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A History of the Church of England in India
Since the Early Days of the East India Company

By Eyre Chatterton
Bishop of Nagpur

London: SPCK, 1924.

Chapter XVII. Bishop Milman, a Great Evangelist

Books of Reference.--Memoir of Robert Milman, D.D., by his sister, Frances Maria Milman.

ROBERT MILMAN, who succeeded Bishop Cotton as Metropolitan of India, was a true missionary. If Bishop Cotton was great as an educationist, Bishop Milman was equally great as an evangelist. Some missionary Bishops have won great reputation as organisers of work, as builders of Churches, as educationists and linguists, but with Robert Milman it was the preaching of the living Word which absorbed almost the whole of his attention. He was constantly touring during his Episcopate, but he never visited any place where he did not seize the opportunity of proclaiming the everlasting Gospel.

The third son of Sir William George Milman, Baronet, of Landeon, in the county of Devon, he was born on St. Paul's Day, January 25, 1816, and it is not too much to say that the spirit of the great Apostle entered into him and remained there during a life which lasted just sixty years. He inherited from his father, who was an accomplished man and an excellent linguist, his great power of acquiring languages. From his mother, to whom he was devotedly attached, he received his fervent piety and strong faith. Her early influence and devout life made a deep and lasting impression on her boy. Like Bishop Cotton, he received his education at Westminster School, but as a day scholar. From there he went to Oxford, obtaining a scholarship at Exeter College, and taking a Second class in 1837. After leaving College, he went with his parents and some of the younger members of the family for a tour on the Continent, and spent a winter in Rome. The Bishop used to speak in later years of how he drove his father with the same English horse in an old-fashioned gig the whole way from the French coast to Naples and back.

He was ordained in 1839. Two years later, on the nomination of his uncle, who was afterwards the famous Dean of St. Paul's, he was presented to a living in Berkshire. Here he laid the foundations of his life of self-devotion; labouring diligently amongst his people, the Church bell daily sounding for prayers in accordance with the rule of the Church which he especially loved to see obeyed. He was always a most generous giver, and it is an open secret that when Bishop of Calcutta he gave away a large part of his income. When speaking on alms-giving one day to a friend who was in the habit of giving away a tenth of his income, the future Bishop remarked, "It is an excellent rule, but it was the Jewish rule, not Christ's rule." He himself gave away a good many tenths of his possessions. His physical powers were extraordinary. All through his life he never cared to spend more than four or five hours in bed. He used to read frequently far into the night. On one occasion, after reading an account of the death of a distinguished man whose illness and death were stated to have been caused by over-work at night, the future Bishop determined to mend his ways and to go to bed early. After a fortnight's trial he gave it up as a bad job, and returned to his old custom of late hours, which he continued, wonderful to relate, throughout his life in India. He had much of the poet and artist in his composition, with a great love of the beautiful both in nature and art. This, combined with a keen sense of humour, made him a most attractive companion.

His first literary effort was a small book of Meditation on Confirmation, which attracted a good deal of attention. This was followed by the Mystery of Marking, an allegory illustrating Baptism; other allegories of a religious nature followed these early efforts. He was a good Italian scholar, and published in 1850 a Life of Tasso, rendering some of the smaller fragments of his poetry into beautiful English verse. After he was ordained he acquired German, that he might read the many theological books written in that language. He was a good horseman and a man of indomitable courage.

In 1851 he exchanged his living for the less valuable but far larger and more populous parish of Lambourne, in the same county. Here he spent eleven years, toiling night and day to reform one of the wildest and most neglected parishes in the Diocese of Oxford. During his time at Lambourne he wrote a beautiful exposition of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, entitled, The Life of the Atonement, and in 1853 brought out a work on Pomerania, an historical sketch of the twelfth century, which was for a long time recommended as a book of study for the Schools at Oxford.

Bishop Milman was regarded as an exceptionally good preacher. It was remarked of him by one well qualified to judge: "I have never heard such a speaker as Mr. Milman; there was so much ability and depth in all he said; such fresh first-hand learning; such feeling and earnestness!" He appeared familiar with all the histories, philosophy, and religious life of the middle ages. When he was appointed to the Bishopric of Calcutta Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford wrote as follows: "I have just heard of your appointment to Calcutta: a great loss to me and an irreparable loss so far as I can see; but for India and the widest Church interests everything. ... I do infinitely rejoice with all my selfish sorrow that you are going out to so great a calling." At a meeting of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, before Bishop Milman left for India, Bishop Wilberforce spoke of Milman's peculiar power of influencing for good the most opposite classes of social life, the higher, the middle, the poorer.

