Project Canterbury

A Bishop Among His Flock

By the Rt. Rev. Ethelbert Talbot, D.D., LL.D.
Bishop of Bethlehem, U.S.A.

New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1914.

Chapter XIX. The Church's World-Wide Mission

THE Church has a mission in the world, and that mission is that the Kingdom of God should spread and grow until all men everywhere have heard the glad tidings of God's love.

When the divine Founder of the Church commissioned His twelve Apostles, it was in these words, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." From that time henceforth the great enterprise of business, or mission of Christianity, has been to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. In obedience to their Master's command, His Apostles went forth preaching everywhere in the then known world. At that time there were no railroads or steamboats, nor telegraphs or telephones, and the Apostles for the most part were poor, unlettered fishermen. But, notwithstanding their poverty and the added difficulty that came from bitter persecution, they met with marvelous success. In the words of a Church historian, even during their lifetime they all but turned the world upside down. It is true that nearly all of them suffered martyrdom for their faith and courage, even as their Master had before them. But their efforts were not in vain. They left behind them a great company of believers imbued with their enthusiasm and filled with an ardent and passionate love for Christ.

It is quite in harmony with the original marching orders which Christ gave to his Apostles that the possession of the missionary idea has always been considered as a test of the genuineness of a Christian man's conversion. Our Lord declared that "Not every one who saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in Heaven." To obey the will of the Master is the proof of our love and loyalty to the Master. "If ye love me," he said, "ye will keep my commandments." No one, we are sure, in this day of the world's progress can deny that in the very forefront of His most imperative commands is the duty of passing on to our brother who has not heard it the good news of salvation; of communicating to him who has need of the word of life. Indeed, so vital is this missionary principle in the economy of the Christian life that if a man does not exercise thus his faith and love, if he fails to let his light shine, and to impart his blessing to his brother-man, and share it with him, then whatever faith and love he has will wither away and die. The only way by which any man can keep his Christianity is to give it away. Paradoxical as this may seem, it is the law of the spiritual life. It is also true that the more you give away of your faith and love, so much the more--a great deal--will you have left. There is that which scattereth and yet increaseth. The love of God in a man's heart is like a mother's love. It grows as it is lavished and spent upon a worthy object. We cannot conceive of a mother's love as ever becoming exhausted. So, if we would have our Christian faith a strong and vital and cleansing power in our own lives, it is absolutely necessary that, without ceasing, we keep pouring it forth, communicating, imparting it to others. Christianity is like the spring on the hillside, that sends forth its bubbling, gushing stream of life, giving refreshment to all the dry land below. Let that spring be dammed up, let it cease to flow and give out its cleansing and purifying current, and what will happen? Inevitably it will then become a stagnant pool, a morass, which will breed miasma, disease, and death. So it is that the infallible mark of a living or dying Christian, of a living or dying parish, of a living or dying Church, is the presence or absence of the missionary spirit. Read Church history and you shall find that all those periods of the Church's career when she has been pure in morals, loyal in doctrine, and vigorous in her life at home have been the years when her missionary triumphs have been greatest. Conversely, whenever the Church has forgotten the chief business for which our Lord has established her, that of helping men, and has ceased to be a missionary Church, the nemesis of eternal discord, vice and immorality, has been her lot.

The eighteenth century in our Mother Church of England and throughout the world was a period of wide-spread indifference to our Lord's command to evangelize the world. It was also a period when faith seemed to be decaying, and the forces of sin and evil threatened the very life of the nation and the citadel of the Church. It was during the latter part of that dark century that Charles and John Wesley and George Whitfield, in our Mother Church of England, did so much to arouse the sleeping energies of the nation and to infuse light and hope into the surrounding gloom.

