SAUL AND BARNABAS SENT FORTH.
Christianity assuming the form of Missions to the Heathen.
Missionary work the predestined sphere of Paul's labour.—Duty of civilized nations to the uncivilized.—Barriers which hinder the attempt to spread a new religion.—Differences of nationality.—Distinctions of caste. —Diversities of colour.—Existence of separate religious beliefs.—Diffietilty of overcoming these barriers.—Unwillingness of the more favoured to proclaim truth to the less favoured;—and of the less favoured to receive it.—The teachings by which Christianity triumphs over these obstacles.—It declares (i) the unity of mankind; (2) an atonement made for all; (3) Gospel hope the same for all; (4) the way of salvation open to all; and (5) the same natural rights possessed by all.—What the Gospel has done lor us, and can do for others.
"As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away."
Acts xiii. 2.
THE original destination of Saul of Tarsus, when he was called to the apostleship, was to the Gentiles, or the heathen,—or, as we should now say, to a missionary life. Thus the Saviour said to Ananias at Damascus, "Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings" (Acts ix. 15). There can be little doubt that Ananias would in some form communicate this to Saul, and that thus the idea would take early possession of his mind.1 The same idea had been communicated to the mind of Saul at Jerusalem, and in a manner which could not be forgotten. In a vision or " trance" the Lord Jesus appeared to him, and said, "Make haste, and get thee quickly out of
1 Comp. Acts xxvi. I J.
Jerusalem; for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me,"—and added, "Depart; for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles"—unto the nations—«fc tOvi), the heathen nations (Acts xxii. 17—21). Subsequently referring to that which distinguished him peculiarly from the other apostles, that which constituted the idea of the apostleship in his own case, he more than once alludes to this, glorying in the fact that he was "the apostle of the Gentiles," and rejoicing in the honour of the commission (Gal. ii. 8; Rom. xi. 13; Gal. i. 16; Eph. iii. 8).
The early Christian church, as we have seen, was gradually, but slowly learning to admit, as an element in its interpretation of the last command of the Saviour —" Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature"—the idea that the message of salvation was to be sent, without distinction of nationality, of rank, of lineage, of colour, of political organizations, or of religion, to all the dwellers on the earth. Saul and Barnabas were now set apart, by special designation of the Holy Ghost, to labour in carrying out that idea.
The appointment of Saul and Barnabas to this work among the heathen was an important event in each of their lives, determining their own future course. It was important as the manifestation of a more just view of Christianity itself; it was the first developement of the idea which has since gone so essentially and so far into the civilization of the world: viz., that ENLIGHTENED AND CIVILIZED NATIONS SHOULD SEND TO THOSE WHICH ARE BARBAROUS AND UNCIVILIZED A KNOWLEDGE OF THAT TO WHICH THEY OWE THEIR OWN ELEVATIOn. It is the idea of light radiating from a centre on regions of surrounding darkness; and it will justify, to the end of the world, or to the time when all nations shall be evangelized, the arrangements and organizations which distinctly contemplate the spread of the Gospel by missionary efforts.
Paul and Barnabas started from Antioch with the idea, then fresh and new, that a religion fitted to be uersal had been revealed; and that a period had arrived when there was to be "neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female," but when all should be "one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. iii. 28); when there was to be "neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free," but Christ was to be "all, and in all" (Col. iii. 11).
The following points here occur as proper to be illlustrated: the barriers which exist among the nations as hindrances to all effort to spread a new religion; the difficulty of overcoming those barriers; and the manner in which Christianity overcomes that difficulty, and lays the foundation for the spread of a uersal religion.
I. The barriers which exist among the nations as hindrances to all effort to spread a new religion. We have to consider these as obstacles which the Christian religion at first encountered, and which exist still as hindrances in the attempt to diffuse it among the nations of the earth.
(I.) There is that, then, which springs from a different nationality, no matter what it may be that constitutes the nationality,—no matter what has been the history of the nation,—and no matter how its boundaries have been determined, whether by natural limits of rivers, seas, and mountains, or whether as the result of conquest, conventions, or treaties.
