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Memoirs of John Urquhart
Appendix B


DR. CHALMERS. — THE ST. ANDREW’S MISSIONARY

PERHAPS an apology may be necessary for again calling the attention of our readers to a subject which may be supposed by some of them to have already occupied too prominent a place in the pages of the University Magazine. It is not, however, to the general subject of missions that the following observations refer; but to an institution, which, for several reasons, is highly deserving of our attention. The meetings of the St. Andrew’s Missionary Society are conducted by one of the most distinguished men of the present age; and one who is both an eleve and a Professor of our own University. After alluding to Dr. Chalmers, it is scarcely necessary to add, that the perfect originality of the plan of procedure in the public meetings of this society, furnishes the subject with an additional claim upon our regard. We feel quite ashamed, indeed, that we have not ere now given a more detailed account of these highly interesting meetings. Our only excuse is, that we have felt unequal to the task. When any subject is treated in an ordinary manner, a brief summary of leading ideas may be sufficient to suggest a pretty accurate conception of the whole; as a well executed sketch may give a just enough idea of a common painting. But should we attempt to give any adequate conception of the rich and expressive diction, and the living imagery of Dr. Chalmers’s style, by a meagre outline of his ideas, it were something as if a mere dabbler in the fine arts should hold up his own rude and and imperfect sketch of some masterpiece of the pencil, and pretend thereby to afford a just representation of that original, in which every lineament gave grace and beauty, and every touch gave life. This, therefore, we shall not attempt. Our object in these remarks is to give some account of Dr. Chalmer’s plan of procedure, which we think might be extensively adopted in meetings of a similar nature, with very considerable advantage.

Dr. Chalmers is, in the widest sense of the word, a Philosopher; and philosophy is his companion wherever he goes. He has here succeeded in introducing her into a place, where, it must be confessed, she has but seldom appeared hitherto, and where her friends expected, least of all, perhaps, to find her, the metting of a Missionary Society. If we have been at all able to guess at the scope of Dr. Chalmers’s general plan, from the few of these meetings we have had the pleasure of attending, he appears to us to have taken a most interesting view of missionary operations. He seems to regard the history of Christian enterprise among the heathen, as a wide field of observation, from whence we may gather, by induction, some very important truths in reference to the Christian religion. Accordingly, while interesting selections are read from the periodical accounts of different missionary societies, the inferences that may be legitimately drawn from the facts there recorded, are set forth by Dr. Chalmers in paragraphs of his own composition, occasionally interspersed with extemporaneous explanation. These serve to connect together the extracts that are read, and thus give to the whole the air of a continuous and well arranged discourse, where some important doctrines are advanced, which are proved as well as deeply impressed on the mind by an appeal to very striking historical illustration. Apparently from a desire to give a more distinct view of the different spheres of missionary labour, Dr. Chalmers seems to wish to confine his attention to the operations of one body of Christians at a time. At those meetings which we have had the opportunity of attending, during this and the preceding session, the facts which have formed the ground-work of Dr. Chalmers’s observations have been gleaned chiefiy from the accounts of the Moravian missions. We have been informed that, during the summer months, the Church Missionary Society, and the Baptist Missionary Society, have also shared his attention.

The facts connected with the Missions of the United Brethren, that Dr. Chalmers has brought forward, have given rise to some investigations concerning the great principles of our faith, which must prove interesting, not only to the supporters of missionary societies, but to every one who feels any concern in the cause of genuine Christianity. Some of these inquiries are so interesting, and lead to results of such paramount importance, that we shall refer a little more particularly to those facts which tend to their elucidation.

The United Brethren have been at once the most successful, and the most popular of all missionaries. And it may be interesting to examine a little more closely into these two characteristics of the Moravian missions. And, first, as to their success.—What has been the cause of it? What are their views of divine truth? What has been the mode of their instruction? And in their discourses, what are the truths which they bring most prominently forward? It is well known that, on this very subject, there is a division of opinion among the teachers of Christianity in our own land. One would think that a careful examination of facts might satisfactory determination of this question.

