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Christian Missions


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In the foremost rank of powers destined to change the face of the world stand Christian Missions. These may almost be regarded as products of this century, and the imposing magnitude which they have gained is altogether recent. Their beginnings were so small as generally to avert hostility by securing the contemptuous indifference of those who might have been unfriendly. There are few things in human history that wear an aspect of higher moral grandeur than the opening of what are now our great missions. One or two men, sent by this church and by that, are seen going forth, in obedience to a command spoken eighteen hundred years ago, to begin the enormous work of undermining heathenism and reclaiming the world to God. Among the glories of the century is none greater than this. All other enterprises of beneficence must yield to this magnificent attempt to expel debasing superstitions, and convey into every heart the ennobling influences of the Christian religion. The success already attained gives sure promise of results the greatness of which we as yet but dimly perceive.

The early suggestion of missions was received with disfavour. When some good men invited the Church of Scotland to give encouragement to such enterprises, the representatives of that body declined the invitation. They could not well argue against imparting to heathens that gospel which it was the business of their own lives to teach. Nevertheless the proposal was unacceptable. One clergyman deemed it visionary; another wished the result to be attained by prayer and waiting; a third saw revolutionary tendencies in every form of united action, and trembled for the constitution. On grounds such as these the Church of Scotland, by an overwhelming majority, refused to sanction missionary effort.

A year or two later, a young Scottish gentleman - Robert Haldane - resolved to sell his patrimonial estate, and, along with two friends, to spend the remainder of his days in teaching the gospel to the people of Bengal. He applied to the directors of the East India Company for permission to reside in the country and follow this occupation. The directors declined, "for weighty and substantial reasons," to admit within their domain any man who came on such an errand.

Towards the close of last century, a small Baptist congregation in the town of Leicester was ministered to by a young man named Carey. He was the son of very poor parents, who could give him no help during his preparation for the ministry. At first, he maintained himself by the craft of shoemaking. Then, as he rose, he became a teacher. At length he reached what he had striven for during many toilsome years - the office of the ministry. While he laboured among the handful of poor people who formed his congregation, the conviction smote him that something ought to be done for the conversion of heathens. For ten years he brooded incessantly over the undischarged duty which the church owed to the heathen world. At first his brethren listened to him coldly. They regarded him as a dreamer of dreams, - as a man who had allowed a wild and hopeless project to absorb his mind. Carey was not daunted. He preached sermons, published tracts, put forth all the influence of which he was possessed. At length a measure of success was given to him. In the autumn of 1792, while the French monarchy was tottering to its fall, and Europe was about to plunge into twenty years of incessant war, a few very poor men, yielding to the enthusiasm of Carey, met in Kettering to found a society for the conversion of the world to Christianity. They subscribed on the spot thirteen pounds, two shillings, and sixpence. Thus arose the Baptist Missionary Society, - firstborn of all our great associations for sending the Christian religion to heathens, - the annual revenues of which now amount to nearly 50,000.

Next year Mr. Carey went out to India to enter upon the work which he had chosen, for he himself was to be the society's first missionary. The territories of the East India Company were closed against the gospel; but the Danes, whose views were more enlightened, held Serampore, and Carey established himself there. He was gifted in the acquisition of languages, and in his early days, while still working as a shoemaker, had made large progress in this department of study. He began at once to translate the Scriptures into Bengalee. So steadily did he continue to apply himself to this essential part of missionary work that, within twenty years, he and his companions had translated the Scriptures into twenty-one Indian languages.

During the first quarter of the century all the great missionary societies of Europe and America were formed, and missionary work was organized into a system. The churches fairly committed themselves to an undertaking from which they cannot desist till heathenism is extirpated. Colleges were established for the training of missionaries. A vast network of auxiliaries for the collection of funds overspread Protestant Christendom. The Bible was translated into many languages hitherto unwritten. Grammars and dictionaries presented to the learner the simple structure of these rude tongues. Teachers of the gospel were to be found here and there in heathen lands, facing with heroic courage the dangers of the Christian pioneer, bearing with heroic fortitude his inevitable and often fatal hardships. Among the snows of Labrador, under the fierce heat of the Tropics, in our Indian dominions, among the Hottentots at the Cape, in the islands of the Pacific, among our own negroes in the West Indies, men had begun in simple faith, with means conspicuously inadequate, the gigantic work of driving out heathenism and replacing it by Christianity. A little later, China was entered by the door which the English opened in their determination to force the use of opium on that empire., A few missionaries found their way into Japan. Dotted along the western shores of Africa, and seeking their way into the interior, are numerous mission stations, each the centre of a benign influence which is steadily extending its power, and preparing the restoration of that lost continent to civilization and progress. The sum of these efforts, viewed in relation to the vast proportions of the undertaking, is still inconsiderable. Great Britain sends out 1000 missionaries, and expends annually 600,000. The Continental churches employ 400 missionaries, at a cost of 120,000. America contributes 550 men, and 300,000. In all there are now at work in heathen countries 2000 Protestant missionaries, and the churches sustain the work by an annual contribution of about one million sterling.

These attempts to Christianize the world have been in progress for upwards of half a century. There is yet no more than time to open an enterprise so vast. But already there are materials from which it is possible to estimate the prospects of the missionary enterprise, and the grandeur of the results which its success must yield. The gains which have been in some instances already secured may be trusted to guide us in forming our expectations for the future.

