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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 VIII. Lefroy and Islam (continued)

A sequel to the train adventure.

"May 12, 1892.

"I THINK I told you in my last of a meeting to which I had been invited for religious discussion at a town a little distance out of Delhi. It came off the day before yesterday, and though not altogether a success, was by no means a failure. The chief difficulty was the presence of a number of Delhi Mahommedans who came down on purpose- They will let me go nowhere alone now, but follow me about to preach against the Faith. I hope it shows at least that they have a certain sense of their position being pressed. When I went down to the train at 4.45 a.m. there were about a dozen of them. We all got into the carriage together and chatted away with the utmost friendliness, for we are on excellent terms personally. But at the time of meeting for discussion they made it difficult in various ways. It was a curious scene! an upper room not nearly large enough for the purpose, packed to overflowing with people of three creeds, Mahommedans, Hinduism, and Jainism (a degenerate survivor of Buddhism), and of all ages and social positions. I suppose there were 300 in a room that we might consider would hold 100. There were four speakers, one of each of the above faiths, and myself. I was most courteously treated. I had to speak first, which in a kind of way is bad, at least one gets in a controversial kind of way to think so, as it leaves the others to take away the taste. However, little or nothing was said directly against what I said on our Faith; and I do hope that if there were any there whose hearts have been in any way touched by God and made conscious of sin, they may have felt the difference in the style of the appeal. I had prepared a long address, but when the time came I found we were very limited, as some had to go back to Delhi by an evening train, so we had only half an hour apiece. This was rather fatal. I spent most of the time not in actual statement of Christianity, but in drawing out the temper and conditions in which the search for any true faith must be made in order to have a success. In some ways one scarcely likes giving up such an opportunity to such merely preparatory work: but this preparatory work must be done and it is no good for us to try to hurry matters. It is not the quickest method that always yields the most lasting fruit. It was sad to hear the Jain lecturer get up and argue for either black atheism or absolute agnosticism. Would God one could get some light to them."

"May 31, 1892.--Another Bazaar preaching has just intervened and I am more or less in the usual state. It was rather a stormy one, yet not on the whole bad. I managed to keep my hold fairly on them, and carried at any rate some of the best with me, if not in all my arguments, yet in the sense of a better tone and way of dealing with such things, than my opponents showed. Once a man went on persistently breaking in with some rude and almost blasphemous questions, so after waiting a few moments I said,' Shame, shame on Mahom-medans who will stand and listen to such stuff and laugh instead of being indignant; for your own honour turn him out!' and they did right away and listened quietly for a few minutes. I had a tremendous meeting last Friday, the biggest I have yet had in the Bickersteth Hall, which will prove I believe of immense value in my work. It was not a particularly satisfactory one, but all works together, I hope, for the great end. It is so hot and I am so streaming I cannot go inside, and the light has failed so utterly I cannot see my lines so I must stop. The blind man came back from Karnal to-day. He has almost mastered the alphabet for the blind; I am greatly pleased. If he really ponders God's word he must grow. I do not want him to preach publicly yet; it would make a great excitement and I should fear that he has still too much of the old Mahommedan controversial blood in him to be able to stand the attacks of the Bazaar well; but to talk quietly with a few who are interested, and explain what he has found in Christ, is a thing which I trust and think he will do well. It was a great delight to me last night on coming back from the Bazaar, after a very fairly good preaching, to find him sitting in this way with three men round him talking quietly and well. If God's grace is really with him this will do more than much Bazaar preaching, for he has plenty of ability and seems really getting a hold of the Gospel. They are certainly wonderfully abstemious. When I saw him thus in the evening (I had not been at the house during the day) I said to my companion, at whose house he is living, 'Has he been down here all day?' 'Yes,' he said quite casually, 'he has been here: he hasn't had any food yet.' This was 8 p.m. and he came down here at 7 a.m. He may have had a mouthful before he came, but certainly not more, very probably not that, yet it was not regarded as anything remarkable. Is it any wonder that they look on us as poor creatures of a very inferior kind, who make a terrible fuss if we go without one of the many meals with which the day is crowded? Religious teachers indeed! Bloated aldermen rather is what they really regard us as."

At length there came to Delhi their old Head on a memorable visit from Japan.

"Feb. 2, 1893.

