The focus of this message on Hudson Taylor how he experienced union with Christ. And of course, the warning flags go up immediately because it is well known that Hudson Taylor was significantly influenced by the Keswick Movement and its views of sanctification, which, in the worst exponents, are seriously flawed. My conclusion will be that Hudson Taylor is not one of those worst exponents, and that he was protected from Keswick’s worst flaws by his allegiance to the Bible, his belief in the sovereignty of God, and his experience of lifelong suffering and sorrow.
Which means that there are glorious things to see in the life of Hudson Taylor, and wonderful lessons to be learned about abiding in Christ and about faith and prayer and obedience and suffering. Whatever else Keswick’s teaching may have gotten wrong, it was not wrong to say to all Christians: There is more joy, more peace, more love, more power, more fruit to be enjoyed in Christ than we are presently enjoying.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:1, “As you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, do so more and more.”
- 1 Thessalonians 4:10, “Concerning brotherly love . . . we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.”
- Philippians 1:9, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more.”
- Ephesians 5:18–19, “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”
- And most amazing of all: Ephesians 3:16–19, “May the Father grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Any view of the Christian life that does not promote the desire for, and the pursuit of, this inexpressible fullness — this more — is as defective as the view that says it’s usual way of coming is through a single crisis experience of full consecration.
Link with the Mission
The link between Hudson Taylor’s pursuit of this fullness and the legacy of the China Inland Mission is enormously instructive. It is relevant for everyone who wants to experience the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:8), and wants to see your life bear fruit all out of proportion to your limitations. And that is what I hope God does with this message: Lead you into a deeper experience of union with Christ and inspire you to venture more for his glory than you ever have.
When Hudson Taylor wrote one of his most famous sayings, “Depend upon it, GOD’S work done in GOD’S way will never lack GOD’S supplies,”1 he meant every kind of needed supply, both money and health and faith and peace and strength. And that is my prayer: That you will see and experience new possibilities for your life: More faith, more joy, more peace, more love, and all the money you need to do his will — which may be none.
And all of that because of your union with Christ, as it says in one of Taylor’s favorite texts, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” And then, because of all that, I pray you will launch into some venture, some dream, of ministry beyond all your inadequacies for the glory of Christ. Abiding in Christ produced in Hudson Taylor’s life great action and risk and discipline and self-denial — all of it sustained by great peace and great joy. That’s what I pray for us.
Unlike Robert and Hannah Smith, two of the early influences of the Keswick, Hudson Taylor did not make shipwreck of his faith. From his conversion at age 17 to his death at age 73 in 1905, he was unwavering in his allegiance to Jesus Christ and Christ’s purpose to evangelize all the provinces of China. Whatever his views of the Christian life, they served him well, and the legacy of his steadfast faith and obedience and fruitfulness is astonishing. He did not have a flashy experience and then fade away. He had an experience indeed, and then he proved Christ over and over, as the old song says, “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him, How I’ve proved Him o’re and o’re.” So his life is worth looking at.
Beginnings and Calling
He was born May 21, 1832, in Barnsley, England into a devout Methodist home. At the age of 17, he was dramatically converted through the prayers of his mother.2 He entered rudimentary medical studies as an apprentice to Robert Hardey, and sailed for China with the Chinese Evangelistic Society September 19, 1853 at the age of 21 and with no formal training in theology or missions. He landed in Shanghai March 1, the next year—five and a half months in route.
He learned the language quickly and in his first two years in China engaged in ten extended evangelistic journeys up country. After four years Taylor resigned from the Chinese Evangelistic Society because he had a deep conviction that borrowing money to sustain Christ’s work was wrong. “To borrow money implied, to my mind, a contradiction of Scripture — a confession that GOD had withheld some good thing, and a determination to get for ourselves what He had not given. . . To satisfy my conscience I was therefore compelled to resign connection with the Society which had hitherto supplied my salary.”3 That was the beginning of lifetime of never being in financial debt and never explicitly asking anyone for money4 — following the lead of his hero George Mueller.
On January 20, 1858, when he had been in China almost five years he married another missionary Maria Dyer. They were married for twelve years. When Maria died at age 33, she had given birth to eight children. Three died at birth, two in childhood and the four that lived to adulthood all became missionaries with the mission their father had founded, the China Inland Mission.
