There were laboring in that city, besides Paul and Barnabas, three other ministers; "Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch." The Holy Ghost saw that this city, though very important for its numbers, wealth and enterprise, could not claim the labors of five ministers, while the world at large was entirely destitute of the Gospel. Therefore, on a certain occasion, when the church were worshipping before the Lord and fasting, the Holy Ghost said, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul, for the work whereunto I have called them."
The Holy Ghost did not say, "Separate me Simeon, and Lucius, and Manaen," but, "Separate me BARNABAS and SAUL" -- the spiritual fathers, and main pillars of the church. Had the church been allowed to vote, it doubtless would have spared its sons, rather than its fathers: they would have stated their fond attachment to their first instructors; would have plead the great influence of these two fathers in the church, and the irreparable injury which would be sustained by their leaving it; and would have said, If we must part with some of our teachers, take Simeon, and Lucius, and Manaen, but bereave us not of our spiritual fathers. The question however was not left to their decision. The demand is stern and solemn from the Holy Spirit, with whom there is no selfish bias, "Separate me BARNABAS and SAUL."
In reflecting on this narration, do we not come to the conclusion, that MEN OF TALENTS AND INFLUENCE ARE CALLED TO THE WORK OF MISSIONS?
If this sentiment be true, it is one of immense and practical importance; one that not only ministers, but churches also ought fully to understand. Let us, then, dwell a moment longer on the practice of early times.
The instance to which we have alluded is a striking one; it contains, distinctly and impressively uttered, the mind of the Holy Spirit. It is infallible authority that speaks, and what does it declare? The paramount claim of missions to the ablest, holiest, and most experienced men. If Antioch was required to spare her two ablest men, what may not be required of such cities as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore? And judging too from this case of Antioch, what is the mind of the Holy Ghost in regard to the twelve thousand or more evangelical ministers in the United States? Can it be his will that they should all quietly remain where they are?
Again, God in early times made known his mind on this point, not only by the express admonition of the Holy Ghost, but also by the overrulings of his Providence. Take the account of the first dispersion. The Saviour ascended from the Mount of Olives, and the disciples returned to Jerusalem. The day of Pentecost arrived, and three thousand converts were added to their number. This multitude of believers was daily and rapidly increased. Here, then, was a very large city, the capital and pride of the nation, and a place of immense resort from all the nations round about. And in this city were many thousands of Christians, who were in peculiar need of constant care and faithful instruction, and had they been divided out to the pastoral care of the twelve apostles, would have made perhaps as large churches as any twelve in the city of New-York. Jerusalem then presented to the apostles a vast amount of pastoral care, and a field of labor unequalled perhaps in religious influence, considering the world as it then was, by any city that can be named within the limits of Christendom. The apostles were inclined to remain in Jerusalem, and considering the call for labor there, it is not wonderful that they were thus inclined. They seemed for a time to have forgotten the last command of their ascended Lord, and to have chosen a work more resembling that of settled pastors. But the Saviour allowed a persecution to rage in the city, till first the great body of the church, and afterwards all the apostles, except James, were scattered abroad. So the great Jerusalem was left with but one apostle. Eleven of the twelve, who had become in a measure settled there, were driven abroad; and not from Jerusalem only, but without the limits of Palestine. Such is evidently the fact. Let every one draw from it the instruction it affords. To my mind it clashes irreconcilably with the present distribution of ministers.
Take another case. Paul had been laboring at Ephesus two whole years, and had collected a very large church in that city. This city was the emporium of Asia Minor; a place of much resort, and greatly celebrated throughout the known world. The large number of disciples there, who needed a pastor to warn them day and night with tears, and the wide door which was there opened for preaching the Gospel, presented such strong claims to the mind of Paul, as seemed likely to fix there his permanent abode. What pastor of the present day can urge stronger reasons for continuing his charge, than Paul might have urged for continuing his relation to the large church at Ephesus? For in addition to a large city and a large church, the converts had been but lately gathered from heathenism -- were but babes in Christ -- and needed constant instruction and unwearied care. Yet God was pleased to allow Demetrius to excite an uproar, and thus to sever Paul from his church and congregation, and send him abroad into Macedonia. This is another fact -- a STUBBORN FACT, which we ought to bear in mind, and weigh well. If God saw best thus to break tender ties, separate Paul from a large city and a large body of such converts as, above all others, needed special care, and to leave the important post almost destitute, can it be his will that all the pastors of the present day should stay in their places, and that none of them should go forth to the heathen? If the city had been Boston, with its thousand means of grace, the case would have been comparatively weak; but it was Ephesus, a heathen city, and depending almost entirely on the living voice of Paul, and yet this one preacher must become a missionary. Let us look at this fact, and each one for himself draw conclusions; not those that are wild and extravagant, but such as are true and sober.
