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Fifty Years Among the Baptists
By David Benedict
THE EARLY CORRESPONDENCE OF MR. RICE PERTAINING TO THE FOREIGN MISSION CAUSE, AND MY FIRST ACQUAINTANCE WITH HIM. SURPRISING CHANGES THROUGHOUT A LARGE PART OF THE BAPTIST DENOMINATION ON THE SUBJECT OF MISSIONS. THE ANTI-MISSION PARTY. MR. RICE'S CORRESPONDENCE WITH MARSHMAN AND JUDSON IN INDIA. LETTERS AND JOURNAL OF MR. HOUGG. ON THE HINDOOS, BY MR. WARD. LANGUAGES OF THE EAST.
As Mr. Rice acted so conspicuous a part in the early movements of our society in their foreign mission enterprise, and as I was familiar with all his doings in this business, it seems suitable that in this place I should record a few facts respecting him. My familiar intercourse with this laborious man commenced soon after his return from India, and my friendship for him remained firm to the last, notwithstanding all the complaints of his bad financiering, etc. "As a financier," says his biographer, "he certainly did not excel, and the formation of contracts, the disbursement of funds, and even the duties of treasurer should have been committed to other hands. His own were full of other matters." But this was the way things were managed in those times, not only by our society, but by some others, at the hazard of troublesome embarrassments of long continuance.
With the go-ahead disposition of Mr. Rice I was pleased from the first of my acquaintance with him, and as we were about equal in age, as I heartily entered into his views of attempting to call the attention of the American Baptists to the plan of a mission in India, and as from my then recent experience in the traveling line, I could give him needful information, as to men, places, etc., an intimacy commenced between us, which continued through all the varieties of his eventful life.
My epistolary correspondence with this assiduous agent in the foreign mission cause was long, frequent, and familiar; and copies of almost all the circulars, and other printed papers, which he frequently sent abroad, for the promotion of his various undertakings, are among my historical documents. And, in addition to these, I have a volume of more than two hundred letters addressed to this very popular agent, from 1813, and onward, in answer to his inquiries respecting his benevolent designs. In these letters are found the autographs of nearly every prominent minister then on the stage of action among the American Baptists; also of a considerable number of those of laymen, in distinguished positions, both mercantile and official. A small portion of the letters here referred to were written by missionaries in the East, English as well as American. In looking over this file I have
often been agreeably struck with the tone of cordial approbation of the mission then on foot, and of the encouragement held out to this new agent and solicitor. Here and there, and everywhere, he was invited to spread the cause before the people, and ask for contributions for its support. Probably never was an important undertaking set in motion among our people with so much unanimity, or under circumstances so auspicious. All the active friends of this new enterprise were pleased with the sudden and surprising change in the denomination in this matter.
A few of these early correspondents of Mr. Rice, of this friendly cast, whose kind epistles are before me, did, indeed, soon turn against both him and his work, and became zealous supporters of the anti-mission cause. These men were generally, if not altogether, found in the southern and western regions. As the efforts in favor of the missionary cause extended, its opponents increased in their number and zeal, until in the churches and associations of our order, in this country, which oppose all organized efforts for the support of missions at home and abroad, are about sixty thousand members; a number nearly equal to all the Baptists in America, in John Asplund's time, a little more than sixty years ago. But as these opposing members, whose mistakes we all deplore, have, from the first, generally been of the do-nothing
class at home, the work might have still gone on without any serious impediment, and without so many agents in the field, as there have been from the time that Mr. Rice left it, had not too many of the denomination left their first love for this work, and settled down into a state of apathy and neglect respecting it. To this too numerous class of our members, the term, not ANTI, but OMISSION, or NON-MISSION Baptists, has been very properly applied, by some of our writers on this subject.
CORRESPONDENCE OF MR. RICE WITH MISSIONARIES IN INDIA.
