Copyright
R. E. (Robert Ethol) Welsh.

Challenge to Christian missions : missionary questions & the modern mind online

. (page 3 of 9)
Online LibraryR. E. (Robert Ethol) WelshChallenge to Christian missions : missionary questions & the modern mind → online text (page 3 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


wide outlook.

If Christianity were not for these outnumber-
ing millions of the race in the East, and only
for us, it would suffer shrinkage in its scope,
and therefore in its truth and power ; it would
shrink in the eyes of its own disciples, dwindling
down to be one of the wistful dream-fictions
of the human Aberglaube. Ceasing to be
universal truth, with world-wide values, it
would sink to the level of a provincial,
parochial cult. Our faith in it could not then
long survive. Buddha for the whole world we
can understand ; but Buddha for the East and
Christ for the West conducts to a loose and
easy pantheism secretly infected with the
agnostic spirit. A Pantheon, where each com-
munity allows the others to have their several
divinities, means ultimate death to the faith
of each in his separate religion. " Heresies,"
said Lightfoot, " are at best ethnic ; truth is
catholic." Hence Christianity is ruled by an
imperialistic policy.

Lord Curzon condemns " the selection of a
single passage from the preaching of the
Founder of the faith as the sanction of a
movement against all other faiths." But, far
from depending on the command, " Go ye into
all the world, etc.," the missionary movement



52 The Challenge to Missions

lies knit in the very structure of Christ's per-
sonality, work, and teaching. Not only is the
greater part of the New Testament a collection
of missionary literature — the " Acts of the
Apostles " being a record of primitive mission
operations, and the Epistles mostly mission-
aries' letters to the little companies of converts
gathered out of the pagan community — but
the universal love of the universal Father —
"God so loved the world'' — the sacrificial
suffering of Christ for mankind, the sublime
ideas of the incarnation and redemption, with
the vast vision of the whole Christian revela-
tion, are out of all proportion to the limited,
local scope allotted to it by this race-theory.
Why all these supreme wonders and divine
agonies of love, if the scale of their applica-
tion be not world-wide? Our own belief in
it would become thin and feeble, and melt
away. The very build of it, the bare truth
of it, requires its universality and calls for
missions to the whole world so greatly loved.

Talk of " Little Englanders " ! Are not they
"Little Christians" who vote against carrying
Christianity to other races }

Moreover, it is impossible to leave these
peoples alone in their simple faith and un-
scientific traditions. Our commerce, with its
ships — like shuttles weaving the web of a
common lot and ife — with its explorers, pro-



Many Races, Many Religions 53

spectors, traders, and railways is penetrating
to the recesses of every country. Our science,
taught in their schools and books, is under-
mining the foundations of their superstitions.
They are sending their most intelligent youth
to be educated further in our colleges and
law-schools. Over 100,000 of the most re-
ceptive minds in India bear the mental imprint
of the foreigner's tuition, and they go out into
the community with their old faith shaken at
its base. The Indian Government, by pro-
viding state education for India's youth, is
as much responsible for this result as are
the missionaries. The Government policy,
indeed, is more perilous, for it supplies teach-
ing in secular knowledge alone, and is thus
breaking down the old altar without pro-
viding anything to take its place. Western
civilisation is marching irresistibly upon the
people. Its new ideas, foreign habits, revolu-
tionary knowledge, are invading their ancient
preserves and even showing in their temples.

We could not insulate them any longer, even
if we tried. The old is bound to break up in
spite of us. The new wine of the West will
burst the old bottles of Eastern beliefs. And
what is to enter in and save the moral life of
such lands when Hindu and Buddhist mytho-
logy and Chinese ancestor-worship are dis-
credited in the eyes of the awakened millions ?



54 The Challenge to Missions

If we do not give them pure Christianity before
the complete break-up comes, how are they to
escape agnosticism and soulless secularism?
The sceptical literature of the West is already
to be seen in the foreign bookshops of the
cities of the East. Already large numbers of
the disenchanted are finding a refuge in the
sterile negations of unbelief And, bad as a
false or half-false religion may be, a godless,
unspiritual secularism is incalculably worse.

It is the plain finger of God pointing the
way of the Christian Church. So vital to our
common well-being is Christianity that we
tremble to think what will befall us should
that saving salt lose its savour in our life.
And if that materialistic civilisation is not to
carry degrading corruption among the dark-
skinned races, it must be accompanied by the
same saving preservative ; we must even be
well ahead of it with the moral power of the
Christian life.



