‘The Biblical view is, to me, more credible than atheism, since it makes far more sense of reality, since it is supported by powerful evidence, both objective and subjective.’
An input of intelligence and energy from outside the system ‘And God said: Each step [of creation] begins with a word of God, an input of intelligence from outside the system. This is the exact opposite, obviously, of an unguided, mindless process, proceeding from the simple to the complex. The complexity of life is not self-generated: there is an input of energy from the outside.’
If you have never heard Oxford Professor John Lennox speak before, this is a superb introduction.
John is Professor of Mathematics in the University of Oxford, Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science, and Pastoral Advisor at Green Templeton College, Oxford.
He has debated Richard Dawkins twice. You can see the first debate here.
There’s such a pressure to keep quiet! This message is essentially a sermon to a Christian audience in order to strengthen their resolve to stand up for God in their various walks of life.
‘Once a person’s faith in God is undermined their fundamental stabilities begins to erode. There’s such a pressure to keep quiet and keep your faith for the private sphere. You want to believe in Christ? Fine but do it privately. Don’t bring it into the public square!
Do we bring it into the public square? Science is the public thing.
And some scientists, more generous than others, like the late Stephen J Gould, say that religion is alright so long as we keep it separate from science. That sounds great until we look at the small print. And the small print says this: Science deals with reality and religion deals with everything else: fantasy like God, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.
That won’t do will it?
The pressure to be silent is increasing but Daniel and his friends withstood it then and we are called upon to withstand it now…Daniel understood the basic doctrines of the nature of God and creation as taught in Genesis.’
Enjoy the message!
Click on the photo to watch the video
The result of Charles Finney’s encounters with the Holy Spirit are well documented: when he preached multitudes came to Christ.
The Apostle Paul talked about preaching with the ‘demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ (1 Cor 2:4). While we may be convinced that such demonstrations may differ from culture to culture, the following can certainly be understood as an example of a 19th Century American revivalism.
These events took place three years after Finney received his ‘baptism of the Spirit’ in 1824 in a packed school hall in Antwerp, Jefferson County, New York, and are recounted by him.
An ‘ungodly people’
‘While I was [preaching] I observed the people looked as if they were angry. Many of the men were in their shirt sleeves and they looked at each other and at me, as if they were ready to pitch into me and chastise me for something on the spot…their anger arose higher and higher.
As soon as I had finished the narrative I turned upon them and said, that I understood that they had never had a religious meeting in that place; and that therefore I had a right to take it for granted, and was compelled to take it for granted, that they were an ungodly people. I pressed that home upon them with more and more energy, with my heart full to bursting.’
‘The congregation began to fall from their seats’
‘I had not spoken to them in this strain of direct application, I should think more than a quarter of an hour, when all at once and awful solemnity seemed to settle down upon them; and a some thing flashed over the congregation – a kind of shimmering – as if there was some agitation in the atmosphere itself.
The congregation began to fall from their seats; and they fell in every direction, and cried for mercy. If I had had a sword in each hand I could not have cut them off their seats as fast as they fell. Indeed nearly the whole congregation were either on their knees or prostrate, I should think, in less than two minutes from this first shock that fell upon them. Every one prayed for himself who was able to speak at all. I, of course was obliged to stop preaching, for they no longer paid any attention.
I saw the old man who had invited me there to preach sitting about in the middle of the house, and looking around with utter amazement. I raised my voice almost to a scream to make him hear, and pointing to him said, ‘Can’t you pray?’…
‘You are not in Hell yet!’
I then spake as loud as I could, and tried to make them attend to me. I said to them, “You are not in hell yet; and now let me direct you to Christ.” For a few moments I tried to hold forth the Gospel to them; but scarcely any of them paid any attention.
My heart was so overflowing with joy at such a scene that I could hardly contain myself. A little way from where I stood was an open fire-place. I recollect very well that my joy was so great, that I could not help laughing in a most spasmodic manner.
I knelt down and stuck my head into that fire-place and hung my pocket handkerchief over my head, lest they should see me laugh; for I was aware that they would not understand that it was irrepressible, holy joy that made me laugh. It was with much difficulty that I refrained from shouting, and giving glory to God.’
One by one Finney spoke to individuals, leading them to Christ. Years later he had the joy of receiving funding for his ministry from some of those converted in that very meeting.
Strong-headed, rough as a broken rock, Charles Finney was converted and filled with the Holy Spirit.
He soon realised that he was never going to be a lawyer, but had to be a preacher. He began discussions with his Pastor, George Gale, about ordination and applied to three seminaries, but was rejected (partly because he also applied for financial assistance, partly because he was already in his thirties).
It was agreed by the local presbytery that he should begin personal studies under the guidance of Gale and they would review his application for ordination. Six months into this agreement Gale became ill and advised them to ordain Finney so he could take over pastoral responsibilities at the church in Adams.
Unfortunately, it didn’t go well. While it is true he was ordained more quickly than expected, it was clear that his somewhat severe style was not going to suit a pastoral mode of ministry. Once again, Gale (whom Finney unfairly criticises in his Memoirs) stepped in to help by suggesting he be commissioned as a ‘missionary’ to evangelise.
This slightly unusual course proved to be providential for Finney. It gave him a pattern for evangelistic ministry and he began to mature as a Christian and a leader as he learnt to preach the gospel.
His reaction to criticism
Although his insecurities and defensiveness are very evident in his Memoirs (and presumably helped define the change from a Reformed to a strong Arminian position in his later theology[i]), he was clearly and wonderfully used by God.
His early meetings were not wildly successful, but he faithfully persevered. He became aware of two primary needs: firstly that the non-believer needed to hear the gospel clearly and respond to it personally, i.e., the command to repent and believe was a command that could be obeyed. Secondly, he became aware of the necessity of the Holy Spirit in working upon the hearts and minds of those who heard, in order that they repent and believe.
At times, in his writings, he flip-flops from one emphasis to the other. But the criticism he received from pastors, theologians and evangelists over his direct and personal methods to ensure responses to the gospel resulted in a decided anti-Reformed position in his thinking.
In fact, his biographer, Keith Hardman, asserts that, in connection with his recollections in his Memoirs, ‘Finney interjected his later theological position into it, as he did with all of these incidents.’[ii]
Prayer and Preaching
Throughout the 1820s Finney continued itinerating, trying to secure conversions to Christ. He was accompanied by a praying minister, Daniel Nash. Nash was no great preacher but recognised a preaching gift in Finney and committed himself to prayer for him and for the meetings. They travelled together in partnership, with Nash sometimes ‘shouting’ in prayer and even calling out the names of individuals whom they considered needed converting! This proved controversial, of course, but the praying/preaching partnership began to bear much fruit – as we will see next time in a post entitled, ‘Demonstrations of the Spirit’s power!’
