Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) was an American missionary who served in Burma (Myanmar) for almost forty years. When Judson began his missionary work in Burma, he set a goal of translating the Bible and founding a church of 100 members before his death. That was a reasonable and specific target for a land without any church. “But by the time of his death, he had accomplished those goals and more: leaving the translated Bible, 100 churches, and over 8,000 believers.” The particular significance of these facts is that in reality he was the first missionary to Burma, and so his life and service in a real sense helped to birth the church in that land, a massive spiritual advance. Though there were earlier missionaries to Burma, yet they did not remain there for long, and so Judson is remembered as the first significant missionary to Burma, as well as one of the first missionaries from America to travel overseas. A pioneer for the Gospel indeed. His forty years of service resulted in a breakthrough for the gospel in Burma.
As I look at this difference-making life, I am impacted by the battle that took place for Judson to find the Lord and to embrace God’s significant calling on his life. I do not know how much the devil understands of our futures, of the significance and the difference that God will bring to many lives if we will but surrender to the Lord and to His call, but Judson is a classic example of the depth of this battle. His early life shows the deep deceptiveness of the devil in trying to call us away from the Lord, yet the incredible grace of God in rescuing us.
Adoniram Judson grew up in a godly family in the Boston area in the 1700s. His father was a pastor, his mother loved the Lord. It would have been natural for him to begin as a young man to walk with the Lord. He went to study at what is now known as Brown University at the age of 16 and graduated valedictorian of his class at the age of 19. He was successful academically. No problem there. But “while at Brown University he became best friends with Jacob Eames. Jacob was a deist and, in practical terms, an atheist. Ridiculing Judson's faith, he challenged him with the writings of Voltaire and the French philosophers. When Adoniram returned home, he told his parents that he, too, had become an atheist. His mother broke into gentle sobs. His father roared and threatened and pounded the furniture.” It seemed that the devil had successfully stolen away this servant of the Lord from Him and His purposes for Judson in Burma.
At the age of 21, still unbelieving, Adoniram, “migrated to New York City to establish himself as a playwright. But then, hearing tales from the American frontier, he saddled his horse and headed west.” Classically, having lost his faith, he also set about living the life he himself chose with no reference to the Lord. But while on that journey West, “one evening, weary from travelling, he stopped at an inn. The proprietor said, ‘Forgive me, sir, but the only room left – well, it’ll be a bit noisy. There's a young fellow next door awfully sick:’ Adoniram, too tired to care, took the key. The night became a nightmare. The tramping of feet coming and going. Muffled voices. Painful groans. Chairs scraping against the floor… The next morning while checking out, he asked about the young man in the next room. The proprietor said, ‘I thought maybe you'd heard. He died, sir, toward morning. Very young. Not more than your age. Went to that Brown University out East.’ Adoniram stiffened. The man continued, ‘His name was Jacob Eames.’
The West suddenly lost its lure, and Adoniram turned his horse toward home. Soon he gave his life to Christ, and, shortly afterward, devoted himself to missions. On February 6, 1812, Adoniram Judson was commissioned as America's first foreign missionary. He, his wife and companions sailed for Burma.”
How great is the grace of God to reclaim the life of a man or a woman to discover his or her destiny. If we will but allow Him to do so, He will not only rescue us through the cross of Jesus but will change our values. Judson later wrote “Let me beg you not to rest contented with the commonplace religion that is now so prevalent… We prefer one room in Rangoon to 6 in Boston. We feel we are highly blessed.” He had set out to go the Western United States to find fame and fortune. The Lord broke into His life, sending him East, and a long way East, with a totally different vision and purpose: “I will not leave Burma until the cross is planted here forever.”
What might Judson’s early struggles mean today for you and for me?
Read Part 2 >> A Marriage Made in Heaven?
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