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Faith on Mission

I.  Introduction:

 Let me begin by asking you how you are doing with the challenge I gave you last week? Would anyone like to share about opportunities to speak the gospel this week or anything along those lines? Again, I encourage you to keep praying for those three individuals that you identified last week and to share the gospel with them. Keep working toward that and thinking about that as we consider another missionary tonight.

 If William Carey is the ‘father of modern missions,’ then Adoniram Judson can be considered the ‘father of American missions.’  Judson was the first foreign missionary to be sent from America to go and serve another nation.  Thus, like Carey, much of his work was groundbreaking because no one had ever really done it before.  We will look at a brief biography of Judson and come back to see how we can imitate his faith in our own lives.

II.  Biography of Adoniram Judson : 1

 A.  Birth and conversion: Adoniram Judson was born in Massachusetts in 1788.  His father was a Congregational preacher and so Judson was raised in a Christian home.  He showed signs of great intelligence very early on in his life (beginning to read at age 3).  When he was seventeen years old he went to Providence College (now Brown University).  While at college, Judson began to doubt what his parents had taught him.  He became friends with a fellow classmate named Jacob Eames.  Eames was a deist, believing that God created the world and got it started, but was no longer involved.  Judson was taken in by such belief and became a deist himself before leaving college.

 Yet, something happened shortly after college that would change Judson’s life forever.  He decided to travel around and spend some time looking for new experiences (sounds like what many college graduates are doing today).  One night he stopped to stay in an Inn.  The room that he was given was next to a man who was terribly sick.  During the night Judson could hear him coughing and moaning.  Due to what he heard, Judson spent the night thinking about the man and about mortality.  He began to question his new beliefs.  Yet, the more he questioned the more he thought about what Jacob Eames would say and how he would ridicule him for such thoughts.  In the morning Judson asked the caretaker about the sick man and was told that he died in the night.  Judson then asked what the man’s name was.  The caretaker told him: “He was a brilliant young person from Providence College.  Eames was his name.” 2  Judson was shaken by this experience and began to seriously reconsider his beliefs.  He knew that Eames was lost and he knew that he was lost as well.  He went back home, entered Andover Theological Seminary and was converted to belief in Christ shortly thereafter.  While at seminary he became burdened for taking the gospel to those who had never heard.  He would soon do just that.

 B.  Marriage and Missions: Before Judson would leave to be a missionary in Burma, he would meet and marry his wife Ann Hasseltine.  She too was burdened for the lost and played a major role in Judson’s missionary work.  He proposed to her by writing a letter in January 1811.  This letter has become famous among missionaries in particular.  In it, he spoke of the difficulties and hardships they would face.  He wrote of saying goodbye to their friends and family for good.  He wrote of the coming sorrow and the fact that they might not live for very long, but would at least be there for the other if they died.  He then stated: “In view of such scenes (the scene of their death) shall we not pray with earnestness ‘O for an overcoming faith?’”  They were married on February 5th, 1812.  They set sail for the mission field fourteen days later on February 19th, 1812.

 The Congregational Church had newly formed a missionary society and it was this society that was sending the Judson’s to India.  They knew that William Carey was there serving and they knew that he was a Baptist.  Thus, while sailing, Judson began to study the New Testament concerning baptism (since the Congregationalists practiced infant baptism).  By the time they reached Carey, Judson was convinced that the New Testament taught believers’ baptism.  Thus, he sought support for his mission from the Baptists in America.  One of his companions, Luther Rice, went back to America and spent a good portion of his life raising funds from the Baptists to support the Judsons.  His work would lead to Baptists in America coming together to support missions (a whole other history in and of itself).

 From the very beginning of their time in India, the Judson’s faced difficulty.  The East India Company forced them to leave Calcutta and they eventually ended up in Burma.  They spent the majority of their early years on the field trying to learn the language.  After ten years of ministry (1822) in the country they had only seen eighteen converts.  In 1824 war broke out in the country and Judson was imprisoned for the charge of being a spy.  The conditions were absolutely terrible.  Judson would spend 21 months in this prison, barely surviving.  When he was finally released, he went to find his wife and new baby girl and found them both almost dead due to sickness and no provisions.  Although she would recover a bit, she would die within the year.  Then, six months later his little girl would die as well.  This sent Judson into a period of serious doubt and despair.  He left his work and lived out in the jungle.  He gave all his money away and asked his supporters to cut his salary.  He got very low.  Yet, the Lord sustained him and restored him to ministry.  He wrote of those struggles: “If I had not felt certain that every additional trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings.”  His belief in God’s sovereign goodness sustained him.

 After these years, Judson would go on to lead a fruitful ministry in Burma.  He would spend forty years on the field.  He translated the Bible into Burmese.  He saw about 7,000 people baptized in his lifetime and the beginning of 63 churches.  One interesting story is the conversion of Ko Tha Byu, who was a slave from the Karen people, an unreached people group in the area.  He was converted under Judson’s ministry and took the gospel back to his people, seeing thousands come to the Lord.  Likewise, Ann’s life had a great impact.  Her letters back to the States kept people interested and burdened for foreign missions.  Her death did the same. 

 C.  Death: Adoniram Judson died on April 12th, 1850, and was buried at sea.  He never retired and never gave up taking the gospel to those who had not heard.

III.  How can we imitate his faith on mission?

 Again, I want to sum up what we can learn from Judson’s faith with one idea: we need an overcoming faith.  When he described to his future wife what their life would be like he encouraged to pray for such a faith.  Now we could call it different things (persevering faith, determined faith, like Carey) but the point is that we must never give up or give in.  When Judson had served several years with very little fruit, he could have given up, but he did not.  After spending close to two years in an awful prison, he could have quit, but he did not.  After losing his wife and his child in the same year, he could have said enough.  Indeed, it seems he was tempted to do just that.  But he did not give up.  He believed in a sovereign God who was good to His people.  His faith in God would persevere and overcome.  May we have such faith.  May we spend our lives taking the gospel to the lost.  And when we think we just can’t pray for them anymore or we just can’t share with them again, may we persevere.  May we have determined, overcoming faith.  Amen.

1 I am following the chapter on Judson in Daniel L. Akin, Five Who Changed the World (Wake Forest, NC: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2008, p. 19-34.
2 Ibid., p. 22.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Saturday, 22 October 2011 )

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