When Sundar Singh was asked about the training of theological students, he said: There should be more practical work. The professors themselves should go about the country for two or three months with their students to preach the gospel.
The person-to-person contact in evangelism today is very much a missing dimension. This was very prominent in the ministry of Sundar Singh who made friendly contacts with various kinds of people including farmers in the fields, travellers in train compartments, sanyasis at Rishikesh and warders in Tibetan prison houses. He was accessible to them.
Sundar said, Preachers ought to get their message from God. If they get it from books instead, they do not preach their own gospel; they preach the gospel of others. They sit on other people’s eggs and hatch them and think they are their own.
We are tired of doctrines. We need the living Christ, people who will not only preach and teach, but workers whose whole life and temper is a revelation of Jesus Christ.
A few weeks before the Sadhu left Sabathu for Tibet on his final journey he spoke in a meeting at Okara on 12th March 1929, which was attended by several Hindus along with Christians in the area. Sundar Singh’s advice to a young Sadhu on that day was as follows: Read your Bible daily with prayer, do not flee from the Cross and do not become proud when some good people give you any honor. Remember the colt had the honor of walking on the garments which were spread by men in the way while Christ was entering Jerusalem and people were saying, Hosanna, blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. The colt had this honor because Christ was seated on it.
In 1922 he made a proposal to the National Missionary Society (NMS) for starting missionary work on the border of Tibet. In 1924 the NMS of India had asked Sundar Singh to collaborate with them in the evangelization of Tibet. He agreed to train two workers every year who would go with him to preach the gospel in Tibet. In 1927 the NMS reported that some of its work was in Tibet and Himalayan States under the direction of Sadhu Sundar Singh.
The Sadhu in his last published book, With and Without Christ, gives interesting incidents taken from the life of Christians and non-Christians, which illustrate the difference in lives lived with Christ and without Christ. Sundar writes: The quickening work of the living Christ is not confined to our organized churches, but is going on among non-Christians far in excess of what is commonly known or of any estimate we can make.
The Sadhu had a burden for the places where the gospel had not reached. Tibet became his mission field. During his visits he set up small congregations in some places in Tibet and also started a school. He preached the gospel alike to the Lamas and the Hindu Sanyasis at Rishikesh, to philosophers such as Henri Bergson and Rabindranath Tagore and to villagers whom he met in corn fields or jungles and to the Christian congregations in various parts of the world. His was a characteristic personal approach through which he shared the joy and peace he received from his Master.
A report which appeared in Morning Star of Jaffna, Sri Lanka gives in nutshell the typical manner in which the Sadhu preached to mixed audience “Sundar Singh has also a message for non-Christians. He has not attacked their religion. He has not scolded nor used harsh terms of reproach, but has fearlessly testified to his own failure after long and painful search to find peace and joy and satisfaction apart from God’s great revelation Christ.
The mystical experiences of Sundar Singh include visions seen in the state of ecstasy. Although these were precious for him he did not glorify in them. Nor did he allude to them in his sermons but had only narrated some of them to his close friends. He felt an inner urge to put them in writing and was greatly relieved after publishing his visions of the Spiritual world in 1926. In the Preface Sadhu speaks about his first experience at Kotgarh, in his eyes were opened to heavenly vision. During the years that followed the visions have continued to enrich his life. He had them sometimes as often as eight or ten times in a month when his spiritual eyes were opened to see the glory of heavenly sphere and walk there with Jesus and hold conversations with angels and spirits. Several of them are recorded in his books. These experiences created in him a longing to enter in permanently to the bliss and fellowship of the redeemed.
