The Glory of the Impossible

The Apostolic Ambition

The unoccupied provinces of Arabia and the Sudan await men with the spirit of Bishop French. For the ambition to reach out from centers already occupied to regions beyond, even when those very centers are undermanned and in need of reinforcement, is not Quixotic or fantastic, but truly apostolic. "Yes, so have I been ambitious," said Paul, "to preach the Gospel not where Christ was already named, lest I should build on another man's foundation; but as it is written, they shall see to whom no tidings of Him came, and they who have not heard shall understand" (Romans 15:20-21). He wrote this when leaving a city as important as Corinth, and goes on to state that this is the reason why he did not yet visit Rome, but that he hopes to do so on his way to Spain! If the uttermost confines of the Roman Empire were part of his program who had already preached Christ from Jerusalem to Illyricum in the first century, we surely, at the beginning of the twentieth century, should have no less ambition to enter every unoccupied field that "they may see to whom no tidings came and that those who have not heard may understand."

"There is no instance of an Apostle being driven abroad under the compulsion of a bald command. Each one went as a lover to his betrothed on his appointed errand. It was all instinctive and natural. They were equally controlled by the common vision, but they had severally personal visions which drew them whither they were needed. In the first days of Christianity, there is an absence of the calculating spirit. Most of the Apostles died outside of Palestine, though human logic would have forbidden them to leave the country until it had been Christianized. The calculating instinct is death to faith, and had the Apostles allowed it to control their motives and actions, they would have said: 'The need in Jerusalem is so profound, our responsibilities to people of our own blood so obvious, that we must live up to the principle that charity begins at home. After we have won the people of Jerusalem, of Judea and of the Holy Land in general, then it will be time enough to go abroad; but our problems, political, moral and religious, are so unsolved here in this one spot that it is manifestly absurd to bend our shoulders to a new load.'"

It was the bigness of the task and its difficulty that thrilled the early Church. Its apparent impossibility was its glory, its world-wide character its grandeur. The same is true today. "I am happy," wrote Neesima of Japan, "in a meditation on the marvelous growth of Christianity in the world, and believe that if it finds any obstacles it will advance still faster and swifter even as the stream runs faster when it finds any hindrances on its course."