I AM always sorry when you cheer me at the commencement, because you little know how you will be disappointed. Our esteemed friend Mr. Statham has been leading us in the right tone, and 1 hope that a right spirit is pervading the meeting. If you will read the Report I think you will be greatly pleased with it. It is not only full of interesting matter, but it is exceedingly well written. I cannot say that I am a general admirer of Reports. I usually find, when I cannot sleep at night, that a Report is one of the best things I can take. But this Report lacks the soporific element altogether, and there are many admirable sentences in it worth quoting. I shall quote one or two, perhaps, before I have done, as I could not say anything so good myself. The spirit of gratitude which Mr. Statham says was the key-note of our resolution I hope reigns, supreme in the hearts of all who have done anything for the society; but I earnestly hope that you who have not done anything will not feel much personal gratitude, but rather feel a little shame at not having had a share in that for which the rest have a right to be grateful.
We will begin by being honest, and every man who has contributed his mite will now bless and magnify the Lord that there has been a somewhat larger harvest. If we have not sown one single grain of it, perhaps it were better that repentance should take the place of a spirit of gratitude, and that reformation should follow, and that we should begin at once to do something for the Master. Yet, even with you, there may be gratitude that others have done the work if you have not. So we will altogether join in praising, and blessing, and magnifying the Lord that somewhat better has been done this year than last year, and that God has smiled upon our work.
I am grateful for the success of which the Report speaks.
It is a great blessing to have success. Of course we all know — at least, all those who have empty chapels know — that large congregations are no criterion of success. Large numbers of persons added to a church are no evidence of the divine blessing whatever; in fact, there may be a greater blessing resting upon empty pews than upon a full house, and if a church decreases sensibly from year to year, that may be only a proof of the high faithfulness of the man who would not condescend to a theology so popular and so vulgar that it draws the multitude. You know how the thing is done. Now I, who do not sympathize with that, nevertheless say that I am thankful for success; but I feel in my heart a deeper gratitude to God for permission to work for him. I could bow at his feet and bless his name if he would only let me be a little ant, and live at his feet, if he only would not crush me, and let me live there, and carry grains of sand for him throughout eternity. It seems to me to be one of the highest gifts of his grace to be permitted to take any share whatever in his grand enterprise of the salvation of the sons of men, and I invite you to be grateful tonight that God smiles on our success, and even if there had not been any success, I should invite you to be grateful that he permits you to serve him.
I think we lack one evidence of the perfect reconciliation of our souls to God, until we get to do something for him. I have pictured to my mind sometimes the younger son coming home to his father, and his father falling on his neck and kissing him, and making that great festival with music and dancing. But I can imagine the father, when the market-day came round, sending the elder son to market to sell the corn and the fat beasts, and the younger son being kept at home, and I can suppose the father saying to himself, “I don’t know; I love my younger son, but I can’t trust him; I don’t think it right to put him in any position of responsibility as yet.” And I can suppose that might go on for weeks and months, the younger son being always kept at home, occupied upon such duties as might be allotted to him, but never being allowed to do anything that required trust, and at last the feeling came in his heart: “My father, I have no doubt, has gone as far in forgiveness as he can, but he has not forgotten, and I can see that my elder brother is always sent where there is any responsibility and trust, and my lather cannot trust me yet.” I think he would feel it in his inmost soul. And it would only be at last when his father would entrust him with some treasure, some family heirloom, or send him out upon some important work, that he would say: “At length I have the child’s place again, I have got back fully into my father’s heart, and now I am as dear to him as my eldest brother.” Paul seemed to feel something of that kind when he thanked God that he had put him in trust with the Gospel. It was the grandest trust that could be given, and he trusted such a sinner as Saul of Tarsus with it, and he thanked God, saying: “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
It becomes a token of complete reconciliation when the Lord allows us to get to work for him in that department which is the dearest to his heart, which he accounts as the apple of his eye, for which, in fact, the Savior shed his blood. Moreover, I do not see how our sense of oneness to Christ could ever have been perfected if we had not been permitted to work for Christ. If he had been pleased to save us by his precious blood, and then leave us with nothing to do, we should have had fellowship with Christ up to a certain point, but (I speak from experience) there is no fellowship with Christ that seems to me to be so vivid, so real to the soul, as when you get to try and win a soul for him. Oh, when you come to battle, with that soul’s difficulties, to weep for that soul’s hardness; when you come to set the arguments of divine mercy before it, and find yourself foiled when you are in a very agony of spirit, and feel that you could die sooner than that soul should perish; then you get to read the heart of him whose flowing tears, and bloody sweat, and dying wounds showed you how much he loved poor fallen mankind. You must have something of this, sort to do.
