For some historical context, see the blog post I previously wrote about Adoniram Judson’s astonishing engagement letter to his father-in-law for his daughter Ann here.
I was thinking recently to myself, “If Adoniram Judson were a typical, American church member that eschews discomfort and seeks comfort at any price, then what would that letter look like?” This is not meant to condemn, but simply to show a great contrast in the values that we hold dear and the values that Adoniram Judson, himself, held dear. I do not have all of this figured out as I live in America too, but I think it would be helpful for us to ponder some of these matters in this post. First, I will re-post Judson’s letter to his father-in-law about marrying Ann, then I will rewrite the letter as a typical, American church member.
JUDSON’S ORIGINAL LETTER
Judson’s original letter to his father-in-law:
“I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world ? Whether you can consent to her departure to a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life? Whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death? Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall resound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”
IF JUDSON WERE WRITING TODAY
Let us now imagine what this letter would look like if Judson were writing it today from a place of great comfort and wealth, as in many American churches:
“I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter next spring so that we may join together in marriage? Since we plan on living close to her family of origin, you’ll see her often so that frequent visits will be made to abate any hint of loneliness she may have or that you may have. Wherever it is that we move, we will move to a place of all the modern conveniences that we’ve come to enjoy such as indoor plumbing, new vehicles, an advanced alarm system to warn of intruders at any moment, a luxurious 2-story house, all the best and newest technology available, and many other modern items that we expect, and more. I will, as her husband, seek to insure that her hardships and sufferings are at a minimum. Dangers will be prevented as much as is possible, and I will make sure that we do not move to a climate that is too cold or too hot for her so that she can be as comfortable as possible. The neighborhood we live in will be a gated community to keep as many harmful influences out of our lives as much as we can. We will make sure that there is a security guard at the gate, at all times, to protect us from outside dangers. I will be sure to shield her from all insults or persecutions to our beliefs by providing ‘safe places’ within our home that have positive music and bubbles to bring us great delight to help us forget about any outside conflict. We will be sure to join the practice of the best doctors in town and we will seek communities that are at least 5-10 minutes within the best medical facilities so that our physical health can be tended to at nearly a moment’s notice. We will try our best to not be too concerned with the needs of anyone else since we have enough needs of our own and we don’t need to be too burdened by others. We will eat only the healthiest foods so that our bodies are good and strong and so that we’ll live a long, robust life. Since I will be making at least 6 figures at my job, we will take as many vacations away, to exotic places, as we can. My goal will be to retire around 50 so that we can live the remaining years of our lives in great ease and world travel, if we desire. Surely, dear sir, you will allow Ann to marry me since I will seek to provide such a safe and abundant life for her? Surely God would be pleased with such a comfortable life as ours whenever stand before Him on that Great Day after our deaths?”
I do believe that God has blessed America and that many of the freedoms and comforts we have are from God since many of the founding principles of the United States are Judeo-Christian principles. I do believe that we, as husbands, have a God-ordained duty to protect our wives and to give our lives up for them (see Ephesians 5 here). It just seems to me that we are off somehow in America. The values of Adoniram Judson are in direct conflict with much of our American, church culture. The values of Adoniram Judson are in direct conflict with much of our American, church culture Click To Tweet What is it that we are missing?
MATERIAL PROSPERITY=WORSE OFF SPIRITUALLY?
I have previously written about my love-hate & evolving relationship with God, ministry, and money here, so this idea is simply an expansion of my previous thoughts. Could it be that “prosperity [TRULY] is the nurse of atheism” (a Puritan quote)? Has the great acquisition of an abundance of material items hurt our spiritual lives? Is it actually more dangerous, spiritually, to follow Judson’s “second, Americanized letter” rather than his original letter from the 19th century? We would look at the first letter from the 19th century and say, “Oh yes, that is much more dangerous!” But dangerous in what way? Dangerous physically and materially, yes, but is it really more dangerous spiritually? If we value spiritual growth more than material comfort, then wouldn’t we lean more towards Judson’s first letter than the second letter? Do we really believe 1 Timothy 6:9-11?
9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (NKJV)
Do we really believe that loving money will pierce us through “with many sorrows,” or do we believe, instead, that we can actually decrease our sorrows by loving and pursuing money? We would look at the number of sorrows associated with Judson’s first letter (and which they actually experienced-see here!) and say that those sorrows they experienced are heavier than the sorrows of a modern American…or are they really? Is it possible that there are sorrows in America that far outweigh the sorrows that missionaries like Judson, in time’s past, have experienced? We would look at Judson’s life and say, “Yes, we are far better off than he ever was!” But are we really better off than Adoniram Judson’s hardship-ridden life?But are we really better off than Adoniram Judson's hardship-ridden life? Click To Tweet.
DEATH LEADS TO LIFE
Are we resisting every sort of trial and death at the expense of life, literally, that God desires to give us, or that He desires to give to others, at the expense of our deaths? Have we forgotten Jesus’ words:
24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25).
Judson “died” several times over on the mission field (a phrase from John Piper’s biography of Judson here), and it was his “death,” many times over, that gave birth to new spiritual life, many times over, to the Burmese people both in the past and which can be seen in the present day. Judson’s life is an example of God using suffering of every type to advance His mission. Is it possible that we are hindering holiness, as well as the advance of God’s mission, by avoiding suffering and pain and seeking comfort and ease instead? Could this be the reason why the American church is so anemic, spiritually, and is this the reason why so many churches in persecuted countries are growing and thriving spiritually? Again, I could not recommend enough Piper’s audio sermon on the biography of Adoniram Judson here. It will shake you to the core.
I’d love to hear your comments in the “Leave a Reply” section.
- Are there any comforts you could add to Judson’s second, modern letter to his father-in-law?
- Which letter would convince you to give your daughter away to a man in marriage?
- Does our prosperity hinder our spiritual lives in any way?
- Would we be better off, spiritually, with less prosperity?
- Is it possible to be well-off, materially, and simultaneously, to maintain a missionary mindset like Judson’s?