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Hudson Taylor (1832-1905)

February 2005 | by Jonathan Bayes

Part 1 of 2 parts

Part 2 is here

God so loved the world

‘There will be a story at the commencement, and a sermon or moral at the close.
I will take the former and leave the latter for those who like it’.

So said Hudson Taylor to himself one June afternoon in 1849. He was 17 at the time and worked in a bank in Barnsley. He had got this afternoon off and felt like doing some reading.

He had come across a tract. At the time he had no spiritual interest, but at least the story might amuse him and he could ignore the application. However, while reading the tract, a phrase jumped out at him: ‘the finished work of Christ’. Let him tell his story in his own words.

 

The finished work

 

‘The thought passed through my mind, “Why does the author use this expression? Why not the atoning or propitiatory work of Christ?” Immediately the words “It is finished” suggested themselves to my mind. What was finished? And I at once replied, “A full and perfect atonement and satisfaction for sin: the debt was paid by the Substitute; Christ died for our sins”.

‘Then came the thought, “If the whole work was finished and the whole debt paid, what is there left for me to do?” And with this dawned the joyful conviction, as light was flashed into my soul by the Holy Spirit, that there was nothing in the world to be done, but to fall down on one’s knees and, accepting the Saviour and his salvation, to praise him for evermore.’

From that moment Hudson dated his true conversion.

 

Sceptical of Scripture

 

It is clear from his thoughts that afternoon that he was already familiar with the gospel. He had been born into a devout Methodist home. He had been prayed for from infancy and taught the way of salvation from his mother’s knee.

He made an initial response to the gospel when 14, but it proved to be short-lived. The following year he was thrust out into the world and for the first time was open to influences different from those of his sheltered home.

The taunts of his unbelieving colleagues at the bank proved a challenge to his faith. He became sceptical of Scripture and spiritual things and set his heart on wealth and worldly pleasures.

However, his godly parents persevered in prayer and the Lord graciously answered their request that June afternoon in 1849.

 

God’s call to China

 

It was in December of that year that Hudson began to sense God’s call to China. He set himself the task of finding out as much as he could about Protestant missionary work there.

In 1850 he heard that the minister of Barnsley Congregational Church owned a copy of a book entitled China: its state and prospects. The author, Walter Medhust, was a veteran missionary to China. Hudson asked the minister if he might borrow the book. The minister agreed but wondered why.

‘God has called me to spend my life in missionary service in China’, Hudson told him.

‘And how do you propose to get there?’ the minister enquired.

‘I don’t know,’ replied Hudson, ‘but I think it likely that I shall need to go as the 12 and the 70 disciples did in Judea, without stick, or bag, or food, or money — relying on him who had sent them to supply all their needs’.

‘Ah, my boy’, retorted the minister, ‘as you grow older you will become wiser than that. Such an idea would do very well in the days when Christ himself was on earth but not now’.

 

Older not wiser

 

Many years later Hudson recalled that conversation: ‘I have grown older since then but not wiser. I am more and more convinced that if we were to take the directions of our Master and the assurance he gave to his first disciples more fully as our guide, we should find them just as suited to our times as to those in which they were originally given’.

As he read the book, Hudson learnt the value of medicine in missionary work. So in May 1851 he moved to Hull to begin training as a doctor.

Here he was blessed with opportunities to prove God’s provision. His employer was notoriously forgetful, and asked Hudson to remind him when his quarterly salary was due. Hudson found the very idea embarrassing, so instead he used to make it a matter of prayer.

On one of the occasions when his salary was late Hudson was down to his last half-crown. That evening a poor man asked him to come and pray with his wife, who was dying. They had six children including a small baby.

The family lived in a squalid room near the docks. When he arrived, Hudson could see straightaway that the children were half-starved.

Immediately Hudson found himself plunged into spiritual conflict. He tried to pray, as requested, but couldn’t. He tried to speak words of comfort, but felt like a hypocrite.

The problem was, his half-crown was a single coin. It would have been easy if it had been made up of a florin and a sixpence. He could have given the florin, and still have had a few pence left for his own needs. But as things stood, it was all or nothing.

At last he did what he knew he had to do. He gave the half-crown to the man. He felt a deep joy flood his soul.

 

God’s bank

 

Now Hudson was penniless and had no food at home. He prayed. The next morning a letter arrived containing a half-sovereign. Hudson exclaimed, ‘400% for 12 hours investment!’

He determined from then on that he would invest all his savings and earnings in God’s bank. ‘When I get out to China’, he reminded himself, ‘I shall have no claim on anyone for anything. My only claim will be on God. How important to learn before leaving England, to move man through God by prayer alone’.

In March 1852 the Brethren Assembly which Hudson had joined during his time in Hull agreed to support his call to China. In September he moved to London for more advanced medical training.

Very soon after his arrival Hudson experienced a wonderful providence. He pricked his finger while working on a corpse and contracted an infection. His surgeon told him to get home at top speed to arrange his affairs. ‘You’re a dead man’, he added.

Hudson’s response was full of faith: ‘Unless I’m greatly mistaken I have work to do in China and shall not die. But if I don’t recover, then I look forward to going to be with my Master’.

For several weeks Hudson’s life hung in the balance, but he didn’t die. He began to regain strength, and went home to Barnsley to convalesce. By January he was able to return to his duties in London.

 

We shall meet again

 

In June of that year civil war broke out in China. A German-based missionary society in which Hudson had maintained an interest for the past three years saw this as a potential opening for the gospel.

They issued an urgent call for volunteers. Although Hudson had not finished his medical training he was prepared to leave for China immediately if it was right. In the end he concluded that it was. He reckoned that it would be better in eternity to have led even one Chinese to Christ than to have earned his medical degree.

Two factors made this a difficult decision. First, it meant going against the advice of his colleagues to complete his training and become fully qualified before leaving. Second (and even harder) it involved terminating an engagement. When it came to the crunch his fiancée backed away from Hudson’s missionary call (he was to find a true helpmeet five years later).

As Hudson set sail from Liverpool on 19 September 1853, his mother uttered a ‘cry of anguish’. Hudson said to her, ‘Dear mother, don’t cry. We shall meet again. Think of the glorious object I have in leaving you! It’s not for wealth or fame, but to try to bring the Chinese to the knowledge of Jesus’.

Years later Hudson confessed that his mother’s cry went through him like a knife. He said, ‘I never knew so fully until then what “God so loved the world” meant, and I am quite sure my precious mother learnt more of the love of God for the perishing world in that one hour than in all her life before’.