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Evangelism in Canada before & after Confederation

Much has Changed; Much is the Same

Although the day marking Canada’s 150th celebration is in our rearview mirror, my thoughts have lingered on an account I read a few days before July 1 entitled, “The Baptists in America; a Narrative of the Deputation from the Baptist Union in England to the United States and Canada.” In less than 60 pages the Reverends F. A. Cox and J. Hoby recount their journey of traveling through the Montreal, Chatham, Ottawa, Toronto, and Niagara regions of “the Canadas.”

Their experience is a fascinating read for two reasons. First, it’s incredible, though not surprising, to note the differences between their day and ours in what was required to labour for the spread of the gospel in Canada. Second, it’s incredible, and entirely surprising, to note the similarities between their day and ours in what is required to labour for the spread of the gospel in Canada.

Much Has Changed

Much has changed. For instance, they write, “From Chatham, we had to beat our way for fourteen miles through the bush; fourteen hundred, might, in some parts, have been travelled with less difficulty and inconvenience (emphasis original).”

One of the brothers remembers,

the awful plunges of my poor animal in deep hollows of mingled mud and decayed vegetation; and I might represent the narrow escape which I had, of being crushed between two monstrous trees, by the sudden rush of my horse up a steep, without thought of his rider, to avoid a perilous passage.

No wonder they conclude that gospel work in “Canada requires a particular order of instrumentality…a person of weak frame and feeble constitution would be inadequate to such a ministration.” Complaints about being stuck in traffic while sitting in an air-conditioned vehicles, or waiting around airports to board planes sounds well, pathetic, in comparison. I’m not sure many of us would have been a suitable candidate.

Much Is the Same

In this regard, mercifully, much has changed. However, despite the differences between their day and ours, much is the same. Many of their recommendations of suitable candidates for gospel ministry in Canada require little update almost 200 years later. What these brothers suggest in 1836 could have easily been written last yesterday. From their conclusions, we can glean much wisdom, and be suitably challenged in our own commitment and zeal, when it comes to the task of making disciples within our own borders. I’ll simply let their thoughts speak for themselves.

The Need for Gospel Clarity Is the Same:

“The preachers of Canada should be intelligent, and well taught in the fundamental principles of the gospel. [This] is desirable…because men of intelligence inhabit the chief towns, and many emigrants are diffused over the country who…are often not deficient in sound sense.”

“In a country, too…where there is so great a destitution of spiritual means, amounting in innumerable instances to an absolute famine of the word of God, and where the catholic religion has obtained a seat and sanction, the primary doctrines of the gospel should be well understood and judiciously treated. The force of appeal should be well sustained by instruction in the principles of truth, so that the sinner may be abased and the Saviour exalted.”

The Need of Wisdom Is the Same:

“The very nature of the case and the condition of the country; seem to require also a tact and skill in conversation. Those who are called to labour must necessarily live much amongst the people.”

The Need of Humility Is the Same:

“They must not be only ministers, but companions. The pomp of office, unsuitable anywhere, would be singularly inappropriate and repulsive here. The pure and exalted love of souls must be the all-absorbing sentiment, and the preacher must be ever and fully accessible.”

The Need of Catholicity Is the Same:

“Without the cultivation of a holy temper, there may be unhappy collisions, with persons of other denominations than our own. An unyielding disposition or a proud sectarian spirit might prove exceedingly detrimental to the general cause. Every point of truth may be maintained without compromise, and equally without bigotry. The labourers in the Canadian field ought to be men of an amiable spirit; amiable at the core, amiable by nature. This is the more needful, because of the association of labour into which, in some cases, they must be almost necessarily brought.”

The Need for Lack of National Prejudice Is the Same:

“It is of great importance to usefulness, that agents should be exempt from strong national prejudices. As there is continually, and will doubtless increasingly be an influx of foreigners from different countries.”

The Need of Piety & Prayer Is the Same:

“The itinerants of Canada should be men of great personal piety and prayer. All the religious movements in America, which have received the name of revivals, have begun in devotion. The result of every inquiry, and every observation, proved correlative of this fact. By prayer, as a means, it may be said, religion has been planted where it does exist, in the wilderness, and by prayer, it has been fostered in the more populous vicinity…A very palpable deficiency in this respect, whatever other talents might be possessed, would greatly disqualify, if not totally incapacitate, for this peculiar mission.”

The Need of Zeal Is the Same:

“Those who engage in this service ought to be men of energy and activity. It should not be, however, the mere energy and activity of an employé, of one who works for hire or for fame. They must not be men, who are governed solely or chiefly by calculations of mere duty, or of reward. They must be stimulated by the inward feeling, the fervent and the vestal flame of love to God and man. They must be men who will not sleep, – not because they must not, but because they cannot. The spirit of self-denial, and of incessant zeal, must constitute the element of their action, and thus inspired, they will ‘glorify God with their bodies and spirits, which are his.’”

The Need for a Missionary Vision Is the Same:

“The efforts for Canada should be chiefly of a missionary character; and such, in truth, they must be, but not exclusively. Every labourer need not be entirely itinerant, but every labourer, though he be stationary, must have a missionary spirit. If he become a pastor, and gather a church in one place, he must still be locomotive. Whatever post he may occupy as his home, he must never forget there is a large field around him which requires to be cultivated, and like his divine Master, he must go forth and sow the imperishable seed.”

The Need of Compassion for the Lost Is the Same:

“Who that has witnessed, and what Christian that has heard of the spiritual necessities of the Canadas, but will cherish the desire, and assist in the aim to diffuse among them the doctrines of salvation?”

“Can we think without some practical effort for their relief, of vast regions, which, from natural and national alliance, have such claims upon us, thousands of whose scattered people have no bibles, no sabbaths, no preachers, and who are ‘without God in the world’?”

While much has changed since before Confederation regarding the spread of the gospel in Canada, much of the same is required of us who would spread the gospel from sea to sea. May the Lord spur us to greater heights of love, faith, and good deeds by the voices of such men who laboured in the same field almost 200 years ago, that we too might reap a harvest.

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