Project Canterbury

India and the Church
Being Impressions of Some Members of the Mission of Help

Edited by E. Priestley Swain

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1923.
New York and Toronto: Macmillan, 1923.

Essay I. The Spiritual Responsibility of Empire, by the Rt. Rev. F. T. Woods, Bishop of Winchester (formerly of Peterborough)

The adjective is hardly necessary. There can be no responsibility of Empire that is not spiritual--that is not essentially concerned with the characters of the men and the communities which compose the imperial domain. You may look at it from the political point of view, or the economic, or from the point of view of the grave social problems which are involved, but ultimately and inevitably it is spiritual. Some of the best of Eastern potentates have realised this. I well remember standing before the magnificent Gate of Victory through which the visitor passes into the city of Fatehpur Sikri, splendid even in its desolation. One of the inscriptions on that portal proclaims the spiritual outlook of its builder, the great Emperor Akbar, who was himself an unwearied seeker after truth: "Jesus, on whom be peace, said, The world is a bridge. Pass over it, but build not upon it. The world endures but an hour; spend that hour in devotion." He felt, so it seems, that unless he could find some spiritual principle potent enough to heal the racial discords of his day, the Empire, on which he [1/2] had spent so much thought and energy, was doomed to disruption. And every thoughtful Briton, who contemplates the task with which, as an Empire, we are faced in both East and West, must feel the same. For the Empire is not the result of land-grabbing or even of the search for new markets, but of a spiritual quality compounded of enterprise and a passion for liberty--a quality which has enabled Britain on four successive occasions to save Europe from the tyranny with which it was threatened, and by virtue of which she has become the guardian rather than the exploiter of the peoples brought by the exigencies of commerce or war within her domain. If it was true, as Horace Walpole used to say, that men on waking used to ask what new regions had been added to the Empire, it is also true that the next question, in Britain's best mind, has always been, How can we develop these regions in citizenship and commerce, not merely for our own benefit, but for the benefit of the peoples concerned?


It is obvious that any discussion of the theme which is the title of this paper leads straight to the problem upon which, more than upon any other, the future of the world depends--the problem of the relationship between the races, and in particular between those which are commonly labelled white and yellow. It was confidently asserted by an American newspaper during the war that the great conflict then raging was a storm in a teacup compared with the terrific struggle which must inevitably ensue--the struggle between the white races and the yellow races [2/3] for the domination of the world. The question whether that prediction will be verified or falsified depends ultimately upon spiritual factors, and these will find their scope mainly in two directions, first in the relationship between the peoples of America and Britain, and secondly in the outlook and behaviour of the nations which constitute the British Commonwealth. To speak of the first is not my business just now, though it is difficult even to allude to it without paying a humble tribute to the man who, perhaps more than any other in our generation, saw the vital necessity of a growing comradeship between the members of the Anglo-Saxon race East and West--Walter Page. "As the world stands," he says, "the United States and Great Britain must work together and stand together. . . . The thing, the only thing, is a perfect understanding between the English-speaking peoples. That's necessary, and that's all that's necessary. ..." It is worth while for the good of our British souls, and as we are concerned with the things of the spirit, to add what follows--for we Britishers could take anything from Page: "I frankly tell my friends here that the English have got to throw away their damned arrogance and their insularity, and we Americans have got to throw away our provincial ignorance."

