Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Life of John Wilson
Chapter XII. The Missionary Side of 1843


Scotland’s solution of the Church and State Difficulty—India outside of party strife—Dr. Brunton writes to the Missionaries—The unanimous Response of all Evangelical Anglo-Indians—An equitable Settlement of the Mission Property refused—Dr. Wilson in Jerusalem—Joins the Church of Scotland Free—Letters to Robert Nesbit and Dr. Brunton—General Assembly at Glasgow—Dr. Wilson’s Address—First educated Brahman baptized at Bombay—First Caste Expiation—Epistle from American Presbytery of North India—Establishment of the Nagpore Mission—Stephen Hislop—Sir Donald M‘Leod—Kaffrarian Mission transferred to Free Church—Dr. Wilson at Oxford—At the May Meetings of 1844, and the Inverness Assembly—Medical Missions—Speech on Turkish Atrocities— Plea for Dhunjeebhoy’s Ordination—The Ideal of a Missionary Church.— General Assembly’s Farewell.

When Dr. Wilson left Bombay he was appointed a representative of the Church of Scotland in India, in the General Assembly which met in Edinburgh on the 18th of May 1843. On that day, the last of the old historic Kirk, when Dr. Welsh, the Moderator, read the protest of 470 ministers who laid down their livings, and they and he, and Thomas Chalmers, and elders representing a majority of its people, went forth as the Church of Scotland Free, Dr. Wilson was, on camel-back, entering for the second time the city of Jerusalem. The Church’s evangelical ministers in Scotland had sacrificed their all, how would its Indian and Jewish missionaries act? The moral grandeur of the spectacle on that 18th day of May, in the Scottish capital, was such as to extort the admiration of judges like Francis Jeffrey and Lord Cockburn, and of many who had no sympathy with the spiritual principles involved, but saw in the protesters the legitimate heirs of, and now the joyous martyrs for, the principles of the Reformation and Revolution Kirk of Scotland. The same party which did the wrong on that day have since sought to undo it, by abolishing what was only an accident of their principles—lay patronage. Although the remnant of the Church as still established has not yet blotted out what are known as the Rescissory Acts, by which it endorsed the wrong and departed from the Reformation and Revolution principle, yet, so recently as last year, by the mouth of its Moderator it expressed admiration of the spiritual heroism of the men whom the Courts and the Legislature drove and the minority of the last General Assembly barred out on that day. Would the missionaries, then far away, dim or would they increase the lustre of that sacrifice, by adhering to the protest % The chaplains of the Church thought it right to cling to their monthly salaries from the Government, and not to forfeit the pensions given by the East India Company. No one will judge them. Every missionary, from Pesth and Constantinople to Calcutta and Madras, Bombay and Poona, joined the Church of Scotland Free. Yet the Kirk’s Foreign Mission had owed its origin to Dr. Inglis, father of the present Lord President of the Court of Session, and was directed by Dr. Brunton, both of the “moderate” party. The grandeur of the testimony was complete. Missionaries, ministers, and elders united with the people in 1843, under the guidance of Thomas Chalmers, to work out in the vexed question of Church and State the only true solution of the freedom of each within its own proper sphere, yet the respectful alliance of both, which Italy has since accepted ; which Mr. Gladstone of English statesmen has most appreciated; and which, on the part of a spiritually democratic Church, is as hostile to the sacerdotalism of the Ultramontane as it is a protest against Csesarism.

During the ten years which preceded the crisis of 1843, all the missionaries and some of the chaplains at Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras, sympathised with the evangelical party whom conscience ultimately forced out. But they were far removed from the conflict and its excitement. And they had even higher work to do. In the face of a common enemy, or league of enemies, like the four great Cults of Hindooism, Parseeism, Muhammadanism, and Fetishism, all non-sacerdotal missionaries, then and ever since, have formed a union of the widest catholicity and heartiest co-operation. From the first, too, foreseeing men like Wilson felt that they were laying the foundations of the future Church of India, and that it was an evil thing to introduce into it the purely historical and sectarian controversies of the warring churches of the West. The best missionary—he who knows the people best—is still a foreigner, and he and his translations must in time give way to an indigenous and self-developing church or churches, which may a second time illustrate the Christian truth of the saying, “Ex Oriente Lux.” Hence the echoes of the Ten Years’ Conflict, as it is called in Scotland, were somewhat dull in India, as dull almost as those of the strifes of the home churches now are to every earnest worker there. That India knows no party is as true of ecclesiasticism as of politics. What the land-tax shall be in a province ? whether it shall have certain primary schools and village institutions 1 how far the historical creeds and sectarian confessions shall be bound on the necks of the office-bearers of the native churches —these are questions that affect millions now and] hereafter. Such issues as these are the true politics of India.

