THE TESTIMONY OF FOREIGN MISSIONS TO THE SUPERINTENDING PROVIDENCE OF GOD
By Arthur T. Pierson
God is in creation; cosmos would still be chaos with God left out. He is also in events; the whole of mission history is a mystery until read as His story.
We are now to look at the proofs of a Superintending Providence of God in foreign missions. The word "providence" literally means fore-vision, and hence, fore-action-preparation for what is foreseen-expressing a divine, invisible rule of this world, including care, control, guidance, as exercised over both the animate and inanimate creation. In its largest scope it involves foreknowledge and fore-ordination, preservation and administration, exercised in all places and at all times.
For our present purpose the word "providence" may be limited to the divine activity in the entire control of persons and events. This sphere of action and administration, or superintendence, embraces three departments: first, the natural or material - - creation; second, the spiritual or immaterial-new creation; and third, the intermediate history in which He adapts and adjusts the one to the other, so that even the marred and hostile elements, introduced by sin, are made tributary to the final triumph of redemption. Man's degeneration is corrected in regeneration; the natural made subservient to the supernatural, and even the wrath of man to the love and grace of God.
Thus, intermediate between the mystery of creation and the mystery of the new creation lies the mystery of history, linking the other two. We are now briefly to trace the working of the Creator and Ruler of both the matter worlds and time worlds, controlling the blind forces of nature and the intelligent forces of human nature, so as to make all events and agencies serve His ends as Redeemer.
In creation God specially manifests His eternity, power and wisdom; in history, His sovereignty and majesty, justice and righteousness; in redemption, His holiness and benevolence, and, most of all, grace or the voluntary exercise of His love. These positions being granted, we may expect to find, especially in mission history, proofs of God's Superintending Providence, of His three-fold administration as Lawgiver, King, and Judge; in His legislative capacity, commanding and counseling; in His executive capacity, governing and directing; in His judicial capacity, rewarding and punishing. Space allows only a general glance as of a landscape from a mountaintop.
The work of missions is pre-eminently God's enterprise-has on it the seal of His authority. He calls it His own "visiting of the nations to take out of them a people for His name" (Acts 15:14). Thus the whole course of missions becomes God's march through the ages. He has His vanguard, the forerunners that prepare His way, making ready for, and heralding, His approach. He has His bodyguard, the immediate attendants that signalize His actual advance, bear His banners, and execute His will; and He has His rearguard the resultant movements consequent upon, and complementary to, the rest.
In other words, God's Superintending Providence in missions is seen from three points of view:
1. In the divine preparations for worldwide evangelization.
2. In the divine cooperation in missionary activity.
3. In the divine benediction upon all faithful service.
Each of these embraces many particulars which demand more than a rapid glance. God's preparations reached through millenniums. But within the century just closed we see Him moving, opening doors and shaping events, causing the removal of obstacles and the subsidence of barriers, raising up and thrusting forth workers, and furnishing new facilities; and conspicuously in promoting Bible translation and diffusion.
His cooperation is seen in the unity and continuity of the work, in the marked fitness between the workers and the work, the new fields and the new facilities. Startling correspondences in mission history reveal His omnipresence and faithfulness, such as synchronisms and successions among His chosen servants, parallel and converging lines of labor, and connecting links of service. All these, and much more, show, behind the lives and deeds of the workmen, a Higher Power that wrought in them both to will and to work.
Mission history shows also clear traces of the Judge. Hindrances and hinderers at times removed by sudden retributive judgments; nations that would not serve His ends deadening and even perishing; and churches, cursed with spiritual apathy and lethargy, decaying. On the other hand, His approval has been as marked in compensations for self-denial and in rewards for service; in making martyr blood the seed of new churches, and in lifting to a higher level the individual and church life that has been most unselfishly jealous and zealous of His kingdom.
Pagan philosophers regarded the milky way as an old, disused path of the sun, upon which He had left some faint impression of His glorious presence in the golden stardust from His footsteps. To him who prayerfully watches mission history it is God's Via Lactea; He has passed that way, and made the place of His feet glorious.
Brevity forbids more than the citation of instances sufficient to demonstrate and illustrate these positions. The evidence of divine co-working will of course be clearest where there is closest adherence to His declared methods of working.