Not less vital, however, to the solution of the racial question is the spirit and behaviour of the British Commonwealth, for in that Commonwealth the world possesses an experimental seed-ground in which it should be possible to ascertain whether the flower of a common citizenship can be produced, and if so, what are the seeds from which it springs; whether, in fact, there is possible a comradeship in ideal and in action [3/4] between peoples not merely of divergent political outlook, but with the much graver divergences of race and tradition. So far, on the whole, the experiment has been encouraging. Indeed, if it were not so, the large experiment of a League of Nations issuing ultimately in a world-commonwealth would seem merely futile and absurd. But the success of the experiment so far is no guarantee of its continuance in the future, for since the apotheosis of Imperialism in the Diamond Jubilee of 1897 much water has flowed under the political bridge, and many new factors have appeared upon the scene. One such factor is the wave of nationalism which has been advancing in the East as well as in the West, the craze for self-determination so called, in which many old political and even racial landmarks have already been submerged, and which has thereby demolished most of the bases on which political calculations were founded. At the back of this, and in part its cause, was the Great War, in which the Europe so often held up to Eastern admiration was seen to be convulsed in an internecine quarrel on a scale compared to which most Eastern campaigns were mere field-days. ["They [the Western-educated Indian] had sufficient knowledge to be able to think out some of the implications of the Great War, and the more they thought them out the less they admired a Western civilisation which had allowed itself to come to such a pass. They saw and understood most of the bad; they got no first-hand knowledge of the good--the unselfish suffering, the glorious camaraderie, and the wonderful heroisms of the war. At the end of it for them the Westerner had hardly a shred of reputation left. His civilisation seemed to them to have been proven a failure, his power a delusion, the inevitability of his dominance a pricked bubble "--(Dr. Garfield Williams.)] Another--and this is a factor [4/5] to be seriously reckoned with--as a natural consequence the East is no longer prepared to be lectured by the West. It has come to a new self-consciousness, and is not disposed to be patronised. It sees, in fact, little reason for supposing that Europe, or even Britain, is a paragon of political or social virtue. Probably it would heartily agree with the great American ambassador already quoted. "The idea that we were brought up on, that Europe is the home of civilisation in general--nonsense! It's a periodical slaughter-pen, with all the vices that this implies. I'd as lief live in the Chicago stockyards. There they kill beeves and pigs. Here they kill men, and (incidentally) women and children." That is one side of the picture. There is another. The visitor to the East, even the fleeting visitor such as I was, cannot escape the impression that there is a difference--a mighty difference--between the outlook of a hemisphere which, with all its glaring faults, has been subtilly leavened through centuries with Christian ideals and Christian inspirations, and a hemisphere where no such influences have been at work. In the disparagement of the West, often so well deserved, it is not the ideals which are to blame, but the crass and lamentable failure of the nations in question to live up to them. But they have been there. And when all is said the difference they have made is colossal. The lack of them has been the undoing of every Empire that the world has so far seen. Before the days of Rome it was simply a question how long the despotism or the dynasty would last. Rome herself began well. In her early days she showed a sturdy faith in democracy (limited though it was) which kept her steady and strong [5/6] through many trials, but in the end she lost her community spirit. She had no spiritual ideals capable of withstanding the inroads of ambition, wealth, and luxury. From a spiritual faith in the people she lapsed into an opportunist materialism which could think of nothing better for them than panem et circenses. There was no "leaven" to "stop the rot," for the Christian faith arrived too late upon the scene to hold up the process of decay.


