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 IX. The Mission of Help, by the Most Rev. Randall Davidson, D.D., Archbishop of Canterbury

The following is a Report of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Sermon, preached at Westminster Abbey at the Dismissal Service for the Members of the Mission of Help.

It is a great privilege to all of us to be here to-day. I feel it myself to be a high privilege to stand, as Archbishop, on an occasion which has no exact parallel in our history.

Just because the occasion is of such a sort, I plead your indulgence for using the very simplest thoughts and words that I can find. For I am certain that we do well to reduce to its very simplest terms what it is that this Mission of Help is trying to do.

If I had to give a subject title to what I want to say, I should call it, "The trust of being witnesses." You must already have found that simple thought, which takes its start in our Lord's own words in the forty days, to be applicable with peculiar appropriateness, both to those in India, to whom we of the home Church are sending you, and, in an intensive degree, to you who go as our emissaries.

[173] Recall the Gospel story. The risen Lord, His ministry on earth ended, passes from men's sight. But before He goes, He plainly and pointedly reiterates both in the upper room on Easter Night, and, a few weeks later, on the open hillside near Bethany, what is the trust He commits to those to whom He had been speaking the things concerning the Kingdom of God. He reiterates, "Ye are My witnesses"; and again, "Ye shall receive power, and ye shall be My witnesses."

And they were. They kept on saying so. "We are witnesses of these things." It was plain and unmistakable. A business-like Roman officer, explaining to another officer what it all seemed to be about, describes it, contemptuously perhaps but not untruly, as "About one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive."

And the witness prevailed. No student of history will hesitate to say that what "told" and won was the witness to the living Lordship of Christ, borne by the scattered groups of ordinary people in Mediterranean towns and villages, with a constantly widening circle radiating out. These are plain facts.

Now apply these words to-day to India and its life, and to the position of the English in India.

You missioners have been thinking for months past on that subject. You will correct me in your thoughts if I am wrong; but I think it is true to say that there never has been, and is not now, in the round world anything which corresponds to the problem you are helping to solve.

For hundreds of years it has been no unusual thing [173/174] to have English settlements in lands overseas. Think of Virginia, say 300 years ago; think of New England then and later; think later of the West Indies; later still of Australia, and of Western Canada. All were important. But none was the least like this. A great and scattered band of English men and women settled for a while over the huge Continent of India in the midst of a vast, intelligent, non-Christian people, over whom they are to administer the forces and the influences of that Commonwealth which we call the British Empire; that Commonwealth or Empire, with its sources and centre here in England, administered, in recent times at least, not for the good and gain of England, but for the good and gain of the Indian people; that Empire which, while avoiding "Missions" by Government, has avowedly Christian force and influence at its core, and as its professed rule of action.

There obviously is a task vast and far-reaching indeed! The thought rushes in, What an appallingly difficult duty! What an awe-inspiring trust! What a tangible and glowing opportunity! Who is sufficient for these things?

Since the British Raj was planted in India thousands of our very foremost young men have gone thither, bearing, consciously or unconsciously, that trust. They have entered on their task with high ideals, with a deep sense of duty and with inspiriting resolves. They have had a buoyant spirit of loyalty to the high standard of British rule; but surely often an inadequate appreciation of what we must call the splendour of their task.

If you would realise how thoughtful men have viewed it, recall the words of such men as John [174/175] Lawrence, the glowing eloquence of Burke or Macaulay, the quieter pages of Seeley in "The Expansion of England," and of Lord Morley. I think it is not too much to say that for its full greatness to be seen and grasped there must be not public spirit only, but something at least of the religious basis. It will be, nay, it is, when quiet loyalty to the Lord Christ lies at the root or background of the endeavour, that the whole rings true.

And if the task for these people is at all times difficult, brothers, how much more complex, disquieting, anxious, even bewildering, is it just now, with all that is astir among the peoples, with all the modern influences of European thought working on Eastern minds, with all the unsettlement and outcome of the war years!

And so, as one tries to look out upon it all, the thought presses, How many of these eager, high-toned men, how many of their wives and friends, in military or civil or commercial circles, see it, to speak reverently, as Christ sees it? A section, a picked section, of a Christian people, of Christ's Society on earth, are set there with the responsibility on them of witness. How intensely hard, how unlike the ordinary ideas of responsibility that they have realised in home life! Yet beyond question the indirect, and, perhaps for that very reason, the most potent, effectiveness of their life in India is the possibility, nay, the fact, of witness.

