By S.D. Gordon
Three Great Groups.
The human heart is tender. It answers quickly to the cry of need. It is oftentimes hard to find. In Christian lands it is covered up with selfishness. And in heathen lands the selfishness seems so thickly crusted that it is hard to awaken even common humanitarian feeling.
But that heart once dug out, and touched, never fails to respond to the cry of need. We know how the cry of physical distress, of some great disaster, or of hunger will be listened to, and how quickly all men respond to that. When the terrible earthquake laid San Francisco in burning ruins the whole nation stopped, and gave a great heart-throb; and then commenced at once sending relief. Corporations that are rated soulless and men that are spoken of as money-mad, knocking each other pitilessly aside in their greed for gold and power, all alike sent quick and generous help of every substantial sort.
Beside expressing their sympathy in kindest and keenest word, they gave millions of dollars. Yet this might seem to be a family affair, as indeed it was. But the great famines in India and in other foreign lands farthest removed from us, have awakened a like response in our hearts. Great sums have been given in money and supplies to feed the hunger of far-away peoples, and help them sow their fields and get a fresh start.
There is a need far deeper and greater than that of physical suffering. And there is a heart far more tender than the best human heart. That need is to know God, whom to know is to enter into fulness of life, both physical and mental; and into that life of the spirit that is higher and sweeter than either of these lower down. And that tender heart is the human heart touched by the warm heart of God.
Many of us Christian people who are gathered here to-night have had unusual blessing in having our hearts touched into real life by the touch of God. And there's much more of the same sort waiting our fuller touch with Him. And now we want to see to-night something of the needs of God's great world-family, which is our own family because it is God's. Then we shall respond to it as freely and quickly and intelligently, as He Himself did and does.
I am going to ask you to come with me for a brief journey around the world. We want to get something of a clear, even though rapid view, of the whole of this world of ours. For the whole world is a mission field. Missionaries are sent everywhere, including our own home-land, and including all of our cities.
Our cities are as really mission fields as are the heathen lands. There is a difference, but it is only one of degree. The Christian standards present in our American life, and absent from these foreign-mission lands, make an enormous difference. But, apart from that great fact, the need of mission service is as really in New York as it is in Shanghai.
If we are to pray for the whole world, and to help in other ways to win it, we ought to try to get something of a clear idea of it, to help us in our thinking and praying and planning.
It will help toward that if we remember at the outset that the world from the religious point of view, divides up easily into three great groups. First there are the great non-Christian, or heathen, lands and nations. This includes those called Mohammedan; for, while that religion is based upon a partial Christian truth, it is so utterly corrupt in teaching and morally foul in practice that it is distinctly classed with the heathen religions.
Then there are the lands and nations under the control of those two great mediaeval historic forms of Christianity, the Roman and Greek Churches, in which the vital principles of the Christian life seem to have been almost wholly lost in a network of forms and organization. The essential truths are there. But they are hidden away and covered up. There are untold numbers of true Christians there, but they live in a strangely clouded twilight.
The third great group is of lands and peoples under the sway of the Protestant churches.
The Needle of the Compass of Need.
Let us look a little at these peoples. Where shall we start in? The old rule of the Master's command, and of the early Church's practice, was to begin "at Jerusalem," and keep moving until the outmost limit of the world was reached. I suppose that practically, in service, beginning at Jerusalem means beginning just where you are, and then reaching out to those nearest, and then less near, until you have touched the farthest.
But the old Jerusalem rule will make a good geographical rule for us English-speaking people, with an ocean between us, in getting a fresh look at this old world that the Master asks us to carry in our hearts and on our hands. So we'll begin there.
The needle of a magnetic compass always points north. The needle of the compass of progress has always pointed west; at least always since the Medo-Persian was the world-power. But it is striking that the compass of the world's need always points its needle toward the east. And so, starting at Jerusalem, we may well turn our faces east as we take our swing around the world to learn its need.