Although correspondents kept Dr. Wilson well informed of the inner life of their Kirk, and a visitor like Dr. Duff in 1840 brought back from Edinburgh the latest tidings, they and their colleagues, being in the true front of the battle, left the security of their base to be looked to by others. And at the last the crisis in Scotland came with a rush. The evangelical party, outraged by a majority of eight to five of the judges, could not believe for a time that Parliament would set the seal on such an interpretation of Scottish statutes, Union contracts, the Revolution Settlement. Parliament, never very heroic itself, and affecting a cynical disbelief in the heroism of others, lent a willing ear to the small band of men of compromise, who, unprepared for sacrifice themselves, scouted the idea of it in so many of their brethren. So it came about that, when Dr. Wilson saw the last of Bombay for a time, as night settled down on Malabar Hill on the 2d January, he did not anticipate that his relations with Dr. Brunton were so soon to cease. At Cairo, when he heard of the Convocation of 478 of the 1200 ordained ministers, who had consulted all through a winter week, and resolved to resign their livings if justice were not done to the principles of the Kirk, he must have said for the first time, as his colleagues in Bombay expressed it—“What will remain? A Presbyterian Establishment, but not the Church of Scotland; nearly all that constitutes nationality will have vanished.” To them Dr. Brunton had written official^, expressing the anxious wish that all would continue as they were. The chaplains, Dr. Stevenson and Mr. Cook, now Dr. Cook of Borgue, did so. The missionaries, Messrs. Nesbit and Murray Mitchell, had kept the public informed of the conflict in Scotland through the Oriental Christian Spectator, and the receipt of the mail announcing the event of the 18th May saw them ministers of the Free Church of Scotland. All the elders and a majority of the members of St. Andrew’s kirk also left it.

The missionaries had been in the habit of conducting a service for Europeans residing at a distance from that church in the Ambrolie Mission-house. The congregation, now greatly increased, found accommodation in the neighbouring chapel of the American Mission, until it could erect the building which adorns the Esplanade. The new college was about to be occupied, and the missionaries who had struggled for so many years in the confined and unhealthy rooms of a native house, had been looking forward with eager eyes to the building for which they and their friends, chiefly on the spot, had raised the necessary funds. They did not enter it. Not only so, but at the close of the session of 1843, when Dr. Brunton’s committee established in it a new mission, they had the pain of making over to the German agent who was sent to demand the property, the whole library, mathematical, astronomical, chemical, and other educational apparatus, which were the fruit of their personal toil and their friends’ generosity. All was quietly given up and carried off, fortunately without any such scandal as attended a similar act of transference at Calcutta. It was well that Dr. Wilson was spared his share of the pain. How he viewed the equity of the proceedings his correspondence will show. On him, at home, devolved the duty of furnishing the mission anew, and selecting and sending out the first Free Church minister. In all this the men who had chosen suffering for conscience sake made no boast and no complaint—they were Christian gentlemen. With Dr. Stevenson, who had been their colleague for some time, their relations had been very close. They did not fail to help their old Institution, as engaged with themselves in the one great contest. And now there is a prospect that both may unite with the other evangelical churches to form a strong and catholic Christian College like Principal Miller’s in Madras.

For upwards of two months on the march from Cairo to Jerusalem, Dr. Wilson had been without news. As he sat in the lodging-house of the Greek, Elias of Damascus, in the Via Dolorosa, at the end of March, and devoured his letters and a file of papers sent him by the British Consul, he wrote:—“It would be difficult to say whether, for this day at least, the natural Jerusalem in the land of Israel, or the spiritual Zion in the land of Caledonia, was uppermost in our thoughts and feelings. That the God of Zion reigneth above gave us hope and peace.” His second visit to Jerusalem with Dr. Graham, and his distant journey to Damascus, where he left that missionary, caused the time to pass rapidly till he returned to Beyrut, and rested there for a fortnight. On the 2d November 1840 Dr. Brunton had thus written to him:—“Our Church fever is by no means abated. It is carrying its lamentable heats by far too much into private society, but it has not as yet touched at all our committee. Nothing can be more harmonious and united than it continues to be.” As the aggression of the Court of Session on the spiritual rights in purely spiritual things guaranteed to the national Church of ministers, elders, and people, continued, it became inevitable that all its members should declare themselves. Thus, on the 28th April 1842, Dr. Brunton met the otherwise pleasing announcement of the proposed foundation of a mission at Nagpore by Sir W. Hill by this response:—“The only ground of doubt is the present state of the Church. I am forced to consider our funds as in a very precarious state. Even if the Establishment escape from the wreck there will be more or less of very embittered secession. Or, though things remain as they are now, a great part of the bounty which used to flow in the various channels of Christian charity is directed to the interminable lawsuits of the Church. Altogether our prospects are anything but cheering. Human aid seems of little avail, but God is able to give deliverance. O may He send it speedily for his own name’s sake ! ” How it was sent, and how it continued to be sent, the future of the Foreign Missions of Scotland will reveal.

Dr. Wilson’s first act was to write promptly to his colleague, Mr. Nesbit, at Bombay. When he arrived at Smyrna he despatched to Dr. Brunton his resignation, in terms most honourable to both. At the same time he sent on to Dr. Chalmers, as Moderator, his formal adherence to the Free Church of Scotland. That document he caused to be published in Bombay also:—

“Beyrut, 20th June 1843.—My dear Robert—A month before this can reach you, you will have heard of the rupture which has taken place in the Church of our beloved native land. It was unavoidable as far as the faithful ministers of Christ are concerned ; and it will be overruled, I doubt not, for the great extension of vital religion throughout the country. From Smyrna—for which I sail to-day in the Austrian steamer—I intend to send in my adherence as a minister and missionary to the Free Church ; and I firmly believe that we shall all be found in the same fellowship. Whether any plan of co-operation with the Moderates may now be practicable or desirable I do not know, though a few weeks ago I dropped a hint to Dr. Brunton on the subject. One thing is evident, we cannot be divorced from the counsels and prayers of those whose principles and actings have our conscientious and strong approbation.

