Griffith John
The Supreme Motive in Missions

[Taken from Voice from China]

Key Thought: "
The love of Christ to me—to me personally—constrains me to live to Him and for Him. He died for me; my life is His. He suffered for me; I will suffer for Him. He lives for me; I will live for Him. I will work for His sake; I will give for His sake; I will endure for His sake. There is nothing I would not do to please Him. He is my Lord and my Saviour. He loved me and gave Himself for me. I owe Him an infinite debt, a debt which is always due, and which I can never pay off. All I can do is to lay myself on the altar, and say: Lord Jesus take me, take me as I am, and use me as Thou wilt. This is a grand motive—the love of Christ to us, to each one of us personally."

The Supreme Motive in Missions

“And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations …. and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”-Matthew xxviii. 18-20.

“For the love of Christ constraineth us.”-2 Corinthians v. 14.

Carnal Motives

I wish to invite attention to a few remarks on the supreme motive in Christian missions. Why should men devote their lives to this work? Why should men be asked to give their silver and gold in order to carry on this enterprise? What is the grand argument that should be used in our attempts to move the churches to greater activity, and the missionaries to deeper consecration in this holy cause? Where should the emphasis be placed in our advocacy of the missionary enterprise?

The Motive of Knowledge

Shall we place the emphasis on the relation of the missionary enterprise to the advancement of secular knowledge? I have heard appeals made for missions on this ground, and there can be no doubt of the value of missions in this respect. It would be impossible to say how much the various departments of secular knowledge owe to foreign missions. Take geography, ethnology, philology and kindred subjects. Much of the best and most reliable information we possess on these subjects has come to us through the missionaries. And it would be impossible to say how much the heathen nations of the world are indebted to the missionaries for any knowledge they possess on these subjects. Now this is a good thing in itself, and we cannot but rejoice in the fact that foreign missions have done so much by way of enlarging the sphere of human knowledge. But we dare not put the emphasis on this fact in our advocacy of missions. An individual here and there, or a learned society here and there, might be touched by an appeal made on this ground; but it would kindle no enthusiasm in the hearts of men generally. Men will not become missionaries, neither will the churches give of their wealth, for the mere purpose of promoting the growth of secular knowledge.

The Motive of Commerce

Shall we place the emphasis on the relation of the missionary enterprise to the advancement of commerce? I have heard appeals made on this ground, and there can be no doubt of the utility of missions in this respect. The mission is the friend of legitimate commerce always and everywhere. Whilst it sets its face like flint against trade in opium, fire-water and all such abominations, it joyfully welcomes the honest and honourable trader and prepares the way for him. The missionary is a pioneer of trade and commerce. He is the promoter of civilization, learning and education wherever he may be, and these breed new wants which commerce supplies. Look at Africa, Polynesia, Madagascar and other countries, and see what kind of service the missionary can and does render to commerce. This is a fact to which attention should be called, and on which an emphasis should be placed. But we dare not put the emphasis on this fact. Men will not become missionaries in order to advance the interests of commerce, neither will the churches give of their wealth for this purpose.

The Motive of Civilization

Shall we place the emphasis on the relation of the missionary enterprise to the advancement of civilization? This is an important consideration. I have heard appeals made on this ground, and I have heard of men subscribing to missions because of their utility in this respect. Even Darwin became a subscriber by reason of what he saw with his own eyes of the civilizing effects of missions. I have heard also of men refusing to subscribe to missions in China on the ground that the Chinese were supposed to be a highly civilized people. That the missionary enterprise is a great civilizing agency is a fact that cannot be questioned. Look at the South Seas. There you see the wild cannibal turned into a lamb, the ferocious savage sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and the debased brutish pagan transformed into a heaven-aspiring and God-loving man. That is not religion only, but civilization also. Speaking of the great change which had been wrought in the moral and social life of the natives of Tahiti and New Zealand, Darwin writes: “In a voyager to forget these things is base ingratitude, for should he chance to be at the point of shipwreck on some unknown coast he will most devoutly pray that the lesson of the missionary may have extended so far.” Look at India. In India self-immolation, human sacrifices, the burning of widows, and their cruel practices have been swept away, and this is to be ascribed in a great measure to the influence of the modern mission. Speaking of the missionaries in India, Lord Lawrence said: “However many benefits the English people have conferred on India, the missionaries have accomplished more than all other influences combined.” Now there is nothing in the history of the world, we are told, that can compare with England’s secular work in India during the past one hundred years or so, and yet Lord Lawrence, one of India’s greatest viceroys, did not hesitate to speak of the work of the missionaries in India as surpassing all other in point of importance.

