Profiles in Christian Character – James Hudson Taylor (6)

After his marriage to Jennie Faulding in 1871, Hudson Taylor’s life continued to follow the course God had enabled him to set as a young man in England. During the following thirty years there were extensive campaigns into the interior to spread the Gospel as well as trips to England, America and Australia to give reports of the work. Far from refiring early or assuming an “elder statesman” role, he pressed on with the Gospel, his mind dominated by the deep impression that Mark 16:15, “to every creature”, was a command. The burden, first felt as a teenager, for the millions who were dying in spiritual darkness only seemed to increase as his spiritual life deepened. Concerning his personal longings, he wrote to his wife, “Darling, I do want our whole life to be an ascending plane not resting in anything we have learned or felt or attained, but a pressing on and up. ” The words on a slip of paper, which he used as a marker for his diary, reveal his heart’s desire:

“Lord Jesus, make Thyself to me
A living bright Reality;
More present to faith’s vision keen
Than any outward object seen;
More dear, more intimately nigh
Than e’en the sweetest earthly tie.”

A Christ-like Spirit

During these mature years, all who met him were deeply impressed by his constant prayerfulness, joy in the Lord and love for souls. Many young men and women “caught” his vision of China’s spiritual plight and the Gospel’s power to save and change lives. God was using His servant to stir a deep exercise for China and other “heathen” lands in the hearts of His people. Hudson Taylor’s devotion was all the more refreshing because it was coupled with a Christ-like humility. Once, when in Melbourne, he was introduced to an audience as “Our illustrious guest,” he rose, quietly stood for a moment, and said, in a way that won the hearts of all there, “Dear friends, I am the little servant of an illustrious Master.” Appreciating that it was only the grace of God that had saved him and used him, he wrote, “For myself, and for the work that I have been permitted to do for God, I owe an unspeakable debt of gratitude to my beloved and honored parents, who have passed away and entered into rest, but the influence of whose lives will never pass away.” One host who had him in his home said, “I could not help noticing the utter lack of self-assertion about him in his true, because unconscious, humility. About the Lord in His grace and faithfulness he spoke freely. About himself and his service he said nothing. Only by questioning did we learn anything of his own labors or experiences, but when he was thus drawn out how much he had to tell!”

In September of 1899, although he was not aware of it at the time, Hudson Taylor completed his last extended visit to Inland China for evangelistic work. Worn out and ill, he returned to England in June of 1900 to rest and recover some strength. His wife arranged for them to cross over to Switzerland to a quiet place in the Alps, hoping the change would be beneficial. A believer, who planned to go to China himself as a missionary, visited Hudson Taylor during this illness. He said that all his preconceived notions of greatness were completely changed. “Every idea I had hitherto cherished of a ‘great man’ was completely shattered. The high, imposing airs and all the trappings were conspicuously absent, but Christ’s ideal of greatness was then and there so securely set in my heart that it has remained through all the years. I strongly suspect that by his unconscious influence, Mr. Hudson Taylor did more than any other man of his day to compel Christian people to revise their idea of greatness.”

How difficult this forced inactivity was to the veteran missionary can be gathered from his own words: “The true joy of life was to do all for Jesus’ sake. Sacrifice and labor were alike sweet when it was for Him … But it’s hardest of all to do nothing for His sake. “Nevertheless, another visitor stated some time later, “It was not so much what he said but what he was that proved a blessing to me. His strong faith, quietness and constant industry, even in his weakness, touched me deeply. To see a man who had been so active compelled to live a retired life, unable to pray more than fifteen minutes at a time and yet remaining bright and even joyous greatly impressed me. Not one single complaint did we hear from his lips. He was always cheerful.”

