Elsewhere in this issue, we have Chamberlain’s paean to the indispensable place which the Bible holds in the life and work of the missionary, but Chamberlain was far from done. He was confronted with the same kind of progressive arguments in his own day that we hear in present times, and his defense is not only eloquent and powerful, but it is written large in the script of experience. May God give us such eyes to see the fields white and ready unto harvest.
Is this old Bible, given centuries ago among the Jewish people, now calculated to do the work for which it was designed? Or, in this day of progress and of the intermingling of nations, do we find it antiquated, and its day of adaptedness and usefulness passed away? This is, emphatically, an age not alone of changes, but of improvements. Fast mail-trains and the telegraph have taken the place of the old mounted mail-carrier, with his mail-bags thrown over the horse upon which he rode. The four and six horse stagecoach has given way to palace cars. The quiet stitching of the seamstress is replaced by the hum of the sewing machine. There is scarcely a piece of machinery, of any kind, now in use that was used even by our grandfathers. New books, new systems of sciences, new methods in the arts – all, all is new. Have we made a mistake then, in holding on to our “old Bible” too long? If so, let us acknowledge it like men and try to replace it with something better; but first let us put it to the proof and see.
Now, in testing a machine or engine it is necessary to try it in all the different circumstances in which it is to be employed, especially in the worst. For example, when I was in India, during the war in America, the government of India sought to introduce the best machinery for ginning and spinning, and weaving the cotton growing there. A proclamation was issued, and published in every country where machinery was made, offering a princely premium for that machinery that should best do the work. And when, after near a year for preparation, the machinery was gathered from the four quarters on the banks of the sacred Ganges, when the viceroy and his council and the judges has assembled to test it, it was tried not alone with the cotton grown there on the banks of the Ganges, but cotton was brought from the base of the Himalaya Mountains, and from the plains for Tinnevelly, near Cape Comorin, from the hill country of Berar, and from the plains of Bellary, and the country about Bombay; and the machinery that best did the work in all, the long staple and the short, the coarse and the fine, it was that that won the prize, and that is now doing the work in India. So if an ocean streamer be launched, it must be tried not alone on the smooth waters of the bay or river on whose banks it was constructed, for until it has crossed the ocean, breasting the mountain billows in a storm, no one can tell whether after all it be a safe vehicle for human life. So with every kind of machinery – it must test in the worst circumstances in which it will be called to act.
For the last score of years I have been engaged in putting the Bible to just such a test, and that in the most unpropitious circumstances.
India is Satan’s stronghold. Hinduism, with its handmaid caste, weaves iron fetter around it votaries. With much of truth in its scriptures, the Vedas, it has degenerated into the worst of polytheism and idolatry; with its defective view of God and man, it has had no conservating, elevating influence over its votaries. The Hindus are at once a very religious, and a grossly immoral people. Intelligent, sharp, quick-witted, immutable in the nature, wedded to their ancient system, which is a splendid one though false, the Brahminists are the most able and determined adversaries of what they term the “new religion.” If the Bible will work in India, then we may safely conclude that it will work anywhere. How, then, does it work in India? Let us test it in a various ways and see.
And first: Does this “old Bible,” given so many centuries ago among the Jews, describe the human heart of to-day and the condition of man in different lands? Or is it antiquated and defective in this respect?
On a certain occasion, some fourteen years ago, I went into a native city in India, where the name of Jesus had never been heard, there for the first time to show them and give them these Scriptures and to preach to them of Christ and his salvation. As an introduction, when we had assembled an audience in the street, I asked my native assistant to read the first chapter of Romans – the chapter a part of which has been read in your hearing to-night; that chapter which those who call themselves liberal-minded tell us is too black to be true; that chapter that describes the heart of man wandering away from God and into sin, and conceiving vile conceptions of God, and then wandering away farther, until at last, “though they know the judgements of God, that they which do such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them;” the chapter which many tell us is a libel upon human nature. That chapter was read. The most intelligent man in the audience, a Brahmin, stepped forward and said to me, “Sir, that chapter must have been written for us Hindus. It describes us exactly.” The photograph was recognized. It had been taken centuries before, and among a Jewish people; but the artist was divine, and the heart that was photographed was that, not of a Jew, but of a man.
