Practical Consecration. A Question for Christian Parents.
Friends! are any of you withholding your best treasures from God? Are you deliberately keeping back a gift which, if laid on His altar, might do more to advance His work on earth than all the contributions you ever gave, or can give? Are you robbing God by refusing to render to Him in one most essential form, the tribute that is His due? Christian fathers, Christian mothers, what are you doing with your Christian children? Have you given your sons to God, and to His work in the world? Have you devoted your daughters to Jesus and to His service?
Ah, your hearts quail! Anything, you say, anything but that! We will double our contributions, treble them, if we can, but to make our own children missionaries, surely we are not called to that! Dear friends, I have only one answer: "God so loved the world, that He gave His Son!" Oh, mark it! His Son, nothing less! No one less! His Son. Yes; He gave that only-begotten and well-beloved One that dwelt in His bosom from all eternity! And He gave Him, not to be a missionary—ah, no!—but to be a murdered victim, to be sin for us, to be a curse. He gave Him to shame and spitting, to blows and to blood, to crucifixion and to death. And that Son gave Himself to all this, and delighted to do so for our sakes. And we—oh, shall we grudge Him our sons and our daughters? Where is our gratitude, where our love? Do we know what devotedness means? How can we talk of "the higher Christian life," and be bringing up our converted children to live lives of ease and idleness, or to labour merely for their daily bread, to seek food and raiment, to live as if there were no heathen world perishing for lack of the Bread from Heaven?
I solemnly believe that one great cause of the low tone of Christian life, over which the Church mourns so often, is the lack of missionary zeal, the non-cultivation of the missionary spirit in Christian families, and that the first symptom of a really "higher Christian life" will be a revival of this spirit. It has been so in the past. The revival of spiritual religion in our land in the last century was the birthday of missionary enterprise. Its growth has kept pace with the extension of such enterprise, and its increase, if such is to come, (and God grant it may) must be accompanied by a great increase of missionary efforts. In the nature of things, this must be so. In the physical world, we have first life, then food, thereby growth, and with growth, exercise. But given life, food, growth, and no exercise, disease and decay must ensue. If the Christian Church would thrive, she must have exercise, and her Christ appointed exercise is the evangelization of the world. The Church ought to be one great missionary society, and each of her children, directly or indirectly, a missionary.
But what is the fact? A few individuals take a real interest in this great work. They influence others to help; but the mass of believers remain comparatively inert. Have we not thousands and tens of thousands of Christian families, no one of which ever contributed one single labourer to the heathen field? Have we not parents who have reared six, eight, or it may be ten sons and daughters, and seen them by grace converted to God, and who yet never trained, or attempted to train one of them for a missionary to the heathen? Is it not a standing reproach to our Christianity that so few, so very few, gentlemen and ladies of independent means, ever consecrate either themselves or their families to the service of Christ among the heathen?
Oh friends, lay the facts of the case to heart, I do entreat you! On the one hand, the world lying in darkness, and heathendom especially in gross darkness, contrary to the express will of Christ; on the other hand, Christian parents training up their families to anything, to everything, save and except the one work commanded by Christ, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." What a mournful spectacle for the angels to weep over! And what is the result? Not only that the heathen perish, but, Oh Christian parents! you and your children, those very children whom ye would fain spare suffering, suffer most materially from this very thing.
Father, what makes your heart heavy this day? "Ah," you sigh, "our precious boy, whom we thought to be converted years ago, has gone right into the world; we see no sign of grace in him now. We pray, and weep, and hope against hope, but we seem to have no influence over him." Ah, father, whose fault is that? What did you do with your boy when full of his first love? You sent him to a public school, perhaps; you sought great things for him in this life; you exposed him to temptation for the sake of mammon, it may be; you led him to seek first this world and its interests, instead of the kingdom of God and His righteousness; you never attempted to use your mighty parental influence, to lead the ardent youth to consecrate his life to preaching Christ to the perishing heathen. You never gave him a Christian object worthy and likely to fill his heart, and mould his life, and engage his affections, and ennoble his aspirations, and extend his views out into eternity. Your son might have been a Brainerd, or a Livingstone, had you acted otherwise; but he is—well, you know what he is!
