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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : CHAPTER IV. THE SAVIOUR'S LAST COMMAND.

Thoughts On Missions by Sheldon Dibble


Let us suppose that all kindreds and people of the earth are assembled, and that the inhabitants of Africa, Asia, the Isles of the Pacific and the wilds of America, are called upon to speak, and to give in their testimony how far the Saviour's last command has been obeyed.

The inquiry is first put to Africa:

|Africa, to what extent and for what purpose have people from Christian lands visited thee, and thine adjacent islands? What have they carried to thy shores? And what is the treatment thou hast received from them? Tell the whole truth: let it be known to what extent the Saviour's last command has been obeyed in respect to thee.|

To this inquiry Africa replies:

|The truth I can tell, but the whole truth cannot be told. I have indeed been visited by people from Christian lands. Thousands and hundreds of thousands from those lands have visited my shores. Some have come to measure the pyramids, and to gather relics of ancient literature and decayed magnificence; some to search out the sources of the Nile and the course of the Niger; some to possess the best of the soil; and a vast multitude have come, with a cruelty that knows no mercy, to tear the husband from his wife and the wife from her husband, parents from their children and children from their parents, brother from sister and sister from brother -- to crowd them together without distinction of age or sex in the suffocating holds of their ships, where a large proportion of them die, and to convey the remainder far away to spend their lives in degrading servitude. They have brought beads and trinkets; they have brought instruments of death, such as muskets, powder, knives and swords; and they have brought, too, full cargoes of liquid poison. The navies of Christian, lands have fought in my harbors, and their armies upon my shores. Their money by millions has been lavished, and their blood has run in torrents.

|A few individuals, however, of a different character, have found their way hither. They have come in the spirit of benevolence and of peace, and have brought in their hands the precious treasure of the Gospel of Christ. But their number is so small as to be almost lost among the multitude. For one who has taught righteousness, purity, truth and mercy, thousands have taught, by their example, rapacity, drunkenness, lewdness and cruelty. For one who has led us in the path of life, thousands have led us in the paths of destruction. For one who has brought the Bible, thousands have brought rum. For one whose example has been salutary, the intercourse of thousands has left a loathsome disease, which with sure and rapid progress is depopulating the land. Such is the sum of my testimony. Days and nights would be required to give the detail.|

This testimony of Africa being finished, the same inquiry is put to Asia:

|Asia, to what extent have the nations of Christendom visited thee, and thy numerous islands? What have they carried to thy shores? and what has been their deportment towards thee?|

To which Asia replies:

|The vast number, either of men or of ships from Christian lands, that have visited my shores, cannot be told. I know full well the enterprise, the energy, and the perseverance of Christian lands; yes, verily, and traits too of less honorable name. Large portions of my territory acknowledge the control of their armies. Their thundering navies lie in my harbors and sail along my coasts. Ships without number -- mighty ships whose masts pierce the clouds, have come for my teas, my crapes, my silks, my spices and other precious merchandise. Their consuls, superintendents, officers of various kinds, and merchants in great numbers, dwell in almost every port, and have erected in those ports stores, shops, offices and sumptuous dwellings. Many things pleasant and useful have been brought hither, but many things also that are ruinous: full cargoes of ardent spirits; and immense quantities of opium too, a means of destruction no less sure.

|Among the multitudes who have come to my shores, some few, indeed, have brought the Gospel of Christ, made known its truths and exemplified its spirit; but the thousands and tens of thousands have inculcated by their example, worldliness, drunkenness, lewdness, war, violence and treachery. If needful, a volume of details might be given; but this is the sum.|

Next, the inquiry is put to the Isles of the Ocean:

|Great Pacific, to what extent has the last command of Christ been obeyed by Christian lands, in respect to thy numerous islands?|

