JOHN A. GRAY & GREEN, PRINTERS, STEREOTYPERS, AND BINDERS,
CORNER OF FRANKFORT AND JACOB STREETS.
[The preacher may be allowed here to express the great regret, equalled only by the reluctance, with which he was compelled, at less than a week's notice, to stand for this purpose in "the large room" of the Missionary Bishop of the North-West.]
"THE word of God is not bound."--2 TIMOTHY 2, part of verse 9.
FOR the first time the Board of Missions meets upon, what is almost strictly, missionary ground. And while the wondrous beauty of the landscape has beguiled the length, and the warmth of welcome worn off all the weariness, of the way, one feels that it is good, not only, but right, also, to be here. Mere, where the wisdom of our Fathers' missionary work asserts itself within the memory of men; here, where the problem is accomplished and wrought out, that hastens to a speedier conclusion than we think, in the remoter west, the problem of earthly enterprise and human energy, demanding parallel and progressive ventures of faith, to bring, under spiritual culture and divine subjection, the lands, where man's prompt forecast reaps golden harvests and builds up kingdoms, almost in a night--but not for God; here, where the missionaries' names are household words, and the missionary's footsteps, yet, familiar round your hearths. With us, their footprints are a little out of mind; since, over them, are built up the longer-settled foundations [3/4] of our parochial work. But here, in these newer, though vigorous, parishes, we recall, at once, the wholesome memory, that, at some time, everywhere, there were all and only missions; and all the wide world, once, was missionary ground.
Nor is it hard, historically, to trace this out. For there is no track of light so golden, no line of ancestry so great, as the long list of Christian missionaries, and the bright shining of their pioneer lamps that peer out through all the Christian centuries. Earth knows no nobler lineage than he claims to-day--and heaven owns the honour of his claim--who travels with Talbot where the turbid torrents of the goldhunters set so strong; or toils with Whipple, where heathen Christians corrupt and outrage the Christian heathen of the west; who flings the good seed, which is the Word, in the broadcast sowing of his itinerancy, where Scott is caring for three Territories; or who, in the diocese of the venerable missionary patriarch of the American Church, (may his green old age long adorn our Episcopate,) gathers in harvests for God's granary from the more fully cultivated fields of Wisconsin. These are the Christian nobles of to-day. The armorial bearings of the Cross, the ancestral glory of an unblotted scutcheon, the noblest birthright of the world, are theirs, shared evenly and gladly, with those who lie in martyrs' graves, or work with martyr heroism in Greece and Africa, and China, and among the islands of the sea. For, my reverend brethren and fathers, the Head of this honoured lineage is Jesus Christ, the Apostle, the Messenger, the Angel, the Messias, the Sent, the SILOAM, (which is by interpretation sent,) the fons et origo, the Source; the first Missionary, with whom all these are linked in through the closest fastenings of that golden chain, (themselves its goldenest links,) by which, in direct succession from the Apostles, we all hold fast for orders, mission, grace, to Jesus Christ. Let us come, then, never, to any consideration of the subject which lifts its vast expanse before our hearts to-night without remembering this: that Christianity is one long mission; that Jesus is the missionary; that we are Christians only because of missionary work; that the strands in the threefold cord of apostolical succession, by which, alone we hold authority or have a valid ministry, are the missionary strands; and that the beacon hills of all the ages, from whose high tops the light of truth has flashed from peak to peak around the world, are the mission stations; the places where St. Paul preached; the point where St. Augustine stepped on Kentish ground; Heber's Cathedral Church, and his confessor's grave; the landing-places of Selwyn's missionary ship; the wharf at Harburg whence Louis Harm's good ship, the "Candace," set sail to bear the Gospel to the Ethiopians; the [4/5] footprints of Moravian missionaries in the Greenland snows; Rome's recent martyr monuments in Japan; that scene of mingled sea and fire, (as in the Apocalyptic vision,) when Keith went toward "the Golden Gate" of God; and now, since we were called together here, that new shrine--to which our hearts shall long make pilgrimages of remembering love--the fresh-made grave of Bishop Boone, where lies all that is mortal of God's faithful, gentle, patient, chastened saint, his toils and tortures past, and his soul at rest in "the celestial, flowery kingdom," which is the Paradise of God. The sum and substance of our relation to this whole case, what we should do, as based upon what has been done to us, lie in our answer to the apostolic question: '" What, came the Word of God out from you, or came it unto you only?" [I Cor. 14:36] Not starting from us, but given to us by the sending of others; it is not ours only, but we must become, in our turn, senders to others of what was sent to us.
