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The Prospects of Christianity in the East

By Francis Thomas McDougall

From Mission Life, Vo1. V (first series), January 1, 1868, pages 51-60.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2008


(A Sermon preached by the LORD BISHOP OF LABUAN at S. Lawrence, Gresham Street.)

MALACHI i, 11.

"From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same My name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto My name, and a pure offering: for My name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of Hosts."

THESE are blessed words of encouragement to every faithful Christian man who daily prays "Thy kingdom come" in all the fulness of its meaning, and looks for their fulfilment as a matter of deep interest to himself; and the Missionary who has spent many years of his life labouring among the heathen learns more than other men to cherish this and other similar prophetic announcements of God's Word as his great comfort and support. When, for instance, he pauses to consider the work before him, and contemplating the moral blindness and hardness of heart of the people he has to teach, he painfully realises how truly the Prophet Isaiah's words apply to them, that "they trust only in vanities and speak lies, that their feet run to evil and make haste to shed innocent blood, their thoughts are full of iniquity, and truth is fallen in the street, so that equity cannot enter, and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey;" his spirit sinks within him at the thought of his own weakness, his work seems too great for him, and, unmindful of the gifts of his sacred calling, and the mighty unseen power working with those to whom "the grace is given to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ to the Gentiles," he exclaims, "Who is sufficient for these things?"

It is at such times that words like those of the text come home with power to the Missionary's heart, and remind him that "the Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save, neither His ear heavy that it cannot hear," but that in God's own good time "the heathen shall learn to fear the Lord from the west and His glory from the rising of the sun, and that His name shall, indeed, be great among the Gentiles;" and he [51/52] is enabled to go forth again to his work with renewed energies and brighter hopes, thanking the Lord for the comfort of His blessed Word, and for the pledges and tokens already given him in: his work of the fulfilment of God's precious promises.

This is a brief sketch of a working Missionary's feelings--of his hopes and fears, of his weakness and strength. It is as a Missionary that I am about to address you a few plain words upon the subject of our Church's Missions in the East, and to tell you why I think the prophetic promise of the text is now in process of completion, and that we of the present time have an especial opportunity given to us of hastening its fulfilment, which opportunity we are in danger of losing if we, as a Church and nation, do not bestir ourselves, and devote our energies, our means, our powers, more heartily and earnestly to Mission work than we have ever yet done.

In the first place, looking at our Indian Missions. Small as the work doing is as yet, and, discouraging as it at times must be to every one practically engaged in it, from the very immensity of the task and the difficulties it presents, I think when we reflect how brief a period has elapsed since our Church really began her Missionary work in the East, and how comparatively small has been her Missionary force carrying on the work of attacking the powers of darkness in their very citadels, we shall see that we have no cause for impatience or discouragement at the small results already obtained, especially when we look back to the early history of the Church, and see that even at Antioch--where people were first called Christians, where Paul and Barnabas, and prophets and teachers, endowed with Pentecostal gifts, preached and taught--St. Chrysostom in his day found more than half the people yet heathen.

Those who sneer at the results of Missionary efforts in India and the East are, I believe, but partial observers, who, from some particular case--it may be of an inefficient Missionary, or of an ill-managed Mission that has fallen under their own eyes--have become prejudiced against all Missions, and shut their eyes to the many visible good results of other Missionary labours, which are plain to others who look around [52/53] them with unbiassed minds--results, I am bound to say, wrought not only by the Missions of our own Church, but by those of other Christian bodies who have entered the field with us, and are in some sort remedying our deficiencies by occupying ground which, from want of means, our Church has been unable to operate upon.

I feel sure that if Schwartz, or Ziegenbald, or Martyn, or Heber, could now come among us and behold the progress of the work they themselves began, the spread of Christian knowledge, and its leavening influences even upon those who are yet heathen--that they, rather than being discouraged, would see cause for thankfulness, and encouragement for us all to go on hopefully and manfully, in the full confidence that God is blessing, and will bless, our endeavours to make His name great among the Gentiles.

We must remember that the condition of both India and China is now very different from what it was in the days of restricted trade and limited intercourse with the natives under the careful and cautious rule of the East India Company, for then all Missionary labour was looked upon with a jealous and timid eye, and was in no ways countenanced by the Government. Missionaries were few and far apart--European civilization and ideas were only represented to the natives by the Company's civil and military officers, chaplains, and a few privileged traders and planters; but even then something was done, by direct and indirect efforts, on the part of the clergy and some true-hearted soldiers of Christ among the civilians and military, enough to turn some natives here and there from darkness to light, and to dispose others to look favourably upon the religion of their masters;--enough to arouse the fears and enmity of the Brahmins, who, like the workmen in Ephesus, in fear for their own idols and superstitions, endeavoured to prevent the progress of "the little drop of light'' thus let in upon them, by setting their own faces against it, and by exciting the fears of the credulous people with lying reports and terrifying pictures of the tyranny and oppression which would be exercised by their rulers to make them become Christians; the feeling thus aroused was industriously [53/54] fanned and propagated by the jealousy and hatred of the leaders and teachers of Islam, until it culminated in the phrensy of the Indian mutiny, which was, as it were, the convulsive effort of an expiring heathenism, and the outbreak of the long-slumbering designs of Mahometan hatred and fanaticism to stamp out Christianity, and with it all European power in India and all the adjacent countries--for the same wave of thought and action against Christianity and Christians passed through the islands of the Indian Archipelago up into China.

But God, true to His word that "His name should be great among the Gentiles," and to His promise that the heathen should be "the inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth the possession," of His Son, frustrated the blind rage of the heathen, and brought to nought the wily counsels of the Mahometans; and since then the increased and unfettered communication with the natives, the making of railroads and canals, the spread of planters and settlers, the largely-increased numbers of Europeans in India, the opening of fresh ports, and the extension of commerce in China and Japan, have tended to weaken the prejudices of the Oriental mind in all these countries--to take it out of its long-beaten, unbending, narrow track, shake its faith in old superstitions, arouse a spirit of inquiry, and kindle men's hopes of the possibility of attaining to better things than their forefathers ever dreamt of.

In India especially, where, beside the direct Christian teaching in Missionary schools, a large amount of general information is imparted by the Government schools, western modes of thought and systems of philosophy, together with the Christian ideas inseparable from them, are gradually spreading and opening their minds; and it is plain that Hinduism is becoming daily more and more incompatible with the light thus making its way among the people, which exhibits to them the grotesque follies, the hideous abominations, and the cruel tyranny to which their idolatry, their superstitions, their caste, and the ceremonies of their forefathers have bound them.

[55] It is contended, I know, by some good men much interested in the spread of Christianity, that this spirit of inquiry, this unsettled state of the heathen mind, is unfavourable to the reception of the special truths of Christianity, and that a cold, indifferent, unimpressionable Theism is more likely to be the result of the secular enlightenment now going on and rousing the people. I cannot say I think with them; I think rather that it is a necessary awakening and a preparation of their minds for the reception of higher truths, which perhaps could not have been effected in any other way so rapidly and so generally; and this may be looked upon as a critical time indeed, a crisis for good which, if properly taken advantage of, and rightly dealt with by the Church, may enable us to do more real good in one generation than could have been done in centuries before, when all the old heathen systems were at work in their full power, and the people utterly blinded by the black clouds of superstitious darkness in which they were ever wandering further and further from truth and God.

I believe that this is the time in which the manifest duty of the Church is to bestir herself to send forth a number of thoroughly-educated, earnest, good and holy men, who, for the love of souls for whom Christ died, will devote themselves to the work of leading the unsettled heathen mind into the right direction, point out to it the ineffable love of the one God in the sacrifice of His blessed Son for all mankind, and then set before it the truth, the wisdom, the justice, the mercy, and the holiness, shown in the life and teaching of Christ Jesus.

