Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret

The little word on the back cover of this book, the one that describes where it should go in the library, says ‘inspirational.’ I thought it was a biography, but apparently I was wrong. Though I find that biographies can often be quite inspiring, so I assume it works the other way in that inspirational books can, in fact, also be biographies.

Hudson Taylor was the man who founded the China Inland Mission (now known as the Overseas Mission Fellowship) in the mid to late nineteenth century. As an organisation, its growth was remarkable, having reached 750 missionaries in China when he laid down the leadership role in 1900. The cost of such a venture ran into millions of dollars, and yet the organisation never made requests for money (aside from in prayer), nor did it ever go into debt. Such facts, and the many stories that accompany them, hint at the monumental faith that formed the backbone of the mission, a foundation laid in large part by Hudson Taylor.

As a literary piece, I found this book very interesting. It is written in a funny style that I find hard to describe. It frequently refers to Mr. Taylor in abstract terms, switching between more traditional third person (“he did this”) and this odd removed way of describing things (“the man of prayer did this"). Take, for example: “Far from being elated at the turn events were taking, success only added to his sense of responsibility, and it was a man burdened with a God-given message who moved from place to place that memorable winter…” Although it is quite different style to other books I have read, I think it is an enjoyable change, and it was quite refreshing to read something so unique.

The word ‘inspirational’ on the back cover should serve as a warning to those who like dry, objective and merely academic biographies. This is clearly written by people with enormous respect for Hudson Taylor’s work (the authors are his son and daughter-in-law!), and who intend their readers to be inspired by his story. This is one of the least balanced biographies I have ever read, and my only criticism is that the language is so dressed up that I suspect it portrays him in too favourable a light. It is true that Hudson Taylor lived an amazing life of deep and living faith, however, the authors have highlighted all the best aspects of his life, while skimming over the lower points. I guess that’s the whole point of biographies though.

Besides this very minor point I found the book to be very enjoyable, informative, challenging and, yes, inspiring. I’ve already alluded to his faith, which is a very strong theme of the book. The authors do a good job of showing how this faith was rooted and founded in rich and frequent solitary devotions. “To [Hudson Taylor], the secret of overcoming lay in daily, hourly fellowship with God; and this, he found, could only be maintained by secret prayer and feeding upon the Word through which He reveals Himself to the waiting soul.” ‘Pray and read your Bible,’ seems to be one of those Christian clichés that only has enough power to score some points in Sunday School quizzes. This book, I’m sure, will redefine what prayer and Bible study mean to many readers. Another memorable quote:

“…and then, after sleep at last had brought a measure of quiet, they would hear a match struck and see a flicker of candlelight which told that Mr. Taylor, however weary, was poring over the little Bible in two volumes always at hand. From two to four A.M. was the time he usually gave to prayer; the time when he could be most sure of being undisturbed to wait upon God.”

Needless to say, I am stoked to have read this book, and would recommend it unreservedly to others. It is a worthy resource not only for the historical record of Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission, but also for the challenge it presents to the modern reader.

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