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Self Lost in Service - Alexander Duff of India
Chapter IX. Rousing the Church

DR DUFF reached Scotland in the early part of 1850, in time to take part in the deliberations of the General Assembly of the Free Church. On this occasion he spoke five times. The effect of one of his speeches his biographer writes he had "never seen equalled in any audience popular or cultured." One London publisher stated that after the report of the speech reached London he had very many applications for the song from which a quotation in the speech was taken. In this speech Dr Duff had said :-

"In the days of yore, though unable to sing myself, I was wont to listen to the poems of Ossian and to many of the melodies that were called 'Jacobite Songs.' Roving in the days of my youth on the heathery heights or climbing the craggy steeps of my native land, or lying down to enjoy the music of the roaring waterfall, I was wont to admire the heroic spirit which they breathed; and they became so stamped on my memory that I have carried them with me over half the world. One of them seemed to me to embody the quintessence of loyalty of an earthly kind. It is the stanza in which it is said by the father or mother 'I hae but ae son, the gallant young Donald;' then the gush of emotion turned his heart inside out, and he exclaimed "But oh! had I ten they would follow Prince Charlie." Are these the visions of romance, the dreams of poetry and song? Oh, let that rush of youthful warriors from bracken, bush, and glen that rallied round the standard of Glenfinnan—let the cold, cold grey beds and grassy winding sheets of the bleak Culloden Moor bear testimony to the reality and intensity of the loyalty to an earthly prince. And shall a Highland father and mother give up all their children as an homage to earthly loyalty, and shall I be told that in the Churches of Christ, in the Free Church of Scotland, fathers and mothers will begrudge their children to Him who is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?"

Different Temperatures

The Assembly asked him to visit the Presbyteries of the Church in order to awaken deeper interest in the Foreign Mission Scheme and secure regular support for the work. He found the work encouraging, but at the same time he wrote :-

"The mass of little-mindedness, carnality and selfishness abroad in our churches is quite awful. Really, were it not that the work is the Lord's, I would long ere this be done with it."

He met with the objection that the people were poor and could give no more. All that he asked in reply was that the people might be allowed to judge for themselves.

"If the people want to hear," a minister said, "I will not interpose between Dr Duff and them." "Interpose!" said Duff, "between me and the people! No, the work is not mine—the cause is not mine—it is Christ's—and the question for you to solve is whether you will interpose between Christ and his people."

"I really had no idea," he wrote, "of the amount of impassiveness or immobility, a vis inertia, abroad, especially among ministers and office-bearers with reference to active measures on behalf of the great cause of the world's evangelisation. Plenty fine words, it is true. But what I want is fine deeds."

But the audience themselves were also of various temperatures. "In some there is an unmelting hardness, in others, as yesterday and on Sabbath, a melting of hundreds as of wax before the fire."

He met some instances of unruly behaviour among the young. Of one Sabbath School he wrote:-" I scarcely can remember to have seen such incorrigible human hyaenas."

Still he could write hopefully to a friend. "There has been much to encourage me. In spite of unavoidable influences from the 'mixed multitude' that went up from Egypt with God's people at the Disruption, I do find, in the main, that the cause of the Free Church is the cause of vital godliness."

His chief aim in going through the Church was to persuade each congregation to form an Association pledged to support the Foreign Missions of the Church. To this there were considerable objections, of which the following may be taken as an example :-

"Before the meeting some of the leading men in the Deaconship and Eldership told the pastor point-blank that it would never do to have an association for foreign missions; it would interfere with the Sustentation Fund, etc., etc.—that is, in plain English, with their well-closed pockets. After the meeting last night the minister simply asked the deacons, etc. 'Well, what do you think of the matter now?' The unanimous reply was 'There is but one way of it—there's no getting over that—there's no resisting that we must have an association forthwith.'"

