By S.D. Gordon
Somebody's Knocking at the Door.
There's a soft, tender passion in the heart of God. Its flame burns steadily. It never flags nor dims. It's a passion for His child-man. And that very passion itself draws man to Himself with a drawing power that is irresistible. They can't resist being drawn, even though they may refuse to yield to it.
There is an answering passion in man's heart for God. It is often a sort of dumb longing, not clearly defined nor well understood. It is a mute yearning of his heart for God, though often he doesn't think of it that way. But it is there; for these two, man and God, belong together. They were together until sin drove its ugly wedge in between. They are a part of each other. Neither one is complete nor happy without the other.
The heart of God can be satisfied only as man comes back home to Him. And man's heart never rests until it finds rest in comradeship with God. These two are always drawing toward each other. God is always drawing man by the great master-passion of His heart. And man is always responding to that tender, strong pull in the underneath, mute yearning of his heart.
By and by the thing that keeps them apart will be gotten rid of. Sin will be shipped overboard, to fall by its own dead weight to the bottom of the sea. Then there will be glad reunion of God and man, their hearts in full glad accord again. To-night we want to talk together a bit about this answering passion of man's heart for God.
The heathen world is knocking to-day at the door of the Christian Church. It has found out who has the fullest and truest information about God. And it is knocking loudly and earnestly at that door. And it keeps on knocking, though the door seems to be barely open yet; and a good many--most?--inside don't seem to have heard the knocking.
The most remarkable thing about the present time from the Church point of view is that the heathen peoples are asking for what the Master has told us to give them. The centre of Church attraction and of Christian action to-day is on the swing toward heathen lands.
When the Church began again, a hundred years ago, to enter the great heathen world, it had to use pick and axe, jimmy and chisel. It seemed like using burglar's tools. Certainly it was working in the dark, with only the burglar's dark-lantern to show the way. But now the heathen door is wide open. Instead of our knocking at their door, the heathen world is knocking at our door.
Our billion brothers stand in the night-time of their darkness blindly feeling for our door, and knocking, now timidly, now earnestly and loudly, ay, imperiously, for the light that we have. It has been a cold night for them, and a long night, too. But the darkest hour of it is already throbbing with the flood of coming light. They have found the door and are using it. The whole foreign non-Christian world is knocking with incessant, insistent clamor at our church door.
They're Standing in the Dark.
I do not mean that actually every country in the world is open to the Gospel. For there are a few countries with comparatively scanty populations that are not open; except, indeed, on the edges, to the man prying earnestly around for a way to get in.
I don't mean that every man in these open countries is actually asking us to send him some word of Jesus. For vast numbers of them have never heard either about us or about Him. They don't know there is a Jesus to ask about; or, judging by others, they would be asking.
Neither do I mean that these multitudes who are asking are, in every case, asking for the Gospel itself. For many times that is not so. They ask for that which appeals to them strongly as something that they want. They want our Western science and learning. They want to get from us the secret of harnessing nature up to their wagon to pull their heavy loads.
In many cases, without doubt, they don't want our Christianity at all. They regard it simply as something that goes along inseparably with the thing they do want. They are willing to put up with some of it for a while, if only they can get the thing they are after. Their eyes have been caught by the bright light of our Christian civilization. They don't understand how it came to us. They haven't wakened up enough, most of them, to think into that.
They want the light we have, as we might want something that we could order a shipment of. They haven't learned enough yet to want to get the light-generating plant installed in their midst. The great fact that all our civilization has come to us through the partial presence of the Light of the world hasn't dawned upon their minds yet.
But, however selfish motives and a crude understanding or misunderstanding may enter in, the great strange unprecedented fact still remains true that the world of heathenism is knocking at the door of Christendom as never before in the world's history.
And then, too, everywhere some of them are asking plainly and piteously for the real thing. Great numbers in all the foreign-mission lands are asking that Christian teachers be sent to them with Bibles and other books to teach them the way back home to God. Wherever they find out that there is a knowledge of God to be gotten, from there comes the insistent knocking that it be brought to them.
I remember Bishop Bashford, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, stationed in China, telling of one of his thrilling experiences out there. He had gone inland quite a bit into China on one of his tours. One day he was preaching the story of Jesus to a crowd of Chinese gathered in the open air. As his interpreter turned his words into Chinese the crowds listened with great respect and keenest interest.
As he finished he asked them if they had ever heard the Gospel before. No; none of them had. He was turning up absolutely fresh soil. And they pressed in about him, earnestly asking that men be sent to tell them. And this experience of Bishop Bashford's is being repeated, over and over again, throughout the foreign-mission world.
