Have you ever witnessed a riot in the parking lot of your church or been threatened by an angry mob of civilians? For us, that would be extreme persecution. For Hudson Taylor, that was just another day at the office!
Hudson Taylor was born into a loving committed home of Christian parents.
Even though he was taught the Bible, was knowledgeable of basic doctrine, he was personally skeptical.
When he was 15 years of age he landed a job at a city bank where he was surrounded by young men who made fun of his old fashioned religious ideas. That began to cement his unbelief.
By the providence of God, Hudson developed a problem with his eyesight – a problem that only lasted for brief while – but long enough for Hudson to lose his job at the bank.
By the time he turned 17, he was unaware that his 13 year old sister had committed to praying for his salvation 3 times a day. He was also unaware that his mother had pulled away from an appointment with friends to privately pray one afternoon.
That same afternoon, Hudson later wrote, “I happened to have a holiday, and in the afternoon looked through my father’s library to find some book with which to wile away the unoccupied hours. Nothing interested me; I turned over a basket of pamphlets and selected from among them a Gospel tract that looked interesting, saying to myself; ‘There will be a story at the beginning and then a sermon; I will read the [story] and ignore the [sermon] – which is still being done to this day.
While reading the pamphlet, I was struck with the phrase: ‘The finished work of Christ.” Why does this author use this expression, I questioned. Why not the atoning work of Christ? Or the satisfying work of Christ.’
And then, the words of Jesus Christ from the cross – “It is finished” – came to my memory – from John 19:30. But, what was finished? It became clear as I read further that the debt was paid for my sin – a full and finished payment for sin.”
And with this dawned the joyful conviction, as light flashed into my soul, that there was nothing in the world to be done but to fall down on my knees and accept this Savior and His salvation and then praise Him for the rest of my life. / Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor: The Growth of a Soul (OMF International, 1996), p. 67
And that’s exactly what Hudson Taylor did.
The year was 1849.
Within a year he decided to study medicine and then become a medical missionary in China.
In order to fully prepare for the hardships of missionary pioneering, he moved into the slum district of London called Drainside. And then began to experiment with how little he needed to eat and at the same time stay healthy enough for his studies.
He found that he could live off porridge and bread most of the week, with meat every once in a while – which allowed him left over money for medical supplies to help the poverty stricken people in his neighborhood.
He would write to his sister that he had one big problem though; the medical doctor to whom he was apprenticed would forget to pay him his weekly salary. Hudson had to remind him every week and it became so frustrating to Hudson that he finally decided this was the perfect opportunity to develop his faith. So he made a decision to never remind the doctor again and instead wait on the Lord to remind the doctor to pay his salary.
And with that doctor stopped paying his salary. And God evidently wasn’t interested in reminding him.
Eventually, the rent was due and Hudson had no money to pay . . . his food was running out as well. If was Friday, and the doctor had forgotten to pay him yet again.
Hudson headed home discouraged and confused again with the Lord. He only had one half-crown in his pocket for the weekend – in today’s economy, a half-crown would be worth around 20 dollars.
That’s enough for three balanced meals at Taco Bell.
When he arrived at his apartment, he was met by one of the many poverty stricken men who lived near him in Drainside.
He begged Hudson to come and see his wife who had only recently delivered a baby; neither the mother nor the newborn were doing well. So Hudson reluctantly agreed – he wrote in his journal that he wasn’t in the mood to help anybody that night.
And – he was frustrated with God at the moment for not reminding the doctor to pay him.
So when he arrived with this poor man, he saw several children huddled inside a one room dwelling – which Hudson described as wretched.
A woman was lying on a cot in the corner and a baby lay in her arms crying. Hudson knew without any medical examination that the baby wasn’t getting any milk because the woman was malnourished. In fact, the entire family was hungry.
Hudson immediately knew that the Lord wanted him to give this family his half-crown – his last 20 dollars. But he didn’t want to.
In a letter to his sister, later, he wrote, “They needed food, but I did too. So I kept my money in my pocket and instead shared with this family that although their circumstances were very distressing there was a kind and loving Father in heaven. And something in me cried, “You’re a hypocrite – you’re telling these people about a loving Father you’re not willing to trust yourself.”
The poor man asked Hudson to at least pray for them before he left their apartment. He agreed to pray for them and they all knelt down in that little room. The battle raged in Taylor’s heart as he began to pray – and then – he wrote his sister, without any desire or joy, after I said “Amen”, I got up and handed that man my half-crown. The family could hardly contain their gratitude.”
