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The Character And Purpose Of Medical Missions

( Originally Published 1913 )

"Christianity never ignored any part of man's nature. From the first it was a Gospel to the whole man, body and spirit. It is in the very nature of Christianity and is the very essence of its message."


MEDICAL MISSIONS may be defined as that section of the missionary enterprise of the Christian Church which seeks to spread the knowledge of " The glorious Gospel of the Blessed God " through the healing of the sick. They are essentially an agency that exists for the promotion of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ amongst the souls of men, and therefore its purpose is fundamentally evangelistic. All else is but means to the one great end, and it is of the highest importance that the remembrance of that goal should be kept constantly in mind.

But while this is so, it is equally necessary that the distinctive character of this branch of evangelisation should be clearly recognised. The work of Medical Missions is not a form of mission work in which the proclamation of the Gospel has, as a mere accompaniment, the treatment of bodily ailments. It is essentially a twofold work the constituent parts being blended into one harmonious whole, of which it may be said that it is no crude mechanical mixture, but rather a scientific compound of the alchemy of faith. This is a cardinal principle which requires to be grasped from the first in order to arrive at a right appreciation of the enterprise. It is that which confers upon Medical Mission work its special value and significance in the forces of Christian Missions, and enables it to discharge its particular functions in the spread of the Gospel. Once allow the medical side of the work to drift into a side channel, and to be regarded as an aspect of the work which can be carried on apart from and by different hands to the distinctively evangelistic aspect, and Medical Missions have lost the attribute which gave to them their special place and power in the missionary campaign. The key-stone of the whole scheme is the vital bond of union which connects the two sides of the work, and constitutes its particular value in the presentation of the Christian Gospel.

From the foregoing it will be quickly realised that the successful prosecution of Medical Missions presupposes and necessitates, as far as the human side is concerned, all the knowledge and qualities that are required in skilled physicians and surgeons, combined with the gifts and training which are called for in those whose pre-dominant passion is to make known Jesus Christ, and win people to a faith in Him. This aspect of our subject will be more fully dealt with in a later chapter, but we draw attention to it now in order to emphasise the essential character of the work, and the organic unity which is the mainspring of the enterprise. Let that be truly recognised, let it be seen that we have here to deal with a method that embodies the combination of medical and evangelistic capabilities in one unique blend, and an adequate conception of what Medical Missions are, will at once present itself to the mind, and captivate the heart by its grand possibilities. No more will Medical Missions appear as a useful appendage or as an optional department of a Mission, but rather will they assume their rightful place in the vanguard of the forces of the Gospel.

It is, however, in the remarkable comprehensiveness of their adaptation to the needs of fallen humanity that Medical Missions may perhaps be held to display their most striking characteristic. It is not to one part of human nature simply that they have an application. They touch the whole of human need. To the dead soul, waiting for the message that alone can bring it life ; to the obscured mind, needing the illumination that the knowledge born of Christianity can afford ; to the diseased body, stricken with the ravages of unchecked sickness ;—to all these, Medical Missions bring something that spells help and healing. Their ministry is to " man as man." Their interpretation and presentation of the Gospel are so designed that no son or daughter of the race can fail to appreciate the breadth of their sympathy and the largeness of their purpose. Truly we may speak of this work as the very instinct of humanity impregnated with the spirit of Jesus Christ.

And when we reflect upon it, is not this that for which the world waits and yearns ? For centuries it has been addressed in words, even to the extent of being confused by the arguments of differing creeds, while all the time there has been lacking that practical demonstration of the Gospel of Love which is embodied in Medical Missions. It is not that there has been too much preaching, but rather too little attention to the evident physical needs of humanity. In the paramount necessity for saving men's souls, there has been a strange forgetfulness of the fact that while he is a soul, man has also a body. And thus it has come about that again and again the appeal of the Gospel has fallen upon deaf ears, or has seemed to many to be a message which had only a reference to the life that is to come, and none to the physical sufferings of the life that is now. It is therefore the grand function of Medical Missions to correct this mistaken view, and by their gracious healing ministry to add fresh glory to the crown of the world's Redeemer.

