Kept from Callousness: The Legacy of Hudson Taylor


A principal feature of all Scripture is the LORD’s ambition to make Himself known amongst pagan and blasphemous Gentiles. It is important to note this is particularly true of everything written before His Incarnation—from Genesis to Malachi—because we must note He entered the Everlasting Covenant with international intentions. Israel was consistently reminded of her establishment as a beacon of hope and glory in a world fractured by the catastrophe in Eden so long ago.[1] Yet it would be generations until the task was entrusted to a spunky, bloodthirsty Pharisee named Saul, whose own testimony would bear witness to the long-suffering mercy extended to us by the Judge of the ages.[2]

As this man, who many of us know as the Apostle Paul, traveled the known world over to build a foundation of the Gospel of the Kingdom where none yet existed,[3] he spent the currency of his life on a work ethic that even reads exhausting. Still, he kept the main thing the main thing, and knew his work would burn if his heart deviated from the Vine in labor.[4]

Paul faced what many who are considering a life spent in ministry on a foreign field must acknowledge: the sheer difficulty and challenge of cultural adjustment and language acquisition.The baseline stress level for any pioneer is elevated the moment the plane touches down or the ship reaches the harbor. How an individual copes with this kind of consistent stress will make or break effective longevity unlike any other factor. The only refuge from the deluge of daily needs, language barriers, cultural differences, and the mundane, tedious nature of pioneering is the LORD Himself. This is not hyperbolic philosophy borrowed from a quick survey of the psalms. It is life or death on the field.  

Nearly two millennia after Paul, an English couple became burdened by the Gospel poverty[5] of their generation’s largest living unreached people group. They committed to the Lord in prayer that, should He give them a child, this son could serve the “vast needy empire…so sealed against the truth” that was nineteenth-century China.[6] In 1832, the first of two children born to James and Amelia Taylor was took his first breath. In 1849, a teenaged James Hudson Taylor bowed the knee to the Nazarene. He would later recount an afternoon spent in prayer just months after his conversion:

“Well do I remember that occasion. How in the gladness of my heart I poured out my soul before God; and again and again confessing my grateful love to Him who had done everything for me…I besought Him to give me some work to do for Him, as an outlet for love and gratitude…however trying or trivial…and though but a child under sixteen, I remember stretching myself on the ground, and lying there with unspeakable awe and unspeakable joy.”[7]


So many of Jesus’ attributes rightly draw us to the dust; His humility, His majesty, His Lordship, His kindness, His justice, His refusal to lie—it is appropriate to worship Him for who He is. As A.W. Tozer famously asserted in his classic work The Knowledge of the Holy, the most important thing about us is what comes into our minds when we think about God.[8] What we believe about Him when we wake up in the morning and go to bed in the evening forges and defines the decisions we make and lifestyles we navigate. That Taylor’s commitment and consecration began with worshipping God in gratitude shaped his theology and practical application thereof.  It was a simple prayer prayed by a simple man “though but a child of sixteen”—to gratefully serve Jesus for how wonderfully and benevolently He had handled Taylor’s transgressions. This prayer poured the cement for the foundation upon which he would later build the China Inland Mission (CIM).


Taylor’s decision to found and launch the CIM did not come quickly, nor easily. After several years working with an established missions agency, he grew frustrated with the conflation of colonialism and the missionary endeavor. Taylor felt strongly that China would never be effectively evangelized by a bunch of white English guys sipping tea in fancy clothes on the Chinese coastline. In the summer of 1865, while in England recovering from long-standing health issues, he left a worship service before its scheduled end and walked along the shore of Brighton Beach alone. In his words, he was “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; there the Lord conquered my unbelief, and I surrendered myself to God for this service… Need I say that peace at once flowed into my burdened heart?”[9]

Immediately, Taylor organized a new agency and began a unique training program that prepared and mobilized Gospel messengers for unprecedented work throughout inland China. It is no longer the largest unreached nation on the earth. Over the years, Hudson Taylor sailed to and from China seventeen times to teach, train, and mobilize believers to engage the Great Commission. After spending an afternoon with him, Charles Spurgeon himself said he nearly got on the boat to Asia with him.[10] Another remembered him as “ambitious without being proud…biblical without being bigoted…He was a follower of Jesus, without being superficial…charismatic without being selfish.”[11]


Hudson Taylor’s legacy is not simply that he built an effective organization and achieved his ministry goals—though the thriving Church in China now has much to thank this apostle from Barnsley. It isn’t that he mobilized so many to vocational missions, or that he continues to inspire believers today. Taylor’s most powerful testimony all these years after he went to sleep in the Lord is the gratitude with which he committed himself to serve the Lord, the zeal that drove him as a young man, and the consistency of character he maintained until he went to the grave. His legacy is that he did so while dodging bullets that take out so many pioneers: bitterness, drunken egos, and incredible frustration with the unrelenting tide of human need and suffering.

Young Hudson loved Jesus, and he was grieved by China’s lack of access to Him, so he went. Middle-aged Hudson loved Jesus, and he was burdened by China’s incredible need for Him, so he stayed. Old Hudson loved Jesus, and he had spent his decades sowing himself into China’s soil. So he lived, and so he died, giving an incarnate witness of the Incarnate God.

As many evaluate their own lives and make decisions to spend their days and decades on foreign soil to magnify a Name others may not get to hear otherwise, let us look to men like Hudson Taylor who did the work—and kept a tender heart until he met his Maker. “Pray the LORD of the harvest to send laborers,” and would God save us all from simply becoming clanging gongs.[12] The international intentions of the Everlasting Covenant require the people of the faith to emulate the lives of those who've gone before us[13] in order to finish the holy and privileged task that has been confidently entrusted to us.[14]


Stephanie Quick is a writer and producer serving with Frontier Alliance International in the Middle East. She is the author of To Trace a Rising Sun and can be found on on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Sign up for her ministry updates here and receive a free copy of her book Confronting Unbelief. She can be reached at


[1]  Genesis 3; 12:3; Deuteronomy 7:7; I Samuel 12:22; Isaiah 11:9; 24:14-16; Habakkuk 2:14
[2]  See Acts 9
[3]  Paul’s ministry is recorded in the book of Acts and his written letters included in the New Testament epistles
[4]  I Corinthians 3:10-15; John 15:4
[5]  Hudson Taylor recounts his parents’ prayers and convictions in The Autobiography of Hudson Taylor
[6]  Taylor, H. The autobiography of Hudson Taylor.
[7]  Taylor, H. The autobiography of Hudson Taylor.
[8]  Tozer, A. The knowledge of the Holy.
[9]  Taylor, H. The autobiography of Hudson Taylor.
[10] This is recorded in Spurgeon’s letters.
[11]  Taylor, H. The autobiography of Hudson Taylor.
[12] Matthew 9:38; Luke 10:2
[13] I Corinthians 13:1
[14] Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8