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Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret


Sheaves after sowing, sun after rain, Sight after mystery, peace after pain. —F. R. Havergal

Only two and a half years remained of Hudson Taylor’s first period of service in China, but they were rich full years. The little house on Bridge Street was now home indeed. Downstairs, the chapel and guest hall remained the same, and the Christians and inquirers came and went freely, but upstairs one could hardly recognize the barnlike attic in the cheery little rooms whose curtained windows looked out on the narrow street in front and the canal behind. And what a difference it made that the women and children could be cared for equally with the men! Mrs. Taylor, already well known in the neighborhood, was now more than ever welcome as she went visiting, and since “all the world loves a lover” the attraction of those united hearts was widely felt.

One of their warmest friends and helpers was the ex-Buddhist leader, who was a cotton merchant in the city. This Mr. Ni, though long resident in Ningpo, had never come in contact with the Gospel. He was deeply earnest, and as president of an idolatrous society spent much time and money in the service of “the gods.” But his heart was not at rest, and the more he followed his round of religious observances the more empty he found them to be.

Passing an open door on the street one evening, he noticed that something was going on. A bell was being rung and people were assembling as if for a meeting. Learning that it was a hall for the discussion of religious matters he too went in, for there was nothing about which he was more concerned than the penalties due to sin and the transmigration of the soul on its unknown way. A young foreigner in Chinese dress was preaching from his Sacred Classics. He was at home in the Ningpo dialect and Mr. Ni could understand every word of the passage he read. But what could be its meaning?

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up. … For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Saved, not condemned; a way to find everlasting life; a God who LOVED the world; a serpent, no a “Son of man” lifted up — what could it all be about? To say that Ni was interested scarcely begins to express what went on in his mind. The story of the brazen serpent in the wilderness, illustrating the divine remedy for sin and its deadly consequences; the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ; the bearing of all this upon his own needs, brought home to him in the power of the Spirit — well, it is the miracle of the ages, and thank God, we see it still! “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.”

But the meeting was coming to a close. The foreign teacher had ceased speaking. With the instinct of one accustomed to lead in such matters, Ni rose in his place, and looking round on the audience said with simple directness:

“I have long sought the Truth, but without finding it. I have traveled far and near, but have never searched it out. In Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, I have found no rest. But I do find rest in what we have heard tonight. Henceforth, I am a believer in Jesus.”

He became an ardent student of the Bible and his growth in knowledge and grace was wonderful. Not long after his conversion, he obtained permission to address a meeting of the society over which he had formerly presided, and Mr. Taylor who accompanied him was deeply impressed by the clearness and fullness with which he set forth the Gospel. One of his former followers was led to Christ through his testimony, and Ni began to know the joy of the soulwinner.

He it was who, talking with his missionary friend, unexpectedly raised the question: “How long have you had the Glad Tidings in your country?”

“Some hundreds of years,” was the reluctant reply.

“What! hundreds of years?

“My father sought the Truth,” he continued sadly, “and died without finding it. Oh, why did you not come sooner?”

It was a moment, the pain of which Hudson Taylor could never forget, and which deepened his earnestness in seeking to bring Christ to those who might still be reached.

Great was the need of patience, in those days, not to run before the Spirit of God in the matter of engaging full-time helpers in the work. For as yet the young missionaries had no regular Chinese associates. Mr. Ni was eagerly devoting all the time he could spare from his business, and so were Neng-kuei the basket-maker, Wang the farmer of Hosi, and Tsiu the teacher with his warmhearted mother. But they and others were all occupied in their necessary avocations through the day, though they drew to the mission house in the evening and spent much time there on Sundays. It would have been easy to employ the Christian teacher in the school to which Mrs. Taylor was giving many hours daily, or to take on others at a modest salary to train them for positions of usefulness. But this, the missionaries realized, would have proved a hindrance in the long run rather than a help. To pay young converts, however sincere, for making known the Gospel — and to pay them with money from foreign sources — must inevitably weaken their influence if not their Christian character. The time might come when their call of God to such work would be evident to all, and when the Christians themselves would be ready to support them. How was China ever to be evangelized but by the Chinese Church? And how were the converts ever to know the joy of unpaid, voluntary service, from love to the Lord Jesus Christ, unless the missionaries could be patient and wait for spiritual developments?

So it was a full life that Hudson Taylor and his colleagues led, while the young converts were growing up around them. For he was doing not a little medical work in addition to preaching on the streets and in the chapel, receiving visitors, attending to correspondence and accounts, and keeping up evangelistic excursions.

But nothing was allowed to interfere with the main business in hand — that of daily helpful intercourse with the Christians and inquirers.