"Mountains interposed make enemies of nations,
Which else like kindred drops had mingled into one."
Where nations belong to different races, and have sprung from different ancestors,—where their independence of other nations has been established as the result of bloody wars,—where they speak diverse languages,—where they have different relig1ons,—where they have peculiar manners and customs,—where the interests of commerce, industry, and the arts are different,—where they are rivals in trade,—where one is warlike and another peaceful,—all these, and kindred things, constitute barriers not easy to overcome. Thus to the ancient Jews, the whole world was divided, not improperly so far as the terms employed to designate them were concerned, into two great classes, "Jews and Gentiles,"—yet in fact producing in their minds the feeling that they were the peculiar favourites of heaven, and that all others were outcasts. Thus, in a similar manner, the Greeks divided the world into " Greeks and Barbarians,"—using a term, indeed, as applied to others, less respectful than the Jews used (for the Jews employed no such term in application to others as "Barbarian"), but producing among the Greeks a feeling much less exclusive than that entertained by the Jews. In modern times, a similar instance occurs among the Chinese, who regard themselves as the children of heaven, the "Celestials,"—and all others, as "outside Barbarians." In a world thus divided into distinct nationalities, any new religion that is sought to be conveyed from one land to another, and that claims to be a uersal religion, must find serious obstructions to its reception and diffusion.
(2.) The distinctions in social life—of rank and "caste"— constitute everywhere a barrier to the propagation of a new religion. These exist within a nation—in its own bosom; dividing a community (itself separated from other communities or nations) into distinctions of its own. These distinctions are found between the rich and the poor,—the learned and the ignorant,—the bond and the free; or they are distinctions based on a derivation from royal blood, an aristocracy, or a priesthood. In all lands, there has been a struggle of one class to climb to some eminence whence they might look down on the rest of mankind, and to create in their own minds, and in the minds of others, the impression that they are the favourites of heaven, and that others are aliens or outcasts. Part endeavour to persuade themselves that they were born to occupy thrones, and that the millions are born to be their subjects. Part seek to cherish the thought that they were born to be rich; that this fact was designed by heaven to exalt them over the humbler poor, and that those beneath them were born to be menials and vassals. Part strive to believe that they were born to live in indolence and affluence, sustained by an inferior class or race who were created to be their slaves. Part lay claim to the sacredness and inviolability of a priestly office, regard themselves as by birth and rank more holy than other men, and claim to be the channels through which grace is conveyed to mankind. For these favoured ones, the world stands; the sun shines; the winds blow; the heavens and the earth were made. Rank, liberty, property, salvation, is theirs; penury, vassalage, ignorance, debasement, bondage, is the inheritance of the rest. The prince, heaven-appointed, is to reign; the mass are to lie at his feet.
(3.) In an eminent degree this distinction is made in regard to colour and complexion,—constituting, in many cases, a barrier in society which the highest forms of civilization, culture, and religion have not been able entirely to overcome. It has been among the most cherished opinions of the class favoured with what they deem a fairer complexion, that this fact elevates them nearer to heaven, and constitutes, even in the eye of the Eternal Father, a distinction between them and the dark and dusky portions of mankind. They have, therefore, not only sought to enslave those of a different colour, but they have been slow to believe that, even in the eye of Him who looks upon the heart rather than the outward appearance, a dark skin is not an emblem of a darker and more dreadful debasement than is found under a white one, and seem to imagine that even if the blood of the atonement is sprinkled on them as on themselves, it fails to efface the distinction, and to place them in any manner on a level. Far more formidable, in some respects, than the barrier which separated the Jews from the Gentiles,—than that which alienates nation from nation,—than that which divides princes and people, nobles and serfs,—than that which separates the different castes in India,—is the prejudice which arises from colour, connected as that prejudice is with the degrading practice of slavery.
