I HAVE said that when I had learned to look to God for strength and healing, He graciously gave me to see not a little of His power in this respect, both in my own life and in the lives of others. It may be helpful now for me to mention some of the experiences which illustrate this fact. And in doing this, it will be my attempt in writing, not to overstate any fact, but rather, if I err at all, to do so upon the side of understatement. I am specially concerned about this point, for obviously hyperbole has no place in such a subject as this, and to give way to it in any degree would be to open the door to error of a serious kind. Let me then speak as sanely as possible of certain experiences which I have had.
While I was still a young man and living at Attica, New York, the Lord led me out from my business life into that of an evangelist. It was thus that I came one winter to hold a series of meetings at a town named Albion, New York, which was situated not far from my home. From the first of those meetings, God graciously gave His marked blessing. The services were well attended, Christians were edified, and the unconverted were saved. In this way, the meetings went on for about ten days out of the two weeks which had been set for their continuance. But just then misfortune overtook me. Passing, one evening, from the heated room of the church into the wintry chill of the streets, I caught a heavy cold, which settled in my throat. The next evening in the service, my voice quite failed me, so that I could scarcely be heard, even by those who sat in the front seats. When I returned to my room that night, my throat was inflamed and sore, and I could not speak above a whisper. As things were, evidently, I could not possibly continue the services, and there was no time, either for medical treatment or for the restoration which might come from rest.
As I knelt in prayer that night, before retiring, I asked God if He would not heal me, in order that the meetings might go on to their conclusion, and particularly, in order that additional souls might be blessed and saved. In spite of prayer, it was some time before I got to sleep because of pain in my throat and difficulty in breathing. But, at last, I did so. I slept on then to what must have been the middle of the night. At that time, I awoke for a few minutes, and, in that brief period, I was suddenly conscious of the fact that my throat was entirely well. When I awoke in the morning, the momentary impression of the night was amply confirmed. Beside the faintest reminder of the fact that I had had a cold, my throat was entirely healed. The pain had ceased, the cough was gone, and I could speak as easily and distinctly as usual. The meetings went on through the remaining days, and an increasing measure of blessing was granted to the end. The cold from which I had suffered did not return.
In 1901, toward the close of the Boxer trouble in China, I was asked by Mr. Hoste, the General Director of the China Inland Mission, to proceed to Shanghai, in order to meet there Mr. Walter B. Sloan, of London, and to hold with him a series of meetings, in behalf of the missionaries, for the deepening of their spiritual life. I gladly accepted this invitation and had the joy, when I set forth, of having, as my companion for the journey, a member of our Toronto Council, Mr. J. D. Nasmith. Thus, we took our way across the American continent to San Francisco, and set sail, on a wintry day, from that port.
When we reached the ocean, outside of the “Golden Gate,” we found that a heavy storm was on. Immediately, our steamer was being violently tossed to and fro in the sea. As a result, I had to seek my cabin and berth. Here I remained for two days, so sick that it seemed as if I could not live through the experience of it. Nor was I exaggerating the seriousness of my condition, for, besides the frightful nausea, my heart had failed, my feet and hands were like ice, my head was very dizzy and I had become so weak that the ship’s doctor feared that I should not long survive. At last, lying there in my weakness, I asked myself certain questions. First, What had been my object in setting forth for China? I answered myself, or rather, the Lord, that it had been to go out and remind our beloved missionaries of the joy of both doing and suffering the will of God. And then, Was I myself willing to do and suffer God’s will at all times, and especially just then and there, as related to my present sickness? I found it more difficult to answer this question than the first one, for I knew not what the issue might mean to me. But finally, I looked upward to Him who sat upon the throne and said, “By Thy grace, Lord, I am willing to go to China or not; to go onward or downward; to live for Thee or die for Thee; whatever Thou shalt choose, to that will I say a glad Amen!” And then came a wonderful experience. Instantaneously, as soon as this prayer had arisen from my heart, the sickness left me. At once, the nausea ceased, my hands and feet became warm, and I felt a sense of strength which was delightful and for which I did not find it difficult to praise God. Immediately, though the steamer was still tossing in the storm, I got up and dressed. Later, I went on deck. And from that time on, until we reached Shanghai, I remained perfectly well.
