the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“We Are Confirmed Baptists”: The Judsons and Their Meeting With the Serampore Trio in 1812

Michael A.G. Haykin

March 21, 2014

This essay is to be published in Allen Yeh and Chris Chun, eds., Expect Great Things, Attempt Great Things: William Carey and Adoniram Judson, Baptist Mission Pioneers (Studies in World Christianity, Vol. 1; Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, forthcoming). Used by permission.

The embrace of Baptist principles by Adoniram and Ann Judson in 1812 is one of the key turning points in the history of the American Baptists. It marked the Baptist’s entrée into the modern missionary movement, an event sealed two years later by the formation of the Triennial Convention. Yet, it was a surprising turn of events, and not least for the principal characters involved, namely the Judsons and the so-called Serampore Trio: William Carey, Joshua Marshman (1768–1837) and William Ward (1769–1823). Ann Judson summed up so well what transpired during that significant year of 1812 in a letter that she wrote to a friend in America. The day before she penned the letter, September 6, William Ward had baptized her and her husband in the Lall Bazar Chapel in Calcutta. In it she writes:

You may, perhaps, think this change very sudden, as I have said nothing of it before; but, my dear girl, this alteration hath not been the work of an hour, a day, or a month. The subject has been maturely, candidly, and, I hope, prayerfully examined for months. An examination of the subject of baptism commenced on board the Caravan.1 As Mr. Judson was continuing the translation of the New Testament, which he began in America, he had many doubts respecting the meaning of the word baptize. This, with the idea of meeting the Baptists at Serampore, when he would wish to defend his own sentiments induced a more thorough examination of the foundation of the Pedobaptist system. The more he examined, the more his doubts increased; and, unwilling as he was to admit it, he was afraid the Baptists were right and he wrong. After we arrived at Calcutta, his attention was turned from this subject to the concerns of the mission, and the difficulties with Government. But as his mind was still uneasy, he again renewed the subject. I felt afraid he would become a Baptist, and frequently urged the unhappy consequences if he should. But he said his duty compelled him to satisfy his own mind, and embrace those sentiments which appeared most concordant with Scripture. I always took the Pedobaptist side in reasoning with him, even after I was as doubtful of the truth of their system as he. We left Serampore to reside in Calcutta a week or two, before the arrival of our brethren;2 and as we had nothing in particular to occupy our attention, we confined it exclusively to this subject. We procured the best authors on both sides, compared them with the Scriptures, examined and re-examined the sentiments of Baptists and Pedobaptists, and were finally compelled, from a conviction of truth, to embrace those of the former. Thus, my dear Nancy, we are confirmed Baptists, not because we wished to be, but because truth compelled us to be. We have endeavored to count the cost, and be prepared for the many severe trials resulting from this change of sentiment. We anticipate the loss of reputation, and of the affection and esteem of many of our American friends. … We feel that we are alone in the world, with no real friend and no one on whom we can depend but God.3

“With the Idea of Meeting the Baptists”

From 1808 to 1810 Adoniram had begun working on an English translation of the Greek New Testament while he was still at Andover Theological Seminary, and, among other grammatical and linguistic issues, he had found himself perplexed on how to translate the Greek word baptizō. Going to India, he anticipated meeting Carey, Marshman, and Ward, three convinced Baptists, and having to give a response to questions they might pose about the proper subjects of Christian baptism.4 It was this anticipation that drove the Judsons to thorough and intensive research, solidifying their own views on the biblical teaching of baptism. The four-month voyage to India from February 19 to June 17, 1812, provided an ideal context in which both he and his wife could intensely study this subject afresh.

