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James Gilmour. A Wasted Life?

There is one more issue arising from the courageous and dedicated life of the missionary James Gilmour (1843-1891), whom I have discussed over the last three weeks. Simply put, was what James Gilmour achieved worth the cost he paid?

His life was hard. “Four strenuous and lonely years, sharing the life of the nomadic Mongolians, brought no converts; eleven more years passed before the first baptism. His colleagues in Beijing were not wholly sympathetic to his single-minded commitment to work among the nomadic Mongolians.” That seems hard going – not much reward and criticised by some colleagues. “Some of the days I spent in the markets were so very cold that my muscles seemed benumbed, and speech even was difficult. I met with some spiritual response, though, and with that I can stand the cold. I have got thin. I am feeding up at present. I walked home, a donkey carrying my baggage, a distance of about three hundred miles, in seven and a half days, or about forty miles a day, and my feet were really very bad. At night I used to draw a woollen thread through the blisters. I walked, not because I had not money to ride, but to get at the Mongol who was with me.”

“If by any means I might save some – that seems to have been the one thought and hope which inspired James Gilmour in all his efforts for the spread of the Gospel. No more devoted servant of God ever lived, nor one who was readier at all times to spend and be spent for the Master whom he loved and served.”

But could his dedication and his constant labours have been better used in a more fruitful area of the world? “Alone he pressed forward. He had seasons of depression and urged the church at home to pray for him, and help him by sympathy. He was willing to be all things lawful in order to ‘win some trophies of the cross’. He became a vegetarian to win some of higher moral standards; he dressed like a shopkeeper; ate porridge, native fashion, in the street in order to win souls for Christ. His living expenses averaged about six cents per day. Some think he shortened his usefulness by such methods.”

“Upon reaching a new city he pitched his tent on a main thoroughfare, and from early morn till late at night healed the sick, preached and talked to inquirers. During one eight months’ campaign he saw about 6,000 patients, preached to nearly 24,000 people, sold 3,000 books, distributed 4,500 tracts, travelled 1,860 miles and spent about $200, and added that only two individuals openly confessed to believe in Christ.”

The rare results were cut out of rock. “The priest I had come to visit was busy lighting a fire which would do nothing but smoke; and the room was soon full. Finding him alone I told him I had come to speak to him and my other friends about the salvation of their souls, and was pressing him to accept Christ, when a man I knew entered. Without waiting for me to say anything, the priest related the drift of our conversation to the man, who, tongs in hand, was trying to make the fire blaze. Blaze it would not, but sent forth an increasing volume of smoke; and the man, invisible to us in the dense cloud, though only about two yards away, spoke up and said that for months he had been a scholar of Jesus; and that if the priest would join him they would become Christians together. Whether the priest would join him or not, his mind was made up, he would trust the Saviour. By this time the cloud of smoke had settled down lower still. I was lying flat on the platform, and the two men were crouching on the floor – I could just see dimly the bottom of their skin coats – but the place was beautiful to me as the gate of Heaven, and the words of the confession of Christ, from out the cloud of smoke, were inspiring to me as if they had been spoken by an angel from out of a cloud of glory.” Gilmour and the new believer “travelled for nearly twenty-three miles together, talking, and then in a lonely place in the road knelt and prayed together and then separated.”

It seems to be such little fruit for such a great cost paid. But next week I want to share from the pen of a significant Mongolian pastor what God is doing in Mongolia today in the growing church of Jesus Christ. No-one can persuade me that today’s growth in Mongolia can be separated from those days of hard labour in that barren ground by this noble man of God, James Gilmour! He sowed faithfully and others reap today.

Source: Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity, Wikipedia.

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