Missions, The Spirit of Christianity
“For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.”—John iii. 8.
From the time that the angels who fell left their first estate, from the time that the first faint thought of self exaltation cast its blighting shadows across the unsullied heart of the Son of the Morning, there has been going on in the universe a struggle between good and evil, between truth and falsehood, between holiness and sin, between God and Satan.
That there is a personal devil, and that he has set himself to mar, and has miserably marred, the fairest works of God; that, in his hellish antagonism against all holiness, and everything that exalts and honors God, he has, by wily and malignant deception, succeeded in alienating our race from holiness and from God, are truths so plainly taught in the Bible and manifested in the world around us, that only the willfully blind can fail to perceive them.
Deceiving our first mother, and through her overcoming our federal head, Satan corrupted the very fountain of human life, and from that time he has found the human heart, in every country and every age, an easy prey to his artifices. Artfully concealing his purpose and his agency from his victims with an angelic wisdom and foresight, he has led man on from sin to sin, from one degree of depravity to another, till the race now wraps itself in iniquity as a garment; aye, luxuriates like a carrion worm, in its native corruption and filth. Availing himself of his superior wisdom and ability, and of man’s weakness; perverting even the noblest and most heavenly sentiments of the human heart, he has, to the utmost of his power, subordinated to his own antagonism against God and truth, every thing, good and bad, in man, who has allowed himself to be led willingly captive. Like a roaring lion, he has gone forth to destroy. Like a cheat, he has deceived the nations. He has attacked the mind, the heart, the body. He has corrupted the languages, the tastes, the customs, the faith of all the nations. Perverting man’s tendency to religion, which is innate, he has led him into idolatry. Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, when he had led the ten tribes to revolt against the house of David, the rightful sovereigns of Israel, lest their love of religion, taking them to Jerusalem and to the sanctuary of Jehovah, that glorious temple that Solomon had built, should restore the people to their rightful Lord, set up golden calves in Bethel and in Dan, and proclaimed these the gods of Israel; and by satisfying thus, with a pretense and a lie, the religious tendency of the people, he kept them away from the true God, and from their lawful sovereign. And no name has come down to posterity stained with a blacker infamy than attaches to Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin.
Just this, on a far grander scale, Satan has done. Having led the world into sin and alienated man from God, lest his inborn tendency to worship should lead him back to God, he has perverted this heavenly gift, and made it the grand means of separation between God and the human soul, by instituting IDOLATRY. Walk with me in China, and I will show you gods by the wayside, gods at the bridges, gods of the fields and gods of the cities, gods of the courts, and gods of the kitchen, gods of the sea, and gods of the streams, gods of wealth, and gods of disease. Listen to the languages of the nations, and you find superstition and devil worship ingrained into them, and unconsciously breathed by the youngest child who has learned to speak. The forms of conception, the habits of life, the foundations of society, are built upon superstition and religious error. Go with me to ancient Greece and Rome, to Africa, and the islands of the sea, and I will show you as religious worship, orgies involving the violation of every moral sense, every sense of decency and virtue. Custom, custom makes right; and Satan’s shrewdness is nowhere more exercised than in the institution among all people of customs, involving immorality and degrading crime. Who but Satan could have instituted the custom of Ancestral worship, appealing to some of the tenderest and noblest sentiments of the human heart, by which the Chinese have been enslaved for thousands of years? Who but Satan could have instituted foot-binding, which in China, for scores of centuries, has crippled, and almost annihilated for all good, nearly one sixth of the human race? Satan understood too well the power and influence of woman as a strategic force, to allow her to escape his observation and special care. Hence the customs involving female degradation that prevail everywhere, except where the pure gospel of Jesus Christ has shed its light and influence. The natural delicate tenderness, the strong tendency to purity and goodness, the tenacity to truth and virtue, that characterize uncorrupted women; the tender mother-love, the almost unbounded mother-influence, are all checked or perverted by the arch-fiend, by female degradation and ignorance. The moral sense of the ancient Greeks and Romans must have revolted at the horrid lewd rites involved in their religious worship. Yet Satan had made custom sanction them, and thereby the horror was modified, and the devil continued to be worshipped.
