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Life And Work In Benares And Kumaon 1839-1877 by James Kennedy


There is no difference of opinion among missionaries as to the object for which they have gone to the heathen. They are all agreed their object is to make known the Gospel, the message of salvation, to all to whom they obtain access, to explain its nature, and press its claims on their acceptance. To this nothing can be held superior; to this everything must be deemed subordinate. To place anything above it, or even beside it, would be to lose sight of the very raison d'etre of their missionary calling.


There may be, however, and there often is, a difference of opinion as to the line of operation best fitted to secure success. Missionaries find themselves in presence of widely-separated classes, who must be approached in different ways, and it is the part of wisdom to find out the most direct path to their understanding, conscience, and heart. About these modes of operation there has often been marked diversity of opinion, some pleading for one mode, and others for another. It cannot be denied that in the discussion thus carried on there has often been one-sidedness, resulting in some cases from natural liking, in some from special fitness, in others from the peculiarities of the sphere into which missionaries find themselves introduced so that they fail to realize the peculiarities in the qualifications, likings, and spheres of their brethren, who are as eager as themselves to bring the people to the feet of the Lord Jesus. Hinduism is a strong fortress, and those who assail it by hurling at it -- if I may so speak -- the red-hot shot of exposure of its errors, and the fire of the truth as it is in Jesus, act very unwisely in depreciating those who are quietly preparing the ammunition required for carrying on the siege, or are undermining the foundations, and thus preparing for entering the breach. The erection of the Christian Church in India is a most arduous, and at the same time a most glorious, enterprise, and a variety of workmen is required. Those who handle the trowel and the hammer act very unwisely in depreciating those who plan the structure, clear away the rubbish, and lay the foundation, or who in other ways help on the building. These illustrations require no enlargement. They indicate the views which every succeeding period of my missionary career has led me to entertain with increasing firmness. The translation and revision of the Scriptures, the preparation of Christian tracts and books, teaching in schools and colleges, taking charge of orphanages, the going among the people in city, town, and hamlet, wherever they can be reached, to speak to them about the Saviour of mankind; attending to secular work, such as the erection of buildings, keeping accounts, and gathering money -- all are legitimate departments of missionary work, and the choice of them by missionaries ought to be determined by the exigencies of missions, by personal fitness, and by providential indications of the course which should be pursued. I would go further, and say that the preparation of grammars and dictionaries, the giving of time and strength to literary work, may in certain circumstances, in the case of men of peculiar qualifications, be deemed work worthy of a missionary, as thereby he may do much to further the cause to which he has devoted his life. Readers will readily recall names of illustrious men, who were deeply imbued with the missionary spirit and did eminent service, who were also remarkable for their literary achievements. It would, however, be very undesirable that literary ability and industry should be the most prominent characteristics of a large portion of the missionary band. Devotion to literary work is, with rare exceptions, incompatible with the active life which must be led by those who would come into close contact with the people, and by personal intercourse strive to bring them to the Saviour.

Some individuals have gone to the mission-field with the firm resolve to do the work in only one way. Such a resolve has ever seemed to me most unwise, savouring more of wilfulness than of holy steady purpose to do the Master's work. The missionary ought to go out ready to part with every preconceived notion at the call of providential direction and the Spirit's guidance, prepared to do with all his might whatever he may have the opportunity of doing for the advancement of Christ's kingdom, however little may be his natural liking or supposed fitness for the work.

Like most missionaries, I went to India with my liking for certain forms of work; but like nearly all who have been long in the field, there is scarcely any department in which I have not some time or other been engaged, though for some departments I have had little aptitude and, I may say, no liking, and from which I would have escaped if I could. To have held back would have been dereliction of duty, and this conviction overcame my reluctance.



Without any depreciation of other departments, preaching to the heathen -- what is commonly called in India Bazar preaching -- ought ever to hold a prominent place.

Evangelistic work is carried on wherever access to the people can be obtained. In Benares, our primary schools, of which I shall speak presently, were taught in verandahs open to the streets. These were utilized as preaching-stations. The boys were first examined and taught; a few invariably gathered around, and we turned from the boys to the bystanders, and spoke to them so long as they were willing to hear, or we were able to speak. In addition to these verandahs we had humble buildings erected on the most available spots, for the double purpose of schools and preaching-stations. To these little chapels we could retire from the noise of the streets. In them we had morning and evening service; but as the hot weather advanced the heat was well-nigh intolerable in the city in the evening, and evening work was suspended till we got cooling by the first burst of rain.

