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Give To SermonIndex : Christian Books : CHAPTER VIII. TRIALS TO BE MET.

Thoughts On Missions by Sheldon Dibble


Common trials need not be named: we allude only to a few of those that are most severe. Take then first, the trial of leaving friends. The Saviour says, |He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.| The plain meaning is, to be Christians, our love to Christ must be supreme. Now, if it is supreme, it will show itself to be so in our conduct. There is full room, even at the present day, for a practical test of this condition of discipleship. Not only is the spirit of this passage required, but in many cases, a literal compliance with the identical things named in it. This saying of our Saviour has been too much forgotten. Like some other important sayings of our Lord, it has been virtually expunged. It has been regarded as applying only to apostolic times -- to times of persecution. This is a wide mistake. If all nations are to be enlightened by the use of means, there must be a practical exhibition among Christians at the present time, and in all time to come, of a love to Christ superior to the love which we owe to father, mother, son or daughter. And this love is not spoken of as a high attainment in piety, but as an indispensable condition of discipleship. The missionary enterprise presents many instances of stern necessity to test and exhibit this principle.

The occasion most familiar to the general reader, and the one best appreciated by him, is the time when missionaries go forth to the heathen. They are compelled to break away from almost every tie. The strength of attachment to all that is dear on earth, is a feeling that may be experienced, and can be imagined too, in part, but can never be described. There are a thousand ties, and tender ties too, that must be sundered. The loved scenes of childhood and youth, and scenes of sacred peace and pleasure that cluster about the sanctuary, the conference-room and the praying circle, must all receive a parting thought. Friends -- dear friends and connections, must receive a last adieu and a lingering look. But O how keen the sensation when the last sigh, the last tear, and the last embrace is to be exchanged with father and mother, brother and sister -- when all the touching associations of kindred and home are for once revived to be dismissed forever!

Imagine not that the sensibilities of missionaries are less exquisite than those of other persons. The pangs they endure are indeed alleviated by soothing considerations drawn from the Gospel; but they are, notwithstanding, deep -- deeper than the looker-on may at first suppose.

There may be some persons -- I have heard of such -- who misrepresent the feelings and motives of missionaries in leaving their friends; who impute to them cold hearts and a bluntness of sensibility; who say that they are wanting in filial devotion, and can therefore leave aged parents to droop and die: that they have a small share of fraternal affection, and that it is therefore they can break away from the embrace of brothers and sisters, and leave them in anguish and in tears. All these remarks are sometimes made, and perhaps oftener secretly indulged, than openly expressed. It is often that the missionary is not allowed to take his leave merely with a bleeding heart and a soul gushing with emotion, but is compelled to endure a keener anguish: that of knowing that the course he is taking, agonizing as it is, is imputed by some to a want of sensibility; to a destitution of the finer, tenderer, and more delicate feelings, that adorn society, and that make families lovely and happy. Here then are trials: such, however, as he must cheerfully meet for Christ's sake.

But the separation from home, with its numerous and nameless endearments, and at the risk of misrepresentation, is but the first lesson of obedience. That person whose love to Christ is so weak as to fail here on the threshold, would give but poor evidence of being prepared for similar and severer trials in prospect. The main occasion for exemplifying the spirit of the Saviour's words to which we have alluded, is on heathen ground, when stern necessity calls upon parents to make the best disposition in their power in regard to their own children. This is an occasion not so well understood by the Christian community as the one I have noticed. The difficulties in the way of properly training children on heathen ground are not clearly seen; neither are all the objections appreciated which attend the usual alternative, that of sending them to a Christian land. These are the occasions of trial, compared with which all other sufferings of the missionary are scarcely worthy of being named. They are trials, however, that must be met, not evaded; for the Saviour says, |He that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.| They must be cheerfully met, and counted |all joy,| or we cannot claim the spirit of the first disciples.

There are those, I know, who would relieve this subject at once by proposing the celibacy of missionaries; but the argument of such persons can hardly be deemed worth considering, till they shall know a little more |what they say, and whereof they affirm.| Celibacy for ministers at home would be a much more proper and expedient arrangement, than for missionaries in most foreign fields. And one would think that the experience of the church, from the days of the apostles till now, had taught us enough to silence at once any such proposition, and to place it forever at rest. Were it in place for me, I could give reasons here to the heart's content: but I deem it more prudent to forbear.

