But there's a new chapter of the Church's life being written as we talk together. Its writing began in the closing twilight of the eighteenth century. That chapter isn't finished yet. Some of its best pages are now being written, with more and better clearly coming.
Its first lines were written by a very common pen. Carey's English cobbler-shop became a sounding-board whose insistent, ringing messages began to waken the Church. The Church is waking up, and shaking itself, and tightening on its clothes, for the greatest work yet to be done in fulfilling the life-mission entrusted to it.
A hundred years ago the fire of God found fresh kindling stuff in the hearts and brains of a few young college fellows in an old New England village. The sore need of the world crowded in upon them by night and by day. But they were few, and young, and unknown. And the task was stupendous. The rain-storm of a Sabbath afternoon drove them to the shelter of a hay-stack. And the storm of the world's need drove them to the shelter of prayer, and then to the shelter of a great purpose. With simple faith in God, and strong devotion to the great neglected task, they spoke out to the Church the thrilling words, "We can do it if we will".
And on that same spot a hundred years later the Church gathered. Those intense words had been heard. The Church had waked up. Men of long service in far-away lands stood with those of the home circle. They talked of the past, but far more of the present and future. They revised the century-old motto. No group of scholars in the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Abbey ever did finer revision work. They said, "We can do it, and we will". No greater tribute to the memory of the faithful little hay-stack group was ever made than in that changed motto.
The young collegians' bold cry had sounded out throughout the Church. And the Church heard and roused up. The modern missionary movement of the Church is the most marked development of the past century of church history. It can be said that the Church of our day in its missionary activity far exceeds the early Church. That is to say, in certain particulars we have exceeded.
It is common to refer to the missionary zeal of the first centuries. Fresh from the Master's touch, the early Church was chiefly a missionary church. One great purpose gripped it, and that was to take the news of Jesus everywhere. And they went everywhere. We know most about Paul's journeys in the Grecian and Roman worlds. But there is good evidence that there is another "Acts of Apostles" beside the one bound up in this Bible. Out to the farthest reaches of the earth they seemed to have gone in those early days, preaching and winning men and establishing church societies.
The bulk of the modern movement is without doubt greatly in excess of the early movement. The number of men out in various fields, the amount of money being given annually by the Church in America and Great Britain and the Continental countries is so much greater as to leave comparison practically out.
In the thoroughness of organization, the elements of permanency, the great variety of means used such as hospitals, schools, literature, and industrial helps, the present probably exceeds by far the early movement. The statesmanlike study by church leaders of the whole world-field, the steadiness of movement year after year, in spite of difficulties and discouragements, the careful systematic effort to inform and arouse the home church—these are marked features of the present foreign-mission campaign. They are such as to awaken the deepest admiration of any thoughtful onlooker. In all of this the modern Church is making a wholly new record.