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The Life of Henry Drummond
By George Adam Smith (1899)


IN the preparation of this volume, I have received generous help from many friends, who have placed at my disposal their memories of Henry Drummond and their collections of his letters; or who have further assisted by their counsel on points of difficulty, and by their careful revision of several of the chapters. I am especially indebted to Mr. James Drummond, who arranged his brother s papers, and in many other ways afforded me assistance.

As to the letters which are quoted in the volume, I have to explain that the names of those to whom they were addressed have been given for the most part only where this was rendered necessary by the allusions which the letters contain. In a life so crowded with interests and activities, some facts have doubtless been overlooked. A few of these, which appeared too late to be put in their proper chapters, have been gathered together in an Appendix.

In the quoted material, the round marks of parenthesis and their contents belong to the original; what is enclosed in square brackets has been added. The place-names in the African chapter are spelt as authorities now spell them.

COILLEBHROCHAIN, PERTHSHIRE,
September 1898.

Chapter I

AS WE KNEW HIM

IT is now eighteen months since Henry Drummond died time enough for the fading of those fond extravagances into which fresh grief will weave a dead friend's qualities. And yet, I suppose, there are hundreds of men and women who are still sure and will always be sure that his was the most Christlike life they ever knew. In that belief they are fortified not only by the record of the great influence which God gave him over men, for such is sometimes misleading; but by the testimony of those who worked at his side while he wielded it, and by the evidence of the friends who knew him longest and who were most intimately acquainted with the growth of his character.

In his brief life we saw him pass through two of the greatest trials to which character can be exposed. We watched him, our fellow-student and not yet twenty-three, surprised by a sudden and a fierce fame. Crowds of men and women, in all the great cities of our land, hung upon his lips; innumerable lives opened their secrets to him, and made him aware of his power over them. When his first book was published, he, being then about thirty-three, found another world at his feet: the great of the land thronged him, his social opportunities were boundless, and he was urged by the chief states man of our time to a political career. This is the kind of trial which one has seen wither some of the finest characters, and distract others from the simplicity and resolution of their youth. He passed through it unscathed: it neither warped his spirit nor turned him from his accepted vocation as a teacher of religion.

Again, in the end of his life, he was plunged to the opposite extreme. For two long years he not only suffered weakness and excruciating pain, but, what must have been more trying to a spirit like his, accustomed all his manhood to be giving, helping and leading, he became absolutely dependent upon others. This also he bore unspoiled; and we who had known him from the beginning found him at the end the same humble, unselfish and cheerful friend, whom we loved when we sat together on the benches at college. Perhaps the most conspicuous service which Henry Drummond rendered to his generation was to show them a Christianity which was perfectly natural. You met him somewhere, a graceful, well-dressed gentleman, tall and lithe, with a swing in his walk and a brightness on his face, who seemed to carry no cares and to know neither presumption nor timidity. You spoke, and found him keen for any of a hundred interests. He fished, he shot, he skated as few can, he played cricket; he would go any distance to see a fire or a football match. He had a new story, a new puzzle, or a new joke every time he met you. Was it on the street? He drew you to watch two message-boys meet, grin, knock each others hats off, lay down their baskets and enjoy a friendly chaffer of marbles. Was it in the train? He had dredged from the bookstall every paper and magazine that was new to him; or he would read you a fresh tale of his favourite, Bret Harte. Had you seen the Apostle of the Tules, or Frederic Harrison's article in the Nineteenth Century on "Ruskin as a Master of English Prose" or Q's Conspiracy aboard the Midas, or the "Badminton Cricket"? If it was a rainy afternoon in a country house, he described a new game, and in five minutes everybody was in the thick of it. If it was a childrens party, they clamoured for his sleight-of-hand. He smoked, he played billiards; lounging in the sun he could be the laziest man you ever saw.

If you were alone with him, he was sure to find out what interested you, and listen by the hour. The keen brown eyes got at your heart, and you felt you could speak your best to them. Sometimes you would remember that he was Drummond the evangelist, Drummond the author of books which measured their circulation by scores of thousands. Yet there was no assumption of superiority nor any ambition to gain influence, nothing but the interest of one healthy human being in another. If the talk slipped among deeper things, he was as untroubled and as unforced as before; there was never a glimpse of a phylactery nor a smudge of unction about his religion. He was one of the purest, most unselfish, most reverent souls you ever knew; but you would not have called him saint. The name he went by among younger men was The Prince; there was a distinction and a radiance upon him that compelled the title.

That he had a genius for friendship goes without saying, for he was rich in the humility, the patience and the powers of trust, which such a genius implies. Yet his love had, too, the rarer and more strenuous temper which requires the common aspiration, is jealous for a friends growth, and has the nerve to criticise. It is the measure of what he felt friendship to be, that he has defined religion in the terms of it. With such gifts, his friendship came to many men and women women, to all of whom his chivalry and to some his gratitude and admiration were among the most beautiful features of his character. There was but one thing which any of his friends could have felt as a want others respected it as the height and crown of his friendship and that was this.

The longer you knew him, the fact which most impressed you was that he seldom talked about himself, and, no matter how deep the talk might go, never about that inner self which for praise or for sympathy is in many men so clamant, and in all more or less perceptible. Through the radiance of his presence and the familiarity of his talk there sometimes stole out, upon those who were becoming his friends, the sense of a great loneliness and silence behind, as when you catch a snow-peak across the summer fragrance and music of a Swiss meadow. For he always kept silence concerning his own religious struggles. He never asked even his most intimate friends for sympathy, nor seemed to carry any wound, how ever slight, that needed their fingers for its healing.

Now many people, seeing his enjoyment of life and apparent freedom from struggle seeing also that spontaneousness of virtue which distinguished him have judged that it was easy for the man to be good. He appeared to have few cares in life, and no sorrows; till near the end he never, except in Africa, suffered a day s illness, and had certainly less drudgery than falls to most men of his strength and gifts. So they were apt to take his religion to be mere sunshine and the effect of an unclouded sky. They classed him among those who are born good, who are good in their blood. We may admit that by his birth Henry Drummond did inherit virtue. Few men who have done good in the world have not been born to the capacity for it. It takes more than one generation to make a consummate individual, and the life that leaps upon the world like a cataract is often fed from some remote and lonely tarn of which the world never hears the name. Henry Drummond's forebears were men who lived a clean and honest life in the open air, who thought seriously, and had a conscience of service to the community. As he inherited from one of them his quick eye for analogies between the physical and the spiritual laws of God, so it was his parents and grandparents who earned for him some at least of the ease and winsomeness of his piety.

But such good fortune exempts no man from a share of that discipline and temptation without which neither character is achieved nor influence over others. Our friend knew nothing of poverty or of friendlessness ; till his last illness he never suffered pain, and death did not enter his family till he was thirty-six. And, as we have said, he was seldom over worked. Yet at twenty-two he had laid upon him the responsibility of one of the greatest religious movements of our time; and when that was over, there followed a period of uncertainty about his future vocation, of which he wrote: 'I do not know what affliction is, but a strange thought comes to me sometimes, that "waiting" has the same kind of effect upon one that affliction has. Nor can we believe that he was spared those fiercer contests which every son of man has to endure upon the battlefield of his own heart. No one who heard his addresses upon Temptation and Sin can doubt that he spoke them from experience. We shall find one record, which he has left behind, of his sense of sin and of the awful peril of character.

We must look, then, for the secret of his freedom from himself in other directions; and I think we find it in two conspicuous features of his life and teaching.

The first of these was his absorbed interest in others an interest natural to his unselfish temper, but trained and fed by the opportunities of the great mission of his youth, which made him the confidant of so many hundreds of other lives. He had learned the secret of St. Paul not to look upon his own things, but also upon the things of others that sovereign way of escape from the self-absorption and panic which temptation so often breeds in the best of characters.