As to what events and what messengers have been His chosen forerunners? The first half of the eighteenth century seemed more likely to be the mother of iniquity and idolatry than to rock the cradle of worldwide missions. Deism in the pulpit and practical atheism in the pew naturally begot apathy, if not antipathy, toward Gospel diffusion. A hundred and fifty years ago, in the body of the Church, disease was dominant and death seemed imminent. Infidelity and irreligion stalked about, God denying and God defying. In camp and court, at the bar and on the bench, in the home and in the Church, there was a plague of heresy and a moral leprosy.
How then came a century of modern missions! Three great forces God marshaled to cooperate: the obscure Moravians, the despised Methodists , and a little group of intercessors scattered over Britain and America. There had been a consecrated band in Saxony for about a hundred years, whose hearts' altars had caught fire at Huss's stake, and fed that fire from Spener's pietism, and Zinzendorf's zeal. Their great law was labor for souls, all at it and always at it. God had already made Herrnhut the cradle of missions and had there revived the apostolic church. Three principles underlay the whole life of the United Brethren: Each disciple is, first, to find his work in witness for God; second, his home where the widest door opens and the greatest need calls; and third, his cross in SELF-DENIAL for Christ. As Count Zinzendorf said: "The whole earth is the Lord's; men's souls are all His; I am debtor to all."
The Moravians providentially molded John Wesley; and the Holy Club of Lincoln College, Oxford, touched by this influence, took on a distinctively missionary character. Their motto had been, "Holiness to the Lord;" but holiness became wedded to service, and evangelism became the watchword of the Methodists. Just then, in America, and by a strange coincidence, Jonathan Edwards was unconsciously joining John Wesley in preparing the way for modern missions. In 1747, exactly 300 years after the United Brethren organized as followers of Huss, at Lititz in Bohemia, Edwards sent forth his bugle-blast from Northampton, New England, calling God's people to a visible union of prayer for a speedy and worldwide effusion of the Spirit. That bugle-blast found echo in Northampton in old England, and William Carey resolved to organize mission effort-with what results we all know. And, just as the French Revolution let hell loose, a new missionary society in Britain was leading the awakened Church to assault hell at its very gates. Sound it out and let the whole earth hear: Modern missions came of a symphony of prayer; and at the most unlikely hour of modern history, God's intercessors in England, Scotland, Saxony, and America repaired the broken altar of supplication, and called down the heavenly fire. That was God's way of preparation.
The "monthly concert" made that prayer-spirit widespreading and permanent. The humble Baptists, in widow Wallis' parlor at Kettering, made their covenant of missions; and regiments began to form and take up the line of march, until, before the eighteenth century was a quarter through its course, the whole Church was joining the missionary army. Sydney Smith sneered at the "consecrated cobblers" and tried to rout them from their nest; but the motto of a despised few became the rallying cry of the whole church of God.
We turn now to look at the history of the century as a missionary movement. Nothing is more remarkable than the rapid opening of doors in every quarter. At the beginning of the century the enterprise of missions seemed, to worldly wise and prudent men, hopeless and visionary. Cannibalism in the Islands of the Sea, fetishism in the Dark Continent, exclusivism in China and Japan, the rigid caste system in India, intolerance in papal lands, and ignorance, idolatry, superstition, depravity, everywhere, in most cases conspiring together, reared before the Church impassable walls, with gates of steel. Most countries shut out Christian missions by organized opposition, so that to attempt to bear the good tidings was to dare death for Christ's sake. The only welcome awaiting God's messengers was that of cannibal ovens, merciless prisons, or martyr graves.
As the little band advanced, on every hand the walls of opposition fell, and the iron gates opened of their own accord. India, Siam, Burma, China, Japan, Turkey, Africa, Mexico, South America, the Papal States and Korea were successively and successfully entered. Within five years, from 1853 to 1858, new facilities were given to the entrance and occupation of seven different countries, together embracing half the world's population! There was also a remarkable subsidence of obstacles, like to the sin king of the land below the sea level to let in its flood, as when the idols of Oahu were abolished just before the first band of missionaries landed at the Hawaiian shores, or as when war strangely prepared the way just as Robert W. McAll went to Paris to setup his first salle.
