Conversion through understanding

Daily Reading for April 12 • Adoniram Judson, Missionary to Burma, 1850

Very early in Mr. Judson’s residence in Burmah, he became convinced that the press must be one of the chief instruments of its regeneration. He found its inhabitants a reading people, beyond any other in India; of a remarkably inquisitive, speculative turn of mind; not disposed to admit any new doctrine without a full apprehension of the why and wherefore; . . . and, as a general thing, the reception of Christianity was the result of deep conviction of the understanding. “It is,” says Mr. Judson at a subsequent period, “rather characteristic of Burman converts, that they are slow in making up their minds to embrace a new religion; but the point once settled, is settled for ever.”. . . In his earliest attempts to communicate Christian ideas, he was met with the inquiry: “Where are your sacred books?” He saw that, in Christianizing such a people, “the hearing of the ear” would not alone suffice. “I have found,” he writes in 1817, “that I could not preach publicly to any advantage, without being able, at the same time, to put something in the hands of the hearers. And in order to qualify myself to do this, I have found it absolutely necessary to keep at home, and to confine myself to close study for three or four years.”

A short time previous he had announced the printing of a couple of tracts: the one a View of the Christian Religion, 1,000 copies; the other a Catechism, 4000 copies. These . . . proved to be perfectly intelligible to the natives, and have remained standard works to this day. . . .

Above all, the knowledge of God’s own Word was, in his view, not only pre-eminently desirable as an adjunct to missionary labour, but is only true and permanent foundation. Mr. Judson was thoroughly imbued with the great Protestant doctrine—the right of every man to know for himself, without the intervention of any human medium, the will of God as revealed in his own inspired Scriptures. He would not even venture to commence preaching, without some portion of the sacred volume, to which he could refer as his ultimate authority, and by which his hearers could themselves test his teachings.

Accordingly, after trying his hand at Burman composition in the tracts first mentioned, he immediately applied himself to the translation of the Gospel of Matthew, of which he proposed to print a small edition, “by way of trial, and as introductory to a larger edition of the whole New Testament.” This was the commencement of that great work, whose completion, twenty-three years after, marks the most important epoch in the history of Burmah, when the Bible became the inalienable inheritance of her children.

From The Ernest Man: A Memoir of Adoniram Judson by Hannah C. Conant (London: J. Heaton & Son, 1861).

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