The Life of J. Hudson Taylor: Chapter 7 - Settlement in Ningpo
Autumn was well advanced before Mr. Hudson Taylor reached Ningpo -- the City of the Peaceful Wave; but New Year's Day, 1857, saw him quite a familiar member of the little foreign community already settled in that important center.
The place in which he now found himself is well known as one of the most ancient, interesting, and influential in Southern China. Opened to the residence of foreigners in 1842 by the treaty of Nan-king, it had long been the scene of missionary labours; and not only the Church Missionary Society, but the American Baptists and the Presbyterians also were represented by a devoted band of workers.
The wide and fertile plain in the midst of which the city stands is bounded on the east by the broken coast-line of the Yellow Sea, from which it stretches inland, twelve to twenty miles, to the fine amphitheater of hills enclosing its western limits. Admirably situated at the junction of two streams, and less than twelve miles from the coast, the city occupies a commanding position for purposes of commerce; and the ever-changing population brought by trade to its marts adds not a little to its importance as a sphere for missionary effort. Within its thronging thoroughfares the busy tide of life runs high. Four hundred thousand human beings dwell within or around the five miles' circuit of its ancient wall, every one a soul that Jesus loves, for whom He died.
A small stone bridge, spanning a dirty canal, leads into a busy street of poor, little, crowded shops, the end of which is crossed by another bridge between the lakes, which bear the very inappropriate names of the Sun and Moon Lake respectively. It is to this insignificant, ill-paved and altogether unattractive little by-way that we wish just now to direct particular attention; for, strange as it may seem, this is none other than Lake Head Street (Wu-gyiao-deo), scene of the earliest beginnings of the present China Inland Mission.
Entering the city by the East Gate, and mingling with the thronging crowds that all day long seem ceaselessly to ebb and flow beneath its heavy portal, the visitor finds himself plunged at once into the characteristic surroundings of Chinese life. "Many little things and many wonders" claim his interested attention at every step, as he threads his way through the maze of streets that form the heart of the city. At last, leaving the handsomer thoroughfares behind, he finds himself nearing the broad lagoons -- united by fanciful bridges, and adorned with the surrounding buildings of fine ancestral temples and private dwelling -- that form one of the marked features of the city.
We cross the small stone bridge, and make our way carefully down into the little street. There is the spot, only a few steps from the bridge, and on the left-hand side. What a poor little place it is! -- but precious to many a soul as the very gate of heaven. An ordinary doorway, opening from the street, gives access to a little lobby within. Upon entering, the first object to attract attention is a large wooden pillar, occupying the center of this small space. The pillar is necessary, it appears, and has to be respected, though its presence involves many an unceremonious reminder to the careless or hurried passer-by. To the right of the big pillar opens the chapel, a good-sized room, occupying the whole lower floor; and at the back of the lobby another door leads to a steep stair, by which one climbs to the dwelling-rooms above. From the little, low, front windows a glimpse may be obtained of the busy street beneath; and the back of the house opens directly upon one of the stagnant, odoriferous canals which so abound in the City of the Peaceful Wave.
Here it was, in the winter of 1856, that Mr. Hudson Taylor first made his home; but the appearance and accommodation of the premises were not at that time nearly so elaborate as we have now described. "I have a very distinct remembrance," he writes, "of tracing my initials on the snow which during the night had collected upon my coverlet in the large barn-like upper room, now subdivided into four or five smaller ones, each of which is comfortably ceiled. The tiling of an unceiled Chinese house may keep off the rain -- if it happens to be sound -- but it does not afford so good a protection against snow, which will beat up through crannies and crevices, and find its way within." But however unfinished may have been its fittings, the little house on Lake Head Street, between the bridges, was considered a precious vantage-ground for work among the people; and there thankfully and gladly Mr. Taylor settled down, and devoted himself to unwearied labours for their benefit -- morning, noon and night.
