Acts America

New Covenant Youth Ministry

Lilas Trotter

The tall, young woman of twenty-three, with light brown hair and a sensitive mouth, roamed the wooded hills that sloped gently down to Coniston Lake. Her mind was in a turmoil of conflict. Although she had previously visited “Brentwood,” the home of John Ruskin, and thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the surroundings as well as the intellectual and artistic temperament of her host, this time it was different.

John Ruskin had pleaded with Lilias Trotter to reconsider her decision to relinquish the promising pursuit of art, for she had been contemplating the giving of her entire self to another Master in the pursuit of souls. “I paused to think how I can convince you of the marvelous gift that is in you,” he had written on a former occasion. Now he was urging her to continue to improve her artistic ability, for he was convinced she would make her mark among the foremost artists.

Appreciation of her talent by so famous a man would have been too sore a temptation had not the “love of One that is stronger” reached out and touched her heart. The die was cast. Turning her back upon a future so bright with promise, she summed up her decision thus: “I see as clear as daylight now I cannot give myself to painting in the way he (John Ruskin) means and continue still 'to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.'”

Everything in the life of Lilias Trotter had favored her career as an artist. Nature had richly endowed her. The circumstances in which she was born, in 1853, provided financial security while she studied. Her father, of Scottish parentage, was “a charming character of love, generosity, and gentleness, combined with high qualities of intellect and acquirements.” He always had encouraged his nine children in their pursuit of scientific and artistic studies. He had procured French and German governesses, and frequently visited the continent that had given them that poise which only widely traveled persons acquire.

Her mother was Isabella Strange, who's father had been Chief Justice of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Although she was the second wife of Alexander Trotter, she proved a good and avle mother to his former wife. Three more children by the second marriage were added to their spacious home. Lilias was the first of these three.

The girl, sensitive to a degree, keenly felt the blow that fell upon the family when her beloved father was taken from them when she was only twelve. But her grief created in her a response to the love of her Savior. When others thought her to be playing with her dolls, she was spending time in prayer.

When Lilias was twenty-one years of age, she and her mother attended a convention at “Broadlands,” convened by Lord Mount-Temple, a Christian statesman. The speakers that year were Andrew Jukes, Theodore Monod, and the American Quakeress Mrs. Pearsall Smith, author of The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life. The messages given were on the theme of consecration and God's gift of His Holy Spirit. Her eyes “were opened to see the loveliness of the Son of God and His right to control her redeemed life.”

The next year, another event helped to shape the character of this impressionable young woman. D. L. Moody came to London and she and one of her sisters attended these services and sang in the choir. Lilias was profoundly impressed with the evangelistic fervor exhibited night after night which resulted in the salvation of souls.

The Y.W.C.A was achieving success among working girls. Lilias and a friend rented a music hall, turning it into a hotel for these young women. Prayer-meetings were frequently called during the conducting of special services, and sometimes all nights of prayer were engaged in that the forces of evil might be defeated in many lives. As a result, contacts were made with girls whose “business” was sin and with some of whom Lilias prayed into the early hours of the morning.

In 1876, Mrs. Trotter and her daughter traveled to Venice. Ruskin discovered the latent talent in this budding artist. Ruskin displayed her drawings. From that time, he became her friend and champion. He did not understand the love that had drawn this young woman to spend her life in work for woman of the street. But her work among the girls she loved continued to absorb Lilias' time and strength for the next ten years. And the reason for such devotion and sacrifice is expressed in one of her favorite hymns:

A homeless Stranger amongst us came

To this land of death and mourning,

He walked in a path of sorrow and shame,

Through insult and hate and scorning.

A Man of sorrows, of toil and tears,

An outcast Man and a lonely;

But He looked on me and through endless years

Him must I love, Him only.

Then from this sad and sorrowful land,

From this land of tears, He departed;

But the light of His eyes, and the touch of His hand,

Had left me brokenhearted.

During this same period, she made the acquaintance of two women whose influence was to change the direction of her labors for more than forty years.

Whenever Lilias prayed, the words “North Africa” sounded in her soul as though a voice were calling her. In May, 1887, a missionary meeting was held by Mr. Glenny who spoke on the needs of that field. When the appeal was made at the end of the service, Lilias arose and said, “God is calling me.” In less than a year, she had reached Africa, accompanied by two other young woman.