“Candid and Prayerful” Research

While aboard the Caravan, the Judsons primarily had the Scriptures to examine. When they got to India, they were able to consult a variety of Paedobaptist and Credobaptist works over a two-month period.5 As Ann told her parents the following year:

After we removed to Calcutta, he [that is, Adoniram] found in the library in our chamber many books on both sides, which he determined to read candidly and prayerfully, and to hold fast, or embrace the truth, however mortifying, however great the sacrifice. I now commenced reading on the subject, with all my prejudices on the Pedobaptist side. We had with us Dr. Worcester’s, Dr. Austin’s, Peter Edwards’s and other Pedobaptist writings. But after closely examining the subject for several weeks, we were constrained to acknowledge that the truth appeared to lie on the Baptists’ side.6

Paedobaptist influence. Ann also mentions three Paedobaptist authors that influenced the Judsons on their theological journey. Samuel Worcester (1770–1821) was a Massachusetts Congregationalist and an ardent advocate of the theology known as the New Divinity. This theological system was promoted by the heirs of Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) and combined a fresh approach to issues like the sovereignty of God and the freedom of the will with a careful attention to practical Christianity and the nature of revival. In time, this confluence of theological emphases came to provide a firm foundation for cross-cultural missions. Adoniram’s own father, Adoniram Judson, Sr. (1752–1826), was also an exponent of this theological perspective, having been mentored by Edwards’ confidant Joseph Bellamy (1719–1790). Now, Worcester was the author of two works that dealt specifically with paedobaptism: Two Discourses on the Perpetuity and Provision of God’s Gracious Covenant with Abraham and His Seed (1805) and Serious and Candid Letters to the Rev. Thomas Baldwin, D.D. on his book entitled “The Baptism of Believers Only, and The Particular Communion of the Baptist Churches, Explained and Vindicated” (1807).7 Adoniram Judson quotes from both of these works in his work, Christian Baptism (1813).8 This work originated as a sermon three weeks after his baptism and sums up in a public document the fruit of the Judsons’ research into the nature of baptism.9 Reading Worcester’s work would have brought back sweet memories of the man, for it was in Worcester’s Tabernacle Church in Salem that Judson and his fellow missionaries were ordained and commissioned for their mission to the Far East.10

The second author mentioned by Ann was Samuel Austin (1760–1830). Among Austin’s works was A View of the Economy of the Church of God: As it Existed Primitively Under the Abrahamic Dispensation and the Sinai Law (1807), which Adoniram also refers to in his Christian Baptism.11 Like Worcester, Austin is to be counted among the New Divinity men. He had very close connections with two of the leading theologians of this school of thought: he had studied under Jonathan Edwards the Younger (1745–1801) and later married Jerusha Hopkins, the daughter of one of the leading Edwardseans of the day, Samuel Hopkins (1721–1803).12

The third author, Peter Edwards, was an Englishman, who had been a Baptist prior to coming to Paedobaptist convictions. He had subsequently written Candid Reasons for Renouncing the Principles of Anti-Paedobaptism (1795), a work that went through a number of editions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Baptist influence. Though in the above quotation Ann does not mention any Baptist authors, her husband’s Christian Baptism does indicate that the Judsons found much food for thought in various Baptist’s scholarly contributions, primarily Abraham Booth’s (1734–1806) Paedobaptism Examined (1784/1787).13 Peter Edwards’ book noted above was written as a direct response to this work by Booth. Other Baptist figures cited by Judson in his sermon include Henry Danvers (c.1622–1687), whose A Treatise of Baptism (1673) is primarily a defense of believer’s baptism,14 John Gill (1697–1771), the doyen of Baptist theologians in the eighteenth century and one who was especially critical of the baptism of infants,15 and the Seventh-day Baptist Joseph Stennett I (1663–1713), who was one of the most prominent Dissenters of his day.16