At another time, I had the following experience in China, in connection with the Rev. J. Hudson Taylor. Having broken down with nervous prostration, I went to that country for change and rest, and also, to see the work of the Mission. But instead of being better on my arrival in Shanghai, I was worse; and, in spite of calling godly brethren together to pray for me and, according to the injunction in the Epistle of James, to anoint me with oil, there followed months of weakness, which kept me, for the most part, confined to my room, and generally to my couch or bed. This experience of trial was increased by finding that Mr. Taylor was even more seriously sick than I was, a condition of things which put a natural gloom over all of my days as they were lived out in the Mission compound. At last, however, the summer passed, and the cooler weather of the fall came on. By this time, both Mr. Taylor and I were somewhat better. This fact led to the suggestion being made that we, together with Mrs. Taylor, should take a houseboat and go up the Soo-chow Creek, to the Soo-chow Hills. It was thus, one Saturday noon, that we set forth, and we were well on our way by that evening, when we anchored, not only for the night but also for the following Lord’s Day.
As can be imagined, it was a pleasing experience to be away from the city and out in the country, and it was particularly so to Mrs. Taylor and myself, for Mr. Taylor had evidently left his many cares behind him and seemed as happy as a child. But the following Sunday morning I met with a great disappointment. As I arose, Mrs. Taylor informed me that Mr. Taylor had been taken ill in the night and was seriously sick. The old difficulty of heart-weakness, from which he had suffered so long and seriously and eventually died, had suddenly returned, and there seemed to be little life left in his body. When, later, I saw Mr. Taylor, my gravest fears were aroused, though I said little of this to Mrs. Taylor. And as the day went on, the situation became increasingly grave, for, manifestly, the dear sufferer was sinking lower and lower. Moreover, we were peculiarly helpless, even from a natural standpoint, for we could not do anything for Mr. Taylor, physicians being far away and ourselves having no remedies with us for heart failure. At last, even brave, trustful Mrs. Taylor almost lost hope.
It was in this attitude of mind, feeling that God Himself must send help if the precious life was to be spared, that Mrs. Taylor came to me in my section of the boat, and asked if I would not unite with her in prayer for Mr. Taylor’s healing. This, of course, I gladly consented to do. I said to my friend, at the same time, that I felt that God would have us begin with praise, to which suggestion she quickly agreed. I then read the last few Psalms, and, as I did so, emphasized their messages of thanksgiving. After this I prayed, beginning with praise. In doing this last, I thanked God for His many mercies, and then went on to thank Him for Mr. Taylor’s sickness and his present serious condition, recognizing that perfect love was permitting all. After this, I asked our heavenly Father, if it might be His will, to raise up Mr. Taylor and to spare his valuable life. Mrs. Taylor followed with prayer, and she too began with praise.
Subsequent to this, we spent the time in that part of the boat where Mr. Taylor was lying. Never shall I forget his appearance. He was dressed in Chinese dress; his red and blue “wind cap” was pulled down over his head and shoulders; his hands were crossed over his body; his white beard covered his breast; his eyes were fast closed; his face was deathly pale; and his breath came and went in fitful gasps, which made us feel that each breath might be the last. There, we watched in silence, praising and praying. And while waiting thus, this blessed thing happened. Suddenly, Mr. Taylor’s breath became easier, more steady, and more full. Then we noticed that the colour of his face and hands was improving. Finally, we saw that he had fallen asleep. And thus he lay, until the night came on. I heard no movements in the boat during the night, and the next morning I learned that the hours had passed quietly and peacefully. Quite early the following Monday `morning, we started upon our way. In the afternoon we reached the Soo-chow Hills, and in the late afternoon, Mr. Taylor led us out over the same, walking without help and as if no serious sickness had been near him. It is not too much to say, that he seemed to us, as we watched him, like one who had been raised from the dead.
