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A Chinese Christian Army

Jonathan Goforth

A Further Chapter in the Wonderful Story of General Feng and His Influence upon the Officers and Men Serving under Him.

Reprinted, by kind permission from the Life of Faith.

Upwards of a year ago we wrote of a Chinese Christian general. That which follows is but a continuation of that wonderful work of grace. The army is now stationed in Honan, at Sinyangchow and Kioshan. We recently spent about three weeks with these Christian troops. We call it a Christian army, because the proofs justify the title.

In this little army of 10,000 there are already 5,000 baptised. One evening I asked a soldier who escorted me home what proportion was Christian. In reply he said, “ Of course, all our officers are Christians, and eight out of ten of us privates are also." “How about those that do not believe? Do they speak against and persecute those that do believe?” “Not that I know of,” said he; "they know that our leaders are all Christian, and as for new recruits, they fall in at once and commence learning hymns and the catechism."

When in Hunan, we spoke to the general about the need of Bible study. Now two excellent men, Pastor Shen and Deacon Hsu, are giving all their time to the teaching of the Bible. Twice a week all the officers meet for Bible study, and they in turn hold evening classes, so that it goes down to the whole army. Each evening, as I passed through the camp to speak at the army hut, I could hear these classes being conducted in the various large tents. Every night the army is a busy hive of Christian activity. By comparison many churches are only playing at Christianity.

Officers Who Preach on the Streets

It is not unusual to find officers conducting open-air meetings on the streets. You will not see any soldiers idling around the streets, either day or night ; they give all their spare time to study. There is no money spent on smoking. drinking or gambling. The men are eager to deposit any money they get in the army savings bank. Not long since 400 men had reached the age limit and were dismissed from the army. Each one had learnt a trade and had money to withdraw from the bank, although the men have not received pay for many months. When the army arrived, there were about 300 women of ill-repute at Sin-yangchow. It has long been an army centre. The general gave orders that all these women get out within five days. The local officials urged him not to be so drastic, but allow one half to remain, "Not even one," said the general. I heard the general, when addressing the men one evening, say: "We are not liked by everyone in this city. When I ordered all those vile women away, the local officials asked that some remain. I knew that it would only tempt you and young students from the country, so I did not permit any to stay. Men, we are the Lord‘s soldiers, and cannot permit the devil to do evil before our very eyes." It is said that the city fathers met to see what they could do to restrain this general who came and interfered with their time-honoured privilege and custom. The conclusion they came to was that the general was too big a man for them to tackle.

An Army‘s Escape from the Enemy

I was walking home with several of the officers one evening after meeting. I touched on their escape from Hunan last year, and said how anxious I had been for them, pent in on three sides by enemy forces, and yet how amazed to hear that they had gotten away without the loss of a man or a pound of baggage. “Do you think it strange? " said one of the colonels. “Are we not the soldiers of the Living God? Did He not put fear into the hearts of the enemy so that they dared not attack us? "Another colonel, who led the rear guard of 1,500 men during the escape, said: "I remembered your advice when in Hunan last year. You said then, ‘If we would impress our Christianity upon the armies of China, we must come behind in no military detail, even to our shoelaces.’ We travelled at night, and were always ready for attack, and when we encamped for a rest during the day, we immediately threw up entrenchments. It was the hot season, therefore night marching was less trying upon the men. After we escaped from the Southern armies, we were in danger from a numerically superior Northern army. They had orders to set ambush for us and destroy us. Their general afterwards admitted that every time he planned attack, he found us so ready that he gave it up as too dangerous.” All the officers to whom I have spoken about their escape from Hunan gave the glory to GOD as truly as did King David.

For the first four evenings the general gave me the same audience, a large proportion of which were officers. They were mightily convicted on the fourth night. While a major and a colonel were confessing in tears, suppressed weeping could be heard all over the place. The general, too, almost broke down as he prayed. One of the majors thanked God in prayer that He had so changed the fierce temper of their general. (James v. 16). The next evening the general invited me to take supper with himself and his chief officers. In the course of the meal the general said: “I have to confess that I was weak on coming to this place. I did not order the vile women away at once. The thought came, ‘Why should I offend so?'