Thus opened the troublous times of the year 1857, which was to close with the notorious bombardment of Canton by the British, and the commencement of our second Chinese war. Rumors of trouble were everywhere rife, and in many places the missionaries passed through not a little danger. In Ningpo this was especially the case, and the preserving care of God in answer to prayer was consequently most marked. When the awful news of the bombardment of Canton reached the Cantonese residents in Ningpo -- of whom there were a large number -- their wrath and indignation knew no bounds, and they immediately set to work to plot the destruction of all the foreigners resident in the city and neighborhood. It was well known that many of the foreigners were in the habit of meeting for worship every Sunday evening at one of the missionary houses outside the Salt Gate, and the plan was to surround the place on a given occasion and make short work of all present, cutting off afterwards any who might escape.
The sanction of the Tao-t'ai, or chief civil magistrate of the city, was easily obtained; and nothing remained to hinder the execution of the plot, of which the foreigners were of course entirely in ignorance. It so happened, however, that one of those acquainted with the conspiracy had a friend engaged in the service of the missionaries, and anxious for his safety, he was led to warn hint of the coming danger, and urge his leaving foreign employ. The and thus the little community became aware of their peril. Realizing the gravity of the situation, they determined to meet together at the house of one of their number to seek the protection of the Most High, and to hide under the shadow of His wings. Nor did they thus meet in vain.)
"At the very time we were praying the Lord was working. He led an inferior mandarin, the Superintendent of Customs, to call upon the Tao-t'ai, and remonstrate with him upon the folly of permitting such an attempt, which he assured him would rouse the foreigners in other places to come with armed forces to avenge the death of their countrymen and raze the city to the ground. The Tao-t'ai replied that, when the foreigners came for that purpose, he should deny all knowledge of or complicity in the plot, and so direct their vengeance against the Cantonese, who would in their turn be destroyed; 'and thus,' said he, 'we shall get rid of both Cantonese and foreigners by one stroke of policy.' The Superintendent of Customs assured him that all such attempts at evasion would be useless; and, finally, the Tao-t'ai sent to the Cantonese, withdrawing his permission, and prohibiting the attack. This took place at the very time when we were asking protection of the Lord, though we did not become acquainted with the facts until some weeks later. Thus again we were led to prove that-
'Sufficient is His arm alone, And our defense is sure.'"
Not long after his settlement in Ningpo, Mr. Hudson Taylor was called to pass through a critical experience in his missionary career, and one that was to exercise a marked and blessed influence upon the future of his life service. In connection with this important subject he writes as follows:-
"During the latter part of this year, 1856, my mind was greatly exercised about continued connection with my society, it being frequently in debt. Personally I had always avoided debt, and kept within my salary, though at times only by very careful economy. Now there was no difficulty in doing this, for my income was larger, and the country being in a more peaceful state, things were not so dear. But the Society itself was in debt. The quarterly bills which I and others were instructed to draw were often met by borrowed money, and a correspondence commenced which terminated in the following year by my resigning from conscientious motives.
"To me it seemed that the teaching of God's Word was unmistakably clear: 'Owe no man anything.' To borrow money implied, to my mind, a contradiction of Scripture -- a confession that God had withheld some good thing, and a determination to get for ourselves what He had not given. Could that which was wrong for one Christian to do be right for an association of Christians? Or could any amount of precedents make a wrong course justifiable? If the Word taught me anything, it taught me to have no connection with debt. I could not think that God was poor, that He was short of resources or unwilling to supply any want of any work that was really His. It seemed to me that if there were lack of funds to carry on such work, then to that degree, in that special development or in some other respects, it could not be the work of God, as it should be. To satisfy my conscience I was therefore compelled to resign connection with the Society which had hitherto supplied my salary.
