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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER V. LAYMEN CALLED TO THE FIELD OF MISSIONS.

Thoughts On Missions by Sheldon Dibble

CHAPTER V. LAYMEN CALLED TO THE FIELD OF MISSIONS.

In Acts, 8:4, it is said, Therefore they that were scattered abroad, went everywhere preaching the word. And from the previous verses it seems that these persons, who were scattered abroad, were lay members of the church. The history is instructive.

After the day of Pentecost, the number of converts to Christianity amounted to several thousands. They were Jews, and had strong feelings of attachment to the city of Jerusalem, to the temple, and to the land of their fathers. They therefore clung to Jerusalem, and seemed inclined to remain together as one large church. But it was the design of the Lord Jesus, that the Gospel should be preached everywhere: such was his last and most solemn command. As, therefore, the disciples seemed in a measure unmindful of this command, the Saviour permitted a persecution to rage, which scattered them abroad, and they went |everywhere preaching the word.| The term preaching, in this place, means simply announcing or making known the news of salvation. This must be the meaning, for they that were scattered abroad were laymen. As they went, they told everywhere of Jesus Christ, and of the life and immortality which he had brought to light. This subject engrossed their thoughts; their hearts were full of it, and out of the abundance of their hearts their mouths spake. It is clear from this history, that in early times lay members of the church, in great numbers, were led, in the providence of God, to go forth and engage personally in the work of propagating the Gospel. And the more closely we look at the history, the more we shall be impressed with this fact.

Notice the time chosen by God for the first remarkable outpouring of his Holy Spirit. It was on the day of Pentecost, when multitudes were present, not only from all parts of Palestine, but from the surrounding nations. There were present, |Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt and the parts of Lybia about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians.| Upon this multitude, assembled from all the nations round about, the Holy Ghost was poured out with such power, that three thousand souls were converted in one day; and on succeeding days many were added to the church. Many of these converts would naturally return to the different nations and places from which they came, and make known the Saviour far and wide. It was by the return of these converts to their places of residence, that the Gospel was early introduced into many places quite remote from Jerusalem, among which may be reckoned, in all probability, the distant city of Rome. The first propagation of the Gospel in that metropolis of the world, can be traced to no other source with so much probability, as to the strangers from Rome who were present at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. It seems evident, therefore, that in the time chosen by God for this remarkable outpouring of his Spirit, he had an eye to an extensive and rapid propagation of the Gospel by lay members of the church.

Again, as hinted before, when the great body of the first converts chose to remain at Jerusalem, God saw best to drive them thence by persecution. This persecution began with the stoning of Stephen, and raged with such violence, that it is said that all the church at Jerusalem were scattered abroad, except the apostles. They were not only a few individuals who were driven out, but so many as to justify the expression, |all the church.| By thus dispersing the great body of the church, the Saviour propagated rapidly and extensively his precious Gospel. For this multitude of lay members -- and there were several thousands of them -- went everywhere preaching the word; announcing in all places, in a way appropriate to their station, the news of salvation through a crucified Redeemer. They propagated the Gospel throughout Judea and Samaria; and some of them travelled as far as Phoenice and Cyprus, and laid the foundation of the church at Antioch. It was not till the apostles had heard of the success of these lay members at Antioch, that they sent thither Barnabas to help in the work. It appears, then, that the rapid and extensive propagation of the Gospel, in early times, was accomplished in a great measure by the spreading abroad of the great body of the church; by an actual going forth and personal engagement of a great multitude of lay members.

Again, the treasurer of Candace, Queen of Ethiopia, seems to have been converted on his return home, not simply out of regard to his own personal salvation, but as a means of making known the Gospel in the distant place of his residence; for soon after, we find in that region a flourishing church of Christ.

Again, look at the example of Aquila and Priscilla, who labored zealously at Corinth and at Ephesus. Look, too, at the whole list of Paul's fellow travellers, and those whom he salutes in his letters as helpers in the Gospel.