Look at Japan. It was in 1854 that the first treaty was concluded between Japan and any Western Power. Since then the Land of the Rising Sun has been steadily moving towards the civilization of the West, and becoming more and more assimilated to Christian nations, and this is to be ascribed in a very great measure to the influence of modern missions. The progress of Japan in Christian civilization received a wonderful illustration in her struggle with China in 1894-5, and again in 1900, in connection with the Boxer uprising. But it was in her conflict with Russia in 1904-5 that Japan gave the most conspicuous proof of the reality as well as the greatness of the progress made by her during these forty or fifty years. I do not refer to her material improvements as demonstrated by the wonderful strength and efficiency of her army and navy, though that must be admitted to be one of the great marvels of the age. What astonishes me most is the wonderful moral progress brought to light by these conflicts. Her well equipped commissariat and thoroughly efficient medical department; the careful provision made, not only for her own sick and wounded, but for the sick and wounded of the enemy also; her Red Cross Society, and her humane treatment of the prisoners taken in battle-all these things are new in Japan, and they are the things which fill the hearts of all Christian workers in the Far East with wonder and gratitude. When, 300 years ago, the armies of Japan swept over Korea, the spirit of plunder and carnage was unrestrained. The ears of 3,000 victims, slaughtered in a single battle, were brought back to Japan and exhibited as trophies of the cruel conflict. And the same spirit would have prevailed still but for the influence of Christianity. I do not mean to say that the Japanese as a people have adopted Christianity as a religion. That, as yet, they have not done; and I do not mean to say that they are likely to do so either to-day or to-morrow. It is impossible to foresee what religious developments may take place in Japan in the near future. But the Japanese have come into vital contact with Christian nations; they have come under the influence of Christian teaching; the spirit of Christianity is moving them; Christian ideas are taking possession of them; and they are putting on Christian civilization with a rapidity and a thoroughness which astonish the world; and this is to be ascribed, in a very great measure, to the influence of Christian missions.

I might proceed to show that the same thing is true of the present awakening in China. But that I must not attempt at this point.

It is getting to be seen more and more clearly every day that among the civilizing forces of the world, Christianity is the most powerful, and that the Christian missionary, instead of being an enemy, is a true friend of commerce, of science, of education, and of civilization. And this is a fact on which due emphasis should be placed. Still the main emphasis cannot be placed on this fact.

