Chapter 22 – Four Days of Preaching to the Heathens in the Land of Pudukottai

by Carl Manthey-Zorn
translated by Aaron Jensen

The following three pieces are the final three chapters from Carl Manthey-Zorn’s memoirs of his time as a missionary in India entitled, “This and That from the Life of a Missionary to East India.” For more information on Zorn, please see his biography.

One time, it was on a Thursday at midnight, I rose after a short rest and sounded an enormous alarm. Now, no evil was meant by this, but otherwise the driver, the cook, the watchman (who sleeps soundly during the night) and all kinds of other people would not have woken up. And yes, they had to wake up. For the wagon stood in front of the door completely packed and it was supposed to go to Koteikaren paddy. So I sounded the alarm. “Sir, I am already here!” cried the driver and he continued to sleep. The cook put on the light and the watchman said, “Hmmmm!” and turned around once. But I was persistent and came back right at one-thirty. It was ten o’clock Friday morning on the spot. By the way, it was December 11, 1874.

Already eight days earlier I had sent my untiring Cornelius to preach to the heathens with the local catechist Njanarettinam. Our dear Lord knew why he always sent them out two by two. “He knows how frail our powers” (CW257). I too do not like to go out alone. Both of them first expected me in the evening and therefore were not there at my arrival, an observation which rightly satisfied me. Usually they were there waiting for me at my arrival. Already at dawn they had gone to a distant village to preach, and the good old grandmother of the catechist complained that neither of them had eaten yet. In the chapel there I have a small room and a bed (a wooden board with four legs) and a little table and a chair—not entirely without bugs—and a little bathroom and a little kitchen. And for the time being I knew nothing better to do than to lie down to sleep since I had a headache. And when I arose—the sky was not the red of morning; it was twelve o’clock noon—both of them stood at my bed.

In a village nearby lives my rajah’s relative, a great and rich lord, who owns three whole villages. His name is Renganadasamirajer. He is still a rather young man, but very experienced in all kinds of evil things. Several years ago all of a sudden the Lord God let his legs wither. And although I know the saying about the camel and the eye of the needle, I have also read the answer which the Lord Jesus gave to the disciples when they said, “Who then can be saved?” Likewise, I thought, I will go to him one day. Through such a visit perhaps we, along with what we said, would become known also even five miles in the vicinity. And that is also something. So I went, first into the place’s school, and at the same time sent my catechists into the “palace” to announce us. The quotation marks actually could have been removed from “palace,” for it really is a pretty and impressive house and very nice and clean. Soon I would be summoned. Enough people had gathered there, but the reception was still poor. The noble lord had placed my chair literally in front of the door. He likely meant that I should talk in to them from outside. I did not know what he actually thought in doing this, but it was not, at any rate, that he thought he was not worthy to have a servant of Christ come under his roof. Whatever he was thinking, I looked at the chair and said, “Place this inside in the middle of the hall!” I also helped out a little and then sat down and said, “A very beautiful and spacious hall. Good.” The good lord looked at me entirely astonished and swung back and forth lying on his hanging bed, which was fastened to the roof with four chains. But he was very gracious and he said to my question that he was entirely prepared to listen to me.

First I said a little something introductory, friendly, and hopeful, but then I became serious and asked him whether he too clings with body and soul to the transitory and wretched goods of this world as so many do, or has a view which is dedicated to looking into eternity. The answer to it was just an embarrassed “Ho Hum!” and then he asked if I always have my glasses on. After I had given him proper information about them, I came back to my question and spoke a little about the necessity of the soul finding rest in God. Now an old uncle of the head of the household sat there, who began in the following way, “What! The soul finding rest in God! You cannot come here to us with such things. Your mission servants have already recently told us something. It’s not as if it were all bad, but it is not for us. Rice is not sown on stony ground. This is all a lie, a shoemaking, a knavery, a nastiness, an abomination, a sin, and a shame.” (I apologize that I am not able to tell you this in the customary thundering avalanche of Tamil speech!) “It may be good for you and those like you. So you keep it!”