When he visited Montrose Dr Duff addressed a ladies' seminary and shortly afterwards received this message :-

"I am requested by a few of my pupils to forward to you the enclosed small sum for the India Mission, subscribed by them as the best way of showing the great pleasure they felt in seeing and hearing you in their own class room last week, and also the fresh interest a small band of them are disposed to take in the good work of which you are the advocate."

He suggested that it would be good to secure in each congregation a few persons who would act as collectors and go round at certain times to receive the gift, however small, from anyone who was feeling the grip of honouring Christ who trusted them in this matter, like these girls, and who wished to help the missionary work of the Church. If this were done, the committee who directed the work abroad would come to know how much they might count on receiving.

Intemperance and Housing

It is of interest to recall that during his furlough Dr Duff had to face some problems which are still with us, as shown by a letter he wrote in answer to a circular inviting him to attend a meeting in the Queen Street Hall on the subject of intemperance and housing.

"The object in view—viz., the mitigation or removal, in wise and judicious ways, of the widespread destitution among the poorer class—is one of the most momentous that can engage the attention of the community at large.

"It is to be hoped that in the system about to be established the most searching inquiries will be made into the generating causes of so much physical wretchedness and suffering, so that from the accumulation of facts wisely devised preventive measures may be suggested and ultimately adopted.

"As intemperance and vice are assuredly among these generating causes, and as the ill-aired, ill-lighted, ill-watered, ill-drained habitations of the poor have much to do with originating the morbid cravings which lead to intemperance and vice, it were well if a section of the new association should devote its exclusive energies to the prosecution of adequate measures for securing well-aired, well-watered, well-drained habitations for the people in question.

Habitations will not of themselves elevate any class of society morally, intellectually or religiously; but, as the result of observation in many lands, I am satisfied that without such habitations, all attempts to elevate any class of society will prove to a great extent nugatory, and will only be an everlasting repetition of efforts to roll up to a more fixed position the stone of Sisyphus, or to replenish to the brim a bottomless bucket."

Another question now too largely assumed to be purely modern emerged in these days, as we find from a lecture delivered by Dr Duff in later, but still mid-Victorian, years. In this lecture he said :-

In his place in the House of Commons Mr Gladstone once observed: 'It was one of the most melancholy features in the social state of the country, that while there was a decrease in the consuming power of the labouring and operative classes, there was, at the same time, a constant accumulation of wealth in the upper classes, and a constant increase of capital.' And the truth of this testimony to a fact of startling and even appalling significance was at once admitted and re-echoed by a leading member of the opposite side of the House in these words 'Yes, we see extreme destitution throughout the industrious classes and, at the same time, incontestible evidence of vast wealth rapidly accumulating.'

"What, then, it has been asked, is the real character of this all-pervading malady? How has this unnatural and perilous state of things been brought about? How has it happened? 'Happened!' has been the reply long since given. It has happened because we have been labouring that it should happen! The wealth of the wealthy has accumulated because all legislation has made that its chief• object. Capital has increased because statesmen, the legislature and public writers have all imagined that the increase of capital was the summum bonum of human existence! And the prevalent doctrine has been that the wiser course with population—meaning thereby the labouring poor—was to employ the Preventive Check."

East India Company's Charter

Somewhat later Duff's attention was drawn to another matter, the East India Company's Charter. It was the price of pepper that first led our nation to trade directly with India, for at the end of the sixteenth century the Dutch, having secured their trade with the East, brought pepper which they sold to the British. In 1599, for some reason, they raised the price of pepper from three shillings the pound to six and even eight shillings. Thereupon, in September of that year, London merchants held an indignation meeting in Founders Hall, and resolved to form an association to trade with the East, and, with a view to official recognition, agreed further to seek a charter for the Company from the Queen. On 31st December 1600, the Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading to the East Indies was incorporated by Royal Charter, and it became popularly known as the East India Company.

