Key Thought: Though we sympathize with everything that tends towards life and light in India, and rejoice with our brothers who bind sheaves, believing that though all is not genuine corn, some is, yet we feel compelled to give ourselves mainly to work of a character which, by its very nature, can never be popular, and possibly never successful from a statistical point of view, never, till the King comes, Whose Coming is our hope.
"May I have grace to live above every human motive; simply with God and to God, and not swayed, especially in missionary work, by the opinions of people not acquainted with the state of things, whose judgment may be contrary to my own." Henry Martyn, India.
THESE letters have been put together to help our comrades at home to realize something of the nature of the forces ranged against us, that they may bring the Superhuman to bear upon the superhuman, and pray with an intelligence and intensity impossible to uninformed faith. We have long enough under-estimated the might of the Actual. We need more of Abraham's type of faith, which, without being weakened, considered the facts, and then, looking unto the promise, wavered not, but waxed strong. Ignorant faith does not help us much. Some years ago, when the first girl-convert came, friends wrote rejoicing that now the wall of Caste must give way; they expected soon to hear it had. As if a grain of dust falling from one of the bricks in that wall would in anywise shake the wall itself! Such faith is kind, but there it ends. It talks of what it knows not.
Fallacies Die Hard
Then, as to the people themselves, there are certain fallacies which die hard. We read the other day, in a home paper, that it was a well-known fact that “Indian women never smile." We were surprised to hear it. We had not noticed it. Perhaps, if they were one and all so abnormally depressed, we should find them less unwilling to welcome the Glad Tidings. Again, we read that you can distinguish between heathen and Christian by the wonderful light on the Christians' faces, as compared with “the sad expression on the faces of the poor benighted heathen." It is true that some Christians are really illuminated, but, as a whole, the heathen are so remarkably cheerful that the difference is not so defined as one might think. Then, again, we read in descriptive articles on India that the weary, hopeless longing of the people is most touching. But we find that our chief difficulty is to get them to believe that there is anything to long for. Rather we would describe them as those who think they have need of nothing, knowing not that they have need of everything. And again and again we read thrilling descriptions of India's women standing with their hands stretched out towards God. They may do this in visions; in reality they do not. And it is the utter absence of all this sort of thing which makes your help a necessity to us.
But none of you can pray in the way we want you to pray, unless the mind is convinced that the thing concerning which such prayer is asked is wholly just and right; and it seems to us that many of those who have followed the Story of this War may have doubts about the right of it—the right, for example, of converts leaving their homes for Christ's sake and His Gospel's. All will be in sympathy with us when we try to save little children, but perhaps some are out of sympathy when we do what results in sorrow and misunderstanding —"not peace, but a sword." So we purpose now to gather up into three, some of the many objections which are often urged upon those engaged in this sort of work, because we feel that they ought to be faced and answered if possible, lest we lose someone's prevailing prayer.
Objections: Forcing Our Religion, Dividing Families, Working in More Productive Settings”
The first set of objections may be condensed into a question as to the right or otherwise of our "forcing our religion" upon those who do not want it. We are reminded that the work is most discouraging, conversions are rare, and when they occur they seem to create the greatest confusion. It is evident enough that neither we nor our Gospel are desired; and no wonder, when the conditions of discipleship involve so much. "We should not like strangers to come and interfere with our religion," write the friends who object, "and draw our children away from us; we should greatly resent it. No wonder the Hindus do!" And one reader of the letters wrote that she wondered how the girls who came out ever could be happy for a moment after having done such a wrong and heartless thing as to disobey their parents. "They richly deserve all they suffer," she wrote. "It is a perfect shame and disgrace for a girl to desert her own people!"
One turns from the reading of the letter, and looks at the faces of those who have done it; and knowing how they need every bit of prayer-help one can win for them, one feels it will be worth while trying to show those who blame them why they do it, and how it is they cannot do otherwise if they would be true to Christ.
This objection as to the right or wrong of the work as a whole, leads to another relating to baptism. It is a serious thing to think of families divided upon questions of religion; surely it would be better that a convert should live a consistent Christian life at home, even without baptism, than that she should break up the peace of the household by leaving her home altogether? Or, having been baptized, should she not return home and live there as a Christian?
Lastly—and this comes in letters from those who, more than any, are in sympathy with us—why not devote our energies to work of a more fruitful character? We are reminded of the mass-movement type of work, in which "nations are born in a day"; and often, too, of the nominal Christians who sorely need more enlightenment. Why not work along the line of least resistance, where conversion to God does not of necessity mean fire and sword, and where in a week we could win more souls than in years of this unresultful work?
We frankly admit that these objections and proposals are naturally reasonable, and that what they state is perfectly true. It is true that work among high-caste Hindus all over India (as among Moslems all over the world) is very difficult. It is true that open confession of Christ creates disastrous division in families. It is true there is other work to be done.
