Distinguished Churchmen and Phases of Church Work/Henry Elliott Fox

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Hon. Secretary, Church Missionary Society.


“There is in every human heart
Some not completely barren part,
Where seeds of love and truth might grow
And flowers of generous virtue blow;
To plant, to watch, to water there;
This be our duty—this our care.”—Bowring.


Origin of C.M.S.—Call to the World—Its Democratic Government—Past and Present Secretaries—Mr Fox and Bishop Tucker, of Uganda—Management of C.M.S. and S.P.G. compared—Enormous Expansion of the Work—India—Africa—China—Egypt—Building-up Native Churches in India and Africa—Lord Kitchener and Missionary Enterprise in Egypt—Generals, like Doctors, differ—Egypt controlled Contrary to Gordon's Idea—Insufficiency of Income

Every reader of Bleak House is familiar with Dickens's picture of “Poor Joe” sitting down to his humble breakfast upon the doorstep of a missionary society's establishment, and how “he admires the size of the edifice and wonders what it's all about. He has no idea, poor wretch, of the spiritual destitution of a coral reef in the Pacific, or what it costs to look up the precious souls among the cocoanuts and bread-fruit.” There are people who think Dickens's idea in drawing that picture was to pooh-pooh the work of missions abroad while there remains any trace of destitution at home. Happily, we live in better times. The “Poor Joes” of the twentieth century have far more people to look after them than had those of fifty years ago, and it is a gratifying fact that the growth of missionary philanthropy has advanced in proportion to the increase of home benevolence. So far from hindering, each stimulates the other.

In dealing with phases of Church work, the achievements of the C.M.S. both invite and deserve the most careful attention. The C.M.S. has a most interesting history. Its beginnings were small. It was laid upon the hearts of a few earnest clergymen—among them John Venn, Rector of Clapham; John Newton, Rector of St Mary, Woolnoth, once a slave-dealer and open evil liver; and Charles Simeon, of Cambridge—that the Church ought to set seriously to work on the evangelisation of people outside the British possessions or “plantations,” as they were called at that time. The S.P.C.K. had been established in 1698, the S.P.G. in 1701, the Baptist Missionary Society in 1795, and the London Missionary Society in 1795, but up to that period there was no strictly Church of England society which made it its exclusive object to enter upon fields outside the British dominions. The S.P.G. work at the end of the eighteenth century was, as far as can be gathered, strictly confined to British “plantations.” If it had gone beyond, it was to a very limited extent. The feeling of the founders of the C.M.S. in 1799 was that they had a call to the World. In those early days, Simeon was like the navigator of old who said, “It can be done, and we are the people to do it.”

The growth of the C.M.S. is illustrated by such facts as the following. Twenty years ago, the Society had just emerged from a period of grave difficulty and anxiety. Funds had failed, and missionaries eager for the work had been kept back two years running, but friends had responded to the needs of the crisis, and by the middle of 1881 the Society was once more borne forward upon a rising tide of interest, sympathy and prayer. God was raising up able and devoted men for His service abroad, and was inclining the hearts of His people to provide the means for sending them out. Never once has there been pause or check in the continuous progress. In May 1881, the C.M.S. missionaries numbered 264; in May 1901, they numbered 906, and seventy more have just sailed or are about to sail. This great interest is partly due to the employment of women missionaries, and partly to the larger number of lay missionaries, including doctors, but the clergy have increased from 219 to 417, and those missionaries who have University degrees from fifty-four to over 200. Let us look at some of the missions. Twenty years ago, there were no English missionaries on the Niger; there are now twenty-nine. There were two missionaries in Uganda and no converts, now there are forty-eight and 30,000 converts. There was only one unmarried woman missionary in all the African missions; now sixty-seven. There was no Egyptian mission; now that country has twenty-two missionaries. Palestine then had ten men; now sixteen men and forty-four women. Persia had two men; now twelve men and twelve women. India had 120 missionaries; now 273. China had twenty-two men and one woman; now seventy men and seventy-six women. Japan had ten men and one woman; now thirty-two men and forty-four women. Medical missions have greatly increased. In 1881, there was only one regular hospital; now there are thirty-one, with 1620 beds, and thirty-two dispensaries, and the returns for 1900 gave 11,887 in-patients and 757,295 visits of out-patients. The native Christians connected with the Society in 1881 numbered 179,000; now 280,000. The native clergy then numbered 219; now 377. The native lay and female teachers then, 3100; now 7500.