We every now and then betook ourselves to the shade of a house or a tree, where we spoke to the passers-by. On the occasion of great gatherings we took our stand at the roads by which the people were pouring into the city, or making their way out of it. Every place was deemed suitable where we could get hearers, and could hope for any degree of attention. At some spots the crowd was so large and noisy that there was no use in trying to make ourselves heard. As we went about we spoke to individuals and little groups as opportunity was presented to us.

Some missionaries who laid themselves out for this department made it a point to go every year, with their native assistants, considerable distances to the great melas, and spend days, sometimes weeks, in setting before the assembled crowd the great truths of God's Word. Others, again, made it a point to travel during the cold weather, so far as home duty allowed, to preach the Gospel through the country; some within a limited area, confining themselves to certain towns and villages, and visiting them again and again, while others made very extended tours. It was my privilege for years to take part in these itineracies, and I remember with peculiar pleasure the opportunities they afforded for intercourse with the people.


What in India is called Bazar preaching is very different from the ordinary preaching of ministers in this country, both in its mode and in the circumstances in which it is conducted. When accompanied by a few native Christians, we begin by singing a hymn and offering a short prayer. Then those present are addressed. Often one of our Lord's parables, or some striking fact or passage from the Scriptures is taken as a text. Sometimes a remark by one of our hearers, or something of general interest which has just occurred, gives the keynote to the address. The great doctrines and facts of Scripture are mainly dwelt on, and the more simply and directly they are set forth, the more are we satisfied our duty is efficiently discharged. In our preaching the first place is assigned to the life and character, the words and deeds, the death, resurrection, and reign of our blessed Saviour. Suitableness is a valuable characteristic of preaching everywhere, and among no people is it more important than in speaking to the Hindus. They are very fond of figures, of illustrative instances, and when these are happily applied they produce a marked effect. In the character of the gods and goddesses, and in Hindu notions and practices, there is much which is open to attack, and some avail themselves largely of this opening to assail the cherished belief of the people; but as a rule it is far better to assert and enforce truth than to confute error, though truth does at times require error to be directly exposed. The native brethren are much more inclined to aggressive speech than the missionaries. They know their own countrymen well; they are familiar with their modes of thinking and of acting, they are well acquainted with the doings attributed to their gods, and they are ready to attack them with unsparing severity. On one occasion a catechist, more zealous than wise, began his address with the words, |Your religion is altogether false,| which so provoked his hearers that they did not hear another word, and went away in indignation. Afterwards I sharply reproved him for his indiscretion, as I had at times to do to him and others.

Occasionally a missionary is quietly heard, and if heard attentively as well as quietly he is gratified with the reception he gets, and hopes that good is being done. It is seldom, however, in a city like Benares that a preacher is allowed to go on long without interruption. If a considerable number assemble we are almost sure to find, before we conclude, some among them ready to speak, and the object of those who thus come forward becomes speedily apparent. Some are eager to interrupt the preacher. He has scarcely announced his subject, and has had no opportunity of explaining and illustrating it, when he is interrupted by the words, |You have spoken a long time| (the long time has perhaps not been five minutes); |let me speak a little while.| As a rule, in this case the missionary appeals to the fairness of his audience to give him a patient hearing, that they may really know his views, and may be in a position for coming to a right judgment regarding them. Often the appeal is successful, and our eager disputant is compelled to remain silent. When the address is over discussion is welcomed; and, as I have observed about preaching at the religious gatherings of the people, if conducted with reasonableness and good humour it is fitted to do good. We are thankful when there is the appearance of candour, even though there be not earnestness, when those who speak seemingly desire to know exactly what we do hold, as thereby an opportunity is given for the clearer and fuller statement of the Gospel. I have a pleasing recollection of many instances when persons were evidently impressed with what had been told them of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the claims He has on man's love and trust.

