Editors’ note: Missionary Hudson Taylor was born on May 21, 1832, in Barnsley, Yorkshire, England. Today marks the 183rd anniversary of his birth.
Hudson Taylor is best known as a 19th-century pioneering missionary to inland China. He became a Christian at 17 after reading an evangelism tract. On September 19, 1853, Taylor left England for China. After an arduous ocean voyage of nearly six months, Taylor arrived in China for the first time on March 1, 1854, at the age of 22.
The missions society founded by Taylor was ultimately responsible for bringing more than 800 missionaries to China. They began 125 schools, directly resulted in some 18,000 Christian conversions, as well as more than 300 stations of work with more than 500 national helpers in all 18 provinces of China. If Hudson Taylor were evaluated by his life, mission work, and legacy, he would easily be declared a success. Yet Taylor’s unflappable and absolute reliance on God marks him as one of the great figures in Christian history.
Taylor was an assertive proponent of prayer, not only by his missionaries, but also on behalf of his missionaries. He believed senders of missionaries should turn to God regularly and pray for the missionaries they support. Taylor once instructed senders to “pray for those you send, shield them by prayer.” He believed in reliance on prayer for goers and senders alike. Missiologist Herbert Kane said of Taylor, “He believed in influencing people through God by prayer alone and demonstrated to the Christian world that it is no vain thing to trust in the living God.”
Taylor was an early pioneer and advocate of the faith mission movement. Taylor believed he and his missionaries should not request funding for their work from men, but should instead rely completely upon God’s provision to sustain their efforts. Taylor believed that “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.” He was confident that as long as he was in God’s will and going about God’s work, the Lord would certainly provide all the resources needed to see the work completed.
The ministry work of Hudson Taylor was groundbreaking in the 19th century. His methods were controversial and shocking to both missionaries and his supporters back home. Taylor relied upon God and his guidance in Scripture. Taylor did not seek, nor did he receive, praise and support from others. He was prepared to accept missionary workers who had no college training and he required his missionaries to identify with the national peoples by, among other things, wearing Chinese dress. He was determined not to locate ultimate control of mission operation at home and insisted that the work be directed from the field.
Few in history have sacrificed more for the cause of missions than Taylor did. He was willing to surrender all that God had given him for the evangelization of the Chinese. Nothing took a greater emotional and physical toll on Taylor than the loss of his family; he buried six children and two wives. In 1870 alone, Taylor lost two children and his first wife, Maria. Her death shook Taylor deeply, and in 1871, his own health began deteriorating, leading to his temporary return to England for recuperation.
Taylor frequently distributed Chinese language tracts and theology books, usually for free. One evening, Taylor and his companion were robbed of all their valuables except for their theology books, which were seen as having no value. Taylor had no money for food or further travel. Upon waking the next morning, Taylor was inundated by people asking to buy his books. By the grace and provision of God, Taylor and his companion soon had enough money to eat and be on their way.
On another occasion, local authorities captured Taylor and his companion. On the way to the local magistrate, the authorities beat them, choked them, grabbed them by the hair, knocked them down, and insulted them. Taylor and his companion, noticing their beating was drawing a crowd, took the opportunity to hand out the remainder of their Christian literature and share the gospel with onlookers. At that moment, according to Taylor, “We reminded each other that the apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer in the cause of Christ.”
On another voyage, Taylor was attacked by locals who were unhappy with his presence and proclamation of Christ. The attackers destroyed Taylor’s boat and many of his possessions. Noticing the spectacle had caused an even larger crowd to gather, Taylor took advantage of the situation and preached the gospel to the throng.
Hudson Taylor suffered the loss of both loved ones and coworkers. He endured physical abuse from outside and from inside his own body. But he used every trial to demonstrate his trust and reliance upon God.
Reliance on God
Taylor knew that becoming a pioneering missionary to inland China would bring hardship and struggle. He was not surprised by the challenges. He said, “The work of a true missionary is work indeed, often very monotonous, apparently not very successful, and carried on through great and varied but unceasing difficulties.”
Taylor’s reliance upon God is a model for all believers. His trust in his Creator did not shield him from pain and suffering. However, Taylor’s dependence on God demonstrated the Father’s love and faithfulness to his people.