Sacrificial Heart Of Missions
Annual Missionary Sermon Delivered April 15, 1923 by Dr. R.H. Glover.
“Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone, but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit.”—John 12:20–33
The incident that called forth these words of our blessed Master occurred early in that last and eventful week of His earthly life which has become known as Passion Week. The immediate occasion was the coming of certain Greeks with the request for an interview with Jesus. By this term Greek we are not to understand merely foreign born Jews. These were heathen who had learned of the Jewish religion and had become proselytes to the worship of Jehovah. They were thus true representatives of the great Gentile world. Their coming seems to have stirred within the breast of Jesus a terrible conflict of thought and emotion.
That eminent Scotch commentator, Dr. James Stalker, has drawn a very suggestive picture of this scene. He reminds us that not only was Jesus very God of very God, but He was also very man of very man. More than that, Jesus was a young man. He was just at the zenith of young manhood with all its physical vigor and buoyant ambition. The currents of life were at their full within Him. His personal ministry had been confined almost entirely to the Jews and within the narrow limits of little Palestine. It had in many ways been a sad and disappointing ministry. His highest motives had been misinterpreted, his kindest approaches and efforts repelled, while for a time there had been a measure of popular favor, yet the leaders of His nation had stubbornly rejected and bitterly persecuted Him, and at this very moment were foully plotting His death. Only two or three times do we read of Jesus having come in contact with representatives of the Gentile world, but on each of these occasions He had been impressed by the generous spirit and sublime faith of these Gentiles in contrast to the bigotry and unbelief of His own race. Now, with the shadow of the Cross falling across His path immediately ahead, a great conflict of emotions seems to have surged through His breast. May He not have longed to pass beyond the borders of Palestine and turning His back upon those hateful Jews, launch out into the wider world? May He not have caught in that moment a vision of great campaign afield, touching such cities as Athens and Rome and Alexandria as Paul and others were permitted later to do? “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?” He cries. But at once He adds, with calm resolution, “But for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify Thy name.” He had come into the world not to live but to die and His self-sacrifice upon the cross was to mean infinitely more to the world then any personal mission through prolonged earthly life could possibly accomplish.
However we may regard these thoughts, at any rate these words were the utterance of our blessed Lord, and I want you to notice several things about this utterance.
1. It was a statement of a great natural law. Jesus here uses an illustration drawn from agriculture. How does the harvest come? Is it from the farmer’s jealously preserving the little stock of seed grain that he possesses? No. On the contrary, it is from his deliberate sacrifice of it. He flings it away, and in that action lies the only hope of the harvest that be longs for. Go with me into the granary of the farmer; stoop down and pick up a handful of grain and examine one individual kernel of it. “Except that grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone.” True, it lies adjacent to many other grains, but that is only an external contact. That little grain as it now is will never be a whit more than its own tiny, insignificant self. Only by dying can it produce other grains. Its protective sheath must be stripped off and the germ within exposed to the disintegrating processes of Mother Earth. It has to rot, to decay, and out of its very act of dying there spring other grains of wheat. Thus the handful of wheat flung away in sacrifice brings in time a waving field of golden grain. And we might pursue this process of sacrifice still father, for it does not end at this point. There is still the cutting down, the threshing, the grinding, and finally the subjecting to the fierce heat of the oven—all suggesting sacrifice, suffering, death to self, before that grain of wheat becomes transmuted into the bread of life to feed the hungry.
2. It was no less a statement of a great spiritual law.
(a) It applies primarily to the Lord Jesus Himself. He has Himself directly in mind, as vv. 23, 27 indicate. Jesus was that grain of wheat. He had inherently life within Him as no other man had. “As the Father hath life in Himself so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.” But how was He to impart that life to others? Was it merely by setting men an example? Merely by the great personality of that human life? Never. As long as He continued to live His earthly life He “abode alone.” He was in a class by Himself. Men might admire Him; they might revere Him; they could not share His life. He, the grain of wheat, had to die to become the bread of life for the world.
Jesus was to “draw all men unto Himself.” But how? Was it by His matchless eloquence? By the Kingly dignity of His bearing? Or by His miracles and deeds of mercy? No, but “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” He says, “The hour is come that the Son of man shall be glorified.” But how? Was it by the loud acclaim of the multitude that had followed Him into Jerusalem with hosannas on their lips, strewing His path with palm branches? No, but by pouring out His soul unto death.
