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Closing Scenes in the Life of Dr. Judson

by His Widow [Emily Judson in a letter to Adoniram's sister]

Adoniram JudsonLast month I could do no more than announce to you our painful bereavement, which though not altogether unexpected, will, I very well know, fall upon your heart with overwhelming weight. You will find the account of your brother's last days on board the Aristide Marie, in a letter written by Mr. Ranney from Mauritius, to the Secretary of the Board; and I can add nothing to it, with the exception of a few unimportant particulars, gleaned in conversation with Mr. R. and the Coringa servant. I grieve that it should be so—that I was not permitted to watch beside him during those days of terrible suffering; but the pain, which I at first felt, is gradually yielding to gratitude for the inestimable privileges which had previously been granted me.

There was something exceedingly beautiful in the decline of your brother's life—more beautiful than I can describe, though the impression will remain with me as a sacred legacy, until I go to meet him where suns shall never set, and life shall never end. He had been, from my first acquaintance with him, an uncommonly spiritual Christian, exhibiting his richest graces in the unguarded intercourse of private life; but during his last year, it seemed as though the light of the world on which he was entering, had been sent to brighten his upward pathway. Every subject on which we conversed, every book we read, every incident that occurred, whether trivial or important, had a tendency to suggest some peculiarly spiritual train of thought, till it seemed to me that more than ever before, "Christ was all his theme." Something of the same nature was also noted in his preaching, to which I then had not the privilege of listening. He was in the habit, however, of studying his subject for the Sabbath, audibly, and in my presence, at which time he was frequently so much affected as to weep, and some times so overwhelmed with the vastness of his conceptions, as to be obliged to abandon his theme and choose another. My own illness at the commencement of the year had brought eternity very near to us, and rendered death, the grave, and the bright heaven beyond it, familiar subjects of conversation. Gladly would I give you, my dear sister, some idea of the share borne by him in those memorable conversations; but it would be impossible to convey, even to those who knew him best, the most distant conception. I believe he has sometimes been thought eloquent; both in conversation and in the sacred desk; but the fervid; burning eloquence, the deep pathos, the touching tenderness, the elevation of thought, and intense beauty of expression, which characterized those private teachings, were not only beyond what I had ever heard before, but such as I felt sure arrested his own attention, and surprised even himself. About this time he began to find unusual satisfaction and enjoyment in his private devotions; and seemed to have new objects of interest continually rising in his mind each of which in turn became special subjects of prayer. Among these, one of the most prominent was the conversion of his posterity. He remarked, that he had always prayed for his children, but that of late he had felt impressed with the duty of praying for their children and their children's children down to the latest generation. He also prayed most fervently, that his impressions on this particular subject might be transferred to his sons and daughters, and thence to their offspring, so that he should ultimately meet a long unbroken line of descendants before the throne of God, where all might join together in ascribing everlasting praises to their Redeemer.

Another subject, which occupied a large share of his attention, was that of brotherly love. You are, perhaps, aware, that like all persons of his ardent temperament, he was subject to strong attachments and aversions, which he sometimes had difficulty in bringing under the controlling influence of divine grace. He remarked that he had always felt more or less of an affectionate interest in his brethren, as brethren—and some of them he had loved very dearly for their personal qualities; but that he was now aware he had never placed his standard of love high enough. He spoke of them as children of God, redeemed by the Saviour's blood, watched over and guarded by his love, dear to his heart, honored by him in the election, and to be honored hereafter before the assembled universe; and he said it was not sufficient to be kind and obliging to such, to abstain from evil speaking, and make a general mention of them in our prayers; but our attachment to them should be of the most ardent and exalted character—it would be so in heaven, and we lost immeasurably by not beginning now. "As I have loved you, so ought ye also to love one another," was a precept continually in his mind, and he would often murmur, as though unconsciously, "'As I have loved you'—'as I have loved you'"—then burst out with the exclamation, "Oh, the love of Christ! the love of Christ!"

His prayers for the mission were marked by an earnest, grateful enthusiasm, and in speaking of missionary operations in general, his tone was one of elevated triumph, almost of exultation—for he not only felt an unshaken confidence in their final success. but would often exclaim, "What wonders—oh, what wonders God has already wrought!"

