From Revelation Old and New: Sermons and Addresses by P.T. Forsyth, edited by John Huxtable (London: Independent Press, 1962)
CHURCH AS THE CORPORATE MISSIONARY OF THE GOSPEL
(preached in part at the Primitive Methodist Conference, June, 1909.)
In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. Genesis 26:4
You are all familiar with the use which St Paul makes of this word of the promised seed in Galatians. You remember it as one of those examples of Rabbinical argument which have for us lost all the force they may once have had to Jewish minds. The apostle is trying to prove to Jews that the promise concerned not the nation alone but Christ. And he seizes on the fact that the Septuagint of the Old Testament text has seed in the singular and not seeds in the plural. There is no doubt that he is doing violence to the Old Testament passage as it was meant by its writer and understood by his readers. The Hebrew word never intended to distinguish a singular from a plurality. It is always a plurality.
But there is at least this amount of truth in Paul's artificial use of the passage. The plurality was a unity, a collective unity, if not a personal. The promise was to a unity, it was not to a mere multitude. It was to a race, and not to a mere muster of individuals. It was to a nation, and not to a mere crowd or a mere posterity. It was to a corporate unity, with a common life, history, and destiny, it was not to a mere group of people. And still further, it was to a unity gathered about an election and purpose of God; it was not to a mere religious association of a voluntary optional kind. For salvation is not optional. Nor is the Church. Nothing is optional which God has already set up and committed the world to. Nothing is optional whose rejection carries eternal consequences. It is true that Paul found, as the whole Church did, that the national and corporate unity culminated in what used to be called the "federal" person of Christ. The nation's moral purpose took shape in the collective personality of Christ. That rests on another line of thought than the text supplies. And I let that alone. I do not propose to preach on the corporate personality of Christ, but on the Church as the corporate missionary to the world. Even in Paul's use of the text he was right so far as this, that the promise was made to a social whole, to a society. It was not to any number of mere individuals, a mere convention of saints. It was to a community as it was for the race, for a universal purpose. Only a solid nation could evangelize all nations. Only a society could save society.
But you know what happened. The Jewish nation made the great and fatal refusal of Christ. It failed to see its real vocation and destiny in Him. Then He who was its crowning soul became its final doom. And its work passed to a new nation, a landless nation, a universal nation, a spiritual Israel, united by the blood of Christ and not of Abraham. The grand purpose of God ceased to be the trust of any nation. It passed to the Church of Christ, the nation above all nationality—the nation of the soul. The Church became the soul's mother country, the grand missionary and benefactor of the world.
And what made the Church? Was it not the Cross? And the Cross as no mere martyrdom. The Church was created by an act of God, which, in wrecking national particularism, saved the world. It saved the world (I urge in the first place), and not a selection from the world, not a section of it. And it saved it (I further urge) in a complete and finished salvation. It did not merely make a great contribution to religious history which might or might not issue in the world's salvation according as men used it. God's purpose is not at the mercy of man's caprice. Christ's salvation is set out in the New Testament as the finished salvation of the race, and not the tentative salvation of an indefinite group of individuals. Let me stop for one moment and avert two misunderstandings. Do not misunderstand me if I say to the Evangelicals that they cannot get a saved world by adding together any number of conversions merely individual; and if I say to the Unitarians that they too cannot get a saved world out of any number of souls brought into individual and theistic relation to God by Christ the prophet. And do not go away with the hasty conclusion that the salvation of the race must necessarily mean the salvation at last of every soul in it. You have first to settle the question whether every soul ever born is required for the unity of the race as a whole.
But let me return. God so loved the world that he was in Christ reconciling the world. One God, one Saviour, one World, one Church. Everything moves among vast unities, moves on the great universal eternal scale. It is a social salvation, and it is a final salvation. It was the world that lay on God's heart, and not only the rebels or unfortunates within it. He came to save the good as well as the bad. And the world was saved, redeemed, reconciled once for all when Christ died and rose. Its relation to God was changed as a whole. We are each one of us saved in Christ's Cross as members of a saved race, and not by private bargain with God on personal terms. What says Luther in his famous catechism, "In the Christian Church God daily and freely forgives me and all believers." That does not mean that none are forgiven but church members. But it does mean that whoever is forgiven is forgiven by what made the Church; and if he keep outside the Church the forgiveness fades. My soul is a thing so great that it is saved only by the act that saved the world. And it is no true salvation that I have if it permit me to be indifferent to the salvation of the race.
