Friday, August 29, 2008

Forty Years in South China The Blossoming Desert

"In tropical lands, when the rain comes, what was barren baked earth, in a day or two is rich meadow, all ablaze with flowers, and the dry torrent beds, where the stones lay white and glistening ghastly in the hot sunshine, are foaming with rushing streams and fringed with budding oleanders." Such a spiritual transformation it was the glad privilege of our missionaries to witness in the region of Amoy during the years 1854 and 1855. Until then, to the eye of man only an occasional seed had burst its way through the stone-crusted earth and given a shadow of harvest hope. The first four years of prayer and testimony from 1842-1846 were definitely and visibly rewarded with only two converts.
When Mr. Talmage arrived at Amoy in 1847 the total church membership was three. By 1850 it had grown to five. By the end of 1851 the seed had brought forth nearly fourfold. There were nineteen converts. This was the harbinger of brighter days. Even during the troublous times of 1853 signs of awakening appeared. In the midst of war and rumors of war the native brethren had proposed to enter the "regions beyond" Chiangchiu and Chinchew. The faithful preaching of Doty and Talmage in the chapels and on the streets of Amoy city, among the towns and villages of Amoy Island and the mainland; the apostolic labors of William Burns, whose joy it was to sow beside all waters,-these had found acceptance with God and with the people. Inquirers multiplied at the chapels. They came from among the shopkeepers and boatmen of Amoy, from cities and towns along the arms of the sea and up the inland rivers, from remote country hamlets beyond the mountains.
Mr. Talmage's letters during 1854 and 1855 tell of the great awakening.
"This year , thus far, has been one of unusual blessing, a year 'of the right hand of the Most High.' Early in January, knowing that there were a few individuals desirous of receiving Christian baptism, we appointed a meeting for the examination of such, and also for personal conversation with all others who might feel an especial interest in Christianity. We were agreeably surprised to find the number of inquirers and candidates for baptism much greater than we had supposed. We also found among the inquirers an unusual tenderness of conscience, and sense of sinfulness, and anxiety for the salvation of the soul. Seeing such evidence that the Holy Spirit was shedding abroad His quickening influences among this people, we appointed a similar interview for the week following.
"These meetings for the examination and instruction of inquirers we have continued almost every week, and occasionally twice a week, till the present time. Sometimes the inquirers present have numbered thirty or forty, perhaps more. At times, moreover, the depth of feeling manifested has been such that the eyes of every one present have been suffused with tears. These meetings, we trust, have been very profitable, as well as interesting."
"On Sabbath, March 26th, we were permitted to receive into the fellowship of the Christian Church ten individuals, eight men and two women, the eldest a widow woman aged sixty-eight, the youngest a young man aged twenty." "On the last Sabbath in May, we again received nine persons, six men and three women, the eldest an old man aged seventy-four, the youngest a young man aged twenty-three."
"On the thirtieth of July , we again baptized nine others, four men and five women, the eldest a widow aged fifty-one, the youngest a girl aged sixteen. Thus the whole number of adults baptized by us at Amoy during the present year, thus far, is twenty-eight."
He cites individual cases. Speaking of an aged widow he says:
"She lives at a village some fifteen miles or more from Amoy. Boats coming from that place to this place land at a wharf near my house. On one occasion, when she arrived here a few months ago, she resolved to come to my house, and see how the foreigners lived. On entering, she was met by the Christian who has charge of the chapel. He asked her business. She said that she only came for amusement. He replied, 'This is not a place to visit for amusement, but to hear the doctrine.' 'Well,' says she, 'then I will hear the doctrine.' He explained to her something of the truths of Christianity. He told her also that after breakfast I should be in the chapel for morning worship. She went back to the neighbor's house whence she had come, to wait until after breakfast. But the new doctrine which she had heard, took so deep a hold on her mind, that she desired no breakfast for herself. Soon she again came to hear more. She was deeply impressed with the truth and importance of the things which she heard. She reasoned with herself thus: 'The myriads of people I meet with do not know what is in my heart, but these people tell me what is in my heart and in my bones. This doctrine cannot be of man. It must be the great power of God.' She was poor and lived at a distance from Amoy. She learned that the Christian who had charge of the chapel was of the same surname with herself. She inquired whether she might not come down next Saturday, and lodge with his family. She said she would bring with her some dried potatoes for her food. Of course her request was readily granted. From that time to the present, she has come the whole distance from her village to Amoy almost every week, in order to hear the Gospel. She has two sons and one daughter. She has brought both her sons with her, desiring that they also may become Christians. The eldest, aged seventeen, is among our inquirers. She has also brought some of her neighbors with her to hear the Word. She has met with much opposition and persecution; but so far as we can learn, she has borne all with the meekness of a true disciple of Christ. Since her baptism, she has rented a room in Amoy, that she may live within sound of the Gospel. When she told me of this, I asked her how she expected to maintain herself, and whether she thought she should be able to earn a living at Amoy. She replied that she trusted in God. If she could not get as good food as others, she would eat coarser food.
