It is striking that with that has come a change of talk about sin, the thing that was supposed to be responsible for making the world so bad. Sin is not such a damnable thing now, apparently. It is largely constitutional weakness, or prenatal predilection, or the idiosyncrasy of individuality. (Big words are in favor here. They always make such talk seem wise and plausible.) Heaven has slipped largely out of view; and—hell, too, even more. Churchmen in the flush of phenomenal material prosperity, with full stomachs and luxurious homes and pews, are well content with things as they are in this present world, and don’t propose to move.
And with that it is easy to believe what we are freely told, that there is really no need of giving our Christian religion to the heathen world. Those peoples have religions of their own that are remarkably good. At least they are satisfactory to them. Why disturb them? They are doing very well. This talk about their being lost, and needing a Savior, is reckoned out of date. The old common statements about so many thousands dying daily, and going out into a lost eternity, are not liked. They are called lurid. And, indeed, they are not used nearly so much now as once.
This swing away has had a great influence upon the mass of church-members, and upon their whole thought of the foreign-mission enterprise. There is a vaguely expressed, but distinctly felt idea both in the Church and outside of it, for the two seem to overlap as never before—that the sending of missionaries is really not to save peoples from being lost. That sort of talk is almost vulgar now.
Mission work is really a sort of good-natured neighborliness. It is benevolent humanitarianism in which we may all help, more or less (usually less), regardless of our beliefs or lack of beliefs, our church-membership or attendance. We should show these heathen our improved methods of living. We have worked out better plans of housekeeping and schooling, of teaching and doctoring, and farming and all the rest of it. And now we want to help these poor deficient peoples across the seas.
We think we are a superior people in ourselves, as well as in our type of civilization, decidedly so. And having taken good care of ourselves, and laid up a good snug sum, we can easily afford to help these backward far-away neighbors a bit. It is really the thing to do.
Such seems to be the general drift of much of the present-day talk about foreign missions. The Church, and its members individually, have grown so rich that we have forgotten that we were ever poor. The table is so loaded with dainties that we are quite willing to be generous with the crumbs, even cake crumbs.
Great Incidental Blessings.
Now, without doubt the sending of the missionaries has vastly improved conditions of human life in the foreign-mission lands. The missionaries have been the forerunners of great improvements. They have been the pioneers blazing out the paths along which both trade and diplomacy have gone with the newer and better civilization of the West. Civilization has developed marvellously in the western half of the world. And the missionaries have been its advance agents into the stagnant East, and the savage wilds of the southern hemisphere.