William Jennings Bryan
An address delivered before a number of church societies, beginning in
the fall of 1906.
HAVING been a church member from the age of fourteen, and having taken
an interest in church work, I had contributed to foreign missions as to
other branches of Christian work, and had heard numerous addresses by missionaries
respecting the work done in the foreign field. In planning a trip through
Asia I had intended to visit a mission station for the purpose of informing
myself as to the environment of the missionary and as to the details of
his work; circumstances, however, very much enlarged my opportunity for
observation, and I feel that I am only performing a duty when I endeavor
to convey to your minds the impression made upon my mind by what I saw
in the Orient. My experience and observation suggest answers to the objections
which I had heard raised to missionary work in foreign lands, and it may
be worth while to consider some of these objections.
First, it is argued that “we need the money at home” and cannot afford
to send it abroad. I am satisfied that this objection is not sound. The
ministers present will bear me out in the assertion that money contributed
to foreign missions is not subtracted from money available for home missions.
The foreign missionary work is, as a rule, supported by those who are interested
in home missions. The man who excuses himself from contributing to foreign
missions on the ground that he wants to keep his money for home missions,
generally finds some excuse for withholding his money, even from home missions.
The enthusiasm aroused by work in other lands so enlarges the Christian’s
sympathies that the home missionary work is better supported than it would
be if foreign missionary stations were abandoned.
Akin to the first objection is the second, that “we ought to correct the
evils at home before we attempt to give instruction abroad.” No one will
deny that we have a great deal to do at home, but when shall we begin to
help others if we must be perfect ourselves before we attempt to extend
aid? If an individual refuses to give advice to others, or to lend assistance
in the reformation of others until he is himself perfect, he will never
render any service to others, for none of us are perfect. Our nation will
in like manner, postpone forever the rendering of service to other nations
if it waits until there is nothing more to be done at home. No matter how
much progress we make, there will always be room for improvement; the higher
we rise, the larger the area of our vision and the more we see that needs
to be done. If we are ever going to be helpful, we must be helpful while
we are still imperfect. The command is not, “Let him that is perfect help
the imperfect,” but rather, “let him that is strong help the weak.” Every
effort that we put forth to help others strengthens us. I remember hearing,
in my youth, the story of two travelers in the mountains. One was overcome
by cold and sank down discouraged; the other, instead of leaving him to
perish, stayed, and by rubbing him sought to prolong his life. The effort
kept both alive until help came. And so I am satisfied that the work done
in the foreign field strengthens us for the work to be done at home, and
that the evidence which the missionaries bring us of the triumphant march
of Christianity inspires us to greater activity, both at home and abroad.
Some complain that the missionaries make but few conversions. It is a matter
of regret that progress is not more rapid, and yet that is no reason why
we should give up the task. The progress of Christianity in the United
States is not as rapid as we would like to have it. More than half of the
adult males of the United States do not attend any church, and that, too,
in a land where we see on every hand evidences of the advantages which
Christianity has brought to our country. If here, where the environment
tends to bring people into the Church, so many remain outside, we must
not be surprised if the spread of our religion is even more slow among
the heathen where it is often necessary for one to leave home and friends
and to submit to social and business ostracism to become a follower of
But in spite of all the opposition met by the missionaries Christianity
is spreading. The growth of Christianity from its beginning on the banks
of the Jordan, until today, when its converts are baptized in all rivers
of the earth, is so graphically described by the Rev. Charles Edward Jefferson,
of New York, in his book entitled, “Things Fundamental,” that I take the
liberty of quoting him:
“Christ in history! There is a fact—face it. According to the New Testament,
Jesus walked along the shores of a little sea known as the Sea of Galilee.
And there he called Peter and Andrew and James and John and several others
to be his followers, and they left all and followed him. After they had
followed him they revered him, and later on adored and worshiped him. He
left them on their faces, each man saying, ‘My Lord and my God!’ All that
is in the New Testament.
