Johann A Schürmann ~ Correspondence

Rev James Kennedy on the Benares Mission

21.12.1840 | Letter | Rev James Kennedy.

Extracts from a letter by Rev James Kennedy describing the situation at Schurman’s mission station at Benares, India, dated December 21, 1840.


Personal experience and progress.

With one short interruption, my1 ] health his been excellent since my arrival here — as good as it ever was in my native land. The ardent desire of my heart, to enter on all the departments of Missionary labour, has been gratified. I have so far succeeded in mastering the native language (or rather languages) as to be able to go to our schools and chapels, which are for the most part in marketplaces and crowded thoroughfares, and there preach to Hindoos and Mussulmans the glorious Gospel of the blessed God. With no ordinary emotions have I entered on a sphere of effort so arduous, and so unlike, in many of its aspects, to the sphere of the Christian ministry in our native land. I have often gone out with a trembling heart, painfully conscious of my weakness, but God has given me strength equal to my day. Often, contrary to my expectation, my heart has been enlarged, and my tongue unloosed, so that I have been enabled with freedom and earnestness to set forth Jesus as tbe only Saviour, and his finished work as the only ground of hope.

Frequently, I ought rather to say generally, I have had attentive audiences, who have listened in the most gratifying manner to the entreaties addressed to them, to abandon their idolatries and will-worship, and turn to the living God.  On these occasions, I have thanked God. and taken courage. This entrance on the more public and important department of Missionary labour has made the last few months a most important season of my life, to which, while I live, I shall look back with the deepest interest. I am thankful to our heavenly Father, for having been privileged and honoured, to enter on a work at once so delightful and arduous; and, encouraged by the past, I desire to consecrate myself anew, with profound humility and ardent gratitude, to his blessed service. Never before have I been so impressed with the magnitude of the work, with its tremendous responsibilities, and my own unfitness to engage in it; and never before, I think, I have I been to impressed with the necessity of committing myself to Him, who alone can strengthen and fit me for the great enterprizc. I trust this is a token for good, as I ever find that “when I am weak, then am I strong.”

Progress of religion and general knowledge among the native orphan togs.

I am sorry I cannot yet say that I see in any of our orphan boys indications of decided piety. They are growing rapidly in Scriptural knowledge, and sometimes they seem impressed with the truth. We daily speak to them about the concerns of their souls, and we daily pray that God may give them new hearts. We trust our prayers may be answered, and our instructions blessed. Even now, I would hope the truth may be taking root in the hearts of some, although it is difficult to discern it amidst the playfulness so common to persons of their age. Some of them possess excellent talents, which, when consecrated by piety, will prove very valuable.

They are getting on well with their education. The elder boys read fluently in the Persian, Nagri, and Roman characters. In addition to reading, they are taught writing, arithmetic, and geography. The latter branch of knowledge interests them exceedingly. It gives them views of the world, very different from those they formerly entertained, and is evidently whetting their appetite for general knowledge. I intend to begin with them the elements of astronomy and general history. In sacred history, particularly that of the New Testament, very few boys of their age in Britain, I am convinced, could compete with them. With the events recorded in the Gospels and Acts, they are very familiar. They are more deficient in Old Testament history, as all their knowledge of it is acquired through the medium of verbal instruction. Strange to say, a translation of the Old Testament in Urdu, does not yet exist. We have, indeed, the most of the historical books, but we have them in a form quite unsuited for boys. They have been published in a folio volume, in the running Persian character, which will never do for schools. The present desideratum will, I hope, be supplied at no distant period.

Native Christians and Evangelists.  

