By S.D. Gordon
Will the World Be Won?
The great passion of God's heart is a love-passion. Love never fails. It waits and, if need be, waits long; but it never fails to get what it is waiting for. Love sacrifices; though it never uses that word. It doesn't know it is sacrificing, it is so absorbed in its gripping purpose. There may be keen-cutting pain, but it is clean forgotten in the passion that burns within. God means to win His world of men back home to Himself.
But some earnest friend is thinking of an objection to all this talk about a world being won. You are taken all anew with the great picture of God's passion of love in the opening page of this old Book. But all the time we have been talking together you have been having a cross-cutting train of thought underneath. It has been saying, "Isn't this going a bit too far? will the whole world be won?"
Let us talk over that a bit. We have been used all our lives to hearing about soul-winning. We have been urged, more or less, to do it. A favorite motto in some Christian workers' convention has been, "Win one." But this idea of winning the world has not been preached. At first it doesn't seem exactly orthodox.
The old-time preaching, of which not so much is heard now, except in restricted quarters, is that the whole world is lost; and that we are to save people out of it. We used to be told that the world is bad, and only bad; bad beyond redemption, and doomed. In his earlier years Mr. Moody used to say often with his great earnestness that this was a doomed world, and that the great business of life was to save men out of it.
But of late years there has been a distinct swing away from this sort of preaching and talking. Everything we humans do seems to go by the clock movement, the pendulum swing: first one side, then the other. Now we hear a very different sort of preaching. This is really a good world. There is some wickedness in it, to be sure. Indeed, there is quite a great deal of it. But in the main it is not a bad world, we're told.
The old-time preaching was chiefly concerned with getting ready for heaven. Now it is concerned, for most part, with living pure, true lives right here on the earth. And that change is surely a good one. But it is also the common thing to be told that the world is not nearly so bad as we have been led to believe.
Some Bad Drifts.
It is striking that with that has come a change of talk about sin, the thing that was supposed to be responsible for making the world so bad. Sin is not such a damnable thing now, apparently. It is largely constitutional weakness, or prenatal predilection, or the idiosyncrasy of individuality. (Big words are in favor here. They always make such talk seem wise and plausible.) Heaven has slipped largely out of view; and--hell, too, even more. Churchmen in the flush of phenomenal material prosperity, with full stomachs and luxurious homes and pews, are well content with things as they are in this present world, and don't propose to move.
And with that it is easy to believe what we are freely told, that there is really no need of giving our Christian religion to the heathen world. Those peoples have religions of their own that are remarkably good. At least they are satisfactory to them. Why disturb them? They are doing very well. This talk about their being lost, and needing a Savior, is reckoned out of date. The old common statements about so many thousands dying daily, and going out into a lost eternity, are not liked. They are called lurid. And, indeed, they are not used nearly so much now as once.
This swing away has had a great influence upon the mass of church-members, and upon their whole thought of the foreign-mission enterprise. There is a vaguely expressed, but distinctly felt idea both in the Church and outside of it, for the two seem to overlap as never before--that the sending of missionaries is really not to save peoples from being lost. That sort of talk is almost vulgar now.
Mission work is really a sort of good-natured neighborliness. It is benevolent humanitarianism in which we may all help, more or less (usually less), regardless of our beliefs or lack of beliefs, our church-membership or attendance. We should show these heathen our improved methods of living. We have worked out better plans of housekeeping and schooling, of teaching and doctoring, and farming and all the rest of it. And now we want to help these poor deficient peoples across the seas.
We think we are a superior people in ourselves, as well as in our type of civilization, decidedly so. And having taken good care of ourselves, and laid up a good snug sum, we can easily afford to help these backward far-away neighbors a bit. It is really the thing to do.
Such seems to be the general drift of much of the present-day talk about foreign missions. The Church, and its members individually, have grown so rich that we have forgotten that we were ever poor. The table is so loaded with dainties that we are quite willing to be generous with the crumbs, even cake crumbs.
