Lottie Moon: Sovereign Suffering and Sanctification

In China (1873-1912)

When Lottie arrived in China her attitude was not so Christ-like.  Raised in a home of great means and education, Lottie displayed great sophistication and intellect.  However, she also held a racial superiority over the Chinese, a way of thinking prevalent in the slaveholding South.  As a result, she entered China very prejudiced against the people she was going to reach.  Her own words reveal the darkness of her enlightened heart.  Reflecting upon a visit to Shanghai, she says, “Where the Caucasian goes he carries energy and an inferior race [the Chinese] is aroused by the contact” (368).

Yet, Lottie’s Darwinian view of the Chinese would soon be crushed in the hands of the great potter and reshaped for more useful service.  Like Peter and the other disciples, her four decades in China purified her for more useful service to the king.  For Lottie, and for us, discipleship is not a point in time, but a process of sanctification and greater obedience to God and His Word.  God certainly used his word to refine Lottie, but he also used painful circumstances.  There were at least 3 events that made her a more usable disciple.

Edmonia’s Return.  First, within five years, Lottie’s sister and partner in gospel ministry returned home.  After suffering severe ailment for two years in China, she would be afflicted in her health until the day of her death.  Despite her illness, she was a constant supporter of Lottie’s, maintaining a regular correspondence with her and the mission board.  Nonetheless, in time, her ailments became too severe and in January 1909, she put a gun to her head and committed suicide.  While the tragedy struck only 3 years before Lottie’s own death, assuredly the troubles Edmonia felt half-a-world apart would have grieved Lottie for years prior.  She missed her sister deeply and when her pen reflected about her personal struggles often she recounted the loneliness she felt after her departure.

Crawford Howell Toy.  Second, Lottie Moon’s relationship with C.H. Toy served as a severe disappointment for Lottie.  In 1877, when Lottie Moon returned with her sister to the States, she rekindled a relationship with her former teacher from the Albemarle Female Institute.  Like Lottie, C.H. Toy was educated, sophisticated, and a product of the Antebellum South.  He had received his masters from the University of Virginia.  After which he taught at Lottie’s school, before receiving his ordination in 1860 from John Broadus.

Toy himself for a season was a strong proponent of missions and even sought to go to Japan for missionary work.  Yet, his steadfast pursuit of missions would soon change towards a more academic route.  Toy’s personal testimony is a sad one, because when he went to Germany for doctoral studies, he returned steeped in the liberal influences of the day.  And it appears that he sought to influence Lottie Moon, as well.  After Lottie’s death, it was noted that she had quite a collection of books in her library devoted to the errors that Toy supported.

Still during all these doubtful seasons, Lottie remained hopeful.  While the Baptist papers disparaged Toy and Southern Seminary removed him from the faculty for his heretical views, somehow, Lottie Moon remained hopeful that some kind of marital union was still possible with Toy.  Alone on the mission field, without her sister, Moon surely fancied the idea of a partner in marriage and ministry.  However, in 1881, these hopes would be finally dashed.

In that fateful year, two of Toy’s students, T.P. Bell and John Stout, were rejected from missionary service because of the views they held concerning the Scriptures.  Under the influence of his teachers in Germany, Toy had developed a system of thought that denied the historicity of Genesis 1-11 and other portion Scripture that related to science, history, or geography.  In this way, Toy denied Scripture’s full inspiration and with it, he denied its truthfulness and ability to speak about all matters of life.

Such news caused a crisis in Lottie Moon’s life.  Her immediate reaction was to leave the mission field and to go to Harvard, the school to which Toy was now employed.  But shortly, she reconsidered.   Nettles again is helpful, “It was at best impracticable and at worst disloyal to her Redeemer.  The critical need for laborers in China, the fatigue and debility of her missionary colleagues, and the clarity of God’s prerogative over her life, as well as her increased love for the Chinese people, shoved aside this last shot at romantic and domestic fulfillment” (380-81).

Think about it: Here is an unwed women, whose intellectual gifts were shaped by Toy and who was deeply enamored with him.  Yet, she rejects the joys that she could attain in this marriage, because she counts faithfulness to Christ as more valuable.  And I think, it was this decision that God used to solidify Moon’s lifetime of service in China.  For her this decision to abandon the love of her life set a course for Lottie to abandon herself to the bride of Christ in China. This is how disciples are made.  What we affirm on paper means nothing until we are put into the trials of life—personal allegiances are often some of the most difficult trials.

Halcomb. A third development during this time was the defection of another missionary on theological grounds.  In 1886, N.W. Halcomb resigned his post because of a theological struggle with the Deity of Christ.  Lottie worked relentlessly to convince him from the Scriptures of Christ’s eternal and divine nature.  But despite her best intentions, prayers, and efforts, Halcomb left the field, depleting the number of laborers in China.  You can imagine the effect this had on Lottie Moon, both in regard to her spirits and in regards to her commitment to the pure gospel of Jesus Christ.

It seems that in these three trials, God showed Lottie Moon the folly of intellectual attainment and the radical need to simply follow him.  She had lost much to serve him in China, and yet she did not go unrewarded.  Despite the loss of a sister, the loss of a spouse, and the loss of a co-laborer, she never lost the one thing she must retain—her faith in God and passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We also see in her life the relationship between doctrine and missions.  There are many today who would want to minimize the importance of doctrinal precision, saying that: “All that matters is ministry or mission.  Do evangelism, preach, pray… don’t bother yourself with doctrine.”  Yet what we see in Lottie’s life is that in at least two instances doctrine destroyed missions—this was the case with Toy and Halcomb.

This is true at the level of churches and denominations, but it is also true individually.  If you are going to grow in Christ, you must rightly understand his Word.  Emotions, feelings, and experience can only carry you so far and for so long. No true disciple of Christ can sustain a lifetime pursuit without a growing knowledge of God in his word.

God’s Goodness and Mercy

Reflecting on the tragedies in Lottie’s life, it is evident that God was in control of them all.  Nothing happened to her that God himself did not ordain and use for her sanctification and greater service. As with Joseph in Genesis, what men and devils meant for evil, God meant for good.  Through pain, he purified Lottie.

This is a vital lesson for any Christian, but especially for those who are going onto the mission field.  Unless believers learn to see all things–good and evil–as sovereignly ordained by God and thus merciful provisions from the Father’s hand, it is unlikely that such ambassadors of Christ will endure the onslaught of afflictions that can easily overwhelm.

May Lottie’s experience steel those who are suffering to endure, and may we learn from her what she surely learned–to trust God’s goodness in good times and bad.  He is working all things for the good of those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

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