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Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret


Enough that God my Father knows — Nothing this faith can dim. He gives the very best to those Who leave the choice with Him. —Selected

“After all, I might go to China!” But how many testings still lay ahead. The life that was to be exceptionally fruitful had to be rooted and grounded in God in no ordinary way.

London followed Hull, and there Hudson Taylor entered as a medical student at one of the great hospitals. He was still depending on the Lord alone for supplies, for though his father and the Society which ultimately sent him to China both offered to help with his expenses, he felt he must not lose the opportunity of further testing the promises of God. When he declined his father’s generous offer, the home circle concluded that the Society was meeting his needs. It did undertake his fees at the London Hospital, and an uncle in Soho gave him a home for a few weeks, but beyond this there was nothing between him and want in the great city, save the faithfulness of God. Before leaving Hull he had written to his mother:

I am indeed proving the truth of that word, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee.” My mind is quite as much at rest as, nay more than, it would be if I had a hundred pounds in my pocket. May He keep me ever thus, simply depending on Him for every blessing, temporal as well as spiritual.

And to his sister Amelia:

No situation has turned up in London that will suit me, but I am not concerned about it, as HE is “the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” His love is unfailing, His Word unchangeable, His power ever the same; therefore the heart that trusts Him is kept in “perfect peace.” … I know He tries me only to increase my faith, and that it is all in love. Well, if He is glorified, I am content.

For the future, near as well as distant, Hudson Taylor had one all-sufficient confidence. If that could fail, it were better to make the discovery in London than far away in China. Deliberately and of his own free will, he cut himself off from possible sources of supply. It was God, the living God he needed — a stronger faith to grasp His faithfulness, and more experience of the practicability of dealing with Him about every situation. Comfort or discomfort in London, means or the lack of means, seemed a small matter compared with deeper knowledge of the One on whom everything depends.

Now that a further opportunity had come for putting that knowledge to the test, he did not hesitate, though he knew that no little trial might be involved.

The outcome proved that in this decision the young medical student was indeed led of God. Many and unmistakable were the answers to prayer in London which strengthened his faith, affording just the preparation needed for unforeseen developments which hastened his departure for China within the next twelve months. In his own brief RETROSPECT, Mr. Taylor tells the story of these experiences. Suffice it to say here, that the loneliness and privations that were permitted, the test of endurance — when for months together he lived on nothing but brown bread and apples, walking more than eight miles a day to and from the hospital — and all the uncertainty as to his connection with the one and only society prepared to send him to China without university training, went far to make him the man of faith he was even at this early age.

For Hudson Taylor was only twenty-one when the way opened unexpectedly, and he was requested by the Chinese Evangelization Society to sail for Shanghai as soon as a vessel could be found. The Taiping Rebellion had reached the zenith of its triumphant advance.

With its capital firmly established at Nanking, its nominally Christian forces had swept over the central and northern provinces, and Peking itself was almost within their grasp. “Send me teachers, many teachers to help in making known the Truth,” wrote their leader to an American missionary whom he trusted. * “Hereafter, when my enterprise is successfully terminated, I will disseminate the Doctrine throughout the whole Empire, that all may return to the one Lord and worship the true God only. This is what my heart earnestly desires.”

* [This was Rev. F. J. Roberts of the American Baptist Missionary Union. Hung Siu-ts’uen, founder and leader of the Taiping movement, first learned the Truth from a tract given him during a literary examination in Canton by Liang A-fah, one of Morrison’s converts. Subsequently he returned to Canton to hear more of the new Doctrine, and spent two or three months in studying the Scriptures under the direction of Mr. Roberts. Though he did not remain long enough to be baptized and received into church fellowship, he had learned enough of the spirit and teaching of Christianity to make him a missionary to his own people on his return to Kwangsi, the province in which his fervent propaganda began. It was not until bitter persecution from the Chinese authorities had driven his followers to arms, that the movement took on a revolutionary character.] In a word, it seemed as though China would be forthwith thrown open to messengers of the Gospel. Christian hearts everywhere were deeply moved. Something must be done and done at once to meet so great a crisis, and for a time money poured into the treasuries.

Among other projects for advance, the British and Foreign Bible Society undertook to celebrate its Jubilee by printing a million copies of the Chinese New Testament, and the society with which Hudson Taylor was in correspondence decided to send two men to Shanghai for work in the interior. One of these, a Scotch physician, could not leave immediately, but they counted upon the younger man to go at short notice, even though it meant sacrificing the degrees he was working for in medicine and surgery.