The intrepid young missionary rented a big, fortress-like house in Algiers. Rumor had it that it was three hundred years old. Their front door was known for a long time as “the door of a thousand dents,” as unruly boys and opposing adults battered at its rugged thickness. Those were most difficult years for these pioneers, for they faced hostility, suspicion by authorities, and the inborn hatred of Islam for Christ.

After seven years on the Moslem field, Lilias returned to England with badly frayed nerves and a heart worn by strain and stress. The extreme heat, too, had been most debilitating. How she appreciated the quietness and aloneness of the homeland where she could regain the apparently lost powers of body, soul, and spirit!

As the quiet entered into her very soul, God began to make further revelations to her of what it meant to be “buried” with Christ! She writes:

“Not only 'dead' but 'buried,' put to silence in the grave; the 'I can't,' and the 'I can,' put to silence side by side in the stillness of 'a grave beside Him' with God's seal on the stone and His watch set that nothing but the risen life of Jesus may come forth. 'Give me a death in which there shall be no life, and a life in which there shall be no death.' That was the prayer of an Arab saint, Abed-al-Kadar. I came upon it the other day. Is it not wonderful!”

It was now that she saw the loathsomeness of all that is of the flesh and not of the Spirit. The lesson had been taught by the messengers of disappointments, seeming failure, and frustrations. Two of the most promising women converts died as a result of slow poisoning. Another had fallen under the spell of a sorceress. Five out of six backslidings, the missionaries concluded, could be traced to the drugging of the converts. Lilias and her friends would have welcomed the triumphant entry into Heaven of any newly converted, rather than to have seen their minds and bodies despoiled under drug reaction. They were driven to the throne of grace. Without divine aid, helpless women in a hostile Moslem land could not possibly counter such satanic forces.

One day, a most unusual opportunity arose to introduce the work of the Algier's Missions Band to six hundred American delegates from the Worlds Sunday School Convention who were en rout to Rome. Scheduled to land for a short time in Algiers, they asked for one hour with Miss Trotter that they might become acquainted with the Christian effort among the Moslems.

With no hospitals, no schools, little organization, and few apparent results to show for the twenty years' labor, dismay filled her heart at the request. How could she make these keen and successful business men understand? The missionaries brought the problem to God, believing that “difficultly is the very atmosphere of a miracle.” They decided to show, not what had been done, but what had not been done, trusting Him to use the very weakness and seeming failure to interest the group. And God did just that, for the American delegates become fast friends of the Mission in Algeria for years to come. During the twenty years, in reality, much had been accomplished. Centers had been opened in strategic places; travel by train and camel had taken the missionaries to remote and almost inaccessible parts where they could broadcast the message of redeeming love.

But times of illness came to Lilias. These hours, however, where not spent in an idle fashion, but were devoted to writing. She penned Parables of the Cross, in which she also utilized her artistic ability by drawing lovely illustrations from nature for its pages. She aided friends in a revision of the Bible in classical Arabic. As a result of this effort, the Gospels of Luke and John were widely distributed throughout the area.

Feeling the need for Moslem mystics, she wrote The Way of the Seven Fold Secret on the seven “I Am's.” She was sure if Christian literature could but find its way in the homes of the Arabic world, it would be read without the opposition encountered in public effort. Probably Lilias did more in her preparation of reading material for the people than in her person contacts, for her knowledge of the country, familiar with the language, and experience with the opposition – all of this made the literature much more effective in its presentation of the Gospel.

The last three years of Lilias' life were marked by extremely limited strength. Her heart, so worn from the soldiering, probably would not have functioned at all save for the warrior's spirit within. From her bed, propped up by pillows, she directed the work of the Band, praying for each worker by name by night watches when sleep refused to come.

To the very end, the worker was being molded by the Master into greater conformity to His image. While the citadel of her heart had long been captured, there were areas of the natural life, such as her sympathetic disposition which needed to be brought into subjection to the Master. In her own words:

It has opened out to one a whole new era that thus to be subdued unto Himself – the region of natural temperament that lies at the back of the self-life in man, which needs to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Transformed does not mean annihilated, but transfigured by a new indwelling being. He can take that very susceptibleness that has been a snare and make it a means of contact with Himself, a sensitiveness to the Holy Ghost. It is worth all the humbling and heart-searching and the breaking up of the depths after depths, if it means getting nearer the place where the living water will be set free.

