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The Story of the Life of MacKay of Uganda
Chapter V - Life in Berlin


“Then look not' back! Oh I triumph in the strength
Of an exalted purpose! Eagle-like,
Press sunward on. Thou shalt not be alone.
Have but an eye on God, as surely God
Will have an eye on thee. Press on! press on!”

B. B. THATCHER.

ON the 1st of November, 1873, Alexander Mackay embarked in the S.S. North Star from Leith for Hamburg, his desire being to master the German tongue and fully to qualify himself as an engineer. Amongst the introductions he took with him was one from Dr. Horatius Bonar to a clergyman in Hamburg, who gave him a letter to the Rev. Dr. Baur, Court chaplain and Cathedral preacher in Berlin.

Although it was a time of great commercial depression, consequent on the late Franco-German war, he speedily found congenial employment in a great engineering firm in Berlin. In his letters home he frequently speaks of the dangerous fascination attending the designing of machinery. He writes: “Sometimes a new design so absorbs my whole thoughts that I cannot drive it out of my mind. It ever keeps coming up for improvement and perfection. I would fain give it the first place, as it is my work to a certain extent; but when it would take such complete mastery of me, I find the word in my conscience, ‘Love not the world, neither the things of the world: if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.’” His profession led him amongst Rationalists, and he sorely missed communion with the Lord's people. He says: “Carnality and unbelief have got such a hold upon me, that if it were not that, now and again, in reading the Word of God, I get a fresh ray of light, I would fall away altogether.” He soon, however, formed the acquaintance of Dr. and Mrs. Baur, who took a great interest in him, and did for him what Aquila and Priscilla did for Apollos.

Dr. Baur writes: “The image of Alexander Mackay, my friend, I might almost say my son, stands forth clearly to my mind, as it was imprinted by a long daily, intimate life together, and by the reports of his later efforts in the work of our Lord. I remember quite distinctly one day he came to see us. I sat conversing with him for a long time in my study. I hardly spoke any English - he little German. I invited him to come back at any time: he would always be welcome. He answered, with his own peculiar, frank, humorous smile, that he did not wish to visit us from time to time, but to live with us, as, living in a large town with so many infidels, he longed for a Christian home. I spoke to my wife, and as we had room we received the young man into our house, to our great joy. My wife and I always looked .on him as a dear son, and he was a true-hearted brother to our own son. At that time he had just entered his twenty-fifth year, but appeared to be younger. He was scarcely of middle size, and had a slender but well-knit figure. He had a fine head, with a noble forehead and an open face. In his blue eyes, which looked bright and clever, there was a soft, kindly light, revealing a deep love to God and man. He took the most lively interest in my work, which consisted not only in the care of a congregation scattered far and wide in the great City, and in preaching in the Cathedral, the Parish Church of the Emperor and his household, but also in the direction of institutions and societies, in addresses at large meetings, and Bible readings - in short, in Home Mission work of the most varied kind. He conscientiously fulfilled his profession of an engineer, but the centre of his interest lay in the kingdom of God. I remember how one Sunday morning, at breakfast, he directed the question to me with deep emotion: 'What shall we -do to send the Berliners to church?' With his faithfulness in little things, he did bring many a young man to church. What was a benefit to himself he longed for others also to enjoy. He himself went regularly with us to the Cathedral, and did not feel repelled by our carefully-selected Litany. With a friend of ours (Rev. G. Palmer Davies) he sometimes went to the American Church, and joined actively in the Biblical discussions.” What Alexander Mackay saw of Christian home life in Germany gave him a great love for the country and for the people. Indeed, some of his most choice friends belonged to the “Fatherland.” No doubt his residence there did much also to broaden his sympathies, and to show him that unity in diversity and diversity in unity must ever be a fundamental article of the Christian faith. Writing home in the end of 1873, he says: “I very much deplore the bitter tone of the .... papers. While the world stands there is room for all; for God has not cast all in one mould. All trees are not oaks, nor weeping willows either, but that is no reason why each species should look askance at the other. All are of Cod, and all have their respective uses and peculiar beauty. Let us therefore strive to be useful in the Lord's vineyard, and to attain to some measure of the beauty of holiness. The Master said in the tersest words, 'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness.' Just as far as we follow that precept can we claim at all to be His disciples. 'Let each man, wherein he was called, therein abide with God. There will then be less bitterness between parties and sects, and more of the love that seeketh not its own.'

