Project Canterbury

The Missionary Character of the Church Services

By Charles Frederick Mackenzie

From Mission Life, Vol. 1 (first series), September 1, 1866, pages 274-283.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2006


(Sermon by the late BISHOP MACKENZIE.)

ISAIAH xlix. 6.

"It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth."

IN this prophecy, the speaker is God the Father, the person addressed is the Son. The commission to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel, may, in some sense, no doubt, be understood as addressed to the prophet himself. But as a whole, the words are applicable only to the expected Messiah: "I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth." This is no description of the mission of Isaiah. Though, indeed, his writings are a light not only to those of his own nation, but to all the nations that hear the joyful sound, yet in no sense can ho be called "my salvation unto the end of the earth."

And if there be any doubt on the question who is here addressed, the next verse must set it at rest. "Thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, kings shall see [274/275] and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee." We have here One despised and rejected of men, abhorred by the nation; yet of such inherent majesty that kings stood up in His presence, and princes worshipped Him--a union of humiliation and majesty that points at once to the God-man; Christ Jesus.

Let us turn, then, to the commission that is given to the Son in the text, which is but a repetition, in more formal style, of the preceding verse. "It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel." It is a light thing that thou shouldest be the messenger of my covenant to the Jews only, though they are my peculiar people, I will make thee still more glorious, thou shalt be yet more strong in thy God. For "I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth."

The prophecy consists of three parts--first, the sending of Christ to be the Saviour of the Jews; then His being given for a light to the Gentiles; and lastly, His salvation reaching to the end of the earth.

The first of these is already in part accomplished--Christ came unto His own. Not fully accomplished, for His own received Him not. The bringing in of the Jews is indeed, by some, thought a thing impossible; they judge by what they see, and when they can point to the small number of conversions from among the Jews, and especially to the unsatisfactory character of many of these conversions, they think they have proved their point. But we walk by faith, not by sight. We look not to the feebleness of the instruments, but to Him who is God's servant, "to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel." When the perfect fulfilment shall come, we know not.

Still we say with St Paul, "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob." Those who are trying to bring in again God's ancient people, are but the agents of Him who received the commission direct from God. The very form of that commission, as it is given in the text, confirms the certainty of their ultimate success. He said "it is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob"--a light thing, God calls it. How, then, shall men call it a great thing, too great even for Him who has promised to perform?

But the mention of the conversion of the Jews is, as it were, [275/276] accidental, in the text. The main subject is the fact of Christ being given for a light to the Gentiles, and His salvation extending to the ends of the earth.

Now, little as the Jews understood the fulness of the scheme, of which the covenant with their nation was but a part, unwilling as they were to believe that the Gentiles were to be brought in, it was not for want of distinct intimations of God's intentions in their sacred books. They seem to have read the prophets with the preconceived idea of what God intended to do, and so they contrived in some way to get over such passages as these: "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye;" and again, in the same chapter, "Thou shalt call a nation that then knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God." And again, in the chapter chosen for the first lesson, on the day of the Epiphany, (Isa. lx.) "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen Upon thee." "And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." "The abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee."

Those passages, and many others which you will find in the latter chapters of Isaiah, the Jews contrived to forgot; so that when St Paul, standing on the stairs of the castle, addressing the multitudes, spoke of the words that he heard in trance, " Depart, for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles," they heard him unto that word, but then cried out, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for it is not fit that he should live." When Jesus said to them, "Ye shall seek me and shall not find me," their utmost thought was, will He go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles, that is, to the Jews that are scattered among the Gentiles, and so be brought into contact with the Gentiles themselves. They never for a moment imagined that He could put the Gentiles on a par with them, and teach them for their own sakes.

It is true, that, the passages to which I have referred seem to put the Jew first. The nations, it is said, shall come to thee because of the Lord thy God; for He hath glorified thee, and the Gentiles shall come to thy light; and from this the Jew might gather, that while God, who had shown himself as the God of the Jews only, would one day show Himself us the God of all nations, Jew and Gentile, still his own nation was to retain a pre-eminence, having, in fact, been longer in the family of God, and being, therefore, it might be expected, more fit for the highest place.

[277] But even with this reservation of dignity for themselves, the Jews could not brook the idea that other nations were to have any part of the privilege. This was the stumbling-block oil which so many fell; this it was which compelled St Paul, in arguing with the Jews at Antioch, to quote as authority for his conduct, the words of the text, saying, "So hath the Lord commanded us, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth."

And, my brethren, this stumbling-block is not altogether removed. There are still among Christians, yea, Gentile Christians, some who seem to think that what has been done in the spread of the gospel throughout the present limit of Christendom is all that is to be done. There are some who despair of any good result arising from sending out preachers to distant lands, to proclaim the knowledge of salvation, where the sound of the gospel has not yet been heard.

To such persons we may say, at what point would you have taken your stand if you had lived in an earlier age. Would not the same principles, or prejudices rather--on which you now ground the belief that the further spread of Christianity is an impossibility--have led you to conclude that its present extension was impossible. Had you been a Jew, would you not have believed that the Church of God, and the Jewish nation as they always had, so always would be co-extensive. Now, if your principles would in time past have led you to conclusions which experience has so flatly contradicted, will you rest satisfied with the results of those principles now?

Had you been a Jew, you would have explained away all of the text except the raising up of the tribes of Jacob, and the restoring of the dispersed of Israel. You are now willing to admit the giving of Christ for a light to the Gentiles: in both cases you are condemned by the last clause, "that then mayest be my salvation unto the ends of the earth."

But perhaps your disbelief in the success of missionary work is rather practical than theoretical; perhaps in discussion you allow that the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, while this tacit assent has no influence on your daily conduct, and in no way moulds your thoughts and hopes. I believe this to be a very common phase of mind among us. Certainly, men say the day is coming when the gospel of the kingdom shall have been preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then, but not till then, shall the end come. But still they live, and think, and work, and hope without any reference to such a result. But [277/278] when their attention has been by circumstances drawn to the subject of missions, they begin to see allusions to it where they saw none to it before. They find it connected with things which they had not observed that it had any relation to; and some of these connexions I wish now to point out to you, in the hope that you may be reminded of this which we are confessedly apt to forget at times, when your heart is open to receive the idea practically.

Observe, then, how frequently allusion is made to the preaching to the whole world, and to the ultimate success of such preaching in the regular services of our public worship; and while I draw your attention to these prayers and praises, let me repeat again and again the lesson they seem to inculcate.

First, then, occurs an instance which is probably familiar to many of you, the petitions in the Lord's prayer, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven." For how can we say that Christ's kingdom is come, is fully come, until every nation, language, and tongue have, at least, had the opportunity of learning that He is their King; that the Lord, who, their own hearts tell them, reigns over all, has sent them a code of laws, an expression of His will; a promise of help if they wish to please Him? How can we think that His will is done in earth as it is in heaven if a map of the earth presents large tracts in which His will is not even known? so that, in using this petition, we are reminded not only of our own obligation to serve Him as our king--we are not only asking His help in the endeavour to do so--but we are asking. Him to give light to the Gentiles, and His salvation to the ends of the earth; and we are acknowledging that this ought to be the state of the world, that the work on which our Saviour was sent is not finished till the gospel has been preached to every creature. This, I think at least, is implied in the petition, Thy kingdom come.

Again, in that most noble hymn of praise, the Te Deum, in which every tongue should respond and every heart should thrill, we begin by saying, "We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord." Then we join with us all others His creatures: "All the earth doth worship Thee, the Father everlasting." Not only the inanimate creation. They, indeed, declare the glory of God by showing His handiwork; but more especially man, the priest of this world, this lower court of God's infinite temple---he especially worships God in the name of the rest of His fellow-creatures, and acknowledges the common Father. In too many cases, it is true, man's worship is only an unwilling submission to superior power instead of a reasonable [278/279] service, a willing surrender of his will to the will of God. To that higher worship, it is the office of the Church to bring him--some of her ministers labouring at home, some among the heathen abroad, but each one accelerating the happy time when the holy Church throughout all the world shall acknowledge God; when, in the fullest sense, all the earth shall worship God, the Father everlasting; when this shall be as true as that which follows:--" To Thee all angels cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therein." If, then, your hearts be open, the Te Deum will continually speak to you of the work of missionaries abroad as well as of the work of the Church at home, and all at home and abroad will unite and feel strengthened by uniting to sing the worship of the everlasting Father in the name of the whole earth.

In the Canticle which is sometimes used in place of the Te Deum, we meet, at the very outset, in the form of exhortation, the same idea that we have just been considering in the form of holy confidence:--"O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord, praise Him and magnify Him forever." All ye works of the Lord without exception. Let us not make an exception of the noblest of His works, and the exhortation occurs more particularly in its place--"O ye children of men, praise ye the Lord."

Then, again, in the Benedictus, the song of Zacharias, in which the joy of a father is poured out for the high destiny of his son, the child is called the prophet of the Highest, because he should go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways; to give knowledge of salvation to His people for the remission of their sins; and further, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. That the expressions, "them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death," are intended to represent the Gentiles, will appear from a comparison of this passage with a very similar one in the beginning of the 9th chapter of Isaiah.

Then, again, in the Jubilate, the hundredth psalm, we are led by our catholic liturgy to sing--"O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands; serve the Lord with gladness, all ye lands." Then let us not be content to spend our endeavours only on our own land. Let us not be satisfied with merely singing, "Be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands." Let us rather spread the knowledge of God abroad, in order that all lauds maybe joyful in the Lord. At present He is not known, not rejoiced in, but He shall be known from the east to the west.

From the rising of the sun to the going down thereof, the Lord's name is to be praised. What a privilege that we are allowed to help [279/280] in bringing about such a consummation! I should weary you if I were to review, in like manner, the hymns of our evening service; but let me quote to you words which always speak to me of the work I am going to:--" He hath remembered His mercy and truth toward the house of Israel, and all the ends of the world have seen the salvation of our God. The Lord hath declared His salvation, His righteousness hath He openly showed in the sight of the heathen." Think how Simeon prayed that he might depart in peace--"for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, prepared before the face of all people, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel!" Or let me remind you of that beautiful Psalm, the 67th, in which after praying that God would be merciful unto us--that His way may be known upon earth, His saving health among all nations--we end by affirming our belief that God shall bless us, and all the ends of the world shall fear Him! Surely the man who is not stirred by such glowing hymns as these cannot have considered the meaning of the words as they passed his lips. Surely such a one will thank God, and take a further interest in our service, so beautiful, ay, and so practically suggestive.

Then again, in the Litany, there are two very short petitions: one for those who are already gathered into the fold, the other framed more generally still:--"That it may please Thee to bless and keep all Thy people;" and "that it may please Thee to have mercy upon all men." Let us not pray for mercy on all men, and then show no mercy to them that are most in need.

You will yourselves have thought of the prayer for all sorts and conditions of men:--"That Thou wouldst be pleased to make Thy ways known unto them, Thy saving health among all nations." My brethren, knowing as we do God's ordinary method of working by instruments, and, still more, having His strict injunctions to preach the gospel to every creature, it is a mockery to pray that He would make known His saving health unto all nations, while we forget to obey His command, and take no steps towards the fulfilment of our own expressed desire.

