A Camaraderie of Confidence
This is the seventh in a series of biographical studies entitled The Swans are not Silent. The conviction behind the series is that there are voices from the church’s past that continue to speak to us to our spiritual profit. In this volume it is our privilege to ‘listen’, as it were, to three of them, each an outstanding figure in 19th century English evangelicalism – Charles Spurgeon, George Muller, and Hudson Taylor.
These are familiar names to many of us. Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) was one of the greatest preachers not only of his own day but in the entire history of the church. George Muller (1805-1898) was famous for his Bristol orphanages. Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) was the founder of the China Inland Mission. What is not so well known is that these men “knew each other, encouraged each other, and took inspiration from each other’s lives” (p.9).
Of Muller, for example, Spurgeon wrote, “I never heard a man who spoke more to my soul than dear George Muller” (quoted, p.27). And of Taylor and the China Inland Mission, “No mission now existing has so fully our confidence and good wishes as the work of Mr. Hudson Taylor in China…The man at the head is ‘a vessel fit for the Master’s use’” (quoted, p.28).
John Piper’s sketches of the three men are brief and with a particular focus to each. With Spurgeon it is preaching through adversity. “Neither Spurgeon’s death nor his life was easy. They were not pain-free. As I have walked with Spurgeon over the years, these lessons have helped me most – the lessons of living with loss and criticism and sickness and sorrow. This is what I focus on in this chapter” (p.37).
With Muller, the emphasis is on his commitment to living a life and leading a ministry “in a way that proves God is real, God is trustworthy, and God answers prayer” (p.71). This especially emerges in what Muller calls the “the chief and primary object” of his orphanage work: “To show before the whole world and the whole church of Christ, that even in these last evil days the living God is ready to prove Himself as the living God, by being ever willing to help, succor, comfort, and answer the prayers of those who trust in him” (quoted, p.29).
With Hudson Taylor we might have expected the spotlight to be on the China Inland Mission. And the founding of that mission is indeed sketched and a little of its history given. But Piper’s main concern is with Taylor’s spiritual life and in particular with the remarkable and permanent deepening of it that took place when he was in his late 30s. Piper writes of it as a “witness to the possibility of living with more peace and more joy and more fruit in hardship than most of us enjoy” (p.103).
A final chapter draws the three lives together. They shared, says Piper, “a camaraderie of confidence in God” (p.107). Specifically, “that God could and would fulfil all his promises of care to each of his children” (p.105). It was, Piper concludes, “perhaps the most striking and unifying thread in” their “interwoven lives…a camaraderie of confidence in the goodness, glory, and power of God” (p.105). A confidence based on the promises of God’s word. A confidence we ourselves may fully share.