Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rev. Damon's Sermon at the Seamen's Bethel on the Japanese Embassy

At the time I am writing these comments I am the head of the Deacon’s Ministry of Central Union Church in Honolulu. Though it was organized in 1887, the congregation traces its historical routes to 1833. This was the year the Seamen’s Bethel was founded in Honolulu by the American Seamen’s Friend Society. It was here that the earliest services in English were held in the Hawaiian kingdom.

In 1860 Hawaii, the Bible held a prominent place in mainstream society. The texts of Sunday sermons were occasionally published in the local press.

Rev. Samuel C. Damon delivered one of the most important and yet overlooked sermons on March 18 in the Seaman’s Bethel. That same day the U.S.S. Powhatan departed Honolulu for San Francisco with the Japanese Embassy delegation aboard.

From his vantage point Damon observed that the world was changing, and that the opening of Japan –and the Japanese Embassy visit to the United States- would profoundly change things. Damon routinely hosted ship officers and their crew from various parts of the world, and of all nationalities.

The sermon’s title is ‘Japanese Embassy in Washington.’ The biblical text that helped inspire it comes from the Old Testament Book of Daniel 12:4. Rev. Damon only used part of the scripture as his inspiration: “Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.”

The full scriptural verse is: “But you, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.”

As Damon points out:

“The prophet Daniel was highly favored in being permitted to foretell events which would not take place until more than twenty centuries had rolled away. The angel [Gabriel] announces to him that a striking characteristic of the closing scenes of this period would be, that “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” Respecting no period of our world’s history is this declaration more emphatically true than the age now passing away. We are now living amid scenes, changes, revolutions and convulsions of nations, most striking and grand. Old landmarks and customs are breaking up and dissolving, and new combinations are forming, all betokening that the end draweth nigh.

“My thoughts have been called to this subject,” continued Rev. Damon, “ by the presence in our midst of the members of an embassy proceeding from Japan, that hitherto exclusive people, to a nation dwelling upon the opposite side of our globe. This is a strange unlooked for and remarkable event in our world’s history, and one which is destined to work out vast changes in the character and condition of the Japanese, as well as of other nations. Results are to be brought about, which will affect, more or less, the minds of millions of our race. This point will appear as I proceed to discuss the points suggested by the text, “Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.”

Sermons in Damon’s New England Congregational tradition draw their inspiration from the wisdom of the Bible. Those of us in the 21st century are reminded that the meanings of such wisdom is both intangible and at times challenging on both minister and congregation. What I derived from the text of Rev. Damon’s missive is that Biblical truths can and do survive as they inspire and transcend the experiences of daily living. A sermon –to be effective- needs to enter the hearts and minds of those who hear it or read it.

This sermon is well-crafted, designed for listening, reading –and with posterity in mind. The Book of Daniel is a book revolving around prophesies in a period of end-times. Clearly, Damon sees the “end-times” of the mid-19th century as ushering in a new era of globalization. His remarks give those of us in the early years of the 21st century much to ponder. Rev. Damon would have been pleased, and justly so.

The following consists of excerpts from the sermon:

“Two points are suggested: Firstly. The objects for which “many shall run to and fro”; and, Secondly, The consequences, “knowledge shall be increased.”

Four objects for which “many shall run to and fro,” will now be considered:

1. Many will “run to and from” for commercial purposes. The minds of business and commercial men are peculiarly awake in this age, and they are pushing their enterprises in every direction to the east, to the north, to the south, and to the west. Expeditions are fitted out, and agents are sent to visit all parts of the habitable globe in order to open trade with uncivilized and civilized nations. Japan was the last great nation which refused to acknowledge itself a member of the great family of commercial nations. So strong, however, was the commercial pressure, combined with other influences, that Japanese exclusiveness was compelled to yield. The nation could no longer. The barrier extending across her harbors and rivers has been cut away, and the vessels of all nations may enter. This has been accomplished by men eager in the pursuit of gain, although a naval expedition was the special agency to effect the change. A strong and irresistible tide of commercial influences was setting upon the shores of Japan. The first treaty was one of “Amity and Commerce.” Commerce exerts a powerful influence throughout the world. It wages war, treats for peace, sends ships upon voyages of discovery, and impels “many to run to and fro.”