Of such men, the best qualified should be appointed Missionary Bishops to preside over every large district or province already brought, or about to be brought, under Missionary influence, such as Tinevelly, Tanjore, Punjaub, or Burmah. There they would direct Missionary operations to be carried on in the way best suited to each people and country, and be enabled to bring about unity of aim and action in carrying out the work; they would also arrange and supervise translations and undertake other necessary literary labour (which so often takes up too much of the Missionary's time) so that the Missionaries now employed might devote themselves more completely to their [55/56] practical work, and those who come fresh to the field of labour would find work cut out for them upon which they could begin at once, instead of wasting a couple of years it may be, or more, in finding out what they ought to do and how to do it.

What I have said of India I believe also to be true, in a greater or less degree, of China and Japan and the great islands of the Eastern Archipelago--old creeds and superstitions are losing their power over the hundreds of millions of our fellowmen in these countries; western ideas are making their way, and a spirit of inquiry, a restless spirit not content with things as they are or have been, is fast growing up among them. Such is the case with the people among whom I have laboured in Borneo for many years; a people, of Indian race, among whom the old forms of Hinduism and Buddhism which once prevailed had all but died out when I first went among them, and Mahometanism, secure in its fancied seclusion from all counteracting influences, had long marked them for its own; but intercourse with Englishmen as their rulers and benefactors, and the advent of Missionaries, stirred up heathen and Mahometan alike; aroused the jealousy and suspicion of the one, and excited the curiosity, while it gained the confidence, of the other. The Mahometans shook off their apathy and contended with us for the possession of the heathen mind; they employed persuasion and force, bribes and threats, and at last attempted here, as in India, to cut us off and stamp out the very name of Christian; but God in His mercy brought their counsels to nought, and we have been enabled to go on with our work until some of the best and most influential of the Dyah tribes have received our Missionaries as their teachers and friends; and fresh Churches and congregations springing up among them, now attest the presence of a young and growing Church, and the fact of peace and good-will, and Christian charity itself, spreading amongst a race of people whose tribes twenty years ago were powerful pirates and bloodthirsty headhunters, ever at war with each other, and the dreaded enemies of all within their reach. With increased means and more Missionaries our good work there might be largely increased and accelerated; but, alas! there as elsewhere, where "God's name [56/57] might and ought to be made great among the heathen," the work is checked, because Christians at home are not sufficiently in earnest, and do not weigh their words aright when they say, "Thy kingdom come"--they do not really acknowledge and accept their own part and responsibility in the matter, and therefore; though they spend money lavishly on themselves and on things around them, they cast but little into the Lord's Treasury to help on the coming of His Kingdom. They wholly forget or lightly esteem the inestimable treasure they lose by not taking an active part in the work of making the Redeemer's name and love known among the Gentiles, and hastening the day when the incense of praise and the pure offering of love shall be offered unto His name in all places. I am persuaded, Christian brethren, that the time has now come when we may all join in this blessed work with good hopes of success; for it is a time when the ancestral creeds, which have so long held the great masses of mankind in bondage, are rotten to the core, and fail to satisfy their votaries, who will not remain long without something to feed the wants and instincts of their religious nature; and if we, to whom, above all others, God has vouchsafed the means and power to do so, will not see the day of our visitation, and take advantage of our means and opportunities of serving Him, He will surely raise up others more willing, more self-denying, more devoted, who will have the honour of doing His work upon earth.

That it may be done by the persevering and faithful labours of others we need not doubt, and I witnessed a striking proof of this in the early part of this year, when on a visit to Manilla.
I had the opportunity of seeing something of, and inquiring into the results of the Missionary work of the Church of Spain in the Luzon Archipelago, and there I found that, after some three hundred years of continuous and earnest Missionary efforts, that Church has gathered into her fold some five million out of the six million people inhabiting these islands, and that a well-instructed, indigenous body of clergy is fast taking the place of Europeans, and acquiring a great and permanent influence over the People. These natives are of the same race as those, yet in a savage state, among whom my lot has [57/58] been cast in Borneo for the last twenty years, and whom I trust and believe--if funds are provided for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to carry out the Missions it has already begun there--it will be the honour and privilege of our own beloved Church to bring to Christ.

That nations who are in the state of religious decadence to which I have alluded will seek for some faith to satisfy them, is to my mind strikingly proved by the ten millions under the Dutch rule in Java, who are now nearly all Mahometans, no Christian Missionaries having been allowed by their jealous rulers to offer them the message of peace, and freedom, and reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ. They, while under the sway of a Christian people, have readily, too readily, alas! embraced what the teachers of Islam put before them, and, tired of their effete forms of Hinduism and Buddhism, of which most interesting vestiges remain, have accepted the Koran as the revelation and Mahomet as the prophet of God.

I feel persuaded that there is much danger of more of the same kind of thing happening in the far East, if the Church of Christ does not exert herself now, more than she has ever done, to lay hold of the people whose minds are aroused and somewhat prepared to listen to and receive the message of salvation, of reconciliation to God through Christ our Lord. Delay only increases the difficulty and danger, for the emissaries of Islam are fully awake and alive to the crisis, and are working with a marvellous pertinacity and vigour, not only in the islands of the Indian Archipelago, but also in China itself.

The new rebellion now troubling China in the north is a Mahometan onslaught, which I heard predicted some three years ago by a party of Chinese Hadgis, ten or twelve in number, returning from Mecca, where they had been for three years, who were for a time the guests of the principal Malay chief in Sarawak. They surprised the Malay and Indian Mahometans of the place with their superior knowledge, and their zeal and determination to propagate their faith in their own country in the north of China, which they described as coming rapidly under their influence. And doubtless, brethren, [58/59] there is much, apart from its simple Deism, in the fatalism, the sensual sanctions, the despotic rule, the revengeful spirit, the summary justice of the tenets and laws of Islam, most attractive to the eastern mind and congenial to the feelings of people long accustomed to an iron rule and sunk in the depths of sensualism.

Oh, Christian brethren, what a reproach it will be to Christianity if Mahometanism, now apparently fading away in the West, be, from our neglect, allowed to arise with fresh vigour in the far East, and gather in nations, tribes, and peoples whom we ought to win for Christ!

My time to address you is limited, and I must not, therefore, enlarge, as I fain would do, upon this, to me, most interesting and important subject. But I trust that the few words I have spoken will have the effect of making you seriously consider the calls that are now made upon you as a Church and nation--the call, "Come over and help us," which comes from the Eastern world, to which you owe so much of the luxuries, the comforts, and the necessaries of your daily life, upon which things, and mere amusements, so much is spent freely among us (more, perhaps, than by any other people), while, to our shame, we allow the Missionary Societies of the Church to languish for want of means to extend their work. The mother of them all--the venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which carries on the Mission work of which I have had the charge in Borneo--can, for instance, do nothing to occupy a most important opening for us, in which, my recent letters tell me, numbers who would become Christians, if we had a Mission among them, are weekly becoming Mahometans; and if we look to India, we find that its special fund for Indian Missions is exhausted, and unless its income is increased by the sum of £12,000 a year, it must curtail its work in the very field where it ought to be largely extended; and therefore it is that I would this, day ask for your offerings to assist in making up that deficiency. And I would entreat you to make your occasional donations into regular subscriptions, that your continuous individual efforts at least may not be wanting to impart to [59/60] those whose labour provides you with many earthly good things, the spiritual blessings which they so deeply need.

Brethren, the night is far spent, the day is at hand--perchance the time is very nigh, even at the doors, according to our mortal computation--when the Lord will come again to shake terribly the earth and gather the people unto Himself. God grant, if it be so, that we may every one of us be of those faithful ones who watch for their Lord, and, to the best of their power, take their part in preparing the way for His coming, by witnessing for His truth and proclaiming His love unto all men. So shall He bless us when He comes in His glory, and call us to enter into His joy everlasting.

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