I am saved into a Church with a mission to the race. The human race is therefore committed to salvation in advance. It is earmarked for Christ's redemption. It was a doomed race, and it is still a mortgaged race. It was mortgaged to Christ in his death. From being sold under sin it is now sold under salvation. In Christ's death for all, all died. The human race is baptised into Christ's death. Before it could choose it received an infant baptism, so to speak, in Christ's death and resurrection. There the race had a baptismal regeneration. God (says Peter I, 3), regenerated us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. His Church is but a kind of first fruits of His creatures (James i. z 8). The seal and claim of Christ was set on the race there, and all that the Church now does with mankind is just what we do with the children we baptize. It brings home to men what the race's baptism into Christ involved. It makes them realize their early committal to God's prevenient grace, and choose accordingly. In converting them it rouses them to what God has done for them, and not merely to what he is willing to do. It revives in their experience the baptismal bond. It induces them to take up their spiritual obligations and enter on their historic inheritance. "That the residue of men might seek after the Lord," says James in a missionary speech in Acts xv. 17, "and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord who doeth all these things." And if you object that to speak of all men as thus redeemed prevents you from taking a strong line with them and preaching with the note of judgment and warning on occasion, remember that judgment begins at the House of God, and that the severest judgment of the world is the Cross that saves it. An unsaved world that refuses an offer of salvation might be indifferent; but a saved world that refuses its salvation is worse—it is false to itself.
We live, therefore, in a redeemed world, not in a world which is only being redeemed as the number of believers grow. The Kingdom of God is set up; it is not just being set up, or trying to get set up, in the arbitrary degree in which individual men declare themselves for Christ. There can be no uncertainty whether it will succeed, as there is about every human enterprise. It is not an enterprise; it is entering on possession. All the souls we bring in are the earnest of an inheritance, the instalment of a whole world due to Christ, his purchased possession. The only world-religion is the religion of a saved world, of a world already saved.
Already saved ! For a saved world there are two parties, God and man. And the active party, the effectual party, the final party in the matter is God. And God has done His part. And that is the part. The effectual thing is done. Whatever more He does is to only carry home what he has done; and all we can do is to take it home. We can but appropriate his gift of a final, a complete Christ.
I am afraid some types of religion do not think of the world, but only of little bits of it. We think, perhaps, of its sectional grievances till we lose all power to realize its general lostness. And so what we find in the Cross is not really the solution of the world and the settled conquest of everything there. Thus the Cross becomes a small and common thing. We live in a little way, and we have but a little Christ. We do not realize that it was the cross alone that made Christianity universal, that what that lever was lifting was a world. We do not realize that the death of that hour was the world's eternal life, and in that brief act man's destiny was sealed for ever.
Even the Reformers did not quite realize that it was a world Saviour and a world redemption on the Cross. They thought it involved but a section of the world; and that is one reason why they had no missions while the Jesuits had. For in them the old Church kept the note and the passion of Christ's Universal Empire. The bane of so much of our popular religion, what belittles it, and lays it open to the best sceptics, is that we do not think in worlds, and that even the single soul is sometimes saved but in a section of it. It is not the man that is saved, but something in him called his soul.
This finished work of Christ, which in saving a whole world created a whole Church, you perceive is the root of Missions. Jews and sects make proselytes. But they need not. They do; but they need not. Whereas the Church must mission. If it mission it is a true Church and not a sect. It is the missionary succession and not the episcopal that makes a Church. The apostles were much more missionaries than bishops. The Church must mission, being made by such a Gospel, the Gospel of a world already reconciled, already put right by God towards Him, already God's by His act and waiting only our appropriation. And we appropriate it when we reproduce as individuals the great world crisis and change in Christ. The Church, with such a Gospel, must mission. It is its new nature to do so, just as it is the old human nature to subdue and exploit the visible world. And the world at last cannot refuse such a Gospel.
