ISAIAH 55:10, 11.—“For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void; but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
IT is the duty of the Christian Church to preach the gospel to every creature, because Christ the Head of the Church has commanded it so to do. It follows from this, that every individual member is obliged to contribute to this result, in proportion to his means and opportunities. No one believer is charged with the performance of the whole work. St. Paul was not bound to evangelize the entire globe, but only to preach as far and as wide as he could. The work that is assigned to the Church as a whole cannot be devolved upon a few persons, and no single generation is required to perform the service of all the generations of believers. On the contrary, each and every disciple of Christ has laid upon him a certain portion of this Christian service which he is solemnly bound to render.
The command to the single Christian: “Go work this day in my vineyard,” is as imperative as the command to the whole Church: “Go preach my gospel to every creature.” The entire labor of evangelizing the globe is thus distributed among the generations of Christians, and among the innumerable individuals composing them, and if each one were as faithful in his own sphere and time as was the apostle Paul, this sinful and miserable world would present a far different appearance from what it now does.
Inasmuch as each and every disciple of Christ is thus bound to contribute his share towards the evangelization of the globe, it becomes an interesting and important question, whether the work is feasible. May it not be that the Church is attempting too much? The larger part of the world is still pagan, and totally ignorant of God in Christ; and a considerable part of nominal Christendom consists of unrenewed men who are as distant from heaven as the heathen, so far as the new birth is concerned. In comparison with the entire human family, the Church of Christ, as the hymn tells us, is still
“ ‘A little spot enclosed by grace,
Out of the world’s wide wilderness.”
How can the Church at large, and the individual Christian, be certain that they are not undertaking a work that is intrinsically impossible of performance? No laborer desires to spend his strength for naught. It was one of the torments of the pagan hell, perpetually to roll a stone up a hill, and just as it reached the summit, perpetually to see it slip from the hands and roll back to the bottom. It was another of the torments of Tartarus, to draw water in a sieve forever and forevermore. These futile labors of Sisyphus, and the daughters of Danaus, are emblematic of that species of effort which cannot succeed, by reason of an intrinsic infeasibility. No man can conquer the force of gravitation. He may resist it, but he cannot conquer it; the stone and the drop of water will eventually fall to the ground, in spite of the most persevering efforts to the contrary. Is the endeavor to preach the gospel everywhere, and instrumentally to convert the souls of all men, a labor of this kind? Is the Church engaged in the toil of Sisyphus?
If so, it is work without hope, and “Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve, And hope without an object cannot live.”
Unless the people of God have sure and strong reasons for believing that the enterprise in which they are engaged—the endeavor to put a Bible into every man’s hand, and to impress its truths upon his heart—is within the compass of possibility, they ought to cease from their labors. And if, on the other hand, they have in the purposes, promises, truth, and power of God, an infallible certainty of success in this endeavor, then they ought to toil with a hundredfold more energy, and a hundredfold more courage.
We propose to mention some of the reasons that make it certain that evangelistic labor will succeed; that the effort of the Church to preach Christ crucified will no more fail of its effect, than the rain will fail to water the earth, and cause the seeds that are sown in it to germinate.
I. We argue and derive the certainty of success in evangelistic labor, in the first place, from the nature of Divine truth.
There is something in the quality and characteristics of the doctrine which we are commanded to preach to every creature, that promises and prophesies a triumph. The word of God is both living, and quickening. This is implied in the figure which the prophet Isaiah employs in the text. “As the rain cometh down from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth and maketh it to bring forth and bud, so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth.” This is the declaration of God himself, who understands the intrinsic nature of his own Revelation; and by it he teaches us that there is no greater adaptedness in moisture to fructify the ground, and germinate a corn of wheat, than there is in Biblical doctrine to renew and convert a human soul.
For the truth which the evangelist scatters upon the printed page, or teaches from his own lips, is superhuman. It does not originate within the sphere of man, and man’s reason. The Bible contains a mass of information that issues from an inspired sphere and circle, and therefore differs in kind from all other books. We know very well the difference between the truths of mathematics, and the truths of poetry. They proceed from two different species of perception. The poet’s intuition is so diverse from that of the man of science, that we never confound poetry with science. On the contrary, we know that the one destroys the other; and it has passed into a proverb, that he who is made for a poet is spoiled for a mathematician. From a college of savans, we do not look for a Paradise Lost; and from the “laureate fraternity” of poets, we do not expect a Mécanique Céleste.