Little wonder, with such love and care lavished upon them, that the converts grew in grace and in knowledge of the things of God. Evening by evening the missionaries would be at their disposal, and after the regular public meeting, three periods were given to carefully prepared study. To begin with, a lesson was taken from the Old Testament, when Hudson Taylor delighted to unfold its spiritual teaching. Then, after an interval, a chapter was read in PILGRIM’S PROGRESS or some other helpful book. And finally a passage from the New Testament was talked over and applied to practical life.

This was the regular order every night, leading up to Sunday with its special services for worship and for reaching outsiders.

And Sunday had its teaching periods too. It cost the Christians not a little to close shop and store, sacrificing as far as their business affairs were concerned one day in seven. Yet Hudson Taylor and his colleagues knew that no strong, self-propagating church can be built up on any other basis. They determined therefore to do their utmost to make the sacrifice worthwhile, by filling the hours thus given to God with helpful and joyous occupation. Between the regular services, Christians, inquirers, patients, schoolchildren and servants were divided into classes and taught in a bright, personal way. This made Sunday a heavy day for the missionaries, for there were only four of them; but if it cost some toil and weariness, they were the better able to appreciate the sacrifices made by the converts. Some had to walk long distances and go without food the greater part of the day, and others had to face persecution and personal loss. But they were willing, most of them, for all it involved, if only they could have the Lord’s day for worship, for they were conscious of the difference it made all through the week.

So the church was growing and the missionaries were developing, and opportunities for service were enlarging before them.

The Treaty of Tientsin, signed in the summer after Hudson Taylor’s marriage, had opened the way at last to all the inland provinces.

Foreigners had now the right to travel freely, under the protection of passports, and it only remained to make use of the facilities for which they had prayed so long.

You will have heard before this all about the new treaty [Mr. Taylor wrote in November]. We may be losing some of our Ningpo missionaries … who will go inland. And oh, will not the Church at home awaken and send us out many more to publish the Glad Tidings?

Many of us long to go — oh, how we long to go! But there are duties and ties that bind us that none but the Lord can unloose. May He give “gifts” to many of the native Christians, qualifying them … for the care of churches already formed, … and thus set us free for pioneering work.

This was the burden on their hearts — to raise up, by he blessing of God, a church that should be self propagating as well as self-supporting — and the claim of the little band of believers who still needed them as parents in the Lord could not be set aside. It was to their love, their prayers, these souls had been committed, and to leave them now, even for the good of others, would have been to disregard the highest of all trusts, parental responsibility. And they were right in this conviction, as the sequel abundantly proved.

For these Christians, Ni, Neng-kuei, Wang and the rest, were men whom God could use. Poor and unlearned as most of them were, they too were to become “fishers of men.” No fewer than six or seven of these early converts were to come to the help of their beloved leader in the formative years of the China Inland Mission. But for their cooperation, the new project, humanly speaking, could never have been realized. It would be difficult to overestimate all that grew out of the intensive work at Bridge Street at this time. For what the missionaries were themselves, this to a large extent their children in the faith became, and there is no better, surer way of passing on spiritual blessing.

In the midst of all this joy of harvest, a great and unexpected sorrow called Hudson Taylor to new responsibilities. Over in the Settlement, Dr. Parker had recently completed his new hospital. Splendidly situated near one of the city gates and overlooking the river, its commodious buildings attracted the notice of thousands daily. Everything about the place was admirably adapted to the needs of the work built up through patient years. But in the doctor’s home were stricken hearts, for the brave man who had overcome so many difficulties was mourning the loss of his wife, who after only a few hours’ illness had passed away, leaving four young children. One of them was seriously ill, and the doctor realized that he must take them home to Scotland. But what about the hospital?

The wards were full of patients and the dispensary was crowded day by day with a stream of people needing help. No other doctor was free to take his place, and yet to close down with the winter coming on seemed unthinkable. Though there were no funds to leave for the work — for it was supported from the proceeds of his private practice — perhaps his former colleague, Hudson Taylor, could carry on the dispensary at any rate. So the unexpected proposition was put before him.

After waiting upon the Lord for guidance [Mr. Taylor recalled] I felt constrained to undertake not only the dispensary but the hospital as well, relying solely on the faithfulness of a prayer-hearing God to furnish means for its support.

At times there were no fewer than fifty in-patients, besides a large number who attended the dispensary. Thirty beds were ordinarily allotted to free patients and their attendants, and about as many more to opium smokers who paid their board while being cured of the habit. As all the wants of the sick in the wards were supplied gratuitously, as well as the medical supplies needed for the out-patient department, the daily expenses were considerable. Hospital attendants also were required, involving their support. The funds for the maintenance of all this had hitherto been supplied by the doctor’s foreign practice, and with his departure this source of income ceased. But had not God said that whatever we ask in the name of the Lord Jesus shall be done? And are we not told to seek first the kingdom of God — not means to advance it — and that “all these things” shall be added to us? Such promises were surely sufficient.

