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Centennial of Canadian Methodism
The Methodist Church in Relation to Missions

By Rev. Alexander Sutherland, D.D.

IT is often said that the Church of Christ is essentially missionary. The saying is trite but true. The great purpose for which the Church is organized is to “preach the Gospel to every creature,” and its mission is fulfilled only in so far as this is done. But, as commonly used, the saying is the recognition of a principle rather than the statement of a fact. It is clearly perceived that the Church ought to be intensely missionary in spirit and practice, and this view is often pressed as an argument to quicken flagging zeal and to revive, if possible, the apostolic spirit in the Church of to-day. Compared with apostolic times, missionary zeal and enterprise is yet below high-water mark ; but compared with the state of affairs one hundred years ago, it cannot be said that the former times were better than these. Within the century—indeed, within the last two or three decades—there has bpen a marvellous revival of the missionary spirit. The sleep of the Church has been broken. Her dormant energies have been aroused. An aggressive policy has been declared. Responsibility, even to the measure of a world-wide evangelism, is freely acknowledged, and the disposition to consecrate men and money on the altar of missionary sacrifice grows apace. All this gives token of a coming day in the not distant future when it may be affirmed without qualification that the Church—in fact as well as in profession—is essentially missionary.

It may be claimed, without boasting or exaggeration, that Methodism has not only contributed somewhat to the revival of the missionary spirit, but has been, under God, a chief factor in promoting it. The place of her nativity was hard by the missionary altar, and a spirit. of intense evangelism gave the first impluse to her work. Born anew amid the fervours of a second Pentecost, her first preachers were men baptized with the tongues of flame, symbol of a comprehensive evangelism that found expression in the motto of her human leader, “ The World is my Parish.” In the spirit of that motto Methodism has lived and laboured, and after the lapse of more than a hundred years the primitive impulse is still unspent. Wherever the Banner of the Cross is unfurled, Methodist missionaries are found in the van of the advancing hosts, and the battle cry of the legions is “The World for Christ.”

The beginnings of Methodism in Canada reveal the same providential features that marked its rise in other lands. Here, as elsewhere, it was the child of Providence. No elaborate plans were formulated in advance. No forecastings of human wisdom marked out the lines of development. But men who had felt the constraining power of the love of Christ, and to whom the injunction to disciple all nations came with the force of a divine mandate, went forth at the call of God, exhorting men everywhere to repent and believe the Gospel. Out of that flame of missionary zeal sprang the Methodist Church of this country; and if the missionary cause to-day is dear to the hearts of her people, it is but the legitimate outcome of the circumstances in which she had her birth. Methodism is a missionary Church, or she is nothing. To lose her missionary spirit is to be recreant to the great purpose for which God raised her up. Nor can she give to missions a secondary place in her system of operations without being false to her traditions and to her heaven-appointed work.

While Methodism in Canada was, from the very first, missionary in spirit and aims, what may be called organized missionary effort did not begin till 1824. In that year a Missionary Society was formed. It was a bold movement, such as could have been inaugurated only by heaven-inspired men. Upper Canada (at that time ecclesiastically distinct from Lower Canada) was just beginning to emerge from its wilderness condition. Settlements were few and, for the most part, wide asunder. Population was sparse, and the people were poor. Moreover, Methodism had not yet emerged from the position of a despised sect, and prejudice was increased by the fact that it was under foreign jurisdiction. Such a combination of unfavourable circumstances might well have daunted ordinary men, and led to a postponement of any effort to organize for aggressive missionary work. “But there were giants in the earth in those days,” whose faith and courage were equal to every emergency ; men who could read history in the germ, and forecast results when “ the wilderness and the solitary place” should become “glad,” and “the desert” should “ rejoice, and blossom as the rose.” As yet it was early spring-time, and sowing had only just begun; but from freshly-opened furrows and scattered seed those men were able to foretell both the kind and the measure of the harvest when falling showers and shining suns should ripen and mature the grain. In that faith they planned and ‘ laboured. They did not despise the day of small things, but with faith in the “ incorruptible seed,” they planted and watered, leaving it to God to give the increase. In this, as in other cases, wisdom was justified of her children. When the Missionary Society was organized, in 1824, two or three men were trying to reach some of the scattered bands of Indians; the income of the Society the first year was only about $140, and the field of operation was confined to what was then known as Upper Canada. To-day the missionary force represents a little army of more than a thousand persons (including the wives of missionaries). The income exceeds $220,000, while the field covers half a continent, and extends into “the regions beyond.”

