Thursday, July 20, 2006

Adoniram Judson; The Suffering Before The Success - John Piper

But there had been an enormous price to pay between the first convert in 1819 and this outpouring of God's power in 1831.

In 1823 Adoniram and Ann moved from Rangoon to Ava, the capital, about 300 miles inland and further up the Irrawaddy River. It was risky to be that near the despotic emperor. In May of the next year the British fleet arrived in Rangoon and bombarded the harbor. All westerners were immediately viewed as spies, and Adoniram was dragged from his home and on June 8, 1824 and put in prison. His feet were fettered and at night a long horizontal bamboo pole was lowered and passed between the fettered legs and hoisted up till only the shoulder and heads of the prisoners rested on the ground.

Ann was pregnant, but walked the two miles daily to the palace to plead that Judson was not a spy and that they should have mercy. She got some relief for him so that he could come out into a court yard. But still the prisoners got vermin in their hair amid the rotting food, and had to be shaved bald. Almost a year later they were suddenly moved to a more distant village prison, gaunt, with hollow eyes, dressed in rags crippled from the torture. There the mosquitoes from the rice paddies almost drove them mad on their bloody feet.

The daughter, Maria, had been born by now and Ann was almost as sick and thin as Adoniram, but still pursued him with her baby to take care of him as she could. Her milk dried up, and the jailer had mercy on them and actually let Judson take the baby each evening into the village and beg for women to nurse his baby.

On November 4, 1825 Judson was suddenly released. The government needed him as a translator in negotiations with Britain. The long ordeal was over - 17 months in prison and on the brink of death, with his wife sacrificing herself and her baby to care for him as she could. Ann's health was broken. Eleven months later she died (October 24, 1826). And six months later their daughter died (April 24, 1827).

While he was suffering in prison Adoniram had said to a fellow prisoner, "It is possible my life will be spared; if so, with what ardor shall I pursue my work! If not - his will be done. The door will be opened for others who would do the work better." But now that his wife and daughter were gone, darkness began to settle over his soul. In July, three months after the death of his little girl, he got word that his father had died eight months earlier.

The psychological effects of theses losses were devastating. Self-doubt overtook his mind, and he wondered if he had become a missionary for ambition and fame, not humility and self-denying love. He began to read the Catholic mystics, Madame Guyon, Fenelon, Thomas a Kempis, etc. who led him into solitary asceticism and various forms of self-mortification. He dropped his Old Testament translation work, the love of his life, and retreated more and more from people and from "anything that might conceivably support pride or promote his pleasure."

He refused to eat outside the mission. He destroyed all letters of commendation. He formally renounced the honorary Doctor of Divinity that Brown University had given him in 1823 by writing a letter to the American Baptist Magazine. He gave all his private wealth (about $6,000) to the Baptist Board. He asked that his salary be reduced by one quarter and promised to give more to missions himself. In October, 1828 he built a hut in the jungle some distance from the Moulmein mission house and moved in on October 24, 1828, the second anniversary of Ann's death, to live in total isolation.

He wrote in one letter home to Ann's relatives: "My tears flow at the same time over the forsaken grave of my dear love and over the loathsome sepulcher of my own heart." He had a grave dug beside the hut and sat beside it contemplating the stages of the body's dissolution. He ordered all his letters in New England destroyed on condition of returning a legal document his sister needed. He retreated for forty days alone further into the Tiger-infested jungle, and wrote in one letter than he felt utter spiritual desolation. "God is to me the Great Unknown. I believe in him, but I find him not.

His brother, Elnathan, died May 8, 1829 at the age of 35. Ironically, this proved the turning point of Judson's recovery, because he had reason to believe that the brother that he had left in unbelief 17 years earlier had died in faith. All through the year 1830 Adoniram was climbing out of his darkness.

And you recall that it was 1831 - the next year - when he experienced the great outpouring of spiritual interest across the land. Is that a coincidence? Or was that a God-ordained pattern for spiritual breakthrough in a dark and unreached place?

-John Piper


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