The DIFFICULTIES in the way of training children on heathen ground, cannot all be named; and fewer still can be justly appreciated by those who have never made the attempt. What I shall say will apply particularly to barbarous and degraded nations, such as the Sandwich Islanders once were; for it is to such nations that the missionary's eye should be specially directed.

I shall mention first, the difficulty of keeping children from the pollutions and vices of the heathen. Children have eyes, and among the heathen what do they see? I need only refer you to the knowledge you already possess of the naked condition, vile habits, and gross vices of a barbarous people. There is much in heathen society which cannot be described, but which children must more or less witness. The state of things, in this respect, is very much improved at the Sandwich Islands; but I refer to that condition in which they once were -- to that condition in which all barbarous nations are, without the light of the Gospel. Imagine then to yourself this feature of heathen society, and then repeat the inquiry, What do children see?

Again, children have ears, and they cannot be so effectually closed as to be kept from learning in some measure the language of the heathen. And if they become acquainted with the language of the heathen, what do they hear day after day? In many a pagan country they are liable to hear disputes, contentions, revilings, execration and blasphemy; but what is more, they are liable to hear in familiar, unblushing and open conversation, words and phrases which are not so much as to be named. The heathen have no forbidden words in their language. Every term is liable to be brought into public and frequent use without the least sense of impropriety.

On account of this pernicious example and vile conversation, many missionaries, where it is practicable, make walls about their houses, and endeavor by strict inclosures to prevent their children from having intercourse with the natives. This can be done in some places, and to some degree, while children are young; but when they are somewhat grown up, it is preposterous to think of keeping them within inclosures. And as soon as they are out of their inclosures, there are a thousand pitfalls ready for their feet, on the right hand and on the left. How much solicitude was felt by Abraham and Isaac for their children, on account of the heathen population which surrounded them. This pernicious influence, better imagined than described, and still better seen than imagined, is one of the reasons which lead missionaries to undergo the agony of separation, and to send their children to a Christian land. This evil at the Sandwich Islands is much diminished, but not so much so as may at first glance be supposed from the progress in Christianity which has been made, and from the powerful revivals which have here been experienced.

Again it must be remarked, that children trained up on heathen shores are in danger of contracting habits of indolence. The heathen, as a general remark, exert themselves no oftener and no longer than they feel the pressure of present want. They are far from being industrious, and farther still from anything like enterprise. Those nations that are partly civilized exhibit more or less industry, and are acquainted with some of the arts; but barbarous nations are acquainted with none of the improvements that elevate society, and exhibit a state of lounging indolence and torpid inactivity. If there be noise, it is not the rattle and whirl of business, or the hum of industry; but the noise of giddy mirth, boisterous and unmeaning laughter, or fierce and angry contention. If there be stillness, it is not the peace and quiet of well-ordered society, but the gloomy and deathlike stillness of indolence, sensuality, and beastly degradation. Now, who does not know that children are likely to be much influenced by the aspect and character of the society by which they are surrounded? Who does not know that they are likely to imbibe the spirit of the nation in which they live, whether on the one hand it be that of industry and enterprise, or on the other, that of sensual ease and torpid indolence? Let a youth be trained up in a village of intelligence, active industry and stirring enterprise; let his ears be filled with the noise of business from morning till night; let him travel in stages, in steamboats and on railroads, and it will be next to impossible for him to be indolent and sluggish. But in heathen society, the whole atmosphere is entirely different; it is a choke-damp to all activity, and it falls on the senses with a benumbing and deadening influence.