It may be a relief to you to know at once that there will not be any statistics in this series of talks. We want instead just now to get broad and general, but distinct, impressions. Statistics are burdensome to most people. They are a good deal of a bugbear to the common crowd of us every-day folks. They are absolutely essential. They are of immense, that is, immeasurable, value. You need to have them at hand where you can easily turn for exact information, as you need it, to refresh your memory. And an increasing amount of it will stick in your memory and guide your thinking and praying.
There are easily available, in these days of such remarkable missionary activity, an abundance of fresh statistics, in attractive form. We are greatly indebted to the Student Volunteer Movement and the Young People's Missionary Movement and the Church Societies for the great service they have done in this matter of full fresh information.
But the thing of first importance is to get an intelligent thought of the whole world. And then to add steadily to our stock of particular information, as study and prayer and service call for it. It is possible to get a simple grasp of the whole world. And it helps immensely to do it.
It helps at once to this end to remember that two-thirds of all the peoples of the earth are in the distinctly heathen, or non-Christian, lands. This in itself is a tremendous fact, telling at once of the world's need. At the beginning of the twentieth hundred-years since Jesus gave His command to preach His Gospel to all men, two-thirds of them are still in ignorance of Him and under the same moral sway as when He went away.
I might add that there are a billion people in these two-thirds. But that figure is so big as only to stagger the mind in an attempt to take it in. The important thing is to see that it doesn't by its sheer bigness, stagger our faith or our courage or our praying habit. We want to be like the old Hebrew who "staggered not" at God's promise to do for him a naturally impossible thing. Yet it is well to repeat that word "billion," for it brings up sharply and gigantically the staggering need of the world for Christ.
One-third is in lands commonly called Christian. Though we must use that word "Christian" in the broadest and most charitable sense in making that statement.
A Quick Run Round the World.
Beginning at Jerusalem, then, means for us just now beginning with the Turkish Empire. And with that, in this rapid run through, we may for convenience group Arabia and Persia and Afghanistan. This is the section where Mohammedanism, that corrupt mixture of heathenism with a small tincture of Christian truth, has its home, and whence it has gone out on its work throughout the world.
Great populations here have practically no knowledge at all of the Gospel, for missionary work is extremely scant. The land of the Saviour, with its eastern neighbors, has no Saviour, so far as knowing about Him is concerned, though it needs His saving very sorely.
Next to it, on the east, lies the great land of India, with the smaller countries that naturally group with it. And here are gathered fully a fifth of the people of the earth. These are really in large part our blood-brothers. Their fathers away back were brothers to our fathers. And so missionary work here ought to be reckoned largely as a family affair. British rule has had an immense humanizing influence here. Missionary activity has been carried on aggressively for years, and great and blessed progress has been made.
Yet it is merely a preparation for the work now so sorely needed. These years of faithful seed-sowing have made the soil dead ripe for a harvest in our day. A strange religiousness utterly lacking both in religion and in morality, abominably repugnant in its gross immorality, honey-combs the life of these people. The cry of need here is deep and pathetic.
Pushing on still to the east, the great land of China with its dependencies, looms up in all its huge giant size. Roughly speaking, almost a third of the world's people are grouped here. There are practically almost as many in what is reckoned Chinese territory as in all Christian lands. Here is found the oldest and best civilization of the non-Christian sort. The old common religion of Confucius is practically not a religion at all, but a code of maxims and rules, and utterly lacking in moral uplift or power.
The peculiarly impressive thing about China, as indeed about nearly all of the heathen world, is the spirit of stagnation. There is a deadness, or sort of stupor, over everything. It is as if a blight had spread over the land, checking all progress. Habits, customs, and institutions remain apparently as they were a thousand years ago. This stands out in sharp contrast with the spirit of growth that marks Christian lands.
It seems strange to us because the spirit of growth is the atmosphere of our western world, breathed in from infancy. The one word that seems peculiarly to describe China is that word "stagnant." The people themselves are remarkable both for their mental power and their habits of industry. The Chinese may well be called the Anglo-Saxons of the Orient, in latent power and mental character.
