AMONG all the characteristics caught by the converts from their missionaries at this time, none was more important in its results than love for souls, that sure evidence of a heart in fellowship with the Lord Himself. When this is not found in the missionary is it ever developed in his native helpers ? And can anything make up for its absence in either the one or the other ? Learning, eloquence, natural gifts, all, all go up in the balances as lighter than nothing, if not permeated with this supreme endowment.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or as a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.
But in the little home on Bridge Street, in spite of all that may have been deficient on less important lines, there was no lack of love-love for God and love for man-the essential qualification for leading men to God. Nyi was a soul-winner, Neng-kuei was a soul-winner, and to go no farther Mrs. Tsiu and her son were soul-winners, in the good, old-fashioned meaning of the term. They believed in heaven and they believed in hell, and longed to bring those around them to the Saviour whose blood alone cleanses " from all sin."
No sooner had Mrs. Tsiu learned to read, as we have seen, than she longed to share with her neighbours the blessings of the Gospel. Taking her precious Testament wrapped in a coloured handkerchief, many were the hours she spent in going from courtyard to courtyard, reading to women at their sewing, and telling the old, old story to all who would listen. She was a welcome visitor, and made the most of her opportunities for being useful. But there was one old woman who seemed beyond her reach. Very deaf and almost blind, she could think of nothing but her troubles, and had long ago given up hope of better things. Yet there was love and rest for her in Jesus ; and with earnest prayer the Teacher's mother set about winning this poor, dark soul to Him. But what a difficult task it was, when every word had to be shouted into her ear, and she could not catch the love-light in the speaker's eyes.
This only made it the more wonderful, when the darkened mind at length was penetrated with some gleam of light from above. She consented then to go to the Mission house, and was conscious in its very atmosphere of a peace she had never known.
" Why does my heart feel so much wider," is the oftrepeated question, " when I come inside these doors ? "
" Mrs. Tsiu taught her syllable by syllable," wrote Mr. Taylor, " to repeat verses of hymns and passages of Scripture.... and the Holy Spirit made the Word effectual to her conversion. Much prayer and many persevering efforts were rewarded as new light, new love, sprang up within her. Now she had found something to think of, now she had a Friend to converse with, now she had comfort both for time and for eternity. A happier Christian than that old woman I have seldom if ever met. She loved the house of God, she loved the people of God. In fair weather or in wet, in hot weather or in cold, she was to be found leaning on the shoulder of her grandchild, and winding her way to the meetings, some of which were more than a mile from her home. She could see nothing and hear nothing, but she met with God and He blessed her ; she met with His people, and their hearty salutations did her good.
" After a time she was taken ill, and all believed that she was about to die. She was very happy, especially in the thought that she would be neither blind nor deaf in heaven. One day, however, some neighbours, to whom she had been talking about the Lord, jeeringly replied that she should pray to Him, since He was such a wonderful Saviour, to raise her up to health again. Left alone, she pondered the matter until convinced that her recovery in answer to prayer would be to the glory of God ; and upon Mrs. Tsiu and another friend coming in she told them about it, and requested them to kneel down and pray that she might be raised up.
"This they willingly did, asking God for the honour of His own great Name to make her well ; and the old woman added her Amen to the prayer she knew had been offered though she heard it not. Within a few days she was in her usual health, and to my astonishment took her accustomed place in one of the meetings. And not until a year later did she finish her course with joy."
Meanwhile Mrs. Tsiu and her son were rejoicing over another soul they had been permitted to win for Jesus. He was an old man and had seen many sorrows, for his sons had turned out badly and through evil ways had ruined the family fortunes. Dying early, they had left their parents to the sorrow and disgrace of a childless, poverty-stricken old age. Scarcely can there be in China a sadder lot, and old Dzing as he peddled his wares thought bitterly of the days when he had been well-to-do and respected. Now he must travel the streets with a pack on his back, depending for a livelihood upon the odds and ends he could sell for women's embroidery and children's caps and shoes. Only at night when every door was shut could he turn homeward to the miserable room where little of comfort awaited him.
Persuaded by Mrs. Tsiu and her son to accompany them to Bridge Street, a new interest had found its way into his once dreary existence. So this was the meaning of the change he had noticed in the very faces of his friends. They had something worth living for ; something that could turn sorrow into joy and brighten even the shadows of the tomb. It was a great discovery.