To read the first part in the Charles Finney story click here
[i] ‘His peculiar views, adopted since he has been at Oberlin, were no part of his theology at that time…Of the doctrine of election Mr Finney in his preaching said very little. His reason for it was that he was dealing with the impenitent chiefly, and he thought it was adapted to converted, or the mature Christian, rather than to the impenitent. This I always thought in some degree a wrong judgement…Had Mr Finney taken a different view of it, and dwelt upon it more, his faith would have been more firmly anchored, and he would have been saved from the position in which he has found himself…When he was licensed and first laboured as a missionary, he was very firm and faithful in bringing out this doctrine.’ George Gale, quoted in Keith J Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney, Revivalist and Reformer (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1987)
19th Century Evangelist Charles Finney was one of the more controversial figures on the religious landscape in America.
Converted after fairly rigourous intellectual inquiry, he had an astonishing experience of God’s love and power.
He certainly wasn’t the first to speak of a ‘baptism in the Spirit’ (see Matt 3:11, Mark 1:8) nor would he be the last, but his description of the experience is helpful for those seeking God for a similar dynamic in their spiritual lives.
You can read his introduction to the experience here.
‘A mighty baptism in the Holy Ghost’
His journal records the occasion:
‘But as I returned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without expecting it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, at a moment entirely unexpected by me, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul.
I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love for I could not express it in any other way.
And yet it did not seem like water, but rather as the breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings; and it seemed to me, as these waves passed over me, that they literally moved my hair like a passing breeze.
No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. It seemed to me that I should burst.
‘So happy that I cannot live!’
I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, “I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.” I said, “Lord, I cannot bear any more;” yet I had no fear of death.
How long I continued in this state I do not know. But it was late in the evening when a member of my choir – for I was the leader of the choir – came into the office to see me. He was a member of the church.
He found me in this state of loud weeping, and said, “Mr. Finney, what ails you?” I could make him no answer for some time. He then said, “Are you in pain?” I gathered myself up as best I could, and replied, “No, but so happy that I cannot live.
He turned and left the office, and in a few minutes returned with one of the elders of the church, whose shop was nearly across the way from our office.
The Laughing Elder
This elder was a very serious man; and in my presence had been very watchful, and I had scarcely ever seen him laugh. When he came in I was very much in the state in which I was when the young man went out to call him. He asked me how I felt, and I began to tell him.
Instead of saying anything, he fell into a most spasmodic laugh. It seemed as if it was impossible for him to keep from laughing from the very bottom of his heart. It seemed to be a spasm that was irresistible.’[i]
Further prayers were said and the fact one of the elders of the church couldn’t resist laughing when he saw Finney in a relatively helpless state made Finney doubt whether or not he had been presumptuous. Nevertheless he slept.
‘…When I awoke in the morning the sun had risen, and was pouring a clear light into my room. Words cannot express the impression that this sunlight made upon me. Instantly the baptism that I had received the night before, returned upon me in the same manner.
I arose upon my knees in the bed and wept aloud with joy, and remained for some time too much overwhelmed with the baptism of the Spirit to do anything but pour out my soul to God.
It seemed as if this morning’s baptism was accompanied with a gentle reproof, as if the Spirit seemed to say to me, ‘Will you doubt? Will you doubt?’ I cried, ‘No! I will not doubt; I cannot doubt!’’ [ii]
That such experiences of God’s power are recorded throughout church history should challenge us to seek God for authentic encounters with His majesty that we might have an impact on our generation as Finney and others did on theirs.
Next time we’ll look at how Finney began to seek to minister to others…click here
For the first instalment of the Finney Story click here
When the precocious legal apprentice Charles Finney was converted to Christianity in 1821 it was the fulfilment of a fairly rigourous intellectual inquiry. He was, therefore, surprised by the depth of emotion he experienced in its aftermath.
The initial feeling was one of a deep and steady peace. ‘The repose of my mind was unspeakably great…The thought of God was sweet to my mind, and the most profound spiritual tranquillity had taken full possession of me.’[i]
After returning from the woods, where he had finally surrendered his life to Christ, he went to the law office which was empty and began playing his Bass Viol. ‘But as soon as I began to play and sing those sacred words, I began to weep. It seemed as if my heart was all liquid…I wondered at this and tried to suppress my tears, but could not.
I wondered what ailed me that I felt such a disposition to weep. After trying in vain to suppress my tears, I put up my instrument and stopped singing.’[ii]
Soon Finney’s boss arrived and they spent the afternoon moving books into another office.
‘After dinner we were engaged in removing our books and furniture to another office. We were very busy in this, and had but little conversation all the afternoon. There was a great sweetness and tenderness in my thoughts and feelings. Everything appeared to be going right, and nothing seemed to ruffle or disturb me in the least.
A desire to pray
Just before evening the thought took possession of my mind, that as soon as I was left alone in the new office, I would try to pray again…
Just at evening we got the books and furniture adjusted; and I made up, in an open fireplace, a good large fire, hoping to spend the evening alone. Just as it was dark Esq. Wright, seeing that everything was adjusted, bade me goodnight and went home.
I had accompanied him to the door; and as I closed the door and turned around, my heart seemed to be liquid within me. All my inward feelings seemed to rise and pour themselves out; and the impression on my mind was, “I want to pour my whole soul out to God.”
The rising of my soul was so great that I rushed into the room behind the front office, to pray. There was no fire, and no light, in the room; nevertheless it appeared to me as if it were perfectly light.
Meeting Jesus, face to face
As I went in and shut the door after me, it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It did not occur to me then, nor did it for sometime afterward, that it was wholly a mental state.
On the contrary it seemed to me that I met Him face to face, and saw him as I would see any other man. He said nothing, but looked at me in such a manner as to break me right down at his feet.
I have always since regarded this as a most remarkable state of mind; for it seemed that he stood before me, and I fell down at his feet and poured out my soul to him. I wept aloud like a child, and made such confessions as I could with my choked utterance…
I must have continued in this state for a good while; but my mind was too much absorbed with the interview to recollect scarcely anything that I said.
But I know, as soon as my mind became calm enough to break off from the interview, I returned to the front office, and found that the fire that I had just made of large wood was nearly burned out.
The Holy Spirit descended upon me
But as I returned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without expecting it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, at a moment entirely unexpected by me, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul.’[iii]
Next time we’ll examine Finney’s detailed description of God’s power ‘pouring’ into him. You can read it here
For the first instalment of the Finney Story click here
What has continually struck me about Martyn Lloyd-Jones, since first discovering him in the 80s, is the note of authority in his preaching. Not fundamentalism. Not arrogance. Not self-promoting bravado. Not self-centred supernatural experience. Authority – and particularly the authority of the Biblical text itself.
He spoke with such conviction in his generation, that, even allowing for some areas of disagreement, his message still strikes a clear note, and pierces the conscience today!
