“If It Be Thou; Bid Me Come”
[In this document we learn of Hudson Taylor feeling impressed to leave for China sooner than had been planned formerly. However, in seeking wisdom from others, the unanimous opposition led him to abandon that plan. Then his employer in Hull sought to retain him longer, asking that Hudson sign a multi-year contract, which he declined, feeling that he could not sign such a contract that could hinder his following God’s leading and timing in going to China. Finally, increasingly feeling that God was calling him to London, he went forward by faith even though he didn’t have a place to stay nor funding for living in the city. He obeyed. Moving forward, God opened the way before him in many ways. This is a highly instructive chapter for those seeking to know how God leads us forward in ministry.]
IF IT BE THOU, BID ME COME
It is perhaps hardly to be wondered at that in the light of these experiences the importance of something higher far than money, in relation to the service of God, began to impress Hudson Taylor. His quiet life at Drainside was working a change in his attitude toward many things. There were memorable hours that winter in which he saw from the divine standpoint as never before, and a spirit shines out in his letters of the early spring that is clearly traceable to the trials into which he had been brought and the faith and prayer that overcame them.
Moving To China Early
" I feel I have not long to stay in this country now," he wrote to his sister on March 1. " I do not know what turn Providence is about to take, but I think some change is coming, and I am forewarned that I may be prepared. Pray for me that my faith fail not . . . I am so unworthy, so unfit for the Lord's service! But that will only make the glory more entirely His. Oh to be instrumental in bringing many to His fold !
" I feel the Lord is saying, 'If I open the door or bid thee go, wilt thou go, even if thou canst not see the way clearly ? Wilt thou trust in Me ? The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Ye are of more value than many sparrows.' I do not feel sure that He does not intend me to give up my situation and work my passage out to China to go in faith, nothing doubting, I am waiting patiently on Him for guidance. In due time He will manifest His will, and then He, and He alone, can give me grace to fulfil it."
Only two weeks previously he had written to his mother. " Must I leave as soon as I can save money enough to go ? ""Now it was no longer a question of money. It was the far more important question of souls.
" Oh Amelia," he continued, " my heart is bound to you by ten thousand ties ! But if my Saviour calls, shall I not obey ? If He has left His throne in glory to come and bleed and die for us, shall we not leave all, all, and follow Him ? If I stay here another two years and save fifty or sixty pounds to pay my expenses to China, I shall land there no better off than if I go at once and work my passage out. In two years there will die in that land at least twenty-four million people. . . . In six or eight months I should be able to talk a little Chinese. And if I could instruct in the truths of the Gospel one poor sinner, and the Spirit accompanied the word with power to his soul and he were saved -- to all eternity he would be happy, praising the Redeemer. Then what would the hardships of a four or five months' voyage weigh in comparison ? These `light afflictions which are but for a moment' work out ` a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory' "
To his mother also he wrote a characteristic letter about this thought of working his passage out to China. His idea was, failing a berth as assistant to a ship's surgeon, to go as a sailor before the mast, and he had fully informed himself as to all that would be involved. Captain Finch especially had warned him of the hardships of a five months' voyage under the latter conditions, assuring him that he could never stand either the work or the companionship that must fall to his lot. But upon examining into details Hudson Taylor found nothing to daunt his faith or courage, and the very fact that it would mean sacrifice to the point of suffering made it seem all the more worth while, for Jesus' sake.
But of this he said little to his mother, dwelling rather upon the rich compensations both in this life and in the life to come.
" I am deeply thankful," he wrote, referring to one of her recent letters, " that you do not wish to recall the offering you made of me to the Lord. Perhaps He means to try our sincerity in this respect sooner than either of us anticipated. If I do not know the intensity of a mother's love, I feel so much the strength of a son's love, a brother's love, of love to friends and brethren in the Lord, that the thought of leaving all seems like tearing away part of one's very self. But,praise God, I know something also of a Saviour's love, though but little yet. He is to me a satisfying portion, and I can truly say,
I all on earth forsake,
Its wisdom, fame and power,
And Thee my only portion make,
My Shield and, Tower.
" Oh Mother, I cannot tell you how unspeakably happy I was on Sunday afternoon while singing those words ! My soul was overwhelmed with heavenly joys. I felt I had nothing to give up worthy of mention, compared with what I had to receive. I could not refrain from tears of joy as I dedicated myself afresh to the service of Him who has loved us and washed us from our sins in His own precious blood.
