A sermon preached at the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Youth Missionary Society, May 12, 1828, by John Angell James
"Other men labored, and you are entered into their
In these words, and in the context, our Lord compares the spiritual renovation of mankind to the process of agriculture. The field is the world; the seed is divine truth; the farmers are the prophets of the Old Testament, the apostles of the New Testament, with all other ministers of religion; entering in succession upon the scene of labor, some to plough, others to sow, and the rest to reap. The course of spiritual vegetation is ever continued, not indeed at all times with equal rapidity, for there are wintery seasons in the spiritual world, as in the natural world. Nor in all places with equal results, since God, in the exercise of his wise, inscrutable, and absolute sovereignty, has given greater luxuriance to some soils than to others! Every person and every thing—is preparing for, and hastening to, the general harvest at the end of time.
Our Lord, that he might rouse the energies and encourage the hopes of his apostles, reminded them how much had been done by John the Baptist and the prophets to prepare their way, to facilitate their labors, and to ensure their success. Information had been diffused, attention had been fixed, expectation had been awakened—and the minds of men in some measure prepared for the great announcement of the gospel. The ploughmen had been in the field to break up the fallow ground, the sowers had scattered the seed—and now the apostles were about to thrust in the sickle of the reapers, and to bear home with rejoicing those sheaves—the seed of which had been sown with many tears, by the men of a former generation.
I.This subject, young people, (for you are the special objects of my address tonight,) is exceedingly appropriate to you, as very accurately setting forth the relation in which you stand to that great cause which has convened us this evening. Listen to me attentively, while, in the first division of my discourse, I attempt to give a short survey of the principal events which have occurred since the beginning of time—and to trace their influence upon the spiritual culture of mankind.
This world, as it was finished by the hand of the Creator, was a place of ineffable loveliness; its natural and spiritual scenery corresponded perfectly to each other, and the material beauty of Paradise was but an emblem of the still richer beauties of holiness reflected from the first human pair, while they bore the unsullied image of their God. Their apostacy changed the scene of the whole; and the garden of the Lord, both within and around them, became a wilderness. Jehovah did not, however, abandon in disgust and indignation his disfigured and desolated race—but, in execution of the scheme which, upon a foresight of the fall, he had devised from eternity, and which had a direct reference to the cross of Christ as its center, commenced that series of means and operations which is designed ultimately to make the wilderness and solitary place to be glad, and the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose.
Before Adam left the scene of his transgression, the mercy of God laid for him, in the curse denounced upon the serpent, and the promised seed of the woman—the foundation of faith and hope, and therefore of penitence and holiness, and illustrated and attested all by the rite of animal sacrifice. Amidst the increasing crimes of the antediluvian world, the solitary voice of Enoch was lifted up in warning; while his miraculous translation into heaven, by opening a vista into the eternal state, and furnishing a proof of both the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul, supplied, in a most impressive form, the doctrine of man's future existence, without which morality has no foundation; and without which there is no consolation for the evils of life. That warning and that lesson failing, the Almighty, by the deluge, swept from the face of the earth the human race, as altogether abandoned and corrupt, planting it again from the holy stock of Noah, and giving a display of his own wrath against sin, which has never been forgotten in the traditions of the nations. When human pride and ambition had conceived the gigantic scheme of a universal tyranny, with the tower of Babel for its capitol, the design was frustrated by the confusion of tongues; and the dispersion of mankind which ensued originated or foreshadowed that system of colonization which is ultimately to fill the world with a people prepared for the Lord.
In the calling of Abraham, the plans of heaven began to be more clearly developed, and the purposes of divine mercy to expand with rapidity; then commenced that magnificent series of communications between the visible and invisible world, which, while they related primarily to the great Redeemer and Reformer of mankind, had a special reference to the Jews, that extraordinary people, whose history has borne, and, though less conspicuously, still bears so important a part in the great drama of providence. To preserve the chosen seed from being corrupted by the idolatry of the Canaanites, they were sent, by a train of singular events, originating in the envy of Joseph's brethren, to sojourn among the Egyptians, to whose mythology they were opposed both by their agricultural habits and their sacrificial rites. When they were so miraculously multiplied, notwithstanding the cruelties practiced to exterminate them, as to be sufficient to people the promised land, they were delivered from the house of bondage by dreadful visitations, intended not merely to humble the pride of the Egyptian power—but to be so many proofs of the folly and wickedness of Egyptian idolatry.
At the base of Sinai the Jews were formed into a nation, and fenced off from all other people by the peculiarities of their law, which served at once as a rule of spiritual conduct, a system of national regulations, and a dark shadow of the means of human redemption; but the great design of which was to preserve among them, when lost by all the world besides, the knowledge of the one living and true God, and the hope of eternal life through a system of sacrificial mediation. After forty years' wandering in the wilderness, during which many impressive types of the great work of the Son of God were displayed, they were settled in Canaan, then the center of the known world, where they might be a witness for Jehovah before all nations. After awhile, the spirit of prophecy, the testimony of Jesus, which from the beginning had thrown a few scattered gleams upon the darkness of futurity, diffused a glowing luster upon the otherwise impervious gloom, and disclosed, in splendid vision, the glories which, in the train of Messiah, were advancing to fill the earth. By the frequent captivities of the Jews, and especially by the more permanent and extensive one in Babylon, exiles from Judea carried with them to other lands their sacred books, and spread through the East a vague notion of the approaching reign of Christ. The Persian empire was raised up to overthrow that of Babylon, to break in pieces the yoke of the oppressor, and to restore to their native land the nation on whose preservation depended the purposes of mercy towards our guilty world. The Grecian empire ascended to dominion upon the ruins of the Persian, and by rendering the Greek tongue familiar to the civilized portions of mankind, made way for the diffusion of revealed truth of Scripture, through the medium of the Greek version of the Old Testament, and prepared the whole earth to read the New Testament in its original language.
Greece became the theater on which was performed, for the instruction of the universe, a grand experiment, the design of which was to prove how little human reason, unaided by divine revelation, could do in the discovery of truth; and to demonstrate that man, having once broken the bond of his allegiance to God, and wandered from the fountain of light and life, could never restore himself, and must be brought back—if brought back at all—by a special interposition of sovereign grace. For this purpose the Grecian philosophy arose. The scene of her instruction was well chosen, uniting all that was beautiful in natural scenery, and all that was interesting from historical association. Her apostles were men of gigantic minds; for where shall we find, in modern times, the equals of Socrates, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus? The note of invitation went forth from the schools through all the earth, multitudes flocked to Athens from all parts of the civilized world. And what was the result? The apostle has summed it all up where be says, "For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the experts. Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn't God made the world's wisdom foolish? For since, in God's wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached. For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom—but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God's power and God's wisdom, because God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength." (1 Corinthians 1:19-25)
When 'human reason' had shown its weakness by actual experiment, then did God divulge the mighty secret which had been in his bosom from eternity. The fulness of time was now come, the time fixed upon in the counsels of heaven, the time foreshadowed on the page of prophecy, the time when the world was prepared, by the changes of four thousand years, for the grand event, and God sent forth his Son! And he by his MIRACLES attested himself as the commissioned Redeemer of the world; by his SERMONS rescued the moral law from the false glosses which ignorance and corruption had thrown over it; by his LIFE gave an example of the beauties of holiness; by his DEATH upon the cross, offered a vicarious sacrifice for the sins of the world; by his RESURRECTION, declared himself to be the Son of God with power; and by his ASCENSION, poured out the Holy Spirit to apply the benefits of his death, and sanctify the hearts of men.
The death of Christ was the central part of the divine administration; everything, from the beginning, had looked forward to it; and all things, to the end, will look back to it. The Roman empire had now swallowed up the Grecian empire, and had become more extensive than any which preceded it. Its fine roads opened a way of travel through its provinces to the ends of the earth, while its unity afforded facilities of communication between country and country, never before possessed in so great a measure. The apostles, having received their commission to preach the Gospel to every creature, sped along the Roman highways with the ministry of reconciliation and the glad news of salvation. The Spirit of God was poured down upon their ministry—churches were planted; and the Scriptures of the new Covenant were written, those immortal words which are life and spirit. The New Testament believers scaled Olympus, and drove from their seats the conclave of gods and goddesses, with which an elegant but polluting mythology had peopled its heights, and then trampled to the dust the splendid material representations of those abominable mockeries of the Deity.
Mightily grew the word of God and prevailed; until, at the conversion of Constantine, Christianity was at the same time established and corrupted. At length, when the seed of the kingdom had been sown over a great part of Europe, a long wintery season supervened under the rise, growth, and prevalence of Mahometanism in the east, and the tyranny of Popery in the west. Centuries of tempest, gloom, and sterility rolled heavily along, until the revival of learning, and the invention of the art of printing, showed glorious and gladsome symptoms of returning spring. Then God gave first Wycliffe, and afterwards Luther—that greatest of uninspired men, the thunder and lightning of whose eloquence shook down to the earth the third part of the colossal fabric of Popery, and cracked and unsettled all the rest, beyond the power of popes, cardinals, and monarchs to repair it.
Events now followed in rapid succession, all closely connected with the spiritual culture of the world, and powerfully influential upon it. The discovery of the polarity of the loadstone, and the invention of the mariner's compass; the disclosure to Columbus of the new world beyond the Atlantic; the discovery of the passage to the East by the Cape of Good Hope; the establishment of the British power in India—all are leadings of Providence connected with the illumination, sanctification, and salvation of the human race. The puritans and nonconformists planted the tree of religious liberty—Whitfield and Wesley roused the spirit of piety which had lain down to take inglorious slumber in its shadow. By the hand of Robert Raikes, God gave us the Sunday-school system; by Carey and Bogue, the Missionary Society; by Bell and Lancaster, the improved schemes of popular education; and by Joseph Hughes, the Bible Society.
Nor ought I, in this survey, to omit that event—the greatest in modern times, whether we consider its influence on the politics, the commerce, the civilization, or the religion of the globe—I mean the independence of the United States of America. In this stupendous political phenomenon, we have seen the rapid expansion of a colony into a sovereign state, which has acquired a degree of strength, that for the period of its growth has no parallel in the history of the world. While, as a Briton, I cannot contemplate but with some apprehension the amazing energies of this youthful giant, rising up to contend for maritime and commercial ascendancy with the parent state, yet, as a Christian, I rejoice with joy unspeakable, to see that great and growing nation carrying her glory and honor into the temple of the Lord; uniting her strength and her resources with ours to establish upon earth the universal reign of Christ; and furnishing not only new territory over which the scepter of Immanuel shall extend—but an inexhaustible supply of all the means necessary for carrying on, in every part of the world, a war of aggression upon the powers of darkness!
This is only a condensed and rapid survey, my young
friends, of what God in his providence and grace has been doing for the
spiritual culture of the world. All his counsels concentrate here. He is
ever enclosing the great moral waste in this lower world—always opening
channels for extending to the parched and desert places of the earth—the
river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of
God and of the Lamb! He is ever throwing the verdure and blooming lines of
cultivation over the wilderness. Yes; he has given the world by covenant to
his Son. The decree is passed, that he is to have the heathen for his
inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for his possession! He has
written it on the page of revelation—it is published to hell, in the way of
defiance; to earth, in the shape of invitation.
II. We shall now consider the events which are taking place in our own time, in continuance of the great scheme of the world's spiritual culture.Could I have had it placed at my option, after taking a prophetic view of all ages and all nations, in what era of the world's history, and in what country I would spend the days of my sojourn below—I would, so far as the annals of time have yet gone, without hesitation have said, "Let me live in England at the commencement of the nineteenth century!" Where others hear nothing but the portentous sounds—woe, woe, woe—issuing from the temple of the Lord; I catch many a note of joy, resembling a distant echo of the angels' song at the nativity, which makes me say, Blessed are our ears, for they hear what many kings and wise men and prophets desired to hear—but were not permitted. And where others see nothing but vials of wrath, and gathering clouds, and signs of judgment, and specters of mischief, approaching to fill this land and all the earth with misery; I cannot help spotting a heaven brightening every moment with more glowing tints, and a scene below covered with the buds and blossoms of spiritual blessings. And instead of responding with a groan to the raven croak of despondency—I thank God and take courage. Never, so it appears to me, was there so much going on, to give interest and importance to human existence, as in the age and in the country in which we live. The mind of man, so far as his natural faculties are concerned, is going forth in new dignity, his character is expanding itself into more ample magnitude, and Christianity investing itself with new power. Depend upon it, young people, you are living in no ordinary age.
1. Consider what is being done by the professors of Christianity, for extending the knowledge of Christ in the world.The church is awakened from the slumber of ages, and is rousing her energies and collecting her resources for some great work. Many are seeking for the lost mantles of the apostles and reformers. The spirit of primitive Christianity is beginning to be revived; and though it be, at present, with something of the smoke and crackle of a newly-kindled fire, yet we hope the flame will soon burn brighter and purer—I am sure that it will become noiseless in proportion as it becomes intense. Men are no longer disposed to class zeal for the spread of the Gospel among matters of doubtful disputation; nor to be frightened at the spirit of evangelism—as at a mischievous and erratic specter, coming forth from the gloom of superstition, to disturb mankind, and to take peace from earth; but instead, to hail it as the primitive religion come down from heaven, where it had retired for a season, and now revisiting our world as its ministering angel.
Look around, and see what is being done for the eternal interests of man. In our own country, and indeed throughout the United Kingdom, we see the outpouring of the Spirit of God in a very remarkable manner upon the ministers of the Church of England. How greatly have piety and zeal increased in the hearts of its clergy. This circumstance forms, in my apprehension, one of the most remarkable and encouraging signs of the times.
Then consider the various institutions which have been formed by the evangelical denominations for the diffusion of divine truth in the world. It is almost difficult to find any unoccupied ground, or any neglected object. The claims of missions to the heathen have been advocated, not only in private houses, (to which, at one time, the subject was almost exclusively confined,) but in churches and in cathedrals; not only in places set apart for religious worship—but in the senate and the places of public concourse, in the cottages of the poor and the mansions of the rich. Nor have the humbler ministers of religion alone taken up the cause, for prelates have stood forward, to urge the demands of these truly apostolic associations of Christian zeal and compassion. Not merely have new institutions been raised up—but ancient and venerable societies, on which something of the somnolence and infirmity of years had fallen, awakened by the stir and bustle around them, have renewed their youth as eagles, and, led by mitered heads, have gone forth into the field of labor. Profane scoffers and infidel reviewers, a numerous and a motley crew, with little in common, as Mr. Hall remarks—but a deadly hatred to true religion, who formerly ridiculed the whole scheme as a 'bubble of enthusiasm', needing only to be left to itself to explode, finding their predictions falsified by events, and perceiving the flame of zeal burning brighter and rising higher—begin to look inquisitive and amazed, and to admit that there is something approaching to what is grand in a scheme supported by millions, and having for its object the conversion of the world.
All is activity! This is truly an age of excitement. The church of Christ is really in a state of expectation. All true Christians believe and anticipate the second coming of Christ, though they are by no means agreed as to the nature and circumstances of his advent. Myriads are patiently and diligently laboring to bring on the millennium; others are studying the mystic symbols of the Apocalypse; and under the impulse of perhaps an unauthorised curiosity, are endeavoring to know the times and the seasons which the Father has put in his own power; all are either active or expectant. The very opposite of stagnancy, quiescence, and torpor—is the characteristic of this age. The exertions made have a specific character. The activity is not loose, incoherent or unmeaning—but it assumes the definite form of zeal for the diffusion of Scriptural knowledge. Except in the case of a few, there is nothing wild, visionary, or unrealistic. It aims at a given end, by means adapted and appointed to accomplish it. The end is the conversion of men's minds, hearts, and lives, from error and wickedness; and the means are the instrumentality of the truth and the power of God. The dissemination of scriptural principles by education and the preaching of the gospel, is the pursuit of the day. Nothing coercive, nothing secular is employed—but only the simple, rational, and scriptural efforts of instruction, persuasion, and conciliation. Such are the features of this extraordinary era.
