In the previous article we noted that Rufus Anderson emphasized the absolute necessity of the preaching of the Word on the mission field. Without preaching, the church simply cannot be gathered. Because this preaching, as well as the work of elders and the ministry of mercy, must be done by native converts it is necessary that schools be established. In some fields it is a must that the Scriptures be translated into the native tongue. But all of these activities, as necessary and salutary as they may be, must be kept in strict subordination to the chief task of the missionary, viz., the preaching of the Word. According to Anderson the aim of missions is the gathering of the elect out of the nations. These must be organized into local manifestations of the institute of the church of Christ. The means by which this is accomplished is the preaching of the Word. With this we are in hearty agreement. We would add to this the fact that the preaching of the Word also has a hardening effect in the hearts of the reprobate and renders them thus without excuse. Still more, when the Gospel shall have been preached to the nations for a witness, then shall the end of all things come (Matthew 24:14).
To support his views on preaching and on the value of native preachers, Anderson relates some of the history of various mission fields of his day. This material is not only interesting, even fascinating, but it illustrates the mighty, sovereign power of the grace of God through the preaching of the Word. It ought to be remembered that Anderson is writing about foreign fields in the 1800s, a time when he estimated: “One hundred thousand dollars a year would board and educate four thousand native youth (emphasis mine, R.D.D.). That sum would support five hundred or six native ministers with their families . . .” (Rufus Anderson, R. Pierce Beaver, ed., To Advance The Gospel, p. 106).
Anderson first cites the work of Rev. William A.B. Johnson, a missionary sent by the Church Missionary Society of London to preach in Sierra Leone, West Africa: “When Mr. Johnson first took up his abode at what was afterwards called Regent’s Town, in Sierra Leone, the people numbered about a thousand. They had been taken at different times from the holds of slave ships; were wild and naked; and being from twenty-two different nations, were hostile to each other. They had no common medium of intercourse, except a little broken English, had no ideas of marriage, lived crowded together in the rudest huts. They were devil-worshippers, and most of them lazy, thieving, plundering, brutal savages.
“Mr. Johnson was at first exceedingly discouraged. But he resolved to preach Christ to them as the Savior of sinners, in the simple manner of the gospel, and to open to them the miserable state of a sinner rejecting such a Savior. His resolution was the same with that of the Apostle Paul, when he surveyed the desperate pollutions of the Corinthians,’—to know nothing among them, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.’ There is no other adequate power of deliverance. After pursuing this course the greater part of a year, preaching salvation through the Lord Jesus, a remarkable change began to come over the people. Old and young became concerned for their souls. There was, in short, an outpouring of the Spirit. Many sought retirement in the woods for prayer; and soon the neighboring mountains echoed, in moonlight evenings, with the hymns of worshippers. Mr. Johnson has left a record of the experience of many of the converts, in their own simple and broken, but expressive language, when examined, as they all were, for admission to the Lord’s Supper. I am impressed by his record of their convictions of sin; their acknowledgements of the divine forbearance; their distrust of their own hearts; their inward conflicts; their tender consciences; their faith and patience; their benevolence; and their love for souls. The outward changes were most striking. The people learned trades, became farmers, attached well-kept gardens to their dwellings. They built a stone church large enough, with the help of galleries, to seat closely nearly two thousand persons; which was regularly filled with decently dressed, orderly, and serious worshippers. They built a parsonage, school-houses, store-houses, a bridge of several arches—all of stone. Most of the adult population were married. Their night dances and heathenish drumming ceased, and so did their oaths, drunkenness, and stealing; and the schools contained a thousand children.
“All this Mr. Johnson lived to see; but he died in 1823,only seven years (emphasis mine, R.D.D.) from the commencement of his mission! Was there ever a more wonderful religious change? It shows the power of the simple gospel, both to convert the savage, and to civilize him. It shows the power of the cross of Christ . . . . In the year 1842, twenty-four years after Mr. Johnson began his mission, one fifth of the population of Sierra Leone was at school, and the attendance at public worship was estimated at twelve thousand. In 1862 native pastorates were established, and ten parishes undertook the support of their own pastors; and no less than six different missions were sent by the people to the unevangelized tribes beyond the colony. The present number of nominal Christians in the colony, is said, on high authority, to be eighty thousand, of whom twenty thousand are communicants; and the missionary work at Sierra Leone is regarded as having been accomplished” (Anderson, pp. 107-109).