The management of the Society is in the hands of a general committee consisting of twenty-four laymen, elected at the annual meeting, all clergy who have subscribed not less than half-a-guinea for not less than a year, and all honorary and other governors—the former by election, the latter by an annual subscription of five guineas or a donation of £50. The administration is divided among several departments. There are three groups of missions, each in charge of a secretary. There is an editorial department with two secretaries ; a home department for the collection of funds and the supply of deputations; a finance department; and a department for the selection and preparation of candidates—each in charge of a secretary. Besides these, according to a long-standing custom, there is an honorary secretary whose department, if not exactly defined, keeps in touch with all the others, both for the unifying of the work and for representing the Society in its dealings with the ecclesiastical authorities of the Church at home and abroad.

The democratic government which obtains with the C.M.S. has been suggested as a source of danger. It has proved otherwise—i.e., a fountain of strength. A proposal was said to have been made in the days of the Oxford movement that the C.M.S. should be captured in the interests of the High Church party by the introduction of a number of half-guinea subscribers to outvote the authorities. But the C.M.S., it is said, viewed such a proposal as impossible of accomplishment, for, in the first place, however bitterly party feeling may have become, it was felt that Englishmen were too honourable to condescend to such an act, and, in the second place, that the people responsible for the proposal would not have captured the Society so long as it had vitality and was doing God's work as He meant it to be done.

The secretaryship of a missionary society is no sinecure. An illustration of this fact is found in the recent action of the Archbishop of Canterbury and a committee of Bishops in prevailing upon the Bishop of Tasmania, the Right Rev. Henry Hutchinson Montgomery, D.D., son-in-law of Dean Farrar, to resign his Bishopric in order to undertake the secretaryship of the S.P.G. Immensely different in character to the oversight of a Colonial Diocese, there is arduous work before Dr Montgomery. The services and devotion to the C.M.S. of Prebendary Wigram, the late Hon. Secretary, are well remembered. So completely did he identify himself with the Society that his beautiful home at Hampstead was always open to missionaries in sickness and in health. On several occasions he made handsome gifts to the Society.

The Rev. H. E. Fox, who has succeeded him and has just been offered a prebendal stall in St Paul's Cathedral, has what may be described as a hereditary interest in the C.M.S. His father was one of the two pioneers who commenced the Society's missions to the Telugus in South India in 1841. Mr Fox was born in India, but had the misfortune to lose his father, who, after a brief but devoted service in the field and a very short period as assistant secretary to the Rev. Henry Venn, the famous Hon. Secretary of the C.M.S., died in 1848. Mr Fox was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took his B.A. and subsequently proceeded to his M.A. degree. After three years' preparation for the Bar, he was led to change his profession and was ordained to the curacy of St Ebbe's, Oxford. Twenty-two more years of parochial ministry in London and Durham followed, and he was appointed Hon. Secretary of the C.M.S. in 1895. In several visits which Mr Fox paid to the Society's missions in India, Palestine and Egypt, he had the advantage of gaining information and studying the condition of missions on the spot.

