"WATCHMAN, WHAT OF THE NIGHT?"
From "The Life of Faith."
WATCHMAN, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh." (Isaiah 21:11,12.) The nineteenth century beheld, perhaps, the most amazing progress the Church of Christ has ever experienced. A little more than a hundred years ago there was no Bible Society; today three Anglo-Saxon Bible Societies alone pour forth annually over ten million portions of the Scriptures, in four to five hundred languages of the world. Can any imagination conceive the spiritual effect of this mighty river of Truth pouring itself among all mankind? A little more than a hundred years ago missionary societies--apart from the Jesuit and Moravian --were practically unknown; in 1909 there were 19,875 missionaries scattered, as living epistles of Christ, through the heathen world. It would be difficult to say what was the membership of God's Church when the century dawned; but it is now computed that the membership of Protestant Evangelical communions is not less than one hundred and forty to one hundred and fifty millions. It is possible that eternity will reveal to us that the nineteenth century was the richest toward God of any century in the world's history.
Nor does God's worldwide advance slacken; the last decade is probably the most wonderful of all. "The morning cometh!" More educated converts have been won in India in the last two decades than in the whole preceding century. Bishop Moule, of Mid-China, says that when he first landed in that Empire it held less than fifty Protestant Christians; in the first decade of the twentieth century there have been 16,000 martyrs; and nearly two thousand missionaries are now planted throughout China. A little over twenty years ago the Christians in all Korea numbered seven; in 1908, alone, there were fifty thousand converts; and, at a recent conference of twelve hundred laymen, some walked for ten days to enjoy the Bible study. In Tokachi prison, in Kokkaido, Japan, a spiritual movement, sweeping through it in 1908, brought nearly two thousand of the inmates to Christ, and most of the prison officials have been baptized. Four years after the Welsh revival, in spite of the reaction, from sixty to seventy thousand converts were known to be established in church fellowship. The census bureau of the United States, reports that, between 1890 and 1906, an average of eight new churches had been built every day. It has been recently stated that within the last decade more Jews have become believers (it is, of course, but an approximate computation) than in all the seventeen hundred years after Paul.
All these are but symptoms of a work of the holy Spirit which is nothing short of stupendous. For the first time since our Lord ascended, nearly the whole world is now open to the Gospel, and is being penetrated by heralds of the Cross. The year 1908 was a phenomenal one in missionary advance; 164,674 native members were added to the Church, or an average of five hundred a day. Nor is the heroism of the Cross confined to any Christian group. Dr. Ambrose Shepherd recently met a young Roman Catholic priest in a railway carriage, on a farewell visit to his mother before leaving for the Congo. "When do you expect to come back?" Dr. Shepherd asked. "Never," was the reply; "we have buried fifteen already, and the average period of life is about two years"; and when the young priest arose to take farewell, in a voice that trembled with emotion, he said, "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God."
"The watchman said, And also the night." The facts are not more antithetical than are the words of the watchman. "Of no time in the history of the world," said The Times recently, "are so many signs of general unrest recorded as those which seem to confront us today"; or, in the words of the Bible Society's report (1909), "The horoscope of the future is written over with signs of incalculable change." As the Rev. James Johnston has pointed out in his, "A Century of Missions," the heathen and Mohammedan population of the world counts more by two hundred millions than a hundred years ago, while the converts and their families number less than three millions; a seventy-fold increase of the darkness over the light. There are millions more of heathen souls in China today than when the first Protestant missionary landed a hundred years ago; for every convert added to the Church a thousand souls are added to Chinese heathendom by mere growth of population. "If our plans of education be followed up," said Lord Macaulay in 1836, "there will not be a single idolator among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence"; today there is a false god for every member of the population of India--between two and three hundred millions. In Japan there are four hundred and fifty heathen temples for every single Christian missionary. There are 400,000,000 of mankind who have not a leaf of the Bible in their 2,700 languages and dialects.