In July of 1860, Hudson and Maria sailed for England. He was seriously ill with hepatitis, and what seemed like a setback would soon give rise to one of the two most decisive event of his life.5 His burden for China grew for the next four years in England. He could not shake the idea that a new mission agency was needed. But he did not know if he could lead it. But in the same period it took the Americans to fight the Civil War, God birthed in Hudson Taylor a vision that would change the history of the largest nation on earth. The moment came on Lord’s day in June, 1865 on the Brighton beach in, England, which he describes like this.
On Sunday, June 25th, 1865, unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand or more Christian people rejoicing in their own security, while millions were perishing for lack of knowledge, I wandered out on the sands alone, in great spiritual agony; and there the LORD conquered my unbelief, and I surrendered myself to GOD for this service. I told Him that all the responsibility as to issues and consequences must rest with Him; that as His servant, it was mine to obey and to follow Him — His, to direct, to care for, and to guide me and those who might labour with me. Need I say that peace at once flowed into my burdened heart? There and then I asked Him for twenty-four fellow-workers, two for each of eleven inland provinces which were without a missionary, and two for Mongolia; and writing the petition on the margin of the Bible I had with me, I returned home with a heart enjoying rest such as it had been a stranger to for months.6
That was the birthplace of the China Inland Mission. Taylor was 33 years old. The missionaries would have no guaranteed salaries, they were not to appeal for funds, and they were to adopt Chinese dress and press the gospel to the interior. On May 26, the following year (1866) Hudson and Maria and their children sailed with the largest group of missionaries that had ever sailed to China — sixteen besides themselves. Taylor was to be the leader and settle all disputes.7 Not everyone appreciated his leadership and the demands he made on himself and everyone else. One missionary in that early group accused him of tyranny and had to be dismissed.8
The Crisis and the Experience
Three years later after prolonged frustration with his own temptations and failures in holiness, the second epoch-making experience of his life happened — the one that stamps him as a part of the Keswick movement. We will come back to this shortly, but notice for now what kind of experience was leading up to the great change. He wrote to his mother,
[The need for your prayer] has never been greater than at present. Envied by some, despised by many, hated by others, often blamed for things I never heard of or had nothing to do with, an innovator on what have become established rules of missionary practice, an opponent of mighty systems of heathen error and superstition, working without precedent in many respects and with few experienced helpers, often sick in body as well as perplexed in mind and embarrassed by circumstances—had not the Lord been specially gracious to me, had not my mind been sustained by the conviction that the work is His and that He is with me, . . . I must have fainted or broken down. But the battle is the Lord’s, and He will conquer.
We may fail — do fail continually — but He never fails. . . . I have continually to mourn that I follow at such a distance and learn so slowly to imitate my precious Master. I can not tell you how I am buffeted sometimes by temptation. I never knew how bad a heart I have. Yet I do know that I love God and love His work, and desire to serve Him only and in all things. And I value above all else that precious Saviour in whom alone I can be accepted. Often I am tempted to think that one so full of sin can not be a child of God at all. . . . May God help me to love Him more and serve Him better.9
The stage was set for the crisis which happened on September 4, 1869, in Zhenjiang and he entered a new kind of Christian experience. He exulted to one of his associates, “Oh, Mr. Judd, God has made me a new man! God has made me a new man!”10 What happened that day was not ephemeral. He looked back almost thirty years later giving thanks for the abiding experience of it.
We shall never forget the blessing we received through the words, in John iv. 14, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst,” nearly thirty years ago. As we realized that Christ literally meant what He said — that “shall” meant shall, and “never” meant never, and “thirst” meant thirst — our heart overflowed with joy as we accepted the gift. Oh, the thirst with which we had sat down, but oh, the joy with which we sprang from our seat, praising the Lord that the thirsting days were all past, and past for ever!11
Beware of being cynical here. He is not naïve. He is speaking of a thirty-year-long experience in which he battled with some very low times. “The thirsting days were all past,” does not mean he never had desires for Jesus again. It doesn’t mean he never longed for more of Christ. We will turn to what it does mean shortly. But for now simply be aware that, as his most thorough biographer wrote, his whole life “came to be revolutionized”12 by this durable experience.