From all these facts it is evident, that in early times God made use of common Christians in propagating the Gospel. Did he not so overrule events in his providence, as to show it to be his design that lay members of the church should go forth in great numbers, and engage personally, in ways appropriate and proper for them, in the work of making known Christ? We have then the force of primitive example -- of primitive example, too, brought about by the manifest overrulings of God's providence. This example is not equivalent, indeed, to a |Thus saith the Lord;| yet does it not strongly favor the sentiment, that lay members of the church in great numbers are called to go forth and assist in evangelizing the heathen?

To elevate all nations requires a great variety of laborers. In illustrating this point, I cannot expect to present it with all the clearness and force which are due to it. To appreciate fully its truth and its weighty import, it is necessary to live in the midst of a heathen people, and actually to witness the great variety and amount of labor which must be put forth, in order to elevate and improve them. The work of raising up a people from barbarism to Christianity is not only an immense work, but emphatically a various work -- a work which requires a great diversity both of means and of laborers. The minister of the Gospel must perform a prominent part, but he must not be expected to labor alone. His unaided efforts are altogether insufficient for the task.

There is special need of other laborers, since the number of ministers among the heathen is likely to be so small; but the need would exist, even though the number of ministers were very much increased. Labors analogous, both in respect to measure and variety, to those bestowed upon a Christian congregation, must be expended on a congregation of heathen. In Christian countries, a thousand important labors are performed by intelligent and praying men and women in the church, as direct aid to the minister in his arduous work; and a thousand offices are performed by schoolmasters, physicians, lawyers, merchants, farmers, mechanics and artisans, which, though in most cases not aimed directly at the salvation of men, are, notwithstanding, most intimately connected with the world's improvement and renovation. But while ministers at home are assisted in their work, shall the missionary abroad receive little or no help in his direct labors? And in respect to all improvements in society indirectly connected with his main work, must the task of introducing them and of urging them on, devolve entirely on him alone? Why should not the various means of civilizing and improving society at home, be brought to exert their influence upon the heathen abroad? Why should not the aid enjoyed by the minister in Christian lands, from intelligent members of his church, be afforded to the missionary among the heathen? How, indeed, shall the world be converted, unless there be a going forth to heathen lands from among all classes of Christians?

But I fear that these remarks are too general to be distinctly understood. To make my meaning, then, a little more clear, I will suppose a case.

A missionary goes forth to a barbarous nation, and locates himself in a village of four thousand souls. He learns the language of the people, and soon succeeds in giving them a superficial knowledge of the great truths of the Gospel. God blesses his labors. The people throw away their idols; many sincerely embrace the Lord Jesus; and the community at large acknowledge Christianity as the religion of the land.

Now, a superficial thinker might imagine that the work of elevating the people was almost done; but, in truth, it is but just commenced. The missionary looks upon his people, and wishes them not only to be Christians in name, but to exhibit also intelligence and good order, purity and loveliness, industry and enterprise; in a word, a deportment in all respects consistent with the religion of Jesus. But what is their state? The government is despotic, and the principles of its administration at variance with Scripture and reason. This takes away all motives to industry and thrift. Then again, the people are ignorant; have no mental discipline, no store of useful knowledge, but their minds are marked with torpor, imbecility, and poverty of thought: while at the same time they are full of grovelling ideas, false opinions, and superstitious notions, imbibed in childhood and confirmed by age. The children, too, are growing up in ignorance of all that is useful and praiseworthy. Entirely uninstructed and ungoverned by their parents; they range at large like the wild goats of the field. The people know not the simple business of making cloth, of working iron, or of framing wood; and have but a very imperfect knowledge of agriculture.

Of course, men, women and children, are almost houseless and naked -- destitute of everything but the rudest structures, the rudest fabrications, and the rudest tools and implements of husbandry. A large family herd together, of all ages and both sexes, in one little hut, sleep on one mat, and eat from one dish. From irregularity of habits and frequent exposure, they are often sick; and with the aid of a superstitious quackery, sink rapidly and in great numbers to the grave.

The missionary looks upon his four thousand villagers, though nominally Christian perhaps, yet still in this state of destitution, degradation and ignorance. He sees, that to elevate them requires the labors not only of a preacher of the Gospel, but the labors of the civilian, the physician, the teacher, the agriculturist, the manufacturer, the mechanic and the artist. Can all these professions and employments be united in one man? Can one missionary sustain all this variety of labor? Yet all these departments of labor are absolutely indispensable to the improvement and elevation of society. They are necessary in a land already Christian. Still more indispensable are they in the work of raising up a people from barbarism.

