The Substance of Addresses Given by Two Members of the Oxford Mission Brotherhood of the Epiphany, at the Students Conference of the Syrian Christian Church, Held at Kottayam, May 1st--5th, 1916
Chapter VIII. Oblation and Vocation
I WISH now to ask you to consider one or two ways in which our Lord may be calling some, or perhaps very many among you, to give yourselves to Him for special service.
Most of you are now at the beginning of your career. You are probably seeking to find out what your life's work is to be. I need scarcely remind you that if your life is to be of use to God, you must not merely choose for yourselves what your future work shall be, but you must go to God again and again and pray most earnestly that He will show you what He wants it to be. When men do that, then God is able to manifest His purpose for them--to give them a vocation, as we say. But it is not enough to pray, and then expect God to call you in some sudden wonderful way as a dream or vision, or by words sounding in your ears. Sometimes God calls men like that, as He called St. Paul, for instance; but it is not His normal way. Usually He seems to expect us to study His ways as they have been manifested in history: to find out how He has called men in the past, or whole bodies of men or Churches, and under what circumstances. And it may be that those who have been sent to you from a distance, as we now have been, and who can see your Church as a whole, and compare its circumstances with those of other parts of the Church, may be able to help you in this. [73/74] At any rate I will try to say what is in my mind, in the hope that it may help some of you to see what our Lord wants you to do with your lives.
I think it will be best to speak first to those of you who are married, and then to those who are not. But let me say, by way of preface, that in what I try to suggest to you I am not to be understood to be contrasting the two conditions as though one were "higher" than the other. As St. Paul said: "Each man hath his own gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that ... as the Lord hath distributed to each man, as God hath called each, so let him walk" (I Corinthians vii. 7-17). But the two states are very different states, and therefore the vocations that come to men must differ considerably according as they are living married lives or unmarried.
It seems certain to any one of us who watches your Church and its circumstances, and regards it in the light of past history, that God must be calling your Church as a whole, and therefore very many of you from whose ranks the future leaders and teachers in your Church will probably come, to devote yourselves to the work of converting the Hindus, Mussulmans and outcasts who surround you, and then, when that work is well in hand, to go out to other parts of India and witness for Christ.
Hence those of you who are married are not to be content to say: "We have our wives and families to look after: charity begins at home." It is true that it does, and that you will not be called to neglect your own families in order to do work for others. But it is equally true that charity soon ceases to be charity if it ends at home. It quickly degenerates into selfishness, which may be none the less selfishness because it has a good deal of affection about it. In the first place, most of you, I suppose, are living with non-Christians as your neighbours; or have many outcasts working for you. There can be no doubt at [74/75] all that our Lord gives you Holy Communion in order that you may spend the life you receive on these people as well as on your own families. This no doubt you realize. But I would suggest that, in addition to this, or in order to do this better, it may be possible for many of you to combine and form yourselves with your wives and families into some kind of community. There have been in the Catholic Church from time to time associations like, e.g., the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi, which have been intended to enable married people to form spiritual combinations through which their usefulness as instruments for the spreading of Christ's kingdom has been vastly in creased. Since I know so little of your circumstances, perhaps I had better content myself with suggesting this and reminding you of what has been done in past times in the Church. You will, I am sure, pray often to our Lord that He will tell you how you can be of the most use to Him, and that, if He does wish such associations to be formed in your Church, He will raise up some leader or leaders who are wise enough and humble enough to begin such movements. It may even be that our Lord desires most of the Missionary work inside your own country to be done through such associations of married people, so that those who are unmarried, and therefore free to go far afield, may work and witness for Him in other parts of India.
I desire to address the remainder of what I have to say to those of you who are unmarried. You will bear in mind the exhortations which St. Paul gave to the unmarried of both sexes in I Corinthians vii. 25-38. St. Paul was always careful to proclaim the sanctity of the married state. If he had lived till now and had seen what wonderful schools and centres of love the married lives of holy Christians have been in all parts of the world, he would no doubt have used stronger language still on the subject. But he also saw the [75/76] tremendous need there was that as many men and women as possible should be able to devote themselves wholly to the service of Christ's Church, unfettered in any way by the cares which necessarily accompany the married life. This need--what he called "the present distress"--is certainly no less in our time and in India than it was when he spoke. Has there ever been a time in the history of the world when men and women who are entirely free to go anywhere and spend themselves wholly for Christ's sake, were more needed than they are in India to-day?