Mr. Rice to Dr. Marshman of Serampore, in 1813
* * * "Notwithstanding the war, it will be very practicable for me to return to India by way of Brazil perhaps by the way of the Cape of Good Hope. And I am exceedingly rejoiced to find that the Lord is putting it into the hearts of our brethren in this country to come up to the help of the Lord against the mighty. The effort, I have no doubt, will be beneficial to the Baptist interest in this country will advance the cause of piety and truth here besides the good to the heathen which will, with a divine blessing, result from it."
Mr. Rice to Mr. Judson in 1814
* * * "The Baptist Board for Foreign Missions, instituted by the Convention, readily undertook your support and mine, but thought it necessary for me to continue my labors in this country, for a time. I hope, however, in the course of five or six months, to get the Baptists so well rallied, that the necessity of my remaining will no longer exist. And I certainly wish not to remain
here a moment longer than my stay will more advance the mission than my departure for the field again."
Mr. Judson to Mr. Rice, from Rangoon, in 1816
* * * "You remember that the furlough which we gave you at the Isle of France, extended to two years only. Little did we then think that three or four years would elapse before we met again. I rejoice, however, that you are able to give so good an account of your time. I congratulate you on the success which has crowned your labors in America. It really surpasses my highest expectations." * * *
Mr. Judson to Mr. Rice, Rangoon, 1818
* * * "Your mention of ten years has cut off the little hope remaining of uniting with you as an assistant in missionary labors. It seems that our paths are diverging from the Isle of France, until they have terminated in scenes of labor the most remote and dissimilar possible. * * * Brother Hough and I have done pretty well together. He is just going to Bengal. * * * We should, however, be very sorry to lose him, especially as he is a printer."
Mrs. Judson to Mr. Rice, from Rangoon, in 1819
* * * "At the end of six years' residence in this country Mr. Judson finds himself still alone in missionary work. * * * You, by dear brother, are the person we need just in this stage of the mission. Your age, judgment, and experience, qualify you in a peculiar manner to be of most essential service in these cases of difficulty and trial to which we are so frequently subject in this country. Your correct ear, and aptness for acquiring languages, together with the means and helps which Mr. J. has prepared, would enable you in one year from the time of your arrival, to begin to communicate religious truths to the perishing people."
Mr. Judson to Mr. Rice, Rangoon, 1822-23
* * * "I little thought when the boat rowed away from the ship in the harbor of Port Royal (in the Isle of France,) and I left you standing on the deck, that I should see your face no more. Poor Nancy has gone on a pilgrimage for health and life to the shrine of old England. * * * Her absence is universally regretted by our Burman acquaintance. * * *
"You are evidently absorbed in the college. But it is a great and worthy object; and there is no truer maxim than that a man never does any thing to purpose, unless his whole soul is in it."
The Isle of France, or Mauritius, so often named in the foregoing extracts, is the place to which our American missionaries fled when they were ordered away from Calcutta by the British authorities of India, soon after they landed there.
Rev. G.H. Hough, whose name occurs above, was one of the earliest selections of Mr. Rice for the Baptist mission in the East. He still lives in Maulmein, but he has for a long time been disconnected with the missionary service, and has been a teacher under the patronage of the government of the country. Previous to his going to the East, he with his small family had resided with me about two years, and by him was transcribed for the press most of my old History of the Baptists. This scene carries us back almost fifty years. Very few of the men who were identified with the incipient movements in our foreign mission cause are still alive, and our connection with the board of managers ceased about the same time. I
went out by rotation; he in consequence of some dislike of the board, or at least of some of its influential members. In anticipation of Mr. Houghs dismission, as his personal friend, and as a matter of justice to a man for whose repudiation I saw no adequate cause, I asked for and secured the passage of a vote for the payment of the passage home, for himself and family, should he choose to return. But as he had become familiar with the country, its language, customs, etc., he chose to remain and support himself.
