The long review of a book on Hudson Taylor’s use of the Bible in his personal Christian life and in his missionary labors naturally prompts the question, Can – or should – we follow Taylor’s example? Or have times changed so much that his handling of Scripture holds only historical interest?
Hudson Taylor believed that the Bible was the Word of God in the very words which he had given to his chosen prophets and apostles. Despite the allegations of error in the Scriptures by proponents of the then-new German higher criticism and Darwinian evolutionism, Taylor remained convinced of the total trustworthiness of the sacred writings.
Can we be similarly confident that the Scriptures are completely true? In November 2013, more than one thousand scholars gathered for the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, the theme for that year being the inerrancy of the Bible. Despite all the supposed “findings” of modern biblical criticism and science, these learned students of Scripture soundly re-affirmed their conviction that the Bible is truly and fully the Word of God in words given by God.
One entire session was devoted to the career and theology of Carl Henry, whose six-volume God, Revelation, and Authority, presents what some consider to be the definitive case for the total reliability of the Bible. As you may know, I have made an abridgment of this work, four volumes of which were translated into Chinese by a very capable scholar from Taiwan, and the translation by two other men of the last two volumes of this abridgment is almost complete. Though I attended a liberal seminary, after forty-five years of study and ministry I believe that Hudson Taylor was right: The Bible is fully true, and thus fully worthy of our belief and reliance.
Hudson Taylor’s study of the Bible convinced him that our God is all powerful and all loving, and that we can know him through his written Word, especially as the written Word points to the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. He believed that we have a heavenly Father who loves us and knows all our needs, and will provide everything essential for our life and ministry if we just call out to him in faith-filled prayer. That faith led him to rely on prayer for the supply of recruits for the China Inland Mission as well as for financial support; he did not need to ask people for money, but only to tell God his needs and trust him to provide. It was enough to keep people informed of China’s spiritual needs and how he and others were trying to meet those needs.
Taylor seemed to have an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. He saw Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church, and nurtured a love for Jesus that fed his devotion to the spread of the gospel among those who had never heard. If the Son of God emptied himself of some of his divine prerogatives, such as comfort and glory, in order that eternal life could be offered to sinners, should not his followers do the same? If Christ is our risen Head and King, should we not love him and obey his every command, including – and perhaps especially – his Last Command to take the gospel to every creature?
In our own strength, of course, we are utterly unable either to love God or to obey him, much less to share the gospel to others. Hudson Taylor found constant power through God’s unceasing supply of the Holy Spirit as “living water” for all those who come to Christ daily in faith. The Spirit assured him of his position as a beloved child of God, a member of the Body of Christ, and a needy disciple and messenger of God’s grace and truth. Drinking from this spiritual fountain was for him, apparently, an almost continual practice, leading to fresh insights from the Bible each day, power for faithful Christian living, wisdom in making decisions, and abiding joy amidst otherwise crushing burdens and trials.
Hudson Taylor followed the practice of reading the Bible consecutively through each year for more than forty years. As he read, he prayed for insight and took notes of his observations and possible application. These meditations became the content for his unusually effective sermons and messages to both Chinese and Western audiences, frequently at least daily and sometimes more often. In other words, his extraordinary influence as a speaker derived not from any oratorical gift, for he had none, but from the power of a humble, Christ-like life, and the clarity of his biblical exposition and application.
In his public speaking and writing, he pointed people to God as Father, Christ as Bridegroom and King, and the Spirit as the source of living waters. He asked not for money, but for prayer, and for people to consecrate everything to the cause of the Great Commission, including the urgent task of taking the gospel to millions of Chinese who would otherwise not hear.
The fervency of his appeal arose from his full trust in the biblical teaching about everlasting estrangement from God for those who did not believe in Christ. The thought of millions of perishing souls going daily to eternal doom in China drove him to expend every effort to arouse the Church to obey Jesus’ command to take the gospel to “every creature,” and to give himself fully to the same great endeavor. Likewise, the indescribable joy of seeing Chinese come to know God through faith in Christ, and of Chinese congregations growing and maturing in their awareness of God’s love, impelled him to endure any hardship and accept any suffering – including the loss of his beloved children – with a profound trust in God’s goodness and presence.
What about us?
Do we have the same Bible? The same God? The same priceless salvation? The same unique and essential message for the salvation of wandering sheep?
Hudson Taylor was only a man like us, and he was beset with many weaknesses and failings, as he knew only too well. But he believed in a great God and based his life and ministry on the revealed truth of God in the Scriptures, with an impact that endures into the twenty-first century.
Perhaps we would do well to ponder his life and imitate his faith. I suggest you begin with the article about Taylor in the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity (http://www.bdcconline.net/en/stories/t/taylor-james-hudson.php) and then read Roger Steer’s excellent biography, Hudson Taylor: A Man in Christ.
G. Wright Doyle