Great Incidental Blessings.
Now, without doubt the sending of the missionaries has vastly improved conditions of human life in the foreign-mission lands. The missionaries have been the forerunners of great improvements. They have been the pioneers blazing out the paths along which both trade and diplomacy have gone with the newer and better civilization of the West. Civilization has developed marvellously in the western half of the world. And the missionaries have been its advance agents into the stagnant East, and the savage wilds of the southern hemisphere.
Full, accurate knowledge of nature's resources and laws, and adaptation of that knowledge to practical uses, have been among the most marked conditions of the western world during the past century. And, as a result, education, medical and hygienic and sanitary science, development of the earth's soil, and resources above and below the soil, have gone forward by immense strides. So far as is known, our progress in such matters exceeds all previous achievements in the history of the race.
And some of all this has been seeping into the heathen world. It hasn't gotten in far yet; only into the top soil, and about the edges, so far. The progress in this regard has seemed both rapid and slow. When the great mass of these peoples have not yet gotten even a whiff of the purer, better civilization air of the western nations the progress seems slow. But when we remember the incalculably tremendous inertia, and the strangely stagnant spirit of heathen lands, it seems rapid.
The effort to get the heathen world simply to clean up; to open the windows and let in some fresh air, and use plain soap and water to scrub off the actual dirt makes one think of the typical small boy's dislike of being washed up. It has been a hard job. Yet a great beginning has been made. The boy seems to be beginning to find out that his face is dirty, and feels dirty. And that is an enormous gain.
The World Really Lost.
Yet while this is good, and only good, it isn't the thing we are driving at in missions. While it would fully warrant all the expenditures of money, and vastly more than has yet been given, it should be said in clearest, most ringing tones that all this is merely incidental. It is blessed. It is sure to come. It is remarkable that it always has come where the Gospel of Jesus is preached.
Yet this is not the thing aimed at in missions. The one driving purpose is to carry to men a Saviour from sin. And to take Him so earnestly and winsomely that men yonder shall be wooed and won to the real God, whom they have lost knowledge of.
It cannot be said too plainly that the world is lost. It has strayed so far away from the Father's house that it has lost all its bearings, and can't find its way back without help. The old preaching that this is a lost world, is true.
But we need to remember the different uses of that word "world." In the old-time conception it was used in a loose way as meaning the spirit that actuates men in the world. The scheme of selfishness and wickedness and sinfulness which has overcast all life is commonly spoken of in the Bible as the world spirit. In that sense the world is bad, and only bad. Men are to be saved out of it, as Moody said.
But, in the other commoner use of it, that word "world" simply means the whole race of men. And we must remind ourselves vigorously of the plain truth that this is a lost world. That is to say, men have gotten away from God. They completely misunderstand Him. Then they do more, and worse, they misrepresent and slander Him. The result is complete lack of trust in Him. They have lost their moorings, and have drifted out to deep sea with no compass on board. Thick fogs have risen and shut out sun and stars and every guiding thing. They are hopelessly and helplessly lost, and need some one to bring the compass so as to get back to shore, back home to God.
But this world of men is to be won. Jesus said He came to save a world. And He will not fail nor rest content until He has done it, and this has become a saved world. He said that He gave His life for the life of the world. And the world will yet know the fulness of that life of His throbbing in its own heart.
This does not mean that all men will be saved. There seems to be clear evidence in the Book that some will insist on preferring their own way to God's. And I am sure I do not know anything except what the Book teaches. It is the only reliable source of information I have been able to find so far. It must be the standard, because it is the standard.
There will be a group of stubborn irreconcilables holding out against all of God's tender pleading. John's Patmos vision of glory, with its marvellous beauty and sweep, has yet a lake of fire and a group of men insisting upon going their own way. If a man choose that way, he may. He is still in the likeness of God in choosing to leave out God. He remains a sovereign in his own will even in the hell of his own choosing.
