To No Avail…

A letter from Hudson Taylor to his sister, Amelia, October, 1869

My own dear sister….My mind has been greatly exercised for the past six or eight months, feeling the need personally, and for our Mission, of more holiness, life and power in our souls. But personal need stood first and was the greatest. I felt the ingratitude, the danger, the sin of not living nearer to God. I prayed, agonized, fasted, strove, made resolutions, read the Word more diligently, sought more time for retirement and meditation – but all was without avail. Every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of sin oppressed me.

I knew that if I could only abide in Christ all would be well, but I could not. I would begin the day with prayer, determined not to take my eye from Him for a moment, but pressure of duties, sometimes very trying, constant interruptions, often very wearing, would cause me to forget Him….Each day brought its register of sin, failure, and lack of power. To will was indeed present with me, but how to perform, I found not.

Then came the question, “Is there no rescue? Must it be like this till the end – constant conflict and, instead of victory, too often defeat?”….Instead of growing stronger, I seemed to be getting weaker and to have less power against sin; and no wonder, for faith and even hope were getting very low. I hated myself; I hated my sin; and yet I gained no strength against it.

I felt I was a child of God; His Spirit in my heart would cry, in spite of all, “Abba, Father”, but to rise to my privileges as a child, I was utterly powerless. I thought that holiness was to be gradually attained by a diligent use of the means of grace. I felt that there was nothing I so much desired in this world, nothing I so much needed. But the more I pursued and strove after holiness, the more it eluded my grasp, till hope itself almost died out, and I began to think that perhaps to make heaven the sweeter, God would not give it to us in this life.

I do not think I was striving to attain it in my own strength. I knew I was powerless. I told the Lord so, and asked Him to give me help and strength and sometimes I almost believed He would keep and uphold me. But on looking back in the evening, there was sin and failure to confess and mourn before God.

I would not give you the impression that this was the daily experience of all those long, weary months, but it tended to be a too frequent state of soul and I almost ended up in despair. And yet, never did Christ seem more precious a Savior who could and would save such a sinner! And sometimes there were seasons not only of peace but of joy in the Lord. But they were fleeting and at best there was a sad lack of power. Oh, how good the Lord has been in bringing this conflict to an end!

All the time I felt assured that there was in Christ all I needed, but the practical question was how to get it out. He was rich, but I was poor; He was strong, but I was weak. I knew full well that there was in the vine, in the root, the stem, abundant fatness; but how to get it into my puny little branch was the question.

As gradually the light dawned on me, I saw that faith was the only prerequisite to laying hold of His fullness and making it my own. But I had not this faith . .. . I strove for it, but it would not come; I tried to exercise it, but in vain. Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fullness of our precious Savior – my helplessness and guilt seemed to increase. Sins committed appeared but as trifles compared with the sin of unbelief which was their cause, which could not or would not take God at His word, but rather made Him a liar! Unbelief was, I felt, the damning sin of the world – yet I indulged in it. I prayed for faith but it did not come. What was I to do?

When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from dear McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never seen it before.

McCarthy, who had been much exercised by the same sense of failure, but saw the light before I did, wrote (I quote from memory): “But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.”

As I read I saw it all! “If we believe not, [yet] He remains faithful.” I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, “I will never leave you.” “Ah, here is rest!” I thought. “I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I’ll strive no more. For has He not promised to abide with me – never to leave me, never to fail me?” And…He never will!

But this was not all He showed me, nor one half. As I thought of the vine and the branches, what light the blessed Spirit poured directly into my soul! How great seemed my mistake in having wished to get the sap, the fullness, out of Him. I saw not only that Jesus would never leave me, but that I was a member of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. The vine now I see is not the root merely, but all – root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit; and Jesus is not only that; He is soil and sunshine, air and showers, and ten thousand times more than we have ever dreamed, wished for, or needed. Oh the joy of seeing this truth! I do pray that the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened, that you may know and enjoy the riches freely given us in Christ.

Oh, my dear sister, it is a wonderful thing to be really one with a risen and exalted Savior, to be a member of Christ! Think what it involves. Can Christ be rich and I poor? Can your right hand be rich and the left poor? Or your head be well fed while your body starves? Again, think of this bearing on prayer. Could a bank clerk say to a customer, “It was only your hand that wrote that check, not you,” or “I cannot pay this sum to your hand, but only to yourself?” No more can your prayers, or mine, be discredited if offered in the name of Jesus (i.e. not in your own name, or even for the sake of Jesus, but on the ground that we are His, His members) so long as we keep within the extent of Christ’s credit – a considerably wide limit!

If we ask anything unscriptural or not in accordance with the will of God, Christ Himself could not do that; but “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us; and . . . we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.”

The sweetest part, if one may speak of one part being sweeter than another, is the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no difference where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest positions He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient.

It matters little to my servant whether I send him to buy a few dollars worth of things or the most expensive articles. In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases. So if God places me in great perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; or in positions of great difficulty, much grace; or in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? There is no fear that His resources will be unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.

All this springs from the believer’s oneness with Christ. And since Christ is now living in my heart by faith, how happy I have been! I wish I could tell you instead of writing about it.
I am no better than before (in one sense, I do not wish to be, nor am I striving to be); but I am dead and buried with Christ – yes, and risen too and ascended; and now Christ lives in me, and “the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” I now believe that I am dead to sin. God reckons me so, and tells me to reckon myself so. He knows best. All my past experiences may have shown that it was not so; but I dare not say it is not, when He says it is. I feel and know that old things have passed away. I am as capable of sinning as ever, but Christ is realized as present as never before. He cannot sin; and He can keep me from sinning.

I am sorry to have to confess it, but I cannot say that since I have seen this light I have not sinned; but I do feel there was no need to have done so. And further – walking more in the light, my conscience has been more tender; sin has been instantly seen, confessed, pardoned; and peace and joy (with humility) instantly restored; with one exception, when for several hours peace and joy did not return – from lack, as I had to learn, of full confession, and from some attempt to justify self.

Faith, I now see, is “the substance of things hoped for” and not mere shadow. It is not less than sight, but more. Sight only shows the outward forms of things; faith gives the substance. You can rest on substance; you can feed on substance. Christ dwelling in the heart by faith (i.e. faith in His word of promise) is power indeed, is life indeed. And Christ and sin will not dwell together; nor can we experience His presence with love of the world or carefulness about “many things.”

And now I must close. I have not said half I would like to say if I had more time. May God give you the grace to lay hold on these blessed truths. Do not let us continue to say, in effect, “Who shall ascend into heaven? that is, to bring Christ down from above.” In other words, do not let us consider Him as far off when God has made us one with Him, members of His very body. Nor should we look upon this experience, these truths, as only for the few. They are the birthright of every child of God, and no one can dispense with them without dishonor to our Lord. The only power for deliverance from sin or for serving the Lord is Christ.

Your own affectionate brother,


so, I know that this letter states that it was written by Hudson to Amelia, but I beg to differ. As I was reading, I became convinced that it was written my my sweet Holy Spirit directly to me.

It goes without saying that I didn’t make it quite past the first paragraph without welling up with tears. By the 4th paragraph, my eyes were puddles. For months, I have felt dry. I have been pursuing God, I have grown deeply in trusting His goodness, but I have felt very distant from His presence. As I have been growing in glorying in the Gospel, I have simultaneously felt my heart growing farther from my sweet Jesus who I was yearning for more intimately.

How can my heart be drawn to Him and be feeling so abandoned at the same time? How can I desire yet feel so distracted? I’m such a “puny branch” and am so aware of that. I so desire and long for His strength to flow through my branches, but have, like Hudson, felt despairing of the journey so often over the past few weeks and months.

Going into New Attitude this year, I felt that God was saying to me “Emily, come to me, and I will give you rest.” So, I went expecting rest. I went praying for that and waiting with great expectation of that rest, and yet, the conference evolved into 4 days of turmoil. It was four long and painful days of sin after sin being revealed. I felt very alone, frustrated, and more upset as I saw pride welling up in me.

John Newton wrote a song called “prayers answered by the crosses” in which he describes this struggle. He says “I asked the Lord that I might grow… might seek more earnestly His face…” … but where He led him was to a place of despair. A place where He realized his utter nothingness and then said “seek more earnestly my face… find your all in me.”

Until I read this letter, I had not pieced together my union with Christ and the importance that has on my life right here, right now, right in the midst of my “wilderness” and sensing of God’s absence. My account is empty, but I’m with Him and His is full! My heart is dry and parched, but He is an unending Spring of Delight.

In the midst of my confusion, He is full of clarity and joy. In my despair (sinfully and pridefully) over my sin, He rejoices in reminding me of the words “it is finished.” What a beautiful truth that encompasses.

How overwhelming that is. What peace that gives. I am grateful for this letter. I am grateful for the truths it expresses. It points to my Savior, not to my need. It points to His abundance, as greater than my lack. My Jesus is Strength. In my weakness, He is more than sufficient. The cup of His grace will never EVER run dry!



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