No man felt temptation more fiercely, or from the pressure of it has sent up cries of keener agony, than St. Paul who buffeted his own body and kept it under. But how did he rise above the despair? By remembering that temptation is common to man, by throwing his heart upon the fight which men were everywhere waging about him, and by forgetting his own fears and temptations in interest and sympathy for others. Such souls are engrossed spectators of the drama of life: they are purged by its pity, and ennobled by the contemplation of its issues. But a great sense of honour, too, is bred within them as they spring shoulder to shoulder with so many struggling comrades a sense of honour that lifts them free of the baser temptations and they are too interested in the fate of their fellows, and too busy with the salvation of others, to brood or grow morbid about them selves. Of such was our friend.

But Drummond had been taught another secret of the Apostle. St. Paul everywhere links our life in Christ to the great cosmic processes. For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible; all things were created by Him and for Him . . . and ye are complete in Him who is the head of every principle and potency.

To Henry Drummond, Christianity was the crown of the evolution of the whole universe. The drama which absorbed him is upon a stage infinitely wider than the moral life of man. The soul, in its battle against evil, in its service for Christ, is no accident nor exception, thrown upon a world all hostile to its feeble spirit. But the forces it represents are the primal forces of the Universe: the great laws, which modern science has unveiled sweeping through life from the beginning, work upon the side of the man who seeks the things that are above. I think it is in this belief, informed by a wide knowledge of science, but still more indebted to an original vision of nature, that, at least in part, we find the secret of the serenity, the healthy objectiveness and the courage of Henry Drummonds faith.

It was certainly on such grounds that in the prime of his teaching he sought to win the reason of men for religion. This was always his first aim. He had an ill-will one might say a horror at rousing the emotions before he had secured the conviction of the intellect. I do not mean that he was a logician, for his logic witness the introduction to his first book was often his weak point. But he always began by the presentation of facts, by the unfolding of laws; and trust in these and obedience to them was, in his teaching, religion.

He felt that they lay open to the common sense and natural conscience of man. Those were blind or fools who did not follow them. Yet he never thought of these laws as impersonal, for the greatest were love and the will that men should be holy, and he spoke of their power and of their tenderness as they who sing, Underneath are the everlasting arms. He had an open vision of love wrought into the very foundation of the world; all along the evolution of life he saw that the will of God was our sanctification.

In these two, then, his interest in other men and his trust in the great laws of the universe, we find the double secret of that detachment that distance from self at which he always seemed to stand.

But we should greatly mistake the man and his teaching if we did not perceive that the source and the return of all his interest in men and of all his trust in God was Jesus Christ. Of this his own words are most eloquent:

'The power to set the heart right, to renew the springs of action, comes from Christ. The sense of the infinite worth of the single soul, and the recoverableness of a man at his worst, are the gifts of Christ. The freedom from guilt, the forgiveness of sins, come from Christ's cross; the hope of immortality springs from Christ's grave. Personal conversion means for life a personal religion, a personal trust in God, a personal debt to Christ, a personal dedication to His cause. These, brought about how you will, are supreme things to aim at, supreme losses if they are missed.

That was the conclusion of all his doctrine. There was no word of Christ more often upon his lips than this: Abide in Me and I in you, for without Me ye can do nothing? The preceding paragraphs have passed imperceptibly from the man himself to his teaching. And this is right, for with Henry Drummond the two were one. So far as it be possible in any human being, in him they were without contradiction or discrepancy. He never talked beyond his experience; in action he never seemed to fall behind his faith. Mr. Moody, who has had as much opportunity as perhaps any man of our generation in the study of character, especially among religious people, has said: No words of mine can better describe his life or character than those in which he has presented to us The Greatest Thing in the World. Some men take an occasional journey into the thirteenth of First Corinthians, but Henry Drummond was a man who lived there constantly, appropriating its blessings and exemplifying its teachings.

