The Supreme Task of the Church*

The Supreme Task of the Church*—No. 1

"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." Mark 16:15.

By C.H. Watson

"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." Mark 16:15.

From the very moment that Jesus uttered  these words, the winning of souls has been the supreme task of the church. Our business has been to preach the gospel for the purpose of winning men and women from sin and dark­ness to light and peace and life through the power of the gospel of our Lord Jesus. The church went forth in obedience to that com­mission with the very definite purpose of mak­ing Christians of all nations, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

It is a joyful thing to know that when the church began its task, its purpose was definite. It had its objectives clearly in mind. It had a clear view of its field, and well understood the source of its power. It understood, too, what it was to accomplish by its effort, and it addressed itself to its task with great earnestness.

Since that time God has changed neither His relationship to the church nor His purpose to evangelize the world by the efforts of His peo­ple. The vision, the purpose, the understand­ing, and the aim of the church in relation to its task should, therefore, be the same as it was when it first went forth in response to the great commission of its Lord. Our Lord's com­mission is not for the church to civilize the world, or to Christianize the nations. It is to make known to every creature the riches of God's grace in Christ Jesus, and thereby to win Christians from every nation.

At the first the undertaking of the church had to do, not with what had been done, but with that which was yet, to be done. It still is that way. We face a great unfinished task. That unfinished task should be very much on our hearts.

A Great Undertaking

The giving of the gospel to the whole world has always been a great undertaking. They to whom it was first given were only a handful of believers—just eleven; but they represented the potential leadership of the church of Jesus Christ. And because that is so, that commis­sion is ours as well as theirs, and has been given to all church leadership from that time to the end of all gospel service. The church at first began to work at its task without organ­ization, without a budget, without any material facilities whatsoever. But it went forth endued with power from on high, and assured of the Divine Presence, "and the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." To the end of its service the church will need the lead­ership and ministry of men like that. The world is full of men who claim to be able to succeed with things that they do not have. But the church of Jesus Christ has reached all its successes through the ministry of men who have succeeded with what they have.

Very early in the ministry of the church, Peter and John went up to the temple at the hour of prayer. As they were about to enter, a lame man lying by the Gate Beautiful asked of them an alms. Peter, fastening his eyes upon him, with John, said, "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have, give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk." That is the way success was brought to the task of the church in those days. They employed and expected Heaven to empower that which they had. It still must be that way with the church at its task.

We have come a long way from that time. The day when the church could say, "Silver and gold have I none," is long since past. But the day is not past when the church can even se­riously attempt to do its God-given work with­out the power that operated in it at the Gate Beautiful. The day never will dawn when the work of the church can be properly done aside from that power. That power is needed in every way; it is needed for the success of every man. That power is needed more than any facility that has ever been given us. And with­out that power all the methods, all the means, all the facilities, all the teaching, all that can be supplied to us by the sacrifices of our people, is absolutely powerless to bring us the success that is needed to finish the work.

Sometimes I hear it said that this work be­gan to be finished back in the time of the Refor­mation. I do not believe it. This work began to be finished, my friends, when the first angel's message began to be proclaimed. And it is to be finished by the giving of the first, second, and third angels' messages to the world. I am told by some that the first angel's message was given in the Reformation. But was it? I take my Bible and read concerning the first angel's message, that the messenger was seen flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, to every nation and kindred and tongue and people. Every man who has ever read this verse of the Bible has found it to read just like that, and every man who ever will read this verse of the Bible will read it that way. And since it reads that way, we cannot possibly un­derstand that the men of the Reformation pro­claimed the first angel's message.

In reality they did not have such a work in mind. Whoever preaches that message must have the whole world in mind. The Reformers did not have the whole world in mind in their work. At the time when the Reformation broke forth, the great heathen populations of the world were divided, roughly, into four sections of the earth. There was India, with its great heathen populations. There was the vast Ori­ental part of the world, the Far Eastern na­tions, with their uncounted multitudes of heathen. There was Africa, the Dark Conti­nent, with its almost two hundred millions of heathen peoples. And there was the great South Sea Island world.

