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Plymouth Rock Foundation’s E-News – December, 2011
by Dr. Paul Jehle, Executive Director
(www.plymrock.org)

The Conversion of Adoniram Judson

During the Christmas season we celebrate the incarnation of Christ. One way to remember the manger is to be reminded of the power of a soul being regenerated by the work of sovereign grace. If it weren’t for Christmas, there would be no conversions. One such conversion was that of Adoniram Judson whose spiritual birthday is December the 2nd. Adoniram and Anne Judson were the “face” of American missions in America. But it began as a seed that did not look promising.

Adoniram Judson’s upbringing and initial training took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Born in 1788 in Malden, his family moved to Plymouth where his father became the Minister of the Third Congregational Church by May of 1802. Judson was 14 years old. He had been taught to read by his mother at age 3, and he mastered Greek by age 12. In short, he was gifted with a brilliant mind and excelled in intellectual pursuits. Though the son of a minister and raised in a godly family, he was far from God and did not have a personal relationship with Him.

While he was sick in bed lying at home in Plymouth at age 14, Adoniram began to ponder what famous person he might become. Looking out over Plymouth harbor where the Pilgrims landed almost two centuries before, his mind was not set on either their faith or that of his parents. His thoughts were upon himself, his own fame and what he might do with what he had been taught, but unfortunately, only for himself. Suddenly, without any warning, he heard a voice say “not unto us, not unto us, but to Thy name be glory.” This was a familiar phrase from the Bible – Psalm 115:1 – and with his training he knew it was part of the cornerstone of his father’s theology – soli deo Gloria.

Though he never forgot this experience, he would spend the next six years running from the God who spoke to him. But he didn’t physically run right away. Deception is subtle in any age. We must remember that the mind can grasp theological truth but this is not the same as a heart surrendered in a living embrace with the Savior. By age 16 he enrolled a year early in Brown University in 1804. He graduated first in his class though he was sick and missed weeks of classes. By the fall of 1807, he opened his own academy in Plymouth while his father pastored the Third Congregational Church. One year later, he published two textbooks, The Elements of English Grammar and The Young Lady’s Arithmetic. He was only twenty years old.

Though he was intellectually advanced and continually growing in his knowledge, his heart was wandering from God. Simply put, he had not been converted. He had been raised in a Christian home, trained in an intellectual understanding of the truths of Christianity. This was good, but in the Bible, it is merely the preparation for a heart fully surrendered to Christ. Adoniram’s heart was not surrendered, and it was only a matter of time before his mind would begin to agree with what his heart had chosen.

Adoniram’s life is a great reminder of key truths we should remember today. We must avoid two extremes. The first is to think that intellectual preparation is actual conversion. Though brilliant, the mind will follow the heart. It is designed to do so. It is renewed from within. However, the other extreme is more dangerous. Neglecting the intellect and thinking by doing so we will simply wait for the conversion of the heart leaves us unprotected. This is folly, for why should we leave a converted heart with an untrained mind or one filled with stubborn humanistic premises?

Do not be dismayed, for God chases down the heart that needs converting! It is a battle sure to end with the victory of the Spirit of God over the stubbornness of the human will! While at Brown, Adoniram had befriended a Deist by the name of Jacob Eames. Eames had taken him to parties and generally gotten Judson to reject a serious consideration of the claims of Christianity. Suddenly, at least from his parents’ point of view, he announced that he was closing his private academy in Plymouth, and traveling to be an actor! His father urged him to consider preaching if he did not want to teach. But Adoniram’s heart was far from God, in spite of the deception displayed by his other intellectual pursuits.

Though he stubbornly rejected his father’s rebuke, he had to run from his mother’s tears! Oh how the prayers of a mother can stir the heart of the one in rebellion! So here the drama begins. Adoniram embarks to New York in the summer of 1808. He stops at an Inn. When shown his room, he was told that a very sick man was next door and the Innkeeper hoped that would not disturb him. He had no care about anyone – but the groans from the room next door did make him restless all night long. During the night he began to ponder his own soul’s destiny, but remembering his friend from Brown and the clear “logic” of reasoning away any conviction of conscience, he temporarily relieved his guilt.

In the morning before leaving Adoniram asked about the man who was so sick next door to him. He was told that he had died during the night. When inquiring his name, the Innkeeper simply said “Jacob Eames”. The mention of his friend’s name was a shock! Deism was thus exposed as a system with no substance that could not bring comfort in the midst of trouble. His son Edward in a biography of his Dad would write years later:

After hours had passed, he knew not how, he attempted to pursue his journey. But one single thought occupied his mind, and the words, dead! lost! lost! were continually ringing in his ears. He knew the religion of the Bible to be true; he felt its truth; and he was in despair.”

He abandoned his journey and returned home by September. In October he enrolled in Andover Theological Seminary to study the Bible. He was enrolled merely as a favor to his father. Finally, on the 2nd of December, 1808, he fully surrendered to Christ and was converted! He had been chased by the mercy of God and was overcome! One year later, he joined his father’s church in Plymouth!

The stream that flowed from this one soul helped to form the first American Board for Foreign Missions, paving a way for hundreds to follow. If it were not for the leadership of Adoniram, the dreams of many missionaries birthed during the “Haystack Revival” may have been dashed. Further, he and his wife Anne made known the suffering involved in missionary work, read by all of America. The first Bible for the people of Burma was completed by Adoniram Judson as well!

When I walk past Adoniram Judson’s grave on the top of Burial Hill in Plymouth, I remember the power of conversion. The Spirit of God regenerates the heart in an instant! That which has been trained in the mind from a Biblical perspective is now ignited and becomes fuel for the fire of God! Keep working to train the next generation, but let us pray for the only revival that can bring the knowledge of God alive – conversion! We need a revival of genuine conversion to sweep across our land today!


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