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Self Lost in Service - Alexander Duff of India
Chapter V. Busy Rest


WHEN he reached Edinburgh, Mr Duff called on Dr Chalmers, who, however, though glad to see him, gave him a severe reproof for neglecting to wear warm chothing: "Oh, Sir," the Dr said in surprise,"where is your cloak?" "I have not had time as yet to get one." "But, Sir, that will never do. You see it is now cold and frosty. You are from a hot climate, and yet I see that you are as thinly clad as though you were still in India. You must go at once to a tailor and get a cloak or a greatcoat or both, and let me not see your face till you have one or other."

Duff soon found that while the frost of nature braced the body, the frosty indifference of the Church towards its own mission was sadly chilling to the spirit. He landed at a time when the country was greatly disturbed by a general election, and the India Mission was of less importance than the question of which party would win in the Election. He could scarcely get a hearing.

The Missionary at Bay

In these circumstances, a curious collision took place between Duff and the Foreign Mission Committee of the Church. Duff had consented to address a few people who were in the habit of meeting in a friend's house on behalf of Missions. This had been known, and the room was crowded. At first he declined to speak, on the ground that he had been taken advantage of, but he gave way on being assured that the promoters of the meeting were in no way responsible for the unexpectedly large attendance. Some days afterwards Duff was summoned by the Mission Committee to explain why, in the excited state of the country, he had taken such an irregular and unwise step as addressing a meeting without first obtaining the Committee's sanction ! When the meeting was held the Convener asked the Committee to draw up rules for the guidance of their responsible but too zealous agent. Duff thereupon rose and claimed for himself full discretion in deciding how he could best awaken the Church's interest in his work, adding that if the Committee could not see their way to grant his request he must then and there resign his commission as their agent. The members of the Committee rose, seized their coats and hats in silence, and speedily left Duff and the Convener alone looking at each other in a sort of dumb amazement. The missionary then remarked that for that day they had probably had enough on this subject, but that he would come back on any day and at any hour the Convener might name. Shortly afterwards the Convener made the amende honorable, and there the matter ended.

Another element of discouragement to the missionary was his realization that the subject of India seemed to be strangely unattractive. Lord William Bentinck, lately Governor- General of India, wrote:-"I have had ample reason to know the inexcusable indifference and apathy that generally prevail respecting all matters connected with India, yet, even with this experience, I was not prepared for the feelings almost of dislike with which any mention of India is received." He was appalled, too, by the desperate and almost inconceivable ignorance of India which led a distinguished student to ask him in what part of Canada Calcutta was!

Roused to Action

But this cold reception, so far from being a check, acted upon the highlander like the touch of a spur upon a mettled horse, for it stimulated him to run many serious risks in making those efforts which roused the whole Church. Though still far from well, he made the journey to London in answer to a pressing invitation, and, by doing so, gained a minister who had been strongly opposed to his method and against his being invited to London. Now convinced by Duff's appeal, the minister resigned his charge, and became a colleague in Calcutta. But the price had to be paid, and for three weeks fever and ague attacked Duff and confined him to bed. Then, weak though he was, he rose and made the journey to Edinburgh to address the General Assembly. This was in May 1835.

When he started to speak in the Assembly few expected him to detain them long, but his obvious weakness impressed his hearers with his sincerity and helped to produce a favourable impression, while he testified afterwards that the divine promise of strength sustained him. So thoroughly was he impressed by his subject that he quite forgot where he was, and continued to thrill his audience, who were "absorbed in one feeling, exquisite even to pain" till he sank down exhausted and drenched with perspiration. "A noble burst of enthusiastic appeal which made grey-headed pastors weep like children and dissolved half the Assembly in tears." Dr Gordon then led the Assembly in prayer, and the Assembly passed an Act instructing the smaller Church Courts to hold meetings in order to hear Mr Duff.

A Whirlwind Campaign

In pursuance of this object, after a short rest at the old mansion house of Edradour, near Pitlochry—which by the advice of friends he had leased—though feeling the need of further rest, Duff began what must have been a labour of Hercules., without his strength, to visit the Church Courts throughout Scotland. His Assembly speech made people eager to hear him, though the laudatory public press notices of his work were not to his fancy. On one occasion he wrote to his wife: " I sent you a paper last week to furnish a specimen of the sort of blarney with which I am doomed from time to time to be bespattered. It is a hard thing a man cannot be allowed, to do his duty without being subjected to such extravagance of eulogy as would, if really believed by him to be deserved, wholly upset the balance of his mind, and thereby unfit him for the discharge of duty at all." And again he wrote: "If I know anything of my own heart, I do not think I feel one more jot elated by public honours and approbation than I would be if concealed from public gaze unhonoured and unknown."

