James Hudson Taylor is widely regarded as one of the important and influential missionaries of all time, and certainly one of the most significant missionaries to China in the 19th century. “He was a spiritual giant who built an enduring enterprise by faith and prayer” (Kane 197).
His reputation rests largely upon the founding of the China Inland Mission, which became the largest missionary organization in China by the time of his death in 1905. Behind this organization, however, lay the character and conduct of its founder, surely a remarkable Christian leader by any standard of measurement, though not without weaknesses and failings.
Hudson Taylor was born in Barnsley, England. His father was a pharmacist and Methodist lay preacher. Even before his birth, his parents had dedicated Hudson Taylor to the Lord.
His conversion took place at the age of seventeen. A few months later, he sensed God’s call upon him to serve as a missionary in China. To prepare himself, he commenced medical studies at the London Hospital, being convinced that medicine would open doors in a land that was hostile to Christianity and the West.
Knowing that he would need faith to serve God, he trained himself in small ways to trust God. While in medical school, he subjected himself to strict self-discipline, eating the simplest food, economizing as much as possible, and not telling anyone of his financial needs, even when he was in dire straits. Meanwhile, he read “everything he could find on China, studied the Chinese language, brushed up on his Latin, and tackled Hebrew and Greek” (Kane 197).
First term of service in China
Taylor joined the Chinese Evangelization Society (CES), which had been formed under the influence of the career and writings of Charles Gutzlaff. At the urging of the CES, he interrupted his studies to go to China in 1853. After several years of frustrating service, in 1857 he realized that he could not rely on the CES either to direct his missionary activities intelligently or to provide regular funds for its workers. He and his colleague Dr. William Parker eventually resigned from the society and began to work as entirely independent missionaries, dependent only and directly upon God to supply their needs. During this time, he shaved his head, grew a pigtail, and changed into Chinese dress in order to seem less foreign. These actions scandalized the foreign community and led some to consider him not only brash and eccentric, but a crackpot.
Early missionary training
When he first arrived in Shanghai, Hudson Taylor was mentored by some of the finest missionaries, who set him the best possible example. Lacking support from his own Chinese Evangelization Society (CES), and with no place to stay, he was graciously invited to lodge with Dr. Walter H. Medhurst of the London Missionary Society (LMS). Medhurst was the author of a Chinese-English Dictionary and a member of the committee that had translated the Delegates Bible. Others who contributed to Taylor’s early missionary education were Joseph Edkins (LMS), William Burns (Presbyterian Church in England), and Dr. William Lockhart (LMS), a devoted surgeon who taught Taylor how to use medicine to serve the Chinese.
From these men, Taylor learned how to acquire the Chinese language, move freely among the people, dress like the Chinese, and engage in itinerant evangelism. Thus, when he began his own independent evangelistic efforts, he had already received excellent training in fundamental missionary principles and practices. His decision to adopt Chinese dress, for example, was motivated by the successful examples of Roman Catholic missionaries, his early hero Charles Gutzlaff, and his mentors, as well as by his discovery that foreign dress placed an obstacle in the path of ordinary Chinese hearers of his message. The strong urging of Dr. Walter Medhurst, Sr., the acknowledged doyen of the Shanghai missionary community, finally spurred him to take that step.
After spending time in intense language study, medical service to Chinese, and itinerant evangelism, he joined William Chalmers Burns for a few months in the south of China. When he could not rejoin Burns, he moved to Ningpo to assist Dr. William Parker in his hospital, taking over full responsibility for more than two years when Parker had to return to England.
While in Ningbo, he met Maria Jane Dyer; she and her sister were the orphaned daughters of Samuel and Maria Dyer, pioneer missionaries to the Chinese in Malacca. The girls were teaching at a school run by Miss Aldersey, who strongly opposed Maria’s relationship with Taylor. She objected to his lack of association with an established mission, his lack of an academic degree, and his Chinese dress.
Hudson and Maria were eventually able to marry in 1858. They immediately began serving the Chinese together, Maria being fluent in the language and equally devoted to missionary work.
In 1860, exhausted by the load of caring for patients and pastoring a young church, Taylor had to return to England to recuperate. The doctor said that his liver, digestive and nervous systems were seriously impaired. He took with him Wang Laijun, one of the early converts, whom he mentored intensely. While in London, he completed his studies in medicine, surgery, and midwifery; worked on the revision of the Romanised Ningbo New Testament, and sought to recruit new workers for China. He also edited a hymnbook in the Ningbo dialect.
The China Inland Mission is born
In June, 1865, while walking on the beach at Brighton, burdened by the thought of 400 million Chinese going to an eternal Christless destiny, he sensed that God wanted him to form a new mission agency, which he called the China Inland Mission (CIM). Its members would rely on God alone for funds, without appealing for donations. Unlike most missionaries, they would focus on the vast unreached populations of inland China. They would wear Chinese dress, eat Chinese food, and as much as possible live like the Chinese among whom they dwelt. The CIM would be a non-denominational society, and would welcome applicants of all social classes, regardless of their level of education.
The CIM would be governed from China, not in distant England, and it would be run by the General Director, not a board or committee.
In October 1865, Taylor published China: Its Spiritual Needs and Claims to stir up the hearts of his countrymen to pray for God’s work among the Chinese. This short book had a powerful effect on the Christian public and produced a flood of gifts and offers of service with the CIM. The first Occasional Paper reported the progress of the mission on March 12, 1866.
The Lammermuir party
With his health restored, in May, 1866, Taylor and his wife led a group of sixteen new workers to China to join the five already in Ningbo. After an epic voyage on the Lammermuir, in which his calm faith and courageous leadership aroused profound admiration, they landed in Shanghai. Very quickly, however, after changing into Chinese dress, they left this center of Western missions and traveled by boat to Hangzhou.
They established the first CIM headquarters in an old building complex and opened a chapel, medical clinic, printing room, and office, with the missionaries living on the second floor. The first baptisms took place in May 1867 and Wang Laijun was ordained pastor.
Turning the church and mission over to others, Taylor moved inland with other missionaries to develop new work in Yangzhou and Zhenjiang. A riot in Yangzhou led to intense criticism back in London because of the intervention of the British Consul-General, even though Taylor had not asked for help. From then on, Taylor never informed British government officials of any trouble with local people, though he would appeal to local officials.
In September, 1869, after a period of spiritual dryness, a letter from another missionary brought new insights, later called “the exchanged life.” Taylor now saw that the entire life of a believer is in union with Christ, and that constant trust in Jesus would bring constantly fresh renewal by the Holy Spirit.
His daughter Grace died in 1867. In February, 1870, 6-year-old Samuel died. Taylor sent three of his children back to England under the care of Emily Blatchley. Maria died of cholera after giving birth to Noel in July. The baby succumbed soon after. At this time of deepest grief and desolation, Taylor found John 7:37 come alive for him as he learned to drink from the spiritual fountain of Christ by faith.
Second return to England; marriage to Jennie Faulding; formation of the London Council
Taylor sailed back to England with son Charles and others, including Jennie Faulding, in August, 1871. During the journey he realized that his affection for Jennie, who had been almost a member of the family since the Lammermuir voyage, had become something more. He and Jennie were married not long after arriving in England, on November 28, 1871.
To provide a better management structure for the CIM, Taylor formed the London Council in October, 1872, shortly before leaving again for China.
Return to China and third return to England
Soon after arriving in China, Taylor enunciated the indigenous church principle, in which he stated that the aim of the CIM was to establish a church run by Chinese in each major city. “I look on all us foreign missionaries as a platform work round a rising building…the sooner it can be transferred to other places…the better.”
Taylor injured his spine in a fall in June, 1874. Three months later he and Jennie left again for England to handle mission business and see their children. Completely paralyzed, for six months he could only lie in bed, but from there he dictated letters, interviewed applicants to the CIM, and composed articles for the CIM publication China’s Millions.
Expanding the CIM
In September, 1876, he set off for China with more new workers. The CIM experienced rapid growth over the next few years. Taylor called for seventy extra missionaries to come to China in 1881, one hundred in 1888, and persuaded the entire missionary community in China to call for one thousand in 1890. He depended upon God to move his people to support these new workers, and his faith was met with constant supplies of grace and material resources, though not without severe trials.
In 1879, during one of his bouts with illness and exhaustion, he spent several months in Yantai (Chefoo) recovering. He realized that other tired missionaries could benefit from the healthful climate of the seaside resort, so he had a “sanatorium” built. To prevent unnecessary deaths among the children living in China’s interior, he also had a school constructed. This later became the famous “Chefoo School,” noted for its high academic standards and loving atmosphere.
Taylor was invited to speak at D.L. Moody’s Northfield student conference in July 1888, as well as at other gatherings in North America. His addresses made such an impact on the young people that dozens sensed God’s leading to become overseas missionaries, and forty applied to the CIM. To serve these new North American workers, on his second trip the next year Taylor established a North American council, the first of several national councils. Associate missions came into being during his journeys to continental Europe. Thus, the CIM became an international organization, with its headquarters in Shanghai.
After suffering a stroke while speaking at a conference in Boston in May, 1900, Taylor retired with Jennie to Davos, Switzerland, leaving the leadership of the CIM in the hands of others. Though he recovered, Jennie died of cancer in July 1904. Hudson Taylor went “home” to China for the last time in the spring of 1905. He visited several CIM stations before he died in Changsha on June 3, having dedicated 51 years of service to God’s purposes in China.
At the time of his death in 1905, the CIM had 825 members in all provinces of China, more than 300 mission stations, more than 500 local Chinese helpers, and 25,000 Chinese converts. It was the largest and most international of all the missions in China.
Hudson Taylor was tormented by the thought that millions of Chinese were dying annually without a saving knowledge of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Proverbs 24:11-12 imposed upon him a duty to spread the Christian message as widely as possible and to mobilize others to do the same. From another direction, his own gratitude to God for forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation moved him to want others to share the same blessings.
Like some other missionaries, but not most, Taylor believed that the Great Commission gave Christians not only the right, but the obligation, to disobey rulers who forbade the preaching of the gospel. For that reason, in his early years he transgressed the treaty stipulations that limited foreigners to five ports and their immediate environs. His actions were highly criticized by some, but he found legal justification in the “most favored nation” principle of international agreements, for French missionaries worked and even lived in cities outside the treaty ports, even going so far as to fly their national flag over their premises. The debate over the propriety of Christians engaging in illegal evangelistic activity in China continues today.
His illegal itinerations were met with mostly warm welcomes by the crowds who came to hear him preach and to receive medical treatment, but also by angry protests from Chinese mandarins to the British consular authorities. He was willing to accept fines and even suffering for breaking the law, but not to endanger his Chinese co-workers and new converts, so he reluctantly abided by the orders of the British consul.
Hudson Taylor’s missionary strategy changed over time. Although at first he relied upon itinerant preaching and the sale of Christian literature, he quickly came to believe that settled work, cooperation with Chinese Christian evangelists, and preaching to explain the printed message were necessary. His mature plan, which he learned from William C. Burns, was to send out a Western missionary with an experienced Chinese worker to train him and demonstrate truly Chinese methods of preaching. Working systematically, they would circle a major city for some time, moving gradually closer as the people began to lose their fear and suspicion of the messengers of a new religion, and finally settle in the town. Typically, they combined a chapel and a medical clinic for holistic ministry.
Always, he aimed to plant Chinese churches presided over by Chinese leaders, with the missionary assisting until he was no longer needed and could move on to open another field.
Though Taylor is often considered to have focused only on the poor, that is not the case. Wherever possible, he and his colleagues sought to make friends with the literati to share the Gospel with these influential members of the community, often by first engaging them as language teachers. CIM missionaries were expected to learn the Confucian Classics well, so that they could earn the right to be heard by all levels of society.
Almost from the beginning, Hudson Taylor acutely sensed the need for Western Christian women to reach Chinese women with the gospel. Chinese etiquette forbade men from talking with women except within the home, so they were essentially unreachable to him and his male colleagues. Aside from loneliness, he longed for a wife to augment his ministry by meeting the spiritual needs of women. Both his first wife Maria Dyer and Jennie Faulding were exceptionally effective in communicating truth and love to women and girls.
What became a major element of his evangelistic strategy began slowly, with the recruitment of a few single women to accompany other missionaries to China. Their usefulness was soon demonstrated, as Chinese women opened their homes and their hearts to Westerners of the same sex. Over time, Taylor took an even more radical step: In addition to serving on teams with married couples and single men, women were sent out two-by-two, as pioneer missionaries to open up new fields.
This policy evoked harsh criticism at first, because it was feared that unprotected Western women would fall prey to unscrupulous and even violent men, but hardly any such incidents took place, while dozens of women labored successfully in remote regions. The criticisms turned to admiration and emulation by other missionary societies.
In recent years, with the huge gender imbalance in the Chinese church, Taylor’s practice of using women without men to open new mission stations has come under closer scrutiny. Some have suggested that single women missionaries planted churches in which women and girls predominated, and that Christianity, like popular Chinese religion, thus came to be considered a thing for women and not men.
Like other missions, the China Inland Mission devoted huge amounts of resources, including personnel, to help combat the horrible North China Famine (1876-1879). Hudson Taylor could not leave England at the time, so he and his second wife Jennie decided that she must go to help out; their long separation was very painful for them, but they considered it a necessary sacrifice for the sake of the Chinese.
Education for Chinese
From his earliest days as a missionary in Shanghai, Taylor demonstrated the high value of education by opening a school for Chinese children himself and then making primary and secondary education a major CIM strategy both for evangelism and for building up the nascent Chinese church. Unlike Timothy Richard, W.A.P. Martin, and others, however, he did not think that higher education, especially that which aimed to spread Western civilization as a means of “Christianizing” China, was a useful means of spreading the Gospel, so he focused on training young converts to be Christian leaders and preachers, and girls to be wives for them.
From his youth, Taylor had to deal with less than robust health. Small in stature, he struggled with the illnesses that often felled Westerners in China, including dysentery, which was frequently fatal. Headaches, kidney stones, and a variety of other ailments sapped his strength. Disease and injuries (such as two to his spine) laid him out on several occasions, sometimes for months and even years at a time.
His friends believed that Taylor compromised his health by attempting too much. Indeed, his extensive travels, both in China and in other countries, would have exhausted most men, but he added to the strain by constant preaching, voluminous correspondence, meticulous administration, mediation of disputes, and sacrificial medical attention to both Chinese and Westerners. Almost constant physical pain, fatigue, or discomfort may have partly contributed to one of his few visible flaws – a tendency to be irritable at times.
Nevertheless, he lived to the age of seventy-three, and died only after a life filled with enough work to warrant a seven-volume biography, and with almost universal admiration and affection from those who know him.
Reasons for these achievements may be found in a number of habits, abilities, and motivations that inspired Hudson Taylor from an early age.
Taylor maintained a disciplined devotional life, reading the Bible through annually for forty consecutive years until his death. “The secret of Hudson Taylor’s life and ministry may be summed up n four simple propositions; ‘There is a living God. He has spoken in His Word. He means what he says. And He is willing and able to perform what He has promised’” (Kane 197). Traveling companions would remark upon his habit of rising in the middle of the night to study the Scriptures while others slept, before returning to bed until day broke. From his personal examination of the Bible flowed oral and written expositions that were noted for their depth and insight. Those who heard him speak sensed that he was truly a man of God.
Taylor was not only a pious man, but a diligent student as well. His daily Bible reading was done in Hebrew, Greek, and English, using an inter-leaved polyglot set that he carried with him everywhere he went. In order to gain entrance to medical school, he had to pass examinations in Latin, Greek, German, and French, as well as geography, mathematics, mechanics, chemistry, zoology, and botany. He completed the requirements for entrance into the Royal College of Surgeons and a Licentiate in Midwifery.
He remained a lifelong learner. For example, on his first journey to China he continued his study of medicine, supplemented by dissection, but his catholic interests can be seen from his reading, which included mathematics, astronomy, magnetism, chemistry, a volume on China, Paley’s Evidences of Christianity, and a book on storms, while the ship’s captain taught him advanced algebra.
He was an avid naturalist, observing, classifying, and often dissecting creatures from the deep and the varied flora and fauna of China which so fascinated him. His reports on observations led to his being made a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society (FRGS).
Taylor taught himself photography and knew how to make his own plates and prints. His knowledge of Greek qualified him to work on the revision of the Romanized Ningpo dialect New Testament.
Like many eminent missionaries whom he met upon his arrival in Shanghai, Taylor labored to gain facility in both spoken and written Chinese. He eventually learned not only Mandarin, but also Shanghainese, the Tiechiu dialect of Swatow, and the Ningbo dialect, the last well enough to revise a vernacular version of the New Testament which had been created for native speakers. After the very high Chinese language standards for new CIM missionaries had been set, Taylor took the examinations himself, and passed them.
He made his own photographic plates, prepared Western medicines from the ingredients he had brought with him, and studied traditional Chinese medicine (in Chinese). He played the concertina and the flute and was an expert hunter who provided fresh fowl for his travel companions.
Attitude towards Chinese culture
On the one hand, Hudson Taylor evinced unusual respect for many features of traditional Chinese culture, as we see from his adoption of local customs of dress, eating, dwelling, and etiquette, not to mention learning the oral and written language. In his instructions to new workers, he exhorted them to honor, and imitate, the Chinese way of doing things.
On the other hand, like other missionaries, he believed that Chinese religion would not lead either to eternal salvation or to ethical transformation, and he considered the lofty principles of Confucianism to be ineffective in changing lives. He was not alone in his anguish over the terrible cruelty which marked the Chinese at war and sometimes in their system of justice, nor was he the only Western missionary to be saddened by the pervasive corruption, venality, and sexual immorality – not to mention the habitual exploitation of women – which he saw at all levels of society.
Taylor did not think that the Confucian rites of ancestor reverence were, as W.A.P. Martin and some others argued, merely expressive of respect. For most Chinese, they involved also a belief in the continued existence of departed loved ones and a profound fear of “angry ghosts.” He thus opposed Martin’s motion to the Missionary Convention of 1890; the overwhelming majority of delegates supported Taylor.
To a degree seldom found in pioneers, Hudson Taylor combined extraordinary vision with unusual administrative ability. From his earliest days he kept meticulous records of his activities and careful accounts of his expenditures. Even while traveling, he stayed current with a very heavy load of correspondence. He knew how to train others and then to delegate authority and responsibility to them. One reason the CIM was able to expand so rapidly was his practice of granting wide latitude to those on the front lines, though he did all he could to stay in close touch with all members of the Mission.
As the CIM grew, he penned the Principles and Practice as basic guidelines; this document, in modified form, continues to serve as the norm for OMF International, the successor to the CIM. Unlike Charles Gutzlaff, Taylor organized national committees that actually survived his absence and death. He could attend both to the needs of individuals and to the overall direction of what became a very large organization.
A great deal of Hudson Taylor’s impact on others flowed from excellent communication. As a speaker, he wielded unusual sway over large audiences; in person, despite a humble quiet demeanor, he quickly won trust and allegiance; and as a writer, he reached many thousands of avid readers. At first through Occasional Papers, then through books like China’s Spiritual Needs and Claims, and then for decades through articles by Taylor and CIM workers in China’s Millions, the CIM’s regular publication, which he and his wife Jennie edited, thousands of people were not only motivated to pray for the spread of the gospel among the Chinese but also informed about Chinese culture.
As he became better known as an inspiring speaker, not only about the needs of China but about a “deeper” spiritual life that draws upon the never-ending supply of the Holy Spirit, he received invitations to address audiences in Great Britain, Canada, the United States, Australia, Scandinavia, and several other European countries. People of all ranks responded to his quiet trust in God and his passion for the renewal of the church and the spread of the gospel.
Of his Bible expositions, Henry Frost said, “Hearts and lives were brought into an altogether new relationship to God and Christ, and not a few, in the joyfulness of full surrender, quietly but finally offered themselves to the Lord for His service anywhere and everywhere” (Howard Taylor II 375).
One who heard him many times wrote, “It was not, however, the words only of Mr. Taylor that helped us, it was the life of the man. He bore about with him the fragrance of Jesus Christ.” (Howard Taylor II 374)
Not only did he welcome people from all sorts of denominations into the CIM, but he always appealed for united action by all the missionary societies in China and for the mobilization of all Protestants of every sort to join their own missionary societies for the sake of evangelizing China.
In later years, he spoke to great ecumenical conferences and shared the platform with leaders like D.L. Moody, A.T. Pierson, John R. Mott, Robert Wilder, and Robert Speer. To accommodate workers from the Anglican church, he created a special CIM field in Sichuan, for which William Cassels received consecration as a diocesan bishop.
A generous spirit
Hudson Taylor longed to see China evangelized, but he also rejoiced when God called people to labor in different areas of the world. One reason he refused to appeal for funds was his fear that support would be diverted from other missions.
Opposition to imperialism and the opium trade
“Taylor saw the evils of the colonial system and instructed his workers to look to their Heavenly Father, not to the foreign gunboats” for protection, as other missionaries did all too often (Kane 200). After the Boxer Rebellion, when the Western powers forced China to pay for the deaths and destruction suffered by missionaries, Taylor refused any indemnity. “He considered such demands contrary to the spirit of love as exemplified in the Gospel of Christ” (Kane 199).
He also hated the infamous opium trade that had caused two wars and the imposition of “unequal treaties” upon China. Realizing the incalculable harm it inflicted upon the Chinese people and the stain it left on all Britain and the resultant association of Christian missions with the despised system, he spoke out often against opium. At the Third International Missionary Conference, held in London in June 1888, he successfully proposed a resolution that called for “the entire suppression of the trade” (Chang 87).
Hudson Taylor possessed remarkable leadership qualities, inspiring men and women alike to attempt great things for the work of the Gospel among the Chinese and organizing them to achieve specific objectives. Though adamant on principles of action, he was patient with those who opposed him. As a result of his experience with the absentee-landlord style of the Chinese Evangelization Society, he insisted that the CIM must be directed from China, and by a man with intimate knowledge of its unique conditions. All who became members of the CIM knew that they were placing themselves under his authority as Director.
In that sense, his leadership was “authoritarian,” but in no way did he act like a despot or tyrant. He led, rather, by example (no one worked harder than he); prayer; clearly-enunciated principles; constant communication; and great forbearance towards recalcitrant members, including those who spread malicious slander and fomented open rebellion against him.
Love for people
We cannot explain the powerful influence of Hudson Taylor apart from his amazing capacity to love. From his youth, he enjoyed a particularly affectionate relationship with his mother and his sister Amelia. His letters to his first wife Maria Dyer and then, after her death, to his second wife Jenny Faulding, reveal a man with a tender heart and a rare passion that lasted well beyond the honeymoon. This love extended to those around him; to other missionaries in need; to the Chinese for whose salvation he ardently longed and labored; and even to his enemies.
Some modern critics have noted Hudson Taylor’s long separations from his family members and question whether this set a good example for other missionaries and for Chinese Christians. There are several points to consider:
Beginning with Robert Morrison, missionaries to China believed their ministry to be a “higher calling” that trumped family obligations and that warranted sacrificing time with spouse and children. Indeed, this attitude was common among Protestant missionaries from Great Britain in that era. Furthermore, life in China could be fatal for women and children, as Taylor knew well from bitter experience, having buried his first wife Maria and several of his little ones there. Sending them home to England could sometimes be the only way to preserve their lives. As we have seen, Hudson Taylor’s relationship with Maria and then Jennie was unusually ardent and affectionate, making separation from them excruciatingly painful to him, as his letters reveal. The same goes for his surviving children, one of whom co-authored an exemplary two-volume biography of Taylor.
Still, his utter devotion to the evangelization of China shoved almost all other concerns to the sidelines. Even when on vacation, he usually left the children to play while he maintained his correspondence.
In today’s terms, Hudson Taylor was a workaholic.
As a consequence, the CIM as an organization propounded views of family life different from those of many Western Christians today: married life, though honored, was definitely to be subordinated to missionary service; children were all sent off to the CIM boarding school; and these policies were contributing factors to unhappy marriages, and to a sense of neglect and even bitterness on the part of some CIM children. Perhaps the influence of the behavior of the founder outweighed that of his heart, and the cultural mores of England, including the assumption that children would be sent to boarding school at an early age, exerted more sway than Christians realized at the time.
From the start of his residence in China, Taylor pushed the boundaries allowed to foreigners. Moving outside the “treaty port” of Shanghai, he ventured – usually with a colleague – into the surrounding countryside, where he found the common people to be generally friendly and receptive to him and to his message. The example of Charles Gutzlaff can be seen in Taylor’s constant quest for new areas of China to receive the Gospel. The growth of the CIM necessitated arduous journeys, often in inclement weather and using uncomfortable means of transport, as Taylor visited his team and took some of the men with him on exploratory trips far into the interior. Between April 1879 and February, he travelled more than 15,000 miles by boat, cart and foot. He was equally on the move back in Europe, promoting the cause of missions to China.
Considering his small frame and less-than-robust constitution, even his severest modern critics have acknowledged that he possessed extraordinary perseverance. His capacity to endure hardship, weariness, pain, and labor was almost phenomenal. As noted above, this never-ending toil may have contributed to frequent bouts of illness, but it also helps to explain the amount of work he accomplished.
“One of Hudson Taylor’s outstanding characteristics was his humility. He had no desire to build an empire or to make a name for himself… It grieved him deeply when people spoke of him as a ‘great leader’” (Kane 199). Once, when he was introduced as “our illustrious guest” in a large church in Australia, he “quietly stood for a moment, ‘the light of God on his face,’ as one who was present recalled, and then began his address by saying in a way that won all hearts: ‘Dear friends, I am the little servant of an illustrious Master’” (Howard Taylor II, 415).
A pastor in Australia wrote, “About the Lord and His grace and faithfulness he spoke freely; about himself and his service he said nothing” (Howard Taylor II 419).
Faith in God
At the root of Hudson Taylor’s labors and influence lay his strong faith in God. Before going to China, he developed the habit of trusting God for all things, including financial provision, by refusing to tell others of his needs, speaking of them only to God in prayer. Fortified by his devotional reading of Scripture, and by confidence in the very words of the Bible as eternally and minutely true, he “claimed” God’s promises of provision and protection whenever he encountered any sort of trial or challenge.
This trust in God supplied constantly-renewed resources of patience, inner peace, and persuasive influence over other people. Often, when seeking resolution to a conflict, he relied on the Holy Spirit to change either himself or the other persons involved, and was rewarded by what appeared to be direct divine intervention. The same held true in times of great danger, when he experienced peace amidst the storm.
For example, at a time when finances were especially low, he wrote to members of the CIM that he was positively happy that they had no money, for now they could strengthen their faith in God’s promises to provide for his children.
After having Taylor in their home for several days, one host wrote, “And truly Mr. Taylor did have the light of God in his face. So constantly did he look up to God and so deep was his communion with God that his very face seemed to have upon it a heavenly light… I was permitted…to see the beauty of a life lived in abiding fellowship with the Lord Jesus” (Howard Taylor II 419).
Patience under affliction
One visible manifestation of Taylor’s confidence in God struck others forcefully: When they were worried, he was calm. Under great stress, he could be cheerful. Even at the last, when his weakness and illness rendered him almost immobile, he evinced a quiet joy that would not be quenched.
“He believed in influencing people through God by prayer alone, and demonstrated to the Christian world that it is no vain thing to trust in the living God” (Kane 197).
When he died, J. Hudson Taylor left behind the largest foreign missionary organization in China, with over 800 members from a number of nations, who had taken the gospel into every province of the empire and had gained the respect of other missionaries, many British government officials, and thousands of Chinese. Churches, schools, and hospitals dotted the land, staffed by not only missionaries but by an equal number of Chinese Christian helpers. Several other missionary societies had been brought into being largely as a result of Taylor’s itinerant work of promoting the cause of China in Europe, North America, and Australia.
Taylor’s writings and teachings, including his exposition of the Song of Songs, as well as many editorials in the Occasional Papers and later in China’s Millions, CIM magazine, “forged the CIM with a different set of theological and philosophical presuppositions from those that informed earlier British Protestant missions” (Wigram 7).
His published works had motivated perhaps hundreds of thousands of Christians to trust God more fully and so support the cause of missions around the world. Several thousand offered themselves for missionary service in response to reading his books and articles.
One person commented that “perhaps no book of modern times proved more effective in moving the hearts of the people of God” than his China’s Spiritual Needs and Claims, published in 1865 and frequently updated. Two autobiographical works, Retrospect and After Thirty Years (1895), inspired countless readers, as did his teaching on “living water” from John’s Gospel, published later by OMF (the successor organization to the CIM) as Unfailing Springs (Wigram 12). His influence through the printed word has only grown since his death.
Many biographies have further spread the story of Taylor. Some of these are listed in the Resources section below.
In time the CIM became known by the very high standard of proficiency in the Chinese language that it required of missionaries; their extensive evangelistic, medical, and educational work; and their refusal to seek protection from consular authorities when threatened with danger or even when attacked by local Chinese mobs.
We can account for the extraordinary accomplishments of J. Hudson Taylor and his lasting influence only by giving proper attention to the unusual mix of natural abilities, spiritual qualities, and enormous self-discipline that combined to make him so successful as a missionary to the Chinese.