For the task before us we shall need all the ideals we can muster and all the inspiration we can find, for our problem is fundamentally the problem of the whole world--namely, is it possible to create a world-commonwealth consisting of many races, many nations, many degrees of civilisation, yet united in a larger loyalty than anything local or regional, subject to one law, keeping one peace? The experience of the war, in this regard, was distinctly reassuring, for it disclosed the fact that the various peoples of the Empire do recognise a common ideal of liberty and law, and that when that ideal is threatened they are prepared to die in thousands for its defence. But even the war, astonishing as it may seem, is already a "back number," and any calculations based upon the sentiments and loyalties then displayed must be made with care and caution. So far as Canada, Australia, and even South Africa are concerned, the prospect is hopeful enough. They enjoy complete self-government. They do homage to the same religious ideals. Their very freedom to "cut the painter "that binds them to the Empire is perhaps [6/7] the best guarantee that they will not do so. For free nations such as these to remain in the same federal loyalty is remarkable, but not extraordinary. They are in the main our own kith and kin. In the case where that loyalty is shared by another civilised race, as in the case of the Dutch in South Africa, it is a white race. They have their differences from us--differences which are sometimes freely expressed--but they are not racial and fundamental. The crux is the East; and, in particular, owing to its vast size and importance, India. It is not too much to say that if we can so order our dealings with India in the next half-century in such a way as to win afresh her loyalty--loyalty not to an arbitrary "Raj," but to a free Commonwealth, a loyalty which in this case would be more deliberate and therefore more secure--we shall have gone far to solve the world-problem to which I have alluded, for we shall have demonstrated the possibility of a real unity in diversity between East and West, and have discovered the secret of a common citizenship between civilisations utterly diverse both in tradition and outlook. This is the tremendous conundrum of the twentieth century. Our Empire is in the best position for finding the solution. If we fail, it will be plain to the world that we stand for a racial civilisation in which Easterners are not expected to share, except in so far as they may care to pick up the crumbs that fall from the Western table, and in which the plums are reserved for the white races. Whether it would be possible so to reserve them is quite another matter. For on this hypothesis there would be quite conceivably a break-up of the Empire, and the easily imaginable menace of an [7/8] Eastern militarism (for China and Japan cannot be left out of the calculation) might become a stark reality. If we succeed--but can we? There is a story told by the late Bishop Westcott of Durham which is not irrelevant here. He had gone to pay a farewell visit to his old master--himself a bishop, but greater as a schoolmaster than as a bishop. They talked of many things, recalled many reminiscences of old days; and then, as the afternoon wore on, the conversation took a graver turn. At last the venerable teacher looked across at his distinguished pupil, and summed up the experience of a lifetime, as it seemed, in Christ's great words--mh fobou, monon pisteue. "Be not afraid; only believe." That is the motto we need as we contemplate the future of India and our share in it. We are so easily content with the dull estimates of experience, sheltering gladly behind soothing phrases as "the unchanging East," glibly quoting our imperial poet, "And East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet." We are even in danger of looking upon the war as a passing episode, and trying (as many in England have been trying in matters political and industrial) to reconstruct the pre-war regime, unmindful of the terrific effect on men's judgments and ambitions which the great conflict has produced. We are called to a new faith and a new adventure. After all, no peoples have responded to vision and adventure like the peoples of the East. All the great religions have been born there. And in each case--Buddha and Mohammad and Christ--it was a leader calling men to a new renunciation of material attractions, to a new faith in the things unseen, and to an adventure which, repudiating the cool [8/9] calculations of sense, goes forth to achieve the impossible. It is not difficult to be cynical and to put on the superior air in regard to these things. The fact remains that if we want the East to respond we must have, above all things, imagination. Every "holy man" that I saw doing his devotions on the banks of the Ganges bears witness to this. Every white-capped disciple of Gandhi is more concerned with the summons of the Master to a great adventure (as he deems it) than with the political programme he propounds.


This is only to say that in our dealings with India it is the spiritual which matters most. Wise statesmanship, intellectual ability, administrative experience, are vital indeed, but the "one thing needful" is inspiration. By inspiration I mean the conviction that in helping a people to an ordered self-development we are co-operating in a Divine purpose, and that in such a work we may count upon the equipment of His Spirit. These are the indispensable ingredients of imagination. Assuredly there have been men in our Indian administration who lacked neither the conviction nor the equipment. Such inspiration is to be found, though not on the surface, in the words of one of our earlier administrators, Sir Thomas Munro, Governor of Madras, as far back as 1824. "Liberal treatment has always been found the most effectual way of elevating the character of any people, and we may be sure that it will produce a similar effect on that of the people of India. We should look upon India not as a temporary possession, [9/10] but as one to be maintained permanently, until the natives shall in some future age have abandoned most of their superstitions and prejudices, and become sufficiently enlightened to frame a regular government for themselves, and to conduct and preserve it. Whenever such a time shall arrive, it will probably be best for both countries that the British control over India should be gradually withdrawn. . . . We shall see no reason to doubt that if we pursue steadily the proper measures we shall in time so far improve the character of our Indian subjects as to enable them to govern and protect themselves." [Sir Valentine Chirol, "India Old and New," p. 76.] More explicit were the words of a man whose services were described by the Duke of Wellington as "unprecedented," and who was, in the phrase of Lord Roberts, "one of the most remarkable men that India ever produced," Colonel Sir Herbert Edwardes. "That man must have a very narrow mind," said he, about thirty years later than Munro, "who thinks that this immense India has been given to our little England for no other purpose than our aggrandisement. . . . Empires come into existence for higher purposes than this, however blindly intent we may be upon our own. And what are these purposes? Have they no higher object than the spread of vernacular education, the reduction of taxes, the erection of bridges, the digging of canals, the increase of commerce, the introduction of electric telegraphs, the laying down of great lines of railroad? Do we look no further than these temporal triumphs of civilisation? We cannot think so meanly of Him with whom one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. All His plans and purposes must look [10/11] through time to eternity, and we may rest assured that the East has been given to our country for a mission not only to the minds and bodies, but to the souls of men." [E. Stock, "History of the Church Missionary Society," vol. ii., p. 209.]