His Most Difficult Days
And just in time too. Because the next year, 1870, was the most difficult of his life. His son Samuel died in January. Then in July, Maria gave birth to a son, Noel, who died two weeks later. And to crown Hudson’s sorrows on July 23, Maria died of cholera. She was 33 years old, Hudson was 38. They had four living children. It’s as though God gave Taylor this extraordinary experience not as icing on the cake of conversion, but as a way of surviving and thriving in the worst of his sorrows.
A year later, Taylor sailed for England, and while he was there married, in 1871, the woman with whom he would spend the rest of his life, Jennie Faulding, on November 28. They were married for 33 years before she died in 1904, the year before he did. They had a son and daughter besides the four children from Maria. During one period from 1881 to 1890 Jennie was in England not China while Hudson traveled to China twice, separating them for a total of about six years during that season.
In his lifetime, Hudson Taylor made ten voyages to China, which means, as I calculate it that he spent between four and five years on the water in transit — a good reminder, I suppose, that he was pilgrim here. Over time, his ministry became increasingly global as the ambassador for China and for the China Inland Mission. He was the General Director from 1865 to 1902, when he handed over the role to Dixon Hoste.
He lived to see the horrible Boxer rebellion which raged against all Christians and foreigners in China in 1900. The China Inland Mission (and Taylor was leading it at the time) lost more members than any other agency: 58 adults and 21 children were killed. But the next year, when the allied nations were demanding compensation from the Chinese government, Taylor refused to accept payment for loss of property or life. His aim was always to win the Chinese, not to demand justice for himself or his mission.
His Death and Legacy
In February of 1905, Hudson Taylor sailed for China for the last time. After a tour of some of the mission stations he died June 3 at Changsha, Hunan, at the age of 73. He was buried at Zhenjiang by the side of his first wife and his four children who had died in China. Jennie had died in Switzerland the year before. The cemetery was destroyed as part of the Cultural Revolution and today industrial buildings stand over the site.
At the time of Hudson Taylor’s death, the China Inland Mission was an international body with 825 missionaries living in all eighteen provinces of China with more than 300 mission stations, more than 500 local Chinese helpers, and 25,000 Christian converts.13 Among the better known luminaries who served China with CIM are the Cambridge Seven, William Borden, James Fraser, John and Betty Stam. Today about 1,600 missionaries work for what is now known as OMF international.14 It international headquarters is in Singapore and the mission is led by Patrick Fung who is Chinese. The Mission Statement is: “To Glorify God by the urgent evangelization of East Asia’s Millions.” And the Vision Statement is: “Through God’s grace, we aim to see an indigenous, biblical church movement in each people group of East Asia, evangelizing their own people and reaching out in mission to other peoples.” I think Hudson Taylor would be pleased.
Next year (2015) will mark the 150th anniversary of the mission that Hudson Taylor founded. In 1900, there were 100,000 Christians in China, and today there are probably around 150,000,000.15 This is God’s work, one plants another waters, but God gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:6). Nevertheless it is the fruit of faithful labor. And in Hudson Taylor labored longer and harder than most, and that labor was sustained by union with Christ. And so we should look at what this meant for Hudson Taylor.
It Was One Sentence
On September 4, 1869, when he was 37 years old, Taylor found a letter waiting for him at Zhenjiang from John McCarthy, a fellow missionary. God used the letter to revolutionize Taylor’s life. “When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from dear McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never know it before.”16
Notice two things about that sentence: One is that the change in Hudson Taylor didn’t come through new information. Taylor knew his Bible, and he knew what Keswick teachers were saying. Just that year, the magazine Revival carried a series of articles by Robert Pearsall Smith on the “the victorious life.”17 These articles had been established among all the missionaries. These had been the inspiration for John McCarthy’s own experience that he was sharing with Taylor. It was not a new teaching. It was one sentence. We have all had experiences of this sort: the same truth we have read a hundred times explodes with new power in our lives. That happened for Taylor.
