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The Scottish Churches' Work Abroad
Scotland And The Kingdom Of God


IT will be generally admitted that Scotland has at various times rendered notable service to the Kingdom of God, and not least by the part she has played in the modern missionary movement. In his great work on Christian Missions and Social Progress, Dr. Dennis has for the frontispiece of volume iii. the portraits of "representative missionaries who have served both Church and State." There are twenty-one of these, of whom ten are Scotsmen. This estimate is the more remarkable coming from an American writer, and indicates the extraordinary prominence of Scottish names on the Roll of Honour of missionary heroes. Many of them are names that thrill—names of which Scotland will never cease to be proud.

I

This record ought surely to be an inspiration and an impulse to farther service. We have come to-day to a singularly interesting and critical point in the history of Christian Missions. A new world is struggling to the birth, and the question has to be faced whether or not it shall be a Christian world. The situation seems to demand that all the forces of Christianity should be rallied, as never before, to a world-wide campaign.

We are witnessing the bankruptcy of nationalism. No doubt there has been a sharp recrudescence of national feeling not only among various European peoples, but also throughout the East. There is, too, an alarming amount of bitter racial antipathy. But the fearful peril to civilisation arising from the unchecked indulgence in these feelings is now more clearly seen. Sane people in all countries are agreed that nationalism is not the final word. It simply will not do. For no nation, no race, can live to itself or die to itself. Its living or dying are the common concern of all. This sense, that the whole world is one, grows daily stronger, and must prevail if disaster is to be averted. Indubitably the world to-day is one, and it must needs find some way of living as one. It has no other option; it must solve this problem straightway or perish.

We are witnessing, at the same time, the bankruptcy of the ethnic religions. Our Western civilisation is everywhere proving too strong for them. Like a resistless tide it has rolled round the world, sweeping along the most distant shores, and flooding the most secret channels and inlets. It is not merely that the superstitions and barbarous customs of the lower races are being swept away. It is something far more profound than the passing of the witch-doctor and the devil-worshipper. The ancient systems of the East are feeling the influence no less. In India, what Dr. Duff predicted has come to pass. The philosophy underlying Hinduism has become impossible of belief in the light of modern science. Men may continue to cling, as is natural, to the time-honoured forms of their ancestral faith, but the foundations underneath their feet are being washed away. The same situation is revealing itself in China and among the Moslems of the Middle East. Many, having lost their old faith, are taking the low road of secularism; many in their spiritual perplexity are brought to a stand, not knowing where to turn or whom to follow. One thing their new learning has made for ever impossible, and that is a return to their old religious home. Writing of the great upheaval which is at present taking place throughout the Middle East, Dr. Robert Speer says, "The issue for the Mohammedan world is not Mohammed and Christ. It is not Mohammed or Christ. It is Christ. It is Christ or decay and death." The same may be said of the ethnic religions generally. They do not present an effective alternative to the Christian faith. They are no longer tenable in the light of modern knowledge.

The crude old idea, therefore, of leaving the heathen alone—the Hindu to his Hinduism, the Buddhist to his Buddhism— is altogether out of date. Even though on other grounds it were desirable, it is an impossible policy. Multitudes have forsaken their ancient faiths, and will continue to forsake them, whether they receive the Gospel or not. The work of destructive criticism goes on apace, in all schools of Western science and literature, in the newspapers and by political propaganda. So that the position of a devout believer in any of the ethnic religions becomes daily more precarious. His is indeed a pathetic outlook, standing there, as it were, on a crumbling bar of sand, destined sooner or later to be submerged by the inflowing tide. It is a situation which must surely make a profound appeal both to divine compassion and to human pity.

II

What, then, is the task of the Christian Church to-day? It is nothing less than this, to keep religion alive in the earth, to save the nations from going down into the bottomless pit of secularism. This is the burden which will fall more and more on the shoulders of the Christian Church. Christianity really holds the field, and alone has the power to hold it. "So far as I understand the times in which we live," writes Dr. Glover, and his judgment is of the greatest weight, "religion is only possible to the modern man along the lines of Jesus Christ. For the really educated man of to-day there are no other religions."

The task of the Church, then, is not such as can be limited to any sect or nation or race. To meet the present crisis it must be undertaken on a world-wide scale. The situation to-day would seem to be in many respects similar to that which arose in connection with the break-up of the Roman Empire. The venerable faiths of the ancient world were passing away because they were no longer credible. The decay of faith was followed by a serious moral breakdown, and the then civiised world appeared in imminent danger of lapsing into universal godlessness. At the same time there appeared the Yellow Peril of that age, in the shape of barbarous hordes from Asia, who burst upon Europe and threatened with extinction all the culture of the GraecoRoman world.

Then it was that Christian Missions saved religion and civilisation in Europe. It was the most significant event of the age. Doubtless other events, the intrigues of the Imperial Court, the inroads of the barbarians, the sack of Rome by Alaric, must have appeared at the time far more momentous and heart-shaking. But, in the final issue, of infinitely more importance to the human race were the apostolic journeys of Ulphilas and Winifred, together with the faithful labours of Christian preachers and traders, slaves and captives, who broadcasted the Gospel throughout Europe. These were the men who, with the quietness which marks all divine work, were laying broad and deep the foundations of a new and better age.

III

Once again, in our time, the curtain rises on a similar drama which must now be acted out upon the stage, not of Europe, but of the world. Among the significant events of the age are to be noted a widespread decay of faith and the appearance on the scene of formidable masses of heathenism which are making their presence and their pressure increasingly felt.

