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Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret

Chapter 15. NO MORE THIRST

What then? I am not careful to inquire: I know there will be tears and fears and sorrow— And then a loving Savior drawing nigher, And saying, “I will answer for the morrow.” —Selected

It was an experience that stood the test, as months and years went by. Never again did the unsatisfied days come back; never again was the needy soul separated from the fullness of Christ. Trials came, deeper and more searching than ever before, but in them all joy flowed unhindered from the presence of the Lord Himself. For Hudson Taylor had found the secret of soul-rest. In this experience there had come to him not only a fuller apprehension of the Lord Jesus Himself and all He is for us, but a fuller surrender — yes, indeed, a self-abandonment to Him.

I am no longer anxious about anything [he had written, as we have seen] … for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient. It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things or the most expensive articles. In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases. So, if God should place me in great perplexity, must He not give much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that His resources will be unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine — for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.

Surrender to Christ he had long known, but this was more; this was a new yieldedness, a glad, unreserved handing over of self and everything to Him. It was no longer a question of giving up this or that if the Lord required it; it was a loyal and loving acceptance, a joyful meeting of His will in things little and great, as the very best that could be for His own. This made the trials of the following summer an opportunity for God’s grace to triumph, turning “the valley of weeping” into “a place of springs” from which streams of blessing are flowing still.

Even before the danger and excitement that culminated in the massacre of Tientsin, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor had been called to pass through deep personal sorrow. The time had come when the inevitable parting from their children could no longer be delayed. There were no schools in China at which their education could be carried on, and no health resorts such as there are now for refuge from the heat of summer. The climate and privations of their life had told upon the children’s health. One little grave already hallowed the soil of China to the parents’ hearts, and they were thankful to accept the offer of their secretary and devoted friend, Miss Emily Blatchley, to take the three boys and only little girl to England and to care for them there.

- This meant a long, long parting, and East and West were so much farther apart then than they are now! But even before the little travelers could be escorted to the coast, a longer parting still had to be faced. Only five years old, the youngest of the boys, a specially clinging little fellow, was the one whose health had suffered most. With concern his parents saw that the strain of the coming separation was increasing his chronic trouble. All night they watched beside him on the boat that was taking them down the canal from Yangchow, but at dawn the following morning he fell into a deep sleep, and from the turbid waters of the Yangtze passed without pain or fear to the better land.

Before a driving storm the parents crossed the river — there about two miles wide — to lay their treasure in the cemetery at Chinkiang, and then went on with the others to Shanghai. A little later, after taking them all on board the French mail which was to sail at daylight, Mr. Taylor wrote to Mr. Berger:

I have seen them, awake, for the last time in China.

[He was returning to fetch Mrs. Taylor who was still on the steamer.] About two of our little ones we have no anxiety.

They rest in Jesus’ bosom. And now, dear brother, though the tears will not be stayed, I do thank God for permitting one so unworthy to take any part in this great work, and do not regret having engaged in it. It is His work, not mine or yours; and yet it is ours — not because we are engaged in it, but because we are His, and one with Him whose work it is.

This was the reality that sustained them. Never had there been a more troubled summer in China than the one on which they were entering (1870). Yet in the midst of it all, with a longing for their children that was indescribable, they had never had more rest and joy in God.

I could not but admire and wonder at the grace that so sustained and comforted the fondest of mothers [Mr. Taylor wrote as he recalled it afterwards]. The secret was that Jesus was SATISFYING the deep thirst of heart and soul.

Mrs. Taylor was at her best that summer, borne up it would seem on the very tempest of troubles that raged about them. Sickness was rife in the Mission, and before they could reach Chinkiang, after parting from the children, news reached them of Mrs. Judd’s being there and at the point of death. Mr. Taylor could not leave the boat on account of another patient, but consented to Mrs. Taylor’s pressing on alone to give what help she could.

After days and nights of nursing, Mr. Judd was almost at the end of his strength, when he heard sounds in the courtyard below of an unexpected arrival. Who could it be at that time of night and where had they come from? No steamer had passed upriver, and native boats would not be traveling after dark. Besides, it was a wheelbarrow that had been trundled in. A long day’s journey on that springless barrow, a woman had come alone, and soon he saw the face that of all others he could have desired to see.

