Project Canterbury

Beginnings in India

By Eugene Stock, D.C.L.

London: Central Board of Missions and SPCK, 1917.

Chapter VI. The First Indian Clergy

IN our fourth chapter, one feature of the meeting of Prince Edward of Wales (King Edward VII.) with the Tinnevelly Christians in 1874 was omitted, in order that it might introduce this chapter. In the front of those seven thousand representatives of the Tamil Church stood fifty-three men clothed in the long white garments of their country like the rest, but distinguished by a simple black scarf round the waist. Who were these? They were the Tamil clergy of the district. Most of them have died in the forty-two years that have since elapsed, but if the present Prince Edward met such a Tamil gathering to-day, he would find over a hundred, and if we could gather together in a great synod all the Indian clergy, they would number over 300. When and how did this happy fruit of our Missions begin to appear?

It will be remembered that the S.P.C.K., when Schwartz gave Lutheran ordination to his catechist Satyanadan, to make him a "country priest", welcomed the act. Much more warmly would they have welcomed an ordination by an Anglican Bishop. But for that the Church had to wait five-and-thirty years. We have seen that Bishop Middleton did not consider the admission of an Indian to English orders as within his official powers, but that his successor, Heber, took a different view, and ordained two men of Indian race. The first, however, was a native of Ceylon, and was ordained for work in Ceylon. The second, Abdul Masih, was therefore the first Indian ordained for work in India.

Sheikh Salih--that was his original name--was a Mohammedan oFgood family at Delhi, who had been Keeper of the Jewels to the Sultan of Oudh. Being an ardent Moslem, he went to see Henry Martyn "baited" in controversy with the mullahs; but Martyn's words in exposition of the Ten Commandments sank into his heart, and that he might learn more he took service as a copyist under Sabat, Martyn's assistant in translating the New Testament. The entrance of God's word gave light, and after Martyn went to Persia, Sheikh Salih went to Calcutta, and was baptized on Whit Sunday, 1811, by David Brown in the Old Church, taking the name of Abdul Masih (Servant of Christ). Soon after, Daniel Corrie, going up to Agra as chaplain, took the new convert with him and employed him as an evangelist. There was then no English missionary in India definitely engaged in the evangelization of the non-Christians, but the C.M.S. had sent money to a Calcutta Committee for use as required, and from this the evangelist's stipend was drawn. Manifest blessing was vouchsafed to his work, and within sixteen months he brought to Corrie for baptism fifty Hindus and Moslems. He was ordained on St. Andrew's Day, 1825, and died on March 4, 1827. Thomason, the Calcutta chaplain, had his portrait painted, and sent it to Charles Simeon, who gave it to the C.M.S. House, where it hangs to this day. It is surely a group of facts worth remembering, that the first native of India to receive Anglican orders was (i) a convert from Islam, (2) a convert of Henry Martyn's, (3) ordained by Bishop Heber.

And, remembering how often the impossibility of either a Mohammedan or a Brahman being converted to Christ was affirmed even to recent years, it is another striking fact that the second Indian to be ordained, in North India, was a Brahman. His name was Permanund, and he had been converted at Agra under the teaching of the Baptist missionary who, as we have seen, was sent down to Serampore under a heathen guard by order of the Governor-General. That was in the same year, 1811, in which Abdul Masih was baptized; but Permanund would not accept baptism unless his infant son could be received into the Christian Church at the same time, and this of course the Baptist could not do. He came under the notice of Mrs. Sherwood, an officer's wife and friend of Martyn, and she got him employed as a schoolmaster by H. Fisher, chaplain at Meerut, also on a C.M.S. grant. At Christmas, 1816, he was baptized by that excellent clergyman, receiving the name of Anund Masih (Joy of Christ); and he was ordained by Bishop Wilson in 1836. He frequently visited Delhi and preached boldly there in the bazaars, but no recognized Church Mission was started there as yet. One of his converts was a Brahman in a Sepoy regiment, whose baptism caused "the greatest consternation," not among his fellow-soldiers, but among the British officers, and he was dismissed from the army---solely, as the published official documents show, because he had become a Christian.

