For they shall inherit the earth."
"The labourer whom Christ in His own garden
"He went out to seek wisdom, as many a one has
THE LIFE STORY OF PASTOR WANG
IF Pastor Hsi may be spoken of as the Paul of the Shansi Church, Barnabas finds his counterpart in Pastor Wang of Hwochow.
Though possessing none of the peculiar gifts which made Hsi a leader amongst foreigners and Chinese, he has exercised a remarkable personal influence upon hundreds of lives, winning by consistency and sincerity those with whom he has come in contact. On our first arrival we found him already in charge, conducting the Sunday services and generally caring for the Church members.
His unfailing courtesy, consideration, and tact simplified many difficult situations, and the exercise of his natural gift for gathering people around him and drawing out the best in them soon resulted in a rapidly growing work. He was almost immediately chosen as Deacon, and before long the office of Elder was given to him. All turned to Mr. Wang in difficulty, sought his advice in perplexity, and by the unanimous desire of the Church he was in 1909 ordained Pastor at Hwochow.
He has developed his gifts in the school of adversity, for trouble overtook him in his childhood when his father died only a few years before the great famine which was to sweep over the province of Shansi. Poor they always were, and his love for his mother was intensified as he saw the self-sacrificing devotion with which she earned enough by her spinning to enable him to continue his schooling. At the age of fifteen he was married, and on the bride's arrival the falsity of the middleman through whom the engagement had been long ago contracted was revealed, for the bride was a helpless cripple and a serious burden on the already overpressed household.
Food soon began to be scarce, for the rains failed and the prospect of the wheat harvest was poor. They endured and hoped, being mercifully saved from the knowledge that they must now enter upon a period when the inhabitants of Shansi should touch the depths of human suffering and call on death to end their woes. No pen can fully describe the horrors of that time. When summer and autumn crops had failed the rains were still withheld, and despair seized on all as they saw the impossibility of sowing the wheat for next year's harvest.
The delicate bride, unable to withstand the privations of that time, soon died, and Wang's sister was married, so that he and his mother remained alone to care for each other. The poor young sister lived but a very short while in her new home, and the circumstances of her death were so tragic that Wang felt unable to forgive the man who had been her husband. After many years, when circumstances brought this man to his home, he realised that Christ's command to forgive those who have offended against you required of him a complete change of feeling towards this once hated brother-in-law, and he invited him to share his food as a sign of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Every month the distress became more acute; weeds, leaves, bark of trees, and even some softer kinds of wood were used as food, but numbers were dying and of the one hundred and twenty families which inhabited the village, at last thirty only remained. The dead outnumbered the living, and compelled by hunger the latter were driven to sustain life by feeding on the former.
Wang saw his mother's vain endeavour to supply some kind of food on which they might subsist, and his heart was torn to see her deprive herself even now that there might be more for him.
When the famine was at its worst, the most tragic blow fell. His mother one day told him it was her wish that he should accompany several neighbours to a near village where lived a relation. In those days none dared to travel alone, lest in their weak, half-starved condition they should fall a prey to man or beast. The pretext given was the possibility of obtaining the loan of a little grain from the aunt who lived there. Beggars were many and givers few, and he wondered at his mother entertaining any hope of such good fortune.
He went, however, only to return a few hours later, empty-handed. As he entered the courtyard, heart-sick with disappointment, he called for his mother and received no answer. Doors and windows were locked on the inside, and sick with apprehension he called the neighbours to his help. On bursting open the door, they saw her body swinging from a beam in the dim recesses of the cave. The errand had been an excuse to get him out of the way, while she performed this act which was the last expression of her love to him. She had chosen this solution of their impossible position, hoping that, relieved of her presence, he might be able to endure till coming harvest.
The body, wrapped in matting, was laid in an empty cave. There was no money for a coffin, and many were waiting like hungry wolves to eat the uncoffined dead; moreover, the boy and his uncle were too weak to drag the body to the burying-ground.
The months passed, and still the arid, sun-baked earth refused to bear any green thing, and the despairing people longed for rain which never came. The second year of drought had come and gone, and there was now nothing sown in the fields, but on the seventh day of the fourth moon of the fourth year of the Emperor Kwang Hsue, the longed-for rain fell and hope revived.
At this time also a stranger came to the village registering the names of survivors, and announcing that foreigners had arrived and were distributing grain that the fields might be sown for an autumn crop.
The worst of the famine was over, but the terrors of famine fever had yet to be faced, and when the longed-for grain had ripened there were in many houses none left to eat it, for whole families had been wiped out.