Therefore the missionary work of the Church is not an experiment. It is the Church's work, vocation, and destiny. It is not the hobby of groups of individuals in the churches who take this up as others might take up a boys' brigade or a cheap dinner fund. Those who attend to the Church's missions are the agents of the Church and its representatives; they are not faddists, tolerated and patronised within it. Indeed, as I have said, it is the one enterprise of any dimensions in all the world which can be absolutely sure of its own triumph at the end. We watch the expansive energy of our own or any other race in search of Empire, and we cannot tell if it will at last be a success or a failure. But we can be sure not only that missions are essential to the Church, but that they are as sure of success as God liveth—God who redeemed the world in Christ and gave His Church the Word and power of reconciliation.
The one missionary of the world then is a Missionary Society. And that Society is the Church. And the Church, owing its existence and its daily life to the Cross, goes with that finished work in its hand. The Cross makes it a Church, and makes it missionary. And it makes really missionary the Church alone.
What is the chief contribution of the home minister to foreign missions?
The first thing I would point out is that the contribution must be through His Church. His Church is the minister's first concern. And by His Church I mean more particularly his congregation, his care of souls. I hope the days are gone, or going, when a man may use his Church as a mere pedestal for public works—a mere means of support—while his heart, his energies are outside the Church in social efforts of a political cast, or literary work, of a non-religious kind.
It is through his Church that the minister must work outwards. It is his intensive effect on the smaller area that is the vital spring of their extensive action together on the large scale. The minister grows into his Church, and his Church into him, in such a way that they act upon the public as one. And this is especially so in regard to missions. As I say, the missionary upon earth is the Church. The work even of a Livingstone was done by the Church still more than by the man.
There have been three types of missionary work developed in the course of Christ's history—that of individuals, that of special societies, that of the Church itself organized for this purpose.
1. In the infancy of missions they owed much to individual pioneers; in which connection we need but to re-member the apostles themselves. But that is not a permanent state of things. If the influence of such pioneers did not die out it was bound to extend to the Church. And where it succeeded its effect has been almost as great on the home churches as on the foreign field. It has converted the Church to the heathen as well as the heathen to the Church. It has inspired the Church with a new sense of its missionary duty. And, indeed, in the case of modern missions a century ago, it had to create that sense. I need only remind you, without discussion, of the neglect of missions by Protestantism up to the end of the eighteenth century, and the antagonism of the Church to the inspiration of Carey, Marshman, Ward, and the rest of the great band one hundred years ago.
2. The second form is that of a separate society. There are several of these abroad, like the Basle Society, or the American Board. At home we have the Church Missionary Society or the London Missionary Society. The drawbacks of that arrangement are considerable, and seem to increase. At least the number grows of those who wish to see the Congregational Union, like the Baptist, directly responsible for the missionary work of Congregationalists. The society might come to represent not so much the general faith of the contributory Churches as that of their missionary elite. Hence its undertakings might become larger than the Churches can carry which form its financial base. Hence again there would be constant appeals to the Churches and often reproaches (Cf. Col. iii. 21). The Society ceases to be the organ of the Church in the sense of being their spending partner.
3. But the proper, the ideal state of things is, that each great Church should be its own missionary society; and this for the sake both of the Church, its missions, and its Gospels. We come back to our principle of the Gospel, that the Church is Christ's missionary upon earth. It began as a mission. Christ's only tangible legacy to the world was His missionaries. It was not an episcopate—but an apostolate. It was not a Church, but a society; which became a Church in the Holy Ghost. He did not leave a Church, but men who made a Church. They were its founders ; think of Peter on Pentecost, and Paul with his organizing genius. They were its founders; He was and is its foundation. They were the rock on which He built the Church, but He was the builder who chose the rock and crowned it with His kingdom. The Church is not Christian unless it be thus apostolic.
