“Love, knowledge, power, and chosen words, three things Should he possess who speaks the word of kings.
An envoy meet is he, well learned, of fearless eye, Who speaks right home, prepared for each emergency.”
A thousand years ago. From Dr. Pope’s Translation.
HAVE you time to turn over one more leaf in the book of heathendom ? It is a big book, and black. Every page a black page, only here and there crossed with a line of white. And the little white makes the great black seem all the blacker. Oh ! for the day when upon our poor world’s night the light shall break as the morning!—”A morning without clouds.”
It is a Hindu Festival Day. See the people streaming by thousands to the temple of the demon goddess by the river. They are all leading goats ; 2,900 were slaughtered last year. Perhaps about as many are doomed to die tomorrow. They will dash water upon the creature’s head. If it shivers it is slain, if it does not it escapes. But the main thought in the carnage soon to be is, or was in its origin, the expiation of sin. ” Neither by the blood of goats and calves “—they do not know that yet.
We are standing midway in the dried-up river bed. It is very wide. Innumerable groups, each composed of hundreds, are scattered about from side to side, and as far away down as the eye can reach.
See them ! all unheeding, and unthinking, bent upon enjoyment only, outwardly a happy people, meeting for a holiday. Here and there is one not quite so jubilant—a woman, with an offering which means that she is childless, and appealing to the goddess; a devotee, with more thoughtful or more wicked expression ; a lad from some village mission school, who sees through the tinsel, and knows there is no gold behind.
Built up on the bank rises the demon temple. Its striped red and white walls stand square and strong as if nothing could ever shake them. Idolatry is something tangible here; terribly so.
And there are we, a tiny band of a dozen to thousands backed by the principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world, and spiritual wickedness in high places. But—with us is the God of battles. We had prayed beforehand that they should be moved to listen, and even buy our Gospels — this last seeming most improbable. But they listen, and they buy, and we thank Him and take courage. See them—men, chiefly, but here and there a woman and child—see them sitting on the sand, circled, again, by the less interested, standing. We, with our bullock carts ranged as background, facing them, holding forth to them the Word of Life. We did not see any one taking it then—but we ” believe to see.”
After two such meetings and divers raids in among the crowd, it was time to go. And we left them, sadly feeling we had barely touched the fringe, and yet praising Him for the chance of letting the standard fly right in the face of the foe. Next year, if the Lord tarry, we hope to go earlier and camp out, and do the thing more thoroughly. This sort of surface work is like playing with souls.
Next day we met them as they returned, their carts horrible with the extended bodies of the victims, their faces the more wicked or more weary for the past night’s revelry. And yet— “ye will not come to Me that ye might have life!”
Oh ! it is a real fight—this Indian fight for souls ! We must have a daily re-inspiration, or we shall lose courage and fail. But we need not fail, we shall not ; for however tremendous the odds against us, God Himself is with us for our Captain—the King of Glory—the Lord mighty in battle !
Of course, wherever we possibly can, we try to get into the houses, and talk to the women alone. This is by far the best way to get at them; here, as elsewhere, it is soul to soul dealing which tells.
But in Pioneer work this is sometimes quite out of the question. We go to towns and villages where no white women have ever been seen, and where no caste woman will open her door ; and then we are forced to stand in the streets, and go in for an ” Open Air.”
We always get groups of women, and any number of children, but never any young girls. They are shut up inside. There is often much opposition, and the seed seems thrown away; but we think of Him Who preached by the wayside, and “at the head of the noisy streets . . . at the entering in of the gates,” and we rest on the strong “shall doubtless” of the promise of our God.
Pictures of this sort of work may not be prettily painted. M. Coillard, in his book, ” On the Threshold of Central Africa,” writes that ” it needs to be known that the soldier of Christ does not gather the laurels of his crown of life in a delightful garden, where he can tread the primrose paths in velvet slippers.” Every missionary knows how true that is.
As I write in the restful cool and quiet of the hills, scene after scene rises before me. We are down in the burning plains—we are holding an “Open-Air.” See the scoffing faces; hear the revilings rained upon us as we close. What has stirred up such a sea of scathing scorn ? The proclamation of the coming of the King. They cannot stand that. Satan hates the very echo of that song. He drowns it now in the olden cry, ” Away with Him ! Away with Him ! Crucify Him ! Crucify Him ! ”
See us again. This time no opposition worth the name. Only dull apathy, utterly unmoved indifference. Oh, for a face with a soul in it ! Oh, for one gleam of response! But dully, dully they turn away, and sadly, sadly we watch them. Can these bones live? Oh, Lord, Thou knowest!
Again—and we are in the Village of the Prince, with the bright morning light making everything beautiful, and filling one’s soul with a sort of light-gladness as one looks and feels, and enjoys it all.