2. “Many run to and fro” for scientific purposes. To examine facts and establish scientific theories, sends many abroad to all the parts of the globe. Some go to measure the depths of oceans and heights of mountains; some to examine rocks and soils; some to collect metals and shells; some to survey islands, reefs, shoals and rivers; some to explore unknown regions, and bring away specimens illustrating every department of natural science. Scientific expeditions have been greatly multiplied during the present century. Never was there greater activity in every department of scientific men press their way to the very ends of the earth.

3. “Many run to and fro" for political purposes. There is a strife among the great and powerful nations of the world to acquire territory and political influence. The agents and representatives of Europe and America meet each other at all foreign courts. They respectively watch each other's movements with a careful and jealous eye. No opportunity is neglected to advance their power and influence.

4. There are many other reasons which might specified why there is so much hurrying, flying, sailing and steaming to and fro, but I will only mention this one in addition: Many run to and fro for religious purposes, or in order to obey the command, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Although the church is behind the world; Christian ministers and missionaries less active than men of commerce, science and politics, still they are not altogether idle and backward. Much has been accomplished during the present century by missionaries, Protestant and Catholic, to ascertain the condition and prospects of the heathen world. For this purpose hundreds of missionaries from Europe and America have gone already to Africa, Asia, Australia, and the islands of the sea. Probably not less than two thousand are now laboring in foreign lands. The language of the text is especially applicable to the journeying and voyaging of Christian missionaries. During the last month we have witnessed a practical exemplification of this remark. We have seen one on his way from the United States to Japan; another passing from Micronesia to America; two others on their way from England to British Columbia, and others leaving our islands for their fatherland. Scarcely had we bid these men a God speed ere a vessel arrives bringing an Embassy of peace from Japan to Washington. The Chaplain of this ship has already preached in your hearing. He has touched at various points in Africa and Asia, and communed with various denominations. He now proceeds homeward to spread before the world the results of his widely extended observations.

“There has not been a period since the commencement of the Christian era when so many missionaries, ministers, and religious teachers were laboring to explore the state of the world and preach the everlasting Gospel. The intercourse among Christians of different sects and parties is greater now than formerly. It is literally true that many Christians, Protestant and Catholic, are running to and fro. They are passing and repassing each other upon the Atlantic and the Pacific. Some are doubling the Cape of Good Hope, on their way to mission fields in India, China and Japan, while others are passing around Cape Horn to California, Oregon, British Columbia and Polynesia. The missionary as well as the schoolmaster is abroad in the world. The signs of the times indicate that the number of Christian missionaries is now very small compared with what it will be in a few years. Where there is now one in China, India and Japan, there will soon, doubtless, be scores. The Lord hasten the time!

Having spoken of the purposes or objects for which many will run to and fro, I will now call your attention to some of the inevitable results which must follow. The great, grand and glorious result will be that clearly and distinctly pointed out in my text, “Knowledge shall be increased.”

First. Commercial knowledge will be increased. Merchants, commercial agents and consuls are especially devoted to the business of gathering facts and statistics respecting trade and commerce. Not a mail reaches England of America from any near or remote part of the world but conveys letters, newspapers, dispatches and prices current, burdened with information relating to foreign commerce and trade. The old and slow mediums of communication do not satisfy the intense desire among merchants to ascertain the latest news, but all the facilities of the telegraph and steam are put into requisition. The London or New York merchant is now made familiarly acquainted every few days with the state of the markets in all parts of the commercial world.

Second. Scientific knowledge will be greatly increased. The large number of scientific men sent abroad by private enterprise, and in governmental employment, has so wonderfully increased the domain of the sciences, that the scientific era seems really but to have dawned upon our world, at the close of the eighteenth or commencement of the nineteenth century. Chemistry, geology, mineralogy, and the whole circle of natural sciences, were comparatively unknown a few years ago. Knowledge has been most wonderfully increased since men of science began to travel abroad and explore the wonders of nature as exhibited or manifested in parts of the world beyond the narrow region where they were born. These travels and explorations have enlightened and benefited the whole world. Scientific ideas cannot be confined to the minds of individuals. Like the very air of Heaven, scientific knowledge diffuses itself abroad. Ideas originating in the kind of a Newton are now working their way to overturn those old and erroneous systems of astronomy which have prevailed in India, Persia and China. Science is proving a most useful handmaid of the Gospel. Most heathen and idolatrous systems of religion are interwoven with their views of the works and laws of nature; hence the Christian missionary is in duty bound to call to his aid the discoveries of modern philosophers, and idolatry will give way before the preaching of the Gospel, aided by scientific experiment. But in order to achieve the triumphs of the Cross, the Christian missionary should be upon the ground at the critical moment, in order to make known the truths of the Bible. An illustration of this remark is furnished by the history of events subsequent to the overthrow of idolatry upon these islands. Idolatry was abolished in November, 1819, but the American missionaries sailed from Boston the month of October previous. The two events were almost simultaneous.

