you were out here to see for yourself, then would believe.”

Having completed his survey of several of the stations, he remained a few months at Cambria, which was then the out station of Hankey, *here he was permanently located. Immediately on his arrival at Canbria, the small-pox broke out among the people, and he had above forty patients continually on his hands. He treated them all homoeo-ptihicauy, and was so successful, that he only lost a sixth of his patients, whereas, in other places, there was the fearful mortality of a third. The P°or people suffered great distress, as during this sickness they had been ®®able to get work among the farmers, and three or four deaths occurred fam the want of proper nourishment in their convalescent state. He fad applications for food every day, and, in many cases, so far as his ®cana permitted, he had to feed the sick, which, of course, was attended *ith difficulty. The drought which caused the famine continued for two y®*ro after his removal to Hankey, and entailed much misery on the New Series.—Vol. YI. D people, while it compelled many of them to leaye the station, and thereby took them beyond the reach of his missionary labours. These circumstances deeply affected his benevolent heart, and he set his mind to devise some means of alleviating evils which told so sadly alike upon spiritual and temporal well-being. He could not bear the idea of confining his labours to two or three hundred poverty-stricken and depressed people. Nothing can be done in that part of the colony without irrigation, and this led him to consider the practicability of getting more ground put under water. He accordingly formed a water-course which was carried in many parts through the solid rock, and thus brought under cultivation a very extensive and valuable piece of ground. Perceiving, too, the advantage of turning the Gamtoos river over several hundreds of acres of the most fertile land, to which naturally it had no access, he was struck with the happy idea of piercing the mountain itself, which separated the soil from the stream. The conception once formed, he entered on its execution. Mention has been made of his early daring, and of the somewhat too independent spirit in which he latterly indulged. But mark the providence of God in locating him where a directing mind, and a mind conscious of its own powers, was alone fitted to carry out an undertaking so vast, as to cut a tunnel of 780 feet in length, and about six feet high, and four wide, through solid rock. The Hottentots had never seen such a work before, nor been engaged in any mining operations. He infused his own spirit into them, and got them to continue day and night at the hardest work, although they had to accustom themselves to the forced position, the confinement, and the night work, not to speak of the natural dread of being buried alive. Notice has been taken of his education as a land-surveyor. All his measurements proved so accurate, that the parties from opposite sides met exactly in the middle. For sixteen months did he continue unostentatiously labouring, till at length on the morning of the 14th June, 1844, his perseverance was crowned with success, and he was delighted at seeing the water rush out of the tunnel. The reader will find a full account of its completion and manifold advantages in the last years Magazine, p. 42—44.

This work, which will remain as an enduring monument to his abilities and philanthropy, being finished, he was glad to get a relief from the anxiety he had had regarding it, and paid a visit to his parents. It was a source of mutual comfort and enjoyment. They were cheered at the evident mellowing of his character, the more simple dependence upon the influences of the Spirit, the casting off of speculative opinions he had imbibed at Glasgow, and the simplicity of his style of preaching, in which all his intellectual powers were used to simplify truth as much as possible to the capacities of the people. He told his mother that he found the style used by our Saviour was the most suitable to them, and that he had got more into the way of preaching from the parables or discourses of the Saviour. There was one address which he gave at the Wesleyan Anniversary which produced a most powerful impression upon all, particularly upon the ministers. It gave a solemn tone to the meeting. He enlarged on the necessity of the missionaiy living near to God, in order that he might find strength to prosecute his various labours. He described, in a most touching manner, the danger to which he was exposed from the want of a religious atmosphere around him, from the secular affairs to which he was obliged to attend—from his own mind sinking to a level with the people; and being deeply convinced that it was only by living alone to God, and enjoying the influence of the Spirit, that he could rise above these temptations, he entreated the prayers of the people for missionaries, that they might be preserved in a right state of feeling. A missionary, above all men, needs the prayers of the people of God. Constantly employed as Mr. Philip was, yet he keenly felt the separation from much loved friends. “ I enjoy,” he says to a friend, “ many blessings in my family and in my work; but you will easily comprehend me when I say, that the day often lags heavily with me. No society, no change, one dull monotonous round of duties and occurrences, no one with whom we can interchange sentiments, nothing to stimulate the mind to action;—books have lost their charm, from the loss of sympathy and communion of ideas fostered indeed by the remembrances of the dead, but inherited and maintained only by intercourse with the living.' The chastening of his mind is beautifully seen in a brief allusion to the lamented death of Mr. Morell Mackenzie. “ Above all his qualifications as a scholar, he possessed, what in my opinion is without price, an eminently simple and humble spirit, and it is in this respect that I should more earnestly cherish his remembrance as a friend." His parents were delighted at his piety maturing for increased usefulness, never suspecting that he was ripening for heaven.

