Johann A Schürmann ~ Correspondence

Mission Discourse with Hindoo People

15.9.1843 | Letter | J.A.S. Kennedy, Benares.

Kennedy reflects about the inter-religious discourse in Benares with Hindoos and Muslims in discussions with them on the market places and the streets of Benares.

Extract of Letter from rev. James Kennedy, Benares, September 15th, 1843

Since my last letter was sent away, we have all enjoyed excellent health, for which we have much reason to be thankful. For the season of the year the weather has been very hot. Instead of having the usual torrents of rain which flood the country at this season, we have had a few scanty showers, which have quickly passed over us, leaving us exposed to a fierce sun. At one time there were serious fears of s famine. These fears have assed away, but it is certain there will be a scarcity. The price of grain is high, and the poor people are much pressed. Hopes are still entertained that heavy rains will fall; and prepare the ground for the cold weather crop which is the most valuable of all.
Cholera has been very prevalent over the whole of the North Western provinces.  There were lately at Agra 400 deaths in one week from this disease. Europeans have suffered there as well as natives. Several have died. A Mr. Woollaston, teacher of the goveniment school, a good man who is at present an applicant to our Committee for admission into our number, has lost three children, one an infant, and the other two a few years old.

Here, too, this dreadful disease has been raging, and particularly in the district adjoining our house. In a village near us, there were eight deaths from cholera in one day, and four or five daily for some time. We have medicine always ready, and have had very frequent applications for it, from the poor people around us. In many instances, they have been too late. It is seldjbm they come to us, until they have been ill some hours, and are at the very gates of death. On Monday last, one of our servants had an attack from which we feared he would not recover. His case affords an instance of the fearful virulence with which the disease attacks its victim. He was seized with it while we were at dinner. I went at once to see him, and found him apparently dying. I have never seen one with more death-like features; he was insensible, with his body cold, his teeth clasped, and his head warm. Medicine was given, but without effect, I then made the people open his mouth, which they did with ditiiculty, and poured down brandy and laudanum, which I have seen having a great effect. These he vomited, and then for about two hours he lay as if dead. His body was rubbed to restore its heat, and everything was done to him, but apparently in vain. At length his system sligihtly rallied, and he was recovered from his stupor by a bottle of strong spirit of artshorn applied to his nostrils. He is now doing well; humanly speaking, but for the vigorous means employed, the man would have died. I had no expectation myself of his recovery. In many cases the disease runs its course in an hour.

Europeans, living as they do on animal food, and generally far more robust than the natives, are seldom (comparatively) attacked by cholera, and, when attacked, not so quickly prostrated’ by it. Here, there have been few cases among Europeans, but of these three have been fatal. The three carried off have been officers.

While our poor man was ill, we had a specimen of the peculiarities of the people. His caste people quickly gathered round him, and were unwearied in their attentions; they rubbed him, and did every thin for him which could be done. If asked what was to happen, every one would have answered, that it would happen to the man just as it was written in his fate; but their belief in fate is on such occasions practically kept in abeyance. People of other castes who were about looked on with unconcern, as if this were an affair with which they had no business. A Mussulman was the only person of another class who seemed to care for the sick man. He was very attentive to his Hindoo brother. The wife of the sick man was sitting near, wringing her hands, in an agony of distress, and singing in a most mourn ul voice a son in honour of the Godess Kali, whose aid she implored on behalf of her husband. The people around were constantly telling her to be silent; and saying to her, What can Kali do for you? Perhaps this was done to lease us, for the most of them would say anything to please us; but I believe the people thought praying to Kali was all in vain. There are individuals among those with whom we have much intercourse, who do retain in primitive vigour their attachment to idolatry, and who never say a word against it, who, instead, say much in its favour even to us; but I think by far the greater number of those who are constantly about us, have as little regard as may be to their gods. Would I could say these people were favourable to the truth! That I cannot say. They seem to have no care about futurity, not a thought for eternity. Their own gods they have no regard to. When occasion requires they will, to obey custom and please their friends, worship them, but when they are left to themselves they are quite indifferent about them. At the same time, they have no inclination to a holy spiritual religion as Christianity is; while they say it is, and I believe think it to be, immeasurably superior to their own.

This vague admiration of Christianity is the boundary of their regard to it. To receive it, to obey it, to act agreeably to its dictates, is far from their thoughts. They often despise their own religion, but remain Hindoos, doing all that caste imperatively requires. They admire ours, but they believe it absurdly strict, and would consider themselves guilty of great folly in becoming its adherents. This is, so far as I can understand, exactly the position of several of our teachers. Of two of them, however, I hope better things, but they find it hard to break the ties which attach them to their brethren. To be considered as outcasts, to be disowned and driven out by the nearest friends, is a sacrifice from which flesh and blood shrink. I pity these poor men, and I am sure you will join with me in praying they may have grace given them to declare themselves for Christ, whatever the consequence may be. Daily and striking proofs are afforded us, that vain are our efforts to spread the gospel without the constant aid of God's Spirit.
I have been going to the city almost daily since I wrote you last. I have had many and keen discussions with those I have met. I have on several occasions encountered bitter opponents. Nothing can exceed the virulent hatred of the truth which some display. It is most difficult to know how to act, or what to say. Their minds are so full of prejudice, and they are so determined to remain in ignorance, that speaking to them at all, seems labour in vain. When one speaks to them in answer to a question, he is interrupted before he has almost entered on the reply. Something new is started, and perhaps the Missionary, to prove he believes Christianity to be invulnerable on all points, follows the disputant to the new ground he has chosen. Scarcely, however, is this touched, when the disputant, dreading above all things calm, dispassionate reasoning, starts of again, and has something still farther from the original point, for which he demands discussion. This shifting of the ground of discussion is one of our greatest trials with the regular full-grown disputant. A loud voice, a blustering manner, and violent action, are brought in to aid this mode of attempting to put us down.

If we refuse to answer these persons at all, they boast we are unable to meet their arguments. I have of late tried the plan of letting them speak a good deal, hearing patiently all they have to say, and when they have done, furnishing them with a reply. When they interrupt me, (as the regular caviller does, in one-half minute,) I have exposed the unreasonableness of their conduct, and the audience has taken my part, except when the caviller has had several of his own stamp along with him.

I need not say that we in such circumstances need to have a constant control over our temper. They are delighted to see a missionary angry. I am now so accustomed to hear hard words, that, let them say what they may, it is seldom I feel anger stirring within me, though I am sometimes not a little shocked at what I hear said of our blessed Saviour. The people generally are, I believe, amazed at the ordinary patience of the padres. They are of course accustomed to consider the English a great people, and when they see Sahibs sitting in open verandahs conversing with passers by, and hearing patiently all that is said against them, they cannot understand it.
This morning, Mr. Watt tells me, a man said to him, "l would like to ask you some questions, if you will not be angry;" when a man standing by quickly said, "These padres never get angry." This is a little bit of exaggeration, but it shows the common idea of the people.

Another, and perhaps the greatest difficult of all, is the constant shifting of the principles on which they reason. This is as common as the shifting of the ground of  discussion. We meet often, in the same individual, with Pantheism, Polytheism, Theism, Atheism, all brought forward in some shape or other, in the same discussion. They contradict themselves downrightly. They say things as much opposed to their own professed views as to ours; and when the contradiction is pointed out, they cannot believe their argument is a whit injured by it. There is the strangest conglomeration of views which can be imagined. They are the very slaves of the most absurd speculations. The very absurdity of the views often advanced renders a reply difficult. In reasoning with a European, if you showed his views led to such an absurdity, your point would gained, -- no further argumentation would be necessary. Here, the absurdity is at once avowed, and so you are obliged to begin your argument at a point where, with our own countrymen, we should end it.

