THE DECREE OF GOD THE GREAT ENCOURAGEMENT TO MISSIONS'
Fathers And Brethren :—I count it a great and undeserved honor that I am called to preside over the meetings of the American Baptist Missionary Union. My predecessors in the chair have been men greatly revered and beloved, and I shrink from the attempt to follow them. Two things, however, give me encouragement. The first is that in becoming your president I enter into the heritage of many prayers, past and present, for the officers and servants of the Union. The second is that I know I may rely upon your kind and cordial co-operation.
Both the place and the time in which we meet should give us stimulus and hope. The star of Christ's empire has been taking its way westward, and in this meeting the Missionary Union holds its first session in the Mountain States. Herein it asserts its claim to the boundless continent, and makes tributary to missions the invention, the commerce, the resources of these rising commonwealths. Never before have we met so near to the setting sun. It is a proof that Baptists new and old, east and west, recognize their oneness in Christ and their common obligation to make our whole land a missionary to the whole world.
1 Opening address of the president at the seventy-ninth anniversary of the American Baptist Missionary Union, Denver, May 26, 1893.
What a time is this! We stand at the end of the first century of Baptist missions. One hundred years ago we were a feeble folk both at home and abroad. But God put into the heart of William Carey the impulse to carry the gospel to the heathen, and missions have been our salvation. "There is that scattereth and yet increaseth." While we have accomplished more in the foreign field than any other American evangelical denomination, our growth at home has also been more rapid than that of any other. We enter upon our second century with numbers and wealth marvelously increased. We have material resources of which the fathers never dreamed.
Have we the liberality and the faith to use these resources aright? This has been the test question of the last twelve-month. Until this year, in spite of the fact that God had given us twice as many converts as any other Society could show, more than one other Society could point to contributions twice as great as ours. In our centennial year we have sought to rectify this great deficiency. Our million dollar enterprise was simply our effort to make our gifts to God correspond more nearly to God's gifts to us. It is a wonder that we have succeeded so well; how well, the Chairman of the Centennial Committee will inform you; enough for me to say that we have with God's help given more than we ever gave before; we have added ninety-one per cent, to the contributions of the preceding year; we have paid our heavy debt; we have secured funds for a considerable enlargement of our work. We have proof that God is with us. We are encouraged to believe that temporal prosperity will not be permitted to ruin us, and to trust that God will give us a liberal heart so that our great gains may be made a means of promoting the progress of his kingdom.
The alternations of hope and fear through which many of us have passed during the last few months have suggested to me the subject to which I would lead your thoughts in this opening address. I have felt that we must build our hopes on something more solid than money and more permanent than popular excitement. Financial panic may sweep away our wealth; transient bursts of enthusiasm may be succeeded by comparative apathy. The grounds of our hope are not in man but in God. I wish to point you this morning to one of these permanent grounds of hope, and I state as the theme of my remarks: The Purpose of God to give the World to Christ is the great Encouragement to Missions.
There is such a thing as the plan of God. Our restless age, with its pushing, its hurry, its change, has had but little time or inclination to think of the divine decrees. In days of persecution and defeat men think much of God; in days of success and triumph they think much of themselves. But occasionally, in an interval of the world's turmoil, we hear the still small voice; we stop in the midst of the rush, and rejoice that there is something fixed; that behind the phenomenal there is the noumenal; that underneath the temporal there is the eternal. However men may come and go, God is forever and ever the same. Whatever men may imagine or plan, there are decrees of God, as eternal and unchangeable as himself. The universe is the unfolding of God's plan; unless the humblest creaCHRIST INTERPRETS GOD'S DECREES 2"J\
ture and the minutest event are embraced in that plan, the universe is no longer a universe—an ordered whole— but a dreary haphazard conglomeration; unless there is,
One God who ever lives and loves,
One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event
Toward which the whole creation moves,
the progress of the world is as dreadful as the driving on into midnight darkness of an express train, without headlight or engineer, and sure to plunge sooner or later into the abyss. But if there is a great divine purpose, and if God works all things according to the counsel of his own will, we have an anchor to the soul sure and steadfast, that entereth into that within the veil. No storm can wreck our peace, since our faith holds to the immovable rock of God's wisdom and truth and love.
All this would be true even if we did not know what that purpose was. Job could trust God though he could not interpret him. But we are better off than Job: we have an interpreter of the divine counsels. In the second Psalm there is One who says: "I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine Inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." There is One who perfectly knows God's purpose and whose mission it is to declare it. This is the meaning of that fifth chapter of Revelation in which, as in the second Psalm, heaven is opened to our view. In the blaze of the divine Majesty and in the right hand of God himself there is a book sealed with seven seals. It is the book of God's decrees. There is weeping because no man nor angel can loose the seals or open the book. But at last One who sits on the right hand of God rises from his place of equality with God, takes the book from God's own hand, and makes known the mystery of God. In Christ then we have the revelation of the divine purpose. The omniscient Saviour, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lamb that was slain, he in whom gentleness and glory, sacrifice and power meet, he alone can read or declare the decrees of God. Let us weep not, for Christ hath prevailed to open the book and to loose the seven seals thereof.
To declare the divine decree is not simply to proclaim it,—it is to execute it also. In the second Psalm the Son is bidden not only to ask for power, but to exercise power. The chapters that follow that fifth chapter of the book of Revelation only describe Christ's opening of one seal after another, and his translation of God's decrees into the actualities of history. He who is omniscient to read every secret word of the book of God's decrees, is also omnipresent and omnipotent to turn that word into living reality, and to fulfill every letter of it. All the ongoings of the physical, intellectual, and moral universe, therefore, are Christ's fulfillments of the efficient or of the permissive decree of God. I am bound to see Christ in nature, executing the divine will and revealing the divine wisdom in the unfailing regularity of physical law. Doubt that there is design in nature? Why, nature is nothing but design! Seas and stars, the firmament and the floods, are nothing but a thin veil that hides the all-working Christ, in whom all things consist, and the whole universe holds together. Ought
I indeed to say that these things hide him? Are they not the very mind and thought of Christ made visible to me, just as the human face or the human words reveal the thinking feeling soul within?
For lo ! creation's self is one great choir.
And what is nature's order but the rhyme
Whereto the worlds keep time,
And all things move with all things from their prime.
Yes, William Watson's verse has in it more of truth than he himself intended; for nature, though only a partial revelation, is yet a real revelation of Christ, and of the thought and wisdom and will of God in him.
Human history is in like manner Christ's execution of the eternal purpose of God. Through the free wills of men, with all their cross-purposes and their ill intents, another mightier will is fulfilling itself, compelling the evil in spite of itself to serve the good, and making the wrath of man to praise the holy God. Society, with its confusion and strife and injustice, is like the buzzing and disorder of a hive of bees. As the bees come and go, each bound on its own mission, they have no idea to what end they labor; yet all unconsciously they are building up the symmetrical structure of the honeycomb that witnesses to a higher wisdom working through them. Men work in a similar way, without thought of any beyond themselves, but Christ reduces their selfish and warring activities to harmony, and brings out a great result of which they never dreamed. Christ is "the Light that lighteth every man." All reason and conscience, all science and philosophy, all
civilization and education, all society and government,
in short, all the wheels by which the world moves forward toward its goal have a living spirit within the wheels, and that living spirit is Christ, declaring, unfolding, and executing the decrees of God. Christ, the Son of man, is the throbbing heart of humanity, and all humanity feels the pulsations of his love and power.
If this is true in creation and providence, much more is it true in redemption. Here too Christ is the great executor of the divine plans. We begin our Christian lives fancying that it is we that have chosen Christ; after a time we learn the meaning of his words: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." We find that we cannot hold on in our Christian way alone; it dawns upon us that without his guidance we never could have gotten into that way at the first: conversion would have been impossible without regeneration.
Why was I made to hear thy voice
And enter while there's room,
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?
'Twas the same love that spread the feast
That gently forced me in;
Else I had still refused to taste
And perished in my sin.
I never should have come to God at all, if it had not been for God's decree of electing grace and Christ's execution of that decree when he came to me in my sins and entered my heart with his renewing power. And why should we think that the world will be renovated in any other way? When I think of the occasional dissensions among missionaries, and the occasional falls of THE PROCESS BIOLOGICAL, NOT MECHANICAL 275
ministers of the gospel, I am convinced that a mightier power than that of man must be at work, or the church of Christ would long since have collapsed and died. In the Papal Manufactory of Mosaics at Rome I once saw an artist fitting and polishing rough bits of stone of many shapes and colors, and with them constructing a face of Christ that exactly reproduced the head of the Saviour in the Transfiguration of Raphael. But Christ himself is doing a greater work than that. He is taking the rough stones of humanity all about us, and is not only making them individually into children of Abraham, but out of them collectively he is building up a redeemed humanity that reflects his own glorious image. Christ's method is that of joining himself to corporate humanity; and the last seal of the book of God's decrees will not be opened until Christ has gone forth conquering and to conquer through all the earth and has subdued to himself the last rebellious soul of man. And when the day of that consummation dawns, redeemed humanity will not look over the walls and towers of the New Jerusalem and say: "This is great Babylon that we have built;" but will rather cry: "Not unto us, not unto us, but to thy name give glory!" and will ascribe the power and the salvation to God and to the Lamb.
But the process by which the world is thus renewed and transformed into the church is not a mechanical, but rather, a biological one. Christ takes hold of humanity not from without but from within. We do not make void the law of human activity, when we rest all our hopes upon the purpose of God to give the world to Christ. Nay, rather, we establish that law. The Christ who fulfills the decrees of God is not separable from the church. Christ has a body, and that body is his people. In human salvation he has limited himself by joining himself to the church. As my soul can work only by using my physical organism, brain and tongue and hands, so Christ under the limitations which he has assumed can work only through his body, the church. Christ and his people are one, in a deeper and more real sense than we have ever imagined. We are his brain, his tongue, his hands, for translating the decrees of God into history. The "Ask of me" which God the Father addresses to God the Son, he addresses to all who have become sons of God through union with the only begotten Son, and the command is the church's summons to prayer. "Ask of me, and I will give," is God's assurance to the church that prayer uttered in the name of Christ shall not be in vain. "Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession," is the promise that in answer to her prayer the whole world shall be given to the church.
Brethren, let us make an end of Antinomianism and hyper-Calvinism in missions. God's decrees and Christ's fulfillment of them no more dispense with our activity in the salvation of the world than they dispense with our activity in our own salvation. The world will never be saved until the church takes upon its lips the words " I will declare the decree: The Lord hath said unto me, This day have I begotten thee," and with the holy boldness born of conscious union with Christ its Lord begs God to give it the world for its possession. And just as Christ's declaring the decree is a declaration in deed THE CHURCH MUST DECREE ALSO 277
as well as in word, so the church's declaring the decree involves a fulfillment of it, by carrying the gospel to the farthest corners of the earth. God works through Christ, and Christ works through his church. God's decrees are not self-executing. God decrees, but his people must decree also. The decree of God will become effective only through the decree of the church. Only when the determination of the church to subdue the world to Christ comes to express the absolute and unchanging determination of God himself, will the enemy succumb and the gospel secure its triumph. Say not, O Church of Christ, that God works in you, and therefore you have no work to do in the saving of the world! In missions to the heathen, as in the conversion of the individual soul, you will find that God works in you to will and to do, only as you work out your own salvation. If his kingdom is ever to come, it must be by your doing his will on earth even as it is done in heaven.
There is a decree of Satan as well as a decree of God. When the kings of the earth set themselves against the Lord and against his Anointed, they only register the decree of the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that works in the children of disobedience. And so in our earthly battles invisible powers are struggling. Over against this decree of Satan we are to set the decree of God and of the church. The conflict between sin and holiness, between Satan and God, is a mighty one. Of ourselves we are utterly unequal to it. Every new year with its revelation of the increasing greatness of earth's populations, and the intensity of their opposition to God, makes the task more appalling. But it is not the power of the enemy that should appall us,—it is the unbelief and inactivity of the church. God has determined to save the world, but we have not yet determined to save it. We have not yet set ourselves to do this thing. We have tried to compass both this world and the next. We have tried to serve God and Mammon. Christ has had to share with Belial. The troops we have sent to the field have been few and ill-equipped. The most they have been able to do is to capture a few outposts in the enemy's country. Victory will be ours only by our pouring into heathen lands such armies as in the Crusades sought to rescue Christ's sepulchre from the infidels, when all Europe seemed to empty itself into Asia.
There is an account of the battle of Sedan, in the Franco-Prussian war, which describes the tremendous energy and determination with which the Germans attacked a French position upon which depended the fate of the day. Regiment after regiment, brigade after brigade, of the best German soldiers advanced upon it, and as fast as they advanced were swept away by the dreadful fire. But still they came, came in greater and greater force, came till the whole country seemed a living mass of men. On they came, their ranks riddled with shot and shell, whole battalions annihilated, but the more that were killed the more there were to kill. Over the distant crest of the hills they still kept pouring on; for every thousand slain, ten thousand marched to take their places; till the spectacle became too fearful to endure; the French began to fancy that all the armies of the earth were combining to attack them; and with a sudden impulse and panic they forsook their
guns and fled. It will be so with the forces of our great adversary. When they once perceive that the whole church has devoted itself to subduing their rebellion, they will see in that determination the expression of God's decree, and will lay down their arms forever.
Plutarch, the heathen moralist, said well that "God is the brave man's hope, not the coward's excuse." When a general on the eve of battle rides along the line, assuring his troops of victory, his words do not soothe to slumber,—they nerve to action. Let the decrees of God in like manner encourage us in the work we have undertaken,—the work of bringing the world to Christ. Let us ponder the strength and immovableness of the divine purpose. It is more solid and enduring than these Rocky Mountains, whose desolate and gloomy ramparts hem us in to-day, for the mountains themselves are built upon it. Everything else may perish or fail of accomplishment, every other plan go wrong, every other hope be disappointed ; but one thing shall stand, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it, and that is, that every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. This purpose of God has been inwrought into all the forces of nature and of history; the very stars in their courses fight against Christ's enemies; he must reign until he has put all enemies beneath his feet. It is now more than thirty years since Abraham Lincoln uttered his prophecy with regard to the irrepressible conflict between slavery and freedom in America. "A house divided against itself," he said, "cannot stand. This government cannot continue to exist half-free and half-slave." We see his prophecy already fulfilled. But Abraham Lincoln announced a principle of universal application. This world cannot continue to exist half-Christian and halfpagan. Christ and Antichrist cannot forever divide the earth between them. "Faith and unfaith can ne'er be equal powers." The one side will pull the other over. Heathendom will sooner or later be swallowed up in Christendom, and will c^ase to be.
