Adoniram Judson: A Profound Calling

Editor’s Note: On Feb. 19, 1812, newly-weds Adoniram and Ann Judson set sail with others as the first American foreign missionaries. Later this year, B&H will release “Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of the Pioneer American Missionary,” edited by Jason G. Duesing with contributions from Southwestern Seminary professors. This article is part of a four-part series on Judson’s life and impact.

In some few lives, the temporal kisses the eternal in that their earthly life embraces the truths and calling of heaven. They pour themselves out for others. Such individuals are odd to some because this world seems not to be their home. They are sojourners. To others, they are heroic. Yet, in New Testament terms, they simply live out normal discipleship—denying self and clinging to the cause of the cross.

Such was the life well lived by Adoniram Judson (1788-1850). The measure of the man is evident in the reminiscences of Adoniram B. Judson (his son born in Burma in 1837), written during the centennial celebration of his father’s life and work in 1912.

Tis religion that can give sweetest pleasure while we live.

‘Tis religion will supply solid comfort when we die.

Be the living God my friend, then my joys shall never end.[1]

When Christ captures human hearts, we should not fear failure as much as we should fear marvelous success in doing something that absolutely does not matter in this life or the next. Touching lives for all time and eternity is the DNA of Christian service as fully illustrated by Christ Himself.

Adoniram Judson exemplified a human version of life well lived. In his advice to would-be missionaries well into his tenure in Burma, he stated,

First, then, let it be a missionary life; that is, come out for life, and not for a limited term. Do not fancy that you have a true missionary spirit, while you are intending all along to leave the heathen soon after acquiring their language.[2]

Judson’s advisory premise illustrates a deep soul searching motivational analysis and spiritual inventory needed for missionary service. While being physically present in the same geographical setting for “life” is not as logistically necessary 200 years later, the underlying principle is just as valid; namely, that one’s degree of spiritual conviction and calling determines—or should determine—our future effectiveness or ability to “finish the race.” His sentiment is simply not to be so self-centered or self-deceived as to venture into God’s service as if it is a holiday meant for selfish aims.

Judson’s lingering legacy is the endurance of illness, loss of children, deaths of his wives, weariness and threats to life over nearly four decades in order to teach, preach and translate the Gospel in and among the varieties of Burmese peoples.

What legacies are in the making by Christ’s disciples now? Where are tomorrow’s servants of Judson’s ilk? Hopefully you too are one that will live this life viewed through the prism of the next one while in the midst of a culture that breeds and feeds the self. Come to the determination that you are oddly out of place in that circle of values. If you do, then what are the next steps of surrender?

[1]Adoniram B. Judson, “How Judson Became a Baptist Missionary,” (Philadelphia: The Griffity & Rowland Press, n.d.): 3. Though no date is indicated, the face page of the copy held by Yale Divinity School is stamped “New York, 1913.” Additionally, note that use of the term “religion” in the early 19th century would translate into the 21st Century to be a personalized, dedicated, and purposeful relationship with Christ. The pamphlet’s context makes this clear.

[2]Adoniram Judson, Advice to Missionary Candidates, Maulmain, Burma June 25, 1832. Written to The Foreign Missionary Association of the Hamilton Literary & Theological Institution, N.Y.