Project Canterbury

The Church in Bondage

By R. A. Hilary Knox
Chaplain Fellow of Trinity College Oxford

London: The Society of SS. Peter and Paul, 1914.

Sermon 10. Foreign Missions

HIS MOTHER SAITH UNTO THE SERVANTS: WHATSOEVER HE SAITH UNTO YOU, DO IT. These words are written in the fifth verse of the second chapter of the holy Gospel according to John.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[63] You will remember the circumstances in which these words were spoken. It was at a wedding-breakfast at a little town in Galilee; the Mother of Jesus was there, and both Jesus was called and his disciples to the marriage. And then the wine ran out. You can imagine the whispered conversations between the butler and the best man; the appealing looks with which the guests regard their empty glasses, as the waiters hurry past, affecting not to notice anything unusual. They have no wine. I am afraid I cannot tell you why the servants did not go straight to Jesus, and ask him what they were to do. Anyhow, they didn't; they went to Mary instead, thinking, like sensible people, that it would serve their purpose just as well if they asked his mother to plead for them with him. And like all faithful souls who have trusted in Mary's intercession, they were not disappointed. Yet the miraculous gift which they secured through her was not given unconditionally. Her bidding was: "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it." Do it, however foolish and unreasonable it sounds; do it, even if it is only filling up half a dozen old jugs with water. Don't stand about asking questions, as to why he needs the water at all, or whether it wouldn't do as well if you filled them half full, or whether it would be all right if you used milk instead. Do it.

Everybody is asking nowadays, What is wrong with the world? And I think if we are to give any one answer to that question, the only explanation which will cover all the facts is the old trouble of Cana in Galilee; we have no wine. There is such a lot of water going about; frantic human efforts to reform this and that, and innumerable meetings, and endless committees; and book after book is written by learned people to explain what a lot we could do, if only mankind were what they aren't and never will be; experts come forward with watery schemes, and other experts come forward and throw water on them. There is water in abundance; but there is no wine. There is no romance, [63/64] no inebriation, no inspiration. Our devotion, our preaching of the Gospel, our charity towards others, are all cold and tasteless and colourless, like water, instead of being warm and rich and luscious, like wine. And when, sick at heart, we turn the regard of our souls towards Jesus, or when, scarce daring to lift our eyes to the fountain of all goodness, we turn to Mary instead, who is our refuge in sorrow, the answer is still the same as that of the marriage-feast of Cana in Galilee. Mary, exalted now above all the choirs of angels, and seated in glory at the marriage supper of the Lamb, still turns towards us her eyes of mercy, and says, "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it."

Surely this is what we have lost, the spirit of implicit and unquestioning obedience. We have forgotten to devote the water--that poor, half-hearted enterprise which we can offer--entirely and unreservedly to the service of God, who alone can turn it, by the miracle of his grace, into wine. The world is dissipating its splendid energies on human calculations, human contrivances, human ends; we have turned on the tap, and are letting the water run all over the floor. If we would do what he saith unto us, if we would fill the water-pots with water, by devoting our energies to those ends, and diverting them into these channels, concerning which he has given us commandment; if, in a word, we would only obey Mary, how different it might all be!

And therefore at this time, when everybody is engaged in writing books to show why our present system of doing things is all wrong, but no one seems to be able to write a book and show us how we could do things any better, we may surely be allowed to ask, whether it is really our methods that are wrong, or whether the fault lies deeper than mere questions of method. Especially in the case of foreign missions is it true, that we are alive to the symptoms of our modern [64/65] disease, without having any notion of the remedy. We are for ever holding Pan-anglican conferences and Pan-denominational conferences, as if by virtue of the magic word "Pan" we could somehow make the world much happier and the mission-field much more efficient. And what is the result of it all? We discuss what is the best way of raising money long before we have any idea whether the objects on which it is to be spent are worth while. We encourage Church workers to study the tenets of the Mahommedan heresy, when they have not yet the vaguest conception of the most elementary doctrines of Christianity. We write sympathetic studies of the claims of Buddha, without having ever taken the trouble to investigate the claims of Peter. We are spending infinite pains in shipping out our empty water-pots to heathen lands, and then feeling puzzled or even aggrieved because the unfortunate heathen cannot find any wine in them.

So perhaps it may be good for us, if only because it humbles us, to look back from this age of discomfort and disturbance, this age of leaking water-pots, to a time when people knew what they believed, and taught it, when they trusted their leaders, and therefore obeyed them. And to whom should we look to-day with stronger interest and greater thankfulness than to the Saint whose holy commemoration, were it not for the occurrence of Advent Sunday, we should be keeping on this very day--St. Francis Xavier, that great ornament of the Society of Jesus? The Saint was one of the earliest disciples of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Order, and was sent out, not as a volunteer, but as under orders, with a roving commission to convert India. He was not even content with that; he or his immediate followers penetrated right into China and Japan, so that there were more Christian converts massacred by a single edict of the reigning powers--in proportion at any rate to the whole population--than we have made in over a century of missionary endeavour.

