Christians, can we realize the dream of ...

The Evangelization of the World in This Generation

John R. Mott: Judged by results, the most significant Christian student conference ever held was the one which convened in the boys' school at Mount Hermon, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1886. It was called under the initiative of the leaders of the Intercollegiate Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States and Canada and was presided over by Dwight L. Moody. It was attended by 251 students from 89 universities and colleges of these two countries. Among their number were a few young men of other nationalities and races who were attending institutions of higher learning in North America. The gathering continued in session four full weeks, and every delegate was present from the beginning to the end.

There was but one formal meeting each day, a meeting lasting two hours, with Moody as the principal speaker but assisted by noted Bible teachers. This gave the students time to think, to share, to assimilate, to catch visions, to pray, to form decisions. Day after day in the long open spaces the students in little groups went up into the foothills of the Green and White Mountains for intimate discussions and intercession.

During the first half of the conference the subject of missions was not raised, but a little group of four or five who had a missionary career in mind met by themselves daily under the leadership of Robert P. Wilder of Princeton and began personal work to enlist candidates for the mission field. By the end of the conference an even hundred had definitely decided to volunteer for the foreign field. They decided to send a deputation through the colleges the following year to secure volunteers. This resulted in a great increase in the number. Then followed a year with no central direction and with unfortunate results. This led in 1888 to the definite organization of the movement under the title "Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions" and the adoption of the declaration, "It is my purpose, God permitting, to become a foreign missionary."

Through the subsequent years the movement has continued to expand. It has spread to other lands, such as Great Britain, Germany, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Of the many volunteers secured, nearly eighteen thousand have finished their preparation and have gone to the foreign mission fields under the auspices of the various mission boards. Of this number more than three-fourths came from North America.

In the early days of the movement the watchword "The evangelization of the world in this generation" was adopted. It would be difficult to overstate the influence and value this watchword has had in widening and enriching sympathy, in imparting vision, in promoting intensity, in strengthening faith, in fostering a life of reality and self-denial, and, above all, in imparting a sense of immediacy - that is, the sense that "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: for the night cometh, when no man can work." (John 9:4)

Here and there the question is raised, Is this watchword - the evangelization of the world in this generation - still valid? Surely the treatment of this subject is germane to our theme "The Larger Evangelism." Let us then address ourselves to this question and what it involves.

First of all, what is meant by the evangelization of the world in this generation? It means giving every person an adequate opportunity to know Jesus Christ as personal Saviour and Lord. It does not mean converting every person in the world in this generation. Our part as Christians consists in bringing the gospel to bear upon unsaved men; the Spirit of God alone is able to convert them.

It does not imply a hasty or superficial preaching of the gospel. Professor Gustav Warneck wisely emphasizes the truth that the "rejection" of the gospel "can be made only with knowledge and that this can be the case only when the announcing has been completely understood." The deliverance of the message must be effective, as lawyers would say, from the point of view of the hearer as well as of the speaker. If the enterprise of the world's evangelization calls for urgent and aggressive action, with equal emphasis it calls for perseverance and thoroughness.

The evangelization of the world in this generation does not mean the Christianization of the world if by that is meant the dominance of Christian principles in the civilization of all parts of the world. If we may judge by history, that will require centuries.

The supporting of no special theory of eschatology is involved in the evangelization of the world in this generation. Men entertaining widely different opinions as to the second advent of Christ accept alike this view of world-wide evangelization. The evangelization of the world in this generation is not a prophecy. It calls attention to what may and ought to be done, not necessarily to what is actually going to occur. In urging the evangelization of the world within the generation, its advocates do not minimize the importance of any method of missionary work which has been and is being used by the Spirit of God. It rather adds emphasis to all the regular forms of missionary work, such as educational, medical, literary, and evangelistic.

As Dr. James Dennis said, "The evangelistic method must not be regarded as monopolizing the evangelistic aim which should itself pervade all the other methods." Every method should be employed which makes the gospel intelligible and which promotes its acceptance by men. It is maintained that by a wise enlargement and distribution of all agencies and methods which bear the stamp of the approval of God, the gospel can and should be preached to the whole creation.

