4. The Spirituality of Hudson Taylor

The Spirituality of James Hudson Taylor

by T. David Nichols

This paper is but a superficial attempt to describe the spirituality of James Hudson Taylor (Taylor, hereafter), the founder of China Inland Mission, which later became OMF Intl, the organization to which the author belongs. In discussing the spirituality of Taylor, I will be presenting a summary of the focal points of Taylor’s life as he related to God. Spirituality is an experience of life with God, who is both transcendent and immanent. For Taylor, we will see his spirituality is a response to the divine initiative, which will follow the Wesleyan tradition. (Watson 207) Sheldrake suggests that spirituality “seeks to express the conscious human response to God that is both personal and ecclesial. In short, “life in the Spirit.” (25)

It is sometimes difficult to know what is involved in spirituality and what is not. (Sheldrake 39) Collins suggests that there are four polarities in spiritual writing which help to provide some focus. These are: Personal/Social, Ascetic/Incarnational, Cognitive/ Affective, Apophatic/Kataphatic. (Notes) Boa and Lee describe Sager’s eight spirituality types that attempt to describe the preferred means of pursuing the spiritual life by combining these last two polarities: apophatic-heart spirituality, kataphatic-mind spirituality, kataphatic-heart spirituality, apophatic-mind spirituality. It will be the goal of this paper to show that Taylor followed a kataphatic-heart spirituality. (468-70) “These are the people who want to feel their religion. They are suspicious of doctrinal formalism. They allow the affective arena to dominate their thinking. They typically insist on an outward expression of an inner change.” (Lee 97) It will also be shown that Taylor’s spirituality was more of a personal and incarnational nature as opposed to social and ascetic.

In doing research for this paper, I read a number of secondary sources about Taylor, many of which told stories about Taylor but had limited descriptions of his personal spiritual life. None of Taylor’s writings are currently in print and so had to be downloaded from various archives or collections on the internet. Taylor wrote what I would call devotional commentaries and I was able to access his writings on Numbers, Ruth, Psalm 1, Job, Song of Solomon as well as writings on cross-bearing and communion with Christ. These files were in different formats and I have copied and pasted them into Word format for easy access. Thus, there will be no specific page numbers for Taylor’s writings when they are cited. An extremely helpful resource was a recent dissertation by a colleague of mine, Dr. Christopher E.M. Wigram, called The Bible and mission in faith perspective: J.Hudson Taylor and the early China Inland Mission. Dr. Wigram had complete access to the archives of OMF Intl, which held all the writings, letters and journals of Taylor.

Means of Grace

Because of the deep influence of Methodism on Taylor, it is not surprising that the concept of “means of grace” (“outward ordinances—whereby the faith that brings salvation is conveyed. . .” Watson 185) was important to Taylor. Taylor believed that progress in spirituality was possible and it was based on Bible reading, prayer and self-denial. (Wigram 85) Reading the Scriptures and prayer were two of the most important for Taylor. Fasting was also taught to the Chinese Christians and recognized as a “means of grace” although it was not popular. (Ibid. 46, 75, Lessons 104)

Bible Reading

Taylor’s spirituality is intimately tied up with his use of the Bible. For Taylor, the Scriptures brought an illumination of the heart or an affective spirituality. He was disciplined to read the Bible daily, waking before dawn to pray and read, seeking to be personally transformed by its message. Both the inner experience and the outward behavior of the Bible reader were to be changed. (Raymond) This transformation came about by a humble, prayerful meditation on the scriptures. (Ibid.72, Lessons 19) For Taylor, there was an intimate connection between the written word and living word. As he fed on the written word, he was feeding on the living Christ and he mentioned this as part of his teaching on John 15:7. (Ibid. 88) Taylor said, “We are not even to come just to the Word of God: rather, we are to go through that Word to the person of the Lord Jesus Himself.” (Raymond) The secret to abiding in Christ was a regular intake from the Word. (Wigram 106)

Reading the Bible provided power for holy living. Writing about Psalm 1, Taylor said that the directions and commands of Scripture should lead the believer to a life increasingly characterized by obedience and trust. (Psalm) He believed that as He read the Bible, God spoke directly to him. Reading the Bible with a “quiet waiting before God would save one from many a mistake and from many a sorrow.” (Union) Haggai 2 became a passage that applied to China and himself; Zechariah 2:8 offered a promise for protection. (Wigram 122)