We have here a commentary on the last command of Jesus. It was commented upon by the providence of God, separating the apostles from Jerusalem, Antioch, and Ephesus. It was commented upon by the direct admonition of the Holy Ghost in a particular case. It was commented upon by the practice of the apostles. Let us beware that we substitute not, for this correct commentary, any worldly-wise interpretation of our own. Let us admit it just as it comes to us from early days, fresh and unmodified, and allow it to govern our lives.
There are but few who do not admit, that the present distribution of ministers is anti-apostolic -- that many, who are now pastors, ought to have become missionaries before they were settled. And can the mere fact of being settled have produced such a vast change in the question of duty, as to place it forever at rest? If the clustering together of twelve thousand ministers within the bounds of the United States, where a thousand means of grace and improvement exist besides the voice of the living teacher, is a very different thing from going into all the world, and preaching the Gospel to every creature -- an egregious disproportion to the wants of the world -- must we stifle all emotion and all inquiry, in taking it for granted that it is now too late for change? And yet there seems to be a tacit understanding, that any other distribution than that now existing, of the present generation of ministers, is a point not to be agitated. At least, many a pastor quiets himself with the thought, that no change is to be contemplated in his particular case, for the care of a church is on his hands. Almost by common consent, pastors are excused; and missionaries are looked for from the young men and the children; and the hope of the heathen amounts to this, that some young men may be kept from imitating the example of their fathers and elder brethren, and be prevailed upon to enter the missionary work before they become pastors. For if the mere fact of being a pastor places the question at rest, young men will feel themselves relieved as soon as they enter that office.
I have known young men whose minds were goaded on the question of going to the heathen, like the conscience of a convicted sinner, till a call was presented to some important church; and then they succeeded in laying the subject at once and entirely aside. Like the pursued ostrich, who thrusts her head into the sand, and vainly imagines that she is concealed from her pursuers, so, I fear, some endeavor to elude the convictions of conscience. I put the question to your own good sense, your candor, and your pious feelings: Can the mere fact of being a pastor excuse a man from going to the heathen, when perhaps he became a pastor in violation of the Saviour's command?
It is acknowledged, that many pastors ought to have become missionaries before they were settled -- that the present amazing disproportion between settled ministers at home, and missionaries abroad, ought never to have existed. To argue so plain a case would be a waste of breath. How then can the fact of having wandered from duty excuse one from the performance of it? To-day, it is the duty of Jonah to go to Nineveh. To-morrow, he has engaged his passage to Tarshish, has paid his fare, has gone down into the sides of the ship, and is quietly at rest. Is he therefore excused? To-day, the command of Christ presses upon me the obligation to go to the heathen. To-morrow, leaving out of mind this command, which still applies in all its force, I enter into an obligation with a particular church to take upon me its pastoral care: which obligation is binding? The last, do you say? Can I then thus easily thrust aside the Saviour's last and most impressive command? Can I, by such a course, shield myself effectually from its further application? I have yet to learn, that by any change of place or circumstances we can free ourselves from the weight of the Saviour's injunction. I mean not to assert, that all who ought to have become missionaries before they were settled, ought to become so now. Some have entirely hedged up their way; and though they may have been disobedient in doing so, yet deep regret and sincere repentance is all the reparation they can now make. But those who ought to have gone to the heathen, and before whom the door is still open for going, such should still become missionaries, and on the obvious principle, that it is better to do our duty late than not to do it all. The mere plea of being a pastor is not a sufficient excuse; and it is losing too, continually, more and more of its force. It is a wonder that it should be relied upon so much as a quietus, since, in the present age, the residence of a pastor is very transient and uncertain.
Again let me say, it is a great thing, a good thing, and a rare thing, to be entirely honest in the sight of God. Let us endeavor to be so. It is to be feared, that there may be some who exempt themselves from becoming missionaries on the ground of being pastors, who are not altogether honest in their excuse. Are there not some individuals, who make it, who would manifest but little hesitation in leaving the pastoral office to take the oversight of a college, to become a professor in a theological seminary, or to take charge of some prominent religious periodical? When urged to become a missionary, the pastor pleads his attachment to his people; their affection for him, which gives him great influence; and his acquaintance with their prejudices, opinions, habits, and whole character, so as to adapt his instructions to their particular case. He mentions these, and the like considerations, and concludes very readily that he can be more useful in his present situation than in any other. But when a presidency, a professorship, or a more influential church is offered, the reasons before urged seem to lose something of their force; and through the intervention of some new light, which I shall not account for, the conclusion is formed that another situation would be more useful. The motive for a change is a good one; but it is to be remembered that this same motive, that of being more useful, could not prevail upon them to become missionaries.