Edwardes, it may be, draws a sharper contrast than we should between the "temporal triumphs of civilisation" and the progress of the Kingdom of God, between the bodies and minds of the people and their souls, but he spoke for some of the mightiest men we have ever sent to India, men who were giants of wise statesmanship and of executive efficiency, men to whom Lawrence's immortal epitaph might be unreservedly applied. ["Here lies Henry Lawrence, who tried to do his duty." It is significant that Lawrence, in reviewing the course of the Mutiny in the Punjab, points instinctively to the hand of God. "No doubt, humanly speaking, the Punjab possessed great advantages, but as a protection against the peril of the time, all such advantages were as nothing without the support of the everlasting arm of Almighty God."] It is such men of large vision and strong conviction who time and again have proved themselves peculiarly capable in the difficult art of managing others and in the intricacies of administration. Of Lawrence it was said by W. Bosworth Smith that "nobody has ever done so much towards the bridging over the gulf that separates race from race, colour from colour, creed from creed. Nobody has ever been so beloved. Nobody has ever deserved to be so beloved." [Life of Lord Lawrence," vol. i., p. 388.]

It may safely be asserted that no empire has ever produced and sent out a succession of proconsuls, [11/12] administrators, military leaders, which for sheer force of character and ability could be compared with those whom we have sent to the East during the last 150 years. And in scores of instances, as I have already indicated, the secret of their success was not so much mere ability. It was, quite literally and definitely, inspiration. The fact of it and the need of it is as true to-day. For the task becomes increasingly difficult, and the demand for the highest qualities in those who undertake it more searching. The lot of men in the Indian Civil Service, for instance, is far from enviable. The whole vast administrative machine--perhaps its critics would say bureaucratic machine--has been constructed by them and the magnificent service they represent through many years of experiment and perseverance. They are now required to hand it over in large measure to Indians who, in some cases at least, have neither the knowledge nor the experience to work it, and who, in a few instances, are anxious to wreck it. To see the work of a lifetime thus apparently wasted is galling to any man, but most of all to the Englishman whose watchword, from the moment we set foot in India, has always been justice and efficiency in government. The result, of course, is only too obvious. Whereas admission to this world-famous service used to be the blue-ribbon of distinction to the sixth-form boys in the public schools, the difficulty now is to find any candidates at all. "The prospects are too uncertain," it is said. But one prospect is sometimes left out of calculation--the prospect of being able to help India at the moment when above all others she needs it; the prospect of being able to lend a hand during this [12/13] most difficult period of transition. We have always said that our business in India was the education of our fellow-citizens there to a citizenship, and ultimately to a government of their own. The time has now come for those actions which speak louder than words. They must be painful. It is always so much pleasanter for the teachers to keep things in their own hands, and do them right than hand them over to their pupils and see them doing them wrong. Yet there is no doubt where the path of true statesmanship lies. This, then, is the moment when, more than ever, we should encourage young men of insight and ability in our schools and universities to adventure themselves on this noble and imperial enterprise. It can be done. I shall not easily forget the impression made on me by a young Englishman who is giving his energies to municipal affairs in one of the most important cities of India. He was, and is, to all intents and purposes, mayor of the city. The town council is wholly Indian, and consists of men many of whom were from the first far from anxious to work with him, and some of whom were openly out to obstruct. None the less by a combination of tact, patience, firmness, and courage he has not merely won his position, but has inaugurated a state of municipal efficiency which is the more satisfactory because it is not a regime imposed from above, but is the result of a real co-operation in which the Indians have their full share. The fact is that the qualities which we must look for now in our Indian administrators are somewhat different from those which were conspicuous in the great men to whom I have alluded. Their influence will now depend, as has been wisely said, more on the capacity to persuade [13/14] than to give orders. They will need more and more of "the will to fellowship," and a readiness to express it both publicly and privately. They must--as many are admirably doing--set themselves against all racial aloofness, be always more alive to the bond, not only of common membership in the Empire, but of our common humanity, than to the separating influences of tradition or creed. But this task and these demands are supremely spiritual. I submit that if our people are to meet them, and if our brethren in India are to respond to them, we must lift them into the light of God's plan, and count upon the co-operation of His Spirit. The man who approaches such a task in the faith that he is thereby co-operating with a purpose of the Most High, and may expect the daily assistance of a Power that is not his own, is by that very fact endowed with resources which cannot be calculated by ordinary standards. "His strength is as the strength of ten." He believes that the imperial responsibility to which he has given his life is a spiritual responsibility, and that in so far as he whole-heartedly pushes truth and justice and righteousness and fellowship, he has circuiting through his character and his work a current of highest potency--"the powers of the age to come."

