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The Life of John Wilson
Chapter III. Organisation and First Fruit of the Mission


1829-1836.
ORGANISATION AND FIRST FRUIT OF THE MISSION.

The Languages of the People—If necessary for Officials, much more for Missionaries — Foundation of Wilson’s Oriental Scholarship — Masters Marathee so as to preach his first Sermon in six Months—Tentative efforts at Humee—First visit to a Hindoo House and Discussion with a Parsee —Prohibition of Suttee : Letter to Lord William Bentinck—“ Plan of Operations in the Island of Bombay”—His first European Friends— Establishes the Oriental Christian Spectator—Census of Bombay—Wilson and Duff—Presbyterian Constitution of a Native Church—Transferred from the Scottish Missionary Society to the General Assembly—Progress of the Mission to 1836—Letters to Mr. J. Jordan Wilson—The Freeness of the Gospel.

If a knowledge of the language of the people, vernacular and, where possible, classical also, is the indispensable qualification of every official, so that it is carefully provided for by .the competitive examinations in England, and by the professional tests in the four great groups of Provinces in India, how much more is it required by the foreign missionary. The assistant-magistrate, even the district officer who rules a million of people in one of the 200 counties of the Indian Empire j the judge who, outside of the three English cities, hears cases and writes his decisions in the prevailing language of the province, may be content with a merely official use of the Marathee or Goojaratee, the Tamul or Telugoo, the Hindee or Hindostanee, the Bengalee or Oorya, to say nothing of the Persian and the Sanskrit which enrich all the thirty languages of our Indian subjects. There is no conscientious civil or military officer, however, who -will not value his linguistic knowledge for the highest social as well as political ends, in kindly intercourse with all classes; and there is no one of scholarly tastes who will be content without some acquaintance with the learned languages of the East, whether Aryan or Semitic. But as the heart of a people is reached through its mother-tongue, and all that is best worth knowing about a country is to be found in its dialects and literature, the Christian missionary and scholar, above all officials, will master the vernacular as his most precious instrument, and the classical language that feeds it as his most useful storehouse of information and illustration, argument and authority. The Scottish, like the American missionaries who first worked in Western India, were pre-eminent in such studies, following an example fortunately set them and all subsequent preachers and teachers in the East, by the Baptist “ cobbler ” and most versatile Orientalist of his day,—William Carey. Mr Wilson’s student friend especially, Robert Nesbit, who had ; preceded him to India by sixteen months, was already a fluent speaker of that Marathee of which he became so remarkable a preacher and writer that the natives could not trace even a foreign accent in his pronunciation and use of its idioms. From the first to the last day of his India life Wilson was of opinion that a year or longer should be allowed to every young missionary to acquire the vernacular of his province. He himself had brought to India a more than professional familiarity with Latin and Greek ; he knew French for literary purposes ; and he carried further than his old professor and now friend, Dr. Brunton, a grasp of Hebrew. He had not been a month in I Bombay when he and his most apt pupil, his wife, left it for. the comparative seclusion of, first Bankote and then Hurnee, that they might, aided by their brethren, and in the midst of the country people, thoroughly learn Marathee, to begin with.

In the eight months of the first hot and rainy seasons, from April to jSTovember, Mr. Wilson laid the foundation of his Orientalism with a rapidity, a thoroughness, and a breadth, due alike to his overmastering motive, his previous training, and his Mezzofanti-like memory. He himself shall tell, in the letters and journals of the time, how he set to work after a fashion that may well form the model of every worker in India in whatever position. We find Nesbit thus writing to him at the close of that six months’ fruitful apprenticeship:—“I am accused of injuring your health by making you study Marathee and talk with me at night . . . Will the exhortation to take good care of your health now make any amends. Get up at six, by all means; and, that you may be able to do so, go to bed at ten.” Mr. Wilson thus addressed his directors in Edinburgh:—

“As a year lias passed away since I commenced my studies of the native languages, it is now my duty to give you a brief account of my progress.

By referring to my journals I find that it was on the 18th of August, being « five months after my arrival in India, that I began to hold consultations with the Hindoos, and on the 27th of September when I preached my first sermon.

'When I was in the Konkan I generally devoted about nine hours to the study . of Marathee. Since I commenced my labours in Bombay I devote, according ( to my ability, all the intervals from active missionary duty which I enjoy. ' I may mention five hours daily as the average in which I am thns engaged.

During the first two months of my studies I pursued, as far as is practicable the Hamiltonian system. Mr. Nesbit during that time kindly furnished me with the English of my lessons. I afterwards principally depended on my , pundit, who had only a knowledge of Marathee, and on the literary helps I which I could obtain. The books which I used were translations from the English made by the Native Education Society, native stories, the translation of the Scriptures, mission tracts, and an account of the Hindoo religion written by a Brahman in my employment, iu reply to queries which I addressed to him. I kept a -writer for four months who furnished me with lists of words under the different principles of association which I could think of. I devoted about an hour daily to consideration on the religion, manners, and customs of the Hindoos, which I regulated according to Mr. Ward’s account.

“In Bombay I have some facilities for study which I did not enjoy in the Konkan. These principally consist in my being able to get all difficulties readily and satisfactorily solved, and in my being favoured with the sheets of Captain Molesworth’s and Mr. Candy’s Dictionary as they pass through the press. For the last three months I have devoted the hour between seven and eight in the morning to the reading of Hebrew with the points. I am very desirous, for the sake of usefulness among the Jews here, and other important reasons, to attain to greater proficiency in this ancient language. My teacher, who is a Rabbi, is an excellent scholar. He is well acquainted with Mr. Wolff, whom he has frequently seen in Jerusalem ; and he declares, even among his countrymen, that the Messiah has already appeared. I am not without hopes of his being a converted man. I expect in a short time to be able to commence the study of Hindostanee, a language which will enable me to communicate the truths of the Gospel to many natives in Bombay to whom at present I cannot find access. ”

At Bankote, sixty-eight miles south of Bombay, Mr. Wilson took his seat in the missionary council. On the first Sabbath after his arrival he witnessed the baptism of the second I Hindoo convert of the mission, and administered the sacra' ment to “ the children of the East and West, seated together at the same table.” At Hurnee he thus describes his tentative efforts, after his acquisition of Marathee.