[66] What was the secret, humanly speaking, of that success? Firstly, we may be quite sure, it was because St. Francis Xavier knew what he was talking about. It was easy for the Catholics of the sixteenth century to go to the heathen and say: "We offer you an infallible Church; within its fold you are safely on the road to salvation; in holding its doctrines you are regulating your beliefs by the authority which Jesus our Saviour left behind him." And the Evangelicals of the early nineteenth century could, thrust a Bible into the man's hand and say, "Read that, and you can't go wrong: if that doesn't save you, nothing ever will." But you cannot go to the heathen and say: "Here is a set of propositions; some are true, some probable, some at best highly questionable. Take your choice; this and that is the present state of opinion, roughly speaking, which prevails about them among the best biblical scholars and the most impartial Church historians. From time to time these opinions will have to be revised, to suit the views of advanced German thinkers; when that happens we will let you know, by sending you little tracts about it in paper covers, written by ourselves. You must not lie and steal and commit fornication, because if you do there is always the off-chance that you may have to suffer for it in a future life. And for the moment, until the State revises its code of laws on the subject, you must be content with one wife apiece." If we ourselves have no abiding standard of right and wrong, if we ourselves have no clear idea of what the Christian revelation is, then it is much better to leave the unfortunate heathen alone. The morality of Confucius is at least definite. The creed of Mumbo-jumbo is at least consistent.

And the second great advantage which St. Francis had was that he knew who his superiors were, and was content to obey them as absolutely as if he had been a mere tool in their hands. He knew that nobody would write out from home and ask, "Do you use Hymns [66/67] Ancient and Modern?" or, "Have you got a faculty for your new processional cross?" He had absolutely surrendered his will to an authority he could trust. When he wrote home to St. Ignatius Loyola, at that time head of the Society of Jesus, he always wrote the letter on bended knees. You see, he knew where he was. That is a state of things we are very far from being able to reproduce at the present day; when, separated from that Church to which we naturally owe allegiance, and competing with half a dozen rival forms of "Christianity" to which the indifference of our own Church in the past has given birth, we try to present an undivided front to the mocking world of heathenism. We talk readily enough about Reunion; but in order to secure Reunion, it is necessary before all else to pick up the threads where they were dropped and tangled and torn at the Reformation. Unless we can get back to some such authority as St. Francis Xavier had behind him, Reunion must always be a mockery and a sham.

For how are we to interpret Mary's command to us, "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it," unless we have some idea of what his commands are? When Holtzmann tells us that Jesus meant us to do one thing, and Schweitzer tells us that he meant us to do exactly the opposite, and both alike agree that he had no right to tell us to do the one or the other, it is very hard to see how we are to set about obeying him ourselves, let alone trying to persuade the unfortunate heathen to obey him. How shall they preach, except they be sent? Yes, that is all very well; but how shall they be sent, unless there is a definite message to send them with? Only the Catholic Church has the voice of Authority; only the Catholic Church can say, "This is of faith"; can say to a man "Go," and he goeth, and to another "Come," and he cometh: in so far as we have Bishops whom we cannot trust to issue the right word of command, and priests who believe this and that, instead of believing what the Church tells them to believe, so far we are not [67/68] Catholics; so far we shall never be able to revive the spirit of St. Francis Xavier; our words will be uncertain, our discipline straggling, our advance in the preaching of the Gospel motiveless and contemptible.

If then anyone here should be disposed to ask, "What can I do to help the Apostolic missionaries who are labouring overseas, who am myself so poor and have so little spare time which I can devote to intercession?" my answer is simply this: You can do it by doing everything that lies in your power to forge anew those bonds of common doctrine and common discipline which the Church of England lost nearly four hundred years ago. Every time you come to your confession, every time you make your Communion with proper preparation, faith and devotion, every time you come to commemorate in this Holy Sacrifice the death of Jesus on the Cross, you are doing something towards making reparation for the sin of Schism, whereby the seamless robe of Christ is rent, you are hastening forward the time when a reunited Church will be able to spread forth her branches unto the sea and her boughs unto the river, carrying to the nations that know not God the lesson of an unaging faith and a primitive obedience.

But forasmuch as in the meantime so many souls are perishing for lack of pasture, and the Church of England, with all her divisions and apostasies, is still trying to do her share in the work of Apostolic missions, it rests with us to see, that those who have undertaken that work for us shall not want for anything we can give them. In especial, the Universities' Mission in Central Africa has claims upon us, because it is teaching the full faith as it is taught in this Church to souls who have not learned to distinguish the good from the evil. And since in many parts of the world the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel is supporting men of equally unshaken Catholic convictions, that Society too has a right to the support of the faithful. And while we contribute of our charity, let us not forget to pray in these Holy Mysteries, that [68/69] Jesus will open his Sacred Heart to the poor souls in Africa, who still sit in darkness and the shadow of death; that at the intercession of Blessed Mary, Ever-Virgin, his Immaculate Mother, and her most glorious Spouse St. Joseph, the Africans may leave their idols, and fall down before him, and be gathered into his holy Church. Wherein may he grant us also perseverance to the end.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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