The Theology of Missions



On behalf of the Christian people of Rochester, and of the Faculty and students of the Rochester Theological Seminary, I most cordially and affectionately welcome this Alliance to our houses of worship, our Seminary buildings, and our homes. It gladdens our eyes and warms our hearts, my young brethren, to see this great company of young men whom Christ has called to preach his glorious gospel. Though you are from many parts of our continent, and from Seminaries of many Christian names, Christ's banner floats over us all and we are one in him. In the name of Christ you come, and in the name of Christ we receive you.

For several weeks, in our daily meetings at the Seminary, we have prayed that we might be able to communicate as well as receive good while you were with us. It may help you to get good, if I tell you something about the Seminary and the city that welcome you. This Seminary is not one of the oldest represented here, but it was founded a generation since by good men and true, many of whom have now entered into rest. The stones of its walls were laid in prayers and tears and sacrifices. God's blessing has rested upon it. There has never failed in it a truly apostolic succession of faithful students who have been willing to consecrate themselves to the work of missions. Many have left us to go to the other side of the world as laborers in Burmah and China, and the bones of some of them are buried now under the shadow of heathen temples and pagodas. Others are sowing seed for great future harvests in the rich new fields of Dakota and Colorado and California and Oregon.

This city to which you come has been a city of revivals. Nature and art have done something for it, but grace has done more. In 1830, the prevailing influence here was one of skepticism. A powerful religious awakening under the preaching of Charles G. Finney, that lion-like reformer, brought the leading young merchants and physicians and lawyers into the churches, and the whole character of Rochester was changed. These young men grew up to be the leaders in every moral reform and in every religious movement of the generation that followed.— It was a remarkable instance, as I think, of the wide and almost incalculable results of good that may follow a single work of God's grace, and the labors of a single preacher, during the formative period of a city's history. And here, since then, there have been times when the Spirit of God has seemed to sweep down upon the whole community and to shake the very foundations of the place, as he did in the days of the

* An Address of Welcome, at the meeting of the Inter-Seminary Missionary Alliance, Kochester, October, 1885.

apostles. May God grant that such days may come again, and that your meeting with us may be the beginning of them.

We give you fair notice that we expect to get more from you than we give, although we give you all we can. I do not believe that the twelve apostles could have met together after Pentecost, to consult about their work, without leaving a blessing behind them. And I know that, as you come in the Spirit of Christ to ask what he will have you do, your debates and your decisions, your conversation and your example, will be a stimulus and inspiration, not only to all our students, but to all our friends. For I do not doubt that Christ himself has come with you, and that many a man, whose zeal and devotion were waning, will here be renewed in the spirit of his mind, and will go back to his work with the heroic determination to take his life in his hand and go far hence to the heathen.

We only need to look face to face at the facta of Christianity and of missions, to be stirred in our inmost being. Paradoxical as it may seem, missions are the greatest argument for Christianity, and Christianity is the greatest argument for missions. Missions are the distinctive mark of Christianity, as they are not of any other4religion. Buddhism, it is true, is to a certain extent a missionary religion, and that because of the one grain of truth that mingles with its mass of error — the truth that knowledge and morality are not for a select caste, but for all. But the morality of Buddhism revolves around self, not around God. It has no organizing principle, — for it recognizes no God, no inspiration, uo soul, no salvation, no personal immortality. Salvation is not from sin, but from desire,—and from this men can escape only by fleeing from life itself. Mohammedanism is in some sense a missionary religion, and that because of its one grain of truth — the oneness and spirituality of God. But Mohammedanism does not base morality on love. It conquers only by force. It does not convert either mind or heart. Both Buddhism and Mohammedanism appeal to immoral principles of human nature,— the one to the disposition to fly from evil instead of overcoming it; the other to the disposition to seek sensuous happiness as the chief end of life.

But Christian missions present to us the spectacle of men who do not flee from evil, but set out to conquer it, and to conquer it in the strength of God; of men who do this, not by violence, but in the power of love; not for the sake of sensuous happiness, but solely for the sake of Christ and the souls he died to save. The lives of Reginald Hcber and Adoniram Judson and David Livingstone are the most devoted, the most pathetic, the most inspiring, the most sublime, that history can show. Take away the record of missionary lives and our conception of humanity is at once narrowed and lowered. But all the lives of modern missionaries are only copies in miniature — aye, even the life of Paul himself is only a copy in miniature — of the life of Jesus Christ, the great preacher and the great missionary.