“The question connected -with our mission property in Bombay must, I think, be determined on principles of equity. It will be of great consequence for us to get occupation as soon as possible of the new buildings. The onus of legal proceedings—should such be resorted to—will rest on the Moderates, if we are first in possession. I shall propose that we give the Moderates a fair share of the price should they ask it from us.

“A regard to the souls of the present and future generations of our countrymen in India demands our decided action in behalf of the Free Church. Assemble its adherents in Bombay and Poona, promise the continuance of your services to them till regular pastors be provided, and forthwith petition for these pastors. I hope that we shall hear of your proceedings before the meeting of Assembly at Glasgow in October. I shall do all there in my power in support of your prayer. Tell Captains George and John Jameson, Archie Graham, Captain Thornbury, Mr. Spencer, Mr. Fallon, Mr. Martin, and Dr. Malcolmson, etc. etc., that I expect them in particular to be among the first who will rally round the old flag of the Covenant.”


“Smyrna, July 1843.—My very dear Sir—The rupture which has taken place in our beloved Church, which to the last moment I had fondly thought would have been averted by the Government considering its righteous claims, or by both parties within the Church agreeing to uphold at least its spiritual independence, has forced me impartially and prayerfully to consider to which of the two separated bodies it is my duty to adhere. My decision is in favour of the free protesting Church; of the principles professed and advocated by which I have long conscientiously approved.

“In these circumstances it has become my painful duty to intimate, as I now do, my withdrawal as a minister and missionary from the Established Church of Scotland, with which I have so long considered it an honour and a privilege to be connected. I take this momentous step from my desire to bear and maintain a conscience void of offence toward God and man, and, I trust, without a breach of that charity which it becomes me to cherish towards those with whose judgment my own has been found at variance. I take it with inexpressible regret, as far as it involves the dissolution of that official tie which has so long bound me to yourself, who have ever treated me with more than paternal kindness, and strengthened my hands and encouraged my heart in the work of the Lord more than I can declare. I feel at this moment the unfeigned sorrow of a great bereavement, and it is my humble but fervent prayer that the Lord may comfort us both in the afflictive circumstances in which we are placed in His inscrutable providence. To the latest moment of my life I can never forget, or lightly estimate, the multiplied favours which I have experienced at your hands ; and if God will that we should soon meet together, I shall tender to you the homage of my unfeigned gratitude.

“Your interest in the continued prosperity of our mission, which you have done so much to advance, will, I am certain, remain undirninished. In a postscript attached to my last letter I expressed the hope that some plan of co-operation between the two sections of our Church might be devised. The terms on which the separation has taken place, however, have for the present annihilated that hope. Had the Residuary Assembly not consented, as I humbly but firmly believe it has done, to the utter overthrow of the scriptural and constitutional liberties of the Church, the case might have been otherwise. —I am, my dearest Sir, yours in the bonds of Christian love and gratitude,

“John Wilson.”

“Bilstanebrae, 12th June 1843.

“My dear Dr. Wilson—I have received with great thankfulness your very kind letter from Beyrut. I rejoice to find that you have safely passed a perilous part of your journey without harm, and commit you for the remainder of it to the same protection. Your packets to Dr. Keith I delivered immediately. The opportunity, indeed, came before I had the satisfaction of perusing them. I expect that he will afford me that pleasure still. In the meantime the details of your progress which you have sent to myself will, I am quite sure, awaken in the public the same interest which I felt in reading them.

“The calamity which you anticipate has befalleu ; and with an extent and an exasperation with which I had by no means laid my account. Our brethren who have left us have announced their purpose, to enter immediately on missionary enterprise; I have rejected repeatedly and unhesitatingly declined such a proposal as the one which you suggest. This theme I have uniformly shunned in my correspondence with India, unless perhaps by a hint at its financial bearing, because I could not see how the point in dispute could in the least touch the status of our brethren in India. But, of course, after the Disruption took place, I was directed to state to each of the Missions that the Established Church was resolved to go on with all of her schemes as before, and counted in her day of peril on the zealous co-operation of those whom she had found so admirably qualified for their work. Reports are loudly circulated here that my appeal comes too late. I cannot allow myself to believe it. I cannot think that those with whom our intercourse hitherto has been so delightful to us would pledge themselves, as they are said to have done, without giving us the shadow of warning. This would be to peril to an enormous extent the safety of our great cause ; as well as, in many other respects, to be a source of very painful feeling. Even now, when it has become necessary to make a direct appeal, I have in no one instance introduced one word of personal pleading ; but you will easily understand how painful my personal feelings are. May the Lord Himself direct you to that which is right, and may He who is able to bring good out of evil cause this sore calamity to minister to the advancement of His glory and of the Gospel cause. It is not easy for man to see how this result is to be reached; but with Him all things are possible. We are determined, through his blessing, to persevere. So far as human aid avails we have the prospect of abundant funds. But if works of the purest charity are to be henceforward channels for estrangement, and contention, and strife, my whole heart shrinks from what used to be its joy.

“I cannot mix up this subject with any other; indeed I have nothing else that is interesting to communicate. I need not say how very anxious I shall be to hear from you, nor how much I am, yours affectionately,

“Alex. Brunton.”