God's Method of Saving.
The method of saving is by winning. The Father would not be content with anything else. Such a thing as might be represented by throwing a blanket over the head of a horse in a burning stable, and so getting it out by coaxing, and forcing, and hiding the danger, is not to be thought of here. Sin is never smoothed over by God, nor its results, their badness and their certainty.
He would have us see the sin as ugly and damning as it actually is, and see Him as pure and holy and winsome as He is; and then to reject the sin and choose Himself. The method of much modern charity, the long-range charity that helps by organization, without the personal relation and warm touch, is unknown to God. He touches every man directly with His own warm heart, and appeals to Him at closest quarters.
Man's highest power is his power of choosing. It is in that He is most like God. God's plan is to clear away the clouds, sweep down the cobwebs that bother our eyes so, and let us get such a look at Himself that we will be caught with the sight of His great face, and choose to come, and to come a-running back to Himself. The world will be saved by its own choosing to be. It will be saved by being won. Men will choose to leave sin and accept God's Saviour Jesus Christ.
It is a great method. It is the only method God could use. The creative love-passion of His heart was that we should choose Himself in preference to all else, and choose life with Him up on His level as the only life.
And the method of winning is by getting each man's consent. The old cry of soul-winning is the true cry. It tells the method of work for us to follow. Each man is to be won by his own free glad consent. There is to be no wholesaling except by retailing. In business the wholesale comes after the retail. It is the child and servant of the retail.
Here the method is to be one by one; and the results, a great multitude beyond the power of any arithmetic to count. Soul-winning is the method, and world-winning is the object and the final result.
The Programme of World-winning.
There is a programme of world-winning repeatedly outlined in this old Book of God. That programme has not always been clearly understood. Indeed, it may be said that for the most part it has been misunderstood, and still is by many. And, as a result, many churchmen have lost their bearings, and strayed far from the Master's plan for their own lives and service. It helps greatly to get the programme clear in mind, so we can steer a straight course, and not get confused nor lost.
The first item of that programme is world-wide evangelization. That is the great service and privilege committed to the Church, and to every Christian, for this present time. Every other service is second to this. This does not mean world-wide conversion. That comes later. It does mean a full, winsome telling of the story of Jesus' Gospel, to all nations and to all men.
It means the doing of it by all sorts of helpful, sensible means; the hospital and medical dispensary, the school and college, the printed page, and the practical helping of men in every way that they can be helped. Above all, it means the warm, sympathetic, brotherly touch. Not simply by preaching; that surely, but in addition to that the practical preaching of the Gospel by all of these means..
When that has been accomplished the Kingdom will come. The King will come, and with Him the Kingdom. There will be radical changes in all the moral conditions of the earth. It will be a time of greatly increased evangelization, and of conversions of people in immense numbers. It will seem as if all were giving glad allegiance to Jesus the King. The world will then seem to be indeed a won world.
But there will be many who have simply been swung into line outwardly by the general movement among the mass of peoples, just as it always is. And our King wants whole-hearted love and service.
And so, at the end of the kingdom period, there will come another crisis. It is spoken of by John in his Revelation vision as a loosing of Satan, and a renewal of his activity among men. That used to puzzle me a good bit. I wondered why, when that foul fiend had once been securely fastened up, he should be loosed again. But I'm satisfied that the reason is that at the end of the Kingdom time there is to be full opportunity for those who are not at heart loyal to Jesus, and who simply bow to Him because the crowd is doing so, to be perfectly free to do and go as they choose.
Jesus wants a heart allegiance, and only that. The great thing is that every man shall freely choose as he really prefers. This it is that both makes and reveals character. And so there will be a final crisis. All who at heart prefer to do so may swing away from Jesus.
That crisis ends with the final and overwhelming defeat of Satan and all the forces of evil. He goes to his own place, the place he has chosen and made for himself; and all who prefer to leave God out will go by the moral gravitation of their own choice to that place with him.