Compelled by Scripture. As Adoniram and Ann studied all of these works and compared what they read with the Scriptures, “truth compelled them,” as Ann puts it, to acknowledge that the better Scriptural arguments lay with the Baptists. It is very evident from both of Ann’s letters that Adoniram and Ann began this study as firmly entrenched Paedobaptists. It was only with the greatest of reluctance that they were led to differing convictions. In her diary for that summer of 1812, Ann recorded her prayers for the Holy Spirit of God to direct her search. “If ever I sought to know the truth,” she wrote, “if ever I looked up to the Father of lights; if ever I gave up myself to the inspired word, I have done so during this investigation.”17 But their decision would not be without personal cost. In the first letter cited above, Ann is very aware of some of the consequences that would likely follow their change in sentiments: the loss of support, financial and even prayerful, of their Congregationalist friends in New England. And it will also mean identification with a body of churches, the Baptists, which were regarded with great disdain by New England Congregationalists. As Adoniram’s early Baptist biographer Francis Wayland (1796–1865) noted, in the first couple of decades of the nineteenth century, there was a “strong feeling of sectarian antagonism between the Congregationalists and Baptists.”18 The Judsons, however, were determined to follow biblical truth wherever it led and whatever the cost. Adoniram described such determination at the close of Christian Baptism as he pled with his hearers (and later readers):

…my brethren, diligently use the means of discovering the truth. Put yourselves in the way of evidence. Indulge free examination. Though the sun shines with perfect clearness, you will never see that light which others enjoy, if you confine yourselves in a cavern, which the beams of the sun cannot penetrate. Be assured, that there is sufficient evidence on this subject, if you seek to discover it. But if your love for truth is not sufficiently strong to make you willing and strive for the discovery of evidence, God will probably leave you to be contented with error. …therefore, to stimulate your minds to candid and energetic research, prize truth above all things.19

It was the “sufficient evidence” of Scripture that led Adoniram and Ann Judson to espouse the Baptist view on baptism, effectively igniting the Baptist movement in world mission.

The “Right Stamp for Missionary Undertakings”

The Judsons’ love for the truth endeared them to the Serampore missionaries. This was surely part of what William Carey had in mind when he wrote in October of 1812 to the Welsh Baptist John Williams (1767–1825), who was then pastoring in New York City, that Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice were “men of the right stamp.”20 This phrase seems to have stuck in Carey’s mind as an apt description of Adoniram. For four years later he told the American Baptist Thomas Baldwin (1753–1825) that Adoniram was “a man of God, one of the right stamp for missionary undertakings.”21 The context of this second use of the phrase “right stamp” sheds important light on Carey’s overall view of the Judsons’ mission.

Baldwin had asked Carey about the feasibility of the Judsons’ missionary labors in Burma.22 Carey first of all noted that he and Baldwin, and by implication the Judsons as well, lived in what had to be regarded as “an eventful period” of world history in which the “gospel has entered nearly every country” in the Orient. Carey was confident that behind this gospel advance was “the zeal of the Lord of the hosts,” probably a reference to Isaiah 9:7, in which God’s determination to establish the messianic kingdom is predicted.23 In this regard then, Carey did not believe a mission to be “impracticable in any country.” The veteran missionary recognized that some mission scenarios posed more problems than others, but eventually all “will assuredly give way to persevering labours.”

The power of the Holy Spirit. Carey then looked specifically at Burma. It was a truly difficult situation in a number of ways, something that Carey knew intimately since his son Felix Carey (1786–1822) had been a missionary there.24 But if a Burmese mission had not been at all feasible, Carey would never have encouraged Felix to go there in 1808 nor would the Serampore community have “persisted in it so long.” Moreover, Carey believed that the Burmese government is “not intolerant in religious things.” But when all was said and done, Carey believed that mission was God’s great work. As he put it to Baldwin: “Success…does not depend on might nor on power, but on the Spirit,” a clear reference to Zechariah 4:6, which had long been a favorite text with Carey when he thought about the advance of the Kingdom of Christ. For instance, Carey had written in his classic statement of missionary principles, An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens during the early 1790s:

However the influence of the Holy Spirit may be set at nought, and run down by many, it will be found upon trial, that all means which we can use, without it, will be ineffectual. If a temple is raised for God in the heathen world, it will “not be by might, nor by power,” nor by the authority of the magistrate, or the eloquence of the orator; “but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.”25