It is interesting also to recall the fact that it was during Mr Fox's tenure of the living of St Nicholas, Durham, that there was associated with him as curate a gentleman who has since become one of the best known of the missionary Bishops of the Church. Alfred R. Tucker, the son and brother of distinguished Lake artists, and himself already winning a name in the same profession, was drawn by an unconquerable love for his fellow-men to devote himself to the ministry of the Church. After taking his degree at Christ Church, Oxford, he worked as a curate in the slums of Bristol, and after two years joined Mr Fox at Durham. Already his heart had turned to the land where men seem to have fallen the lowest, and most need the help of Christian hands; but reasons in which he could not but acquiesce prevented his going to Africa. After the deaths of Bishops Hannington and Parker in Eastern Equatorial Africa the call came to this earnest young clergyman to succeed to the perilous post, and he was consecrated Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa in 1890. There is nothing more remarkable in the history of missions than the progress in Uganda.

“If I had felt thirty-five years ago as I feel now with regard to missionary work, I should not be here. Perhaps not alive—certainly not at home.” Thus remarked Mr Fox at an interview last autumn at the C.M.S. headquarters in Salisbury Square.

“But how do you account for the missionary zeal in your case?”

“Well, I frankly confess that in my early life I had no missionary leanings at all. I began life in another profession. From causes to which I need not refer, the whole spirit and course of my life were changed. I lived a good deal with an uncle who was deeply interested in missions. He undoubtedly influenced me; but I do not doubt that, under God, I owe most to the prayers of my father and mother, who had both died in my childhood.”

“And when you were called to the secretaryship of the C.M.S. the spirit was ready?”

“Yes. It was to me an unspeakable honour to follow men like Henry Venn, Henry Wright, and, not least, Frederick Wigram, the large-hearted man of love, as generous in his gifts as he was in his character.”

“In what respect does the C.M.S. differ from the S.P.G.?”

“The S.P.G. very largely administers its funds through the Bishop of each Diocese, and the selection of missionaries is vested in a small sub-committee appointed by the Archbishops. The C.M.S. holds itself responsible to its subscribers for the selection, training and location of its missionaries. All this is kept entirely in our own hands and is directed by committees appointed by the Society. Of course our missionaries are licensed by their Bishop and are under their Bishop, but they still keep in direct touch with us. It is sometimes said that the two Societies represent the two great parties in the Church, the S.P.G. being supported by the High Church and the C.M.S. by the Evangelical. This is to some extent true, but many on both sides, and the number is increasing, support both organisations. But, though the C.M.S. was founded distinctly on what are known as Evangelical and Protestant lines, and has adhered to them strictly in its doctrinal position, it avoids mixing itself up in domestic controversies. It has too much on its hands in its controversy with heathenism and Islam to spend its strength in quarrelling with fellow-Christians. One of the great principles with which the Society began, and on which it still works, is that ‘spiritual work must be done by spiritual men.’ Another, ‘Don't be afraid of little beginnings.’ Still another, which we have tried to work on in later years, ‘Do God's work in God's way and He will find you the men and the means for doing it.’

“Yes; we are great believers in the efficacy of prayer. If you ask for specific instances, I should not know where to begin and where to leave off. They are daily, even hourly, occurring. There is one broad fact, however, which is worthy of notice. The marked increase of public interest in missions may be distinctly traced to the observance of the Annual Day of Intercession, which commenced in 1872, and was due to the happy inspiration of the S.P.G. It is a curious illustration of the change of public feeling towards missions, that even the Times in a leading article on the day could express surprise that so many people could be so foolish as to join in its observance, and remarked that while ‘an ordinary Englishman has seen almost every human being or brute native of foreign climes, but few can say that they have seen a missionary or a Christian convert.’ Such an article would be impossible even in the least reputable of daily papers in this century.”

“There has been enormous growth in your various fields?”

