Letter from the Rev. W. T. Humphrey to Major Browne

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Mayaveram Shealy, Sept. 1, 1841

My Dear Sir - Agreeable to the Resolution of the Madras Corresponding Committee, dated February 12,1840, relative to the erection of any Building on Mission-ground, I beg leave to send, for the Committee's inspection, plans and elevations, &c., of a Church, which it is my heart's desire to erect at Mayaveram.

I dare say you will be surprised at the magnitude of the scale on which I wish to commence; but I hope the Committee will throw no obstacle in my way on this account, as I believe this to be Very essential to the effective carrying out of the plans which I have laid down for my future labours. Those Gentlemen of the Committee who know the Tanjore Collectorate know that it is most famous for its magnificent pagodas and religious establishments; nor is there any reason to doubt but that these things tend very much to neutralize the effects of efforts for the conversion of Hindoos: indeed, from the first, mankind have cherished a fondness and a reverence for their sacred places; and have ever, even in the best times, done their best to render them outwardly worthy of the Divine Being whom, whether rightly or ignorantly, they adored. I regard it, therefore, as a reasonable thing, that when we would essay to transfer the devotion of the Hindoos from their unworthy objects to Him who gave them life and breath and all things, we should take good care that we have an antagonist system, fitted, as fully as may be, for the reception of those who through mercy may be brought over.

I own it may appear paradoxical, to make a stir about the building a Church before — as it might almost be said - before we have Christians to enter it; but I am one of those who think that, in Religious matters, the supply should not always wait for the demand. From the little experience I have had of natives, I judge, that, in order successfully to combat the vast influence which their vast and spacious sacred courts crowded with apparently devout worshippers — their secret recesses, hallowed by many a tradition - their seclusion, and a thousand other things with which the minds of Hindoos are every day brought into contact here - if we would successfully compete with these, it must be, not to destroy, but to transfer; not by despising or ridiculing the things which they hold so sacred, but by showing them a more excellent way ; by providing hallowed fanes, with hallowing Services; and putting such garb on our Religion, that they may at least not spurn it for its nakedness. With this end in view, therefore, and influenced by a vast number of considerations which for some years have been forced upon me, but which to write at large would be tedious, I propose to erect the Church, the plans of which accompany this Letter. I should 'say, however, in explanation of my selecting the transept form in preference to the plain rectangular oblong, that I was led to this chiefly with a desire to arrange under one roof several parts proper for the several classes into which it is ray plan to divide those whom I may gather round me, so as to hold out each certain portion as being in advance of others. In this, as in many other arrangements, I would follow the leading of the early propagators of the Faith, which I believe to be most fully adapted for this country. I have long been of opinion, that, in our eagerness to extend the Gospel, we unwittingly bar men's hearts against its reception by a too lavish dispersion of the whole naked truth among those who are not yet prepared, by previous discipline, to appreciate it. Without dwelling on the fact, that our bitterest opponents are those who have been initiated into all the Christian doctrines in our Schools, I would rather, in confirmation of my view of the case, point to the fact, that in the only inspired Church history we have, the Acts of the Apostles, I have not been able to find a single instance where it is recorded, or even implied, that the Apostles took the naked Scriptures as their text book, in addressing PURE Heathens. All the assemblies wherein St. Paul or his associates took their arguments from the Word of God, were composed of Jews or Jewish proselytes, as may be seen on reference: and this was a reasonable plan; for THEY ONLY regarded those books as authentic, and to them only was the study of them permitted. And so with the Hindoo of the present day: he will not recognise the Bible as having authority with him, or as binding on him; but simply regards it as the Christian's Vedam, which may be well enough for him. If they did recognise its authority, reason good that its solemn oaths and warnings should be opened to them; but the fact is otherwise; and we must deal with men as they are, if we would make them better than they are. This did St. Paul, 1 Cor. ix. 20-22. It was to JEWS our Blessed Lord had said, Search the Scriptures; for to them were committed the Oracles of God: and therefore to SUCH St. Paul opened out the Word, appealed to the prophets; for these were sources of authority which they recognised. But with pure Gentiles or Heathen he went another way to work: with them he argued even from their own Writers, in order to show how, from a pure mono-theism celebrated by their earlier Poets, they had lapsed most inconsistently and wrongfully into a degraded polytheism. Another object, seems to have been, to induce them first to receive him as a Teacher sent from the One True and Living God; and afterwards, when they were more favourably disposed for its reception, he would more fully instruct them, as soon as their hearts were fit to reverence and receive those things which it concerned them to know and believe to their souls' health. To this end served his pastoral discourses while among those Churches of Converted Heathen which he had planted; and the various Epistles which are yet extant contain the supplemental instruction which, being removed from them, or unable to visit, he was yet desirous of imparting to them: and thence arises the value of the Epistles to those who minister among newly-formed Churches. Now it is remarkable, that in these Epistles he never addresses those to whom he writes, as Heathen - though perhaps even only babes in Christ; consequently we have milk for babes, as well as strong meat for those of riper faith. But we have, I believe, no authority for the system which, at the present day, lays open before the Heathen - the obstinate cavilling Heathen - the open Book of God's Truth from Genesis to Revelation, and says of it, "Now there is God's message to you; read it, and you will be sure to be convinced of its truth and reasonableness." The result proves otherwise. They are not convinced; and the reason is plain - because the mind is gratified at being constituted a judge in such a cause: it is bent on being a pretty sharp judge too, as it has nothing to inspire it with dread of a superior authority. It is, moreover, far from being an unbiassed judge: all its prejudices and prepossessions are in favour of a widely -different system; and therefore the apparent contradictions of God's most holy Word are at once pronounced on as proving its want of Divinity; and the history of the Moabites is triumphantly adduced to show that the God of the Christians is quite as bad as Christians can represent the Hindoo deities. Again, in England, where all are Christians, at least by profession, our Churches, in all parts of them, and each Service, is open to all who choose to attend; this is an Englishman's birthright, or rather the right of his New Birth; and in the present state of society and of discipline we cannot well tell who is, or who is not, fit to attend: but to have the same at Mayaveram for promiscuous attendance cannot be according to the Church's principles. It surely was not intended that unbaptized Pagans should enter Christ's Temple with as little ceremony as if walking into a toddy-shop, and listen to the Prayers; and thus get initiated into all the Christian mysteries, without the preparation of fasting and prayer, and gradual instruction, which our Church plainly deems a pre-requisite (see Office for Adult Baptism, prefatory rubric). If it be objected to this view, that, after all, none can call Jesus Lord but by the Holy Ghost, this is fully granted; but, then, do we expect prayers, which are intended for the USB of CHRISTIANS ripe in the Faith, should serve as the preaching of Peter or of Paul at Athens? or do no evils result from throwing thus the precious things of Christianity before swine ? That this was not the custom of the early Church is plain from Justin Martyr, as quoted by Palmer (Compend. Eccl. Hist. pp. 52, 54,55, 57). The very form of many of our Churches at Home points the same, which is of course more binding upon us to follow. These remarks, my dear Sir, which are the result of much prayer and thought for many past months, will prepare yon for the following principles, by which, under the sanction of our Reverend Diocesan, I hope to regulate my labours, and to see them crowned by the Lord and Head of the Church with success in this place.