“Munich, 11th September 1843.

“My very dear Sir—On the evening of the day on which I last addressed you, I received your kind letter of the 12th of June. Though it could not alter the decision, which I had intimated to you, of my adherence to the Free Church, I could not peruse it without the deepest emotion. It made me realise in all its extent your exceeding kindness and consideration during the whole period of our official connection, and imparted to me the deepest sorrow. To no individual do I feel a stronger attachment, and for no individual do I cherish a more profound regard than yourself; and could anything of a personal nature have prevailed with me in my choice of the ground which I should occupy after the rupture in our beloved Church, I should have been found still ranged by your side in the missionary enterprise.

“I feel it extremely difficult at once to do justice to the credit which I give to those from whom I differ in my judgment as to late events in our Church, and to express the conviction which I feel that my own sentiments are in accordance with the will of Christ. I may be permitted to say, however, that I do think that the Free Church, as far as constitutional principle is concerned, is essentially the Church of Scotland, and that in cleaving to it I am only following out my ordination vows according to my conscientious interpretation of them. In your official correspondence with the missionaries you shunned, as you intimate, all reference to the existing controversies, except in their financial bearing; and my former silence on the subject originated in my respect for your own example, and my reluctance to hold out any threat, however humble, to those with whom I might ultimately be found at variance. Though as a missionary employed by both parties I was silent in the discussion, yet as a member of the Kirk-Session of Bombay I uniformly supported non-intrusion principles. I constantly opposed premature division in India, and I have a letter from Mr. Cook cordially thanking me for my co-operation and friendship. It was only when the Government proved relentless, and multitudes conspired to overthrow the spiritual liberties and discipline of the Church, that I was compelled as a missionary to give in my adherence to the body of whose principles and contendings I approved. Had your own charitable and peaceful remonstrances and pleadings for upholding the authority of the Church prevailed with the body with which you are now associated, the schism I am persuaded would not have occurred.

“Had it appeared that our practical operations in India would likely suffer by our leaving the Establishment, and that it was possible for the Establishment immediately to supply our lack of service, I should have considered it a duty for us to give adequate warning of our intention to forsake that Establishment. I have not yet seen, however, that any of our operations require to be abandoned ; and should the Establishment send any faithful missionaries to India, I for one shall most cordially bid them God speed, rejoicing that they preach Christ to the heathen Hindus.

“Perhaps I have erred in thinking these few remarks of explanation called for by your kind letter; if so, I am sure that you will excuse me. I hope very soon to see you in Edinburgh ; and I confidently trust that I shall ever vindicate the sincerity with which I subscribe myself, as of old, yours most gratefully and affectionately, John Wilson.”

“Rev. Dr. Brunton.”

The General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, which met at the end of May under Dr. Chalmers, had necessarily to leave the details of organisation to be worked out after it rose. Hence the meeting of a second General Assembly in the same year, instead of such a “Commission” of Assembly as holds quarterly meetings every year but with restricted powers. At Glasgow, on the 17th October, and with Dr. Thomas Brown of St. John’s, Moderator, this special Assembly met. The five months that had passed showed 754 congregations and 730 ministers and preachers. Of these 465 had given up their livings in the Established Church, and 110 licentiates and others since licensed to preach, their certain appointment to livings. There remained the twenty-one missionaries, fourteen in India and seven to the Jews, and in due time the adherence of all of these was announced. When men like the last Marquis of Breadalbane; Mr. Fox Maule, afterwards Earl of Dalhousie, who had in vain brought before the House of Commons “the question of the spiritual independence of the Church and the rights of the Christian people of ScotlandMr. Murray Dunlop, M.P.; Dr. Chalmers and Dr. Candlish had reported arrangements resulting in a response from the country to the amount of £300,000 in that brief period, Dr. Gordon submitted the statement of the India Mission.

In answer to those friends of the missionary cause who had deprecated the long defence of their spiritual rights by the people of Scotland, on the ground that it was “not a religious question,” he pointed to “the striking fact that the missionaries of the Church of Scotland, possessing in an eminent degree the esteem and confidence of the Christian public both at home and abroad, as holy and devoted men of God quietly pursuing their pious labours far from the scene of controversy, and as calm observers watching from a distance the progress of the conflict, should, the moment that conflict ended, have unanimously and without hesitation united themselves to their protesting brethren.” But while Dr. Chalmers could announce his third of a million, chiefly due to that unique contribution to ecclesiastical economics, the Sustentation Fund for the ministers, Dr. Gordon could, at that early stage, when no appeal had been made, report only £327 as the fund with which the Church nevertheless resolved, as Dr. Forbes put it, to continue the “gigantic scheme of Church Extension ” among a population which was then estimated at 160 millions, but will be shown, by the second imperial census in 1881, to be nearer 260 millions as British India now is. The fourteen foreign missionaries of 1843-41 have grown in number to forty ordained men, Native and Scottish ; the £327 of October 1843 and £6402 of the whole year, to £30,657 a year in Scotland alone, and nearly double that if the whole annual revenue of the Indian, African, and South Pacific Missions be considered. In the thirty-six years since that time the Church of these fourteen missionaries has given in Scotland alone, £550,000 for foreign missions, and there is not a contributor who does not admit that the amount might have been and will yet be doubled. The conflict of the ten years before 1843, and the struggles of Cameron, the Erskines, and Gillespie before that, will not be exhausted until the three great branches of the Reformation Kirk of John Knox are gathered once again into one reconstructed Church, as free in its own legitimate sphere as the statutes of the Reformation, the treaty of Union and the Revolution Settlement acknowledged it to be. This is, thus far, Scotland’s contribution to the question which Pope and Emperor in Italy and Germany are trying to work out on the hopelessly irreconcilable, because intolerant, lines of Ultramontane tyranny and Caesarist encroachment; and Dr. Wilson often declared it to be so. The freewill offerings of the members of the Free Church of Scotland every year, for all spiritual purposes at home and abroad, nearly equal £600,000. In all it has raised the sum of thirteen millions sterling1 side by side with higher moral aims, and as the fruit of a deeper spiritual life.