It is not that the intellect was not important for Taylor since one time he complained that the mission was being limited because of a lack of people that were “sufficiently superior, educationally and mentally and spiritually. . .” (Man 254) However, he did dismiss those who held a mere intellectual knowledge of God. (Wigram 72) Reflective of his devotional reading was his habit of combining Bible reading with the singing of a hymn and he often urged his Chinese converts to bring both a Bible and hymnal to meetings. (Ibid. 86, 88)

Taylor used the Scriptures not to justify the need for mission but to feed the disciple living in the context of mission. However, he did believe that principles for how to do mission could be found, especially by the “attentive disciple.” (Ibid. 105, 126) “For this reason Taylor could find deep spiritual truth in single verses whilst mostly ignoring the context of the passage and other hermeneutical considerations.” (Ibid. 102)

Taylor liked biblical texts that could easily be interpreted literally or lent themselves easily to a figurative or allegorical understanding. Thus, “I am the bread of life” from John 6:35 became one of his favorite passages for preaching to the Chinese. (Ibid. 275) He applied the freedom from worry in Philippians 4:6-7 and 1 Peter 5:7 to the rest of faith (Ibid. 95) as well as the rivers of living water in John 7:37-39 and the rest of Hebrews 4:9. (Ibid. 94) The intimacy of bride and groom in the Song of Solomon was a picture of the abiding believer and Christ was to be found in the reaping fields of Ruth. (Ruth)

Suffering as means of grace

Taylor suffered a great deal as a missionary (his first wife and three of his first four children died) and yet he saw the testing of his faith to be “among the chief means of grace to my own soul. . .” (Wigram 72) Sacrifice brought a level of intimacy with God not previously experienced. Yet, for Taylor, God always acted as a loving Father, “who only permits that which for the time being is grievous, in order to accomplish results that cannot be achieved in any less painful way.” (Job) In Retrospect, Taylor said that he had expected (“highly probable”), that the work to which God had called, would cost him his life. In a meditation on Psalm 54:11 (“The Lord God is a sun and a shield”), Taylor reflected on the protection and safety that God provided, whether in England or in China. He would write, “Only when our work is done will He take us home; and this He will do whether we serve Him here or there. To know and to do His will – this is our safety; this is our rest.” (Great Father) Taylor would later die at the age of 72 in his beloved China.

Action and Obedience

If feeding on the Bible caused one to feed on Christ, then the result of Bible reading and abiding in Christ was action and obedience. Taylor would say that a disciple’s “only responsibility, and his deepest joy, is to obey.” (Man 272) Taylor believed that a refinement of his spirituality came through a very active life. (Wigram 93) Since obedience highlighted the connection between word and action, “acts of service secured God’s blessing and led to fruitfulness.” (Separation) Taylor recognized that since all service to Christ was a response to an abiding or rest in Christ, it was critical that action not overpower one’s rest. He noted the danger of activity without communion, “the intense activity of our times may lead to zeal in service, to the neglect of personal communion; but such neglect will not only lessen the value of the service, but tend to incapacitate us for the highest service.” (Union) An often quoted statement out of his commentary on Song of Songs speaks about this, “It is never by His will that our rest in Him is disturbed.” (Union) And yet, he also believed that the rest of faith would lead to more activity. (Wigram 94)

For Taylor, “Christ was Lord of all or not Lord at all.”

“Those who do not make God Lord of all do not make Him Lord at all. The slightest reservation in our consecration shows that we hold ourselves as our own, . . If we recognize Him as Lord and Master, we have nothing to withhold, and nothing of our own, for we, and all we have, are already His. But then, in return, all He has, and all He is, become ours. (Separation)

Taylor believed that the voluntary surrender of a believer to the will of God should flow out of a love for the Father and would be possible only because grace made him willing. (Psalm) The daily question said Taylor must be, “What would JESUS like? And His mind and will, once ascertained, must unhesitatingly be carried out.” (Cross) Obedience was more than not being conformed to this world. (Separation) Said Taylor, “God desires an active obedience, not just refraining from disobedience.” (Union) Of course, this drew the disciple back to the importance of the Word of God so that he might know what and whom to obey.