During Dr Duff's residence at home the Company's Charter fell to be renewed, and by request, because of his familiarity with the country, he gave evidence before the House of Lords' Select Committee appointed for that purpose. On the day when he was summoned to appear, his great anxiety to do justice to India on that and subsequent days when he had to answer questions, economic and administrative, asked by those who had studied and were familiar with the subjects, and this from eleven to four on more days than one, wrung from him this prayer, which he wrote on a half sheet of notepaper which lies before me as I write.

"O, Lord, I wait on Thee my trust is altogether in Thee. The earthly lords before whom I am to appear, alas appear not to have the fear Of Thee before their eyes. But, O Lord, Thou knowest my heart. Thou knowest that I fear Thee with a holy reverence. Thou knowest that I now look to Thee and Thee, alone, for guidance and direction. I do rely upon Thy gracious promise, that when called on to plead for Thy cause before the princes and the nobles of the earth, Thou wilt give Thy unworthy servant such thoughts and words as Thou mayest see to be best. 0, do Thou, then, by the Eternal Spirit, breathe into me the right feeling and suggest the right thought and prompt the right words! And, O, do Thou open, bend, and mould the souls of my noble examiners! And dispose them, in spite of natural reluctance to lend an ear to my words and receive what I may communicate for the furtherance of Thy cause and glory in poor benighted India! Turn their hearts as the rivers of water. And may this my humble but earnest prayer find acceptance with Thee through the sole merits of my blessed Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.


6th June 1853."

Lobby of the House of Lords

This prayer was most surely answered, for his biographer says about the memorable education despatch of 9th July 1854, "Dr Duff's handiwork can be traced not only in the definite orders, but in the very style of what has ever since been pronounced the great Educational Charter of the people of India."

At this time also, as he was on the spot, he carefully examined the work of the London City Mission, on one occasion preaching in the street, and, so impressed was he by London's need, that he wondered why some of the leading clergymen did not more frequently help such a great work. Having heard about it, he resolved one day to test the skill of the London pickpocket. He placed a small piece of linen in the back pocket of his frock coat, then buttoning his coat, walked down one of the notorious streets in broad daylight keeping a sharp lookout. Suddenly he felt a slight tug at his coat-tail pocket, and, turning quickly round, caught sight of a boy disappearing into one of the passages. The piece of linen was gone.

As during his tour of the mission stations in India he had made himself thoroughly familiar with those of the Church Missionary Society, he was asked again to speak at the Society's anniversary meeting. After that meeting he received an anonymous gift of a thousand pounds from a lady, because she said she could not before have believed it possible for a missionary of another Church to speak for two hours without referring to his own labours.

Visit to America

In 1851 Dr Duff was chosen to preside over the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland as Moderator, the highest honour in the Church, which, he said, magnified his office as missionary, and, though the official court dress was distasteful to him, he wrote to Mrs Duff that if his wearing his own simple dress should cause actual offence to former Moderators he would pocket his dislike rather than offend Christian fathers and brethren. After the rising of the Assembly, although the duties of that high office left him very much exhausted, he yielded to the generous importunity of friends in America, and crossed the Atlantic. He suffered greatly owing to the very stormy weather, but one day the captain came with two seamen to ask his permission to have him carried to the deck where he wished him to witness a sight he might never see again. The ship's deck was encrusted with ice, and all the block and tackle frozen hard so that not a sail could be moved. "If," said the captain, "we were entirely dependent on the sails without the help of steam what could we do?"

On landing, Duff travelled to Philadelphia through a blinding snowstorm where, the lateness of the hour and the storm notwithstanding, he received an overwhelming welcome. Episcopalians, Presbyterians of every school, Congregationalists, Methodists, Baptists, in short, representatives of all the Evangelical Churches in the city, had been invited by his host, Mr Geo. H. Stewart, to meet him. So violent was the storm that, some of those present took hours to reach their homes. He was received by one and all as if an old familiar friend, though not one of them had seen him before. He was, during his stay in the States, greeted with the same hearty enthusiasm, which he found it difficult to resist in his still weak health, but he always regarded himself as having a trust from God, and he cast himself upon the promise of strength as it was needed. His journeyings were like a triumphal procession, and left fragrant memories behind them.

