A Life Laid Down
A Brief Memoir Of Fannie M. Arthur
Next to the study of the Holy Writ itself, there is probably no class of literature so stimulating and inspiring as Christian biography. Especially is this true when the person, whose life-story is under consideration, is one who was characterized by genuine piety and fervent zeal for Christ and the salvation of a lost world. The knowledge that a man or woman of like passions with ourselves, has nevertheless been moved upon and energized by the Spirit of God in a manner above that which Christians ordinarily experience, is an encouragement for every reader to count on God for similar grace. Our environments and temperaments may differ widely, but the power that will enable us to act in our special sphere to the glory of Him who has saved us, must necessarily be the same in every case.
And for the unsaved, Christian biography is also not without profit, as manifesting a character and object of life of which the merely natural man is altogether ignorant. "Men may not believe in the doctrines of Christianity until divinely convicted," said a valued friend to me lately, "but all men can appreciate unselfish service and self-denying devotion, and we must be characterized by these if we would win lost souls to Christ." I am sure this is true. And I consider the life-story of Fannie M. Arthur a striking illustration of such unselfishness and self-denial. Therefore I have written this book; and because of this, I am anxious, unknown friend, that you should read it thoughtfully and carefully.
I am assured that Miss Arthur's short pilgrimage on earth was in God's sight a much longer life than most people ever live; and I am desirous of saving some of its valued lessons for myself and others. I hope I have profited in penning the record, imperfect as it is. I hope you will find profit in reading it. If so, my object is attained.
Thanks are due Miss Gohrman for much of the information contained herein, and to the many friends who kindly loaned letters from Miss Arthur, and to Mr. C. Armerding and members of the family who helped by going carefully over the manuscript, thus ensuring correctness of statement.
H. A. Ironside
March 22, 1917.
"From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures."
"Even a child is known by its doings, whether its work be pure and whether it be right."
Grace is not inherited. Regenerated parents do not produce regenerated children. "Ye must be born again," is as true of the offspring of believers as of any others; for "that which is born of the flesh is flesh." Nevertheless parentage has much to do with the lives of those "made wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus." Godly parents are an inestimable blessing to their children, and this blessing was Fannie Arthur's.
Her father was William A. Arthur, of Fraserburgh, Scotland. He came to know Christ early in life, and was educated with the gospel ministry in view. He studied at Edinburgh, and later removed to America. In Philadelphia he became a contractor and builder, though always taking a lively interest in the work of the Lord. He was associated with T. C. Horton in founding the Bethany Mission, which was later taken up by John Wanamaker. Mr. Arthur is reported to have preached the gospel in power, and blessing to have accompanied his ministry. Within a few months after opening the Mission, the Sunday-school attendance had reached five hundred, and many adults and children were saved and led on in the Christian life.
In 1884 Mr. Arthur married Fannie M. McNutt, of Donegal, Ireland, whom he met in Philadelphia, in which city their union was consummated. Both had, from their marriage, a deep interest in foreign missions. Six children were given them, two girls and four boys, and of these, Fannie was the eldest, born on March 22, 1886. One of the boys died in infancy.
During her tender years Fannie would often hear the parents discussing missionary projects, as both felt a distinct drawing to that work. Her young mind was early directed to the need of heathen nations, and the responsibility laid upon Christians to give the light of the gospel to those sitting in dark-ness; a responsibility, alas, so feebly realized. The little girl became very early exercised about her own soul, and could not recall a time when she did not seriously think of eternal things. Like many another child of Christian parents, she found it difficult in after-life to say just when she was born of God, though she remembered well when definitely and publicly she confessed her Saviour.
Ere that time, however, her parents had, after long deliberation, taken the step of leaving their new homeland and going to a foreign shore, as missionaries of the Cross.
Though a member of the Presbyterian church, Mr. Arthur was deeply interested in freer, more independent lines of missionary enterprise than those of the regular Board. In touch with other men of like mind, he sought a simpler method of carrying out the scriptural injunction, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."
At first he was much occupied with the appalling need of Africa, and thought of going out with the African Inland Mission. But later his attention was directed to the needy lands south of the United States, and he finally concluded his "call" was to Central America. To look over the field, he made a voyage to Costa Rica in company with Peter Cameron Scott (who, some years later, laid down his life in Africa), and they decided on a mission-site at a place called afterwards Elim, on the River Frio. The district abounded in ignorant, priest-ridden Indians and half-breeds, without a ray of gospel light, and whose very degradation formed the strongest appeal to these godly men.
Returning to Philadelphia to arrange for the establishment of the Mission, Mr. Arthur's health began to fail so alarmingly that it seemed as though his work was about to end. Mr. Scott decided to go to Africa, and departed. Mr. Arthur still had Central America so heavily on his heart that he could not give it up, and though he broke down completely for a time, the destitution of the Costa Ricans was ever before him, harrowing his soul, and leading him to cry mightily to God on their behalf.
