Excerpts from

Hudson Taylor: The Growth of a Soul

By Howard Taylor (Hudson's son)

Published by Chinese Inland Mission, 1911 


No book has touched my heart more deeply than The Growth of a Soul, which describes childhood, youth and early ministry of Hudson Taylor. Anything but a life of ease, he learned to trust and follow God through one difficulty after another. As a young teen, he heard the call to China, and he never wavered from that goal. Forsaking family and normal comforts, we chose to live among the poor and broken -- wanting nothing more than to learn to trust His Lord to meet all physical and spiritual needs.

I did an Internet search for this wonderful book and found a used copy that I now treasure. After just finished reading Chapter 15, I wanted to share it with you -- especially this quote -- a warning fit for our times:

"'Never,' as Hudson Taylor put it, 'is one more helpless than in a sailing ship with a total absence of wind and the presence of a strong current setting toward a dangerous coast. In a storm the ship is to some extent manageable, but becalmed one can do nothing ; the Lord must do all.'"

Chapter 15: I will never leave thee (1853 - 1854)

Moored at her landing in a Liverpool dock lay the doublemasted sailing-ship Dumfries, bound for China.... Repairs that had delayed her sailing had just been hurried to completion, and the crew were still busy getting the cargo on board. But in the stern cabin, amid the din and hubbub, all was peace as Hudson Taylor knelt in prayer for the last time with his mother....

The vessel left Liverpool on the 19th of September.... [Here is his mother's description of the the last two days]

"On Sunday, September 18, Hudson was much blessed through the services of the day. His soul was filled with the love of God, and in the evening he wrote a few farewell letters to relatives and friends, full of affection, and bearing such testimony to the sustaining power of grace as made it evident that he could freely and cheerfully leave all, to carry the light of the knowledge of God to those regions of spiritual darkness so long the object of his desires, and for which he had studied, laboured and prayed.

Seeing me in tears, he said " Oh mother, do not grieve ! I am so happy, I cannot ! I'll tell you what I think is the difference between us. You dwell on the parting ; I look on to the meeting: " alluding to their reunion in the Better Land.

Before retiring for the night he read aloud part of the fourteenth chapter of John," Let not your heart be troubled," and engaged in prayer. The throne of grace was easy of access; and while offering thanks for mercies received and imploring continued blessings for himself, for those he was leaving, for the Church and for the world yet lying in the arms of the wicked one, it was evident that to him this was no strange work...."

The voyage thus begun proved a time of blessing to the solitary passenger on board the Dumfries. It was long and tedious in some ways, five and a half months during which they touched nowhere and heard no tidings of the rest of the world. But it was a health-giving, enjoyable experience on the whole, after the first terrible days were over.

For never surely did vessel weather worse perils than this little sailing ship before she could reach the open sea. It almost seemed as though the great enemy, " the prince of the power of the air," knowing something of the possibilities enfolded in one young life on board, were doing his utmost to send her to the bottom. For twelve long days they beat about the Channel, alternately sighting Ireland and the dangerous Welsh coast. During the first week they were almost continuously in the teeth of an equinoctial gale, until driven into Carnarvon Bay they were within two boats' length of being dashed to pieces on the rocks. That midnight scene amid the foaming breakers, and the way in which they were delivered when all hope seemed gone made so profound an impression upon Hudson Taylor that some account of this part of the voyage must be culled from his journal and letters.

"With heartfelt gratitude," he wrote on Monday, September 26," I record the mercy of God. He and He alone has snatched us from the jaws of death. May our spared lives be spent entirely in His service and for His glory.

"All day on Saturday [the 24th] the barometer kept falling, and as darkness came on the wind began to freshen. The sailors had a hard night of it, so the Captain did not call them aft as is his custom to read prayers on Sunday morning. At noon it was blowing hard and we took in all possible sail, leaving only just as much as would keep the ship steady. I distributed some tracts among the crew and then came down to my cabin, as the increased motion was making me sick....

