After the turn of the Century
In 1901 Pierson was again looking at the possibility of finishing the job. Referring to the men of the successful German Mission, he wrote, "Give us two hundred and fifty men of equal consecration, and in twenty-five years the Gospel may be borne at least once to every living soul. Give us twenty-five hundred such workmen, and before the new century is ten years older, every inhabitant of the world may have heard the Gospel!" (Pierson, 1901:139)
The famous German mission strategist, Gustav Wameck, was not quite so optimistic. He wrote, "It is true, in view of the gigantic number of 1,000,000,000 of non-Christians the missionary achievements thus far seem small; but what is thus far done is essentially foundation work, and foundation work goes slow.... The work done yet is the seed of coming harvests. Missionary results are not to be reckoned by years, but by centuries." (Missionary Review, April 1900:260-261)
And perhaps in direct response to Pierson, in a letter to the Ecumenical Council Wameck warned,
The mission command bids us "go" into all the world, not "fly." The kingdom of God is not like a hothouse, but like a field in which the crop is to be healthily grown at a normal rate. Impatient pressing forward has led to the waste of most patient toil, and more than one old mission field has been unwarrantably neglected in the haste to begin work in a new field. Patience fills a large space in the missionary program, and to patience must be added faithfulness in steadily continuing the great task of building up in the old mission fields. Here are ripening harvests calling for reapers. The non-Christian world is not to be carried by storm. Mission history should also teach us not to specify a time within which the evangelization of the world is to be completed. It is not for us to determine the times or the seasons, but to do in this our time what we can and to do it wisely and discreetly. (Missionary Review, June 1900:415)
His words were echoed by John P. Jones, a famous missionary to India: "This enterprise is not only the greatest that the world has ever known; it is also the most difficult of achievement. Let us not fall into the error of thinking that Christianizing the nations and bringing the world to the feet of our Lord is the task of a day or of a generation." (Jones, 1912:251)
A Word on Missions and Eschatology
Pierson defended his position and that of the magazine by first stating that according to W.E. Blackstone, author of Jesus is Coming, most missionaries were premillenialists. He then refuted the view that premillenialists were opposed to missionary work beyond preaching. "Dr. Gordon and myself firmly believe that 'preaching the Gospel as a witness among all nations' means setting up churches, schools, a sanctified press, medical missions, and, in fact, all the institutions which are the fruit of Christianity and constitute part of its witness; but that our Lord's purpose and plan are that we should not wait in any one field for the full results of our sowing to appear in a thoroughly converted community before we press on to the regions beyond, where as yet the name of Christ has not been spoken; and that our duty is to sow everywhere and as shortly as possible the simple message of the kingdom, that it may everywhere be followed up with every other agency that helps to transform a community." (Missionary Review, November 1892:864) [Italics his] "Not at Northfield, or anywhere else, 'last week,' or any other time, has the editor of this Review affirmed anything else than what he here boldly reaffirms, thai our duty is to go into all the world and within the limits of our own generation preach the Gospel to every creature; that our first duty is contact, and that conversion is something we cannot command, but must leave to God." (Missionary Review, November 1892:864) [Italics his]
Pierson also linked the second coming with the missionary zeal of the church. 'The fact is itself an argument and an appeal that, so soon as the Lord's coming ceased to be felt to be imminent, and was projected indefinitely into the distance, the remarkable evangelism of primitive days which fed on this truth, declined and decayed, and has never been revived." (Missionary Review, May 1894:322)
A. B. Simpson wrote a landmark book. The Gospel of the Kingdom in 1890. He made it clear that his reason for writing the book was to hasten the Lord's coming. He also affirmed Pierson's belief that the world could be evangelized by the year 1900.
Sent forth at the opening of this last decade of the century, may it prove indeed to be the Master's own Message to His Bride, and a harbinger of His own appearing. Blessed indeed if before this decade shall have closed, the feeble rushlights of our prophetic literature shall be lost in the full dawn of the Sun of Righteousness, and THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM superseded by the COMING OF THE KING. (Simpson, 1890:6)
The second coming is a doctrine that motivates, according to both Simpson and Pierson. Pierson writes,
Because the blessed hope of our Lord's return has so refining an influence on character it is very mould and matrix of missions. Its whole tendency is to make us unselfish, to relax our grasp upon material treasures and carnal pleasures; to fashion us 'not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.' It makes all time seem short and the whole world seem small; dwarfs the present age into insignificance and lifts the peaks of the age to come into loftier altitudes, on a nearer horizon, in a clearer view. It so magnifies the approval of the coming Lord as to malpresent compensation for service and sacrifice appear trifling." (Missionary Review, May 1894:325)
After the early 1890's, much of Pierson's mission motivation was derived from a heavily dispensational perspective. Speaking to a sensitive crowd at the Congress of Missions at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, Pierson gave an address entitled "Thy Kingdom Come." Here he outlined the five ages or dispensations of history.