Facts of this kind could be collected, I think to a considerable extent; and they lead me, however unwilling, to suspect that, in some cases, the honest reason why ministers do not become missionaries is not that they are pastors, but something quite different.
Another fact, too, makes me suspicious that there is some lack of entire honesty. A pastor says he cannot become a missionary, for he has the care of a church. In a few months, for some cause or other, he is dismissed from his church and people. What does he do? become a missionary? I have one in my eye who was a pastor of a church in a large city. He told me, that nothing but his relation as pastor in that city could keep him a moment from the missionary work. Soon after, he was dismissed from his church and people; and think you he became a missionary? You would betray a very limited knowledge of human nature to think so.
"But," says one, "I am opposed to fickleness and change." Ah! indeed; does it betray fickleness to leave a church to become a missionary? Did God favor fickleness and change when he prevented the permanent location of the apostles in Palestine, by a voice from heaven, and by violent persecutions? Did the Saviour favor fickleness in his last command? When a presidency, a professorship, or a more prominent and influential church is offered you, then speak of fickleness -- the excuse may possibly be in place; but never, never in place, while untold millions of our race are dying for lack of vision, and our commission reads, "GO YE INTO ALL THE WORLD, AND PREACH THE GOSPEL TO EVERY CREATURE."
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One pastor excuses himself, by saying, "The attachment between me and my people is very dear, and this attachment gives me great influence with them." I reply, Was not the attachment very dear between the apostles and the disciples at Jerusalem, and also between Paul and the converts at Antioch, and at Ephesus? What language of affection and solicitude can equal that of Paul for his converts? He calls them his "joy and crown" -- the "little children for whom he travails in birth, till Christ be formed in them." He says to them, "I live, if ye stand fast in the Lord."
And had not the apostles great influence in the churches in which they labored? Had not Paul and Barnabas great influence in the church at Antioch? Did not the church love and respect them, and hang in breathless silence upon their lips, and look upon their departure as an irreparable loss? Yet, though entwined into the hearts of the people, and possessing every advantage to instruct them which intimate acquaintance and unbounded influence could give, the Holy Ghost, notwithstanding, said, "Separate me BARNABAS and SAUL."
Attachment is your plea; but the spirit of the Gospel is a spirit of self-denial, and requires us not only to forsake church and people, but also father and mother, brother and sister, son and daughter, and to hold our own lives loosely. Those persons to whom attachment is strongest, and who can't be spared on that account, are the best fitted for missions.
You plead the influence which you possess with your church and people. This, instead of being a reason for remaining at home, is a powerful argument for going abroad. In that very influence you possess an advantage and qualification for the missionary work, which very few missionaries enjoy. It is greatly to be lamented that the church has but little acquaintance with her missionaries. It was not so in primitive times. On this account there is room for the question to arise, Whether there ought not to be less of the home minister for life, and the exile for life; a narrower gulf between the two, and more passing and repassing, as the apostles were wont to do; a breaking up of caste, grade and condition among ministers, as regards various fields -- a more literal compliance with the precept of "going into all the world, and preaching the Gospel to every creature." Be this however as it may -- for there is much that can be said on either side of the question -- it is most certainly true, that the pastor possesses one very great advantage: that by going to the heathen he can wake up, in one church at least, the spirit of doing good -- the enterprising and benevolent spirit of Christ and his apostles. He may take with him, as helpers, some of its most intelligent and active members, and call forth the contributions and enlist the prayers of those who may remain.
It seems, that nothing less than such means as the separation of pastors for the work of missions, can avail to awake the slumbering churches, and to lead them to begin in earnest to seek the salvation of the heathen; to feel that the work presses upon them individually, and demands all their energies and their personal enlistment. For it is a sober and humiliating fact, as I have had some opportunity of judging, that there are few churches comparatively, in our land, who seem to have drunk deeply into the missionary spirit. There is need, therefore, of a movement on the part of pastors, to arouse the churches from their guilty slumbers.
A pastor possesses much influence with his church and congregation. The Lord then has given him five talents, and he can easily make them ten: by going abroad he can benefit his church perhaps as much as by remaining their pastor, and, at the same time, be the instrument of saving many heathen souls. "There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth;" and "he that watereth shall be watered also himself." God's blessing distils upon the liberal soul, and the liberal church. The performance of duty is attended with the Saviour's smiles and a rich reward. Who does not see, that a pastor could in no way so effectually awaken in his church a spirit of benevolent feeling and action, as by exhibiting it in his own person; by rising up, and going forth to the heathen, urging a part of his flock to accompany him, and the rest to sustain him in the field? Who doubts, that by such a course he would do more to arouse the pure and active religion of Jesus Christ and his apostles, than he could possibly do in any other way; that he would give an impulse to his church in favor of primitive piety and practice, that should add vastly to its strength, its glory and its numbers, and be felt in all time to come. Let not the pastor, then, excuse himself from the missionary work, because he has acquired influence in his church and congregation; for that very fact is a powerful argument for going abroad.
For the same reason, no one can excuse himself because he fills a post of vast importance. He is the pastor of an influential church, a president of a college, a professor in a theological seminary, the editor of a religious paper of immense circulation, or the secretary of some society: his station is one of vast responsibility, and he imagines that he is therefore excused from becoming a missionary. But was not Jerusalem an important place? more prominent, compared with other cities of that time, than any city in the United States? And yet all the apostles, except one, were required not only to leave that city, but to go without the limits of Palestine. Was not Antioch as important as Boston or Philadelphia? Yet Paul and Barnabas were not suffered to remain there.
Besides, is not the work of a missionary a difficult, important, and responsible work? The Holy Spirit thought so in apostolic times. When a man was needed to preach to Cornelius and his household, a man of no less ability and influence than Peter was chosen. When a man was called to go to Antioch, Barnabas was sent, a man of great piety and influence. And when two of the five preachers at Antioch were called to go to the heathen, the Holy Ghost did not choose Simeon, or Lucius, or Manaen, but said, "Separate me BARNABAS and SAUL;" the men of the greatest ability, experience, piety and wisdom. Thus the Holy Spirit seemed to declare that the work of a missionary required greater talents, more mature wisdom, and deeper piety, than the work of a pastor in the largest and most influential churches.
And is not this doctrine, while it accords with the instructions of the Holy Ghost and the practice of primitive times, also a dictate of common sense? Would you choose weak men to penetrate into the very midst of the enemy, and to grapple with the Anaks of the land, and keep those who are strong in a garrison at home? Would you select indifferent statesmen to settle the affairs of revolutionary France, or to reduce to order the chaotic mass of the South American states; and employ the able, the wise and talented, in governing a country already quiet and peaceful? Did it require less wisdom to lay the foundation and form the constitution of our good government, than it requires to manage the state on principles already established? Does it require less skill to draft the plan of a capitol, than to work at the building when the plan is mature? Does it require less wisdom to govern a camp in a state of mutiny, than when in subjection and at peace? Look, then, at the work of missions. Does it require less talent to deal with minds clouded by ignorance, perverted by superstition, and barred by arrogance, bigotry, and pride, than to instruct the unbiassed, the willing, and intelligent? Does it require less wisdom to tear up the foundations of heathen society, and lay it anew on the principles of the Gospel -- to change society morally, religiously, and socially, than to preserve in a good condition a people already intelligent, industrious, and Christian? Surely, if talent is needed anywhere in the kingdom of Christ, it is in the missionary work. That minister, whose talents and piety make him so useful at home that he cannot be spared, that is the minister who is needed abroad. The foreign field calls for no laborers who can be conveniently spared.
Then, is the church of a pastor wealthy and influential? It is the very church that needs to be aroused by his leaving it. Or is he connected with a literary, or theological institution? Some thus connected are needed to go, to produce the best impression on the young men who are in training. The more important and influential then one's place is, the more like a rushing flood do reasons crowd upon him to arise and go.
It is very common for men to excuse themselves from the work of missions, on the ground, that they are somewhat advanced in years. There is weight in this excuse. That person would exhibit the want of a proper balance of mind, who should urge all indiscriminately, whatever their age and however circumstanced in life, to go forth to the heathen. But still the excuse of age ought to be looked at cautiously.
Age implies experience, authority, dignity, and wisdom -- the very qualities most wanted in the difficult work of missions. The work of tearing up and laying anew the foundations of society, moral, religious, and social, is a task that ought by no means to be committed to the young and inexperienced. It is preposterous to commit altogether to novices in the ministry a work so new, so complicated, so beset with difficulties, on the right hand and on the left, and so momentous, too, in its responsibilities. Can Satan be driven so easily from his own territory, that none but raw troops are needed for the contest? Can the broad and deep intrenchments of Paganism, Mohammedism, and Romanism be so easily taken, as not to need men of age, experience and skill, to direct the assault? Can the snares in which the heathen are held; which are laid with all the subtlety of the arch-fiend, be so easily divested of their specious character, and traced into their thousand windings, as not to require the wisdom and experience of age? A minister has age: he has then one great qualification for the work. "Paul the aged" had none too much experience, dignity and wisdom, for the work of a missionary to heathen lands.
But age, it is said, is a great barrier in acquiring a foreign language. There is force in this remark; but let us be cautious, that we do not trust too much to it. A great amount of labor may be performed on heathen ground without a knowledge of the language. Much can be done in the English language, and much, too, can be done through interpreters. All that David Brainerd accomplished was in this way.
But how certain is it, that persons somewhat advanced cannot acquire a foreign language? This plea is not peculiar to those who have been some time in the ministry. No excuse is more frequently offered, and with more appearance of honesty, even in the college and the theological seminary. It is difficult to place the mark of age where this excuse may be properly offered, and where it may not. Shall we place it at thirty-five? Some missionaries now in the field entered on the work at that age, and acquired the language without much difficulty. It may be remarked, too, that men of traffic abroad, from youth to gray hairs, usually learn so much of a foreign language as to answer their purpose. Let us beware, then, how much we depend on the excuse of age; and be cautious, too, how far up the scale of years we place the mark.
Another excuse which has some weight is this: "I must remain at home to take care of my aged parents." So said one to Christ: "Lord, I will follow thee, but suffer me first to go and bury my father." Jesus answered, "Let the dead bury their dead, but go thou and preach the Gospel." I leave to the reader to determine the precise meaning and force of this reply of our Saviour. This much it certainly means, that some may excuse themselves from preaching to take care of their parents, when the excuse is not valid. I will not say, that the excuse is not sufficient in some cases; but I am inclined to think that such cases are rare. A parent must be very dependent upon a son, to be liable to such inconvenience and suffering from his absence, as can reasonably weigh in the balance against the claims of the hundreds of millions of dying heathen.
But the excuse which seems to be the most valid, is this: "My going to the heathen is out of the question, for I have a family of children." This is indeed a tender point. God has given me some experience on this subject, and I know how to appreciate the excuse. But the Saviour says, "He that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me." This declaration means nothing, unless it requires us to make great sacrifices in regard to our children. So far as we can at present see, the world cannot be converted without great self-denial on this point. Precisely what sacrifices are to be made in regard to children, is a question which is not, as yet, fully determined.
But let us look at the excuse. If a minister may stay at home because he has children, may not the missionary who has children return home? A pastor has one child, and cannot go. Then may not the missionary who has one child, come back? A pastor has six children, and cannot go. Many missionaries have six children, shall not they return? The mere circumstance of being already abroad cannot have much weight; and the sacrifice of a voyage in such a question, and among a multitude of other weighty reasons, is scarcely worth being named. If children then are an excuse, let missionaries return. No, you say; missionaries who have children must not return on that account. What then shall they do with their children? Keep them, and train them up to be helpers in the work? Let pastors then take their children into the field, and train them up for that purpose. You certainly have hearts too noble to impose a burden on the shoulders of others which you would not bear yourselves. Your children would have the advantage of the children of missionaries, having been thus far trained in a Christian land. As to future advantages of education, they will have the same with the children now abroad. You certainly cannot complain of equality.
But, you say, let missionaries send their children home. Then let pastors leave their children at home and go abroad. Ah, you say, pastors cannot endure the thought; it would be a shock to their parental feelings that they cannot sustain. But, I ask, have missionaries no feelings? have their hearts become hard, like blocks of wood and pieces of rock? Does love to Christ, and compassion for the heathen, tend to make men and women obtuse in their feelings, so that a father or mother on heathen ground does not feel as intensely for the present and eternal welfare of a child, as a parent who has never gone to the heathen? Ah! had you seen what my eyes have witnessed, facts then should speak and I would be silent. Missionaries, indeed, are trained to cast their care upon God; their feelings are chastened and disciplined, but at the same time deep and intense. To a thousand dangers, toils and hardships, they may be inured; but when the separation of children is thought of, they show full well that they are no proof against an agony of feeling. Certainly, then, you will not plead for exemption. You would not place upon others this burden, and pull away your own shoulders from it. You have souls too generous and benevolent to do that. You cannot find it in your hearts to offer to the lips of others a cup more bitter than you would drink yourselves. You can choose guardians for your children far better than the missionaries can who are abroad, and your children shall have the same provision for their support and education as theirs have.
We have glanced at some excuses. Many others there are in this excuse-making age. Be entreated to look at them with the command of Christ, a sinking world and a coming judgment, in your eye, and as far as they have weight and no farther be influenced by them. Where exemption cannot honestly be pleaded, the command in all its force is binding.
That some pastors of influence and talent should become missionaries, seems necessary; for how otherwise can the means be raised to sustain missions abroad, and to send forth young men who may offer themselves? It is well known, that operations abroad have been and are still exceedingly crippled. It is well known, too, that quite a company of young men have at different times been waiting, for want of requisite funds to send them forth to the heathen.
