I have been mulling over this topic in my mind for several weeks as I consider the subject of world missions and how best to reach a lost and dying world.
As part of my readings I have been going through Charles Finney's works, in particular the works compiled into a book called 'The Promise of the Spirit.' In the sixth lecture of the book on the nature of the law, 'love thy neighbor as thyself.' come the following points. [url=http://www.charlesgfinney.com/1839OE/390313_lawofgod2.htm]The whole article is available here.[/url] Emphasis is added by me.
16. I said that the government of God was very little understood, in this world. [i]Now it is plain, that a leading object of Jesus Christ, was to put the world in possession of the true spirit and meaning of the law of God. It is astonishing to see how slow of heart, a selfish mind is, to understand the law of God, and the nature of true religion. [/i][b]For a mind, whose whole object is to get, and appropriate to itself all it can, it is difficult to conceive of the nature of that religion which finds its happiness in giving, instead of getting.[/b]
The preaching of Christ, but more especially his example, put his followers in possession of the idea, "that it is more blessed to give than to receive." [i]The life of Christ was designed as an illustration of this cardinal principle, that the proper happiness of a moral agent lies in doing good--in denying self, for the benefit of others.[/i] In diffusing happiness, it finds its own happiness.
Now the Apostles and early Christians, caught this same idea--preached it--carried it out in living illustration before the world--and it was soon said of them, that they had "turned the world upside down."
If I mistake not, an infidel writer has somewhere attempted to account for the rapid spread of Christianity, in the Apostles' days, by saying, that "it was the natural result of the spirit and conduct of the primitive Christians. [b]They gave themselves up to acts of benevolence, and in laboring for the good of others."[/b] Now this is true, and it is also true, that the natural result of this would be, powerfully to influence mankind, in favor of Christianity. But how could he overlook the fact, that such a spirit and temper must be divine?
It is true, as a modern writer has said, that "the Church now, is the exact contrast of the primitive Church." Primitive Christians rushed forth, at the hazard of their lives, and millions of them sacrificed their lives without hesitation, for the salvation of the world. [i]They were seen denying themselves, and offering themselves upon the altar of benevolence, for the salvation of those who were perishing in sin.[/i]
[b]But for centuries, selfishness has been the most prominent feature of the Church. And instead of sacrificing herself for the salvation of men, she is sacrificing the world, to gratify her own lusts.[/b]
17. [b]It is naturally impossible that a selfish Church should ever succeed in converting the world.[/b] They cannot possibly make the world understand the gospel. The light which they hold up is darkness. Their "salt has lost its savor"--their benevolence is selfishness--their religion is rebellion against God. Suppose Jesus Christ had come, as the Jews expected, as a great temporal prince--living, and reigning in mighty earthly splendor--overawing and subduing the nations--and exterminating his enemies by the sword. Could he, by any precepts whatever, have put the world in possession of the true spirit of religion? Could they have possibly received from him the idea of what constitutes obedience to the law of God? Certainly not. Nor could the Apostles, and primitive Christians, have possibly possessed the world with the right idea of religion, in any other manner, than by offering themselves up a living sacrifice for their salvation. [b]And never can the world be converted--never can missionary enterprises succeed, until true religion is taught in the lives of its professors--until benevolence, and not selfishness, is exhibited by the Church.[/b]