At the same time God was raising up, in unprecedented numbers, men and women, so marvelously fitted for the exact work and fields as to show unmistakable foresight and purpose. The biographies of leading missionaries read like chapters where prophecy lights up history. Think of William Carey's inborn adaptation as translator in India, of Livingstone's career as missionary explorer and general in Africa, of Catherine Booth's capacity as mother of the Salvation Army, of Jerry McAuley's preparation for rescue work in New York City, of Alexander Duff's fitness for educational work in India, of Adoniram Judson's schooling for the building of an apostolic church in Burma, of John Williams' unconscious training for evangelist in the South Seas. Then mark the unity and continuity of labor-one worker succeeding another at crises unforeseen by man, as when Gordon left for the Sudan on the day when Livingstone's death was first known in London, or Pilkington arrived in Uganda the very year when Mackay's death was to leave a great gap to be filled. Then study the theology of inventions and watch the furnishing of new facilities for the work as it advanced. He who kept back the four greatest inventions of reformation times-the mariner's compass, steam engine, printing press and paper-until His Church put on her new garments, waited to unveil nature's deeper secrets, which should make all men neighbors, until the reformed church was mobilized as an army of conquest!
At times this Superintending Providence of God has inspired awe by unmistakably judicial strokes of judgment, as when in Turkey in 1839, in the crisis of missions, Sultan Mahmud suddenly died, and his edict of expulsion had no executive to carry it out, and his successor Abdul Medjid signalized the succession by the issuing of a new charter of liberty; or, as when in Siam, twelve years later, at another such crisis, God by death dethroned Chaum Klow, the reckless and malicious foe of missions, and set on the vacant throne Maha-Mong-Kut, the one man in the empire taught by a missionary and prepared to be the friend and patron of missions, as also his son and successor, Chul alangkorn!
These are but parts of His ways. The pages of the century's history are here and there written in blood, but even the blood has a golden luster. Martyrs there have been, like John Williams, and Coleridge Patteson, and James Hannington, Allen Gardiner, and Abraham Lincoln, and David Livingstone, the Gordons of Erromanga and the Gordon of Khartoum, the convert of Lebanon, and the court pages at Uganda; but every one of these deaths has been like seed which falls into the ground to die that it may bring forth fruit. The churches of Polynesia and Melanesia, of Syria and Africa, of India and China, stand rooted in these martyr graves as the oak stands in the grave of the acorn, or the wheat harvest in the farrows of the sown seed. It is part of God's plan that thus the consecrated heralds of the cross shall fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ in their flesh for His body's sake which is the Church.
The same Superintending Providence is seen in the results of missions. Two brief sentences fitly outline the whole situation as to the direct results in the foreign field: First, native churches have been raised up with the three features of a complete church life; self-support, self-government, and self-propagation; and second, the richest fruits of Christianity, both in the individual and in the community, have been found growing and ripening wherever there has been faithful Gospel effort. Then, as to the reflex action of missions on the church at home, two other brief sayings are similarly exhaustive: first, Thomas Chalmers' remark that "foreign missions act on home missions, not by exhaustion, but by fermentation;" and second, Alexander Duff's sage saying, that "the church that is no longer evangelistic, will cease to be evangelical"
The whole hundred years of missions is a historic commentary on these four comprehensive statements. God's Word has never returned to Him void. Like the rain from heaven, it has come down, not to go back until it has made the earth to bring forth and bud, yielding not only bread for the eater, but seed for the sower, providing for salvation of souls and expansion of service. Everywhere God's one everlasting sign has been wrought; instead of the thorn has come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier, the myrtle tree-the soil of society exhibiting a total change in its products, as in the Fiji group, where a thousand churches displace pagan fanes and cannibal ovens, or as among the Karens, where on opposing hills the Schway Mote Tou Pagoda confronts the Kho Thah Byu Memorial Hall, typical of the old and the new. Along the valley of the Euphrates churches have been planted by the score; with native pastors supported by self-denying tithes of their members. Everywhere the seed of the Word of God being sown, it has sprung up in a harvest of renewed souls which in turn have become themselves the good seed of the kingdom, to become also the germs of a new harvest.