On another occasion I went into another city, there also for the first time to proclaim Christ as the way of life. As we entered the native town and passed up the main street, I noticed a small Hindu temple, built upon the side of the busiest street, with its doors open and the idols in at the farther end, so that passers-by could worship as they went. At the side of the door sat the Brahmin priest of the temple on a pedestal, unclad down to the waist – that he might receive the homage, the semi-divine worship which the people were wont to render him – with a platter by his side to receive their offerings as they went in and out of the street to their business or their work. I noticed it and passed on. Going up the main street, and looking here and there and finding no better place, we came back to this temple; and as I politely asked permission of the Brahmin to address an audience from the steps of the temple, he as politely gave his permission; and singing a song to bring the people together, we soon had the street packed with those who wondered what we had come for, and I preached to them.
I took for my theme “the character of any being whom the intelligent mind of man in any land would be willing to call God;” and from the necessities of our natures, I attempted to show them that in order to call any being God, we must believe him to be stronger than we and stronger than any powers that might be arrayed against us; that we must be omnipotent, or we could not trust him; that he must be wiser than we and wiser than any intelligences that might be combined against us; that he must be omniscient; that he must be able, in all parts of his dominion, at the same time, to be and to notice all passing events; that he must be omnipresent; that he must be a God of love, a God of justice, and so on. I had painted to them the character and attributes of God as we find them given in our Bible – not telling them where I found the picture, but drawing this characterization of God from the necessities of the soul of man. The intelligent men in the audience at once acknowledged the picture to be a correct one, as I went on from point to point, and admitted what I said to be true. At last, completing the picture, I said to them, “Now, who is God, and where is God?”
The Brahmin priest sitting there on his pedestal, seeing how intently the audience of his worshippers were listening to my description of God, so different from that enshrined in the temple at my side, and seeing at a glance, with his keen mind, that if this description of God was accepted as true his employment was gone, seeking to create a diversion, straightened himself up and with his finger drawing a line around his stomach, he said, “Sir this is my God; when this is full, my God is propitious; when this is empty, my God is angry. Only give me enough to eat and drink and that is all the God I want.” Turning to this same old Book, I gave him that scathing denunciation of Paul of those “whose God is their belly, whose glory is in their shame, and whose end is destruction.” And then turning again to the audience and reminding them of the pure and holy character that I had described, I told them that “this poor, miserable wretch here is willing to call his belly his God.”
Amid the sneers and scorn of his own worshippers, he sprang from his pedestal, slank around the corner of the temple, and vanished down a side street. And oh, how the audience listened while I described to them Him in whom all the fullness of this Godhead was manifested bodily, even Jesus of Nazareth, the Savior of all of them, in all the world, that will believe in him!
On another occasion I was reading from the seventh chapter of Romans that declaration of Paul of the power of sin over us, where he says, “When I would do good, evil is present with me, and the good which I would I do not, but the evil which I would not that I do.” As I read it the most intelligent man in my audience spoke up, saying, “That is it! That is it! That is exactly what is the matter with us Hindus. Now, does your Book tell us how we can get rid of that evil disposition, and do the good we would and avoid doing the evil that we would not?” How gladly, from this same old book, did I point them to Him who can create a new heart and renew a right spirit within us; who can give us not only the desire, but the power to do good: “For I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.”
On another occasion and in a different city I read the description in the forty-fourth chapter of Isaiah of the making and worshipping of images. When I had completed the reading, a sharp man in the audience, a Brahmin, stepped out and said, “Now, sir, we have caught you. You told us that this was an old book, given long ago in another part of the world to tell us how we might find God, and, how worshipping him we might attain to peace with him; but, sir, that you have just read you have written since you came here and saw how we Hindus managed it.” The photograph once more was recognized.
But again, can this Book be understood by high and low, rich and poor, learned and ignorant? Can this Bible that was given to a people prepared through generations by a special training, and standing on a very different moral plane from the Hindus of the present day – this Book with its pure and holy doctrines, its strange, though beautiful and simple plan of salvation – can it be understood by those Hindus who have sunken through centuries of moral pollution – can it be understood so as to affect their lives and their character?
