R. E. (Robert Ethol) Welsh.

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

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had not known and believed in the historic

^ An Ausiralian in China.

74 The Challenge to Missions

Jesus of Galilee, conceived the swarming
multitudes of fellow-mortals in heathen lands
as consigned by the million to a common,
indiscriminate doom — actually brands to be
plucked from the burning. (By the same re-
lentless logic the men of the " Hard Church "
had to leave to a like fate all our unfortunate
little ones who had died in infancy.) If not
saved — and was there any Saviour except
Christ? — must they not be relegated to outer
darkness ? Otherwise why take trouble to send
them the gospel ?

Jonathan Edwards even claimed that the
happiness of the beatified saints would be en-
hanced by the thought of the outcast legions,
thus making heaven take toll of hell for its
keener bliss !

No wonder the Japanese asked Francis
Xavier, and Radbod,^ chief of the pagan
Frisians, asked Bishop Wolfran, whether all
their forefathers were hopelessly condemned.
Xavier writes in a letter in 1552: "One of

^ According to the well-known dramatic story, Radbod, a
candidate for baptism, had already one foot in the water, when
he stopped and asked the bishop, "Where are my dead fore-
fathers at present?" "In hell, with all other unbelievers."
Withdrawing his leg, the revolted chief exclaimed, "Mighty
well ; then will I rather feast with my ancestors in the halls
of Woden than dwell with your little starveling band of
Christians in heaven." The story is told in Motley's Dutch
Republic (Introduction), whether adorned or naked fact we
need not here inquire.

Liberal Thought and Destinies 75

the things that most of all torments our con-
verts is that we teach them that the prison of
hell is irrevocably shut. They grieve over
the fate of their departed children, of their
parents and relatives, and they often show
their grief by their tears. So they ask us if
there is any hope, any way to free them by
prayer from that eternal misery, and I am
obliged to answer that there is absolutely
none. Their grief at this affects and torments
them wonderfully — they almost pine away in
their sorrow." (Q^ E. Coleridge on Xavier.)

That gospel, if they understand its backward
bearings, must sound a strange piece of "good
tidings" in their ears. Let Whittier express

" Oh those generations old.
Over whom no church-bell tolled,
Christless, lifting up blind eyes
To the silence of the skies ;
For the innumerable dead
Is my heart disquieted."

This conception of heathen destinies has
not been overthrown by the battering-ram of
argument. It has been imperceptibly dissi-
pated by the spread of a more liberal spirit.
We have made discovery of certain good
elements in pagan systems. We had dealt
with shadowy abstract heathen under the logic
of an abstract dogma ; with the aid of travel

76 The Challenge to Missions

and reading we have learnt to imagine these
human beings in their palpitating flesh and
blood, and picture the awful issues. How did
we manage to close our eyes in sleep of a
night for thinking of these torrents of ignorant
brother-men flowing unwittingly to destruction,
except just by not conceiving them to our-
selves in human face and feeling? Whenever
such a stupendous unintelligible human holo-
caust came vividly before the Christianised
imagination, the theory fell devitalised and
undone. The sunshine of a warmer Christian
compassion coming from the infinite love of
Christ made the unutterable dogma pale away
into the dim limbo where lie the shades of
departed creeds.

Possibly it was the case of the little child
that was set in our midst to test and smile
away this belief — the little child dying in
tender years without hearing of Christ. The
gracious, illogical exception allowed for the
child's future destiny broke an opening through
the wall of stern dogma, and the opening
widened to make room for child-races, for
men and women who, in proportion to their
opportunities, were not naturally worse than
ourselves, but only less fortunate in their birth-
place, for the generous treatment of people
who could not believe the gospel since, un-
luckily, they had never heard it.

Liberal Thought and Destinies '^'j

Enlightened minds to-day insist on a theory
of judgment at once more scientific, ethical,
and Christian than that which • drove the
earlier missionaries to the rescue.

Now any theory which either (i) consigns
the heathen en bloc to "adamantine chains and
penal fires," or (2) claims that, since they are
simple innocents and have their own gleams of
light and God is good, all is well with them
here and beyond, is palpably false. The iron
view is not more immoral than the easy view.
The latter is inconsistent with visible, grim
realities in the actual character of the heathen,
and makes free with heaven and God's moral
laws. The former, if realised, would strike with
a rebound against God's good name and clash
with Christ's revelation of the Father-heart.

