The Life of J. Hudson Taylor: Chapter 2 - The Call to Service
"The first joys of conversion passed away after a time, and were succeeded by a period of very painful deadness of soul, with much conflict. But this also came to an end, leaving a deepened sense of personal weakness and dependence on the 'Lord as the only Keeper as well as Saviour of His people. How sweet to the soul, wearied and disappointed in its struggles with sin, is the calm repose of trust in the Shepherd of Israel.
"Not many months after my conversion, having a leisure afternoon, I retired to my own chamber to spend it largely in communion with God. Well do I remember that occasion. How in the gladness of my heart I poured out my soul before God; and again and again confessing my grateful love to Him who had done everything for me -- who had saved me when I had given up all hope and even wish for salvation -- I besought Him to give me some work to do for Him, as an outlet for love and gratitude; some self-denying service, no matter what it might be, however trying or however trivial; something with which He would be pleased, and that I might do directly for Him who had done so much for me. Well do I remember, as in unreserved consecration I put myself, my life, my friends, my all, upon the altar, the deep solemnity that came over my soul with the assurance that my offering was accepted. The presence of God became unutterably real and blessed; and though but a child of fifteen, I remember stretching myself on the ground, and lying there silent before Him with unspeakable awe and unspeakable joy.
"For what service I was accepted I knew not; but a deep consciousness that I was no longer my own took possession of me, which has never since been effaced. It became a very practical consciousness. Two or three years later propositions of an unusually favorable nature were made to me with regard to medical study, on the condition of my becoming apprenticed to the medical man who was my friend and teacher. But I felt I dared not accept any binding engagement such as was suggested. I was not my own to give myself away; for I knew not when or how He whose alone I was, and for whose disposal I felt I must ever keep myself free, might call for service.
"Within a few months of this time of consecration, the impression was wrought into my soul that it was in China the Lord wanted me. It seemed to me highly probable that the work to which I was thus called might cost my life; for China was not then open as it is now. But few missionary societies were at that time organized in England, and books on the subject of China missions were very little accessible to me. I learned, however, that the Congregational minister of my native town possessed a copy of Medhurst's 'China,' and I called upon him to ask a loan of the book. This he kindly granted, asking me why I wished to read it. I told him that God had called me to spend my life in missionary service in that land. 'And how do you propose to go there?' he inquired. I answered that I did not at all know; that it seemed to me probable that I should need to do as the Twelve and the Seventy had done in Judea -- go without purse or scrip, relying on Him who had called me to supply all my need. Kindly placing his hand upon my shoulder, the minister replied, 'Ah, my boy, as you grow older you will get wiser than that. Such an idea would do very well in the days when Christ Himself was on earth, but not now.'
"I have grown older since then, but not wiser. I am more than ever convinced that if we were to take the directions of our Master and the assurances He gave to His first disciples more fully as our guide, we should find them to be just as suited to our times as to those in which they were originally given."
From the very first the missionary call that had come into this young life proved to be a practical and formative power. To the earnest-hearted lad of sixteen it became a simple, solemn fact, and one that called for definite preparation quite as much as for consecration and prayer. Medhurst's book on China had emphasized the value of medical missions in that particular sphere, and his attention was thus early directed to this special branch of study. In his own immediate circle it was already quite an understood thing that his heart was fixed on China; but owing to continued delicacy of health, it seemed questionable as to whether these hopes would ever be realized.
"My beloved parents neither discouraged nor encouraged my desire to engage in missionary work. They advised me, with such convictions, to use all the means in my power to develop the resources of body, mind, heart, and soul, and to wait prayerfully upon God, quite willing, should He show me that I was mistaken, to follow His guidance, or to go forward if in due time He should open the way to missionary service. The importance of this advice I have often since had occasion to prove. I began to take more exercise in the open air to strengthen my physique. My feather bed I had taken away, and sought to dispense with as many other home comforts as I could, in order to prepare myself for rougher lines of life. I began also to do what Christian work was in my power, in the way of tract distribution, Sunday-school teaching, and visiting the poor and sick, as opportunity afforded.
"After a time of preparatory study at home, I went to Hull for medical and surgical training. There I became assistant to a doctor who was connected with the Hull school of medicine, and was surgeon also to a number of factories, which brought to our dispensary a great many accident cases, and gave me the opportunity of seeing and practicing the minor operations of surgery.
"And here an event took place that I must not omit to mention. Before leaving home the subject of setting apart the firstfruits of all one's increase and a proportionate part of one's possessions to the Lord's service was brought to my attention. I thought it well to study the question with my Bible in hand before I went away from home, and was placed in circumstances which might bias my conclusions by the pressure of surrounding wants and cares. I was thus led to the determination to set apart not less than one-tenth of whatever moneys I might earn or become possessed of for the Lord's service. The salary I received as medical assistant in Hull at the time now referred to would have allowed me with ease to do this. But owing to changes in the family of my kind friend and employer, it was necessary for me to reside out of doors. Comfortable quarters were secured with a relative, and in addition to the sum determined on as remuneration for my services I received the exact amount I had to pay for board and lodging.
"Now arose the question in my mind, Ought not this sum also to be tithed? It was surely a part of my income, and I felt that if it had been a question of Government income tax it certainly would not have been excluded. On the other hand, to take a tithe from the whole would not leave me sufficient for other purposes; and for some little time I was much embarrassed to know what to do. After much thought and prayer, I was led to leave the comfortable quarters and happy circle in which I was to have resided, and to engage a little lodging in the suburbs -- a sitting-room and bedroom in one -- undertaking to board myself. In this way I was able without difficulty to tithe the whole of my income; and while I felt the change a good deal, it was attended with no small blessing. More time was given in my solitude to the study of the Word of God, to visiting the poor, and to evangelistic work on summer evenings than would otherwise have been the case. Brought into contact in this way with many who were in distress, I soon saw the privilege of still further economizing, and found it not difficult to give away much more than the proportion of my income I had at first intended.
About this time a friend drew my attention to the question of the personal and pre-millennial coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and gave me a list of passages bearing upon it, without note or comment, advising me to ponder the subject. For a while I gave a good deal of time to studying the Scriptures about it, with the result that I was led to see that this same Jesus who left our earth in His resurrection body was so to come again, that His feet were to stand on the Mount of Olives, and that He was to take possession of the temporal throne of His father David promised before His birth. I saw, further, that all through the New Testament the coming of the Lord was the great hope of His people, and was always appealed to as the strongest motive for consecration and service, and as the greatest comfort in trial and affliction. I learned, too, that the period of His return for His people was not revealed, and that it was their privilege, from day to day and from hour to hour, to live as men who wait for the Lord, that living thus it was quite immaterial, so to speak, whether He should or should not come at any particular hour, the important thing being to be so ready for Him as to be able, whenever He might appear, to give an account of one's stewardship with joy, and not with grief.
"The effect of this blessed hope was a thoroughly practical one. It led me to look carefully through my little library to see if there were any books there that were not needed or likely to be of further service, and to examine my small wardrobe to be quite sure that it contained nothing that I should be sorry to give an account of should the Master come at once. The result was that the library was considerably. diminished, to the benefit of some poor neighbors, and to the far greater benefit of my own soul, and that I found I had articles of clothing also which might be put to better advantage in other directions.
"It has been very helpful to me from time to time through life, as occasion has served, to act again in a similar way; and I have never gone through my house, from basement to attic, with this object in view, without receipting a great accession of spiritual joy and blessing. I believe we are all in danger of accumulating -- it may be from thoughtlessness, or from pressure of occupation -things which would be useful to others, while not needed by ourselves, and the retention of which entails loss of blessing. If the whole resources of the Church of God were well utilized, how much more might be accomplished. How many poor might be fed and naked clothed, and to how many of those as yet unreached the Gospel might be carried. Let me advise this line of things as a constant habit of mind, and a profitable course to be practically adopted whenever circumstances permit."
"Having now the twofold object in view of accustoming myself to endure hardness, and of economizing in order to be able more largely to assist those among whom I spent a good deal of time laboring in the Gospel, I soon found that I could live upon very much less than I had previously thought possible. Butter, milk, and other luxuries I soon ceased to use; and I found that by living mainly on oatmeal and rice, with occasional variations, a very small sum was sufficient for my needs. In this way I had more than two-thirds of my income available for other purposes; and my experience was that the less I spent on myself and the more I gave away, the fuller of happiness and blessing did my soul become. Unspeakable joy all the day long, and every day, was my happy possession. God, even my God, was a living, bright reality; and all I had to do was joyful service.
