Project Canterbury


Church Missions.




Society for the Advancement of Christianity










THE following Sermon, published by request of the Society before whom it was delivered, was written rather with a view to suggest a subject of grave practical importance to the minds of others, than to treat it according to its worth. This, perhaps, may account for the rapid way in which many points are touched, that might be thought to require more careful handling. With its many faults of this kind, of which no one can be more sensible than the author, he gives it to the reader in the same unfinished shape in which it was originally delivered; praying all good people, (in the words of Chaucer's Parson,) "That if ther be anything in it that liketh hem, thereof they thanken Our Lord Jesu Christ, of Whom procedeth all witte, and all godeness; and if ther be anything that displeseth hem, that they arrette it to the defaute of myn unkonnyng, and not to my wille, that wold fayne have sayde better, if I hadde had konnyng." M. M.


"What shall we do for our sister in the day that she shall be spoken for? If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver; and if she be a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar."--SONG OF SOLOMON, viii. 8, 9.

THE question, which the wise king of Israel here addresses to his brethren in the high-toned language of religious poetry, is addressed to us, my brethren, in sufficiently plain and intelligible prose by the report, which we have just heard read from the Society for the Advancement of Christianity in this Diocese. The Church, in her missionary character, and in her noble office of presenting Christ Jesus to the poor, is precisely such a case as the royal poet here proposes. She is "a little sister." She is poor, and weak, and needy. With many children to bring up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and with her heart almost sickened at the sight of the vast multitude whom she sees fainting by the way, she has slender means of supplying their wants, whether temporal or spiritual. Even when she is able, by her half-supported missionaries, to preach "the gospel" here and there, it is often but a cold and unattractive gospel. It wants the flesh and blood, if I may so speak, the warm robe of charity, the kindly touch, the sympathising look, the medicine for the sick, [5/6] the bread for the hungry, the clothes for the naked, the systematic provision, in short, for bodily as well as spiritual wants, without which, our gospel is, to the mass of mankind, no more like the gospel which Jesus preached "to the poor," than a stone is like bread, or the command, "Be ye fed, be ye clothed," is like the food or the raiment that a starving man requires.

We send out Missionaries, indeed, and we make them to serve with rigor; we make their lives bitter with hard bondage in mortar and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field; we expect them, moreover, to bring us the full tale of bricks, yet, like Pharaoh's task-masters, we withhold from them the straw, without which bricks cannot be made.

So we preach Christ Jesus; we profess to lift Him up as the Son of Man. We proclaim Him as the benefactor of the poor, the visitor of the sick, the physician, the teacher, the true friend of man, who made the Church His Body, that, like the sacred Body which was once seen in Judea and Galilee, it might be thronged by a great multitude of poor and impotent folk, receiving help for their bodily wants, as the pledge and only sure evidence of power to heal their spiritual infirmities. Yet, with all this profession, what do we exhibit practically to make the promise good? If the Christ we preach is a physician, where are His hospitals and infirmaries? If He is a teacher, where are His Christian free-schools and academies? If we say in his name, "Come unto me, all ye that are weary and are heavy-laden," what [6/7] shall we do with the weary and heavy-laden children of want, if they take us at our word, and accept the invitation? In what "Christian house of refuge" shall we place them? In what Church can we offer them the gospel without money and without price? What tangible evidence can we give them, that this "Body of Christ," in which we glory, is a Body full of healing virtues, a home for the homeless, a friend to the friendless, a kind and sympathetic bosom, in which destitute and over-burthened mothers may place their young children, with the full assurance that they will not only be received, but blessed; sheltered during youth from the chill blasts of the world, and prepared by Christian training for usefulness in this life, and for crowns and sceptres in the next. [This subject has been admirably set forth in two lectures, recently delivered by the Rev. Dr. Muhlenberg, and since published, on the necessity of Church hospitals. The title of the lectures is, "A plea for a Church Hospital in the City of New York."]

