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The Life and Letters of George Alfred Lefroy, D.D.
Bishop of Calcutta, and Metropolitan

By H. H. Montgomery

London, etc.: Longmans, Green and Co., 1920.

Chapter VI. Headship of the Mission

ENOUGH has been said to prove George Lefroy's intellectual capacity. He possessed the power of growth, and was steadily exhibiting such signs of leadership that no one will be surprised that, though the youngest member of the original band, men began to speak of him as the head of the Mission when Bickersteth's resignation owing to ill-health had to be accepted. One subject, however, still has to be handled, the deeper question of spirituality and habits of devotion. In 1885 his father died, and portions of letters written in quick succession tell their own tale.

Just after hearing of his father's call home.

"Delhi: Dec. 15, 1885.

"... I don't know anything which has been as great a help to me during the last few years in deepening the inner life as death. As one after another of those dear to us pass through the veil it seems to be in a very real sense 'torn in twain,' and the other world becomes very real and present to us, and it is not only that we are able to keep hold of them, but by keeping hold of them we enter more and more into the consciousness of the Communion of Saints, and realise that we are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the Saints and of the household of God."

"Dec. 22, 1885.

"Two verses have come very much home to me during my reading this week, and have been a great help to me. The first seems to me to bear such a close reference to dear father himself at present. 'Blessed is the man whom Thou choosest and receivest unto Thyself. He shall dwell in Thy courts and shall be satisfied with the pleasures of Thy House, even of Thy holy Temple.' Isn't it a bright thought that our own father is one of the last who has been so chosen and received, and is now entering into that perfect' Satisfaction'--sharing in the worship of the Blessed ones, being changed from glory unto glory, and growing continually in the likeness to his dear Lord, and ours because seeing Him in open Vision as He is? It seems to me a very bright message, and if one can only realise it, it seems to put us so into touch with the unseen world now that we have such a great treasure there, and are granted in Christ to maintain our relation to him.

"'Round the altar Priests confess
If their robes are white as snow,
'Tis the Saviour's righteousness
And His blood that made them so.'

"I do think really that as one after another of those we love pass in through the door to the other world they leave it--if we will, and by the grace of God--a little bit more ajar each time, and make it easier for us to go in and out and find pasture and refreshment in Christ. I am sure this is one way, at any rate, in which a beautiful thought of our dear old Bishop's, in a letter I have just got from him, is fulfilled. I think I must quote it to you. 'On my journeys I trust it may be given me to bear you and yours in my heart in prayerful recollection and commendation to Him whose wellsprings of strength and comfort are not exhausted, though some of the purest streams which fetched and brought their refreshments to us seem for the present to fail us; as to how far even these do fail us we know but little.' But since they do, at any rate, seem to fail us, then comes in my other verse: 'They thirsted not when He led them through the desert. Yea, He caused water to flow out of the rock for them. He smote the rock also and the water gushed out.' Isn't that exactly how it is? It is the desert, and in one sense it must be so; but it is a desert into which He has led us and therefore the desert itself shall 'gush out with water' for us, and what seems its very hardest places shall be 'wellsprings of strength and comfort.' You will not mind my just talking on like this. You can understand what a solemn and, almost, mysterious position it is to be in--just to know by the one telegram--or the two--that the dear father is no longer with us here below, but to know nothing more--nothing that would seem in any way, so to speak, to lead up to it and bring it into its true connection with the whole of life. You can imagine with what a solemn interest I wait your letters, now to note how the Master's call first made itself heard, and then to learn whatever you can tell as to the end itself--the end which yet, as Phillips Brooks so insists, is not the end of life, but an experience in life.

"Your long and welcome Christmas letter reached me on the very day, the day which in some ways never seemed to have so deep a meaning as this year in its message of restored communion between heaven and earth, of the God-man linking the two natures into closest and most indissoluble union. I think we have special need this Christmas to turn from the outer more superficial aspect to the deeper, truer one, and thank God for that one-ness in Him which was restored to us as on this day, and before which all separations can only be temporary, must have an end. And how continually the thought recurs in the Bible (rather is it not the one great underlying thought never really absent from a single page?) that it is in the presence of God, and in that alone, that we find really true and perfect rest, and that all our lives and our loves are strong and permanent and raised above the power of death just so far as they are lived and loved in God. 'My Presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.' ... Of all the notes given us of the heavenly life this is, I suppose, almost the most prominent and emphatic. 'They rest.' It is glorious to think of our own dear ones kept safe in that rest, under the wings of that love till we shall be permitted to join them there."