“Yes; take the case of India. Henry Martyn, who was a Government chaplain, was not connected with our Society; but it is due to him to say that it was very much his influence on Charles Simeon which led to the energy the latter threw into this Society. Martyn's friends were our friends. The Baptists were among the first English missionaries in India. The political policy in India,—which our Government, as I think unhappily, are adopting in Egypt,—was to exclude all evangelistic effort, and so much was this the case that one prominent man declared that they might just as well fire a pistol into a powder magazine as preach the Gospel to the Hindoos. Those restrictions were relaxed only just before the Mutiny. The C.M.S. sent representatives to India about 1814, and the work has largely developed there. The early missionaries limited themselves almost entirely to itinerating and educational work. Two typical missionaries, for example, went out in the year 1841; my father was one and Robert Noble the other. My father threw himself into the evangelistic work, but died within seven years. Robert Noble lived on for twenty-four years, and with remarkable foresight devoted himself to the education of the upper-class natives. Noble lived in a very simple style, and won over the confidence of his students in a most remarkable way. His work has had more permanent effect, perhaps, than any other among the upper classes of India. There were hundreds of men who, though not Christians, adopted an attitude towards Christianity entirely different from that of their fathers. Industrial missions have been left for the most part to the Germans and others, but we are doing more than formerly in giving technical instruction to boys in several schools. One, for example, in Bengal is turning out excellent railway engineers, and another in the Punjab is making fair carpenters and joiners. Besides this a good deal is done in a quiet way in teaching women to earn a living by making lace and other ornamental work. The greatest developments of our modern missions are those in connection with women and medical work. The seclusion of women in the East makes it essential that they should be approached by their own sex, and it is not surprising that the visits of bright English ladies, bringing not only new interests but, above all things, the knowledge of Divine love into the dark homes and darker lives of their sisters, should be almost invariably welcomed, and that more houses are open to our missionary ladies than it is possible for them to enter. And this is the case not only in country villages and with the poor women of the towns, but in the houses of the highest and wealthiest.”

“What should you say is the most gratifying feature of your work in India to-day?”

“Well, I should say not so much the actual number of conversions in India, though that is considerable, as the increasing spirit of inquiry and readiness to hold intercourse with the missionaries. Then, remember that what we are aiming at in India is to build up a Church of India, of which the Indians themselves will be the predominant partners. We have lately drawn up a memorandum on Native Church constitution which has been very favourably received. The general idea of that memorandum is to unify and consolidate the future Church of each country, not imposing conditions that shall require it to be a branch of the Church of England, but rather that it should be an independent Church in communion with the Church of this land, formed by, and then governed by, its own members in a constituted order, and also self-supporting and self-extending. It is our hope, though the ideal may be distant in some cases, that racial distinctions will disappear, and that natives and foreigners dwelling in the same land will harmoniously and equally co-operate to create and maintain the Church in each country. I think the outlook for the future of India is most hopeful; in fact, it is so hopeful that we cannot keep pace with the present-day requirements. We could to morrow find employment for many more workers in India if we had the men and the means. Our relations with the Indian Episcopate have always been friendly. Difficulties which arose in Ceylon a good many years ago have long disappeared, and there is no Bishop who has treated the Society's work with more consideration than the Bishop of that island. Several of the Indian Bishops have themselves been engaged in direct missionary work before being raised to the Episcopate, such as Bishop Clifford of Lucknow and Bishop Hodges of Travancore, formerly missionaries of the C.M.S.; Bishop Lefroy of Lahore and the Bishop of Chota-Nagpur, formerly connected with the S.P.G.; and the Bishop of Madras, who was a member of the Oxford Brotherhood in Calcutta. In fact, the only Bishops who have not previously been missionaries are those of Calcutta, Colombo and Bombay, but they are all missionary-hearted men.”

“Of Eastern Equatorial Africa and Uganda something has been gleaned from Bishop Tucker. Your operations, however, extend beyond those particular districts?”