Only then, he wrote, did the joy of the Lord flood my heart.
So when Hudson returned home, he sat down and his last bowl of porridge and before he got into bed, he got on his knees and thanked the Lord that he had been empowered to give everything he had away and then he reminded the Lord – that he was now out of money.
The following day, an anonymous package arrived; the package contained a pair of winter gloves – which he needed – and inside one of the gloves was 4 times the amount of money he had given away the night before. / Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission: Volume 1 (OMF Book, 1996), p. 132
He would later writing, “How often my mind has remembered this incident – and the lesson: that faithfulness to God in little things allows us to gain experience and strength for more serious trials of life.” / Ibid. p. 135
Maybe you’re there right now . . . this semester at Shepherds seminary, one of the most important lessons God is going to teach you will be outside the classroom . . . how do you think you will ever lead people to trust God if you are not willing to trust Him yourself.
Frankly, you are going to enter the ministry that is filled with darkened rooms. The sheep will be fearful to enter the room until the light is turned on. It will be your role, as a shepherd, to go into that dark room and find the light switch, and then invite the sheep to follow you in.
After several years of training, Hudson Taylor sailed for China in 1853; he would spend 51 years serving in that country.
When he first arrived and for the first several weeks, he realized that his respect among the people and his ability to be revered as a religious teacher were being hindered by his Western clothing.
Much of the taunting he encountered from young people especially had more to do with his clothing than his gospel.
So he went against all protocol and advice and decided to do something radically different. He put on the customary robe and slippers of a Chinese teacher.
He even shaved the hair off his forehead too to match the Chinese custom for teachers.
I did the same thing . . . now you know why.
Hudson wrote his sister the rather shocking details that would create a scandal – and I quote – “I had better tell you at once that on Thursday, I dyed my hair a good black color, and in the morning had the proper queue (what we would call a pigtail) woven into the back of my hair.” / Adapted from Frederick Taylor, J. Hudson Taylor: God’s Man in China (Moody Press, 1965), p. 99
The reaction back in England was to be expected. He lost support without ever being contacted . . . other missionaries reported back that Hudson had essentially gone over the cliff and couldn’t be trusted.
And with that Hudson Taylor would begin his own mission board, calling it the China Inland Mission.
He would become known for his sensitivity toward the Chinese culture and customs; listen to how he instructed new missionary recruits – I quote; “Rude people will seldom be out of hot water in China and though earnest and devoted, they will not accomplish much. In nothing do we fail more, as a Mission, than in lack of politeness.” / Alexander Strauch, Leading With Love (Lewis & Roth, 2006), p. 61
Imagine that message to the church today - in nothing do we fail more, as believers, than in lack of politeness.
Still, Hudson Taylor and his family would suffer tremendously. On the personal side, one wife and several children would die from diseases. He would marry again and experience the still born death of twin babies, a boy and a girl.
On the ministry side, he and those who served with him would be persecuted and often have to escape with their lives. On one occasion he and his wife climbed out a window and ran for their lives.
He once said – get this – “The China Inland Mission never established a missionary outpost without first surviving a riot.”
Imagine a church planter being told today that you’re gonna have survive a riot before you can get your church off the ground.
One church leader wrote recently that wherever the apostle Paul went, he encountered a riot; wherever I go, they serve me tea.
Little wonder his testimony would influence thousands of people to consider giving their lives to another country.
I wonder how many seminary graduates resign from their post because they received hardship rather than a cup of tea.
Hudson Taylor was personally supported by Charles Spurgeon, C.I. Scofield, and D.L Moody. He often received financial gifts in the mail, just in time, from his good friend George Mueller – who was persevering through his own hardships.
However, Hudson Taylor was known for his optimistic spirit. He credited his confidence in the Lord with a statement that I’ve written in my own notes and have often read and re-read; it goes like this – “If we are obeying God, the responsibility rests with Him, not with us.” / Howard Taylor, p. 31
In a letter to his missionary staff, dated 1879, he delivered 4 action points that he believed would give their ministry spiritual vitality and fruit.
Let me give you these four action points – they are easily translated into your life right now, as a student, as a believer, as a church member, as a servant of Christ.
- First, Hudson Taylor said, ‘Improve the character of your work’
In other words, most often what a believer needs is not to begin something new, but strengthen and improve what they are already doing.
