In 1832, James and Amelia Taylor prayed, “Dear God, if you should give us a son, grant that he may work for you in China.” With that simple prayer, the story of Hudson Taylor began. And although his parents did not tell Hudson about that prayer until decades later, God put China into Hudson’s heart and gave Hudson the faith to believe that God answers prayer.
Hudson Taylor was raised in a Christian home, but faith was a struggle for many years. Hudson wanted to be a Christian; he tried to be a Christian. Time and again, however, he felt he failed in Christianity. He failed so much he eventually gave up, believing he was simply incapable of faith. Then, one day, Hudson found himself so bored he decided to read a gospel tract he found lying around. He knew it would contain a short story, which would help him pass the time, and he planned to ignore the spiritual aspects. But, when he read Jesus’ words, “It is finished,” said on the cross, Hudson paused and pondered. He later wrote, “Then came the thought, ‘If the whole work was finished and the whole debt paid, what is there left for me to do?’ And with this dawned the joyful conviction, 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, to praise Him forevermore.” That day, Hudson Taylor discovered the reason he had failed so many times was because he was trying by his own effort. Hudson realized the gospel of Jesus is based on faith in Jesus’ finished work, and that realization became the foundation of Hudson’s life and ministry.
It was not long before Hudson felt God calling him to China. Knowing the difficulties he would face in missions, he determined to build his faith in God, for he knew God would be his only assurance. So, as a young medical student, he determined to live as modestly as possible and to depend on God for his daily needs. He gave away almost all his possessions, ate a diet of mostly oatmeal and rice, and rented an inexpensive room in a poor part of London. He soon found, “The less I spent on myself and the more I gave away, the fuller of happiness and blessing did my soul become.” And during this time, he determined to never ask anyone for payment or financial help, not even his own employer. Many times he found himself without money or food, often after giving away his last temporal resources. He depended on God, and in all his years, God never let him down. Hudson prayed, and it was never long before Hudson had whatever he needed.
In 1853, Hudson left England to serve with the Chinese Evangelization Society. Within months of arriving in China, Hudson broke with missionary custom by wearing Chinese clothing. He sought to identify with the Chinese, build relationships with them, and distinguish the Christian faith from the British culture. He further divided with his fellow missionaries by his desire to go beyond the five large Treaty Ports—cities where British missionaries were legally welcome. Hudson wanted to see missionaries bring the gospel to every part of China.
Hudson’s tumultuous relationship with the Chinese Evangelization Society ended in 1857 when he discovered they were borrowing money to pay their missionaries. Hudson resigned, and although he had no source of income, he believed God would provide for him. Continuing the manner he began in England, he committed to never ask anyone for money and never give any indication of his financial need; instead, he would speak to God alone for all his needs.
Hudson Taylor served until 1861 when he became very ill and needed to return to England. He used his convalescence in England to continue a project of translating the New Testament into Chinese, and he travelled and spoke to encourage British Christians to sacrifice for the evangelization of China. He challenged British believers to consider their spiritual wealth and security in light of the hundreds of millions of Chinese people who never heard the name of Jesus. Continuing his dependence of God, he refused to allow any church he visited to collect money for his ministry. Instead, he wanted people to leave church having given nothing to missions, for if they had thrown some change into a collection plate, their consciences might be absolved from any further thoughts about China. Hudson wanted Christians to leave church having given nothing so that God could work in their hearts to do whatever he would have them do.
The time in England, pleading the case of China’s multitudes, led to the next major work in Hudson’s life. He concluded that a new missionary agency was needed for the specific purpose of bringing the gospel into the unreached parts of China. On June 25, 1865, Hudson Taylor prayed that God would send him 24 missionaries—two for each unreached Chinese province and two for Mongolia. The prayer was audacious. It would increase the total number of missionaries in China by 25 percent. But, as always, God provided, and the China Inland Mission (CIM) was born. Hudson returned to China in 1866 with the first group of CIM missionaries.
Never content, Hudson continued asking God for missionaries. In 1881, Hudson prayed for 70 more, and he received 76. In 1886, he asked God for another 100. Within a year, he had added 102. When Hudson died in 1905, CIM counted 825 foreign missionaries, plus hundreds of native Chinese ministers, none of whom ever asked anyone for financial support. Missionaries brought their needs to God and trusted God to provide.
Despite the success of CIM, Hudson Taylor was not always popular. Unlike other agencies, CIM allowed unmarried women to serve as missionaries, and women were sent to all parts of China. Further, contrary to Europe’s theological ethnocentrism, Hudson prayed for the day when China’s church would be led by Chinese believers. Hudson Taylor declared the native Chinese ministers to be CIM’s “most important department.” He continued, “They are becoming more efficient as well as more numerous, and the hope for China lies doubtless in them. I look on foreign missionaries as the scaffolding round a rising building; the sooner it can be dispensed with the better.”
Many in England also criticized Hudson Taylor as insensitive to the political and commercial interests of the British. After CIM missionaries, including Hudson, were attacked during the Yangzhou riot of 1868, the British Parliament debated whether missionary activities in China’s interior were in England’s best interest. Hudson, of course, was most concerned about the eternal interests of the Chinese. So, he and CIM continued, despite the dangers.
Taylor once wrote, “China is not to be won for Christ by quiet, ease-loving men and women.... The stamp of men and women we need is such as will put Jesus, China, souls, first and foremost in everything and at every time—even life itself must be secondary.” And this was not hyperbole; during the Boxer Rebellion, CIM lost more missionaries than any other agency. Dozens of CIM missionaries, even their children, and many native believers, were tortured to death and their bodies mutilated. One CIM missionary wrote, “Alas, only a very few of my beloved fellow missionaries in the province of Shanxi escaped the blood-stained hands of the Boxers.” But, Hudson and CIM continued to serve and to show the love of Christ. When the British military defeated the Rebellion, the Chinese were forced to pay compensation to any British who suffered loss. But, Taylor and CIM refused compensation, choosing instead to demonstrate the “meekness and gentleness of Christ.” During his lifetime, he suffered diseases, beatings, arrests, the burning of his house, seizing of his property, and the deaths of family members. He was willing to suffer, even to the point of death, because to him, even the worst death was nothing to fear. He wrote, “To be absent from the body! To be present with the Lord! To be free from sin! And this is the end of the worst that man’s malice can ever bring upon us!”
More than fifteen decades after Hudson Taylor first entered China, CIM still operates in East Asia and has pioneered many missions strategies that are now commonplace throughout the world. But, Hudson Taylor’s greatest legacy is his testimony to God’s sovereignty over all things and to God’s personal attention to the needs of his people. Hudson Taylor lived by faith and relied on God’s provision.
While we are not specifically praying that our Hudson will serve Christ in China, we are praying he will have the faith to follow Christ anywhere and to trust God in every circumstance. We pray that his name will become a legacy reminding us and him that God is our provider and sustainer, and that because Christ’s work is finished, there is nothing in the world to be done but to fall down on one’s knees, and accepting this Savior and His salvation, to praise Him forevermore.
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