It was a serious step to take, and Hudson Taylor naturally turned to his parents for counsel and prayer. After an interview with one of the secretaries of the Chinese Evangelization Society he wrote to his mother:

Mr. Bird has removed most of the difficulties I have been feeling, and I think it will be well to comply with his suggestion and at once propose myself to the Committee. I shall await your answer, and rely upon your prayers. If I should be accepted to go at once, would you advise me to come home before sailing? I long to be with you once more, and I know you would naturally wish to see me; but I almost think it would be easier for us not to meet, than having met to part again forever. No, not forever!

“A little while: ‘twill soon be past!

Why should we shun the promised cross?

Oh, let us in His footsteps haste, Counting for Him all else but loss:

Then, how will recompense His smile The sufferings of this little while!”

I cannot write more, but hope to hear from you as soon as possible. Pray much for me. It is easy to talk of leaving all for Christ, but when it comes to the proof — it is only as we stand “complete in Him” we can go through with it. God be with you and bless you, my own dear Mother, and give you so to realize the preciousness of Jesus that you may wish for nothing but “to know him” … even in “the fellowship of his sufferings.”

And to his sister:

Pray for me, dear Amelia, that He who has promised to meet all our need may be with me in this painful though long-expected hour.

When we look at ourselves, at the littleness of our love, the barrenness of our service and the small progress we make toward perfection, how soul-refreshing it is to turn away to Him; to plunge afresh in “the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness”; to remember that we are “accepted in the beloved” … “who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” Oh! the fullness of Christ, the fullness of Christ.

* * * * *

China in 1854, when after a perilous voyage of five months Hudson Taylor first reached its shores, was even more of a problem to the evangelist than it is today. Shanghai and four other Treaty Ports were the only places at which foreigners were allowed to reside, and there was not a single Protestant missionary anywhere in the interior, i.e., away from the coast. Civil war was raging, and the Taiping propaganda had begun to lose its earlier characteristics.

Already it was degenerating into the corrupt political movement which deluged the country with blood and sufferings untold during the remaining eleven years of its course. Instead of being able to reach Nanking and evangelize upcountry, Hudson Taylor had the greatest difficulty in gaining a foothold even in Shanghai, and only at the most serious risk could itinerations be undertaken.

Years afterwards, when responsible himself for the guidance of many missionaries, it was easy to see that the trials of those early days were all needed. He was pioneering a way in China, little as he or anyone else could imagine it, for hundreds who were to follow. Every burden must be his, every testing real as only experience can make it. As iron is tempered to steel, his heart must be stronger and more patient than others, through having loved and suffered more. He who was to encourage thousands in a life of childlike trust, must himself learn yet deeper lessons of a Father’s loving care. So difficulties were permitted to gather about him, especially at first when impressions are deep and lasting, difficulties attended by many a deliverance which made them a lifelong blessing.

To begin with, Shanghai was in the grip of war. A band of rebels known as the “Red Turbans” was in possession of the native city, close to the Foreign Settlement, and forty to fifty thousand of the national forces were encamped round about. Fighting was almost continuous, and the foreign militia had frequently to be called out to protect the Settlement. Everything was at famine prices, and both the city and Settlement were so crowded that accommodation was scarcely to be obtained at any price. Had it not been that Dr. Lockhart of the London Mission was able to receive him for a time, the new arrival would have been hard put to it. Even so, sharp fighting was to be seen from his windows, and he was unable to walk in any direction without witnessing misery such as he had never dreamed before.

It was also bitterly cold when Hudson Taylor first reached Shanghai, and as coal was selling at fifty dollars a ton it was not possible to do much to warm the houses. He was not accustomed to luxuries and was thankful for a shelter anywhere ashore but he suffered not a little from the penetrating chill and damp.

My position is a very difficult one [he wrote soon after his arrival]. Dr. Lockhart has taken me to reside with him for the present, as houses are not to be had for love or money. … No one can live in the city. … They are fighting now while I write, and the house shakes with the report of cannon.

It is so cold that I can hardly think or hold the pen. You will see from my letter to Mr. Pearse * how perplexed I am. It will be four months before I can hear in reply, and the very kindness of the missionaries who have received me with open arms makes me fear to be burdensome.