"The barometer was still falling, and the wind increased until it was a perfect hurricane. The, Captain and Mate said they had never seen a wilder sea. Between two and three in the afternoon I managed to get on deck, though the pitching made it difficult.... The scene I shall never forget. It was grand beyond description: The sea, lashing itself into fury, was white with foam. There was a large ship astern of us and a brig to our weather side. The ship gained on us, but drifted more. The waves, like hills on either side, seemed as if they might swamp us at any moment, but the ship bore up bravely. On account of the heavy sea we were making little or no headway, and the wind being from the west we were drifting quickly, irresistibly, toward a lee-shore.

"'Unless God help us,' said the Captain, 'there is no hope' I asked how far we might be from the Welsh coast. 'Fifteen to sixteen miles,' was his reply. 'We can do nothing but carry all possible sail. The more we carry the less we drift. It is for our lives. God grant the timbers may bear it.' He then had two sails set on each mast.

"It was a fearful time. The wind was blowing terrifically, and we were tearing along at a frightful rate-one moment high in the air and the next plunging head foremost into the trough of the sea as if about to go to the bottom. The windward side of the ship was fearfully elevated, the lee side being as much depressed ; indeed the sea at times poured over her lee bulwarks.

"Thus the sun set, and I watched it ardently.

"'To-morrow thou wilt rise as usual,' I thought, `but unless the Lord work miraculously on our behalf a few broken timbers will be all that is left of us and our ship' ...

"The night was cold, the wind biting, and the seas we shipped continually, with foam and spray, wet us through and through."

Earlier in the afternoon he had had a remarkable experience of "great joy and peace," in spite of their desperate situation, but now as the sun went down a sense of loneliness and desolation began to come over him, so that for a time he was" much tried and very anxious." He thought of the sorrow involved to his loved ones should the Dumfries be lost ; of the expense to the Society, his passage and outfit having cost little short of a hundred pounds ; of the unprepared state of the crew, as well as of " the coldness of the water and the struggle of death." About his eternal happiness he had not a moment's doubt. Death itself was not dreaded. But death under such circumstances! No one who has not faced it can realise its terrors.

"I went below," the journal continues simply, " read a hymn or two, some Psalms and John 8:15 , and was comforted ; so much so that I fell asleep and slept for an hour. We then looked at the barometer and found it rising. We had passed the Bardsey Island Lighthouse, between Cardigan and Camarvon Bays (running up the Channel) and I asked the Captain whether we could clear Holyhead or not." ` If we make no lee-way,' he replied, 'we may just do it. But if we drift, God help us ! ' " And we did drift.. :

"First the Holyhead light was ahead of us, and then on our outside. Our fate now seemed sealed, I asked if we were sure of two more hours. The Captain could not say we were. The barometer' was still rising, but too slowly to give much hope, I thought of my, dear father and mother, sisters and special friends , .. , and the tears' would start... , The Captain was calm and courageous, trusting in the Lord for his soul's salvation. The steward said he knew that he was nothing, but Christ was all. I felt thankful for them, but I did pray earnestly that God would have mercy on us and spare us for the sake of the unconverted crew ... as well as for His own glory as the God who hears and answers prayer. This passage was then brought to my mind : `Call upon Me in the day of trouble ; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me ' : and very earnestly I pleaded' the promise, in submission to His will.

"Our position was now truly awful. The night was very light, the moon being unclouded, and we could just see land ahead. I went below. The barometer was improving, but the wind in no way.. abated. I took out my pocket book and wrote in it my name and home-address, in case my body should be found. I also tied a few things in a hamper which I thought would float and perhaps help me` or some one else to land. Then commending my soul to God my' Father, and my friends and all to His care, with one prayer that if it were possible this cup might pass from us, I went on deck.