"There is still a goodly number of inquirers at Amoy. In our meeting for conversation with them to-day; we met with two very affecting cases. They are lads, the elder being in his seventeenth year, and the younger in his thirteenth. Their parents and friends bitterly oppose them in their determination to follow Christ.
"They have been severely beaten. The elder was severely scourged yesterday. This morning he was again tied up in a very painful manner, and beaten by his cruel father. He carried the marks of his sufferings on his arms, which we saw. We were told that he had scars also on other parts of his body. We trust that they are 'the marks of the Lord Jesus.' A brother, still younger than themselves, we are told, also worships Jesus. If they are, indeed, lambs of Christ's flock, the blessed Saviour will take care of them; but their severe afflictions should call forth much sympathy and prayer in their behalf.
"The conduct of our church members continues to give us much comfort. They are not free from faults. They need much careful oversight and exhortation and instruction. In consequence of this, our cares, anxieties, and labors must necessarily increase as the converts increase. But if allowance be made for their limited knowledge, only a short time having elapsed since the most of them first heard the Gospel, there are probably but few churches, even in our own beloved country, compared with which the Christian character of this little flock would suffer. Were it not for the Christian activity of our members, so many of them abounding in good works, our operations here would necessarily be confined within much narrower limits. Almost every one seems to be impressed with the truth, that he or she is to improve every opportunity to speak a word for Christ. Many of them are quite effective speakers. The heathen are often astonished to hear men from the lower walks of life, who previously had not had the benefit of any education, and are yet perhaps unable to read, speak with such fluency, and reason with such power concerning the things of God, as to silence all their adversaries, even though they be men of education."
Speaking of the awakening at Peh-chui-ia, a market-town once under our care, now under the care of the English Presbyterians, Mr. Talmage continues:
"We have been specially interested in their lively faith, their praying spirit, their earnestness in the study of the Holy Scriptures, and, as a consequence of all this, their joy in the Holy Ghost.
"The house first rented was found too small and uncomfortable for our work. The adjoining house, of about the same size, and the upper part of the next house, have since been rented, and doors opened through the walls. Thus we have several rooms for lodging and conversation, and also for holding more private meetings than we could in the chapel. The members and inquirers spend the greater part of the Sabbath at the mission premises studying the Scriptures, listening to the preaching of the Word, and in religious conversation and prayer. They go home only for their meals, and some not even for that. A part of them spend much of their time there in similar employments on other days of the week. When we have been with them, we have been much gratified by seeing their earnestness in the study of the Scriptures. They are continually coming to us for explanation of passages which they cannot understand. Often the voice of prayer will be heard from all parts of the house at once. They are but babes in Christ; yet their knowledge of the Scriptures is remarkable. We feel it good for our own souls to be among them."
This market-town owed much to the earnest labors of Rev. W. C. Burns, whose words and manner of life are still a fragrant memory among the brethren there. He was the first English Presbyterian missionary to China. He arrived in 1847. For the first four years he carried on evangelistic work at Hongkong and Canton. He came to Amoy in 1851.
Mr. Talmage alludes to a family at Peh-chui-ia who had endured much for Christ's sake.
"This family have been twice plundered. Once their house was set on fire by a band of robbers, and everything was destroyed, themselves only escaping with their lives by a remarkable providence." "These afflictions seem to have been employed by the Spirit of God in preparing their hearts for the reception of the Gospel. On the first announcement of the Word, they were deeply impressed with its truth. The father, however, had a hard struggle; and the opposition from his neighbors was too much for him at the first. At one time, he resolved to run away from the place altogether. At another time he meditated drowning himself. While in this state of mind, he derived much benefit from the counsel and earnest entreaties of his wife. She exhorted and besought him to exhibit the meekness and endurance taught by the meek and suffering Saviour. He who never suffers His people to be tempted above that they are able to bear, at length raised him above the fear of man, and established his goings. On one occasion, when we were conversing with him, it was suggested that he might again be robbed. He replied that he did not believe he should be, for he now trusted in God. We suggested, 'Perhaps the very fact that you have turned from idols to the service of the true God, may lead the enemies of the Gospel to band together and plunder you.' He answered, 'I do not believe that they will. They will not, except it be the will of God. If it be His will, I also am willing.' On one occasion it was suggested that he might even be brought before magistrates because of the Gospel. He answered that he had no anxiety on that subject. When the time came the Holy Ghost would teach him what to speak. He has since had his faith put to the test, but his confidence was not disappointed. The enemies of the Gospel banded together to demand of him money as his share of the expenses of some idolatrous celebration, resolving, if he refused to pay the money, to plunder his establishment. A crowd collected at his door to carry the resolution into effect. They made their demand for the money. But he was enabled to speak to them with such power that they trembled in his presence, it is said, and were glad to leave him alone."