Both here and in the letter to Thomas Baldwin, Zechariah 4:6 was used to express a pneumatological conviction central to the thinking of both Carey and the circle of men who had sent him and the others of the Serampore community to India: without the gracious aid of the Holy Spirit, they could do nothing for God. Now, in the hands of some, such a conviction might have induced a temper of passivity. But not so with Carey and his friends. In them it produced a deep confidence that as they gave themselves wholeheartedly to the work of God, God the Holy Spirit would use their efforts to ultimately advance the reign of Christ.26

A Concluding Word

When the Judsons eventually arrived in the Burmese kingdom in July of 1813, Felix Carey and his wife were an immense help in getting the American missionaries settled in Rangoon.27 In the months that followed, Felix was thrilled to have Adoniram and Ann as missionary co-workers. As he wrote to his father a number of months later about the Judsons, “They are just cut out for the [Burmese] Mission,” an echo of his father’s statement about Judson being of “the right stamp.” As Felix continued, “Mr. Judson has a splendid grasp of the [Burmese] language and is the very colleague I wanted.”28 The missionary partnership between the Judsons and Felix Carey and his wife was not to last. In June of 1816, Carey, Marshman, and Ward told Thomas Baldwin and the other members of the mission board of the Triennial Convention that Felix had “gone into the service of his Burman majesty.”29 More bluntly, and more famously, the elder Carey told his close friend John Ryland, Jr. (1753–1825) back in England that his son had “shrivelled from a missionary into an ambassador.”30

But Carey and his son were right about Judson and his wife. As the history of the American Baptist mission to Burma unfolded, it became quite obvious that this couple were indeed of the “right stamp.” It was a stamp that bore the deep impress of the Spirit of Jesus, well described by Adoniram himself as he told Luther Rice what sort of men the Burmese Baptist mission needed:

Humble, quiet, persevering men; men of sound, sterling talents (though perhaps not brilliant,) of decent accomplishments, and some natural aptitude to acquire a language; men of an amiable, yielding temper, willing to take the lowest place, to be the least of all, and the servant of all; men who enjoy much closet religion, who live near God, and are willing to suffer all things for Christ’s sake, without being proud of it—these are the men.31

Michael A.G. Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also serves as Director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. He is the author of more than twenty-five books including the recent The Reformers and Puritans as Spiritual Mentors: “Hope is Kindled” (Joshua Press, 2012).