“November 1st, 1829. Sabbath.—I preached to the natives iu the afternoon on the distinguishing characteristics of the children of God. The man whom I met on Friday did not attend the Marathee services.

"2d.—I preached to the beggars in the morning, and united with Mr. Cooper in addressing the natives in the afternoon.

“3d.—I addressed the natives in the morning.

“4th, 5th.—I addressed the servants in the morning, and united with Mr. Cooper in preaching to the natives in the afternoon.

“6th.—I addressed the natives in the morning.

“7th.—I addressed the natives, and made preparations for the approaching Sabbath.

“8th. Sabbath.—I preached to the Europeans on ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God.’ A lady who heard my discourse appeared to be a good deal affected by it. I observed her in tears. May God unfold to her the knowledge of her state by nature and practice, and lead her to embrace the truth as it is in Jesus.

“9th.—I examined the bazaar school, and preached to the beggars in the morning and forenoon. Messrs. Nesbit and Taylor of Belgaum arrived from Bombay, where they had been attending a meeting of the Bombay Missionary Union. Mr. Taylor, who is a highly respected and honoured servant of the Redeemer, communicated some very interesting intelligence to us respecting the spread of the Gospel. He mentioned that he had baptized four criminals lately, who, previously to their death, afforded him a reason to hope that they had been renewed in the spirit of their minds; and showed us a very interesting letter respecting the proceedings of the Baptist Mission in Burma. Dr. Judson baptized ten individuals during the first three months of this year.

"12th.—I visited in the morning the schools of Dhapoolie and Jilgao. In the first of these I found twenty-four boys and one girl. Few of them could read. The teacher, like too many of those supported by the Scottish Missionary Society, appears to confine his chief attention to writing and arithmetic, which are taught according to a very careless system.

“26th November. Sabbath.—I commenced my ministry among the natives of Bombay by preaching to about twenty individuals in Mr. Laurie’s house.

“30th.—I -wrote out the scrawl copy of a plan of the operations which I intend to pursue in Bombay.

“2d December.—I preached to a company of the natives on Colaba.

“3d.—I paid the usual respects to the Governor, who has welcomed me to Bombay in the kindest manner, and breakfasted with him ; and, along with two of the members of the corresponding committee, looked at several empty houses.

“4th, 5th.—I spent these days in the .purchase of furniture, and other similar business.

“6th. Sabbath.—I preached to the congregation of the Scotch Church in the forenoon ; and to twenty-four natives in the afternoon.

“7th.—I wrote an advertisement of a short religious Magazine, which is intended principally to contain a record of the progress of the Gospel; and consulted with R. T. Webb, Esq., who, along with myself, Mr. Stone of the American Mission, and R. C. Money, Esq., a member of the corresponding committee, is to be one of the conductors of it, about some matters connected with it.

“13th. Sabbath.—I addressed twrenty-two natives at Mr. Laurie’s house.

“13th, 14th.—I engaged with Mr. Laurie in examining and transcribing the accounts of the Mission, and in preparing communications for the directors.

“15th.—I visited the house which has been taken for me ; conversed with Narayan, who was baptized by Mr. Stevenson, and made arrangements concerning the Mission. In the evening I heard the delightful intelligence that an order for the abolishment of Suttees throughout India had been passed by the Governor General in Council. On account of this measure every Christian must rejoice—(1.) According to a moderate computation it will save three thousand lives annually. (2.) It will tend greatly to the improvement of the moral feelings of the Hindoos. What can be more shocking than the scenes which are witnessed at the funeral pile ? Connected with them there is the violation of every principle of humanity, and the exhibition of the most sinful cupidity—the motive by which relations are commonly excited to the encouragement of the horrid deed. (3.) Its tendency will be that of opening the eyes of the Hindoos to the enormities of their religion. It is a testimony from the Government which was greatly needed ; and the absence of which, combined with other circumstances, has, I have found, been viewed as an encouragement. When it has been for some time put in force, it will permit the Hindoos, with greater coolness and with less prejudice, to contemplate their Shastres, than at present when they see their most revolting recommendations reduced to practice. The Christian public are undoubtedly bound to return public thanks to Almighty God for the favour which in this respect He has shown to His cause.”

The Bombay Missionary Union, consisting of the London, Scottish, and American missionaries in Surat, Belgaum, the Konkan, Poona, and Bombay, afterwards addressed a formal resolution to Lord William Bentinck, accompanied by this letter from Mr. Wilson, as the secretary—“This resolution is a faint expression of the feelings of those who formed it. It was dictated by the most fervent gratitude, for the measure will immortalise the name of him who carried it into effect, and which will be fraught with unspeakable blessings to the inhabitants of India till the latest generation. The missionaries in the Bombay Presidency have already observed a day of special thanksgiving to God for the abolition of Suttees, and they now beseech Him to shower down His best blessings on the head of your lordship, whom He has honoured to be the instrument of communicating an unspeakable blessing to this benighted land.” This was the first-fruit of the determination of the noblest of all the Governors General, who had been but a year in office, to put down with one hand all such crimes against humanity, while with the other he removed the obstacles to the progress of education worthy of the name. For a quarter of a century had the men of Serampore been vainly attacking the English Government’s toleration and even encouragement of Suttee. When the new regulation prohibiting it reached Carey, as he was going into his pulpit on Sunday morning, he gave perhaps the most pregnant illustration of the teaching of the “ Lord of the Sabbath,” by at once sending for his pundit and completing the translation into / Bengalee before night. So Mr. Marshman, his successor in the office of Bengalee translator, tells the story. It was a happy augury for Wilson's work that the news of this first blow at the crimes sanctioned by Brahmanism — and that directed according to the teaching of the purest toleration— should meet him as he began his career of philanthropy in Bombay. It was long till Suttee was abolished in the feudatory States, where he met with the horror more than once. But since the Mutiny no chief, however powerful, has gone unpunished by the government of India who has even connived at a barbarity which the freed conscience of all India soon learned to condemn. No man, no poor drugged widow Avho may yet never have been a wife, dare light the Suttee’s pyre with impunity in the most remote jungle of a native State, from still Brahman-ridden Travancore to the most fanatical hamlet of the deserts of Bajpootana.

