The Last Chance
Smith uses another example of how time is required to win the heathen.
An experiment was once tried to test the rock in one part of the Rammelsburg Mine, in the Hartz Mountains. A man was directed to bore for a blast. After working assiduously for eighty-eight hours, in periods of eight hours each, he had only reached the depth of four inches, but had worn out one hundred and twenty-six borers, and dulled two hundred and twenty-seven others! Heathenism is a rock harder than any which encases copper. It can be excavated only with Divine implements kept sharp at the forge of a heavenly fire." (Missionary Review, September 1894:670) [Italics his]
Smith's greatest criticism of the idea of a speedy evangelization of the world is embodied in the following words, "We live in an age of 'push' and 'dash' when it is the fashion to attempt great enterprises with a limit fixed beyond which they are not to be delayed. There is great temptation to set about the evangelization of heathen lands in this 'around-the-world-in-eighty-days' spirit, and the result must be inevitable disappointment. 'They say,' remarks Emerson in one of his lectures, 'that by electro-magnetism your salad shall be grown from the seed while your fowl is roasting for dinner; it is a symbol of our modem aims and endeavors, of our condensation and acceleration of objects; but nothing is gained; nature cannot be cheated; man's life is but seventy salads long grow them swift or grow them slow.'" (Missionary Review, September 1894:671) Smith then goes on to explain how Christianity cannot really be known for what it is until three generations pass. In a period shorter than this, i.e. the present generation, Christianity can not hope to achieve all it can achieve. With this, he concludes that the task of world evangelization is given to those who are still young, and perhaps, to their children.
As additional months passed, bringing the years ever closer to the century mark, others began to theologize why it was not even "biblical" to hope for speedy evangelization of the world. Rev. H.C.G. Moule, of Cambridge was one of these. In 1895 he spoke on the need for a balanced view of evangelization. Jesus' words in Matthew 28:18-20, "turn all the nations into disciples÷cannot be reconciled with the idea of only an elementary evangelization, only an itinerant witness, only as it were a mechanical hastening of the Return." (The Church Missionary Intelligencer, December 1895:896) But in speaking of the S.V.M. motto 'The Evangelization of the World in This Generation," Moule says,
The thought is, distinctively, of a primary evangelization. The aim is, that competent messengers of the Name of Christ, true to their Lord, should be sent into the non-Christian world in such numbers, and so distributed, that the sound of the saving Name should within no long period be a known sound practically everywhere. In such a programme much will instantly occur to the thoughtful Christian for correction, or for caution, in the proposed or possible details. But I cannot but own that the idea seems to me nobly true and reasonable. And the extraordinary development, with just this decade, of the missionary consciousness, so to speak, in the student-world of both America and Great Britain, suggests the hope that within another decade we may see such numbers of well-equipped messengers in the vast foreign field as to make the proposed distribution seem no visionary prospect. (The Church Missionary Intelligencer, December 1895:897)
Although the goal of completing the task by 1900 seemed hopeless by now, the outlook for evangelizing the world in that generation in most people's minds was still very bright. The first century of missions was over and the results had really been spectacular. Now as the dawn of the twentieth century approached, the evangelization of the world could not be far off. "So, as the second century of modem missions is about to dawn, in tones more imperative and more thrilling than ever before, the heavenly call sounds out" Lo, I am with you! Into all the world! To every creature!" (Missionary Review, November 1894:836-837)
Rev. Hugh Goldie, of the Old Calabar United Presbyterian Mission, expressed the confidence of many when he wrote, "Now the various bodies are stirred up each to claim its part in the evangelization of the world÷as a duty for which it exists. Methods of effort, not formerly contemplated, are now successfully employed, and every appliance is made to raise up the degraded races of our kindred. In these, Christians feel themselves inspired with a new hope÷which grows, the more that they realize the vast enterprise before them÷of winning the world to Christ" (The Missions of the World, September 1894:292)
Pierson, meanwhile, like a prophet who begins to doubt his own vision when a sinful world refuses to respond, wrote with a certain discouragement:
The old "statistical" solution of the missionary problem has been tried and found wanting. No doubt the combined churches of Protestant Christendom could, from 40,000,000 communicants, supply 500,000 missionaries, or one for every 2000 of the unevangelized, and could furnish sinews of war in the shape of $600,000,000 a year for the support of this army of missionaries. But in view of the fact that, with all the tremendous facts of human need before the Church of Christ, and all the inspiring history of missionary labor and triumph to incite zeal and sacrifice, we have as yet less than ten thousand foreign missionaries, and less than $14,000,000 a year to apply to the whole work, and even now are hampered by immense debts which threaten the whole work with collapse; we are compelled to abandon the hope of bringing up the Church to the point of supplying fifty times the present working force and forty-three times the present money basis for the work. (Missionary Review, September 1895:642)
Though the year 1900 was quickly fading out of view as an evangelistic goal, other plans were brought forward. In 1895 Luther Wishard published a book entitled A New Programme of Missions in which he suggested that colleges around the world be set up as training centers for evangelism. He made specific suggestions as to how this might be done in a country like Japan. But even this seemed like a man-inspired dream to Rev. E.H. Jones, a missionary in Japan. He commented,
It was said by some one not very long ago concerning the evangelization of Japan, that "if we could send one thousand workers at once to Japan the country would be Christian in ten years." I thought at the time of the number of people in the home land who think the Christianization of the world is largely a matter of men and money. They forget the word which says, "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord." I take it all these plans make too much of man's part in this work of the extension of the kingdom. We are not to find any new way of bringing men or nations to Christ. (Missionary Review, May 1896:362)
Regions Beyond, however, recognized Wishard's plan as a valid one to evangelize the next generation. In November of 1895, an article on the Student Volunteer Movement put it in these terms, "What sign of the times is there of greater promise than the spiritual union of the students of all continents to lead the forces of their own generation in a great forward movement to carry out the last command of Jesus Christ?" (Regions Beyond, November 1895:468)
But the fact that the original generation that Pierson, Taylor and others had hoped to evangelize was now passing away was apparent and brought a certain sadness to these aging pioneers. In speaking of, the 31 st anniversary of his mission, J. Hudson Taylor said, "Now a generation has passed away; time enough to test the correctness of these principles..." (China's Millions, July 1897:85) He referred to George King's article published fourteen years earlier and commented that, "nearly half the generation of Chinese then living have passed away, but their places have been taken by others who equally need the Gospel..." (China's Millions, December 1897:155)
As early as 1893, Edwin Schell, General Secretary of the Epworth League, had spoke of a new generation that "has not yet had time to develop its great souls..." (Schell, 1893:16) In speaking of Hudson Taylor, A. T. Pierson and other great men of the 19th century, Schell admonished his young Methodist readers that they have heard "the last counsels of the fathers to this new generation. The hands of a great generation have been laid upon their heads; the shadows are behind them, light and hope are beckoning onward, and the portals of a new century stand open before them." (Schell, 1893:216)
Like a ship tacking into the wind, Pierson now readjusted his sails and moved forward in step with the new, younger generation. He had by no means given up on the hope of evangelizing the world in the new generation. At the beginning of 1896, after describing some of the advances in missions, he wrote,
These are but a few of the hopeful signs on our horizon. They indicate both the fitness and fullness of times for the speedy occupation of the whole world for Christ, which never before could have been accomplished within such a brief space of time, and make especially emphatic the motto which should be emblazoned on the banners of the Church, "The Evangelization of the World in This Generation." (Missionary Review, January 1896:3)
At the Liverpool convention in 1896, A.T. Pierson spoke of the great wonders that might come out of that meeting. "Who can forecast the work, service, self-denial, heroism, martyrdom, which the next thirty years may develop out of the raw material here gathered? What wide dispersion over various fields of service and suffering, what testimony to Christ, what missions founded, what schools, hospitals, orphanages, and training institutes for the education and salvation of souls!" (Missionary Review, April 1896:246) Speaking to the students in this meeting Pierson told them that they could evangelize the world in their generation if only they would consecrate themselves wholly to the Lord. Would they?