This inadequately illustrates the immense diversity between Divine Revelation, and human literature. The former issues from the mind of God; from an intellectual sphere infinitely higher than that of the human mind. That inspired circle, within which the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments took their origin, differed from all other intellectual circles, be they schools of religion, or of philosophy, or of poetry, or of science, by a difference to which that between the mind of a Milton and the mind of a Laplace is only the faintest approximation.
This fact we need to keep in view, if we would see any ground of certainty for the success of the Christian evangelist.
Unless he is commissioned to teach something that is superhuman; something that did not take origin within the sphere of earth and of man; something that is not found in the national literatures of the world; he will spend his strength for naught. The apostles of human reason, the inventors of human systems, and their disciples, have labored for six thousand years without radically changing a single individual man, or converting any of the sin and misery of earth into the holiness and happiness of heaven; and if the Christian herald does not go entirely beyond their sphere, and proclaim truths from another and higher world, he will only repeat their futile endeavor. He must teach the word and commandments of God; a higher doctrine than the commandments of man, and a wisdom superior to that of any people, Hebrew or Hindoo, Greek or Roman.
In this fact, there is great encouragement to diligence and perseverance, upon the part of every disciple of Christ, to proclaim Divine truth in every form and manner possible. Revealed truth is immortal. It can never perish. You may educate a child or a man by the choicest secular methods, and may put him in communication with the ripest lore of the ancient and the modern world; he may become a highly disciplined scholar, and may leave behind him an illustrious name in the annals of literature; but the knowledge which he acquires, and which he transmits, shall all pass away. “Whether there be tongues they shall cease; whether there be knowledge it shall pass away.” It ought to extinguish all the proud ambition of a merely earthly scholarship, to consider how transitory is all knowledge that is not divine, religious, and inspired. It is strictly true, that no truth, no doctrine, shall abide for millenniums, shall abide for eternity, but the truth and doctrine of God.
Consider Shakespeare for example. This was the most comprehensive, capacious, original, creative intellect that ever inhabited a human body. Take him all in all, he possessed more power of intuition, and of expression, than any other human being; and the addition which he made to the stock of uninspired human literature, and culture, is greater, more original, more quickening and fertilizing to the mind of man, than that of any other author, ancient or modern. John Dryden was within the bounds of moderation, when he pronounced “that Shakespeare was the man who of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul.” But where will the Shakespearian drama be, ten million years from now? Who will read the play of Hamlet, marvellous as it is, in the eternal years of God?
Far are we from despising the really grand achievements of the human intellect, in literature, art, and science. They have their function, and appropriate work to perform in the education of the human race. But they are finite, mixed with error, unrelated to the salvation and destiny of the human soul, and therefore transitory. Excepting those elements in them which have been derived from the eternal fountain of truth, and which therefore harmonize with the kingdom of God, they are all of them to disappear, when that which is perfect is come. They are all to give place to that higher intuition, that beatific vision of truth and of beauty, which is in reserve for the pure in heart. And therefore it is, that human art, human science, and human knowledge—all that the fallible and imperfect human intellect has wrought out, in these centuries of dimness and of sin—like
“The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself, shall dissolve,
And leave not a rack behind.”
But not so, with Divine truth. That species of knowledge which the Christian Church possesses in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and of which it is the appointed depositary and teacher, has in it nothing fallible, nothing transitory. That Christian disciple, or missionary, who is instrumental in teaching a single human soul, either in America or in Africa, in the ninth century or in the nineteenth, that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but might have everlasting life,” announces a truth that will be of as momentous importance ten million years hence, as it is at this very moment.
