The newly arrived missionary was quickly initiated into the Society of the Heroes of Faith, whose heritage is thus described by its founder: "In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, ... in perils by the heathen, ... in perils in the wilderness, in perils of the sea, ... in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness." Such was, for twenty-five years, the constant experience of the ambassador of Christ who had so recently landed on the shores of New Guinea. While standing on the beach close to the water's edge, he heard a frightful noise. Turning round, he saw his house surrounded by a mob of painted, fierce-looking savages, armed with spears, clubs, and bows and arrows. The leader of the group, with a human jawbone as an armlet and carrying a heavy stone club, rushed at the white man as if to strike him.
"What do you want?" asked the missionary as he looked the man in the eye.
"We want tomahawks, knives, hoop-iron and beads; and if we don't get them, we will kill you, your wife, the teachers and their wives," was the reply.
"You may kill us," said the white man, "for we never carry arms. But we never give presents to persons who are threatening us. Remember that we are living among you as friends and have come only to do you good." After making many dire threats, the savages retired to the bush in a surly mood.
At dusk a friendly native crept through the bush to the house and said, "White man, you must get away tonight if you can. You have a chance to escape at midnight. Tomorrow morning, when the big star rises, they will murder all of you." "Are you sure?" he was asked. "Yes," he replied. "I have just come from their meeting at the chief's house and that is their decision."
A serious conference ensued. "What shall we do?" said the missionary. Shall we men stay and you women escape, as there is not enough room in the boat for us all?" His brave wife calmly replied, "We have come here to preach the gospel. We will stay, whether we live or die." And the wives of the teachers said, "Let us live together or die together." It was agreed that all would stay. They read the forty-sixth Psalm and knelt in prayer. As the missionary wrote later, "We resolved simply to trust Him who alone could care for us." Looking to the One under whose command he served, the missionary prayed: "Lord, when we were thirsty nigh unto death, we heard Thy sweet invitation, 'Come!' Having quenched our thirst upon 'the Water of Life,' we came at Thy bidding to this land to point these wretched people to the same cleansing, refreshing, healing Fountain. Protect us, that we may fulfill the mission on which Thou didst send us."
This missionary was James Chalmers and the text that flowed so easily and inevitably from his impassioned lips was Revelation 22:17.
The Spirit and the Bride say, Come.
And let him that heareth say, Come.
And let him that is athirst come.
And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
I. In the Text He Heard the Sweet Accents of the Great Invitation
James Chalmers was born in Scotland, the land which gave the world such romantic names as Robert Moffat, David Livingstone, John G. Paton, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. His father was a stone mason. It was while he and his wife were living at Ardrishaig, a fishing village on Loch Fyne, twenty-three miles south of Inverary, that James Chalmers was born, August 4, 1841 It was in this neighborhood that Chalmers spent the early years of his life. "My first school," he states, "was on the south side of the canal, and I can well remember my mother leading me to the master and giving him strict instructions not to spare the rod."
James lived near one of the great lochs of Scotland and he came to love the sea with a passionate love. He was supremely happy when in a boat, or floating on a log or plank, or paddling a raft. In such escapades he had many narrow escapes. He says: "Three times I was carried home supposed to be dead by drowning, and my father used to say, 'You will never die by drowning.'" The remark proved to be prophetic but in a very different sense from anything he then imagined.
James was a great favorite with the Loch Fyne fishermen and he spent much time with them. Being very eager to go out fishing by himself and not having a boat, he improvised one out of a herring box and sallied forth. He was speedily carried out to sea by the strong current and was rescued only with difficulty. He loved danger and did not hesitate on several occasions to plunge into the water, at the risk of his life, in order to rescue a playmate from drowning. These experiences were a foreshadowing of many an adventure in his later life, when he steered a boatful of New Guinea natives through the raging surf or when he navigated the little mission schooner through the tempestuous storms that swept over the great Gulf of Papua.
In November, 1859, two preachers came from the North of Ireland to Inverary to hold a series of evangelistic meetings. Chalmers, now eighteen years of age, was the leader of a group of wild, reckless fellows who determined to break up the meetings. Although it was raining hard, he found a large company of people gathered on the first night. He was much impressed by the enthusiasm and joyfulness with which the people sang. The evangelist who preached that night took as his text, Revelation 22:17 — "And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." The words glowed with fire and burned deep into James' soul. He went home that night overwhelmed with a conviction of sin and a vision of the loveliness of Christ. A few days later, Mr. Meikle, pastor of the United Presbyterian Church, came to the assistance of the groping boy. As he told of the wonders of divine love and explained the meaning of the words, "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin," young Chalmers came to the Fountain of Life. He says: "I felt that this salvation was for me. I felt that God was speaking to me in His Word and I believed unto salvation."
"Come!" said the sweet accents of the Great Invitation.
"I was thirsty and I came," said James Chalmers.
II. In the Text He Heard the Clarion Call to Repeat the Great Invitation
Revelation 22:17 not only says, "Come!" It also says, "Let him that heareth say, Come!" The redemptive purpose of Christ includes both salvation and service. He who hears the tender accents of the Great Invitation and comes to the Fountain, is to go forth to reiterate the divine entreaty.
