Leaving the Ninety and Nine



The early Christians delighted to picture Christ as the Good Shepherd. In Tertulliau's time, they painted him thus upon the cup used at the Lord's Supper; and, a little later, they lightened the gloom of the Catacombs by representations of one who had snatched the lost sheep from the lion's jaws, and who bore it back to the fold with rejoicing. Unlike many of the devices of ecclesiastical art, this one has full wan-ant in Scripture. The text tells tho story more pathetically than any statue or fresco possibly can. The one sheep wandering from the rest, and unable of itself to find its way back to the fold; the shepherd taking no pleasure in the multitude of his flock that feed unharmed about him, so long as that one erring one is exposed to death; the girding of himself for his departure, and the long, anxious search over the dark mountains for the lost; the pel-severance that gives itself no rest until he finds it, even though the shepherd's feet and bauds are pierced with bitter thorns along the way; the joy of the return, when he brings back upon his shoulders the rescued one, who even now has not strength enough to walk alone,— these are features of the parable that touch our inmost hearts. But, of all the strokes that give impressiveness and pathos to the picture, I know of none so masterly and so divine as the question: "Doth he not leave the ninety and nine?"

There have been many interpretations of it. The ancient expositors saw in it an allusion to that condescension of the eternal Son which led him to leave the many mansions of his Father's house on high, with their myriads of unfallen intelligences, that he might quench his light in the darkness of this little sphere, and so restore this one wandering world to its true place in the great system of God. There were ninety and nine loyal planets that revolved around the central sun. But one had forgotten its allegiance, and had shot off like a comet into the distant night. He who once spoke them all into being now follows, and from the very night of death recovers the one lost world by passing into that night of death himself. In modern times, we have been accustomed to apply the parable, not to the one world that is lost, while tho many races of God's great universe still render joyful obedience, but to the one soul that has gone astray, and has become a prey to Satan. What does it matter to the tender Shepherd that such a multitude are safe within the fold, so long as one poor sinner is involved in the misery and guilt of sin, and is in danger of everlasting death? To bring one such sinner back, he thinks it none too great a sacrifice to lay down his life.

*A sermon before the American Baptist Missionary Union, at its annual meeting, Indianapolis. May 22,18S1, on tho text, Mat. 18:12—" Doth he not leave the ninety and nine?"

These are the common interpretations. I make no doubt that both of them are true. There is a principle here that may have great variety of application. It is the principle that the weakest, the most needy, the most miserable, are in a true sense nearest to the Savior's heart. His compassion is measured only by the depth of man's want. And so I bring you still another interpretation of the parable, equally true with the others, this, namely: That Christ yearns over. the heathen moro than he does over the Christian lands, and that his Spirit moves the church to leave the ninety and nine that are safe within the fold of Christendom, and to go out after those who are perishing in their pagan depravity and wretchedness, until she find them, and bring them back to God.

I am well aware that such an application as this runs directly counter to the current of popular opinion in our day. Modern objections to missions have changed their form; but they are more subtle, and with a large class of persons they are more powerful than ever before. Christian people feel them, even if they do not urge them. We do not deny the needs of the heathen, nor the duty of evangelizing the world. But we are inclined to choose our methods, and to consult the natural laws of civilization and progress, more than we consult the commission of Christ and the promise of his Spirit. We are bidden to distinguish between the advancing and the decaying races, and to coufine our efforts to those which still have stamina and inherent powers of growth. What hope, we are asked, what hope of permanent success among a people already on the verge of extinction, like the North American Indians, or dying of their vices, like the islanders of the South Seas? Of what use was it for John Eliot to give his life to translating the Bible into an Indian tongue, when there does not now remain a single living Indian who can read it? Tribes without a history are not worth the saving, say the critics. The stuff is too soft to take a stamp, or to give a stamp to others. The Hottentots of Africa are of as little account, so far as mental vigor and influence upon the world are concerned, as the swarming ants of one of their own ant hills; and there have not been wanting philosophers who could coolly say that we should do with them just what we do with an ant-hill,— namely, stamp on them, and stamp them out of existence.

