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The Crisis of Opportunity and Responsibility

by Arthur T. Pierson (1837-1911)

A. T. PiersonWhat is a crisis? It is a combination of grand opportunity and great responsibility; the hour when the chance of glorious success and the risk of awful failure confront each other; the turning point of history and destiny. We do not say the crisis of missions is coming; it has come, and is even now upon us. There have been repeated crises before, but THE CRISIS is now to be met. Never since Christ committed a world's evangelization to His servants have such open doors of opportunity, such providential removal of barriers and subsidence of obstacles, such general preparation for the universal and immediate dissemination of the Gospel, and such triumphs of grace in the work of missions, supplied such inspiration to angelic zeal and seraphic devotion; but it may well be doubted whether there has ever been greater risk of losing the opportunity. We are in peril of practical apathy, if not apostasy, with respect to this stewardship of the Gospel, this obligation to a lost world.

We have looked upon the fruitful, hopeful mission-field, with its providential leadings and gracious workings; but to the brightest picture there is often a darker background, and it is necessary to a complete impression, that we should candidly face all the facts, however they may rebuke our listlessness and selfishness. And a few of these discouragements we must carefully and prayerfully consider, if we would understand and solve the problem of missions.

First of all, the Church is moving so slowly that Satan's active agents are entering these open doors, preoccupying these open fields. The crisis will not brook delay. Satan appreciates his opportunity, if we do not ours. If we do not push our forces to the front, we shall find it too late. We can take possession then, if at all, only by dislodging a foe whom our delays have permitted to precede us.

India is an example of the danger of delay. The theosophists go there and feed the expiring flame of paganism with the fuel of rationalism and mysticism. In Calcutta, Paine's "Age of Reason" is made "plain upon the tablets," instead of the Gospel, and in university-cities like Bombay, natives eagerly read and glibly quote Hegel, Strauss, Renan, and Ingersoll, like the blatant skeptics of young America. European books and teachers import materialism and atheism, sugar-coated with subtle science and seductive philosophy. The "Liberal Christians" send out a solitary missionary to convert the East Indians to Unitarianism, and he himself becomes a convert to the famous Brahmo Somaj, showing that a nominal and Christless Gospel is more likely to be vanquished than victorious in conflict with paganism.

Japan, again, warns us of the risk of procrastination in missions. A nation ready to be moulded is liable to be marred; the pliant sapling may be easily deformed, or the plastic clay shaped for dishonour. Into these openings go the devil's agents, if the Lord's do not; and while we sleep they sow tares in the mellow soil. What can be more important than, at the crisis of Japan's history and destiny, to flood the land with the Gospel! A whole people, forsaking the effete faith of their forefathers, asks for a better. Such another day will never again come for that land, and the door cannot long stand open. It is now or never!

Shintoism may be powerless and Buddhism be in its decadence, and the priests confess the downfall of the old faiths; but the philosophies of the pantheist and materialist, atheist and agnostic, are even now boldly taught. Spencer, Huxley, Darwin and Buckle, Mill and Strauss, diffuse their new gospel, and education is linking itself with infidelity. Meanwhile, nominal Christianity with its ceremonialism—the form of godliness without its power—comes to entrench itself. Romanism, expelled in the seventeenth century, jesuitically renews its efforts to convert the Japanese in the nineteenth.

In papal lands, again, delay is irreparable damage. The popular current is away from Rome, but in the direction of infidelity. Millions are sick of priestcraft, and feel clericalism to be the foe of freedom and well-being. But the reaction is toward no religion; in breaking away from the bonds of superstition there is a proneness to refuse all restraints of conscience and divine law.

These multitudes are grossly ignorant to a degree of which we have little conception. The little ones in our Protestant Sunday-schools at least know the Bible from the Prayer-Book, which many a Romanist does not. So, in the Greek Church, a Russian peasant thought the Trinity was composed of "the Saviour, the Mother of God, and St. Nicholas, the miracle-worker." Thousands of adherents of these churches have absolutely no knowledge of evangelical truth. Their ignorance leaves them at the mercy of designing demagogues, corrupt politicians, and infidel anarchists. They need enlightenment; and as ignorance gives way to intelligence, the intellect that is casting off its shackles must, by a coeducation of intellect and conscience, be kept from running liberty into license. Now is the time, when eyes are opening, to pour in the light of the Gospel.

Once more we seem to see the angel standing with one foot upon the sea and the other upon the land, with the open book in his hand, and to hear him swear that "there shall be delay no longer" (Rev. 10:6, margin); while to God's Church comes His majestic message, "Thou must prophesy again before many peoples and nations and tongues and kings."

There can be neither excuse nor extenuation for the sluggishness that leaves the emissaries of the devil to pre-occupy the mission field, and sow the tares before we have sown the seed of the kingdom; to furnish the pagan with a coat of mail wherewith to ward off the arrows of the truth. While the missionary press, suffering from financial drought, sends its little rill of pure water into desert places, Satan's presses, with royal riches at disposal, flood the land with poisoned streams of western skepticism. It is the old parable illustrated. Here is the house of heathenism, out of which has gone the unclean spirit; but we leave it empty, and seven other spirits, more wicked than the first, enter in and dwell there, and the last state is worse than the first. Oh for the zeal that pushes into the house in advance of the evil one!

There is no discouragement that need dismay a living, praying, working church. John, in apocalyptic vision, and as the final victory of the hosts of God draws nigh, sees the "devil come down, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time." The violence of Satan makes no impression on a well-panoplied church, whose shield of faith is able to quench even his fiery darts; but to a church lacking in missionary principle and activity he may work disasters that centuries will not repair.

Every conceivable motive, therefore, urges us to undertake the last great crusade against the powers of darkness. The command of our ascended Lord, the voice of an enlightened conscience, the impulse of the new nature, the leading of the providential pillar, the working of transforming grace, the grandeur of the opportunity and the peril of delay-all these converge like rays in one burning focus, urging us onward and forward to the outposts of civilisation and the limits of human habitation with the Word of Life. Let the trumpet signal be heard all along the lines! God has already sounded His signal, and, like that peal at Sinai, it is long and loud. The last precept and promise of our Lord, which have inspired all true service and sacrifice, echo with new force and emphasis, louder and clearer, in the face of new openings and new victories. Blessed is he who, like Paul, is immediately obedient unto the heavenly vision.—From "The Crisis of Missions."

From The Evangelisation of the World: A Missionary Band... 2nd ed. London: Morgan & Scott, [1885?].

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