Was Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret the Same as Paul’s?

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Hudson Taylor’s son and daughter-in-law wrote Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret in 1932. It is a brief narrative of Taylor’s life with a focus on the “secret” of his spiritual peace and strength.

They expressed his secret as follows: “Taylor had many secrets, for he was always going on with God, yet they were but one — the simple, profound secret of drawing for every need, temporal or spiritual, upon ‘the fathomless wealth of Christ’” (16).

The apostle Paul also spoke of a spiritual secret he had learned.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)

Was Paul’s secret the same as Hudson Taylor’s?

Indestructible Joy

From the immediate context, we can say that Paul’s secret produces contentment in the worst and the best of times. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. . . . I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”

We can also say that the source of the contentment is strength that comes from Christ. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (see also 2 Corinthians 12:9 and 1 Timothy 1:12). This strengthening must refer to the powerful effect Christ has on the emotions, since the fruit is contentment, which is an emotion. Strong arms and legs don’t produce contentment. Strong joy does. Evidently, Christ produces a joy so strong that it can’t be destroyed by hard times.

So the fruit of Paul’s “secret” is contentment, and the root of the secret is Christ’s joy-producing power. But what is the link between the root and the fruit? What did Paul need to “learn”?

He said he had “learned the secret.” And now, he says, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.” Let’s watch him do both in Philippians and see if we can find the link between the root of Christ’s empowering and the fruit of contentment.

“I know how to be brought low.”

Paul was brought low in chapter 1 because he is in prison. What was his secret of contentment in prison? He answers: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). The secret link between Christ’s power and Paul’s contentment was the total conviction that God was turning Paul’s misery for the advancement of the gospel.

“I know how to abound.”

Paul abounded in chapter 4 because all his needs were met. “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied” (Philippians 4:18). What was the secret of contentment in abundance?

In the next verse, he exults, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” In other words, he draws out the lesson from his own supply that God will meet every need they have. And he says it will be because “in Christ Jesus” they are connected with the “riches of God’s glory.”

Then he says, “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Philippians 4:19). And so he turns his and their abounding into a doxology. He gives glory to God. So the link between the root and fruit of his “secret” of contentment is the total conviction that all his good comes from the “riches of God’s glory,” and that they come to him “in Christ.”

Catapult to Glory

Another way to say it would be that in abundance Paul directs his attention to the value of the glory of God that he has in Christ, and treats the “abundance” as an occasion to honor Christ and glorify God. To use the shorthand of Philippians 3:7, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Gain is the same as abounding. That is: Whenever I have gain — whenever I abound — I let the abundance catapult me into the glory of God in union with Christ.

What then was Paul’s secret? Linking the empowering Christ as the root of Paul’s secret, and the sweet experience of contentment as the fruit of his secret, was Paul’s total conviction that behind every hardship was an all-controlling God who ruled his circumstances (like imprisonment) for the advance of the gospel, and behind every abundance was the far superior, all-satisfying glory of God in Christ.

So my answer is yes. Hudson Taylor’s spiritual secret and Paul’s were the same. Taylor learned it from Paul. Both drew “for every need upon the fathomless wealth of Christ.” And both were totally convinced in the sovereignty of God. Paul was in prison and believed it would turn for the gospel. Taylor’s mission was threatened with mob riots. And he said,

I believe God will bring His own glory out of this experience, and I hope it will tend to the furtherance of the gospel. . . . How little could the rioters have understood the secret of such calmness and strength! (143)