For the past several months, I have been searching through the long and storied history of the church to find examples of Christian men who had godly moms. More specifically, I have been searching for notable Christian men whose most important spiritual influence was their mother. I have discovered many of them and have been deeply encouraged by their stories.
In the first article, we examined the life of John Newton, whose mother proved that spiritual strength can exist even where there is physical frailty. This time, I want to look at a great missionary who impacted an entire nation and the very course of Christian missions. To tell his story properly, we must begin with the deep spiritual crisis he endured in his teenage years, when he found himself unexpectedly torn between God and the world, drawn to the allure of wealth. It was in this moment of excruciating crisis that Hudson Taylor came to learn the power of a praying mother.
A God-Fearing Home
Hudson Taylor was born on May 21, 1832, in Barnsley, England, the firstborn child of James and Amelia. James was a chemist. He had desired to be a doctor but, as the family was unable to pay for medical school, had settled for pharmacology. Raised in a believing home, he became a committed Christian at a young age and developed a deep love for Scripture and theology. When he was still a child, his parents moved to a home close to Wesleyan minister Benjamin Hudson. James quickly befriended the minister’s daughter, Amelia, despite being six years her senior.
Amelia, too, had put her faith in Jesus from a young age. She was raised in impoverished conditions and had to take up work as a governess in 1824 when she was just 16. Yet she was confident she would not be forever at this vocation, for by that time, she knew of James’ intentions for marriage. Later that same year, the couple announced their engagement. But before they could settle down together, James had to prepare to provide for Amelia, first through education and then through successfully establishing his own shop. By 1831 he had settled into a small shop in Barnsley and on April 5, they were married. In the intervening time, James’ gift for preaching had been identified, and he was set apart as a lay preacher, charged to give sermons each Lord’s Day. Six days of each week were committed to the healing of bodies and the seventh to the healing of souls.
It was just thirteen months after James and Amelia’s wedding day that they were joined by their first child. Though named after his father, he was always known as Hudson, after his mother’s maiden name. Hudson was soon joined by Amelia Jr., who became his dearest friend, and then other siblings, at least two of whom died in childhood. Hudson’s parents had dedicated him to the Lord before his birth, giving him to ministry and especially to mission work in China. Hudson learned this information only after he had already taken up the work.
James was a loving father committed to training his children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. But he was also severe in discipline and excessively frugal, often advocating forced austerity as a means of piety. In contrast to her husband, Amelia was kind, gentle, and forbearing. She had a quiet and pleasant personality and a rich sense of humor. She was well-respected in her local church, where she taught Bible classes for girls. She maintained an open home and welcomed many strangers, especially believers from surrounding villages. She and James consistently led their children in family worship—reading the Bible, praying, and singing hymns together.
The Taylor children grew up in an amiable, God-fearing home with their parents as teachers and their siblings as confidants. Hudson developed an early interest in spiritual matters and even an interest in missionary work. But it would not be long before he would be challenged to throw it all away.
The Power of a Praying Mother
When Hudson was 15, his father determined it was time for the boy to gain a wider experience of life. Hudson took up employment at a bank, and it was in this environment that he first encountered people who openly mocked the Christian faith. He soon joined them in scoffing and swearing. The job also opened his eyes to wealth and those who lived to accumulate and enjoy it. He found himself drawn to money and to the pleasures it could afford. His spiritual life began to languish, and he lost interest in prayer and in reading the Bible. When weakening eyes eventually forced him to resign, he returned to his father’s shop in a state of deep spiritual crisis. James attempted to help his son but was too often harsh and impatient. The crisis deepened. These were difficult days as Hudson, now 17, found himself despondent and short-tempered, inwardly and at times outwardly rebelling against his father’s strict authority.