And you, mother, what saddens your eye, and sinks your heart? Your daughters, have they turned out as you could desire? "Alas! no," you sigh; one of them is worldly, though perhaps saved; another is a confirmed invalid; another, who is a decided Christian, has gone over to the High Church, or perhaps even entered a Romish convent. You are disappointed in them, and as a Christian, you ought to be. Ah, mother, whose fault is it? Those girls were Christians when young; they had talents, affections, health, leisure, ardour, spirits, zeal, knowledge of the truth, and a good education. What missionaries they would have made!
Had their compassions been drawn out, the self-sacrifice, natural to every true disciple, called into play; had they been prepared for and early introduced to the mission-field, what blessed helpers in the gospel they might have been! How many an Indian Zenana they might have made happy and holy! How many a Japanese lady they might have taught to read the World of Life! How many a miserable Chinese mother might they have led into peace and joy in believing! What glorious results they might have secured for eternity! How every remembrance of each one might cause you to thank your God for the privilege of having been permitted to bear and rear such instruments for His glory! But you could not spare them, you could not expose them to hardships and suffering. It would never do to send your delicately reared girls among the degraded and ignorant heathen! and so they were doomed to the very uninteresting life of a Christian young woman, with little or nothing to do!
You would have been glad they should have served the Lord at home, you say? Yes; but they did not find occasional "amateur" work of this kind enough to engage heart and mind. Others were doing it abundantly. No important responsibility was laid on them to call out their energies, develop their abilities, and exercise their spiritual graces. They had not the stimulus of the urgent needs of others; they began, perhaps, to serve the Lord with one hand daintily; but when difficulties arose, or novelty wore off, they gave it up, and no one was much the worse. That sort of work does not avail to save the young and energetic from worldliness, selfishness, or disgust with life. It is not a vocation; it is not a life. It is all very well for those who have distinct and important secular duties devolving on them to serve the Lord by the way, as it were, and fill up their odd moments of leisure by doing what they can. But your girls did not marry; they had not the natural and absorbing avocations of wife and mother; they were spared the sufferings, and cares, and self-denial, and responsibility involved in bringing up children; they had no claims of business; their time was their own; they wanted a life-work, hard, high, holy life-work. Oh, had you laid before them the claims of the heathen, advised and assisted them to become missionaries, how differently your daughters might have turned out!
The young mind must have interests; the young heart must have objects on which to spend its ardour and its affections. Human nature must have difficulties with which to cope, hardships to endure, battles to fight, obstacles to overcome. What are cricket, and croquet, and chess, and all games of skill, but an artificial creation of these? Life, if natural and well-spent, is full of these—life without them is vapid and vain.
The lives of Christian young ladies are too often deprived of all interest by a false and foolish parental affection. I once knew a mother of two of the finest little girls I ever saw, who was insanely anxious about their health. The wind was never suffered to blow on their rosy cheeks; they were kept in bed for days if they chanced to sneeze; and the mother's life was one long misery for fear they should be ill. She succeeded at last in making them ill, and soon after, she died of over-anxiety. Then the girls, left to themselves, got well. Now few mothers are so foolish as to the bodies of their children; but the characters of too many are developed under similarly unnatural shelter and protection. It is not natural for a woman grown to be an object of tender parental care. The fully-fledged nestling leaves the nest, and cares for itself, and soon for its young. If a young woman does not marry, and no special demand for her presence exists at home, she should be allowed, yea, encouraged to devote her life to some worthy object, not thwarted, and opposed, and restricted by petty conventionalities, perplexed by finding her Bible teaches self-sacrifice, and her parents self-preservation; her Bible teach her to despise the world and earthly interest, and her parents teach her to put them in the first place!
