Now, God had and has a plan for His Church. That plan is simply this: The Church was to be His messenger to the nations of the earth. There are other matters of vast importance committed to the Church, without doubt: the service of worship and the training and developing of the life of its members. But these, be it said very thoughtfully, are distinctly secondary to the service of taking the Gospel to all men.
These two, the chief and the secondary, are interwoven, each contributing to and dependent upon the other. But there is always a main purpose. And that here, without question, is the carrying of the message of Jesus fully to all the earth. In each generation the chief plan, to which all else was meant to be contributory, was that all men should hear fully and winsomely the great thrilling story of Jesus.
Shall I say that that plan has failed? It hurts too much even to repeat such words. I will not say the Church has failed. But I will ask you to note God's plan for the Church, and then in your inner heart to make your own honest answer.
And in making it remember the practical point is this—the Church is you. I am the Church. Its mission is mine. If I say it has failed I am talking about myself. I can keep it from failing so far as part of it is concerned, the part that I am. My concern is not to be asking abstractly, theoretically, about the Church, but about so much of it as I am.
In annual church reports, and triennial and quadrennial, much space is given to telling of the wealth of the Church. Of course, I suppose its wealth is meant to be an index of all its work. It may seem a bit odd to use the world's index-finger to point out our faithfulness to our Master's will. It is used, of course, to impress the world in the way the world can most quickly and easily understand.
But the Church was not meant by the Master to be a rich institution in money and property; though it has grown immensely so. The Master's thought was that its power and faithfulness should be revealed entirely in the extent to which all men of all nations know about Himself and have been won to Him.
If we think only a little bit into the past history of the Church, and then into present world conditions, we know the answer to that hurting question about the Church being a failure.
I know that many of you are thinking of the triumphs of the Church; of her imperishable and incalculable influence upon the life of the world. And I will join you heartily in that, some other time. Just now we are not talking of that, but of just one particular fact of its history. One truth at a time makes sharper outlines and brings the whole circle of truth out more plainly. I love to sing,
"I love Thy Kingdom, Lord, The house of Thine abode; The Church our blest Redeemer saved With His own precious blood."
We shudder to attempt to think into what these centuries would have been without the influence of the Church.
But at present we are talking about something else. Let me ask you, softly, if God's plan for the Church was that it was to be His messenger to all men, as you think back through nineteen centuries and then think out into the moral world conditions today, would you say the plan had succeeded? Or had—?