Lest there be discouragement over goals unable to be reached. Dr. Judson Smith of the American Board, when he looked back over the nineteenth century, wrote,
Nothing is more deeply embedded in the Gospel than its universality; nothing is more central in Christ's work and claims than that He is the Redeemer and Lord of all nations and generations of the earth, and that "of His kingdom there shall be no end." The expediency or the success of this movement is not to be judged merely by what has happened within the present generation or even within the present century, but by the recorded facts of eighteen hundred Christian centuries. (Missionary Review, September 1896:700)
One writer, concurring with Pierson where the greatest failure in the uncompleted missionary task lie, commented in Regions Beyond,
The greatest need of missionary work to-day is not at the foreign, but the home end. If the people of Great Britain and America were one quarter as true to the evangelization of the world as the workers on the field are, the work would be accomplished in a generation. It is one thing to stay at home because we do not go; it is another thingto stay for the sake of heathendom. (Quoted in the Missionary Review. November 1896:869)
'To stay at home for the sake of heathendom." That was a new thought. It was magnificently embodied in the life of A. T. Pierson. Could anyone claim that Hudson Taylor did more for missions than he? Because of his and others he had influenced there still existed a great deal of optimism about what could be done within a few years if the church were to respond to Christ's command. And Pier-son, typically, pressed this thought home.
God has now unquestionably, for the first time in the centuries, removed out of the way every obstacle to the immediate evangelization of the world and given to the Church everything needed for the completion of the work of preaching the Gospel to the world. The whole world is open and accessible physically, geographically, politically, to the Gospel messengers, and waiting for them. The Church has the means, the messengers, and the promise of the Spirit at her command, and seems dangerously near to suffering eclipse of faith and blight and life because of her failure to avail herself of them in fulfilling her great and pressing need. (Missionary Review, December 1896:921)
By this time, Pierson was well into a strong emphasis on holy living. He had mentioned it before as one of the essentials for the church to move forward. Now it became his central theme: the church would fail in its commission if it was not completely renewed. Perhaps that was why it had failed in its response before. "It seems too plain to need demonstration that, if we are to sweep a wider circle of missions around the now unoccupied territory, and have it a real achievement rather than an apparent and superficial advance, we must be sure that the compass of our plan plants its foot in the firm pivotal center of believing prayer and higher holiness that is bound up inseparably with such devout and privileged communing with God." (Missionary Review, January 1897:4)
Meanwhile, the Student Volunteer Missionary Union of Great Britain accepted the watchword "The Evangelization of the World in This Generation" as its own in 1896 defining it as meaning, "that the Gospel should be preached intelligibly and intelligently to every soul in such a manner that the responsibility for its acceptance shall no longer rest upon the Christian Church, but upon each man himself." They also recognized that this watchword was impossible "unless the Church ceases to be so engrossed with things of time÷"a clear reflection of Pierson's new emphasis and that of the Keswick movement with which he was involved. (Missionary Review, January 1898:59)
Plans to evangelize the world were still published regularly. In May of 1898, the Missionary Review carried the story of an English clergyman who gave a paper suggesting that the world could easily be evangelized in thirteen years. He came up with this figure by looking at Paul's ministry in Acts 13-20 and estimating the territory he was able to cover in that period. If the church were to send out 1500 laborers into the unoccupied territories and they were to imitate Paul, the whole job could be finished in thirteen years! (See page 381)
Though Pierson had given up on the year 1900, he still believed that the world could be evangelized in a short time. He hoped that the great Ecumenical Council, planned for April of 1900 in New York City, would build on the London 1888 Conference, suggesting in his editorial, "Of all these questions [that could be discussed] none is more weighty than the practical division of the world-field with reference to the speedy evangelization of the world in this generation." (Missionary Review, August 1899:566)