According to Mr. W. Holms, M.P., himself a member of the Established Church, who stated in the House of Commons debate on the 18th June 1878: “There are 1517 churches attached to the Free and United Presbyterian Churches against 1390 attached to the Established Church. And these last comprise about 300 Highland charges, most of them very meagrely attended. In regard to the money raised for religious purposes during the year 1877-78, which was not an unfair test of vitality and power, £965,000 had been contributed by Free and United Presbyterians, against £385,000 by the Established Church.”

Dr. Wilson’s first speech in the General Assembly is remembered to this day for the length as well as the eloquence of its statements of fact and pictures of Oriental superstitions and missionary life. To the attitude of the religions of the East towards the Christian demand for their surrender he happily applied the remark of Tippoo, when the British forces surrounded the last stronghold of Seringapatam—“I am afraid, but afraid not so much of what is seen as of what is unseen.” First in the list of the principal means of propagating the Gospel in India he placed those used by the Lord and His apostles, as he had done from the day he took possession of Bombay—“conversation, discussion, public preaching, among all classes of men to whom they could find access, and in all situations in which they could be advantageously practised.” After an account of the work of his colleagues, and of the agents of other Churches in every case, he briefly describes his own:—“I have declared the doctrine of the Cross in three languages, the Marathee, Hindostanee, and Goojaratee, from the Shirawutee in Canara to Sirohee in Bajpootana, and from Bombay to Berar.” Second in his enumeration of agencies came the translation of the Scriptures into the languages of India, and the publication of works showing the evidence of their truth; of “plain but affectionate ” expositions of their contents ; and of demonstrations of the vanity, falsity, and immorality of the systems of error to which they are opposed. Again, after a generous tribute to the work of others, he briefly stated his own, adding, “It was my privilege to act for twelve years as secretary to the different translation committees of the Bombay Bible Society.” Besides the English, Marathee, Goojaratee, Hindostanee, Persian, and Hebrew, in which his own writings had appeared, the missionaries of other societies had translated them into Bengalee, Hindee, Tamul, and Canarese. On the third agency of schools Dr. Wilson gave a fair and full summing-up of a question much disputed in this country, though long set at rest in favour of education, higher and lower, by experienced men of all churches in India, so far as Hindoos, Parsees, Buddhists, and Muhammadans, or the non-aboriginal races, are concerned. This was followed by equally weighty utterances on the two questions which lie at the foundation of the indigenous Church of India, native congregations and native ministers. The Moderator, according to the newspapers of the day, in an eloquent address conveyed the thanks of the General Assembly to Dr. Wilson.

While he was yet speaking there was intelligence on its way from Bombay which gave a new point to the opinions he so emphatically expressed. An educated Brahman youth, now the Rev. Narayan Sheshadri, and long one of the most successful ordained ministers in India, asked to be baptized. He was one of the few Hindoos who had clung to the mission college when the Parsee baptisms in 1839 produced a panic throughout native Bombay. The first educated Brahman baptized in the island, he was the direct fruit of the higher Christian education, and a worthy associate of the two Parsees who had anticipated him. Mr. Nesbit’s loving gentleness, and Dr. Murray Mitchell’s efficient instructions, had continued the good work begun by Dr. Wilson. It seemed likely that both Narayan and his younger brother Shripat would have been allowed to live and study together, holding kindly intercourse with their parents. But the prospect was too much for those who had recently seen toleration triumphant in the case of the two Parsees, and were the more determined “ to contest every inch of ground with advancing Christianity.” So the appeal was again made not to reason or truth, but to the civil courts, for Shripat was not sixteen years of age. The “ age of discretion ” rule, the intelligence and sincerity of the youth rather than the age by the horoscope ever difficult to be proved, were pronounced by Sir Erskine Perry to be “not worth a farthing,” and Shripat exclaimed, when declared too young to exercise the rights of conscience—“Am I to be compelled to worship idols ”