Wang now naturally became an inmate of his uncle's home, and gradually the conditions of greatest horror were relieved. As soon as strength had sufficiently returned, they made coffins and prepared to bury their dead, that the required rites should not be lacking which should bring consolation to those who had entered the land of shades without the necessary honours having been paid to their memory. Not only for the coffins was money required, but also to pay the fees of the geomancers who must decide the site of the graves and an auspicious day for the funeral. In this one family, thirteen coffins were made and graves dug in accordance with the following plan: The four quarterings of the celestial sphere were borne in mind, respectively governed by the Azure Dragon, Red Bird, White Tiger, and Black Tortoise, these being identified with East, West, South, and North. The graves should face the south, with White Tiger on the right and Azure Dragon on the left, as these respectively control wind and water.
On the day of the funeral the son, dressed in coarse white cloth, with unhemmed garments, white twists plaited with the hair of his queue which he wore over his chest, and his head unshaven, walked as chief mourner, the wailing relatives following the bier. In due course, paper money and other articles were burned for the use of the deceased, and fire crackers were exploded to ensure the soul and the mortal remains against the attacks of demons. The next year in early spring on the day known as Pure Brightness, in accordance with national custom, Wang, dressed in white, again visited and repaired the grave. For three years he wore signs of mourning in his dress, and abstained from all festivities. Thus he strove to leave undone nothing which filial piety could contrive, to make easier to his mother her sojourn in those mysterious realms whither she had passed.
For the next few years he worked as a silversmith in his uncle's shop, this latter being a generous, kindly man, on whom the responsibilities of business life sat only too lightly, for an illness revealed the fact that the profits were not sufficient to meet the interest due on the rapidly accumulating debts.
Moreover, the sick man, with failing health, had gradually acquired the use of the fatal drug known as "foreign smoke," which some years previously had been first introduced from distant lands, and was gaining ground every year as a profitable crop in the best soil. One ounce a day had become the necessary allowance for the sick man, and to Hwochow the nephew constantly went in order to buy the needful supply. He tells how he walked between the poppy fields and heard the chant which always accompanied the sowing of the plant:
"Of ten acres, fateful plant, thou claimest eight,
Of famine, of typhus, and of the raids of wild beasts, the inhabitants of Shansi had tasted the full terrors, but now this more insidious foe was working havoc in their midst. Amongst the villagers it already counted its victims: one young man had recently died as a direct result of its use, for after taking his accustomed dose he had so lain down that a portion of his wadded clothes was touching the lighted stove. Shortly after, his mother entered the cave to find this, her only son, burned to death, the charred corpse being all that remained to tell the tale. Another neighbour had gradually parted with all his possessions, and when nothing else remained on which to raise money, he took his young wife and sold her to an innkeeper in whose house she was not mistress of her actions and had no choice but to obey her purchaser. Nothing could save her, and the tragedy of that broken heart still awaits His judgment Who judgeth righteously.
The duty of preparing the pipe for his uncle devolved on the young man, and before long he himself was a victim of opium.
Meanwhile the uncle was weaker than formerly, and a neighbour strongly recommended Wang to visit the China Inland Mission station at Hwochow to ask for some medicine, and this was how he first heard the Gospel story. He was cordially received by the evangelist, and given a dose to be administered according to regulation, and told to pray earnestly for his uncle; this he conscientiously did, kneeling in the courtyard, and saying: "Heavenly Father, have mercy on my uncle." The next day, the sick man was better, and continued so for many months.
Troubles soon thickened around Mr. Wang. When his uncle died he found himself responsible for business and home, and overwhelmed by debts.
The great spiritual crisis of his life was at hand. He had from childhood pursued, by what broken light he had, an ideal which was intensely real to him. In the five relationships wherein his teachers had instructed him as to conduct, he had endeavoured to be blameless: as subject to ruler, son to father, younger brother to elder, husband to wife, and friend to friend. He had worked beyond his strength to clear himself of debt, and when his best endeavours proved futile he had sold his goods and distributed their price amongst the creditors. Having taken the vow of an ascetic, for years he was a vegetarian. Nevertheless, all had failed, and he bitterly reproached himself with having fallen into the sin of opium smoking.