Mr. Talmage writes of the great change in a man notoriously wicked, who at fifty-one years of age yielded to Christ.
"For thirty-one years he was addicted to the smoking of opium. When the brethren first saw him, he seemed just ready to fall into the grave. He also had a bad reputation throughout the town, being accustomed to meddling with other people's business. He was a man of good natural abilities, and the people feared him. He has given up his opium and his other vile practices. His whole character seems to have undergone a change. He also has been called, as have all the others in that town, to experience persecution. His enemies are those of his own house. His opium-smoking, and all his other wickedness, they could endure; but they cannot endure his Christianity, his temperance, his meek and quiet spirit. One of my visits to Peh-chui-ia was on the day after his friends had been manifesting, especial opposition to him. I found him greatly rejoicing that he had been called to suffer persecution for Christ's sake, and that he had been enabled to bear it so meekly. He said the Holy Scriptures had been verified, referring to Matthew v.11, 12. He said that he had been enabled to preach the Gospel to those who had met to oppose him for two hours, until his voice failed him. He was still quite hoarse from his much speaking. He had told them of the change which he had experienced through the power of the Holy Spirit on his heart; but he also said he knew they could not understand his meaning, when he spoke of the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. If they would worship Jesus, however, and pray to the Holy Spirit to change their hearts, as his had been changed, then they would understand him."
An interesting case narrated in the life of W. C. Burns is that of Si-boo, who afterwards went as an evangelist among his own countrymen at Singapore.
"On Mr. Burns' first visit to Pechuia, he found amongst the foremost and most interesting of his hearers, a youth of about eighteen or twenty, called Si-boo.
"Of stature rather under the average of his countrymen, with an eye and countenance more open than usual, and a free and confiding manner, he soon attracted the attention of the missionary. His position in life was above the class of common mechanics, and his education rather good for his position. His occupation was to carve small idols in wood for the houses of his idolatrous countrymen, of every variety of style and workmanship, some plain and cheap, and some of the most elaborate and costly description. Had Si-boo been of the spirit of Demetrius, he would have opposed and persecuted Mr. Burns for bringing his craft into danger. But instead of that, he manifested a spirit of earnest, truthful inquiry, although that inquiry was one in which all the prepossessions, and prejudices, and passions of mind and heart were against the truth--an inquiry in which all the influence of friends, and all his prospects in life, were cast into the wrong balance. By the grace of God he made that solemn inquiry with such simplicity and sincerity, that it soon led to an entire conviction of the truth of our religion, and that to a decided profession of faith at all hazards; and these hazards, in such a place as Pechuia, were neither few nor small-far greater than at Amoy, where the presence of a large body of converts, and a considerable English community, and a British flag, might seem to hold out a prospect of both protection and support in time of need, though such protection and temporal aid have never been relied on by even our Amoy converts, still less encouraged.
"One of the first sacrifices to which Si-boo was called was a great one. His trade of idol-carver must be given up, and with that his only means of support; and that means both respectable and lucrative to a skillful hand like his. But to his credit he did not hesitate. He at once threw it up and cast himself on the providence of God, and neither asked nor received any assistance from the missionary, but at once set himself to turn his skill as a carver in a new and legitimate direction. He became a carver of beads for bracelets and other ornaments, and was soon able to support himself and assist his mother in this way. One advantage of this new trade was, that it was portable. With a few small knives, and a handful of olive-stones, he could prosecute his work wherever he liked to take his seat, and he frequently took advantage of this to prosecute his Master's work, while he was diligent in his own. Sometimes he would take his seat on the 'Gospel Boat' when away on some evangelistic enterprise; and while we were slowly rowing up some river or creek, or scudding away before a favorable wind to some distant port, Si-boo would be busy at work on his beads; but as soon as we reached our destination, the beads and tools were thrust into his pouch, and with his Bible and a few tracts in his hand, he was off to read or talk to the people, and leave his silent messengers behind him."
During the same year , Mr. Doty wrote a letter to Mr. Burns while in Scotland, in regard to the awakening at Chioh-be, a large town of 30,000 inhabitants, eight miles northwest of Peh-chui-ia. An extract reads as follows:
"But what shall I tell you of the Lord's visitation of mercy at Chioh-be? Again, truly, are we as those that dream. The general features of the work are very similar to what you witnessed at Pechui-ia. The instrumentality has been native brethren almost entirely. Attention was first awakened in one or two by I-ju and Tick-jam, who went to Chioh-be together.