Suffering though Mrs. Taylor was at the time [he recalled] and worn with hard travelling, she insisted on my going to bed and that she would undertake the nursing.

Nothing would induce her to rest.

“No,” she said, “you have quite enough to bear without sitting up at night any more. Go to bed, for I shall stay with your wife whether you do or not.”

Never can I forget the firmness and love with which it was said — her face meanwhile shining with the tenderness of Him in whom it was her joy and strength to abide.

Nothing but prayer brought the patient through, just as nothing but prayer saved the situation in many an hour of extremity that summer.

We had previously known something of trial in one station or another [Mr. Taylor wrote to the friends of the Mission], but now in all simultaneously, or nearly so, a widespread excitement shook the very foundations of native society. It is impossible to describe the alarm and consternation of the Chinese when they first believed that native magicians were bewitching them, or their indignation and anger when told that these insidious foes were the agents of foreigners. It is well known how in Tientsin they rose and barbarously murdered the Sisters of Charity, the priests and even the French Consul. What then restrained them in the interior, where our brothers were alone, far from any protecting human power? Nothing but THE MIGHTY HAND OF GOD, in answer to united, constant prayer in the all-prevailing name of Jesus. And this same power kept US satisfied with Jesus — with His presence, His love, His providence.

It is easy to read of such experiences, but only those who have lived through similar times of danger can have any idea of the strain involved. The heat that summer was unusually severe and prolonged, which added to the unrest of the native population. Women and children had to be brought down to the coast, and for a time it seemed as though the Chinese authorities might require them to leave the country altogether. This involved much correspondence with officials, Chinese and foreign, and frequent letters to the workers most in peril. The accommodation of the Mission house at Chinkiang was taxed to its utmost, and so great was the excitement that no additional premises could be obtained.

Old times seem to be coming round again [Mr. Taylor wrote in June, referring to the Yangchow riot], but with this difference that our anxieties are not as before confined to one place.

By this time it looked as though all the river stations might have to be given up. Mr. and Mrs. Taylor were making their home at Chinkiang as more central than Yangchow, he sleeping on the floor in sitting-room or passage that she might share their room with other ladies.

One difficulty follows another very fast [he continued after the Tientsin massacre], but God reigns, not chance. At Nanking the excitement has been frightful. …

Here the rumors are, I hope, passing away, but at Yangchow they are very bad. … Pray much for us. My heart is calm, but my head is sorely tried by the constant succession of one difficulty after another.

Yet the troubles of the time were not allowed to hinder the spiritual side of the work, in which Mr. and Mrs. Taylor took their full share. In the hottest days of June the latter wrote to Miss Blatchley:

We have been holding classes on Sunday and two or three evenings in the week, to interest the Chinese Christians who can read, in searching the Scriptures, and those who cannot read in learning to do so, and to set an example to the younger members of the Mission who know pretty well that we have no lack of work. It may be a practical proof to them of the importance we attach to securing that the Christians and others about us learn to read and understand for themselves the Word of God.

The joy that had come to Mr. Taylor in his spiritual experience seems to have been deepened rather than hindered by the exigencies of the time. His letter-book reveals not so much the pressure of difficulties and problems as the full tide of blessing that carried him through all. To Miss Desgraz he wrote, for example, in the middle of June, after carefully answering her letter about Yanchow affairs:

And now I have the very passage for you, and God has so blessed it to my own soul! John 7:37-39 — “If any man thirst, let him come unto ME and drink.” Who does not thirst?

Who has not mind-thirsts, heart-thirsts, soul-thirsts or body-thirsts? Well, no matter which, or whether I have them all — “Come unto me and” remain thirsty? Ah no! “Come unto me and DRINK.”

What, can Jesus meet my need? Yes, and more than meet it. No matter how intricate my path, how difficult my service; no matter how sad my bereavement, how far away my loved ones; no matter how helpless I am, how deep are my soul-yearnings — Jesus can meet all, all, and more than MEET. He not only promises me rest — ah, how welcome that would be, were it all, and what an all that one word embraces! He not only promises me drink to alleviate my thirst. No, better than that! “He who trusts Me in this matter (who believeth on Me, takes Me at My word) out of him shall flOW…”

Can it be? Can the dry and thirsty one not only be refreshed — the parched soil moistened, the arid places cooled — but the land be so saturated that springs well up and streams flow down from it? Even so! And not mere mountain-torrents, full while the rain lasts, then dry again … but, “from within him shall flow rivers” — rivers like the mighty Yangtze, ever deep, ever full. In times of drought brooks may fail, often do, canals may be pumped dry, often are, but the Yangtze never. Always a mighty stream, always flowing deep and irresistible!

