I am writing this on the eve of Good Friday. Tomorrow we will remember the death of our Lord Jesus. I always find John 12:24 one of the most moving descriptions of the purpose of the Lord’s death- “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
When Jesus said this he was speaking at different levels. He was describing his own death- a death that would produce life for others. But he was also outlining the pattern for the Christian life. Just two verses later we read these words- “Whoever serves me must follow me.” The Christian life is about giving ourselves over to death- to ambitions, to comfort, to pride- that life might spring up.
I think you see this principle at work in the life of Hudson Taylor. It is several months since I last wrote on this subject. We left him in 1860 at the age of 28 having returned to England from China through ill health. The remaining 45 years of his life were marked both by intense suffering and remarkable fruitfulness- by a rhythm of death of life. Towards the end of his life Hudson Taylor would say these words, “The cross does not get comfortable but it bears sweet fruit.” In an age where we tend to expect comfort, I find words like these challenging.
I think the remainder of Hudson Taylor’s life can be summarised in three main sections- where there was both suffering and fruitfulness.
1860-1866 Sickness and a New Mission
Hudson Taylor was never in the best of health and his return to England was forced. When back in this country he was often not able to get out and about. Instead he got involved in the translation of the Bible and in correspondence seeking to raise support for the mission. However, the time back in this country opened the door for a huge growth in the work. It was in 1865 that Hudson Taylor visited a large church in Brighton. He ended up walking out of the service though and pacing along the beach. He later revealed the reason why,
“Unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand or more Christian people rejoicing in their own security, while millions were perishing for lack of knowledge, I wandered out on the sands alone, in great spiritual agony.”
From that agony came a decision. He founded the China Inland Mission- now the Overseas Missionary Fellowship. He said that when it started it had “ten pounds and all the promises of God.” This proved to be enough as the work would grow significantly over the years with over 100 workers being added each year by 1887 despite the fact that they turned down five out of six applicants. The CIM adopted the values that were close to Hudson Taylor’s heart- it would be inter-denominational and people would live by faith in the Lord with no guaranteed salary. Sacrifices would be made to reach the Chinese people: the focus would be on inland China rather than the more comfortable coast where most missionaries stayed and Chinese dress would be obligatory.
Through Hudson Taylor’s sickness a movement was started which would involve calling people to die that life might spring up. There are challenges for us here- like those in Brighton do we simply enjoy our relationship with God without considering the death that is necessary in having a heart for others around the world without Christ?
1866-1870 Bereavement and Growth
In many ways the years between 1866 and 1870 were the hardest in Hudson Taylor’s life- “Burdens such as I never before sustained, responsibilities such as I had not hitherto incurred, and sorrows compared with which all my past sorrows were light have been part of my experience.” There were painful conflicts within the new mission. The move inland was sometimes met with violence leading to a debate back in this country in the House of Lords on how appropriate it was for the CIM to leave the coast. Taylor felt the spiritual strain- “I felt the ingratitude, the danger, the sin of not living nearer to God.” Above all, though, these would be years of bereavement. in 1870 Hudson Taylor lost two sons and his wife. In my last post I noted the lovely way in which Taylor and Maria came together. But she died at the young age of 33 saying these words to her husband- “I cannot be sorry to go to Him. But I am sorry to leave you alone at this time. Yet He will be with you and meet all your need.” After this bereavement, all of Hudson Taylor’s children returned to England for the sake of their health. These were very difficult times.
And yet as the seed went into the ground so life sprang up. It did so in different ways. These were the years in which Hudson Taylor discovered the truth of union with Christ which I will pick up in a later post. Maria’s words came true- the Lord was with him and did meet his need. “Can Jesus meet my need?” he wrote. “Yes, and more than meet it. No matter how intricate my path, how difficult my service, no matter how sad my bereavement, how far away my loved ones, no matter how helpless I am, how hopeless I am, how deep are my soul-yearnings- Jesus can meet all and more than meet.”
It wasn’t just in Hudson Taylor’s life though that there was growth. During this whole time, there were baptisms taking place, schools being formed and local believers being trained for ministry. The first few years of CIM came at great personal cost to Hudson Taylor and his family- but there was eternal fruit from it.
1870-1905 Massacres and Baptisms
Forgive me pressing fast forward at this point. Essentially the pattern of suffering and fruitfulness continued- but on a wider scale. In 1871 Hudson Taylor married Jennie Faulding. This was a gracious provision of God. One humorous illustration of different values in different eras of history was that Jennie Faulding had a baby in 1874 during a CIM prayer meeting in London. Of course Hudson Taylor was at the prayer meeting and Jennie tried not to make too much noise lest she disturb the prayers! Nevertheless they did face the pain of long periods apart when Jennie was caring for the children in this country whilst Hudson Taylor was in China.
The latter years of his life were marked by extensive travels, He was invited to speak in America and Australia and, almost inadvertently, set up branches of CIM in those countries in response to the desire of people to serve. The movement grew in England as well. CT Studd made, to my mind, the greatest sacrifice- he gave up playing cricket for England to serve with CIM. He said this, “I had fervently as much love for cricket as any man could have, but when the Lord Jesus came into my heart I found I had something infinitely better.”
This was a period of significant expansion for CIM but, again, it came at a cost. In 1900 the Boxer Massacres broke out. 79 members of CIM were killed- 58 adults and 21 children. This caused Hudson Taylor great pain- “I cannot read, I cannot think, I cannot pray but I can trust.” Yet he held on to the fact that their suffering was worthwhile. Of the martyrs he said, “They do not regret it now.” The year 1900 was also the year of the greatest number of baptisms that had been seen in China. New life was springing up even as the seeds went into the ground.
Hudson Taylor ended his life in China. His wife Jennie died in 1904 and he died in 1905. He was revered by those who had come to faith and his final birthday was celebrated by many as he was described as a man “greatly beloved.” The Chinese believers told him- “You opened for us the road to heaven.” That was indeed true- for in following his Master, Hudson Taylor had died to ease and comfort that eternal life might come to others.