The Life of J. Hudson Taylor: Chapter 3 - Life in London
"By-and-by the time drew near when it was j thought desirable that I should leave Hull to attend the medical course of the London Hospital. A little while spent there, and then I had every reason to believe that my life work in China would commence. But much as I had rejoiced at the willingness of God to hear and answer prayer and to help His half-trusting, half-timid child, I felt that I could not go to China without having still further developed and tested my power to rest upon His faithfulness; and a marked opportunity for doing so was providentially afforded me.
"My dear father had offered to bear all the expenses of my stay in London. I knew, however, that, owing to recent losses, it would mean a considerable sacrifice for him to undertake this just when it seemed necessary for me to go forward. I had recently become acquainted with the Committee of the Chinese Evangelization Society, in connection with which I ultimately left for China, and especially with my esteemed and much-loved friend, Mr. George Pearse, now and for many years himself a missionary. Not knowing of my father's proposition, they also kindly offered to bear my expenses while in London. When these proposals were first made to me, I was not quite clear as to what I ought to do, and in writing to my father and the secretaries, told them that I would take a few days to pray about the matter before deciding on any course of action. I mentioned to my father that I had had this offer from the Society, and told the secretaries also of his proffered aid.
"Subsequently, while waiting upon God in prayer for guidance, it became clear to my mind that I could without difficulty decline both offers. The secretaries of the Society would not know that I had cast myself wholly on God for supplies, and my father would conclude that I had accepted the other offer. I therefore wrote declining both propositions, and felt that without any one having either care or anxiety on my account I was simply in the hands of God, and that He, who knew my heart, if He wished to encourage me to go to China, would bless my effort to depend upon Him alone at home.
"I must not now attempt to detail the ways in which the Lord was pleased to help me from time to time. I soon found that it was not possible to live quite as economically in London as in Hull. To lessen expenses I shared a room with a cousin, four miles from the hospital, providing myself with board; and after various experiments I found that the most economical way was to live almost exclusively on brown bread and water. Thus I was able to make the means that God gave me last as long as possible. Some of my expenses I could not diminish, but my board was largely within my own control. A large twopenny loaf of brown bread, purchased daily on my long walk from the hospital, furnished me with supper and breakfast; and on that diet, with a few apples for lunch, I managed to walk eight or nine miles a day, besides being a good deal on foot while attending the practice of the hospital and the medical school.
"An incident that occurred just about this time I must refer to. The husband of my former landlady in Hull was chief officer of a ship that sailed from London and by receiving his half-pay monthly and remitting it to her I was able to save her the cost of a commission. This I had been doing for several months, when she wrote requesting that I would obtain the next payment as early as possible, as her rent was almost due, and she depended upon that sum to meet it. The request came at an inconvenient time. I was working hard for an examination in the hope of obtaining a scholarship which would be of service to me, and felt that I could ill afford the time to go during the busiest part of the day to the city and procure the money. I had, however, sufficient of my own in hand to enable me to send the required sum. I made the remittance therefore, purposing, as soon as the examination was over, to go and draw the regular allowance with which to refund myself.
"Before the time of examination the medical school was closed for a day, on account of the funeral of the Duke of Wellington, and I had an opportunity of going at once to the office, which was situated in a street turning out of Cheapside, and applying for the amount due. To my surprise and dismay the clerk told me that he could not pay it, as the officer in question had run away from his ship and gone to the gold diggings. 'Well,' I remarked, 'that is very inconvenient for me, as I have already advanced the money, and I know his wife will have no means of repaying it.' The clerk said he was sorry, but could of course only act according to orders; so there was no help for me in that direction. A little more time and thought, however, brought the comforting conclusion to my mind, that as I was depending on the Lord for everything, and His means were not limited, it was a small matter to be brought a little sooner or later into the position of needing fresh supplies from Him; and so the joy and the peace were not long interfered with.
"Very soon after this, possibly the same evening, while sewing together some sheets of paper on which to take notes of the lectures, I accidentally pricked the first finger of my right hand, and in a few moments forgot all about it. The next day at the hospital I continued dissecting as before. The body was that of a person who had died of fever, and was more than usually disagreeable and dangerous. I need scarcely say that those of us who were at work upon it dissected with special care, knowing that the slightest scratch might cost us our lives. Before the morning was far advanced I began to feel very weary, and while going through the surgical wards at noon was obliged to run out, being suddenly very sick -- a most unusual circumstance with me, as I took but little food and nothing that could disagree with me. After feeling faint for some time, a draught of cold water revived me, and I was able to rejoin the students. I became more and more unwell, however, and ere the afternoon lecture on surgery was over found it impossible to hold the pencil and continue taking notes. By the time the next lecture was through, my whole arm and right side were full of severe pain, and I was both looking and feeling very ill.
"Finding that I could not resume work, I went into the dissecting-room to bind up the portion I was engaged upon and put away my apparatus, and said to the demonstrator, who was a very skillful surgeon, 'I cannot think what has come over me,' describing the symptoms. 'Why,' said he, 'what has happened is clear enough: you must have cut yourself in dissecting, and you know that this is a case of malignant fever.' I assured him that I had been most careful, and was quite certain that I had no cut or scratch. 'Well,' he replied,' 'you certainly must have had one,' and he very closely scrutinized my hand to find it, but in vain. All at once it occurred to me that I had pricked my finger the night before, and I asked him if it were possible that a prick from a needle, at that time, could have been still unclosed. His opinion was that this was probably the cause of the trouble, and he advised me to get a hansom, drive home as fast as I could, and arrange my affairs forthwith. 'For,' he said, 'you are a dead man.'
"My first thought was one of sorrow that I could not go to China; but very soon came the feeling, 'Unless I am greatly mistaken, I have work to do in China, and shall not die." I was glad, however, to take the opportunity of speaking to my medical friend, who was a confirmed skeptic, as to things spiritual, of the joy that the prospect of perhaps soon being with my Master gave me, telling him at the same time that I did not think I should die, as, unless I were much mistaken, I had work to do in China, and if so, however severe the struggle, I must be brought through. 'That is all very well,' he answered, 'but you get a hansom and drive home as fast as you can. You have no time to lose for you will soon be incapable of winding up your affairs.' I smiled a little at the idea of my driving home in a hansom, for by this time my means were too exhausted to allow of such a proceeding, and I set out to walk the distance if possible. Before long, however, my strength gave way, and I felt it was no use to attempt to reach home by walking. Availing myself of an omnibus from Whitechapel Church to Farringdon Street, and another from Farringdon Street onwards, I reached, in great suffering, the neighborhood of Soho Square, behind which I lived. On going into the house, I got some hot water from the servant, and charging her very earnestly -- literally as a dying man -- to accept eternal life as the gift of God through Jesus Christ, I bathed my hand and lanced the finger, hoping to let out some of the poisoned blood. The pain was very severe; I fainted away, and was for sometime unconscious, so long that when I came to myself I found that I had been carried to bed.
"An uncle of mine who lived near at hand had come in, and sent for his own medical man, an assistant surgeon at the Westminster Hospital. I assured my uncle that medical help would be of no service to me, and that I did not wish to go to the expense involved. He, however, quieted me on this score, saying that he had sent for his own doctor, and that the bill would be charged to himself. When the surgeon came and learned all the particulars, he said, 'Well, if you have been living moderately, you may pull through; but if you have been going in for beer and that sort of thing, there is no manner of chance for you.' I thought that if sober living was to do anything, few could have a better chance, as little but bread and water had been my diet for a good while past. I told him I had lived abstemiously, and found that it helped me in study. 'But now,' he said, 'you must keep up your strength, for it will be a pretty hard struggle.'
"I was much concerned, notwithstanding the agony I suffered, that my dear parents should not be made acquainted with my state. Thought and prayer had satisfied me that I was not going to die, but that there was indeed a work for me to do in China. If my dear parents should come up and find me in that condition, I must lose the opportunity of seeing how God was going to work for me, now that my money had almost come to an end. So, after prayer for guidance, I obtained a promise from my uncle and cousin not to write to my parents, but to leave me to communicate with them myself. I felt it was a very distinct answer to prayer when they gave me this promise, and I took care to defer all communication with them myself until the crisis was past and the worst of the attack over. At home they knew that I was working hard for an examination, and did not wonder at my silence.
"Days and nights of suffering passed slowly by; but at length, after several weeks, I was sufficiently restored to move downstairs and lie on the sofa; and then I learned that two men, though not from the London Hospital, who had had dissection wounds at the same time as myself, had both succumbed, while was spared in answer to prayer to work for God in China.
"One day the doctor coming in found me on the sofa, and was surprised to learn that with assistance I had walked downstairs. 'Now,' he said, 'the best thing you can do is to get off to the country as soon as you feel equal to the journey. You must rusticate until you haw recovered a fair amount of health and strength, for if you begin your work too soon the consequences may still be serious.' When he had left, as I lay very exhausted on the sofa, I just told the Lord all about it, and that I was refraining from making my circumstances known to those who would delight to meet my need, in order that my faith might be strengthened by receiving help from Himself in answer to prayer alone. What was I to do? And I waited for His answer.
"It seemed to me as if He were directing my mind to the conclusion to go again to the shipping office and inquire about the wages I had been unable to draw. I reminded the Lord that I could not afford to take a conveyance, and that it did not seem at all likely that I should succeed in getting the money and asked whether this impulse was not a mere clutching at a straw some mental process of my own, rather than His guidance and teaching. After prayer, however, and renewed waiting upon God, I was confirmed in my belief that He Himself was teaching me to go to the office.
"The next question was, 'How am I to go?' I had had to seek help in coming downstairs, and the place was at least two miles away. The assurance was brought vividly home to me that whatever I asked of God in the name of Christ would be done, that the Father might be glorified in the Son; that what I had to do was to seek strength for the long walk, to receive it by faith, and to set out upon it. Unhesitatingly I told the Lord that I was quite willing to take the walk if He would give me the strength. I asked in the name of Christ that the strength might be immediately given; and sending the servant up to my room for my hat and stick, I set out, not to attempt to walk, but to walk to Cheapside.
"Although undoubtedly strengthened by faith, I never took so much interest in shop windows as I did upon that journey. At every second or third step I was glad to lean a little against the plate glass, and take time to examine the contents of the windows before passing on. It needed a special effort of faith when I got to the bottom of Farringdon Street to attempt the toilsome ascent of Snow Hill, but there was no Holborn Viaduct in those days, and it had to be done. God did wonderfully help me, and in due time I reached Cheapside, turned into the by-street in which the office was found, and sat down much exhausted on the steps leading to the first floor, which was my destination. I felt my position to be a little peculiar -- sitting there on the steps, so evidently spent -- and the gentlemen who rushed up and downstairs looked at me with an inquiring gaze. After a little rest, however, and a further season of prayer, I succeeded in climbing the staircase, and to my comfort found in the office the clerk with whom I had hitherto dealt in the matter. Seeing me looking pale and exhausted, he kindly inquired as to my health, and I told him that I had had a serious illness, and was ordered to the country, but thought it well to call first, and make inquiry, lest there should have been any mistake about the mate having run off to the gold diggings. 'Oh,' he said, 'I am so glad you have come, for it turns out that it was an able seaman of the same name that ran away. The mate is still on board; the ship has just reached Gravesend, and will be up very soon. I shall be glad to give you the half-pay up to date, for doubtless it will reach his wife more safely through you. We all know what temptations beset the men when they arrive at home after a voyage.'
"Before, however, giving me the sum of money, he insisted upon my coming inside and sharing his lunch. I felt it was the Lord in deed who was providing for me, and accepted his offer with thankfulness. When I was refreshed and rested, he gave me a sheet of paper to write a few lines to the wife, telling her of the circumstances. On my way back I procured in Cheapside a money order for the balance due to her, and posted it; and returning home again, felt myself now quite satisfied in taking an omnibus as far as it would serve me.
"Very much better the next morning, after seeing to some little matters that I had to settle, I made my way to the surgery of the doctor who had attended me, feeling that, although my uncle was prepared to pay the bill, it was right for me, now that I had some money in hand, to ask for the account myself. The kind surgeon refused to allow me to pay anything for his attendance, but he had supplied me with quinine, which he allowed me to pay for to the extent of eight shillings. When that was settled, I saw that the sum left was just sufficient to take me home; and to my mind the whole thing seemed a wonderful interposition of God on my behalf.
"I knew that the surgeon was skeptical, and told him that I should very much like to speak to him freely, if I might do so without offense; that I felt that under God I owed my life to his kind care, and wished very earnestly that he himself might become a partaker of the same precious faith that I possessed. So I told him my reason for being in London, and about my circumstances, and why I had declined the help of both my father and the officers of the Society in connection with which it was probable that I should go to China. I told him of the recent providential dealings of God with me, and how apparently hopeless my position had been the day before, when he had ordered me to go to the country, unless I would reveal my need, which I had determined not to do. I described to him the mental exercises I had gone through; but when I added that I had actually got up from the sofa and walked to Cheapside, he looked at me incredulously, and said, 'Impossible! Why, I left you lying there more like a ghost than a man.' And I had to assure him again and again that, strengthened by faith, the walk had really been taken. I told him also what money was left to me, and what payments there had been to make, and showed him that just sufficient remained to take me home to Yorkshire, providing for needful refreshment by the way and the omnibus journey at the end.
"My kind friend was completely broken down, and said with tears in his eyes, 'I would give all the world for a faith like yours.' I, on the other hand, had the joy of telling him that it was to be obtained without money and without price. We never met again. When I came back to town, restored to health and strength, I found that he had had a stroke, and left for the country; and I subsequently learned that he never, rallied. I was able to gain no information as to his state of mind when taken away, but I have always felt very thankful that I had the opportunity, and embraced it, of bearing testimony for God. I cannot but entertain the hope that the Master Himself was speaking to him through His dealings with me, and that I shall meet him again in the Better Land. It would be no small joy to be welcomed by him, when my own service is over.