We have had a woman’s meeting at one end of the village, while the men held one at the other end, and now the crowd is beginning to melt, when a woman springs across the path, and confronts us angrily. Something tells us she must be a devil-dancer; she is so fierce and wild. Her hair is matted and twisted in cords, and hanging about her face. Her forehead is marked with the vile idol marks in spots and smears and stripes. Round her neck is a necklet soaked in some dye, and dabs of saffron all over her face furthermore help to disguise and deform her. When this apparition appears the crowd gathers quickly again, expecting a scene, and the woman, gesturing fearfully, makes a rush for us, and begins:—” Oh, your God is no god ! If I came to Him my own devil-god would kill me ! He is god ! He is god! But yours you say died—died as a criminal, too! Oh, go! quickly go, and tell your lies in the villages further away,—who asks you to tell them here ? ”
The crowd applauds. They are all caste people ; they would think it far too defiling to let us come into their houses — for we are breaking new ground just now, and have not yet won our way—but they look at this dreadful creature with eyes of approval, and say, ” She has answered you well, now go ! For who has seen Heaven and who has seen hell ? She knows, and you don’t; now go ! ”
We told her the true God loved her, but she laughed a horrid laugh ; we tried and tried again to get one ray of sunshine in, but the shutters were shut too close.
Oh, if we could only show them His love ! Surely if they could see it they could not resist Him so! Poor souls, they do not know; and what can they know with one hearing ? But we have to leave them and go on and on, for in hundreds and hundreds of villages still the women have never heard.
And yet sometimes, when they often hear, they will not come to Him. They push away those gentle hands, which are “all day long stretched forth ” to them. And that is the saddest thing we have in Heathendom. But—I quote from Dr. Moule, whose words in his book on the Epistle to the Romans often come home to us here—” the servant brings his sorrows for consolation—may we write the words in reverence ? —the sorrows of his Master. He mourns over an Athens, an Ephesus, and, above all, over a Jerusalem, that will not come to the Son of God, that they might have life. And his grief is not only inevitable, it is profoundly right, wise, holy. But he need not bear it unrelieved. He grasps the Scripture which tells him that his Lord has called those who would not come, and opened the eternal arms for an embrace—to be met only with a contradiction. He weeps, but it is as on the breast of Jesus as He wept over the city ; and in the double certainty that the Lord has felt such grief, and that He is the Lord, he yields, he rests, he is still. The King of the ages and the Man of sorrows are One. To know Him is to be at peace even under the griefs of the mystery of sin.”
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The interruptions in Open Air work are legion. You have just got your audience in hand when a bullock cart rumbles round, and the group breaks up to let it pass, and it may not incline to form again. Or, worse still, if it is evening, a herd of cows, perhaps fifty strong, with their calves, and as many buffaloes, each bent on making its way straight to its own habitation regardless of obstruction, tramples through the throng. Perhaps you have been deep in your subject, and did not notice anything till a cloud of dust, and a medley of horns and hoofs, and a scattering of your audience, and your ideas too,apprises you of the advent of these intelligent creatures. ” The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib,” is a verse familiar by-dire experience to all South Indian preachers. One evening I was sitting on the doorstep of a house, with a dozen women round me, when suddenly a beast appeared, and without a moment’s hesitation it walked straight over me, and in.
Then, often a caste row acts as devil’s interrupter. A high-caste woman thinks some low-caste woman has touched her, or that she will if she does not remonstrate. So she remonstrates. Sometimes an amiable friend will scatter some cayenne pepper in your too near vicinity, or she will find it expedient to cook it, and the smoke makes you cough and choke, and this has a disturbing effect. There are always small infants who cry, and bigger infants who laugh, and there are noises, of course, of every conceivable kind without much intermission. For we are on the enemy’s ground, and the harder we mean to fight him the harder he will fight us.
But then we have such a wonderful God ; He can use interruptions even to hold the souls He will win. A few months ago we were working in a village of eight thousand Hindus. We were in the middle of an Open Air, near the well where the caste people came to draw water, when a madman began to make a disturbance, and we feared the meeting was spoilt. But only a few weeks ago we heard that one who had come to draw water was on the point of moving away when this little break occurred, and she lingered to sec what would happen. While she waited words caught her ear. They were new and strange to her. But ” He opened my mind to understand,” as she put it herself when she told it, and to-day she is His, we trust, and His to be used to win t>thers.
But this is not a usual thing. Not often does the first hearing mean more than the dimmest conception of the meaning of the message— only, sometimes, perhaps to remind us that His name is really Wonderful, He does do something ” wondrously,” and we and our band look on.
But ever} 7 battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood. It is not lightly souls are won. We are not speaking of so-called mass movements towards Christianity among the lower orders—a thing we wholly distrust, but of individual conversions to Christ among men and women, high or low in social status, and especially are we thinking of conversions among those who, by their very position as members of caste are entrenched within the central citadel of Hinduism. No words can give you the least conception of what caste is in this part of India. It is the very stronghold of the devil, rooted as a living thing upon the rock of an ancient creed, moated by the mighty moat of custom, buttressed by the landmarks of superstition, hoary with the ages. Here it stands, strong as ever, and only in the far vision of faith have we seen its proud walls fall.
Sometimes, as we stand in the shadow of the portal of some great old temple, we all repeat together our battle verse.
“The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds,” (” to their utter demolition,” in Tamil,) “casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.”
Oh the glorious force of such a verse ! It nerves one and inspires one to believe to see the hand of the Lord stretching forth to mightily deliver.