Go back with me a moment to the point whence we have strayed. The first name on the roll of Christian missionaries, the first in time, not only, but first, as the head and source of all, is the Name that is above every name, the Name of Jesus, at which every knee should bow. And, though the interval be long, as between frail and fallible humanity and the perfect and perpetual Priesthood of the God-Man, the next name is his, who, from his prison and his chains, not wrote only, but realized, the mighty truth of these great words: "The Word of God is not bound." Think with me how they were verified in the person of Christ Jesus and of his Apostle, and how we may falsify them in ourselves.
"The Word of God is not bound."
The Word of God was bound. The Word of God that in the beginning was with God, and was God, was bound. He was bound hand and foot, and dragged and driven to the house of Annas, to the hall of Caiaphas, to the house of Pilate, to the palace of Herod; and then, back to Pilate's paltering cowardice, and the people's bloody will. The Word of God was bound to the pillar of the cruel scourging. The Word of God was bound to the wood of the more cruel cross. And yet the Word of God was not bound. Not only as the sacred, searching utterances, or the sublime, celestial silences of those divine lips still speak, throughout the world, the eternal voice of God's pervading truth. But more literally than this; for all the while, the Word of God, the Person of the Divine Son, the Truth of God, the purpose of God, these, by this very binding, were but set free. Sealed with the authentication [5/6] of fulfilled prophecies, they were sent forth, in the freedom and the power of an all-reaching love, to plead with and to prevail over sinful humanity; to loose the bonds of those who sat in darkness over all the earth; to preach deliverance to the captives whom Satan held, the world over, in chains; and to break every yoke. Truly, in Jesu's binding, the Word of God is not bound.
Nor was the Word bound in the binding of the Missionary Apostle. From the house of his first Roman imprisonment, and from the closer confinement of the second, the Word of God broke forth, as the flashes, "out of the east and even unto the west," burst the dark dungeon of the thunder-cloud. His unimprisoned soul laboured in the Word and doctrine with resisting Jews and with inquiring Romans. Onesimus was "begotten in his bonds." Imperial C war's palace sent its representatives to sit in the Apostle's cell, like docile children, before those unsealed lips. No less than seven of the Pauline epistles, and an eighth perhaps, issue from the forced leisure of these days of bondage, and bear the very stigmata--"the marks of the Lord Jesus"--for their seals: "I, Paul, the prisoner of Lord, beseech you;" or, "Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ;" or, once more, as in the passage of the text, "I suffer trouble, as an evil-doer, even unto bonds;" or, still again, that touching, tender autograph, when the poor shackled hand took the pen of the "ready writer" to authenticate his words: "The salutation by the hand of me, Paul, remember my bonds." And during all those years of his two imprisonments, whether in the comparative freedom of the first--chained fast day and night by the right hand to his Roman guard; or in the second, when not these bonds only, but the cell secured him--still went the Word of God forth, not only from his lips and in his letters; but it rang out from the very rattling of his shackles, as his uplifted hand enforced, with the clanking of its chains, the burning, energetic eloquence of his unconfined soul. So was the Word of God not bound.
And why do we speak of these things, my Christian friends? Because we ought to learn how these inspired words of the Apostle Paul have, in them, that inherent element of inspiration, eternal application, and abiding truth. This Word of God has not passed away. It still is true in its essential meaning. The Word of God is not bound. No persecution, no violence of man, no malice of the devil, no power of the world, can bind it. No fire burns it, no cell contains it, no chains confine it. It is not, in the eternal present tense of the Divine using, it is not--by any of these things, in any of these ways--it is not bound. It was not bound, when its one written record shivered to fragments [6/7] under Moses' righteous wrath. It was not bound, when Jehudi's penknife and the fire on Jehoiakim's hearth had consumed the roll-of the book in which Baruch had written at the prophet's mouth. It was not bound, when it was lowered with Jeremiah into the mire of Malchiah's prison-pit. It was not bound, when it went down with the three children of the captivity, into Nebuchadnezzar's furnace of fire. Nay, It was, there, that "fourth man," whom the king saw "loose, walking," in form "like unto the Son of God;" and it leaped higher and brighter than those curling flames, into the hymn "Benedicite." It was not bound, during the seventy years' captivity, the fiery persecution of Antiochus, or the dark and desolate days of Josiah's reign. It was not bound, when it spake only with bated breath beside the Christian altars in the underground dark of the catacombs. It was not bound, when it was shut up in the closer prison of an unknown tongue, and clasped under the heavy mailed hand of Rome's spiritual autocracy. It was not bound, when Wiclif's hand and tongue were tied with the tight knots of paralysis. It was not bound, when it was fastened with Archbishop Cranmer to the stake. It was not bound in any grave of man, in the burned books, or in the buried books. But from them all, it burst forth to larger liberty and strength renewed; as the receding wave rolls up its arching crest, and, in the moment's pause, gathers itself, to dash, with creamier foam, up to a farther, higher tide-mark on the shore.