To some the question seems a gratuitous and
an idle one. They are content to leave it out
of their horizon and obey their Lord's marching
missionary orders — as obey His command we
must in any case. But not all can close their
minds to such a problem. We do not go seek-
ing it ; it comes seeking us. It is forced upon
us by the change of thought, and by frank
questioners in the Church and out of it who
have a right to ask us what new theory has
taken the place of the old. Earnest workers,
also, ought to have clear ground on which to
base their enterprise. We are very far from

yZ The Challenge to Missions

seeking to settle particular destinies ; we do not
know the destinies of even the people about us
in a Christian land ; we only know the principles
on which they will be judged. At bottom our
rest is in God's fairness. Yet we can and must
mark out the lines and principles on which, so
far as present light takes us, God deals with the

We shall see later that the real question is not
one of future destinies at all. Yet, none the less,
we must meet men's questions on the subject.

Now — to take a negative first — it will not
satisfy to import specially for the heathen a
theory of another chance in a future probation.
However far that may be permissible as a
speculation, the Scripture about spirits in prison
(i Peter iii. 19), on which it is chiefly founded,
is too obscure, too doubtful in its meaning, and
too solitary in the Bible to clear up the mystery.
Moreover, to ride off along this line is to seek
easy escape from the issue. And if the idea
got possession of average minds in the Church,
it would still indeed be theoretically imperative
on them to give the saving light of life to all
men as soon as possible, but the working effect
would be to "cut the nerve" of missionary
enthusiasm. Any theory which relaxes earnest
effort is thereby proved to have for us the value
of a falsehood. We have no need or title
positively to lay down close limits in any

Liberal Thought and Destinies 79

veiled region where God is, but there is nothing
here to work with or count upon.

It is not enough, either, to make special bye-
laws for a few exceptional " good heathen," like
Buddha and Socrates. We have to do with
millions. The allowance must be regularised,
the principle of treatment broadened down to
the multitude and universalised.

The principles of judgment are the same for
the heathen as for ourselves. The standards,
the tests, vary with varying conditions ; but the
principles are universally the same.

(i) Judgment is proportioned to the good
within reach. It is our Lord's own
principle, that responsibility is pro-
portionate to what is possible to each,
to his light, capacity, and opportunity.

(2) The grace of the Eternal Christ operates

beyond the area in which the historical
Jesus is known.

(3) Judgment goes, not by the gross bulk

of goodness attained, but by that faith
in good which is the root of goodness.
Destiny is determined, not by absolute
present character, but by the germ
which potentially is ultimate character.

(4) Salvation is salvation from present sin

and moral death, not from destinies,
which are only incidental to ultimate

8o The Challenge to Missions

One result of these principles is that we
cannot deal with the heathen in the mass and
pronounce them either all saved or all lost.
Invisible differences divide them, equally with

The common idea is that all will be saved
who act up to the light they have. It is half
true, yet suggests a falsehood. Not one of the
best of the pagan peoples ever lived up fully to
the light he had. Equally on the small scale
as on the large, there is no man who has done
as well as he might, none who is without sin,
none who must not at the last depend on sheer
mercy. There cannot be two different grounds
of acceptance before God — one, the ground of
merit, among the non-Christian races, the other,
"by grace are ye saved," among Christians,
from under whose feet all trust in personal
merit is sharply taken away by Christian

Take the Road of the Scriptures to reach
the proper point of outlook upon the heathen

The Jews — on what ground were any of
them saved } We cannot speak of " the Jews "
being saved en bloc, as though all who offered
Jewish sacrifices were accepted in the lump,
and as little can we classify the heathen and
say of them in one breath that they are either
all saved or all lost. But how was it possible

Liberal Thought and Destinies 8i

for Abraham and other devout Jews to be
accepted of God without the knowledge of the
historical Jesus ? It will not do to suppose
that they stood on tiptoe and foresaw the
personal Jesus and the Cross in the distance ;
it is not true. They had their moral law and
the knowledge of the one holy and merciful
God. And they had their symbolism of sin,
of sacrifice, and of self-devotion. Abraham
was justified because he believed God, and
that was counted for righteousness. This was
no fiction ; he was not righteous ; but his faith
in God had in it the germ and potency of
righteousness. In proportion as Jews were
humble-hearted and believing, making appeal
to the mercy that was hinted to them through
material symbols and imagery — in proportion
as they responded to the light that shone —
they had the mercy of God for their sins.