Then follows the full vision of a won world, which John pictures in such glowing colors in these last two chapters of Revelation, as a city come down from God out of heaven.
There are two leading passages that speak of this programme. You remember that during the last week of His life Jesus told His disciples of the fall of Jerusalem. They came earnestly asking for fuller information regarding the future events. They asked when the present period of time would come to an end. And in answering He said--and the answer became a pivotal passage around which much else swings--that the Gospel of the Kingdom would be preached in the whole inhabited earth for a testimony unto all nations. And then the end of the present age or period of time would come.
The first council of the Christian Church was held as a result of the remarkable success attending the beginning of world-wide evangelization. It was held in Jerusalem to consider the serious question of what to do with the great multitude of foreign or Gentile converts.
The Church had been practically a Jewish church. But Paul had commenced his remarkable series of world-wide preaching-tours. Great numbers of the outside peoples had accepted Christ, and been organized into Christian churches. Some of the Jewish Church in Jerusalem thought that all of these should become Jewish in their observance of the old Mosaic requirements. Both Paul and Peter, the two great church leaders, object to this.
It is at the close of the conference that James, who was presiding, outlines in his decision the programme of world-winning of which we are talking together. He quotes from the prophecy of Joel. He says there are to be three steps or stages in working out God's plan.
First of all is the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus to all the nations, in which work Paul had been so earnestly engaged, and the remarkable success of which it was that had given rise to the whole discussion. When this has been completed the kingdom is to be established with the nation of Israel in the central place, the tabernacle of David set up, as he quotes it. The purpose of this is that all the rest of the peoples on the earth, all the nations, "may seek after the Lord."
The purpose of the Kingdom is the same, in the main, as is now the purpose of the Church. It is to push forward on broader lines, and more vigorously than ever, the work of bringing all men back to the Father's house.
There are many other passages that might be referred to, but these will answer our purpose just now. There is to be a won world, and the old Book outlines plainly just how and when it will be won.
Now, I know that all ministers and Christian teachers are not agreed about this. There has been a controversy in the Church, both long and sometimes bitter, unfortunately, about the Lord's return and the setting up of the Kingdom. And I have no desire to take any part in that, but instead, a strong desire to keep out of it. There is too much pressing emergency among men for helpful service to spend any time or strength in controversy.
In a word it may be put this way. There are those who believe that Jesus' coming is a thing to be expected as likely to occur at any time, or within our lifetime, within any generation. His coming is to be the beginning of the Kingdom period, when all peoples will be loyal to Him.
The others believe that the preaching of the Gospel will bring the whole world into allegiance, and that will be the Kingdom, and then Jesus will return. Both agree fully that the thing to be desired, and that will come, is the world-wide acknowledgment of Jesus as Saviour and King.
It may be added, however, that of later years there is a third great group in the Church, which is really the largest of the three. These people practically ignore the teaching about an actual return of Jesus to the earth. They believe that He has already come, and is continually coming in the higher ideals, the better standards, and nobler spirit that pervade society.
If it be true that the present preaching of the Gospel is to result in winning the whole world at once, without waiting for this programme of which I have spoken, then there is in that a very strong argument for world-wide evangelization. For only so can the desired result be secured. And so we can heartily join hands together in service regardless of what we believe on this question. I make a rule not to ask a man on which side of the question he stands, but to work with him hand in hand so far as I can in spreading the glad good news of Jesus everywhere.
The difference of view regarding the Lord's return need not affect the practical working together of all earnest men. We are perfectly agreed that the great thing is to have the story of Jesus' dying and rising again told out earnestly and lovingly to all men. And we can go at that with greatest heartiness, side by side.
The great concern now is to make Jesus fully known. That is the plan for the present time. It is a simple plan. Men who have been won are to be the winners. Nobody else can be. The warm enthusiasm of grateful love must burn in the heart and drive all the life. There must be simple, but thorough organization.
