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To the Editor of the Christian Observer.
HAVE been happy to perceive, of late, a growing attention to the religious state of Abyssinia; and I am anxious to promote this disposition as much as possible, in the hope that our religious institutions, and particularly the British and Foreign Bible Society, may be in duced to direct their efforts to this quarter. I should greatly doubt whether there be any part of the world where these efforts are more needed, or where they are likely to be attended with more immediately beneficial consequences. "The Ha bassins," says Geddes, in his Church History of Ethiopia, "do hold the Scriptures to be the perfect rule of the Christian faith, in so much that they deny it to be in the power of a general council to oblige people to believe any thing as an article of faith, without an express warrant from thence." (p. 31). But while the Abyssinians do, with our own church, maintain this cardinal point of the sufficiency of the Scriptures as a rule of faith, it appears, from the concurrent testimony of all late travellers, that copies of the Scriptures have become exceedingly rare among them. Even in their churches it is seldom that a complete copy is to be found; and among the great body of the people, few possess even a fragment of a Bible. One of the causes, doubtless, is, that religion is at a low ebb among them. But this may be considered as an effect as well as a cause of the evil in question. Where the art of printing is CHRIST. OBSERV. No. 124.
unknown, and volumes of such size must be transcribed in order to be possessed, however the zeal of individuals may, for a time, multiply copies, yet experience proves that this source of supply will ever be inadequate to the wants of a people.
In the case of a nation, however, circumstanced as the Abyssinians now are, there are peculiarly strong inducements for giving them the Bible. They are not only Christians in name, but their national creed appears in the main to be scriptural. Add to this, that the authority of the Scriptures has always been held by them to be paramount to every other; but that they do not possess the means of knowing what it is which this authority enjoins. To such a people, what can be conceived a greater benefit than the circulating among them of the Word of God? And would not such a gift be likely to produce something of the effect upon them which the discovery of the lost bock of the law had upon King Josiah ?
It must operate as a further encouragement to our religious societies to exert themselves in favour of Abyssinia, that it furnishes, perhaps, the easiest medium of access into the very heart of Africa. The intercourse between Abyssinia and some of the great cities on the Niger is said to be constant. Saturate Abyssinia with scriptural light, and, through the Divine blessing, we may hope that it will stream even into that region of darkness.
The hope that great good will arise from such exertions, in favour of Abyssinia, as are here recommend
ed, is strengthened by a reference to the page of history, which shews us not only that there has existed in the government of that country, and at no remote period, a strong desire (not well directed indeed), to extend the influence of Christianity; but that the body of the people could be induced, by no severity of suffering, to submit to the unscriptural authority, or adopt the unscriptural practices, of the Romish Church.
A letter of David Emperor of Ethiopia, to King John III. of Portugal, dated in 1524, has been preserved, and another to the Pope, of the same date. These letters commence, "In the name of God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was the same with him from the beginning of the world, and who is light of light, and very God of very God; and in the name of God the Holy Ghost, who is true God, and proceedeth from the Father."
To the King of Portugal, David thus writes:
"O lord my brother king, attend and apply yourself to the friendship that was begun betwixt us by your father, and do not neglect to send letters and ambassadors to us frequently; for I am extremely desirous to receive them from you, as from my brother: and since we are both Christians, and the Mahometans, though wicked, are still in peace with all of their own sect, it is fit it should be the same betwixt us. And I do declare, that for the future I will receive no embassy from the king of Egypt, nor from any of those kingdoms which have formerly sent ambassadors to us, nor from any other king but only from your highness, from whom I do earnestly desire to have them come; for the Mahometan kings, by reason of the difference that is betwixt us in religion, do never look upon me as their friend, and do only pretend to have a kindness for me, that they
may trade with the more conveniency and security within my dominions, from whence they draw great profit, exporting yearly great quantities of gold, whereof they are extremely covetous; while at the same time they have no real friendship for me, for which reason I take no pleasure in their gain; but this, having been a custom of my ancestors, was to be endured; though, after all, the only thing that hinders me from making war upon them, and confounding them, is the fear of provoking them thereby to violate and destroy the temple of Jerusalem, where the sepulchre of Christ is, which God hath been pleased to leave in the hands of those filthy Mahometans, and to demolish the churches that are in Egypt and Syria. This is the only cause why I do not invade and conquer them, which I am sorry I am not at liberty to do.