I remarked, that during this year his literary labor, which he had never liked, and upon which he had entered unwillingly and from a feeling of necessity, was growing daily more irksome to him; and he always spoke of it as his "heavy work," his "tedious work," "that wearisome dictionary," &c., though this feeling led to no relaxation of effort. He longed, however, to find some more spiritual employment, to be engaged in what he considered more legitimate missionary labor, and drew delightful pictures of the future, when his whole business would be but to preach and to pray.

During all this time I had not observed any failure in physical strength; and though his mental exercises occupied a large share of my thoughts when alone, it never once occurred to me that this might be the brightening of the setting sun; my only feeling was that of pleasure, that one so near to me was becoming so pure and elevated in his sentiments, and so lovely and Christ-like in his character. In person he had grown somewhat stouter than when in America, his complexion had a healthful hue compared with that of his associates generally; and though by no means a person of uniformly firm health, he seemed to possess such vigor and strength of constitution, that I thought his life as likely to be extended twenty years longer, as that of any member of the mission. He continued his system of morning exercise, commenced when a student at Andover, and was not satisfied with a common walk on level ground, but always chose an uphill path, and then frequently went bounding on his way, with all the exuberant activity of boyhood.

He was of a singularly happy temperament, although not of that even cast, which never rises above a certain level, and is never depressed. Possessing acute sensibilities, suffering with those who suffer, and entering as readily into the joys of the prosperous and happy, he was variable in his moods; but religion formed such an essential element in his character, and his trust in Providence was so implicit and habitual, that he was never gloomy, and seldom more than momentarily disheartened. On the other hand, being accustomed to regard all the events of this life, however minute or painful, as ordered in wisdom, and tending to one great and glorious end, he lived in almost constant obedience to the apostolic injunction, "Rejoice evermore!" He often told me that although he had endured much personal suffering, and passed through many fearful trials in the course of his eventful life, a kind Providence had also hedged him round with precious, peculiar blessings, so that his joys had far outnumbered his sorrows.

Toward the close of September of last year, he said to me one evening, "What deep cause have we for gratitude to God!—do you believe there are any other two persons in the wide world so happy as we are?' enumerating, in his own earnest manner, several sources of happiness, in which our work as missionaries, and our eternal prospects, occupied a prominent position. When he had finished his glowing picture, I remarked (I scarcely know why, but there was a heavy cloud upon my spirits that evening), "We are certainly very happy now, but it cannot be so always—I am thinking of the time when one of us must attend beside the bed, and see the other die."

"Yes," he said, "that will be a sad moment; I felt it most deeply a little while ago, but now it would not be strange if your life were prolonged beyond mine though I should wish if it were possible to spare you that pain. It is the one left alone who suffers, not the one who goes to be with Christ. If it should only be the will of God that we might go together, like young James and his wife. But he will order all things well, and we can safely trust our future to his hands."

That same night we were roused from sleep by the sudden illness of one of the children. There was an unpleasant, chilling dampness in the air, as it came to us through the openings in the sloats above the windows, which affected your brother very sensibly, and he soon began to shiver so violently, that he was obliged to return to his couch, where he remained under a warm covering until morning. In the morning he awoke with a severe cold, accompanied by some degree of fever; but as it did not seem very serious, and our three children were all suffering from a similar cause, we failed to give it any especial attention. From that time he was never well, though in writing to you before, I think I dated the commencement of his illness, from the month of November, when he laid aside his studies. I know that he regarded this attack as trifling, and yet one evening he spent a long time in advising me with regard to my future course, if I should be deprived of his guidance; saying that it is always wise to be prepared for exigences of this nature. After the month of November, he failed gradually, occasionally rallying in such a manner as to deceive us all, but at each relapse sinking lower than at the previous one, though still full of hope and courage, and yielding ground only, inch by inch, as compelled by the triumphant progress of disease. During some hours of every day he suffered intense pain; but his naturally buoyant spirits and uncomplaining disposition led him to speak so lightly of it, that I used sometimes to fear the doctor, though a very skillful man, would be fatally deceived.

