It was the point at which the tide of all mission to China turned. Highlights such as the Cambridge Seven have blinded us to this more significant event. Taking place in the shadows of personal weakness and public indifference, a movement began which quickly led to the gospel reaching the far corners of China.

The Prayer for The Eighteen

Adapted from A. J. Broomhall’s accounts in The Shaping of Modern China: Hudson’s Taylor Life & Legacy, volume 2 (Piquant and OMF: 2005). [1]

a-j-broomhall
A. J. Broomhall

December 1874 marked the lowest of low points for Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission.

Hudson Taylor was in London, almost completely paralysed in his back and lower limbs by an accident in June, with little sign of ever being ambulant to return to China again. Supporters’ interest in the Mission was at its lowest ebb since its inception in 1865. The Mission with its two dozen members were apparently forgotten by all but an inner circle of faithful friends.

The small band of CIM missionaries, each with a Chinese colleague, were in laboring in several provinces, sowing the gospel in cities far from the treaty ports. But Hudson Taylor could not escape the thought that nine vast provinces were still without a protestant missionary. Reading through the Bible systematically as usual, he heard God speaking to him in Haggai chapter 2 on December 6. He marked (italics) in verse after verse: “Yet now be strong…. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts.… consider from this day…. From the day that the foundation of the LORD’S temple was laid…. from this day will I bless you.” He believed that the Holy Spirit was applying this passage to China and to himself. On December 11, he marked Zechariah 2:8 with the date. By faith, he saw that strength, ‘gold’, results, and protection could be accepted as the Lord’s provision if he forged ahead.

On December 13, he was struck by a sudden onset of severe enteritis and during that week they thought he might die. By Christmas he was beginning to recover his strength when news came news came that their co-worker Tsiu Kyuo-kwe had died. As one who could least be spared, it meant the snapping off of the Chinese spearhead of advance into the interior of China.

Haggai 2:19, found on page 28 of China’s Millions (September 1875).

The rallying call

From his bed, Hudson Taylor made a rallying call—an appeal for prayer was published in January 1875 “that God will raise up this year eighteen suitable men and women”, two for each of the nine remote provinces that few Westerners had dared to enter. No assault on mountain peaks has required more dedication or courage.

The publication of the appeal struck the strategic moment. Enquirers began to come. From the ranks of the Mission itself, six volunteered—John Stevenson, John McCarthy, Charles Judd, Frederick Baller, Henry Taylor, and Thomas Harvey.

More than eighteen new members sailed to China by 1876. Those counted as part of the eighteen are George King, James Cameron, George Clarke, George Nicoll, George Easton, James Broumton, Joshua Turner, Charles Budd, George Parker, Francis James, and Edward Pearse, Horace Randle and Robert Landale[2].

Working in bed but with strength returning to get up for one, then two, then three hours a day, Hudson Taylor directed the attention of awakened Christians to the need and claims of the nine provinces. Accepted candidates learned Chinese from him, and the advisory council for mission affairs in Britain met frequently by his bedside.

China’s Millions

A critical decision in May also made far-reaching impact on mission in China. Hudson Taylor saw the need for a periodical to provide people who were interested with the facts about China. Volume 1 Number 1 (July) of the magazine, aptly named China’s Millions[3], included a brief letter from Henry Taylor on plans to enter one of the nine provinces, extracts from Henry Soltau’s diary written on his way with John Stevenson to Burma (with the intent of entering Yunnan from there), as well as reports from from different parts of China.[4] The August edition included Henry Taylor’s letter written from Henan, the first of the nine provinces.[5] The work was far from haphazard or foolhardy, as seen in the reports in the December edition[6] and in July the next year.[7] Articles in the following year also addressed questions as to the effectiveness of the journeys.[8]

The front page of China’s Millions volume 1 number 1 (July 1875) carried an illuminated title surmounted by the Chinese characters for ‘Ebenezer—Hitherto hath the Lord helped us’, and ‘Jehovah Jireh—the Lord will provide’. Beneath it came an engraving of Shan people of the Burma-Yunnan border. Facts about the Shan preceded an editorial.

The extent of journeys made in about three years is astounding, especially when we consider that they were traveling by foot, horseback, and boat, facing dangers from the terrain, bandits, and illness. Shown on a map[9] in the 1878 bound volume of China’s Millions, the journeys that the pioneers and others made amounted to about 30,000 miles in those few years.[10]

The published accounts from diaries and letters of the pioneers on their epic journeys[11] must have stirred many a reader. These pioneers, by thorough penetration of China, made momentous contributions towards fulfilling CIM’s twin aims: to carry the good news of the love of God in Christ to the nation; and to awaken the Christian Church in other lands to China’s claim upon it.