In view, my brethren, of these solemn responsibilities of the Church of Christ, in view of these sacred duties to the poor and destitute, without the acknowledgment and systematic fulfilment of which, the Church cannot be loved as a mother, nor honored as the spouse of Christ--I say, in view of these things, we are forced to confess, that not only the Missionary cause, but every other cause which has in view the advancement of true Christianity, is still in the day of small things. We attempt little, and we do little. Possessing as we do, a Church system, which, in its refining influence upon [7/8] the heart, and its gradual enlargement of the mind, is superior to any educational system in the world; feeling as we do, and knowing that wherever this Church takes root in any community, and is even half exhibited, she is to that community a wall and a door--a wall against religious and social extravagance, a door for the entering in of order, sobriety, and refined intelligence; having in our Prayer Book a series of divine offices which almost force our clergy to be not only preachers, but what is infinitely more like Jesus, Pastors, and Teachers, and friendly guides, knowing the sheep by name, caring for them one by one, and carrying the sanctuary, the altar, and the sacrifice into each sick man's chamber; having, in short, everything that is needed to make the gospel what it should be--a silent dew, falling upon the high and the low places alike, we nevertheless forego these advantages, and allow the poor, the young, and the ignorant, to escape our fostering care.

We send a solitary missionary into some neglected region. Without money, without means, without fellowlaborers to cheer and uphold him; nay, often without food and raiment for his own helpless wife and children; with no ability to give alms, or to dispense those temporal benefits, which, in the eyes of the multitude, are the only sure "evidences of Christianity;" with nothing in short to commend him but his ability to preach; that lonely missionary becomes, in fact, not a representative of the Incarnate Saviour, but a mere voice of one [8/9] crying in the wilderness. He is a breath without a body, or he is a body without hands. The gospel he proclaims, is so bare and frigid, it has so little of that genial body of beneficence which commended the gospel of our Saviour and His Apostles, that the great warm heart of humanity necessarily shrinks from it. [Of course I am speaking of this gospel as it appears to men, not as it is in itself. For Truth, like the sunshine, always carries with it both light and heat. The light and heat it imparts, however, will depend very much upon the medium through which it passes.] For the human heart gropes ever for an incarnate Saviour. It can receive no faith cordially which comes without a body of plain and palpable blessings. If Christ Jesus Himself draw near in a mere spiritual form, the majority of men will cry out in terror; they will say "It is a spirit," and will refuse to open their hearts to Him.

Yet this in substance is the way in which Christ is presented to the poor in most of our missionary stations. The Missionary goes out a lonely and ill-provided man. He mixes in the throng of men intent upon their several cares, and absorbed in the whirl of business, but he has nothing to distinguish him from the crowd, save a feeble, and decently disguised helplessness. He cannot labor like the rest. He cannot contribute anything to those innumerable wants, which pinch men's hearts, and engross their attention for eleven hours out of the twelve. He can heal no sickness. He can minister to no necessity. He can lift no burthen from men's shoulders. For lack of means, he can do nothing to command the attention of the crowd, to gain a hold upon their hearts, [9/10] to secure himself a position among then as a friend and benefactor. The consequence is, that he preaches not to the poor, for the poor can listen to no gospel but to that which dispenses temporal relief from its left hand, while offering salvation with the right; but to the comparatively easy and affluent. So far as temporal goods are concerned, he is himself the greatest beggar in his parish. He preaches therefore to those who can give, or who, at least, can pay some pittance for what they receive. His heart the meanwhile bleeds for the poor, to whom he is specially sent, but whom he beholds scattered abroad as sheep not having a shepherd. He pines in spirit. His soul becomes cramped, and pinched. He goes through the formal routine of Sunday-services without spirit, and without unction. His enthusiasm is quenched. The sermons, which he doles out week by week, are but the stale and bitter dregs of a baffled and care-worn spirit. Harassed by temporal anxieties, which dry up his very soul, with little comfort in himself, and still less to impart to others, the ardent young missionary slowly degenerates into the galley-slave of a, lifeless and wearisome routine. His religion becomes a formality. The young and ardent of his flock wander off into strange pastures. With his own zeal absorbed in cares of this life he cannot inspire zeal into others. And so, amid a deadness and dulness, which he cannot possibly shake off, he finally sickens and dies. He leaves behind him a flock of needy and half educated children to despise the sacred calling of their [10/11] father; and he goes to testify in the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth against the purple and fine linen, and sumptuous fare of his wealthy brethren, who begrudged him the crumbs that fall from their loaded tables.