Chalmers quickly entered into this sublime realization. Immediately upon his conversion he became the teacher of a Sunday school class and began to address public gatherings, both in the town and in the country. The word "Come!" — the Great Invitation of his great text was frequently heard upon his fervent lips.
He now remembered an incident which he had almost forgotten. Several years before, at an afternoon class of the Sunday school of the United Presbyterian Church, Mr. Meikle read a stirring letter from a missionary in the Fiji Islands. After reading the letter which vividly described the horrible practices of the savages, the minister said, "Is there a boy here this afternoon who will become a missionary and by-and-by take the gospel to cannibals?" Chalmers made no outward move but in his heart he had said, "God helping me, I will." This desire — now that he had been born again — came back to him with tremendous force, especially after conversations with Dr. Turner, a veteran missionary from Samoa. After spending eight months working with people in the worst slums of Glasgow, he studied for two years in Cheshunt College, then stayed one year at Highgate where he took special studies, including elementary medicine in Dr. Epps' Homeopathic Hospital.
On October 17, 1865, he was married to Miss Jane Hercus. Having received appointment under the London Missionary Society, they left England January 4, 1866, on board the John Williams (the second vessel bearing this name), bound for Rarotonga of the Hervey Islands in the South Seas. They went by way of Australia, where they stirred up the Christians to greater missionary zeal. On the way to Samoa an irretrievable disaster overtook them, on January 8, 1867. About midnight the John Williams was dashed against the coral reefs of Niue or Savage Islands and became a total wreck. With great difficulty the seventy persons on board got safely to land but nearly all their belongings were lost or ruined. Mr. and Mrs. Chalmers finally reached Samoa and sailed thence to Rarotonga in a ship owned by the notorious pirate captain, Bully Hayes, who, coming under the charm of Chalmers' personality, acted the part of a gentleman. Moreover, when Chalmers asked permission to hold religious services on board for the crew, Hayes not only agreed but wanted to make attendance compulsory!
On May 20, 1867, more than sixteen months after leaving England, James Chalmers and his wife arrived at Avarua, on Rarotonga. As he got off the ship a native said to him in pidgin English, "What fellow name belong you?" The reply was, "Chalmers" whereupon the native roared out, "Tamate" and the people on shore shouted back "Tamate." This was the nearest approach to the missionary's name the South Sea Islanders could make. It was in this way that Chalmers received the name by which he became known on the island of Rarotonga and later all along the shores of New Guinea.
Rarotonga then had a population of about seven thousand. When John Williams began missionary work on Rarotonga in 1822, the savages were immersed in licentiousness, infanticide, cannibalism and all the cruelties of constant warfare. By the time Chalmers arrived nearly all the people were professing Christians, though many of them exhibited little evidence of real conversion. He entered energetically into the work of the institution John Williams had founded for the purpose of training earnest natives to do missionary work. He did some translation work, started a Mission printing press, preached often and visited in the homes of the natives. Everywhere and by various methods, he directed sinners to the Lamb of God.
He labored with great success but he was not satisfied. There were relatively few in Rarotonga who were not Christians. Chalmers wanted to go to some place where Christ was unknown and to sound forth the Great Invitation of divine love to cannibals who would be hearing it for the first time. His heart was set on New Guinea and, after ten years in Rarotonga, he and his wife sailed away, reaching New Guinea in September, 1877. At that time New Guinea was an unknown land, full of terrors, savagery and the fine arts of human degradation. Rev. W. G. Lawes, who had opened up mission work in that land and had spent between three and four years of discouraging labor in the district of Port Moresby, wrote:
Cannibalism in all its hideousness flourishes on many parts of the coast. Every man is a thief and a liar. The thing of which the men are most proud is the tattooing marks, which mean that the man who is tattooed has shed human blood.
Now that Australia is commonly called a continent, New Guinea — or Papua, to use the native name — is the largest island in the world. Papua means "crisp-haired." New Guinea is 1,490 miles in length and, at the widest part, 430 miles in breadth. It is six times the size of England and has a range of mountains comparable to the Alps. There are many swamps and the climate is warm and moist. There is a great deal of fever along the coast line. The population of New Guinea is approximately 1,000,000. The many different languages used add to the difficulties of conducting missionary operations and caused Chalmers to say, "The tower of Babel must have been located in or near New Guinea." The real Papuan has a brown complexion and dark hair.
Chalmers found that, for fear of enemies and for purposes of protection, the people often built their homes in strange places. Some of the villages were built over swamps, where the streets were made with large trees, and the houses were raised on poles fifteen feet high. Many villages were situated over the ocean water some distance from land and the people went from one house to another by boat. Many of the people who lived inland, even when living on high hills or mountains, built their houses in the tops of trees that were reached by long, shaky ladders.
In each village there was a temple called a dubu. The dubu was usually several hundred feet long with an aisle down the center and many partitions or courts on either side. The courts were decorated with hundreds of skulls, skulls of men, women, children, crocodiles and wild boars. At the end of the dubu was a sacred place which contained hideous figures with bodies like fish and mouths like frogs. The dubu was used exclusively by the warriors for purposes of deliberation and for shameful abominations in connection with certain heathen rites.
Among these people war and murder were considered the finest of arts. Disease, sickness and death were accounted for in terms of magic utilized by some human enemy. They knew nothing of malaria, filth or contagion. They believed that all such things were caused by an enemy using sorcery and it was the duty of friends to see to it that punishment was meted out. They would follow the night firefly believing that its course of flight pointed in the direction of the enemy, or they would secure the assistance of a sorcerer who would pronounce a neighboring village guilty, whereupon they would stealthily attack the village, kill some of the people and bring back their heads. Many of the tribes were not only head hunters but also cannibals. "When we first landed," says Chalmers in one of his books, "the natives lived only to fight and the victory was celebrated by cannibal feast in which the bodies of their enemies were eaten." He was pained to discover that the natives of New Guinea showed very little skill in anything except in the manufacture of weapons with which to fight and kill. One of the most ingenious of these was known as "the man-catcher." This weapon consists of a long pole with a loop of rattan at the end. The remarkable feature of the weapon is the deadly spike inserted in the upper part of the long pole. The modus operandi is as follows: the loop is thrown over the unhappy wretch who is in full retreat and a vigorous pull from the brawny arm of the cruel captor jerks the victim upon the spike, which penetrates the body at the base of the brain, thus inflicting a death wound.
The people did not believe Chalmers when he told them that he had come simply to tell them of the love of the Saviour who graciously invites all men, however sinful or degraded, to come to Him for forgiveness and life everlasting. What they thought to be his real reason for coming is indicated in the following conversation which took place between the natives and Chalmers shortly after his arrival.
"What is the name of your country?"
"Why did you leave your country?"
"To teach you and to tell you of the great loving Spirit who loves us all."
"Have you coconuts in your country?"
"Have you yams?"
"Have you taro?"
"Have you sago?"
"Have you plenty of tomahawks and hoop-iron?"
"Yes, in great abundance."
"We understand, now, why you have come! You have nothing to eat in Beritani, but you have plenty of tomahawks and hoop-iron with which to buy food wherever you can find it."
Chalmers closes this account by saying,
It was useless to tell them we had plenty of food different from theirs, and that want of food did not send us away from Beritani. We had no coconuts, yams, taro, or sago, and who could live without these? Seeing us opening canned meat, they came to the conclusion that we too were cannibals who had human flesh cooked in our country and sent out to us in cans.
Such were the savages to whom Chalmers had come. And what was the message with which he expected to reach them and change their lives? The following incident will furnish the answer. Chalmers received a copy of a book written by Dr. Reynolds, who was the President of Cheshunt College when he was a student there. In his letter acknowledging the gift, Chalmers recalls some of the blessed experiences of college days and says: "I have been listening to you again and again as I have read your book and have been drinking in new life from the water of Life flowing through you."
It was the old, old text! The text that was used to his conversion! The text that led him to Rarotonga and New Guinea! The text whose imagery filled his mind! The text whose message flooded his heart! "Come and take the Water of Life freely."
III. In the Text He Found the Divine Answer to the Thirsting of the Soul
Rudyard Kipling has told of the old lama who, for many years, tramped unweariedly across the burning plains of India asking one everlasting question: "Where is the river of which I have heard? Where is the river whose waters can cleanse from sin and satisfy the thirst of the human soul." Looking at this old lama, the missionary-minded Christian sees, not one man, but hundreds of millions who are famishing for that Water which alone can quench the thirsting of their souls. Chalmers was convinced that the savages of New Guinea were just as thirsty as he had been and that the same Water — the Water of Life — that had so marvelously satisfied his soul at Inverary long ago, would likewise satisfy theirs.
As the site of their first home in New Guinea, Mr. and Mrs. Chalmers selected Suau (or Stacey Island), where they found themselves surrounded by swarms of cannibals wearing necklaces of human bones. While the mission house was being built, they accepted the rude hospitality of a chief who seemed friendly but who was more than once a party to a plot to kill them. They lived in a small room separated from the rest of the house by a partition two feet high and slept on a mattress on the floor. The many human skulls adorning the walls were mute reminders of past victories and of cannibal orgies. After some weeks they moved into their own house and the natives came in droves to visit them — partly out of curiosity and partly to steal everything they could lay their hands on. Some of the savages invited them to eat in their homes. "We received numerous invitations to feasts," says Chalmers, "some of which were cannibal feasts." One day when Mrs. Chalmers was recuperating from a severe illness, a native brought her a dish saying, "Here is something especially nice for you. It will make you strong and healthy." When she exercised caution and insisted on knowing what the dish contained, she learned that it was some cooked human flesh. Chalmers was offered a chief's daughter in marriage and was told that he would never be a great chief if he continued to have only one wife.
In the spring of 1878 Tamate sailed along the coast from east to west in the Ellengowan, visiting one hundred and five villages, of which ninety had never before seen a white man. He made extended journeys inland, either on foot or by canoe following the course of winding streams. Like John Coleridge Patteson and other pioneer missionaries, he always went unarmed, knowing that this would allay native suspicions and, at the same time, would leave him defenseless in case of attack.
The pattern of life was woven out of diverse experiences — some comical, some bizarre, some perilous. He would sit down on a stone, knowing that although no persons were in sight, hundreds of women, children and armed men were in the bush watching his every move. At length an old woman would venture near. Pointing at his boots she would say, "How is it that, although you have a white face, your feet are black and you have noses?" He would take off one of his boots and the woman rushed off screaming. After a while the natives mustered enough courage to approach. He would shut and open his umbrella, as shouts of amazement were heard on every side. When he struck a match the shouts were redoubled. He would show them his bare arms, chest and legs, and they wonderingly concluded that he was white all over. In such ways he accomplished his purpose of making friends with the savages.