" Oh how strong I felt in the joy of the Lord ! ... He soon, however, made me realise that my strength is in Him and of Him only. I was feeling as if, for Him, I could leave all. But this thought followed quickly : 'It is no use talking and thinking about what you could do. What will you do ? Peter thought he could do this and that, but when the test came he denied his Lord.' Yes, I should fail as he did if I tried in my own strength. But the Holy Spirit can work in us ' to will and to do.' Our sufficiency is of Him. I feel I am helpless in myself, but' God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.' "
That he was deeply feeling the reality of all this is evident from a second letter to his sister that accompanied the above, dated March 12.
" We dwell too much on the things that are seen and temporal," he wrote, " and far too little on those that are unseen and eternal... . Only let us keep these things in view, and the cares and pleasures of this world will not affect us much. . . . Oh, my dear Sister, let us live for eternity ! Let us seek to be near the throne. What if for this we have to pass, as we undoubtedly shall, through great tribulation ? Does He not promise, ` I will never leave thee nor forsake thee' ? So that we may boldly say `The Lord is my helper : I will not fear what man shall do unto me.' Praise His holy name ! ...
" Oh for more grace and love, a love like His, who counted not His life dear unto Himself that He might redeem us ! He sought not ease and comfort, that He might secure eternal happiness and heavenly rest for us. The value of a soul-how immense, incalculable ! The precious blood of Christ was the only price at which it could be purchased, and that was not withheld. If we really believe these things and have received the blessings that flow from His sacrifice, shall we withhold ourselves, our loved ones from Him ? . . . Shall we fear to enter on His service because it will lessen our comforts ? Shall we count even our lives dear, if we may perchance win souls for Jesus ? No, a thousand times no ! If we do, how dwelleth the love of God in us? ...
" Dear, dear Sister, let us live for God and for Him only. Let us seek to know all His will and to do it, whatever the cost. And may God, from whom all good desires arise and through whom alone they can be carried out, pour on you and on me' the healthful spirit of His grace,' that having no desire save to do His will we may be enabled to perform it, and that in us He may be glorified."
But ready though he was for the sacrifice involved, Hudson Taylor was not to work his way out to China before the mast. " He was not to be tried thus far," wrote his mother, recalling with thankfulness the guidance given in answer to their prayers. For it was evident to those whose opinion he valued most that the time had not yet come for him to go forward. He was too young as yet. Further training was needed and experience in the things of God. It was well, no doubt, that it was in his heart to leave all and follow wherever the Master led. But was He leading just at that time to China ? To his parents and friends it seemed not. He had been much in prayer that if it were the Lord's will for him to go without delay, they might recognise it and bid him God-speed. But all advised against it. He could not have taken the step without disregarding the counsel of Christian friends in Hull as well as of his own circle in Barnsley. And this he would not do ; for he was dealing with God, who can overrule second causes.
He gathered therefore that the Lord's time had not yet come. It might be that He was leading to some other step in preparation for the future, but evidently it was not His purpose that he should leave immediately for China. The conclusion was not come to lightly. It was hard to give up his carefully thought-out plans, and he learned that there may be self-will even in what looks like devotion. It was an opportunity, however, for putting into practice the important principle, " To obey is better than sacrifice," and he embraced it cheerfully, handing over all results to the Lord. After taking time to assure himself that he was being led of God, he wrote to his mother on March 22:
As to my going to China-in accordance with the unanimous advice of those I have consulted here and with your own opinion, I intend, D.V., to remain in Hull another year and wait upon the Lord for guidance. I was much pleased with your judgment, as I had prayed the Lord, to whom all hearts are open, to bring us definitely to one mind. If it be His will for me to go sooner, He can thrust me out or open the way unmistakably, The Lord does answer prayer and make good His promises. I long to see you all again, and do not anticipate a lengthened delay now.
Sunday last was, I think, the happiest day I ever spent, and still I feel the peace that passes all understanding : peace flowing like a river, deep and still, ... perfect rest in Him who is the Rock of Ages. Praise the Lord, He is ever near us!
His presence makes our paradise,
And where He is, is heaven.
