Duff Defied Shipwrecks to Disciple India

Dan Graves, MSL

Duff Defied Shipwrecks to Disciple India

On this day, April 26, 1806, Alexander Duff was born in Perthshire in Scotland. The boy, who would win such a name for patient and enthusiastic faith as a man, grew up on a small farm. His father farmed but also had a heart for the things of God. He was among those influenced by Charles Simeon, the evangelical chaplain of Cambridge. Through reading a poem about "Judgment Day," young Alexander Duff also saw his need for a Savior and learned to hope for salvation in Christ.

Duff got an inkling of his future when he nearly drowned in a creek that graced the landscape near his home. Afterwards he experienced a vision in which he understood his life was to be spent for Christ. A good student, he made preparations to become a missionary. With a new bride, he sailed from London for Calcutta on October 14, 1829. Alexander was twenty-three years old.

Their ship wrecked near Cape Town, South Africa. The two lost everything they owned, except the clothes on their back, their Bible and a psalm book. This included eight hundred books which Duff had planned to use in educational work. Undaunted, the two boarded another ship for India. It would be eight months and another shipwreck before they arrived at their oriental home, praising God all the more fervently for having been thwarted.

Duff had come planning to educate Indians, but had been instructed to do so somewhere other than in Calcutta. Calcutta had advantages, however--including a population of half a million people. Duff was convinced it should be the center of his work. Although he had no building, he opened school with five pupils under a Banyan tree. By week's end, he had three hundred applicants. Within two years, he had over a thousand students. He determined to teach every useful branch of knowledge and to saturate his instruction with Scripture. "Our maxim has been, is now and ever will be this: wherever, whenever and by whomsoever Christianity is sacrificed on the altar of worldly expediency, there and then must the supreme good of mankind lie bleeding at its base." To put all of his pupils on an equal footing--they represented several different languages--he made English the medium of instruction. His mighty vision compelled him to produce a series of text books.

When the Church of Scotland split, Duff sided with the more evangelical Free Church. The established church confiscated the buildings he had labored so long to erect, and he had to begin afresh. Despite such setbacks, Duff persisted. He took only three furloughs in thirty-five years, and those only because of ill health. In his last term as a missionary, he surprised his Hindu hosts by demonstrating that girls also were teachable.

Although his schools were widely imitated, conversions were hard to obtain. The Indians who did turn to Christ were mostly of the lowest castes and were held in contempt by other Indians.

Bibliography:

  1. "Duff, Alexander." Encyclopedia Britannica. Britannica, 1911.
  2. "Duff, Alexander." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  3. Hampton, Henry Verner. Biographical Studies in Modern Indian Education. Indian Branch, Oxford Univ. Press, 1947.
  4. Holcomb, Helen Harriet Howe. Men of Might in India Missions; the leaders and their epochs. New York: Fleming H. Revell company, 1901.
  5. Mackay, William M. "Alexander Duff and the Principles of Missionary Endeavour." http://www.pcea.asn.au/alexduff.html.
  6. McLean, Archibald. Epoch Makers of Modern Missions. New York: Fleming H. Revell company, 1912.
  7. Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions. The Pelican History of the Church #6. Hammondsworth, Middlesex, England: Pelican Books, 1964.
  8. Paton, William. Alexander Duff, Pioneer of Missionary Education. London: Student Christian Movement, 1923.

Last updated May, 2007.

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