Upon a life I did not live,
Upon a death I did not die,
Another's life, Another's death,
I stake my whole eternity.
THUS childhood's years passed by, and all unconsciously Hudson Taylor was drawing near the crisis of his life.
Outwardly he was now a bright lad of seventeen, with few anxieties or cares, but inwardly he was passing through a period of trial. Events that had transpired since the close of the preceding chapter had brought him into contact with the world as it is beyond the shelter of a Christian home. Under the stress of new experiences he had begun to think for himself and live his life more or less independently of others, and a difficult business he found it, until he learned to trust a higher strength than his own.
His troubles seem to have begun when at eleven years of age he was first sent to school, though it was only a dayschool, conducted by Mr. Laycock, a friend of the family. After John Taylor's death and the removal of the reedmaking business to larger premises, Mr. Laycock had rented the long, low factory near the corner of Pitt and York Streets and had turned it into class-rooms for the accommodation of fifty or sixty lads. The situation was good, and his able management attracted the best pupils in town. Here then, close to the home in which his grandmother still lived, Hudson began his brief career as a schoolboy.
It was brief for several reasons, one of which was the continued delicacy of health that made it impossible for him to be regular in attendance. Hardly a week passed without his having to miss one or more days on account of illness, and at other times it was difficult to avoid over-study. Still, association with boys of his own age was felt to be so desirable that every effort was made to continue it.
He intensely enjoyed study, and was so eager to work that the arithmetic master often handed over to him problems that he had hardly time for himself. " See that you bring them back in the morning," he would say with a smile. And Hudson, who knew why they were wanted, worked with a will, falling back upon his father's help if they proved too intricate. He was not sufficiently a lover of boyish sports to become a general favourite, but some enduring friendships were made, and the pursuits of the playground, though not for him specially attractive, had their valuable effect on character.
On the whole, however, his school-life seems to have been neither happy nor helpful. It was a great change from home, and he missed the spiritual atmosphere to which he had been accustomed. Needing more than ever the resource of prayer, he allowed the busy days to pass without taking time to be alone with God.
" His religious earnestness began to abate," his mother tells us, " and gradually declined, until he lost peace with God."
The joyous faith of childhood passed away, and he awoke to find the world a very different place without the sunshine of the Presence he had loved in earlier days. His mother's concern was deep and prayerful, but do what she would, nothing seemed to restore that lost God-consciousness.
For six years altogether he was in an unsettled state spiritually, trying hard to " make himself a Christian," but finding it of all efforts the most discouraging, and sure to end in failure if not despair. He was early proving the truth of the profound though simple warning : " Without Me ye can do nothing."
Yes, those are difficult years, from eleven to seventeen. The young heart finds itself assailed by perplexing problems, attracted by undreamed-of possibilities, disturbed by unreasoning hopes and fears. They are often lonely years, for we outgrow the associations of childhood and do not quickly find our own real friends ; years in which God is more than ever needful to us, and yet the first force of temptation, the first glamour of the world, the first suggestion of doubt, reinforced it may be by love, or sin, or sorrow, obscure the shining of His face. Many a seemingly careless lad and-schoolgirl carries an aching heart, a heart just hungry for the touch of sympathy older people often fail to give, because they do not understand. But often, too, that touch can come from God alone. Surely, did we see but deep enough, the spiritual needs and longings of childhood would drive us to our knees in earnest prayer. For only God can make us wise to speak the " word in season " to the soul whose very existence perhaps we hardly realise, because it dwells in the boy or girl to whose noise and merriment we are so accustomed. Pray, pray ! These young souls are awake, and moving rapidly for good or ill beyond our care.
Such a word in season came to Hudson Taylor in his first year at school, and was never forgotten. It was the summer of 1844, and he went with older people to a Camp Meeting in a park near Leeds. Among the speakers was Mr. Henry Reed of Launceston, Tasmania, who in the course of his address told the story of a man named Gardener whom he had known in the Colonies years before. His subject was the sin and peril of resisting the Holy Spirit, and upon the little lad from Barnsley it made an impression that never passed away. (1- Long years after, when Mr. Henry Reed had become a warm friend and supporter of the China Inland Mission, Mr. Hudson Taylor, writing to him about other matters, recalled these facts." It must be about thirty years ago that I had the privilege of hearing you speak at a missionary meeting in a park near Leeds. I was then a boy, and unconverted. But one incident you narrated, showing the danger of quenching the strivings of the Spirit of God, riveted itself on my memory, and in after years has been often repeated by me to Chinese audiences. . . I believe that in several instances in China it has been used of God to bring persons in a hesitating state of mind to the point of decision for Christ.")
