Sunday 6 May 2012

Meditations on the Life of Adoniram Judson

If you have not yet discovered John Piper’s biographies then I heartily recommend them. They can all be downloaded free of charge from the Desiring God website and are great for car or train journeys, walks and runs.

I have listened to most of them several times and always pick up new gems along the way. Piper puts a huge amount of time into preparation going to primary source material, so unless you are a scholar of Christian biography you will almost certainly find new encouragements in them.

Today, on a long run, I listened again to his talk on Adoniram Judson. The full version is available on line but I have cut and pasted some of the main points below.

Meditations on the Life of Adoniram Judson

What overwhelms me, as I ponder this and trace the life of Adoniram Judson, America's first foreign missionary, is how strategic it was that he died so many times and in so many ways.

More and more I am persuaded from Scripture and from the history of missions that God's design for the evangelization of the world and the consummation of his purposes includes the suffering of his ministers and missionaries. To put it more plainly and specifically, God designs that the suffering of his ministers and missionaries is one essential means in the joyful triumphant spread of the gospel among all the peoples of the world.

When Adoniram Judson entered Burma in July, 1813 it was a hostile and utterly unreached place. William Carey had told Judson in India a few months earlier not to go there. It probably would have been considered a closed country today - with anarchic despotism, fierce war with Siam, enemy raids, constant rebellion, no religious toleration. All the previous missionaries had died or left.

But Judson went there with his 23-year-old wife of 17 months. He was 24 years old and he worked there for 38 years until his death at age 61, with one trip home to New England after 33 years. The price he paid was immense. He was a seed that fell into the ground and died.

Today there are close to about 3,700 congregations of Baptists in Myanmar who trace their origin to this man's labors of love.

1. The invincible purpose of God is that ‘the gospel of the glory of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:4) spread to all the peoples of the world and take root in God-centered, Christ-exalting churches.

This great global vision of the Christian movement becomes clear and powerful and compelling in pastors' lives whenever there is Biblical awakening in Christ's people - as there was among many in the first decades of the 1800s when Adoniram Judson was converted and called into missions along with hundreds of others as the light and power of truth awakened the churches.

2. God's plan is that this gospel-spreading, church-planting purpose triumph through the suffering of his people, especially his ministers and missionaries.

I don't just mean that suffering is the consequence of obedient missions. I mean that suffering is one of Christ's strategies for the success of his mission.

Suffering was not just a consequence of the Master's obedience and mission. It was the central strategy of his mission. It was the ground of his accomplishment. Jesus calls us to join him on the Calvary road, to take up our cross, and to hate our lives in this world, and fall into the ground like a seed and die, that others might live. We are not above our Master. To be sure, our suffering does not atone for anyone's sins, but it is a deeper way of doing missions than we often realize.

In his sufferings Paul is ‘filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for . . . the church.’ Not that Paul's sufferings atone for sin or propitiate wrath or vindicate divine justice in passing over sins, but they show the unreached peoples of the world the sufferings of Christ. When Paul shares Christ's sufferings with joy and love, he delivers, as it were, those very sufferings to the ones for whom Christ died. Paul's missionary suffering is God's design to complete the sufferings of Christ, by making them more visible and personal and precious to those for whom he died.

3. The position we are in now at the beginning of the 21st century is one that cries out for tremendous missionary effort and great missionary sacrifice.

Patrick Johnstone says in ‘Operation World’ that only in the 1990s did we get a reasonably complete listing of the world's peoples. For the first time we can see clearly what is left to be done. There are about 12,000 ethnolinguistic peoples in the world. About 3,500 of these have, on average, 1.2% Christian populations - about 20 million of the 1.7 billion people, using the broadest, nominal definition of Christian.1 Most of these least reached 3,500 peoples are in the 10/40 window and are religiously unsympathetic to Christian missions. That means that that we must go to these peoples with the gospel, and it will be dangerous and costly. Some of us and some of our children will be killed.

My question is, if Christ delays his return another two hundred years - a mere fraction of a day in his reckoning - which of you will have suffered and died so that the triumphs of grace will be told about one or two of those 3,500 peoples who are in the same condition today that the Karen and Chin and Kachins and Burmese were in 1813? Who will labor so long and so hard and so perseveringly that in two hundred years there will be two million Christians in many of the 10/40-window peoples who can scarcely recall their Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist roots?

4. The pain of Adoniram Judson illustrates all we've seen so far.

Adoniram Judson ‘hated his life in this world’ and was a ‘seed that fell into the ground and died.’ In his sufferings ‘he filled up what was lacking in Christ's afflictions’ in unreached Burma. Therefore his life bore much fruit and he lives to enjoy it today and forever. He would, no doubt, say: It was worth it.

His father, who was a Congregationalist pastor in Massachusetts, had studied with Jonathan Edwards' student Joseph Bellamy, and Adoniram inherited a deep belief in the sovereignty of God. The great importance this has for my purpose here is to stress that this deep confidence in God's overarching providence through all calamity and misery sustained him to the end. He said, ‘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.’

At 15 minutes after 4 on Friday afternoon April 12, 1850 Adoniram Judson died at sea, away from all his family and Burmese Church… ten days later his third wife Emily (his previous wives Ann and Sarah had died on missionary service) gave birth to their second child who died at birth. She learned four months later that her husband was dead. She returned to New England that next January and died of tuberculosis three years later at the age of 37.

The Bible was done. The dictionary was done. Hundreds of converts were leading the church. And today there are close to about 3,700 congregations of Baptists in Myanmar who trace their origin to this man's labors of love.

5. And so, in closing, I make my final plea.

Life is fleeting, brothers. In a very short time we will all give an account before Jesus Christ, not only as to how well we have shepherded our flock, but how well we have obeyed the command to make disciples of all nations.

Many of the peoples of the world are without any indigenous Christian movement today. Christ is not enthroned there, his grace is unknown there, and people are perishing with no access to the gospel. Most of these hopeless peoples do not want you to come. At least they think they don't. They are hostile to Christian missions. Today this is the final frontier….

The question, brothers, is not whether we will die, but whether we will die in a way that bears much fruit.

More resources on Adoniram Judson

Other short biographies on this blog site:

William Wilberforce
David Brainerd
Charles Simeon

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