In our modesty we think the Anglo-Saxon, the English-speaking, the greatest of living peoples. Certainly the leadership of the world is in Anglo-Saxon hands, and has been for centuries. And the marvellous, unprecedented progress of the world has been under that leadership.
Well, when these Chinese wake up we are very likely to find the race getting a new leadership, and the history of the world a new chapter added. What sort of leadership it will be morally, and what sort of a chapter, will depend on how much statesmanship there is in our praying and giving and missionary service. But the need is enormously intensified by the unawakened power of these Chinese.
West by Way of the East.
Still moving east, we come to the newly awakened and very attractive island-nation of Japan, which, because of its geographical and territorial situation, has been called the Great Britain of the Orient. Japan stands at present as the exception to the common stagnation of the heathen world. It has made a record nothing less than phenomenal as a student of Western life. It has absorbed, and imitated, and adapted to its own use, the Western knowledge and spirit with a wonderful power and intelligence.
Japan is both bright and ambitious to an almost abnormal degree, and as tricky in its dealings, and morally unclean in its life, as it is bright and ambitious. They have been called the Frenchmen of the Orient, and that characterization fits remarkably in many respects. Great progress has been made in giving the Gospel to Japan, but the present moral need is immensely intensified by the very aggressiveness of the Japanese spirit.
With Japan, the island-kingdom, it is easy to group the whole island-world lying to the east and south, though these are utterly different peoples. This includes the great number of islands scattered throughout the Pacific Ocean. The conditions are largely those of savagery except where affected by Christian civilization through the missionary enterprise. The Gospel has done some wonderful feats of transformation here. And there is plenty of room for more. Australia, the "island continent," is a British colony, and of course now reckoned among Christian lands; as is also the large island of New Zealand, also a British colony, which has been a leader in some of the most advanced steps of modern civilization.
Crossing the Pacific to the east brings up the South American Continent; and Central America, the connecting stretch of land with our own continent; and Mexico, which is commonly grouped with foreign-mission lands. South America has been spoken of both as the "neglected continent" and as the "continent of opportunity." The common characteristic religiously of all this vast section from Mexico to the "Land of Fire," at the southernmost toe of South America, is that it is under the sway of the Roman Catholic Church. Some parts of it have been spoken of as "baptized heathenism." A vast network of church forms and organization, practically lifeless, holds these peoples in an iron grasp. The need of the Gospel of Jesus is fully as great as in civilized China or savage Africa.
One more long easterly stride, across the Atlantic, brings black Africa, and completes this rapid run around the globe, so far as distinctly heathen lands are concerned. Africa is peculiarly the savage continent, though it has the oldest civilization in its northeast corner, and the newest British civilization rapidly developing on its southern edge. It is the "dark continent," both in the color of its inhabitants and in its sad destitution and degradation. About a tenth of the world's population is here; with as many missionaries as in civilized India, but unable to reach the people as effectually as there because of the lack of national organization and the absence of great highways of travel.
Africa is essentially a great mass of separate tribes, larger and smaller, most of them in deepest savagery, with sorest need not only of salvation, but of civilization. The sore need of its very savagery has seemed to make it a magnet to missionary enterprise. And yet all that has been done, and is being done, seems almost swallowed up in the depth of its degradation and savagery.
I have taken you with me in this very rapid run that we might try to get a simple practical grasp of the heathen world. And if you and I might often take just such a run, with map or globe and Bible at hand, and our knees bent, it would greatly help us in getting close to the world our Lord died for; and which He means to win; and to win through you and me; and which He will win.
But I must talk with you a bit about our Christian lands, Europe and America, with huge Russia sitting astride both Europe and Asia, with a foot dangling on each side of the globe. For these, too, are mission lands. Foreign-mission lands, would you call them? Well, that depends entirely on what spot you happen to call home. They are all mission fields. The whole world is a mission field to God. Foreign-mission field? or home-mission? Which? It makes no practical matter which term you choose to use.