It has been a besetting sin of Protestantism, especially in the extreme forms, to ignore the Church. If its earliest forms ignored the world its later forms ignore the Church. We have tended to approach Christ, and to work from Christ, much too individually. We have overlooked the sacramental value that was given to the Church by the Providence which made Christianity historic. We have been apt to use it only as a fraternity, or a public lever for social purposes, or a mine of funds for various enterprises. We have not treated it as the grand spiritual mother of the generations, the agent and vicar of Christ on earth, giving to us all one place and function. It is the commonest thing to hear preachers even speaking of the Reformation as the Charter of individualism, with its right of private judgment. But the Charter of that, for what it is worth, is not there. It is rather to be found in the Rationalist movement and the French Revolution. Individualism means rationalism. And what Reformation preached was not individual religion; for it insisted on the necessary place of a true Church, and of a communal faith. What it preached was not individualist religion, in contrast to social, but it was personal religion, as released from institutional—released, but not banished. The work of Christianity in the world cannot be done by the optional association of any number of earnest individuals, but only by the living unity of a Church, made by Christ's act before it was made by man's consent. Human society is a very complex affair; and it can only be evangelized, converted and captured for the kingdom of God by a society more mighty and subtle still, by a society organized, indeed, only not as an Empire, but as an Economy of the Spirit. Society is too highly organized and too securely entrenched on the egoist basis to succumb to the efforts of any number of earnest individuals if they are merely associated egoists of a religious kind. They must be built into a compelling spiritual unity still more powerful and subtle—like the Church. Only the spiritual kingdom of God can cope with the kingdom of the unspiritual world.
Let us make much, very much, of the Church. The Christian Church is the greatest product of human history. Do not be afraid. If we have a real grasp of the real Gospel we need never be afraid of ecclesiasticism. To distrust the Church is to distrust the Gospel's power to keep the Church. It is to distrust the Holy Spirit in the Church. The Gospel will keep the Church if we keep the Gospel. The Gospel will keep the Church in its place. If our Gospel does not protect us from priest or Pope nothing will—not all our vigilance, suspicion, Orangeism, Rationalism, Radicalism will. Distrust the "no popery" people, and plunge deeper into your Gospel. A true Gospel will both make and keep a Church true. Only a Church it must have, for a mouth and a mark on the world. A real Church made, moved, and managed by the Gospel is the first essential for the progress of missions. Why did the inception of modern missions a century ago fall to individuals? It was because the Church had lost that Gospel. These men had to save the Church at home as well as spread it abroad by falling back on the Gospel. You will often hear it said now that the State of the Church at home is so unsatisfactory, so unchristian, that we ought to revise that, remoralize that, before we turn to the Gentiles, or even before we can get steam up to go. But the action of the missionary pioneers zoo years ago answers that. It was their going out to the Gentiles with the Gospel, and without the Church, that did so much to wake the Church to its low and lost state at home.
The minister, then, must feed and consolidate his Church. But I would now press the next step. He must realize always that the Gospel is more than church or preacher; the food is more to the patient than the physician, and the constitution does more than the nurse. That is to say, everything depends on the kind of Gospel which is habitually preached as the true vitality of the Church. If the missionary machinery go slow, it is because the fires of the Gospel burn low. Without these you may extend your machinery, multiply your devices, and whip up effort; but it is all climbing up a climbing wave.
In the missionary interest, therefore, I would lay great stress on the pervasive ubiquity of a real Gospel in the preaching of the Church. What is habitually preached to the Church will be steadily preached by the Church. It need not be obtruded, but it must be everywhere. What tells in the long run is not our sermons, but our Word.
I could almost wish that the annual missionary sermon and its concomitants were improved out of use. Special sermons are disliked by most preachers that I know—naturally excepting the present sermon. They are apt to be more or less artificial, and have the air of being got up, apt to give the impression that the preacher is briefed. He is not free to be himself in the Lord. He moves in armour. He feels crustacean. He speaks like a secretary, not to say a treasurer, and not like an apostle or a saint. I have never made such failures in the pulpit as with special sermons—some of them missionary.
