Project Canterbury

An Heroic Bishop
The Life-Story of French of Lahore

By Eugene Stock

London, New York and Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton, [1913]

Chapter VI. His Fourth Pioneer Work: The Lahore Bishopric

THE immense diocese of Calcutta, which at first had comprised all India, and Ceylon, and Australia, had not been divided since the formation, in 1835-7, of the dioceses of Madras (including Ceylon) and Bombay and Australia (Sydney). It is needless here to notice the various difficulties, legal and other, which long prevented any further action. But at last, in 1877, plans were successfully matured for two new bishoprics, for Burma and the Punjab respectively. The Bishopric of Lahore was endowed by a fund of £20,000 raised in memory of Bishop Milman of Calcutta, who had died while visiting the frontier stations in the previous year. Two former Viceroys, Lords Lawrence and Northbrook, and distinguished Anglo-Indians like Sir Bartle Frere, attended the inaugural meeting at Lambeth Palace; and Lord Salisbury, who was then Secretary of State for India, contributed £1,000. The S.P.C.K. gave £5,000, the S.P.G. £2,000, the Colonial Bishoprics Fund £3,000; £4,000 was raised in India. Lord Salisbury asked Archbishop Tait to propose a man for the new bishopric, and Tait wrote to French, who was then working at Oxford as Rector of St. Ebbe's, saying that he wished to suggest his name. After consulting three or four friends, French agreed, on condition that any responsibilities to the Government of India would not involve a prohibition of distinctly missionary work; and this proviso did not prevent the formal offer coming to him in the name of the Queen.

The selection was received with universal approval. Dr. Westcott wrote of the "joy and confident hope "of all at Cambridge." "We seem," he said, "to see the great thoughts of the [Divinity] School become the inspiring thoughts of a diocese, and so, if God will, the solid foundation of a true native Church." The consecration took place at Westminster Abbey on St. Thomas's Day (1877) together with that of Dr. Titcomb for the other new Indian bishopric of Rangoon. The sermon was preached by French's old friend, Dr. Kay, who, in consenting to do so, remarked how greatly the missionaries would rejoice to have as their Bishop one who could "know the heart" (Exod. xxiii. 9) of a missionary. His text was Acts xxviii. 30, 31, the last two verses of that book; and the closing words, "no man forbidding him," came with special appropriateness in view of the condition which French had attached to his acceptance of the bishopric. Within a month he was on his way to India, starting on Jan. 16, 1878.

The new diocese comprised the Punjab and the adjacent Native States (such as Kashmir), and the Province of Sindh. No part of this territory had been British when the Acts of Parliament of 1813 and 1833 constituted the dioceses of Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay; and therefore the jurisdiction which had been exercised by the Bishop of Calcutta over the clergy in the Punjab, and by the Bishop of Bombay over those in Sindh, was purely ecclesiastical and not denned by Parliament; so there were few legal difficulties in forming the new diocese. But an important, though small, fragment of Calcutta Diocese was also included. This was the Delhi district, the historic city of Delhi having been transferred from the North-west (now the United) Provinces to the Punjab after the Mutiny in recognition of the fact that it was the Punjab Army that had besieged and captured it, which was really the decisive victory that restored British rule.

The inclusion of Delhi in the new diocese gave Bishop French jurisdiction over a Mission in which, though his own connexion had been with the C.M.S., he was personally interested, it having been started, in fact, at his suggestion. This was the Cambridge Mission, formed under the auspices of Lightfoot and Westcott, both of them Divinity Professors, and of which Edward Bickersteth, son of the future Bishop of Exeter, and grandson of a former C.M.S. Secretary, was the first Head. The S.P.G. being already established at Delhi, the new Mission, while maintaining its independence, was affiliated to the venerable Society.

But all the rest of the Anglican Missions in the diocese belonged to the C.M.S., which had been invited to the Punjab twenty-five years before by its early British rulers, Henry and John Lawrence, and their colleagues. It had indeed been preceded by the American Presbyterian Mission, which had settled at Lahore immediately on the annexation in 1849; but its work was more widely extended than that of the' Americans, the important cities of Am-ritsar and Multan and Peshawar, and Kashmir, and the Derajat (French's previous field), and Karachi and Hyderabad in Sindh, being occupied--without reckoning several rural stations; and it has been largely extended since then. The British troops also were numerous, and the English civilian community not small; so a sufficiently arduous work lay before the new Bishop. French received a warm welcome from all in the Punjab; not least from those whom he alludes to as "the dear Presbyterian brethren, Newton and Forman"--the men who had, five-and-twenty years before, joined in the invitation to the C.M.S. to the newly conquered province. Some of the chaplains were afraid of what a C.M.S. missionary might turn out to be; but they soon found that they had a Bishop of singularly independent mind and very broad sympathies, and who, while definitely Evangelical on fundamental doctrines, was really with them, and not with the majority of his old C.M.S. brethren, upon many matters external and ecclesiastical. He appointed as Archdeacon a leading chaplain, the Rev. H. J. Matthew--who was destined in after-years to succeed him in the see; and he desired to appoint Mr. Robert Clark, the senior C.M.S. missionary, as an Archdeacon specifically for the Missions and the native Church; but this, on some technical ground, the Government refused to allow.