The tide had turned. The CIM would soon grow to a hundred members by 1881 and the explosion of mission energy did not slacken. Newcomers to the Mission caught the spirit of these earlier pioneers and joined in the task to bring the gospel to the nine provinces. By 1881, each of the nine provinces had been crossed and re-crossed in systematic ‘seed-sowing’, and a strong foothold was established in all but four of the nine. The size of the task would fuel another rallying call. Seventy more men and women joined the CIM in 1883 and 1884. The Mission was sweeping ahead on the momentum of one of the great epochs of the Mission’s history. It rose to its most conspicuous outcome—the advent of the Cambridge Seven in 1885—but not the apogee of achievement. That had been reached by then.

MRT 14.1 unlabelled photo in Polhill Collection

The article by John Usher tells the story of Arthur Polhill, the youngest of the Cambridge Seven, the young men who became famous for giving up what could have been the good life in England to share the gospel in China. The careers of these men remain largely unknown—a partial remedy is found here as we learn about the major landmarks in the many years that Arthur Polhill served in Sichuan.

[1] See Part VI Assault on the Nine, in The Shaping of Modern China: Hudson’s Taylor Life & Legacy, volume 2 (Piquant and OMF: 2005), 243–264, 372, 399–406, 416–425, 429–439, 441, 451. A Kindle edition of the two-volume set is available. The title “Assault on the Nine” becomes clear when we refer to A. J. Broomhall’s explanation on p.263: “The assault of ‘the eighteen’ on the nine provinces unoccupied by Protestant missionaries—for an assault it was, in terms of planning and intensity—had this marked characteristic, that it was deliberately to put down roots, to raise up Christian churches and so to achieve ambitious results, far removed from the haphazard wandering which appearances suggested.”

[2] A. J. Broomhall noted that several versions of the list of the ‘Eighteen’ have been drawn up (owing to different factors taken into account) and that this number was exceeded. Of more than 60 applicants in 1875, 30 to 40 spent longer or shorter periods at the mission house at Pyrland Road to learn what would be involved and to be assessed for suitability.

[3] The magazine continued its unbroken existence, renamed as The Millions after the extension of the Mission beyond China in 1951, and subsequently as the East Asia Millions. Digitized copies of China’s Millions up to 1935 are available at: http://guides.library.yale.edu/c.php?g=296315&p=1976865 and https://archive.org/search.php?query=%22China%27s%20Millions%22.

[4] The first edition of China’s Millions is available at https://archive.org/details/chinasmillions7576chin/page/n21/mode/2up. See “The First of the Nine” on page 2 for Henry Taylor’s letter to Hudson Taylor. See “Missionary Journeys: From Glasgow to Burmah” on pages 9 and 10 for notes from Henry Soltau’s diary.

[5] See “Tidings from the First of the Nine,” China’s Millions (August 1875): 24, https://archive.org/details/chinasmillions7576chin/page/24/mode/2up.

[6] See “Rѐsumѐ of Operations for 1875,” China’s Millions (December 1875): 69–76, https://archive.org/details/chinasmillions7576chin/page/68/mode/2up.

[7] See “Review of the Past Ten Years of the Mission,” China’s Millions (July 1876): 157–160, https://archive.org/details/chinasmillions7576chin/page/156/mode/2up.

[8] See “Are These Measures Wise,” p.46, https://archive.org/details/chinasmillions1877chin/page/46/mode/2up, in “Plan of the Operations of the China Inland Mission,” China Millions (April 1877): 44–47, https://archive.org/details/chinasmillions1877chin/page/44/mode/2up.

[9] See map in China’s Millions (1878), https://archive.org/details/chinasmillions1878chin/page/n5/mode/2up.

[10] See preface of China’s Millions (1878): iv, https://archive.org/details/chinasmillions1878chin/page/n9/mode/2up.

[11] For examples of published accounts from letters and diaries of the pioneers, see James Cameron, “Through Eastern Tibet,” China’s Millions (August 1879): 97–104, https://archive.org/details/chinasmillions1879chin/page/97/mode/2up; George Easton’s letter in  “Province of Kan-suh: Third Visit of Messrs. George King and G. F. Easton,” China’s Millions (Aug 1879): 105, https://archive.org/details/chinasmillions1879chin/page/104/mode/2up; George Clarke, “A few notes of a journey to Kwang-si”, Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal (May-June 1878): 169–181,  https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.b3079820&view=1up&seq=179.

Start typing and press Enter to search