James Bryce Bryce.

University and historical addresses, delivered during a residence in the United States as ambassador of Great Britain online

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Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceUniversity and historical addresses, delivered during a residence in the United States as ambassador of Great Britain → online text (page 8 of 24)
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any other religion. The first missions were immediately
followed by the first persecutions. After three cen-
turies of missionary progress, frequently interrupted
by relentless severities, Christianity triumphed. Two
centuries later, being then supported by the whole
power of the State, it began to repress first the linger-
ing devotees of paganism, then those who, differing
from the ruling orthodoxy, had been branded as here-
tics by Councils of the Church. So were ushered in
those ages of persecution which in Spain and Spanish
America lasted down to the days of our grandfathers.


There is a striking passage in Lucretius in which
he laments the evil wrought by superstition, referring
to the instances of human sacrifice, rare as these were
in Greece or Rome, though common enough at Car-
thage, and dwelling on the gloom cast upon life by
the fear of suffering after death. He wrote before
religious persecution had been dreamt of. How
much darker would have been the picture a poet
might have drawn in those later centuries when it
was deemed a duty to extirpate heresy by the sword
and the faggot !

One may distinguish three chief phases among those
through which missions have passed. In the first,
which began with the Apostles, and was continued
through a long line of glorious saints, Christianity
went forth, trusting entirely to the power and the pur-
ity of its own teachings. It promised salvation through
Christ and through a life led in obedience to his pre-
cepts. St. Patrick preached to the Gael of Ireland,
St. Columba to the Picts of North Britain, St. Augus-
tine to the heathen of Kent, St. Boniface, St. Columban,
St. Gall, and many another missionary from the British
Isles to the heathen of Germany. Some of them died
a martyr's death. All of them went out like sheep
among wolves, trusting only to the help and blessing
of God.

In the eighth century a change came. The Prankish
Charles the Great carried his arms against the pagan
Saxons, and made conversion a part of conquest and


a pledge of submission. From his time on other
Christian warriors, some of them from ambition, some
from what they believed to be piety, spread the king-
dom of the Cross by arms. Olaf Tryggyvason in Nor-
way and the Crusaders in Palestine, and after them the
Teutonic knights on the shores of the Baltic, gave the
choice between baptism and death. So did the Span-
iards when they burst into the New World. Wherever
these terrible conquerors went, the native worships were
blotted out and Christianity enforced at the sword's
point. They were continuing beyond the ocean the
crusade on behalf of the Faith which they had only
just completed in Spain against the Moors.

With them, however, the forcible propagation of Chris-
tianity practically ended. Neither the French mis-
sionaries on the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes,
nor the English missionaries like John Eliot in Massa-
chusetts sought the aid of carnal weapons. The earlier
and better stage in which the Gospel relied on its own
intrinsic virtue was now returning. In this third stage
missions have, with few exceptions, remained ever since ;
but it is still worth while to remember into what un-
Christian conduct misguided zeal drove men who
thought they were helping Christianity.

In our own time missions entered on what may be
called a fourth stage, in which their aim and purpose is
differently conceived. We have learnt to distinguish
more carefully between different kinds of non-Christian
religions and to recognize the good features that belong


to some of them, especially to Buddhism and to
Islam. Time was when the success of a mission was
measured by the number of congregations it was able
to form in a heathen country, and the number of con-
verts annually added to the fold. But this is now no
longer deemed the chief object of its work, and the
mere public profession of adherence to Christianity
is valued only when it is believed to indicate a real
and permanent change of life and mind.

The views now entertained as to the future in another
world of those who pass into it without ever having
heard the Gospel message, are less despondent than
those that prevailed among Christians eighty years
ago. There is an enlarged conception of what
is meant by bringing truth and light to the peo-
ple that sat in darkness, and it begins to be felt
that what is needed is to raise the whole conception
of life and transform the character by implanting
higher ideals which will cut off at the root the degrad-
ing customs of pagan life. When the missionary has
to deal with the religions of the more civilized non-
Christian peoples, he treats with respect whatever is
best in the moral teachings of Buddha or of Mohammed
and tries to meet the followers of Confucius on the
ethical ground he and they have in common, feeling
that even when few converts are made much good
may be done by the diffusion of elevating ideas and of
Christian morality. Even such usages and supersti-
tions as it may be desired to extirpate are treated more


gently, not only because we have begun to feel a sort
of scientific interest in these survivals of primaeval
custom, but because it is seen that improvements
come best when they come from within, from a mind and
heart that has been awakened to a higher view of a
Divine Power, and of man's relation to it.