  1. The ship on which the Judsons, along with their fellow missionaries Samuel (1785–1821) and Harriet (1793–1812) Newell sailed to India.
  2. A reference to Luther Rice (1783–1836) and the other Congregationalist missionaries, Gordon Hall (1784–1826), Samuel (1787–1869) and Roxana Nott, who had been commissioned with the Judsons. Luther Rice and the three others arrived on August 10. See William H. Brackney, Dispensations of Providence: The Journal and Selected Letters of Luther Rice (Rochester, New York: The American Baptist Historical Society / Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University / Nashville, Tennessee: The Historical Commission, Southern Baptist Convention, 1984), 68.
  3. Ann Judson, Letter to a friend, September 7, 1812, cited Edward Judson, The Life of Adoniram Judson (New York: Anson D.F. Randolph and Company, 1883), 38–40.
  4. In actuality, the Serampore brethren appear to have made it a matter of principle never to raise this issue with Paedobaptist guests. See Francis Wayland, A Memoir of the Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D. (Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Co., 1853), I, 95. See also Carey’s account of Judson’s thoughts about meeting Carey and his co-workers: Letter to John Williams, October 20, 1812, cited Leighton Williams and Mornay Williams, eds., Serampore Letters: Being the Unpublished Correspondence of William Carey and Others with John Williams 1800–1816 (New York/London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1892), 144.
  5. It bears noting that the Judsons did not speak to any of the Serampore Trio about this matter until they had reached a decision to become Baptists. See Adoniram Judson, Christian Baptism (Calcutta, 1813), [3]. For the letter, written on August 27, in which they informed Carey, Marshman and Ward of their desire to be baptized, see Edwards Steane Wenger, compiled, The Story of the Lall Bazar Baptist Church Calcutta (Calcutta: Edinburgh Press, 1908), 98.
  6. Ann Judson, Letter to her parents, February 14, 1813, in Judson, Life of Adoniram Judson, 40.
  7. Both of these works were published in Salem, Massachusetts. The Two Discourses were revised for a second edition that appeared in 1807 together with the letters to Baldwin. For Worcester’s life, see the biography by his son, Samuel Melanchthon Worcester, The Life and Labors of Rev. Samuel Worcester, D.D. (Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1852), 2 vols. For a brief sketch, see David W. Kling, “Worcester, Samuel” in Donald M. Lewis, ed., The Blackwell Dictionary of Evangelical Biography, 1730–1860 (Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishers, 1995), 2:1219.
  8. Christian Baptism, 6, n.*; 14, n.*; 15, n.†; 33, n.*; 38, n.*; 42, n.*; 57, n.*; 82, n.*
  9. This sermon was first preached in Calcutta on September 27. Carey judged it to be “a very excellent discourse” (Letter to John Williams, October 20, 1812, cited Williams and Williams, eds., Serampore Letters, 144), and “the best sermon upon Baptism, that I ever heard” (Letter to William Staughton, October 20, 1812, cited James D. Knowles, Memoir of Mrs. Ann H. Judson [2nd ed.; London: Wightman and Cramp, 1829], 66).
  10. See Courtney Anderson, To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson (Boston/Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1956), 103–114. I have long considered Anderson’s Life of Adoniram Judson to be the best ever written of the American missionary. I shall never forget the profound impression the book made upon me as I read it one summer during the early 1990s at my brother-in-law’s cottage in Port Elgin, Ontario.
  11. See Judson, Christian Baptism, 62, n.*.
  12. For a sketch of Austin’s life, see William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit: Congregationalists (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1857), 2:221–228.
  13. Christian Baptism, [p.3]. Luther Rice also profited by reading this book: Brackney, Dispensations of Providence, 73. See the discussion of this book by Sharon James, “Abraham Booth’s Defence of Believer’s Baptism by Immersion: A Summary” in Michael A.G. Haykin and Victoria J. Haykin, eds., “The First Counsellor of Our Denomination”: Studies on the Life and Ministry of Abraham Booth (1734–1806) (Springfield, Missouri: Particular Baptist Press, 2011), 132–162. Abraham Booth was described by Andrew Fuller, one who knew him well, as “the first counsellor of our denomination,” that is the English Baptists (cited Ernest Payne, “Abraham Booth, 1734–1806”, The Baptist Quarterly, 26 [1975–1976], 28).
