Christ, the Theme of the Missionary
An Argument for the Specific Design and the Spiritual Character of Christian Missions
Octavius Winslow, 1840
The object of the following pages is not so much to advance a new theory of Christian Missions, as to bring out to more prominent view, the specific design and the spiritual character of this great enterprise. It is not so much their aim to propose increased action in this department of Christian effort, as it is to bring up the holy principle of the church of Christ to a more efficient support of the action already in operation.
It may be a question worthy of grave consideration: How far does the Missionary enterprise occupy, in the estimation of its avowed friends, at the present time, that distinct, commanding, and spiritual position which it formerly did? Or, How far does the Missionary action of the Christian church exceed in its intensity, the sustaining power of holiness in the hearts of Christians?
In attempting a satisfactory reply to this question, it will avail nothing that we are reminded of multiplied and crowded Missionary assemblies, of animated addresses, of exciting scenes, and of augmented Missionary funds. These form no proper and safe criteria by which to determine the real advance which the Missionary cause is making in the spiritual affections and prayers of the church, or, how far this enterprise is sustained by increased holiness and spirituality in its constituents.
We must look elsewhere for the evidence. We must ascertain how far the one and specific design of the Missionary enterprise is kept in view, distinct from all collateral objects — what stress is laid upon the divinely-ordained means for securing that object — what dependence is placed upon the grand secret of success — and how far the legitimate motive of the Gospel is felt to be influential. These are the great points that are to test the true character of Missionary feeling, as it at present exists in the Christian church.
That the spiritual character of Christian Missions cannot be kept too constantly and prominently in view, will not for a moment be a question of doubt. It is only as the enterprise is viewed in this aspect, that the churches will see the necessity and feel the importance of sustaining it upon sound Christian principles.
There should always be a mutual fitness between the instrument and the design — a harmony of the means with the end. If this is true in matters of secular interest — then how much more so is it in the upbuilding of Christ's kingdom? In this great edifice, all the materials must be spiritual — and Holiness, in its brightest characters, should be written upon the men and the means employed in its erection.
There must be more holiness in the church of Christ — then will a new era in Christian Missions have commenced. We need it at this moment. We need cleaner hands and purer hearts. We need more simplicity of mind, singleness of eye, purity of aim. We need sincere self-abasement and crucifixion to a worldly spirit, worldly policy, and worldly means. We need more constantly to realize the truth of our Lord's declaration, "My kingdom is not of this world" — and, in the same spirit in which his disciples went forth, winning their widening and triumphant way, we are to gird ourselves to the great work of calling in an elect and a redeemed church.
O that the professing church were more deeply baptized with the spirit of the first preachers of the Gospel! Then would we see more evidently, as they did, its kindling and spreading glory. That the Lord of Missions may impress the seal of his approval upon this humble attempt to advance his glory in this great work, is the fervent prayer of the writer — responded to, as he doubts not it will be, by every believer who, with his morning and evening sacrifice, blends that brief but comprehensive petition taught him by his Lord, "May Your kingdom come."
Octavius Winslow, Leamington Spa, November 1840
"Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice!" Philippians 1:18
The Gospel of Christ had achieved wonders for Paul. And if to demonstrate the truth of Christianity, instead of plying the reader with motive to its diffusion, were the sole object of penning these pages, then, from the very wonders thus wrought, it would be easy to construct an argument for its Divinity, which no sophistry could embarrass, and which no reasoning could overturn. The attending circumstances of Paul's conversion from Judaism is of so extraordinary and miraculous a character, as to afford sufficient data with which to establish the heavenly origin of the system. As if to place the fact beyond all rational doubt, and to afford the fullest confirmation to the transforming power of the Gospel upon human character, Divine and sovereign mercy selected for the proof and the experiment, the most improbable case.
Around Saul of Tarsus there clung no sympathies — not the common charities of our social nature — in favor either of Christians or of Christianity. Nothing in his previous history had tended to prepare and mold him for the reception of the Gospel. A Hebrew parent, a Hebrew rabbi, and the Hebrew religion — were not likely means to school this extraordinary man for the Apostleship of Christ. No lesson which he might have learned at the feet of Gamaliel, was at all likely to prepare him for the feet of Jesus. And no principle which, in that renowned school of philosophy, he might have nurtured or imbibed, would be calculated to render him an easy conquest to the doctrine of the cross.
Unlike the other Apostles — his coadjutors in the propagation of the Christian faith — he had heard of Christians, but to foam with madness; and of Christianity, but to vow its utter extirpation. They, on the contrary, had been with the Savior — had swelled his train, and walked at his side — had witnessed his splendid miracles, and had hung with rapture on his words. They had committed themselves to no open and avowed hostility to his religion; but, by a long course of previous discipline — by a process of spiritual illumination, as mild as it was effectual — their understandings and their wills were at length brought over to the side of Christ. And as the result of mature consideration, patient and deliberate inquiry — they became first the humble disciples, and then the accredited ministers of the cross.
Not so with Saul of Tarsus. Everything in his previous history — his religion, his early and national biases, the 'seeds of thought' sown in the nursery, and the education of his riper years — all conspired to render him a most improbable subject of redeeming grace, and a most unlikely candidate for the inspired apostleship.
Here might we pause and inquire — Was that a Divine or a human system — was that a fable or a fact — which achieved this wondrous and rapid change in the entire empire of the Apostle's mind?
Connect with this brief sketch of his early character, the peculiar circumstances of his conversion. His sudden arrest, while on his way to Damascus — ecclesiastically authorized to arrest, scourge, and imprison the harmless but fugitive disciples — the light that flooded him with its blaze of glory — the voice that fell upon his ear in tones of supernatural awe — the immediate and total revolution through which he past — all were of so extraordinary and unearthly a character, as to leave no possible avenue for the mind to escape the overwhelming demonstration which the entire transaction affords to the Divinity of the Gospel. To brand the subject of this supernatural interference as mere imagination, and to stigmatize the miracle itself as a fiction, betrays a state of moral feeling rendered fearfully obtuse by the power of sin, and a scepticism of mind but one remove from absolute atheism.
And may we not suppose, without trespassing upon the region of imagination, that his sudden and miraculous induction to the apostleship — for his call to the discipleship and the apostleship were at one and the same moment — is it fanciful, we say, to suppose, that all his future career could receive a molding and a coloring from the very circumstances of his conversion to the faith of the Gospel? So deeply would he be impressed with the sublimity of the religion he now avowed — so firmly would he be intrenched within the evidences of its truth — and so thoroughly persuaded of its converting power, that, in after-periods of his history, when, standing amidst scenes of classic renown, surrounded by the gorgeous emblems of paganism, and indignantly denouncing idolatry, and exposing the error of each reigning superstition — he would speak with an authority and a power, whose only secret would be a deep and thorough conviction that the faith of which he had now become the champion was no "cunningly devised fable."
Every fresh recollection of his own conversion to that faith — that though, in days gone by, he had been the terror, the scourge, and the spoiler of the church — yet now had "obtained mercy," — would kindle his eye with new radiance, and clothe his tongue with new eloquence. He would need no other evidence than that afforded by his own miraculous conversion; he would summon no other witness than the 'witness within' — and thus, by "manifestation of truth," he would "commend himself to every man's conscience as in the sight of God."
If the Gospel of Christ had thus achieved wonders for Paul — then Paul had achieved wonders by the Gospel of Christ. The moment it pleased God to call him by his grace, conferring not with flesh and blood — (for why should he seek human credentials, whose ordination to the ministry and apostleship had been received immediately from God?) — he girt himself for the work of preaching the faith which once he destroyed. And eminent were his qualifications for the office. The powerful intellect, the ardent zeal, the dauntless courage, the irrepressible energy — and may we not add, the native honesty of intention, which, before his conversion, rendered him so formidable and successful an opposer of the truth — now renewed and sanctified by the Spirit of God, and directed into another and a holier channel, as signally fitted him for the office of a bold and successful preacher of the truth.
Cheerfully surrendering all former hopes of worldly preferment, distinction, and wealth; turning his back upon the ephod and the tiara, which glittered in the prospective — for to have reached the high-priest's office, would have been an easy ascent for him — he went forth, seeking glory, honor, and immortality, in the Godlike work of saving men. His labors and travels in proclaiming the Gospel were almost without a parallel. No dangers and no privations — no seas and no edicts — no allurements and no bribes — were allowed to cool the ardor of his zeal, or allure him from his holy purpose. He had been the star of wormwood to the church — now, he would be the star of promise. He had wreaked havoc on her children, scattering those whom he could not clutch within his iron grasp — now, he would allure them into one fold, and be to them gentle as a mother "nourishing her children." He had been as a pestilence, scathing and blasting — as a conflagration, blackening and devouring; now, he would be the healer and the restorer of the people, the preacher and defender of the faith.
Survey the map of his mission. We spread it before us — and in the traces he leaves behind him of souls converted, and churches planted — we follow him to the most renowned cities in the most distant regions of the then known world, bent on one exalted purpose — the preaching of Christ crucified. We find him toiling his way over almost the entire portion of Syria and Arabia, Asia Minor and Europe, his ardent soul still panting for one object — the salvation of men. Threading his way among the innumerable islands which so thickly and so beautifully stud the Grecian Archipelago, we at length behold him planting the victorious cross in the sight of ancient Troy, on the classic shores of Greece, at Antioch and Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, and Athens.
These were among the wonders of the Apostle's ministry. Through his unwearied labors, in concert with the Twelve, in a few years the entire Roman empire yielded to the supremacy of the cross! A revolution, as extraordinary in its character, as it was simple in its means and sublime in its results — was effected in favor of the despised and the crucified one of Nazareth. Everywhere . . .
sinners were converted;
churches were planted;
Paganism was overthrown;
Christianity was triumphant;
and the signal of its victory was beheld in the "banners of the faith streaming from the palaces of the Caesars."
One of the most distinguished and attractive features of the Apostle's character, was his Divine-like spirit of benevolence. Himself a partaker of the Gospel, his ardent soul expanded in sympathy for those who yet had heard not its sound, and had felt not its power. Of this characteristic, his own words placed at the head of this argument, viewed in their connection with the context, afford a striking illustration.
At the period Paul penned his Epistle to the Philippian church, he was approaching the termination of his imprisonment at Rome, where he had been taken in chains, for the testimony of Jesus. Writing to the church he had been instrumental in gathering, and for whose spiritual welfare his heart, unimprisoned and unfettered, went out in yearning tenderness — he calms their suspected fears by assuring them, that, so far from retarding the spread of the Gospel — his manacles and confinement had but tended to its furtherance. So that, in the palace of the emperor, the Gospel, until now excluded — had found an admittance and a welcome.
His bonds too, he informs them, had tended to inspire with greater boldness his companions in labor; so that, in the face of opposition, imprisonment, and death — they "spoke the word without fear." With regard to the motives by which some were influenced, he acknowledges their unworthiness — yet, so ardently did he pant for the triumphs of the truth, that, pausing scarcely to note, and not a moment to censure, their unkind hostility, and blending in one brief sentence the central fact of his faith with a lofty desire for its diffusion, he exclaims with impassioned earnestness, "Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice!"
1. The reader will first be invited to survey the specific and benevolent design of the missionary enterprise — the salvation of men.
It will be perceived, no studied air of concealment invests, and no consideration of self-interest blends itself with, our design. We throw no mystery or disguise around our specific purpose. It is too benevolent to need concealment — it is too grand to veil in disguise. We tread not in the steps of the ancient mystics, who, to stamp an air of imposing solemnity upon their systems, and to impart to their oracular instructions a commanding authority — enshrouded both their persons and their doctrine in deep and artful concealment. We court no such secrecy. We proclaim to all, that our design is an invasion upon the kingdom of darkness; that it is our purpose to bear the cross into the very ranks, and to plant it in the very camp, of the enemy!
Such a design has its origin in the only correct estimate of the moral and spiritual depression of Man. Our enterprise is formed, our plans arranged, and our labors prosecuted, with the most thorough conviction that man is fallen — fallen so low as to be reached only by a Divine arm. The revelation of God was the only religious system that announced this to be its fundamental doctrine. The entire systems of the ancient moralists were based on profound ignorance of the moral character of our race. There was no distinct and prominent recognition of the doctrine of the fall. The baneful and disastrous effects of sin were seen, felt, and deplored — but to what origin to refer all this we, and how to devise a remedy, baffled the research and the skill of the acutest and wisest philosophers. Their poets, it is true, sang of Tartarian gulfs and Elysian fields; but as they declaimed in numbers, their doctrines were regarded merely as the flights of poetic imagination; and conjecture was made to take the place of certainty, and probability the place of proof.
The only light that gleamed athwart this night of darkness, emanated from the gorgeous temple of the Jews; but even this was so faint and feeble a glimmer, when compared with "the glory which was to be revealed," that it was as the retiring radiance of the morning star, before the spreading luster of the rising sun.
It was left for the glorious Gospel of the blessed God — the only scheme of redeeming mercy — to startle the slumbering world with the appalling announcement that all men had sinned and fall short of the glory of God; that sin was the fearful despotism under which the human race were writhing; that it made no exception, but included all men, Jews and Gentiles, shut up in one common calamity, and girt by one common ruin!
This is the identical view of man which we deem important to present to the reader in these pages.
View him in all the phases of his moral existence, and what more or less can we make of him — than that he is a sinner, apostatized from God, and in this state destined to fearful retribution? A tamer and less expanded view of the moral condition of man would be dishonoring to the inspired delineation found in the sacred writings. We read that "the whole world lies in wickedness"; that "all men have sinned and come short of the glory of God"; that "the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes."
What an appalling picture of our race is this! And yet, without the slightest modification, this is the actual and present state of all men destitute of an experimental acquaintance with Christ! Our Gospel comes to man as a sinner — a sinner utterly lost, ruined, and condemned — a sinner with no claim upon the Divine forgiveness, but all whose destiny would be written in "mourning, lamentation, and woe" — but for the cross of Calvary.
Such a design associates itself with the specific object of Christ's advent into our world, and with the express mission and labors of his Apostles after his ascension. There was a speciality, as well as a grandeur, in the object of the Redeemer's coming into our world. He did not come . . .
to establish a new school of philosophy,
to give an impetus to the reign of science,
to attract around him the sages and the poets of antiquity, or
to give civil emancipation to the nations then wearing the despot's yoke.
All this he might easily have accomplished. Beneath his benignant influence . . .
philosophy might have developed new wonders,
science might have extended wide her domain,
the poets and sages of Greece and Rome might have been won to his cause, and chained to his feet,
and the golden hopes of the Jews, sighing to be delivered from the Roman yoke, might more than have been realized.
That the world has been temporally benefitted by the introduction of Christianity, we suppose none but a disbeliever in its Divinity will deny. Indeed, it were easy to prove, were this the appropriate place, that science, art, philosophy, and civil freedom — owe all their maturity and greatness to the indirect and remote influence of Christianity. We have but to place in contrast with the nations now nominally Christian, the most exalted and refined of other and earlier ages, to receive a demonstrative evidence of this.