The Core of Taylor’s Spirituality

There are two core areas around which Taylor’s spirituality seems to turn. One is the “the exchanged life as power for mission” and the other is “faith and prayer.” These two core issues will lead to an understanding of what he saw as the basic problem of humanity. This directs us towards the goal of his spirituality and toward the passions of his heart. It is here in the core of his spirituality that his view of money can be understood. Finally, it will become clear in this section that Taylor preferred a kataphatic-heart spirituality, a spirituality with a incarnational and a personal focus.

The Exchanged Life as Power for Mission

It has already been mentioned that Taylor saw the reading of the Bible as critical to enable him to “abide in Christ.” Faith, or a holding onto God’s faithfulness, enabled one to abide or rest in Christ. Abiding in Christ was the only way that a life of holiness could be lived. Taylor expected that the result of abiding in Christ, a commitment to live a holy life, a literal reading of the Scripture and a life of faith would lead one to a life of mission—in Taylor’s case, a concern for the lost souls in China.

Taylor believed that union with Christ, abiding in Christ, the exchanged life and holy living should be the normal experience of every believer and certainly for every missionary within CIM. (Poyner, Man 238) This is why he taught so much in the Song of Songs and John 15—these books could help his audiences to understand what union with Christ meant. (Wigram 98) By dwelling in Christ, Taylor “partook of His very being and resources. He was ‘in God’ all the time, and God in him. It was the true ‘abiding’ of John 15.” (Raymond)Abiding did not happen because of anything the believer had done but by staying in the hands of the master. (Wigram 97) Taylor would write, “The fruit of the Vine is the glad, free, spontaneous outcome of the life within; and it forms and grows and ripens in its proper season.” (Psalm)

Abiding began at one’s conversion that was received by faith. (Wigram 272) However, the Christian was not to copy the master but to reflect him, and to do this the Christian needed to meditate on Christ. Others should see the reflected beauty of the LORD in his bride, the church. (Union) Talking about 2 Cor 3:18 and how we reflect his image as we behold him, Taylor wrote, “So while the bride is delighting in the beauty of the Bridegroom He beholds His own image in her . . . May we ever present this reflection to His gaze, and to the world in which we live for the very purpose of reflecting Him.” (Ibid.)

The role of faith was understood in the analogy of the vine and the branches. The secret lay in “not asking how I am to get sap out of the vine into myself, but remembering that Jesus is the Vine . . .. Not seeking for faith to bring holiness, but rejoicing in the fact of perfect holiness in Christ . . . Inseparably one with Him, this holiness is ours. His resources are mine, for He is mine. All this springs from the believer’s oneness with Christ.” (Poyner) Taylor wrote, “The Lord Jesus received is holiness begun ; the Lord Jesus cherished is holiness advancing ; the Lord Jesus counted upon as never absent would be holiness complete.”

Taylor made a distinction between union and abiding. ‘Union is uninterrupted, but abiding may be interrupted.’ When the latter happened, sin followed. Abiding was restored through confession of sins and looking to Jesus. However, from the consciousness of union sprang the power to abide. (Wigram 300, 101) For the believer, the gaze of faith was all that is needed. “Well is it when our eyes are filled with His beauty and our hearts are occupied with Him.” (Union) A Christian in union with Christ would enjoy all the fullness of Christ. (Wigram 97) It would be the ministry of the Spirit that would enable the believer to enjoy the blessings of Jesus Christ. (Separation)

For Taylor, “mission was the obvious, outward focus of a life that was holy and consecrated to God.” (Wigram 81) The coming to Christ for fresh spiritual resources was always followed by the command to go out in mission. (Ibid. 239) He believed that millions were perishing because of a lack of knowledge about Christ in China. (Man 173) The believer was to give as well as receive and vitality was maintained by a pure life before others. (Psalm) He saw God’s command to go to the world throughout the Scriptures. Writing about Ruth gleaning in the fields, Taylor would write, “When He says, Go! Shall we reply, No? When He asks us to continue in His harvest till the reaping is over, shall we say Him, Nay? . . . Let us not be slow to obey the command to ‘go, teach all nations.’ Where the need is greatest let us be found gladly obeying the MASTER’S command. For it is in the harvest-field, it is among the reapers, that we shall find Him.” (Ruth)

