by James Hudson Taylor IV
In September 1807, 25-year-old Robert Morrison boarded a ship for the seven-month voyage from England to the port of Guangzhou in China. The first Protestant missionary to China, he was following God’s call to reach the country’s 350 million souls with the gospel.
As Morrison stood on the deck of the ship, looking at the teeming crowds on the banks, he remembered a question put to him earlier in the journey by a distinguished looking gentlemen. The man had asked Morrison, “Do you really think you can influence China’s deep tradition of idolatry?” to which Morrison had replied, “No, Sir, I can’t, but I believe God can.”
“God can” – a simple phrase that has echoed through the ups and downs of the church’s 200-year history in China. When we look at things today, do we have the same heavenly perspective? Consider the many challenges facing 21st century mission work: to take the gospel to the millions who have never heard, whether they live in the big cities or remote villages; to mobilize God’s workers to serve wholeheartedly; to complete the task of the Great Commission.
What can we learn from Morrison’s “God can” perspective? What made the young missionary reply so resolutely to the distinguished gentleman’s query?
Not one shall perish…
“God can” because his desire is that no one should perish (2 Peter 3:9), but all should be saved. Morrison’s life was aligned with God’s heart, and his faith led him to leave behind his family and country to go to China for his Lord.
Today we desperately need this kind of burden for the lost. We praise God for what has already been achieved, but his work is still unfinished. There are still more than one billion people heading towards an eternity without Jesus. That billion is not only made up of Han Chinese, but also a hundred million minority peoples spread throughout China who have never heard the gospel.
The offering of a life
“God can” because he accomplishes great things through lives offered to him.
Of course, Morrison didn’t underestimate the challenges he faced. He wrote to a friend, “My brother, the task is very difficult, I solemnly ask you to count the cost carefully.”
Morrison asked God to use him in the most difficult places, and he entrusted himself to God’s service in word and action, offering 27 years of faithful testimony. At that time, circumstances didn’t permit Morrison to preach the gospel freely and publicly, but his very life was his testimony.
In the last 10 or so years we have seen the Lord raise up more and more Chinese brothers and sisters willing to offer their lives and professions to fulfil the Great Commission. They refuse to regard their profession as simply a means to be fed and clothed, but think carefully about an important question: “How is my profession related to the Great Commission?”
Considering the fact that 80 per cent of the population of Asia lives in countries that do not welcome traditional missionaries, most people regard these countries as closed to the gospel.
The truth, however, is somewhat different. These countries actually give a warm welcome to Christians who live and work in their midst. As Christians serve in their professions, they share the fragrance of Christ, which often speaks more powerfully than words. People today often talk about the power of the world wide web, but there is a more influential www – “won without words” – that can melt away the firmest of barriers.
The value of God’s word
Morrison’s “God can” perspective reflects his firm trust in the reliability of God’s promises in the Bible. Even in his youth Morrison was familiar with God’s word. He taught himself Hebrew and Greek and so had a good command of the biblical languages.
God had been preparing him for an important task: to translate God’s eternal self-revelation into Chinese. Most of Morrison’s 27 years in China was spent translating the Bible to enable Chinese people to read God’s word in their own language.
Recently, I heard some reports of the miraculous things God is doing in northeast China. An unprecedented opportunity to preach the gospel and train disciples has opened up in the place where China, Russia and North Korea meet.
At the same time, believers are eager for solid biblical teaching to strengthen their faith, as they face an overwhelming growth of heretical cults and pressure from materialism. It is only by being completely and systematically rooted in God’s word that they can be saved from the danger of cults and worldliness.
As I listened to these reports, I remembered the many Chinese churches my family and I have visited. These churches have so many gifted teachers and evangelists who are able to teach the Bible accurately, and who could become faithful servants of God’s word.
I prayed to God, asking him to raise up more Chinese brothers and sisters who, like Morrison, will unswervingly put their trust in the Bible. I prayed that God’s word will not only grow deeply in the hearts of the believers, but also take root in the hearts of those who have never heard the gospel.
Completing the work
“God can” because he is the creator of all things and he will complete his good work. Many years ago, when Morrison stood on the deck of the ship, he must have wondered: “What am I among so many people? Who am I to think that I can bring the life-changing gospel to this huge and ancient land?” However, his faith wasn’t shaken.
In the church mission meetings I attend, one of the questions I hear most frequently is ‘Am I up to it?’ Like Moses in the first 80 years of his life, many people hesitate over that question. However, the lives of Moses and Morrison demonstrate that the issue is not whether we are able – we are certainly not big enough to do this enormous task – but that God is able, God can.