The Glory of the Impossible

Article Index

No Sacrifice, But a Privilege

When David Livingstone visited Cambridge University, on December 4, 1857, he made an earnest appeal for that continent, which was then almost wholly an unoccupied field. His words, which were in a sense his last will and testament for college men, as regards Africa, may well close this book:

"For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink, but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.

I beg to direct your attention to Africa. I know that in a few years I shall be cut off in that country, which is now open; do not let it be shut again! I go back to Africa to try to make an open path for commerce and Christianity; do you carry out the work which I have begun? I leave it with you."


When a visiting missions speaker challenged Samuel Zwemer to advance the Gospel, he and his younger brother both organized a mission to Arabia with other students at the college they were attending. They left with very slim chances of survival in the harsh conditions of Arabia, and even slimmer chances of success among the resistant Muslims. After a few short years of ministry Peter, his younger brother, died. His first two girls also died in the harsh, diseased conditions of Arabia, and on their tomb stones Zwemer wrote, "Worthy is the Lamb to receive riches." After 23 years with the Arabian Mission in Basrah, Bahrain, Muscat, and Kuwait, and service as the first candidate secretary of the Student Volunteer Movement, Zwemer began a career of speaking and writing that radiated out to the Muslim world from an interdenominational study center in Cairo. A prolific and gifted author, Zwemer wrote books and articles to challenge the church in Muslim evangelism, provided scholarly studies on historical and popular Islam, and produced writings and tracts in Arabic for Muslims and Christians in the Middle East. For 36 years he edited "The Muslim World," an English quarterly review of current events in the Muslim world and a forum for missionary strategy among Muslims, complementing this service with personal evangelism among the students and faculty of Al-Azhar, Cairo's famous training center for Muslim missionaries. Among his good friends was Oswald Chambers, who died while serving God there in Cairo. James Hunt observed of this statesman, "He may be said to have been a man of one idea. While his interests and knowledge were wide, I never talked with him ten minutes that the conversation did not veer to Islam..." "The Glory of the Impossible" is taken from His book, The Unoccupied Mission Fields of Africa and Asia, Published in 1911.