The Truth: Our Oneness with Jesus
And the other thing to notice is that the truth that exploded was his “oneness with Jesus.” And Taylor says it carefully: “the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before.” “As I had never known it before.” He knew it before, but this time the Holy Spirit gave him new eyes. This is exactly the way he understood it. The prayer of Ephesians 1:18 had been answered as never before: “that the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know . . .” “As I read, I saw it all! . . . I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, ‘I will never leave thee.’”18 “I saw not only that Jesus will never leave me, but that I am a member of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. The vine is not the root merely, but all – root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit. And Jesus is not that alone – He is soil and sunshine, air and showers, and ten thousand times more than we have ever dreamed, wished for or needed. Oh, the joy of seeing this truth!19
This was not new information. This was the miracle of the eyes of the heart being opened to taste and see at a deeper level than had been tasted seen before. And the center was union with Christ: “The sweetest part, if one may speak of one part being sweeter than another, is the rest which full identification with Christ brings.”20 The experience came to be known as the “exchanged life” because of Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
A New Yieldedness
Along with a new sight of Christ’s fullness, and his union with Christ, there was also a new yieldedness. “Surrender to Christ he had long known,” his son wrote, “but this was more; this was a new yieldedness, a glad, unreserved handing over of self and everything to Him.”21 This new yieldedness was so powerful and so sweet — so supernatural — that it rose up like an indictment against all vain striving. When you have been swept up into the arms of Jesus all previous efforts to jump in seem vain.
At the heart of the discovery was that the fruit of the vine comes from abiding not striving. “To let my loving Saviour work in me His will, my sanctification, is what I would live for by His grace. Abiding, not striving nor struggling; looking off unto Him; trusting Him for present power; resting in the love of an almighty Saviour.”22 “From the consciousness of union springs the power to abide. “Let us, then — not seek, not wait, not pursue — but now accept by faith the Saviour’s word — ‘Ye are the branches.’”23 He experienced such a powerful revelation of the inexpressible reality of union with Christ as an absolute and glorious fact of security and sweetness and power that it carried in it its own effectiveness. It gave vivid meaning to the difference between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. “Work is the outcome of effort; fruit, of life. A bad man may do good work, but a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”24 “How to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.”25
Why His Experience Didn’t Fade
Unlike many who claimed a higher life experience, Hudson Taylor’s experience really did lift him to a plane of joy and peace and strength that lasted all his life. He wrote, “Never again did the unsatisfied days come back; never again was the needy soul separated from the fullness of Christ.”26 Just before turning sixty, Taylor was in Melbourne. An Episcopalian minister had heard of Keswick and after spending time with Hudson Taylor, he wrote, “Here was the real thing, an embodiment of ‘Keswick teaching’ such as I had never hoped to see. It impressed me profoundly. Here was a man almost sixty years of age, bearing tremendous burdens, yet absolutely calm and untroubled.”27
Why did this crisis experience bear such lasting fruit for Hudson Taylor? There are at least three reasons.
1. He was saturated with the Bible and submissive to the Bible.
This means that in his experience, the walk of faith was not as passive as he made it sound. William Berger, Taylor’s friend and the leader of China Inland Mission in England, made plain to Taylor that he did not approve of “overstressing of the passive, receptive aspect of ‘holiness.’”28 He emphasized the need for active resistance to evil and of effort to obey God the way J. C. Ryle was to balance the Keswick Movement’s emphases a few years later.
Over the years, Taylor embraced this counsel, but never lost the wonder of being united to the vine. Consciously united. He acknowledged, “Union is not identical with abiding: union is uninterrupted, but abiding may be interrupted. If abiding be interrupted, sin follows.”29 He not only recognized that abiding in Christ can be interrupted, leading to sin, but he also saw that our best obedience needs cleansing. He was not a perfectionist. “We are sinful creatures, and our holiest service can only be accepted through Jesus Christ our Lord.”30
His life was one resounding affirmation that God uses means to preserve and deepen and intensify our experience of union with Christ, and these means are a kind of effort — though there is slavish effort and there is trusting effort, effort that leans on the flesh, and effort that leans on God (1 Peter 4:11). “The life I now live I live by faith” (Galatians 2:20). But in this effort of faith there are things to be done. “Communion with Christ requires our coming to Him. Meditating upon His person and His work requires the diligent use of the means of grace, and specially the prayerful reading of His Word. Many fail to abide because they habitually fast instead of feed.”31 Taylor’s new pattern was to go to bed earlier and then rise at 5 A.M. “to give time to Bible study and prayer (often two hours) before the work of the day began.”32
Taylor never saw these disciplines in contradiction to his glorious experience of union with Christ. Jesus is the vine and his Father is the vinedresser. Both the power of the vine from within and the providence of the vinedresser from without (including his moving out of bed to read his Bible) serve the fullness of the experience of joy-filled, peace-filled, love-filled union with Christ. This leads to the second reason his crisis encounter had lasting effects.
