Now, the congregation, as an organised Christian society, has a twofold work to perform. The first is within itself, and includes whatever is done by the members of the congregation for their mutual good; the second is beyond itself, and includes the good done by the whole body to the world "without."
It is thus with the living body of the Church as with the dead machinery of a steam-engine, which first feeds itself with coals and water, and then turns the wheels of the whole factory.
The inner and outer work of the congregation as a body may be briefly indicated in a few sentences, though volumes might be profitably filled with its details.
1. The inner work is accomplished within the soul of each member through the preaching and reading of the Word of God, public prayer, and partaking of the sacrament. By these means chiefly comes that "kingdom of God which is within us," and is "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost," Every other work will be done efficiently by the whole body just as this inner work begins and progresses among its individual members. But the fellowship and mutual aid of the members of the Church in "considering one another, and provoking to love and good works," and in contributing their share of God's gifts and grace bestowed upon themselves for the comfort and edification of their brethren, also belongs to the inner work of the Church. This will express itself and be strengthened by meetings for social prayer and Christian intercourse, and by those works and labours of love for which the congregation itself has the first claim. These labours of love include the religious instruction of its young members the baptized children; the visitation of sick; its support of the poor and destitute brethren. In these and other forms of well-being and well-doing which will suggest themselves, abundant scope will, in most cases, be afforded for exercising the energies, and calling forth the love of the members of the congregation within the limits of their own society.
2. The work external to itself to be performed by the congregation, as a body, consists generally in its "doing good unto all as God giveth it an opportunity." The home mission within the district or city in which it is placed will engage its first efforts; and after that, or along with that, the aiding by its contributions and prayers to evangelise the world.
But the point which I would specially insist upon in this paper is, the vast importance of developing, combining, and directing the gifts of all the members of the congregation for accomplishing both its inner and outer work.
If we read the apostolic epistles, (see I Cor. xii. 14-27,) the impression which, as I have already said, they give us of a Christian congregation is that of a body so organised as that each and every member is made useful to the whole body, and the particular gift which God bestows upon the weakest and most insignificant (for "He hath set the members in the body as it hath pleased Him") is so appreciated and applied, that "the head" or "the eye"—the most intelligent or most discerning—cannot say to that weak member, "I have no need of thee".
It may be alleged that the congregations of the primitive Church are not intended to be models in their peculiar organisation for modern times. But is not the primitive Church system of union and mutual co-operation essential to the very idea of a Christian society? And what authority is there for its assembling together to hear sermons, to pray, or to partake of the sacraments, which is not equally binding for its performing of all the other duties and enjoying all the other privileges described by the apostles as pertaining to church-members?
Now, in most cases, everything is left to the minister or his official assistants. The calculation is never soberly made as to his bodily or mental powers to do all which is expected of him. There is an immense faith in both. It is assumed that he, and not the congregation, is the body; that he alone, therefore, possesses the eye, the tongue, the ear, and the hand;—and some ministers seem so pleased with their elevated position as to be unwilling that any should share it with them. But when the minister is alive to the responsibility of his position, and when he is so fortunate as to have in his congregation men and women who share his convictions, and are willing to share the labour which these entail, even then there is still the tendency on the part of the great bulk of the members to have their work done by proxy. They have no objection that visiting, teaching, almsgiving, and the like, should be done by "the committee,"—while the committee, perhaps, are inclined, in their turn, to leave it to Mr A., or Miss B., who are active members of it. It is true we must labour, in the meantime, with whatever instrumentality God furnishes, and make the most of it, but we must not cease to aim at realising the noble end of making each member, according to his gifts and abilities, manifest the spirit of Him whose saying it was,—"It is more blessed to give than to receive!" No doubt, much wisdom is required upon the part of office-bearers to whom the government of the congregation is intrusted, to discern gifts, and to apply them. But the "one thing" chiefly needed is "love in the Spirit!" It is for this we should chiefly labour; for, let love to Jesus be once kindled by the Spirit of God through faith in His love to us, and love, which unites us to Him, will unite us to one another.
But admitting all we have said to be true regarding the congregations of the primitive Church, and acknowledging, moreover, that it would be highly desirable could such Christian congregations reappear in our day, it may be reasonably questioned whether this is possible in the present state of society, or whether any attempt to realise it is not a pious imagination, which would lead to extravagances and fanatical disorders such as have often characterised minor sects, who, in seeking to rise up as perfect churches, have sunk down into perfect nuisances? It may be said, "Only look at the elements you have to work upon! Deal with the actual flesh-and-blood men and women who necessarily form the bulk of our congregations, and not with ideal persons. Look at this farmer or shopkeeper—that servant or master; enter the houses of those hearers or parishioners in town or country, from the labourer to the proprietor;—is there the intelligence, the heart, the principle, the common sense—any one element which could unite those members into a body for any high or noble end? They provoke each other to love and good works, or help to convert the world! Would it were so! but it is impracticable."
Such thoughts we have ourselves experienced with feelings of despair. But there are others that make us hope that Christian congregations throughout our land may yet rise out of their ashes, living bodies imbued with life and love from their living and loving Head.
Are not all the difficulties, for example, connected with the proper organisation of the congregation those only that pertain to the existence of a living Christianity among its members? Given, that church-members individually were what they profess to be—"believers"—"disciples"—"brethren"—would they not, as a necessary result of this character, act collectively, as we suppose a Christian congregation ought to act? And, therefore, when we assume that it is vain to think of congregations becoming, as a whole, and in spite of many exceptions, living bodies of Christians—men united for mutual good and for the good of the world—do we not thereby assume that it is vain to expect professing Christians to become "constrained by the love of Christ not to live to themselves, but to Him who died for them and rose again?" Must we confess it to be utterly hopeless to look for such manifestations now of the power of the Spirit as will produce, in our cities and parishes, such congregations, ay, and far better ones, as once existed in Jerusalem, Ephesus, or Philippi?
There is another thought which encourages us, and makes us hope that these same "elements we have to work upon," and which appear to make our congregations incapable of accomplishing the high and holy destinies in the world to which we think they are called. It is this: that just as there are in nature hidden forces—in a quiet and apparently harmless cask of gunpowder, or electric battery, for instance—which lie concealed until the right spark calls forth their latent power into action, so there are, in many more individuals than we suspect, hidden forces of some kind or other capable of doing greater things than we could ever have anticipated, and which require only the right spark of spiritual life and energy to excite them also into vigorous action. It is thus that heroic bravery and sublime self-sacrifice have been manifested in the hour of sudden and appalling danger, or during seasons of long and dreadful suffering, by those who were never until then suspected of possessing so great a spirit, and who, but for such an occasion occurring for its manifestation, might have been doomed for ever to remain helplessly among the most commonplace incapables. Had a Grace Darling or a Florence Nightingale been known only as a sitter or pewholder in a congregation, they might have been deemed unfit for any work requiring courage, self-sacrifice, or perseverance. But these noble qualities were all the while in them. In like manner, have we never seen among our working classes a man excited by some religious enthusiast or fanatical Mormonite, who all at once seemed inspired with new powers, braved the sneers of companions, consented to be dipped in the next river, turned his small stock of supposed knowledge into immediate use, exhorted, warned, proselytised among his neighbours, spoke in the lanes and streets unabashed, and gathered his knot of disciples from among the crowd of his old comrades, thus giving token of a force having been lying hid in one who seemed capable only of work on week-days and of sleep on Sundays. There is not a Hindu fakir, who swings from a hook in the muscles of his back, or measures with his body a long pilgrimage to Juggernaut; not a Popish devotee, who braves the opinion of society with naked feet, comical garment, and self-imposed "bodily exercise," but demonstrates what a man can and will do, if the mainspring of his being is touched. There is not a sailor or soldier who does not, at sea or in battle, shew a greatness which he seems incapable of when seen in ordinary circumstances. It is thus, we repeat it, that most undoubtedly there are, in every congregation, men and women who have in them great powers of some kind, which have been given them by God, and which, though lying dormant, are capable of being brought out, in a greater or less degree, by fitting causes. Nay, every man is enriched with some talent or gift—if we would only discover it and bring it into action—which, if educated and properly directed, is capable of enriching others to a far greater extent than he himself is the least aware of. But what power will develop this force? What power, we reply, in the universe is so fitted to do so, and to bring out of a man all that is in him, and to direct all the force of his being to worthy and ennobling objects, as the power of a living Christianity? If the love of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, understood, believed, felt, does not kindle all the love in a man's heart, and fire it with all the enthusiasm, and inspire it with all the bravery of self-sacrifice, and nerve it with all the indomitable perseverance of which it is capable, then we know nothing else which can do this, or anything like this. Christianity has not become effete! It is still the "power of God and the wisdom of God." It is still mighty in pulling down strongholds. It can still convert "the elements we have to work upon" into instruments of righteousness, and "make the foolish things of the world to confound the wise;" and "the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty; and the base things of the world, and things that are despised, and things that are not, to bring to nought the things that are." But we must have real, living, and undying faith in Christ's life and power to do this, and be earnest in personal and social prayer; and then only will we be able to judge as to the capabilities of "the elements we have to work upon."
