(Rev. George Leslie Mackay, D.
"In these deserts let me labor,
On these mountains let me tell,
How He died—the blessed Saviour,
To redeem a world from hell."
ONE of Zorra's Sons effected
a revolution in the Presbyterian Church of Canada. In the year 1854, Dr.
Alex. Duff visited this continent, and the result of his burning eloquence
was the appointment of a committee for the establishment of an independent
Canadian foreign mission, in connection with the western section of the
Presbyterian Church. In the eastern section they had already been aroused to
action by Dr. Geddie, and had begun work in the New Hebrides. But a foreign
mission committee and a foreign mission are not identical. Sixteen years had
passed before they found the first foreign missionary. Several attempts were
made without success. On three occasions calls were extended to ministers
whose Presbyteries refused to release them from their congregations.
In 1871 the Church had just
one ordained missionary, the Rev. James Nisbet, laboring amongst the Indians
at Prince Albert. It is not surprising that the Foreign Mission Committee
felt somewhat depressed, and so expressed themselves to the Synod.
But the turning point came.
In June, 1855, the members of the Committee had agreed to hold a concert of
prayer every Saturday evening, and through the Record to invite the
cooperation of others, in seeking a blessing upon their work. These prayers
were about to be answered.
George Leslie Mackay, son of
God-fearing parents in Zorra, who had just completed his theological course
in Princeton Seminary, N. J., offered his services to the Committee. His
mind was made up that his life should be spent among the heathen; but before
applying elsewhere, he felt it to be his duty to seek the patronage of his
own Canadian Church, and, if possible, lead the Canadian Church into more
aggressive work. The offer was accepted, and it was agreed, after a good
deal of correspondence, that he should go to labor amongst the Chinese in
The English Presbyterian
Church had begun work in southern Formosa in 1863, and they cordially
invited the Canadian Church to co-operate with them in that island. The
proposal was favorably entertained, but the Committee wisely left the final
decision to the missionary when he arrived in the field. Strong inducements
were offered to settle at Swatow, but Mr. Mackay resolved first to see
Formosa. He visited the Southern Mission and then, accompanied by two of the
missionaries, Dr. Dickson and the Rev. Hugh Ritchie, he visited Tamsui in
the north, and there, on the 9th March, 1872, decided, with the full consent
of his companions, to plant the standard of the Cross. Thus began the first
foreign mission of the western section of the Presbyterian Church; with it
began a revival of foreign mission interest, resulting in steadily
increasing contributions, enlargement of the staff' and expansion of the
Dr. Mackay is below the
average height, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, without superfluous flesh,
of swarthy complexion, and has an eye that never falls in the presence of
danger. Highland blood without alloy flows through his veins. Under
excitement his Celtic fire leaps into flame, and his intensity is
contagious. Audiences are swayed and mastered by his fervid eloquence, and
sometimes angered by his fearless and direct denunciation of selfish
disobedience to his Master's last command.
Immediately after his
appointment he spent some months visiting congregations in the interests of
his work. The reception was not inspiring. He afterwards spoke of that
period as the glacial age of the Presbyterian Church. Ten years after he
returned, and his reception was enthusiastic. Immense audiences thronged to
hear him. The Church had somewhat awakened to the importance of the work and
to her new responsibility. This was largely due to the story he had to tell.
His mission was remarkably successful. His thrilling letters had been read
with intense interest. The narrative of his work had been read and repeated
and commented upon in the pulpit and by the fireside. The Church only knew
him by name and longed to hear and see the man whom God had so signally
honored. Fears were sometimes expressed lest the bodily presence might not
sustain the enchantment of distance. All such fears were disappointed. He
came and conquered, and returned to Formosa a greater hero than when he had
One of the surprises to his
friends on this visit was that he had been able to keep himself abreast of
the times in literature and science. He had collected what is regarded as
one of the best museums in the orient, and is himself accounted an authority
on the geological and ethnological history of the island. Attention was
given to these subjects both to keep his own mind in health and as a part of
the educational equipment of his students. It was on the occasion of this
visit, and in recognition of his work and attainments in scholarship, that
the Senate of Queen's College conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of
Divinity.. Not always is that distinction so worthily bestowed.
