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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER I. THE TRUE SPIRIT OF MISSIONS.

Thoughts On Missions by Sheldon Dibble

CHAPTER I. THE TRUE SPIRIT OF MISSIONS.

The apostles, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, uniformly enforce their exhortations by tender appeals to the example, sufferings, and death of their ascended Lord. Is humility inculcated? the argument is, Christ |humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.| Is purity of life enjoined? the plea is, Christ |gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people.| Is liberality required? we are pointed to Christ, who, |though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich.| Is entire consecration to Christ enjoined? the appeal is, |he died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them and rose again.|

In like manner, in gaining a true idea of the spirit of missions, the proper course evidently is, to look at once at the missionary character of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was indeed a missionary. He came to save the lost. He was a missionary to us. He came to save us.

We had wandered and were lost. We were guilty and condemned. We were in a state of despair. Nothing within the compass of human means could avail in the least to avert the impending wrath of God. All wisdom became foolishness. All resource was futile. Not a ray of hope remained -- not the least flickering gleam. Whichever way the eye turned, there was darkness -- horror -- despair. But Christ came, and hope again visited the earth. It was when we were helpless -- hopeless -- justly exposed to the horrors and agonies of the world of woe, that Jesus undertook his mission, and appeared for our relief.

This truth cannot be too deeply impressed upon us, here, at the very threshold of our inquiries in regard to the spirit of missions; and to spread it out distinctly before our minds, let us take a simple illustration.

You are a captive in a foreign land, and have long been immured in a deep, damp, and gloomy dungeon. Sorrow, sighing, and tears have been your meat day and night. Anguish, gloom, and a fearful looking for of death, combined with hunger, cold, and a bed of straw, have induced disease, wasted your flesh, destroyed every energy, and entirely drank up your spirits. Sentence of death is pronounced against you, and the day fixed for your execution. The massive walls and iron grating look down sternly upon you, and rebuke at once all hope of escape. Entreaties, tears, and the offer of gold and silver have been tried, but in vain. Effort and means have given place to horror and despair. The prospect before you is the scaffold, the block, a yawning grave, and a dread eternity. In this extremity a friend appears, and offers to be substituted in your place. The offer is accepted. You, pale, emaciated, and horror-stricken, are brought from your dungeon to behold once more the light of day. The irons are knocked off from your hands and feet -- your tattered garments exchanged for cleanly apparel -- and a ship is in readiness to convey you to the land of your birth and the bosom of your friends. The vital current of your soul, so long chilled and wasted, now flows again with warmth and vigor; your eyes are lighted up, and tears of joy burst forth like a flood. But, in the midst of your joy, you are told of your deliverer. You turn, and behold! the irons that were upon you are fastened upon him -- he is clothed in your tattered garments -- is about to be led to your gloomy dungeon -- lie on your bed of straw, and thence to be taken in your stead to the scaffold or the block. You throw yourself at his feet, and entreat him to desist; but when you find his purpose fixed, you finally wish you had a thousand hearts to feel the gratitude you owe, and ten thousand tongues to give it utterance.

The Lord Jesus Christ has done for us all this, and unspeakably more. We were under condemnation. The sentence of God's righteous law was against us. The flaming sword of Divine vengeance was unsheathed. All above and around us were the dark frowns of the Almighty and the red lightnings of his wrath. Beneath us was not merely a damp dungeon, but the bottomless pit yawning to receive us, and its flames ascending to envelope our guilty souls. There was no escape. The prospect was weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth -- the agony of Jehovah's frown forever. In this extremity the Saviour appeared -- substituted himself in our stead -- bare our sins in his own body on the tree -- received upon his own agonized soul what was our due, and thus delivered us from the untold horrors of eternal death, and opened before us the gate of heaven.

To save the lost, then, was the spirit of Christ. The apostles imbibed this spirit. It is the spirit of missions. The heathen are in a lost condition. If we have the spirit of Christ we shall do what we can to save them. The spirit of missions is not something different from, or superadded to, the Christian spirit, but is simply, essentially, and emphatically the spirit of Christ. It is compassion for the perishing; and such compassion as leads the possessor to put forth strenuous efforts, and to undergo, if need be, the severest sufferings.

As we shall look somewhat in detail at the manifestations of the spirit of Christ, we shall see very evidently the great outlines of what alone is worthy to be called the true spirit of missions.

Look at the condescension of Christ, and learn a lesson of duty towards the destitute and degraded of our race. The Son of God, by whom were all things created that are in heaven and that are in earth, whether they be thrones or dominions, principalities or powers; who upholdeth all things by the word of his power; before whom ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands prostrate themselves, ascribing power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing; of whom it is said, |Every knee shall bow to him, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth| -- the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God: this Infinite Being empties himself of his glory, and comes down to toil, suffer and die -- and for whom? For us worms of the dust, insects that are crushed before the moth.