The Central American Industrial Mission was formed with Mr. Arthur at the head of it, and other brothers and friends associated with him. As long as he could, he gave addresses seeking to awaken an interest in the proposed work, but his weakened body made him a ready prey to several successive attacks of pneumonia, which so reduced his powers of resistance that he fell into consumption. Meantime, as his body grew weaker, his spirit became more eager to carry the story of the Cross to a heathen land.
At last his life was despaired of, and a consultation of physicians being called, they predicted that he had only about three days to live! Upon this, he declared that if such were indeed the case, he would spend the time going to the country that lay so much upon his heart, even though he had to give up his life on the way. He decided to leave immediately, and was hurried on shipboard accompanied by Mrs. Arthur, his brother David, and his sister Miss Mary, together with some others who had been arranging to go; leaving the children at home in the care of a faithful servant, who came to them a Roman Catholic, but was afterwards converted, and became an ardent and zealous Christian, a member of the Salvation Army. Parting with their five little ones was indeed a hard wrench, but they entrusted them to God, knowing, too, that loving relatives would exercise a godly oversight on their behalf.
Contrary to the physicians' predictions, Mr. Arthur's health showed marked improvement during the voyage, and instead of dying in three days, he actually lived in Central America three years—"a year for a day"—ere called up higher.
It would be interesting and probably profitable to follow the history of the short-lived Central American Industrial Mission, did space permit; but to do so would turn us too much aside from our main purpose, which is to show how Fannie was being prepared of the Lord for her service of after-years. It is necessary therefore to sum up very briefly her father's experiences.
In the conducting of the Mission Council, there was unquestionably a great deal of zeal without knowledge, and possibly on the part of the workers there was much going forth unprepared, but He who weighs all according to the heart, will estimate all aright at His judgment seat. Mr. Arthur learned to see many things differently ere he passed away, and felt that many mistakes had been made because of lack of understanding Scripture principles. The financing of the work was ever a problem, and had it not been for the generous help of another brother, "both in the flesh and in the Lord," it might have succumbed at the very start.
It was on Nov. 30, 1895, that Mr. Arthur and his six companions left for Costa Rica—an eager, largely-untrained, little company, actuated by fervent love and missionary zeal, but with comparatively little light, whose earnestness and devotedness however might well shame many better instructed. They were detained sometime at Colon, Panama, but on Dec. 21 left for Greytown, and arriving there in due time, took a small boat up the Rio Frio, where they finally secured a property to use as a base for industrial mission work, and to which they gave the sweet name of Elim. Here the real work began, and in these agreeable surroundings Mr. Arthur's health steadily improved, though, as after-events manifested, there was no permanent cure effected.
On May 18th of the following year, he was able to return to Philadelphia to take back other missionaries and the children from whom they had been separated for six months. Two of Fannie's letters have been preserved which I feel sure will have a pathetic interest for those who knew and loved her in after-years. Remember the little girl was between nine and ten years of age when they were written. The earliest one is dated March 18, 1896.
"Dear mamma and papa: We were all very glad to hear from you. I am glad papa seems to be getting well again. I give Charles [her baby brother] papa's picture when I think of it; and he says, 'My papa I' He is beginning to talk a little now. I am glad to hear that the Indians are getting clothed and are learning the Spanish hymns.
"James [the second child] and me [I] are getting along very good at school, which I know you will be glad to hear of. My teacher, Miss Ray, is the best teacher I ever had. We both of us children got promoted, and the teacher I had, said I was the best righter [writer] in the class. So I was rewarded with a nice two-bladed penknife.
"I send you my avridg [average], I wish papa many another birthday, as yesterday was his birthday, and we all wish him many happy returns.
"It does seem so long since you went away. I hardly know how you look; but when I think that you want Aunt Annie to send us in a letter, to whip, [alluding to a jocular remark in one of her mother's letters], it makes me think I see you smiling. I hope you will send papa soon to take us there.
"From your loving daughter,
The second letter is dated May 16th, but it was not on its way to Central America ere the father returned a few days later to greet his little daughter and her brothers and sister, in person.
"Dear mamma and papa: I am so glad that you are getting a little better. How I wish I was there to take care of you while you are sick.
"The feathers which you sent in my letter are very nice indeed. I was so glad to hear that uncle David is getting well too [referring to her father's brother, who had been lost in the woods for about a week, and been very ill as a result of exposure and suffering].
"Everybody is good to us, and we are having a very good time. James and me are getting along very nicely at school. I had my haircut off. You cut it like a boy's hair, so I had to get it cut.
"I have went [gone] to the Salvation Army once or twice, and I like it very much. Sometimes we have a little one in our house.
"I hope it will not be long till I see you again, my own dear mamma. I suppose you are very tired at nights after working so hard all day. When I come over there I will not say, 'O mamma, I'm so tired I' But I will help you all I can. I am trying hard to please Jesus. When I think of Jesus He makes me very happy.
