His Wife Went Home Too Soon: How God Comforted Hudson Taylor

One of the most precious promises in Scripture is that God “comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4). But for years I wondered, what does that mean? How does God comfort us? How do we actually experience this?

What helped me with these questions, as much as anything, was the story of how God comforted Hudson Taylor (1832–1905). He met Maria Dyer on the mission field in China, and the two were married in 1858. In 1866, after some time back in England, Hudson and Maria returned to their beloved China. But on July 23, 1870, Maria became ill and died.

This was a tragic, heartbreaking loss for Hudson. But God deeply comforted him, as we see from two letters he wrote soon after her passing.

Two Letters of Grief and Hope

The first letter was written to William Berger, who was in London raising support and recruiting missionaries:

Many, many thanks for your loving sympathy in my bereavement. . . .

I do from day to day and every day so delight in the love of Jesus, satisfy my thirsty heart when most desolate from his fullness, feed and rest in green pastures in the recognition that his will has been done and is being done, as no words can express.

He only knows what her absence is to me. Twelve and a half years of such unbroken spiritual fellowship, united labor, mutual satisfaction and love, fall to the lot of very few . . . but were the loss less, I should know less of his power and sustaining love. (Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission, 197)

The second letter was written to Mary Berger, William’s wife:

No language can express what [Christ] has been and is to me. Never does he leave me; constantly does he cheer me with his love. He who once wept at the grave of Lazarus often now weeps in and with me. . . .

Often I find myself wondering whether it is possible for her, who is taken, to have more joy in his presence than he has given me.

At times he allows me to realize all I had in her, but have no longer. . . . And then he who will soon come and wipe away every tear comes and takes all bitterness from my tears and fills my heart with deep, true, unutterable gladness. (208)

How God Comforted Him

Hudson Taylor’s letters show us how God comforts us. First, God comforted him with tastes of his love and joy.

Constantly does he cheer me with his love. . . . Often I find myself wondering whether it is possible for her, who is taken, to have more joy in his presence than He has given me.

The loss of his wife left Hudson Taylor empty and heartbroken. But God gave him such satisfaction in his love and joy that his empty, broken heart was filled and healed. Like Moses prayed, “Satisfy us in the morning” — even in incredible grief — “with your steadfast love” (Psalm 90:14).

Second, God’s comfort does not remove our sorrow but shares with us in our sorrow.

At times he does allow me to realize all that I had in her, but have no longer. . . . He who once wept at the grave of Lazarus often now weeps in and with me.

God allowed Hudson Taylor to have times of great joy in Christ’s love, and also times of deep loss in Maria’s absence. But even in the times of loss, Hudson was comforted by the sense that Jesus was there, weeping in and with him. That’s how Isaiah describes God: “In all their affliction he was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9).

Third, God’s tenderness washed away his bitterness and filled his heart with gladness.

At times he allows me to realize all that I had in her, but have no longer. . . . And then he who will soon come and wipe away every tear comes and takes all bitterness from my tears and fills my heart with deep, true, unutterable gladness.

Grief over loss can easily become bitterness. But God gave Hudson Taylor such gladness that bitterness was removed from his tears, and joy filled his heart. As David said to God, “In your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11), even when we are overcome with sorrow.

Fourth, God’s comfort is so precious that it is worth every loss.

He only knows what her absence is to me. Twelve and a half years of such unbroken spiritual fellowship, united labor, mutual satisfaction and love, fall to the lot of very few . . . but were the loss less, I should know less of his power and sustaining love.

Hudson Taylor knew heartbreaking loss. But God gave him such an experience of his power and love that it more than made up for the loss and grief. Paul agrees: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

How God Might Comfort You

But all of this did not happen automatically. Notice the part Hudson Taylor played:

I do from day to day and every day so delight in the love of Jesus, satisfy my thirsty heart when most desolate from his fullness, feed and rest in green pastures in the recognition that his will has been done and is being done, as no words can express.

Taylor says his heart was thirsty and desolate. But he did not stay there. Day to day, and every day, he sought to delight in the love of Jesus, and satisfy his heart in Christ’s fullness. This meant he prayed fervently for a deeper experience of Christ’s love, and he meditated earnestly on Scriptures describing Christ’s love.

Taylor also fed on and rested in the truth that God’s will was being done. He knew that ultimately God had taken his wife home, so he trusted and submitted to God’s will. The result was, as we read above, “Often I find myself wondering whether it is possible for her, who is taken, to have more joy in his presence than he has given me.”

Hudson Taylor was heartbroken over the loss of his wife. But God gave him such comfort that he wondered if his wife in heaven could possibly be experiencing as much joy in God as he was. That’s how deeply God comforted Taylor in his grief. And that’s how God can comfort you.

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