This reasoning is supported, moreover, by an appeal to apostolic labors. The first disciples did not scatter themselves among the Gentiles, we are told: they were commanded to tarry at Jerusalem, the central stronghold of Judaism. Then they seized upon Antioch, the great commercial entrepot between East and West. Paul did not waste his time in country towns. He betook himself to Ephesus and Corinth, as strategic points from which whole provinces might be invaded and subdued. He garrisoned the capitals for Christ, and trusted that from them the gospel would move upon the great outlying regions which they commanded. In fact, nothing would satisfy him but to preach the gospel at Rome. He would make the masters of the world acknowledge the mastership of Christ, knowing that, when the strength of Rome hadenlistechunderthe Savior's banner, the weaker nations would follow her lead. So our new guides would have us devote ourselves to the strong races. Preach the gospel to the Caucasian, who has mind enough to appreciate it and force enough to propagate it. Be sure not to underrate the Anglo-Saxon race, and that special portion of it which we ourselves represent. In short, American soil furnishes the proper field for the gospel. If you would reach other nations, you will find the best specimens of them here. God has sifted the races of the earth and brought the elite of Ihem all to our shores. We can best evangelize China, by preaching to the Chinese in California; Africa, by teaching the negroes at the South; Germany, by missions among the Germans of Milwaukee and Kansas. Do your foreign work at home. Educate and Christianize yourselves; and, by the same rule, confine your chief attention to the most promising classes within your own borders. Aim at the talent and culture of the laud. Let the degraded and the ignorant die out, or at least shift for themselves. The best way to pervade a nation with truth and righteousness, is to raise up an intellectual and spiritual aristocracy. Not a farthing-caudle in myriads of houses, but the kindling here and there of electric lamps that shall shine like suns. So to him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

It is, of course, a redwtio ad absurdvm; but, since many of these notions are prevalent, and wherever they prevail are paralyzing missionary zeal, it may be well to consider carefully the grain of truth that is in them, and also the deadly error. The element of truth is simply this: God's providential arrangement of nations, and of influential centres in those nations, is to be consulted in our evangelistic plans. Other things being equal, it is a duty to avail ourselves of the natural currents of commerce and literature, to seize upon political strongholds, and upon the strong men who otter themselves for the service of the gospel. The field is the world, and the world includes America as well as Hindustan. There are many sorts of places, for many sorts of men. Some are as truly called to serve Christ at home as others are to serve him abroad. There are talents and endowments which distinctly mark men for work of teaching and leadership in this land. There are tasks and impulses which as distinctly mark men for pioneer enterprises in Africa, or for Bible translation in China. Then, too, we must go wherever we can go. God opens the door, and we must enter it. We must follow in the line of geographical exploration, and tread the highways of commerce. We owe more to Africa, than we did before Livingston had reached Lake Nyassa, and Stanley had traced the course of the Congo. Fifty years ago, we might have been better pardoned for not attempting missions to Japan, than now, when the ancient wall of Japanese exclusiveness is beaten down. And so with regard to castes and classes. We must take what God sands. If he will not first give us access to the proud and cultivated Burman, we must welcome the conversion of the Karens. If the Telugu Brahmins will not embrace the gospel, thousands of the Pariahs will. We must work in the liue of God's providences, remembering that there is a supernatural element in missions, and a wisdom not of this world, which chooses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, and weak things of this world to confound the mighty, and base things of this world, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that^re, that no flesh should glory in his presence.