For some years prior to Alexander Mackay's arrival in Germany, he had neither read much nor thought much of Foreign Missions, so absorbed had he been in his professional studies; but, strange to say, a few weeks after reaching Berlin, before he had made any Christian acquaintances, and while he was standing aghast at the infidelity of his associates, a simple account of an address given by Dr. Burns Thomson, in Chalmers Memorial Church, Edinburgh, on Mission work in Madagascar, was put into his hands. This appeal, and the remembrance of his sainted mother's injunction, “If the call comes to you take care you do not neglect it,” kept ever coming up before him, until at last the claims of the heathen world took such possession of him that he described it as a new conversion. He was greatly encouraged by Dr. Baur to follow out his idea, viz., to become an engineer-missionary. Dr. Baur had been intimately acquainted with John Coleridge Patteson, the martyr-bishop of Melanesia, and at the very time he received Alexander Mackay into his home, he was occupied in writing a short biography of the Bishop for his German countrymen.

Dr. Baur, in his character sketch of Mackay, [See Introduction to the German Edition of “A. M. Mackay, Pioneer Missionary of the Church Missionary Society to Uganda.” ] points out the great resemblance between these two devoted missionaries, although they were so different in their spiritual origin, Pusey and Keble having influenced the one - Bonar and (he ought to have added) Baur the other. Diaries are seldom interesting, but a few extracts from one Mackay kept in Berlin show his spiritual experiences from time to time:-

October 11th, 1874 - Led the Bible-class in American Church this evening. Subject, John vii. 37-9. May much result from our meeting. A Christian a life-giver. Give me Thy spirit without measure, o God, that I may be mighty rivers. What a barren soil is here to irrigate!”

Oct. 12th. - This the last evening of the quarter of a century in which I have lived so much in vain. Lord, forgive me, and enable me henceforth to spend and be spent in Thy blessed service.”

Oct. 17th. - This day enabled by God's grace to preach to ten souls. But oh, with what feebleness! Do thou, O Spirit of the living God, open their hearts everyone; yea, and they shall live. Empty me of self, O God, and fill me with Thee. Oh for more communion with God!”

Oct. 19th. - These souls, by God's grace, to seek to save .... Mighty harvest! Lord Jesus, do Thou be found of them all. Thou, and Thou alone, canst save. Give me faith in Thee.”

Oct. 20th. - Lord bless abundantly two' or three grains of seed sown. What an idle day I God enable me to buy back opportunities, because the days are evil.”

Oct. 21st. - Oh for nearness to God I God grant me, I pray Thee, a deep spirit of humility - the broken will and the contrite heart. Oh for the single eye! What pride is in my heart! Carnality and unfaithfulness too! How much in me alone the Blood has to cover!”

Oct. 22nd. - Much departure from the living God.  Much unbelief and hardness of heart Lord Jesus, destroy the power of evil within me. Baptise me with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”

Oct. 23rd. - God forgive an empty day. Have done nothing for Christ, yet He has taught me to say, with a fuller heart than ever before, with H. Bonar: 'Lord, sift me - the process may be sore'; and with McCheyne, ‘If nothing else will do to sever me from my sins, Lord, send me such sore and trying calamities as shall awaken me from earthly slumbers.'

“Lord, Thou art merciful.”

Many such entries show how he bemoaned his sinful nature, and reveal his fervent desire to become a true disciple of the Lord Jesus. Especially does he long for greater tenderness in seeking to win souls by proclaiming the good tidings.

November 12th. - Slept in. Notes from home of Bonar's sermon on ‘This is My beloved Son - hear ye Him.' This seems to be the lesson God means to teach me by His rod at this time. How prone I am to do anything but learn. Teach me, Lord, this lesson above all others.

“A seed sown, Lord, Thou alone canst bless.”

Nov. 23rd. - Slept in again. No time for prayer or reading God's Word in the morning. Yet the Lord is gracious to me. Thy goodness is leading me to repentance. Oh for more faith, more hope, more love! How dead I am! Give Thy Spirit, Lord Jesus, even unto me.”

December 11th. - Attaining day by day to a little more childlike faith in Jesus, and therefore joy and peace. Faith is Thy gift, O God. My Father, give Thy son faith, for my Redeemer's sake.”

Dec. 12th - Teach me, my Saviour, to speak to lost souls in love, and not in bitterness.”

“Prayer meeting. Slight sparks of joy; Oh for the joy of being filled with the Spirit! I believe that is what we ought to be. Sadness must be due to unbelief.”