The development of the missionary idea in the Methodist Church in Canada has been influenced by epochs in her history, marking changes in her ecclesiastical polity. In 1828, the Canadian Societies were severed from the jurisdiction of the Church in the United States, and formed into an independent branch of Methodism, with its own conference and government. In 1832 a union was formed with the English Wesleyan Conference, whereby the field of operation was extended; but, unfortunately, this movement was followed by a division in the Church itself, which continued until the great union movement of 1883 obliterated all lines of separation and reunited the divided family. Again, in 1840, the union with the English Wesleyans was broken, and for seven years the two societies waged a rival warfare, which was by no means favourable to the growth of true missionary spirit. This breach was healed in 1847, and from that time onward the missionary work of the Church steadily developed, embracing the Wesleyan

Indian Missions in the far north, establishing a new mission in British Columbia, and extending the home work in all directions throughout the old Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada.

The year 1873 marks a distinct epoch in the history of missions in connection with Canadian Methodism. In that year the bold step, as some considered it, was taken of founding a distinctively foreign mission, and many indications pointed to Japan as a promising field. The wisdom of the step was doubted by many, who thought the home work sufficiently extensive to absorb the energies and liberality of the entire Church. Viewed from the standpoint of mere human prudence, the objectors were right. The home missionaries were struggling along with very inadequate stipends; many Indian tribes were still unreached; the calls from new settlements in our own country were loud and frequent, and the vast French population of the Province of Quebec was scarcely touched by Methodist agencies. Under such circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that some were inclined to say : “We have here only five barley loaves and two small fishes, but what are they among so many % ” But there were others who remembered the lesson of the “ twelve baskets of fragments ” taken up after five thousand men, besides women and children, had been fed ; and these said : “ Let us have faith in God; let us bring our little at His command, and with Christ’s consecrating blessing our little will multiply until there will be enough to feed the hungry multitude, and the Church shall be recompensed far beyond the measure of what it gives away.” And so in faith and prayer the forward movement was inaugurated, and a mission planted in Japan which, from the very beginning, has shared largely in blessings from on high. Nor did the home missions suffer ‘because of this new departure, for the missionary spirit thus revived in the Church was followed by a corresponding liberality, and the increased contributions more than sufficed to meet the increased expenditure.

The next development affecting the polity and work of the Church occurred in 1874, when the Wesleyan Methodist Church, the Methodist New Connexion Church, and the Wesleyan Church of Eastern British America, united in' one body under the name of The Methodist Church in Canada. This union extended the Home Missions of the Church by consolidating the forces east and west, thus covering the whole extent of the Canadian Dominion, and embracing in addition, Newfoundland and the Bermudas. This arrangement involved the peaceful separation of the three churches named from the jurisdiction of the Wesleyan body in England, and the relinquishment, after a few years, of certain missionary subsidies which they had been in the habit of receiving from the parent treasuries. The loss of these subsidies and the increased expenditure in consequence of unavoidable readjustments of the work, caused temporary embarrassment and the accumulation of a somewhat serious debt; but an appeal to the Church met with so liberal a response, that the debt was extinguished without reducing the regular income, and the work went on as before. It was felt, however, that, for a time at least, the duty of the Church would lie in the direction of consolidation rather than expansion, and hence for several years no new movement was made beyond the prudent enlargement of fields already occupied.

