- The Practicability of' Something being done, more than what is done,
- for the Conversion of the Heathen.
The impediments in the way of carrying the gospel among the heathen must arise, I think, from one or other of the following things: either their distance from us, their barbarous and savage manner of living, the danger of being killed by them, the difficulty of procuring the necessities of life, or the unintelligibleness of their languages.
First, as to their distance from us, whatever objections might have been made on that account before the invention of the mariner's compass, nothing can be alleged for it with any colour of plausibility in the present age. Men can now sail with as much certainty through the Great South Sea as they can through the Mediterranean or any lesser sea. Yea, and Providence seems in a manner to invite us to the trial, as there are to our knowledge trading companies whose commerce lies in many of the places where these barbarians dwell. At one time or other ships are sent to visit places of more recent discovery, and to explore parts the most unknown; and every fresh account of their ignorance, or cruelty, should call forth our pity, and excite us to concur with Providence in seeking their eternal good. Scripture likewise seems to point out this method, "Surely the Isles shall wait for me; the ships of Tarshish first, to bring my Sons from far, their silver, and their gold with them, unto the name of the Lord, thy God" (Isaiah 60:9). This seems to imply that in the time of the glorious increase of the church in the latter days, of which the whole chapter is undoubtedly a prophecy, commerce shall subserve the spread of the gospel. The ships of Tarshish were trading vessels which made voyages for goods to various parts; this much therefore must be meant by it, that navigation, especially that which is commercial, shall be one great means of carrying on the work of God; and perhaps it may imply that there shall be a very considerable appropriation of wealth to that purpose.
Secondly, as to their uncivilized and barbarous way of living, this can be no objection to any except those whose love of ease renders them unwilling to expose themselves to inconveniences for the good of others.
It was no objection to the apostles and their successors, who went among the barbarous Germans and Gauls, and still more barbarous Britons! They did not wait for the ancient inhabitants of these countries to be civilized before they could be christianized, but went simply with the doctrine of the cross; and Tertullian could boast that "those parts of Britain that were proof against the Roman armies were conquered by the gospel of Christ." It was no objection to an Elliott, or a Brainerd, in later times. They went forth, and encountered every difficulty of the kind, and found that a cordial reception of the gospel produced those happy effects which the longest intercourse with Europeans could never accomplish without the gospel. It now is no objection to commercial men. It only requires that we should have as much love for the souls of our fellow-creatures and fellow-sinners as they have for the profits arising from a few otter-skins, and all these difficulties would be easily surmounted.
After all, the uncivilized state of the heathen, instead of affording an objection against preaching the gospel to them, ought to furnish an argument for it. Can we as men, or as Christians, hear that ignorance and barbarism envelops a great part of our fellow creatures, whose souls are as immortal as ours and who are as capable as ourselves of adorning the gospel, and contributing by their preaching, writings, or practices to the glory of our Redeemer's name, and the good of the church? Can we hear that they are without the gospel, without government, without laws, and without arts and sciences, and not exert ourselves to introduce amongst them the sentiments of men, and of Christians? Would not the spread of the gospel be the most effectual means of their civilization? Would that not make them useful members of society? We know that such effects did in measure follow the afore-mentioned efforts of Elliott, Brainerd, and others amongst the American Indians; and if similar attempts were made in other parts of the world, and were followed with a divine blessing (which we have every reason to think they would) might we not expect to see able Divines, or read well-conducted treatises in the defence of the truth, even amongst those who at present seem to be scarcely human?
Thirdly, in respect to the danger of being killed by them, it is true that whoever goes must put his life in his hand, and not consult with flesh and blood; but do not the goodness of the cause, the duties incumbent on us as the creatures of God, and Christians, and the perishing state of our fellow men, loudly call upon us to venture all and use every warrantable exertion for their benefit? Paul and Barnabas, who "hazarded their lives for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 15:26), were not blamed as being rash but commended for so doing, while John Mark, who through timidity of mind deserted them in their perilous undertaking, was branded with censure. After all, as has been already observed, I greatly question whether most of the barbarities practiced by the savages upon those who have visited them have not originated in some real or supposed affront, and were therefore more properly acts of self-defence than proofs of ferocious dispositions. No wonder if the imprudence of sailors should prompt them to offend the simple savage, and the offence be resented; but Elliott, Brainerd, and the Moravian missionaries have been very seldom molested. Nay, in general the heathen have showed a willingness to hear the word; and have principally expressed their hatred of Christianity on account of the vices of nominal Christians.
