In his letter to the Romans he declared, "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." How, we may inquire, did Paul become indebted to these peoples of varied nationalities and intelligence? What did he owe them? Paul's debt was not primarily to the Greeks, barbarians, Jews, or Romans, but to Christ. Christ had saved him from sin and eternal death, and he owed to Him his all. He had been "bought with a price," even the blood of Jesus; and his life, his talents, his all, now belonged to Him. He was no longer his own.
But how was Paul to pay his debt of gratitude? Christ had already ascended from the earth and no longer walked and talked with men in visible form. It was not Paul's to break the alabaster box and anoint his Lord with costly perfumes. It was not his even to wash his Master's feet as had Mary, or to minister to His physical needs as did Martha. How gladly would he have done all these things had the opportunity presented itself, but Jesus no longer required such service. One thing, however, remained to be done. "Ye have the poor always with you," said Jesus. And He declared that service rendered to those who were lost, hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, etc., would be counted as having been rendered to Him. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me." Matt. 25:4o.
When Paul understood this great truth, he declared, "So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also." Rom. I :15. He was ready to go anywhere and everywhere, to become all things to all men, in order that by all means he might save some. He was paying his debt to Jesus Christ. He turned his back upon every fond ambition of his former life. What he once loved he now hated. The fact that he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a judge in Israel, and that he had been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, he now counts as "mere refuse" (Weymouth) as compared with his new-found knowledge of Christ and the privilege of working for Him. He gladly took up the task given him by Jesus of Nazareth. He responded to the call to Macedonia. He traveled hither and yon—wherever he felt there was need for his services. In his labors both for those at home and for those in foreign lands, he suffered bitter persecution, was stoned, beaten with rods, reduced to penury and want, chained, and imprisoned. And yet so consecrated was he to his task, that these things counted as nothing to him. Said he, "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." Rom. 8:18.
Unprecedented Opportunities Confront
Upon visiting his alleged prison cell, which still may be seen in Rome, I tried to visualize him there, a pauper and a prisoner, forsaken and alone, and wondered whether at times he had been discouraged and had felt that the sacrifice he had made for the lost and needy had been too great. Then it seemed to me that I saw a smile break over his furrowed face and heard him exultantly say, "I have fought a good fight." No, he still had the spirit of a soldier of Christ. He had finished his course. He had paid his debt, and now he had the blessed assurance that a crown of righteousness had been laid up for him, which the Lord would give him at His appearing.
The church of Christ today stands in the same relationship to the great gospel commission as did the apostle to the Gentiles. We also are debtors to every nation which is in need of the gospel. The Macedonian call is still sounding. In fact, the situation in mission lands is the most challenging we have ever faced. The most urgent appeals for help that have ever come from the heathen world are today being poured into the ears of our missionaries in almost every field. Our force of workers is altogether too small properly to care for a rapidly expanding work. Many are working beyond their strength and are breaking under the strain.
During the depression our foreign workers were held in check in all fields because of restricted budgets. They had to respond to most appeals by saying, "Wait, wait." But the work would not wait. It has marched far beyond the remotest outposts, and in many places is almost getting out of hand. Our workers simply cannot hold back any longer. They must advance, and care for the hundreds of new interests that are springing up everywhere, as if from the ground. One young missionary tells of nine villages in one district of Central Africa—where the people built chapels, schoolhouses, and homes for workers, and planted gardens for the use of workers' families—waiting, waiting for years as they called for someone to come and teach them the gospel.
The following letter from a paramount chieftain in East Africa, is typical of hundreds of such appeals that are constantly coming to our foreign workers in many lands.
"I am asking you about your mission. I need your mission very much in my land, to teach my people and my children the words of the living God. I am glad to hear that you like my country and think of building a mission here. Please do not change your mind. You who are God's people, remember my people who are crying for the message of God. Do not fail us, but bring the things of God to my people this year. We hope you will come quickly. We will always be looking down the path for your coming."
Recently in a section of Central Africa, seven headmen from a tribe entirely untouched by missionary effort, attended one of our meetings. Before leaving, they said to our missionary, "Today we have heard God's words for the first time, and they have told us that His Son is coming again. But we are not ready to meet Him. Our people are not ready. We have no one to teach us of Him. What will happen to us if He comes before we have the opportunity to prepare for His coming?" Nor are these isolated cases.
"All over the world men and women are looking wistfully to heaven. Prayers and tears and inquiries go up from souls longing for light.... Many are on the very verge of the kingdom waiting only to be gathered in."—"Testintorcies," Vol. VI, p. 71.
"Among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, He [God] sees men and women who are praying for light and knowledge. Their souls are unsatisfied. Long have they fed on ashes."—"Prophets and Kings," p. 376.
"Many of the honest in heart are gasping for a breath of life from heaven."—"Testimonies," Vol. p. 210.
These Macedonian calls, these prayers and tears and inquiries that are thus wafted from the ends of earth, constitute a mighty challenge to the church of Christ. It is in our hands that He has placed the bread of life for the perishing millions of earth, and to us the commission comes ringing down through the ages, "Go ye, . . . and teach all nations." If we respond to the call, we shall have a rich reward. If we are unwilling to make the necessary sacrifice in order to send them the light, their blood will be required at our hands. What a sacred trust ! What a solemn responsibility!
Brethren in the ministry, we must arouse the church in the homelands to a fuller realization of our responsibility to the work of God in mission lands ! The millions who are now calling for help cannot hear without preachers, and preachers cannot go and preach except they be sent. Surely God has not stirred up in the hearts of the heathen a longing for light and truth, only to mock them. No, it is His purpose that the church shall respond to these appeals and step into every opening providence.
In a little while the work of the gospel will close. A voice from the throne will declare, "It is finished." All over the earth the cry will be heard, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved !" At that time, whose will be the responsibility for those who are lost, but who might have been saved had the light been sent to them while probation lingered? How shall we answer before God if we have shown an indifference to the cries for the bread and water of life? Let us make sure that our debt is paid. Let us lead the church into an experience of sacrifice and service for the lost such as the great apostle experienced. Thus we, like Paul, shall one day receive the crown of righteousness that fadeth not away.
"O Master of the waking world,
Who hast the nations in Thy heart,—
The heart that broke and bled to send
God's love to earth's remotest part,—
Show us anew in Calvary
The wondrous power that makes men free.
"On every side the walls are down,
The gates swing wide in every land,
The restless tribes and races feel
The pressure of thy pierced hand.
The way is in the sea and air,
Thy world is open everywhere.
"We hear the throb of surging life,
The clank of chains, the curse of greed,
The moan of pain, the futile cries
Of superstition's cruel creed;
The peoples hunger for Thee, Lord,
The isles are waiting for Thy word.
"Thy witness in the souls of men,
Thy Spirit's ceaseless, brooding power,
In lands where shadows hide the light,
Await a new creative hour.
O mighty God, set us aflame
To show the glories of Thy name.
"O Church of God! Awake ! Awake!
The waking world is calling thee.
Lift up thine eyes!
Hear thou once more
The challenge of humanity
O Christ, we come! Our all we bring,
To serve our world and Thee, our King."
—Fronk Mason North.