But when, revolting at the absurdities of heathenism, the human mind demanded something better, Satan was equal to the occasion, and Mohammedanism arose, which, for eleven hundred years, has blighted with its curse many of the fairest lands of Asia, Africa and Europe.
And Satan ventures on holier ground. He enters the arena of truth, and, by its perversion, establishes man in his opposition to God. Judaism, at first the earthly embodiment of the truth of God, has been perverted to opposition to God’s own truth; and now, the descendants of “the friend of God,” to whom pertained the promises and the sanctuary, and by whom, as pertained to the flesh, the Christ came, are the inveterate and irreconcilable enemies of the truth, to which their own existence as a scattered, peeled, despised, yet separate and distinct people, bears the strongest testimony. Christ came to his own, and his own received him not, but cried, “Away with him, his blood be upon us and upon our children.” And till today they know not his saving grace; but, calling themselves the people of God, and believing that they are serving God, they are marshalled in Satan’s army, and direct all their mighty energies against God’s plan for destroying the works of the devil.
Would God Satan had stopped here! God-defiant, he has entered the very holy of holies, and, in the Church of Jesus Christ, has raised up Antichrist, which, veiled in the garb of the very Bride of Christ, but in heart charged with the venoms of the pit, has gone forth his chosen emissary to deceive the nations. O Rome, Rome, Rome! what hast thou done? From every land where thou hast held thy sway comes the wail of superstition ignorance and blood—energy stifled, mind enslaved, heart poisoned, truth crushed, vice rampant, God defied, Satan enthroned.
But the mind of man will not, cannot remain always bound by the absurd superstitions and slavish subserviency of Rome; and, breaking loose from its shackles, it rushes, led still by the archdeceiver, into the mazes of infidelity. Like the pendulum, from the one extreme of credulity, giving up soul and body to the dictum of the priest, the mind swings to the other extreme of infidelity. And here the enemy avails himself of every agency. Education, incipient science, the art of printing, the telegraph, literature, are all perverted to his service and to opposition to truth, to holiness and to God.
On the other hand, however, the Bible teaches, with equal plainness, that Jesus Christ was sent into the world to overcome all this evil. For this purpose was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works works of the devil.
In this struggle between good and evil, between God and Satan, the Bible represents all created intelligences as interested; and especially in the work of reconciliation that Christ is effecting, are their intensest feelings and sympathies elicited. Paul speaks of himself and his fellow-apostles as appointed unto death, and as a theatre, a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men; representing the world, the angels and men as gazing with intensest concern, as if upon one of the gladiatorial shows, in which persons appointed to death were set to struggle in mortal combat with wild beasts.
The angels are interested. They desire to look into this mystery. From the time of their creation they had been wont to bow in adoration before the Son of God. Now they behold a mystery involving his humiliation, his ignominy, his suffering, his death. It staggers them, and they desire to look into the mystery. They are all ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them who shall be the heirs of salvation. And they seem anxious to take part in the conflict. Right gladly they visited the saints under the Old Testament dispensation and under the New. Right gladly they ministered to the Saviour in the hour of his extremity in Gethsemane.
So, too, the saints are concerned. When it was permitted to Moses and Elijah to visit the Saviour at the time of his transfiguration on the mount, the only theme that could claim their conversation in that precious hour was the sacrifice that he should accomplish at Jerusalem.
And God also himself is intent upon the struggle, and upon the manifestation of his glory which is to result therefrom. Paul says, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men know what is the fellowship of the mystery which, from the beginning of the world, hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ to the intent that now, unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to his eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord”—(Ephesians 3:8–11)—i.e., unto Paul was granted the privilege of preaching among the heathen, and of letting all men know the fellowship of the mystery which had been hid in God from the beginning, but was now revealed through his holy Apostles; viz., the mystery of God’s purpose in creation; that he had created all things by Jesus Christ, to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God; that he had made the world expressly that, through his redeemed here, he might manifest to all the intelligences of the universe such glories in his character and workings, as, in all eternity, there had been no opportunity of exhibiting before.