The scene has often since been repeated in the courts of India, purely English as well as those administering Hindoo and Muhammadan law; and legislation has yet, in this matter alone happily, to complete the little code securing bare toleration, which Bentinck and Dalhousie began, and Sir Henry Maine and Sir James F. Stephen have amplified. “To this sorrowful question of Shripat’s,” writes an eyewitness, “no answer was returned. Mr. Nesbit was greatly attached to Shripat, and when the weeping boy bade him farewell as they quitted the court-house, he kissed him with much affection, and wept with him.” Shripat was never allowed to become a Christian, but it took a long time to shake him by arts such as Faust has made the colder West believe to be but the legendary fictions of a dark age. And since Shripat had eaten with his baptized brother, his case became the first, also, of a long series of gradually weakening concessions by caste, as Christianity practically teaches that God has made of one blood all nations of men. Not only in Maharashtra, but in the holiest conclave at Benares, and among the most exclusive of the five Koolin clans of Bengal, the very practical question was hotly debated—“ Can Shripat be purified and restored to caste ? ” Hindooism was on its trial, for if it yielded now what horror might not come next, till the one last bond was cut in every link? A rich minority spent vast sums to develop dogmatically Hindooism into something that would tolerate the Zeit-Geist, ease their own consciences, and perhaps connive at their forbidden pleasures. Thus, travelling by railway was afterwards sacerdotally sanctioned, for would not the pilgrim arrive at his journey’s end with more in his purse? But the year 1843 was too early for the minority, who had got Shripat to swallow the five products of the cow (its urine, etc.), and enriched a priest to conduct the purification. All who had thus combined were themselves threatened with excommunication, and the priest was as severely handled as if he had been a Christian. The “ liberal ” Brahmans publicly confessed their fault, and drank water in which an idol had been washed and ten Brahmans had dipped each his right foot. For the rest the scandal was hushed up, many feeling it would have been better if Shripat had never been dragged before the English judges. While Narayan and Pestonjee continued their studies for licence and ordination in Bombay, Dhunjeebhoy Nourojee completed his college examinations in Edinburgh, and as a preacher and speaker gave a vivid interest to the missionary cause in Scotland.

The day before the General Assembly sat at Glasgow the Presbytery of Bombay had received a formal letter of sympathy from Allahabad, one of the four presbyteries in north India of the church of the United States. The brotherly document was signed by the Rev. J. Warren and the Rev. J. Owen, the latter a learned scholar who was long spared to build up the native church. It has more than a curious interest, as contributing the experience of a Republic which, itself born of the intolerance of the Tudors and the Stewarts, has never found a difficulty in recognising and protecting the legitimate spiritual independence of all churches, even that of Rome. The letter anticipated the time, since realised as to co-operation, when all Presbyterians in India may meet in fellowship, and ultimately in General Assembly.

In his address to the General Assembly Dr. Wilson declared the most clamant need of India to be the establishment of a Christian mission in its Central Provinces. At Nagpore, nearly equidistant from Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras about seven hundred miles, a Raja of the Bhonsla family of Marathas reigned, like the Gaekwar at Baroda, Holkar at Indore, and Sindia at Gwalior. He had been guided by a political Resident so able as Sir Richard Jenkins, and was protected by a combined force of British troops and Madras sepoys at the adjoining cantonment of Kamptee. Stationed there as Deputy Judge-Advocate General, was a Madras officer, Captain, now Sir William Hill, K.C.S.I. He and his wife had long lamented the want of a missionary to evangelise the people. Nor had their desire been fulfilled by the establishment, two hundred miles away, of the industrial or artisan mission of Pastor Gossner of Berlin among the aboriginal Gonds, whose cause Sir Donald M‘Leod, when a district officer among them, had long advocated. On the death of his wife Captain Hill resolved to devote her small fortune of £2000, adding to it £500, the whole in three per cents, to the endowment of a mission to the people of Kamptliee, Nag-pore, and the neighbourhood. He applied to Dr. Wilson, in February 1842, as the missionary best known to him by reputation, offering the amount for a Presbyterian or Church of England Mission. The fruitless result of Dr. Wilson’s application to Dr. Brunton has been stated. But his representations to the committee of the Free Church met with such a response that the only difficulty left was to secure a missionary, at a time when every licensed preacher, young and old, was required at home.

Happily Stephen Hislop offered himself; a man, as it proved, after Wilson’s own heart. Fresh from a distinguished career at the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh and the New College, he was an accurate scholar and a keen naturalist.

He proved to be a patient linguist, a worker of rare political insight and administrative power, and, above all, an enthusiast in the spiritual work he had undertaken. All the arrangements at the home end, for fitting out and securing the success of the new mission, fell upon Dr. Wilson, as those in India had devolved upon him in the case of the Irish settlement in Goojarat. But in spite of the need for rest, and the general work of the Church, he and Mr. Hislop so co-operated that, by the end of 1844, the new apostle—in time to prove a martyr by his death in the midst of duty—left for the scene of his labours. We shall hear more of Stephen Hislop. This Nagpore Mission is consecrated by the memory of another Christian official of the civil service, as Sir William Hill was of the military—Sir Donald M‘Leod—who, after a brilliant career ending as Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, and giving his last days to philanthropic work in London, was killed when attempting to enter a train in motion, on his way to a meeting of the Christian Vernacular Education Society.