The man was properly unwilling, and it had a peculiar and by no means unfavorable influence on me. I said, “You are right and you speak from experience. But you are in error about the fact that finding rest is not for you. I think what you say is restlessness of the highest degree, and the house of rest is exactly for tired people.”

Then, in order to do justice to all, I passed over obvious things and spoke about the punishment of such sins, sickness, death, damnation. Then I said that we Christians are sinners too and are subject to this transitoriness. But then our “Way” entered in and changed everything which is dark into eternal lovely light. I especially spoke about death and eternity, and placed side by side those of the godless with those of the righteous, and the contrast caught their eye, although I, no longer a boy, do have a lingering imagination. We had spoken for a long time. “Ho Hum!” the rich man had said. “Have you ever seen a dead man return?” asked the uncle. And Njanarettinam said, “Yes! Jesus Christ, our Savior.” And then the people thought that if they just worshipped the highest being, regardless of which way, then they would really be saved.

Then someone in front of the door raised a loud and piercing voice and what he said was bright and clear.

It was Cornelius. “Now you claim to worship the highest being, but your God is the belly and your savior is Mammon! The highest being is in Christ, who has given his life for cursed sinners. In him and through him God wants to be known and honored.” The uncle wanted to be evil. I said, “He really is only saying to you what you yourself said before.” Now it was time to get up—identifying this is a special science of preachers to the heathens—and we went.

That had happened on Friday evening and when we came home it was very late and dark. Very early on Saturday morning I had confession and absolution with thirty-five congregation members. After that was finished, we resumed preaching to the heathens and also found a number of old people gathered under a shady tamarind tree. But to my disappointment they were not heathens but Catholics, so I said we would go back. But the people thought I should talk to them a little.

I said, “What should I say? See, when heathens worship idols and run around in blindness, that is just heathen. But it is terrible that in the name of the Triune God baptized Christians rob Christ of his crown as Savior and set up dead saints and good works.”

“That is what our priests teach,” they said.

“That is what your priests teach and that is what they must teach, for they have been anointed into the service of the one who visited Adam and Eve in the form of a snake and led them away from God’s Word, brought Christ to the cross, and now has his being as the Antichrist until the last day. They are wolves who tear the sheep to pieces.”

I was supposed to prove this. I proved it from the first commandment and from the faith which I had them proclaim themselves.

They would have been too unlearned to argue with me. Their priests would have had to answer everything.

I said, “I will certainly not earn honor by arguing with you, you poor people, but you must know what you believe, and on the Day of Judgment your priests will say to you nothing other than, ‘Pay attention! You should not listen to your priests. You should also not listen to me, but to God’s Word.”

“How do you know that?”

“From Scripture.”

They asked whether I would also dispute with their priest in front of them.

“With a thousand joys, but he will never dispute with me, for his foolishness would stink.”

So we spoke much and sharply. For it is not my principle to visit Catholics, but when they ask me, as they did here, it is my principle to testify as sharply as possible.

When I had gone, the people ran to their priest, who was two miles away, and recounted the conversation to him. He said I should just come and he would give me the answer. But the man can speak neither English, nor Tamil, nor Latin. (Of course, I must also confess that I have now forgotten much of my Latin and am tongue-tied when speaking it, for it has been a very long time since our old director at the gymnasium spoke with us in Latin.) So what could I do? I already had the Vulgate ready to bombard him, but the good man felt secure.

The fruit of this sermon was chiefly that all those people enrolled their children in our schools and committed themselves to pay tuition.