"It was to me a very grave matter, however, to contemplate going out of China, far away from all human aid, there to depend upon the living God alone for protection, supplies, and help of every kind. I felt that one's spiritual muscles required strengthening for such an undertaking. There was no doubt that if faith did not fail, God would not fail; but, then, what if one's faith should prove insufficient? I had not at that time learned that even 'if we believe not, He abideth faithful, He cannot deny Himself,' and it was consequently a very serious question to my mind, not whether He was faithful, but whether I had strong enough faith to warrant my embarking in the enterprise set before me.
"I thought to myself, 'When I get out to China, I shall have no claim on any one for anything; my only claim will be on God, How important, therefore, to learn before leaving England to move man, through God, by prayer alone.'
"At Hull my kind employer, always busily occupied, wished me to remind him whenever my salary became due. This I determined never to do directly, but to ask that God would bring the fact to his recollection, and thus encourage me by answering prayer. At one time, as the day drew near for the payment of a quarter's salary, I was as usual much in prayer about it. The time arrived, but my kind friend made no allusion to the matter. I continued praying, and days passed on, but he did not remember, until at length, on settling up my weekly accounts one Saturday night, I found myself possessed of only a single coin -- one half-crown piece. Still I had hitherto had no lack, and I continued in prayer.
"That Sunday was a very happy one. As usual my heart was full and brimming over with blessing. After attending Divine service in the morning, my afternoons and evenings were filled with Gospel work in the various lodging-houses I was accustomed to visit in the lowest part of the town. At such times it almost seemed to me as if heaven were begun below, and that all that could be looked for was an enlargement of one's capacity for joy, not a truer filling than I possessed. After concluding my last service about ten o'clock that night, a poor man asked me to go and pray with his wife, saying that she was dying. I readily agreed, and on the way to his house asked him why he had not sent for the priest, as his accent told me he was an Irishman. He had done so, he said, but the priest refused to come without a payment of eighteen pence, which the man could not produce, as the family was starving. Immediately it occurred to my mind that all the money I possessed in the world was the solitary half-crown, and that it was in one coin; moreover, that while the basin of water gruel I usually took for supper was awaiting me, and there was sufficient in the house for breakfast in the morning, I certainly had nothing for dinner on the coming day.
"Somehow or other there was at once a stoppage in the flow of joy in my heart; but instead of reproving myself I began to reprove the poor man, telling him that it was very wrong to have allowed matters to get into such a state as he described, and that he ought to have applied to the relieving officer. His answer was that he had done so, and was told to come at eleven o'clock the next morning, but that he feared that his wife might not live through the night. 'Ah,' thought I, 'if only I had two shillings and a sixpence instead of this half-crown, how gladly would I give these poor people one shilling of it!' But to part with the half-crown was far from my thoughts. I little dreamed that the real truth of the matter simply was that I could trust in God plus one-and-sixpence, but was not yet prepared to trust Him only, without any money at all in my pocket.
"My conductor led me into a court, down which I followed him with some degree of nervousness. I had found myself there before, and at my last visit had been very roughly handled, while my tracts were torn to pieces, and I received such a warning not to conic again that I felt more than a little concerned. Still, it was the path of duty, and I followed on. Up a miserable flight of stairs, into a wretched room, he led me; and oh what a sight there presented itself to our eyes! Four or five poor children stood about, their sunken cheeks and temples all telling unmistakably the story of slow starvation; and lying on a wretched pallet was a poor exhausted mother, with a tiny infant thirty-six hours old moaning rather than crying at her side, for it too seemed spent and failing. 'Ah,' thought I, 'if I had two shillings and a sixpence instead of a half-a-crown, how gladly should they have one-and-sixpence of it!' But still a wretched unbelief prevented me from obeying the impulse to relieve their distress at the cost of all I possessed.
"It will scarcely seem strange that I was unable to say much to comfort these poor people. I needed comfort myself. I began to tell them, however, that they must not be cast down, that though their circumstances were very distressing, there was a kind and loving Father in heaven; but something within me said, 'You hypocrite! telling these unconverted people about a kind and loving Father in heaven, and not prepared yourself to trust Him without half-a-crown!' I was nearly choked. How gladly would I have compromised with conscience if I had had a florin and a sixpence! I would have given the florin thankfully and kept the rest; but I was not yet prepared to trust in God alone, without the sixpence.
"To talk was impossible under these circumstances; yet, strange to say, I thought I should have no difficulty in praying. Prayer was a delightful occupation to me in those days; time thus spent never seemed wearisome; and I knew nothing of lack of words. I seemed to think that all I should have to do would be to kneel down and engage in prayer, and that relief would come to them and to myself together. 'You asked me to come and pray with your wife,' I said to the man, 'let us pray.' And I knelt down. But scarcely had I opened my lips with 'O Father who art in heaven' than conscience said within, 'Dare you mock God? Dare you kneel down and call Him Father with that half-crown in your pocket? Such a time of conflict came upon me then as I have never experienced before or since. How I got through that form of prayer I know not, and whether the words uttered were connected or disconnected I cannot tell; but I arose from my knees in great distress of mind.
"The poor father turned to me and said, 'You see what a terrible state we are in, sir; if you can help us, for God's sake do!' Just then the word flashed into my mind, 'Give to him that asketh of thee,' and in the word of a King there is power. I put my hand into my pocket, and slowly drawing forth the half-crown, gave it to the man, saying that it might seem a small matter for me to relieve them, seeing that I was comparatively well off, but that in parting with that coin I was giving him my all; what I had been trying to tell him was indeed true -- God really was a Father, and might be trusted. The joy all came back in full flood-tide to my heart; I could say anything and feel it then, and the hindrance to blessing was gone -- gone, I trust, for ever.
"Not only was the poor woman's life saved, but I realized that I was saved too. My life might have been a wreck -- would have been a wreck probably, as a Christian life -- had not grace at that time conquered, and the striving of God's Spirit been obeyed. I well remember how that night, as I went home to my lodgings, my heart was as light as my pocket. The lonely, deserted streets resounded with a hymn of praise which I could not restrain. When I took my basin of gruel before retiring, I would not have exchanged it for a prince's feast. I reminded the Lord as I knelt at my bedside of His own Word, that he who giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord, and I asked Him not to let my loan be a long one, or I should have no dinner the next day; and with peace within and peace without, I spent a happy, restful night.
"Next morning for breakfast my plate of porridge remained, and before it was consumed the postman's knock was heard at the door. I was not in the habit of receiving letters on Monday, as my parents and most friends refrained from posting on Saturday night; so that I was somewhat surprised when the landlady came in holding a letter or packet in her wet hand covered by her apron. I looked at the letter, but could not make out the handwriting. It was either a strange hand or a feigned one, and the postmark was blurred. Where it came from I could not tell. On opening the envelope I found nothing written within; but inside a sheet of blank paper was folded a pair of kid gloves, from which, as I opened them in astonishment, half-a-sovereign fell to the ground. "Praise the Lord!' I exclaimed; 'four hundred per cent for twelve hours' investment; that is good interest. How glad the merchants of Hull would be if they could lend their money at such a rate!' I then and there determined that a bank which could not break should have my savings or earnings as the case might be -- a determination I have not yet learned to regret.
"I cannot tell you how often my mind has recurred to this incident, or all the help it has been to me in circumstances of difficulty in after life. If we are faithful to God in little things, we shall gain experience and strength that will be helpful to us in the more serious trials of life.
"This remarkable and gracious deliverance was a great joy to me, as well as a strong confirmation of faith; but of course ten shillings, however economically used, will not go very far, and it was none the less necessary to continue in prayer, asking that the larger supply which was still due might be remembered and paid. All my petitions, however, appeared to remain unanswered; and before a fortnight had elapsed I found myself pretty much in the same position that I had occupied on the Sunday night already made so memorable. Meanwhile, I continued pleading with God, more and more earnestly, that He would graciously remind my employer that my salary was overdue. Of course it was not the want of the money that distressed me -- that could have been had at any time for the asking -- but the question uppermost in my mind was this: 'Can I go to China? or will my want of faith and power with God prove to be so serious an obstacle as to preclude my entering upon this much-prized service?'