Especially we feel the force of the second objection raised. We fully recognize that the right thing is for the convert to live among her own people, and let her light shine in her own home; and we deplore the terrible wrench involved in what is known as “coming out." To a people so tenacious of custom as the Indians are, to a nature so affectionate as the Indian nature is, this cutting across of all home ties is a very cruel thing.
Objection: Forcing Our Religion
And now, only that we may not miss your prayer, we set ourselves to try to answer you. And, first of all, let us grasp this fact: it is not fair, nor is it wise, to compare work, and success in work, between one set of people and another, because the conditions under which that work is carried on are different, and the unseen forces brought to bear against it differ in character and in power. There is sometimes more "result" written down in a single column of a religious weekly than is to be found in the 646 pages of one of the noblest missionary books of modern days, On the Threshold of Central Africa. Or take two typical opposite lives, Moody's and Gilmour's. Moody saw more soul-winning in a day than Gilmour in his twenty-one years. It was not that the men differed. Both knew the Baptism of Power, both lived in Christ and loved. But these are extremes in comparison; take two, both missionaries, twin brothers in spirit, Brainerd of North America and Henry Martyn of India. Brainerd saw many coming to Jesus; Martyn hardly one. Each was a pioneer missionary, each was a flame of fire. "Now let me burn out for God," wrote Henry Martyn, and he did it. But the conditions under which each worked varied as widely spiritually as they varied climatically. Can we compare their work, or measure it by its visible results? Did God? Let us leave off comparing this with that— we do not know enough to compare. Let us leave off weighing eternal things and balancing souls in earthly scales. Only God's scales are sufficiently sensitive for such delicate work as that.
We take up the objections one by one. First, “Why do you go where you are not wanted?"
We go because we believe our Master told us to go. He said, "all the world," and "every creature." Our marching orders are very familiar. "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." "All the world" means everywhere in it, "every creature" means everyone in it. These orders are so explicit that there is no room to question what they mean.
All missionaries in all ages have so understood these words "all" and "every." Nearly seven hundred years ago the first missionary to the Moslems found no welcome, only a prison; but he never doubted he was sent to them. "God wills it," he said, and went again. They stoned him then, and he died—died, but never doubted he was sent.
Our Master Himself went not only to the common people, who heard Him gladly, but to the priestly and political classes, who had no desire for the truth. "Ye will not come to Me that ye might have life," He said, and yet He gave them the chance to come by going to them. The words, “H any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink," were spoken to an audience which was not thirsting for the Gospel.
St. Paul would willingly have spent his strength preaching the Word in Asia, especially in Galatia, where the people loved him well; but he was under orders, and he went to Europe, to Philippi, where he was put in prison; to Thessalonica, where the opposition was so strong that he had to flee away by night; to Athens, where he was the butt of the philosophers. But God gave souls in each of these places; only a few in comparison to the great indifferent crowd, but he would tell you those few were worth going for. You would not have had him miss a Lydia, a Damaris? Above all, you would not have had him disobey his Lord's command?
So whether our message is welcomed or not, the fact remains we must go to all; and the worse they are and the harder they are, the more evident is it that, wanted or not, it is needed by them.
M. Coillard was robbed by the people he had travelled far to find. "You see we made no mistake," he writes, "in bringing the Gospel to the Zambesi."
Objection: Why Break Up Families by Insisting on Baptism?
The second objection is, “Why break up families by insisting on baptism as a sine qua non of discipleship?"
And again we answer, Because we believe our Master tells us to. He said, “Baptising them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." What right have we, His servants, to stop short of full obedience? Did He not know the conditions of high caste Hindu life in India when He gave this command? Was He ignorant of the breaking up of families which obedience to it would involve?" Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you nay, but rather division." And then come words which we have seen lived out literally in the case of every high-caste convert who has come. "For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." These are truly awful verses; no one knows better than the missionary how awful they are. There are times when we can hardly bear the pain caused by the sight of this division. But are we more tender than the Tender One? Is our sympathy truer than His? Can we look up into His eyes and say, “It costs them too much, Lord; it costs us too much, to fully obey Thee in this"?
But granted the command holds, why should not the baptized convert return home and live there? Because he is not wanted there, as a Christian. Exceptions to this rule are rare (we are speaking of Caste Hindus), and can usually be explained by some extenuating circumstance.
The high-caste woman who said to us, “I cannot live here and break my Caste; if I break it I must go," spoke the truth. Keeping Caste includes within itself the observance of certain customs which by their very nature are idolatrous. Breaking Caste means breaking through these customs; and one who habitually disregarded and disobeyed rules, considered binding and authoritative by all the rest of the household, would not be tolerated in an orthodox Hindu home. It is not a question of persecution or death, or of wanting or not wanting to be there; it is a question of not being wanted there, unless, indeed, she will compromise. Compromise is the one open door back into the old home, and God only knows what it costs when the choice is made and that one door is shut.