In thus placing before you in connexion the passages from the Prayer-book which should lead our thoughts to missionary work, I have omitted those which do not occur every Sunday. The collects for Good Friday are, as you know, most entirely to my purpose; but I have rather wished to press upon your memory the constant reference contained in the ordinary service to the future evangelisation of the whole world, in the hope that the foreign work of the Church [280/281] may for the future be more often in your thoughts, and more distinctly in your prayers. But thoughts and prayers must issue in deeds.

The commission of the Son was proclaimed in heaven. The Father says to the Son, "It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth;" but the carrying out of this He has intrusted to men.

St Paul, in Eph. iii., speaks in enthusiastic language of the greatness of the trust committed to him, the dispensation of the grace of God given to him, the mystery that was thus revealed, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs and partakers of the promise in Christ. Unto him, he says, was this grace given, that he "should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God."

The same dispensation of the grace of God, the same commission to preach the gospel which was committed to St Paul, is still given by the Church at home to all who are willing. It is true we have not now special command, as when the Holy Ghost said, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." Neither now does the Church herself select the messengers from the whole body of her sons; for those who are sent to preach to the heathen are usually volunteers: but not the less are those who are sent out intrusted with the commission of St Paul to preach the riches of Christ, to the intent that God's glory may be displayed in heaven and earth.

First, then, as a practical way of taking part in the great work, I would have you ask yourself, Am I able and willing to go out, at the bidding of the Church at home, to help in the work abroad? Are you desirous of the praise that is given to the people that willingly offered themselves. If so, weigh well the cost, search the ground of your willingness, and see whether it be not vanity, rather than love of your Lord. Such a thing is quite possible. But if you believe yourself to be sincere--if you are free to go, and willing to go--in God's came offer yourself for His service. The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few,--so few, that he who is of use at home will be of tenfold greater use abroad. His place will be easily [281/282] filled up at home; abroad he will be one more to the fifty, or the ten, or the five, who may be stationed in a diocese.

But if there be reasons why you cannot go abroad, and there are not very many who can, though those who go are very much fewer than those who might go,--but if there be reasons why you cannot go, remember there is work to do at home. There could have been no command, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul," if there had not been a church already planted at Antioch.

The strength of the Church abroad will depend in no small degree on the strength and earnestness of the Church at home. Do, then, what you can for the cause in your own country; assist in the building of churches, and supporting the clergy in places too poor to stand without support. Assist in training the youth in the truths of religion and the fellowship of the Church. These you may do through the Church Society. Above all, advance the cause of Christ at home by the example of a holy, self-denying, kind, and generous temper, springing from the love of Christ; but, lastly, serve the cause of Christ abroad by aid to the funds of missions. We are bound to extend to others the privileges God has granted to us. And do not think that you are already doing all that is required of you. If the means of the missionary societies were increased tenfold, they would not be too large for the work that is before them.

I know that you have many other claims on your liberality. You have great claims on you at home. The poor and the sick are the representatives of Jesus. When they receive comforts or sympathy from you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto these His brethren, ye have done it unto Him. The Church at home has great claims upon you: her children must be taught, schools built, ministers provided with the necessaries of their station in life, and churches built for the decent worship of God. Far be it from me to make light of such pressing claims as these. Gladly would I see the funds for these schemes increased to something nearer the amounts absolutely required.

But these claims, pressing as they are, do not relieve you from the duty of aiding in the work of the Church abroad. When we turn to the words of the text, the scene is heaven, the Father saying to His co-equal Son, "I will give then for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth." When we think to what that Son was given up to carry out the purpose of the Father, does not the devotion of a lifetime to the work sink into insignificance compared with the magnitude of the work that is to be [282/283] done--compared with the price that was willingly paid in the first instance? What sacrifice on our part can be too great, if only it can further the merciful designs of God to His erring, His unhappy children!

What punishment, think you, awaits those who, being stewards for God, refuse to give Him of His own? What joy, what undeserved reward shall be given to those who, feeling that they are not their own, but bought with a price, do glorify God in their body and spirit, which are His, and forget not to do good and to distribute, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

Project Canterbury