"The next day found me in my dear parents' home. My joy in the Lord's help and deliverance was so great that I was unable to keep it to myself, and before my return to London my dear mother knew the secret of my life for some time past. I need scarcely say that when I went up again to town I was not allowed to live -- as, indeed, I was not fit to live -- on the same economical lines as before my illness. I needed more now, and the Lord did provide."
Returning to London when sufficiently recovered to resume his studies, Mr. Hudson Taylor again devoted himself to the busy life of hospital and lecture-hall, occupying all his spare time, as before, with earnest evangelistic efforts on behalf of those with whom he came in contact.
Towards the close of his medical course, in the spring of 1853, a remarkable case of conversion occurred through the blessing of God upon his labors -- that of a dying man in whom he was specially interested. God had given him the joy of winning souls before, but never under circumstances of so much difficulty; and the incident became a great encouragement to the young worker, who was thus to gain a deepened knowledge of the prayer-answering God as one "mighty to save."
"A short time before leaving for China," he writes, "it became my duty daily to dress the foot of a patient suffering from senile gangrene. The disease commenced, as usual, insidiously, and the patient had little idea that he was a doomed man, and probably had not long to live. I was not the first to attend him, but when the case was transferred to me, I naturally became very anxious about his soul. The family with whom he lived were Christians, and from them I learned that he was an avowed atheist, and very antagonistic to anything religious. They had, without asking his consent, invited a Scripture reader to visit him, but in great passion he had ordered him from the room. The vicar of the district also had called, hoping to help him; but he had spit in his face, and refused to allow him to speak to him. His passionate temper was described to me as very violent, and altogether the case seemed to be as hopeless as could well be imagined.
"Upon first commencing to attend him I prayed much about it; but for two or three days said nothing to him of a religious nature. By special care in dressing his diseased limb I was able considerably to lessen his sufferings, and he soon began to manifest grateful appreciation of my services. One day, with a trembling heart, I took advantage of his warm acknowledgments to tell him what was the spring of my action, and to speak of his own solemn position and need of God's mercy through Christ. It was evidently only by a powerful effort of self-restraint that he kept his lips closed. He turned over in bed with his back to me, and uttered no word.
"I could not get the poor man out of my mind, and very often through each day I pleaded with God, by His Spirit, to save him ere He took him hence. After dressing the wound and relieving his pain, I never failed to say a few words to him, which I hoped the Lord would bless. He always turned his back to me, looking annoyed, but never spoke a word in reply.
"After continuing this for some time, my heart sank. It seemed to me that I was not only doing no good, but perhaps really hardening him and increasing his guilt. One day, after dressing his limb and washing my hands, instead of returning to the bedside to speak to him, I went to the door, and stood hesitating for a few moments with the thought in my mind, 'Ephraim is joined to his idols; let him alone.' I looked at the man and saw his surprise, as it was the first time since speaking to him that I had attempted to leave without going up to his bedside to Say a few words for my Master. I could bear it no longer. Bursting into tears, I crossed the room and said, 'My friend, whether you will hear or whether you will forbear, I must deliver my soul,' and went on to speak very earnestly to him, telling him how much I wished that he would let me pray with him. To my unspeakable joy he did not turn away, but replied, 'If it will be a relief to you, do.' I need scarcely say that I fell on my knees and poured out my whole soul to God on his behalf. I believe the Lord then and there wrought a change in his soul.
"He was never afterwards unwilling to be spoken to and prayed with, and within a few days he definitely accepted Christ as his Saviour. Oh, the joy it was to me to see that dear man rejoicing in hope of the glory of God! He told me that for forty years he had never darkened the door of church or chapel, and that then -- forty years ago -- he had only entered a place of worship to be married, and could not be persuaded to go inside when his wife was buried. Now, thank God, his sin-stained soul, I had every reason to believe, was washed, was sanctified, was justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. Oftentimes, when in my early work in China, circumstances rendered me almost hopeless of success, I have thought of this man's conversion, and have been encouraged to persevere in speaking the Word, whether men would hear or whether they would forbear.
"The now happy sufferer lived for some time after this change, and was never tired of bearing testimony to the grace of God. Though his condition was most distressing, the alteration in his character and behavior made the previously painful duty of attending him one of real pleasure. I have often thought since, in connection with this case and the work of God generally, of the words, 'He that goeth forth weeping, bearing, precious seed, shall doubtless come again rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.' Perhaps, if there were more of that intense distress for souls that leads to more of that should more frequently see the results we desire. Sometimes it may be that while we are complaining of the hardness of the hearts of those we are seeking to benefit, the hardness of our own hearts, and our own feeble apprehension of the solemn reality of eternal things. may be the true cause of our want of success."