Some theologians are of opinion that a few of the leading truths of the gospel, such as the atonement of Christ, and the other doctrines that are inseparably connected with it, should hold a most prominent place in their public instructions. Others, while they may admit that these truths are contained in the Scriptures, and as such are to be received by us as matters of faith, are yet of opinion that they are a little too mysterious for the common people, and assure us that they think themselves far more likely to promote the cause of religion and virtue, if, instead of chiming on a few theoretical dogmas, they attempt to enforce on the attention of their hearers, those divine precepts, which embody the principles of a morality, the purest and most perfect that the world has ever known.

Now, on perusing the accounts of the Moravian Missions, we find that, on this very subject, a most interesting experiment has actually been made. These two systems of religious instruction have been successively brought to bear upon the same people, while their circumstances remained the same; and therefore the experiment may be deemed a fair and decisive one. What renders the case still more interesting, is its great simplicity. There are no disturbing forces, so to speak, to confuse or embarrass our calculations in this highly important question of moral dynamics. The subjects of the experiment were savages in the very lowest state of degradation, and therefore we have no allowance to make for any state of preparation that might result from previous knowledge. If it appear from the facts to which we shall refer, that the declaration of those doctrines generally deemed too abstract to produce any practical effect on the popular mind; the doctrines, viz.; of the total depravity of all mankind, — of the vicarious suffering of the Son of God, —of justification through belief in his atonement, and sanctification through the emission of the Holy Spirit; if it appear that the simple declaration of these truths has wrought efficiently to the moral and economic renovation of the most ignorant, and the most barbarous of the human species; then it follows a fortiori that these are the doctrines which when preached in our own country, are most likely to prove effectual in producing uprightness, sobriety, and godliness throughout our own enlightened community.

To come then to the facts. The scene of the experiment was the inhospitable region of Greenland; and the moral and intellectual condition of the inhabitants was even more barren and dreary than the scenery with which they were surrounded. Here the only plausible system of instruction seemed to be to attempt to teach the savages those truths which are of a preliminary nature. Accordingly, the missionaries set to work most assiduously, in telling the Greenlanders of the being and character of a God, and of the requirements of his law. However plausible this mode of instruction may appear, it was patiently continued in for seven years, without producing even the smallest effect on those hearts which ignorance and stupidity had rendered almost inaccessible. The first conversion, (as far as man was concerned), may be said to have been accidental. Some Southlanders happened to visit the brethren, as one of them was writing a translation of the gospels. They were curious to know what was in the book, and on hearing read the history of Christ’s agony in the garden, one of the savages earnestly exclaimed, "How was that? Tell me it once more; for I also would fain be saved." But it would be foreign to our purpose to enter into a minute detail of facts. We refer those who may wish to inquire more particularly into this most interesting passage of ecclesiastical history, to the original accounts, [See Brown’s History of Missions, vol. i. P. 294-298. Crantz’ History of Greenland.] which may be found in the library of the University Missionary Society. Suffice it to say, that some time after this remarkable conversion, the brethren entirely changed their method of instruction. "They now directed the attention of the savages, in the first instance, to Christ Jesus, to his incarnation, to his life, and especially to his sufferings." [See Brown’s History of Missions.] This was the beginning of a new era in the history of the evangelization of Greenland. Conversion followed conversion, till the missionaries could number hundreds to whom the message of God had come, not in word only, but also in power. There is still one objection that may be made to the inference drawn from these facts, and one which at first sight appears very plausible. It may be asked, How do we know how far the first mode of instruction employed by the missionaries, although it produced no immediate benefit, may not have prepared the minds of savages, for receiving with intelligence the truths that were afterward declared to them? To this we answer that previous to the preaching of the gospel, the savages do not seem to have been so much interested in their teachers, as to give them a fair hearing; and they surely could not be influenced by instructions to which they had never listened. But even were this a doubtful matter, the first conversion in Greenland is a splendid proof of the way in which the simple truths of the gospel seek their way to the human heart, unpioneered by any preliminary instruction whatever.

