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vast, so distant, so far beyond our grasp, and the effect of any exertions of ours, so utterly insignificant, that when they are applied to for their aid, give their money with a desponding sigh, as if they despaired of any greater effect of human exertions, upon the ancient fabric of ignorance and idolatry, than might be expected from throwing so many pieces of silver against the walls of a material fabric of stone and lime, that had resisted all the effects of time for thousands of
When an object is viewed as unattainable, or at least not attainable now, except to a very partial extent, it is impossible, according to the constitution of human nature, that men should engage with zeal in the pursuit of it. Or if by any means they could be induced to begin, they cannot be expected to persevere with spirit. On this principle the sentiment against which these remarks are directed is, I think, peculiarly reprehensible; for the tendency of it is to repress all ardour in the best of causes; and the effect of it, so far as it operates, is to unnerve the arms of all who are engaged in it, and then to justify the state of supineness to which it has reduced them.
In this cause we can do nothing aright unless we do all we can. If any one come short of the limits of his ability in aiding this cause, he betrays a criminal indifference which renders all that he does accomplish worthless in the sight of God; and however it may be overruled for good by Him who can
make the lukewarmness as well as the wrath of man to praise him; yet such a spirit, considered in itself, must be regarded by infinite PURITY and LOVE, with the loathing occasioned by that which is neither cold nor hot.
I take it for granted then, in opposition to the sentiment of the sermon, that to the world at large the efforts of christians can extend; at least in the same sense in which the merchant can carry his goods, and the soldier his arms to every part of the world, i. e. they can if they will; and therefore the only impossibility in the case resolves itself into our own unwillingness to obey a plain command, to fulfil an imperious duty; and this is the simple view in which the subject ought to be contemplated.
I repeat then that in attending to this duty we have not done enough; so long as by any means whatever we might contrive to do more. Let this view of the matter but possess the mind of christians generally; let the friends of missions bring the amount of their exertions into fair comparison with the claims that are made upon them; let one and all of them be penetrated with the conviction that they have not yet done all they might. Let them faithfully act up to these convictions, and I will be bold to predict that in the course of a very short period the missionary world will wear a very different face. There will be a spirit and an activity, and a devotedness in the work in
all its branches, which we have never yet witnessed.
Perhaps the author of the discourse modified the expression of his views as to the conversion of the heathen world, in order to make his argument tell with greater effect upon the immediate object of the society, whose cause he was advocating; for he says, "Although by good wishes and prayers alone, we can express our christian benevolence to the infidel world at large, yet on behalf of certain corners of it we may certainly employ more active and more immediate exertions. To the remote, uncultivated, untutored districts of our own country in particular, we may; and every principle of religion and every feeling of humanity call upon us to send relief by such means as are within our power."
Now I beg you to observe here three things, 1st. It is admitted to be "a duty, enforced by every principle of religion and every feeling of humanity, to send relief to the necessitous by such means as are in our power." 2nd-That we can express this benevolence to the world at large by good wishes and prayers alone. And 3rd-That therefore, it is our duty in effect to confine our exertions within certain geographical boundaries. Now I maintain that the middle term of this syllogism is a mere assumption, instead of a thing rigidly proved, and we have already seen that it is utterly false, consequently the conclusion falls to the ground. But I appeal to you whether the effect of such a
representation of the nature and extent of their duty to a christian congregation, would not be (if they admitted the correctness of the preacher's statements) to make them feel fairly delivered from all obligation to extend their practical benevolence beyond the limited bounds he had been pleased to prescribe.
There can be no question as to the claims of our immediate neighbours, our countrymen, upon our compassion; but their claims are not exclusive of that of our "brethren" the Hindoos, or the Caffres, or the cannibals of New Zealand; and surely the man incurs an awful responsibility who takes upon him, by presenting to his hearers partial views of duty, to absolve them from the obligation to listen to the command of Christ to go into ALL THE WORLD and preach the gospel to every creature. For such in effect is the doctrine of the sermon before us.
You know too well the present state of things in many religious circles, in various parts of our native country, to reckon this an obsolete discussion. Would that the evil had been confined to the date of the sermon, or had at least terminated with the eighteenth century! But I am afraid that many ministers, who, we may hope, know and love the truth, treat the subject of evangelizing the world (at least as to any practical purpose) as a subject which may very consistently be let alone. When they do allude to it, they will own that they ought to give it their" good wishes and prayers;"
but it is rather by their silence upon the subject— by their allowing it to be lost sight of and forgotten, that they tacitly authorize their people (so far as their authority may go) to view it as a matter they may safely leave alone-as, in short, no concern of theirs.
I cannot account, upon any principle more favourable to the parties concerned, for the state of dormancy in which many congregations and churches still remain, in regard to a cause which to all christians ought to be so dear and important. I know that there are many noble exceptions to this evangelical apathy (shall I call it?); and were all the churches, were all christians to do as some of them do, that is, to the utmost stretch of their means, this censure would be without an object. But alas! it is not so. The capabilities of the christian public are matter of numerical calculation, and, much as some do, the amount of all that is done, is but a small fraction of what, according to a very moderate computation, might be effected. I have now in my eye their pecuniary capabilities; but what shall we think or what shall we say of their ability to furnish men? How many fit men do all the churches of Great Britain and Ireland furnish annually to go out as missionaries to the heathen? Is it the fact that not one church in a hundred, actually sends out a single missionary? Is it a fact that thousands of christian churches meet week after week, and year after