Not primarily, however, in
temperament or health, or scholarship does his success lie. He was born and
reared in a home in which the Bible was reverently read as a message from
God to man, and Mackay has ever regarded it as such. What is written there
is to him the Word of God. "Go ye into all the world" was a direct command
to him from the Lord Jesus Christ, and as such he obeyed. With as much
confidence did he accept the assurance that in going forth the Lord would go
with him and would supply all his need. The simplicity of that faith
appeared when travelling across the continent of America in his first
outward journey. There were no through tickets with such other facilities
for travel as are common now. He had to deal with different railway
companies and seek as he could to secure such special privileges as were
granted. But when asked for his credentials he had none, and naturally
turned to his Bible, on the fly-leaf of which was an inscription indicating
that he was a missionary on his way to China. That was accepted and the
privilege granted. In hours of loneliness by sea and by land, or in the
midst of a Chinese mob, he turned with the same composure and simplicity of
faith to the promise. "God is our refuge and strength." He had gone forth at
the Lord's command, how could the promise fail? It seemed as impossible as
that the sun should fail to rise. His Highland loyalty to the Word of God
had never been shaken in either cottage or church or college by any of the
doubtful and doubt producing discussions of recent scholarship.
To the faithful discipline of
the humble Christian home in Zorra, may in no small measure be traced the
human side of the wonderful work which God hath wrought in Formosa.
The island is liable to be
visited at certain seasons of the year with a deadly malarial fever, and the
natives often succumb in a few hours. Dr. Mackay has suffered much from it,
and has, indeed, been frequently at death's door; but his iron constitution,
along with indomitable strength of will, has enabled him thus far to
withstand this implacable foe.
The story of Dr. Mackay
acquiring a knowledge of a difficult foreign language is very interesting.
After several vain attempts, he one day saw a dozen boys herding
water-buffalo and made advances to them. They at first fled. The second
approach was more successful. On the third day they stood their ground,
examined his watch, clothes, and hands, and were ever after friends. He
spent with them four or five hours a day, and learned from them more of the
language than in any other way. In five months he attempted his first sermon
in Chinese, from the text, "What must I do to be saved ?" Several of these
boys were afterwards converted, and one became a student and preacher.
The only house available had
been intended for a stable. It was on the side of a hill, and through it
streams of water flowed when the rains fell. Here he slept and studied,
dined and received callers, who were uncomfortably numerous. The haughty
literati who, in China as sometimes elsewhere, imagine they have exhausted
the stores of knowledge, would strut into his room, look around with a curl
on the lip, take up the Bible or other book, look at it, cast it on the
ground with a grunt of contempt, and strut out again. Pride comes before a
fall. Soon these same men ventured into a discussion, and bye-and-bye
discovered that there were some things after all they did not know.
Amongst the many visitors
came a young man of more than ordinary intelligence who asked many
questions. He returned bringing others with him for discussion, and finally
acknowledged himself a believer in the new doctrine. Dr. Mackay,
anticipating the advantage to himself and his mission of securing the
allegiance of a young man of character and ability, had prayed, and in A Hoa
the prayer was answered.
The second Sabbath of
February, 1873, is a day of tender memory. It was but a year after he had
landed in Tamsui, yet five men boldly de- dared themselves in the face of an
angry mob, and were received by baptism into the 'Christian Church. The
following Sabbath, for the first time, the Lord's Table was spread in north
Formosa. It was also the first time the missionary presided at such a
service; and to the new converts it was a solemn and mysterious performance.
When the warrant for the ordinance was read, after the Scottish fashion, one
of the converts broke down completely, sobbing out, "I am unworthy, I am
unworthy." He retired for a season, and after some time alone, he returned
and partook of the sacred emblems.
