By Rev. Curtis Lee Laws
Pastor First Baptist Church
From the Book
Baptist - Why and Why Not
Edited by J. M. Frost
The Sunday School Board of
The Southern Baptist Convention
I am debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians; both to the wise and to the unwise. So as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek.-Rom. 1:14-16.
CANON Wilberforce tersely put into four words the essentials of evangelical Christianity: Admit, Submit, Commit, and Transmit. To be a Christian, one must admit Christ, submit his wayward will to Christ’s will, commit all the interests of his life to Christ’s keeping, then henceforth to transmit, ”to become the medium through whom the light and love of God shall be transmitted to others.” But all of these ideas may be put still more tersely into two simpler words Come and Go. To be a Christian a man must come and go. Christ first says, ”come,” and then he immediately adds, ”go.” Who are to come? ”Whosoever will may come.” Who are to go? All who come. How many realize that both of these ideas are in salvation ?
To accept Christ as a Savior, is to accept him also as Lord and to be obedient to his commandments. In thought we may discriminate between salvation and service, but in experience they are very close together. It is the common experience to express the capitulation of the citadel of the heart in the terms of service. This does not result from an arbitrary law, but from the fact that a Christian partakes of the nature of Christ, is ”born from above.” We are called into the service of Christ, only after we are prepared for that service by regeneration. Then it is that we begin to represent Christ, to manifest forth his life and character. Conformity of life will follow transformation of character, just as transformation of character follows the new birth. This new activity is our function, not simply our option; it is a necessity springing out of our new relations. To be a Christian is to be like Christ, and to be like Christ is to have his Spirit, and he came to seek and to save the lost.
There is no distinction between work for Christ in the home church and on the foreign field. The man who loves one ought to love the other. The Rio Grande is not as broad as the Mississippi. From God’s point of view there are no State Missions, no Home Missions, no Foreign Missions. These are but factitious divisions, the outgrowth of wisely considered plans for the accomplishment of the greatest good in all the fields of missionary enterprise. The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions.
An anti-missionary Baptist then is an antichristian Baptist, and from all such may the church of Christ be delivered. And yet I am not able to persuade myself into believing that antimissionary Baptists are insincere. They are, beyond a doubt, the dupes of an erroneous exegesis, and whatever be their culpability, they are not sinning against their consciences. I am not trying to shield them, nor to minimize their error, for I am persuaded that God will hold them responsible for their unenlightened estate. And yet I believe that God will be more lenient with them than with that much larger class whom we are now to consider. If a man knows his Lord’s will and does it not, he shall be beaten with many stripes; ignorance does not excuse, but it may change the stripes from many to few.
There are tens of thousands of Baptists, living in comparative ease, who do not contribute to any organized missionary work. There are tens of thousands more, who think themselves too poor to contribute, but who waste their money upon useless, if not hurtful indulgences. Certainly these can not be called missionary Baptists. If you were to advise them to join the ranks of anti-missionary Baptists, they would have a fit of rage, for they will tell you that they are strong believers in missions. Some brother, unknown to me, has placed these folks together in a new denomination, and has felicitously named them ”The Omissionary Baptists.” Unlike the antimissionary faction, they claim that they believe missions to be God’s appointed means for the salvation of the world. Ephraim is not alone in being a ”cake not turned.” Too many of our Baptists lack symmetry in their development. They lay much stress upon that clause in the great commission which says, ”Baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,” but they seem to forget all about the first clause, which says, ”Go ye and teach all nations.” God requires obedience alike to both clauses, and surely if we claim to be Christians, we ought at least to try to do what our Master plainly commands. The fact that all the denominations have this ”omissionary” contingent, does not comfort me in the least. All of us believe that doctrine affects character, and that creed expresses itself in deed. Therefore Baptists ought to be the best and most effectual servants of God in all the world. I am far more afraid of indifference than of antagonism. We would count it a crime to antagonize missionary enterprises, but we count it a mere peccadillo when men are indifferent. And yet the transgressing brother, whom I so castigate, may claim as near of kin the vast majority of us, who fail to measure up to our possibilities as stewards of the Grace of God, who fail to do our whole duty as the representatives of Jesus Christ.
It is well for us to study the teaching of the Master as to the sins of omission. In their experiences, too many Christians under-estimate the heinousness of the merely negative, but the Master strongly emphasizes the truth that the sins of omission are as criminal as the sins of commission. In our prayers we confess that we have failed to do many things, but the confession Is generally without poignant grief. The fig tree was cursed because of its unfruitfulness. It was not like the Upas tree, poisoning the birds that lodged upon it, poisoning those who took shelter under its branches, poisoning the earth about its roots. It was simply barren.