Bishop Milman was consecrated Bishop of Calcutta on February 2, 1867. The ceremony took place in Canterbury Cathedral. He was accompanied to India by his sister, to whom he was devoted. She lived with him throughout the whole of his time there, and afterwards wrote his memoirs. From the commencement of his Indian career he set himself to study several of the Indian languages--Bengali, Hindi, and Urdu, and, what is more, mastered them thoroughly. In 1835 the Calcutta Diocese had been relieved of the Madras and Bombay Presidencies, but by the year 1867 the Punjab, Central Provinces, Oudh, and Burma had been added to it, so that it was at that time a larger diocese than before.

To speak of the Bishop's many tours would be impossible. They are described so graphically by his sister in his memoirs that it is unnecessary for us to do so. Together with his great evangelical zeal the Bishop was a lover of the society of good men, and most hospitable. From the start he and his sister entertained largely all sorts and conditions of men. Norman McCleod, the well-known Scottish divine, when visiting Calcutta about this time, spoke of the remarkable social gatherings at the Bishop's Palace, and considered that the influence they exercised in drawing people together was something quite unique in all that he had seen in India.

The Bishop's relations with his Clergy were most pleasant, but no one could correct and mend their doings more thoroughly than could he if necessary. He spoke on one occasion in a humorous fashion of a habit which some of them had of sending him telegrams. He remarked, "When certain people wish to do something which their conscience disapproves of, they send me a telegram." During the ten years of his Episcopate he had two Domestic Chaplains, both of whom made their mark later on in the Church at home. His first Chaplain, the Rev. R. Burge, was father of the present Bishop of Oxford. His second Chaplain, Edwin Jacob, was afterwards Bishop of St. Albans.

Perhaps the greatest event in his Episcopate was his receiving a large number of Kol Christians into the Anglican Communion at Ranchi, the headquarters of Chota-Nagpur. The facts which led to the Bishop's action are fully described in a subsequent chapter on the Diocese of Chota-Nagpur. Suffice it to say that in the year 1845 a body of six German Lutheran missionaries were sent by Pastor Gossner from Berlin to India. Their steps were eventually led to Chota-Nagpur. At the time of the Indian Mutiny these pioneers had gathered out from among the heathen about a thousand converts: During the Mutiny work was interrupted, but when law and order were restored they continued their good work for some years longer, gathering together a large number of Kol converts. Then their real troubles began. Younger German missionaries of a more educated type were sent out to the mission who, sad to relate, looked down on these simple pioneers for their lack of culture. They went even further, and accused them of misappropriation of funds and other misdemeanours. Gossner was now dead, and the Committee he had appointed in Berlin, to whom the old missionaries appealed, sided with the younger men. The old men soon found that there was no longer a place for them in the mission which they had founded.

In their distress they appealed to Bishop Milman, who at once visited Ranchi. Before taking any action he consulted with both the old and young missionaries to see whether nothing could be done to patch up their disagreement. He also learnt from the leading British officials at Ranchi of the really sound character and devotion of the older men and of the unfair treatment which had been meted out to them by the younger missionaries. He was waited upon by several leaders of the Kol converts, who implored him to take them and the old missionaries into the English Church. After duly consulting the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, who promised to assist him in the undertaking, he decided, to accede to the request of the older missionaries and their adherents.

Sunday March 18, 1869, was a great day at Ranchi, when the Bishop ordained several of the old Lutheran missionaries and received over into the English Church by Confirmation hundreds of their Kol converts.

It is impossible in the short space available adequately to describe the prolonged negotiations and conferences which had taken place before the Bishop took the decided action. One thing is certain: he acted throughout in the most deliberate manner, and once he had acted was absolutely clear that his action was justified.

Later on during his Episcopate he had a somewhat similar experience in Burma, where a large number of Karen Christians who had broken away from a Baptist Mission asked to be received into our Church. Again the Bishop acted with extreme deliberation, and again decided that, as the people were genuinely anxious to be received into our Church, there was no solid ground for refusing to accede to their request. Although the Bishop's action was again questioned, he was to the end of his life satisfied that he had acted under the guidance of the Spirit of God.