In June 1830 we find Mr. Wilson writing thus to Dr. Cormack of Stow :—“ We intend soon to take up the subject of infanticide. Mr. Money (son of W. T. Money, Esq., Mr. Wilberforce’s friend,) told me that he had some thoughts of memorialising the Supreme Government. Lord AY. Bentinck, ji you know, has abolished Suttee ; and there is no saying what I he may do. A Jain priest from Kathiawar, who knew General 1 AYalker, is almost daily with me. He speaks very affectionately of him ; but he says that they have allowed the good bandobast (arrangement) which was made to go to destruction.

"I shall give you an account of the movements on this subject.”

The closing weeks of the year 1829 were spent in the \ organisation of the infant mission, in daily preaching to the natives, in Sunday sermons to the British sailors in the har- I hour, for whom Mr. AVilson always cared, and in the Scotch Church. Till Christmas he was the guest of the chaplain Mr. Laurie, at his house in the most southerly point of the island Colaba, itself a separate island at one time. The day after he moved into his own house in the Fort. This seems to record his first discussion with Parsees, and his first visit to a Hindoo house in Bombay.

“30th engaged, with Mr. Allen, in preaching to the natives. . . .

31st — Some Parsees, with whom Ave sat for a considerable time, reprobated the monuments in the English Church, and accused the English of idolatry. We had a very curious conversation with them on this subject. I was happy to inform them that in the Scotch Church there were no images. I deeply regret that there should be any occasion for mistake on this and similar subjects. Christianity cannot be presented to the heathen in too simple a form. Every practice should be warranted by Scripture; this is the only safe principle. I preached for the first time in a Hindoo house. My audience was larger than could be accommodated.” On the same ground Bishop Cotton long after opposed the introduction of a reredos with figures into St. Paul’s Cathedral, Calcutta, where it was placed after his death; defending his prohibition on the ground of expediency, however, by the fact that certain Sikh inquirers had been scandalised by the figures in the painted glass windows of some of the Government churches. The varied character of his work Mr. Wilson thus sums up at this early period :—

“28th January 1830.—My engagements have been so numerous and oppressive that I have had no disposition, and scarcely any time, to make even the shortest entrances in my journal. I will, therefore, give a general statement of the arrangements which I have made, and on which I am now acting, and of one or two measures which have been carried into effect. On Sabbaths I preach to a congregation of natives amounting to between forty and fifty. About the half of them are servants, who are sent by their masters for instruction. The remainder are principally led to attend from curiosity, or from a regard to their worldly interests. Christ himself was called to address those who followed Him from a view to the loaves and fishes. I occasionally officiate in the Scotch Church, and once in the three weeks I preach on board one of the vessels in harbour in connection with the Bombay Seamen’s Friend Association.

“I regularly conduct worship in the Marathee language, and deliver a short address on some passage of Scripture at nine o’clock in the mornings at my own house. My audience varies ; but on some occasions it has been encouraging. At four o’clock in the afternoons I proceed to the streets of the city to declare the glad tidings of salvation. When I am in a public situation great numbers come round me; and when I am in a private one, I have the advantage of being heard by all those who see me, and of addressing myself with greater particularity to individuals. On Tuesdays and Fridays I preach, after the sun has set, in native houses. My services on these occasions, though attended with many difficulties, afford me considerable comfort. They are conducted at the time when the impure Shastres and religious stories are read to the people. On account of the want of circulation of air in the houses they are not without their danger. I hope, however, that by-and-bye I will be able to find some places where I may regularly officiate with some degree of comfort. On Saturday evenings I have a meeting with the Beni-Israelites. It has hitherto proved encouraging. Marathee is the vernacular language of this people.

“Three female schools have been instituted by Mrs. Wilson. The progress of the pupils is far from "being encouraging. Much patience, attention and consideration will be required to bring them into such a state as will warrant the hope that they will be useful auxiliaries in the mission. The degraded state of those of whom they are composed forms a sufficiently powerful motive for exertion on their behalf. Manuel, who was lately admitted into the Church, is constantly engaged as an inspector. A more regular attendance and efficient discipline, and consequently stricter economy, are secured by this means than could possibly be obtained by another measure. The children are as frequently visited by Mrs. Wilson as her health will permit; and the readers will be required at least once in the week to attend at the house for particular instruction.

"I have established two boys’ schools, which, as far as is practicable, are conducted on the principles pursued in the Sessional School of Edinburgh. I have been much disappointed with regard to the number of scholars. The indigenous schools, and the schools of the Native Education Society, are so arranged in Bombay, I find, as to prevent the collecting of any very large number of boys in connection with any of the missions. I do not, however, despair of seeing an improvement. When the discipline of my schools is better understood, and when its fruits become apparent, and when the hostility of neighbouring teachers begins to cool, I expect to see an increase in the number of scholars. Pedro is employed as inspector. One of the schools is under my own roof.

“I have a monthly meeting with some European soldiers. There is every reason to believe that in connection with them the divine blessing has rested on my labours.

“I have been a good deal tried by the conduct of Narayun Shunkur, who was baptized in May last by Mr. Stevenson. He has on more than one occasion shown great aversion to religious ordinances and religious instruction. He is engaged as a printer with Captain Molesworth, who lives in my neighbourhood, and his attendance on me has not accorded with his opportunities. Pedro and Manuel give me great satisfaction.

