Robert Moffat, the poor Scotch lad, who, by living on beggar's fare,
managed to get an education in theology and medicine, must evermore stand
as one of the great pioneers of Central African exploration. When on the
last day of October, 1816, that memorable year in missions, he set sail for
the Cape of Good Hope, he was only twenty years of age. But in all the
qualities that assure both maturity and heroism, he was a full-grown man.
As not infrequently occurs, his greatest obstacles were found, not in the
hopeless paganism of the degraded tribes of the Dark Continent, but in the
apathy, if not antipathy, of the representatives of Christian governments.
The British governor would have penned him up within the bounds of Cape
Colony, lest he should complicate the relations of the settlers with the
tribes of the interior. While fighting out this battle, he studied Dutch
with a pious Hollander, that he might preach to the Boers and their
Afterward, when permission was obtained, while traveling to the country of
the Bechuanas, at the close of his first day's journey he stopped at a
farmhouse and offered to preach to the people that evening. In the large
kitchen, where the service was to be held, stood a long table, at the head
of which sat the Boer, with his wife and six grown children. A large Bible
lay on the table, and underneath the table half a dozen dogs. The Boer
pointed to the Bible as the signal for Mr. Moffat to begin. But, after
vainly waiting for others to come in, he asked how soon the working people
were to be called.
"Working people?" impatiently cried the farmer.
"You don't mean the Hottentots,—the blacks! You are not waiting for them
surely, or expecting to preach to them? You might as well preach to those
dogs under that table!" A second time, and more angrily he spoke, repeating
the offensive comparison.
Young as Mr. Moffat was, he was disconcerted only for a moment. Lifting his
heart to God for guidance, the thought came into his mind to take a text
suggested by the rude remarks of the Boer. So he opened the Bible to the
fifteenth chapter of Matthew and read the twenty-seventh verse: "Truth,
Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."
Pausing a moment, he slowly repeated these words, with his eyes steadily
fixed on the face of the Boer. Again pausing, a third time he quoted these
appropriate words. Angrily the Boer cried out, "Well, well, bring them in."
A crowd of blacks then thronged the kitchen, and Moffat preached to them
Ten years passed, and the missionary was passing that way again. Those
work-people, who held him in the most grateful remembrance, seeing him, ran
after him to thank him for telling them the way to Christ in that sermon.
His whole life in Africa was a witness to miracles of transformation. He
had no scorn nor contempt for the sable sons of Africa. He found the most
degraded of them open to the impressions of the gospel, and even the worst
and unimpressionable among them were compelled to confess the power of that
gospel to renew. One savage, cruel chief, who hated the missionaries, had a
dog that chewed and swallowed a copy of the book of Psalms for the sake of
the soft sheepskin in which it was bound. The enraged chief declared his
dog to be henceforth worthless: "He would no more bite or tear, now that he
had swallowed a Christian book."
This godly, devoted missionary preached and taught the warlike Bechuanas
till they put away their clubs and knives, and farming utensils took the
place of bows and arrows and spears. This strange change in African savages
came to be talked over among the people. It was so wonderful that the other
tribes could account for it only as an instance of supernatural magic.
There was nothing they knew of that would lead men like the Bechuanas to
bring war to an end, and no longer rob and kill.
Mr. Moffat was especially warned against the notorious Africaner, a chief
whose name was the terror of the whole country. Some prophesied that he
would be eaten by this monster; others were sure that he would be killed,
and his skull turned into a drinking-cup, and his skin into the head of a
drum. Nevertheless, the heroic young missionary went straight for the kraal
of the cruel marauder and murderer. He was accompanied by Ebner, the
missionary, who was not in favor in Africaner's court, and who soon had to
flee, leaving Mr. Moffat alone with a bloodthirsty monarch and a people as
treacherous as their chief.
But God had armed his servant with the spirit, not of fear, but of power,
and of love, and of a sound mind. He was a man of singular grace and tact.
He quietly but firmly planted his foot in Africaner's realms, and began his
work. He opened a school, began stated services of worship, and went about
among the people, living simply, self-denyingly, and prayerfully.
Africaner himself was his first convert. The wild Namoqua warrior was
turned into a gentle child. The change in this chief was a moral miracle.
Wolfish rapacity, leonine ferocity, leopardish treachery, gave way before
the meekness and mildness of the calf or kid. His sole aim and ambition had
been to rob and to slay, to lead his people on expeditions for plunder and
violence, but he now seemed absorbed by one passion, zeal for God and his
missionary. He set his subjects to building a house for Mr. Moffat, made
him a present of cows, became a regular and devout worshiper, mourned
heartily over his past life, and habitually studied the Word of God. He
could not do enough for the man who had led him to Jesus.
When the missionary's life hung in the balance with African fever, he
nursed him through the crisis of delirium. When he had to visit Cape Town,
Africaner went with him, knowing that a price had been set for years upon
his own head as an outlaw and a public enemy. No marvel that when he made
his appearance in Cape Colony, the people were astonished at the
transformation! It was even more wonderful than when Saul, the
arch-persecutor, was suddenly transformed into Paul, the apostle.
Mr. Moffat once said that during his entire residence among this people, he
remembered no occasion on which he had been grieved with Africaner or found
reason for complaint; and even his very faults leaned to the side of
virtue. On his way to Cape Town with Mr. Moffat, a distance of six hundred
miles, the whole road lay through a country which had been laid waste by
this robber and his retainers. The Dutch farmers could not believe that
this converted man was actually Africaner; and one of them, when he saw
him, lifted his hands and exclaimed: "This is the eighth wonder of the
world! Great God, what a miracle of thy power and grace!"
He who had long shed blood without cause would now with as little
hesitation shed his own for Christ's sake. When he found his own death
approaching, he gathered his people around him, and charged them, as Moses
and Joshua did Israel: "We are not now what we once were, savages, but men
professing to be taught according to the gospel. Let us, then, do
accordingly." Then, with unspeakable tenderness and gentleness, he
counseled them to live peaceably with all men, to engage in no undertaking
without the advice of Christian guides, to remain together as one people,
and to receive and welcome all missionaries as sent from God. Then he gave
them his parting blessing.
His dying confession would have graced the lips of the apostle of the
Gentiles: "I feel that I love God, and that he has done much for me, of
which I am totally unworthy. My former life is stained with blood: but
Jesus Christ has bought my pardon, and I shall live with him through an
eternity. Beware of falling back into the same evils into which I have so
often led you, but seek God, and he will be found of you, and direct you."
Having said this, Africaner fell asleep, himself having furnished one of
the most unanswerable proofs that the gospel is the power of God unto
salvation.—Arthur T. Pierson, in "The Miracles of Missions," second
series, copyright by Funk and Wagnalls Company, New York.