Teachers are needed. To raise a people from barbarism, the simple but efficient means of common schools must be everywhere diffused; and higher schools too must be established, and vigorously conducted. To teach the hundreds of millions of adult heathen in week-day schools and in Sabbath-schools, and more especially to instruct and train the hundreds of millions of heathen children and youth, cannot be done by a few hands. We forbear to make a numerical estimate: any one may estimate for himself. The number must be great, even though we look upon them rather as a commencing capital than as an adequate supply, and expect that by far the greater part of laborers are to be trained up from among the heathen themselves. It is preposterous to think of imposing all this labor on a few ministers of the Gospel.

Physicians are needed. They are needed to benefit the bodies of the heathen; for disease, the fruit of sin, is depopulating with amazing speed a large portion of the heathen world. The nations, many of them at least, are melting away. Let physicians go forth, and while they seek to stay the tide of desolation which is sweeping away the bodies of the heathen, let them improve the numerous and very favorable opportunities afforded them of benefiting their souls. The benevolent, sympathizing, and compassionate spirit of Christ, led him to relieve the temporal sufferings of men, while his main aim was to secure their eternal salvation. Unless we show, by our exertions, a desire to mitigate the present woes and miseries of men, how shall we convince them that we truly seek their eternal welfare? Physicians must throw their skill in the healing art at the feet of the Saviour, and be ready to use it when and where he shall direct. The number who should go to the heathen cannot, and need not, be named.

It is unnecessary to remark that printers, book-binders, and book-distributers are needed to carry on the work of the world's conversion.

Civilians too are needed: men skilled in laying the foundation of nations and guiding their political economy. Should such men go forth, and evince by a prayerful, godly, and disinterested deportment and course of procedure, that their sole aim was to promote the happiness of the people, both temporal and eternal; there are many barbarous countries where they would readily acquire much influence, and be able in a gradual manner, by friendly and prudent suggestions to the rulers, and in other ways, to effect changes that would be productive of incalculable good. Many changes, with pains-taking and care, could be made to appear to the rulers to be really for their interest, as well as for the interest of the people; and more light and knowledge, without the intervention of any new motive, would soon introduce them.

A few years since, the king and chiefs of the Sandwich Islands sent a united appeal to the United States for such an instructor, to guide them in the government of their kingdom, and offered him a competent support. While the nation had improved in religion and morals, the government had remained much as it was -- keeping the people in the condition of serfs. The system was wrong throughout: of the very worst kind, both for the interests of the rulers and of the subjects. The chiefs began to see this, and asked for an instructor. Such an instructor was not obtained; and one of the missionaries was constrained, by the urgent necessity, to leave the service of the mission board, and to become a political teacher to the king and chiefs. His efforts have been crowned with great success.

Civilians might do good also, not only in the way of their profession, but by a Christian example, and by instructing the people, as opportunity should offer, in the knowledge of Christ.

Commercial men also, actuated by the same benevolent and disinterested spirit, might develope the resources of heathen lands, and apply them in a wise manner for the benefit of those lands; promote industry, and afford the means of civilized habits; increase knowledge, by expediting communication; and in this way, indirectly, though efficiently, aid the progress of the Gospel. By exhibiting also in their dealings an example of honesty, uprightness, and a conscientious regard to justice and truth; by showing practically the only proper use of wealth, the good of men and the glory of God; by conversing daily with individuals, as did Harlan Page and Normand Smith, at their houses and by the wayside, on the great subject of the soul's salvation; and by presenting in themselves and in their families examples of a prayerful and godly life, they might exert a powerful influence, and perform a very important part in Christianizing the world.