So we may answer objectors to our plan of distant work among races and classes that do not lead the van of civilization,— answer them by saying that we are men under authority, with marching orders to go into all the world, to enter every open door, to preach to every creature who is willing to hear, trusting results to him who sends us. But there is much more thau this to be said. I wish to show not only that we must do this, but that we ought to do it; not only that God has shut na up to this course, but that his ways are justifiable even to human reason. In place of the policy of repression and confinement — what we may call the dark-lantern theory of missions, the keeping of our light to ourselves, concentration of effort upon the favored and the strong — I urge the leaving of the ninety and nine, and the seeking out of the weak and the lost. And this for four reasons: first, that this is the irrepressible instinct of Christian love. You cannot narrow down its regards, if you would. Love is not calculating. It does not bargain for just so much success in its efforts, before it will put them forth. It does not graduate itself by the present worth, but only by the present need, of its object. Self-interest and self-gratulation work in order to get, love works in order to give. Its natural impulse is toward the weakest. The true mother will love most of all the child that is deformed or blind,—ay, strange to say, the gleams of sense that now and then cross the mental darkness of her half-idiotic boy will waken thrills of sympathetic and compassionate joy in that mother's heart, that she never feels at the trinmphs of her gifted sons. Aud to say that Christian love has like feelings toward the outcast and those for whom no others care, is only to say that it is love. What! let the illiterate and the drunkard go their way, because the educated aud the temperate are so much more worthy of our efforts? Ah, that is just what Christian love cannot do! The ignorant and the self-despairing shall be the very objects of the Christian's regard.

That was a very safe test by which Professor Tyndall proposed to gauge the results of prayer. The whole Christian world were invited to concentrate their petitions upon one ward of a certain hospital, while they left the other wards unprayed for. Then it could be ascertained whether prayer accomplished anything. Professor Tyndall forgot that the thought of that ward for which nobody cared would set thousands of Christian people praying for its inmates, so that the proposed test would test nothing. Paul does not graduate his love for his converts by the love he gets from them in return. He will love them the more, the less he is loved. No — we might as well acknowledge it — Christian love is very different from mere prudence. Its very essence is self-sacrifice. It lives by dying, as Christ did. In fact, Christian love is nothing but the Christ in us, repeating his disinterested devotion of himself to the uplifting of the fallen and the rescue of the lost.

Missions to the inert and degraded races, then, are not a hard compulsion put upon the church,— they are a carrying out of the inmost impulse of the Christian heart. Morrison thanks God when he is sent to China, because he considers it au answer to his prayer for a place to work where the needs are the greatest, and where, regarded from a human point of view, there is least chance of success. Is this wisdom? Still, I maintain that it is; and I urge, as a second reason for leaving the ninety and nine," that this has proved historically to be the method of success. The beginnings of Christianity were not in a growing nation, nor among the Caucasian race. It was among the Semitic stock, aud in an Asiatic land, that its preparation and inception took place. The Jew seemed to have run his course, and to have succumbed to the common fate of Orientals — political despotism, physical stagnation, intellectual bigotry. "Credat Judceus Apclla" indicated the narrow credulity everywhere attributed to him. He had had no king of his own race for five centuries. Rome had put her foot upon his neck. The conquering race was at the West. The Caesars had come, and the world was bowing beneath their sway. Where shall Christianity inaugurate her mission? Surely, it will be in the emperor's palace, or at least under the shadow of the Capitoline Hill. But no, it is to a continent from which the rod of empire has forever passed away, to a race that is to make no more figure in political history, to a people enslaved and scattered, to a town that has become a by-word and a hissing, that Jesus comes to begin his redeeming work. He passes by Rome, and he begins at Nazareth. He leaves the advancing, and he takes the decaying, race. From that race of Jews he chooses his apostles — yes, his chiefest apostles,— so that Paul becomes the apostle of the Gentiles, and Peter comes to be the patron saint of Rome. The Jew conquers the Roman; the decaying race subdues its masters.

Was there cold-blooded neglect of the insignificant country towns, in the apostolic labors? What were Derbe and Iconinm and Lystra but rude, provincial places, with a heathenish jargon of a language which the apostles could not understand? Did Paul stop with Rome, or did he go, after his first imprisonment, to the regions beyond? Surely, the perils of robbers and of the deep, through which he passed, were not all incurred in civilized lands. And why is it that we know so little of the labors of the eleven apostles? No answer can be given but this: Their lives were missionary lives, spent in comparative obscurity for the most part, and the record of them written, not on earth, but on high. So Christianity made its begin. nings. And so has been its subsequent history. Where should we be, in the scale of civilization or religion to-day, if Augustine, the Roman abbot in the sixth century, had confined his Christian zeal to efforts in behalf of the ruling race, instead of undertaking that mission to Britain and to those barbarous English ancestors of ours? Thirteen hundred years of history have justified that leaving of the ninety and nine, to whom belonged the strength and culture of the world, and that seeking after the sheep that were lost. Christianity has recreated that English race, and has given it an empire more noble and spiritual than Rome ever knew. And now, when missions have made us what we are, shall we turn coldly away from the nations which stand where we then stood? I know that it takes time to work these wonders. "Providence," it has been said, "moves through time as the gods of Homer moved through space: it takes one step, and ages have passed away." The gospel can recreate nations, as well as individuals; but in the lifetime of a nation, not in the lifetime of an individual, shall the change be wrought. Let us give God time to show what he can do. The single century of modern missions affords but small basis for a theory which contradicts nineteen hundred years of history and the teaching of the whole word of God.