Remember that Jesus had to choose that and that He did choose it. He said, “I lay down my life…No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.” He had to choose to die, against the natural and pure instinct in Him, as in us, to shrink from loathsome death. He had to choose the cross against the subtle attempt of Satan to decoy Him from it in that great temptation in the wilderness. He had to choose it against the misguided efforts of His loving disciples to dissuade Him. He had to choose it against the taunts of His enemies. As He hung there in that supreme moment of agony the sneering by-standers, pointing the finger at Him, taunted Him saying, “He saved others; himself he cannot save.” Here was a challenge which, if Jesus had accepted it, would have been our undoing. Thank God! He chose and persisted in choosing the cross of sacrifice. The grain of wheat fell into the ground and died. Then it was that “he conquered principalities and powers, making a show of them openly, triumphing over them in His death.” “Through death He destroyed him that had the power of death, and delivered us who through fear of death were subject to bondage.” Let us never call Christ’s death a tragedy; it was a glorious triumph. As Bishop Westcott so finely says: “The victim’s gibbet because the victor’s car.” Christ, the grain of wheat, fell into the ground and died to become the bread of life for the whole world.
(b) This law of the spiritual kingdom applies no less to Christ’s followers. He goes on to say, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” All that we retain, all that we selfishly hold for ourselves we lose; all that we give up we shall find again and ultimately keep.
A man amasses a fortune and lives in luxury and indulgence, and then he dies. We say that was a rich man. We speak foolishly. That was a poor man. He laid up for himself treasures on earth only to leave them behind for moth and rust to corrupt. Another man has become a missionary, who might have amassed a fortune, but who sacrifices the opportunity of doing so to become a “grain of wheat,” to invest himself in souls for Christ yonder. He is not a poor man, but a rich man. He has laid up treasures yonder where moth and rust do not corrupt and where thieves do not break through nor steal. Still another man makes a fortune at home, but only to invest it in missions, and thus turn it into souls that will be as stars for his crown in the day of Christ’s appearing. He too is laying up treasure in heaven. Oh beloved, are we loving and saving our lives and our resources and thereby losing them, or are we hating our lives in every selfish sense that we might keep them unto life eternal?
Jesus has no desire to impose a hard, legal demand upon us, but He has our highest and most abiding good at heart. He tells us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. His Word says: “Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days.” “There is that scattereth and yet increaseth, and there is that withholdeth more than is meet and it tendeth to poverty.” May we find out the blessed truth of the little verse—
“Loving is the truest living,
God Himself is always giving;
Letting go is twice possessing,
Wouldst thou double every blessing?
Pass it on.”
(c) This law of life through death, of fruitage through sacrifice, pre-eminently applies to missions. That is why I bring it to your attention this morning. When did the Christian missionary enterprise begin? At Pentecost, and that not by a mere coincidence but of necessity. Missions could only begin at Pentecost. Pentecost and missions are inseparably related one to the other. Pentecost the essential preparation for missions, since to go until we have tarried for the enduement is to go in vain; and then missions, the inevitable outcome of Pentecost, since to tarry for the enduement but not to go marks the tarrying as spurious. I am sorry for some dear Christian brethren who insist upon certain physical marks as the exclusive evidence of the baptism of the Spirit, and thereby overlook those far deeper and more abiding marks of Pentecost in the hearts and lives of the early Apostles. Theirs was a Pentecost that changed cowardice into courage, selfishness into unselfishness, friction into unity, and imparted a love and passion for lost souls. Those early Christians became the very incarnation of the missionary spirit. It was not only the few Apostles that bore these marks of Pentecost but the whole church. The Apostles gave themselves to go, and the others gave themselves to give and to pray. They sold their houses and lands and laid the proceeds at the Apostles’ feet. It was a movement of the whole church. We talk about the Layman’s Missionary Movement as though it was a product of the twentieth century. It was born in the first century.
Stephen was the first martyr. His life was literally sacrificed as “a grain of wheat.” The devil thought he could destroy the church by persecution. But it was like beating a fire; it only scattered the sparks to ignite and spread on every side, for we read that “they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word.”
The flame of missionary fire was kindled at Pentecost, but a flame can only be sustained by fuel, and the fuel of the missionary fire consists of the life and treasure of God’s people laid upon His altar for service. Sometimes that fire has burned dangerously low as the spiritual life of the church has waned and almost died. At other times, thank God, it has blazed strongly through the devoted sacrifices of His people.
Wherever the spirit of Pentecost has been repeated in the centuries that have followed, missionary zeal and effort have always been the result. We sometimes speak of modern missionary Pentecosts, such as the mighty outpourings of the Spirit among the Telugus in India, at Hilo in Hawaii, at Banza Manteke on the Congo, at Pyeng Yang [sic] in Korea. Every one of these our outpourings resulted in a great ingathering of souls which marked it as genuine.