It must be acknowledged that this has not been the mood of most of our hearers where we are well known. Many are eager to defend their own position as Hindus, and to attack Christianity because it wages war with their religion. Heathenism in ancient times, heathenism now as we see it in India, was and is very liberal. It is ready to let Christianity alone, if Christianity will let it alone. It is the exclusiveness of Christianity which is so offensive. We are continually told that Christianity is excellent for us; we are most welcome to maintain our adherence to it; and it is surely fair to let them alone in the enjoyment of their religion. Because they are not let alone, because we contend that their religion is dishonouring to the living God and hurtful to themselves, because we affirm that Christ is the one Saviour and the rightful Lord, they are eager to find something in our books and views which they can assail, and by which they can show our position to be untenable.

There is nothing we hear more frequently than that all religions lead to the same goal, as all the roads of a country lead to its capital. To this we reply that those who wish to go to Calcutta in the east are not likely to reach it soon if they set out on the road to Lahore in the west. The east and west are opposite, and yet they are not opposed; but good and evil, righteousness and unrighteousness, are essentially opposed, their fruits are opposed, and those who practise them are sure to find themselves at last in places as distinct from each other as light is from darkness, as happiness is from misery.


Traditional religion is strong, except in peculiar seasons when the tide of public opinion runs in the channel of religious revolt. From the lips of Hindus we hear continually, |We must walk in the ways of our fathers. What our fathers believed we believe. What our fathers practised we practise. No good son leaves his father and mother. No good wife leaves her husband for another.| To this objection we have various replies. We tell them they do not walk in the ways of their ancient fathers, for they did many things, such as eating the flesh of cows, which they abhor, knew nothing of the gods they worship, and were not fettered by caste as they are. What we say about these Hindu ancestors gets little credit, as the people generally know nothing about them. We remind them that among themselves there have been tribes that have from generation to generation lived by thuggery and dacoity (murder and robbery). Ought the children of these murderers and robbers to walk in the ways of their fathers?

I have often referred to the Khonds in the hills of Orissa, who, till the horrid practice was stopped by British interference, enticed children from the plains, fed them well, treated them kindly, and then on a fixed day murdered them, tore limb from limb, and scattered the bleeding fragments over the fields as an offering to the Land Goddess to secure an abundant harvest. I have asked, |Ought these people to walk in the ways of their fathers?| To this question I have never received an affirmative reply.

We have reminded the people their fathers were as prone to err as we are; that we ought to weigh in the scales of truth and justice what they did, in order to the imitation of them when right and the forsaking of them when wrong. If they were with us, provided they were really wise, they would wish us to embrace the good of which they knew nothing, but which was now presented for their acceptance. With all their regard for their fathers, there were things unknown to them -- as, for instance, the potato for food, and the railway carriage for travelling. If the potato was good for the body, as many of them showed they thought by partaking of it, might not our religion be good for the soul? If they resorted in crowds to the railway carriages even when going on pilgrimage to their sacred places, if in their earthly travels they found these carriages so serviceable, might they not find the religion of Christ, if candidly considered, the best vehicle for carrying them to heaven? We have much sympathy with the feeling of reverence for ancestors, but they are not entitled to tyrannize over their descendants. We tell them we do not wish them to leave their father's house, but to return to it; not to leave the husband, but to return to the true husband.


At first sight the worship carried on at Benares seems so absurd that one wonders how a reasonable being can say anything in its defence. Many years ago I had a visit from an English gentleman who was travelling through India, and he expressed his surprise we had such limited success in turning the people from worshipping such ugly misshapen stones. He evidently thought that by quoting some of the passages of Scripture in which the wickedness and folly of idol-worship are exposed, he could silence idol-worshippers, and secure their speedy conversion to the living God. If he had come into contact with the people he would not have found their conversion such an easy matter. I have never met a Hindu who would allow he worshipped the material objects before which he bowed down. However illiterate he may be, he is ready to maintain that he worships the god represented by the image, and who is actually dwelling in it in a mysterious manner, after some sacred words have been uttered over it.

