It’s time to complete this brief survey of the life of the 19th century pioneer missionary that I started before Christmas! Throughout these posts we have seen something of Hudson Taylor’s service- his passion for souls, willingness to embrace suffering and so on. In the last post I want to pose this question: how was he able to sustain this ministry?
The older I have got (and I’m still reasonably young!) the more I have realised the importance of this question. When I first read the story of Hudson Taylor’s life I was younger and more idealistic- what could be more exciting that sacrificial living for the Lord? Yet, over the years, I’m conscious that stamina and passion can wane and the difficulties of life mean that I can be tempted to withdraw to comfort. And so it is helpful to ponder what nourished Hudson Taylor’s soul in such a way that he had the resources for ongoing fruitfulness. Two things stand out to me:
I mentioned in the first post in this series the examples in his early life in London when he was on the edge of being unable to pay bills and the Lord provided at just the right time. In each case he refused to make the need known to those who owed him money. This became the policy of CIM- not to make known financial needs but to trust that the Lord would provide. Various mission agencies have followed this path over the years. In truth, I think it is debatable as to whether refusing to make needs known is necessary in order to exercise faith. The Lord uses means to provide for His people and the apostle Paul, for instance, shows no embarrassment in making known the needs of the poor in Jerusalem and encouraging the Corinthians to give in 2 Cor 8-9.
Nevertheless the early lessons that the Lord does indeed provide for His people’s needs were important for Hudson Taylor. As his responsibilities grew, he went from trusting the Lord for his own needs to trusting Him for other people’s needs as well- which is often more challenging. At one point in his service, Hudson Taylor was responsible for a mission hospital in Ningpo. The hospital relied on people’s gifts and at one point resources were low. Food was scarce and the news was passed on to Hudson Taylor that they had just opened the last bag of rice and there were no funds for additional supplies. Taylor’s response was based on years of experience- “Then the Lord’s time for helping us must be close at hand.” Sure enough it was. A gift soon arrived and the crisis was averted.
Hudson Taylor urged people to trust the Lord in all circumstances of life. “Let us hold that God is faithful; that in daily life we count upon it; and that at all times and under all circumstances we are fully persuaded of this blessed truth.”
I think this is hugely important. I wonder how much of our spiritual energy is drained by anxiety- worrying about things that are the Lord’s concerns. It is hard to sustain anxiety driven ministry over the long haul. I suspect this cheerful trust in the Lord is not a particular hallmark of my generation. Perhaps we need to be training ourselves- when we see anxiety rising we need to cast our concerns on the Lord who cares for us and is well able to provide.
I remember facing a particular situation in the church a year or so ago about which I was getting anxious. Then the thought occurred to me- had I known the Lord let us down as a church in my ten years as a pastor? The answer was no. So why was I getting anxious as though He might let us down at this point? In truth that’s a lesson that I keep needing to remember. Hudson Taylor is a helpful example to us in this regard.
Union with Christ
The second half of the 1860s was a period of considerable strain for Hudson Taylor- leading a new mission, facing violence in China, and, most painfully of all, suffering the loss of his wife and three children. His internal resources came under pressure as never before. He struggled spiritually- feeling distant from the Lord and powerless to keep serving. However, this became the period when his appreciation of the Lord Jesus grew significantly. His favourite verses became John 7:37-39- “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink…”. Taylor commented on this promise- “Only a thirsty man knows the value of water and only a thirsty soul the value of Living Water.” When feeling spiritually weak, rather than despairing we are encouraged to drink of Christ.
In particular at this time Hudson Taylor began to rejoice in the truth that we are in Christ and that Christ is in us. He wrote of his experience:
“The Spirit of God revealed the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before…Think of what it involves. Can Christ be rich and I poor?”
I love that quote and have used it countless times in sermons! I think it is hugely important- as Christians we so often forget the resources available to us to live for Christ. Perseverance and change are possible because it is always Christ and me together: I am never alone. We are sometimes tempted to give up in difficult circumstances- the burdens and temptations appear too great for us. But if I am a Christian, I am joined to Jesus. And so I have fullness in Him.
That’s a truth worth remembering and Hudson Taylor was keen to impress it on his friends. He wrote to Emily Blatchley, who was co-ordinating CIM’s work in London at the time:
“In all your intercourse with friends of the Mission, seek to deepen their realisation of the value of Christ, and our union with Him.”
In the midst of the stresses and strains of life in China, Hudson Taylor was often heard to whistle his favourite hymn-
“Jesus I am resting, resting
In the joy of what Thou art
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.”
Steadfast trust in the Lord and a joy in knowing Christ became the fuel for a ministry of incalculable significance pioneering Gospel work in inland China.