We are now living at a time when the missionary appeal and the missionary opportunity and the missionary results all combine to fill our hearts with hope and inspire us to renewed efforts for the conquest of the world for Christ. There was a period almost within the memory of men now living when the great unchristianized fields of China and Japan, of India, Africa, and the islands of the sea, seemed to belong to a different world and to be beyond our reach. When Robert Carey, for instance, having caught a vision of the darkness of the heathen world, his heart afire with missionary zeal, set out to far-off China, what a forlorn hope was his! How different the face of the entire world to-day! By virtue of the progress of modern science the entire human family has been brought to our very doors. The shuttles of trade and commerce, through the aid of a great network of steamships, are plying the once impassable waters of the deep and knitting together into a perfect web of international relationship all the nations of the world. With international commerce there has come international comity and good will and mutual international dependence. Now when one nation suffers they all suffer. A sudden drop in the money market of Tokio to-morrow would create a flurry and be felt at once in Wall Street. A failure of the cotton crop in the Southern states of America would be felt not only in England and Germany and France, but in some of its ramifications through all the civilized world. The breaking out of the cholera or yellow plague in China, which not long ago we could have contemplated with comparative indifference, is no longer attended with impunity to ourselves, but becomes a serious national menace. The question now is not, Shall we have contact with all other nations? The contact has already begun. Nay, it is far advanced, and is destined inevitably to become more and more wide-spread and intimate. We cannot now avoid the contact if we would, and we should not try to avoid it. We should welcome it as a great opportunity for our Christian nation. We should see in this wonderful modern miracle of international communication the very hand of God opening to us the door of opportunity so long closed. We should hear His voice inviting us to enter in and share with the nations the blessings with which He has intrusted us. If we fail to do this, then the moral plagues and leprosies of the nations who know not God will spread among us even more rapidly than any physical contagion. If we do not carry to the unchristian peoples of the world, with their teeming millions, our higher standards of morality, our Christian principles of personal and social purity, our Christian ideas of marriage, of the family, and of the home, then they will impart to us their code of living, with its moral degradation, its slavery of woman, its prostitution of virtue, and the low ethical conceptions which prevail among themselves.

There was a time when the appeal for missions was based entirely on our love to God and our fellow-men and obedience to His command. Now, through the providence of God, controlling the advance and progress of human events, the argument is shifted, the ground is changed. The appeal for the enterprise and business of Christian missions has now become an appeal for self-preservation; an appeal for our country and its flag, an appeal for our homes; an appeal for the perpetuity of our Christian civilization, for the freedom of our American institutions. The old argument still holds good. We do not ignore or forget the command of Christ; we do not abate aught of our love for our perishing brother; but that argument has been enormously reinforced when we see how it falls in line with our own dearest and most personal interests and welfare. As Mr. Cleveland, speaking of a certain political situation, once said, "We are confronted, not with a theory, but with a condition." We are faced with a problem in which our American civilization and most cherished institutions depend on the manner in which we meet the missionary appeal. It has come to this: to save ourselves we must save our brothers at home and abroad. The stranger from across the sea is already here in our very midst with his Oriental habits and his Oriental standards. We may count him by the thousands. Abroad, in China, India, Japan, and Africa, he numbers millions, and in his unconscious and pathetic blindness, in his sore need, he is calling to us to come over and help him.

The door is now wide open. Truly the field is now white for the harvest. All that is now wanting is for the disciples of Christ everywhere to co-operate with His grace as manifested in breaking down all obstacles and preparing the way. It does not seem a Utopian dream, but a well-grounded hope, that before this twentieth century shall have ended all of the children of God scattered throughout the world shall have heard the story of God's great love in sending forth His Son.

That new republic about to be born in China has actually asked the prayers of all Christian nations that the blessings of peace and prosperity may attend their experiment of free government. If only the unhappy divisions by which the Christian forces are now so hindered in their missionary progress could be healed, who can doubt that the world ere many decades shall have passed would believe that God has sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world?

Meanwhile let us rejoice in what has already been accomplished, and pray that every member in Christ's Church, in his vocation and ministry, may serve Him faithfully.

Project Canterbury