“But put the New Testament away. Time passes; history widens; an unseen
Presence walks up and down the shores of a larger sea—the sea called the
Mediterranean—and this unseen Presence calls men to follow him. Tertullian,
Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, Thomas a Kempis, Savonarola,
John Huss, Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin—another
twelve—and these all followed him and cast themselves at his feet, saying,
in the words of the earlier twelve, ‘My Lord and My God!’
“Time passes; history advances; humanity lives its life around the circle of a larger sea—the Atlantic Ocean. An unseen Presence walks up and down the shores calling men to follow him. He calls John Knox, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, Henry Parry Liddon, Joseph Parker, Jonathan Edwards, Horace Bushnell, Henry Ward Beecher, Richard Saltus Storrs, Phillips Brooks, Dwight L. Moody—another twelve—and these leave all and follow him. We find them on their faces, each one saying, ‘My Lord and my God!’
“Time passes; history is widening; humanity is building its civilization
round a still wider sea—we call it the Pacific Ocean. An unknown Presence
moves up and down the shores calling men to follow him, and they are doing
it. Another company of twelve is forming. And what took place in Palestine
nineteen centuries ago is taking place again in our own day and under our
A fourth objection is advanced by a few, namely, that our missionaries
may by their mistakes get us into trouble with other nations. Of course,
people are liable to make mistakes, whether they live abroad or at home.
We all make mistakes, the non-Christian as well as the Christian, the layman
as well as the preacher, and a minister may make mistakes in Asia as well
as in the United States, but I am convinced that the good that the missionaries
do far outweighs any harm that can come from their mistakes. They make
us more friends than enemies. The Americans who go into foreign lands to
make money are much more apt to involve us in diplomatic controversies
than the missionaries who devote themselves to the uplifting of the people
among whom they go.
The last objection to which I shall refer is one that is now made with less frequency than formerly, namely, that God is too merciful to punish the heathen if they die without an opportunity to hear the gospel and that, therefore, it is not necessary to carry the gospel to them. Some have even carried this argument to the point of asserting that if the heathen are free from guilt until they have a chance to reject the gospel, we endanger them when we put them in a position where they may reject it. I am not going to attempt to set limits to the mercy of the Almighty or to interpret his plans respecting the heathen in the next world, but I have seen the heathen in this life, and I believe that we owe it to them, as a religious duty, to carry to them the Christian conception of life that they may have the benefit of it on earth, no matter what the future may have for them. If Christ’s conception of life is worthy to be adopted by us, it is worthy to be communicated to people everywhere—and this service the missionaries are rendering.
The missionaries, Protestant and Catholic, are to be found all over Asia.
I found several departments of work fully organized. The missionaries are
building churches and increasing the number of congregations; I attended
church at several places and was impressed with the earnestness of the
native Christians. Japan, it seems to me, furnishes a great field for missionary
work, and Korea is scarcely second to it. In China the native Christians
showed, during the Boxer trouble, a heroism which equalled that displayed
by the early Christians.
The medical missionaries are increasing in number and they are doing a
very important work. The aid which they render is of a kind that challenges
attention, and when natives know that the medical missionary is actuated
by love rather than by a desire for gain, they inquire into the source
of his love and the reason for its manifestation.
The American College is also a potent influence for good. These schools spring up about the missionary stations and are constantly growing in attendance and in influence. I followed an unbroken chain of them for some six thousand miles from the Pacific to the Mediterranean; I looked into the faces of hundreds, yes thousands, of boys and girls taught by Americans or by teachers paid with American money, and I rejoiced that, if our country could not boast that the sun never sets upon its possessions, it has a prouder boast, namely, that the sun never sets upon American philanthropy. Before the sun goes down on one center of civilization established by American money, it rises upon another, and the boundaries of these centers of civilization are constantly enlarging; after awhile the boundaries will meet and when the Orient is redeemed, America will deserve a large share of credit. One cannot measure the far-reaching good that these schools are doing. When we calculate the impress that a life can make upon a nation, and then remember that thousands are instructed in these schools and go out from them to touch the lives and hearts of the people of the Orient, who will attempt to estimate the total good done? Infinite opportunities open before each teacher and each one who contributes to the work has a part in the result.
