YOUR PART IN IT
"The futility of saving men by speech" is not a whole truth, but it is the large part of a truth. Imagine a life-saving crew trying to save wrecked mariners simply by calling to them, and not throwing out a life line or putting off in a boat after them! It is a case of life for life--a man laying down his own life for others, as Christ did.
In talking to a man you want to win, talk to him in his own language. If you want to get hold of an agnostic, try to translate what you have to say into simple words--words that will not be in every case the words in which you got it. It is not cant. Religion has its technical terms just as science, but it can be overdone; and, besides, it is an exceedingly valuable discipline for one's self. Take a text and say, "What does that mean in 19th century English ;" and in doing that you will learn the lesson that it is the spirit of truth that does one good, and not the form of words. The form does not matter, if it does you good and draws you nearer to God. Do not be suspicious of it, if it is God's truth, in whatever form it may be.
One has to do a great deal more than display his Christianity. He must not only talk it, but live it. What is the secret of Christianity? It is not picking out a man here and a man there and making them fit to go to heaven. Christ came to this world, as He Himself said, to found a society. Have you ever thought of that conception of Christianity? For hundreds of years it has been utterly lost sight of. It is only lately that men are getting to see the great Christian doctrine of the Kingdom of God. This great phrase was never off Christ's lips. "The Kingdom of God" is by far the commonest phrase in His speech. Have you ever given a month of your life to find out what Christ meant by "the Kingdom of God?" Every day as we pray, "Thy Kingdom come," has our Christian consciousness taken in the tremendous sweep of that prayer, and seen how it covers the length and breadth of this great world and every human being? Christ was continually telling what it was. The Kingdom of heaven is like unto this. The kingdom of heaven is like unto that. If there is one thing more prominent than another in Christ's language it is in explaining what the kingdom of heaven is, and in what the subjects of that kingdom are to busy themselves. The kingdom of God is a society for the best men working for the best end, with the highest motive according to the best principle. The Kingdom of God was to come without observation. Christ likened it to leaven, and one cannot get a better understanding of the meaning of His phrase than by taking His own metaphors. The world is sunken, Christ said, and it must be raised. Leaven comes from the same word as lever. It is that which lifts, elevates, or raises. Christ founded a society of men for the purpose of raising men. This leaven was not to disturb the form of or overturn any institution. When you put leaven into a vessel with anything that is to be leavened, it does not affect the outward form of it; but it changes its spirit.
The Kingdom of God is like leaven. It is to act, raising men by contagion, by the contact of one life with another. Did you ever put a little leaven under a microscope? If you did, you found it was a minute plant, perhaps one six-thousandth of an inch in diameter, with such an amazing power of propagation that, simply in contact with the dough, it has the effect of lifting it by means of the life that is in it. And so the virtue of the Christian's life, not by tempting it in the way of forcing it, but by its spontaneous, natural and beautiful goodness, reacts upon others. When men observe the fragrance of Christ and are reminded of Him, a longing comes over them to live like Him and breathe that air and have that calm, that beauty of character, and all that unconscious influence going out as a contagion to others. By these men the world is raised.
But that is not all. The world is not only sunken, it is sinful. Those of you who know life even an inch below the surface, know that even in this Christian country, in our great cities, the world is rotten. Have you ever thought of the sin of the world? Think of the sin in your own being. Think that the man in the next house has the same amount of sin in him, and all the people in your street are like that. Multiply that by the number of all the streets in your city, and that by the number of cities in your country, and that by the number of countries in the world, and you have a ghastly spectre under which your imagination staggers.
That, however, is only a single glimpse of this sinful world, for the sin can be taken away: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." How does He do it? By forgiving the sin of the world, and by taking it away, through you and me and other subjects of His kingdom.
Christians, the followers of Christ, He said, are the salt of the earth, and it is that salt that takes away the rottenness of the world. He takes away the guilt and the power of it, and you help Him to remove it by being salt in the society in which you live. Salt is that which keeps society from becoming rotten. You put salt upon fish or meat to prevent it from becoming rotten; and it is the Christian men and women in this country who prevent it from becoming absolutely rotten. Christianity is the great antiseptic of society. If you were to take Christianity out of New York, Chicago, Berlin, or Paris, those cities, in a few generations, would go to pieces, even physically, and be swept off the earth. Now, we are to be the salt of Chicago, New York and the great cities of the world. It is our business to make cities and to keep those cities sweet--not only to scavenge away the rottenness after it has grown there, but to prevent the new generation that is growing up from becoming rotten. The work of salt is to prevent this, as well as to cure it. Keep those children pure to the end of their lives. We do not emphasize half enough the prevention side of Christian society. We do not emphasize half enough the making of Christian environment in which a Christ-like life shall be possible--new houses, pure air and water, good schools, bringing the influences of sweetest life and purity to keep those young lives from succumbing to the influences which surround them. The world which you and I have to lift is not only the world of the poor; but we have to lift up our country.
