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Self Lost in Service - Alexander Duff of India
Chapter VI. At The Front Again


As the new route to India by Egypt and the Red Sea (though scouted as an idle vision when suggested by Waghorne) was now open, the Duff's travelled overland to Egypt, where the missionary took part in the laying of the foundation stone of a Protestant Church in Alexandria, upon a piece of ground which was a parting gift from Mehemet Ali to the retiring consul to be used for any purpose he might choose.

It is hardly possible to-day to understand the change made by the new route. In one of his lectures Dr Duff spoke of it. "About a quarter of a century ago," he said, "we felt almost isolated from Europe, and at an awful distance by sea, fifteen thousand miles from home, while the passage by the Red Sea—now that passage, regularly accomplished once every week, has shortened the distance from home to a fourth of what it was before—has removed the feeling and the fact of former isolation."

As there was little chance of being able to sail from Suez for a month, Duff joined a party in Cairo which had been made up to visit Sinai. On the morning after they left Cairo, a Madras civilian caused great amusement to the rest of the party, by shouting loudly about 4 a.m,. for a gridiron to cook a chop for breakfast ! A little later he insisted upon the party halting for luncheon in the shadow of a rock, as the heat at mid-day was very trying. Then next morning the discomfort of a dust storm made him demand a bath! When the Sheikh who led the party understood what the man was shouting for, he stooped down, then rubbing his hands and whisking his beard with the sand, said, looking steadily at the grumbler, "That, sir, is the water of the desert," and with a look of supreme contempt turned away.

On Mount Sinai

When they reached Suez only Dr Duff decided to go on. This his friends would not allow him to do, in spite of his warning that no document was as good as the Sheikh's word, until they had taken the Sheikh before the Vice-Consul to get him to sign a document that guaranteed the missionary's safe return. When the matter was explained to him, the Sheikh bared his neck and drawing his dirk several times across it said: "Sir, if I don't bring back this man alive with his head on him, I hereby pledge my word of honour to put my dirk in your hands to cut off my own head at once." Towards Saturday evening the party approached Sinai, and Duff, who when a boy wondered where Schehallion or any mountain began, realised how Moses could prevent even a beast from touching the mountain, for it rose in a sheer precipice from the plain. He spent Sunday on the top. of the mountain, from which place he wrote some letters, among them one to his father, which is well worth quoting:-

Top of Mount Sinai,"
Sunday Morning,
12th January 1840.

"My DEAR FATHER,—Here I am actually on the top of Mount Sinai, where Jehovah, amid thunders and lightning, delivered the Law to Moses. And I write a few lines to you from this amazing place to prove that, wherever I am, I cannot forget yourself and mother and other friends. This is written merely to assure you that through God's blessing, I am not only well, but really in better health than when I left home. I never was in better health than I am at this moment. My journeyings have done me much good. Oh that the soul were to profit equally! And yet in this respect there is reason to rejoice.

"In the land of Egypt, the house of bondage, there is much to remind us of our Bibles. My dear partner and myself have been privileged to sail along the water and walk along the banks of the Nile—that river on which once floated the infant Moses in his ark of bulrushes---those very banks on which the daughter of Pharoah walked when she saved the future law-giver of Israel.

"Leaving my dear partner at Cairo, the modern capital of Egypt, I journeyed on, through Succoth-Etham, on the edge of the wilderness Piliahiroth, to the very spot on the Red Sea where the Israelites were entangled and shut in—unable to escape, rocks on the right hand and on the left—the sea before them, and a furious army behind. There the sea was miraculously divided to afford them a safe passage.

"From Cairo to the Red Sea I had five Christian friends as companions. At the Red Sea one got unwell, and the others wearied of the great and terrible wilderness. So I went round the head of the Red Sea alone, with a few camels and dromedaries and a small company of Bedouin Arabs, who are the genuine descendants of Ishmael. I rode on a dromedary. A camel carried my tent, another camel carried provisions and water--for nothing to eat or drink can be had in the 'terrible desert.' At night my tent was spread out, and the mattress was spread down on the barren sand, and there I slept as soundly as if I were in a snug room and warm bed in a city. It was very hot at times, but I rather like dry heat.

