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The Justification of Medical Missions

( Originally Published 1913 )

"A thing is great partly by its traditions and partly by its opportunities—partly by what it has accomplished and partly by the doors of serviceableness of which it holds the key."—GEORGE ADAM SMITH.

THE day has happily passed when it was necessary to present an apologetic for Medical Missions. Innumerable results in almost every field of missions have attested the value and importance of this special branch of Christian work. As a writer in the " Encyclopedia of Missions " wrote some time ago—" The history of Medical Missions is the justification of Medical Missions." And it may be taken as a fact, proven beyond the reach of doubt, that the place of Medical Missions in the great scheme of evangelisation is unchallenged and unchallengeable.

There is, however, some reason for question as to whether the strength and cogency of the arguments upon which the justification of the enterprise is based, are as clearly appreciated. Many who would be pre-pared to concede to Medical Missions a large and important share in the work of the Gospel, only recognise in them a species of philanthropy, whose chief plea is the alleviation of human suffering. Many who perceive their significance in disarming unfriendliness, and in softening prejudice, regard their contribution to missions as mainly limited to the initial stages of the planting of Christianity in a new field. It is consequently of some importance that here and now we should take time to consider the various grounds which together constitute the justification of this work as a missionary agency. In doing so, attention is invited to seven considerations.

1. Medical Missions are justified because they establish a return to the Christ type.—The truth of this fact will require no weight of proof to those who have followed the line of our previous chapter. In that has been seen the ministry exercised by the Divine Founder of all missionary activity, and in that ministry is found the genesis of Medical Missions. Judged from that standpoint, it is manifestly clear that modern Medical Missions are " after the pattern." They point backward and upward, even as they go, to the very heart of the whole missionary crusade, and consequently their inclusion in the great campaign is abundantly justified. They approximate the missionary programme of the twentieth century to that of the first century, and in so doing, help to keep the great world of missions revolving around its central Sun. By their constant reminder of the New Testament scheme of missionary activity, they do much to pre-vent the main purpose of the enterprise from being lost sight of in the growth of side issues. From them comes ever the call to look back to One who came that He might heal and save, and that look preserves and purifies. If Medical Missions did no more than this, they would receive an ample vindication. The motto " Back to Christ " is emblazoned upon their banners, and exercises a magnetic influence in the great missionary warfare. It is the pledge of victory and the sign of conquest, and so long as no lower type gains ascendancy in the sphere of Medical Missions, their place in the van of Christian Missions will be pre-eminently justified.

2. Medical Missions are justified because they present to men a full-orbed Gospel.—If, as we have just seen, Medical Missions can find a justification in their recall to the Christ type, they can also claim to fulfil a distinct place in Christian Missions, by virtue of their manifestation of that method to the world. On the one side we have the God-ward relation of the enterprise, on the other the manward. Medical Missions reveal to mankind how absolutely complete is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No partial appeal is made to human nature, but one that is incomparable in its proclamation of succour for body as well as soul, soul as well as body. Medical Missions supply Christianity with the argument of a Gospel that has something to say, and something to offer in respect to the state of the life that now is, as well as the life that is to come. And because they do this, because of their remarkable and characteristic comprehensiveness, Medical Missions are clearly justified as one of the most potent factors in the great enterprise of Christian Missions.

3. Medical Missions are justified by reason of their harmony with the supreme Christian Ethic.—The religion of Jesus Christ in its totality and finality is one that can be described by no other word than the one which stands first in the category of the fruits of the Spirit. (Gal. v. 22). Love, and nothing less, is the Master key of the Gospel of Christ. It is that which throbs with a burning heart all through the wondrous pages of the four Evangelists. It is that which shines through and characterises the ethical teaching of Christ, and is pronounced by Him as the fulfilling of the Law. Love is at once the first word and the last word of that scheme of Redemption which Christ procured by His saving death, and which He has left to His disciples to promulgate to all mankind. Moreover, this Love is not an attribute which is to govern the relation of God and man alone, it is enjoined by Christ as a grace which is also to dominate man's dealings with his fellows. The old Law that taught " Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," Christ upheld, but He laid upon His followers a vastly harder task when He said " Love your enemies." In His teaching there was assigned no limit to love. It was to be a point of distinction that everywhere, and in all times was to be the hall mark of those who professed His Name. To what a glorious calling do we thus see that Christ summoned, and still summons His disciples, to none else than a life of Love.