A week spent at home in the lovely month of April, while it brought untold refreshment, made the dreariness of Drainside on his return all the more apparent. But inwardly he was rejoicing in the Lord, and though " rather unhinged at first," as he wrote to his sister, soon settled down to hard work and solitude once more. It was like him, as the days lengthened, to turn to good account the strip of waste land in front of the cottage for the benefit of Mrs. Finch and her family. His love of plants and nature generally was so great that even mustard and cress growing outside his window was better than nothing, and his efforts at gardening, though confined within utilitarian limits, afforded him much satisfaction.
That was a precious summer, spent in working, thinking, praying, and in diligent study of the Word of God. Time seemed all too short for the many duties crowded into it, and he was learning how much more can be accomplished in a day from which an hour is deliberately taken for prayer, than in the same time wholly given to one's ordinary occupations.
Declining a Contract
" I am finding it a good plan," he wrote to his sister in July, " not to attempt anything in my own strength, but to look to the Lord for all.... I would earnestly recommend you never to read your Bible, much less any other book, , . . nor even attempt to write a letter, without first lifting your heart to the Lord, that He may guide, enlighten, and teach you . . . delivering you from the snares of the evil one and in all things giving you His blessing. Try it, and you will find it no vain thing to wait upon the Lord. "He was deeply feeling at this time his need of a wisdom higher than his own, his friend and employer having put before him proposals of a generous nature with regard to the completion of his medical studies. Twelve months' work together had convinced Dr. Hardey that he had found no ordinary assistant. He valued his services highly, and was interested in the lad not merely on his own account but because of the missionary future he kept so steadfastly in view. The plan he suggested, however, involved a contract of the nature of an apprenticeship for several years. This was a serious consideration with Hudson Taylor, and finally led to his declining the offer. It was not easy to take this step, eager as he was to become a medical man ; but the more he prayed over it the more he felt he dared not bind himself by any such agreement, not knowing when or how the Lord might open his way to China.
Ever since his visit to Barnsley the conviction had been growing upon him that the time had come for some step in that direction. He was now twenty years of age, and realised the importance of making the best use of the little while that might remain to him in England. London attracted him because of its advantages for medical study. He had not forgotten the help proffered by Mr. Pearse and the Chinese Evangelisation Society, before he came to Hull. They had then been willing to bear the expense of his fees at the London Hospital if he could obtain employment that would leave him time for study, or otherwise provide his board and lodging. Did that offer still hold good, he wondered, and, if so, could he avail himself of it ?
Gradually as he prayed over the matter it became clear to him that he ought not to remain in Hull much longer. He had learned all he could from Dr. Hardey under present conditions, and to stay on meant loss of time, as far as preparation for China was concerned. Yes, go he ought and must, in faithfulness to his future service. But how was it to be accomplished ?
Accepting Another Possible Plan
And just then a test of faith was permitted that, coming suddenly, found him unprepared. His father at home in Barnsley had for some time been more or less unsettled in his business. He was still an active man of only five-and forty, and something, it may be his son's missionary spirit, had stirred in him longings for a wider field of usefulness. He had no doubt thought and prayed over Hudson's suggestion that he should go as an evangelist to China, but many circumstances combined to make this impracticable. A further thought had grown out of it, however, that for a time influenced him strongly. Might there not be in the new world of Canada or the United States opportunities for carrying on his business, and even bettering the family fortunes, in a far more needy sphere than Barnsley and its neighbourhood afforded? The more he considered it the stronger became his desire to go and see ; and the mother was deputed accordingly to find out from Hudson what he would think of taking charge at home for the next two years.
Filled with surprise and almost consternation, the latter hardly gave due weight to the wishes of his parents. Gladly would he have gone home for two years, or ten, to liberate his father for work in China. But a business journey to America, even though combined with an evangelistic purpose, seemed to him a very different proposition. To his mother he wrote freely, dwelling on all that it would mean to abandon at such a time the little preparation he could make for his life-work. Did he forget for the moment that that life with all that concerned it was in the hands of God ? If so he was quickly recalled to the real rest of his soul, and made to realise that his point of view had been selfish and wrong. How true was his repentance may be seen from the following:
HULL, July 9, 1852.
MY DEAR FATHER--I cannot come to you, and so write to say in the language of the prodigal, " I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son." Conscience has repeatedly troubled me about the answer I sent to your inquiry as to whether I was willing to come home for two years, should you go abroad, and I can no longer rest without .., entreating your forgiveness.