We are often told in defence of Hinduism that it is a symbolical representative religion, and that as God is vastly beyond our comprehension, we cannot, except by symbols, attain any conception of Him. We have often to say in reply, that as we cannot see our own spirit, and yet know how real, how dominant it is, so far less do we know the Supreme Being, and yet we have abundant evidence of His existence, character, and government. Of Him no fitting image can be made, and every such attempt is unworthy of Him, and degrading and demoralizing to us. The representations of God in Scripture under sensible forms are of high value to us in our weakness; but when reproduced in material substances, such as wood and stone, they have been ever found to foster low, materialistic views of the Most High. If we must betake ourselves to such symbols, let us have those which inspire lofty thoughts. What is there in these grotesque idols to help us in rising to the living God? Hindus who know English have quoted Cowper's address to his mother on getting her picture, |Oh that those lips had language,| and we have been asked, |Was not Cowper helped in realizing his mother when looking at her picture?| To which there is the obvious reply, |Cowper's mother was truly represented. Is God truly and fittingly represented by the idols you worship?|

The gods are continually represented as mediators through whom we approach the Supreme. |When we seek the favour of a king we approach him through his ministers; when we wish to propitiate a judge we try to secure a friend who will plead for us: and thus by the gods we get access to the Most High.| To this we reply that as creatures we may each one go directly to God, for He is always near us, and we can never be far from Him; but as sinners we need a mediator. As the necessity for a mediator is acknowledged, we have an excellent opportunity of showing how worthy Christ is of being trusted as the Mediator, related as He is by His essential nature to the Most High, and to man by the nature He has assumed. A favourite figure with the Hindus is that the gods are a ladder by which they ascend to the Supreme; and we could not have a figure more adapted to our purpose, as it leads us to show that Christ is the very ladder we need -- He by His Divine nature reaching heaven, and by His human nature being set upon the earth. His infinite excellence and His propitiatory sacrifice assure us that this ladder is so strong that it can bear the weight of the whole of the human family in their ascent to God.

Few things have been a greater stumbling-block to the Hindus than the crucifixion of Christ, and we have to dwell continually on the fact that it was not by the failure of His power, but by the ardour of His love, He endured this death. Some of the gods, Shiva and Kalee in particular, are propitiated by animal sacrifices, as blood is specially pleasing to them. The need of sacrifice to deliver from the consequences of sin is dimly discerned by the people, but they have such distorted views on the subject that it is difficult to convey to them the Christian idea of propitiation.


The learned men of India have been singularly wanting in what may be called the historic instinct, and we need not wonder at finding the people generally destitute of it. The evidence for Christianity drawn from its history makes no impression on them. Historical facts and the wildest legends are received by them with equal readiness. When speaking of the miracles of our Lord, and enlarging on their peculiar features of power and goodness, I have been pleased to witness an attention which led me to hope that a favourable impression was being made; but more than once my hope has been dashed to the ground by one of my most attentive hearers saying, |You have been telling us of your God. He did excellent things, and you do well to worship Him; but listen to me, and I will tell you what my gods have done.| And then my hearer has become the speaker, and has dilated on the wonderful feats of his gods, such as Krishna lifting up a mountain and holding it on his hand above his worshippers to shelter them from the angry bolts of Indra; and has triumphantly asked, |Is there anything similar to that in your Bible?| To which we have readily replied, |There is not, but there is what is more worthy of God.| The most illiterate of the people are very familiar with mythological stories, and if listened to will go on to relate them with the greatest gusto, and at the greatest length.

Our doctrine of salvation by grace alone, and not in any degree by man's merit, is often declared to be fatal to morality. This is often said in our own country, and we need not say what we advance in its confutation.

The doctrine of previous births has taken full possession of the Hindu mind, as accounting for the character and events of the present birth. This belief in transmigration has a very hurtful effect on the people, as it leads them, when suffering for their conduct, to attribute their sufferings to births of which they do not profess to have any remembrance, instead of blaming themselves for the course they had pursued. We have to show the baselessness, the unreasonableness, and the injurious tendency of this notion. The doctrine of a blind fate determining everything is widely held. The greatest criminals coolly assert it has been their fate to have done what they have done, and, of course, to suffer as they suffer. The moral nature of the people, though benumbed, is happily not destroyed, and to it we appeal against a notion which levels all moral distinctions.


