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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : CHAPTER XXVII. NATIVE CHRISTIANS (Continued).

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


I suppose there is no community of any extent that has not unworthy members, persons that may be called its excrescence and blots, who have increased its size, as a tumour increases the size of the body, but are actually its weakness and disgrace. Such were the unworthy persons of whom I have been speaking. Very different is the general character of the native Christians connected with the various missions in Northern India. Some of our converts have made sacrifices, by avowing themselves the followers of Christ, to which persons in our country are never called. They have literally left father and mother, houses and lands, wife and children, for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever may have been the position of our converts, they have, as a rule, parted with much which is highly valued by their people. Caste standing, even when the caste is not considered high, secures many advantages, and is greatly prized. Its loss is deemed a dire calamity, and this loss our converts are called to endure. They join a despised and hated community, are called vile apostates, and are charged with the most sordid motives. I have heard the charge advanced against converts who, to my knowledge, had left their place in native society under the power of the profound conviction that Christ was entitled to their hearts and lives, though the conviction required of them the most painful sacrifices, and exposed them to the bitterest reproach. During my first years at Benares, one of the catechists of our Mission was a Brahman, who had been baptized by Mr. Ward of Serampore. He was stripped of the property to which he was the heir, of which the annual rental, according to an official document, was 5,000 rupees (L500), because he could not perform the funeral rites of his father. His income as catechist was small, but I often heard him charged with the lowest mercenary motives by those who knew not, and did not wish to know, anything about his antecedents. He bore the charge patiently, deeming it an honour to be reproached for his Master. He was far from being a perfect character, but no cloud ever seemed to come over his belief that Jesus was the Saviour of the world. When he was on his death-bed I asked him if he regretted the life of comparative poverty and of great reproach he had led because he had become a Christian. He tried to raise himself on his pillow, and said with an energy that startled me, |If I had a thousand lives, I would give them for Him who died for me.| In reference to him and others, the remark was often made by our hearers, |We are willing to listen to you -- you are a good man and have kept to your religion; but we do not wish to hear these, for they are apostates.|

In all communities there are so many varieties, that the most successful attempt at characterization on the part of those who know them well can only claim an approach to correctness, and must be received with deductions. Those who look at a community from a distance, who know only a few individuals, perhaps know none at all, but judge from what they hear from others, and these deeply prejudiced, are sure to form a very false estimate. When speaking of our native Christians, I have the advantage of long and intimate acquaintance not only with those of our own Mission, but with those of other missions in Northern India, and I think I should understand them better than many who have the most superficial and partial knowledge of them, perhaps do not know them at all, and yet speak of them in depreciating terms.


I cannot speak of our native Christians, even of those who have made great sacrifices, as possessing a lofty character, as marked by signal excellence. We learn from the Epistles of the Apostle Paul he found much which was faulty in his converts, and we need not wonder at the faults which are too manifest in ours. Is there any home minister who is not tried by the conduct of some of his people? Is there any minister or missionary who has not frequent reason to be dissatisfied with himself? Indian missionaries are sometimes sorely tried by their converts. All around is a low moral tone. Slight, inadequate views of sin prevail. Truthfulness is praised, but little practised. Our people breathe a tainted atmosphere, and by becoming Christians they do not escape its deleterious effects. While these defects are frankly acknowledged, truth enables me to state, without any misgiving, there is much in our people which is very estimable. Observe their daily life, go with them to their respective businesses, and you will find them with few exceptions diligently pursuing their vocation, and honourably supporting their families. See them at their homes; you will be gladly welcomed, and you will generally find them striving to have everything clean and tidy, and as comfortable as their means permit. You will find the Bible and a few Christian books on their shelves, and you will learn that family worship is largely observed. When conversing with them you are often impressed with their manifest sincerity, with their gratitude for having been brought into the fold of Christ, with the honour conferred on them by bearing His name, much reproached as they are on account of it, and with their desire to walk worthy of their profession. See them in the house of God, cleanly clad, and as they engage in the different parts of the service you are struck with their devout appearance. Observe them in their intercourse with each other, and you will find much of mutual kindness and helpfulness. Observe them in their intercourse with Hindus and Muhammadans, and you will find that instead of hiding their Christian profession, and being ashamed of it, they glory in it. I have said that missionaries are tried by their converts. I ought in candour to add that converts are sometimes tried by missionaries. Their training has been so different from ours, their position is so different from ours, that it is very difficult for us to understand them thoroughly; and so far as we fail to understand them, we fail in sympathy and in right action towards them.