From the letters and journals of Mr. Hough, and by means of my correspondence with other missionaries in India, who were early on the ground, English as well as American, I became somewhat familiar with the management of missionary affairs, both at home and abroad; and was often sorry to find that serious complaints were made, both by the home managers and the foreign laborers; on the part of the managers the principal complaints were of too independent action in the foreign field, of disobedience, insubordination, and of thinking too much for themselves. On the other side, the terms partiality, favoritism, prejudice, neglect, dictation, etc., were not unfrequently employed by the missionaries. I learned more in detail in these matters than was ever published in missionary documents, or than I am now disposed to repeat. Let oblivion rest upon them all.
In these early operations there was a want of system in their doings, and especially in reporting them at home. "We want to hear oftener from the missionaries," was often said by their friends and supporters. "Well," said Dr. Going on one occasion, "we hear from them often enough about sicca rupees, if not of other matters." Sicca was generally appended to the name of this coin in those times.
I was always anxious to hear about the manners and customs of the heathen in their everyday transactions, and how their educated and thinking men could swallow the monstrous dogmas of the heathen mythology. When Mr. Ward was in this country, whose two large quarto volumes on the History, Literature, and Mythology, of the Hindoos, I had previously carefully perused, I had a number of interesting conversations with him on these matters, and in answer to a number of my inquiries he made the following replies:
"We have men of great literary attainments, in some departments, and of strong mental powers, but their minds are so beclouded with the superstitions with which they have always been surrounded that they do not stop to reason on the characters of their innumerable deities, of whom they often speak with great disrespect, and whom they are taught to fear, but not to love. Nothing like the Christian doctrine
of the love of God, is inculcated in the religion of the Hindoos.
"And as to the most important trait of character of this people, in their every-day transactions, it is this: A Hindoo will follow you from morning till night, and his constant cry is, money, money, money."
As to the languages of the East, which our missionaries must acquire before they can enter on their work, I never studied them but in an historical manner, so as to gain information respecting their general construction, their pedigrees, and their elemental characters.
At an early period Dr. Marshman sent to Dr. Gano and myself a copy of his Chinese Grammar, and his translation of a portion of the Old Testament into that language. The grammar is a quarto volume of upwards of six hundred pages. From a partial study of this work I learned something of the general character of this singular language, but for the want of a living teacher I made but little progress in acquiring a knowledge of this ancient and multiform tongue.
At this time the exclusive policy of the Chinese government, which has since been materially modified, rendered it difficult to do any thing with this singular people, or to acquire a knowledge of their language, except among those who were settled outside of the empire.
The Sanscrit, the sacred language of India, and
which, like the Latin, is the foundation of many others, I never studied at all; but from what I learned of its history I became well satisfied that from this ancient oriental tongue, some portions of the English language were derived. The reasoning for the support of this theory is as follows: in unknown ages past, portions of the Sanscrit language traveled westward, through Persia and other countries, and finally settled down among the Celts, in Europe; and from them they found their way into the vocabulary of our Anglo-Saxon progenitors.
Strange relationships of this kind are sometimes discovered by comparing languages of very remote origin together. A long time since I somewhere read from the writings of Martin, or some other English missionary, that he often found old acquaintances in the Persian language. A similar idea, if I remember right, was advanced by Dr. Mason, one of our missionaries in India, in one of the able and scientific communications, which came from his pen, during his late visit to this country.
I do not want all our missionaries in foreign fields to spend much time on matters not absolutely needful for their main employment; but I am pleased to see some exhibit much depth of research in literary pursuits, and the more so as it fulfills my predictions to which I lately referred.
With the apostles at first no study of other tongues was needful, but now without this study nothing can be done for the heathen; and how much have I regretted that so many of our men in the East, who by severe labor have become able to preach to the natives, should on any account be diverted from this important work.
[David Benedict, Fifty Years Among the Baptists, 1860; rpt. 1977, pp. 124-134. -- jrd]
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