Life + Culture

Joy in Christ Kept Him in China: Hudson Taylor (1832–1905)

Joy in Christ Kept Him in China

“Depend upon it, God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies” (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, 121). When Hudson Taylor wrote that sentence, he meant every kind of need that we have — money and health and faith and peace and strength. And that is my prayer for this article: that you will see and experience new possibilities for your life — more faith, more joy, more peace, more love, and all the money you need to do his will (which may be none).

And all of that is because of your union with Christ, as is put so well in one of Taylor’s favorite texts: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). And then, because of all that, I pray you will launch into some venture, some dream of ministry, beyond all your real or perceived inadequacies, for the glory of Christ.

Conversion and Call to China

Hudson Taylor was born May 21, 1832, at Barnsley, England, into a devout Methodist home. At the age of seventeen, he was dramatically converted through the prayers of his mother. Four years later, on September 19, 1853, Taylor sailed for China with the Chinese Evangelisation Society. He had no formal training in theology or missions. He landed in Shanghai five and a half months later.

He learned the language quickly and, in his first two years in China, engaged in ten extended evangelistic journeys to the interior. Then, on January 20, 1858, when he had been in China almost five years, Taylor married another missionary, Maria Dyer. They were married for twelve years. Before Maria died at age thirty-three, she had given birth to eight children. Three died at birth and two in childhood, and the ones who lived to adulthood all became missionaries with the mission their father founded, the China Inland Mission.

Decisive Moment

Five years later, after Taylor had begun his own mission agency — the China Inland Mission — and in the midst of prolonged frustration with his own temptations and failures in holiness, the epoch-making experience happened. Notice what he was experiencing leading up to the great change. He wrote to his mother,

[The need for your prayer] has never been greater than at present. Envied by some, despised by many, hated by others, often blamed for things I never heard of or had nothing to do with, an innovator on what have become established rules of missionary practice, an opponent of mighty systems of heathen error and superstition, working without precedent in many respects and with few experienced helpers, often sick in body as well as perplexed in mind and embarrassed by circumstances — had not the Lord been specially gracious to me, had not my mind been sustained by the conviction that the work is His and that He is with me . . . I must have fainted or broken down. But the battle is the Lord’s, and He will conquer. (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, 140–41)

The stage was set for the crisis that happened on September 4, 1869, in Zhenjiang. What happened that day was not ephemeral. He looked back almost thirty years later, giving thanks for the abiding experience of it:

We shall never forget the blessing we received through the words, in John iv. 14, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him SHALL NEVER THIRST,” nearly thirty years ago. As we realized that Christ literally meant what He said — that “shall” meant shall, and “never” meant never, and “thirst” meant thirst — our heart overflowed with joy as we accepted the gift. Oh, the thirst with which we had sat down, but oh, the joy with which we sprang from our seat, praising the Lord that the thirsting days were all past, and past for ever! (Separation and Service, 46)

We should beware of being cynical here. Taylor was not naïve. He was speaking of a thirty-year-long experience in which he battled with some very low times. “The thirsting days were all past” does not mean he never had desires for Jesus again. We will turn to what it does mean shortly. But for now, we should simply be aware that, as his most thorough biographer wrote, his whole life “came to be revolutionized” by this experience (The Shaping of Modern China, Vol. 2, 109).

Kept by Union with Christ

And just in time, too. The next year, 1870, was the most difficult of his life. His son Samuel died in January. Then in July, Maria gave birth to a son, Noel, who died two weeks later. And to crown Hudson’s sorrows, on July 23, Maria died of cholera. She was thirty-three years old, and left the thirty-eight-year-old Hudson with four living children.

It was as though God had given Taylor his extraordinary experience of the all-satisfying Christ not as a kind of icing on the cake of conversion, but rather as a way of surviving and thriving in the worst of sorrows, which came to him almost immediately.

A year later, Taylor sailed for England. While he was there, on November 28, 1871, he married the woman with whom he would spend nearly the rest of his life, Jennie Faulding. They were married for thirty-three years before she died in 1904, the year before he did.