“A young gentleman in the Civil Service of the Company who was brought under serious impressions during our voyage to India, makes a decided profession of Christianity; and, in the judgment of his pious acquaintances, adorns the doctrine of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I could mention some other facts of a similar nature, which I have no doubt would prove highly gratifying to you. Many reasons, however, will occur to you which will lead you to perceive the propriety of my not mentioning them to you. A weekly meeting is held at my house for prayer and conference on the Scriptures ; the average attendance is that of sixteen ladies and gentlemen.

“I am much pleased with Bombay as a missionary station, and when I reflect on the great door of usefulness which has been opened to me, I am much depressed Avith my insufficiency for the discharge of my duties. The real difficulties of a missionary’s life are little known and felt by the religious public. To encounter them and overcome them, much faith, courage, compassion, wisdom, perseverance, and prayerfulness is required. ‘Can these dry bones live?’ is a question which thrusts itself upon me whenever I am about to deliver the message of salvation. The countenances of my auditors betray pride, stupidity, superstition, unconcern. My addressing them calls forth wrath, folly. My leaving them affords them an opportunity of giving vent to their evil dispositions. When I repeat my Adsits to them then I see little but aversion. Circumstances are not always of this kind, for there is frequently attention, consideration, and impression manifested by the poor Hindoos; but, when general circumstances are considered, it may be asked ‘who is sufficient for these things?’ Were it not the consideration that Ave are ambassadors for Christ, that the people around us are perishing for lack of knowledge, that the Word and Spirit of God are omnipotent, and that the promises of God are on our side, I do not know what could support us or induce us to declare divine truth. There are, I am happy to say, very promising appearances in different parts of India. In due season we shall reap if we faint not.”

The experience of country and city, of preaching and teaching, of creeds and customs, all based on familiarity with the Marathee tongue, which Mr. Wilson had thus crowded into the first year of his life in Western India, fitted him to line out a policy for himself, and to lay the foundations of his mission deep and broad. He was saved from the errors of his predecessors, and in confidential communications to the Society at home he did not hesitate to exercise that independence of judgment and of action which he had claimed from the first, and without which much that was unique in his powers and his methods might have been lost to Bombay in the uniform level of average work. In this passage of such a letter to the secretary of the Society he anticipates, at that early date, the mistake which many missionaries have begun to avoid only in recent years. That is—witness-bearing, rather than the mere denunciation or exposure of idolatry, is the key to the hearts and consciences of the natives of India.

“In reference to the mode of addressing the natives pursued by my brethren, I have been led to entertain and express the deepest regrets. With one exception, as far as I can form a judgment, they are too frequently inclined to speak on the folly of idolatry; and to neglect the preaching of the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to present divine truth to the minds of the heathen in any manner which is destitute of solemnity. I know that their temptations to pursue this course are great. It is the easiest; it excites the feelings of the hearer without any difficulty. It is, however, unprofitable; and I believe that it is one of the chief reasons of the comparatively small success of modern missions. It is deceitful; a missionary falls into it without his being aware of it, and perseveres in it at the very time when he declares that an opposite course is his duty and his aim. It tempts to the use 01 inconclusive arguments; it excites a thousand unprofitable objections; it produces a bad impression on the heathen, and destroys a missionary’s temper. It is the bane of our Mission, and, I believe, is the great cause of the comparatively small success of modern missions.

“The preparations which are made for addressing the heathen are not so regular and extensive as could be wished for. This, I believe, originated in a great degree in the distraction which was produced by the charge of too many schools ; and it is persevered in more from the manner in which the labours are arranged and conducted than from indolence. On this account, however, it ought not to be overlooked. When united with an incorrect pronunciation, proceeding from a want of attention in the early stage of study, or from carelessness on the part of the pundits, and with a violation of the rules of concord, on which the Marathas lay great stress, it forms a serious evil. . . .

“I thank God for enabling me to make much greater progress in Marathee than I expected. I fear, however, that I may have in some degree injured my health. As I did not feel the climate so irksome as I expected, my attention was not directed to this subject till a few weeks ago I received a letter from Mr. Robson, the author of St. Helena Memoir, who has been residing at Hurnee, and I found some pain in the region of my heart.” It was from that region that his fatal illness proceeded.

The financial affairs of the Scottish Missionary Society were, for local purposes, managed by a corresponding committee, chiefly of laymen, at Bombay. After some hesitation whether he should not begin operations at Poona, that committee had agreed with Mr. Wilson that he should remain in the capital. “ I desire,” he wrote to the directors at home, “ to express my deep-felt gratitude for calling me to labour in a large town. It is evident that cities afford peculiar facilities for missionary exertion. The ‘Acts of the Apostles ’ leads us to conclude that in the Apostolical age the efforts of the servants of Christ were chiefly directed to them, and from this consideration the word ‘ pagan ’ came to be applied to the heathen.” He accordingly drew up, at the end of 1829, the “ Plan of operations which I intend to pursue in the island of Bombay.” He accompanied it by detailed regulations for the monitors or pupil-teachers, the masters, and the Christian inspectors of his schools. The whole scheme shows a rare foresight as well as the practical experience of the educationist; and it has indeed, been carried out in more recent times, in most of its principles, in the village, circle, and other primary vernacular schools established by the various governments in India by means of a school-rate.

Of the eight members of the corresponding committee at that time, all became the fast friends of Mr. Wilson, and all were distinguished by their high character as officials and merchants. Besides the Scotch chaplains there were the Hon. Mr. Farish, who officiated for some time as Governor j Mr. B. T. Webb of the same civil service; Mr. B. C. Money, Persian secretary to government, whose name is perpetuated by a missionary institution; Dr. Maxwell of the Medical Board ; Dr. Smyttan, who became Mr. Wilson’s most intimate friend; and Mr. M'Grigor. With friends and scholars like Captain Molesworth and Captain Candy, Mr. Hynd from Liverpool, and the various missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson soon became the centre of that gradually extending society of thoughtful and cultured persons into which, in time, he was to introduce the native gentlemen of the city. As indispensable to such varied and aggressive work as he had undertaken, Mr. Wilson had originated the oldest Christian periodical in India, the Oriental Christian Spectator. The now rare sets of this monthly magazine, which was continued for thirty years, form an invaluable record of progress in all forms in Western India and the adjoining countries. In that appeared the literary fruits of Wilson’s ceaseless labours of every kind.