As his health declined, his mental exercises at first seemed deepened; and he gave still larger portions of his time to prayer, conversing with the utmost freedom on his daily progress, and the extent of his self-conquest. Just before our trip to Mergui, which took place in January, he looked up from his pillow one day with sudden animation, and said to me earnestly, "I have gained the victory at last. I love every one of Christ's redeemed, as I believe he would have me love them—in the same manner, though not probably to the same degree as we shall love one another in heaven; and gladly would I prefer the meanest of his creatures, who bears his name, before myself." This he said in allusion to the text, "In honor preferring one another," on which he had frequently dwelt with great emphasis. After farther similar conversation he concluded, "And now here I lie at peace with all the world, and what is better still, at peace with my own conscience. I know that I am a miserable sinner in the sight of God, with no hope but in the blessed Saviour's merits; but I cannot think of any particular fault, any peculiarly besetting sin, which it is now my duty to correct. Can you tell me of any?

And truly, from this time no other word would so well express his state of feeling, as that one of his own choosing—peace. He had no particular exercises afterwards, but remained calm and serene, speaking of himself daily as a great sinner, who had been overwhelmed with benefits, and declaring, that he had never in all his life before, had such delightful views of the unfathomable love and infinite condescension of the Saviour, as were now daily opening before him. "Oh, the love of Christ! the love of Christ!" he would suddenly exclaim, while his eye kindled, and the tears chased each other down cheeks, "we cannot understand it now—but what a beautiful study for eternity!"

After our return from Mergui, the doctor advised a still farther trial of the effects of sea air and sea-bathing, and we accordingly proceeded to Amherst, where we remained nearly a month. This to me was the darkest period of his illness—no medical adviser, no friend at hand, and he daily growing weaker and weaker. He began to totter in walking, clinging to the furniture and walls, when he thought he was unobserved (for he was not willing to acknowledge the extent of his debility), and his wan face was of a ghastly paleness. His sufferings too were sometimes fearfully intense, so that in spite of his habitual self-control, his groans would fill the house. At other times a kind of lethargy seemed to steal over him, and he would sleep almost incessantly for twenty-four hours, seeming annoyed if he were aroused or disturbed. Yet there were portions of the time, when he was comparatively comfortable, and conversed intelligently; but his mind seemed to revert to former scenes, and he tried to amuse me with stories of his boyhood—his college days—his imprisonment in France, and his early missionary life. He had a great deal also to say on his favorite theme. "The love of Christ:" but his strength was too much impaired for any continuous mental effort. Even a short prayer made audibly, exhausted him to such a degree that he was obliged to discontinue the practice.

At length I wrote to Maulmain, giving some expression of my anxieties and misgivings, and our kind missionary friends, who had from the first evinced all the tender interest and watchful sympathy of the nearest kindred immediately sent for us—the doctor advising a sea-voyage. But as there was no vessel in the harbor bound for a port sufficiently distant, we thought it best, in the meantime, to remove from our old dwelling, which had long been condemned as unhealthy, to another mission-house, fortunately empty. This change was at first attended with the most beneficial results, and our hopes revived so much, that we looked forward to the approaching rainy season for entire restoration. But it lasted only a little while, and then both of us became convinced, that though a voyage at sea involved much that was exceedingly painful, it yet presented the only prospect of recovery, and could not, therefore, without a breach of duty, be neglected.

"Oh, if it were only the will of God to take me now—to let me die here!" he repeated over and over again, in a tone of anguish, while we where considering the subject. "I cannot, cannot go!—this is almost more than I can bear! was there ever suffering like our suffering!" and the like broken expressions, were continually falling from his lips. But he soon gathered more strength of purpose; and after the decision was fairly made, he never hesitated for a moment, rather regarding the prospect with pleasure. I think the struggle which this resolution cost, injured him very materially; though probably it had no share in bringing about the final result. God, who saw the end from the beginning, had counted out his days, and they were hastening to a close. Until this time he had been able to stand, and to walk slowly from room to room; but as he one evening attempted to rise from his chair, he was suddenly deprived of his small remnant of muscular strength, and would have fallen to the floor, but for timely support.