It will be seen, I hope, from what has been said, that it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of our imperial adventure. It is inseparable from the world's wistful quest for a deeper fellowship and a permanent peace. On the result of our experiment in interracial comradeship the possibilities of the future, on an even wider scale, will be judged. For it is certain that the issue lies in the ability or inability of the nations to [14/15] rise above their separate national standpoints to the larger standpoint of humanity. It is their inability to do this which has retarded, and still retards, the economic renewal of post-war Europe. It was their ability to do this at the moment that made the success of the Washington Conference. To catch that humanity-spirit, make it dominant in the Empire, make it permanent in some world-organ like the League of Nations--this is our responsibility, and I insist again that it can only be met by spiritual resources. The humanity-spirit can only be captured in its fullness by the inspiration of the Divinity-Spirit (if I may so speak) to Whom nothing human is alien, and Who breathed in the humanity of Jesus Christ. Men often speak as if God has no mind that is ascertainable in these matters. They often tacitly (and impertinently) ignore the fact that the Most High has thought fit to intervene in human history, and in the person and character of Jesus Christ has placarded before mankind both His own character and the laws of true life for the individual and for the community. That these laws are persistently ignored does not make them any less binding; it merely unveils the folly of men, for wherever those laws are persistently broken disaster inevitably follows, as this generation has very good reason to know. The law of fellowship among men is as much a piece of God's mind (so to speak) as the law of gravitation in nature. To set oneself against the one, whether as a man or a nation, is as foolish and futile as to fight against the other. Every consideration of self-preservation, to say nothing of material advantage, urges us to a larger world-fellowship, of which the Empire is to be at once the instrument and [15/16] the foretaste, but oddly enough these ample motives are not sufficient. Men are seldom more amenable to their reason than to their instincts, and when those elemental instincts of pride and pugnacity are roused, or in danger of being roused, you must bring a greater motive-power upon the scene. For the Christian it is there already, in the mind of God as unveiled in Jesus Christ. For as he watches that life and observes that outlook he realises that the righteousness, fellowship, self-sacrifice, which the world thinks quixotic and visionary, are not merely the urgent necessities of humanity, but are unmovable items in the plan of God; are, that is, in accordance with the very nature of things, and that on every occasion the nature of things--God's scheme--will rally to their aid.

Nor is this all. No one can study the life of Christ without discovering that, though He was without doubt the greatest patriot that ever lived--witness His tears over Jerusalem and His incessant work for His nation--He was looking, and bidding others look, beyond the limits of His own people and seeking to lead men to the larger standpoint of the whole Family of Him who is the Father of all, and "makes His sun rise on the just and the unjust." In fact, it was this very fact--that He steadfastly clung to the humanity-standpoint in contrast to the proud and narrow patriotism of His contemporaries--that in the end cost Him His life. He would not countenance revolutionary movements against the Roman Raj, nor had He the smallest sympathy with Jewish ambitions to dominate the world. He was too large-hearted, too wide-minded for the men of His day. But in the Resurrection (if I may so put it) His views were countersigned as the [16/17] mind of the Supreme and the Eternal; and to adopt them and act upon them in the hard circumstances of this twentieth century is to be borne along on "the tide which leads to fortune," or, rather, shall we say, to the destination which God has marked out for the children of His Kingdom. Membership in the Empire, then, is a spiritual responsibility: a responsibility to those races for whom, for the time, we are in the position of trustees; a responsibility to ourselves, for we are on trial as those who, by their own age-long national training, should be able, if anyone is able, to solve these urgent problems of race-fellowship; a responsibility to the world, to provide an object-lesson in the unity of divergent peoples in a true commonwealth. And there is the responsibility in which all else is included--our responsibility to God.

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