"Delhi: Feb. 9, 1886.

"I was very much struck a few days back by a talk I had with our leading native Christian, Pandit Janki Nath, formerly a Brahman of good position, but now our head schoolmaster, and a very earnest and devout Christian. He was saying that recently two or three deaths had occurred among his old relations, at which he had been present (for though, of course, cut off from ordinary social intercourse, they still recognise his relationship in various ways), and they had brought home to him as nothing ever had before, the special power of the Christian faith in the presence of death. He said it was only when he saw the absolutely unbroken gloom of death, its utter blankness and deep pathetic despair in the eyes of his Hindu relatives, that he realised what Christ had done for him in this respect, and how absolutely the very nature of death was changed to those who are in Christ. I can well imagine how intense and vivid the contrast must appear to such a man so placed, and how he would be able to enter into the 'I am He that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of death.'"

There followed in due time a letter from the parishioners of Aghaderg asking whether "Mr. George" would follow his father as Rector. His answer was to be anticipated.

"Jan. 19, 1886.

"I have written just a few lines--not such as I would, but such as alone I could--to the dear people at home whose wish for me mother's last letter told me of. You do not need to be told what in substance my reply has been, and you would not, I know, any of you--in the deep of your hearts--have had it other, though from what it has been for me when I realised, less I fear for the parish than for the home, and the dear ones of home, what the alternatives meant, I know what the struggle has probably been for you, though I do not believe that any feeling of suspense will have been added, for you will have known so fully that I cannot go otherwise than as the Lord leads me, or leave the work to which, if we can read His calling at all, He has been calling me all these years past, and is still calling me. I won't say anything more about it, for you know all that lies behind what I say, and what it costs, even though, in God's mercy, there is scarcely the shadow--there is really not the shadow--of a doubt superadded to make decision still more difficult and painful. And I have also the unspeakable comfort of knowing that--even if others may possibly think differently--at any rate mother and you two are entirely at one with me in our wishes and in one's reading of God's guidance. It has been a very sad thought indeed to realise that the old home must go so soon, and that I must not look forward to find you there once more in July, if I am permitted to get away from here then; but I can only hope that in this, too, we shall be enabled to reach down and grasp the teaching which He has for us in it, and through the symbol find the reality and turn our hearts more closely than ever round Him Who is the one eternal home--the everlasting Rock."

"Jan 26, 1886.

"Following on father's death came this sorrow about home--first of all, just the realisation that I could never be in it as home with you all again, and then the necessity of finally making this certain by my own act. Then there came a great disappointment and trouble in my work here. I won't stop to tell you any details about it now; not so much because I do not wish to add sorrow to your sorrow, as because I think partly that I exaggerated it owing, perhaps, in part to my mental attitude at the time, and already things seem beginning to pull round much better than I had hoped and thought possible; and partly because I can now see very distinctly how it was part of the Father's loving dealing with me, to complete His work still further, and drive me back from all outer comforts or resting-places on His arm alone and His presence; and then, lastly, there came, what may seem trivial, but is not so to me, at any rate, circumstanced as I then was, a slight attack of liver, very slight, but just sufficient to give that heavy drowsiness in the evening and early morning which, of all things, makes devotion most difficult, and at any rate destroys all the side of conscious comfort and satisfaction in one's prayers. This also, however, I now know was a part of the same loving discipline for me, and I can only trust that the time I then went through in a sense of supreme emptiness, of being cut off from outward comfort and support of all kind, and of lying, if I may use the expression, which came home to me very vividly then, crushed and bruised under His mighty hand, has not been thrown away but has done, in some measure at any rate, what He would have in driving me in and in on the ultimate basis of Faith and finding comfort, confidence, and strength in~Him alone, and the consciousness of His constant Presence. 'Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee,' that hymn has been very much present with me. You will not mind my talking so much about myself."

