sometimes been greatly taken up with adjusting its statements so as to
defend God's character. But the plainest, fullest telling of truth is the
greatest revealer of His great wisdom and purity and unfailing love.
There has been a good bit of teaching about "God's sovereignty". Behind
that mysterious, indefinite phrase has crept much that badly needs the
clear, searching sunlight of day. God's sovereignty is commonly thought of
as a sort of dead-weight force by which He compels things to come His way.
If a man stand in the way of God's plan so much the worse for the man. It
is thought of as a sort of mighty army, marching down the road, in close
ranks, with fixed bayonets. If you happen to be on that road better look
out very sharply, or you may get crushed under foot.
I do not mean that the theologians put it in that blunt fashion, nor that
I have ever heard any preacher phrase it in that way. I mean that as I
have talked with the plain common people, and listened to them, this is
the distinct impression that comes continually of what it means to them.
Then, too, the phrase has often been used, it is to be feared, as a
religious cloak to cover up the shortcomings and shirkings of those who
aren't fitting into God's plan.
God is a sovereign. The truth of His sovereignty is one of the most
gracious of all the truths in this blessed old Book of God. It means that
the great gracious purpose and plan of God will finally be victorious. It
means that in our personal lives He, with great patience and skill and
power, works through the tangled network of circumstances and
difficulties to answer our prayers, and to bring out the best results for
It means further that, with a diplomacy and patience only divine, He works
with and through the intricate meshes of men's wills and contrary
purposes to bring out good now - not good out of bad, that is impossible;
but good in spite of the bad - and that finally all opposition will be
overcome, or will have spent itself out in utter weakness, and so His
purposes of love will be fully victorious.
But the practical thing to burn in deep just now is this, that we can
hinder God's plan. His plans have been hindered, and delayed, and made
to fail, because we wouldn't work with Him.
And God lets His plan fail. It is a bit of His greatness. He will let a
plan fail before He will be untrue to man's utter freedom of action. He
will let a man wreck his career, that so through the wreckage the man may
see his own failure, and gladly turn to God. Many a hill is climbed only
through a swamp road.
God cares more for a man than for a plan. The plan is only for the sake of
the man. You say, of course. But, you know, many men think more of
carrying through the plan on which they have set themselves, regardless of
how it may hurt or crush some man in the way. God's plan is for man, and
so it is allowed to fail, for the man's sake.
Yet, because the plan is always made for man's sake, it will be carried
through, because by and by man will see it to be best Many a man's
character has been made only through the wrecking of his career. If God
had had His way He would have saved both life and soul, both the earthly
career and the heavenly character.
Let us stop thoughtfully, and remember that God has carefully thought out
a plan for every man, for each one of us. It is a plan for the life,
these human years; not simply for getting us to what we may have thought
of as a psalm-singing heaven, when we're worn out down here.
It is the best plan. For God is ambitious for us; more ambitious for you
and me than we are for ourselves, though few of us really believe that.
But He will carry out His plan - aye, He can carry it out only with our
hearty consent. He must work through our wills. He honors us in that
With greatest reverence be it said that God waits reverently, hat in hand,
outside the door of a man's will, until the man inside turns the knob and
throws open the door for Him to come in and carry out His plan. We can
make God fail by not working with Him. The greatest of all achievements of
action is to find and fit into God's plan.
The Church Mission.
Now, God had and has a plan for His Church. That plan is simply this: The
Church was to be His messenger to the nations of the earth. There are
other matters of vast importance committed to the Church, without doubt:
the service of worship and the training and developing of the life of its
members. But these, be it said very thoughtfully, are distinctly secondary
to the service of taking the Gospel to all men.
These two, the chief and the secondary, are interwoven, each contributing
to and dependent upon the other. But there is always a main purpose. And
that here, without question, is the carrying of the message of Jesus fully
to all the earth. In each generation the chief plan, to which all else was
meant to be contributory, was that all men should hear fully and winsomely
the great thrilling story of Jesus.
Shall I say that that plan has failed? It hurts too much even to repeat
such words. I will not say the Church has failed. But I will ask you to
note God's plan for the Church, and then in your inner heart to make your
own honest answer.
And in making it remember the practical point is this - the Church is you.
I am the Church. Its mission is mine. If I say it has failed I am talking
about myself. I can keep it from failing so far as part of it is
concerned, the part that I am. My concern is not to be asking abstractly,
theoretically, about the Church, but about so much of it as I am.
In annual church reports, and triennial and quadrennial, much space is
given to telling of the wealth of the Church. Of course, I suppose its
wealth is meant to be an index of all its work. It may seem a bit odd to
use the world's index-finger to point out our faithfulness to our Master's
will. It is used, of course, to impress the world in the way the world can
most quickly and easily understand.
