"Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God: whose faith follow considering the end of their conversation." - Hebrews xiii.7.
I wish to say a few words on one of God's worthies who left us a few weeks ago - two days after Christmas. As it stands this verse does not seem peculiarly applicable. That is because the rendering of the original is unhappy. It is a call to remember the departed. The word that describes them as "rulers" is unhappy. "Leaders" is what the word strictly means. Of course, sometimes those who lead rule; but the word used here accentuates the leading. Our translators should have been kept from a mistranslation by remembering that "rule" in the church is forbidden by the Savior (Luke 22:25, 26), who permits in the church no authority save the power of truth and the charm of goodness. The word further bids us consider "the end of their conversation" - i.e., what came of their lives - and bids us especially "follow their faith" as the secret of all that they achieved.
If obedient to this word we are to "remember those who were our leaders, considering the outcome of their lives and following their faith," it is well that we should remember a man like [William] Holman Bentley, one of the men that in these latter days have led the [Baptist] church of Christ in some of her noblest enterprises. For he led us in missionary enterprise and mercy, showed us the needs of men, and the force of the truth we held in our hands and indolently and selfishly, and the welcome that awaits it wherever it is carried by brave and loving hands.
He was the son of the manse, happy in his home and parentage. He was never robust in his appearance, but had evidently wondrous energy of nature that enabled him to ignore weakness whenever anything was to be done. He had early given himself to the Savior, and dedicating himself to mission work, had at first thought of going to Armenia or some point in Asiatic Russia, supporting himself in some way, and had already acquired the language necessary to begin his work. But God's providence called him elsewhere.
Let me briefly indicate some preliminary facts that will help us to understand the
Beginning of the Baptist Congo [Zaire] Mission
Ever since the emancipation of the West Indian slaves we had had a mission on the west coast of Africa. It was commenced by one who had been a slave and who wished to give to his countrymen that Gospel which had brought him freedom from both bondage of guilt and the bondage of slavery. That mission had wrought much good both at Fernando Po, where it was first started, and subsequently on the Cameroons River when the Portuguese Government drove us from Fernando Po.
We had, however, long felt there were great disadvantages at the Cameroons; chiefly this, that trade jealousies and profits absolutely barred our endeavors to get into the interior from there and confined us to the coast fringe where the vices of heathenism and commerce met and helped each other to thwart higher things. The Congo had long been known for the first hundred miles from the mouth; the mighty volume of its waters - ten times that of the Ganges - amazed men, but three hundred miles of rapids and cataracts began about a hundred miles from the mouth and barred further navigation.
In 1871 Stanley, who had been sent to find and relieve Livingston, found him at Ujiji, on Lake Tanganyika. It appeared Livingston had been traveling about three hundred miles to the west, and had, at Nyangwe, struck the Lualaha River, a vast stream one thousand yards broad, flowing toward the north. Though the levels of the neighboring country seemed to point to some other conclusion. Livingston had a strong feeling that the great river must be the Nile in which case another thousand miles would have to be added to its length. Stanley thought it would prove to be either the Congo or the Niger.
After they parted Livingston went south to explore the head waters of the Lualaha, and died in 1873 near Lake Bangweolo. His heart was buried there. In April, 1874 his body was buried in Westminster Abbey. And in November of that year Stanley started again, from Zanzibar, this time to determine what became of the Lualaha. He took Uganda on his way and found King Mtesa so interested in all that Stanley told him of the science and religion of the white people that he wrote to the Church Missionary Society and they started the Uganda Mission, which has been crowned with such sublime success. After leaving Uganda nothing was heard of Stanley for about two years; but suddenly, on the morning of September 17, 1877, a telegram appeared in the Daily Telegraph from him. He had traced the course of the mighty river through-out from Nyangwe to its mouth, and emerged on the West coast safely after a journey of immense difficulty.
At once the Baptist Missionary Society began to feel that possibly here was the highway into the interior they had been longing for. In March, 1878, their committee instructed Messrs. [Thomas] Comber and [George] Grenfell to proceed from the Cameroons river to the Congo and prospect and report on any openings for Mission work they might find there. By December of the same year Greenfell was back in the Cameroons, and Comber had arrived in London with a report which encouraged the Society to believe that a great door and effectual had been opened for us there. In January, 1879, the committee resolved to commence a mission on the Congo; they told off[?] Comber to be the first missionary, and accepted at the same meeting an offer of service from Mr. [H. E.] Crudgington. And in February they accepted Mr. [J. S.] Hartland and Mr. Bentley for the work, and the four sailed from Liverpool on April 25, 1879. It was one of the coincidences which believers will designate by another name that at the very time when we determined to commence the Congo mission. Mr. A. H. Bayes was appointed general secretary of the Society. And we found ourselves with numbers of ardent souls ready to give themselves to this work, and with a man at the helm singularly fitted to wake and sustain the deepest interest in the work, and full of the gracious wisdom which comes of a noble nature and a fervent heart.