There is no department of congregational work in which the personal ministration of the individual members is more required than in its Home Mission. The sphere of this mission must necessarily be a district in which the members of the congregation can labour. We may assume that there is no district even in this Christian land in which are not to be found a number who require to be instructed in the gospel, and brought into the fellowship of the Christian Church, as well as a number who require to be ministered to in private owing to the infirmities of their bodies, the bereavements in their households, or other necessity of supplying their temporal or spiritual wants. In large cities not only does each district inhabited by the poorer classes abound in what has been termed a "home heathenism;" but this population is so fluctuating from month to month, that a more extended and vigorous agency is required to make use of the brief opportunity given us for doing it any good.
Now, one thing we hold as settled by the whole design of Christianity, and amply confirmed by daily experience and observation of human nature, and that is, that to seek and save the lost, a living agency is absolutely necessary. Religious tracts alone won't do. Far be it from us to write in an apparently slighting manner of what we so greatly value as good tracts, when we can find them. But, on the other hand, let us beware of exaggerating the power of such an agency, or demanding impossibilities from it. A great number in our large cities and manufacturing districts who require to be reclaimed from ignorance and vice cannot read at all. Those who can do so are yet so imperfectly instructed in the art as to be utterly unable to comprehend a continuous narrative of facts, far less any exposition of doctrine or duty; while those best able are not always willing to read anything of a religious character. The most efficient method, in our opinion, of making use of tracts in all such cases, is to read them, when possible, to others, and, if necessary, explain them, and then distribute them. But what is a dead tract to a living person?—what is any description of Christianity on paper, as compared to the living epistle, which all men can read?
We want Christian men and women; not their books or their money only, but themselves. The poor and needy ones who, in this great turmoil of life, have found no helper among their fellows; the wicked and outcast, whose hand is against every man's, because they have found, by dire experience of the world's selfishness, how every man's hand is against them; the prodigal and broken-hearted children of the human family, who have the bitterest thoughts of God and man, if they have any thoughts at all beyond their own busy contrivances how to live and to indulge their craving passions,—all these, by the mesmerism of the heart, and by means of that great witness, conscience, which God, in mercy, leaves as a light from heaven in the most abject dwelling on earth, can, to some extent, read the living epistle of a renewed soul, written in the divine characters of the Holy Spirit. They can see and feel, as they never did anything else in this world, the love which calmly shines in that eye, telling of inward light and peace possessed, and of a place of rest found and enjoyed by the weary heart! They can understand and appreciate the unselfishness—to them a thing hitherto hardly dreamt of—which prompted this visit from a home of comfort or refinement, to an unknown abode of squalor or disease, and which expresses itself in those kind words and looks that accompany the visit. They can perceive the reality of the piety, which also reads to them, in touching tones, the glory of Him who came to seek and save the lost; and their souls cannot refuse some amen, however faint, echoed by their very misery, and from their yearnings for a good they have never known, to that earnest prayer of faith uttered, in the bonds of a common brotherhood, to one who is addressed as a common Father, through a common Lord. If ever society is to be regenerated, it is by the agency of living brothers and sisters in the Lord; and every plan, however apparently wise, for recovering mankind from their degradation, and which does not make the personal ministrations of Christian men and women an essential part of it, its very life, is doomed, we think, to perish.
It is thus that our Father has ever dealt with His lost children. He has in every age of the world spoken to men by living men; and "God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake unto our fathers by the prophets, has in these latter days spoken to us by his Son!"
But are there any willing to labour? Yes; many are labouring, and thousands in this land are prepared in spirit to join them; for every Christian has a longing to do something for God's kingdom on earth, and to employ usefully time and talents which he feels are running to waste. Why, then, with so much to do through a living agency, and with a great army of living agents yet unemployed, is there so little done? We reply again, from want of congregational organisation. Our congregations want order, method, arrangement. There is not yet a sufficiently clear apprehension of what their calling is in the world, or of the work given them to do; nor is there found that wise and authoritative congregational or church direction and government, which could at least suggest, if not assign, fitting work for each member, and a fitting member for each work. Hence little, comparatively, is accomplished. The most willing church-member gazes over a great city, and asks in despair, "What am I to do here?" And what would the bravest soldiers accomplish in the day of battle, if they asked the same question in vain? What would a thousand of our best workmen do in a large factory, if they entered it with willing hands, yet having no place or work assigned to them? And thus it is with many really self-denying Christians; because a practicable and definite field of labour is not pointed out, the necessary result is idleness—unwilling idleness; or self-organised and self-governed "associations," "committees," "societies," spring up to accomplish what the Christian society itself was designed to, and could accomplish in a much more efficient and orderly manner; or, as it more frequently happens, those energies and ardent feelings, and love of excitement even, which could have found sufficient scope for healthy exercise in such practical labours of faith and love as we have alluded to, are soon engrossed by merely speculative questions about "the church," or about "religion," and the stream which, had it been directed into a right channel, and to a right point, would have been made a power for immense good, soon rushes over the land a wide-spread, muddy, devastating flood, oozes out into stagnant marshes, full of miasma and fever, or evaporates into thin air!
THE CURE FOR SCHISM.
"Schisms" are not peculiar to the Church of the present day, nor are they "the result of Protestantism," as some allege, unless Protestantism is understood to represent that doctrine which is termed "the right of private judgment," but which might be described rather as the absolute necessity for each man to believe the truth for himself, and not to be satisfied that another man should see and believe it for him. This "doctrine," which is essential to the reception of any truth whatever, must necessarily open the way to error; just as the possession of reason, which is essential to a man's thinking at all, must, in every case, involve the risk of his thinking wrong.
But we know something of a Church founded by an apostle, presided over for a time by an apostle, which was full of schisms. This was the Church of Corinth. (See First Epistle to the Corinthians, first three chapters.)
These schisms were marked by differences of mind and judgment; and by "envying, strife, and divisions." Its "Protestantism" may, no doubt, have occasioned this.
But along with these divisions, and partly their cause, partly their effect, there was not only a warm attachment to particular ministers, but positive antagonism to others professing the same faith, and doing the same work. From the sameness of human nature in every age, we can quite understand how each party would defend their sectarianism. "We are of Apollos," some might have thus said. "We do not admire Peter. He is too much of a Jew for us; besides, he denied his Lord, and dissembled along with Barnabas at Antioch. We prefer our own minister even to Paul. He is a much more eloquent man; of a much more commanding figure and appearance; and how profound he is in his knowledge of the Scriptures!" "We are of Paul," others might have cried; "for he was chosen specially by Christ; and he has been honoured by Him more than all; and does not the Church of Corinth, moreover, owe its very existence to his preaching and labours? It is a shame to belong to any other!" "We cling to Peter," a third party might have said; "he lived with Christ when He was on earth, saw His miracles, heard His words, was treated after the resurrection with special love, and received from Him a special commission to feed His sheep. Apollos is no apostle; and as for Paul, he persecuted the Church, and confesses himself that he is not meet to be called an apostle. Apollos is good, Paul better, but Peter is best!" "We belong to neither," others could have boasted: "your divisions are so many, your differences so great, that we have retired from all your meetings in weariness; and each of us are of Christ only, and call no man master but Him; you should all join us, the Christians:"—thus making use of the very name of Christ to characterise a sect. Such were some of the schisms; and to the schismatics St Paul said, "Ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I of Apollos; are ye not carnal?"
The apostle desired to heal those schisms, and to bring the members of the Church into one mind. How did he endeavour to effect this?
