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Forty Years in South China The Life of Rev. John Van Nest Talmage, D.D.   By: (1860-1917)

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The Life of Rev. John Van Nest Talmage, D.D.


Rev. John Gerardus Fagg Missionary of the American Reformed (Dutch) Church, at Amoy, China




Too near was I to the subject of this biography to write an impartial introduction. When John Van Nest Talmage went, my last brother went. Stunned until I staggered through the corridors of the hotel in London, England, when the news came that John was dead. If I should say all that I felt I would declare that since Paul the great apostle to the Gentiles, a more faithful or consecrated man has not lifted his voice in the dark places of heathenism. I said it while he was alive, and might as well say it now that he is dead. "He was the hero of our family." He did not go to a far off land to preach because people in America did not want to hear him preach. At the time of his first going to China he had a call to succeed Rev. Dr. Brodhead, of Brooklyn, the Chrysostom of the American pulpit, a call with a large salary, and there would not have been anything impossible to him in the matters of religious work or Christian achievement had he tarried in his native land. But nothing could detain him from the work to which God called him years before he became a Christian. My reason for writing that anomalous statement is that when a boy in Sabbath school at Boundbrook, New Jersey, he read a Library book, entitled "The Life of Henry Martyn, the Missionary," and he said to our mother, "Mother! when I grow up I am going to be a missionary!" The remark made no especial impression at the time. Years passed on before his conversion. But when the grace of God appeared to him, and he had begun his study for the ministry, he said one day, "Mother! Do you remember that many years ago I said, 'I am going to be a missionary'?" She replied, "Yes! I remember you said so." "Well," said he, "I am going to keep my promise." And how well he kept it millions of souls on earth and in heaven have long since heard. But his chief work is yet to come. We get our chronology so twisted that we come to believe that the white marble of the tomb is the mile stone at which a good man stops, when it is only a mile stone on a journey, the most of the miles of which are yet to be travelled.

The Dictionary which my brother prepared with more than two decades of study, the religious literature he transferred from English into Chinese, the hymns he wrote for others to sing, although himself could not sing at all, (he and I monopolizing the musical incapacity of a family in which all the rest could sing well), the missionary stations he planted, the life he lived, will widen out, and deepen and intensify through all time and all eternity.

I am glad that those competent to tell of his magnificent work have undertaken it. You could get nothing about it from him at all. Ask him a question trying to evoke what he had done for God and the church, and his lips were as tightly shut as though they had never been opened. He was animated enough when drawn out in discussion religious, educational, or political, but he had great powers of silence. I once took him to see General Grant, our reticent President. On that occasion they both seemed to do their best in the art of quietude. The great military President with his closed lips on one side of me, and my brother with his closed lips on the other side of me, I felt there was more silence in the room than I ever before knew to be crowded into the same space. It was the same kind of reticence that always came upon John when you asked him about his work. But the story has been gloriously told in the heavens by those who through his instrumentality have already reached the City of Raptures. When the roll of martyrs is called before the Throne of God, the name of John Van Nest Talmage will be called. He worked himself to death in the cause of the world's evangelization. His heart, his brain, his lungs, his hands, his muscles, his nerves, all wrought for others until heart and brain, and lungs and hands, and muscles and nerves could do no more... Continue reading book >>

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