At twelve noon we had come home in the hot sun and we went back out at four o’clock to a rather remote village and sat down there in a temple of Subramanian, the god of war. People came here and sat down, and I talked about the first commandment and about sin. We were rather agreed concerning this. Then came the question of paying for the sins and I showed them the holy image of our Lord Jesus Christ, his death and his resurrection, and I said that the sin of the world was laid on him and by him was paid for. Since the people also agreed to this, I talked about repentance and faith and about “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.” Then they began to make excuses: “The World!” Cornelius said that when someone desires sweet honey, he is not allowed to fear the height of the tree or any bee stings. Then they thought, “It is getting dark and you have a long way home.”

That was Saturday evening. On Sunday morning I had private confession and a worship service with Lord’s Supper. How this congregation has already changed since the good and faithful Njanarettinam has been there! The people come to church on time and regularly, and the unruly are admonished and disciplined by a congregational assembly. Also he taught the entire congregation without exception the six chief pieces, the “First Milk of Christian Teaching” (a glorious little book in question-and-answer format), and also the church year, so that they answer beautifully. Sunday after Sunday and devotion after devotion he taught the people in his valuable and solid way, which is still respectful as well. His illustrations and explanations are valuably home-cooked and stimulating, and given credence by his own person. On Sunday evening I sat in my little room and listened with delight as he examined the congregation assembled in the chapel.

In the evening we returned to a village named Perambur, which is several miles away. There is a lower court of justice there and I placed myself in that court of justice. They politely brought me a chair and the hall was soon filled with Brahmins and many others. One of them brought with him a large purse full of money and I asked him what he thought salvation costs.

“Ha ha ha!”

“Some people,” I continued, “care only about this life, but the chief thing is to try to obtain that life.”

“Hee hee hee!”

“Hey, come on! Is that something extraordinary to you? Brahmins? Voodoo experts?”

“Yes, there are Brahmins who are experts in voodoo.”

“Not you?”

“We”—there was a long pause—“have too much to do.”

“Now, we will see,” I said, “that there also are people among you who will not close their ears to true wisdom. I have already found some people of this kind. I am in the habit of visiting the villages and beginning conversations when I get there. Now I will ask you a question once and see who answers it: What is the treasure of all treasures?

“That we do not know,” thought one of them, a Brahmin. “The Great Sorcerer” (who was a respected and rich man from the Sudra caste) “must come here. He will answer every question.”

“Good. Go and get him!”

While they were getting him, we spoke about trivial things. But his coming took too long for me and it also was doubtful to me, and so I asked the question yet again, “What is the treasure of all treasures?”

“Mukti,” said a Brahmin, which means, “Salvation.”

“Correct,” I said. “But how do we get it?

“Through true service of God,” answered the same Brahmin.

“Also correct,” I said, “Through the service of God. But now look. God, the Lord of all the world, has created everything, and he is perfect and holy. Why has he made men so miserable? Sickness, death, need, poverty, discontent, evil conscience, insecurity, angst, mistrust, and still another whole host of evils. These are all miserable things with which man is clothed as with a robe, except that he cannot take it off. Why has God created man this way?

The Brahmin said, “God has not created man this way.”

“He hasn’t? But we bring all that with us from our mother’s womb. Where does it come from then?”

“It has come through sin,” said my perceptive man.

“Rightly so! Through sin and the wrath of the holy God.”

I now recounted an example about myself. “I had been angry at a few servants because of an offense and then they did not rest until they. . .”

“Received forgiveness,” cried the Brahmin.

“Yes,” I said, “For not until then could they hope to again receive good from me. So it is with us too. God is angry because of our sin, and his wrath eats away at our life, as we see. So, what is the treasure of all treasures?

The forgiveness of sins,” cried a full chorus.

How do we get it? Life and death depends on this question and its correct answer,” I cried, and showed the contradiction in someone saying that he can acquire forgiveness for himself, which is also something impossible for us corrupted people.

At his point that Brahmin related a long history of a certain hunter Valmiki whose core belief was that God himself must show a way to please him. (In this case the way was awfully dumb.) I accepted this also and said, “Good, God himself must show us how to acquire the forgiveness of sins, and likewise, how to keep it.”