Though I mentioned the sacrifices I should have to make in coming home, I said nothing about those you have so willingly made for me the sleepless hours, the anxious thoughts, the expense to which you have been put, the education you have given me by which I am able to procure all the comforts I now enjoy. And this is the return I have made for all these kindnesses. I have written of the sacrifices I should have to make in undertaking to manage for a short time the business at which you have toiled for twenty years for my benefit. Father, I have been an ungrateful son..., I am deeply sorry. Will you forgive me ?
I will earnestly endeavour, by the grace of God, to be more dutiful in future, and if you still wish me to come home for two years I will do so willingly, nay with pleasure, as it will give me an opportunity of showing the sincerity of my repentance. Then afterwards, if the Lord will, I shall hope to engage in His work in China.....-Believe me, dear Father, your affectionate son,
JAMES HUDSON TAYLOR.
But again in the providence of God the sacrifice he was ready to make was not required. For the father abandoned the idea of going abroad, and soon settled down as before to his useful, honoured life in Barnsley. Thus Hudson was free to reconsider his own movements and the question of going to London.
And now came a time long to be remembered in his experience, a time that would have been one of painful anxiety had not the grace of God turned it all to joy and peace. For the clearer became his conviction of what the Lord would have him do, the greater seemed the difficulties in the way of carrying it out. He felt quite sure that the right thing was to give notice to Dr. Hardey without delay, and go forward to his medical studies in London. But all his efforts to find suitable employment proved unavailing. With no means to fall back upon, save the small sum laid by to provide an outfit for China ; with few friends in the great city, and no home open to him there, he might well have been discouraged. But the very reverse was the case. Instead of wasting time and strength in anxious thought, he was enabled to leave it all in the hands of God, praying with childlike trust, " Make Thy way plain_ before my face." How things would work out for him he could not tell ; but he gave himself the more to prayer, confident that at the right time guidance would be given.
All through July and August this faith was growing stronger, and he was delighting in the promises of the thirty-seventh Psalm.
Trust in the Lord and do good, so shalt thou dwell in the land and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. . . . Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. . . . The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delighteth in his way.
As he thought upon these assurances, so full and so explicit, an unlooked-for change came over everything, and he began to see in the light that only shines from the Unseen. What was he really waiting for? He was not poor and in difficulties, but rich-rich as all the promises of God. Was it his duty to go forward ? What though there seemed no solid ground to tread upon ! Was his Master there upon the unknown sea before him ? Was it His voice heard across the waters ? Then he could leave the little boat without hesitation and go to Jesus. If it be Thou, Lord, " if it be Thou, bid me come." And the answer was in tones he could not doubt.
" I think I have never enjoyed such peace of mind as lately," he wrote to his mother on August 27. " And the reason is that instead of looking at circumstances I leave myself in the hands of God. What a wonderful Psalm the 37th is. Oh, the rich feasts laid up for us in the precious Word!..... .
" With regard to London : when I returned here from Barnsley, I began prayerfully to consider why I desired to take the step contemplated ; and I believe my only object is that I may be enabled to serve the Lord better and be more useful in the advancement of His Kingdom. This step I have every ground for thinking will be a valuable preparation for China. Then why do I not take it ? Simply because I am in doubt about the wherewithal. If my earthly father had offered to send me five or ten pounds in case of need, I should have resigned my position here without hesitation. How much more should I go forward trusting in Him who says : `Take no thought saying, What shall we eat ? or What shall we drink ? or Wherewithal shall we be clothed ? ... Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.' ` Trust in the Lord and do good, so shalt thou dwell in the land and verily thou shalt be fed.'" To go on depending on circumstances seems to me like doubting the Lord. Consequently I gave notice to Dr. Hardey on Saturday last, and shall go up to London whether I obtain a situation or not, trusting in the Lord. I have heard of one to-day and shall write about it, though I do not think it will suit me on account of distance from the Hospital. As to getting a salary, that is quite out of the question. If I can find a position that will allow six or eight hours a day for lectures, that is all I can expect.
" I am indeed proving the truth of that word : ` Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.' My mind is quite as much at rest, nay more than it would be if I had a hundred pounds in my pocket. May He keep me ever thus, simply depending on Him for every blessing, temporal as well as spiritual, for Jesus' sake."