Now we know from our study of the history of the Reformation that that movement did not touch those populations. The Protestant church did not interest itself in these populations for centuries after the Reformation began. You have to come down two hundred years this side of Luther to find the Protestant church sending out its missionaries to these populations. It was in 1557 that the Protestant church first sent out missionaries from Europe to a foreign country. They went from Geneva to Brazil. But they did not have the heathen peoples of that country or of any other country in mind when they went. Their purpose was to plant the banner of Protestantism among the Cath­olic peoples of South America. They had no thought of giving the first angel's message to anyone.

You must come clown one hundred fifty years from that-tnne to find the Protestants of Eng­land organizing "The Society for the Propaga­tion of the Gospel in Foreign Parts." That was in the year 1701, and you know as well as I that that society did not have the heathen in mind at all. That was a society for giving the gospel to the English colonists that were in English colonies throughout the world. In reality we must come down over two hundred years from the beginning of the Reformation to find any interest taken in these great heathen populations of the world by any Prot­estant church. You must pass the great work of the Moravians, you must go past the work of John Eliot in this continent, before you will hear a voice raised for the heathen in any of the four sections of which I have spoken; and when you hear that voice it will be that of William Carey. You will then hear it in the preaching of that wonderful sermon in Notting­ham, England, the sermon that has come down to us as a great foreign missions appeal.

That mighty appeal of Carey's has never failed to make an impression on the hearts of believers throughout the world, and yet from that Baptist congregation in the city of Not­tingham to which it was made, not one man volunteered to go to India and preach the gos­pel to the heathen of that great land. It was there, full in the face of that terribly obvious lack of interest on the part of the Protestant Baptist Church in the unreached heathen, that Carey said, "Then I will go down in the pit, but you must hold the ropes." That was in 1792, and in 1793 Carey went down into the "pit;" but in endeavoring to reach that "pit" of India's teeming millions, he was denied passage on any English boat to India. That was the measure of Protestant England's in­terest in the evangelization of India's heathen in 1793.

Inspired by the example of that devoted man, William Carey, English Protestants formed a society which really did have the evangeliza­tion of the heathen in mind. Its work began by sending its first missionaries to the South Sea Islands. I have stood on the spot where those first missionaries landed. I have ob­served the results of the great work that has followed their having been sent. Ten years after Carey began in India, the first missionary, Robert Morrison, was sent to China. There are men in this congregation who have been in China, and whom I have met there. They can tell you of the wonderful work that has fol­lowed what Morrison did under God for China. Nine more years passed by, and then Robert Moffat was sent to Africa. Thus those four great heathen sections of the world, having re­mained in the grossest darkness for so long, and wholly neglected by the Ref

o liners, were all entered by Protestant missionaries with the gospel within the space of twenty-four years. The Reformation had nothing to do with giving to them the gospel of God by sending its mis­sionaries directly to them—nothing at all. And then all at once an interest in their salvation was aroused in the hearts of men. Organiza­tions began to be effected for giving them the gospel of Jesus Christ, and within twenty-four years those four heathen sections of our world were entered with the gospel. The Protestant church had been sleeping on its task through two centuries, and then in a few years it awakened to its commission, and went forth to preach the gospel to every creature.

In the same year that Robert Moffat went to Africa, John Williams went to the South Seas. In 1840 Livingstone landed in Africa, and by his wonderful missionary explorations opened up that great Dark Continent to Protestant missions. And in 1844, only four years from  the landing of Livingstone in Africa, the 2300 days of prophetic time were ended and the judgment hour was reached. There is more than a little significance to the relationship of those facts. At that time, after the end of the 2300 days and when the judgment hour had come, there began to emerge a people that had the vision of that first angel of Revelation 14; and soon that people were heard preaching the three angels' messages of that chapter. By the awakened interest of Protestant Christians in the unreached heathen the way was prepared for our work to begin, and if we will read our Bibles again we shall observe anew that the work then entered upon is to finish the great task of the church.

It is a solemn fact that at that point of time when the church was due to enter upon the closing phases of its task, and special messages were due the world, a people arose preaching
those messages, with a purpose to finish the work and with a vision of a world with all its peoples and kindreds to be reached with their messages. It was there that the task of the church became intense. It is a solemnizing fact, too, that we who are here this morning are of that people, that their purpose is our purpose, that their vision is our vision. We exist to preach the everlasting gospel for a witness to all nations, to warn against the great apostasy, and to herald the message of the second advent, and we confidently expect that, our task finished, the Lord will come.

(To be continued)

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By C.H. Watson

July 1935

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