Adoniram Judson and God's Grace
In the Baptist meeting house in Malden, Massachusetts, the traveler will find a marble tablet bearing the following inscription:
In MemoriamRev. Adoniram Judson
Born Aug. 9, 1788
Died April 12, 1850
Malden, His Birthplace.
The Ocean, His Sepulchre
Converted Burmans, And
The Burman Bible
His Record Is On High.
Judson was a very precocious boy. When only three years of age he learned to read under the tutelage of his mother while his father was absent on a journey. How great was the father's astonishment and delight upon his return, to hear his young son read to him a chapter from the Bible.
He grew up in a devout Christian home. His father, a Congregational minister, cherished the fond hope that his son would follow in his footsteps. But Adoniram was enamored of his brilliance and could not think of wasting his superb talents in so dull a calling as the ministry. Having vanquished all rivals in intellectual contests, he graduated at nineteen from Providence College (now Brown University) as valedictorian. He entertained the most extravagant ambitions and his imagination ran wild as he contemplated his future eminence. He pictured himself as an orator, greater than Demosthenes, swaying the multitudes with his eloquence; as a second Homer, writing immortal poems; as a second Alexander the Great, weeping because there were no more worlds to conquer.
Judson was not only inordinately ambitious; he was also openly atheistic. It was during the early years of the nineteenth century, while Judson was in college, that French infidelity swept over the country. With only three or four exceptions, all the students of Yale were avowed infidels and preferred to call each other by the names of leading infidels such as Tom Paine or Voltaire, instead of their own names.
Providence College did not escape the contaminations of this vile flood of skepticism. In the class just above that of Judson was a young man by the name of Ernest [other sources identify this individual as "E___" and "Jacob Eames"], who was exceptionally gifted, witty and clever, and an outspoken atheist. An intimate friendship developed between these two brilliant young men, with the result that Judson also became a bold exponent of infidelity, to the extreme mortification of his father and mother. When his father sought to argue with him, he quickly demonstrated his intellectual superiority, but he had no answer to his mother's tears and solemn warnings.
One day he set out on horseback on a tour of adventure through several states. He joined a band of strolling players and lived, as he himself related later, "a wild, reckless life." Leaving the troupe after a few weeks, he continued his trip on horseback, stopping on a certain historic night at a country inn. Apologetically, the landlord explained that, only one room being vacant he would be obliged to put him next door to a young man who was extremely ill; in fact, probably dying.
"I'll take the room," said Judson. "Death has no terrors for me. You see, I'm an atheist."
Judson retired but sleep eluded him. The partition was very thin and for long hours he listened to the groans of the dying man -- groans of agony and groans of despair. "The poor fellow is evidently dying in terror. I suppose I should go to his assistance, but what could I say that would help him?" thought Judson to himself; and he shivered at the very thought of going into the presence of the dying man. He felt a blush of shame steal over him. What would his late unbelieving companions think if they knew of his weakness? Above all, what would witty, brilliant Ernest say, if he knew? As he tried to compose himself, the dreadful cries from the next room continued. He pulled the blankets over his head but still he heard the awful sounds and shuddered! Finally, all became quiet in the next room. At dawn, having had no sleep, he rose and inquired of the innkeeper concerning his fellow lodger.
"He is dead." "Dead!" replied Judson, "And do you know who he was?"
"Yes," the innkeeper answered, "he was a graduate of Providence College, a young fellow named Ernest."
Judson was overwhelmed by the news that the young man who died the previous night in the adjoining room in evident terror of death was his college friend Ernest, who had led him into infidelity. For many hours the words "Dead!" and "Lost!" kept ringing in his ears. There and then Judson realized he was lost, too! Now there was just one place that beckoned him. He immediately ended his travels, changing his horse's direction and his own he turned for home. Once home Judson begged his father and mother to help him find the faith that would stand the test of life and of death, of time and eternity.
The brilliant young skeptic realized at last that he needed:
A faith for the testing of life!
A faith for the exigencies of death!
A faith for time and eternity!
At this time of acute spiritual struggle, when his mind was filled with the dark clouds of infidelity and his soul enveloped with the black darkness of sin; he turned to the Word of God. Before long his heart was cleansed, his mind illumined and his soul enraptured by the incoming tide of the love of Christ. Henceforth Ephesians 3:17-19 was his great text and the love of Christ was his theme. Henceforth he was magnificently captivated by the love of Christ as he explored the mystic meaning and the abounding fullness of its fourfold dimension — its breath and length, its depth and height.