The reply is as follows:

|Thousands of ships from Christian lands continually cruise upon my wide waters, and visit my numerous groups of islands. They have exchanged with my ignorant and destitute inhabitants, beads, trinkets, and a few inches of rusty iron hoop, for the best produce of the islands. They have sold to them guns, powder and rum. Many of their ships have been floating grog-shops -- floating exhibitions too of Sodom and Gomorrah. From some, on slight provocation, broadsides of cannon have been fired on my heedless inhabitants, strewing the deep with the dead and the dying. Rum and disease have been introduced. The one has slain its thousands, and the other has slain, and is still slaying its tens of thousands. Many useful things indeed have been introduced, but in connection with a host of evils! A few individuals too, bearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, have visited some of my numerous islands; but what are they among the multitude?|

After this testimony of the Isles of the Ocean, the inquiry is last addressed to America:

|America, what is thy testimony? From Bhering's Straits to Cape Horn, what treatment have thy native inhabitants received from Christian nations?|

America replies:

|Alas! scarcely enough remain of my miserable inhabitants to return an answer. They have been swept away by the same causes which are now sweeping away the inhabitants of the Pacific. The rapacity of those called Christians, which has not scrupled at any means of conquest and extirpation, and the rum and diseases introduced, have laid my numerous population in the grave. Have I been visited by those who bear the Christian name? Yes, verily, they now possess the best portions of my territory, and have grown into vast nations on my soil. Even my veriest wilds have been repeatedly traversed by them in search of furs; and the tracks they have made been too often marked with drunkenness, lewdness, and treachery. Few, very few indeed of all that have come to this vast continent, have come to instruct my ignorant inhabitants in the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ, and lead them in the paths of righteousness and peace. Few who explore my wilds, explore them for this purpose. Alas! a far different object prompts their enterprise, their energy, and their perseverance. This is the sum of my testimony.|

Now, reader, let us look well at this testimony of Africa, of Asia, of the Isles of the Ocean, and of America. Is it not overwhelming? Take, the Encyclopedia of Geography, or McCulloch's Dictionary of Commerce, or Howitt's Colonization and Christianity, and carefully examine the facts. Are they not enough to strike us dumb? To what a vast extent heathen nations have been visited by those who bear the Christian name. What obscure island, or what obscure nook or corner of the earth has not been visited? What immense multitudes have gone forth. AND, ALAS! FOR WHAT PURPOSES. How few, how very few have gone forth to make known the Gospel! What a powerful motive among men is the love of earthly gain, and how weak a motive is love to Christ and regard to his last command. The command reads, |GO YE INTO ALL THE WORLD AND PREACH THE GOSPEL TO EVERY CREATURE.| Christian nations, ye have not failed in great multitudes to |GO INTO ALL THE WORLD;| scarcely have ye failed to visit |EVERY CREATURE;| but for what purpose have ye gone forth? Has it been mainly to make known the precious name of Jesus? Be entreated to look at the case as it is, for a day of impartial retribution is at hand.

Many of you indeed, who go forth to heathen shores, do not profess to be the disciples of Jesus; but imagine not, that on that account your guilt is diminished. Ye who reject the Saviour, and disobey his commands -- who throw away your own souls as worthless, and are reckless of the souls of your fellow men, what can you say in the day of Christ's appearing? If ye had only destroyed your own souls, then your case would be more tolerable; but since you withhold from the millions of ignorant heathen the knowledge of salvation, which has been imparted to you -- not only refusing to enter the kingdom of heaven yourselves, but denying the key to those who might be disposed to enter; -- and not only do this, but in your intercourse with the heathen, which has been very abundant, confirm them in their evil practices by a pernicious example, and hurry them by thousands to the grave by means of deadly poison and deadly disease -- Oh! how will you endure the keen remorse and fearful looking for of judgment, which may ere long overtake you? When the impartial Judge shall appear, and your eyes shall meet his eye, what agonies must rend your souls!

But some of you have the vows of God upon you. To such I would say, Be entreated to look at the case as it is. As ye have gone forth on voyages of just and honorable traffic, and on voyages of discovery, have you manifested in all the heathen ports where you touched, that to make known the Saviour was the great and absorbing desire of your hearts? Alas! are there not some among you who, either as owners, masters or agents, are connected with ships that sail from port on the Sabbath, or do other unnecessary work on that day, and who thereby teach the heathen, wherever those ships go, to disobey God when their gain or convenience require it? Are there not also some among you, who, in one way or another, are connected with ships whose outfits are wholly or in part, beads, trinkets, guns, powder, rum and opium? and who thereby teach the heathen injustice, cheating, drunkenness, lewdness, and recklessness of life? Why is it that ye bear the name of the peaceful disciples of the benevolent Jesus, whilst ye are concerned in scattering among the heathen |fire-brands, arrows and death| -- in teaching them every species of iniquity, and in rearing a wall of prejudice strong and high to the progress of the Gospel?

