This is the ninth in a series of posts I am doing on pivotal moments for the Gospel in South African history. If you would like to read the first in this series click here
Dr Kevin Roy says of Andrew Murray, “The impact of Andrew Murray’s ministry on the church in South Africa is probably unparalleled by any other single figure in its history.” Today the name of Andrew Murray is honoured in Reformed, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist , Pentecostal and Charismatic circles. He was a prolific writer with some 240 books and pamphlets published in Dutch, English and Afrikaans. Murray himself was Reformed and Presbyterian, however he was also greatly influenced by the Holiness, Revivalist and Evangelical movements of his time.
Murray served four congregations in his ministry, and founded a number of influential institutions. He was elected Moderator of his church six times. His influence extended far beyond his country of birth, South Africa.
In 1822, Andrew Murray senior came to the Cape colony, under the recommendation of George Thom. There he became the minister of the Dutch Reformed congregation at Graaff-Rienet, where he ministered for 45 years. He married Maria Stegmann, who was of Huguenot and Lutheran decent. Together they had 10 children. Andrew Murray junior and his older brother, John, were sent to Aberdeen in Scotland for their education. They lived there with their uncle, who was also a Presbyterian minister.
In their seven years in Aberdeen, the two young Murray boys witnessed the struggle within the Church of Scotland, between the Moderates and the Evangelicals over the issue of lay patronage. The Evangelicals stood firm for the principle that no pastor should be intruded upon any congregation contrary to the will of the people. The government on the other hand, supported the Moderates, upholding the right of a lay patron to appoint a minister to a congregation. The Evangelicals eventual lost this cause in a court decision. This caused the Disruption of 1843, when more than a third of the ministers walked out of the General Assembly to form the Free Church of Scotland. Andrew Murray’s uncle was one of the leaders of this Free Church party. These stirring events made a deep impression on the young man. This would also prepare him for future battles between civil authorities and the church.
Andrew and his brother both felt called to the ministry, so from Aberdeen they proceeded to Utrecht University in the Netherlands to learn Dutch and complete their theological training. In Holland, too, battles were raging in the church between advocates of a more rationalistic modern theology and upholders of traditional Calvinistic orthodoxy. The Murray boys joined a student society Sechor Dabar (Remember the Word), thus bearing witness to their essentially conservative convictions.
In 1848 both Andrew and John Murray were ordained at the Hague and returned to South Africa. Andrew was appointed to the Dutch Reformed congregation in Bloemfontein. At the age of twenty-one he found himself responsible for a parish covering an area of 80 500 square miles. Despite his youth, his earnest preaching and godly ways made a profound impression on the rough farmers who heard him. The comments made by an African who observed Murray preaching in the Transvaal give us a glimpse into his ministry: ‘I never thought that the white men stood in such fear of their chiefs. Look at the young chief yonder. He points his finger at the people: they sit quiet. He threatens them: they sit quite still. He storms and rages at them: they sit as quiet as death.[i]’
Dutch Reformed Church, Bloemfontein
Murray’s ability in Dutch and English and his reconciling nature fitted him well to function as a mediator between the British Government and the Boer leaders of the Transvaal. At the Sand River Convention of 1852, for example, at which the British guaranteed the independence of the South African Republic of the Transvaal, Murray acted as a translator. In the following year he was one of two men nominated by a National Convention held in Bloemfontein to go to England to dissuade the British Government from abandoning the Orange River Sovereignty. At the same time he was also commissioned by the Cape Synod to seek out ministers for the Colony in Scotland and Holland. The difficulties he experienced in this latter task made him an ardent advocate for the establishment of a theological seminary in the Cape to train an indigenous ministry. This ideal was realized in the establishment of the Stellenbosch Theological Seminary in 1857.
Stellenbosch Theological Seminary
In 1856 Murray was married to Emma Rutherford, a daughter of a Cape Town merchant. Four years later he accepted a call to the church in Worcester which he served for four years. While Murray was there, a number of congregations in the Cape, chiefly Dutch Reformed and Methodist, experienced a remarkable religious revival. It can be noted here that Andrew Murray was heir to a tradition of religious revivals. In Graaff-Reinet his father had prayed for many years for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the churches of his adopted country. The younger Murrays never forgot that their father’s study door was closed on Friday evenings as the faithful intercessor spent long hours in a time of fervent prayer for revival[ii].
The impact of the revival in Worcester was profound. Hundreds were received into membership of the church and about fifty men felt a call to fulltime Christian ministry. Murray wrote his most famous book, Abide in Christ, to help and guide those converted in the revival. Many more books of a devotional, inspirational and teaching character were to flow from his pen. In 1862 he was elected Moderator of the Dutch Reformed synod. Although only thirty-four he was able to provide a spirited and mature leadership in the church’s struggle against the inroads of rationalism and modernist theology.
After a seven-year stint as the minister of the Groote Kerk in Cape Town, the mother church of the Dutch Reformed denomination, Murray was called in 1871 to the congregation at Wellington where he served for the next thirty four years. His interest in education and missions led to him founding the Huguenot Seminary (1874) and the Wellington Missionary Training Institute (1877). He had previously been involved in founding Grey College in Bloemfontein (later the University of the Orange Free State) and the Normal College in Cape Town.
While at Wellington, Murray embarked on a number of evangelistic tours around the country. So successful were these that he was also invited to preach at Northfield in the USA and at Keswick in England. While remaining firmly grounded in his inherited Reformed theology Murray was deeply influenced by the holiness, revivalist and missionary movements of his time. He wrote a book about Divine Healing (1900) that paved the way for the Pentecostal movement in South Africa, although the tragic death of a close friend led him to modify his earlier views on healing. Perhaps the genius of Andrew Murray was that he was able to tap into many of the popular movements of spirituality and renewal in his day without yielding to sectarianism. For this reason he was held in such high honour by so many diverse strands of Christianity. Not that he was without his critics, both then and now. He has been charged by some Reformed theologians with introducing ‘Methodism’ and other unconventional doctrines into the Dutch Reformed Church. It is true that some of Murray’s teachings on The Second Blessing (1891) and divine healing led a few of his followers to break with the DRC and establish new churches. It has also been charged that Murray acquiesced in the decision of the 1857 Cape Synod to permit separate services for whites and blacks. Prior to that date all church members worshipped together. But pressure from the white members eventually led to the following resolution:
The Synod considers it desirable and scriptural that our members from the Heathen be received and absorbed into our existing congregations wherever possible; but where this measure, as a result of the weakness of some, impedes the furtherance of the cause of Christ among the Heathen, the congregation from the Heathen, already founded or still to be founded, shall enjoy its Christian privileges in a separate building or institution[iii].
It has been rightly observed that that synodical decision was one of the first steps on the road to the establishment of full-blown apartheid in 1948. Why then did Murray acquiesce in such a decision? It must be remembered that current missiological thinking at that time stressed the importance of missionary work bearing fruit in indigenous churches within the culture of the people evangelized. The formation of separate churches for particular people groups was supported by many, including Murray, as a step that would enhance the process of evangelization. Only later was the danger of this separatism fully realised as it developed into a religio-political system of oppression.
Whatever mistakes Murray and others of his generation made, his basic interest in the welfare and development of Africans cannot be doubted. In one of his last books, Religion and Politics, he warned against the practice of Afrikaner Nationalist politicians in promoting their political views, which led to the development of apartheid, as ‘Christian politics’[iv].