Jesus will guide me aright. … I love the Chinese more than ever. Oh, to be useful among them!

* [Secretary of the Chinese Evangelization Society, with Mr. Bird.]

Of his first Sunday in China he wrote:

I attended two services at the London Mission and in the afternoon went into the city with Mr. Wylie. You have never seen a city in a state of siege. … God grant you never may! We walked some distance round the wall, and sad it was to see the wreck of rows upon rows of houses. Burnt down, blown down, battered to pieces — in all stages of ruin they were! And the misery of those who once occupied them and now, at this inclement season, are driven from home and shelter is terrible to think of. …

By the time we came to the North Gate they were fighting fiercely outside the city. One man was carried in dead, another shot through the chest, and a third whose arm I examined seemed in dreadful agony. A ball had gone clean through the arm breaking the bone in passing. … A little farther on we met some men bringing in a small cannon they had captured, and following them were others dragging along by their tails [queues] five wretched prisoners. The poor fellows cried to us piteously to save them as they were hurried by, but alas, we could do nothing! They would probably be at once decapitated. It makes one’s blood run cold to think of such things.

The sufferings of those around him, and the fact that he could do little or nothing to help, would have been overwhelming, but for the strengthening of Him who suffers most.

What it means to be so far from home, at the seat of war [he added] and not able to understand or be understood by the people was fully realized.

Their utter wretchedness and misery and my inability to help them or even point them to Jesus powerfully affected me.

Satan came in as a flood, but there was One who lifted up a standard against him. Jesus IS here, and though unknown to the majority and uncared-for by many who might know Him, He is present and precious to His own.

Personal trials, too, were not lacking. For the first time in his life, Hudson Taylor found himself in a position in which he could hardly meet his financial obligations. He had willingly lived on next to nothing at home, to keep within his means, but now he could not avoid expenses altogether beyond his income. Living with others who were receiving three or four times his salary, he was obliged to board as they did, and saw his small resources melt away with alarming rapidity. At home he had been a collector for foreign missions, and knew what it was to receive the hardly earned contributions of the poor. Missionary money was to him a sacred trust, and to have to use it so freely caused him real distress. Then the letters he wrote to the Society received but unsatisfactory replies. After waiting months for instructions, he might hear nothing at all in answer to his most urgent questions. The Committee in London was far away and little able to understand his circumstances.

They were mostly busy men, absorbed in their own affairs, and with the best intentions and a real desire to forward the work of God they were unable to visualize a situation so different from anything they had ever known. Hudson Taylor did his best to make matters clear to them, but month after month went by and he was left in uncertainty and financial distress.

The Shanghai dollar, previously worth about fifty cents gold, was up to twice that sum and continually rising higher, yet had no more purchasing value. Obliged to exceed his salary for the necessaries of life, he made use of a letter of credit provided against emergencies but could not obtain any assurance that his bills would be honored. It was a painful situation for one so conscientious in money matters, and cost him many a wakeful night.

Then with the heat of summer came added perplexities. Not from his own Committee, but in a roundabout way Hudson Taylor learned that the Scotch physician who was to be his colleague had already sailed from England with wife and children. No instructions had reached him as to providing accommodation for the family, and as the weeks went by he realized that unless he took steps in the matter they would be left without a roof over their heads. Without authorization for such an expenditure, he had to find and rent rooms of some sort for five people, and a difficult proposition it proved to be. Not daring to afford a sedan chair — the proper means of transport — he spent himself searching all through city and Settlement, in the blinding heat of August, for houses that were not to be had. His Shanghai friends assured him that the only thing to do was to buy land and build immediately. How could he tell them the true situation or reveal his lack of funds? Criticism was already too current in the community as to the management of the society he represented; so he had to keep his troubles to himself, as far as possible, and seek to cast his burden upon the Lord.

One who is really leaning on the Beloved [he wrote under the circumstances] finds it always possible to say, “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” But I am so apt, like Peter, to take my eyes off the One to be trusted and leek at the winds and waves. … Oh for more stability! The reading of the Word and meditation on the promises have been increasingly precious to me of late. At first I allowed my desire to acquire the language speedily to have undue prominence and a deadening effect on my soul. But now, in the grace that passes all understanding, the Lord has again caused His face to shine upon me.

