The Gospel in an Indian Catholic Church

The summer of 1912 was spent ministering the Word in New Mexico. After some time in Albuquerque, where we were the guests of one of the most devoted Christian business men I have ever known, William E. Mauger, called by many of the people of that city, “The Angel of Albuquerque,” because of his care for the sick and the needy and his earnestness in making known the gospel of the grace of God, my family and I went out at his suggestion and by the invitation of a group of Indian Christians, to the village of Casa Blanca. This was one of the Pueblos inhabited by the Laguna tribe.

Of all the “Children of the Sun” the Lagunas are perhaps the most highly civilized, and in many respects the gentlest and kindliest of the aboriginal inhabitants of the South-west. Before the pure gospel came to them, their religion consisted of a mixture of Romanism and Paganism. They would attend the services at the three-hundred-year-old Roman Catholic church in Laguna on a Sunday morning, but would carry on their regular pagan ceremonies on other occasions. Many years ago, however, evangelical work had been begun by missionaries of the Presbyterian Church, and throughout the years since there has been a group of real Christians, many of whom have manifested in a marked degree the Spirit of Christ and have been free from the superstition of their forefathers.

At the time of which I write, there had been no resident missionary in the field for some months, and many more months were to elapse ere one was settled among them. So, having met some of the Christian leaders in Albuquerque, I accepted their invitation to take my family there and labor among them for the summer. We had some very interesting experiences preaching the gospel in their seven villages, and learned to love these dear simple people very much. They, on their part, could not have been kinder to us, nor more appreciative of the message that we brought.

While I was ministering among them, some of the Roman Catholic Indians of Laguna came to the Christians and asked, if I were really a servant of God, why I preached in school-houses and private homes rather than in the church in their village. They were told that I was not a Roman Catholic, and so took it for granted I would not be welcomed there. The Indians inquired, “Who would not welcome him?” “Well,” the others said, “the priest would not permit him to preach in a Catholic church.” The Indians answered, “The church does not belong to the priest, and besides he only visits us occasionally. The Indians built the church long ago, and we would like to hear the missionary.”

I was asked if I would be willing to preach if an invitation were extended, and, of course, I agreed to do it. It was arranged the next Sunday that I should go down with quite a group of the Christians from Casa Blanca to Laguna and attend the church. We sat through a service conducted by an old Indian sacristan, and my heart was pained as I realized how hollow, formal, and unscriptural it all was. But when this was all over, the heads of the people were called to the front and interrogated in the Laguna language by the sacristan.

As interpreted to me afterwards, he said something like this: “I am told that there is a man of God laboring in our villages whose object is to make clear to the people the way of life and salvation. I am told that he is not trying to destroy the church, but to explain the Holy Scriptures. I am told that many of our people think he should be heard here in the church. What is your judgment?” All agreed that he was correct. He then asked if they would call me to the front. They did so, and he addressed me quite volubly in his own language, of which, of course, I could not understand a word. But my own interpreter, Ulysses Paisano, who was a leader among the Christians, turned to me and said: “The old man says that because the people want to hear you, and because it is reported that you are a man of God seeking to help the people and show them the way of life and salvation,

and not to tear down the churches or quarrel with others, he says to you: ‘As sacristan of this church, I give you authority to read the Holy Scriptures, to pray to God, and preach the gospel to these people, and to stand in the place where the priest’s feet stand.’ “ I thanked him and immediately went up into the pulpit.

I preached from the text, “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). I do not know when I have preached with a greater sense of the presence and power of the Spirit of God. My own heart was deeply moved as I looked upon some three hundred dark faces with their shining black eyes, as the people sat, many of them, upon the dirt floor listening eagerly to the Word of God.

When I returned to Casa Blanca that evening, I wrote out the address I had given while it was still fresh in my mind. It has been published as a tract entitled, “For Your Sakes,” and many thousands of copies have been sold throughout the years since. Many people perhaps have wondered to see at the heading of it, “A Sermon Preached in the Roman Catholic Church of Laguna, New Mexico.” Simple as it is, I am inserting it here, hoping others may be helped through reading it, after the lapse of so many years.

“In the first place, I want to call your attention to a remarkable statement by St. Paul in this text of Holy Scripture, concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. He tells us “He was rich!” Do you know when that was? Can you answer the question, “When was He rich?”

He was not rich at His birth. We are told that the blessed Virgin Mary and her good husband St. Joseph came to an inn that night, but there was no room in the inn. Now, we know well enough that though a place like that might be pretty well crowded, still, if one has lots of money, he can be reasonably sure of getting some sort of accommodation. But St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary were poor. They could not afford to pay well for a room, and so that night they spent in the stable, and there the Lord Jesus was born. They took the holy Babe and wrapped Him in swaddling bands and put Him in the manger. That was His cradle. He was poor as the poorest at His very birth. Yet St. Paul says, “He was rich!” When?

Was it as He grew older? When He was a young Child, Herod, a wicked king, sought to kill Him, and a holy angel from heaven warned Joseph in a dream to flee with Him into Egypt; and in obedience to the warning he took the young Child and His mother and fled as he was told. They were poor, homeless wanderers, fleeing from the wicked king.

And when at last the time came to return to Palestine, they went to, and dwelt in, Nazareth, one of the meanest and worst cities in all the land. There the Lord Jesus grew up, and there He was known as “The Carpenter.” How close He has come to you hardworking men! His hands used the hammer and the saw; and yet He made the worlds! How He has dignified labor! But do rich men work like this? No; but He was poor. Rich people did not live in Nazareth. If they got rich, they would move away.

