W. Austin Gardner
Adoniram Judson and Baptism
The voyage from Salem to Calcutta lasted four months. After some initial seasickness, especially among the women, the passage was fairly pleasant. During these months at sea, Adoniram devoted most of his time to theological study.
He focused much of his attention on the doctrine of baptism. According to Francis Wayland, Adoniram’s most famous nineteenth-century biographer, there were two reasons for this focus on baptism.
First, Adoniram was driven by evangelistic considerations. As a Congregationalist, he held to covenant theology and infant baptism. He was hopeful that a multitude of heathen would convert to Christianity and become baptized church members. But should he also baptize the children and servants of converts?
The second reason he studied baptism was polemical. He knew that, upon arrival, he and his colleagues would be hosted for several weeks by British Baptist missionaries, including the famous William Carey. Adoniram wanted to be certain he could adequately argue his covenantal pedobaptist views among his British Baptist colleagues.2
The Judsons’ famous rejection of infant baptism in favor of believer’s baptism is addressed in detail in Greg Wills’s chapter in this volume.
For present purposes, it is enough to note that Adoniram’s study led him to the conviction that the full immersion of professed believers was the New Testament practice and thus the only proper form of baptism:
In a word, I could not find a single intimation in the New Testament, that the children and domestics of believers were members of the church, or entitled to any church ordinance, in consequence of the profession of the head of their family. Every thing discountenanced this idea. When baptism was spoken of, it was always in connection with believing. None but believers were commanded to be baptized; and it did not appear to my mind that any others were baptized.3
2 Francis Wayland, A Memoir of the Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D. (Boston, MA: Phillips, Sampson, and Company, 1853), 1:95.
3 See, “A Letter to the Third Church in Plymouth, Mass.,” in Adoniram Judson, Christian Baptism. A Sermon on Christian Baptism, with Many Quotations from Pedobaptist Authors, 5th American ed. (Boston, MA: Gould, Kendall & Lincoln, 1846), 100. The document states the letter was written on August 20, 1817.
Nathan A. Finn, “Until All Burma Worships the Eternal God”: Adoniram Judson, the Missionary, 1812–50,” in Adoniram Judson, ed. Michael A. G. Haykin (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2012).
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