James Hudson Taylor was born on May 21, 1832 into a praying family that spoke often of other countries, particularly China, which had had little opportunity to hear the word of God. Yet when he was 17, he chose not to follow the God his family knew. The following is a personal account of what changed his life, as taken from one of his books, A Retrospect.
“I had many opportunities in early years of learning the value of prayer and of the word of God; for it was the delight of my dear parents to point out that if there were any such being as God, to trust him, to obey him and to be fully given up to his service must of necessity be the best and wisest course both for myself and others. But in spite of these helpful examples and precepts, my heart was unchanged. Often I had tried to make myself a Christian, and failing of course in such efforts, I began at last to think that for some reason or other I could not be saved, and that the best I could do was to take my fill of this world, as there was no hope for me beyond the grave.”
During this time, Hudson Taylor and his friends were skeptical of Christianity and turned off by “the inconsistencies of Christian people” who claimed to believe the Bible but “were yet content to live just as they would if there were no such book.” Taylor’s mother and sister persisted in praying for him. In June 1849, just one month after his sister decided to pray for him daily, he had a change of heart through reading a small tract. This challenged his understanding of what God can do in the human heart, and the completion of God’s purpose through the life of Christ.
Brought into saving faith through such a testimony, the power of prayer continued to be a valuable core of his life. He knew that:
“the promises were very real, and that prayer was in sober matter-of-fact transacting business with God, whether on one’s own behalf or on behalf of those for whom one sought his blessing.”
In the following years of his life, through poor health, financial pinches, and furtherance of his medical studies, he became a missionary in China. He sailed on the Dumfries in September of 1853 and landed in Shanghai in March of the following year, in the midst of the Taiping Rebellion. As he spent time studying the language, he saw that many missionaries of his day had adopted comfortable lifestyles, and that few had gone further inland to the rural and poorer areas.
After six months he moved to a little house where he could get to know his Chinese neighbours. One day, however, as he watched a fire from a balcony, a cannon ball hit a wall near him showering him with tile bits and landing in the courtyard below. Taylor decided to move back to the foreigners’ compound just before his house was burned to the ground. His mother kept the four-to-five-pound ball for years as a small token of God’s great protection of her son.
Together with his co-workers, Hudson Taylor began speaking and preaching and distributing literature in the nearby areas. However, when he saw that the Chinese people could only see him as an outsider he followed the example of Dr. Charles Gutzlaff, whom he called the “grandfather of the China Inland Mission,” and chose to wear the clothes of the common Chinese people. Although this made him the laughing stock of both foreign and Chinese onlookers, the effects proved his point and helped people see that what he preached was not such a foreign message after all.
In 1857, Hudson Taylor and a co-worker founded a mission in Ningbo. The following year he married Maria Dyer, the daughter of another missionary family. They eventually had eight children (four of whom survived to adulthood). Tired and unwell, in 1860 they sailed back to England. Hudson Taylor became convinced a new mission was needed for the task of reaching the Chinese in the rural and inland areas. However, the idea of shouldering such a burden deeply disturbed him.
In the summer of 1865 he was invited to spend a weekend in Brighton. In church on the Sunday morning he could no longer cope with standing alongside hundreds of Christians enjoying their own security. He went for a walk on the beach. Suddenly a fresh truth dawned: the responsibility was not his but God’s! On a page of his Bible he wrote,
“Prayed for 24 willing, skilful laborers [sic] at Brighton, June 25/65.”
In 1865, Hudson Taylor founded the China Inland Mission (CIM). He knew there were millions of people who needed to hear the message of Jesus Christ and thus named the mission magazine China’s Millions. It is published today as Billions.
The first party of 18, including Hudson and Maria, sailed for China in 1866; eighteen more followed in 1870. In China, while stressing the need to preach widely, Hudson Taylor urged local churches to establish and mature, for church buildings to be of Chinese not foreign design, and for leaders of the churches to be Chinese Christians. His burden for the still unreached areas pressed him further. In 1886 he issued another call, for 100 new workers in two years; 102 departed by the end of 1887. In 1888, the first North American party was sent out.
Hudson Taylor was known as a man of prayer, just as he learned the power of prayer through his mother and sister. Also known as a “man of faith,” he would respond that he was “only a servant of a faithful God.” Hudson Taylor died on June 3, 1905 and was buried in Changsha, Hunan. The CIM, known for a time as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship and now OMF International, was thus established and supported through his example and with urgent requests for people to pray and go.
May those of our generation uphold the word of our faithful God, living, preaching and praying according to his will wherever we may be.