* * * * *

But most of my readers stand pure from all this crime; and of such I simply inquire, with deep concern and affectionate earnestness, Why, dear brethren, have ye not obeyed the Saviour's last command? Why have ye not made known the Gospel of Christ to every creature? Each one of you has doubtless some excuse at hand, or he could not escape the goadings of conscience. Let us then, in the spirit of candor and honesty, look at some EXCUSES.

Perhaps some one may be inclined to say, |The work enjoined by the Saviour's last command is a very great work, and there has not been time enough to perform it.|

True, I reply, the work is great; but how does it appear that there has not been sufficient time to accomplish it? Not sufficient time! What has been accomplished in the pursuit of wealth and honor during the same period of time? What has been done at home in railroads, canals, steamboats, manufactures, and in other departments of enterprise and industry? What has been done abroad? Look at the testimony of Africa, Asia, the Isles of the Pacific, and the wilds of America. There has been time to carry rum to every shore. There has been time to introduce diseases among every barbarous people, which are hurrying them to the grave by thousands. There has been time to kidnap thousands and hundreds of thousands of the degraded Africans. There has been time to extirpate most of the native population of North and South America. There has been time to wage war, till the blood of human beings has flowed in torrents. And then, in regard to just and honorable traffic, compute, if human arithmetic be competent to the task, the amount of merchandise brought from India, and from other distant lands. There has been time for all this. Now I ask with great plainness, for it is a solemn and practical subject, Had you exhibited the same enterprise, energy and perseverance, in making known the Gospel to all nations, as has been exhibited in worldly pursuits, would not every human being, long ere this, have heard the word of life? Will you not, Christian reader, look at this question, weigh it well, and deal honestly with your own soul?

Here, I am suspicious that some may be inclined to excuse themselves with a vague thought secretly entertained, which, if expressed, would be somewhat as follows:

|True, we have not exhibited as much zeal in teaching all nations as has been exhibited by the worldly, and by many of ourselves even, in the pursuit of wealth. But we claim not the praise of a holy, self-denying and apostolic life. We are content with an humble walk in the Christian course, and a low seat in heaven. Entire consecration, in the sense urged, is what we never professed.|

Your standard, then, it appears is very low -- too low, it may be, to admit you even to that humble seat in the courts above which you anticipate. You claim not the praise of an apostolic life, and I seriously fear that you will not obtain even the testimony of being a true Christian. But how does it appear, that you never professed an entire consecration to Christ of all your powers of body and soul? It is true, the conduct of some would seem to say, that they put on a form of religion to silence their fears, to cheat themselves with a delusive hope, and to enjoy a comfortable state of mind on earth. But what, really, are the vows that rest upon you? What else than to seek by prayer and effort, as your supreme aim, chief desire, and all-engrossing object, the promotion of Christ's kingdom -- the salvation of souls for whom he died?

Besides, what is the great purpose for which the church was instituted? Certainly, not to promote in its members a delusive comfort and quietude of mind; neither mainly nor chiefly to secure their own ultimate salvation; but to take advantage of union of strength to convert the world. The church -- the whole church, without the exception of any of its members, is by profession, not merely a missionary society, but a missionary band: the minute-men of the Lord Jesus, ready to do his will, at home or abroad, with singleness of aim, and with a spirit of entire devotion.

|But,| you say, |were we thus to live, the world would verily believe we were deranged.|

