The Life of J. Hudson Taylor: Chapter 19 - The Lowest Ebb, and the Turn of the Tide
Pecuniary difficulties, however, were by no the most severe part of the discipline means through which at this time the Lord was preparing the Inland Mission for coming extension and blessing. The years 1874 and 1875 were a time of trial both in China and at home. The health of several of the Mission staff broke down; the Hu-chau riot seriously endangered the lives of two of the workers; and, saddest of all for the Mission as a whole -- Emily Blatchley died.
Since 1872 this valuable worker, who was one of the Lammermuir party, and who had rendered excellent service on the field, had been entrusted with the care of Mr. Taylor's children, and with the entire oversight of the home department of the work. Her sickness and death was a severe blow to the Mission, and necessitated the return of Mr. Taylor to England.
Emily Blatchley gone, the reins of the home department had to be gathered up by other hands. Mr. Hudson Taylor's presence made things look comparatively easy. He who knew every detail was here on the spot to take charge and manage matters.
Within a few weeks he himself, prostrate and suffering, knew not if he should ever work again. For six months entirely laid aside through a serious injury to the spine, the result of a fall in the spring of the year, he was confined to his room and bed, a helpless, possibly a hopeless, invalid.
Surely, then, the lowest ebb was reached. Bereaved and weakened by recent losses, with but few friends, and a restricted circle of influence, and with no voice to plead its cause, except with God, it almost seemed as though the Inland Mission must be forgotten among the many other and more prominent claims constantly pressing on the Church. No denomination was pledged to its support; there were no means in hand to meet the needs of the forty-three stations and out-stations, with over sixty native helpers and thirty-five missionaries, in China, and no reserve funds to fall back upon should supplies fail. Its one trained helper, skilled in the daily executive, was in her quiet grave -- never to work again. Its leader, utterly broken down, was, as he said, "unable to do anything but rejoice in God."
Conception almost fails as we try to realize what that crisis must have meant in such a Mission. Daily work came as usual, requiring business ability for its immediate discharge, and the letters could only be brought to the bedside of the sick man who could not write a word. There was no officer or clerk to dispatch correspondence or to issue the little magazine. In a word, there was nothing for the maintenance of the Mission in distant, man-forgotten China. nothing to ensure tomorrow's bread to the workers there, far less next week's supplies, except, as Paul puts it, some of the "things which are not," and -- God. But God was there.
"What a life of praise, and joy, and rest, we should all lead," wrote Mr. Taylor, "did we but fully believe in the wisdom and love of God, and gladly acquiesce in His will and way, casting every care on Him in trustful prayer.
"It has been a great delight to me during this long illness to see how the Lord has met the daily need of His work, especially in regard to helpers. When lying ill in one room, with my dear wife also laid aside, for a time, in the next, often would ten, fifteen, twenty letters come in, requiring prompt attention. How were they to be answered? Well, the Lord knew our need, and scarcely were the letters read, oftentimes, when some friend would call, volunteering assistance.
"'Can I help you by writing an hour or two this morning?' would be the kind inquiry.
"'Yes, indeed!' we gratefully respond, 'see what a number of letters have come in.'
"If one who called thus in the morning could not stay long enough to finish all that needed to be done, another was sure to come in the afternoon, and perhaps one or two at night. Occasionally a young friend employed in a city office during the day would come round in the evening to do any needful book-keeping, or answer up letters not yet dealt with. So it continued day by day. Generally we had many letters; but if, on the contrary, only a few came in, we said to ourselves, 'Probably no one is able to help in the correspondence today,' which generally proved to be the case.
"One of the happiest times in my life was that period of enforced inactivity, when one could do nothing but rejoice in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him, and see Him every day meeting all our need. And never, either before or since that time, was my correspondence so welt kept in hand and answered up to date."
About Christmas time, 1874, we find a remarkable little paper making its way into several of the leading Christian journals, containing a request for prayer -- prayer that God would raise up during the coming year a band of eighteen men to go, two and two, into all the nine unevangelized provinces of Inland China.
Eighteen men within one year? And to enter those distant, untraveled regions, hitherto destitute of the Gospel? It seemed a bold request indeed; and especially in view of the source from whence it came. Besides, Inland China could scarcely be considered open to even the itineration of foreign travelers, much less to their residence. For although passports had been nominally obtainable ever since the Treaty of T'ien-tsin in 1858, they had practically been rarely granted, and the great mass of the people were in total ignorance of the fact that foreigners were entitled to travel beyond the open ports.
Yes, there are many difficulties and objections; and those who make the request for prayer realize, better perhaps than others, their own exceeding weakness and lack of visible resources for such an undertaking. And yet, God's time, they feel, has surely come; and He says "Go!" Can He not take up a worm, if needs be, to thresh mountains? Prayer then, and faith in God for the Eighteen.
"I have the fullest hope," wrote Mr. Hudson Taylor from his sick-room, "that God will enable us, during this New Year, 1875, to commence work in at least two or three of these unoccupied provinces; and I trust that shortly we may be able to announce the departure of missionaries for Burma also, to undertake operations amongst the inhabitants of Yunnan, to be extended, as God may open the way, to the adjoining districts of southwestern China.
"But, it may be asked, is it really possible, in the present state of the country, for our brethren to benefit the inhabitants of these remote regions? Our risen Saviour has clearly commanded us to go forth into 'all the world.' The difficulties, it is true, can scarcely be exaggerated; but, 'the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.' Will not our friends join us in asking for such men-and such only -- as do know their God, to go to these teeming millions?"
Mr. Taylor now planned to enter Western China through Burma, in which country Mr. Stevenson and Mr. Soulto immediately undertook to establish a medical Mission as a base of operation. Then followed the murder of the British officer, Mr. Mergary, while trying to lead an expedition to investigate possibilities of trade. The doors of the west now swung to, but prayer for the eighteen workers for this field continued to ascend, and before June, 1876, they had all sailed for China.
Then followed the Chefoo Convention, which, after prolonged negotiations, seemed to end in failure, but which finally resulted in complete success, doubtless through the intervention of God in answer to the many earnest prayers which were daily ascending on this behalf. So just as the workers had mastered the language and were ready for the work, the door swung wide for them to enter.
Then followed a period of pioneering and evangelizing in which devoted heralds of the cross traveled far and wide through all the inland provinces, preaching the Gospel and selling gospel literature.
As a result, new stations sprang up in the West, and in 1880 there were in all 70 stations occupied by seventy missionaries and 26 missionaries' wives.
In the autumn of 1881, in the midst of great need both of men and money, Mr. Taylor called a convention at Wu-ch'ang. As many of the workers as possible met him there, and after a prayerful survey of the field, they felt led to ask in earnest prayer for 70 new workers to fill openings which they felt could not go unoccupied. It seemed an unreasonable thing to ask in the face of the fact they were often sorely pressed for funds to support the missionaries which they now had on the field. But they were sure it was God's leading, and within the three years which they had set, the whole number were on the field with all their needs well supplied.
The next great epoch in the history of the Mission was the coming of the Cambridge Band, 1885. This band consisted of seven graduates of Cambridge University, who whole-heartedly devoted themselves to the cause and became a great blessing to the Mission.