Chapter I. A Boy's Ambition
A Child's Resolve and a Life's Devotion--John Horden at Home and at School--A Book that made a Missionary--Apprentice Days and Work at Home--Accepted for the Mission-Field.
IT is hard to find a healthy and intelligent boy, who does not, sooner or later, make up his mind what he would "like to be." It happens now and then that he chooses something unsuitable, or that he has made up his mind under the influence of a merely temporary interest. It happens, too, that ambitions cannot always be gratified. But these things do not keep the majority of boys in each generation from choosing or seeking to choose for themselves.
The missionary-bishop whose life will be told in this book was one of the boys who made up their minds early. He was also one of those who found that other people's views as to his future did not agree with his own. Yet happily he is to be counted amongst the boys who, disappointed at first of their cherished ambition, were afterwards able to realise it in full. John Horden as a child resolved that, God willing, he would be a missionary. He had at first opposition and disappointment to face. But in due time his wish was granted; he lived and died a missionary in one of the hardest fields of labour known to the modern evangelist.
Horden gives us an example of a lifelong devotion to a single cause. This marks him off at once from a large number of the best-known workers in the foreign mission field. William Carey was thirty-three when he volunteered to go out as a missionary, and his sign-board had borne the notice "Second-hand shoes bought and sold" before he became a schoolmaster and preacher. Adoniram Judson had yearned for distinction in many paths, hac1 taught in a school, and had travelled with a company of actors, before the turning-point in life which saw his decision for God and his resolve to be a missionary. Allen Gardiner was a naval officer, from childhood warmly interested in the service, before he took up missionary work in Zululand, or made the heroic attempt which led to his death in Tierra del Fuego. To come to more modern instances, Dr. John G. Paton had preached the gospel earnestly at home before he was called to enter on his marvellous experiences in the South Seas. Hannington, the martyr-bishop, was taken from a country parish; Alexander Mackay, from work as au engineer; Mr. Monro, some time head of the Metropolitan Police Force, from well-earned repose after an active life; and many others, whose names the world has not heard of, have laid down secular occupations, in order to work amongst the heathen or Mohammedans abroad.
Again, there are young people who in early life make up their minds what they would "like to be," but discover, after a brief trial, that they have made a mistake, and turn, more or less readily, to something else. Many a boy inspired by the delightful sea-stories so popular with every generation, has resolved to be a sailor, and has insisted, against advice and entreaty, that a sailor he will be. With a good many of these a single voyage is enough. They find out with amazing promptitude that the one thing for which they are peculiarly unfitted is the sailor's life. Happy are those who discover such mistakes before they have gone too far, and are saved the unhappiness which falls in life to the lot "of the round man in a square hole." It was other wise with John Horden. He formed his resolution early in life; to it he was always constant; and in the exercise of the calling he had chosen he died in a green old age.
John Horden was born at Exeter in 1828, the eldest son of William and Sarah Horden. His father was a printer by trade, and the family were in humble circumstances. But the parents were devout Christian people, and, despite their early views about the calling of a missionary, they had much to do with the framing of their son's career.
At seven years of age John Horden entered St. John's School, Exeter, a charity the origin of which goes back to the twelfth century. When Horden was a boy it was a school in which a varying number of orphans and others were clothed, educated, and prepared for a useful life. There, too, he was under religious influences, and there John Horden definitely accepted Christ as his Saviour. Some observers look with suspicion upon all signs of religious conviction in boys and girls. They declare that it is unnatural, and can only end in disappointment. The theory is contradicted by many a consistent life which began in early childhood the conscious service of God, and the life of John Horden is a case in point. The convictions of boyhood remained the convictions of his manhood.
In the Thirties and Forties there were not many books dealing in a popular way with foreign missions. Such enterprises were less numerous, were less cared for, less known, less talked of, than in these days, when the lives and work of such men as Livingstone, Patteson, Hannington, Gilmour, and Paton, have made some sides of missionary work familiar to "the man in the street." But if the books were fewer, they had their readers. One came into the hands of Horden, and, under God, decided his future for him. It dealt with India, and the horrors of heathenism as there displayed. Horden read it, and decided upon his career in life. He would be a missionary, a missionary to India, a bearer of the glad tidings to those who lay in the grasp of the cruel superstitions described.
Resolutions of this kind are easily formed, and as easily forgotten. In Horden's case they were cherished. He had not made up his mind in a fit of exaltation; in everyday language, he "meant business." But he was not his own master. There was home to think of, his parents to consult, and his father strongly opposed his plan. It would be easy, of course, to condemn Mr. Horden for standing in the way of so noble a decision; but remember the times. Those were not the days in which the foreign missionary was a familiar object. The Church of Christ in our land is still but poorly and feebly doing its duty by heathendom; but it is a miracle of zeal and industry compared to what it was in the Thirties and Forties. John Horden only met with the opposition which was so general in his times, and has always had to be counted with in one way or another. As a matter of fact, too, that early opposition was justified; it ended in Horden becoming much better equipped for the work of his life than if he had from the first entered on the special training for a missionary.
When John Horden left school he was apprenticed to a trade, and, like an honest Christian lad, worked at it with intelligence and vigour. The result was a readiness at manual labour, a skill in the use of tools, and a capacity for making the best of unpromising material, which, in after life, stood him in better stead than the regular course of seminary training could have done.
But, whilst working with his hands, he never forgot his great ambition. in his spare tithe he plodded steadily on with his books, toiling at the Greek and Latin, of which, if his hopes were ever to be realised, a knowledge would be demanded. He succeeded so far that, when his apprentice days were over, and the opportunity came, he laid aside manual labour and became a schoolmaster. But though he did this it was not because he had any foolish contempt for working at a trade, for even as a bishop he was always ready to take up tools himself, and that not as playthings, but for practical ends.
In the meantime his spiritual life, and with it his ambition, was fostered under the happiest influence. The Vicar of St. Thomas's, Exeter, encouraged an interest in foreign missions. In connection with the church there existed a little group of young men who met regularly for Bible study and gave their leisure to Christian work. Horden was not alone amongst them in looking forward to a life in the mission-field. But until the door should open, they prepared for the work of evangelists abroad by acting as evangelists at borne. It was the way to keep their resolution alive. It seems only natural to learn that, of this little band, six eventually became missionaries.
As for Horden, he was no longer a boy but a man when, in 1850, he was able to offer himself to the Church Missionary Society. He was accepted, and although it seemed probable that some time would elapse before he would be sent to the field, he had at last drawn within reach of his ambition. Its actual realisation came, as a fact, much sooner than he could have ventured to hope for.