Moreover, there are the missionaries to consider. It is demanded, by even small Churches, that on the annual occasion a missionary deputation shall be present; and the poor men, during their furlough from a hot country, are moved about the rural parts of this unspeakable climate in slow trains, or they face east winds in open traps, or they crawl through fogs to their danger and sometimes death. They have to repeat at place after place the same story, till it is a wonder they can keep any sense of reality about it at all. Consider sometimes the lonely and perilous conditions of the missionary's life and its danger of spiritual hebetude. Ought they not to have far more freedom on furlough to take advantage of the opportunities which home offers—opportunities for bracing the spiritual and mental slackness that comes from being so much out of things where things are moving? They often wish to repair defects in their own education by attending the lectures of our best teachers during furlough, but they cannot be spared from deputation work. And what does that deputation work mean? It means —does it not ?—that the Churches or the ministers cannot be trusted to feed the missionary ardour properly by their Gospel, but they must have live missionaries to make the cause more lively and more near. If we preached a missionary Gospel more we should need to advertise missions less.
But chiefly in the interest of the congregation is the Annual Missionary Sunday of doubtful value. For in a multitude of cases it means that when the occasion is over there is no reference to missions till it comes round again. Of course that need not be so, but as a matter of fact it tends to become so. And it is quite impossible to sustain missionary health, to say nothing of ardour, on one surfeit of missions a year, with missionary indigestion for most of the interval. Nor can the defect be made good by devices like prayer-groups, or monthly missionary information at a week night meeting. All such things may have their uses, but only within a much more effective atmosphere. And the missionary atmosphere in the Church can only be created and preserved by a Gospel which is missionary in its genius and its effect when not a word about missions is said. The standing ministry from the pulpit must be saturated with a real Gospel.
And what is that? First, as to what it is not. By a real Gospel I do not mean one which just exploits with fervency the evangelical phrases. And I also mean more than one which is real to the preacher himself. I mean one which is true to the New Testament on one side, and on the other is real and relevant to the religious, moral, and intellectual situation of the hour in which we live. What is the use of pleading for missions if you ignore entirely the modern relations between civilization and the lower races; if you ignore the huge egotistic mission, plied by commerce to the ends of the earth; if you ignore the effects of our military con-quest or occupation; if you ignore the unsettlement at home of theological belief; or if you ignore the new situation created by the sympathetic study of other religions than our own? We need a gospel, not given us by these situations or religions, but yet relevant to them, one real still in the face of them, and one speaking with all the passion of a dear and small old world the larger language of the new time.
But still it is only the language of the Age that we must speak, not its Gospel. We must not spread our interests so that we cannot rally at call. Of course we must let our thought and our sympathy go out to other religions and interests, but still more must we call our faith in, and unite our heart in the faith and fear of God. And the time has come when we must concentrate in the region of religion if we are to spread in the region of the Church. For long now the public heart and mind have been invited to go out and ramble in a growing world of knowledge and resource. 'What is the result ? The result is that we feel confronted with a world which has more power on us than we have on it. We feel the pressure, the solicitation, the distraction of our wondrous age more than we feel the reaction and the lift against it from the inner world that must control it. What upward pressure of life within us sustains the soul against the downward pressure and load of things without? The extent of our knowledge and the variety of our interests have done so much to shake and dissipate the intense certainty in which alone we can overcome a world that grows larger every day. We cannot do the work of Christ without, because we are too distraught and unsure as to the stay of Christ within. We do not learn to feel that our real without is within. We do not go up our soul and view the world. We do not get us to our high tower and watch. We do not go as high as the Cross.
