The Power behind Missions

The Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology contains the statement: “The missionary movement [of the 19th century] is arguably the single most important event in the history of western Christianity.” If this is true, as Iain Murray points out, “Scotland itself certainly played no small part in that movement.” A journalist in the 1840’s wrote concerning the missions movement, “This great movement in Scotland is a new thing under the sun. It is a little less than the breaking up and recasting of the nation. It is developing events which mere politicians cannot understand.”

George Smith, perhaps the greatest missionary biographer ever, in his book covering the history of fifty years of Scottish missions, shows that the main mission fields which the missionary movement covered were Africa, India, Syria, and Melanesia (the South Pacific Islands). Presbyterians held a large place part of the gospel advance, but as Murray shows, they were–

“Not alone in sharing the missionary awakening–leaders of Congregational persuasions played a vital part, including John Campbell, John Philip, Robert Moffatt, David Livingstone, all linked to Africa, and David Bogue, who trained 115 for missionary service at his academy at Gosport, including fifty for India. Among those of Baptist convictions, Robert and James Haldane were among those to first raise missionary concern. Robert Haldane inspired many, including William Wilberforce. When Haldane went to visit Wilberforce to lay before him his vision for a mission in Bengal, Wilberforce was suffering so badly from gout, with his feet wrapped in cloth, that he could not rise to greet Haldane. But Haldane had not spoken long before Wilberforce forgot everything else and was walking around the room! The Haldanes’ witness insured that Scottish Baptists would not be missing in the world-wide enterprise. By 1926, there were 180 Scottish Baptists in various mission agencies.”

When missionaries arrived overseas, the distance from home often lessened denominational differences. As George Smith wrote, “A Christ-like charity has been the unbroken law of the army of the Evangel, in front of the common enemy.” Murray points out how Smith himself gave the right example. His full-length biographies of such Presbyterians as John Wilson (1875), Alexander Duff (1889), and Alexander Somerville (1890) were matched by his work on the Baptist William Carey (1885) and the Anglican Henry Martyn (1892).

Murray shows that sometimes the names of individual missionary pioneers stand out because they were among the first to enter certain regions: John Patterson and Ebenezer Henderson went to Denmark and Russia, David Cargill to Fiji, Robert Kalley to Brazil, James Gilmour to Mongolia, and James Chalmers to parts of New Guinea. Robert Morrison was the first to translate the Bible into Chinese and John Ross the first translator into Korean. William C. Burns was the first to reach Nieu-chwang on the border of Manchuria, and David Livingstone the first to Victoria Falls in the heart of Africa. Many of these men, along with hundreds more, are forgotten today, but, as was once said, there will be a resurrection of reputations as well as of bodies.

He goes on to show that most of the Scottish missionaries came from homes and backgrounds where simple living, hard work, ready sacrifice and earnest devotion were the everyday experiences of youth. From the heart of Africa in 1854, Robert Moffatt wrote in his journal, “Was must interested in reading a review of the lives of the Haldanes. What nobles they were in the kingdom of Christ! How few have been so highly favored and all brought about through the instrumentality of a praying mother!”

Murray summaries–“Christ is ‘the missionary’. Without him, there would be no others. It is his sheep who are to be gathered and for whose salvation he is responsible. That his voice should be heard is the reason he sends forth messengers (Romans 10:14-15); Christ is both the agent and the pattern for all who carry the message. In the words of John MacDonald, Jr., explaining to his London congregation the reason for his departure to India: ‘The standard of the interest which we ought to take in the matters of publishing the Gospel of salvation, is surely to be found in the interest the Son of God took in working out that salvation’.

In asking what is the object of the missionary enterprise, Alexander answered his own question. What is the object of the missionary enterprise? It is–

“To announce to those millions, who are still enslaved in sin and exposed to eternal misery, that in order to restore and save them, the Son of God himself came down from heaven to proclaim liberty to captives, and shed his precious blood for their ransom. It is to beseech them to renounce their numberless penances and soul-deceiving works of merit, and to flee for refuge to the atoning sacrifice and justifying righteousness of the divine Redeemer.”

This announcement of the missionary enterprise has within it and must be motivated by the missionary spirit, which is the power behind all true missions.

– Mack Tomlinson [all material taken from A Scottish Christian Heritage by Iain Murray, published by the Banner of Truth Trust]

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