And here I may as well summarise scattered notices contributed by those most closely associated with Lefroy in regard to his devotional habits. Those habits were early formed, and were never intermitted.

The Bishop of Singapore, J. Ferguson Davie, once his domestic chaplain, writes:

"He was an early riser: in Lahore his hour was half-past five in winter and earlier in the summer, and woe betide his 'boy' if he did not wake him punctually. By thus rising early he got nearly two hours for prayer and reading before he set out to walk to the cathedral daily service, which began at eight; I do not remember his ever missing this when he was well, and only definite engagements prevented him from being present at the daily Evensong also. Only in August, 1918, while staying with me in Singapore he referred to all that the Lahore Cathedral had been to him, and the regular midday prayers in the little chapel at Bishopsbourne in Lahore, or in 'Harvington' at Simla, were indeed periods of time spent with God. It would have seemed unnatural not to have them with absolute regularity and punctuality."

The Rev. B. K. Cunningham, who joined the Delhi Mission in 1893, writes:

"While it was perhaps the big humanity and the keen Irish humour of the man which drew one so closely to him, I think what made the deepest impression upon me, as a layman working with him in the Cambridge Mission, was the intensity of Lefroy's belief in the Unseen. 'God' was so real to him that he could turn from a conversation, it might be the most ordinary or witty, to talk about God or to God without giving the least impression of unnaturalness.

"It used to be my privilege often to accompany Lefroy down to his work in the Daryaganj suburb of Delhi: he would spend there many hours of an evening instructing, visiting, cheering the people, or settling quarrels domestic or general, never hustling even the most stupid of his flock, infinitely patient with the patience which India demands, and which does not come very easily to most Irishmen: all this pastoral work took a great deal out of him and would leave him utterly tired out, and I remember how again and again as we walked home under the stars Lefroy, after talking over the events of the visit, and appreciating keenly any humour which might be in them, would turn to God repeating aloud some hymn of praise, most often--

"'The day is over with its lights and shadows,
The vesper-tide shines tranquil in the west,
Then turn thee, O my soul, from things created,
Unto thy Rest.'


"'Hail, gladdening light!'

"The former was, I think, his special favourite--he told me how strengthening and quieting he found it to be, lifting one right out of self up to God.

"In the same way it seemed an obvious matter of course for Lefroy to refer any experience at once to God. On one occasion we were on a walking tour, such as he used to love, up in the Himalayas: we were miles from anywhere, we had completely lost our way, the forest was dense and darkness was falling, the position was not without danger. We had a sharp division of opinion as to what course to adopt (I had never before contradicted Lefroy so rudely); after a pause he gave way, with care and great difficulty we retraced our way step by step to a certain landmark which gave us our bearing. I remember the frankness with which he said--' You were quite right, it might have been very awkward if I had had my way. Let us kneel and give thanks to God.'

"On another occasion, after Papillon's death, and after the strain of nursing, in which Lefroy in addition to his other work took more than his share, I went down with swine fever. Lefroy was, I knew, anxious and worried, and prayed over me earnestly; after a couple of days my temperature fell suddenly and unaccountably. Lefroy, when he had verified the fact, without another word knelt by the bedside and poured out his heart in thanks to God.

"These incidents, small in themselves as no doubt they are, and too personal perhaps for publication, are thoroughly illustrative. One learnt from living and working with Lefroy what a happy and strong thing it is to live never very far from the realisation of God's Presence."

The Rev. J. Godber, Domestic Chaplain in the Calcutta days, writes:

"Six times every day did he seek guidance in prayer and meditation, and no work of any kind was undertaken without first a few moments in silent prayer. He rose every day at

6 a.m., no matter how late he had been up the night before, or how sleepless during the night, and from 6.45 a.m. until he went to the cathedral at 7.30 for Holy Communion or Matins, he spent his time in his chapel: and again from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. in prayer and study in the chapel. No newspaper was opened and, as a rule, no business was done before breakfast at 9. At noon every day and at 2 o'clock, 7 o'clock, and 9.30 every evening he would be found in his chapel, and even when travelling he always tried to keep these times of prayer."