Hudson Taylor and Maria had eight children, three of whom died as infants. The others were Herbert Hudson, Frederick Howard, Maria Hudson, and Charles Edward. Jennie bore him two children, Ernest Hamilton and Amy Hudson.
Four of his children later served with the CIM. Since his death, four generations from Herbert to the present have been members of the CIM or OMF International.
“Christ is either Lord of all or He isn’t Lord at all.”
“Shall not the eternal interest of one-third of our race stir up the deepest sympathies of our nature, the most strenuous efforts of our blood-bought powers? Shall not the low wail of helpless, hopeless misery, arising from half the heathen world, pierce our sluggish ear, and rouse us – body, soul, and spirit – to one mighty, continued, unconquerable effort for China’s salvation?”
“I have often thought that God made me little in order that He might show what a great God He is.”
“God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.”
“There are commonly three stages in the work of God. First impossible, then difficult, then done.”
“If I had a thousand pounds China should have it; if I had a thousand lives China should have them. No! Not China, but Christ. Can we do too much for Him? Can we do enough for such a precious Savior?”
- Beauchamp, Motagu, editor. Days of Blessing in Inland China: An Account of Meetings held in Shan-Si etc. Third edition (London: Morgan & Scott), 1890.
- Broomhall, A.J. Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century. Seven Volumes (London: Hodder & Stoughton), 1981- 1989. This set has been re-published in two volumes with the title The Shaping of Modern China: Hudson Taylor’s Life and Legacy (Pasadena: William Carey Library), 2005. This is the definitive biography.
- Broomhall, Marshall. The Jubilee Story of the China Inland Mission (London: Morgan & Scott), 1915.
- Chang, Irene et al, editors. Christ Alone: A Pictorial Presentation of Hudson Taylor’s Life and Legacy (Hong Kong: OMF), 2005. A beautifully written and illustrated book in English and Chinese with many photographs and details of Taylor’s life and legacy. Perhaps the best place to start reading about Hudson Taylor and the CIM.
- China Group. “Taylor, James Hudson,” in Scott W. Sunquist, editor, A Dictionary of Asian Christianity. An excellent summary of his life.
- Christian History magazine. “Hudson Taylor & Missions to China.” Issue 52, Volume XV, No. 4. 1996.
- Christie, Vance. Hudson Taylor: Gospel Pioneer to China. A brief popular narrative.
- Covell, Ralph. “Taylor, James Hudson” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, edited by Gerald H. Anderson. Eerdmans, 1998. 657-658.
- Cromarty, Jim. The Pigtail and Chopsticks Man: The Story of J. Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission. A good book for children.
- Doyle, G. Wright. “J. Hudson Taylor: Advocate for China’s Inland Millions” in G. Wright Doyle, editor, Builders of the Chinese Church (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications), Studies in Chinese Christianity.
- Kane, J. Herbert. “J. Hudson Taylor,” in Gerald Anderson et al, editors. Mission Legacies: Biographical Studies of Leaders of the Modern Missionary Movement.
- Moffett, Samuel Hugh. A History of Christianity in Asia. Volume II.
- Pfister, Lauren F. “Rethinking Mission in China: James Hudson Taylor and Timothy Richard,” in Andrew Porter, editor, The Imperial Horizons of British Protestant Missions, 1880-1914.
- Pollock, John. Hudson Taylor and Maria. Tells the story of Taylor up through the death of his first wife Maria. It is excellent as far as it goes.
- Steer, Roger. Hudson Taylor: A Man in Christ. Perhaps the best short biography.
- Taylor, Mr. and Mrs. Howard. Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission. Volume I; The Growth of a Volume Two, The Growth of a Work of God (OMF International), 2005. First published in 1918.
- Taylor, J. Hudson, Looking Back: An Autobiography (originally published as Retrospect).
- —-. Union and Communion. Contains Taylor’s devotional meditations on the Song of Solomon.
- Wigram, Christopher E.M. The Bible and Mission in Faith Perspective: J. Hudson Taylor and the Early China Inland Mission.
- Austin, Alvyn. China’s Millions: The China Inland Mission and Late Qing Society, 1832-1905. Though containing some useful information, fundamentally inaccurate on Taylor and the CIM. A review may be found at the Global China Center.