By Edwin Hallock Byington
"And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?'" If Christ were here in visible presence, as eighteen centuries ago, He surely, as then, would be found going to the people in their houses of worship, at their social gatherings, on the hillsides, by the seashore, and in the streets. Who will go for Him? Plenty volunteer to represent Him in our churches and chapels ; but who will represent Him on the streets ? If the force is to be commensurate with the task, laymen and women must volunteer as well as ministers. How nobly they have responded to the call for instructors of the young ! Over a million Christians are teachers in our Sunday-schools, where a hundred years ago there were practically none. How grandly they have performed their duty in our prayer-meetings! A vast multitude, by narrating their experiences and expounding the Scriptures, are accomplishing much in the perfecting of the saints, in bringing us all nearer unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ!
Why should laymen, so widely and wisely employed in these two directions, so generally remain inactive in evangelistic effort? Why should the vast multitudes, found neither in Sabbath schools nor prayer-meetings, be deprived of their spiritual influence ? For the adequate presentation of the Gospel to these non-church-going masses, we need not a few thousand open-air preachers, as there are to-day, but a million and more--as many as there are Sunday-school teachers ; as many as are active in our prayer-meetings. Think of the spiritual power of the laymen in our churches ! If brought to bear on the unevangelized in our cities, the number of these would be materially reduced.
Let our churches as such, under the leadership of their pastors, engage in this work, showing the world that the Church is earnest in its search for the lost.
Let every Young Men's Christian Association enter into it,because open-air audiences consist largely of men. In no other way can they bring the Gospel to so many young men.
Let our organized bodies of young Christians take it up. I have been charmed and inspired by the fearless and winning testimony for Christ given by intelligent young men and refined young women at open-air services. One Sunday evening I accompanied the members of a young people's society as they went to hold an open-air meeting. They gathered about a lamp post and commenced singing. Soon a considerable audience assembled and among them some children. As a young man was about to offer prayer, a dirty, ragged little girl commenced to attract the attention of every one. The young man hesitated a moment. Then quickly one of their number, a young lady of evident refinement, stepped forward. Placing her gloved hand upon the child, she drew the little one close to her side and bowed her head. The child caught her spirit, and nestling in the folds of her dress remained perfectly quiet. All present were touched and reverently drew near to the throne of grace. Let our young people with such a spirit go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in.
Who will go for us ? Open-air preaching is no pastime, no honor-bringing, luxurious undertaking. Opposition will meet all. Some will ridicule. Many regard it as useless self-degradation, beneath a Christian gentleman and altogether improper for a lady. Friends too gentle and loving to ridicule and oppose convictions of duty will grieve if it is attempted.
Then the work itself is hard--the opposition, sometimes words, sometimes blows, is disheartening, as also is the uncertainty concerning an audience, the inopportune distractions, and the impossibility of ascertaining results. I do not urge open-air preaching because I enjoy it. Some men find it a delight. I do not. I shrink from it. It is the greatest cross I have to bear. If I thought this work could be accomplished in any other way, I never would do it any more. I pray God the time may soon come when it no longer is necessary. But it is necessary. I must. You must. A million more must. "And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" God grant that from a thousand thousand hearts will come the answer "Here am I; send me."