Thus far the missionary policy of Mr. Wilson does not seem to have included a high class English school or college. The central school of the Native Education Society professed to provide for the increasing number of Hindoos and Parsees who sought English for commercial or official use; and his own scheme provided for the Portuguese. As yet Lord William Bentinck had not moved, Macaulay had not taken his seat in council as first law member, and Dr. Duff was only making his way to Calcutta through the perils of repeated shipwreck. But Mr. Wilson had early taken steps “to begin instructing the natives in the English language.”

It was on the 29th March 1832 that the germ of what became the General Assembly’s Institution was established as the “Ambrolie English School, connected with the Scottish Mission.” “This infant institution,” as it is described in the first year’s report, was under the immediate eye of Mr. Wilson as its superintendent. Books as well as teachers had to be created for it, such as Marathee and Goojaratee translations of the English Instructor, the Catechism, and Dr. A. Thomson’s text-books, and a work entitled Idiomatical Exercises in English and Marathee “ to aid the natives in understanding the structure and vocables of the English language.” In the ) first year the school was attended by 415 Hindoos and 3 Parsees. Fees were exacted, and the Christian character of the education was insisted on from the first. The highest prize was a sum of fifty rupees (£5) for the best essay on the spirituality of God, open to those youths “who attended the Wednesday evening lectures of the Rev. John Wilson.”

The population of Bombay, according to the census of 1833, consisted of 18,376 Christians, principally Roman Catholics; 143,298 Hindoos, including Jains; 49,928 Muhammadans, with Arabs and Persians; 20,184 Parsees, and 2246 Jews, including native or Beni-Israelites. The total population, or 234,032, was slightly above that to which Edinburgh and Leith together have grown at the present time. Such was Mr. Wilson’s field, and it was to go on increasing threefold as his labours for the good of its varied communities extended.

Calcutta and Bombay, Eastern and Western India, presented in their native communities needs which were supplied from the first by the systems of Duff and Wilson, which differed indeed in the priority of time and importance given to certain methods of operation, but all the more effectually secured the same great end of saturating Asiatic society and government progress with Christian truth conveyed by the most intellectual methods. Duff’s instrument was the English language, and it was at first^applied exclusively to boys and young men. Wilson’s instrument was the vernaculars of a varied population—the Marathee, Goojaratee, Hmdostanee, Hebrew, and Portuguese ; with Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit in reserve for the learned classes, which he acquired and fluently used, often in provincial dialects too, in a few years, in preaching and in teaching both girls or women, and boys or young men. But the Calcutta missionary no more neglected Bengalee and even Sanskrit as his college developed, or female education as society advanced in intelligence, than his great Bombay colleague was indifferent to English. It was a happy [ adaptation of the men to the conditions which indeed helped to make them what they became, that English held the first place with the one, and a purified Orientalism was the most important weapon of the other. Looking back half a century, those who know the social and spiritual state of both Eastern and Western India may fancy that a fuller adoption of Orientalism in the former, and an earlier use of English for the highest instruction in the latter, would have been better for both the missions, and for the advancement of India. ] But that is only to forget that such an arrangement would | have paralysed Duff in his fight beside Macaulay with the fanatical Orientalist party in the government, without whose defeat progress of any kind would have been impossible; while it would have long postponed, if it did not altogether change, that hold which Wilson obtained on the affections and the intellect of the native communities, which was due to his oriental lore and his more than Asiatic courtesy and grace. In truth, the historian of British India who can estimate causes aright, will put side by side with Duff’s opening of the boys’ English school in Calcutta in August 1830, the establishment of Mrs. Wilson’s first of many female schools in Bombay in December 1829. Both were seeds which have already grown into great trees. Each represented that side of civilisation without which the other becomes pernicious. Each reacted on the other. Every succeeding generation of young men demands educated women in increas-\ ing numbers. These bring up better instructed children; and in instances no longer rare, present the spectacle, unknown to Asia all through its history, of pure and happy family life. Mrs. Wilson’s organisation and management of the female schools, her frequent contributions to the Oriental Christian Spectator, and the superintendence of the mission during her husband’s absence on preaching tours, were interrupted only for a time by the birth of four children.

Although laying the foundations of his missionary policy and machinery broad and deep, and well aware that for many a day his must be the toil of preparation, Mr. Wilson from the first expected and worked for baptized converts. He did not lose himself in his system, nor did he loftily or vaguely look for a harvest from the seed he was hourly sowing, only in the distant future. He rather tested, improved, and extended his system, by the assured belief that the Divine Spirit would show immediate or speedy fruit such as his few predecessors had not witnessed in Western India. He was a man to make and follow his own policy, not theirs; while he was too wise and kindly to neglect their experience. So he formed a native church in Bombay in February 1831, two years after landing, and a year after evangelising the island. He thus announces the fact to his father, himself an elder of Lauder Kirk, and familiar with the ecclesiastical organisation: “ I formed a native church on Presbyterian principles. Eight members joined it; and I administered the Lord’s Supper to them and to some Europeans.” The draft minute of this transaction, the beginning of a church which he watched and helped till it grew to be what it now is, worshipping in its own fine ecclesiastical building, has a peculiar interest as a contribution to these modern ‘ Acts of the Apostles.’ In the half-century since those days, when the number of the Protestant native church in India, in all its branches, has grown to be nearly half a million, and is increasing annually, according to the official^ census, at the rate of 6J per cent, contrasted with the half per cent of Hindoos, all the foreign missionaries have long since agreed that the Church of India must, as it grows to support itself more largely, determine its own organisation, free from the divisions of the Western sects and historical creeds. This too was Mr. Wilson’s view; but in 1831 what so well fitted as presbytery for the infant church?—

“ Bombay, 4th February 1831.

