Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creatureMar 16:15
The Gospel Deep and Wide
There are two directions in which the sway of Jesus is without any parallel in human history. The one of them is that of depth; the other that of breadth. All great movements may be judged extensively— that is, by the area which they cover; or, on the other hand, they may be judged intensively by their power of influence over the individual, and in both respects the Gospel of our Lord stands quite alone upon the page of history— in its depth and in its breadth it is unequalled. The one name for the followers of Socrates was the name of disciple, or of learner. That name was often on the lips of Christ, and is familiar on the Gospel page. But it is very significant that, as the days went by, and men perceived all that they owed to Christ, the name of disciple (for all its tender memories) gave place to that of servant or slave. That indicates with what a perfect mastery Jesus Christ controls the individual. His influence reaches to the depths of being, and possesses every power and every passion. Yet not less notable than that complete control is the area over which it is to reach: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” The two remarkable things about the Gospel are that it is deep as life and wide as all the world. It is a message of redeeming power for the whole man; it is a message of redeeming power for every man. And on that latter subject I wish to speak— on the worldwide message of the Gospel. First, let us look at it in its conception; next, in its accomplishment; and, lastly, in its obligation.
The Gospel in Its Conception
First, then, the worldwide message of the Gospel, viewed in the light of its conception: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”
These words were uttered by the risen Lord when the agony of Calvary was over; it was when He was soon to leave His own that He commanded them to go into the world. It has been argued hence that this idea was only present with Jesus at the end. Had he succeeded in converting Israel, this destiny would never have emerged. It was His failure, we are told, with His own people, and the reaction of a brave spirit from that failure, that led Him to think that all might not be lost though Israel refused Him for its King. In other words, it has been argued that the worldwide message was an afterthought. It was not part— if I may put it so— of the original program of the Christ. It was the child of disappointed hope born of His failure with unbelieving Israel; the last dream, if not the last infirmity, of a noble mind. Now, brethren, there are certain of Christ’s thoughts of which you can trace the development. You can see them forming with the passing days into the fullness of our Christian heritage. But the thought of the worldwide mission of the Gospel can never be included in that number, for from the first hour of His public ministry it was present to the mind of Christ.
Think, for instance, of that mysterious hour when Christ was tempted in the wilderness. The last temptation was the sorest one, and you recall what that last temptation was: “Then the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain and showeth to Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and saith to Him, ‘All these things will I give Thee if Thou wilt fall down and worship me.'” Now, how do our bitterest temptations reach us? They reach us along the line of our desires; they offer us immediately and in forbidden ways the things we covet and hunger for and crave for. And if in the desert the bitterest temptation was couched in dreams of universal empire, you may be sure that universal empire was the ruling passion in the Savior’s heart. It was not in the sovereignty that the temptation lay. It was in the way suggested to achieve the sovereignty. It was in the prompting to take the nearest road instead of the blood-stained path that led by Calvary. And the very fact that Christ was tempted so when He was fresh from His mother’s home at Nazareth shows us that even then there burned within Him the hope and the vision of a worldwide kingdom.
Or, again, take the Sermon on the Mount, which is the charter and the program of His kingdom. That it was spoken early in His ministry is not a matter open to dispute. Well, now, in the 37th Psalm you read that the meek shall inherit the land. It is not so translated in our version, but that is the only meaning of the Hebrew. The Psalmist is thinking of the land of Palestine, and thinking of nothing but the land of Palestine, and he looks for a day when pride shall disappear, and every dweller in the land be lowly. And now comes Christ, and strikes out that word “land,” and in its stead He places the word “earth”— “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”— the bounds of Palestine have been submerged. And then, as if to confirm that spacious thought, He says to those who follow Him, “Ye are the salt of the earth; ye are the light of the world.” Clearly, then, at the outset of His ministry our Lord had His eyes fixed upon the world. The worldwide mission of His Gospel message was not the late-born child of disappointment. In all its grandeur it possessed His heart when first He opened his lips upon the hill, and it abode with Him unaltered until the end, when he said, “Go ye into all the world.”
