ANSWERS TO PRAYER
From “Hudson Taylor in early years” by Dr. and Mrs Howard Taylor.
At Hull my kind employer, always busy, wished me to remind him whenever my salary became due. This I determined not to do directly, but to ask that God would bring the fact to his recollection, and thus encourage me by answering prayer.
At one time as the day drew near for the payment of a quarter’s salary I was as usual much in prayer about it. The time arrived, but Dr. Hardey made no allusion to the matter. I continued praying. Days passed on and he did not remember, until at length on settling up my weekly accounts one Saturday night, I found myself possessed of only one remaining coin, a half-crown piece. Still, I had hitherto known no lack, and I continued praying.
That Sunday was a very happy one. As usual my heart was full and brimming over with blessing. After attending Divine Service in the morning, my afternoons and evenings were taken up with Gospel work in the various lodging-houses I was accustomed to visit in the lowest part of the town. At such times it almost seemed to me as if heaven were begun below, and that all that could be looked for was an enlargement of one’s capacity for joy, not a truer filling than I possessed.
After concluding my last service about ten o’clock that night, a poor man asked me to go and pray with his wife, saying that she was dying. I readily agreed, and on the way to his house asked him why he had not sent for the priest, as his accent told me he was an Irishman. He had done so, he said, but the priest refused to come without a payment of eighteen pence which the man did not possess, as the family was starving. Immediately it occurred to my mind that all the money I had in the world was the solitary half-crown and that it was in one coin; moreover, that while the basin of water-gruel I usually took for supper was awaiting me and there was sufficient in
the house for breakfast in the morning, I certainly had nothing for dinner on the coming day.
Somehow or other there was at once a stoppage in the flow of joy in my heart. But instead of reproving myself I began to reprove the poor man telling him that it was very wrong to have allowed matters to get into such a state as he described and that he ought to have applied to the relieving officer. His answer was that he had done so and was told to come at eleven o’clock the next morning but that he feared his wife might not live through the night.
“Ah,” thought I, “if only I had two shillings and a sixpence instead of this half-crown, how gladly would I give these poor people a shilling!” But to part with the half-crown was far from my thoughts. I little dreamed that the truth of the matter simply was that I could trust God plus one-and-sixpence, but was not prepared to trust Him only, without any money at all in my pocket.
My conductor led me into a court, down which I followed him with some degree of nervousness. I had found myself there before, and at my last visit had been roughly handled. My tracts had been torn to pieces and such a warning given me not to come again that I felt more than a little concerned. Still, it was the path of duty and I followed on. Up a miserable flight of stairs into a wretched room he led me; and oh, what a sight there presented itself! Four or five children stood about, their sunken cheeks and temples all telling unmistakably the story of slow starvation, and lying on a wretched pallet was a poor, exhausted mother, with a tiny infant thirty-six hours old moaning rather than crying at her side, for it too seemed spent and failing.
“Ah!” thought I, “if I had two shillings and a sixpence, instead of half-a-crown, how gladly should they have one-and-sixpence of it.” But still a wretched unbelief prevented me from obeying the impulse to relieve their distress at the cost of all I possessed.
It will scarcely seem strange that I was unable to say much to comfort these poor people. I needed comfort myself. I began to tell them, however, that they must not be cast down; that though their circumstances were very distressing there was a kind and loving Father in heaven. But something within me cried, “You hypocrite! telling these unconverted people about a kind and loving Father in heaven, and not prepared yourself to trust Him without a half-a-crown.”
I was nearly choked. How gladly would I have compromised with conscience, if I had had a florin* and a sixpence! I would have given the florin thankfully and kept the rest. But I was not yet prepared to trust in God alone, without the sixpence.
To talk was impossible under these circumstances, yet strange to say I thought I should have no difficulty in praying. Prayer was a delightful occupation in those days. Time thus spent never seemed wearisome and I knew no lack of words. I seemed to think that all I should have to do would be to kneel down and pray and that relief would come to them and to myself together.
“You asked me to come and pray with your wife,” I said to the man, “let us pray.” And I knelt down.
But no sooner had I opened my lips with “Our Father who art in heaven,” than conscience said within, “Dare you mock God? Dare you kneel down and call Him Father with that half-crown in your pocket?”
Such a time of conflict then came upon me as I have never experienced before or since. How I got through that form of prayer I know not, and whether the words uttered were connected or disconnected I cannot tell. But I arose from my knees in great distress of mind.
The poor father turned to me and said, “You see what a terrible state we are in, sir. If you can help us, for God’s sake do!”
At that moment the word flashed into my mind, “Give to him that asketh of thee.” And in the word of a King there is power.