"Satan now tempted me greatly and I had a fearful struggle. But the Lord again calmed my mind, which from that time was so stayed upon Him that I was kept in peace,

"I asked the Captain whether boats could live in such a sea. He answered, 'No.' Could we not lash the loose spars together and make some sort of raft ? He said we should probably not have time.

"The water was now becoming white. Land was just ahead.. .

"'We must try to turn her and tack,' said the Captain, ` or all is over. The sea may sweep the deck in turning and wash everything overboard . . . but we must try.'

"This was a moment to make the stoutest heart tremble, He gave the word and we tried to turn outwardly, but in vain. This would have saved us room. He then tried the other way, and with God's blessing succeeded, clearing the rocks by not more than two ships' length. Just as we did so, the wind most providentially veered two points in our favour, and we were able to beat out of the Bay,

"Had not the Lord thus helped us, all our efforts must have been in vain. Truly His mercy is unfailing. 'Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness and for His wonderful works to the children of men."'

Safe for the present, it was with unspeakable thankfulness they saw the sun rise on Monday morning and the storm gradually pass away.

A week later they were in the Bay of Biscay and there also came in for rough weather, one heavy sea carrying away the fore skylight and seeming almost to swamp the ship. Three weeks from the day of sailing, however, saw them in calmer waters, the worst of their dangers past. During all that time it had been cold and wet, and everything on board seemed either damp or soaking, which meant constant discomfort.

"These things make one long for fine, dry weather," runs the journal for October 5. " Most of my belongings are damp, the floors are wet, and all our boots and shoes are saturated with water. The poor. steward's cabin is soaking, the sea having poured into it, and now mine is the only one that has not been flooded.... But how thankful I ought to be that it was not the after skylight that gave way, for then all my clothes, books and papers would have been deluged."

And they had no means of drying them.

It was with no little satisfaction, therefore, that favourable winds were welcomed, bearing them to warmer latitudes. But the earlier stages of the voyage had not been lost. Even in the Bay of Biscay, Hudson Taylor had discovered that there was one more earnest Christian on board, the Swedish carpenter, and assured of his help had asked the Captain's permission to commence regular services among the crew. And now in the hot, still days that found them becalmed near the Equator these were continued with much acceptance.

Whole-heartedly the young missionary threw himself into this work. He had been reading the life of Hewitson since coming on board, and had found it stimulating both to faith and zeal.

"How he seems to have fed on the Lamb," he wrote, " and to have ministered the Spirit. Oh for more of the love of God, that out of a full heart I might proclaim it !

"This evening [Sunday, October 9] we had a good attendance at our little service. We began with a hymn, and good it was to hear them sing ! Then I asked the Lord's blessing with great liberty, for He was indeed present. After a short address, I read the fourth chapter of Romans, and explained the way of salvation by faith, dwelling on the love of the Father and the Son, the value of a soul, and the necessity for flying at once for mercy to ` the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.' Then the steward prayed and we concluded the meeting.

"It was encouraging afterwards to hear that some of the men had been much affected, tears chasing down the weather-beaten faces of one or two. May God, who alone giveth the increase, bless His Word and use it for His glory."

Sixty times during the remainder of the voyage such meetings were held, Hudson Taylor giving unwearied prayer and preparation to this ministry. It was a great blessing to him personally and did much to save him from the spiritual declension that so often accompanies life at sea with its lack of helpful influences. To him the journey was a time of marked blessing, his only sorrow being that so little permanent change was found in the lives of the men. They were interested, and would come to him at times for private talk and prayer. But though some were very near the Kingdom, none of them came out fully on the side of Christ. This was a keen disappointment and cast him much on God. No doubt in some ways the experience was useful, preparing him to " sow beside all waters," even when for a long time no fruit appeared.