I find his preaching encouraging and uplifting, and inclusive:
‘It seems to me that the great trouble in the church today is that she’s not reaching the working classes. The majority of the members of our church were working class men.’ D Martyn Lloyd-Jones on his ministry years in Aberavon, Wales (from one of the interviews on this video).
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones was loved by rich and poor, and acknowledged as making a significant contribution to the spiritual life of Great Britain.
So the message this month is not really a message, but some video footage which traces his early ministry and introduction to London, interspersed with some television footage (you can spot a young Joan Bakewell in the mix too!)
Charles Finney was not destined to become a schoolteacher, even though he loved it and was loved by those he taught. It was suggested to him that a career in law might be the thing.
At that time the procedure was to study, as an apprentice, under a practicing lawyer. This Finney did in the town of Adams, NY. He was a diligent and able student and during the few court appearances he made was a very real match for any opponent.[i]
The Authority of the Bible
During his studies he noticed the repeated references to the Bible. The Scriptures were often referred to as an authority in terms of legal principles. It was impossible to ignore.
‘This,’ said Finney, ‘excited my curiosity so much that I went and purchased a Bible, the first I had ever owned…This soon led to my taking a new interest in the Bible, and I read and meditated on it much more that I had ever done before.’[ii]
Free will, conviction and personal application As a student of Law Finney learned three things that later marked his preaching. The first was the moral responsibility of a person with regard to guilt. The exercise of their own free will to commit a certain act was critical to securing a guilty verdict. If it was an involuntary act then the question of guilt is not clear. Secondly, he learned the importance of using close, searching, legal questions to convince both the guilty person and a jury of their guilt. And thirdly, he learned that in order to persuade a jury the lawyer needed to speak directly to them, not talk in an abstract way.
Finney, attending the Presbyterian Church in Adams, began to be troubled by the preaching of the Pastor, George Gale, who although younger than Peter Starr, preached in the same style. Decidedly Calvinistic, Gale emphasised the inability of a sinner to get right with God on his own, and, according to Finney, he never directly addressed the congregation – never saying ‘you!’.
Finney later acknowledged, ‘I now think that I sometimes criticised his sermons unmercifully.’[iii] But Gale continued to pursue and encourage Finney, visiting him in the law office and seeking to find out how much understanding of the gospel Finney was gaining.
Gale’s persistence and Finney’s conviction of sin
It must be acknowledged that Finney’s conversion, humanly speaking, was in large measure due to the evangelistic efforts of this young Reformed pastor.
Numbers were being added to the church in Adams. Gale was by no means an unevangelising hyper-Calvinist. Finney began to feel a certain, unshakeable conviction of sin.
After evangelistic sermons Gale would hold ‘inquiry meetings’ for those seeking salvation. Finney finally attended one. He wrote, ‘I trembled so that my very seat shook under me.’
Gale also wrote of that meeting, ‘He looked at me with an air of solemnity I shall never forget…
“I am willing now to be a Christian! Do you think there is any hope in my case?”
I told him he might be converted, but if he were it would be something very similar to God’s exercising miraculous power: It was not teaching that he needed. It was compliance with what he already knew.’[iv]
Peace at last!
Finally Finney submitted to God. He went up into the woods determined to get right with God before returning. He knelt down and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.
He immediately experienced a freedom in his spirit and began to pray. He prayed for hours revelling in a peace that was inconceivable only moments before. He was determined that he would now preach the gospel to others.
To read about how Finney, on the evening after his conversion, was baptised in the Holy Spirit, click here
For the first instalment of the Finney Story click here
Charles Finney grew up south of Lake Ontario in New York State. ‘My parents were neither of them professors of religion. I seldom heard a sermon unless it was an occasional one from some travelling minister.’[i]
He was a quick learner and was entrusted with some teaching responsibilities in the local school in Henderson from the age of 16 until he was 20.[ii]
Preaching that would make you laugh
Finney writes, ‘Almost the only preaching that I heard was that of an Elder Osgood, who was a man of considerable religion but of very little education. His ignorance of language was so great as to divert the attention of the people from his thoughts to the very comical form of expressing them.
For example, instead of saying, ‘I am’, he would say, ‘I are’ and in the use of the pronouns thee and thou etc, he would mix them up in such a strange and incongruous manner, as to render it very difficult indeed to keep from laughing while he was either preaching or praying. Of course, I received no religious instruction from such teaching.’[iii]
Preaching that would make you cry
In 1812, aged 20, Finney moved to Connecticut and lodged with an uncle and attend an Academy there. He began attending his uncle’s Congregationalist Church, led by the much-loved but aging, Peter Starr. This was the first time he began regularly attending church services.
Finney decided that he would hear Christianity consistently presented. Biographer Keith Hardman writes,
‘Having developed some abilities in speaking and leading himself, he naturally expected to find theology preached with a certain amount of vigour and dynamic. It was not to be.
To observe Starr’s methods, Finney sat in the balcony where he could look down on the pastor’s performance and note his techniques.
To his chagrin, he found that the pastor ‘read his sermons in a manner that left no impression on my mind. He had a monotonous, humdrum way of reading what he had probably written many years before…It seemed to be always a matter of curiosity to know what he was aiming at.’[iv]
Finney’s later criticism of local pastors and preachers was, in large measure, based on these experiences.
No further formal education
Already in his twenties, Finney asked his teacher about the possibility of attending Yale University. The teacher dissuaded him however, both in light of his evident intellectual ability as well as his age.
Finney later regretted that his formal education progressed no further than high school. But in his twenties he was extremely self-confident.
If, however, Finney’s spiritual advancement was also faltering there was at least one ray of light: his brother was suddenly converted. He wrote to Charles. He was the first of the Finney family to be converted and something about his letter to the twenty-six year old hit home: ‘I actually wept for joy!’ he said.
JP Moreland is one of the most refreshing defenders of the Christian position currently taking part in debates with non-Christian intellectuals.
He is himself an intellectual giant, razor sharp, humourous, passionate. In this debate on the existence of God he covers the standard Christian arguments, namely,
1. The Origins of the Universe
2. Inference from Design – The Fine Tuning of the Universe/Information in DNA
3. The Existence of Objective Moral Law
A charismatic intellectual and an intellectual charismatic!
In addition, he argues passionately for the reliability of the New Testament, and, unlike almost every other Christian apologist I’ve heard, he argues that part of the evidence that verifies the Christian position is the current reality of physical healings taking place.
He refers not only to things happening globally but also in his own home church. The impact of this on his opponent, Clancy Martin (Prof and Chair of Philosophy, University of Missouri KC), is striking.
One could argue that JP is presenting a more rounded, balanced and Biblical defence by bringing in contemporary examples of God’s power in the experience of Christians as evidence for God’s existence.
But you be the judge. Have a listen and feel free to leave a comment.