Some years since, one evening at Germantown, a Christian gentleman, Mr. S., called upon me to ask for my prayers. He looked, as he sat before me, the picture of despair, which did not seem strange when I heard the story which he related to me. The tale was as follows: The gentleman’s daughter had been brought up with many advantages and had developed marked mental ability. She had prepared for a higher education, and later had been graduated from a leading college in Pennsylvania. She had, still later, gone to France in order to perfect herself in the French language, had then returned home, and had subsequently, for some years, pursued a brilliant career as a teacher in the college from which she had been graduated. Then, in the midst of her high success, she had suddenly become insane. As her insanity was not of a violent type, but more of the nature of imbecility, the parents had found it possible to keep their daughter in their home. At the same time, the strain of watching and caring for her was a most serious one; and the experience of seeing her, who had been so beautiful and bright, wholly blasted in mind and spirit was heart-breaking. Moreover, the physicians, though many had seen her, had failed to do her any good, and thus they had finally pronounced her incurable, so that now, after six years of sickness, the situation seemed an utterly hopeless one, except as God might be pleased to interpose and heal. My friend had come to me, therefore, to ask if I would not pray that healing might be granted.
I considered it, of course, a joy to unite in prayer with this sorely tried father, and, after some talk about the privilege of prayer, we knelt together before God and asked Him, since the physicians had failed, if it might not be His will to put forth His power and entirely restore her who was so sadly afflicted. Then and there we left the matter in the hands of a loving, heavenly Father. As to the result, I knew nothing for some nine months. After that space of time, Mr. S. reappeared at our home. One look at his face showed me that something joyful had occurred. Presently, he told me this tale:
The next day after he had been to see me, a friend of his daughter, living in Brooklyn, had asked her to visit in her home, and, in the hope that a change of location might prove helpful, the parents had consented to the arrangement and the father had taken the patient to her hostess. It turned out that this friend was a Christian Scientist, and it followed that she did all that she could, from the standpoint of her belief, to bring about a recovery. But no cure took place. Instead, the poor sufferer received a nervous shock from something which occurred in the home, which resulted in throwing her far back physically, and into a more serious mental condition than had before existed. At this, being concerned, the Christian Scientist took her to a neighbouring home and left her, and the ladies there telegraphed to the father to come and get his child.
It was thus, within three days, that the invalid was back at Germantown with her parents. There, in view of the increased mental derangement, the following hours brought new and more poignant sorrow. But one day, less than a week after we had prayed for the daughter, she suddenly put her hands to her head, looked up with a new light in her eyes, and, addressing her father, said, “Father, I don’t know what has happened to me; a great cloud has been lifted from my mind, and all the darkness has gone!” From that time, the father had wished to come to see me, in order to tell me the good news of divine deliverance. But he had restrained himself from doing this, fearing that the healing might not prove permanent. Thus, the nine months had passed away. But thus also, at last, he had come to assure me that God had heard our petitions. His daughter, he said, was entirely and permanently recovered from her insanity, her physical strength had returned, she had resumed her normal study life, and all of her spiritual depression—she had thought that she had committed the unpardonable sin and was lost—had disappeared. It was for these reasons that my friend now desired me to unite with him in praise, as I had done before in prayer. My reader will understand that I considered it a great privilege to do this, in adoration of Christ, the mention of whose name before the Father had brought such a marvellous cure to pass. I made inquiries about the daughter some ten years after this. The father had died, but the brother reported that his sister was perfectly well.
A number of years ago, one day in the fall of the year, I was working in my office at Toronto, when the maid—who had come from the adjacent Mission Home—announced to me that a Mr. McC. was in the sitting-room of the Home and desired to see me. When I heard the visitor’s name I jumped to my feet, wondering if it could be that my friend and Princeton classmate, James McC., was actually in our house and that I was to have the privilege of seeing him whom I had seen but once since we had parted at college, many years before. The maid, of course, could not inform me whether or not the visitor was my friend, and so I hastened from the office into the Home and thence down the stairs into the sitting-room, to find out if my surmise were true.