On the other hand, God has distinctly shown approval of missionary zeal and enthusiasm in the church at home which has supplied the missionaries. Spiritual prosperity and progress may be gauged so absolutely by the measure of missionary activity, that the spirit of missions is now recognized as the spirit of Christ. The Scripture proverb is proven true: "There is that scattereth and yet increaseth, and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty" (Prov 11:24); and Christ's paradox is illustrated: "The life that is saved is lost, and the life that is lost is saved." Bishop Phillips Brooks compared the church that apologizes for doing nothing to spread the good news on the ground of its poverty and feebleness, to the parricide who, arraigned in court for his father's murder, pleads for mercy on account of his orphanhood! The hundred years have demonstrated that "religion is a commodity of which the more we export the more we have remaining." (Mr. Crowninshield objected in the Senate of Massachusetts to the incorporation of the A.B.C.F.M. that it was designed to "export religion, whereas there was none to spare from among ourselves." This is Mr. White's reply.) The logic of events proves that the surest way to keep the church pure in faith and life, is to push missions with intelligence and holy zeal.
What a distinct seal of God upon mission work is seen in the high ideals of character found in the missionaries themselves! If the workman leaves his impress on his work, it is no less true that the work leaves its mark on the workman. Even those who assail missions, applaud the missionaries; they may doubt the policy of sending the best men and women abroad to die by fever or violence, or waste their sweetness on the desert air; but even they do not doubt that the type of character, developed by mission work, is the highest known to humanity in this field have ripened into beauty and fragrance the fairest flowers and fruits of Christian life; and illustrated, as nowhere else, unselfish devotion to Christ, unswerving loyalty to the Word, and unsparing sacrifice for men. Was it not Theodore Parker who said, that it was no waste to have spent all the money missions had cost, if they gave us one Judson? On the mission field are to be found, if anywhere, the true succession of the apostles, the new accession to the goodly fellowship of the prophets, and the perpetual procession of the noble army of martyrs.
Surely all this is the standing proof of the Superintending Providence of God. He who gave the marching orders gave at the same time the promise of His perpetual presence on the march; and He has kept His word: "Lo, I am with you all the days, even unto the end of the age." At every step faith has seen the Invisible Captain of the Lord's host, and, in all victories, behind the sword of Gideon, the sword of the Lord.
In the Acts of the Apostles, within the compass of twenty verses, fifteen times God is put boldly forward as the one Actor in all events. Paul and Barnabas rehearsed, in the ears of the church at Antioch and afterward at Jerusalem, not what they had done for the Lord, but all that He had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles; what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. And, in the same spirit, Peter, before the council, emphasizes how God had made His choice of him as the very mouth whereby the Gentiles should hear the word of the Gospel and believe; how He had given them the Holy Spirit and put no difference between Jew and Gentile, purifying their hearts by faith; and how He who knew all hearts had thus borne them witness. Then James, in the same strain, refers to the way in which God had visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name; and concludes by two quotations from the Old Testament which fitly sum up the whole matter: "The Lord who doeth all these things" (Acts 15:17). "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 14:27-15:18).
The meaning of such repeated phraseology cannot be mistaken. God is thus presented as the one Agent or Actor, even conspicuous apostles, like Paul and Peter, being only His instruments. No equal number of verses in the Word of God contain such emphatic and repeated lessons on man's insufficiency and nothingness, and God's all-sufficiency and almightiness. God was working upon man through man, choosing man to be His mouthpiece; with His key unlocking shut doors; Himself visiting the nations; taking out a people for His name, turning sinners into saints, purifying hearts and bearing them witness; He alone did all these wondrous things, according to His knowledge and plan of what He would do from the beginning. These are not the acts of the apostles, but the acts of God through the apostles. In the same spirit the praying saint of Bristol names his journal: "The Lord's Dealings with George Muller."