Bishop French was not great in organisation. It was not his fault, however, that the "diocesan synods" which he three times assembled were without definite powers, and were only like the "diocesan conferences" in England. The "established" position of the Church in India prevented the "synods" from being effective governing bodies like those in the non-established Churches. But at least they afforded opportunities for chaplains and missionaries, and missionaries of different societies, to meet for prayer and friendly conference; opportunities, too, for French to deliver valuable addresses on Church principles and work, and to exercise his remarkable personal influence. A lay member wrote to him after the second gathering: "Your Synod was to me a baptism of love, tenderness, spirituality, and power, as it was, I believe, to every one present." His successor, Bishop Matthew, wrote in after-years that French "had not the gift of working through others"; but his own individual labours were untiring.

Of these labours much might be said. He travelled to every civil or military or missionary station in the diocese, preaching both in English and in the vernaculars, confirming, visiting clergy and laity. "His humility and gentleness and self-denial and love," wrote an editor generally disposed to criticise him, "have been sermons to all who beheld him, just as his words have been to all who heard him." He was only really disliked by the worldly English people who resented his faithful preaching. He himself said that they would "listen with indifferency" to the exposition of evangelical doctrines, "and sleep it out,"--"justification, etc., what care they about such things?" "But they do resent being preached to about conversion, and being told that all are not Israel who are of Israel, and that the friendship of the world is enmity with God." And he felt it to be his plain duty, as a bishop, to "reprove, rebuke, exhort," though "with all long-suffering." In one of his letters home he wrote; "I preached a solemn sermon yesterday at the pro-cathedral on the duty of Society and the Church with reference to adulterers in our midst. Mrs.----- called it an Athanasian kind of sermon." Another time he mentions having to "soothe" a chaplain and congregation who were indignant at his having written in the church record book, "The day was not satisfactory, I fear, viewed in the light of eternity," referring to the few communicants and small collection. But how did he try to "soothe them"? "I tell them the censure was chiefly on myself for preaching so ineffectually; but they can't take this in!" He was never at home in what is called "worldly society," except when he found opportunities for testimony. At one dinner-party he defended Christianity against a man who praised Buddhism as "the noblest, truest, holiest religion in the world"; on which occasion an Indian of high rank expressed surprise at the conversation, as "he thought English gentlemen never talked of anything but polo.'"

In fact, French's greatest happiness was to get away from state and social "functions," and to go preaching in the frontier mountain valleys or in the villages of the plains; and this he did whenever his episcopal duties allowed. Not that his only evangelistic work was among natives. He highly valued his many opportunities of addressing British soldiers; and he took the total abstinence pledge, despite his "often infirmities," as an example and encouragement to them. The Afghan War of 1879-81 gave him an opening for work of this kind which he eagerly seized. He went up to Quetta, and to Kandahar, in company with George Maxwell Gordon, who was himself killed at Kandahar while attending to wounded soldiers; and his journals give interesting accounts of his efforts to influence officers and privates alike. His biographer confesses that "he might sometimes weary the patience of the soldier in that hot Indian climate by the length of his discourse, or shoot above the heads of all but the more thoughtful of his hearers." "But every soldier could appreciate his manifest sincerity, and when he went miles out of his way in the burning sun to minister to two or three in their sickness, or stripped off his coat in hospital to rub the limbs of some poor fellow writhing with pains of cholera, they recognised that in their own chief pastor they had one who understood their troubles, one who was ever ready to endure all hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." And an aide-de-camp at Lahore testified to his influence with "fine young fellows, plucky, honourable, and straight," who found that "his big and chivalrous heart made them feel better men," and ready to "do their round of parade or stables or whatever came to their hand with a keener sense of duty."

