Editor’s note: The following sermon by Alexander Campbell is extracted from The World’s Great Sermons, Vol. IV (published 1908).
He that winneth souls is wise. Prov. xi., 30.
The missionary cause is older than the material universe. It was celebrated by Job — the oldest poet on the pages of time.
Jehovah challenges Job to answer Him a few questions on the institutions of the universe. “Gird up now thy loins,” said He; “and I will demand of thee a few responses. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding. “Who has fixt the measure thereof? Or who has stretched the line upon it? What are the foundations thereof? Who has laid the corner-stone thereof when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Who shut up the sea with doors when it burst forth issuing from the womb of eternity — when I made a cloud its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band? I appointed its limits, saying, Thus far shalt thou come, but no farther; and here shall the pride of thy waves be stayed.
“Has the rain a father? Who has begotten the drops of the dew? Who was the mother of the ice? And the hoar-frost of heaven, who has begotten it? Can mortal man bind the bands of the Seven Stars, or loose the cords of Orion? Can he bring forth and commission the twelve signs of the Zodiac, or bind Arcturus with his seven sons?
“Knowest thou, oh man, the missionaries of the starry heavens? Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee? Canst thou command the lightnings, so that they may say to thee, Here we are? Who can number the clouds in wisdom? Or who can pour out the bottles of heaven upon the thirsty fields?”
If such be a single page in the volume of God’s physical missionaries, what must be its contents could we, by the telescope of an angel, survey one single province of the universe, of universes, which occupy topless, bottomless, boundless space!
We have data in the Bible, and, in the phenomena of the material universe, sufficient to authorize the assumption that the missionary idea circumscribes and permeates the entire area of creations.
Need we inquire into the meaning of a celestial title given to the tenantries of the heaven of heavens? But you all, my Christian brethren, know it. You anticipate me. The sweet poet of Israel told you long since, in his sixty-eighth ode, that the chariots of God are about twenty thousand of angels.
And what is an angel but a messenger, a missionary? Hence the seven angels of the seven churches in Asia were seven missionaries, or messengers, sent to John in his exile; and by these John wrote letters to the seven congregations in Asia.
Figuratively, God makes the winds and lightnings his angels, his messengers of wrath or of mercy, as the case may be.
But we are a missionary society — a society assembled from all points of the compass, assembled, too, we hope, in the true missionary spirit, which is the spirit of Christianity in its primordial conception. God Himself instituted it. Moses is the oldest missionary whose name is inscribed on the rolls of time.
He was the first divine missionary, and, if we except John the Baptist, he was the second in rank and character to the Lord Messiah Himself.
Angels and missionaries are rudimentally but two names for the same officers. But of the incarnate Word, God’s only begotten Son, He says, “Thou art my son, the beloved, in whom I delight.” And He commands the world of humanity to hearken to Him. He was, indeed, God’s own special ambassador, invested with all power in heaven and on earth — a true, a real, an everlasting plenipotentiary, having vested in Him all the rights of God and all the rights of man. And were not all the angels of heaven placed under Him as His missionaries, sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation?
His commission, given to the twelve apostles, is a splendid and glorious commission. Its preamble is wholly unprecedented — “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me.” In pursuance thereof, he gave commission to His apostles, saying, “Go, convert all the nations, immersing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” Angels, apostles and evangelists were placed under this command, and by Him commissioned as His ambassadors to the world.
The missionary institution, we repeat, is older than Adam – older than our earth. It is coeval with the origin of angels.
Satan had been expelled from heaven before Adam was created. His assault upon our mother Eve, by an incarnation in the most subtle animal in Paradise, is positive proof of the intensity of his malignity to God and to man. He, too, has his missionaries in the whole area of humanity. Michael and his angels, or missionaries, are, and long have been, in conflict against the devil and his missionaries. The battle, in this our planet, is yet in progress, and therefore missionaries are in perpetual demand. Hence the necessity incumbent on us to carry on this warfare as loyal subjects of the Hero of our redemption.