The following spring the missionaries landing on Hawaii and Oahu, commenced their work, thus in the providence of God, they were ready to make known correct ideas upon religious subjects at a most critical moment in the religious history of this people. The influence of commerce and intercourse with foreigners were, doubtless, the most powerful motives operating upon their minds, and which led them to take the remarkable step. Essentially the same process is now going forward in Japan. Idol temples are now becoming the dwelling houses of missionaries and store houses of merchants.*

The chaplain of the Powhatan informs me that seven of these idol temples have already been given up to the occupancy of foreigners. I listened with intense interest to an account which he gave of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper for the first time, in the Protestant form, on the shores of Japan, and which took place in one of these old temples! Twelve communicants were present, a number corresponding to that when the rite was first instituted by our Savior in Jerusalem! It was his favored privilege to be present for that occasion. It is hoped that ere long thousands and millions of the Japanese themselves will gather around the sacramental table.

Third. Knowledge respecting the political condition and prospect of the various nations of the earth has been much increased, by many running to and fro. How very little was known a century ago respecting the political condition of Africa, India, China, Japan, Polynesia, and the west coast of North America. Lewis and Clark explored the regions watered by the Columbia River since this century commenced. Geographical as well as political knowledge has received great accessions. No book or treatise upon the political or geographical condition of our globe, written a half century since, would be at all fitted to the present advanced state of public intelligence and information. The world is better known to our children than it was to our fathers. Some portions of the globe comparatively unknown and uninhabited by civilized man, a few years ago, are now thickly peopled, e.g., Australia, California, Polynesia.

Fourth. The most remarkable increase in any department of knowledge has been in that of a religious or missionary nature. Missionaries and others who have gone abroad with a view of ascertaining the condition and prospects of the unevangelized, idolatrous and heathen world, have collected a mass of most valuable information. This has been spread before the reading community, upon the pages of journals, newspapers, books of travel, lectures, and in other ways, which now enables us to form a tolerably correct opinion of nearly all portions of the habitable globe. This information is of rare value, and is constantly increasing.

“Christians have become acquainted with the heathen world, and the heathen world is becoming acquainted with the Christian world. The results of the present Japanese embassy will be fraught with vast consequences to both nations, but especially to the Japanese people. A multitude of new ideas, upon every conceivable subject, will be gathered up and conveyed back to that nation, so recently shut up to all intercourse with foreign nations. These ideas will be found to operate like “the leaven, hid in three measures of meal.” They will modify the views of the Japanese upon commercial, scientific, political and religious subjects. No longer will they be able to stand aloof and apart from the family of nations. Their knowledge will be most wonderfully increased.

“Already has the process commenced. Upon our own little islands, they will note down their first impressions of foreign lands, and these impressions will be conveyed back to Japan, even before they can reach Washington, the end of their journey. The natural result must be, to impart to the Japanese nation, to its swarming population, its teeming millions, new and far more correct ideas of foreign nations than they have hitherto possessed. These ideas will be gradually disseminated abroad among that people, preparing the way for foreign commerce and the final introduction of Christianity; not that form of Christianity which gained a partial ascendancy three hundred and fifty years ago, but as we believe, a purer and more spiritual form.

“The Holy Bible, as well as the Roman Catholic Missal, will be spread before that people. Portions of the Sacred Scriptures have already been translated into the Japanese language, and a long period will not elapse before the entire volume will be presented the 40,000,000 of the Japanese in their vernacular tongue. Not only will they become far better acquainted with foreign nations and the religion of the Bible, but that nation will become far better known to other nations. Christians of Europe and America will become deeply interested in their condition and prospects. Japan is unquestionably to become a vast field for missionary laborers. Surely there never was a more inviting field for the youthful missionary the Brainerds, the Martyns, the Judsons, the Williams, the Stoddards.