"We are having at present the very great delight of a visit from our dear old Head, Bishop Bickersteth, of Japan. I suppose there is hardly any one in the world to whom I can talk on Delhi matters with such entire freedom and comfort. He is regularly my master. I always look up to him as having started me on lines of work here, and what we owe now to the impetus he gave us ten years ago, it is hard to say. He also knows, of course, all the ins and outs of the place perfectly; he is as interested in it as I am; and lastly (or not lastly for there are a dozen other reasons) his later experience is in some respects so similar to my own. Of course his sphere is enormously larger and more responsible, but in our respective spheres our positions are very similar: so to compare notes and ask advice was very delightful--and all the subjects we got through! the increase of the Indian Episcopate, the development of our Rohtak scheme, some pretty deep Theology, and so on. He was very keen that I should not consider six men a final limit of our band in Delhi itself. He was surprised and delighted beyond measure at our educational work, which surpassed all he had dreamt of; but you know this department never had his fullest adhesion, and while he does not grudge the large amount of strength it absorbs, yet he thinks that if it needs so many, we should increase our whole staff so as to have more men at leisure to help me and do more direct evangelistic work."

"Feb. 16, 1893.--The Bishops Barry and Bickersteth have come and we enjoyed them both, especially the latter. With Bishop Barry I had a talk about the Archbishop's speech (Benson's) on Mahomtnedanism and the effect it had had here. He said he had been greatly surprised and dismayed at the speech, and that he thought the Archbishop ought to know the sort of thing I was telling him. He wanted me to write direct. This, however, I said I was not prepared to do, though I am getting up the subject for my next occasional paper and will express my views with some clearness I hope then. I believe the Archbishop always reads our papers. Then Bishop Barry said that though he could not write direct to the Archbishop he could to Bishop Davidson, and if I would put down on paper what I had said he would forward it; so I am going to do this.

"I was so very grieved to hear yesterday of Phillips Brooks' death, you know how much he has helped me, and he felt very warmly towards our work."

It is only right to give here that part of the speech of Archbishop Benson to which Lefroy alludes. It was made at the annual meeting of the S.P.G. in St. James's Hall on Thursday, June 16, 1892. The Archbishop, after a generous survey of the religions and philosophies of the world, said:--

"We often do undervalue the importance to mankind of such a religion as Mahommedanism. I would say that those who know Mahommedanism best, know that in many directions there are noble characters formed under its influence--men of justice, men of piety, men of truth--whom all who know them intimately respect. These characters are the strength of that or of any other religion. It is not what is to be found in books, what is to be said or prayed in temples which are its true strength--the pillar of its strength--among the populace. When we find Mahommedanism so hard to break, so irresistible, so impregnable a citadel, so impenetrable a rock, it is not because it is a religion which ministers to pride, to lust, and cruelty. I deprecate very much setting to work--I do not believe we shall ever succeed if we set to work--believing that the religion of any nation which God has allowed to grow up in it, and to be its teacher up to this point, until Christianity is ready to approach it--I do not believe we should succeed if we held that the religion itself ministered to pride, to lust, and cruelty. It would be as reasonable if we were to impute to the Gospel the sins of London. We know what the sins of Mahommedanism are, but do we not know what the sins of Europe and London are? Do we not know what the sins are of other places where the Gospel is preached most earnestly and sedulously? We mistake if we do not look at the root of the evils; you must look into the region of human nature, and first accept a religion as having done what it could for the moral and spiritual welfare of its followers: having done that, and in that spirit, you can move forward, and offer yourselves as those who have a more excellent way to present to the nations living in the faith of these old religions. Mahommedanism does form high characters. No one can go into a Mahommedan place of worship without being struck by the evidence of sincerity, gravity, absorbed-ness, and solemnity in the worshippers. We must not approach them as if they knew they were themselves deficient, and that it was only pride and obstinacy that prevented them from listening to us. We must go to them acknowledging that God has brought them a long way on the road to Him. We must take them up where they are, and remember that they do not look upon themselves as behind Europeans or the English nation. They look upon their sacred books as an advance on Christianity, and until we are able to meet them on their own ground, until we have thoroughly mastered theirs, until we know exactly what their position has been in the formation of character and thought--unless we recognise the deep spring of devotion they exhibit, unless we are prepared to find the formation of noble characters among them due to the same cause as the formation of noble characters among ourselves--we shall have no chance in dealing with a religion like Mahommedanism. It is a religion which requires to be thoroughly understood and deeply mastered. We want the colleges, we want the institutions and the great students who shall fortify and prepare our missionaries, to send them out, not with the idea that being Englishmen and Christians they ought at once to carry everything before them, but with the notion that they have a fierce battle to fight, a hard strife to encounter, and that they must be prepared to follow misbeliefs and misunderstandings to their very root and origin. The stubbornness of the Mahom-medans in resisting Christianity gives me more hope of what they will be when we have gone to them, properly armed to face them--to those who fully believe they could come to London and improve it, and give us a purer and better religion than our own--their stubbornness in maintaining and supporting their religion gives me more hope than the levity with which some nations are ready to give up old truths and take up a new religion, which they think will lead them to Western civilisation and wealth."