In the Southern Pacific, not far from the equator, lie the Sandwich Islands - members of a vast insular family which stretches five thousand miles from north to south. The existence of these islands was made known to Europe by Captain Cook, who himself perished here, murdered by the natives. Every advantage of soil and climate has been bestowed upon them. The grove of bread-fruit trees around the villages is itself a sufficient maintenance for the population. The cocoa-nut tree yields food and drink; its bark can be converted into clothing; from its leaves the natives manufacture baskets and fishing-lines, and obtain thatch for their houses. The sugar-cane, the cotton and coffee plants, grow almost without human care. Many trees yield valuable dyes and gums. Fish swarm on the coasts. Nature in her most bounteous mood has profusely endowed these lovely islands with the elements of material welfare.

But the inhabitants had sunk to the lowest depth of degradation. They fed on raw fish and the flesh of dogs. They had found among the products of their soil a narcotic root which readily produced intoxication, and they used it to excess. Human sacrifices were frequent. The family relation was unknown. Licentiousness was without limit or restraint of shame. Two-thirds of the children born were strangled or buried alive by their parents. So given to stealing were the natives that expert divers endangered Captain Cook's ships by carrying off the nails which fastened the sheathing to the timbers. Population was rapidly diminishing under the wasting influence of the vices which prevailed.

After some years of intercourse with foreigners the islanders became dissatisfied with their religion. At the suggestion of one of their kings they suddenly rebelled against the gods. The images were cast into the sea; the temples were demolished; human sacrifices ceased; the priests who adhered to the discarded system were slain. The old faith was overthrown; but nothing came in its room. The nation left itself wholly without a religion.

While this revolution was in progress, there sailed from Boston a small missionary party, intent upon Christianizing the Sandwich Islands. The king, an amiable but drunken young man, received them with kindness. The missionaries quickly acquired the language and began to preach. The king and his court were persuaded to take lessons in reading and writing. The chief people favoured the new religion, and followed the royal example in seeking to possess a little education. The influence of the missionaries steadily increased. In a few years the observance of the Sabbath was enjoined by law; applications for baptism were received; and one of the great chiefs, an old man who had spent his days in war, died professing Christianity. Gradually, as the missionaries were reinforced from home, churches and schools were built, and the whole population were under the influence of Christian teaching. In course of years Christian marriage was adopted; a temperance society was formed; and one-third of the people were attending school.

Christianity made its way steadily, until in twenty years it had become the accepted faith of the nation. The deeply ingrained vices of the old days were hard to conquer, and many disappointing falls grieved the missionaries. But upon the whole the progress in virtue kept pace with the progress in faith. The people became quiet, orderly, industrious. From among themselves an adequate number of young men were trained for the ministry. It was deemed that the Sandwich Islands had ceased to be a field for missionary operations. The nation was Christianized. The native church afforded men enough for her service, and means enough for their support. Fifty years from its opening the mission was closed. Its entire cost - the cost of turning this little nation to God - had been 250,000, greatly less than the cost of one iron-clad ship-of-war.

Hitherto, as in politer despotisms, the only law was "the thought of the chief." With Christianity came constitutional government. The chiefs formed a parliament, which met annually for despatch of business, and was opened by a speech from the throne. A code of laws was prepared, and, after discussion, adopted by the parliament. A charter was granted in which the king recognized and guaranteed the rights of his subjects. A government system of education was established. Even a patent law was provided for the protection of inventive islanders. The missionaries taught how to cultivate the cotton-plant, and how to spin and weave its fibre. They taught how to extract sugar from the cane. They instructed a docile people in the decencies and comforts of civilized life. Roads were made; bridges were built; a newspaper was established; industry prospered even amid the seductions to idleness which a tropical climate presents. The islands took a respectable place in the records of commerce. In 1867 the imports were 400,000; the exports - consisting of sugar, coffee, arrowroot, timber, beef, and hides-amounted to 500,000, and were steadily increasing The government expenditure was 100,000. Even that crowning evidence of civilization, a national debt, was not awanting. The country had borrowed 25,000 to promote the development of its resources.

A complete success had been achieved. Heathenism had utterly disappeared from the islands; Christianity had come instead, bringing in its train security to life and property, peace, industry, and progress; raising the wasteful and treacherous savage to the dignity of a God-fearing, law-abiding citizen, who bears fairly his part in contributing to the common welfare of the human family.

Southern Africa was the home of the Bechuanas - a fierce, warlike race, cruel, treacherous, delighting in blood. No traveller could go among them with safety; they refused even to trade with strangers. They had no trace of a religion, no belief in any being greater than themselves, no idea of a future life.

In the early days of missionary effort, Dr. Moffat, with some companions, went among these discouraging savages. For years he toiled under manifold difficulty. No man regarded his words. The people would not even come to church until they were bribed by a gift of tobacco; and their deportment when they came was unbecoming in a high degree. They stole the missionary's vegetables, his tools, the very water which irrigated his fields. They destroyed his sheep, or chased them in utter mischief into dangerous places.

But Moffat, a heroic Christian man, laboured patiently on, and in time a vast success crowned his noble toils. Almost suddenly (1828) the people began to attend church in large numbers, and to evidence deep interest in the instruction of the missionaries. Dr. Moffat translated the Bible into the native tongue, and there arose an eager desire to be able to read. Many persons professed Christianity, and applied for baptism. Soon they manifested a disposition to clothe themselves and to keep clean their persons, which heretofore were filthy. They began to improve their dwellings, and in a simple way to furnish them. They wanted ploughs, waggons, and other agricultural implements. They entered readily into commercial relations with foreigners; and in a few years their imports of foreign manufactures amounted to 250,000, paid for in the produce of the soil. Christianity is now almost universal among the Bechuanas. Education is rapidly extending; natives are being trained in adequate numbers for teachers and preachers; Christianity is spreading out among the neighbouring tribes. The Bechuanas have been changed by Christian missions into an orderly, industrious people, who cultivate their fields in peace, and maintain with foreigners a mutually beneficial traffic.

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