I put my hand into my pocket and slowly drawing out the half-crown, gave it to the man, telling him that it might seem a small matter for me to relieve them, seeing that I was comparatively well off, but that in parting with that coin I was giving him my all; what I had been trying to tell them was indeed trueÂ—God really was a Father, and might be trusted. The joy all came back in full flood-tide to my heart. I could say anything and feel it then, and the hindrance to blessing was goneÂ—gone, I trust, forever.
Not only was the poor woman’s life saved; but my life, as I fully realised, had been saved too. I might have been a wreckÂ—would have been, probably, as a Christian lifeÂ—had not grace at that time conquered, and the striving of God’s Spirit been obeyed.
I well remember how that night, as I went home to my lodgings, my heart was as light as my pocket. The dark, deserted streets resounded with a hymn of praise that I could not restrain. When I took my basin of gruel before retiring, I would not have exchanged it for a prince’s feast. I reminded the Lord as I knelt at my bedside of His own Word, “He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord”; I asked Him not to let my loan be a long one, or I should have no dinner next day. And with peace within and peace without I spent a happy, restful night.
Next morning for breakfast my plate of porridge remained, and before it was finished the postman’s knock was heard at the door. I was not in the habit of receiving letters on Monday, as my parents and most of my friends refrained from posting on Saturday, so that I was somewhat surprised when the landlady came in holding a letter or packet in her wet hand covered by her apron. I looked at the letter, but could not make out the handwriting. It was either a strange hand or a feigned one, and the postmark was blurred. Where it came from I could not tell. On opening the envelope I found nothing written within; but inside a sheet of blank paper was folded a pair of kid gloves, from which, as I opened them in astonishment, half-a-sovereign fell to the ground.
“Praise the Lord,” I exclaimed. “Four hundred per cent for twelve hours’ investmentÂ—that is good interest! How glad the
merchants of Hull would be if they could lend their money at such a rate.” Then and there I determined that a bank that could not break should have my savings or earnings, as the case might beÂ—a determination I have not yet learned to regret.
I cannot tell you how often my mind has recurred to this incident, or all the help it has been to me in circumstances of difficulty in after-life. If we are faithful to God in little things, we shall gain
experience and strength that will be helpful to us in the more serious trials of life.
This remarkable and gracious deliverance was a great joy to me as well as a strong confirmation of faith. But of course ten shillings however economically used will not go very far, and it was none the less necessary to continue in prayer, asking that the larger supply which was still due might be remembered and paid. All my petitions, however, appeared to remain unanswered, and before a fortnight elapsed I found myself pretty much in the same position that I had occupied on the Sunday night already made so memorable. Meanwhile I continued pleading with God more and more earnestly that He would Himself remind Dr. Hardey that my salary was due.
Of course it was not the want of money that distressed me. That could have been had at any time for the asking. But the question uppermost in my mind was this: “Can I go to China? or will my want of faith and power with God prove so serious an obstacle as to preclude my entering upon this much-prized service?”
As the week drew to a close I felt exceedingly embarrassed. There was not only myself to consider. On Saturday night a payment would be due to my Christian landlady which I knew she could not well dispense with. Ought I not, for her sake, to speak about the matter of the salary? Yet to do so would be, to myself at any rate, the admission that I was not fitted to undertake a missionary enterprise. I gave nearly the whole of Thursday and Friday, all the time not occupied in my necessary employment, to earnest wrestling with God in prayer. But still on Saturday morning I was in the same position as before. And now my earnest cry was for guidance as to whether I should still continue to wait the Father’s time. As far as I could judge I received the assurance that to wait His time was best, and that God in some way or other would interpose on my behalf. So I waited, my heart being now at rest and the burden gone.
About five o’clock that Saturday afternoon, when Dr. Hardey had finished writing his prescriptions, his last circuit for the day being taken, he threw himself back in his arm-chair, as he was wont, and began to speak of the things of God. He was a truly Christian man, and many seasons of happy fellowship we had together. I was busily watching, at the time, a pan in which a decoction was boiling that required a good deal of attention. It was indeed fortunate for me that it was so, for without any obvious connection with what had been going on, all at once he said:
“By the by, Taylor, is not your salary due again?”
My emotion may be imagined. I had to swallow two or three times before I could answer. With my eye fixed on the pan and my back to the doctor, I told him as quietly as I could that it was overdue some little time. How thankful I felt at that moment! God surely had heard my prayer and caused him in this time of my great need to remember the salary without any word or suggestion from me. He replied,
“Oh, I am sorry you did not remind me! You know how busy I am. I wish I had thought of it a little sooner, for only this afternoon I sent all the money I had to the bank. Otherwise I would pay you at once.”
