|Interviews with Three of the King's Captains|
by C. H. Spurgeon
From the May 1879 Sword and Trowel
CHRISTIAN man is the noblest work of God, especially a Christian man who has attained to fullness of stature, and has done eminent service for his Master. As in the presence of sublime scenery the renewed heart adores the Creator, and never dreams of worshipping nature itself, so in communion with a truly consecrated man the spiritual mind rises to a reverent acknowledgment of the Holy Spirit, whose workmanship is seen in all the saints, and the idea of hero-worship is banished from the mind. Within the last few days it has been our joyful privilege to meet with several of the excellent of the earth, and among them with three of "the King's mighties," worthy to be placed in the first rank.
First, we found a card upon our table bearing the name of J. HUDSON TAYLOR, and we were sorry to have been out, and so to have missed seeing him; but another opportunity occurred, and the last hour which this beloved brother spent at Mentone was consecrated by holy conference and earnest prayer for China in our pleasant parlor at Hotel de la Paix. Mr. Taylor is not a man of commanding presence or of striking modes of speech. He is not in outward appearance an individual who would be selected from among others as the leader of a gigantic enterprise; in fact, he is lame in gait, and little in stature: but the Lord seeth not as man seeth, his glance reacheth to the heart. In his spiritual manhood Mr. Taylor is of noble proportions: his spirit is quiet and meek, yet strong and intense; there is not an atom of self-assertion about him, but a firm confidence in God and in the call which he has himself received to carry the gospel to China. He is hampered by no doubts as to the inspiration of the Scriptures, or the truth of Christianity, or the ultimate conquest of China for the Lord Jesus; his faith is that of a child-man, too conscious of consecration to the living God, and too certain of his presence and help to turn aside to answer the useless quibbles of the hour. Affectionate in manner, and gentile in tone, our brother has nevertheless about him a firmness which achieves its purpose without noise. Simple as a child in his spirit, he pursues his design with prudent perseverance and determination; he provokes no hostility, but he almost unconsciously arouses hearty sympathy, though he is evidently independent of it, and would go on with his great work even if no one countenanced him in it.
Our conversation was confined to China, the work in China, and the workers in China. The word China, China, China is now ringing in our ears in that special, peculiar, musical, forcible, unique way in which Mr. Taylor utters it. He could not very readily be made to speak upon any other theme for long together; he would be sure to fly back to China. We believe that he dreams of chop-sticks, mandarins, and poor Chinese. We expressed our conviction that he was already growing a pigtail, and he did not deny the fact, but added further that he hoped soon to have on the Chinaman's silk petticoat, and he seemed quite pleased to tell us that he was so like a Chinaman when fully arrayed that he was often taken for a native. Dear, good brother, this is one reason of your success, you become a Chinaman to the Chinese, and you will gain the Chinese. Your concentration of thought upon your one grand object shall, under the divine blessing, be your strength.
How greatly has the Lord blest this man in his apostolic labors for China! We admire the great goodness of God therein, for what hope is there for that vast empire, unless it be laid upon the hearts of chosen servants of the Lord. Mr. Taylor has gathered round him men and women of the right order. Some of them would certainly have been refused by the missionary societies, as below their standard of education; but Mr. Taylor has seen in them precious qualifications which abundantly compensate for the absence of classical attainments. These, with holy daring, born of childlike faith in God, have penetrated the interior of China, and are planting churches as the Lord enables them. We like our friend's plans and ideas, and, without making invidious comparisons, we feel free to say that no other missionary enterprise is so completely to our mind as the China Inland Mission. It is a great honor to the Tabernacle that the missionaries connected with Mr. Taylor almost always come to our prayer-meeting for a valedictory service, and it is one of the choicest pleasures of our life that their beloved President is to us as a dear and familiar friend. He is on his road to China, may the Lord preserve him and prosper his way, and may the Christian churches at home provide all the means for this apostolic service without the necessity of the hencured leader's coming back to England for some time to come, for his presence on the actual scene of labor must be invaluable.
