Early Years and Conversion
Meng Che Hsien was one of three children of a sincere believer who had come to Christ through the ministry of English Presbyterians. Meng’s father had read William Burns’s translation of Pilgrim’s Progress in 1868 and was greatly moved by it and other Christian books. Visiting missionaries Isaac Pierson and Dr. A.O. Treat, he declared that he had come to believe in Christ. He destroyed all his idols and began to read the New Testament with his wife. A few months later he was baptized.
His two sons became pastors and his daughter served as a Bible woman. Having found new life in Christ, he took his sons from their home in the country to study at the Christian school in Baotingfu (Paotingfu). Meng Che Hsien was ten years old. At the age of sixteen, he writes,
I listened once to a minute description of the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, and of the suffering and ignominy he endured, even unto death. My conscience was pricked to the quick, and for a week I wept. I then earnestly sought baptism, and I determined to give my life to the work of preaching Christ, as a small partial payment for the dying grace of our Lord. The picture of the death of our Lord Jesus is constantly before my mind and heart.
At that time, he and his brother were in a “poverty stricken and base” condition. Their daily occupations were “collecting fuel in the fields and by the roadside, and gathering manure in the filthy streets.”
His grandmother opposed his conversion to Christianity, begging him to stay with her. “But he laid down his hoe in the field, and went where the missionary was preaching, and decided to find the God his father had found.”
After his baptism, he was taken by Dr. Goodrich to T’ungcho, where he studied in school, and then in the theological seminary. During those years, he assisted in preaching during vacations. He was ordained at the age of thirty; his brother was ordained at the age of thirty-one.
Of his new life in T’ungcho, he wrote, “In comparison with the holy calling we now pursue, [their former life] is like the contrast between heaven and earth. Is not this due to the Lord’s wonderful mercy?” After ordination it became his “strong hope that the Lord Jesus [would] use us two brothers, as he used Moses and Aaron, to lead multitudes out from the place of bondage.”
Meng was “inducted into the evangelistic work by the Rev. Isaac Pierson, who was most faithful in guiding his small band of helpers in their itinerant labors, and training them to work the field.” On Sundays, when it was his turn, he would walk ten miles to the village of Ch’ing Liang, preach and teach all day, and then walk back again in the evening.
As a “preacher in city and country he threw himself with all the force of his strong nature into the great work. His sermons were not polished, but were vigorous and earnest like himself.”
Pierson remembered that Meng was the first Chinese in Baotingfu “to do his own courting. He came to me late on summer evening, and, sitting by my side, approached the subject with commendable directness. He first hinted, and then asked that I would act as go-between, and secure for him Miss Chang T’sui. I replied in Puritanical fashion, ‘Speak for yourself, Chang Ch’un (his childhood name).’ That was an entirely new idea to his conception. But he retired, and the next evening appeared with a merry face, saying he had done so and it was all right.”
“For fourteen years he was pastor, and for a considerable part of that time he had sole pastoral charge of the church in Paotingfu, and of the large country district, including a total church membership of about six hundred, besides children and inquirers… . [His missionary colleagues] ‘feared that between the responsibilities and the temptations, he might break down.’ But he grew in strength and in sweetness of character to the end.”
In late 1899 and early 1900, there was a remarkable revival in the church at T’ungcho. During follow-up meetings for a deeper work of the Spirit, Meng was “one of the first to rise with words of penitence on his lips… He said substantially, ‘It is a great grief to me that I have not been more faithful, and that I have allowed worldly things to interfere with my great work of winning souls. Pray that the Lord will forgive me, and give me new grace to labor in his kingdom from this time forward.’ Then he sat down, and for the remainder of the meeting the great teardrops fell fast from his eyes. With what love and winning power he preached those days, and labored with his people.”
When the Boxer madness broke out, “he was suddenly seized, bound and carried to a temple occupied by the Boxers.” A missionary appealed to the magistrate for his release, “but in vain, and after a night of suffering he was beheaded in a nearby temple to the five sacred animals,” idols against the worship of which Meng had often preached.