Had he been a Papist, he might have said—"Why thus divided? Because you are not building on the one true foundation, which is Peter! Do you not understand the meaning of the name, Cephas, or the Rock, given to him, and intended to teach all Christians that the temple of the Church was to be built upon this rock, and this only; against which the gates of hell cannot prevail? Therefore, you who say, 'I am of Cephas,' are right; all others are schismatics." Never, apparently, had a man a better opportunity of revealing to the world this great secret of unity than St. Paul had, if such was his faith, especially when he compares the Church to a building, and speaks of a foundation-stone. "As a wise master-builder," he says, "I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon.... For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is"—Cephas, or the rock? No! but "Jesus Christ." Not one word of Cephas as the centre of unity. Strange silence for a "Roman Catholic!"
Had Paul been a "High Churchman," viewing with deep awe the mystery of sacramental grace, we can understand how he would have spoken to the schismatic Corinthians of the vast importance of their submitting to absolute apostolic authority, and of "the awful powers with which God's ministers had been vested, of regenerating souls by the waters of baptism;" and how "such a clergy should command unqualified obedience." If these, or anything like these, were Paul's sentiments, and such as we are every day familiar with, it is not easy, to say the least of it, to account for his language to the Corinthians. What does he say of the exalted privilege of being able to baptize? "I thank God I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius:" strange words from a "High Churchman!" or a "High" Baptist! "I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other:" strange forgetfulness on such a supposed centre point of Church unity! "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel:" strange idea of the relative importance of preaching and baptizing for a "High Churchman" to hold! And as to the "commanding authority" of the apostles, merely because they were apostles, apart from, the commanding authority of the eternal truth which they "commended" to the conscience and judgment of their hearers, Paul asks, "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos?" Methinks we hear some exclaim: "Oh, these men were the greatest, the most remarkable, the"—We will not, however, take up space by repeating the laudations with which some would exalt their authority, with the view of magnifying the mere official authority of the clergy. But what says the apostle himself? He says they were only "ministers by whom ye believed." It was not the minister who did good, but the truth which he ministered, and which he had received from another. It was not the man who sowed the seed, or the basket which held it, that gave the crop; but the living seed itself. Hence he adds: "So then neither is he that planteth anything, nor he that watereth!" What? Neither presbyter nor bishop, neither Paul nor Apollos, anything? Strange words, again we say, from a "High Churchman," whether Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or any other denomination; for "High Churchmen" are common to all Churches. Yet not strange from St Paul, who knew how true his words were, and that not man, but God, who gave the increase, was "everything."
What, then, was the apostle's method of curing schism, and of making men truly one who had been "divided?"
He directed every eye, and every heart, and every spirit, to one object—JESUS CHRIST, the personal Saviour, the centre and source of unity; in fellowship with whom all men would find their fellowship with each other.
"We preach Christ crucified." "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." These are his declarations. And his conclusion from this great and blessed principle is just what we might expect: "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." "Let no man glory in men: for all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come: all are yours; and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's."
Professing Christians would do well to weigh the apostle's cure of schism. Our divisions of heart and alienation of spirit are unworthy of educated men, and of the citizens of a free state, while they are in spirit utterly subversive of the whole principles of Protestantism. What! not able to hear the gospel preached from the lips of a minister of another church, nor to remember Jesus with him or his people? Not willing even to be on kind, or perhaps on speaking terms with a brother minister? Such things not only have been, but are; and while, thank God, they are repudiated and detested by men of all Churches, they are common, we fear, among too many. No wonder Roman Catholics point at our frequent boasting of Protestant "oneness in all essentials," and ask with triumph, how it happens, then, that we are such enemies on mere non-essentials? How it is that we pretend to be one when attacking Papists, and then turn our backs on each other when left alone? No wonder the High Churchman of England asks the Presbyterians in Scotland to forgive him if he never enters our Presbyterian churches, hears our clergy, partakes of our sacraments, when so very many among ourselves practically excommunicate each other. No wonder the infidel lecturer describes to crowds of intelligent mechanics, in vivid and powerful language, the spectacle presented by many among our Christian clergy and people, and asks, with a smile of derision, If ithis is a religion of love which they see around them—if these men believe the gospel—and if Christians have really more kindness and courtesy than "publicans and sinners?" Worse than all, no wonder our churches languish, and men are asking with pain, why the ministry is not producing more true spiritual fruit, which is love to God and man? The Churches are, no doubt, doing much. We have meetings, associations, and organisations, with no end of committees, resolutions, and motions; we raise large sums of money; we have large congregations;—yet all this, and much more, we can do from pride, vanity, love of party, love of power, the spirit of proselytism, and the like. We may possess many gifts, understand mysteries and all knowledge; we may bestow our goods to feed the poor, in zeal for Church or party we may be willing to give our bodies to be burned; but before God it profiteth us nothing, unless we have the "love that suffereth long, and is kind, that envieth not, that vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things,"
Surely our schisms may be healed if there be a Saviour thus to heal them!
One word in conclusion. Neither the letter nor the spirit of the apostle's teaching condemn a warm and firm attachment to "our own Church," but antagonism only to other Churches. A soldier may love, and ought to love his own regiment with peculiar affection, more especially if he has been born in it, and brought up from childhood, as it were, in its ranks. And it should be his honest pride to see that it is one of the best drilled, most orderly, most efficient, and bravest in the whole army. But that is no reason why he should go about with a drum to recruit from, weaken, or break up other regiments; or why he should deny that there are other regiments which equally belong to the grand army, and may be even more efficient than his own, though they do not wear the exact pattern of uniform, or may charge on horseback while his marches on foot, or possess cannon while his own have but small arms. Why should he be jealous of their achievements? Why should he be disposed to fight against them instead of against the common enemy? And, worse than all, why assert and boast that this one regiment of his is the army, while all others are mere unauthorised volunteers, or enemies in disguise? It is full time for sensible men to give up this vain boasting, proud antagonism, and irritating ambitious proselytism.
Instead, therefore, of any man attempting, what is impossible during a lifetime, to understand the distinctive principles of each of the many sections of the Christian Church, so as to "join" that one which seems most "pure" and "scriptural," he is much better, as a rule, to remain, if it is at all possible for him, in the Church of his fathers, in which he was baptized and reared, and to do all in his power, by his example, his prayers, and his steady, manly, firm attachment, to make "his own Church" more efficient, and to permit others, without interference, to do the same. Thus may a man be a good Presbyterian in Scotland, and also a good Episcopalian in England, or possibly a Nonconformist in both, unless he believes in the Divine origin and authority of some one ecclesiastical system, and the mundane origin of all others. With perfect consistency and sincerity he may dearly love his Church, but yet love Christians more, because he loves Christ best of all.
These sentiments may be considered by many good Christians as sinfully "latitudinarian;" but to all who think so we would suggest the following simple experiment. When they have perused with care and reflection those portions of the Epistles of St Paul, and those incidents in his missionary journeys, which reveal most clearly what we might term his "church views," let them conceive of this same holy apostle suddenly awaking from his grave and visiting the different churches in our country, and then honestly say, from what they know of his character and teaching, whether they think it improbable or impossible that he would countenance all our churches in so far as they sincerely desired to do God's will and advance His kingdom. Would he not as of old say, "Grace be with all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity!"
"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee. Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good."
THE UNION OF MAN WITH MAN.
The mutual dependence of material things is perceived on a moment's reflection. Not one atom in creation, for example, exists by itself or for itself alone, but, directly or indirectly, influences and is influenced by every other atom. The movements of the tiniest wave which rises slowly over the dry pebble on the beach, marking the progress of the advancing tide in the inland bay, is determined by the majestic movements of the great ocean, with all its tides which sweep and circulate from pole to pole. The rain-drop which falls into the heart of a wild-flower, and rests there with its pure and sparkling diamond-lustre, owes its birth to the giant mountains of the old earth, to the great sea, to the all-encompassing atmosphere, to the mighty sun; and is thus, by a chain of forces, united in its existence, its figure, its motion, and its rest, to the most distant planet, which, beyond the ken of the telescope, whirls along its path on the mysterious outskirts of space. Thus, too, the needle of the electric telegraph trembles beneath the influence of hidden powers which pervade the earth, which flash in the thunder-storm, awaken the hurricane, or burst in those bright and brilliant coruscations that shoot across the midnight of our northern sky. And so
"The whole round earth is every way Bound by gold chains about the feet of God."
But the unity which exists among intelligent and responsible persons, their mutual dependence and relationship, is just as real as that which obtains among material things, and is far more wonderful, more solemn and important in its nature, causes, and consequences.
The human race is an organic whole. The individual man is more intimately united to every other man, and to all past and coming generations, than the leaf which flutters on the twig of a great tree is connected with the tree itself, and with every other leaf that swells its foliage, or with the seed which was ages ago planted in the soil, and from which the noble plant has issued. That organic unity of the Church, springing chiefly out of a common life, derived from Christ and maintained by His indwelling Spirit, and which the apostle Paul so fully illustrates by the union of the members of the human frame, holds equally true of the whole family of man.
And what is true in this respect of the human race, is as true of all spiritual intelligences in the universe of God. "We are all members one of another." We form a part of a mighty whole that finds its unity in God. Subtle links from within and from without in God's infinite network, bind us for good or evil, for weal or woe, to spirits of light and of darkness; to principalities and powers in other spheres and systems of being, from the lowest outcast in the unseen world of criminals, up to Gabriel before the throne of God; while over all, comprehending all, sustaining and harmonising all, is the great I AM—Father, Son, and Spirit.
Consider, for example, how, according to the arrangements of the Divine government, man is linked to man from the mere necessities of his physical and social being.
In this aspect of our life it is evident that its whole history is one of mutual dependence, and one in which we are compelled to receive and to give, to partake and to share. We enter upon life as weak, unconscious infants, depending every moment on other eyes to watch for us, and other hands to minister to us, while we kindle in their hearts the most powerful emotions, and unconsciously react upon them for joy or sorrow. But we are not less dependent on our fellow-creatures for our continuance in life from the cradle to the grave. There is not a thread of clothing which covers our body, not a luxury which is placed on our table, not an article which supplies the means of labour, not one thing which is required by us as civilised beings, but involves the labours and the sacrifices of others in our behalf; while by the same law we cannot choose but contribute to their well-being. The cotton which the artisan weaves or wears has been cultivated by brothers beneath a tropical sun, and possibly beneath a tyrant's lash. The tea he drinks has been gathered for him by brothers on the unknown hill-sides of distant China. The oil which lights his lamp has been fetched for him out of the depths of the Arctic seas by his sailor brothers; and the coal that feeds his fire has been dug out by swarthy brethren who have been picking and heaving for him amidst the darkness and dangers of the mine. If the poorest mother writes a letter to her son in some distant spot in India and puts it into the window-slit of a village post-office, without a word being spoken, how much is done for her before that letter reaches its destination! The hands of unknown brethren will receive it, and transmit it; rapid trains will hurry it over leagues of railways; splendid steamships will sail with it, and hundreds of busy hands will pass it from port to port, from land to land. It is watched day and night, through calm and hurricane, and precious lives are risked to keep it in security, until in silence and in safety, after months of travel, it is delivered from the mother's hand into the hand of her child.
And thus it is that, whether we choose it or not, we are placed by God as "members one of another," so that we cannot, if we would, separate ourselves from our brother. For good or evil, prosperity or adversity, we are bound up with him in the bundle of this all-pervading and mysterious life. If one member suffers or rejoices, all are compelled in some degree to share his burden of joy or sorrow. Let disease, for example, break out in one district or kingdom, and, like a fire, it will rush onward, passing away from the original spot of outbreak, and involving families and cities far away in its desolating ruin. Let war arise in one portion of the globe, it smites another. The passion or the pride of some rude chief of a barbarous tribe in Africa or New Zealand, or the covetousness and selfish policy of some party in America, tell upon a poor widow in her lonely garret in the darkest corner of a great city; and she may thus be deprived of her labour through the state of commerce, as really as if the hand of the foreigner directly took her only handful of meal out of the barrel, or extinguished the cruise of oil, leaving her in poverty and darkness to watch over her dying child.
Now all this system of dependence, as we have said, is beyond our will. We do not choose it, but are compelled to accept of it. It is a fact or power, like birth or death, with which we have to do in spite of us. No questions are asked by the great King as to whether we will have it so or not; yet of what infinite importance to us for good or evil is this great law of God's government. We are thus made to feel that a will higher than ours reigns, and that by that supreme will we are so united to one another, that no man can live for himself or die for himself alone; that we are our brothers keeper, and he ours; that we cannot be indifferent to his social well-being without suffering in our own; that our selfishness, which would injure him, must return in some form to punish ourselves; and that such is the ordained constitution of humanity, that though love and a consistent selfishness start from different points, they necessarily lead to the same point, and make it our interest, as it is our duty, to love our neighbour as ourselves.
But here we may just notice, that some of those evils which afflict one portion of the human family are nevertheless the occasion of good, when they remind us of our common humanity. Such painful events, for example, as the famine in the Highlands of Scotland, which called forth the sympathies of kindreds and tongues, unknown by name, to the sufferers, and was relieved by the inhabitants of China, and Hindostan; or the like famine in Ireland, which the Mohammedan sultan was among the first to help to alleviate; or the Syrian massacres, or Indian famine, that united Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic, in the bonds of pity;—these wounds of humanity are surely not without their good; when they afford an opportunity to the Samaritan of shewing mercy to the Jew, and cause the things which separate and the differences that alienate man from man, to be for a time forgotten in the presence of their common brotherhood. And thus, too, the shutting of the Southern ports of America, which entails temporary distress upon many in our manufacturing districts, reminds us how the sufferings of others must be shared by ourselves, calls forth the benevolent sympathies of the rich to alleviate the wants of the needy, and bridges over with love and gratitude the gulf which too often separates classes; while, on the other hand, it may form the indirect means of developing the growth of cotton, and the consequent industry of thousands in Africa and India, who will thus be brought into closer and more fraternal relationships with civilised nations.
But there is another link, and one more spiritual, which binds man to man for good or evil, and that is moral character. This influence is partly beyond and partly within the region of our will. That which is beyond the will is the fact of the necessary influence of character; while within the will is the character, good or bad, which we may choose to possess. Now, it cannot be questioned that character tells for good or evil beyond its possessor. That which a man is—that sum total made up of the items of his beliefs, purposes, affections, tastes, and habits, manifested in all he does and does not—is contagious in its tendency, and is ever photographing itself on other spirits. He himself may be as unconscious of this emanation of good or evil from his spirit, as he is of the contagion of disease from his body, or—if that were equally possible—of the contagion of good health. But the fact, nevertheless, is certain. If the light is in him, it must shine; if darkness reigns, it must shade. If he glows with love, its warmth will radiate; if he is frozen with selfishness, the cold will chill the atmosphere around him; and if he is corrupt and vile, he will poison it. Nor is it possible for any one to occupy a neutral or indifferent position. In some form or other he must affect others. Were he to banish himself to a distant island, or even enter the gates of death, he still exercises a positive influence, for he is a loss to his brothers; the loss of that most blessed gift of God, even that of a living man to living men—of a being who ought to have loved and to have been beloved. "No man liveth to himself, or dieth to himself;"—he must in some form, for their good or evil, their gladness or sadness, influence others.
The influence of individual character extends from one generation to another. The world is moulded by it. Does not history turn on the influence exercised by the first and second Adam?
No one questions the reality of the influence of a bad character upon others. The existence of evil persons here or elsewhere, and their power to infect other persons through the foul malaria of the evil in which they live, may be unaccountably mysterious when seen in the light of God's infinite love; but they are, nevertheless, the most certain facts within the field of our own observation and experience.
This malign influence is of every degree—from the undesigned yet real injury which is done to others by the merely slothful or indifferent man, who never, as he says, "intended to injure any one," and "never thought" he was doing so, but who, nevertheless, injures many a cause, and freezes and discourages many a heart, by his selfishness in not thinking and not doing;—up to the injury which is done by the cool, designing villain, who, in his plots and plans to sacrifice others to himself, has reached the utmost limit which distinguishes the bad man from the demon.
The evil influence exercised by wicked parents on their families; by wicked companions upon their fellows; by wicked books upon their readers; by wicked persecutors and tyrants upon the world—needs neither proof nor illustration. Yet let us remember, for our strength and comfort, that because we are not things but persons, it is impossible to compel any man, from whatever influence, to prefer the darkness to light, or to choose the evil instead of the good. Hence the power which was designed to lead us into evil may be converted by ourselves into a power for good, while it strengthens our moral principles, demands a firmer faith in God, and prompts more earnest desires and efforts to overcome the evil by the good. It is thus too, in the wonderful providence of God, that while evil remains evil, it has nevertheless been the indirect means of calling forth the noblest efforts on the part of man, and on God's part the most glorious revelations of His character in conquering it, and such as, without evil in the universe, could not, as far as we can see, have been possible.
But no less real is the influence upon others of a holy character. "The evil men do lives after them;" but we do not believe that "the good is oft interred with their bones." No, it is as immortal as the Divine Being in whom it originates. The good must ever live, and "walk up and down the earth," like a living spirit guided by the living God, to convey blessings to the children of men, and is more powerful, diffusive, and eternal than the power of evil. It lives in humanity, in some form or other, like the subtile substance of material things, which though ever changing never perishes, but adds to the stability, the beauty, and the grandeur of the universe. The influence of the holy character passes even beyond the stars, giving joy to our angel brothers, and to our elder brother Jesus Christ, who, in seeing reflected in His people His own love to His God and our God, to His neighbour and ours, beholds the grand result of the travail of His soul, and is "satisfied."
The grand practical lesson, therefore, which is impressed upon us by this fact of the union of man with man, is for each of us to be right, and to do light. Each man is responsible for himself, and for himself only, for what he himself is and does. The secret, then, is a very simple one, by which we can at once receive all the good that can possibly be derived from whatever influences are brought to bear upon ourselves, and do all the good which can possibly be conferred by whatever influence we can exercise upon others; and it is this—to be good ourselves! This is the one centre point of light in the soul, its one germ of immortal life, which must be possessed in order that all light and life may come to us, and emanate from us. Let us only possess the right state of spirit to God and man, and we have the divine chemistry which will convert all we receive and all we give into what will surely bless ourselves and others.
And if it is asked how this secret can be ours, we have but one reply, and it is the old one—Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, live, and love! Jesus Christ is the living Head of the human family. "The Head of every man is Christ." As the eternal Son, He dwelt among us, and revealed to us the Father and Himself, the elder brother. "He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world." He has ascended up on high, and ever liveth for us as Mediator, "to bring many sons and daughters unto God." He has sent His Holy Spirit to be with us, and to abide in us for ever. That Spirit reveals to all who will receive His teaching, the glory of God our Father in Christ Jesus the Son, our Brother.
Just in proportion as men know God as their Father in Christ, and become true sons to Him, will they become united to each other as true brethren; and thus the real and highest unity of man with man will be realised as the Church of Christ possesses the earth, and her prayer is answered, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven!"
PROGRESS OF MISSIONS.
The beginning of the nineteenth century marks an epoch of revival in the Protestant Church. It would be going beyond the limits prescribed by our subject to consider the causes of that remarkable reaction into indifference of life, or of positive error in doctrine, which followed more or less rapidly the stirring period of the Reformation. Such tides, indeed, in the affairs of men,—now rushing with irresistible waves to the utmost limit of the land; then receding and leaving behind but a few pools to mark where the waters once had been; and again, after a longer or a shorter interval, advancing with a deep flood over the old ground,—are among the most striking phenomena in history.
The last century witnessed the Protestant Church at its lowest ebb. We thankfully acknowledge that God did not leave Himself without holy men as living witnesses in every branch of that Church. And we record, with deepest gratitude, how, more than in any other country, He preserved in our own country both individual and congregational life, with orthodox standards of faith. Still, taken as a whole, the Protestant Church was in a dead state throughout the world; while, during the same period, infidelity was never more rampant, and never more allied with philosophy, politics, science, and literature. It was the age of the acute Hume and learned Gibbon; of the ribald Paine, and of the master of Europe, Voltaire; with a host of literati who were beginning to make merry, in the hope that God's prophets were at last to be destroyed from the earth. Rationalism triumphed in all the Continental Churches. Puritanism in England became deeply tainted with Unitarianism. The descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers had, to a large extent, embraced the same creed in America. The Established Churches in England and Scotland, though preserving their Confessions, and having very many living men in the ministry, suffered, nevertheless, from that wintry cold which had frozen the waves of the great Reformation sea, and which was adding chill to chill. The French Revolution marked the darkest hour of this time; yet it was the hour which preceded the dawn. It was the culminating point of the infidelity of kings, priests, and people; the visible expression and embodiment of the mind of France, long tutored by falsehood and impiety; the letting loose of Satan on earth, that all might see and wonder at the Beast! That Revolution inscribed lessons in letters of blood for the Church and for the nations of the world to learn. Christians accordingly clung nearer to their Saviour amidst the dreadful storm which shook and destroyed every other resting-place, and were drawn to the throne of mercy and grace, thereby becoming stronger in faith and more zealous in life. The indifferent were roused to earnest thought by the solemn events which were taking place around them. Speculative infidels even, became alarmed at the practical results of their theories. Mere worldly politicians trembled at the spectacle of unprincipled millions wielding power that affected the destinies of Europe, and recognised the necessity of religion to save the State at least, if not to save the soul. Men of property, from the owner of a few acres to the merchant prince, and from no higher motive than the love of their possessions, acknowledged that religion was the best guarantee for their preservation. In countless ways did this upheaving of society operate in the same direction with those deeper forces which were beginning to stir the Churches of Britain, and to quicken them into new life.
The history of Europe during the first part of the present century, is a history written in blood. It is one of war in all its desolating horrors, and also in all its glorious achievements and victories in the cause of European liberty and national independence. Never was war so universal. It raged in every part of the earth. For years, the Peninsula was a great battlefield. Belgium and the plains of Germany were saturated with blood. Allied hosts conquered France. Armies crossed the Alps and ravaged Italy, and were buried beneath the snows of Russia. The contest was waged from the Baltic to the Bosphorus. The old battle-fields of Greece, Egypt, Palestine, Asia Minor, Persia, and the Crimea, were again disturbed. War swept the peninsula of India to the confines of Cashmere. It penetrated beyond the walls of China, and visited the islands of the Eastern Archipelago; touched the coasts of Arabia, and swept round Africa, from the Cape to Algiers. It marched through the length and breadth of the great Western Continent, from the St Lawrence to the Mississippi, and from Central to Southern America. Every kingdom experienced its horrors but our own; every capital was entered by the enemy but our own! During all this terrible period, our Sabbath services were never broken by the cry of battle. The dreadful hurricane raged without, but never for a single hour disturbed the peace of our beloved island-home. No revolution from within destroyed our institutions, and no power from without prevented us from improving them. The builders of our spiritual temples did not require to hold the sword. Our victories, with their days of national thanksgiving, and our anxieties, with their days of national fasting, tended to deepen a sense of religion in every heart. Men of God, in rapid succession, rose in all the Churches. A pious laity began to take the lead in advancing the cause of evangelism. In Parliament there was one man, who, by the purity of his private life, the noble consistency, uncompromising honesty, and unwearied philanthropy of his public career, along with his faithful published testimony for the truth as it is in Christ, did more, directly and indirectly, than any other of his day for the revival of true religion, especially among the influential classes of our land: that man was William Wilberforce.
But without dwelling upon the fact of the great revival which has occurred in the Protestant Church during the present century, let us notice one of its more prominent results. We mean the increased activity manifested by all its branches in advancing the Redeemer's kingdom.
At the commencement of this century, the whole Protestant missionary staff throughout the world amounted to ten societies only. Of these, however, two only had really entered the mission-field with any degree of vigour—viz., the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts; and, above all, the Society of the Moravian Brethren. The Wesleyan, Baptist, London, and Church Missionary Societies, though nominally in existence, had hardly commenced their operations. There were, besides the above, two small societies on the Continent; two in Scotland; and not one in all America! How stands the case now? The Protestant Church, instead of ten, has fifty-one societies; the great majority of which have each more labourers, and a greater income, than all the societies together of the Protestant Church previous to 1800!
If the last sixty years be divided into three equal periods, nine societies belong to the first, fifteen to the second, and twenty-four to the third.
The following facts, collected from statistics of the great missionary societies up to 1861, will afford—as far as mere dry figures can do—a general idea of the present strength of the mission army of the Protestant Church, with some of its results:—
There are now 22 missionary societies in Great Britain, 14 in North America, and 15 on the Continent of Europe; in all, 51. These employ, in round numbers, 12,000 agents, including ordained missionaries, (probably 2000,) teachers, catechists, &c.; occupy 1200 stations; have 335,000 communicants from heathendom; 252,000 scholars; 460 students training for the ministry; and are supported by an income of L860,000 per annum.
The greatest results have been attained by England. Connected with her great societies, there are nearly 7000 agents, 630 stations, 210,000 communicants, 208,000 scholars, with an annual income of L510,000.[A]
[Footnote A: One or two facts in connexion with missionary effort may interest our readers:—
Mr Mueller of Bristol supports, in connexion with his famous Orphanage, 22 foreign and 80 home missionaries.
The Moravian Missionary Society has sent, since 1732, 2000 missionaries, of whom 643 have died in mission service; 9 on mission journeys; 13 on the voyage out or home; 22 by shipwreck; and 12 were murdered.
Gossner of Berlin alone originated and conducted a mission which has sent out 141 missionaries. Pastor Harms of Hermannsburg has also, by his own efforts, built a mission ship, and has sent out 150 missionaries, of whom 100 are colonists, and proposes to send 24 every two years.
Ten years ago there was little or no fruit among the Kohls of India. There are now 30,000 receiving Christ.
In India there are 500 missionaries; in Tinnevelly, above 70,000 Christians.
The American Board alone has sent out in fifty years 900 missionaries (500 being native) and 400 teachers; 55,000 have been received into church—membership, and 175,000 children passed through their schools.
America contributes L180,000 to foreign missions, and 2000 agents.
The Presbyterian Churches of the world have come late into the field, but they contribute about 900 agents, and 230 ordained missionaries, with an income of about L110,000.
One of the oldest Protestant missionary societies in existence (though now confined to home operations) is the Society in connexion with the Church of Scotland "for Promoting Christian Knowledge." It supported Brainerd and the Elliots more than a century ago.]
But in order to enable our readers still more clearly to realise the advance which the Church has made during the last half century, let us consider the progress of one of those societies, and take as an illustration the Church Missionary Society. It was founded a few months before 1800. Its income in 1802 was L356. It now amounts to L104,273. In 1804, it had one station abroad, two ordained European missionaries, but no native assistants. It has now 148 stations, 258 ordained clergymen, (many of whom have studied in the English Universities,) a large staff of native clergy, with 2034 other agents, most of whom are natives. In 1810, it had 35 male and 13 female scholars in its schools; it has now 31,000 scholars. In 1816, the good Mr Bickersteth had the privilege of receiving its first converts, amounting to six only, into the communion of the Church. Its communicants now number about 21,000.
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Let us, however, examine the missionary labours of the Protestant Church during this century from another point of view. Take the map of the world, look over its continents and islands, and contrast their condition, as to the means of grace, in 1800 and 1862.
In 1800; the only missions east of the Cape of Good Hope were in India. These were confined to the Baptist Mission, protected in the Danish settlement of Serampore; and the missions in Tanjore, in Southern India. The former was begun by Carey and Thomas, (in 1793,) who were joined by a few brethren in 1799. The first convert they made was in 1800. The latter mission had existed since 1705, and numbered about nine labourers at the commencement of the century.[A]
[Footnote A: The first Protestant missionary who visited India was Ziegenbalg, who was sent out by the Halle-Danish Missionary Society in 1705, to Tranquebar. He was joined by Plutschow in 1719. The mission was then adopted by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Grundler followed in 1720, and Schultze in 1727. The mission, in 1736, had four stations, one being in Madras; 24 native assistants; and 3517 baptized members! The great Schwartz laboured in, and extended the mission from 1749 till 1798. According to Dr Carey, 40,000 had been converted to Christianity during the last century through this mission. Dr Claudius Buchanan reckons the number as high as 80,000!]
Of the East India Company's chaplains, Claudius Buchanan alone had the courage to advocate in India the missionary cause; and his sermon preached upon the subject in 1800, in Calcutta, was then generally deemed a bold and daring step. Hindustan was closed by the East India Company against the missionaries of the Christian Church. China, too, seemed hermetically sealed against the gospel. The Jesuit mission had failed. Christianity was proscribed by an imperial edict. Protestant missions had not commenced. The language of the nation, like its walls, seemed to forbid all access to the missionary. In Africa there were but few missionaries, and these had lately arrived at the Cape.[A] In the black midnight which brooded over that miserable land, the cry of tortured slaves alone was heard. New Zealand, Australia, and the scattered islands of the Southern Seas had not yet been visited by one herald of the gospel. A solitary beacon gleaming on the ocean from the missionary ship Duff had indeed been seen, but not yet welcomed by the savages of Tahiti. The mission was abandoned in 1809, and not a convert left behind! No Protestant missionary had preached to those Indian tribes beyond the Colonies, who wandered over the interminable plains which stretch from Behring's Straits to Cape Horn. Mohammedan States were all shut up against the gospel; and to forsake the Crescent for the Cross, was to die. In this thick darkness which covered heathendom, the only light to be seen—except in India—was in the far north, shed by the self-denying Moravians,—a light which streamed like a beautiful aurora over the wintry snow and ice-bound coasts of Greenland. To this gloomy picture we must add the indifference of the Protestant Church to God's ancient people. No society then existed for their conversion; and of them it might indeed be said, "This is Israel, whom no man seeketh after!"
[Footnote A: The first missionary to South Africa was George Schmidt, sent by the Moravian Brethren in 1736. He laboured alone with some success till 1743, when he was compelled by the Dutch East India Company to return to Europe. The mission was resumed in 1792, when three additional missionaries sailed for the Cape. A few others joined them in 1798. At the beginning of the century, the converts amounted to 304. The illustrious Dr Vanderkemp, along with three other missionaries, were sent to South Africa by the London Missionary Society in 1799. The only attempts made to Christianise Western Africa previous to 1800 were by the Moravians in Guinea, in 1737; but all the missionaries, eleven in number, dying, the attempt was abandoned; and by the Scottish Missionary Society, in 1797, who sent thither six missionaries. One (Greig) was murdered, another (Brunton) returned, and went to Tartary; the rest, we believe, went to oilier spheres of labour. The Church Missionary Society entered upon this field in 1801.]
How changed is the aspect of the world now! There is hardly a spot upon earth (if we except those enslaved by Popery) where the Protestant missionary may not preach the gospel without the fear of persecution. The door of the world has been thrown open, and the world's Lord and Master commands and invites His servants to enter, and, in His name, to take possession of the nations. Since 1812, India, chiefly through the exertions of Mr Wilberforce,[A] has been made accessible to the missionaries of every Church. Christian schools and chapels have been multiplied; colleges have been instituted; thousands have been converted to Christ; and tens of thousands instructed in Christianity. The cruelties of heathenism have been immensely lessened; infanticide prohibited; Sutteeism abolished; all Government support withdrawn from idolatry; and the Hindu law of inheritance has been altered to protect the native converts; while a new era seems to be heralded by the fact that a native Christian rajah has himself established a mission among his people.
[Footnote A: In 1812, we find from Mr Wilberforce's Life (vol. iv., p. 10) how he was "busily engaged in reading, thinking, consulting, and persuading," on the renewal of the East India Company's charter. He was fully alive to the importance of the crisis with reference to the interests of Christianity. He thus writes to his friend Mr Butterworth:—"I have been long looking forward to the period of the renewal of the East India Company's charter as to a great era, when I hoped that it would please God to enable the friends of Christianity to be the instruments of wiping away what I have long thought, next to the slave-trade, the foulest blot on the moral character of our countrymen—the suffering our fellow-subjects (nay, they even stand toward us in the closer relation of our tenants) in the East Indies to remain, without any effort on our part to enlighten and inform them, under the grossest, the darkest, and most depraving system of idolatrous superstition that almost ever existed on earth." The deepest anxiety was felt by all Christians for the issue of the debate. "I heard afterwards," he writes, "that many good men were praying for us all night." These prayers and efforts were crowned with success; and Mr Wilberforce, when communicating the joyful news to his wife, writes—"Blessed be God! we carried our question triumphantly, about three, or later, this morning!"]
All the islands in the Eastern Archipelago are now accessible to the missionary; most of them have been visited. Ceylon has flourishing congregations and schools; Madagascar has had her martyrs, and has still her indomitable confessors.
China, with its teeming millions, has also been opened to the gospel. The way had been marvellously prepared by Dr Morrison, who as early as 1807 had commenced the study of the language which he lived to master. Accordingly, when the conquests of Britain had obtained admission for, and secured protection to the missionaries as well as to the merchants of all nations, the previous indefatigable labours of Morrison had provided, for the immediate use of the Church of Christ, a dictionary of the language, and a translation of the Word of God. The Christian religion is tolerated by law since 1844, and may be professed freely by the natives. The gospel is now advancing in that thickly-peopled land of patience and industry, and native preachers are already proclaiming to their countrymen the tidings of salvation.
Africa has witnessed changes still more wonderful. The abolition of the British slave-trade in 1807, and of slavery in the British dominions in 1834, has removed immense barriers in the way of the gospel. The whole coasts of Africa are being girdled with the light of truth. It has penetrated throughout the south, where the French[A] and German Protestant Churches labour side by side with those of Britain to civilise the degraded Bushman, the low Hottentot, and warlike Kaffir. The chapel in Sierra Leone, built from the planks of condemned slavers, and containing 1000 worshippers, is a type of the blessings brought through Christianity to injured Africa.
[Footnote A: The missions of the French Protestant Church are situated inland from Port Natal, and along the river Caledon from its junction with the Orange River. It has gathered upwards of 2000 Bechuanas into regular church-fellowship.]
Abyssinia has also been visited with every prospect of success.
And how glorious has been the triumph of the gospel throughout the whole Pacific! In 1837, Williams was able to address royalty in these noble words—"It must impart joy to every benevolent mind to know, that by the efforts of British Christians upwards of three hundred thousand of deplorably ignorant and savage barbarians, inhabiting the beautiful islands of the Pacific, have been delivered from a dark, debasing, and sanguinary idolatry, and are now enjoying the civilising influence, the domestic happiness, and the spiritual blessings which Christianity imparts. In the island of Raratonga, which I discovered in 1823, there are upwards of 3000 children under Christian instruction daily; not a vestige of idolatry remains;[A] their language has been reduced to a system, and the Scriptures, with other books, have been translated. But this is only one of nearly a hundred islands to which similar blessings have been conveyed." Tens of thousands of souls more have been added to this number since these words were written! In no part of heathendom has the gospel produced, in so short a time, such wonderful fruit as in Polynesia. The labours and sacrifices of the converted natives are more striking than in any other missions. Many islands have been converted solely by means of a native agency, and are superintended by native preachers only. Let us take the Sandwich Islands as illustrating what has been accomplished for the natives, and by them. The American Mission was commenced in 1824. These islands have been converted long ago to Christianity, so that not a vestige of idolatry remains, and not only do they support their own clergy and schools, but have their own Bible and Foreign Missionary Society. They raise for these objects about L4000 per annum, and support six missionaries to the heathen islands around them. The communicants in the islands amount to upwards of 25,000, and the children who attend the common schools to a still greater number.
[Footnote A: The first idol which, a catechist from Raratonga, who visited London in 1848, ever beheld, was in the Museum of the London Missionary Society.]
If we turn our eye to the great Western Continent, we see the gospel preached to its wandering Indian tribes; while the condition of Mexico and of California affords every prospect of the rapid extension of truth through kingdoms long benighted.
Mohammedan countries have also been opened to the missionary. Through the influence of Lord Aberdeen and Sir Stratford Canning, the Sultan was induced in 1844 to give religious toleration to his subjects; so that now, for the first time, a Mussulman may change his faith without incurring punishment. Several societies labour in Algiers, Egypt, Palestine, Asia Minor, Greece, and Constantinople. The Euphrates is being dried up. The Mohammedan power is tottering, and ready to fall! When it dies and is buried, who will wear mourning at its funeral?
And how strange is the meeting between the distant East and West, the distant past and near present, visible in the fact, that it is missionaries from America who now unveil to the dwellers in the land of the Chaldees, and to the wanderers among the mountains which shadow the birth-place of the human race, that blessed faith and hope which dwelt in Abram, as he journeyed at the dawn of history from that old land, and which has returned thither again in Christian men embued with Abram's faith, after having accompanied civilisation around the globe? God's blessing has signally attended the American mission among the Nestorians. The revival of religion in their schools and churches has been great and glorious.
May we not exclaim, What hath God wrought! Yet how can any statistics carry to our hearts a sense of what has been done for immortal souls by the gospel during this eventful period? What homes have been made happy by it; what families united in the bonds of love; what sick-beds soothed; what dying beds cheered; what minds illumined, and what hearts filled with joy unspeakable, and full of glory!
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In close connexion with mission work, we may state the progress made during the present century in leavening the world with the Word of God. Previous to the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804, there was not one society in existence whose sole object was the distribution of the Bible in all lands. There are now upwards of 50 principal, and 9000 auxiliary Bible societies. In 1804, the Bible was accessible to only 200 millions of men. Now it exists in tongues spoken by 600 millions. The London Bible Society alone sends forth annually upwards of 1,787,000 copies. During the last sixty years it has issued 39,315,226 Bibles, in 163 different languages, and in 143 translations never before printed. Its receipts for 1862 amount to L168,443.[A]
[Footnote A: The American Bible Society circulates upwards of 600,000 copies of the Word of God annually, at home and abroad. Besides assisting in publishing translations issued by other societies, it has been at the sole expense of publishing the Armeno-Turkish, and Modern Syriac New Testament; the entire Bible for the Burmese, and also for the Sandwich Islands; the Ojibbeway New Testament; the Gospels, or some portion of the Bible, into the languages of the Sioux, Mohawks, Seneca, and Cherokee Indians.]
It surely cannot fail to fill the heart of every Christian with deepest thankfulness, to contemplate these glorious achievements. The Church, like the angel seen in prophetic vision, has been flying with the everlasting gospel to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people. It has given the Bible to the inhabitants of the old lands of Egypt, Ethiopia, Arabia, Palestine, Asia Minor, and Persia; to the indomitable Circassian; to the mountaineers of Affghanistan; to tribes of India speaking thirty-two different languages or dialects; to the inhabitants of Burmah, Assam, and Siam; to the islanders of Madagascar and Ceylon; to the Malays and Javanese of the Eastern seas; to the millions of China, and the wandering Kalmuck beyond her great wall; to the brave New Zealander; to the teeming inhabitants of the island groups which are scattered over the Southern Pacific; to the African races, from the Cape to Sierra Leone; to the Esquimaux and Greenlander, within the Arctic circle; and to the Indian tribes of North America. All are now furnished with a translation of that wonderful volume, which, with the light of the universal living Spirit of God, at once reveals to man, in every age and clime, his lost and miserable condition, and tells him of a remedy that is adapted to meet every want of his being—to redeem him, by a moral power it alone can afford, from all sin and misery, and to bring him into the glorious fellowship of the holiness, the blessedness, and joy of Jesus Christ, and all the family of God in earth and heaven![A]
[Footnote A: The following facts regarding tract societies may be here stated:—The Religious Tract Society of London was formed in 1799. During the first year of its operations, ending in May 1800, it had issued 200,000 tracts. What is its present working power? Its annual income from sales and benevolent contributions (L12,500) is L95,000. Its annual distribution of tracts, including handbills, from the London Depository is—in English, 20,870,074, and in foreign languages, 537,729, making an annual total of 21,407,803. It publishes tracts in 117 different languages. Taking into account the number of affiliated societies, the total probable annual distribution of tracts, British and foreign, in connexion with the London Tract Society, amounts to 28,500,000. Several religious bodies in the United States maintain Tract or "Publication" Societies. But the "American Tract Society" (founded 1825) is the largest and most influential in the United States, and has a catholic constitution similar to our own Tract Society. It is supported by more than 700 auxiliary societies—those in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York being large and efficient. We may add that its circulation is not confined to the United States, but extends to Mexico, Central and South America, and to those districts in the East and Asia Minor where the American missionaries are labouring. It has issued upwards of 200,000,000 of publications since its commencement.]
And now let us ask, What shall be the history of the Church during the rest of this century? Without attempting with a vain or profane hand to uncover what God has concealed, it is surely a comfort to be able to take our stand on the immovable rock of His promises to Christ, and to rejoice in the assurance, that, sooner or later, His name must be glorious in all the earth!
But when? Is it too much to assert, that before the end of the present century, the gospel shall have been preached to all nations, the Bible translated into all tongues, and the last visible idol on earth cast down amidst the triumphant songs of the Church of Christ? We might expect this blessing judging only from the past, and the constantly-increasing ratio with which society advances. Yet, as revolutions in the physical world anticipate in a single night the slow progress of ordinary causes, so, for aught we know, may God, by some evolution of His providence, make one year do the work of many.
But while we do anticipate the most glorious results ever attained by the human race during this century, we anticipate, also, from the signs of the time, a desperate conflict of opposing systems, both of truth and error. It is not a little remarkable, that never before was there such a life and strength in every system as at this moment. Protestantism, Popery, Infidelity, and even Judaism,[A] were never so alive; and never were alive together before. Does this not look like a coming struggle?[B] But what may appear suddenly and unexpectedly, may nevertheless be the necessary results of long preparation; like the water or the gas, which suddenly enter a thousand city houses to refresh and illuminate them, but which are the results of years of labour in digging trenches, laying pipes, and erecting reservoirs, during all which time no streams of water or of gas were ever present to the senses.
[Footnote A: It is only within twenty-five years that preaching has become common in all their synagogues, while, during the same period, ten periodicals have been started by the Jews, in different parts of the world, in defence of Judaism, in some form or other.]
[Footnote B: In a conversation which we had with Neander in 1848, (immediately before the continental revolutions,) he said, "I believe we are entering a period of unprecedented warfare, which will issue in the increased glory and purity of the Church. The light and darkness will every year be more and more separated; the one becoming more bright the other more densely dark."]
But we know from the testimony of God's Word, strengthened by the experience of past ages, how certain victory is in the end, however long and apparently doubtful the campaign may be between His kingdom and every form of evil. The day has been when "the Church" was "in the wilderness," and when within that Church four men only held fast their confidence in God, believed His word, and exhorted that Church to take possession of the land of promise, saying, "Rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not." And how was that missionary sermon received? "All the congregation bade stone them with stones!" And had they done so, the world's only true lights were extinguished and lost in universal unbelief and heathenism. It was in such desperate circumstances as these that the Lord himself came to the rescue of the world, and it was then these marvellous words of promise were littered, "As truly as I live my glory will fill the earth!" The day has been, too, when "the Church" met in an upper room with shut doors, for fear of the Jews; but it was even then that its Lord said, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth: go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: and, lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world." Never more can the glory of God appear to the eyes of the weakest faith to be so dim, or the cause of Christ to be so hopeless, as it hath been in those days of old! The glory of God is filling the earth, and the gospel is being preached to all nations. Mere rays of light, which we see breaking over the mountain tops in heathen lands, are beautiful in themselves; but far more beautiful to the eye of faith are the first beams of that sun which is yet to stream into every valley now lying in darkness, and steep in its glory all the habitations of men. Those notes of joy and thanksgiving, too, are beautiful which ascend from many a heart in "Kedar's wilderness afar;" but they are still more beautiful to the ear of faith as echoes from the Rock of ages, and the prophetic song uttered by "great voices in heaven," saying, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever!"
THE MYSTERY OF SORROW.
The patriarch Job experienced the darkness and mystery of sorrow when he thus spoke:—"Know now that God hath overthrown me, and hath compassed me with his net. Behold, I cry out of wrong, but I am not heard: I cry aloud, but there is no judgment. He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and he hath set darkness in my paths. He hath stripped me of my glory, and taken the crown from my head. He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone; and mine hope hath he removed like a tree." "Even to-day is my complaint bitter; my stroke is heavier than my groaning. O that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!" "Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him. But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold."
The sweet singer of Israel sung in darkness when he said:—"My heart is sore pained within me; and the terrors of death are fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. And I said, O that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest." "Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou hast made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth."
The prophet Jeremiah cried out of the depths of mysterious sorrow when he poured forth these lamentations:—"I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light. Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day." "He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old. He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out; he hath made my chain heavy." "And thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgat prosperity. And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord: remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me."
And did not our blessed Lord himself experience, as a man, the mystery of sorrow when he cried in Gethsemane, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me;" and when, during that "hour and power of darkness" on the cross, He exclaimed, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"
If, then, our Father visits us with any sorrow which is to us dark and mysterious, let us "not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try us, as if some strange thing happened to us." Let us rather gratefully remember, that ever since our Lord has ascended up on high, and given us His Spirit to teach us and to abide with us for ever, and for our profit has recorded in His holy Word not only His acts, but also His ways towards the children of men, we are enabled to see much, light piercing our greatest darkness and sorrow, and so to know God as to strengthen our faith in His wisdom and love.
I do not know any narrative in the whole Word of God which at once reveals so much of this darkness and light—of the mystery of sorrow for a time, and the solution of the mystery afterwards—as that of the sickness, death, and resurrection of Lazarus.
That family in Bethany, we know, consisted of Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary. They were poor, and unknown to the great and busy world; but their riches and rank in the sight of the ministering angels were great indeed, for Jesus "loved them." This was the charter of the grandest inheritance. But though loved by Jesus, that love did not hinder them from being visited by a sudden affliction, and plunged for a while into deepest gloom. We are able in spirit to cross their lowly threshold, and to understand all that took place in that humble home: for human hearts and human sorrows are the same in every age. Lazarus, the head of the house, is laid on a bed of sickness. We need no details to enable all who have watched the progress of disease in the beloved member of a family—and who has been exempted from this anxiety?—to realise how the symptoms of illness, treated at first perhaps lightly, would become more serious, then alarming, until foreboding thoughts of death pained every tender affection; and we can understand how advice would be asked from kind neighbours, and every possible remedy applied. But in vain! The sufferer gets worse, and the signs of approaching dissolution rapidly succeed in delirium, prostration of strength, or altered features, until the chill of hopelessness creeps over the hearts of the sisters, and hot tears fill their watching eyes, and prayers tremble upon their pale lips, as in silence they wait for the dread hour of death to their dear one! We see it all!
But ere this last moment was reached by Martha and Mary, they are full of hope that it may be averted, for they have a secret source of relief in a Physician of body and soul. So long as they have Jesus with them, they cannot despair. He is not, however, in Bethany, but at Bethabara beyond the Jordan, a day's journey off. Yet they can send for Him; and they accordingly do so, with this simple message, "Lazarus, whom thou lovest, is sick." It is enough. There is not a word of their love, or of the love of Lazarus to Him. The appeal is to His own heart. No request is proffered. Everything is left to Himself.
Did they not, however, feel assured that Jesus would manifest His love to them in the way which seemed to them the best way,—nay, the one way only by which they could receive comfort, and be relieved from their anxiety and sorrow,—and that was by delivering Lazarus from sickness and death? For they could not but recall at that moment the many instances in which Jesus had displayed His power and love during the three years He had lived amidst the sorrowing and suffering in Judea; how unwearied His goodness had ever been; how "multitudes" had come to Him, and "He healed them all;" how health had flowed from His hands and His lips, and from His very garments; how He had showered down His blessings upon Gentile as well as Jew, upon those who were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and were accounted as "dogs;" how He had healed by merely speaking a word at a distance, and even anticipated prayer, by restoring a dead son to his widowed mother, who had never asked or expected such a blessing. And now! will He refuse to help His own beloved friend? Shall strangers, heathen, publicans and sinners, be promptly heard and answered, and Lazarus whom He loved forgotten? Impossible! The healing word must be spoken, or Jesus himself will come and manifest Himself as mighty to save!
Who can doubt but that such were the anticipations of Martha and Mary, when they sent in their distress the message to their Lord and Friend—"Lazarus, whom thou lovest, is sick?"
The messenger has departed. With what anxiety must they have measured out the time within which it was possible for Jesus to receive the intelligence. They who have sent far away for a physician in a critical case, when every minute was precious, can sympathise with their anxiety. Time passes: has the Saviour yet received the tidings of their grief? Probably not, for there is no improvement in Lazarus. The healing word has not been spoken. Time passes: now He must have heard! Yet Lazarus is no better. Time passes: and the messenger has returned, but without Jesus! Yet surely not without some message of consolation? some hope held out of relief? He brings neither! Jesus had said, indeed, that this sickness was not unto death, or rather, was "unto death only for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby." But what means this? Does it mean that Lazarus was to die? Has Jesus, then, actually refused to aid them? Though He did not promise to come, or had not spoken the word of healing, He must surely do either I It cannot be, no it cannot be, that He will desert them, or leave them alone in this trial! "Jesus, tarry not!" might have been their wailing cry: "Lazarus whom thou lovedst is sinking fast, and soon all will be over with him. Friends, neighbours, look along the road, watch the brow of that distant hill, look along that valley, and see if there are any signs of His coming?"
Alas! 'tis all in vain Lazarus is dead! And beside that silent body the two sisters are breaking their hearts. Life and death, faith and unbelief, are struggling terribly for the mastery, and strange thoughts of Christ flit across their minds like storm-clouds athwart the sun. One brother is gone, the other has not come. The one dearly loved them; the other!—they had believed in Jesus as the Messiah: they had loved Him with reverent and deep affection, they had worshipped—and now!—God of Abraham, forsake us not utterly! Our fathers trusted Thee, and were not put to shame! Oh, deliver our feet from falling, and our souls from going down to the pit! Lord, help our unbelief!