The Motive of Abysmal Moral and Spiritual Conditions

Shall we place the emphasis on the moral and spiritual condition of the heathen? This is a consideration of vital and momentous importance, and no missionary, and no thoughtful man or woman who professes to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, can fail to be influenced by it. The moral and spiritual condition of the heathen world is sad beyond description. The heathen are living in sin, and dying in sin. They are without God, without Christ, and without hope. I am not speaking of their future condition. I am speaking of their condition here and now. This is a solemn fact, and the true missionary cannot but place a solemn emphasis upon it. But even this cannot be regarded as the grand central motive. It is a strong motive, but not the strongest. It is not strong enough in itself to take the missionary to the field; it is certainly too weak to keep him there. The moral and spiritual condition of the heathen world tends to depress and dishearten. Its godlessness, its darkness, and its immorality often create strong aversion and deep loathing in the missionary’s breast, and sometimes an intense desire to retire to a safe distance from the abomination. In itself, and alone, it tends to repel rather than to attract. What, think you, would be the effect of an attempt on the part of the missionary to fix his eyes on the bad and the vile in the life and character of the people among whom he labours? Would it not be the creation of a strong sentiment of distrust, aversion, and despair? Would it be possible for him to go on and work for them? Pity for the heathen is a good motive; but the missionary cannot depend upon it as a permanently operative motive. There are times when love and pity seem to die down in the breast of the missionary as he comes into close contact with the badness of heathenism. What holds him fast in the midst of so much that tends to disgust and repel? I will answer that question presently. In the meantime I will repeat a little anecdote:-”Let me give you a piece of advice,” said a China missionary of some years’ standing to a young brother who had just arrived in the country; “I advise you to try, as quickly as possible, to love the Chinese for Christ’s sake, for you will find it very difficult to love them for their own sake.” That was sound advice, based upon real practical experience. Let me not be misunderstood. I do not mean to say that it is impossible to get to respect and love the Chinaman for his own sake. There are men among the heathen in China for whom I cherish very profound respect, and there are many among the converts for whom I feel the deepest personal affection. I love them, and they love me; and the number of such is increasing every day. Still what I have just said is perfectly true. Moreover, the moral and spiritual condition of the heathen world does not present a motive strong enough to move the home churches to do their duty. “How is it possible for me to bring myself to love and pity the Chinese? They are so far away, and I know so little about them. How can you expect me to feel a deep interest in them, or to make a real sacrifice on their behalf? Both morally and spiritually they may be in a state of great destitution; but how am I to realize their condition? How can you expect my heart to flow out towards them in love and pity? They are so far away.” So spoke one of the most thoughtful of our Congregational ministers to me when I was at home the last time, in 1881. I felt that there was much truth in what he said, and I made an appeal to him on another and a higher ground, an appeal to which he quickly responded. We must have something more than pity for the moral and spiritual condition of the heathen, if we would carry on this great missionary enterprise with unflagging energy, and see it crowned with success. The work must be done, and the sacrifice must be made, not for their sakes only, but for the sake of Another.

The Motive of Success

Shall we place the emphasis on the success of modern missions? The emphasis is often placed on this consideration. The past triumphs of the Gospel, and the marked success of missions during these one hundred years, are often adduced as the grand argument why men should consecrate themselves and their means to the missionary enterprise. The cry for success is loud and persistent, and there are men who profess to give only to success. That the Gospel has won great triumphs in the past is a fact that cannot be denied, and this supplies good ground for perseverance. Success inspires confidence, and it is only right that we should point to the success of modern missions in our advocacy of the cause.

But it is not the motive. The apostles had to start on their glorious mission without this motive. The fathers and founders of our great missionary societies had to enter on their grand enterprise without this motive. And many a missionary has had to toil on for years without this motive. Carey had to labour on for seven years before baptizing his first convert, and so had Dr. Morrison. Thank God for success. Success is sweet and inspiring, and what success can be compared with success in the grand work of preaching the kingdom of God and saving men? But we find that we have often to work without success, and sometimes in spite of apparent failure. What then is the motive? What is the motive that impels the missionary forward in spite of difficulties, dangers and adverse appearances? What is the motive that sustained Carey, Morrison, Martyn, Judson, and many more during so many years of weary waiting? And what is the motive to arouse the churches to do their duty, apart from all considerations of success; nay, in spite of failures, should they be called upon to do so? Is there such a motive’? If there is, we want to get at it. Where shall the emphasis be placed? Let me try and answer this all-important question.

Spiritual Motives

The emphasis must be placed on the relation of the missionary enterprise to Jesus Christ.

It is the Will of Christ For Us

First, to Christ’s command:-”Go ye, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.” “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.” That is the great commission, and that is our work. It is the work of the missionary, and it is the work of the church. The missionaries are in China not to promote the aggrandizement of any ism whatever. They are there, not to make Methodists, or Baptists, or Presbyterians, or Congregationalists, or Episcopalians, or Lutherans. They are there to preach the Kingdom of God, to make Christians, to bring that great people to Jesus Christ. Would to God that all the sectarian names now existing in China could be blotted out, and that all the societies could unite in one grand organization, having for its one aim the Christianization of the Chinese people, and having for its one name the Name which is above every name. “Go ye, therefore, and disciple all the nations.” Go, conquer the world for Me. Carry the glad tidings to all lands, and do not stop till all the nations have embraced the Gospel and enrolled themselves as My disciples.

