Gospel Triumphs in Fiji
The Life Story of Frederick Langham, Wesleyan Missionary
Transcription of Article in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by J.P. Langham
What strange revelations will be made when the hands of Judgement shall sift the “fateful heaps,” which all men are ever building!
When the breath of God shall blow upon them, will any remain entire?
Only that which is builded from the inspiration of the Lord can endure to eternity. When in sincerity men obey the impulsions of the Divine will they build imperishable structures. Though they build in weakness and in pain, they build for eternity. Such work though
Oft with bleeding hands and tears,
Oft in error and in anguish,
Will not perish with the years
“It will last and shine transfigured,
In tho linal reign of right;
It will pass into the splendours
Of the city of the light.”
Among the men who have built well for time and eternity must be placed the Rev. Frederick Langham, one of the apostles of Fiji. In my very early childhood he visited my father’s house, and left behind an imperishable name. Though I do not distinctly recall that visit, I have always associated his name with Fiji. One passage from a letter which he wrote to my father soon after his settlement there specially impressed my mind. His mention of “ovens in which human beings were baked” gave me my first idea of cannibalism. That letter lies before me now. It is dated October 1st, 1858. Over forty years have passed since I first heard that letter read in the cottage in Baldock, which we then called home. Yet that one striking passage has never been forgotten. Some passages from that letter will fitly introduce the apostolic Frederick Langham to the readers of the Aldersgate. In passing to his first appointment he called at Tonga, and got his introduction to missionary life.
“We spent two Sundays at Tonga, the first as follows :— At daylight went to the prayer meeting, about one hundred and forty present, several of whom prayed earnestly and fluently. At nine o’clock preaching service commenced, from four to five hundred persons present. At eleven I preached in the Mission house to about a score persons. At three native service again. At eight and two o’clock Sunday school was conducted. The people come to the service upon hearing the ‘Lali’ struck. The lali is a piece of tree, hollowed out, and is struck with wooden mallets. These were the drums with which the people used to be summoned together when war was to be waged, or when the bodies of the slain were to be eaten.”
His interesting experiences at Tonga were only a prelude to his true life work; for Fiji was his destination. Here he grew familiar with vestiges of the terrible past, every path leading to some memorial of the “reign of terror” which so long held sway in those islands, When he landed at Bau the scars of her cannibal past were deep and fresh in Fiji. Like one who unwittingly descends into a tomb, he shuddered at the strange sights which everywhere met his view. No wonder he rejoiced to preach a gospel which wrought deliverance for those who “sat in darkness and the shadow of death.” He writes of his first impressions:—
“We next sailed for cannibal Fiji and arrived safely at Bau, the metropolis and place of royalty. Bau is a small island about one and a half miles in circumference. Perhaps you could not put your foot a spot of it where the blood and bones of our fellow men have not been thrown. We have looked upon the stone on which the heads of the victims have been dashed. We have seen the hole in which the bodies were washed before being cooked; and we have seen the ovens (now the grass grows over them) in which the bodies were baked by the savage cannibals. We have seen the temple in which the priests of those people were accustomed to perform their idolatrous rites; but those days and those scenes have passed from this part of Fiji. The temple is forsaken and the priesthood is gone. The people of Bau prefer to go up to the house of the Lord, where they hear of the Saviour of men who is their high priest in the temple above.”
To this island Mr. L. afterwards returned to take up the position of leading missionary, but his ?rst appointment was to Lakemba. His circuit was worthy of the name, for it included twenty-six islands — one of which was one hundred and forty miles away. To visit those islands, even occasionally, demanded a vigorous frame and a dauntless heart; both of which he happily possessed. Services were held in seventy-six chapels. The staff of workers employed on this tight little circuit consisted of two English missionaries, four native assistant missionaries, forty paid teachers, seventy-two local preachers, seven hundred and forty-seven Sunday school teachers, and two hundred and fifty-four class leaders. Thus began a ministry which lasted for over forty years, and resulted in untold good to thousands of persons. In looking over the memorials of this beautiful life I find them all too brief, and trust that some one possessed of the requisite knowledge and ability, may be found to tell the story of his adventurous career. From the scanty materials now available three things emerge as specially worthy of note. The first of these is that his phenomenal success was won by tact and diligence.
His tact was shown in his careful study of native etiquette. Making himself familiar with native customs, he was able to steer clear of anything likely to offend, and obtain a hearing for the gospel he came to preach.
Of his diligence and intrepidity the Rev. J. Nettleton, one of his colleagues in Fiji, thus writes—
“He took long tours into the interior and into the mountain districts. He won the confidence of the savages and brought whole tribes from heathenism to Christianity. The whole district of Matailobau regard him as their spiritual father. He was the first to preach Christ to them. Where no white man had ever been before he went with the Gospel message, founded schools, built churches and was fearless of danger. He had many hair-breadth escapes, and was often in peril when he was not conscious of it. There was a shield between him and danger.
“Once in the Lakemba Circuit when his boat ran upon the reef at midnight, he leaped into the water to swim to shore, which was much more distant than it appeared to be in the haze. He was several hours in the water, and was upheld by a native boy who heard the splash when he leaped in, and who followed him. For several weeks afterwards he was helpless and prostrate far from home.”
In incessant labour his long and happy life was passed. Though his labours were incessant his happiness was great, for he had the joy of witnessing the conversion of whole tribes.
