Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The "Untabulated Results" of Proclaiming the Gospel

R. H. Graves was a missionary to China for 56 years, beginning in 1856. A medical missionary, Graves focused on proclaiming the gospel and training Chinese ministers. In 1895 he wrote Forty Years in China. Toward the end of the book he was describing the success God had given to Southern Baptist missionaries. After listing many successes, he wrote two powerful and prophetic paragraphs that remind us that the fruit of ministry cannot be measured in a year, or even a lifetime:

"Then there is a success that does not appear in missionary reports. The untabulated results of the preaching of redemption are greater than those which can be put on paper. The truth is a force, and when this is Divine truth fresh from heaven, it has a dynamic power. We cannot measure the force of the electricity in the earth by counting the number of trees or houses struck by lightening. Just as little can we estimate the power of the preaching of Christ by the number of baptisms. Prejudices are removed, suspicions dissipated, men's confidence in their idols shaken, the power of superstitions broken, and much prepatory work done. All these things tell on the final result.

"Nor is time an essential element in the Divine working. The human part of growing a crop on the earth often involves much more time than the Divine part. Cutting down the forests, removing the stones, plowing the soil and casting in the seed consume more time than the germanation of the seed. So the preliminary work in missions may be longer than the actual work of ingathering. Men sometimes apologize for the comparative slow growth of conversion in some places, as though it were merely an educational work. While it is true that the crop will usually be proportioned to the preceding labor, yet the Divine side preponderates in Christian work, and God usually works in crises. He 'cuts short His work in righteousness.' His judgments often come after impending a long time--a forty days' flood after one hundred and twenty years of warning; so with His blessings. Faith looks to God and is never disappointed, while calculation is of the earth , and speaks from the earth. Success depends more on God than on man; on prayer, than on effort. Yet success of mission work in China has been encouraging in the past, and by God's blessing, will be far more encouraging in the future."
--R. H. Graves, Forty Years in China (Baltimore: R. H. Woodward Company, 1895), 295-297.
Over the past 50 years, the gospel has exploded in China, and millions have been saved. All this after missionaries like Graves had labored for 150 years, usually with minimal success. Graves' spiritual insight and foresight helps us understand what it takes to keep loving and ministering when success comes slowly. It is something we need to hear in our day, as there are still very difficult fields and difficult people who need to hear and receive the good news of Christ.

I found this passage through Mary C. Alexander, Seedtime and Harvest in the South China Mission of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1845-1933 (Richmond, Va.: FMB, 1934), 39.

1 comment:

RobinDayle said...

Thanks for sharing Mark.
I learned this so much during my time in Turkey, I was there, reading ISP updates from the other teams about how many people had come to know Christ, and I was in a city of 10 million Muslims where meely speaking about Christ was risky.
Foundation is important...someone's got to plant the seed. I'm thankful for that time where I learned to be as happy planting as I would be if I were gathering.
Miss you guys...see you in 3 weeks. yay.