Must it be the Cross? That dwarf cross for the last destiny of this high and mighty world ? The cross and not culture? We have now to face the plea that culture can now take the work from the hands of missions. The humane influences of the higher civilization, it is said, may now be trusted to do the elevating work needful for other races, and do it better than if we obtruded our positive Christ. We may be told that God is really more interested in the higher aspects of the world than he is in the Church, and in progress more than redemption. And we shall hear the suggestion that if other religions are taken at their best they would be better fitted than ours for the people that bred them.
'Well, missionaries of all men ought to know other religions, and know them with sympathy. But you will never get an inspiration for philanthropy, to say nothing of missions, from a mere belief in human nature, and from the thought, how good men are after all, and how good and fine their religions may be made or shown to be. There is nothing missionary in the apotheosis of humanity. And creeds that are mainly seeking creeds cannot find men. Mere humanism falls into sets, not into churches. It pursues research, but not missions. It tends to seek secrets rather than souls, and comfort rather than welfare, and finally the comfort of nice Dives rather than the welfare of squalid Lazarus.
Some forms of culture however are willing to allow that we do need religion to go with any good effect to heathen anywhere, but they plead that it must be a genial and mini-mist religion, because that alone can be the religion of civilization. They say, "A religion is really the spiritual action of one civilization on another. We must adapt religion to civilization. And we must do it in two ways. We must adapt our religion, our Christianity, to the lower civilization we go to. And we must adapt it also to our own high civilization. Now look (it is said) at the modern conditions of our civilization. Look especially at its religious differences and their free expression. Surely its religion must be of the very simplest humanest kind. And your positive and dogmatic Christianity, your theologies of Incarnation, Atonement, sacraments and the like are of no use—even were it Christian which some of yourselves deny".
Well, when we hear that, what are we to say? There are three or four things we may say.
1. We may ask, Is Christianity, even in a somewhat simple form, the religion of civilization ? Do the chief public agents of civilization, say in the Chancellories of Europe, not freely renounce it in effect, or else practice but the meagrest version even of their reduced creed? Is not the aggrandisement of the State the supreme law? Does religion become, in some trading circles abroad, for instance, more than a better Judaism, with the Christian elements left out, even when it is there at all? Is not the religion of the actual minded lay-man, the able journalist, even if he still go to Church, becoming a very different thing from the faith of the people of Christ? Even if the pitch of the religion is not so low as that, are not its principles very different from the ethics of the civilization to which it is attached? Is there not a constant friction and malaise between them, between civilization and religion?
2. Further we may go on to ask, Do the Pagans think so much of our civilization that it helps to commend our religion to them? If we offer a Bible to one of a subject race, and tell him that there lies the secret of the greatness which enabled us to defeat and exploit his people, is that the way to the heart and faith of the kind of Pagan we should most wish to win ? Or if we force into a country whose authorities resent it cargoes of opium, gin, powder, and vice, can we hope they will welcome our creed, however simple? If the plain object of Western civilization is to exploit Eastern nations, can we be surprised if they think we only want to proselytize with our religion? The finest things in our civilization do not appeal to them. Our art does not. What do they care for our pictures and music? Our forms of government do not. They do not crave in China, I believe, for our civil freedom. Our careful justice seems often but weakness. Our social manners do not attract them. Anglo-Indians do not treat Indian gentlemen in any missionary spirit. And a Chinese gentleman's dignity does not in the least understand the easy and intimate style which we associate with good society. Civilization can hardly give the entree abroad to such faith as it does profess.
3. Again, civilization may need a religion; how are we sure that it needs ours? Why the Christian? Why not the Buddhist? Why should not Buddhism, with its kind simplicity, commend itself to lay minds who ask for some great alternative for their own rough energy, and who are too spent with mastering the world to give thought to anything but a religion too simple to be true? How if China came to the West world with a yellow mission of reverence for parents and elders? Are all religions good, and all one, when you get down to their simplest elements?
And may it be, as the world goes on, that the small quantity of spiritual precipitate left at the bottom of the crucible of the creeds shall be enough to meet the needs and heal the wounds of civilization. Is Christianity to go into that crucible with the rest, and contribute its minute quota to the residuum at the bottom? Or is it God's last word to the race, the key to all other religions, and the answer to all their prayers? "Whom ye worship without knowing it, Him declare I unto you."