Fruitful Appeals

It was said that two sermons preached by Dr Andrew Thomson, St George's Parish Church, Edinburgh, affected in a very marked degree the attendance at the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh; and we find that during this tour of Duff a sermon preached in Inverness' by the missionary had a somewhat similar effect. When asked to preach, and without knowing the circumstances of the town, he chose a sermon on worldly conformity which he had written and preached in Calcutta. "On Monday and Tuesday," he wrote to Mrs Duff, "appreciations without end were made from all quarters urging and beseeching me to let the sermon be published. Many used the strong language that it seemed to them 'like a voice from Heaven.' Yesterday I was credibly informed that a party of players that had been bewitching the people of Inverness for some time previous were preparing for their departure, as they had been fairly preached down on Sunday."

The last Mission which Mr (then Dr) Duff was called in later life to superintend owed its foundation to a speech delivered by him during this campaign in Stranraer, in 1837. Dr Symington, the Cameronian minister, in that town, heard this address, and was so deeply impressed that at once he formed a Juvenile Missionary Society in his own congregation, and helped at a later date to found the New Hebrides Mission of his Church, which joined the Free Church in 1876.

The Mission so absorbed the missionary's attention while making these journeys that he does not seem to have been careful about his health, for he wrote to Mrs Duff that, during the boisterous weather in October, one minister's wife, "having noticed his thin stockings, insisted on his taking two pairs of her husband's thick worsted ones." This reference brought in reply an appeal to be more careful when travelling about "for the sake of his wife and children." In acknowledging the letter, Dr Duff also acknowledged "the home thrust."

Endeavours were often made to draw Duff into the political controversy which was then agitating the Church, but without success, for, though he acknowledged he could do it so far as his convictions were concerned, he felt it would spoil the Mission, and he would not dare on that account.

All through this tour, his letters reveal, his heart was ever in his home. The return of spring drew from him this message to his daughter, "R. will enjoy the daisies." On another occasion he wrote, "I hope that A. has not got worse—and that R. tries to supply my place, that she reads her lessons regularly —stays upstairs and is attentive to you. I depend upon her keeping her word to me— I hope she will not disappoint me." At another time he wrote: "Wearied and worn out, I sigh for repose. Lonely often in the midst of the busiest throng, I long for the society of my beloved wife and little ones. Nothing but an overwhelming sense of duty to God could reconcile me to the long separation."

After leaving Inverness the missionary had intended visiting all the parishes in the North of Scotland, but he was detained for three weeks in bed at Tain by a severe attack of fever and ague. When somewhat better he drove nearly a hundred miles to visit Tongue, passing from that place to Thurso and Wick, then, utterly exhausted by his six months' travelling and speaking, he returned to Edradour.

Some Contrasts

Zealously anticipating St. Andrews and the other Universities, Marischal College, Aberdeen, had hardly met for the Autumn Session of 1835 when it honoured itself and surprised the young divine, still under thirty, by presenting him with the Diploma of Doctor of Divinity. The bestowal of this honorary degree—to none more unexpected than to Alexander Duff—signalized fittingly the great work done by the missionary, and added to the many notable features of a campaign which was to become historic.

After he had concluded the visitation of churches and church courts through Scotland, Dr Duff could say that only on one occasion had he received anything but cordiality. When he called on a certain parish minister whom he knew to be hostile to the missionary cause, he was met with anger and scorn. "Are you the fanatic Duff, who has been going about the country beguiling and deceiving people by what they choose to call 'missions to the heathen?' I don't want to see you or any of your description. I want no Indian snake brought in among my people to poison their minds on such subjects; so, as I don't want to see you, the sooner you make off the better." In this case, while a soft answer did not turn away wrath, the harsh tones in which the minister addressed the missionary were so loud that all he said was heard by those who were in the street, and in consequence greater interest was aroused towards Duff and his work. In referring to the incident Duff wrote:-" From my soul I have forgiven him, and were it to answer any good purpose I would hasten to- to help him out of the dilemma into which he has brought himself."

