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The Beginning of a Life Lived for God
James Hudson Taylor was a sensitive, thoughtful little fellow from the first, though bright and winsome as any heart could wish. He was a child of many prayers, born to God-fearing parents in Barnsley, England on May 21, 1832. It almost seemed as though he brought more love than usual into the world with his great capacity for loving and the frailty of health that drew forth all the tenderness of those about him. For he was delicate, unusually so, as his parents soon discovered. This was no little sorrow and added difficulty to the task of bringing him up to be a brave and faithful follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. As time went on, he was often so far from well that it seemed almost impossible to insist upon obedience and self-control. Yet the very difficulty only made it all the more necessary. For nothing in the life after, his parents realized, could ever compensate for the injury of an undisciplined childhood. But they knew where to turn for strength and grace. Were they not workers together with God in molding this little life for His holy service? If they lacked wisdom for so high a task, as indeed they did, would He not give it liberally according to His promise?
At no time is there greater capacity for devotion or more pure, uncalculating ambition in the service of God than in early childhood when the heart is full of love for Christ. Little Hudson, for example, was deeply impressed at four or five years of age by what he heard about the darkness of heathen lands.
"When I am a man," he would often say, "I mean to be a missionary and go to China."
Was it only a childish impulse? Yes, but he meant it with all his heart, and meant it because he loved the Lord and wanted to please and follow Him.
Though he took life seriously from the first, he was sunny and bright by nature and dearly loved boyish fun. He had eyes and a heart for everything and retained to the end a capacity for enjoyment that was remarkable. Nature was his great delight, and he had the patience, sympathy, and power of observation needed for entering into its secrets. He would take any amount of trouble to cultivate a little fern or flower brought home from the woods, or to learn about the ways of birds, animals, and insects. All living, growing things seemed to possess a charm for him that years only increased.
Thus Hudson grew in body, mind, and spirit as the days went on. He was still too delicate to go to school, but the education he received at home more than made up for this loss. Not only were his studies systematic and his general intelligence developed, but the conversation of his parents and their visitors awakened thought and purpose to which the average schoolboy is a stranger. Hudson’s childhood, therefore, was filled not only with boyish games and pleasures but with learning things that would be needed for his extraordinary life to come.
The Finished Work of Christ
Childhood’s years passed by, and all unconsciously Hudson Taylor was drawing near to the crisis of his life. Outwardly he was now a bright lad of seventeen, with few anxieties or cares, but inwardly he was passing through a period of trial. Events had brought him into contact with the world as it is beyond the shelter of a Christian home. Under the stress of new experiences, he had begun to think for himself and live his life more or less independently of others, and a difficult business he found it until he learned to trust a higher strength than his own.
He had traveled far in those difficult years from the love and faith of childhood. And there yet had to be sad revelations of his own heart before he was to know that wonderful rest of faith into which he was privileged to lead so many others. Meanwhile, the unrest deepened, and he began to prove how little the world has to give in exchange for the presence and blessing of God.
Needless to say, this state of things marred the happiness of home and overclouded his naturally sunny disposition. He was all wrong, and his parents could not help seeing it. His father tried to help him but found it hard to be patient with the phase through which he was passing. His mother understood him better and redoubled her tenderness and prayers. But it was his sister Amelia, thirteen years of age, who was nearest to him and best able to win his confidence.
To her he could speak more freely than to grown-up people, and his indifference and unhappiness so affected her that she determined to pray about him three times every day until he was really converted. This she did for some weeks, going alone to plead with God for the salvation of her brother and even making a note in her journal that she would never cease to pray for him until he was brought into the light, and that she believed her petitions would be answered before long.