“Come unto me and drink,” [he wrote in another June letter]. Not, come and take a hasty draught; not, come and slightly alleviate, or for a short time remove one’s thirst.

No! “drink,” or “be drinking” constantly, habitually. The cause of thirst may be irremediable. One coming, one drinking may refresh and comfort: but we are to be ever coming, ever drinking. No fear of emptying the fountain or exhausting the river!

How sorely the comfort of Christ would be needed by his own heart that very summer, he little realized when writing; but the One he was trusting in a new and deeper way did not fail him.

* * * * *

Six weeks later, joy and sorrow were strangely mingled in the missionary home at Chinkiang. A little son given to Mr. and Mrs. Taylor had filled their hearts with gladness. But an attack of cholera greatly prostrated the mother, and lack of natural nourishment told upon the infant. When a Chinese nurse could be found, it was too late to save the little life, and after only one week on earth he went to the home above, in which his mother was so soon to join him.

Though excessively prostrated in body [Mr. Taylor wrote], the deep peace of soul, the realization of the Lord’s own presence and joy in His holy will with which she was filled, and which I was permitted to share, I can find no words to describe.

She herself chose the hymns to be sung at the funeral, one of which, “O holy Savior, Friend unseen,” seemed specially to dwell in her mind.

Though faith and hope are often tried, They ask not, need not aught beside; So safe, so calm, so satisfied, The souls that cling to Thee.

They fear not Satan or the grave, They know Thee near and strong to save, Nor fear to cross e’en Jordan’s wave While still they cling to Thee.

Weak as she was, it had not occurred to them that her days were numbered. The very love that bound their hearts so closely precluded the thought of separation. And she was only thirty-three.

There was no pain up to the last, only increasing weariness. Two days before the end, a letter from Mrs. Berger came to hand, telling of the safe arrival at Saint Hill of Miss Blatchley and the older children. * [One little one only remained with Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, their fourth son, born soon after the Yangchow riot.] Every detail of the welcome and arrangements for their well-being filled the mother’s heart with joy. She could not be thankful enough, and seemed to have no desire but to praise God for His goodness. Many a time had Mrs. Berger’s letters reached their destination at the needed moment, many a time had her loving heart anticipated the circumstances in which they would be received, but never more so than with this letter.

“And now, farewell, precious friend,” she wrote, “The Lord throw around you His everlasting arms.”

It was in those arms she was resting.

I never witnessed such a scene [wrote one who was present]. As dear Mrs. Taylor was breathing her last, Mr. Taylor knelt and committed her to the Lord, thanking Him for having given her and for twelve and a half years of perfect happiness together, thanking Him too for taking her to His own presence, and solemnly dedicating himself anew to His service.

The summer sun rose higher over the city, hills and river.

The busy hum of life came up around them from many a court and street. But in an upper room of one Chinese dwelling, from which the blue of heaven could be seen, there was the hush of a wonderful peace.

* * * * *

“Shall never thirst” — would it, could it prove true now?

“To know that ‘shall’ means SHALL, that ‘never’ means NEVER, and that ‘thirst’ means ANY UNSATISFIED NEED,” Mr. Taylor often said in later years, “may be one of the greatest revelations God ever made to our souls.” It was in these days of utter desolation that the promise was made so real to his breaking heart.

To his mother he wrote in August:

From my inmost soul I delight in the knowledge that God does or permits ALL things, and causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him.

He and He only knew what my dear wife was to me. He knew how the light of my eyes and the joy of my heart were in her. On the last day of her life — we had NO idea that it would be the last — our hearts were mutually delighted by the never-old story of each other’s love … and almost her last act was, with one arm round my neck, to place her hand on my head and, as I believe, for her lips had lost their cunning, to implore a blessing on me. But He saw that it was good to take her — good indeed for her, and in His love He took her painlessly — and not less good for me who now must toil and suffer alone, yet not alone, for God is nearer to me than ever.