(4) Still more difficult is it to overcome the barrier which exists among nations as caused by a difference of religion. The idea has prevailed extensively in the world, and still prevails, that the existing religion of each nation is, by the purpose of the Creator, their own, —designed like their laws, their manners, their customs, their climate, their rivers, lakes, and mountains, to separate them from other people,—a religion good for them; adapted to them; intended for them; and not to be changed for the religion of another country. Their religion is not, indeed, claimed to be a religion for the world; it is for them;—it is not to be carried abroad to other lands, but it is to be cultivated and sustained in their own ;—it is not to be conveyed by conquest to supplant the religion of another nation, but it is to be protected by law in their own. And as it is not to be propagated in other lands, so the religions of other lands are not to be propagated there.
Such are some of the barriers which exist among the nations, and which have to be encountered by all who go forth to carry the Gospel into heathen lands.
II. The second point which I proposed to illustrate was the difficulty of overcoming these barriers. This difficulty exists substantially in two forms: (1.) In leading those who regard themselves as of
the more favoured class, and who look with contempt and disdain on those of a different rank, colour, or condition, to offer to others the same privileges as themselves, or to admit the idea that others are to be addressed as on the same level. To counteract the narrow feeling in the minds of His own apostles required all the skill of the Saviour Himself. He taught His disciples, indeed, that the Gospel was designed for all men, and was to be preached to all the world; but He taught this truth even to them in such a way as not to alarm their Jewish prejudices,—and, when He declared it to the Jews, He did it always by parables, in such a manner that it might be gradually and insensibly insinuated into their minds, as one of the least palatable truths which he had to communicate to them. To do good to the SyroPhenician woman as a Gentile, it was necessary to brave all the established sentiments of the nation, who regarded such as " dogs," and as entitled to none of the favours provided for the "children" of God (Matt. xv. 26). Strange as it may seem in the case of one who had been three years under the direct teaching of the Saviour, it required a special revelation to convince Peter that he should go and carry the Gospel to a Gentile,—though a man of rank, and though belonging to a nation which had conquered the world, and to which even the country of the Jews was subject (Acts x. 14,15).
(2.) A still more serious difficulty is found in men's unwillingness to receive a communication or a message, in favour of a new religion, from one of inferior rank or condition. This would occur in the time of the apostles; and it occurs in all ages. Who is ignorant of the scorn with which the Athenian sage and Roman philosopher looked upon all that emanated from Judaea? Who knows not what a mighty obstacle this was when the Gospel was preached at Athens, at Ephesus, at Antioch, at Rome? The Jew was indeed known in most lands ;—for to most lands he had gone as a captive and a slave. But he was regarded with a singular mixture of hatred and contempt. He was hated on account of his religion; for his bigotry, his narrow-mindedness, and because he was supposed to be a "hater of mankind."1 As destitute of science, literature, philosophy, and the arts,—and as a slave,—he was despised. How natural was it that Greeks and Romans should turn away from those who came out of Judaea to instruct the nations in the knowledge of God, the nature of the human soul, the doctrine of the resurrection, the way of salvation! How hard it is for a master to be willing to receive the lessons of religion from one who has been or is his slave, —a prince, from one of his own subjects,—a rich man, clothed in purple and fine linen, from the beggar at his gate; a philosopher, from one learned in no science, occupied in the humbler arts of life, acquainted only with the plough, or the anvil, or the loom, or the shoemaker's bench! With what contempt would a Brahmin
1 So Tacitus says of the Christians who were put to death in the time of Nero, and who were in the public estimation identified with Jews;—"Therefore they were f1rst seized who made confession [who professed to be Christians], and then a great multitude who were pointed out by them, who were convicted not so much for the crime of burning the city, as because they were enemies of the human race."—Tac. Ann. xv. 44.
turn away from one of humbler "caste" who should undertake to teach him the nature of true religion; or a priest ministering in gorgeous robes at a Pagan altar, from one of the lowest of the people! How slow would be an Englishman, a Frenchman, an American, trained in the schools of learning, to listen on the subject of religion to one sent from the Fiji Islands, or from Caffraria. In respect to social position, to science, to literature, to the arts, the apostles could never claim to be on a level with the nations to whom they were sent; everywhere they had to encounter and surmount this difficulty, that while they professed to come to elevate the people of other lands in respect to religion, they were far below them in things which those nations most valued, and on which they most prided themselves.