Lefroy makes answer in a note in his "Occasional Paper," first writing in the body of the Paper--"First, a word as to whether it is right to look for, or to expect to find, such positive blots, such grievous errors in an alien creed at all." He then appends a note:

"The consideration of the point was suggested by the speech of his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Annual S.P.G. Meeting of 1893 as reported in the August number of the Mission Field of that year. It must be with the extremest deference that I venture to dissent from the views of his Grace, to whom we owe so much and to whose teaching we so heartily look up. To the praise which he bestows on certain sides of Mahommedanism we (I am speaking for myself and my brethren at Delhi) desire to offer no objection. Undoubtedly the lesson on which he insists, that Christian missionaries must recognise the good in it and other non-Christian systems more fully than often they have done, is one that we need to lay to heart. But we here cannot help perceiving the danger in ignoring, as he seemed to do, the positively evil side, not only in the character of its professors who do not live up to their creed, but in the religion itself. To show how liable his speech was to be misunderstood I may mention the following. Only a few weeks after its publication a Mahommedan gentleman--one with whom I have much intercourse and who is prominent in our meetings in the Hall--came to me in great triumph. He had been referred to the report of the speech by an Englishman as showing how mistaken the attitude of the missionaries was in regard to Mahommedanism, and how far the leading authorities of their Church were from endorsing it. He burst in upon me with, 'Well, now at any rate you must admit that if you still resist the truth and refuse to recognise Mahomed as the Seal of the Prophets, it is simply your obstinacy and hardness of heart, for you see the Archbishop of Canterbury has himself accepted him!' 'Scarcely that,' I replied. 'Well,' was the retort, 'if he does not say so in so many words, and of course, occupying the position he does he could not do that, it practically follows from what he does admit.' I know it is not fair to hold any one responsible for the distortions, or entire misapprehension of his words, but I simply state the impression that was left on this gentleman's mind, and, as I know, not on his alone."

In August, 1892, Lefroy mentions the great excitement caused by a pamphlet published in the Punjab by the Rev. T. Williams, of Rewari. No doubt the cause of it was the speech of Archbishop Benson, and was a reaction, an unfair and provocative attack upon the character of Mahommed. A deputation of the Moslem community waited upon the Lieutenant-Governor at Simla, and the pamphlet was withdrawn from circulation. As I have been unable to examine this pamphlet I can give no accurate account of it. Experience teaches that unbalanced utterances on the one side lead to the same errors on the other side. I believe acknowledged that Lefroy held the balance true.

The story of our Indian brother's path upward and onward reads like the working out of a drama, followed by all of us each step of the way with prayers and at length with thankfulness and with nothing but sympathy.

Falling back.

"March 1,1893.--I have a most sad piece of news to give you. Last Friday the blind Maulvi left the Faith and made confession of Mahommedanism in the great mosque here. The shock is the greater because up to the very last moment it was wholly unexpected either by me or by any of our native Christians. For some few weeks I had not been happy about him myself, and feared things were going wrong: and early last week he came and told me the allowance I was giving him to live upon was not enough and he must have more. I was giving him intentionally a small amount because it is of extreme importance to show in the beginning of our work, and especially in a notable case like this, that we will not offer money inducements to a man to become a Christian. But it was enough for actual needs. I told him I could not, in duty to himself and the principle at stake, increase it. He then said he must go elsewhere and try to better himself in some other Mission. I pointed out to him the danger he would be in if he once gave such considerations a dominant place in his mind, but said he was perfectly free to go where he pleased as he was a servant of Christ's not of mine. On Thursday, as he said definitely he wished to go to Lahore, I gave him a letter of introduction to Mr. Shirreff, the able and excellent C.M.S. missionary there, and money for the journey. I was uneasy about him. That evening I went out for a few days in the district and on Friday at the big prayers at midday, without a syllable to any of our people, he went off and turned Mahommedan and was immediately sent off to Bhopal (a strong Mahommedan native state in Bengal) under the charge of a well-known Delhi Maulvi. You can imagine how great the sorrow is to all of us and specially to me. How long the deterioration has been going on or when it commenced I cannot say. Sometimes I think even now that till the last he did not mean to take this step but was over-persuaded and threatened into it. The sorrow is very great, yet even now I can believe and perhaps in some faint measure see that God will not suffer His work to be injured through it, but out of man's evil will somehow good will come."

"March 23, 1893.--The blind man is back; by no means satisfactorily, and with still very much of doubt about the future; but still I believe really sorry for what has happened and wishing to be with us. May God deepen his repentance and make him more humble and distrustful of self, and therefore more steadfast and strong for the future."