Schools of literature have their day, lose their interest, and give place to others that are subject to the same vicissitudes. But Christian doctrines never have their day. They are subject to no fashions. Sin is as real and as hateful now, as it ever was. Hell is as lurid and awful now, as when Satan and his host were hurled into it. The blood of Christ is as precious, the doctrine of the divine clemency is as peace-giving, now, as it was when our Lord said to the sinful woman, “Thy sins are forgiven.” Instead of waning in truthfulness and importance, the doctrines of Revelation acquire a deeper truthfulness and a more solemn significance, as the centuries roll away. Those truths relating to God, Man, and the God-man, which the Scriptures have now made the common heritage of the beggar on the dung-hill and the king on the throne; those doctrines relating to human apostasy and human redemption, which the Church is commanded to teach to every creature; are the word of God “which liveth and abideth forever;” they are the immortal seed of a life everlasting.
Here, then, is a ground of certainty that the work of the Christian evangelist will succeed.
In lodging the truths of the Bible in any human soul, you are placing something there which is literally eternal; which will have the same value millions and billions of ages from now. No lapse of time can destroy its truthfulness, or its importance. The work which you do when you put the few pages of a tract in the hands of an unrenewed man, and by your prayerful earnestness are instrumental in its being wrought into the texture of his mind and heart, will endure forever. You may build a pyramid; but it will one day be part and particle of the sands that are blown and sifted by the winds of the desert. You may compose an Iliad or a Macbeth; but it will lose its interest, and disappear from the memory of mortals, when they stand before the judgment-seat of God. But if you teach to any human creature the words of Jehovah; if you mortise the law and the gospel into the framework of the human mind; you erect a structure which it is not in the power of man, or of everlasting time, to tear down and destroy.
Not only is Divine truth immortal in its nature, but it can never be expelled from the mind. Teach a child or a man, for example, the true Biblical doctrine of sin; fix it in his mind that God abhors wickedness, and will punish it everlastingly; and you have imparted something to him which he can never get rid of. He may lose sight of it for a week, or a month, or a year, or ten years, but he cannot lose sight of it for eternity. It will sooner or later, and with more than the certainty of a planet’s motion, emerge within the horizon of his consciousness, and fill him with terror if he is an impenitent sinner. In imparting to his mind this truth concerning the holy nature of God, and the wickedness of sin, you have imparted to him something like a fatal secret, which will haunt and waylay the soul through all the years of open or of secret transgression.
One of the most powerful of modern fictions is founded upon the accidental discovery, by a servant, of a fatal secret belonging to his master. The discovery fills his whole life with fear and apprehension and drives him to the borders of insanity. He would give worlds, if he had not made that discovery; he would give the universe, if he could forget it. But the secret has come to his knowledge, and he cannot erase it from his memory. There is an art of remembering, but no art of forgetting. The secret stays with him and by him like a fiend, and he cannot get from under its black shadow. Are there not on record many instances in which the solemn declarations and warnings of the Divine law, which had been wrought into the mind perhaps in earliest youth, still clung to it, and punished it with fears and forebodings, during the after-life of license and forgetfulness of God? Human knowledge is soon forgotten; the images of the human poet are fading and fugitive as the colors of the frescos in the Vatican; but the knowledge of the Divine law, and the awful imagery of the Scriptures relating to it, are indestructible, and burn themselves into the texture of the soul like the colors of encaustic tiles.
And on the other side of Revelation, all this is equally true. The peace-speaking promises of mercy, the doctrine of the Divine pity, of the forgiveness of sins and the preparation for eternal life—all this portion of Divine truth when once imparted is never again expelled. And when in the years of sin the law makes itself felt, and the transgressor is brought into consternation, the doctrines of grace which had been conveyed to the mind many long years ago by the Christian teacher are all that save it from everlasting despair, and everlasting perdition. And even if this is not the happy result, owing to the inveteracy of vice, or the torpidity of the conscience, or the obstinacy of the proud heart, and the soul goes into the presence of God unforgiven, still the truths of the gospel are not expelled from the understanding. They will be a portion of the soul’s knowledge through all eternity; the evidence of what it might have secured, and the index of what it has lost.
II. We argue and derive the certain success of evangelistic labor, in the second place, from the fact that God feels a special interest in his own Word.