“It would be impossible to estimate the influence exerted on revival movements all over the world during the past hundred years by Charles Finney’s lectures on prayer in his Revivals of Religion.” Arthur Wallis (in 1956) [i]
Generally speaking, Charles Finney (1792-1875) is not very highly respected by Reformed writers and preachers. He rarely gets a mention. But he remains one of Christianity’s most effective representatives.
A passionate and powerful Evangelist, Finney was often compared to Whitefield and Wesley by his friends. Yet he is sometimes portrayed as little more than a charlatan by those who were offended by his theology. Even as good a man as DM Lloyd-Jones spoke disparagingly of Finney’s ‘so-called’ converts!
Yet the distance of history may permit a measure of objectivity.
Finney the anti-Calvinist – not the anti-Christ!
It’s true that Finney didn’t respond well to his Calvinist critics and attacked their theology relentlessly. And it’s true he taught that if the church obeyed the Scriptural commands, prayed fervently and were filled with the Spirit, then she would see ‘revival’, significant awakenings amongst both believers and non-believers. He said, ‘I believe we can labor to promote revival with as reasonable a prospect for success as we could find in any other line of work.’ [ii]
Almost single-handedly, he shifted the emphasis of fruitful evangelism, effective mass evangelism, from God’s sovereignty to man’s responsibility.
You might not like that.
You might not like his anti-Calvinist statements. He certainly misrepresents the reformed understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation. But he was a mighty Evangelist, saw many conversions, and we could learn from his example.
A great Evangelist but a not-so-great theologian
So my contention will be that Finney was an inspired, Spirit-filled Evangelist who was preaching the gospel during a season of ‘revival’ or ‘awakening’ similar to that of Whitefield, but that he was not a great theological thinker, nor a great teacher of theology.
He certainly ranks amongst the great Evangelists in the English speaking world, and his influence has continued into the 21st century.
So without getting too distracted by the theological controversies – except where I perceive them to be vitally important to the story, or to our current situation – I will see what we can learn from this fascinating character.
The Baptism of the Spirit, Prayer and Revival
We’ll see examples of prayer turning situations around, examples of mighty baptisms in the Spirit happening to both individuals and whole churches. We’ll enjoy accounts of the power of God invading meetings, and turning hard-hearted sceptics to Christ. We’ll note eye-witness testimony of how the presence of God broke through defences that seemed impenetrable.
This won’t merely be a story of a good, fervent man getting results – actually, Finney’s story is one of God breaking in and displaying His glory.
I think you’ll like that!
For the next post in this series click here
[i] Arthur Wallis, In the Day of Thy Power, (London: CLC, 1956), p. xiii
[ii] Charles Finney, Lectures on Revival, (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1988 edition), p.26
Ralph Winter, the renowned missiologist wrote of J Hudson Taylor:
‘God honoured him because his gaze was fixed upon the world’s least-reached peoples…
The China Inland Mission – the most co-operative servant organisation yet to appear – eventually served in one way or another over 6000 missionaries, predominantly in the interior of China.’ [i]
Other great missionaries also sought to encourage the Chinese to accept the ancient faith of the Christians like the radical (if rather impulsive) C.T. Studd and the appropriately named Canadian Jonathan Goforth. Goforthsaw awakenings and revivals in the villages, and helped train and release many local Chinese leaders.
Roger Steer adds a personal note, ‘Just after Taylor died, a young Chinese evangelist looked upon his body and summed up Taylor’s most important legacy: “Dear and venerable pastor, we too are your little children. You opened for us the road to heaven. We do not want to bring you back, but we will follow you.” ‘[ii]
Today, China is arguably experiencing the greatest revival of church history. Reports from several sources describe hundreds of thousands coming to Christ with amazing miracles, signs and wonders along with persecution (Here are recent news item from the BBC, Fox News).
The so called ‘house churches’ in China seem unstoppable, even in the face of terrible cruelties and reports of human rights abuses on the part of the authorities.
News of very young leaders planting huge churches and very old women evangelising thousands reach us constantly and many of those from our churches who have visited the underground church leadership have been lastingly changed.
The estimates of those converted to the Christian faith in the last few decades range from between 75 and 100 million converts. The Guardian Newspaper in the UK ran an article that predicted that within 30 years China’s Christians will number no less than 400 million.
How should Christians respond when they are suddenly struck down with an illness? In the midst of suffering, are we to run away from medicine and trust only in prayer, or should we view prayer merely as a means of psychological comfort whilst trusting only in the prognosis of the medical professionals? Or, is there a faith-filled position which embraces both prayer and scientific medicine? And what about the Devil’s role in all this, and the role of vigourous resistance?
This message is by PJ Smyth who leads GodFirst Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was preached at the Newfrontiers ‘Together on a Mission’ conference in England in 2011.
It’s not a message on healing as such, but rather covers the broader range of pastoral issues that arise when we face serious sickness – including the source of sickness, and how we handle our approach towards recovery.
But it’s not merely academic. PJ was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, which was successfully treated. He tells the story in the message.
In terms of an overview of the Christian approach to the challenge of sickness and healing I think it is probably the best message I have heard on the subject, and which, in my opinion, reaches the correct conclusions.
In northern China, as the 19th Century drew to a close, a more determined resistance to foreign rule finally emerged.
The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists Local militia, later known as ‘Boxers’ (who apparently believed certain boxing type techniques gave them special powers), were deployed specifically to attack foreigners and those assisting them.
Authorised by the Empress Dowager, who sent orders into the provinces in June 1900, the Boxers, or literally ‘The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists’, began to kill missionaries and converts.
Thousands of Chinese Christians, nick-named ‘secondary devils’, were martyred and many foreign missionaries and Christians died. Some put the estimate at near 20,000.[i]
‘I can trust’ Hudson Taylor, nearing the end of his life, was initially protected by staff from hearing the worst of the news, but it became impossible to hide.
In Shanxi, 34 Protestant missionaries and 12 Catholics were beheaded before the Governor. In the Beijing area, 15 of Taylor’s missionaries were killed, two others both single female missionaries were killed while kneeling in prayer.[ii]
During the uprising the China Inland Mission alone lost 58 missionaries and 21 of their children.
When Taylor, frail and ill, and resting in Switzerland, heard, he said ‘I cannot read. I cannot think. I cannot even pray. But I can trust.’
‘They do not regret it now’ Part of the correspondence he received was a letter from the two female missionaries written the very day before they were murdered. After reflecting on the desperate situation they found themselves in, Taylor said, ‘Oh think what it must have been to exchange that murderous mob for the rapture of His presence…They do not regret it now.’[iii]
Indeed there is no reported evidence of a single missionary attempting to recant in the face of execution. None of the CIM correspondence revealed a spirit of revenge. Reports also showed that local converts also stayed true to the faith and didn’t back down in order to save their lives. Some local non-Christian officials also paid with their lives to protect the freedom of religion in their areas.[iv]
Taylor’s last trip to China In July, Jennie, Taylor’s second wife, finally succumbed to cancer and Taylor decided to make one last trip to China. There, in April 1905, three veteran missionaries from different missionary organisations met and thanked God for lives spent serving Him in China. They prayed and sang hymns together. They had served as missionaries in China a combined total of 156 years.