Beloved, you know all this, and know it well. And yet we have need to learn and lay to heart this truth; that it may be at once our warning and encouragement. For this Word of God, to bind which all the efforts of man and devil have been fruitless and in vain, may yet, so far as our accountability is concerned, and the little day of our stewardship, be, by the puny threads of our inactivity, bound and restrained. It will have "free course" in the end, and "be glorified." But the autumnal heaping of dead leaves may stop the mightiest river at its source; and even the beaver's tail can build a dam to stay the current of the brook in summer: these, for a moment, till the gathered waters or the April rains assert their power, and the tide runs on, while all the obstacles are hurried down and swept away, forgotten fragments and wrecks of ruin. Think what it is that can be bound. Think what it is to bind it. It is the Word that, in a single utterance, flashed, leaped, and revelled into universal light, bathing, in every atom, the huge mass of a chaotic world: It is the Word, whose speech day utters unto day, and night declares to night, through the successive series of continuous centuries. It is the Word whose simple speaking [7/8] sent forth the great company of the preachers whose line is gone out throughout all the world. It is the word of light and life and hope and heaven. It is the Word that shall not pass away, though the solid earth and the overarching heavens are destroyed.
And think what it is to bind it. We can but think of it in feeblest pictures of the truth. We think of Israel's estate in the decrepit days of Eli, when the Word of the Lord was precious, because there was no open vision. We think of some great hero, on whose absence freedom waits and pines and dies, lingering in lonely captivity till death sets him free. We think of a live limb, cramped, chilled, and withered, while the circling blood of life is tied out of its arteries and veins. We think of some life-giving stream, for which the parched and barren fields thirst in their brown decay, while it is bound in the close bondage of a weary drought. And these are faint and far-off figures of the awful reality, if God's Word could be bound.
But it is not. And there comes often necessity for us to be assured of this. For, looking just at the work which God has set our hands unto, in the American Church, we see the high, hard walls of various hindrances that come in to stay the progress of our missions; we feel the tightening of those cords of circumstances and outside events that seem to bind the Word of God. But it is all in seeming. The veil of strange and far-away Japan's exclusive isolation, that was raised a year or two ago, seems settling slowly down. The cruel tide of war pours its destroying surge over a well-wrought field; and, while the husbandman is hurried off, the ingathered and the growing grain are likewise swept away. The fever's fell, consuming hand spoils African altars, that it may plant in African graves the seed of a rich harvest for the Lord. An Indian outbreak, when heavy wrongs, long borne, have roused at last the savage nature to a cowardly revenge, breaks up the settled post of Christian influence--won, as all crops are since the cursing, by sweat and blood from a reluctant soil. All these things are, my brethren; and yet the Word of God is not bound. These passing circumstances, these personal losses, the chances and the changes that come, are but as the desert wind that blows unheeded by, while the great caravan of God's fixed purposes marches still on. Nay, though it seem not so to us, they are God's steps of progress. We look at them as children wonder at the misshapen, incoherent pieces of a complicated engine, before the workman fits in, each to each, in its appointed place. Really, like these, untoward hindrances, sad disappointments, deaths, losses, and delays are parts of that mysterious machine we call the Providence of God. Just now, so far as questions come up out of our [8/9] national trial, where wisest men are doubtful what to do, our souls "wait still upon the Lord." Whatever complications of doubt and difficulty seem to wind themselves about this missionary work, remember, it is God's work--it is God's Word! We have but to be faithful, and full of prayer, and watchful, and full of zeal, and, by and by, they shall "smell the fire" of the Word of God, and shall be as the green withes and the hempen ropes wherewith Delilah sought to bind the unshorn strength of Israel's giant judge. [Judges 16: 9, marginal reading.] Against the cowardice of discouragement, then, the text speaks out its word of cheer to us in our day of trial and rebuke and blasphemy: "Fear not, be strong; yea, be strong." "The Word of God is not bound."