The ten great Roman persecutions followed closely upon the New Testament era of the church, and a veritable baptism of blood befell the Christians. Three years ago I visited Rome and saw the old Coliseum where under the brutal Nero and other emperors great numbers of Christians were flung to the wild beasts to be torn limb from limb. But the blood of the martyrs proved to be the seed of the church, and it grew and extended. Beautifully in keeping with our text of this morning are the words of Ignatius, one of those early martyrs: “God’s grain of wheat am I, to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may be turned into the pure bread of life.”
Then came the Middle Ages when the missionary flame, the Pentecostal fire, burned very low upon the altar. Only a few lone figures do we see standing out like sentinels upon the horizon of those dark and sterile centuries—Patrick, Boniface, Lull, VonWelz, Zinzendorf and a few others. Thank God for these noble men, who by their missionary vision and abandon preserved unbroken the thin line of true apostolic succession. Though few converts greeted most of them in their own day, they were “grains of wheat” which multiplied themselves in those who later caught the vision and passion of their lives laid down.
Modern missions abound in splendid illustrations of this principle of sacrifice as the very soul of missions.
There is Mackay of Uganda, for example. Following Livingstone’s death, Stanley, stirred by his great example, penetrated Uganda, and in 1875 sent home the thrilling challenge: “King Mtesa calls for missionaries; will the church heed the appeal from the heart of Africa?” It acted like magic. All over England men offered and money was given for the venture. Within a few months a little band of eight young men were on their way to Uganda. One of these was Alexander Mackay, a young Scotchman, brilliant, educated and with the prospect of affluence before him. But he heard the call and responded. At the farewell meeting in London, Mackay was the last speaker. Listen to his impressive words: “I want to remind you that within six months you will probably hear that one of us is dead. Is it probable that Englishmen should start for Central Africa and all be alive six months after? One of us—it may be I—will surely fall before that. When that time comes do not be cast down, but send some one immediately to take the vacant place.” What prophetic words were these! Within three months one had fallen; within a year two more had died; within two years Mackay was the only surviving member of the party. He labored on for twelves years. He secured the friendship of King Mtesa, but the wicked, demonized Mwonga set his face against Mackay, and after strangling his converts, burning his pupils, clubbing to death his dark friends, he turned his eye of death upon that brave, blue-eyed little Scotchman. Forced out of Uganda, Mackay took refuge north of Lake Victoria, and there he died, but facing the foe.
The grain of wheat had fallen into the ground and died. But did it abide alone? Let the waving harvest fields of souls in Uganda today answer. In 1919 there were two thousand churches there, with upwards of one hundred thousand Christians. In that year the great cathedral of Uganda was built, the largest Christian church in Africa, in which you would find a larger company gathered this morning than in this old Moody Tabernacle. When the vast structure was dedicated it was packed to capacity, and twenty thousand were on the outside, longing but not able to get in. Uganda, once called the darkest spot in Africa, has become the brightest spot.
Take another example. It was in 1839 that John Williams, the heroic Apostle of the South Seas, after a wonderful career upon other islands set foot upon the cannibal island of Erromanga and was promptly felled by the club of a savage. Another grain of wheat had fallen into the ground and died. But just fifty years after saw one of the sons of that murderer of John Williams laying the foundation stone of a martyr’s memorial church on the island while another of his sons was preaching the gospel for which the martyr died.
Turn next to China and consider that memorable Boxer Uprising of 1900. A few of us on the platform were there and knew the facts with painful intimacy. What a master stroke Satan aimed at the missionary cause in that great land! It was indeed a dark hour, an hour of awful anguish. One hundred and eighty-nine precious missionaries sealed their testimony with their blood, and only God knows how many Chinese Christians, at least ten thousand besides. From the human standpoint, missionary hopes reached the vanishing point. Yet no other single event has proved more fruitful to the cause of Christ in China. Some of us met, seven years after, at Shanghai, to celebrate the centenary of Protestant Missions in China, and it was found that the accessions to the church in the seven years immediately following the Boxer trouble were greater than those of the whole previous century. For every single missionary that laid down his life for Christ in 1900 there were counted a thousand souls born into the kingdom.
Other illustrations, not a few of them, come to mind, of which there is not time to speak. Mr. Bingham’s presence has reminded me of his earliest comrades, Walter Gowans and Tom Kent, fellow students of mine over thirty years ago. God laid upon their young hearts an overwhelming burden for the neglected Sudan. I can never forget dear Gowens’ farewell words. Said he: “Fellows, if you hear of my death, don’t say I was mistaken. It will not be in vain if only I live long enough to call attention to the dark Sudan.” Their deaths came early and under pathetic circumstances. But who can doubt the relation of those two lonely graves to the fruitful spiritual harvest with which Nigeria is being blessed today? There, and everywhere, the triumphant path of missions has been over the graves of her fallen heroes.
Nor would I forget those who have not been called upon to lay down their lives in death but who are patient, self-denying, brave-hearted soldiers of the cross toiling in many a hard and lonely mission field of the far-flung battle line. And again, there are the true comrades of the Cross who at the home end are no less sharers in the missionary campaign by their sacrificial prayers and gifts.
But what is the application of all this to us here this morning? Am I advocating self-martyrdom for us all? By no means. And yet we all are called upon to be “martyrs” in the true sense of the word, for the original word means “a witness,” and such we all ought to be whether by life or death.
I like that old emblem of the Baptist Missionary Society, an ox standing midway between the plow and the altar, and underneath the words “Ready for either or both”—ready for sacrifice, ready for service as God may choose.
But nothing is more obvious than the tendency today not to delight in sacrifice but to shun it. This is an easy-going and not a rugged age, an age that boasts of labor-saving rather than of labor-loving. Every possible mechanical device is invented to save us from exerting ourselves. And this tendency has crept into the Christian movement. We have had the spectacle of a huge organization proposing to solve the missionary problem by a mechanical pro rata assessment, supplemented by a liberal amount from “the friendly citizen.” No wonder it fell under its own colossal weight. God won’t have that sort of thing. It was too human. It would have robbed missions of what is its very soul and essence—free will sacrifice. If the church at large could save the world by merely passing a resolution I doubt not she would vote unanimously for it. If we could save the world and hold onto our own selfish habits and indulgences, every one would of course be willing. But the stern fact is that we cannot. God laid the foundation stone of missions in the sacrifice of His dear and only Son, and He must and will complete the work in the same spirit through loving sacrifice for Jesus Christ’s sake.
So the appeal I make this morning to God’s children is an appeal to sacrifice as the very heart and glory of missions. There is the appeal to young men and women to go. Shall I lower that appeal by making it appear an easy thing? Never. Missionary life has indeed its rich compensations. And yet it calls for real sacrifice of some sort on the part of every true missionary.
There is the appeal to pray. But true and effective prayer means sacrifice—of time, of pleasure, of strength—and suffering of spirit. It is travail of soul; it is agony.
There is the appeal to give. But true missionary giving means sacrifice. Shall we, any more than David, offer unto the Lord that which cost us nothing, or little? Men are asking the question, “Do missions pay?” I am more concerned to ask, “Do missions cost?” For let us be sure of this, that what costs us little counts little. God values the gift by what it costs the giver, and the evidence of that is not so much what we give as what we have left. That is why the two mites of the poor widow were estimated by Christ as more than all the liberal gifts of the wealthy. But remember that we do not get into that widow’s class simply by giving any two mites, but by giving our last two mites.
May God grant to us all the true grace of giving, the real spirit of sacrifice, and teach us the blessed truth expressed in the poet Faber’s lines:
“Measure thy life by loss and not by gain,
Not by the wine drunk, but by the wine poured forth;
For love’s strength lies in love’s sacrifice,
And he who suffers most hath most to give.”
On each of my brief and busy visits to London I have contrived to steal away for a little to the quiet of Westminster Abbey. The Abbey is famed as the resting place of England’s noble dead—kings, statesmen, warriors, poets, and the like. But it was not for this reason that I went, but to stand upon a slab of stone on which is the inscription, “Brought by faithful hands over land and sea, here lies David Livingstone.” If we inquire why Livingstone was accorded the high honor of a burial among England’s greatest sons, we must turn to Africa for the answer. The story of his heroic missionary life, and his lonely death in a miserable hut in Chitambo’s village on the shore of Lake Bangueolo, is too well known to need recital here. But I think of how those two devoted black boys took out the heart of their dead master and buried it beneath a tree, and then wrapped up the body and carried it, at the risk of their own lives, to the distant coast, there to be conveyed to the homeland. I cannot disconnect those two scenes. Livingstone’s body lies in Westminster Abbey, because his heart lies at the heart of the Dark Continent, for which he lived and suffered and died. It was his sacrifice that brought his glory.
Beloved, God is preparing His Westminster Abbey up yonder in glory for His heroes of faith and toil down here, for those who love not their lives but gladly yield them to Him to be spent in service for a lost world. There’s a niche in that temple of honor for you and me if we will prove worthy of it. And SACRIFICE now for Christ and the world is the price of GLORY and REWARD then. Will we pay the price?