On one occasion he preached before Congress, and it may have been at that service, as one who was present told me, he gave the most magnificent description of Heaven to which my informant had ever listened. Then leaning over the book boards, he said, "I have taken you to the threshold; further I dare not go." As in Scotland, so here the young were as impressed as were the seniors, for Mr Stewart wrote to him of an aged father who told with tears in his eyes that one of his sons said to him not long since that he did not want to go back to his employer but wanted to go to India, and, being told he was not qualified by education, etc., for going, then said "Well then I can gather in children for Dr Duff to teach." At Montreal, in Canada, Duff was invited to speak at a breakfast, and so completely did he hold his audience, although many of them were business men, that no one stirred from the table, albeit that on consulting his watch, when he sat down, he found he had spoken for three hours!

No speaker had less of art in his delivery. At New York, as we see him in the full flood of his oratory, "his tall ungainly form swaying to and fro, his long right arm waving violently, and the left one hugging his coat against his breast, his full voice raised to the tone of Whitfield, and his face kindled into a glow of ardour like one under inspiration—we thought we had never witnessed a higher display of thrilling majestic oratory." "Did you ever hear such a speech?" said a genuine Scotsman near us; "He cannot stop." During one of his addresses it is said the reporters were so carried away that they threw down their pencils, while one who heard him said "thunder and lightning are peaches in cream to such speaking as that." Another says, "His elocution is unstudied his gesticulation uncouth, but for the intense feeling, the self-absorption out of which it manifestly springs, might even be considered grotesque, yet he is fascinatingly eloquent." The reason is not far to seek; as was said of another "It was the soul that spoke."

Duff was gifted with a biting sarcasm which he very rarely used. "They tell us," he said, "they are not so green as to waste their money upon Foreign Missions! Ah, no they describe themselves too well, for greenness implies verdure, and verdure implies moisture and sunshine, and the beautiful growth of a rich herb and foliage and fruit. But not a single blade of generosity is visible over all the dry and parched Sahara of their selfishness. We must therefore allow them to remain sterile and bare—remain like a scarped and blackened rock, or a sand ridge, or a sand knoll of the desert of Arabia, there to be exposed to all the and winds of Heaven."

Long ago a wise man wrote "When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him." Duff found this true on the occasion of his preaching in one of the largest churches in Toronto. Seated on the pulpit stairs, so great was the crowd, was the editor of a local paper who had been very prominent in the rebellion of 1838, and who openly sneered at religion. Instead, however, of a scoffing notice in his journal, which many had feared, Dr Duff next morning received from him a kind letter of congratulation, in which he acknowledged he had been arrested by divine truth as never before, and expressing his admiration for the speaker. The farewell meeting on the eve of his leaving America, Duff said, was the most trying experience through which he had to pass. He found the overpowering kindness of America more difficult to confront than to face, as he had been compelled in loyalty to Christ to do, the raging heathen, scowling infidels, blasphemers of the sacred name, while the scene at the crowded landing stage and on the steamer baffled description. Many could only shake his hand, weep and pass on, while, unsolicited on his part, friends in New York, and Philadelphia handed him five thousand pounds for his work in India. Never did any man leave these shores so encircled with Christian sympathy and affection.

The Continent and Palestine

All this continued effort had only one result; it affected his health so severely that now he was threatened with a complete breakdown. The Foreign Missions Committee thereupon urged him to take a complete rest, which he was enabled to do, thanks to the kindness of friends, by visiting the Continent and Palestine in the company of his elder son. That this enforced silence and inaction tried him severely, we learn from a reference he made to it in his farewell address to the Assembly before returning to India :"I must confess that this was hard to bear, with hundreds of doors of usefulness presenting themselves on every side, and though I struggled against the sentence, yet He soon made me feel that I was in the grasp of an Almighty and Invisible Power that held me fast till I was made to learn the grace of patience and silent enduring submission to His Holy will." This passage reveals that inner life of feeling and emotion which, with a Highlander's self-respect, he seldom allowed to show itself.

