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BOOK REVIEW
J. Hudson Taylor: A Man in Christ
by Roger Steer
Roger Steer has written a fitting and highly commendable tribute to J. Hudson Taylor who, as a missionary to China and founder of China Inland Missions, lived an extraordinary life in submission to God and in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Roger Steer's comprehensive biography of Hudson Taylor's life and work, "Hudson Taylor: A Man in Christ" (HTAMIC), is a carefully crafted, compelling, well-told and well-written account of one of the nineteenth century's missionary legends. The story starts in a small room at the back of a pharmacy in the English town of Barnsley where a young pregnant woman is praying for a son who will serve as a missionary in China. It ends seventy years later in a small room in China, where a man, who became the spiritual father to over 50 million Chinese Christians, was called home to rest in heaven. The years between birth and death were filled with a magnificent, single-minded purpose, which was to bring knowledge of the Gospel to the thousands of Chinese who were dying daily a without knowledge of the sacrifice of Christ.

HTAMIC is a fitting and highly commendable biography that chronologically traces the defining moments of Taylor's life and his development as both a Christian and as a missionary. The decision to become a Christian and to serve as a missionary in China were two of the most important decisions Taylor ever made. Steer is quick to point out that although "both sides of the [Taylor's] family were Methodist" and although Taylor's father instructed him and his siblings to "Love your Bible," Taylor in his youth began to doubt God. Steer carefully describes the causes of these doubts and articulately records Taylor's final conversion to the faith. A short while after his conversion Taylor asked God for "something to do" and Steer records that Taylor wrote, "from that time the conviction has never left me that I was called to China."

Perhaps the most important decision Taylor ever made, and the one Steer notes "would assure his [Taylor's] name a place in history," was the formation of China Inland Missions (CIM). The organization was founded with the explicit purpose of evangelizing the interior of China and aimed to place missionaries in all of China's provinces. Many mission agencies that were operating in China at that time were restricting themselves to the treaty ports and very few had dared to venture into the interior. Yet Taylor was compelled by a single thought that defined his purpose: "Thirty-three thousand people will die in China today without hope - without God."

It was this thought that initially drove Taylor into the Chinese mission field and resulted in a stream of missionary journeys to the land and people he would grow to love. Steer's overview of Taylor's many trips are colorful depictions that encapsulate the full drama of what it meant to be a missionary in 19th century China. The difficulties with learning the language, the dangers of disease, the problems with communicating with supporters in London and the burden of not having a constant supply of funds. Added to these were the dangers of civil war and persecution. The life of a missionary in China (and especially within the interior) at this time was a perilous and difficult task. Yet through all this Taylor, throughout his life, remained committed to his mission.

To construct an accurate picture of both Taylor, and the times in which he lived Steer has made careful and effective use of both letters and diary entries written by Taylor and his contemporaries. While most of the entries that focus on Taylor's character are uplifting, not all of them are complementary. Steer avoids embellishments and he is careful to document times when Taylor faced both spiritual difficulties and hardship. At one point Steer writes, "sometimes he [Taylor] doubted whether someone [like Taylor himself] so dogged by failure could be a Christian at all." Throughout HTAMIC Steer admirably persists in constructing an honest, down to earth portrayal of Taylor the man. The result is a powerful human portrait of someone who was willing to give up all to follow God.

Taylor's success as a missionary and as founder of CIM was the result of his unfading commitment to prayer and his dedication to hard work. Taylor's son wrote, "Hudson Taylor prayed about things as if everything depended upon the praying, but then he worked as if everything depended upon the work." Taylor himself wrote:

Who spoke of rest? There is rest above.

No rest on earth for me. On, onto do

My Father's business. He, who sent me here,

Appointed me my time on earth to bide,

And set me all m work o do for Him,

He will supply me with sufficient grace -

Grace to be doing, to be suffering

Not to be resting. There is rest above.
Taylor's commitment to hard work was observed by Dr. De la Porte, a Christian doctor who worked in Shantou when Taylor was working in the area. Dr. De la Porte wrote:

I have seen him come home at the close of the day footsore and weary, his face covered with blisters from the heat of the sun. He would throw himself down to rest in a state of utter exhaustion, and then get up again in a few hours to face the toil and hardship of another day. It was clear to me that he enjoyed the highest respect from the Chinese, and was doing a great deal of good among them.
HTAMIC is an inspiring testimony to how God can use any person to accomplish his work on earth. Hudson Taylor was neither a physically big man nor a particularly healthy person. Even when hearing him speak people were not overly impressed. When an article in a Canadian newspaper wrote that Taylor was "rather disappointing" he responded with all humility saying, "I have often thought that God made me little in order that He might show what a great God He is."

The impact and influence of Taylor's life and work are still felt around the world today. Many of the missionary techniques he employed were revolutionary at the time and were adopted by missionaries in later years. The organization he founded, CIM, has blossomed into the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF), which today has missionaries scattered throughout Asia and aims to evangelize East Asian people wherever they may be. Yet for us, the most important lessons that can be derived from Taylor's life are best described by his great grandson, James Hudson Taylor III who writes in the epilogue to HTAMIC:
The lessons in discipleship highlighted in J Hudson Taylor: A Man in Christ are not limited to a man or the organization he founded. They are abiding principles that can be learned and lived by any Christian, whether student or home-maker, employer or employee. The key is to act on them.
Dr. De la Porte wrote that Taylor's "influence was like that of a fragrant flower, spreading the sweetness of true Christianity all about him." February 29, 2004 marked the 150th anniversary of Taylor's arrival in China. One hundred and fifty years later HTAMIC ensures that Taylor's influence will continue to be felt in our generation. As Christians, let us all, in the tradition of Hudson Taylor, submit ourselves to the Lord and dedicate ourselves to "spreading the sweetness of true Christianity" all about us.

-PKS (31-Mar-2004)