Now, how very clearly does all this bring out the obligation that is laid, upon Christians never to neglect, or appear oblivious to, suffering and need. The cry of pain that is unrelieved, the sight of disease that exercises its fell sway all unhindered, the mute appeal of those laid low in the battle of life is, and must ever be, a claim upon the followers of the Teacher of Love. To refuse to recognise that claim is to deny the rule of the most essential feature of the religion of Christ, and give the lie to the profession of faith in Him. We touch fundamentals here, and there are no middle courses. The world aches, and waits for the adoption by the whole Church of this ministry of Love.

And herein we see how tremendous is the justification of Medical Missions. No far off approach is revealed in them to this ethic of the Christian faith. The closest harmony is manifest. Theirs is a life of Love. Dr Arthur Smith's Hospital motto " Love in Action," might be the motto of every Medical Mission. Supreme among the agencies of missions they stand out as the practical interpreter of God's Love to men. Medical Missions afford the Christian Missionary one of the finest object lessons in giving expression to the teachings of Christ. Rob missions of their service, and the whole presentation of the Love of Christ would be immeasurably weakened. Their contribution to the forces of Missions is an essential one, and in the beautiful harmony that they reveal with the royal law of love, they find an all-powerful justification.

4. Medical Missions are justified by virtue of the obligation of Christian stewardship.—No fact is of more importance to the disciples of Jesus Christ, in summing up their responsibilities to the non-Christian world, than to remember that they are stewards and not possessors of the blessings and privileges of the Gospel. Trustees, not residuary legatees. If to them has come the know-ledge of the truth, it has come that they may, as faithful stewards, deal out this truth to those of the race who have not yet heard it. If, as inheritors of the countless blessings of a Christian civilisation, they have entered into a heritage of benefits, whereby life has been shorn of some of its heaviest crosses and sorest pains, it has but been an endowment of responsibility for those whose lot it has never been to share in such privileges. This is brought out most clearly again and again in the sayings of our Lord to His first disciples. When He sent them forth upon their first missionary journey, there is found at the very heart of His charge, these pregnant words :—" Freely ye have received, freely give." It was as if He saw that they might be tempted to hug to themselves the power and knowledge which He had given to them, and forget that to have was to give : that, instead of regarding their function as analogous to the life giving aqueduct bearing its precious stream to the thirsty multitude, they might think of themselves as sealed reservoirs, filled to the brim, but having no outlet. And so He laid it down right at the very start of the missionary service of His Church, that the reception of blessing was in order to the giving of blessing. His followers were to be channels, and inasmuch as into them had come power to help and heal and save with a Divine fulness and wealth, so should that power find constant outflow from them to the needy world around.

Now, the bearing of this upon the work of Medical Missions will at once appear essential and significant. If, as has just been seen, it is the very genius of Christian discipleship to regard the possession of blessing as a means to, and a reason for the conferment of blessing, then Medical Missions are amply and finally vindicated. Theirs is a service precisely governed and determined by the principle into which we have just looked. In all points they conform to the law which Christ has given to His followers concerning the obligations of stewardship, and their whole history is one concrete example of Christian giving. There can be no questioning of the right and place of Medical Missions in the forces of the Gospel, while the teaching of Christ remains the final court of appeal. As one of His good and perfect gifts, Christendom has received the knowledge of healing, and the consequent responsibility to pass on that blessing to the " regions beyond," provides a justification, at once absolute and complete, for the prosecution of Medical Missions.