O king, I can by no means rejoice in the Christian kings of Europe, who, as I am informed, do not agree in one heart, but are at war one with another. Be you all unanimous, and in friendship one with another. For my own part, had I a Christian king in my neighbourhood, I would never be absent from him. I do not know what to say of these matters, nor what to do, since God seems to have ordained things to be as they are."
The following is an extract from his letter to the Pope :
"I must expostulate with you, holy father: why do you not exhort the Christian kings, your sons, to lay down their arms, as becomes brethren, and to agree among themselves; seeing they are all your sheep, and you are their pastor? Your holiness is not ignorant of the gospel-commands, and of its having said, A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand, but will become desolate.' For if those kings would but all join together, they would quickly destroy all the Mahometans, and with ease demolish the sepulchre of their false prophet. Apply
yourself therefore to this, holy fa ther, that so there may be a firm peace and confederacy established among them, and exhort them to assist us, who are besieged on all sides by wicked Mahometans and Moors. The Turks and Moors can assist one another, and their kings and rulers do all agree together: I have a Mahometan for my neighbour, who is constantly supplied with arms, horses, and all military weapons, by princes of his own sect, namely, the kings of India, Persia, and Egypt. This is a great mortification to me, to see the enemies of the Christian religion enjoy peace, and live together like brethren; and at the same time, to see Christian kings, my brethren, not in the least concerned at the injuries I endure; not one of them offering to succour me as becomes a Christian, notwithstanding the filthy sons of Mahomet are always ready to succour one another not that I desire any soldiers of them, for I have enough of my own, and to spare; but all that I desire of them, is, only their prayers and supplications, and your holiness' and my brethren's favour. The reason why I want your friendship, is, that I may be furnished by you with such things as are necessary to terrify the Mahometans, the enemies of the name of Christ; and that my neighbours may be made sensible of my being favoured by the Christian kings, my brethren, and of their being ready to assist me whenever there shall be occasion; which would be much for the honour of all of us that are of the same faith and religion, and do intend to persist therein.
"God fulfil your desires to the praise of Jesus Christ, and of God our Father, who is praised by all through all ages. And you, my lord and holy father, with all the saints of Christ at Rome, embrace me; and let all my subjects, and all that dwell in Ethiopia, be received with the same embraces; and let thanks be returned to Christ with your spirit."
The only use which the King of Portugal and the Pope made of this intercourse with Abyssinia, was to attempt to reduce them to the obedience of the Roman Pontiff. Splendid missions were sent thither with that view, and these missions were supported by Portuguese troops. For a time, one of the Abyssinian emperors was brought under the Romish yoke; and he laboured, with the aid of the Portuguese forces, to impose the same yoke on the necks of his subjects. A long and bloody civil war was the consequence, in which, though the emperor was always successful, yet he made no progress in reconciling his subjects to the church of Rome. At length, disgusted with the insolence of the Romish missionaries, and shocked by a view of the misery and desolation which his adherence to them had brought on his country, he at length decreed to drive them out of Abyssinia, and to restore the religion of the land to its former footing. This was the last act of the Emperor's life, and happened about the year 1663.
His son, Seltem Saged, was assailed by the Romish Patriarch, with the most persevering importunity, to restore him to the possession of the power of which he had been deprived. The reply of the young prince throws much light on the religious state of Abyssinia at the time when these events took place in that country. It is as follows:
him in any one thing; nor did we ever so much as open our mouth against any thing that he did; but were so submissive to him in all things, that we never said, I will have this, or I will have that; or I like this, or dislike that; insomuch, that I do not remember, that during his life, I ever did any thing of my own head, but did still what he commanded me. As to the business of your religion, our soul never entered into its councils, neither did we ever join with any counsellors either to build it up, or destroy it. We need not be told, that the Emperor sent for your lordship, and that the fathers likewise came with his consent; as we need not, that ever since your coming he has been continually embroiled in wars for endeavouring to establish your faith; fighting sometimes with his sons, and at other times with his slaves, whom he had raised from the dunghill to great honours: in so much that, from the first hour we were able to bear arms, we have never done any thing but fight in obedience to our father's commands, which we always obeyed. After the battle I had in the beginning of this winter with Ognadega, our learned monks and people having assembled themselves together in the camp, took the confidence to tell my father their thoughts freely in the following words: Sir, how long are we to be plagued thus, and to tire ourselves about things that are good for nothing? We desire to know, when we are to give over fighting with our kinsfolks and brethren; or cutting our right hand off with our left? What great difference is there betwixt the Roman faith and ours? For do they of Rome teach, that there are two natures in Christ; and have not we always believed and taught the same, in affirming that our Lord Christ is perfect God and perfect man; perfect man as to his humanity, and perfect God as to his divinity? But whereas those his two natures are not separated, his divinity being united to the flesh,
and not separated from it, and his flesh to the divinity; we do not for that reason affirm them to be two, but one; being made so out of two causes, and that not so as to confound and mix those natures in their beings; but on the account of their being one and the same principle, we call them by the name of that union; so that our controversy with them in this matter is of small importance: neither was it the cause of our having had so much fighting, but it was because they denied us the blood in the communion, notwithstanding Christ has told us positively in his Gospel, that unless we eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not inherit eternal life. And notwithstanding that Christ himself, when he instituted the sacrament, after having given his body to his disciples, and received it himself, did not say, The blood is in my flesh which I have given you;' but on the contrary, he said, Take and drink, and divide it among you' his disciples doing as he commanded them, and as he gave them to understand by saying, Do this in remembrance of me.' Neither was this the only thing that discontented the people," &c.
