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Greatest Preachers

Adoniram Judson

Adoniram Judson

1788 - 1850

Adoniram Judson was born August 9th, 1788 in Malden, Massachusetts. His father was a Congregationalist minister. From a very early age Judson showed to have a brilliant mind. He learned to read at the age of three, and had mastered the Greek language by the age of twelve. Judson enrolled in Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island in 1804 at just sixteen years old.

While at Brown University, Judson fell in with the wrong crowd. He befriended a man by the name of Jacob Eames who was an atheist. By the time that Judson graduated in 1807 as valedictorian he had total denounced Christ and his Christian upbringing. He returned home and opened up the Plymouth Independent Academy, but soon grew tired of living a hypocritical life and told his parents he was moving off to New York to write for the stage. His parents were crushed, but Judson went on anyway. When he arrived in New York the fame and fortune that he had envisioned did not come. So defeated he obtained a horse and headed west. One night he decided to lodge at a village inn. The only room available was a room with a deathly ill man. Throughout the night he heard the man cry out in pain and could tell that he did not know God. In the mourning he questioned the innkeeper about the condition of the man. He was told that he had died during the night. Judson then asked who the man was. The innkeeper replied that it was “a Jacob Eames from the college of Providence.”

The death of his atheistic friend greatly touched Adoniram Judson. He returned home and enrolled in Andover Theological Seminary in 1808. This was where he was led to a full faith in Christ while reading the writings of a Puritan author by the name Thomas Boston. The young man that was once an atheist now felt that God was calling him into missions.

Judson faced a big problem with his calling. In the early 1800’s there were no foreign missionaries from America. Judson wrote this in a magazine article in 1811:

“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.”

Judson’s parents who were at one time so devastated by his lack of concern for things of God were now encouraging him to accept a prominent ministers job in Boston rather than go off to the mission field. You know that his parents must have prayed for their son to be in the ministry when he was running for God, but this just was not what they had envisioned. In June of 1810 Judson along with several men, which were involved in the famous haystack prayer meetings at Williams College, wrote a statement to the General Association of Congregational Ministers at Bradford, Mass. that resulted in the organization of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

Since finances were still a problem, Judson decided to sail to England to appeal to the London Missionary Society for support. On his journey to England a French privateer captured his ship and Judson was imprisoned. He was released but had no luck with the board in England.

Judson returned to the States were he was married to Ann Hasseltine on February 5th, 1812. He and his colleagues were ordained the next day, and then sailed to Calcutta, India on February 19th. While on the four-month voyage to India Judson and his new wife decided to study the topic of believer’s baptism. They did this for a couple of reasons. First of all because they knew that they were going to be in contact with William Carey a Baptist missionary, and secondly because he was having some problems with how he was going to handle the Congregationalist idea of covenant theology. During their study they became convinced that believer’s baptism by immersion was the Biblical method, and presented themselves for proper baptism in a Baptist Church in Calcutta. Interestingly enough, Luther Rice a colleague of theirs came to the same conclusion during his trip to India and was also baptized. Their being baptized meant that their support from the Congregationalist would be terminated. So they decided that Rice would go home and raise support for missions and Judson would stay on the field. By 1814 Rice had rallied Baptist churches and they had established the American Baptist Missionary Union.

Judson could not obtain permission from the British East India Company for permanent residency because they did not trust missionaries and they did not like the change in their converts. So they decided to go to Burma. During the voyage the vessel was caught in a monsoon in the Bay of Bengal. Ann became severely ill and gave birth to their first child, which soon died and had to be buried at sea.

For the first six years in Burma Judson devoted his time mainly to learning the language and translating the Bible. Then in 1819, he had his first convert, a Burmese man by the name, Moung Nau. One practice of Judson’s that I found interesting is that he insisted that new converts undergo an extensive training before being baptized. Another missionary named Dr. Pierce joined the Judson’s, and things were looking good. Their success was to be short lived though because war broke out between the Burmese and the British, and although Judson and Dr. Pierce were not British they were foreign and white so they were arrested. The conditions of their imprisonment were absolutely horrible. They had to share a room with 100 men. They were put in fetters, and they were extremely malnourished. If it were not for the faithfulness of his wife Ann to smuggle in food to him and Dr. Pierce, Judson would probably have died. During his imprisonment Ann gave birth to their third child Maria (their second child had also died soon after birth). Ann found that she could not nurse her child so she had to go up and down the streets begging for some one to nurse her child. The war with the British was to soon come to a close and so Judson and his friend were released from prison to help negotiate with the British.

Soon after his release his precious wife Ann died from a tropical fever. Not long after that, Maria, his baby girl died. This drove Judson into a deep depression. He moved out into a tiger infested jungle where he lived alone for forty days in a hut. The natives said that his surviving was like Daniel surviving in the lion’s den. During that lonely time in the jungle Judson’s spirit was renewed. He moved to Moulmein where he would live for the rest of his ministry.

In 1828, Judson had the privilege of converting a Karen slave. The Karens were a wild race of people that lived in the remote areas of the jungles. The man’s name was, Ko Tha Byu, and he was a robber bandit that had been involved in some 30 murders. Under Judson’s and the Boardman’s, which were a new missionary couple that had joined Judson, discipleship this man come to be a mighty preacher that came to known as the Karen Apostle. He helped the Karen people to realize that Christianity was the fulfillment of his own people’s legends. Within 25 years there were 11,878 baptized Karen believers.

Mr. Boardman passed away and Judson married his widow. They were married for eleven years and had eight children together, three of which died at an early age. The work in Burma continued to grow, but Mrs. Judson grew very ill and Judson decided that they would take a furlough to try to nurse his ailing wife back to good health. The trip proved to be too much for her and she died in the port of St. Helena. When he arrived back in the United States, Judson was not ready for the reception that he would receive. It was his first furlough in 33 years and everyone wanted him to come to their church and speak about his adventures. While in the States someone complained that he did not tell enough stories of adventures in Burma, and he replied, “I am glad they have it to say that I had nothing better to tell than the wondrous story of Jesus dying love.”

Judson married Miss Emily Chubbock, and on July 11th, 1846 he sailed back to Burma. In 1850 Adoniram Judson was advised to take a sea voyage because of his health and on April 12th he died and was buried at sea. At the time of his death there were 7,000 baptized believers in Burma, 63 churches, and 123 missionaries and pastors. On the 100th year anniversary of his death there were some 200,000 Christians in Burma.


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