You will remember also how our Lord said that, though there were in His time comparatively few who could receive the call to remain unmarried, He greatly desired that those who were able should do so. "All men cannot receive this saying, but they to whom it is given. For . . . there are eunuchs which made them selves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it" (St. Matthew xix. n, 12). I venture to point out to you further that those of you who are being called to remain unmarried for Christ's sake are probably called to do more still. Though your country is so far in advance of Bengal, where I live, in all important respects (because it has, compared with Bengal, such a rich abundance of Christian life), yet in one respect the Church in Bengal can set you an example. For there is an Indian Brotherhood and Sisterhood in it communities of people who are trying to obey literally the call of Christ to leave all and follow Him. They are at present very small, it is true, but they do (it seems to me) point the way to you. It seems as certain as anything of the kind can be, that our Lord desires such communities to be formed in your Church. Both the teaching of past history and the peculiar condition of the Indian people, as well as minor indications which we have lately had, seem to point clearly to this. Our own country--England-as [76/77] well as most of the other countries of Europe, were converted to Christ chiefly through such monastic communities. And, speaking generally, the most devoted Missionaries who have gone into the other parts of the earth have been members of such communities. This has to be acknowledged, however much we may recognize and thank God for the devoted labours of Missionaries of other kinds. Now, since this has been the case, it seems certain that India could be brought to our Lord most quickly and effectively through such communities of men and women, for the Indian people believe, to a far greater extent than the people of Europe do, in "giving up all for religion." They will never be converted to become the faithful disciples they can become, by a comfortable easy-going sort of Christianity. If Christ's life is to be manifested to them, it must be done chiefly by countrymen of their own who are manifesting His self-sacrifice--who are giving up everything, as He did, for the salvation of their fellow men;--not, observe, by men who are forsaking the world and retiring from their fellow men to seek their own salvation, but by those who are willing to give up the joys of marriage, the possession of money and goods and the delight of going their own way, that they may be able to band themselves together, and thus work in the most effectual way to bring others to our Lord. The little Indian Brotherhood of which I speak, is doing this. The members live in poverty, celibacy, and obedience for Christ's sake, and they are devoting their lives to work among poor and degraded heathen people, to many of whom already their lives have been such a true manifestation of Christ's life that they have left their heathenism and come to Him. In one way or another I have heard many Indians talking about this little body, and it is manifest from what they say that there is nothing which can at all compare with this as a means of manifesting Christ [77/78] to the peoples of India. Another indication of this is the following:--
We have recently written a life of St. Francis of Assisi in Bengali, and it is astonishing how eagerly people have bought it and read it. It costs 6 annas a copy, yet a large number of Hindus have bought it. One Indian editor asked for permission to publish it, chapter by chapter, in his paper, permission which we gladly gave.
All this shows that, though the book is Christian through and through, yet the manifestation of Christ's life of sacrifice in St. Francis and the members of his brotherhood which it records is greatly attractive to the best Hindus.
What, then, would happen if they could not merely read about but actually see Christ's life lived by devoted Indian Christian Brotherhoods like that of St. Francis in its best days? We can scarcely imagine what would happen. But we can be sure that nothing which we have seen hitherto of the conversion of Indians to Christ can give us any idea of it. Christ our Lord "emptied Himself" wholly for us men and for our salvation. If the people of India could see Him doing the same now in bands of faithful disciples before their eyes, all the best among them would, we believe, flock to Him and ask to be baptized into Him, whatever their relations and friends said!
Is there not, then, abundant reason for believing that our Lord is calling many of you, His young disciples--you whose Church has so many centuries of Christianity behind it, you whose chief Shepherds, the Bishops, set you so high an example of simplicity of life--to be among those blessed ones who have given up all and follow Him? Remember that His call is most likely to come, not by vision or dream, or in any extraordinary way, but as it came (e.g.) to Isaiah, [78/79] i. e. that He is pointing you now to the condition of heathen India, to the awful way in which He is being insulted through idolatry, wounded to the depths by awful sin; that thus He is in effect saying to any who are willing to hear: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And that He is waiting for you to give the answer, one by one: "Here am I, send me" (Isaiah vi.).
Lift up your hearts, then, to our Lord in prayer again and again. Seek His life again and again in Holy Communion, that there may remain no chains which are binding you to the earth, no delights which prevent you from understanding our Lord's purpose for you, or from fulfilling it. What could be worse hereafter than to realize that He had been calling to you constantly to give up all and help Him to win His kingdom, and that you had been so engrossed with yourselves that you did not hear or did not obey? But what greater joy can be imagined than that which will be yours if He can say to you now as well as here after: "Ye are they that have continued with Me in my temptations and I point unto you a kingdom (among the people of India) as My Father hath appointed unto Me." How gracious and wonderful are the promises our Lord gives to those who are willing to give up all to follow Him! He knows how hard it is to do. He knows that even when the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. But He gives you His life which was wholly poured out in sacrifice, that it may become your own, and He says to you, for your encouragement: "Every one that hath left houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold and shall inherit eternal life" (St. Matthew xix. 29).
Perhaps you do not at present see how such a Brotherhood as I have thought of could be formed in your Church. But you may be quite certain that if some, or many, among you desire to give yourselves to [79/80] our Lord in that way--to make that your Eucharistic Sacrifice--He will raise up a leader (if indeed He has not already done so), as in the former case we were thinking of, and will endow him with wisdom, humility and love for arranging details and making a Rule. Pray for us in non-Christian Bengal, as we will for you in your Christian part of India; and let us do what we can to help one another, to take our part faithfully in the great work of bringing the people of India to Christ.