The missionary spirit which for years had been growing in the Methodist Church, found a new outlet in 1880 in the organization of the Woman’s Missionary Society. In June of that year a number of ladies met in the parlours of the Centenary Church, Hamilton, at the invitation of the General Missionary Secretary, when the project was carefully considered and the conclusion reached to organize forthwith. That afternoon meeting marks the beginning of what promises to become one of the most potent forces in connection with the mission work of the Methodist Church. Nor can a thoughtful observer fail to see how Divine Providence controlled the time as well as the circumstances. The Union movement, which culminated in 1883, was first beginning to be discussed. Four distinct Churches were proposing to unite, but whether it would be possible so to amalgamate their varied interests as to make of the four one new Church, was a problem that remained to be solved. In the accomplishment of this difficult task, the mission work of the Church was a prime factor, for it served by its magnitude and importance to turn the attention of ministers and people from old differences and even antagonisms, and to fix it upon a common object. What the work of the present Society did for one part of the Church, the woman’s movement did for another. Just at the right moment Providence gave the signal, and the godly and devoted women of Methodism in all the uniting Churches joined hands in an earnest effort to carry the Gospel to the women and children of heathendom, and in that effort they mightily aided to consolidate the work at home. The constitution for a Connexional Society was not adopted till 1881, but in the nine years following, the income has risen from $2,916.78 in 1881-2, to $25,560.76 in 1889-90. At the present time seventeen lady missionaries are in the employ of the Society, and decision has been reached to send pioneers to China in connection with the onward movement of the parent Society.

It was thought at one time that the union of 1874 would have included all the Methodist bodies in Canada, as all were represented at a preliminary meeting held in Toronto. This expectation was not realized, owing to the retirement of several of the bodies from subsequent negotiations ; but the discussions which took place, no less than the beneficial results of the union itself, created a desire for union on a more extended scale. This desire was greatly strengthened by the famous Methodist Ecumenical Conference, which met in London in 1881, and at the next General Conference of the Methodist Church in Canada distinct proposals were presented, and negotiations initiated with other Methodist bodies. It is not necessary in this paper to present a detailed history of the movement. Suffice it to say that, in 1883, a union embracing the Methodist, Methodist Episcopal, Primitive Methodist and Bible Christian Churches in Canada, was consummated, and the impressive spectacle presented of a consolidated Methodism—one in faith, in discipline and usages—with a field of home operations extending from Newfoundland to Vancouver, and from the international boundary to the Arctic circle, 'i he union did not actually extend the area formerly embraced by the uniting Churches, but it involved extensive readjustments of the work, increased greatly the number of workers, and, for a time, necessitated increased expenditure. The income, however, showed corresponding growth, and although stipends remained at low-water mark, no retrograde step was taken.

As at present organized, the mission work of the Methodist Church embraces five departments, namely :—Domestic, Indian, French, Chinese and Foregn. All these are under the supervision of one Board, and are supported by one fund. Each department, in view of its importance, claims a separate reference.


Under this head is included all Methodist Missions to English-speaking people throughout the Dominion, in Newfoundland and the Bermudas. From the very inception of missionary operations, the duty of carrying the Gospel and its ordinances to the settlers in every part of the country, has been fully recognized and faithfully performed. Indeed, this was the work to which the Church set herself at the beginning of the century, before missionary work, in the more extended sense, had been thought of. At that time the population was sparse and scattered. Of home comforts there was little, and of wealth there was none, but the tireless itinerant, unmoved by any thought of gain or temporal reward, traversed the wilderness of Ontario and of the Maritime .Provinces, often guided only by a “blaze” on the trees or by the sound of the woodman’s axe, and in rough new school-houses, in the cabins of frontier settlers, or beneath shady trees on some improvised camp-ground, proclaimed the message of reconciling mercy to guilty men. No wonder that their message was listened to with eagerness, and often embraced with rapture. Many of the settlers had, in early life, enjoyed religious privileges in lands far away, and these welcomed again the glad sound when heard in their new homes; while others who, under more favourable circumstances, had turned a deaf ear to the Gospel message, were touched with unwonted tenderness as they listened to the fervid appeals of some itinerant preacher amid the forest solitudes. Thus, by night and by day, was , the seed scattered which, since then, has ripened into a golden harvest. And if a time shall ever come when a truthful history of the English-speaking Provinces of the Canadian Dominion shall be written, the historian, as he recounts and analyzes the various forces that have contributed to make the inhabitants of these Provinces the most intelligent, moral, prosperous and happy people beneath the sun, he will give foremost place to the work of the old saddle-bag itinerants who traversed the country when it was comparatively a wilderness, educating the people in that reverence for the Word and worship of God which is alike the foundation of a pure morality and the safeguard of human freedom.