This decision arrived at, Hudson was not afraid to burn his bridges behind him. He wrote at once to his cousin who was still in Barnsley, suggesting that he should apply to Dr. Hardey for the post he was himself vacating. John Hodson had been truly converted during his apprenticeship through the helpful influence of his relatives, and was now seeking a situation that would facilitate his medical studies. He had been in considerable anxiety about the future, and no one rejoiced more when Dr. Hardey gave him the appointment than the cousin whose place he was taking. But Hudson's interest in his welfare went deeper than these outward things, and very earnestly he sought to make use of the position in which they found themselves to strengthen his faith in God.
" Forgive me, dear John," he wrote, " if I urge you to study the Bible more and pray more for the Holy Spirit ... to give you more light and love and more faith in it day by day ; then the unsettledness you have been feeling with regard to your future prospects will pass away. If you have had enough to make you unsettled, what about me ? And yet through the grace of God my mind has been and is kept ` in perfect peace' because stayed upon Him... .
"You ask what I shall do if no situation turns up. I shall go, D. V., to London ; endeavour to `trust in the Lord and do good' and in all my ways to acknowledge Him, . . . and He will care for my needs. At the same time He expects us to pray about these things. `Ask, and it shall be given you.'
" Dear John, it is sweet to depend on Jesus only. I have not heard of a likely situation yet, nor am I anxious to do` so if He would have me wait. I received a note from Uncle Benjamin yesterday, offering to take me in as his guest until I can find suitable employment and I shall probably go there. You and I see a providence in these things."
A few lines to his sister written the same day, September 4, show that he was not insensible to the difficulty of his position. He was feeling the uncertainty keenly, but was willing to be tried in this or any other way that was for his good and the glory of God.
No situation has turned up in London that will suit me. But I am not concerned about it, as He is " the same, yesterday, to-day and forever." His love is unfailing, His word is unchangeable, His power is ever the same ; therefore the heart that trusts in Him is kept in perfect peace. . . . I know He only tries me to increase my faith, and that it is all in love. Well, if He is glorified I am content. Pray for me, dear Sister, that He who alone can keep us from falling . . . may strengthen my faith and perfect me in love.
Shortly after these letters were written, the way began to clear before him. His uncle in London had already offered a temporary home ; the Chinese Evangelisation Society renewed their arrangement with regard to his hospital fees; and the meeting he attended in Hull gave him introductions to a few Christian friends who would be accessible from his Soho quarters. Other offers of help reached him which though not accepted confirmed his assurance that he was being guided aright. Full of thankfulness he wrote to his sister in the middle of September:
Oh the love of God, the goodness of my Father and your Father, my God and your God ! How kind of Him to keep me in such perfect peace and full of joy and happiness when outwardly in the most difficult position. Had I left the question " Shall I go or stay ? " to be settled by circumstances, how uncertain I should have been, and how uncertain John would have been. But as the Lord enabled me to take the step without hesitation, because it was for His glory, leaving everything in His hands, my mind has been just as peaceful as it would otherwise have been unsettled. In all probability I should not have been able to sleep properly, and what with that and my business, which fully occupies time and strength, I should have been thoroughly knocked up.
Praise the Lord for His goodness! He has provided, so far, all that is necessary. Now I have a home to go to, money to pay the fees of the Ophthalmic Hospital as well as the course at the London ... and some Christian friends. When He sees fit, if He sees fit, He will find me a suitable situation, and if not, He will provide for and occupy me as seems best to Him. I leave it all in His hands, for I see plainly that it is the best way for peace and safety. He can manage these matters much better than we can. Last autumn I was fretting and stewing, reckoning and puzzling about how to manage this and that like a person in water who cannot swim, or a fish out of it. But it all came to nothing. Now, when the Lord opens the way, though everything seems adverse, He first removes one difficulty and then another, plainly saying " Be still and know that I am God."
" Thou art my King, O God : command deliverance for Jacob... .I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me.... In God we boast all the day long, and praise Thy name forever."'
I know I cannot guide or keep myself, even in temporal matters, but I know that He will guide me by His counsel and afterwards receive me to glory.... Why should we be anxious, and for what ? For temporal blessings? He knows that we have need of "all these things." For spiritual blessings ? In Him there is fulness for every need. Poor, weak, failing as we are, Jesus is ours. " In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily " : and we are " complete in Him."
Taken from the Early Years: The Growth of the Soul, Chapter 11, "If It Be Thou, Bid Me Come"