2. I shall now direct your attention beyond the boundaries of the church, to those subsidiary influences and auxiliary circumstances, which are accumulating around the cause of missions, and which, under the direction and blessing of Providence, will assist in extending the reign of Christ.Contemplate the rapid diffusion of knowledge. Never was there such activity of the human mind as in the present day; it is urged onward in its career of invention and discovery, by a force which surprises itself, and of which none can calculate the extent or effects. It would seem as if knowledge had been accumulating for ages, like the snow upon some Alpine height, and having been lately melted by the approach of a warmer sun, was now flowing down in superabundant streams to the valleys below.
Education, improved in every department, from that which trains the infant's mind to creep, to that which teaches the philosopher to soar—has given an impetus to thought, and created an appetite for knowledge, which the press, with all its millions of productions, can scarcely satisfy. Think of the rapidity with which the mind of man is now bounding onwards. "Although there are thousands of years on the record of the world, our Bacon, who first taught us the true way to investigate nature, lived but the other day. Newton followed him, and illustrated his precepts by the most sublime discoveries that one man ever made. Harvey detected the circulation of the blood only two hundred years ago. Adam Smith, Dr. Black, and James Watt, were friends; and the last, whose steam engines are now changing the relations of empires, is scarcely cold in his grave. Illustrious Britons these, who have left worthy successors treading in their steps."
Think not that the lives, and labors, and discoveries, of such men have no influence upon, or connection with, the cause of the Redeemer, or the extension of religion. There is One reigning in the heavens, who renders all that takes place upon earth, though often in ways unknown to us, subservient to the spiritual interests of mankind. Little does it occur to some infidel philosophers, when they are placing upon their brow the laurel or plume which a grateful and enriched nation has awarded to them—that their researches have been illuminated and guided by that very Savior whom they have ridiculed as an enthusiast, or reviled as an impostor; and that the chief end which Providence contemplates in the triumphs of their genius, is the advancement of that cause which they despise as the wild excess of superstition!
Think upon the system of Colonization which is now so rapidly going on. It seems, to use the words of the author just quoted, as if Great Britain is to become not only the queen—but the mother of nations. "A colony of her children, imbued with her spirit, now occupies a magnificent territory in the New World of Columbus; and although it has been independent yet for only half a century, it already counts more people than Spain, and will soon be second to no nation upon earth. The example of the Anglo-Americans has aided the same western hemisphere to become the cradle of many other gigantic states—all free, and following like steps. In the still more recently discovered continent of Australia, which is larger than Europe, and empty of men, colonization is spreading with a rapidity never before witnessed, and that beautiful and rich portion of the earth will soon be covered with the descendants of free-born and enlightened Englishmen. From thence, still onward, they or their institutions will naturally spread over the vast Archipelago islands of the Pacific Ocean—a track studded with islands of paradise. Such is the extraordinary moment of revolution, or of transit, in which the world at present exists."(Arnot, "Elements of Physics.")
And where, we may ask, has the Creator predestined that this progress shall cease? Thus much, at least, we know, that the earth shall yield her increase, and every portion of it which can be made capable of sustaining human life, shall receive a population over whom the scepter of Christ shall be eventually swayed. Men emigrate not merely to prepare the way for the establishment of commerce—but for the planting of Christian churches and institutions. The world is filling up with human beings who (or those that shall spring from them) shall swell the shout of triumph which the redeemed of the Lord shall roll over the surface of the earth!
Consider the present extent of the British empire, especially in the East. To Britain seems entrusted the high and sacred commission of being not only the benefactress—but the evangelist of the nations; and for this purpose God has given her an empire which extends into the four quarters of the globe, and on which the sun never sets. Our dominion in India extends over nearly a hundred million souls; and reaches from Ceylon in the south to Thibet in the north, from the Persian Gulf in the west to the borders of the Chinese empire in the east. And what can be the design of that Great Being who rules in the heavens and governs the earth, in granting us this prodigious territory, with its teeming population? Was it merely to decorate the crown of our sovereign with the rich gems of oriental colonies? or to furnish our armies with another field of military conflict, on which to gather the laurels of victory? or to enrich our merchants, by causing the commodities of the East to flow into their warehouses? or to raise the flavor of our table luxuries by the spices of burning climates? or that we might import into our country tropical diseases?
No! Providence has ends more worthy of itself and of us, in thus extending our power in a country so remote, and so much opposed to us in all its customs, habits, and religion. India has been conquered by England—that it may be converted by England! It is subjugated by our weapons—that it may be blessed by our religion! Our commerce and conquest have opened for Christianity a way into that vast continent. You senators and statesmen! who would not have us touch the idolatry of the Hindoos, lest we should rouse their prejudices, and alienate their minds, and goad them to rebellion—learn thus your error! Mistaken men! how short-sighted are your counsels, how shallow your policy! you would defeat the very design of Heaven in giving you this vast empire. By the very means you propose to secure it—you would provoke the Almighty to take it from you. Know that our missionaries do more to retain India than your soldiers; and that every new convert we make from idolatry is a new link in the chain which binds Hindostan to Britain. Learn then your interests, and give encouragement, and not opposition, to the cause of missions and the spread of Christianity in your oriental colonies.
As a Christian man and as a Briton—I deplore the progress of our weapons in that quarter of the world; but I have felt relieved and comforted with the hope that every conquered province would become another spot on which to plant the standard of the Cross; and in this light alone I can contemplate with delight the towering fabric of our Eastern power. The Birmese war, viewed thus, is not without its interest and its purpose. It is a fact worthy of remark, that the branch of oriental idolatry which prevails in Birmah, is the worship of Budhu, and this is also the case at Ceylon. Now, as the latter, where Christianity is become remarkably successful, is already in our possession, may we not hope and anticipate that the converted Cingalese will take the easy journey to the conquered provinces of the Birman empire, and that a successful appeal will be made to the millions who still bow down to Budhu, by those who have turned from this dumb idol to worship the living and the true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven?
In following up this train of remark, I may observe that I was much impressed with the following passage in the work of a British officer on the Birmese war—"It is really difficult to perceive where the career of our armies will stop—in the course of a year we have successively stirred up several nations against us, of whose political existence we were scarcely aware; and it does not seem improbable that before many years we shall be invading the Chinese empire—when we were at Prome, we speculated on the subject, and calculated the distance; and the Chinese themselves seem to have taken the alarm."
Many a man has, without knowing it, in such hints as these, foretold approaching events; and who can say that there may not be something of uninspired prediction in this effusion of military ambition? It is not undeserving of attention that the late successes of our troops in the East have been pushing our approaches nearer and nearer to the "Celestial Empire," in one direction, by the passes of the Himalaya Mountains, and in the other by the Birman provinces. Bishop Heber was so struck with this, in his tour through the north of India, that, when in the vicinity of the Himalaya, his exultation as a Christian prelate rose above his contemplations as an enlightened traveler, and amidst the sublime emotions produced by a view of the loftiest pinnacles of the globe, he found still sublimer feelings awakened in his bosom, by his discovering what he thought an easy access, by the passes of those snow-crowned summits, for our Bibles and our Missionaries into the frontier, at least, of the Chinese empire.
III.Having thus directed your attention to past and present events which either have borne, or which still bear, a favorable influence upon the world's moral culture, I go on to state to you, my young friends, in what way you may give your assistance to this great work.
1. And, as taking precedence of everything else, I must, of course, mentionpersonal and decided piety. You must imitate the Corinthian believers, of whom it is said, in reference to their exertions for the welfare of others, "That they first gave their own selves to the Lord." Let the first offering you lay upon the altar of the missionary cause be your own heart, renewed and sanctified by divine grace, and devoted to the love, fear, service, and enjoyment of God. Zeal, to be of the right kind, must be an emanation from piety, and not a substitute for it. Whatever you do for the salvation of others, should be the result of a deep concern for your own. Without personal religion, you can have neither right views of the cause you are laboring to support, nor deep impressions of its value, nor right motives for assisting it; your zeal will be fitful and fluctuating, and your aims low and misdirected. In the absence of repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, you will not, you cannot, be identified with the cause itself—you may touch it—but you do not embrace it; you may have a loose and exterior connection with it—but you have no vital relation to it, no real communion with it, no ultimate share in its glories and its triumphs. Without personal religion you will not grace its final procession to the skies, and enter with it into the heavenly city, the eternal abode of the redeemed; but be finally detached and dismissed from it forever, as individuals who gave not themselves, embarked not their hearts, identified not their interests with the kingdom of Christ, and who, whatever were their motives, had their reward for all the service they did, in the feelings of exhilaration which they experienced upon earth.