5. Medical Missions are justified because of the necessities of the race. In a later chapter, we shall examine more in detail the call of humanity for this branch of the missionary enterprise. It is unnecessary, therefore, to do more than briefly refer to it here. We imagine, however, that to all but those who have never even glanced at the condition of the sick in non-Christian lands, and observed the neglect, or worse, that is meted out to these poor sufferers, the argument for Medical Missions that is based upon the physical sufferings of the race will appeal with peculiar force. Who can think of the unrelieved disease of the vast heathen world and feel no sign of pity stir within his breast ! Who can gaze at the almost impenetrable gloom that settles down upon those who are stricken with sickness in far-off lands, and not be stirred with the desire to do something to send a ray of hope and healing through that cloud of dark despair ! To the Christian, aye and to the man and woman who make no profession, the claim of a common humanity will admit of none other than a wide and generous recognition of the work of Medical Missions. If across the seas there are people in need of the help that the healing skill we enjoy in this land can bring to them, if further, there are untold multitudes of those distressed folk who, apart from the agency of Medical Missions, stand no human chance of obtaining such help, then the free and liberal utilisation of that agency is abundantly justified. Medical Missions are of all missions emphatically those whose raison d'être is resistless in its appeal to the noblest instincts of the human race.

6. Medical Missions are justified by the dictates of reason.—It cannot be denied that along the lines of Christian sanity and well considered reason, there is to be found a very full and unanswerable justification for Medical Missions. Hardly can any branch of the missionary enterprise be more easily defended, or more amply supported when the principles of logic are applied to the conduct of the great campaign. Take first the obvious fact that in seeking to carry the religion of Christ into non-Christian lands, the missionary is engaged in the delivery of a " frontal attack " upon the forces of error and superstition. In doing so he is necessarily placed again and again at a disadvantage, and in need of something that will effect what is equivalent to a " turning movement," and lead to the weakening of the resistance offered by prejudice and ignorance. To withhold that assistance would be as opposed to the merest common sense, as to give it would be to comply with the soundest reason. It is therefore clear that if Medical Missions provide the missionary with the precise help here referred to, then it is thoroughly reasonable to employ their service in the work of Evangelisation.

This, however, does not exhaust the grounds of reason upon which the plea for Medical Missions can be based. A second consideration is found in the dictates of prudence, that urge the importance of missionaries having with them medical colleagues who can give skilled help in time of sickness. This must command the adhesion of every Christian observer of the missionary enterprise. We go further and venture to assert that there is no one, be he professing Christian or not, who will fail to admit the justification of Medical Missions from the point of view of the lives and health of the missionaries. Mere arguments of economy demand it. There is not a single commercial, scientific, or military expedition that would to-day be dispatched to a tropical land that would not have its Medical Officers. The immense importance of safeguarding the health of the living emissaries of such an undertaking would be recognised and obeyed to the full. How much more then is it incumbent upon those engaged in the promotion of an expedition that is conducted in the interests of the souls of men to see that the members of the expedition have, as far as ever possible, the risks to their health and life reduced to a minimum. We cannot do everything, but we can do much, and unless we do such to the utmost, we are plainly flying in the face of prudence and reason, and exposing our missionaries to an unjustifiable hazard. Medical Missions are indeed more than justified by such a consideration, and to neglect them is an omission of the greatest moment.

Yet again are we brought to another ground which gives force to the appeal of reason for Medical Missions. We refer to the importance of caring for the native Christians in the young Churches on the Mission Field. Here we touch a consideration which has a very vital bearing upon the building up of many of those essential units scattered over the field, and their preservation from relapses into superstition. When converts are gathered in from heathenism, they are naturally cut off from their old resorts and practices in time of sickness. As a part of the superstition which they renounce, they leave such behind. But they do not dispense with sickness, and again and again fever and disease invade their homes. Had they remained heathen, they would have sought the help of their medicine men, and though the assistance which such would give is too frequently worse than useless, yet it has to be remembered that here was a source from which in their ignorance they fancied they could obtain relief. But now that they are Christians, to whom can they go ? What is more natural than that they should look to the missionary ? But supposing, as in so many cases, he knows little about medicine, then how great is the temptation to resort to their former superstitious measures in search of healing ! And if they do that, how insidious the encroachment upon their new, and as yet early, faith in the Christian religion. Alas ! mission history might reveal this as often a potent cause of backsliding. If, therefore, we are to conserve to the utmost the faith of these native Christians, is it not of the nature of an obligation, both of love and of reason, that we should place within their reach, in the hour of sickness, that healing skill which has come into our possession as one of the fruits of Christianity ? To apply Medical Missions to such an end is surely to follow the leading of consecrated reason, and to abundantly justify this missionary method.

