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Vol. III.] September and October, 1826. [No. V.
IS RAMMOHUN ROY A CHRISTIAN? OR, IN OTHER WORDS, IS HE A BELIEVER IN THE DIVINE AUTHORITY OF OUR LORD?
This is a question, which is often proposed to those who are the avowed friends of a Unitarian Mission to India; and it is thought to have an important bearing upon the question of the expediency of such a mission, and of the patronage which should be extended to it. I will therefore state some of the evidence, on which it is believed that he is a Christian. This evidence may not satisfy his Trinitarian opponents, who refuse the name of Christian to their Unitarian brethren. But it will go far to solve the doubts of any who are themselves Unitarians, but who, with all the interest which they profess to feel in the attainment and diffusion of religious truth, have not read the 'Appeals' of this great and good man, for the cause of simple and uncorrupted Christianity.
1 confine myself, then, in replying to the question which is at the head of this paper, to Rammohun Roy's, ' First, Second, and Final Appeal to the Christian Public, in Reply to the Observations of Dr Marshman of Seratnpore,' and in vindication of his publication of 'The Precepts of Jesus, the Guide to Peace and Happiness, extracted from the Books of the New Testament, ascribed to the four Evangelists.' The testimony which I shall adduce, will therefore be that alone of Rammohun Roy himself. Nor will I refer either to his own private correspondence, or to other private letters from Calcutta; for in no private communication which has been received from him here, has he expressed himself more
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unequivocally, nor have any of his friends in India, it is believed, been more explicit upon this subject, than he has himself be* n, in the publications to which I have referred, and which were issued from the press in the very city in which he resides, and where he is surrounded by bis idolatrous countrymen. If this testimony shall be thought by any to be partial, or defective, I will only say, that I shall be very glad if they can bring better evidence, that they are themselves believers in the divine authority of our Lord.
A word or two may be necessary for some readers, in regard to the publication of 'The Precepts of Jesus, the Guide to Peace and Happiness;' and to the circumstances which led Rammohun Roy to publish his three 'Appeals.'
It was in the beginning of the.year 1820, that'The Precepts of Jesus, &c, with Translations into the Sungskrit and Bengalee,' were printed at the Baptist Mission press, in Calcutta. Of the design of this pamphlet, and of his reasons for confining himself in these extracts, to the preceptive parts of the records of the evangelists, let him speak for himself. The paragraph which follows, is from the 'Introduction' to 'The Precepts of Jesus.'
'Voluminous works, written by learned men of particular sects, for the purpose of establishing the truth, consistency, rationality, and priority of their own peculiar doctrines, contain such a variety of arguments, that I cannot hope to be able to adduce here any new reasonings of sufficient novelty and force to attract the notice of my readers. Besides, in matters of religion particularly, men in general, through prejudice and partiality to the opinions which they once form, pay little or no attention to opposite sentiments, (however reasonable they may be,) and often turn a deaf ear to what is most consistent with the laws of nature, and conformable to the dictates of human reason and divine revelation. At the same time, to those who are not biassed by prejudice, and who are, by the grace of God, open to conviction, a simple enumeration and statement of the respective tenets of different sects may be a sufficient guide to direct their inquiries in ascertaining which of them is most consistent with the sacred traditions, and most acceptable to common sense.—For these reasons I decline entering into any discussion on those points, and confine my attention at present to the task of laying before my fellow-creatures the words of Christ, with a translation from the English into Sungskrit and the language of Bengal. I feel persuaded that by separating from the other matters contamed in the New Testament the moral precepts found in that book, these will be more likely to produce the desirable effect of improving the minds and hearts of men of different persuasions and degrees of understanding. For, historical and some other passages are liable to the doubts and disputes of freethinkers, and antichristians, especially miraculous relations, which are much less wonderful than the fabricated tales handed down to the natives of Asia, and consequently would be apt at best to carry little weight with them.* On the contrary, moral doctrines, tending evidently to the peace and harmony of mankind at large, are beyond the reach of metaphysical perversion, and intelligible alike to the learned and to the unlearned. This simple code of religion and morality is so admirably calculated to elevate men's ideas to high and liberal notions of one God, who has equally subjected all living creatures, without distinction of cast, rank, or wealth, to change, disappointment, pain, and death, and has equally admitted all to be partakers of the bountiful mercies which he has lavished over nature, and is also so well fitted to regulate the conduct of the human race in the discharge of their various duties to God, to themselves, and to society, that I cannot but hope the best effects from its promulgation in its present form.'