"Little Mary, my sister [the second to the youngest child], is so loving to me. When I come home from school she runs to meet me. One morning, when I came into her room, she had just woke up, and began to cry. And I said, 'What is the matter, Mary?' and she said, 'I don't want my mamma to go away.' She longed for you so much.
"I wish I could see your face again. May God bless you in the time of your trouble. I will help big Mary [the servant, as distinguished from little Mary, the sister] and Aunt Annie all I can.
We will be very glad to see you soon. God be with you till we meet again.
"Your loving daughter,
Her aunt adds a P. S. to this letter, saying that they had "just come back from seeing Will, and he does look splendid." The children's joy was unbounded, and the father's gratitude to God for thus preserving his little family can be imagined.
On June 20, 1896, the second party sailed for Costa Rica, and the children went along to rejoin their mother at Elim, in the land of their dreams. On July 16th, Mr. David Arthur wrote from San Carlos, announcing their safe arrival that far, and a few days later they were all together at the Mission station.
The strange land, with its strange sights and strange people was a never - failing source of surprise and interest to the children, and especially to the older ones, who soon learned to love the gentle bronze-skinned natives; and their own hearts too were deeply stirred as they heard the gospel preached to them. And it was there that Fannie and her brother James, definitely confessing Christ as their Saviour, were baptized in the Rio Frio. Fannie was then eleven years old, but those who knew her best testify that she was a conscientious, consistent Christian at that tender age. A friend who knew her from childhood relates the following incident, which she learned from Mr. Arthur himself on his death-bed. It shows how early the missionary spirit manifested itself in the daughter.
..."William Arthur had taken his two eldest children, Fannie and James, and gone to an outlying district from Elim, their home-base. He had a little shelter in the forest there, and a patch of ground sufficient to enable him to grow a few things to eat, while he spent a few weeks among the people there. It was his wont to gather each evening the few natives near by who helped him on the place, and to read and pray with them. One afternoon he had fallen asleep in a hammock, being even then weak from consumption, which drained his life away, and did not awake for several hours. When he did so, he heard a childish voice reading aloud with difficulty from a Spanish Testament. It was little Fannie, and the father divined that he had slept beyond the usual evening hour, and with a thoughtfulness beyond her years, the child would not disturb the sleep she knew meant so much to her father, but gathering the natives around the door, read to them as well as she could, and then knelt down and said a few broken sentences in Spanish, which she concluded by saying, in English: 'Dear Lord, I don't know the Spanish words, but please give them the blessing in Spanish as I ask Thee in English.' The father lay and listened until the child rose and was quietly dismissing the others; and when she saw him open his eyes, she explained that when they came he was asleep, and she did not want to disturb him, nor the men to miss their evening blessing, and she thought the Lord would understand."
Ada F. DeLaney.
Ill-health finally prevailed over her father's indomitable spirit, and having fulfilled his "three years" in Central America, he returned with all his family to Philadelphia, toward the close of 1898. We cannot go further into the history of the Mission at Elim. For various causes it was finally closed; but "the day" will declare what had been accomplished.
Upon their return to the States, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur came into intimate association and finally into full fellowship with the Christians commonly known simply as "believers," or "brethren," with whose evangelical teaching the missionaries had long been in touch. Mr. George Mackenzie and Mr. Jas. Arthur, both of the Mission Council, had been led by the Word and Spirit of God into this more scriptural position during William's absence, and as they presented the truth to him, he learned to rejoice in it.
But Mr. Arthur was sinking rapidly, and was never able to attend the meetings, though brethren frequently met him in his room for the sweet and solemn observance of "the breaking of bread," thus in simplicity showing the Lord's death, in hope of His soon return. He daily grew weaker, though sustained in spirit to the end, and on March 22, 1899 (Fannie's thirteenth birthday), he "fell asleep through Jesus" (i. e., the body is laid asleep by Jesus) until "the coming of the Lord Jesus and our gathering together unto Him;" while the spirit departed to be "with Christ, which is far better."
The lessons of his life, his unostentatious piety and devotion to Christ, his intense zeal and yearning of heart for the heathen who know not God, together with his unwavering subjection to the will of his Master, made deep and lasting impressions upon his eldest daughter, who was mature enough to realize what it meant to follow her Saviour even to death. She herself related to the writer how she bowed alone before God and offered herself to carry on so far as possible what she felt was her father's unfinished work.
As she grew in years and in grace, she cherished the hope of becoming, some day, a missionary to the Central Americans. In due time this desire was fulfilled, and she had the joy of carrying to them the precious gospel of the grace of God, so dear to her own soul, till her life was laid down.
In so writing, I would not imply that Fannie was always stirred by the same spirit of devotion. She had seasons of coldness and indifference like most growing girls, and often earth-born clouds shadowed the heavenly vision, but the tenor of her life was as above described.