Much more might be said about that five months at sea, did space permit.1- {I They rounded the Cape of Good Hope early in December, and soon after Christmas Day " began to make northing,' having run 14,500 miles since leaving the Mersey. On January 5 they reached the nearest point to Western Australia, only 120 miles away, and thence steered a perilous course through the East Indian Islands to the Pacific Ocean and the China Sea, dropping anchor at Woo-sung, in the mouth of the Shanghai River on March 1, 1854. }The journal is full of the variety and interest, the occasional excitements and more frequent monotony of twenty-three consecutive weeks on a sailing ship without touching land. There are glimpses of moonlit nights in the tropics ; of illuminated seas, gemmed with trails of light from innumerable Acephalae ; of exciting situations over the capture of a shark or albatross, and perilous ones when becalmed in southern waters they were borne by unseen currents towards sunken reefs or more dangerous cannibal islands.

Still more the journal is taken up with the inner life that meant so much more than outward surroundings. Side by side with his prayers and efforts for the good of the crew went deepened longings for a closer walk himself with God, and entries such as the following abound.

"Oct. 30: Have been much blessed to-day, The Lord is indeed precious to me. Oh that I loved Him more!

"Nov.1 : Another month has been spent, how unprofitably ! How little to the honour of that glorious Being in whom we live and move and have our being. May the next be used more faithfully in His service and to His glory.

"Dec. 26 : Enjoying sweet fellowship with the Lord Jesus, and great liberty of access to the throne of grace.

What is earth with all its treasures
To the joy our Saviour brings ?
Well may we resign its pleasures,
Satisfied with better things.
All His people draw from Heaven's eternal springs.

"Oh to be ever seeking " the things that are above," as risen indeed with Christ ; ever standing on the watch-tower, ready to welcome the glad word, " Behold the Bridegroom cometh."

"Dec. 31: On reviewing the mercies of the year and the goodness of God to me in it, I am lost in wonder, love and praise.... Here then I raise my 'Ebenezer: Hitherto hath the Lord helped me...

And since my soul bath known His love,
What mercies He has made me prove!
Mercies that do all praise excel
My Jesus hath done all things well.

"Spent the last moments of the year in prayer ... and found the Lord present and very precious."

There were times in his solitude when home seemed far away and the longing for those he loved became intense.

"How widely we are separated," he wrote, " who last year were so near.... Praised be God, He is unchangeable; His mercy never fails....

"Jesus is precious. His service is perfect freedom. His yoke is easy and His burden light. Joy and peace His people have indeed. Absent from home, friends, and country even, Jesus is with me.... He is all, and more than all. Much as my heart yearns to see them, the love of Christ is stronger, more constraining."

This love then for the souls of men, the love of Christ in him, did not fail under the test of pain and loss. If anything it was deepening, face to face with facts that had been only hearsay before. The lonely inhabitants of many an island, for example, between Java and the Philippines drew forth his compassion. They had already sighted land some weeks before, in rounding the Cape of Good Hope, but not until the nearest point to Australia was reached did they begin to enter the Archipelago lying between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. This proved a region of fascinating interest, though not without its special dangers. For almost a month from January 12, when they first hailed with delight the green hills and valleys of Sandal Wood Isle, until they looked their last on the sandy beach of Angour (Pelew Group) shining in the sun, they were hardly ever out of sight of beautiful, fertile, populous islands, in which no witness for the dying, undying love of Calvary was found.

"'Oh what work for the missionary!' wrote Hudson Taylor. 'Island after island, many almost unknown, some densely peopled, but no light, no Jesus, no hope full of bliss! My heart yearns over them. Can it be that Christian men and women will stay comfortably at home and leave these souls to perish? Can it be that faith has no longer power to constrain to sacrifice for His sake who gave His life for the world's redemption?...

Shall we whose souls are lighted
With wisdom from on high ;
Shall we to men benighted
The lamp of Life deny?

"Shall we think ourselves free from responsibility to obey the plain command, 'Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature'? Is that word of our Saviour no longer true, 'As My Father hath sent Me ... even so send I you' ? Oh that I could get to them! Oh that I had a thousand tongues to proclaim in every land the riches of God's grace! Lord, raise up labourers, and thrust them forth into Thy harvest."...