The visions become meaningful only in the Christ centric character of the Sadhu’s mysticism. “Christ on his throne is always in the centre… The face of Christ seen by the Sadhu in ecstasy with his spiritual eyes is the same that he saw at his conversion with bodily eyes. The scars of Jesus are not ugly; but beautiful.” Sundar Singh felt that he understood more about God in a single moment of ecstasy than he could have had many years of study in a Theological College. Apart from his experience of “the communion of the Saints the Sadhu also learnt through them that ‘the Saints help in the work of saving souls in hell, because there can be no idleness in heaven.’ Those in hell will ultimately be brought to heaven…” Very few will be lost but many will he saved.
This universalism or hope in ultimate salvation perhaps remained as a concealed foundation of his evangelistic preaching in which he stressed the need for repentance and the certainty of immediate judgement.
Christ is my life. He is everything to me in heaven and earth. For the love of his Master he accepted the cross and called it the key of heaven. He wrote: Outwardly the cross may appear full of nails, but in its nature, it is sweet and peaceful.
Christ spoke to him in ecstasy that His crucifixion should not be viewed as an isolated incident in His life, which lasted only for a few hours, but as a continuous experience in His life on earth. Christ also taught him that he who accepts the cross and lives his life in his Lord, dies not once for all, but daily.
Service for him is unthinkable apart from suffering and sacrifice. He took delight in bearing the cross through physical suffering and mental agonies and learnt to be humble. The offers to accept the headship of training centre, which was to be started for Christian Sadhus, was politely turned down by the Sadhu. He was not interested in the post of the “Bishop of Indian Church” when the indigenous minded Christian community in Lahore offered the same to him. Sundar did not want to be addressed as “Sadhuji” by his friends. He would request them to call him “Little brother”. He compared the little honour he accepted at times to the honour received by the donkey, which had to walk on the cloaks spread on the road when the master rode on it. Sundar Singh refused to bless or baptize people including his father who accepted Christ during the last years of his life because Sundar felt himself unworthy for doing the same with the hands which tore the bible into pieces and burnt them; the blessing could be received only from the pierced hands of Jesus. There were occasions when the Sadhu’s humility was expressed with remarkable humour. When a friend brought a fine rug as a present to him, the Sadhu took the rug graciously and then asked the friend to accept it from him as a present. While in London, he wore a red raincoat on his saffron robe. When he stood in a street corner in thick fog he was mistaken for a post pillar by an old lady. She was taken aback when the pillar-box said: “Give me the letter, I will post it for you.”
Like his Master Sundar Singh lived for others. He engaged himself in the service of others in places like the leper Asylum in Sabathu. Evangelism, service and prayer were all important to him. When asked what he would do if he had a week all to himself, would he spend it in prayer or in active evangelism, Sundar replied: Can we drink only water or eat only food for a week? We require both drink and food.
Sundar Singh’s appearance and presence always reminded his audience of Jesus Christ. A friend of the Sadhu observed his face becoming radiant and like the face of Jesus, whenever he returned from his solitary meditation and prayer. A Hindu Saint at first sight of Sundar was able to see that Sundar has realised the bliss, which he was struggling after.
Prayer and meditation are described by Sadhu as the opening of our hearts to God when “the rays of the Sun of righteousness will heal the wounds of our sins and give us perfect health.” Speaking about his prayers the Sadhu says: “I use no words. I think only of those things that I have been reading, of the things I have been doing or intend to do, of the people I know, of myself and of Jesus-such thought is prayer, God speaks not man.
Sundar Singh organized his devotional life of prayer and meditation along the pattern set by Jesus. Prayer for him was the hidden root for the life lived in constant fellowship with Christ. He firmly believed that prayer could never alter the will of God. This he illustrates with a parable about the bird, which sits brooding over her eggs. As she continues to sit on them the change does not take place in the mother but in the eggs. So also through our prayer God is not changed but we are changed so as to know his plans for us.
In February 1913 he attempted a forty-day fast in a jungle near Rishikesh. When his strength was altogether gone after about two weeks, he was carried to Rishikesh railway station by woodcutters who were passing through the jungle. The experience of the fast brought to him a notable expansion of his spiritual life. From that time on his life was one of real and unbroken fellowship with his Lord.