Fourthly, as to the difficulty of procuring the necessities of life, this would not be so great as may appear at first sight; for though we could not procure European food, yet we might procure such as the natives of those countries which we visit subsist upon themselves. And this would only be passing through what we have virtually engaged in by entering on the ministerial office. A Christian minister is person who is "not his own" (1 Cor. 6:19); he is the "servant" of God, and therefore ought to be wholly devoted to him. By entering on that sacred office he solemnly undertakes to be always engaged as much as possible in the Lord's work, and not to choose his own pleasure or employment, or pursue the ministry as a something that is to subserve his own ends or interest, or as a kind of sideline. He engages to go where God pleases, and to do or endure what he sees fit to command or call him to in the exercise of his function. He virtually bids farewell to friends, pleasures, and comforts, and stands in readiness to endure the greatest sufferings in the work of the Lord, his Master. It is inconsistent for ministers to please themselves with thoughts of a numerous congregation, cordial friends, a civilized country, legal protection, affluence, splendour, or even an income that is sufficient. The slights and hatred of men, and even pretended friends, gloomy prisons, and tortures, the society of barbarians of uncouth speech, miserable accommodations in wretched wildernesses, hunger and thirst, nakedness, weariness, and diligence, hard work, and but little worldly encouragement, should rather be the objects of their expectation. Thus the apostles acted in primitive times and endured hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ; and though we live in a civilized country where Christianity is protected by law, and are not called to suffer these things while we continue here, yet I question whether all are justified in staying here, while so many are perishing without means of grace in other lands. I am sure that it is entirely contrary to the spirit of the gospel for its ministers to enter upon it from motives of self-interest or with great worldly expectations. On the contrary the commission is a sufficient call to them to venture all, and, like the primitive Christians, go everywhere preaching the gospel.
It might be necessary, however, for two, at least, to go together, and in general I should think it best that they should be married men. To prevent their time from being employed in procuring necessities, two or more other persons, with their wives and families, might also accompany them, who would be wholly employed in providing for them. In most countries it would be necessary for them to cultivate a little spot of ground just for their support, which would be a resource for them whenever their supplies failed. Not to mention the advantage they would reap from each other's company, it would take off the enormous expense which has always attended undertakings of this kind, for the first expense would be the whole; for though a large colony needs support for a considerable time, yet so small a number would, upon receiving the first crop, maintain themselves. They would have the advantage of choosing their situation, their wants would be few; the women, and even the children, would be necessary for domestic purposes; and a few articles of stock, as a cow or two, and a bull, and a few other cattle of both sexes, a very few utensils of husbandry, and some corn to sow their land, would be sufficient. Those who attend the missionaries should understand husbandry, fishing, fowling, etc., and be provided with the necessary implements for these purposes. Indeed a variety of methods may be thought of, and when once the work is undertaken, many things will suggest themselves to us, of which we at present can form no idea.
Fifthly, as to learning their languages, the same means would be found necessary here as in trade between different nations. In some cases interpreters might be obtained, who might be employed for a time; and where these were not to be found, the missionaries must have patience, and mingle with the people, till they have learned so much of the language as to be able to communicate their ideas to them in it. It is well known to require no very extraordinary talents to learn, in the space of a year, or two at most, the language of any people upon earth, so much of it, at least, as to be able to convey any sentiments we wish to their understandings.
The missionaries must be men of great piety, prudence, courage, and forbearance; of undoubted orthodoxy in their sentiments, and must enter with all their hearts into the spirit of their mission; they must be willing to leave all the comforts of life behind them, and to encounter all the hardships of a torrid or a frigid climate, an uncomfortable manner of living, and every other inconvenience that can attend this undertaking. Clothing, a few knives, powder and shot, fishing-tackle, and the articles of husbandry above-mentioned, must be provided for them; and when arrived at the place of their destination, their first business must be to gain some acquaintance with the language of the natives (for which purpose two would be better than one), and by all lawful means to endeavour to cultivate a friendship with them, and as soon as possible let them know the errand for which they were sent. They must endeavour to convince them that it was their good alone which induced them to forsake their friends and all the comforts of their native country.
They must be very careful not to resent injuries which may be offered to them, nor to think highly of themselves so as to despise the poor heathens, and by those means lay a foundation for their resentment or their rejection of the gospel. They must take every opportunity of doing them good, and labouring and travelling night and day they must instruct, exhort, and rebuke, with all long-suffering, and anxious desire for them, and, above all, must be instant in prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the people of their charge. Let but missionaries of the above description engage in the work and we shall see that it is not impracticable.
It might likewise be important, if God should bless their labours, for them to encourage any appearance of gifts amongst the people of their charge; if such should be raised up many advantages would be derived from their knowledge of the language and customs of their countrymen; and their change of conduct would give great weight to their ministrations.