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Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret


And evermore beside him on his way The unseen Christ shall move; That he may lean upon His arm and say, “Dost Thou, dear Lord, approve?” —H. W. Longfellow

It was no perfect being to whom this sense of call had come.

A normal boy living a busy life, whether as clerk in a bank or assistant in his father’s store, he had many temptations, and when a lively cousin came to be his roommate it was not easy to keep first things first and make time for prayer. Yet without this there cannot but be failure and unrest. The soul that is starved cannot rejoice in the Lord, and Hudson Taylor had to learn that there is no substitute for real spiritual blessing.

“I saw Him and I sought Him, I had Him and I wanted Him,” wrote one who had gone far in the knowledge of God; and the Barnsley lad, though only at the beginning, had the same blessed hunger and thirst which the Lord loves to fill. “My soul thirsteth for thee,” was the longing of David. “My soul shall be satisfied,” yet in the very same breath, “my soul followeth hard after thee.”

It was in one such experience of defeat, longing and deeper blessing that the touch of God came to Hudson Taylor in a new way. In a moment and without a spoken word, he understood.

He had come to an end of himself, to a place where God only could deliver, where he MUST have His succor, His saving strength. If God would but work on his behalf, would break the power of sin, giving him inward victory in Christ, he would renounce all earthly prospects, he would go anywhere, do anything, suffer whatever His cause might demand and be wholly at His disposal. This was the cry of his heart, if God would but sanctify him and keep him from falling.

Never shall I forget [he wrote long after] the feeling that came over me then. Words could not describe it. I felt I was in the presence of God, entering into a covenant with the Almighty. I felt as though I wished to withdraw my promise but could note Something seemed to say, “Your prayer is answered; your conditions are accepted.” And from that time the conviction has never left me that I was called to China.

China, that great country familiar to him from childhood through his father’s prayers; China, to which he had been dedicated even before birth; China, whose need and darkness had often called him from afar — was that indeed God’s purpose for his life?

Distinctly, as if a voice had spoken, the word came in the silence, “Then go for Me to China.”

From that moment life was unified in one great purpose and prayer. For Hudson Taylor was “not disobedient to the heavenly vision,” and to him obedience to the will of God was a very practical matter. At once he began to prepare, as well as he could, for a life that would call for physical endurance. He took more exercise in the open air, exchanged his feather bed for a hard mattress and was watchful not to be self-indulgent at table. Instead of going to church twice on Sunday, he gave up the evening to visiting in the poorest parts of the town, distributing tracts and holding cottage meetings. In crowded lodging-house kitchens he became a welcome figure, and even on the race course his bright face and kindly words opened the way for many a straight message. All this led to more Bible study and prayer, for he soon found that there is One and One alone who can make us “fishers of men.”

The study of Chinese, also, was entered upon with ardor. A grammar of that formidable language would have cost more than twenty dollars and a dictionary at least seventy-five. He could afford neither. But with a copy of the Gospel of Luke in Chinese, by patiently comparing brief verses with their equivalent in English, he found out the meaning of more than six hundred characters. These he learned and made into a dictionary of his own, carrying on at the same time other lines of study.

I have begun to get up at five in the morning [he wrote to his sister at school] and find it necessary to go to bed early. I must study if I mean to go to China. I am fully decided to go, and am making every preparation I can. I intend to rub up my Latin, to learn Greek and the rudiments of Hebrew, and get as much general information as possible. I need your prayers.

Several years with his father as a dispensing chemist had increased his desire to study medicine, and when an opportunity occurred of becoming assistant to a leading physician in Hull, he was not slow to avail himself of it. This meant leaving the home circle, but first in the doctor’s residence and later in the home of an aunt, his mother’s sister, the young assistant was still surrounded with refinement and comfort.

This proved, indeed, one of the elements in the new life which led him to serious thinking. Dr. Hardey paid a salary sufficient to cover personal expenses, but Hudson Taylor was giving, as a matter of duty and privilege, a tenth of all that came to him to the work of God. He was devoting time on Sunday to evangelism in a part of the town where there was urgent need for temporal as well as spiritual help. And this raised the question, why should he not spend less for himself and have the joy of giving more to others?

On the outskirts of the town, beyond some vacant lots, a double row of cottages bordered a narrow canal which gave the name of “Drainside” to the none-too-attractive neighborhood. The canal was just a deep ditch into which Drainside people were in the habit of throwing rubbish to be carried away, in part, whenever the tide rose high enough — for Hull is a seaport town. The cottages, like peas in a pod, followed the windings of the Drain for half a mile or so, each having one door and two windows. It was for a rented room in one of these little places that Hudson Taylor left his aunt’s pleasant home on Charlotte Street. Mrs. Finch, his landlady, was a true Christian and delighted to have “the young doctor” under her roof. She did her best, no doubt, to make the chamber clean and comfortable, polishing the fireplace opposite the window and making up the bed in the corner farthest from the door. A plain deal table and a chair or two completed the appointments. The room was only twelve feet square and did not need much furniture. It was on a level with the ground and opened familiarly out of the kitchen. From the window one looked across to “The Founder’s Arms,” a countrified public house whose lights were useful on dark nights shining across the mud and water of the Drain.