It has been a great means of grace to us in our exile not only to hear the venerable GEORGE MULLER, of Bristol, but to have three long interviews with him, besides uniting with him twice in the breaking of bread and in prayer. Mr. Muller has the look of personified order and simplicity: his appearance is equally removed from show and slovenliness. His face gleams with the quiet cheerfulness which comes of profound restfulness. He believes God with great reality, and practically takes him at his word, and hence his peace is as a river. His faith has wrought in him great strength of purpose, so far as man is concerned, and something more than submission to the will of the Lord, for he evidently delights himself therein, and, through divine grace, has been made to move in accordance with it. That which struck us most was his evident rejoicing in tribulations, for the only excitement which we noticed in him was at the mention of the trials of his early days, which gave such room for the display of the divine faithfulness. We do not mean that our friend desires trial, but we perceive that when it comes his heart is exceeding glad, and his glory rejoices, because the Lord is now about to reveal himself more fully, and to honor his divine name yet again. O that we could all learn this lesson and put it into practice.
Mr. Muller gives us more the idea of Enoch than any man we have ever met: he habitually walks with God. Hence his whole life is his religion, and his religion is his whole life. The delightful placidity of the pulpit is retained in the parlor, and the graciousness which is seen in the preacher is just as manifest in the friend. Some may, therefore, suppose that he has about him a somber air; far from it. He is as bright and happy as a dear, obedient child has a right to be when enjoying his Father's love. He is no monk and could not be made into a gloomy recluse; the domestic affections are strong within him, and so also is his love to the brethren, and his desire for the good of all mankind. Nothing cold, austere, or hard has any place with this "man greatly beloved." In our company he displayed to us a special affection, which we heartily reciprocate. We entertain for him a feeling of profound veneration; but in his intercourse with us his humility scarcely allowed him to perceive the fact, and there was an entire absence of anything like a sense of superiority, even of such as greater age and experience might naturally claim. Our communion was very sweet to the younger of the two; may the Lord grant to him a renewal of it. We were deeply humbled at the sight of our friend's beauty of character; not that he said a single word by way of self-praise, but the very reverse, for his total absence of self-consciousness was a leading feature in his conversation. Again and again he said, "the Lord can do without poor George Muller"; but even this was drawn out of him, for with him George Muller is just nothing, and the Lord is all in all. We cannot picture this man of God, he is too bright for our pencil. A soft, subdued light shines upon his image as we try to recall it, a reflection of the moral glory of the Master whom he loves; but mild as is the radiance, it prevents our sketching the man to the life.
With no flash of oratory, or brilliance of poetry, or breadth of thought, or originality of mind, George Muller is enabled to be one of the most useful of living preachers by his simply testifying to facts by which he has for himself proved the love and truth of God. His preaching is the gospel and nothing else. Of flowers of speech he has none, and we hardly think he cares for them; but of the bread of heaven he has abundance. With speculations he does not intermeddle, but the eternal verities he handles with practical, homely, realizing faith.
No doubts disturb the Director of the Ashley Down Orphanage; how can there be when he sees the Lord daily feeding his 2,050 orphan children in answer to his prayers? Modern thought and the higher criticism never trouble this happy man. He soars aloft. While earth-bound souls are distracted and tormented by the discordant voices of error, he hears the voice of the great Father in heaven, and is deaf to all besides. In his old age, still hale and strong, he ministers the word with ceaseless diligence, journeying from place to place as the Lord opens the doors and prepares his way. Free from all anxiety, he enjoys life to the utmost, and if it were right to envy any man we should certainly envy George Muller; we are not, however, under any necessity of so doing, for the same grace worketh in all the saints, and we have but to yield ourselves thereto.
The third choice brother with whom we took sweet counsel was Pastor JOHN BOST, who is the founder and conductor of the Asylums of La Force. Concerning his institutions we hope to speak another time; just now our subject is the man himself. It would be very foolish to compare one servant of the Lord with another in order to set one above the other, for the church is like the heavens in this, that one star differeth from another star in glory. Each of these three brethren is of a distinct type: the same Spirit is in each of them, working out a different form of the one glory which Jesus has given to all his people We delight in them all, and do not intend by a single sentence of ours to suggest a comparative estimate of their worth.