With the exception of Naraput, and one or two others, our few native Christians reside in my compound, and thus I come daily into contact with them. I am happy to be able to give a favourable report of tbe greater number, and the steady consistent walk of some affords us exceeding pleasure. With the name and labours of our brother Kuriput Sing, you have been long acquainted. Notwithstanding some defects, which can be easily traced to his family connexions, he is an excellent man, and a most efficient Missionary. I have frequently heard him preach during the last half-year, and I have been quite delighted with the zeal and ability of his ministrations. I do not remember having seen any man, either in my native country or in India, who in my opinion possesses in a greater degree all the elements of effective speaking. He is calm and self-possessed—having most appropriate and graceful action —and though he is now an old man, he has a degree of energy surpassing that of most preachers in the prime of life. His language and pronunciation, from his defective education, are often faulty, but among the people generally, these defects scarcely injure his usefulness. He is exceedingly well acquainted with the native superstition, and attacks it sometimes with tremendous severity. He goes, indeed, occasionally, rather too far in his exposure of Hindooism. He knows all the phases of the people’s objections to Christianity, and is always ready, and generally very happy with his replies. He has great powers for conversation, as well as for preaching, and sits often for hours in his verandah, conversing with those who come to him. Many hear the Gospel from his lips.

Isaidas2 ], who was baptized by Mr. Buyers, two or three months after my arrival at Benares, has been for some time engaged as a catechist, and has given us unmingled satisfaction. He truly appears to be one whose heart the Lord has touched. The grace of God appears to work in him powerfully. He is so blameless in his conduct, that we have never heard a word said against him, and he is at the same time very zealous in his efforts to advance the cause of Christ. He had been formerly a fakeer, and had travelled hundreds, I may say thousands, of miles to the most holy places of Hindoo resort, that he might obtain salvation. He had been at Juggernaut, which is 700 miles distant from this, and at even more remote places. He was addressed by Naraput one day, when passing his house, and after much conversation he was constrained to hear Mr. Buyers preach. He was astonished at the doctrine of Christ crucified, and after a short time he cast off the badges of idolatry, and applied for baptism. We thought him for a time scarcely sound in mind, and had a very low opinion of his talents. We never thought he would be a useful man in the Mission. He has, however, most agreeably disappointed our expectations. The Gospel seems to have given him a new understanding, as well as a new heart. He has improved exceedingly in his appearance — he has shown a strong desire to learn, and he now manages to read the Nagri tolerably well; and he has a talent for speaking to the people which we had no idea he possessed. He has committed to memory some of the best tracts, and repeats them with great effect in the Bazaar. He is a most diligent reader of the sacred volume. When I gave him a copy of the New Testament in Hindoo, he looked at it with great delight; the tear came to his eye, and he put it with both his hands to his breast, repeating, “I have now got the complete Gospel.” Day after day, from a window of my house, I have seen him sitting under the shade of a large tree, reading the Scriptures for hours together, and then patting on his girdle, going away to the Bazaar to read and converse with the people. When looking at him, and seeing the intensity with which he studies the word of God, though he has no small difficulty in reading it, I have felt myself humbled, and have wished British Christians could see this poor man, a very few years ago sunk in idolatry, now an humble and devoted follower of Jesus.

When looking on him, I have often thought of the man, from whom so many devils were cast out, who came and sat at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. He is very anxious to obtain Christian knowledge. He often comes to me to tell me what the people say to him, and what he says to them in reply, to see whether or not he has answered rightly. His replies are generally very pointed, though of course, as might be expected, he sometimes commits mistakes. The great leading doctrines of Christianity he knows well, and he is accurate in his statements of them. On some occasions he has met with all sorts of abuse, and persons have even threatened to murder him, but he bears all most patiently. When they are unmoved by what he says, he tells them he can do no more, but that he will pray God to give them softer hearts. On other occasions, his marked sincerity and earnestness make a very favourable impression on his hearers. Having been forgiven much, he loves much. Our daily prayer is, that he may be kept from falling, and made an instrument of extensive good. Often before, God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty. Isaidas was married a few months ago to a native Christian woman, a member of the Baptist church here, who is also an humble consistent Christian, and gives us great satisfaction.

Prabhudin, the other catechist, has been going on very well of late. He is much engaged in visiting our numerous schools, and seeing that the teachers attend to their duties. His wife and child have been recently baptized. His wife had been for a long time an applicant for baptism, but till lately her conduct was not such as to authorise our administering this ordinance to her. For some months a pleasing change has appeared in her character, so that we had great pleasure in admitting her into the Christian church by baptism. Her conduct continues very consistent. This has had a happy effect on her husband’s mind.