Now it happened that a certain man, jealous of Pastor Hsi's success, opened a rival opium refuge in which he treated patients according to the Pastor's methods, but with medicine of his own making. The scheme was a contentious one, and the man a cause of friction and difficulty to the Christian community. It was to this Refuge that Mr. Wang, now thirty years old, poor, sad, and dispirited, came as a patient. He found here a man who, according to the established tradition of the opium refuge, received even a degraded class of men into his house in order to care for them, and performed many menial tasks in the discharge of his duty towards them. Also the good news of the Evangel was proclaimed in the house. If the preaching were not sincere but proclaimed a Christ of contention, it behoves us to rejoice that even so Christ was preached, for Mr. Wang heard something of the life of Jesus, His love, and His humility, and thought that he saw the very spirit of the doctrine exemplified in the man who ministered to these unfortunate patients. His heart was overwhelmed by the love of God; and the beauty of Christ, after which he for so many years had blindly felt, lest haply he might find, was now revealed to him. On the ninth day, for lack of money, he was obliged to cut his treatment short and return home; but henceforth nothing could separate him from the love of God.
The rumour of his conversion soon spread, and many visited the workshop where the silversmith sat at his daily occupation, questioning him, hearing his story, and taking note of the great change in him. From the first he exercised a great influence on men, and soon a few were joining with him morning and evening for prayer and reading of the Bible.
The last month of the year -- a period dreaded by the Chinaman whose liabilities exceed his assets -- found him in great straits. A fever had laid him low, but as soon as strength returned sufficiently to sit up in bed and work he was plying his trade once more, and it was thus his creditors found him when they came to press their claims.
The Chinese universal system of debt does not allow for the exercise of mercy, as each creditor is himself a debtor, and his object in securing payments is to relieve the pressure brought to bear on himself by his own creditors. Nevertheless, the sight of the sick man forcing himself to work, and the reputation he had for integrity so affected them that they left the house again, begging him to reserve his strength and free his mind from immediate anxiety on their account. Health and strength finally returned, and intercourse was established with the Hwochow missionaries, which resulted in his baptism. By the year 1900 a group of Christian men and women formed the nucleus of a church in the village. Mr. Wang this year became a widower for the second time, the wife he had taken some years previously dying in childbirth, leaving him the care of two small children. The newborn babe it was impossible for him to rear, and he gave it away to a friend whose wife had lost her own child and now took this one to her breast.
As the dangers of that fateful year thickened and news came of persecutions and massacres, the Church trembled and wondered how she would endure. Finally it became known that Boxers were marching on the village. Mr. Wang was recognised as leader of the local Christians, and to him they would certainly come. He called his little boy and girl to kneel with him in the cave, and committed the matter to God. At sunset, a sound of rushing wind was heard and a violent thunderstorm burst on the district. Hail, wind, and rain were followed by a terrific cloud-burst which swept man and beast away in its irresistible violence. The narrow mountain roads were completely carried away by the course of the waters, and the Boxers never came.
[Illustration: PASTOR WANG.
To face page 136.]
It was a great spiritual experience for Mr. Wang, to whom God spake not in the thunder nor in the storm, but in a still small voice which asserted His boundless claim on the life preserved from danger. From that time he was conscious of a new strength and power, which resulted in his shortly giving up his trade of metal-worker to take charge of the Hwochow Men's Opium Refuge. That position he still holds, and thanks to him the good name and repute of this institution is widespread. All his noblest gifts find their full development in the work which makes hourly claims on patience, forbearance, devotion, longsuffering, meekness, and all those qualities which are bound up in the one characteristic of love. From amongst the men in his charge a steady stream return home to destroy idols and subsequently request baptism. When the question is asked: "How came you to believe?" the answer will be: "I owe it to Pastor Wang, who taught me about Christ and taught me to pray." His methods are not those of the evangelist who gathers in the crowds, but one by one he wins them to the Lord. In one particular only did I hear him censured by a Christian, and that was on the occasion of his ordination to the pastorate. A Church member protested that a stronger man than Wang Bing-guin was needed for the work. "See my case," he said. "When, as you know, I was recently the subject of persecution, I came to Elder Wang for assistance. He listened to my story and urged me to pray and have patience. This I did, but matters only got worse, and I returned to insist on his taking action on my behalf. Would you believe that he spoke of nothing more practical than prayer and patience again? On the third occasion, when I had very nearly made up my mind to go straight to the Mandarin, he only urged: 'I fear that prayer and patience are your only lawful weapons, my brother.'"
The opinion of the heathen regarding Mr. Wang was forced upon my attention in a rather startling way. We were preaching one day to a group of village women, and as an old lady in the crowd heard us explaining that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God," she said: "Those words are untrue, for I knew a man who never spoke a false word and never did an unkind deed." Interested, we asked who he was, and she replied: "Oh, he afterwards followed your Church; his name is Wang Bing-guin."