Gardener was one of six convicts under sentence of death, with whom Mr. Reed spent the last, terrible night before their execution. Condemned for murder, he had long denied the charges brought against him, but finally through his own confession the truth was brought to light. It then appeared that shortly before the crime was committed he had been conscious as never before of the pleading of the Holy Spirit, and of the nearness of God.
Walking up Cataract Hill, a beautiful spot near Launceston, he had even been startled by a voice behind him, earnestly saying " Gardener, give Me thy heart."
He turned to face the speaker, but no one was in sight. He was alone under the open sky, alone with an awakened conscience and the all-seeing God." My son, give Me thy heart."
His Maker must have spoken. No other voice could stir the soul like that. What should he do ? Yes, that was the question.
Long and troubled were his ponderings, for the call was unwelcome. He did not want, just then, to be a Christian. It would upset his plans, interfere with his prospects of success. No, he must make money first, come what might. Later on, at another time, a " more convenient season," he would reconsider the matter. God was merciful. There would be another chance. And so, deliberately resisting the Holy Spirit, he went on up the hill-went on to meet the tempter in his own strength.
That night alone in their shack he saw his partner begin to count a little store of savings as he sat over the fire. Seven one-pound notes lay in his hand. Gardener became interested. Then all at once an overwhelming desire to obtain that money took possession of him. Never before had he felt such a passion for gold. All restraints of conscience were swept away. His one, his only thought became:" I must and will have it. But how ? "Then followed the awful suggestion, " Dead men tell no tales."
Though it meant murder, this aroused neither fear nor compunction. A few hours before he had been powerfully drawn toward God and happiness and heaven. Now he seemed given up to evil. Three days and nights went by, while he waited his opportunity. It came at last, and Gardener's hands were stained with the blood of one who had trusted him as a friend.
As Mr. Reed described that last, long night, when at their request he had been locked up with this man and five others about to be ushered into the presence of God, a profound impression was made on many a listener besides young Hudson Taylor. Returning to Barnsley, and for long after, he was deeply troubled about spiritual things. Amid all his waywardness he was conscious of that inward pleading," My son, give Me thy heart." But the change went no further while he remained at school.
This was two years in all, a period that transformed the open-hearted child into a boy of thirteen with some experience of the sadder side of life. His education had made progress, but on account of changes in the school that were not satisfactory it was decided he should leave. His father needed assistance in the shop, and Hudson was delighted to be earning his own living, in part at any rate, while carrying on his studies at home. Thus ended, just before Christmas 1845, his first and only experience of school-life.
The new arrangement worked well. In his white apron behind the counter, the curly-headed boy with his bright face and pleasant ways soon became a favourite among the customers. He was keenly interested in compounding and dispensing medicines and everything to do with doctor's work. His father's library afforded all the books he required, and in the helpful companionships of home the troubles of his inner life began to pass away.
To this time he himself attributed (in a letter printed later in this book) the first conscious surrender of his heart to God. A leaflet published by the Religious Tract Society brought him blessing. It was the story of a poor, half-witted fellow who was only able to grasp one great truth, but rested his soul upon it as he passed into the unseen.
" Yes, Joseph is the chief of sinners," he kept repeating. " But it is ' a faithful saying ' that Jesus Christ, the great God who made all things, ` came into the world to save sinners.' And why not poor Joseph ? "
The question brought its own answer.
While reading this little tract, the simplicity of faith was made clear to him as never before, and then and there he took the sinner's place and came back to God.
The days that followed were quiet and happy. He was busy with his lessons and work in the shop, and resumed the habits of prayer and Bible study in which he had been trained from childhood. But another testing-time awaited him, a further experience of the weakness of his own heart, out of which he was to be brought into a life of stedfast dependence upon the Lord for keeping as well as saving grace.
For though real and true as far as it went, this improvement in his spiritual condition was more or less evanescent. There were the ups and downs so characteristic of childhood, and from the point of view of later years he seems hardly to have considered it a true " conversion " at all. At any rate it did not stand the test when, a little later, he found himself plunged into an atmosphere of worldliness and unbelief.
This unlooked-for experience began in 1847, when at fifteen years of age he went as junior clerk into one of the best banks in Barnsley. An opening having occurred, his father was anxious that he should avail himself of it, feeling that whatever the future might bring he would always be thankful for a thorough business training. Out of many applicants Hudson was chosen, and after eighteen months at home entered with high hopes upon the duties of his new position.