I found that the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Young Women’s
Christian Association have already gained a foothold in Asia. At Kagashima,
Japan, I attended a meeting held under the auspices of the Young Women’s
Christian Association, and at a number of places I was the guest of the
Young Men’s Christian Association. At the close of a Young Men’s Christian
Association meeting in Allahabad, India, an Indian arose and asked me to
assure the people of the United States that Christian ideals have made
a deeper impression than the church membership in India would indicate.
He expressed appreciation of the missionaries and the teachers who had
been sent to them, and complained only that the number was so small compared
with the great population of India.
It may not be out of place briefly to call attention to the religions which
our missionaries have to meet. If I had derived no other benefit from the
trip I would consider the time well spent because of the acquaintance that
it gave me with the religions and philosophies of the East.
If a tree is to be known by its fruits, surely the fruits of Christianity
justify its followers in claiming for it a vast superiority over other
religions, whether we compare the doctrines taught or the general effect
produced by the religions.
Take Mohammedanism for instance. It has several merits. First, it rests upon a belief in one God—the Mohammedan has as great faith in Jehovah as the Christian has. Second, it teaches prayer. The Mohammedan is as careful to observe the hour of prayer as is the Christian, if not more so. Five times a day he kneels, his face toward Mecca, and supplicates his Creator. No matter where he is, the prayer is on his lips. If he is traveling across the desert, he dismounts from his camel and spreads his blanket upon the sand. There is something to respect in a religion that compels man to commune with his heavenly Father.
But the Mohammedan religion degrades woman. In the Mosque there is a place
for men to kneel, but if the women enter at all they visit only the gallery,
and there they are screened from the sight of men while they look down
upon the worshipers. At the age of twelve the girl is taken from the companionship
of others, and after that she cannot go unveiled in the presence of men,
except those of her own family. Among the followers of the Prophet society
loses the inspiration of woman’s presence and woman loses the advantages
of social intercourse. Christianity, on the other hand, recognizes that
woman’s rightful place is by the side of man; Christianity regards man
and woman as equal cotenants of the home and as joint partners in the responsibilities
and joys of life.
Mohammedanism is propagated by force, while Christianity rests upon love
and is spread by moral suasion. Dr. Parkhurst once illustrated the difference
between force and love by using a hammer to represent force. With it a
chunk of ice could be broken into a thousand pieces, but each piece would
still be ice. Love he likened to a ray of sunshine falling upon the ice;
it would act slowly but surely, and in a little while there would be no
more ice. Love is the most potent influence in the world; it is the weapon
for which there is no shield, and Christianity is moving with irresistible
force because love is the principle which underlies it.
Buddhism is an agnostic religion. One of the Buddhist papers published
in Burma urged the sending of delegates to an international agnostic congress.
A Buddhist monk, in enumerating the advantages of Buddhism, told me that
one did not have to believe anything to be a Buddhist. It is a reformation
of Hinduism. Buddha taught that one could “escape from the wheel”—from
the endless round of existence, by absorption into the spirit of the universe.
Arnold has described it as “the dewdrop melting into the sea.” To the Buddhist,
life is a calamity from which escape is to be sought in the loss of individuality;
Christianity regards life as an opportunity to be crowned at its close
with still higher existence.
The Buddhist believes that if one has done evil through an indefinite number
of lives, he can turn over a new leaf and finally, through an indefinite
number of existences, do enough good to overcome the evil; the Christian
believes that through repentance past sins can be blotted out, and the
new life commenced at once. No wonder that a Japanese in contrasting Buddhism
with Christianity said that the former looked down while the latter looked
I was more disappointed in Confucianism than in either Mohammedanism or
Buddhism, for I had been led to form a higher opinion of the philosophy
of the Chinese Sage. I had not read much that Confucius had said, although
I had read tributes to his wisdom, but the more I read of his utterances,
the more my admiration for him diminished. I have wondered whether some
have not magnified his teachings in order to find in them justification
for the rejection of the teachings of the Nazarene. The golden rule of
Confucius reads, “Do not unto others as you would not have others do unto
you.” The Golden Rule of Christ is, “Do unto others as you would have others
do unto you.” There is a wide difference between the two; one is negative
and the other positive; one enjoins a life of negative harmlessness, while
the other commands a life of positive helpfulness. You could stand by a
stream and watch a neighbor fall in and drown, and if you did not push
him in you need not pull him out; and yet you would not violate the negative
form of the rule, but you would violate the positive form of the rule.