The few native Christians in our compound and the orphan boys meet regularly with us twice every day for worship. We have always in the morning a long catechetical exercise, which has been found very improving. Every Monday all the native Christians meet as a Bible class. We are at present reading Luke and Acts alternately, and all seem to find pleasure in the exercise. On Sabbath, as formerly, two regular services are kept up in Salem Chapel, which Mr. Shurman and I conduct alternately. On Sabbath morning all the heathen teachers with their scholars are present, and the chapel presents a very interesting appearance. Including the boys, there are often from five to six hundred present. It is truly a gratifying sight to see so many heathen youth regularly under the sound of that word which can make them wise unto salvation.

State and prospects of education.

Our schools are in a flourishing state, and contain about 500 scholars. A great number of the boys read the New Testament. From these humble seminaries we may hope for good results. Those who attend them daily read and hear the words of eternal life. We are thus training up a numerous class, who can appreciate our tracts and books. It is amazing how low education is in this famous city. While there are very many who can write sufficiently well for conducting common business, there are very few who can read our tracts and books tolerably well. When we give tracts, we request those who receive them to read a few sentences, and while many can spell the words, the number of those who can read intelligibly and easily we find to be very small. When one reads particularly well, we are almost sure he has been taught in a Missionary school. In these circumstances, we must take a part in promoting vernacular education if we would wish our own tracts and books to be read. Another great advantage of our schools, which has been formerly mentioned, is, that they prove valuable preaching stations. They are all in open verandahs, and several of them arc in great thoroughfares, to which we never go without collecting a congregation from the passers by.

Mr. Shurman and I together go to the city, for the purpose of visiting the schools, three mornings in the week; and the other mornings, with the exception of Sabbath, we generally go alone, so that the teachers and scholars are under our coostant superintendence. On every occasion, the children and the passers by are either addressed or conversed with. The expense connected with these numerous schools is great; but our friends here have come forward with unwonted liberality to our support, and we have been much cheered by hearing of the sums which have been raised for us at home. We sincerely hope for the continuance of this liberality. If we had more means at our command we could greatly extend our operations.

General state of religion.

As I have been for some time engaged in preaching once, and occasionally twice every day, and as I have seen more of the people during the last three months, than during all my previous residence in India, it may be well to state the impressions which this increasing acquaintance with the people has made on my mind.

The obstacles to the spread of Christianity are truly formidable, but our encouragement is likewise great. My hopes are much stronger now than when I came much less in contact with the people. We often meet with violent opponents, especially among the Mussulmans, but the people generally listen with a degree of attention and decorum which cannot fail to astonish ua, when we consider the character of the systems under which they have so long lived; and when we look at the numbers and influence of those who are so deeply concerned in the support of these systems. In this high place of Hindooism, confidence in it is evidently on the wane. The Brahmins, who defend the prevailing superstitions, are often in a few minutes dislodged from their first positions, and take refuge in downright atheism. When they find the position untenable, that the worship of their Deities, whom their own shasters describe as impure, bloody, deceitful, and weak, leads to the knowledge and worship of the Supreme Being, they generally assert there is no God—that sin and holiness are the same—that the world is God—and many other statements they make to the same effect. Allowing that there is a Supreme Being, they unblushingly assert, that he is equally the author of sin and holiness. When the extreme folly, and awful wickedness of these statements are exposed, they often hastily go away, and leave us to say what we choose. In some instances, by sheer clamour, they try to get a temporary triumph, and occasionally they succeed.

This inability to defend idolatry — this frequent drawing back to an atheistic position — cannot fail to make a favourable impression on the people, by showing them be untenableness, even in the estimationof their Brahmins, of their idolatrous worship. It may be truly said of the Hindoos, that they “require a sign.” Very frequently we are told to show them God, and then they will believe. To this request I heard our brother Naraput, one evening last week, give a very good reply. Addressing himself to the man who made this request, he said, “Why, my brother, do you ask me such a question? I cannot show you God, for he is a Spirit, but though I could, what advantage could you receive? Those who obey the Honourable Company, perhaps do not see a Judge in their life time, but the disobedient often see his face. Do the bad then fare better than the good because they often see the Judge? Assuredly not. They are punished, while the good are protected. Obey God’s commands, and you will have his blessing. This is far better than seeing him, supposing this to be possible.”