The church wants mission work to lift her up to a proper elevation, in which she may begin to know the great heart of Christ in the right sense, and to understand something of him who came into the world to seek and to save that which was lost.
I felt, when coming here, that I would give anything to get off the task, because I felt utterly incompetent to deliver a missionary speech. Mr. Smith, from Delhi, can give you such a speech, because he can tell you what he has seen and what God has done by him. Our dear friend Mr. Statham has given us such a speech, with the right tone in it; but I question whether any man ever spoke in a tone equal to the weight of this wondrous object — missions, the work of evangelizing the world. Ah, ye orators! if this were a fit; theme for you, you might expend yourselves there. All human eloquence and forcible speech might quail before such a mighty subject. I shall not attempt to measure it, but will say a few words to you on the privilege which God has granted to us in allowing us to be coworkers with him in the gathering out of his elect from among mankind, and in the ultimate conquest of the entire world for Christ.
I believe to this moment in the ultimate winning of the whole world for Christ. I cannot go in for that theory of the ship breaking, up out there and cannot be saved, and that we have to snatch a few off the wreck. It is a most pleasant theory, because it allows one to sleep at night, and not be troubled about men’s souls. I like nothing that makes me feel easy about my fellow-creatures’ souls. I always denounce as error that which operates upon my spirit to make me less concerned about the immediate salvation of my fellow-men. It is a high privilege that God has given us to be associated with him in this work. In the creation he made the world alone; yet when he put the man into the garden, he bade him dress and keep it; there was a little fellowship between man and his Maker in creation — not much. Then came redemption, and in the payment of that wondrous price by which we were redeemed, we could have no communion; he must pay it all who has (blessed be his name!) paid it all. But then in the application of that redemption there is an opportunity given us to have fellowship with Jesus.
In the telling out of the good news, and in being the instrument under God of impressing men’s hearts, the Holy Spirit working through us, we are enabled to have most extraordinary communion with Christ, much closer fellowship with Christ than some have ever yet attributed to human agency.
It is a very wonderful thing that Paul should speak of those who were begotten of him, and yet in another place should say he travaileth, in birth for them; as if, taking the two sides of parentage, he became in all respects the spiritual parent of men’s souls. It is marvelous to me how much God can use us poor creatures, and how wonderfully he deigns to put the treasure into the earthen vessel, so that if you want the treasure you must have the earthen vessel too.
Now, this enterprise of winning the world for Christ is looked upon by some with a degree of dread, if not of unbelief, because it its so stupendous. Oh, sir, it is to me the very charm of the thing. If our Lord had said, “My children, purchased with my blood, I will give you some little tasks, some easy work to do,” why, manhood had never been lifted up as now it is. The world, with all its millions to be made to bow before Emmanuel’s feet through the agency of the church of God! — the idea is marvelous. Lord, what is man that thou art so mindful of him as to entrust him with such a work as this? or the son of man that thou dost so visit him? Truly, thou hast made him lower than the angels; but thou hast in this thing, as well as in many others, in association with thy dear Son, crowned him with glory and honor. A small conflict! It would seem as if God had not trusted us with his great heart. But a stupendous work like this — a work which involves eternity — a work which takes in countless multitudes of men throughout the ages — to entrust us with this is a wondrous reincarnation of himself in his church, and a living over again in his people the life of soul-winning. I think if Christ had said, “My dear children, I trust you with England; go and evangelize it; take the British Islands, all of them,” I hope by this time we should have been at his feet with many tears, and saying, “Lord, let us try France; there are some people across in Brittany very like the Welsh. Lord, include them.” And I think after a while some bold brother would have said, “Gracious Master, let us try all the Latin races; enlarge our commission, let us go to them.”