With God this has become, if I may so speak, the grand theme, the supreme thought. The great themes of the Bible, its stupendous truths, are Man’s Apostacy and God’s Redemption. The Old Testament history was evidently written with an eye expressly to these doctrines. They constitute the burden of the prophets, they give all their music, all their sweetness to the Psalms, and the New Testament is but a final and authoritative reiteration of the same doctrines.
The central figure of Christianity is Christ. Around him cluster all its glories, in him centre all its joys, all its affections, all its hopes. He is the great sun of the Christian system, around which revolve its doctrines, its principles, its ordinances, its theories, its promises, its threats. He is the great source whence emanate all the Christian inspiration, all its light, its warmth, its vivifying power.
And Christianity is the central system of God’s universe. As the suns of God’s numerous systems are supposed to revolve about a common centre, towards which they gravitate, so about Christ and Christianity revolve, and towards Christ and Christianity gravitate God’s purposes, his providences, his works, his glories and his affections. Here is his peculiar joy, here his highest glory. Man has sinned, but Christ has redeemed him. Satan has corrupted man, but Christ purifies him, and makes him meet for companionship with angels and with God. Man has degraded himself to hell, but Christ exalts him to heaven.
The essence of Christianity in the individual soul is likeness to Christ, union with Christ. The key-note of the Christian life and character is fellowship and sympathy with Christ. The Christian’s fellowship with Christ in this life and the life to come was the object of the death of Christ. “Our Lord Jesus Christ died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10). Our Lord Jesus does long for the companionship and fellowship of his people. He did when he was on the earth. From among the multitude of his disciples he chose a dozen men that they might be with him. One object of our Saviour in selecting the Twelve doubtless was that, by their being constantly associated with him, witnessing his miracles, listening to his instructions, and imbibing his spirit, they might be the better prepared, after his removal from the earth, to build up and establish his kingdom in the world. But one object, also, was that they might be with him. And accordingly we find that, during his public ministry, only on those occasions when, though he was God, he felt it necessary to withdraw from all human companionship, and spend a season in communion with his Father in heaven, did he separate himself from his chosen disciples. When he was about to go away from the earth, his heart seems to have yearned over those disciples. “I go,” he says, “but I will not leave you comfortless. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am there ye may be also.” Again, he says to them, “Because I live ye shall live also,“ as though there was a necessity in the fact of the Saviour’s living that his disciples should live also; as though life would not be life for Christ unless his disciples, too, should live. And, then, in that last prayer to his Father, recorded in the seventeenth chapter of John, he says, “Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am;” as though heaven would not be heaven to Christ unless his disciples were there to share its glories with him. Strange! Incomprehensible! It almost seems as if the Lord Jesus were stooping to that which is unworthy of him as God, that he should long for the companionship and fellowship of such poor, miserable creatures as ourselves. And yet we are taught as plainly as language can express it, that the Lord Jesus longed for this, and so longed for it as to be willing to die to attain it.
The fellowship with Christ here spoken of, is to be begun in this life. The Christian is not to wait till he passes beyond the river to the other shore, to live with Jesus. It is “whether we wake or sleep,” i.e., whether we live or die, whether here or in the spirit land, that we are to live with Christ.