The Christian armory is well supplied with all the weapons essential to the conflict. We need them all. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against wicked spirits in the regions of the air.” Hence the need of having our “loins girded with the truth”; having on the breastplate of righteousness, our feet shod with the preparation to publish the gospel of peace, taking the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, always praying and making supplication for our fellow-missionaries and for all saints.
The missionary fields are numerous and various. They are both domestic and foreign. The harvest is great in both. The laborers are still few, comparatively very few, in either of them.
The supply is not a tithe of the demand. The Macedonians cry, “Come over and help us;” “Send us an evangelist;” “Send us missionaries;” “The fields are large, the people are desirous, anxious, to hear the original gospel. “What can you do for us?” Nothing! Nothing! My brethren, ought this so to be?
Schools for the prophets are wanting. But there is a too general apathy or indifference on the subject. We pray to the Lord of the harvest to send our reapers to gather it into His garner. But what do we besides praying for it? Do we work for it? Suppose a farmer should pray to the Lord for an abundant harvest next year, and should never, in seed-time, turn over one furrow or scatter one handful of seed: what would we think of him? Would not his neighbors regard him as a monomaniac or a simpleton? And wherein does he excel such a one in wisdom or in prudence who prays to the Lord to send out reapers — missionaries, or evangelists — to gather a harvest of souls, when he himself never gives a dollar to a missionary, or the value of it, to enable him to go into the field? Can such a person be in earnest, or have one sincere desire in his heart to effect such an object or purpose? We must confess that we could have no faith either in his head or in his heart.
The heavenly missionaries require neither gold nor silver, neither food nor raiment. Not so the earthly missionaries. They themselves, their wives and children, demand both food and clothing, to say nothing of houses and furniture. Their present home is not
“The gorgeous city, garnish’d like a bride,
Where Christ for spouse expected is to pass,
The walls of jasper compass’d on each side,
And streets all paved with gold, more bright than glass.”
If such were the missionary’s home on earth, he might, indeed, labor gratuitously all the days of his life. In an humble cottage — rather an unsightly cabin — we sometimes see the wife of his youth, in garments quite as unsightly as those of her children, impatiently waiting “their sire’s return, to climb to his knees the envied kiss to share.” But, when the supper table is spread, what a beggarly account of almost empty plates and dishes! Whose soul would not sicken at such a sight? I have twice, if not thrice, in days gone by, when travelling on my early missionary tours — over not the poorest lands nor the poorest settlements, either — witnessed some such cases, and heard of more.
I was then my own missionary, with the consent, however, of one church. I desired to mingle with all classes of religious society, that I might personally and truthfully know, not the theories, but the facts and the actualities, of the Christian ministry and the so-called Christian public. I spent a considerable portion of my time during the years 1812, ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16, traveling throughout western Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
I then spent seven years in reviewing my past studies, and in teaching the languages and the sciences — after which I extended my evangelical labors into other States and communities, that I might still more satisfactorily apprehend and appreciate the status, or the actual condition, of the nominally and profest religious or Christian world.
Having shortly after my baptism connected myself with the Baptist people, and attending their associations as often as I could, I became more and more penetrated with the conviction that theory had usurped the place of faith, and that consequently, human institutions had been, more or less, substituted for the apostolic and the divine.
During this period of investigation I had the pleasure of forming an intimate acquaintance with sundry Baptist ministers, East and West, as well as with the ministry of other denominations. Flattering prospects of usefulness on all sides began to expand before me and to inspire me with the hope of achieving a long-cherished object – doing some good in the advocacy of the primitive and apostolic gospel – having in the year 1820 a discussion on the subject of the first positive institution enacted by the Lord Messiah, and in A. D. 1823 another on the same subject – the former more especially on the subject and action of Christian baptism, the latter more emphatically on the design of that institution tho including the former two.
These discussions, more or less, embraced the rudimental elements of the Christian institution, and gave to the public a bold relief outline of the whole genius, spirit, letter and doctrine of the gospel.