Let me entreat you to remember your Creator in the days of your youth. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness for yourselves. Do not be guilty of the strange and ruinous inconsistency of laboring to send out to the heathen the knowledge of a God unknown to you, and a Savior unaccepted by yourselves. If, through your exertions, conjoined with those of others, any of those heathens are saved, think what a spectacle will be presented at the last day when they, the objects of your zealous exertion, shall be seen at the right hand of the Judge, crowned with glory and honor, and possessed of eternal life, while you, the instruments of their salvation, shall be seen at the left, clothed with shame and contempt, and cursed with the sentence of eternal death. Do not, for your soul's sake, do not mistake zeal in the Missionary cause—for personal piety. Many then will have done God's wonderful works, for the cause of Christ, to whom He will say at the last day, "Depart from me, I never knew you." With a solicitude which I cannot express, and an energy which I would increase if I knew how, I beseech you to exhibit, in your own example, a deep concern about your own salvation, a decided belief in the Gospel of the grace of God, and a steady, spiritual, uniform regard to the claims of religion; for these alone can render you the consistent, judicious, effectual, and persevering friends of Christian missions.
2. If you would aid the moral culture of the world, you must maintain a deep conviction of the paramount importance of man's spiritual interests, and the indispensable necessity of the Gospel of Christ to promote them.
We hear from all quarters, in the present day, of the progress of mind, and of the "march of intellect;" and we rejoice in the belief, as we have already remarked, that knowledge is, indeed, most rapidly increasing—but we are also destined to hear the most false and groundless assertions of the sufficiency of knowledge to effect the renovation of the human character, and to produce the happiness of man. Depend upon it, there is now formed a vast Missionary Society upon the principles of Deism. Its Bible is the book of nature; its expositions are education and science; its apostles are the schoolmaster and the lecturer; its patrons and supporters are the unconverted—but still liberal, and in their way philanthropic statesmen, scholars, and philosophers of the day, who profess little, and feel less, compassion for man's spiritual degradation and exposure to eternal misery. His relations to God and eternity are left out of sight, and he is viewed only in connection with the present scenes of his existence—his soul is treated as a rational principle—but not as an immortal one; the gloom of his mind is bewailed—but not the depravity of his heart; and his civilization—but not his salvation, is the object of hope, and the end of all the schemes concerted for his welfare. These reformers and philanthropists would conduct him along a path illuminated by science, and furnished with all the decencies and comforts of life, to the verge of immortality; and there leave him to his fate, to be lost, for anything they can do for him, amidst the shades of eternal night, which close the brightest day of mere science, and sink the unrenewed mind in the gloom of darkness that may be felt. These are the men who advocate the dignity of man, and yet leave out of view and out of calculation his immortality; in the absence of which, man, at his best estate, is altogether vanity, life is a shadow, and universal history is but a dream or a tale. To enlighten the mind is all these men pretend to do; the rest, they say, with a sneer, they leave to the visionary enthusiasts, the evangelising saints, the proselyting fanatics, who are the supporters of missionary schemes. We accept the challenge; and taking up their abandoned protégée, where their stinted mercy has left him, in the dark valley of the shadow of death, guide him onward to the felicities and splendors of eternal day.
But, perhaps, they will tell us, that they intend and hope, by the diffusion of knowledge, to make the world moral. Then I demand of them to demonstrate to me the necessary connection between knowledge and virtue. It is true that it will strip off much of the filthy, ragged, and disgusting dress of extreme poverty, and clothe the laboring classes with a more decent exterior; that it will, in some degree, raise and refine the taste, by opening sources of intellectual gratification, and thus rendering them less dependent for enjoyment on the appetites of their animal nature; and that it will produce an ambition for elevation in life—but will it ascend to the seat of moral principle, and rectify that? Will it cure the spiritual taint of our nature, and expel the venom of sin from the heart? Yes, to say nothing of a spiritual taste—will it implant a moral one? Will knowledge alone subdue the fierceness of passion, control the urgency of appetite, and enable the soul, in the hour of assault, to vanquish the potency of temptation?
This is a fine theme for the philosopher to descant upon; and he may, by the magic wand of his eloquence, call up before the imagination of his enchanted audience the lovely vision of an alehouse forsaken and a lecture room crowded; of the cups and glasses of inebriety abandoned for the philosophical apparatus; of polluting publications resigned for mechanics' magazines; and of the drunkard and the debauchee charmed out of their vices by the affinities of chemistry, or moved away from their corruptions by a display of mechanical forces. But, depend upon it—that it is but a vision. If knowledge alone be sufficient to render mankind moral, why is it that in the race which it has been lately running with crime, it is so distanced by the latter as to excite the serious alarm of the community, and the most anxious enquiry of the legislature? Are our best educated people in all respects the most virtuous? Do our grammar schools and universities display the richest harvests in the moral domain? Do the court and the upper walks of society always afford that more cool and healthful atmosphere into which virtue, when weakened and relaxed by the influence of lower situations, can most hopefully retire, to have its enervated frame braced and recruited? Are none but such as cannot read and write to be found at our horse-races, boxing matches, and theaters, and all the other demoralising scenes with which even this polished country abounds?
And then, to go back to past ages, do the facts of history bear out the statement that an increase of knowledge is sufficient of itself to promote the reign of morality? To these I appeal. Never, except at the time of the deluge, was the world more profligate than when he who came to reform it, reformed it by redeeming it; and the most polished part of it was the most polluted. Of what nations did the apostle give us that picture, so darkly colored, which he has prefixed as a frontispiece to his Epistle to the Romans? Not of the Goths or the Gauls. No—but of the people that reposed amidst the splendors of the age, upon the seven hills of the eternal city; and of those still more polished and philosophic men who had had their taste formed and their minds cultivated by the Acropolis of Athens, and its statues and temples, the eloquence of Demosthenes, the dialogues of the inspired Plato, and the logic of Aristotle. Let this be remembered; and the assertions of those who now contend for the omnipotence of 'unaided human knowledge and education' will be hushed forever.
But our object is principally with heathen nations; and how, we ask, is knowledge to gain an entrance among the inhabitants of uncivilised countries? There needs a power, which nothing but true religion can supply—to fix the vagrant attention, to induce habits of reflection, to resist the dominion of sense, and to silence the clamours of appetite. Among such people, knowledge can be introduced by nothing but true religion. Christianity must open the first schools and teach the first lessons—and much as we have heard, and have been pleased to hear, of the schoolmaster being abroad, we would also speak of another, and a still more important personage, one that to the character of a teacher of youth unites the still sublimer office of a preacher of the Gospel; the missionary is abroad, and he is everywhere making way for the schoolmaster. I would say to the advocates of that system which professes to educate men only for this world—if you would succeed in heathen lands, you must apply to the Christian missionary; if you send the Bible—the plough, and the loom, and the printing press will follow; and much as you may sometimes feel disposed to ridicule the missionary schemes of those whose view of human nature swells infinitely beyond the range of your low and narrow horizon, I must tell you, that although they can do your work without your aid, you can really do nothing without them.
You will not infer, young people, from anything I have advanced, that I am opposed to the education of the people and the diffusion of knowledge. Far from it—I would make instruction co-extensive with the existence of minds to receive it, and open to the poorest of the population all the sources of information that can be put within their reach. All I am contending for is, that education without religion, that knowledge, in the absence of Christianity, will not reform the morals. Build up the piety of mankind, and you will secure the well-being of mankind. Nor is it to be inferred from my observations that Christianity has anything to fear from the extension of education, or the spread of information. Altogether the contrary; it has everything to hope. It is no spirit of mischief, doing the deeds of darkness under the cover of night; and, like the wild beast or the thief, skulking from the rising sun, to awaken again to its employment when the bat takes wing and the owl is abroad. Christianity commenced its career amidst the glories of the Roman age; started afresh in its course on the revival of education; has been aided in its course by the art of printing; and is now traveling in the greatness of its strength, amidst the lights and improvements of the nineteenth century. "Piety," as the learned Cudworth has beautifully observed, "is the queen of all inward endowments of the soul; and all pure natural knowledge, all virgin arts are her handmaids—which rise up and call her blessed. The noble and generous improvement of our understanding faculty, in the true contemplation of the wisdom, goodness, and power of God, in this great fabric of the universe, cannot easily be disparaged without a blemish cast upon the Maker of it."