He found the Papuans to be extremely fond of pigs, especially when roasted, but it astonished him to find the skulls of dead pigs hanging in their houses and to see a woman nursing her baby at one breast and a young pig at the other.
One afternoon he spread his chart on the floor of a native hut, right in front of the fire. As he busily traced his journey on the chart, he became aware that some large foul-smelling drops kept falling around him and on him.
Looking up, he saw a bulky bundle hanging from the roof. "What is that?" he inquired. The native explained that his grandmother had recently died and that he had hung her remains right above the fire, so they would be thoroughly smoked and dried. "It spoiled my dinner," says Tamate.
Facing death was a commonplace affair for the Greatheart of New Guinea. The hairbreadth escapes of his early years in Scotland were now reenacted on a much more stupendous and exciting scale. On one of his voyages in the little mission vessel, he came to a bay he had not seen before. As soon as his canoe touched the beach, he was surrounded by a crowd of fierce-looking savages, armed with clubs and spears. Followed by the mate of the vessel, he made his way along the beach, accompanied by the hostile Papuans, till he reached the house of the chief. The old dignitary sat on a raised platform in front of his house and completely ignored his visitors. When Tamate offered him some presents, he threw them back in his face. Taking their cue from the surly, menacing attitude of the chief, the dark mob began to threaten the white man. They now started back toward the beach. The crowd followed close on his heels, growling savagely and urging each other to strike the first blow. A man with a stone-headed club was walking immediately behind Tamate and making menacing gestures. Several times Tamate looked around to find the man's club raised to strike. "I must have that club," said he to himself, "or that club will have me." Wheeling suddenly around, he took out of his satchel a piece of hoop-iron and held it before the savage. The man's eyes glistened as if he was being offered a bar of gold. Just as he stretched out his hand to grasp the prize, Tamate seized the man's club, wrenched it out of his hand, and then proceeded to the boat without further molestation.
Before commencing his first long journey in the spring of 1878, Tamate urged his wife to accompany him. She, however, insisted on staying at the station believing that the work would suffer if she, too, were away and that the Rarotonga teachers might sicken and die. One of the noblest, most self-denying decisions in the annals of nineteenth century missions was that of Mrs. Chalmers. Her only helpers were three Rarotongan teachers and their wives. They all were at the mercy of the savages who coveted their possessions and would have considered their bodies as choice dainties for a cannibal feast. Her courage was heroic but the strain of those early months of constant peril and the anxiety occasioned by her husband's long absence on a very dangerous mission, weakened her constitution and made her more susceptible to the ravages of fever. In October, 1878, she went to Sydney, Australia, seeking an improvement of health, but in February, 1879, she finished her earthly course. In the hour of this devastating bereavement Tamate wrote in his diary, "Oh, to dwell at His cross and to abound in blessed sympathy with His great work! I want the heathen for Christ!"
Did Mrs. Chalmers labor and lay down her life in a fruitless quest? Was Tamate wasting his extraordinary abilities and magnificent manhood in hazardous enterprises from which would flow no commensurate results? Was he wrong in believing that the gospel is the divinely adequate answer to the uttermost need of every human soul and that even savage hearts yearn for the Water of Life?
He tells of a "rainmaker" named Kone who listened attentively to the gospel message and declared that his heart responded to its appeal. At the man's urgent request, Greatheart taught him this simple prayer, "Great Spirit of Love, give me light and save me for Jesus' sake." When he returned to this district some months later, he found that the rainmaker was dead. His heart was deeply moved as he learned the circumstances connected with his death. The rainmaker was in the company of two Naara men when the chief of the hostile Lolo tribe came stealthily to attack them with spears. The chief threw a spear which would have killed one of the Naara men, but the rainmaker stepped in front of him and received the spear in his own body, thus saving the other by his own death. And as he lay dying he was heard to pray again and again, "Great Spirit of Love, I come to Thee; save me for Jesus' sake."
"I want the heathen for Christ!" sobs the bereaved missionary.
"Great Spirit of Love, I come to Thee," prays the dying rainmaker.
"Let Him that is athirst come," urges the mighty text.
IV. In the Text He Found Free Access to Life Abundant
The great evangelical invitation of the Old Testament is, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come to the waters ... without money and without price." That is precisely the message of Greatheart's text: "Come . . . take the Water of Life freely — without a present, with nothing to offer in compensation." His soul was thrilled with the glad announcement that even those who are clad in the rags of savagery and cannibalism can partake of God's bounty freely.
"God's bounty," be it observed. The Water of Life is a Person — the One who affirmed, "The water that I give shall be a well of water springing up into everlasting life." The announcement that captured Chalmers' heart at Inverary and captivated his redeemed personality ever after was not: "Come and take one quaff from a half-filled flask." It was rather this: "Come — without money, without merit — and drink evermore of the unfailing spring, the gushing fountain, the artesian well of the Water of Life."
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one,
Stoop down, and drink and live!"
I came to Jesus and I drank
Of that life giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.