And what a pathway does it open out, on which we ought to set the beautiful feet of them that bring good tidings, that publish peace: The Word of God is not bound. No human heart contains it, to make mere personal religion the sum of individual duty. No holiest home confines it, to make it only needful for a man to say: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." No parish boundaries restrict it, to limit the claim on every Churchman to the circle of which his House of God is the centre. No diocese limits it, to give exclusive demand upon its for the all-important work of Diocesan Missions. Nor, in the wise, catholic, scriptural, Christ-like charter of this Society, does the vast extent of our great continent bound it, that only a single Board should be the almoner of our missionary charities. It must reach out beyond all these, because it is not bound. It must traverse the dirty alleys--dirtiest for the sin that stains them--of our cities, and track the long and tedious wastes of western prairies, and skim the silver threads of the great river-arteries of our own land, and scale the mountains, and descend the mines. And it must cross the seas till all the world is linked in with the belting chain of stations of the Cross; till the West shall give back to the East the treasure that came to us as the sun comes; till we may join hands, as it were, in a living union--reaching back to the mountain of the Commission, including all the Christian centuries, and girdling the globe--with the Apostles whom the Lord sent forth; till the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. Thus are there no bounds set to the work we have to do to-day. The field is the world. The only warrant of the Church's work is--to every creature--to all nations--till the Lord come.
Once more--the Word of God is not bound. And yet, with regard to our great accountability, we have the power, alas! we have the will [9/10] to bind it. Our selfish, self-containing indifference to others' needs, our alms withheld, our feeble prayers, our unholy lives, our unloving hearts, these do, so far as they involve our responsibility, our lost reward, our penalty incurred, bind the word of the Lord. Although to-day, our agents for this work come up to our yearly gathering with words of grateful cheer for the last year's gifts, and cheerful hope for the future, our ears should tingle at the thought, that any one should say, "Well done" for such small service; or have to plead, and urge, and ask for such small sums. We may be thankful, that in some degree, God's chastening hand has crushed the sweet savour of more liberal alms out of our sorrowing hearts, even as some flowers are fragrant only when they have been bruised. In this year of graves, and tears,-and blood, our alms exceed last year's, and well-nigh equal what we gave before that bitter rending calve, which made the Church, in seeming, and only for a time, "twain out of one." And yet, look at it in the other way. And in what proportion to our ability, our duty, the great work to do, the great ends to accomplish, the great reward to gain--in what proportion to these, in the arithmetic of heaven, stand the one hundred and forty-three thousand dollars given last year, or the one hundred and fifty thousand asked for next year, compared with all the work we are doing, much less with all the work we ought to do as members of this branch of Christ's holy Church? What right have we to bind the Word of God; to drive men off, by our paltry pittances, from the posts of useful, faithful, hopeful work, at which we make them starve, if they do stay? What right have we, as citizens and Churchmen of America, to render such a mockery of service as that is, which seeks to Christianize and civilize a country larger than Russia--larger than all Europe, excluding Russia--with fewer missionaries than there are clergy in my own Diocese of Connecticut? What right have we, to our country, our future, to God, to the Church, to Christianity, to let the teeming populations of our western wildernesses grow up to curse and cumber all that ground of God's with infidelity and unblushing sin? What right have we to cipher out stingy sums of false proportion in a cowardly, unchristian arithmetic, as to the small return of large outlays, because our converts from the foreign or the home heathen are few and rare, when we know how Heaven's choicest currency of love was all paid out in the rich coinage of the heart's Blood of God; and still, the world, redeemed, is self-sold back to sin. How shall it not be, but that they who think, who say, who do such things, may be accounted, at the last, like them of olden time, who seized the Saviour in Gethsemane, or [10/11] those who tied Him to the pillar of the scourging, or those who nailed Him to the cross--to be the binders of the Word of God?
