James Hudson Taylor was born into a godly Methodist home in the town of Barnsley in Yorkshire England. His great grandparents entertained John Wesley in their home where the first Methodist church in the area was started. His parents dedicated him to the Lord while he was yet in the womb. Such a heritage was bound to make an impression on this young life. While yet young his soul was burdened for heathen lands and he would often say “When I am a man I will be a missionary and go to China.”
From a child he experienced the drawings of the Holy Spirit to Christ and had tried to be a Christian but to no avail. He was still unsaved. One day in order to fill up some time he looked through his father’s library for something of interest to read. He found a gospel leaflet which he casually set about reading. Unknown to him some miles away his mother became deeply burdened for his conversion to Christ. She locked herself in a room and resolved not to leave until God answered her prayers and gave her the assurance of it. That very day Hudson fell on his knees and took Christ as his Saviour. He was just 17 years old.
After his initial joy he entered a period of real conflict and struggle. One day not long after his conversion he went to his room alone to seek the face of God. As he poured out his heart in prayer consecrating himself without reservation and laying all upon the altar, the Lord drew near in the fullness of His presence. Young Hudson lay prostrate on his face before a holy and living God. He became very conscious that he was not his own but that he was in God’s hand for an unknown task. Again shortly after this the call of God came to him clearly, “Go for Me to China.”
Young Hudson in obedience to the Lord’s commission began immediately to prepare himself by studying a copy of Matthew’s Gospel in Chinese and learnt 500 words within weeks. He also trained with his father in medicine for a period of five years during which time he also studied Latin and Greek.
In 1851 he moved to Hull and began to work in a surgery. It was here that he enjoyed beautiful fellowship with the Plymouth Brethren. Dr. Andrew Jukes’ ministry was especially helpful to him. It was here that he also heard much about George Muller and his work in Bristol. Muller’s testimonies of prayer and faith challenged him to the very depths of his soul. With a desire to tithe every penny (give one tenth of all income to God), Hudson rented a simple room in a cottage. Before long he was giving two-thirds of his income to Gods work. He lived a simple disciplined life of sacrifice in preparation for China. If he could not trust in God and believe His promises in England then he would never manage in China. His heart burned for China.
He came in touch with the Chinese Evangelisation Society founded by the deceased Dr. Karl Gutzlaff which operated out of London. Amongst them he made dear friends who were also deeply burdened for China. Next he moved to London in 1852 in pursuit of his calling. At times it seemed an impossible dream doomed to failure especially because of the red tape and heavy organisational machinery of this mission society. Finally he was accepted by the society and in September 1853 he set sail for China. It was March the following year when this young 21 year-old pioneer finally arrived by boat landing near Shanghai.
Not long after he arrived he made friends with other missionaries from other societies and found that sadly his society was scorned by other missionaries. Very soon he found he had very limited help, encouragement or finance from his home base. The leaders seemed utterly detached from his work on the field. That first year was hard and discouraging but he set himself fervently to the task of aggressive evangelism. In a period of just over a year he made 8 separate evangelistic journeys mostly into areas where no other missionaries had gone. In these early days he faced persecution, imprisonment and potential death.
In August 1855 he donned Chinese clothes for the first time and lived as the Chinese lived. Few Westerners understood him; many laughed at him, but the Lord stood with him in reaching untouched areas. In January the following year he met William C. Burns of Scotland. When Hudson’s age this man of God was the vessel used in great Revivals in Scotland, Ireland and Canada. Now in his 40’s he was experienced in evangelising in China. This was a providential union for Hudson. For the next seven months this man was like a spiritual father to him and this time was worth more than years in college. Burns’ love for the Word of God and his holiness of heart and life was very apparent. He sowed many seeds in Hudson’s heart which would later be seen in the China Inland Mission. When Hudson had to make a journey to Shanghai he could not have realised that that would be his last sight of his good friend. War broke out between the British and Chinese and Burns was taken prisoner.
Finally in June 1857 he resigned from the Chinese Evangelisation Society but remained in China. In January the following year he married 21 year old Maria Dyer. God continued to mould and prepare this weak, chosen vessel to be one of China’s greatest missionaries.
In July 1860 the couple returned to Britain for four years where Hudson qualified as a Doctor and translated the NT into the Ningpo dialect. As he prayed with a burdened heart God spoke to him, “I intend to evangelise China. If you walk with Me I will do it through you.” He asked in prayer and faith that God would give him 24 labourers to help him in China. A new unshakable faith and joy entered his heart. Finally in June 1865 he officially formed the China Inland Mission with a bank account of £10 and completed his very effectual book, China’s Spiritual Need and Claims. From the start he built the work on scriptural grounds taking good note of the mistakes of other mission societies. CIM as it became known was to be run from the field in China by missionaries who were active in missionary evangelism.