Now this is the state of things, not because there is not money enough in the hands of Christians -- no one imagines that such is the fact -- but because Christians, as a body, are not aroused to duty. What means shall be taken to arouse them? I, for one, am inclined to think that there would be hope, if some influential and prominent pastors would enter the missionary work. In such a case, I should indeed have strong hope that the impulse, falling in with the spirit of primitive practice and the will of the Holy Ghost, would be such as to bring forth the funds needed to sustain the operations now begun, send forth waiting young men, and carry themselves also into the field. I feel quite confident, that the measure would soon clear the seaboard of all who might be detained, and place their joyful feet on foreign soil.
The great body of professed Christians are becoming luxurious in their modes of life. One cannot go through the churches, after the absence of several years, without being forcibly impressed with this fact. They press forward after wealth, and profess to be accumulating it for Christ; but in the end, spend it on themselves and on their children. Now what, under God, shall break up this covetousness, and luxurious manner of life? What shall bring them back to the pure and unadulterated principles of the Gospel -- to live, labor, and die for Christ, as did the primitive disciples? Let pastors, like the apostles, go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. There is reason to hope that the church members would likewise imbibe the right spirit, and act on right principles. Then we should hear no more of schools disbanded and missionaries detained, but troops of heralds would be carrying out the news of salvation and sending back tidings of success. There is much philosophical and Bible truth in the proverb, "Like people like priest." O, what responsibility rests on the ministers of Christ!
Again, if all settled ministers of talent and influence remain at home, how can such a number of missionaries be secured as seem needed for the world's conversion? If many of those already in the sacred office do not go, it is absolutely certain, that the present generation of heathen must die without the Gospel. The angel of death continues hovering over the dying nations, mowing down his twenty millions a year; and before ministers can be raised up from among the youth and children, will be drawing a stroke at the last man of all that are now heathen. The present generation of ministers must preach the Gospel to the present generation of mankind. It will be the duty of the next generation of ministers to preach to the inhabitants that shall be then on the globe. To look for missionaries from among the young alone, is making no provision for the present generation of heathen. If the heathen are to be left till missionaries can be trained up, they are to be left -- the soul shudders at the thought -- till they shall be in hell! By making this postponement, the churches, in effect, though certainly without intending it, sign the death warrant of a great portion of the present six hundred millions of perishing heathen; relinquish all effort for this vast multitude, and only dream of saving the next generation -- of whom it would be a mercy never to be born, unless there shall be more hope of their salvation than can be seen at present -- dream, I say, of saving the next generation; for to think much of raising up the young to be missionaries, without going ourselves, is little better than dreaming.
To induce young men, to any great extent, to become missionaries, when their fathers and elder brethren do not, is hopeless. Precept must become more powerful than example, before such a result can take place. How can you so blindfold the young, stop their ears, and wall them off from surrounding influences, as to expect such a result? If their eyes are left open, what do they see? They see their fathers and elder brethren settled at home, and some of them in quiet, comfort and honor. If their ears are left open, what do they hear? They hear various excuses for remaining at home, and among others, the specious idea of training up children to be missionaries. And what will they do? They will dream of training your grandchildren for missions, and your grandchildren dream of training the next generation, and so on, as the sixty generations past have done, from the time of the Saviour down. But the fire of God's Spirit shall burn up this chaff. The world shall not be cheated out of its millenium. The judgment trumpet shall not sound before the arrival of the latter day glory.
To become a missionary, in the present state of things, is sailing against wind and tide; so that those who find their way to the heathen, compared with the number who ought to go, are very few indeed. To urge a large number into the field is hopeless. Bonaparte might as well have urged his soldiers over the Alps without leading them. We cannot expect the nature of things to change, and precept to become more powerful than example. A portion of the more talented of the settled ministry must lead the way. Then there shall be found a resuscitating principle; our eyes shall beam with joy, and we shall fondly cherish a rational hope of the world's renovation.
Again, many pastors should become missionaries, for all things await their personal enlistment in the service. God, in his providence, is causing a state of preparation in the world which calls for some mighty movement on the part of the church. A door is opened into almost every nation on the earth, and ships are ready to carry us to almost every port. Now is the time for a great effort. All the elements are ready for action, and need only to be brought to bear on the glorious cause of the world's conversion. To effect this, there must be a high stand of prayerful enterprise on the part of the present generation of ministers. The Lord has brought us to the ministry for such a time as this; and surely my brethren will not prove themselves unworthy of so vast a responsibility, but come up joyfully to the work, and reap the harvest of the world.