Thus wearied by failure, harassed by doubt, disappointed in all he had most wished to do and be, Hudson Taylor drew near to the crisis of his life, held by the faith and prayers of a few loving hearts that did know their God. He said in later years:
It may seem strange, but I have often felt thankful for this time of skepticism. The inconsistencies of Christian people who, while professing to believe the Bible, were yet content to live just as they would if there were no such book, had been one of the strongest arguments of my skeptical companions, and I frequently felt at that time, and said, that if I pretended to believe the Bible I would at any rate attempt to live by it, putting it fairly to the test, and if it failed to prove true and reliable, would throw it overboard altogether. These views I retained when the Lord was pleased to bring me to Himself. And I think I may say that since then I have put God’s Word to the test. Certainly it has never failed me. I have never had reason to regret the confidence I have placed in its promises or to deplore following the guidance I have found in its directions.
And now let me tell you how God answered the prayers of my mother and of my beloved sister for my conversion.
On a day I can never forget--my dear mother being absent from home, I had a holiday, and in the afternoon looked through my father’s library to find some book with which to while away the unoccupied hours. Nothing attracting me, I turned over a basket of pamphlets and selected from amongst them a Gospel tract that looked interesting, saying to myself: "There will be a story at the commencement and a sermon or moral at the close. I will take the former and leave the latter for those who like it."
I sat down to read the book in an utterly unconcerned state of mind, believing indeed at the time that if there were any salvation it was not for me and with a distinct intention to put away the tract as soon as it should seem prosy. I may say that it was not uncommon in those days to call conversion "becoming serious," and judging by the faces of some of its professors it appeared to be a very serious matter indeed! Would it not be well if the people of God had always telltale faces, evincing the blessings and gladness of salvation so clearly that unconverted people might have to call conversion "becoming joyful" instead of "becoming serious"?
Little did I know at the time what was going on in the heart of my dear mother, seventy or eighty miles away. She rose from the dinner table that afternoon with an intense yearning for the conversion of her boy, and feeling that, absent from home and having more leisure than she could otherwise secure, a special opportunity was afforded her of pleading with God on my behalf. She went to her room and turned the key in the door, resolved not to leave the spot until her prayers were answered. Hour after hour that dear mother pleaded, until at length she could pray no longer but was constrained to praise God for that which His Spirit taught her had already been accomplished, the conversion of her only son.
I in the meantime had been led in the way I have mentioned to take up this little tract, and while reading it was struck with the phrase: "The finished work of Christ."
"Why does the author use this expression?" I questioned. "Why not say the atoning or propitiatory work of Christ?"
Immediately the words, "It is finished," suggested themselves to my mind.
"What was finished?"
And I at once replied, "A full and perfect atonement and satisfaction for sin. The debt was paid for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."
Then came the further thought, "If the whole work was finished and the whole debt paid, what is there left for me to do?"
And with this dawned the joyful conviction, as light was flashed into my soul by the Holy Spirit, that there was nothing in the world to be done but to fall down on one’s knees and, accepting this Savior and His salvation, praise Him for evermore.
Thus while my dear mother was praising God on her knees in her chamber, I was praising Him in the old warehouse to which I had gone alone to read at my leisure this little book.
Several days elapsed ere I ventured to make my beloved sister the confidante of my joy, and then only after she had promised not to tell anyone of my soul secret. When Mother returned a fortnight later, I was the first to meet her at the door and to tell her I had such glad news to give. I can almost feel that dear mother’s arms round my neck as she pressed me to her heart and said,
"I know, my boy. I have been rejoicing for a fortnight in the glad tidings you have to tell."
"Why," I asked in surprise, "has Amelia broken her promise? She said she would tell no one."
My dear mother assured me that it was not from any human source she had learned the tidings, and went on to tell the incident mentioned above. You will agree with me that it would be strange indeed if I were not a believer in the power of prayer.
Nor was this all. Some time after, I picked up a pocketbook exactly like my own and, thinking it was mine, opened it. The lines that caught my eye were an entry in the little diary belonging to my sister, to the effect that she would give herself daily to prayer until God should answer in the conversion of her brother. One month later the Lord was pleased to turn me from darkness to light.