Donald M‘Leod was the man to whom this double testimony was borne by a Rajpoot and a Sikh. Behari Lai Singh, a Rajpoot official subordinate to him, was led to believe that “ Christianity was something living,” and ultimately died an ordained missionary of the Presbyterian Church of England, by what he described as “ the pious example of this gentleman, his integrity, his disinterestedness, his active benevolence. Here is a man in the receipt of 2000 or 3000 rupees annually ; he spends little on himself, and gives away the surplus for education—the temporal and spiritual welfare of my countrymen. This was the turning-point of my religious history, and led to my conversion.” More recently a Sikh declared, “If all Christians were like Sir Donald M‘Leod there would be no Hindoos or Muhammadans.” Of the M‘Leods of Assynt and proprietors of Geanies, one of the three great branches of the old Norwegian clan, young Donald passed from the Edinburgh High School to Putney, where he had Lord Canning and Henry Carre Tucker for schoolfellows; and to Haileybury, where he first won the admiration of Lord Lawrence. When at his first station of Monghyr in 1831, he learned from his countryman, the Rev. A. Leslie—the Baptist missionary who helped Sir H. Havelock—to adopt the words of Pascal as his own : Religion has “abased me infinitely more than unassisted reason, yet without producing despair; and exalted me infinitely more than pride, yet without puffing up.” When he passed to the Thuggee department, created by Lord William Bentinck to put down organised robbery and murder by strangling, and on to the administration of the Saugur and Nerbudda highlands, ceded by the Marathas in 1818, where Seonee was his headquarters, he was soon attracted to Dr. Wilson. From 1836, to his death in 1872, they assisted each other in philanthropic enterprise and scholarly research.

To the India Mission, thus increased, the Free Church added, in 1844, the African stations in Kaffraria, offered to it by the Glasgow Missionary Society; and it soon after sent out two other ministers familiar with Dutch, who for a time conducted missionary operations in Cape Town itself. Thus a new impetus and extension were given to a mission which has made the Lovedale Institution not only the centre and head of all civilising work among the natives of South Africa, in the opinion of observers like Mr. Anthony Trollope and Sir Bartle Frere, but the base of that advance into the Lake Region which has resulted in the establishment of the Living-stonia settlement on Nyassa. The cause of native female education also, in India, made a fresh start. The Ladies’ Association was strengthened by the co-operation of the Glasgow Association on behalf of female education in South Africa up to 1865, when both combined to form the present invaluable agency which is carrying light into the Zananas of the most caste-bound families.

Hardly had the Glasgow Assembly risen when Dr. Wilson found himself absorbed for a time in preaching and addressing large audiences of all the evangelical Churches, now on the Free Church of Scotland’s assertion of its principles, but more frequently on the missionary claims of India. In November 1843 he opened the new Free Church in his native town of Lauder, to which nearly the whole community flocked to hear the youth who had done such great things in India. His old master, Mr. Paterson, took care that he should preside at the examination of the school, in circumstances very different from those under which he used, on his tours, to stoop under the leafy sheds of the jungle schools of the Konkan, or the low roofs of the bungalows of Bombay and Surat. Invitations to preach flowed in upon him from all parts, from Dr. James Hamilton of London to Dr. James Lewis and Mr. Thorburn of Leith. It was when Dr. Wilson addressed the children in St. John’s, Leith, that his present biographer first saw the even then youthful apostle, and heard the rhythmic roll of his sentences as hundreds learned from him for the first time of the Hindoo idols and the Parsee fire, of the scattered Beni-Israel, and the devil-worshippers and man-sacrificers of the Indian hills.

Dr. Wilson was selected by his Church to accompany Dr. Candlish to England. At Oxford, on the 17th March 1844, he preached to the elite of the University and the Church of England there a sermon on “ The Church Glorious before its Lord,” from Ephesians v. 25-27. The academic tone of the discourse, and the learning and long self-sacrificing labours of the preacher, combined to call forth a degree of ecclesiastical appreciation as well as missionary sympathy which a local journalist thus expressed when it was published :—“ The great movement in Scotland is a new thing under the sun. It is little less than a breaking up and recasting of a nation. It is developing events which mere politicians cannot understand, and which they will be unable to guide. The freedom of the Christian Church in its corporate character has been asserted. And, as we believe, the further assertion of the freedom and equality of Christian men, and of every distinct Christian assembly will follow.” At the annual meeting of the Wesleyan Missionary Society, Sir George Bose in the chair, he was introduced by Dr. Bunting; when, answering the attacks of the late Cardinal Wiseman on Protestant Missions, he made a valuable contribution to that little-known subject—Boman Catholic Missions in India; referring to such Portuguese authorities as the Life of Juan de Castro, one of the earliest Viceroys, and a letter from John I. of Portugal, to be found in that classic. u Dr. Wiseman thinks very little of Protestant efforts,” he concluded, “ but the Brahmans make a great deal of them. I this morning read a tract written against Christianity and addressed to myself by a Brahman. He tells his countrymen that, unless they act together, all their power and religion are doomed. And, for the sake of the inhabitants of India who have been most marvellously placed under the sway of this Christian country, we wish the doom of Brahmanism. Wishing them good, we must endeavour to save them from the contaminating and ruining power of sin, and prepare them for the glories of heaven. . . . Increase your labourers in India, and look for the divine blessing.” Addressing the Baptist Society, over which Mr. W. B. Gurney presided, and the British Society for the Jews, he excited enthusiasm l3y his fresh and generous descriptions of the labours of their agents, and his appeals for a wide extension of their agencies. “The names of Carey, of Marshman, and of Ward, had been long familiar to me,” he said to the former, “before I finished my studies at the University. Dr. Marshman gave me the right hand of fellowship before I proceeded to India; and he was among the first, with a generous heart, to welcome me to its shores.”