Alexander Mackay had first been led to think of Madagascar as a mission-field, but, on inquiry, there seemed no prospect of any opening in that island for his energies. Thus it came to pass that his eyes were cast on the Dark Continent, and, as Dr. Baur says, “he longed to set foot on it as if it were the Promised Land.” One bitterly cold night, shortly before Christmas 1875, he finished reading Stanley's “How I found Livingstone,” and on laying the book on the table his eye fell on the words, “Henry Wright, Hon. Sec., Church Missionary Society,” in an old copy of the Edinburgh Daily Review. His curiosity was at once aroused, and on taking up the newspaper he found the above signature to be appended to an appeal for men to go out as pioneer missionaries to Uganda, in the very heart of the African Continent, in response to King Mtesa's invitation, sent home by Stanley. Mackay, there and then, although it was now after midnight, replied to Mr. Wright's letter, offering his services to the expedition. The Church Missionary Society corresponded with his referees, and early in January of 1876 he had two communications from them, followed by a telegram on the 17th of the month, appointing an interview in London. He paid a flying visit to England and saw the Central African Sub-Committee, and a few days after Mr. Wright informed him that he “had been accepted for the Lord's work in connection with the Church Missionary Society Mission to the Victoria Nyanza.” At this time Mackay was busy with a complicated machine which he had designed for his employers, and he could not honourably leave until he saw it in proper working order; but he accomplished this sooner than he expected, and as the Church Missionary Society were anxious there should be no delay in carrying out their undertaking, he agreed to have his passage taken by the P. and O. boat which would leave Southampton in the end of March. The sudden death, however, on the 16th of February, of his beloved brother, Charles-

“A noble boy,
A brave, tree-hearted, careless one,”

altered his plans, and he did not really sail for Zanzibar till the 27th of April. He was glad to get on board the Peshawur, being utterly worn out in rushing from place to place selecting the very liberal equipment with which the Church Missionary Society were providing the expedition. Besides machinery and tools of all kinds, presents had to be got for Mtesa and other sultans, as also cumbrous cloth and bead moneys, which are the only currency known in the interior of Africa. In this, however, he had the valuable assistance of Colonel Grant.

An able writer says that “the chances are that if Mackay had been prevented from going to Africa the elaborate trivialities of our modern life would soon have wearied him, and brought him to an earlier grave-his brave and active nature would have beaten itself to death against the bars of European conventionality.” No doubt this is true. Writing to a friend, he says, “English Christianity undoubtedly stands in need of being reformed. There is about it much of what our Saviour calls ‘serving God and Mammon.' ... Nowhere in all the world is there so much bitter poverty by the side of high living as there is in England. Our religion has become crystallised in dogmas and Church doctrines, but it has not become the law of our daily life. I often think if I were in England, how I would plead with Christian men and women to leave the fashions of the world, with the terrible expense which compliance with these involves, and consent to spend and be spent in rescuing a lost world. Has Christianity become such a half-hearted thing that the beginning and the end of it is a routine of worship, and putting on a respectable appearance in the eyes of people? I t is saddening to think of the lukewarmness of the very saints of God. If they fail in the hour of need, where is help to be looked for? May the Lord have mercy on our hardness of heart, and give us grace to devote ourselves and everything that is ours to His service alone.”

He went to Africa full of bright ideas and great schemes, and in one way he saw them all doomed to disappointment, but in many others he lived to see far greater progress in the Mission than even in his brightest hours he expected. Before he entered the field he did not see the difficulties to be overcome and the trials to be endured, ere even a small beginning could be made in planting a centre of moral and intellectual influence in such an isolated place as Uganda. What he and the other members of the Mission band would have liked, was to enter the country with ease and speed; to find a cordial welcome; to become quickly acquainted with the language; to preach to eager crowds every day; to find all ready to listen and believe; to find no enemies, but countless converts; to have no trouble or check, but one continuous flow of blessing from above, and one unbroken supply of good health and vigour for their work, and no thinning of their ranks. Instead of that they reached Uganda at great expense and with great difficulty, through great dangers, very slowly, and with much loss of life and property. They received a welcome which was outwardly cordial, but attended with great suspicion as to their objects. Learning the language took months and years of patient, earnest toil, much misunderstanding as to their aims being caused by the natives and themselves being unable to comprehend each other's words, and great ridicule being produced by their mistakes. Instead of being able to give unremitting attention to teaching, preaching, and translating the Scriptures, they had to spend much of their time in manual labour-toiling for their daily bread. Instead of eagerness to receive the Gospel, they found indifference or strenuous opposition to such tidings. The priests of the Lubare - the Baal of the Baganda - trembled for their idolatry; the followers of the false prophet became more and more fanatic; while the fact that both Rome and the Reformation were represented in the country caused bewilderment to the king and joy to the attendant Arabs.

Yet in times of great trouble, Mackay had faith to see that the triumph of evil was only temporary, and that the true light would yet shine in Uganda. He loved his black friends, and never lost hope for them, and never was there an instance of less looking back after having put the “hand to the plough!”


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