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Words: James McGranahan (b. July 4, 1840; d. July 9, 1907)
Music: James McGranahan
Note: This gospel song was written in 1886. The initials “G.M.J.,” used in some early books to indicate the author of the words, are actually a pen name of Mr. McGranahan’s.
The world has been shrinking dramatically over the last two centuries. Not in a physical sense, of course, but in terms of our accessibility to it. Think of living in the world when there was no motorized transportation. No airplanes or automobiles, not even any trains until early in the nineteenth century. A world where a journey by sea had to rely on the power of the wind.
Getting to another part of the globe was a major undertaking in those days, and often perilous. Further, communication had to rely on letters carried by the means described. No telephones, no Internet. It was extremely difficult to get word back home to family and friends, to let them know of your progress, or tell them you had finally arrived at your destination.
Here’s an example of the latter problem. David Livingstone went to Africa as an explorer and a Christian missionary. But months stretched into years, and people began to wonder what had become of him. Was he being held captive somewhere? Was he even alive? Finally, an American newspaperman for the New York Herald, Henry Morton Stanley, determined to lead an expedition to find out. After nearly eight months of searching, he found Dr Livingstone in Ujiji, a small village on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, on November 10, 1871.
Yet, in spite of such difficulties and the many hardships to be faced, the Lord Jesus, before He returned to heaven, issued what we call the Great Commission: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). This was not simply a directive for those gathered around Him that day, since Christ promised He would be present with those engaged in the task “always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).
Nor, in speaking of “the world,” was the commission only for the Roman world. At its greatest extent, that empire included a large swath of territory around the Mediterranean Sea. But the Lord declared that the gospel should be shared, “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This work began during the period covered by the New Testament, but it went on after that, and continues to this day.
Though they do not carry the certitude of inspired Scripture, early church history, and tradition suggest something of the later work of the apostles. It seems possible, for example, that Matthew ministered in Africa, and there is strong evidence that Thomas was a missionary to India. Several churches there trace their history back to him.
Given the difficulties of travel and communication, not to mention the hostility early missionaries sometimes faced, it is a sign of their dedication to Christ and to the task He assigned that they kept at it. Paul tells us:
“Five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked…in perils of robbers…in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (II Cor. 11:24-28).
Some of those hazards and great trials are happening still. But we do have advances in travel and communications to help us. Can we not, with all our modern technology, continue this work? Gospel musician James McGranahan wrote words and music for a song calling upon God’s people to answer the missionary call.
CH-1) Far, far away, in heathen darkness dwelling,
Millions of souls forever may be lost;
Who, who will go, salvation’s story telling,
Looking to Jesus, heeding not the cost?
Modern editors seem to me to be overly concerned about the word “heathen” in the first line, sometimes substituting “in death and darkness dwelling.” But “heathen” is a perfectly fine word, indicating pagans, those who do not worship the true God. My greater concern is for the first three words of the opening verse, “far, far away,” Yes, there are multitudes in other lands that need the gospel. But I’ve had congregations sing that first stanza again, substituting “right near our door.” You don’t have to cross the ocean to meet the heathen.
McGranahan’s refrain repeats the words of Christ, combining statements found in Matthew and Mark
“All power is given unto Me,
All power is given unto Me,
Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel,
And lo, I am with you always.”
CH-2) See o’er the world wide open doors inviting,
Soldiers of Christ, arise and enter in!
Christians, awake! your forces all uniting,
Send forth the gospel, break the chains of sin.
CH-3) “Why will you die?” the voice of God is calling.
“Why will you die?” re-echo in His name;
Jesus has died to save from death appalling,
Life and salvation, therefore go proclaim.
1) What do you do personally to stay informed about missionary work and support it?
2) What is being done in your church to promote and support the cause of world missions?