It did not matter to the young missionaries that the situation was unlooked-for; that none of their friends at home could have foreseen it; and that months must go by before there could be any response to letters. Were not they themselves looking to the Lord only for support, and had He ever failed them? The secret of faith that is ready for emergencies is the quiet, practical dependence upon God day by day which makes Him real to the believing heart.

Eight days before entering upon the care of the Ningpo hospital [wrote Mr. Taylor] I had not the remotest idea of ever doing so; still less could friends at home have foreseen the need.

But the Lord had anticipated it, as events were fully to prove.

When the assistants left by Dr. Parker learned of the changed conditions, and that there were only funds in hand for the expenses of the current month, after which prayer would be the only resource, they not unnaturally decided to withdraw and open the way for other workers. It was a change Dr. Parker had long desired to make, only he had not known how to obtain helpers of a different sort. Hudson Taylor did know, and with a lightened heart he turned to the little circle that did not fail him. For to the Bridge Street Christians it seemed quite as natural to trust the Lord for temporal blessings as for spiritual. Did not the greater include the less; and was He not, as their “teacher” so often reminded them, a REAL Father, who never could forget His children’s needs? So to the hospital they came, glad not only to strengthen the hands of their missionary friends but to prove afresh to themselves and all concerned the faithfulness of God. Some worked in one way and some in another; some giving what time they could spare, and others giving their whole time without promise of wages, though receiving their support. And all took the hospital and its concerns on their hearts in prayer.

No wonder a new atmosphere began to permeate dispensary and wards. Account for it the patients could not — at any rate at first — but they enjoyed none the less the happy, homelike feeling, and the zest with which everything was carried on. The days were full of a new interest. For these attendants — Wang the grass-cutter and Wang the painter, Ni, Neng-kuei and others — seemed to possess the secret of perpetual happiness, and had so much to impart. Not only were they kind and considerate in the work of the wards, but all their spare time was given to telling of One who had transformed life for them and who, they said, was ready to receive all who came to Him for rest. Then there were books, pictures and singing. Everything indeed seemed set to song! And the daily meetings in the chapel only made one long for more.

There are few secrets in China, and the financial basis upon which the hospital was now run was not one of them. Soon the patients knew all about it, and were watching eagerly for the outcome. This too was something to think and talk about; and as the money left by Dr. Parker was used up and Hudson Taylor’s own supplies ran low, many were the conjectures as to what would happen next. Needless to say that alone and with his little band of helpers Hudson Taylor was much in prayer at this time. It was perhaps a more open and in that sense more crucial test than any that had come to him, and he realized that the faith of not a few was at stake as well as the continuance of the hospital work. But day after day went by without bringing the expected answer.

At length one morning Kuei-hua the cook [This was the same valued servant who had been with Mr. Taylor in Shanghai, Tsungming and elsewhere and who was now a bright Christian.] appeared with serious news for his master. The very last bag of rice had been opened, and was disappearing rapidly.

“Then,” replied Hudson Taylor, “the Lord’s time for helping us must be close at hand.”

And so it proved. For before that bag of rice was finished a letter reached the young missionary that was among the most remarkable he ever received.

It was from Mr. Berger, and contained a check for fifty pounds, like others that had come before. Only in this case the letter went on to say that a heavy burden had come upon the writer, the burden of wealth to use for God. Mr. Berger’s father had recently passed away, leaving him a considerable increase of fortune. The son did not wish to enlarge his personal expenditure. He had had enough before and was now praying to be guided as to the Lord’s purpose in what had taken place. Could his friends in China help him?

The draft enclosed was for immediate needs, and would they write fully, after praying over the matter, if there were ways in which they could profitably use more.

Fifty pounds! There it lay on the table; and his far-off friend, knowing nothing about that last bag of rice or the many needs of the hospital, actually asked if he might send them more. No wonder Hudson Taylor was overwhelmed with thankfulness and awe. Suppose he had held back from taking charge of the hospital on account of lack of means, or lack of faith rather? Lack of faith — with such promises and such a God!

There was no Salvation Army in those days, but the praise meeting held in the chapel fairly anticipated it in its songs and shouts of joy. But unlike some Army meetings it had to be a short one, for were there not the patients in the wards? And how they listened — those men and women who had known nothing all their lives but blank, empty heathenism.

“Where is the idol that can do anything like that?” was the question upon many lips and hearts. “Have they ever delivered us in our troubles, or answered prayer after this sort?”

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