And to Mr. Berger:

When I think of my loss, my heart, nigh to breaking, rises in thankfulness to Him who has spared her such sorrow and made her so unspeakably happy. My tears are more tears of joy than grief. But most of all I joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ — in His works, His ways, His providence, Himself. He is giving me to “prove” (to know by trial) “what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” I do rejoice in that will; it is acceptable to me; it is perfect; it is love in action. And soon, in that sweet will, we shall be reunited to part no more. “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.”

Yet there was a measure of reaction, especially when illness came with long, wakeful nights.

How lonesome [Mr. Taylor recalled] were the weary hours when confined to my room! How I missed my dear wife and the voices of the children far away in England! Then it was I understood why the Lord had made that passage so real to me, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him SHALL NEVER THIRST.” Twenty times a day, perhaps, as I felt the heart-thirst coming back, I cried to Him, “Lord, you promised! You promised me that I should never thirst.”

And whether I called by day or night, how quickly He came and satisfied my sorrowing heart! So much so that I often wondered whether it were possible that my loved one who had been taken could be enjoying more of His presence than I was in my lonely chamber. He did literally fulfill the prayer:

“Lord Jesus, make Thyself to me A living, bright reality; More present to faith’s vision keen Than any outward object seen; More dear, more intimately nigh Than e’en the sweetest earthly tie.”

Among many letters of this period few are more precious or revealing than those he managed to write to the children, over whom his heart yearned with a great love.

You do not know how often Father thinks of his darlings, and how often he looks at your photographs till the tears fill his eyes. Sometimes he almost fears lest he should feel discontented when he thinks how far away you are from him. But then the dear Lord Jesus who never leaves him says, “Don’t be afraid; I will keep your heart satisfied.”

… And I thank Him, and am so glad that He will live in my heart and keep it right for me.

I wish you, my precious children, knew what it is to give your hearts to Jesus to keep every day. I used to try to keep my own heart right, but it would always be going wrong. So at last I had to give up trying myself, and to accept the Lord’s offer to keep it for me. Don’t you think that is the best way? Perhaps sometimes you think, “I will try not to be selfish or unkind or disobedient.” And yet, though you really try, you do not succeed. But Jesus says:

“You should trust that to Me. I would keep that little heart, if you would trust Me with it.” And He would, too.

Once I used to try to think very much and very often about Jesus, but I often forgot Him. Now I trust Jesus to keep my heart remembering Him, and He does so. This is the best way. Ask dear Miss Blatchley to tell you more about this way, and pray God to make it plain to you, and to help YOU so to trust Jesus.

And to Miss Blatchley he wrote on the same subject, from the comfortless quarters of a coasting steamer:

I have written again to the dear children. I do long for them to learn early … the precious truths which have come so late to me concerning oneness with and the indwelling of Christ. These do not seem to me more difficult of apprehension than the truths about redemption. Both need the teaching of the Spirit, nothing more. May God help you to live Christ before these little ones, and to minister Him to them. How wonderfully He has led and taught us! How little I believed the rest and peace of heart I now enjoy were POSSIBLE down here! It is heaven begun below, is it not? … Compared with this union with Christ, heaven or earth are unimportant accidents.

Oh, it is joy to feel Jesus living in you [he wrote to his sister, Mrs. Walker, on the same journey]: to find your heart all taken up by Him; to be reminded of His love by HIS seeking communion with you at all times, not by your painful attempts to abide in Him. He is our life, our strength, our salvation. He is our “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” He is our power for service and fruit-bearing, and His bosom is our resting place now and forever.

There was, meanwhile, no lessening of outward difficulties.

Politically the aspect of affairs was more threatening than Mr. Taylor had ever known it in China. The claims arising from the Tientsin massacre, in which twenty-one foreigners had lost their lives, including the French Consul, were still unsettled, and the Chinese authorities, knowing that Europe was involved in war, took no steps to allay the antiforeign agitation. * So closely, in some ways, did the situation resemble the present (1932) though in miniature, that we venture to quote one further letter showing the spirit in which the perils of 1870 were met. For principles remain the same, and as a Mission we stand today just where they stood when Mr. Taylor sent out his call for the day of fasting and prayer with which the year closed.