These changes in our views of what missions may
accomplish and what methods they may follow are
not the index of any lessened faith or slackening
earnestness. Preaching is not the only, nor always
the shortest, way to the end desired. I remember that
when Dr. Livingstone, after several short journeys,
finally quitted his mission station to enter upon that
great exploration of Africa and crusade against the
slave trade which have given him a place among the
benefactors of mankind, there were some well-mean-
ing but small-minded persons who censured him for
deserting his proper missionary work. But in a few
years no one doubted that he had rendered infinitely
greater services to the world and to Christianity by his
journeys and the light he threw on African problems
than he could have done by remaining with the little
Kaffir congregation to which he ministered.

Such gatherings as the Laymen's Missionary Move-
ment has been holding all over this country are an evi-
dence that there is no decline of zeal among American
Christians. So also the approaching International Con-
gress in Edinburgh shows that the denominational nar-
rowness and rivalry which used to distract the efforts


of missionary organizations has given place to a frater-
nal spirit which seeks to make all the religious bodies
work together, aiming not at uniformity in organi-
zation, but at friendly cooperation in a common
cause. It is well this should be so, for the cir-
cumstances of the time we live in make the claim of
missions an urgent and insistent call upon all these
bodies. It is of that urgency, of the movements
of change now passing on the world, and of the
need there is for prompt and united action before
change goes further that I desire to speak. I speak
as a traveller who has seen missions in many a
foreign country, and I am emboldened to speak to
you by remembering that nothing has done more to
keep the hearts of Americans and Englishmen close
together than the work they have sought to do in the
same spirit for the kingdom of God. In these latest
centuries we have been the two great missionary nations.
Spanish and Portuguese missionaries did an immense
work, especially in the sixteenth century : French mis-
sionaries an immense work, especially in the seven-
teenth. Germans and Swiss have labored effectually in
the nineteenth, but your and our peoples have perhaps
done the most, and have done it on the same lines, in
the same faith, following the same principles, always
trusting to the power of truth and not to force. So
the traveller, wherever he goes, finds American and
British missionaries always working side by side,
always ready to help one another.


Missions must now be regarded as parts of a great
world movement, one out of the many influences which
are now exercised, more powerfully than ever before,
by the civilized upon the uncivilized or savage peoples.

The world has grown smaller ; steam and electric-
ity have brought its parts together; and as the
civilized races have spread out over its surface, there
is no place where their influence is not felt, so that,
with the exception of two ancient empires in the East,
nearly every part of the world has been brought under
the control of some of the civilized white races, and
even those empires are now in close relations with
white races. Now, that is a new phenomenon. In
the midst of these new phenomena missions to the un-
civilized races, are indispensable, for if Christianity is
not brought to bear upon them, the contact may make
their last state worse than their first. To that point I
shall presently return and shall try to convey to you
two features in the more recent history of missions on
which it seems proper to dwell, viz., the causes which
retard the progress of Christianity in uncivilized coun-
tries, and the special need which exists at this mo-
ment for diffusing it there.

Meantime, let me, as one who has seen many
missions in many parts of the world, bear testi-
mony to the splendid work which is being done in
our own time by Christian missionaries. There
have not been any nobler examples of devotion to
duty, of self-sacrifice, of the renunciation of the


ordinary pleasures and joys of the world for the
sake of a higher calling, than those which our mission-
aries have given during the last eighty years. Let me
pay especial tribute to the work which is being done
by the many missions of this country. I have seen
them in India, where their work is admirable, and
where some of your missionaries are men as wise as
can be found in that vast country, men who know as
much about India and are as much worthy to be lis-
tened to on that subject as any men to be met there.
No better evidence than theirs can be desired as to
the working of British rule there, for they can regard
its action impartially, yet with perfect comprehension;
I have seen them also in various parts of the Turkish
East, where they are placed among Mohammedans
and certain ancient non-Protestant churches. The
Christian peoples of the East have suffered terribly
in recent years, and they may have yet a great deal
to suffer. In 1895 an d 1896 more than one hundred
thousand Armenian Christians were massacred by the
orders of Sultan Abdul Hamid. Many of them were
women, many might have saved their lives if they
had spoken three words to renounce Christianity;
yet, like the martyrs of the apostolic age, they refused
to sacrifice their Christian faith, and went willingly to
death for the sake of their Lord and Master. Among
these peoples it has been the duty of your American
missionaries to labor, not proselytizing but befriending
them educationally and otherwise. And the best work


that has ever been done among them has been done
by those missionaries. Whenever the English friends
of the Armenian Chirstians desired to know what was
happening in Asiatic Turkey, whenever we desired
to find some means of relieving the famine-stricken
and down-trodden people, whenever it became neces-
sary to ascertain what, if anything, could be done
by political action to alleviate the sufferings of these
oppressed and martyred races, I have always found
that the best thing to do was to turn to the American
missionaries. And I have often heard from members
of the ancient Armenian church the warmest acknowl-
edgment of the great services which your missionaries
have rendered to them.

