“Dear God, if you should give us a son, grant that he may work for you in China.” James and Amelia Taylor prayed in the parlor behind Barnsley’s busiest chemist shop.
Taylor’s Childhood Days
On May 21, 1832, Amelia Taylor was 24 at that time and gave a son to her family. They called him James Hudson Taylor—Hudson was his mother’s maiden name. Taylor loved to hear the stories when his grandfather had entertained the family’s most distinguished visitor. Taylor spent his childhood and teenage years at 21 Cheapside, Barnsley which was not far away from the spot where John Wesley had preached in June 1786, while he age 82. Years later, Taylor’s sister Amelia remembered how the children loved to hear their father and his friends talk like:
Theology, sermons, politics, the Lord’s work at home and abroad, all were discussed with earnestness and intelligence. It made a great impression on us as children.1
Taylor has had two sisters and a brother—Amelia, William who died at the age of seven, and Louisa. He himself sometimes would say, “When I am a man, I mean to be a missionary and go to China.” Taylor’s father takes his four children into his bedroom, kneels at the four-poster bed, and with his arms around them, prays for each of them. After that, Taylor and his sisters would go to their own rooms to read their Bibles for a while. Their father always says, “Learn to love your Bible. God cannot lie. He cannot mislead you. He cannot fail.”
Taylor’s Teenage Days
He began to love nature and learned to grow ferns and flowers he had collected in the woods. He was encouraged by his father to collect and subscribe to a natural history magazine, and supply him with pillboxes from the shop for his collection of insects and butterflies. Soon after Taylor’s 15th birthday, a vacancy occurred for a junior clerk in a Barnsley bank. His father was anxious that his son should learn how to keep accounts and write business letters, and Taylor was accepted for the post. From his earliest years, he had seen the value of prayer and reading the Bible. Every morning after breakfast his father read from the Scriptures. That was fine, but then he would pray for twenty minutes in magnificent biblical languages which had begun to irritate Taylor.
“If there is such a person as God, then to trust Him, to obey Him, and to be fully given up to His service must surely be the best and wisest course. For some reason or other, I cannot be saved. The best thing I can do is to enjoy the pleasures of this world, for there’s no hope for me beyond the grave.”2
He gave up praying and found going to church a bore. He came to think like his skeptical colleagues. If what they believed was right, there was no need to worry about the doom which his parents thought awaited the ungodly. A month after his 17th birthday in June 1849, Taylor went for an afternoon walk and picked up a gospel tract to find something to pass the time and listened to a song lyrics:
“There’ll be a story at the beginning, he thought, with a moral at the end.
I’ll read the story and skip the sermon.”
This track was about a coalman in Somerset who was seriously ill with tuberculosis. Before he died some Christians visited him and talked to him about passages from the Bible. The coalman was particularly struck by the verse which says that Jesus bore our sins in His own body on the cross. When the visiting Christians spoke of Jesus’ cry from the cross, “It is finished,” the coalman understood its meaning and became a Christian.
Taylor didn’t know that he was fifty miles away from his mother who was staying with her sister at home with several hours to spare. Meanwhile, his mother went to her room, locked the door, and made up her mind not only to pray for Taylor’s conversion but to stay in the room until she felt sure her prayers were answered. Taylor reflected on the tract and understood that it was a simple tale and yet it made him sense and said with a question: “A full and perfect atonement and satisfaction for sin: the debt was paid by the substitute. Christ died for my sins.” Taylor knelt on the floor of a Barnsley warehouse and became a Christian. He then was given a text from Ezekiel 36:26: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” One Sunday evening, since the cold kept Taylor home inside, he spent his time talking to God and trying to listen to Him. He repeatedly thanked Jesus for what He had done for him by saying: “Dear God, please give me some work to do for you, as an outlet for my love and gratitude.” Then, he knew just how God wanted him to spend the rest of his life and said to himself.
I felt that I was entering into a covenant with the Almighty. I felt as though I wished to withdraw my promise but could not. Something seemed to say: ‘Your prayer is answered!’ And from that time the conviction has never left me that I was called to China. (J. H. Taylor)
Taylor’s Journey for Mission
In the early beginnings of 1850, Taylor discovered that an interdenominational society called the Chinese Association had been organized in London. It planned to employ Chinese evangelists to cooperate with existing missions in taking the gospel to the unreached interior of China. Taylor wrote a letter to the secretary of the Association, George Pearse asking him to send circulars, collecting cards, and anything which could help him introduce the work of the Association to his friends.
