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Beginnings in India

By Eugene Stock, D.C.L.

London: Central Board of Missions and SPCK, 1917.

Chapter VII. The First Work in the Punjab

IT is a wonderful thing to stand in a certain turret in the frontier city of Peshawar, and to gaze upon the mountains which mark the farthest limits of British India, and through which run the passes into Afghanistan. But this Peshawar is itself an Afghan city, and as vehemently Mohammedan as Bagdad or Khartum. What, then, is this turret, out of which we are now surveying the city, and the broad valley around, and the background of hills? Look up! See the Cross surmounting it! Yes, this is the bell-turret of a Christian church. Look around; observe upon scores of flat roofs all the signs of domestic life, yet not a living person is in sight. And did you hear the bell toll as we came up the corkscrew steps inside? What does it all mean? It means this, that when the church was built, a promise was given to the chief citizens that when anyone was coming up the bell should announce it, so that the women on the flat roofs of the surrounding houses might disappear--a kindly concession which prevented opposition to a church being built inside the walls. For this is not the church for the British soldiers and civilians: you will find that in the cantonments outside the city, where they all live. This is for the Indian Christians, and its minister is a convert from Islam, the Rev. Imam Shah. When and how did all this begin?

When Queen Victoria came to the throne, the Punjab, the Land of the Five Rivers (panj = five; ab = river) was governed by Runjeet Singh, the famous Sikh chieftain. The Sikhs are the followers of Nanak, a religious reformer of Queen Elizabeth's time. When Runjeet Singh died, the Sikh chiefs, encouraged by the then recent British failure in Afghanistan, invaded our territory. Two wars ensued, with fierce battles, in one of which, Chillianwallah, our army lost 2,500 men, with guns and colours. Lord Hardinge and Lord Dalhousie, two of our greatest Governors-General, were in office during the two wars respectively. Hardinge annexed a slice of the country; Dalhousie added the rest. The completed new province was, in 1849, entrusted to the two brothers, Henry and John Lawrence, the one the most brilliant soldier England has sent to India, the other one of the strongest and wisest of civil rulers. With John Lawrence (after his brother was sent elsewhere) were associated some of the finest men who have represented Britain in India, soldiers like Herbert Edwardes, John Nicholson, Robert Napier, Edward Lake, and civilians like Robert Montgomery (father of Bishop Montgomery), Donald McLeod, Richard Temple. Within eight years was accomplished the most successful piece of work ever done by British rulers in a conquered State in that space of time. The turbulent population became quiet and loyal; the resources of the country were rapidly developed; peace and prosperity reigned undisturbed; even the dangerous Afghan Frontier was tranquillized. And when in 1857 the Sepoy Mutiny suddenly burst upon India, the Punjab and its rulers were the chief instruments in God's hand of crushing the revolt and restoring British supremacy.

But this was not all. The Punjab presents the one conspicuous instance in Indian history--perhaps in the history of the Empire--of a body of British administrators going to work definitely as Christian men, scorning to hide their faith in the true God, confessing Christ before the world, and not shrinking from energetic action (in their individual capacity) for the evangelization of the people. Did they then infringe the just principles of neutrality and toleration of the British Government? Not for a moment. Hindu, Moslem, Sikh, soon understood that they were all treated with equal justice, and that no special favour awaited any who became Christians. But they respected men who, like themselves, were not ashamed to avow their own religion and desired others to share its benefits. And God in His providence manifested to the whole world the truth of His own word to Eli, "Them that honour Me I will honour."

When Lord Hardinge annexed a small section of the Punjab after the first war, the American Presbyterians, who were nearest, crossed the river Sutlej and began their Mission. About the same time, after Sindh, the country south of the Punjab, had been conquered by Sir Charles Napier, the C.M.S. began there by opening a school at Karachi. The two movements were linked by a notable circumstance. Both were committed at first to Bengali Mission agents, and both the agents had come from Duff's College at Calcutta. This was in 1849. In that same year, a number of earnest Christian officers in the victorious army sent a circular to all the military stations and chaplains, calling for subscriptions to start a Church Mission in the Punjab, "as a thank-offering to Almighty God for His late mercies ... in the past signal victories and the present promised blessings of peace." One of these men, Captain Martin, was wont, like Gordon at Khartum long afterwards, to shut himself up daily for a well-understood season of prayer; and knowing that while "effort without prayer is presumption," "prayer without effort is hypocrisy," he went to the newly arrived American missionaries, who had advanced to Lahore, Newton and Forman--par nobile fratrum--and gave them on his own account £1,000, not for their own Mission, but for them to forward to the C.M.S. to help it in founding an Anglican Mission. They did forward it, adding an earnest hope that the English Church would respond. Two men were accordingly sent out in 1851, one of them, Robert Clark, a Cambridge Wrangler, who thus began a career of able and devoted service that lasted almost half a century. When they reached Lahore, a public meeting was called, not by them, but by the British leaders themselves, to form a Punjab Church Missionary Association. John Lawrence and Robert Montgomery spoke; and £3,000 was collected on the spot. The day is worth noting--February 9, 1852.