But we have no need to defend Murray. The best of Christ’s servants have their weaknesses and inevitably share in some of the deficiencies of their age. The treasure of the gospel is always carried in earthen vessels. The impact of Murray’s ministry continues to be felt, not least through his writings, which are still being published in many languages all around the world. Something of the spirit and burden of this man can be found in the following prayer, taken from his book The Spirit of Christ:
O God! Thou didst send Thy Son to be the Saviour of the world. Thou didst give Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him. And Thou didst pour out Thy Spirit upon all flesh, commissioning as many as received Him to make known and pass on the wondrous blessing. In the Love and Power in which Thy Spirit was sent forth, He likewise sends forth those who yield themselves to Him, to be the instruments of His Power in glorifying Thy Son. We bless Thee for this Divine and most glorious salvation. O our God! we stand amazed, and abased, at the sloth and neglect of Thy Church in not fulfilling her Divine commission; we are humbled at our slowness of heart to perceive and believe what Thy Son did promise, to obey His will and finish His work. We cry to Thee, our God! visit Thy Church, and let Thy Spirit, the Spirit of the Divine Sending, fill all her children. O my Father! I dedicate myself afresh to Thee, to live and labour, to pray and travail, to sacrifice and suffer for Thy Kingdom. I accept anew in faith the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of Christ, and yield myself to His indwelling. I humbly plead with Thee, give me and all Thy children to be so mightily strengthened by the Holy Spirit that Christ may possess heart and life, and our one desire be that the whole earth may be filled with His glory. Amen[v].
The number of times I have heard that line from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the pulpit defies reason. I say this namely because I cannot remember a single sermon where the respective preacher used it to shed any light. It has been, in my own experience, tantamount to invoking the term “social construct” in debates, as if that settled anything. But if that is not reason enough, then its sheer abuse should convince us that it might be time to lay Mr Beaver’s epithet to rest (see Sammy Rhodes’ article on retiring sermon clichés). Lewis’ dangerous but good Aslan is somewhat opaque and seriously overused. Every time I hear it I struggle not to conclude that the only time the preacher reads is when he is trying to put his children to sleep.
This is obviously a theme in Lewis’ magisterial Narnia; when the children first meet Aslan we are told, “People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now” (p168). Later, when Mr Beaver is warning the children against pressing Aslan or tying him to their kingdom he says, “He’s wild you know. Not like a tame lion” (p194). They are moving words for those familiar with Aslan, and inadvertently the God of Scripture, but used alone and apart from the context of Lewis’ work such sentiments are little more than mere sentimentalism. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is rich narrative that boasts compelling truth, evokes genuine feeling, and draws the reader into another world in a way few novels achieve. But we are fooling ourselves if we think a few quotes about Aslan’s indomitable but inviting nature do any justice to Lewis’ intention, or assist our own.
There is so much more to the novel (and all of Narnia) than these almost common quotes convey. Let me offer an example, which I would love to unpack further in a sermon or writing, touching on John’s Gospel. While the Witch gloats in Aslan’s death, to redeem Edmund and restore Narnia, some of Jesus’ last words before the cross come to mind, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). A little later the Lord says, “The ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me” (John 14:30-31). Before Susan and Lucy the supposed King of Narnia is shamefully shorn and cruelly slain on the Stone Table, and before Jesus’ disciples their supposed Messiah is mocked and executed; both events suggest the triumph of evil and the defeat of good. But hear Aslan’s words when the astonished sisters ask Aslan what (can only be described as) his resurrection means, “Though the Witch knew Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned…She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards” (p185). In his surrender to the evil powers of the world, he overcomes them.
Finally, if that brief and slightly shoddy unpacking has not excited you to revisit Narnia then, please, for the sake of your congregation, drop Lewis’ overdone words; I will even provide you with a sacrificial substitute, from The Lord of the Rings. After Gandalf retells how he saw, and was indeed spotted by Treebeard, in the forest, Gimli remarks, ‘You speak of him as if he was a friend. I thought Fangorn was dangerous.’ ‘Dangerous!’ cried Gandalf. ‘And so am I, very dangerous: more dangerous than anything you will ever meet, unless you are brought alive before the seat of the Dark Lord. And Aragorn is dangerous, and Legolas is dangerous. You are beset with dangers, Gimli son of Glóin; for you are dangerous yourself, in your own fashion. Certainly the forest of Fangorn is perilous – not least to those that are too ready with their axes; and Fangorn himself, he is perilous too; yet he is wise and kindly nonetheless’.
Graham Heslop has an insatiable appetite for books, occasionaly dips into theology, & desires to do youth ministry. Follow him on Twitter – @avosquirrel
This post is part of a synchroblog timed to coincide with the launch of a book, Blessed are the Crazy by Sarah Griffith Lund. I’ve only just heard of the book, and don’t have a copy, so this post is in no sense a book review, but rather a few thoughts on the general theme. For more information on the book, see here.
It’s a difficult thing to write about, partly because the definition of mental illness keeps changing. What exactly is it? When I did Psychology I at university 50 years ago we did a brief survey of psychopathology, and a number of different kinds of mental illnesses were described. There were schizophrenics, paranoiacs and manic-depressives and a few other conditions mentioned, but most of the terms in my textbooks back then don’t seem to be in use today. So that makes me wonder about the social construction of mental illness — is mental illness just something in the mind of the beholder. Is it just a social construct that society imposes on people?
St Basil, Fool for Christ of Moscow
Back at the time that I was studying Psycho I, there was also a popular perception of psychology and related fields. There were psychologists, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists, and many people were not clear about the differences between them. Some people told me that psychologists were scientists and psychiatrists were quacks. I wasn’t sure about that. The Psychology we did at university was the study of behaviour of animals and human beings, and in part dealt with the physiology of behaviour — the senses, like vision, hearing, taste and so on. Psychiatry was a specialist field of medicine. You had to have a medical degree to practise as a psychiatrist, so I wondered about people who said that psychiatry was quackery.
Most of our textbooks for psychology was American, and one thing that made an impression on me was that they all said that believing that your telephone was tapped and that the police were reading your mail was a sign of mental illness and being out of touch with reality. But it was the textbooks that were out of touch with the reality of South Africa in 1964, and, I suspect, with the “homeland security” America of 2014, which reinforces the notion of the social construction of mental illness. Is believing that your phone may be tapped a sign of paranoia? Or is it a sign that you live in a paranoid society that is obsessed with spying on its citizens? When I looked at my government file from the apartheid era, there was frequent use of the term ‘n delikate bron (a sensitive source) , and it was clear that in many instances this referred to a little man in the post office who opened and read letters addressed to people overseas and noted the contents for the Security Police records. So who was paranoid, the citizens who thought that the State was spying on them, or the State that was actually spying on its citizens?
It gets more complicated than that. A friend of mine was a member of an interdenominational Bible study group under the auspices of the Christian Institute. One of the other members was a psychotherapist of some sort (I can’t remember if he was a psychoanalyst or a psychiatrist or something else) who was himself a mental patient in the Fort Napier Mental Hospital in Pietermaritzburg. And it turned out that he was being used by the Security Police as a spy to spy on others in the study group, and report on what they said. It seemed cruel and cynical to exploit an inmate of a mental institution in this way. A crazy society was using crazy people to spy on the sane.
This was not peculiar to South Africa, either. In the USSR the Bolsheviks incarcerated political dissidents in mental institutions on the grounds that they must be crazy not to appreciate the advantages of communist society.
But in 1964-66 I also had a real encounter with real mental illness. The priest of the Anglican parish I then belonged to, whose clergy were also chaplains to the unviersity where I studied psychology (among other things), left at the end of 1964 to return to the UK, and became rector of a parish on the outskirts of London. In South Africa he was known as a dynamic preacher, and was also instrumental in building the parish into a lively Christian community. Within a couple of months of arriving in his new parish in England he had a mental breakdown. In 1966 I went to the UK to do post-graduate study, and sometimes stayed with this priest and his family during university vacations, and he was a completely different person. He could not focus or concentrate on anything for long, and would get a bee in his bonnet about relatively unimportant matters. He became irritable, and snapped at his children. I could see that in some sense he had “lost his mind”, and a mind is a terrible thing to lose.
St Xenia, Fool for Christ of St Petersburg
So if mental illness is a social construction, it is not only a social construction. There is more to it than that. In the case of this priest it was eventually diagnosed as some kind of chemical imbalance in the brain, and he was given drugs to treat the condition, but he was never quite the same again. Of course drugs to treat such conditions are the field of psychiatry, and so I was reminded that psychiatrists were not merely quacks but that mental illness was real, and they were trying to find ways to treat it.
And that raises the question of the relationship between the “mind” and the “brain”. Nowadays, with the ubiquity of personal computers, we can make an analogy. Problems with the mind are software problems, problems of the brain are hardware problems, but they also can’t be rigidly separated. But there isn’t space to go into all that here.