He returned to Hankey with his comprehensive mind filled with plans for future labours. He had now room for five or six times the population the land could maintain before, and every thing had to be adapted to such an increased number. He was anxious to erect a corn mill, as it was very much needed, and to cut roads to join the line of road to Cape Town and Algoa Bay, then undertaken by Government. He had also in view to build a new chapel and schools. But while these undertakings occupied much attention, they were not carried on at the expense of the spiritual care and advancement of his flock. Early in 1844, his father, and his brother, Mr. Durant Philip, left the Cape for the purpose of visiting some of the stations. They were accompanied by John Fairbairn, a son-in-law of Dr. Philip’s, a boy of unusual promise, and beloved by all for the sweetness of his disposition, and the superiority of his understanding. He was in his twelfth year. Tenderly beloved by his father, Mr. Fairbairn, he consented that, for the sake of improving his health, he should be for a time under his uncle s charge. When they arrived, they were much gratified by the spirit of progress manifested among the people, and with the peaceful and happy spirit of industry which pervaded them. They were exchanging their huts for well-built cottages, many of which are finished, and would do credit to any English village. It was interesting to see a company of poor despised Hottentots taking their seats, on the Sabbath-day, with such order and devout demeanour in the house of the Lord, and listening with attention to the word of life. The tears were frequently seen streaming silently down the cheeks of the men as Mr. P. expatiated on the wonders of redeeming love, and poured forth the rich stores of his powerful mind. In this department of labour he felt the importance of the very comprehensive course of reading which he had been privileged to pursue, as he was enabled to preach even for two hours at a time without wearying his audience. He had a regular meeting for inquirers, at which he was accustomed to listen to them unburdening their minds, and it charmed his heart to see “ first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.*’ His father observed these promising indications of good with sincere delight—a delight which was much enhanced when he saw that occasionally his son was roused from his bed at midnight to meet with some sinner whose conscience had been awakened.

On Sabbath the 29th of June, he administered the Lord's Supper at a station called “ Kruis Fontein," where Mr. Clarke labours, who writes thus regarding the service:—“Mr. Philip administered the Lord's Supper at this station to-day, and was particularly solemn and heavenly-minded in his addresses, and more than usually faithful to sinners, full of love and compassion. He slept in my house that night, and our hearts seemed somehow knit together, and our conversation on spiritual things.”

After his father and brother left Hankey, John Fairbaim became an almost constant companion of his uncle in his walks to the tunnel, and in his study, where they were in the habit of reading together. On Tuesday morning, the 1st of July, immediately after family worship, they, as they had often done previously, left the house to visit the tunnel, which is about two miles distant on the other side of the Gamtoos river. After spending two or three hours there, they left about one o’clock, in order to return home. About two o'clock, one of the people who had been in search of cattle came to the river side, and while looking about for the boat, saw a cap, and boots, and socks, which he recognised as Mr. Philip’s, floating upon the water; and on looking more carefully, he discovered the boat full of water, with the edge just above the surface. Alarmed at these circumstances, he ran immediately baok to the tunnel, and having ascertained that Mr. Philip had been there and left, he made all possible haste to discover whether he had reached the village. There his worst fears were confirmed, and a number of the people (with Mr. Kelly, the schoolmaster,) proceeded at once to the river side. All endeavours to find the bodies that night were unsuccessful, on account of the depth of the water, but drags having been made, they were both found next morning lying near one another, not farther than eight yards from the shore. They were recovered without any blemish or injury, and appeared as if they had been in a calm sweet sleep. How the fatal catastrophe occurred no one can tell. On Friday, July 4th, they were interred side by side in one grave, in a retired corner of the missionary garden, which Mr. P. had found so much pleasure in beautifying, and where he was wont to meditate. The mournful exclamations of the people on the occasion were most harrowing. His widow has been most graciously sustained, and still remains on the spot, where, to use her own heart-affecting words, u she can have more communion with the spirit of the deceased, where every thing bears the stamp of his character, than she could any where else, and that she was only half separated from him, while she could continue in the work which engaged the energies of his mind, and which she doubted not, he looked down upon from heaven." Many a pious heart will unite in commending her and her two little boy’s to the care of the widow’s stay, and the father of the fatherless. It would touch the hardest heart to see the anguish of his bereaved flock lest she too should now leave them. They have often made tears to flow as they have plaintively uttered the words, “The Lord has taken away our father, and our mother will leave os also, bat we must remain, what shall we do? The Lord will make it right."