“There is work to be performed, and the call is for men of ability, scholarship, and piety. The enemy now has the field all to himself, and he will not retire until after many hard fought battles. Ignorance, superstition, idolatry, pride, prejudice, bigotry, sensuality, and an untold number of other opposing influences, must be overcome or removed ere that cross which has been trampled upon for two centuries shall be reared up and become the glorious ensign of the people, as in the days of Constantine. To bring about this sublime consummation, the visit of this Embassy of Peace is an important step. God works by means, and we are not to expect a return of miracles.

“Looking at this remarkable inroad upon the customs and practices of the Japanese, it is a long stride towards an entire change in their policy. Revolutions go not backward. The old order of things will never return. While every Christian must deplore the fact that the filth and scum of civilized nations should be floated to the shores of Japan, still that cannot be prevented. It remains for Christians to awake and concert the wisest schemes, and form the best plans for counteracting those evil influences, and introducing a better state of things. Hence, let good men the best men that can be found in Christendom be selected and sent thither. Let them become located in every open port. There let them rear up the banner of the Cross. I rejoice to learn that a few of this stamp are already upon the ground, and have commenced their work. That work must look dark and discouraging, but not more so than the work must have appeared to Paul when carried a prisoner to Rome, sunk in the lowest depths of paganism.

“I am disposed to take a hopeful view of this great subject, and rejoice in witnessing the humblest efforts to bring about a new order of things. I was most happy to become acquainted with the Rev. Mr. Goble, bound toward that great empire, and I now rejoice to see this Embassy on its way to Christian America. It forms an integral part of the fulfillment of that declaration of the Lord, by an Old testament Prophet, “Thus saith the Lord, I will overturn, overturn, overturn it; and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him.” (Ezekiel 21:27) This world, for the most part, is the wrong side up. It must be overturned and revolutionized. Wickedness, crime, lust, war, worldliness and sin, are in the ascendancy. They must be put down. The prince of this world must be cast out. Christ must reign from the rising to the setting sun. God’s word is pledged. God’s veracity is at stake. There will yet be an answer, full and complete, to that petition, “Thy Kingdom come. Seeing that the end draweth nigh, and the Kingdom of God will come, it should be a question seriously pondered by each and all,“ Has that Kingdom come in my heart?” The Gospel must be embraced in order to benefit our souls. Christ will have died in vain, so far as we are concerned, unless we cordially embrace the offer of salvation. Listen, I beseech of you, to the invitation of our Savior, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

“Having cordially accepted of this offer, God permits us to become co-workers with Himself in the great and glorious work of subduing this world to the Prince of Peace. Amen!

*The Rev. H. Wood, chaplain of the United States steamer Powhatan, writing to the New York Journal of Commerce, under date of Yokohama, Nov. 7, 1859, remarks as follows:

One gentleman and his wife, Dr. Hepburn, were from your city of New York, and were sent by the old school Presbyterian church; while Rev. Mr. Brown and wife, Rev. Mr. Verbeck and wife, and Dr. Simmons and wife, are under commission from the Dutch Reformed Church. I have had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of all, and am assured that a better band could not be found for this field. Mr. Verbeck has gone to Nagasaki, while the rest have come here, or rather to Kanagawa, both places being substantially one, only three miles being between them, and all that distance lined with villages. They easily obtained a house through the kind assistance of Gov. Dorr, U.S. Consul, a Buddhist temple with its spacious out buildings heretofore occupied by priests and both the temple and the houses are being repaired; and as I entered into the temple, I saw that all the idols vanished at the appearance of the heralds of the cross. I have spent a fortnight under that strange roof, hardly able to persuade myself that I was spending the morning with my country men. For all the world, there was the Yankee parlor stove and parlor lamp all like home. But not so much as when the Bible was reverently read, the hymn sung to a sweet, not in its resemblances and memories, but in its life and reality.

No opposition was made to their having the house and temple, though the officials perfectly well understood their character. Indeed, while I was there on one or two occasions, the governor and a number of officials made a call to ascertain if the repairs were going on satisfactory, (for it is a government office) as well as to pay their respects to our countrymen. Mrs. Hepburn offered a plate of grapes to each, carrying it in her own hands the first time such a civility was ever offered to a Japanese by a foreign lady. The officials looked on amazed, but were quite courteous, and evidently pleased. Everything therefore has been auspicious.

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