|In tragic life, God wot,
No villain need be! Passions spin the plot:
We are betrayed by what is false within.|
|Oh Christians, at your Cross of Hope a hopeless hand was clinging.| E. B. BROWNING.
|After all what would he have had to sacrifice had
he followed Jesus? He would have had to give up
his house in Jerusalem. He would have had to
renounce society; but society would soon have
forgotten him, for society has a short memory for
people who for any reason have fallen out of it.
That is what he would have lost, and what would he
have gained? He would have had those walks with
Jesus across the fields, and he would have heard
Him say: 'Consider the lilies.'| -- MARK RUTHERFORD.
ANOTHER PORTRAIT GALLERY
WHEREIN THE READER IS INTRODUCED TO SOME WHO HAVE FAILED
TO the student of human nature the fact that man so often fails to respond to the highest ideals set before him comes with no shock. In the early Church men who had run well were easily hindered, and in the greatest series of biographies we possess, we see portrayed faithfully the faults and failings of those who now form the great cloud of witnesses, and are shown at the same time the possibilities of such lives when brought into vital touch with the Divine.
The generous, impulsive David, the man God's own heart, was capable of a tragic fall; Peter and John, privileged to personal intercourse with the Lord, in the hour of crisis were amongst those who forsook Him and fled, and Demas, |who loves this present world,| is ever a disappointment to Evangelist, who hoped that for him such dangers were over.
For the fact remains that the natural characteristics of the man are strong forces, and that while Grace can, and does, make possible the |new man in Christ Jesus,| we remain each in our own order, and perhaps no point is so vulnerable as that wherein has taken place greatest change.
The emergence from heathendom is a difficult process, during which time habits, vices, and superstitions cling to a man's soul with a tenacity that would cause us to abandon all hope, were it not that monuments of grace abound to prove that the power and dominion of sin has been shattered.
Sometimes the enemy will entrap a young Christian when there is illness in the home, and under pressure he will fly to magic incantations and heathen practices, in order to get deliverance from the malignant spirit which he still believes has power to torment him. Many a convert has fallen on the occasion of a funeral. It takes more faith than a Westerner can realise, to defy the legions of gwei which at that time threaten your home and its inhabitants with numberless ills; and strength of mind is required to resist heathen relatives who accuse you of slighting the deceased.
The test is a severe one and may well make a strong spirit quail, especially when, as so often happens, several members of one family will die in rapid succession, quite evidently to us by reason of the agency of natural laws which govern physical life, but to the Chinaman, a clear manifestation of the power enjoyed by demons whose pleasure it is to torment men. Even the very dead may rise from the grave to confront you with horrid vengeance, should the body not have been buried with full rites as required for the laying of the spirit. Most subtly has the enemy caused many a man's downfall when his unmarried daughter has died, and he has found himself confronted with angry relatives and irate villagers, when he proposed to bury the body with the deceased of his own family. By the rule of ancient custom a spirit bridegroom should be found for this girl, or, as an unattached spirit, she will inevitably return to her neglectful relatives and trouble them in numberless ways in order to bring her pitiful condition to their remembrance. In one way, and one way only, can the ghost be pacified. A bridegroom of suitable age, likewise deceased, must be found, and all marriage ceremonies be conducted with due pomp, a memorial tablet being placed in the scarlet chair in which the bride should have sat. Clothes, furniture, and presents, all made of paper, go with the chair to the home of the deceased bridegroom, and are there received by living bridal attendants. A feast is spread, and all make merry until a few hours later when mourning apparel is donned, and to the sound of wailing two coffins are placed side by side in the family tomb. The paper clothes, presents, and marriage-contract are burned, and thus ascend in smoke to the spirit world. The bodies may have been kept for years before a suitable match could be made, but from the day of the funereal nuptials the two families regard themselves as, or even more, intimately related than they would have been had an actual marriage taken place.
