Letter on the Condition of Churches
From Titus Coan to Rev. E. P. Goodwin, D. D.
August 14, 1882.—"You have presented a weighty subject for my consideration, and what can I say? Surely you who stand on the watch-towers of one of the most evangelical countries on earth, sweeping the whole spiritual horizon of our planet, can better report the state of Christianity in the world, and especially in our favored land, than we who occupy the distant stations in the shadowy realms of heathendom.
"But as you ask for my impressions as to the correctness of' President Washburn's convictions that the American churches are losing their interest and faith in foreign missions, allow me to say that, on the whole, I would regard this as a mistake; at least let me hope so. The waters of the world left to the laws of hydrostatics will find their level. Rivers flowing undisturbed in channels of uniform depth and breadth and angles of descent, will move smoothly and with increasing speed. But the Mississippi is so changed in its course by disturbances, that a stranger following down its devious banks might doubt where it would disembogue its mighty flood. But it is bound to the gulf and to the ocean, and, in spite of all its obstructions and sinuations, it will reach its destination.
"In this light I look upon the church of God in the world. Its growth and progress are beautifully pictured in Ezek., 47th chap., and in the Revelation of John under the figure of a river. Ezekiel sees it as 'issuing out from under the house of the Lord,' deepening, widening and extending into 'a river that could not be passed over.' And he adds that 'Everything shall live whither the river cometh.' The same glowing figure is found in the last chapter of the precious Bible. Doubtless this river means the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. And the carrying of this 'water of life' is the work of God's people. The church must be the channel of conveyance, and, as God has now removed all formidable obstacles, and provided the means of rapid and universal communication with the nations and peoples of the earth, it is, doubtless, the solemn duty and the precious privilege of the children of Zion to carry the water of life to all the families of men; and with trump of jubilee, sounding from every hill-top and along every valley, to call a thirsty and perishing world to come to the gushing fountain, to drink and live.
"During my visit to the United States in 1870, I felt assured that many ministers of the gospel, and many churches were earnest and faithful in this work. I also felt that many were delinquent, that they had never understood the marching orders of Zion's King; that a veil was upon their hearts; that the god of this world had blinded their minds to the great, and only great life-work of the church, viz.: to 'disciple all nations.' But I did not feel that the work, on the whole, was retrograding; any more than that the 'Father of waters was running up hill to empty into the Northern Polar ocean.
"I admired the work of women. It is great and grand. It is full of the sunshine of love. Its prayers are as the rain of heaven. Its tears are the drops of spring, opening its buds and giving promise of a joyful harvest. And I began to feel that our women are yet to save our dear country from the fiery dragon of intemperance, and the petrifying power of infidelity. I do not believe that the precious, precious cause of missions is to be left to a blind and mad indifference, and that the lamps of life which are shining, though dimly, upon the benighted nations, are to be extinguished for want of oil. But I did and do feel that our love to our bleeding Savior is too cold, and our pity for our perishing brethren and sisters in lands of brooding darkness is too feeble. We are not awake to our privileges. Bronze gates are open, iron bars are broken, and the voice of the Eternal calls the church to improve the opportunity, lest Satan shall pre-occupy the field, and scatter the seeds of infidelity, which shall prove a more stubborn obstacle to the blessed Gospel than the old paganism. The Captain of our salvation calls out of heaven to his church to 'arise and shine.' But the increase of professed Christians, of intelligence and of wealth, and the multiplied facilities for Christian work are not rightly improved. Zion does not lengthen her cords and strengthen her stakes fast enough. The heathen are marching by annual millions into ruin while we enjoy our luxuries and are at ease. The contributions of the church should be increased ten fold in means and in living workers, and also in the clear understanding of the fervent effectual prayer 'Thy kingdom come.'
"You ask an explanation of the apathy of Christians in regard to foreign missions. I will simply suggest a few of the multiform causes as they have struck my mind. The main root is worldliness and self-gratification. To many, wealth comes in like a flood. Perhaps the like was never known before. Now it seems to be a law of human nature that an unchecked desire for wealth beguiles and blinds men. Accumulation begets the lust for accumulation until the rich man is ensnared and drowned in 'destruction and perdition.' There are rich men who are rich in faith and in good works. Such are God's stewards. But the masses of wealthy men are not of this stamp.
"A canker that eats deep into the hearts of thousands upon thousands of professed Christians is an unguarded and unscrupulous love for luxuries.
They give the penny to the Lord and the pound to the mansion and the furnishings, to glittering ornaments and unnecessary show. Tens of thousands live in houses that cost thirty, fifty and a hundred thousand dollars, with furnishings in equally expensive proportions, when they might have reduced these expenses one-half or three-fourths without loss on the score of comfort and convenience, and given the great balance to the suffering poor and the perishing heathen.
"For armies, for navies, for war and strife, for blood and agony and dying groans, for millions of souls sent shivering into eternity, gold and silver can be poured out in streams that flow like melted lavas, while for the rescue of 800,000,000 of souls that are hurrying into a dark and fearful future, only a few drops of mercy can be afforded. Alas for the church! Must we be weighed in the balances and be found wanting?
"O that a harvesting angel might be sent from heaven to gather up the hoarded and the wasted wealth of the churches to pour it into the treasury of the Lord. Many of the hard-laboring poor so pathetically depicted in 'The Song of the Shirt' give more in the sight of our adorable Savior than the rich millionaire.
"As to the motives which lead missionaries to the heathen, they are plain to all enlightened Christians. 'The love of Christ constrains;'' and his command, coupled with love for the perishing, is a motor that moves them to obedience. Of course success encourages, and failure leads to the inquiry, Why? I commenced my life work cheerfully and in hope, because I felt called of Christ to do so, and because my heart was drawn out in pity for the heathen. Success followed and increased joy, courage and strength. Had I gone to China, or some harder field, I might have felt sad for want of apparent and immediate success; but I trust that I should not have forsaken the work, or doubted the duty of discipling the nations, or the promised presence of the Master. . . .
"The Hawaiians are poor, and yet as to their percentage of giving, there is no comparison between our native churches and the wealthy members of your churches in the United States. They give a thousand per cent, more than your rich men. And they often do it with shining faces and jubilant hearts. But all do not give. We have the stingy and the scoffer. I usually preach a missionary sermon, or something connected with generosity, on the first Sabbath of every month, giving my people such facts as keep them informed on what God and his children are doing to evangelize the nations.
"Three words embrace our whole commission to the heathen, viz: Pray! Give! Go! And how can a man pray 'Thy kingdom come,' while he gives nothing, or nothing worthy of a man, to help the conquests and enlargements of this kingdom? How can the ambassadors of the Lord go without means of support? or preach to the heathen unless they be sent? What must we think of pastors and churches who are often chanting 'The Lord's Prayer,' without giving or going? Will not their very prayers condemn them before the final judge?
"I fear that the absolute dependence on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of our lost world is too little felt everywhere, not excepting your unworthy correspondent. I fear that too much dependence is put on machinery, upon learning, eloquence and popular preaching and living, such as will please the fastidious, and gratify 'itching ears.' And I fear that strict and cheerful obedience to God, that supreme element of true love and pure religion, is not taught and urged as it should be, as the condition of acceptance before the Lord.
"Please let me know if I have in any way answered your questions satisfactorily.
"With great respect and brotherly love, I am your fellow-laborer in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ.