Hudson Taylor: the man God shaped for China

Missionary Taylor had a radical philosophy of mission services. And, maybe it's still radical today?

Ed Gallagher is a pastor and director of prayer ministries, Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He lives in Park County,Colorado.

2005 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Hudson Taylor, missionary to China and one of the most influential carriers of the Gospel since the days of the apostles.

If the call to mission depended on human judgment, Hudson Taylor would never have made it.

As a boy in Yorkshire, England, Hudson's health was so delicate that his parents sent him to school for only two years. When he was a young adult, a missionary returning from China took one look at him and exclaimed, "Why, you would never do for China." 1 People meeting him for the first time found it hard to believe that this slender, quiet, unassuming man could possibly be an international missionary leader.

Fortunately, Taylor did not view his calling as a human one. "It is God who has called me." When Taylor arrived in China in the 1850s, there was one Protestant Christian for every one million people. Fifty years later, estimates place the ratio as one Protestant Christian for every two thousand people. Not all of this is attributable to Taylor's influence, of course but a good portion of it is. By 1900, the organization Taylor founded was responsible for eight hundred missionaries in China, one-third of the entire Protestant force. The effort had become multinational, involving financial support and missionaries from the British Isles, the European continent, North America, and the South Pacific.

Taylor took on the challenge of preaching Christ to one-quarter of the world's population and saw the power of the Holy Spirit move in a way rarely witnessed since the days of the first century Christians.

The discipline of trial

No part of Taylor's success came easily. If a dominant thread appears in his personal history, it is struggle. Consider the location of his ministry and its time period. There were places in China characterized by beauty, peacefulness, and a richness of culture, but the nation generally was beset by local wars and international tensions. Extortion, pillaging, and torture were common. In some places women were little more than property to be beaten into submission. Diseases were rampant, and medical care, primitive. Summer heat could be oppressive, while winter cold seeped misery into houses that could not be warmed.

Opium addiction, slavery, poverty, and famine proliferated. Travel was erratic and dangerous, and foreign visitors such as Taylor and his missionaries were typically forbidden, feared, or hated. For Taylor, sorrow over the misery that surrounded him was compounded by organizational challenges. The England-based society that sponsored him in the early years had worthy intentions, but it came into debt and grew unreliable in its support.

At the same time, rapidly changing conditions clashed with the difficulty of international communication. Mail by ship between England and China took months for delivery and months again for response. Even then, the home committee in the early years was inclined to delay its response. These circumstances "cost him many a wakeful night as well as many a prayer." 2

Then there was the deepest struggle in the heart, mind, and body of Hudson Taylor. Like his Lord, he became a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He was introspective, often lonely, frequently ill, and sometimes depressed.3

His wife Maria died when she was 33. Four of their eight children died before reaching age 10. He endured extended separations from his other children and from his second wife, Jennie. Often he was incapacitated with illness or injury. As an elderly man, he absorbed the news that under the Boxer Rebellion, 58 of his missionaries had been killed, along with 21 of their children and 30,000 Chinese Christians.4 And less than a year before his own demise at age 73, his beloved Jennie died.

The shape of character

What shaped the character of this man whom history lists with names like Carey, Judson, Moffat, Livingstone, and Schweitzer as leading the missionary endeavor in modern times?

As a child, Hudson expressed a desire for China probably reflecting what he heard from his father about the need for the gospel in that land. But by age 17 he became rebellious and unbelieving. "He found it very weary work to try to keep up the outward forms of Christian life." 5 His sister Amelia age 13 decided to pray for him three times a day until he was really converted. Then his mother went on a trip. At home, Hudson wandered into his father's library, where his eyes fell on a gospel tract.

"There will be a story at the commencement and a sermon or moral at the close," he said to himself. "I will take the former and leave the latter for those who like it." At that same time, his mother, 70 or 80 miles away, was secluded in prayer. She resolved not to cease until her pleas for her boy's salvation were answered. As Taylor himself tells it, "Hour after hour that dear mother pleaded, until at length she could pray no longer, but was constrained to praise God for that which His Spirit taught her had already been accomplished, the conversion of her only son."6

In his father's study, Hudson was fascinated with a phrase in the tract "the finished work of Christ." "What was finished?" he asked himself. And then it struck him. Finished was redemption for the world and for himself. "And with this dawned the joyful conviction," he wrote years later, "as light was flashed into my soul by the Holy Spirit, that there was nothing in the world to be done but to fall down on one's knees and, accepting this Saviour and His salvation, praise Him for evermore." 7

Two weeks later his mother returned. As he met her at the door, he said he had some glad news. "I know, my boy," she responded. She had already received the news from a higher source. "It would be strange indeed," concluded Taylor, "if I were not a believer in the power of prayer." 8

Thus prayer empowered Hudson Taylor. "The Power of Prayer" is the title of the first chapter of his autobiography.9 We can read barely a page of his life story without being reminded that prayer was the lifeblood of his ministry and the medium that poured heaven's grace into horrendous circumstances. His testimony is unequivocal: We "move man by God through prayer alone." 10

The discipline of sacrifice

For Taylor, the practice of prayer walked hand in hand with the discipline of sacrifice. Shortly after his conversion, he realized a certain call to go to China. So, while other 18-year-olds were focused on their own enjoyment, Hudson devoted himself to learn a language of China with no teacher but only the Gospel of Luke in the Mandarin dialect.