Going back another 50 years from the 1964, one comes to G.K. Chesterton, who a century ago wrote about the same kind of thing, and raised the question whether Christians were mad people in a sane world, or sane people in a mad world.
And if great reasoners are often maniacal, it is equally true that maniacs are commonly great reasoners. When I was engaged in a controversy with the Clarion on the matter of free will, that able writer Mr. R.B.Suthers said that free will was lunacy, because it meant causeless actions, and the actions of a lunatic would be causeless. I do not dwell here upon the disastrous lapse in determinist logic. Obviously if any actions, even a lunatic’s, can be causeless, determinism is done for. If the chain of causation can be broken for a madman, it can be broken for a man. But my purpose is to point out something more practical. It was natural, perhaps, that a modern Marxian Socialist should not know anything about free will. But it was certainly remarkable that a modern Marxian Socialist should not know anything about lunatics. Mr. Suthers evidently did not know anything about lunatics. The last thing that can be said of a lunatic is that his actions are causeless. If any human acts may loosely be called causeless, they are the minor acts of a healthy man; whistling as he walks; slashing the grass with a stick; kicking his heels or rubbing his hands. It is the happy man who does the useless things; the sick man is not strong enough to be idle. It is exactly such careless and causeless actions that the madman could never understand; for the madman (like the determinist) generally sees too much cause in everything. The madman would read a conspiratorial significance into those empty activities. He would think that the lopping of the grass was an attack on private property. He would think that the kicking of the heels was a signal to an accomplice. If the madman could for an instant become careless, he would become sane. Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.
And going back another 30 years or so, we come to Léon Bloy, who said that Christians were called to be “Pilgrims of the Absolute”, and when someone asked him whether that might endanger his mental balance, Bloy replied Pilgrims of the Absolute:
Balance? The devil take it! He has indeed taken it long ago! I am a Christian who accepts the full consequences of my Christianity. What happened at the Fall? The entire world, you understand, with everything in it, lost its balance. Why on earth should I be the one to keep mine? The world and mankind were balanced as long as they were held fast in the arms of the Absolute. What the average man means by balance is the most dangerous one-sidedness into which a man can fall… the renunciation of his heavenly birthright for the pottage of this sinful world.
 A synchroblog is when a number of bloggets blog on the same general topic on the same day, and link their blog posts to each other so that you can see the same topic from various points of view.
The links to the other posts will appear here as soon as they become available, so if you don’t see them now, please return in a day or two to find some other views on this topic. There is one link that will probably not be part of this synchroblog, and yet ought to be, so if you got this far, I urge you to read it: MYSTAGOGY: The Foundations of Orthodox Psychotherapy
Here are links to other posts in this Synchroblog:
This is the eighth in a series of posts I am doing on pivotal moments for the Gospel in South African history. If you would like to read the first in this series click here.
The Voortrekkers having successfully made their way inland formed two republics. They named them The South African Republic (SAR) and the Orange Free State (OFS). Lindley the faithful missionary who spent much time with the Voortrekkers resigned from his post in 1847. How would the few Dutch Reformed churches speckling these new Boer republics obtain a minister? [i]
In 1849 Andrew Murray (junior) was inducted into the church in Bloemfontein. In the following few years he made a number of preaching tours in the Transvaal Republic (another name for the SAR). On no less than two occasions did the Transvaal churches invite him to be their minister, but he refused.
At this time there were a number of discussions about incorporating the Transvaal congregations into the Cape Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC). In 1853 Dirk van der Hoff, a minister from the Netherlands arrived in the Transvaal. A general assembly was held with church and civil leaders; these leaders decided against incorporation in the Dutch Synod.
Why did they refuse this?
Firstly, the Transvaal Republic had too much of an independent spirit to go along with an incorporation, especially with the British ruled Cape Colony. Secondly, the Trekkers still resented the fact that the Cape Synod had condemned the Great Trek in 1837, and since then had refused to provide a minister for them. Thirdly, since they had secured the services of Van der Hoff, meant that they no longer required a minister from the Cape Synod.
And so it was in 1853 that the second Dutch Reformed Church came into being, known in Afrikaans as the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk. This became the official state church of the Transvaal Republic.
But this unity against the Cape Synod did not mean unity amongst the Transvaal church itself. There were a group of Calvinist families who were unhappy with Van der Hoff’s lack of confessional orthodoxy. The tension eventually manifested itself over the issue of hymn singing. Traditionally the Dutch Reformed Christians only used the Psalms. However in 1807 a hymnal was introduced to the churches in the Netherlands. By 1814 this hymnal made its appearance in the Cape. However the ‘Dopper’ (name for the strict group of Calvinists) group did not welcome it. They argued that the hymns were composed by the art of man, and thus could not compare with the inspired words of the Psalmist. This issue became the symbol for a fully confessional Reformed church.
In 1858 another minister from Netherlands arrived in the Transvaal, his name was Dirk Postma. This man’s theological convictions were in sympathy with those of the Doppers.
At a General Assembly of the Hervormde Church held in 1859, the divisive issue of hymn singing reared its head. Van der Hoff suggested that the issue should be left to individual ministers to decide for their own churches. This was rejected however, and it was insisted that the hymn book be used in all public worship.
Fifteen conscientious objectors approach Postma to help form a separate church in which they could maintain their principles. Thus in 1859 a third Dutch Reformed church came into being, known in Afrikaans as the Gereformeerde Kerk. This new church modelled itself on the doctrines, discipline and church order of the Synod of Dort.
Despite the small start, due to the dedication and ability of Postma, they put down deep roots and today number around 100 000 members in about 300 congregations.
After Postma’s death, the leading figure of the Gereformeerde Kerk was a remarkable Jewish Dutch poet, Jan Lion Cachet. Cachet was born in 1838 in Amsterdam, the grandson of a Jewish immigrant from France who had been converted to Christianity by Isaac da Costa, also a Jewish Dutch poet who had converted to Christ and played a leading role in the 19th century Réveil (awakening) in the Netherlands.
In 181 Cachet responded to a call by the Dutch Reformed Church for teachers and came to South Africa. Having had experience in different parts of Southern Africa as a teacher, he joined the Gereformeerde Church in 1865. Cachet was deeply impressed by the convictions and integrity of the ‘Doppers’ and their stand against the inroads of modernism into the state church.
Cachet served as an assistant to Postma, who provided him with needed theological training. This led to his ordination in 1868. Later Cachet himself played a leading role in training men for ministry in the Gereformeerde Church.
Cachet was a renaissance man. He was a lover of poetry and literature, he could recite from memory many works of his favourite Dutch poets. He was particularly fond of the English author William Thackeray. Cachet wrote extensively in English, Dutch and Afrikaans, but his finest poetry and prose was written in Afrikaans. One of his most popular books The Seven Devils and What they did ran into many editions.
Cachet had a brother, Frans, who also played an influential role in the spiritual life of the Boer republics. Frans who was dissatisfied with the state of affairs in the Hervormde Church travelled throughout the Transvaal in 1866 establishing Dutch Reformed (Nederduitse Gereformeerde) congregations in various places. These congregations formed a synod and eventually linked up with the Cape Dutch Reformed synod.
By the year 1870 there were three separate bodies of Afrikaans Reformed churches in the Transvaal. The fact that their different names all translate into the English word ‘Reformed’ causes endless confusion among English-Speakers (like me). So here is a helpful table to show the difference.
Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk
The Dutch Reformed Church
Formed in 1853 as the established church of the Transvaal republic
The Reformed Church
split off from the Hervormde Church in 1859 as a more strictly confessional Reformed body, popularly known as the ‘Doppers’
Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk
The Dutch Reformed Church
which subsequently linked up with the Cape synod
These three denominations became known in South Africa as the three sister churches, although the GK and the NHK have always been much smaller than the predominant NGK. Notwithstanding considerable inroads made by the Pentecostal movements during much of the twentieth century, the three sister churches still encompass the great majority of Afrikaans-speaking Christians to this day.
