Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hudson Taylor on the Death of Christians

Excerpt from a letter written bv Hudson Taylor, in China at the time, to a friend in England.  Taylor's wife and new-born son Noel had just died(their oldest son, Samuel, died earlier that year). Their second youngest child was staying with friends elsewhere in China and the other children had been sent to England not long before this event:
It is Sunday evening.  I am writing from Mr. White's bungalow.  The cool air, the mellow, autumnal beauty of the scene, the magnificent Yangtze - with Silver Island, beautifully wooded, reposing, as it were, on its bosom - combine to make one feel as if it were a vision of dreamland rather than actual reality.  And my feelings accord.  But a few months ago my home was full, now so silent and lonely - Samuel, Noel, my precious wife, with Jesus; the elder children far, far away, and even little T'ien-pao in Yang-chow.  Often, of late years, has duty called me from my loved ones, but I have returned, and so warm has been the welcome!  Now I am alone.  Can it be that there is no return from this journey, no home-gathering  to look forward to? Is it real, and not a sorrowful dream that those dearest to me lie beneath the cold sod?  Ah, it is indeed true!  But not more so, than that there is a home-coming  awaiting me which no parting shall break into, no tears mar….Love gave the blow that for a little while makes the desert more dreary, but heaven more home-like.  "I go to prepare a place for you":  and is not our part of the preparation the peopling it with those we love? 
And the same loving Hand that makes Heaven more home-like is the while loosening the ties that binding us to this world, thus helping our earth-cleaving spirits to sit looser, awaiting our own summons, whether personally to be "present with the Lord," or at "the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior"  "Even so, come, Lord Jesus," come quickly!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss- By George Prentiss

An ordinary life of faith.  Not very exciting sounding, is it? Ordinary...what is good about the ordinary? What purpose can be found in it? The most important purpose. God's. Mrs. Prentiss wrote books, that was exceptional. But for the most part, her life was that of a Christian housewife's: cooking, taking care of the house, children, helping people in need. She did have several of her children die in childhood/infancy, but a lot of people did in her day. She always seems to be visiting a deathbed or potential deathbed, but her age was different from ours, people were dying all of the time. Nowadays, going to a funeral is the exception, not the rule.

Ironically, a life of faith in ordinary circumstances is just as, if not more, extraordinary as a person who exercised faith in extraordinary circumstances. In a letter to a friend, Mrs. Prentiss wrote: "...As to domestic cares, you know Mrs. Stowe has written a beautiful little tract on this subject -- 'Earthly Care a Heavenly Discipline.' God never places us in any position in which we can not grow. We may fancy that He does. We may fear we are so impeded by fretting, petty cares that we are gaining nothing; but when we are not sending any branches upward, we may be sending roots downward. Perhaps in the time of our humiliation, when everything seems a failure, we are making the best kind of progress. God delights to try our faith by the conditions in which He places us. A plant set in the shade shows where its heart is by turning towards the sun, even when unable to reach it. We have so much to distract us in this world that we do not realize how truly and deeply, if not always warmly and consciously, we love Christ. But I believe that this love is the strongest principle in every regenerate soul. It may slumber for a time, it may falter, it may freeze nearly to death; but sooner or later it will declare itself as the ruling passion. You should regard all your discontent with yourself as negative devotion, for that it really is.......I know all about these little domestic foxes that spoil the vines, and sympathize with you in yours. But if some other trial would serve God's purposes, He would substitute it."

Her husband, George, put this biography together very well. It is very interesting, with excerpts from her diary and letters forming a major part. Even her thoughts on everyday occurrences are insightful and encouraging, here is an example: "This evening I passed unavoidably through Miss ----'s room. She was reading Byron as usual and looked so wretched and restless, that I could not help yielding to a loving impulse and putting my hand on hers and asking why she was so sad. She told me. It was just what I supposed. She is trying to be happy, and can not find out how......I alluded to her religious history and present hopes. She said she did not think continued acts of faith in Christ necessary; she had believed on Him once, and now He would save her whatever she did; and she was not going to torment herself trying to live so very holy a life, since, after all, she should get to heaven just as well through Him as if she had been particularly good (as she termed it). I don't know whether a good or a bad spirit moved me at that minute, but I forgot that I was a mere child in religious knowledge, and talked about my doctrine and made it a very beautiful one to my mind, though I don't think she thought it so. Oh, for what would I give up the happiness of praying for a holy heart -- of striving, struggling for it! Yes, it is indeed true that we are saved simply, only, apart from our own goodness, through the love of Christ. But who can believe himself thus chosen of God-- who can think of and hold communion with Infinite Holiness, and not long for the Divine image in his own soul? It is a mystery to me-- these strange doctrines. Is not the fruit of love aspiration after the holy? Is not the act of the new-born soul, when it passes from death unto life, that of desire for assimilation to and oneness with Him who is its all in all? How can love and faith be one act and then cease? I dare not believe -- I would not for a universe believe -- that my sense of safety in the love of Christ is not to be just the sense that shall bind me in grateful self-renunciation wholly to His service. Let be sure of final rest in heaven -- sure that at this moment I am really God's own adopted child; and I believe my prayers, my repentings, my weariness of sin, would be just what they now are; nay, more deep, more abundant. Oh, it is because I believe -- fully believe that I shall be saved through Christ -- that I want to be like Him here upon earth. It is because I do not fear final misery that I shrink from sin and defilement here." And also this excerpt from a letter: "I was somewhat encouraged by reading in my father's memoir, and in reflecting that he passed through far greater spiritual conflicts than will probably ever be mine....I see now that it is not always best for us to have the light of God's countenance. Do not spend your time and strength in asking for me that blessing, but this -- that I may be transformed into the image of Christ in His own time, in His own way."

I found this biography comforting, interesting and thought provoking. We look at exhibitions of faith in all kinds of circumstances, all of them are witnesses to it being worth it. Even the ones who exhibited biblical faith in common circumstances. Knowing the sovereignty of God, we trust that He places us in exactly the right place to exercise faith, as Oswald Chambers wrote: "Notice God's unutterable waste of saints, according to the judgment of the world. God plants His saints in the most useless places. We say - God intends me to be here because I am so useful. Jesus never estimated His life along the line of the greatest use. God puts His saints where they will glorify Him, and we are no judges at all of where that is."

And here, I'll end with one more quote by Mrs. Prentiss, again, from a letter to friend:

"Temptations and conflict are inseparable from the Christian life; no strange thing has happened to you. Let me comfort you with the assurance that you will be taught more and more by God's Spirit how to resist; and that true strength and holy manhood will spring up from this painful soil. Try to take heart; there is more than one foot-print on the sands of time to prove that 'some forlorn and shipwrecked brother' has traversed them before you, and come off conqueror through the Beloved."

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