The Life of J. Hudson Taylor: Chapter 1 - The Power of Prayer
Mr. James Taylor, of Yorkshire, England, was for many years an earnest and successful evangelist. Through reading an account of travels in China he became deeply impressed with the awful spiritual need of the vast empire. Prevented by adverse circumstances from devoting his own life to the cause, he was led to pray that God would give him a son to fill the place.
About two years later, on May 21st, 1832, James Hudson Taylor was born, the first and only surviving son of that godly father. But although he seemed to have been given directly for China, in answer to his father's prayers, all hope of his ultimately becoming a missionary was by degrees abandoned, on account of extreme delicacy of health in his early years.
Surrounded though he was from childhood by all the influences of a truly Christian home, it was not until he had reached his sixteenth year that the great change took place which permanently altered the whole of life for young Hudson Taylor. Of the experiences preceding his conversion we read from his own pen:-
"I had many opportunities in early years of learning the value of prayer and of the Word of God; for it was the delight of my dear parents to point out that if there were any such being as God, to trust and to obey Him and to be fully given up to His. service must of necessity be the best and wisest course both for myself and others. But in spite of these helpful examples and precepts my heart was unchanged. Often I had tried to make myself a Christian; and failing of course in such efforts, I began at last to think that for some reason or other salvation could not be for me, and that the best I could do was to take my fill of this world, as there was no hope beyond the grave.
"While in this state of mind I came in contact with persons holding skeptical and infidel views, and accepted their teaching, only too thankful for some hope of escape from the doom which, if my parents were right and the Bible true, awaited the impenitent. It may seem strange to confess it, but I have often felt thankful for the experience of this time of skepticism. The inconsistencies of Christian people, who while professing to believe their Bibles were yet content to live just as they would if there were no such book, had been one of the strongest arguments of my skeptical companions; and I frequently felt at that time, and said, that if I pretended to believe the Bible I would at any rate attempt to live by it, putting it fairly to the test, and if it failed to prove true and reliable, throw it overboard altogether. These views continued with me when the Lord was pleased to bring me to Himself; and I think I may say that since then I have put God's Word to the test. Certainly it has never failed me. I have never had reason to regret the confidence I have placed in its promises, or to deplore following the guidance I have found in its directions."
During those early years before his conversion, it was often a cause of sorrow to the Christian members of the little family circle at Barnsley that the only son and brother, so dear to all their hearts, should not be one with them in the love and service of God. Prayer was constantly made on his behalf; and very marked was the answer with which the Lord was pleased to honor the faith that had been strengthened to claim the longed-for blessing. Of the interesting circumstances connected with this conversion we read:-
"On a day that I can never forget, when I was about fifteen years of age, my dear mother being absent from home, I had a holiday, and in the afternoon looked through my father's library to find some book with which to while away the unoccupied hours. Nothing attracting me, I turned over a little basket of pamphlets, and selected from among them a Gospel tract which looked interesting, saying to myself, 'There will be a story at the commencement, and a sermon or moral at the close: I will take the former and leave the latter for those who like it.'
"I sat down to read the little book in an utterly unconcerned state of mind, believing indeed at the time that if there were any salvation it was not for me, and with a distinct intention to put away the tract as soon as it should seem prosy. I may say that it was not uncommon in those days to call conversion 'becoming serious;' and judging by the faces of some of its professors, it appeared to be a very serious matter indeed. Would it not be well if the people of God had always tell-tale faces, evincing the blessings and gladness of salvation so clearly that outsiders might have to call conversion 'becoming joyful' instead of 'becoming serious?'
"Little did I know at the time what was going on in the heart of my dear mother, seventy or eighty miles away. She rose from the dinner-table that afternoon with an intense yearning for the conversion of her boy, and feeling that -- absent from home, and having more leisure than she could otherwise secure -- a special opportunity was afforded her of pleading with God on my behalf. She went to her room and turned the key in the door, resolved not to leave that spot until her prayers were answered. Hour after hour did that dear mother plead for me, until at length she could pray no longer, but was constrained to praise God for that which His Spirit taught her had already been accomplished -- the conversion of her only son.
"I in the meantime had been led in the way I have mentioned to take up this little tract, and while reading it was struck with the sentence, 'The finished work of Christ.' The thought passed through my mind, 'Why does the author use this expression? why not say the atoning or propitiatory work of Christ?' Immediately the words 'It is finished' suggested themselves to my mind. What was finished? And I at once replied, 'A full and perfect atonement and satisfaction for sin: the debt was paid by the Substitute; Christ died for our sins, and not for ours only, but also the sins of the whole world.' Then came the thought, 'If the whole work was finished and the whole debt paid, what is there left for me to do?' And with it dawned the joyful conviction, as light was flashed into my soul by the Holy Spirit, that there was nothing in the world to be done but to fall down on one's knees, and accepting this Saviour and His salvation, to praise Him for evermore. Thus while my dear mother was praising God on her knees in her chamber, I was praising Him in the old warehouse to which I had gone alone to read at my leisure.
"Several days elapsed ere I ventured to make my beloved sister -- now Mrs. Brommhall -the confidant of my joy, and then only after she had promised not to tell any one of my soul secret. When our dear mother came home a fortnight later, I was the first to meet her at the door, and to tell her I had such glad news to give. I can almost feel that dear mother's arms around my neck, as she pressed me to her bosom and Said, 'I know, my boy; I have been rejoicing for a fortnight in the glad tidings you have to tell me.' 'Why,' I asked in surprise, 'has Amelia broken her promise? She said she would tell no one.' My dear mother assured me that it was not from man that she had learned the tidings, and went on to tell the little incident mentioned above. You will agree with me that it would be strange indeed if I were not a believer in the power of prayer.
"Nor was this all. Some little time after, I picked up a pocket-book exactly like one of my own, and thinking it was mine, opened it. The lines that caught my eye were an entry in the little diary, which belonged to my sister, to the effect that she would give herself daily to prayer until God should answer in the conversion of her brother. Exactly one month later the Lord was pleased to turn me from darkness to light.
"Brought up amid such influences and saved under circumstances like these, it was perhaps natural that from the commencement of my Christian life I was led to feel that the promises were very real, and that prayer was in sober matter of fact, transacting business with God, whether on one's own behalf or on behalf of those for whom one sought His blessing."