The heathen to-day are B.C. What operated
B.C. in God's treatment of Jews operates pro-
portionately in Asia and every continent and
island which is not yet Anno Domini. That the
Jev/s had fuller light and clearer symbols of the
Unseen is beside the point here. God's method
or principle is the same for all alike, when deal-
ing with different races all of them B.C. The
grace which was at least within reach of the
humble-hearted Jew has always been and now
is within reach of the Gentile in proportion

82 The Challenge to Missions

as there is similar response or appeal of

Were the redemptive virtues of Christ's cross,
then, delivered to the devout Jew in advance
without having as yet been acquired by Christ ?
Rather say, more Scripturally, that that suffer-
ing love in the Divine Heart which once for
all in history became embodied in Jesus was
a timeless, eternal reality and therefore avail-
able B.C.

The Cosmic Light, the "Word" or "Logos"
of St John, "that light which lighteth every
man," did not first come into existence in Jesus,
but " came into the world " in Him, incarnate
in human personality. As there was a diffused
light through our universe before the sun, and
as that diffused luminous mist became centred
and embodied in the sun, so there was and is
a universal "Word" or Light, — "Logos sper-
matikos " — an eternal Christ or Good. Every-
where in human hearts, in infinitesimal or
considerable degree, there have been glimmer-
ings of the Mystery and the Truth, bits of good
and light and love. Everywhere the touch of
the Unseen has been felt, whether interpreted
superstitiously here or known intelligently there.
Men have cast their intuitions in the form of
symbols — the sun, or the image of the Great
Calm in the still face of the Amita Buddha of
Japan, or in the Jewish shechinah on the

Liberal Thought and Destinies 83

mercy-seat stained with the blood of offered
lives. These symbols, at first luminous with
significance, have become obscured with gross
superstitions — yet not utterly ; they have con-
tinued faintly to signify something of the
Unseen Good, or they have gathered up the
heart's dumb desires for Good. And at the
same time all men have seen fellow-men suffer-
ing and needy — mankind (with whom Christ
Jesus made Himself one, Matt. xxv. 45)
crucified before their eyes ; they have met
human need, and either ignored it or responded
to its appeal to the kind heart.

Where and in whom among the peoples of
both Christendom and heathendom God's all-
seeing eye has found the needful response to
existing light and good, no human mind can
conjecture. How far He may have seen an
outstretching of the half-encrusted spirit to the
Mystery and the Pity ; how far any hearts may
have waked to the only symbol of the Divine
within sight ; how many or how few have shown
a beat of compassion towards human want
or a relenting over sin, or a humble, weary cry
for help beneath the sky — these secrets can be
known only to Himself. Our difficulty is not
about the cosmic grace of Christ being available
wherever among mortal men the fit response is
shown. Our doubt is about the likelihood of any
sufficient response among many both at home

84 The Challenge to Missions

and abroad. But, certainly, if God All-wise
accepted the man who offered a slain bullock as
a symbol of his self-devotion, we may be sure
that He has an eye and an ear for any symbol-
language of the human heart appealing to the
Unseen wherever He finds it, whether among
simple suppliants of the Merciful Virgin or
others of the same order. It is not righteous-
ness. But, according to Scripture, God, so far
as it is true, counts it for righteousness ; for it is
the germ and prophecy of righteousness under
happier conditions to come.

For judgment goes, not by absolute present
character, but by the germ of potential character
which is wrapped up in faith in Good or sym-
pathy with Humanity. The penitent thief on
his cross had not time to acquire good char-
acter ; but in his appealing cry to Christ there
germinated the seed of potential goodness.

