From the annals of presbyterian history
- Before the start of the text of the first chapter of The Barbarian
Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity, by Richard Fletcher is the
"To spread abroad among barbarians and heathen natives the knowledge
of the Gospel seems to be highly preposterous, in so far as it
anticipates, nay even reverses, the order of nature."
General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 1796
Some background to the comment I was able to find from Ian Murray's
book, The Puritan Hope.
The first attempt to move the Church of Scotland to give new
attention to foreign missions occurred in 1796 when the Synods of
Moray and of Fife both laid overtures before the General Assembly in
Edinburgh. These overtures petitioned the Assembly to consider the
methods by which the gospel was to be spread over the world. The
debate which resulted on May 27 of that year has been called 'the
most extraordinary perhaps, and the richest in character that ever
originated in the Courts of a Protestant Church'. Its drama arose
from the composition of that Assembly, for its members represented
very different and far from homogeneous parties...
In the famous debate of 1796 William McBean spoke earnestly for his
Synod's overture. Addressing his ministerial brethren, he reminded
them how they prayed every Lord's day 'for the speedy and universal
diffusion of the gospel' and that it was therefore incumbent upon
them to prove their sincerity 'by shewing an example of active zeal,
in bringing about this happy event'. 'Scripture prophecy,' the
minister of Alves concluded, 'points our faith to the accomplishment
of this promised event, and while we anticipate, it ought also to be
our endeavour to hasten the time when the knowledge of the Lord shall
cover the earth "as the waters cover the sea."
This appeal was speedily countered by the Rev. Mr. Hamilton of
Gladsmuir who affirmed: 'To spread abroad the knowledge of the gospel
among barbarous and heathen nations seems to me highly
preposterous... The apostle Paul preached, not to naked savages, but
to the inhabitants of cultured cities.' Such a claim was too much for
the conscience of John Erskine to endure in silence; rising to his
feet and stretching his hand to the bookboard before the Moderator,
the seventy-five year old evangelical leader exclaimed, 'Rax me that
Bible!' He then proceeded to read from Acts 28, a passage which shows
Paul preaching in the very kind of situation which Hamilton would
have had them regard as impossible.
But Erskine's long-to-be-remembered intervention made no impression
upon 'Jupiter' Carlyle [Dr. Alexander Carlyle of Inveresk], who rose
to support Hamilton's motion that the two overtures on missions be
dismissed. Dr. Hill, not wishing to put the Assembly in such an
entirely negative position, suggested a rider to Hamilton's motion of
dismissal committing them to 'resolve that they will embrace with
zeal and thankfulness any future opportunity of contributing by their
exertions to the propagation of the Gospel of Christ'. This expedient
carried the day by a majority of fourteen...
Another twenty-eight years were to pass before the General Assembly
in 1824 gave its formal support to foreign missions.