"For these and divers other reasons, the people far and near were much discontented, and said to the Emperor, Hear what we have to say, and either give us leave to live quietly, or knock us on the head, since the war does thicken upon us daily.' When the Emperor was told this by all his people, he, without our joining with them in it, finding that there was no other way to quiet their minds, and that he would not be able to punish them much longer, commanded his counsellors to advise together what was best to be done; who, after a serious consult, came to this resolution, that they must all return to their ancient religion and customs.
"Your lordship, in being acquainted with this, will know the reason why you are turned out of
your place, which God and the emperor had bestowed on you; and that the very same emperor that sent for your lordship, and gave you your authority, was the person that deprived you of it: wherefore since an Alexandrian abuna (bishop) is on his way hither, and he has sent us word, that he cannot be in the same country with a Roman patriarch and fathers; we have ordered you to repair to Fremona, and there to remain. As to what your lordship now offers, which is, that if the people of Ethiopia will but continue in the obedience of the Roman church, you will dispense with them as to all matters which are not contrary to the faith; that comes too late now; for how is it possible for them to return to that which they have not only forsaken, but do abominate, now they have had a taste of their old religion again? For can a grown man be born again, or enter a second time into his mother's womb? Your lordship further desires, that we would assemble our learned men to dispute with you before you depart, about matters of faith; this ought also to have been done in the beginning; besides, is that cause like to be supported by arguments, which has been maintained hitherto only by force and violence? By taking estates from some, and throwing others into prison, and punishing others more severely; and that for no other reason, but because they would not embrace your faith? And as if that had not been sufficient, you have dragged great multitudes out of the deserts, who would have been contented to have lived there upon herbs, and confined them to prisons; nay, the poor people that would have been glad to have buried themselves in caves, not having escaped your persecution. Now what a barbarity would it be, to go and tease poor people with arguments, who have suffered so much in deserts and banishments? It would certainly be a very unjust thing, both in the sight of God and
man. As to your lordship's desiring to have a Portuguese guard to attend you, that cannot be; but we shall appoint a very honest man, and who has a great train of servants, to convey your lordship, and all your goods in safety, to the place whither you are to go."
The Romish Patriarch, however, persisting in his attempts to recover his power, the Emperor sent him another letter, in which is the following passage.
"We must tell you, that now your expulsion is determined, it is to no purpose to allege reasons why you cannot go; and that if you should shuffle any longer with our orders, it will be your ruin. Have we taken any thing from you that you have got in Ethiopia, that you should disobey us, and say you will not go? This is not right. Begone, therefore, without making any further reply or excuse; your expulsion being determined, as you will understand by the order you will receive."
It is impossible not to feel warmly interested in the destinies of this people, and to desire and pray that their constancy, in resisting the papal yoke, and maintaining the paramount authority of the Scriptures, may be rewarded by an influx, in these latter days, of scriptural light, which may make that country the means of enlightening the adjacent regions of Africa and Asia, lying at present in the depth of Mohammedan darkness. I know no project which has been entertained by the British and Foreign Bible Society, numerous and excellent as have been their projects of beneficence, which promises a richer harvest of blessings than that of giving the pure word of God to the millions of Abyssinia.
I am, &c.
To the Editor of the Christian Observer. YOUR correspondent ACADEMICUS, in your number for last month,