We do not know whether George Muller has any humor, but John Bost has about as much of it as C. H. Spurgeon. Mr. Bost is a man of considerable dimensions, and addressing us he said, "You will see that there is a difference between me and Mr. Muller. George Muller is a great man and John Bost is a large man." This was true, but not all the truth, for John Bost is great as well as large. Orphans, idiots, imbeciles, and epileptic persons are the objects of our friend's loving care. It touched our heart to hear him speak of the deaf and dumb, and blind and lame, but more especially of the poor epileptics, who are his special favorites, because they suffer so greatly and involve so much weary watching and painful care. He has eight institutions: La Famille Evangelique for orphan girls; Bethesda for incurables, blind, and idiot girls; Ebenezer for epileptic girls; Siloam and Bethel for epileptic boys; Le Repos for invalid governesses, etc.; La Retraite for invalid servants, and La Misericorde for idiots and epileptics. There are three hundred and sixty-six inmates in these eight abodes, and for all their wants John Bost is responsible. But we only mention these to introduce our brother himself. Here is a man after our own heart, with a lot of human nature in him, a large-hearted, tempest-tossed mortal, who has done business on the great waters, and would long ago have been wrecked had it not been for his simple reliance upon God. His is a soul like that of Martin Luther, full of emotion and of mental changes; borne aloft to heaven at one time and anon sinking in the deeps. Worn down with labor, he needs rest, but will not take it, perhaps cannot, for even at Mentone he was lecturing for his institutions, and melting us all by the story of his imbeciles and epileptics. We took the chair for him, and while we were offering prayer he was so moved that we feared he would not be able to restrain himself. We spent an evening with him, and found him full of zeal and devotion, and brimming over with godly experience, and at the same time abounding in mirth, racy remark, and mother wit. Comparing notes, we found Caesar and Pompey very much alike in joys and sorrows, high delights, and deep depressions. We could both admire and reverence the holy peace of our honored friend Muller, and we did not excuse our common infirmities, but we thought the author of the Book of Psalms was a better interpreter of our experience than our more equable and tranquil friend could ever be, and we concluded that it was a happy circumstance for us that our divine Lord was set before us as our exemplar, and not even the brightest and most heavenly-minded of his disciples.
How can John Bost be otherwise than troubled in spirit when he hears the cries of epileptics, and sees the horrible contortions into which they are thrown in their frequent fits? It cuts him to the heart to see the sufferings of the dear objects of his care, and many are his sleepless nights with such a charge around him. He is full of tender sympathies, and in consequence he has a great power over his poor patients, who love and revere him; but this costs him great wear and tear of heart, and often brings him very low. In temperament he is emotional, and loves intensely: we had all his heart very soon, and we shall retain it while we live, for ours is knit to him in brotherly affection. He is an original, and his plans of working and collecting money are not a feeble copy of another man's. Here many have erred, for they have been ambitious to be like some notable person, and have ended in being servile copyists, destitute of all the force and excellence of their hero, and without virtues of their own. Bost is not a second Muller, as we had been toldhe is John Bost, and nobody else, and differs as much from Mr. Muller as a rose differs from a lily. Even in the exercise of his faith he is unlike our venerated father of Bristol, and not only prays for the money which he needs, but uses ingenious means to obtain it. We are sure that Mr. Muller's plan is best for him, perhaps in itself the best intrinsically; but Mr. Bost's methods are in the main most admirable in every way; are certainly the best which in his circumstances he could follow, and possibly in some aspects the best for the majority of workers. The two brethren love and esteem each other very highly, and Mr. Muller has been greatly pleased with a visit which he has lately paid to La Force, though the sight of the epileptics was too painful for him, as it well might be.
Which of these three mighties do we place first? The question may not be answered, for it is an improper one; and even if it were allowable we are not qualified to reply. Who are we that we should judge the King's servants, and especially such as these, whose feet we should feet it an honor to wash? We may, however, venture to say that if we had to apportion the precious stones to individuals, we would engrave the name of Hudson Taylor upon an emerald, pleasant and beautiful; that of George Muller upon a diamond of the first water, clear as crystal; and that of John Bost upon a ruby full of warmth and vividness. None can gather from this comparison which one we think of the highest value, since our researches among precious stones have enabled us to quote, if we had the space to spare, opinions of various jewelers in which each of these is adjudged to bear the palm for beauty, and there are priceless specimens of each gem. Poor pieces of common clay are all these men by nature; their luster and excellence are entirely due to their common Lord, who counts them all his own blood-bought jewels. We delight in them as his workmanship, and feel it to be right to admire his grace in them. There has been too much of finding fault with God's servants while they live, and of idolizing them after death; we resolve to see the Father in the children, the Master in the disciples, the Holy Ghost in the temples of God, and to give them our loving word while they live. It is a small matter to them what we think of them, but they will not be grieved at our glorifying God in them. We have it on our heart to say,if such be the beauty of the separate gems, even here, where they are not without flaw, what must be the glory of our great High Priest who wears all the precious stones upon his resplendent breastplate, each one faultless, and all set in harmonious order, so that the brilliance of every one is increased by that of its fellows? Let us glorify him who has wrought all our works in us, and is alone worthy of all praise.