It is easy to say that nothing so frankly heathen need ever raise a question in the mind of a convert, but severe persecution and the responsibility of every misfortune that may occur in his village will be his, if he defy public opinion and introduce an orphan spirit to the Valhalla where his ancestors, for countless generations, have never failed to receive the rites of filial service.
The missionary knows the importance of keeping ideals high by precept and practice, and that his best way to help the young believer is by emphasising the big claim that Christ makes on a man. That claim once apprehended will create in the man's heart an everlasting dissatisfaction with anything lower.
Sad as is the case of a young believer falling into sin, how much more tragic that of a man who abandons Christ after many years of service, allowing sins, which he had overcome, once more to have dominion over him. It is an awful reality of life that the point on which a man has most conspicuously conquered is likely to be his weakest, for the enemy plays a waiting game,
|And where we looked for palms to fall,
We find the tug's to come, -- that's all.|
* * * * *
Mr. Nieh came early under the influence of Pastor Hsi. He was a man of conspicuous ability, business capacity, and influence. In early days he, too, had smoked opium, but when he left that habit, he became a Christian and an earnest student of the Word of God. Few could speak with such power as he, and at any conference where he was present, eager, interested crowds would gather to hear him. Many have been led to Christ by his influence, and he seemed a man raised up of God to carry on the work of the late Pastor Hsi. He administered the opium refuges with great ability, and the work of the Church for many years prospered in his hands. Every one turned to him for advice and help, and when the Boxer troubles broke out, it was to Mr. Nieh that both Christians and officials looked in their hour of need. |He was marvellously helped until he was strong,| and then, as to Uzziah of old, came the decline. Power he loved, and in the position in which he found himself, holding office in the Church, was able to exercise it in many directions.
Only God knows at which period the spiritual decay set in, which silently, and at first quite invisibly, began a work which has ended in the complete downfall of this man on whom the hopes of so many were set. A desire to increase the prestige of his name, and love of popularity led Mr. Nieh, as opportunity occurred, to lend his influence in law-cases and village disputes on behalf of unworthy men, with the motive of self-aggrandisement. Slowly but surely the material overcame the spiritual in his life.
At this hour he is no longer even a member of the Christian community, having publicly repudiated his former profession of faith. He even smokes opium again, and finds his power and influence to be a thing wholly of the past. Extraordinary trials have come to him in family and personal life, but he remains hardened and untouched. The light has gone from his face, for he has ceased to walk in the Light, but as we look on his dissatisfied appearance, hope revives that he, having tasted so deep of earthly bitterness, may yet be found amongst the suppliants for mercy at the throne of God. May it be in the midst of life, and not only in the hour of death that he will witness the great confession: |Thou hast conquered, O Galilean.|
* * * * *
There is a failure which is partial success, and under this, I think, may be placed Yen Keh-dao, who, when once he was clear of opium himself, bought up eagerly every opportunity that presented itself for evangelistic work. He had fallen so often, and been obliged to return to the Opium Refuge time after time, until new birth had made him a new creature. Now at last he seemed firm where formerly he had been powerless to resist temptation. When he at his own expense entered his name for a two years' course of theological training, we all hoped that a future of considerable usefulness lay before him, but before that period was over, the craving was on him again and he had fallen into open sin. Another effort, and he was free once more, and then again he fell and soon was lying very ill with typhus fever. Christian men visited him and prayed with him, and he, for so long as consciousness lasted, prayed earnestly; then delirium, and in a few hours death released his spirit from the body of its humiliation. According to man's statistics, he is tabulated a failure -- |one more devil's triumph and sorrow for angels| -- but there are many who loved him, and who look up in expectation to see him |pardoned in heaven, the first by the throne.|
* * * * *
|Puppy's mother| has lived at the door of our mission premises since they were first opened. She, according to the custom of the country, is only known as the mother of her child, so having elected to call her daughter |Puppy,| she must needs be |Puppy's mother| throughout the town. She has known the three generations of missionaries who have lived here, and has been dressmaker to them all. No one has been more deliberate in her choice of heathendom over Christianity than she, and no one has lent a more willing ear to the scandalous lies circulated concerning the foreign women, even although she has seen enough of their intimate life to know such stories to be fabrications.