Now, when you recall the splendid work which
missions have done, when we think also of how long
they have been at work, and of the advantages which
those who come forth from civilized nations ought to
possess, are you not sometimes surprised that Christian-
ity has not long ago overspread the whole world ? Why
is it that more progress has not been made ? Think
of the beginnings of Christianity, when St. Paul and
the other apostles went out to make those first mis-
sionary tours, recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.
They went out few in number, through a pagan world,
a world which was dominated by ancient and powerful
religions, where all authority and all secular powers
were on the side of the old religions, and where before
long those powers, the emperors and their governors


and other officers, put forth their whole strength to
resist and extinguish Christianity ; and a series of cruel
persecutions took place, extending over nearly three
centuries, by which it was attempted to root out the
new religion from the earth. Those persecutions failed.
Christianity spread itself over the empire against all
the power the empire could put forth, and made its
way in the teeth of persecutions until at last it grew
so strong that the emperors were obliged to recognize
it ; and from that time forth it became the dominant
religion over all the world, except fire-worshipping
Persia, that the Romans knew. It did that work hi
three centuries.

Since that time sixteen hundred years have passed,
and Christianity has had most of the material forces
of the world on its side, nearly all the military power,
as well as nearly all the learning and'civilization, ex-
cept during a comparatively short period when there
was more literature and science in Musulman than in
European countries. Why, then, has not Christianity
succeeded in converting the whole earth ?

That is, indeed, a question worth asking. It is a
question you have doubtless often asked yourselves.
We shall do better to reflect on what we have not ac-
complished, and try to discover why it is that we have
failed, than to exult in what we have accomplished. It
may be that we shall discover some of the causes which
have weakened us and prevented us from obtaining,
with material advantages on our side, what the apostles


and their successors obtained with all the material
forces and civil powers against them. I am going to
give one reason ; it is only one of several reasons, but
it is a reason which is brought forcibly home to who-
ever travels in uncivilized countries and notes the
limited success attained by missions in places where
the zeal and devotion of the missionaries are evident.

The preaching of the gospel is but one among many
forces and influences which have been brought to bear
on the uncivilized races during the last four centuries,
and some of those other influences have largely neu-
tralized the effect of the gospel. What was the first
thing that happened when the Spaniards and the Por-
tuguese began to settle hi the American islands and
continents ? One of their main objects was to convert
the heathen. They were pious, according to their
lights, and quite sincere in their eagerness to spread the
faith. They took out a great many friars with them,
and set them to preaching. The cross was carried up
and down the islands, and the friars preached ; and the
natives, whether or not they understood and believed,
were at any rate baptized and compelled to attend
mass and say that they were Christians. The native
religions or superstitions had little hold on these poor,
simple savages of the Antilles, and of many parts of the
American continents also, so they yielded easily.
The Conquerors thought they were saving souls,
whether by persuasion or force ; and they would have
thought it absurd not to use force in that holy war-


fare. But the Conquerors did something more than
this. Though the friars came to preach, the adven-
turers who swarmed into tropical America came with
a fierce greed for gold. That was what they chiefly
sought in the New World. Finding gold ornaments
among the people, they asked where they came from ;
they searched for the gold mines, and put the natives
to work in them. They set them also to till the soil,
and those weak, simple-minded aborigines, accus-
tomed to raising just enough food to support them-
selves, were driven to work under the stern eye
and cruel scourge of a Spanish taskmaster, until in
the island of Hispaniola (now Hayti )and in the Ba-
hamas, the whole population died out under the severi-
ties of the Spanish rule within thirty or forty years
after the discovery of the islands. The same thing
happened in the other conquered territories. Wherever
the Spaniard went he seized the land of the people,
reduced them to what was virtually slavery, and
forced them to work in the mines or till the soil for

That was probably the most harsh and terrible form
which the contact of a civilized race with an uncivilized
ever took. It ended with the extermination of many
a native tribe. And yet something of that kind,
though not so bad, has been going on ever since.
Something of the kind is going on in the South Ameri-
can forests now. Wherever the strong races who, like the
Spaniards, possessed horses and firearms, races with the


appliances of civilization at their command, have come
into contact with weaker races, that sort of thing has
happened. Everywhere the native has gone to the
wall. Sometimes, where the native race was weak, it
has been extinguished ; it dies out either under harsh
treatment or under the diseases which the white
man brings with him, or through use of the liquor
which he has supplied to them. In one way or an-
other the native races, if not extinguished, have at
any rate become demoralized. They lose those native
customs which governed their life, and experience
shews that it is easier to acquire the vices of the white
man than to imitate his virtues.