"Scarcely any living creature can be seen in the desert. It is a never-ending surface of drifting sand, and mounds of bare stones, and masses of naked rocks—the most awful spectacle I ever witnessed. No wonder that the Israelites who were weak in the faith murmured. It was quite natural for flesh and blood to murmur, but very wrong in a people for whom the Lord had done such marvellous things, and who had given such amazing proofs of His Almighty power and goodness and grace.

"Istood on the opposite shore of the Red Sea, where Moses sang his great song of deliverance. There I read it too. I went on and came to the fountain of Marah. I tasted the water. It is still bitter, so bitter that, though hot and thirsty, I could not drink it. I then came to Elim, where there are still some palm trees and wells of water. I next reached the spot where the Israelites again encamped on the shore of the Red Sea.

"And, last of all, I have reached the great Sinai. On the top of it I have read the 19th and 20th chapters of Exodus. I never had such a pulpit before—for it was the pulpit chosen by Jehovah Himself, from which He thundered forth the Law in the ears of the children of Israel, and, through them, to all generations of mankind. Oh that that Law may prove schoolmaster to bring us all to Christ! For, having stood on the top of Sinai, I seem to feel more then ever the necessity of fleeing to the Cross of Calvary. From the nakedness of this wilderness of rugged rocks I do feel the necessity of fleeing to the covert of the Redeemer's righteousness, the Redeemer, the Rock of Ages.

"Having many letters to write, you must excuse my brevity. I am sitting on the naked granite peak of Sinai. My knee is my table. May the Lord bless and protect you and my dear mother and other friends—Remember me also to Mr and Mrs Campbell, Moulin Manse.

"How is poor Moulin getting on? Is there a revival among you? Oh for an outpouring of God's spirit—a shower of grace —to descend amongst. you all!"

The reference to the Manse of Moulin in this letter is peculiarly interesting. One specially well-known and beloved son of that Manse in later days was the Rev. Duncan Campbell, whose first charge was the Parish of Keig, in Aberdeenshire, who was afterwards minister of Grahamston, in Stirling- shire, went thence to the M'All Mission in Paris, was in the early "eighties" called to be minister of Rosemount in Aberdeen, and in his closing years was pastor of St. Matthew's Morningside, Edinburgh.

On the Sinai trip Dr Duff saw only three gazelles, and once three black crows. The only mishap occurred during the return journey. In his eagerness to press on, the missionary, by continued proddings, irritated the camel he rode, and he was in consequence thrown off. He was not hurt, however, and on recovering from the temporary effects of being stunned he found the animal standing beside and gazing intently at him.

On the day following his return from Sinai, the Bombay steamer arrived, and the waiting passengers at once went on board to secure berths. This Duff would not do as it was Sunday, though he and his wife might thereby be detained for a month. But the purser of the steamer, to whom Dr Duff was known, respecting the missionary's principles, advanced the passage money and secured for them the best cabin on the ship.

On his arrival at Bombay, Duff met Dr Wilson and his colleagues, whose school was suffering, as Duff's had suffered, by the conversion of two of their scholars, who belonged to the Parsees or fire worshippers. From Bombay he visited Poona, being greatly impressed by the beauty of the Ghauts. "The view from the summit," he wrote, "is so extensive and magnificent as to mock alike the sketchings of the pen and the delineation of the pencil yet," he adds, "if I had my choice, or, if I could reconcile it to a sense of duty, I would greatly prefer the vale of Athole to the richest valley in India."

A Work of the Gods

The railway system, built at a later date, had an effect upon some of the people which the engineers had not forseen. Some in Bombay remarked that the great tunnel dug through the hill by the skill of the Mlecchas (unclean) engineers is a more marvellous achievement than the excavating out of the side of the hill of the Salsetta and Elephanta temples, near Bombay; work to which gods or demigods were ordinarily regarded as equal; while some of the most incredulous Brahmans in Bengal had been seen knocking their heads in a sort of agony and exclaiming at the sight of a train as it moved along, that Indra himself, the god of the firmament, had no such carriage as that.