Many an evening was now spent in the inquirers' classes, the old intelligence waking up in response to their helpful influences. It restored his self-respect to be addressed as " Teacher Dzing," on account of his knowledge of the classics, and appealed to from time to time for the name or meaning of a character. But a deeper work was going on within him, under the touch of a Hand that brought deeper healing. " As a poor, helpless sinner," Mr. Taylor wrote, " he cast himself upon God's forgiving mercy, and found peace in believing." His love for the Bible was great, and he spent every available moment over its pages. Perhaps it was this that made his Christian life so restful. Wherever he went he carried a blessing with him, and many a woman on a back street first heard the message of salvation from his lips.
Neng-kuei, too, from the very first was a soul-winner. Not unlike Peter in his fervent, devoted spirit, he also was used to bring the message of salvation to seeking souls whose prayers were known to God alone. One such was daily traversing the streets of Ning-po at this time, in search of a religion of which he knew nothing save that it would bring him peace ; and but for a great trial coming into Neng-kuei's life, he might have been long without finding it.
It was the busy season for basket-makers, and Nengkuei's master insisted that he must work on Sunday. It was no use reminding him of his agreement, or suggesting that he should call in additional help. No, this idea of resting one day in seven was all very well for foreigners, but now there was work to be done Neng-kuei must be broken of it."
Come tomorrow, or not at all," was his ultimatum. And the Christian basket-maker knew himself dismissed.
Nor was this the worst of it. For on Monday ;horning, when he set about seeking other employment, every door was closed. No one wanted workmen, busy season though it was, and Neng-kuei tramped the city in vain.
"The devil is having hard at me," thought he at last; " but I must and will resist him. If he will not let me have other employment, I will give my time to plucking souls from his kingdom."
And this he did by spending the rest of the day in distributing tracts, and talking in the streets and tea-shops with all who were inclined to listen.
Far away from Ning-po, in the beautiful valley of the Feng-hwa river, lay the farming district from which Nengkuei himself had come. There he had learned his trade and married the young wife from whom he had been parted in little more than a year. Her death had been terrible a death in the dark, like so many thousands, alas, in China every year ! Poor Neng - kuei could speak no word of comfort as she was passing from him in anguish and fear. And still there was no voice to tell among all those hills and valleys of Jesus and His redeeming love.
The basket-maker drifted to Ning-po a little later, and there found, as we have seen, the Light of Life ; but who was to care for Wang the farmer, in the little village of O-zi, when he became concerned about eternal things ?
Not far from Neng-kuei's former home he lay ill and apparently dying, alone in the empty house. The family were all out in the fields, having supplied his needs as well as they could, and there was no one to whom he could turn for help in the great distress of his soul. For Wang regarded death with terror, as introducing the dreaded day on which he must " reckon up accounts." Somehow, somewhere, he must meet the gods his sins had angered ; and the balance to his credit was pitifully small. Whether his heart went out in a longing cry for mercy we cannot tell. At any rate his need was great, and he was dimly conscious of it.
And then a strange thing happened. In the silence of the empty house he heard himself called. The voice though unknown was so real that he got up and made his way to the door, but on opening it couldsee no one. Painfully he crept back to bed, only to hear the same voice a little later calling more urgently. Again he rose, and supporting himself by the walls and furniture managed to reach the door. But again no one was in sight. Greatly alarmed, he buried his face beneath the coverlet. This was none other than the approach of death!-the dreaded summons of the King of Hell, at whose bar he must shortly appear.
And now the voice spoke a third time, and told him not to be afraid. He was going, it said, to recover. An infusion of a certain herb would cure his sickness, and as soon as he was able he was to go into Ning-po, where he would hear of a new religion that would bring him peace of heart.
All this was so reassuring that Wang determined to do exactly as he was instructed. He persuaded his wife to prepare the medicine, and to the surprise of all began forthwith to recover. Going to Ning-po, however, was another matter. The city was thirty miles away, and Wang had nothing to live on while seeking the new religion. His farm-produce he could not carry with him, and besides it was all needed at home. The only plan would be to work for his living ; and finally the farmer set out to support himself by cutting grass along the wayside and selling it to people who -had cattle.
Thus he had managed to earn a scanty subsistence in -Ning-po for some time, without finding anything that met the longings of his heart. Under the city-wall and amid the many grave-mounds he gathered a supply of grass day by day, which he sold in the city, but no one paid much attention to his questions about religious matters. Still, Wang was sure that what the voice, had told him would come true.