There is such a thing as the Christian’s living along with Jesus here in this life. Our Saviour, before he left the world, promised his disciples that he and his Father would come and take up their abode in the hearts of his people. Aye, there is more, even a conscious presence of the Lord Jesus. He promised that he would manifest himself to his own as he would not manifest himself to the world. He lets the Christian know of his presence and his love. I remember to have read somewhere of a man who was to spend the night in the same room with Bengel, the author of the Gnomon. Bengel was a holy man, and the Christian felt it would be a privilege to witness his devotions. He watched him, saying to himself: “Now, I shall see Bengel pray.“ But when the hour grew late, the old man, weary, closed his books and laid aside his papers, and, lifting his eyes to heaven, said; “O blessed Saviour, the same old relation between thee and me continues,” and quietly laid himself down to sleep. It was not necessary for the old man, worn as he was with his day’s labors, to go through with even the form of prayer. There was a fixed, established relation between him and his Saviour. Bengel loved Jesus, and Jesus knew it; Jesus loved Bengel, and Bengel knew it; and it was only necessary for him to say to his Redeemer: “Blessed Saviour, the same old relation between thee and me continues,” and in perfect confidence he could lay himself down to rest. The afflicted Christian sometimes attains this same spirit of confidence, union and harmony with the Divine will. Oft repeated and long continued suffering has brought him into a state of acquiescence in the Divine will and purposes, and he feels, “Whatever God wills, I will; whether for joy or for sorrow, for comfort or for pain, for life or for death.” And it is the Christian’s privilege always to live in this state of harmony with God and companionship with God. And if his privilege, then his duty.
But how can two walk together except they be agreed? Two men, all whose tastes, affection, purposes, aims, hopes are diverse, cannot walk together in love. Every subject that arises for discussion involves a dispute. There is a jar, a discord. They do not think alike, feel alike, act alike; and before they can walk and live to together in peace, they must come to have some common character, some common principles, some common interests, aims, purposes, affections. Now, if our Lord Jesus Christ died for us that we should live with him, it follows, necessarily, that he died for us that we might be united with him in sympathy, in character, and in desire.
If space permitted, it would be pleasant and profitable here to study the character of Jesus Christ, and to dwell upon some of those features in his character in regard to which we must be like him if we would live with him. Mark his humility. Though God, and knowing himself to be God, he yet moved an humble man among humble men. When reviled, he reviled not again; when rebuked, he threatened not, but meekly, gently, lovingly bore all. Go to Jesus Christ and learn how to live humbly before God, humbly among men. Note, too, his diligence. Whatever his surroundings, in the crowded city, or in the solitude of the desert, always ready to work. Having left the multitude on one occasion, expressly to seek a little rest for himself and his disciples, the multitude hearing of his whereabouts and following him, he was not too weary to come forth and preach to them. And when, journeying through Samaria, he sat wearied at noon upon the, curbing of the well near the city of Sychar, while his disciples went into the city to buy food, there came a woman of Samaria to draw water, Jesus was not too weary to talk to her of the water of life, nor to preach two whole days, to the Samaritans concerning the kingdom of God. Go, reader, to Jesus Christ and learn how to labor. Contemplate his tenderness and sympathy,— always touched with the woes of the distressed. Go to Jesus Christ and learn how to succor the needy and the suffering. And there is a fellowship of suffering, too, which it is the church’s privilege to share. Note, also, the spirit of confidence in his Father which characterized the Christ, saying in his last moments on the cross, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Go to Jesus Christ and learn how to die. But space does not allow a consideration of these points. Let it be clearly fixed in the mind, however, as a point in our argument, that the Lord Jesus Christ died for us, to the end that we should be united with him in character, in sympathy, and in desire.
The fellowship with Christ which is thus begun here is to continue in the life to come, Whether we wake or sleep, we are to live with him.
To the Christian there are not two lives. There is only one life here and hereafter. There are those who teach that the soul sleeps with the body from death till the resurrection; but the Bible knows nothing of any such doctrine. Had Paul believed that for him to die would be to lie down and sleep, would he ever have been in a strait betwixt two, not knowing what to desire—to depart and be with Christ, which, he said, would be far better, or to continue in the flesh for the benefit of the church? Ah, no! That man loved Christ too much. He would rather have lived and labored, sacrificed and suffered if need be, for the advancement of the Redeemer’s kingdom on the earth, than to have laid down to sleep. Paul knew that for him to die was to go into the more immediate, visible presence of the Lord Jesus than was possible even for him while he lived in the flesh. He longed to go. For him, to live was Christ; to die, gain. I was at the death-bed of a holy man once (a Presbyterian Missionary in China), and as he drew near to his earthly end he lifted up his eyes and said to us: “I see things that you cannot see, I know things that you cannot know. Death? Is this death? There is NO DEATH. It is just one living right straight on—just the expanding of temporal life into eternal life.” And there is the true idea of the Christian’s death: “Just living right straight on.” There is no stop at death, no cessation of existence, of consciousness, or of identity. It is a heathenish idea that at death we change into something or somebody else. We carry with us our consciousness, our identity, our memory, our character, our fellowship, and our love, just so far as these are pure and holy and in accord with the Divine will. When I go across the ocean to China I do not cease to be myself. I am there, as it were, in a new world, surrounded by people whose appearance, dress, language, tastes, habits, characters, are all different from what I have been accustomed to in America. But I am myself. My character, my aims, my hopes, my purposes, my fellowships, my loves, are unchanged. I do not change because I have crossed the water. And just so when I cross the little river of death. I shall be myself. I shall carry my character with me into the other world. If a tree fall toward the north or toward the south, in the place where a tree falleth, there it shall be. He that is holy shall be holy still, and he that is filthy shall be filthy still. The man who loves the world, who loves self, who loves sin here, will love self and sin over there, and the man who loves purity, and holiness, and God and Heaven here, will love purity, holiness, God and Heaven over there. Death will work no such change in any one, as that from being a lover of sin, of Satan and of the world, he will turn and begin to love holiness and God.
I shall carry, also, with me my fellowship and loves, so far as these are pure and holy. I know and love my friends in Jesus Christ here—I shall know and love them on the other shore. Why not? I shall be myself, and they will be themselves. We shall know that we are, and what we were, and why we are what we are. Punish a child without letting him know the ground of the punishment, and it ceases to be punishment—it is cruelty. So, take away from the rewards of the other world a knowledge of the grounds thereof, and they cease to be rewards. We shall carry our memories unimpaired into the future life. When the rich man lifted up his eyes in torment and saw Lazarus afar off in Abraham’s bosom, and begged that he might be sent to cool his tongue with a little water, Abraham, said to him: “Son, remember.” Shall the damned in hell remember and the saints in heaven forget? Never! We shall remember our struggles, our labors, our sacrifices, our temptations, our sins. We shall remember and love each other there. It will not be wrong to love some more than others. Christ did so when on earth. The Twelve were dearer to him than the multitude, the three nearer than the rest of the Twelve, and one is specially designated as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Those of us who have lived long on earth have come to feel that we have as many and as tender ties in the other world as in this, and one of the sweetest anticipations of the future life is the hope of reunion with our loved and lost.
And we shall carry with us our fellowship with Christ. For this he died, that whether we wake or sleep, live or die, we should live with him. In heaven every desire, every emotion that finds expression in the Saviour’s breast, will find an echo in the breasts of his saints; every cord that vibrates in the Saviour’s bosom will find a cord vibrating in unison in the bosoms of his own. Otherwise heaven will be no heaven. What of joy or comfort is there to the sin-loving man of the world in the company of the devout men of the earth while they talk of joy in the Holy Ghost? To him there is no joy. He would prefer to be among those of his own character and passions. So a soul in heaven not in sympathy with Christ would find heaven a hell. His presence would mar the harmony of heaven, and ruin it, which God can never allow. Dr. McCosh somewhere uses an illustration like this: Here is a clock. It is a beautiful piece of machinery. Every wheel, and every cog in every wheel moves in perfect harmony with every other, and with the grand design of the maker. There is beauty, there is symmetry, there is accuracy. But mark! Every time the hand reaches a certain point on the dial, there is a jar. The clockmaker searches to find the cause. One cog on one wheel is out of position, out of harmony with purpose of the maker. He may ply his nippers and twist it, or he may ply his file and rasp it. He will bring it into position and harmony if it will be brought. Otherwise he will destroy it. He cannot allow his whole machine to be ruined for the sake of one miserable cog. So with God. The universe is God’s grand machine, which he has built for a grand and glorious purpose. We are cogs in that machine. If we are in harmony with the rest of the machine, and with the purposes of the great Maker, all is well; if not, he will destroy us. God cannot help it. He cannot allow his universe to be ruined for the sake of a miserable sinner. God must destroy the sinner just because he is out of harmony and sympathy with himself.