From his English raid he hurried back to be present as a representative of Bombay at the General Assembly of 1844. There, at its successor, and at the remarkable Assembly of Inverness in August 1845, when Dr. Macdonald of Ferintosh, the Moderator, preached in Gaelic, from Dr. Wilson’s familiar text—“ Those that have turned the world upside down have come hither also”—the Bombay missionary was true to his calling. At the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, held in 1844 in Londonderry, he was received with “loud acclamations” as the co-founder of the mission to the two millions of Kathiawar; and he afterwards gave much of his time to providing means for the extension of that mission. At the Birmingham meeting of the Synod of the English Presbyterian Church in 1845, he stood, side by side with Mr. Milne from China, as a deputy with Dr. Beith from the Free Church of Scotland. When, in the same year, addressing the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society, which has since done much for the people of India, he said—“I recollect being asked by Sir Robert Grant, the late Governor of Bombay, what would be the effect of dissecting a dead body' in the Poona Sanskrit College. Why, said I, the first effect certainly would be that the Brahmans would jump out at the windows; and the second effect would be, on their re-entering, that the gods would jump out also; or, in other words, their religious prejudices would take to flight.” The Grant Medical College in Western, and the Bengal Medical College in Eastern India, where a Brahman student of Dr. Duff’s was one of the first Hindoos to dissect the human subject, have produced great results. It was in emphatic language that he induced the Assembly of 1844 to memorialise Her Majesty’s Government on the impotence and misrule of the Ottoman Porte alike in Asia and in Europe. Nor did he spare Russia’s intolerance.

In all Dr. Wilson’s correspondence, confidential as well as public, we have met with no expression of his opinions more worthy of his whole work for and relation to the Native Church of India, than a letter on the ordination of Dhunjeebhoy to Dr. James Buchanan, who had succeeded Dr. Gordon at the head of the Foreign Missions Committee. He pleaded, and with success finally, for what at the present time it is difficult to believe even those most ignorant of India could have doubted,—the spiritual and ecclesiastical rights of the educated native converts, in the light of justice and expediency, of the equality of Presbyterianism and the future of the Indian Church. The Parsee “probationer” himself, who had already become popular as a preacher all over the country, intimated that, unless full evangelistic power and liberty were conceded to him, he would not enter the service of the Free Church, and Dr. Wilson reported to Mr. Nesbit, “his firmness in this respect has been admired. We are for natives being ordained, after due probation, as missionaries or evangelists like ourselves.”

It was well that he and Dr. W. S. Mackay of Calcutta happened to be in Scotland when their Church, naturally absorbed in its domestic and internal organisation, was also called to lay anew the foundations of its Foreign Mission broad and deep. The missionary buildings at Poona were not affected by the ecclesiastical changes, and those at Madras had been rented only. But the property made over to the Established Church had cost £10,000 at Calcutta and £8000 at Bombay, exclusive of libraries and apparatus. The duty of raising £20,000 for a new start fell upon Dr. Wilson and Dr. W. S. Mackay, then on sick leave from Calcutta. How generously the whole India Mission was aided, not so much by the public effort as by private and anonymous gifts, the missionary correspondence of the period reveals. Even more remarkable was the liberality of Christian men of all sects in India itself. To that the Free Churches in Bombay and Calcutta owe their existence.

As the Sustentation Fund, devised by the greatest writer and most practical worker in the field of Christian and Philanthropic Economics, Dr. Chalmers, became consolidated for the support of the home ministers, it would have been well if a somewhat similar self-acting and self-developing arrangement had been then made proportionately for the growing foreign missions. But Dr. Wilson seems to have attempted the institution of a system which, it is to be hoped, all the churches will yet adopt in the place of, or in addition to, desultory offerings. He induced Dr. Candlish and Dr. Gordon to arrange that St. George’s and the New North congregations should provide the support of the two Parsee missionaries. The former, which gave £63 for the object in 1840, now subscribes to the Foreign Mission Fund about £700 of its whole annual contributions of £10,000. If it undertook directly to provide for two missionaries, who would report to it as well as to the central committee, the congregational life would be completed on its missionary as well as home side; while the missionaries would be brought into closer contact with the churches and with their youth, who are to be their successors. Only where each congregation, able to raise at least £200 a year in addition to the income of its own minister, thus does its duty to the Master by sending forth an ordained Native or European missionary, will the wide fields of Heathenism and Muhammadanism be adequately overtaken, and the churches of Christendom prove their spiritual loyalty. When that union of sects, for which Dr. Wilson longed, comes about, so that ecclesiastical waste and suicidal divisions shall be reduced to a minimum, this ideal may be reached.

It was in the year 1844, when he was forty years of age, that Dr. Wilson sat to Mr. James Caw for that portrait which has since adorned the walls of the Free Church College in Bombay. It was painted at the request of the students, and was pronounced a good likeness of the founder of the mission there. A fine mezzotint engraving by Mr. Henry Haig was made for the public at home.

The General Assembly of 1846 formally declared that they “rejoiced in the prospect of Dr. Wilson’s return to Bombay in renovated health.” They recommended all ministers of the Church, “at least once a year, about the opening of the college session,” to bring the claims of foreign missions specially before their congregations, and “to enforce upon them the duties of prayer and self-denial.”

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus