An anecdote that mentions Solomon Caesar Malan

Orientalist Solomon Caesar Malan lived in the middle of the 19th century, and his fluency in languages was legendary.  He is mentioned in Tuckwell’s Reminiscences of Oxford,[1] which gives such a picture of the Oxford of the 1830’s.

Last weekend, while reading a book of anecdotes, I came across a story in which he appears.  It would be interesting to know the source of it, as the source given is not going to be the original. Probably it comes from the biography of Malan by his son[2].

One of the greatest evangelistic hymns of all time was written by a woman who knew well the release and peace that come from confessing one’s sins and failures to God.  “Just as I am,” a hymn frequently sung at the close of evangelistic meetings, was written by Charlotte Elliot, who at one time had been very bitter with God about the circumstances in her life.

Charlotte was an invalid from her youth and deeply resented the constraints her handicap placed on her activities.  In an emotional outburst on one occasional, she expressed those feelings to Dr. Caesar Malan, a minister visiting her home.  He listened and was touched by her distress, but he insisted that her problems should not divert her attention from what she most needed to hear.  He challenged her to turn her life over to God, to come to Him just as she was, with all  her bitterness and anger.

She resented what seemed to be an almost callous attitude on his part, but God spoke to her through him, and she committed her life to the Lord.  Each year on the anniversary of that decision, Dr. Malan wrote Charlotte a letter, encouraging her to continue to be strong in the faith.  But even as a Christian she had doubts and struggles.

One particularly sore point was her inability to effectively get out and serve the Lord.  At times she almost resented her brother’s successful preaching and evangelistic ministry.  She longed to be of use to God herself, but she felt that her health and physical condition prevented it.  Then in 1836, on the fourteenth anniversary of her conversion, while she was alone in the evening, the forty-seven-year-old Charlotte Elliot wrote her spiritual autobiography in verse.  Here, in the prayer of confession, she poured out her feelings to God — feelings that countless individuals have identified with in the generations that followed.  The third stanza, perhaps more than the others, described her own pilgrimage.

Just as I am, tho tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Many years later, when reflecting on the impact his sister made in penning this one hymn, the Reverend Henry Venn Elliot said, “In the course of a long ministry I hope I have been permitted to see some fruit of my labours, but I feel far more has been done by a single hymn of my sister’s, ‘Just as I am'” — Ruth A. Tucker, Sacred Stories.[3]

Let us see what Tuckwell says about this excellent man.[4]

Contemporary with these was a genius perhaps more remarkable, certainly more unusual, than any of them. In 1833 Solomon Caesar Malan matriculated at St. Edmund’s Hall, a young man with a young wife, son to a Swiss Pastor, speaking as yet broken English, but fluent Latin, Romaic, French, Spanish, Italian, German ; and a proficient at twenty-two years old in Hebrew, Arabic, Sanskrit. He won the Boden and the Kennicott Scholarships, took a Second Class, missing his First through the imperfection of his English, was ordained, became Professor in Calcutta, gathered up Chinese, Japanese, the various Indian, Malay, Persian tongues, came home to the valuable living of Broadwinsor, where he lived, when not travelling, through forty years, amassing a library in more than seventy languages, the majority of which he spoke with freedom, read familiarly, wrote with a clearness and beauty rivalling the best native caligraphy. In his frequent Eastern rambles he was able, say his fellow-travellers, to chat in market and bazaar with every one whom he met. On a visit to the Bishop of Innereth he preached a Georgian sermon in the Cathedral. He published twenty – six translations of English theological works, in Chinese and Japanese, Arabic and Syriac, Armenian, Russian, Ethiopic, Coptic. Five-fold outnumbering the fecundity of his royal namesake, he left behind him a collection of 16,000 Proverbs, taken from original Oriental texts, each written in its native character and translated. So unique was the variety of his Pentecostal attainments that experts could not be found even to catalogue the four thousand books which he presented, multa gemens, with pathetic lamentation over their surrender, to the Indian Institute at Oxford.