Obeying God First

Then glancing over to Colonel Lu, on my right, he said: " But one of my officers rebuked me, saying, “How is it that you have not sent all those bad women away, as at other places?’ 'But we will offend many if we do,’ and he replied, ‘You will offend God if you do not.’ Therefore I at once issued an order for their expulsion." At the close of the meal the general said, “ Won't you give us some helpful message from the Lord? " Most of the officers had their Bibles, so I had them turn to Jer. xxxiii. 3. The main idea was: "It is a great and a mighty thing to save China; but God can and will do it in answer to prayer.“ I then let them pray. The chief-of-staff and three of the colonels led, one of whom, while praying for his country, broke down weeping.

It was now time for the main meeting in the army hut. During the course of my address there I turned to the general and said, "Nine years ago, what were you?" He replied, “I was an unsaved heathen." Then turning to Colonel Li, I asked the same question and received the same reply. “Since then," I said, “all these thousands have turned to GOD.“ Again addressing the whole audience: " You see what is possible for your land and people as long as you are faithful to your Saviour, Christ the Lord." At the close the general said to the audience:

Our country is in so hopeless a condition from bad men in high places that were it not for my faith in the LORD Jesus Christ I would give up all, and spend my remaining years in a hermit's cell."

Remembering a Brave Doctor

The seventeenth of December was the anniversary of the shooting of Dr. Logan at Changteh, Hunan. The general and the doctor were very close friends. In memory of Dr. Logan the general bought a Y. M. C. A. army hut. It seats about 600. On the seventeenth, at 9 a.m., we held the first meeting. The place chosen was a hilltop about a mile north-east of the camp. Only the officers were present at this service. Four large Chinese letters were fastened upon poles, saying, "Life given to save men " A hymn was sung, Pastor Shen led in prayer, and I gave an address on "The love of' CHRIST constraineth" as a suitable motto for Dr. Logan's life.

The general followed with the history of the shooting of the doctor by the demented man. He himself narrowly escaped, being wounded twice before he overpowered the man. He urged the officers to pay attention to little things. Au orderly had been told that the man probably had a revolver concealed on his person. The general's wife urged the orderly to have the man seized and searched, but he paid no heed, with such fatal consequences. Among the many things which the general said of Dr. Logan, the following brings out the doctor's likeness to his Master. "Once the doctor said to me, ‘General, I have not become acquainted with your officers, although you have been stationed here for many months. When other troops have been stationed here I soon get to know their officers, because they came to me to treat their vile sores. General, I want to tell you I would gladly give my life if I could cleanse your armies from that foul plague.’ “On hearing this what could I do,” said the general, "but blush with shame for my countrymen?" At the close of the service, about 10.30a.m., we had our breakfast. The general used our English word “picnic." We all sat down on the grass. Each one had a whole roast chicken to himself, besides a large piece of Chinese bread and a bowl of dough-strings, boiled in chicken soup. My capacity was not equal to my fare, but most of the others left nothing but chicken bones. Just as we started the service at 9 a.m. it was breakfast time in the camp, and we could hear the hymns of thanksgiving by the men before their meal.

A Wonderful Service in Camp

We returned to camp about 11.30, and 5,000 men were closely packed around the general, Mr. R., and myself. We stood on a short wall, about eight feet high, used for obstacle races. I gave an address, and the troops were maneuvered to give them a rest, and then the general addressed them for about an hour. It was a straight Gospel talk, illustrated by the sacrifice of his friend, Dr. Logan. At times he was intense, even to tears. He could easily have been heard by 20,000 men. It was a sight not soon forgotten to see that great man, over six feet tall and weighing upwards of two hundred pounds, standing there pleading with that great body of men to yield all to the Lord Jesus Christ. Mr. R. said, "Isn’t he a prince among men?"

On the way home after this service Colonel Lu, leading about 2,000 men back to the South Camp, overtook us. He dismounted and walked with us. He said, “You have not visited my camp. Come along with me now." We went with him, and he showed us their south-end army hut. It is made of bamboo poles covered with rice straw, and plastered with mud on the inside. About 600 could easily be seated in it. He also showed us the commissariat stores, the Red Cross Hospital, and a sample of the winter tents for the men. The general and his officers live in tents the same as the men. The finest house in the city was offered the general to live in, but he preferred to be as his men. Colonel Lu’s tent was just an ordinary canvas one. When the army arrived at Sinyangchow the local officials and gentry got up a big reception. Colonel Lu was deputed by the general to represent him. After the first few remarks he gave a clear Gospel address, and at times could not keep back the tears. The colonel told us that he believed the pleasure of the Lord was to give up his army work and to devote all his time to preaching the Gospel to the Chinese armies. He thought that by retaining his colonel's rank he could, as a Y. M. C. A. worker, get access into most encampments throughout China. He is a man of fine appearance and a capital speaker, and has worked his way up from the ranks. He is thirty-seven years of age.

