Hudson Taylor was a pioneer missionary to China in the 1800’s who faced a lot of trials in his life. In his autobiography he shares about one incident during his early years in China when he faced a great disaster.
For context, Taylor was trained as a doctor, and in his ministry he traveled around China both helping people’s physical needs (through medicine) and also their deeper spiritual needs (through the gospel). And as he traveled around he couldn’t haul all his medical equipment and supplies everywhere, so he established a base in Shangai where he stored it all.
In 1856, he was heading back to Shanghai to get supplies, and I’ll let him tell you what happened next. He writes,
“Upon reaching Shanghai, great was my dismay to find that the premises in which my medicines and instruments had been stored were burnt down, and that all the medicines and many of the instruments were entirely destroyed. To me this appeared a great calamity, and I fear I was more disposed with faithless Jacob to say, ‘All things are against me,’ than to recognise that ‘All things work together for good.’ I had not then learned to think… of all external circumstances as necessarily the kindest, wisest, best, because either ordered or permitted by God.”
This passage from his autobiography is remarkable. He recounts that at the time this incident seemed like a calamity, a disaster, plain and simple. All his medical supplies were lost. They were extremely expensive and he couldn’t afford to replace them. He was ruined.
And in the moment, his instinct was to interpret that event as “all things are against me.” We know what that feels like, right? Some tragedy strikes, and it feels like God is against us.
But reflecting later, he realised that he was failing to recognise that even in that tragedy, “all things work together for good” for those who love God, which is of course a quote from Romans 8:28. This verse promises that for those who love God, ALL things, every little thing – good or bad – that we face in life is actually working for our good.
This is a remarkable promise, and one that Taylor built his life upon. Even in that very calamity, Taylor could be confident that even if he couldn’t see how, God was working in it for his good. As he put it, “I had not yet learned that ALL circumstances are necessarily the kindest, wisest, best, because either ordered or permitted by God.”
Does it really mean ALL?
At this point we might think, surely he can’t actually mean that. He can’t mean that all circumstances are what is kindest, wisest, and best for us. He obviously doesn’t know some of the hardships I’ve had to face in my life! Surely they can’t be worked by God for my good!
But Hudson Taylor didn’t say these things lightly. He knew what it was to suffer, and suffer deeply. If you look at all the hardships in Hudson Taylor’s life, that incident with the medical supplies is just one tiny drop in an ocean of difficulty that he faced.
In 1867, because of the harsh conditions in China, his eldest daughter Grace died of meningitis at the age of 8. Their son Samuel similarly died at the age of 6. In fact, of their 9 children, only 4 survived until adulthood.
Hudson Taylor faced deep suffering and trials in his life, and yet he could still say that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. He could still say that all circumstances are “necessarily the kindest, wisest, best, because either ordered or permitted by God.”
Now the point is not that he could see some silver lining, some way that their deaths actually had some good outcome. No! The point is that he had learned to trust God as His loving heavenly Father even when he couldn’t see a silver lining.
An Unshakeable Promise
He had learned to lean on the promise that God gives us in Romans 8:28, that even when we can’t fathom how, God is working through every little thing – including hardship and deep suffering – for our lasting and eternal good.
But how could Hudson Taylor have such confidence in this promise when everything seemed to be going against him? The answer is found a few verses later, in Romans 8:31-32. It says, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
Here’s the logic: if God didn’t spare His own son Jesus, but was willing to give him up for us to die on the cross in our place, what other good thing wouldn’t he give us? The cross is where we see a concrete demonstration of God’s absolute commitment to do what is best for us no matter the cost. To work for our good even through suffering. That’s where we see that God is absolutely and utterly for us.
And that’s why Hudson Taylor, even when he faced unbearable tragedies, could trust that God was working all things for his good. Not because he could see some silver lining, but because he could see Jesus, dying on the cross for him.
Because he had learned not to look at his circumstances to discern whether or not God loved him, but had learned to look to Jesus.
And that means if you have put your trust in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, you can have that same rock-solid confidence in the face of the deepest trials of life that God is for you.