Dear Brethren,

I like to share with you about the life of a missionary called William Chalmers Burns. In the sovereign will and power of God, his mission work in China is one of the roots that led to the formation of the Bible Presbyterian Church in Singapore. May we learn from the life of William Burns to be faithful to the Lord wherever He calls us to.

William Burns was the first missionary sent by the English Presbyterian Mission to China in 1847. The life of William Burns is a testimony of faithful and fervent service in the Lord’s service. William Burns was born in a Scottish manse on 1 April 1815. His father was a pastor and hoped his son would succeed him as a minister of the Gospel. However, William Burns was tempted to follow the world to be a lawyer in his University days. However, God turned him back and he gave his life to serve God. William Burns studied theology and was blessed with good linguistic skills. After finishing his theological studies, his desire was to serve in a mission field. God’s timing was that he should first serve to take over the preaching duties of Mr. M’Cheyne at Dundee who was about to set out for Palestine.

God used Burns greatly in Dundee even though he felt inadequate especially with M’Cheyne being a renowned preacher and Bible expositor. The Spirit of God was upon Burns in his preaching as he was bold and had a great burden for souls of men. God used Burns with a mighty revival in his church and other churches that he ministered to. Many people were saved as they came under the conviction of sin and turned to the Lord Jesus. Burns often had to preach every evening and the service was often overflowing too. Burns also lived by faith trusting God to supply all his needs. Godliness with contentment is clearly seen in his life.

After 8 years of revival ministry, the Lord’s timing was for Burns to go to the mission field as was his initial desire. Burn’s burden was to go to China. When asked when he was ready to go, Burns replied, “Tomorrow.”  Burns applied himself to study the Cantonese dialect after arriving in Hong Kong. After 14 months, Burns felt confident to launch out into the mainland with the Gospel. Burns was a man of constant prayer backed by action. He was burdened as he saw the land full of idolatry.  When the door to Canton was closed, Burns received news of a wide open door in Amoy. Burns sailed to Amoy ready to share the Gospel. He has to learn the Hokkien dialect as he was only fluent in Cantonese. As Burns carried his Bible wherever he went, he was called “Man of the Book”.

Burns met Hudson Taylor in China and as both were consumed by one passion for the evangelization of all China, they became bosom friends.  The Lord led both Burns and Taylor to Swatow, a new area of evangelism. Burns stuck on the task at Swatow though Taylor had to return to Shanghai after 4 months. The ground was hard and he was robbed at one incident. Burns was also arrested by the local police and taken to the City but God spared him and allowed him to be released. Upon release, Burns was back to Swatow to preach the Gospel. He opened a clinic with the help of a Wesleyan doctor. The medical ministry was most effective in winning souls which led to the founding of the famous Swatow Mission Hospital in 1863. The father of Rev Timothy Tow, founder of the BP Church in Singapore, was trained in this hospital for 5 years to qualify as a doctor.

The zeal of Burns was to evangelise the whole of China. When the Gospel station at Swatow was established, Burns handed the work to George Smith his successor at whose hand the maternal great grandfather of Rev Timothy Tow found his Saviour Jesus Christ. Burns then left Swatow to revisit Amoy. After Amoy, Burns went to Foochow to establish a Gospel ministry. From Foochow, Burns paid a last visit to Amoy in 1861. Then Burns went to Peking to share to the British Ambassador of the persecutions suffered by the Christians.  At Peking, Burns translated the Pilgrim’s Progress into Mandarin and produced a commentary on the Psalms in Mandarin. Burns was always on the go for the Gospel and he left to a new area in Newchwang to preach the Gospel.

In the severity of the northern winter, Burns caught a cold and for weeks and months, he laid in helpless weakness. Though he knew his earthly end was coming, he was in good cheer and even made arrangement for the support of his co-worker Wang.  Burns was received into glory on 4 April 1868. Truly he had received the commendation from our Lord Jesus Christ, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”.

May our lives also count for our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Only one life, ’twill soon be past; Only what is done for Christ will last.

Elder John Leong

Only One Life, ‘Twill Soon Be Past
Poem by C.T Studd

“Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what ever the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, “twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say, ”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last. ”