We thank Thee, Lord, for pilgrim days When desert springs were dry, When first we knew what depths of need Thy love could satisfy. —Selected
Over the political horizon, storm clouds had long been gathering, and the very mail that brought tidings of the arrest of Mr. Burns told also of the outbreak of hostilities between England and China. It was at Ningpo that Hudson Taylor heard of the bombardment of Canton by the British ﬂeet, and the commencement of the war which did not finally terminate until four years later. His first thought, naturally, was for Mr. Burns. What a mercy that he was no longer at Swatow, exposed to the rage of that hotheaded southern people!
As you are aware [he wrote to his sister in November] I have been detained in Ningpo by various circumstances, and a sufficient cause has at length appeared in the disturbances which have broken out in the South. The latest news we now have is that Canton has been bombarded for two days, a breach being made on the second, and that the British entered the city, the Viceroy refusing to give any satisfaction. We are anxiously awaiting later and fuller accounts. … I know not the merits of the present course of action … and therefore refrain from writing my thoughts about it. But I would just refer to the goodness of God in removing Mr. Burns from Swatow IN TIME. For if one may judge the feelings of the Cantonese in Swatow by what one sees here at present, it would go hard with any one at their mercy.
So, already, the circumstance that had seemed a great calamity was being recognized as among the “all things” that work together for good “to them that love God.” It was one of not a few hard lessons through which Hudson Taylor was learning to think of God as The One Great Circumstance of Life, and of ALL lesser, external circumstances as necessarily the kindest, wisest, best, because either ordered or permitted by Him. And it was not long before he came to see in his detention in Ningpo another remarkable evidence of the love and care of God. For it was there he was brought into contact with the life that was so perfectly to complete his own.
In the southern section of the city, near the ancient pagoda, was a quiet street between two lakes which went by the name of Bridge Street. There Dr. Parker had opened a dispensary, a mile or two from his hospital, and there as autumn was advancing Hudson Taylor was glad to find a temporary home. The little place is of interest, as later on it was to be the first station of the China Inland Mission — working now from hundreds of centers throughout many provinces. Looking back upon those early days, Mr. Taylor wrote:
I have a distinct remembrance of tracing my initials on the snow which during the night had collected on my coverlet in the large, barnlike upper room now divided into four or five smaller ones, each of which is comfortably ceiled. The tiling of a Chinese house may keep off the rain, if it happens to be sound, but does not afford so good protection against snow, which will beat up through the crannies and crevices and find its way within. But however unfinished may have been its fittings, the little house was well adapted for work among the people, and there I thankfully settled, finding ample scope for service, morning, noon and night.
The only other foreigners in that part of the city were Mr. and Mrs. J. Jones, also of the Chinese Evangelization Society, and a lady who with two young helpers was carrying on a remarkably successful school for girls, the first ever opened in China. This Miss Aldersey was fortunate in having secured the assistance of the daughters of the Rev. Samuel Dyer, who had been one of the earliest missionaries to the Chinese and a colleague of Robert Morrison’s.
When Mr. and Mrs. Jones and their family came to live not far from the school, the younger of the sisters found many opportunities of being helpful to the busy mother. As often as possible they went out visiting in the neighborhood, Miss Dyer’s ﬂuency in the language making such work a pleasure. Young as she was, not yet twenty, and much occupied with her school duties, this bright, gifted girl was a real soul-winner. With her, missionary work was not teaching merely, it was definitely leading people to Christ.
This was what drew out Hudson Taylor’s interest. For in the home of his fellow workers he could not but meet Miss Dyer from time to time, and could not but be attracted. She was so frank and natural that they were soon good friends, and she proved so like-minded in all important ways that unconsciously almost to himself she began to fill a place in his heart never filled before.
But before long the friendship was interrupted by unexpected happenings which broke up the missionary community in Ningpo. A plot was discovered to massacre all foreigners, and though thwarted in their design, the hatred of the Cantonese throughout the district was so great that it seemed necessary to send families with children to the coast. His familiarity with the Shanghai dialect made Hudson Taylor the most suitable escort for the party, and hard though it was to leave at such a time he could not refuse this service.
Miss Aldersey was not to be persuaded to seek a place of greater safety. On account of advancing age, she was handing over her school to the American Presbyterian Mission. It was no time for unnecessary changes, and taking what precautions were possible she encouraged her young helpers to remain with her. The elder of the sisters had become engaged to Hudson Taylor’s special friend, Mr. J. S. Burdon, and the younger seemed the more lonely and unprotected by comparison. How hard it was to leave her at such a time! But Hudson Taylor had no reason to suppose that his presence would be any comfort. And besides — was he not trying to forget?
For one thing, he realized keenly how little he had to offer the one he loved. His position as an agent of the Chinese Evangelization Society had of late become increasingly embarrassing.
For some time he had known that the Society was in debt and that his salary was paid from borrowed money.
Personally [he wrote, recalling the circumstances] I had always avoided debt, though at times only by very careful economy. Now there was no difficulty in doing this, for my income was larger, but the Society itself was in debt. The quarterly bills which I and others were instructed to draw were often met with borrowed money, and a correspondence commenced which terminated in the following year by my resigning from conscientious motives.