One thing, gentlemen, strikes the stranger in coming to this country. He goes to a city like Boston, and finds the merchants of that city with their heads buried in their ledgers, wholly occupied with their private business, while a few Irishmen, holding the city offices, are carrying on their municipal government. Some one has defined dirt as matter in the wrong place; and it is matter in the wrong place for a company of Irishmen to regulate the affairs of the city of Boston. Therefore, gentlemen, if you are the subjects of the Kingdom of God, you must give to the world and to your country a reformed Boston, a reformed Chicago, above all a reformed New York. You have been taught in your schools of your duties as citizens; but you are taught in this Book just as plainly your duties as Christian citizens. These cities are making the people that are living in them. People will not be righteous. In this country there is not only little honesty and honorableness in municipal life; but, what is a thousand times worse, there is little in its possibility. In my country I have never known or heard of a member of the government, either municipal or state, proving false to his trust. It is your duty to restore righteousness in the high places of this government. Let the people see examples which will help them in their Christian life. I cannot speak too strongly about that, because I know that the thing in process of time can be done. We have had rotten municipal government, and the Christian men of the place have taken the thing up and said, we have determined this shall not be. In the old cities, they have put man after man into the municipal chair simply because they were Christian men, because they would deal with the people righteously, and carry out the programme of Christianity for the city. Let me tell you of the work of some university men in the city of London. They went to a district in the East End--a God-forsaken and sunken place, occupied for miles entirely by working people. They rented a house and became known as settlers in that poor district. They gave themselves no airs of superiority. They did not tell the people they had come to do them good. They went in there and made friends with the people. The leaven went in among the dough. The salt went in beside that which was corrupt. We keep the grains of salt all together, and the other things all together; but the very place where the salt ought not to be is beside the salt. It ought to be scattered over the meat. Well, these men were not in a great hurry. They waited some months and got to know a number of the workmen, and got to understand one another. They had studied the city, and the workingmen were astonished at how much the young fellows knew about city government, city life and education, and sanitation, cleansing and purity in all directions. One day there came a great war of labor. The working men put their heads together and said, "These young fellows have heads. Let us go and talk the matter over with them." In a few months those young men were the arbiters of a strike, and at a single word from them three or four thousand families were saved from being thrown out of work on a great strike. Is that not a Christian thing to do? If you understand the conception of the Kingdom of God as a society of the best men working for the best ends for the amelioration of human life, you will agree with me. One of these young men at the next election was elected a member of one of the municipal boards, and in a few months he was the head of the Board. Another got into the School Board, and in a short time was the head of it. These men did not claim to be superior. They were elected kings by the people because the people felt their kingship. By and by the time came when a member of Parliament was to be returned. The workingmen came again to their university friends and said, ``Whom shall we put in?" Those men told them, and they put him in. And so those men have taken possession of that city in the name of Jesus Christ, and have been gradually working, leavening and salting. First, the blade; then, the ear; and then, the full corn in the ear.
It is coming without observation. It is not the work of a day. Christians are the only agents God has for carrying out His purposes. Think of that. He could Himself, with a single breath, cleanse the whole of London or New York, but he does not do it. It is by the members of His body that he carries on His work. We all have different parts of that work to do. Some of us are thumbs, some of us are fingers, and some of us are only a little bit of the little finger. Some, again, are limbs.
Now, that conception of Christianity as a kingdom is beginning to grow throughout Christendom at this hour. Every age has had its peculiar side of Christianity emphasized; and the side that is being emphasized now is the social side, that large conception of what Christ came to do, how He came to save men in the bulk, as it were --by the city and by the country; and many of the movements that are going on just now in society, in education, in sanitation, in university extension and philanthropy, are all working together for good in that direction. Let not us, who believe in the salvation of the individual soul as the supreme thing, shut our eyes to the Christianity of Christ, to His great conception of the Kingdom of God.
All the activities of Christianity may be classed under one or the other of these two heads--entering the kingdom of God ourselves, and spreading it to the lives of others. The individual life has been at this Conference. How is it to help on this movement for the bringing of the world to Christ? I know many of you are puzzled to know in what direction you can start off to help Christ. Let me simply say this to you. Once in my own life I came to crossroads. I did not know in which direction God wanted me to help His kingdom, and I started to read this Book to find out what the ideal life was. I knew I had only one life, and didn't want to miss it; and I found out that the only thing worth doing in the world was to do the will of God. Whether that was done in the pulpit or in the slums, whether done in the college class room or in the street, didn't matter at all. "My meat and my drink," Christ said, "is to do the will of Him that sent me;" and if you make up your mind to do the will of God, it matters little in what direction. There are more posts waiting for men than there are men waiting for posts. Christ needs men in every community and in every land. It makes little difference whether we go to foreign lands or stay at home, so it is where Gods puts us. I am not jealous of the great missionary movement which has swept this country. In my own college, at least one third of the men are going to the foreign mission field. I am not jealous of that movement. I rejoice in it. But I should like also to bid for men, both for my country and for yours, men who will give their lives to the Kingdom of God at home.