Since the day of his conversion Sundar Singh endeavored to follow Christ and made every effort to imitate his master, particularly his life of prayer and meditation. He would spend long hours in solitude communion with God. He had a number of visions in which he would be seated at the feet of his master and converse with him. Great truths were revealed to him during these sessions of dialogue. While speaking about the intimate relationship with his master, he says that “He (Christ) opened his heart with the key of love. . . filled it with his presence.”
Sit at the Master’s feet in prayer – Sundar Singh
When we have really encountered the Master and experienced
release from sin, then sheer joy impels us to share it with
others. We cannot sit silent about what God has done;
we must give witness to it. Anyone who has experienced the
Master’s peace – whether man or woman, boy or girl, rich or
poor, laborer or farmer, writer or priest, judge or official,
doctor or lawyer, teacher or pupil, government official or
missionary– he or she is only a follower of the Master to
the extent that they witness to the truth. But bearing
witness does not necessarily mean preaching in the
market or from a pulpit. We have opportunities of
giving witness to the Master wherever we are. We can
do this through an upright life, a blameless character,
through integrity of behavior, by our enthusiasm, and by
our love for the Master, sharing with others what he has
done for us. Every person, not only with words but with
his life, can be a witness for the Master.
A Sufi mystic was on a journey. He had with him a
quantity of wheat. After being on the road for several
days he opened his bags and found a number of ants
in them. He sat down and pondered over their plight.
Being overcome with pity for the little lost creatures,
he retraced his steps and returned them safely to their
original home. It is amazing how we humans can show so much
sympathy to such little creatures. How then is it possible
to lack sympathy and fellow feeling in our dealing with
one another? Many have gone very far astray and do not
know the way back. Surely it is our duty to guide the
lost back to the way of righteousness and to help them
find their eternal home.
There are many people in India and around the
world who would like to hear about the Master. These
people need witnesses to the truth but not Western
culture. Indians desperately need the Water of Life,
but they do not want it in European vessels! The Master
chose simple fisherman as his followers because he
had a simple message, not a philosophy. The world
has enough of teaching and philosophy.
What homesickness I had in Europe! I felt
like a bird in a cage. The whole atmosphere was heavy
for me. Many people thought I suffered from the
cold climate, but this was not so. I have experienced
far greater cold in the Himalayas. It was not the physical
atmosphere that oppressed me, but the spiritual
In India, one feels everywhere – even through
idols and altars, pilgrims and penitents, temples and
tanks – that there is a desire for higher things. In the
West, however, everything points to armed force,
great power, and material things. It is this power of
evil that makes me so sad. India is more and more
seeking the Master’s truth. The West is in danger of
becoming more and more indifferent. And yet the
West owes so many of its blessings to Christianity. At
one time the ostrich could fly, but because the ostrich
stopped using its wings, it became unable to fly. So are
the people of Europe and America – they do not appreciate
the faith of their forebears and are fast losing it.
The West is like Judas Iscariot, who ate with Yesu,
only to later deny him. The West ought to fear the
fate of Judas, lest it hang itself on the tree of learning.
You have so many privileges. We in the East have to
give up many things when we become Christians. For
you, it is not so. Therefore be careful that you don’t
lose your only possibility for eternal happiness. I am
reminded of the hunter who was pursued by a tiger.
He had no fear because his hut was nearby and he was
sure that he had the key in his pocket. On reaching it,
however, the key was gone, and although there was
only the thickness of the door between him and
safety, he was lost.
Once when I was in the Himalayas, I was sitting
upon the bank of a river; I drew out of the water a
beautiful, hard, round stone and smashed it. The inside
was quite dry. The stone had been lying a long
time in the water, but the water had not penetrated the
stone. It is just like that with the “Christian” people of
the West. They have for centuries been surrounded by
Christianity, entirely steeped in its blessings, but the
Master’s truth has not penetrated them. Christianity is
not at fault; the reason lies rather in the hardness of
their hearts. Materialism and intellectualism have
made their hearts hard. So I am not surprised that
many people in the West do not understand what
Christianity really is.
