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The Morians' Land Stretching out Her Hands unto God

By Christopher Wordsworth

From Mission Life, Vol. (Dec. 1, 1866), pages 453-463.

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


A Sermon on behalf of the Central African Mission, preached on All Saints' Eve, in the Church of the Holy Trinity, Windsor, by CHR. WORDSWORTH, D.D., Archdeacon of Westminster.

Psalm lxviii. 31

"Then shall the princes come out of Egypt: the Morians' land shall soon stretch out her hands unto God."

IN these words of one of our Pentecostal psalms, the Holy Spirit foretells the turning of Africa to God; and the joy with which she will embrace the gospel is described by the liveliest imagery. She will stretch out her hands, or, more expressively in the original, she will make her hands run to God. She will shoot them forth to Him in the eagerest ejaculations of passionate supplication, like a captive imploring to be freed. Thus in the text, brethren, the Holy Spirit encourages us to meditate with hope on the blessed consummation which occupies our thoughts at this time.

In order to stimulate our efforts in this holy cause, let us reflect on some of the gracious workings of God's providence in Africa for the diffusion of the gospel in ancient times. In the year B.C. 332, the great African city Alexandria was founded by the illustrious conqueror from whom it derives its name, and became the royal residence of the Ptolemies. One of that dynasty, Ptolemy Philadelphus, was a signal instrument in God's hands for disseminating His holy Word. At his instance the Hebrew Scriptures--in part, at least--[453/454] were translated into Greek, the language of the most learned nation of the civilised world. And thus Egypt itself, the land of the Pharaohs, was made a highway for the gospel. The great Hebrew lawgiver, Moses, had been saved when an infant in an ark of bulrushes on the Nile. That ark was made of the papyrus of the river, and in it he floated in safety; and the word which he himself uses in the Book of Exodus to describe it, is the same word as is used by Isaiah* [Footnote: *Compare Isa. xviii.2, xix. 7, xxxv. 7, with Exodus ii. 3.] speaking of Egypt as sending messengers by the sea in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters. And surely it is not unworthy of remark that the same reed or bulrush of Egypt, the papyrus, one of its principal articles of commerce, by which, under God's providence, the writer of the Pentateuch was saved from Pharaoh, has been made also the instrument by God's providence for preserving and disseminating the Scriptures themselves. They have been saved from our spiritual enemy, and have been buoyed up on the waters of this world by the same means. It is another noteworthy circumstance in the life of the Hebrew lawgiver that he married an Ethiopian woman.+ [Footnote: +Num. xii. 1.] This incident, coupled with the fact in the history of Solomon, the type of Christ, that he espoused the daughter of Pharaoh the king of Egypt, and that she it is whose bridal love appears to have given occasion to the Canticles, has been regarded by ancient Christian expositors, as not only possessing an historical interest but also as having a figurative and prophetic significance, foreshadowing the mystical union, in spiritual wedlock, of Africa with Christ.

The infant Jesus himself found refuge in Africa. "Out of Egypt have I called my Son."# [Footnote: #Hosea xi. 1; Matt. ii. 15.] From Egypt, Jesus Christ went forth, as Israel, His national type, had gone forth before Him, to evangelise Palestine. Isaiah saw in the Spirit, a gracious earnest of God's mercy to Egypt. "In that day shall there be an altar in the midst of the land of Egypt, and they shall cry unto the Lord."§ [Footnote: §Isa. xix. 19, 20.] Voices did cry unto the Lord from Egypt, when many "from Egypt and the parts of Libya, towards Cyrene," listened to St Peter's sermon at Pentecost, and were baptized.% [Footnote: %Acts ii. 10-41.] Surely the Morians' land stretched out her hands unto God in the person of the Ethiopian treasurer, who read Esaias the prophet in his chariot, as he returned from Jerusalem, and was baptized by St Philip. Surely the Morians' land stretched out her hands to God in Apollos, that eloquent man of Alexandria, mighty in the Scriptures. Surely the Morians' land stretched out her hands to God in the persons of those holy men, the teachers of St Mark's [454/455] catechetical school at Alexandria, such as Pantænus the missionary to India, such as St Clement, that learned apologist of Christian truth, and persuasive preceptor of Christian practice; and such as Origen, his great pupil, indefatigable in his Biblical labours, and ennobled by heartiest devotion to the truth, and undaunted courage in persecution. Surely the Morians' land. not only stretched out her hands to God, but maintained the faith with a firm grasp, in order to deliver it unscathed to future generations, when its soil produced an Athanasius. By the help of God, that gallant soldier of the cross stood unmoved and almost alone against all the power and wiles of the evil one. He remained firm, "doing what a good man ought to do, and suffering what a good man may expect to suffer in evil days, Athanasius against the world and the world against Athanasius."* [Footnote: *Hooker's Eccl. Pol., v. 42.]

Let us here turn aside a little to that other great African city, the noblest colony of Phnicia, Carthage. "I recognise the destiny of Carthage," said Hannibal,+ [Footnote: +Liv., xxvii. 51.] when he withdrew his forces from Italy. He felt, unconscious of its source, the mysterious force of Noah's prophecy, "A servant of servants shall he be."# [Footnote: #Gen. ix. 25.] But it had been promised also, that in Abraham's seed, which is Christ, all nations, and therefore Africa, should be blessed.§ [Footnote: §Gal. iii. 28; Col. iii. 11.] Rome, of the seed of Japhet, conquered Carthage, of the family of Ham. But Carthage, although conquered by Rome in the conflicts of the sword, was not inferior to Rome in the nobler conquests of the cross. Africa was the teacher of Italy. The earliest Christian literature in the Latin tongue did not grow up in Italy at Rome, but in Africa at Carthage. Tertullian, the son of an African soldier, and who for his fervour and his courage may be called a Christian Hannibal, was the first great preacher of the gospel in the language of Italy. The light of Christianity burns in his writings with the splendour of an African sun. It shows us what we may hope for, if Africa can be gained to the gospel. Honour be to his memory! Failings doubtless he had, as Origen had, and as every child of man has, but who among us could bear to dwell on them when he remembers the courage with which this noble-hearted African came forth as a champion of the cross in the hour of persecution, and when we recollect the dexterity with which this holy archer of the gospel drew forth from a full quiver the keen and luminous arrows of Holy Scripture, and routed its enemies with his spiritual artillery at a time when men's memories were their only dictionaries, and when their minds and hearts were [455/456] instead of indexes and concordances. At such a time as that, Tertullian confuted the cavils of the Jews, and dispelled the dreams of the Gnostics, and established the true faith concerning the resurrection of the body, the person of Christ, and the doctrine of the blessed Trinity.

Kindled at his light, but burning with a milder lustre, shone that other luminary of Carthage and Africa, St Cyprian. Charitable and tolerant toward the weak, he was a steadfast upholder of Christian unity. He knew and taught that the spiritual graces, which flow from Christ our divine Head, are dispensed to His members by means of the regular ministries of religion, and are vouchsafed to all who dwell together in loving communion with the catholic Church. At the same time, it is clear that his principles of Christian unity were not mere speculative theories, but were living springs of Christian practice. The Pestilence which raged at Carthage in his episcopate gave evidence of this. The Christian bishop, in that hour of trial, derived new strength from the Holy Spirit of God, and moved in an orbit of his own, in calm dignity and apostolic charity, amid the horrors of the time. "Plagues and pestilences," he said in a writing still extant,* [Footnote: *S. Cyprian de Mortalitate, c. 10-14.] "may seem terrible to some; but we understand their meaning. They are trials of our Christian faith, and exercises of our Christian love. They are a holy discipline, training us in a school of sorrow for a crown of glory. Why should we weep for our friends who fall asleep in Christ? They have been released from the prison of this world, and have set out before us on a happy journey to a blessed home." These were not idle words--as he wrote, so he lived and so he died; that holy African bishop sealed his testimony with his blood, a blessed martyr for Christ.

At a short distance from Carthage was the city of Hippo, memorable in the history of the Church of Africa and the world, as the Episcopal see of St Augustine. In him she possessed an expositor of Holy Scripture whose mind was illumined by the Holy Spirit, and whose lips seem to have been touched with holy fire from the altar of God. He occupied the Episcopal See of Hippo for thirty-five years, and in him the Church beheld one of the most beautiful examples of piety, learning, and wisdom, that ever was displayed in the actions and writings of a Christian bishop. To him Christendom is indebted for some of the strongest safeguards against dangerous error, and for some of the securest bulwarks of saving truth.

In his conflict with the Manichaean heresy, St Augustine [456/457] maintained the supremacy and goodness of the great First Cause; and proved by invincible demonstration that the Old Testament is in perfect harmony with the New, and that the Law and the Prophets were preparatory to the Gospel, and were fulfilled in it.

In opposition to the proud self-sufficiency of Pelagian presumption, he asserted the absolute necessity of divine Grace, for the sanctification of the human Will, and for the favourable acceptance of men's actions with God.