I advocate the opposite theory of missions — the theory of leaving the strong and going out after the weak — upon the ground, thirdly, that this best accords with the great doctrinal truth of the unity and solidarity of the race. God has made of one blood all nations. They are bound together by a common descent from the first Adam, but equally by a common relationship to the second Adam, who joined himself to humanity to save it. Sin is self-isolating, and ignores this relationship. Christ's spirit gives us the feeling of brotherhood once more. Sin says, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Christ's spirit says, "I am a debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians." Sin looks upon mankind as segregated atoms, disconnected individuals. The spirit of Christ regards humanity as an organism, pervaded with one life. Sin counts as foreigners and enemies all who are not demonstrably of our particular family. The spirit of Christ sees in every Greenlander a soul for which the Redeemer died, and in the Malayan and Patagonian, members of a common humanity with ourselves — a humanity capable of indefinite progress, and with such claims upon our sympathy and help, that for them we should be willing to lay down our lives. See what provision God has made for breadth, as well as for intensity, in our missionary zeal. We are guarded against apathy by the thought that each single soul has in it capacities of infinite expansion. We are guarded against narrowness by the thought that every such soul is only the infinitesimal part of a grander unity. The greatness of the race looms up before us; the mass of its guilt and degradation appals us; we see what crushed the soul of Christ in Gethsemane and broke his heart on Calvary. As we get nearer to Christ in our personal experience, the sense of this oneness grows upon us, until we see that all the nations together constitute the humanity which he died to save.

Away then with that proud idolatry of race which would count the AngloSaxon only as the elect of God! Humanity is greater than we know. There are many aspects of the rounded sphere. Races come and go in history. Greek beauty and Roman organization have had their day. How do we know that the constitutional freedom of the Anglo-Saxon shall be more lasting? The newly emerging civilization of the Sandwich Islands, and the presence of the negro in the United States Senate chamber, show that there are capacities not yet developed, nations yet to come to the front. The Book of Revelation assures us that on the head of the conquering Christ there are to be many crowns. Many nations shall call him Lord. The new song of redeemed humanity shall be, not a song of one part only, which all shall sing in unison, but a song of many parts, each transformed race and tribe and kindred and nation of men furnishing its peculiar and inimitable and indispensable element in the grand harmony. We have no more right to despair of a nation, than we have to despair of an individual. God is able to turn back the tide of corruption in a nation, as well as in an individual, and begin a new development, as at the Reformation. So shall they "build the old wastes: they shall rai«p up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations." A. S we see in every human soul the possibilities of kingship and priesthood to God, so let us see in every tribe upon the footstool the possibilities of an illimitable progress in intellectual and spiritual power, and all tending to the trinmphs of that day when the philosophic mind of the Orient and the practical vigor of the West shall in all their phases and varieties be given to Christ. Is no other race valuable but ours? Ah 1 the race most desperately sunk in superstition and idolatry to-day may in the long to-morrow place the brightest crown of all upon the brow of the Redeemer. We are bound to leave the ninety and nine, and go out after the benighted races, because humanity everywhere is one, and the work of the church is nothing less than to bring this whole humanity to the feet of its common Lord.