Many modern thinkers in the West do not believe in
the miracles of our Master. To my mind, it’s already a
miracle that there are still spiritual people in the West
at all. In America, for example, one sees a good deal
of Christianity, but it does not address the spiritual
needs of the people. Just as salty seawater cannot
quench thirst, much of American religion cannot satisfy
a spiritually thirsty person because it is saturated
with materialism. The Master’s words, “Come unto
me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest,”
are true as regards the East, but I think that for
America, he would say, “Come unto me all who are
heavy gold-laden and I will give you rest.”
Looking at the motto “In God We Trust” on the
American dollar one might think the Americans are
very religious people, but the motto should read, “In the
dollar we trust.” Americans are seeking the almighty
dollar, not the Almighty God.
Although America is a “Christian” nation and there
are many sincere Christians in America, the majority
of the people there have no faith. There, where it is
so easy to have religion, where religion is offered on
every side and no one is persecuted for their beliefs,
life should be peaceful. Instead, there is a mad rush
and hustle and bustle after money and comfort and
pleasure. In India, many Christians suffer bitter
persecution but continue to find happiness in their
new faith. Because it is so easy to have faith in
America, people do not appreciate what a comfort
there is in faith.
A scientist had a bird in his hand. He wanted
to find out in what part of the bird’s body its life was
and what the life itself was. So he began dissecting the
bird. The result was that the very life of which he was
in search mysteriously vanished. Those who try to
understand the inner life merely intellectually will
meet with a similar failure. The life they are looking
for will only vanish.
When I returned from Europe, I began reading the
writings of the German mystic Jakob Boehme and
was attracted to him as soon as I had read the first two
or three pages. This simple, uneducated shoemaker
had an experience of God that has influenced millions
of people. I may be wrong, but I am more and more
convinced that simple people like Boehme have a pure
intuition and grasp easily and readily the Master’s
profound spiritual truths. Educated people, especially
those I met in the West, repress their native intuition
and substitute in its place a kind of artificial
rationalism. That is why the Master called simple fishermen
as his disciples.
I studied theology in a theological seminary. I
learned many useful and interesting things no doubt,
but they were not of much spiritual profit. There
were discussions about sects, about Yesu Christ and
many other interesting things, but I found the reality,
the spirit of all these things, only at the Master’s feet.
When I spent hours at his feet in prayer, then I found
enlightenment, and God taught me so many things that
I cannot express them even in my own language. Sit at
the Master’s feet in prayer; it is the greatest theological
college in this world. We know about theology, but he
is the source of theology itself. He explains in a few
seconds a truth that has taken years to understand.
Whatever I have learned has been learned only at his
feet. Not only learning, but life, I have found at his
feet in prayer.
I do not condemn theologians wholesale, but it is
unfortunately the fashion in Western thinking to
doubt and deny everything. I protest this tendency. I
never advise anyone to consult theologians, because
all too often they have completely lost all sense of
spiritual reality. They can explain Greek words and all
that, but they spend too much time among their books
and not enough time with the Master in prayer. It is
not that I oppose all education, but education without
life is certainly dangerous. You must stop examining
spiritual truths like dry bones! You must break open
the bones and take in the life-giving marrow.
