Reading Biographies: Hudson Taylor
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil. 4:11b-12)
Paul’s Spiritual Secret
In all circumstances, good or bad, he learned to be content (Phil. 4:11b). So Paul had joy whatever the circumstance. Then, the apostle says that he has “learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need”. What’s the secret? In every situation he has learned to rely on the power that comes from Jesus Christ: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). So when we abide daily in our union with Christ and the power of the Spirit, the product is joy, no matter what. This is the secret. Jesus calls it abiding in the Vine – that is, himself (Jn. 15).
That is a daily default position of apprehending the new covenant reality of being a new creation “in Christ”, and then to continually rely upon his work for us and trust his word to keep and guide us. I think this is the hardest thing for Christians to grasp. Satisfaction in Christ alone means that we can have joy in suffering knowing he is working for our good and his glory. We can also have joy in plenty, knowing that it is a gift from him. And better than the gift is the giver himself. This reality needs to be learned. It grows over time and through trials.
Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret
Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret written by Howard and Geraldine Taylor is the next book I’m recommending in this Reading Biographies series. Taylor was a husband, father, preacher and missionary to China in the 19th century, and the founder of the China Inland Mission. Taylor learned the secret that Paul learned, and it changed and empowered an amazing life spent for God on mission.
Hudson longed for more of Christ, a more experiential knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Who doesn’t want more? In fact, we are commanded to press on to know the Lord (Hos. 6:3) and abound more and more in love (Phil.1: 9). He wrestled with a holy dissatisfaction for Christ. Here’s a taster from the book at the turning point in his spiritual life. Speaking about the impact of a letter from his friend John McCarthy he said, “When the agony of my soul was at its height a sentence in a letter from dear McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before.” The line read, “ But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith but by resting on the faithful one.”
Taylor remarks, “As I read I saw it all! ‘If we believe not he abideth faithful’ (2 Tim. 2:13). I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that he had said, ‘I will never leave thee’ (Heb. 13:5)” (p.122). Resting in, not striving for union with Christ was the key.
Taylor was influenced by the Keswick Movement, but did not make the mistake of its excesses by searching for experiences of a “higher life” that do not last or the passive approach to holiness that gives birth to a “let go and let God” attitude. His was active rest in Christ, active abiding in the Vine. Here’s the twist though: We struggle often with how to abide more. The secret is resting, trusting and believing that Christ will keep us abiding because we are one with him and he will supply all our needs, especially faith. The overflow of this secret that Taylor learned was personal joy in Christ which drove him to risk all, suffer much, and work harder than any to further the cause of Christ to the nations.
John McArthur says of Taylor, “he lived so much in the presence of Jesus Christ that he began to feel the great heartbeat of Jesus for the lost souls.”
Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, Howard and Geraldine Taylor, (OMF International, 2010)
See also John Piper's treatment of the life of Hudson Taylor in the 2014 Desiring God conference on Union with Christ. Note Piper’s careful treatment of the Keswick Movement’s influence on Taylor, and his brilliant illustration of how Taylor rested in Christ (minute 43:20-48:36)