It was in China at last that he passed away – in the land where he had spent his life sharing the gospel.
China’s Millions Hudson Taylor’s two-volume biography, written by his son and daughter-in-law, ends with the chapter ‘Prayers Yet to be Answered’. I think even they would be thrilled to know that today millions of Chinese are followers of Jesus Christ.
The success of the gospel is not finally dependent on any individual human leader, yet the role an individual plays can be decisive in its advance.
Ultimately the gospel is dependent on the still-living, resurrected Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The triune God is a God who saves – the dramatic success of Christianity in China, even under the challenges of legislated persecution or atheism, is testimony to that.
(Photo by Andrew Robertson from the ‘Tapes From Scotland’ website)
We may be convinced that the New Testament documents are based on reliable sources – that we have what was originally written from an early date – but do we know that what they contain is reliable? How do we know they weren’t just made up?
Dr Peter J Williams, Warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge University, attempts to answer the question of the reliability of the Gospel record by looking closely at both non-Christian sources and detailed material within the Gospels themselves.
He draws on research which strongly suggests the implausibility of a claim that the four canonical gospels were clever fakes.
Were these stories made up at a later time or written from a different place, or do they include such a wealth of incidental information that was available only to the ‘close-up’ gospel writers, and which points to their authenticity?
Peter presents the material with wit and precision and we’re left with an extremely convincing case that the four gospels were indeed comprised of genuine eyewitness accounts. You’ll enjoy this!
NEW! UPDATED video link. Click on the image below:
By all means, save some!
From time to time, as church leaders, our hopes for a sudden gain in church growth are raised by news of a fresh and creative initiative. Whether this is a specific evangelistic strategy or whether it’s in connection with church management our response is often similar: We do the research, hear the testimonies, read the materials, pray and prepare to launch into new territory which we hope will yield better results.
None of this is wrong, of course. In fact, we ought to be on our toes for spotting effective means of communicating the gospel message. We must keep imagining and learning and trying all that we can, that ‘by all means we might save some.’ (1 Cor 9:22)
But in all of this we need to remember that this is a life’s work. We are not just jumping from project to project – we are living all of life in the context of God’s mission to reconcile the world to Himself through Christ; all of life and for the duration of our life.
And this is where Hudson Taylor’s example of perseverance can encourage us. By the time of these events he had been serving in China nearly 40 years.
Christians worship a pig! In the early 1890s leaflets were distributed throughout Hunan Province that misrepresented the CIM and other missionary organisations working in China:
‘Missionaries are the frontline troops of western nations in their designs on China; they use magic powers to corrupt the Chinese; they extract unborn children from their mothers’ wombs and scoop out the eyes of the dead to make silver;
Jesus debauched the women of Judea and was put to death for violating the king’s harem;
Christians worship a pig and refuse to honour heaven, earth, the sun, moon, stars, ancestors and the sages.’[i]
As a result of the publication of these leaflets, and the growing resentment of colonial rule, several missionaries lost their lives, and most were living in real danger.
Taylor wrote, ‘We are continually encouraging our converts to brave persecution and to suffer loss for Christ’s sake, and they are apt to think that it is easy for us to speak in this way, seeing that, as far as they can tell, we are well-off and exposed to no danger or loss.
When, therefore, we are in danger they will mark our conduct very closely, and judge for themselves how far we really believe…Years of teaching would not impress them as our conduct at such times may do.’[ii]
Slow Progress and our response to it Like Taylor’s men and women, we also battle misunderstanding as to our purpose or motive. And, just like Taylor’s troops, we also wrestle with slow progress.
We are heartened by bursts of growth and by news of growth in other situations but we must hold steady and persevere in order to build the church in a spiritually bewildered culture.
Writing back in March 1892, Hudson Taylor, after 38 years of hard work, said, ‘The supreme want of all missions in the present day is the manifested presence of the Holy Ghost.
Hundreds of thousands of tracts and portions of Scripture have been put into circulation; thousands of gospel addresses have been given; tens of thousands of miles have been traversed in missionary journeys but how small has been the issue in the way of definite conversions!
We…have much need to humble ourselves before God…’
Seeking the power of the Holy Spirit ‘Few of us, perhaps, are satisfied with the results of our work, and some may think that if we had more, or more costly machinery we should do better. But oh, I feel it is divine power we want…!
Should we not do well, rather, to suspend our present operations and give ourselves to humiliation and prayer for nothing less that to be filled with the Spirit, and made channels through which He shall work with resistless power?
Souls are perishing now for lack of this power!’[iii]
Sure enough, the following month, instead of the normal business meeting of the directors of the Chinese operation, the minutes recorded: ‘Instead of meeting for conference, the China Council united with the members of the mission in Shanghai in seeking for themselves, the whole mission in China and the Home Councils, the filling of the Holy Spirit.’[iv]
Soon after, news was spread of the power of God working in a new way amongst them.
Let’s learn from history – in order to persevere in the mission we are on, we need encounters with God, to be both humbled and empowered by the Spirit of God.
We never graduate from this…this is our life’s work.
For the first part of the Hudson Taylor story click here
Not defeated by suffering By the time Hudson Taylor was in his fifties, he had suffered through and emerged from some of life’s harshest tests.
He had established one of the world’s greatest missionary agencies, without denominational backing. He had pressed into the interior of China, something the other evangelism agencies were reluctant to do at the time. He had suffered the loss of several of his children and the wife of his youth, Maria.
He had escaped a violent mob assault against their home – with thousands gathering and several looting their belongings and physically assaulting him and his family, because of the false rumour that these ‘foreign devils’ were boiling and eating children. He had survived serious illness several times. Yet his was a buoyant faith.
You don’t need great faith – but faith in a great God! On the 26th May 1887 the 21st anniversary meeting of the CIM was held in the UK, with Hudson Taylor present with a fresh challenge to see 100 new missionaries sent to China that year.
In a speech laden with tweetable quotes, Taylor said:
‘People say, ‘Lord increase our faith!’ Did not our Lord rebuke His disciples for that prayer? It is not great faith you need, He said in effect, but faith in a great God.
We need a faith that rests on a great God, and expects Him to keep His own word and to do just as He has promised.
Now we have been led to pray for a hundred new workers this year. We have the sure word, ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.’
We began the matter aright, with God, and we are quite sure that we shall end it aright. It is a great joy to know that 31 of the Hundred are already in China…Whether He will give His ‘exceeding abundantly’ by sending us more than a literal hundred, or whether by stirring up other branches of the Church to send many hundreds…or by awakening missionary enthusiasm all over the Church and blessing the whole world through it, I don’t know…
Keep God before you! [but] I do want you, dear friends, to realize this principle of working with God and asking Him for everything. If the work is at the command of God, then we can go to Him in full confidence for workers; and when God gives the workers, we can go to Him for means to supply their needs.