The native churches passed through a fiery ordeal in the Mutiny of 1857, and came out of it in a way which reflected great honour on their Christian constancy. Even those who had the most favourable opinion were not prepared for the readiness shown by them to part with all, to part with life itself, rather than part with their Lord. I cannot say how many were put to death, but we know that thirty-four were killed on the Parade-ground of Furruckabad by order of the Nawab, and seven or eight perished at Cawnpore. In Foxe's |Book of Martyrs| there is not a more striking instance of witnessing to the death for the Lord Jesus than was manifested by Vilayat Ali, in the Chandnee Chauk of Delhi, when, surrounded by infuriated Muhammadans calling on him to recant or die, he declared Christ to be his Saviour and Lord, and when falling under the swords of his enemies uttered with his last breath the prayer of Stephen, |Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.| The account is furnished by a witness of the scene. There were defections, but if our view be confined to Christians connected with the different missions they were remarkably few, fewer, it is affirmed, than those of Europeans and East Indians. One whom I knew well, though he was not of our Mission, apostatized to save his life, and died most miserably, abandoned by his new fellow-religionists, and tenderly watched by those whom he had left. Full details of the conduct of the native Christians in that terrible crisis are given by Mr. Sherring in his book, |The Indian Church during the Great Rebellion.| This book had, I believe, a considerable circulation when it was published, but like many other good books it has passed into oblivion. The information it contains was furnished by persons intimately acquainted with the facts, and is very valuable as proving the genuineness and constancy of native Christian piety. It gives more insight into the real character of the native Christian community than can be obtained by perusal of large volumes full of ordinary mission details. The friends of missions would do good service by seeking its republication.

The loyalty of the native Christians to the British Government, as well as the constancy of their Christian faith, was strikingly shown throughout the Mutiny. This loyalty was maintained amidst much fitted to discourage it in the conduct towards them of Europeans, both official and non-official.

We have seen native Christians in joy and sorrow, in trial and temptation. We have been present at their death-bed, and have heard their words of hope and trust when entering the dark valley. We have had abundant reason to regard them with esteem and love. With many we have had pleasant intercourse, and from our intercourse with some we have received intellectual and spiritual profit. At one time there was a small band of highly-educated native Christians at Benares connected with the different missions. It gave us great pleasure to have them now and then spending an evening with us. They were always ready to start some important subject, and their remarks were stimulating and instructive. I remember more than once our remarking, when they went away, Could we have had a more pleasant and profitable evening if our European brethren had been with us? At the great Missionary Conferences which have been held in recent years the native Christian brethren have taken a prominent part, and both intellectually and spiritually they have been found worthy of standing abreast of their brethren from Europe and America. It must be acknowledged there has been a difficulty at times in adjusting the exact relationship of these highly-educated native brethren to their missionary friends, and there has been in consequence unpleasant jarring; but amidst differences Christian principle has asserted its uniting power, and their ordinary bearing is that of mutual esteem and love.

It may be said, |If native Christians as a community deserve the character you have given them, how is it that people from India speak so much against them?| The explanation can be easily given.


There is no part of the mission-field, the South Seas, Africa, the West Indies, China, as well as India, from which persons have not come affirming that the so-called converts are changed in name only; that they are no better than they were, and in many cases worse. Do we not find analogous cases nearer home? It is often said of professors of religion -- very truly of individuals, very untruly of the class -- that they are less worthy of trust than avowedly worldly persons. Large communities remarkable for religious zeal, like the people of Wales, are condemned in the face of favourable evidence which seems well authenticated. Persons have even stoutly maintained that Christianity itself has been a failure in its moral influence on the nations. Want of sympathy and antipathy blind the mind to facts, and lead to most erroneous judgments. The great majority of Europeans in heathen countries have no sympathy with missions, and have neither the knowledge nor the spirit indispensable to the formation of a correct judgment. They hear a loose report of converts from persons who in turn have been told by others what they say, and the report is at once believed and circulated. They have, perhaps, met an unworthy native bearing the Christian name, and he is regarded as a fit representative of the entire community.

