I was soundly instructed by fellow members of the university Christian Union to make good use of my vacations. So, one Christmas, I went home with a small pile of good books to read. All proved to be edifying, but the one which made the guest lasting impression was a biography of James Hudson Taylor.
The reason for the book’s impact was simple: what really gripped me as a young student was the sense of this man’s zeal for Christ. We can hesitate at points, and disagree at others, but here Hudson Taylor was beyond reproach. There was burning in his heart a sense of spiritual reality, a fervor and enthusiasm which were powerful indeed. The biographer describes his consecration in these words:
‘If only God would work on his behalf, would break the power of sin and save him, spirit, soul and body, for time and for eternity, he would renounce all earthly prospects and be utterly at his disposal. He would go anywhere, do anything, suffer whatever his cause might demand, and be wholly given to his will and service.’
Taylor was soon convinced where God would have him be: he must go to China. He was consumed with a passion for the lost, and knew that in China there were countless millions passing into a hopeless eternity. As each hour passed, myriad souls were plunging into the abyss, and Hudson Taylor knew he must do something, and go, and preach the good news to the multitudes of China who were perishing without Christ. (Do we have today such a clear vision of the destiny of the heathen?)
Many of us will know a passing sense of the horror of the multitudes who perish without Christ. But for most it is just that a passing sense which is never converted into active holy zeal. Taylor, meanwhile, gave up his comfortable feather bed for hard boards. He was ready to prepare himself for the arduous life of a nineteenth-century missionary. He rose at five in the morning to learn Chinese; without dictionary or grammar he painstakingly compared verses in the English and Chinese Bibles to learn the meaning of the words.
Taylor was scrupulous in tithing and other matters of obedience, and looked to God in faith to provide the needs of his servant and his word So he began to learn the lessons of faith and prayer which characterized his life filled with challenge and sacrifice. The fruitfulness of his life is more than testimony that, as the Lord declares: ‘Those who honour me I will honour’ (1 Samuel 2:30).
This book left its mark on me. The following term I joined the China world prayer group in the Christian Union. But that was just a part of the challenge which remained with me of Taylor’s life of zeal for Christ, a passion for the lost, and implicit faith in our gracious God.