For instance, they maintain that God is in us in such a way that we have no separate existence. We draw at once the inference, that -- all our sins are God's sins, -- all our ignorance is God’s ignorance, --all our weakness is God's weakness, -- all our suffering is God's suffering. They coolly accept the inference, and say it is undeniably correct. Thus with them argumentation begins, where with us it would stop. They are so blinded to excellence, and are so callous about sin, that they stand out wonderfully against the exposure of the horrid system. I have seen conscience evidently troubled, and their better feelings evidently rising against these dreadful sentiments. I have seen them trying to escape these inferences; but in many cases, they accept the consequences of their views without a grudge, and defen them by most unsound and absurd, yet in their eyes plausible, reasoning. It is difficult for us to conceive the state of mind of those who are steeped in this dreadful system. Often after leaving them, and returning to my house, I feel as if I had nothing to do but to pray for them, -- as if we should shut ourselves up, and do nothing but lead with God to silence their vain reasoning, and enlighten their dark souls.
l am sure that till God pleads with them by his Spirit, we plead with them in vain. I trust experience is deepening the conviction, that by God's blessed Spirit the work is to be done, and that to Him will be all the glory. Everything we see is fitted to humble us, and kee us in importunate prayer before the throne of grace. O that the burden of this poor people lay heavy on our souls! O that our hearts were moved with pity for them, and were filled with intense desires for their salvation! O that we abounded in fervent believing prayer on their behalf! It is often saddening to my heart to reflect on the frequency with which the gospel has been preached in this city, and to consider the fearful callousness which still distinguishes its inhabitants. Great distants are indeed few, and are chiefly found in Brahminical neighbourhoods, and, in the vicinity of large temples. Many, many a time we go to the city, and have most polite and attentive audiences, with some of whom we have pleasing conversations, -- but where is the result? Who turns him from his wickedness? Who betakes himself to Christ? We look for fruit, but we look in vain. We meet often with politeness, but we do not meet with conversloii; and we are in danger of giving way to sadness and disappointment. We have often reason to exclaim with the Psalmist, "Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God ?" They do taunt us in this spirit, and sometimes in these words.

Mr. Shurman, on a recent visit to the city, met with an old disputer, who began to rail at him, and say, "You speak of going to heaven, but you are not good enough even for hell. Hell would refuse you, as this world now does. What can be more miserable than your wandering about the streets and market-places of the city holding up your books, and calling, rather crying, to the people; but no one will hear you. You are outcasts. No place will receive you."

A day or two after Mr. Shurman mentioned this to us, I was preaching at one of our chapels, which is near a much frequented temple, and w ere we often meet with much opposition. I was particularly tried by a youn impudent Brahmin. He assailed the native preacher who was with me witlli the most opprobrious terms. Turning half away from him, as if he were defiled by his sight, he said, "I will not hear you. You are vile. You are utterly corrupt. You have for our belly abandoned your religion. Who would hear you? I will hear the Sahib, for he has kept is religion." But he did not hear me much better than he did my native brother. After wrangling for a while, the audience broke up, and I was happy to come away. On coming home, I found my Munshi waiting for me, who is a Mussulman. I asked him, "Tell me honestly, what do the Hindoos and Mussulmims think of our preaching so much in the city?" He at once answered, "They think it great folly." I asked, Why ? His answer was, "If a person by going about the city can make gain, he is very wise to do so from da to day. But you go about, not to make gain, but to spread our religion. The public think you should keep it to yourselves. They think it very foolish in you to give yourselves so much trouble about the religion of others. But what is stranger, you not only expose goods, from the sale of which you could get no profit, but nobody will buy your goods, though you praise them never so much. Still you go on in the same way. This seems to us great folly." I asked him if he in the city ever stopped to hear a missionary. He answered, "No, no. I do not needyour goods." The language of all parties is, "We are rich, and have need of nothing." The speculatist is rich in speculation, the man of ceremony is rich in ohservances, the man of revelation is rich in incarnations, Shastrea, and Purans. The followers of the false prophet are rich in pretensions, and forms, and pride.

As our Pundit said to me the other day, "My bottle is full, and I need nonefrom yours." I suggested to him his water might be dirty; and it would be well to pour it out, and get clean water. This self-sufficiency we meet on every hand, and it accounts for their dis-relish of the gospel. Often have I been asked:  "If Christ be so powerful, why does he not make us all his followers?" When the heathen taunt us and say, "Where is now their God?" what should we do but turn to God and say, "Arise, Lord, and plead thine own cause. Give us help, for vain is the help of man.”


Published in:
THE SCOTTISH CONGREGATIONAL MAGAZINE. New Series. Vol IV, 1844. Glasgow: James Maclehose Page(s): 86-89.

Online: Google Books. Viewed: 15.1.2015.

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