But there is yet more than this. Everywhere among these peoples, as one comes into close enough touch to find their hearts, there can be found underneath the inarticulate, inexpressible yearning for something they haven't. And they don't know enough to know what it is they long for. But they are conscious of the constant, weary, yearning tug within. The great heart of the non-Christian world to-day is asking dumbly, but earnestly, as only the heart can ask, for the light we have. Its knocking at our front door is growing louder in its insistent earnestness.
Since Commodore Perry steamed into the harbor of Yokohama, fifty years ago, with open Bible and American flag, and knocked at the front door of the Orient, the whole situation has completely changed. Then we knocked for admission to these shut-in lands. Now they are knocking at our door, for the knowledge and light that we have in Christian lands because we have Jesus.
May I call your attention to some of the louder of these knockings?
For years students in great numbers, thousands, have been coming from these heathen nations to our country to get our Western learning. Throughout the colleges and lower schools of the land, both East and West, in the greater universities, and in the more modest small church colleges they can be found.
I remember a sight that never failed to thrill me in my visitations among the colleges of our Central West. Almost always I saw one or more of these young men, from Japan, and less frequently from China and India and other countries, and sometimes young women, too; studying in these institutions. Quite frequently they came from the better families of their people; often from old wealthy families of position and influence. So that by blood ties and position they will be the future men of influence and leaders of their people. And it is a notable fact that many of them are to-day the leaders in Japan. Literally thousands of them have come, these thousands of miles around the world, to knock at our doors, and ask for what we have and they haven't.
Even more striking is the recent visitation to us of official commissions from the non-Christian lands. One after another, these national governmental deputations have come to us. They have been composed of the strongest men in these lands, men in leading official position. They have come by government appointment, and at government expense, to learn the secret of our marvellous Western progress.
And in addition to these official deputations others have come, men of like prominence and influence, coming on their own account, to witness our civilization and learn its secrets.
The Coming Great Leaders.
One of the most remarkable incidents of this most remarkable movement has been the great migration of young Chinese men to study in the colleges of Japan. Within a very short space of time, as though by a concerted movement, fifteen thousand Chinese young men have flocked to Tokyo. The inevitable sifting process has sent many back, but fully ten thousand remain, engaged in earnest, hard study.
Will you mark very keenly why they went to Japan? Because to them Japan, in its new life, stood for the new light and life of the West. Their little, but mighty, aggressive neighbor on their eastern shore had brought to their very door the new civilization of the Christian West.
Here was an unusual opportunity. Where hundreds had come clear around the earth to us, thousands have seized this opportunity close at hand. They come from every province of China; even that farthest away, on the border of Tibet, sending hundreds.
The travel involved thousands of miles. And if their slow means of travel be taken into account, it meant what would be to us practically hundreds of thousands of miles. Hundreds of them have been sent by the provincial and local governments. Others have come through private funds made up for the purpose. And wealthy men have sent their sons. They have gone to Japan only because Japan has opened her doors so widely to our Christian civilization. It is not to their conqueror, Japan, they have come, but to the civilization which Japan has imported from Christian lands.
Was there ever such a knocking at the door of the Christian Church as this? Ten thousand picked men, of the best and keenest young manhood of China, representing all parts of the empire, and in large part representing the government, settling down to years of close study of our Christian civilization as found in Japan--a tremendous fact for the Church to-day! Things are crowding in on us. It is the non-Christian world knocking at our back door. It was too far around to the front. So they have commenced their knocking at the nearest and handiest door they could find.
Then there are direct requests coming constantly to the missionaries, from the peoples in all these lands, earnestly asking and even pleading that men be sent to teach them of God and of Christ. Whole villages have been found in the fastnesses of Africa's wilds spending days together, and all day long, on their knees in prayer; most of ten mute prayer with upturned faces--their very bent bodies their prayer--that news of the white man's God might be sent to them.
In Korea and other lands it is no uncommon thing for men and women to travel hundreds of miles by their slow transportation, or even to come a-foot, to attend gatherings where the story of Jesus is being preached.
And then, too, there is the indirect knocking in the imitation of our Western ways, and throwing away of their own. Imitation is the highest form of compliment that can be paid. It tells of admiration, and of a desire to be as those imitated. The adapting of Western learning by these conservative Oriental peoples, the establishment of thousands of colleges and schools on the model of Christian countries is so radical a thing as to be nothing short of startling. The abandoning of bad customs, as well as of their old systems of education, is as startling. Where there were antagonisms there is now the friendliest imitation.
If to this we add the remarkable immigration to our shores, of a million a year, it intensifies enormously the opportunity of service brought to us by foreign peoples. Yet please notice that this latter is not Asia nor Africa coming to us, but Europe.