But, quite satisfactory as this experiment is, still, did it stand alone, we might justly be charged with a rash induction, in drawing a general conclusion from premises so limited. But it does not stand alone. The Moravians have attempted the conversion and civilization of men of almost every country and of every condition; and their uncommon success is borne testimony to, by all who have visited the scenes of their philanthropic exertions. Amid the snows of Greenland they have planted their little villages of comfort and happiness; and the eye of the traveller has been refreshed, as it lighted on some spot of luxuriant verdure, which their hand has decked out in the midst of an African desert. [See Barrow’s Travels.] And, wherever success had attended their endeavours, whenever they tell of a single addition to the number of their converts, it is to the preaching of Christ, and of him crucified, that they attribute it all. Indeed, if we inquire into the reason why the Moravians have been more successful than other missionaries, we find that the distinguishing peculiarity of their preaching consists in this, that they dwell more simply and more constantly, on the love of Christ. In all parts of the world their mode of teaching has been nearly the same, and the change which their instructions have produced, upon men, the most diverse in their character and circumstances, is a beautiful illustration of the divine efficacy which accompanies the simple preaching of the gospel. Under the instruction of these simple, and often uneducated men, the roving and unrestrained savage has been led to abandon his irregular habits, and to cultivate the decencies of civilized life. Under their instruction, the North American Indian has been divested of his barbarous cruelty, and has even been known to suffer the most palpable injustice, and the most inhuman treatment from his countrymen, without an attempt, or even a wish to revenge. And, finally, under their instruction, the degraded, and almost heart-broken slave has been led to bow to the scourge of his insulting oppressor, with a meekness and submission, which the religion of Jesus alone could inspire.

These are facts; and facts are far more eloquent than words. We leave them to make their own impression.

We are aware that we may seem to have dwelt too long on this one illustration; but the paramount importance of the subject is a sufficient excuse. Almost every extract that Dr. Chalmers has read, has tended to demonstrate the vast superiority of that mode of Christian instruction which is generally termed evangelical.

After dwelling so long on a single illustration of Dr. Chalmers’s method of conducting the business of these meetings, we could have wished much in the present paper, (and more especially as this is the last opportunity that may now be afforded of so doing), to have gone on with a more general account of the numerous interesting topics that have been discussed during the course of the doctor’s prelections. There is still one point, however, regarding the missions of the United Brethren, which we should be most unwilling slightly to pass over. And we are the less sorry, that we have been led, in these detached sketches, to confine our attention exclusively to one or two points in the history of missions, inasmuch as we have all along expressed it to be our design, to draw the attention of our readers, not so much to the subject of missions, as to those important truths which the experiments of Christian philanthropy may have tended more strikingly to illustrate, and more firmly to establish.

We have said of the United Brethren, that they have been at once the most successful, and the most popular of all missionaries. We have, already, at some length, inquired into the causes of their success; it now remains, that we briefly advert to the subject of their popularity.

We have already seen that the peculiar views of religious truths which these Christians entertain, are not such as generally meet with very high admiration in the world; and any person who has just glanced at their writings, must know, that the way in which they express their sentiments, is not very highly calculated to please the ear or gratify the taste of general readers. Certainly, at first sight, it is not very easy to conceive how the very persons who dwell most exclusively on those doctrines of the Bible, that are known to be most revolting to mere men of taste, should at all have attracted their attention, or gained their esteem. And yet it is a notorious fact, that by men in power, in the colonies where they labour, the Moravian missionaries are very highly respected; while, among men of taste at home, they have become the objects of an almost sentimental admiration. The explanation of the matter which Dr Chalmers has given, is at once simple and satisfactory. It is just this: The thing has had time to work. And those very principles which themselves are so generally nauseated by men of science and literature, have effloresced into a beauty and a luxuriance which command the esteem, and excite the admiration of all.