4. If Christianity be that last word, what kind of Christianity is it—the Christianity of the modern man or the Christianity of the Church? Is it a Christianity that worked to ameliorate, elevate and socialize, or to convert and save? Pray observe, I am not asking whether every address or effort of the missionary, any more than of the minister, should aim at producing conviction or conversion. That is a matter of tactics, of approach. We must educate as well as evangelize. The question is whether the Christianity that is in the missionary's trust is, in its inmost nature and final effect, the one thing or the other? Is it at bottom educative and civilizing or regenerative and sanctifying? Is it a Christianity that just carries human religion a huge step forward, or one that embodies God's last word and work to the soul? It will really make a great difference to the missionary action of a Church both in amount and in kind which view you take of the gospel. What do we mean by Redemption?
The heathen often long for some redemption. Buddhism lives on one form of it—escape from life's ache.
"Far and wide, though all unknowing, Longs for thee each laden breast."
But for what do they long? Do they long most—do most of us at home long most—for that which our Gospel came chiefly to bring? Is it help or salvation they want? Relief from oppression or from sin? Do they want a Redemption from the upper classes, from the untowardness of the world, from the heavy fate and harsh necessity that stifle life, or is it from the load of conscience and the burden of guilt? Is it from the consequences of sin or from the guilt of it? Is what they long for but earthly happiness taken to a higher place and baptised with God's benediction?
Now, let us use any strategy we think wise in putting our Gospel, but let us not mistake that the Christian Redemption is from guilt before God to communion with him in Christ. It is the creation or the restoration of personal relations with a personal and holy God by His initiative, His revelation, His gospel, by His own act of grace. We have to preach, first or last, a God who makes men guilty in the very act of saving them from guilt. In all the other religions there are, of course, points of attachment for this Gospel. These abound in human nature. But do not mistake these, as many to-day are doing, for the foundations of the new structure. Trust the stability of the new fabric to the new foundations laid in the Cross alone; and not to its grip of the tongues or the slots in the end of the old building; else, without a foundation of its own, the new must subside. And it can only strain the old house as it sinks, and both will fall in a heap. Our foundations are quite different from those of Islam, with its deistic type of God, or of Hinduism, with its pantheistic type, or of Buddhism, with no God at all.
When we face other religions we have several questions to answer to ourselves.
1. Is Christianity better than other religions? That is not a question we shall have much trouble with in a Christian country. And it is not that question which makes some in our churches cool to missions. Of course, we cannot hope to have it admitted at once by the representatives of other faiths. But the first thing is to be sure ourselves. It is a higher, better, more ethical and spiritual creed than any other, we believe.
2. The next question is this. Granting that Christianity is better than all other faiths has it a future? Or has it served its day? Is it moribund? It will not do to say that for Europe it may be, but for the East it is not, and that there it may yet have a career. We cannot hope that if our barque sinks here it sinks to another sea there, that Christianity can repeat there the triumphs it has outlived here. How can we hope for that when one side of the world knows the same day what is going on on the other? How can we go to these peoples with a dying faith? It could not even impel us to go. For a dying faith makes no martyrs, and few confessors. And it could not arrest those to whom we took it. How can a dying faith make living men? Will they accept one moribund creed for another? Will they in China, Japan, or India consent to replace their native spiritual attire with the cast-off clothing of Europe? However we dress up the rags of our old faith, will they take our shoddy for their own silk, frayed as that may be? Can we act like the agnostic who finds the Church not good enough for him, but very useful for the wife and children and the servants? As soon as the suspicion enters the Church that Christianity is really exhausted and that we are waiting for a new revelation, the extension of the Church is stopped, the aggressive impulse is chilled, and the hope of conquest is paralysed. And nothing can arrest that suspicion once it is suggested; but our own experience in a Church, how inexhaustible is the New Creation in Jesus Christ.