It is Christianity, and this alone, which has raised the civilized nations of the world to their present lofty position. To it we owe all our noble institutions, moral greatness, magnificent enterprises, refined civilization, lofty ethics, and wise jurisprudence. And, if the present were our only existence, and death an eternal sleep, and Christianity had given us but "the promise of the life that now is," making no provision and holding out no allurements for "the life which is to come" — even then it had deserved the homage and the veneration of that portion of our race, who may have exulted in the blessings it lavishes upon the present existence, while they rejected the revelations it makes of the future.
If, then, you would exalt your country in the scale of nations, if you would give an impetus to its civilization, elevate the character of its population, develop its physical and intellectual resources, impart stability to its institutions, justice and purity to its laws, sacredness to each domestic relation, and clothe its surface with fruitfulness, and the sides of its green hills with joyous houses and a happy peasantry — then, give to Christianity its speediest and its widest diffusion. And, while the statesman is devising his plans, and the political economist is adjusting his principles, and the moralist is compiling his code, you will be ushering in that golden age of moral and intellectual greatness — of social order and happiness — of which the poets of antiquity but sung, and of which the sages of antiquity did but dream.
But transcendently higher interests than these, did our Lord have in view when he lighted upon our apostate world. He viewed man, though ruined, as immortal; and to pluck him from that ruin, and fit him for that immortality — he consented to identify himself with both. What other attraction to him had earth, than this? Why should he prefer our sin-blighted planet as his home and dwelling-place — to the regions of light, holiness, and joy, from whence he had come? Why forego the society of his Father, and the service of the pure spirits of glory — and dwell among forms of misery and pollution, flitting each moment before his eye, and breathing on him their bitter curses as they passed, and muttering in his ears their shuddering blasphemies? Why attach himself to the suffering form of humanity — its woes, its sorrows, its tears, its poverty, its obscurity, its scorn, and its contumely? And why pass from our world under circumstances so humiliating, and by a death so ignominious?
O, why, but to save men! And was there anything in this incongruous with his dignity? — was not the end in harmony with the means? — the grandeur of the design in harmony with the character of the agent? We are conscious of no violence done to the harmony of our feelings as we contemplate the wondrous spectacle of God stooping to the rescue of rebellious man! It was a work in every respect worthy of himself — there was a surpassing grandeur, a moral sublimity, in it suited only to his infinite and illustrious character. There was nothing that shaded the Divine glory, or compromised the Divine purity — nothing that rendered him in the eyes of the intelligent universe an object to be less feared, admired, and loved. Angels would not adore him less fervently, devils would not fear him less tremblingly, and men would not love him less ardently, for the part he took in the stupendous scheme of redemption — but the very reverse.
Adoration and love would but deepen and expand, as the incarnation and death of the Son of God disclosed their solemn wonders. There would be discerned in these two facts — depths so profound of the glory of God — light so overpowering would be thrown upon the perfections and attributes of his character — justice and mercy, holiness and truth, would stand out in such stupendous magnitude, as to transfix the heart with awe, or dissolve it with love. Devils would tremble, saints would love, and angels would adore. Trace each ascending step in this wondrous plan!
Behold the means — how magnificent! The incarnation of Deity — the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord.
Behold the end — how glorious! The Divine law honored — Divine justice appeased — the curse removed — human woes hushed — the spoiler spoiled — Heaven thronged with the redeemed of earth — and the soul plucked from its burnings, and placed high amid the glory and the music of the spheres!
In the further development of this wondrous design, trace the steps which conducted the Redeemer to its full and triumphant consummation. From this object nothing had power to divert him; his whole soul was absorbed in it. It was the work of his life. Everything was made subservient to it. The world of creation was ransacked for the imagery that illustrated its nature; and the world of revelation for the motive that urged its importance. Heaven, earth, and Hell were summoned, either to contribute to the majesty of the spectacle — or gaze upon it with solemn and adoring wonder.
But a yet more impressive illustration of the grandeur and mightiness of the work was to be witnessed. Christ himself was to die! and this event was to be the climax of its moral sublimity. Beyond this — shall we say it? — Deity could not pass! It seemed to be the limit of Omnipotence — unless the Resurrection be excepted. It was approaching so near the cessation of Deity, that it may be lawful to suppose he could not have gone further without ceasing to be God. And yet to this event, the tide of love that floated him into our world — bore him steadily on. He agonized for its arrival. He longed for his garments to be rolled in blood. He panted for the hour of atonement. "I have a baptism to be baptized with — and how am I straitened until it is accomplished."
"My food is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." "For this cause came I unto this hour." Behold the Son of God, travailing in the intense agony of his soul for the salvation of men! This was "the joy that was set before him"; and for the accomplishment of which he "endured the cross, despised the shame, and is now set down at the right hand of the Majesty on High."
In the benevolent design contemplated by our mission, we become identified with Christ in his mighty work, and enter into the fellowship of that cross which is destined to occupy eternity with the developments of its wonders, and to replenish immensity with the brightness of its glory.
Thus, too, we become one in spirit with the mission and labors of the Apostles after their Lord's ascension. They went everywhere preaching the word and saving men. Their commission designated no other work, and prescribed no other instrument for its accomplishment. "Go, evangelize all nations. And as you go, preach." They, like their Divine master, rose superior to the allurements which everywhere thronged them. Like him, they refused the honors, relinquished the wealth, closed their ears upon the applause, and their eyes upon the grandeur of the world, allowing not a moment's pause in the great work of saving a perishing world — for which, and to which, they had been called and ordained.
There was much in the path along which their mission led them, which presented strong and powerful seductions — much that might have caused them to linger in breathless wonder and admiration, forgetting all the while, their high and self-denying purpose. So engrossed we might have supposed them to have been by the scenes of earthly magnificence which everywhere pressed upon their view, as to well-near quench every sentiment of compassion for the heathen, whose salvation they sought. Yet, in the midst of the most powerful fascinations, they stood unmoved.
Neither the seductions of philosophy, the grandeur of art, nor the refinements of civilization — had power with them. They beheld the world careering in its orbit of fearful and certain ruin; and, with the cross in their hands, they rushed to its rescue! They were bent upon one object — the salvation of man. This they steadily and zealously pursued, whether surrounded by the "elegancies of Corinth, the classic beauties of Athens, the overwhelming grandeur of Rome, or the hallowed scenes of Jerusalem." The soul lost by sin, the soul recovered by Christ — was the one object of the Apostolic mission, and the one theme of the Apostolic ministry.
Such a design harmonizes with the eternal purpose of God, and the entire arrangements of His providential government. It is God's purpose to save men. The thought of their salvation, and the method of its accomplishment — must not be regarded as having found their lodgment in the Divine mind at the moment of the introduction of sin into our world. The actual exhibition of our woe was not the first event that touched the spring of his benevolence, and unveiled the fountain of his compassion. That spring had been touched, and that fountain unsealed, in the eternal purpose of the Divine mind — long before the universe which was to be the theater of its grand display had been, by a syllable, spoken into existence. His eternal purpose — his covenant engagement with his Son — the ushering of that Son into our world — all were connected with one grand purpose, and were to accelerate one mighty project — the salvation of the human soul!
And to prepare the way for this, all the arrangements of Divine Providence, from the beginning of time, have had their appointment and their bearing. The world is Christ's by gift, as it is his, in a limited sense, by purchase — and will yet more extendedly and gloriously be his by conquest. In it, he has a people eternally loved and chosen, and for their gathering to himself — God "has given him power over all flesh, that he might give eternal life to as many as the Father has given him." To accomplish this mighty design, all the events and circumstances of Providence tend; to this, as their center, all the lines converge. The revolution of empires, the uprooting of dynasties, the advancement of society in intellectual greatness, in art, science, and discovery — all are under the control, and made subservient to the development, of the grand design of him, of whom it was predicted, that "the government shall be upon his shoulders."
"The government of the world," remarks James Angell James, "is the administration of which, from the very moment of the fall, became subject to the accomplishment of a mediatorial scheme. Providence has lent itself to redemption, and surrendered all its energies and resources at the foot of the cross." How elevated, then, the position, and how noble the object, of the Missionary enterprise! "While science is discovering new continents, and the spirit of commercial enterprise is forming new colonies and opening new sources of wealth, and the genius of war impelling its mad votaries to new conquests — the friends of missions are but gazing upon these events as connected with, and hastening on, the ultimate and glorious design of Christ's death — the subduing of the kingdoms to himself."
It will now be proper that we advert to the Grand Instrument of Missionary Success — the preaching of Christ. We make as full and explicit avowal of the instrument of our labor — as of the object of our zeal. It is a fundamental article on which our entire mission is based, that the proclamation of the Gospel is the only divinely-accredited means of bringing men to Christ, and preparing them for the high destinies of the future. In exhibiting before the reader the one instrument of our exertions, an inquiry will naturally rise in the mind — What is it to preach Christ?
We may be permitted a brief reply to this interesting and important question. In general terms, to preach Christ is, to present a full exhibition of the entire revelation of God — his existence, government, perfections, etc. But taking a less extended and yet more definite view of the subject, we observe, that to preach Christ is —
First, To exhibit him in the dignity of his PERSON — as essentially Divine. This doctrine we hold to be fundamental. We cannot part with it, without parting with the sheet-anchor of our hope. If this goes — then all is gone. We preach Christ as "the brightness of the Father's glory, the express image of his person" — as he "who was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God," — as "the mighty God," — as "the Almighty," — as "God manifest in the flesh."
This is the express testimony of scripture to the Deity of our blessed Lord. And the doctrine thus distinctly declared, forms the central fact of the Christian system. To this the Gospel owes all its glory — its laws, all their authority — its doctrines, all their importance — and its revelations of futurity, all their sublimity. Lower the dignity of Christ's person — and you reduce the Gospel system to a mere nihility. It is the Divinity of Christ that imparts to it such commanding authority, and that stamps it with such an unearthly glory.
And to what does the entire mediatorial work of Christ owe all its value but to his Divinity? His blood is atoning blood, cleansing from all sin — because it possesses all the virtue of Deity. His righteousness is a justifying righteousness, hiding all imperfections, because it is "the righteousness of God." Neither would possess anything of intrinsic value or efficacy — but for the essential Divinity of our adorable Lord. The one stupendous fact of the Bible is, the manifestation of Deity in human flesh.
When we turn to the Old Dispensation — symbolic and shadowy as was much of it — yet this truth — the signification of the symbol and the substance of the shadow — gleams through the interstices with a brightness which fringes every part with its glory. To it, as the star of their hope, patriarchs and prophets, "who saw his glory and spoke of it," fastened, in departing, their dying gaze; assured, that "what God had promised, he was able also to perform." They "all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them."
They built their faith upon the promise of a Savior who was to come — a Savior as precious to them as to us; and that Savior they knew to be the Eternal Son of God, in every respect co-equal with the Eternal Father. They built upon a rock, "and that Rock was Christ."
When we turn to the inspired records of the New Dispensation — it is all glowing, redolent, and vocal with the amazing fact, that "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" in the character and accomplishing the work of the Redeemer of men. We read that "God was manifest in the flesh" — that Christ came, who is "over all, God blessed for evermore" — that "he of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth," had come, authenticating the Old and establishing the New Dispensation.
To shut out, then, from our belief the doctrine of Christ's absolute Deity — what is it but to cast the shadow of death over the entire glory of the Bible? The essential importance of this truth to the salvation of the soul, the great, and it is to be feared, the increasing number of those who reject it — the glory brought to God where it is welcomed, and the dishonor done to him where it is denied — seem to demand its constant, prominent, and faithful exhibition.
What unction, what power, what irresistible authority, will attend that ministry where the Divinity of the Savior is unfolded with distinctness and enforced with earnestness, when the appeal to it is frequent, emphatic, and solemn! Let the sinner be made to see that his rejection of the Savior involves guilt of the most fearful character, because it is the rejection of incarnate Deity — that, in despising the Gospel, in neglecting the great salvation, and in trampling under foot the atoning blood — he is heaping scorn, revilement, and insult upon Jehovah himself; that he is launching his arrows at the very being of God; that he is warring with all God's attributes, mocking his justice and slighting his love; and that each added moment of this life of rebellion — is but treasuring up wrath against the day of its outpouring — you leave him no avenue to escape, no plea of excuse, but guilty, condemned and speechless!
O, what a weapon of mighty power does that missionary and that minister wield, who preaches the Godhead of Christ fully and confidently and fearlessly! What signal honor will be conferred on him and his labors who places on Jesus the crown of his Deity! "Those who honor me — I will honor."
The church, too, needs this truth. Where she is robbed of it, there is leanness and lifelessness — the form without the power of Godliness. Where it is held back, there is no growth, no spirituality, no vitality — God frowns, the Spirit withdraws, the ministry is powerless, and the preacher, the people, and the sanctuary, sit in darkness, dwelling in the region and the shadow of death! But where this doctrine is zealously taught, the reverse is seen and felt — the church is grounded and settled, the believer is nourished and built up, God smiles, and the Holy Spirit descends as "the dew unto Israel," who thus "grows as the lily, and casts forth its roots as Lebanon."
This doctrine, then, we unhesitatingly declare — Christ, in his absolute Deity — we fearlessly preach. We proclaim it as Jesus himself proclaimed it. Touching his union with the Father, we can admit not the slightest inferiority. "I and the Father are one." As a delegated God — we repel the absurdity; as a created Savior — we heed not the dream. He is God absolute — or an impostor! He is supremely Divine — or Christianity is a fable! He is Deity itself — or we are lost!
Second, To preach Christ is to exhibit him in the greatness and perfection of his WORK. It is to hold up the active obedience of Christ as constituting the righteousness of the believer — on the ground of which he stands fully, freely, and eternally accepted of God. It is to respond to the declarations of the inspired Apostle, "By him all who believe are justified from all things." And, again, "As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners — so by the obedience of one, shall many be made righteous." And yet, again, "He has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
This righteousness includes the whole of Christ's obedience to the preceptive part of the Divine law. He died as the substitute of his people. All that the broken law of God demanded of them — he, as their representative, gave. It insisted upon infinite holiness, perfect rectitude, and implicit obedience — and Christ, in the place and in behalf of his elect,, presented it. And, because of the infinite dignity of his person, because he was God as he was man — he was able to give to the law every jot and tittle that it demanded; investing it with a glory which it never had, even when it first issued from the throne of the Majesty on high.
This obedience of Christ — not his essential holiness, for that is incommunicable — becomes virtually the obedience of his people; imputed to them in the same manner, precisely, as their sins were imputed to him. There is a laying of their sins to the account of Jesus — and, in return, there is a laying of his righteousness to the account of his people. In no other sense can we possibly understand the Apostle, when using the language just quoted, "He has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
An important and essential feature in this glorious righteousness is, the simple method by which it is received. It is declared to be the righteousness of faith, because faith is the instrument by which it is brought unto the soul. This view of the subject excludes all idea of human merit. "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay — but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." O how entirely does this doctrine overthrow that of human merit! "It is of faith, that it might be by grace!" This "righteousness of God" becomes the sinner's by simple faith.
