He that goes forth and weeps, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
Some think the mission cause is less popular now than formerly. This opinion may be true to some extent. There may not now be the excitement which, we are told, prevailed at first. For this several reasons may be assigned. The novelty has passed away. Other institutions have sprung up to divide public interest. But the chief reason no doubt is, that experience is bringing out the real nature of the work undertaken as it was never brought out before. Does not very much of the disappointment and complaint which we sometimes hear expressed at the result of mission work arise from wrong expectations?
I. As to THE SOIL, what a contrast this presents to that at home.
1. Look at its extent. Those who know nature and mankind only in small countries like our own cannot conceive the proportions they assume in the world's great continents. There is not a greater difference between the hills which we call mountains, and the streams which we dignify as rivers, and those elsewhere, than there is between humanity here and humanity there. It may be thought at least the moral greatness is with us. As to superior civilization, much of this is prejudice, which a wider acquaintance with the world dissipates. I confess that the only indisputable point of superiority in us, as far as I know, is in the possession of a pure and true religion. Take this away, and we should be no better than the rest. But as to material size and numbers, we are comparatively insignificant. Place a man on a peak of the Alps or Himalayas, and what an overwhelming astonishment comes over him. A like feeling is experienced by one who finds himself moving among the world's great populations. In this country we have thirty millions to deal with — thirty millions to save, one by one. But you might divide China alone into twelve such countries, with twelve times thirty millions. You might cut up India into six such countries, with six times thirty millions. The mind is lost even amid such numbers; but what would it be in measuring entire continents? The number of mission-converts is often compared with the total population of the world. But it would be fairer to make the comparison with the number actually brought under Christian influence. Missions, though universal in spirit and aim, are not so in fact. Compare the ground gained with that actually attempted, and the disproportion will appear less.
2. Contrast, again, the nature of the two fields. In this respect the conditions are as opposite as they can be. At home Christian agencies are more nearly adequate to the work to be done. It is true there is much religious destitution. But what sort of destitution? Not so much destitution of ministers and sanctuaries as of the religion which would make more ministers and sanctuaries necessary. Must there not be more religious success and growth before more of these outward products of religion will be seen? But Christian churches are not all. Our whole country is professedly Christian, and has been a thousand years. A thousand years of history are in our favour. Our doctrines are the doctrines generally received. Besides a powerful Christian literature, the general literature of our country is Christian in spirit. The stamp of the Bible is on our national character. All this is an incalculable gain to the cause of truth. The way of the preacher is made easy. Directly you go into a heathen country, this state of things is reversed. When we speak of the wickedness and spiritual apathy of heathen lands, we may seem to mention nothing special. Are these unknown at home? Bad as the state of morality may be here, we assure you there is worse than your worst. Heathenism makes the same sins blacker. If there is so much wickedness where so many checks are at work, .what must there be where most of these checks are unknown, and religion herself becomes the patron of vice? Converse with the priests, read the lives of the deities, observe the images of impurity and cruelty — "lust hard by hate" — which surround you in worship. As to the practical effects of idolatry, its very nature is degrading. In judging of mission work, then, many forget that abroad we meet with all the old hindrances, and others still more formidable.
II. Let us look also at THE SOWERS. In this respect we may think there is no room for difference. The same agencies will suit either field. Let us see. What is the state of things at home? First, the language is the preacher's own. He has not to plunge into the difficulties of a new tongue and literature. Again, the machinery is provided to his hand. In both respects how different abroad! In many parts a difficult language, imposing long and hard toil, blocks the very threshold. The labourer may be full of zeal. His soul, like Paul's, may be stirred by what he sees. But he is dumb. For long he is a child learning to speak. Take the other point. Suppose you have a system of agencies formed and at work. Many could most efficiently keep it going who would not be equal to originating it. It is evident that on both grounds the mission-field requires special gifts — mental adaptation, a spirit of enterprise, skill to create and organize. There must be these special qualifications-for the special work which lies before us in other lands. Even the best labourers must often lament their insufficiency. They often feel the terrible disadvantage at which they labour. Every seed as it falls into the earth is wet with tears wrung from earnest, anxious souls. "The sun goes down on a life of faithful toil, and little impression is made on the waste, few ears are gathered. What a contrast between the present beginnings and future destiny of the Gospel! The Church goes forth weeping; she returns with sheaves rejoicing. Now wrong has the majority; the triumph seems to be with error; faith struggles for mastery in one place, for existence in another. All this will be reversed. Instead of sowers weeping, you will hear shouts of reapers rejoicing — shouts which ring louder and sweeter for the years of working and waiting which have gone before. Instead of a few bright patches of fruitfulness, enough to keep faith alive, the world's wide field shall stand thick with sheaves — sheaves of souls dearly ransomed and hardly won. Meanwhile what is our duty? To sow on. Let not weeping hinder sowing. Sow money, sow sympathy and prayer, sow lives of earnest work for Christ.
(J. S. Banks.)
Parallel VersesKJV: He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.