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.
Christian Men and their Godly Moms:
- Christian Men and their Godly Moms
- The Hidden Strength of a Weak Mother (Christian Men and Their Godly Moms)
- The Unbreakable Bond of Training and Tenderness (Christian Men and Their Godly Moms)
- The Power of a Persevering Mother (Christian Men and Their Godly Moms)
View Entire Series
Another day, another story of a crumbling marriage making its way to my ears, slumping my shoulders and squelching my spirit.
Another man falling for the lie that his family ought to be led with an iron fist and roaring tones rather than a loving hand and gentle admonitions.
Another husband believing the deceptive whisper, “She’ll make you feel so much better than your wife can.”
Another father enslaved by sin, shackled in a prison of his own making, practically helpless to offer his children the gentle strength and attentive wisdom they so desperately need from him.
Another man who has claimed Jesus’ name, and rather than walking in the freedom He died to secure him, is limping along through life. Gutted of purpose. Emptied of the glory God wants to filter through him. Drained of faithfulness. Righteousness. Strength.*
Heavenly Father, only You know the true depth of my heartache over this. Not just this particular marriage, but all of them.
My heart is grieved, Lord.
I’m grieved in that hard kind of way that feels like a twenty-pound weight lodged in my chest.
Your glory, Lord…
it’s being challenged.
Your Name sullied.
Your reputation at risk.
One of the hardest things, God, is that I feel so helpless.
Time after time I have to stand by and watch men destroy, shred-by-shred, families I dearly love.
And there’s not a thing I can do to stop them.
Except offer this prayer and a thousand others like it that honestly feel all-too-meager sometimes.
Meager…except for the grace of this promise:
“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
James 5:16 (NKJV)
So Father, I’m praying fervently for my Christian brothers right now.
Would You please not let them be deceived about the state of their hearts before You?
If they’re not saved, let them not think they are. And if they are saved, impress upon their hearts that they belong to You, and that their bodies aren’t their own, but have been bought with a price.
Lord, if they’re harboring secret sin, please convict their hearts. And please let them not view Your conviction as something to flee. Help them to see it as the gift that it is – the extended invitation to run back toward an intimate relationship with You.
Give them tender hearts that are sensitive to Your Spirit, and willing hearts that surrender. Help them to agree with you about their sin, and to turn from it. Grant them a disgust for sin and even a righteous anger toward it, that they’ll be attracted to it no longer.
O Lord, strengthen them in their innermost parts. Please enable them to be strong in the Lord and in the power of Your might. Remind them, Lord, to put on Your armor, and grant them the grace to do so.
God, I beg You to let them abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that they may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Yes, Jesus. Help them grow in discernment and approve what is excellent, and run like the dickens away from everything else.
When faced with temptation, grant them the grace to seek the way out that You promised.
And the strength to take it.
And Father, the most important thing I could ask for them is that they would draw near to You. That they would linger long in Your presence, feasting on Your Word and falling to their knees in prayer.
Enable them to resist and overcome the innocent distractions and not-so-innocent indulgences that dampen their appetite for You.
May they thirst for You, panting after You as a running dear pants after the water it needs to sustain its very life.
And Lord, may You consume them with a love for You that is genuine and passionate and far more alluring than anything this world can offer.
I implore you, Father, to raise up Christ-following men who are devoted to You as their Master, and who lead their families first by serving them.
Men who walk in truth.
Men who love tenderly, sacrificially, and unconditionally even as they have been loved by You.
Men who seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God.
Father, even though it’s so hard to believe right now, I’m choosing to remember the truth that You will be victorious.
I’m choosing to remember that Your glory will not be ignored forever.
I’m choosing to believe that You’re caring for wives and children, tenderly healing their broken hearts and binding up their wounds.
And I’m choosing to believe that You are strongest, and that with You, nothing is impossible.
I stand with other believers who echo this prayer with me. We come before Your throne boldly, making intercession for these, our brothers.
We know that You hear. We believe that You’re strong enough to answer. And we trust that You’re kind enough to want to.
In Your precious name I pray,
*I realize that men are not the only ones who sin against God and their families in the way I’m describing. But men have been the perpetrators of several recent incidents in my personal life and in the public eye, and I believe that is why this prayer has been on my heart.