"But it was a step that was not a little trying to one's faith. I was not at all sure what God would have me do, or whether He would so meet my need as to enable me to continue working as before. I had no friends whatever from whom I expected supplies. I did not know what means the Lord might use; but I was willing to give up all my time to the service of evangelization among the heathen, if by any means He would supply the smallest amount on which I could live; and if He were not pleased to do this, I was prepared to undertake whatever work might be necessary to supply myself, giving all the time that could be spared from such a calling to more distinctly missionary efforts. But from the day I took this step God blessed and prospered me; and how glad and thankful I felt when the separation was really effected. I could look right up into my Father's face with a satisfied heart, ready, by His grace, to do the next thing as He might teach me, and felling very sure of His loving care.
"And how blessedly He did lead me on and provide for me I can never, never tell. It was like a continuation of some of my earlier home experiences, my faith was not untried; my faith often, often failed, and I was so sorry and ashamed of the failure to trust such a Father. But oh! I was learning to know Him. I would not even then have missed the trial. He became so near, so real, so intimate. The occasional difficulty about funds never came from an insufficient supply for personal needs, but in consequence of ministering to the wants of scores of the hungry and dying ones around us. And trials far more searching in other ways quite eclipsed these difficulties; and being deeper, brought forth in consequence richer fruits. How glad one is now, not only to know that 'they who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true,' but also that when we fail to trust completely, He still remains unchangingly faithful. He is wholly true whether we trust or not. 'If we believe not, He abideth faithful; H, cannot deny Himself.' But oh, how we dishonor our Lord whenever we fail to trust Him, and what peace, blessing, and triumph we lose in thus sinning against the Faithful One! May we never again presume in anything to doubt Him!"
It was a great satisfaction to Mr. Taylor that his friend and colleague, Mr. Jones, also of the Chinese Evangelization Society, was led to take the same step in association with himself; and both were profoundly thankful that the separation took place without the least breach of friendly feeling on either side. Indeed, they had the joy of knowing that the step they took commended itself to several members of the Committee, although the Society as a whole could not come to their position. Although from that time forward depending upon God alone for supplies, they were enabled to continue a measure of connection with their former supporters, sending home their journals, etc., for publication as before, so long as the Society continued to exist.
It was a busy center, that unpretending little mission-house on Lake Head Street. There, and at other premises occupied by the missionaries, earnest work was steadily carried on. Numbers thronged the open halls; blessing followed in answer to prayer; souls were saved; and a little Church had to be formed, the harvest of which is still being reaped in many of the stations of the present Mission. The conversion of the first members of this little gathering of believers was as remarkable as it is interesting. The following brief record of the circumstances has been preserved for us by Mr. Taylor's own pen:-
"On one occasion, in the year 1857, I was preaching in Ningpo the glad tidings of salvation though the finished work of Christ, when a middle-aged man stood up, and testified before his assembled countrymen to his faith in the power of the Gospel.
"'I have long sought for the Truth,' said he earnestly, 'as my father did before me; but f have never found it. I have traveled far and near, but without obtaining it. I have found no rest in Confucianism, Buddhists, or Taoism; but I do find rest in what I have heard here tonight. Henceforth I am a believer in Jesus.'
"This man was one of the leading officers of a sect of reformed Buddhists in Ningpo. A short time after his confession of faith in the Saviour, there was a meeting of the sect over which he had formerly presided. I accompanied him to that meeting, and there, to his former co-religionists, he testified of the peace he had obtained in believing. Soon after, one of his former companions was converted and baptized. Both now sleep in Jesus. The first of these two long continued to preach to his countrymen the glad tidings of great joy. A few nights after his conversion, he asked how long this Gospel had been known in England. He was told that we had known it for some hundred of years.
"'What!' said he, amazed; 'is it possible that for hundreds of years you have had the knowledge of these glad tidings in your possession, and yet have only now come to preach it to us?
My father sought after the Truth for more than twenty years, and died without finding it. Oh, why did you not come sooner?'
"A whole generation has passed away since that mournful inquiry was made; but how many, alas! might repeat the same question today? More than two hundred millions in the meanwhile have been swept into eternity, without an offer of salvation. How long shall this continue, and the Master's words, 'To every creature,' remain unheeded?"