There is thus indeed, a Superintending Providence of God in foreign missions; the King is there in imperial conduct, the Lawgiver in authoritative decree; the Judge in reward and penalty: God, the eternal, marshalling the ages with their events; God, the omnipresent, in all places equally controlling; God, the omniscient, wisely adapting all things to His ends. The Father of spirits, discerning the mutual fitness of the worker and his work, raises up men of the times for the times. Himself deathless, His work is immortal though His workmen are mortal, and the building moves on from cornerstone to capstone, while dying builders give place to others. He has opened the doors and made sea and land the highways for international intercourse, and the avenue s to international brotherhood. He has multiplied facilities for worldwide evangelization, practically annihilating time and space, and demolishing even the barriers of language. The printing and circulating of the Bible in five hundred tongues, reverses the miracle of Babel and repeats the miracle of Pentecost. Within the past century the God of battles has been calling out His reserves. Three most conspicuous movements of the century were the creation of a new regiment of Medical Missions, the Woman's Brigade, and the Young People's Crusade. The organization of the Church Army is now so complete that but one thing more is needful; namely, to recognize the Invisible Captain of the Lord's hosts as on the field, to hear His clarion call summoning us to the front, to echo His Word of command; and, in the firm faith of His leadership, pierce the very center of the foe, turn his staggering wings and move forward as one united host in one overwhelming charge.
Perhaps the most conspicuous seal of God upon the mission work of the past century is found in the spiritual quickenings which have at some time visited with the power of God every field of labor which has been occupied in His name with energy of effort and persistence of prayer. We have called these "quickenings" rather than "revivals," for revival really means a restoration of life-vigor after a season of lapse into indifference and inaction, and properly applies to the Church. We treat now of quickenings out of a state of absolute spiritual death; and again we point to these as the most indisputable and unanswerable sanction and seal of God on modern missions.
The following are among the most memorable of the century, arranged for convenience, in the order of time:
1815-1816 Tahiti, under the labors of Nott, Hayward, etc.
1818-1823 Sierra Leone, under William A. B. Johnson.
1819-1839 South Seas, under John Williams.
1822-1826 Hawaiian Islands, under Bingham, etc.
1831-1835 New Zealand, under Samuel Marsden, etc.
1832-1839 Burma and Karens, under Judson, etc.
1835-1839 Hilo and Puna, under Titus Coan.
1835-1837 Madagascar, under Griffiths, Johns, Baker, etc.
1842-1867 Germany, under J. Gerhard Oncken, etc.
1844-1850 Fiji Islands, under Hung and Calvert, etc.
1848-1872 Aneityum, under John Geddie, and others.
1845-1895 Old Calabar, under J. J. Fuller, etc.
1845-1847 Persia, under Fidelia Fiske, etc.
1856-1863 North American Indians, under William Duncan.
1859-1861 English Universities, under D. L. Moody and others.
1863-1870 Egypt and Nile Valley, under Drs. Lansing, Hogg, etc.
1863-1888 China, generally, especially Hankow, etc.
1864-1867 Euphrates District, under Crosby H. Wheeler, etc.
1867-1869 Aniwa, under John G. Paton, etc.
1872-1875 Japan, under J. H. Ballach, Verbeck, etc.
1872-1880 Paris, France, under Robert McAll.
1877-1878 Telugus, under Lyman Jewitt and Dr. Clough.
1877-1885 Formosa, under George L. Mackay.
1883-1890 Banza Manteke, under Henry Richards.
1893-1898 Uganda, under Pilkington, Roscoe, etc.
Others might be added but these twenty-five instances sufficiently illustrate the fact that, throughout the wide domain of Christian effort, God has signally bestowed blessings. The instances italicized were marked by peculiar swift and sudden outpourings of spiritual power, and it will be seen that these form about half of the entire number, showing that God works in two very diverse ways, in some cases rewarding toil by rapid and sudden visitations of the Spirit, and in quite as many others by slower but equally sure growth and development.
It is also very noticeable that in almost every one of these marked outpourings some peculiar principle or law of God's bestowment of blessing is exhibited and exemplified.
For example, the work at Tahiti followed a long night of toil, and was the crown of peculiar persistence in the face of most stubborn resistance. At Sierra Leone, Johnson found about as hopeless a mass of humanity as ever was rescued from slave-ships, and he himself was an uneducated man, and at first an unordained layman.
John Williams won his victories in the South Seas by the power of a simple proclamation of the Gospel, as an itinerant; and then first came into full view the power of native converts as evangelists. In the Hawaiian group and particularly in Hilo and Puna, it was the oral preaching to the multitudes that brought blessing-Titus Coan holding a three years' camp meeting.