The Holy Spirit working faith in his heart, directing his eye to this infinite and spotless robe — he looks, believes, and is saved! Glorious righteousness of God! Precious faith that makes it ours! Where is the heart, professing to love this dear precious Savior, that does not exultingly exclaim with Paul, "Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice!"
Now, in this infinitely glorious and complete righteousness, stands the repenting and believing sinner — in no other can he be accepted, so long as God retains his truth and holiness. If this, then, is true — and most true it is — can there exist a moment's hesitancy as to the propriety of preaching it? We conceive not. Indeed, we see not how Christ can be preached — where the doctrine of imputed righteousness is denied, or what is tantamount, frowned down and fritted away to a mere nonentity.
The Apostles proclaimed it boldly — they made it the theme of every sermon they preached, and introduced it in every epistle they wrote. The Reformers followed in their steps, and, with no other doctrine than this, achieved a revolution second only to that produced by the ministry of the early Apostles. We shall hail that as a bright day to the church, when her ministers return again to the pure doctrines of the Reformation — and when her pulpits resound with the righteousness of Christ, imputed without works, unto him who believes.
The effects of this preaching will be seen in . . .
the lessened number of spurious conversions,
the increased holiness of the true believer,
the universal extension of genuine revivals, and
the erection of a higher standard of spirituality throughout the entire church. It was so in the times of the Apostles and Reformers — and may we not expect that the same cause will produce the same or similar effects?
This doctrine then, we repeat, must be faithfully insisted upon in the ministry of reconciliation. If it is the only method of justification, if it forms the only ground of acceptance with God — then why keep it back? Why shade and obscure it? If the Holy Spirit has blessed its exhibition in other days — then we are sure that he will bless it now. If this doctrine abases the sinner, honors the Savior, is productive in the believer of holiness and spirituality, and glorifies God — then let us fearlessly proclaim it, leaving God to bless and guard his own truth.
Let us deal faithfully with men's souls, assuring the mere professor, the formalist, and the Pharisee — that every other hope of acceptance with the holy and just God than that which springs from the infinitely glorious and finished righteousness of his Son, imputed without works to those who believe — will overwhelm its possessor with eternal confusion.
In connection with the righteousness that justifies, must be preached the blood that atones. The death of Christ, as yielding a full and infinite satisfaction to Divine justice, on the ground of which sin is atoned for, guilt is pardoned, and the Divine holiness secured — occupies an essential and prominent position in the Scriptures of revealed truth — indeed, it forms the very substance of the Scriptures. Extract from them the doctrine of the Atonement, and you render every part dark and unintelligible; while, if this stands — all is lucid and coherent.
It is expressly declared, that "Christ died for the ungodly" — that "he gave his life a ransom for many" — that "by himself he purged our sins" — that "he made reconciliation for the sins of the people" — that "he was the atoning sacrifice for our sins" — that "his blood cleanses from all sin" — that it was "shed for the remission of sins." Could terms be more explicit? Could any single doctrine be more clearly taught?
We go and stand by his cross, and behold him suffering as the surety and the substitute, in the place and in the stead of his people. We behold him bearing all their sins in his own body on the tree. He had obeyed the preceptive part of the law — and we now see him suffering its penalty. He had brought in a new and everlasting righteousness for the justification of their persons — and here we see him pouring out his blood for the pardon of their sins.
It was an atonement too, in every respect, adequate to the end for which it was offered. It being an infinite offering — the Divine law was honored, and Divine justice was satisfied. Through its intervention, God could be just, and yet justify the ungodly. He could be holy — and yet pardon the sinner. O blessed truth to him, who, through the Eternal Spirit, has seen the sinfulness of sin, mourned over the inward plague, and trembled in prospect of the judgment-seat — all whose false dependencies have crumbled from beneath him, and all whose treacherous hopes have melted into shadows!
To preach Christ, then, is to hold up his sufferings and death as an atonement for sin. To preach his atonement is, to "preach good tidings unto the meek, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound."
O what tidings of joy does the Missionary convey through our land whose one theme is, Christ crucified! Blessed are the feet that bear the message — sweet is the voice that proclaims this full and free redemption! Precious the announcement to the weary and heavy-laden, the poor in spirit, and the broken in heart — that Jesus Christ came into the world, lived and died, for poor helpless sinners — that the work of salvation is finished, righteousness is complete, the fountain is opened, and that all things are ready!
O fill the land with men who preach Jesus — who lift him up in the dignity of his person, and in the glory and completeness of his mediatorial work — in the plenitude of his grace, and in the ocean-fullness of his love to sinners — and we fear no evil that may threaten our beloved country! That land is safe, and only so — where Jesus is preached through its length and breadth. Our safety is not in human legislation, in man's wisdom, but in the "glorious Gospel of the blessed God."
Let the argument, then, for this noble department of Christian enterprise based upon this fact, approve itself to your judgment, and touch the spring of your affections. Our missionaries, laboring within the borders of our own land, and on heathen shores, preach Christ — shall they not be sustained? O, then, exclaim with the Apostle, "Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yes, and will rejoice!" For
"Tis when the cross is preached, and only then,
That from the pulpit a mysterious power
Goes forth to renovate the moral man.
He who without it, wields
The sacred sword, at best in mock display,
A useless weapon nourishes in its sheath;
None feel its edge — none fear it."
Third, Essential to this exhibition of Christ, is the perfectly gratuitous manner in which pardon and justification are bestowed. This the Scriptures of truth declare to be "of faith, that it might be by grace." As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him might not perish, but have everlasting life! There can be no true and lucid exhibition of the Gospel — which is unaccompanied with a distinct and emphatic statement of the freeness of its bestowment. The charm of the "glad tidings" to a convinced sinner is, the free-grace tenor of its revelation. Affix to it a price to be paid, and trammel it with conditions to be performed by the sinner — and you obscure its beauty, neutralize its power, and consign the spiritual bankrupt over to the blackness of darkness of despair.
Fourth, We must include in this simple plan, the provision which God has made for the renovation and sanctification of the heart by the work and influences of the Holy Spirit. The grand instrument wielded by the Missionary possesses within itself no intrinsic regenerating power. The Gospel is successful, and only so, as it is "preached with the Holy Spirit sent down from Heaven." Apart from this supernatural agency, there can be . . .
no change of heart or renewal of the mind,
no repentance or faith,
no love to God or holiness.
Thus we read, "It is the Spirit who quickens, the flesh profits nothing." "No man can say that Christ is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit." The Apostle terms the word of God — as "the sword of the Spirit." And carrying out the same thought in another place, he thus argues: "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom you believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase; so then, neither is he who plants anything, neither he who waters, but God that gives the increase." The testimony of Jesus confirms the truth of these statements, while in absolute terms it declares the necessity of this Divine influence. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit — he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
As infinite and complete as was the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, as glorious and free as is the Gospel that proclaims it — yet, had not provision been made in the covenant of redemption for the life-giving influences of the Holy Spirit, not an individual of our race would ever have availed himself of the blessings spread before him in the great charter of redemption!
Friends of this holy cause! Your Missionaries preach and labor but in vain, unassisted by the influences of the Spirit of God. The moral wilderness you have sent them to cultivate, will remain a wilderness still, without a spot of verdure to relieve its wild and desolate aspect — unless there descend upon it, the Spirit from on high. The dry bones in the valley, over whose coldness and lifelessness they weep and prophesy — will remain cold and lifeless still, until breathed upon by the Spirit of life from on high.
O when will this truth be heartily believed? When will the Church shake off her spirit of self-confidence and human trust, and pray and wrestle and agonize for the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon her Missionaries and her Missions? Zion may travail, but not bring forth — until in the great work of saving men and evangelizing the world, the Spirit is more sought, and God is more honored.
To establish the perfect adaptedness, and the essential necessity of the preaching of Christ crucified to the conversion of men, and the overthrow of Satan's empire, would seem to require no labored proof. And yet, in this day of many schemes for the world's conversion — it demands a distinct recognition in this connection of our argument. There is danger of selecting from the great armory of means, instruments not immediately adapted or even appointed by our Great Captain for the purpose in which we press them. Keeping in view our specific design — the salvation of men — the inquiry is important: What MEANS are most likely to accomplish this?
Education alone will not. We speak not anything in depreciation of those institutions of intellectual training which are at once the ornament and the glory of the land. We are not the enemy, but the friend of education. Give to it the widest extent; cover this and every land with elementary schools, with colleges and universities of learning. Yet, if these are our only means of reforming the habits and purifying the minds of society, of converting the soul and establishing the kingdom of Christ — then . . .
society will always be corrupt,
man will always be debased,
religion will always decline, and
the domination of sin will hold its wide and unbroken tyranny of darkness, terror, and of death!
The advocates of improved systems of education, as exclusive means of elevating a nation's morals, and of bringing the heathen to a knowledge of the truth, seem to have forgotten that there are no moral qualities in mind — and that there is no reforming power in intellect. Those countries and ages which, at one time, surpassed all others in their brilliant career of science, of art, and of learning — were the most distinguished for their corruption, voluptuousness, and crime! Mind itself needs reforming; intellect itself needs regenerating; and until it is thus reformed and regenerated by the Spirit of God, education will but enlarge its capacities, and widen its sphere of evil.
Nor are we to look, as the proper means of accomplishing our end, to an eloquent and impassioned exhibition of mere Moral Truth. The experiment has been tried — and on an extensive scale. History, ancient and modern, affords ample testimony to this.
"Do you think," inquires the master of ancient eloquence, "that the precepts of morality had any influence, except in a very few instances, upon the men who speculate, wrote and disputed concerning them? No! Who is there of all the philosophers, whose mind and manners were conformed to the dictates of right reason? Who of them ever made his philosophy the law and rule of his life — and not merely the occasion of displaying his own ingenuity? On the contrary, many of them have been slaves to the vilest lusts!"
What, we may continue the inquiry, did Seneca and Epictetus accomplish? Splendid were their systems of morals; their ethical religion was of a stern and exalted character — yet so impotent and fruitless were all their efforts to purify the fountains of national corruption, and restrain the depravity of man — that one of the most distinguished of the ancient moralists resigns the attempt in despair, convinced, to use his own remarkable words, that "whatever is set right in the present ill state of the world — can only be done by the interposition of God."
And what did the French divines of a former century accomplish? Theirs was eloquent preaching, arousing preaching, impassioned preaching — theirs were ethics of a high and sublime order — but what lacked they yet? What, but a more full, simple, and experimental exhibition of the cross of Christ! Massilon could electrify his crowded auditories — yet, when Massilon's voice died away — with it died the terror and the trembling, the vows and the prayers, of his refined but licentious hearers. Narnine, when preaching at Rome, could appall half the city with his thunders, and send them from his sermons frantic with emotion — and yet Narnine lived to deplore, in a sequestered monastery, the impotency of all preaching to elevate the morals of a people, save that of Christ crucified.
If any further confirmation were needed to prove the utter impotency of mere ethical truth as a means of saving men — then might be adduced the testimony of one of the brightest luminaries of the Church of Scotland — than whose, a profounder intellect and a sublimer eloquence perhaps can nowhere be found. We refer to a closing address by Dr Chalmers, on retiring from a former charge, who, in alluding to the early part of his ministry among them, while yet a stranger, experimentally, to the power of the truth as it is in Jesus, says, "And here I cannot but record the effect of an actual, though undisguised, experiment which I prosecuted for upwards of twelve years among you. For the greatest part of that time, I could expatiate on the baseness of dishonesty, and the villainy of falsehood; or the despicable acts of calumny; in a word, upon all those diversities of character which awaken the natural indignation of the human heart against the pests and the disturbers of society. Even at that time I certainly did press the reformation of honor, and truth, and integrity, among my people — but I never once heard of any such reformation being effected among them; if there was anything at all brought about in this way, it was more than I ever got any account. I am sensible that all the vehemence with which I urged the virtues and proprieties of social life, had not the weight of a feather in the moral habits of my parishioners! It was not until I got impressed with the thorough alienation of the heart, in all its desires and affections, from God — it was not until reconciliation with him became the distinct and prominent object of my ministerial exertions — it was not until I took the scriptural mode of laying the method of reconciliation before them — it was not until the free offer of forgiveness through the blood of Jesus was urged upon their acceptance, and the Holy Spirit given, through the channel of Christ's mediatorship, withal set before them, as the exclusive object of their hope — it was not, in a word, until the contemplation of my people was turned to those great and essential elements in the business of the soul, providing for its interests with God and the concerns of eternity — that I ever heard of those subordinate reformations which I aforetime made my earnest and my zealous, but at the same time, I fear, the ultimate object of my earlier ministrations."
What education and philosophy and ethical preaching have failed to accomplish — the preaching of Christ crucified has achieved. Nothing short of the "glorious Gospel of the blessed God," proclaimed by the living preacher and attended by the energies of the Holy Spirit — can convert men to holiness and fit them for immortality — can secure to our national virtue its safeguard, and to our national institutions their purity and their permanency. To justify and sustain this argument, we need but conduct you back to the opening era of Christianity — the bright and balmy days of her history — and cause to pass before you the signal triumphs, following each other in rapid and brilliant succession, which attended upon the first preaching of the cross.
Survey the wonders produced by the ministry of the Apostles. The instrument of their labor, it will be remembered, was, as is ours, the simple preaching of Christ crucified. When, from beneath the ordaining hand of their Lord, and breathed upon by the Holy Spirit, they went forth to tell their simple yet wondrous story — what had they to encounter? Everything in the shape of difficulty, opposition, and discouragement. The pride of philosophy was against them; the influence of a selfish priesthood was against them; the prejudices of the populace were against them; the power of the magistracy was against them; the throne of the Caesars was against them; the entire religion of the world was against them! Yet, by the simple preaching of Christ crucified, a revolution more extraordinary than history records, or imagination could conceive, was everywhere effected!
I look at the Apostles as they were gathered at Jerusalem waiting to be endowed with power from on high — for it must not be forgotten that, in mapping out the field of their labors, Christ made Jerusalem the starting post of their mission — thus stamping a domestic character upon the earliest ministry of the Apostles. Immediately on the descent of the Holy Spirit, they went forth without wealth, without political connections, without influence — but relying simply upon the promise of their exalted head, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." And what was the result? Jerusalem, which had rejected his testimony, contributed to his humiliation, and assisted in his death — became the theater of his most signal and glorious triumphs!
Around the Apostles gathered at Jerusalem, I see the men most conspicuous in plotting and in consummating the death of the Son of God. There would be the multitude who formed the procession that attended him to Calvary, shouting as they passed along, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" And there would be the men who stretched his limbs and nailed them to the tree. And there, too, would be the Jew that mocked his thirst with vinegar and gall, and the soldier that pierced his side, and the bald-pated priests who wagged their heads in derision, as they passed to and fro before his cross — all would be gathered there — their consciences guilty with having shed, and their hands still reeking with the blood of Jesus.
