TAYLOR, JAMES HUDSON (1832–1905)
Founder of the China Inland Mission
Born into a Methodist Christian family in Barnsley, Yorkshire, Taylor was much influenced as to spiritual things by both his parents and his grandparents who had received John Wesley as a guest in their home. His father, a pharmacist, had a deep concern for the spiritual condition of China. At a very young age, around five years old, Taylor indicated that he would like to be a missionary to China one day. He was basically home schooled out of necessity, as he was a frail and often infirm child. He had a strong spiritual relationship with his mother and sister, who both prayed much for him when he was in spiritual turmoil. In June 1849, at the age of seventeen, while reading a tract on the finished work of Christ in his father’s study, he felt that he had finally understood what Christ had done for him. At this point he offered his life to Christ and his service. In 1849 Taylor felt the Lord’s call to China. He responded to this call and began to prepare every facet of his life toward the goal of leaving for China. At this point he felt his life was on a higher plane.
Two books helped shape the future for Taylor. One was a copy of the Gospel of Luke in Mandarin; the other, a book that told of the value of medical missions to China. By comparing the Mandarin version to the English version of Luke, Taylor was able to begin learning Mandarin Chinese. His career preparation turned from pharmacy to medicine. He also contacted different societies that involved themselves in missionary work in China to express his interest in the missions. Taylor gave of his income to such endeavors. His medical training began in Hull and continued in London. It was during this time that Taylor, convinced in himself that he could by no means be prepared for work in China without depending on God for everything, put himself under a strict daily life training. He studied theology, Latin, and Greek, as well as medicine before attending to his duties. He often put himself into situations that demanded that God would meet his financial needs. While at Hull, Taylor lived mainly on oatmeal and rice, giving a good part of his income to Christian work.
One time as he was out ministering to the poor, a man asked him to come and pray for his wife, who was near death. Upon entering the house he saw a house full of starving children and their sick mother with a tiny infant moaning next to her. He was moved by the scene and told them that the Father in heaven loved them so they should not be downcast. Hesitant at first, Taylor was emboldened by God to give them the only coin he had. The money was used to save the woman’s life. Later that day a person brought Taylor a package with money. This experience led Taylor to depend solely on God for his needs.
In association with the Chinese Evangelization Society Taylor set sail for China in 1853. Unexpected conditions met Taylor as he got off the ship. Those whom he expected to meet had either died or left the country, and Shanghai had been taken over by rebels. Introductions were made with other Christians, and Taylor began to learn more Chinese as well as evangelize. His desire was to go deep inland, where few missionaries ever ventured. Such an undertaking was dangerous, since there was much political strife at that time and Westerners were not always looked upon with favor. Evangelistic excursions often consisted of Taylor and another missionary, who took turns speaking the gospel and handing out tracts or portions of the Bible to the natives. Taylor adopted native dress, which did much to win the respect of the Chinese.
By 1856 Taylor had begun work in Ningpo, an influential coastal city. It was here that, because of his conviction that a Christian should “owe no man anything,” he severed his connection with the Chinese Evangelization Society. The society, from which he drew a salary, had been running on borrowed money, and Taylor felt that because of this he could no longer associate with it. He felt that if a work had a lack of funds, God must no longer support it. This was a bold move, since he had no friends who could assure him of supplies. He married Maria J. Dyer in January 1858, and in the fall of 1859 he took charge of the London Mission Hospital in Ningpo. After nine months Taylor resigned because of failing health and left more funds with the hospital than he had started with. Even better, many of the patients rapidly recovered and came to know Christ.
By 1860 the work was growing, but the laborers were few. Taylor, in his late twenties, had to return to England so that his health could be restored. This was extremely difficult for one had who directed his whole life toward serving the Lord in China, especially now when the work had begun to blossom. Doctors in England assured him that it would be years, if it were at all possible, before he could revisit China. Every day he prayed for workers to go to China, viewing a large map of it on his wall. He worked with F. F. Gough on a revision of the New Testament in colloquial Ningpo Chinese for the British and Foreign Bible Society. Slowly, new workers set out for China, and Taylor felt the need for an agency that was especially suited for the gospel work in the interior of China. To meet this need, the China Inland Mission was founded. The revision work on the Ningpo New Testament had given Taylor a fresh insight on how the Mission should proceed. There was to be dependence upon God for all financial needs. No personal solicitations or collections were to be made at public meetings where Taylor might be speaking.
In 1865 Taylor asked the Lord for twenty-four fellow workers, two for each of the evangelized inland provinces and two for Mongolia. United prayer beseeching the Lord to meet the needs of the mission was offered daily. In 1866 Taylor, his wife, Maria, and a party of new missionaries sailed for China. From bases there in Ningpo and Hangchow, the work spread southward to the province of Chekiang; ten years later it was spreading north to Kiangsu, west to Anhwei, and southwest to Kiangsi. It was during this period, in 1870, that Maria died of cholera. This occurred shortly after the death of her fifth son, an infant, also from cholera. Taylor remarried in 1872 to Miss J. E. Faulding, who was a leader of the women’s work in Hangchow.
Between 1876 and 1878 a great many more workers entered the field. This pioneering work spread throughout the whole interior of China. Christians from all over the world, agreeing to overlook denominational differences, joined the ranks of the China Inland Mission. By the end of the century, half of the evangelical missionaries in China were from the China Inland Mission. Taylor withdrew from active work in 1901 and died in Changsha in 1905.
James Hudson Taylor proved to be one of the most profound pioneering spiritual influences in China. Going to regions where none had ventured with the gospel of Christ before, in native garb and in full dependence upon God for all his needs, Taylor carried on a work that would culminate in the China Inland Mission. He believed that by deepening the spiritual life of Christians, new converts and otherwise, the mission field would never lack workers. Taylor’s love for the Bible was profound. When out in the field with other workers he would wait until everyone was asleep in their shared hut and then light a match to read his Bible so as not to disturb the others. The field work was exhausting, but he always made time for the Bible. Through numerous trials, persecutions, and hardships Taylor and those with him toiled by faith to bring Christ to a politically unstable nation where foreigners were not always welcome. Through the years China has gone through many changes, but whatever Christian vitality exists there today must be due in great part to his pioneering work. Taylor, having no formal connections with other missions, became greatly respected for his deep spirituality and living faith in God for all aspects of mission work.
His writings include China: Its Spiritual Need and Claims (1865), A Retrospect (1884, also issued under the titles: To China with Love and Hudson Taylor) and Union and Communion (1894). The latter is devotional in nature, concerned with the Song of Solomon, revealing Taylor’s spiritual roots in Christ. For a thorough description of his life and work, see the two-volume work of Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor in Early Years (1911) and Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission (1918).
T. Firak, “Taylor, James Hudson,” ed. J.D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort, Who’s Who in Christian History (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1992), 657–659.