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Chapter II - Consecration to Missionary Life. 1809-1812

In September, 1809, young Judson, at the age of twenty-one, began to ponder seriously the subject of foreign missions. He had just finished his first year of study at Andover; another year of the theological course remained. At this time there fell into his hands a sermon preached in the parish church of Bristol, England, by Dr. Claudius Buchanan, who had for many years been a chaplain in the service of the British East India Company. The sermon was entitled, "The Star in the East," and had for its text Matt. 2:2: "For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him." The leading thought of the sermon was the evidences of the divine power of the Christian religion in the East. Dr. Buchanan described the progress of the gospel in India, and especially the labors of the venerable German missionary, Schwartz. This sermon fell like a spark into the tinder of Judson's soul.

Six months from the time of his reading this sermon, he made the final resolve to become a missionary to the heathen. This was in February, 1810. He was, no doubt, stimulated to form this purpose by close contact with several other young men of like aspirations. His earliest missionary associate was Samuel Nott, Jr., who entered the seminary early in the year 1810, and was even then weighing the question whether he should devote himself to the work of carrying the gospel to the heathen.

About the same time there came to Andover four young men from Williams College -- Samuel J. Mills, Jr., James Richards, Luther Rice, and Gordon Hall. While in college these students formed a missionary society, and they were accustomed to meet together at night beneath a haystack near the college grounds. At Williamstown, on the spot where now stands the famous Haystack Monument, these young men consecrated themselves to the work of foreign missions, and poured out their fervent prayers for the conversion of the world; and this green nook among the Berkshire hills may well be called the birthplace of American foreign missions.

As great scientific discoveries have seemed to spring up almost simultaneously in the minds of independent and widely separated thinkers, sometimes engendering a strife as to the original discoverer, so this grand thought of evangelizing the heathen seems to have been in the atmosphere, and to have floated at almost the same time into the hearts of different young men living far apart. Christian society was like a field which, having been ploughed and sown, has folded up in its bosom a potency of growth. Judson and his associates were like the first green shoots, scattered far and wide, that appear above the ground and promise to be followed by countless others. It was after long meditation and prayer, and in communion with kindred glowing spirits, that the thought in Judson's mind of consecrating himself to the foreign missionary work became a fixed purpose.

There were many obstacles in the way. He was not going among the heathen because he could not find suitable employment at home. He had received a tutor's appointment in Brown University and had declined it. The Rev. Dr. Griffin had proposed him as his colleague in "the largest church in Boston." "And you will be so near home," his mother said. "No!" was his reply. "I shall never live in Boston. I have much farther than that to go." The ambitious hopes of his father were overthrown; and his mother and sister shed many regretful tears. He did not go abroad because he was not wanted at home.

But what steps did he and his young associates take in order to execute their sublime purpose? There was at that time no foreign missionary society in America to which they could offer their services, and which would undertake their support in the foreign field. There was, indeed, the Massachusetts Missionary Society, founded in 1799, the object of which was to diffuse a missionary spirit among the Congregational churches in New England, and to carry the gospel to the Indians and to the newly settled parts of our own land. But this society had not yet launched upon the work of foreign missions; and so Mr. Judson and the young men who shared his purpose first proposed to each other to enlist as missionaries under the London Missionary Society. Accordingly Mr. Judson wrote a letter to that effect to the venerable Dr. Bogue, the president of the seminary in Gosport, England, where the missionaries of the London society received their training.

While awaiting a reply to this letter, he and his associates made their desires known to their teachers in the seminary, and to several influential ministers in the vicinity. The professors and ministers met for consultation on the matter at the house of Prof. Stuart, in Andover, on Monday, June 25, 1810. These wise and conservative men advised the students to submit their case to the General Association, a body representing all the Congregational churches of the State of Massachusetts, and which was to meet at Bradford the next day.

Thus the action of these students led to the organization of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, a society widely known and justly revered at the present day as the missionary organ of the Congregational church of America, and indeed the mother of American foreign missionary societies.

The nine men originally forming this Board distrusted their ability to support in the foreign field those who had offered their services. They feared that the missionary sentiment among the churches of New England was hardly strong enough as yet to undertake so great an enterprise; and so they turned instinctively to their brethren in England, represented in the London Missionary Society, for aid and co-operation. They accordingly sent Mr. Judson to England to ascertain whether such co-operation would be agreeable to the London society.