* [“Never in my lifetime has any year witnessed such events.” Mr. Berger wrote, “whether in relation to our Mission or the world at large. Rome is now, I suppose, the capital of free Italy.

France lies humiliated in the last degree. The Pope’s temporal power is no more. China seems to be rising to expel foreigners, the heralds of the Cross among them, and we personally have suffered the loss of the most devoted laborer for China’s millions that could be found, as well as of a most beloved friend. ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ is a word appropriate at such a juncture. May we all have grace to give heed to it.”] The present year has been in many ways remarkable.

Perhaps every one of our number has been more or less face to face with danger, perplexity and distress. But out of it all the Lord has delivered us. And some who have drunk more deeply than ever before of the cup of the Man of Sorrows can testify that it has been a most blessed year to our souls and can give God thanks for it. Personally, it has been the most sorrowful and the most blessed year of my life, and I doubt not that others have had in some measure the same experience.

We have put to the proof the faithfulness of God — His power to support in trouble and to give patience under affliction, as well as to deliver from danger. And should greater dangers await us, should deeper sorrows come … it is to be hoped that they will be met in a strengthened confidence in our God.

We have great cause for thankfulness in one respect:

we have been so situated as to show the Chinese Christians that our position, as well as theirs, has been and may again be one of danger. They have been helped, doubtless, to look from “foreign power” to God Himself for protection by the fact that (1) the former has been felt to be uncertain and unreliable … and (2) that we have been kept in calmness and joy in our various positions of duty. If in any measure we have failed to improve for their good this opportunity, or have failed to rest, for ourselves, in God’s power to sustain us in or protect us from danger, as He sees best, let us humbly confess this, and all conscious failure, to our faithful covenant-keeping God. …

I trust we are all fully satisfied that we are God’s servants, sent by Him to the various posts we occupy, and that we are doing His work in them. He set before us the open doors we have entered, and in past times of excitement He has preserved us. We did not come to China because missionary work here was either safe or easy, but because He had called us. We did not enter upon our present positions under a guarantee of human protection, but relying on the promise of His presence. The accidents of ease or difficulty, of apparent safety or danger, of man’s approval or disapproval, in no wise affect our duty. Should circumstances arise involving us in what may seem special danger, we shall have grace, I trust, to manifest the depth and reality of our confidence in Him, and by faithfulness to our charge to prove that we are followers of the Good Shepherd who did not flee from death itself. … But if we would manifest such a spirit THEN, we must seek the needed grace NOW. It is too late to look for arms and begin to drill when in presence of the foe.

As to temporal supplies, Mr. Taylor continued:

I need not remind you of the liberal help which the Lord has sent us direct, in our time of need, from certain donors, nor of the blessed fact that He abideth faithful and cannot deny Himself. If we are really trusting in Him and seeking from Him, we cannot be put to shame. If not, perhaps the sooner we find out the unsoundness of any other foundation, the better. The Mission funds, or the donors, are a poor substitute for the living God.

“Days of sorrow and nights of heaviness” did come through a physical breakdown, early in 1871. Mr. Taylor found that a badly deranged liver made him sleepless and led to painful depression of spirit. This was increased by chest trouble which caused not only pain but serious difficulty in breathing. And time did not lessen the sense of his loss. It was under these circumstances that he discovered fresh power and beauty in the promise already so vital in his experience “Whosoever DRINKETH of the water that I shall give him” — the suggestion of a continuous habit, indicated by the present tense of the Greek verb, flooded the passage with new meaning and met his long-continued need.

Do not let us change the Savior’s words [he often said in later years]. It is not “Whosoever has drunk,” but “Whosoever DRINKETH.” It is not of one isolated draught He speaks, or even many, but of the continuous habit of the soul. In John 6:35, also, the full meaning is, “He who is habitually coming to me shall by no means hunger, and he who is believing on me shall by no means thirst.” The habit of coming in faith to Him is incompatible with unmet hunger and thirst …

It seems to me that where many of us err is in leaving our drinking in the past, while our thirst continues present. What we need is TO BE DRINKING — yes, thankful for each occasion which drives us to drink ever more deeply of the living water.

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