“This day, in the house of the Rev. John Wilson, minister of the gospel in connection with the Church of Scotland, and missionary from Scotland, amongst some converted Hindoos and others a native church was formed. John Wilson, the servant of Jesus Christ, stated that he was licensed as a preacher of the gospel by the Presbytery of Lauder on 6th May 1828 ; that he was ordained to the office of the ministry in the same place on 24th June 1828, and that he arrived in India on the 13th February 1829. Mr. Wilson baptized on the 2d of January in his own house Heer Chund, Ransod, Saha Wanee, and Dewukee, a Hindoo woman. He also declared worthy of communion on the same day John Rennie Baptist, an African by descent, who had been baptized in his youth. On the 17th January 1831, he baptized Raghoba Balajee Vaishya. Along Avith these Margaret Bayne Wilson, the spouse of Mr. Wilson, Avho had been married to him in 1828; Rama Chundra, formerly a Brahman, avIio had been baptized at Bankote in 1829, Narayan, formerly a Shenavee, who had been baptized in Bombay in 1829, and Manuel Gomes, a Roman Catholic, Avho had come into the true church in IS30. All these persons having declared that they were willing to unite in church fellowship, Mr. Wilson proceeded to explain the nature of church order.”

After a detailed account of the Presbyterian organisation, the minute concludes—“All the persons having approved of these statements, Mr. Wilson, in the name of Christ, by prayer constituted them into a church. They agreed to recognise him as their minister, and he gave them suitable instruction. On the 6th of February the Lord’s Supper was administered to the church.” Thus the organisation of a church followed, in its simplicity and its power, the model of the first gathering of the Eleven in the upper room at Jerusalem, and their successors.

Not so thought the small body, though chiefly Presbyterian ministers, who formed the executive of the Scottish Missionary Society. From the day that he entered their (seminary Avhen a student of twenty-one, he had stipulated for a degree of independence which their somewhat extreme rules seemed to forbid. He had hardly landed in India when he found that his colleagues were engaged in a controversy with the directors, the management of which soon fell into his hands. In June 1830 we find him Avriting to Dr. Cormack of Stow in all the frankness of friendship:—“Our directors in St. John Street have lately sent out to my brethren some very alarming communications. They do not recognise our Presbyterian principles and our ordination vows, and they wish to bring us under a spiritual tyranny. I am sure that you and other worthies of the Church will keep a watch upon them.” The controversy we may now speedily dispose of. It was the old one between a strong man—strong in intelligent devotion to his work, and a weak committee—weak by reason of distance from the new condition of things in question, and of the reduction of the strongest among them to the low level of routine uniformity. From the treatment that nearly broke the heart of Carey and his colleagues, against which Andrew Fuller and John Foster in vain protested, down to the present ( hour, committees have been only necessary evils when interfering with wiser men than themselves. In the infancy of Missions, discretion and charity were especially required on the part of distant directors. Practically it was found that the rules of the Scottish Missionary Society so acted as to clash with the standing and the conscientious duties of the missionaries as ordained ministers of the Church of Scotland. The missionaries, if they were to be merely the paid employes of a committee responsible to an undefined body of contributors, would lose the protection and the efficiency which the perfect representative system of their Church gave them, in common with all its members and office-bearers.

In August 1830, accordingly, Mr. Wilson printed and sent to each of the directors, and to his own friends, a “Memorial addressed to the Directors of the Scottish Missionary Society on their opposition to the practice of Presbytery by the Presbyterian Missionaries.” It is a bold and trenchant document, shoAving a far-sighted regard for the good and the growth of | the native church, yet free from all sectarianism in spirit. The result was a reply offering a compromise, under which the Society and its Bombay missionaries, reduced to Messrs. Wilson, Nesbit, and J. Mitchell, worked together for a time. But as the Society’s funds declined, and the female schools especially became imperilled, in spite of the growing local support in Bombay itself, the directors began to see that their . missionaries had been right. The Church of Scotland had meanwhile been sending out its OAvn missionaries, Duff, Mackay, and Ewart, to Calcutta, by means of the India Mission Committee, of which Mr. Wilson’s old professor, Dr. Brunton, was the convener. Before the General Assembly of 1835, accordingly, there was laid a petition from its ministers who were missionaries, and also from the chaplains in Bombay and i Poona, which resulted in their transfer from the Society to the fc' Church in its corporate capacity.

Thus pleasantly was the last obstacle to Mr. Wilson’s success removed, nor thereafter, either before or after the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843, were his labours impeded by home interference. A new vigour was given to all the operations of the mission, and not least to the English college, to which, after their successful experience in Calcutta, the General Assembly’s Committee directed special attention. Mr. Wilson removed it into the Fort, that is, into Bombay proper in those days, as “ the situation is the most convenient for the most respectable natives, and in which there is no similar institution.” He mentions the rent of the premises, Rs. 120 a month, as “ very reasonable, considering the demand for houses in that part of the town.” The fact is of economic interest in the light of the speculative mania of 1363-66, and of the present value of property there.

“We have commenced operations with every encouragement, and have now an attendance of 215 hoys, who are taught on the intellectual system, and who are making gratifying progress both in literary and religious knowledge, which the parents were expressly informed by me, through the native papers, they would receive, and to the communication of which they have no objection. The pupils form a group as interesting as can be imagined, as far as the variety of tribes is concerned. They have been drawn not only from the different classes of the Hindus, but from among the Parsees, Jains, Mussulmans, Jews, and native Christians; and their association together, independently of the instructions which they receive, cannot but have a powerful influence in removing those prejudices of caste which so much impede missionary operations in this country.