It is a common opinion among many of our countrymen in India that Hinduism is as good for Hindus as Christianity is for us, and they cannot conceive why a person should leave the one for the other except from sinister motives. When speaking on one occasion with a lady who regularly attended church, and no doubt deemed herself an excellent Christian, about a native gentleman of high rank, whose kindly temper and courteous demeanour we were both praising, I said, |Would that he were a follower of our Saviour!| She looked surprised, and said, |Do you think so? He is, I think, a better man by remaining as he is.| So strong is this feeling with some English people, that a native who calls himself a Christian is regarded by them as on that account a suspicious character. I know a well-educated native Christian who applied for a Government situation. He had good certificates; they were sent in, and when the official to whom he applied came to know he was a Christian -- he knew nothing more about him -- he threw them aside with the word |namunzoor,| |not accepted| -- the technical term for |rejected.| One result of this English dislike to native Christians is that natives have told me that none but missionaries and a few associated with them wished them to become Christians; that English people generally wished them to remain Hindus. It can be conceived how great is the stumbling-block thus put in our way. A Church of England missionary of great experience once said to me, |Would that there were no Europeans near us! We might then hope for progress.| I am not to vindicate the remark. I mention it to show the effect on the mind of a devoted missionary by English hostility to the conversion of natives. On every side, from European as well as from native society, there is every worldly obstacle to their embracing the Gospel.


At one time there were obstacles to the profession of Christianity which do not now exist. When India was being brought under the sway of England, our rulers regarded the Gospel as a disturbing and threatening element, which ought to be carefully excluded. Long after the Christian feeling at home had forced open the door, the Gospel was treated as an intruder to be in every possible way thwarted and disgraced. In illustration of the opposition the Gospel had to encounter, I quote a few sentences from a recently-published volume, |Asiatic Studies, Religious and Social,| by Sir Alfred C. Lyall, K.C.B., the present Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Provinces: -- |We disbursed impartially to Hindus, Mussulmans, and Parsees, to heterodox and orthodox, to Juggarnath's Car, and to the shrine of a Muhammadan who had died fighting against infidels, perhaps against ourselves.| |The chief officers of the Company in India were so cautious to disown any political connexion with Christianity that they were occasionally reported to have no religion at all.| |Up to the year 1831 native Christians had been placed under the strongest civil disabilities by our regulations.... Converts were liable to be deprived not only of property, but of their wives and children; and they seem to have been generally treated as unlucky outcasts, with whom no one need be at any trouble of using any sort of consideration.| We are told that they were even forced by Government order to pull the car of Juggarnaut, and severely punished if they refused. According to a parliamentary paper of 1832, |our interference extended over every detail of management: we regulated funds, repaired buildings, kept in order cars and images, appointed servants, and purveyed the various commodities required for use of the pagodas.| Under home pressure this state of things has gradually given place to neutrality, which, if impartially maintained, is I suppose the only policy open to us in the peculiar circumstances of India.

I have already said there are very unworthy persons bearing the name of native Christians. To judge our Indian churches by these is as unfair as to judge English Christians in India by Englishmen, of whom, alas! there are many, soldiers and others, who are notorious for drunkenness and licentiousness. We have even English beggars in India, wretched men, who have drifted out of the army, railway, or other department, and who disgrace our name. Strong men have come whimpering to my door, to whom I have given help, and I have seen them a few hours afterwards -- I remember one case well -- rolling in the bazaar in beastly drunkenness. It would be as fair to take these men as a specimen of English Christians, as to judge native Christians by persons bearing the name while they disgrace it.

The very acknowledgment of missionaries about the imperfections of their communities, about the utter hollowness of some individuals, has been turned into adverse testimony. In the recent meeting at Exeter Hall to welcome the Madagascar missionaries, Messrs. Cousin and Shaw, Mr. Cousin, in the course of his very interesting address, said that much of the Christianity of the Malagash was |purely nominal and utterly worthless.| I should not at all wonder if some day I found this brought forward as a missionary's acknowledgment that the Christianity of the Malagash is purely nominal and utterly worthless, and that missions in Madagascar, as elsewhere, had been a failure.