His four sons were seized, and all but the youngest was killed. This boy, Titus, was twelve years old and “of winning face and manners.” One of the Boxers was charmed by him and begged that he be spared. He took Titus into his own home, but later a wealthy Japanese Christian asked to be able to take care of Titus and educate him in Japan, with the promise that he would be returned to China as soon as he completed his schooling.
In March 1901, a memorial service for the Boxer martyrs was held in Baotingfu. “In this service Meng received especial honor, and it was everywhere apparent how widely he was honored and loved.”
Miss Jennie G. Evans, who knew him while he studied and served in T’ungcho, wrote, “As a young man he was firm and decided in his views, sometimes as decided in what he thought wrong, and it was hard to convince him. But when he was convinced, nothing would change him back to the old way. He was always a power in the school, and always for right. He was my stay and help. All through those years I felt I had a pillar to lean against… . I have been with him in country work, and saw how he drew the people to him.”
As a boy and young man, he was a “person of quick, right, generous impulses, a born leader of men, led himself by a strong conscience. He was faithful in his studies, graduating with honor. But it was in the battle of life, rather than in the study, that he was a power.”
Mr. Pierson, a missionary who worked with him during the great famine, recalled,
Though but eighteen years of age, he was one of the bravest and most faithful assistants of Dr. Ament and myself. Those were perilous times. Murder and highway robbery were frequent, and “the pestilence that walks in darkness” was a constant menace, but the youth never flinched… . I never knew him to flinch a duty or to seek the easiest place in any effort, but rather, as by a birthright, he quietly took the hardest and most difficult part of every enterprise that came to him. And he did it in a beautiful, self-forgetting way that made it easier for others to follow …
Inheriting much of the kindness of heart of his father and brother, he was better known for his quick perception of right, and his entire absence of self in fulfilling it …
Che Hsien was always cheerful, and his laugh was the merriest and most contagious I ever heard in China.
The Rev. George Henry Ewing, who had worked with Meng for seven years, wrote of him:
When I first met Meng Che Hsien in the winter of 1893-4, he impressed me as a tall, not unhandsome man, with a quick, nervous manner of speaking; a man of much energy, very conscientious, and realizing the earnestness of life. It was apparent that, owing to the comparatively late period when his education began, he had never really commanded that polished style or dignified bearing of his younger brother when in the pulpit. But his cheerful optimism, and simple faith in God, made him none the less effective as a preaching helper. He was never ashamed to witness for those truths which, while most vital, are so often to the heathen mind a stumbling-block and rock of offence.
Pastor Meng ranked high as a peacemaker between the Christians and their numberless enemies. His skill and wisdom, tempering justice with mercy, commanded our admiration. For this ability, and the love which begot it, also for his faithful pastoral care bestowed upon the weaker Christians in the country out-stations, he was universally beloved. He was emphatically an unselfish man.
Mrs. Ewing offered this description of Pastor Meng:
As I think of the man who for nearly seven years was our brother in the work in Paotingfu, it is with the profoundest respect and admiration… . I remember especially one Sabbath, some years ago, after a sermon on giving a tenth to the Lord, he came to us and resolved (a resolve always afterward kept faithfully) to give a tenth of all that he had to the Lord. From his small salary he gave liberally and cheerfully whenever he found a need.
He was always cheerful. When his wife and little girl died, he took it so beautifully that at the time I almost thought that he didn’t care quite as much as he ought to. But I believe now that it was the childlike simplicity of trust in the Father’s love and wisdom, which was so eminently a part of his everyday life that helped him in those days of sorrow and trouble.
I never saw him afraid. I can’t imagine him afraid, not even when confronted with death itself… . Thoroughly unselfish and beautiful in character, we thank God that He let our lives touch his, for the lessons learned from him, and for the years of precious friendship with Pastor Meng, whom to know was to love and honor.
Adapted from Chauncey Goodrich, “Pastor Meng of Paotingfu,” in William Preston Bentley, Illustrious Chinese Christians. Cincinnati, OH: The Standard Publishing Company, 1906. Reprinted by ULAN Press, 2001.