“Every economy will be studied in reference to the school in Bombay. Unless, however, everything connected with it be arranged on a respectable scale, it will not, while the Native Education Society has such abundant resources from the government, be productive of much good. It is a subject of gratitude that the mission enjoys so much of the confidence of the natives as it actually does, and that even the very individuals who have so zealously but unsuccessfully come forward to the defence of the different systems of superstition, are on the most friendly terms with myself, and frequent in public and private intercourse with me. I lately finished a course of weekly lectures on the evidences and doctrines of natural and revealed religion, which I commenced three years ago. I have begun another course on the propagation of the gospel from the resurrection of Christ to the present day. On this course the Durpun, edited by a young Brahman, remarked—‘A great many natives were present at the first lecture. The course Mr. Wilson has hoav commenced cannot but be interesting to them, as not only bringing before them the data which must lead to the solution of the most important problem which can engage their attention, but as conveying to them most valuable information on the general history of the world, and the greatest moral revolutions which have taken place on the face of the globe. His avowed object is to convert ; but he wishes in the first instance to inform and to afford the means of judging. ’

"The state of my health is such that I have felt warranted to resume, though from my multifarious duties I cannot daily pursue it, my preaching in the native languages at places of public concourse. My audiences are extremely encouraging. The attendance at the stated services of the mission is greater than I have ever formerly witnessed it. I have seven candidates for baptism. The schools both for boys and girls, in which the native languages are taught, are in much the same state in which they were when I transmitted to you our annual report. I should regret exceedingly to see them diminished, as they are in every respect suitable to the circumstances of the lower orders, the ‘ poor to whom the gospel is preached,’ and from whom the first body of converts may be probably raised in India, as well as in other countries. The English school Avill, I trust, soon furnish a superior class of teachers for them.

“hough I fear that native missionaries, till they are raised from among the children of converts educated from their earliest days in Christianity and in a Christian atmosphere, will not, generally speaking, prove such efficient labourers as Europeans, and though I believe that Ave must first show them the example of an apostolic ministration, I enter with my whole sold into your views as to the adoption and devising of every practical measure for their training. I have received a very interesting letter from Mr. Mackay. I enter most cordially into the view which he states, that the experience of the two missions will "be in many respects mutually advantageous. Mr. Duffs Success in the organisation of presbyterial associations in Scotland is truly encouraging to us amidst all our trials and travail in India. The internal spiritual riches of the Church of Scotland will not be diminished, but increased by the most abundant external communication.

“My present salary, exclusive of house rent and travelling expenses, which are included in the general expense of the mission, but inclusive of an allowance for my two children, is £230 per annum. The experience of nearly seven years’ residence in Bombay, the expense of which is more than one-third greater than that of out-stations, warrants me to say what both my missionary brethren and members of the corresponding committee of the Scottish Missionary Society long ago urged me to state to my supporters, is inadequate to the comfort and usefulness in the Lord’s work which it is desirable I should enjoy, and which, from private sources, I have hitherto enjoyed. I should like it raised to £250. I simply mention this circumstance because you have kindly asked me to be explicit as to the proposed expenditure.”

The total cost of the mission in 1836 was £1820, of which one-third was subscribed by the English residents. From first to last Mr. Wilson’s income from the mission was insufficient for ordinary requisites, apart from those extensive tours and those social duties which he began to take upon himself, and which gradually became the secret of his power with Oriental, even more than with English society. But nothing save an official demand from the Home Committee ever called forth a reference to his pecuniary affairs. On the contrary, he joyfully devoted such private resources as came to him in subsequent years, and such funds as his friends and admirers entrusted to him personally, to the one work of his life. Mr. J. Jordan Wilson, a wealthy friend of his youth, who was early attracted to him by his student-like zeal and by the belief that there was some slight bond of kinship between them, and above all by close spiritual ties, left him a legacy of a thousand pounds, half of which was for any missionary object he chose, and half for his private use. The letters to his Edinburgh agents, sent in reply to the news of the legacy, directed the expenditure of the whole amount in various ways for the Bombay Mission. The following letter to that gentleman shows how the cares of the mission pressed upon his resources, and how manifold were his labours :—

“Bombay, 13th November 1830.

“My dearest Friend—I have little leisure, and some of that is spent in connection with the Oriental Christian Spectator, which I regularly send to you, and the numbers of which must be viewed by you as letters, as they generally contain something which has proceeded from our OAvn house. The Spectator is very extensively read in India ; and there is reason to believe that it is accomplishing much good by diffusing information on the most important subjects. I trust that God will honour it in some degree to expose that monstrous system of iniquity, the Hindoo religion, and to aid the servants of the Saviour in proclaiming the gospel. You will see in the number for November, which I hope will soon reach you, a short paper by myself on the ‘Sanscrit and Marathee renderings of Theological Terms.’ I intend to follow up this most important subject, and to make such free remarks on the translations of the Scriptures into the Indian languages as I may conceive calculated to further their improvement. The paper which follows the article to which I refer, and entitled ‘ Selected Sanscrit Shloks, ’ is by a Mr. Law, a young gentleman of the Civil Service. He is a most extraordinary linguist. He was brought under serious impressions through our instrumentality during the voyage to India. He lately stayed a month with us, and we were much pleased with his Christian character. Our usefulness among Europeans, through the grace of our heavenly Father, continues to extend, particularly among the higher classes. The old serpent, by stirring up the opposition of bigots, has attempted to defeat and prevent our occasional labours among the sailors and soldiers ; but he has failed. The true friends of the cause have rallied more closely around us, while our poor countrymen have more highly valued the word of life which they knew had been attempted to be taken from them. .

“In your letter you express your wish that I had been connected with the General Assembly’s Institution at Calcutta. I think that it is calculated to be highly useful, and I wish it every success. I would remark, however, that colleges, though they are admirable instruments in the instruction of Christians, are but clumsy instruments in the making or conversion of Christians. The preaching of the gospel is the grand means of propagating the gospel, and for every professor at present there should be at least twenty preachers. The Assembly’s operations will have a glorious effect on the Church at home. Mr. Duff, whom they have sent out, is a pious young man, and he will, I am happy to say, preach as well as profess.’ He, like myself, has had toughly to fight, through the newspapers, for religious liberty. I have two Hindoos under my care, whom I instruct with a view to their being admitted to the office of the ministry. I have now seven inquirers around me, of most of whom I entertain a favourable opinion. Five of them are Hindoos, three men and two women ; one is an African, and one a Jew.