The cumulative effect of these memories of Lefroy's inner life will act as the spiritual background of all I have to relate.

A few words about the personnel of the Brotherhood. Murray and Blackett, two of the original six, were compelled to retire in 1880 owing to ill-health. Maitland, a name to be remembered for his work and his great generosity to the Mission, came out in 1881. In the next year, 1882, Bickersteth's health failed, and after struggling to return he finally resigned in 1884. A. Haig joined in 1883: W. S. Kelly in 1886. In 1884 it became the duty of the Committee, in concert with the Brotherhood and the Bishop of Lahore, to suggest the new Head. Let Lefroy tell the story of events:

"Delhi: October7, 1884.

"A postcard has I think been the extent of my communications with you since we heard the news, which is giving us so much sorrow and occasion for thought, of Mr. Bickersteth's loss. [He had been forbidden by the doctors to return.] It is a very heavy blow to us all, as you know, and in some ways I fancy to me almost specially. . . . And it is not we alone, but the whole Mission, and everybody big or little who came across him, feel that a big man is gone from among us. He has not, however, gone without leaving an example which ought to do much, and now we can only hope and pray that by his removal we may, on the one hand, be stirred up to greater keenness and energy of work both to imitate him and to take his place; and on the other, that we may be the more thrown back on to the One Who is the only One to Whom we can always look, and from Whom all capacity for good work of any kind alone can come. You will easily understand, too, that besides his personal loss there are many questions of weight and difficulty opened up, especially the apportionment of work between us, and the matter of another head. On the latter point we are a good deal stirred in our minds just at present by the announcement that the Home Committee propose to proceed without further delay to an election. . . . We hold that, considering our distance from home, the nature of our headship, etc., etc., it is very desirable that we should at least have a prominent voice, if not the actual right of nomination, subject to the approval of the Home Committee. Who is to be the head after it all I don't know, but I fancy Allnutt."

"Delhi: April 6, 1886.

"The formal permission to nominate a head with the practical promise that our nomination would be confirmed by the Home Committee, reached us a few days ago, and we fixed on to-day as the first day available for our meeting. Of course, it is the first occasion of the kind among us, and so we have no precedent to fall back upon, and perhaps another time we might make it more formal. ... At 6.30 we met in our little private chapel, just the five of us, for Holy Communion. H. C. C. celebrated, and we used the Collect, Epistle and Gospel for Whit Sunday, the 'right judgment.' Then after an interval for private prayer we adjourned to our main room, and there after a few words just like himself in their intense humility and simplicity from H. C. C. about the loss we have sustained from being so long without a regular head, and the hope he had that things would go better when we had one, he proposed me. A. seconded, and in a very few words I said I would try. I said how difficult I had found the thought, less on account of the Mission work than for the kind of change it would seem to make in our internal relations, but that I knew it was honestly the wish of both my seniors. And so it was settled. We telegraphed result to Dr. Westcott and probably he will wire confirmation."

"Delhi: May 18, 1886.

"It is a solemn evening for me, for to-morrow morning we have our induction of the Superior of the Brotherhood, as we have now come to define the process and the position. A few days since the Bishop wrote to say he could not come, press of work elsewhere making it, to his great regret, quite impossible. We are going to make it very quiet. We meet at 7 for Celebration. H. C. takes the first part of the service to the Gospel. Then he reads a very short statement of the Nomination of the Brotherhood, and its confirmation from home, then asks me a few questions (taken from a service for the purpose in the Priests' Prayer-book), then a few prayers, and then I continue the office and celebrate. After the service we will sit in Chapter and read our rule. That's all, and it could scarcely be less formal, I think; and yet you know I think in some degree what it means for me. God in His great mercy give me grace to do this and any work to which He calls me."

In 1887 Bishop Westcott mentions "the great hope which I have entertained of Mr. Lefroy's general influence at Delhi. His missionary work will I am sure be of very wide power and tend to bring the Faith in its real meaning before those who cannot apprehend it as it is commonly offered to them. I cannot express too strongly my joy that he has the guidance of the Mission, and every member of the Mission shares the joy."