And if our brother Wall had succeeded in Rome, and other missionaries elsewhere, there would be some saying, “Let us pray God that, as India belongs to Great Britain, we may go thither.” We should always have been asking to have our commission extended, I think, if we loved him well; and as we do love him well (O that we loved him better!) let us be glad that the commission is so great; let us go at the work in his name with all the strength that we have, and all the strength that he is prepared to give us. “But the odds are so deadly,” says somebody; superstition is so strong; the wisdom of men stands out so against the gospel, especially in India; what can we do? Would you like the battle to be less mighty than it is? Where is your chivalry then? I think God is acting with us something like the English king when his son was fighting with the French. He felt that he was hardly driven, and he sent a messenger to his father to ask for succor. “No,” said the king, “he is doing very well, and I won’t mar the victory by sending more help; let him fight it out.” Good Lord! I would not have the battle of my life made less stern than it is. Give me more strength. That is a far better alternative. We do not want the skeptics to be less wise. The Lord make us to use better “the foolishness of preaching.” We do not want the superstition of mankind, as far as we are concerned, to be less fierce and strong than it is; nay, but let us have greater courage in the blessed gospel, and hold up more light to scare these bats and owls away. A thing that might be easily done would not show so much of the divine condescending truthfulness in us. “But behold,” he seems to say, “I will give them this great, this stern, this impossible task to do, and I will be with them even to the end of the world, and they shall win the victory, and great shall be the glory which they shall bring to my name.” Let the odds, then, stand as they are, and the difficulties be as stupendous as they are. “But oh,” says one, “the weary time! Here we have been nearly nineteen centuries trying to convert the world.” No, you have not. There were years in which missionary work was carried on, but there was a long dark night in which nothing was done and everything was undone, and Romanism was getting darker and blacker, and clouding the light instead of spreading it. It is eighty-five years — is it not? — since missionary enterprise began. And then, in the first years, how little it was. We have not been long at it. Your Report says, “Our Lord has put to a divinely generous use the small efforts of his church.” I am sure that is true. It is little that has been done — very little. And don’t talk about time — what are eighty-five years? Little more than one man’s lifetime. For such a work we must not begin to talk about length of years. “But where is the promise of his coming?” say you. It is where it always was, where the faithful rejoice in it; but they are not everlastingly quoting it in impatience to complain of him, or as an argument to desist from work or to become unbelieving. He will come time enough; but for my part I will rejoice if he comes now; I will rejoice, if I live to see it, if he does not come for ten thousand years, because one likes to know that Christ gives to his church now a long trust, a long fight, and a long work to do. We shall be in heaven very, very soon (would God that all in this hall might be translated to the skies!), and one would like in heaven to have something to recollect of what was done here below; and if one could have fifty years of service crowded full of work for Christ, one might praise the Lord for that, and think over the incidents with grateful adoration for ever. The church must have some history as well as her history written yonder in a blaze of light for her greatest honor; and the greatest honor she can do her Master comes from the history written in blood, and the history written in toil and sweat, by her missionaries among the sons of men.
Somebody has complained of the great expense. Nay, my friends, but this must not be. For who is he that will complain save only one, who said, “Wherefore is this waste? This ointment might have been given to the poor”? If the Lord Jesus had given us an enterprise which might be safely carried out without any sacrifice, at the expenditure of a few pence per annum — which seems to me to be the notion that some Christian men have of missions — we might go on our knees and say, “Lord, give us something to do that will take up more of our money; Lord, we have no room for the alabaster boxes now; we cannot find thee here to break them on thy head and pour out the sacred nard; we cannot find out what to do.”