"And now I live in Him." What a magnificent, winsome, heroic life James Chalmers lived in His Lord. Under the spell of his Christian personality the pirate, Bully Hayes, was subdued, men of culture were enamored and savages tamed. Having spent several weeks on shipboard with Chalmers, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: "He took me fairly by storm for the most attractive, simple, brave and interesting man in the whole Pacific." And when someone asked Manurewa, the chief of Suau, what influenced him and his people to give up their cannibalistic practices, the old chief straightened up, clinched his hands and replied, "Tamate said, 'You must give up cannibalism' and we did."
One day Chalmers and a native teacher found themselves surrounded and followed by a crowd of armed, threatening Papuans. When about two miles from Mailu, where their boat was awaiting them, they came upon another group of people, all of whom — including even the women — were armed with spears and clubs. All that day two groups of savages had hounded their steps for the avowed purpose of killing them. It was agreed that their belongings would go to the natives of Aroma and their bodies to the people of Toulon to be eaten. Tamate's account of this episode is, at this point, particularly vivid and revealing. He says:
"The teacher heard them discussing as to the best place for the attack. I said to him, 'What are they saying?' He replied, 'They are saying they intend to kill us. Let us kneel down and pray.' 'No, no!' I replied, 'let us walk and pray,' and strode resolutely forward."
Presently two savages with clubs came forward and walked right at Tamate's heels. Just one blow and all would be over. But an Invisible Hand intervened and they managed at last to reach their boat and thus escape.
Tamate moved from Suau to Port Moresby, because the latter was more centrally located. He spent all his time trying to make friends with savage tribes and settling native teachers in villages all along the coast. A glance at the work in Suau will reveal the sort of change that was taking place in many districts and that the gospel light was breaking in upon the long, dark night of heathenism. Before Chalmers landed at Suau in the fall of 1877, the natives came out to the vessel and gleefully told him that they had recently killed and eaten ten of their enemies from a neighboring tribe. On all sides there was gross darkness, bloodshed and cruelty. In 1882 Chalmers found the cannibal ovens unused. People who formerly thought every sound at night meant the coming of enemies, now slept in peace, and tribes that before never met except to fight now sat side-by-side in the church worshiping the true God. What were the means used to accomplish these results? The answer given by Tamate himself is this, "The first missionaries landed not only to preach the gospel of divine love but also to live it." Few men have preached and lived the gospel as effectively as Chalmers. He was a sermon in shoes. He was an incarnation of Revelation 22:17.
Greatheart had as helpers a number of South Sea Islanders who drank daily and deeply of the Water of Life and exhibited to a remarkable degree the fullness of life available in Christ. Many of these he himself had led to Christ and trained during his ten years in Rarotonga. Many of them died of fever, others died as martyrs, but there were always volunteers ready to take the place of those who had fallen. In 1878 the John Williams came on one of her numerous trips bringing teachers from Polynesia. As they drew near the shore a crew member began to tell about the centipedes, serpents, diseases and other dangers that lay before them.
"Wait!" said a teacher from the Loyalty Islands. "Are there people there?"
"Yes, but they are horrible cannibals who will probably kill and eat all of you."
"Never mind," rejoined the teacher. "Wherever there are people, precious souls for whom Christ died, there missionaries must go."
During Chalmers' years of service more than two hundred of these native workers from Rarotonga, Samoa and other far-distant Polynesian Isles left all for Christ's sake to take the Great Invitation to the dark hearts of New Guinea. About half of these either died of disease or perished at the hands of the savages. Chalmers called these native missionaries "the true heroes and heroines of the nineteenth century."
Two members of this noble company were Aruadaera and Aruako. The former was a deacon, the latter a teacher. Both were zealous evangelists. They accompanied Tamate in the fall of 1883 on a hazardous trip among the cannibals of the Orokolo and Maipua districts. At five o'clock, October 15, they reached Maipua, "a horrible hole in the middle of a swamp with miles of swamp all around." The leading chief, Ipaivaitani, invited the missionary party to stay in the dubu. Tamate then had his "breakfast and dinner all in one." "I could have enjoyed it better," he relates, "if there had not been so many skulls in a heap close by."
At sunset a large crowd assembled and Aruadaera commenced to preach, with Aruako to follow later. What a weird scene! A large temple, lit only by flickering fires; a crowd of real cannibals who pronounce man to be the best of all flesh; hundreds of human skulls for decorations, and in the sacred place six Kanibus, or idols, holding the power of life and death, of war and peace with themselves. "In the center of this weird crowd," to use Tamate's own words, "sit Aruako and Aruadaera, both of them until recently wild savages themselves, preaching Christ as the revealer of God's love and the Saviour of sinful man." When Tamate fell asleep the service still continued. Upon awaking soon after sunrise the next morning, he found the two preachers still talking, still hearing and answering the people's questions. Aruako in particular had become quite hoarse. "Aruako," inquired Tamate, "have you been at it all night?" "Yes," he answered, "all night. But I can't quit now. After telling them all about the garden of Eden, the flood and the Old Testament, I have now come to Jesus Christ and I must tell them all about Him." How long would it take to proclaim the Saviour's love "to every creature," if even one-tenth of the professing Christians of America had that kind of zeal?
Tamate closed his account of this beautiful incident by saying, "Yes my friend had reached Him to whom we all must come."
"Come ... thirsty ones ... and take the Water of Life freely."
Tamate had come and drunk deeply at the fountain.
Aruako had come and found life in abundance.
"Christ is the One to whom we all must come."
When Greatheart was living in Rarotonga he met Anederea, a young man who was living a vile, reckless life. He marked him out as a trophy for Christ and eventually won him. Anederea became a very earnest worker and was one of the first band of twelve teachers who landed on New Guinea in 1872. He soon distinguished himself by his zeal in learning the language of Kerepuna, where he was located, and in seeking the salvation of the natives. In March, 1881, Taria, the teacher located at Hula, along with five Hula boys, went in a boat to Kerepuna and Kalo to bring the teachers and their families to Hula, on account of the serious ill health of some of the party. When the boat with fifteen persons aboard was at Kalo, a large crowd of armed natives assembled on the beach. The chief, named Quaipo, pretending to be friendly, stepped into the boat. After a brief conversation he jumped out of the boat onto the beach. This was the prearranged signal for attack. Instantly a cloud of spears flew toward the mission party. Four spears struck Taria and ended his life. Anederea and Materua were soon dispatched. A single spear slew both mother and babe in the case of both wives. Four Hula boys jumped into the water and managed to swim to safety, but the other eleven persons were slain.
When the news of this atrocity reached the Christians in Polynesia, a whole boatload of volunteers came to take their places. Chalmers asked a man named Pau and his wife if they would settle at Kalo, where the recent massacre took place. They readily agreed and he went with them to help them get located. He decided to spend the first night with them, for he was not willing to subject them to hazards which he would not share. It was a daring thing to do. Quaipo had sent him word that he was determined to have his head. Chalmers writes, "We were quite at their mercy, being unarmed and in an unprotected house. Had they attacked us, we should all have been killed." What was his reliance in such an hour as this? "After evening prayers," he states, "I was soon sound asleep."
"After evening prayers" his heart was reassured.
"After evening prayers" he knew that he was not alone.
"After evening prayers" he fell sound asleep. And on the next day he wrote in his diary, "May He who protected us soon become known to them all."
Tamate and his noble helpers found that the Water of Life not only quenched their thirst but also filled and flooded their lives even unto overflowing. Though quite oblivious of it themselves, they were living demonstrations of the truth which Jesus declared, "He that believeth on me ... out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." They found that Revelation 22:17 provides both for the imports of the soul unto salvation and for the exports of the soul unto the redemption of others who are famished and perishing.
V. In the Text He Heard the Universal Offer of Divine Mercy
The bounteous provisions of Revelation 22:17 are not offered to a limited few. Its privileges are not restricted by any racial, cultural or geographical qualifications.
The "whosoever will" of Revelation 22:17 clearly implies that the whole world needs the gospel, for God would not offer to all that which is not needed by all. The Greatheart of New Guinea labored under the passionate conviction that all men supremely needed the message he brought and that no one who came with a contrite spirit would be turned away.
In the summer of 1886 Chalmers returned to England for his first furlough, after twenty years of missionary service. Wherever he went he attracted and stirred great audiences with his fiery enthusiasm and his story of thrilling adventures for Christ. His messages were utterly devoid of anything suggesting self-pity. He insisted that the word "sacrifice" has no place in a Christian's vocabulary, at least when referring to his own labors. He was engaged in the highest and holiest business on earth and he was radiantly happy. "Recall my period of more than twenty years of service," he said; "give me back all its experiences its ship wrecks, its frequent occasions on the brink of death; give it to me surrounded by savages with spears and clubs; give it to me again with spears flying about me, with the club knocking me to the ground, and I will still be your missionary."
It was a sweet joy to visit his early home at Inverary with its familiar scenes and, in particular, to kneel in a prayer of thanksgiving in the church where, that rainy night long ago, he heard for the first time the majestic syllables of Revelation 22:17.
While in the homeland three important events took place: he wrote a missionary book, Pioneering in New Guinea, he was engaged to Sarah Eliza Harrison, and he declined an urgent invitation to return to New Guinea in the capacity of a government official. Like David Livingstone, Chalmers was "first and last a missionary." At a mass meeting in Exeter Hall, London, he declared,
Gospel and commerce, yes; but remember this: It must be the gospel first. Wherever there has been the slightest spark of civilization in the Southern Seas it has been because the gospel has been preached there. The ramparts of heathenism can only be stormed by those who carry the cross.
In the fall of 1887 he returned to New Guinea. He was saddened to learn of the martyrdom of one of his best native evangelists — Tauraki from Samoa. His wife recovered, but Tauraki himself, his child and five friendly natives were killed when a barrage of arrows was loosed at them by hostile Papuans.
In 1888 Tamate met Sarah Eliza Harrison at Cooktown, where they were married and he took her to Motumotu, which he had determined upon as his new headquarters. The house, which at first had not a chair, bed or table, was lively with rats, cockroaches, spiders, lizards, ants and mosquitoes. They were living among people who were as fierce as they were depraved. In this district the practiced a horrible custom called "biting off the nose."" When an enemy was killed there was a rush to see who would have the honor of biting off and swallowing the dead man's nose. When the warriors returned home with several dead bodies the women came out to meet them calling out, "Who are the killers?" After being told, they applauded them heartily. Then they would call out, "Who are the nose-eaters?" When these were pointed out, the women would applaud and honor them even more than the actual killers.
