An Apology for Christian Missions.
THE commission, which our Saviour gave to his apostles, a little before his ascension, forms of itself the strongest apology for the practice of christian missionaries in all ages. " Go ye, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holyghost: teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alwav, even unto the end of the world."*
It may not be said, that this commission of evangelizing all nations is restricted to the apostles, because he, who gave these directions, declares, he will always be with those, who obey them, to the end of the world. The commission is then as much in force at this day, as it was in the first age of christianity; and will continue in force, till time shall be no more. The promise of divine support, to encourage the missionaries in the prosecution of a work so arduous and so difficult, extends to all ages, and would be perfectly inapplicable to those ages, if any such there were, which should have no right to propagate the gospel.
" Is every person then, calling himself a christian, authorized to preach the gospel among the heathen nations?" Not so: nor is every person called a christian authorized to preach in christian countries. Certain qualifications and endowments, and, above all, the real and genuine influence of the holy Spirit, are necessary for this purpose. To define and to ascertain these in particular cases, enter not into the subject before us. Suffice it to say, that, however, in point of prudence and expediency, it be proper to procure, if practicable,
the consent and concurrence of the government of the country, which is the object of the mission, such consent and concurrence are not necessary as a legitimate qualification of a missionary, who should undertake to evangelize pagan countries. Our Lord well knew, that such consent was not attainable at the time in which he gave this commission, in any country under heaven. He mentions no such condition, nor did the apostles conceive the necessity of such a license. It is well known, on the contrary, that they persisted in their mission, not only without the consent, but also against the express prohibitions of all governments, whether jewish or gentile. The nature and reasonableness of Christianity itself is such, that, wherever it is fairly exhibited, in connexion with its proper proofs and evidences, those, who hear it, are bound in conscience to obey it, magistrates, as well as others; and, as we have seen, the magistrate himself not only may, but ought to promote it, for the good of society.*
" But the apostles wrought miracles; and therefore, though they had a right to propagate christianity, others, who do not so, have no right to preach, except with the consent of the government." It does not appear, that the evidence of their commission rested wholly on miracles, though it must be confessed these formed a striking part of it, and were afforded by divine providence, in order to facilitate the progress of the then infant religion. But if, what no serious christian will deny, there is an internal evidence in the gospel itself, which ought to weigh with every reasonable mind, abstracted from any thing miraculous, it will be the duty of every one to receive it, when fairly proposed; and the obedience due to divine revelation is binding not only on those who hear it from one, who works miracles; but also on those who hear it from one, who brings unexceptionable testimonies of miracles having been wrought by others, in attestation of Christianity. Whoever attentively reads the history of
* See chap. xvii. vol. ii.
the acts of the apostles, and the historical parts of the epistles, will find, that all ministers, regularly ordained, (for the case of selfordained ministers, I do not here consider,) thought it their duty to preach the word every where, whether they could work miracles or not. The miraculous powers were an adventitious circumstance; of great importance, indeed, in the opening of christianity; but if the stress of an evangelical commission to the heathen had ever been meant to be laid upon it, it is surprising, that this condition should never be mentioned in the sacred volume: it is not to be conceived, that the numberless missionaries in the apostolic age should all have been ignorant of it. Besides, with the cessation of miracles, the work of promulgation must have probably ceased; whereas, it appears, that in the succeeding centuries, even to the tenth, missionaries still laboured; and, in a greater or less degree, the work prospered in their hand.
If these reflections have any weight, they show that it has been inconsiderately asserted, that civil governments alone have a right to determine, whether christian missionaries shall preach the gospel or not within their dominions. I have proved, I think, that they have a right to establish christianity; but it does not follow, that they have a right to exclude it. Right and wrong, in this case, have a higher foundation than human politics. Trajan might think himself justified in persecuting christians, because they transgressed the Roman laws, which forbade the introduction of foreign religions. But Trajan ought to have known, that there is an authority in religion, superior to any human constitutions whatever.
Though the authority of scripture, the practice of the apostolic age, and the labours of the best and wisest of their successors, from age to age, seem, taken together, to form a sufficient apology for christian missions at this day, yet we need not fear, in this cause, to appeal to the common sense of mankind. If a whole nation were afflicted with a pestilential disease, and a foreigner were in possession of a medicine, that might probably save many of their lives, it might be prudent, no doubt, for that foreigner to obtain an express license, if practicable, from the government, for affording medical aid to its subjects. But will any man say, that it would be wrong in him to endeavour to heal the diseased, if he had an opportunity, and had the benevolence to attempt it, though he had no formal sanction from the magistrate? To promote the welfare of our neighbours, is, next to our duty to God, the most essential ingredient in the character of a good man. Is the express consent of the legislature necessary, antecedently to every office of mercy and humanity? It is not necessary to say, that the propagation of the gospel is the most salutary and the most important of all works of charity: what then ought to be thought of an objection to it, which leaves to the mercy of the magistrate the great office of labouring to win souls; and would charge with sin an employment of all others the most beneficent to mankind?
" Is not this to teach rebellion against lawful authority, and to countenance an undue interference with foreign governments?" Could this be proved, I should not know how to apologize for missionaries. For I scarce know any thing more diametrically opposite to the genius of the gospel than such a conduct. Let it be carefully observed, that our argument goes no farther than to justify a Pacific attempt to teach christianity throughout the globe. " If they persecute you in one city, flee ye into another," is the rule of the divine Author of Christianity. A missionary must be prepared to endure, not to inflict evil: he may expect opposition, and even death itself. He must patiently sustain his lot: he must forego not only all violence in attempting to propagate christianity, but also all artifice and secular intrigues: he must not only forbear to disturb the government of the country, and to weaken men's attachment to it, but he must do more: he must teach obedience to it, as an essential branch of christianity itself, and an obedience too, " not only
lbr wrath, but also for conscience' sake." If his word is not received in one place, he must make experiment of another, in dependence on divine providence and grace. Meekness, patience, submission to civil authority must attend him in every step. Such were the apostolic missionaries; such in a good degree were the missionaries of the dark ages, which we are reviewing. And I am apt to think, that those, who object to missions in general, have had their eye on the political craft of the jesuits, or the furious factions of enthusiasts. For I can scarce believe we are grown so totally callous to every christian sensation, as deliberately to condemn all missions conducted in the spirit of the gospel.
- Do we expect that the kingdom of Christ shall spread through all nations, according to numerous prophecies? and are no means to be employed to promote it? Shall we complain of the want of universality in the best religion, and discourage every attempt to effect that universality? With what an ill grace do objectors to the propagation of the gospel make such complaints? Are human efforts concerned in all other works of divine providence? and are they in this, the most important of all, to be excluded? Are we to sit still, and expect some sudden and miraculous providential interposition? and is this the only instance, in which socinians and men, who call themselves rational christians, will use no rational methods, in order to produce the most desirable effects? Or have we learned to despise the importance of Christianity itself? and do we think that the present comfort and future felicity of mankind arc no way connected with the subject before us?
I propose these few questions, leaving the resolution of them to the consciences of those, who have had it in their power to encourage christian missions in our times, and who have opposed them. To have been particularly active in extending the Redeemer's kingdom, forms no part of the glory of this country. Denmark, a poor impotent government. compared with
ours, has, it is well known, effected in this way what may cause Britons to blush, and what should stir us up to virtuous emulation. With every advantage in our hands, for the propagation of the gospel, we have done very little indeed; and the annals of the several dark ages, we have reviewed, have exhibited a spirit of adventurous charity unknown to those, who now boast themselves as the most enlightened and the most philosophic of mankind.