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Thus may you earn the gratitude of earth and the benediction of Heaven! In furtherance of this grand object of Christian philanthropy, let me introduce to your attention the Martyr of Erromanga, whose glorious career and cruel end will supply abundance of striking illustration.
Early in the year 1814, John Williams was aroused by the Rev. Timothy East, of Birmingham, from spiritual slumber, in the Tabernacle, Moorfields, London. From that memorable night, he was deeply convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He saw that he had incurred the penalty of death; and he was filled with a trembling anxiety to escape the wrath to come. He was soon enabled to understand, and led to believe and obey, the gospel of Christ; and became a member of the church assembling in the Tabernacle, under the care of the late Rev. Matthew Wilks. The future Missionary, thus blessed with the hope of salvation, and filled with compassion for the souls of men still walking in the paths of perdition, offered himself as a teacher in the Sabbath-schools, and was accepted. As he sat, amid his youthful class, on the free benches of the Tabernacle, initiating them in the elements of saving knowledge, his fellow-labourers little imagined how great a man he was one day to become, and how much he was destined to effect in diffusing the word of God among the heathen. The ways of the Lord are a great deep: he has work, high and glorious, marked out for many of you likewise, who are, at present, holy and zealous, though humble and obscure, teachers of British and other schools.
Young Williams, delighting much in the business of a teacher, was industrious and exemplary in the dis
charge of his duties. As he advanced in the knowledge and love of Christ, his compassion deepened for the souls of men ; and he strongly desired to be entirely devoted to their instruction. He saw multitudes in England pressing on in the broad way that leads to destruction, and his heart bled at the sight; but, on reflection, he thought the state of the heathen still more lamentable, and such as more loudly called for commiseration. On this ground, therefore, after much prayer to God for direction, and asking counsel of wise men, he offered himself to the London Missionary Society, by whose Directors he was accepted, and sent to the South Seas. Such was the deliberate choice of Mr. Williams; and, although, alas ! it issued in a violent death, it was a wise choice. His dreadful end was an event of predestined honour, not of casual misfortune. Paul, the father of Gentile Missions, spent the whole of his laborious life in the spirit, if not even in the anticipation, of martyrdom. He was always “ ready to die for the Lord Jesus.” He cherished the most exalted conception of the apostolic office. He well knew that it was appointed inconceivably to enrich and bless the world. His estimate of its unparalleled importance was formed on this knowledge; and hence his noble-minded exclamation, “I magnify mine office !” He was at all times the subject of a deep, joyous, and exulting conviction, that his was incomparably the highest, the most beneficent, and the most honourable employment in the universe. That consideration formed a chief part of the moral means by which he was upheld under the pressure of overwhelming burdens, and emboldened to proceed amid appalling difficulties and impending dangers.
In this great matter, Paul is a pattern to all Christian missionaries. It is not enough, however, that similar views should possess and govern the souls of those who have entered the field of foreign labour; they should also thoroughly pervade the hearts of the home churches, and form a prominent feature in the creed and the conscience of the rising race. Accurate conceptions and appropriate feelings upon the subject of missions, are the true basis of all successful evangelical effort: they constitute the life and power of the enterprise, and are, therefore, especially deserving of study and cultivation. Upon this head, we, your fathers, have still much to learn : our vision is dim, and our views are narrow; our emotions are comparatively cold and uninfluential. The business of gospel diffusion is still, in many of our minds, very much an affair of pecuniary contribution. The supply of appropriate human agency, notwithstanding its acknowledged importance, is, with multitudes, not the first, but only the second consideration. Both objects, however, thanks be to God! are advancing towards their true position in the mind of the churches. We confidently anticipate the period when they will be transposed ; when the first question will be men, and the second the means of their support. The time is doubtless drawing nigh, when all the churches of the saints will consider it a culpable neglect of duty, a stain upon their profession, a disgrace upon their character, not to share, in some shape, in missionary contributions ; and when their gifts will bear a proportion to their numbers and their means. With this conviction of duty will necessarily be blended the further conviction, that gold and silver, great and pressing as is their importance, are not the prime consideration. The high question of
human agency will then take precedence of that and of every other. The great principle will at length be fully acknowledged, that it is the province of the “ Lord of the harvest” to “send forth labourers,” and that constant prayer to this effect is the paramount duty of all Christians and of all churches. The strong and persevering spirit of united prayer for this object, will be accompanied by a deep and growing sense of personal duty, with respect to the employment of all other appropriate and appointed means. The people of God will be animated by a holy desire to appear in the foreign field, either in person or by deputy, to publish the mercy of Heaven to a rebel world. They will consider this to be the highest honour they can enjoy on earth; and, in the absence of this, whatever may be their numbers and wealth, or their pecuniary assistance to spread the Gospel, they will feel their rank to be one of only secondary importance. So long as they send none of their members abroad“ to the help of the Lord,” they will consider themselves denied a precious privilege and a high distinction. There is reason to fear, that, at present, this feeling, where it is not dead, is yet dormant among the bulk of the British churches. There is reason to fear, that it is not very generally and intensely supplicated; and that, when the Lord puts this honour upon a people it is not always very thankfully received ; facts which prove that such churches have yet to be baptized with the true spirit of missions. Mere money contribution is but an uncertain criterion of the missionary character of a Christian community. It may mainly depend upon the pastor, or upon a few active individuals, who put into motion the machinery of subscription, and uphold it ; and without whose agency and zeal, for a single year, it would go into derangement and decay. In this coarse and secular affair, much room, too, is left for the entrance and operation of mixed motives and earthly passions; so that, even in churches from which large sums annually proceed to the general treasury, there may, notwithstanding, be but little of the living and breathing power and spirit of real missionary enterprise. Even the missionary prayer-meeting may present a truthtelling and most condemnatory contrast to the treasurer's report. Under the improved condition of things which we anticipate, Christian churches will display harmony in this respect; and, when every fellowship shall have become one pure and flaming mass of missionary zeal, the question of pecuniary support will not lose ground, but will inconceivably gain it, by being placed in a position secondary to that of agency. Then, instead of being, as in too many cases it now is, an artificial stream, it will become a natural one, fed by the heart-fountain of ransomed millions. It will no longer be forced, as undeniably, to a vast extent, it now is; but will flow in copious torrents from its own bursting, grateful abundance.
The question of missions, the question of the world's salvation, will be mainly discussed and carried at the Christian fireside, and in the bosom of religious circles. When the current of enlightened missionary feeling shall have set strongly into churches, it will, at the same time, penetrate households. Godly parents will then come to consider it the choicest of all felicities, the loftiest of all distinctions, to have sons and daughters enrolled among the ranks of the servants of the Most High God, showing to men of foreign climes the way of salvation. The spirit of missions is simply the spirit of