The battle is joined all along the line. Everywhere Christian forces have come into touch with the forces of irreligion and of heathenism. No mere sectional triumph is of any avail, no policy of isolation is possible. We are faced with the appalling possibility of a godless world hastening onward to its own destruction, and the only hope of salvation lies in a world-wide victory of the Cross. For this reason the work of Christian Missions is the biggest enterprise of the age. Absurd as it may seem to many, it is none the less true that, not the War nor the League of Nations, not the progress of science nor the industrial revolution, but the spread of the Gospel is that which is most vital to the welfare of the nations, and so it will doubtless appear to the eyes of posterity. Amid much that is uncertain and even terrifying in the prospect before us, there are not wanting signs of progress, while faith ever gives the assurance that Christ will be found adequate to the crisis of our time as He has been found adequate in every previous age. Relying on this assurance, it may not be presumptuous to hazard the prediction that these troubled times of ours may stand out on the page of history as the era when the Cross went forth triumphantly to the conquest of Asia and Africa and the islands of the sea, and when, by the grace of Christ, the foundations were at last laid for the world-wide brotherhood of the sons of God.

To this task the Church of Christ, and every member of it, is summoned as by a clarion call. "What we need in the Christian Church to-day," says Dr. Henry Van Dyke, "is a revival of the patriotism of the Kingdom of Heaven. The commonwealth of love for which Christ lived and died is world-wide. We cannot love any part of it rightly unless our thoughts and our desires reach out through that part to the greater whole to which it belongs. Indifference to missions is the worst kind of treason. Enthusiasm for missions is the measure both of our faith in Christ and of our love for man." This ardent "patriotism of the Kingdom of Heaven" was a conspicuous mark of the Apostolic Church. St. Paul was a patriotic Jew; he was proud of his citizenship in the Roman Empire, but first and foremost he was conscious of himself as a member of the Christian commonwealth, and to it he gave his life. He was a Christian imperialist. There is no doubt that he clearly set before himself the policy of unifying the nations under the sway of Christ, and taught the Church to regard this as the divine goal of history.

The Church has never quite lost this vision, though there have been times when it has grown very dim. There have never been wanting men of apostolic spirit who have been ambitious to extend the boundaries of Christ’s Kingdom, and who have gone forth at all hazards to carry His flag into the regions beyond. In the direct line of this apostolic succession stands the missionary of to-day, often despised and maligned, but without a rival as the pioneer of the Christian army. With the widening of horizons and the opening of new doors to the Gospel, his task has become more immense and its burden greater than he can bear. Unless, indeed, the whole Church wakens up and pours in fresh supplies of men and munitions, the advance threatens to be turned into a retreat.

IV

The Winamwanga, a Central African tribe, have a proverb, "There are no blanks in the King’s army," meaning that if a man in the front rank falls in the fight, somebody must at once step into his place. The Gospel has taught these people to transfer that fine loyalty to Christ. It was at the close of the War, and Dr. Chisholm of the Livingstonia Mission was sorely in need of his long-delayed furlough. But there was nobody to take his place. No white missionary was available, and his two best native helpers had fallen in the war-time. He could think of only one man, but he was employed in Government service at exactly five times the wage which the Mission could offer, and it hardly seemed decent to apply to him. But one day Jonathan appeared and said that, hearing of the need of the Mission, he had given up his work with the Government and had come to offer his help. He was asked, did he realise that he could not get the salary he had been accustomed to? Yes, he understood that. What, then, had prompted him, inquired the missionary, to take this step ? For answer, Jonathan drew himself up and said, "There are no blanks in the King’s army."

It was a fine utterance of Christian patriotism. Would that such a spirit might animate the Church! What is needed is that the ardour of loyalty should be given to Christ, that the warm love of kin and country should be enlightened by a Christian view of the world and sublimated into a love for all mankind. The Scottish people have always been eminently patriotic, and their patriotism has often had a religious centre. There have been times when Scottish hearts thrilled at the great watchword, "The Crown Rights of the Redeemer," and when the nation rose as one man to vindicate those rights. For it was their conviction that nothing would be right till the King came to his own. We have the same conviction if we are Christians at all, and we need a revival of their spirit. We need to lift up the old watchword, giving it now a wider, even a world-wide, significance, for the Crown Rights of the Redeemer are nothing less than this, that "He shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth."

It is in the interests of this high cause that many look with hopefulness to a reunited Scottish Church. If it were only to bring about economy, or to provide greater comfort and security, the Union of the Churches would be a paltry and insignificant affair. Yea, more, if its aim were merely to promote the Christian god of the people of Scotland, that aim, though noble, would yet be unchristian in its narrowness. The aim, consciously held in view and steadily pursued, must be nothing less than this, to make Scotland a more effective agent for promoting the Kingdom of God in the world. If there be conservation of energy in one field it must only be in order that it may be more freely expended in other fields. Indeed, it may be questioned whether we should distinguish the fields, except in a subordinate sense, for we are told on the highest authority that the field is one. "The field is the world," said our Lord, and His mighty purpose of salvation cannot be accomplished until "all men shall be blessed in Him and all nations shall call Him blessed."

Scotland has been singularly blessed, and if the question be asked, "To what end?" there can only be one Christian answer. It is that the Scottish Church and people may be the better fitted to advance the Kingdom of God among men and to aid in spreading abroad the blessings of the Gospel to all nations. In no other way can Scotland’s position of privilege be justified and her divine destiny be fulfilled. And only as she seeks to fulfil that destiny can she hope to enjoy a continuance of the divine favour.


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