The evangelization of the world in this generation should not be regarded as an end in itself. The Church will not have fulfilled her task when the gospel has been preached to all men. Such evangelization should be followed by baptizing the converts, by organizing them into churches, by building them up in knowledge, faith, and character, and by training them for service. The great objective should be always kept in mind, namely, the planting and developing in all non-Christian lands of self-supporting, self-directing, and self-propagating churches.

It is the obligation of the Church to evangelize the world in this generation because all men need Christ and the need is indescribably great. It is a significant fact that thousands of missionaries scattered throughout all lands, face to face with the non-Christian world and thus in the best position to make a scientific study of the problem, bear unanimous testimony to the actual working and practical results of the non-Christian religions which should forever banish any doubt - or reservation as to their sufficiency to meet the world's need.

The Scriptures clearly teach that if men are to be saved they must be saved through Christ. The burning question then is, Shall hundreds of millions of men now living who need Christ, and who are capable of receiving help from him, pass away without having even the opportunity to know him? A knowledge of our own hearts should be sufficient to make plain our duty. We know that Christ has been and is necessary for us. Would it not be presumptuous, therefore, for us to assume that the nations living in sin and wretchedness can do without him whom we so much need even in the most favored Christian lands?

It is our duty to evangelize the world because we owe all men the gospel. To have a knowledge of Christ is to incur a responsibility to every man who has it not. We are trustees of the gospel and in no sense sole proprietors. What a crime against mankind to keep a knowledge of the mission of Christ from two thirds of the human race! It is our duty to evangelize the world in this generation because of the missionary command of Christ.

It seems impossible to explain the final commission of Christ as set forth in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and the Acts as not implying that each generation of Christians should at least preach Christ to its own known and accessible world. This was obviously the interpretation placed upon the final commission by the Christians of the first generation.

Every reason for doing the work of evangelization, at all, demands that it be done not only thoroughly but also as speedily as possible. We are responsible for the present generation, that is, for those who are living at the same time as ourselves. The Christians of the past generation did not reach them; neither can the Christians of succeeding generations. Obviously each generation of Christians must evangelize its own generation of non-Christians if they are ever to be evangelized.

The present generation is one of unexampled crisis in all parts of the unevangelized world. Missionaries from nearly every land urge that if the Church fails to do her full duty in our lifetime, not only will multitudes of the present generation pass away without knowing of Christ, but the task of our successors to evangelize their generation will be made very much more difficult.

Our generation is also one of marvelous opportunity. The world is better known and more accessible, its needs are more articulate and intelligible, and our ability to go into all the world with the gospel is greater than in any preceding generation. All this adds to our responsibility.

The forces of evil are not deferring their operations to the next generation, but with world-wide enterprise and ceaseless vigor they are seeking to accomplish their deadly work. Moreover the upheavals, dangers, and opportunities related to the present global war [1944] accentuate very greatly the urgency of the present situation and the demands of the coming but not distant day.

We do not ignore the difficulties in the way of making Christ known to the present generation - difficulties physical, political, social, intellectual, moral, and religious. However, not one of these difficulties is insuperable. Difficulties equally great or greater have been overcome. Moreover the obstacles external to the Church are comparatively not of vital importance, and if the difficulties within the Church were removed, as is possible, nothing could stand in the way of the world-wide preaching of the gospel within our day. It is well to be on our guard against the tendency to magnify difficulties unduly and to minimize the providential opportunities, the promises of God, and the resources of the witnesses and ambassadors of Jesus Christ.

We believe it is possible to evangelize the world in this generation. It will help us to realize this possibility if we look at a number of considerations.

