What Can We Learn from the Life of Emily Blatchley?

Emily Blatchley was Hudson Taylor’s personal secretary and the governess of his children. You can read a short biography of her at the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity.

Though she died young, she rendered indispensable service to Taylor and the fledgling China Inland Mission (CIM) during its crucial formative years.

She and her best friend Jennie Faulding were among the first to join the CIM. Even before leaving for China, the two were considered part of the Taylors’ family.

This close relationship deepened in their first years in China. Hudson Taylor and his wife Maria saw them as both younger sisters and daughters.

Emily’s life was full of suffering and sorrow. She lost most of her family members from tuberculosis, a disease which finally claimed her life also. After Maria Taylor died, Hudson married Emily’s best friend Jennie.

Some see her as a tragic figure, but that would be to misunderstand her. So, the first lesson we can learn from Emily Blatchley is:

Christians can expect much suffering and sorrow in this life. Contrary to some “health and wealth” and “Prosperity Gospel” teachers, trials, and troubles are part of the normal Christian life.  Nevertheless,

Christians can know the joy of the Lord in the midst of pain. Though emotionally and physically fragile, Emily never lost her faith in God. Increasingly, she found true rest and even joy in Christ, despite successive bereavement, loss, and illness.

Christian men and women can know pure love outside of marriage. Hudson Taylor’s intense love for Emily never violated the principles of Scripture or his duty as a husband. His wife Maria joined him in loving Emily and Jennie, and after her marriage to Taylor, Jennie fully understood and accepted his brotherly love for Emily. He loved her as a little sister, calling her “Aimei” in Chinese– literally, “Beloved Little Sister.” Their affection was mutual. Indeed, Emily had hoped that Taylor would marry her after Maria died; after all, she was bringing up his children. Her chronic illness made such a union impossible, however. From this we learn that

Christians must put the kingdom of God before all earthly affection. This truth does not override the biblical teachings about marriage and parenting, of course. We cannot neglect our duties to spouse or children, though many have done so, claiming that God had a higher claim upon them. Our Lord will not require us to violate one command in the Bible in order to obey another. Still, our hedonistic, self-centered age needs to hear the call of Jesus to follow him, taking up our cross and denying ourselves daily. Otherwise, we are not worthy to be called his disciples. We must not imagine that God seeks first to fulfill all our earthly desires. No, the kingdom of God must claim our utmost loyalty.

Christians must find their true joy and happiness in Christ alone. Emily learned this the hard way, but she learned it well. Not without much experience in the school of hardship did Paul say, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, ‘Rejoice’!” (Philippians 4:4; see 1 Thessalonians 5:18). He alone can satisfy the deepest longings of our heart. He offers unfailing springs of living water – that is, the presence and life-giving ministry of his Holy Spirit – to all who continually come to him in faith (see John &:37-39; Ephesians 5:18).

Christians can derive great satisfaction and meaning from obscure works of service. Most people have never heard of Emily Blatchley, yet she played a vital and indispensable role in the development of the China Inland Mission. She wrote hundreds of letters dictated by Hudson Taylor, which impacted thousands of people. After leaving China to take care of the Taylor children in a safer and healthier environment in England, she served as the de facto home secretary of the CIM, bearing a heavy load of correspondence and administration. Without her, the CIM would have collapsed.

Christians must value the role of caring for and educating children. No matter what we may think of the decision of Hudson Taylor and Maria (and then Jennie) to give the care of their children to another, we must recognize the immense influence of a mother’s role (even if she is a surrogate mother). Emily loved the Taylor children as if they were her own. She taught them so well that they all went to further studies and several excelled as professionals. Most of them joined the CIM as adults. Howard served as a missionary but also, with his wife, wrote a two-volume biography of Hudson Taylor that has become a devotional classic, with a worldwide impact for more than a hundred years. I read and re-read it with great profit. Her selfless service as a governess and teacher may have gone unnoticed by all but a few, but only God knows the full value of her years of sacrificial love and effective education.

Christians may serve God faithfully and effectively in weakness and illness, as they wait upon God to give them strength through the all-sufficient grace of Jesus Christ. Emily Blatchley seems to have been sick all her adult life. Like the other members of her family, she suffered from tuberculosis, from which she eventually died at the age of about thirty. Emotionally, she was often fragile, with a sensitive personality that craved human affection and gave much love to others. Despite her weak body and sensitive heart, however, she became one of the most useful members of the CIM.

As she drew daily upon the resurrection power of Christ, she served as a most efficient secretary, a loving governess and able teacher of the Taylor children, and, as she was slowly dying, the  virtual home director of the CIM in London. She serves as a vivid demonstration of the truths of Isaiah 40:31 and 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Christians will find true happiness in living not for themselves but for Christ, who died and rose for them, and for others.  Emily Blatchley poured out her life in loving service to the Taylors, other members of the CIM, and the Chinese. She did so at great personal cost, both physical and emotional. Imitating her Lord, she looked out not for her own interests, but for the interests of others. Battered by one affliction after another, she never ceased praying for and ministering to those around her and to the CIM. In return, she experienced the joy of loving and of being loved by all who knew her.

A few years ago, I gave a lecture at a university in China on “the private lives of famous Americans,” in which I pointed out how some of our nation’s leaders frequently demonstrated love for the unlovely and those who could not repay them.

When it came time for questions, one student rose and said, “You have told us about people who served others. But we know that Americans are selfish individualists who only live for themselves. Which is better – to live for yourself or to live for others?” You could sense the tension in the room and the eager anticipation that I would provide some kind of guidance to these young people.

I had just come from a conference on “Christianity and China’s Moral Reconstruction” at a prestigious university in Beijing. All the speakers addressed the social collapse in China and the rise of unbridled selfishness, so I knew why she was asking this question.

Without hesitation, I said, “We were made to love. We find true joy in giving, not receiving. It is always better to live for others rather than for oneself.”

Emily Blatchley is a prime example of this timeless truth.