We always accept a suitable worker, whether we have funds or not. Then we often say, ‘Now, dear friend, your first work will be to join us in praying for money to send you to China.’
As soon as there is money enough, the time of the year and other circumstances being suitable, the friend goes out.
We don’t wait until there is a remittance in hand to give him when he gets there.
The Lord will provide in the meanwhile, and the money will be wired to China in time to supply his wants.
Let us see to it that we keep God before our eyes; that we walk in His ways, and seek to please and glorify Him in everything, great and small.
Depend upon it, God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supplies.
God’s Church: A fully supplied, strong, healthy, happy people The Lord’s will is that His people should be an unburdened people, fully supplied, strong, healthy and happy.
Shall we not determine to be ‘[anxious] for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving’ bring those things that would become burdens and anxieties to God in prayer, and live in perfect peace?
I have not known what anxiety is since the Lord taught me that the work is His.
As the work of The China Inland Mission increased, Hudson Taylor needed more men and women to go inland, to towns and villages as yet totally unreached by the gospel.
Back in England, William Berger, Taylor’s friend and the Mission’s first Director, was engaged in the process of interviewing new candidates. He asked Taylor for clarification.
Taylor’s challenging and forceful response reads more like a call for revolutionaries than a job description:
A Different Kind of Christian Mission ‘We, as a mission, differ from all the other missions. As soon as some persons arrive here they find a sufficient answer to carry every question in, “the American missionaries so this, or the [Anglican] Church missionaries do that; why can’t we?”
The missionaries of almost all the societies have better houses, finer furniture, more European fare than we have or are likely to have.
But [critically important to Taylor], there is not one ofthem settled in the interior among the people.
Unless persons are prepared to stand alone – separate from these societies and those who imitate them – they should never join our mission at all…Let them know, too, beforehand, that if they are hearty, loyal members of this mission, they may expect the sneers and even opposition of good, godly men.
Into the interior – into indigenous culture ‘I only desire the help of such persons as are fully prepared to work in the interior, in the native costume, and living, as far as possible in the native style.
I do not contemplate assisting, in future, any who may cease to labour in this way. China is open to all but my time and strength are too short, and the work too great to allow of my attempting to work with any who do not agree with me in the main on my plans of action…
Not for quiet, ease-loving types… China is not to be won for Christ by quiet, ease-loving men and women…The stamp of men and women we need is such as will put Jesus, China, souls, first and foremost in everything and at every time – even life itself must be secondary…Of such men and women, do not fear to send us too many. They are more precious than rubies.’[i]
For the next part of Hudson Taylor’s Story, and his dramatic statement of faith click here
For the first part in the Hudson Taylor Story click here
The Gardener came and plucked a rose… How one family handled the cost of missions
In 1858 Hudson Taylor, after some difficulty, secured the hand of Maria Jane Dyer in marriage.
In 1859, their first child, Grace, was born, to the delight of both parents. Hers was a happy childhood and she enjoyed the affection of her doting father.
Born and raised in China, she was the firstborn of their missionary lives, followed by other siblings.
When she was eight years old, while her father was away ministering, she seemed unwell. She deteriorated quickly and became incoherent.
Taylor was called and was shocked to discover how unwell she really was. It looked very serious indeed and he feared the worst. She had meningitis.
Roger Steer, in his brilliantly written, ‘J Hudson Taylor, A Man in Christ’ writes,
‘Mary Bell [one of the female missionaries accompanying the Taylors] helped with the nursing and reported that Taylor “was so broken hearted he cried most of the day.”
‘I think Jesus is going to take you’
“There’s no hope of Gracie recovering,” he told Maria. They commended her to God and pleaded with Him to do the best for her and for them.
Back at her bedside, he said to Grace, “I think Jesus is going to take you to Himself. You are not afraid to trust yourself with Him, are you?”
“No papa,” came the reply.
A Father’s Agony
Next day, Hudson wrote to William Berger, “Beloved Brother – I know not how to write to you, not how to refrain…I am striving to write a few lines from the side of a couch on which my darling little Gracie lies dying…
Dear Brother, our heart and our flesh fail but God is the strength of our heart…It was no vain nor unintelligent act, when knowing the land, its people and climate, I laid my dear wife and the darling children with myself on the altar for this service.’
Four days later, Grace showed signs of pneumonia.
On Friday evening, August 23, the Taylor family and those closest to them gathered around Grace’s bed. Hudson began one hymn after another, though at times his voice failed…At twenty to nine Maria’s breathing stopped.
‘How I miss her sweet voice in the morning!’
“Our dear little Gracie!” wrote Hudson later. “How I miss her sweet voice in the morning, one of the first sounds to greet us when we woke – and through the day and at eventide!
As I take the walks I used to take with her tripping at my side, the thought comes anew like a throb of agony, ‘Is it possible that I shall nevermore feel the pressure of that little hand, nevermore hear the sweet prattle of those dear lips, nevermore see the sparkle of those bright eyes?’
And yet she is not lost…The Gardener came and plucked a rose…’
We’ve all been appalled by the news footage of looting and theft in London and other cities in the UK.
We’ve seen cars burning, shops being broken into, buildings on fire, violence. We’ve seen who are doing these things – largely young people who clearly don’t have an internal restraint.
Groups of hundreds have been moving up and down local high streets, smashing windows and stealing whatever they can.
Obviously pastors and elders all across London will be evaluating both the measure of their impact amongst young people as well as what they could or should be doing in the future.
Many churches have worked hard to create respectful, relevant community engagement. Kings Church, Catford and Jubilee Church Enfield (both in boroughs where looting took place) are just two examples of vibrant, growing, multi-racial churches with strong youth groups. So this post is not intended to be a corrective to those churches who are making a difference. See here for a statement by Tope Koleoso, Pastor at Jubilee, Enfield.
Some may be questioning whether a concert-and-motivational-talk type of ministry is really penetrating London’s population – and whether a far more robust ministry both on Sundays and in the midst of the communities is now more obviously necessary. Time to serve.
And it seems that as the British media, and the culture generally, has pushed evangelical Christianity into a corner, and as the church has submitted to this marginal role in modern British life, something of a beast has been growing in its place – and we’re seeing something of the fruit of that in the behaviour of the young people involved in these looting sprees. Why would we expect a Christian ethic to be in place when we’ve repeatedly displaced the Christian message?
[Added later]: Former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone was interviewed on Sky News (evening, August 9th) and, comparing the mischief his contemporaries got up to as youngsters, said: ‘Something’s changed in the last thirty years. We’ve got to find out what it is, and then tackle it!’ (Sky News Live Broadcast)
No God – no authority
The logic seems to be: ‘If there’s no God, there’s no ultimate authority, there’s no real basis for any other form of authority – therefore, we can take the moment and go for it! Why not?’
