The Potency Of Prayer
Address delivered at the Missionary Rally at The Moody Church in April 1923 by Dr. Howard Taylor.
Before reading the Scripture, I should like to mention a fact that may possibly be unknown to some who are present. That beloved and wonderful man of God, the late D.L. Moody, was the one to support the first American member of the China Inland Mission who went out from Northfield in 1888. It is, therefore, a special privilege to me to meet this great gathering in this church founded by and named after that mighty man of God.
Let us now read a few verses from the 7th chapter of Matthew, a part of our common missionary equipment; commencing at the 7th verse: “Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”
In the first place, let us consider for a moment the intimate connection between this passage and the missionary work of the church of God. Take China, for instance. According to the latest estimates, both Chinese and foreign, they have a population of about 440,000,000 souls, more than four times as many people as there are in the United States—a stupendous number. Of those 440,000,000 it would be a very optimistic estimate to suppose that 40,000,000 had heard the Gospel so intelligently as to have had the opportunity to believe in the lord Jesus Christ to the saving of their souls. What about the other 400,000,000? It is because of the 400,000,000 without God and without hope in the world that we long exceedingly to see the work of God extend in that great country, and it is for that reason that the China Inland Mission is continually crying to God for reinforcements that we may be able to care for the large part of that country which seems to fall to our lot. We need reinforcements of every kind; men with business capacity, doctors, nurses, teachers. Recently it has been determined that we are to do educational evangelistic work in the China Inland Mission. The two words go together. We don’t believe in educational work alone, but we do believe in the winning of the souls of children with whom we come into contact day after day in our schools.
For this reason a year ago at the meetings of the China Council of the China Inland Mission at which I had the privilege of taking part, it was decided that we should seek God’s blessing on a forward movement in that department of evangelism, viz., the evangelism of the rising generation through Christian schools, primarily, but not exclusively, for the sons and daughters of Christians. We have need of every kind of missionary, evangelists, musicians, Sunday School teachers, school teachers, nurses, doctors, business men of all kinds and workers in every kind of service. In answer to prayer we believe the Lord will give them. As you know, the China Inland Mission is one of the prayer missions. It is founded on the promises of God to do things because we ask for them.
Take, for instance, that first invitation of our Lord’s “Ask and it shall be given you.” When my dear father was at home on his first furlough, he knew perfectly well that if he asked for missionaries the Lord would give them to him. But he was young. I suppose very few people realize how young he was when the China Inland Mission was commenced. He was only thirty-three years of age when the China Inland Mission was first formulated. Naturally he shrank from so tremendous a task. Inland China was utterly unevangelized and it was a closed country. You could not go there according to the regulations then in existence. You might be arrested and handed over to the authorities as a sort of malefactor. That was the state of things when the China Inland Mission was founded to carry the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to inland China, a task that many people felt to be impossible. But you know, and we know, that there is nothing impossible with God, and my father was confident that since God had said: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” it could be done.
After praying about it for many months, and after seeking in vain to get the denominational boards to undertake work for inland China, he felt constrained of God to do what he could for the evangelizing of that vast unreached territory. On the 25th of June, 1865, he yielded his will to God, for he had known that the Lord wanted him to do this thing, and in the margin of his Bible he wrote words like these: “Prayer for twenty-four willing, skillful workers to go to the unreached provinces of inland China and to its dependencies.” He asked of the One Who alone can give them. Did he get them? Everybody knows that he did, and not twenty-four only. Before those twenty-four missionaries went out to China a conference was held in London in which my father took part. Lord Ragstock was present and was much impressed, and on his way to his home in the south of England he wrote my father a letter, which I still have, in which he said, “Don’t pray only for twenty-four missionaries, pray for a hundred and the Lord will give them to you. I have pleasure in inclosing a hundred pounds for their expenses.” They asked and the Lord gave, for the Lord himself said, “Ask and it shall be given unto you.”
Ten years later the China Inland Mission had already obtained a foothold in five provinces, but there were still nine unreached provinces in the north, in the south and in the west, especially in the west. For these nine unreached provinces special prayer was made, agreed prayer on the part of large numbers of Christian people, that the Lord would call forth eighteen young men with the requisite physical ability to do pioneer work in those unreached and still closed provinces. Were they given? It is a matter of history that they were given, and that in due course I went out to China. A few years later there was a great need of increases in the members of the Mission, and toward the end of the year 1881 an agreed prayer was made that the Lord would give us seventy missionaries, and the Mission was about fifteen or sixteen years old. They prayed for other seventy also, following the words from the narrative of our Lord’s work in sending forth the evangelists. Were those seventy given? My beloved brother, Mr. Stephen who is on the platform is one of them, and they all came in at the time when it was prayed that they might come. Between the years 1882 and 1883 seventy-seven missionaries went out in connection with the China Inland Mission in answer to prayer.
But I would like to speak briefly on the third of these injunctions, “Knock and it shall be opened to you.” As I have already mentioned, in the year 1876 we had eighteen pioneer missionaries given in answer to definite prayer for a definite service, men suitable for the service as they afterwards proved themselves, physically and in other ways. But the door was still barred. The gates of the West were still closed and bolted. When those missionaries had learned the language and were ready to go into that closed territory my father went from England to China to bid them Godspeed, so sure was he that the Lord who had heard prayer would open the doors before them, for He holds the key that opens and no man can shut, and these workers had come forth at His bidding.
Someone said to my father, “I don’t think you ought to go to China. You know England is on the very threshold of war with China.” And so it was. Early in the previous year a Mr. Mallory had been murdered in China and negotiations were now on at Peking in the view of having an apology made. Nothing came off. The negotiations went on and the high officials kept postponing the matter, until at last the British officials hauled down the flag and left Peking, and it seemed as though war was but a matter of days. It was just at that juncture that my father left home for China. On the voyage he spent hours in the cabin praying that the Lord of the harvest would throw open the great harvest field. When he landed in Shanghai, about the first question he asked was, “How are the prospects for these men going up country?” The answer was, “Praise God, at the last moment the permission was given.” A treaty was signed which threw open the whole of that country to the Gospel and stipulated that missionaries and merchants were free to travel at will wherever they would throughout the length and breadth of the land. “Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” Our Lord said the word and He stands behind it.
A little more than a year ago, as many here may know, my dear wife and I were captured by brigands in the same province where Mr. Mallory was murdered in the spring of 1875. Whether we should ever live to see our fellow missionaries or not was an open question. We realized that it might be for life or it might be for death. Or it might, perhaps, be for torture. In the loving-kindness of the Lord, however, my dear wife and I were kept without fear. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee.” How good it is to trust such a covenant-keeping God. In His great mercy, and in answer to very special prayer, He brought us through. The dear evangelist who volunteered to accompany us had been up the whole night waiting upon God. After two days and nights my dear wife was liberated. I shall never forget her riding away from that mountain village where we had been spending the night. It was the first and only time in my life that I was really glad to see the last of her. But I think if we could have looked over the curtains of her chair we might have seen tears streaming down her face at having to leave me there alone.
The time went by very slowly. It was very monotonous; just traveling from village to village, five, ten or twenty miles a day; in lonely places, frequently camping on the mountain side eight to ten thousand feet above the sea. There were cold, biting winds. But from many countries the hearts of God’s people ascended to God in prayer. There was a “knocking” from many hands at the closed door and when the Lord’s time was ripe a wonderful thing happened. The king of the brigands had determined that he would not let me go until they were all allowed (four thousand of them) to rejoin the Chinese army, and until uniforms such as the Chinese army wears were sent for them. The government had determined that they would not meet the brigands in the slightest degree. It was like a great irresistible force meeting an immovable mountain.
Day after day, prayer went up to God and on the thirty-eighth day, which happened to be a Saturday, at about a quarter to five in the afternoon, the king of the brigands clambered up to the attic where I was a prisoner, shook hands with me and said, “Will you go into the city tonight or will you wait until tomorrow morning?” I said, “I don’t decide that question.” But, he replied, “You can go tonight or you can wait until tomorrow morning.”
I said, “Under those circumstances, I will go tonight.” In a quarter of an hour I was in the saddle, on my way to the city where my dear wife awaited me. When the Lord’s people began to knock at the closed door, it could not be closed longer than the Lord permitted.
Then in closing; “Seek and ye shall find.” I do hope that everybody here will take these precious promises home. They are for every one of you, especially for those called to missionary service. “Seek and ye shall find.”
Someone once suggested to my father, “Mr. Taylor, if the Lord would hear our prayers and give us a hundred missionaries, there would not be money enough to go around.”
He smiled and replied, “I suppose our Father in heaven can calculate that as well as we can, but let us ask about it. Let us ask that He will give us $50,000 to meet the additional need.”
Then another one remarked, “You know our income comes through the mails, and if we were to receive $50,000 in sums averaging $5.00 each, they would need to answer ten thousand additional letters, and make out ten thousand additional receipts, and our staff at home would be worked to death. Suppose we pray that the Lord would put this burden upon some of His worthy stewards that they will send in the amount needed in large denominations.
So it was agreed to pray that triple prayer: for a hundred workers, for fifty thousand additional income, and the extra income might be received in large amounts. Then my father went home to England to seek the needed recruits. He was not one of those who believe in praying and doing nothing. He thought that prayer and works should go together. It was not until 1888 that the China Inland Mission became international and dear Mr. Moody became a member of it. My father traveled up and down the length and breadth of England and Scotland three times and Ireland twice telling of the need, and during that year the Mission received application from six hundred men and women to go out to China on faith lines with no guarantee that they would receive any money at all save by the faithfulness of God. Some of them were too old; some of them were not physically fit to stand the strain of such a climate; some of them might have been more or less shaky on the fundamentals, and I need not say that it would not do to have men and women whose doubts were bigger than their faith. Out of the six hundred there were selected one hundred and two who were actually equipped and sent out. Our Lord said, “Seek and ye shall find.”
How about finances? Our experience in that matter is that the Lord does not always do just exactly as we ask. Possibly your experience may have been the same. On that occasion He saw that $50,000 would not be enough so He sent us $55,000, and it came in eleven bits, so that they only had to write eleven extra letters and make out eleven receipts. “Ask and ye shall receive; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.”