Still moving east, we come to the newly awakened and very attractive island-nation of Japan, which, because of its geographical and territorial situation, has been called the Great Britain of the Orient. Japan stands at present as the exception to the common stagnation of the heathen world. It has made a record nothing less than phenomenal as a student of Western life. It has absorbed, and imitated, and adapted to its own use, the Western knowledge and spirit with a wonderful power and intelligence.
Japan is both bright and ambitious to an almost abnormal degree, and as tricky in its dealings, and morally unclean in its life, as it is bright and ambitious. They have been called the Frenchmen of the Orient, and that characterization fits remarkably in many respects. Great progress has been made in giving the Gospel to Japan, but the present moral need is immensely intensified by the very aggressiveness of the Japanese spirit.
With Japan, the island-kingdom, it is easy to group the whole island-world lying to the east and south, though these are utterly different peoples. This includes the great number of islands scattered throughout the Pacific Ocean. The conditions are largely those of savagery except where affected by Christian civilization through the missionary enterprise. The Gospel has done some wonderful feats of transformation here. And there is plenty of room for more. Australia, the "island continent," is a British colony, and of course now reckoned among Christian lands; as is also the large island of New Zealand, also a British colony, which has been a leader in some of the most advanced steps of modern civilization.
Crossing the Pacific to the east brings up the South American Continent; and Central America, the connecting stretch of land with our own continent; and Mexico, which is commonly grouped with foreign-mission lands. South America has been spoken of both as the "neglected continent" and as the "continent of opportunity." The common characteristic religiously of all this vast section from Mexico to the "Land of Fire," at the southernmost toe of South America, is that it is under the sway of the Roman Catholic Church. Some parts of it have been spoken of as "baptized heathenism." A vast network of church forms and organization, practically lifeless, holds these peoples in an iron grasp. The need of the Gospel of Jesus is fully as great as in civilized China or savage Africa.
One more long easterly stride, across the Atlantic, brings black Africa, and completes this rapid run around the globe, so far as distinctly heathen lands are concerned. Africa is peculiarly the savage continent, though it has the oldest civilization in its northeast corner, and the newest British civilization rapidly developing on its southern edge. It is the "dark continent," both in the color of its inhabitants and in its sad destitution and degradation. About a tenth of the world's population is here; with as many missionaries as in civilized India, but unable to reach the people as effectually as there because of the lack of national organization and the absence of great highways of travel.
Africa is essentially a great mass of separate tribes, larger and smaller, most of them in deepest savagery, with sorest need not only of salvation, but of civilization. The sore need of its very savagery has seemed to make it a magnet to missionary enterprise. And yet all that has been done, and is being done, seems almost swallowed up in the depth of its degradation and savagery.
I have taken you with me in this very rapid run that we might try to get a simple practical grasp of the heathen world. And if you and I might often take just such a run, with map or globe and Bible at hand, and our knees bent, it would greatly help us in getting close to the world our Lord died for; and which He means to win; and to win through you and me; and which He will win.