IV

GOOD IN EVERY SYSTEM
The Cosmic Light— and Dark



55



IV

GOOD IN EVERY SYSTEM:

The Cosmic Light— and Dark

Now to go a little deeper into the problem.

The pioneers of a hundred years ago viewed
all non-Christian religions as unmitigated error,
either black superstitions or diabolic inventions
and blinds. Since their day the " Sacred Books
of the East" have been translated and the
cream of their contents collected in popular
summaries for the casual reader. The science
of Comparative Religion has arisen. Sir Edwin
Arnold's "Light of Asia" has blazoned Buddha's
heroic, compassionate endeavour to find a salve
for the misery of men's lust for life. Mr Henry
Fielding, in " The Soul of a People," has ex-
quisitely interpreted the mystic Buddhist ideal
as seen through Burmese eyes. We have found
ethical rules of a high order — reminding us of
single items in the Sermon on the Mount — in
the Persian, Indian, and Chinese Scriptures,
profound speculations about the mystery of
human existence in Hindu religion, and laws
of family gallantry towards parents in Con-
fucian teaching.



58 The Challenge to Missions

Many in consequence have been asking and
still ask whether, after all, these Asiatic races
have not religious and moral light serving their
needs sufficiently well ; whether, then, even
though our faith be ideally the higher, there is
any urgent reason for thrusting it upon them
and upsetting their satisfaction with beliefs
they hold dear. It is not only from adverse
critics outside the Christian Church but from
enlightened worshippers within it that we hear
this plea for leaving these people to the light
they already have.

Now, we should greet all such light with a
cheer. Our only complaint is that there is so
little of it. To deny or depreciate the good
in other faiths in the supposed interest of
Christianity is to show signs of defective con-
fidence in its incomparable superiority. To
attempt to make out their light to be darkness
comes near committing the sin against the
Holy Ghost. The more of it the better : it is
so much more to the good in the common stock
and store ; it is so much more working capital
in the resources available for further develop-
ment. All flying shafts of light sprang from
the same source in the Eternal Sun — the
" Logos," or " Word." Fragments of the truth,
"in many parts and diverse fashions," are only
waiting to be released from obscuring encrusta-
tions and knit into the full body of " the Truth,"



Good in Every System 59

China contributes to the common store
practical domestic and state laws, enforces the
fifth commandment, " Honour thy father and
thy mother," better than the rest of the world,
and urges the homage due to the spirits of
the dead who " live again in minds made better
by their presence." ^ Hinduism contributes the
immanence of the Eternal as the ocean of
common being — and in a mode of this con-
ception the Christian thinker to-day is finding
a deeper basis for the incarnation of Christ.
Buddha prescribes the conquest of desire as
the secret of release for the distracted heart
of man, and shows the " eternal process moving
on " by which " from state to state the spirit
walks" in aeons upward or downward. Toward
such segments and arcs of the rounded orb
of truth our attitude cannot but be one of
sympathetic appreciation. They, we claim, are
prophetic workings of the Spirit. They also
offer so much more common ground between
the missionary and the Asiatic mind.

The human heart is the greatest of all the
prophets — the mother of the prophets of the
earth — speaks in many languages of symbol and
phrase, and never dies. These gleams of light
are cryptic prophecies of good to come, and for

^ See the lofty, spiritual prayers to "Shang-ti," the Supreme
Spirit, in uncorrupted Confucianism, quoted in Dr Campbell
Gibson's Mission Problems ^ pp. 76, 77.



6o The Challenge to Missions

their fulfilment Christianity is indispensable.
"Whom ye worship in ignorance Him declare
we unto you," Paul's message to the Athenians,
is our message to all superstitious worshippers
of dim symbols of the Mystery. The blind
homage which is addressed to the material
shrine and symbol God may interpret as merely
misdirected through ignorance ; He may esteem
and appraise it as really meant for Himself.
None the less, however, the worshipper is not
spiritually quickened and saved from his sin
where such blind ignorance reigns. And, to
meet the confused desires of his heart and
morally redeem him, it is imperative he be told
that the One after whom he has been groping
through the mists is here in full glory.