But between the ordination of Abdul Masih and that of Anund Masih in North India, there was one in the south. In 1830, when Bishop Turner, the fourth Bishop of Calcutta, visited Tinnevelly, an excellent catechist, John Devasagayam, was ordained deacon. He was not himself a convert, but an hereditary Christian, his father having been a pupil of Schwartz. He himself had been inspecting schoolmaster at Tranquebar, the old Danish station. He was the first Indian clergyman in an independent charge, the village "circle" of Kadachapuram, and he ministered there with great acceptance for thirty years. Bishop Smith, of Victoria, Hong Kong, who visited India in 1853, drew a graphic picture of him:

"It was pleasant to accompany John Devasagayam as he sallied forth--with firm step and energy of body and mind, though sixty-seven years old--into the adjoining villages and lanes, attired in his simple white dress, with the clerical badge of thin black waist-band, trudging along bare-footed over the sandy soil. He had kind speeches for all he met; but if any signs of slovenliness or dirt met his eye, or any appearance of negligence recurred to his mind, there were lectures in store for the villagers and the catechist at their head. The old man unites in a remarkable way the simplicity of the Cross with an European firmness and determination of spirit. He appears to infuse a spiritual-minded-ness and vigour of Christian principle into all around him."

He left two sons in the ministry, one of whom, the Rev. Jesudasen John, was for many years pastor of the important congregation at Palamcotta. His daughter became the wife of the Rev. W. T. Satthianadhan of Madras. The Church in Tinnevelly has produced quite a number of really excellent clergymen. There was no undue haste in ordaining them. Not till 1847 were two more ordained to the diaconate, Jesudasen John (just mentioned) and Devasagayam Gnanamuttu, a convert from Hinduism. Both served forty years. In 1851-1859, fourteen more, nine being converts and five sons of Christian parents. All these seventeen were in the C.M.S. Mission. In the S.P.G. districts, where the work had been so severely handicapped (as we have seen), there were only four in the same period, the first, Arulappen David, being ordained in 1854. He had then been over thirty years working as a catechist and schoolmaster, humbly and faithfully. In various examinations he again and again stood first, and few men, it is said, knew the Bible as intimately. He had great trouble with caste difficulties, and acted on many occasions with much tact. He died after eleven years' further service as a pastor, "looking to Christ with childlike confidence, and with a lively faith in the merits of His death."

Some of these ordinations took place on occasions of much interest, and some of the men were notable. Bishop Dealtry of Madras wrote enthusiastically of "the cheering and delightful scenes" he witnessed-In 1856 the ordination was held in John Thomas's great church at Mengnanapuram, when 1,800 persons were present, including clergymen and catechists and students of both Missions. "The ordination service, translated into Tamil, was printed and put into the hands of all the congregation. The service lasted four hours, and included two sermons, one in English and one in Tamil." This was on a Saturday. Next day, at the early morning service, one of the new deacons, Paul Daniel, preached on Rom. viii. i. The veteran John Devasagayam said of him: "He has got what you call eloquence, sir. He expresses his ideas in rich, suitable words. I give a thousand thanks to the Lord. His exposition of the doctrine of the Cross and the work of the Spirit was beautiful." He was quite a notable man. He knew no English, and had not been in any theological institution, but he was a man of prayer, and of great humility. He died of cholera only four years later, caught from a poor woman he had visited in her sickness.

One later ordination, by Bishop Gell of Madras, in 1869, must be mentioned, when twenty-two Tamils (fifteen C.M.S., seven S.P.G.) received deacon's orders and ten (three C.M.S. seven S.P.G.) priests' orders. No less than sixty clergymen, English and Indian, were present, an event at that time unique in the whole Mission-field. All the thirty-two men were ordained, not as agents of a foreign society, but on the title of the native Church Councils. The examining chaplains were two leading Tamil clergymen, one S.P.G., and the other C.M.S.

On that occasion the sermon was preached by the Rev. Devanayagam Viravagu. He and his brother, Vedhanayagam Viravagu, were converts from the Vellalars, a relatively high caste in South India. Both became Superintendents of whole Mission districts. Another leader was W. T. Satthianadhan, who was also a convert, won while he was a schoolboy. He was for many years incumbent of Zion Church, Madras, with its influential Tamil congregation. He was one of Bishop Cell's examining chaplains, and a Fellow of Madras University, with a seat on the Senate; and Archbishop Benson gave him the Lambeth B.D. degree. When he and his wife visited England in 1878 they won all hearts. Their son Samuel came to Cambridge, and graduated with honours in two triposes. He afterwards became Professor of Logic and Philosophy in the Government College at Madras, and he was the Indian leader of the Student Movement and other Christian agencies.

