The Life of J. Hudson Taylor: Chapter 6 – Man Proposes, God Disposes by Geraldine Taylor
Having to leave the neighborhood of Black Town thus unexpectedly was a real disappointment both to Mr. Burns and Mr. Taylor, as they had hoped to spend some time evangelizing in that district. They were to prove, however, that no unforeseen mischance had happened to them, but that these circumstances that seemed so trying were necessary links in the chain of a Divinely ordered providence.
“God does not permit persecution to arise without sufficient reason. He was leading us by a way that we knew not; but it was none the less His way. And I will go! I may no longer doubt to give up friends, and idle hopes, And every tie that binds my heart…. Henceforth, then, it matters not, if storm or sunshine be my earthly lot, bitter or sweet my cup; I only pray, God, make me holy, And my spirit nerve for the stern hour of strife.’
“When we reached Shanghai, thinking to return inland in a few days with fresh supplies of books and money, we met a Christian captain who had been trading at Swatow, and he very strongly set before us the need of that region, and the fact that there were British merchants living on Double Island, selling opium and engaged in the coolie trade (practically a slave traffic), while there was no British missionary to preach the Gospel. The Spirit of God impressed me with the feeling” that this was His call, but for days I felt that I could not obey it. I had never had such a spiritual father as Mr. Burns; I had never known such holy, happy fellowship; and I said to myself that it could not be God’s will that we should separate.
“In great unrest of soul I went one evening, with Mr. Burns, to take tea at the house of the Rev. R. Lowrie, of the American Presbyterian Mission, at the South Gate of Shanghai. After tea Mrs. Lowrie played over to us ‘The Missionary Call.’ I had never heard it before, and it greatly affected me. My heart was almost broken before it was finished, and I said to the Lord, in the words that had been sung,-
‘O Lord, how happy should we be
If we would cast our care on Thee,
If we from self would rest;
And feel at heart that One above,
In perfect wisdom, perfect love,
Is working for the best!”
“Upon leaving I asked Mr. Burns to come home with me to the little house that was still my headquarters in the native city, and there, with many tears, told him how the Lord had been leading me, and how rebellious I had been and unwilling to leave him for this new sphere of labour. He listened with a strange look of surprise, and of pleasure rather than pain, and answered that he had determined that very night to tell me that he had heard the Lord’s call to Swatow, and that his one regret had been the prospect of the severance of our happy fellowship. We went together; and thus was recommenced missionary work in that part of China, which in later years has been so abundantly blessed.”
Long before this time the Rev. R. Lechler, of the Basel Missionary Society, had widely itinerated in the neighborhood of Swatow and the surrounding regions. Driven about from place to place, he had done work that was not forgotten, although ultimately he was obliged to retire to Hong-kong. For more than forty years this earnest-hearted servant of God continued in “labours more abundant,” and later on left Hong-kong, with his devoted wife, returned again inland, and spent the strength of his remaining years among the people he has so long and truly loved.
Captain Bowers, the Christian friend who had been used of God in bringing the needs of Swatow before Mr. Burns and Mr. Taylor, was overjoyed when he heard of their decision to devote themselves to the evangelization of that busy, important, and populous mart. Being about to sail himself on his return journey, he gladly offered them free passages on board. the Geelong, in which they left Shanghai early in the month of March, 1856.