Without being in the least aggressive, Bishop Milman was a man of quiet judgment and iron will. One could devote pages, as his sister has done, to a description of his visits to various parts of his great charge. He was greatly fascinated by Burma, and his visits to that attractive country are described most fully. In those days Dr. Marks, one of our best-known missionaries in Burma, was just commencing his work. He had already gained considerable influence over King Mindon at Mandalay, who had promised to build for him at the royal expense a Church, a mission house and a school. Bishop Milman, while fully understanding Dr. Mark's delight at the friendliness of the King, more than once reminded him of the Psalmist's warning against "putting confidence in princes."

Bishop Milman was what may best be described as an old-fashioned High Churchman. Keenly interested himself in theological questions, he was continually pressing on his Clergy the need for theological study.

Looking out on his great diocese and its need for more labourers, he was most anxious to have teaching Brotherhoods and Sisterhoods established in various parts of India, more especially for work amongst the Anglo-Indian community. Like his predecessor, he took a deep interest in the Eurasian problem, and looked forward to the time when there would be a large Eurasian Ministry in the country.

With regard to the need for workers in India, he writes in the year 1873 in the following manner in his journal on his Visitation: "There seems a good opening here for mission work. Alas! for our lack of men and mission spirit in England, especially with regard to India: it is heartbreaking."

Finding so little answer to his petitions for help from England, he turned to America, and sent an appeal to the Board of Missions of the Episcopal Church in the United States. "I have long experienced," he wrote, "a strong desire to appeal to the Church in America on behalf of the mission work in my diocese and province. A letter from the Rev. J. Long, an old and dear friend who has recently visited America, has encouraged me now to carry out my intention. The future of the world also is so much to all appearance in the hands of America, that I feel myself bound to make no longer delay." When will our Sister Church in the United States realise that she is needed in India?

Like his predecessor, the Bishop was keenly interested in all religious movements in India. From the start he seems to have realised that the Brahmo Samaj movement, however interesting, was not going to end in Christianity. His views on the question of the baptism of non-Christian men and women who were polygamists were not those which were expressed later at the Lambeth Conference. He saw no reason why a Hindu or Mahomedan who had legally married more than one wife under their own religious and social customs, which made such marriages absolutely natural and right to them, should be debarred from Christian baptism. Nor did he think that any man who had married more than one wife under these systems was justified in the sight of God in repudiating his obligations. He was prepared to baptise such people, only stipulating that after baptism no fresh marriages should take place during the lifetime of any of these wives.

More than once during his Episcopate he met his two brother Bishops of Madras and Bombay in Synod. Their first meeting was at Bombay, and their second at Nagpur, the present capital of the Central Provinces. On the latter occasion a most important discussion took place between them regarding the appointment of Assistant-Bishops to superintend the large and growing Christian congregations in Tinnevelly. At that time there were large numbers of Christians connected with the Church Missionary Society as well as the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. They spoke of themselves as C.M.S. Christians and S.P.G. Christians, and regarded themselves as hardly belonging to the same Church. Bishop Gell, in his desire to have these large bodies of Christians adequately cared for, was anxious to appoint Mr. Sargent, a distinguished C.M.S. Missionary, as Bishop over the C.M.S. congregations, and Mr. Caldwell, an even more distinguished S.P.G. Missionary, as Assistant-Bishop over the S.P.G. Missions. Bishop Milman strongly opposed the principle which underlay these appointments. He considered that the principle of Missionary Society Bishops was fundamentally unsound, and could lead to nothing else but a spirit of division within the Church. For a time Bishop Gell had his way, but later on, during the Episcopate of Bishop Johnson, an assistant territorial Bishop, entitled the Bishop of Tinnevelly and Madura, was appointed for the whole of that area.

There is much in the life of Bishop Milman of which we might have spoken had space permitted. We might have told of how, in his desire to provide for the scattered European and Indian congregations, he developed in the Church the orders of Sub-Deacon and Reader. He was always conscious of the vast size of his diocese and of the importance of its adequate supervision. He felt from the start that Burma needed a Bishop of its own, and that it was impossible for him adequately to supervise the work of the Church in Upper India. It was only after his death, during the Episcopate of his successor Bishop Johnson, that both Burma and Lahore received their first Bishops. The Bishopric of Lahore was actually founded in his memory.