The Overwhelming Boldness of the Gospel in Its Conception
Now, there are two features in this conception to which I desire to direct your thoughts, and the first is its overwhelming boldness. If you would but reflect for a moment on the facts and on the circumstances that surround the facts, there is not one of you but would be amazed at the unparalleled boldness of the Lord. We have read of an Alexander conquering the world and then weeping that there were not other worlds to conquer, but Alexander was born in king’s estate, and had a mighty army to obey him. We have read of Napoleon, with his vast ambition and his dreams of a mighty empire in the East, but Napoleon also had his hardy veterans, and his ambition rose with his success. How different from all this is Jesus Christ, who had not a single sword to back His claims, and who, in the quiet glory of His faith, believed in His worldwide empire from the first. Had He been born in Rome of Latin ancestry we might have better understood His outlook. For Rome was stretching her power into far distances, and widening the horizon of her children. But Jesus Christ was born after the flesh, of the narrowest and most exclusive race that ever lived. Yet out of the heart of that most jealous heritage He looked with equal eyes upon the whole world. In every land His Gospel would be preached; in every tongue His name would be proclaimed; the heavens and the earth might pass away, but His word would never pass away, and He— who was He to make these mighty claims?-He was the meek and lowly man of Nazareth, whose mother had never heard the name of Plato, and whose brethren moved about a village street. Note, too, in what a natural way our Savior talked about His worldwide mission. He did not dwell on it as one might dwell on something stupendous that was overwhelming Him. But He spoke of it as quietly and simply as you and I might talk about our work, without the slightest trace of any feeling that He had taken on Him a task that was too great. Think of Him as He sat in Simon’s house when the woman broke the alabaster box. “She hath done it for My burial,” He said. And then He added, in the same quiet voice, that wherever this Gospel should be preached in the whole world, there also what this woman had done should be told for a memorial of her. It is easy to say that the world to Jesus must have meant far less than it means today for us. I question if it did not mean far more than it does now, when you can telegraph to Africa. (Editor’s note: And today when we can travel to the moon!) But at least to one who had seen the Roman soldiers drafted from strange regions of the empire, to one who had moved amid the crowds at Passover, drawn from the towns and cities of far lands, there must always have been a grandeur and a breadth in the conception of a worldwide mission.
The Originality of the Conception of the Gospel of Christ
The other feature is its originality. I question if we think enough on that. The program of a universal empire was as original as it was daring. There was nothing like it in the Jewish creed; the Jewish religion was rigidly exclusive. There was nothing like it in the Pagan world, where religion and the State were almost one. It was a thought transcendently original, and original because it was Divine, that now there was to be neither Jew nor Greek, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free. It is not from particular promises that we learn the originality of Jesus. There is scarcely a beatitude whose germ, at any rate, you may not find in a page of the Old Testament. Christ is most deeply indebted to the past, and to those who sang and sorrowed in the past, but it is His glory that sets the past in a light that never was on land or sea. Take, for example, the thought of the Kingdom of Heaven, an expression that was often on His lips. It was a word familiar to the Jews, and its coming was proclaimed by John the Baptist. Yet between the kingdom of Jewish aspiration and the Kingdom as announced by Jesus Christ there was a world of spiritual difference. The one was earthly, and the other heavenly. The one was national; the other universal. The one had its seat and center in Jerusalem; the other had its bond of unity in Christ. The marching order of the one was this, “Come ye, and worship in the holy temple,” while these were the marching orders of the other, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel.” Remember, then, that we owe to Jesus Christ our familiar thought of a worldwide religion. It is one of the grandest and most sublime ideas that has ever been granted to the human race. And not to Greeks do we owe it, nor to Rome; we owe it to Jesus Christ our Savior, to whom it was given, not from the past of Israel, but from the Father with whom He was one.
The Accomplishments of Preaching the Gospel
In the second place, let us view this worldwide mission in the light of its accomplishment.
Now it is one thing to cherish great ideas, and quite another to see these ideas fulfilled. We know what a gulf there is between a great conception and its actual achievement upon the stage of history. Sometimes the great idea proves impractical, and takes its place among Utopian dreams. Sometimes, in contact with the rude reality, it is so crushed and bruised that none would recognize it. I may recall to your memory two great conceptions that have fared in these two ways in history. One of the best-known works of Plato the philosopher is the treatise that pictures his ideal Republic. It is a pattern of what a State should be when ruled by the wisest and for the wisest ends. Yet this— this Kingdom of Heaven of philosophy— has had so little power in touch with fact that to this day, in spite of its moral grandeur, it is an impractical and unsubstantial dream. On the other hand, in the time of the French Revolution, there rose the conception of an ideal kingdom. Its watchwords were Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and it was to inaugurate a golden age. So big with promise did that conception seem, and so like to be the dawn of the millennium, that for enthusiasts and generous hearts “bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.” I need hardly tell you what actually happened— how hopes were dashed and aspirations shattered. The prisons were crowded, guillotines were busy, the streets ran red with the blood of slaughtered men. Here was a great conception of a kingdom within whose bounds there would be peace and liberty, yet, in actual contact with the brutal fact, it turned itself into a scene of carnage. Now think, in contradistinction from all this, of the worldwide Kingdom announced by Jesus Christ. Slowly and silently it made its way from nation to nation and from land to land. It was no impractical and unsubstantial dream, as could be witnessed by a thousand lives; and in the peace and power which it brought, it was true to the first design of its one Lord. As an actual fact, from the moment of its birth, the Gospel has been steadily advancing. It has broken down the barriers of class; it has survived the changes of the centuries. Nations have risen and perished in the world since Jesus moved along the ways of Galilee; ancient empires have crumbled into dust; new continents have swung within our ken, but still the Gospel message is proclaimed, still men are going forth with its glad news, still Christ is proving Himself in distant lands the wisdom and the power of God.
Now, not only is this an actual fact, but we must remember it is also a unique fact. There is not another religion in the world of which the same assertion can be made. If you can point to any other faith that has traveled far from the region of its birth, then one might think, on purely natural grounds, to explain the wonderful spread of Christianity. But such a faith is nowhere to be found in all the great historical regions, though some of them have had the aid of allies that Christianity would scorn to own. Think, for example, of Mohammedanism. With its consecration of sensual indulgence, with its sword of steel and with its heaven of sense, well fitted might it seem to win the world. Yet Mohammedanism has never touched the West, and, however powerful with its own people, it has never succeeded in laying its hands on peoples who are remote from its first home. Or think of Buddhism, with its so gentle touch and all the soothing of its voice for weary men, for two thousand years and more its spell has lain on the unnumbered millions of the East; yet in all these centuries it has never crossed the boundary that separates the Orient from the Occident; never wooed the nations of the West with its dreamy gospel of despair. Now, with both these, contrast the Christian Gospel. It was cradled in a little Eastern land, and within a hundred years it was in Spain; within a hundred years it was in Scotland; and now, when but eighteen centuries are gone, in the remotest East and furthest West, men, on fire with love for Jesus Christ, are preaching the glad news of the Evangel. There is nothing like this in the history of the nations; nothing like it in the story of religion. It is unparalleled; it is unique. I do not hesitate to say it is Divine. The steady progress of the Christian faith for him who has eyes to see and ears to hear, is one of the strongest of all arguments for the divinity of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel Is Triumphant in Spite of Forces against It
And this impression is singularly deepened when we think of the forces allied against the Gospel. It had against it the power of the State, and, still more powerful, the heart of man. I shall not dwell upon persecutions which fell with such terrific force upon the Church. Other religions have been persecuted too, and they, like the Gospel of Jesus, have survived. Far more remarkable than that survival from the bitter persecution of the State is its survival from these deadlier evils that lay in their infancy on its own bosom. When I think of the heresies which rent the early Church, of her gradual decline from spirituality, of the superstition of the Middle Ages, and the widespread skepticism it engendered; when I think how the Church has been rent into divisions, and how Protestant and Catholic stand apart, to me it is wonderful that men should ever dream now of carrying the Gospel to the world. As a matter of fact, not only do they dream it; every day they actually do it. Never before, in all the Christian centuries, has there been such eagerness to evangelize the world. And, when you think of the story of the past, with all its division and all its degradation, that glowing zeal of the Christian Church today is a mighty witness to the living Christ. Every power that could wreck the Gospel has been brought to bear on it since it was born. It has been persecuted, ridiculed, degraded; it has been wounded by foes and by its friends. Why, brethren, if Christ be not alive, I tell you that all that is inexplicable. I pity with all my heart the man or woman who says he does not believe in Foreign Missions; he is shutting his heart to such a splendid proof of the divinity of Jesus Christ. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature,” and men are doing it to this very hour. To me, knowing the past, that is inexplicable unless the speaker was the Son of God.
The Accomplishments of the Gospel Put Us under Obligation
And now, in closing, and in a word or two, this worldwide mission in its obligation. And, first, it is the duty of us all to realize what we owe to this command, “Go ye into all the world, and preach.” Why, that has been the charter of our liberty; without it there would have been no Gospel here. I hear of some who believe in Home Missions, but have no interest in Foreign Missions. That attitude, I believe, is often due to lack of imagination rather than of heart. But remember, if a thousand years ago the Church had taken a standpoint of that kind, we should still have been living in a heathen country, and without a single hope in Jesus Christ. It is to the Foreign Missions of the past that we owe our highest life today. It is to men who left their home and country that we are indebted for the Christian faith. In spite of all that disgraces our profession, and all the indifference that fills our land, no patriot has ever done for our nation a thousandth part of what has been done by Christ. It is not fair to judge of Foreign Missions merely by what you see or hear today. Even that, when it is rightly read, is full of argument and inspiration. The Foreign Missions are as old as Christendom; it is they which started Europe on her course, and rightly to know the worth of Foreign Missions you must include that story of the past. But not alone must we strive to realize all that the worldwide faith has done for us; each one of us must make the text our own if we are truly disciples of the Lord. To some there has come the call to go abroad, and they have opened their hearts to hear that call. God grant that even today there may be others who will be drawn to dedicate their lives to this great service; but everyone of us, whether old or young, can play his part in this unequalled labor, and help on more powerfully than we know the promised evangelization of the world. Read, I pray you, with attention the story of that service in our missionary journals; take an intelligent interest in the matter, as I know so many of you already do; give it a large place in daily prayer, and be not content with general petitions, but, with a mind enriched by information, intercede for particular localities. It is in such ways that we can take our place, though we may not stand in the forefront of the battle. By prayer, by interest, by thoughtful giving, we can help the worldwide triumph of the Gospel. For that great victory will surely come, when the knowledge of Christ shall cover the whole earth, and happy shall he be who, in that crowning hour, shall be found to have hastened on its coming.