What China Needs

Recently a Christian educationist of considerable note, a graduate of Chicago University, met the colonel. He spoke of the splendid achievements of Western civilisation and said, "Colonel, the vital need of China is that she, without delay, adopt those up-to-date educational methods which have made the countries of the West great." In reply, the colonel said, “Yes, you would supply us with engines and cars, without the road-bed to run them on. China has no lack of men who have been trained in America, Britain, France, and Germany, in all the up-to-date methods, but they are just as ready to barter away the liberties of our country as any others. China above all else needs the living God, to change and control the hearts of her people."

The colonel, when at Chumatien a few weeks ago, led the Sunday service. He spoke on the Lord’s Prayer, and the church was crowded with soldiers and others. The colonel of militia stationed there is a slave to opium, and Colonel Lu tried to get him converted. He told him plainly that he was only training a lot of robbers. This nettled the opium user, but Colonel Lu told him that since he could not control himself, he could have no real influence over his men, and when a suitable opportunity arose they would mutiny and turn to looting. "What am I to do, then?" he asked. “Turn to the Almighty God and let Him control, just as we have done in General Feng's army. Our men respect us, and, although they have not received any pay for many months, they would not mutiny. It is because they fear God and love the people."

While we were chatting in Colonel Lu's tent, a letter was handed in. He passed it over to me, saying: “What do you think of that?” It was a letter of thanks for the return of a valuable watch and chain which had been lost. "Here is a proof of Christ’s power to save," said the colonel. "The soldier who found the watch was a Christian, and he at once brought it to me. Had he been a heathen, neither I nor the owner would ever have seen that watch."

Fruits of Christianity

He then told us of another instance, while they were stationed at Siaokan, North of Hankow. “On the station platform a soldier picked up a purse and brought it to me. It contained ten dollars in silver and a thousand dollar cheque. A man, going north to buy hogs in Honan, had lost it. We sent a man to the firm in Hankow to make inquiries. At first they were suspicious; soldiers do not have a good reputation in China. He asked if they had lost anything, and they told him that they had lost a purse, with ten dollars, and also a cheque for one thousand. ‘Then,’ said he, 'send a man back with me to get it, for it was picked up by one of our soldiers.’ ‘This,’ said the colonel, ‘is sufficient to prove that grace has triumphed among our men.’"

The Marks of His Master

One of General Feng's officers told me that not long since, when coming from Hankow by train, a foreigner asked if he were not a Christian. "Yes, I am, but why do you think so? "Then the foreigner, who turned out to be a missionary, said, “I came to the conclusion that you were a Christian because when you drank tea you did not throw the tea-leaves on the floor, but out of the window. When you ate peanuts you kept the shells in your handkerchief and pitched them out of the window; and you did not blow your nose or spit on the floor, as your unsaved countrymen do." The officer said, “I belong to General Feng’s army."

I walked each evening about two miles to speak to General Feng's soldiers. The Christian who carried my lantern was a true one, but he was reckoned somewhat deficient in the upper story. On the last night the general asked me to go over to his tent and consult about something which concerned the work. The orderlies took my light-bearer into their tent and gave him tea and a bowl of mien (dough-strings). Later, just as we left the camp, we met one of the majors, returning from teaching a Bible class. He told us that he taught a Bible class every evening. When we left the major the lantern man said, “It seems to me that heaven is going to be like General Feng's camp, where everyone treats you like a brother, and all are full of the works and praises of the Lord."

Nothing is overlooked by the general. One evening he noticed a soldier sleeping in the audience. With a voice like thunder he said: "What! sleeping. Haven't you any backbone? Straighten up Do you imagine that you are lolling around home?" When a man leaves the army the general keeps a record on their books. He also sends one notice to the official of the soldier’s district, saying, “This man has borne a good reputation in the army, is a Christian, and has learnt a trade."

Another is sent to the missionary of the man’s district, telling that he is Christian, and urging that care be taken lest he become a backslider.

In these and in many other ways General Feng sees to the welfare of his men, and it is easy to understand how his influence is so powerful and helpful.

China’s Millions, July, 1921