J Hudson Taylor: His conversion, call and passion

Hudson Taylor: His conversion, call, and passion

Slogans about world evangelism that stir hearts and move people to action

1. Christ's Great Commission -- An option or a command?

"The Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed" -- J. Hudson Taylor

In the mid-19th Century, Hudson Taylor said something obvious: Matthew 28:19-20 is not simply one item on a list of suggested activities. Those words of Jesus are the "Great Commission" -- a label popularized by Taylor himself -- and they constitute a clear command to make disciples among all nations!

Taylor's declaration reflects his missionary experience in China. Not long after arriving in Shanghai, he realized that while foreign missionaries were becoming common in China's coastal cities, most places further inland remained untouched by the Gospel.

Taylor was passionate about obeying the Great Commission. That meant all of China was to be evangelized. He eventually had to start his own missionary-sending agency in order to get missionaries deployed in the unreached inland areas of China.

We live in an age of options. Christ-followers have a choice of denominations. We have options for Bible cover colors. We have options as to which Bible translation we use. We can choose Bibles with or without study notes. We do not, however, have an option when it comes to fulfilling the Great Commission through our praying, giving, mobilizing, sending, or going. When we make Jesus Lord, we sign on to obey His every command. Obedient believers cannot consider evangelizing all the world's people groups as something optional

No obedient believer can say, "World evangelism? That is not my thing." Grammatically, the Great Commission is clearly an imperative sentence, whether it be the wording in Matthew 28:19-20 or the verses in Mark 16:15 or Acts 1:8. It is an order from our Lord.

How well the Church responds to the Great Commission will be a significant measure of how truly yielded she is to Jesus as Lord.

Audio of Matthew 28:18-20

More mini-essays in the "Slogans that awakened the Church" series that appeared in Engage magazine.

What to know about Hudson Taylor

Discussion questions

  1. How would you describe the Great Commission to someone who had never heard about it? Why would you tell that person why it is important for Christians to obey it?
  2. In what ways might Hudson Taylor's experience in China have shaped his understanding of the Great Commission?
  3. In what ways can it be said that today's Christians have options and choices when it comes to fulfilling the Great Commission?
  4. Are there ways we can see how Hudson Taylor's approach to mission work likely influenced later generations of missionaries?

The conversion of James Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor founded the China Inland Mission out of his zeal to move beyond the coastal cities to vast unreached interior of that Asian country

"For a time in his early teens, it seemed that young Taylor might not respond to the family tradition and to his rearing. To be sure, in later years, he said that many times he had tried to make himself a Christian but had failed and that when he was about 14 years of age he had given himself to God. However, some months later he began to think that he could not be saved and that he had best take his 'fill of this world.'

"It was in this frame of mind that he worked for a time in the local bank. There, under the influence of associates, he became skeptical and gave to himself as the reason the inconsistencies of Christians, who, professing to believe the Bible, actually lived as though there were no such book. Then, when seventeen, in other words not too far from the age at which Carey and Mills were struggling their way to faith, came a transforming experience.

"One holiday, while alone in his father's library, Taylor picked up a gospel tract hoping for an interesting story before the inevitable moral at the end. As he read, the phrase the finished work of Christ caught his attention. He asked himself: 'What is finished?'

"Reared as he had been, the answer came quickly to him: 'A full and perfect atonement and satisfaction for sin; the debt was paid by the Substitute; Christ died for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.' Then flooded in the joyous conviction that if the whole work was finished and the whole debt paid, all that was left for him to do was to accept it. That he did and fell on his knees, praising God.

"He soon discovered that at that very hour in a distant town, his mother, driven by an inner compulsion to pray for him, had had the quiet assurance that her prayer had been granted. A little later, he also learned that his sister Amelia had, for exactly a month, been praying for his conversion. All of this helped to give him confidence in [the possibility of] concrete answers to explicit requests in prayer."
  — from Kenneth Scott Latourette, These Sought a Country, p. 64

Taylor's call to inland China

"On Sunday, June 25th, 1865, unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand or more Christian people rejoicing in their own security, while millions were perishing from lack of knowledge, I wandered out on the sands alone, in great spiritual agony; and there the Lord conquered my unbelief, and I surrendered myself to God for this service.

"I told Him that all the responsibility as to issues and consequences must rest with Him; that as His servant, it was mine to obey and to follow Him — His to direct, to care for, and to guide me and those who might labor with me. Need I say that peace at once flowed into my burdened heart?

There and then, I asked Him for twenty-four fellow workers, two for each of eleven inland provinces (of China) which were without a missionary, and two for Mongolia, and writing the petition on the margin of the Bible I had with me, I returned home with a heart enjoying rest such as it had been a stranger to for months, and with an assurance that the Lord would bless His own work and that I should share in the blessing."

   — J. Hudson Taylor, quoted by Kenneth Scott Latourette in These Sought a Country, p. 74

    -- Howard Culbertson,


Nineteenth-century British Protestant Christian missionary to China Hudson Taylor is widely regarded as one of the most influential missionaries in modern history. Several aspects of his life and work constitute good models for cross-cultural missionaries today.

In summary, Hudson Taylor's life and ministry exemplify key principles that are relevant for cross-cultural missionaries today, including cultural sensitivity, prayerful dependence on God, adaptability, sacrificial commitment, empowerment of indigenous leaders, holistic ministry, and endurance in the face of challenges.

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