One glance showed me that my anticipation was a correct one, for there sat my old-time and ever dear friend. But I was shocked beyond expression at his appearance. Though the weather was mild, he had on a winter overcoat, which he had kept buttoned and was wearing even in the house with the collar turned up. His face was thin and haggard, his skin was sallow, and his eyes were dull and lifeless. He greeted me with a loving smile, and with still more loving words; yet he did not rise as I came in, but remained seated as he had been, in a sort of collapsed condition, as if he had been through a great sickness and was nearly at an end of his physical endurance. In college days, my friend had been well developed, strong and vigorous, and the reader will understand what my heart felt as I looked at him. Almost unconsciously, I began silently to pray for him, asking God what it all meant and what could be done. Then to my friend I said:
“James, where have you come from?”
Mr. McC. answered, “From the Georgian Bay district, where I have spent the summer.”
At this I asked, “And where are you going?”
My friend replied, in a pathetically sad voice, “Ah, beloved, I am going home to die.”
These words shocked me even more than his appearance had done, especially as his looks confirmed his words. But suddenly, in answer to my silent prayers, God gave me a great assurance and I spoke as I had never spoken before, as I have never spoken since, and as I should never again dare to speak except under a similar assurance. Looking at my friend I said, with almost prophetic positiveness,
“James, you are not going home to die; I will tell you what you are going to do: you are going upstairs to bed, you are going to let us care for you and you are going to get well.”
“No,” my friend replied, “that is not for me; and, as for my staying, I can’t do this for I should give you too much trouble.”
I answered, “There is not a person in this house to whom you can give trouble.”
“But,” he replied, “I have to have peculiar food.”
“All right,” I said, “we have a peculiar cook.”
“No,” he argued, “I have to prepare my own food.”
“Very well,” I also argued, “we have a room upstairs in which there is a gas stove, and where you can do all the cooking you desire.” Then I continued: “Now, dear old chap, don’t argue any more; just surrender and let me have my way.”
And the dear fellow did surrender. In a short time I had him located in the room with the gas stove, and settled in bed, looking very worn and sick, but most grateful to have found a haven of welcome and rest. There, I had definite prayer with him that God would make him well; and there I left him for the evening and night.
At about ten o’clock the next morning, I knocked at Mr. McC.’s door and was bidden to come in, and in a tone of voice which I noticed was considerably stronger than the one I had heard the day before. Entering the room, I was surprised to find my friend was up and nearly dressed, and I was pleased to see that he looked refreshed and strengthened. Then, to my joy, he came across the room to me, put his hands upon my shoulders, looked with new brightness and courage into my face, and said, “Do you know, beloved, I don’t believe I am going to die.”
It was manifest that God had been pleased to answer prayer and, that physically, the turn of the tide had come. We sent for Dr. Sweetnam, our family physician, but he said that nothing medically could be done for him, and nothing was done. But from that hour, there was steady gain.
Mr. McC. had been sick with nervous prostration and resultant digestive trouble for some years, and though he had had the aid of physicians and the help of long summer outings, he had steadily grown worse, and this had continued until the time he had reached our home. But in the ten days he was with us, my friend added fifteen pounds to his weight, and after he left he continued to gain until he weighed as much as he had in college, namely, one hundred and eighty-five pounds. In addition, he was so strengthened in mind— he had not been able for a long time to think closely without much suffering—that he soon found it possible to resume his Christian service of Bible teaching, by voice and pen. In this last service, he has had to use much care not to overdo; but his activities for many years past now have been varied and great. In other words, when everything possible had been done to secure healing by natural processes, without result, God Himself, in answer to our united prayer, brought healing to pass. It was thus that he who had been slowly but surely dying and was then nigh unto death, was suddenly and permanently healed.