Taylor’s hunger for holiness was always connected with his evangelistic zeal. Both were rooted in gratitude for Christ’s gift of salvation through His blood. “Pray for me that I may live more and more to His praise, be more devoted to Him, incessant in labours in his cause, fitted for China, ripened for glory.” (Poyner) To be a soul-winner, one must lift up CHRIST so he could draw men unto Him. (Union) Mission to China was the passion of Taylor’s heart, “I feel as if I could not live if something is not done for China,” he once told his mother. (Poyner) Progress in knowing God personally was essential, and Taylor maintained that it had its peak in a concern for mission, for only there was it possible to understand something of the heart of God for people. (Wigram 73) At the same time, Taylor believed that the issue of the deeper spiritual life that was Christ must continually be at the forefront in missionary work. (Ibid. 86) Thus for Taylor, there was a “continual activist thrust towards an outward result from an inner abiding.” (Ibid. 101) One reason that he did not take up offerings in meetings was because he felt that for many God wanted not their money but a “personal consecration to His service abroad.” (Man 177) Taylor believed that a true biblical spirituality and an entire consecration to Christ would include a commitment to mission. (Wigram 102) Writing about the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Taylor would say that it was the King’s responsibility to authenticate and ensure the results of the believers witness in obedience to his commands. (Separation) Simply put, union with Christ led to witness for Christ. “One with our LORD, it is ours to show forth His graces and virtues, to reflect His beauty, to be His faithful witnesses.” (Union)

No Holiness Apart from Christ

For Taylor, an obedient life was a holy life. “Faith in Christ was . . .an essential ingredient in holiness” (Lessons 86) Reflecting on 2 Corinthians, Taylor wrote, “there is a moral and progressive change into His likeness, the work of the Lord, the Spirit.” (Separation) Taylor did not claim perfection for himself, warning against walking in darkness and exhorting others to confess sin. “There is only one safe course, to confess the sin that has grieved Him, and take no rest till communion is restored; . . .When sin is put away the Spirit again lifts up His countenance upon us, and peace fills the heart.” (Ibid.) However, writing about Israel’s wilderness wanderings in Numbers, he wrote, “But it is the will of GOD that there should never be a cloud between His people and Himself.” (Riband)

Taylor warned that holding even one thing back from God could become a spiritual disaster for the person concerned. (Wigram 249) “In this light he often questioned his readers as to their own spiritual state.” (Ibid. 95)

Are we practically enjoying this blessing, and experiencing this peace which passes all understanding? Are we finding that when He makes quietness, none can make trouble? And if not, what is the hindrance? Is there any known sin unconfessed, or not put away? Has wrong been done, and restitution to the extent of our ability not been made? Is there any matter in which God has a controversy with us? Or are we indulging ourselves in anything about which we have doubt? Are we withholding anything from God which is His due? Ourselves, our property, our children; or, it may be, our testimony? Or, if none of these things are hindering us, are we failing to accept, by faith, the filling of the Spirit; perhaps only asking, but not receiving also? Is it that we are neglecting the prayerful study of God’s Word, and thus grieving the Spirit. (Separation)

Taylor had two life changing holiness experiences in 1849 and 1869. (Wigram 83, 85) Before these experiences, holiness and abiding in Christ seemed to be unattainable. (Poyner) Taylor felt “conscious of a constant struggle with the issues of sin and holiness in the light of his personal weakness and failures.” (Wigram 83) Following, these deeper spiritual life experiences, Taylor felt a deeper level of personal holiness and new spiritual power to lead that was extended throughout the mission. (Ibid. 82, 83) Taylor saw that God’s perfection was an absolute perfection; while his own, could only be relative at best. (Riband) When Christians would let God have His right place in their life under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, “everything will follow, as needful, for the carrying out of God’s plan in the life or work.” (Separation)


Hudson Taylor’s faith principle was foundational for his spirituality. (Wigram 89) In fact, “his dependence on God through his teaching on faith became the dominant feature of his life and subsequent fame.” (Ibid. 101) Thus, the basic basic problem for man was unbelief. A lack of trust was at the root of every form of hindrance in one’s relationship to God. (Separation) Israel’s problem was a lack of faith in God. (Wigram 91) Failure to trust God lay at the root of the failure of world mission. (89) Prayer went unanswered according to 2 Corinthians 12:9 because it was “asked amiss, contrary to God’s revealed will or unmixed with faith.” (Ibid. 79) Taylor would write, “Let not low thoughts, GOD-dishonoring thoughts, unbelieving, distrustful thoughts, limit His blessings; for “No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.” (Great Father)

