Behind Hudson’s Mission
In September 1865, Hudson Taylor stood trembling, gripping the side of the pulpit before a vast Christian assembly in Perth, Scotland. He was only thirty-three years old and just coming off his first missionary term in China. The words he was about to speak would come pouring from his heart and would be life changing for all who heard his message, a milestone in the history of missions. His goal was to shock his hearers out of lethargic indifference about missions. His method was to tell a true story about a Chinese man named Peter, whom Taylor had been trying to reach with the gospel.
Taylor and Peter had been traveling by junk along the coast of China, and at one point the man fell overboard (or perhaps jumped in—we’ll never know). No one on the junk seemed to care much, but they did stop the junk so Taylor could make a frantic effort to try to bring Peter up. Suddenly, he spied some fishermen using a dragnet nearby—exactly what was needed at the moment. He called to the fishermen: “Come quickly! A man is drowning!”
Their response was stunning: “It’s not convenient.”
Taylor couldn’t believe his ears. “Don’t speak of convenience,” he said. “Come quickly or it will be too late.”
“We are busy fishing.”
“Forget about your fishing; come, only come at once! I will pay you; I will pay you well.”
“How much will you give us?”
“Five dollars. Only please don’t stand there talking. Save life without delay.”
“Too little. We will not come for less than thirty dollars.”
“But I don’t have that much with me,” said Taylor. “I will give you everything I have.”
“Well, how much is that?” they answered. “Oh, I don’t know . . . about fourteen dollars?”
With that, they decided to come. They passed their dragnet once over the place where the man had gone down and brought him up immediately. But it was too late—the man had died.
Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
The Value of a Soul
As Taylor told this story at that conference in Scotland, a kind of fiery indignation and revulsion came over the vast assembly. That is exactly what Taylor thought would happen, but then he drove the point home. “Is the body,” he said, “of so much more value than the soul? We condemn those heathen fishermen. We say they were guilty of the man’s death because they could easily have saved him. And they did not do it. But what of the millions whom we leave to perish? And that eternally! What of the plain command that God has given us: ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature?’”
Taylor then expanded on the value of a single soul to God and reported the mortality rate of thirty-three thousand who were dying daily without a Savior in China. He imagined the population of China (400 million) walking by him single file, one after the other, hour after hour, day after day, year after year. He said it would take twenty-three years for all of them to pass by. However, it would take the total number of converts at that time in China only a half hour to walk by. And, he said, with thirty-three thousand people perishing daily, in three months’ time, the deaths would outnumber the population of London (approximately 3 million). Virtually all of those people were passing into eternity without hope and without God. This led to a phrase that came to be associated with Hudson Taylor: “A million a month dying without God.” This controlling thought helped Taylor to make his urgent appeal for China, in Perth and everywhere he lectured.1
Believers Are Responsible to Proclaim the Gospel
This proclamation of the gospel is our responsibility—it has been committed to us. At the end of each Gospel, there is a version of the Great Commission, given from the lips of the resurrected Lord Jesus himself to his disciples and, by implication, to us as well. The most famous, of course, is Matthew 28:19–20, where Christ commissions his disciples to make disciples of all nations. In Mark 16:15–16, the command is to go into all creation and preach the gospel; whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. In Luke 24:47–48, Jesus couples a prophecy, “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached . . . to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem,” with an assertion that functions as a command: “You are witnesses of these things.” In John 20:21, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Then come his beautiful words in Acts 1:8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” So we are responsible because Christ has commanded us to do this.
This article is adapted from God’s Love Compels Us: Taking the Gospel to the World edited by D. A. Carson and Kathleen Nielson.
We stand on the shoulders of the saints who have gone before, exemplifying how to live and love God faithfully.
Today marks the 113th anniversary of the death of Hudson Taylor, missionary to China. His legacy of faithfulness lives on.
Each myth of missions, if left uncorrected, will likely tend toward a weakening of biblical missionary labor and a reliance on our own wisdom and methods.