advantage of a good light." -- EMERSON.
"He asked them to come with Him, and they came;
A PORTRAIT GALLERY
WHEREIN THE READER IS INTRODUCED TO SOME OF OUR FELLOW WORKERS
IN meeting the members of an infant and unsophisticated Church, it is delightful to observe the directness of their spiritual characteristics, unfettered by the artificiality which grows up with theological phraseology and the adoption of sectarian conventionalities.
So strongly individualistic a band of men met us at Hwochow, that Christian himself on his Heavenward journey encountered, I think, no more varied a company, nor more striking, in the various ways in which CHRIST had met them and called them to discipleship, and turned their strongly-marked characteristics into the way of His service.
Evangelist, Fu by name, keen and even fierce in his determination to compel men to hear the truth concerning the City of Destruction and the burden of sin which rests upon them, would go from place to place with a bundle of books, preaching and warning sinners "to flee from the wrath to come." He asked no remuneration from the Church or foreigner for the time he gave, but realising that necessity was laid upon him, he pointed men to the Saviour. His best work was done alone for he was easily offended, but, true and straight, he ruled his house in the fear of the Lord.
His conversion was characteristic of the man. Having business to transact in the small city of Great Peace, he found that large crowds had gathered to listen to a man proclaiming strange doctrines. Every one knew why Pastor Hsi, for it was he, had come that day to the city. A family had professed their willingness to destroy idols, and asked him to be present on the occasion. When the Pastor arrived, however, the man had changed his mind, and fear of consequences had proved too much for him. Nothing could hinder the Pastor from preaching the Good News, and he made much of this opportunity. When he had finished speaking, Mr. Fu went to him and asked him what was this new doctrine, and Mr. Hsi told him the story of the Garden of Eden, and the Fall of man.
"In Adam all have sinned, and in Christ all can be forgiven." It was a strange story, and yet as Fu listened he felt it was true, and as he took the long, lonely walk over the mountains to his home, he meditated much upon it. He had not as yet seen the wicket-gate, but he had seen the direction in which it lay, and a subconscious desire was in his heart to know more.
Home affairs claimed his attention, and he had no time to give to the further investigation of new religions; and yet the seed which had been sown was gradually germinating, so that when after a few months he found himself again near Great Peace, in a small place where was an opium refuge, Mr. Fu went in to see the man who was in charge. Although he had never smoked opium himself, Mr. Fu was on this occasion in possession of some of the crude drug, and was on his way to the hills to sell it, and hoped by the transaction to profit considerably. The Refuge-keeper, seeing he was interested, asked him to share his evening meal, and when he found out the errand on which his guest was bent, he told him to sell the opium he had and avoid any further dealings with so deadly a poison. Mr. Fu was deeply touched by the kindness of this man. "I have no claim upon him, and yet he treated me as a brother," was his reflection. From that day Mr. Fu never sold opium again.
He started on his homeward journey, and once more as he walked the lonely roads he was conscious of the constraining presence of One who has so often met with men as they travel, walking through the fields, and inviting them to leave all and follow Him. Thus untrammelled by the words and requirements of men, Mr. Fu met with his God; but still questioning, he reached home to find that his wife was dangerously ill. He went at once to a neighbouring village to fetch a doctor, and found him unwilling to come until he had taken a dose of opium which was then due. Finding that all persuasion was useless, Mr. Fu suddenly decided to go to Hwochow and see if the foreign missionaries, or the Opium Refuge-keeper there, had any medicine. He walked the twelve miles, and was directed to the missionaries' house. The decision to go to Hwochow was made suddenly; not so the resolution to enter the open door of the house. Perhaps he had been wrong after all! It was serious to so openly come in contact with foreigners! It might be that the stories he had heard of their magical powers were correct! And yet his heart had borne him witness, in that lonely walk, that what he heard in Great Peace was true.
After walking up and down for some time, unconscious that Goodwill was watching him from within, he heard some one call and ask him to come in. The call came at the right moment and he entered, knowing as he did so that a definite step was being taken and life would never be for him the same again.
"My wife is ill, and I have come to ask for medicine," he said. After some talk he was taken to see Miss Jacobsen, who told him that God could, and would, heal sickness in answer to prayer. She and the evangelist prayed with him, gave him medicine, some books, and made him promise to come again. He left them, saying that he would do so. Again the long, lonely walk had to be faced, and Beelzebub gave orders that arrows should be shot at him, and all manner of doubts took possession of his soul. "I must go again, for I have given my word," he reflected. "What folly!" and then again the words which he could not doubt reasserted themselves, and he considered, yielded, and believed.
As he entered his courtyard, he saw his wife grinding corn! "I am well," she said. "And I," he said, "have believed in Jesus." To his surprise, not one word of anger escaped her lips. "I am glad," was her only comment.
There was no time to be lost; if he delayed, others might hinder him, and before his evening meal he tore down the idols, and together husband and wife prayed to God.
Fu was the youngest of four brothers, and the three other families were not of the same mind; he was unceasing in his efforts to bring them to the Saviour, but at the Chinese New Year festival they, as custom required, burnt incense to the idols.
Serious illness seized upon various members of all three families, and their lives were in danger. Fu, seeing his opportunity, offered to go to the city and ask the evangelist to come and pray for them, and to this they consented. When Mr. Fu returned, he was accompanied by Mr. Cheng, and in response to his exhortations their idols were destroyed and the three brothers professed their willingness to become disciples. That place has been signally blessed of God. All have given liberally of their substance to the work of the Lord, and they have now their own church, a cave cut from the loess cliffs by their own hands, where Sunday by Sunday men and women gather from the neighbouring villages to hear the word of God, and many have been added to the Church as a result.