Here, as I think, as fair an opportunity was given to the christian missionaries in India, to obtain a most able coadjutor in the work of recommending Christianity to the attention of the Hindoos, as was ever given to men to obtain incidental aid in the accomplishment of any important enterprise. It was not, indeed, made certain by this publication, that Rammohun Roy was a believer in the divine authority of our Lord. But it was made most certain, that he esteemed the christian precepts to be above all other precepts, and that he was most solicitous to persuade his countrymen, that in obeying these precepts, they would find their happiness. It is here made most obvious, that he believed his countrymen to be as yet unfitted to receive, and rightly to estimate the miraculous relations of the gospels; and every honest and honorable mind, I feel assured, will think it would have been but just to have inferred from his words, that he withheld these miraculous relations, not because he himself classed them with idle tales, but alone because he knew that Hindoos, while they retained their idolatrous superstitions, would so have regarded them.
*' Ugisti is filmed for having swallowed the ocesn,when it had given him offence. * * * At his command, also, the Vindhya range of mountains prostrated itself, and so remains. (Wilson's Dictionary.)'
But how was this publication received by the missionaries in Calcutta? Let Dr Marshman, the editor of' The Friend of India,' and if not the first among them in influence, yet second only to Dr Carey, or, it may be, to the Bishop of Calcutta, answer this question. Here, he says, 'the deist and the infidel will be delighted to find the miracles of Jesus Christ classed, by a well informed Hindoo, with the Hindoo sage Ugisti's drinking up the ocean in a fit of passion, and his causing the Vindbya mountains to prostrate themselves before him; described to his countrymen, as being such, as, if narrated, "would be apt at best to carry little weight with them ;" and hence represented as being better suppressed, though his precepts are excellent.'* Was there ever a more gross and unjustifiable misrepresentation and perversion of another's language than this? Nor is this all. He speaks also of Rammohun Roy as a heathen, at a time when it was perfectly well known in Calcutta, that his renunciation of idolatry was absolute and total. Let it, however, be employed by Dr Marshman, or by whom it may, it.is a wicked, as well as a mean artifice in a controversialist, to stigmatize with opprobrious names, which the thought of a moment would convince him have no relation to the individual to whom they are applied. It might indeed have been doubted, whether Rammohun Roy was a Christian. But it could not be doubted whether he was a heathen; But let this pass. I do not hope to reach the ear of Dr Marshman, or of any of his friends at Serampore. Nor is it any part of my object to expose him to the influence of that sentiment, which his conduct in this concern cannot fail to awaken in upright and ingenuous minds. I proceed therefore to the 'Appeals' of Rammohun Roy, which were occasioned by this ungracious, this unchristian attack upon him. In these 'Appeals,' he speaks of himself as 'the Compiler,' that is, of The Precepts of Jesus.' I will only add in this connexion, as it here occurs to me, and for the information of those who have not seen the pamphlet, that the English edition of ' The Precepts of Jesus' has nearly ninetyeight octavo pages. It therefore will not be thought to contain a very small part of the instructions of our Lord.
The following is the evidence which I have to adduce, that Rammohun Roy is a Christian.'In perusing the twentieth number of" The Friend of India,"
* A Defence of the Deity and Atonement of Jesus Christ, in Reply to Rammohun Roy, of Calcutta, by Dr Marshman of Serampore. pp. 3, 4,. I felt as much surprised as disappointed at some remarks made in that magazine by a gentleman under the signature of "A Christian Missionary," on a late publication, intitled, "The Precepts of Jesus;" and also at some observations of a similar nature on the same subject by the Editor of that publication. Before, however, I attempt to enquire into the ground upon which their objections to the work in question are founded, I humbly beg to appeal to the public against the unchristianlike, as well as uncivil manner in which the Editor has adduced his objections to the compilation, by introducing personality, and applying the term of heathen to the Compiler. I say unchristianlike manner, because the Editor, by making use of the term heathen, has, I presume, violated truth, charity, and liberality, which are essential to Christianity in every sense of the word. For there are only two methods by which the character of the Compiler as a heathen, or as a believer in one true and living God, can be satisfactorily inferred. The most reasonable of the two modes is to confine such enquiries to the evidence contained in the subject of review, no mention of the name of the Compiler being made in the publication itself. Another mode, which is obviously inapplicable in such discussions, is to guess at the real author, and to infer his opinions from a knowledge of his education, or other circumstances. With respect to the first source of evidence, the following expressions of the Compiler's sentiments are found in the Introduction. "A notion of the existence of a Supreme Superintending Power, the author and preserver of the harmonious system, who has organized and who regulates such an infinity of celestial and terrestrial objects, and a due estimation of that law which teaches that man should do to others as he would wish to be done by, reconcile us to human nature, &,c." "This simple code of religion and morality, (meaning the Precepts of Jesus,) is so admirably calculated to elevate mens' ideas to high and liberal notions of one God, &.c." "so well fitted to regulate the conduct of the human race in the discharge of their various duties to God, to themselves, and to society," and "so conformable to the dictates of human reason and divine revelation, &,c." These expressions are calculated, in my humble opinion, to convince every mind not biassed by prejudice, that the Compiler believed not only in one God, wliose nature and essence are beyond human comprehension, but in the truth revealed in the Christian system."*