But I argue this view, fourthly, from the poor economical consideration that, only as we thus in utter self-abandonment seek the salvation of the lowest and worst abroad, can we reach the highest and the best in character and activity at home. Here is the Christian paradox: "Give, if you would get; scatter, if you would increase; die, if you would live." Christ followed this rule, leaving heaven for earth, and conquering through death. And he came to diffuse his spirit through humanity. He did not point to his miracles as furnishing the chief evidence that he came from God. The blind were made to see, and the deaf to hear, indeed; demons were cast out, and the dead were raised. But the climax was this: the poor have the gospel preached to them. With a divine radicalism, Christianity goes down to the deepest depth of human corruption and guilt, and, putting its mighty shoulders of love under the whole mass of man's shame and sin, lifts it up to purity and to God. Christianity works from below, upward. Only the self-devotion that is willing to give its efforts in behalf of the meanest will ever succeed in reaching the noblest, and in general it will reach the influential and the rich only after it has proved its disinterestedness by laboring for the weak and the poor. I speak of course not of a mock gospel that gathers people of wealth and fashion into places of show, and dignifies its altar-parades with the name of worship. I speak of the real conversion of the ric h to Christ. That, you may be sure, never takes place under the ministry of those whose aim is simply to bring riches into the church, but only as the result of labor for the souls of men, irrespective of their temporal station. And so, seeking the lost abroad is the best means of stirring up effort at home.

I do not know when Christ will eome. I do not know whether the preaching of the gospel in ail the world which is to precede his coming involves the hearing of it by every human being individually, or by each nation in the uia=s. But this I do know,— that the preaching of the gospel, which shall usher in the time of the end, will be a heart-service, on the part of the church, which shall labor by preference for the most desolate and downtrodden portions of mankind. What Christ wants is the throwing of ourselves into the breach,— not the quantitative estimate of our work, but the qualitative,— not how many have been won, but how much has been sacrificed. God has justified many an enterprise that seemed absolutely foolhardy. The forlorn hope has often turned the tide of battle. Do not think that such victories abroad will ever involve loss at home. The reflex influence of them upon Christian character in Christian lands is worth all the cost. The sutt'erings of the Judsons at Oung-Pen-La have added heroism to thousands of Christian hearts in America, that could have been stirred in no other way so well. Let us remember that our Home Mission Societies trace their descent from the Foreign, and not the Foreign from the Home. It is my firm conviction that if every Christian preacher should go abroad, and the whole Christian church should precipitate itself upon heathendom as in the -days of the Crusades Europe precipitated itself upon Asia, there not only would be no ultimate loss, but the home field would flourish as never before, — aye, the mighty angel of the Apocalypse would soon bind Satan, and the millennial era dawn. I counsel no fanaticism. I recognize the fact that Providence puts obstacles in the way of some, which it would be criminal to disregard. But the danger of our day is not the danger of overstrained enthusiasm: it is the danger of self-indulgence and of unconscieutiousness. We need the rousing of the martyr-spirit once more; the resurrection of the church to a new life, of which we read in the twentieth chapter of the book of Revelation; the choosing of the hard instead of the easy; the leaving of the ninety and nine, for whom others will care, and the going out into the wilderness after the lost. In this course lies the only safety of the church; for the church as well as for the individual it is true, that whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for Christ's sake shall find it.

Thus I have urged upon yon a theory of missions which human wisdom would never have suggested, but which, when once acted upon, proves itself to be the wisdom of God. I have urged the undertaking of the difficult, the seeking of the far away, the rescue of the tribes and the men that are vile and ready to die. I have urged this upon the ground: first, that this is the irrepressible instinct of Christian love; secondly, that this is proved historically to be the method of success ; thirdly, that this best accords with the great doctrinal truth of the unity and solidarity of the race ; and, fourthly, that only this method will secure the highest development of Christian character and activity at home. But there is a sublimer and more conclusive reason still,— it is the fifth and last that I shall mention: this plan is the plan that gives most glory to Christ, our Rccleemer and our King. That which most reveals Christ most glorifies him; for to glorify him is nothing more nor less than to make known his glory. This plan of missions most glorifies Christ, because it most closely follows the method of his own work as our Redeemer; it most absolutely casts itself upon his power and promise as our King. Why does not Christ hasten his coming and his kingdom? Why do the isles yet wait for his law? Why has Calvin's motto, Domine, quousque ?— " O Lord, how long ?" — been for so many centuries the cry of the church? The heart of God yearns over the apostate race. Surely there must be yet some obstacle to his bestowal of full favor upon it. Do you say that the atonement of Christ removed that obstacle forever? Yes, so far as to make it consistent with his holiness to give pardon to the penitent. But he has power to make men penitent. Why does he not more widely and gloriously exert that power? I know of no answer but this: It is his purpose to join the church with Christ in this great work of saving men; and the full tide of graee is restrained, and God will not assume his full dominion in the earth, until his people shall present themselves as freewill offerings to his service.