At last the time came when Jesus was baptized by John, and began to go about preaching and teaching the people, and by His mighty works showing that He was the Son of God. Did He become rich then?

No; for He said, “The foxes have holes; the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.” Who could be poorer than that? You have homes of some kind; and you enjoy certain comforts of life. He had no home. Often He slept on the mountains and pillowed His holy head on the ground. He was a homeless stranger down here.

Yet St. Paul says, “He was rich!” When was He rich? Never while on earth. But before that; before He was born as a little Babe in the stable—before He stooped to this poor world—oh, then He was rich! All heaven was His. He was the delight of God the Father’s heart. All the holy angels loved to wait on Him, and to obey His least desire. Riches such as only belong to God were His; but He left them all for us!

Think of such amazing love. A heaven full of angels could not satisfy Him. He must come down to earth and live and suffer and die to bring back a host of poor sinners, cleansed by His precious blood, to share His heaven with Him. Then, when He has them all about Him in that glorious place, “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied.”

Yes, He was rich!—none so rich as He! But “for your sakes He became poor.” I have spoken of the poverty in which He was born, and of the poverty of His life. But, after all, that is not the worst poverty. To have friends who will comfort and help me, will cheer me even if I am poor; to have them care for me when I am sick, and show love and sympathy when I am dying—ah, no man is really poor who has friends like that!

But listen. The time came when He must die. Did He have friends then to help and cheer? No. “All the disciples forsook Him and fled.” He was nailed to that bitter cross, and crowned with thorns; and in His anguish “He looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters but He found none.” Ah, now He is poor; poorer than I hope any of you will ever be. He has not one friend to stand by Him now. He has indeed become poor at last.

But is this the deepest poverty? No! For even though men forsake you in trouble, in the hour of death, still if you are a pious man you may be comforted of God. He will never forsake you. He will ever be with you. To have the presence of the Most High is not to be poor; it is to be rich!

Did Jesus have this sustaining joy? Listen to the cry of anguish that bursts from His sorrow-stricken heart: “My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Ah, now He is indeed in deep poverty! God has turned away His face from His beloved Son, and left Him alone to surfer and to die!

Do you ask, “Why was so holy an One forsaken by God like this?” The answer is in the text: “For your sakes.” If you have to meet God in your sins, with all your guilt upon your soul, He must turn His face away from you, and leave you in the darkness forever! He cannot look upon sin. And so when Christ Jesus was dying for us, bearing our sins, God turned His face away from Him that He might look in love and grace on us!

But now listen well! Though Christ became so poor “that ye through His poverty might become rich,” some will never get those heavenly riches. They are for all; forgiveness of all sins, the Spirit of God to dwell in your breast, a place in heaven to share Christ’s joy and be in the glory with Him. All these riches He has purchased for you; but you cannot have them unless you come to Him and trust Him as your Saviour. You cannot have them if you cling to your sins. If you want to go on in sin, you will miss the heavenly riches. To obtain them you must turn to God in repentance, trusting the Lord Jesus as your own Saviour.

There will be lost souls in hell-fire who will wail forever: “Jesus became poor that I might be rich; Jesus died that I might be saved; and I knew all about it: but I loved my sins more than Christ! I loved my follies and my wicked ways and I turned away from His loving voice; so now I am lost and there is no hope. I have come to the end and beyond this life there is no more mercy. I can never share the true riches now. I must be poor, poor, POOR, forever!”

Oh, I trust none here today will have to take up that awful cry. But if you would not, do not trifle. Come at once to Jesus Christ, confessing your sins direct to Him, fleeing from every evil way; and He will cleanse you from them all, and give you a share in the true riches.

I close by directing your earnest attention to some solemn words spoken by St. Paul in a sermon he preached on one occasion in a Jewish synagogue. They are found in Acts 13:38-41. “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man” (that is, Christ Jesus—who became so poor that you might be rich) “is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (that is, by your own good works). But now notice what he adds, “Beware therefore, lest that come upon you which is spoken of in the prophets: Behold, ye despisers” (oh, I trust there are none who will despise such grace here today!) “and wonder and perish:” (that is, if you refuse to be saved through Christ alone, you must die in your sins) “for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.” I am a poor, weak man, but today I have declared it unto you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and now I must leave it with you, praying that each one will share these eternal riches which Christ became so poor to give us a part in. May He grant it for His Name’s sake!”

The full result of that meeting will never be known here on earth, but that which came to my knowledge gave me great satisfaction in after-days. One outstanding conversion was that of the leader of the responses at the Roman Catholic services. He was an Indian of brilliant mind, and had a fairly good English education, having been brought up in a Government school. For a long time he had been dissatisfied with the mixed religion of his people and the lack of certainty as to the way whereby he might obtain the knowledge of forgiveness of sins. He sought me out after that meeting, and we had several long interviews over an open Bible. The result was that he was brought into a full, clear knowledge of salvation, withdrew from the Roman Catholic communion, and at once began to preach the Word in power among his people. For several years he had an outstanding testimony among them and was used of God to lead others into the light, and then was taken Home to be with Christ.

Oftentimes, when I hear Christians of narrow sectarian views finding fault with their brethren because they go into various places to preach the gospel, where perhaps the full truth is not heard, I think of that Lord’s Day when it was my privilege to preach in the Roman Catholic church of Laguna, and I can only wish that every Catholic church throughout the land were open to evangelical preachers, and that forgetting all sectarian narrowness and realizing only their responsibility to the Lord, they would carry the gospel into every place where the door is opened for a clear, scriptural message.