This is the seventh in a series of posts I am doing on pivotal moments for the Gospel in South African history. If you would like to read the first in this series click here
It was a warm summer morning on 17th day of the first month of 1837. The 36 year old Daniel Lindley was awoken at dawn as he lay in his Ndebele style hut- what was that sound he heard through the groggy fog of sleep? He had heard nothing like this in the three years he had been in South Africa. It was the sound of gunfire, mingled with shouts and screams, men and women fleeing for their lives down the plains of Mosega. The Voortrekkers were attacking the Ndebele; a move of retaliation after Mzilikazi had his Ndebele warriors attacked the Voortrekkers the previous October. Mzilikazi and his warriors fled and eventually settled on the other side of the Limpopo River, in the eastern part of today’s Zimbabwe (they live there till this day).
In a panic Lindley tried to stop the mayhem, but the bloodlust of the battle meshed everything into a hazy blur. His only concern was to keep his wife safe till the battle ceased. Left lying outside his hut, Lindley was unable to go with the Ndebele, his passion to share the gospel and the last few years of his life had been a waste, or at least he must have thought.
“What are you doing here?” A Voortrekker astride a horse asked the startled Lindley. “I am a missionary sir, and I have been serving these people for years now.” he replied. After a brief pause the young man replied, “Ja, tough hey. Well get up, you better come with us.” Lindley got his few possessions together. After speaking some more with the Voortrekker party he discovered that they would be passing the Natal coast. His plan was to go with them and join up with some fellow missionaries from the American Board who were seeking to start a work among the Zulu in that area.
Days and nights he spent travelling with the Boers were not wasted. The Voortrekkers came to admire him both as a man of God and as a crack shot with a rifle, a skill he developed in his youth in the woods of Ohio.
Finally he arrived in Natal. Things were looking up. To his great joy the Boers seemed to be getting on with the Zulus; and he prayed that peace would allow him to begin a real ministry among them. Lindley could hardly believe it, he ran to tell his wife, “you wont believe this dear, but the Zulu king Dingaan has invited the Boers to a farewell before the continue their journey north to the land that he has agreed they could settle in”, with a twinkle in his eyes he looked joyfully at his missionary bride, full of hope that this will mean the Zulu’s would be open to his ministry as well. The prospect seemed wonderful, Dingaan had agreed to give the Boers some land in Natal to settle in, and now he was extending hospitality to them. Little did he know that the farewell was just a guise…
That night, Dingaan and his Zulu warriors ambushed the Voortrekkers. Piet Retief and about 60 other Voortrekkers were killed, other attacks followed and the entire region was plunged into violent conflict. The American Board advised all its Natal missionaries to leave the colony. Lindley was on the move again, this time on the way to the Eastern province of the Cape Colony
In 1838 the power of Dingaan was broken at the Battle of Blood River. After returning to the short-lived Republic of Natalia, Lindley was invited by its House of Assembly to minister to the Boers. Based in Pietermaritzburg, for the next seven years he ministered to the largest parish any man ever had in South Africa. In his own words, ‘I had for my parish all the country embraced in the district of Natal, the Free State and the Transvaal Republic. I was sole minister for all the extended territory I have named and had the care of, I suppose, not less than 20 000 souls.[i]’
During the seven years of Lindley’s ministry to the Voortrekkers, five congregations were established. Thus he played a key role in the foundation of the Dutch Reformed Church in Natal, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.
In 1847 Lindley resigned his post as minister to the Boers and returned to the American Board mission and the work they were doing among the Zulus. At a time when many missionaries were inclined to take an overly strict view of many African customs and required converts to make a complete break with them in order to be received into the church, Lindley took a remarkably independent point of view. He vigorously defended those customs that in his view had social value and were not forbidden by God’s word. Such a custom was lobola, whereby a man would pay a certain number of cattle to his bride’s father as part of the marriage contract. At a time when the custom was much spoken against by many other missionaries, Lindley gave it as his opinion,
“The uku-lobola, as it exists among the tribes of South East Africa, has been, on the whole, a great blessing to the people. If today one word from my mouth would instantly annihilate the custom, I would not speak that word.[ii]”
For twenty-six years Lindley was associated with the mission at Inanda before he finally returned to the USA at the venerable age of 73. Lindley had the gift of being able to develop a deep understanding of and friendship with the people he served. At a time when relations between Boers, British and Zulu were marked by conflict, bloodshed and animosity, Lindley succeeded in gaining the respect and love of all three. To the Boers he became a Boer and to the Zulus a Zulu, understanding their peculiar customs and traditions with sympathy and insight. The little town of Lindley in the Free State was named after him.In these sentiments he was entirely supported by his wife, who claimed “that their marriage custom of paying cattle is to the Zulu girls the greatest protection they have against the immorality of the nation, while it insures to the women good treatment and care which they would not otherwise receive. When a woman is married, the cattle are a surety in the father’s hands of her good treatment … if the people are black they have many better laws and customs than ours, white and civilized as we are …[iii]”
[i] Davies, H. Great South African Christians (Cape Town, Oxford, 1951), p.46. [ii] Davies, H. & Shepherd, R.H. South African Missions 1800-1950 (Edinburgh, Thomas Nelson, 1954), p.180. [iii] Ibid., p.181.
Roy, Kevin . Zion City RSA. The Story of the Church in South Africa. (Cape Town, South African Baptist Historical Society 2000) Pg 79; Hofmeyr, J. & Pillay, G. J., 1994. A History of Christianity in South Africa. Pretoria: HAUM Tertiary
This is the sixth in a series of posts I am doing on pivotal moments for the Gospel in South African history. If you would like to read the first in this series click here
It was the late 1830’s, and 15 000 people were packing up their homes and lives. The Cape Colonies eastern frontier was not what they hoped it would be, and now they would go and form a country of their own in the interior of the unknown parts Southern Africa. These people, called Dutch by the English, but self named as Afrikaners; spoke a dialect that had significantly diverged itself from its Dutch Origins called Afrikaans. These people, also known as Boers (farmers) would later become known as the Voortrekkers (those who travelled ahead), had begun an epic migration, known as the Great Trek.
What were they talking about as they backed their kitchens and loaded their wagons? Perhaps the disgruntled mumblings of people who were dissatisfied with British rule, struggling with the harsh conditions of the Eastern Cape. These farmers were in frequent conflict with the Xhosa, who would periodically raid them. The British Cape Government forbade the farmers from taking any military action of their own, and so they felt exposed and vulnerable. Another point of aggravation was recently passed laws; these laws tended towards an equalization of the white and coloured communities, and this did not sit well with the majority of farmers[i]. These new laws were resented and seen as disturbing the long established pattern of relationship between master and servants, something they thought was vital to the ordering of a peaceful society. Another issue that created problems was the 1834 emancipation of the slaves. The Boers were not simply opposed to the emancipation, but were frustrated at not having received what they saw as adequate financial compensation for their freed slaves; thus they felt extremely economically violated by the British. These were some of the things that one would have heard being discussed as they made their journey.
On the 2nd February 1837 the following manifesto, in which the Boers gave their reasons for quitting the colony, was published in The Grahamstown Journal:
1 We despair of saving the colony from those evils which threaten it by the turbulent and dishonest conduct of vagrants, who are allowed to infest the country in every part; nor do we see any prospect of peace or happiness for our children in a country thus distracted by internal commotions.
2 We complain of the severe losses which we have been forced to sustain by the emancipation of our slaves, and the vexatious laws which have been enacted respecting them.
3 We complain of the continual system of plunder which we have ever endured from the Kafirs[ii] and other colored classes, and particularly by the last invasion of the colony, which has desolated the frontier districts, and ruined most of the inhabitants.
4 We complain of the unjustifiable odium which has been cast upon us by interested and dishonest persons, under the cloak of religion, whose testimony is believed in England to the exclusion of all evidence in our favour; and we can foresee as the result of this prejudice, nothing but the total ruin of the country.
5 We are resolved, wherever we go, that we will uphold the just principles of liberty, but whilst we will take care that no one shall be held in a state of slavery, it is our determination to maintain such regulations as may suppress crime and preserve proper relations between master and servant.