The daily routine in which he was now engaged did undoubtedly prove of value in preparing him for responsibilities as yet unforeseen. He was well drilled in accountkeeping and business correspondence, and in the absolute necessity for promptness and accuracy in financial matters. He also found his level in a little corner of the busy world, and learned to do his part as a man among men. But he was not ready, spiritually, to stand alone. Indeed he was not standing firm in Christ at all, and was easily carried away by the ungodliness of those around him.
For most of his new associates were thoroughly worldly. Sceptical views to which he was a stranger were freely discussed among them, and religion seldom spoken of without a sneer. To add to these dangers, the lad came under the influence of an older clerk who, though handsome and popular, was anything but a desirable friend. He took every occasion to laugh at what he called Hudson's "old fashioned notions," and did all he could to make him as light-minded as himself.
" I well remember," Hudson wrote a few years later, " how I used to wish for money and a fine horse and house when I was in the Bank. Then my whole heart was set on this world's pleasures, and I longed to go hunting as some did who were about me. What a mercy that I had to leave that place ! "
It was weary work, with a heart set on this world's pleasures, to try to keep up the outward forms of Christian life. Yet he struggled to do so for a time. " Religious duties," however, could not satisfy, and were a poor substitute for the living Christ. He longed for gaiety and distraction ; ambitions that could not be realised made him miserable, and the sceptical views of his companions for a time carried him away. But the faithfulness of God did not fail.
In another letter he wrote of this period: I began to set too great a value on the things of this world, and to neglect private prayer. Religious duties became irksome to me, and I fell from grace. But God in His infinite mercy caused my eyesight to fail, and I had to leave the Bank.
This was no doubt a bitter disappointment to the lad himself if not to his parents. Overtime-work by gas-light had brought on serious inflammation of the eyes. Nothing seemed to relieve them, and after nine months at bookkeeping he was obliged to resign his position and return to the more varied duties of assistant in his father's shop.
But the unhappy state into which he had fallen continued long after he left the bank. His sight recovered and outwardly all went well, for the restraining grace of God kept him from open evil. But inwardly he was rebellious and full of unbelief. At times he knew himself to be in " a sinful and dangerous state " from which he struggled in vain to be free. At other times he tried to believe that his friends in the bank were right, and there really was no God and no hereafter.
There is something deeply touching about his own reference to these experiences, revealing as it does the exercise of soul through which an apparently careless lad may pass unknown to those around him
Often had I tried to make myself a Christian, and failing of course in such efforts, I began to think that for some reason or other I could not be saved, and that the best I could do was to take my fill of this world, as there was no hope for me beyond the grave. While in this state of mind I came in contact with persons holding sceptical and infidel views, and quickly accepted their teachings, only too thankful for some hope of escape from the doom which if my parents were right and the Bible true awaited the ungodly.
He had certainly travelled far in those difficult years from the love and faith of childhood. And there had yet to be sad revelations of his own heart ere he was to know that wonderful rest of faith into which he was privileged to lead so many others. Meanwhile the unrest deepened, and he began to prove how little the world has to give in exchange for the presence and blessing of God.
Needless to say, this state of things marred the happiness of home and overclouded his naturally sunny disposition. He was all wrong, and his parents could not but see it. The father tried to help him, but found it hard to be patient with the phase through which he was passing. The mother understood him better, and redoubled her tenderness and prayers. But it was his sister Amelia, now thirteen years of age, who was nearest to him and best able to win his confidence.
To her he could speak more freely than to grown-up people and his indifference and unhappiness so affected her that she determined to pray for him three times everyday until he was really converted. This she did for some weeks, going alone to plead with God for the salvation of her brother, and even making a note in her journal that she would never cease to pray for him until he was brought into the light, and that she believed her petitions would be answered before long.
Thus wearied by failure, harassed by doubt, disappointed in all he had most wished to do and be, Hudson Taylor drew near the crisis of his life, held by the faith and prayers of a few loving hearts that did know their God.
" It may seem strange," he said in later years, " but I have often felt thankful for this time of scepticism. The inconsistencies of Christian people who while professing to believe the Bible were yet content to live just as they would if there were no such book, had been one of the strongest arguments of my sceptical companions ; and I frequently felt at that time, and said, that if I pretended to believe the Bible I would at any rate attempt to live by it, putting it fairly to the test, and if it failed to prove true and reliable, would throw it overboard altogether. These views I retained when the Lord was pleased to bring me to Himself. And I think I may say that since then I have put God's Word to the test. Certainly it has never failed me. I have never had reason to regret the confidence I have placed in its promises, or to deplore following the guidance I have found in its directions.