"This was two or three months ago. This was followed up by repeated visits of other brethren from Pechui-ia and Amoy. Shortly the desire to hear the Word was so intense, that there would be scarcely any stop day or night; the brethren in turns going, and breaking down from much speaking in the course of three or four days, and coming back to us almost voiceless."
On the 30th of August, 1854, Mr. Talmage wrote, enclosing the subjoined appeal of the church at Peh-chui-ia for a missionary. It is addressed to the American Board, which these brethren call "the Public Society." A duplicate letter was sent at the same time to Mr. Burns to be presented to the Board of Foreign Missions of the English Presbyterian Church. "They tell us," says Mr. Talmage, "that every sentence has been prayed over. According to their own statement, they would write a sentence, and then pray, and then write another sentence, and then pray again."
"By the mercy and grace of God, called to be little children of the Saviour Jesus, we send this letter to the Public Society, desiring that God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, may bestow grace and peace on all the saints connected with the Public Society. We desire you to know the boundless grace and favor of God towards us, and in behalf of us, little children, heartily to thank God because that the announcement of God's grace has been conveyed by your nation to our nation, and to our province, even to Amoy, and to our market-town Peh-chui-ia. We desire the Public Society to be thoroughly informed, so that they may very heartily thank God and the Lord Jesus Christ; for we at Peh-chui-ia originally dwelt in the region of death and gloomy darkness, a place under the curse of God, and were exposed to God's righteous punishment. But many thanks to God's compassion and mercy, the Holy Spirit influenced the pastors of your nation to send holy brethren , in company with the English pastor, the teacher, William Burns, unto our market town, to unfold the holy announcement of grace, and preach the Gospel. Many thanks to God, whose grace called several brethren, by day and by night, to listen to the preaching of the Gospel, for the space of four months. Many thanks to the Holy Spirit, who opened our darkened hearts, and led us unto the Saviour Jesus, whose precious blood delivers from sin. By the grace of God five persons were received into the Church and baptized. Again, two months afterwards four persons were received into the Church and baptized. There are still some ten persons and more, from different quarters, not yet baptized, who have been operated on, so that they listen to the preaching with gladness of heart.
"By the will of God, the English pastor has been called to return to his own nation. Our place is distant from Amoy by water, several tens of 'lis,' so that it is difficult to come and go. The two pastors of your nation at Amoy have not a moment to spare from labor, for the holy brethren there are many; and it is difficult for them to leave home.
"We, the brethren of the church at our market town, with united heart pray, earnestly beseeching God again graciously to compassionate us, and send a pastor from the Public Society of your nation, that he may quickly come, and instruct us plainly in the Gospel.
"It is to be deplored-the brethren having heard the teacher William Burns preach the Word for a few months, their spiritual nature only just born again, not yet having obtained firmness in the faith, that just at this time, in the seventh month, the pastor should be separated from us.
"Day and night our tears flow; and with united heart we pray, earnestly beseeching God graciously to grant that of the disciples of the Lord Jesus a pastor hastily come, and preach to us the Gospel, this food of grace with its savoriness of grace, in order to strengthen the faith of us, little children. Moreover, we pray God to influence the saints of your nation that they may always keep us little children in remembrance. Therefore, on the 28th day of the seventh month the brethren with united heart have prayed earnestly beseeching God that this our general letter may be conveyed to the great Public Society, that you may certainly know these our affairs, and pray God, in behalf of us, that this our request may be granted. Please give our salutation to the brethren.
KONG-BIAU, TEK-IAM, TEK-EIAN, U-JU, SI_BU, JIT-SOM, KI-AN, LAM-SAN, KIM KOA, "The disciples of Jesus at Peh-chui-ia.
"Presented to the Public Society that all the disciples may read it."
Mr. Talmage concludes a letter speaking of the "times of refreshing" in these words:
"This remarkable work may well fill our hearts with gratitude and encouragement. Heretofore, we have always been obliged to wait a long time before we were permitted to see much fruit of our labor; and we were almost led to the conclusion that such must always be the case, in carrying the Gospel to a heathen people. Now we see that such need not be the course of events. We should preach the Gospel with larger expectations, and in the hope of more immediate fruit. He who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, can shine into the darkest minds, 'to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus' on the first announcement of the truth as it is in Jesus. When the proper time comes, and His Church is made ready for the great accession, it will be an easy thing for Him to accomplish the expectation that a nation shall be born at once."

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