But the Church was not meant by the Master to be a rich institution in
money and property; though it has grown immensely so. The Master's thought
was that its power and faithfulness should be revealed entirely in the
extent to which all men of all nations know about Himself and have been
won to Him.
If we think only a little bit into the past history of the Church, and
then into present world conditions, we know the answer to that hurting
question about the Church being a failure.
I know that many of you are thinking of the triumphs of the Church; of her
imperishable and incalculable influence upon the life of the world. And I
will join you heartily in that, some other time. Just now we are not
talking of that, but of just one particular fact of its history. One truth
at a time makes sharper outlines and brings the whole circle of truth out
more plainly. I love to sing,
"I love Thy Kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode;
The Church our blest Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood."
We shudder to attempt to think into what these centuries would have been
without the influence of the Church.
But at present we are talking about something else. Let me ask you,
softly, if God's plan for the Church was that it was to be His messenger
to all men, as you think back through nineteen centuries and then think
out into the moral world conditions to-day, would you say the plan had
succeeded? Or had - ?
"Christ also Waits."
There's a bit of light here on that vexed question of the Lord's second
coming, about which good, earnest people differ so radically. The Master
said, you remember, that we were to be watching for His return. But many
ask, how can we be watching when it's been two thousand years since He
told us to watch, and the event seems as far off as ever?
I remember one day in a Bible class the lesson was in the twelfth of
Luke, about watching for the Lord's return. Some of the class seemed to
think that it means that we should be in a constant attitude of
expectancy, looking for His return. But one man, an earnest, godly old
minister said, "How can you be looking expectantly for a thousand
But will you mark keenly that the teaching of Jesus Himself was that His
return depended on His followers' doing a certain thing? When all men
had been told fully of Jesus, then He was to return and carry out a
further part of His plan. Clearly if the part we were to play has not been
done, it delays His part. The telling of all men about Jesus seems to bear
a very close connection with what will occur when Jesus returns.
Some of our good friends have been much taken up with figuring out when
the Lord would come back. Some of them seem to have great skill in making
calendars. They even go so far as to fix exact dates. They seem to forget
that word of the Master, "In such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man
cometh." If you think He will come at a certain given time, then you can
know one thing certainly, that He won't come then.
The only calendar we men have is a calendar of dates, fitted to the
movements of the sun and moon. God has a calendar, too, but it is a
calendar of events, not of dates. The completion of His plans doesn't
depend on so many revolutions of the earth about the sun, but on the
faithful revolution of His followers in their movement around the earth
telling men of Jesus.
It looks very much as though the Master's coming has been delayed, and His
plans delayed, because we have not done the preparatory part assigned us.
"The restless millions wait the light,
Whose coming maketh all things new.
Christ also waits; but men are slow and late.
Have we done what we could? Have I? Have you ?"
A little fellow, of a very poor family, in the slum section of one of our
large cities, was induced to attend a mission Sunday-school. By and by, as
a result of the teacher's faithful work, he became a Christian. He seemed
quite bright and settled in his new Christian faith and life.
Some one, surely in a thoughtless mood, tried to test or shake his simple
faith in God by a question. He was asked, "If God loves you, why doesn't
He take better care of you? Why doesn't He tell some one to send you warm
shoes and some coal and better food?"
The little fellow thought a moment, and then with big tears starting in
his eyes, said, "I guess He does tell somebody, but somebody forgets."
Without knowing it, the boy touched the sore point in the Church's
history. I wonder if it is the sore point with you or me.
The Coming Victory
Failure Swallowed By Victory.
The Revised Missionary Motto.
Ahead, But Behind.
In A Swift Current.
Power Of Leadership.
A Minority Movement.
A Great World-chorus.
The Oratorio Of Victory.
The Coming Victory
Failure Swallowed by Victory.
But God's failures are only for a while. They are real. There is the
tragic element in them. There is the deep, sad tinge of disappointment
running throughout this old Book of God. Yet the failures are only for a
time. Sometimes it seems a very long time, especially if you are living
through some of it. But the time reaches eagerly to an end. Victory comes.
And God's victory will be so great as to make us completely forget the
failures that marred the road.
The Eden plan was more than a plan. It was a prophecy of the final
outcome. The Book of God begins with failure, but it ends with a glowing
picture of great victory, painted with rose colors. Every feature of
beauty and of good in Eden has grown greatly in John's Revelation climax.
The garden of Genesis becomes a garden-city. All the simplicity and purity
of garden life, and all the development and power represented by city
life, are brought together. There is now a river of life, and the
tree of life has grown into a grove.