It will be well to remember just what that common phrase, "Christian lands," really means. It may help us in our praying. And it may help us, too, to keep humble as we think about heathen lands. It means, of course, the lands where Christian standards are commonly recognized as the proper standards of morals and of life.
It does not mean that the people are all Christian. Only a minority so class themselves; the great majority do not. Neither does it mean that that minority called Christian is controlled in daily life and in business by the principles of Jesus. For by pretty general consent they are not so controlled. It is not too much to say that there is more of that same spirit of selfishness that marks the heathen world, dominating the personal lives of people in Christian lands, than there is of the unselfish Christ spirit. That may sound unkind and too critical to you. It is not said in a critical spirit, but simply in the desire to get the facts as they are. I am fully persuaded that the more you think about it the more you will come to see that this is simply the truth.
Nor yet does that term, "Christian lands," mean that these lands are as distinctly Christian through and through as heathen lands are distinctly heathen, or non-Christian, through and through. As a matter of fact, Christian lands are not dominated as thoroughly by the Christian spirit as heathen lands are by the heathen spirit. We really don't deserve our distinctive phrase as much as they deserve theirs.
It does mean chiefly this, that here in these lands the Christian Church has its stronghold; that Christian standards are commonly recognized, though in practice they are so commonly disregarded. It means that the enormous incidental blessings, in material and mental life, that always follow the preaching of the Gospel are here enjoyed most fully. And it means, too, that much of the humanizing, softening, and energizing power of the Gospel of Christ has seeped and soaked into our common civilization and affected all our life.
This is true; yet the mass of persons living in this atmosphere, and enjoying its great advantages, are wholly selfish in the main drive of their lives, and so in being selfish are un-Christian. While Christian ideals dominate so much of our life, the term "Christian lands" really describes our privileges more than it does our practices.
The Greatest Need.
A word now about these great Christian lands of Europe and America. The Catholic countries of Europe have been regarded as mission fields by the Protestant churches, and missionary operations have been conducted in them for many years. Russia has likewise been commonly regarded as missionary territory, and a very difficult one at that. In portions of Great Britain, in our own Western States and frontiers, in the Southern mountain States, and in other sections, and among special classes, missionary work has been regularly carried on.
And the cities, those great, strange, throbbing hearts of human life, are all peculiarly mission fields. It is remarkable how the modern city reproduces world conditions morally. The city is a sort of miniature of the world. All the varying moral conditions of the heathen world, atheism, savagery almost, crude heathenish superstition, degradation of woman, neglect of children, and untempered lust, may be found in New York and Chicago, in London and Paris, in Vienna and Berlin, and in varying degree in all cities of Christian lands. The grosser parts are hidden away, more or less.
These conditions are softened in intensity by the commonly recognized moral standards of life. But they are there. The man immersed in mission service in any of these cities is apt to think that there can be no greater nor sorer need than this that pushes itself insistently upon him at every turn.
The slum ends and sides of our Christian cities and huge heathendom, jostle elbows in the likeness of their moral conditions. The need is everywhere, crying earnestly, wretchedly out to us. There is good mission ground anywhere you please to strike in.
But--but, by far the greatest need, with that word "greatest" intensified beyond all power of description, is in the heathen lands. The vastness of the numbers there, the utter ignorance, the smallness of their chance of getting any of the knowledge and uplift of the Gospel, all go to spell out that word "greatest." The awful cumulative power of sin, unchecked by the common moral standards of life, with the terrific momentum of centuries; the common temptations known to us, but with a fierceness and subtlety wholly unknown to us in Christian lands--and yet how terrifically fierce and cunningly subtle some of us know them to be!--these all make every letter in that word "greatest" stand out in biggest capitals, and in blackest, inkiest ink.
Groping in the Dark.
That is a bare suggestion of the need of the world in bulk. But we want to get a much closer look than that. These are men that we are talking about; our brothers, not merely hard, unfeeling, statistical totals of millions. Each man of them contains the whole pitiable picture of the sore need of the world vividly portrayed in himself.