From that moment his decline was rapid. As he lay helplessly upon his couch, and watched the swelling of his feet, and other alarming symptoms, he became very anxious to commence his voyage, and I felt equally anxious to have his wishes gratified. I still hoped he might recover—the doctor said the chances of life and death were in his opinion equally balanced—and then he always loved the sea so dearly! There was something exhilarating to him in the motion of a vessel, and he spoke with animation of getting free from the almost suffocating atmosphere incident to the hot season, and drinking in the fresh sea breezes. He talked but little more, however, than was necessary to indicate his wants, his bodily sufferings being too great to allow of conversation; but several times looked up to me with a bright smile, and exclaimed, as heretofore, "Oh, the love of Christ! the love of Christ!"

I found it difficult to ascertain, from expressions casually dropped, from time to time, his real opinion with regard to his recovery; but I thought there was some reason to doubt whether he was fully aware of his critical situation. I did not suppose he had any preparation to make at this late hour, and I felt sure that if he should be called ever so unexpectedly, he would not enter the presence of his Maker with a ruffled spirit; but I could not bear to have him go away, without knowing how doubtful it was whether our next meeting would not be in eternity; and perhaps too, in my own distress, I might still have looked for words of encouragement and sympathy, to a source which had never before failed.

It was late in the night, and I had been performing some little sick-room offices, when suddenly he looked up to me, and exclaimed, "This will never do! You are killing yourself for me, and I will not permit it. You must have some one to relieve you. If I had not been made selfish by suffering, I should have insisted upon it long ago."

He spoke so like himself—with the earnestness of health, and in a tone to which my ear had of late been a stranger, that for a moment I felt almost bewildered with sudden hope. He received my reply to what he had said, with a half-pitying, half-gratified smile, but in the meantime his expression had changed—the marks of excessive debility were again apparent, and I could not forbear adding, "It is only a little while, you know."

"Only a little while," he repeated mournfully; "this separation is a bitter thing, but it does not distress me now as it did—I am too weak." "You have no reason to be distressed," I answered, "with such glorious prospects before you. You have often told me it is the one left alone who suffers, not the one who goes to be with Christ." He gave me a rapid, questioning glance, then assumed for several moments an attitude of deep thought. Finally, he slowly unclosed his eyes, and fixing them on me, said in a calm, earnest tone, "I do not believe I am going to die. I think I know why this illness has been sent upon me—I needed it—I feel that it has done me good—and it is my impression, that I shall now recover, and be a better and more useful man."

"Then it is your wish to recover?" I inquired. "If it should be the will of God, yes. I should like to complete the dictionary, on which I have bestowed so much labor, now that it is so nearly done; for though it has not been a work that pleased my taste, or quite satisfied my feelings, I have never underrated its importance. Then after that come all the plans we have formed. Oh, I feel as though only just beginning to be prepared for usefulness."

"It is the opinion of most of the mission," I remarked, "that you will not recover." "I know it is," he replied; "and I suppose they think me an old man, and imagine that it is nothing for one like me to resign a life so full of trials. But I am not old—at least in that sense—you know I am not. Oh! no man ever left this world with more inviting prospects, with brighter hopes or warmer feelings—warmer feelings"—he repeated, and burst into tears. His face was perfectly placid, even while the tears broke away from the closed lids, and rolled, one after another, down to the pillow. There was no trace of agitation or pain in his manner of weeping, but it was evidently the result of acute sensibilities, combined with great physical weakness. To some suggestions which I ventured to make, he replied, "It is not that—I know all that, and feel it in my inmost heart. Lying here on my bed, when I could not talk, I have had such views of the loving condescension of Christ, and the glories of heaven, as I believe are seldom granted to mortal men. It is not because I shrink from death, that I wish to live; neither is it because the ties that bind me here though some of them are very sweet, bear any comparison with the drawings I at times feel towards heaven; but a few years would not be missed from my eternity of bliss, and I can well afford to spare them, both for your sake and for the sake of the poor Burmans. I am not tired of my work, neither am I tired of the world; yet when Christ calls me home, I shall go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from his school. Perhaps I feel something like the young bride, when she contemplates resigning the pleasant associations of her childhood, for a yet dearer home—though only a very little like her—for there is no doubt resting on my future." "Then death would not take you by surprise," I remarked, "if it should come even before you could get on board ship." "Oh, no," he said, "death will never take me by surprise—do not be afraid of that—I feel so strong in Christ. He has not led me so tenderly thus far, to forsake me at the very gate of heaven. No, no; I am willing to live a few years longer, if it should be so ordered; and if otherwise, I am willing and glad to die now. I leave myself entirely in the hands of God, to be disposed of according to his holy will."