There is also much need of farmers, mechanics, manufacturers and artisans. They should go forth like other laborers in the field, not with the selfish design of enriching themselves, but with the disinterested intention of benefiting the nations. Private gain must be kept strictly, carefully, and absolutely subordinate, or immense evil will be wrought and no good be done. They should be men who cheerfully throw themselves and their property on the altar of entire consecration, and go forth to labor and toil so long as the Saviour pleases to employ them, with the lofty design of doing good to the bodies and souls of their perishing fellow men. Going forth with such a spirit, and with emphasis I repeat, allowing no other to intrude, they could do much in raising up the nations from their deep degradation. In the first place, they could do much good by communicating a knowledge of their several employments. Not only is a reform in government necessary, but an introduction of the useful arts also, to raise up the people from their indolence and filthy habits, and to promote thrift, order, neatness and consistency. Look at a heathen family as above described. How can you expect from them refinement or elevation of soul? How can you expect from them the proprieties and consistencies of a Christian life? Even though they may attend the sanctuary, and be instructed in schools; and even though the government be reformed, and hold out motives to industry; yet will not something else be wanting? Unless the various useful arts and occupations be introduced, how is the land to be filled with fruitful fields, pleasant dwellings, and neatly clad inhabitants? And to introduce these improvements, men must go forth for the purpose. Such men too might do good, by exhibiting in themselves and in their families habits of industry, domestic peace and strict economy; by holding up the hands of Christ's ministers, and by scattering the word of life in their appropriate spheres.

That laymen of every useful occupation are needed in heathen lands, is by no means the opinion of one alone. In looking over the periodicals and papers of the last few years, I find that such is the sober and deliberate opinion of many foreign laborers. I find urgent appeals for such helpers from at least five important missionary fields. Would such appeals be made if the enterprise were not a feasible one?

Look too at the fact, that there is scarcely a nation on the globe where men do not go, and permanently reside for the purpose of making money. It is absolutely amazing to what an extent this is the truth. Why then cannot men go forth, and while they obtain a livelihood, make it their ultimate and chief aim to do good?

But the inquiry arises, In what way should laymen go forth? It may not be desirable that they should go forth, to any great extent, under the care of missionary boards at present existing, lest the objects of those boards should become too numerous and complicated. And it may not perhaps be desirable, or necessary, to have any other organization for the purpose. I am not wise enough to give an opinion; but would suggest, that men of some pecuniary means take those means, and emigrate to heathen lands, just as some good men have gone to the far West. May there not also be small combinations of men, not to help others, but each other into the field, just as there is in worldly enterprise? When once established in the field, it is supposed that their trades and occupations will afford them, with trials, hardships and reverses, an adequate subsistence, and open before them a wide door of usefulness.

Some have suggested, that ministers of the Gospel should go forth and sustain themselves abroad. That is a far different question. If ministers of the Gospel ought not to sustain themselves in Christian countries by laboring with their hands, still less should they attempt such a course in foreign fields. They have other work to do -- enough to occupy all their time.

But for laymen to go forth, and sustain themselves in this way, is it not both proper and appropriate? and have not such enterprises, to some extent, been already entered upon with success? Different fields, of course, present greater or less obstacles; but what undertaking is without its difficulties? Perplexities, embarrassments and sufferings, would be a matter of course; but no greater and perhaps far less than those Christians endured, who, being scattered abroad from their beloved Jerusalem, went everywhere preaching the word.

It may perhaps be objected, that should many from all classes of Christians thus go forth, to live and labor abroad, they would soon possess the land, while the heathen would melt away before them. Let us look at this point. And first, where is the evidence of such a result? When and where has the experiment been tried to justify such a supposition? When and where have individuals or companies gone forth with the sole design of benefiting the heathen, and yet proved their extermination? The settlers of New England are not an example in point, for the improvement and salvation of the heathen was not their main aim. It was indeed an idea in mind, but not fully and prominently carried out. It is yet to be proved that a company of persons, however numerous, of disinterested views, aiming solely to save the nations, and directing all their energies of body and of mind to that end, would prove the extermination of the heathen, instead of their salvation.