If the Saviour had come to our relief, clothed with the glory of heaven and surrounded by his holy angels, even that would have been a stoop of amazing condescension. But look at the babe of Bethlehem, born in a stable, and cradled in a manger; follow him to Egypt, and then back to Nazareth. What humility, lowliness, and condescension! Look at the Saviour in his public ministry. You find him oftenest among the poor, and always so demeaning himself as to be the one that was |meek and lowly in heart.| His chosen walk was such, that it could be said with emphasis, |to the poor the Gospel is preached.|

Such was the spirit of Christ and such his condescension! Such was the spirit of the apostles. They took much notice of the poor, and charged Paul and Barnabas, when going forth on their mission, especially to remember them. What else, I ask, is a missionary spirit, but to be willing to labor with self-denial and perseverance to elevate and save the low and the vile? Natural men, in the pride of their hearts, are inclined to look down upon the wretched -- to regard them with that kind of loathing and disgust which disinclines them to make sacrifices in their behalf. This dislike is such that I have often thought it to be a favor to the heathen, that they are far off and out of sight; for if they were near and directly around many professed Christians, with all their defilement and ugliness in full view, much of the apparent sympathy for them which now exists, would be turned into contempt and cold neglect. But if such had been the superficial and ill-founded character of Christ's compassion, where should we have been at this present hour? There is not a wretch now wallowing in the deepest mire of sin, who is so vile and low in our eyes, as we all were in the eyes of infinite purity. Yet the more wretched we were, the more deeply did Christ feel for us. This spirit of Christ is the only true spirit of missions -- the only spirit that will make self-denying, continued, and persevering efforts to save the heathen.

There is no romance in the practical and every-day duties of a missionary. The work is of a humble form, and emphatically toilsome. There is but little true missionary spirit in the world. It is not the sympathy of an hour, nor an enthusiasm awakened by romance, but the pure love of Christ in the soul, constraining the possessor to pray earnestly, and to labor cheerfully without notice or applause, for the lowest human objects; and which finds a rich and sufficient reward for a life of toil in leading one ignorant slave, one degraded outcast, or one vile heathen, to accept the offers of salvation. My observation in the field for thirteen years testifies to the fact, that no sympathy or enthusiasm will come down to the arduous details of missionary work, and persevere in it for years, that does not flow from such genuine and permanent love as our Saviour manifested when here upon earth. The more we become like Christ, the more shall we possess of the true missionary character.

How slow we are to make real sacrifices for the good of others! It was not so with Christ. He chose, for our good, to become a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief -- to be rejected, despised and hated -- to become a mark for the bitterest rage and the finger of scorn.

Go to the garden of Gethsemane. There behold, what even the pencil of the angel Gabriel cannot fully portray. There, in the stillness of the night, the Saviour retires to give vent to the bursting emotions of his soul. Deep sorrow, keen anguish, and excruciating agony roll in, like continuous surges, upon his tender spirit. His strength fails. Low he lies on the cold earth, and the drops from his pale and agonized features, like the clammy sweat of death -- no, |like drops of blood| -- fall to the ground.

But the agony of his spirit does not perturb the submission of his soul, nor shake the steadfastness of his purpose. The furious mob arrive, and he calmly yields himself to their disposal. See him in the judgment-hall -- meek under insults, forgiving under buffetings and abuse, submissive and quiet under the agonizing scourge. Then behold him, as faint from his gashes and his pains, and sinking under a heavy cross, he slowly moves towards Calvary. Look on, if your eyes can bear the sight. The rough spikes are driven through his feet and his hands -- the cross is erected -- the Lord of glory hangs between two thieves: -- there, his torn, bleeding, writhing and excruciated body is to wear out its vitality in protracted agony. But all this suffering was as a drop in his cup of anguish. O the deep -- fathomless, untold agony of his soul, when under the hidings of his Father's face he exclaimed, |My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!|

All this suffering and agony the Infinite Son of God endured, that we might be saved. He had a vivid and perfect view of all this, and yet voluntarily assumed it that we might live.

In view of such an example, what shall we say? If the Lord of glory shrunk not from ignominy and scorn, untold agony, exquisite torture and the most cruel death, can any one possess much of his spirit, and yet consider it too much to forego some of the comforts and delights of this fleeting life, and to labor and toil with perseverance and self-denial on a foreign shore, to instruct the destitute and the dying -- to enlighten the millions and hundreds of millions of heathen, who have never heard the precious name of Jesus, and are entirely ignorant of the consolations of his grace? Is it too much, even to expose one's self to an early grave in a sultry clime, if necessary, that some ray of hope may break in upon the gloom of the benighted and perishing nations? God be praised, that the prospect of death did not daunt the spirit of the self-denying Jesus!