As you read what he terms the analysis of love, you find that all its ingredients were interwoven into his daily life, making him one of the most lovable men I have ever known. Was it courtesy you looked for; he was a perfect gentleman. Was it kindness; he was always preferring another. Was it humility; he was simple and not courting favour. It could be said of him truthfully, as it was said of the early apostles,

"that men took knowledge of him, that he had been with Jesus"; Nor was this love and kindness only shown to those who were close friends. His face was an index to his inner life. It was genial and kind, and made him, like his Master, a favourite with children. . . . Never have I known a man who, in my opinion, lived nearer the Master, or sought to do His will more fully.

And again: No man has ever been with me for any length of time that I did not see something that was unlike Christ, and I often see it in myself, but not in Henry Drummond. All the time we were together he was a Christlike man, and often a rebuke to me. With this testimony let us take that of Sir Archibald Geikie. When he became the first Professor of Geology in Edinburgh, Drummond was his first student. They travelled together in Great Britain, and on a geological expedition to the Rocky Mountains, and in later years they met at intervals.

Sir Archibald had therefore every opportunity of judging his friend's character, and this is what he writes of him. It is in continuation of some reminiscences which will be quoted later:

In later years, having resigned my Professorship for an appointment in London, I met him much more seldom. But he came to see me from time to time, always the same gentle and kindly being. His success never spoiled him in the very least degree. It was no small matter to be able to preserve his simplicity and frankness amidst so much that might have fostered vanity and insincerity in a less noble nature than his. I have never met with a man in whom transparent integrity, high moral purpose, sweetness of disposition, and exuberant helpfulness were more happily combined with wide culture, poetic imagination, and scientific sympathies than they were in Henry Drummond. Most deeply do I grieve over his early death.

Now, there was one portion of Christ's spirit and Christ's burden, which those who observed Henry Drummond only in his cheerful intercourse with men upon the ways of the world would perhaps deem it impossible that he should have shared. His first religious ministry was neither of books nor of public speech. As we shall see, soon after he had read to his fellow-students his paper on Spiritual Diagnosis, in which he blamed the lack of personal dealing as the great fault of the organised religion of his time, he was drawn to work in the inquiry rooms of the Revival of 1873-75. And in these he dealt, face to face, with hundreds of men and women at the crises of their lives. When that work was over, his experience, his fidelity, and his sympathy continued to be about him, as it were, the walls of a quiet and healing confessional, into which wounded men and women crept from the world, dared

To unlock the heart and let it speak

dared to tell him the worst about themselves. It is safe to say that no man in our generation can have heard confession more constantly than Drummond did. And this responsibility, about which he was ever as silent as about his own inner struggles, was a heavy burden and a sore grief to him. If some of the letters he received be specimens of the confidence poured into his ears, we can understand him saying, as he did to one friend: Such tales of woe we heard in Moody's inquiry room that I have felt I must go and change my very clothes after the contact; or to another when he had come from talking privately with some students: Oh, I am sick with the sins of these men! How can God bear it! And yet it is surely proof of the purity of the man and of the power ot the gospel he believed in, that thus knowing the human heart and bearing the full burden of men s sins, he should, nevertheless, have believed (to use his own words) in the recoverableness of a man at his worst, and have carried with him wherever he went the air of health and of victory.