Human life is great, according as it takes up into itself and ratifies and embodies this decree of God. It is petty and mean, if it is not in some way connected with this great plan of God to give the world to Christ. But life is a glorious thing, if it can be made tributary to that mighty purpose for the unfolding of which God built the arches of the firmament and decorated them with their mosaic of constellations, laid the rocky floor of the earth as the stage of a theatre for the tragedy of Calvary, arranged all the events of history as shifting scenes of the mighty drama, and for the opening of it made the curtain of night and chaos rise at the creation. In Washington, at the close of our great Civil War, before our soldiers disbanded, there was a review of the Army of the Potomac and of the Army of the Tennessee. Meade and Sherman passed before President Johnson and General Grant at the head of their troops. There were men in the ranks who had lost an arm in battle ; there were other men who had languished in the prison-pen at Andersonville. But not one man of them all was sorry he had suffered and bled; for the purpose of the war had been accomplished; victory had crowned our banners; the Union had been saved. So there will be a great day when this cruel war is over, God's Decree Inspires Patience 281
and the soldiers come marching home, when Christ's triumphant army shall be reviewed, and when the Captain of our salvation shall welcome and reward those who have been faithful in the fight. Then it will appear that labor and sacrifice and suffering for Christ are honorable, and that only he is great whose life has been spent in efforts to further the progress and to secure the triumph of the kingdom of God.
In the certainty that God's decree will be executed we can work. But we can also wait. When I think of the long ages that have intervened since our Lord ascended to heaven, and of the struggle and suffering that have crowded them full, I wonder at the waiting even more than I wonder at the work. I hear Luther, near the time of his death, saying: "God forbid that the world should last fifty years longer. Let him cut matters short with his last judgment." Melancthon put the end less than two hundred years from his time. Calvin's motto was: "Do mine, quousque ?"—" O Lord, how long?" Jonathan Edwards, before and during the Great Awakening, indulged high expectations as to the probable extension of the movement until it should bring the world, even during his lifetime, into the love and obedience of Christ. If believers have been thus disappointed, is it wonderful that unbelievers should say: "Where is the promise of his coming?" We do not deny that there is a trial of our faith. But we remind ourselves of the decrees of God. With him *' one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as one day." He speaks and it is done; he commands and it stands fast. He delays only that the harvest of good may be the greater, that larger and larger ranges of society and of life may be penetrated by his love and power, that unto principalities and powers in heavenly places may be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God. On Christ's head shall be many crowns. The whole universe shall bow to him. The promise of God the Father to God the Son is an effective promise; it not only engages to give the victory to faith, but it engages to give the faith for victory.
And for the rest, in weariness,
In disappointment and distress,
When strength decays and hope grows dim,
We ever may recur to him
Who has the golden oil divine
Wherewith to feed our failing urns,
Who watches every lamp that burns
Before his sacred shrine.
"For of him, as well as through him and to him, are all things."
Brethren of the Missionary Union: With these decrees of God to encourage us, let us go forward with calm assurance that his purpose shall be fulfilled, and that our efforts shall be made one of the means of fulfilling it. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but his word shall not pass away. Even now the government is upon Christ's shoulder. He is conducting the march of civilization. He is turning and overturning the systems of philosophers and the thrones of kings. He is the Sun of Righteousness, and the Sun has risen upon the world ; he is pressing back the darkness of heathenism and of ancient wrong; soon his beams shall enlighten every land; soon the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of his
Christ. Our work is sure of success because he holds us in the hollow of his hand; we are his instruments, his members, linked to him, parts of his very body; and he is the omnipotent Revealer of God, the one and only Executor of God's eternal plan. We therefore join ourselves anew to thee, O Christ. We count ourselves happy that we may labor and suffer and wait with thee! We expect the day when thou wilt loose the last seal of the book of God's decrees and translate its uttermost secret into the fulfillments of history! We pray, as thou hast bidden us pray, that thou wilt give thy Spirit of holiness and love and power to thy church; that thou wilt help thy people by their own decree of self-sacrifice and faithfulness, in every word and work, effectively to declare thy decree of salvation to the whole world for which thou didst die; and that thus thou wilt hasten the day when "every creature that is is heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them shall be heard saying: Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto him who sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb, forever and ever!"