6 We solemnly declare that we quit this colony with a desire to lead a more quiet life than we have heretofore done. We will not molest any people, nor deprive them of the smallest property; but, if attacked, we shall consider ourselves fully justified in defending our persons and effects, to the utmost of our ability, against every enemy.
7 We make known, that when we shall have framed a code of laws for our future guidance, copies shall be forwarded to the colony for general information; but we take this opportunity of stating, that it is our firm resolve to make provision for the summary punishment of any traitors who may be found among us.
8 We purpose, in the course of our journey, and arriving at the country in which we shall permanently reside, to make known to the native tribes our intentions, and our desire to live in peace and friendly intercourse with them.
9 We quit this colony under the full assurance that the English government has nothing more to require of us, and will allow us to govern ourselves without its interference in future.
10 We are now quitting this fruitful land of our birth, in which we have suffered enormous losses and continual vexation, and are entering a wild and dangerous territory; but we go with a firm reliance on an all-seeing, just, and merciful Being, whom it will be our endeavour to fear and humbly obey.
By authority of the farmers who have quitted the Colony,
Sadly the ‘quiet life’ which the Voortrekkers had hoped for never came. The devastation caused by Shaka’s widespread Zulu military campaign had left large tracts of land uninhabited; this created the impression that there was land that could be inhabited peacefully. Thus when setting off for the interior, the Boers did not anticipate the hardships, conflicts and losses they would endure.
The story of the Voortrekkers, the various routes taken by different leaders, the bloody clashes with Dingaan and Mzilikazi, their internal quarrels, is one full of high drama and fascination. But our concern is primarily with the story of the church, and so we shall focus on the religious developments associated with the Great Trek and its aftermath.
The Dutch Reformed Church was not initially sympathetic to the emigration. In a meeting of a synod in October 1837, a pastoral letter was approved by the great majority of the delegates in which the Trek was sharply criticized as an unlawful act of resistance against the British authorities. The synod also expressed its concern that a religious deterioration would take place among the Trekkers in the wild interior of the country. To the disappointment of the Trekkers, no ordained minister of the church accompanied them. But they were able to procure the services of a former LMS missionary, Erasmus Smit, who had married a sister of one of the Trek leaders, Gert Maritz.
Smit’s origins with the LMS did not endear him to many of the Trekkers who regarded the ‘meddling and interfering missionaries’ as one of the principal causes of their departure from the Cape colony. Smit did not enjoy good health and was allegedly addicted to liquor. Moreover, many of the Trekkers felt that Smit had never been properly ordained. For these reasons he was never a popular minister and was eventually retired in 1840.
Ironically the man to replace him was another missionary, the American Daniel Lindley. Unlike Smit, Lindley was loved by the Voortrekkers and made a deep impact on the development of Christianity among the Afrikaners and the Zulus.
[i] Roy, Kevin . Zion City RSA. The Story of the Church in South Africa. (Cape Town, South African Baptist Historical Society 2000) Pg 79; Hofmeyr, J. & Pillay, G. J., 1994. A History of Christianity in South Africa. Pretoria: HAUM Tertiary page 94,
[ii] This word appears in the historical document and for that reason only it has been kept in this blog post as I quote that document.
[iii] 7Hofmeyr, J.W., Millard, J.A. & Froneman, C.J.J. History of the Church inSouth Africa: a Document and Source Book (Pretoria, UNISA, 1991), p.115.
This is the fifth in a series of posts I am doing on pivotal moments for the Gospel in South African history. If you would like to read the first in this series click here.
Robert Moffat sat in the large wooden room, the directors of the London Missionary Society looking warmly at him. With a deep Scottish accent he began to recount his Christian home, where he and his six brothers and sister grew up hearing their mother read the exiting adventures of the Moravian missionaries in Greenland and the East Indies. He told of how he was apprenticed to be a gardener at 14, but pursued his studies in evening school. Then in 1815 at the age of 21, after meeting some men from the Wesleyan Methodist society he came to faith in Jesus Christ. “I would like to be considered as a candidate for the mission field.” He explained. The directors agreed and after a brief time of theological training Moffat found himself on a ship sailing to Cape Town, not to see his family again for some 23 years. The Mission Society had intended to send him to a position beyond the frontiers of the Cape Colony; but permission for this was refused by the governor, Lord Charles Somerset. Somerset didn’t allow colonists to proceed beyond the border and he was not about to make an exception for a missionary.
Moffat spend a few months in Stellenbosch with a farmer. Here he grasped a working knowledge of Dutch. Finally just when he couldn’t wait any longer, permission was granted and Moffat set off with a companion for Afrikaner’s Kraal in Namaqualand, an area ruled by a former brigand, Jager Afrikaner, who had recently come under the influence of the gospel. But this journey was not without incident.
One evening on their journey to Afrikaner’s Kraal they stopped to rest at the farm of a wealthy Dutch patriarch. They were treated warmly and given a generous meal. After supper the host gently looked to his children and had them remove the plates, “It is time for family prayers, I do hope you will join us for them.” Naturally Moffat agreed, what more could a missionary want than to spend time in prayer. As they readied to pray, Moffat looked around and innocently asked “But where are the servants?”. “Servants! What do you mean?” countered the patriarch. “I mean the Hottentots” replied Moffat,” of whom I see so many on your farm”. Nostrils beginning to flare, in a conversation that escalated all too quickly, the host retorted, “Hottentots! Do you mean that then? Let me go to the mountains and call the baboons, if you want a congregation of that sort. Or stop, I have it: my sons, call the dogs that lie in front of the door. They will do.” Moffat dropped any attempt that would then have led to a violent ending. After singing a psalm and praying, Moffat read the lesson of the Syrophoenician women who asked Jesus to cure her daughter and chose as his text the words, ‘Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.’ His host interrupted quietly this time,” Will Mynheer sit down and wait a little? He shall have the Hottentots.” The diverse throng trooped in, many of whom had never heard a preacher before nor seen the inside of their master’s house. When the service was over, the farmer turned to his guest and said, “My friend, you took a hard hammer and you have broken a hard head.”[i]
After spending about a year at Afrikaner’s Kraal, Moffat was asked by the LMS to assume control of its work among the Tswana people, and so he came to establish the mission station at Kuruman which became the headquarters of all his activities for the next forty-five years. Moffat was able to put his gardening experience to good use. He built a waterway nearly 5km long to bring water to the mission station. Kuruman became famous for its beautiful and fruitful gardens. One day as Moffat began work on the gardens, he noticed a group of Tswana people laughing at him. They thought it was crazy for Moffat to carry around large bags of cattle manure and then dump it on his garden. To them this was a rather stinky and foolish way of ‘charming’ the ground. They simply chewed a certain root and spat on the leaves of their plants to help them grow, but all this work with dung was rather a silly bit of entertainment to them. But not long after this, they were convinced; they saw how the manured gardens didn’t get old but were revived by the effects of the natural compost. From that time on it was very normal to see people carrying loads of manure on the back of their oxen. One individual remarked to Moffat, “I cannot persuade myself that we were once so stupid as not to believe what we saw with our eyes.”[ii]
Mary Moffatt in later years.
All this time, in his preaching and working, Moffat’s heart lay with a certain Mary Smith in England. He had met her while working as a gardener for her parents, and the two had been in love since. At first her parents had refused to let her travel to Africa to marry Moffat but at last they relented, and in 1819 the couple were married in Cape Town.
In 1822 Moffat unexpectedly come across a party of San digging a grave for a woman. They were planning on burying her orphaned children along with her, that they might be cared for by their mother in the shades of the other world. Moffat begged to adopt them, and the San agreed. Rejoicing in the names Dicky and Ann, they became a part of the Moffat household, joining Moffat’s biological children[iii].