It is more than doubtful if we can ever
articulate Christianity into the Hindu, Buddhist,
and Confucian systems, as it was related to the
Jewish system. Yet the moral aims and
yearnings underlying them Christ does fulfil.
Their better contents, like the Jewish Law,
may have served a temporary purpose ; they
have kept alive in some measure the spiritual
sense of the devout votary, although, again like
the Jewish Law, they have become materialised
and have encrusted the inner life with a cramp-
ing shell of mechanical ritual. While not
utter, unmitigated delusions, they are often so
utterly imperfect and corrupted, and so distort



Good in Every System 6i

the truth, that wherein they have hints of good
they must be fulfilled and consummated in
Christ, and wherein they are currently false
and debasing, as for the most part they are,
they must be supplanted by Christ. "Some
better thing " — that which justified Christ in
superseding the Jewish religion — amply justifies
His Church in superseding or crowning pagan
faiths with Christianity.

The missionary, it is true, is apt to be a little
impatient with such academic appreciations
and balanced comparisons of other religions
with the Christian revelation. He may, as he
ought to, seize their good points, the wise things
said by their own teachers, as common ground
on which to start his address ; but the common
ground is usually only a jumping-off ground.
He is face to face with so much dark debase-
ment that it seems wasted breath to talk of
good things in pagan faiths. And the early
apostles did not depend upon such reasoning;
St Paul was usually uncompromising. Great
victories cannot be won for a new, aggressive
religion by genial concessions, although the
manner of the fight must not be rude and
ungenerous. The native convert, too, seldom
has much to say about the half-truths in
paganism. We must allow for the polarity
and revulsion of human nature to extremes in
any change of belief like his ; yet we cannot



62 The Challenge to Missions

but note that what impresses him is not the
partial light but the utter darkness and falsity
of the old religion.

But it is not the missionary and the convert
we are specially addressing. The Western
mind makes a more detached valuation of
world-religions, judging them chiefly from their
scriptures and absolute contents, and knowing
to discriminate between their pure primitive
form and their corruptions, such as, we
remember, have in past times overlain and
debased our own Christian religion. For the
sake of such, the problem requires new
treatment.

Why interfere with the sacred things of the
Asiatic? The Hebrew religion, while only a
mixed, imperfect symbolism of the truth, a
stage on the way like other world-religions,
surpassed them all in the amount of light and
grace it contained. Yet our Lord did not spare
it for the truth that was in it. " India and the
Far East have religions of their own, with good
elements in them : why not leave them alone ? "
People who speak thus should make a further
demand: "The Jews had a religion of their
own, with good contents in it : why should
Christ disturb their minds and upset their
sacred customs?" On that principle how
could Christianity ever have entered the world
at all on any field ? It must disturb something.



Good in Every System 63

Was Copernicus not to disturb the traditional
astronomy of Europe in case he should shock
men's minds for two generations during the
transition time? Then also it is wrong to
interfere with the childish ideas of our little
folk and give them the fuller truth required to
develop their manhood. The interference is no
less commendable when we take to the heathen,
not only what fulfils their symbols and
glimmers of good, but what is of momentous
consequence for their characters, lives, social
redemption, and destinies. Christ is indispens-
able to them as the answer to their needs, as a
revelation of the bedazing Mystery, and as a
rest to their world-weary, self-sick hearts,
bringing them a better salvation than they had
ever conceived.

We have first striven to deal fairly with the
light and good in these religions which find
appreciators among us in the West.

" The God of Things-as-They-Are," however,
requires that we look with open eyes at the
bald realities of pagan belief and life.

It is the bare truth, unfortunately the truth,
that these fine elements are far from being
typical of the Asiatic faiths from which they
are drawn. The tit-bits of ethical wisdom
gathered from afar are dug out of heaps of
superstitious rubbish. The mass of the "Sacred
Books of the East "would nauseate the Christian



64 The Challenge to Missions

at least as mucli as the rare flowers selected for
anthologies delight him. We pay our ready-
tribute to the humane heart of Buddha. But
Arnold's " Light of Asia " is not the native
article ; it is a Western setting of the Buddha-
story, recast in the Christian mould by one who
has unconsciously carried over Christian ideas
and terms for its interpretation. By Mr
Fielding's own confession, his " Soul of a
People " is not the every-day Burmese religion
but a semi-poetic subtilising of it. Buddhism
in its pure form is despairing pessimism, and in
its popular guise is unhappily blind, idolatrous
superstition. Superstitions as blind envelop
the Chinese worship of ancestors {pace Lord
Curzon, who likens it to the memorials of the
distinguished dead in Westminster Abbey),
and leave the soul without a God. The ancient
symbols which once held striking imagery of
the Unseen are no longer transparent but
opaque, and obscure more than they reveal.