Attitude is destiny. Not absolute attain-
ment : have average Christians much more than
their faces turned towards the light, more than
mere seeds of holiness ? But, however meagre
their attainments, they have taken an attitude
in relation to the light in Christ ; and that
attitude is the forecast of their destiny. What
lies in heart-faith, however crudely formed, is
the seed of righteousness, of ultimate character.

If anywhere. East and West alike, by dim
or clear faith the Light of the Eternal Word

Liberal Thought and Destinies 85

has met with response, there the grace in-
carnated in Christ may find the attitude of
spirit it everywhere is seeking as the condition
of higher blessing. Thus no one anywhere is
saved except by the Eternal Christ — unrecog-
nised perhaps, i^' when saw we Thee?") — and
except through faith or desire as the germ that
grows to goodness and fruits in bliss. Whatever
further scope or cycles of existence for the
development of these faith-germs or love-seeds
of good may come in other asons having their
own new issues, we see only thus far, that the
issue of this aeon is determined by these attitudes
of the secret soul.

How seldom or how often God perceives
such germs of faith, either in Anglo-Saxon,
Asiatic, or African, He alone can know. We
are not one step nearer being able to say who
among the heathen are blest and who suffer
loss. We can as little assign destinies to them
indiscriminately as we can to the folk who live
next door to us — enough and well if we can
forecast our own. To read destinies is not our
aim in these pages. None but the Omniscient
Heart-Interpreter has the materials for such
discrimination. Yet much is gained if we can,
humbly, discover the lines on which God deals
with men of all colours and conditions. Even
as to ourselves we only know the principles of
divine judgment and the grounds of faith and

86 The Challenge to Missions

hope. And the discovery frees us on the one
hand from the goad of the old, unthinkable
horror over indiscriminate destinies, and on the
other from lax latitudinarianism as to the needs
of the heathen.



Does Liberal Thought cut the Nerve of



Does Liberal Thought cut the Nerve of
Missions ?

Does this modern way of viewing the heathen
relax the missionary motive ?

Certainly the older conception of their
destinies gave a sufficiently violent reason for
missionary urgency. It held up a picture which
was vivid, concrete, and therefore calculated to
tell on crude or emotional natures. On the
other hand, the unthinkable issues for these
unenlightened and unfortunate millions, if rea-
lised in clear imagination, instead of offering
an inspiring incentive, would singe and sear
the sensitive heart, would stun the mind and
paralyse the energies. The vision would over-
whelm us.

What is the motive, then, for urgency in
sending the gospel to the heathen?

The same motive as we find at work in the
hearts of the first apostles. Not once in the
New Testament do we find these ardent mis-
sionaries introducing a bare mention of heathen


90 The Challenge to Missions

destinies as an argument for evangelising the
world. Their eyes never look that way. None
of their zeal comes visibly from that quarter.
It is not a question of future destinies at all
with them. What impels them is the sense of
the people's utter moral need and spiritual
darkness, their religious destitution, their " lying
in sin," and the burning desire to carry to all
men the blessed news of the Divine redemptive
love which has wrought such a transformation
in their own lives.

It is the same sense of the world's utter
moral need, sin, spiritual darkness, and religious
destitution, the same sense of unspeakable
obligations to Christ for new life and hope,
and the same eager desire to convey to all men
the grace which has brought us spiritual bless-
ing — it is this that must, and does, serve as a
sufficient motive for our missionary zeal. If
this fails to inspire us, it is a sinister sign that
we lack the very essence of the Christian mind,
the love which flamed in the apostles' hearts,
and that we have missed the true meaning
of salvation.

Our conception of salvation itself has been
changing at the very time when our theory of
the heathen has been changing, and the one
comes in aptly to interpret or correct the other.
The enlightenment which has been enlarging
our sympathies has in the same process been

Can the Motive Survive? 91

deepening our insight into the true nature of
salvation. Here enters our fourth principle,
that salvation is salvation from sin, not from
destinies. The real and urgent question is
not a matter of destinies at all, one way or
the other. It is one of present moral condition
and character. It is not what we are coming
to, but what we are becoming, that matters.
Destinies, good or bad, while momentous
enough, hang entirely on the character which
constitutes their quality. The actual problem
is, not the man's future, but the man.