Despite some progress, spiritually the work at Kuruman was disappointing. There was no perceptible response to the message preached by Moffat. He persevered in learning the Tswana language and by 1825 was able to send the manuscript of a Tswana spelling book to Cape Town to be printed. A couple of years before that, an incident occurred which greatly enhanced the status of Moffat in the eyes of the Tlhaping people among whom he lived. The rise of the Zulu kingdom of Shaka led to the massive disruption of societies in a large part of southern, central and eastern Africa. One of Shaka’s generals, Mzilikazi, clashed with him and then fled with a large following, cutting a swath of destruction extending from present-day KwaZulu-Natal into the interior and up to present-day Zimbabwe where he finally settled. As one tribe was dislodged from its territories by invading impis (warriors), it would in turn invade the territory of neighbouring tribes. One such tribe was the Tlokwa, ruled by a woman called MaNthatisi. When Moffat heard that the Tlokwa warriors were planning to attack the Tlhaping, whom he judged would be no match for the invading army, he hastened to Griquatown and persuaded the Griqua chief, Waterboer, to come to their assistance. With a hundred mounted men armed with rifles, Waterboer was able to repel the much larger Tlokwa force and thus save the Tlhaping from possible extinction. The missionaries were now held in greater esteem among the people. Nevertheless, it took another six years before the hoped-for spiritual breakthrough finally took place in 1829, shortly after the people began to give greater attention to the preaching of the gospel.
Quiet apart from doing anything out of the ordinary, and as a mere result of the preaching of the gospel a wave of strong emotion broke over the inhabitants on one particular day. The inhabitants of Kuruman crowded the place of worship long before the service was timed to begin. Men, women and children were bathed in tears. Some would listen with intense earnestness to the tones of the preacher’s voice, and then suddenly fall down in panic and fear of God’s judgement, or lay down prostrate in mourning and repentance. At all hours of the day the missionaries would be beset in their homes by numbers of anxious seekers after salvation. Those who had found peace would gather for prayer and praise, and at early morning and late evening the voice of rejoicing and salvation was heard in the homes of believers[iv]. From this time on, the work progressed steadily. A large church building was erected which could seat 500. It was here that the baptism of the first six converts, followed by the first Lord’s Supper was to be celebrated at Kuruman. After thirteen years a church had been established among the Tswana people in which the sacraments could be observed.
Towards the end of 1829 Moffat made the first of his visits to Mzilikazi who, after his flight from Shaka in Natal, had established his Ndebele people as the dominant power in the highveld of the northern Drakensberg. From his base in the Magaliesberg, Mzilikazi sent two of his indunas (counselors) to visit Moffat. He returned with them to meet the great king whose very name struck feelings of awe or terror in the hearts of thousands. On his way to Mzilikazi, Moffat could not help but note the many evidences of warfare that had ravaged the entire region in recent years – the ruins of many villages and piles of bleaching bones. He was well received by Mzilikazi who, laying his hand on his shoulder, said, “My heart is all white as milk: I am still wondering at the love of a stranger who never saw me. You have fed me, you have protected me, you have carried me in your arms. I live today by you, a stranger.” Moffat replied, “But when did I do all that for you?” Pointing to the indunas who had visited Kuruman, the chief answered, “These are great men. Umbate is my right hand. You fed them and clothed them, and when they were to be slain, you were their shield. You did it unto Mzilikazi, the son of Machobane.[v]” One cannot but be reminded of the words of a greater king recorded in Matthew 25, ‘Whatever you did for these … you did for me.’ Moffat developed a friendship with Mzilikazi that was to last over thirty years. Four times the missionary visited the chief. On the last occasion the Ndebele king was residing in Bulawayo (in present-day Zimbabwe), his headquarters north of the Limpopo to where he had withdrawn after being defeated by the Voortrekkers in 1837. Moffat was not, however, to have the satisfaction of seeing his friend accept the Christian faith. By the 1850s Moffat had translated the entire Bible into Tswana and spent some time in England to see it through the press. It was during this time that David Livingstone heard him speak and felt inspired to come to Africa. In the 1860s Moffat and his wife suffered a series of blows: the deaths of their son, their daughter and a son-in-law; and a personal attack on Moffat that nearly killed him. In 1870, he and his wife finally left Kuruman to spend their remaining years in England. He was greatly honoured in the land of his birth. Twice he was summoned to meet Queen Victoria; twice he breakfasted with William Gladstone, renowned statesman and several times Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Moffat died in Kent in 1883.
This is the fourth in a series of posts I am doing on pivotal moments for the Gospel in South African history. If you would like to read the first in this series click here
Ntsikana the first Xhosa convert was drawing people from far and wide to hear his preaching. His popularity did not escape the attention of the Xhosa chief, Ngqika who sent one of his foremost counsellors and warriors, Soga, to listen to Ntsikana’s preaching. Soga was deeply impressed and for the rest of his life was extremely sympathetic to the gospel. This impression can be seen in the lives of his children who were mostly converted to Christianity. The chief’s seventh child was Tiyo. The chief wife Nosuthtu who gave birth to Tiyo was a devout believer and she encouraged all of her children to study.
Young Tiyo attended a school run by William Chalmers, a United Presbyterian missionary. From there he went on to study at Lovedale where he excelled. There Tiyo discovered the Westminster Catechism and out of love for it, memorised it by heart; this drew the attention of his Scottish teachers.
In 1846 the War of the Ax brought enough chaos to force the Lovedale school to close down. Govan the principle of the school was planning on returning to Scotland, but before he left he offered Tiyo the chance of a lifetime. “Come with me to Scotland, further your education; I will see to it all. You will become a powerful instrument in the hands of the living God.”Needless to say Tiyo went to Scotland where he was baptized in 1848.
Towards the end of 1848, returned to South Africa. It had been two years since he left his native land. He began work as an interpreter and evangelistic teacher. This stint was interrupted by the outbreak of war once again. In 1850 the border war disrupted the mission. During this time Tiyo had to make a huge decision; he was offered a well-paying job as a court interpreter in Port Elizabeth, however an opportunity also arose for him to return to Scotland to study Theology in preparation for ministry. Tiyo chose to go to Scotland. Soon he found himself immersed in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Philosophy, History and Theology. He successfully completed his studies and became the first black South African to be ordained to the ministry in 1856.
Tiyo and Janet
This was not the only thing to happen to Tiyo in Scotland; by God’s providence he fell in love and married a Scottish girl named Janet Burnside in 1857. Together they returned to South Africa. But it was not the South Africa Tiyo remembered. The cattle killing tragedy had taken its toll on the Eastern province; amidst the sad circumstances he began his work as an evangelist and minister among his own people in Mgwali.
Tiyo hoped to witness widespread turning to Christ but he was disappointed. Could it have been his Scottish wife, and the time he spent in Scotland? Had these factors somehow alienated him from his people who were still very traditional? Tiyo struggled with bad health which eventually led to his death at the young age of 47.
His ministry did however show fruit. The famous Scottish missionary to India, Alexander Duff, after visiting Tiyo’s work said that the standard of the spiritual work there was of the highest he had witnessed in South Africa.
Soga’s literary output was prodigious. A prolific hymn writer, about thirty of his hymns found their way into hymn books. He also assisted in the revision of the Xhosa Bible. His translation of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s
Progress into Xhosa, uHambo lomhambi, became the most widely read religious book in that language after the Bible, and it is often reprinted to this day.
Was Tiyo Soga a ‘black Scotsman’ as some alleged, or the father of Black Nationalism, as others have claimed? On the one hand, he was certainly deeply committed to the Reformed faith of his Presbyterian church and critical of many tribal customs. His marriage to a Scot and consequent adoption of many European cultural forms distanced him to some extent from the Xhosa culture of his birth. On the other hand, he was proud of being a Xhosa and rejected feelings of racial superiority or inferiority in any form. His advice to his children was:
You will ever cherish the memory of your mother as that of an upright, conscientious, thrifty, Christian Scotch woman. You will ever be thankful for your connection by this tie to the white race. But if you wish to gain credit for yourselves – if you do not wish to feel the taunt of men, which you sometimes may well feel – take your place in the world as coloured, not as white men; as blacks, not as Englishmen. … For your own sakes never appear ashamed that your father was a black, and that you inherited some African blood. It is every whit as good and as pure as that which flows in the veins of my fairer brethren[i].