* * * * *
Mr. Ging, little of stature, so short-sighted as to be almost blind, had recently been a patient in the Opium Refuge. A scholar of note, holding a high degree, we first knew him when he was about forty years of age, and the only Christian in his village. He was more than any Chinaman I have met impregnated with the teachings of Confucius; and filial piety was for him no mere doctrine of words, but a ruling factor in his life.
Shortly before the time of which I write, he had, one day, given some cause of offence to his aged mother, in consequence of which she commanded that, in recognition of his fault, he should kneel on the ground before her until such time as she should see fit to excuse him.
For half a day she kept him in that position, and he knelt quietly, giving to all an example and illustration of the sacred duty of son to parent as taught in the Chinese Classics, and as understood by those who earnestly follow their teachings.
By virtue of his learning and position, no matter of importance would be settled in the village without him, and he enjoyed great respect as a teacher of the young, notwithstanding the fact that he was handicapped in his work as school-master by reason of his defective eyesight, the boys taking full advantage of his disability and failing to appreciate as they should the virtue of the "Princely Man" of whom they read so much in their classical studies, and of whom they daily witnessed so striking an example.
For some of these pupils of his, examination-day dawned, and the results were disastrous. The consequences of much undetected mischief were now made clear in the light of day, and the indignant examining missionary called upon Mr. Ging to aid in devising a punishment adequate to the circumstances. "Is it by extra imposed work, or by the public disgrace of the rod, that their misdeeds will be made most heinous in their own eyes?" he was asked, the remarks being accompanied by a look which could not fail to assure the trembling band of offenders that the method of Solomon met with unqualified approval. "I think," replied Mr. Ging, "that the case does not call so much for punishment as for exercise of greater patience on our side!!!" This answer was to the unbounded delight of the scholars, and discomfiture of the missionary.
It was in his own village and home that he shone. Before many years had passed, the people who were formerly unwilling to receive us had many of them become Christians. One of their number had lent his room, rent free for ten years, as a meeting-place for worship, and a good work had begun. If you spoke to them of the cause of this change, they would tell you of Mr. Ging and the force of his example, and how even his old mother had, before her death, renounced idolatry and asked for a Christian funeral.
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What can I say of Mr. Lan? One is tempted to question, "How shall the superficial enter into the Kingdom of God?"
One of the aristocratic families, no longer enjoying the prosperity of former days, yet endeavouring to impress upon all its grandeur whilst inevitably sinking, gave us Mr. Lan.
Contact with Pastor Hsi had been the turning-point in his life, and from the early days he gave himself assiduously to the study of the Bible. Few have more accurate knowledge of the Scripture than he, his addresses are well and carefully prepared, and he has been the means under God of leading many men to a knowledge of the Saviour. His kind disposition and good-nature have given him many friends, but love of money and appearances have crippled his usefulness. Any Christian work he now does is independent of the missionaries, and he will sometimes be invited to the official's residence to help some one to leave the opium habit, he and his father before him having been doctors of no small repute. He is constantly in debt, and will often remain away from his home during the Chinese New Year when debts are settled, but when he does return, he enters the house with such perfect manners, and is attired in such gorgeous silk, that few would venture to mention anything so unpleasant as the settlement of a debt.
Easily led, he loves the glories of this present world and is fearful lest, by too great zeal, the rulers of Vanity Fair may regard him as a stranger and outcast. And yet, in his high moments, he finds himself longing for the things that abide, and his affections and desires are for the time being upon these, but as a morning cloud they pass. In other lands, where the line of demarcation is less clear, he might be considered a good Churchman, but neutral tints are rare here, and a man must clearly show on which side he stands or he will get the benefit of neither.
He is ever faithfully served by his dependant and sycophant, Mr. Diao, who is a weak, physically decadent man who can neither offend by word nor deed the man from whom he has had so much. His manner is too servile to allow one to place much confidence in him, but he is a believer, and proves by many actions that he is truly following Christ. If only he could get free from the net of the rich man, and yet -- what Church has not such members!
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Mr. Tu, weak, good, always trusting the Heavenly Father to supply his needs, temporal and spiritual, and ever ready to bear witness that He has done so, in spite of the fact that life's outlook is always grey! Very poor, he was the leader in his village by virtue of his sincerity. Is some aggressive movement proposed? "The time has not yet come," is his ever-ready answer. Do the crops seem to fail for lack of rain, and the farmers, anxious and worried, speak of the famine confronting them, and him? "Fear not, the Lord will provide," he will say, and though he may have to eat the coarsest flour, and little of that sometimes, he never doubts, and never rejoices!!
On the occasion of the marriage of his son, even a short time before the bride arrived, nothing was ready -- he had so little -- and all he said was: "We must wait and see how the Heavenly Father will provide." When the moment came every one was ready to help him, and he would be a discontent indeed who was dissatisfied with the result. Mr. Tu was full of praise to GOD for His goodness, and will quote the incident to those who may have doubts.
I have reflected much upon Mr. Tu and his ways, and I am reminded of the ravens, "who sow not nor gather into barns," and our Heavenly Father cares for them; and I come to the conclusion that to us is granted on rare occasions the privilege of being the medium by which our Father will prove His care to the weak, yet trustful souls. Good, faithful old Tu, he could teach many of us of the active, energetic temperament a lesson; for he will tell you, and truly, that he has no strength, yet he has never asked from man, and he has perfect confidence that the Good Shepherd will lead him safe to the journey's end.