Although French continued Bishop of Lahore only ten years, he was successful in building the cathedral, despite all sorts of difficulties. The scholar and saint was no dreamer. He might not easily set others to work, but what he could do himself he did indeed with his might. "I would rather," he wrote to his daughter, "have a church built to remember me by than have my marble face looked at in Westminster Abbey." The church services at Lahore had for thirty years been held in a building which had been the tomb of a dancing-girl who became a Begum. Sir R. Montgomery, when Lieut.-Governor, had secured a site for a church, and some money had been collected, but the project had hung fire; and now Bishop French resolved that the new diocese should have a cathedral built "worthily of God." "In the midst of an architectural people," he wrote, "and most self-sacrificing in what they spend on buildings for sacred purposes, it is a scandal that we should worship in a tomb belonging to a Mohammedan past." The story of his efforts, both in India and in England, to raise the money is pathetic indeed. "I have written," he wrote, "my hands almost into paralysis begging and pleading; but the paralysis of results exceeds that of hands." For three years he gave half his episcopal income to the fund, cutting down all possible expense in order to do this.

At length, in the tenth and last year of his episcopate, the building was, not indeed completed, but in a state allowing of its being consecrated and put to regular use; and the consecration took place on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, January 25, 1887. The Lieut.-Governor ordered the closing for the day of the law-courts and government offices, so that there might be a general holiday. The Bishop arranged that one aisle should be reserved for the British soldiers and the other for the native Christians. At the English service he himself preached; but this was followed by an Urdu service, at which Dr. Imad-ud-din was the preacher, and the lessons were read by Mr. (afterwards Rev.) H. E. Perkins, Commissioner of Amritsar, and the Rev. Mian Sadiq Masih. French strongly insisted on the right of the native Christians to a part in the cathedral; and he would not allow any symbol or ornament in it that could "offend the Moslem's horror of images, or foster superstition in any recent convert from a base idolatry." An illustration of his ruling even small details by scriptural precedent occurs in one of his letters:

"There was a wish on the part of some to have a sort of monster lunch in the Montgomery Hall, but I have stood out for hospitalities of a more private kind at the houses of civilians and other well-to-do people. At a huge lunch it often happens that 'one is hungry and another is drunken,' and there is much more expenditure of wine, bad waiting, and bad cooking. The model I have proposed is Nehem. viii. 8-18."

In his sermon French pleaded earnestly that "no invidious exclusiveness of race" might begrudge poor native Christians their rightful share in the cathedral. "The sons of the stranger that join themselves to the Lord," he quoted from Isa. Ivi., "even them will I bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer." And with a characteristic prophetic fervour he anticipated a day when "the long-severed East and West" should meet in common worship:

"Even such a thing might happen as St. Chrysostom tells happened in a Greek church at Constantinople. He was about to preach himself, but a Gothic priest came in with a number of his people, and he, the Greek archbishop, gave up his pulpit for that day. And so before the polished Greeks was heard the rough and (then) uncultured tongue of our northern forefathers, and they learnt the lesson that in Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew, Briton nor Hindu, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ all and in all."

With these lofty aspirations filling his mind, we can understand how the Bishop always remained a missionary, not in heart only, but in actual life. Take, as one illustration, what he wrote about Quetta in 1882:

"The Supreme Government of India has obtained permission to occupy Quetta permanently as a standing military outpost of strategic importance, stretching out its hands to the turbulent tribes, and beckoning and commanding peace to them. Oh that in it may be the sweet message of peace, and with it the Hands that made Joseph's hands strong! It was a great privilege to spend three afternoons in witnessing to Afghans in the fruit-market at Quetta in their own tongue, and leaving a few copies of the Word of God among them. I translated and copied out Isa. liii., and gave it to one of the best-educated among them to take home with him, and never part with, as written out with the Bishop's own hand. May God graciously bless the feeble effort."

It was French's especial joy to ordain Indian clergymen, and he was privileged to admit eleven to the ministry of the Church during his ten years' episcopate. One of these may be mentioned more particularly. He was a learned Sikh pundit, "steeped in Sanskrit, Vedic, and other philosophic lore," and "a man of family and influence and authority with Government." In 1881 French wrote, "He has completely come round, as I do trust, to the simple truth at it is in Jesus, and is very anxious to study Hebrew at the College." "I stayed," continued the Bishop in his simplicity, "a few hours with him at his own village, and partook of his milk and chapaties." Kharak Singh--that was his name--in his turn was at a "tea-dinner" with the Bishop, and the latter wrote:

"The poor old pundit didn't know how to use his knife at all with a leg of fowl, so I took up mine with my fingers, and begged him not to mind doing it, as I didn't. I had to ask Mrs. Wade's pardon. I hope she won't make a picture of the Bishop at the head of his table eating with his fingers. . . . The pundit entered into a very difficult discussion about stones and gems, which Mrs. W. thought rather above her, being in Sanskrit, or nearly so."