These races of the pagan world know no
personal Father of mankind enveloping the
world with conscious care and love, no re-
demptive suffering in the Divine heart, no
salvation from sin as sin (only from the ache of
life^), no Spirit of grace descending to make
new creatures of evil men, no pledge of vital

^ For a sane and just statement of the reality in Chinese
temples, see Gibson's Mission Problems, p. 141 ff.



Good in Every System 65

eternal life in fulness of manhood, no assurance
of the re-knitting of family ties broken in death
— in short, no adequate idea of salvation in its
rich Christian sense. Their hopes and solaces
are but adumbrations of hope and love. The
average Asiatic millions are fed with empty
puerilities, or with metaphysical abstractions
which are out of touch with human life and
void of moral elements. Or they are held under
the terrorism of " Nats," nature-spirits, departed
spirits, and magic and are prostrated before
grotesque material images. Religion for the
most part, alas, is a matter of prayer-wheels,
fortune-telling, mechanical repetition of in-
coherent words, and pathetic mummery — would
that we could report it otherwise !

It is no wonder if these race-religions lack
spiritual and moral power. Where, as in China,
ethical precepts are given for prudential conduct,
the loveless, impersonal code is chill and sterile,
more impotent for making pure hearts than
were Hebrew Tables of Stone, because lacking
a personal God of exalted and exalting char-
acter. Elsewhere religion is practically divorced
from morals. Christianity, it has been said, is
the only religion which has for its aim to make
men good ; and the saying is true, if by " good "
we understand positive inward moral purity and
high character. The Christian ideal of holiness is
substantially a new conception to the pagan mind.

E



66 The Challenge to Missions

Myriads of simple-hearted votaries visit the
pagan temples ; but the faiths these enshrine are
morally decadent, moribund, effete. They lack
the dynamic power which is indispensable for
the deliverance of men from the mastery of sin
and the weight of material things, for the
creation of soul and of purest manhood and
womanhood, and for working social and com-
munal regeneration. And they appear to have
no power of self-renewal. In Japan certain
sects have attempted a Buddhist revival, but,
in spite of one or two such spurts of " Catholic
Revival," the pagan religions have no resurrec-
tion-power like that by which Christianity rose
in renewed vitality and might out of the grave
of its mediaeval corruptions.

The moral and social life of pagan peoples
naturally matches their faiths. The missionary
may see pagan life too unbrokenly black, not
unnaturally having eyes chiefly for the grim
moral degeneracy which confronts him ; at the
other extreme the modern cosmopolitan mind,
like Mr Fielding, makes light excuses for its
moral evils. After one's young imagination has
been fed on mission literature which painted
heathendom as one unqualified scene of cruelty
and vice, a black romance, it comes as a sur-
prise to see the swarthy little children playing
happily and the old folk sitting contentedly in
the shade, to hear sounds of domestic merriment



Good in Every System 67

and discover bits of human kindness. In every
way it is one thing to read about pagan lands
in books, and quite another thing to look on
" the heathen " in flesh and blood in their motley
life of chequered light and shade and their
pathetic superstitions.

There are indeed kind hearts among them,
domestic tendernesses, filial devotions, brave
deeds of self-suppression — what Augustine
perversely called "splendid vices." Here and
there are enlightened men who see beneath the
crust of superstition, disavow the worship of
material objects, and revere only pure intelli-
gence. In every land there are happily select
souls, like Neesima of Japan, and the Chinese
viceroy, Chang Chih Tung, whose heart God
has touched after the manner of Cornelius. But
these are comparatively few and rare among the
superstitious millions. They scarcely count in
the practical problem of heathendom (except as
possible progenitors and founts of future en-
lightenment). And they are as little typical
of the races to which they belong as Seneca
was typical of Roman and Socrates of Greek
paganism.

