|This work in India . . . is one of the most crucial tests the Church of Christ has ever been put to.
The people you think to measure your forces
against are such as the giant races of Canaan are
nothing to.|Bishop French, India and Arabia.
IT was very hot, and we were tired, and the friendly voice calling |Come in! come in! Oh, come and rest!| was a welcome sound, and we went in.
She was a dear old friend of mine, the only real friend I have in that ancient Hindu town. Her house is always open to us, the upper room always empty -- or said to be so -- when we are needing a rest. But she is a Hindu of the Hindus, and though so enlightened that for love's sake she touches us freely, taking our hands in hers, and even kissing us, after we go there is a general purification; every scrap of clothing worn while we were in the house is carefully washed before sunset.
She insisted now upon feeding us, called for plantains and sugar, broke up the plantains, dabbed the pulp in the sugar, and commanded us to eat. Then she sat down satisfied, and was photographed.
This town, a little ancient Hindu town, is two hours journey from Dohnavur. There are thirty-eight stone temples and shrines in and around it, and five hundred altars. No one has counted the number of idols; there are two hundred under a single tree near one of the smaller shrines. Each of the larger temples has its attendant temple-women; there are two hundred recognised Servants of the gods, and two hundred annual festivals.
Wonderful sums are being worked just now concerning the progress of Christianity in India. A favourite sum is stated thus: the number of Christians has increased during the last decade at a certain ratio. Given the continuance of this uniform rate of increase, it will follow that within a computable period India will be a Christian land. One flaw in this method of calculation is that it takes for granted that Brahmans, high-caste Hindus, and Mohammedans will be Christianised at the same rate of progress as prevails at present among the depressed classes.
There are sums less frequently stated. Here in the heart of this Hindu town they come with force; one such sum worked out carefully shows that, according to the present rate of advance, it will be more than twenty thousand years before the Hindu towns of this district are even nominally Christian. Another still more startling gives us this result: according to the laws which govern statistics, thirteen hundred thousand years must pass before the Brahmans in this one South Indian district are Christianised. And if the sum is worked so as to cover all India, the result is quite as staggering to faith based on statistics.
Praise God, this is not His arithmetic! It is a purely human invention. We believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; we believe in God, even God Who calleth the things that are not as though they were: therefore these sums prove nothing. But if such sums are worked at all, they ought to be worked on both sides, and not only on the side which yields the most encouraging results.
Two of us spent a morning in the Brahman street. In these old Hindu towns the Brahman street is built round the temple, and in large towns this street is a thoroughfare, and we are allowed in. The women stood in the shadow of the cool little dark verandahs, and we stood out in the sun and tried to make friends with them. Then some Mission College boys saw us and felt ashamed that we should stand in that blazing heat, and they offered us a verandah; but the women instantly cleared off, and the men came, and the boys besought us under their breath to say nothing about our religion.
We spoke for a few minutes, throwing our whole soul into the chance. We felt that our words were as feathers floating against rocks; but we witnessed, and they listened till, as one of them remarked, it was time to go for their noontide bathe, and we knew they wished us to go. We went then, and found a wall at the head of the Brahman street, and we stood in its shadow and tried again. Crowds of men and lads gathered about us, but our College boys stood by our side and helped to quiet them. |Now you see,| they said to us, as they walked with us down the outer street, |how quite impossible for us is Christianity.|
It is good sometimes to take time to take in the might of the foe we fight. That evening two of us had a quiet few minutes under the temple walls. Those great walls, reaching so high above us, stretching so far beyond us, seemed a type of the wall Satan has built round these souls.
We could touch this visible wall, press against it, feel its solid strength. Run hard against it, and you would be hurt, you might fall back bleeding; it would not have yielded one inch.
And the other invisible wall? Oh, we can touch it too! Spirit-touch is a real thing. And so is spirit-pain. But the wall, it still stands strong.
It was moonlight. We had walked all round the great temple square, down the silent Brahman streets, and we had stood in the pillared hall, and looked across to the open door, and seen the light on the shrine.
Now we were out in God's clean light, looking up at the mass of the tower, as it rose pitch-black against the sky. And we felt how small we were.
Then the influences of the place began to take hold of us. It was not only masonry; it was mystery. |The Sovereigns of this present Darkness| were there.
How futile all of earth seemed then, against those tremendous forces and powers. What toy-swords seemed all weapons of the flesh. Praise God for the Holy Ghost!
While we were sitting there a Brahman came to see what we were doing, and we told him some of our thoughts. He asked us then if we would care to hear his. We told him, gladly. He pointed up to the temple tower. |That is my first step to God.| We listened, and he unfolded, thought by thought, that strange old Vedic philosophy, which holds that God, being omnipresent, reveals Himself in various ways, in visible forms in incarnations, or in spirit. The visible-form method of revelation is the lowest; it is only, as it were, the first of a series of steps which lead up to the highest, intelligent adoration of and absorption into the One Supreme Spirit. |We are only little children yet. We take this small first step, it crumbles beneath us as we rise to the next, and so step by step we rise from the visible to the invisible, from matter to spirit -- to God. But,| he added courteously, |as my faith is good for me, so, doubtless, you find yours for you.|
Next morning we went down to the river and had talks with the people who passed on their way to the town. It was all so pretty in the early morning light. Men were washing their bullocks, and children were scampering in and out of the water. Farther downstream the women were bathing their babies and polishing their brass water-vessels. Trees met overhead, but the light broke through in places and made yellow patches on the water. Out in one of those reaches of yellow a girl stood bending to fill her vessel; she wore the common crimson of the South, but the light struck it, and struck the shining brass as she swung it up under her arm, and made her into a picture as she stood in her clinging wet red things against the brown and green of water and wood. Everywhere we looked there was something beautiful to look at, and all about us was the sound of voices and laughter, and the musical splashing of water; then, as we enjoyed it all, we saw this:
Under an ancient tree fifteen men were walking slowly round and round, following the course of the sun. Under the tree there were numbers of idols, and piles of oleander and jessamin wreaths, brought fresh that morning. The men were elderly, fine-looking men; they were wholly engrossed in what they were doing. It was no foolish farce to them; it was reality.
There is something in the sight of this ordinary, evident dethronement of our God which stirs one to one's inmost soul. We could not look at it.
Again and again we have gone to that town, but to-day those men go round that tree, and to-day that town is a fort unwon.
Petra, I have called it; the word stands for many a town walled in as that one is. In Keith's Evidence of Prophecy there is a map of Petra, the old strong city of Edom, and in studying it a light fell upon David's question concerning it, and his own triumphant answer, |Who will lead me into the strong city? Who will bring me into Edom? Wilt not Thou, O God?| for the map shows the mountains all round except at the East, where they break into a single narrow passage, the one way in. There was only one way in, but there was that one way in!
Here is a town walled up to heaven by walls of Caste and bigotry, but there must be one way in. Here is a soul walled all round by utter indifference and pride, but there must be one way in.
|Who will lead me into the strong city? Who will bring me into Edom? =Wilt not Thou, O God?=|