Taylor drew on two main passages for his teaching about faith. For Taylor, “Have faith in God” (Mark 11:22), emphasized not the human response of faith but “the reality of God’s faithfulness” and thus preferred the translation, “Hold God’s faithfulness.” (Wigram 91) Another important verse for Taylor regarding God’s faithfulness was 2 Timothy 2:13, “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” Taylor had no doubt that if faith did not fail, God would not fail. But, if faith failed? He wrote, “But also that when we fail to trust fully He still remains unchangingly faithful. He is wholly true whether we trust or not.” (Growth 431) Taylor saw God issuing an invitation to trust Him in 1 Peter 5:7, “He cares for you.”

Since a lack of trust was the frequent root of much failure in the Christian life; “the way to escape from it was to observe God’s faithfulness.” (Wigram 92) Taylor would say during a low spot in his life, “I cannot read; I cannot think; I cannot even pray; but I can trust.” (Lessons 133) The way to increase a weak faith was to dwell upon the indwelling Christ for a lack of faith revealed a lack of communion with Christ. (Wigram 83) It was clear where the problem existed when there was a loss of communion, “the experience of most of us shows how easily communion with CHRIST may be broken . . . The failure is never on His side.” (Union) If Christ would lead one back to faith and faith lead one to Christ, “the Christian must not be occupied by faith itself but by the object of that faith, namely Christ.”(Wigram 98) A focus on the indwelling Christ brought with it the rest of faith. “But if we fulfill the conditions, He is certainly faithful, and instead of our having to keep our hearts and minds– our affections and thoughts– we shall find them kept for us.” (Job)

Since faith was so important to Taylor, it is no wonder that the most important spiritual quality needed for any missionary candidate was “the unshakeable conviction that there is a faithful God—coupled with the ability and willingness to trust Him.” (Man 175) However, this trust in the faithful God was not to be limited only to those who went abroad. “There is no Christian service in which faith must not be in lively exercise. At home, abroad, connected with this branch of GOD’S work or that, without faith it is impossible to please Him.” (Ruth) Without faith, people would become “third class Christians whose failure lies largely in their not embracing the promise and claiming it by faith. (Psalm)

This faith center of Taylor’s spirituality deeply influenced his financial policies. A strict policy of non-solicitation was practiced. “A God-given, God-guided, spiritual impulse is expressed in every donation we receive. There is no need to make appeal to man, only to God.” (Man 301) Taylor practiced this faith principle personally as well as organizationally. When it was suggested that the mission reduce the number of missionaries they were sending out, Taylor would write, “Not to advance would be to retreat from the position of faith.” (Lessons 69) When discussing the hardships he and other missionaries faced, he would say, “Faith in God alone gives joy and rest in such circumstances.” (Man 84)


How Taylor prayed was an outflow of his faith principle. His prayer life arose out of and contributed to his abiding in Christ. “Taylor’s spirituality prioritised prayer. It was his first resource whether in crisis or normality.” (Wigram 77) Just as his faith principle was applied to the mission he started, so prayer became the foundation of his mission.

Like faith, prayer was integrally tied together with his abiding in Christ. Taylor took confidence that his prayers would be answered if he maintained an abiding relationship with Christ. “If you abide I me and I abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” John 15:7 “Answers to prayer depended on . . . abiding in Christ and allowing his word to abide in the believer.” (Wigram 78) In the same way, asking in the name of Jesus (John 14:3), brought a promised answer. Praying in the name of Jesus implied an abiding relationship. “Prayer in the Name of Christ implies a conscious oneness with Him in whose name we act . . .” (Fire 147) Taylor claimed the promises in the prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:10 (“Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my territory. . .”) and “applied it directly to the doubling of CIM stations from four to eight.” (Wigram 79)

Prayer was a crucial part of his spirituality but it was more than that. “Prayer was, in Taylor’s view, the power behind the revivals and awakenings; it led to people being concerned about the spiritual state of others who were unconverted.” (Ibid. 76) Thus, prayer brought Taylor back to the center core of mission. In the same way, “His prayer life was an outworking of his understanding of abiding in Christ.” (Ibid. 80) Prayer was a place to wait upon God to receive direction for ministry. (Ibid. 78) Prayer was the tool by which one pleaded with God for sufficient laborers and the necessary finances to support them. (Ibid. 102) Even when his missionaries numbered over seventy, Taylor was said to pray for them three times a day and by name! (Ibid. 80). Just as faith was an essential characteristic of a good missionary, so he saw prayer as being “crucial in enabling all Christians to live in the freedom and rest given by Christ.” (Ibid. 95)