" And now let me tell you how God answered the prayers of my mother and of my beloved sister, now Mrs. Broomhall, for my conversion.
" On a day I can never forget, . . . my dear mother being absent from home, I had a holiday, and in the afternoon looked through my father's library to find some book with which to while away the unoccupied hours. Nothing attracting me, I turned over a basket of pamphlets and selected from amongst them a Gospel tract that looked interesting, saying to myself : ' There will be a story at the commencement and a sermon or moral at the close. I will take the former and leave the latter for those who like it.'
" I sat down to read the book in an utterly unconcerned state of mind, believing indeed at the time that if there were any salvation it was not for me, and with a distinct intention to put away the tract as soon as it should seem prosy. I may say that it was not uncommon in those days to call conversion `becoming serious'; and judging by the faces of some of its professors it appeared to be a very serious matter indeed ! Would it not be well if the people of God had always tell-tale faces, evincing the blessings and gladness of salvation so clearly that unconverted people might have to call conversion ' becoming joyful ' instead of ' becoming serious ' ?
" Little did I know at the time what was going on in the heart of my dear mother, seventy or eighty miles away. She rose from the dinnertable that afternoon with an intense yearning for the conversion of her boy ; and feeling that, absent from home and having more leisure than she could otherwise secure, a special opportunity was afforded her of pleading with God on my behalf. She went to her room and turned the key in the door, resolved not to leave the spot until her prayers were answered. Hour after hour that dear mother pleaded, until at length she could pray no longer, but was constrained to praise God for that which His Spirit taught her had already been accomplished, the conversion of her only son.
" I in the meantime had been led in the way I have mentioned to take up this little tract, and while reading it was struck with the phrase : ` The finished work of Christ.'
"'Why does the author use this expression?' I questioned. `Why not say the atoning or propitiatory work of Christ ? '
" Immediately the words ` It is finished ' suggested themselves to my mind." ` What was finished ?'
" And I at once replied,' A full and perfect atonement and satisfaction for sin. The debt was paid for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.'
" Then came the further thought, ` If the whole work was finished and the whole debt paid, what is there left for me to do ?'
" And with this dawned the joyful conviction, as light was flashed into my soul by the Holy Spirit, that there was nothing in the world to be done but to fall down on one's knees and accepting this Saviour and His salvation praise Him for evermore."
Nothing either great or small,
Nothing, sinner, no:
Jesus died and did it all,
Long, long ago.
` It is finished," yes, indeed,
Finished every jot.
Sinner, this is all you need,
Tell me, is it not ?
When He from His lofty throne
Stooped to do and die,
Everything was fully done
Listen to His cry.
Weary, working, burdened one,
Wherefore toil you so?
Cease your doing, all was done,
Long, long ago.
Cast your deadly doing down,
Down at Jesus' feet ;
Stand in Him, in Him alone,
"Thus while my dear mother was praising God on her knees in her chamber, I was praising Him in the old warehouse to which I had gone alone to read at my leisure this little book.
" Several days elapsed ere I ventured to make my beloved sister the confidante of my joy, and then only after she had promised not to tell any one of my soul-secret. When Mother returned a fortnight later I was the first to meet her at the door and to tell her I had such glad news to give. I can almost feel that dear mother's arms round my neck as she pressed me to her heart and said:
"' I know, my boy. I have been rejoicing for a fortnight in the glad tidings you have to tell.'
" ` Why,' I asked in surprise, ' has Amelia broken her promise ? She said she would tell no one.'
" My dear mother assured me that it was not from any human source she had learned the tidings, and went on to tell the incident mentioned above. You will agree with me that it would be strange indeed if I were not a believer in the power of prayer.
" Nor was this all. Some time after, I picked up a pocket-book exactly like my own, and thinking it was mine, opened it. The lines that caught my eye were an entry in the little diary belonging to my sister, to the effect that she would give herself daily to prayer until God should answer in the conversion of her brother. One month later the Lord was pleased to turn me from darkness to light.
" Brought up in such a circle and saved under such circumstances, it was perhaps natural that from the commencement of my Christian life I was led to feel that the promises were very real, and that prayer was in sober matter of fact transacting business with God, whether on one's own behalf or on the behalf of those for whom one sought His blessing."
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