The Secret

According to the Chicago Tribune’s feature on Christianity in China, “Christian churches, most of them underground, now have roughly 70 million members, as many as the [Communist] party itself.” Today the Chinese church is among the fastest-growing in the world, and it is safe to call this an outgrowth of Hudson Taylor’s pioneer missions work spanning the latter half of the 19th century.

Though his methods were brilliant and biblical, it was Taylor’s character that sustained his work and led to fruitfulness during continual “conflicts without, fears within.” At the heart of his maturity was his “spiritual secret.” Far from the esoteric enigmas of Gnosticism, his secret is found plainly in Scripture:

“Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39)

In total surrender to God, he found only one place to meet his needs. His letters describe his response to this passage:

“No matter how intricate my path, how difficult my service; no matter how sad my bereavement, how far away my loved ones; no matter how helpless I am, how deep are my soul-yearnings—Jesus can all, all, and more than meet. He not only promises me rest. . . . He not only promises me drink to alleviate my thirst. No, better than that! ‘He who trusts me (who believeth on me, takes me at my word) out of him shall flow…’”

The overflow of Taylor’s life has far outlived him as he sought fulfillment in Christ alone. But how did he experience fullness in Christ when his life was one of such difficult circumstances? His study of a Greek verb tense further revealed the secret:

“’Come unto me and drink.’ Not, come and take a hasty draught; not, come and slightly alleviate, or for a short time remove one’s thirst. No! ‘drink’ or ‘be drinking’ constantly, habitually….One coming, one drinking may refresh and comfort: but we are to be ever coming, ever drinking.”

Total surrender means total reliance on God. Like Paul, Taylor found the secret of contentment by entering God’s rest:

“How little I believed the rest and peace of heart I now enjoy were possible down here! It is heaven begun below, is it not? . . . Compared with this union with Christ, heaven or earth are unimportant accidents. . . . He is our power for service and fruit-bearing, and his bosom is our resting placing now and forever.”

His joy in Christ was so all-consuming he lived Paul’s words: “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17, 18). During terrible trials he wrote of “the joy of knowing the living of God, of seeing the living God, of resting on the living God.”

Hope was indeed the bridge from Taylor’s faith in God to his labor of love in China. He knew with Christ carrying the yoke alongside him, his sacrifices were worthwhile and bearable. He believed God would provide in every way because of His promises and demonstration of faithfulness. And he looked forward to an eternity where Chinese believers would praise the Lamb with him.

Hudson Taylor presents a formidable example of radical dependence on God. Though I’m light-years behind him in spiritual maturity, I still want to learn the secret of entering God’s rest by continually satisfying all need in Christ. From there the rest takes care of itself, as Taylor illustrated: “If you are ever drinking at the Fountain with what will your life be running over?—Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!”

Osnos, Evan. “Jesus in China.” The Chicago Tribune, June 22, 2008. .

Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Sweetness

In 1849 a British teenager gave his heart to the Lord. But unlike those who seek salvation for “fire insurance” alone, James Hudson Taylor truly committed his whole life to God. After offering himself to his Savior he wrote, “For what service I was accepted I knew not, but a deep consciousness that I was not my own took possession of me which has never since been effaced.”

He spent the next four years studying medicine under a Christian doctor, but he was also preparing for a life work in China. There God had called him to the “unreached millions” and as a result he sought experience ministering to the poor and downtrodden. Much of his free time was spent preaching the gospel in the slums and praying for the people’s needs. He also found ways to test his faith which we might view as silly today, but which proved to be an effective exercise in depending on the Lord for every need.

Such faith was critical when he sailed for China in 1953 with the Chinese Evangelization Society. There he faced trials beyond what we can imagine in a place where Westerners were few and unwelcome, lodging was scarce, and funds were perpetually low. The needs were also overwhelming as people lived in bondage to fears and superstitions, grinding poverty, and constant wars.

What is most remarkable about Taylor is not his bravery in facing such challenges, his formation of a new missionary society when his senders went into debt, or even his persistent sacrifice after losing his wife and three of his children to the hardships of the land. Thousands of English missionaries made such sacrifices during the nineteenth century. The reason Taylor stands out as the foremost pioneer of the second era in Protestant missions is his unusual insights which indeed form the basis of missionary strategy today.

First, he longed to go inland, to the “unreached peoples” as we call them today. He wanted to go to China to reach those who could not possibly hear the gospel where they were. And once he got to China, he wanted to go where no Westerners had gone before to the isolated villages that could only be reached by river or canal. He didn’t think in terms of people groups but he was strategic in his planning and prayer for workers in every unreached province. At the foot of his bed hung a map of China with these provinces marked out, for which he raised up hundreds of missionaries. This is why he formed the China Inland Mission, which continues today in the form of Overseas Missionary Fellowship.

Second, he was the first in China, and one of the first in the world, to become “culturally relevant.” Despite the scorn of other foreigners, he dressed as the Chinese did so that he would be more accepted by the people. He even adopted the local hairstyle, shaving his head save a single ponytail at the top. In local dress he found that people were more attentive to the gospel than his foreignness. He also learned Chinese, translated the Bible into Chinese, and taught new believers how to read so they could understand the Word for themselves. While such steps may seem second-nature today, they were radical and even scandalous, but ultimately much more effective in communicating the gospel without cultural barriers.

Third, Taylor balanced social relief with the preaching the gospel. His medical training gave him many inroads to people’s hearts as he demonstrated the love of God through prayer and practical service. Teaching the illiterate was also both a pragmatic and spiritual effort. While theologians debated the continuum of social work and evangelism, Taylor and his workers practiced both in tandem.

Fourth, he actively promoted women’s work in missions, sending his own wife as one of the movement’s pioneers. Though he bore much criticism for this, he helped pave the way for females and married couples to work overseas. This is especially significant because experience has shown women are often more effective at missionary work than men, and are critical in reaching women and children where it might be inappropriate for men to make such contacts.

Fifth, he counted on indigenous leaders to continue the work. Today we speak of native leadership as if it were a new revelation, but from the start Taylor trained converts to reach their people. About native believers he wrote, “the hope for China lies doubtless in them.” Indeed, he raised up many native missionaries who played vital roles in leading the Chinese church, especially when foreign policy during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 forced many missionaries out of inland China.

Read the book. They have it at the Akron Public Library (as soon as I return it!)

But these many and far-reaching contributions to missions work are not Taylor’s greatest secret to success. Stay tuned for “Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret”….