In another quotation from her pen, she portrays the growing sway of the Spirit's dominion in her:

In a stream which is ankle deep, one can walk where one will. When it's knee-deep, the “pull” has begun. When it is to the loins, “the drawing” has become almost irresistible. And the next thing is that it cannot “be passed over”; they are “waters to swim in.” “Born on unto perfection” is the literal meaning in Hebrews 6:1. “There the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams” (Isaiah 33:21).

This saint had chosen to share the life of her risen Lord rather than to enjoy the honors a fickle world could have heaped upon her, had partaken deeply of the divine Partner's secrets. In a booklet, A Ripened Life, she shares with us the deep insights she had obtained through close communion:

“In that day there shall be upon the bridals of the horses 'Holiness unto the Lord.'” The horse seems to stand throughout the Old Testament for natural power. In each of us there is one strongest point; it may be brain power, or some faculty, as music for instance, or the power of planning, the power of influence, the power of loving. Whatever it may be, that strong point is sure to be a point of temptation, just as their horses were a temptation to Israel.

Trace the history. In spite of God's warning (Deut. 17:16) they “multiplied” them (1 Kings 4:26; 10:28) and “trusted in them” (Is. 31:1), and by this multiplying, power was put into the hands of their enemies (1 Kings 10:29) which was afterwards turned upon themselves for their own ruin.

Can we not, some of us, read our own story through the lines? Have we not given play to these faculties, “multiplied” them to speak, for the sake of the exultant sense of growing power, not for God? Have we not trusted in our horses? In the well-worked-out “subject” for instance, rather than in the Spirit's might? Have we not been brought into soul-captivity by means of self indulgence in these faculties, God-created though they are? And therefore most of us, as we go on, find that God's hand comes down on the strongest parts of us, as it came upon the horses of Israel (Zech. 12:4; Hos. 1:7). By outward providence or by inward dealing, He brings it to the place of death, and to the place where we loose our hold on it and trust in it and say with Ephraim, “we will not ride upon horses” (Hos. 14:3). And in that place of death, may leave it for months and years till the old glow of life has really died out of it, and the old magical charm has vanished and it has become no effort to do without it because life's current has gone into the current of God's will. Then comes the day as in Israel's case before us, when He can give us back our horses with “Holiness to the Lord” written on them, bridled with Christ-restraint. Where are our horses? Are we riding them in their old natural force, or are they lying stiffened and useless in the place of death, or have they been given back to us with their holy bridals?

Weeks of suffering began in May, 1928, but Lilias' mind retained its clearness, and she never lost sight of the “Master of the Impossible.” As the end drew near, looking out of her window, she exclaimed, “A chariot and six horses!”

“You are seeing beautiful things,” said a friend.

“Yes, many, many beautiful things,” was the joyful and last response to those around her. Had the chariot borne her to Heaven as it had the prophet Elijah? We do not know. But we can be assured that the trumpets of the angels sounded for the arrival of the Christian warrior who had dared, at the call of “the invincible Christ,” to leave earthly comfort, ease, fame, and friends for an unknown land.

Taken from They Knew Their God.


Oh, for an enthusiasm for Christ that will not endure to be popular where He is unpopular; that will be fired rather than quenched when His claims are unrecognized and His Word is slighted; that will thrill us with joy if He allows us to share in the faintest degree in His dishonor and loneliness; that will set every pulse throbbing with exultation as we “go forth...unto him.”

Emptiness, yieldedness, brokenness – these are the conditions of the Spirit's outflow. Such was the path taken by the Prince of Life to set free the flood-tide of Pentecost.

Oh, the pains that God has to take to bring us to this “abandon” – equally ready for silence or for saying, for stillness or for doing unhesitatingly the next thing He calls for, unfettered by surroundings or consequences. How much reserve and self-consciousness have to give way with some of us before the absolute control passes into His hands and the responsibility with it.