When he was thirty-three in 1922 he wanted to die at that age like his master. Owing to hectic travels and crowded programmes continuously for sixteen years the Sadhu began to lose his health. He had heart attacks, trouble in eyesight, ulcers and several other complications, which compelled him to confine himself to his residence in Sabathu. Apart from his regular correspondence with friends all over the world, he was able to devote considerable time to write several thin volumes:
At the masters feet (1922)
Reality and religion (1923)
Search after Reality (1924)
Spiritual Life (1925)
Spiritual World (1926)
Real Life (1927)
With and Without Christ (1928)
In 1920 he visited Britain, America and Australia. His father who by this time had accepted Christ paid for his voyage. Sundar challenged the churches in the West to come out of their materialistic outlook. He made bold prophetic statements such as the following: Europe has failed to understand Christ. They have failed to understand His mind because they do not live with Him. There are many people nowadays in the churches in Christian lands who admire Christ and His teachings and have the privilege of being near the kingdom of God, but they will beat their breasts like the five foolish virgins, for they are near but not in the kingdom of God. It is observed that he was as fearless in his denunciation as he was tender in his pleading. Sundar Singh made a second trip to Europe in 1922. En route he visited the Holy Land and fulfilled his heart’s desire.
Between 1918-1919 he made visits to South India, Sri Lanka, Burma and Malaysia. Although Sundar was endowed with the gift of healing, he, like Paul, used it sparingly. He once prayed that the gift be withdrawn since he was aware of the pitfalls of popularity. When left for Tibet on his twelfth trip in 1919, he told his friends that he never expected to return. Sundar had the zeal to die as a martyr.
Sundar Singh was a born adventurer and had a burden to take the gospel to places like Tibet, which were closed for missionary activities. At the tender age of nineteen he was bold enough to venture into the land of the Lamas. Between 1908-1929 he is said to have made no less than twenty risky trips to that country. During 1914-1918 Sundar Singh experienced severe hardships, including imprisonment in a den with leeches and, using very painful torturing methods to stop him preaching.This he gladly accepted with the remark that it was very sweet to suffer for Christ. He wrote in his Urdu New Testament: Christ’s presence had turned my prison into a blessed heaven. What will it be like in heaven itself?
After visiting a few villages Sundar began his first winter tour and covered many parts of Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, then proceeded further to Baluchistan and Afghanistan. Very soon Sundar Singh came to be known as the Apostle of the bleeding feet in several Parts of North India. During one of his visits to Europe he was asked whether the stones had cut his feet, Sundar replied that they were strong enough to cut the stones. Sundar carried with him only a blanket and an Urdu New Testament. Within two years he had covered almost the whole of North India. Meanwhile he spent a year (1909-10) in St. John’s Divinity School in Lahore. Although he was offered a license to preach in the Anglican Church, he did not want to confine his ministry to any particular denomination. He chose to continue his ministry as a wandering Sadhu and carry the message of Jesus Christ to all churches and also to people of other faiths. He was a frequent visitor to Rishikesh, where he made friends with a number of Hindu Sadhus with whom he shared the joy of his experience in following Jesus Christ, his guru.
Speaking about his Sadhu-life Sundar says: I am not worthy to follow in the footsteps of my Lord. But like him, I want no home, no possessions. Like him I will belong to the road; sharing the suffering of my people, eating and staying with those who will give me shelter, and telling all men of the love of God.
Sundar Singh received baptism on his sixteenth birthday (3.9.1905) at St. Thomas Church, Simla. For a month Sundar pondered over his future mission and on (October Sixth, 33 days after his baptism he left Sabathu in Simla hills clad with a saffron robe and a turban. The Sadhu ideal implanted in his heart by his mother got itself entwined with the mission of the wandering Christian Friar.
Having committed his life, Sundar chose the path of the cross and decided to bear the cross at all costs. This meant severe opposition from family circles and, leaving his father’s house who poisoned him when he had his last meal at his house, he thus chose to become a wandering preacher. He states this in one of his sermons as follows, I had to leave home and people, I lost everything, but I found everything in Christ. All through his ministry of twenty-four years he joyfully proclaimed that the cross would bear those who bear the cross. He wrote: To follow Christ and bear His cross is so sweet and precious that if I find no cross to bear in heaven I shall plead Him to send me as a missionary, if need be to hell.
Sundar Singh: The Lover of the Cross