Hudson Taylor

The Man Who Turned the World Upside Down

By Fred Pruitt


In his day, James Hudson Taylor was a very famous man. He turned the world of Victorian England and Imperial China upside down. Because of Hudson Taylor, Parliament raged with debate, and laws and policies were changed both in Britain and in the mysterious world of Peking and the Dragon Throne.

No one would have ever thought so, though. He was born in 1832 in Yorkshire, England, the son of a chemist (pharmacist), who had an abiding interest in the mysteries and religion of China. As a young man Hudson’s father had read accounts of travels to Cathay – the “Celestial Realm” – and was fascinated with it the rest of his life. And, oddly, he’d prayed to God that he would have a son who would bring the Gospel to the hundreds of millions of Chinese who had never heard the Word.

But when Hudson was born, his father forgot his request, because Hudson clearly could not be the one to fulfill it. He was small, weak, and sickly from early childhood, and continued so his whole life. Hudson’s father forgot the prayer, but apparently the Lord did not.

Though Hudson grew up in a house of faith, it did not affect him personally until one day when he was 17. He was a reader, and lacking something to read, he found a long gospel tract lying about the house. He took it out to the barn and stretched out on some hay to have a leisurely read. Up until that time, Hudson had imagined Christianity as a weary struggle to pay off bad deeds with good, with the good hopefully winning out.

While he read the tract, one sentence seemed to break open a dawning of light: that Christ’s death had already completely discharged his debt of sins. When he realized the enormity of this gift, he later wrote that “there was nothing in the world to be done but to fall down on one’s knees and accepting this Saviour and His Salvation, to praise Him forever more.”

He was earnest from the beginning. He experienced the joy of his new-found salvation like so many millions before him. He was exhilarated the first few months, filled with happiness and gratitude towards God. But his testing times came months later, when doubts began to come back into his mind, and his friends rejected his testimonies. For a time he became terrified of apostasy. His mother wrote: “One night on going to bed he felt particularly unhappy about it [apostasy]. He knelt down and prayed fervently that God would help him and keep him, promised to do anything or go anywhere if He would only save him from falling. Such an awful sense of the Divine Presence came upon him as he could not describe. He felt the offering was accepted; and as distinctly as if a voice had uttered it, ‘Then go to China,’ was spoken to his soul. From that hour his mind was made up.”

The problem was, Hudson Taylor was not of the “class” usually accepted for foreign missions in the 1850’s. He was not university-educated, another normal requirement. Nor did he have any other kind of training. And on top of that he was not physically suited for travel to exotic lands. He was sick often, and did not have a strong physical constitution. For all those reasons all the societies turned down his applications.

Except one, a little independent start-up mission, with no credentials, called China Evangelization Society. It had been started a few years earlier by a flash-in-the-pan quasi shady character named Karl Gutzlaff. Gutzlaff had electrified the European world, traveling through the continent talking about China. Gutzlaff had died shortly after he’d made his splash, but his fledgling society lived on for a while. They agreed to take on Hudson Taylor.

In September, 1853, Hudson Taylor sailed away from England toward his father’s fabled Cathay. Because his mission didn’t support him as they said they would, Taylor learned dependence on God, which proved to be the foundation of the next 70+ years of his life. He went out, alone, in 1853, to an inhospitable, unfriendly, vast land of 400 million people, who almost to a man didn’t want him or any other “foreign devils” in their land.

To read accounts of his work over the next years, the riots, the beatings, the robberies, diseases, starvation, privation, all met with love and unswerving faith in the Living God, is like reading modern-day Biblical exploits. The scope of this article does not permit even telling 1% of his stories. The results speak for themselves, though. He went out, in 1853, an untried man, untrained, with only a dream of reaching all of inland China for Christ, and faith in the Living God to accomplish it. By the time of his death in 1905, there were hundreds of missionary workers in the China Inland Mission, which he founded. Taylor’s main vision was not to “westernize” the Chinese, but to give them Christ in Chinese garb. From the beginning their goal was to train up the Chinese to minister to the Chinese and diminish dependence on the western missionaries.