Whatever it may have been in summer, toward the close of November when Hudson Taylor made it his home, Drainside must have seemed dreary enough. To add to the changed conditions he was boarding himself, which meant that he bought his meager supplies as he returned from the surgery and rarely sat down to a proper meal. His walks were solitary, his evenings spent alone, and Sundays brought long hours of work in his district or among the crowds who frequented the Humber Dock.

Having now the twofold object in view [he recalled] of accustoming myself to endure hardness,and of economizing in order to help those among whom I was laboring in the Gospel, I soon found that I could live upon very much less than I had previously thought possible. Butter, milk and other luxuries I ceased to use, and found that by living mainly on oatmeal and rice, with occasional variations, a very small sum was sufficient for my needs. In this way I had more than two-thirds of my income available for other purposes, and my experience was that the less I spent on myself and the more I gave to others, the fuller of happiness and blessing did my soul become.

For God is no man’s debtor, and here in his solitude Hudson Taylor was learning something of what He can be to the one who follows hard after Him. In these days of easy-going Christianity, is it not well to remind ourselves that it really does COST to be a man or woman whom God can use? One cannot obtain a Christlike character for nothing; one cannot do a Christlike work save at great price.

“Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of, and be baptized with the baptism wherewith I am baptized?”

China was occupying no little public attention at this time, because of the remarkable developments of the Taiping Rebellion. Many were praying, and countless hearts were more or less stirred about its evangelization. But when disappointment came, and the failure of enterprises that promised well, the majority ceased to help or care. Prayer meetings dwindled to nothing, would-be missionaries turned to other callings, and contributions dropped off to such an extent that more than one society actually ceased to exist. But here and there were those upon whom the Lord could count - — poor and weak perhaps, unknown and unimportant, but ready, by grace, to go all lengths in carrying out His purposes.

Here in his quiet lodging at Drainside was such a man. With all his limitations, Hudson Taylor desired supremely a Christlike character and life. As test came after test that might have been avoided, he chose the pathway of self-emptying and the cross, not from any idea of merit in so doing, but simply because led by the Spirit of God. Thus he was in an attitude that did not hinder blessing.

“Behold I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it; for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and have not denied my name.”

“A great door and effectual … and there are many adversaries.”

Adversaries there certainly were to oppose Hudson Taylor’s progress at this time. He was entering upon one of the most fruitful periods of his life, rich in blessing for himself and others.

Is it any wonder that the tempter was at hand? He was alone, hungry for love and sympathy, living a life of self-denial not easy for a lad to bear. It was just the opportunity for the Devil, and he was permitted for a while to do his worst, that even that might be overruled for good.

For it was just at this juncture, when he had been at Drainside only a few weeks, that the dreaded blow fell, and the one he loved with a great love seemed lost to him forever. For two long years he had hoped and waited. The very uncertainty of the future made him long the more for her presence, her companionship through all changes. But now the dream was over. Seeing that nothing could dissuade her friend from his missionary purpose, the young music teacher — with her sweet face and lovely voice — made it plain at last that she was not prepared to go to China. Her father would not hear of it, nor did she feel fitted for such a life. This could mean but one thing, though the heart that loved her best was well-nigh broken.

“Is it all worth while?” urged the tempter. “Why should you go to China, after all? Why toil and suffer all your life for an ideal of duty? Give it up now, while you can yet win her. Earn a proper living like everybody else, and serve the Lord at home. For you CAN win her yet.”

Love pleaded hard. It was a moment of wavering. The enemy came in like a flood, for the lad was benumbed with sorrow, and instead of turning to the Lord for comfort, he kept it to himself and nursed his grief. But he was not forsaken.

Alone in the surgery [he wrote the following day] I had a melting season. I was thoroughly softened and humble, and had a wonderful manifestation of the love of God. “A broken and a contrite heart” He did not despise, but answered my cry for blessing in very deed and truth.

Yes, He has humbled me and shown me what I am, revealing Himself as a present, a very present help in time of trouble. And though He does not deprive me of feeling in my trial, He enables me to sing, “Yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”…

Now I am happy in my Savior’s love. I can thank Him for ALL, even the most painful experiences of the past, and trust Him without fear for all that is to come.

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