The relative condition of nations has changed in our times, and the missionary goes out under better auspices. He goes now from a land of civilization, and science, and art, to those lands where such things are unknown; he carries with him the printing-press, the quadrant, the telescope; he goes from nations which, under the influence in a great measure of the religion which he proclaims, have risen high in wealth, in manufactures, in commerce, and in refinement, to lands still sunk in barbarism. Yet still this difficulty exists. Take, for illustration, the Chinese. Proud of their numbers, their antiquity, their laws, their imagined central position, their arts,—secluded from the rest of the world by their customs and their institutions,—fancying that the whole world is dependent on them for their agricultural and mechanical productions,—they have disdained alike the arts, the science, and the religion of foreigners. An obstacle exists in their case to a great extent quite as stern in its nature as was the proud philosophy of Athens or Rome, and far more formidable in the numbers of those who are influenced by it. When it shall be said, as it will be, that that barrier is surmounted, and when the Gospel is preached throughout the territories occupied by those hundreds of millions, and when they welcome the religion of the Cross as they once did the foreign religion of the Buddhists, tlien there will be furnished another demonstration (not less impressive than that which occurred in the early ages of the Church) of the power of that religion which subdued the pride of Greek philosophers, and sat down triumphantly "on the throne of the Caesars."
III. The way in which these obstacles are surmounted. This will lead us to notice the truths by which the different barriers between nations and classes have been broken down, and by which Christianity has shown itself worthy the attention of the most enlightened nations of the earth.
(1.) There is, first, the distinct revelation of the truth that mankind are one race; the children of a common parent; on a level before God. No truth more vital, more far-reaching, more powerful in its bearing on human rights and human liberty, more potent in elevating man, has ever been proclaimed to the world.
The belief of this has had a very imperfect hold on the human mind; and the disbelief of it has led to some of the most tyrannous acts in ancient or modern times. But Christianity admits of no doubt on that subject. The doctrine of the unity and the equality of the race lies at the foundation of all its revelations, its claims, its promises; nor does it ever admit the idea that differences of climate, of complexion, of temperament, or of habits and customs, constitute any argument for an essential diversity of races. Revelation describes the creation of man as the creation of a single pair. It follows down the history of the descendants of that one pair alone. It records the scattering of their descendants over the world. It declares that "God hath made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth" (Acts xvii. 26). The doctr1ne of depravity which it urges, is a doctrine which pertains to men everywhere, as derived from the fall of that one pair; and it makes no exception when it says that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." As it was on that one pair that sentence of death was passed on account of sin, so no one, prince or potentate, high or ignoble, learned or ignorant, can show that he is exempted from death as belonging to another race— for the graves of such men are scattered all over the earth,—and no one of the race lives always. The Redeemer gloried in the title "SOn OF MAN," for He came not to take on Him the nature of the Mongolian, the Caucasian, the Ethiopian, or the American, as such,— but the nature of man. In whatever respect the incarnation of Christ bears on the destiny of those who dwell on the earth, it has respect to them as men—to each man—to every man;—and it is as proper for one human being as for another to say that when God was "manifest in the flesh" it was his nature that was honoured by being taken into permanent union with the Deity.
(2.) So, secondly, the work of Christ had respect to all men; and whatever there was in the atonement, as such, was designed for one as much as for another!— "One died for all." "He, by the grace of God, tasted death for every man." Whatever there is in the blood of Christ to secure the pardon of past sins, to deliver from death and hell, and to sanctify the human soul, is as applicable to one as another—to the peasant as to the prince; to the man of lowest "caste" as to the highest; to the slave as to his master;—to the Jew, to the Chinese, to the African,—to the Mongolian, the Caucasian, the Ethiopian, the aboriginal American. All have been atoned for alike; all have the offers salvation made to them alike; all are placed by the Gospel on the same level here; all may occupy the same rank in heaven. There is no higher argument that can be addressed to men to prove their equality, than to say to them that they all have been redeemed by the same blood—the blood of the Son of God.
