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The Missionary: His Qualifications

Hudson Taylor

Introduction to his Work, and Mode of Life

In the broadest sense of the word every Christian should be a Missionary. Christ has redeemed us that we should be "witnesses unto Him," and should "show forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light." Of all His redeemed He says, "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world." The sphere of service may be large or small, at home or abroad; the called may be old or young, weak or strong, but the principle remains the same: We are left down here to be witnesses unto Him; and to bear witness always, wherever we may be, is alike our privilege and our duty.

But in a more restricted sense, there are some who are called to leave their secular avocations and to give up their whole lives to Missionary work. Such are our Ministers, Evangelists and Missionaries at home, as well as abroad-for the field is the world. In this paper, however, we shall only consider the case of those who are called to the work, to labour in China, in one or other department of missionary enterprise.

Even so our subject is a broad one; for China needs not only ordained missionaries as pastors and teachers, but many others, who may or may not be ordained, for literary and educational work, for medical missions, for evangelistic and itinerant effort; as well as for colportage, printing, business, etc. The women of China also need the Gospel as much as the men; lady workers of varied qualifications are therefore required, and beyond dispute have proved themselves most useful. To consider at all in detail the special training desirable for each of these widely varying classes of workers would occupy more time than is now at our-disposal; but it is of course obvious that to ignore such marked differences, and to suppose that the same course of preparation must be suitable in every case, would be a most serious mistake. No one expects every minister to give five years to the study of medicine; and to require every evangelist to take a full theological course is surely not more wise. China is perishing. Our plans must be sufficiently comprehensive to make room for all whom God shall call, sufficiently elastic to be adaptable to each; and yet sufficiently guarded to exclude the unsuitable, however learned, wealthy, or otherwise attractive they may be.

But though we must be prepared to vary our requirements to suit individual cases, there are a few broad principles that apply with equal force to all missionaries for China, and these we may now briefly consider. Many of them-dealing with such questions as the God-given call to missionary labour, the character desirable in a missionary, and to some extent also with the qualifications needed and the special training required-may be regarded as equally applicable to workers in other lands.

I. The Call of God

It will be universally admitted that every missionary needs to be called of God; but widely differing views exist with reference to the nature of that call, while not a few are without any definite convictions upon the subject. A missionary who is not clear on this point will be at times almost at the mercy of the great enemy. When difficulties arise, when in danger or in sickness, he will be tempted to raise the question which should have been settled before he left his native land: Am I not in the wrong place? There are, therefore, few more important questions than this:

1. How is a man to judge that he is indeed called of God to devote his life to missionary service?

The operations of the Spirit of God are exceedingly varied. In some cases there is a deep inward sense of vocation, while in others this is wanting. With many there is great longing for the spiritual enlightenment of the heathen, and a desire to promote it, but at times there is as great a shrinking from the work. It is no more safe to build on mere inward feelings (though these may be of great value) in judging of the Divine Call, than it would be to build on such feelings as a ground for assurance of salvation. The only safe guide in either case is the Word of God. For salvation, all are called, but few are chosen, for few heed the call, to obey it. For service, every child of God is called, but many heed it not; and, in like manner, others who do, are so placed as to health, family circumstances, etc., as to be free for home work only. Others there are, however, who recognize God's call in the command "Go ye," and find that no insuperable difficulties prevent them from leaving their previous avocations. As intelligent servants, knowing there are many witnesses at home and few indeed abroad, they have good ground for believing that God would have them offer themselves for the foreign field. They have fair health, have proved for themselves the ability of Christ to conquer the love and power of sin, and have no claims upon them which preclude their going wherever the Lord may have need of workers. Indeed, so strongly do they feel the call that conscience could not rest were they not to offer themselves to God for this work. Now in such a case there is first the command of the Word, then the calm judgment of the intelligence, and an earnest desire to obey, following the example of the Lord Jesus. Not their own, they will go, if sent, as His servants. They know the task will be arduous, often painful, and perhaps apparently discouraging; but they must, nevertheless, obey the call. Such convictions are very different from mere feeling. That might change, but the call would remain. Many leave a great desire to enter the mission field who are never permitted to do so; and some who go, on the strength of feelings only, afterwards profoundly regret their mistake. Mere pity for the spiritual and temporal miseries of the heathen is not alone sufficient; but God's command, brought home to the heart and conscience, God's love, the constraining power and God-given facilities which make foreign service possible, are considerations of the highest moment, and taken together are not likely to mislead.