The stunning suddenness of his removal afforded no direct opportunity for him to give utterance to his feelings in the prospect of dissolution ; and in the absence of this it is truly gratifying that such ample testimony has been borne to the estimation in which he was held. We do not sufficiently value our blessings till we are deprived of them. "Men of business and of the world,” writes Mr. James Read, “declare him to have been an honourable man in all his transactions, and a gentleman in sentiments and manners, as well as a consistent Christian and minister of the gospel. His poor afflicted people have spontaneously declared to me, with eyes streaming with tears, and hearts heaving with distress, that they had now lost their best friend, father, and benefactor. One man said, *Sir, taking every thing into consideration, viewing Mr. Philip's usefulness in connection with the cause of God, the prosperity of this place, and the present and eternal welfare of the people, I would rather, though I dearly love my children, have lost one of them than our beloved pastor. He was strict (he continued) as it respected worth and moral conduct, both among the people generally and in the members of the church, but he had a kind and feeling heart; he had the heart of the lion with that of the lamb!’

The writer refrains from much comment on the preceding sketch. Readers will make their own reflections, and he trusts will reap profit from considering the brief career of Mr. Philip. He gave himself up to the work. In June 1844, writing to his mother-in-law, he says, “We would like very much to see the faces of our old friends again, but this is no world for wasting time in holiday jaunts, and the improbability of seeing you again this side of the grave, seems even greater now than it appeared at the time of parting. Man is a very peculiar animal; let him migrate where he will, he soon makes interests to occupy him, and fix him where he had chosen his new locality. I am in the moral world awakening affections, and in the physical planting trees, both of which I perceive will only prove ties to bind me for life to the place of my exile." His being bound to that place was for a brief space of time. Activity was his life here, it will be so where he now is. The repose and rest of heaven have in them nothing like sluggish indolence. “His servants serve him." We mourn his departure from a most inviting field of usefulness, but we see not the glorious field of service in which he now acts a part It is looked upon as an honourable thing for a soldier to step into the post just filled a moment before by the friend who lies dead at his feet. Let young men who know the Lord fill up the gaps which are frequently made in the mission field. They may thereby lose opportunities of amassing wealth after many years plodding in business; they may thereby lose much of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life which, in our day, fashionable Christians gratify themselves with; they may thereby deprive themselves of the means of rising to distinction in any of the liberal professions:—but they may be honoured to send to glory wealth in the form of saved souls, an enduring substance; they will enjoy the communion of God in their pilgrimage, and rise to the lofty distinction of immortality—that of shining as a star for ever and ever. Mr. Philip might have continued at the sea till able to retire, and pass the remainder of his days as a wealthy shipowner; he might have followed land-surveying, and, ere this time, might have been high in influence at the Cape in that line of business; and he might, had he chosen, have been engaged in the medical profession in the metropolis of Britain, and doubtless would have risen to eminence;— but he “suffered the loss of all things, and did count them but dung that he might win Christ, and be found in him.” If ever a lingering regret came across his bosom that he had thus relinquished the world's paths to wealth, pleasure, and distinction, that thought perished in the river, and ere his earthly tenement was raised from it, his soul had joined in the chorus, “Worthy is the Lamb his ideas of having made a sacrifice had fled; and, ravished with the sublimities of the land of light inaccessible and full of glory, he had recounted the wilderness scenes through which he had travelled homewards, and been satisfied that he had been guided in the “right way to the city of habitation.” Reader, art thon a pious young man? has thy God granted unto thee mental power? what are you doing? Will you remain at a secular pursuit when heathen lands call for Missionaries? Can you do so with a clear conscience? Realise your position, circumstances, responsibilities. Ask guidance from God. Make conscience of the matter, and confer not with flesh and blood.


 

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast