Project Canterbury

Mankind and the Church
Being an Attempt to Estimate the Contribution of Great Races
To the Fulness of the Church of God

Edited by H. H. Montgomery

London, New York, Bombay and Calcutta: Longmans, Green and Co., 1907.

III. The Contribution of the Church of Japan to the Body of Christ
The Right Rev. W. Awdry, D.D., Bishop of South Tokyo

Chapter V. Contribution of the Japanese

Patience--True estimate of value of wealth--Subordination of the individual to the corporate life.

What, then, may it be hoped that Japan, become Christian, will contribute towards representing in the Church the lineaments of Christ perfect and complete?

Let us understand clearly what we mean by this. Christ alone is the Perfect Man, in whom not only all perfections are present, but every one is in its due proportion. "In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." The Church is, ideally, His Body, "the fulness of Him that filleth all in all;" and the Church, as His Spouse, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, should correspond--nay, may we not say will ultimately correspond?--to His perfection. But it cannot be said yet that we are complete in Him, whether the "we" is understood of individual Christians, even the holiest, or of local branches of the Church, or of the whole Church as we yet see it in the world. There are characteristics of the perfect Church still wanting; or even where not actually wanting, very imperfectly expressed and developed. Further, the branches of the Church which exist at present recognize very imperfectly these imperfections. They have followed their own ideals; they have emphasized those points which struck their imagination, but they have seldom adequately recognized those points which do not find [227/228] place in their own ideals, and have not been forced upon their attention by the circumstances of their history. Thus the Roman Church has idealized a magnificent conception of the saintly life and of entire self-sacrifice, but it has little appreciation of individual responsibility for the subject-matter of the faith. The Orthodox Eastern Church stands magnificently for the old paths, but has little appreciation of the growth which there must be in the living Body of Christ. To some of the Eeformed and Protestant bodies we owe a great debt for their recognition of the free grace of God, combined with individual responsibility for judgment in regard to truth; but how little our Lord's earnest prayer for unity and mutual subordination within one Body has made itself felt in their ideals! To our own branch of the Church it has been given to stand between the other bodies, recognizing the vital importance of individual freedom and of progress, while refusing to break with what has come to us from the beginning; but how much of secularity and mere respectability, how much of compromise with the world, making great sacrifices for Christ appear to be foolish enthusiasms, has crept into the ideals of even those who are amongst our best!

Those who have lived among peoples who, while not Christian, have high ideals of their own, have special opportunity for recognizing the deficiencies, which may not have come home to them at all because they were a matter of course whilst they were living amongst their own people. It is the sight of such deficiencies in the Churches of the West, coupled with the sight of graces and ideals among non-Christians, that put to shame those who have thought themselves fully followers of Christ, which gives occasion for such a paper as this.

In what points, then, are we who go to make up Christendom as yet defective, perhaps unconsciously; and [228/229] which of these defects might, so far as we can see, be supplemented and made good by the elements which the Japanese character, when moulded by Christian faith, might be expected to supply?

It will not be worth while to touch minor points and details which are almost certain to be lost, or to be modified beyond recognition, in the process of absorbing what must be absorbed if the nation is to become Christian. But three broad characteristics stand out, distinct yet intimately connected with each other--characteristics which belong to the very foundations of Japanese ideals, and to the very ground tints of the characters of those who aim at following those ideals; characteristics, too, which put to shame the coarseness and selfishness and self-assertion, the uglinesses and disproportions and even vices and vicious tendencies which, under the names of being practical, efficient, and self-respecting, seem to pose as part of the popular ideals of the West. These must be pruned and trained if the truth and the beauty and the goodness of Christ are to be fully exhibited in His Church on earth. They will not be pruned till the Anglo-Saxon learns to see, as the Eastern already sees, that they are blotches and deformities upon a grand ideal and a noble character.

If, then, the Japanese, or those among them who exhibit the best features of the national type, will continue true through all changes to the highest traditions of the race, we think they may contribute in three directions to that through which the Church as a whole may attain to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ--

1. Cheerful patience, neither fatalistic nor despairing.

2. A proper estimate of wealth in comparison with other things.

3. The self-subordination of the individual to the interests of the whole body.

[230] Far be it from me to say that there are not glaring Japanese faults committed under these heads, as also there are eminent examples of excellence under them in the West. But the Japanese, both in their ideals and in the foundation of the characters of their better men, show the elements of what is excellent; and that which blossoms and fruits sparsely now should, when touched by Christianity, produce a rich harvest for the good of Christendom and of the world.

Let us consider these three heads one by one.