The very heathen religions themselves are the crying out, in the night, of men's hearts, after something they haven't, and yet need so much. Strange things these heathen superstitions and monstrous practices and beliefs called religions! It has been rather the thing of late to speak somewhat respectfully of them, and rather apologetically. They have even been praised, so strangely do things get mixed up in this world of ours. It has been supposed that God was revealing Himself in these religions; and that in them men were reaching up to God, and could reach up to Him through them.
They really are the twilight remnants of the clear direct light of God that once lightened all men; but so mixed through, and covered up with error and superstition and unnatural devilish lust, that they are wholly inadequate to lead any man back home to God. In almost all of them there is indeed some distinct kernel of truth. But that kernel has been invariably shut up in a shell and bur that are hard beyond any power of cracking, to get at the kernel of truth for practical help, even if the people knew enough to try.
They tell pathetically of the groping of man's heart after God. But the groping is in the pitch dark, and amid a mass of foul, filthy cobwebs that blind the eyes with their dust, and grime all the life. I have no doubt that untold numbers of true hearts in heathen lands are feeling after God, and in some dim way coming into touch with Him. He is not far from any one of them; but they find Him chiefly in spite of these religions, rather than through any help found in them.
The story is told of a Chinese tailor who had struggled hopelessly for light, and had finally found it in finding Jesus. He put his idea of the heathen religions that he knew, and had tried, in this simple vivid way:
"A man had fallen into a deep, dark pit, and lay in its miry bottom, groaning and utterly unable to move. He heard a man walking by close enough to see his plight. But with stately tread he walked on without volunteering to help. That is Mohammedanism.
"Confucius walking by approached the edge of the pit, and said, 'Poor fellow! I am sorry for you. Why were you such a fool as to get in there? Let me give you a piece of advice: If ever you get out, don't get in again.' 'I can't get out,' said the man. That is Confucianism.
"A Buddhist priest next came by and said: 'Poor fellow! I am very much pained to see you there. I think if you could scramble up two-thirds of the way, or even half, I could reach you and lift you up the rest.' But the man in the pit was entirely helpless and unable to rise. That is Buddhism.
"Next the Saviour came by, and, hearing his cries, went to the very brink of the pit, stretched down and laid hold of the poor man, brought him up, and said, 'Go, sin no more.' This is Christianity."
The awful moral or immoral conditions prevalent throughout the heathen world are the most graphic comment on the influence of these religions. It can be said thoughtfully that, instead of ever helping up to God and the light, they drag down to the devil and to black darkness. There is not only an utter lack of any moral uplift in them, but a deadly downward pull. The very things called religions point out piteously the terrible need of these peoples.
Living Messages of Jesus.
Now, what is it that these people need, and that we can give to them? May I first remind you what they don't need? Well, let it be said as plainly as it can be that they don't need the transferring to heathen soil of our Western church systems, nor our schemes of organizations. It is not our Western creeds and theology that they stand in need of.
Of course, there need to be both churches and organizations. Only so will the work be done, and what is gotten held together. But these are in themselves temporary. They are immensely important and indispensable, but not the chief thing. The great need is of the story of Jesus. That is, plain teaching about sin--the hardest task of all for the missionary, whether in Asia or America--and the damnable results locked up in sin. Then the winsome telling, the tirelessly patient and persistently gentle telling of the story of love, God's love as revealed in Jesus. The telling them that Jesus will put a new moral power inside a man that will make him over new.
But they need even more than this, aye, far more. They need men--human beings like themselves, living among them in closest touch--whose clean, strong, sweet lives spell out the Jesus-story as no human lips can ever tell it.
To live side by side with men who like themselves are tempted sorely, but who show plainly in their lives a power that downs the temptation--this is their great need. The good seed, after all, is not the message of truth merely, but the "sons of the kingdom," men living the message of Jesus, and more, the power of Jesus, daily.
