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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XXIV. THE MISSIONARY IN INDIA.

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

CHAPTER XXIV. THE MISSIONARY IN INDIA.

On reviewing these reminiscences I find there are several subjects of interest to which I have only casually alluded, and others on which I have made no remark. My readers will, I hope, bear with me while I detain them by stating facts and expressing views which will make the narrative more complete.

It is unnecessary to describe the office of missionary to the heathen. No one has rightly entered on the office without being deeply impressed by its greatness, arduousness, and responsibility. It is equally unnecessary to describe the qualifications required. No one can contemplate the demands the office makes on intellect, heart, and conscience, on love to the Lord Jesus Christ and love to souls, on wisdom, perseverance, and courage, without exclaiming with the great missionary Paul, |Who is sufficient for these things?| The idea that one unqualified for work at home would do for a missionary abroad is so preposterous that it is strange it should have ever been entertained by the most heedless.

There is, however, a great difference between an office and those who serve in an office. Because an office is great and honourable it does not follow that those who hold it have always the high character it demands. The question may, then, be fairly asked, Are missionaries worthy of their office? I, of course, use the word |worthy| in a relative sense, and I remember our limited acquaintance with the human heart. It must be acknowledged there have been a few, happily a very few, who have shown themselves utterly unworthy of the office, some by lack of intellectual fitness, and others by want of spiritual character and by indisposition to the work. There have been cases of the utter failure of character, but these have been extremely rare. Of missionaries generally it may be confidently affirmed they have been true men. I have a wide acquaintance with the missionaries of Northern India. During our long residence in Benares we saw many of all Societies, of all Churches, as they travelled up and down. Benares is one of the great halting-places between Bengal and the Upper Provinces, and residence there gives many opportunities for acquaintance with brethren. We have the most pleasing recollection of many we have met, and we have followed their course with deep interest.

[Sidenote: MINISTERS AND MISSIONARIES.]

I should be acting in opposition to my settled conviction if I were to speak of missionaries as more devoted to Christ's service, more self-denied, more ready to endure privation than home ministers. This glorification of missionaries, as missionaries, was much in vogue at one time, and is still sometimes heard. Our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, gives to every one his work, and our devotedness is shown, not by our office, but by the way in which we do the work assigned us. Predilection to a certain sphere, supposed fitness for it, temperament and circumstances, have much to do in indicating to us the sphere our Lord would have us to occupy. Tried by the test of devotedness, as shown in daily life, I have never seen any reason for placing one class of Christ's servants above the other. Among ministers there is, as we all know, a great difference, not only in talent and attainment, but also in love, zeal, wisdom, and endurance -- in every quality which their work demands. Similar is the variety among missionaries. There are many degrees of efficiency and, it must be acknowledged, of inefficiency. They, as well as their brethren at home, can go through the routine of their work in a very perfunctory and unsatisfactory manner; while they, too, can consecrate all their powers to the service of their Lord. It would be easy to select from the home field ministers who, in unwearied labour, self-denial, and privation for Christ's sake, greatly excel the ordinary run of missionaries; and it would be equally easy to select from the foreign field missionaries who greatly excel most of their home brethren.

In several respects there is a marked contrast in the position of ministers and missionaries. Ministers labour in their own language, among their own people, amidst home surroundings and associations; while missionaries have to part with loved relatives and to betake themselves to a foreign land, where they have to learn a foreign language, often languages, at the cost of much time and of wearying application, have for years, as in the greater part of India, to bear a severe climate, are called to prosecute their work among a strange, an unsympathetic, and sometimes a hostile people, and, what is felt by family people to be the greatest trial of all, they have to send their children to England, and to live separate from them for years. Some of these trials missionaries share with their fellow-countrymen, who from secular motives go to foreign lands, but others are peculiar to their vocation.

While I mention the trials of a missionary career I cannot forget the trials of ministerial life at home. We should require to shut our eyes to patent facts if we were to ignore the privations many excellent men are called to endure, and the varied difficulties they have to encounter from the character and circumstances of the people among whom they labour, from the peculiarities of our times, and from the abiding qualities of human nature, as it is now constituted. Missionaries are not rich, but they have adequate support, for good or evil are not dependent for it on the goodwill of those to whom they minister, and receive it as regularly as if it came from an endowment. With children sent home for education they have times of great pressure, but much has been done to aid them in meeting this additional expense. Viewed merely as to the comfort of living, and ease of mind as to support, the advantages are not all on the side of the home minister. To counteract the advantages of the missionary's position to which I have referred, it must be remembered the average career of service in India is short -- some returning very soon, and others after a few years. Those who return after years spent abroad, and yet in the prime of life, are rightly expected to enter the list of the home ministry; but the work they have left and that on which they are entering are so different, that the mental habits acquired in the one are felt to be a poor preparation for, and often even an obstacle to, efficiency in the other.