Brethren, in our weak fear of anthropomorphic representations of God, let us not deny that God has a heart, and that that heart is moved by the sacrifices and the deaths of his servants. Why, the ungodly world is moved toy them! When it sees that missionary mother, kneeling on a heathen strand and gazing with straining eyes upon the vanishing ship that takes her children from her forever, and then hears her cry with uplifted hands, "This I do for thee, Lord Jesus !" there is something in that more than martyr-like self sacrifice that touches its heart also. The proud, hard, cold world is made to feel, when it sees Christ evidently crucified before it, in the uncompromising and unsparing self-sacrifice of his followers. So Christ, lifted up in the self-devotion of Christians, shall draw all men unto him. But, if the church's love for souls touches the heart even of the ungodly world, how it must move the heart of God! He sees in it the reflection and reproduction of that love which led his Son to leave his bosom, and to endure even his forsaking. He sees in it the entrance of his redeemed people upon his own divine work of healing and salvation. It is the one way by which the church can reveal the mind and heart of God, and so make known his glory. And so the world shall not be brought back to God, until we who love him fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ, for his body's sake, which is the church. Thus, suffering with him, we shall reign with him, and shall be partakers in his saving power. So, working greater spiritual wonders in the regeneration of men than even Christ wrought when he was here in the flesh, we shall hasten the coming of the day of God.

The choosing of the dark places of the earth and the habitations of cruelty as fields for missionary effort gives most glory to Christ, not only because it most closely follows his own method as our Redeemer, but also because it most absolutely casts itself upon his power and promise as our King. To go alone to a tribe of cannibals; to attack single-handed a vast and hoary system of organized idolatry; "in the unresistible might of weakness," to brave the violence and hatred of a despotic error that counts a hundred millions as its slaves,—this is to testify faith in a living and omnipotent Christ; this is to find the strength for Christian work, not in man, but in Him who sitteth upon the throne; this is to make the method of our work, as well as our work itself, contribute to the glory of him " of whom, and through whom, and to whom, are all things." When the church shall give herself to the work of men's salvation, and, trusting only in God's power, shall hurl herself upon the stoutest and most bitter of God's foes, then God can have the glory, then God will begin to work as the world has never seen him work, then the Messenger of the covenant shall suddenly come to the defiled and ruined temple of humanity, then the darkness shall give place to light, and the glories of the latter day begin to dawn.

I remember some years ago pressing my way up a remote and desolate Swiss valley, till I reached almost the boundary of everlasting snow. Gradually, the sky darkened, and a hurricane of wind and rain swept down from the glaciers. The roaring of the mountain-torrents and the crashing of the storm seemed almost to betoken the breaking-up of the foundations of the world. It was as if night had suddenly set in, and as if we, wrapped in clouds and darkness, were being seized und hurried away from a dissolving universe. Then, just as I was about to despair of safety, the dense black veil of driving cloud and storm parted in an instant, and through the rift there shone down upon me the vision of a dazzling mountain-peak of snow, serene in sunshine, against a sky of cloudless blue; around, the furious, hellish rush of dark and blinding and contending elements; above, the majesty of a spotless purity, and the beauty of an ineffable calm. So the power of God will be made known to the church and to the generation that seeks his glory through the dark path of self-sacrificing devotion to the fallen and the lost. May God give us all this spirit, whether we go beyond the sea or stay with the ninety and nine at home! So shall the time come when the sign of the Son of Man shall indeed appear in the heavens, when Christ shall come in power and great glory, when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ!