In a dramatic moment when it seemed that the Lord was expanding the work of the China Inland Mission (CIM) to establish offices in and send missionaries from North America, the mission’s famous leader, Hudson Taylor, knew exactly what needed to be done first. “Before we begin to plan, don’t you think we had better pray?” he asked. H.W. Frost, the man to whom he posed the question, recorded what happened next.
“With hands folded and bent head, he told the Lord that we were little children and it was not in us to direct our steps, but that He, the Lord, knew everything—and would He not give us the wisdom we needed? All this was in itself most startling, just because it was so simple.” Frost went on to observe that Taylor’s whole perspective “was childlike trust all the way through.”
Hudson Taylor was not enthusiastic at first about expanding the Mission’s support and recruiting base beyond England. Only after he became convinced that it was the Lord’s leading did he gave the idea his full support.
(Incidentally, Taylor remained adamant that they trust the Lord alone to provide for this new direction just as they had all along. He even once politely chided D.L. Moody at a meeting in Chicago when Moody saw the emotional zeal of the audience and thought it helpful to take an offering, violating the agreement the two men had made prior to the meeting. Firm in his principles, Taylor would not have it, and the offering plates were put away.)
Fast-forward about 120 years. Recently I was meditating on a verse of Scripture which I had read many times, but never really saw before. In rebuking the Pharisees and lawyers and pointing out their witness against themselves, Jesus says, “Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’” (Luke 11:49). Jesus specifically credited it as “the Wisdom of God” that He raised up prophets and apostles, even knowing some would be killed and persecuted to accomplish His purposes. Paul would later use the phrase several times, but this is the only recorded instance in the Gospels of Jesus using it. Who of us can wrap our minds around such Wisdom? Who of us would not have thought to do things differently? And yet there it is: the Wisdom of God. No less perfect, glorious, and good than it had always been in eternity before.
The Wisdom of God would have a part in that next chapter in the story of the China Inland Mission too. Parallel with the expansion came an unusually difficult season of suffering within CIM’s missionary family. In a relatively short period of time several key leaders died at their field posts. Around that time other CIM missionaries died of illness in China. Some even died on the way there. The weight and pain of it all ached within Hudson Taylor. In a letter from January 1889 Taylor updated Frost on events:
“We are passing through wave after wave of trial…Each day has its full quota. God seems daily to be saying: ‘Can you say, ‘Even so, Father,’ to that?’ The day and night strain is almost unbearable but I know the Lord’s ways are all right, and I would not have them otherwise; He makes no mistakes. He can make none.”
Hudson had a childlike humility that admitted its own utter ignorance to the ways and wisdom of God. How often we are prone to forget our proper posture before the Lord! Sometimes we just don’t want to admit it. We’d rather delude ourselves into thinking we have God and this Christian life all figured out. Ignorance without humility will cause a man to posture his prayers as though they were business meetings among equals; and eventually he will not pray at all.
The ignorance of childlike humility before God, however, is a good thing. It fosters humility because it first fosters our dependence on God. It is the simplicity Jesus requires of us all (Matt. 18:4). It’s the heart attitude John spoke of when he addressed his readers tenderly as “Little children.”
To humbly admit our ignorance before God is the only way you and I can ever be happy in this life. It’s why Hudson Taylor was able to conclude his remarks in that letter with gratefulness when he wrote, “Even now, we accept with thankfulness His dealings, and soon with joy shall see the deep purposes of wisdom and love wrought out by all that is so mysterious at present.”
In the end, it may sound strange to think of Hudson Taylor an ignorant little child, but if he was I definitely want to be one too.
[The stories and quotations I include are from “By Faith: Henry W. Frost and The China Inland Mission” by Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor. OMF Books, ISBN 9971972654.]