At length one day in a tea-shop-what was that he heard? A simple working-man like himself was leaning across one of the tables, talking with those nearest him. Something about " the Jesus-doctrine " he said, and about sins being forgiven. Greatly interested Wang drew nearer, and listened for the first time-try to imagine it-to the glad tidings of salvation.
Neng-kuei's heart was full that day, and he spoke long and earnestly. Some went out and some came in, but the O-zi farmer never lost a word. When Neng-kuei had finished, he introduced himself and asked many questions. Seeing his interest Neng-kuei said
" You must draw water yourself from the fountain. There is a book God has given us in which everything is made plain. You shall have a copy and study the matter fully-,,
" Alas," replied the farmer, " I do not know how to read, and I am now too old to learn."
" Far from it ! " exclaimed his new-found friend. " For with the Glad Tidings an easy method of reading has been brought to us. I did not know a single character when I became a Christian, but now I can read the New Testament quite easily. If you like I will be your teacher. Let us begin at once."
Wang needed no second invitation. It did not take long to move his few belongings to the house in which the basket-maker lodged, and before the sun went down he had mastered the first six letters of the alphabet, besides acquiring a much fuller knowledge of spiritual things. And how happy they were over the lesson ! It is doubtful whether anywhere in the city there were more thankful hearts, for had not the farmer found the treasure he had been seeking, and Neng-kuei a new jewel to lay at his Master's feet ?
No doubt they prayed together that evening over Nengkuei's difficulty in obtaining employment, for which a sufficient reason was found the following day. His former master, angered by his adherence to Christian principles, had sent round to all the basket-makers of the city asking that if this particular workman applied to them on Monday morning they would turn him away. As members of the same Guild they had thought it best to comply. But the promise was for Monday, not for subsequent days ; and the first employer to whom he went on Tuesday was glad enough to engage the clever workman. So Neng-kuei's troubles, too, came to a happy end ; and his new master living not far from Bridge Street, he was able to run in during the breakfast-hour and tell his missionary friends all about it.
Introduced in this way to the farmer from O-zi, Mr. Taylor hardly knew at first what to make of his story. But as time went on the sincerity of the man became apparent to all. He remained in Ning-po for some months, still supporting himself as a grass-cutter, and when he returned to O-zi it was to set apart the best room in his house as a little chapel, in which for fifty years he lovingly and faithfully made known the Gospel.
But this was not the only occasion on which Neng-kuei was enabled, through fidelity to Christian principle, to win a soul destined to become specially useful in winning others. Another man named Wang was living in Ning-po at the time who was to be numbered among the Bridge Street Christians, and to exceed them all in the fruitfulness of his labours. But as yet he knew nothing of the Master he was to love and serve.
A busy workman, employed from morning till night in painting and decorating houses, how was he to come under the influence of the Gospel ? He had no time to listen to preaching, though he seems to have been religiously inclined, and was no frequenter of tea-shops, his own home being at hand with the attractions of wife and infant child. So the Lord, who had chosen him for His service, sent across his pathway one whom He could trust to be faithful in little things, and who " in season and out of season " would deliver His message.
It was a beautiful house young Wang was in that day, decorating one of the guest-halls. Presently a stir beganservants came hurrying from the inner apartments, a man with a load of baskets was ushered in, and several ladies, richly dressed, came out to give their orders. Of all this the painter on his scaffolding took little notice, but when the ladies began to speak in tones of some annoyance he pricked up his ears to listen.
What ! Not make baskets for holding incense ? Refuse an order for anything to be used in the service of the gods ? "
" Do not be angry, ladies," replied the simple basketmaker. " I am sorry not to comply with your wishes, but I cannot make or sell anything for the worship of idols."
" And pray, why not ? " was the astonished question.
" I am a believer in the Lord Jesus," Neng-kuei answered respectfully ; " a worshipper of the true and living God." And he went on to put before these ladies, who might never hear again, the way of pardon and peace through a dying, risen Saviour..
What was that you were saying ? "
The ladies had grown tired of listening, and had tottered away on their tiny feet, but Neng-kuei's attention was arrested, as he was about to leave, by a man in working clothes, who went on earnestly
" You did not see me. I am painting up there," indicating his ladder. " What was it you were saying ? I heard, but tell me again."
That conversation, too, we are left to imagine. We only know that Wang Lae-djun took the first step that day in a lifetime of devoted service to the Master.
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