That vision has seen its fulfillment, because in 1949 all western missionaries were expelled from China when the Communists took over, thus closing the door for any western influence among Chinese Christians. It is estimated today that the Chinese Christian community, from all denominations, may number as high as 200 million people. And even under Communism’s repression and persecution, the Church continues to thrive and to grow.

That is the briefest sketch outline of Hudson Taylor’s ministry. We are left one question to cover. How did he do it?

We read these stories and we are inspired and impressed, but often we are also a little condemned because we think somehow people like Hudson Taylor are a cut above the rest of us, some “special” sort of person who can pull off those “great things” for God. But to me, that’s why Taylor’s story is so wonderful. There was nothing “great” about him. Except this: he was willing to believe in his calling, and to believe that God would fulfill His own calling in him. And the onus, if you will, he discovered, was on God, and not on Hudson Taylor to do anything to accomplish it.

There were many waterloos where Hudson discovered his great “spiritual secret” in increasing insights and steps of faith. But his greatest waterloo, without doubt, occurred many years into his ministry, in 1870, when things were absolutely at their roughest. His own words to his sister Amelia back in England say it best:

Well, dearie, my mind has been greatly exercised for six or eight months past, feeling the need personally and for our Mission of more holiness, life, power in our souls. But personal need stood first and was the greatest. I felt the ingratitude, the danger, the sin of not living nearer to God. I prayed, agonized, fasted, strove, made resolutions, read the Word more diligently, sought more time for meditation – but all without avail. Every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of sin oppressed me.

I knew that if only I could abide in Christ all would be well, but I could not. I would begin the day with prayer, determined not to take my eye off Him for a moment, but pressure of duties, sometimes very trying, and constant interruptions apt to be so searing, caused me to forget Him. Then one’s nerves get so fretted in this climate that temptations to irritability, hard thoughts and sometimes unkind words are all the more difficult to control. Each day brought its register of sin and failure, of lack of power. To will was indeed “present with me,” but how to perform I found not.

Then came the question, is there no rescue? Must it be thus to the end – constant conflict, and too often defeat? How could I preach with sincerity that, to those who receive Jesus, “to them he gave power to become the sons of God” (i.e., Godlike) when it was not so in my own experience? Instead of growing stronger, I seemed to be getting weaker and to have less power against sin. I hated myself, I hated my sin, yet gained no strength against it …

I strove for faith, but it would not come; I tried to exercise it, but in vain. Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fullness of our precious Saviour, my guilt and helplessness seemed to increase. Sins committed appeared as trifles compared with the sin of unbelief which was their cause, which would not take God at His word, but rather made Him a liar! What was I to do?

When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our Oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before.

As I read, I saw it all! “If we believe not, he abideth faithful.” I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that he had said, “I will never leave thee.”

“Ah, there IS rest!” I thought. “I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I’ll strive no more. For has not HE promised to abide with me – never to leave me, never to fail me? And, dearie, HE never will!

Nor was this all He showed me, nor one half. As I thought of the Vine and the branches, what light the blessed Spirit poured direct into my soul! How great seemed my mistake in wishing to get the sap, the fulness OUT of Him! I saw not only the Jesus will never leave me, but that I am a member of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. The vine is not the root merely, but all – root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit. And Jesus is not that alone – He is soil and sunshine, air and showers, and ten thousand times more than we have ever dreamed, wished for or needed. Oh, the JOY of seeing this truth! I do pray that the eyes of your understanding too may be enlightened, that you may know and enjoy the riches freely given us in Christ.

The sweetest part, if one may speak of one part being sweeter than another, is the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.

3 thoughts on “Hudson Taylor

  1. Brother Fred,

    Thanks for sharing this article. I am sure that I have read it before, but its message of God’s love and His plan to be not only “a way, but the Way,not only a truth, but the Truth and not only a life, but the LIFE” by which we now live… never grows old. “No longer I but CHRIST!!!!

    May you, your wife and family have a very wonderful Christmas and a most blessed New Year.

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