She nourishes a secret regard for Mrs. Liang, in whom she recognises a woman as intelligent as herself, and a match for her in every respect. It was to Mrs. Liang she confided one day that there seemed little inducement to repent and be saved, if going to heaven would entail associating with foreigners for all eternity. Until two years ago she was a healthy, sturdy woman, scarcely feeling the weight of her seventy years. A slight dimness of eyesight caused her to raise her charges for dressmaking on the plea, peculiar to Chinese logic, that old age made her movements slower and more uncertain, and whereas three days were once sufficient to make a garment, and make it well, now after six days' work it was still far less well finished off than formerly. So we have submitted to extra charges for inferior work, for old acquaintance' sake.
Then a long and painful illness laid |Puppy's mother| low, and for months we did not think that she could recover. Nevertheless, her excellent constitution did finally assert itself, and now she is walking about again, leaning on a stick and on the shoulder of a small grandchild, one of Puppy's offspring. She is curiously softened, and told us once that she had endeavoured to pray, but could not remember the sentences we had taught her.
Time, age, and weakness work many transformations, and we feel as though the veil of flesh were wearing thinner, and the spirit within feeling its way out of gross darkness towards the light.
* * * * *
Mrs. Deh had fallen so low through opium, that it was to save her from positive starvation that we admitted her to our household once more. She had been one of the failures of our Women's Refuge, and had sunk deep into the degradation which accompanies opium smoking in a woman's life, pressed as she finds herself to raise the money necessary for the price of her drug.
[Illustration: |PUPPY| AND HER MOTHER.
To face page 218.]
For three years she kept herself respectable under our roof, living amongst Christian women and joining in their prayers and hymn, night and morning, but not a trace of the softened, repentant spirit could one see, and finally a distinct retrograde movement accompanied with physical disability forced us to send her home. I despair of Mrs. Deh except when I look into the face of her daughter, the good, pure girl whose life's prayer it is that her mother should be saved. She cannot admit that this one thing she hopes for on earth should not be granted to her. Her eyes are always full of tears when she speaks of her mother, and when I see them I know they must, with strong entreaty, be pleading the cause of the poor sinful woman before the Presence of the Divine Majesty at whose right Hand stands the Friend of Sinners and the Man who was |acquainted with grief.|
* * * * *
|Flower of Love| became one of my pupils at the age of twelve, and attended school for six years with unfailing regularity. Bright, happy, and full of girlish enthusiasm she yielded her heart to Christ, and with her girl companions rejoiced in her new-found joy. A horror of great darkness fell upon her soul when the news was broken to her that her parents had contracted for her a marriage with a heathen man, and yielding to uncontrollable grief, she became seriously ill. Remembrance of the promises of God, and the resilience of youth, caused her to arouse herself; she returned to school, and begged that all would pray that the impossible might happen, and this engagement be broken.
Prayer was answered, and to me was granted the joy of telling Flower of Love the good news. |My life shall henceforth be wholly for God,| was her reply. Months passed, and when the Revolution of 1911 broke out, her parents once more sought for her a heathen husband, a man whose wealth was accumulated by wrong-doing, and before any step could be taken Flower of Love was his bride. For months she struggled alone in the city to which she had been taken, and then his orders were given that intercourse with foreigners must cease. The fight was too hard, and weary she yielded and allowed herself to drift with the tide. To-day, in her husband's house, where men are too frequent visitors, she seeks to get from the life she has to lead what pleasure she can. She is beyond my reach, but her broken heart will yet, I believe, find a resting-place upon her Saviour's breast.
This remarkable custom is declared by Marco Polo to be peculiar to North China.