“We varied our stay by visits to the surrounding country; but the difficulties and dangers that encountered us here were so great and constant, that our former work in the North began to appear safe and easy in comparison. The hatred and contempt of the Cantonese was very painful, ‘foreign devil,’ ‘foreign dog,’ or ‘foreign pig,’ being the commonest appellations; but all this led us into deeper fellowship than I had ever known before with Him who was ‘despised and rejected of men.’A favorable journey of six days brought them to Double Island, where they found themselves landed in the midst of a small but very ungodly community of foreigners, engaged in the opium trade and other commercial enterprises. Unwilling to be in any way identified with these fellow-countrymen, the missionaries were most desirous of obtaining quarters at once within the native city, situated on a promontory of the mainland, five miles farther up, at the mouth of the Han River. Great difficulty was experienced in this attempt to obtain a footing among the people. “Indeed, it seemed,” continues the journal, “as though we should fail altogether, and we were helplessly cast upon the Lord in prayer. Our God soon undertook for us. Meeting one day with a Cantonese merchant, a relative of the highest official in the town, Mr. Burns addressed him in the Cantonese dialect; this gentleman was so pleased at being spoken to by a foreigner in his own tongue that he became our friend, and secured us a lodging. We had only one little room, however, and not easily shall I forget the long hot summer months in that oven-like place, where towards the eaves one could touch the heated tiles with one’s hand. More or better accommodation it was impossible to obtain.
“In our visits to the country we were liable to be seized at any time and held to ransom; and the people commonly declared that the whole district was ‘without emperor, without ruler, and without law.’ Certainly, might was right in those days. On one occasion we were visiting a small town, and found that the inhabitants had captured a wealthy man of another clan. A large ransom was demanded for his release, and on his refusing to pay it they had smashed his ankle-bones, one by one, with a club, and thus extorted the promise they desired. There was nothing but God’s protection to prevent our being treated in the same way. The towns were all walled, and one such place would contain ten or twenty thousand people of the same clan and surname, who were frequently at war with the people living in the next town. To be kindly received in one place was not uncommonly a source of danger in the next. In circumstances such as these the preserving care of our God was often manifested.
“After a time the local mandarin became ill, and the native doctors were unable to relieve him. He had heard from some who had been under my treatment of the benefit derived, and was led to seek our help. God blessed the medicines given, and grateful for relief, he advised our renting a house for a hospital and dispensary. Having his permission, we were able to secure the entire premises, one room of which we had previously occupied. I had left my stock of medicine and surgical instruments under the care of my friend, the late Mr. Wylie, in Shanghai, and went back at once to fetch them.
Mr. Burns came down from a town called Am-po, that we had visited together several times, to see me off, and returned again when I had sailed, with two native evangelists sent up from Hong Kong by the Rev. J. Johnson, of the American Baptist Missionary Union. The people were willing to listen to their preaching, and to accept their books as a gift, but they would not buy them. One night robbers broke in and carried off everything they had, with the exception of their stock of literature, which was supposed to be valueless. Next morning, very early, they were knocked up by persons wishing to buy books, and the sales continued; so that by breakfast time they had not only cash enough to procure food, but to pay also for the passage of one of the men to Double Island, below Swatow, with a letter to Mr. Burns’ agent to supply him with money. Purchasers continued coming during that day and the .next, and our friends lacked nothing; but on the third day they could not sell a single book. Then. however, when the cash from their sales was just exhausted, the messenger returned with supplies.”
It was early in July, after about four months’ residence in Swatow, that Mr. Taylor left, as we have already seen, for Shanghai, intending to return in the course of a few weeks, bringing with him his medical apparatus, for further work in association with the Rev. William Burns. A new and promising field seemed to be opening before them, and it was with much hopeful anticipation they looked forward to the future of the work. Marked blessing was indeed in store for the city and neighborhood of Swatow through the missionary labours thus commenced; but it was not the purpose of God that either of the pioneer evangelists of 1856 should remain to reap the harvest. Two years later William Burns, the beloved and honored founder of the Mission, was called to Amoy for other service, which prevented his subsequent return; and the temporary absence of Mr. Hudson Taylor on his journey to Shanghai proved to be the first step in a diverging pathway leading to other spheres.