But more than this, missionaries have no business in which to employ their children; and if it were possible to devise business in which to employ them, there is no one to superintend their labor. Missionaries have no time for the purpose, and no other persons, among most pagan nations, can be found who are trusty and competent. This is a stubborn fact, and stands in the way as a very great obstacle. Neither, in most cases, can the children of missionaries be kept industrious in the acquisition of knowledge. Their fathers and mothers cannot devote so much of their time to their children, as to keep their minds industriously employed in the pursuit of knowledge; and as to schools, most missions are not thus favored. Missionaries then, if they keep their children on heathen ground, run the risk of seeing them grow up in habits of inactivity and indolence. This, if a risk, is a fearful one; for missionaries ardently wish their children to be useful when they themselves shall be dead. But indolence and usefulness are the opposites of each other; whereas indolence and vice are closely allied. To prevent then this deadly evil, of having their children grow up in indolent habits, is one of the strong reasons why missionaries resort to the heart-rending alternative of parting with their children, with but little probability of seeing them again this side the grave.

Again, as the state of things now is, the children of missionaries, if kept on heathen ground, can possess but very limited advantages for mental improvement. Their mothers cannot be depended upon to instruct them much in literature and the sciences. Under the influence of a withering atmosphere, often sick, with no help in many countries in their domestic affairs but untrusty domestics, and often with none at all, and obliged to attend to many calls from the people, or run the risk of giving offence, how can they be expected to find much time and strength for disciplining the minds of their children, and storing them with useful knowledge? They may succeed in giving them an acquaintance with the branches of common education, but to carry them into the higher branches is, as a general remark, entirely out of the question. Such a task is by no means expected of a minister's wife at home, much less can it be expected of the wife of a missionary.

Neither can their fathers be depended upon to give a thorough education. Ministers at home would find it a great encroachment upon their time to spend several hours each day in instructing their own children; but they have vastly more leisure to do so than the foreign missionary. To instruct a class of three or four requires the same apparatus, the same preparation in the teacher, and the same number of hours each day, as would be required for a class of thirty or forty. But should a missionary devote such an amount of time and means to his own family, it must be to the neglect of other labor. The most economical, and the most efficient course by far, evidently is, to collect together a sufficient number of missionaries' children to form a school, and devote a competent number of teachers entirely to that work.

But even where such schools can be enjoyed, they must be attended with many risks and privations, and be only preparatory in their nature. Those scholars, who may need a thorough education, must be still under the necessity of visiting a Christian land. It is too of great, and perhaps indispensable importance, that youth who are trained for active life should see the industry, enterprise, and intelligence of a Christian land, and so far, at least, partake of its character and imbibe its spirit.

Missionaries, then, must either suffer their children to grow up with a very limited education, or submit to the alternative sooner or later of sending them to a Christian land. But missionaries see the want of laborers in the great field of the world, and ardently desire that their children may be qualified to take part in the work. They choose therefore the present anguish of separation, bitter as it may be, that there may exist a reasonable prospect that their children, at some future day, may be eminently useful in the vineyard of the Lord.

One other difficulty I must name, and that is, that missionaries' children, if kept on heathen ground, will have no prospect of suitable employment when old enough to settle in life. They will have no trades. To be merchants they will not have means. They will not be acquainted with agriculture, and in many countries will not be able to obtain land to cultivate. Some, who are fit for the work, may become preachers and teachers, but will not command the influence that they would if they were educated in a Christian land. Thus the prospect of suitable employment is very dark, and is a fact in the case of much weight.

These reasons and others that might be named, possess in the minds of missionaries immense force -- force enough, in many instances, to induce them to tear from their embrace the dear objects of their love, and to send them over a wide ocean to the care of friends, and often to the care of strangers. They do not lead all parents to this result; for on the other hand, there are strong, very strong objections to such a course. The trial in either case is great; but it is one that must be met, not evaded. It is wise to count the cost, but it is treason to be faint-hearted; for the trial, after all, cannot weigh much in the balance against the eternal interests of the dying heathen. HOW MUCH WORSE IS THE CONDITION OF MILLIONS UPON MILLIONS OF HEATHEN CHILDREN!

The first OBJECTION in the minds of missionaries against sending their children home, is, that such a measure seems unnatural. That it is a violation of nature, all parents not only admit, but most deeply feel. God has implanted feelings in the breast of natural parents, which peculiarly fit them to take care of their own children. No other persons can precisely take their place, and feel the same interest, the same unwearied concern -- the same unprovoked temper and unchangeable love through good report and through evil report. In a word, no other persons, however good and worthy, can be natural parents. Guardians can be found, who will feel a warm interest in those children who are bright, interesting, well-behaved and pious. But to feel properly for children that are dull, uninteresting and wayward, requires a parent's heart.