Brought up in such a circle and saved under such circumstances, it was perhaps natural that from the commencement of my Christian life I was led to feel that the promises were very real, and that prayer was, in sober matter of fact, transacting business with God, whether on one’s own behalf or on the behalf of those for whom one sought His blessing.
Here I Am; Send Me
It was the month of June 1849 when this definite apprehension of the atoning work of Christ changed the whole of life for Hudson Taylor. Hence forward he rejoiced in the conscious acceptance of God, not on the ground of anything he could do or be, but simply because of what the Lord Jesus is and has done. "Not I, but Christ" (Gal. 2:20) brought freedom, joy, and rest. It was the turning point in his experience, the commencement of a new order of things that, little as he realized it at the time, meant for him--China.
And now the unspeakable value of early training such as he had received and years of steady discipline in a Christian home became apparent. He was in a position to make rapid progress. The Bible was no strange book to him but familiar territory, a land of promise waiting to be possessed. Prayer was no unaccustomed effort but the natural outgoing of a heart long used to turning to God. There was much yet to learn, but mercifully there were few habits or memories of evil to erase. The Holy Spirit had, comparatively, a free field in his heart. And at seventeen years of age, all life was yet before him in which to "spend and be spent" (2 Cor. 12:15) for the Lord he loved.
Very manifest for one thing is the joy that overflowed those summer days, as Hudson Taylor realized himself to be indeed a child of God. He was happy. He found it to be a glad life, full of heart rest and satisfaction. For "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Rom. 8:16). And the sweetness of this fellowship could never be forgotten. It embraced all who were dearest to him on earth. For he found that being right with God put things right with those around him. It restored the happiness of home, made him a better son and more useful assistant to his father, and deepened especially the love that bound him to the dear sister whose prayers for him had been unfailing. Well may we doubt the reality of any blessing that does not make us easier to get along with, sweeter, and more loving, especially to those at home.
Another outcome of the change that had taken place was a longing every true child of God must know, the longing to give all in return for all that has been given. In the spirit of the Hebrew bondman this young heart cried, "I love my master--I will not go out free" (Exod. 21:5). He longed for some work to do for God, some service that might prove his gratitude, some suffering, even, that might bring him into deeper fellowship with the Lord he loved. An afternoon of leisure gave opportunity for prayer, and with this desire filling his heart he went up to his room to be alone with God. And there in a special way the Lord met him. He wrote about this long after:
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--who had saved me when I had given up all hope and even desire for salvation--I besought Him to give me some work for Him, as an outlet for love and gratitude; some self-denying service, no matter what it might be, however trying or however trivial; something with which He would be pleased, and that I might do for Him who had done so much for me. Well do I remember, as in unreserved consecration I put myself, my life, my friends, my all upon the altar, the deep solemnity that came over my soul with the assurance that my offering was accepted. The presence of God became unutterably real and blessed, and I well remember . . . stretching myself on the ground, and lying there before Him with unspeakable awe and unspeakable joy. For what service I was accepted I knew not. But a deep consciousness that I was not my own took possession of me, which has never since been effaced.
It was an hour that left its mark on life, an hour in which the soul began to apprehend "that for which also" it was "apprehended of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:12). The lad who closed his door that day to be alone with God was a very different being from the lad who rejoined the family circle some hours later. A purpose and a power possessed him, unknown before. He had given himself to God. His offering had been accepted. And though he did not know for what special service the Lord had need of him, he knew that he was no longer his own and must be ready for the call whenever it might come.
