The Perils and Privileges of the Student Volunteer Movement
This article is an abridged transcription of an address given by Robert Wilder at the Student Volunteer Movement Conference held in 1891 in Cleveland, Ohio. Wilder helped to found the Student Volunteer Movement in 1886 at Princeton College, out of which 40,000 students committed themselves to spreading the Gospel to foreign lands. Within the next 50 years, 21,000 missionaries journeyed overseas, influenced by this movement.
Wilder here addresses students who have signed a pledge joining "those who had definitely decided that it was their duty to go to the foreign fields, in order that they might encourage and enlighten one another, arid do more effective and aggressive work on behalf of the cause." Although spoken nearly 100 years ago, Wilder's exhortation rings with relevance and truth for those today who would go wherever Christ calls them.
Let us come to the churches having as our theme the highwayman's motto, "Your money or your life, saying the needs are so great, the command so urgent, we have given our lives will you not give your money? I am glad, for two reasons, that our Boards lack funds. First, so that the faint hearted and backbonesless voluteers may be weeded out. If such a small obstacle as lack of money paralyzes a man how will greater obstacles on the field affect him Second, so that we may be compelled to address the churches and give them facts and fire. Think what it will mean if scores of volunteers make a thorough canvass of the churches informing them upon foreign fields and prevailing upon each church to support at least one volunteer. So this lack of money is our extremity if we are weak kneed, but our opportunity if we are strong in the Lord and true to our pledge.
The Perils and Privileges of the Student Volunteer Movement
1. Here is our first peril. Some say: 'Yes. We have given our lives to the work. The churches are disobeying Christ's last command, is it any reason why we should? Should the heathen be allowed to perish because our church members purchase flowers to adorn earthly temples, when the money is needed to win souls for the heavenly temple? These Christians are answerable to their Master. We must not plead their sin as an excuse for ours.
Students in one of the leading theological seminaries said to me: 'It will do no good for us to apply for foreign service. Two of our best men applied, and were rejected for lack of funds. They were far superior to us.' To such I answer, Do the Boards say, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation?" If so then the Boards dictum should settle matters. But it is Christ who commands this world wide campaign A Christ sent man no empty Board treasury can stop
But, you answer, if the Board refuses me, is that not a call of God for me to remain at home? That depends upon the cause of their refusal. If you are refused because of ill health, or mental or spiritual incompetency, the probability is that you are unfit for foreign work. But even here the Boards are fallible. One of the best foreign missionaries was rejected by three Boards. Yet he went abroad, and God used him.
If the Board rejects you because of lack of funds, do not interpret this as a call of God to stay at home. You say, How can I be sent? First, pray to Him whose is the silver and gold. Then go to your home church where you are known and loved, tell the pastor and people of your purpose, and doubtless they will raise your salary. The churches are ready and willing to give if appealed to by young people whose lives are consecrated to the work.
2. The second peril is from our friends. Some wiseacre will come to a volunteer and say: "You are too good a man for foreign work. The home field needs men of piety and brains like yourself."
A professor in a leading divinity school told a senior that he was too able a man for foreign service. What do such professors mean? Shall we send inferior men to grapple with Neo¬Buddhism and infidelity in Japan? Are any. too brilliant to deal with the subtleties of Hindooism or the modern philosophical religious cults in India? If any man before me holds this view, a months contact with the Somajists or theosophists in India will knock out his conceit. Yes, even the most degraded in Africa need the best. The most ignorant need as teachers the clearest thinker. Our Savior did not hesitate to preach a matchless sermon to the fallen woman of Samaria
Let us come to the churches having as our theme the highwayman's motto, "Your Money or Your Life"
Friends occasionally take a different tack. They magnify difficulties of language and dangers of climate. They counsel caution and urge our unfitness for foreign work. Pray over the matter unselfishly. Find out your unfitness and overcome it. If it be intellectual unfitness , study and discipline your mind. If it be physical, endeavor by careful diet and exercise to overcome this obstacle. If after careful training you are still unfit, you can work at home with the satisfaction of of having done your best to go. If the defect is a spiritual one, then halt. Move not a step until this unfitness be removed. By prayer, study of
the Word, and practice in sharing your faith, this defect can be overcome. Do not let the question be decided by a "What say your friends? but by a "What saith the Lord?
The most serious peril presented under this head is that presented by home ties. You say, Are we not told, "children obey your parents?' Yes, but complete the verse; it reads, "Obey your parents in the Lord." Are we obeying them in the Lord if they interfere with our doing the Lord's work? How did Christ deal with this subject? (Math. 10:35 38; Math. 12:46 50.) Was Asa a disobedient son? He removed his mother from being queen because she had made an idol in a grove. He put God and his cause first, his mother second. Can we allow a mother to be queen in our hearts if she interferes with duty to Christ? When Christ called James and John they did not argue about filial duty. "They immediately left their ship and their father and followed Him.