South India includes also the Telugu Missions and Travancore, and the first Indian clergy there will be referred to in future chapters.

In the Bombay Presidency, Daji Pandurang, a converted Brahman, was the first ordained, in 1850, and was connected successively with both C.M.S. and S.P.G. Another Brahman convert, Appaji Bapuji. was admitted to the ministry in 1855, and was on the C.M.S. roll forty years. There were two converted Parsis, Ruttonji Nowroji and Sorabji Kharsedji, the former being for many years head of the C.M.S. Mission at Aurangabad, and much honoured by the British civil and military community there; while the latter was the father of the brilliant brothers and sisters Sorabji, now known all over the world.

Returning to North India, among others ordained more than half a century ago, the most notable by far was Krishna Mohun Banerjea, a Kulin Brahman (the highest section), and the first Bengali admitted to the ministry. He was a student in Duff's College, and the second convert there, as already related. He joined the English Church, was ordained by Bishop Wilson in 1839, became a Professor in Bishop's College, was for seventeen years on the S.P.G. roll, and all that time, and also after his retirement, was the most influential Indian Christian in Bengal, and perhaps in all India. His Dialogues on Hindu Philosophy urged on the reforming members of the Brahmo Samaj the question, "Where is saving truth to be found?" He died in 1885, universally respected. Among other S.P.G. men were three able Bengalis, Gopul Chunder Mitter, B.C. Choudhury, and H.H. Sandel. The first C.M.S. man (after the early two) illustrates the mutual services often rendered by the two Societies to one another. Daud Singh was a Sikh fakir, baptized by W. H. Perkins of the S.P.G. at Cawnpore. Naturally he sought his own people, and therefore went up to the Punjab and became a catechist in the C.M.S. Mission. In 1854 he was ordained by Bishop Wilson, and was for many years pastor of the Amritsar congregation. He was the first Sikh to be baptized, and the first to be ordained. Among other North India men were three ordained together in 1859--David Mohun, Davi Solomon, and Tulsi Paul. Mohun was pastor of Muirabad, the Christian village before mentioned, and gave valuable aid in revising the Hindi Bible and Prayer-Book. Paul, like his Tamil namesake, was a great preacher. T. V. French wrote of him:

"He is an elderly man, of majestic appearance, with a noble beard, overflowing with intelligence and beaming with kindness and love. I translate with him Butler's Analogy, Hengstenberg's Christology, and Augustine De Civitate Dei. He is a wonderful preacher; the people quite hang upon him."

One other C.M.S. man must be mentioned, if only because he was the father of the present Principal of St. Stephen's College (S.P.G.) at Delhi, Professor Rudra: the Rev. Piari Mohun Rudra, who became the able and trusted Superintendent of the whole Nadiya Mission in rural Bengal. (Some Punjab men will be mentioned hereafter.)

But there is yet one more name on no account to be missed, that of one who was in some ways the most remarkable of all the Indian clergy, the Rev. Pundit Nehemiah Nilkanth Goreh. He was brought to Christ by the Rev. W. Smith, C.M.S. missionary at Benares, was trained for a time at the C.M.S. College at Islington, was ordained in 1868, was on the S.P.G. list at Calcutta for three years, and afterwards joined the Cowley Fathers at Poona. The Principal of Islington, Mr. Childe, wrote of him as a student: "He was a man of superior intellectual power. We had few more genuine Christians in our body, but none so sorely exercised with speculative doubts." His personal influence was great. Among those whom the Church of Christ owes to it were the Parsee mentioned above, Ruttonji Nowroji, the influential Mohammedan convert, Safdar Ali, and the well-known Pundita Ramabai of Poona. He died in 1895, and his old friend Dr. Hooper, the learned C.M.S. missionary, wrote: "No divergence in our way of looking at some parts of Christian truth could for a moment estrange me from one who was led by the Spirit of Christ. Men saw Christ in him."

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