"March 30,1893.--The blind man goes on very well indeed and I really have higher hopes of his being a true spiritual Christian than I ever had before. Last Sunday was arranged for his confession in Church and pardon, with at the same time penance imposed, of exclusion from Holy Communion till Christmas, to occupy till that time the place of penitent. The effect was very great indeed upon him. He faced it, however, I believe in the best spirit possible. At his own request he spent the whole of Saturday alone in the church preparing for the ordeal. I went for a short time and sat by him reading Heb. xii. and trying to explain Christian discipline: that it is not meant merely to humiliate and crush, but te chasten and elevate and is a proof of God's love. He was very nice over it, and on Sunday the service, though very sad, was I believe true and helpful. He is still here, the future is uncertain. He must leave Delhi for a time certainly, but where he should go is not yet settled, probably Lahore. I am going on my roof for evening prayer every night this week and watching the Paschal moon waxing and trying to think what it must have meant to our Lord when He watched it waxing each night from the Mount of Olives and realised all that it meant to Him when it should reach its full."

"May 17, 1893.--The great thing, I wish I could attain it more, is to feel that one is not meant or wished to do more than one can find time to do thoroughly and quietly. If one could stick to this how infinitely more lasting and better value the work one did would be! But it is not easy."

"Delhi: Sept., 1894.--You asked in one letter about the Mahommedan belief in a coming ascendancy of the Christian Faith. I am quite familiar with the thought, and believed I could lay my hand on some definite statement of theirs concerning it, but this I have not yet been able to do, though I have looked through one or two books. They certainly do hold that there will be a great apostasy before the end, and the Cross will largely triumph till, a strange conclusion, our Lord Himself will return, alighting on a minaret of a mosque in Damascus, and vindicate again Islam as the true Faith! . . .

"The blind man was married last Wednesday. He had long wished to take this step. I do feel the difficulties of loneliness, want of attention, etc., imposed on him by his blindness to be so very real and so difficult to be adequately met in any other way. He had seen something (without eyes) of a girl from our Boarding School who had been working for some time in the Hospital. She is herself of Mahommedan extraction, though brought up from childhood as a Christian, and this gives them a strong draw towards each other. He is very happy at present, and I earnestly hope the change may make him happier and stronger in his hold on Faith."

For years now Maulvi Ahmad Masih has lived a Christian. He has never tried to emphasise the great change in any unnecessary way by outward alteration of living nor in dress. He has lived in the Mission Compound, and his form is one of the most familiar to visitors; and his house is the one most resorted to by non-Christians, and probably by Christians. His work has been chiefly to preach in the bazaars, and as there are now certain authorised spots for preaching, the authorities impartially allotting these to representatives of different faiths on fixed afternoons, there is none now of the old feeling of antagonism. It is possible now for a small body of Indian Christians to preach at such places without the protection of any European missionary. The situation has changed since Lefroy's days. Of late years Ahmad Masih has been drawn to the problem of Hinduism, and especially of the Arya Samaj, and many of the discussions in the Bickersteth Hall have been between him and a professor of that cult. A parallel instance is that of Professor Ram Chandra, the most eminent of Delhi Christians, who though born a Hindu gave the best years of his life to the Moslem problem. The blind Maulvi is held in high esteem by the Chamar Christians, and often he is chosen as arbitrator to decide cases among them. His intellectual powers are, of course, considerable, since in spite of blindness, and the almost total lack of books for the blind, he is able to keep abreast of controversies. He knows the whole Koran by heart in Arabic. Indeed, he has an amazing power of dialectic. At its best this is exhibited in the wonderful skill with which he can turn even frivolous and obstructionist objections into opportunities for driving home Christian truth. Of course, any one with such gifts is tempted at times to think more of "scoring off" an opponent and of gaining an immediate victory than of keeping on the higher levels, with an eye to a nobler triumph in due time. This was a lesson which Lefroy always drove home, and it has ever been in the Maulvi's mind. The lesson is of abiding value for all controversialists. It is also of permanent importance to evangelists to remember what are often abiding influences in one who has been brought up in another faith. For example, a convert from Islam does not find it easy to get away from methods of interpretation to which he was formerly accustomed, whether dealing with non-Christian or Christian Scriptures. "A rigidly literal conception of inspiration is fundamental in Mahommedanism, and one of Lefroy's chief efforts used to consist in the attempt to explain and justify the Christian conception, and thereby to cut off at the root whole forests of disputings on verses torn from their context."

The above reflections are condensed from two valuable letters from men who have been in close touch with the Maulvi, and are proud to be enrolled among his friends.

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