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Rev. J. Hudson Taylor: Founder of the China Inland Mission

Hudson TaylorSaid a speaker at the Missionary Centenary Conference (1888), referring to the Foreign Mission field, "We want leaders. What would the China Inland Mission have been without Mr. Hudson Taylor?" That would be an impossible question to answer; but we know what it has been with him, by the blessing of God. This Mission has been an object lesson for missionary societies everywhere; and its history has furnished one of the most remarkable chapters in the story of the world's evangelization. Mr. Taylor would himself be the last man in the world to say that he has been the only human instrument in bringing about such blessed results. He has been most happy in his active coadjutors in the work at home and abroad; and equally happy in securing the practical partnership of many of the Lord's stewards for the provision of the needed funds. But, in the providence of God, he has been the chief worker, both in founding and extending the Mission; and it may be interesting to note, from the circumstances of his career, the way in which he has been thus honoured in helping forward the purposes of his great Master, with respect to the Christianizing of the most populous nation on the face of the earth.

J. Hudson Taylor is a native of Barnsley, Yorkshire, and is not much past the prime of life, having been born there in 1833. An important and suggestive fact is, that his father, who was himself an earnest evangelist (though a business man), had been deeply stirred as to the spiritual condition of the Chinese; and he prayed God that if ever a son were given him, that son might become an ambassador of the cross to China. Mr. Taylor was, therefore, so to speak, consecrated for mission service in China from his mother's womb. During his childhood his health was feeble; and his parents had to abandon, for a time at least, the fond hopes they cherished: but the answer to their prayers and longings only tarried. They were even then being heard, in the fact that the son was deeply interested in China, and regarded it as his sphere of life-work.

In the intensely interesting "Retrospect" contributed by Mr. Taylor (1887-8) to China's Millions, he describes how in his youth he had a sceptical fit; and how he was brought out of the region of darkness and negation into the goodly land of faith, and peace, and assurance, as a clear answer to the prayers of his mother, and his sister (now Mrs. Broomhall). At the very time when his mother was agonizing in prayer for him seventy or eighty miles away, he was stepping into the light of conscious acceptance with God, through reading a Gospel tract which had casually come into his possession. If this turning-point in his life was a clear answer to prayer, his whole Christian course may be said to be a series of equally clear proofs that there is a God who heareth and answereth the prayers of His believing children.

After a season of home study in his father's drug shop, Mr. Taylor became assistant to Dr. Robert Hardy, a highly esteemed medical man in Hull. He afterwards pursued his studies at the London Hospital. During this period of training he had many experiences calculated to strengthen his faith in the direct interposition of God for guidance or deliverance at critical moments. He had learned to commit his way, and all its daily difficulties, to his loving heavenly Father; and the unmistakable responses of God to this life of simple trust taught him many lessons that have proved invaluable in later years. The sense of the pressing spiritual needs of China that was borne in upon his heart at the time of his consecration, grew in weight and volume during his student years.

In September, 1853, at the age of twenty-one, having been accepted by the Chinese Evangelization Society as a medical missionary, he sailed for the land of his heart's desire. On the voyage he narrowly escaped shipwreck on the Welsh coast; and later on was miraculously delivered from falling into the hands of cannibals on the coast of New Guinea. The voyage by sailing ship occupied more than six months. The same distance can now be covered with the aid of steam in about five weeks.

As regards China matters were very different then from what they are now, in other respects than those of transit. Mr. Taylor landed at Shanghai only to find himself in the midst of a serious native rebellion. The path of the foreign missionary was beset by many dangers and difficulties; and Mr. Taylor tells in his "Retrospect" of some hair-breadth escapes from the bullets of the fanatical soldiery. There were also difficulties relating to the work itself, but out of them all God provided a way of escape, though faith was often sorely tried. These early embarrassments and hindrances did not damp the zeal of the young missionary, but only caused him the more unreservedly to cast himself on his God. Probably Mr. Taylor now feels that the experiences thus gained were the best preparation for the enlarged sphere of service that awaited him. One very happy circumstance of his first stay in China, as a pioneer missionary, was his association with William C. Burns, of the Presbyterian Mission—a fellowship fraught with mutual blessing, and one that Mr. Taylor is never tired of referring to. He writes:—

These happy months were an unspeakable joy and advantage to me. Mr. Burns' love of the Word of God was delightful; and his holy, reverential life and constant communings with God made fellowship with him to meet the deep cravings of my heart. With true spiritual insight, he often pointed out God's purposes in trial in a way that made life assume quite a new aspect and value. His views, especially about evangelistic work as the great duty of the Church, and of the order of lay-evangelists as a lost order that Scripture required to be restored to its proper place, were seeds which bore abundant fruit in the China Inland Mission.

Mr. Taylor was busily engaged in itinerant work for about four years, meeting with many disappointments and trials that do not fall to the lot of the Chinese missionary of to-day; but finding through them all that God was indeed the refuge and the strength of His servants. At the close of 1856 he had been led to terminate his official connection with the Society (though continuing to work with it), and began the method of looking directly to God for the supply of his needs, and the needs of the work; to which method he has consistently adhered from that time to this. His faith was honoured in a way that was most instructive and encouraging, as a further preparation for the founding of the Inland Mission. Failing health compelled him sorrowfully to return to England in 1860. For a time he was engaged as a collaborateur of Rev. F. Gough, of the C.M.S., in the important work of revising a version of the New Testament, in the Romanized colloquial of Ningpo, to be published by the British and Foreign Bible Society. This also proved to be a providential circumstance in his life. He expresses it thus:—

In the study of that Divine Word I learned that, to obtain successful labourers, not elaborate appeals for help were needed; but, first, earnest prayer to God to thrust forth labourers; and, second, the deepening of the spiritual life of the Churches, so that men should be unable to stay at home. I saw that the Apostolic plan was, not to raise ways and means, but to go and do the work, trusting in His sure word who has said: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."