The Scriptures warrant us in asserting, that God is more profoundly concerned for the success of that body of truth which he has revealed to mankind in the Scriptures, than he is for the spread and influence of all other ideas and truths whatsoever. This is the only species of truth which he personally watches over, and accompanies with a Divine influence. He leaves human knowledge to itself, to make its own way without any supernatural aid or influence from him; but the doctrines of the Bible are not dismissed from his hand with this indifference.
We have seen that they have an intrinsic adaptation to the wants and woes of the soul, and that in this particular they possess a vast superiority over all earthly knowledge; but this is not their sole, or their highest prerogative. They are not only related to man, but they are related to the Holy Ghost. From the very depths of the Divine Essence, there issues an energy that adds to the intrinsic energy of Revelation, and makes it a two-edged sword quick and piercing. Powerful as the Word of God is in itself, it would fail to touch and soften the flinty human heart, were it not that God personally watches over it, and effectually applies it.
Men go into ecstasies over the discovery of a new fact in science, or a fresh and original creation of the poet and artist. There is joy and pride in all educated circles, when a new addition is made to the literature of the nation, or to the sum of human arts and inventions. But there is no corresponding and equal joy in the Eternal Understanding, at such events. The Deity never becomes thus profoundly interested in a poem or a painting; in the telegraph or the steam-engine. The “wisdom of this world,” we are told, is “foolishness” with him. But there is a species of truth, a form of doctrine, in which the entire energy of the Godhead is engrossed, and whose spread and triumph fills him with deep eternal joy. It is that which he has deposited in the Scriptures, and has commanded his people to teach and preach from generation to generation, until the whole world is leavened with it.
This fact is clearly taught in the text. “My word,” says God by his prophet, “shall not return unto me void; but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Here is personal interest, and personal supervision. These doctrines relating to the salvation and destiny of man, are not sent forth from heaven lonely messengers, to make their way as they best can. The third Person of the Trinity goes with them, and exerts an influence through them that is undefinable, but as almighty and irresistible, within its own sphere and in its own way, as physical omnipotence itself. For there is not a human heart upon the globe, whose hardness is impenetrable to the combined operation of the Word and Spirit of God. There is not a human will upon the planet, so strong and stubborn as to be able to overcome the union of the Scriptures and the Holy Ghost.
In this fact, then, we find a second ground of certainty of success for evangelistic labor. You may proclaim all your days, your own ideas, or those of your fellow-men, but you will say with Grotius, at the close of a long and industrious career which had by no means been exclusively devoted to humanistic learning: “I have spent my life in laboriously doing nothing.” But if you have passed your days in teaching the unevangelized, and conveying into their dark and blinded understandings the truths of the law and the gospel, you may say, at the close of life, as you sum up your work, with a clearer consciousness than that of the pagan Horace: “I shall not wholly die. I have erected a monument more durable than brass. I have taught the word of God that liveth and abideth forever, to many human souls.”
III. A third ground of certainty that evangelistic labor will succeed, is found in the actual instances of success furnished by the annals of such labor.
Men are continually writing upon the evidences of Christianity, but there is no demonstration like that which proceeds from the practical work of the Church and the ministry, in bringing this religion home to the business and bosoms of men. This was the argument which the Primitive Church employed, to prove to the pagan the Divine origin and power of the new religion. Christianity must be from God, argued Justin Martyr and Tertullian, “because it makes the voluptuous man chaste, the avaricious man liberal, the man of cursing a man of prayer, the implacable enemy a forgiving friend, converts wrath into gentleness, debauchery into temperance, and vice of manifold form into manifold virtue.” The fruits evince the reality, and the quality of the tree.
There is always great force in a fact. It is the element of reality. Men are realists, and they love reality wherever they find it. In this element, lies the great power of a certain class of poets and novelists. Why is it that Dante, and Chaucer, and De Foe, so impinge themselves upon the minds of their readers, and make the same kind of impression upon them that is made by actually going through the wards of a hospital, or over the acres of a battle-field, or out into the warm sunlight of a June landscape? It is because of the intense realism, the matter of fact, that pervades the poem or the novel. It is a work of the imagination, so far as plot and costume are concerned, but the imagination is employed with such stern and intense truthfulness, that all fanciful and unnatural qualities are purged out, and the result is a product that is veritable like actual life, and actual experience itself. Robinson Crusoe is the product of the imagination, and yet every reader knows and feels that it is as real as his own daily existence. But when we pass from poetry and fiction, to the very life itself of man—to the tears which we see him drop, to the pain and bereavements which we see him suffer, and to the joys which we see mantling upon his countenance—we understand still better how powerful is plain truth and reality.
