In 1861, J. Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) contracted a serious illness, forcing him to leave behind a fledging church of 21 believers in Ningpo, China, and return to England in hope of recovery. He had been laboring in the mission field for eight years, pressing beyond the coastal cities into the heart of China. Handing out gospel tracts and Chinese Bibles in village after village, he had witnessed firsthand the countless millions without a gospel witness. It was heartbreaking to have to leave.
The lost souls of inland China plagued Hudson’s conscience while he was home recovering in England: “The feeling of blood guiltiness became more and more intense…every day tens of thousands were passing away to Christless graves! Perishing China so filled my heart and mind that there was no rest by day, and little sleep by night till health broke down.” He prayed for China. He poured his labors into revision of the Chinese New Testament. Still, his soul could not find rest.
In June 1865, Hudson’s health had improved, and he was invited to Sunday worship in Brighton by friend George Pearse. The experience left him utterly broken:
“Unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand or more Christian people rejoicing in their own security, while millions were perishing for lack of knowledge, I wandered out on the sands alone, in great spiritual pain; and there the Lord conquered my unbelief, and I surrendered myself to God for this service.”
It was that Sunday afternoon on a sandy beach on the South coast of England that Hudson, age 33, was moved to start the China Inland Mission.
That same year, he poured all of his prayerful conviction into China: Its Spiritual Need and Claims, a book meant to stir the hearts of his countrymen to go, to send, and to give. He filled it with statistics about the overwhelming lostness in China. He made constant comparisons to the size and populations of British and Europe countries seeking by any means to make the urgent gospel need relevant to comfortable Englishmen.
His China Inland Mission would target the eleven Chinese provinces “containing together 197.5 millions of our fellow-creatures, for whose good no one Protestant missionary is labouring. No one is unfurling among them the standard of the cross! No one is pointing them to the great Sin-Bearer!” Describing these provinces one by one, each section ended with two words in all caps: NO MISSIONARY.
Pleading with whoever will listen, he writes: “Dear reader, is it not your duty to carry the gospel to these perishing ones?”
Taylor then recounts a heartbreaking personal illustration that happened in 1856, while he was journeying from Shanghai to the city of Sung-kiang-fu:
“In the afternoon of the second day its walls loomed in sight, and I spoke of going ashore to preach the gospel. In the same boat was a Chinaman as passenger, who had been in England; and who, when there, went by the name of Peter. He had heard the gospel, but had not experienced its saving power. I had been speaking to him on the preceding evening about his soul’s salvation, and he had been moved to tears. I was pleased, therefore, when he asked to be allowed to accompany me, and to hear me preach…
Our boat drew nearer the walls of the city, and I went into the cabin to prepare for going ashore, expecting in a few minutes to enter Sung-kiang-fu with my Chinese friend. I was suddenly startled by a splash and a cry. I sprang out of the cabin, and looked around—every one was at his post but poor Peter. The tide was rapidly running out, but a strong wind was carrying us over it. The low, shrubless shore afforded no landmark that we could notice to indicate the exact spot where he fell into the water. I instantly let down the sail and leapt over board, trying to find him…
Unsuccessful, I looked around in agonizing suspense, and saw close to me a fishing-boat with a peculiar drag-net furnished with hooks, which I knew would bring him up.
“Come!” I cried, as hope sprang up in my heart, “Come, and drag over this spot directly, for a man is drowning here.”
“Weh bin”—it’s not convenient—was the cold and unfeeling reply.
“Don’t talk of convenience,” I cried in an agony, “a man is drowning.”
“We are busy fishing and cannot come,” was the reply.
“Never mind your fishing,” I cried, “I will give you more money than many a day’s fishing will bring you, if you will come at once.”
“How much money will you give us?”
“Don’t stand talking now; come, or you will be too late. I’ll give you five dollars.”
“We won’t come for that; we’ll drag for twenty dollars.”
“I have not got so much; do come quickly, and I’ll give you all the money I have.”
“How much is that?”
“I don’t know exactly; about fourteen dollars.”
At last they came, and in less than one minute brought up the body of poor Peter. They were most indignant and clamorous because the payment of their exorbitant demand was delayed while attempts were being made at resuscitation. But all was in vain–life was extinct.
It’s a devastating account. Taylor presses its implications deep into our hearts:
Dear reader, would you not say that these men were verily guilty of poor Peter’s death, in that they had the means of saving him at hand, but would not use them? Surely they were ! And yet, pause ere you give your judgment against them, lest a greater than Nathan say, “THOU art the man.” Is it so hard-hearted, so wicked a thing to neglect to save the body? of how much sorer punishment is he worthy who leaves the soul to perish, and Cain-like says, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord Jesus commands, commands you, dear brother, and you, dear sister. “Go,” says He, “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Will you say to Him, “No, it is not convenient?” will you tell Him that you are busy fishing and cannot go?…
Oh! remember, pray for, labour for, the unevangelized Chinese…
Who can forget that it was Jesus himself who called his first disciples while they were tending their fishing nets. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” he said. The disciples did not protest or give excuses. They did not complain about the inconvenience or the cost: “Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-22).
There are vast seas upon this planet filled with the bodies of men and women dead in their sins. Who will drag the net? Who will bring them up from a watery grave with the summons of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Will you and I respond to the call? Or will we stand idly by as they perish?