Hudson followed Muller’s pattern of not making known his needs but trusting God alone for every financial need. This work was to be totally God’s responsibility. It was to run according to God’s pattern. Eleven of China’s provinces had no Protestant missionary. Any missionaries that were in China were settled in a few coastal towns and cities. Hudson was determined that his mission would reach the interior of China.
By the end of 1867 he had 34 full time missionaries on the field in 8 separate stations. This was at a time when other evangelical missionary societies were sending fewer missionaries to China because of a lack of funds and the constant threat on lives in the nation. This was to be his darkest hour, not because of the terrible burden weighing upon him concerning the financial need to maintain the mission, and not because of the trials of missionary life. No, the problem was his self. He walked in utter dissatisfaction within himself. He could see so much defeat, discontent and lack of rest. But in 1869 the Holy Spirit opened his heart suddenly in such a way that it seemed to himself that God had made him a new man. An amazing revelation from God’s Word was opened to his mind and heart. He entered a rest of faith; he saw his perfect identification with Christ in death, burial and resurrection; he laid hold by faith of his oneness with Christ. He entered a joy filled life and his new peace was evident to close friends. When he went forth to preach a new power was manifest to all. Later he called this ‘the exchanged life.’
In 1872 he formed a home council in Britain to help CIM. The following year 11 new stations opened in China. Labourers kept volunteering and funds kept coming, all in answer to faith-filled, persevering prayer. In 1878 he was claiming 30 workers and he got them. In 1883 he asked in faith for another 70 labourers and by the following year more than 70 had gone out to China. In 1885 the ‘Cambridge Seven’ made up of some of the nation’s greatest sportsmen and aristocrats heard the call of God to China. This sent shock waves through the younger generation in Britain. In 1887 he was asking God and man for another 100 missionaries. By the following year the 100 were on their way to the mission field. By 1891 they had almost 500 labourers in China. By 1905 he had 849 missionaries, including their wives and over 1200 native Chinese workers who were seeking the conversion of the Chinese to Christ. These labourers operated out of 205 fully established stations not including many minor ones.
He was a believer in rising early to pray. There was not a morning during all these years that the morning sun fell upon him before he had prayed through for these his fellow labourers. He was not spared heartache; he lost three children and his 33 year old wife on the mission field. This work had to rough the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 when 80 CIM missionaries and their children were killed and multiplied tens of thousands of Chinese Christians were also killed. Riots, sickness and martyrdoms tried the steal of this missionary movement.
As the years passed and the testimony of the work increased internationally Taylor became increasingly reliant upon the power of the Holy Spirit and not upon size, fame, organisation or schemes. In March 1892 he wrote to his labourers “The supreme want of all missions in the present day is the manifested presence of the Holy Ghost…I feel it is the divine power we want and not machinery...Should we not do well, rather, to suspend our present operations and give ourselves to humiliation and prayer for nothing less than to be filled with the Spirit, and made channels through which He shall work with resistless power?...Souls are perishing now for lack of this power…And having sought the removal of all hindrances and yielded ourselves up in fresh consecration, let us accept by faith the filling, and definitely receive the Holy Ghost, to occupy and govern the cleansed temple.” Just weeks later he wrote “God is working in our midst emptying and humbling one and another, and filling with the Holy Spirit. We are having frequent meetings full of liberty and power.”
God opened many doors for Hudson to travel to other nations like North America, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Australia, Germany, India, and New Zealand in order to stir leaders and alert churches to the missionary need in China and across the world. In many of these lands field councils were raised up under the CIM banner which eventually numbered 30 different countries. Hudson had never expected it to operate outside of Britain. From the beginning he carried and never lost a simple childlike faith and expectation in God. When asked why God should have used him so, all he could answer was “I often think that God must have been looking for someone small enough and weak enough for Him to use, and that He found me.”7 When Taylor died in 1905 it was in the Hunan province which was the very last province reached by the CIM and which was then being successfully pioneered. His portion of labour in the vision and task had been fulfilled.
Edited from "Pentecostal Pioneers Remembered" by Keith Malcomson. Copyright 2008 by Keith Malcomson. No part of this article may be reproduced without the permission of the author.