One result of this definite consecration is that he began to care about the welfare of others. Hitherto he had been concerned chiefly with his own growth in grace; now he must be about his Master’s business, which was the salvation of those around him. He was not deterred by the fact that he could do but little, nor did he excuse himself on the ground of unworthiness. If he could not preach or lead a class as yet, he could at any rate give away tracts and invite people to the house of God. Busy from morning until night in his father’s shop, it was not easy to make time for this work. But he found that by denying himself one of his chief pleasures on Sunday, he could gain a few hours just when people would be most accessible. The enjoyment that had to be forgone was the Sunday evening service to which he had been accustomed from childhood. But as much as he loved those helpful seasons, he could no longer be satisfied to feed his own soul continually and do nothing to carry the Bread of Life to the perishing around him. It was "a day of good tidings" (2 Kings 7:9). He was rejoicing in wealth and blessedness untold. And like the lepers in the Syrian camp, he and his sister Amelia felt as they talked it over, "we do not well" to "hold our peace." (2 Kings 7:9)
Instead of attending chapel therefore on Sunday evenings, they went out as soon as tea was over and made their way to the poorest parts of the town. Tracts were handed to all who would receive them, and the message of salvation was simply given as opportunity offered. Even the poorest lodging houses were not passed over. And though it cost an effort to go down those dark, narrow passages into the crowded kitchens, they were more than rewarded by a sense of His approval, whose they were and whom they sought to serve.
But joy in the Lord and in His service was not the only experience as summer passed away. There were also times of painful deadness of soul and much conflict. The heart that had so gladly accepted the finished work of an all-sufficient Savior now knew what it was to be wearied and disappointed in its struggles with sin. Somehow there seemed a gap between the power of the Lord Jesus to save "to the uttermost" (Heb. 7:25) and the needs of everyday life in shop and home. He found himself yielding to temptation, ease-loving, self-indulgent, and often disinclined for private prayer and study of the Word of God. Nothing could have been more real than his consecration; nothing could have been plainer than the disappointment that followed when he discovered his inability to do and be what he would. It even seemed to make matters worse instead of better. For things that before would not have troubled him were now intolerable. He had given himself to God without reserve, longing to be always and only His. And yet he could not maintain that attitude. Coldness of heart crept in, forgetfulness, indifference. The good he longed to do he did not, and the evil he hated too often had the mastery. He did "delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Rom. 7:22), but there was that other law bringing him into captivity to sin with all its deadening influences. (See Romans 7:19-23.) And he had not yet learned to cry: "Thanks be to God, ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death’ ." (Rom. 8:2)
At such times two courses are open to the perplexed and troubled soul. One is to abandon the ideal and gradually sink down to a low-level Christian life in which there is neither joy nor power. The other is just to go on with the Lord, and because of His "exceeding great and precious promises" (2 Pet. 1:4), to claim complete deliverance not from the guilt only, but also from the mastery of sin, just to go on with the Lord, trusting His strength and faithfulness to pardon, loose and cleanse, sanctify us wholly, and make our own every blessing promised in the eternal covenant.
Nothing less than this could satisfy Hudson Taylor. Conversion with him had been no easy-going assent of the mind to an abstract creed. No, it was a change deep and real. The cross of Christ had cut him off forever from the old life and from rest in anything the world could give. Nothing could satisfy him now but genuine holiness, unbroken fellowship with God who was his life, his all. Hence, times of spiritual lethargy and indifference were alarming. Deadness of soul was painful beyond endurance. He could not take backsliding easily. Thank God, even the beginnings of backsliding were worse to him than death.
Moreover, he recognized that he was saved to serve, and that a work was waiting for which a life of inner victory and power would be essential. He had had his unsatisfactory experiences and deeply knew how little a man has for others, who is not himself walking at liberty within. During his skeptical days he had seen that the only logical position for the Christian is to go all lengths with God. He had then determined to throw off religion altogether, unless it were possible to obtain in actual reality the promises held out to simple faith. There could be no middle course for him. If his life were to be of any use to God or man he must have that love "out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned" (1 Tim. 1:5) which is sanctification indeed. This was the only power to make even the most wholehearted consecration practical and enduring.
And this was a gift from above, like the fire that fell in answer to Elijah’s prayers; the supernatural, divine response to a heart that, having laid all upon the altar, would not be denied the cleansing, sanctifying power.
It is not to be wondered at that in seeking this promised blessing the Barnsley lad should have times of conflict and defeat. In comparing his experience with that of other men of God one is surprised, rather, that he did not suffer more from the opposition and assault of the Devil. For it was nothing less than full deliverance upon which he had set his heart; that was the point: real holiness and daily victory over sin.