You will say, "How am I to know whether to go abroad or stay at home, be a lawyer or a Christian doctor?" The first thing is, pray, of course. The second thing is, think. Think over all the different lines of work--over all your own qualifications. If you are called to the missionary field, think of all the different kinds of missionary fields. There are some that do not need you at all; and there are others for which you are the very man. It is a great mistake to suppose that missionary fields are all alike, and that they are the same in Africa as in India or China. They are not the same at all. Study the field. The third thing is, take the advice of a wise friend, but do not regard his decision as final. Nobody can plan your life for you. Do not imagine that the most disagreeable of two or three alternative things before you is necessarily the will of God.
God's will does not always lie in the line of the disagreeable. God likes to see His children happy just as earthly fathers like to see their children happy, and there may be plums waiting for you as well as stones. Do not sacrifice to a thing that is disagreeable unless you are quite sure it is God's will.
The next thing is, when the time of decision comes, act, go ahead with what light you have. We do not manufacture a decision out of all these elements. We arrive at a decision. Some day, in a turn of the road, we find we are led. We do not know how. The subject just took shape in our minds somehow, and we arrived at a decision.
Having once decided, the next thing is, never reconsider your decision. The day after a man makes a great life's decision, if he reconsiders it, he reverses it. Never reconsider such a decision. You will never know for months or years whether you have done the right thing; but then, you will see that God has led every step of your way. One good general rule is to go in the direction of least resistance, if you find objections in every line and there is no one line positively drawing you out.
I want to return to the immediate purpose of those of you who are not yet out in the mission field, but who have a year or two at college before you. I ask you to study what Christianity is, and to spread the knowledge of that through your university. There are many men in the universities who do not know in the least what Christianity is. When I was in the university I thought Christianity was a thing you might put on the point of a needle, and that Jesus Christ was a being so small that you had to search closely for Him before you found Him; and now I know the whole earth is full of His glory. Study the Kingdom of God. See what Christ said was life, and how the members of that kingdom are to pass it on to others, to the lawyer and the doctor, until we have the professions Christianized, and the whole country will follow. It begins with you. Give your life for a life.
I will close with a specific case of one of your own countrymen. One night I got a letter from one of the students in the University of Edinburgh, with page after page of agnosticism and atheism. I went to see him, and spent a whole afternoon with him, but did not make the slightest impression. At Edinburgh University we have a students' evangelistic meeting Sunday nights, with an attendance of 800 or 1,000 men. A few nights after my conversation with this young man I saw him at one of these meetings. Beside him sat a man I had seen occasionally at the meetings, but whose name I did not know. After the meeting I spoke to the latter student and asked him if he knew the man sitting next to him. He said: "I am a graduate. After I finished my regular course of study, I wanted to take a post-graduate course; and last year I came to Edinburgh, where, in the dissecting room, I happened to be placed near this man. I took a singular liking to him. I found out he was not a religious man. A year passed without any change in him. I went to pack my trunks to go home at the end of my one year's post-graduate work; but I was uncertain whether I should go and take up my profession in America, or stay in Edinburgh and try to win that one man for Christ. I decided I would stay." "Well," I said, "my young fellow, it will pay you. You will get your man." Two or three months passed. It came to the night for our students' farewell meeting--a service some of you might well imitate. We have men in Edinburgh University from every part of the world. Every year five or six hundred of them go out never to meet again. In our religious work we get very close to one another; and on the last night of the university year we sit down together in our common hall to the Lord's Supper. This is entirely a students' meeting; but that night the members of the Theological Faculty participate, so that things may be done decently and in order. There you see hundreds of men--the cream and the youth of the world--sitting down to the Lord's table, many of them not members of the church, there for the first time pledging themselves to become members of the Kingdom of God. I saw one, sitting down, passing the communion cup to his American friend. The American had won the agnostic for Christ. A week after, he was back to his own country. I do not know his name, but he was a subject of Christ's Kingdom doing his Master's work. A few weeks passed, and the friend he rescued from agnosticism came to see me and said: "I want to tell you that I am going to be a medical missionary."
Before you leave here, make up your mind that, with God's help, you will try to land your man. Let us ask God to use us in His work.