In February 1905, Taylor sailed for China for the last time. After a tour of some of the mission stations, he died on June 3 at Changsha, Hunan, at the age of seventy-three. The year 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of the mission that Taylor founded. In 1900, there were one hundred thousand Christians in China, and today there are probably around 150 million. This growth is God’s work: one plants, another waters, but God gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). Nevertheless, it is the fruit of faithful labor. And Taylor labored longer and harder than most. That labor was sustained by union with Christ. So we turn to look at what this union meant for Taylor.

Scales Fall

September 4, 1869, when he was thirty-seven years old, Taylor found a letter waiting for him at Zhenjiang from John McCarthy. God used the letter to revolutionize Taylor’s life. “When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from dear McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before” (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, 149).

The prayer of Ephesians 1:18 was answered as never before: “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know . . .” Taylor said, “As I read, I saw it all! . . . I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, ‘I will never leave thee.’”

I saw not only that Jesus will never leave me, but that I am a member of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. The vine is not the root merely, but all — root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit. And Jesus is not that alone — He is soil and sunshine, air and showers, and ten thousand times more than we have ever dreamed, wished for, or needed. Oh, the joy of seeing this truth! (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, 149–50)

Taylor experienced such a powerful revelation of the inexpressible reality of union with Christ, as an absolute and glorious fact of security and sweetness and power, that it carried in it its own effectiveness. “How to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One” (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, 149).

Decades of Resting in Jesus

Now, it is well-known that Taylor was significantly influenced by the Keswick Movement and its views of sanctification, which, in the worst exponents, are seriously flawed. My conclusion is that Taylor was not one of those worst exponents, and that he was protected from Keswick’s worst flaws by his allegiance to the Bible, his experience of lifelong suffering and sorrow, and his belief in the sovereignty of God.

First, Taylor was saturated with the Bible, and his interpretation of his experience was chastened by the Bible. This means that in his experience, the walk of faith was not as passive as he made it sound.

Over the years, Taylor tempered his language, but never lost the wonder of being really united to the vine. His life was one resounding affirmation that God uses means to preserve and deepen and intensify our experience of union with Christ. In Taylor’s own words, “Communion with Christ requires our coming to Him. Meditating upon His person and His work requires the diligent use of the means of grace, and specially the prayerful reading of His Word. Many fail to abide because they habitually fast instead of feed” (Hudson Taylor’s Choice Sayings, 2). Taylor’s new pattern was to go to bed earlier and then rise at five o’clock in the morning “to give time to Bible study and prayer (often two hours) before the work of the day began” (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, 145).

The second reason Taylor’s life-changing experience lasted was that he saw suffering as God’s way of deepening and sweetening his experience of union with Christ.

The vinedresser does many things for the branches. But the one task Jesus focused on in John 15 was pruning or cutting. The aim of this is to preserve and intensify and make fruitful the branch’s union with the vine. Taylor said,

It is only in the trial of God’s grace that its beauty and power can be seen. Then all our trials of temper, circumstances, provocation, sickness, disappointment, bereavement will but give a higher burnish to the mirror, and enable us to reflect more fully and more perfectly the glory and blessedness of our Master. (Days of Blessing in Inland China, 61)

Finally, his experience of sweet union with Christ lasted because he embraced the absolute goodness and sovereignty of God over his suffering and his union with Christ. When he was fifty-two and confined to bed and feeling forgotten, he wrote, “So make up your mind that God is an infinite Sovereign, and has the right to do as He pleases with His own, and He may not explain to you a thousand things which may puzzle your reason in His dealings with you” (It Is Not Death to Die, 8).

In other words, the vinedresser may use anything and anyone he pleases to prune the branch that he loves (John 15:1–2).

Filled with God’s Fullness

While the Keswick teaching may in many cases have overemphasized the passivity of the pursuit of holiness and may have overemphasized a distinct crisis experience of consecration as the means of entering the “higher life,” nevertheless Taylor’s life bears witness to the possibility of living with more peace and more joy and more fruit in hardship than most of us enjoy.

Whether God gives you a crisis moment of this realization that lasts a lifetime, as he did Hudson Taylor, or leads you deeper gradually over time, don’t settle for anything less than what Paul experienced in Philippians 4 and what he prayed for in Ephesians 3:19: “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Don’t stop wanting this fullness and pursuing it.

If Hudson Taylor were here, he would say, “It is yours in Christ. Possess it. Enjoy it. Who knows? God may birth a ministry through you that lasts 150 years.”

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