When the Missionary Society was organized, and its income began to grow, the Church was in a position to carry on its home work more systematically, and to extend that work far beyond its original limits. The constant changes taking place in the status of these Home Fields, as they rise from the condition of dependent missions to that of independent circuits, renders any comprehensive numerical statement impossible. Suffice it to say, that at the present time there are 408 Home Missions, with 371 missionaries, and an aggregate membership of 39,724, and on these is expended about 42 J per cent, of the Society’s income. The outlook for this department is hopeful and inspiring. The opening up of our magnificent North-West, with a teeming population in prospect, presents a grand field for remunerative mission work which the Church will do well to improve, and she needs no higher aim than to repeat in the New Territories the salient features of the religious history of Ontario.


This department of mission work has always shared largely in the sympathy of the Church and of the Mission Board ; and although it has made but little return, in kind, for the large sums expended, yet in spiritual results the Church has been amply repaid. In British Columbia, as the direct result of missionary effort, tribal wars have entirely ceased, heathen villages have been transformed into Christian communities, and the gross immoralities of the dance and the “potlatch” have given place to assemblies for Christian instruction and sacred song. In the North-West similar results have been achieved, and it has been demonstrated that the advancement of the native tribes in intelligence, in morality, in loyalty, in the arts and refinements of civilized life, keeps even step with the progress of Christian missions. Very significant is the fact that during the revolt among certain Indians and Half-breeds in the North-West, notone member or adherent of the Methodist Church among the Indians was implicated in the disturbances ; and it is now generally acknowledged that the unswerving loyalty of the Christian Indians—notably of Chief Pakan and his people at Whitefish Lake—contributed more than any other circumstance to prevent a general uprising of the Cree nation. In Ontario, results in recent years have not been so marked as in British Columbia and the North-West, owing to the fact that most of the bands are now in a fairly civilized state, and there is but little in outward circumstances to distinguish the work from that among the whites. A.n important feature of the Indian work at the present time is the establishment of Industrial Institutes, where Indian youth are instructed in various forms of industry suited to their age and sex. The Institute at Muncey, Ont., has over eighty pupils, and is in process of enlargement to accommo-, date 120 ; in Manitoba and at Reed Deer two Institutes are in process of erection ; an Orphanage and Training-school has been in operation for some time at Morley; and a Boarding-school at Chilliwhack, and a Girls’ Home at Port Simpson, are under the control of the Woman’s Missionary Society. Statistics of the Indian work for 1890 give the following results :—Missions, 47 ; missionaries, 35 ; native assistants, 17; teachers, 26; interpreters, 13; members, 4,264. The expenditure for the same year amounted to about 23 per cent, of the Society’s income.


In the Province of Quebec there is a French-speaking population of a million and a quarter, and these, with the exception of a few thousands, are adherents of the most solid, thoroughly-organized and aggressive type of Romanism to be found in all the world. The Church is virtually endowed, can collect its tithes and levy its church-building rates by law. Education is controlled by the Bishops, and the whole machinery is used to maintain the use of the French language and inculcate a French national spirit. Evangelical truth is a thing almost unknown. Such a population in the heart of the Dominion, under such control, is a standing menace to representative government and free institutions, and this consideration, no less than a sincere desire for the spiritual enlightenment of the people, has led the various Protestant Churches to make some effort to spread the Gospel among them. So far as Methodist Missions are concerned, numerical results have been small, and the missions do not present features as encouraging as are to be found in other departments. But it should be borne in mind that the difficulties to be surmounted are greater than in any other field, and that there are causes for the comparatively small numerical increase which do not exist elsewhere. Neither in the Domestic, the Indian, or even i he Foreign work do civil or social disabilities follow a profession of faith in Christ; but in the Province of Quebec a renunciation of Romanism is the signal for a series of petty persecutions, and a degree of civil and social ostracism, which many have not the nerve to endure, and which usually results in their emigration from the Province. The difficulty of reaching the people by direct evangelistic effort, led the Missionary Board to adopt the policy of extending its educational work. In pursuance of this policy a site was secured in a western suburb of Montreal, and a building erected capable of accommodating 100 resident pupils. About seventy pupils are already in attendance, and the future is bright with promise. The amount expended on the French work, including the Institute, is only about 3f per cent, of the Society’s income.