Now we find what we may call the realism of Christianity, in the evangelizing operations of the Church.
So long as we know the gospel only by book and theory, we do not know it in its most impressive and convincing form. A Church, or an age of the Church, that carries on no missionary work, will be liable to latent and increasing skepticism. The facts and forces of Christianity do not smite upon it, and make the gospel real. Suppose that I have never myself felt the revolutionizing power of Christianity, or have never seen an instance of it in another person: will not the theoretical belief which I may have in this religion be likely to wane away, in the lapse of time? If a power is not exerted, we begin to doubt its existence. And if an individual or a Church witnesses no effusions of the Spirit, and no actual conversions of the human soul, it will inevitably begin to query whether there be any Holy Ghost, and whether the gospel is anything more than ethics. This has occurred in the history of the Church.
The eighteenth century in England was an age of infidelity outside of the Church, and of very inadequate faith within it. And it was because the Christian religion showed little of its power, in visibly converting and transforming the human soul. Men were not actually born again, and it was an easy and ready conclusion that the doctrine of the new birth is fanaticism. And whenever this notion enters either the individual or the general mind, unbelief in the essential and energetic truths of Christianity comes in apace. The same remark holds true of the German Church. Its rationalism, which has exerted so wide an influence, was the consequence of a decline of faith in evangelical doctrines; and this decline of faith in evangelical doctrines was owing very greatly to the absence of striking impressions from these doctrines.
In the age of the Reformation, the popular mind felt the truth of such dogmas as original sin, and forgiveness through atoning blood. These truths evinced their power in thousands of actual instances, and therefore they could not be disputed or denied. But when the energy and fervor of the Reformation period had declined, and men within the visible Church itself lived on from year to year with little or no consciousness of the corruption of the heart, and of the pacifying efficacy of Christ’s blood and righteousness, it was no wonder that the dogmatic belief of the Church should change, and in the place of the warm evangelism of Luther, there should rise the cold rationalism of Paulus and Wegscheider.
In the actual success, then, of endeavors to convert the souls of men, we find the striking instances, the matters of fact, the living Christian verities, that brace up our declining faith, and warm our cooling piety. The preacher goes into a destitute town upon the borders of our Western or our Southern country, teaches the condemning law, and proclaims the saving gospel, to a soul steeped in sin. His prayer of faith, and labor of love, are rewarded and crowned with the descent and personal presence of the Holy Ghost. That soul is converted. It undergoes a revolution as great and momentous as that by which Adam fell; for regeneration is as great a change as apostasy.
That fact, that actual exertion of Divine power, is known in the heavens, and the angels rejoice over it; and it enters into the archives of the Church here upon earth, and exerts an influence. It is another instance of the actual exercise of personal power on the part of God the Redeemer, and tends to deepen and strengthen the faith of Christians in that species of power, wherever it is known. But the annals of missions are full of such instances, so that from year to year an intense and mighty Christian realism is issuing out from all evangelizing enterprises, and by a reflex action is refreshing the faith, and consolidating the doctrine of the Churches that set them in motion.
The power of Biblical truth even when not proclaimed by the voice of the evangelist is continually receiving demonstration, from this same source.
The records of Bible and Tract Societies are full of instances in which the bare text of Scripture led to the conversion of a human soul. Consider the following. A distributor gave a tract to a young man, accompanying it with some words expressive of a serious and affectionate desire for his salvation. The young man, upon the departure of the missionary, threw the pages into the fire; but as they curled up in the flame, his eye caught the words: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” As these words turned to ashes in the fire, they turned to fire in his mind. He found no rest, until he found it in the blood of atonement.