Deranged! it would be the right kind of derangement. Were not the apostles thought to be deranged? And the Reformers -- Luther, Melancthon, Calvin, Knox and others -- were not they thought to be enthusiasts and zealots? Why? Because they were somewhat in earnest in the cause of Christ. Worldly men toil and strive night and day, in collecting together a little of the pelf and dust of the earth, and think themselves wise in doing so; but if the disciples of Christ show zeal or earnestness, in pursuits as much higher than theirs as heaven is higher than the earth, and as much more important as the immortal soul is more valuable than corruption and vanity, they call them enthusiasts and fanatics! But, alas! how few of us who profess to be the disciples of Christ, have manifested such zeal in his service as to be called by such epithets. Such persons alone God calls wise; and those worldly men, who are mad in the pursuit of wealth, God calls |fools.| The wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world are utterly at variance. O that all who profess to love Christ, manifested such zeal in obeying him as to be strange and singular men! How soon would every human being hear his Gospel! But since such zeal is not manifested, the heathen are left to perish; and where, I ask affectionately and solemnly, where rests the guilt?

But, here it may perhaps be replied, |Our sin is a sin of ignorance. We have not been acquainted with the full import of the Saviour's last command, nor with the extent of our obligations to Christ. Neither have we been acquainted with the wretched and guilty condition of the heathen world, nor with the exertions necessary to turn it from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God. God will wink at our sin, if we be indeed guilty, for we have not been enlightened on this subject.|

I answer. Does ignorance of the laws of any nation excuse those who transgress those laws; or is it not considered to be the duty of all subjects to inform themselves in respect to the laws of their country? And should it not be so in the kingdom of Christ? The requirements of Christ in their full extent are contained in the New Testament, and are expressed in language that need not be misunderstood. If any one has mistaken their import, is it not on account of a self-seeking, money-getting, or slothful disposition? Let such a one search his own heart, and inquire with concern, |Did I desire to know my duty? Was not my blindness a matter of choice; no infirmity, no misfortune, but my guilt? If there had been a desire, nay, even a willingness to be instructed, could I have mistaken such plain and unequivocal precepts of the Gospel?|

The condition too of the heathen, their guilty and wretched condition, is fully made known in the New Testament, especially in the first chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans. Besides, accounts of their guilt and wretchedness have been presented before the Christian community in Heralds, Chronicles, reports and newspapers, till they have become too familiar to make an impression. Can ignorance at this day be any other than a criminal ignorance -- an ignorance of fearful responsibility?

And, I ask again, Can it be an excuse to many Christians that they are laymen and not preachers of the Gospel? Can they make it appear that many of their number were not called to the office of preaching the Gospel? Did they take the proper means to ascertain that point? How, I anxiously inquire, did such persons determine so readily, when a world was sinking to perdition for want of preachers of the Gospel, that they were called to be lawyers, physicians, statesmen, merchants, farmers and manufacturers? Can it be fairly shown that hundreds of laymen have not rejected an office to which they were called -- SOLEMNLY CALLED, by the woes and dying groans of six hundred millions of their fellow men? Is there not reason to fear, that it was from a carnal choice and selfish inclination, rather than a sense of duty, that so great a majority slid so easily into their present occupations?

Besides, how does it appear that only preachers of the Gospel are required to labor directly for the destitute at home, and to go forth to the heathen abroad? It was far otherwise in the days of the apostles. Then the whole church -- driven out, indeed, by persecution -- went everywhere making known the Saviour. And at the present hour, not only are ministers needed in propagating the Gospel in destitute places at home, and in raising up heathen nations from their deep degradation, but there are needed also, in their appropriate spheres, teachers, physicians, mechanics, farmers -- in short, men of every useful profession and employment.

Besides, much is to be done at home in sustaining those who go abroad. Has there been no lack in this part of the work? Alas! there are facts to meet such an inquiry, facts too well known to be named: disbanded schools, detained missionaries, and deserted monthly concerts: facts that stand registered on a book that shall hereafter be opened. Dear brethren, I speak earnestly and boldly of your obligations, not forgetting my own; and I would entreat you, by all that is affecting in the death of souls, and by all that is constraining in the love of Christ, to admit freely to your hearts, without subterfuge or excuse, the full import of the Saviour's last command, and to commence at once a life of sincere obedience. O! let us deal honestly with ourselves, in a matter of such immense moment.

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