Mrs. Chalmers was a woman of remarkable devotion to duty and a worthy helpmeet for her famous husband. She never thought of complaining, when, on numerous occasions, she was left alone among these savages for many weeks at a time, with the nearest white person 170 miles away. While Tamate was facing death daily as he sought out new tribes in order to invite "whosoever will" to the Water of Life, she was seeking to point the cannibals of Motumotu to the same Blessed Fountain. One day she noticed the house was surrounded by about twenty-five warriors. She was terrified but with a prayer in her heart she disarmed them of any evil designs by boldly going out among them and engaging in a friendly conversation. A school was soon started, in which the children from various tribes were taught to read and write in five different languages. Several native teachers assisted her.
Despite various precautions she often fell prey to the fever germs. The natives had many unsanitary practices. Among these was the very unhygienic habit of burying their dead quite close to the houses. Mrs. Chalmers also suffered from sunstroke. But she refused to be despondent and her indomitable spirit rose above every trial. She was an inspiration to her husband and a great help to the native teachers, who, in times of illness, were inclined to lose all hope of recovery. "We shall die like the others, they would say and would not take medicine unless she or Tamate was there to insist upon it.
Mrs. Chalmers accompanied Tamate on a boat trip to Moveave. There was an abundance of crocodiles in the stream and of parrots of brilliant plumage in the trees. Traveling part of the way on foot they found it almost unbearably hot in the bush until they were refreshed by the cool milk of some fresh coconuts. Tamate had visited Moveave frequently and had made friends with the old chief. Upon reaching the town he found that the old chief had died and been buried in front of his house in a temporary enclosure nine feet square. Inside this, according to custom, the whole family — widow, children and grandchildren — had to cook, eat and sleep for several months. The widow, daubed with mud, looked wretched and filthy. She was not permitted to wash during the three months of her mourning. As the missionary party entered the village the people crowded around them. Suddenly there was a wild outcry and the savages began to make dire threats. There was a great display of clubs, spears, bows and arrows, and the missionaries and their party had a very narrow escape from a general massacre.
In 1890 Mrs. Chalmer's health was so precarious a change and rest were deemed imperative, so Greatheart decided to take her on a trip to Samoa and Rarotonga. They went by way of Australia where he sought to raise money for a steam launch with which to carry on his missionary expeditions more effectively. As fellow passengers on the boat from Sydney to Samoa, Tamate and Robert Louis Stevenson began an acquaintance which ripened into a very warm friendship. Before going to Samoa, Stevenson had "a great prejudice against missions," but his views were soon changed. "Those who deblaterate against missions," he stated, "have only one thing to do — to come and see them on the spot." Writing to his mother Stevenson said, "Tamate is a man nobody can see and not love. He has his faults like the rest of us but he is as big as a church." Much of admiration and of soul aspiration is indicated by the following extracts from a letter of his to Chalmers: "I count it a privilege and a benefit to have met you. But, O Tamate, if I had met you when I was a youth, how different my life would have been!"
In Samoa and Rarotonga Chalmers moved the Christians to new missionary devotion by telling them of the heroic labors of their comrades and secured many new volunteers for service in New Guinea. Mr. and Mrs. Chalmers returned to Motumotu in July, 1891. Some time later, while he was on the way to Cooktown on the Harrier, the ship struck a rock and was destroyed. This was his fourth experience of shipwreck.
One day the service at Motumotu was greatly disturbed by the troublesome antics of a young man. At the close Chalmers took the youth by the hand in order to hold him while talking with him about his behavior. This was resented by the young man and his friends. Quickly the church was surrounded by a crowd of excited, armed men. Their leader was brandishing a huge broad sword. Tamate sprang to the door, met the leader on the steps and dexterously wrenched the broad sword from his grasp. Seeing their leader thus disarmed, the mob dispersed.
The state of her health having become very serious, Mrs. Chalmers left for England in March, 1892, after a pathetic parting with her husband at Thursday Island. Greatheart then turned to a work he had long been hoping and praying to undertake, namely, the exploration of the Fly River district, with a view to the eventual establishment of mission stations along the course of this mighty river. He chose Saguane on Kiwai Island in the Fly River delta as his new base of operations and settled there a teacher named Maru and his wife. He looked upon this new enterprise as probably the most hazardous, the greatest and the last of his life. He wrote in his diary, "God knows there will be many Gethsemanes and it may be many Calvarys, but all for Christ and all is well." In January, 1893, the long awaited launch arrived and was named the Miro. He found this a great help but it soon became apparent that the swift current of the Fly River demanded a larger vessel with more powerful engines.
In March, 1894, he received a cablegram calling him to England to be one of the principal speakers in the centenary celebrations of the London Missionary Society. He was happy to see his wife again. Her health, however, was far from robust, so when he returned to New Guinea in January, 1896, he returned alone. For months he traveled in boats, often wet from morning till night, visiting the established stations and endeavoring to establish new ones. He was constantly sailing up new rivers, visiting new tribes, braving new perils. What was it that lured him on? He said, "I dearly love to be the first to preach Christ in a place."