Now, in contrast with this missionary whom we send out, observe the picture of those whom, our Blessed Saviour sent forth to be His representatives, and the preachers of His gospel to the poor. "Go ye out," says He, "two by two, in companies." What tenderness and considerateness at the very outset! What a fellow-feeling for the brotherly instincts of the human heart! Few as His laborers were, He would not scatter, nor isolate them in their work. He would not expose them to that dryness of soul, that drooping of the heart, and withering of the spiritual energies, which surely results from single-handed and companionless exertion. Even the patient ox pines for a true yoke-fellow, without which help he gradually droops and dies.

But not only this: "Take," says He, "no purse, nor scrip, nor staff." In other words, "I relieve you of all pecuniary anxieties. The laborer is worthy of his hire. I send you forth to labor for Me, and give you My bond, that ye shall have enough for all your honest wants."

But not only this: "Behold," says He, "I give you power over diseases and infirmities, over serpents and scorpions, and over all adverse forces,--heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils. Freely ye have received, freely give!"

[12] In this peculiarly-provident and thoughtful way, our Blessed Saviour saw fit to send out His first Missionaries. He secured to them companionship and. sympathy. He relieved them of temporal anxiety, by guaranteeing to them a sufficiency for their wants. He provided them, finally, with a ready introduction to rich and poor, and with an easy access to men's hearts, by accompanying their mission with ample powers of beneficence. To send out a missionary without some similar provision is, as it were, to "seethe a kid in his mother's milk." It is to make the generous enthusiasm, which God designs for the nurture of a young man's growth, a mere means of dwarfing his mind, of impoverishing his soul, of crushing his elastic spirits.

But it will be said, "All this was miraculous, and the age of miracles has ceased; we cannot arm our missionaries with such powers we must, therefore, send them as we can."

My dear brethren, it is a mere spiritual cowardice to regard any miracle impossible, which will subserve the good of mankind, or honor the name of Christ Jesus. In one sense, I grant the provision, which our Saviour made for His first missionaries, was miraculous. But in the same sense every beginning of a thing that grows is necessarily a miracle. The first tree that ever bore fruit, was a miracle. Yet trees now bear fruit as an ordinary thing, and excite no special wonder. The first man that ever breathed, was a miracle; and his first breath was a miracle; and his first enraptured [12/13] look at the sunshine was a glorious miracle. Yet all these miracles had their seed within themselves, and now continue to bear fruit, each one after his kind, in the ordinary course of nature. So it was precisely with all the miracles, which accompanied the first propagation of the gospel. They were none of them dead, and barren, and isolated facts. They were rather living trees, yielding fruit, whose seed is in itself, after his kind. Where it was in the power of the Church, then, to heal a few sick persons in the shadow of Peter or John, it is in the power of the Church, now, if Christians will do their duty, to heal thousands by means of properly conducted hospitals and infirmaries. Where Paul could impart the gift of tongues and of Christian knowledge to a hundred Christian preachers, we, if we use our means, for the honor of God, could impart the same gifts to thousands, by means of Christian schools, and academies, and colleges. There is, in short, no power of influencing or winning men's hearts, with which we could not equip our Missionaries, as fully and as bountifully as Our Blessed Saviour equipped His.

Thus, where we send out two solitary missionaries to two isolated places, suppose we send the two in company to one place. Where we furnish them with a handful of tracts, suppose we were to give them the means of founding a free-school for strictly Christian education. If the country in which they labor is new, and the conveniences of life hard to be procured, or the [13/14] destitute poor numerous, we might provide them further with the means of dispensing medicines, and food, and clothing. In this way a Christian mission would become, what the early missions were, genuine Church Colonies. They would be centres of learning, of cheerful industry, of open-handed beneficence. They would attract the poor, as our Blessed Saviour did, by doing good to the poor. They would be models of industrious, happy, and well-ordered homes. Lighting up the darkness, and softening the rudeness of border life, by planting in the midst a genuine graft from Christian civilization, they would outwardly and visibly, in a way to be seen and read of all men, "make the wilderness to rejoice and blossom as the rose." And in this way, with no other miracle than that of a large heart, and open hand among Christians, we should see and realize the full force of that promise of our Saviour--"The works that I do shall ye do also. Nay, greater works than these shall ye do, because I go to my Father."* [The Moravian missions are on this principle--also, in a measure, our own foreign missions. Mr. Breck's mission at Nashotah, is as near an approach to it, as private enterprise can be expected to make.]

