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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : INTRODUCTORY LETTER.

Thoughts On Missions by Sheldon Dibble

INTRODUCTORY LETTER.

TO MY CLASSMATES IN THEOLOGY.

DEAR BRETHREN IN CHRIST: -- Few periods of our lives can be called to mind with so much ease and distinctness, as the years which we spent together in theological studies. The events of that short season, and the sentiments we then indulged, are clothed with a freshness and interest which the lapse of time cannot efface.

Among the questions that occupied our thoughts, no one perhaps was so absorbing, or attended with such deep and anxious feeling, as that which respected the field of labor to which each should devote his life. And many of us then, I remember, made a mutual engagement, that if spared and permitted for years to labor in different portions of the vineyard of the Lord, we would communicate to each other our mature views in regard to the claims of different fields.

Thirteen years have elapsed; and I propose to fulfil my engagement, by expressing, in the form of the present little volume, the views which I now entertain in regard to the claims of foreign lands. To you, my beloved classmates, the book is specially addressed; and if I use a frankness and freedom, which might possibly be construed into presumption, if I were addressing strangers and elder brethren, I am sure that I shall fall under no such imputation when communicating my thoughts to you. I wish to express my thoughts familiarly, as we used to do to each other, and at the same time with the earnestness and solemnity which one ought always to feel when pleading for the perishing heathen.

A free, full, and earnest discussion of such sentiments as those contained in this book, had no small influence, under God, in preparing the way for that extensive work of grace at these islands, which has been denominated the Great Revival. At the General meetings of the mission in the month of May of 1836 and 1837, the main doctrines of this volume were thoroughly canvassed, and with deep effect upon every member present. Our feelings were enlisted, our hearts were warmed, and our thoughts were absorbed by the great topic of the world's conversion. The theme, in all its amazing import and solemn aspects, was allowed to take possession of our souls. It gave importunity to prayer, earnestness and unction to our conversation and sermons, and zeal, energy, and perseverance to every department of our work; and the result was soon apparent in the wide-spread and glorious revival.

It can almost be said, therefore, that the main sentiments of this volume have received the impress of the Divine approbation.

In the fall of 1837, I was constrained by family afflictions and the failure of my own health, to embark for the United States. As I began to breathe the bracing air of Cape Horn, my strength in a measure revived, and having no other employment on board ship, I sketched the outlines of most of the chapters of this little volume. My heart was full of the theme in the discussion of which I had taken part before my embarkation, and I penned my thoughts freely, amidst the tossings of the ship and the care of two motherless children.

On my arrival in the United States, I revised and filled up the outlines I had sketched, and delivered them, in connection with various historical lectures, at several places, as Providence gave me opportunity. Now, having returned to these islands, I have thought best to give the chapters a second revision, to dedicate the whole to you, and with the help of the press to send you each a copy, accompanying it with my prayers and my most affectionate salutations. And may I not expect, beloved classmates, that you will read the book with candor, weigh well its arguments, admit its entreaties to your hearts, as those of your former associate, and act in accordance with the convictions of duty?

Among the considerations that have prompted me to the train of thought contained in this book, as well as to the views interwoven in my history of the Sandwich Islands, I may mention, as not the least weighty and prominent, a dutiful respect and filial obedience to the instructions delivered to me, in connection with others, by the wise and devoted EVARTS, on the eve of our embarkation for the foreign field. The delivery of those instructions was his last effort of the kind, and they may therefore be regarded as the parental accents of his departing spirit. On that occasion of interest, to which memory can never be treacherous, a part of the charge to us was in the following words:

|From the very commencement of your missionary life, cultivate a spirit of enterprise. Without such a spirit, nothing great will be achieved in any human pursuit; and this is an age of enterprise, to a remarkable and unprecedented extent. In manufactures, in the mechanic arts, in agriculture, in education, in the science of government, men are awake and active; their minds are all on the alert; their ingenuity is tasked; and they are making improvements with the greatest zeal. Shall not the same enterprise be seen in moral and religious things? Shall not missionaries, especially, aim at making discoveries and improvements in the noblest of all practical sciences -- that of applying the means which God has provided, for the moral renovation of the world?

|There are many problems yet to be solved before it can be said, that the best mode of administering missionary concerns has been discovered. What degree of expense shall be incurred in the support of missionary families, so as to secure the greatest possible efficiency with a given amount of money; how to dispose of the children of missionaries, in a manner most grateful to their parents, and most creditable to the cause; in what proportion to spend money and time upon the education of the heathen, as a distinct thing from preaching the Gospel; how far the press should be employed; by what means the attention of the heathen can be best gained at the beginning; how their wayward practices and habits can be best restrained and corrected; how the intercourse between missionaries and the Christian world can be conducted in the best manner, so as to secure the highest responsibility, and the most entire confidence; and how the suitable proportion between ministers of the Gospel retained at home, and missionaries sent abroad, is to be fixed in practice, as well as in principle: all these things present questions yet to be solved. There is room for boundless enterprise, therefore, in the great missionary field, which is the world.|

I have not attempted to discuss all the topics here named, but have endeavored to cultivate in some degree, as enjoined in the paragraph, a spirit of enterprising inquiry.

If this book shall impart any light on the interesting topic of Christian duty to the heathen, and be owned by the Saviour, in the great day, as having contributed, though but in a small degree, towards that glorious consummation of which the prophets speak, and to which we all look forward, I shall be richly rewarded.

Your affectionate classmate,

SHELDON DIBBLE.

LAHAINALUNA, Feb.17, 1844.

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