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Self Lost in Service - Alexander Duff of India
Chapter IV. The Leavan Working


ONE day a number of young Hindus met a Brahman, saluted him with apparent reverence, and proceeded to ask him, "What is the shape and size of the earth? How far away are the sun and the moon?" When, however, they questioned him about the Hindu gods, he realized that they were quizzing him, and in anger he openly cursed them. The lads, who were former students of the Government Hindu College, seemed to be enjoying the incident. What did it mean? Convinced that the teaching of the Shastres about physical science was demonstrably false, and as the Gurus claimed that the teaching was revealed directly from Heaven, they had ceased to believe in the Hindu religion, and, concluding that all religious instruction must be false, they became practically sceptics.

Their conduct caused the Government much anxiety, and strengthened those who had opposed Duff's plan for his school. He was not, however, surprised, for, while teaching Western knowledge inevitably destroyed belief in Hinduism, any reference to the Christian faith was prohibited in Government schools. As long as boys are taught that to obtain Western education God must be ignored, they naturally become materialists, set aside the sanctions of morality, are a law unto themselves and become members of the don't care brotherhood which exists in all nations. Scolding would do no good, leaving them alone spelt disaster; what then was to be done? Duff, who understood and could sympathize, invited them to come to his house to see if he could help them in their difficulties. When they came, he asked them as students of logic whether they considered it sound reasoning to say "I know that such teaching is wrong when tested by satisfactory evidence, and I, therefore, reject another subject which I have not studied." "Well," they answered, "we do not think it is."

Twelve of them thereupon agreed to attend the opening lecture of a course which he arranged with other missionaries; but the commotion caused by their attending the first lecture prevented the delivery of any other lectures of the course. The authorities of the Hindu College threatened to expel any students who in future went to hear such lectures. The more advanced students resented this as interfering with their liberty, but arranged debating societies upon the forbidden subjects in their own homes, having asked Duff to be present so that he might present the Christian side. From forty to sixty attended—some earnest seekers who became Christians, with others who were proud, forward, rude, boisterous, and often grossly insulting. Duff also lectured on one of the Gospels on Sunday evenings in a bungalow chapel, situated in one of the squares of the native city, and during the second year, when he lectured on Christianity and Hinduism, the place was crowded.

Young Converts

One of the Hindus who attended the second course of lectures was Gopee Nath Nundi. He was baptized in 1832, refused a government appointment, became a Christian minister, and during the Mutiny of 1857 he was in the greatest danger at the hands of the mutineers, because of his refusal to join them, until he was rescued by British troops. When Duff was at home, at one of the meetings in Exeter Hall a clergyman handed to him the journal of a godly British officer in India. In it the officer had written that he had despaired of seeing a vivid manifestation of real piety among the apathetic sons of India, but that he had no doubt whatever left on his mind that the religion of Gopee Nath was a heart religion.

As child marriage was the custom in India, one of the scholars, eager to confess Christ, wished to persuade his wife, to whom he was married when ten years old, to leave Hinduism with him. At odd hours, and very often when the rest of the household was asleep, they studied the Scriptures together. The husband taught the wife to read "The Pilgrim's Progress" in Bengalee, a gift from another convert. One night when reading the story of Christian fleeing from the City of Destruction, the wife exclaimed "Is not this exactly our condition? Are we not lingering in the City of Destruction? Is it not our duty to act like Christians, to arise, forsake all, and flee for our lives?" The two accordingly came to Mr Duff's house. This action caused a great uproar, which almost led to violence, but no persuasion, which the missionary freely allowed the relatives to use, could shake the resolution of the converts. The relatives then appealed to law, claiming that as the youth was under age, he should be restored to them, but, as he was proved to be really eighteen years of age, their efforts failed.

It is a well-known fact that even in games all the members on a given side must work unitedly as a team or that side is likely to lose the game. There is an old Greek story of a father who wished to teach his sons this lesson. He took a number of rods tied in a bundle, and asked them to break the bundle. They failed to do this, although they could easily have broken each rod taken separately. For the purpose of united Christian effort, therefore, Duff submitted to a weekly conference of missionaries in Calcutta a plan for a central institution, to be supported by all the societies, where their best vernacular pupils would receive the highest Christian education to fit them for carrying the Gospel to their own people in their mother tongue. All the missionaries cordially supported the proposal, but in the homeland the scheme was rejected as impracticable. Duff, who hoped to live to see it carried through, was in later days greatly cheered by the practical illustration of his idea in the Madras Christian College, which embodied the life work of one of the greatest missionaries Scotland ever sent to India, William Miller.

As if he had not more than enough on his hands, a fresh call came for Duff's services. The chaplain of the Scottish congregation in Calcutta, finding himself obliged to leave Calcutta because of his wife's health, his colleagues also being absent on sick leave, asked Duff to take charge of the work until a successor was appointed, left Calcutta and sent a letter from the ship to inform Duff. The suggestion was actually made by some that he should allow himself to be nominated as successor to the chaplain, but as the act might be regarded as an inglorious abandonment of the cause which he had engaged to promote and the cause would suffer, Duff would not listen to such a proposal. There were, however, urgent reasons known to the missionary which led him to add the chaplain's work to his own, and he had sole charge of the Scottish congregation for a whole year.

Surprises for Visitors

One morning a surprise visit was paid to Mr Duff's school by members of a Committee appointed by the Governor-General, to enquire whether a medical school could be founded in Calcutta. The members of the deputation, who examined the senior class very 'carefully, were amazed to find the high-caste youths so free from prejudices as to be willing to attend a medical school.

"What! would you actually touch a dead body to study anatomy?"

"Most certainly," replied the head youth, a high-caste Brahman. "I for one would have no scruples in the matter. It is all prejudice, the old stupid prejudice of caste, of which I at least have got rid." By these different ways the campaign was carried on against error.

In addition to all his more directly spiritual work Duff took every opportunity to advance, the material welfare of the people. With this end he joined the Agricultural Society of Calcutta, and with earnestness followed its work of enlightening the peasantry which form so large a proportion of the population.

Just before he left Calcutta, Duff took a visitor to the Institution and gave him permission to examine all, the classes. When he had done this Duff called him into another room, where the senior class of some fifteen youths was, and said: "Ask them any question you please in general learning." Delighted beyond measure with the answers he received the visitor then examined the lads in religious knowledge, and was so carried away that he broke into an impassioned - address, which riveted their attention, tears shining in the eyes of one boy whose shoulders still bore the sacred Brahmanical thread. "How is this?" exclaimed the visitor, "I feel, I cannot but feel, that every word is finding its way within. I feel as if I could empty the whole of my soul into theirs. How is this? " The missionary, turning round, opened the door which disclosed the busy scene in the large hail. "There," said he, pointing to the class which was learning the Alphabet, "there is the true explanation, the real source and origin• of what has transported your soul. The teaching which followed the Alphabet gradually broke the barrier between teacher and scholar. And tell me now, do tell me candidly, if it was not worth while to begin so low in order to end so high." "I frankly confess to you," the visitor replied, " that I left England an avowed enemy to education in connection with missions in any shape or form, but I now tell you from what I have seen to-day that I shall feel hence forward at liberty to avow myself its friend and advocate." The visitor was Anthony Groves, who afterwards founded the Plymouth Brethren.

The strain of all these labours was more than the strongest human frame could bear in the climate of India, so that after passing through three severe illnesses in ten months, Duff was, as a last resource, carried on board ship in an almost dying condition to make the voyage home to Scotland. He landed at Greenock in December 1834, and, to his great delight, in keen frosty weather.


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