Here you see, in infinite condescending trustfulness, Christ has given us work to do which will take up all the money we have got. As much as we can possibly bring can be profitably used in this work of extension of the Master’s kingdom. And so let it be. We ought to be glad of it, and thank him for having given us such a work as this. Oh, what a grand scale is that on which God hath made all things that have to do with Christ’s redemption! Sir, I believe in immortal souls; and I believe in redemption from death and hell, and a redemption to heaven and eternal glory. I believe that interests that will never know an end hang upon the preaching of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ; therefore I thank God that in a work so wonderful as to be nothing less than divine, a work which will want all the ages fully to develop it, he has been pleased to associate such poor creatures as we are, who, though we are poor, are next akin to Deity himself; for between us and God there standeth but that One who is God, and, blessed be his name, he is man too! He has lifted up his redeemed people, and now, having made them sons, he bids them do the Son’s work, go forth for the conversion, of the multitude whom he hath redeemed with his precious blood. Oh that we could rise to the magnitude of the scale in which God works, and begin to feel that — Love so amazing, so divine, Demands our soul, our life, our all.
I will not keep you much longer. I should like to express my intense satisfaction with the missionaries of this society. I feel grateful to know that the missionaries rise to a sense of the responsibility that God has laid upon them. It has been in my way to meet with a good many lately, and to have correspondence with some more; and I can mention, too, as our dear friend Mr. Statham said, some missionaries’ wives that are worth their weight in gold. There is a work doing in Calcutta that shall make the name of my dear sister Mrs. Rouse famous among women.. I bless the Lord that there is a divine, earnest spirit amongst our missionaries, who (if not all yet, such as I know) are the very men that ought to be sent out, and they will, God helping them, do their work right gloriously. But the society wants more men, and I have been running my eye over all the young men here especially, thinking whether I should say to them, “In the name of God, thus saith the Lord, out of the thick darkness wherein he dwelleth, whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I pray that the seraphim may touch with the live coal from off the altar some lip here, that some heart here may leap up to the lip and say, “Here am I, send me.” I hope there are many such. I dream of Carey still hammering at the last; I dream of the village schoolmaster still willing to go forth and teach the heathen. I dream of boys sitting at the chimney-corner, who shall hear of what God is doing, and as they grow up shall become Marshmans and Knibbs. I pray God it may be so. Pray for men, brethren; a man is more precious than the gold of Ophir — a man who stands out with consecrated spirit. 0 God, if we had such men! A few more fresh ones, how they might stir us all up to do more than we have ever dreamed of for the cause of Christ.
Well, but we want more money, too. Yes, and you have got it. God has trusted his church with money to a wonderful extent. I am persuaded that we must rise to a higher style of giving before the Lord will ever bless the nations, through us, to any great extent. Was not that well said by Mr. Statham, that our luxuries cost us more than our Lord? Will you think of that, some of you? Will you try to see if it is not true? Put down any one of your luxuries. Luxuries? Why, there are, some whose stockings cost them more in a year than they ever give to Christ. More is spent on one’s neck or foot, more sometimes on one’s little finger, than is given in the year for Christ. Some of those diamond rings ought to go into the plate tonight.
And there are plenty of other things we might do for Christ. I hear a brother sometimes say he gives his tithe; and what wonderful sums people would give, if they gave their tithes punctually and regularly for Christ! But I hope there are some of us who would never come down to a tithe, or to a half, who would not dare to go to our beds if we had not given more than half of what God had given to us. A tithe may be heavy to a man of one estate, but to another man it would be but a trifle to give away half of what he has. The first consideration of a Christian man ought to be, “How much can I do for Christ?” He has paid his way, of course; but, that being done, he says to himself, “I must cut down everything but my Lord. If I belong to him, and all that I have, for him I must live.” “Ah,” you say, “yours is Utopian talk.” I know it is for some of you, but it is not for some who, having tasted and tried it, do confess that the more they give the more they have; and, better still, they do not glory in having more, since it only brings more responsibility; but it gives them joy and peace to be able to consecrate their substance to their Lord. The heathen are perishing! Are you going to accumulate money? The heathen are perishing! they are sinking into hell! You believe in no higher hope by which they will come out of it; you believe they are lost forever, at least, most of you; and shall the little account of Consols be added to, or souls be saved? Shall you look out for accumulating a fortune, getting your name in a corner of The Illustrated London News as having died worth so much? or shall souls be saved, or, at least, shall your part of the work of consecration be done towards the work of their salvation? Let each man answer for himself, not tonight, but in the quiet of his soul before the living God.