It is impossible to describe the revulsion of feeling caused by this unexpected statement. I knew not what to do. Fortunately for me the pan boiled up and I had a good reason for rushing with it from the room. Glad indeed I was to get away and keep out of sight until after Dr. Hardey had returned to his house, and most thankful that he had not perceived my emotion.
As soon as he was gone I had to seek my little sanctum and pour out my heart before the Lord for some time before calmness, and more than calmness, thankfulness and joy were restored. I felt that God had His own way and was not going to fail me. I had sought to know His will early in the day, and as far as I could judge had received guidance to wait patiently. And now God was going to work for me in some other way.
That evening was spent, as my Saturday evenings usually were, in reading the Word and preparing the subject on which I expected to speak in the various lodging-houses on the morrow. I waited
perhaps a little longer than usual. At last about ten o’clock, there being no interruption of any kind, I put on my overcoat and was preparing to leave for home, rather thankful to know that by that time I should have to let myself in with the latchkey as my landlady retired early. There was certainly no help for that night. But perhaps God would interpose for me by Monday and I might be able to pay my landlady early in the week the money I would have given her before had it been possible.
Just as I was about to turn down the gas, I heard the doctor’s step in the garden that lay between the dwelling-house and Surgery. He was laughing to himself very heartily, as though greatly amused. Entering the Surgery he asked for the ledger and told me that, strange to say, one of his richest patients had just come to pay his doctor’s bill. Was it not an odd thing to do? It never struck me that it might have any bearing on my own case or I might have felt embarrassed. But looking at it simply from the position of an uninterested spectator, I also was highly amused that a man rolling in wealth should come after ten o’clock at night to pay a bill which he could any day have met by a cheque with the greatest ease. It appeared that somehow or other he could not rest with this on his mind and had been constrained to come at that unusual hour to discharge his liability.
The account was duly receipted in the ledger and Dr. Hardey was about to leave when suddenly he turned and handing me some of the banknotes just received, said to my surprise and thankfulness:
“By the way, Taylor, you might as well take these notes. I have no change, but can give you the balance next week.”
Again I was left, my feelings undiscovered, to go back to my little closet and praise the Lord with joyful heart that after all I might go to China. To me this incident was not a trivial one; and to recall it sometimes, in circumstances of great difficulty, in China or elsewhere, has proved no small comfort and strength.
From “Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission”
A leading Confucianist, proud of his learning and position, this Mr. Nying would have been the last to have anything to do with the foreigner who came from time to time to preach strange doctrines in this city. But he was interested in Western science, and happened to have some translation of a work upon the subject which he did not fully understand. Taking advantage, therefore, of one of Mr. Stevenson’s visits, he strolled along to the mission-house, and entered into conversation with the evangelist. Soon he was introduced to the young missionary, who talked with him of matters about which he wished to inquire. Then turning to the New
Testament lying on the table, Mr. Stevenson quite naturally went on:
“Have you also in your library the books of the Christian religion?”
“I have,” replied the scholar; “but, to be quite candid, I do not find them as interesting as your works on science.”
This led to a conversation in which it appeared that Mr. Nying was sceptical as to the existence of God or the soul and considered prayer manifestly absurd.
“If there were a Supreme Being,” he urged, “He would be far too great and distant to take any notice of our little affairs.”
Patiently the missionary sought to bring him to a better point of view, but without success; and at length, seeing that argument was useless, he availed himself of a simple illustration.
” ‘Water and fire are opposing elements,’ we say, ‘and can never combine. Water extinguishes fire, and fire evaporates water.’ Very well, so much for our argument! But while we are talking, my servant has put on the kettle, and see, here is water raised to the boiling point, ready to make you a cup of tea.
You say there is no God, and that even if there were He would never condescend to listen to our prayers: but believe me, if you go home to-night and take up that New Testament, and before opening it humbly and earnestly ask the God of heaven to give you His Holy Spirit that you may understand it aright, that book will be a new book to you and will soon mean more than any other book in the
world. Put it to the proof; and whether you pray for yourself or not, I will pray for you.”
More impressed than he cared to show, the scholar went home.
“Well, here is a strange thing,” he thought. “Absurd as it seems, the foreigner was in earnest; and so concerned is he about a man he never saw or heard of till to-day that he will pray for meÂ—and I do not pray for myself.”
That night when alone, Mr. Nying took up the book in question with a feeling almost of amusement. How could any intelligent person imagine that a few words addressed to some unknown Being, who might or might not exist, would turn a dull book into an interesting one, or make any change in one’s outlook upon life? Yet, incredulous as he was, he somehow wanted to put it to the test.
“O God, if there be a God,” he found himself saying, “save my soul, if I have a soul. Give me Thy Holy Spirit, and help me to understand this book.”