The Moral Tone and Atmosphere of India

It is of special interest that upon his appointment as Head of the Brotherhood, Lefroy should have summed up, first in a sermon in Westminster Abbey in August, 1886, and then in an "Occasional Paper" addressed as a letter to Dr. Westcott, his general view of the tone and atmosphere of Indian life as it affected the Delhi Brotherhood. I give his leading thoughts as drawn out in twelve printed pages. Behind all temporary or local causes of difficulty "there lies as the most serious difficulty of all that we encounter an intensely low moral tone which has permeated and now broods over the whole country, checking really healthy progress in well-nigh every direction, and above all blunting the power of conscience and the consciousness of sin." He claims that there has been secured by the Gospel a definite advance in public morality. What strikes him after seven years is the want of faith in man as man, the atmosphere of suspicion of one another which prevents the Government or the missionary from progress. It is felt in political life. In Delhi an Indian judge said, "I have been put here by the English authorities and what I mean to do is to keep them content and to give such decisions as may be most agreeable to them." An Indian gentleman said to a high-placed Englishman, "The secret of your rule is the extraordinary way you hang together. In old days the Delhi Emperor scarcely ever sent a Governor into one of the distant provinces without the feeling that in all likelihood the man would throw off his allegiance. With you it never seems to suggest itself to the Viceroy that any of you might do this." Again, it is a common belief among the poorest Christians in Delhi that money sent from England for their support is seized and kept back by the missionaries. So also bribery of officials is looked upon as natural and to be expected. In commercial life it is this lack of trust which prevents co-operation. A recent writer in the eighties, computed that bullion to the value of 350 millions sterling had been buried in the last forty years. Partnership in business is shrunk from through mutual mistrust. The same lack of moral tone is apparent in family life. There is a want of faith in the purity of women and in the honour of men which is a fatal bar to the frank relation between the sexes. There is another point: "We live in a country where nine-tenths of religious inquirers end their visit with a request for pecuniary help, for instruction in the English language, or for a recommendation to some official post." "Nine-tenths, or considerably more, of the servants seem absolutely incapable of giving you a simple straight answer to the most ordinary indifferent question." Yet there is no reason to despair. I have quoted Lefroy as he wrote thirty-three years ago. Who can doubt that there has been an enormous improvement now in all departments of life in India?

The following is a graphic account of strange Indian climatic conditions:

"Delhi: May 15, 1888.

"I have seen two strange natural phenomena lately. In the middle of this heat there sometimes comes a violent dust-storm, accompanied often with a thunder shower and sometimes, at the beginning of the hot whether, with hail; though it is hard enough to fancy where the hail manages to get formed in such an atmosphere. About a fortnight ago we were sitting at tiffin, when such a storm blew up. Presently hail began and we went out into the verandah to watch and saw that it was falling much bigger than usual. We ran out and picked up some as large as very large marbles. Presently, however, we heard a crash on a tin verandah near that told us matters were getting more serious, and looking round we saw a solid ball of ice, at least as large as a good-sized tennis ball. We shouted to the boys and all to get under cover, and presently it began a regular cannonade of these things. I don't mean that it came down as thick as ordinary hail, but at the end of about the five minutes that it lasted you could have counted hundreds of these great balls lying all around. Maitland weighed one after it had fallen into a tank of warm water and certainly lost some of its weight, and found it 5 oz. A child was killed near by. Another town not very far off got it far worse, and about 150 people were killed by the hailstones. I never saw anything like it, and never expect to again.

"Then a few days since I was walking across the country between two of my out-stations, and I saw a little whirlwind blowing up across the fields. These, too, are not uncommon in the hot whether: just little columns of rapidly circulating air which move across the fields whirling up bits of straw, leaves, etc. I saw, however, that this was much bigger than usual. When I was about 200 yards off it, the air where I was became perfectly still while the column advanced, the air revolving with such fury that I think it is a question whether I could have stood upright in it, and raising such a cloud of dust that I couldn't the least see through it. I went close up to its track, and it passed about 10 yards in front of me, scarcely affecting the air where I was, and yet raging round its own centre."

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