Come with me to a little town 150 miles to the northwest of my station at Mudnapilly, in India. Some fifteen years ago there lived there a Hindu, an unlettered man – he could simply read and write, and that was all – who felt the burden of sin and desired relief. He had tried all that his system taught him, and still found no peace of conscience. There came the time of the annual drawing of the idol car (usually called the car of Juggernaut), in a city some thirty miles away, and this man, mourning over his sin, went there, for they told him if he would engage in the ceremonies there and join in the drawing of the car the burden of sin would be gone and he could find relief. He went there. The first day passed, and the second day of the festivities was nearly through. That night it would close, and he felt yet the burden of sin. He knew that he had not got relief.
He saw standing in the crowd a man with a book, wrapped in his garments; he saw the end sticking out, and asked, “Stranger, what book is that you have got there?” Said he “They call it the Kotta Nibandana” (The New Testament). “What is that?” “Why, they say it is the Sattya Veda,” (the True Veda, as we term the Bible in India, in distinction from their Vedas which we do not acknowledge as true). “Have you read it?” “No, I have not.” “What does it tell about, anyhow?” “Why, they say that it tells us how to get rid of sin.” “Does it; will you sell it?” “Yes.” “How much will you take for it?” “Well, give me half a rupee,” (twenty-five cents). “All right.”
He took out the money and gave it to the man and took the book, wrapped it up, put it under his arm and went away. When he got home he opened it at the first chapter of Matthew, and stumbled and tumbled down over those jaw-breaking names in the genealogy of Christ, worse for a Hindu than they are for us to pronounce. He thought that after all there was not going to be anything in the book that he could understand, and that he had lost his money; but he got through at last, and came to the story of the miraculous birth of the child Jesus; that he could understand.
He read on, and read the story of his wonderful childhood, and his marvelous life, his miraculous deeds and the messages of mercy that he gave to all around him; and then, when he was beginning to think that he must be the one that should redeem all lands, he came to the story where he was killed and nailed up a cross. Oh, it was all up then, he thought; but he read on amid his tears; he read of his lying in the grave, and then of that wonderful coming forth again from the grave, and of the scene when he appeared to his disciples, and with astonishment he read how Mount Olivet, parting the clouds, he ascended to heaven; and then he turned over and read again in the next Evangelist, in fewer words, the story of the same life. Then he read on in a third Evangelist that same story, that is never repeated too often – Luke’s graphic life-picture of Christ on earth.
Then he came to the fourth Evangelist, and there he read of the divine sonship of that Jesus of Nazareth, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us; and he learned there of our connection with Christ, the branch with the vine, how he would remain with us; then he read the story of the founding of the early Christian church. That gave him more light. He read the doctrinal epistles, and feeling the burden of sin as he did, he did not stumble over those hard doctrines as some on this side of the water do. He read that story, that wonderful revelation of the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven out of God, the home of all those that believe in Jesus, when they shall arise and meet him.
Ah, that was the book for him. He read in the book that they were not to forget the assembling of themselves together on the first day of the week, as the manner of some is – of some perhaps in this country too – and on the first day of their week, which singularly, synchronizes with our Christian Sabbath, he gathered his neighbors in his own house to heart him read from “the wonderful Book.” He taught his wife to read, a strange thing for a Hindu to do, as they never used to teach their women to read; but he taught her to read in order that she might be able to read from “the Book.”
He learned in that, “When ye pray thus shall ye say, ‘Our Father which art in heaven;’” and as they assembled thus on each Sabbath day they joined, after reading the word, in repeating that prayer. Some years passed by and the man died. When he died he told his wife that they must not burn his body as the Hindus are wont to do, but bury it, for Christ was buried; that they must not perform any heathen ceremony over his grave, but read from “the Book” and repeat “the prayer,” and leave him there with God; for as Christ arose from the dead so would he someday arise and meet that Christ in heaven. His wife kept up the reading, on the first day of the week, to the people from this book.
Years more passed by. At last there came two missionaries into a village some fifteen miles from this place. They were preaching there to the people, as they supposed for the first time that they had heard of Christ and his salvation, when two men that happened to be there in the market-place stepped forward and said, “Why, sirs, what you say is exactly what the man of ‘the Book’ down at our village used to teach.” They asked about it and learned the story. They went down there and found to all intents and purposes a little church of Jesus Christ established. It was the Book that had done it. They had not received baptism nor the Lord’s Supper to be sure, but they had that life in their hearts that was the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The book had shown that it could be understood and could produce its effect.
From “The Bible Tested, is it the book for today and for the world”, American Bible Society, New York, 1879.