Now, this was an actual occurrence. It is not a story invented for the purpose of exciting interest in the mind of a reader or a hearer. There is not the slightest mingling of imaginative elements in it. That thirty-first verse of the thirteenth chapter of St. Mark’s gospel was thus impressed upon the mind and conscience of a human being, in a certain section of space, and at a certain point of time. The time and the place could have been specified under oath. Lord Bacon, in laying down the rules by which the materials for composing a history should be collected, says:
“We would have our first history written with the most religious particularity, as though upon oath as to the truth of every syllable; for it is a volume of God’s works, and, as far as the majesty of things divine can brook comparison with the lowliness of earthly objects, is, as it were, a second Scripture.”
Of this kind are the materials that are collected and edited by the evangelizing associations of the Church; and of this kind is this incident which we have recited. And it demonstrates that there is a converting power accompanying divine truth, similarly as an explosion proves that there is an explosive power in gunpowder. How much more vivid is such an evidence of Christianity as this, than many of the volumes that have been written for the laudable purpose of demonstrating the divinity of the Christian Religion. We by no means undervalue or disparage that fine body of apologetic literature, which the attacks of infidelity have called forth, from the second century to the nineteenth. But we do affirm that it all needs to be filled out, and corroborated, by the actual instances in which Divine truth and the Divine Spirit have exerted their power.
When the doctrines of the gospel evince themselves to be mighty, by showing their might, and transforming, by actually producing transformations; when the theory is verified by the stubborn fact; we have the perfection of evidence. This is what the evangelistic agencies of Christendom are doing. By their steady, quiet, oftentimes subterranean labors among the poor, the ignorant, and the vicious of teeming populations, and by the record in their annals of what God has wrought through their instrumentality, they are proving to the doubter and the skeptic that God is personally interested in his own word and watches over it; that there is a secret spiritual energy at work, of which they know nothing. God is hiding himself from the glare and tinsel of a luxurious civilization, but he is revealing himself to “the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him.”
As we look over the surface of society, we do not find the strongest evidence that God is present among his creatures, and is interested in them, in the fact that he is raining down upon them physical happiness and prosperity. He indeed comes near to man in these methods of his providence, and this providential care and goodness should lead to repentance. But the closeness of his proximity to man, is seen chiefly in the operations and methods of his grace. When he says to a soul: “Thy sin is forgiven thee,” he comes infinitely closer and nearer to his creature, than when the corn and wine are increased. Nay, how do I know that there is a God; how do I know it with living certainty; unless he touches me, and moves me to cry: “My Father, my Heavenly Father?” Carefully scrutinized, there is no argument for the Divine existence and agency in this lower world, that is equal to the very sense of God, and feeling of God, which is granted to a soul when it mourns over sin, and experiences pardoning mercy. “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee,” may be said of the Christian’s conscious faith, as contrasted with the worldling’s hearsay belief.
There is no surer evidence that the truths of the gospel are destined to prevail, than the fact that they do prevail. Only as the individual Christian, and the Church at large, feel the influence of the ocular demonstration of the power of the gospel, will they know that evangelistic labor is not the spilling of water upon the ground which cannot be gathered up again; is not the eternal drawing of water in a sieve; is not the everlasting rolling of the stone to the verge of the summit, and its everlasting falling back to the abyss.
We have thus argued the certainty that all evangelistic labor will succeed, from the nature of the truth which is proclaimed; from the fact that God himself watches over and effectually applies it; and from the actual examples of success that fill the annals of the Church. He who teaches, or is instrumental in teaching, the law and the gospel, teaches a truth that is superhuman in its origin and nature, and ineradicable from the rational mind. He who teaches, or is instrumental in teaching, the law and the gospel, teaches the only truth in which the Godhead is profoundly interested, and the only truth which He accompanies with a supernatural energy and influence. And he who teaches, or is instrumental in teaching, the law and the gospel, will see the truth accomplishing its purpose, and doing its blessed work before his very eyes.
From the subject as thus discussed, we infer the duty of great courage, and confidence, in the work of evangelizing men.
