Thursday 14th February 1867
Jubilee of the Venerable Patriarch Brownlee
A most interesting and instructive meeting was held on Thursday the 17th, ult., at Brownlee’s station, King William’s Town, to celebrate the completion of the fiftieth year of the Revd. John Brownlee, as a minister of the Gospel in South Africa.
The meeting was held in the native church which was crowded to overflowing by a mixed assemblage of natives and Europeans. From a rough estimate there could not have been fewer than from 800 to 1000 persons.
The Rev. Tyo Soga next rose on behalf of the United Presbyterian church and spoke as follows;-
Friends of truth,—I am appointed to speak this day on this very interesting occasion, on behalf of the United Presbyterian Church, and it is with feelings of intense delight and gratitude that I take part in this ceremony. At the same time, however, I feel it someweat difficult to address you with propriety on this day of days. This is a day in which pleasurable and painful associations arise in one’s mind—for after all in one’s lifetime there are days which stand out as landmarks, and this one in my humble opinion will long stand forth as a marked day.
We of a sable colour, belonging to the various tribes of the Kaffir, Hottentot, and Fingo race, rejoice with gratitude at our presence here this day, because this day whilst it has a more immediate reference to our aged father before us has a reference also to ourselves; this day has reference to us because it recals the work which God has wrought amongst us by his aged servant as well as by his other servants—our missionaries in this land.
I am both perplexed and overwhelmed when I endeavour fully to realize the thoughts which are suggested by what is being done under the sun of this day. I become so because of the number of thoughts which spring up one by one involuntarily in my heart, all of them great all of them wonderful, some of them of a painful, others of a pleasant, nature. I feel perplexed as I look around me this day and see these white men our Fathers, our Teachers, who think it no shame to speak of us as being "flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone." On such a day as this I look above and beyond all these petty differences and distinctions of caste and colour, and look upon the great and noble work in which they have been engaged for us, and as I do so, these men rise in my esteem and regard to a point of excellence and grandeur such as I never realised before.
I say I am perplexed on this day of sorrow when I look upon him whom we have come to honour, assembled as we are in such numbers, because to my mind although he has long proclaimed aloud the word of his master, it is as if his voice this day sounded in a louder and clearer tone. Let us for a moment go back on the object of this day’s gathering, let us take a retrospective view of our Father since his arrival amongst us. What is it they say to us in this address which they present him? They say it is fifty years since he left the land of his birth beyond the seas, since he left his friends and closed the door of his home against himself, so that those earthly endearments which are the support and the stay of a man’s life might never hinder him in the work to which he had devoted himself.
Well, how astonishing! How marvellous! What is it he saw? And where was it that he saw it? Whither was he going? And what was it that allured him? In answer to these questions, one great answer appears,—that the love of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ surpasses and transcends the knowledge of man, and the wisdom of man, and the judgment of man, and the thoughts of man, and that there is nothing on earth to compare with that love.
This man whom we now call by the title of our own old man, having left his home, was not allured by the love of gain. He was not weary of his home—his character was not tainted so that he was compelled to leave his home to go to an unknown country and amongst a nation that was not even of his own colour, there to retrieve his character. He was actuated solely by the principle of love to Christ. He was not actuated by the desire to share in the portioning out of the land of the Kaffir, nor by the desire to share in the spoils of Kaffir wars. He was actuated by the principle of love to Christ.
If you know it ye Kaffirs—if ye know it ye Fingoes—if you know it ye Hottentots, having grown to such an age among you, tell us how far his own private property extends? Where are his cattle kraals? Where are his sheep kraals? On what hills do they graze? And where are his shepherds? He came to this country in order that your souls might be his spoils and his wealth.
He and these men our missionaries like his master before them, care not to be rich in order that by his poverty he might receive the true riches. Brownlee was actuated by such a principle in coming here.
He is a friend, a true friend, a friend who is destitute of revenge. His wife our mother, is also a friend, a true friend, a friend of the Kaffir. These fifty years both of them have borne painful things on our account, and wonderful to relate, such being the character of the parents, the children have inherited their virtues.
With reference now to his work—do you say that he has laboured amongst us for 50 years? During all that long period has he accomplished anything? I shall make but one and a very emphatic answer to this question. There are those who say that nothing has been accomplished by such men as Brownlee; I say emphatically there is—and this day is an incontestible testimony that he has done something.
