Adoniram Judson: A ‘Free Thinker’ Converted
Adoniram Judson who was born in America in 1788 and he died in 1850 was one of the great pioneer missionaries. He brought the gospel to Burma (now known as Myanmar). Yet, eminent as he became after his conversion, Judson was for a time drawn away from the Christian faith and became a ‘Free-Thinker’. This is the name given to people who do not accept the Bible as God’s word but feel ‘free’ to believe as they choose. His story is an encouragement to us to know that God can convert a proud young intellectual drifting toward Atheism.
Judson was the son of a godly family in New England. His father was a Congregational minister. So Adoniram had had a very good religious upbringing as a child. However as a young man he began to attend university, and, as so often happens, it was at this stage of life that he began to move away from the faith of his parents.
Influenced by a Clever Young Man
The change began in this way. In the class ahead of him there was a clever, good-natured young student called Jacob Eames who claimed to be a non-Christian. He had been influenced by the new spirit of Atheism coming across the ocean from Europe, where the French Revolution had recently taken place. In the France of that time Christianity was being rejected wholesale by a new generation of ‘clever’ thinkers. Their books were coming into America and influencing people there towards unbelief.
When Adoniram Judson graduated in 1807 and returned home again from college he faced the awkward task of having to tell his dear parents that he now no longer believed what they had taught him as a child. He had now become a ‘Free-Thinker’. His parents were shocked and deeply saddened by what their son told them. His mother wept and pleaded with him to change his mind and to turn again to Christ as the only Saviour of the world. But the young Judson proudly kept up his attitude of unbelief. He was now grown up! Instead of listening to his parents he set off to travel on horse-back through the Northern States of America.
The Reality of Death
Late one evening he stopped at a country inn to spend the night there. The landlord showed him to the only room left explaining apologetically that in the bedroom next to his there was a young man who was very ill – and possibly dying. Judson assured the landlord that he would not be upset by this and off he went to prepare for bed.
But as time went on during the night the noises emanating from the bedroom next door made rest impossible for him. His early upbringing in the Christian faith led him, all unconsciously, to ask the great question, ‘Is the man in the next room ready to die?’ When Adoniram reflected on his own fears he felt ashamed. Why should it matter to him how a man was going to die? Had the clever student in the class above him at university not taught him to dismiss such fears? He consoled himself with the thought that he was now no longer a Christian but a bold unbeliever with no reason to fear death for himself or anyone else. But for all that, he spent a very uncomfortable night as he could hear the sounds from the next room.
When morning at last came he quickly dressed and hurried to the inn-keeper to enquire how the young man in the next room was. ‘He is dead’, came the reply. ‘Dead?’ exclaimed the young Judson – ‘dead?’ ‘Yes’, replied the landlord. ‘The doctor said he would probably not survive the night’. ‘Do you know who he was?’, asked Adoniram. ‘Oh yes’, replied the other. ‘He was a young man from Providence College – a very fine fellow’. To the horror of Judson the landlord then told him his name – Jacob Eames. It was the very student whom he had so much admired and who had turned his mind away from the gospel towards becoming a ‘Free-Thinker’!
The news came to Judson like a thunder-bolt. That day he discovered that he could not live without Christianity. His college friend, so much admired by him till now, was dead! ‘Dead!’ he thought in his heart. ‘Dead – and lost!’
That day was the turning-point in his life. Abandoning his plans to travel he turned his horse’s head homewards. A few years later, now converted to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he felt God’s call to go to the mission-field. He sailed away from America and began in Burma to spread the gospel of Christ and to translate the Bible into the language of the Burmese. By the time of his death his converts could be numbered by thousands.
The God who turned Adoniram Judson back from unbelief to Christ can do the same for all who have turned their back for a time on the faith of their parents. If you are one of these, then kneel down right now and ask God to have mercy upon you. God can make you a saint and a servant of His. If you repent and believe the gospel, God promises that you will shine as a star at last among the galaxy of those who were truly converted to faith in Jesus Christ. How terrible to be as the young ‘Free-Thinker’ apparently was at the end of his life: dead – and lost!