Project Canterbury

Forward in Western China

By Deaconess Emily Lily Stewart
C.M.S. Missionary in Szechwan

Foreword by the Archbishop of Sydney

London: Church Missionary Society, 1934.

Chapter I. The Way Prepared

In this generation we tend to fix our eyes unduly on the manward side of missionary work. We need to get back to the God-ward side. In the white light of the Gospel of Christ social evils are shown up with a blackness that makes all decent men ashamed. They do not always realize the source of their new sensitiveness, indeed they sometimes deny it. "We are working for the good of mankind," they say. "Stop your preaching and help us to right the wrong, to uplift the oppressed, and men will listen to your message." It is as if some one had taken soap and water, food and clothing, to the prodigal boy in the far country. His position there might have been made endurable; in time he might even have become content. But what of the heart of the Father? Could He ever have been satisfied with the broken family circle? Let us get back to the heart of Christ, back to God's side of the great missionary campaign. We shall lose none of our love for the wandering boy, none of our concern for his pitiable plight, because of our greater concentration on the Father's loss.

We can no longer deny that God has been here before us, seeking the Chinese people along many of their ancient paths. He gave them Confucius, as He gave to the Hebrew people Moses, to instruct them in the ways of righteousness till He Himself should come in the person of His Son. The Chinese owe a great debt to Confucius--a truly remarkable man. He was just about contemporary with Zechariah of Judah, but he lived in an entirely different world. He had no opportunity to catch the vision of the Hebrew prophet, but the influence of his teaching permeated China with those principles of loyalty to the State and to the family which underlie all that is best in Chinese society. He taught that the right ordering of the State depends upon the right ordering of the family, which is impossible without individual uprightness of heart. This is a point at which the Christian message can reach the Confucianist. He knows already the necessity for a clean heart and pure life; Christ brings the dynamic which makes attainment possible.

The old attitude towards all non-Christian religions, which regarded them as so many inventions of the evil one, is taken by very few missionaries to-day. We come to our Buddhist and Confucian friends not to condemn, but to share what we believe to be the greatest and highest blessing ever vouchsafed to man--the revelation of God in Christ. We believe that He has been here all through the centuries, speaking to human souls by every means that love can use, and men and women are reaching out after Him, though they know it not. Over many a temple of the Goddess of Mercy may be seen the words: "Petitions will be answered," reminding us of our Lord's promise: "Ask, and it shall be given you." Many a sad and broken Chinese heart has poured out its longings at the feet of the Kwan In, and has received an answer! The cry of the human soul has burst through the temple of the dumb Goddess of Mercy and reached the great compassionate heart of the Father. In this land where most of the " gods " are such as to be feared and propitiated, the Kwan In stands out as a symbol of the merciful and good, which every one feels must exist in the heart of the Deity. The popularity of this goddess reveals a universal need. When will they turn from the flickering candle to the full glory of the noon-day sun?

There is usually a hearing for the Christian message within the precincts of a Buddhist temple. In Western China one may enter the temple courtyards with the utmost freedom and hire a table on which to spread out gospels and tracts. Worshippers, when they have finished their devotions, and even the priests themselves, will stand and listen to the preaching, and will often buy portions of Scripture to read. The teaching of the opening verses of St. John's Gospel, with its theme of the Eternal Word, finds prepared soil in the heart of a devout Buddhist. The Chinese word tao is perhaps nearer the meaning of logos than any word that we have in English. It has many shades of meaning. With it are linked ideas and associations which are only with great difficulty explained in English. The cultured Buddhist opens the New Testament at St. John's Gospel and reads: "In the beginning was the Tao, and the Tao was with God, and the Tao was God." "This," he says, "is wisdom," and he reads on. Sometimes he reads to the end, and finds the fulfilment of all the longings that Buddha can awaken but cannot satisfy.

So passes the eternal Christ along the ancient roads of Szechwan, and He is steadily though unhurriedly advancing. He is advancing by the broad open highway and the narrow winding track. Sometimes His progress is almost unnoticed, but we have only to look back and survey the road by which He has come to realize the sureness of His onward march.

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