In the first place it is possible in view of the achievements of the Christians of the first generation. One of the most distinguishing characteristics of early Christianity was the wide propagation of the gospel. The first generation of Christians did more to accomplish the evangelization of the world than has any succeeding generation. It is true that there were several favoring circumstances which helped to make possible the wide and rapid proclamation of the gospel, such as commercial enterprise, Roman law and government, the imperial system of communications, the wide use of the Latin and Greek languages, the Old Testament Scriptures in Greek, the Diaspora, and the open synagogues, together with proselytes. But the achievements of the early Christians were remarkable even if we view only the different cities, districts, and provinces reached by them with the gospel message. Workers went to all parts of the Roman Empire and, more than is generally recognized, into the regions beyond. While the scripture records give us only partial facts regarding but a few of the workers, we may be certain that the other disciples of Christ were not idle.

Consider the extent of Paul's labors. During the ten years of his missionary career he made at least three extensive journeys. He evangelized four provinces of the Roman Empire and worked in still others. That his work was not superficial is shown by the fact that he spent eighteen months in Corinth, three years in Ephesus, two years in Rome, and from one to eight months at each of seven other places. Speaking of his work in one province he was able to say, "All they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:10). He was also able to assert that "from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum [on the shores of the Adriatic], I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." (Romans 15:19)

The achievements of the early Christians are remarkable when viewed numerically and also when we consider how all classes of society were reached. The persecutions of the first century bear witness to the rapid spread of Christianity in the first generation. The vast number who suffered martyrdom in the second century, together with the fierce literary attacks against Christianity and the strong apologies in its defense, attest how vigorously the faith of Christ must have been propagated by the first disciples.

These achievements seem very remarkable when we remember that at the time of the ascension of Christ the whole number of believers did not exceed a few hundreds. They seem all the more wonderful in the light of the fact that the early Christians had to meet practically every difficulty which confronts the Church today. What generation of Christians has ever victoriously met such a combination of difficulties and endured such sufferings? Gerhard Uhlhorn says, "Never, in the whole course of human history, have two so unequal powers stood opposed to each other as ancient heathenism and early Christianity."

As we recall the smallness of their number and the difficulties which beset their path and, on the other hand, remind ourselves not only of our obstacles but also of the marvelous opportunities and resources of the Church today, shall we not agree that the balance of advantage is with us of this generation? In studying the secret of what they accomplished one is led to the conclusion that they employed no vitally important method which cannot be used today, and that they availed themselves of no power which we also cannot utilize.

It is possible to evangelize the world in this generation in view of subsequent missionary achievements of the Church. We need only call attention to them in the barest outline. Among evangelistic achievements note the work of the Presbyterians in Korea; of the Russian as well as of some of the Protestant churches in Japan; of the Church Missionary Society, The Methodist Church, and the American Board in the Fukien Province; of the London Missionary Society in Central China; of the China Inland Mission in the interior provinces of China; of the United Presbyterians of Scotland and the Irish Presbyterians in Manchuria; of the American Board in the Sandwich Islands, the Wesleyans in the Fiji Islands, and of Dr. John G. Paton in the New Hebrides; of the American Baptists among the Karens and also among the Telugus; of the Gossner Mission among the Kols during its first twenty years; of the Church Missionary Society and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in southern India; of the Methodist Church in northern India; of the Reformed Church in India and also in Arabia; of the German Lutherans on the island of Sumatra; of the London Mission and the Norwegian Lutherans in Madagascar; of the Free Church of Scotland in Livingstonia, the Church Missionary Society in Uganda, the Baptists and other bodies on the Congo, the Southern Presbyterians at Luebo, and the United Presbyterians in the Nile Valley.

In medical missionary work recall that of Dr. Robert Clark at Amritsar, Dr. John G. Kerr at Canton, Dr. George E. Post at Beirut, the Ranaghat Medical Mission in Bengal, and the Christlike ministry of many other medical missionaries in all parts of the wide world field.

Think also of the chains of Christian colleges and schools in India, China, Japan, the Near East, and Latin America.

Nor should we overlook the vital relation which literary work has had and always will have to the evangelization of the world. The patient and thorough work of the hundreds of missionaries who have devoted themselves to the translation of the Scriptures and Christian literature, the ceaseless activity of the scores of mission presses like those at Beirut, Cairo, Shanghai, Calcutta, and Tokyo, and the wonderful achievements of the Bible societies in all lands, have multiplied the power and influence of all other workers and agencies and sowed the seed of the Kingdom far and wide.

