Ren was born in Jiangsu Province in 1852, amid a time of great upheaval caused by the Taiping Rebellion. God protected him during those calamities, and at the age of 17, he believed the gospel and was baptized.
In 1874, a few years after his conversion, Ren was called to Zhejiang Province.
[While in Suzhou he met Jennie Faulding, who later became the second wife of Hudson Taylor. He was “so impressed with her prayerful spirit and accounts of the spiritual life and influence of the New Lane Church in Hangzhou, that he ‘longed to be in that atmosphere.’ After being baptised in November, he went to Hangzhou as a teacher in Jennie’s school (Broomhall, 5.233).]
In Hangzhou, he met the esteemed church leader Wang Laijun, who was a close friend of Hudson Taylor. Ren immediately forged a deep connection with Wang, and a spiritual baton appears to have been passed down from one to the other. Ren married Wang’s only daughter, and the remainder of his life was spent ministering in Zhejiang.
Ren was described as a Christian Nehemiah – a man who was skilled at dealing with the business of the Church, while maintaining a sterling reputation as a consecrated man of God. At a time when other Chinese church leaders struggled in their relationships with foreign missionaries, Ren enjoyed strong and mutual respect with a host of missionaries from different denominations.
For decades Ren Chengyuan provided wise and godly service to the body of Christ, helping the Lord’s people through the diabolical Boxer onslaught of 1900, and proving himself a faithful guardian of the Church until his death from pneumonia in February 1929, at the age of 77. After his death, many tributes flowed in from those who knew him best. W.H. Warren, the China Inland Mission superintendent of Zhejiang, summarized Ren’s life with these words:
Pastor Ren was a man of outstanding ability, and would have been a force to reckon with in any calling in life. He early chose to walk in the way of the Lord, and amid all the vicissitudes of life held firmly to his guiding principle. Having set his hand to the plough he never seemed to look back, but with steady perseverance moved forward as led by the Spirit of God [see Luke 9:62].
There is an association of Chinese pastors at Hangzhou whose members hold regular prayer meetings. Pastor Ren was a tower of strength in such an assembly. Time and time again, when difficulties of church government or discipline have engaged the attention of the brethren, perplexed in their minds, and presented an apparently insoluble problem, this man has sat, saying very little, with an inscrutable countenance, hearing and weighing all that the others had to say, then finally given the clue, indicating the direction for action, and so finding a way through the maze.
Eternity will reveal the full impact made by godly church leaders like Ren Chengyuan during the formative years of Christianity in Zhejiang, when a solid foundation was put in place for the mighty harvest of souls that were reaped for the kingdom of God in later generations.
Taken by permission from Paul Hattaway, Zhejiang: The Jerusalem of China. Volume Three of The China Chronicles: Inside the Greatest Christian Revival in History. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2019, pgs. 96-98.
Broomhall, A.J. Hudson Taylor & China’s Open Century. Book Five: Refiner’s Fire. London: Overseas Missionary Fellowship and Hodder & Stoughton, 1985, p. 233.