Neither can it be presumed that the descendants of such persons, trained, as ought to be supposed, with faith and prayer, would possess a spirit so selfish and different from that of their fathers, as to prove the extermination of the heathen. And if such is the necessary event, what is the conclusion at which we must arrive? It seems certain, that a mere handful of missionaries cannot put forth the instrumentality which, according to God's usual providence, is necessary to save them: that a great number and variety of laborers are needed to do the work. Let us be slow, therefore, to trust in the objection; for if it must be admitted, the lawful inference will not necessarily be, that Christians of all classes and in great numbers should not go forth to the heathen; but the inquiry will arise, whether heathen nations as nations must not cease to exist, and remnants of them only be saved -- a painful and dread alternative, from which every benevolent heart must instinctively recoil.

There are other reasons why laymen should engage in the work of missions. The work of the world's conversion is too great, too momentous and too pressing, to admit of exemption simply on the ground of profession or employment. When the liberties of a people are at stake, how few are excused from the field of battle? But now the question is not one of temporal liberty: it is whether six hundred millions of the human race shall be won to the company of the redeemed on high, or left to sink in the untold agonies of the world of woe. In this unparalleled emergency, when the question is, whether the destiny of a world shall be heaven or hell, who can be excused on so slight a ground as that of profession or employment? A few ministers cannot do the work. It is too great. It is presumptuous to expect, that a speedy and complete triumph is to be effected by a few missionaries of the right stamp going through the length and breadth of Satan's extensive and dark empire, and sounding as they go the trumpet of the Gospel around his strong fortifications and deep intrenchments. Such an expectation places an immeasurable disparity between the means and the end. It supposes it to be so easy to effect a transformation of heathen society, heathen habits, heathen minds, and heathen character, and to raise them up from a degradation many ages deep, that a few sounds only from the herald of salvation, as he passes on his way, are sufficient. |Leviathan is not thus tamed.| The prince of the power of the air is not thus vanquished.

Neither can the work be effected by a small number of preachers, stationed at different posts, in the midst of the wide domains of darkness and death. Like specks of light, few and far between, how can they illumine the broad canopy of darkness? To commit the work of the world's conversion to a few missionaries is, in effect, to leave the heathen to perish. A large company of preachers must go forth, and a large company too of other laborers. There must be among the whole body of Christians, not only an interest in the work, but to a greater extent than is imagined, a personal enlistment -- an actual going forth to foreign lands.

Again, laymen must go abroad; for no less a movement than this will convince them that the work of saving the heathen presses upon them individually, and with all its weight and responsibility. Mere giving does not seem to answer the purpose. Very few laymen at home seem to imagine that they, individually, are as responsible for the life and death of the heathen, as the laborers abroad. Many seem to act only as they are acted upon. This passive state will not answer: there must be a more general feeling of personal responsibility. And how is such a feeling of equal and individual responsibility to be induced, till laymen in great numbers begin to go abroad? Till then, there will be a spirit of luxury in the church; a spirit of worldly-mindedness, and a spirit of committing the world's conversion to other hands. To destroy this spirit, which is evidently eating out the piety of the churches, laymen must be urged to arise; to break off their luxuries, to bury their covetousness -- to make an entire devotement of body, soul and spirit, to the direct and arduous work of saving the heathen.

Once, I remember, after urging laymen to go forth, and to assist in evangelizing the heathen, a father in the church said to me, |Your reasons are just and weighty, but it is of no use to present them before the churches: they have not piety enough to act upon them. If you can clearly show that men can accumulate wealth, that they can really make fortunes by going to heathen lands, then your appeals will succeed. Bring this selfish principle to operate, and colonies will quickly scatter over the world. But to go forth with a spirit of self-denial, running the risk of trials and straitened circumstances, and with merely the prospect at best of obtaining a comfortable livelihood and doing good, is a measure not adapted to the present standard of piety in the churches. Until the spirit of devotedness shall rise many degrees in the churches, the course you urge will be looked upon as entirely visionary.|

Alas! can the church be so low in grace? If it be a fact, it is painful and humiliating. If it be true, then the church is lacking in the most essential qualification required of it -- is unfitted for the main design of its organization; and is there not reason to fear that God may cast it away, as he has the Roman church, and raise up another after his own heart, that shall do all his pleasure? Christian reader, can you calmly entertain the thought of being set aside by the Lord as unworthy of his employment -- of being rejected on the ground of not fulfilling the purpose for which you were called?

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