Hudson Taylor’s breakdown

Posted in Blog, Hudson Taylor

I wrote recently on this site about James Hudson Taylor (1832–1905) who founded the China Inland Mission (now OMF International). I described him as ‘a man of indomitable faith and great personal devotion’, and recalled how his son, Howard, noticed that his father ‘prayed about things as if everything depended on the praying … but worked also, as if everything depended on the working’. So you may be surprised to read that there was a time when Hudson Taylor could not manage even to pray.

It happened like this. In May 1900, Hudson Taylor addressed a series of meetings in Boston, Massachusetts. In one of these meetings, he seemed to lose his train of thought, and began to repeat two sentences over and over again: ‘You may trust the Lord too little, but you can never trust him too much. “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself”’ (2 Timothy 2:13 AV).

The chairman at the meeting, the American evangelist and author, Dr A T Pierson, came to the rescue, took over the meeting, and later recorded his reflections on the incident. ‘There was something pathetic and poetic in the very fact that this repetition was the first visible sign of his breakdown, for was it not this very sentiment and this very quotation that he had kept repeating to himself, and to all his fellow workers, during all the years of his missionary work? A blessed sentence to break down upon, which had been the buttress of his whole life of consecrated endeavour’.

As he began his long convalescence in Switzerland, Taylor said, ‘I cannot read; I cannot think; I cannot even pray; but I can trust’.

If you are reading this and are struggling with an issue of mental health, it may be some encouragement to know that even well-known figures in the history of the Christian church have faced such dilemmas and – as was the case with Hudson Taylor –survived the experience. He made a slow recovery and was eventually able to return to China to celebrate the appointment of the China Inland Mission’s eight hundredth missionary.

Many years later, in 1986, Hudson Taylor’s great-grandson, Dr Jim Taylor, discovered monument stones to Hudson Taylor and his family in the former British Consulate in Zhenjiang, now a museum.