It was no light task on which the four young brethren had embarked. The barbarism they found on the Congo had nothing idyllic in it. The dark places of the earth were still, they found the habitations of cruelty, of lowest morals, of ceaseless wars, of witchcraft that regarded every death as somebody’s crime to be punished by death. They found the Arab slave-raiding in full swing, and domestic slavery was universal. They had to catch a language that was only in the air and write it down; a task made the more difficult by the very richness of its vocabulary and wonderfully elaborate character of its grammar. The railway, which now makes access easy to the upper river, was not yet thought of. And the Congo Government, which has done so much good and evil, had not been thought of. Perils of waters were formidable in the cataract region; perils from misconception of their motives; perils from the easy way of accounting for all disasters by their arrival. Perils of all sorts surrounded them. The climate proved fatal to numbers. Of the 126 men and women we have sent out up to this year, 44 died and 27 were driven home with ill health. Some who died, died within a few days of landing, some within a few weeks. Sometimes deaths came in clusters. They had to clear the ground and build houses. They had to get children to come to school; they had to tend the sick and be at the service of all the sufferers in their neighborhood. They had to preach the Gospel. They had to possess their souls in patience while the strangeness of the Gospel wore off and its glory and truth reported themselves to the souls of the men. From the first they made friends, and of the friends many became disciples. But it was nine years after the landing before they held their first baptismal service. Fever continually attacked them, and there were many stretches of time when the food supply was deplorably insufficient.
When converts began to multiply they suffered from epidemics of sleep-sickness and of pneumonia, losing in some years as many as 14 per cent of their membership. Inquirers came with strange mixtures of superstition and desire; backsliders had to be won back if possible and that work needed the gentleness of Christ. So that they were pressed out of measure, tried with all sorts of anxieties, one of the worst being to see doors opening they could not enter, because the church[es] at home failed to realize the heavenly call to enter them.
During the earlier years Comber and Bentley were the great leaders; and after Comber's death Bentley and Greenfell, who had joined them on the Congo, were the organizers, the inspirers of the whole. None but those who have shared their work can appreciate its toil and the demand it made on them for courage of every kind.
These men were leaders, surely! Showing what might be dared and done and suffered and achieved by men of loving hearts; leaders that "marshalled" the church and led her along new pathways of mercy and of conquest. Remember such, considering the outcome of their work. For they did not work in vain; and those who suffered most have been those who were most satisfied with the result of their labors.
What Did They Achieve?
It is not possible to tabulate the highest results of their work, but the external signs of it we may note.
The Baptist Society alone has now, on or near the great river, ten centres of mission work, a chain of stations that stretches upward from Wathen, 260 miles from the coast, to Yakusu, 1,350 miles. A new start is being made to found a new line of stations from the mouth of the Aruwimi to Uganda, thus linking the west coast to the east with a chain of life-giving lights. In these stations six or eight different languages are used. At all of these centres there are Christian churches remarkable for their vitality and for the energy with which those who have received the light gladly and effectively diffuse it.
Our first centre, St. Salvador, has between 300 and 400 communicant members. Wathen has, despite the mortality from sleep-sickness, about 1,000. Our farthest station near Stanley Falls, Vakusu, has 53, but has school and other work in about 70 towns or villages round about.
The gospels have been produced in five different languages, and in the Congoese language the whole New Testament has been published, and a large portion of the Old Testament is ready for publication. Four or five hymn-books - one numbering between 300 and 400 hymns - in as many different tongues, printed and bound on the river, supply the wants of various tribes of worshipers.
For hundreds of miles on the north bank of the river the people are a brave, clever race, but ferociously cannibal. But from them a church of God has been gathered that appreciates the Gospel of St. John and that values the songs of Zion. Eight thousand children are at school, and in some districts the passion for education is extraordinary. Some bid us civilize first and Christianize afterward. Unfortunately for their advice, it is not easy to find examples of that order of procedure. Our missionaries in all parts of the world have had no difficulty in converting first and then civilizing. And on the Congo our men have taught successfully the arts of peace, and many are skilled carpenters, brickmakers, printers, who 30 years ago were sunk in lowest barbarism. Remember your leaders and consider the outcome of their lives. And in this consideration do not overlook the outcome of their action on their own character and on the character of the church of Christ at home. What pure delights came to them; what immunity from meanness; what courage; what sweet fellowship with their Savior as they kept him in company in his quest after that which was lost! And what good have they done the church of God at home? Purifying, elevating all its devotion and developing all its nobler compassions.
Remember them, marking the splendid outcome of their lives and their great recompense of reward. Shall we follow such leaders? The writer says, "Their faith follow." He felt and knew the secret of all their greatness. It was not merely splendid courage and the generous heart and the energies of an all-enduring patience that made them what they were - though they had these qualities - but faith. They saw the invisible and that helped them to endure. They knew and believed the love that God had to us. They had seen the glory, as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. And faith in the great redeeming Christ animated them, gave them message, and charm, and power and victory.
The friend [William Holman Bentley] whose recent death has moved these memories has gone to his reward. Scholar, hero, leader of men, his humility was as beautiful as his powers were high. All his work had to be done in feebleness of body, but it was done. At one time he was blind for some months; some years ago he fell into consumption, but the open-air treatment healed the lung, though it left painful shortness of breath and asthma. Some extra overwork just before Christmas reduced his strength; some bronchitis set in and before any knew he was seriously ill he was gone. His funeral was attended by comrades and friends, and his worn body lies beneath the lilies in Arno's Vale. How good thus to live and thus to die! Remember him. --
[From The Baptist Argus, March 22, 1906, pp. 14-15, 19. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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