That this is the state of the case, is too true to be denied. For parents, then, to violate this provision of nature, is causing a sword to pierce through their own bosoms, and the bosoms of their children: to do it without sufficient reasons, is to act at variance with the God who made them. In the feelings implanted in the breasts of parents towards their children, God has established a general rule: has made known his will, his law, and indelibly inscribed it on the parent's heart. Missionaries must be able to plead an exception to this general law, or they will be found to be opposing the will of their Maker. That the very strong reasons they can urge really justify an exception, is plain to the minds of many, but not to the minds of all.

Another objection arises from the command binding upon parents to train up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It is clear to the minds of some missionaries, that the spirit of this and similar commands is complied with when they make provision, according to the best of their judgment, for the religious education of their children. By others it is thought, that these explicit commands of God cannot be obeyed by any arrangement which commits the work to proxy; that there is risk in committing the work to others; that fully to obey God, parents, if not removed by death, must in person pray with their children and instruct them in the truths of the Gospel; and that they must do this, not only through the period of childhood, but also through the season of youth, or till their children are old enough to think and act for themselves. It is admitted by all, that it is desirable that parents should do this interesting and responsible work in person. No one else can do it with the feeling and unction natural to parents. All not only admit this to be true, but feel it, too, to the very centre of their souls. But some think that it is not only very desirable, but altogether indispensable -- that any other course is an unwarrantable substitution of human wisdom for the explicit direction of the all-wise God. The reader must judge whether this position is tenable or not.

There is another objection: If missionaries' children are sent home, then one very important influence of a missionary's family upon the heathen is in a great measure lost. Among the heathen, the family constitution is in ruins. The state of society is almost a perfect chaos. It is of immense importance, therefore, not only to inculcate the principles of domestic peace, but actually to bring before their eyes living examples of well-ordered and happy families. They need to see, not only young children well governed, but also the mutual interchanges of love, affection and duty, between young people and their aged parents. But this they cannot see if children are sent home. A missionary's family, who sends his older children home, and keeps with him only those that are quite young, is not like a tree adorned with its natural and well-proportioned branches, but presents the aspect of a tree closely trimmed, and with only a few twigs left at the very top. And when all his children are sent away, his family presents the aspect of a trunk without branch, shoot, twig or foliage, standing alone in an open field. This is unnatural, blighting to much of the comfort and cheerfulness of the parental abode, and is not the example which it is desirable to hold up before the eyes of the heathen. One important reason, then, why a missionary should have a family, is lost in sending his children home.

I mention as another objection, the dangerous influence to which children are more or less exposed on a long voyage at sea. From some of the missionary fields, the voyage must be five, six, or seven months. I speak not of what are called the dangers of the deep, or the hardships of a sea life for six or seven months. These are of little account. The danger of which I speak is, the pernicious influence to which for that length of time they are exposed. This is an objection which, though not of sufficient weight in itself to determine one's course, may yet come in as an item in making up the account.

On the supposition that children are sent, they go of course without their parents. In some cases the protector to whom they are to be intrusted may not be altogether such as could be desired. Even in case a parent accompanies the children, he will find it a great task to keep them from many pernicious influences during a long voyage. In very many ships they will hear more or less profane, low, vulgar and infamous language, both in conversation and in song. They will see exhibitions of anger, impatience, fretfulness, boisterous laughter and giddy mirth. They will see the holy Sabbath made a day of business, or at best a day of lounging and idleness. They will be likely on the one hand to receive such caresses as to make them vain and self-important; or, on the other hand, to be so treated as to chafe their tempers and injure their dispositions. In short, for six or seven months, they must be thrown into a strange family; into a family confined to the narrow limits of a ship's cabin and deck; into a family over which the parent of the children has no control; into a family, too, composed of the variety of character and disposition of those who sail on the ocean. Thus circumstanced, children inevitably suffer much, even under the vigilant eye of a parent, and still more would they suffer under any eye less careful and attentive. This moral danger to which children are exposed at sea, though not an objection of the strongest kind, is yet an item worthy of being noticed. Missionaries think of it when sending away their children, and dread it far more than tempests and tornadoes.