Absorbed in his own need, the lad was longing for true holiness, the life that is "no longer I, but Christ" in everything. (See Galatians 2:20.) The Lord with wider needs in view was seeking him for this, but not for this only. In His great purposes the time had come when the Gospel could no longer be withheld from the "uttermost parts of the earth" (Ps. 2:8). China even must be opened, and its most distant provinces gladdened with tidings of a Savior’s love. There it lay in age-long darkness, its teeming millions--a quarter of the human race--living, dying without God. It was of China the Lord was thinking, may we not say it reverently, as well as of Hudson Taylor. But the lad was not ready yet to hear the call, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" (Isa. 6:8). The work of the convicting Spirit needed to go deeper before he could be fully blessed and brought into harmony with the mind of God. Thus his sense of sin and need became more intense as he wrestled for the deliverance without which he could not, dared not go on.
What was it that was keeping him from the life for which he longed? What was the secret of his frequent failure and backsliding in heart? Was there something not fully surrendered, some disobedience or unfaithfulness to light? Fervently he prayed that God would show him the hindrance, whatever it might be, and enable him to put it away. He had come to an end of self, to a place where only God could deliver, where he must have His succor, His enlightenment, His aid. It was a life and death matter. Everything seemed at stake. Like one of old he was constrained to cry, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." (Gen. 32:26)
And then, alone upon his knees, a great purpose arose within him. If only God would work on his behalf, would break the power of sin and save him spirit, soul, and body for time and for eternity, he would renounce all earthly prospects and be utterly at His disposal. He would go anywhere, do anything, suffer whatever His cause might demand, and be wholly given to His will and service. This was the cry of his heart, nothing held back--if only God would deliver him and keep him from falling. He wrote:
Never shall I forget the feeling that came over me then. Words can never describe it. I felt I was in the presence of God, entering into covenant with the Almighty. I felt as though I wished to withdraw my promise, but could not. Something seemed to say, "Your prayer is answered, your conditions are accepted." And from that time the conviction never left me that I was called to China.
For distinctly, as if a voice had spoken it, the command was given: "Then go for Me to China."
Silently as the sunrise over a summer sea, this new day dawned upon his waiting soul. China? Yes, China. That was the meaning of his life--past, present, and to come. Away beyond himself, outside the little world of his own heart experience, lay the great, waiting world, those for whom no man cared, for whom Christ died. "Then go for Me to China." Your prayer is answered; your conditions are accepted. All you ask and more, far more, will be given. There will be deeper knowledge of the Lord; fellowship in His sufferings, His death, His resurrection; a life of inner victory and power.
For I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. (Acts 26:16-18)
A little slip of paper tells the rest--all, that is, that can be told--a brief postscript to his letter written that very night, the outpouring of a heart so full that it must overflow.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me shout His praise! Glory to God, my dear Amelia. Christ has said, "Seek, and ye shall find" (Matt. 7:7), and praise His name, He has revealed Himself to me in an overflowing manner. He has cleansed me from all sin, from all my idols. He has given me a new heart. Glory, glory, glory to His ever blessed Name! I cannot write for joy. I open my letter to tell you.
Yes, it was done. From that day onward life was on another plane. The Lord had met him, satisfied his soul, and spoken again the sweet, compelling command, "Follow Me." Outwardly it was manifest that a great change had come over him. His mother wrote:
From that hour, his mind was made up. His pursuits and studies were all engaged in with reference to this object, and whatever difficulties presented themselves his purpose never wavered.
For inwardly there was a deep subjection to the will of God, resting upon a profound and unalterable sense of what that will was for him. And with this came new purity and power, a steady growth in grace, and fullness of blessing that carried him through all the testing and preparation of the next few years.
"Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it." (1 Thess. 5:24)
That was what made him and kept him, the real beginning of his walk with God as a man set apart.