Apologies for the drawn out nature of this potted biography. In my last post on Hudson Taylor, I completed the story of his life. In the two remaining posts that I am planning I want to pick up some of the main emphases of his life.
A Passion for Souls
I think this is the chief thing that has always struck me about him. There are various things that should motivate us for mission- a concern for God’s glory for instance. It seems to me that Hudson Taylor was principally motivated by a deep compassion for the lost. It was that which prompted his early desires to go to China. He wrote in his diary as a young man, “I have a stronger desire than ever to go to China. That land is ever in my thoughts. Think of it- 360 million souls without God or hope in the world.”
As well as a concern for the multitudes in China, he could have a deep concern for individuals. He tells the story of his time as a medical student in London. He met a man who was clearly dying. Hudson Taylor tried to persuade him of the Gospel but to no avail. The thought of this man about to die and face judgement reduced Hudson Taylor to tears- which awakened the man’s interest such that he was subsequently converted before his death. This was Hudson Taylor’s subsequent reflection:
“Perhaps if there was more of than intense distress for souls that leads to tears, we should more frequently see the results we desire. Sometimes it may be that while we are complaining of the hardness of the hearts of those we are seeking to benefit, the hardness of our own hearts and our own feeble apprehension of the solemn reality of eternal things may be the true cause of our want of success.”
Throughout his life, Hudson Taylor was not afraid to challenge the lack of concern that he saw amongst English Christians for the souls of the Chinese. Two incidents in particular from his time in China brought home the urgency of the situation. One Chinese man responded positively to the Gospel. He questioned Hudson Taylor as to how long there had been Christians in England. When being told that people had known the Gospel in this country for hundreds of years, the man was incredulous: “What, several hundreds of years! It it possible that you have known about Jesus so long and only now have come to tell us? My father sought the truth for twenty years and died without finding it. Why didn’t you come sooner?”
On another occasion, a Chinese friend had an accident while fishing and fell into the water. Rather than being helped by others in the area, the poor man’s cries for help were ignored and he subsequently drowned. Again, Hudson Taylor draws a lesson from this sad event:
“Were not these fishermen actually guilty of the poor Chinaman’s death in that they had the means of saving him at hand, if they would have but used them? Assuredly they were guilty. And yet let us pause before we pronounce judgement against them lest a greater than Nathan answer, “Thou are the man.””
He warns of culpability where we have knowledge of salvation and yet fail to offer it to those who need it. It challenges me to ask the question- have I a deep concern for those without Christ?
I’ve picked up in previous posts the note of suffering throughout Hudson Taylor’s life. It comes as a challenge to us who are tempted to love comfort. Suffering was inevitable from the moment he made the decision to abandon the coastline to engage in mission to inland areas- “The vision of the interior was clenched with suffering,” he wrote. And yet from the launch of the CIM he was clear that is was suffering that he was calling people to embrace for the sake of the lost. This is what he said to the first CIM workers in 1866,
“The missionaries of almost all the societies have better houses, finer furniture, more European fare than we have or are likely to have. But there is not one of them that settles in the interior amongst the people…China is not to be won by self-seeking, ease-loving men and women…the stamp of men and women we need is such as will put Jesus, China, souls, first and foremost in everything.”
As we have seen, the cost was huge for Hudson Taylor- not least in terms of family bereavement. In the end, though, the suffering was worth it:
“Though the tears will not be stayed, I do thank God for permitting one so unworthy to take any part in this great work, and do not regret having engaged and being engaged in it.”
In 1900, towards the end of his life, he was asked to speak on “The source of power for foreign missionary work.” His response is fascinating:
“There is a wonderful power when the love of God in the heart raises us to this point that we are ready to suffer…It is ever true that what costs little is worth little.”
That must come as a challenge to us. It seems to me that the desire for an easy life runs deep within most of us today. Yet to give in to that desire will doubtless leave us without spiritual power. Maybe we need to face the question- what am I not prepared to do for the Lord because the cost is too great?