When the man of taste reads in the accounts which these missionaries give of their success, such sentences as these, "Our Savior continues to bless our feeble testimony, concerning the atonement which he has made for sinners;" "The Lord graciously owns our feeble endeavours, and accompanies with his blessing the preaching of the word of the cross," [Periodical Accounts of the Missions of the United Brethren.] (and these are fair specimens of the whole strain of their writings;) in all probability, the sneer of mingled pity and contempt curls upon his lips, or he turns proudly away with loathing and disgust. But when the same individual is told of smiling villages, and cultivated fields, starting forth as if by magic in the midst of a barren wilderness, when he hears that those whom he had been wont to rank, in point of intellect, with the inferior creation, are now disciplined in the elements of general knowledge, and skilled in the endowments of the arts, when he beholds the wandering marauders of the desert associated in little communities whose peace and order reign in every breast, and comfort smiles upon every family; his whole soul is enraptured by the realization of those very scenes, the more imagination of which has given to poetry and romance, their chief and loveliest attractions.

Indeed, so different are the emotions excited in the mind of a man of taste, by the contemplation of the principles which are at work, and of the effects that are evolved by their operation, that he cannot be brought to believe that there is any such close connection between the result, and that which is alleged to be the cause of it. He will not admit that a state of things, so truly worthy the admiration of every benevolent and right thinking mind, could ever have been the result of a mode of operation so despicably weak and unphilosophical. And so biassed is his judgment by former prejudices, that no form of evidence, however strong, can ever compel him to the belief that those scenes of happiness and prosperity, which have so charmed his fancy, can at all have anything to do with the canting weakness, or the severe austerity of a system, which, far from thinking it capable of introducing order and comfort, where confusion and misery had reigned before, he had always been wont to regard as that which damped the hilarity, and embittered the pleasures of those who were weak enough to become the dupes of its hypocritical promulgators, even in happier lands. Accordingly, in the broad day-light of the strongest evidence for the contrary, it has been most confidently asserted, that the success of the Moravian missionaries is not at all to be referred to those causes to which themselves have ascribed it. The celebrated traveller, Barrow, who visited the stations of the brethren in South Africa, gives the very highest testimony to the success of their operations; but the nature of their operations themselves, he most grossly misrepresents. Their system he contrasts with one, which he is pleased to call that of the "gospel missionaries!’ "Instead of preaching to the natives," he informs us, "the mysterious parts of the gospel, the Moravians instructed them in useful industrious habits; instead of building a church, they erected a storehouse. Their labours were crowned with complete success." [Barrow’s Journey in Africa. p. 881.] In a paper on Barrow’s work, in the Edinburgh Review, as well as in another article in the same periodical, on Lichtenstein’s Travels, the same high commendation is awarded to the Moravians, for the wisdom manifested in their plans, and the same gross misrepresentations are made in regard to the nature of these plans. [Edinburgh Review, vol. viii. p. 434-438., and vol. xxi. pp. 65, 66 In the last mentioned article we are expressly told that the Moravian brethren "begin with civilizing their pupils, educating and instructing them in the useful arts." We are not sure whether this reviewer was the original inventor of the oft-repeated objection to missions in general, that "you must civilize a people before you can Christianize them." But if he was, it is most unfortunate for his theory that he happened to stumble on the operations of the Moravian missionaries, in order to support it; for never has the objection met with more triumphant refutation, than in the successful labours of these devoted philanthropists. The author of the review meant to compliment the Moravians; but they felt insulted by his eulogium, and were the first to come forward and deny his assertions.

Here, then, is a very high testimony to the efficacy of evangelical religion. A person unacquainted with the hidden mechanism, is delighted with the visible effects which are produced by it. He begins to speculate on the principles in which such results must have originated. He forms a theory of his own, agreeable to his own previously acquired modes of thinking, and proceeds forthwith to compliment those who had acted on so excellent a plan, and who had demonstrated its efficacy by the beautiful system caused which they had caused to emerge from it. The workers behind the scenes, now come forward, and tell him that he has quite mistaken the matter; for they have been acting on a system altogether different. Our speculator is not only disappointed to find that his own theory receives no support from the facts under consideration, and may not, for aught that he has yet seen, merit the high eulogiums, with which he has thought fit to honour it; but he is confounded to discover, that he has been unwillingly bearing testimony to the merits of a plan at variance with his own; and that the system to which his high eulogiums are now most legitimately transferable, is one, which he has all along been accustomed to declaim against as irrational, and to despise as unphilosophical.


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