1. Cheerful patience, neither fatalistic nor despairing.

Japan is specially liable to great calamities such as fire, flood, or earthquake. How do the people behave under them? In the case of flood, we have seen thousands cooped up for weeks on what remains of a river dyke, with little shelter or none, their houses, gardens, crops, ten feet under the water; and they have no capital to fall back upon. In such a case for many the ruin is not for the season only; sand and gravel from the river-bed lie two feet deep over everything. The Government boats bring round to those on the dykes a modicum of rice. There is no word of murmur, and if the rice did not reach them they would probably assume that it could not, and would starve in uncomplaining silence. Charitable foreigners take round to some of them a little tea or tobacco, and find all patient, most of them already cheerful, and almost all absolutely uncomplaining and full of gratitude for the trifling kindness. We speak of actual instances on a large scale. One of those who went round with these little comforts on being asked, "Well, what did you find? What have you to say about it?" answered, "I will never complain again as long as I live." But he is an Anglo-Saxon--a good one--and, as he acknowledges, he has not kept his resolution.

[231] But some one may say, "This is heedlessness, laziness, insensibility." It is true that ordinarily a Japanese is less responsible, less continuously energetic, less sensitive to the suffering, both of himself and others, than a Western. Probably he will have to feel more in all these directions before he can lead the world, and he is learning; but a large measure of what we see is derived from deliberate self-conquest and following an ideal. If there is a measure of insensibility, there is neither sulkiness nor despair. The moment the flood is down the man is on his fields, working as heartily as if nothing had happened; and if his plot has been covered with gravel, he is busy trying to rescue half of his tiny patch by piling the tons of useless deposit upon the other half--work which must be accomplished by carrying it away in a basket on his shoulders.

Would an Anglo-Saxon do this? Would he not curse his luck, and his neighbour, and the Government? Or if he were of the temper that does not curse, would he not sulk, or go somewhere else for better luck, though without any reason to suppose it will be better, or give up, or take to drink in despair because "it is all no good, and where one gets a thing, one only loses it again"? Is there nothing here that the Western does not contribute but the Japanese may? It is true that much of this patience might be contributed by other Orientals, but not, we think--certainly not in China or India--with the strain of cheerful contentment and even gratitude running all through the pattern; and if the negro could supply the cheerfulness, the deeper qualities would be wanting there.

2. A proper estimate of wealth in comparison with other things.

Under the old conditions there was probably no country in the world where wealth had so little to do [231/232] with social acceptance or personal distinction as in Japan. A very small house, but perfectly kept; scarcely any furniture, but what there was, good of its kind; very few ornaments, but those in good taste; a garden of the size of a dining-table, but a little gem; entertainment for all comers, but just native tea and sugar-plums; breakfast, dinner, and supper of rice and vegetables, with just a mouthful of fish or fungus and a flavouring of sauce, but served to each person on the daintiest of little trays, and the food scrupulously clean, and never touched with the fingers; delicate and elaborate courtesy, but not requiring servants;--such was the ideal and the frequent fact. Grave learning, such as was within their reach, was often coupled with all this, and both age and learning commanded deference and respect. Is it surprising that under conditions like these money was not a god, except to the lowest minds? Is it surprising that self-respecting men did not haste to bo rich, that money-getting as a line of life was despised--we must admit too much despised; that no one in Japan ever said, or says, "So-and-so is worth so much;" that Western drawing-rooms strike the Japanese as museums, not living-rooms, in which no beautiful thing can be enjoyed because too many are on show, and that the whole looks too much like self-display and self-advertisement to be in good taste? They, no doubt, are intensely interested in all these things of ours which they see, but perhaps their taste is the better of the two. Certainly it is much more akin than ours to that of the Greeks in this respect.

But it is not the question of taste with which we are concerned. Their old ideals did not take wealth into account in the estimate of the worth of man or nation. Not only could a noble life be lived by a poor man, but he could live it without embarrassment in the society of those who were rich as well as noble. Garibaldi, with [232/233] a patient spirit and delicate culture added, would have been quite at home among the Japanese, except that unfortunately manual would not have met with the respect freely accorded to literary labour.

It is not amiss to quote the explanation which we have received as to why, seeing that posts of trust are largely given to Christians by non-Christian Japanese, there has not arisen a swarm of persons professing Christianity with a view to profit. The answer was, Because Christians are as yet despised, and in Japan honour is valued more than profit.

It will surely be acknowledged that here there is much more in accord with our Lord's "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for a man's life consisteth not in the multitude of the things which he possesseth," than anything in the West.