We ourselves in England owe a large debt of gratitude to St Augustine in one respect especially. It was by God's mercy a distinguishing characteristic of the English Reformation, that it was not innovating but restorative; that it did not destroy or abandon any ancient truth, whether in doctrine or discipline, because it had been abused; but endeavoured to remove the abuse, and to restore and confirm the use.

For this wise and charitable spirit, the Church of England was indebted, under God, to the deference paid by our Reformers to the writings of the great African bishop St Augustine, more perhaps than to those of any other man. In his long controversy with the partisans of the Donatists in Africa, he had shown from God's holy Word, that personal disqualifications do not vitiate and invalidate official acts; that Christian baptism, administered by the hands of an evil apostle, even a Judas, is efficacious to the salvation of those who receive it faithfully, by virtue of Christ's institution; that a church does not cease to be a church, because there are evil men and evil ministers in it; and that it is not to be deserted by its members on such pleas as these; that the threshing floor of the Church is still Christ's floor, though chaff may be mingled in it with good grain; that the field of the Church is still God's field, although tares may grow in it together with wheat; that this condition of commixture and imperfection is and ever will be the condition of the visible Church of God on earth, even to the end, and then, but not till then, will a severance be made for ever of the evil from the good.

Happily for us, the Church of England maintained these great truths at the Reformation; on the one hand, she affirmed that nothing could justify her in persisting in any error, proved to be such, whether in doctrine or discipline; and therefore England was bound to reform herself, whatever Rome might do; and on the other hand she was convinced that nothing could excuse her in cutting off herself from communion with Christ, and His holy apostles, and from the primitive ages of Christianity, by setting up any new creed, or [457/458] any new order of Christian ministers; and therefore she did not break the chain of evangelical doctrine and apostolical discipline, let down from the hand of Christ sitting on His heavenly throne. She did not rudely tear asunder the links of that sacred chain, although in its transmission through the hands of the Church of Rome it had been sullied and corroded with the rust of manifold human corruptions, but she thanked God for having preserved that chain unbroken; and she endeavoured by His grace to purify and strengthen it, and to restore it to its original brightness and freshness, as it came forth from the hand of Christ.

At the age of seventy-six, St Augustine fell asleep in Christ, in the year of the Christian era 430. The city in which he lived and taught so long, was at that time beleaguered by Vandal armies who ravaged Africa, and laid it waste with fire and sword. He died of a fever in the third month of the siege. Everything then looked dark and dreary, but he died in faith and hope; and successive ages have enjoyed the blessed fruits, which God has made to flourish and abound from the labours and sufferings of this faithful confessor of Jesus Christ.

The evidence of God's blessing on the self-sacrifice of these ancient saints and martyrs, to whom we have referred, in preaching the gospel in Africa and in extending the Church of Christ, may be seen in the fact that at the period at which we have arrived in tracing the history of the ancient African Church,--namely, the fifth century after Christ, there were not less than five hundred and sixty Episcopal sees, with their dependent churches, in the north of Africa, from Egypt to Mauritania.

Let us not, therefore, imagine that the seed of God's Word has not been already fruitful in Africa, or that the soil of Africa is not congenial to Christianity. Though in His righteous indignation, God permitted it to be overrun by the Vandals in the fifth century, and afterwards by the armies of the Arabian impostor and his successors, yet already had rich harvests been gathered in Africa, and safely stowed in the garner of the Lord. "Blessed are they that die in the Lord, for they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them."* [Footnote: *Rev. xix. 13.] They speak by their examples, they preach by their lives and their deaths. They were compassed with human infirmities like ourselves. But God blessed their work. And if they were able to do and suffer as they did, may not we do likewise? And let us not imagine that their missionary work is done, [458/459] because we see them no more. Holy martyrs die, but martyrdoms are springs of life. A Cyprian dies, an Augustine dies, a Mackenzie dies; but, (as St John, in the book of Revelation teaches us,) the disembodied souls of martyrs and confessors pray beneath the altar, they pray for the coming of Christ's kingdom upon earth. Blessed, for ever blessed be the names of those holy men who suffered in Africa, and who "being dead, yet speak."* [Footnote: *Heb. xi. 4.] Let us show our gratitude to them, and above all to God, for His work in them and by them. They beckon to us. We see the bright light of the churches which were planted in ancient times, like beacon-fires of the gospel, along the northern coast of Africa; and they make signals to us to encourage us to persevere in our labours, and to endeavour to continue the telegraphic series, till it stretches through the darkness of Central Africa, till it connects the ancient churches of St Cyprian, St Athanasius, and St Augustine, with the cathedrals of English colonies in Caffraria and Cape Town.

Brethren, some persons seem to think that the work which specially calls for our prayers and alms to-day--the mission to Central Africa--has failed. But you are not of that mind. Nay, rather, may we not say with humble hope and trust, that it never had a better prospect of success than now? And why? Even because of checks and hindrances that it has had to encounter. We may derive wisdom from them. Some of us here present may remember the great meeting at Cambridge on behalf of this Mission, on the festival of All Saints, in the year 1859. Some of us may recollect the rapturous joy, the ecstatic enthusiasm, and may we not say the sanguine confidence, which were then displayed. Even then, to some quiet observers, these things appeared to be ominous, and almost alarming; especially when contrasted with the cold and cheerless appearance on the same festival of St Mary's Church at Cambridge, when a wise and holy preacher--he was no other than Archdeacon, afterwards Bishop Mackenzie--was speaking with simple and earnest eloquence, to a thin audience, on the blessed truths taught by that day's festival, truths of which, we may reverently believe, his disembodied spirit now feels the full comfort and power.

In that sermon, he used the following words:--" If the greatest solace and happiness to a Christian be the communion of heart and soul with the faithful upon the earth, who shall conceive the bliss of meeting with those of whom we have heard and read--with Abraham and Joseph, with Moses and Elias, with David and Josiah, or [459/460] with those who were greater than they--St Peter, St John, or St Paul! Should we not thank God for them, that they are gone before, not only for their sakes, because they have come out of great tribulation, and arrived safe at the haven where they would be, but also for ourselves; because we hope, when the strife is over, and our work on earth is finished, to be admitted to that heavenly society, and to know them also, even as we are known?"

Brethren, as you may remember, there was much brilliant and impassioned oratory in the senate-house at Cambridge on that day. But where were the united prayers in the Church, in aid of the Mission? Where were the gatherings together for the holy communion? May we not learn something here as to the true strength of Christian missions. It is not in the crowded hall or on the platform, (however important these aids may be in their due order and degree,) but it is in the blessing of God poured down in gracious abundance on the quiet supplications and cheerful offerings of Christian hearts, joined together in love.

Again, it may seem presumptuous, perhaps, to offer any opinion as to the propriety of the spot chosen for the first planting of the Mission. But events are wise teachers. It appeared as if we thought at that time, that by one bold onslaught we could take African heathenism by storm. But Satan is not so conquered in his strongholds. There is such a thing as missionary science. There are strategies and tactics in evangelisation as well as in war. And one of their first principles is, that a small, noble-hearted mission band should not be stimulated by us, who stay at home, to throw itself at once into an isolated position, from which it has no retreat, and from which it cannot readily communicate with its friends and allies for supplies and reinforcements, and for the regular support of its spiritual commissariat.

Remember, brethren, the missionary tactics of that great apostolic captain and conqueror, St Paul. He had a basis of his missionary operations at Antioch in Syria, the capital of Gentile Christendom, the city where he himself was ordained to his apostleship; and on that base he fell back, after three successive missionary campaigns in Asia and Greece. He had another base of missionary operations at Jerusalem, which he used in a similar way. Brethren, the Mission to Central Africa has now, thank God, a base for its operations, and an excellent one it is. That base is Zanzibar.

Let us not repine that our plans have not succeeded in our way. God's way is better than our way. He often helps missions by what [460/461] seem hindrances. Even St Paul himself was helped by being hindered. We read, in the Acts of the Apostles, (xvi. 6) that he traversed Phrygia and Galatia, being "forbidden by the Holy Ghost to preach the Word in Asia." Asia, with its great capital, Ephesus, seemed, doubtless, to human eyes, a favourable field for missionary enterprise, and so it afterwards became. Witness the successful labours of St Paul and St John there; but the time was not yet come. St Paul was therefore forbidden to preach there, and was sent in another direction, till the season should be ripe for the work in Asia. Again, when he engaged to preach in Bithynia, the Spirit suffered him not, (Acts xvi. 7.) He must go elsewhere. But Bithynia was afterwards evangelised.

So, brethren, it may be with us: We have assayed to preach at once in Central Africa; but the Spirit has not suffered us, and has sent us to Zanzibar. And if we do our work faithfully and zealously there, we may hope, like St Paul, though prevented for a time, to conquer eventually in that field, which will doubtless one day be gained for Christ, and which is the object of our desires.

We may derive encouragement here from considering our own spiritual history. When Gregory the Great sent Augustine from Rome to England, at the end of the sixth century, he commissioned him to place the metropolitical see at London, and to found twenty-four bishoprics in England. But God willed it otherwise. The metropolitical see was not founded at London but at Canterbury, and only three bishoprics of the twenty-four were founded in the lifetime of St Augustine, and not long after his death, that part of England which he had evangelised relapsed into heathenism. But still England was Christianised in God's time, and in His way. It was Christianised in great measure by means of native missionaries of the British isles, such as we, brethren, are endeavouring to raise up for Africa. It was Christianised by such missionaries as were trained under St Patrick, who was originally a slave in Ireland, and who became afterwards its apostle; and St Columba, the son of a native prince of Ireland, who founded the famous missionary school in the island of Iona, which sent forth able and zealous preachers, who evangelised Scotland and England, and even some nations of the continent of Europe. May not Zanzibar be to Africa, what Iona was to us? The history of St Patrick, a slave, and afterwards the great missionary of Ireland, (and his success was due, mainly, under God, to his knowledge of its language and its habits,) may encourage us to believe, that some of the liberated African slaves, who are now under [461/462] English training at Zanzibar, and who are acquainted with some of the dialects of Africa, and are able to bear its climate, may one day become its evangelists; and the example of St Columba, the son of a native prince, may suggest the hope that some of the children of African chiefs who are under English instruction, may be chosen instruments in God's hands for spreading the gospel in their own land. This is no private imagination. A century and a half ago, one of our saintliest bishops, Bishop Berkeley,* [Footnote: *See Bishop Berkeley' Works, ii. 281-293; and "Africa in the West," by Rev. W. C. Dowding, 1852.] propounded a plan for missionary operations among negroes, by means of liberated Africans, to be trained at a college in Bermuda, and a plan of this kind is now being tried with success from Barbadoes, by means of the Pongas Mission in the west of Africa. Why should not the isle of Zanzibar do a similar work in the east?

Only, brethren, let us not be too impatient for results. God is now trying us. He is testing our faith and trust in Him. "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation," (Luke xvii. 20.) The leaven of the gospel works slowly. The grain of mustard seed grows insensibly. Let me earnestly commend this holy cause to your prayers, and let me implore your liberal contributions in its behalf. "Let us not be weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not."

My beloved brethren, Almighty God is calling us to-day to make renewed efforts in this holy work. He is opening to us a way by which we may make some amends for the wrongs done to Africa, and may rescue her children not only from temporal chains, but from the worse slavery of Satan. He invites us to consecrate our commerce, by making it the pioneer of the gospel. He invites us to establish there Christian colonies and Christian emporiums, which may supply an abundance of cotton, cultivated by free men, to the marts of Liverpool, and to the mills of Manchester.

And in doing this He has higher ends in view; He would make us to be blessed instruments in His hands for extinguishing the slave trade, by superseding the need of slave labour for the production of cotton in other lands; and for extending that high and holy commerce, the commerce of men with men of' every race and kindred, as redeemed and ransomed by the same blood of Christ, into the perfect freedom of serving God, and as fellow-members in Him, and for extending also the commerce of earth with heaven, and the commerce of men with God.

[463] In ancient times, as we have seen, Almighty God, who loves to effect the greatest works by the weakest instruments, employed a vegetable product of the waters of the river Nile, the papyrus, or paper plant, which was one of the richest commodities of the commerce of ancient Africa, and He made that tufted reed to be an instrument in spreading the gospel, by multiplication of copies of the Holy Scriptures, which were wafted on the paper wings of that plant, into all parts of the world. And there is another small and lowly plant with a snow-white tuft--the cotton tree--which grows in rich luxuriance in the regions of Central Africa, and fringes the margin of the great river Zambesi, the Nile of Central Africa. By that small and lowly plant, God invites our commerce into those regions. And our commerce, let us hope and pray, may prepare the way for Christianity. Then, indeed, will be fulfilled in all its amplitude, the prophecy, "The Morians' land shall soon stretch out her hands unto God." Those hands, too often manacled by men who call themselves Christians, will be darted forth in eloquent gestures of gratitude to their deliverers, and in holy utterances of prayer and praise to Him; they will run to God, who has ransomed them from the thraldom of sin and Satan, by the price of the blood of His own dear Son. Thus, in fine, my beloved brethren, we shall be like wise merchantmen, hallowing our trade by Christianity, bearing blessings with us in our voyages across the ocean, having a gracious benediction from God, the Father of all, and bearing as the ensign of our ships the cross of His dearly beloved Son, and wafted onwards on our way by the breath of God the Holy Ghost, and steering our course by the chart of the gospel, to the peaceful haven of eternity.

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