Christianity loves knowledge, and often produces it where nothing else could. Like its Divine Author, when it broods over the moral chaos, it first says, Let there be 'light'—and light follows; and then it dwells and reigns, enshrined amidst the radiance which emanates from itself. That religion is friendly to mental improvement, and alone can, in many cases, promote it, is evident from the scenery which now is beginning to spread out around some of our missions. Let the traveler take his station on the morning of the sabbath, on an eminence overlooking some valley where the ministers of Christ have been engaged in the labors of moral cultivation; and as his eye and his mind repose upon the decent habitation, the springing corn, the budding garden; and, above all, upon the undisturbed quiet of the scene; and, as the sound of the chapel bell and the hum of schools come up to him from below, let him ask what good genius has been there, to make the wilderness and the solitary place to be glad, and the desert to revive and blossom as the rose. And let him take the same station when the sabbath is past; and, as he hears the sound of the axe, the creak of the printing press, or the hymn of the farmer, and beholds the appearances of civilization spreading out before him, let him ask what benefactor has been there to convert this haunt of savages into the abode of instructed and comparatively industrious men; and he will find it is Christianity—and he shall be told, moreover, by the missionaries, the well-known fact, that never until Christianity had impressed their converts' hearts, did knowledge enter their minds; that they would neither labor nor learn—until they became interested in the facts, and moved by the inducements of the Gospel—and that it was the wonders of the Cross and the truths of eternity that fixed their vagrant attention; and that, until they felt something of the power of these, they could not be made to comprehend, or to put forth an effort to comprehend the letters of the alphabet.
This is the testimony of facts, which the history of the introduction of Christianity into the islands of the South Sea furnishes in abundance; and it unanswerably proves that the best and the only means of civilising men, is to evangelise them; that religion, so far from being an enemy to knowledge, is, in many cases, that which alone can commence its reign, and that every advocate for the spread of information should, to be consistent, be the zealous supporter of Christian missions.
3. If you would grow up friends to the cause of missions, and the moral culture of the world,maintain a steady attachment to the great fundamental truths of the gospel, and a deep conviction of their importance. These are the very bases on which our cause rests. The religion which we are sending to the heathen is not of that loose and general kind, which is independent of all the peculiarities that belong to Christianity, and constitute its identity. The divinity of Christ, the atoning sacrifice of his cross, justification by faith, and the regeneration and sanctification of the heart by the Holy Spirit—are the truths which, under the influence of the Spirit, will convert the world. "And I," said Christ, "if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto myself." The cross is not merely the magnet that will draw the heathen to God and to his church—but it is that alone which will give coherence and continuance to our missionary efforts. The generation which ceases to believe these truths, or, believing them, ceases to attach much importance to them, will cause the holy fire of zeal to go out on the altar of the Lord. God have mercy on the poor heathen, for man will have none, when, instead of the song of Moses and the Lamb, nothing is heard from professing Christians but the chanting of "Pope's Universal Prayer!"
A spirit has appeared in Christendom, clad in the robes, wearing the smile, and assuming the name of an angel of light—she calls herself 'Tolerance', and her object is, with silver-tongued eloquence, to persuade the various divisions of the Christian world to give up their bigotry, to contend no more about doctrines—but to be content with those general principles of our religion which are independent of the peculiarities of sects. Be upon your guard against her seductive arts and dangerous fascinations. She is a lying spirit; her true name is -'Infidelity'—her ultimate aim is to produce indifference to truth, her ultimate object is destruction of truth. Had her persuasions been listened to in former times, there would have been no Christianity now in the world; no truth, no Bible, no martyrs, in short, no true religion. Beware of this latitudinarianism; the world is full of it in this day—our daily journals, our periodical literature, our fashionable poetry, our popular novels, are all saturated with it. I call you, young people, to first principles, and to the importance of religious doctrine. The articles of the evangelical creed are the seed of the world's future interests. I am not frightened by the ridicule of scoffers; I am not deterred by the dread of enthusiasm, from expressing my conviction that the secret of the world's moral and intellectual renovation, the panacea for its evils, lies compressed in that one expression of the apostle Paul, "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners;" and that the great lever which will raise the world from its degradation, is what Paul has stated as the mainspring of all his energies, "The love of Christ constrains us."
I beseech you, therefore, to "hold fast the form of sound words," to cleave to those doctrines, and cherish the deepest sense of their importance, which are embodied alike in the Assembly's Catechism, the Articles of the Church of England, and in the formularies of every reformed church in Christendom; doctrines to which martyrs set the seal of their blood; which, in every age and in every country, have received the testimony of divine approbation, in the holy, beatifying, and beneficent effects which they have produced; which are the essence of revealed truth, and without which not only will all missionary schemes be utterly abortive—but soon and forever cease.
4. Bring to the cause, a mind well enlightened and well informed on all the subjects connected with it.Let not your zeal be the effect of mere external impulse—but of deep and enlightened conviction; not a passion—but a principle; not the constraint of example—but the result of knowledge and of conscience. Be not satisfied to join the armies of the Lord, and to move with the mass, without knowing clearly the object of conflict, studying the plan of the campaign, and being acquainted with the facilities and difficulties of the grand attack. Study the evidences of Christianity, that you may go forward with the certainty of those who know that they are spreading truth and not fables. Study the genius of Christianity, that you may perceive the adaptation to the whole human race—of its doctrines, duties, and institutes. Study the pages of ecclesiastical history, that you may see in what way the kingdom of Christ has been extended in former ages. Study those parts of inspired prediction which foreshadow the coming glories of the kingdom of our God and of his Christ; look down the vista there opened into futurity, and anticipate the coming age when the knowledge of the Lord will cover the face of the earth. Study the dispensations of Providence, and see their bearing on the moral interests of the globe. Take a deep interest in the passing events of your time, observe with a fixed and devoted attention, the shifting scenes, the varied characters, the gradual disclosures—of the sublime scheme going on in our world.
I advise you not to be mere politicians; no—but more than politicians. I would have you keep your eye on that object, to which the statesman rarely looks—but to the accomplishment of which God bends all the events of time, the rise and fall of empires, the elevation and depression of monarchs, the march of armies, the progress of science, the multiplication of inventions, and the spread of commerce. I want you to stand where the enrapt prophet stood, when he saw the convulsions of the earth, and the desire of all nations rising in glory above the dark confusion of the scene—to illumine, to tranquilize, to bless the world. I wish you to have your imaginations filled with visions of millennial splendor, and that deep and powerful interest in passing events, which shall connect them with the ultimate universal diffusion of truth, holiness, and happiness. And here let me recommend to you the perusal of a book, which it is almost a point of conscience with me to notice in every public service—I mean "Douglas on the Advancement of Society in Knowledge and Religion." It is a proof that there is not all the public spirit among us which there seems to be, and that this age is not yet ripe for such a production, that it has not gone with rapidity from edition to edition. That it contains somewhat of yet impracticable theory, I admit; but who does not delight to see such a mind theorising and speculating on the best means of cultivating the moral world, instead of imitating those who exhaust the energies of their genius and fancy, to raise and emblason bubbles only to afford amusement for the idle and curious? Enthusiastic it is; but with an enthusiasm kindled by a holy fire, in a mind ardent for the world's best interests, and its coruscations, if they serve no other purpose, afford a light for more sober minds to work by. It is a book which has done me good, and which I am anxious should do others good; for it is a seed-bed of benevolent schemes, whence we may all take some fresh seeds to plant in our hearts and our churches. They may call it, if they will, a romance of benevolence; yet the utmost mischief it can do, is to fill the imagination with visions of spiritual glory, which the most sober mind must wish to be real, and the optimistic will labor to make so.
5. Let all your exertions in the cause of missions not only proceed from pure religious principles—but be themselves characterized by the seriousness and spirituality of devotion.The man that sets his hand to the cause of true religion touches the most sacred thing in all the universe; and if he touches it with unholy levity, is guilty of a sin scarcely less than that which brought the punishment of death upon Uzzah, when in a moment of thoughtlessness he laid thoughtless hands upon the ark of God. I cannot help thinking that the zeal of the present age does not bear so much of the impress of piety as it should do—it is far too secular, too bustling, too noisy; it is the flight, not of the angel of the Lord through the midst of heaven, bearing the everlasting Gospel, whose career is too lofty for the vapors and the dust of earth to settle on the plumage of his cherubic wings, no—but of a spirit of feebler power, which is only just rising from our humble level, and the first motions of whose wings raise upon itself something of the defilement of the earth. Our zeal must take a loftier flight; it must rise nearer to God its fountain, and hold its course in the bright regions of pure devotion, and the uninterrupted beams of the Sun of righteousness.
I see, and I lament, much that is wrong. When I see missionary affairs taken up as a sort of religious entertainment, as a substitute for those amusements which our Christian principles forbid us to resort to; when I see people hastening to missionary meetings with as much frivolity as others enter the ball-room or the theater; when I see the missionary cause converted into an arena where rival congregations contend for the envied palm of superior liberality; when I hear exertion and munificence called forth by appeals to some of the unholiest passions of human nature; when I see names blazoned, and achievements trumpeted forth, with more than pharisaic pomp and ostentation; when I see toy-shops set up, sailing parties formed, and I know not what other kind of means resorted to for getting money; when I find, in some cases, the delicacy of female modesty impaired, and the simplicity of youthful ardor corrupted; when I hear it said that money, money, money, is the life-blood of the missionary cause, as if Plutus, the blind and lame God of wealth, were the patron, protector, and support of missions, rather than the Lord the Spirit; I cannot but believe there is much yet to be done at home; I cannot but think that there is much to be put away from the church, before the church will become the means of converting the world. Call me a reformer, if you like. I am insensible to the sarcasm, and only wish I deserved the honorable appellation. I love the cause of missions, as He can testify who alone is witness to those intense desires which are daily and nightly poured forth by me before the Throne of Grace for the coming down of the Spirit. Yes, I love the cause; and love, you know, is jealous—and jealous am I over it; with a godly jealousy I watch the holy fire upon the altar of the church, with a solicitude proportioned to the delight which I take in it as a source of illumination to a benighted world; and to the crowd that are rushing into the temple with unhallowed fuel, I raise an indignant though feeble voice, and say, "Away, away, you profane!"
6. I mention the importance of a spirit of fervent prayer.Man is a strange and wayward being—he will either do nothing, or attempt to do everything; and, when roused from selfish indolence into activity, immediately rushes into proud self-sufficiency. We are not at all likely to do too much, for this is impossible; but to depend too much upon what we do. Our public institutions have assumed a very imposing magnitude and grandeur—we have caressed them, delighted in them, almost deified them, until they have risen into the place and received the homage of that image of jealousy which appeared to the people in the temple of the Lord. The priests who have performed their ritual, and chanted their praises, have called them the glory of the age, the hope of posterity, the morning stars of the Millennium. At length, Jehovah has testified his displeasure; has rebuked our idolatrous regard of our means, by allowing, in some institutions, schisms, difficulties, and controversies to arise, which seemed at one time to indicate that the glory of the Lord had commenced its departure from the mercy-seat, was already on the threshold, and there waited to see if the spirit of prayer would prevent its departure, and procure its return to its dwelling-place.
We are not yet stripped of self-dependence; we are trusting in the feebleness of our means; we are yet going forth in our own strength, and not in the strength of the Lord; we do not yet possess the simplicity and the confidence of faith. We have not enough (to use the expression of the venerable father of the minister of this place), of closet missionaries. We have preached sermons to prove the necessity of Divine influence for the conversion of the world; we have passed resolutions, declaring that we are convinced of the fact, and pledging ourselves to a more entire dependence on God; but do we act upon these resolutions? Are the public devotions of ministers, and the prayers of the brethren for the effusion of the Spirit at our social meetings, characterized by an inward desire for the conversion of the world? Does the church visibly appear in the attitude of dependence? Is there an evident looking up into heaven, as if a Divine visitant were expected thence? Are we preparing to give him room in our hearts, houses, churches? I do not mean the visible personal glory of Christ—that I expect not; for I consider that the personal appearance of Christ has been, and will be no more, until he comes in power and glory, to judge the world in righteousness. We are now under the economy of faith, and the dispensation of the Spirit; and it is the Holy Spirit, the sanctifier and comforter, that I am looking for. Would to God that I could see the harbinger of his approach, the spirit of universal prayer! If you would ascertain how much there is of this, look at your monthly missionary prayer meetings; are these crowded like the present meeting, like the meetings that will be held this week? I will not conceal that I have sometimes many trembling apprehensions respecting our cause, for I am afraid that nothing will lead us to trust in God but troubles and difficulties. Young people, I feel anxious that you should come to the cause in the tone of dependence and prayer, with a deep conviction of the importance of means—but a no less deep conviction of the absolute necessity of the Spirit's influence. Neither means nor prayer alone will lead to the conversion of the world—but the union of both will.
IV. I shall now excite your diligence, and urge forward your zeal, in this cause, by the application of a few appropriate and cogent MOTIVES.
1. Consider the nature of the cause itself.It is the greatest work in the universe, and involves everything that is grand and beneficial in the destiny of man. It is the cause of the human intellect. In assisting the work of Christian missions, you are lending your assistance to raise the human mind from the lowest degradation. The heathen nations of the present day are a mighty wilderness of mind, a great desert in the moral world, where even the partial but deceptive beauty once thrown over the scene by the wild flowers of genius and taste, as they appeared in the classic mythology and in the philosophical systems of the Greeks, is no longer to be seen, and where nothing presents itself but an immense extent, as it were, of sand or swamp, where millions and millions of minds are perpetually coming into existence and going out of it again, without putting forth a single intellectual energy for good, where whole generations of rational minds are continuously perishing amidst the gloom of barbarism and the dreary desolation of utter ignorance. Melancholy spectacle!
But yours is the task, the glorious, the immortal work of enclosing, and draining, and cultivating this mental waste, of sowing it with the seeds of thought, and causing it to bring forth and blossom, and of adding it to the territory of mind, from which it now seems almost entirely cut off. Your object is compassionate. In supporting this cause, you lend your aid, to break the fetter of the captive; to raise women from their degradation, and restore them to their just rank in society; to convert the bloody tyrant into the nursing father; to give sanctity to the marriage bond; to suppress infanticide, and tie up the broken thread of maternal tenderness; to save the widow, willing or unwilling, from the flaming pile; to put an end to the self-inflicted tortures of the conscience-stricken devotee; to sever the chain of caste, which binds whole tribes to insult, oppression, and misery; in short, to terminate the reign of evil for the universal empire of mercy, and to transform the habitations of cruelty into the dwellings of love. But your highest and holiest object is the spread of true religion. Its great end is to make known the living and true God to those who are without God in the world, and the Lord Jesus Christ as the only mediator between God and man, to those who are without him; to proclaim the obligations of the moral law to those who are without law, and the glad tidings of salvation to those who are without hope; to introduce the Scriptures and the institutes of religion where nothing is now to be seen but orgies in which lust and cruelty struggle for pre-eminence; to spread the light, and joys, and glories of immortality over the region of the shadow of death. All the importance which attaches to religion in any single case of a fallen but never-dying creature, belongs, of course, to the cause of missions, multiplied by as many times as there are hundreds of millions of pagans in existence.