Then came the awaited Great Sorcerer, an old, friendly, kind lord with such a nice face that people absolutely have to like him, but a forehead full of Shiva-ashes. Now he carried on the conversation with me by himself. I recapitulated everything which was said and asked him the final question yet again, “How do we get the forgiveness of sins?”

“By following the gurus,” he said.

That came to me almost unexpectedly, and I asked, “How so?”

“By letting the gurus tell us what God wants us to do and what the direction of the spirit is which God requires of us.”

“Beautiful,” I replied. “Now the only issue is whether the gurus in question are true or false.”

The man didn’t understand me. I was thinking and talking about the quality of the moral character of the gurus and therefore I said, “Always, whatever the gurus may be like, if their teaching is the right one, then we must listen to it.”

“Certainly,” I said, “But now look! I am a guru, and your Brahmins” (The ears of the lords sitting around me perked up.) “want to be gurus. My teaching is completely opposite to theirs. Now, who has the right teaching?”

“If you,” said my Great Sorcerer, “are a Roman Catholic, then you a not a true guru. That much I know.”

“I am not a Roman Catholic. Roman Catholics are people who have trampled the true teaching of God in the mud of devilish lies. I am not such a person. Tell me what you consider to be the mark of a true guru. Then we will see.”

The dear old man answered the following, “We men are not able to know God Most High, his being, and his will. A true guru is one who has been taught by God himself and proclaims to us God’s will. Listen to a parable. A man whom I want to see and speak with stands on my roof. How do I come to him? Through the stairs which lead to him, of course. The true gurus are these stairs.”

“Yes,” I said, “dear old man, the gurus are these stairs. They are taught by God and they teach the people. Now permit me to carry before your souls the source and origin of all right teaching and the only true guru. Then we will easily agree who the true gurus are. It all revolves around the means of obtaining the forgiveness of sins, as we have already seen.”

Now I proceeded from our sin and blindness and God’s wrath, on which points we had already agreed before. And then I talked about the Lord’s little branch, born from a virgin, which shot up from the barren soil, and I painted for the people the holy image of our Lord Jesus and said that the sin of the world has been laid on him and that he has atoned for it through his suffering and death. And I told them how God has sealed the completion of this work through the resurrection of his Son and how now the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all people in the name of Jesus and how all knees must bow at his name. The old lord and everyone present listened attentively and showed their understanding with all kinds of questions and answers, and truly! I don’t remember ever having preached to the heathens with such joy and gladness.

Now the end was here too, and so we went. And we can do nothing more than sow. Flesh and blood is angry when it does not shoot up immediately. But should flesh and blood have the Word and rightly preserve it? I also have hours of waiting. But in Mark 4 the Lord of all sowing and thriving himself says, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” So it sprouts, but in such a way that the sower does not know. Not until after many years of faithful work does he also have any kind of right to view its fruit. Also there are some pure weeds which are considered to be fruit. Therefore we do not see, but rather sow and believe.

Late in the evening there was still a worship service in the chapel and on the next morning at ten o’clock I wanted to visit a weekly market on the trip home with Cornelius and Njanarettinam, but it rained heavily. And then a comical scene occurred. “It is raining, sir,” said Njanarettinam with a very suspicious face. But I just said, “Good.” Half an hour later he came back and said, “It is raining and we have still not eaten, sir.” I said, “Still not eaten? Oh, you’ll be sorry if you aren’t finished at the right time, then there will really be punishment.” (This is the custom with me, I confess). Now, at ten o’clock, when I started in and it poured heavily, both of my companions stood with happy faces ready to go with me. But then I said, “Just stay there.” “Why?” “Oh, it is raining too much. I just wanted to test your energy.” Then they also stayed there entirely content and I went home.

Cornelius stays there to preach to the heathens for one more week, as he is away in a place fifteen days a month. On the other fifteen days he accompanies me.

Reflections on missionary work in India.

 Mar 5, 2011