It is interesting to notice the various events which united, in the providence of God, in preventing Mr. Taylor’s return to Swatow, and ultimately led to his settling in Ningpo, and making that the center for the development of his future labours. The story is thus continued in Mr. Taylor’s own words”
“Upon reaching Shanghai, great was my dismay to find that the premises in which my medicines and instruments had been stored were burnt down, and that all the medicines and many of the instruments were entirely destroyed. To me this appeared a great calamity, and I fear i was more disposed with faithless Jacob to say, ‘All these things are against me,’ than to recognize that ‘All things work together for good.’ I had not then learned to think of God as the One Great Circumstance ‘in whom we live and move and have our being;’ and of all lesser, external circumstances, as necessarily the kindest, wisest, best, because either ordered or permitted by Him. Hence my disappointment and trial were very great.
“Medicines were expensive in Shanghai, and my means were limited. I therefore set out on an inland journey to Ningpo, hoping to obtain a supply from Dr. William Parker, a member of the same mission as myself. I took with me my few remaining possessions… but left behind in Shanghai a portion of my money.
“The country through which I had to pass was suffering much from drought; it was the height of summer; and the water in the Grand Canal was very low, having been largely drawn upon for the neighboring rice fields, as well as evaporated by the intense heat. I had determined to make the journey as much of a mission tour as possible, and set out well supplied with Christian tracts and books. After fourteen days spent in traveling slowly through the populous country, preaching and distributing books, etc., we reached a large town called Shih-mun-wan, and here, finding that my supply of literature was exhausted, I determined not to linger over the rest of the journey, but to reach Ningpo as speedily as possible, via the city of Hai-ning.”
The journey thus determined upon proved to be one of great peril, hardship and suffering. Mr. Taylor was deceived, deserted and robbed by his most trusted servant to whom he had intrusted all his earthly possessions for transportation to Ningpo. After a long and futile search for the servant, entailing hardships and suffering which completely exhausted him, Mr. Taylor was providentially rescued and taken back to Shanghai.
It now seemed very clear that the lost property — including everything Mr. Taylor possessed in China, with the exception of a small sum of money providentially left in Shanghai-had been deliberately stolen by his servant, who had gone off with it to Hang-chau. The first question, of course, was how best to act for the good of the man who had been the cause of so much trouble. It would not have been difficult to take steps that would have led to his punishment; but the likelihood of any reparation being made for the loss sustained was very small. Another consideration also weighed heavily with Mr. Hudson Taylor; for “the thief,” he writes, “was a man for whose salvation I had labored and prayed; and I felt that to persecute him would not be to emphasize the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, in which we had read together, ‘Resist not evil,’ and other similar precepts. Finally, concluding that his soul was of more value than the forty pounds’ worth of things I had lost, I wrote and told him this, urging upon him his need of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The course I .took commended itself to Christian friends at home, one of whom was led to send me a check for forty pounds — the first of many subsequently received from the same kind helper.”
Having obtained the little money left in Shanghai, which was now the entire sum of his worldly belongings Mr. Taylor again set out for Ningpo, to seek assistance from Dr. Parker in replacing the medicines he had previously lost by fire. This being satisfactorily accomplished, he returned once more to Shanghai, en route for Swatow, hoping soon to rejoin his much-loved friend, Mr. Burns, in the work in that: important center. God had willed it otherwise, however; and the delay caused by the robbery was just sufficient to prevent Mr. Taylor starting for the South as he had intended.
Over the political horizon storm-clouds had long been gathering, precursors of coming war; and early in October of this year (1856) the affair of the Lorcha Arrow at Canton led to the definite commencement of hostilities. Very soon China was deeply involved in a second prolonged struggle with foreign powers; and missionary operations, in the South at any rate, had to be largely suspended. Tidings of these events, together with letters from Mr. Burns, arrived just in time to meet Mr. Taylor in Shanghai as he was leaving for Swatow; and thus hindered, he could not but realize the hand of God in closing the door he had so much desired to enter.
