“Imperialism” is a word that has been somewhat prostituted in recent years. The moral splendour of Britain’s service for those whom she had in imperial sway has been too easily forgotten. For, at its best, imperialism in earlier days was not only a fundamentally Christian concept, the devotion of men and women to the welfare of peoples with less advantages than themselves, but it offered a field of deliberate Christian service.

Motives Lifted In India

Nowhere is this shown better than in the story of Britain’s Indian Empire.

Not that Britain entered India with Christian intentions—far from it. In the eighteenth century the East India Company regarded the territory as a source of trade and revenue, and had no concern whatever for the souls of its people. But in 1773 a Scotsman in the Company’s service, Charles Grant, after leave in Britain landed in Calcutta “under deep concern for the state of my soul.… There was no person then living in Calcutta from whom I could obtain any information as to the way of a sinner’s salvation.” In one of the foreign enclaves nearby the Swedish evangelist Kiernander showed it to him. Thenceforth, as a younger contemporary said, “A new principle of action governed him, a profound and abiding sense of his obligation as a Christian, and grateful and affecting remembrance of the mercies of God in Jesus Christ.”

Grant spent much of his last years attempting to persuade the East India Company to introduce Christian missions to India under official patronage. Dutch governments supported missions in their colonies but the British East India Company not only refused, it would not even allow missionaries to enter India (though some did come in the guise of chaplains to the European community) until forced ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.