And, dear friends, we must get up to a higher style in praying about missions. I know some men can get anything they like in prayer. Oh, for some five hundred Elijahs, each one upon his Carmel, crying unto God! and we should soon have the clouds bursting with showers. Prayer! Yes, that was the right way to begin moving that debt — to pray about it. Oh, for more prayer — more constant, incessant mention of the mission cause in prayer! and then the blessing will be sure to come. Some mention was made of the sovereignty of God, and the way in which it crippled some of our forefathers. I believe in the sovereignty of God to the very full, and in predestination. I believe God appoints us to work with all our hearts for him. I believe in the sovereignty that gives to any one of us the opportunity of doing all we can. But you know in the old days those very good people that were so very sound, though they defended the faith and held the fort, storming the fort did not occur to them. They were like a certain pew that I saw in a parish church the other day — very high, quite shut out, and spikes all over the top — so that no irregular sinner should come in. Now, we have got out of that system. We have taken the spikes down; the doors will open, and we invite others in. Well, that is a right spirit. God grant that we may keep on with it! not giving up precious truth, but having with it a noble spirit for the glory of Christ. I meet with some few still who are very firm and staunch, and very strong, who do not go with any very active effort; and they are like a tree that I saw in the New Forest some time ago — an iron beech. You could not possibly cut it. There are some few such, but it is a pity to waste knives and axes upon them. The thing is to go on to some that can be molded and moved, and I would say to such, “Dear friends, you sometimes say, ‘ Will the heathen be saved if we do not send the missionaries?’” I will ask you another question, “Will you be saved if you do not send out any missionaries?” — because I have very dreadful doubts about whether you will. Do not smile. The man that does nothing for his Master, will he be saved? The man that never cares about the perishing heathen, is he saved? Is he like Christ? If he be not like Christ, and have not the spirit of Christ then he is none of his. “Well,” says a young man, “I have been arguing with myself whether I should go.” I will tell you another thing to argue. Take it for granted that you ought to go unless you can prove that you should not. Every Christian man is bound to give himself to the Master’s work in that department which most needs him, and that is foreign missions, unless he can prove to his own satisfaction that he ought not, and that he has not the gift. I wish that could be learned by our men. You want a call to the ministry. I believe that is right, but those who can speak well ought rather to try and show that they are not bound to preach, and if they can show that they are excused; but they ought to go through that process first. You are bound, brother, unless you can show that God in his providence has utterly prevented you.
The other night I started up in such a fright. I dreamed that my heart had stopped, and that the sweat was on my brow. I had my watch on the table just by the side of me, and it was very singular that the watch had stopped just at that very minute. I suppose my ear missed the tick, and had invented the dream that my heart had stopped. Ah, I wish that some Christian, whenever he feels that works of piety are not being carried on by him, would start up in a fright, and say, “Ah, is my heart stopped? After all, am I a Christian or not?” “By their fruits ye shall know them”; that is, other people. Don’t you think you ought to know yourself very much that way?
When you are doing no more for Christ, ought you not to question whether you love him? When I was at Mentone, I heard that the land, before the English came there, used to be valued by the number of olive trees on it. That is the way to value yourselves, to value the church — by productiveness. Do you produce anything for Christ? I was startled when I came through Marseilles, and they were putting a fire in my chamber one day for my rheumatism, I saw the man putting something in the fireplace, and I asked him to let me look at it. It was what I thought — vine branches. If a vine branch bear no fruit it is good for nothing. You cannot make it into the smallest useful article. Shall a man even hang a pot upon the fire thereby? It is good for nothing but to be burned if it be not fruitful.
A fruitless merchant, or a fruitless professor of science, may have some sort of use; but a fruitless Christian is good for nothing. “Men gather them, and they are cast into the fire, and they are burned.”
I began with the privilege of working for Christ; I close with the necessity of working for Christ. If you do not bear fruit to him, are you his disciples at all? Can you prove that you belong to him? Salvation is not of works, but salvation produces works, and such works as those which show themselves in our missionary operations. I speak as unto wise men. Judge ye what I say. By the dying myriad’s I do beseech you, arise to work with Christ for their salvation. By his blood and wounds, which brought you from your own destruction, cease not both to pray and to labor, until the hymn with which my predecessor finished shall be heard all over the world: “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun Does his successive journeys run.”