On June 25, 1865, James Hudson Taylor at thirty-three came to the great crisis of his life. The locale was Brighton Beach on the south coast of England. There on a quiet Sunday morning he took a step of faith in response to a simple spiritual principle he had just discovered. He was surprised that this truth had so long eluded him. “If we are obeying the Lord, the responsibility rests with him, not with us!” Months of struggle were over, and the way ahead was clear. To obey the Scriptures and trust God to be faithful to his pledged Word was not rash.

Throwing caution and tradition to the winds, Hudson Taylor formed the China Inland Mission. He determined that it would be interdenominational, in that evangelical Christians from all communions would be welcomed. It would be “by faith,” in that its financing would be attained by looking to the Lord alone, not by appealing to men. It would be non-professional, in that the vast untapped potential of the laity, along with clergy, would make up its membership. Inland China would be opened to the Gospel! “Thou, Lord,” Taylor cried with unutterable relief, “thou shalt have all the burden! At thy bidding as thy servant I go forward, leaving results with thee.”

One hundred years later we commemorate this notable event. For on that day, Protestant missions took a large step forward. The interdenominational missionary movement was launched, with far-reaching effects in all parts of the world.

Americans and British tend to give one another a difficult time. They accent their differences, and these differences cause them to drift apart. But a Winston Churchill has a stroke and sinks into a coma. Or a Kennedy is assassinated. And suddenly both sides of the Atlantic are caught up in a wave of concern. They discover a deep mutuality emerging from their common roots.

Something of this sense of discovered oneness emerges also when Christians in America and Britain consider one another’s outstanding spiritual leaders. The nation that produced Wesley and Whitefield is genuinely grateful for the succession of activists—Moody, Torrey, and Graham—who have been successful in reaching all levels of class-conscious Britain. When Americans think about missionary leaders or expository preachers, they tend to look eastward. And when they contemplate Hudson Taylor, they realize with great admiration that here was a man of God. The fragrance and influence of his life still linger, the scope of his achievements still impresses. True, Hudson Taylor found Americans a rather difficult, demanding, undisciplined lot. Yet they never gave him the hostility and open criticism he received from his own countrymen. Perhaps because they had the advantage of distance, they were the more easily able to grasp his full stature.

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Yet the suggestion comes to mind that perhaps the reason for Americans’ high esteem of Hudson Taylor is that he embodied a balance of certain qualities that they particularly admire.

In the first place, Hudson Taylor was ambitious without being proud. His ambition was nothing less than “to evangelize all China, to preach Christ to all its peoples by any and all means that come to hand.” Significantly, God largely granted him his heart’s desire. Men differed with him and criticized his methods severely. They thought the wide range of his vision almost arrogant. They shrank from the tenacity with which he pursued his goal. True, they spoke freely of his “exceptional, brilliant, and distinguished talent.” But they could not help having misgivings over the drive that took him to the forefront of all missionary work in his day. Such consuming ambition!

And yet, Taylor’s sharpest critics again and again went out of their way to comment on his deliberate avoidance of the praise of men. One who knew him intimately for more than forty years paid this tribute: “How lowly he remained in his own eyes. God was able to take that beloved man and make him a prince, if I may say so, among all the missionaries of the Victorian era.” When asked to appraise Hudson Taylor’s life, Eugene Stock of the Church Missionary Society could only think of one verse of Scripture: “He hath exalted the humble and meek.” That is what the Lord did with Hudson Taylor.

Another of Taylor’s qualities was that he was catholic without being superficial. The China Inland Mission is his memorial. He wanted it to be a living demonstration of the safety and blessedness of trusting in the living God. To all its details he paid the greatest attention. Funds had to be handled as economically as possible, accounts kept scrupulously. He loved organization and was a master at it. To spend hours over the mission’s administrative matters was to him as important as the more “spiritual” task of pouring vision into the minds of field workers.

And yet those who knew Taylor found that his heart extended far beyond China and the CIM. Dr. Harry Guinness, director of the Regions Beyond Missionary Union, once recollected: “I noticed that in his prayers he was always praying for South America.… His sympathies were as broad as the world, and it was South America every time he prayed.” Were Taylor living today, one can easily envision the interest he would have had in Evangelism-in-Depth, developed by the Latin America Mission to reach whole nations through the mobilization and continuous witness of all evangelical Christians within their borders. An exciting possibility comes to mind—did his prayers yesterday contribute to this extensive program today?

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Hudson Taylor also sought to do a mighty work for the Church at home, reviving its sleeping congregations. When he spoke of its worldwide task, he never pleaded for his own mission society. The claims of the whole world were ever before him; they were the substance of his ministry. Eugene Stock said that “it was just as much joy to him when men went to Africa, or to Japan … as it was when they went to China.… It was the world that he wanted for Christ.”