Dives did not treat Lazarus cruelly nor set his dogs upon him. He merely withheld from him what he might have given him. There is no evidence that he was wicked, and cruel and sensual. Thomas Hood told of a rich woman, who in a dream was confronted with death, and who thus soliloquized:
”For the blind and the crippled were there,
And the babe that pined for bread;
And the homeless man’and the widow poor
Who begged to bury her dead,-
The naked, alas! that I might have clad,
The famished I might have fed.
Each pleading look, that long ago
I scanned with a heedless eye,
Each face was gazing as plainly there
As when I passed it by.
Woe, woe for me, if the past should be
Thus present when I die.
The wounds I might have healed,
The human sorrow and smart,-
And yet it never was in my soul
To play so ill a part.
But evil is wrought by want of thought,
As well as want of heart.”
Such was the experience of Dives, for his was the sin of omission.
The five foolish virgins were not engaged in folly and sin; their sin was the sin of neglect. The man with the one talent did not squander his Master’s money in riotous living. He simply buried it, and thus kept it safe until his Master’s return. But how terrible was his condemnation! The priest and the Levite did not add to the burdens of the wounded man. They got as far away from him as possible. They did not taunt him. They gazed straight ahead as they passed by. Yet they were criminals. In God’s sight it seems to be almost as grievous a sin to withhold the good as to do the evil. In the day when Christ shall judge the evil, he will say, ”Depart from me ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was a hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer Him, saying: Lord, when saw we thee a hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying Verily, I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.”
Notice that he does not charge them with positive sins. He dpes not declare them cruel or unjust, he does not accuse them of dishonesty or lying or theft or murder. It is ”Depart from me ye cursed” because ye have not done. ”Therefore to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” In the light of this statement what will be the judgment of those who in their creed believe in missions, but who in their deeds neglect missions? If the Master can not say ”well done,” what will he say?
When we think of the millions living and dying without the gospel, our hearts must be of stone, if we refuse to send them the bread of life upon which we feast. Robert P. Wilder used to say, ”Religion is the only commodity, the more of which we export, the more we have at home.” Instead of robbing ourselves by giving to missions, we increase our store. God help us to realize the worth of a single soul. We can never tell what we do for a soul that we bring to Christ, until we sound the depths of hell and scale the heights of heaven. We can not calculate what the salvation of a soul means, for we can not calculate what a never-ending hell means, nor what a never-ending heaven means. It will take all eternity to teach us-the value of a single soul. When polite and cultured Paris remonstrated with its favorite, Francis Xavier, because he meant to go alone and unarmed to a savage country, he nobly said, ”If these lands had scented woods and mines of gold, Christians would find courage to go there, nor would all the perils of the world prevent them. They are dastardly and alarmed because there is nothing to be gained there but the souls of men. Shall love be less hardy and less generous than avarice? You say they will destroy me with poison. It is an honor to which such a sinner as I am may not aspire; but this I dare to say; that whatever form of torture or death awaits me, I am ready to suffer it ten thousands times over for the salvation of a single soul.” Shall we, with miserly niggardliness, clutch the bread of life while our brethren, over whom the Father heart yearns, are starving?
Christ said, ”Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.” It has been well said that we are to glorify God as the ocean glorifies the sun. Stand upon the deck of a vessel ploughing its way through the surging sea. Behold the crests iridescent with splendor, and see the ten thousand wavelets scintillating like the facets of a rare gem. The dark and deep blue ocean has been transformed into a kaleidoscope, in which we behold an ever-changing panorama of beauty. But whence cometh all this beauty? Shining yonder in the heavens is the King of Day. In his bosom is fire, in his eyes, light. The waves have not added to the glory of the Sun, but they have caught up and scattered forth the radiant sunbeams, thus manifesting forth his glory and making his secrets known to all men. That is just how we are to glorify God. We can not add to God’s glory which is already complete, but like the waves we can catch up the shining splendor of the Sun of Righteousness and manifest it forth unto the world. The humblest can be reflectors of God’s glory. Perhaps many around us will never see much of God’s glory, unless they see its dim and uncertain, but nevertheless real reflection in our lives. The Father’s honor was very dear to the Son and he gave his life to manifesting forth his Father’s character. As the Father sent him, so has he sent us. Oh that the world might see the character of Christ in our characters, and the love of Christ in our love, and the works of Christ in our works.
The credentials of Christianity are the characters of those who have been transformed by the power of God. The clearest vision that the world has of God is in the life of God’s representatives. When the world shall see the Christ life in us, then will the Father be glorified.
Beloved, if we neglect our present duty of world-wide evangelization, we shall bring judgment upon ourselves, condemnation upon our brethren, and shame upon our God. If we are faithful, we shall merit the ”well done” of the Master, our brethren will be brought to the knowledge of the Savior, and our God will be glorified among the sons of men.