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C.H. Spurgeon is not known for his thoughts on missions, although he did speak on the subject at various times, and is known to have supported many missionary endeavors.

As a long-time missionary to western China, I believe Spurgeon’s words below may provide some insight into the Chinese church’s struggle to reach out successfully to the hundreds of minority people groups within their territory, and help to show why foreign, cross-cultural missionaries are still needed in many of these unreached places.

The Han Chinese majority are often seen as conquerers and colonizers throughout China’s borderland regions, where unreached people groups abound. Many local (non-Han) people groups struggle to view the Chinese in any other way, no matter how “Christian” they are. To be sure, reaching the native people’s hearts isn’t impossible, but it is going against the grain. The Chinese church would do well to take Spurgeon’s advice to heart and find ways to push back against this historical and spiritual reality.

(Note how this dynamic has also affected the evangelization of both American Indians and Aboriginal Australians.)

Winning People and Conquering Them Are Not the Same Goals

From a sermon preached by C.H. Spurgeon on August 31, 1857, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

Our missionaries and our clergymen have assumed a kind of superiority and dignity over the people; they have called themselves clergy, and the people laity; and the result has been that they have weakened their influence.

I have thought it right to come amongst my fellow men, and be a man amongst men, just one of themselves, their equal and their friend; and they have rallied around me, and not refused to love me. And I should not expect to be successful in preaching the gospel, unless I might stand and feel that I am a brother, bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh. If I cannot stand before them thus, I cannot get at their hearts.

Send me, then, to India as one of the dominant ruling race, and you give me a work I cannot accomplish when you tell me to evangelise its inhabitants. . .

I had rather go to preach to the greatest savages that live, than I would go to preach in the place that is under British rule. Not for the fault of Britain, but simply because I, as a Briton, would be looked upon as one of the superiors, one of the lords, and that would take away much of my power to do good. Now, will you just cast your eye upon the wide world? Did you ever hear of a nation under British rule being converted to God? Mr. Moffat and our great friend Dr. Livingstone have been laboring in Africa with great success, and many have been converted. Did you ever hear of Kaffir tribes protected by England, ever being converted?

It is only a people that have been left to themselves, and preached to by men as men, that have been brought to God. For my part, I conceive, that when an enterprise begins in martyrdom, it is none the less likely to succeed, but when conquerors begin to preach the gospel to those they have conquered, it will not succeed, God will teach us that it is not by might.

All swords that have ever flashed from scabbards have not aided Christ a single grain.

Mahommedans’ religion might be sustained by scimitars, but Christians’ religion must be sustained by love. The great crime of war can never promote the religion of peace. The battle, and the garment rolled in blood, are not a fitting prelude to “peace on earth, goodwill to men.” And I do firmly hold, that the slaughter of men, that bayonets, and swords, and guns, have never yet been, and never can be, promoters of the gospel. The gospel will proceed without them, but never through them.

“Not by might.” Now don’t be be fooled again, if you hear of the English conquering in China, don’t go down on your knees and thank God for it, and say it’s such a heavenly thing for the spread of the gospel—it just is not.

Experience teaches you that, and if you look upon the map you will find I have stated only the truth, that where our arms have been victorious, the gospel has been hindered rather than not; so that where South Sea Islanders have bowed their knees and cast their idols to the bats, British Hindoos have kept their idols…

Hush thy trump, O war; put away thy gaudy trappings and thy bloodstained drapery, if thou thinkest that the cannon with the cross upon it is really sanctified, and if thou imaginest that thy banner hath become holy, thou dreamest of a lie.

God wanteth not thee to help his cause. “It is not by armies, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.”

One response to “Spurgeon on the Folly of Missions by “Conquest””

  1. This makes a lot of sense. You can also see how this might be the problem with witnessing to the people of Japan. Praying for you and your family.