“Our operations in Africa extend from the West Coast up the Niger and to Sierra Leone, and we have lately been trying to get an entrance into the country called Hausaland in the Western Soudan, where is to be found a very fine race of people, followers of Islam. Our first missionaries in Africa were at Sierra Leone. It was the place at which the released captives from the slave-trading ships were landed, and it was among them, speaking several languages and representing many districts, that our Society was first led to undertake work, but for some years, to the shame of England it may be said, no missionaries went from this country. The first were Germans. Now there is a self-supported native ministry, with regular parishes and a well-organised constitution. The Society does little except supply a certain amount of education and support a college, which is affiliated to Durham University. There is an English Bishop of Sierra Leone, who ranks as Government Chaplain, so that Sierra Leone may be said to be almost independent of us. There are at present three Africans in Episcopal orders, who are assistants to Bishop Tugwell of Western Equatorial Africa—all men of true piety, intelligence and ability, and worthy successors of their countryman, the well-known Bishop Crowther, who died in 1891 after an episcopate of twenty-seven years. On the East Coast you know of Bishop Tucker's work, and how, on the division of the Diocese of Eastern Equatorial Africa, Bishop Peel took charge of the Diocese of Mombasa. The work on the coast does not present such striking features as that in Uganda. You can well understand that the influence of civilisation, or that which accompanies it, is often very hurtful to the progress of Christianity. The example of ungodly Europeans and the inducements to drunkenness or other immorality are among the most serious hindrances. Though European Governments restrict the importation of spirits and powder in most of the countries under their protection, the restraint in many parts is only nominal, and the effects of French and German strong drinks are disastrous.”

“In China of recent years the work has, presumably, been much interfered with, owing to the fanatical outbreaks there?”

“Yes; but the latest news from China is everywhere so encouraging that we are able to let our missionaries return to their stations, and also to send reinforcements. In almost all cases the British Consuls have allowed the return of the ladies as well as of the men. How soon disturbances may break out again we never know. The unexpected always happens in China. We have adopted the policy of asking for no compensation, and certainly would take none for life—blood-money we absolutely refuse. Nevertheless, at one time we thought we ought to be compensated for the destruction of buildings. The Government approached us to know what we were going to do, but we deemed it wise to leave the matter alone, and I think that course has had a good effect. There have been cases where the Germans and Roman Catholics have claimed large sums of money, and it has done them distinct injury. During the recent disturbances, a good many of our missionaries were brought down to the treaty ports, but I am glad to say that none of them experienced such terrible perils and sufferings as those of the China Inland Mission, the S.P.G., and the American Societies. In this last outbreak we lost no life. It is six years ago since our trouble at Kucheng, when Robert Stewart, his wife, and several of his companions were killed. That was a local outburst of a secret society which had no wide-spread influence, but was uncontrolled by any law or public opinion such as we have in England. There was no particular hostility towards the missionary as a missionary, but simply as a foreigner. The Chinese Christian has a stability of character which is not so often found among the Japanese. The latter is quicker, more receptive, more ready to adapt himself; but the former is more solid, and many have shown heroic endurance in suffering for the faith and great devotion to their European friends. On the other hand, in some respects the Chinaman is a much misjudged man.”

“Do you care to say anything about the protest which the C.M.S. has lately addressed to the Government against the attempt to exclude Christianity from the Soudan? The feeling seems to be that the Khartoum College should not, under these circumstances, have been dedicated to so peculiarly Christian a man as General Gordon?”

“Perhaps you remember that when General Gordon was in the Soudan he invited the C.M.S. to go there. After his tragic death a Gordon Memorial Fund was raised, being started at a meeting in Exeter Hall, and in a very few days it amounted to several thousand pounds. But we were not able to make any use of it. The Nile has been closed to all attempts. When Khartoum was taken by Lord Kitchener we hoped that we might gain admission. We got permission from the Government to lease a site, but on the distinct condition that we were to do no evangelisation whatever. We have lately sent a memorandum to the Foreign Office, stating our whole position with regard to Upper Egypt and the Soudan; but we are still knocking at a closed door. From our point of view it appears a strangely inconsistent attitude which has been assumed by the Government of a Christian nation, that for fear of exciting the prejudice of a wild Moslem people, the religion of Jesus Christ cannot be offered to them, and they are to be left to die in their ignorance of the only Saviour of men.

