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give evidence of the too rapid revolution of the intellectual shafts.
The tour in Canada had deeply moved his missionary instincts, but on his return it was still some time before he was able to accept the invitation of the English Presbyterian Church, that he should go out as their ordained missionary to China. The difficulties in the path were of an Alpine character. He did not see his way clearly, and, it may have been, he had hopes of preferment at home. On Sunday, the roth April, 1846, “having had his heart enlarged towards the heathen," whilst he was preaching in an Edinburgh church, he came to the resolution that he would devote his life to the prosecution of evangelical work in China. Meanwhile, the Foreign Mission Committee of the English Presbyterian Church, taking into consideration the number of missionaries already in the field, the difficulty of acquiring the language, and the fact that an entrance into so many parts of the country was not then to be obtained, had agreed to abandon their China scheme altogether. When, however, it became known that Mr. Burns was willing to labour in the Chinese field, the resolution was overturned, and, at Sunderland, on the 22nd April, he was ordained to the ministry, and solemnly set apart to his new work. If he had taken some time to make up his mind, he was now anxious to get to his chosen field with all possible speed. When asked after the ordination service was ended, when he would be able to go, he replied, “To-morrow.” Before going to the synod, he had spent a day in his father's study at Kilsyth in prayer, and when he left, it was with the tender consciousness that certainly not for many years, and probably never again, would he visit the village and the parish associated with his stirring boyhood, and the early triumphs of his powers as a preacher of the Gospel. After visiting the churches of the synod, he took ship at Portsmouth for China on the gth June, 1847.
China is, indeed, a wonderful land. The eastern boundary of the empire is the Pacific Ocean. The shore line is of the most irregular character, and the coast is studded with islands. Its western barrier is the mountains of Thibet. On the north it is guarded for thirteen hundred miles by that famous rampart constructed two thousand years ago, and to the rearing of which the nation devoted its undivided energies. It has an area of more than a million miles. It is watered by two noble rivers—the Yang-tse-Kiang and Hwang-Ho. The climate is salubrious, the soil fertile. It contains vast cities and a teeming population. Over its ancient civilisation it keeps watch with only too zealous a care. It has three forms of religion : Confucianism, the religion of the higher classes, which denies immortality and doubts the existence of God; Taouism, which inculcates the belief in spirits and demons; and Buddhism, which insists on the virtues of contemplation and abstraction, and that the highest ambition of the soul is to lose its identity and be absorbed in Buddha. The first are the atheists of China, the second the fanatics, and the third the mystics. This country, so deeply sunk in idolatry, has long presented an inviting field for the missionaries of Europe. And from the seventh century until now they have continued their warfare, that, if possible, they might twine China, a flowery chaplet, about the arms of the Cross. The first Protestant missionary was Robert Morrison, who landed in China in September, 1807. After ten years' toil, he wrote a dictionary of the Chinese language, and along with Dr. Milne, another labourer who had joined him, he completed the translation of the whole Bible into the Chinese language. It was not, however, until the opening of the five ports to the cominerce of the world in 1842, that the missionary societies of the West were able to send out men in at all adequate numbers to carry forward the work which Morrison and Milne had so auspiciously begun.
After Mr. Burns landed in China, he set himself at once to acquiring the language. In a year, he had made so great progress that he was able to talk with the natives, and to preach to them in their own tongue, so as to make himself fairly well understood. In a short time he was able to say that he had thoroughly mastered it. The method he followed made him able in the course of his missionary life to overtake a very large portion of the empire. He chose first some large city, such as HongKong, Canton, Amoy, Shanghai, or Pekin, and, making himself familiar with the dialect of the district, he worked out from that city as a centre. In the city he had some room, usually of the poorest character, upon which he could fall back in case of meeting with adverse circumstances at outlying points. But Mr. Burns' manner was more marked than his method. He wished as far as possible to disarm opposition and elude the attacks of fanaticism. To accomplish more perfectly the object of his mission, he adopted Chinese habits and customs. He ate, drank, and dressed, all as the Chinese themselves. He wished in China to be all things to all men, that if, by any means he might save some. The method which he pursued has been subjected to a good deal of criticism. For the peaceful prosecution of his work in outlying districts, it was undoubtedly of service; but in the open ports it was a hindrance rather than a help. He eventually acknowledged that his example was not one to be followed. The kind of life and living it imposed upon him injured his health, and, in a great many cases, was in no way conducive to the making the closer acquaintance of the natives. The means Mr. Burns employed were in every way commendable. He translated the “Pilgrim's Progress” and a number of hymns and plain sermons into Chinese, and wherever he went, circulated them amongst the people. This is the only part of his work which visibly remains until this hour, and which keeps his name alive in the land to the conversion of which he devoted the best energies of his life. Thus living and working, after twenty-one years' labour, worn out with toil in the cause of the Master he loved, in the full assurance of faith, his life came to a peaceful close at the Port of Nieuchwang, on the 4th of April, 1868.
The imagination follows the wanderings of Mr. Burns in that far distant land with pathetic interest. It was a grave experiment to send him to China. In this country, his progress had been attended by enthusiastic and sympathetic crowds. One wonders, in the strange cities and amid the idolatries of the far East, if he sometimes wept when he thought of Zion, the congregation melted by his oratory, and men and women receiving the Gospel in the love of it. Who knows? He was a man who never complained. But this is clear. The light that shone in on him with dazzling brightness in his Edinburgh lodging, shone on to the end. The altar fire that began then to burn was only quenched with his life. When China is won for the Cross, the work of William Burns will have to be reckoned among the forces that have made for its Christian civilisation.
When the little trunk which contained all his property was opened in the midst of a group of young, wondering faces, and there were taken from it his English and Chinese Bibles, his battered writing-case, two or three books, a Chinese dress, and his Gospel flag, there was one of the young people who said, “Surely he must have been very poor.”