But the new Mission respected the prior occupation of Lahore by the Americans, and fixed its headquarters at Amritsar, the most important commercial city and the centre of the Sikh religion, deriving its name from the sacred tank (amrita saras, tank of immortality) in the midst of which stands the celebrated Golden Temple. The first Indian evangelist employed was the Sikh fakir before mentioned as baptized by the S.P.G. missionary at Cawnpore, W. H. Perkins. He was afterwards ordained, and for nearly forty years the Rev. Daud Singh Was a faithful pastor of the congregation that soon began to be gathered. But you might have heard a greater preacher in the Amritsar Mission church a few years ago. You might have heard Dr. Imad-ud-din, the famous Moslem moulvie, who, having at one time been all but worshipped by pilgrims from distant parts, found Christ in Christ's own "Sermon on the Mount," and was for over thirty years a powerful witness for his Divine Lord.

But what of Peshawar? The beginning there was a year or two later. Major Martin and his regiment were ordered up there in 1853, and he at once arranged a quiet prayer-meeting, which was attended by eight officers. He and the medical officer, Dr. Farquhar (afterwards Staff-Surgeon to Lord Lawrence when Viceroy), then went to the Commissioner, Colonel Mackeson, and asked leave to establish a Mission. The reply was instant, and decisive: "Do you want us all to be killed? No missionary shall cross the Indus while I am here." It was not an unreasonable attitude from the military point of view: Peshawar was a dangerous place; it was also within easy reach of mountaineers, who took a pride in killing infidels; it required a garrison of 12,000 men; no civilian was allowed there at all without special sanction; and only a few months later Colonel Mackeson himself was actually murdered by an Afghan.

To the post of danger thus vacated Lord Dalhousie appointed Major Herbert Edwardes, who had already done signal service in the Sikh War, writing to him, "You have a fine career before you: God speed you in it." Again Martin and Farquhar went to the Commissioner's office, and again preferred their petition. "Certainly," said Edwardes; "send for a missionary; call a meeting, and I will preside myself." Robert Clark was sent for from Amritsar, and the meeting was held on December 19, 1853. It was a small one, all the more because on that very day fell the races, the sport which Englishmen take with them wherever they go. But Edwardes delivered a speech which to this day never fails to thrill the hearts of those who read it. Here are two or three sentences:

"As Commissioner of this Frontier, it is natural that of all in this room I should be the one to view the question in its public light. . . .

"That man must have a very narrow mind who thinks that this immense India has been given to our little England for no other purpose than our aggrandizement. . . . Such might be the case if God did not guide the world's affairs. . . . But the conquests and wars of the world all happen as the world's Creator wills them; and Empires come into existence for purposes of His, however blindly intent we may be upon our own. . . .

"Our mission in India is to do for other nations what we have done for our own. To the Hindus we have to preach one God, and to the Mohammedans to preach one Mediator. . . .

"It is not the duty of the Government to proselytize India. . . . The appeal is to private consciences. Every Englishman in India, as an individual, is answerable to do what he can. . . .

"I have no fear that a Mission in Peshawar will disturb the peace. . . Above all, we may be quite sure that we are safer if we do our duty than if we neglect it, and that He who has brought us here, with His own right arm will shield and bless us, if, in simple reliance upon Him, we try to do His will."

The collection at the meeting yielded Rs. 14,000 (more than £1,400 in those days), and in a few days this sum was doubled. Private soldiers as well as officers gave handsomely. Thirty officers, military and civil, at once sent a memorial to the C.M.S. Robert Clark was instructed to remain at Peshawar; Dr. Pfander came up from Agra; Major Martin retired from the army after thirty years' service, and became an honorary missionary.

Thus began the Missions on the Frontier of India. In due time Peshawar saw the Edwardes College, and the hospital, and the Zenana Mission of the C.E.Z.M.S., and the brave Afghan converts (besides others), and even Afghan clergymen. And, thirty years almost to a day after Edwardes's speech, that church which we visited at the beginning of this chapter lifted up the visible Cross within the walls of that dangerous city. It was consecrated by Bishop French on December 27, 1883, and the sermon was preached by Dr. Imad-ud-din, on the words, "If I by the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the Kingdom of God is come unto you." [This was Archbishop Davidson's text when he preached the annual C.M.S. sermon at St. Bride's in 1907.]

The Punjab Mission gradually extended to many parts of the Province. Noble missionaries have taken their part, such as Gordon, Bateman, Dr. Pennell, etc. We shall see something of the Medical Missions on the Frontier and in Kashmir, and of the Divinity College, and of the work of the Zenana Society's ladies, in subsequent chapters. The harvest was not speedy, nor, for many years, abundant; but there were remarkable individual converts. Of some forty who have received holy orders, more than half were ex-Moslems. At a recent Day of Intercession for Missions, the service in Lahore Cathedral was taken by five clergymen, all Indians. When the Diocese of Lahore sent its quota of official representatives to the Pan-Anglican Congress, one of them was an Indian doctor in Government service, with Edinburgh degrees, who had been a Brahman, and was converted in his youth. In recent years there has been a great mass movement, and the progress has been rapid. The number attached to the C.M.S. Missions in 1916 was 23,000.

The Diocese of Lahore comprises the whole Punjab; also the new "Frontier Province," and Kashmir, and other native States, and Quetta, and Sindh; also the great city and important district of Delhi, where the S.P.G. has one of its largest Missions. But Delhi was not included in the Punjab until after the Mutiny, and therefore is more conveniently taken in the next chapter.

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