The next day some one mentioned in his presence, that the native Christians were greatly opposed to the voyage, and that many other persons had a similar feeling with regard to it. I thought he seemed troubled; and after the visitor had withdrawn, I inquired if he still felt as when he conversed with me the night previous. He replied, "Oh yes; that was no evanescent feeling. It has been with me, to a greater or less extent, for years, and will be with me, I trust, to the end. I am ready to go to-day—if it should be the will of God, this very hour; but I am not anxious to die at least when I am not beside myself with pain."

"Then why are you so desirous to go to sea? I should think it would be a matter of indifference to you." "No," he answered quietly, "my judgment tells me it would be wrong not to go—the doctor says criminal. I shall certainly die here—if I go away, I may possibly recover. There is no question with regard to duty in such a case; and I do not like to see any hesitation, even though it springs from affection."

He several times spoke of a burial at sea, and always as though the prospect were agreeable. It brought, he said, a sense of freedom and expansion and seemed far pleasanter than the confined, dark, narrow grave, to which he had committed so many that he loved. And he added, that although his burial-place was a matter of no real importance, yet he believed it was not in human nature to be altogether without a choice.

I have already given you an account of the embarkation, of my visits to him while the vessel remained in the river, and of our last sad, silent parting; Mr. Ranney has finished the picture. You will find in this closing part, some dark shadows, that will give you pain; but you must remember that his present felicity is enhanced by those very sufferings; and we should regret nothing that serves to brighten his crown of glory. I ought also to add, that I have gained pleasanter impressions in conversation with Mr. R. than from his written account; but it would be difficult to convey them to you; and, as he whom they concern was accustomed to say of similar things, "you will learn it all in heaven."

During the last hour of your sainted brother's life, Mr. Ranney bent over him and held his hand; while poor Pinapah stood at a little distance weeping bitterly. The table had been spread in the cuddy, as usual, and the officers did not know what was passing in the cabin, till summoned to dinner. Then they gathered about the door, and watched the closing scene with solemn reverence. Now—thanks to a merciful God! his pains had left him, not a momentary spasm disturbed his placid face, nor did the contraction of a muscle denote the least degree of suffering; the agony of death was passed, and his wearied spirit was turning to its rest in the bosom of his Saviour. From time to time, he pressed the hand in which his own was resting, his clasp losing in force at each successive pressure; while his shortened breath (though there was no struggle, no gasping, as if it came and went with difficulty) gradually grew softer and fainter, until it died upon the air—and he was gone. Mr. Ranney closed the eyes, and composed the passive limbs,—the ship's officers stole softly from the door, and the neglected meal was left upon the board untasted.

They lowered him to his ocean-grave without a prayer; for his freed spirit had soared above the reach of earthly intercession, and to the foreigners who stood around, it would have been a senseless form. And there they left him in his unquiet sepulchre; but it matters little, for we know that while the unconscious clay is "drifting on the shifting currents of the restless main," nothing can disturb the hallowed rest of the immortal spirit. Neither could he have a more fitting monument, than the blue waves which visit every coast; for his warm sympathies went forth to the ends of the earth, and included the whole family of man. It is all as God would have it, and our duty is but to bend meekly to his will, and wait, in faith and patience, till we also shall be summoned home.


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from The Lives of Mrs. Ann H. Judson and Mrs. Sarah B. Judson, with a biographical sketch of Mrs. Emily C. Judson... by Arabella W. Stuart. Auburn and Buffalo: Miller Orton & Mulligan, 1854.

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