Its missionary spirit, tho not formally propounded, was yet indicated, in these discussions; because this institution was the terminus of the missionary work. It was a component element of the gospel, as clearly seen in the commission of the enthroned Messiah. Its preamble is the superlative fact of the whole Bible. We regret, indeed, that this most sublime preamble has been so much lost sight of even by the present living generation. If we ask when the Church of Jesus Christ began or when the reign of the Heavens commenced, the answer, in what is usually called Christendom, will make it either to be contemporaneous with the ministry of John the Harbinger, or with the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. We will find one of these two opinions almost universally entertained. The Baptists are generally much attached to John the Baptist; the Pedobaptists, to the commencement of Christ’s public ministry. John the Baptist was the first Christian missionary with a very considerable class of living Baptists; the birth of Christ is the most popular and orthodox theory at the respective meridians of Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Arminianism.
But, by the more intelligent, the resurrection, or the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, is generally regarded as the definite commencement of the Christian age or institution.
Give us Paul’s or Peter’s testimony, against that of all theologians, living or dead. Let us look at the facts.
Did not the Savior teach His personal pupils, or disciples, to pray, “Thy kingdom” — more truthfully, “Thy reign — come”? Does any king’s reign or kingdom commence with his birth? Still less with his death? Did not our Savior Himself, in person, decline the honors of a worldly or temporal prince? Did He not declare that His kingdom “is not of this world”? Did He not say that He was going hence, or leaving this world, to receive or obtain a kingdom? And were not the keys of the kingdom first given to Peter to open, to announce it? And did he not, when in Jerusalem, on the first Pentecost, after the ascension of the Lord Jesus, make a public proclamation, saying, “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made (or constituted) the identical Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary, both the Lord and the Christ, or the anointed Lord”?
Do kings reign before they are crowned? Before they are anointed? There was not a Christian Church on earth, or any man called a Christian, until after the consecration and coronation of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ of God.
The era of a son’s birth was never, since the world began, the era of his reign or of the commencement of it. It is a strange fact, to me a wonderful fact, and, considering the age in which we live, an overwhelming fact, that we, as a community, are the only people on the checkered map of all Christendom, Greek, Roman, Anglican or American, that preach and teach that the commonly called Christian era is not the era or the commencement of the Christian Church or kingdom of the Lord Jesus the Christ.
The kingdom of the Christ could not antedate His coronation. Hence Peter, in announcing His coronation, after His ascension, proclaimed, saying, ”Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made — touton ton Ieesoun — the same, the identical Jesus whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ”; or, in other words, has crowned Him the legitimate Lord of all. Then indeed His reign began. Then was verified the oracle uttered by the royal bard of Israel, “Jehovah said to my Jehovah” — or, “the Lord said to my Lord,” — “Sit thou on my right hand till I make thy foes thy footstool.”
Hence He could say, and did say, to His apostles, “All authority in the heavens and on the earth is given to me.” In pursuance thereof, “Go you into all the world, proclaim the gospel to the whole creation; assuring them that everyone who believes this proclamation and is immersed into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, shall be saved.”
Here, then, the missionary field is declared to be the whole world – the broad earth. They were, as we are afterwards informed, to begin at the first capital in the land of Judea, then to proceed to Samaria, the capital of the ten tribes, and thence to the last domicile of man on earth.
There was, and there is still, in all this arrangement, a gracious and a glorious propriety.
The Jews had murdered the Messiah under the false charge of an impostor. Was it not, then, divinely grand and supremely glorious to make this awfully bloodstained capital the beginning, the fountain, of the gospel age and mission? Hence it was decreed that all the earth should be the parish, and all the nations and languages of earth the objects, and millions of them the subjects, of the redeeming grace and tender mercies of our Savior and our God.
What an extended and still extending area is the missionary field! There are the four mighty realms of Pagandom, of Papaldom, of Mohammedandom and of ecclesiastic Sectariandom. These are, one and all, essentially and constitutionally, more or less, not of the apostolic Christendom.
The divinely inspired constitution of the Church contains only seven articles. These are the seven hills, not of Rome, but of the true Zion of Israel’s God. Paul’s summary of them is found in the following words: “One body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all.”