Let God, not your parents, settle this question. You should pray for them and give them the facts. If consecrated they will in time feel the force of Christ's command as you do, and will bid you "God speed" in the work. But what if parents are financially dependent upon you? If you are an only child and the support of an aged father or mother rests upon you, then you may be exempt. But if there are other children in the family, you are under no more obligation than they to support parents.
There is a question more difficult than this to decide. It presents a serious problem. If the first commandment means anything, it means that God and his service must be dearer to us than the dearest earthly tie. So firm was William Carey on this point that when his wife refused to accompany him the answer came, "Go I must or guilt will rest upon my soul." One volunteer said to me not long since that his fiancee refused to accompany him. With my whole soul do I pity that man; but the fault is largely his own. Had he, from the first, made it evident to her and her friends that it was his unflinching purpose to go, he would have avoided this complication. Write a letter indicating such a purpose to your fiancee. If she be thoroughly consecrated, it will nerve her to new consecration. If she is unwilling to go, find out the fact as soon as possible, leave her, and thank God for your escape from a union which would defeat His plans. One volunteer hesitated to go because his mother in law opposed it. Imagine a man in the United States Army telling his officer that he would not go to a western army post because his motherin law objected! Oh! for men like Zinzendorf, who will say, "I know of only one passion, and it is He." 3. The third peril is self. This explains why so many volunteers cool off. The lack of money in the Boards, pressure of friends and relatives, are perils; but the chief perils are in the volunteer's heart. At some meeting the missionary fire was kindled, and he signed the pledge. If the fire is not kept up the fault is his own. You say that he decided under excitement. That makes no difference. Excitement is often a God send. Hear Dr. Judson's statement upon this subject:
My views were very incorrect and my feelings extravagant; but yet I have always felt thankful to God for bringing me into that state of excitement which was perhaps necessary in the first instance to enable me to break the strong attachment I felt to home and count y... That excitement soon passed away, but it left a strong desire to prosecute my inquiries.
Whether "excitement" is followed by such a "strong desire" depends upon yourself. Do not say that God allowed the flame to wane Have you fed the fire Information is the fuel If the fire has died for lack of fuel the fault is your own, since there is an abundance of missionary literature at your hand. But throwing on fuel is not enough. Look well to the draft. Knock out the clinkers of self which clog up and deaden the fire of consecration.
Unless careful, men, our professional courses of study will chill us. Theological men will bear me out what I say that the business like scrutiny of the Word with the microscope of textual criticism is a chilling operation unless we constantly approach the study with bowed heads and scan the sacred pages reverently. Here is a peril. Let not the fire of consecration cool under your professional studies. He says, "If you love me, keep my commandments." If His last command means less to us now than when we first volunteered, it is because we love Him less. "Lovest thou me? ... feed my sheep.' If we are less anxious to feed the sheep wandering through all the mountains of the world, it is because we love the Sheperd less. Is not Christ saying now, as in the days of Ezekiel, "My flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them'? We all have more light than we live up to. To get more we must use what we have. Then there are crises when any delay is unjustifiable. Notwithstanding the many adversaries opposing, a wide door and an effectual one is open to us. What are our privileges? They belong to two classes: those before sailing, and those after reaching the field.
1. Those before sailing: a) We have the personal privilege for preparing for the largest possible service. Throughout our courses of study we have the assurance that every bit of knowledge can be utilized in the foreign field.
"If God could evangelize through missionaries our ancestors, the skinclad Britons and the naked savages of Germany, he can use to Evangelize any existing heathen nation"
Can you use the axe as well as the pen? Both kinds of skill are needed abroad. Knowledge of printing, blacksmithing, ship building, carpentry, medicine, journalism, book making, all can be utilized in this magnificent work to which we look forward. As the German proverb states, "All kinds of nets are needed for all classes of fish." We have all classes of work abroad, and every talent can, if consecrated, be utilized.
Here is a work for which no man is too great none to small if the heart be filled with the Holy Ghost; a work in which the weak things. the base things, and those despised have been used. And as we study and think about this work, how our hearts and minds expand! The millions who cling to great ethnic faiths troop into our sympathies until our thoughts broaden; our love deepens, and we, too, have begun to love the world somewhat as God loves it. Oh, the personal privilege of preparing for the work of foreign missions!
b) But there is a public privilege for us prior to going abroad: First, to secure volunteers. Next to going yourself comes the pleasure of getting someone else to go Secure another man to enter foreign service and your life is doubled
Secondly, we have the privilege of arousing the home church to a greater interest in the work of missions. You say, that is presumption. We should follow, not lead, the Church. But God has worked differently. If Martin Luther had waited for the Church to lead, where would have been the Reformation? If William Carey had waited for the Church to lead, where would have been modern missions?
"Rejoice, young man, in thy youth!" God chose a young man to arouse England, and he did it, though only after twelve years' battling. God chose a young man to arouse America to assist in the world's evangelization. Is he not calling us to stir the church of America to finish the work of world wide evangelization It is in our power to stir Canada and the States from Toronto to Texas, from Nova Scotia to the Pacific. Think what God did through the one man Wesley. What can He not accomplish through hundreds of men and women if we let Him use us! How can we accomplish this? The way in which Jerusalem was kept clean was by having every man sweep before his own door. Let each one of us sweep away from his own church and institution whatever ignorance and indifference there is to this, the greatest work of the century.
2. After sailing:
First, the personal privilege. We can enter upon the grandest work given men to do, a work which the Apostle Paul coveted. "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace (privilege) given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." Do you wonder that a volunteer writes from Africa, "There is such joy in this service that I almost pity those who have to stay at home?" As we enter the foreign field, let us remember that we are treading in the footsteps of the greatest men of the Church. Schwartz, Carey, Livingstone, Martyn, Judson, Hannington, and a host of others are watching us. Seeing "that we are encompassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and run with patience the race that is set before us, loking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith."
Secondly, by sailing we have the privilege of strengthening the home church. One says, "As metaphysics may be called the pure mathematics of of Theology, so missions are its practical application, and are destined to play an important part in correcting the vagaries of theologians, as practical engineering has done in the domain of theoretical mechanics."
Thirdly, we have the privilege, after reaching the field, to cooperate with missionaries and native Christians in a forward movement to speedily evangelize the world. It is the privilege of being at the front in what may be the final charge. We must admit that the world can be evangelized in this generation. Whether it shall be depends largely upon us the students of North America Courage, fellows! If God could evangelize through missionaries our ancestors, the skin¬clad Britons and the naked savages of Germany, He can use us to evangelize any existing heathen nation. But, to accomplish this, one thing is essential. With it success is assured. If the volunteers receive this fire from on high, our land will be illumined and the dangers of distant lands be dispelled. "And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Ghost." We volunteers need this fire.
Paul asked Christians to pray "that utterance may be given unto him," and utterance was given. He and Barnabas "so spake that a great multitude believed." Paul the scholar, Paul the philosopher, prays for utterance. What does this mean? Have we not heard men speak elegantly and learnedly, yet the words did not move our hearts nor mold our lives? They were "faultily faultless, splendidly null." Why? The speakers lacked unction; they did not possess the utterance of the Holy Spirit.
Who can have this baptism of the Holy Spirit? Not only the Apostles, not only the seventy ¬even the women all. This is our heritage as much as it was Peter's. We should have more power than he had, since we have the same promises and the light of his example.
How can we obtain this baptism of the Holy Spirit? To Him we must look, and to Him alone. But there are several conditions we must fulfill before receiving this power: 1.) Bible Study. Peter was not ignorant and unlearned as far as his Bible knowledge was concerned. His sermon at Pentecost was made up entirely of quotations from the Old Testament Scriptures and applying those passages. The early disciples were thoroughly familiar with the doctrines and promises of the Word. Christ had taught them how to use the Sword of the Spirit. (John 14:26) He cannot bring things to our remembrance unless we first store them in our memory. 2.) Faith It is better to have too much faith than too little. It is better to be too hot than to have a Laodicean lukewarmness. Stephen was "full of faith and of the Holy Ghost." He was "full of faith and of power." See how the word faith is emphasized. Do you suppose that God will give us a Pentecost outpouring of His Spirit if we are so "narrow" and "proper" as to practically deny the possibility of another Pentecost now? As we go abroad let us remember the words, "According to your faith be it unto you." "He could not do many mighty works because of their unbelief." Let us expect a Pentecost upon the foreign field.
3.) Eye single to God's glory. He will not give His glory to another. When Uzziah "was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction." If we preach for "effect," to win admiration, the Holy Spirit will not fill us. Can we truthfully say with Zinzendorf, "I have but one passion and that is He"? 4.) Waiting eager waiting upon God (Luke 24:49) They tarried ten long days, though the world needed them. Let us never, never dare to leave for foreign service until endued with power from on high. Nothing but prayer will give us this power Note that the disciples were eagerly waiting upon God. They must have had that prayer meeting very early in the morning; for after they had received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and after the news had spread and crowds had assembled, it was only nine o'clock in the morning. And only the hungry and thirsty shall be filled. (Jer. 29:13)
When the Tabernacle was finished it was filled with the glory of the Lord. When our work of preaching the Gospel to the whole creation is finished, "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.