After months of earnest prayer, he reached the conviction "that a special agency was essential for the evangelization of Inland China; and that by simple trust in God, such an agency might be raised up and sustained without interfering injuriously with any existing work." A visit to Brighton, where he saw congregations well cared for spiritually, while the millions of China were perishing for lack of knowledge, brought his feelings and resolves to a crisis. He definitely surrendered himself to God for this service, and there and then asked Him for twenty-four fellow-workers; two for each of the eleven inland provinces of China, then without a Protestant missionary, and two for Mongolia. About this time he wrote the little book, "China's Spiritual Needs and Claims"; a volume which has been exceedingly helpful in imparting a true knowledge of that vast country, and in stirring up consecrated workers to go forth to help in its evangelization. The Mission was formed in 1865. In May of the following year a missionary party of seventeen sailed for China in the Lammermuir, and the "China Inland Mission" was fully inaugurated.

It would require a volume, instead of a few brief paragraphs, to tell the story of the Mission from that time to this. Suffice to say that the progress has been continuous and in an increasing ratio. It has seen no wholesale accessions to Christianity: the Chinese people are not naturally disposed, like some races, towards the reception of a new religious faith; pride of intellect and of country are strongly against it. England herself has done much to bar the door of China to the Gospel of Christ, by her unchristian action in the matter of the opium trade. Still the old Gospel has shown its ancient power; and when a Chinese person becomes a Christian, it is not in name only but in deed.

When the Lammermuir party sailed, eleven of the eighteen provinces were entirely without a Protestant witness for the truth. Now there are settled missionaries in ten out of the eleven; and the eleventh has been frequently visited by itinerant workers. Since the Mission began, over three thousand persons have professed Christ in baptism. A few figures as to the present condition of the Mission may be found interesting and full of blessed meaning for the future:—

There are now (July, 1889) in the field 332 European missionaries and their wives, many of whom were missionaries previous to marriage. There are 80 organized churches; I27 chapels and 68 out-stations; 11 native ordained pastors and 67 assistant native preachers; 18 school-teachers; 29 colporteurs and chapel keepers; 19 Bible-women; 8 boarding schools, with 80 native pupils; 13 day schools, with 145 pupils; 3 hospitals; 9 dispensaries; and 26 opium refuges. The number of communicants at present on the roll is over 2,500; and of these 472 were baptized last year.

These figures, we repeat, though they may seem small in view of the vastness of the population, are yet full of import as to the future of China. Surely they are enough to make Mr. Taylor thank God that he was led to surrender himself for the work that Sabbath day on the Brighton beach. As for himself, he has been incessant in toil and in plans for the furtherance of the work; spending his years between China and home, as the necessities of health or the claims of the work seemed to demand. The Mission has been sustained upon the simple principle of entire dependence upon God, on which it was founded. That principle, though thoroughly tested, has never broken down; for God has, through His servants, sent in the funds needed for the prosecution of the work and its growing demands. The income, which for the first ten years averaged about £5,000, in 1888 exceeded £36,000. In connection with the support of the Mission there have been many striking answers to the prayer of faith. The Mission is undenominational: members of every evangelical church are gladly welcomed to its ranks, if suitable; and are left entirely unfettered in developing the growth of the native churches. A goodly number of workers have gone out at their own charges; and some, besides sustaining themselves, are supporting others.

Mr. Taylor has been twice married; and each time has been singularly happy in his life-partner. His first wife, to whom he was wedded during his first visit to China, was a daughter of the Rev. Samuel Dyer, a very devoted agent of the London Missionary Society. Mrs. Maria Taylor did splendid service in connection with the founding of the work, and was greatly beloved by all the missionaries. Her death, in 1870, was the occasion of deep trial to Mr. Taylor, and a blow to the Mission. He afterwards married Miss [Jennie] Faulding: she was one of the party that sailed in the Lammermuir, and was greatly blessed of God as a worker among the Chinese. Early in the history of the Mission Mr. Taylor's brother-in-law, Mr. B. Broomhall, undertook the secretariat, and has long been as much an integral part of the Mission as its founder.

The remarkable increase of the working staff within the last few years will be fresh in the memory of many readers. The departure of the Stanley Smith and Studd party gave an unprecedented impetus to missionary zeal among educated young men both in this country and America. In the year 1887, in answer to the faith and prayer of the heads of the work, a hundred new workers went out to China, and are now at their posts there—either acquiring the language, or busily engaged in evangelizing. Whereunto the China Inland Mission may grow no man can tell.

It has prepared the way, as we trust, for a great ingathering of the people of Sinim into the Redeemer's fold. In helping on such a glorious consummation we pray that Mr. Hudson Taylor may long be preserved to advocate the claims of the perishing millions of that remarkable people to whose salvation he has devoted his life.


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from The Christian Portrait Gallery containing over one hundred life-like illustrations with biographic sketches. London: Morgan and Scott, [1900?].

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