It is said that “through his long residence in the group and his evangelistic work among the heathen, he received more adults and children into the Christian Church by baptism than any other missionary.”
But he was not simply an enroller of names, he was a transformer of men. For full membership in the Christian Church he demanded a high standard of knowledge and morals, and thus insured the permanent adhesion to the Church of those who joined it. More than ninety-five per cent. of his recruits remained in fellowship with the Church to the end of their lives. They joined for the love of the Master, and His love proved sufficient to hold them steadfast through all temptation.
The first step towards Christianity was “the abandonment of cannibalism, widow strangling, and chronic warfare.” (When will the older Christian nations abandon chronic warfare for the peaceful rule of Christ?)
Instruction in the scriptures, prayer, and the practice of Christian morals followed. “A few years of patient teaching developed conscience, a sense of sin, and the need of Divine forgiveness.” Then the converts were ready for the final step and for full hearted adhesion to the Church of Christ. A year’s consistent living, and a working knowledge of the New Testament was demanded of all candidates for baptism. The wisdom of this demand was seen in the steadfastness of the native Christians.
The second thing worthy of note in this useful life was its closing achievement. Some five years before his death he returned to England to see through the press a revised edition of the Fijian Scriptures.
His familiarity with the native language marked him out as the man best fitted to undertake this work. To give to Fiji a REVISED BIBLE was indeed a great joy to him, and will ever be the crown of his rejoicing. What patient toil this work involved may be known from the fact that over Forty Thousand Emanations were made. Of this version of the scriptures Mr. Nettleton says, “The Fijians have now a beautiful and idiomatic translation in their own mellifluous and Italian-like tongue.” In recognition of this great literary achievement the University of Glasgow, on the recommendation of Sir William McGregor, bestowed the degree of D.D. on Mr. Langham. An honour worthily won and but briefly worn; for very soon after receiving it the summons to the higher realms of life arrived for him.
He obeyed the summons without regret, for he regarded the revision of the Fijian scriptures as the crowning and concluding work of his life.
Another thing which made his passing within the veil easy, was the strong conviction he had that he was awaited on the other side by his lately ascended wife. Once he felt assured that he heard the voice of his beloved, calling him to an everlasting re-union. This glimpse given to him of what was passing within the gates ajar, constitutes the third very notable thing to which we have referred. We give the incident in the words of Mr. Nettleton.
“Before he died, he said, ‘I have seen a vision. I was sleeping on the deck of a schooner, as we often slept in voyaging in Fiji. I woke at midnight to find the Southern Cross luminous with wonderful light all about that part of the sky. The stars of the cross came down near to me, and just behind the cross I saw my dear one, only her face, her robe shading off into light. She smiled and said, ‘Edaru ena tiko vata tale.’ (We two shall live together again). There may be nothing in it, but it was strangely real to me.’
“It was a premonition. They were beautiful in their lives and in their death they were not divided.”
Not long after seeing the vision he passed within the veil to join his beloved forever. It was well that a life filled with unselfish, loving service should have such a beautiful close. He realised the thought of Longfellow, for death proved to him, “only a step into the open-air, out of a tent already luminous with the light which shines through its transparent walls.” The vision and its speedy fulfilment, add another link to the ever lengthening chain of evidence that life is not ended by death. Death is a curtain that hides, not an unpeopled void, but the dwelling places of immortal hosts. Amid those hosts Frederick Langham dwells, in conscious communion with those to whom in the earth-life he had bound himself with ties of love.
From the time of Job men have been asking, “If a man die shall he lives again?” The accumulating evidence of the multiplying years, the growing concensus of devout and enlightened thought, alike affirm the continued conscious existence of man after death. Just now men are writing books on the scientific evidence for the future life. What science is very tardily admitting, the hearts of men have been assured of through all the generations. An incident narrated by Hallam Tennyson illustrates the undying faith of the unsophisticated heart of men in future companionship with the loved ones of earth. The story was told to his father by Dr. Dabbs.
“A villager, ninety years old, was dying, and had so much pined too see his old bedridden wife once more, that they had carried her to where he lay. He pressed his shrunken hand upon her hand, and in a husky voice, said to her, come soon!”
Doubtless this universal longing for continued conscious fellowship with the beloved, which amounts in some cases to positive assurance, is of God, and therefore eternally true. The companionship of which the heart is so fully assured demands the perpetuation of the individual, and not mere absorption in the Infinite. The highest and most sustaining hope is to enjoy the attributes of personality through eternity; not to slide like “a dew drop into a silver sea.” The light in which man shall lose himself at last is the light of enduring friendship with the beloved in immortalised, glorified bodily forms. Tennyson has beautifully put the truth about the future in the forty-seventh stanza of “In Memoriam.”
“That each, who seems a separate whole,
Should move his rounds, and fusing all
The skirts of self again, should fall
Remerging in the general Soul,
Is faith as vague as all unsweet:
Eternal form shall still divide
The eternal soul from all beside;
And I shall know him when we meet:
And we shall sit at endless feast,
Enjoying each the others good:
What vaster dream can hit the mood
Of love on earth? He seeks at least,
Upon the last and sharpest height,
Before the spirits fade away,
Some landing place to clasp and say,
‘Farewell! We lose ourselves in light.’ ”
Brave, fearless, loving Frederick Langham now dwells with his loved ones in the “light that never was on land and sea.”
In that eternal light, the radiance of the Divine Father’s face, every family in heaven and earth may find the home from which they shall never more go forth.
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1904/441