The campaign should be mapped out as thoroughly as a Presidential campaign is organized here in our country. The purpose of a Presidential campaign is really stupendous in its object and sweep. It is to influence quickly, up to the point of decisive action, the individual opinion of millions of men, spread over millions of square miles, and that, too, in the face of a vigorous opposing campaign to influence them the other way. The whole vast district of country is mapped out and organized on broad lines and into the smallest details.
Strong brainy men give themselves wholly to the task, and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars within a few months. And then, four years later, they proceed as enthusiastically as before to go over the whole ground again. We need as thorough organizing, as aggressive enthusiasm, and as intelligent planning for this great task which our Master has put into our hands.
And we have a driving motive power greater than any campaign-manager ever had or has--a Jesus who sets fire to one's whole being, with a passion of love that burns up every other flame. We need a Church as thoroughly organized, and every man in it with a burning heart for this great service.
The World-winning Climb.
An old school-master, talking to his class one morning, many years ago, told a story of an early experience he had had in Europe. He was one of a party travelling in Switzerland. They had gotten as far as Chamounix, and were planning to climb Mont Blanc. That peak, you know, is the highest of the Alps, and is called the monarch of European mountains. While it is now ascended every day in season, the climb is a very difficult task.
It requires strength and courage and much special preparation; and is still attended with such danger that the authorities of Chamounix have laid down rigid regulations for those who attempt it. One's outfit must be reduced to the very lowest limit. And, of course, nothing else can be done while climbing. It absorbs all one's strength and thought.
There were two parties in the little square of the town, making their preparations with the guides. One young Englishman disregarded all the directions of the guides. He loaded himself with things which he positively declared were absolutely essential to his plans.
He had a small case of wine and some delicacies for his appetite. He had a camera with which he proposed to take views of himself and his party at different stages of the climb. He had a batch of note-books in which he intended recording his impressions as he proceeded, which were afterward to be printed for the information, and, he hoped, admiration of the world. A picturesque cap and a gayly colored blanket were part of his outfit.
The old toughened guides, experienced by many a severe tug and storm in the difficulties ahead, protested earnestly. But it made no impression on the ambitious youth. At last they whispered together, and allowed him to have his own way. And the party started.
Six hours later the second party followed. At the little inn where they spent the first night they found the wine and food delicacies. The guides laughed. "The Englishman has found that he cannot humor his stomach if he would climb Mont Blanc," one of them said grimly. A little farther up they found the note-book and camera; still higher up, the gay robe and fancy cap had been abandoned. And at last they found the young fellow at the summit in leather jacket, exhausted and panting for breath.
He had encountered heavy storms, and reached the top of the famous mountain only at the risk of his life. But he reached it. He had the real stuff in him, after all. Yet everything not absolutely essential had to be sacrificed. And his ideas of the meaning of that word "essential" underwent radical changes as he labored up the steep.
Then the old teacher telling the story suddenly leaned over his desk and, looking earnestly at the class, said, "When I was young I planned out my life just as he planned out his climb. Food and clothing, and full records of my experiences for the world's information, figured in big. But at forty I cared only for such clothes as kept me warm, and at fifty only for such food as kept me strong. And so steep was the climb up to the top I had set my heart upon that at sixty I cared little for the opinions of people, if only I might reach the top. And when I do reach it I shall not care whether the world has a record of it or not. That record is in safety above."
We laugh at the ambitious young Englishman. But will you kindly let me say, plainly, without meaning to be critical in an unkind sense, that most of us do just as he did. And will you listen softly, while I say this--many of us, when we find we can't reach the top with our loads, let the top go, and pitch our tents in the plain, and settle down with our small plans and accessories. The plain seems to be quite full of tents.
The plan of the Swiss guides is the plan for the life-climb. It is the plan, and the only one for us to follow in the world-winning climb. That was Jesus' plan. He left behind and threw away everything that hindered, and at the last threw away life itself, that so the world might find life. We must follow Him.