The clear perception, the grateful reception, the cordial entertainment of these seven divinely constructed and instituted pillars, are the alone sufficient, and the all-sufficient, foundation – the indestructible basis – of Christ’s kingdom on this earth, and of man’s spiritual and eternal salvation in the full enjoyment of himself, his Creator, his Redeemer, and the whole universe of spiritual intelligence through all the circles and the cycles of an infinite, an everlasting future of being and of blessedness.
The missionary spirit is, indeed, an emanation of the whole Godhead. God the Father sent His Son, His only begotten Son, into our world. The Son sent the Holy Spirit to bear witness through His twelve missionaries, the consecrated and Heaven-inspired apostles. They proclaimed the glad tidings of great joy to all people – to the Jews, to the Samaritans, to the Gentiles, of all nations, kindreds and tongues. They gave in solemn charge to others to sound out and proclaim the glad tidings of great joy to all people. And need we ask, is not the Christian Church itself, in its own institution and constitution, virtually and essentially a missionary institution? Does not Paul formally state to the Thessalonians in his first epistle that from them sounded out the Word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place?
No man can really or truthfully enjoy the spiritual, the soul-stirring, the heart-reviving honors and felicities of the Christian institution and kingdom, who does not intelligently, cordially and efficiently espouse the missionary cause.
In other words, he must feel, he must have compassion for his fellow man; and, still further, he must practically sympathize with him in communicating to his spiritual necessities as well as to his physical wants and infirmities. The true ideal of all perfection — our blest and blissful Redeemer – went about continually doing good — to both the souls and the bodies of his fellow men; healing all that were, in body, soul or spirit, opprest by Satan, the enemy of God and of man.
To follow his example is the grand climax of humanity. It is not necessary to this end that he should occupy the pulpit. There are, as we conceive, myriads of Christian men in the private walks of life, who never aspired to the “sacred desk,” that will far outshine, in eternal glory and blessedness, hosts of the reverend, the boasted and the boastful right reverend occupants of the sacred desks of this our day and generation.
But Solomon has furnished our motto: – “He that winneth” or taketh “souls is wise” (Prov. xi. 30). Was he not the wisest, of men, the most potent and the richest of kings, that ever lived? He had, therefore, all the means and facilities of acquiring what we call knowledge the knowledge of men and things; and, consequently, the value of men and things was legitimately within the area of his understanding; or, in this case, we might prefer to say, with all propriety, within the area of his comprehension.
Need I say that comprehension incomparably transcends apprehension? Simpletons may apprehend, but only wise men can comprehend anything. Solomon’s rare gift was, that both his apprehension and his comprehension transcended those of all other men, and gave him a perspicacity and promptitude of decision never before or since possest by any man. His oracles, indeed, were the oracles of God. But God especially gave to him a power and opportunity of making one grand experiment and development for the benefit of his living contemporaries, and of all posterity, to whom God presents his biography, his Proverbs and his Ecclesiastes.
“The winning of souls” is, therefore, the richest and best business, trade or calling, according to Solomon, ever undertaken or prosecuted by mortal man. Paul was fully aware of this, and therefore had always in his eye a “triple crown” — “a crown of righteousness,” a “crown of life,” a “crown of glory.” And even in this life he had “a crown of rejoicing,” in prospect of an exceeding and eternal weight of glory, imperishable in the heavens.
There is, too, a present reward, a present pleasure, a present joy and peace which the wisdom, and the riches, and the dignity, and the glory, and the honors of this world never did, never can, and consequently never will, confer on its most devoted and persevering votaries.
There is, indeed, a lawful and an honorable covetousness, which any and every Christian, man and woman, may cultivate and cherish.
Paul himself justifies the poetic license, when he says, “Covet earnestly the best gifts.”
The best gifts in his horizon, however, were those which, when duly cultivated and employed, confer the greatest amount of profit and felicity upon others. We should, indeed, desire, even covet, the means and the opportunities of beatifying and aggrandizing one another with the true riches, the honors and the dignities that appertain to the spiritual, the heavenly and the eternal inheritance.