A striking example of achievement on the home field in the interest of foreign missions is that of the Moravians. They have done more in proportion to their ability than possibly any other body of Christians. If the members of Protestant churches in Great Britain and America gave in like proportion their missionary contributions would aggregate over $70,000,000 or a threefold increase. And if they went out as missionaries in corresponding numbers we should have a force of nearly 400,000 foreign workers, which is vastly more than the number of missionaries estimated as necessary to achieve the evangelization of the world in a generation.

In many, many fields in all parts of the world the efforts of the missionaries have not yet been attended with as large visible results as the examples to which attention has been called. There are thousands of missionaries whose names are not associated with conspicuous success, but who nevertheless have been proclaiming Christ with a faithfulness, thoroughness, and heroism fully equal to that which has characterized the more prominent workers. They also are an essential factor in the world's evangelization, "that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together" (John 4:36).

The practical question suggested by the experiences mentioned is, What has there been in the work already accomplished which is not reproducible? In view of the extent to which the gospel has already been thoroughly preached, whether with or without apparent results, by a comparatively small number of workers, it does seem reasonable to expect that by a judicious increase and proper distribution of all missionary agencies which have commended themselves to the Church, an adequate opportunity to know Christ as Saviour and Lord might be given to all people within our day.

We believe it is possible to evangelize the world in this generation in view of the opportunities and resources of the Church and the facilities at her disposal. There would seem to be no sufficient ground for doubting the ability of the Church today to give the whole world a full opportunity to know and to accept Christ. We must not measure the present ability of the Church by the standards and practices of a Church in the past, only half awake to her duty to the non-Christian world and under far less favorable conditions for world-wide missionary operations.

It hardly seems right to call a thing impossible or impracticable which has not been attempted. David Livingstone said, "You don't know what you can do until you try." The world-wide proclamation of the gospel awaits accomplishment by a generation which shall have the obedience, the courage, and the determination to attempt the task.

For the first time in the history of the Church, practically the whole world is open. We are not justified in saying that there is a single country on the face of the earth where the Church, if she seriously desires, cannot send ambassadors of Christ to proclaim his message.

There is no insuperable obstacle to world-wide evangelization so far as the ability of non-Christians to understand the gospel is concerned. The history of missions the world over, including work among the lowest types of humanity, demonstrates the truth of the contention of Bishop Selwyn, after many years of observation and experience among the degraded inhabitants of the islands of the Southern Seas, "that all mankind are endued by the Spirit of God, in God's own time, with a sufficient measure of capacity to receive everything that is necessary for the salvation of their souls; that there is no one single human being on the face of God's earth who is shut out from the promises of the gospel by any difference of intellectual or of moral capacity."

The Church not only has an unexampled opportunity but also possesses remarkable resources. Think of her membership. There are not fewer than 150,000,000 members of Protestant churches. No one will question the fact that among this vast number are millions of spiritual and consecrated men and women. Contrast the millions of devoted Christians, whose religion is that of many of the most enlightened and influential nations of the world, with the few thousands constituting the small, unacknowledged, and despised sect which on the Day of Pentecost began the evangelization of the then known and accessible world. As we recall the achievements of that infant Church can we question the ability of the Christians of our day, were they unitedly to resolve to accomplish it, so to distribute within the present generation the gospel messengers and agencies that all mankind might have an opportunity to know Christ, the Saviour and Lord?

There are workers enough to send. It would take but a small fraction of the Christian students, even those who belong to the various Christian student movements of the world, according to the estimate of conservative missionaries, to furnish a sufficient force of foreign workers to achieve the evangelization of the world in this generation. Their going forth would quicken and strengthen rather than weaken the entire Church.

The money power of the Church is enormous. Dr. Josiah Strong said a generation ago, "There is money enough in the hands of church members to sow every acre of the earth with the seed of truth .... God has intrusted to his children power enough to give the gospel to every creature by the close of this century; but it is being misapplied. Indeed, the world would have been evangelized long ago if Christians had perceived the relation of money to the Kingdom, and accepted their stewardship."