During the past quarter of a century vast numbers of Chinese have landed on the Pacific Coast of the American continent, of these not a few have found temporary homes in British Columbia. At the time when the Rev. William Pollard had charge of the British Columbia District some attempt was made to reach the Chinese by establishing a school among them in Victoria, but after a few years the enterprise was abandoned. In 1884, Mr. John Dillon, a merchant of Montreal, visited British Columbia on business. His heart was stirred by the spiritually destitute condition of the Chinese, especially in Victoria, and he at once wrote to a member of the Board of Missions inquiring if something could not be done. The matter was considered at the next Board meeting, and it was decided to open a mission in Victoria as soon as a suitable agent could be found. In the following spring, 1885, by a remarkable chain of providences, the way was fully opened, and a mission begun which has since extended to other places in the Province, and has been fruitful of good results. Commodious mission buildings have been erected in Victoria and Vancouver, schools established in both these cities and in New Westminster, many converts have been received by baptism, and the foundation of a spiritual church laid among these strangers “ from the land of Sinim,” which gives promise of permanence and growth. A valuable adjunct is found in the Chinese Girls’ Rescue Home, established in Victoria, and now managed by the Woman’s Missionary Society. At the present writing the statistics of the Chinese Mission are :—Missions, 3 ; missionaries, 3 ; teachers, 6; members, 112.


The most conspicuous and decided onward movement of the Methodist Church on missionary lines took place when it was decided to open a mission in Japan. But the faith and courage of those who urged the venture have been fully vindicated by the results. Since the inception of the work in 1873, its growth has been steady and permanent, while the reflex influence upon the Church at home has been of the most beneficial kind. The missionary spirit has been greatly intensified, liberality has increased, and the Church is looking for new fields and wider conquests. In 1889 it was found that the growth of the work in Japan had been such as to necessitate reorganization, with an increased measure of autonomy. Accordingly an Annual Conference was formed, which now embraces four districts, with 19 distinct fields, besides numerous outposts. In Tokyo there is an academy for young men, and a theological school for the training of native candidates for the ministry; while the Woman’s Missionary Society maintains flourishing schools for girls in Tokyo, Shizuoka and Kofu. General statistics of the Japan' work are as follows:—Missions, 19; missionaries, 24; native evangelists, 27 ; teachers, 14; members, 1,686.

This brief statement respecting the foreign work of the Church would be imperfect without some reference to the action of last year, looking to the establishment of a new foreign mission in China. For several years leading men in the Church had been asking if the time had not arrived when the Church should survey the vast field of heathendom with a view of extending the work “ into the regions beyond.” The suggestion took practical shape at the General Conference of 1890, when the project of a new foreign mission was favourably commended to the General Board of Missions, with power to take such action as might seem advisable. When the question came up in the General Board, it became evident that the suggestion was not premature. With practical unanimity the Board affirmed the desirableness of at once occupying new ground, and as a remarkable series of providences seemed to point toward China, the Committee of Finance was authorized to take all necessary steps to give effect to the decision of the Board. It may be regarded as a settled matter that during the present summer the vanguard of our missionary army will enter the Flowery Kingdom.

Enough has now been said to show that the Methodist Church of Canada, in its origin, history and traditions, is “essentially missionary;” that its providential mission, in co-operation with other branches of Methodism, is to “spread scriptural holiness over the world.” If the spirit of this mission is maintained her career will be one of ever-widening conquest. If it is suffered to decline, Ichabod will be written upon her ruined walls.

For purposes of reference the following tables will be found useful:—

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