Another objection is, that no adequate provision is made for the support and education of missionaries' children, if sent to a Christian land. The provision that is made by the American Board of Commissioners is [USD]60 a year for a boy till he is eighteen years of age, and [USD]50 a year for a girl during the same period. Now, every one sees that this is a sum scarcely sufficient to furnish them with food and clothing, without provision for sickness or means of education. It may be said, that they must be thrown much upon the spontaneous charities of Christians and of friends. But such a dependence must be uncertain, especially as few Christians appreciate the reasons and feelings of missionaries in sending home their children. Who of my readers in Christian lands would be willing to throw his own child on such a precarious subsistence?

But the strongest objection, in my opinion is this: If no other course can be adopted than that of sending the children home, it is to be feared that the number of missionaries will never be so increased as to afford a rational prospect of the world's conversion. While the plan of sending children home is cherished, it will seem so incompatible with a large number of laborers, that it will tend to perpetuate the destructive notion, that the nations are to be saved by the labors of merely a few hundred men. But if means are to be employed in any measure commensurate with the end in view, a few men cannot put forth the instrumentality needed to elevate all nations. To commit the work to a few is in truth to relinquish it. If, then, the measure of sending children home should tend in the least to favor this destructive notion, it must, if possible, be avoided. This tendency is disastrous; and is, of course, an objection of immense force.

It is clear that there are, on the one hand, very strong reasons for sending children home, and on the other hand, very strong objections to such a course. Missionaries, then, are reduced to a very trying dilemma. Whichever course they choose, it is equally distressing. Whichever way they turn, they find enough to rend their hearts with anguish. There are two cups, mixed indeed with different ingredients, but equally bitter, one of which they must drink. Their only comfort is to look upward, pour their sorrows into the ear of God, and cast their cares on him who careth for them. This is a trial, the sting of which cannot be appreciated except by those who have felt it. It is by far the greatest trial of the missionary, and probably greater than all his other trials combined. The pain of leaving one's kindred and country is nothing compared with it.

But if the cup be of such a mixture, can there be found those whose hearts are so insensible as to throw in other ingredients to make the draught more bitter? If missionaries keep their children, and ask for the requisite means of education, shall they be called extravagant? If they send them home, shall they be regarded as possessing but a small share of natural affection?

Here, then, are trials; but however great, they are to be met, not evaded -- met by the churches, met by missionaries; and however severe and agonizing such trials, they are nothing in the balance against the dying condition of the heathen. The situation of our children, trying as it is, is unspeakably better than that of three hundred millions of heathen children and youth. The Saviour commands -- the world is dying -- and he that loveth son or daughter more than Christ is not worthy of him.

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The inquiry is worth notice, Whether the situation of missionaries cannot be so altered as to change very materially the state of the question, in regard to their children? Would not such a change be effected by the going forth of laymen in great numbers, and of all the useful professions, arts and employments, so as to form little circles here and there over the earth?

A great part of the heathen world is open for such classes of men. Appeals for such men have been sent from Africa, Asia Minor, Siam, the Sandwich Islands, and in short from almost every mission. They would of course labor under greater or less disadvantages; but these disadvantages should only have the effect to call forth the more energy, patience and perseverance.

But it will be asked, How would the going forth of such classes of men better the condition of missionaries' children?

1. They would afford society, form a public sentiment, and thus serve in a measure to keep children from the influence of a heathen population. It is already found on heathen ground, that where there are several families of missionaries, the children form a society among themselves; but where there is but one family, the children are more inclined to seek society among the degraded objects about them.

2. Again, if men of various useful employments should be located with the missionary, there would be held up before the children examples of Christian industry and enterprise; whereas, in their present isolated condition, the children suffer from an atmosphere of indolence and stagnation.

3. The going forth of such men to introduce the different arts and occupations, would afford suitable employment for the children and youth of missionaries, and furnish them to some extent with permanent situations in mature life.

4. If there were such little circles of laymen as we suppose, they would have at whatever sacrifice, as the Pilgrims of New England did, institutions of learning among themselves, where children and youth might receive a suitable education.