However crying their need may be, these are, nominally, not heathen peoples, but chiefly from Christianized Europe. The Asiatics would have come in great numbers, but that door was promptly shut and carefully locked by official hands.
As you swing your eye over these seething masses of the heathen world, and listen to their voices, let me ask you, with the earnest softness of tone that belongs to the heart, could there be a louder knocking at the door of the Christian Church?
What Do They Want?
There can be no doubt about the knocking. But--but what is it they are after? Well, in plainest talk, they are after the thing that has made Christian nations great, great to the point of world-leadership and world-supremacy.
Do you remember the famous reply, often quoted, given to a foreign visitor at the English court? He had asked the secret of the greatness of England, which impressed him so forcibly. And her gracious majesty, of blessed memory, Queen Victoria, placed her hand upon a Bible, and replied in the memorable words, "This is the secret of England's greatness."
Just how much that wise woman had in mind I am sure I do not know. I feel very sure she did not refer to the church system of England. But to something far more and deeper than that, of which the church system is only one expression. Where the Bible has gone, and where it has so largely dominated the life of the people, as in England, there has been both a moral regeneration and, mark it keenly, a new mental life. Its touch has awakened the mental powers. There has been aroused and released into activity that spirit of energy which has become the most marked characteristic of the Western world.
These two, the mental life and the remarkable energy, lie at the basis of all our wonderful modern science. And this, in turn, lies at the basis of all our phenomenal development. It is this that makes the West different from the East. The leading nations are Christian nations. The germ of vigorous life is in the Gospel of Christ.
This is the thing the heathen world is knocking so earnestly at our door for to-day. I do not say that they think of it in that way. They are just coming, groping out of the darkness, with eyes blinking and blinded by the brightness of our light. They stretch eager, reaching fingers out toward the light, without knowing much about it. The glare of it has caught them.
And if they are caught, moth-like, and hurt by its flame--if they copy our vile vices, which are no part of our Christianity, but the remnants of our own original savagery cropping out in spite of Christianity--if so, is it surprising? Their eyes are bothered by the sudden change from black darkness to brilliant light.
But there's a deeper asking. Underneath all, the thing they are really asking for, all unconsciously most of them, is that which lies at the root of all our Western progress. They ask unknowingly for the Gospel of Christ, the heart of this precious old Bible. When they get that they will find that it brings the new awakening of mental life and the new aggressive energy that has made us Christian nations what we are.
Returning Our Call.
Will you please remember that their knocking at our door is a direct result of our knocking at their door? They are very polite, these far-away kinsfolk of ours. They are simply returning our call.
The missionary, from Great Britain, and America, and Europe, has been the West's pathfinder in these foreign-mission lands. He has blazed a way into these thick woods, and beaten down narrow foot-paths through them. It's been hard, heroic work. The pathfinder has often gotten his hands and face badly torn by the thick brambly thorn bushes as he pushed resolutely on.
Then diplomacy entered and broadened the roads. And commerce quickly came and beat them down into good hard shape for easy travel. And in turn the missionaries have freely used the broader, better roads.
And now these roads are being trodden by other feet, and in an opposite direction. Along the pathways made by the Church, and made better by diplomacy and commerce, these peoples are coming, coming a-running, to ask us to give them what we have. We received it from Another. He bade us give it as freely as we received it.
Here they come eagerly knocking at our doors, front door, and back door, and wherever there is a door. Do you hear them?
Ah! The great question to-day is not a question for the heathen world, but for the Christian Church--shall we respond to the opportunity they are flinging in our faces? To-day there are more hands in heathen lands stretched out for the Gospel of Jesus than there are Christian hands stretched out with the Gospel. More hearts in those far-away lands are dumbly praying for the light than there are of us praying that they may receive the light--far more.
The greatest question for the Church to-day is--shall we enter the open door? And this is a key-question, too. Its answer includes a full satisfactory answer to all the other questions we are discussing. All questions of finance, of uncertain wabbling pulpit voices, of careless and indifferent or empty pews, and of city evangelization will quickly find an answer as the Church fully and faithfully answers this. Here is the work that, if done, and well done, will bring a new circulation of blood into the whole life of the Church.
Have you noticed the sharp contrast that there is gradually growing up between the way people at home and these foreign peoples are receiving the Gospel? Out there there is an openness to the truth, an eager willingness to believe it simply, and to act upon it, that suggests the way they did in the Book of Acts. In our home-lands of America and Great Britain and Germany there seems to be either indifference, or an atmosphere of quibble and criticism. With questions and doubts naturalistic explanations are sought that do away with much of the simple force of God's truth.