Many years after the death of Tiyo Soga, at the historic founding of the South African Native National Congress – the forerunner of the African National Congress (ANC) – in Bloemfontein in 1912, the conference opened with the delegates and observers singing together a moving rendition of Tiyo Soga’s hymn Lizalis’idinga lakho (Fulfil Thy promise). Thus it was that the life and work of this pioneer African missionary and minister was seen as a symbol of hope for all African people for justice and freedom in the land of their birth.
This is the third in a series of posts Tyrell has been doing on pivotal moments for the Gospel in South African history. If you would like to read the first in this series click here.
It was the year 1820 when ships from Britain came bearing a squashed group of 4000 hopeful English to the shores of Cape Town. A land of hope lay ahead of these families, who had been selected out of a group of some 90 000- all of whom fleeing the rising unemployment facing Britain after the Napoleonic wars.
On one of the ships was a young Methodist minister who longed not to escape England, but to preach the gospel. Little did he know how powerful an impact he would have in history. The Cape was very different from the place of his birth in Glasgow, but William Shaw didn’t mind that. Ever since his conversion when he was 17 he knew he wanted to proclaim the gospel and minister to people’s spiritual needs. The group of people he travelled with to Africa would need his ministry.
Eastern Frontier of the Cape of Good Hope
The first few months on the eastern border of the Cape Colony, which had been allocated for these settlers brought bitter disillusionment, that stood in stark contrast to their high hopes of coming to South Africa. The land given them by the British government of the Cape was unsuitable for agriculture, and their living conditions were appalling. The unnamed man who escorted the groups to their territory would always end his tour of their new land by saying, “Gentlemen, when you go out to plough never leave your guns behind.” with that he would get on his horse and be off. This didn’t make sense to these settlers, but what they didn’t know was that the British government had decided to bring them here, not to grow them in prosperity, but to use them as a buffer zone between the hostile and aggravated Xhosa tribes and the Cape Colony. Few managed to stay after the first few months in the area, and for those that did it was a difficult time. Everywhere you looked all you could see were fragile and grotesque looking huts and cottages. These lodgings were built in a style called ‘wattle and daub’. Mats and rugs served as doors, and a white piece of calico served to cover the windows. Some decided to try to dig huge excavations and put a slight covering over them. Few of these early attempts and building a shelter were successful[i]
Shaw was the only chaplain among this group of disillusioned and dejected people. He spent his first three years in South Africa ministering to them and establishing a church. Shaw saw to it that chapels were built and that local preachers and class leaders were appointed. Shaw also began spending time assisting other denominations. The Anglicans held services in the chapels he and the Methodists built, and many Dutch Reformed people brought their children to him to be baptized. But Shaw was not happy just to minister to his European counterparts; his vision was filled with the regions beyond, and the tribes that knew not Jesus. Shaw purposed in his heart to reach them.
Shaw spoke with some of his friends, “From the time when I received my appointment to Southern Africa, as Chaplain to the British settlers, my mind has been filled with the idea that Divine Providence designed. I feel I have accomplished some preparatory work among the settlers, but I need to move beyond the colonial boundaries, and establish a Wesleyan Mission among the unbelieving blacks. Friends I cannot be disobedient to the heavenly call! I wont abandon the work here with the settlers, but my eye is constantly fixed on the black areas, that is the great field for future Missions![ii]” His friends met this with excitement and a bit of fear. Shaw then showed them a letter he had written to the Weslyan Missionary Comittee in 1820, a few months after his arrival, it read, “I hope the Committee will never forget that, with the exception of Latakoo, which is far in the interior, there is not a single Missionary Station between the place of my residence and the northern extremity of the Red Sea; nor any people professedly Christian, with the exception of those of Abyssinia. Here, then is a wide field – the whole eastern coast of the continent of Africa! If ever the words of the Saviour were applicable to any part of the world at any time, surely they apply to Eastern Africa at the present time: The harvest is great, but the labourers are few[iii].(Latakoo was Robert Moffat’s mission station).
Shaw had a dream of establishing mission stations along the coast from the Eastern Province to Natal. By the time he had completed his ministry in South Africa, the following mission stations were built:
Mount Coke (1825)
Others were also established. As could be expected in the troubled circumstances of the Eastern Cape, the work did not always progress smoothly. When one of the border wars broke out in 1834 many of the stations were burnt down and the missionaries dispersed. But destruction was followed by patient rebuilding, and the gospel became increasingly rooted in the hearts of a growing number of Xhosa people.
Things were not all sunshine and rainbows, but God was faithful to Shaw. One such time was a season of severe drought that struck South Africa. As a result of this drought a debate broke out between Shaw and Gqindiva, the official rainmaker. In the presence of the Chief Pato with his counsellors and subjects the air was tense as Shaw and Gqindiva argued. “You are the reason the rain is not coming!” shouted Gqindiva. He continued “I have slaughtered cattle, and offered to the spirits; I have often burned herbs. When the clouds come up from the sea, and spread all over the land, and the rain is ready to fall, that thing which you have brought into the country and set up on a pole on the hill at Etweca [Wesleyville] goes tinkle-tinkle-tinkle; and immediately the clouds begin to scatter, they disappear, and no rain can fall”. The crowd began to mumble and murmur, the people being divided. Shaw felt that he knew what he needed to do; he called for a day of prayer and fasting for rain. The fast was heartily observed, and a number of services were attended by many of the people, including the principle chiefs. Many fervent prayers were offered. Then just as the people were beginning to assemble for the evening service (the last for the day) drops of rain began to fall slowly, and without any great promise of a copious flood. But, while the service was proceeding, the clouds were rolling up from the direction of the great Southern Ocean; and, at the time of its close, the rain was falling in heavy showers. It increased during the night, and became continuous, coming down heavily hour after hour. All the smaller streams were speedily overflowing; and on the third day some of the people came to the Missionary and said, “The rivers are overflowing their banks, and washing away some of the gardens: would it not now be well to thank God, and tell Him that it is enough, and pray that He may now withhold His hand?” Everyone acknowledged that this was ‘God’s Rain.’ Gqindiva and his profession fell into disrepute in all that neighbourhood; and, for many years after, the Chiefs and counsellors or the Amagonakwaybie never made another application to a rainmaker[iv].
In 1834 there was born in Butterworth (one of Shaw’s mission stations) an African boy, Charles Pamla, who was destined to become a powerful instrument for the reviving and expansion of the church in the 1860’s. This will be an example of the fruit born out of Shaw’s ministry. More will be told about him in a later post.
To grasp an idea of how God used William Shaw in South Africa, consider the following: Starting from scratch, after forty years’ labour, in 1860, there were 36 Methodist missionaries, 96 school teachers and catechists, about 5 000 church members, 80 Sunday schools and 48 day schools, 74 chapels and 183 preaching stations.
[i] Hinchliff, P. The Church in South Africa (London, SPCK, 1968), p.31. [ii]The Story of my Mission among the Native Tribes of South-Eastern Africa [iii] 29 Quoted in Davies, H. & Shepherd, R.H. South African Missions 1800-1950 (Edinburgh, Thomas Nelson, 1954), p.109. [iv] William Shaw. The Story of my Mission among the Native Tribes of South- Eastern Africa. Quoted in Davies, H. & Shepherd, R.H. South African
Roy, Kevin . Zion City RSA. The Story of the Church in South Africa. (Cape Town, South African Baptist Historical Society 2000) pg 51-55.
This is the second in a series of posts on pivotal moments for the Gospel in South African history. If you would like to read the first in this series click here
The Two London Society Missionaries, Van der Kemp and his friend Edmond arrived to a very different Cape Town in 1799. A British flag now waved over the Dutch Port; British forces having arrived to secure Cape Town in the wake of the waning Dutch Empire during the Napoleonic wars.
