Dixon Edward Hoste was born in Brighton, England, July 23, 1861, the son of a Major-General in the Royal Artillery. His parents were both God-fearing Christians, who brought him up in a home filled with discipline, love, and saturation in the Scriptures. His mother’s knowledge of the Bible was deep and wide, her gift of teaching it outstanding. She emphasized God’s love for mankind as demonstrated in Christ, the need for repentance and faith, and commitment to whatever task God has called us to complete. They also inculcated in their children a warm interest in foreign missions, and a love for the Church Missionary Society.
As a child, Hoste was lonely and reserved; his life had “no joy - no joy at all,” as he told friends later. He had no close friends, and was not able to express himself very easily. He went to school at Clifton College, where he excelled in his studies, including Greek, which he could read by the age of nine. One of his teachers instilled in him a love of English poetry, especially Shakespeare. Sixty years later, he could still recite long passages from memory. Inwardly, however, he was miserable, for he did fit into the life of his schoolmates, but became detached and aloof, keeping to himself.
At seventeen he entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, where he learned obedience, erect posture, precision and tidiness, and later, how to understand and lead men. Commissioned at eighteen as a lieutenant in his father’s regiment in the Royal Artillery, he lived an irreligious life, though sometimes slightly moved by his mother’s urgings to attend to spiritual things.
Conversion and call to be a missionary
All that changed when, virtually commanded by his recently converted brother, he went to an evangelistic meeting held by Dwight L. Moody in Brighton. The American evangelist’s preaching convicted him of sin and reminded him that eternal wrath awaited the impenitent and unbelieving. He shrank back from committing all to Christ, however, until the last day, when he knelt in submission to Jesus as Lord. Immediately, a powerful sense of God’s forgiveness and love overwhelmed him, and he was filled with profound joy.
After his conversion, he began to read the Bible voraciously, as if it were the only book in the world. A conviction also came over him that to share the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ was more important than any other activity. He wrote later, “If this Gospel is true, and I know it is, as it has changed my life, I want to make it known where Christ is not known. There are many people in other lands who have never heard it, and the lord wants them to hear it, for he says so. I want to give my life to this.” (Thompson, 21).
At first he wanted to resign his commission in the army, but his father wisely counseled him to wait and to pray for God’s leading, which he did. He told his commanding officer that he had become a Christian, with little adverse effects, but when he was baptized his fellow officers reacted strongly. Meanwhile, he had joined with other believers in preaching the gospel to people on the nearby beach. Convicted of the sin of self-indulgence, he gave up his habit of smoking.
Soon he came into contact with other Christian friends. One of them was Montagu Beauchamp, a student at Cambridge, who introduced him to the literature of the China Inland Mission (CIM). He was struck by their simple faith in God to supply all needs, close identification with the Chinese people, commitment to the gospel while tolerating differences of opinion on secondary matters, and total dedication to the cause of bringing the gospel to the Chinese. When he met Hudson Taylor, he heard of the trials and troubles which a missionary to China must endure, but he was not dismayed.
He longed to become a missionary, but feared that he was unworthy for such a high calling. Finally, he overcome his doubts and applied to the CIM in February, 1884. Immediately Hudson Taylor advised him to gain experience in Christian work by helping with inquirers at the evangelistic meetings held by Dwight L. Moody. He also prepared himself by deliberately engaging in acts of self-denial and discipline, as well as continued Bible study and prayer. He was hampered by a curiously high-pitched voice and natural shyness, but his genuine spirituality was clear to those who interviewed him.
He sailed with the other six members of the so-called “Cambridge Seven,” of whom five were Cambridge men, followed by the prayers of thousands who had been moved by their willingness to give up the promise of success in England to bury themselves in faraway China.
Early years as a missionary
After their arrival in China, Hoste traveled with Stanley Smith and W.W. Cassels, with CIM veteran F.W. Baller as guide, to Shanxi, where a great work of God had been taking place in connection with the dramatic conversion and powerful ministry of Xi Shengmo (“Pastor Hsi”). Following a short stay in Pingyang, he and another young missionary, Mr. Key, were sent with a Chinese evangelist named Chang to Kuwu, a small city about fifty miles away, where they intensified their language study. In the evenings, they would sit in the courtyard of their house, where crowds of curious citizens gathered, while the evangelist preached to them. In the afternoons, they walked about distributing tracts and, as their Mandarin improved, sharing the gospel with all who would listen.
During this time, an inward conflict deprived him of joy. Intensely aware of his sin, he longed for deliverance from the power of selfishness, and resorted to prayer and fasting, to the detriment of his health. Finally, reading Luther’s Commentary on Galatians showed him that he need only receive God’s grace daily by faith. He learned that he could consider his “old self” dead, and his new self “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” This new insight brought him great joy. One day, he was discouraged by the lack of appreciation expressed by Chinese. “As I left the city, that hymn, ‘My Jesus, I love thee, I know Thou are mine,’ just came like a sweet warm echo from above, and as He seemed to shine upon me with His presence, I felt how blessed to have in any faint measure fellowship with Him.” (Thompson 48)
He desired, as he put it, “so abide in Christ that His love for them [the Chinese] may find expression in this mortal body.” (Thompson, 47) In every way possible he dwelt among them as one of them, taking his meals at a local food shop and eating with his Chinese evangelist. His health took a toll from this sort of living, and he tended towards despondency, necessitating a return to the mission station in Pingyang. There he rested and worked hard at acquiring the language, but he did not neglect prayer or the public preaching of the gospel, which he felt compelled to share with the Chinese.
Hongdong and Pastor Xi
In 1886, Hudson Taylor visited the work of the CIM and of Xi Shengmo in South Shanxi. Xi was clearly a man raised up by God for leadership among the Chinese, so Taylor held an ordination ceremony for him as pastor, as well as several elders and deacons. CIM missionary Stanley Smith continued to work with Xi as his assistant; soon he asked Hoste to join him. Together, they visited the many places where groups of new believers had sprung up from Xi’s ministry, teaching them more of the Bible. While at Hongdong, their house was also open to visitors, who came to gaze at the foreigners or to learn something new from them.
The next year, Smith moved to another city, leaving Hoste alone to work with Xi, who was facing the greatest crisis of his life. Several trusted co-workers had turned against him, splitting the church and almost ruining the work of the opium refuges. At this time, Hoste knew that he must earn the trust of his Chinese colleague. “In the furnace of one of the biggest trials of his life, Hsi found the young and inexperienced Englishman to be a friend who proved faithful; one who never tried to rule, but whose aim it was to be ‘guide, philosopher and friend,’ as he himself said.” (Thompson 59).
He was convinced that for the Chinese church to grow, it must become entirely indigenous, with Chinese leaders. Working with a strong-willed, quick-tempered man like Xi tested his patience, but he committed himself to helping Xi realize his full potential. As an Englishman, he realized that he was the beneficiary of centuries of Christian teaching, and he knew that his duty was to impart biblical truth to Xi, even as he must learn from his colleague how the Chinese think and handle interpersonal relationships.
A younger missionary who worked closely with him said, “Mr. Hoste was about two generations ahead of other missionaries in the matter of placing responsibility for church leadership upon wise and devoted Chinese Christians where the proper qualities of leadership were apparent,” despite criticisms from other missionaries.
Both Xi and Hoste knew that they must rely on God alone to change the hearts of men, so they spent much time in prayer when conflicts and difficulties arose. Rather than seeking help from the government to protect Christians in accordance with treaty provisions, they realized that the believers needed to exercise faith when persecution came. They learned also not to thrust new converts too quickly into evangelism, but to wait for God to mature them in their faith, hope, and love.
Those years at Hongdong saw not only steady church growth, but the development of a future leader. Hoste had to overcome his keen sense of inferiority when compared with the eloquent Stanley Smith and the masterful Pastor Xi. Naturally reserved and not at all gifted as a speaker, he even doubted whether he should ever have come to China. In the end, he saw that he must take his attention off himself and put onto Christ, who had clearly led him and who would work through his weaknesses.
He had a great capacity for friendship, expressed more through interest in the welfare of others than open affection. Even when others criticized him, he was able to remain on cordial terms with them. As he matured, he also became more balanced in his life, with regular exercise and reading of a weekly newspaper.
Marriage, furlough, new responsibilities
Nor was he without a normal desire for feminine love and companionship. He fell in love with Gertrude Broomhall, the daughter of Hudson Taylor’s favorite Amelia, but by the time he asked her to marry him she was in such poor health that she had to leave for England, and so she refused his proposal, to their mutual disappointment. Three years later, in 1893, she had recovered enough to return to China, so they became officially engaged. They were married in Tianjin and returned a few days later to Hongdong.
Though not strong and often in poor health, Gertrude (“Gertie”; she called him “Dick”) proved to be the perfect helper for her more reserved husband, who always spoke of her with appreciation. He especially treasured the intimate fellowship which they enjoyed in long hours of prayer together. Soon he was asked to be superintendent of the OMF work in Southwest Shanxi, which also meant that he would attend meetings of the CIM China Council in Shanghai. There his keen mind, firm grasp of principles, and clear speaking became evident.
In 1896, his mind and body were so weary that he was sent home on furlough to England. Because she had not been back in China for the required length of time before taking a leave, however, Gertrude and their young son had to remain in China; her brother Marshall Broomhall, accompanied them. Even after several months of rest in Britain, Hoste’s health had not returned, so Taylor sent him to Australia for more rest; there he was joined by his wife and son. When he had recovered, he was assigned to be Superintendent of the work in Henan.
Unlike many other young men thrust into positions of authority, Hoste made no radical changes in the way things were done in Henan. “His influence was felt more by what he was than what he did.” (Thompson 86)
A close associate wrote of him, “He made a great impression upon me and all of the missionaries by his prayer-life and wise counsel. He looked at matters concerning the work and the Chinese workers from the Chinese point of view. He emphasized the Principles and Practices of the Mission regarding simplicity of life, enduring hardship for Christ’s sake, and honouring the Chinese. And he gave us a fine example in the way he observed them himself. He always carried a burden for perishing souls in his heart. Evangelism was everything to him.” (Thompson 86-87)
General Director of the CIM
Hoste was in Shanghai when the storm of the Boxer Rebellion broke out in the summer of 1900, for Hudson Taylor, recuperating in Switzerland, had asked him to remain there to assist the Deputy Director, J.W. Stevenson. As the news of attacks upon Christians and missionaries poured in, Taylor realized that he needed to appoint someone to succeed himself as General Director, and sent a message to Hoste and Stevenson that the former was Taylor’s choice. Feeling unworthy, Hoste at first refused, but then bowed to what he came to believe was the will of God for him.
For the next thirty-five years, he led the CIM through huge transitions and challenges. He decided that the CIM would accept no payment from the defeated Chinese government for loss of life or property during the Boxer Rebellion, considering it far better to imitate the meekness of Christ, especially in light of reports about appalling atrocities committed by foreign soldiers against innocent Chinese citizens. Hoste “looked beyond the disaster of 1900. That was over. A new, changing China offered unprecedented promise as a field for evangelism, and he grasped it. His policy from the start became advance, expansion, with consolidation of churches already found.” (Broomhall, It is not Death to Die!, 526-527)
When Taylor died in 1905 many thought that the CIM would collapse, but Hoste provided steady, prayerful, and wise governance, quickly winning the confidence of missionaries, supporters, and other mission leaders as well. Many had benefitted greatly from his Bible teaching at conferences for the spiritual refreshment of works returning to their stations after the Boxer Rebellion, while others were inspired by his letters to individuals and to the Mission as a whole.
He began each day with several hours of prayer, preceded by worship. Usually, someone was asked to join him, to help keep his mind from wandering. Those who did report that he wrestled with God and against the powers of darkness relentlessly, until he sensed that he had been heard. When the CIM had more than 1,200 members, he knew them all by name, and prayed for them individually. He made no decisions without waiting at length upon God for guidance and listening carefully to the opinions of all who had any knowledge of the matter.
Though reserved and sometimes appearing to be aloof, he loved children, especially little girls, and this easy affection was discerned and returned. On the other hand, he believed that the work of the kingdom of God must come first, and thus spent little time with his family during the years that he was General Director. His frequent travels kept him away from home, and even in Shanghai he focused his attention on his duties as General Director. One of his sons said, however, that when he grew up he came to know his father as a “good friend.”
“Consistent self-denial characterized his personal life. No ‘subtle love of softening things’ was permitted to weaken him,” even his taste for sweets, which he would only indulge when guests came to tea. (Thompson, 125) When monetary gifts came to him, which was often, he kept little for himself and his family, but gave generously to other members of the Mission. This strictness towards himself contrasted sharply with his kindness and consideration for others, especially missionaries in the CIM, who always knew that they could find in him a sympathetic listening ear.