This good man was ordained in 1887. One convert of the C.M.S. Mission whom French did not ordain was enticed away from the Church for a while by the Salvation Army, brought to England by them in 1886, and exhibited in London on an elephant as one of the fruits of their work. But he was rescued by Dr. Weitbrecht, who happened to be in England at the time, and was ordained by French's successor in the see; and he occupies to-day a leading position in the diocese.

With the most conspicuous of the Indian clergymen, Imad-ud-din, the Bishop had a close friendship, and it was a special pleasure to him when he received the authority of Archbishop Benson to invest the learned moulvie with the Lambeth degree of D.D. [This Imad-ud-din was the Mohammedan moulvie who had assisted in the Agra discussion noticed on page 17. He had afterwards been converted to Christianity through reading St. Matthew's Gospel.] He performed the simple ceremony in the mission church at Amritsar, and in the course of his address said:

"I wish to make it clear that it is not merely as a mark of honour and distinction that this title is bestowed upon our brother by the head of the Church of England, in the behalf of that Church, and as its chief representative pastor, but as a symbol of brotherly love, sympathy, and fatherly blessing, and as a bond and pledge of fellowship and friendship between the two Churches of England and India; or, rather to signify that if the British and Hindu are two in race, in the Church they are one, linked and knit in an inseparable, indivisible bond of love, friendship, and fellowship; not that one branch should be in bondage to the other, but that they should, by the grace of God, be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment."

French's opinions on the problems of future Church organisation in the mission-field were based both on principles gathered from the whole history of the Church and on his practical experience of actual existing work. He deprecated a "native Church" separate from the English Church in India. One Church for India was his ideal. But he was not so strict as many are on questions of discipline: for instance, he was disposed, like some other of the Indian Bishops, to relax somewhat the rule that no polygamist could be baptized. As regards the Thirty-nine Articles he wrote:

"There is very much in our Articles so happily and wisely expressed that I should be sorry to see them rejected as a whole, though I should not object to see them revised and modified where passing and short-lived phases of English church parties gave a tinge of insular specialities to the formularies employed."

In one branch of missionary service Bishop French took an important part. This was the translation and revision of the Scriptures, etc., in which so accomplished a scholar and linguist would naturally take a deep interest. In the summer of 1881 he spent several weeks at Murree, in the hills, with Dr. Hooper, Mr. Shirreff, Tara Chand, and Imad-ud-din, devoting six hours a day to the revision of the Hindustani Prayer-book, on which the S.P.C.K. expended £2,000. The result, indeed, was not wholly satisfactory. The Bishop overruled his colleagues unduly, and used his great learning to introduce many Arabic and other terms which, however scholarly, were not intelligible to the simple native Christians; and the book, though valuable for reference, has not proved suitable for general use. On the other hand, his revision, with two frontier missionaries of the C.M.S., of the Old Testament and St. Luke in Pushtu (the Afghan language) was a success.

The whole missionary work of the Church of Christ commanded French's enthusiastic sympathy. So far as the Church of England was concerned, he warmly welcomed Archbishop Benson's scheme for a Board of Missions, by which an official recognition by the Church would be given to all the work done in its name, without superseding or interfering with the Societies that were actually doing it. He was no mere theoriser. He wanted the Gospel sent to all nations, and it was with him a secondary thing what particular organisation sent it. He especially watched with keen interest the evangelisation of East and Central Africa by the C.M.S. and the U.M.C.A.; and he sought to instruct the Anglo-Indians of the Punjab by giving lectures in several places on the story of the Uganda Mission down to the death of Bishop Hannington.

Among other interests of Bishop French was the Punjab University. Not only was he, naturally, a member of the Senate; he gave lectures also, and acted as examiner. But this and other occupations of his time and strength must be passed over.

As the tenth year of his episcopate ran its course, French, more and more conscious that his health was not equal to the burdens of the diocese, was in correspondence with Archbishop Benson, and with his old Rugby school-mate, Lord Cross, who was then Secretary of State for India, about his retirement. Dr. Benson received the intimation with deep regret. He wrote to French: "Your very presence in your place has lifted, and daily lifts, the mission cause into its true position for the first time." But he yielded to French's earnest request for his support in pressing on the Government the appointment of Archdeacon Matthew to the bishopric; and, when this was settled, French sent in his formal resignation, as from December 22, 1887, ten years and two days since his consecration.

But it was not retirement from the foreign service of the Church. On the contrary, French's desire was to devote himself more entirely than ever to mission work, without the inevitable pomp and circumstance of episcopal life. How for the fifth time he became a pioneer in a new sphere, a future chapter will tell.

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