The English directors gave Mr. Judson a most courteous and affectionate greeting, but a joint conduct of the missions did not seem practicable to them. They were willing to receive and support Mr. Judson and his associates as their own missionaries, but did not feel disposed to admit the American Board to a participation with them in the direction of the work. Such co-operation might occasion complications, and they wisely thought that American Christians were able to take care of their own missionaries.

Mr. Judson embarked for England, January 11, 1811, on the English ship "Packet." She was captured on the way by a French privateer, and so he was subjected to compulsory detention and imprisonment in France. On the 6th of May he arrived in London, and on the 18th of June he embarked at Gravesend, in the ship "Augustus," bound for New York, where he arrived on the 17th of August.

Soon after Mr. Judson returned to America, on the 18th of September, 1811, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions met at Worcester, Mass., and advised him and his associates not to place themselves at present under the direction of the London Missionary Society. It was also voted that "Messrs. Adoniram Judson, Jr., Samuel Nott, Jr., Samuel Newell, and Gordon Hall be appointed missionaries to labor under the direction of this Board in Asia, either in the Burman Empire, or in Surat, or in Prince of Wales Island, or elsewhere, as in the view of the Prudential Committee, Providence shall open the most favorable door." Thus the way was prepared for Mr. Judson to realize his ardent desire to become a missionary to the heathen.

But he was not to go alone, for he was already betrothed to Miss Ann Hasseltine. They met for the first time on the memorable occasion already described, when in June, 1810, the General Association held its session at Bradford, and young Judson and his fellow students modestly made known their desires to attempt a mission to the heathen. The story is told that during the sessions the ministers gathered for a dinner beneath Mr. Hasseltine's roof. His youngest daughter, Ann, was waiting on the table. Her attention was attracted to the young student whose bold missionary projects were making such a stir. But what was her surprise to observe, as she moved about the table, that he seemed completely absorbed in his plate! Little did she dream that she had already woven her spell about his young heart, and that he was at that very time composing a graceful stanza in her praise.

She was born in Bradford, December 22, 1789, and was about a year younger than Mr. Judson. Her parents were John and Rebecca Hasseltine. She had an ardent, active, even restless temperament; so that her mother once reproved her in childhood with the ominous words. "I hope, my daughter, you will one day be satisfied with rambling." She was educated at the Bradford Academy, and was a beautiful girl, characterized by great vivacity of spirits and intensely fond of society. In fact, she was so reckless in her gayety, and so far outstripped her young companions in mirth, that they feared she would have but a brief life, and be suddenly cut off. At the age of sixteen she was converted, and threw herself with all her native ardor into the joys and labors of the Christian life. She taught school for several years in Salem, Haverhill, and Newbury. Her constant endeavor was to bring her pupils to the Saviour.

Her decision to become a foreign missionary must have required great heroism, for thus far no woman had ever left America as a missionary to the heathen. Public sentiment was against her going. It was thought to be wild and romantic. One good lady said to another, "I hear that Miss Hasseltine is going to India! Why does she go?" "Why, she thinks it her duty. Wouldn't you go if you thought it your duty?" "But," replied the lady, with emphasis, "I would not think it my duty!"

On the 5th of February, 1812, Mr. Judson and Ann Hasseltine, were married at Bradford. Two days before, at Plymouth, he had taken final leave of his parents, and his brother Elnathan accompanied him to Boston. The journey was made on horseback, and at the time Elnathan had not been converted. While on the way the two dismounted, and among the trees by the roadside they knelt, and there Adoniram offered a fervent prayer in behalf of his younger brother. Four days later they parted, never to meet again on earth. The wayside prayer was not unheeded in heaven. Years afterward, Adoniram was permitted to have the assurance that the brother over whom his heart so fondly yearned became an "inheritor of the kingdom of heaven."

On the 6th of February, he received ordination at Salem from the Rev. Drs. Spring, Worcester, Woods, Morse, and Griffin; on the 7th he bade good-bye to his younger sister and companion of his childhood; and on the 19th embarked at Salem, with Mrs. Judson, and Mr. and Mrs. Newell, on the brig "Caravan," Captain Heard, bound for Calcutta.

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