How then shall we describe the purpose of this beautiful, Christ-like ministry ? It may be said that Medical Missions have a three-fold purpose, each strand of which is woven into the very texture of the enterprise, knitting the whole into one noble endeavour for God and humanity. In the first place it is the purpose of Medical Missions to introduce into Modern Missions the spirit of Divine Compassion, and emphasise the fact of a common kinship in the great human family. Of all forms of mission work Medical Missions may claim to exhibit that pitying, tender concern for sufferers everywhere that found its highest representation in our compassionate Saviour. Their inclusion amongst the agencies of missions exemplifies the fact that the religion of Jesus Christ cares for men when they are crushed, men when they are stricken with pain and disease, men when they are brought low and their worth to the world is but a cypher. Medical Missions extend a hand to men when they are in need of succour. They redeem missions from the charge of turning a deaf ear to the present sorrows of the race, and show that of all men the Christian is one whose creed teaches " Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Medical Missions take the parable of the Good Samaritan and seek to carry out its moral to the " wounded man " of today. They know no distinction of race or creed, colour or sex or age, and by their merciful ministry in lands afar, as well as in lands near, they bring home to this severed and disjointed age the existence of a common humanity.

But this is not all. It is indeed but the beginning, and in the second place we find that the purpose of Medical Missions is to pave a way for the Gospel to the human heart. To exhibit mercy and show compassion is sublime. It is esentially a ministry emanating from the Divine Being who is Love. But it may begin and end in pure philanthropy, and have no direct connection with the spread of the Gospel, with which Medical Missions are inseparably bound up. The purpose of Medical Missions is therefore but scratched on the surface when we have exhausted their service in relieving bodily suffering. It is necessary that we go deeper, and find, as we manifestly do, that Medical Missions have a direct, purposeful bearing upon the furtherance of the Gospel. Here we come closely into touch with some of the most essential elements in the combination of Healing and Preaching. It has been seen already that those twin ministries are indissolubly bound up in the enterprise of Medical Missions. We now see why there is that union, viz., that the one may prepare the way for the other, that the lesser may serve the greater, that the way to the soul may be paved through the service rendered to the body. Yes, it is here that Medical Missions find one of their crowning glories—to win a path for the message of Salvation right into the citadel of the human heart : to constrain, through their active sympathy, even the indifferent and the hostile to listen to the words of Redeeming Love :—all this and much more enters into this aspect of the purpose of this wonderful ministry, and discloses the Gospel character of its aim. If, then, the first strand in the fibre of its purpose is noble and glorious, how much more the second ?

Yet even this has not disclosed the finest element in the governing impulses of this holy service, and we have to go one step farther before we have reached the zenith of its ideals.

To the glory of God be it said in the third place that it is the purpose of Medical Missions to save souls. Not in merely showing forth the spirit of Christianity and in leading men to hear its message, but in definitely winning their souls for Christ is the supreme purpose of Medical Missions achieved. Satisfaction with any lesser goal would betray an inconsistency in the all-inclusive character of the enterprise. If Medical Missions are what we have seen them to be, then it is evident that they must find their highest aim and loftiest passion in the salvation of souls. For that every nerve must be strained. Towards that every lesser element in their purpose must be directed. Medical Missions are not only, or chiefly, a means to an end. They are of necessity the natural manifestation of a Gospel which is not partial, but complete ; and which establishes a point of contact with the whole being of man. And inasmuch as the spiritual part of human nature is the eternal, and the most needy, this comprehensive ministry can know no rest until the thraldom of sin has been broken in the individual soul.

It is here that Medical Missions establish their consanguinity with every other evangelistic effort, and prove their right to hold a prominent place in the missionary army. The quickening of immortal spirits, the rescuing of souls from the drifting sea of this world's sin and sorrow, the healing of spiritual disease by the balm of the Great Physician, all find a foremost place in the purpose of Medical Missions. Can there be any work more applicable to the all-round needs of humanity than this ? Is there anything more calculated to win by the greatness of its purpose the devotion of the saint, and the love of the sinner ?

We therefore commence the study of a subject which has important bearings upon the evangelisation of the world. Medical Missions obviously possess qualities that claim more than a passing thought from the student of Christian Missions. Their whole character indicates how needful is the contribution they can make to many of the pressing problems of the Church's work. And as we subsequently consider in detail the various aspects of Medical Missions, our hope is that to not a few the vision of opportunity will become the call to service.

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