Here was catholicity without superficiality. This rare combination contrasts sharply with our proneness toward the parochial. We have many experts in depth but few in breadth. We find it easy to compete with one another, and to criticize or ignore those whom we cannot surpass. Unnecessary fragmentation, expensive duplication, subtle competition, unwarranted downgrading of one another—these are all too common. What leader has not experienced the sharpness of being undercut by his peers? What man has not been unnecessarily misunderstood when he has sought to call us to trust one another more, and fear one another less? Why must mixed motives be imputed to those who feel fellow missionaries should be open to new insights into methodology or priority? Why not more catholicity of interest, more genuine desire to help one another fulfill the ministry received from the Lord? Scripture does not encourage us simply to admire Taylor’s balance in this regard. It rather calls us to imitate his example.

Hudson Taylor was also biblical without being bigoted. He was primarily a man of God—the God of the Scriptures. A life filled with Bible study, prayer, vision, and faith made him venturesome and hopeful. Bishop H. C. G. Moule of Durham spoke of his “personal attention to the very words of Holy Scripture, in the spirit of obedience and prayer.” No wonder he was described as a man “in restful realization of the Lord’s companionship.” How natural that his life was one of rare spiritual force.

To Hudson Taylor, every word of Scripture had its treasures. Arthur T. Pierson spoke of his “strange wonderment” at the readiness of clergymen to make concessions to the rationalistic enemies of supernaturalism. Taylor often used the illustration of the Russian who tossed out his children one by one to the pursuing hungry wolves, in order that he himself might escape their violence. “Why appease the clamor of these critics,” he would thunder, “by tossing out the vital truths of the faith? Don’t have less faith in God than you have in man!” Indeed, much of his ministry in the homelands involved calling men to follow apostolic precedents long and tragically neglected by the Church.

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But almost greater than this ministry was the man himself. His life was an unanswerable demonstration of God’s faithfulness to the plea of the psalmist: “Let thine hand be ready to help me; for I have chosen thy precepts.”

Naturally, it followed that Taylor was a man of strong doctrinal convictions. But he was surprisingly free from the narrow bigotry that has plagued evangelical circles in America. On the one hand, he held tenaciously to the basic truths embodied in the Nicene, Athanasian, and Chalcedonian creeds. But, on the other, he recognized that evangelicals had never agreed on such matters as sanctification, eschatology, churchmanship, and polity. Why break fellowship with those who differed from him on these points? Although a convinced Baptist, he would have deplored the controversies among evangelical Baptists that have occurred during the last decade. He organized the CIM so that its doctrinal grid would be forthrightly evangelical, yet free from both obscurantism and dogmatism on minor matters. For 100 years it has not deviated an iota from its doctrinal standards. During Taylor’s lifetime it passed through its only doctrinal crisis (relating to universalism). This was very painful to him, for he deeply loved the man involved. An American was especially used to strengthen Taylor and implement the New Testament disciplinary process, and the mission was preserved. Love also triumphed, and the offending brother’s respect for Taylor was undiminished.

Charismatic without being selfish—this was another of Hudson Taylor’s balanced qualities. One of his most prominent features was the ability to create strong ties of esteem and affection between himself and others. When he spoke, men listened. When he challenged them, they responded. When he went forward, they followed. This ability did not arise solely from his loyalty to God and to His missionary purpose. Nor did it come from the largeness of his personal interest in people.

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What was the source of this mysterious quality? Some who hardly knew him spoke of their sudden discovery that his was a “burning Christian heart.” They sensed that he somehow had the right to teach them and to lead them forward into God’s service. True, he was often misunderstood by fellow missionaries and by friends at home. Some doubted his ability to “hold together his motley crew.” And yet they lived to sec him weld this crew into a strong missionary band. Varied gifts were used to best advantage. He trained some of the most unlikely, and they proved to be outstanding missionaries. How did he accomplish this? No other explanation will suffice than that he had been anointed and given a charismatic gift by God.

Taylor sensed this and shrank from its implications. He once saw a small “exciter” dynamo alongside a powerful one. Its task was to start the giant dynamo. In this Hudson Taylor saw himself—God’s “exciter”—surrounded by men of far greater potential than his own. This greatly humbled him, and he resolved to try to bring out this enormous potential he saw in his fellow workers. He made the CIM a brotherhood, a family, thereby creating the best conditions for each worker’s development. From the beginning, CIM workers spoke of “the family feeling,” “the remarkable experience when, for the first time, one came into close fellowship with Mr. Taylor.”

God has granted this gracious charismatic gift to some of his own people in America today. We can all call to mind those few who are so anointed. But to call some to mind is to find oneself bowed before the Lord in sadness and intercession. How this important and dangerous gift has been misused! Empire-building, financial success, ruthless suppression of fellow Christians. Everywhere, the chatter about leadership. Absent, the teaching of Scripture about servanthood.

Here is the end of the matter. Hudson Taylor was Christlike. He sank all personal interests into a consuming desire to serve, no matter how humble or difficult the service. He was the embodiment of what Christ commanded when he said: “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

Hudson Taylor’s example is sorely needed by the leaders of the evangelical Church in this centenary year of the worldwide missionary fellowship he founded.

T. Leo Brannon is pastor of the First Methodist Church of Samson, Alabama. He received the B.S. degree from Troy State College and the B.D. from Emory University.

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