31 Days of Missionary Stories: Hudson Taylor, Pioneer Missionary

J_Hudson_TaylorI wasn’t going to mention Hudson Taylor because I felt most people would know of him, but in looking at an old post of some of his quotes, a friend commented that she hadn’t read anything about him. His is one of the premier missionary stories (though he would cringe to hear anyone say that) both because of his example in his walk with the Lord and his influence on missionary thought and outreach.

One day as a boy he came across a tract in his father’s office. He casually sat down to read it, and at that the same time his mother, some seventy miles away, felt an urgent burden to pray for her son. As Hudson read, he puzzled over the phrase “the finished work of Christ,” wondering what it meant, what was “finished.” He realized Christ had accomplished everything needed for his salvation, all his efforts at “trying” to be a Christian were for naught: all he had to do was believe. His mother prayed for hours until she felt sure that her prayers had been answered. When she came home, she was so sure that he had been saved while she was gone that he thought his sister had told her.

He was a pioneer missionary to China in the 1800s during a time when China was especially hostile and suspicious of foreigners. He wanted to convert people to Christ in their own culture rather than converting them to Western culture. He dressed as a Chinaman, much to the dismay and criticism of the overseas European community and even other missionaries, simply because he found that the most effective way to work with the Chinese. A missionary coming into a town dressed as a European was likely to be attacked and cause a riot. (He would not have said that dressing like a native is something all missionaries in every time and place should do, though. Elisabeth Elliot in No Graven Image makes the point that sometimes such a practice is not well-received. It just worked best for Taylor at the time and place he ministered.)

He suffered much hardship uncomplainingly and purposefully lived as simple a life as possible, even before going to China, to train himself.

Probably the most notable aspects of Hudson, however, were his simple childlike (but not childish) faith and his unswerving obedience to what he perceived God wanted him to do. Once, before going to the field, he heard of a family in dire need and went to visit them. He felt he should give them the last money he had, but wrestled with himself over it. Finally he yielded. The next day he received in the mail several times more than he had given.

He did not set out to start a mission agency, but the agency which sent him out failed miserably: they failed to advise or prepare him, failed to forward funds and communicate with him when he was on the field, causing other mission agencies to step in and help him and others, and then they had the gall to criticize other mission agencies in the periodicals of the day. The necessity of a mission agency attuned to the needs in China and responsible in its habits led to Hudson beginning the China Inland Mission. There were a few missionaries in the bigger cities, but he wanted to go inland where the gospel had not been preached.

The following excerpts come from It Is Not Death to Die: A New Biography of Hudson Taylor by Jim Cromarty.

Before he went to China, the girl he had planned to marry refused his proposal because she did not want to go to China. He wrote to his mother, “Trusting God does not deprive one of feelings or deaden our natural sensibilities, but it enables us to compare our trials with our mercies and to say, ‘Yet notwithstanding, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation’” (p. 55).

Once during a storm on the way to China in a ship, he took off a life jacket because he felt he was trusting in it rather than the Lord. Later he realized that was wrong thinking and wrote, “The use of means ought not to lessen our faith in God; and our faith in God ought not to hinder whatever means He has given us for the accomplishment of His own purposes…When in medical or surgical charge of any case, I have never thought of neglecting to ask God’s guidance and blessing in the use of appropriate means…to me it would appear presumptuous  and wrong to neglect the use of those measures which He Himself has put within our reach, as to neglect to take daily food, and suppose that life and health might be maintained by prayer alone” (p. 99). He was later said to be “a man of prayer, but it was prayer associated with action…’He prayed about things as if everything depended upon the praying…but he worked also, as if everything depended upon the working’” (p. 329).

To live in inland China at that time meant giving up what would be considered Western luxuries, and Hudson tried hard to give a real picture of the mission field before new missionaries came over. “The only persons wanted here are those who will rejoice to work — really to labour — not to dream their lives away; to deny themselves; to suffer in order to save.” (p. 294). He wrote to applicants, “If you want hard work, and little appreciation of it; value God’s approbation more than you fear man’s disapprobation; are prepared, if need be, to seal your testimony with your blood and perhaps oftentimes to take joyfully the spoiling of your goods…you may count on a harvest of souls here, and a crown of glory that does not fade away, and the Master’s ‘Well done’…it is no question of ‘making the best of both worlds’ — the men who will be happy with us are those who have this world under their feet” (p. 303).

