« ForrigeFortsæt »
ON APATHY TO THE EXTENT OF THE CLAIMS
OF THE HEATHEN WORLD.
My dear Friend,
In a missionary sermon, preached about forty years ago before the society in Scotland for propagating christian knowledge, the following passage occurs: "To a dark and benighted world at large our efforts cannot extend: new arrangements of providence alone can pave the way for its conversion. But while we feel for the unhappy situation of the vast multitudes of our fellow-creatures remaining in ignorance and idolatry, and lament our incapacity to bring them relief, let us humbly and earnestly recommend them to the compassionate regards of the great universal Parent. Let us plead with him as arguments his respect to his own glory, and to the best interests of his rational offspring; let us plead with him his own truth and faithfulness in fulfilling his promises, that by methods known to his infinite wisdom he would enlighten the dark places of the earth with the pure light of evangelical truth, and hasten the happy time foretold when the dominion of Christ
shall extend from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.""*
I have quoted this passage because I consider it as expressing the sentiments of a class of persons among us still very numerous, although, I would fain hope, decidedly on the decrease. Much has been said and written on missionary subjects since the date of the discourse from which the above extract is taken; but not enough, it would seem, to convince some of their DUTY in reference to this point-the duty of making greater exertions and greater sacrifices for the spread of the gospel.
The leading sentiment of the passage under review is obvious enough; but all its bearings may not be at once perceived. With a view to expose the real nature and tendency of it, I beg leave to offer a few remarks.
Whilst the notion is entertained that our efforts cannot extend to "a dark and benighted world at large," there may be the full admission that so to extend them, were it possible, would be a noble and christian enterprise ;-one in which every true christian should rejoice, and assist as far as in his power. But the attempt is too great!
The words I have quoted are immediately preceded by an inference drawn from the adaptation
* Kemp's sermon, entitled "The Gospel adapted to the State and Circumstances of Men." Scotch Preacher, vol. iv. p. 281.
of the gospel to the state and circumstances of man, to this effect" that to extend the knowledge, and to promote the influence of this divine system are the noblest objects of human benevolence." But alas! with such objects for the exercise of benevolence, and such a field as the world for the display of it, unfortunately for "humanity," they are beyond its reach! The scheme is impracticable. The world is too benighted; and our means of enlightening it are too limited to permit us to indulge the hope that any efforts of ours can be brought to bear with effect upon "the world at large." "New arrangements of providence alone can pave the way for its conversion!" and with this sentiment we fold our hands, and sit down, thinking that we are absolved from all obligation to concern ourselves any farther about the matter!
The rest of the paragraph is much in the same spirit with the pious expressions of the rich man who dismisses the starving beggar from his door with "God help you, poor man!" instead of giving him the alms he can very well afford. "Let us humbly and earnestly recommend them to the compassionate regards of the great universal Parent: let us plead with him, as arguments, his respect to his own glory, and to the best interests of his rational offspring." Compare with this James ii. 15, 16. "If a brother or a sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things
which are needful to the body, what doth it profit? Even so faith if it hath not works is dead being alone." Now I leave you to judge what is the worth of that faith which "pleads with God his own truth and faithfulness in fulfilling his promises; that by methods known to his infinite wisdom he would enlighten the dark places of the earth with the pure light of evangelical truth," &c. The deceptive and pernicious sentiment which lurks behind this fair shew of concern for God's glory is, that it is God's work and not ours-that it is for him to see to it ; and, although we must FEEL for the unhappy situation of the vast multitudes of our fellow-creatures remaining in ignorance and idolatry, it is not our fault that these evils are not removed! Such a prayer, accompanied with corresponding "works of faith and labours of love" for the relief of the miseries it professes to deplore, would be a suitable acknowledgment of the need of God's blessing to render human means effectual. But when such a prayer is made to supersede all efforts, or offered as an apology for declining them, it is, I apprehend, nothing better than a solemn insult to the divine Majesty-a compound of wretched hypocrisy and impiety.
I conceive that the sentiment upon which we are now animadverting has a most prejudicial tendency, although it be not carried so far as to paralyze all exertion whatever-that it operates in a degree in the breasts of many who aid by their subscriptions, and it may be, by their general in
fluence and prayers, the cause of missions to the heathen. Where its operation is partial, it allows the individual to think he has done enough when he has done a little; whereas a right perception of duty on this point would forbid him to think he had done enough, so long as by any means whatever he could contrive to do more.
It is unnecessary, I should hope, to enter into a formal refutation of the opinion that “to a dark and benighted world at large our efforts CANNOT extend." That opinion is, blessed be God, already practically contradicted. The undertakings of missionary societies that have sprung up since Mr. Kemp preached the sermon referred to, circumscribed as their attempts have hitherto been, shew that christians are deterred neither by distance of place nor extent of population from embarking in missions to any part of the world. They distinctly recognize the principle that "the world at large" is the object of their efforts. However disproportionate in point of quantity are the means yet in activity or in preparation for the cultivation of the moral soil-" the field is the world."
But the very magnitude of the object occasions a kind of despondency. Many would enter with all their soul into some scheme of benevolence of more limited extent, where the evils to be removed or alleviated are immediately in view, and the effects of exertion subject to personal observation; but the conversion of the world is an object so