A kindergarten teacher opened a mission among the slum children of a very poor section of Chicago. She began her work by gathering a number of dirty, unkempt children of the street into the neat mission room. Then, instead of preaching or praying or something of the conventional sort at the first, she brought in and set on a table a large beautiful calla lily, bewitching in its simple white beauty.
The effect of the flower on one child, a little girl, was striking. No sooner had she looked at it than she looked down at her own dirty hands and clothes, with a flush creeping into her face. Then she quickly went out into the street. In a little while she was back again, but with her face washed, her hair combed, her dress tidied up, and a bit of colored ribbon added. She walked straight up to the lily again, and looked long, with deep wondering admiration in her eyes, at the beautiful white flower.
The flower's purity was a mirror in which she saw her own dirtiness. It was a magnet drawing her gently but strongly up to its own higher level. It was an inspiration moving her irresistibly to respond to its own upward pull.
A simple, pure, human life is the greatest moral magnet. Jesus Himself down here was just such a magnet. Such a life is impossible for us without Jesus. It tells His power as no tongue can. It spells out loudly a standard of life and, far more, a power that can lift the life up to the standard. It doesn't simply tell what we should be. That may only tantalize and tease. But it tells what we actually can be.
Jesus is more than a message. He is a living power in a man's life. This is the great need of men's hearts,--the message of Jesus' purity and of Jesus' power embodied in live men, living side by side, in the thick of things, with their brothers of the great world.
The Great Unknown Lack.
The greatness of men's need stands out most pathetically in this, that men don't know their need. They have gotten so used to the night that they don't care for the sunlight. They have been hungry so long that the sense of hunger and the call of appetite have wholly gone.
There is a simple, striking story told of two famous Scandinavians, Ole Bull, the great violinist, and John Ericsson, the great inventor, who taught the world to use the screw in steam navigation. The one was a Norwegian, the other a Swede. They had been friends in early life, but drifted apart and did not meet again until each had become famous. The old friendship was renewed on one of Ole Bull's tours to this country.
As Bull was leaving his friend, after a delightful visit, he gave him a cordial invitation to attend his concert that evening. But the matter-of-fact, prosaic Ericsson declined, pleading pressure of work, and saying that he had no time to waste on music.
Bull renewed his invitation, time and again, finally saying, "If you won't come, I'll bring my violin down here to your shop, and play." "If you do," replied the famous engineer laughingly, "I'll smash the thing to pieces." The violinist, knowing the marvellous, almost supernatural, power of his instrument to touch and awaken the human heart into new life, felt curious to know what effect it would have on this scientific man steeped in his prosaic physics. So he planned a bit of diplomacy.
Taking the violin with him, he called upon Ericsson at his workshop one day. He removed the strings and screws and apron, and called Ericsson's attention to certain defects, asking about the scientific and acoustic principles involved, and discussing the differing effect of the different grain of certain woods. From this he went on to a discussion of sound waves. Finally, to illustrate his meaning and his questions, he replaced the parts, and, bringing the bow softly down upon the tense strings, drew out a few marvellously sweet, rich tones.
At once the workmen in the shop dropped their tools, and listened with wide-eyed wonder. Ole Bull played on and on, with his simple great skill, making the workshop a place of worship. When finally he paused, Ericsson lifted his bowed head, and showed eyes that were wet. Then he said softly, with the touch of reverent awe in his voice, "Play on! Don't stop. Play on. I never knew before what it was that was lacking in my life."
That is what men everywhere say when they come to know Jesus. They fight against knowing Him because of their ignorance of Him. At home, prejudice against theology of this sort and that; against some preaching, or church service, or some Christian people they have unpleasant memories of perhaps, bar the way. Abroad, prejudice against their treatment at the hands of Christian nations, or against anything new, shuts the door with a slam and a sharp push of the bolt.
It takes great diplomacy, love's diplomacy, the combination of serpent and dove, subtlety and harmlessness, to get an entrance. But when the door is pried open, or coaxed open enough for some sound or sight of Jesus to get in, they passionately cry out, "This is what I need. This Jesus is the lacking thing in my life!"