As soon as any young Christian at home recognizes a call to work for the Lord, some special service should be commenced at once, and carried on diligently and perseveringly. This is no loss important in the case of those who hope, ultimately, to work abroad, but rather more so. In this way they may test the reality of the call, and also prove and develop their own powers. A voyage across the ocean will not make of any one a missionary, or a soul-winner. While thus proving and developing their gifts at home, such special preparation for future service as may seem practicable should also be carried on; and suitable steps taken to seek an open door to the foreign field, with much prayer that the Lord may open or shut, as, and when, He sees best. If the call be indeed of God, He will make a way; and till He does so the one called may patiently and calmly wait. A worker is not responsible for anything beyond his power. Effort, energy, and perseverance, are required of him: success will come in God's own time.

2. But how are others to determine whether those who think themselves called-and who probably are called to offer themselves-should be accepted? 

It was well that David wished to build the temple; but it was not God's way that he should do so, though he was permitted to help in the work to no small extent. The plan was committed to him, and the means were largely put in his possession; he was used to urge Solomon to do the building, and besides giving largely of his own wealth, was successful in stimulating his people to great liberality in the cause. So now, some may be led to offer themselves who are unsuited for actual work in the field; and yet, they may have this burden laid upon them, in order that, David-like, they may be helpers and givers. 

But to return to the question who should be accepted: Speaking generally we may say: Those of suitable age, character, and qualifications, and who have already proved themselves patient and successful workers at home. God gives ability for that department of work to which He calls His servant, and our question simply is this, Is there real evidence of ability for work in China? Even on this point great care and much prayerfulness are needed. One of the most successful missionaries I have met in this country was repeatedly rejected by examining boards, and not without reason. But he persevered, God opened the way, and used him to carry on a most successful work for 6 or 7 years, from which he was called to his reward. 

We may now consider:

II. The Personal Character of the Missionary for China.

I need scarcely say that he should be unmistakably saved and character thoroughly consecrated to God, living a holy, consistent life.

It is equally desirable that he should have shown himself useful and ready to help, and that in some measure at least his character should already have influenced and impressed others. But more than this, a missionary should be unselfish, considerate of and attentive to the feelings and needs of others. He should be patient-not apathetic, but able to bear opposition calmly and with long-suffering; he should be persevering also, not easily discouraged. With this is needed power to influence and to lead. I must not omit to mention one most important characteristic of a successful missionary-absence of pride of race; for nothing so much repels those amongst whom we labour, and "The Lord resisteth the proud." Power to come down to the level of those he seeks to save, and to become one with them, is most important. It is only in so far as he can do this that he will make them one with him. "The Word was made flesh;" Christ was born "under the law;" "It became Him to be made in all things likes unto His brethren"--how much more does it become us! He was the "Wisdom of God "as well as the "Power of God;" and He has left us an example that we should follow in His steps.

III. Qualifications for Service.

But besides his own personal character, certain qualifications-physical, mental, and spiritual-are needed for this service alone. I will first consider the least important of these, because it may close the door against many whom we might otherwise gladly welcome among us.

1. Physical Qualifications. 

Those should be equal to the requirements of that part in which the missionary is to labour. The nervous system should be able to bear the strain of acclimatization, of study, and of any measure of isolation the work may call for. A fairly good digestive power is needed; and good muscular strength is valuable, not only in itself, but as tending to keep the whole system in health by its exercise. The body is the Lord's; and, while not pampered, it should be well cared for, for Him.

Men of melancholy temperament, who cannot throw off the depression they are subject to, who are often more or less dyspeptic, and the highly excitable, are risky candidates for work in China.

In the case of lady missionaries, a fairly healthy and vigorous frame is very desirable. Some may marry sooner or later, and if unable to maintain health in the various circumstances of married life, not only will their own work be hindered, or come to an end, but the work of the husband may suffer, or he may have to leave the field. After considerable experience, we strongly urge the great desirability of ladies acquiring the language and becoming acclimatized before marriage, wherever this is possible. Ladies of highly excitable or hysterical temperament are not well adapted to this climate.