Alas! friends, my heart aches when I think of the buried talents that exist in the shape of loving, well-educated, gifted daughters, pining in Christian families for lack of an object worth living for; and then think of the miserable millions of their own sex pining elsewhere, and perishing for lack of the knowledge these could impart! Again I ask, whose is the fault? Dear fathers and mothers, does it not lie at your doors? Say not, "We cannot make our children missionaries; God must call them." I well know that. But do your part, and be very sure God will do His! Lay your children on His altar from their very birth; and just as you trust Him to bless your efforts for their conversion, so trust Him to accept your dedication of them to His service, and to bless your endeavours to fit them for it. You know you can make them almost what you will! You know they are this day very much what you have made them! You know they come into your hands plastic as potter's clay, blank as white paper, till you trace the lines that cannot be effaced. Train them for missionaries from their conversion onwards, and it will be a wonder indeed if a large Christian family grow up without at least one missionary in it.
And train those who are not fit for missionaries to support those that are. Put before them a holy object for money-making. Let the brother that stays at home, labour for the brother that goes forth as a missionary; or you, father, ere you die, render your missionary son or daughter independent if you can. We want, the world wants, Christ wants, not a few hundred paid agents, but a whole host of voluntary missionaries—an army of volunteers, to invade the realms of heathendom. And say not, dear mother, "I cannot part with my daughter." Would you not give her up willingly if a suitable offer of marriage presented itself, even though it involved going to India or China? Will you give her to man, and not give her to Christ? Say not, "We cannot expose her to a bad climate, and all the risks and hardships of mission-life." What! will you deprive your child of suffering with Christ, that she may reign with Him? Will you rob her of the opportunity of learning practically to rely on God's all-sufficiency? Will you prevent her hearing the "Well-done, good and faithful servant," by-and-by? This were to act anything but a parent's part.
Far be it from me to say one word to grieve Christian parents who have done their best to train their children for God. Many such have nobly succeeded; and some who have failed have perhaps been more to be pitied than blamed. And far be it from me to disparage, the urgent claims of home mission work. They lie before our very eyes, however, and can in a sense plead their own cause; and we have a hundred home missionaries, not to say a thousand, for every single labourer in heathen lands. And far be it from me to think lightly of the sacred demands of filial duty. But where parents have many children, can they not spare one for Christ's work? For mere worldly motives, how many a worldly parent spares all! I only plead with Christian parents that they may consider their ways in this thing. If in this year 1887 say, one thousand Christian parents of converted boys and girls now in the School-room resolved before God to devote one son or one daughter (if not more) to missionary work, to train them with a view to it, to endow them with money enough to provide them with food and raiment, and to send them forth as soon as they reach a suitable age, how glorious would be the result in ten years' time! A thousand well-educated, enthusiastic, and independent young missionaries, going forth to preach Christ where He is not yet named. And in twenty years' time, what fruit of their labour should gladden the heart of the great Husbandman! And in fifty years' time, when the labourers may all have gone in to the harvest home, what self-multiplying native churches in Africa, China, and Japan might be praising God for the lives and deaths of their founders; and in eternity, what multitudes might be added to the white-robed throng redeemed from the earth; and what bright crowns of rejoicing might forever grace the brows of the sons and daughters thus consecrated by their parents to missionary service!
And if one thousand fathers so acted, the result would soon be that ten thousand would follow their example; for a good example is contagious. Robert Raikes founded one Sabbath-school, and the world is full of them now. Oh, may the day come, when universally and naturally, Christian parents shall regard it as one of their greatest privileges and most solemn duties, to train one or more of their Christian children thus to serve Christ!
What hosts of missionaries would then go forth annually from England and America! What multitudes of precious sheaves might be reaped from the harvest-fields of heathendom! What a broad line of demarcation would distinguish, as it should, Christian from worldly families! How many young believers would be preserved from backsliding and bringing reproach on the name of the Lord! How universal and intense would missionary sympathy become! How heartfelt would be the intercession ascending from every hearth at home, for the dear labourers abroad! How holy would seem the gains set apart for that dear one's use! How warm and lively would be our missionary prayer-meetings! What thousands of little family committees would supplement the labours of our great Society committees! Why, the Church would at last be once more what it was at first, and ought ever to have continued, ONE GREAT MISSIONARY SOCIETY. May God hasten the day when it shall be such, and may we hasten it too, as far as in us lies, for Jesus' sake. Amen.
"Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?"—Rom. x. 13, 14. "Missionary Review" 1887