With the blessing of God upon
the faithful labors of the missionary, and those associated with him, the
churches multiplied, until there were over sixty in all, with a native
pastor in charge of each. "The taking of Bang-Kah," as related in "From Far
Formosa," is one of the most thrilling missionary stories on record.
In 1884 trouble arose between
the French and Chinese in Tonquin. The result was that Formosa was attacked,
and Tamsui and Kelung bombarded. It was a time of great anxiety on the part
of the missionaries. Every foreigner was suspected of being in league with
the French. All Christians were, of course, supposed to be allied with the
missionary. Torture and death were threatened against all converts. Chinese
soldiers ground their long knives in the presence of Christians, and
sometimes brandished them over the heads of the children, and swore that
they would all be cut to pieces when the first barbarian shot was fired. The
first shot was fired, and destruction of chapels, torture of Christians, and
looting of property began. At Sin-tiam the mob entered the chapel, found the
Communion roll, and marked every member as a victim. Thirty-six families at
that once prosperous station were left homeless and penniless.
At Tamsui, during the
bombardment, Dr. Mackay was asked to go aboard a British man-of-war which
had sailed into the harbour for the protection of British subjects. This he
declined to do, preferring, if need be, to suffer with his students and
converts. After the war, representations were made to the Chinese
Commander-in-chief as to the losses of mission property, and without delay
or investigation an indemnity of ten thousand Mexican dollars was paid. At
Sin-tiam and elsewhere better churches were erected than those destroyed,
and the people said, "What fools we were to destroy the old chapels. Look,
now the chapel towers above our temple. It is larger than the one we
destroyed. If we touch this one, he will build a bigger one. We cannot stop
the barbarian missionary."
The policy of the mission
from the beginning has been to train a native minister. The greatest work in
a mission is not the conversion of a few souls. It is rather the
organization of a church, an agency that will go on converting souls long
after the missionary has ceased his labors.
At Tamsui a college was built
with funds contributed by friends in Oxford, his native county, and is for
that reason called "Oxford College." Alongside of it is another building of
the same dimensions for the education of women.
Dr. Mackay never visited
stations alone. He was always accompanied by a number of students, who were
taught by the way; and thus long before college buildings were erected,
academic work was done. Theory and practice went hand in hand. They
cultivated in the chapels the art of communicating the truths learned in
their peripatetic classes.
In the girls' school women of
all ages were taught, some becoming Bible women, others workers at home, and
others the wives of elders and preachers, each in her own way making a
contribution to the cause.
The experiences of the French
invasion were repeated in the recent Japanese war. The enemy took advantage
of the opportunity for persecution and plunder. Many Christians fled and
many were slain, and the mission was greatly reduced in numbers. The rebels
not only harassed the Japanese, but, as heartless robbers, captured
defenceless Formosans, who had to be ransomed by friends or were tortured to
death. The stations where mission work was not disturbed, were few indeed.
In the year 1897, there were 436 deaths and 227 removals elsewhere.
These trying times were
succeeded by the bubonic plague, which appeared for he first time in
Formosa. Locusts also appeared for the first time, aud what is nearly as
uncommon, a drought that threatened starvation to many. In 1898 much loss
and hardship were sustained by typhoons which completely carried away two
chapels; three were utterly ruined, and sixteen greatly damaged. There was
much loss of life through these various causes. The mission has been tried
as by fire during nearly the whole of its history, but the missionary does
not retain the word "discouragement" in his vocabulary.
This is amongst the most
interesting and noticeable of modern missions, and the name of George Leslie
Mackay will be enrolled as a devoted and successful missionary, who has
completely identified himself with his work and with the people for whose
salvation he labors. His wife is a Chinese lady who has proved a true
helpmeet. His two daughters are married to two Chinese preachers. All his
interests are centred in Formosa and there will he end his days. "He that
loseth his life, saveth it," is for such the amplest reward.