They are there as English men and women. They are there, whether they grasp it or not, whether they like it or not, as members of a Christian nation. They would indignantly repudiate any denial of that. [175/176] And yet how far is it overtly admitted, steadily remembered, and acted upon in daily life before God and men?

You are going out, my brothers and sisters, to help them towards remembering and acting upon that trust. I press no detail as to how you can best do it. I have not the knowledge. You will have, you have had, far better guides and counsellors than I. I emphasise only the thought: you are going on purpose to help them to be "witnesses," in life rather than word. You have been thinking, and you will think out more fully, what are in Indian life their special difficulties, temptations, hindrances, and limitations, the things which make witness hard.

To-day we join with you in prayer that you may have wisdom and understanding for your task. And we send you forth here, from Westminster Abbey, with a peculiar fitness. England's great men lie here, England's great Christian men. Some of them gave the best years of life and thought and acts for India. Charles John Canning lies here; and James Outram, and Colin Campbell, Lord Clyde, and John Lawrence; and the names and monuments of many more are on the walls around us. Anyhow, we are gathered here, at one of the great nerve centres of English Christianity, to say that we realise, and care about, the trust given to those of us who in India, as it is, have to speak and act as witnesses; for England, yes--but something more: for Christian England, for the Society of Jesus Christ.

What we should like to think is that you will help them to realise in India that we at home are so thinking, so praying. That may surely help them a good deal. [176/177] That is the chief meaning of our to-day's service. We are knowing, caring, praying about it. And that knowledge may bring sometimes a fresh inspiration, a new sense of responsibility, a new uplift of expectant hope. Some sort of witness, in one form or another, of what Christian England is like is being borne, must be borne, whether they intend it or not. We want to help them to bear it worthily.

Give them, O Lord, the remembrance in little things of their great trust. It is so easy to forget; so splendid, so steadying, so uplifting, when it is remembered.

Help them to realise England's trust of her sons and daughters in India.

Be that our prayer. Do not let us think or fear that we shall pray it in vain. That is for them, the great host of those who are thus called, week in, week out, for years together, to carry that burden of answerable-ness to us at home, to the Indian peoples, to the Indian Christians (do not forget them when we think of the trust given to our own people), to the Lord of all the earth, Who sees and knows and cares.

And now for you, who are going from these walls to bear across the sea that word of stimulus, courage, hope, trust, which we send by you. Your embassy is no light or easy thing. Most of you have scant knowledge of the details of difficulty which you will help them to conquer. But you have tried; and some know. It will be an arduous, anxious, and bewildering task. You will feel you know the elements of what you want to say just when you are coming home again. We feel it with and for you. But we bid you go. They have asked for you. You are assured a welcome from those who know best. Go forward in God's [177/178] Name. Do it to the utmost, not of your power, but of the power which will be given you of the Lord, Whose ministers, Whose messengers in that intensest sense, you are.

It is a great enterprise. You will rise to it. What will be the immediate fruit, whether you or I will see it, we cannot tell. It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath set within His own authority. But this is certain. You go wholeheartedly; you go humbly. And the Lord has said, "Ye shall receive power." And, in the most direct sense possible, "Ye shall be My witnesses."

You feel with me the responsibility of this solemn hour. To-day, in virtue of my office, in pursuance of a unanimous wish of the bishops of both Provinces, I stand at this notable centre of our Church's thought and life to bid you, our messengers in the Church's name, Godspeed. Our prayers will prevent and follow you, and we shall watch for tidings of your welcome and your work.

Once more, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His Grace, which is able so to build you up that your task in this great journey for the fulfilment of His trust be not futile or vain or unworthy of its high intent. As we think of what it means, we fall back, in quiet confidence, on the familiar apostolic word:

"We exhort you, brethren, admonish the disorderly, encourage the faint-hearted, support the weak, be long-suffering towards all. Rejoice alway; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to youward. And the God of Peace sanctify you wholly, and may your [178/179] spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calleth you, Who also will do it."

Dominus custodiat exitum et introitum. The Lord preserve your going out and your coming in, from this time forth and for evermore.

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