Nine years of arduous work in India had passed, and the Bishop had completed his sixtieth year when he started away, at the end of February, to visit Peshawar'in the North-West Frontier of India. As early as 1874 he had described "the perpetual travelling as both weary and unsettling to the work. However, it has to be done, and I hope will result in some fruit, though it is naturally difficult to see it." The journey from Calcutta to Peshawar, a distance of almost fifteen hundred miles, was a very long one in those days, owing to difficulties of transport after entering the Punjab. Peshawar, even then, was one of the largest military cantonments in India and had an important mission. Coming from the comparative warmth of Bengal into the great cold of the Punjab, and having to pass a night on the river Jhelum in a boat which had not sufficient protection against the weather, and with his food supply running short, proved too great a strain for his health.

His days in Peshawar were exceptionally full of work, but it was evident to the General, Sir Richard Pollock, with whom he was staying, that the Bishop had completely overtaxed his strength. After a busy Sunday he was compelled to take to his bed. He had literally worked himself to death in the service of his Divine Master. To use his own words: "He was determined that, as far as he was concerned, at any cost and at any sacrifice, India should be won to the Lord Jesus." On Sunday, March 5, 1876, he was prayed for in all the Churches of his diocese. He then rallied somewhat, and hopes being entertained of his recovery, he was moved to Rawal Pindi, which was thought to be a more healthy place. But his time for departing had come, and on March 15 he passed away with these words on his lips: "The glorious liberty of the children of God."

It was a simple and touching Christian funeral. He was carried on a gun-carriage to the Church, and then to the cemetery, the coffin being borne to its last resting-place by soldiers.

In recognition of the Bishop's public services the Government erected a monument in the Cathedral of Calcutta, an honour never paid to any previous Bishop. For this monument an epitaph was written by Sir Arthur Hobhouse, one of the members of Council.

Its lines are full of meaning to those who have read the journals of one who, born on St. Paul's Day, was full of that Pauline energy and burning zeal which carried him through long journeys and many toils, if it was for the saving of souls.

'The glory of God and the saving of souls were indeed his one sole aim and desire. To this great cause he unweariedly devoted himself in a spirit of utter self-abnegation that never faltered nor failed. Among the wild downs of Berkshire, in the poor and populous parish of Marlow, and again in the wider sphere of India, he pursued his missionary labours with a zeal that knew no respite, labouring incessantly for others, if only he might extend Christ's kingdom on earth, might implant the seeds of a higher life in the flocks committed to his charge, might confirm or comfort the fainting heart.

"By nature addicted to literary pursuits, and keenly sensitive to the attractions of social intercourse, he held all these things as nothing when set in the balance against the work that he had set before him, and he would abandon them without a thought to force his way through frost and snow to some distant cottage lecture or service, or to undertake a laborious journey of many days and nights, and all was done as the merest matter of course, without any consciousness of sacrifice.

"To this entire absence of self-consciousness was due too, in part no doubt, the extraordinary influence of his preaching. He spoke from the abundant treasures of his mind and heart without a thought for effect, and the words went straight to the hearts of his hearers. For the first ten years of his ministry his sermons were carefully studied and written; after that period they were always extempore, fluent, original, and striking. His public speeches showed the same eloquence. He was never at a loss for fit language in which to convey the thoughts to which he wished at the moment to give utterance."

A slight but characteristic illustration of the spirit in which every work was undertaken, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might," may be found in the perseverance which enabled him to obtain such a mastery over many of the native languages. Entering upon their study at a time of life when the acquisition of such knowledge would to many have been most irksome, he yet worked at the rudiments of grammar and put himself into the hands of teachers like the veriest school-boy. A saying of one of those teachers that "The Bishop had learnt more about the theory of the irregular verbs than any previous pupils in so short a time," was often repeated among his friends.

If his labours were abundant, not less abundant was his alms-giving. His hand was ever open to-the relief of distress and for the furtherance of the many good works that he promoted, and he continued in India the practice which, as we have seen, he had adopted in early days, of devoting to Christ's service in His Church and in His poor a large portion of his income.

The Indian Church has had many devoted servants, but none more gifted, more humble, and more whole-hearted than Robert Milman.

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