In New Zealand Marsden had first to lay foundations, patiently and prayerfully, and showed great faith in the Gospel. Judson and Boardman, in Burma, found among the Karens a people whom God had mysteriously prepared, though a subject and virtually enslaved race.
Old Calabar was the scene of triumph over deep-rooted customs and age-long superstitions; in Persia, the blessing came upon an educational work attempted single-handed among women and girls. William Duncan in his Metlakahtla reared a model state out of Indians hitherto so fierce and hostile that he dared not assemble hostile tribes in one meeting. The revival in the English universities is especially memorable as the real birth-time of the Cambridge Mission Band and the Student Volunteer Movement which crystallized fully twenty-five years later. In Egypt the transformation was gradual, dependent on teaching as much as preaching, but it has made the Nile Valley one of the marvels of missionary triumph. In China the most marked features were the influence of medical missions and the raising up of a body of unpaid lay-evangelists, who kinerated through their own home territory. On the Euphrates the conspicuous feature was the organization of a large number of self-supporting churches on the tithe system-sometimes starting with only ten members-with native pastors. At Aniwa three and a half years saw an utter subversion of the whole social fabric of idolatry. In Japan the signal, success was found in the planting of the foundations of a native church, and the remarkable spirit of prayer outpoured on native converts. In Formosa, Mackay won his victories by training a band of young men as evangelists, who with him went out to plant new missions. At Banza Manteke, Richards came to a crisis, and ventured literally to obey the New Testament injunctions in the Sermon on the Mount-for example, "give to him that asketh thee" (Matt 5:42). In Uganda it was the new self-surrender and anointing of the missionaries, and reading of the Scriptures by the unconverted natives, on which God so singularly smiled. Pilkington said in London that he had never known three converts who had not been Bible readers.
Thus, as we take the whole experience of the century together, we find the following emphatic lessons taught us:
1. God has set special honor upon His own Gospel. Where it has been most simply and purely preached the largest fruits have ultimately followed.
2. The translation, publication, and public and private reading of the Scriptures have been particularly owned by the Spirit.
3. Schools, distinctively Christian, and consecrated to the purposes of education of a thoroughly Christian type, have been schools of the Spirit of God.
4. The organization of native churches, on a self-supporting basis with native pastors, and sending out their own members as lay evangelists, has been sealed with blessing.
5. The crisis has always been turned by prayer. At the most disheartening periods, when all seemed hopeless, patient waiting on God in faith has brought sudden and abundant floods of blessing.
6. The more complete self-surrender of missionaries themselves, and their new equipment by the Holy Spirit, has often been the opening of a new era to the native church and the whole work.
These are lessons worth learning. The secrets of success are no different from what they were in apostolic days.
Our God is the same God, and His methods do not essentially change. He has commanded us to go into all the world and preach the good tidings to the whole creation; and the promise, "Lo, I am with you alway" (Matt 28:20), is inseparable from obedience. In connection with this Gospel message He has given us certain prominent aids, which are by no means to be reckoned as belonging to a realm of minor importance, and among them Christian teaching, Bible searching, fervent prayer, and Holy Spirit power outrank all other conditions of successful service. The survey of the century is like reading new chapters in the Acts; no true believer can attempt it carefully without finding a new Book of God in the history of this hundred years. Any man or woman who will take the score or more of marked quickenings we have outlined, and give a solid month to their consecutive study, will find all doubts dissipated that the living God has been at work, and that no field, however hard and stony and hopelessly barren, can ultimately resist culture on New Testament lines. In nothing do we need a new and clarified vision more than in the clear perception and conviction that the days of the supernatural are not past. Here is the school where these lessons are taught. Ten centuries of merely natural forces at work would never have wrought what ten years have accomplished, even when every human condition forbade success. A feeble band of missionaries in the midst of a vast host of the pagan have been compelled to master a foreign tongue, and often reduce it for the first time to written form, translate the Word of God, set up schools, win converts, and train them into consistent members and competent evangelists; remove mountains of ancestral superstitions and uproot sycamine trees of pagan customs; establish medical missions, Christian colleges, create Christian literature, model society on a new basis; and they have done all this within the lifetime of a generation, and sometimes within a decade of years! Even Pharaoh's magicians would have been compelled to confess, "This is the finger of God!" (Ex 8:19).
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