But behold the scene! Those thrilling words uttered by Peter, "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God — you have taken, and with wicked hands have crucified and slain" — wounded three thousand to the heart, who, with weeping and supplication were led to look on him whom they had pierced, and rush to the fountain their own hands had torn open! What a triumph was this of the cross of Christ!
Compelled to retire from Judea, we find the Apostles prosecuting their mission among the Gentiles, still "preaching Christ in every place." Passing the confines of the Holy Land, they came to Antioch, a city known for its perversion, debauchery, and voluptuous sin; yet thither they came, "speaking unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus!"
"So remarkably successful," says a distinguished writer, "was the converting power of the truth even here, as to result in the planting of an important church, and to originate a new name for the followers of Jesus, who were called Christians first at Antioch."
Not less remarkable were the triumphs of the cross at Corinth. Of all the cities of ancient Greece, none perhaps excelled this, either in the splendor of its science and its temples — or the depths of its vice and its pollution. Yet to this scene of splendid iniquity came the Apostle. And how did he turn them from their degradation — and win them to the Savior? His own declaration shall inform us. In a letter he afterwards addressed to the church he had gathered there, he thus speaks: "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know [or to make known] anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified!"
Delightful would it be to survey, did our time permit, the history of the triumphs that have followed the simple preaching of Christ crucified, from the time the Apostles fell asleep — to the present moment.
We can but ask you what produced the bright and ever blessed Reformation? What infused such amazing power into the preaching of Luther and Melancthon, Calvin and Zuinglius, as to overthrow the papal power on the continent of Europe, and to allure thousands from the idolatry of the crucifix — to the faith of the cross — what, but the preaching of Christ crucified!
What induced the cannibals of the South Sea Islands to abandon their superstitions and their cruelties, and become a civilized and a Christianized people — what, but the simple preaching of Christ crucified!
What gave to the Moravian missionaries such power over the Eskimos, as to break them from their habits of pilfering and murder, and induce them to become an honest, civilized, and holy people — what, but the preaching of Christ crucified!
And by what magic did David Brainerd, working upon the minds and the consciences of the simple-hearted Indians, overcome their witchcraft, drunkenness and idolatry, gathering them within a Christian church which, amid their desolate wilds, his labors had planted — by what, but the preaching of Christ crucified!
And, to detain the reader with but one other and not less pleasing illustration of the power of the cross — what has transformed Burmah well-near into a garden of the Lord, crowding and adorning its empire with Christian converts and Christian churches — what, but the preaching of Christ crucified!
Brethren, it is by this we are to conquer. It is only as Jesus is preached, that sinners will be converted, that churches will be gathered, and that this world of ours, now cursed for man's sake, and this land of ours with all its privileges — yet covered with the emblems of that curse, shall become the empire of truth and of holiness!
The system of means which contributed to these extraordinary triumphs of Christianity, was of the most simple character — the labors of the living teacher alone. God has seen fit to ordain the preaching of the Gospel as the grand means of saving men, and of evangelizing the world. Of the preeminent importance of this mode of scattering evangelical light, and of bringing the truth to bear directly upon the human I conscience, we have the most ample testimony.
"Of all methods for diffusing religion — preaching is the most efficient. Other methods are indirect and preparatory; but the simple proclaiming of the Gospel has, in all ages, been attended with the most transforming efficacy, elevating the few who have cordially accepted it into a higher and happier state of being, and even raising the many who have rejected it, to a better system of moral opinions! It is to preaching, that Christianity owes its origin, its continuance, and its progress. It is to itinerant preaching that we owe the conversion of the Roman world from paganism to primitive Christianity; our own freedom from the thraldom of popery, in the success of the Reformation, and the revival of Christianity in the present day from the depression which it had undergone, owing to the prevalence of infidelity and of indifference."
In the labors of the early missionaries of the cross, this was the only class of means employed. So we read, "And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach." "And daily in the temple and in every house [their labors were of an itinerant character,] they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ." "After that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe." "The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom — but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness, but unto those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." "Whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?"
Employing no other instrumentality than the simple proclaiming of the truth — mark the success of their labors. In less than thirty years after Christ's death, Christianity had become the main religion of the civilized world. The Gospel had found its way into every part of the discovered globe. Writing to the Colossians twenty-eight years after the crucifixion, (A.D. 62,) the Apostle Paul bears his testimony to this fact. Speaking of the Gospel, he says, "which has come unto you as it is in all the world; and brings forth fruit." And again, "If you continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel which you have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under Heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister."
Now, let the reader connect with these inspired statements, the authentic fact, that up to the period that Christianity had supplanted all other systems, and had become the religion of the world — not a gospel had been compiled, and not an epistle had been written! "The first Epistle to the Thessalonians was written from Corinth not long after the publication of Claudius' edict against the Jews, which happened in the twelfth year of his reign, answering to A.D. 51." So that before the writing of this epistle, the Gospel had been preached as a witness to all the world. And how was this accomplished? Not by the press, not by books, not by education, nor yet by miracles — though it was the age of miracles — but by "the foolishness of preaching."
The command of their risen and now ascended Lord, was ever sounding in their ears, "Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature!" The world was not to be evangelized, nor souls converted, by a succession of splendid miracles — these were intended but to confirm the truth of Christianity and authenticate the mission of the Apostles. The world was to be converted, and souls saved — by the labors of the living teacher as he preached the gospel. Men were to be raised up, qualified, and ordained for the work of preaching Jesus. It was not by the exercise of their miraculous power that, under the Apostles' labors, three thousand were at one time converted. Nor was it by a miracle that the Reformation of the sixteenth century broke the long and deep slumber in which the world had so long reposed. Nor is it by a miracle that the elect are yet to be brought in and this world to become Immanuel's. It is to be accomplished, mainly, through the labors of the stated pastor — the Home and the Foreign Missionary. "And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations — and then shall the time come."
II. We now come to the consideration of the Spiritual Character of the Missionary work.This may be readily inferred, and perhaps has been more than glanced at in the preceding discussion. The specific design, and the special instrument of this great enterprise — clearly define and establish its spiritual character. The one grand object is the moral and spiritual renovation of men. The one great instrument is the proclamation of Gospel truth. These features obviously and strictly spiritual in their nature. And yet it must be acknowledged that, even with these essential attributes in view, the spiritual character of our great enterprise may be greatly overlooked.
There is not merely a danger of mistaking the position of the Missionary work — regarding it as one of the many ordinary objects of benevolence which on every hand court, and it may be justly too win, the sympathies of the Christian church — but there is danger of pressing into its service worldly principles, and of arousing the attention of men to its claims by the presentation of wrong motives, and by appeals to a morbid, sentimental sympathy. It is to vindicate the spiritual and unique character of the work, and to shield it from the influence of an improper agency, that we present to the candid consideration of the Christian reader the following remarks:
The Missionary work is preeminently a divinely appointed instrumentality. It originated not in the might of human wisdom — nor in the might of human wisdom is it to be conducted. It has its origin in the Infinite Mind, and was arranged in the eternal council of God. In carrying forward this holy work, we shall often find it necessary to recur to this fact. But for this, the discouragements which on every hand press upon us — the difficulties which impede our way, and the apparent inadequate results of our efforts — would tend, greatly to damp our zeal, and weaken our hands, and enfeeble our knees, and impel us well-near to relinquish our great and holy enterprise.
What was it that inspired with such dauntless courage, the first missionaries of the cross? What was it that bore them triumphantly through the mighty and fierce opposition which hemmed them in on every side? What, but their strong faith in the divinity of the system they labored to promulgate! Again and again, in the heat of the battle, they would recur to this, as the warrior would read over the commission of his sovereign, or as the mariner would consult his accredited chart.
They felt that Jehovah was the originator and the supreme conductor of their holy mission — and that, because it was His, and under His control — it must, it would be triumphant. This was the citadel within whose strong buttresses they felt themselves fortified against all their enemies. This was the consideration which invested with such moral dignity their holy enterprise, which threw such energy into their plans, courage into their hearts, and boldness into their preaching.
No secret misgiving as to the divinity of their religion haunted their breasts. No latent consciousness that they were diffusing a "cunningly devised fable," the device of fraud, and the invention of self-interest, paralyzed their minds. But, firmly entrenched within the divinity of the Gospel — they could boldly and everywhere certify, that the Gospel which was preached, was not after man; for they neither received it of man, neither were they taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. And so, "by the manifestation of Truth, they commended themselves to every man's conscience as in the sight of God."
The divine origin of their commission, too, they distinctly maintained. Thus, "Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father who raised him from the dead,") etc.
Now, in carrying forward the holy work of Christian Missions, we too can appeal to the divinity of our enterprise. It is identical with the Apostles' mission. The command given immediately to them, clothes with equal obligation and authority the universal church of Christ: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." The risen and exalted Savior has never withdrawn that command; it remains at this moment as solemnly binding upon the church, as when it fell from the lips of Him who uttered it. Let all who are actively embarked in this holy work but more firmly rest upon the divine origin of the enterprise — let them feel that the Missionary work is especially of God — that He devised it, controls it, watches over it, and has pledged to it His blessing and support — and what a new, vigorous, and holy impulse to active effort will this conviction impart!
We have already remarked, that the object of the Missionary work stamps its spiritual character. It may be well to recur again to this thought. This enterprise of Christian benevolence, contemplates the whole world as lying in wickedness. Aroused by this solemn fact, it addresses itself to its spiritual renovation. It undertakes what no other enterprise has ever thought of. It devises a method, and secures an object, which never entered into the economy or the design of any other system.
It is true, that, looking abroad upon the disordered state of the world, the spirit of philanthropy has suggested and carried into practical operation various schemes of moral and intellectual amelioration. An enlightened government may, by its benevolent edict, have abolished the sacrifices of the barbarians — the grove and the altar of heathenism may, by the same power, have been thrown down — education and civilization may have exerted wide their powers, and to some extent may have softened down the harsh outline of idolatry — correcting and even removing some of the grosser forms of heathenish licentiousness.
But what have governmental edicts and intellectual education and refined civilization accomplished towards the spiritual amelioration of the human race? What advances have they made in elevating the spiritual character of men? They may have convinced them of the absurdity and cruelty of some of their more horrible rites — they may have poured around them the light of human intelligence — they may have taught them the science of mechanism, and the use of the agricultural implement; but what bearing has all this had upon their dreadful spiritual condition? It has all been but surface-work. Not an effort has been made towards the eradication of the evil, nor a step taken in the spiritual renovation of the heart.
But this, the Missionary enterprise undertakes and accomplishes. It occupies an entirely new field of labor — or rather, throwing itself on the same field of exertion, which is the world, it seeks by other and more appropriate means, the moral renovation of the world. It proposes to turn up the soil, and strike at the root of the evil. It undertakes to purify the fountain from whence the impure stream of thought and feeling rises. It attacks the seat of the moral disease, not its mere effects. This, no mere worldly enterprise, nor intellectual scheme, nor scientific plan, has ever professed to do. To lop off the external branches, to cleanse the stream, and to alleviate the symptoms — was all that was contemplated by them.
But in sending forth to the nations of the world the Gospel of Christ — in giving them a pure Christianity, the friends of Missions are putting into operation the only remedial scheme that has ever proved successful in overcoming the power of spiritual wickedness. Viewed in this light, the Missionary enterprise occupies a position preeminently dignified and important. Placed by its side — all schemes of mere civilization, and intellectual culture, and moral improvement — dwindle into insignificance.
If they aim at what Christianity does, and expect to accomplish it — they must be regarded as utterly Utopian. In their legitimate province, they may be instrumental of good. But the moment they depart from their proper character, and assume what belongs peculiarly to another system — they become instrumental of evil. They can never occupy the place of Christianity. As auxiliaries they are valuable — but as pioneers they but impede its progress.
It is high dishonor done to the Gospel of Christ, to suppose, that any scheme of human device is necessary to prepare the way for its introduction among the benighted and uncivilized nations of the earth — it is a reflection upon the Divine origin and the spiritual character of Christianity, which every spiritually- enlightened mind should indignantly repel.
The primitive missionaries of the cross went forth as the antagonists of the long-existing and deeply-rooted systems of heathen idolatry — with no other weapon but the simple preaching of Christ crucified. They needed not the schoolmaster, nor the artisan, nor the agriculturist, to prepare the way before them. Strong in the belief of the divinity of the system they sought to establish — knowing that the Gospel which they preached was the power of God unto the salvation of those who believed — strong in faith, glowing in love, ardent in zeal — they sallied forth to combat with and to overthrow the ancient idolatry of the world.
And what was the result? Let it be remembered that, with a single exception, they were men of no human school — that they possessed no worldly influence, were unarmed, and unshielded by any temporal power — and that, in fearful and combined array against them, were the powerful systems of paganism, infidelity, and sin; and yet what was the result? In less than thirty years, the Gospel had carried its conquests through Judea, Galilee, Samaria, and far into Asia Minor; it had extended through Greece and the islands of the AEGEAN Sea; it had reached the coast of Africa, and passed on even to the capital of Italy. Trophies multiplied at Antioch in Syria, at Joppa, Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, Berea, Iconium, Derbe, Antioch, Pisidia, and Lystra. In a word, 'so mightily grew the word of God and prevailed,' that scarcely a section or district of the Roman empire but felt the shock of its tremendous power.
On the authority of Pliny, we are informed that, in Pontus and Bithynia, two extensive districts in the northern part of Asia Minor, the temples of idolatry were almost forsaken through the influence of the new and advancing religion. And striking was the testimony to the rapid progress of Christianity borne by Justin Martyr, a few years after the apostles, who testified that "there was not a nation, either Greek or Barbarian, or of any other name, among whom prayers and thanksgivings were not offered up to the Father and Creator of the universe, by the name of the crucified Jesus." In confirmation of this, might be quoted the testimony of Tertullian.
Now, we ask, what preparation of the world had science and literature and civilization accomplished, upon the ground of which, we may account for the unparalleled progress of the Gospel, by the labors of the Apostles? What breaking up of the soil? what undermining of the fabric? what casting up of the highway?
When Christianity was first promulgated, Paganism was the mistress of the world. She held under her control science, elegance, and refinement. It was the enlightened age of Augustus, when the empire was filled with philosophers, orators, poets, and historians. It was an age greatly removed from that credulity which distinguished ignorant nations. Indeed, no period since the world began presented greater obstacles to the introduction and progress of the Gospel, than the Apostolic age. And yet in less than thirty years, as we have shown, a little band of devoted men bore the cross of the Despised One of Nazareth victorious through the entire Roman empire, erecting and sustaining it in almost every city and village and hamlet.
To what must we attribute this extraordinary revolution in the empire of mind — but to the native energies of Christianity itself? And let it be remembered, that what the glorious Gospel of the blessed God has once, and in the face of so much opposition, accomplished — it lives to accomplish yet again.
The spiritual character of the Missionary work is also sustained by a consideration of the nature of the enemy against whose empire it is directed. We are at war, not with a temporal foe — but with a spiritual foe. It has been well remarked, that the church has the same enemy to contend with that every individual Christian has; and so the language addressed to the Ephesian saints, may be fitly applied to the objects contemplated in the Missionary enterprise — "We wrestle not against flesh, and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
Correspondent with this must be the weapons of its warfare. These "are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." Thus clearly defined are the spiritual character of the enemy we oppose, and the spiritual temper of the weapons we wield. How utterly destitute, then, of true wisdom must that system of means be, which contemplates the spiritual subjection of the world to Christ by the influence of carnal instruments! And yet under this class, must be denominated every plan but the preaching of Christ Jesus.
We think it will not now be difficult to show, that, to impart more vigor to the Missionary enterprise, to give greater efficiency to its operations, and to secure a larger amount of immediate success — that there must be a greater increase of Holy Principle brought to sustain this mighty work. We fear there is a sad deficiency here. Is it not true, that action to an extended degree supplies, at the present time, the place of principle in the great department of Christian effort we have now under consideration? Is it not also true — that the Missionary labors of the church far outreach the actual strength of holiness and spirituality engaged in maintaining them. And in consequence of this deficiency of holy principle, are not other — inferior and injurious motives urged, and expedients resorted to, in order to keep in operation the existing and complicated machinery?
These are questions demanding grave and mature consideration. There is so much appositeness to the present train of thought in the following remarks of an excellent writer, himself a Missionary, that we cannot forbear quoting them at length: "Since the early ages of the church," he observes, "there has not been a period when religious action has been so intense in degree, or so wide in extent, as at this moment. The distinguishing peculiarity of the religion of the present day is its visible activity — while there is, on the other hand, a manifest repugnance to contemplative piety. Action seems to be regarded by many as the substance of religion. Zeal, not the sacred fire of the soul, but showy, palpable zeal, is becoming the grand criterion of Christian character. The aim and endeavor of those who hold the springs of public feeling, are rather to produce action, than to lay its foundation broad and deep, in sound and enduring principle. Modes of action are chosen, not by their sureness or their permanent value — but by their power of evolving immediate results.
The spirit of the commercial and intellectual world is turned in upon the church. It is, to a fearful degree, the animating spirit of Christian action. The same hurry and bustle, the same impatience of protracted processes of labor, the same enthusiasm of sympathy, which pervades the marts of business, the schoolroom, and the popular assembly — are also a mainspring in the holy enterprises of the church! Their workings are hardly less discernible in most of the present efforts of religious benevolence, than in the secular projects of the exchange or the market-place. The church is propelled by the interaction of sympathetic feelings, instead of the living energy of individual minds. The hearts of Christians are gone out into their eyes and ears. They are moved by outward impulses — and not by the inward, abiding, self-revering power of a holy principle.
Christian effort is not a patient continuance in well-doing — but is dependent for its very life on external contingencies. Christian zeal is not (as it was in the Apostles) the steady, constraining influence of holy love, which is at once the binding necessity and the blessed freedom of spiritual religion — it is eccentric and periodic — a flickering and inconstant flame, rising and falling with the varying influences of circumstances. There is a rage for everything practical — and a manifest indisposition to contemplate principles.
No project of religious effort commends itself to the religious community, which does not promise a sudden, visible, and tangible utility. This is so notoriously the fact, that the conductors of Missionary Societies are often induced, for the support of their institutions, especially in the commencement of their operations, to select those fields which promise to afford materials for Missionary intelligence of the most exciting character. Unmindful of the declaration of the Savior, that the kingdom of God comes not by observation — Christians lose their confidence in a mission which has continued for a few years without any reported conversions to Christianity; and the inquiry is started, 'Why are the results of Missionary labor so small?' when, perhaps, in the very same country, the huge fabric of superstition and idolatry is silently — yet rapidly, crumbling to decay.
These are serious charges, and we fear but too true. Let us see how far a calm and candid examination of the case will sustain them.
We will look first at the fact, that the church seems, by general consent, to have thrown off from her, the responsibilities of carrying forward the Missionary work. Is it not so — that the work of diffusing the Gospel seems to devolve less upon the church — than upon separate and irresponsible organizations? And yet, where do we read in the word of God, that the Great Head of the Church said to any Missionary Society, "Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature"? But this he spoke to his professing church.
The high and peculiar obligation of evangelizing the nations of the world, then, according to the original and divine appointment, rests solely and solemnly upon the church of Christ. This she cannot delegate or transfer to any society or single individual.
And yet, again we ask, is it not so — that the great amount of zeal and labor and self-denial in this holy enterprise, is found vested in a few individuals, composing a committee, treasurer, secretary, and traveling agent? Is not the entire work of devising plans, obtaining funds, selecting missionaries, designating their field of labor, and of sending them out — made over by the church, to whom it especially belongs — to this small band of Christian brethren?
We speak not a word against the utility of the existing organization for Missionary effort. "It is, in the nature of the case, indispensably necessary. We see not how, with the spirit of Christian Missions at its present low ebb, it can be dispensed with, without stopping all our operations at home and abroad. But still we maintain, that, if the church did her duty, as she is under most solemn obligations to do — such an organization would not be required. The church, it is true, would require her agents — but these would be few and economic. She would find it her wisdom to reduce her vast machinery, and to throw what it now costs her to sustain it, into the immediate treasury of the Lord. Instead of requiring the annual visitation to the churches of two or more pleaders of the cause — themselves frequently settled pastors over large and important sections of the church, which can but ill spare them, and which must necessarily suffer from their long absence — in order to remind them of their duty, to quicken them to zeal, and to excite them to benevolence — they would come forward with a holy spontaneity of action, and require but the signal to lay their voluntary offerings upon the Missionary altar.
Is the Christian church fully aware of the nature of the peculiar and heavy responsibility she thus rids herself of — in its transfer to a separate organization? Is she sensible of the amazing amount of power with which she invests that body? Has it ever occurred to her, that that responsibility is well-near overwhelming, and that that power is well-near absolute? Does she seriously weigh the fact, that the officers of her distinct Missionary organizations, are not mere financiers, but that they are clothed with a spiritual authority of the most solemn character — that they take out of her hands, the whole superintendence of the Missionary work, select her missionaries, decide upon their piety, map out their fields of labor, and determine the departments they shall fill? Has she pondered the fact, that they are the only earthly tribunal to which the missionaries are amenable, while they, in their official capacity, are responsible to no ecclesiastical body? That whatever difference of opinion may arise between missionaries abroad, or between those missionaries and the committees at home, no other and higher court of appeal is referred to — the church having conferred upon the officers of her separate Missionary organizations an ecclesiastical power which is absolute, and whose decision in all cases is final?
Has the Christian church, we again inquire, seriously and faithfully pondered these facts? We think she has not. Let it be clearly understood, that we admit, under the existing state of things, the necessity of such a distinct organization for Missionary purposes; that until the church comes to see and to feel more deeply her own peculiar obligation to God and the world — until she returns to her apostolic character, and, as she was accustomed to do, takes the work of evangelization into her own hand — such an agency must be indispensable. Let it also be premised, that, making every deduction on the score of human infirmity, variety of modes of thinking, and shades of piety, which must necessarily be found appertaining to such an organization — we think the work the church has entrusted to it has been well and faithfully done. These points conceded, we shall be better understood as we proceed with our observations.
When we speak of the church taking in her own hands the work of spreading the Gospel, through the instrumentality of missions — we refer, of course, to the church in its individual character. What we especially plead for is, that each distinct and independent Christian body should resolve itself into a Missionary society, form its own board, select its own men, designate their field of labor, and sustain them while engaged in the work.
The advantages connected with this plan would be immense. The probabilities of selecting and sending out unqualified men would be far less — they would be individuals whose piety, spirituality, natural and acquired attainments, the church from whose bosom they were selected, would have had a proper opportunity of judging. They would be tried men — men possessing the entire confidence of the body choosing them.
The reflex influence, too, of this plan upon such a Missionary church, would be most favorable to the cause and true spirit of Missions. An interest would at once be established in each individual church of a deep, permanent, and diffusive character. The germ of Missions would be planted there, which would continue to grow and expand until its fibers had entwined themselves around every individual member of the body; the precious leaven would diffuse itself through the entire mass.
Another advantage accruing to such a church from this plan, would be the establishing of a constant and delightful fellowship between it and the heathen world, through the correspondence of its missionaries. This regular and systematic transmission of intelligence bearing upon the increase or depression of Christ's kingdom, would afford a constant supply of nourishment to the Missionary spirit already in existence, affording material and motive to increased action and prayer. This, in its turn, would exert a beneficial influence upon the piety of the church — increasing its spirituality, deepening its holiness, drawing out and sanctifying its sympathies, concentrating its energies, and binding the whole body more closely together as one holy brotherhood. For, what exerts a more holy influence upon a church, and what cements and knits it more closely together — than combined action and expansive sympathy for a ruined world?
Were the Christians now harboring dissensions and divisions among themselves, weakening and wasting their moral energies in idle and unholy disputes, to wake up to the claims of six hundred million heathen, and to a sense of their own peculiar and untransferable obligations to God and to those perishing heathen — O how soon would every division be healed, and all evil-speaking and malice be done away — merged, lost sight of, and forgotten, in one common, all-absorbing, and all-pervading sympathy for the calling in of a redeemed church unto.
There is a reciprocity of interest, as we have already seen, in the Missionary enterprise, which tends powerfully to press its claims upon the churches of the Lord Jesus, and to stimulate them to more increased and combined action in this work. The churches favoring and sustaining this holy cause, are, in return, favored and sustained by the cause they cherish. Those who assist in digging the channel through which the living waters of the sanctuary are sent forth to refresh and fertilize the moral wilderness, shall themselves be watered. Christian benevolence, to employ the poet's sentiment, is twice blessed — blessing those who exercise it, and those on whom it is exercised. Let but the churches be deeply baptized in the spirit of Christian Missions, and they must be peculiarly favored of God. It is God's work, and all who cooperate with Him in its furtherance must be blessed of Him. While engaged in Christ-centered plans for the spiritual benefit of a world lying in wickedness; while cherishing a tender solicitude for the salvation of sinners and the increase of Christ's kingdom — their own spiritual fruitfulness would increase; their own internal peace and love, and prayerfulness and spirituality, would be strengthened; and upon and around their own vineyard, showers of blessing would descend.
The reader has but to advert to the history of his own denomination to witness an exemplification of the truth of this remark. What has been the reflex influence of Domestic and Foreign Missions upon your honored section of the Christian church? Has it not been of the most happy character? But for the deep interest and united action it has felt and exerted in this godlike enterprise — is it possible that it would have possessed half the numbers and piety and influence that it now does? The writer can speak confidently of his own, and unhesitatingly reply, he believes it would not.
The period that God in his providence opened to it a door for Colonial and Eastern Missions, was a new and bright era in its history. From that moment the tide of blessing has been rolling in upon the churches. God has raised up men, and poured in wealth — and both have been voluntarily and liberally laid upon the altar of Missions.
The same remark would receive additional force from the history of other and highly-honored Christian denominations. Nothing, too, will tend so effectually to draw the churches of Christ more closely together, consuming their petty jealousies, and hushing their jarring strifes — as one common sympathy for, and one united and universal rush to rescue, a people going down to the pit in ignorance and in sin! The bond of sympathy for the destitute abroad — will form the bond of union to the churches at home. No time will be found to light and hold up the torch of discord and dissension. "The world for Christ — the world for Christ!" will be the only inscription that shall float on the standard, and the only watchword that shall pass through the ranks of the British Church. The grand ligament that is yet to bind the church of Christ together, is the cause of Christian Missions. The cross is destined to draw all men to Christ; and the Spirit of Christ, which is the Spirit of Missions, is destined to draw all Christians to one another.
Let but this principle pervade the churches — let them deeply feel that they must be decidedly Missionary in their constitution, Missionary in their character, and Missionary in their spirit — let them be solemnly convinced that upon them devolves the work of evangelizing the nations of the earth — let them come up one united 'sacramental host' to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty — and soon would the Redeemer's prayer be answered, "that they all may be one, as you Father are in me, and I in you, that they all may be one in us; that the world may believe that you have sent me."
Oh! when will the church of the Lord Jesus gird herself to the great work of preaching the Gospel to every creature? When will she feel that it is alone her work? And that it is her peculiar work, who can doubt? The church is the only depository of the truth upon earth. If there is any holiness in the world, if any sympathy, if any light, if any purifying influence — it is here. All outside of the church is spiritual darkness and moral impurity. She is the "light of the world," the "salt of the earth." To her is instrumentally entrusted the moral destinies of the world; she possesses the light that will scatter its darkness, the salt that will stay its moral putrefaction, the remedy that will heal its moral disease. If she proves unfaithful to her trust — then who is there to take the work in hand, and carry out the dying charge of the ascended and exalted Redeemer?
Oh! when will the church rise to her moral dignity, to her true elevation? When will she feel that her responsibilities in this great work cannot be transferred to any single individual or distinct organization? When will she feel that she has something more to do than to erect a vast machine, set it in motion, and lie down to sleep? When will she feel that no labor-saving process can release her from the obligation to do with her might whatever her hand finds to do? Never, we reply, until she is more deeply baptized with the Spirit, and more strictly conformed to the example of the blessed Lord of Missions.
Is it not true, that, in carrying forward this holy and spiritual work, its advocates have found it necessary to resort to other expedients, in order to stimulate to exertion — rather than repose and urge its claims upon the calm persuasive power of legitimate Christian principle? What can more strongly indicate the lessening sense of the spirituality of the Missionary work, than this? Who cannot detect in this fact, a marked evidence that the Missionary cause no longer occupies that high, dignified position once assigned to it by the churches — and that it can no longer be trusted to its own merits, or be sustained by its appeals to the divine and holy principles of faith and love dwelling in the saints?
It was not so when Christian Missions were first established. No aiming at mere passing effect — no attempts at arousing the natural feelings of the heart — no application of unnatural stimulants to awaken what after all must be a morbid sensibility — no base and degrading artifices were resorted to — no urging of wrong motive — no pampering to selfish interest, in order to draw forth the stream of Christian benevolence, marked the early history of this holy enterprise.
When Haweis, and Binder, and Bogue, and Hill, and Wilks, and Waugh, and Shrubsole, and Hardcastle, and Carey, and Sutcliffe, and Fuller, and Pearce, went forth to arouse the churches of the British empire to this great work — they took high, spiritual, and dignified ground. The cause of a ruined world, they pleaded upon Christian principles. They appealed to the divine life in the soul of the believer. They knew well where the true foundation of the Missionary enterprise existed — in the heart of the regenerate man. They knew that its proper growth, as well as its actual existence, was the natural result of a vital principle of faith and holiness in the soul. They knew that the spring which would set in motion this mighty project was, love to Jesus.
Thus, well-schooled in the economy of Christian Missions, possessing clear views of their divine origin and Christian character and vast importance, and being themselves men of deep holiness, gigantic faith, and glowing love — they fearlessly begirt themselves to their God-like work — and God was with them, working wonders by their hands. Who, as he consults the early history of our Missions, as he reads the appeals that were put forth the sermons that were delivered, the addresses that were made, the arguments that were employed, the motives that were urged — and then ponders the result, will not acknowledge that, comparing the present with the former history of Missions, we are greatly lacking in a deep conviction of the spirituality and importance of the work? We are sadly deficient in simplicity of mind, singleness of aim, solemnity of spirit, and entire consecration! We need cleaner hands, purer hearts, stronger faith, more ardent love, a more spiritual religion, and more of the impelling power of exalted Christian principle!
We would advert to another fact, as indicating a lessening tone of spirituality in carrying forward the work of modern Missions, namely, a strong and growing tendency to lose sight of the specific design of Missionary exertion, in the introduction and admixture of other extraneous and less spiritual objects.
The object of Christian Missions is single and definite. It is the conversion of souls by the preaching of the Gospel. Now, whatever diverts our minds from this, whatever lessens its importance in our view, or divides our sympathies, and draws off our exertions — does but hinder its speedy and effectual accomplishment.
There are various collateral branches of Missionary labor, we admit, in themselves interesting, important, and subservient to the great work. Among these may be classed, the translation of the Scriptures — the preparation and systematic circulation of tracts in various languages — the establishment and superintendence of native schools — the distribution of Bibles — and a faithful supervision of the temporal interests, involving also a vigilant guardianship of the civil and religious privileges, of the Christian converts. These objects necessarily attach themselves to the labors of the Missionary on the field, entrenching greatly upon his time and energies; and at home, require to be kept in view by the advocates and the supporters of the cause. And yet, both at home and abroad, there is a tendency, we fear, to attach undue importance and to lay too much, stress upon these and other objects and plans — not decidedly Missionary and spiritual in their character.
The Missionary, it should be borne in mind, is not sent out as a schoolmaster, but as a preacher of the Gospel. The moment he sinks the Missionary in the secular teacher, and the Bible in the school-book — he descends from his lofty, spiritual eminence, turns away from his great work, tampers with his Missionary vows, and cruelly disappoints the fondly-cherished hopes of his constituents at home.
His Master's work is, not to civilize — but to Christianize men. Christ has sent him, not to diffuse the light of human science — but to preach the Gospel; not to make good scholars — but sound Christians. The churches who have sent and sustained him in the field, expect to hear, not that he is merely temporally benefitting the heathen — but spiritually benefitting the heathen. They desire and expect to "hear, not of lands cleared, and of shops and houses and mills erected, and factories established, and school-houses multiplied, and books printed — but of souls converted, and of, churches gathered and formed, and increasing in number and in holiness.
They desire to read in the journals of their Missionary, not glowing and picturesque pencilings of scenery, and graphic descriptions of native character and habits and customs, and incidents of travel — but of the increase of Christ's spiritual kingdom — of the glorious triumph of the blessed Gospel — of the stately steppings of the Prince of Peace — of the power of Divine grace in overcoming strong prejudices, and in uprooting long and deep-seated evils — of the various phases of Christian experience, as developed in the numerous and peculiar cases of conversion, and of backsliding and of recovery, that must necessarily come under their notice. How rich, how spiritual, and how encouraging might be the journals of our Missionaries, were they to give to these points of interest and importance, more decided prominence!
There is, then, we repeat, a danger of injuring the spiritual and dignified character of modern Christian Missions, by allowing the mind to be directed from the single and grand object — to other and less spiritual and important ones. May we not safely, and without the spirit of unkind and severe censorship, refer to some of our religious anniversaries, ostensibly Missionary in their object and character, as justifying and illustrating our remark. A stranger attending some of our "Missionary breakfast meetings," or general anniversaries of Missionary Societies, might he not, from the topics introduced, from the spirit in which they are discussed, and from the almost total oblivion of the great subject of Christian Missions — be beguiled into the belief, that almost for any other object, civil or political, than that of pleading for a dying world, the assembly had been convened?
We do not underrate the importance of these extraneous and secular subjects, when introduced in their proper place and time; but we do most solemnly deprecate and deeply mourn over their introduction and discussion when assembled for the express purpose of considering the spiritual claims of more than six hundred million of perishing heathen! At such a period, every other subject should be forgotten but this. Every resolution that is framed, and every address that is made, and every thought that is thrown out, and every expression that is uttered, and every spirit that is breathed — should be in perfect harmony with the grandeur, the solemnity, and the spirituality of the occasion.
Oh! that will be a return to happy apostolic simplicity — the true spirit of Christian Missions, and will form a beautiful illustration of their spiritual and legitimate tendency, when the result of every Missionary meeting shall be — a more deep and all-pervading sympathy for the millions of heathen "ready to perish" — more spiritual views of the character and nature of the work — of our obligation to send to them the Gospel — a clearer perception of the solemn duty of every Christian church to come up to this work — a deeper sense of individual responsibility — and a more united and correct seeking of the life-giving influences of the Holy Spirit to descend, prospering our Missions and sanctifying our Missionaries.
While enumerating some of the prominent symptoms of a decay of spirituality, we may allude to the spirit and language of self-exultation which too frequently mark our exertions in this holy work. This is not the spirit nor the language that breathe through the Gospel we disseminate; nor was this the spirit of Him whose co-laborers we profess to be. Humility and self-oblivion, distinguished every step of our Lord — and formed the substance of the first and the great lesson he ever and everywhere inculcated. True faith in Him, spiritual apprehensions of the character of God, and a close affinity in mind to the word we diffuse — will ever beget and foster in us the spirit of true humility and self-abasement.
In this great work, we have no ground for boasting. Here, self finds no true nourishment on which to feed. We are but the instrument — the vile, feeble, and inefficient instrument — and God is the originator and supreme director of the work. We are but the poor simple agents — all the blessing is the result of the presence and operation of a higher agency, Himself the Author and the Finisher of the work.
And yet, can we think of the boastful spirit of the church — can we hear the echo of self-congratulation that sounds from her pulpits, her platforms, her religious journals — and not feel that there is a mournful deficiency here? Can we behold her trumpeting forth her own praise — proclaiming and reiterating through the land . . .
her splendid munificence,
her titled patrons,
her rising glory,
her wide-spread usefulness
— and not detect the vaunting spirit of the Assyrian monarch, "By the strength of my hand have I done it, and by my wisdom!"
Where is the spirit of the meek and lowly Lamb of God, whose servants we profess to be, and the tidings of whose great redemption we seek to make known? Where is our assimilation to the example of his Apostles, whose writings we labor to scatter abroad — but whose self-annihilation we seek not to imitate? Where is the honor given to the Spirit — and the glory ascribed to Divine grace?
Alas! how little is seen, and how seldom is heard the spirit and the language of the Gospel we spread — thus strikingly exhibited: "He who comes after me, is mightier than I — whose shoes I am not worthy to bear."
"He must increase — but I must decrease."
"I have need to be baptized by you — and do you come to me?"
"Sinners, of whom I am chief."
"The least of saints."
"Of myself I will not glory, but in my infirmities."
"I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong!"
Is this the spirit and the language of the laborers in Christ's vineyard in the present day? Rather, is not the spirit that marks so many of us in this work — that of pride and self-delight and exclusiveness — looking down upon other laborers with supercilious disdain, because they range not under our banner, and wear not our uniform, and shout not our shibboleth?
Does not the language that is frequently employed in detailing missionary operations, and in narrating missionary success, and in urging missionary claims — savor of self-boasting, and vainglory and exultation in what we have given, and have done? Is there not a seeking of human applause — rather than the approbation of God? Is there not an arrangement of our plans and contributions and results — so studied and shaped as to catch the eye, and elicit the wonder, and draw forth the praise of men? Is there not a putting of human power in the place of Divine power? Is there not an uncrowning of Christ, and a dishonoring of the Spirit — in an eager endeavor to entwine around our own brow, some of the beams of glory that belong to them?
Is there not, in the selection of our missionaries and our agents, a marked preference given to men of commanding intellect, and brilliant eloquence, and superior natural and acquired endowments — over men of ardent piety, and profound spirituality, and deep self-abasement, and retiring meekness. Are not these latter regarded as inferior qualities in the instrument selected for the work? Because the material is not polished, and squared, and exactly adjusted to the niche — though it may possess all the intrinsic qualities of the marble and the granite, is it not too frequently set aside as unfit for the purpose of the building?
Oh! where is the spirit of our Lord and Master? Where is the Spirit of his Apostles? Where is . . .
their high, holy motives, and
their zeal for the glory, and jealousy for the honor of God?
Oh! how much we need of the spirit of burning and of fire; the spirit that consumes the dross and imperfection that cling so closely to us — all that is . . .
unsound in principle,
impure in motive,
deficient in simplicity
and singleness of aim —
all that leaves the traces of our defiling hand upon our work, and seems to pollute the ark we touch!
More holiness and deeper humility are what we need. Poor in these — we may vaunt ourselves of our work, our labors, our contributions, and our success — we may plan a brilliant enterprise, and erect a vast religious machine, and trumpet forth to the world its regular and harmonious movements — and yet, in what constitutes real riches and true strength — we may be poor indeed.
"Our exultant conceptions of the Missionary efforts of the church," writes a Missionary, " are the product of a radical error in our standard of judgment. They are great, they are unexampled since the days of the Apostles and their immediate successors, if we measure them by the visible exhibition of zeal. But if we turn our eyes inward, and consider how unscriptural are our views, how impure our motives, how insignificant a part our hearts bear in the doings of our hands; or if we look outward beyond ourselves, and the proud Babel of good works which we are rearing towards Heaven, and behold how feeble is the power of spiritual religion in the world — then how slow and faltering is its progress, how formidably the empire of Satan lifts its bold front, what hosts of hypocritical professors, of evil-disposed men of the world, of Apostates, Jews, Papists, Infidels, and Pagans stand in serried opposition to the handful of God's tried friends — how immoderate and untimely appears our joyous exultation! How abundant, rather, the reason for shame and humiliation before God! Oh, if we had the enlarged vision of the Apostles, and their generous, unquestionable devotedness — if we comprehended, as they did, the vast designs of God, and felt, like them, the necessitating influence of holy love — then how meager and contemptible would appear our boasted achievements!"
The languishing spirit of prayer in behalf of Christian Missions in the present day, though quoted among the last — is not the least significant evidence of a lessening sense of the spiritual character of our great enterprise. If it were considered a work in which God had more to do than we; if the solemn fact were more constantly recognized, that we were but the sinful and erring instruments; and the conviction more deeply felt, that Jehovah was the Great Mover in our cause, and that we were successful only as He worked with us; if we possessed more spiritual views of our object, the instrument of our labor, and the nature of our victories — then would there not be a spirit of prayer more corresponding with the mightiness of our design, and the intensity of our action? We think there would.
But how is it at the present time? Let the Monthly Missionary Prayer Meeting testify — that evening designed to concentrate the sympathies, and unite in concert the prayers, of all Christians, in every part of the world, in behalf of Christian Missions. Look at its thin attendance, its general character, the miscellaneous topics of the prayers that are offered, the painful lack of concentration of feeling, and thought, and petition — as the one object of the meeting. What does it prove, but that there is greater dependence placed upon external and exciting action — than upon prayer. And may we not well question the sincerity of motives that can stimulate to outward effort — but have no power, in waking up the spirit of prayer?
The writer feels acutely the vast and solemn importance of this part of his work; and although he may not be able to enlarge upon it as its importance demands — yet, if but a single and feeble paragraph may be the means of arousing the Christian church to a conviction of the importance of prayer, and to a consciousness of its neglect, and to the resolution to besiege the Throne of Grace more earnestly than ever in behalf of Missions, Missionaries, and Missionary Directors — then will he feel that he has not penned this book in vain. For, well and deeply is he convinced, that fervent, wrestling, believing prayer — is the right arm of the church's power in the work of Missions, and that only as this is wielded, does she go forth to the battle, "terrible as an army with banners."
In view of these solemn and searching facts, the following considerations will suggest themselves to the mind:
The church at home needs more Holiness, in order adequately and efficiently to sustain her foreign and Christian enterprises. The present action of the church is intense and sublime. Her efforts to carry out to its widest extent the last command of her risen Lord, "Go unto all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature" — the vast and complicated machinery to accomplish this which she has erected and set in motion — the facilities afforded by the varying dispensations of Providence — the Holy Scriptures already translated into well-near two hundred languages — commerce opening communications with distant and hitherto inaccessible nations — the offerings daily laid at her feet, of the persons and the substance of men — the almost miraculous success which, in some parts, has crowned her far-reaching labor — all of these tend to place her on a pedestal of wondrous and fearful height, as the gaze and astonishment of all people.
It befits, then, a question of deepening interest — What shall sustain her in her giddy elevation? What shall secure . . .
nerve to her arm,
keenness to her vision, and
firmness to her foothold?
Shall she rest in the laurels she has won, or in the glory that has shone upon her? Shall she wrap herself up in her increasing influence, wealth, and wisdom? Alas! if this be the secret of her power, and this the pledge of her security, then will she fall, and the record of her self-sufficiency and presumption will, in other ages, be "written in letters of lamentation, and mourning, and we." No! The grand secret of the church's power and security, is her deepening Holiness. As this declines, she is shorn of her true glory and strength! Her true power must not be looked for in her numerical increase, nor in the worldly distinction and influence which such an increase may give to her. In estimating her real growth, we do not pause to inquire what great names are written upon her scroll — we ask not if "any of the rulers have believed" — we search not into what climates she has borne her victorious arms — we enter not into arithmetical investigation of the amount of contributions poured into her treasury — perish every such worldly calculation!
The only questions worthy of a moment's consideration with us are:
What is the character of her spirituality?
What is the standard of her holiness?
Is she toying with the ornaments God has placed around her neck, and courting the admiring gaze of the world, by an ostentatious display of the magnitude of her plans, and the munificence of her contributions, and the splendor of her achievements?
Or, is she, forgetful of the things that are behind, and veiling herself from public view, moving on in the spirit of self-distrust and self-oblivion, with humiliation for the past and with prayer for the future, making the Lord alone her strong refuge? If not, then it is to be feared that God will . . .
pour contempt on all her worldly endowments,
stain the pride of all her glory,
silence her worldly boasting, and
entail upon her the withering curse once denounced upon His ancient and presumptuous people, "Woe to the obstinate children," declares the LORD, "to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh's protection, to Egypt's shade for refuge!" Isaiah 30:1-2
If the present elevated position of the Christian church is a conspicuous one — it is, as we have intimated, far from being a safe one. In proportion to her altitude, will be her exposure to the storms and collisions which agitate higher and less settled regions. Such a position incapacitates her to weigh well every movement, and to scrutinize rigidly every motive. She may be sadly and awfully deceived, and know it not until the chastisements of God overtake her!
Zeal for her own glory may be disguised in zeal for God.
Splendid charities may suffice for splendid holiness.
Along the stream of this world's favor she may float, wafted gently on by the breath of popular adulation, to catch which, she may have skillfully shaped her course and adjusted her sail. Oh, who does not see that the church is safe and victorious, and only so — as she is deeply baptized in the spirit of holiness!
Let us not be supposed to plead for a reduction of effort and benevolence in the cause of Christian Missions. We do not think this a legitimate inference from the observations we have advanced upon the lack of a strength of holy principle corresponding with the increasing action of the church. Not a beam from the rising edifice would we remove — not a wheel in the vast machine would we stop — not a post would we abandon — nor a Missionary would we recall. On the contrary, we are far from believing that even the present efforts of the Christian church, intense and far-reaching as they are, have yet come up to the apostolic standard, or are commensurate with the dying injunction of our Lord. We would rather say, "Bring more material to the edifice, give greater celerity to every movement of the machinery, explore new fields of labor, augment the number of Missions, reinforce the ranks that sickness and death have thinned!" But along with this, see that Holiness rises in the Christian church, see that her spirituality increases. For she may found new colonies, and send out her Missionary ship, freighted with the bread of life, and strewing it plentifully upon the shores along which it sails — and yet the piety at home, the spirituality of her directors, her ministers, and her halls of learning, may be undergoing an alarming decline.
It behooves us not to close our eyes upon the momentous fact, that while we may be cultivating other and distant vineyards — our own vineyard may be allowed to lie waste; that while we are instrumental to the increase of religion abroad — religion at home may be on the wane; that while the Sun of righteousness is rising in light and splendor on other nations — he may be setting in shadow and in gloom on our own nation!
"The prompt and energetic action of the age," says an observing and forcible writer, "opens the way for new temptations. In the rapid and vigorous determination and action of society upon every theme and in every task — we see renewed causes for Christian watchfulness. We are called to exertion without much reflection — nothing but deep piety can meet this exigency. The public mind, in our times, is moving with unusual speed and intense power. It is an age in which decision and action promptly follow inquiry and consideration — well near as quickly as the thunderbolt waits on the gleam of the lightning. In such a period, the ark of God is naturally carried onward, with a speed and vehemence which require no common steadfastness and sureness of foot in those that bear the holy charge. In its rapid movements — it may often need to be steadied. Are the hands that shall be outstretched in the hidden service, like those of Uzzah, rash and unconsecrated? Or are they such, by habitual watchfulness, as God requires in approaching his purity — holy without wrath or doubting? Oh! if the deep and fervent piety of Baxter, and Owen, and Bunyan were needed in their times, when society moved deliberately, and the slow progress of events allowed time for reflection in shaping their plans, and leisure for their correction when defective — then how much more intense and thorough is the spirit of devotional watchfulness demanded in an age like ours, when men who act at all must act speedily, and when they are hurried on by the stream of events with a swiftness which leaves little room to amend that which is erroneous, or supply that which is deficient. The characteristic energy and promptitude of social action, as it presents itself in our midst — demands an immediate and general advancement in personal holiness. We must be men deeply taught, imbued, and saturated with the Spirit — men who are accustomed to obtain an immediate access to our Heavenly Father, and receiving habitually speedy answers from our Heavenly Teacher — or how shall we save ourselves and the sinners that surround us?"
We have thus far confined our remarks to the need of increased holiness in the church in her collective capacity. Let us not forget, however, that the church is composed of individuals, that it is personal holiness which molds and sustains the spiritual character of the church; and that thus each individual member, constituting a component part of the body, is either her blessing or her curse — furthering or retarding her spiritual conquests in the world. In what a solemn attitude, then, and under what fearful responsibilities, does every Christian stand! How preeminently important that each for himself should pant and wrestle for deep personal holiness. Nothing, be it solemnly known, can compensate for its absence. There may be the collected stores of wisdom and knowledge, and genius and eloquence, and wealth — and yet if they are not founded in true piety, and enshrined in eminent holiness — they but resemble a palace of ice glittering in the sunbeams, or a splendid meteor, which 'Leads but to bewilder, and dazzles but to blind.'
Eminent holiness has supplied, and may yet supply — the deficiency of eminent gifts. But gigantic intellect, with a dwarfish piety — has too long been the bane and the curse of the church. What gave to Brainard, and Schwartz, and Martyn, and Vanderkemp, and a host of kindred spirits, the amazing moral power they wielded over the mental and moral condition of the heathen world? They possessed, it is true, varied and profound learning, sublime eloquence, and great moral daring. And yet the secret of their power is not to be sought in these, but in the spirit of holiness with which they were so richly and deeply imbued.
There is danger, in this intellectual-worshiping age, of overlooking the transcendent importance of holiness in the Christian, and Ministerial, and Missionary character — as forming the grand lever with which we are to overturn the kingdom of darkness which is in the world. The church's great power is not intellectual — it is spiritual. The church's great power is not in the profound erudition or rousing eloquence of her agents — but in their deep spirituality of mind.
"One devout thought," said the seraphic Leighton, pointing to his books, "is worth them all" — thus placing human literature in the rank it ought ever to sustain — subordinate to holiness of heart.
"And thus, too," is the testimony of a distinguished American divine, "do we know that many men, holding the noiseless tenor of their way in the uneducated walks of an unregistered and unenumerated ministry, destitute of the help of libraries, and ignorant of the name and of the being of commentators, and scholastics, and lexicographers, and interpreters — guided only by the dictates of common sense, illuminated by a sanctified conscience, are deeply acquainted with the will of God, are mighty in bringing the truth to bear upon the consciences of men, and are abundantly successful in winning souls unto salvation."
That a mere nominal profession of Christianity may, and does with many, pass current for vital godliness in the soul — is an indisputable and an appalling fact. We pause not to ascertain the causes to which this melancholy tendency to adopt the form of godliness without the power, may be traced. But that such is the tendency of the age — a tendency to substitute the base coin for the legitimate coin, while the many receive and endorse and pass it, as though it came lustrous from the celestial mint, and vividly impressed with Christ's superscription — is a startling feature in the moral aspect of our times, which we dare not pass by unnoticed and unrebuked.
In embarking in the spiritual enterprise of Christian Missions, may it not be a question worthy of deep and solemn reflection — how far may we be swayed by this nominal, counterfeit Christianity? Or, if ours be a true Christianity — how far may it be under the modifying and baneful influence of a worldly, temporizing policy — in carrying out our plans ostensibly for the glory of God and the welfare of immortal souls?
Oh, what pen is adequate to the task of exposing the danger that lurks around us here! Who will step forward, and tenderly and faithfully lift up his warning voice in the ears of the church, and bid her beware how far she may nourish this fearful and fatal delusion? New Missionary colonies may be planted, new enterprises resolved upon, new reinforcements sent out, and immense sacrifices be made in sustaining them — and yet all may be done by worldly men and on worldly principles. And even — for deep is the heart's treachery — secular interest, personal distinction, and worldly expediency — may enter deeply into the movements of those who yet are not utterly destitute of some holy and worthy motives.
Oh, have not the most eminent saints, and the most successful and holy ministers, deplored in secret before God — the deep treachery of their hearts, and the perpetual intrusion (marring and defacing all they did for him) of motives the most unholy and humiliating! Witness the touching confessions of Flavel, and Baxter, and Edwards, and Brainard, and Martyn, and Payson — men, as wondrous as it may appear, who soared the nearest to the divine glory — the lower they sank in the depths of humility and self-annihilation.
What, then, will shield us from the evils to which we are exposed; or, if they have partially come upon us, where shall we look for their corrective? 'Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills and from the multitude of mountains.' Where, then, shall we turn our anxious gaze? Where, but to the increase of Holiness in the Christian church. This is what we need as our shield and our glory — and this is all that we need. The church is pressed down with learning, and eloquence, and wealth. The lifeless material we have in abundance. The altar and the wood are prepared — what lack we yet, but the Spirit of Holiness to descend, and, as with life, to animate the mass, and, as with fire, to inflame the sacrifice?
Were this realized in an enlarged degree, what different Christians, and ministers, and missionaries should we be! What a new era in Christian Missions will have begun, and into what a new mold will they have been cast! Entombing in one grave our worldliness, our controversies, and our petty jealousies — we would arise to the work of the Lord, as with a combined and mighty impulse, and move forward, an undivided church, to bless a sin and sorrow-stricken world. No longer "Ephraim envying Judah, nor Judah vexing Ephraim" — "both one in Christ Jesus," would be the only sentiment felt and nourished. No longer "burning incense unto our own dragnet" — self would be swallowed up in God, and God would be all in all.
Oh, who will not join us in the prayer, "Come from the four winds, O breath of the Lord! breathe upon your churches and your ministers, baptize them in the sea and in the cloud of your influences, and anew sanctify and dedicate them to your service and your glory!"
That the work contemplated by the establishment of Christian Missions is one of vast magnitude, no one will question who has any proper perception of their character or importance. Our 'field' is emphatically 'the world.' A rapid survey of those parts of the earth yet sitting in the region and shadow of death, will impress the mind with some idea of what still remains to be done. The following statistics, gathered at our hand, will assist the reader's survey.
We turn to Asia, and a population meets our view estimated at from 400 to 580 million. The Chinese empire is supposed to contain more than 300 million inhabitants, being about one-third of the entire population of the globe. Hindustan may be rated at 120 million, the greater part of whom are idolaters. Burmah may be set down at 11 million; Siam between 2 and 3 million; Japan nearly 25 million; Turkey 11 million; Persia 10 million; Arabia 10 million; and Russia in Asia near 10 million. Europe is supposed to contain 215 million of inhabitants, three quarters of whom, though professing a nominal Christianity, are yet fast bound in the chains of papal tyranny and superstition, being utterly destitute of the knowledge of acceptance with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The population of America has been estimated as follows:
Slaves and free Negroes 6,500,000
Mixed race 6,500,000
Here is a vast field, of itself sufficient to absorb all the energies that are now put forth by the American churches in the cause of Christian Missions. Noble efforts, it is true, are being made in behalf of the persecuted Aborigines — yet but a small portion of the tribes can be said to have been brought under the power of the Gospel. Of the slave population, from three to four million of whom are held in unjust, cruel, and degraded bondage — it can scarcely be said that any Christian effort adequate to the exigency has yet been brought to bear upon their moral or even intellectual condition, the laws of some of the slave States making it death to any individual who shall attempt the work. In addition to the blighting and withering curse of slavery, Popery is swaying in South America a tremendous influence; and is employing all the power which emigration, and foreign influence, and vast sums of money can afford, to establish a dominant footing in the United States. The total population of the world, then, may be estimated as follows:
Pagans — 480,000,000
Mahommedans — 140,000,000
Romanists — 125,000,000
Greek Church — 40,000,000
Protestants — 65,000,000
— making the whole number 850 million; of which 620 million are Pagans and Mahommedans, leaving but a small portion of the world's population enlightened and sanctified with the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Oh, how much land is there yet to be possessed! and what intelligent motive is here presented to redoubled effort in the God-like enterprise of Christian Missions!
We have, in our defined view of the Missionary field, made no allusion to Africa, having purposely reserved it for a distinct paragraph and a special plea. Who can contemplate with a Christian eye, this grand quarter of the globe, and not feel every emotion of philanthropy and Christianity awakened in its behalf? Its past history is before us in striking and mournful contrast to its present. We think of it as it was at one period — the seat of science and the arts; where some of the most celebrated Christian churches, in primitive times, were established — where Cyprian, Augustine, Origen, Tertullian, lived, and preached, and wrote — where a council composed of 277 ministers once assembled upon serious and momentous topics connected with the kingdom of Christ. But how changed its history! "Darkness covers the land, and gross darkness the people."
With the exception of Abyssinia, Nubia, and a few other places, where Christianity in its most corrupted forms is professed, and an occasional Missionary church is seen emitting its feeble light from the midst of deepening gloom — the 200 million composing the population of this quarter of the globe, are given over to the dominion of Mohammedanism and Paganism, while the most loathsome Fetishism prevails, demanding in many cases from its devotees an immense immolation of human life.
And what shall be said of the wrongs and cruelties inflicted upon her through that iniquitous system the slave traffic? In touching upon this point, we are equally at a loss where to commence and where to end. Written in letters of blood is the history of poor, down-trodden Africa since the commencement of this accursed system! From an estimate made by a distinguished friend of Africa, and founded upon the most correct data, the slave trade annually dooms to the horrors of slavery, 170,000 negroes, and murders, on their passage, 330,000 more, making the aggregate number annually torn from their own country, incredible as it may seem, 500,000! Truly may we apply to them the strong language of the inspired word, whether we consider their appalling transmission to the slave market or their actual doom to the chains of slavery: "This is a people robbed and spoiled; they are all of them snared in holes, and hid in prison-houses; they are for a prey, and none delivers; for a spoil, and none says restore."
But where are we to look for the true "remedy" for Africa's grievances, and what will "restore" to her her former glory? We unhesitatingly reply, nothing but a revival of the primitive Christianity she once possessed.
It is known that there are two classes of philanthropists who at the present moment, and with the most ardent and benevolent zeal, are seeking to suppress the awful commerce we have alluded to, and to kindle upon the continent of Africa the lights of science and religion. It is equally known, too, that the plans proposed for the accomplishment of these ends are opposite and diverse, though not arrayed against each other in unkind hostility. The plan of the one class of philanthropists is to civilize Africa — that of the other is to Christianize Africa. The one proposes to establish a system of agriculture, and commerce, and education, and thus open a way for the introduction of Christianity. The other, rejecting the idea of civilization as a pioneer to Christianity, aims at the immediate introduction of Missionaries into Africa, with a view of proclaiming the glorious Gospel of the blessed God, gathering in converts to the faith that is in Christ Jesus, and of planting Christian churches, which shall form so many centers of moral influence in every part of this dark quarter of the globe.
We may be allowed to express our decided sympathy with the latter proposal. Our hope for Africa lies in the legitimate force of a pure Christianity — not in the spurious forms which commerce may introduce, nor in the mere culture of the mind which education contemplates — but in the preaching of Christ crucified and the planting of Christian churches.
It is painful to mark a growing distrust of the Gospel which many in the present day seem to entertain. Colonization, and civilization, and education, and legislation, are to accomplish what, it would appear, Christianity has never done, and can never do. It would seem from the various plans proposed for the amelioration of the human race, that whatever the religion of Jesus once was — it had exhausted its energies, was shorn of its strength, and had even grown weaker than any human system. It is time to assert and vindicate the contrary, in mild but decided terms. What commerce, civilization, education, philosophy, national wealth, military power, have accomplished towards the elevation of the human race — when contrasted with the results of Christianity, are but as the dim rays emitted from a candle — compared with the noontide splendor of the orb of day.
Indeed, we scruple not to aver, that to the preaching of Christ crucified we owe all that we possess that is really valuable in civilization, commerce, and education. Christianity has penetrated where commerce could have found no entrance, and has accomplished that for which the schoolmaster, and the agriculturist, and the artisan would for centuries have been but preparing the foundation. So far from these ever acting as the precursors of Christianity, they have either ever followed in its wake, or, where they have previously existed alone, have proved the greatest impediments to its progress.
Is it asked: What has the Gospel of Christ accomplished by its own native and unassisted energies? In reply, we triumphantly point to its first establishment, when, commencing in the ministry of a single individual, and sustained by the preaching of twelve disciples, the greater number of whom were but uneducated fishermen — it careered its silent way, amid flames, and tortures, and death, until, at the close of the third century, it had established its claims to be the only system that was capable of conducting the most barbarous nations of the earth to eminent and abiding civil, intellectual, and religious prosperity.
"The effect," says an able writer, "produced upon the laws and institutions of the Roman empire by Christianity is the greatest which was ever effected without violence. Partial as was the spread of Christianity, imperfect as was the knowledge of it, and limited as was its efficacy upon the heart, and transient as was its luster — so soon replaced by superstition and the return of barbarian ignorance; yet to this day is the difference great and manifest between the worst portions of Christendom and the total darkness that rests on all the earth beside. The hideous spectacles of pagan impurity and cruelty have given place to monuments of Christian love. And if this partial, momentary experiment produced such changes — then what may not be expected when the religion of the Gospel shall pervade every palace, and cottage, and heart on the globe?"
Nor do we rest here: we refer for a further evidence of the native power of Christianity to the history of the Reformation, when one half of Europe burst from its chains of superstition and ignorance, through the simple preaching of the truth as it is in Jesus — first from the lips of a solitary monk emerging from his monastic cell in Germany. Trace, too, its triumphs, followed by all the blessings which civilization and human science can confer, among the Hottentots of South Africa — in the orderly, decent, and happy settlements that are formed, and Christian churches that are planted, giving evidence of the most elevated piety, at Sierra Leone — to its almost miraculous effects among the South Sea Islands, where a nation has been born in a day, and a "reverse of secular and moral condition has been achieved — greater, and more entire and benign, in the whole population, than was ever before witnessed on earth in so short a time."
"Forty years ago," says the report of the London Missionary Society for 1835, "when this society was formed, the islands of the South Seas had been discovered, explored, and abandoned, as presenting no objects worthy of further regard. Their inhabitants were sunk still lower in wretchedness by fellowship with foreigners, and left a prey to the merciless idolatry that was fast sweeping them from the face of the earth. To them the attention of our venerable fathers in this cause was first directed, and a Mission was auspiciously commenced. Idolatry was subverted, infant murder and human sacrifice ceased, education was promoted, converts flocked around the Missionaries, churches were gathered, Missionary societies formed, and teachers sent forth. Now the people, fast rising in the scale of nations, have, as fruits of the Divine blessing on Missionary perseverance, a written language, a free press, a representative government, courts of justice, written laws, useful arts, and improved resources. Commercial enterprise is promoting industry and wealth; and a measure of domestic comfort unknown to their ancestors now pervades their dwellings. A nation has been born at once, and surrounding nations have been blessed through their mercy."
We will not multiply testimonies. The history of Christianity, from its first establishment to the present moment — forms one connected chain of evidence to its life-giving and elevating power; and presents the most severe rebuke to the growing theory, that civilization, and commerce, and education are its necessary and indispensable precursors.
Our only hope, then, for Africa is in the preaching of the Gospel, through the establishment of Christian Missions. Any other plans or societies that exist, the aim and tendency of which are to divert the attention, and the resources, and the labors of the Christian church from this object, into another and an opposite channel — we cannot but regard as occupying the ground that belongs alone to the Missionary enterprise. Confined to their legitimate field, viewed as subsidiary means, and following the labors of the Missionary — we are far from asserting that much substantial good may not result from the civilization efforts of the friends of Africa. But we never can consent that human art and commercial enterprise should occupy the foreground of the plan which is to elevate this down-trodden people — to high and permanent prosperity in the scale of Christian and civilized nations.
O no! the Gospel of Christ is the great regenerator of Africa. Brought beneath its mighty and benign sway — Mohammedanism, and Paganism, and Fetishism shall yield — tribe shall no longer war with tribe, and sell each other into fearful and perpetual slavery — the darkest clouds of ignorance will disperse — the strongest chains of superstition will melt — the awful slave traffic will cease — the mild and gentle reign of civilization will commence — and this glorious Gospel of the blessed God, destined to encircle the globe with its influence, shall kindle the beacon-light of liberty on every hill-top, and roll its glad hosannahs along every valley. Then shall be fulfilled those glorious predictions which now shine so luminously on the page of prophecy, "Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God. The kings of Tarshish and of the cities shall bring presents; the kings of Shela and Seba shall offer gifts. All they from Shela shall come: all the flock of Kedar shall be gathered together unto you; the rams of Nebaroth shall minister unto you; they shall come up with acceptance upon mine altar, and I will glorify the house of my glory. In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. And it will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to the Lord because of oppressors, and He will send them a savior, even a mighty one, and he will deliver them."
If, then, this is the great magnitude of the Missionary work — then how powerful are its appeals to the Christian and benevolent sympathies of every friend of Christ and of man. In the first place, it appeals strongly and persuasively to the pious young men of our churches. It lays its hand upon them, and claims their personal consecration to the work. It is an affecting consideration, over which the directors of Missionary operations at home and the laborious Missionaries abroad have often and deeply mourned — that so few of the spiritual, devoted, and gifted youth of our churches pause to weigh their obligation to devote themselves personally to the cause of Foreign Missions.
In the preceding pages we have endeavored to show, that it is the duty of every separate and independent church to organize itself into a Missionary society, and in that capacity solemnly pledge itself to the promotion of that great and Godlike work. We have seen that God has constituted his church the only depository of his truth upon the earth — that there is no holiness but that which is found within its hallowed pale — that every believer in Jesus is a witness for the Lord — and that if the church of Christ comes not up, a spiritual, united, and consecrated body, to the help of the Lord against the mighty — she proves herself guilty of dereliction of trust and power, unworthy of her high and holy calling, and fearfully disastrous in its consequences upon the world.
But what form the grand sinews of the Christian church? What, as an instrumentality, is the right arm of her power? We unhesitatingly reply, the spirituality, intelligence, and devotedness of her youthful members — these form her glory and her strength. Now it cannot be doubted, that there are many truly gifted and spiritual young men connected with various churches who have never seriously and prayerfully pondered the question, "Is it not my duty to go far hence and bear the unsearchable riches of Christ to the heathen?" Beloved brethren, it is with deep solemnity, and tenderness, and with some degree of prayerfulness — that I draw your attention to this important question.
Let me first suggest the inquiry: Whose servants and disciples are you? By whom, and at what price, have you been redeemed? What were your vows of dedication to the Lord, in the days of your espousals, when Jesus entered into a covenant with you, assured you of his pardoning love, and enabled you in a transport of joy to exclaim, "I am my beloved's — and my beloved is mine"? Weigh these considerations, and see if they will not decide the question in favor of personal obligation to the Lord.
The next question has to do with your individual consecration. Has not the Lord endowed you with intellectual qualifications appropriate to the work? Has he not entrusted to you gifts peculiarly adapted to this department of labor? Has he not placed you in circumstances in life peculiarly favorable to a decision on the side of a mission to the heathen? These are points you are solemnly bound to consider in reference to the claims of Foreign Missions upon your personal dedication to the work. You cannot come to a decision that it is not your duty to go to the heathen until they have received, all that matured thought and earnest prayer which they demand, without grieving the Spirit and opposing yourself to the most powerful claims of obligation and duty.
"I have no doubt," writes an eminent American Missionary from his field of labor, "but the light of the judgment day will disclose many a case where pious young persons of both sexes, but more especially students in our colleges and seminaries, have refused to listen to the voice of conscience, and the word and the providence of God — until the Spirit was grieved, and they were left to mourn the hiding of God's countenance, under circumstances of comparative uselessness in the church.
Many a young man who has had serious convictions that it was his duty to plant the standard of the Gospel on some heathen shore, but has come to no definite decision upon the subject — has afterwards formed some injudicious attachment, or yielded to the attractions of some lucrative or honorable situation at home; and then set it down as an indication of Providence, that it was not his duty to be a Missionary — when the fact was, that he had resisted the Spirit, in not consecrating himself to the work while his heart was warm in the cause.
Some, I have reason to believe, dare not, or will not, honestly examine their duty upon the subject of Foreign Missions, lest the irresistible conviction should fasten upon their minds, that they are called to carry the message of salvation to some remote corner of the earth. How will such a decision, arrived at with such motives and in such a spirit — look when viewed from a dying bed or from the judgment-seat of Christ? These are solemn points of observation.
Motives, and actions, and decisions will wear a different aspect when looked back upon from these solemn observatories. Decide the question of duty in reference to your laboring among the heathen, in view of a dying bed and a judgment-seat. What are the considerations which oppose themselves to your solemn decision on the side of a Mission to the Heathen? Are they of equal force with those which plead in favor of that decision?
Remember, that whatever considerations of self-love, earthly glory, temporal advantage, personal attachment, seek to dissuade you from the convictions of judgment, and to drown the voice of conscience, and to close your eyes to the indications of Providence, and to oppose their obstructions in the path of duty — every hour that you yield to them, you expose yourself to the rebuke of that servant who knew his Lord's will and did it not.
But what considerations of an earthly nature can for one moment weigh with the voice of conscience — the openings of Divine Providence — the perishing condition of more than six hundred million heathen — the love of Christ — the solemnities of a dying hour — a crown of glory — an eternity of joy? O how transcendently great are these considerations! Ponder them — pray over them.
Remember that you are not your own — you are bought with a price. Remember, too, that you live in a day of increasing light, a day of great enterprise and of glorious results. To bury the talent, and indulge in a love of ease, and remain all the day idle, when God is shaking nations, convulsing thrones, opening doors of labor, and preparing the way in every part of the world for the preaching and the triumphs of the Gospel — is a sin of no common magnitude.
God's call to the pious and gifted youth of his church at this moment is loud and solemn: "Son, go work in my vineyard." Will you not respond, eager to gird yourselves for the work, "Here, Lord, am I — send me!" O that the love of Christ may constrain you to count all things loss for him — to go forth willing to forsake home, and family, and kindred, and country — to forego all the allurements which earthly prospects hold out, and in the spirit of Martyn, and Brainard, and Judson, and Newell — lay yourselves upon the Missionary altar, in willing, holy, and unreserved dedication to the sacred, God-like work in which they loved not their lives unto the death, and for which, as the reward of free and sovereign grace — they now wear the crown of undying glory! Let the subject take you unceasingly to the Throne of Grace; and let this be your petition until the gracious answer is returned, "Lord, what will you have me to do?"
In view of the magnitude and growing importance of Christian Missions, an increase of the true spirit of Missions is needed; this is the spirit of faith, and love, and hope, and perseverance. This was the spirit that animated our Lord, when he came on his mission of love into our world. This, too, was the spirit of the Apostles — and this must be ours. We need, too, more of the true Missionary motive — love to Christ. We would not then make success in our plans — the standard of our duty. We would not lessen our zeal, and our efforts, and our prayers, and our contributions — when the yearly report presented but the detail of labors uncrowned, or of exertions and plans frustrated and abandoned. Though not a Mission were established or a heathen converted — our duty would be clear and our obligation overwhelming, to advance, if possible, with increased and undaunted zeal and love and perseverance in our work.
The Lord of Missions says nothing about success in his command. This he retains in his own hand. But he marks out our duty — and bids us go forward in it. And when he receives us to glory, we have reason to believe that our commendation will not be, "Well done, good and successful servant," but, "Well done, good and faithful servant — enter into the joy of your Lord."
There must be a deeper-toned spirituality in the churches — if we would materially strengthen the true spirit of Missions. It certainly does not require a single argument to prove that a lax state of spirituality in the church — must ever prove a powerful obstruction to the cause of Missions, whether of a domestic or foreign character. The existence of a spirit of worldly conformity, the habit of not opposing but of yielding to the policy and the principles of the world — have proved fearfully instrumental in retarding the progress and holding back the triumphs of the Gospel.
Truly, shame and confusion of face belong to us for this sin. And until the church of Christ is cleansed from it, until she rises in her peerless majesty from her attempted humiliation — breaking from the influences that have weakened her energies and obscured her beauty — the enemy will triumph, the car of the Gospel will move on but slowly, and the "prince of the power of the air" will yet hold an undisputed supremacy over the kingdoms of this world.
Oh, that true piety may be revived in the churches! Oh, that the standard of spirituality may be elevated! Oh, that the Spirit of Jesus may so descend as to make us more pure in heart, simple in motive, humble, lowly, and Christ-like!
Increased fervent prayer must be quoted, in conclusion, as forming an essential auxiliary to the success of Christian Missions. We can make no advance in our work, without prayer. We can strike no effective blow upon the kingdom of darkness, without prayer. We can recover no territory from the lost empire, without prayer. Our Missionaries receive their commissions, and go forth to labor in vain, without prayer. There must be an increased spirit of fervent, wrestling, united, and believing prayer.
Is not the spirit of prayer in behalf of Missions slumbering among us? Let the thin attendance at the missionary prayer meetings testify. Let the little interest evinced on that occasion for more than six hundred million souls perishing without the Gospel, speak. The spirit of prayer in behalf of Missions is slumbering among us. And in this respect the people of God come not up to his help, to his help against the mighty. The word of God commands the prayers of the church in behalf of the spread of the Gospel. "For this thing will I be required of by the house of Israel to do it for them, says the Lord." "Pray the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth more laborers into the harvest."
He condescendingly invites the church to approach him at the mercy-seat with holy and humble boldness. "Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel and his Maker — ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands — command me." Oh, what touching words are these, and how encouraging! And can we refuse to approach the Throne of Grace — when God bids us command him concerning the work of his hands?
The Missionary, too, asks the prayers of the churches. He, perhaps, of all others, is convinced of the absolute necessity of prayer in the great work to which he has consecrated his life. He sees the utter impotency of mere human power in shaking and demolishing the kingdom of darkness, in melting away the thick shadows of error, idolatry, and superstition, and in releasing the soul from the despotism of sin and Satan, and introducing it into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. He is deeply and solemnly convinced of the necessity of the Spirit's agency in this mighty work, and he asks the prayers of the church, that that agency may be exerted. "Brethren, pray for us," is his simple and affecting request — and shall it be denied?
Oh, then, let the church as a body, let each individual member, awake to this neglected duty. Let the monthly Missionary prayer-meeting be borne upon the hearts of God's people. Let them feel that they are recreant to the pledge they made to their Missionaries when they sent them to their great work — that they heed not the loud cry coming up from a dying world — that they dishonor God and grieve the Spirit when the Missionary prayer-meeting returns, and they are not in their places, swelling the cloud of incense as it ascends from the universal church, and rolls towards the throne of God, in behalf of our perishing race.
Oh, who can tell what mighty wonders would result from an increased spirit of prayer in the church! At home and abroad would its effects be seen in the rapid increase of piety, of converts, and of churches. "Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do — I will open the windows of Heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won't have enough room to take it in!"