By a singular delusion, and an injurious and ungenerous sophism, this cause has been represented as a mere abstraction of religion, which has little or no direct bearing on the present interests of mankind. We admit, indeed, that the religious part of its design is its noblest and its most beneficent purpose; but while from this source it derives a dazzling sanctity, which the diseased vision of its foes is too weak to bear, yet has it, at the same time, in relation to other things, a comprehension which neither its friends nor its foes often grasp. It includes all other schemes of beneficence in itself, or draws them along in the magnificent retinue of its benefits. It is a Bible society; for to translate, and print, and circulate the Scriptures, is its first labor. It is a Tract society; for the circulation of short addresses to the understanding, heart, and conscience, is one of its principal operations. It is a Sunday-school society; for wherever it establishes itself, it sets up these useful institutions. It is an auxiliary to the British and Foreign School Society, by extending education over the face of the whole earth. It is a Home Missionary society; for wherever it fixes itself, it sends out its agents into its own neighborhood to preach the gospel. It is a society for the Conversion of the Jews; for wherever our missionaries find the seed of Abraham, they seek their conversion. It is a Peace society; for its very message is an echo of the angels' song, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will to men." It is an Anti-slavery society; for it diffuses that religion which teaches the principles of justice and universal benevolence. It is a Civilization society, and a Mechanics' institute; for it is introducing all the common arts of life into the dreary wilds of barbarism. It is mercy of the most comprehensive kind, and gathers up into itself all that ingenuity has invented, or that benevolence can employ, for the numerous interests of the human race; it stands amidst the wants and woes of the teeming millions of the earth's population, a lucid, and intelligible, and noble comment upon the apostle's words, "Godliness is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come."
2. I remind you of the advantages which you possess for the promotion of this cause."Other men have labored, and you are entered," or about to enter, "upon their labors." You cannot be ignorant of your circumstances, nor unacquainted with your privileges. You live in an extraordinary era, and ought not to be behind your age. You must not be torpid while all around you is vitality, nor inactive amidst prevailing energy. A young person that has no sympathy with the public spirit of his time, no benevolent sensibilities, no yearnings of heart over the miseries of mankind, no missionary glow, no holy ambition to leave the world better than he found it, is one born out of due season; he is a relic of an age which we have no concern to remember, and is a dishonor to that in which he lives. Concentrated in your possession are not only all the advantages for doing good which had come down to your parents—but all which they have prepared in addition. What a train of laborers have been in the field, and what a collection of implements have they raised with which to carry on the spiritual husbandry! By them the Missionary Society has been formed; ignorance instructed; apathy roused; objections answered; motives applied; zeal kindled; popular affection conciliated; funds raised; habits of liberality formed; missions formed; whole tribes converted; and now you have only to support that which others have set up; to keep in motion that which they have started; to maintain in public esteem that which is already a favorite. You have the experience of your fathers to guide you; their example to stimulate you; their errors to warn you; their success to encourage you; and will soon have their monuments to admonish you. There are names so connected with the origin and history of this Institution as to have become most dear to the hearts of its friends, names which we trust will never be withdrawn from it, as long as any remain that bear them—we hope that the Bogues, the Wilkses, the Burders, the Waughs, the Hardcastles, and the Hankeys, of many generations, will be with it, and that the Society will go down to posterity as the heir-loom of their families; but if the descendants of those men whose memory will ever be precious should not inherit the zeal and the brightest honors of their sires, God's cause will not lack supporters—but assistance will come to it from other quarters.
3. The transmission of the missionary cause to posterity, so far as instrumentality is concerned, depends on those who are now rising into life.This is a most solemn reflection, and presents you with a view of your accountability, which is enough to make the stoutest heart to tremble. Your fathers received religion from their ancestors, and taught it to you; and you, receiving it from them, are to hand it forward to the next generation. As it respects personal religion, unless you cultivate it in your own heart, you will not, of course, be very likely to inculcate it upon those who are to come after you—and so also of missions to the heathen. Soon, very soon, this sacred cause must pass from the hands which now sustain it. Another of the veteran band of those who planned the Society has fallen—he whose athletic frame rose like a tower of strength in the midst of us, as the emblem of his noble mind—and whose hoary head reflected upon us, as from a bright crown of righteousness, its holy beams; the venerable and venerated Waugh has fallen; his fascinating eloquence is hushed; his eye, where intelligence dwelt with benevolence, is closed; his pleasant wit, that played, as beautiful and as harmless as summer evening lightning, is quenched. He whose prayers raised us so near to the throne of grace, and whose appeals so warmed our hearts with love to man, is gone. Others are "just ready to depart;" the chariots of fire and horses of fire, which are to carry them to the skies, are advancing; may you find their mantle, when they shall have ascended to their seats of immortality. The missionary cause must soon be left as their legacy to you. Precious and solemn responsible will be the trust.
If the genius of civil and religious liberty were to confide to your keeping the great Charter of English freedom, and the Act of Toleration; and if you, by any lukewarmness, carelessness, or neglect, were to yield up those sacred deposits to the encroachments of the tyrant and the inquisitor, would you not be justly chargeable with all the enormous cruelty and degradation which, age after age, would soon accumulate upon posterity, as its generations came into existence only to sink under the iron yoke of slavery? Would you not deserve all the execrations of the millions whom your criminal apathy would have thus doomed to thraldom? But a still more sacred cause is about to be committed to your hands, a cause which, so far as instrumentality is concerned, involves the intellectual and moral, the temporal and eternal destinies of the globe. By what idea shall I conceive, or by what language shall I set forth, the nature and extent of your accountability? You are most critically placed, between the past and the future; receiving the accumulated fruits, privileges, and advantages of all past ages, that all future ones may receive them through you. It is for you to send forward the stream of life, or to say, "Hitherto shall you go—but no farther." Will you, can you, dare you put out by direct opposition, or allow to go out by neglect, that flame which is kindled to be the hope of all nations and all generations? The sacred fire upon the altar of Vesta was considered of such consequence to the prosperity of Rome, that the extinction of it was deemed a prognostic of the greatest calamities to the state; and the priestess, through whose lack of vigilance the mischief was occasioned, was subjected to the most cruel punishment. The fire that now burns on the altar of the missionary cause has infinitely more than all the importance which was fabulously attributed to the flame of Vesta; the British nation, the whole of Christendom, the church of God, and the universe itself, are interested in its preservation; and its extinction might be mourned with a groan as deep as that which Milton speaks of as having been uttered by Nature after the fall of man. Of this fire you are soon to be the appointed guardians—and if, through your neglect, it shall go out, the curses of ruined millions, confirmed and scaled by the frown of indignant heaven, await you.
And now, young people, I most solemnly and affectionately admonish you to come forward, if you have not; and to go forward, if you have, in this great and noble cause, which is your duty, your honor, and your happiness. How can you so well employ the ardor of youth, the energies of strength, the glow of health? Give the days, the aspirations, and the activities of the season of hope and of enterprise, to the service of God, and the interests of the world. "Now, now is the acceptable time." Begin life by appropriating a part of every year's income to the work of converting the heathen. Lay the first fruits of your property on the altar of the Lord. Give your personal exertions, so far as you can do it without encroaching on that time which belongs to others, or impairing that blush of modesty which is your own ornament and beauty. But are there none of you, whose hearts being renewed by divine grace, and constrained by the love of Christ, whose compassion for immortal souls, being moved by the petition, "Come over and help us!" which is floated on the wings of every breeze, and borne on the crest of every wave, which touches the British shore, are fired with the ambition to make Christ known, where he has not been known before? Are there none willing, this day, to consecrate themselves to the work of a missionary? Shall war, shall commerce, shall science, never lift their voices in vain, when they ask for workers? Is hallowed ambition, aspiring to deeds of noble enterprise, extinct or dying in the church of God? Is not life short, time uncertain, death at hand, eternity about to disclose its realities? And are there none of you who, moved by these considerations, will seize the honor of employing the short period of your existence below, in the truly immortal work of converting earth, and peopling heaven with holy and happy beings?
Do you need the power of heart-stirring example? Let me refer you to Henry Martyn. Behold him, when the united wreaths of literary and scientific fame were still unwithered on his brow; when the road to advancement was opening to his eyes; when the ease, comforts, and elegances of life were within his reach, or ready to come at his bidding; surrendering all to bear the cross to distant lands, and plant the life-giving symbol amidst the scorched plains of Hindostan. But a costlier sacrifice still did he make, costlier than the attractions of his native soil, than the fond endearments of two sisters, to whom he stood related as the Lazarus to the family at Bethany; for one there was to whom, above all others upon earth, his heart was bound by the ties of virtuous love, and with whom it would have been little sacrifice even to leave the land of his birth; and yet even her did he give up, to go alone to the other side of the globe, for the love which he bore to Christ, and to the souls for whom Christ died. This is the loftiest instance of self-denial for the cause of the Redeemer, next to that of actual martyrdom, with which I am acquainted, and affords an instance of the true moral sublime, which has but few parallels. Do you think he now regrets the sacrifices he made? O, no! Could he rise from his grave, lowly as his own meek and gentle spirit, and visit you in person this night, he would address you in language similar to this—"Holy and generous youth, the career of a faithful missionary is the high road to immortal renown. I regret not my decision to leave the land of my nativity, nor look back with regret upon the surrender of so many comforts for the cause of the Redeemer, short as was my course, for I now see that a year spent in India is equal to an age in England." Will no one reply, "Here, Lord, am I; send me?"