7. Medical Missions are justified by their results.—Up till now we have been concerned with the examination of what may be called the philosophy of the argument for Medical Missions. We have seen how cumulative were the reasons pointing to the inclusion of this weapon in the missionary armoury of the Christian Church. There yet remains, however, the question of the actual results that have followed upon the employ-ment of Medical Missions,—how far the teachings of practice confirm the deductions of theory. And here we touch rock bottom. It is not enough to rest the claim for Medical Missions simply upon analogy, law and reason. To enable the claim to be irrefutable and to firmly establish the justification of Medical Missions, we must apply the most crucial test of all, and appeal to results. In other words, to vary the metaphor, we must call into the witness box, the voice of history.

Medical Missions may be said to have formed a de-finite section of the modern missionary enterprise, for the past fifty years. At an earlier period, dating indeed from the time of William Carey, when his fellow worker, Dr John Thomas, laboured as a Medical Missionary, and was used in leading to the conversion of the first Indian convert, Krishra Pal, Medical Missions have been here and there carried on. But speaking broadly, they did not come into being as a distinctly recognised phase of missionary effort until well on in the last century. Since then, they have steadily increased in number and efficiency, and there has been a growing appreciation of their value and importance. They have been employed in practically every Mission Field, and by all the leading Missionary Societies of the world. The expansion that has taken place in their activities has indeed been so great that actual societies have been formed with the sole object of promoting Medical Missions, and in others special auxiliaries have been constituted to deal with this department of work. From a tiny band of ill-equipped Medical Missionaries, there has grown up a small army of no fewer than 1000, who are carrying on their work today in more than 500 hospitals, and in over 1000 dispensaries. Hardly has there been any branch of missionary effort exhibiting more striking development, and from this one fact alone it may be seen how magnificently Medical Missions have stood the test of experience.

But it is not in the mere record of great expansion that history affords its most striking vindication of Medical Missions. It is when we come to the character of the results attained that we see how important has been the service rendered to the whole enterprise of missions. Some allusion has already been made in an earlier chapter to the ways in which Medical Missions have proved their utility, and in later chapters these phases of our subject will be entered into more in detail.

It is, therefore, only necessary at this point to broadly summarise the practical results that have been secured by Medical Missions. And what a list they make ! Medical Missions have opened closed lands to the Gospel, have encountered prejudice and hostility, and changed them into friendship, have met indifference and trans-formed it into interest. They have illustrated the message of the Love of Christ, until it has become luminous to the mind of the ignorant heathen and the bigoted Moslem. They have given a new conception of the value of life to peoples who had no sense of it. They have introduced a care for the aged and the sick, and raised the whole status of womankind wherever they have been at work. In a word, Medical Missions have proved to be one of the most powerful forces for spreading a knowledge of Christianity, and to the population of non-Christian lands they have been one of the greatest, elevating, and purifying forces that have ever been introduced into their midst. Hence it will be seen that the witness of Medical Mission history most completely justifies the maintenance and active development of Medical Missions.

And now we must close this review of the various grounds upon which the plea for Medical Missions is based. The astonishing wealth of argument that can be so adduced is not only more than sufficient to justify their employment, but is a compelling plea for their more widespread adoption. If Medical Missions can discharge the functions and attain the results to which allusion has been made in the previous pages, then assuredly they are an essential and not an optional form of missionary labour. It is self-evident that a work like this cannot be neglected without detriment to the enterprise of missions as a whole. Speaking reverently; we may say that God has assigned a place for Medical Missions, at once unique and integral, in His great plans for making the Gospel known to the ends of the earth. He calls us to fill that place, and thereby hasten the spread of His glorious Kingdom. He shews us how remarkably Medical Missions can contribute to that end, how immensely they are needed, and how much may be lost if we hesitate as to their employment. From every point of view we see pressing home upon us the great claims of the enterprise, and instead of having to advance reasons in justification of Medical Missions, it would seem as if the onus of proof should rather rest with those who question their importance. Certainly we may proceed further in the examination of our subject, taking this as an established fact that the medical department of missions is capable of the strongest and most ample vindication.



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