He was short, soft-spoken and shy. He didn’t believe he possessed great spiritual gifts and on more than one occasion referred to himself as God’s little servant. He was given to depression and melancholy and was called a madman by some who worked alongside him. One colleague called him the strangest looking man I have ever met. But it was through this little servant, James Hudson Taylor, that God brought the gospel to China.
English born Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) gave his life to Christ as a young adult and never looked back. By the time of his death he had served his Lord in China for almost 40 years. Along the way he founded the China Inland Mission, which during his lifetime grew to include 205 mission stations and over 800 missionaries. More than 125,000 Chinese met Christ through Taylor’s ministry before he died.
I have read two lengthy biographies on the life of Hudson Taylor–11 years apart. Each was terribly exciting and each moved me deeply to a closer walk with God. The life of this pioneer missionary reads a bit like a Robert Ludlum novel. Taylor went where white people had never gone. He faced xenophobia, riotous crowds, natural disasters, political opposition and disease. He lived on faith and, like Jason Bourne, escaped time and again from seemingly hopeless situations. Living by faith, for Taylor, meant trusting in God to act like the loving father God claimed to be. His faith was instructed by his own experience as a father:
I notice that it is not difficult for me to remember that the little ones need breakfast in the morning, dinner at midday, and something before they go to bed at night. Indeed, I could not forget it. And I find it impossible to suppose that our Heavenly Father is less tender or mindful than I.
Living by faith, therefore, meant having a child-like trust that God would provide what was necessary. While traveling with Harry Beauchamp and C.T. Studd to bring the gospel to Szechwan, Taylor’s group was out of both food and money. The missionaries were, literally, hungry. As they walked along the road Hudson cried out, We thank Thee, Lord, for this our food. Beauchamp couldn’t help but ask, Where is the food? Taylor smiled and said, It cannot be far away. Our Father knows we are hungry and will send our breakfast soon: but you will have to wait and say your grace when it comes, while I shall be ready to begin at once! (Yes, the food came shortly thereafter.)
But life in China was anything but an action-packed thrill ride. James Hudson Taylor suffered greatly in his efforts to bring the gospel to those who had never heard about Jesus. While in his thirties this little servant buried three of his own children and then the wife whom he loved so dearly. Taylor’s sufferings shook him to his core, yet he persisted in faith. After losing two children and then his wife in a single summer he wrote,
I cannot describe to you my feelings; I do not understand them myself. I feel like a person stunned with a blow, or recovering from a faint, and as yet but partially conscious…
But Taylor’s pain was instructed by his understanding of God. The above quotation continues,
. . . But I would not have it otherwise, no, not a hair’s breadth, for my world. My Father has ordered it so—therefore I know it is, it must be best, and I thank Him for so ordering it. I feel utterly crushed, and yet ‘strong in the Lord and in the power of his might’. Oft-times my heart is nigh to breaking but, withal, I had almost said, I never knew what peace and happiness were before—so much have I enjoyed in the very sorry. . . . I could not have believed it possible that He could so have helped and comforted my poor heart.
Notice the gutsy faith, the spiritual moxie of Hudson Taylor—stunned and crushed, yet confident and comforted. This 19th century saint denied neither the painfulness of his grief nor the incomprehensible comfort of his heavenly Father. What was his secret? How did he persevere? Why didn’t Hudson Taylor’s faith crumble and his mission collapse in the midst of such adversity? To quote Job’s wife, why didn’t Taylor curse God and die?
Hudson Taylor’s secret was what he called the continuous habit of the soul. Here was a missionary who taught himself to drink deeply and continually of the refreshing living water of Christ.
Jesus said, ‘Come unto me and drink.’ Not, come and take a hasty draught; not, come and slightly alleviate, or for a short time remove one’s thirst. No! ‘drink’, or ‘be drinking’ constantly, habitually. . . . One coming, one drinking may refresh and comfort; but we are to be ever coming, ever drinking.
When asked how he persevered after so much grief and pain Taylor said, The secret was that Jesus was satisfying the deep thirst of heart and soul. The continuous habit of Taylor’s soul was to spend time with God regardless of life’s circumstances or busyness.
Dr. Howard Taylor wrote a book on the spiritual life of his father, Hudson Taylor. Howard traveled many miles with his father and included the following in his book, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret:
It was not easy for Mr. Taylor in his changeful life, to make time for prayer and Bible study, but he knew that it was vital. Well do [we] remember traveling with him month after month in northern China, by cart and wheelbarrow, with the poorest of inns at night. Often with only one large room for coolies and travelers alike, they would screen off a corner for their father and another for themselves, with curtains of some sort; and then after sleep at last had brought a measure of quiet they would hear a match struck and seek the flicker of candlelight which told that Mr. Taylor, however weary, was pouring over the little Bible in two volumes always at hand. From two to four a.m. was the time he usually gave to prayer; the time when he could be most sure of being undisturbed to wait upon God.
As we live out our faith in our own time and place, troubles, grief and suffering will come our way. We will not suffer in the same ways that Hudson Taylor suffered, but the storms of life will arrive on our doorstep. Jesus said it would be so., Let us, therefore, become people who employ Hudson Taylor’s secret. Let us drink—deeply and continually—of the Living Water who refreshes our soul and gives us hope in time of need. Hudson Taylor’s citizenship wasn’t in China, nor was it in England. And our citizenship isn’t in the United States. Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us know Him well so that we long for His coming.