With over three hundred missionary societies and auxiliaries there are without doubt missionary organizations and societies in sufficient number and possessing sufficient strength and experience to guide an enterprise indefinitely larger than the present missionary operations of the Church.

The Bible societies, although themselves missionary organizations, should receive special emphasis. They have translated the Scriptures entirely or in part into more than a thousand languages and dialects. These translations include, as Sir Edward Cust long ago pointed out, "all the conquering languages and a great many of the second-class or permanent languages." It is significant that these translations are in the languages which are spoken by the vast majority of the human race. The marvelous success of the past century encourages us to believe that if the work of these Bible agencies is properly promoted, before this generation closes each African, each Pacific islander, and each inhabitant of Asia and of the other parts of the world will be able to read or hear in his own tongue "the wonderful works of God" (Acts 2:11).

The various Christian young people's organizations which have been developed within recent decades have added tremendously to the power of the Church. These young people themselves, if properly educated and guided, are able to give and to raise each year a sum large enough to support all the foreign missionaries still required.

The Sunday schools alone, with their tens of millions of members, constitute a large undeveloped missionary resource. If these were trained to give two cents each per week it would yield an amount greater than the present total missionary gifts of Protestant Christendom.

The younger churches of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the island world constitute the human resources which afford largest promise for the evangelization of the world. They have over six million communicants and nearly five million baptized non-communicants. The character and activity of these Christians compare favorably with those of members of the older churches. There are hundreds of thousands of indigenous Christian workers, and their number and efficiency are increasing. There are millions of children and young people in the Sunday schools and various mission schools and institutions of higher learning. From their ranks might come the hundreds of thousands of evangelists, Bible women, and other workers who would be needed to preach Christ to the unevangelized world.

This emphasizes the importance of the Christian student movements in these lands. They unite the native Christian students, first to lead their fellow students to Christ, and then, after their preparation is completed, to go forth to evangelize their own countrymen. Thus they can do much to solve the problem of the world's speedy and thorough evangelization.

In considering the Church's present power of achievement, we should take account not only of her resources but also of the facilities at her disposal. Among these should be mentioned the work of the geographical societies, which through the investigations they have encouraged have done so much to make the whole world known. Another help to the Church today is the intimate knowledge which she now possesses of the social, moral, and spiritual condition and need of all races of mankind. The greatly enlarged and improved means of communication constitutes one of the chief facilities of which the Church of this generation can avail herself.

The influence and protection of Christian governments is a decided help to missions. In no age could ambassadors of Christ carry on their work with such safety.

Why has God made the whole world known and accessible to our generation? Why has he provided us with such wonderful agencies? Not that the forces of evil might utilize them. Not that they be wasted or left unused. Such vast preparations must have been made to further some mighty and beneficent purpose. Every one of these wonderful facilities has been intended primarily to serve as a handmaid to the sublime enterprise of extending and building up the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in all the world. The hand of God in opening door after door among the nations and in bringing to light invention after invention is beckoning the Church of our day to larger achievements.

Notwithstanding the considerations upon which we have been dwelling, there are here and there to be found those who speak of the idea of the evangelization of the world in this generation as fantastic and visionary. And yet did not Gordon Hall and Samuel Newell in 1818 issue an appeal to Christians to evangelize the world within a generation? Did not the missionaries of the Sandwich Islands in 1836 unite in a most impressive appeal to the Church to preach the gospel to every creature within their generation? Did not the Shanghai Missionary Conference of 1877 express its desire to have China emancipated from the thralldom of sin in this generation, and its belief that it might be done?

An increasing number of the most eminent and experienced missionaries of the world have expressed their strong belief in the possibility of the realization of this watchword. Secretaries of several of the leading mission boards of America and England have endorsed the idea without reservation. Editors, including that thorough missionary student Dr. George Robson of Scotland, have spoken of its reasonableness. The bishops of the Anglican communion at the next to the last [before WWII] Lambeth Conference expressed their gratification at the student missionary uprising which had taken as its watchword the evangelization of the world in this generation.

At the great Student Volunteer Convention in London, Alexander MacKennal, president of the Free Church Council, when the idea of the evangelization of the world in this generation was put before him said:

I felt first the audacity of the proposal, then the reasonableness of the proposal, and lastly that the confidence of young men and women would carry it into effect I was sure. It seemed to me that the very finger of God was pointing the way, and the Spirit of God inspiring the endeavor.

At the same convention Randall Thomas Davidson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said:

It is not an inconceivable thing that, as God has within the last generation opened the way, so within the present generation He may crown His work .... It seems now as if we who are now living, the young men amongst us who are now joining this very Union, those who are now studying the great task to which the Lord has called them, shall, before they die, be able to say, "The whole race of mankind is not yet Christian, but nevertheless there is no nation upon earth where the Christian faith is not taught if men will accept it; there is no place upon the whole surface of the globe where men may not hear the message of God and the story of the Cross if only they are willing to listen. It is brought home to them everywhere at their very doors, and the Church, at any rate, has discharged the primary duty of all her duties; she has made all nations hear the sound of the Gospel; she has made all nations hear of the love of the Lord and of His great Sacrifice."

It is significant that at the great Ecumenical Conference in New York it was not the young men chiefly, but the veterans of the Cross, who exhorted us to largest achievement. It was Bishop Thoburn who said that if this conference and those whom it represents would do their duty, within the coming decade ten millions of souls might be gathered into the Church of Christ. It was Dr. William Ashmore who expressed the belief that before the twentieth century closes Christianity would be the dominant religion among the multitudinous inhabitants of the Chinese Empire. Dr. Jacob Chamberlain in his burning appeal expressed the possibility of bringing India under the sway of Christ within the lifetime of some, at least, in that assembly. If these great leaders after forty years' experience or more at the front, in the face of all the difficulties, were thus sanguine of victory and proclaimed the battle cry, should those of us who are at home hesitate or sound the retreat?

It is indeed significant that at the series of great Volunteer Conventions, known as the Quadrennials, held in subsequent years on both sides of the Atlantic, the possibility of realizing the great objective has been sounded out with like conviction by representatives of both the younger and the older generations.

What are the conditions essential to the realization of the watchword? Without doubt there must be a far more extensive and intensive campaign of education throughout our churches regarding the tremendous need of all for which the watchword stands. To do the will of God we must know the needs of man. Then there must be a far larger and more realistic obedience to the final command of our Lord: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15).

There must likewise be generated among Christians far more heroic sacrifice on behalf of the world mission. Jesus Christ never hid his scars to win a disciple. Make the gospel difficult and you make it triumphant. With all and above all there must be a vivid, realizing sense of immediacy and an unshakable faith. "With men it is impossible" (Mark 10:27). "With God all things are possible." "All things are possible to him that believeth" (Mark 9:23).

Let us not forget that the evangelization of the world is not man's but God's enterprise. Jesus Christ is its leader. He who is the same yesterday, and today, and forever, still abides with those who go forth to preach him where he has not been named. The Holy Spirit is as able to shake whole communities now as in the days of Peter and Paul. The word of God is still quick and powerful. Prayer can still remove mountains. Macedonian visions are yet vouchsafed unto men. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.

In the words of Alexander Duff, "Let us arise and resolve, at whatever cost of self-denial, to grapple in right earnest, as we have never yet done, with the stupendous work of supplanting the three thousand years' consolidated empire of Satan in these vast realms by the establishment of Messiah's reign."

"The work which centuries might have done
Must crowd the hour of setting sun."

"But lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day; The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on his way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

"From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
`Alleluia! Alleluia!'"

A "Sam P. Jones Lecture" by John R. Mott at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, 1944

  1. Christ Commands Worldwide Evangelism.
  2. The World is Ready for Evangelism.
  3. Dwight Moody, the Greatest Evangelist of the 19th Century.
  4. Individual Work to Convert Individuals.
  5. The Evangelization of the World in This Generation.

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