If you have ever climbed a high mountain, you remember that you started in the shadow of trees at the base, where there was little or no outlook. You could see a few hundred yards around you; but after a while you rose above the tops of the trees and looked out upon a beautiful landscape. As you climbed higher, the fields and the running streams appeared, but you could see only one-half of the horizon, the other half was shut off by the mountain. But when you reached the top, you found yourself in a great circular room, bounded by the horizon on all sides, carpeted it may be with green, and bordered with curtains of crimson and gold.
Such is the experience of the Christian. When he is first converted, he looks about him for some one whom he may lead to Christ. Andrew finds his brother Simon and brings him to Jesus. Philip finds Nathaniel and preaches unto him the Messiah. You feel specially drawn in sympathy and prayer toward those whom you love best; but, after you have grown in grace, you rise above the tree tops of mere selfish love, you take in a wider view, you begin to pray and work for the salvation of the community and, as you rise higher in spiritual life, the outlook widens, you pray for the state, the country, the people of your own tongue.
But you have not reached the mountain top of vision until you have the view of Christ, which takes in the whole earth. You pray and give and work now for the salvation, not only of your own family, or community, or state, but of the world. Such is the widening vision of Acts 1:8; “In Jerusalem,” your home, your business, among your intimate friends, then “in all Judea,” the town or state about you, then “in Samaria,” the surrounding country, and then “to the uttermost part of the earth.”
It is interesting to see how God widened the vision of the Apostles and the early Christians. Pentecost was a Jewish revival; not a Gentile convert so far as we know. Peter was the Apostle to the Jews, and seemed to care not for the salvation of any one else, until the vision at Joppa he saw the sheet let down from heaven, filled with animals clean and unclean, and the call came, “Rise, Peter, slay and eat.” He remonstrated, because he was not in the habit, as a Jew, of eating such animals. “What God hath cleansed, call not thou common.” And that housetop in Joppa becomes unto Peter the mountain top of vision. He sees beyond Jerusalem, and Judea into Samaria and the uttermost part of the earth.
God took the Apostle Paul at once to the mountain top, and gave him the larger vision of the gospel’s mission. The word was his parish. While he walked amid the historic associations of Troy, he was not thinking of the great siege, or the wooden horse, or the flight of Eneas. His purpose was pushing him forward into the regions beyond. He heard the call of the man in Macedonia, “Come over and help us,” and he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. The old farmer who prayed “God bless me and my wife, my son John and his wife, us four and no more,” had made up his mind to live and die in the shadow of the trees at the base of the mountain. He never rose above their tops. He saw no vision beyond his barn and fields.
The early church was slow to learn this lesson. The Apostles decided to remain at Jerusalem. They doubtless argued that the capitol city ought to be Christianized, first and all; that there was enough work to do at home; thousands of Jews under the shadow of the temple were not Christians, and there was no need of going further until the work was completed here, but in the language of Mr. Pierson, “God shattered the church that He might scatter it.” Persecution began. The head of James fell from the block. The cozy nest was stirred, in order that the eaglets of the gospel might be made to fly into the regions beyond. They went everywhere preaching the gospel.
But after a century or two the church settled back again into its lethargy. She became rich and contented. Married to the state, there was no lack of funds and influence. Aggressive missionary work ceased, and the period that followed is known as the Dark Ages. Night settled upon the world. Some stars pierced the gloom, but there was no sunrise, for nearly a thousand years. God’s church was content to live among the shadows at the base of the mountain. She refused to climb to the top and behold the vision of her Lord. She looked after her self interest, and as a result the bitterness of controversy and the fires of persecution. “The mission of the church is missions.” “The whole duty of the whole church is to preach the whole gospel to the whole world.”