And to his sister he added:

I have been puzzling my brains again about a house, etc., but to no effect. So I have made it a matter of prayer, and have given it entirely into the Lord’s hands, and now I feel quite at peace about it. He will provide and be my guide in this and every other perplexing step.

It must have seemed almost too good to be true when, only two days after the above was written, Hudson Taylor heard of premises that could be rented, and before the month was over found himself in possession of a house large enough to accommodate his expected colleagues. Five rooms upstairs and seven down seemed indeed a spacious residence. And though it was only a poor Chinese place, built of wood and very ramshackle, it was right among the people, near the North Gate of the city. Here then he established himself six months after his arrival in China, and though the situation was so dangerous that his teacher did not dare to go with him, he was able to engage a Shanghai Christian, an educated man, who could help him with the local dialect.

To be among the Chinese in a place of his own, and able, with the help of his new teacher, to carry on daily meetings and do a good deal of medical work, was joy indeed! But the location proved more perilous than he had anticipated. It was beyond the protection of the Settlement and within range of the Imperial artillery constantly covering the North Gate, so that it was not difficult to discover why the house had been left vacant. For almost three months the young missionary was able to hold on in the hope of some change for the better. But then the situation became desperate. His life had repeatedly been in danger, and he was obliged to witness day by day scenes of fiendish cruelty. At last the premises next door was set on fire with the intention of driving out the foreigner. No choice was left but to go back to the London Mission and there, just in time for the arrival of the Parkers, a refuge was found.

A little house on the London Missionary Society property, close to Dr. Lockhart’s had been the home of Hudson Taylor’s dearest friends in China. Often had he shared their fireside, rejoicing in the happiness of the young English missionary and his wife. * But with the coming of their first child the home had been broken up and the father had taken his motherless little one to the care of fellow-workers. In his sorrow for his friend, Hudson Taylor had not realized the bearing upon his own situation of the empty house so rich in memories. But before he had to leave his dangerous location near the North Gate, the Burdon home was for rent. The arrival of the Parkers was expected daily, and though it left him with only three dollars in hand, Hudson Taylor secured the house on his own responsibility, just in time to receive his colleagues, including a baby born at sea.

* [Rev. J. S. Burdon of the Church Missionary Society, afterwards Bishop of Hong Kong, for nearly fifty years a devoted and successful missionary in China.] To help the situation he was glad to sublet half the house to another missionary family in distress, but that left only three rooms for the Parkers and himself. Even so he was not able to furnish them adequately, his few belongings making a poor show when six people had to be provided for. But this was only the beginning of troubles; for Dr. Parker, too, had but a few dollars in hand, after the long voyage by sailing ship, and was depending upon a letter of credit from the Society, which by some mistake did not turn up. It was supposed to have been sent off before the Parkers left England, but month after month went by and there was no word of it or reference to its nonappearance. Not having been led to expect severe winters, the family were in sore need of warmer clothing and bedding. How they lived at all through those trying months it is hard to see, and the comments of the foreign community can easily be imagined.

Quietly Dr. and Mrs. Parker held on, not turned aside from their missionary work by the tempting possibilities open to a medical man in Shanghai. He went out regularly with his young colleague to evangelize in the city and surrounding villages, and at home in their crowded quarters they devoted themselves assiduously to study. But all this meant lessons burned into Hudson Taylor’s heart of how NOT to deal with those who, on the human side, are dependent on one’s care. The members of the Committee in London were several of them dear, personal friends of the missionaries. Fellowship with them in spiritual things, at Tottenham and elsewhere, could never be forgotten, and even when feeling their mistakes most keenly, Hudson Taylor longed for their atmosphere of prayer and love for the Word of God. But something somehow was wanting, and just what it was the young missionary had to discover, that he might be practical as well as spiritual in his leadership in the days to come. So the iron, as with Joseph long ago, entered into his very soul; but from this endurance was to spring heart’s ease for many another.

You ask how I get over my troubles [he wrote to his sister and intimate correspondent]. This is the way. … I take them to the Lord. Since writing the above, I have been reading my evening portion — Psalms 72 to 74. Read them and see how applicable they are. I don’t know how it is, but I can seldom read Scripture now without tears of joy and gratitude. …

I see that to be as I am and have been since my arrival has really been more conducive to improvement and progress than any other position would have been, though in many respects it has been painful and far from what I should myself have chosen. Oh, for more implicit reliance on the wisdom and love of God!

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