The great crime of Christians--nay, of Churchmen, in the present age is, that they try to do God's work cheaply. Instead of that noble sentiment of David, "God forbid that I should serve the Lord with that which costs me nothing," our first thought is to get religion, to keep it, and to spread it at the smallest possible expense. We build cheap churches and leave them [14/15] burthened with the curses of unpaid creditors. Instead of making each mission a little colony in itself, a genial centre of active benevolence, exerting a el influence upon the whole neighborhood, we think we have done enough and at far less `cost, if we send out a few pious men, naked and unarmed, into the wilderness, and with that distribute Bibles and Prayer-books, and put in circulation an infinitude of tracts. But, my brethren, Bibles will not do the work which God has told men to do. Prayer-books will not clothe the naked. To get a real hold upon the hearts of men, we must approach them as men. We must go to them one by one. We must show by personal contact that our hearts beat like theirs; that we sympathize with them; that we love them; that we put ourselves at cost, and take much pains, and make substantial sacrifices to do them good. Look, my brethren, at that fearful tide of godless and self-relying men, which is even now heaving in an angry swell around the base of modern society; men who never bend the knee in prayer; men who never name the Name of God but to profane it; men full of intelligence, and alive with the spirit of social progress, and of indomitable resolution, but who are more entirely without hope, and without God in the world, than the very heathen--for the heathen pray to some God. But the majority of our male American population are utterly ignorant of worship; they reverence nothing in Heaven or in Earth. Now, how are we to influence this mass of stout-hearted, fearless, self-relying men? Is it by free-schools of the State, from which all positive [15/16] creeds are excluded, in which the Bible is merely connived at, and in which a Christian minister, if he ventured to open his mouth boldly, would excite as great a commotion as Paul at Ephesus? Is it by sentimental tracts, from which every particle of manly and straightforward teaching is carefully picked out for fear of giving offence? Is it, in short, by this dainty angling of the nineteenth century, forever preaching, but forever qualifying, this yea, nay, and nay, yea, with which the hook is so carefully, but after all so fruitlessly disguised?

My brethren, your own hearts will tell you no. This cheap and easy religion, with its fine, soft words, and courtly phrases, and fear of giving offence, may answer so long as we confine ourselves to the limpid pools of the upper regions of society. But so soon as we launch out, like true fishers, into the great and stormy deep, and spread our nets for men, we need something more real and substantial. You cannot draw out Behemoth with a hook and line. You cannot tame the great honest heart of humanity by half-gospels, and halfcharities, and half-churches, and work half done. The heart of man craves an incarnate God; if it cannot have that, it will have no God. The only gospel that will command the reverence, and win the love of mankind, is the gospel that takes flesh, and goes about doing good; that holds on to the cross with one hand, but with the other points to its noble charities, its well-endowed hospitals, its schools open to the poorest, its churches free to all, and which, pointing to these as its credentials, [16/17] can say to each man without flinching, "My brother, this is my creed, embodied. To the honor of this creed, I have built these walls. I believe this creed, I love it, I give myself for it; nay, I spend my money for it. Do thou also receive this creed, and thou art saved--reject it, and thou art damned."

Hence it is, my Christian friends and brethren, in view of these serious necessities of the times--necessities which I feel, and which I hope will excuse me in your eyes, if in this discourse I venture to speak more freely of the deficiencies of Churchmen than I ought to speak; hence it is, I say, that I regard it as no mere rapture of religious poetry, no "song of songs," but the spirit of a sound, sober, and well-digested wisdom, which leads Solomon to say in our text, with regard to his "little sister"--"If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver; if she be a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar." We also, like him, have such a sister as he supposes; we have a mission here, and a mission three. We have here and there also an infant Church school, or Church college; not entertained, however, in the commodious inn, which fosters the early growth of secular Institutions, but like the Divine Babe, whom the wise men this day worshipped with their gold, cradled in a manger; the account that we hear from each such school or mission, being invariably the same piteous tale of littleness, and feebleness, and pecuniary embarrassment. "We have a little sister"--she is poor, she is destitute, her children are starving for want of the bread of life--"What, then, shall we do for our sister in the day [17/18] that she shall be spoken for?" Shall we despise her because she is little? Shall we dole out our bounty, as men give alms to a beggar? Or, what is still worse, shall we separate into parties, and stand like rival physicians, wrangling in a sick man's chamber, and settling nice questions, while the patient dies? Is it not plain, that with so much work for us to do, and with so little done, we must all be more or less in the wrong? What will it help us that a man is justified by faith, if we have not faith enough to do our bounden duty? What will it avail us to be justified by works if we do no works?