  14. Christian Baptism, 76–77, n.‡, where reference is made to A Treatise of Baptism. For two studies of Danvers’ life and career, see G. Eric Lane, Henry Danvers: Contender for Religious Liberty (N.p.: The Fauconberg Press, 1972) and Richard L. Greaves, Saints and Rebels. Seven Nonconformists in Stuart England ([Macon, Georgia]: Mercer University Press, 1985), 157–177.
  15. Christian Baptism, 70, n.*; 76–77, n.‡. The standard biographical sketch of Gill is John Rippon, A Brief Memoir of the Life and Writings of the late Rev. John Gill, D.D. (Repr. Harrisonburg, Virginia: Gano Books, 1992). For more recent studies of Gill and his theology, see George M. Ella, John Gill and the Cause of God and Truth (Eggleston, Co. Durham: Go Publications, 1995); Michael A.G. Haykin, ed., The Life and Thought of John Gill (1697–1771): A Tercentennial Appreciation (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1997); and Timothy George, “John Gill” in his and David S. Dockery, eds., Theologians of the Baptist Tradition (Rev. ed.; Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman, 2001), 11–33.
  16. Christian Baptism, 77, n.║ and 79, n.*, both of which cite Stennett’s An Answer to Mr. David Russen’s Entitul’d Fundamentals without a Foundation, or a True Picture of the Anabaptists (London, 1704). For the life and ministry of Stennett, see especially “Some Account of the Life Of the Reverend and Learned Mr. Joseph Stennett” in The Works Of the late Reverend and Learned Mr. Joseph Stennett (London, 1732), I, 3–36; R.L. Greaves, “Stennett, Joseph (1663–1713)” in his and Robert Zaller, eds., Biographical Dictionary of British Radicals in the Seventeenth Century (Brighton, Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1984), III, 205–206; Allen Harrington and Martha Stennett Harrington, “The Stennetts of England” (http://www.blue-hare.com/stennett/tpgindex.htm#prefixa; accessed October 22, 2011).
  17. Cited Sharon James, My Heart in His Hands: Ann Judson of Burma: a life with selections from her Memoir and letters (Darlington, Co. Durham: Evangelical Press, 1998), 55.
  18. Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, I, 86. See also Adoniram Judson’s statement in this regard that he would now be regarded by his Congregationalist friends as “a weak, despicable Baptist” (cited Wayland, Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, I, 102).
  19. Christian Baptism, 88.
  20. Letter to John Williams, October 20, 1812, cited Williams and Williams, eds., Serampore Letters, 145.
  21. Letter to Thomas Baldwin, September 10, 1816 (“English Baptist Mission”, The American Baptist Magazine and Missionary Intelligencer, 1 [1817–1818], 100). In the paragraph following this remark Carey observes that Judson is “remarkably self-denying and prudent,” two characteristics Carey deemed vital for being a missionary. See also William Carey, Letter to Thomas Baldwin, July 25, 1816 (The American Baptist Magazine and Missionary Intelligencer, 1 [1817–1818], 64), where he states that Judson is “a good man and truly possesses the spirit of a missionary.”
  22. For what follows, see William Carey, Letter to Thomas Baldwin, September 10, 1816.
  23. This phrase also occurs in 2 Kings 19:31 and Isaiah 37:32.
  24. For a biography of Felix Carey, see Sunil Kumar Chatterjee, Felix Carey (A Tiger Tamed) (Hooghly, West Bengal: Sunil Kumar Chatterjee, 1991). See also D.G.E. Hall, “Felix Carey”, The Journal of Religion, 12, no. 4 (October, 1932), 473–492. Hall documents the tumultuous political situation, to which William Carey is presumably alluding (“Felix Carey”, 477–480). When Felix assumed the post of Burmese ambassador to the British government in Calcutta, his father made the famous remark that his son had “shrivelled from a missionary into an ambassador” (Chatterjee, Felix Carey, 114). For the remarkable problems associated with Felix being the Burmese ambassador, see Hall, “Felix Carey”, 484–491.
  25. See, for example, William Carey, An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (Leicester, 1792), 78–79.
  26. This is well expressed by William Carey, Joshua Marshman, and William Ward, Letter to U.S. Baptist Board of Missions, June 25, 1816 (“English Baptist Mission”, The American Baptist Magazine and Missionary Intelligencer, 1 [1817–1818], 186–187).
  27. Hall, “Felix Carey”, 481.
  28. Cited S. Pearce Carey, William Carey (8th ed.; London: The Carey Press, 1934), 320.
  29. Carey, Marshman, and Ward, Letter to U.S. Baptist Board of Missions, June 25, 1816 (“English Baptist Mission”, 186).
  30. Cited Chatterjee, Felix Carey, 114. For the remarkable problems surrounding Felix being the Burmese ambassador, see Hall, “Felix Carey”, 484–491.
  31. Letter to Luther Rice, November 14, 1816 (The American Baptist Magazine and Missionary Intelligencer, 1 [1817–1818], 185).

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