PARENTS, I now turn to you. How can we expect to see the ardor of missionary zeal in your children, unless proper means are employed by you to kindle and support it? If your sons and your daughters grow up without the fear of God, if they become mirthful and worldly, if they acquire a taste for the amusements of the world, if they become the companions of fools, we can neither expect nor wish them to be the agents of such a cause as this. It is only as they remember their Creator, live under the influence of decided piety, and cherish a deep concern about the salvation of their own souls, that anything can be looked for from them, in connection with the schemes of Christian benevolence. Let me, then, become the advocate of your children's souls, of your own comfort, of the permanence of our churches, and of the cause of missions, by entreating you to pay more attention to the religious education of your families. On this basis, in a considerable measure, rests our cause.
I do fear that this great and important branch of our duty is most criminally neglected, or very carelessly performed, in the present day. The culture of the heart is sacrificed to the culture of the mind, and to prepare their children to shine as people of the world, is far more the object of ambition with many professors of religion, than that they should reflect in the church the beauties of holiness. The education of our youth is radically defective where piety is not the first and main concern. But are not, with most parents, secular accomplishments everything—and character, especially pious character, nothing? The spirit of the world has made, and is still making, sad encroachments upon the spirit of piety. Who can wonder, when we look at the relaxed discipline, the fitful and irregular devotion, the neglected instruction, of some families, that the young people who are trained up there should prefer the concert, the mirthful party, or the theater—to the sermon, the prayer-meeting, or the committee room? I call you to pious education—to constant, anxious, and consistent effort, to train up your children in the fear, nurture, and admonition of the Lord. Then fan the spark of zeal in their bosoms; set them the example in your own conduct. What can be expected from those young people who never hear a word from the lips of their parents, nor see in them an action, which reminds them that there is such an institution in existence as the Missionary Society. Deep and indelible shame attaches to those who, in training up their children, do not endeavor to implant public spirit in their hearts.
Mothers, I charge it upon you to breathe a feeling of zeal and compassion into those minds which are opening their infant capacities, and spreading their budding energies to your influence. Fathers, I admonish you to train up your sons for this cause. Where did the Roman youth gain that love of their country, which burst forth into such a flame the moment they stepped onto the great theater of their country's glory? The daughter caught it from her mother, when she heard that mother talk of her husband, who was absent in the field or the camp; the son caught it when he saw his father return from the field of conflict, hang up the shield and sword with which he had fought the battles of the commonwealth, and receive the kiss of marital love upon his honorable scars. Ah! then did the youthful bosom acquire the feeling of patriotism, when the domestic circle heard of the glory of Rome, and the duty of every citizen to brighten and perpetuate its great and sacred name.
Domestic piety is the source of missionary zeal. And should God call you to make the honorable sacrifice of giving a son or a daughter to the cause of missions, withhold not, grudge not, the costly offering. Many years ago, when I formed an auxiliary society in my own congregation, and was receiving the names of the contributors, there came a youth of sixteen, who, upon being asked what he wished to contribute, modestly replied, "Myself!" I took him under my protection, watched him, taught him, and upon perceiving in him the seeds of piety and genius, was willing to encourage his views. But a difficulty was in his way; he was the oldest son of his mother, who had been lately left a widow, in narrow circumstances, to struggle for eight young children, of whom Joseph was her nearest and her strongest hope. Upon being consulted as to her willingness to part from a child so good, so promising, and likely so soon to be her support, "Let him go," she replied, "and God will provide for me and my babes; for who am I, that I should be thus honored to have a son a missionary to the heathen?" He went, and nobly fought, and nobly fell, on the plains of Hindostan, in conflict with the powers of darkness, and in his last moments exhibited a scene of Christian triumph, the glory of which has rarely been surpassed, except at the stake of the martyr. Soon after this, another of the same family desired to follow the footsteps of his brother! What! another of her children? How did the widow act in this second instance? Just as she did in the first. "Let William follow Joseph," she exclaimed, in effect, "though it be to India, and an early grave." God has rewarded her confidence in a remarkable manner, and provided for herself and her children. And will any of you dare to lay an obstacle in the way of a child devoting himself to the cause of God? Shall worldly parents give up their children to be missionaries of mammon, of war, or of science, and we be unwilling to part from ours for God, for Christ, for the salvation of souls? What! when it is to gain for them, not the laurel of earthly fame—but the unfading crown of life and glory, which the hand of the Lord Jesus will bestow on every faithful laborer in his cause.
In CONCLUSION—let me direct your attention to the glorious outcomes and the final results of all our efforts—but to comprehend these, requires more than an angel's grasp of mind, and to foresee them, more than a prophet's range of vision. When I read the innumerable predictions which describe the future reign of Christ, and which have never yet been fulfilled by any events that have occurred; when I contemplate the sublime and mystic symbols by which approaching events are set forth, symbols which, though to me unintelligible, appear illuminated by some concealed yet rising luminary; when I consider the magnitude and extent of the work of human redemption, for the accomplishment of which the infinite God united to himself the nature of man, and effected the great sacrifice of the cross; when I see our world selected out of God's vast domains, as the theater on which the Deity will display all his glories to the admiration of the universe; when I behold Providence occupying thousands of years in accumulating means and instruments for the completion of some favorite design—when I recollect how many centuries this globe has been given up to the dominion of sin and Satan, notwithstanding the wisdom, goodness, and power of God; when to all this I add the prayers that have been presented, the exertions that have been made, and the anticipations that have been indulged, with a view to the moral renovation of mankind—I cannot but feel persuaded, "that there is a destiny in reserve for the children of men, compared with the glory of which, invisible though it be at present, and hid behind the clouds which envelope this dark and troubled scene, the brightest day that has yet shone upon the world is midnight, and the greatest splendor that has invested it but as the shadow of death."
I do not agree with some modern interpreters of prophecy, as to times or events connected with the millennium—but I do expect for our world, dark, guilty, and wretched as it yet is, a glory which will transcend the imagination of the most enraptured or enthusiastic interpreter of prophetic writ—a glory which shall correspond with the closing scenes of earth and time, and the introduction of the economy of heaven and eternity. What precise relation our exertions bear to that era I know not, nor am I anxious to know. Whether our system of organization be "the plant of renown," and is raised up itself to heal and bless the world, or whether it is only to bear seed which, when much that is now visible shall have perished, shall spring up, with less of human agency and more of that which is exclusively divine, it is not for me to determine. Or, to confine myself more closely to the figure of the text, what part of the labor in the moral culture of the world is assigned to us, whether we are only collecting the implements of husbandry, and cultivating a little spot or two, by way of example and encouragement; or are scattering widely the seed which others are to reap, I know not.
But one thing I know, that nothing we do will be completely and ultimately lost—everything is preparing for and hastening to the harvest. Look to the end of the world; the ploughman, the sower, the reaper, will have entered; the seed will have been sown; the crop will have been matured; the harvest will have been gathered; patriarchs, priests, prophets, apostles, missionaries, ministers, with all holy men and women, of every denomination, country, and age, will be gathered together unto the great Lord of the inheritance; all shall assemble, as those who have labored in separate parts of the same domain, who have wrought in different times, and have accomplished various but concurring objects; none shall boast, none complain, none shall envy; for all shall see that they have done their own work, and in its proper time; and their joy shall be, not merely the joy of men in harvest—but their felicity shall be the shout, the rapture, the mutual congratulation, and the grateful praise of the multitude, who are assembled at the jubilee of creation, the harvest home of the universe!