As missions are the greatest argument for Christianity, missions show us what Christianity really is. If we can find out what it is that missionaries have preached, what has been the inspiration of their lives, what they have found the means of reclaiming and recreating the degraded and the lost, we may be pretty sure that that is Christianity, and that this Christianity is from God. Now I am certain that missions, as a matter of fact, have been based upon an unwavering confidence in four fundamental doctrines, namely, first, the universal depravity and guilt of men ; secondly, the substitutionary sacrifice of the Son of God to save them; thirdly, that this life only is the time to accept God's plan of mercy; fourthly, that the heathen are lost unless we carry to them the gospel. These faiths are still the sinews of missionary effort. Take one of them away and the impulse to missions ceases. If missions are from God, then these doctrines are from God,— for without them missions are impossible. And so, missions become an argument for Christianity,— not only for Christianity in general, but for its particular doctrines of sin, and atonement, of probation limited to this life, and of condemnation for all who are out of Christ.

But if missions are an argument for Christianity, Christianity is no less an argument for missions. If the gospel be true, then the only true object of life is to further Christ's plan of saving the world. If Christ has saved us, then the only fit return we can make is to give ourselves to him to be used in his service. But more than all else, the love of Christ constraineth us. That great love of his awakens responsive love in our hearts, and that love, once aroused, goes out toward that whole humanity which he took into union with himself, and which he died to save. Apart from Christ, there is no disposition toward missions,— to the mere philosopher the heathen do not seem worth the saving. But love for Christ is inseparable from love for men. And here for each of us comes the test of character. I remember well when I stood where you now stand. I had entered upon a course of theological study. I had in view the ministry of the gospel. But I was fresh from the competitions and emulations of college life. The ministry was to me an opportunity of doing good, but it was also a profession. Standing, honor, comfort, the gratification of intellectual tastes, the love for public address, were unconsciously strong motives and influences within me. One day I asked myself: "Do you love Christ enough to go to the Hottentots for him? And if you do not, what business have you to preach here, or anywhere else?" Then began a struggle, as painful and intense as any that I knew at my conversion. I found no rest for my soul until I was able to say: "Yes, I will go anywhere for Christ. I will count it an honor and a joy to tell the Hottentots the story of him who died for them." God did not so honor me. Health failed, and my work opeued to me here at home. But that consecration was one of the epochs of my life. The mission-call was the test of my Christian character. If I had not responded rightly, I do not see what right I should have had to enter the ministry, or to call myself by the name of Christ at all.

The mission-call is the test of Christian character, both for the ministry and for the church. I most devoutly pray that here in these meetings that mission-call may be heard by every one of you. When the prophet Isaiah had revealed to him the burning glory of God's throne and the seraphim that evermore cry "Holy! holy! holy!" before it, he felt the contrast between that holiness and his own sin, and falling prostrate in the dust he uttered the leper's cry, "Unclean ! unclean!" But then a live coal from the altar of sacrifice touched his lips, his iniquity was taken away and his sin purged; and when the voice of God came to him, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? " the prophet answered: "Here am I, send me!" May God so reveal here the glory of his justice and his grace, that each one of you shall hear God's call, and shall answer: "I will go — here am I — send me — wherever I can do the most to honor Christ and to save mankind."

God puts his ministers and his churches through long processes of preparation,— but results come often in an instant of time. He works through evolution in the ages of geology and in the ages of history. Providence moves through time, says Guizot, as the gods of Homer moved through space,— it takes one step and ages have past away. With the Lord a thousand years are as one day. But let us not forget the complementary truth. God is transcendent as well as immanent. He is not shut up to evolution. He can cut short his work of righteousness in sudden judgment; he can cut short his work of grace in sudden visitations of his power and glory. Nature is the living garment of the Deity, but God can thrust aside that garment and make bare his arm. He can condense the substance of a life-time into one hour's decision, and initiate an age-long movement of his kingdom in a single day. It is just as true that one day is with the Lord as ajhousand years, as it is that a thousand years are with him as one day.

Oh that this body of young men, with their vigor and enthusiasm, might have the faith that will make this gathering a time of the right hand of the Most High, a time of the revelation of God's will, a time of new enduing with power from on high, a time of entrance upon new enterprises for the glory of his name, a time of everlasting decisions, a time when years are crowded into hours! It took many years to tunnel and drill Jthat rock at Hellgate that raised its head in the face of commerce and obstructed the free flowing of the tide. But at the last it was the touch of a little child that set at liberty all that imprisoned power and blew nine acres of rock into the air. My young friends, there is gunpowder in you which can accomplish a great deal, if it is only touched with the divine fire,—dynamite in you that can blow up the rocky foundations of Satan's throne, if it only came into contact with the electric energy of the living God. It is the touch of a childlike faith that brings the two — man's will and God's will — together. If you have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, you shall say to this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea,— and it shall obey you. Yes, every mountainous obstacle, within us or without, that obstructs the progress of God's kingdom, may be removed, aye, may be removed more quickly than we know, if we only have faith. May God give you all this faith, that this meeting may witness a blowing to fragments, a sweeping away forever, of some mighty obstacle to the progress of God's kingdom, either in your own souls or in the world outside of you. So may the Hellgate of ambition and unbelief within, or of human and Satanic opposition without, be changed by God's power into a very Heaven-gate through which the flood-tide of God's salvation may flow to us and to the world.