We have seen that there is a strong and settled foundation for such a feeling upon the part of the Church. God himself has laid it in promises, oaths, and blood. If, therefore, we would possess it, and feel its inspiriting influence, we must look intently and continually at the foundation. We must keep in mind, the superhuman quality of Divine truth, the profound interest of God in it, and the fact that it is making progress and conquests. When an individual Christian is cast down and dispirited by doubts respecting his good estate, we bid him look at the object of faith, and not lose sight of his Redeemer in his sight of himself.
In like manner, if the Church would be courageous and confident in this immense work of home and foreign evangelization, she must cease to dwell upon the difficulties and obstacles, and look intently and solely at the power and promise of God. Too many Christians, from year to year, contribute of their substance, and even of their labors, and put up supplications for the conversion of the world, in a half-despairing temper. It is their duty; and they perform it with something of the hireling’s spirit, who looks longingly for the going down of the sun that the unwelcome task may be over. They forget the almightiness of the Being in whose service they are employed, and whose plans they are carrying out.
When that eminent and successful missionary, Dr. Morrison, some fifty years ago, was about to sail to China, the kind-hearted but unbelieving merchant who had offered him a passage in one of his vessels, with good-humored raillery said to him: “And so you really expect to make an impression upon the Chinese Empire.” “No, sir, but I expect that God will,” was the calm and confident response. In that spirit he labored, and in that sign he conquered. He did not himself see the conversion of the Chinese race; but that sight is as certainly destined to bless the vision of the Christian Church at the time appointed by God, as Enke’s or Biela’s comet is destined to be a reappearing meteor in the heavens. If the planets are punctual, and dawn upon our vision with certainty and regularity, though we do nothing towards wheeling them in their orbits, think you that the conversion of nations and races for which the promise of God is pledged, and for which the blood of incarnate God has been spilt, will fail?
Let us take this lofty, Biblical theory of missions, and we shall be confident and courageous. Look not at the hardness of the human heart, but look at the hammer and the fire that break it in pieces. Look not at the stubborn will and the carnal mind, but look at Jehovah who says: “I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.” Look not with a despairing vision upon the hundreds of millions that are outside of Christendom; upon the tens of millions within Christendom who never open a Bible or enter the house of God; upon the crowded streets and alleys of vast cities, in themselves as horrid and hopeless as the lazar-house which Milton describes—look not at this immense mass of human sin and misery, but look to Him who died for it all, who has power to pardon and purify it all, and who commands you to scatter the good seed of the word broadcast, and trust Him for the harvest.
The same law prevails in the larger sphere of missions, that rules in the individual experience. There must be a ceasing to look at the creature, and an absorbing, empowering looking to the Creator and Redeemer. No sinner obtains peace, until he sees that the Divine clemency is greater than his sins. So long as his sins look larger than the Divine mercy, so long he must despair. Precisely so is it with efforts to save the souls of men. The Church will not be instrumental in evangelizing the globe, unless it believes that God the Holy Spirit is more mighty than man’s corruption. So long as the work looks too great to be accomplished; so long as the ignorance, vice, brutality, and apathy, of the sinful masses all around seem insuperable by any power human or divine; so long there will be no courageous and confident labor for human welfare.
Not a missionary would ever have gone upon his errand of love, had his eye been taken from God, and fixed solely upon man, and man’s hopeless condition. Think you that the apostles would have started out from the little corner of Palestine, to convert the whole Græco-Roman world to a new religion, if their vision had been confined to earth? Apart from the power and promise of God, the preaching of such a religion as Christianity, to such a population as that of paganism, is the sheerest Quixotism. It crosses all the inclinations, and condemns all the pleasures of guilty man. The preaching of the gospel finds its justification, its wisdom, and its triumph, only in the attitude and relation which the infinite and almighty God sustains to it. It is His religion, and therefore it must ultimately become a universal religion.
Go forth, then, to evangelistic labor of any and every variety, with cheerfulness, with courage, and with confidence. And when the vastness and difficulty of the work threaten to discourage, and dishearten you, look away entirely from earth and man’s misery, to God’s throne, and recall his own word which is settled in heaven: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
William G. T. Shedd, Sermons to the Spiritual Man