And God isn't through with that nation of Israel yet. The Jew can't be
lost. In every nation under heaven he can be found to-day, a walking
reminder of God's plan. Every Jew, in whatever ghetto he may be found, is
an unconscious prophecy of a coming fulfilment of God's purpose. The
strange racial immortality of the Jew is a puzzle from every standpoint,
except God's. He can't be killed off; though men have never ceased trying
to kill him off. The Jew looms up bigger to-day than for many generations.
The present strange restless Jewish longing for national existence again,
that will not down, spells out the coming victory of God's plan after
centuries of failure. And even though the present tide may run out toward
ebb, it will be to gather force for a new and fuller flood. When God's
plan works out the world will have a wholly new idea of national life, and
of a world-power without army or navy or any show of force, touching all
men, and touching them only to bless.
And though King Saul failed, there was already the ruddy David, out among
the sheep, waiting the anointing oil, and carrying about in his person his
nation's greatest king.
Jesus' Judas failed to realize the promise of his earlier days. He struck
the record note for baseness. But Paul was being prepared by blood
inheritance and scholarly training. Under the touch of the Master's own
hand he became the Church's greatest leader in its life-mission. If Judas
struck the lowest note, Paul rang the changes on the highest note of
personal loyalty to Jesus and to His world-wide passion and purpose.
And the Church has waked up. I said, you remember, last evening, that if
you look over the whole history of the Church since its birthday on
Pentecost, you are pained by the sore fact that the chief mission
entrusted to it has been for the most part forgotten. There has been more
forgetting of it, and neglecting it, than fulfilling it.
Yet always, be it keenly noted, in every generation of these centuries
there have been those whose vision of Olivet never dimmed. There have
always been those who have tried faithfully to carry out the Church's
great mission. The darkest days have never been without some of the
brightest light, made all the brighter by the surrounding night.
The Revised Missionary Motto.
But there's a new chapter of the Church's life being written as we talk
together. Its writing began in the closing twilight of the eighteenth
century. That chapter isn't finished yet. Some of its best pages are now
being written, with more and better clearly coming.
Its first lines were written by a very common pen. Carey's English
cobbler-shop became a sounding-board whose insistent, ringing messages
began to waken the Church. The Church is waking up, and shaking itself,
and tightening on its clothes, for the greatest work yet to be done in
fulfilling the life-mission entrusted to it.
A hundred years ago the fire of God found fresh kindling stuff in the
hearts and brains of a few young college fellows in an old New England
village. The sore need of the world crowded in upon them by night and by
day. But they were few, and young, and unknown. And the task was
stupendous. The rain-storm of a Sabbath afternoon drove them to the
shelter of a hay-stack. And the storm of the world's need drove them to
the shelter of prayer, and then to the shelter of a great purpose. With
simple faith in God, and strong devotion to the great neglected task, they
spoke out to the Church the thrilling words, "We can do it if we will".
And on that same spot a hundred years later the Church gathered. Those
intense words had been heard. The Church had waked up. Men of long service
in far-away lands stood with those of the home circle. They talked of the
past, but far more of the present and future. They revised the century-old
motto. No group of scholars in the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Abbey
ever did finer revision work. They said, "We can do it, and we will". No
greater tribute to the memory of the faithful little hay-stack group was
ever made than in that changed motto.
The young collegians' bold cry had sounded out throughout the Church. And
the Church heard and roused up. The modern missionary movement of the
Church is the most marked development of the past century of church
history. It can be said that the Church of our day in its missionary
activity far exceeds the early Church. That is to say, in certain
particulars we have exceeded.
It is common to refer to the missionary zeal of the first centuries.
Fresh from the Master's touch, the early Church was chiefly a missionary
church. One great purpose gripped it, and that was to take the news of
Jesus everywhere. And they went everywhere. We know most about Paul's
journeys in the Grecian and Roman worlds. But there is good evidence that
there is another "Acts of Apostles" beside the one bound up in this Bible.
Out to the farthest reaches of the earth they seemed to have gone in those
early days, preaching and winning men and establishing church societies.
The bulk of the modern movement is without doubt greatly in excess of
the early movement. The number of men out in various fields, the amount of
money being given annually by the Church in America and Great Britain and
the Continental countries is so much greater as to leave comparison
In the thoroughness of organization, the elements of permanency, the great
variety of means used such as hospitals, schools, literature, and
industrial helps, the present probably exceeds by far the early movement.
The statesmanlike study by church leaders of the whole world-field, the
steadiness of movement year after year, in spite of difficulties and
discouragements, the careful systematic effort to inform and arouse the
home church - these are marked features of the present foreign-mission
campaign. They are such as to awaken the deepest admiration of any
thoughtful onlooker. In all of this the modern Church is making a wholly
Ahead, But Behind.