[Sidenote: SPIRITUAL CHARACTER INDISPENSABLE.]

In their duties, joys, and trials, ministers and missionaries have much in common. We have to deal with the same human nature, manifesting the same characteristics, though in different forms. We have the same message to deliver. We have the same great end in view, the salvation of those to whom we minister, their restoration to the character and joys of God's children. Whether we labour at home or abroad, we are required to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. If we have not entered on our work from love to Christ and love to souls, with an intense desire to spend and be spent in Christ's service, with a belief that He has called us to it, and given us a measure of fitness for it; if we are conscious of being dominated by inferior motives; if we have not delight in our work, even when there is great pressure on both mind and body; if we do not long for the success of our work, it is obvious we have missed our vocation, and it would be better for us to sweep the street, I would say it would be better to walk the treadmill than occupy our position for an hour. This I must say for myself, I am deeply thankful for having been privileged to labour in the foreign field, and consider it the highest honour which could have been conferred on me. With my brethren I have had many trials to endure, some privations to bear, some perils to encounter, but I have never for an hour regretted my early decision to give myself to Christ's work among the heathen. I am sure I here speak the feeling of my missionary brethren.

I have endeavoured in my reminiscences to give such a representation of a missionary's position and work in Northern India, that home ministers who may read my narrative can have no difficulty in comparing and contrasting ministerial and missionary spheres. It will be seen how varied are the duties devolving on the missionary, and how great are the demands on thought and effort for their proper discharge. They have, in many cases, to attend to harassing and perplexing secular work. A number give their time and strength to teaching, and I know enough of this department to testify that those who give themselves to it in a climate like that of India lead very laborious lives. I have said little of the translation of the Scriptures, and the preparation of Christian books and tracts. This is a department in which there has been much exhausting effort of both body and mind, as all know well who have done even a little in it. In the prosecution of direct evangelistic work the missionary finds much to interest and encourage him, but also much to grieve and depress him, especially if he has a sensitive nature, and has no natural love for debate. Even to those who do not shrink from discussion there is often not a little which is very trying. I have a vivid recollection of times when I have returned from Benares to my home in the suburbs, so wearied in body and grieved in spirit by the opposition I had encountered and the blasphemies I had heard, that I have felt as if I could never enter the city again. But I went again, and perhaps the next time was much encouraged.

Missionaries at the same station are much more closely associated than ministers at the same place at home. The management of the mission, the policy to be adopted, and the respective places to be filled, are under common arrangement and control, subject to the district committee, and through them to the home directors. Many perplexing questions come before missionaries thus associated, and human nature in them must have parted with its usual infirmities, and put on peculiar excellence, if difference of judgment and consequent variance of feeling had never appeared. We cannot plead exemption from human imperfection. It cannot be denied that at times there has been strong diversity of judgment and painful alienation of feeling, when missionaries have too closely resembled Paul and Barnabas in their sharp dispute at Antioch; but it can at the same time be most truly affirmed that with very rare exceptions discord has soon come to an end, and those who have differed widely have become attached friends, as we know Paul and Barnabas did. The normal state of things is that of mutual love, respect, and helpfulness.

Missionaries have also had their differences with the Societies that have sent them out and supported them. The respective position of home committees and foreign missionaries are so different, that a difference of judgment is in some cases unavoidable; but confiding as they have done in the goodness of each other's motives, full harmony has been soon restored. I must be allowed to say of the London Missionary Society, whose agent I was for so many years in India, that my warmest acknowledgments are due to it for all the kindness and consideration shown to me and mine. If I were now to begin my career with my knowledge of the past, there is no Society with which I could so confidently connect myself.

[Sidenote: INTERCOURSE AND CO-OPERATION.]

All have heard of the friendly intercourse among missionaries of different churches. They, too, when near each other have had occasional differences; but with rare exceptions they have been on terms not only of courteous bearing, but of affectionate intimacy. There is nothing in our Indian life to which we look back with greater pleasure than our intercourse with Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, and Episcopalian brethren. With the Episcopalian and Baptist missionaries at Benares we were on as warm terms of friendship as if they had been members of our own Mission. For many years we were in the habit of meeting weekly with them for the study of the Scriptures, prayer, and Christian communion.

Most Europeans take no interest in missions, look on missionaries as good men engaged in a Quixotic enterprise, and know almost nothing about their work, but still they treat them with courtesy. There are, however, some of our own countrymen who take a deep interest in our work, visit our schools, occasionally attend our native services, and contribute liberally to our mission schemes. These do much to cheer our hearts and promote our success. Again and again my work would have been at a standstill but for the help given me by European Christians, and our intercourse with some has resulted in close and enduring friendship. If persons have a temperament preparing them for friendship, I cannot conceive any position more favourable to its formation and strength than that of a missionary in many of our Indian stations.

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