On May 5, 1878, a veteran of the missionary trenches stepped up to the pulpit of the Fourth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City to address a gathering of the American Bible Society. His name was Jacob Chamberlain, a Reformed Church minister recently returned from the Arcot Mission in India. In an age that has long since traded in its theology for psychology in search of the perfect church growth strategy, Chamberlain’s words below are as jarring as they are inspiring. Imagine, if you will, a mission field where bibles were scattered like precious seed, in confidence that it is the Lord that gives the increase.
Take the Bible in its adaptedness to all the races and peoples, as well as languages, of mankind’ And in this respect, the American Bible Society has taken its full share in putting the Bible to the proof, for it has scattered it among all peoples. Are you aware, my friends, how cosmopolitan this Society is? You know of its work at home, but how many of you know of the extent of its work abroad, in all the corners of the earth? Aye, fathers and brethren, officers and managers of this Society—do you yourselves clearly realize how extensive is the work which you are carrying on? It has fallen to my lot, during the last score of years, to witness some of the workings of your Society in the distribution of Scriptures in widely- separated localities, among people speaking a score and a half of languages; and I delight to bear my testimony, tonight, to this phase of the Society’s work. I have, myself, expended thousands of dollars of your funds in the printing and circulation of Scriptures in five of the chief languages of India.
I have seen your Bibles read and loved in the cities and villages and plains of Madras-aye, in the regions there so recently decimated by famine, many a convert to our Jesus has delighted to forget the gnawings of hunger, while, with his dim eye, he read from your Scriptures of Him who gives to his children the bread and the water of life. I have seen it read with rapture all night long, in the native kingdoms, by those who had that day for the first time, and through the efforts of your Society, heard of and seen the word of God.
I have seen it read and loved by the Tolugus of Rajah-mundry, and Ongole, and Cuddapah, and Kurnool; by the Canarese people of Mysore; by the Tamils of North and South Arcot, and Salem, and Coimbatore; by the Badagas of the Mountains; by the Kois of the Godavory; and the Marathis of Bombay.
The Copts of Egypt I have seen gather under the shadow of the Pyramids to read from your Arabic Scriptures the story of Joseph, and Moses, and Jesus, in their long ago sojourn there. At Beersheba, and Hebron, and Mount Moriah, we read again with a thrill, from your Scriptures, the story of Abraham and the offering up of Isaac.
In Jerusalem, on Mount Zion, we joined an assembly made up of the descendants of Ishmael and of Isaac, of Shem and of Ham and of Japheth, while from a translation of the Bible made at your expense they read the oracles of God.
At Shechem and Nazareth we found your Bibles.
At Sidon the noble Christian congregation were reading from your Scriptures the prophecy of the destruction of their city, and the sister city of Tyre, and its wonderful fulfillment.
At Beirut we found your presses busily sending off their daily fruitage of leaves for the healing of the nations, to the 15,000,000 who speak the Arabic tongue.
On the hills over Antioch 1,200 Christians gathered in one assemblage to hear what this Bible was doing in India, and read from your Bible, in the Armenian tongue, the story of the formation of the first foreign missionary society in their ancient city, more than 1,800 years before.
In Smyrna and other cities of the Seven Apocalyptic Churches we found them trying to learn from your Scriptures how to light again on their ancient candlesticks the candles that had long gone out.
I have seen the workings of your Scriptures in Italy, Rome and Florence, and Milan and Bologna and Naples, cannot shut out its light, and already there once more the morning star is rising.
In Calvin’s Geneva, your agent, M. Dardier, told me of the wonderful workings of your Scriptures in the Cantons of craggy Switzerland and the adjacent parts of France. In the gay French capital I found your Scriptures pointing men to the city of gold with gates of pearl.
Among the Esquimaux and Nascopies of Labrador I found again your Bibles, and saw how the gospel for the tropics is the gospel for the poles.
In the colored churches of North and South Carolina and Georgia and Alabama and Louisiana, I have seen devout Africans poring over the pages of your Bibles, and have realized that neither race nor color need diminish aught, nor add unto the perfect teachings of God’s law.
The Russian soldier stirs with his bayonet the campfire tonight, that by its light he may read from Scriptures you have given him that which will nerve him the morrow’s struggle in behalf of, as he believes, his oppressed fellow Christians.
The South American republics and kingdoms are looking in its pages, as scattered by your agents, to find what it is that has raised America and England so far above them.
The scattered Islands of the Seas are learning from it that though scattered and separated they belong to the same with the same Shepherd, as we do. “The isles are waiting for His law.”
In Japan your Scriptures teach them that God rested on and [a[owed. ono day in seven and already has the Christian Sabbath displaced and replaced their multitudinous and variable feast days and holy days, and its thousand Christians are now, on their bended knees, thanking that God who through its pages issued in that land of darkness the flat, “Let there be light”
The land of Sinim, slumbering through ages, is hearing now, through your instrumentality, and obeying the divine mandate, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give the light”
Show me, if you can, the race or people where the Bibles issued by this Society have not today aroused the conscience, quickened the love, stimulated the zeal, dispelled the doubt, comforted the mourning, cheered the dying, among the scattered sons of the first and of the second Adam.
Since I first went to India, this Society has expended more than a quarter million dollars in gold, in giving the Bible to the races of the earth outside of our own country. It is because of this cosmopolitan work that I, a foreign missionary, every fiber of whose existence is wrought up in the missionary work, stand up on every possible occasion to advocate the claims of this Society on the blood-bought throng of Christian sons and daughters. I would not, if I could, turn all the streams of benevolence into the treasuries of our foreign missionary societies – even of my own board. The Bible must be translated, and printed, and scattered everywhere, or no missionary work could be done. A missionary without the Bible! as well try to cook without fire or heat; as well try to sail a ship without water; as well try to propel a steamer without steam; as well try to breathe without air.
If the printing and benevolent distribution of the Bible cease while yet the nations are arrayed in hostility to Christ, then let it be announced to the world that the soldiers of Christ’s kingdom have laid down their arms. Let it cease, and all the powers of darkness will rise and claim victory as nearly won. Aye, the very imps of hell will hold a jubilee, for it is darkness that they love, and the Bible gives light.
From “The Bible Tested, is it the book for today and for the world”, American Bible Society, New York, 1879.