Nor will it do to withhold our hands from Foreign Missions, because the vast size and vaster variety of our land demands so much. It is true, that upon no branch of the Church is laid such duty as on ours, within the far-reaching limits of its own boundaries; wherein those of our own home are foreign in a sense; and the foreigners--the German-speaking population, the Indians, and the Chinese--are of our household. It is true that the surest, best missionary work is the step by step progress of the Apostolic rule--each step a stand-point for a farther reach: "We are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ." [2 Corinthians 10: 14. The Apostolic idea seems to be, that we should cover the ground as we advance, not skipping from one point to a distant one, and neglecting the space that lies between; in fact, that domestic missions should go on spreading till they became foreign missions. The natural change of missions, into parishes that send out and support missionaries, is plainly stated, too, a little further on: "Having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly, to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you."] It is true that England's colonial settlements lay upon her the prior duty (forgotten only to her bitter cost) of setting up the Cross in her first footprint upon new ground. It is true that this world-work is the work of all the Church collectively, and not of each single branch. But, in our measure and degree, every baptized member of the Church is debtor, not to his accidental surroundings or the wilful choosings of his prejudice, but to the world, to plant the Cross, to preach the Word, to set the Church everywhere; that so the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified; that it may "run very swiftly," "giving the snow like wool," to be the pure and peaceful mantle of the hard rough world, and "scattering like ashes the hoar-frost," to gem its bosom as with heaven's pearls.
There is no need to argue here that the unbinding of the Word of God, its full, free furtherance over all the earth, is to be done as this Society proposes it. Eminently Catholic, because, willing or unwilling for action or inaction, for obedience or for refusal, every member of the Church, every baptized man, woman, and child, is a member of it; eminently Scriptural, because it stands broadly and firmly, upon the charter of the Church's commission to all the world; virtually Apostolic, because, in spite of the somewhat bated breath of the Fourth Article of [11/12] the Constitution, as it reads now, its work is only under and with the Bishops, and its effort, constantly to plant its missions, (as only they can be planted,) the Bishop first; thus Catholic, Scriptural, and Apostolic, it deals with the Word of God, and with the world of God, not as a mere Bible Society does, but as Jesus did, as the Apostles did, as the Church has ever done--sending the living teacher first, and with him the written Word, to give men "the certainty of the things in which they have been catechised." [St. Luke 1: 4. Ina epignwV peri wn kathchqhV logwn thn asfaleian: where, as in St. Paul's commendation of the Bereans, the relative position and purpose of the written to the preached Ward, the Bible to the Church, is fully stated; and where the word rendered "instructed" is, literally, "catechised."] And only so, by earnest, thorough missionary work can these great words be practically made true: The Word of God is not bound! Shall we not seek to make them true? Shall we not shrink from seeming to falsify them? Then, let us each, in our place, with prayer, and alms, and exhortation, uphold, advance, and prosper this holiest cause. [Article IV. of the Constitution of the Missionary Society did read, in 1861: "The Bishop of the Diocese MAY select the station;" which was good. In 1861--62 it tried to read: "The Board upon CONFERENCE with the Bishop SHALL select the stations;" which would have been very bad. In 1864 it does read: "The Board, with the consent of the Bishop, shall select the stations;" which is not so bad. The only way to make it good again, would be for the Bishop not to consent that the Board should select at all.]
In our surfeit of religious blessings we hardly realize to what degree he is a benefactor who is, even by his alms, in ever so little a part, the sender of a missionary. We think of men, of money; of ignorance taught, of barbarism civilized, of immorality restrained. It is far more than these. It is to "make straight in the desert a high-way for our God;" to make "the wilderness and the solitary place be glad, and the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose;" to "give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert;" to send out upon the wild and warring ways of earth the "feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace."
It is even more than this. In a higher, truer sense than Elisha asked it of Jehoram's messenger, we may ask of every messenger of the Cross: "Is not the sound of His Master's feet behind him?" [2 Kings 6: 32.] For, lo! wherever the missionary goes, there falls on the world's waiting ear the sound of those blessed bleeding feet of Jesus, blessing wherever they tread. And behind these heralds of the Lord, as more and more, with each advancing year, they compass the round world, there is the sound of the Master's feet coming in the clouds of Heaven--THE WORD OF GOD, bound, even then, with the bonds of our human flesh, but loose and free in the unveiled, undimmed, unlimited magnificence of his revealed divinity.