And here let me say, that the millions of souls already lost are immense; and it would be awfully presumptuous in Christians to neglect the millions and hundreds of millions of the present generation. Century after century has rolled along, ingulfing generation after generation, till one would think that Satan himself would be satisfied with the enormous havoc. Eighteen centuries have passed away, and sixty generations, five hundred millions each -- thirty billions of immortal souls left to perish since Christ gave command to evangelize them. Are not thirty billions enough? Shall we, by any guilty neglect, suffer the present generation, six hundred millions more, to be added? O, let the billions of souls already lost suffice. O, let us arise, and go and preach the Gospel to the nations, that the generations that remain between this and the judgment may be saved.
Let me suggest, too, that nothing would so readily produce union among ministers at home, as to divert all their powers of body and mind into some all-absorbing and self-denying enterprise. Now, what angel of heaven has not wept over the contentions and jealousies that cloud the glory of the American churches. How has the heart of Jesus bled over the dissensions and strife of his own ministers! And is there no remedy? Let pastors become so engrossed in fulfilling their commission as to obey its literal import, and arise and go; and I mistake much, if the movement would not make a material impression on their contentions and jealousies. They would feel that they were doing a great work, and could not come down. For contention they would find neither time nor inclination. It would be difficult to state, in a foreign tongue, their metaphysical distinctions, so as to make a difference. Higher and nobler objects would engross the soul. Be entreated to try this course. Then the recording angel shall not be compelled, with aching heart and streaming eyes, to inscribe "ICHABOD" on our American Zion; but, with willing soul and ready hands, shall write in fairer lines, "BEAUTIFUL FOR SITUATION, THE JOY OF THE WHOLE EARTH."
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But it is often said, "I never felt it to be my duty to go to the heathen: I never had any such impression."
No such impression! Did then the command of our ascended Lord, his last command, delivered under the most solemn circumstances, make no impression upon you? Did the temporal and eternal miseries of six hundred millions of your fellow men make no impression upon you? Did their groans and sighs, which came over the waters like the voice of seven thunders, peal after peal, make no impression upon you? And could you remain at home with comfort and peace of mind, with the weeping and wailing of millions of dying souls in your ears, backed up with the command of Christ to go and seek their salvation? While Jesus plead, "Lo, I died for them, go, preach my Gospel to them, that they may live;" could you remain unimpressed and unmoved? And have all these considerations, and a hundred more, been urged upon you for years, and yet failed to make an impression? Alas! of what is your heart made, that it does not feel? Look for no supernatural impression. Missionaries have none. There is no need of any. He that can live and not be impressed, may well tremble for his own salvation. It appears that you are easily impressed that it is your duty to remain at home. The motives, I fear, that come before your mind are well suited to make an impression. You quickly perceive a call, when country, home, friends, the endearments of society, and the like considerations crowd upon your mind. O, dear brethren, let us be entirely honest, as we expect soon to meet the Saviour and the world of perishing souls for whom he died.
Another similar excuse is often made: "Did I possess the requisite attainments in holiness, I should delight to go abroad. But as the case is, I cannot become a missionary: I have not piety enough."
Not piety enough! Then be entreated to become more pious without delay. As you value the souls of dying men, defer not to become more holy. Through your want of piety the heathen may be left to perish. But what is holiness? Is it not obedience to the commands of Christ? Obey, then, his last command: that will be becoming more holy. Go forth to the heathen from love to Christ: that will be becoming more pious. "NOT PIETY ENOUGH!" Will you presume to offer that excuse to the Lord Jesus, when you shall stand before him to render account for the blood of the heathen? And when you shall see multitudes of the heathen sinking into hell, whom, under the blessing of the Spirit, you might have saved; and hear their weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth; will it ease your mind, and quiet your conscience, that you had not piety enough to go and make known to them the way of life? This is a solemn subject. Let us try, dear brethren, to look at it as we ought.
Allied to this excuse is the following: "I have never thought myself qualified for the work of missions. It is a work which in my view requires rare endowments. Did I possess the requisite qualifications, I should delight to engage in so glorious a work."
To this excuse I would say, There is room in the wide field of missions for every grade and variety of talent. Such is the universal testimony of those who have gone forth. Neither could it be otherwise in so various and vast a work as that of converting all nations, many of whom need to be instructed in the simplest arts of civilized life, and in the very alphabet of knowledge. But the excuse you render is entirely at variance with the facts in the case. If the work of missions be deemed worthy of the greatest talents, why is it that a large number do not go forth from among the more prominent and influential in the sacred office? The plea of disqualification is a popular one. There is in it much appearance of humility and self-depreciation. But facts testify, that many who plead their want of talent do not hesitate, if invited, to take upon them the care of a college, or of a large and opulent church. If the conduct of men is to be regarded as a just interpreter of their sentiments, then the great body of the Christian ministry, instead of regarding themselves unfit for the work of missions, consider themselves too well qualified to enter it. They really think, that those of inferior qualifications will do for missions; while those of superior minds and brilliant talents must be reserved for important stations at home.
It is said again, "All cannot go abroad."
I reply, Do not use the word "all" till there shall be some need of it. There is no danger yet that the home company will be comparatively too small.
There is another excuse which is worthy of more notice. One says, "My own country claims my first attention. It presents a field of vast extent, and demands a vast amount of labor. Its schools, colleges and seminaries, must be sustained. Its religious periodicals must be edited. The churches must be watched over, and brought up to a higher standard of piety. Revivals must be promoted. But passing by these claims for labor, look at the wide-spreading desolations of the West, where ignorance, infidelity, and Romanism prevail, and threaten, at no very future day, to be the overthrow of our government -- the extinguishment of our dearly-bought and precious inheritance. All our exertions must be put forth to save our country; for the progress of light and knowledge throughout the world depends on its existence. The overthrow of our government would put back the dial of the moral world ten centuries. Our own nation lost, and what would become of the heathen? when would the millenium arrive? Our present attention must be directed to the salvation of our own country, and our missionary exertions must be concentrated on the West."
The excuse does not stop here; but a citizen from Great Britain would say, "I too must speak in behalf of my country -- a country whose possessions encircle the globe. The existence and religious prosperity of a nation whose commerce is so great, and whose dominions embrace a large portion of the heathen world, cannot but be intimately connected with the universal prevalence of light and peace. It is of the first importance, that the heart of such a nation should beat with a healthy pulse; that much effort should be made to promote a high standard of vital godliness in the universities and churches at home. But more than this, look at the vast body of laboring men in England and Ireland, who are living in ignorance and in sin. They call loudly for teachers and for preachers of the Gospel, and ought to receive, for the present at least, all we can educate and all we can support."
In reply to this excuse I would first say, Let us look a moment at the conclusion to which we are reduced. "The United States cannot furnish missionaries, for the present at least; far less can Great Britain; and still less the Continent of Europe." The inevitable conclusion is, that the present generation of heathen must be left to perish. Six hundred millions of our race must be deliberately relinquished to endure the agonies of eternal death. But what is the plea that so readily leaves the millions of ignorant heathen to hopelessness and despair? "We must go to the West." "We must direct our efforts to the laboring class of England and Ireland." Then, I say, be consistent, and actually do what you profess. As yet, how many of the learned, the eloquent and influential of the ministry, have become missionaries at the West? Some have gone to the West, to be presidents of colleges there; but how many have gone to engage in the more appropriate duties of the missionary? And in Great Britain, how many have left their professorships in the universities, and their wealthy churches, to labor as missionaries among the ignorant class of society in England and Ireland? O! the West, and the ignorant class in England and Ireland, would lift up their hearts to God in gratitude if you would go forth to the heathen: for the reflex influence of such a course would scatter among them the means of grace as thick as the stars of heaven, and as bright as the sun in his glory. I could almost assert, from personal observation, that every missionary to the heathen sends ten to the West. If men are pressed to go to China, they cannot stop short of the West. Besides, have you forgotten the nature of benevolence? If you wish to strengthen it, to increase it and expand it, so as to be the means of saving the United States, and of saving Great Britain, then bring it into exercise. Let the church impart liberally of what she has, both of men and money. She will have the more left, paradoxical as the assertion may at first seem. Let the principle of benevolence be aroused in the churches, and it is literally inexhaustible in its resources, both of money and of men; for the more it exhausts the more it still possesses. This is not mere missionary philosophy, but Bible doctrine; and so plainly inculcated, that he that doubts it is a novice in the Scriptures, and a babe in the school of Christ. There is a backwardness, an apathy and deadness in the ministry, and in the churches; and it is THEREFORE that infidelity and Romanism prevail at the West, and that the ignorant class in England and Ireland remain in wretchedness. The great thing needed is that the spirit of benevolence, the spirit of Christ, or in other words true religion, be aroused in the churches. And in no way can you so effectually do it as by giving yourself to the missionary work. God's wisdom is very much at variance with the cold, calculating, short-sighted and sin-blinded wisdom of man. Let us follow heavenly wisdom, as laid down in the Bible: "GIVE," "GO," and thereby save ourselves, our country, and the world. That nation that obeys God shall prosper. Let us try the Bible philosophy of saving the United States and Great Britain, BY OBEYING GOD -- by going forth and teaching all nations.