Once and again as evening wore on, Mrs. Nying looked into the room, to find her husband engrossed in study. At length she ventured to remonstrate, reminding him of the lateness of the hour.
“Do not wait for me,” was his reply; “I have important matters in hand.” And he went on reading.
The book had become a new book indeed, and hour after hour as he turned the pages a new spirit was taking possession of him. But for days he dared not confess the change to those nearest to him. His wife came of an aristocratic family and he thought much of her and of their children. He knew that as a Christian he would be despised if not cast out by their relatives and that rather than endure such humiliation she would probably leave him. Yet his heart burned within him. The wonderful Saviour of whom he read was becoming real to him as he could never have believed it possible. The words He had spoken long ago were living and powerful still. Nying felt that they searched him through and through and brought not only a new consciousness of sin but peace and healing. And oh, the joy that began to well up within him!
“When the children are in bed,” he said to his wife at length, “there is something I should like to tell you.”
It was a desperate resort, for he had no idea what to say or how to begin. But it committed him to some sort of confession of his faith in Christ, though he trembled to think how she would receive it.
Silently they sat on either side of the table when evening came, and he could not open the subject.
“Is there not something you wanted to say to me?” she inquired.
Then it all came out, he knew not how! and she listened with growing wonder. The true and living GodÂ—not any of the idols in the temples; a way by which sins might be forgiven; a Saviour who could fill the heart with joy and peace: to his surprise she seemed to be following eagerly.
“Have you really found Him?” she broke in before long. “Oh, I have so wanted to know! For there must be a living God. Who else could have heard my cry for help, long, long ago?”
It was when the Tai-ping rebels had come to the city in which her parents lived, burning and pillaging everything. Their home had been ravaged like the rest. Many people were killed; many committed suicide; and she, helpless and terror-stricken, had crept into a wardrobe to hide. She heard the soldiers ransacking the
house, and coming nearer and nearer.
“Oh, Heavenly Grandfather,” she cried in her heart, “save me!Â”
None but the true and living God could have answered that prayer. The idols in the temples were helpless to protect themselves, even, from the terrible marauders. But though they had been in the
very room, they had passed over the hiding place where she was crouching, scarcely daring to breath. And, ever since, she had so longed to know about HimÂ—the wonderful God who had saved her.
With what joy and thankfulness her husband assured her not only that there was such a BeingÂ—supremely great and goodÂ—but that He had spoken, had made Himself known to men! Did ever the story of Redeeming Love seem more precious, or heart rejoice to tell it forth more than that of the once proud Confucianist as he began to preach Christ in his home and city? So fervent was his spirit that it disconcerted those who thought to laugh him out of his newfangled notions.
“You must control that disciple of yours,” said the local Mandarin to the Chancellor of the University.” He is disgracing us by actually preaching the foreign doctrine on the streets. When I remonstrated with him he even began to preach to me! and said he was so full of the ‘Good News,’ as he calls it, that he could not keep it in.”
“I will soon bring him to reason,” was the confident reply. “Leave him to me!”
But the Chancellor fared no better than the Mayor, and was fain to beat a hasty retreat. Loving his Bible, and helped by visits to Shao-hing, Mr. Nying soon became a preacher of much power. Among the first converts he had the joy of winning was a man who had been the terror of the neighbourhood. Nothing was too bad or too heartless for Lao Kuen! What power had turned the lion into the lamb the villagers could not tell, but the old father whom he had formerly treated with cruelty and neglect could testify to the reality of the change, and, like his son, was soon a believer in Jesus.
In ever-widening circles the blessing spread, till it reached the keeper of a gambling-den and house of ill-fame in a neighbouring town. His conversion was even more notable than the others, for it banished the gaming-tables, emptied his house of bad characters, and turned his best and largest room into a chapel. It was his own idea to have it cleaned and whitewashed before offering it, free of cost, as a place of worship.
These and others formed the group of converts of whose baptism Mr. Stevenson had written. Ten altogether had followed Mr. Nying in confessing Christ, and there were not a few interested enquirers. Upon Mr. Taylor’s arrival in the city they began to drop in, until he found himself surrounded by this bright, earnest company of
believers. And oh the rejoicing, the greetings and conversations, the singing and prayers! It was a little bit of heaven belowÂ— a precious foretaste of the hundredfold reward.
An afternoon meeting was held in Mr. Nying’s house, at which his wife and daughter were present, and in the evening the Christians met again in the chapel.
“I could have wept for joy,” Mr. Taylor wrote, “to hear what grace had done for one and another of those present; and most of them could tell of some relative or friend of whose conversion they had good hope … I have never seen anything like it in China.”
*A coin which was worth two shillings or ten pence.