I. As a fundamental principle - In intercourse with and preaching to Heathen, to be careful only gradually to bring before them the mysteries of the Christian Scheme; pressing on them chiefly repentance and faith, in order to their right initiation into the Christian Church:—this to include carefulness about the measure and the kind of doctrine contained in Tracts; and to discourage a too lavish dispersion of the Word of God, without a Teacher at hand to explain it; and to exclude prayers through Christ from being taught in HEATHEN Schools, by Heathen Masters.

2. To revert to the ancient division of the people, into Hearers, Catechumens, and Faithful; so as to admit the first-mentioned only to preaching APPROPRIATE for them, and prayers FOR them—the Catechumens to be instructed separately, and to join in certain prayers for their fuller illumination—and the Faithful or Baptized alone to be admissible to the present Liturgy of the Anglican Church.

3. With this view I wish to build a Church in the early English style, substantial as to material, and with as much ornament as funds may allow of; and of such a form as to combine under one roof distinct portions for each class, so as to hold out the portion of the Faithful to be the highest and holiest; and in this way to symbolize the inaccessibility of heaven without holiness, and cause men to feel that there was a privilege in becoming a Christian, of which Heathen were not possessed; and thus, one would hope, to lead them more to desire it. A portion should also be assigned for future penitents, who, in conformity with the censures of the Church, shall be inadmissible to full communion.

4. To have, daily, Morning and Evening Service for the Faithful, with all the adjuncts and ceremony allowable or available; e.g. an organ, with chanting; which is much more agreeable to Tamul rhythm than is the singing of Tamul Hymns to English Psalm-tunes, by which both sound and sense is often sacrificed to the metre.

5. The body of Catechists - Native Deacons, when practicable - to be centralised as much as possible, so as to fully carry out the above principles, by assisting at the Prayers and Service of the Faithful - instructing Catechumens, and arguing, under the immediate eye and direction of the Missionary, with the Heathen; who might easily be collected by a little stir, and by the character for piety which, by our daily Service and our attention to Form, we should gain.

6. The adoption by the Missionary and his Assistants of an Ecclesiastical Dress, such as should be appointed by the Bishop—white, if possible; and of such a manner of life as would most strikingly convince the Natives of his being a Teacher sent from God: for until we ourselves act in such a way as will show Hindoos that we believe our Religion to be divine, we may labour long enough before we shall make them reverence it. Until they see us reverence our Faith in a way which THEY CAN APPRECIATE, they will cavil and jeer; but once meet them boldly on ground which they themselves hold as sacred, and the captious exercise of their reason will be checked by their deeply-rooted principle of faith.