So how has the church actually grappled with these issues in the past? One obvious example that comes to mind sprang up in London itself – through William and Catherine Booth and the movement of unashamed evangelism they created: The Salvation Army.
Your view of the Salvation Army today may be of something that is very tame – closer to the St John’s Ambulance volunteers than the SAS.
A Return to Unashamed Evangelism and Social Engagement
I want to suggest that church leaders and believers looking on at this problem today could do well to learn from the London-based Salvation Army of yesterday.
They were crystal clear on preaching the gospel, not just from ‘the pulpit’ but actually in the communities they were reaching, and their ranks were filled with self-sacrificing Christians who were determined to meet the needs of the disenfranchised and marginalised. Many of the early full time officers were younger than 23.
So, I hope you’ll excuse me by putting a link here to a pretty thorough overview of their early methods and successes. It is based on years of research and is a message I brought at a Newfrontiers conference in the UK, in 2010.
My hope is that as you hear what the Booths and others did, the Holy Spirit will strengthen your resolve to actually make a difference in our cities. If you want to skip past Booth’s formative years, jump in at around 20 minutes.
After a short while in China, Hudson Taylor met someone who had a huge impact on him and helped further shape his own ministry.
A Bright New Star Arrives on the Christian Scene
By today’s standards, the Scotsman William Burns could have been as great a celebrity as any successful leader. He could have published extensively, taken speaking engagements across Britain and America. He had, after all, just witnessed a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Sensing his own call to take the gospel to the nations, Burns had considered India as well as China but had suddenly been offered the opportunity – as his first ministerial assignment – to preach in Dundee for Robert Murray M’Cheyne.
M’Cheyne was already well known in Scotland and had gathered a large congregation. Humanly speaking it would be fairly tough to match his standard of leadership. For Burns, this was his first regular preaching assignment – but something unusual happened!
Holy Spirit Revival!
Undeterred by a possible nonresponsive Scottish reserve, Burns had prayed for and now preached for conversion, trusting God for the power of the Holy Spirit![i]
The meetings went well, and returning for a meeting in his home town of Kilsyth, he preached there and the power of God fell. He describes the scene:
[I began] ‘to plead with the unconverted before me instantly to close with God’s offers of mercy, and continued to do so until the power of the Lord’s Spirit became so mighty upon their souls as to carry all before it, like the rushing mighty wind of Pentecost !
During the whole of the time that I was speaking, the people listened with the most riveted and solemn attention, and with many silent tears and inward groanings of the spirit;
but at the last their feelings became too strong for all ordinary restraints, and broke forth simultaneously in weeping and wailing, tears and groans, intermingled with shouts of joy and praise from some of the people of God.’[ii]
Returning to Dundee, at the regular Thursday evening prayer meeting, he told the congregation news of the outpouring he had just witnessed.
The Holy Spirit was poured out once again and every night for four months meetings were held and thousands felt the impact. One biographer says ‘the whole city was moved as family after family were converted![iii]
The Relative Obscurity of Faithfulness
Following such a hugely successful season of evangelistic preaching we might have expected Burns to redirect his steps and stay in the UK. However, he followed through with his conviction, left Scotland, and became an obscure missionary to China where he spent the rest of his life.
What a great encouragement he was to Hudson Taylor, as was Taylor to him. Burns followed Taylor’s example of adopting Chinese rather than European dress.
But what a lesson for us – in a day when publishers and people so love the celebrity status of our leaders, to observe one of the most highly gifted Christian leaders move out of the publishing spotlight into years of humble ‘unseen’ service for those who don’t know Christ.
To read the next part of the Hudson Taylor Story click here
For the first part of the Hudson Taylor Story click here
Sometimes people are heartless, cruel, self-centred. We are rightly shocked by blatant selfishness and disregard for others.
During his first stay in China Hudson Taylor had numerous evangelistic interactions with locals. He learnt the language, gave out New Testaments and many tracts and sought to communicate the amazing love of God in Jesus Christ.
But one moment of high drama in his travels caught my attention many years ago and I trust this account of it will have a significant impact on your own life:
The Boat Journey
Writing in his ‘Retrospect’ Taylor describes a journey towards the city of Sungkiang, about 30 miles from Shanghai.
‘Among the passengers on board the boat was one intelligent man, who in the course of his travels had been a good deal abroad, and had even visited England, where he went by the name of Peter.
As might be expected he had heard something of the gospel, but had never experienced its saving power. On the previous evening I had drawn him into an earnest conversation about his soul’s salvation. The man listened with attention, and was even moved to tears, but still no definite result was apparent.
I was pleased, therefore, when he asked to be allowed to accompany me, and to hear me preach.’
A Sudden Splash
‘I went into the cabin of the boat to prepare tracts and books for distribution on landing with my Chinese friend, when suddenly I was startled by a splash and a cry from outside.
I sprang on deck and took in the situation at a glance. Peter was gone! The other men were all there, on board, looking helplessly at the spot where he had disappeared, but making no effort to save him.
A strong wind was carrying us rapidly forward in spite of a steady current in the opposite direction, and the low-lying, shrubless shore afforded no landmark to indicate how far we had left the drowning man behind.
A drag net
I instantly let down the sail and leaped overboard in the hope of finding him. Unsuccessful, I looked around in agonising suspense, and saw close to me a fishing boat with a peculiar drag net furnished with hooks, which I knew would bring him up.
“Come!”, I cried, as hope revived in my heart. “Come and drag over this spot directly; a man is drowning just here!”
“Veh bin” (it is not convenient), was the answer.
“Don’t talk of convenience!” I cried in agony, “a man is drowning I tell you!!”
“We are busy fishing,” they responded, “and cannot come.”
“Never mind your fishing,” I said, “I will give you more money than many day’s fishing will bring; only come! Come at once!”
“How much money will you give us?”
“We cannot stay to discuss that now! Come, or it will be too late. I will give you five dollars.” (A lot of money).
“We won’t do it for that!” replied the men. “Give us twenty dollars, and we will drag the net.”
“I do not possess so much; do come quickly, and I will give you all that I have!”
“How much may that be?”
“I don’t know exactly, about fourteen dollars.”
At last, but even then slowly enough, the boat was paddled over, and the net let down. Less than a minute sufficed to bring up the body of the missing man.
The fishermen were clamorous and indignant because their exorbitant demand was delayed while efforts at resuscitation were being made. But all was in vain – his life was gone!
Were not those fishermen actually guilty of this poor Chinaman’s death, in that they had the means of saving him at hand, if they would have used them?
Assuredly, they were guilty. And yet, let us pause before we pronounce judgement against them, lest a greater than Nathan answer, “Thou art the man!”