That is Christ’s command, and that is our work. Jesus Christ commands, and it is our duty to obey. We have no choice in the matter. As long as we acknowledge Christ to be Lord and Master, we are bound to go on with this great work. In defending the cause of missions we dare not take any ground lower than this. Neither is it safe to do so. “Does it not strike you,” said one of the best known and most influential laymen in China to a well-known missionary, “in reading the Chinese classics, that there is much good and much to be admired in the Chinese system? Would it not be well to leave well enough alone?” As to the Chinese system being “well enough,” I will not deal with that point just now, save to say that, whilst I freely and gladly admit that there is much to be admired in the Chinese system, I utterly deny that it is well enough, and it is my firm conviction that China will never be right whilst that system dominates the Chinese mind. But the right answer to that question is this: Would it be right to disobey Jesus Christ? That is the question which the missionary has to consider, and that is the question which the churches have to consider. It is not a matter of “letting well enough alone” at all, but a matter of obeying or disobeying the Lord Christ. Jesus Christ wills it, and we dare not disobey. “It is the will of God.” That was the motive selected by Peter the Hermit, when he wanted to arouse Europe to rescue the Holy Land from the hands of the Infidel. With that one sentence he stirred the whole of Christendom to its very depths, and kindled an enthusiasm such as history rarely presents an example of. “It is the will of Christ.” That is our motive. Let us put the emphasis on that motive, and with that motive let us arouse the churches for a grander crusade, and strengthen the hearts of all Christian workers for new and nobler achievements.

We Are Promised Christ’s Authority and Power

Second:-The relation of the missionary enterprise to Christ’s dominion and power. “All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore.” Here we have the great fact on which the commission rests. All authority in heaven is Mine. All the resources of heaven are at My command, and shall be used by Me for the furtherance of your enterprise. All authority on earth is Mine. The world is Mine-the whole of it. The heathen have been given to Me for My inheritance, and the uttermost part of the earth for My possession; and, in order to conquer the world by your agency, all authority on earth has been given to Me. I have power over all persons, all passions, all movements. They are all under My control, and they will be made subservient to this one grand object-the evangelization of the world, the Christianization of the nations. “Go ye therefore.” Thus the great commission rests on the Lordship of Christ-His Lordship over the whole world, His Lordship over the church, and His Lordship over every one of us. Christ is Lord of all; He sits on the throne, and wields the scepter of universal dominion; He must reign till all His enemies have become the footstool of His feet. Let us put the emphasis on that great fact.

We Are Promised Christ’s Presence

Third:-The relation of the missionary enterprise to Christ’s presence. “I am with you alway.” Here we have the fact on which the success of the missionary enterprise depends. “I am with you all the days.” You will have your lonely days, but I am with you to brighten the most lonely of your days, and to fill your hearts with my peace. You feel your weakness and incompetence, but I am with you to guide you, to strengthen you, and to furnish you with every necessary power for your great mission. You fear for the safety of the cause. Fear not, be of good courage, I am with you. I have overcome the world, the battle is Mine, and the victory is certain. You are weak, but I am mighty. I will never leave you, never forsake you. What a glorious fact to rest our hopes upon! Christ with us every day, and every hour and every minute of the day. If Christ is with us who can be against us? Let us place the emphasis on that great fact, and go forth to conquer.

Christ’s Love Becomes a Compelling Power in Us

Fourth:-The relation of the missionary to Christ’s love. “The love of Christ constraineth us.” Paul was the prince of missionaries, and in this one passage we have the secret of his power and influence as a missionary. Without the love of Christ he could have done nothing; with the love of Christ filling his heart he could do all things. “The love of Christ constraineth us.” The love of Christ to me-to me personally-constrains me to live to Him and for Him. He died for me; my life is His. He suffered for me; I will suffer for Him. He lives for me; I will live for Him. I will work for His sake; I will give for His sake; I will endure for His sake. There is nothing I would not do to please Him. He is my Lord and my Saviour. He loved me and gave Himself for me. I owe Him an infinite debt, a debt which is always due, and which I can never pay off. All I can do is to lay myself on the altar, and say: Lord Jesus take me, take me as I am, and use me as Thou wilt. This is a grand motive-the love of Christ to us, to each one of us personally. Let us come under the influence of this mighty motive, and we shall cease to find His service, whether in working or in giving, a burden. We shall serve the Lord with gladness, and day by day come before His presence with a song of joy. And there is Christ’s love for the whole world-for all men. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” “He died for all.” “He is the Saviour of all men.” All men are His. His love embraces all, and He desires the salvation of all. It may be hard sometimes to love the heathen, and to make a great sacrifice on their behalf. You may find it difficult to do it for their sakes merely. Do it then for His sake. “I would work for the slave for his own sake,” said Henry Ward Beecher on one occasion, “but I am sure that I would work ten times as earnestly for the slave for Christ’s sake.” Speaking of the Chinese, I can say the same thing. “I can work for the Chinese for their own sakes, but I can work ten times as earnestly for the Chinese for Christ’s sake.” People at home say that the heathen are so far away, and that they find it difficult to feel an interest in them and in their spiritual concerns. Be it so. But Jesus Christ is not far away. Jesus Christ is near, and it ought not to be difficult to feel an interest in Him and in His great redemptive purposes. If we would work earnestly and successfully for the salvation of the world, we must be penetrated with the thought of Christ’s love for all men. We must look at men with the eyes of Christ, feel for them with the heart of Christ, and work for them under the influence of the Spirit of Christ. “The love of Christ constraineth us.”

“The love of Christ.” This is a grand motive. If we could fairly come under its influence it would constrain us, as it did constrain the great apostle, to love Christ with a strong, personal, enthusiastic love, and to work for Christ with entire devotion and unquenchable zeal.

I often think of Paul and the great Yangtsze together. On its way to the sea the mighty stream has to encounter many obstacles, and flows in varied channels. In its upper courses, its bed in many places is uneven and narrow; but it never stops. Now it dashes against the rocks like a mad thing, and now it rushes through a narrow gorge at a mill-race speed. Then it emerges into a wide and even channel, and flows on quietly, calmly, and majestically to the sea. But its flow is ever onward, continuous, irresistible. Try and turn it back, and you will find it impossible. Tell it to stop, and it will tell you that it cannot. Ask it why, and it will reply: “A mighty law has taken possession of me, and is carrying me onwards, ever onwards. The law of gravity constraineth me.” So it was with the great apostle. The love of Christ, like a mighty law, had taken possession of him, and was carrying him onwards, ever onward. He could not turn back, he could not stop, he could not help himself. The love of Christ constraineth me.

Christ’s command, Christ’s dominion and power, Christ’s presence, Christ’s love-these four combined form a mighty motive. Other motives have their place and value in our advocacy of missions; but this must ever be regarded as the supreme motive, as the grand central motive, in the missionary enterprise.

This motive clothes every other motive with new meaning and new interest. Let this motive take full possession of my soul, and the moral and spiritual condition of the heathen will impress my mind as it never did before; the relation of the missionary enterprise to the advancement of civilization will appeal to my sympathies as it never did before; and I shall take a deeper interest in the diffusion of knowledge and the advancement of education than I ever did, or ever could have done before. Under the influence of this motive, I am made to feel that the whole world belongs to Jesus Christ, that every human being belongs to Jesus Christ, and that the salvation of the entire man, and that the uplifting of the whole race of man, come within the scope of His redemptive purposes.

This motive strengthens, ennobles, and sanctifies every other motive. It ignores none; it glorifies all.

And this motive can never pass away. Other motives come and go; but this motive abideth forever. It can never change; it can never become obsolete. It is permanent, operative and all-sufficient. Let the Church of God throughout the world place the emphasis on this motive, let this motive become a living force in the hearts of all Christian workers, whether at home or abroad, let it become a living force in the hearts of Christ’s disciples generally, and the result will be universal triumph. There will be no lack of either men or women to carry on the enterprise. The silver and the gold will flow in abundance, and the best men in our universities and colleges will devote themselves to the work. The Gospel will be preached to the whole creation, God will pour of His Spirit upon all flesh, and the kingdoms of this world shall soon become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ.

Let us then come into closer union with Jesus Christ, let us come under the all-constraining power of His mighty love, let His command become law to us, and let us identify ourselves with Him in His great redemptive purposes with regard to this sinful world-let us do this, and we shall be filled with divine power, and with Christlike enthusiasm for God and for humanity. God will be merciful unto us, His people, and bless us. He will cause His face to shine upon us, and, as a result, His way shall be known upon earth and His saving health among all nations. “God shall bless us, and all the ends of the earth shall fear Him.”

Griffith John, A Voice From China, (London: James Clarke & Co., 1907), pp 38-52.