Who are these now assembled whom I am addressing, and where are we assembled? Are we in the same degraded position as a race in which Brownlee found us? Does this day betoken no signs of civilization, or progress, or Christian enlightenment? To my mind, all that is now visible can be attributed to Brownlee. Speak out, tribe of Ntinde, sons of Ngconde? To what are the signs of progress amongst you traceable? What is it that moulded the character of such men, now no longer with us, as Gazini Maduna, Rhai, Busakwe, Mbena, Maquindi? To my mind, Brownlee made these men what they were. Speak out Gaikas, Manthlambles, Midanges,—what are we here? I say we are all the result of the labours of Brownlees. He and she sounded to other missionaries the tocsin of a heavenly warfare, and we have gone forth to battle under the leadership of the King of Kings, the Lord Jesus, and left our fathers and our friends and neighbours. If it is not so, if our fathers before us have accomplished nothing, cast aside these hats and bonnets you wear, cast aside these trousers and coats and these gowns, unloose and cast aside these boots you sport, and let us all merge back to the very same state of degradation in which Brownlee found us, because there is nothing in Christianity.
Brownlee has been fifty years planting the seeds of the word of God amongst the Kaffirs. Am I to be told that the word which has taken so long to take root is to wither and die and be lost for ever in this country? Does any man mean to tell me that the word which has been introduced by such men as he, and Thomson and Ross and Kayser and Chalmers, who is no longer in life, and Bennie and Laing, and Govan and Birt, and Niven and Cumming and Weir and McDiarmid, and Shepstone and Dugmore, the ancients among us, is the word declared by such men to be lost?
Reveal yourself, and let us see you, you insignificant being that say so, no matter whether you be Kaffir or white man, and do not console yourself with the thought that while you are despising missionary work, you are doing so under disguise. Do not be like a frog that croaks unseen, concealed under the bulrushes; do not be like a snake that makes a rustling noise in the grass unseen.
God is not a fool like man. He knows the end of a thing from the beginning. If his eternal purpose of man’s salvation were destined to perish, he would have entrusted his work to other than these. He would have entrusted it to useless, good-for-nothing men. He would have entrusted it to madmen. Having given his work to such men as these, His word will continue to future generations of our races, even although they are no longer here. The story of the Gospel will continue to make a sounding noise throughout the land. It will sound as we sang in our opening hymn, from hill to hill; the spirit of prayer will descend from river to river, and all men shall acknowledge and receive it everywhere. I declare to you, as it was declared last Sabbath in solemn tones to our people at the Mgwali, by the good Dr. Wangemann, now with us, that "God hath highly exalted His son, the Lord Jesus, and given him a name which is above every name, and that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of things in heaven and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue shall confess that Christ is the Lord to the glory of God the Father." Yes! Every knee shall bow sooner or later, and every tongue shall confess that he is God.
Now what are my reasons for saying that the Gospel having once been introduced will continue with us? Here is my stronghold:—Is it not this that while these men have been planting, they were at the same time praying? Has Brownlee ceased to pray? Have our missionaries ceased to pray? No, from the day that he set foot on South Africa his life has been one long connected prayer. Now, have these vanished like water spilled on the ground? I tell you these men have kindled a fire which will spread until it envelopes the whole of this country in one brilliant blaze of light. I tell you that they have fixed a pole like that of the Kaffir—boom and wild plum, bring forth leaves and flowers, and bear fruit, although he who planted them becomes unknown to anyone.
This day, commemorative of the 50th year of our Father’s labours amongst us, tells us this solemn fact that the shadows of the evening time of his life are descending from the mountains; they are spreading away in the distance. In his journey homewards he has crossed all the rivers, and but few remain before him to cross now. The day is drawing to a close, the sun is fast declining. It says to us that he also probably is looking wistfully towards home. It says to us that by this act we are convoying him so far, although our prayer is that his Maker would give us the loan of him for a little longer.
Let me at this stage, tribe of Ntinde, sons of Ngconde, thank you for the manner in which you have commemorated this day. This liberal act on your part will be perpetrated, for this Bursary will cause his name to live amongst us; because it is intended to assist a young man of your own nation to study for the ministry.
In conclusion, We thank you are Father, Friend of the White man, friend of the Kaffir, of the Fingoe, of the Hottentot, friend of all men, because such an one as you came and settled amongst us and taught of the righteousness of your Lord. In your journey homewards may the richest blessings descend on your path, and when you have centred on your rest, may you have this assurance that we who are still here, are determined that though we fall oft, we will rise again with God’s help following on your footsteps. Though we fall oft, we will rise treating the path which you came and opened for us, following that Saviour whom you came and declared to us as having died for our offences. Though we fall, we will rise nearing gradually until we arrive in that blessed, that everlasting home of which you came to tell us that it is in heaven above. Would that your Father in his own time would relieve you from all your earthly labours, being able to say, "Lord now lettest thou servant depart in peace."