But can it continue? It is hard to say. The leaven of it may not die out of Japanese character, but it is true that if Japanese are to mingle with foreigners they must abandon their old fashions of dress; then they can no longer sit upon the floor, and must have furniture. This, besides the direct expense, will involve houses twice as large and more substantial, and a certain amount of show and rivalry can hardly fail to come in. Nor is the increase seen in personal expenses only. Japan must have a fleet, and pay for it. This requires a public revenue, and this again involves taxation, which can only be made profitable by a great development of commerce; and the multiplication of needs and the cultivation of expensive habits appear good for trade. Once more, it is not so much current expenditure as the accumulation of capital that gives a sense of security, and the power of meeting an emergency, alike to the individual and to the nation. Thus from every point of view wealth assumes an importance in Japanese life which it had [233/234] not in former days; and the fact that personal accumulations and expenditure greatly strengthen the position of Japan among the nations, attaches the glamour of patriotism and the credit of prudence to a moral tendency which has worked like a canker in Western ideals and character, distorting the moral vision, so as to destroy proportion in moral ideas, more than anything else that can be named. Will anything survive from old Japan of what was good in this regard, to contribute towards the completeness of Christian character? [It is with regret, not with surprise, that we seem to see a greatly increased tendency to self-assertion, impatience, and the love of money in the past three years. Side by side with these losses there are the corresponding gains of more developed individual character, a great increase in the sense of honour in commercial things, and of energy spread throughout the nation. To a foreign eye, at least, Japanese is rapidly assimilating itself to Western character, but we cannot suppose that the growth of centuries will be wholly obliterated, and Christianity, if it takes hold of the nation, may save them from such a disaster (1906).]

3. The self-subordination of the individual to the interests of the whole body.

Here we meet with the same question as in the last case. Can the higher, less selfish, more generous ideal survive the influences of which we have been speaking? The danger, no doubt, is great; and the contribution from this side, if it can be made, should be the most important of all, and the one which could come from Japan alone of all the non-Christian nations of the world. There may elsewhere be self-sacrifice for the husband or for the family, and there is self-sacrifice of a striking if limited kind for the religion among the Moslems. But in China, we are told, there is no patriotism; in India, no national life. In Japan the individual is for the family, the family for the nation. A man who should say, "It's all very well to say this is good for the country or for [234/235] other people, but it hurts me and interferes with my rights, and I am not going to stand it," would, we fear, be thought normal in the West, but would be ill thought of in Japan. One who took the opposite course would be thought normal in Japan, but would be praised in the West enough to show that such public spirit, as we call it, was hardly to be expected.

Yet the most intense appreciation of the claims of the corporate life of the Church upon the individual is of the very centre and essence of the teaching and example of Christ and His Apostles. Does not St. Paul's indignant "Why do ye not rather take wrong?" find little response amid the "Stand up for yourselves," "Don't be poor spirited," "I am going to have all my rights, and then perhaps I will give of my bounty," which are such common notes in the chorus of opinion among Western and nominally Christian peoples? Japan is indeed lacking as yet in that sense of the value of the individual which the religion of Christ can hardly fail to teach, but it may well become one of the influences to bring home to Christendom the meaning of that Body of Christ in which each member being for all rather than all for each, makes his sacrifices, both of himself and even of those he loves, without recognizing that they are sacrifices, because he has no personal interest comparable to that of the welfare of the whole. Japan has not reached this now, yet the germs of this are in the national ideals. Japan has not reached this yet, but Japan is not yet alight with Christianity. If those old ideals are touched by the spark of Christ's love, what may not arise from them for the blessing of the whole world?

And so we must end; except that with mixed hope and fear--high hope and perhaps even deeper fear--we may point to the fact that the problem of Christian unity, that unity for which our Saviour prayed on the eve of His [235/236] crucifixion, is more likely to find its solution, or the early steps towards it, in the mission-field than amid the ingrained divisions and the completed organizations of the home countries. If a heathen nation becomes Christian, civilized and independent at every stage from the beginning, thoughtfully conscious of the problems in the case, will it continue the divisions which our missions import into it? Japan is the only country in which, so far as we can see, the conditions exist for the working out of this question. We do not believe that a Christian Japan, if Japan becomes Christian within a century, will be divided as we are. Whether unity is possible is very doubtful, but modifications there will be, and a strong movement for unity. That the present condition of Christendom and the competition of the Churches is wrong, is even more palpable to the Japanese than to us. But what will they make of the vast problem when we dividing and subdividing missionaries are gone? Will they be hasty and throw overboard the treasure in the hope to make the ship sail well; or will they act soberly, wisely, and humbly, and become the leaders for all Christendom by. showing how rightly to lighten the ship and bring its real treasure safe to shore?

There could be no greater contribution from any race than such a leading. Is it too much to hope or pray for? No, surely; but God knows what can be. To Him we trust it.

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