One day, a minister of Barnsley’s Congregational asked Taylor, “You may certainly borrow the book, and what, may I ask, is your interest in it?”
Taylor replied, “God has called me to spend my life in missionary service in China.”
The minister asked, “And how do you propose to go there?”
He replied, “I don’t know, but I think it likely that I shall need to go as the twelve and the seventy disciples did in Judea, without a stick, or bag, or food, or money—relying on Him who had sent them to supply all their needs.”
The minister gently placed his hand on Taylor’s shoulder and said, “Ah, my boy, as you grow older you will become wiser than that. Such an idea would do very well in the days when Christ Himself was on earth, but not now.” On March 22, 1852, Taylor told his mother that he had made up his mind: his friends at Andrew Jukes’ assembly now believed, as he did, that God was calling him to go to China as soon as possible.
A Man of Gospel Landed in China
On Monday, September 19, 1853, Taylor when he was 21, and his two friends—Arthur Taylor who is also a missionary and an elderly minister whom the Taylors met in Liverpool started their journey to China. Taylor suggested them to sing of John Newton’s hymn—
“How sweet the name of Jesus sound,
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.”3
Then he prayed with his firm voice until he commanded to God those he loved and concluded: “None of these things move me, nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received from the Lord Jesus to tell the gospel of the grace of God.” On Wednesday, March 1, 1854, Taylor and his team reached Wusong and Huangpu river towards Shanghai. He saw European ships sharing the French men-of-war. A dozen or more foreign business houses stood shoulder to shoulder with an ornate Chinese temple now used as a customs house. What he had read about in the pages of The Gleaner had become a reality before his very eyes.
Members of the China Inland Mission group that sailed to China in 1866. P.C.: @SCMP.COM/Post-Magazine
Every day Taylor gave time to teaching three new Chinese Christians—Guihua, Si, and Tsien; also, he spent time preaching to as many as his house would hold, and going out and preaching on the streets of Shanghai. Taylor changed his dress into a Chinese dress which he used to wear always. This has made him more effective in preaching and sharing the gospel to Chinese people and said, “I concluded it was my duty to follow his example.”
One day, Taylor was talking to some Chinese guests in the cabin of his boat while at Nanxun. “It’s foolish to worship idols. We are indebted to the One, True and Living God for every good gift,” he said.
One Chinese man replied, “But surely you are too sweeping in your statement. There are good idols as well as many that are good for nothing.”
“And which are the good idols?” Taylor asked.
“They are in there,” he said by pointing in the direction of a nearby temple. “Many years ago, two men came to our town with a boatload of rice to sell. It happened that it was a time of famine. There had been no harvest and the people were hungry. Seeing this, the strangers took the rice and gave it away among the poorest people. Then they couldn’t face going home again.”
“Because they had given away the rice instead of selling it.”
“It wasn’t their own?” Taylor asked.
“No, it belonged to their master. And as they were afraid to meet him again, they both drowned themselves here in the river. The people said they were gods and made idols to represent them. They built that temple and the two men have been worshipped there ever since.”
“Then your idols were only men. And men who stole their master’s property and did wrong by taking their own lives.” Taylor went on to tell his guests for the first time about the true and living God who gave His only Son that whoever believed in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.4
Taylor’s Contributions toward China
The China Inland Mission Building, the organization’s former London headquarters. P.C.: @SCMP.COM/Post-Magazine
Taylor started his work in various ways. His goal was to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the provinces of China. He shared the gospels to all the people, distributed the gospel tracts on the roads, inside the cities, and in many places. In the year 1865, he summed up his vision for the upliftment of Chinese people, and with great faith though limited financial resources, he founded the China Inland Mission (CIM). Starting from Shanghai, he traveled to almost all the provinces of China, and the gospel spread as widely as possible throughout China. Frequently, Taylor has been forced to return to England as his health condition repeatedly became poor, but had continually concern for the millions of Chinese people who lived in the provinces where no missionary had ever gone.