While in Ningpo, on his recent visit, Mr. Taylor had made the acquaintance of Mr. John Jones, who, with Dr. Parker, represented the Chinese Evangelization Society in that city. Hindered in his project of returning to Swatow, he now decided to join these brethren in the Ningpo work, and set out at once upon his journey. On the afternoon of the second day, when already about thirty miles distant from Shanghai, the travelers drew near the large and important city of Sung-kiang, and Mr. Taylor spoke of going ashore to preach the Gospel to the thronging multitudes that lined the banks and crowded the approaches to the city gates.
Among the passengers on board the boat was one intelligent man, who in the course of his travels had been a good deal abroad, and had even visited England, where he went by the name of Peter. As might be expected, he had heard something of the Gospel, but had never experienced its saving power. Mr. Taylor became much interested in this fellow-pilgrim, and on the first evening in their journey together drew him into earnest converse about his soul’s salvation. The man listened with attention, and was even moved to tears, but still no definite result was apparent.
On the afternoon in question, hearing Mr. Taylor speak of going ashore at Sung-kiang Fu, Peter asked to be allowed to accompany him, and listen to anything further he might have to say. To this unexpected proposal Mr. Taylor gladly acceded, and then went into the cabin of the boat to prepare tracts and books for distribution on landing with his Chinese friend. Suddenly, while thus engaged, he was startled by a loud splash and cry from without. He sprang on deck, and took in the situation at a glance. Peter was gone! The other men were all there, on board, looking helplessly at the spot where he had disappeared, but making no effort to save him. A strong wind was carrying the junk rapidly forward in spite of a steady current in the opposite direction, and the low-lying, shrubless shore afforded no landmark to indicate how far they had left the drowning man behind.
A few moments sufficed for Mr. Taylor to drop the heavy sail and spring overboard in the hope of finding him. Unsuccessful, however, he had to relinquish the effort, and looking around in agonizing suspense, he discovered some fishermen in a boat at no great distance, manipulating a peculiar kind of dragnet furnished with hooks — just fitted for the purpose he required..
“Come!” cried the missionary at once, as hope revived in his heart. “Come and drag over this spot directly; a man is drowning just here!”
“Veh bin” (It is not convenient), was the unwilling answer.
“Don’t talk of convenience!” cried Mr. Taylor in an agony; “a man is drowning, I tell you!”
“We are busy fishing,” they responded, “and cannot come.”
“Never mind your fishing,” insisted the stranger. “I will give you more money than many a day’s fishing will bring; only come-come at once!”
“How much money will you give us?”
“We cannot stay to discuss that now! Come, or it will be too late. I will give you five dollars” (then worth about thirty shillings in English money).
“We won’t do it for that,” replied the men. “Give us twenty dollars, and we will drag.”
“I do not possess so much,” cried the missionary in despair. “But come quickly, and I will give you all I have!”
“How much may that be?”
“I don’t know exactly, about fourteen dollars.”
At last, but even then slowly enough, the boat was paddled over, and the net let down. Less than a minute sufficed to bring up the body of the missing man, and every effort was promptly made to recall him to consciousness; but all in vain. Clamorous and indignant because their exorbitant demand was not immediately met, the fishermen would hardly wait while efforts at resuscitation were attempted. No thought of the tragedy that had occurred seemed to solemnize their hearts; and none but the missionary in that little group could in the least degree appreciate what had really happened, or the momentous change that had so suddenly overtaken one of their number — all unprepared.
To Mr. Taylor this incident was profoundly sad and full of significance, suggesting a far more mournful reality ever present to his soul. “Were not those fishermen actually guilty,” he writes, “of this poor Chinaman’s death, in that they had the means of saving him at hand, if they would but have used them? Assuredly they were guilty. And yet, let us pause ere we pronounce judgment against them, lest a greater than Nathan answer, ‘Thou art the man.” Is it so hard-hearted, so wicked a thing to neglect to save the body? Of how much sorer punishment, then, is he worthy who leaves the soul to perish? ‘If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain… doth not He that pondereth the heart consider it? and He that keepeth thy soul, doth He not know it? and shall He not render to every man according to his works?’”