2. Mental Qualifications.

The mind should be thoroughly sound, and there should be no taint of hereditary insanity, or China is not unlikely to develop it. A sound judgment, everywhere valuable, is specially so in China; and the ready tact which takes in the situation and makes the best of it, is never out of place here. The absence of these qualifications may neutralize the best intentions and the most earnest efforts.

Evidence of Capacity should always be sought for. Culture is very valuable, if linked with capability; but there are some who, while they have done well in the schools, seem to have exhausted their small stock of this valuable quality. Such would be of little use here. A candidate should have ability to learn, and to become whatever may be necessary. If some advantages of education have been lacking, we may remember that missionary study and work are themselves educational; and if there is the requisite capability, very useful service may yet be accomplished.

Attractiveness and Leadership. Some persons possess a power to attract and influence, which it is difficult to explain, but is a gift of the highest value when used by the Holy Ghost. Such persons are generally fond of children, and are loved and trusted by them. The instinct of children does not often mislead them, and those who can work well with and for children will generally make good missionaries. The power of leadership is seen in some to a marked degree, and is most valuable. Where these gifts are wholly absent, or the reverse is present, great care should be taken before accepting such a candidate for China.

3. Spiritual Qualifications.

These, of course, are of supreme importance. Imperfect physical health or mental furnishings need not be absolutely fatal to success, but a true missionary must be a man of spiritual power. The work to be done is a spiritual work; the foes to be worsted are spiritual foes. Let no one think that when he has looked at the hoary civilization of China, the difficult language, the mighty power of numbers, the prejudice of race, the materialization of the minds of the Chinese, and the hindrances caused by opium and unfriendly contact with foreigners, he has surveyed the principal difficulties with which we have to contend. No! our warfare is not with these merely,-we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with wicked spirits in heavenly places, who reign in the hearts of the heathen. Enlighten the mind, affect the conscience even, and they will still remain the same, unless the Father draw them, unless the Son set them free, unless the Spirit convince of sin and renew the heart. And this work God will usually do through those who are spiritual. "When He, the Spirit of Truth is come" (John xvi. 13)-come where? come to whom? "unto you" (v. 7). What will He do? He, indwelling in the believer, "will convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment" (v. 8). And, moreover, He it is who "will guide you into all truth" (v. 13). Above all things, therefore, must the missionary be spiritually-minded.

How important it is then, that by spiritual conversation with candidates, and by prayer with them, their spiritual state should be ascertained. To be successful, missionaries must be holy men, loving the Word, feeding and feasting on it, having it dwelling in them richly; must be men of prayer, who have often proved for themselves its power. Men who wish to live for eternity, and are resolved to do so; men under "the powers of the world to come," to whom unseen things are most real and most satisfying. They must be men who have the love of God shed abroad in their hearts,-not merely men who love God, or who know that He loves them; but who have the very love of God for perishing souls shed abroad in their hearts, and who hence can do in their measure what Christ did in His, and by the same power. That love, that passion for souls, knows no repulse, fails never- is fertile in expedient, patient in difficulty, and successful in issue- for it is of God, and by His power. Oh, for such men-and for multitudes of them! Whether noble or humble, men so qualified are the great need of China. And, oh, my dear brethren, may we in this conference have a fresh anointing, and drink anew, and more deeply than ever, of the water of life; so that from each one of us-poor empty vessels though we are-rivers of living water may flow, to bless this thirsty land of China!

IV. Training.

God trains all His workers, but often in very different ways. There is no gift of God which is not improved by suitable cultivation. The body, the mind, the heart, and the soul, all benefit by it. Are we not too apt to confine our thoughts of training to the intellect merely? And is not heart-training far more important, and yet far more neglected? Much of this work-by far the most important part of it, must be left in God's hand, and will often have been accomplished before the candidate comes before us: the more largely this is the case, the more satisfactory the issue. Then comes the question, as to such additional training as we can give, When, Where, and How should it be given?

1. When?

Whenever we find the right men or women, in some important respect unfurnished for the work, it may be desirable to seek to supply what is lacking, or at least to direct them in acquiring what may be necessary. But age is a very important element; if the candidate is very young, or has been recently converted, training will be specially needed; but if already not young and the deficiency not of a serious nature, it may be unwise to detain them long for preparation at home.