I do not wish to overstate the case. I do not deny
that some of these evils were inevitable. The contact
of a superior civilized race with a barbarous race must
always bring some harm to the weaker. But the evils
need not have been so great if the civilized men who
went among the natives had behaved like Christians.
Unfortunately, that was just what few of them did.
There were always some good men among them who
tried to protect the natives, even some laymen among
the first Spanish conquerors and many among the
clergy. The noble Las Casas who spent his life in
trying to protect the American aborigines was only
one of many excellent Spanish churchmen. But the
forces of rapine and avarice and that sort of arrogant
contempt which the strong man feels for the weak
were more potent forces. Down to our own times


you will find that the natives suffered far more than
they gained. Their land was taken without giving
them anything for it, and they were driven away
or shot down. The trader who went among them
cheated them, and did what was even worse: he
sold them vile liquor that ruined them body and
soul. Despite all the efforts made in recent years,
those practices go on in some places still. It would
have been a good thing for the natives if the art of
distillation had never been discovered. It was only
the other day, after whole tribes had perished, that
we awakened to a sense of the tremendous evils
wrought among native peoples by the sale of drink.
It does harm enough among white people, but far
more among a savage or semi-civilized race, for they
are not seasoned to it, as in a certain way a number of
our own populations have become, and they have less
self-control than civilized men. It works like poison
upon them and destroys them.

These things could not but injure and retard the
work of Christianity. How was it possible for the
natives not to look at the practice of the white man as
well as at his preaching ? The missionary represented
a religion of justice, of peace, and of love. But with
the missionary came the man who tried to take away
the land of the native or sold him worthless goods or
intoxicated him with his liquor. How was it possible
for the natives, when they saw these men who called
themselves "Christians" just as did the missionaries,


not to be struck by the divergence between the practice
and the doctrines of this new religion ? The saying is
attributed to some African prince that the process going
on in his country was : "First missionary, then trader,
then army." The missionary came first, and well it
would have been if he had been left to do his work
alone. But before the missionary had succeeded in
Christianizing the people, the trader came to undo the
missionary's work.

Even where the white man does not rob or injure the
natives there is something in his attitude when he finds
himself among an uncivilized people that is harsh
and unchristian. He acts toward them as if they
were persons to whom he can do whatever he likes.
Those who have travelled among savages or semi-
savages will know what I mean when I say that it
takes almost the temper of a saint to keep the white
man from treating with arrogance or scorn a people
who are very much weaker than himself and who fre-
quently provoke him by an astonishing slackness or
thoughtlessness or inconstancy of purpose. Nothing
but a sense of human duty, and Christian duty can
prevent a man from acting harshly or unfairly when
he is placed in such conditions. No doubt the natives
often give provocation. In parts of Australia and in
Tierra del Fuego they stole the sheep that had been
placed upon the lands that once were theirs. But this
does not excuse the settlers who went out in parties
to shoot them down.


This behaviour and this attitude of the stronger
white race have been among the chief obstacles to
the advance of Christianity.

There were times when the governments of so-
called Christian states themselves were little better
than the adventurers who disgraced the Christian
name. The long perpetuation, by the favour of
such governments, of the African slave trade, the
most hideous piece of cruelty and wrong ever per-
petrated by civilized upon uncivilized men, is a terri-
ble instance. It has been only in the last sixty or
seventy years that these governments have awakened
to a proper sense of their duties. Most of them have
latterly tried, and are now honestly trying, to protect
the natives. This is not yet the case in all parts of the
world. There are one or two lamentable exceptions.
But it is the case wherever either the United States or
Great Britain holds sway. Your government and the
British government are doing their best wherever their
flags fly to protect the native in every way they can.
In India it has been for a century past the sole and
whole-hearted object of the English government to
administer absolutely equal justice in India between
the European and the native and to give the native as
complete a protection and as good a government as
the circumstances of the country will permit.

But even where the government performs its duty
it is possible for the private adventurer, or the trading
corporation behind the private adventurer that sup-


plies the funds and does not watch how the adventurer
behaves, to do a great deal of harm. They it is who
discredit Christianity. While the missionary is preach-
ing, the adventurer goes on cheating the native or oust-
ing him from his land, sometimes even forcing him into
a sort of slavery, and punishing him if he fails to
fulfil the allotted task, and the trading company at
home draws the profits. The temptations to abuse
strength have been great and have been yielded to.
No wonder that these things checked the advance
of Christianity. No wonder that it spread more
rapidly while adversity and persecution gave it
the opportunity to show the distinctively Christian
virtues of faith, constancy, humility, and love than it
did when all the powers of this earth were on its side,
that it advanced faster against the hostility of Roman
emperors like Nero, Decius, and Diocletian than it
has advanced with all the strength of civilization behind
it. It is not that any power has gone out of the gospel ;

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceUniversity and historical addresses, delivered during a residence in the United States as ambassador of Great Britain → online text (page 8 of 24)