Is it so hard-hearted, so wicked a thing to neglect to save the body? Of how much sorer punishment, then, is he worthy who leaves the soul to perish, and Cain-like says, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
‘The Lord Jesus commands, commands me, commands you, into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature.
Shall we say to Him, “No! It is not convenient!”? Shall we tell Him that we are busy fishing and cannot go? That we have purchased five oxen, or have married, or are engaged in other and more interesting pursuits, and cannot go?
Before long we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body.
Let us consider who it is that said,
‘Deliver those who are being taken away to death,
And those who are staggering to slaughter,
O hold them back!
If you say, “But we did not know this!”
Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts?
And does He not know it who keeps your soul?
And will He not render to man according to his works?’
Taylor’s challenge to us should shake us to the core. While so many are bemoaning this or that evangelistic method, and often leaving the churches even less confident than before, we ought to examine everything with a clear eye on the goal to go and speak to our communities.
Really though, how many times have we hesitated to share the gospel because ‘it is not convenient’? Let’s make a decision to change…
To read the next part of the Hudson Taylor story click here
To read the first part of the Hudson Taylor story click here
On March 1 1854, after six months at sea, Hudson Taylor arrived in China.
I had the benefit of remembering this fact as I was shooting lightning speed BlackBerry messages to a colleague who was appalled that the SAA plane I was sitting on didn’t have any personal inflight entertainment.
We had been hoping for the oft-promised replacement plane from SAA and he had begun to call this particular plane (which I’ve flown on innumerable times) ‘The Dog’!
I do, of course, understand the difference – I was taking a long-haul flight for a three day ministry trip; missionaries of the 18th and 19th centuries were going for years, and possibly for life. I also know that a modern plane, even one that is about to be replaced, isn’t really worthy of the name ‘The Dog’.
But if the six months of sea travel was expected, what wasn’t was the fact that there was no provision waiting for him by the missionary society with which he was associated.
No welcome, no provision, no money
The Chinese Evangelisation Society, destined to be surpassed by Taylor’s own China Inland Mission, were good on vision but not so good on provision!
Roger Steer writes that there was ‘Nothing from the CES: no money, no credit notes, no guidance, no instructions.’[i]
Nevertheless the missionaries that Hudson met were friendly and helpful, offering both advice (to learn Mandarin rather than the dialect only spoken around Shangai) and accommodation until the CES got organised.
Out on a limb
‘The other missionaries,’ writes Steer, in Shanghai were all highly educated and connected with either the Anglican church or large and well established missionary societies.
Taylor was connected with no particular denomination and had been sent out hurriedly by the CES before his medical course was finished…
The CES had adopted a strategy which the practical men already working in China regarded as absurd. Some of them openly ridiculed the CES and its journal, The Gleaner.’[ii]
This is not the kind of information you want to learn once you’ve arrived…miles and miles away from home.
To read the next post in the Hudson Taylor Story click here
To read the first post in the Hudson Taylor Story click here
The search for genuine joy in the battle of life is a search that concerns every person.
The soul’s thirst for satisfaction drives men and women, Christian and non-Christian, to try a myriad of promises – and often leaves them feeling empty, short-changed, duped.
In this compelling message, John Piper argues that the chief aim of the Christian leader is to make joy the ultimate aim of each person – by pointing them to the only ultimately satisfying source of joy: Jesus Christ.
Joy in Christ is the goal of the Christian life – Joy, Piper asserts, is not just the icing on the cake, it is the cake!!
The link below is to a video, but if you don’t have access to fast internet (as most people don’t yet), then there is a link on the page to an mp3 version of the message.
Hudson Taylor on bringing our needs to God Alone
When we read biographies of some of the Christian leaders of the 19th Century there is a common feature which immediately strikes us: a commitment to pray to God until the answer comes, rather than appeal to men.
The name George Muller immediately comes to mind, but we could also mention Spurgeon and Hudson Taylor.
Getting it from the horse’s mouth
Taylor was seeking to grow in faith, to exercise ‘spiritual muscles’, in preparation for the demands of faith in China. The incident he describes in the following passage is perhaps one of the most famous in his life. I have edited it down somewhat but it is a sheer delight to read it in his own words.
‘I thought to myself, “When I get out to China, I shall have no claim on any one for anything; my only claim will be on God. How important, therefore, to learn before leaving England to move man, through God, by prayer alone.”
At Hull my kind employer, always busily occupied, 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 my kind friend made no allusion to the matter. I continued praying, and days passed on, but he did not remember, until at length, on settling up my weekly accounts one Saturday night, I found myself possessed of only a single coin, one half-crown piece…’
Serving the Poor
‘That Sunday was a very happy one…After attending Divine service in the morning, my afternoons and evenings were filled with Gospel work, in the various lodging-houses I was accustomed to visit in the lowest part of the town…
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.’
The dilemma of a single coin
‘Immediately it occurred to my mind that all the money I had in the world was the solitary half-crown [about 2 days’ labourer’s wage in 1860 – worth roughly £120 in 2011], 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 that 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 one shilling of it!” But to part with the half-crown was far from my thoughts.
I little dreamed that the real truth of the matter simply was that I could trust in God plus one-and-sixpence, but was not yet prepared to trust Him only, without any money at all in my pocket.’
Into the home of the starving
‘Up a miserable flight of stairs, into a wretched room, he led me; and oh what a sight there presented itself to our eyes!
Four or five poor 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 said, “You hypocrite! telling these unconverted people about a kind and loving Father in heaven, and not prepared yourself to trust Him without 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.’
Prayer for the Poor
‘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 to me in those days; time thus spent never seemed wearisome, and I knew nothing of lack of words.
I seemed to think that all I should have to do would be to kneel down and engage in prayer, 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 scarcely 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 came upon me then 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.’
Relief – and joy!
‘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!”
Just then 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 forth 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 him was indeed true: 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 gone; gone, I trust, for ever.’
My life was saved!
‘Not only was the poor woman’s life saved, but I realised that my life was saved too! It might have been a wreck, would have been a wreck probably, as a Christian life, 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 lonely, deserted streets resounded with a hymn of praise which I could not restrain.
When I took my basin of gruel before retiring, I would not have exchanged it for a prince’s feast.’
Trusting God to supply – back to prayer
‘I reminded the Lord as I knelt at my bedside of His own Word, that he who 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 consumed 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.’
A letter from Heaven
‘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 [ = 120d. A half crown = 30d] fell to the ground.
“Praise the Lord!” I exclaimed; “400 per cent for twelve hours investment; that is good interest. How glad the merchants of Hull would be if they could lend their money at such a rate!”
Investing in the Bank which cannot fail
‘I then and there determined that a bank which could not break should have my savings or earnings as the case might be, 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.’[i]
For the first part in the Hudson Taylor story click here
For the next part in the Hudson Taylor story click here