The present age is known in Scripture as an evil age, during which evil is dominant, because Satan has usurped control of this world. This is the age of the Church,..., the outgathering of the Body or Bride of Christ from all nations; and this age belongs to the times of the Gentiles, because it is by the preaching of the Gospel as a witness to all nations that the elect are to be thus outgathered. (Missionary Review, November 1893:803) [Italics his]
Pierson was heavily criticized for the dispensational and eschatological flavor of this address, but he later defended it on the basis of its popularity among most missionaries. Blackstone, he further noted, had done an informal survey and was able to list most missionaries as agreeing with premillenial views.
But by far, the greatest proponents linking the missionary enterprise and prophecy were not Americans but British. Mr. and Mrs. H. Grattan Guinness, the founders of the Regions Beyond Home Union, continually set before the public in their monthly Regions Beyond, an eschatological view of completing the task of world evangelization. "Simply and honestly reading the words of the Book, we cannot, therefore, but see a close connection between the Foreign Missionary work of the Church and the second Advent of her Lord and Saviour." (Regions Beyond, May 1888:139) The Guinnesses also saw the London Conference in 1888 as fulfillment of prophecy. They would be hastening the return of the Lord by looking at completing the task of world evangelization as speedily as possible. "Look up, therefore ; lift up your heads, and be of joyful courage, for the coming of our Jesus is very close at hand; we live in the last hours of the world's long, dark night, already over heathendom the dawn is beginning to rise, it will not be much longer before the Sun of Righteousness shall shine forth. Hasten, hasten to gather in the last lost sheep to the fold of the tender Shepherd, to finish the work of the Lord, and so to be ready to meet Him when He shall appear!" (Regions Beyond, February 1889:48)
Pierson also spoke of the Lord's return as a motive to mission. "This was, no doubt, the foremost of all motives, hopes and incentives, which moved early disciples to zeal and activity in missions; and to revive this hope÷to make it practically the mighty motor to us that it was to them, is to provide a new impulse and impetus in the work of a world's evangelization." (Pierson, 1895:414) This hope, beyond mere incentive, provides disciples with a reason to finish the task as quickly as possible. "So soon and so long as that hope was dim, and Christ's Coming was pushed in the far-off future, the Church began leisurely working, then flippantly playing at missions, as though vast cycles of time lay before us to witness to the world. Revive this hope of the Lord's Coming and it begets hourly watching, ceaseless praying, tireless toiling, patient waiting." (Pierson, 1895:416)
Goals that are not met are not always goals that are unattainable. In Pier-son's case, his goals were feasible÷ given a revival in the church and cooperation among mission agencies. Just because the world was not evangelized by the year 1900 does not mean it was not possible. By every indication, knowledgeable, level-headed Christians were sure that finishing was feasible within their lifetimes. The fact that it did not happen only points to the reasons that these men and women gave themselves: The church did not take this opportunity seriously; she shirked her responsibility. The crisis of missions came and passed. Another generation of non-Christians passed into a Christless eternity.
Bishop Thobum of India believed the task could be completed in his lifetime. Yet, with the eyes of faith, he gazed into our day and spoke with prophetic boldness,
A century hence there will be, possibly, seven hundred million, and certainly five hundred million, English speaking people on the globe, all subject to Christian law, maintaining Christian civilization, and exhibiting a much higher standard of morals than is seen in either England or America to-day... The English language, already a potent factor in many mission fields, will have become the lingua franca of the world, and will assist wonderfully in perfecting the later stages of the missionary enterprise. In such an age, with a world so revolutionized, and with all the terms of the problems so changed, the final conversion of all nations will no longer seem a far-off vision of a few enthusiasts, and the mention of a million converts will no longer startle timid or doubting Christians. We talk in hesitating tones of the possibility of seeing a million converts now; but those who will fill our places a century hence will look out upon a scene where not a million converts, but a million workers, appear. (Thobum, 1895:72-73)