At one time he said. “My soul yearns, oh how intently for the evangelization of these 180 millions of the nine unoccupied provinces. Oh that I had a hundred lives to give or spend for their good…Better to have pecuniary and other outward trials and perplexities, and blessing in the work itself, souls being saved, and the name of the Lord Jesus being magnified, than any measure of external prosperity without it” (p. 297).

He was known to be a humble and unassuming man. Many meeting him for the first time were surprised that he didn’t “stand out,” but looked at first like a regular Chinaman. Spurgeon wrote of him, “Mr. Taylor…is not in outward appearance an individual who would be selected among others as the leader of a gigantic enterprise; in fact, he is lame in gait, and little in stature; but…his spirit is quiet and meek, yet strong and intense; there is not an atom of self-assertion about him, but a firm confidence in God” (p. 329). Many times he quietly and unassumingly helped and ministered to others, especially new arrivals. Once when a group he was with had to spend a night on a boat with a leper, and someone complained about the stench of his bedding, Hudson spent the night in his cabin uncomplainingly and bought him new bedding the next day. Another time when an exhausted group of travelers fell into bed without eating, Hudson prepared omelets for them all. Once when he knew of a paper that was critical of him, almost derogatory, he said, “That is a very just criticism, for it is all true. I have often thought that God made me little in order that He might show what a great God He is” (p. 400).

In one meeting, Hudson said, “What we give up for Christ we gain, and what we keep back is our real loss…Let us make earth a little less homelike, and souls more precious. Jesus is coming again, and so soon! Will He really find us obeying His last command?” (p. 383).

Some of the sayings he is most well-known for:

“Many Christians estimate difficulty in the light of their own resources, and thus they attempt very little and they always fail. All God’s giants have been weak men, who did great things for God because they reckoned on His being with them.” – Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission; The Growth of a Work of God, Chapter 19

“After proving God’s faithfulness for many years, I can testify that times of want have ever been times of spiritual blessing, or have led to them.” – A.J. Broomhall. Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century, Book Five: Refiner’s Fire.

Brighton, 25 June 1965: “All at once came the thought – If you are simply obeying the LORD, all the responsibility will rest on Him, not on you! What a relief!! Well, I cried to God – You shall be responsible for them, and for me too!” – A.J. Broomhall. Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century, Book Three: If I Had a Thousand Lives.

If God places me in great perplexity, must He not give much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength. As to work, mine was never so plentiful, so responsible, or so difficult, but the weight and strain are all gone. His resources are all mine, for He is mine. – Hudson Taylor (inscribed in Dal Washer’s Bible)

God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.

Do not have your concert first, and then tune your instrument afterwards. Begin the day with the Word of God and prayer, and get first of all into harmony with Him.

I used to ask God to help me. Then I asked if I might help Him. I ended up by asking Him to do His work through me.

In a letter to Jonathan Goforth: “Brother, if you would enter that province, you must go forward on your knees.” Rosalind Goforth, How I Know God Answers Prayer.

The definitive biography of Hudson Taylor is a two-volume set, Hudson Taylor in Early Years: The Growth of a Soul and Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission: The Growth of a Work of God by his daughter and son-in-law, Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, first published in 1911. But the first volume is over 500 pages and the second well over 600, which can be quite daunting, plus they are out of print. They are excellent and easily readable even though they were written over a hundred years ago, and you can find used copies online. The other well-known biography of Taylor is Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, also written by his daughter and son-in-law, but much more compact at 272 pages and still printed regularly today. A newer one is the above-mentioned It Is Not Death to Die: A New Biography of Hudson Taylor by Jim Cromarty. I am sure there are others, but these are the ones I have read, plus there is much information about him online. His life is definitely worthy of study.

(You can see other posts in the 31 Days of Missionary Stories here.)

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

7 thoughts on “31 Days of Missionary Stories: Hudson Taylor, Pioneer Missionary

  1. Pingback: 31 Days of Missionary Stories | Stray Thoughts

  2. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: November 2, 2013 | Semicolon

  3. I skimmed through this and had to print it. I’ve always loved Hudson Taylor for his humility and common sense. While others used rice bribes he gave his heart and won life-long Christians. Great job and applauds for choosing Taylor, my hero!

  4. Pingback: Book Review: How I Know God Answers Prayer | Stray Thoughts

  5. Pingback: 31 Days of Missionary Stories: Hudson Taylor, Pioneer Missionary | christianmissionaryblog

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