"As the week drew to a close I felt exceedingly embarrassed. There was not only myself to consider; on Saturday night a payment would be due to my Christian landlady which I knew she could not well dispense with. Ought I not, for her sake, to speak about the matter of the salary? Yet to do so would be, to myself at any rate, the admission that I was not fitted to undertake a missionary enterprise. I gave nearly the whole of Thursday and Friday -- all the time not occupied by my regular employment to earnest wrestling in prayer with God. But still on Saturday morning I was in the same position as before. And now my earnest cry was for guidance as to whether it was my duty to break silence and speak to my employer, or whether I should still continue to wait the Father's time. As far as I could judge I received an assurance that to Wait His time was best, and that God in some way or other would interpose on my behalf. So I waited, my heart being now at rest and the burden gone.
"About five o'clock that Saturday afternoon, when the Doctor had finished writing his prescriptions, his last circuit for the day being taken, he threw himself back in his arm-chair, as he was wont, and began to speak of the things of God. He was a truly Christian man, and many seasons of very happy spiritual fellowship we had together. I was busily watching, at the time, a pan in which a decoction was boiling that required a good deal of attention. It was indeed fortunate for me that it was so, for without any obvious connection with what had been going on, all at once he said, 'By-the-bye, Taylor, is not your salary due again?' My emotion may be imagined! I had to swallow two or three times before I could answer. With my eye fixed on the pan and my back to the Doctor, I told him as quietly as I could that it was overdue some little time. How thankful I felt at that moment! God surely had heard my prayer, and caused him, in this time of my great need, to remember the salary without any word or suggestion from me. Presently he replied, 'Oh, I am so sorry you did not remind me! You know how busy I am; I wish I had thought of it a little sooner, for only this afternoon I sent all the money I had to the bank, otherwise I would pay you at once.' It is impossible to describe the revulsion of feeling caused by this unexpected statement. I knew not what to dot Fortunately for me my pan boiled up, and had a good reason for rushing with it from the room. Glad indeed I was to get away, and keep out of sight until after the Doctor had returned to his house, and most thankful that he had not perceived my emotion.
"As soon as he was gone I had to seek my little sanctum, and pour out my heart before the Lord for some time, before calmness -- and more than calmness -- thankfulness, and joy were stored. I felt that God had His own way, and was not going to fail me. I had sought to know His will early in the day, and as far as I could judge had received guidance to wait patiently; and now God was going to work for me in some other way.
"That evening was spent, as my Saturday evenings usually were, in reading the Word and preparing the subjects on which I expected to speak in the various lodging houses on the morrow. I waited, perhaps, a little longer than usual. At last, about ten o'clock, there being no interruption of any kind, I put on my overcoat, and was preparing to leave for home, rather thankful to know that by that time I should have to let myself in with the latchkey, as my landlady retired early to rest. There was certainly no help for that night; but perhaps God would interpose for me by Monday, and I might be able to pay my landlady early in the week the money I would have given her before, had it been possible.
"Just as I was preparing to turn down the gas, I heard the Doctor's step in the garden which lay between the dwelling-house and surgery. He was laughing to himself very heartily, as though greatly amused by something. Entering the surgery, he asked for the ledger, and told me that, strange to say, one of his richest patients had just come to pay his doctor's bill -- was it not an odd thing to do? It never struck me that it might have any bearing on my own particular case, or I might have felt embarrassed; but looking at it simply from the position of an uninterested spectator, I also was highly amused that a man who was rolling in wealth should come after ten o'clock at night to pay a doctor's bill, which he could any day have met by a check with the greatest ease. It appeared that somehow or other he could not rest with this on his mind and had been constrained to come at that unusual hour to discharge his liability.
"The account was duly receipted in the ledger, and the doctor was about to leave, when suddenly he turned, and handing me some of the banknotes just received, said, to my surprise and thankfulness, 'By the way, Taylor, you might as well take these notes; I have not any change, but can give you the balance next week.' Again I was left -- my feelings undiscovered -- to go back to my own little closet and praise the Lord, with a joyful heart that after all I might go to China.
"This incident was not a trivial one to me; and to recall it sometimes, in circumstances of great difficulty, in China or elsewhere, has proved no small comfort and strength."