At 19, he worked as a medical assistant and tithed his meager income, whittling his list of essentials to the mini mum. He rented a room, 12 by 12 feet, in a wretched place called "Drainside," named for a ditch running through it into which refuse was dumped. There he looked out for the people among whom he lived. "The less I spent on myself," he said, "and the more I gave to others, the fuller of happiness and blessing did my soul become." 11

No doubt it was the Holy Spirit who impressed him that simplicity must be learned in order to survive the challenge of China. At one period of his service in China he shared a room above an incense shop in a crowded quarter, a room into which he had to climb through an opening in the floor. His bed was a few boards, his table the lid of a box supported on two stacks of books, and the other furniture nothing more than a couple of bamboo stools and a bamboo easy chair.

Time after time, the sacrifice of life itself seemed imminent. Descriptions like this tell the story: "The man who first seized Mr. Burdon soon afterward left him for me, and became my principal tormentor; for I was neither so tall nor so strong as my friend, and was therefore less able to resist him. He all but knocked me down again and again, seized me by the hair, took hold of my collar so as to almost choke me, and grasped my arms and shoulders, making them black and blue....

"Once or twice a quarrel arose as to how we should be dealt with; the more mild of our conductors saying that we ought to be taken to the magistrate's office, but others wishing to kill us at once without appeal to any authority. Our minds were kept in perfect peace; and when thrown together on one of these occasions, we reminded each other that the apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer in the cause of Christ. . . . Oh, the long, weary streets that we were dragged through! I thought they would never end." 12

A revolution in missionary method

When Hudson Taylor arrived in China he was a misfit with the missionary establishment. He was shabbily dressed, poorly supported, unordained, and associated with no particular denomination.

In keeping with his independent thinking, Taylor adopted a philosophy of mission service that was radical then, and to some might be radical now. He believed that the "foreign air" imparted by missionaries seriously hindered the progress of Truth.

"And why should such a foreign aspect be given to Christianity? The Word of God does not require it; nor, I conceive, could sound reason justify it. It is not the denationalization but the Christianization of this people that we seek.We wish to see Chinese Christians raised up men and women truly Christian, but withal truly Chinese in every sense of the word. We wish to see churches of such believers presided over by pas tors and officers of their own country men, worshipping God in the land of their fathers, in their own tongue, and in edifices of a thoroughly native style of architecture.. .. Let us in everything not sinful become Chinese, that we may by all means 'save some.' " 13

Painstakingly and against frequent discouragement, Taylor learned the major Chinese dialects. With a new organization that he founded The China Inland Mission he made a significant decision to focus on the interior provinces, where few foreigners ventured. He welcomed large numbers of women into his teams, including single women an action that startled many in the missionary establishment.

Medical work became his primary entering wedge. Medicine was not an end in itself, but a method by which contact for Christ could be made and one that could dramatically turn the tide of op position. 14 Gospel literature accompanied treatment; preaching was interspersed with care. This two-pronged approach proved its worth over and over again.

No stance was more controversial than that of adopting Chinese dress and hairstyle. This Taylor did, not merely for missionary excursions, but as a way of life though at first he was practically alone in his convictions about this. The benefit was immediate. This foreigner was now less frightening to those he was trying to reach, and he would even be invited into private homes.

Victory through trust

Clearly, the highest value for Taylor was that of trust in God, who can always be counted on. Ebenezer ("Hitherto hath the Lord helped us") and Jehovah jireh ("The Lord will provide") became his watchwords.

Through his entire ministry, Taylor's trust was tested in regard to financial support. Inspired by George Muller, he decided to avoid debt like the plague, and to make no appeal for funds except to God Himself. He was not averse to describing a need, but he resolutely let God inspire the giving and saw the blessing, with unexpected finances coming when most needed. "Money wrongly placed and money given from wrong motives are both to be greatly dreaded," he said. "Depend upon it, God's work done in God's way will never lack God's sup plies." 15 One time he noted, "We have twenty-five cents and all the promises of God."16

Trust found its test also in his own spiritual development. To his mother he confided in his adulthood, "I cannot tell you how I am buffeted sometimes by temptation. I never knew how bad a heart I had. Often I am tempted to think that one so full of sin cannot be a child of God at all; but I try to throw it back, and rejoice all the more in the preciousness of Jesus, and in the riches of that grace that has made us 'accepted in the beloved.' " 17

At the lowest point a few years before his death, he received the news of martyrdom among missionaries and converts. His response is a profound testimony: "I cannot read, I cannot think; I cannot even pray; but I can trust." 18

Taylor's triumph was never a theoretical victory poised half a mile above the earth but always a real-life victory fashioned in the dust and turmoil of daily demands. "Pray for me," he wrote on one occasion. "I sometimes feel a sense of responsibility that is quite oppressive the only light-bearer among so many. But this is wrong. It is Jesus who is to shine in me." 19

1 Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, / Hudson Taylor: A Biography (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), 24.

2 Ibid., A Biography, 73.

3 Ibid., 273.

4 Roger Steer, in Christian History XV (1996) 4-18, 31; and Taylor, A Biography, 351, 352.

5 Taylor, A Biography, 5.

6 Ibid., 6.

7 lbid.6,7

8 lbid. 7.

9 J Hudson Taylor, Hudson Taylor (Minneapolis, Minn Bethany House Publishers, n d.)

10 Taylor. A Biography, 29

11 Ibid, 26

12 Taylor, Hudson Taylor, 69,70

13 Taylor, A Biography, 71

14 lbid. 88. 89.283

15 lbid.171

16 Ibid, 237

17 lbid,212

18 Ibid. 351

19 lbid.102

 

 

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Ed Gallagher is a pastor and director of prayer ministries, Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He lives in Park County,Colorado.

November 2005

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