Pantheism, it is well known, lies at the foundation of Hindu Polytheism. It may be indeed doubted if there has ever been a Polytheistic system apart from a Pantheistic element. The Hindus generally cannot work out the Pantheistic theory, as the Pundits do, but the most illiterate are familiar with its commonplaces, and are ready with their avowal. We often hear, |Is not God everywhere? Does He not pervade all? Is He not all? Is not all evolved from Him, as the spider's web is evolved from its body? Does not all emanate from Him, as the stream flows from the fountain and rays from the sun? Are we not all portions of Him? We may worship anything and everything if only we see God in it. There are differences in the sparks from the central fire, some far brighter than others. The gods are the brightest sparks, and therefore they are specially worthy of worship.| In reply we have to insist on the difference between the Creator and the creature, between the Ruler and His subject. We are often told it is God that makes us speak and act, and we are puppets dancing as He draws the strings. In protest against this doctrine we appeal to the acknowledgment they themselves make of the essential distinction between right and wrong, the one to be done, the other to be shunned, and show that if their Pantheistic notion be accepted the distinction is obliterated, and the floodgate is open to the commission of all wickedness.

The most advanced thought of Hindu philosophy is that all is Maya, illusion, the play, the amusement of the Supreme, who leads us to believe that we are, that we have a separate existence, which we have not; but at last the illusion will come to an end, all will be absorbed in Brahm, as the water in the clouds falls into the sea; there will be no conscious existence in the universe. Brahm himself will glide into a profound slumber from which he will awake after a vast season of repose. A rope lying on the road is taken for a serpent, but it is only a rope. There are hundreds of suns glancing on the waters, but there is only one sun. In reply we contend that illusion implies reality; that if there was no reality illusion would be impossible. If there was no serpent a rope would not be taken for it. If there was no sun there would be no suns glancing in the waters.

The question has been often discussed, Have the Hindus any idea of a living, personal God? It is unquestionable they often speak as if they had. They often say, |Does not God see? Does He not know? Will He not punish us if we do what is wrong?| It is difficult to say to what degree this notion has been formed and cherished from intercourse for ages with Muhammadans, and how far it comes from the demand of the human spirit for the living God. Some eminent Sanscrit scholars tell us that the Vedas teach Pantheism, while others assert that in their most ancient teaching they assert the doctrine of a living, personal God. From this divided opinion it is plain that the teaching of the Vedas on this vital subject is ambiguous. At any rate there cannot be a doubt that the modern Hindus have some notion of God as a living, conscious One apart from His creatures, although it is held with Pantheistic and Polytheistic notions, which are antagonistic to it, and greatly weaken its influence. Its being held at all is very serviceable to a missionary in the prosecution of his work.

In a city like Benares many have acquired a considerable acquaintance with the Bible, and these endeavour to find flaws in it to show that our religion is as assailable as theirs.

I must not go further into these details of evangelistic work. As I am giving them my past life comes vividly to my remembrance. I remember its pleasures, and also its difficulties and trials. I feel as if I was engaged in preaching to the Hindus among whom I have spent a great part of my life, and discussing with them the great questions which affect God and man. I am consequently in danger of saying more than can be interesting to my readers.


In Benares it is rare to have only Hindus for our hearers. We very often have Muhammadans also, and, they are our most eager and bitter opponents. All I can now say about them is that they are bent on entrapping us with questions about the Sonship of Christ, the Trinity in the Godhead, the authenticity of the Scriptures as we now have them, the alleged incompleteness of Christ's prophetic office, as proved, they think, by the promise of the Paraclete as well as by the predictions in both the Old and New Testaments. Among Muhammadans we have met individuals who seemed sincere inquirers after truth, who seemed bent on ascertaining what is true and discovering what is false. We have been gratified with their apparent candour, humility, and reasonableness. We must acknowledge these have been a small minority compared with the many whose pride and bigotry have shut up their mind against everything we had to advance, and whose sole aim has been to assail Christianity and Christians.

In the prosecution of the evangelistic work, which I have endeavoured to describe, missionaries come into contact with all classes. The seed of the word thus sown far and wide may remain for a time hidden, but we have every reason to hope it will some time spring up and bring forth abundant fruit.

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