If the only qualification for being a mystic was self-denial, Taylor would have qualified! Taylor often wrote about self-denial, “The real secret of an unsatisfied life lies too often in an unsurrendered will.” (Union) Self-denial was the way the disciple could show his love for Christ and his high value of the Cross. (Separation) Steed quotes Taylor as saying, “Is anything of value in Christ’s service which costs little?” (Man 282) Whenever personal, family, church or even mission interests came above those of Christ, Taylor identified this thinking as “earthly or sensual, if not devilish.” (Psalm) Taylor did not inflict self-punishment on himself (as some of the extreme mystics might have done) but self-denial did bring joy to Taylor, “My experience was that the less I spent on myself and the more I gave away, the fuller of happiness and blessing did my soul become.” (Retrospect)

For Taylor, self-denial was necessary for the disciple if the missionary task was to be accomplished. Without self-denial, the lost would likely be neglected.

How sadly possible it is to take delight in conferences and conventions, to feast on all the good things that are brought before us, and yet to be unprepared to go out from them to self-denying efforts to rescue the perishing; to delight in the rest of faith while forgetful to fight the good fight of faith; to dwell upon the cleansing and the purity effected by faith, but to have little thought for the poor souls struggling in the mire of sin. (Cross)

China could only be won by men and women willing to sacrifice all. (Man 211) Taylor was not afraid to communicate to prospective missionaries about the necessity of self-denial to be a CIM missionary. “If you want hard work, and little appreciation of it; value God’s approbation more than you fear man’s disapprobation, if need be, to seal your testimony with your blood . . .” (Ibid. 260) For Taylor, self-denial was an essential element in his own spirituality, believing that it would bring glory to God. “May GOD work in us, and we work out in daily life, not self-assertion but self-denial – not ease and honor seeking and right-maintaining, but right-abandoning and cross-taking – and this for the glory of His own holy Name.” (Cross)


Taylor’s emphasis on self-denial meant that his was an incarnational spirituality. Early on in his career, Taylor changed his diet, clothing and appearance in order to blend in among the Chinese. He wanted the Chinese to not think of Christianity as a foreign religion and so he wore Chinese clothes, shaved his head and lived in simple Chinese housing out of concern for the gospel’s message. “Let us in everything unsinful become Chinese, that by all means we may save some.” (Man 207)

Taylor intentionally took up medicine in order to take up the missionary cause and was often seen caring for patients at all times of the day until the point of exhaustion. Caring for the physical needs of people brought many opportunities for Taylor to share the gospel. Taylor and his missionaries helped opium addicts, provided food for famine relief and sought to meet other social needs but his priority was always the preaching of the gospel. (Wigram 110) Taylor’s life was a powerful example to the Chinese and to other missionaries. Taylor wrote, “Ought we not to glorify GOD in the formation of each letter that we write, and as Christians to write a more legible hand than unconverted people can be expected to do? Ought we not to be more thorough in our service, not simply doing well that which will be seen and noticed?” (Riband)

A Kataphatic-Heart Spirituality

Holmes describes various models of spirituality and says that they all seek as their ultimate goal, union with God. (4) It was Taylor’s union with God, his abiding, his exchanged life, that connected the other aspects of his spirituality together. For Taylor, God was not a mystery that required him to withdraw from the world in order to experience a relationship with Him (apophatic). Taylor used symbols, images and metaphors to describe and understand his relationship to God (kataphatic) through the person of Jesus Christ. The written word helped him to know the Living Word. Taylor compared the intimate connection between written and incarnate Word to be similar to that between body and soul or soul and spirit.