To me it seemed that the teaching of God’s Word was unmistakably clear: “Owe no man anything.” To borrow money implied to my mind a contradiction of Scripture — a confession that God had withheld some good thing, and a determination to get for ourselves what He had not given. Could that which was wrong for one Christian be right for an association of Christians? Or could any amount of precedents make a wrong course justifiable? If the Word taught me anything, it taught me to have no connection with debt. I could not think that God was poor, that He was short of resources, or unwilling to supply any want of whatever work was really His. It seemed to me that if there were lack of funds to carry on work, then to that degree, in that special development, or at that time, it could not be the work of God. To satisfy my conscience I was therefore compelled to resign my connection with the Society. …
It was a great satisfaction to me that my friend and colleague, Mr. Jones, … was led to take the same step, and we were both profoundly thankful that the separation took place without the least breach of friendly feeling on either side. …
The step we had taken was not a little trying to faith. I was not at all sure what God would have me do or whether He would so meet my need as to enable me to continue working as before. … But God blessed and prospered me, and how glad and thankful I felt when the separation was really effected! I could look right up into my Father’s face with a satisfied heart, ready by His grace to do the next thing as He might teach me, and feeling very sure of His loving care.
And how blessedly He did lead me I can never, never tell. It was like a continuation of some of my earlier experiences at home. My faith was not untried; it often, often failed, and I was so sorry and ashamed of the failure to trust such a Father. But oh! I was learning to know Him. I would not ever then have missed the trial. He became so near, so real, so intimate! The occasional difficulty about funds never came from an insufficient supply for personal needs, but in consequence of ministering to the wants of scores of the hungry and dying around us. And trials far more searching in other ways quite eclipsed these difficulties and being deeper brought forth in consequence richer fruits.
The poor whom they were feeding that winter were famine refugees who had crowded to Shanghai from districts devastated by the Taiping Rebellion. In all stages of nakedness, sickness and starvation, these sufferers were living in low, arched tombs which they had broken open, or in any discarded building half in ruins. In addition to taking charge of one of the chapels of the London Mission, Hudson Taylor was preaching daily in the City Temple, but he made time to visit these haunts of misery with Mr. Jones, ministering regularly to the sick and feeding many of the hungry.
Thus it was from no lack of occupation that his thoughts turned constantly to Ningpo, nor was it without misgiving that he found himself so urgently impelled to consider the question of marriage. “Never marry if you can help it” is cryptic advice which may easily me misunderstood, but Hudson Taylor was finding out its meaning. For a great, God-given love had come to him, and there was no disguising its implications.
Meanwhile, in Ningpo, the same gracious Providence was working, though there was much more in the way of hindrance to overcome. The difficulty, however, was not on the part of the one most concerned. Maria Dyer’s was a deep and tender nature. Lonely from childhood, she had grown up longing for a real heart-friend. Her father she could hardly remember, and her mother had died when she was only ten years old. Her true conversion, when on the way to China to join Miss Aldersey, made missionary work very different from what it would otherwise have been, but it was a lonely post for a girl still in her teens, especially after her sister became engaged to be married.
And then, he had come — the young missionary who impressed her as having longings like her own after holiness, usefulness, nearness to God. He was different from others — not more gifted or attractive, though he was bright and pleasing and full of quiet fun, but with a something about him that made her feel rested and understood. He seemed to live in such a real world and to have such a real, great God. Though she saw but little of him it was a comfort to know that he was near, and she was startled to find how much she missed him when after only seven weeks he left to return to Swatow.
And then the way was closed, as we have seen, and to her joy as well as surprise, he was back in Ningpo again. Perhaps it was this that opened her eyes to the feeling with which she was beginning to regard him. At any rate she soon knew and with her sweet true nature did not try to hide it from her own heart and God. There was no one else to whom she cared to speak about him, for others did not always see in him what she saw. They disliked his wearing Chinese dress, and did not approve of his making himself so entirely one with the people. His Chinese dress — how she loved it! or what it represented, rather, of his spirit. His poverty and generous giving to the destitute — how well she understood, how much she sympathized! Did others think him visionary in his longing to reach the great beyond of untouched need? Why, that was just the burden on her heart, the life she too would live, only for a woman it seemed if anything more impracticable. So she prayed much about her friend, though to him she showed but little.
Month after month went by, when he had to be in Shanghai, and she did not know it cost him anything to leave her. And then, at last — a letter! Sudden as was the joy, the great and wonderful joy, it was no surprise, only a quiet outshining of what had long shone within. So she was not mistaken after all. They WERE for one another — “two whom God hath chosen to walk together before Him.”
When she could break away from her first glad thanksgiving she went to find her sister, who was most sympathetic. The next thing was to tell Miss Aldersey, hoping she would approve this engagement as she had Burella’s. But great was the indignation with which the older lady heard the story.
“Mr. Taylor! that young, poor, unconnected Nobody. How dare he presume to think of such a thing? Of course the proposal must be refused at once, and that finally.”