Repugnance of the native mind to the doctrine of the Cross.

We are often called on to perform miracles in evidence of the truth of our religion. A man lately said to me, “If you cast yourself down from the Minarets, and come up alive, I promise to become a Christian.” An answer founded on the historical evidences of Christianity is quite thrown away. Often have we occasion to tell them, that if they believe not the Gospel, which has in itself so many proofs of its divine origin, neither would they believe, though we could perform the greatest miracles. While they “require a sign” we preach to them “Christ crucified,” and this is to them “a stumbling block,” as it was to the Jews of old. How a crucified person can be the Saviour of the world is to many utterly incomprehensible. In a place like this, we can, far more easily than at home, understand how the doctrine of Jesus crucified was peculiarly offensive in primitive times. We are so familiar, from our infant years, with the doctrine of a crucified Saviour, that our earliest, strongest, and holiest associations gather around the Cross, and hide its ignominy. In a heathen country like this, to many it appears quite startling and incredible, that a person whom his own countrymen put to death in so dreadful a manner, should be the Saviour of the world. We still preach ” Christ crucified,” assured that “he is the power of God, and the wisdom of God,” to all who believe. We trust that soon, even here, many such may be found. When the truth commends itself to the understanding, and appears ready to lake possession of the heart, the obstacles to the profession of it are very great.

The striking description which Gibbon gives of the difficulties with which the primitive Christians had to contend, and which is a sufficient reply to most of his own virulent insinuations against Christianity, surely applies to the difficulties now encountered in a heathen city like this. “The religion of the nations was not merely a speculative doctrine professed in the schools or preached in the temples. The innumerable deities and rites of polytheism were closely interwoven with every circumstance of business or pleasure, of public or of private life; and it seemed impossible to escape the observance of them without, at the same time, renouncing the commerce of mankind, and all the offices and amusements of society.” With the applicableness of the whole succeeding passage to the actual difficulties met here, I have of late been much struck. Still we cannot despair, till we forget all the past achievements of the Truth—till we lose sight of its wonderful provisions for the recovery of our race till we distrust the power and faithfulness of our covenant God. When I sat constantly in the house doing very little besides studying the language, I often felt discouraged and depressed at our prospect. But now, when I see the people listening to the word of the living God, and when I consider its glorious adaptation to them, as well as to every other branch of the human family — when I remember the promised descent of the Spirit — I can already in anticipation see their temples abandoned, their idolatrous practices forsaken, and thousands crowding under the blessed reign of Jesus. May we be enabled to pray and labour! No ordinary degree of either will suffice and God may even in our day give us to witness sights which will fill our hearts with joy, and our tongues with praise.


Published in:
THE EVANGELICAL MAGAZINE MISSIONARY CHRONICLE 1841. Vol. 19. New Series. 1841 Page(s): 204-208.

Online: Google Books. Viewed: 16.11.2014.

  1. Kennedy was an immediate mission colleague of J A Schurman [ ▲ ]
  2. more detail in an article by Rev W. Buyers, CHARACTER AND LABOURS OF ISAIDAS, ROBERT VAUGHAN'S NATIVE EVANGELIST AT BENARES.  In: Evangelical Magazine and Missionary Chronicle, Volume 20. 1842.  Pages 198-199. -- Additional information about North Indian natives and their relationship to Christianity in a extract of a letter from Rev. J. Kennedy, April 14, 1842.  Ibid., Pages 404-406. [Google Books]. [ ▲ ]

For reference:

Administrator. Johann A Schürmann ~ Correspondence :: 21 December 1840, in: Pirltawardli Research Website. Adelaide 2021.
(Created: 19.11.2014. Last updated: 19.02.2015.)
Direct URL: <>. Viewed 02.08.2021.