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Tuesday, November 06, 2007


They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. – Revelation 12:11.

1. Early Life. James Gilmour was the third of six sons born to James and Elizabeth Pettigrew Gilmour on the Cathkin estate of a half dozen farms in the parish of Carmunnock, about five miles from Glasgow, Scotland. His ancestors were godly people. The grandfather Gilmour and his wife walked regularly every Sunday to Glasgow to worship in the Congregational church. Their faithfulness, seen in the return on dark wintry evenings wending their way homeward by the light of a hand-made lantern, made a deep impression upon the community. James' parents maintained the same strict integrity and godliness. His mother delighted in gathering her sons about her in the evening and reading to them missionary and religious stories and making comments upon them. It is supposed that here was planted the desire that led the missionary later to write his interesting accounts of the mission field.

Family worship was so strictly adhered to that neighbors would have to wait until the blessed hour was passed before they could be served. Inasmuch as James' father was in comfortable circumstances, the lad did not pass thru the ordeal of poverty that some missionaries have. He had good school privileges, first at Cambuslang and then at Glasgow, applied himself not so much because of love for learning but because he willed to do so, and earned for himself many prizes. Still he was a boy full of fun and games and noted for his teasing. He loved the wild and would wander alone among the hills, woods, and glens, delighted with nature and what it gave back to him.

2. University Life. At first when James attended Glasgow University he lived at home. Because some of his classes came too early for train service he walked to school in the morning. Later he furnished a small house which belonged to his father in the city, and prepared his breakfast and other meals as he thought best. He was especially bright in Latin and Greek, the secret of his success being in his "unspeakable value" placed on time. He never willfully lost an hour. Though having money he was very economical. He had a horror for intoxicants. Once he called on a classmate who had beer in his room. Young Gilmour quietly raised the window and as he poured it out on the street said, "Better on God's earth than in His image."

His early religious training bore fruit in conversion in his University life. He selected missionary service because the workers abroad were fewer than at home, and "to me the soul of an Indian seemed as precious as the soul of an Englishman, and the Gospel as much for the Chinese as the European." The moral effect of the brightest student deciding for missions was very great indeed. When he offered himself as a missionary to the London Missionary Society he was sent to Cheshunt College for further training. While he retained his love for fun, he studied his Bible with such great earnestness that his soul became all aflame with love for the perishing heathen. His light shone brightly at home, too. He would go out evenings alone and conduct open-air services or talk to laborers by the roadside or in the field.

3. Missionary Appointment. After Cheshunt College Gilmour entered upon studies of missions and the Chinese language at Highgate. While here, thru a misunderstanding the students rebelled against the directors of the Mission Society. Gilmour spoke for the student body, was looked upon as a ringleader and with disfavor, though afterwards the directors acknowledged that the students were right in their position. At last he was assigned to open the long-considered field of Mongolia and set sail from Liverpool February 22, 1870. He was made chaplain of the ship on which he sailed. At nighttime he talked to every member of the crew while on watch, and laid the matter of salvation so clearly before them that he afterwards wrote, "All on board had repeated opportunities of hearing the Gospel as plainly as I could put it."

4. On Slope of Volcano. As soon as Gilmour reached Peking, on May 18, 1870, he began study of the Chinese language. Within a month, however, he was disturbed by the massacre of thirteen French Catholic missionaries at Tientsin, the port city for Peking. He wrote, "We are all living on the slope of a volcano that may put forth its slumbering rage at any moment." Though lion-hearted and not thinking of leaving the field, the situation was so grave that he wrote again, "Our death might further the cause of Christ more than our life could do." A massacre of all foreigners was planned, but a great downpour of rain the first day it was to begin shut the Chinese in their homes and when they could go out again the excitement was gone and there was no disturbance.

