Project Canterbury

Sea-Girt Yezo

Glimpses at Missionary Work in North Japan.

By John Batchelor

London: Church Missionary Society, 1902.

Chapter X. Difficulties in the Way of Becoming Christians.

"Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts."--Zech. iv. 6.

IT is absolutely certain that the words contained in the verse standing at the top of this chapter are true. We may say this not only because we know them to be the very words of God Himself, but also because our own experience proves it to be so. No sooner does the missionary get among the poor benighted, spiritually blinded

Heathen than he begins to feel as never before how great is his own weakness. No missionary can convert a Heathen. Such a deed as that is utterly beyond all human power. Nor can a Heathen convert himself of his own will. It is only possible for God to do such things as these; and it is His holy Lord which so truly says, "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts."

Before becoming a missionary I used to imagine that work among [107/108] the Heathen was quite easy, because I was under the impression that all the Heathen to whom missionaries were sent were anxiously waiting to receive the blessed Gospel of the Lord Jesus, and that one had only to preach to them and then they would all be willing to become Christians almost at once. But in this I was mistaken, for Satan has blinded their hearts and has them very much under his power. He will not give them up without a hard struggle. Thousands, it is true, do accept the Gospel of their salvation quickly in some parts of the world--we thank God for this; and many more have a desire to accept it; but still the great majority do not do so. There are very many things holding them back, some of which we can see and know about, and others which we cannot hope ever to find out. One thing we are certain of, however, and that is that all the hindrances, whatever their form and nature may be, are directly from the great spiritual enemy--Satan--himself. But then we also know that he is being gradually driven out, and that in the end the Lord Jesus will surely reign in his stead.

In the present chapter I want to tell you of a certain class of difficulties which stand in the way of the people confessing Christ. Most of these difficulties have to do with their own religions, though there are many others which arise from the wicked heart of a corrupt nature, and not a few find their cause in a body made weak by evil habits.

In order that we may understand these things more easily, let us get up a little conversation with one of the many Heathen one often meets with in Yezo. Let us suppose that the missionary has just finished preaching and is urging someone to accept Christ as his own personal Saviour. Perhaps the person to whom he is speaking will say: "Oh no, that may not be. We have already an old religion in which we believe. Why should I give that up for another? Our forefathers before us believed in it; it was good [108/109] enough for them, why will it not do for us? No, I cannot change."

"But, why? The Lord Jesus spoke truth. He is God, and He came all the way from heaven to bring us news of our Father Who lives there; and also to suffer and die that we might live for ever in perfect peace and happiness with Him. He died for you! "

"Oh no, I know nothing about Him. He is not my God. He is [109/110] not my Saviour. We in this country have our own gods who attend to our wants. The English, too, have theirs, and the Chinese theirs. Every nation and each particular place has its own deities to attend to it."

"But," says the missionary, "there is only one true God over all, and He has given us only one true Saviour. We must come to this only God and we must believe in this one Saviour. Jesus is 'the Way, the Truth, and the Life,' and He wants us all to come to Him. Just go away and think about Him, and then let us have another chat at some other time."

Thus we can only pray, and preach, and talk, and so try to show by degrees that the heathen gods have no real being and nowhere exist but in the imagination of those who believe in them. Nothing more than this can be done--the Holy Spirit of God must do the rest, every bit of it. "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts."

Very likely you may wonder what gods the people of Yezo--the Ainu especially worship. Well, there are very many of them indeed, and they are thought to exist everywhere. But not only do they worship things [110/111] which are supposed to be gods, but demons also, the skies, air, clouds, and even banks of fog, are supposed to be full of them. So, too, do they think there are gods of the sun, moon, and stars, and of the winds, mists, rain, sleet, hail, and snow; gods and demons also of land and sea, earth and water, mountains and valleys, fountains, springs, rivers, waterfalls, lakes and ponds, and also of all kinds of vegetation, as of trees, shrubs, grass, flowers, and even thorns, thistles, and weeds. They also imagine there are good and evil spirits who preside over fishes, reptiles, flies, birds, and animals. But besides all this they believe that there is one Supreme God to Whom all the other deities are subject, and also one chief demon for whom all other demons act as servants. The gods, they think, must be worshipped for it is their due, and the demons must be propitiated in order to purchase their favour so as not to be harmed by them. Then the people think that each person has a guardian angel told off by the one true God Himself to help him or her on the journey through this world in comfort. In this way, then, the Ainu believe that there are gods and demons in every particular thing and place.

Now, supposing a person is beginning to doubt his own religion and thinking of becoming a Christian, and so commences to give up worshipping the gods and propitiating the demons he has believed in from childhood. What do his friends think will happen? Why, they imagine the demons will attack and punish them, and that the gods will discontinue their favour. The deities, for example, will, they think, come and speak to his heart in this way:--

"You are a very wicked person, for you are neglecting us. You do not worship us now, nor do we see your offerings. You are thinking of becoming a Christian. That is why you do not acknowledge us any more. Unless you repent of this conduct and return to us, we will punish you and deliver you up to the power of the [111/112] demons. Yea, we will punish you and all your people. The gods of the springs and fountains will cease to send forth water; the demons of the clouds will stop the rain; the gods of the sun will scorch up the earth, and the demons of the winds will send forth hurricanes; the rivers will overflow their banks and your gardens will be washed away. Moreover, the locusts will come and eat up every green thing; fishes, birds, and animals will all die, and the people starve. Yea, the people shall waste away through hunger and thirst; they shall have bad dreams, and go about in fear and trembling; you shall be bewitched by birds, cats, dogs, foxes, wolves, bears, and squirrels; you shall screech like owls, mew like cats, bark like dogs, foxes, and wolves, and roar like bears; you shall become blind and deaf, and at last die in great agony. And besides all this, you shall be punished after death in the abode of the demons." So, say the people, will the gods and demons treat those and their friends also who give up their old religion to become Christians.

People who do not like Christianity try to frighten others who wish to join themselves to the Lord by speaking in the way now mentioned. And some believe them, I am sorry to say. But they also say other things. Thus they repeat: "You must not neglect the souls of your deceased relations and ancestors. They must be worshipped every year, and libations of wine and offerings of food must be placed before them" (see picture on page 107). The Japanese also offer them incense and lighted candles. The Ainu say that if the souls of their departed parents and grandparents are neglected they will come and punish their offspring with various diseases, and will spoil their gardens.

Thus you see it must be very, very difficult sometimes for the people to give up their own cherished beliefs for those of another creed. Many of them are afraid to do so, and dread the idea of any one of their relatives doing so either. This is one reason why persecutions [112/113] arise. Indeed there are many who think that if any calamity befall a place it is all owing to Christianity, Thus, for example, a severe shock of earthquake, a visitation of cholera, small-pox, or other sicknesses have been set down to it. So, too, if there should happen to be too much rain, or too little--even these matters have been set down to the fact that missionaries come to preach, and the people go to listen to them. Of course these ideas are gradually dying out now, for the people are becoming much wiser. There are also many others--and these are numerous--who imagine that it in no way matters what religion a person professes, but that he may be saved by any one of them. Some even place Jesus Christ by the side of the Buddhas and other false gods, and worship Him together with, them. Pray that their eyes may be opened.

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