The self-repression was evident on the occasion of Duff's departure for India, when Mrs Duff and he, owing to the conditions of Anglo-Indian life, had to leave some of their family at home. Having bid his younger son good-bye on the platform, at London Bridge Station, he entered the carriage, and, controlled by his stern sense of Carlylian duty, buried himself in the perusal of a daily paper, leaving mother and son to bid a tearful farewell. He was an intense admirer of Carlyle, and on more than one occasion remarked, "I would not care to say it on the house tops in Scotland, but next to the Bible, I owe most to Thomas Carlyle." He was also a great admirer of Milton and Cowper, whose works he read and re-read.

Appeal for India

Dr Duff had not, however, departed before making a general stirring appeal on behalf of India. This took the form of an eloquent lecture in Exeter Hall, London, on "India and its Evangelisation." "Strive," said Dr Duff, "to realise the height and grandeur of your obligation to the millions of India's poor, cowering, abject children; millions laid helplessly prostrate at our feet by a series of conquests the most strange and unparalleled in the annals of all time; millions once torn asunder by relentless feuds and implacable hatreds, now bound together, and bound to us, by allegiance to a common Government, submission to common laws, and the participation of common interests! Here is ' career of benevolence opened up unto you, worthy of your noblest ambition and most energetic enterprise. Shrink not from it on the ground of its magnitude or difficulties. In contests of an earthly kind, confidence in a great leader, with the heart- stirring traditions of ancestral daring and prowess, have heretofore kindled shrinking cowardice into the fire of an indomitable valour." Then, after a survey of military triumphs from Cressy and Agincourt to Waterloo, he went on:-" But England has had other battles and other warriors and exemplars, nobler still—nobler still in the eye of Heaven and the annals of eternity, however humble and unworthy in the eye of carnal sense and the records of short-lived time. And it is to these that you are now to look, when invited to enter on a nobler warfare—a warfare with the springs and causes of all other warfare—a warfare not for the destruction of any, but for the regeneration of the whole race of man; a warfare one of whose richest trophies will consist in men beating their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks ......Arise, then, ye Christian young men of England. Through, you, let the store-house of British beneficence be opened for the needy at home and the famishing abroad. Through you, let Britain discharge her debt of gratitude and love to the ascending Saviour, her debt of sympathy and goodwill to all nations. More especially, through you, let her discharge her debt of justice, not less than benevolence to India, in reparation for the wrongs, numberless and aggravated, inflicted on India's unhappy children. In, exchange for the pearls from her coral strand, be it yours to send the Pearl of great price .....And desist not from the great enterprise, until the dawning of the hallowed morn when all India shall be the Lord's.....

"Yes, it shall come! E'en now my eyes behold,
In distant view, the wished-for age unfold.
Lo, o'er the shadowy days that roll between,
A wandering gleam foretells the ascending scene!
Oh! doomed victorious from thy wounds to rise,
Dejected India! lift thy downcast eyes:
And mark the hour, whose faithful steps for thee,
Through time's pressed rank, bring on the Jubilee!

In those days during the voyage from Suez to Bombay it was customary, at the last dinner before arrival at port, for the senior military officer on board to propose the health of the ship's captain. On the present occasion this had to be done on a Sunday evening. Dr Duff explained to the officer, who quite appreciated his action, that while in cordial sympathy, he felt it would be inconsistent with his position as a missionary to be present; he would therefore quietly leave the table before dinner was ended. When the toast was proposed, after expressing the good wishes of the company, the officer added that as it was Sunday evening, and as they had for their fellow traveller the well known missionary, Dr Duff, they would dispense with the customary honours, and by unanimous consent the toast was drunk in silence. Duff next day explained his attitude to the captain, who, however, quite respected it.


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