(3.) So, thirdly, the hopes inspired by the Gospel are the same for every human being. When the Gospel reveals the doctrine of immortality to one man, it reveals it to all. When it makes known a heaven for one, it unfolds it for all. And it is a great thing to go forth to the world—to a world where men are broken into ranks, and separated from each other by otherwise impassable barriers,—a world where nations and tribes are waging war with each other,—a world where one class seems hopelessly degraded, and another hopelessly arrogant,—and to say to them that, in the hope of immortality, they are all placed on the same level before their Maker.
(4.) So, fourthly, the way of salvation is the same for all. No one has any priority of claim by his rank, or enjoys any peculiar facilities for salvation by his titles or his wealth; and no one is excluded, or placed in less favourable circumstances, by his poverty, his ignorance, his servile condition. Neither ignorance, nor humble birth, nor complexion, shuts any man out of the kingdom of God. As all, no matter how high in rank, are to be saved, if saved at all, by faith in Christ Jesus, so all, no matter how humble in rank, may be saved by the same faith. As no one can adventure nearer the throne of God in virtue of his rank, his wealth, or his talent, so no one is kept farti1er from that throne by his low condition, or by his poverty of wealth, of learning, or of intellect. The prince and the sage arc not more welcome to heaven than the poor and ignorant.
(5.) And so, fifthly, the gospel advances with the truth that all men are invested with the same natural rights ;—the same right to the light of the sun, to cheer them and to guide their footsteps;—the same right to the tides, and the winds, and the stars, to conduct them and their cargoes across the ocean ;—the same right to limb, and liberty, and life;1—the same right to the air, and to the productions of the teeming earth, and to a spot wherein to sleep the long sleep when they are dead. The Gospel cannot be preached in its purity without leaving this impression on the minds of men, and without sooner or later breaking down every custom and law that is opposed to it, for these rights grow out of the facts which have just been enumerated. You cannot preach the Gospel in its purity over the world, without proclaiming the doctrine of civil and religious liberty, — without overthrowing the barriers reared between nations and clans and classes of men,—without ultimately undermining the thrones of despots, and breaking off the shackles of slavery,—without making men everywhere free!
These remarks may illustrate the truth which I suggested at the commencement of this chapter, that the idea of preaching the Gospel to all nations alike, regardless of nationality, of internal divisions as to rank, and colour, complexion, and religion, constituted the beginning of a new era in history. Nothing has occurred in times fast, so fitted to change the condition of the world as this truth viewed in all its bearings. And there is noiv no other element of power which will work so important changes in overturning thrones of tyranny, loosening the fetters of bondmen, opening prisons,
1 "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."—Declaration of American Independence.
putting an end to war, annihilating caste, and scattering abroad the blessings of freedom. We, as Christians, have that in our possession, which, without impoverishing us, would diffuse over the world prosperity and peace; which would elevate the race, enlighten the ignorant, comfort the afflicted, release the captive; which would make the wilderness and the solitary place glad, and the desert bud and blossom as the rose.
Christians, admire and adore the goodness of that Uersal Father who has broken down every barrier, and sent the messages of grace to you, so that you are "no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." " Our ancestors were Gentiles, heathens, savages. They worshipped idols of wood or stone, and groaned under debasing superstition. To them the Gospel was preached; the Gospel raised them from their low condition; wrferein we differ from them, the Gospel has made us what we are; and as long as we hold the doctrines of that Gospel in their purity, no man can wrest our liberties from us. Be it ours to spread the religion to which we owe so much. Other nations have a right to it; and it would elevate them as it has done our fathers and ourselves.