Howard Hendricks taught this same principle to us in the phrase – “plussing”. That is, take something you’re doing that’s worth doing and do it better . . . more effectively . . . more carefully . . . more creatively.
- Secondly, Deepen spiritual disciplines
Paul would write to Timothy, his son in the faith, “Timothy, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” (1 Timothy 4:7)
That word discipline is gumnazo (gumnazw) – from which we get our word gymnasium, which essentially means, “exercise.”
In other words, godly piety and devotion demand exercise. If you want to grow in godliness you have to be willing to work up a spiritual sweat.
I remember years ago, we were at the beach with our girls – they girls were out in the water and I told them, use our umbrella as your marker and stay in front of us. No matter how hard they tried, they drifted . . . each wave would push them down the shore. Sometimes they’d would literally need to get out of the water and run back up the beach to where we were and start over again.
What a picture of life and ministry . . . it’s easy to drift.
Every wave of demand, every pull of pressure, the undertow of problems and challenges – perhaps even laziness and apathy thrown in causes us to drift without realizing it.
No one will ever deepen their disciplines and their devotion without intentional effort and a constant readjustment to the umbrella of God’s word – God’s will – God’s way.
- Thirdly, remove stones of stumbling, if possible
He was thinking of tough assignments that needed to be tackled. Some decisions needed to be made; obstacles to that needed to be overcome . . . and then he adds – if possible.
I love that realism. That comes from years of experience; some things just can’t be changed. Some people just won’t leave you alone; some deacons just won’t die. Don’t quote me on that.
But wherever you can change things and remove obstacles that hinder your spiritual life and your ministry life and your personal life, do it. Tackle it – take it on – don’t excuse it – deal with it.
It may never get easy. Hudson would often remind his missionary team by saying, “There are three stages for missionary work – and this applies to life – impossible . . . difficult . . . done. / Ibid, p. 276
Hudson didn’t want missionaries joining the team who weren’t willing to face challenges. In fact, every candidate who applied to the China Inland Mission would be trained at their center they had set up in the slums of London. If they couldn’t make it there, they wouldn’t be allowed to come to China. / Ibid, p. 226
Remove stones of stumbling if possible.
- Number 4: Oil the wheels where they stick
Hudson Taylor actually had in mind with this statement, personal relationships. He said to get out the oil can of love and apply liberally to those relationships that just tend to stick.
He would write that there is no substitute for loving one another.
Didn’t Paul write the same thing – learn all the languages you can – even the language of angels – Dr. Goeman would say, “That’s obviously Hebrew.” Become fluent – but without love, you’re ministry will be ineffective; sacrifice everything you have – even your own life – but without love, you’re life will be fruitless.
Hudson Taylor once confided that his greatest joy was the staff members of the China Inland Mission and his greatest sorrow was the staff of the China Inland Mission.
Oil the wheels where they stick.
One of the things Hudson Taylor would be marked by was a sense of humility; and a deep sense of joy – almost a sense of surprise – that God had chosen to use him for His glory.
He would write, “I often think that God must have been looking for someone small enough and weak enough for Him to use . . . and He found me.” / R. Kent Hughes, 1001 Great Stories and Quotes, (Tyndale House, 1998), p. 213
In 1905, after having resigned as the head of the China Inland Mission, he decided to take one last tour through some of his beloved cities and mission stations in China. During that tour, he would pass away.
He was buried next to his first wife, Maria, in a small cemetery near a river.
Let me give you an interesting update.
Their graves were treated with utter disregard in China – in fact, the cemetery was actually covered over by industrial buildings in the 1960’s.
Eight years ago, the buildings were torn down for new development and Hudson and Maria’s graves were discovered.
In 2013, their graves were moved to a memorial garden managed by believers.
Over Hudson Taylor’s 50 years of ministry, he was responsible for leading nearly 1,000 missionaries into that vast country.
Together they would plant hundreds of churches, start and develop 125 schools; 500 Chinese converts would join the China Inland Mission as staff members and volunteers.
Hudson Taylor would learn to speak in 3 different Chinese dialects, evangelize all 18 provinces of the interior and prepare a translation of the New Testament in the Ningbo dialect.
The China Inland Mission became the largest Protestant Missionary organization in the world.
But if he were here today, speaking to you on this convocation event, I am confident he would not care to hear any of that repeated.
He was just somebody weak enough . . . small enough . . . to be used by God.