The Fiery Trial

It was while Hudson Taylor was convalescing amid the serene beauty of the Swiss Alps that the great blow fell. An edict issued by the Dowager Empress of China had encouraged the growth of a secret society of patriotic Chinese called “Boxers”. This society was pledged to the extermination of all foreigners and it had now fomented a full-scale persecution. In three summer months, 58 missionaries who had labored with Hudson Taylor and 21 children, together with hundreds of Chinese Christians were martyred. Many others endured extreme suffering as they tried to reach places of safety. Imperial decrees had gone out commanding viceroys and governors everywhere to support the uprising, and the entire country was awash with the blood of foreigners. Many of those being murdered had gone to China as a result of Hudson Taylor’s encouragement. The news of their deaths and their children’s, along with the suffering of so many Chinese believers, was heart-rending to the Taylors. Telegram after telegram arrived, telling of riots, massacres and the hunting down of refugees. Hudson Taylor was almost inconsolable. Though safe in Switzerland, he felt the horror and suffering of his fellow-workers as though enduring it himself. He wrote, “I cannot read, I cannot think, I cannot even pray, but I can trust.”

At last, the rebellion was crushed. As China returned to some semblance of law and order, it deeply impressed the Chinese people and authorities that the missionaries refused to seek any legal redress against those who had persecuted them. Hudson Taylor wept unashamedly as he read detailed accounts of the bravery and martyrdom of the believers. One dying mother, having lost a child during their harrowing escape to Hangkow, and having witnessed the prolonged suffering of so many others, whispered to her husband with almost her last breath, “I wish I could have lived to have gone back there to tell the people more about Jesus.” The last letters to Hudson Taylor from two women missionaries, written the day before they were slain, deeply touched him. As he thought of those two women, surrounded by enemies, dying alone in a heathen country, he said to his wife, “Oh, think what it must have been to exchange that murderous mob for the rapture of His presence, His bosom, His smile … They do not regret it now. A crown that fadeth not away .. [will be theirs].”

A Final Visit

On April 17th, 1905, Hudson Taylor arrived in Shanghai for his final visit to China. After speaking to some of the believers on the coast, he made his way into the interior by train. What once took two weeks to traverse by barrow was done in two days by rail. As they neared the city of Chenchowfu, Taylor noticed a number of believers gathered outside the city, holding four large golden Chinese characters which read, “Benefactor of Inland China.” Everywhere he went on this, his last excursion, he was welcomed by grateful saints who thanked God for sending His servant to them with the Gospel. On May 21st, Hudson Taylor’s birthday, the Christians at Chowkiakow presented him with a scarlet satin banner bearing the words, “O man greatly beloved.”

It was while he visited the believers in Changsha, province of Hun-an, on Saturday, June 3,19 ‘ in the heart of inland China, that Hudson Taylor passed into the presence of his glorious Lord. Weeping saints bore his remains to the family grave site in Chinkiang where, years before, Taylor had laid his beloved Maria and four of his children to rest. The sentiments of hundreds of believers were expressed by the words of one Chinese evangelist, “Lao Muh-si, Lao Muhsi, (dear and venerable pastor) we truly love you … You opened for us the road, the road to heaven. You loved us and prayed for us long years … We do not want to bring you back, but we will follow you.”

A Lasting Monument

Memorial services were held in various parts of China as well as in other nations, as believers sought to honor the memory of “Inland China’s Benefactor.” Eighty-five years later, in 1990, Hudson Taylor’s tombstone was discovered in the cluttered storage yard of a museum in Zhenjiang by his great-grandson, J. Hudson Taylor 111. The museum director demanded $13,000 for it. He was told, “What was etched in the hearts of people was more important than what was written on stone.”

“Etched in the hearts of people” what a lasting memorial for any man to leave behind! Will our lives have any enduring value or be of any eternal consequence? Hudson Taylor said that if he had a thousand lives, Christ should have them all. But each of us has just one life. Will it be used for Christ?

“Can we do too much for Him?”

Recommended reading: 

“A Retrospect” by James Hudson Taylor, Moody Press.

“Hudson Taylor, God’s Man in China” by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, Moody Press.

“The Christian Hall of Fame” by Elmer L. Towns, Baker Book House.