In vain Maria tried to explain how much he was to her. That only made matters worse. She must be saved without delay from such folly. And her kind friend, with the best intentions, proceeded to take the matter entirely into her own hands. The result was a letter written almost at Miss Aldersey’s dictation, not only closing the whole affair but requesting most decidedly that it might never be reopened.
Bewildered and heartbroken, the poor girl had no choice. She was too young and inexperienced, and far too shy in such matters, to withstand the decision of Miss Aldersey, strongly reinforced by others of her friends. Stung to the quick with grief and shame, she could only leave it in the hands of her heavenly Father. He knew, He understood. And in the long, lonely days that followed, even when her sister was won over to Miss Aldersey’s position, she took refuge in the certainty that nothing, NOTHING was too hard for the Lord. “If He has to slay my Isaac,” she assured herself again and again, “I know He can restore.”
But when spring came again and the absentees were able to return from Shanghai, the position became increasingly difficult. For Miss Aldersey, indignant at Hudson Taylor’s reappearance, felt it her duty to disparage him in every possible way. He could not attempt to see Miss Dyer, after the letter she had written, and had no clue to her true attitude. Gifted and attractive, she had no lack of suitors who were openly encouraged. And Chinese etiquette combined with well-meant diplomacy made it almost impossible for the two to meet. But both were praying. Both hearts so sorely tried were open to God, truly desiring His will. And He has wonderful ways of working!
It was a sultry afternoon in July, and in regular rotation it had come to Mrs. Jones’ turn to be hostess for the prayer meeting.
The usual number of ladies gathered, but as the sequel proved it was easier to come to the meeting that day than to get away. For with scarcely any warning a waterspout, sweeping up the tidal river, broke over Ningpo in a perfect deluge followed by torrents of rain. Mr. Jones and Hudson Taylor, by this time a boarder in their family, were over at the dispensary, and on account of the ﬂooded streets were late in returning. Most of the visitors had left before they reached home, but a servant from the school was there who said that Miss Maria Dyer and a companion were still waiting for sedan chairs.
“Go into my study,” said Mr. Jones, “and I will see what can be arranged.”
It was not long before he returned, saying that the ladies were alone with Mrs. Jones, and would be glad to see Mr. Taylor.
Hardly knowing what he did, the young man went upstairs and found himself meeting the one he supremely loved. True there were others present — that was unavoidable on account of Chinese conventions. But he hardly saw them, hardly saw anything but her face. He had only meant to ask if he might write to her guardian in London — for permission. But now it all came out, he could not help it! And she? Well, there were only intimate friends with them, and it might be so long before they could meet again! Yes, she consented, and did much more than that. With a true women’s heart, she relieved his fears by letting him understand that he was just as dear to her as she could be to him. And then Hudson Taylor relieved the situation by saying, “Let us take it all to the Lord in prayer.”
Four months was a long, long time to wait, especially when they knew that Miss Aldersey had written home to bring the distant relatives to her own point of view. What if the guardian in London should be inﬂuenced by her strong representations? What if he refused his consent to the marriage? Both the young people were clear in their convictions that the blessing of God rested upon obedience to parents, or those in parental authority.
I have never known [Mr. Taylor wrote in later years] disobedience to the definite command of a parent, even if that parent were mistaken, that was not followed by retribution. Conquer through the Lord. He can open any door [Mr. Taylor was then dealing specially with the question of a call to missionary work, the consent of one or both parents being withheld]. The responsibility is with the parent in such a case, and it is a serious one. When the son or daughter can say in all sincerity, “I am waiting for Thee, Lord, to open the way,” the matter is in His hands and He will take it up.
And take it up He did; for toward the end of November the long-looked-for letters came, and were favorable! After careful inquiry, the uncle in London had satisfied himself that Hudson Taylor was a missionary of unusual promise. The secretaries of the Chinese Evangelization Society had nothing but good to say of him, and from other sources also he had the highest references. Taking, therefore, any disquieting rumors he may have heard for no more than they were worth, he cordially consented to his niece’s engagement, requesting only that the marriage should be delayed until she came of age. And that would be in little more than two months’ time.
After that they were openly engaged, and how those happy winter days made up for all that had gone before! On Saturday, January 16, the bride-elect would be twenty-one years of age, and the wedding was arranged for the week following.
I never felt in better health or spirits in my life [wrote Hudson Taylor] … I can scarcely realize, dear Mother, what has happened; that after all the agony and suspense we have suffered we are not only at liberty to meet and be much with each other, but that within a few days, D.V., we are to be married! God HAS been good to us. He has indeed answered our prayer and taken our part against the mighty. Oh, may we walk more closely with Him and serve Him more faithfully. I wish you knew my Precious One. She is such a treasure! She is all that I desire.
And then, six weeks later:
Oh, to be married to the one you DO love, and love most tenderly and devotedly … that is bliss beyond the power of words to express or imagination conceive. There is no disappointment THERE. And every day as it shows more of the mind of your Beloved, when you have such a treasure as mine, makes you only more proud, more happy, more humbly thankful to the Giver of all good for this best of earthly gifts.