5. Mongolia. At the time Gilmour went to the field, Mongolia embraced that vast territory between China proper and Siberia, stretching from the Sea of Japan on the east to Turkestan on the west, a distance of about 3,000 miles; and from Asiatic Russia on the north to the Great Wall of China on the south, a distance of about 900 miles. In the center is the great desert of Gobi. If one turns to a map he will see Kalgan over 100 miles northwest of Peking, on the border between China and Mongolia. Still farther northwest about 900 miles is the town of Kiachta. This route was marked by a large trade, -- exchange of China tea for salt, soda, hides and timber, -- all borne hither and thither between China and Russia by caravans of camels or oxcarts.

West of this ancient caravan route are wandering tribes almost knowing no government or fearing no power. In the winter they live in rude huts or tents; during the heated summers they seek the best pastures they can command for their flocks. Terrible dust storms sweep over the land. Religion, where it has gained a foothold in the southeastern part, is Buddhism; it is estimated that over half the male population are priests of Buddha. Many temples of impressive splendor in gold and colors, seen from afar, and great reverence for sacred places by the people, impress the missionary on every hand. To carry the Gospel to the nomadic bands of this great land, the missionary of necessity adopts a roving life and puts up with its hardships.

6. Long Loneliness. Having decided that the proper way to learn the language and start the work was to go into the heart of the proposed field, Gilmour, in company with a Russian postmaster, left Kalgan, to which point he had come, on August 27, 1870, for the first trip across the great plain to Kiachta. The journey took a month. Here he was detained because his passport would not be accepted by either Russian or Chinese, until he could obtain another from Peking. He found a home with a Scotch trader. He went among the people asking the names of articles and thus gathered a vocabulary. He hired a teacher; but the teacher was so slow that the restless nature of the missionary felt life had reached its greatest stagnation. His feelings were like Elijah's under the juniper tree: he understood better than ever the loneliness of Christ with no one about who understood Him!

But he did not lose sight of the purpose in coming to the land. Before the close of 1870 he left Kiachta to share the tent of some Mongol engaged in prayer. He arranged with this devout man, who had welcomed him, to share the hospitality of his home. The man lived alone, attended by two lamas that lived in adjoining huts. Here Gilmour spent three months, acquired the language rapidly and gained real insight into the hearts and minds of the natives. He found them exceedingly simple in thought. To illustrate, he taught that God was everywhere and without form. The Mongol was puzzled to understand how, if God had not form, Jesus could sit at his right hand; further, if God is everywhere, how could one keep from walking on him? Within one year he could read the Bible in Mongolian slowly and at sight, and write the language imperfectly.

7. The Gospel and Medicine. During the summer of 1872 Gilmour, in company with Mr. Edkins, visited the sacred city of Woo Tai Shan, a famous place of Mongol pilgrimage. These people tried the fiery-hearted missionary greatly. Drunkenness, hopeless indebtedness, and a desire to borrow were characteristics that greatly disturbed him. Debts never distressed them, but rather their inability to borrow more. Amidst these discouragements he comforted himself as he once wrote, "All our good work will be found, there is no doubt of that. All I am afraid of is that our good work will amount to little when it is found!" He was concerned that in the judgment no heathen can be justified in "pitching into us for not pitching into them more savagely, for not, in fact, taking them by the cuff of the neck and dragging them into the kingdom."

No hardship was too great for him. He would walk to save the expense of a camel. His tent was dwelling, chapel, and dispensary. For he followed the example of the Master in healing the sick as far as he was able; and the few simple remedies he found a very great help to him in his work. Yet at the end of 1874, after four years of labor, he could not report one convert, not even one who could be classed as interested in Christianity. The people did not have even a sense of need of what the Gospel supplies. Had one asked Gilmour about not having conversions he would likely have said that it was his business to sow the seed and God's to give the increase in His own good time... Part 2 next week.

Are you willing to do whatever it takes, and give your all, to win the lost to Christ? Then like, the James Gilmour, put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water, and dare to follow Jesus wherever He leads you?

Loving Father, I thank you for the life of James Gilmour, and I pray that anyone reading this may be inspired by his testimony to give their life to you, and that you would use them in the same way, as you used James. By the power of the Holy Spirit, help me to be a person of like faith, that I may bring glory to your name. In the wonderful and mighty name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

Be encouraged.

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