“Accustomed to the Safety of a Free Government”

By Evan D. Burns

In 1819, English and American missionaries in Burma faced the reality of inevitable opposition and persecution by the Burmese government. Consequently, many missionaries were compelled to pull out and commence work in a more tolerant, peaceful environment. Enduring the scrutiny of such a repressive government, Adoniram Judson’s (1788-1850) devotion to his call remained firm. Judson determined to wait until the government actually forced him to forego his work for the Lord through imprisonment or deportation. His words are timely for Christians who, though once graced with religious freedom, are facing the loss of such liberties. In a letter, he wrote thus:

One malicious intimation to the king would occasion our banishment; and banishment, as the Burmans tell us, is no small thing, being attended with confiscation of all property, and such various abuses as would make us deem ourselves happy to escape with our lives. Such a situation may appear somewhat alarming to a person accustomed to the liberty and safety of a free government. But let us remember that it has been the lot of the greater part of mankind to live under a despotic government, devoid of all security for life or property a single moment. Let us remember that the Son of God chose to become incarnate under the most unprincipled and cruel despot that ever reigned.  And shall any disciple of Christ refuse to do a little service for his Saviour, under a government where his Saviour would not have refused to live and die for his soul? God forbid. Yet faith is sometimes weak—flesh and blood sometimes repine. O for grace to strengthen faith, to animate hope, to elevate affection, to embolden the soul, to enable us to look danger and death in the face; still more, to behold, without repining, those most dear to us suffering fears and pains, which we would gladly have redoubled on ourselves, if it would exonerate them. We feel encouraged by the thought that many of the dear children of God remember us at the mercy seat. To your prayers I desire once more to commend myself—the weakest, the most unqualified, the most unworthy, and the most unsuccessful of all missionaries.[1]

[1]This letter was to William Staughton (1770-1829). Staughton was a friend of Samuel Pearce (1766-1799) and William Carey (1761-1834). See Francis Wayland, A Memoir of the Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D., vol. 1 (Boston: Phillips, Samson and Company, 1853), 197-98.


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.