This year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the American Missionary enterprise. Adoniram Judson, at first a Congregationalist, but then a Baptist, rallied Americans to support foreign missions and helped establish the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Supporting missions was not enough for Judson. He became one of America’s first missionaries.
Judson was born on August 9, 1788 into a Congregationalist pastor’s home. Unsaved and just sixteen, he entered Providence College (later to become Brown University), where he met a young skeptic named Jacob Eames. These two loved to study, both were bright, and they had a flair for the dramatic. Because he was brought up in a religious home, Judson initially resisted Eames’ attacks on Christianity, but with a godless heart his religious arguments were no match against the logic of Eames’ atheism, and before his graduation, Adoniram declared himself an atheist.
Every believer should read Courtney Anderson’s To the Golden Shore. Anderson describes the conversion of Adoniram Judson vividly.
After commencement, Adoniram went home to his parents and informed them that he was an atheist and planned to taste the pleasures of the world. His father tried to reason with him, and his mother was broken-hearted, but Adoniram would not be deterred. He left for New York City, intending to be a playwright, and although the excitement of his new circumstances drove from his mind the arguments of his father, he could not forget the tears of his mother.
Because of Adoniram’s atheistic beliefs and his rejection of his parents’ standards, God allowed him to fall into the depths of sin. After a year in New York City, Adoniram decided to travel west. The first night he stopped at a small inn. There was one bed left, separated from a dying man by only a curtain.…
But though the night was still, he could not sleep. In the next room beyond the partition he could hear sounds, not very loud; footsteps coming and going; a board creaking; low voices; a groan or gasp. These did not disturb him unduly—not even the realization that a man might be dying. Death was a commonplace in Adoniram’s New England. It might come to anyone, at any age. What disturbed him was the thought that the man in the next room might not be prepared for death. Was he himself?…
There was a terror in these fantastically unwinding ideas. But as they presented themselves, another part of himself jeered. Midnight fancies! that part said scornfully. What a skin-deep thing this freethinking philosophy of Adoniram Judson, valedictorian, scholar, teacher, ambitious man, must be! What would the classmates at Brown say to these terrors of the night, who thought of him as bold in thought? Above all what would Eames say—Eames the clear-headed, skeptical, witty, talented? He imagined Eames laughter and felt shame.
When Adoniram woke the sun was streaming in at the window. His apprehensions had vanished with the darkness. He could hardly believe he had given in to such weakness. He dressed quickly and ran downstairs, looking for the innkeeper … He found his host, asked for the bill, and—perhaps noticing the man somber-faced—asked casually whether the young man in the next room was better. “He is dead,” was the answer …
“Did you know who he was?”
“Oh yes. Young man from the college in Providence. Name was Eames, Jacob Eames.”
How he got through the next few hours, Adoniram was never to remember. Only the words, “Lost, lost, lost,” echoed through his mind. The truth of Scripture struck deep in his heart. He knew then that his father was right. He knew Eames was lost! Lost for eternity!
Adoniram returned home and made the startling announcement to his parents that he was enrolling in Andover Theological College for the fall of 1818. He was not a Christian when he enrolled, but in December, he trusted Christ as his Lord and Savior. In June of the following year, he place himself under his father’s authority and joined the church his father was pastoring.