On the 13th of June, Van der Kemp and Edmond crossed the Gamka river, which though it was very broad was also fortunately very dry. They sought refuge from the cold winter air at Samuel de Beer’s house, who had just buried his child that same day, yet rejoiced that God was answering his prayers to bring the gospel to indigenous people in South Africa. Van der Kemp and Samuel spoke for hours. Van der Kemp enthusiastically sharing with him the copy of Carey’s “the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens”, the very document that helped inspire the start of the London Missionary Society. Van der Kemp shared his desire to bring the gospel to the Xhosa people dwelling on the eastern border of the Cape colony, a people totally unreached by the gospel. Sadly not everyone was as enthusiastic as de Beer. Many discouraged Van der Kemp and Edmond from continuing on their mission. There was great hostility between the Xhosa and the colonial authorities and trekboers (Dutch/Afrikaans Farmers), and the unpredictable condition of the border area made it a dangerous place to be. Eventually Edmond returned to Cape Town from where he set out to India. But Van der Kemp was determined to preach the gospel to the Xhosa. Towards the end of 1799 he made contact with a Xhosa chief by the name of Ngqika, who allowed him to tentatively work among his people.
Van der Kemp lived among the Xhosa for a year, pouring out his life to them, but had no real opportunities to preach the gospel. As the year 1800 grew to a close renewed outbreaks of hostility broke out. Van der Kemp was discouraged, he had sailed half-way around the world and given so much of himself but wasn’t able to make meaningful contact with the Xhosa; he made his plans to withdraw to Graaff-Reinet.
Before he would leave Van der Kemp had an opportunity to preach to a small group of boys between the ages of 15-19. These young boys sat wrapped in their karosses (a cloak made of animal hide with the hair left on) listening at a distance to Van der Kemp, as he explained the gospel, “There was God in heaven; He created all things, The sun, the moon, the stars. There was one, Sifuba-sibenzi, (The Broad-breasted one), He is the leader of men; Was heralded by a Star; His feet were wounded for us, His hands were pierced for us, His blood was shed for us.[i]” announced Van der Kemp. One of the boys seemed especially to drink in the words of this strange white man, but neither he nor any of those around would hear the gospel from a missionary for another 15 years.
The name of the boy was Ntsikana. As he grew he became a renowned singer, dancer and orator as well as a hereditary councillor to the chief Ngqika[ii]. Ntsikana married two young women, Nontsonta and Nomanto and settled between the Kat River district and the Peddie district in 1811[iii], later he and his family moved to Gqore in the Kate River district. Every now and then the words from that strange white man would come to his mind, work on his heart, and take shape in his thoughts.
In 1815, some 15 years since Van der Kemp preached, Ntsikana sat early in the misty morning preparing to inspect his cattle. As he got up and stood in the kraal, a ray of light seemed to fall on the side of Hulushe, his most prized ox, in a peculiar way; his stood there, his gaze transfixed. A boy who was nearby was watching this take place, but didn’t know what held Ntsikana’s attention[iv] What did he see? Did the light shine in a way that took the shape of a cross? Or perhaps form something else that reminded him of what he had heard 15 years ago?
For all appearances everything continued as normal that day. In the afternoon Ntsikana went to a homestead where there was going to be a dance. He was going to give one if his usual virtuoso performances. As he got up and started to move to the beat of the drum a violent gale arose, he tried to dance though it, thinking it would only last for a few seconds, but it persisted. Eventually it was so bad that the dancers had to stop. Ntsikana returned to his seat. The gale died down, and for a second time he got up to dance, but as he began, the gale arose again it all its fury. This happened a third time as well. The onlookers whispered among themselves that perhaps Ntiskana was bewitched; why did the wind become so strong every time he tried to dance[v]?
What was happening in Ntiskana’s heart, we don’t know. He needed some time to think, so he sent his wives home ahead of him and began a slow walk behind them. As he neared home, he came to a small river. People saw him throw aside his blanket and jump into the water, where he began to wash off the red orchre paint from his body[vi]. This was the beginning of his disassociation from his past religious identity and traditions as a Xhosa
From the very next day, Ntsikana started singing of his new found faith, in keeping with his status as a poet and praise singer, and following also the African custom of celebrating special events in song and dancing. He went on a walk through his village, the following words falling beautifully upon the ears of his countrymen:
He is the Great God of the heaven.
Thou art the only True shield.
Thou art the only True fortress.
Thou art the only True bush (hiding place).
Thou art the only One who dwells in the highest.
He is the Creator of life.
He is the Creator of the heaven.
He is the Creator of the stars.
A star fell from heaven and brought us the message.
When asked about his strange behaviour he replied, “The thing that has entered within me directs that all should pray; no one understands it in this country as yet, except perhaps Ngcongolo.[ix] ”
Ntsikana began preaching earnestly, and crowds came to hear him. The seed of God’s word began taking root and eyes were being opened to the simple truth of the gospel, a truth which Ntsikana heard some 15 years ago, but flowed off his tongue as if he had been well acquainted with it daily. The Gaika people began to regularly attend meeting where he would preach, families began praying together in the private stillness of their homes. Ntsikana went around preaching about the greatness of God and the coming of Jesus to bring forgiveness of sins through his blood.
In 1816, a London Missionary Society missionary named Williams, arrived in the land of the Xhosa’s and gained the trust of the chief Ngqika. He built a mission station and soon more than a hundred Xhosa and KhoiKhoi were living at the station that he established. Ntsikana was overjoyed to hear that there was someone who could tell him more about his precious Saviour and Great God. Ntsikana would come and visit Williams for days at a time and ask many questions as he began to be discipled in the faith. Sadly in 1818, just two years after arriving Williams died. It took two years before the LMS was able to replace Williams, but during this period Ntsikana became the leader of the group of Christians at the station. He held services at his kraal every morning and evening, as well as on Sundays. Often large numbers came to hear him, including the chief, Ngqika; who seems to have been deeply impressed by the Gospel of God’s grace, but was prevented from converting by his senior counsellors. Another leading official who attended these meetings was old Soga, whose son Tiyo Soga would later become the first ordained black minister in Southern Africa[x].
In 1820 Ntsikana’s health took a turn for the worse. On his last day on this earth, Ntsikana mustered as much strength as possible. He got up and began to lead the morning service. Those watching him said that he looked like somebody who was about to pass over into eternity. Ntsikana began to speak “I trust that God’s will is always the best and I am content to be in that will. All I can say and leave you with is this: have faith in the grace and the mercy of God. Oh how I long for the rest of my Xhosa people to know this Jesus Christ my Saviour. And you who trust Him; I beg you, rather prefer the most horrible death than deny the One and only God.[xi]
Dr Roy writes, “Ntsikana remarkably indigenised the gospel in the context of Xhosa culture and society. It took a long time before the importance of the contextualisation of the gospel in a given culture was fully appreciated in missionary circles, and Ntsikana’s ministry remains an early example of how the gospel can be efficiently communicated within the language, idioms, thought forms, cultural traditions and social practices of a particular people.[xii]”
[i] These are the words of Mina, the grandmother of Isaac Williams Wauchope [ii]http://imibengo.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/ntsikana_editing-version_1_blog6.pdf page 5. Accessed 2014-01-07 [iii] IBID [iv] Bokwe, J. K., 1914 Ntiskana: The Story of an African Convert Lovedale Press: South Africa. Pg 7-13 [v] IBID pg 11 [vi] ROY, KEVIN . ZION CITY RSA. THE STORY OF THE CHURCH IN SOUTH AFRICA. (CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICAN BAPTIST HISTORICAL SOCIETY 2000) pg 41 [vii] This was to teach the blindness was not the result of sorcery, but of God’s design. [viii] A reference to the Sovereignty of God over the hostilities that plagued the Xhosa [ix] Bokwe, J. K., 1914 Ntiskana: The Story of an African Convert Lovedale Press: South Africa. Pg 12-13 [x] ROY, KEVIN . ZION CITY RSA. THE STORY OF THE CHURCH IN SOUTH AFRICA. (CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICAN BAPTIST HISTORICAL SOCIETY 2000) pg 42 [xi] 13Crafford, D. Trail-Blazers of the Gospel: Black Pioneers in the Missionary History of South Africa (Pretoria, Institute for Missiological Research, 1991), page 23 [xii] ROY, KEVIN . ZION CITY RSA. THE STORY OF THE CHURCH IN SOUTH AFRICA. (CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICAN BAPTIST HISTORICAL SOCIETY 2000) page 43