2. He saw suffering as God’s way of deepening and sweetening his experience of union with Christ.
The vinedresser does many things for the branches. But the one Jesus focused on in John 15 was pruning, cutting. The aim of this is to preserve and intensify and make fruitful the branch’s union with the vine. “It is only in the trial of GOD’S grace that its beauty and power can be seen. Then all our trials of temper, circumstances, provocation, sickness, disappointment, bereavement, will but give a higher burnish to the mirror, and enable us to reflect more fully and more perfectly the glory and blessedness of our MASTER.”33
It is in the path of obedience and self-denying service that God reveals Himself most intimately to His children. When it costs most we find the greatest joy. We find the darkest hours the brightest, and the greatest loss the highest gain. While the sorrow is short lived, and will soon pass away, the joy is far more exceeding, and it is eternal. Would that I could give you an idea of the way in which God has revealed Himself to me in China, and to others whom I have known. In the presence of bereavement, in the deepest sorrows of life, He has so drawn near to me that I have said to myself, Is it possible that the precious one who is in His presence can have more of the presence of God than I have?34
In other words, the experience of the fullness of union with Christ with all its joy and peace and power and love comes not only from the preciousness of the vine but the pruning of the vinedresser. God uses the means of pain as well as prayer and Bible reading. “All these difficulties,” Taylor said, “are only platforms for the manifestation of His grace, power and love.”35 Which takes us now finally to the third reason his experience bore life-long fruit.
3. He embraced the absolute goodness and sovereignty of God over his suffering and his union with Christ.
This is how Hudson Taylor could retain such composure in Christ in the most oppressive, and dangerous, and sorrowful, and painful circumstances. He believed that the key to joy and peace and fruitfulness lay not only in being sure of the vine’s all-satisfying sap, but also of the vinedresser’s all-controlling sovereignty.
When he was 52, and confined to bed and feeling forgotten, he wrote, “So make up your mind that God is an infinite Sovereign, and has the right to do as He pleases with His own, and He may not explain to you a thousand things which may puzzle your reason in His dealings with you.”36 When he lost his wife Maria at the age of 38, he wrote to his mother, “From my inmost soul I delight in the knowledge that God does or permits all things, and causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him.”37
Though Satan is real and causes much evil in the world, Taylor was strengthened by the assurance that God has never lost control. “Oftentimes shall we be helped and blessed if we bear this in mind — that Satan is servant, and not master, and that he, and wicked men incited by him, are only permitted to do that which GOD by His determinate counsel and foreknowledge has before determined shall be done.”38 In other words, the vinedresser may use anything and anyone he please to prune the branch that he loves (John 15:1–2).
Learn the Secret
So I conclude, that while the Keswick teaching may in many cases have overemphasized the passivity of the pursuit of holiness and may have overemphasized the a distinct crisis experience of consecration as the means of entering the “higher life,” nevertheless Hudson Taylor’s life bears witness to the possibility of living with more peace and more joy and more fruit in hardship than most of us enjoy.
Paul said he had learned this secret:
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)
The learning is both information and realization. The information is the truth of scripture that the vine is infinitely sufficient and satisfying for our soul’s hunger, and that the vinedresser is all-controlling in care for the branches. And the realization is the miracle of actually resting in this truth, actually experiencing Christ and the Father becoming for you all that they are, hour by hour.
Whether God gives you a crisis moment of this realization that lasts a lifetime, as he did Hudson Taylor, or whether he leads you deeper overtime, don’t settle for anything less than the murmur-free contentment (Philippians 2:15; 4:11–14) Paul experienced in Philippians 4, and what he prayed for in Ephesians 3:19 — “that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.” Don’t stop wanting it and pursuing it. And if Taylor were here, he would say: It is yours. Possess it. Enjoy it. Then dream your Christ-exalting dream, and venture everything.