The heavenly bodies move, each in its appointed orbit. There is beauty, there is symmetry, there is accord, there is silence. The attractions and counter-attractions balance each other, and all move in harmony with each other and with the purpose of the Maker. But let one of those orbs leave its orbit, however little, and the longer it strays, the further it strays. The equipoise is destroyed. The orb must be brought back, or, darting hither and yon through the heavens without law, God must destroy it. So with us. While we are in sympathy and harmony and cooperation with the Divine will and purpose, all is well; but, out of sympathy with God, all must perish.
Now, if it be true that sympathy with Christ here is necessary to our sympathy and life with him hereafter, it behooves us to ask: Is there any one thing upon which Christ has set his heart supremely? If so, in that we must sympathize. We, look into the Bible and there learn that the one grand, absorbing and, if I may so speak, consuming thought with the Christ is the saving of the souls of men all over this world. It was this that brought him from heaven, that carried him through all the scenes of his humiliation and suffering on earth, that took him to the cross and the grave. For this he lived, for this he labored, for this he sacrificed, for this he died, for this he arose again, and for this he now lives and pleads—aye, reigns in heaven.
All things were made by and for the Christ. For him the heavens were created, and all the angelic host; for him the orbs of light and beauty that roll in grandeur above us, the planets with all their inhabitants, if they have them. But upon none of these has the Son of God set his affections supremely. The angels sinned, but no provision was made for their redemption, and today they await in chains the day of the revelation of God’s wrath. But on this little planet of ours God seems to have centred his love in a peculiar manner. Here is to be the scene of his triumph over evil. The redeemed of the earth are called the “glory of Christ.” In them he finds his glory above every other glory. Through them God is to manifest such glories in his own character as in all eternity there has been no similar opportunity of exhibiting. For this purpose he made the worlds. He created all things by Jesus Christ, to the end that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known, by the church, the manifold wisdom of God.
To the accomplishment of his purposes in Jesus Christ God has subordinated every other purpose, every power, and every agency in the universe. Because Jesus Christ has suffered, God also hath highly exalted him, and given him THE NAME that is above every other name, that at the name of JEHOVAH JESUS every knee should bow, of things in heaven (angels), of things on earth (men), and of things under the earth (devils and damned spirits). Everything in heaven, earth and hell shall conspire to accomplish the work of Christ, which is the saving of men, and thereby the destroying of the works of the devil. If there be power in God Almighty to make Jesus Christ triumph, he will triumph.
And sympathy with Christ in this work of saving the souls of men everywhere is just the missionary spirit. It is inconceivable that a man should love Jesus and not love that which Jesus loves, not labor for that for which Jesus labors, sacrifice for that for which Jesus sacrificed, and die, if need be, for that for which Jesus died. Sympathy with Christ is the essence of Christianity, and is identical with the Spirit of Missions.
1 This article was published in Baptist Doctrines; being an exposition, in a series of essays be representative Baptist Minister, of the distinctive points of Baptist Faith and Practice, edited by Rev. Charles A. Jenkens of North Carolina (Chancy R. Barns: St. Louis, MO), 301–321. The article is “by Rev. J. B. Hartwell, D. D., San Francisco” and includes the following footnote about the author: “Twentyone years Missionary to China, of the Foreign Missionary Board of the Southern Baptist Convention; now Missionary of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention to the Chinese in California.