Unless some arrangement of this kind can be made, the trials of missionaries must remain unrelieved and unmitigated. And even with such an arrangement, the trial would be only in part removed. Even then the children of foreign laborers would by no means receive all the advantages of a Christian land, neither would they be shielded from all the evils of a heathen community. But it is worthy of thought, whether by such an arrangement they would not be so far shielded, and possess advantages to such an amount, as to change the preponderance of argument.

Then, in addition to this or some similar arrangement, should not Christians be more liberal in affording means and facilities for education, and expect of missionaries to devote to their children more of their time?

I have now brought before your minds the greatest of all missionary trials; and yet I urge many of you, ministers and laymen, and urge you considerately and solemnly too, to enter the work. I have not hesitated to state freely the whole difficulty, for I am in no wise unwilling that you should count the cost. And I would say with Gideon, |Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early.| God desires no faint-hearted men in his service. He desires men that shrink from no self-denial for his sake. For after their trials are over -- and they will be but short[*] -- he wishes to crown them with glory, and place them at his own right hand as partners of his throne. He will place no unbelieving, faint-hearted men there. He will place none there who are not |worthy of him.| And remember that he said, |He that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.|

[Footnote *: The author, soon after writing this appeal, was called to enter into the joy of his Lord.]

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In looking at the embarrassment of missionaries in regard to their children, a thought something like this is apt to arise: missionaries are by profession a class of self-denying persons, and this trial is only in consistency with the life they have chosen. Now, where in the Bible do you find, that a spirit of self-denial and of consecration is enjoined peculiarly upon missionaries more than upon others? Where do you find it intimated, that a missionary spirit is a thing superadded to Christian character? An entire consecration of our children to Christ is not a test of missionary spirit, but a test of discipleship. Not the missionary, but |He, that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.|

The spirit of this injunction requires all parents to train up their children in that way in which they may be of the greatest service to Christ; and not only to be willing -- that would be but a small measure of Christian feeling -- but earnestly and constantly to pray, that they may be employed in that part of his vineyard, and in that kind of work, where they can be instrumental of the most good, even though it be on some distant shore, teaching the alphabet to the ignorant and degraded.

But is this the spirit which prevails in the churches? I have seen it stated that, of twenty or more young men in a theological institution, who were at the same time agitating the question of their duty to become missionaries, all but two were discouraged by their parents, and these two were the sons of widows. Many other facts of a similar kind might be added, if it were best to name them. Many parents give their children to the Lord when young, and talk of locating them on the shores of Japan, or New Guinea; but the very manner of educating them -- in softness, delicacy and helplessness -- shows at once the inefficacy of such a profession. Many parents are quite ready to consecrate their children before they become pious. |O, if the Saviour would only convert my child, I would readily yield him to go to any part of the world, and to perform any service for which he might be fitted.| The child becomes a Christian, and proposes to go to the heathen. The parents cling, dissuade, and throw every consideration in the way to keep him at home.

At the judgment day, if I mistake not, we shall see a great deal of our conduct in a different light from what we do now.

The spirit of the Gospel is a spirit of self-denial for the sake of Christ. The Saviour is worthy of our highest love, and no earthly attachment can be allowed to come in competition with the supreme affection which we owe to him. This love to Christ must be manifested by obeying his commandments. To yield strict obedience to Christ in this world, disordered and confused by sin, it is frequently necessary to sunder some of the tenderest ties on earth. Keen as is the sensation, it must be endured. A child must not cling unduly to a parent, nor a parent to a child, but each cling with more ardent feelings and firmer grasp to Jesus Christ and his cause. This world is not our rest. Neither is it a place to give much indulgence to many of the fond affections of the soul. There is no time for it. We live in a world of sin -- a confused, disordered and chaotic world -- in a revolted territory, among a crowd of sinners dying an eternal death. The main point then is, to save our own souls and the souls of as many as possible of our fellow men, before the grave shall close upon us. The indulgence of many of our tenderer feelings of love and fondness must be postponed to a more peaceful abode. While in a world of dying souls, self-denial and laborious effort are most in place. Parental and filial affection should be deep and ardent indeed, but under the control of judgment. Love to Christ and to souls must predominate and govern our conduct.

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