At Karli, Dr Duff visited the temples where the Brahman who lived at the base of the hill went up each day to wash and clothe the image. The British Government, instead of the revenue of two villages which had supported the temple, paid six hundred rupees for musicians to play to the goddess, and one hundred and fifty rupees to the head Brahman to wash and clothe her.

It was on this occasion that Duff paid a visit which aroused the deepest emotion to the tomb of that noble servant of Christ, Rev. D. Mitchell, at one time an officer in the E.I. Coy's service, and afterwards, like himself, an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland, one of his predecessors in Missionary effort (at Bombay) in India.

From Bombay Dr and Mrs Duff sailed to Madras, and as they coasted along the missionary noticed with deep interest the strongholds of Angria, the pirate, whose depredations caused such endless trouble to the Company, only traders in those early days, and compelled them to become a military power. At Mangalore Duff met the German missionary, Hebich, and found in him a kindred spirit. Anderson (raised from a sick bed by reading extracts of Dr Duff's first Assembly address), and his colleagues welcomed Duff to Madras. When Duff visited the School (now the Madras Christian College), such was the impression made by his address that some of the scholars came to see him off, one of them bidding him adieu with the words "May God spare and bless you to enlighten my countrymen."

When sailing from Madras, the party were caught in a cyclone which nearly blew the ship ashore, and then blew it again out to sea. During the storm, and in spite of the howling of the wind and the lashing of the waters, a parrot, the property of one of the passengers was heard during pauses in the storm screaming out:

"There's nae luck aboot the hoose,
When our gudeman's awa."

Transformation Scenes

Though detained by the storm, the Duffs reached Calcutta in time for evening service, and rejoined their colleagues in the house of God. Di- Duff had been absent from Calcutta for five years, and on making his way to the church he was greatly cheered by noticing one of the results of the examination, by Lord Bentinck's committee, of his senior class about dissecting a dead body. This was a sign-board bearing the name and designation "Ram Lochun Sen & 'Co., Surgeons and Druggists," "a conquest over one of the most inveterate of Hindu prejudices." A little further on he came upon a handsome Christian Church with parsonage adjoining, whose pastor was Rev. Krishna Mohun Bannerjea, one of the converts baptized by him, and afterwards ordained by the Bishop of Calcutta. He rejoiced to see a beginning made of the purpose which he always had in view of raising a number of Indian Christian pastors, who, from familiarity with the "thought idiom" and language of their own people, would not make the mistakes in the vernacular which a European might do. On one occasion an earnest missionary was surprised to notice one of his audience smiling during his address, and on asking him afterwards why he had smiled, received the startling reply that owing to a slight mispronunciation the speaker had been expounding the virtues of a celebrated potato!

Dr Duff also visited the New Institution and Mission House in Cornwallis Square, which had been built during his absence. Let us accompany him to the Institution. As he enters he is received with a hearty welcome from the six or seven hundred pupils. What a change from the day 'when he opened the school with five pupils! Then the most advanced pupils could only manage to spell English words of two syllables, without understanding their meaning; now those of them who were still in the Institution were ready to face an examination in general English literature or Christian theology. In order still further to prepare them for their life's work, Duff was not content with giving instruction in the Institution, but he took the young converts who were being trained for the ministry into the highways and byways, where they were urged to give their testimony. They were thus brought face to face with realities, as they acknowledged, with great benefit to themselves, for by endeavouring to teach we learn. On one of these occasions Duff and Mahendra, one of the converts, took up their position on the steps of a large temple at Culna, which lies to the north of Calcutta, and conversed for some time with the Brahmans. A crowd soon gathered and listened while Dr Duff spoke, but soon resented some questions which Mahendra asked.

"What! Shall we give ear to the words of a poor ignorant boy?"

"Well," he replied, "as I am only asking some questions, would it not be kind of you to pity my ignorance and enlighten me?"

The sincerity and humility of this reply so far quieted them that they listened to his address.

The incident confirmed Duff in his opinion that the only way to win India was by means of an educated Indian ministry.


 


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