“The Best Sermon Upon Baptism That I Have Ever Heard”
By Evan D. Burns
On September 6, 1812, at Lal Bazaar Church in Calcutta, Adoniram and Ann Judson were baptized by William Ward. They departed the States as paedo-baptists, and through much Scriptural searching on their voyage, they arrived in India as convinced credo-baptists. In a sermon at Lal Bazaar Baptist church, Adoniram contended for believer’s baptism. His argument was so theologically articulate and textually faithful that the great missionary-theologian and linguist, William Carey, said it was the best sermon on believer’s baptism that he had ever heard. In this portion of a letter written by Carey to Dr. Staughton on October 20, 1812, Carey recounts the Judson’s baptism in India:
Since their arrival in Bengal, brother and sister Judson have been baptized. Judson has since that preached the best sermon upon baptism that I have ever heard on the subject, which we intend to print. I yesterday heard that brother Rice had also fully made up his mind upon baptism.
As none of us had conversed with brother Judson before he showed strong symptoms of a tendency towards believers’ baptism, I inquired of him what had occasioned the change. He told me, that on the voyage, he had thought much about the circumstance that he was coming to Serampore, where all were Baptists; that he should, in all probability, have occasion to defend infant sprinkling among us; and that, in consequence, he set himself to examine into the grounds of Pedobaptism. This ended in a conviction, that it has no foundation in the word of God, and occasioned a revolution in his sentiments, which was nearly complete before he arrived in India.
What made Judson’s sermon on baptism the best that Carey had ever heard? What made it worthy of publishing numerous editions on the Baptist press in India? Moreover, what made the Judson’s risk losing their missionary support from the Congregationalists and risk joining the Baptists?
Adoniram Judson’s theological acumen and willingness to risk demonstrates his unswerving allegiance to the Word of God and his commitment to obey every command of God. Ann records her thoughts on the transition from paedo-baptist convictions to credo-baptist convictions. Her record demonstrates Adoniram’s dogged commitment to biblical exegesis over against denominational tradition.
Mr. Judson resolved to examine it candidly and prayerfully, let the result be what it would. No one in the mission family knew the state of his mind, as they never conversed with any of us on this subject. It was very fearful he would become a Baptist, and frequently suggested the unhappy consequences if he should. He always answered, that his duty compelled him to examine the subject, and he hoped he should have a disposition to embrace the truth, though he paid dear for it. I always took the Pedobaptists’ side in reasoning with him, although I was as doubtful of the truth of their system as he. After we came to Calcutta, he devoted his whole time to reading on this subject, having obtained the best authors on both sides. After having examined and re-examined the subject, in every way possible, and comparing the sentiments of both Baptists and Pedobaptists with the Scriptures, he was compelled, from a conviction of the truth, to embrace those of the former. I confined my attention almost entirely to the Scriptures, comparing the Old with the New Testament, and tried to find something to favor infant baptism, but was convinced it had no foundation there. I examined the covenant of circumcision, and could see no reason for concluding that baptism was to be administered to children because circumcision was. Thus, my dear parents and sisters, we are both confirmed Baptists, not because we wished to be, but because truth compelled us to be. A renunciation of our former sentiments has caused us more pain than any thing which ever happened to us through our lives.
James D. Knowles, The Memoir of Mrs. Ann H. Judson, Wife of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, Missionary to Burmah, Including a History of the American Baptist Mission in the Burman Empire, 2nd ed. (London: Wightman and Cramp, 1829), 66.
Original spelling: “Pedobaptism”
Robert T. Middleditch, Burmah’s Great Missionary: Records of the Life, Character, and Achievements of Adoniram Judson (New York: E.H. Fletcher, 1854), 52-53; James D. Knowles, The Memoir of Mrs. Ann H. Judson, Wife of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, Missionary to Burmah, Including a History of the American Baptist Mission in the Burman Empire, 2nd ed. (London: Wightman and Cramp, 1829), 62-63; Francis Wayland, A Memoir of the Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D. (Boston: Phillips, Samson, and Company, 1853), 1:108.
Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons. They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.
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