- For the first time, Taylor translated English Bible into the Nigpo language.
- In 1866, twenty-two missionaries including Taylors, the mission grew rapidly in numbers and outreach.
- In 1905 after his death, China Inland Mission (CIM) became an International body with 825 missionaries living in all eighteen provinces of China.
- Set up more than 300 stations of work in China.
- Erected more than 500 local Chinese helpers.
- Raised 849 missionaries who ventured out for the gospel in China.
- 1,25,000 Chinese were converted into Christians and followed his steps.
- He also encouraged single women as an evangelical to live in the interior of China.
At each meal, Taylor and friends began to sing the prayer:
“Oh, send a hundred workers, Lord,
Those of Thy heart and mind and choice,
To tell Thy love both far and wide—
So, we shall praise Thee and rejoice;
And above the rest, this note shall swell,
My Jesus hath done all things well.
James Hudson Taylor (center) with missionaries from his group, in 1891. Photos: OMF International; Helen Leavey. P.C.: @SCMP.COM/Post-Magazine
Taylor’s Last Days before Heaven
A young Chinese evangelist and his eighteen-year-old bride had been reading Taylor’s Retrospect, newly translated into Chinese, and decided they wanted to meet the author. At the CIM house in Changsha, they were told the sad news but allowed to join one of the small groups who gathered at the bedside.
He held Taylor’s hand in his and said.
“Dear and venerable pastor. We truly love you. We have come today to see you. We longed to look into your face. We too are your little children. You opened for us the road to heaven. You loved and prayed for us for many years. We came today to look upon your face. You look so happy, so peaceful! You are smiling. Your face is quiet and pleased. You cannot speak to us tonight. We do not want to bring you back: but we will follow you. We shall come to you. You will welcome us by and by.”
They carried the coffin—the best the Chinese Christians who insisted on buying it could find—down to a ship moored at the Xiang River. The captain flew his flag at half-mast as they sailed northeast to join the mighty Yangzi. In 1988, Dr. Jim Taylor, James Hudson Taylor’s grandson, discovered the monument stones preserved in the former British Consulate in Zhenjiang, now a museum. The inscription was intact:
“Sacred to the memory of the Rev. J. Hudson Taylor, the revered founder of the China Inland Mission, born May 21, 1832, died June 3, 1905. A man in Christ.”
The Protestant Mission of China
- In 1807, Robert Morrison was the first Protestant missionary to enter the country and began translating the Bible.
- From 1831-35 Karl Friedrich August von Gützlaff (1803-1851) distributed many writings on his trip through China.
- The reports of the first missionaries created great interest in China in England and Europe. In 1852 the Chinese Evangelization Society (CES) was founded in London.
- In the course of the Opium Wars, xenophobia increased in China and persecution broke out (1837). The next wave of persecution followed in 1847-52, triggered by the pro-western Taiping Rebellion. When the Taiping were able to settle outside Shanghai for a short time, many believed that the opening of China was imminent.
- CES asked its first missionary to drop out of medical school and go to China immediately. Sun traveled James Hudson Taylor to China on September 19, 1853.
- In 1854, Hudson Taylor arrived in Shanghai, China, and quickly realized that the other missionaries had no interest in penetrating inland China. He eagerly set about studying the language and undertook a total of 18 preaching trips, some of them inland. From the ninth trip onwards, he dressed in Chinese. Although he was mocked by his compatriots for this, he sensed the closeness he gained to his beloved Chinese.
- In 1857, Hudson Taylor left CES (his mission society) for various reasons and lived purely by faith. During this time, he started medical work in Ningbo. In 1858 Taylor married Maria Dyer in Ningbo.
“Do not have your concert first, and then tune your instrument afterward. Begin the day with the Word of God and prayer, and get first of all into harmony with Him.” (—J. Hudson Taylor)
For Further Readings:
- Roger Steer, “A Man in Christ” in J. Hudson Taylor. Published by: OMF and Paternoster Lifestyle, Bletchley 2016.
- J. Herbert Kane, The Legacy of J. Hudson Taylor. International Bulletin of Missionary Research. April, 1984.