3. So the third and great question is, Is Christianity final? That is the great issue of the hour. Not is Christ a revelation, but is he the revelation? Is it not enough to say that there is plenty of life in Christianity yet ? Can it ever be otherwise? Is it taken out of the company of other religions which face God and placed in a class by itself as the religion where God faces man? That is to say, is it the religion of revelation in a sense true of no other, and of revelation by redemption for good and all?
We may take it as certain, I think, that unless we believe our gospel to be final we break the back of missions. That belief in Christ's finality will affect every truth of Christianity, and every way we take our truth, and press our truth. It affects the whole note and tone of the Church's word in many subtle ways, which influence us more than we know. It sets a whole type of preaching and tunes the whole temper of a church or a congregation. The difficulties of missions are very great to-day, but the worst are within the Church and not without. I trace them back to the one root, that the churches are individually and collectively less sure than they should be about the crucial nature and eternal fidelity of their own Gospel. Some of the most active members of our churches, who should carry the Church's missionary zeal, are less sure about this than those who were equally active half a century ago. They have a weaker grasp of the eternal finality of Christ, and Christ alone, for their own souls. We have gained in sympathy, in compassion, in kindness. We are prompt to meet the ills that these teach us to feel. We live in an age of Apologists, who are engrossed in presenting Christianity as a divine philosophy, in reducing the friction between Christ and current society or thought, and in making the offence of the Cross to the natural man to cease. And we are obscure (as the old Apologists of the second century were) about the centrality of redemption, or we treat redemption as amelioration. And unless that note of redemption return (as in the fourth-century Church it did return) Christianity can have no more spread and future for us than it would have had with the Apologists and their Gospel of an anima naturaliter Christiana. Already we hear "A man can be a Christian without faith in Jesus Christ." But these things, these ameliorations and sympathies, and compromises cannot carry the Church's missions. These must rest on the evangelical basis of God's final dealing with the soul in Christ, and on the cross's break with the world to save it. Christ can make the most of us for Humanity, by compelling us in a crisis to choose between Him and Humanity. So the minister's effect upon missions will depend in the long run upon the kind of Gospel he preaches—not to his own people only, but, as the trustee and representative of his Church, to his age. After all it is not the missionaries, nor the ministers, nor the people that are to convert the world. It is the Gospel, and our certainty of it.
You ask, perhaps, why I do not say the Holy Spirit? Because it is a weakness, and almost a bane, of our Christian time to have detached the Holy Spirit too much from its base and source in an objective, saving act of God; and to have associated it too much with the subjective experiences and pieties which ebb and flow in the Church as in the soul. Of such things or such men we will not glory, even if we are taken up among unutterable things in the third heaven; but we will glory in the Cross and its final grace, its insuperable effect and its finished work. We will not rejoice that the spirits are subject to us, or that movements follow us wherever we go; but that our names are written where they keep the books of the Kingdom of God, and where there are inscribed many apostles preserved by the godly fear of being castaways.
We believe in the human future because we believe in the Eternal God. We believe in the Eternal God because we believe in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We believe in Him because he has passed us from death to life by the Cross which saved a world and made a Church. We so believe as to live in that Church for that world. We believe that the Church the Gospel makes is the engine of the Salvation the world needs. It is a vast world, but it is a vaster Salvation. Great is man, but chiefly because of the greatness of his Saviour. Great are the demands and hopes of the growing race, but greater are the claims and promises of its redeeming God. Great and glorious is the civilization we inherit and transmit, but still more great and glorious is the Kingdom which God has set up among all nations. Great is the struggle by which civilization emerges from a rude old-time, but still greater is the conflict between civilization and the Kingdom of God. And all the power and greatness of the Kingdom is derived from the King. We do not make him our King, but he did make us his realm. We are not our own. And our Gift of his Grace is also our trust. It is not in our choice to spread his Gospel or not. It is our death if we do not. We are a holy seed and in charge of the holy future. May our blessing not fail by any slackness of ours to enrich all the nations of the world; lest the Kingdom be taken from us and given in trust to another people who are better servants of the Gospel of the high and holy Lord.