The people generally are held in a state of
soulless stagnation and impassive content.
" They are quite content as they are," say some,
among them Lord Curzon. True ; and that is
the worst of it. They are content v\'ith a sort



68 The Challenge to Missions

of bovine contentment, as a race of men may
be who have been held under slavery that
has unmanned them and taken the soul out
of them. Petrified by the unintelligent custom
of long ages, they have little consciousness of
wanting anything. More insurmountable than
the Chinese "Myriad-Mile Wall" is the im-
penetrable wall of proud self-satisfaction in
which the people are encased. The missionary's
difficulty is, not to deal with pagan religions,
but to pierce the Asiatic's haughty, supercilious
sense of superiority and break through "the
cake of custom " and wake the torpid soul and
heavy conscience to the perception of moral and
spiritual need.

Generally they recognise nothing evil in the
vices which reign among them. Moral corrup-
tions are rife, and they neither hide out of sight
nor raise a blush. So widely is religion divorced
from morality in India that the devout priest
may be vicious without remark. What wonder,
when lustful and debasing practices are sanc-
tioned by Hindu religious rites !

When Mrs Besant went into ecstacies over
Hindu mysticism. The Rets and Rtiyyet, an
influential Hindu paper in Calcutta, said :
"When an English lady of decent culture
professes to be an admirer of Tantric mysti-
cisms and Krishna worship, it behoves every
well-wisher of the country to tell her plainly



Good in Every System 69

that sensible men do not want her eloquence
for gilding what is rotten. ... In fact abomina-
tion worship is the chief ingredient of modern
Hinduism." And the Daily Hindu^ of Madras,
said, " Our religious institutions are a festering
mass of crime, vice, and gigantic swindling."
Lord Curzon and Mr Michie tell us that it
takes a Chinese imagination, charged with
brutal coarseness, to invent the horrible accusa-
tions levelled at Christian missionaries.

No need of the critic to remind us of the
vices besmirching Christendom. But, for differ-
ence, the Christian conscience has always
protested and fought against these evils, and
is the great moral force engaged in reducing
them. They have to conceal themselves as
illicit. In paganism, on the contrary, they
enjoy common sanction ; native religion is not
at work against them ; they often flourish
under the shelter of the gods

Yet far more serious than all these evils is
the moral torpor at the back of them, the
absence of conscience in things unclean. In
many the first work to be done by Christianity
is to create the very sense of sin, which is
indispensable to the beginnings of moral re-
newal and the cry for holiness — and this is one
reason why missions, having John Baptist's
preparatory work to do, take long to produce
great results. Christ has first to develop con-



70 The Challenge to Missions

science, establish personality, and wake the
flying ideal which both condemns and inspires.
What pagan peoples — Buddhists, Hindus, Con-
fucianists, as well as barbarians — most pro-
foundly need is to be inwardly quickened, born
from above them out of their moral callousness,
to have soul created and the cry of the child
of God waked within them.

It is remarkable how, when a people, like an
individual, receive Christianity, an outburst of
new energy appears. It not only transforms
character ; it creates a new type of manhood
and womanhood ; it sets up a new ideal of
holiness such as the pagan mind never dreamt
of before. But, still more, it opens new springs
of vitality, awakens hope, and supplies motive-
power for personal sacrifice and social regenera-
tion. It is for such work as this, not less than
for personal salvation from sin, that the world
imperatively requires Christ and His gift of
new Life.



LIBERAL THOUGHT AND HEATHEN
DESTINIES



LIBERAL THOUGHT AND HEATHEN
DESTINIES

Under the more liberal theology approved
by the modern mind the ruling conception of
heathen destinies has silently changed. Is
the change calculated to " cut the nerve " of
the missionary spirit?

Dr Morrison, famous as Times correspondent
at Pekin,^ makes merry over China Inland
missionaries who picture the hundreds of
millions of Chinese hurrying unconsciously
to eternal perdition. "They tell the Chinese
inquirer that his unconverted father, who never
heard the gospel, has, like Confucius, perished
eternally." We have no wish to deliver such
men out of Dr Morrison's hands ; but he must
know that they are a diminishing number, at
least among the better order of missionaries,
and that the enlightened, if they have no clear
theory on the subject, at any rate utter no such
sentence of wholesale anathemas.

It is true that Carey and other pioneers,
holding all to be lost indistinguishably who


1 3 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryR. E. (Robert Ethol) WelshChallenge to Christian missions : missionary questions & the modern mind → online text (page 3 of 9)