We pray that these pages may be read by many who will be startled by the above statement. A world which shall eventually be saved by the preaching of the Gospel has been the expectation of almost all Christendom. That the Gospel shall yet triumph over the world, the flesh, and the Devil is the belief of the great majority of those who profess to be the Lord's people. In the seminaries, in the pulpits, in the Christian literature of the day, and in the great missionary gatherings where placards bearing the words |The world for Christ| are prominently displayed, has this theory been zealously heralded. It is supposed that anything short of a converted |world| is a concept dishonoring and derogatory to the Gospel. We are told the Gospel cannot fail because it is the power of God, and though the Church has failed, yet, a day is surely coming when this captivating ideal shall be realized. To believe other than this, is to be dubbed a |pessimist,| yea, it is to be looked upon as a hinderer and traitor to the cause of Christ. But what are the plain facts?
The Lord Jesus Christ preached the Gospel, preached it faithfully, lovingly, zealously and untiringly. But with what results? Was the world |converted| under His preaching? Should it be said this question is not a fair one because He preached only locally, we accept the correction, but ask further, Was Palestine converted under His preaching? We have only to glance at the four Gospels to find an answer. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord declared that the |many| were on the broad road that leadeth to destruction and that only a |few| were on the narrow path that leadeth unto life. In the Parable of the Sower He announced that out of four castings of the good seed from His hand three of them fell upon unfruitful ground. Again, we are told, |He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not| (John 1:10, 11). No; the Gospel as preached by the Son of God Himself held out no promise of a world converted by the proclamation of it, for after three and a half years' ministry such as this world has never witnessed before or since, there was but a handful who responded to the gracious appeals of the Gospel from His lips -- there were but one hundred and twenty all told that waited in the upper room for the coming of the Holy Spirit which He had promised to send to His followers (Acts 1:15).
How was it in the days of the apostles? During the first generation of the Church's history, wonderful things happened which were well calculated to convert the world if anything could. Eleven men who had been trained by our Lord Himself were now sent forth to herald the glad tidings of salvation. The Holy Spirit was poured forth upon them, and in addition to the Eleven, Saul of Tarsus was miraculously saved and sent forth as the apostle to the Gentiles. But what success attended their efforts? How were they received by the world? Again we have but to turn to the New Testament Scriptures to find our answer. Like their Master, they, too, were despised and rejected of men. The apostles were everywhere spoken against and regarded as the offscouring of the earth. Some of them were cast into prison, others were slain by the sword. One suffered death by crucifixion and the last of the little band was banished to the Isle of Patmos. True it is that their labors were not entirely in vain. True it is that God honored His own Word and numbers were saved, and here and there churches were organized. But the multitudes, the great masses, both of Jews and Gentiles, remained unmoved and unconverted. The actual conditions, in the days of the apostles then, gave no promise of a world converted by the Gospel.
How is it in our own day? |Ah!| it will be said |times have changed since then: Christ and His apostles lived in the days of Paganism and barbarism, but under the enlightenment of our modern civilization this twentieth century is far otherwise.| Yes, but all is not gold that glitters. We do not deny, we praise God for the fact, that to-day there are far more Christians upon earth than there were in the first century. But there are far more sinners too! What we are discussing now is the Conversion of the world. Has the growth of the Church of God kept pace with the increase of the earth's population? We trow not. To-day there are probably 1,000,000,000 souls on earth who have never even heard the name of Christ! How then can we talk about a converted world when upwards of two-thirds of humanity is destitute of the Gospel? Moreover, what of Christendom itself? How much of that which bears the name of Christ is truly Christian? What proportion of those who term themselves the children of God, are really entitled to that name? More than half of professing Christendom is found within the pales of the Greek and Roman Catholic Churches! And what of Protestantism itself? What of the evangelical churches filled with their worldly, pleasure-loving, theater-going, Sabbath-desecrating, prayer-meeting-neglecting members? No; my reader, be not deceived with appearances or high-sounding phrases. God's flock is only a |little flock| (Luke 12:32). There is but a remnant according to the election of grace| (Rom.11:5).
Has the Gospel failed? Have God's purposes been defeated? Certainly not. The Gospel was never designed to convert the world. God never purposed to regenerate all humanity in this dispensation, any more than He did under the Mosaic Economy, when He suffered the nations to walk in their own ways. God's purpose for this Age is clearly defined in Acts 15:14 -- |Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name.| In full harmony with this, the apostle Paul declared, |I am made all things to all men, that I might be all means save some|(1 Cor.9:22). Clearly then, the Hope of the Church is not the Conversion of the World.
Having dwelt at some length upon the general, let us now come to the particular --