"But we are seriously alarmed at the present day by Papal aggressions." Our young men, it is said, are many of them looking towards Rome, and in an ague of fear we stand trembling, or begin to assail one another. Still, do we not see, that the real strength of Rome is, that she is at work while we are standing idle? [I mean idle as a body, not as individuals; for our clergy, thank God, are willing workers, and so are our laity, when work is carved out for them to do. The plain English of the whole comparison is simply, that Rome is founding hospitals, and schools, and Eleemosynary Institutions all over the land, while we are doing nothing of the sort. What I say of Rome, I might say also of the semi-Christian philanthropy of the day. It is striving more to relieve the temporal wants of men, than orthodox Christianity is doing. When this is the case we need not wonder that men are more willing to take their chance with the good Samaritan who is binding up the wounds of society, than with the Priest and Levite, who pass by on the other side.] There is nothing that chafes the spirit of a man so much, or makes him so desperate, as to tie his hands, or to deprive him of his tools. You may confine such a man in the most gorgeous palace, you may robe him in purple and fine linen, and feast him sumptuously every [18/19] day, yet let him look out' of a window, and see a few poor laborers at work, and though they be clothed in rags, and fed on leeks and garlick, he will envy their condition. In the same way the Church is never safe in the affections of her children, but when she and they are fully and heartily at work. Compared with the corruptions of modern Rome, our Church, I believe, is purity itself. But purity itself, my brethren, is never more lovely than when girded with a towel, and washing the disciples' feet.

"What, then, shall we do for our sister?"--"If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver; if she be a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar!" But, my brethren, each missionary station is a wall. Each feeble Church school, is undoubtedly a door. What shall we do, then? We will build palaces of silver; we will frame doors of cedar. We will spare no cost. We will shrink from no sacrifice. We will do no cheap work; for cheap work is invariably bad work. We will make the Church comely. We will give to the gospel a substantial body. We will plant the Church wherever we can plant her, in her integrity and beauty. We will enable her to be what she soon would be, if Christians would awake to their duty, a home to the homeless, a haven to the tempest-tossed wanderer, a refuge to the lonely and weary, a bosom of Jesus, wherein the lambs of the flock, the orphans and fatherless children, might be sheltered, and trained to an honorable, religious, and useful manhood. If we have the spirit of Christ, we will do this, and we will do much more. [19/20] For after all our efforts in this way, after all the cost and sacrifice that the most ardent love can inspire, what shall we have given to God in comparison of that which He has lavished upon us? Though we beggar ourselves by our liberality, what shall we have done in comparison of Him, who, rich as He was, yet for our sakes became poor? Though we build His palaces literally of silver, and enclose every door of His with cedar; though we cease not, and rest not, till every parish has its Church freely opened to all, and every Church has its school-house, and hospital, and Christian Institutions of all sorts; though we make every vine in our spiritual vineyard to bear its thousand branches, and every branch its thousand silverlings, and every silverling its thousand clusters of grapes, what shall we have made, after all, in comparison of the azure roof, star-spangled, and the emerald floor of that glorious temple which God has created for man?

By cherishing in our hearts a feeling like this, my brethren, by giving and doing in the spirit of men, who are determined that whatever they do in God's name, they will do it well, we shall learn more and more what it is to be like God. We shall purchase with our wealth that inheritance which the fires cannot diminish, which the floods cannot drown. For we shall have our treasure in ourselves. In peace with God, in goodwill towards men, in the noble serenity of a large and liberal heart, we shall have that joy with which a stranger intermeddleth not, and which no man taketh away.

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