Yet, while all this is true, it can be said just as truly that the Church,
as a whole, is so far behind the primitive Church as, again, practically
to leave comparison out of the question. They were so far ahead in the
mass of their movement that we are scarcely in the lists at all. Then
the whole Church was an active missionary society. Every one went and
preached. The nearest approach to it in modern times probably is the
movement of the native Church of Korea. This foreign people seems to have
caught the early spirit. Our heathen brothers are taking their place as
pace-setters for the Church.
By contrast with that, the modern activity has been by a minority, really
a small minority, though a steadily growing one. The leaders have
struggled heroically against enormous odds in the backward pull of the
Then they went everywhere. That is, they went everywhere that they
could, so far as open doors, or doors that could be pried open, let them.
We have gone actually farther, and to more places probably, but we haven't
begun to go everywhere that we could.
Our ability to go, and the urgent requests for us to come, would carry us
to thousands of places not yet touched. If we began to do things as the
early Church people did, it would stand out as one of the greatest
movements in the history of the race. If a small minority of us have made
such enormous strides what could the whole of us do if we would!
In a Swift Current.
The momentum of the present missionary movement has been startling. It
suggests that we are on the eve of an advance undreamed of by the most
enthusiastic. The last twenty-odd years have seen progress clear
outstripping that of the previous hundred, though all built upon the
foundations so well laid by the earlier leaders of the century.
In answer to the earnest persistent prayer of a few, the Spirit of God
found new stuff ready for His kindling fires among the colleges. The story
of the prayer of a few that preceded the forming of the Student Volunteer
Movement is thrilling. That great movement was literally conceived and
brought forth in the travail of prayer. Its wide-spread influence upon the
colleges, and then upon the churches; its early campaigning, its
remarkable leaders, its great conventions, the steadiness of its growing
influence through more than twenty years, and the distinct mark it has
made upon the whole mission propaganda abroad, make up one of the most
thrilling chapters of church history, ancient or modern. To-day its
influence encircles the earth. Its volunteers are found everywhere.
Its reflex influence upon that other movement, the Young Men's Christian
Association, has been no small part of its work. The two have been
interwoven from the beginning, each contributing immeasurably to the
other. The practical power of the Young Men's Christian Association on
foreign soil is recognized by the Church, and by foreign governments, as
of a value clear beyond calculation or statement.
It has come to be one of the great expressions of the unifying spirit of
the Church on foreign-mission soil. Our churches at home may go their
separate ways, largely. But the pressure of the sore need of the foreign
world has been welding the churches there together remarkably. The
Christian Associations, both of young men and young women, belonging to
all the Church and representing all, have held a strategic position in
action, and been of inestimable service to the Church in its missionary
The Young People's Missionary Movement, whose long, warm fingers are
reaching throughout the whole Church, and the newer Laymen's Missionary
Movement with its aggressive campaigning, are both remarkable expressions
of the new uprising.
The women of the Church were forehanded in their earnest working and
praying. They were up at dawn of day. Their influence is mighty, clear
beyond any words to express. And now at last the men are waking up, and
the new life is showing itself anew within organic church lines. Men's
missionary conventions, with great attendances, are swinging into line,
and revealing the awakeness of the Church.
Power of Leadership.
The enormous power of personal influence and of devoted leadership has
been most marked. In the throng of strong men that lead in all this
activity there are two men that by common consent stand out big in the
group. Young men they are, both of them, not yet in the full prime of
their powers. One has a genius for organization probably never surpassed,
if equalled, by military general, or Jesuit chief, or modern captain of
industry. The other has mental grasp, keenness of thought, and power of
persuasive speech not surpassed by any, if equalled. Both are marked by a
singularly deep, tender spirituality, a rare gift of leadership, a poise
of judgment, and a devotion to the Church's great mission as true and
steady as the polar star.
Around these two young men has grouped up in no small measure this later
missionary activity. And it is probably quite within the mark to say that
no stronger, abler men can be found in any of the great activities of life
to-day in either of these two great English-speaking peoples. It is surely
significant that the modern missionary movement rallies around such
It is worthy of special note, too, that the body of men to whom is
entrusted the administration of this vast network of foreign service, the
foreign-board members and secretaries of the Church, have developed such
remarkable power and skill. No body of men has problems more intricate and
exacting and difficult. And no body of men in any sphere of activity has
shown greater diplomacy and astuteness, hard sound sense, and untiring
Some good friends are sometimes disposed to be critical of methods and
management. They think the affair could be conducted better in some
details which they think important. Well, it would be surprising if it
were not so. The same criticisms are made of every governmental and great
industrial enterprise. Everything human seems to make progress by
correcting and improving. But the thing for you and me to keep a
critically keen eye upon is this: that no such detail be allowed to affect
by so much as a hair's weight the steadfast ardor of our support.
No strong man in the thick of the great driving purpose of his life is
turned aside or stopped by the biting or buzzing of a few insects. If even