“We believe that the fears entertained by the authorities are greatly exaggerated, that our policy is not one which the Arab himself either understands or respects, and that, as inconsistent with the will of our Lord, Who will have all men to be saved by coming to the knowledge of the truth, it is not a policy which can have the Divine favour. It is certainly not the policy adopted by the great statesmen and soldiers who added the Punjab to the British Empire. They had as fierce and fanatical Moslems to deal with as any in Egypt. They had but a handful of European troops, but they had as Christian men the courage of their convictions. They encouraged missionary enterprise, and contributed liberally to plant missions among the very people with whom we had been at war. Now, for comparison, you may take Lord Kitchener's opinion that the missions are only calculated to inflame the Moslems on the one side, and on the other the opinion of Sir William Lockhart, to whom I went after the Tirah campaign. I asked Sir William to allow the C.M.S. to permit mission stations on the frontier. He listened to my request with great courtesy, and, though himself sceptical as to the probability of our convincing any of the Afghans or Pathans of the truth of the Gospel, he expressed his cordial approval of medical missions as a pacifying and conciliatory agency; and he readily assented to my request, and assured me that he would recommend it to the Indian Government. In six weeks I got their consent. So you see military men as well as doctors differ! The result to-day is that our medical missionaries have been able to reach some of the most bitterly hostile of our former enemies, and to repay them with the best revenge which a Christian knows—the kindness and love of a Christian heart. I have a son-in-law who is a medical missionary, and he has a dispensary right on top of the Khyber Pass. His wife and he have gone into Afghan villages, and have been welcomed. That son-in-law, by the way, met with a curious experience once. Whenever a patient goes to the surgery, he or she is accompanied by six or seven relations or neighbours. On one occasion some men brought a wounded companion, explaining his condition as due to one of their unfortunate fights among themselves. The bullet was extracted and examined. "Oh," said the doctor, "but this not one of your bullets—this is a dum-dum," and then the man had to admit that it came from a British rifle. Undoubtedly, the medical missions afford the best means of reaching the obstinate and difficult classes. They reach them by kindness—there is no other way."

"Do you find that the C.M.S. meets with much hostility from other missions in the field?"

"No; although we don't attack the Roman Catholics, the Roman Catholics attack us. They gave us some trouble at one time in Uganda. But I have not heard any serious complaints lately. The area of their work is limited, and I doubt if their influence is extending. It has certainly no such hold on the body of the people as a Christianity which takes the Bible for its supreme authority can gain. The Roman Catholics, you know, look upon us as being as much outside the Church as the heathen. Among Protestant missions there is all over the world what is known as the comity of missions, i.e., the different missionary societies agree not to interfere with the area in which others are working. The world, we find, is quite big enough without our doing that.”

In conclusion, Mr Fox explained that the increase of the work of the C.M.S. had led to a great increase of expenditure. “The rapidity with which the work has gone forward,” he observed, “is such that the income does not keep pace. We shall undoubtedly be face to face with a very serious crisis next year. We shall want, we estimate, an increased income of £80,000. But there is one method which we have developed, and found to be very helpful during the last ten years. Different parishes, associations, or country unions adopt a missionary, for whose support they pledge themselves to provide. These are familiarly called the ‘O.O.M's.’—Our Own Missionaries—and this system has added no less than £40,000 a year to our funds. But everywhere, you may say, the work is most encouraging.”

Within the compass of one chapter it is, of course, impossible to deal exhaustively with the work of the C.M.S.; but Mr Fox adduces emphatic proof that its operations abroad are as successful as they are extensive. Meanwhile, the Society is also busy at home, seeking to stimulate among men a greater interest in the cause of Christian missions, so that still greater efforts may be exerted in the future. In the words of the Bishop of Calcutta (Dr Welldon): “The C.M.S. looks forward with an almost absolute certainty to the time when the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour shall have been preached to all nations under Heaven. That result is certain. The only question is whether men will help it or hinder it.”