A striking contrast is supplied by the account of an address given in Perth, and on a week day in 1836. When all was over, the missionary sank back exhausted and had to rest half-way down the pulpit stairs. One at least of the young people who that day were breathless listeners "had to shelter in bed on returning home to hide the marks of weeping, ready to join on the morrow in the project of a school companion whose emotions had taken the practical shape of a penny a week subscription."

In the spring of the following year Dr Duff spoke at a meeting of the Church Missionary Society in Exeter Hall, London, and in a letter to his wife he wrote :-

"My remarks were repeatedly interrupted by cheers, and after speaking for half an hour and ten minutes I sat down amid three rounds of cheers. This I state merely to you--simply to show you that, through the blessing of God, I was privileged to carry the attention and the sympathy of the great audience along with me. To God be the praise and the glory."

Do you remember the old Missionary who described himself as "set apart for the gospel of God," and who said "Of myself I will not glory."? That was exactly Duff's spirit. We find in a, book once popular, called "Confessions," this answer by him to the question: "If not yourself, who would you be?":-"Of all merely human beings, I would be Paul."

About this time offensive and unjustifiable references to Dr Duff's name were published in one of the leading London journals, and though he was exceedingly annoyed he declined to take any notice of them, lest by so doing an undue importance might be attached to them. All his life he practised the lesson which he explained to the enquirer who called on him in the early days of his work in Calcutta:-"To give as good as you get is sometimes said to be the true way to show one's self-respect; enduring, when no principle is involved, is better." As he said, "If I make up my mind for a great principle based on the Bible, I don't care for all the Emperors in the world." Again he wrote: "It is our part to act as for God—looking to Him for a recompense, and leaving men to think, say, or do as they please."

During one of his visits to London he wrote to his colleague in Calcutta: "I now understand the mystery of Providence in sending me from India. What between politics, and fierce voluntaryism, our cause was well nigh being entirely engulfed in oblivion. At first, I could scarcely get from anyone or in any place a patient hearing. Now, if I had a thousand tongues, they might simultaneously be raised in a thousand pulpits.

Some Tempting Offers

As idleness for such an intense and highly strung temperament would have been intolerable, Duff occupied his time drafting, out of the many lectures and addresses which he had given, his book entitled "India and India Missions." So strong was the interest aroused by his efforts that while at home on three occasions he was invited to become the minister of a church. One of these calls came from the Earl of Fife, who made the offer because Dr Duff was one of his own clan, adding: "I wish we could keep that man in this country—the is not fit to return to India." As an inducement the Earl suggested that Dr Duff's acceptance of the living of Marnoch would help to avert the impending crisis in the Church, which ended in the Disruption. Duff felt that if he could find reason for believing that conclusion, he would be fairly staggered as to the path of duty; but he respectfully declined the offer. How different the history of missions would have been had he accepted.

With regard to the other offers, he recognized the honour done him, but he refused them, not because he was tired of his native land, or had any exaggerated estimate or ambitious longings after the pomp and luxuries of the East, "No; dire experience constrains me to say," he wrote, "that for the enjoyment of real personal comfort, I would rather, infinitely rather, be the occupant of the poorest hut, with its homeliest fare, in the coldest and bleakest cleft that flanks the sides of Schehallion or Ben Nevis, than be the possessor of the stateliest palace with its royal appurtenances, in the plains of Bengal. I would therefore go, not because I love Scotland less, but because I humbly and devoutly trust that, through the aid of divine grace, I have been led to love my God and Saviour and the universal extension of His blessed cause on earth more."

Before Duff left the homeland to return to India, some of his friends desired to entertain him to a farewell dinner. To this proposal he demurred; dinners with their frothy speechifying were never congenial to him. He suggested as an alternative that there should be a religious service with a farewell address by Dr Chalmers, and to his great delight this idea met with approval and was carried out.

Dr and Mrs Duff on going back to India had to leave their children behind them. The keen suffering of the parting led him to write this tribute to Mrs Duff; "How gracious our heavenly Father to give me a helpmeet so kind, so judicious, one who, while ministering to the wants of the body, can enter into the joys and sorrows of the soul. How much does this tend to lighten affliction, to lighten trials, and disburden the woes of life."


 


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