Becalmed next day within reach of Waygion, they attracted the attention of a few poor islanders who put off in their canoes to make trade with the foreign ship. But the fresh cocoa-nuts, shells, parrots, and even the bird-of-paradise they offered had little interest for the missionary compared with the sight of those faces-gentle, intelligent, appealing -- and the sound of their soft speech in, an unknown tongue.

"The men seemed very poor," he wrote, " and those in the last two boats, timid. They had probably been taken in by previous travellers. They were a little lighter in colour than burnt coffee-bean,and but for a narrow cloth around their loins were entirely naked. Their faces, however, were intelligent and pleasing....

"What would I not have given to be able to tell them of a Saviour's love! I longed to go and live among them... and lead them to that blissful home where sin and sorrow are no more.... Let us pray the Lord to send them missionaries who shall be willing to sacrifice earthly comforts that they may win souls to Christ."

But with all its interests the voyage seemed tedious toward the close, especially in the frequent calms of this Eastern Archipelago. Only for a single day during that month among the Islands had they a steady wind, and more than once their log did not exceed seven miles in the twenty-four hours. Such experiences were more than trying, they were accompanied with serious danger.

"Never," as Hudson Taylor put it, " is one more helpless than in a sailing ship with a total absence of wind and the presence of a strong current setting toward a dangerous coast. In a storm the ship is to some extent manageable, but becalmed one can do nothing ; the Lord must do all."

...This happened notably on one occasion when we were in dangerous proximity to the north of New Guinea. Saturday night had brought us to a point some thirty miles off the land, and during the Sunday morning service which was held on deck I could not fail to see that the Captain looked troubled and frequently went over to the side of the ship. When the service was ended I learnt from him the cause a four-knot current was carrying us toward some sunken reefs, and we were already so near that it seemed improbable that we should get through the afternoon in safety. After dinner the long-boat was put out and all hands endeavoured, without success, to turn the ship's head from the shore.

After standing together on the deck for some time in silence, the Captain said to me " Well, we have done everything that can be done. We can only await the result."

A thought occurred to me, and I replied " No, there is one thing we have not done yet."

" What is that ? " he queried.

" Four of us on board are Christians. Let us each retire to his own cabin, and in agreed prayer ask the Lord to give us immediately a breeze. He can as easily send it now as at sunset."

The Captain complied with this proposal. I went and spoke to the other two men, and after prayer with the carpenter we all four retired to wait upon God. I had a good but very brief season in prayer, and then felt so satisfied that 'our request was granted that I could not. continue asking, and very soon went up again on deck. The first officer, a godless man, was in charge. I went over and asked him to let down the dews or corners of the mainsail, which had been drawn up in order to lessen the useless flapping of the sail against the rigging," What would be the good of that ? " he answered roughly.

I told him we had been asking a wind from God ; that it was coming immediately ; and we were so near the reef by this time that there was not a minute to lose..

With an oath and a look of contempt, he said he would rather see a wind than hear of it, But while he was speaking I watched his eye, following it up to the royal, and there sure enough the corner of the topmost sail was beginning to tremble in the breeze.

"Don't you see the wind is coming? Look at the royal!" I exclaimed.

" No, it is only a cat's paw," he rejoined (a mere puff of wind).

" Cat's paw or not," I cried, " pray let down the mainsail and give as the benefit."

This he was not slow to do. In another minute the heavy tread of the men on deck brought up the Captain from his cabin to see what was the matter. The breeze had indeed come ! In a few minutes we were ploughing our way at six or seven knots an hour through the water ... and though the wind was sometimes unsteady we did not altogether lose it until after passing the Pelew Islands.

Thus God encouraged me ere landing on China's shores to bring every variety of need to Him in prayer, and to expect that He would honour the name of the Lord Jesus and give the help each emergency required."

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