“Permit me to make an appeal to your Christian sympathy. There are many poor people in Bombay in very wretched circumstances. About two hundred come to me every Monday morning for a little rice, and at that time I endeavour to administer to them the word of life. On Saturdays I preach to about six hundred of the same description of persons at the house of Captain Molesworth. For the relief of this class of persons a society, at my suggestion, has been lately formed, and I believe that their wants will be regularly and systematically relieved. There are other classes, however, for whom I have been able to do nothing, and their circumstances possess peculiar interest. They are persons who lose employment by inquiring into Christianity, or by embracing it; they are persecuted Christians (Armenians and Chaldeans), and Jews from Bussora, Baghdad, Tabreez, and other places, who come with the most heartrending accounts of Muhammadan tyranny; and they are poor Indian Roman Catholics. My heart is often pained by observing their wants ; and I am not ashamed to say that we have relieved at times beyond our ability. You know that none of the Missionary Society funds can or ought to be applied to them. If you and some of the other friends of the Redeemer would in a quiet way raise a small sum for them, you would confer a blessing on the cause of humanity and Christianity. By informing me of the sum raised, I could act on the faith of getting it, and tell you how to appropriate it. I would furnish you with an account of the way in which it may be expended.

“My darling wife has six female schools, and she is useful in instructing female inquirers.” .

In this letter we see the germ of every side of the young missionary’s work in and for Bombay, save only the English college. Experiences were soon to teach him that, for preaching and immediate results no less than in that wider work of preparation, the fruit of which comes plenteously after many days and has already begun so to come, the daily instruction of the most intellectual and influential youth by one to whom they become attached, is second to no other agency—is, indeed, for that class superior to all others. But even up to 1836 he had not learned, as he afterwards did, to perfect his own system of Christian aggression on the corrupting civilisations of the East, by the enthusiastic encouragement of the higher education through English. The following letter to Mr. J. Jordan Wilson closes with a statement of spiritual truth, happily familiar enough now, but very rare in Scotland forty years ago. It is the last of a long correspondence covering fifteen years, in which the younger man led the older to a cheerful peace and a joyous self-sacrifice for the cause of Christ. It is the first where we meet with allusions to a friendship with Dr. Duff, and an admiration for him none the less true and hearty because it was discriminating, which continued on both sides all through their Indian lives:—

“Bombay, 7th July 1836.

“You mention Mr. Duff’s elevation to a Doctorship. He is well worthy of his honours, although some of his views on the economics of Christian missions are, in my opinion, erroneous. I have just remarked in a letter to a friend to-day as follows :—‘ Dr. Duffs warm advocacy of the Calcutta Institution has been by far too exclusive. I rejoice in the prosperity of the Seminary, and wish it every support; but he ought not to have advocated its cause by disparaging the direct preaching of the gospel to the natives in their own languages by Europeans, and overlooked female education, and the general education of the natives through the medium of their own tongues, which form the readiest key to their hearts. The higher Institutions are well calculated to attract the higher classes of society, and to educate teachers and preachers. We must have a body of Christians, however, from which to select these agents. For this body of Christians we must not mainly depend on our Academies. ‘To the poor the gospel is preached.’ ‘Of the little flock, and present inquirers at this place,’ I also observe to Dr. Brunton, ‘some were first impressed by bearing tlie gospel in the crowded bazaar, some by bearing it at tlie margin of tbe sea; some in the church ; some in the schoolroom; some in the place in which the Lord of Glory was born when he came on his mission to this world; some in the social circle ; some in the private chamber ; and some by the perusal of Christian publications. I have thus been encouraged to remember the words of inspiration:—‘Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters.’ ‘In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.’ I could not refrain from giving you, who are so much interested in my operations, this brief expression of my views. Were I to visit the Modern Athens, and seek to propagate these opinions, I should, instead of being dubbed a ‘Doctor in Divinity,’ probably be dubbed a ‘Babbler,’ like Paul in the Ancient Athens. I have the fullest confidence that the Lord will soon vindicate His own cause : and I am perfectly willing, if I have the means of carrying on my labours, to be personally overlooked and despised. I bless God for what I have already seen as to the diminishment of prejudices against ‘highway missionaries.’ Six years ago my countrymen laughed at me when they saw me ‘haranguing mobs.’ These same gentlemen have conferred on me their highest literary honour, and notwithstanding my street preaching propensities, have put me into the chair formerly occupied by these great men Sir James Mackintosh, Sir John Malcolm, etc., and suffered me to ‘harangue’ them as their president! I had serious thoughts of saying nolo episcopari; but when I thought that I might contribute to shield the whole class of ‘Ranters’ from contempt, and use my influence for the Lord’s cause, I refrained.

“Would that I could, in reply to your inquiry, speak a word in season to you, as you have done to me! The foundation of faith is the Gospel offer of salvation to the chief of sinners who will accept it. We must be content to be saved gratuitously. We can neither purchase our justification before we receive it, nor adequately acknowledge it when we have received it. The. Saviour is infinitely worthy of our reliance, and the moment we rely upon him we are safe, and may rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. We must seek for comfort by looking to him and his finished work. The eye, as Dr. Chalmers I believe expresses it, must look to the Sun of Righteousness for his light-giving and life-giving beams, and not turn in to gaze upon its internal structure. The work of Christ within us is the evidence of our faith ; but the work of Christ without us is the object of our faith, and the offers of Christ, the warrant of our faith. When Satan says to us, ‘You have not believed, else whence all your fears, and all your failings, and offences? ’ we should reply if we cannot give him the direct contradiction, ‘ I now believe what the Saviour says to me, and I will now give my fears to the winds in spite of all your efforts.’ Our struggle with and distress on account of indwelling sin, which is common to us and all the Lord’s people, ought to enhance the Saviour in our estimation, and not to detract from our grounds of confidence in him, which are the unchanging graciousness of his character and the unfailing efficacy of his mediation. My little children never imagined that I ceased to be their father when I chose them, or removed them from my presence, or punished them, till I saw in them a proper contrition. Why, then, oh why, should we dishonour God by imagining that he ceases to be our Father?”


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