To such love and such experience there naturally came an influence of the widest and most penetrating kind. Very few men in our day can have touched the springs of so many lives. Like all his friends, I knew that hundreds of men and women had gone to him, and by him had been inspired with new hope of their betterment and new faith in God. But even then I was prepared neither for the quality nor for the extent of influence which his correspondence reveals. First by his addresses and his conversation, and then with the vastly in creased range which his books gave him, he attracted to him self the doubting and the sinful hearts of his generation. It must be left to the other chapters of this biography to illustrate the breadth and variety of the power both of himself and of his teaching. But here it may be affirmed with all sobriety that his influence was like nothing so much as the influence of one of the greater mediaeval saints who yet worked in a smaller world than he, and with a language which travelled more slowly. Men and women sought him who were of every rank of life and of almost every nation under the sun. They turned instinctively to him: not for counsel merely, but for the good news of God and for the inspiration which men seek only from the purest and most loving of their kind. He was prophet and he was priest to hosts of individuals. Upon the strength of his personality, or (if they did not know him) of the spirit of his writings, they accepted the weakest of his logic, the most patent of his fallacies. They claimed from him the solution of every problem. They brought him alike their mental and their physical troubles. Surest test of a man's love and holiness, they believed in his prayers as a remedy for their diseases and a sure mediation between their sinful souls and God. It is with a certain hesitation that one asserts so much as this, yet the evidence in his correspondence is indubitable; and as the members of some great Churches are taught to direct their prayers to the famous saints of Christendom, so untaught and naturally, as we shall see, more than one have since his death found themselves praying to Henry Drummond.

To write an adequate life of such a man is of course an impossibility; a friend has said it would be like writing the history of a fragrance. One can describe, and make assertions about, his influence, but those can hardly appreciate who did not know himself. Indeed, this volume would never have been undertaken both because of its difficulty and because of what undoubtedly would have been his own wishes on the point had it not become clear to his relatives and friends that the life of one who exercised a saving influence on thousands of people all over the world would, in the absence of an authorised biography, be attempted by persons who, however feelingly they might write, could convey only a fragmentary knowledge of their subject.

Nor can his biographer hope to satisfy his intimate friends, men and women of all stages of religious experience, of many schools of thought, and of all ranks and callings in life, to whom his sympathy and versatility, as well as the pure liberty of his healthy spirit, must necessarily have shown very different aspects of his character and opinions. For such, all that a biographer can do is to provide pegs, on which they may hang, and perhaps render somewhat more stable and balanced, their own private portraits of their friend. One thing is obvious. So much of Drummond's best work was done, so to speak, in the confessional, upon many who are still alive, and some of whom are well known to their fellow-countrymen, that it is impossible to describe it except with a reserve which may appear to deprive the picture of life. But although among his papers material exists for narratives of sin, and even of crime, of moral struggle, of conversion and of Christian service, of the most thrilling interest, it is the duty of his biographer to imitate his own reticence, even at the risk of disguising the depth and the reality of his influence. But the biographer of Henry Drummond can at least describe the influences which moulded him, trace the growth of his character and the development of his opinions, and give a record of the actual work he did and of the movements which he started or enforced. Among the first of these the religious movement in Great Britain, from 1873 to 1875, stands supreme, and deserves the most thorough treatment.

The history of this has never been written. The present generation do not know how large it was and with what results upon the life of our nation. As for Drummond, it made him the man he was in his prime: in his expertness in dealing with men, in his power as a speaker, nay, even in some principles of his faith, he is inexplicable without it. So a long chapter will be devoted to the movement and to his share in it.