His was more of an affective spirituality that sought to illuminate the heart. (Boa 468) “God wants our love; . . . He wants our sympathy; He wants the gifts and offerings that are prompted by love.” (Separation) Taylor required little formal education for his missionary candidates. He recruited across many denominational lines and so had a broader capacity for a variety of theological views than many in his time. That is not to say that the mind was not an important for Taylor—he emphasized the learning of Chinese and worked on a new Chinese translation of the Bible. But, the goal was always to reach the heart. Writing about the mind/heart division in spirituality, Boa says, “In reality, no one is purely cerebral with no emotion or solely heart without mind.” (468) Taylor had little time or interest in the scientific, critical studies of the Bible of his day, preferring to focus on growing his own and other’s intimacy with the abiding Christ. Taylor wrote, “When His heart blesses ours, and ours blesses Him, we are full of joy; but His heart is infinitely greater than ours, and His joy in His people as far exceeds all their joy in Him, as the infinite exceeds the finite.” (Separation)


In this paper, I have tried to describe the spirituality of Hudson Taylor. What was important to him in his relationship with God? What were the core elements around which his spirituality developed. It has been suggested that his spirituality revolved around “the exchanged life as power for mission” and “faith and prayer.” His missionary calling was a major element in his spirituality and his “spirituality became a unifying impetus for world mission.” (Wigram 86, 102). Unbelief led him away from the indwelling Christ and from the ability to move God through prayer. Only a focus upon the faithfulness of God in the face of Christ could restore faith and bring fruitfulness.

Taylor’s spirituality was a personal one of intimacy. Writing about Psalm 23, he wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd. . . . I have a special personal relationship to Him, and He to me.” (Fire 78) He was able to mobilize a team of people to reach China but his walk was often a solitary one. Yet, he carried out his responsibilities with faithfulness and with genuine love. “Sometimes a longing, indescribable, comes over me to be with some brother and encourage him.” (Ibid. 86) Taylor was not reluctant to appeal for prayer for himself and for his band who faced opposition in an alien environment with great moral and spiritual dangers. (Wigram 52)

James Hudson Taylor possessed a kataphatic-heart spirituality. “Kataphatic/Heart (K/H) spirituality involves both revelation and feelings, and this combination encourages outward expression of inner change and transformation of society one life at a time.” (Boa 470) He appears to have successfully avoided for the most part the extremes of this spiritual pattern—“an excessive emotionalism, experientialism, and anti-intellectualism.” (Boa 470) His is a spirituality that is worthy of more study and emulation. I am grateful to follow in the steps that he blazed for us.

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Taylor, James Hudson. Meditations On Cross-Bearing. http://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Voice/Meditations/On.Cross.Bearing.html What Saith the Scripture?

Taylor, James Hudson. Meditations On the First Psalm http://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Voice/Meditations/The.First.Psalm.text.html What Saith the Scripture?

Taylor, James Hudson. Meditations On Great Father http://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Voice/Meditations/The.Great.Father.html What Saith the Scripture?

Taylor, James Hudson. Meditations on the History of Job. http://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Voice/Meditations/The.History.of.Job.html What Saith the Scripture?

Taylor, James Hudson. Meditations On Ruth. http://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Voice/Meditations/The.Book.of.Ruth.html What Saith the Scripture?

Taylor, James Hudson. A Retrospect. Wholesome Words.

http://wholesomewords.org/missions/biotaylor6i.html Wholesomewords.org

Taylor, James Hudson. A Riband of Blue. http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=626847 Project Gutenberg. Release date: November 10, 2007

Taylor, James Hudson. Separation and Service. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Separation_and_Service Wikisource

Taylor, James Hudson. Union and Communion. <http://www.missionaryetexts.org/unionjht.txt> Missionary E-Texts Archive.

Watson, David. “Methodist Spirituality.” In Kenneth J. Collins, Exploring Christian Spirituality. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000, pp. 172-213.

Wigram, Christopher. The Bible and mission in faith perspective: J.Hudson Taylor and the early China Inland Mission. Doctoral Thesis, Utrecht Universtity, 2007.


  1. d forbes
    February 14, 2010 at 3:27 am

    Have added this to my favourites some time ago. I also have been influenced by Taylor – maybe through friends who have espoused him and in how my my spiritual life has evolved over the years.Read his biography as a young christian. i’m now 55 and living in my adopted country Finland. And as the years go by I’m wondering if I can still sacrifice my own wants or perceived needs to follow our Lord in the pattern of H Taylor.

    • February 14, 2010 at 10:29 am

      Thanks for the comment. I think you are asking the right question–will I surrender control of my life to the Lord or not–that is the question I must answer every day. Self-will or his will? But, being under grace (Rom 6:14) makes it possible to yield myself to him–He has done all the work yet . . . there are choices I must make to walk in that grace. Divine-human mystery of the Christian life.

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