Imagine a group of expats working in China in the 1850s. Two of the young people fall in love. The young man asks the girl’s guardian for permission to marry her—and receives a resounding “No.”
This was Hudson Taylor’s experience. He had come to China as a missionary in 1854. He had been interested in someone else back in England. After a lot of correspondence and angst, he finally accepted the fact that this woman would never consent to go to China.
A few years later, he met Maria Dyer. She and her sister were orphans under the care of a single lady missionary in China. As Hudson and Maria grew attracted to each other, Hudson sent a letter to Maria’s guardian requesting Maria’s hand in marriage.
The guardian, Miss Aldersey, not only said no: she stood over Maria while requiring her to refuse Hudson and request him to never broach the subject again.
Part of Miss Aldersey’s objection was that Hudson was not a “gentleman” by the standards of rank at that time. But more than that, Hudson was unwittingly and not on purpose a polarizing figure at the time.
Anti-foreign sentiment was high in China then. Just the presence of Europeans could start a riot in some areas. On top of that, their foreign ways were a distraction. Once while Hudson was speaking, a man watched him in rapt attention. Hudson thought the gospel was finally breaking through to someone. But the listener questioned him, not about his message, but his jacket: why in the world did it have decorative buttons that didn’t fasten to anything, and what a silly waste was that.
Hudson decided to dress as a Chinese. He shaved his head except for a patch at the back to have extension woven in for the long queue fashionable at the time. He dressed in the style of a Chinese teacher.
And it worked. He could move about freely, and the Chinese were not immediately put off by him. It didn’t take them long to realize he was a foreigner, but his integration into their way of life went a long way toward furthering his mission. In later years, his dress and demeanor also helped establish the fact that he was not trying to establish an English church or convert people to English ways, but to Christ.
But much of the European community found his actions eccentric or even harmful.
By the Victorian standards at the time, Hudson couldn’t just rush over to Maria’s house to talk things out or ask her to meet him at a coffee shop. But as God arranged things, they found a few moments alone together while at a mutual friend’s house. When he found that Maria did love him, he felt he could pursue their engagement.
John Pollock tells their story in Hudson Taylor and Maria: A Match Made in Heaven. He begins with Hudson’s salvation story and leading to China, then he details their work together.
I love the passages describing Maria’s influence on Hudson. “Her religion had been more orderly; she served to steady Hudson’s faith while he deepened hers” (p. 113). Furthermore:
Maria tempered without quenching his zeal, was largely responsible for the common sense and balance characteristic of Taylor at the height of his powers. She made him take holidays. Under the influence of her less mercurial yet gay temperament he shed those moods of melancholy; he could discuss every matter with her and forget to be introspective. He became more assured, grew up.
Though his was the finer intellect, Maria had a more thorough education. She improved his cumbrous style, teaching him to write good English though she never cured him of split infinitives.
Together they had such a reservoir of love that it splashed over to refresh all, Chinese or European, who came near them (p. 114).
Hudson Taylor had not intended to start a new mission agency. But while home in England recovering from some physical problems, he wanted to recruit more people to go into the interior of China. Most missionary effort was on the coast, leaving the biggest part of the country unreached.
The agency under whose auspices Hudson had come had failed him miserably, leading him to resign them while still in China.
Between the new recruits and Hudson’s experiences, the necessity for a new mission agency became apparent. The pressure on Hudson was excruciating until finally, after a friend’s sermon, he realized:
If we are obeying the Lord, the responsibility rests with Him, not with us. Thou, Lord! Thou shalt have the burden. All the responsibility lies on Thee, Lord Jesus! I surrender. The consequences rest with Thee. Thou shalt direct, care for, guide me, and those who labour with me (p. 141).
Thus the China Inland Mission was born. Taylor needed those assurances for the rocky path ahead.
One of Hudson’s mottoes was “Move man, through God, by prayer alone.”
In later years Hudson said, “As a rule prayer is answered and funds com in, but if we are kept waiting the spiritual blessing that is the outcome is far more precious than exemption from the trial (p. 125).
Another of his principles was this:
‘Pray ye to the Lord of the harvest that he will send forth labourers unto the harvest.’ Taylor decided that the divine method of riding missionaries did not lie in ‘elaborate appeals for help, but, first, earnest prayer to God to thrust forth labourers, and, second, the deepening of the spiritual Life of the Church, so that men should be unable to stay at home‘ (p. 128).
Although I don’t think this was meant to be a theme in Pollock’s book, one factor that stood out to me was that many of Hudson’s main problems were not with anti-foreign sentiment or the government: his most trying problems came through other Christians. The criticism of his Chinese dress, the division over his proposal to Maria (one of the leaders refused to give him communion over the issue!), the new recruits grumbling and fussing like the Israelites in the wilderness, dissension in the ranks, people spreading disinformation, and armchair commentators from afar touting uninformed opinions about everything he did, all weighed on him. He tried to be gracious, and he was not above rebuke or correction. But a lot of the opposition to his work and methods was fleshly and burdensome.
I also noticed with him as with Jim Elliot, whose story I reread a few weeks ago, that in their twenties, they were not at their most mature state (who is at that time?). For instance, in Hudson’s youthful zeal, he “suffered scruples about putting on a life jacket” during a storm at sea because he felt it showed “lack of faith in God’s power to intervene.” In later years, “he laughed at such extravagance. ‘I believe I can trust the Lord in some respects as much as I ever could, but I am a good deal modified in some of my views and do not think it right to neglect proper precautions'” (p. 84). But they still had a willingness to do God’s will no matter the cost to themselves and to think outside the box. They both grew in wisdom with more experience of walking with God.
After a particularly lengthy and trying period in his early days, he wrote to someone:
At home, you can never know what it is to be alone—absolutely alone, amidst thousands, as you can in a Chinese city, without one friend, one companion, everyone looking on you with curiosity, with contempt, with suspicion or with dislike. Thus to learn what it is to be despised and rejected of men—of those you wish to benefit, your motives not understood or respected—thus to learn what it is to have nowhere to lay your head, and then to have the love of Jesus applied to your heart by the Holy Spirit—His holy, self-denying love, which led Him to suffer this and more than this—for me; this is precious, this is worth coming for (pp. 81-82).
Sadly, Hudson and Maria only had twelve married years together. Pollack ends the book a little abruptly right after Maria’s death. He has a recommendation elsewhere in the book for the rest of Hudson’s life story. I had not read the one he mentioned, but I’ve read others. the classic is a large two-volume set written by Taylor’s son and daughter-in-law (though Pollock asserts that the daughter-in-law revised and left out some things, it’s still a great set). Even though I was familiar with much of Taylor’s life, I was blessed by going over parts of it again in this book.
Though this book was originally written in the 1960s, the style of writing seems much older to me. But the book is easily readable and well worth one’s time.