Look at pagan peoples with the most God-
like eye, and there is enough in their condition
to appal our hearts, if we can see beneath the
surface of their natural content. However
large the mercy of Heaven, they most palpably
stand in dire need of being morally saved from
sin's degradation and spiritually enlightened
and enfranchised as the sons of God.

Properly we cannot speak of pagans being
either "saved" or "lost" in the full Christian
sense ; for these words are polarised, charged
with a depth of moral significance which is the
creation of Christianity, and their meaning is
not rightly applicable outside Christian spheres.
But we can speak of them being sunk and
dark, needing the salvation that elevates and

The old idea about the heathen — that they

92 The Challenge to Missions

were consigned to hell — was false in its crude
form, yet it was profoundly true in the moral
impression it conveyed. Take hell as the
symbol of their moral need, of the measure-
less calamity of sin and inward degradation,
as the awful canvas on which is flamingly
projected before our imagination the unspeak-
able evilness of evil and the catastrophe it
involves. When men could not picture to
themselves the inward deterioration in which
lay the true " damnum " (" loss "), this vivid
vision of future destinies gave them the full
measure of it, conveying the right moral im-
pression. Because the old forecast of heathen
destinies is softened away, some are being
blinded to the deep moral destitution and
darkness in which millions lie. What we have
now to fear is the swing of the pendulum to
the opposite error — that "it's all right with
the heathen." And undoubtedly it will take
time to plant the new conception of salvation
victoriously in the average Christian mind ;
and meanwhile the missionary spirit of some
may cool. But the transition-time will pass,
and the higher motive will become as strong
a dynamic as the old one.

If we have Christ's compassionate heart, we
burn to save all, whether heathen at home or
heathen abroad, from their sins and moral
degradation, from the things which waste and

Can the Motive Survive? 9


destroy their manhood, to redeem them from
the power of the flesh and the world and all
that defiles. Knowing Christ precious to our-
selves and what He can do for all men, we
thirst to see all spiritualised and made new
creatures in Christ Jesus, to send them that
which will raise them in character and make
them full men completed in Christ, that which
will not only enlighten, free, gladden, bless,
and enrich their existence, but will elevate
their corporate social and domestic life
and establish the kingdom of God among

Such is the true missionary motive, and
motive enough.

Even on a less tragic ground, why is it a
matter of urgent duty and concern on a
parent's part to teach his child the story of
Christ and train him in Christian truth and
life? The more modern theory of the dead
child's future — does it relax parental anxiety
to impart Christian light and teach him to
love and imitate Jesus ? What is the parent's
motive now? Simply the sharp sense of the
value of Christ to every human being, young
or old — the perception of the child's need and
peril if he does not get the saving power of
Christ upon him ; the sense of the native
worth and value of being a Christian in soul
and character; the desire to lift him out of

94 The Challenge to Missions

"the natural man" to "the measure of the
stature of the fulness of Christ."

If that motive be not strong enough to
inspire us with zeal for taking the blessing
of Christ to the heathen, then Christ has still
much work to do upon us to make us Christian
in mind and spiritual sympathy.



"Counting the Game"



"Counting the Game"

What have laymen, personally acquainted
with foreign countries, to say of the effects
that missions have had upon the natives ? Is
the Church herself satisfied with the results
produced? When sea-going people, traders,
travellers, and civil servants deprecate or
decry the missionary's work, it is commonly
on the ground that it spoils the natives, that
to educate them is only to make them worse,
or that the converts are so few that they cost
so many hundred pounds per head !

Some of the best civilians have a more
favourable report to give. Indeed it is
generally the highest class of civilians, hold-
ing responsible positions, who declare that
missions are doing an immense amount of
direct or indirect good. Sir Claude Macdonald,
late British Minister at Pekin, formerly British
Agent at Zanzibar and on the Niger, Sir Chas.
Aitchison, Lieut.-Governor of the Punjab, Sir
R. Temple, and other men of like position have
been steadfast supporters of mission work. Sir

G 97

98 The Challenge to Missions

Harry Johnston's tribute appeared but lately in

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Online LibraryR. E. (Robert Ethol) WelshChallenge to Christian missions : missionary questions & the modern mind → online text (page 4 of 9)