As to the growth, or change, of his opinions, that also it is needful to trace in detail, not only that we may do justice to himself, but because certain of the lines of that growth follow some of the most interesting religious and intellectual developments of our time. Here was a young man, trained in an evangelical family and in the school of the older orthodoxy, who consecrated his youth to the service of Christ, and never all his life lost his faith in Christ as his Lord and Saviour, or in Christ s Divinity or in the power of His Atonement; but who grew away from many of the doctrines which when he was young were still regarded by the Churches as equally well assured and indispensable to the creed of a Christian: such as, for instance, belief in the literal inspiration and equal divinity of all parts of the Bible. In his later life Drummond so explicitly avowed his adherence to an interpretation of Scripture very different from this, that it is not only right that the latter should be described in his own words (hence the large extracts in chap. x. of this volume), but that also the narrower positions from which he started on his career should be set plainly before us. For this reason I have recounted some of the opinions of his student days with a greater fulness than their intrinsic importance would warrant. The story of his growth from them may be of use to the many students whom the Biblical criticism of our time has brought face to face with similar facts, problems and issues. Parallel to this change in his views of Scripture, and contributory to it, is the very interesting growth of the influence wrought upon his religious opinions by physical science and that discovery of natural laws in which his generation has been so active. But besides these two developments there is a third, which is also characteristic of our time. To Drummond in his youth, religion was an affair of the individual: he was impatient (if such a temper could at any time be imputed to him) with the new attempts in Scotland and England to emphasise its social character. It is true he never bated by one jot his insistence upon the personal origin of all religion; yet he so greatly extended his sympathy and his experience, he so developed the civic conscience, as to become one of the principal exponents in our day of the social duties of religion.

Thus his career is typical of the influence upon the older Christian orthodoxy of the three great intellectual movements of our time historical criticism, physical science, and socialism (in the broad and unsectarian meaning of that much-abused term).

Again, Henry Drummond was a traveller, with keen powers of observation, a scientific training, and a great sympathy with human life on its lowest levels and outside edges. He visited the Far West of America at a time when Indian wars were still common, and the white man was represented only by soldiers, hunters and miners of gold. He visited Central Africa at a time when the only white men there were missionaries and a few traders, and of that region he made practically the first detailed scientific examination. He visited the New Hebrides, when the effects of Christianity upon the savages of these islands were beginning to be obvious; he bought clubs and poisoned spears from men who were still cannibals; he worshipped with those who had been cannibals, and were now members of his own church. Of these travels it is only of the second that he has published an account. Yet his notes of the others are often as interesting, and always as careful. I have thought it right, therefore, to incorporate in this life of him a transcription of these notes, and to supply from his African diary so much of scientific or other human interest as has not appeared in his Tropical Africa. It was in Africa that he made his only original contributions to science; and in justice to these, it seems right to give in greater detail, than his modesty allowed to appear in his volume, his observations of the geology of the African continent.

Finally, Henry Drummond was a writer of books, which brought him no little fame in the world. This biography is written by one of a circle of his life-long friends, and in the temper of their love for him; yet, because it was among them that some of his books received the most severe criticism, I have deemed it not inconsistent with the spirit of the biography to introduce an adverse judgment upon the substance of one of his volumes. As to the style in which all are written, if the saying be anywhere true that the style is the man, it is true here. The even and limpid pages of his books are the expression of his equable and transparent temper. And as we have seen that his character was the outcome of a genuine discipline, so we shall find evidence that his style was the fruit of hard labour and an unsparing will.

But all these talents and experiences were only parts of a rare and radiant whole, of which any biography, however fully it may record them, can with them all offer only an imperfect reflection. So complete a life happens but once in a generation. It is no very uncommon thing says the writer whose words are prefixed to this chapter, it is no very uncommon thing in the world to meet with men of probity; there are likewise a great many men of honour to be found. Men of courage, men of sense, and men of letters are frequent; but a true fine gentleman is what one seldom sees. He is properly a compound of the various good qualities that embellish mankind. As the great poet animates all the different parts of learning by the force of his genius, and irradiates all the compass of his knowledge by the lustre and brightness of his imagination; so all the great and solid perfections of life appear in the finished gentleman, with a beautiful gloss and varnish; everything he says or does is accompanied with a manner, or rather a charm, that draws the admiration and goodwill of every beholder.

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"The Greatest Thing in the World" - a meditation he wrote in 1874 that illuminates the importance of 1 Corinthians 13 - is the one that assured he would be remembered by later generations. Widely read and quoted during his lifetime, it went on to sell over 12 million copies and it continues today to influence people to follow God's two great commandments: to love God and to love each other.

You can download the Meditation here (4Mb)