Anderson continues: “Look next at the great island of Madagascar, situated on the eastern coast of Africa. Here we shall see, as of old, infant churches struggling successfully against the utmost efforts of the civil power to destroy them. The London Missionary Society commenced a mission on that island in 1820, under the protection of the King Radama. The missionaries gave the people a written language, a grammar and dictionary, school books, a hymn-book, and the Bible, and taught some thousands to read the Scriptures. The converts were virtually, if not formally, embodied in churches. A pagan queen, the widow of Radama, succeeded her husband in 1828, and, being hostile to the Christian religion, forbade the observance of its ordinances, and the reading of the Bible; and persistence in either was punishable with death. Perceiving that the gospel continued to gain ground, notwithstanding her decree, she, in 1835, banished all the missionaries. The Christians, still increasing, were then subjected to fierce persecution, which continued through twenty-five years, until her death in 1861. They were poisoned; they were hanged; they were speared; they were stoned, and the stoning was a most barbarous mode of execution. They were thrown down a fatal precipice. Loaded with heavy iron collars, and chained together, they were driven into banishment. They were burned at the stake, and some were crucified. Many were sold into slavery. It is believed that more than two thousand persons suffered as Christians, during this persecution, in some cruel form or other.
“So far as was possible, they associated together as Christian communities; and there were those of their number intelligent and courageous enough to act as pastors and teachers, though always at the peril, and sometimes at the sacrifice, of life. The result was a continual growth in numbers through all the persecutions.
“The queen was succeeded by her son; who favored the Christians, and invited the return of the missionaries. This was seven years ago, and now. . . there are within and around the capital of Madagascar, ninety churches, with more than five thousand members; one hundred and one native pastors; and twenty thousand claiming the Christian name. In the space of four years, the number of nominal Christians was more than doubled, and the number of the communicants was increased tenfold . . . . We may read the history of Roman persecutions from Nero down, and we shall find none more cruel than the one in Madagascar, and none more distinguished for the inflexible firmness of its martyrs; upon whom, it should be remembered, the fiery tempest burst in the very infancy of their religious life. Nor should we forget that these heroic martyrs belonged to the negro race” (Anderson, pp. 109, 110).
Anderson continues by giving several examples of native preachers. Among these he cites a certain “Bartimeus, an eloquent blind native preacher at the Sandwich Islands. From the lowest physical, intellectual, moral, and social degradation and wretchedness, in his state of heathenism, Bartimeus (so named at his baptism) gradually rose, under the new creating power of the gospel, to be a devoted, active, eloquent, and successful minister of the Word. The late Dr. Armstrong, a judicious and able missionary, who was with him five years, speaks thus of him: ‘He is a short man, and rather corpulent, very inferior in appearance when sitting, but when he rises to speak he looks well, stands erect, gesticulates with freedom, and pours forth, as he becomes animated, words in torrents. He is perfectly familiar with the former as well as the present modes of thinking of the islanders which gives him a power in comparisons, allusions and direct appeals, which no foreigner will ever possess. Often, while listening with exquisite delight to his eloquent strains, have I thought of Wirt’s description of the celebrated blind preacher of Virginia.’ . . . Bartimeus died in the autumn of 1843 . . . . His calling to be a preacher was evidently of God. He had original endowments for that service. He had great strength of memory, and there has already been a reference to his eloquence” (Anderson, pp. 115, 116).
Two truths are illustrated by these examples. 1) There comes a time when the missionary must move on. The native church must be left to stand in its own right as a manifestation of the body of our Lord. We must not be afraid to “cut the tie.” 2) The foreign church needs its own pastors. A large part of the work of foreign missions must be the training of native pastors.
to be continued. . .