O, how has a feeling of shame and deep humiliation come over my spirit, as I have heard the objection, that |Missionaries and missionaries' wives especially go forth to die!| Thanks to the continued grace of God, that some of this spirit of Jesus -- the self-sacrificing spirit, the spirit of devotement, even unto death -- still exists on earth. Let the objector inquire seriously, whether much of it reigns in his own bosom; and whether in proportion as he is destitute of it, he be not lacking not only in the spirit of missions, but in the spirit of Christ, without which it is impossible to be a disciple. For it is true not only of missionaries, but equally of all Christians, that they are not their own -- that they are bought with a price; and are under obligations of entire consecration, each in his appropriate sphere, that are as high as heaven and as affecting as the scenes of Gethsemane and Calvary. And we are bound, equally with the early disciples, to count it not only a duty, but |all joy| to labor, suffer and die, if necessary, for Christ's sake, and in the good work which he has given us to do.

Did we become sensible of our lost condition? Did we with one accord lift up our penitent and broken-hearted cries to the God of mercy, that he would provide a way for our salvation? Did the angels intercede in our behalf that the Saviour would come? No: self-moved he appeared for our relief. He beheld us wedded to our sinful courses; unwilling to be taken from the pit into which we had plunged ourselves, and clinging with unyielding grasp to the very instruments of our ruin -- strangely enamored with the very vampires that were preying upon our souls. The more disinclined we were to sue for mercy, the more the Saviour pitied us; for our very unwillingness to supplicate showed the depth of our ruin.

In like manner, the more indisposed any heathen nation may be to receive us to their shores, admit the light of the Gospel and partake of its blessings, the more deeply should we feel for them, and the more zealously labor for their salvation. That a nation has not called for our aid, but is resolutely determined to keep us at a distance, is a strong argument for being deeply interested in their behalf. Their very blindness and maniac disposition should call forth the deep commiseration of our souls. Such was the spirit of Christ. Such is the true spirit of missions. It is but a small measure of compassion to aid those who supplicate our assistance. The very blindness, guilt, madness and vile degradation of a people, should be to us a sufficient voice of entreaty. They were so to the heart of the precious Saviour, or he never would have undertaken the work of our redemption. O, when shall it be, that Christians and ministers of the Gospel shall arise self-moved, or rather moved by the spirit of Christ within them, and exert all their powers for the good of the perishing? when they shall not need appeal upon appeal, entreaty upon entreaty, and the visit of one agent after another, to remind them of duty, and to persuade them to do it?

It was not a world of penitents that the Saviour pitied, but a world of rebels -- proud and stubborn rebels, ready to spurn every offer of reconciliation. He saw us, not on our knees pleading for mercy, but scorning the humble attitude of suppliants, and raising our puny arms against the authority of Heaven. He beheld us, not as the Ninevites once were, in sackcloth and ashes, but recklessly violating all his holy laws. It was in view of all the deformity, bitterness, rage and heaven-daring impiety of our naked hearts, that Christ left his throne of glory and died on the cross. It was for such beings that he voluntarily endured humiliation, toil, self-denial and death. He toiled and died for the ungodly. He came, though men despised his aid. He died even for his crucifiers.

Are the heathen guilty -- covered with blood and black with crime? Do they exhibit many traits that are repulsive and horrid? Would our visit to them fill them with rage and bitterness, and tempt them to crucify us? What then? are we to relax our efforts for them, because they are ungodly? So did not Jesus Christ. Let us learn from his example, and imbibe his spirit. That man, who may be called a missionary, and yet is capable of being alienated in his feelings by ill-treatment, contempt, abuse and rage from the heathen, is not worthy of the name. That professed Christian, in whatever land he may reside, who loves a sinner less on account of the personal abuse he may suffer from him, has not the true missionary spirit, or, in other words, the spirit of Christ.

And here I would repeat the remark with emphasis, in accordance with all that I have said, that there is nothing peculiar in the spirit of missions, except what peculiarity there may be in the spirit of Christ -- that it is what all must possess to be disciples, and without which no one can enter heaven. It is a spirit humble yet elevating, self-sacrificing yet joyful, intensely fervent yet reasonable, meek and yet resolute. It is all this indeed, but yet nothing more than what is required of every Christian; and therefore no excuse can be more absurd and contradictory in terms, than that sometimes made, |It is not my duty to go to the heathen, for I never had a missionary spirit;| for one professes to be a Christian, and yet excuses himself, on the ground of not having a missionary spirit, or in other words, of not being a Christian -- of not being in possession of a fair title to heaven. O, remember, Christian reader, that the least desire to be excused shows a deplorable lack of the spirit of Christ.

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