But we need not propound to your consideration or inquiry the claims – the paramount, the transcendent claims — which our enjoyment of the gospel and its soul-cheering, soul- animating, soul-enrapturing influences present to us as arguments and motives to extend and to animate its proclamation by every instrumentality and means which we can legitimately employ, to present it in all its attractions and claims upon the understanding, the conscience and the affections of our contemporaries, in our own country and in all others, as far as our most gracious and bountiful Benefactor affords the means and the opportunities of co-operating with Him, in the rescue and recovery of our fellow men, who, without such means and efforts, must forever perish, as aliens and enemies, in heart and in life, to God and to His divinely-commissioned ambassador, the glorious Messiah.
We plead for the original apostolic gospel and its positive institutions. If the great apostles Peter and Paul the former to the Jews and the latter to the Gentiles announced the true gospel of the grace of God, shall we hesitate a moment on the propriety and the necessity, divinely imposed upon us, of preaching the same gospel which they preached, and in advocating the same institutions which they established, under the plenary inspiration and direction of the Holy Spirit? Can we improve upon their institutions and enactments? What means that singular imperative enunciated by the evangelical prophet Isaiah (Isa. viii.), “Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples?” What were its antecedents? Hearken! The prophet had just foretold. He, the subject of this oracle, viz : “The desire of all nations,” was coming to be a sanctuary; but not a sanctuary alone, but for a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (as at this day) to both the houses of Israel — for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
The Church, therefore, of right is, and ought to be, a great missionary society. Her parish is the whole earth, from sea to sea, and from the Euphrates to the last domicile of man.
But the crowning and consummating argument of the missionary cause has not been fully presented. There is but one word, in the languages of earth, that fully indicates it. And that word indicates neither less nor more than what is represented — literally, exactly, perspicuously represented — by the word philanthropy. But this being a Greek word needs, perhaps in some cases, an exact definition. And to make it memorable we will preface it with the statement of the fact that this word is found but twice in the Greek original New Testament (Acts xxviii., 2, and Titus iii., 4.). In the first passage this word is, in the common version, translated “kindness,” and in the second, “love toward man.” Literally and exactly, it signifies the love of man, objectively; but, more fully exprest, the love of one to another.
The love of God to man is one form of philanthropy; the love of angels to one man is another form of philanthropy; and the love of man to man, as such, is the true philanthropy of the law. It is not the love of one man to another man, because of favors received from him; this is only gratitude. It is not the love of one man to another man, because of a common country: this is mere patriotism. It is not the love of man to man, because of a common ancestry: this is mere natural affection. But it is the love of man to man, merely because he is a man. This is pure philanthropy. Such was the love of God to man as exhibited in the gift of His dearly beloved Son as a sin-offering for him. This is the name which the inspired writers of the New Testament give it. So Paul uses it, Titus iii. and iv. It should have been translated, “After that the kindness and philanthropy of God our Savior appeared.” Again, Acts xxviii., 2, “The barbarous people of the Island of Melita showed us no little philanthropy. They kindled a fire for us on their island, because of the impending rain and the cold.”
There are, indeed, many forms and demonstrations of philanthropy. For one good man another good man might presume to die. But the philanthropy of God to man incomparably transcends all other forms of philanthropy known on earth or reported from heaven.
While we were sinners, in positive and actual rebellion against our Father and our God, He freely gave up His only begotten and dearly beloved Son, as a sin-offering for us, and laid upon Him, or placed in His account, the sin, the aggregate sin, of the world. He became in the hand of His Father and our Father a sin-offering for us. He took upon Himself, and His Father “laid upon him, the iniquity of us all.” Was ever love like this? Angels of all ranks, spirits of all capacities, still contemplate it with increasing wonder and delight.
This gospel message is to be announced to all the world, to men of every nation under heaven. And this, too, with the promise of the forgiveness of sins and of a life everlasting in the heavens, to everyone who will cordially accept and obey it.
 This is an exact literal version of Rebotayim alphey shenan. The Targum says, “The chariots of God are two myriads and two thousand angels draw them.” A myriad is 10,000 two myriads 20,000. “To know this,” Adam Clarke says, “we must die.”
 So we have always translated this term, in this passage.