The Chinaman, following the doctrine of Confucius, does not regard it as a duty to help others, but the streams of Christian benevolence girdle the globe.
A follower of Confucius asked him if there was any one word that would cover all the relations of society, and he answered, “Is not reciprocity such a word.” Reciprocity? That is a balancing of benefits; if a person does you a favor, do him a favor, and do him just about as much of a favor as he does you—keep it even. It is the calculating selfishness upon which the materialist would build a morality. According to the philosophy of Confucius, we should measure our service to others by the service that others have rendered us; but Christ teaches us to measure our service, not by the service that has been rendered, or by the service that may be rendered, or by the service that can be rendered, but by the need of those unto whom we minister. Reciprocity? That is not sufficient. The
Christian nations of the world spend hundreds of millions a year to make
life more pleasant for the helpless and unfortunate who cannot hope to
repay a single dollar of the money spent upon them.
Another follower of Confucius asked him what he thought of the doctrine
that evil should be rewarded with good, and he replied: “If you reward
evil with good, with what will you reward good?” And then he announced
his rule, “Reward evil with justice and reward good with good.” Reward
evil with justice? How can one tell what justice is if his heart is full
of hatred and he is waiting for an opportunity for revenge? Only when love
takes the place of hatred—only when one understands his relation to God,
and understanding his relations to God, learns of his kinship with his
brother—can he know what justice is or the measure thereof. If I were called
upon to name the one thing which more than any other distinguishes the
Christian religion from all other religions and moral codes, I would name
forgiveness—Christ taught forgiveness, and, therefore, he could command
his followers to love their enemies and to return good for evil.
The Chinese boast that they live up to the ideals of Confucius, but those ideals could be embodied in the life of a nation without lifting the nation to a high plane, and I believe that the philosophy of Confucius is largely responsible for the fact that China has stood still for twenty centuries. The people easily overtook the ideals of Confucius, and when a man overtakes his ideals his progress stops. It is the glory of the Christian ideal that while it is within sight of the weakest and the lowliest, it is yet so high that it keeps the best and noblest with their faces turned ever upward; and Christian civilization is the greatest that the world has ever known because it rests upon a conception of life that makes life an unending struggle upward, with no limit to human advancement or development.
If religions are to be measured by the results recorded in history, behold
the greatness of Christianity! Except where they have borrowed from the
Christian nations the followers of Mohammed, the followers of Buddha and
the followers of Confucius are practically where they were fifteen hundred
or two thousand years go, while Christianity took the races of Europe when
they were called barbarians and in ten centuries has enabled them to reach
a civilization surpassing all the civilizations of the past.
How shall we show our gratitude for the blessings that Christianity has
brought to us? We are largely indebted to it for the benefits which flow
from universal education; who will measure its advantage to our nation?
Christianity has strengthened the doctrine of self-government by teaching
the claims of brotherhood; who will estimate the benefit which this nation
has derived from the belief that all men are created equal? Christianity
has given us a system of religion which leads us to the worship of a Creator;
it has taught us a sense of responsibility to a personal God, and it has
set before us a measure of greatness in which he is to be the chiefest
among us who is the servant of all. What is it worth to us and to our children
to be permitted to enjoy the triple blessings of universal education, free
government and the Christian religion? We cannot repay the debt to those
who gave us these things; they are dead. These blessings have come through
generations of toil and sacrifice. We must make repayment to those about
us and to those who come after us. We can make part payment by transmitting
these institutions to posterity, not only unimpaired but improved; but
we shall not discharge the debt entirely unless we bring these institutions
to the attention of others who know them not, and the foreign missionary
field furnishes us one avenue through which to manifest our gratitude to
God for the inestimable privileges of a citizenship to which Christianity
has so largely contributed.
[NOTE: This address is not copyrighted, and can be republished by anyone desiring to do so.]