2. Where?-at home or in the field?

If the training needed is for medical or literary work, for translation of the Scriptures, or for educational work, it must mainly be done at home. But wherever it is practicable, there is great advantage in much of the training being done here. The missionary can learn a great deal while acquiring the language, while becoming acclimatized, and while learning to understand the minds of the people-quite as important a matter as understanding their language. It was in this way that Joshua was trained under Moses in Old Testament times, and the disciples of Christ under our Lord in the New. In this way Paul trained his companions, and no method is more effectual, wherever it can be applied.

3. How?

This must of course largely depend on the object aimed at. I would say, however, that whether at home or here, spiritual work should always be connected with the secular; and heart training, the deepening of spiritual life, be kept not merely in sight, but in the very front. Let us see to it that an increasing knowledge of the Word, love of the Word, and practical use of the Word accompany whatever else may be thought desirable. And let us remember that God will go on with the training-we have not to do it all. The study of the language and literature of China is as good mental discipline as the study of Western classics; and travel, dealing with men and things, are also highly educational. Above all, let us never forget that while we are training, men are dying, dying in hopeless sin. Let not our training practically impress the student with the thought that he is the important agent, and the Holy Spirit's work merely auxiliary; that his improvement is the matter of moment, and the condition of the heathen is not so very urgent after all. Would that God would make hell so real to us that we could not rest, heaven so real that we must have men there, and Christ such a reality that one supreme motive and aim shall be to cause the Man of Sorrows to become the Man of Joy, through the conversion of many concerning whom He prayed-"Father I long that those whom Thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory."

V. Introduction to his work

In the manner in which our Saviour introduced His first disciples to their life-work have we not a lesson for all time? His plan was to take them with Him; they felt the influence of His life, saw the real depth of His convictions, and how consistently He carried them out in actual service. They heard His daily teachings, and observed His methods. As they became more fitted to act alone He sent them forth, letting them return and report all their doings to Himself, and helping them by His own comments, as occasion served. He used them whenever it was possible to do so, even if only to boat, or catch a fish! He did not deter them from sharing in the danger of His mission, nor hide from them His own spiritual life and communion with the Father. Finally, and above all, He taught them to wait themselves on God for full spiritual power, before actively entering upon their own life-service.

Should we not learn from all this many helpful lessons as to the introduction of young missionaries to their life-work to-day? Is it well to leave them to find out for themselves much that we have so painfully discovered, and to make the same mistakes that we are conscious of having fallen into at the commencement of our service? Should they not rather have, from the beginning, the counsel and help of elder brethren? For inland work this is especially desirable, for the gravest results may arise from inexperienced action, and in some districts an incautious step has been known to hinder the progress of the work for a long time.

That the young missionary should begin, however, as early as possible, to do what he can for the spiritual good of the people, is very needful, as well for his own sake as for theirs. From the very first he can help by prayer, and encourage other workers with his presence and sympathy. And soon he may be able to begin the sale of Scriptures and tracts, to converse a little with the people, and to help, perhaps in singing, in the meetings. What can be more deadening to the spiritual life of a beginner than to live long among the heathen, and do nothing for them?

Lastly, as to his mode of life. He should ever remember that he is sent to be a witness for Christ, a reflection of the Unseen; and that his aim must therefore be to seek, as far as in him lies, to become among the Chinese that which Christ was among the Jews. He should be accessible, sympathetic, not a preacher merely, but helpful also to the people, in as many ways as possible. His life should be as visible and like their own as he can make it, that it may touch and influence theirs at all points, as far as may be. As a living object-lesson he is to do good, to suffer for it, and to take it patiently, not seeking vengeance, but manifesting forgiveness. For this a man needs great grace; as well as to be ready, always, for unwelcome calls and interruptions; to take joyfully the spoiling of his goods; and to show by his example that God is an all-sufficient aid, and that the help of any human arm is never really indispensable. But in the life of Him whom we represent this spirit was always found. Did He not say, "Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out?" and at all times, did He not pray for His persecutors, and wait until God should vindicate His character and claims?

His missionary follower must, therefore, not seek merely for more of this spirit, but practically "find grace to help in time of need."

Hudson Taylor shared this talk at a General Conference of Protestant Missionaries held in Shanghai from May 7 to 20, 1890.