Thus much, My dear Sir, with regard to the outline of my plan of labour; which, as far as I am able, I am working on now: though I feel, that until I get my Church built, and three or four good active and zealous Natives about me, I shall but effect little; so that I feel anxious as early as possible to be able to commence this great work, for the completion of which I am ready to make any sacrifice.

A few words now on ways and means. Having fully prepared my plans, Mr. Forbes, the Assistant Collector of Tanjore, kindly offered me the services of the Talook Building Maistry, to make an estimate of the probable cost; which, after a careful examination of the-plans, he lays at a little under 6000 Rupees for the erection of the building, which is briefly as follows:—

Brickwork complete, from foundation - of Nave, Chancel, and Transepts Rs. 3217-1/2
Hoofing & tiles - rafters of palms, and nails - of ditto 227-1/2
West door 35 Rupees; Windows (31) 434 Rupees; Whitewash, 250 Rupees 719
Tower, with 4 substantial pillars, arching, groining, or vaulting, and a spire 28 feet 8 29-1/2
Total of Rupees, 4993-1/2

(If the Tower piers are of granite, say 100 Rupees more.)

The brick-work is calculated at 3 Rupees per yard, while the work of the Company is done at 2-1/4: this is, to allow of greater strength and additional ornament, and trouble of new kind of work. The general breadth (inside) of Nave, Chancel, and Transepts, is 20 feet. The whole length from east to west (inside) is 100 feet (of which about 40 feet are to form a Nave for hearers, screened off from the remaining 60 feet of Choir and Chancel.)

The whole breadth across Transepts is 60 feet (of which the two extreme twenties are to be screened off from the Choir, as Chapels.)
The foundation of wall is to be 6 feet deep, and 3 feet thick.
The height of wall from the ground (outside) is to be 24 feet.
The height of ditto (inside) will vary - average 20 feet.
The thickness of wall above ground, 21 feet.
Buttresses, 32 of them - in height above ground, 20 feet.
Ditto, foundation 6 feet deep; abutment from wall, 2 feet.
Windows (31 lights) 3 feet broad and 12 feet high.
Tower pillars - foundation 9 feet deep, thickness 5 feet by 3.
Thence to rise of arch 19 feet - then height of wall in tower, 36 feet.
Then spire, exceeding this, 22 feet; making a total, from level of ground, of 77 feet.
Centre of arch will be about 29 feet from level of outside,
General outside length from E. to W., 106 feet.

I am not decided about having a spire, or simply a plain tower. I have marked the plan for either; but shall need some advice from your Engineer's friend on the subject of the spire.

The sum of 4993 Rupees does not include fittings-up, with organ and loft, font, bell or bells, and choir furniture, which might take 2000 more to do it handsomely; so that we may in round numbers say that about 6 or 7000 Rupees would be needed to complete the work. Now, I have written home to various friends, begging them to do what they can; and hope my appeal to them will not be in vain. I am so sanguine as to look for about £200 or £250 from Home : I hope also if spared for four years, to devote what will amount to about another hundred; and I am not without hope that the Committee may assist, or at least put me into a way of increasing the amount to what we need; for I should, be very sorry to have to curtail the dimensions, seeing that the mere existence of such a sacred building close by one of the grand southern thoroughfares, in a country much resorted to from all parts on account of its religious celebrity, would be likely to have an extensive influence and moral power; and in a territory justly famed for the vastness and the grandeur of its sacred edifices, even worldly wisdom would teach UB to make some sacrifice in order to set up what may be deemed an antagonist or rival fane. I trust, therefore, you will take these considerations into account, and set forward my design as far as possible. If you wish for more information, I shall be most glad to furnish it; only I was afraid of becoming tedious.

I would, however, say a Word on the subject of the time of commencing the building. I am anxious that there should be as little delay as possible; since I feel, that until it be erected my plans of action will be but half executed. I cannot learn the result of my application Home in less than 5 or 6 months: supposing, however, it should be favourable, and other prospects in India were so too, would the Committee object to advance the money as it might be needed - repaying their treasurers - by the in-coming subscriptions until all should be paid off? This would be a great bonus to the undertaking, and might allow of commencing after the Monsoon, as soon as our prospects were ascertained to be cheering. I furnish a rough plan of the locality of the proposed Church; from which you will perceive that it will have a most "desirable frontage," and will be a very imposing object in the prospect. Praying most sincerely that your deliberations may be guided from above, and that the Lord would favourably bless this and all our other works to the furtherance of His irresistible will,

Believe me to remain,


Yours most sincerely,