Adonirum Judson was born in 1788, the son of a devout Congregationalist minister. From early in his life he excelled in everything he touched. So excellent was young Judson's scholarship that he was enrolled at Rhode Island Christian College at the age of 16.
Unlike many other missionaries, Adnorium did not have an early call from God or love for Him. In fact, Judson fell in with a number of atheists, chief of which was James Eames who became his dear friend. By the age of 20, the minister's son had completely denounced Christ and his upbringing. "Like the prodigal son he left home in quest of an exciting life. He wanted to escape parental restraints." 1The story of Adonirum Judson's conversion has been told so many times that it really does not need to be documented.
Not long after leaving home, sure of his new atheistic beliefs, Judson spent the night at an inn. The innkeeper warned him that the only room he had would be a room with a young man who was very ill and dying. Adnorium said that was no problem. Through the night he heard the agonizing cries and pleas of a dying man who obviously did not know God. As the man's cries grew weaker in the early hours of morning, Judson wondered what the destiny was that awaited such a man or for that matter himself. At sunrise, he inquired of the innkeeper what the condition of the sick man was. "Oh, he died in the night," was the curt reply. "Do you know who he was?" asked Judson. To his horror he was told that the name of the man he had heard die in the night was James Eames, the man who had led him into unbelief and atheism.
Shaken by the event of his friend's death, a different Adonirum Judson returned home and sought admission to Andover Theological Seminary. Once enrolled, the writing of the Puritan, Thomas Boston led Judson to full faith in Christ and salvation.2 Soon, what had once been a raving atheist had been transformed into a young man who felt God calling him into missions.
There was one great problem facing Judson concerning missions; in early 1800 America, there were no foreign missionaries. Somewhere around 1811 Judson wrote the following in a magazine article:
"How do Christians discharge this trust committed to them? They let three fourths of the world sleep the sleep of death, ignorant of the simple truth that a Savior died for them. Content if they can be useful in the little circle of their acquaintances, they quietly sit and see whole nations perish for lack of knowledge."3
Through meeting and prayer with other concerned Congregationalists, Judson helped to formulate plans to form a mission society dedicated to sending missionaries to India. The budding missionary found something else during that time, his future wife. At the home of a deacon where the mission society met Judson fell in love with a godly young woman by the name of Ann. Imagine being Ann's father when he received this letter from Adonirum Judson:
"I have not to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next Spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls, for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God?"4
With her eyes wide open to the impending dangers of missionary life, Anne consented to marriage and she and Judson were wed in February of 1812.
The Judsons set sail for India while their good friend Luther Rice prepared to come on a later ship. As they settled in for the four-month journey to India, Adnorium and Ann also settled in to an intense study of Scripture. They knew that when they arrived in India they would be ministering alongside the famous Baptist missionaries of Serampore Mission led by none other than William Carey. How would they work together with their differences concerning baptism? Adonirum was also seeking to reconcile some questions he had about his own Covenant Theology. All of their first converts would be adults. He wondered if they should also baptize the children of these new believers in a pagan land.5 Had the Judsons known that the Baptist missionaries of India had a policy to avoid such controversies, they may never have embarked on this study. Regardless, they became convinced over the weeks of study and prayer that believer's baptism was the New Testament mandate and determined to be baptized by immersion when they arrived in India. In God's providence, Luther Rice would come to the same conclusion separately from them.
Ann and Adonirum left America as Congregationalist but arrived in India as Baptists. They knew this decision would severely affect their relationship with their friends and family back in America. Ann wrote to one of her closest friends; "My dear Nancy, we are confirmed Baptists, not because we wished to be, but because truth compelled us to be We anticipate the loss of reputation, and of the affection and esteem of many of our American friends."6 When they landed in Calcutta, Judson wrote to William Carey, " feeling that we are in an unbaptized state, we wish to profess our faith in Christ by being baptized in obedience to his sacred commands."7 The parting of the Judsons and Luther Rice with the Congregationalist was on friendly terms and was used to further the kingdom of God just as did the parting of Paul and Barnabas.
Upon landing in India, the new Baptists found that their greatest enemy was not paganism but the British East India Company. Greed caused the British government to distrust missionaries and the changes that took place in their converts. People freed from sin have a bad habit of bowing down to God rather than man and the British knew that. Refused permanent status in India, Ann and Adonirum set sail for Burma.
No place could have more fulfilled Adonirum's prophecy in his letter of proposal to Ann's father than Burma. Burma was a land of superstition, governmental corruption and dedicated Buddhism. William Carey's son Felix wrote of Burma:
"The houses of Rangoon were miserably built, the streets were filthy with vermin, the rents wickedly oppressive, the taxes absurdly high, and the punishments barbarous "8
Burma was all that and more. Torture and mass executions were common occurrences. Any foreign religion was dealt with swiftly and unmercifully. The country's rulers were proud men who vainly believed their nation was superior to all others and invincible. This is the place, which Adonirum had brought his fair Ann to minister for the Lord Jesus Christ.
There was plenty to do upon arriving in Rangoon. The Burmese language was difficult beyond belief; a seemingly endless string of words with no punctuation or recognizable sentence structure of any kind. Translating was Judson's sole work for over six years. Then in 1819, the first Burman, Moung Nau, gave his life to Christ and was baptized. Soon several more were baptized and a new missionary, Dr.
Adonirum Judson and the Missionary Call by Erroll Hulse, Reformation Today Trust, 1996,
2 Hulse, p.7 (The book he read was Human Nature in its Fourfold State by Thomas Boston).
3 To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson, Judson Press, 1989, pp. 63-64.
4 Anderson, p. 83.
5 The Life of Adonirum Judson by Edward Judson, Anson D.F. Randolph and Company, 1883, p. 36.
6 Judson, p. 39.
7 Judson, p.42.
8 William Carey by Pearce Carey, Wakeman, 1923, p. 266.
9 Hulse, p. 26.
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