Nor is faith what it was in the lands of faith. In 1908, in the State Church in Berlin alone, the fall in membership was ten thousand persons. The Bible Society reports that the sale of the Scriptures is falling. In Liverpool--the third city of the empire--in 1881, 40 seats out of every 100 were filled at morning worship in the Free Churches; in 1891, 31; in 1902, 25; in 1908, 12. So also evening attendance has fallen from 57 in every 100 seats in 1881, to 28 in 1908. "Tom Paine's work," says the editor of the Freethinker, "is now carried on by the descendants of his persecutors; all he said about the Bible is being said in substance by orthodox divines from chairs of theology." At the last census in France, eight millions enrolled themselves as atheists; "We have driven Jesus Christ," says the Premier, M. Briand, "out of the army, the navy, the schools, the hospitals, the lunatic asylums, and the orphanages; we must now drive him [R4691 : page 311] out of the State altogether." This decay in faith is already producing its inevitable recoil in morality. While the population of the United States has grown one hundred per cent., crime has increased by four hundred per cent. The decade of unprecedented revivals--in Wales, Madagascar, Korea, China--is the decade of unparalleled earthquakes--at Valparaiso, San Francisco, Jamaica, Messina; it would seem as if grace is speaking her loudest as the earth trembles with premonitory judgments. The vast revival in Moslem lands; the flood of infidel literature which Japan is pouring into China, a fourth of the human race; the mushroom growth of such spiritisms as Spiritualism and Christian Science; the actual rumors of the rebuilding of Babylon and the Temple--"the watchman said, And also the night."
"The watchman said, If ye will inquire, inquire ye." "If the light that is in us be darkness, how great is the darkness"; and if the Lamp of Prophecy be extinguished, how inextricable is the confusion. "Inquire ye." Why inquire? Because the future which God has revealed, is the future which I ought to know; because without a knowledge of prophecy, the present workings of God are plunged in unintelligible mystery; because prophecy uncovers the pitfalls that lie in our path; because a knowledge of the future is of incalculable importance in shaping the present. Hear the watchman's mournful undertone: "If ye will inquire, inquire ye." It is a strange irony of the situation that worldly eyes can read the signs more acutely than the general Church. Says a novelist whose works sell by the hundred thousand, in many languages:
"All things that Christ prophesied are coming to pass so quickly that I wonder more people do not realize it; and I especially wonder at the laxity and apathy of the Churches, except for the fact that this also was prophesied. Some of us will live to see a time of terror, and that before very long. The blasphemous things which are being done in the world today cannot go on much longer without punishment. We know by history that deliberate scorn of God and Divine things has always been met by retribution of a sudden and terrible nature-- and it will be so again."
Prophecy is the profoundest pessimism and the profoundest optimism; it is profoundly pessimistic of all that a Christ-rejecting generation is about to do; it is profoundly optimistic of all that an almighty and an all-gracious God will effect in the imminent establishment of his Kingdom. Dr. Kelman recently asked an eminent American man of science his solution of the problems of modern city life. "An emperor!" came the answer, swift and decisive. "An emperor?" asked Dr. Kelman, in surprise; "I thought you had done with all that in America. Besides, your emperor would need to be a very wonderful man, incapable of mistakes, and extraordinarily competent for leadership." "Precisely," was the quiet answer; "and we know the Man; we are waiting for him, and his name is--Messiah." "The thrill of that reply," says Dr. Kelman, "will never leave me."
"The Watchman said, Turn ye; come." It may be that some unbelieving eyes may alight upon these words. The Rabbis expound the Watchman, who speaks here, as the Messiah; so it is--"turn ye"--repentance toward God; and "come"--faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Why thus turn and come? Because, to press forward, if we are right, is to press forward amid perhaps the mightiest operations ever put forth on a worldwide scale by the holy Spirit.
"The difficulty in the world today is not to find God, but to escape him. Because every moment that a world hardens itself against Divine light, an atmosphere is being produced in which it is every moment more difficult to believe. Because, if to Chorazin and Bethsaida, after three years of Gospel opportunity, Jesus said, "It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon," shall it not also be said of our cities, after a thousand [R4692 : page 311] years of opportunity? Because nineteen hundred years ago the Night was far spent, and the Day was at hand; there can be no time to lose now. The day before the wall of fire rolled down on St. Pierre, the telephone clerk spoke through to Fort de France, saying that the people were fleeing. Next morning, at ten minutes to eight, he was heard to exclaim, "My God! it is here!" and he was afterwards found, with the receiver in his hand, burnt to a cinder. "Watchman, what of the night?" That is, what hour of the night is it? "Little children, it is the last hour."--I John 2:18.