Amelia intervened because she understood Hudson in a way James did not and perhaps could not. She redoubled her efforts to be kind, gentle, and patient toward him. She spoke to him, of course, and counseled him, but also became convinced that the best thing she could do for her son was to commit him to prayer. During a short holiday that took her away from the family home, she felt compelled to increase the length and earnestness of her prayers. One day that compulsion grew to such a degree that she determined to pray for her son until she came to a sense of assurance that God would save him. She locked herself in her room and for hours pleaded that God would extend mercy to Hudson. And then, all of a sudden, she believed that God had answered her prayer. Her heart turned from pleading to praise, and she worshipped God that he had, indeed, saved Hudson.
Meanwhile, Hudson had been at home. Bored and discontent, he began looking for something to do. He wandered into his father’s library and, though he pulled book after book from the shelf, found nothing of interest. Finally, he spotted a tract titled “Poor Richard.” He read the story, then came to the simple words “the finished work of Christ.” In that very moment, Hudson understood that Christ had done all that was necessary for salvation and the only right response was to accept that work by faith. Right there, he fell to his knees and committed his life to the Lord, promising to serve him forever. He soon learned that as he was on his knees praising God for his salvation, his mother was doing the very same thing, though many miles away.
A few days later, he and his mother were reunited, and he immediately exclaimed, “I have some news to tell you.” Before he could say anything more she replied, “I know what it is! You have given yourself to God.” She explained that for days she had already been rejoicing in his salvation.
(Surely it is not an incidental detail that his sister Amelia Jr. had also committed to pray for his conversion in this time. Though she was only 13, she had pledged before God that she would pray three times each day for God to save Hudson. He learned this only later when he accidentally opened her diary and realized that she had made this promise just one month before God saved him. Many Christian men have godly moms, and many also have godly sisters.)
Taylor’s life was forever transformed. He soon committed his life to missionary work, trained as a doctor, began to preach, and at last departed for China in 1853. His mother was there to say farewell, and his description of their parting tells of their love and of her earnest prayers.
My beloved, now sainted mother, had come over to Liverpool to see me off. Never shall I forget that day, nor how she went with me into the cabin that was to be my home for nearly six long months. With a mother’s loving hand she smoothed the little bed. She sat by my side and joined in the last hymn we should sing together before parting. We knelt down and she prayed—the last mother’s prayer I was to hear before leaving for China. Then notice was given that we must separate, and we had to say good-bye, never expecting to meet on earth again.
For my sake she restrained her feelings as much as possible. We parted, and she went ashore giving me her blessing. I stood alone on deck, and she followed the ship as we moved toward the dockgates. As we passed through the gates and the separation really commenced, never shall I forget the cry of anguish wrung from that mother’s heart. It went through me like a knife. I never knew so fully, until then, what “God so loved the world” meant. And I am quite sure my precious mother learned more of the love of God for the perishing in that one hour than in all her life before.
Even on the mission field, Hudson continued to depend upon his mother’s prayers, pleading with her to plead for him and writing to her with affection: “God be with you and bless you, my own dear, dear mother, and give you so to realize the preciousness of Jesus, that you may wish for nothing but to ‘know him’ … even in ‘the fellowship of his sufferings’.” From afar, Amelia gave counsel and encouragement to her missionary son. Their bond of friendship was only separated by her death in 1881.
Hudson Taylor would spend 51 years in China and found the China Inland Mission (now known as OMF International). Hundreds of missionaries would follow him to China and thousands of Chinese would come to know Christ. Rightly would he be known as one of the great Christian missionaries. And his story cannot be told without giving due credit to the power of a praying mother.
Even when raised in a godly home with a loving mother, some children may be dragged away from God into the sinful desires of the world. But no matter how far your children stray, no matter the circumstances, you must not succumb to despair. You can pray like Amelia prayed. You may not receive such a clear and remarkable answer to your prayer. But as you plead for your children before a sovereign God, as you cry out in faith to him, you can trust that there will be a day when your tears of mourning will turn to tears of joy.
Information for this article was drawn primarily from Jim Cromarty’s It Is Not Death to Die and The Spiritual Secret of Hudson Taylor by Howard Taylor. I also recommend Hudson Taylor by Vance Christie.