This ever-recurring reiteration of the power and the bondage of Caste may seem almost wearisome, but the word, and what lies behind it, is the one great answer to a thousand questions, and so it comes again and again. In Southern India especially, and still more so in this little fraction of it, and in the adjoining kingdoms of Travancore and Cochin, Caste feeling is so strong that sometimes it is said that Caste is the religion of South India. But everywhere all over India it is, to every orthodox Hindu, part of his very self. Get his Caste out of him? Can you? You would have to drain him of his life-blood first.
It is the strength of this Caste spirit which in South India causes it to take the form of a determination to get the convert back. Promises are given that they may live as Christians at home. "We will send you in a bandy to church every Sunday!"—promises given to be broken. If the convert is a boy, he may possibly reappear. If a girl—I was going to say never; but I remember hearing of one who did reappear, after seventeen years imprisonment—a wreck. Send them back, do you say? Think of the dotted lines in some chapters you have read; ponder the things they cover; then send them back if you can.
Objection: Why Not Work Where in Easier Settings
The third objection divides into two halves. The first half is, “Why do you not go to the Christians?" To which we answer, we do, and for exactly the same reason as that which we have given twice before, because our Master told us to do so. Our marching orders are threefold, one order concerning each form of service touched by the three objections. The third order touches this, "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." So we go, and try to teach them the "all things"; and some of them learn them, and go to teach others, and so the message of a full Gospel spreads, and the Bride gets ready for the Bridegroom.
The second half of this last objection is, “Why not do easier work? There are so many who are more accessible, why not go to them?" And there does seem to be point in the suggestion that if there are open doors, it might be better to enter into them, rather than keep on knocking at closed ones.
We do seek to enter the so-called open doors. We never find they are so very wide open when it is known that we bring nothing tangible with us. Spiritual things are not considered anything by most. Still, work among such is infinitely easier, and many, comparatively speaking, are doing it.
The larger number here are working among the Christians, the next larger number among the Masses, and the fewest always, everywhere, among the Classes, where conversion involves such terrible conflicts with the Evil One, that all that is human in one faints and fails as it confronts the cost of every victory.
But real conversion anywhere costs. By conversion we mean something more than reformation; that raises fewer storms. The kind of work, however, which more than any other seems to fascinate friends at home is what is known as the "mass movement," and though we have The "mass Movement" touched upon it before, perhaps we had better explain more fully what it really is. This movement, or rather the visible result thereof, is often dilated upon most rapturously. I quote from a Winter Visitor: "Christian churches counted by the thousand, their members by the million; whole districts are Christian, entire communities are transformed." And we look at one another, and ask each other, “Where?"
But to that question certain would answer joyously, "Here!" There are missions in India where the avowed policy is to baptize people "at the outset, not on evidence of what is popularly called conversion. . . . We baptize them 'unto' the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and not because we have reason to believe that they have received the Spirit's baptism,"—we quote a leader in the movement, and he goes on to say, if it is insisted "that we should wait until this change (conversion) is effected before baptizing them, we reply that in most cases we would have to wait for a long time, and often see the poor creatures die without the change."
Of course every effort is made by revival services and camp meetings to bring these baptized Christians to a true knowledge of Christ, and it is considered that this policy yields more fruit than the other, which puts conversion first and baptism second. It is certainly richer in "results," for among the depressed classes and certain of the middle Castes, among whom alone the scheme can be carried out, there is no doubt that many are found ready to embrace Christianity, as the phrase goes, sometimes genuinely feeling it is the true religion, and desiring to understand it, sometimes for what they can get.
It must be admitted—for we want to state the case fairly—that a mass movement gives one a splendid chance to preach Christ, and teach His Gospel day by day. And the power in it does lay hold of some; we have earnest men and women working and winning others to-day, fruit of the mass movement of many years ago.
But on the whole, we fear it, and do not encourage it here. The dead weight of heathenism is heavy enough, but when you pile on the top of that the incubus of a dead Christianity—for a nominal thing is dead—then you are terribly weighted down and handicapped, as you try to go forward
to break up new ground.
So, though we sympathize with everything that tends towards life and light in India, and rejoice with our brothers who bind sheaves, believing that though all is not genuine corn, some is, yet we feel compelled to give ourselves mainly to work of a character which, by its very nature, can never be popular, and possibly never successful from a statistical point of view, never, till the King comes, Whose Coming is our hope.
Amy Carmichael, Things as They Are: Mission Work in Southern India, (London: Morgan and Scott, 1903), pp. 277-288.