July 14, 2014

Knowing Whom We Have Believed

‘Tis the season for weddings, and, when I’m at a wedding watching a father give his daughter away, I’m sometimes reminded of the marriage of Adoniram Judson (1788-150) Baptist missionary to India and Burma. 

In 1810, he wrote to the father of Ann to ask for her hand in marriage. “I have now to ask,” he wrote, “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 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!”

How’s that for a proposal?

Ann’s father consented, and Ann and Adonirum were married. I have no way of knowing, but I suspect that after Adonirum’s frank letter, Ann’s engagement period involved more than purchasing household goods and planning her wedding clothing. I bet she was preparing her soul.

In the first half of this series I discussed the reasons why we ought to think about persecution, the true source of offense, and the not-always-clear distinction between suffering and persecution. In the second half, I’m going to propose three imperatives for ministry wives especially, but also for Christians in general.

Ann Judson did eventually face many of the trials of which she had been warned. It may be that we, too, will face hardships. We do well to prepare.

And the first preparation is to become a theologian.

There’s an old hymn whose chorus begins “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able. . . .” This would make a good battle cry for ministry wives. Before we can make a stand for any truth, before we can stand with our Lord, we need to believe rightly.

John Calvin writes, “It often happens that not only censure, but open condemnation, is pronounced on godly men [and women] who are convinced in their own consciences that what they do is agreeable to the command of God. Furthermore, they are accused of pride if they ignore the false judgments of the world and rest satisfied with being approved by God alone. Since this is a difficult temptation and it is scarcely possible not to be shaken by the agreement of many people against us, even when they are wrong, we ought to maintain this truth that none will ever be courageous and steady in acting properly unless they depend solely on the will of God.” (emphasis mine)

Our dependence on the will of God, our knowledge of his Word, and our experience of His faithful sovereignty, does not begin the day persecution does. 

Just as we do not assume our children will be able to say “no” to candy from strangers or sex or drugs when they are offered--but instead prepare them years ahead of time with wisdom and tools--we don’t have any reason to think we will be courageous and steady in the moment of persecution unless we have long marinated our souls in the things of the Lord.

One such ministry-wife-theologian was Margaret Baxter, the wife of Richard Baxter (1615-1691). Richard was a non-conformist minister who risked being arrested and imprisoned every time he dared to publicly preach. His wife knew this, but she was so convinced in her own heart of the necessity of preaching that she preached to her husband—spurring him on to faithfulness in the face of danger.

Biographer James Anderson writes of her: “such was her heroic spirit that, so far from dissuading or discouraging Baxter from preaching, because of the threatened penalties of fines and imprisonment, she incited him courageously to persevere in the good work, and abide tranquilly by the consequences. Any indication he gave, however slight, or the very idea that he shrank from the duties of his office from the dread of suffering by fines or otherwise, caused her uneasiness. . . .”

Margaret Baxter was a woman who knew whom she believed. Her belief allowed her to face the imprisonment of her husband, and not only to face it herself but to encourage him to face it boldly as well. We do well to follow her example, dedicating ourselves to knowing what we believe before we need to stand for it.


Parts of this post are adapted from an article I wrote last year for The Aquila Report.

Calvin, John.  365 Days with Calvin. Joel R. Beeke, ed. Grand Rapids: Day One, 2008. Reading for July 6.

Anderson, James. Memorable Women of Puritan Times. Vol. 2. London: Blackie and Son, 1867. p 182. Accessed via Google Books http://books.google.com/books?id=sNcSAAAAYAAJ&pg=PP7#v=onepage&q&f=false

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