A like difference is showing itself between the results there and here. Here they are scantier, and gotten with great difficulty; there much larger, and with greater ease. There the door is wide-open, and people crowding in; here there is a feeling that the door is closing, surely and not slowly people turn away elsewhere. There has come to be an unusual proportion of pickles and salads and other relishes served with every spreading of the Gospel meal here. There, just plain unbuttered bread is eagerly and thankfully sought for. They are hungry. And their hunger is a wide-open door to us. We need the exercise of foreign travel, and a great deal of it, to bring back our zest.
May I speak very softly of another side of this knocking at our door? Who is it that is knocking? Aye, Who?
Do you remember Jesus' words in Matthew, chapter twenty-five? He is speaking of the settling-up time that is to come at the close of things. And He does something there that is startling. He identifies Himself with the hungry and cold and poor. That is, He puts Himself in their place. They are reckoned as though they were He. He says that when they asked for some food and warm clothes it was really Himself asking for food and warmth! We have been really dealing with Him when we have met these needy ones. The one test question He makes for all is this--What did you do for these hungry people? Because what you did, or didn't do for them, was done or refused to Me. Jesus comes in the guise of the needy. Who is it knocking at our door so loudly to-day?
I suppose if you could think of Jesus actually coming to-day to New York, the human Jesus I mean, coming as a man just as He came to Jerusalem, but known to us as He is now--I suppose there is hardly a door that would not open to Him. He might not be any better understood in New York than He was in Jerusalem, but the doors of the wealthy would quickly open to Him. I mean the Christian wealthy, the Church wealthy; other doors, too, no doubt, but these surely. He would have a great welcome.
And I suppose, too, that if in some wealthy home on Fifth Avenue or Madison Avenue He were to ask His host to give some large sum, a million dollars or ten millions, for sending the Gospel to China or Japan His request would likely be granted. It seems to me rather probable that it would. Well, how can it be put plainly enough that He does come to our doors, rich, and less rich, and poor. He's at the front door now, knocking and asking our help.
In these heathen peoples of His, Jesus comes to us. And we have been giving Him--shall I say it very softly for sheer shame?--we have given, not all, but most of us, what is practically the loose change in our trousers' pocket; not actually, of course; sometimes even that. We have spent more on everything else. We have made up boxes of cast-off clothes and old shoes for--Jesus! This has been a large part of our answer. Is it any wonder the hot blood sends the color climbing into our cheeks at the thought, and that we instinctively seek for some explanation that will soften the hard rub of the truth!
I found a bit of a poem in a magazine some time ago that caught fire as I read it. It was written, I judge, in a personal sense; but it came to me at once with a wider meaning; and it persists in so coming at every reading of it.
In this poem there is some one knocking at a door for admission, and a voice without calls,
"'Friend, open to Me.' Who is this that calls?
Nay, I am deaf as are my walls;
Cease crying, for I will not hear
Thy cry of hope or fear.
What art thou indeed
That I should heed
Thy lamentable need?
Hungry, should feed,
Or stranger, lodge thee here?
But the voice persists--
"'Friend, My feet bleed.
Open thy door to Me and comfort Me.'
'I will not open; trouble me no more.
Go on thy way footsore,
I will not arise and open unto thee.
And still the pleading,
"'Then is it nothing to thee? Open, see
Who stands to plead with thee.
Open, lest I should pass thee by, and thou
One day entreat My face
And cry for grace,
And I be deaf as thou art now;
Open to Me'
"Then I cried out upon him: Cease,
Leave me in peace;
Fear not that I should crave
Aught thou may'st have.
Leave me in peace, yea, trouble me no more,
Lest I arise and chase thee from my door.
What! shall I not be let
Alone, that thou dost vex me yet?
"But all night long that voice spake urgently--
'Open to Me.'
Still harping in mine ears--
'Rise, let Me in.'
Pleading with tears--
'Open to Me, that I may come to thee.'
While the dew dropp'd, while the dark hours were cold--
'My feet bleed, see My Face,
See My hands bleed that bring thee grace,
My heart doth bleed for thee--
Open to Me.'
"So, till the break of day;
Then died away
That voice, in silence as of sorrow;
Then footsteps echoing like a sigh
Pass'd me by;
Lingering footsteps, slow to pass.
On the morrow
I saw upon the grass
Each footprint mark'd in blood, and on my door
The mark of blood forevermore."
That same voice still comes with a strangely gentle persistence--
"Inasmuch as ye did it
Unto one of these my brethren, even these least,
Ye did it unto Me.
"Inasmuch as ye did it not
Unto one of these least,
Ye did it not unto Me."