I encountered him at three periods of his life. First as a young man at the evening parties of John Hill, Vice-Principal of St. Edmund’s Hall, where prevailed tea and coffee, pietistic Low Church talk, prayer and hymnody of portentous length, yet palliated by the chance of sharing Bible or hymn-book with one of the host’s four charming daughters. Twenty years later I recall him as a guest in Oxford Common Rooms, laying down the law on questions of Scriptural interpretation, his abysmal fund of learning and his dogmatic insistency floated by the rollicking fun of his illustrations and their delightful touches of travelled personal experience. Finally, in his old age I spent a long summer day with him in the Broadwinsor home, enjoying his library, aviary, workshop, drawings; his hospitality stimulated by the discovery that in some of his favourite pursuits I was, longo intervallo, an enthusiast like himself. He was a benevolently autocratic vicar, controlling his parish with patriarchally imperious rule, original, racy, trenchant, in Sunday School and sermons. It was his wont to take into the pulpit his college cap : into it he had pasted words of Scripture which he always read to himself before preaching. They were taken from the story of Balaam : ” And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said …”

He died at eighty-two, to have been admitted, let us hope, in the unknown land to comradeship of no ordinary brotherhood by spirits of every nation, kindred, tongue; to have found there, ranged upon celestial shelves, the Platonic archetypes of the priceless books which it tore his mortal heart to leave.

Tuckwell was no Christian, although quite happy to live and die as an Anglican clergyman, and his discomfort with real Christianity is evident in the portrait that he gives.  Those who have committed themselves to Christ sometimes forget that those who have not done so, good people as they may be, really do have their hearts in a different place.  Indeed this week I read some perceptive words in Raising Kids the World Will Hate:[5]

Reading this, I realized that if God answers my prayer for my son to be a follower of Christ, people will hate him. People will absolutely, unquestionably be repulsed by my son.

If God graciously saves my Oscar, people will call him a bigot and a homophobe. Some will ridicule him as a male chauvinist as they scorn his “sexist” beliefs. He’ll be despised as closed-minded for saying that Jesus Christ is not only God but the only God. He will probably meet a girl who insults his manhood or considers him old fashioned for waiting until marriage to have sex. His peers will think him a prude. Bullies will call him a coward. His integrity will draw insults like “goody two shoes” (I don’t even know what that means).

Teachers will think that that my son ignores scientific facts about our origins, prompting his classmates to mark him an idiot. People will tell him he has been led astray by his parents down an ancient path of misguided morality masked as a relationship with God. Financial advisors will think he’s irresponsibly generous. When he takes a stand, there will be those who will not tolerate his intolerance. He will be judged as judgmental. He will have enemies, and I’ll be asking him to love them, and even for that he’ll look foolish.

This is indeed what it means to be a Christian.  This week I myself encountered a woman who did called a generous impulse of my own as “weird”; and she was a church-goer, but her heart was not centred on Christ.  Malan, evidently, encountered the same incomprehension.

I first encountered Malan’s name attached to a translation from the Armenian of a sermon attributed to Severian of Gabala, but in reality by Eusebius of Emesa.[6]  The sermon is an excellent one.  Interestingly he dedicates his book to his friend Charles Marriot, the unsung labourer who edited and translated so many of the Oxford Library of the Fathers series.

Malan’s book and life deserve more attention than I can give them this evening, however.  Perhaps another time we will return to them.

  1. [1]Archive.org version here, Google books version available in the US only here.
  2. [2]A. N. Malan, Solomon Caesar Malan, D.D. : memorials of his life and writings, 1897.  On Google Books in the US (only) here.
  3. [3]Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s ultimate book of illustrations & quotes, Nashville:Thomas Nelson, 1998, p.261-2.
  4. [4]P.95-98.
  5. [5]Via Trevin Wax.
  6. [6]On the Sufferings and Death of our Lord, in: S. C. Malan, Meditations for every Wednesday and Friday in Lent on a prayer of S. Ephraim, London (1859), pp.215-231.  Sermon is online here; the whole book at Archive.org here.

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