He read widely and kept up to date about world and local news. Though somewhat stern in appearance, he possessed a strong sense of humor and was an inveterate tease. Indeed, he was almost known as much for his mischievous humor as for his prayerfulness.
At the same time, he retained his early passion for evangelism, and would carry a handful of tracts with him on walks downtown in Shanghai or journeys into the countryside or around the world, and prayerfully gave these to people as he sensed God’s leading, tipping his hat courteously as he did so.
Both he and his wife suffered from poor health; indeed, she was a home-bound invalid for decades. Always an affectionate husband, he said that she was “beyond praise.” Still, he was a “man’s man,” and preferred the company of men with whom he could walk and talk for hours while on vacation.
The older he grew, the more he learned to depend upon God for matters great and small. “Get the Gospel right into your heart; receive it, and believe it. Do not think that you can mend matters with your efforts.” (Thompson, 131)
As in previous years as a missionary with Pastor Xi and Superintendent in Henan, he led by prayer, listening, example, and wise counsel. His letters and articles for China’s Millions reveal a man committed to following in the footsteps of Christ with all endurance and humility. Constantly he reminded the missionaries that they were to serve the Chinese, not rule over them. Opposition from others should be met by gentleness, self-examination, prayer, and dependence upon God to work. Self-denial must mark those who claim to be disciples of Christ, and especially his messengers in a foreign land.
In his early years as General Director, when he saw that missionaries of all sorts had taken up residence in virtually all parts of China, he decided that they must now emphasize settled ministry, building strong local congregations and equipping Chinese to take the gospel further afield.
Later, however, after the great withdrawal of Western missionaries to safer coastal areas was ordered by their governments during the 1926-1927 Anti-Christian Movement, Hoste perceived their absence as an opportunity to put into place those principles which he had sought to follow as Xi’s assistant: Churches must be led by the Chinese Christians themselves, with missionaries serving as advisers, coaches, teachers, and evangelists to the outlying regions. In 1929, at the height of the Great Depression, he and his fellow CIM directors boldly called for two hundred more workers, to join missionaries freed from pastoral responsibilities to carry the Good News to the thousands of still-unevangelized cities of China, as well as to the vast regions of Xinjiang and Tibet. The Forward Movement also included a new s tress upon the many unreached tribal groups, especially in the southwestern parts of the nation.
Hoste was a serious student of the Bible, so he guided the other directors of the CIM to take a firm stand against the novel views which one prominent member - an old friend of his - held of a “wider hope” for unbelievers after death. A great advocate of Christian unity, Hoste allowed the CIM to join the newly formed the National Christian Council in 1922, but when the dominance of theological liberals in its councils became clear, he could not compromise the evangelical and conservative theological convictions upon which the Mission was based, and so the decision was made to withdraw in 1926. Instead, the CIM joined other conservative groups in the formation of the Bible Union. Hoste became a member of the Shanghai local committee; he did his best to counter more strident voices. In his mind, however, the liberals’ “attempt to tone down or eliminate the supernatural in [the bible] admits a principle that involves its destruction.” (Yao, 70) His essay, “Why I Have Joined the Bible Union of China,” exercised wide influence.
In 1935, Hoste handed over his position to G. W. Gibb. He and Gertie retired to a three-room apartment on the grounds of the CIM headquarters complex in Shanghai, where they were able to stay in touch with people and events. The presence of one of their sons, along with his wife and little daughter, cheered them greatly.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor made them “enemy nationals” in an occupied land. Eventually, the missionaries were moved to an internment camp, where living conditions were close and trying. By this time, Hoste had lost his memory to a great degree, but his composure remained. His wife died before the end of the war brought liberation and return to England. He spent the last year of his life in a nursing home in London. His last words were, “I could weep when I think of Jesus. To see Jesus - that is the Beatific Vision.”
- Broomhall, A.J. It is not Death to Die! Book Seven in Hudson Taylor & China’s Open Century. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1989. Republished in two volumes by Piquant as The Shaping of Modern China.
- Phyllis Thompson, D.E. Hoste: “A Prince with God.” London: China Inland Mission, 1949. Biography; extracts from letters; selected writings.
- Yao, Kevin Xiyi. The Fundamentalist Movement among Protestant Missionaries in China, 1920-1937. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2003.