All his life Chalmers had a passionate love for water. The romantic experiences of his youth were associated with lakes and other places containing water. Most of his missionary work was done as he traveled by water. He was exhilarated at the sight of water — up the stream, at the surf, on the sea. He often wondered, he states, "what sort of place heaven would be without sea, without water." And it was the supreme delight of his life to point thirsty souls to the fountain of the Water of Life and to repeat the divine entreaty: "Whosoever will, come, drink and live."
VI. In the Text He Heard the Stately Cadences of Love's Mighty Monosyllable
The Papuans loved to hear Tamate sing. On numerous occasions it was his singing, accompanied perhaps by the Christian teachers, that stilled the angry tumult in the breasts of murderous savages. The song he often sang, the first song he translated and taught to the native Christians, was — "Come to Jesus." It was the old, old text set to music! In Revelation 22:17 the word "Come" is found in the opening sentence and is then thrice reiterated. If every word in the Bible except one had to be blotted out, Chalmers would choose to cling to this mighty monosyllable — "COME!"
It was Revelation 22:17 set to music.
It was the music of the divine solicitude.
It was the music of love's mighty monosyllable.
As Tamate traveled about he experienced many inconveniences, not the least of which was that resulting from the native practice of rubbing noses by way of greeting and of expressing friendly sentiments. The inconveniences arose partly from the vigor and the frequency with which the practice was indulged and partly from the fact that the faces of the natives were commonly coated with filthy pigments of various colors. Concerning one such experience Tamate once said: "About one hundred and fifty natives ate around us shouting, yelling and rubbing noses. Alas, alas! I cannot say I like this nose-rubbing. Having no looking glass I cannot tell the state of my face, but I know that my nose is flattened out and my face one mass of pigment."
Chalmers lived to see the firstfruits of harvest. He was privileged to baptize hundreds of earnest converts and to see other hundred under Christian instruction, meeting on the Lord's Day in the chapels built by native hands. In August, 1897, Mrs. Chalmers returned to New Guinea and entered with joy into the work. A letter written by her in January, 1900, shows what progress had been made at Saguane. About seventeen hundred people attended the New Year services. Three hundred participated in a solemn communion service and 136 adults were baptized. It was marvelous to see people of different tribes assembling in friendly fashion, who a few years before were almost constantly engaged in sanguinary conflicts. Mrs. Chalmers became critically ill in the summer of that year and died at Daru October 26. She left a legacy with which to procure an excellent new whale boat for her husband's use in opening up the Fly River area for Christ.
To this work he turned, haunted by a vision of teeming multitudes of Papuans who knew nothing of the Saviour. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a friend: "Tamate is away now to go up the Fly River, a desperate venture, it is thought. He is quite a Livingstone card." In a letter to his mother the great writer said, "I hope I shall meet Tamate once more before he disappears up the Fly River, perhaps to be one of 'the unreturning brave.'" The words proved prophetic, for a little later he went out to return no more.
In April, 1901, Chalmers set out to visit the district around Cape Blackwood, on the eastern side of the Fly River delta. He knew this area was inhabited by a particularly ferocious tribe of savages who were both skull hunters and cannibals. He was accompanied by Rev. Oliver Tomkins, a promising young colleague recently arrived from England. At a place called Risk Point on the island of Goaribari a swarm of natives, with all sorts of weapons, came in canoes and took forcible possession of the mission vessel as it lay anchored off shore. Tamate decided to go ashore, but, anticipating trouble, urged Mr. Tomkins to remain aboard the vessel. Mr. Tomkins, however, insisted on sharing whatever dangers might await his beloved leader, so the two went ashore together to the village of Dopina. Those on board the vessel never saw them again. This was on April 8, 1901.
A few days later the Christian world was stunned by a cablegram stating that James Chalmers and his young colleague had been killed and eaten by the Fly River cannibals.
As was ascertained later, when Chalmers, Tomkins and several boys from the mission school got ashore, they were invited into the dubu of the village to have something to eat. As soon as they entered, the signal was given for a general massacre. The two missionaries were hit on the head from behind with stone clubs and fell senseless to the floor. Their heads were immediately cut off, then their followers were similarly killed and beheaded. The heads were distributed as trophies among the murderers, while the bodies were handed over to the women to cook. The flesh was mixed with sago and was eaten the same day by the wildly exulting cannibals.
Yes, it was reported that James Chalmers, the Greatheart of New Guinea, was dead, but John Oxenham thought otherwise.
Greatheart is dead, they say!
Not dead, nor sleeping! He lives on! His name
Shall kindle many a heart to equal flame;
The fire he kindled shall burn on and on
Till all the darkness of the lands be gone,
And all the kingdoms of the earth be won.
A soul so fiery sweet can never die,
But lives and loves and works through all eternity.
And so it was that Greatheart was called to a higher realm of service. He now heard the same, sweet voice he heard at Inverary long ago and the invitation was the same "Come!" Having made the abodes of cannibalism echo the sweet accents of the Great Invitation, he now turned his face toward the city foursquare; and as his last climbing footstep took him across the threshold of the Celestial City, he heard once again the stately cadences of love's mighty monosyllable.
Used with permission. From Giants of the Missionary Trail: The Life Stories of Eight Men Who Defied Death and Demons by Eugene Myers Harrison. Originally published by Scripture Press, Book Division, .
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