The support of native Christians has sorely tried and perplexed missionaries. They have been desirous, on the one hand, of holding out no inducement to persons to join them from unworthy motives; and on the other they have felt that persons thrust out of their caste and employment, and not infrequently from their family, had claims on help, with which every Christian feeling bound them to comply. Persons able to work have never been allowed to live in idleness, but the difficulty has been to find suitable work. In some missions, when persons have shown an aptness for domestic service they have been trained to it. In a number of missions trades have been started, and have been carried on for a longer or shorter period, with more or less success; but, as a rule, the relation of employer and employed does not accord well with the relation of pastor and people. The difficulty continues, and will no doubt continue, but it is decreasing every year. When travelling down through Northern India in 1877 we found Christians in every place at which we stopped, and we learned they were supporting themselves in various modes, in printing offices, bookbinding establishments, railways, and public offices. A number were in domestic service. I wish fewer were thus employed. When anything goes wrong in a house the Hindu and Muhammadan servants are sure to blame the Christians; masters and mistresses look for more from them than can be reasonably expected, and they no doubt are apt to fall into the well-known and objectionable habits of the class. The more capable of the native Christians, the higher in character and education, are for the most part employed as teachers, catechists, and native preachers. A few have risen to responsible and lucrative positions in civil life. A native Christian from Bengal held for some years, to the great satisfaction of both Europeans and natives, the office of Postmaster of Benares. He and his wife were members of our native church. Another member of our church for a time was the Inspector of Post-offices in the Benares district.

I believe in every mission in the North-West native Christians contribute regularly to the support and diffusion of the Gospel, and, considering their means, their contributions are liberal. I remember hearing years ago of a native church in Calcutta agreeing, without a dissentient voice, to give a month's salary for the erection of their new church building -- an act of liberality which has been seldom equalled in our country.

Much has been said about the compound system, as it has been called; -- Christians living together apart from the heathen, and in most cases in the immediate neighbourhood of the missionary's residence. Much has been said, I think unjustly, in condemnation of this arrangement. It is not the hot-bed, which it has been called, in which robust Christian character cannot be produced. Native Christians, thus living together, hold constant intercourse with the heathen in the business of life, and are at the same time saved from the peculiar trials and temptations incident to living among Hindus and Muhammadans. So far as native Christians make their light to shine, it will be well seen by the heathen though their dwellings be apart. One great advantage of living in a mission compound, near the place of worship and the missionary's residence, is that wives and children can regularly attend public worship, and can come under the teaching of the missionary, and especially the missionary's wife, as otherwise they could not have come. For a time we had quite a number of native Christians in our compound at Benares, who paid a small rent for their houses, and went out every day to attend to their respective callings. If they had lived in the city I cannot conceive how mothers and children could have attended worship as they did, or how my wife could have taught the children and held constant intercourse with the women. Because living in the compound, it does not follow that they are dependent on the mission for support. There is nothing more desired by missionaries than that their people should maintain themselves, by their own exertions. Living among the heathen is often indispensable -- it is so increasingly with our native Christians; but where circumstances admit, I think great advantages result from Christians living near each other and near the mission church. In our own country, are not favourable surroundings sought for the young and the inexperienced?

[Sidenote: PROGRESS.]

When I look back to the beginning of 1839, when I landed in Calcutta, and compare the native Christian community of that day with what it is now, I am struck with the great change which has taken place. If we confine the term to those connected with missions, they were then a mere handful. Now they are considerable in number, and they have become a recognized and appreciable portion of native society. They are increasing in number, though not so rapidly in the North as in the South, and are becoming rooted in the land. The largest native Christian community in the North-West is, I suppose, that connected with the missions of the American Episcopal Methodist Church in Rohilkund and Oude. It is largely composed of Muzbee Sikhs, a people much despised by both Muhammadans and Hindus. Of late the Salvation Army has entered on the campaign against Hinduism and Muhammadanism. Its organ boasts largely of success, but its statements have been strongly questioned by persons acquainted with the facts, on whose warm attachment to the cause of Christ full dependence can be placed. A well-known missionary of the Episcopal Methodist Church in Oude has been lately pursuing the tactics of the Salvation Army. Accompanied by a band of native Christians, he has been entering villages and towns with song and drum and tambourine. The people in crowds have gathered round him. He and his brethren have preached Christ to them, have urged them to accept Him as their Saviour, and have given on the spot baptism, chin -- the mark of the Christian Church, to any avowing their readiness to become Christ's disciples. Time will show how far the work is genuine. Perhaps we old missionaries have been too slow in administering baptism. Of this I am sure, that nothing is more fallacious as the test of success than the number of persons baptized -- so different is the opinion held by missionaries regarding the qualifications required in order to baptize. Native Christians are more self-dependent than they were, and are receiving a healthy impulse from feeling that they must push out for themselves. They have to contend against much which is adverse and hurtful, but without indulging too sanguine hopes we may firmly anticipate for them a brighter and better future than their past has been.


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