Adoniram Judson was the first foreign missionary sent out from the United States. He faithfully served Christ Jesus in Burma (modern Myanmar) for the better part of four decades. He did so despite staggering trials and hardships experienced by himself, his family and the Burmese Christians to whom he ministered. With unshakable faith in God and through unrelenting diligence in Christian service, Judson was used of the Lord to spread the Gospel throughout Burma, to lead many Burmese to faith in Christ, to establish healthy Christian congregations and to translate the entire Bible into the Burmese language.
Last month my wife Leeta and I had the privilege of visiting Christian Focus Publications, my primary publisher located near Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland. Here’s the short feature CFP released recently from our interview about the Adoniram Judson biography I’ve published with them.
I hope this brief feature will whet your appetite to read the full account of Judson’s life and ministry in Adoniram Judson: Devoted for Life. I think you’ll be inspired and encouraged by Judson’s example, as I have been, to faithfully follow the Lord’s leading in diligently serving Him with the unique abilities and opportunities He gives each of us. May we be heartened to do so with unflagging faith and commitment, even when encountering extreme difficulties.
As we approach the New
Year it is beneficial to take stock of our lives and to tune up any areas that
need it in order to promote our overall health, happiness and effectiveness.
Our resolutions for the New Year should certainly include needed spiritual
disciplines that will enable us be more faithful and fruitful in our service of
the Lord Jesus.
Adoniram Judson was a pioneer missionary to
Burma (modern Myanmar) who carried out nearly four decades of diligent service
there. He persevered through staggering challenges and difficulties to spread
the Gospel throughout Burma, to translate the entire Bible into the Burmese
language and to see healthy Christian congregations established in various
parts of the country.
Throughout his career
Judson sought to govern his personal spiritual life and ministry with a high
degree of discipline. At thirty years of age, after nearly six years of service
in Burma, he adopted a set of personal ‘rules’ by which to live:
diligent in secret prayer, every morning and evening.
spend a moment in mere idleness.
Restrain natural appetites within the bounds of temperance and purity. ‘Keep
Suppress every emotion of anger and ill will.
Undertake nothing from motives of ambition, or love of fame.
do that which, at the moment, appears to be displeasing to God.
opportunities of making some sacrifice for the good of others, especially of
believers, provided the sacrifice is not inconsistent with some duty.
Endeavor to rejoice in every loss and suffering incurred for Christ’s sake and
the Gospel’s, remembering that though, like death, they are not to be willfully
incurred, yet, like death, they are great gain.
Seven and a half years
later, Judson ‘readopted’ those rules and drafted an additional set of ‘minor
rules’ to further regulate his behavior:
with the sun.
2. Read a
certain portion of Burman every day, Sundays excepted.
the Scriptures and some devotional book in constant reading.
4. Read no
book in English that has not a devotional tendency.
Suppress every unclean thought and look.
Six months later, now at
age thirty-eight, Judson rededicated himself to continue to live, with the
Lord’s help, by both those sets of high standards: “Revised and readopted all
the above rules, particularly the second of the first class [‘Never spend a
moment in mere idleness’], on Sunday, March 11, 1827. God grant me grace to
keep the above rules, and ever live to his glory, for Jesus Christ’s sake.”
Such careful discipline continued to
characterize Judson’s life and service throughout the remainder of his career
and was a primary factor in his remarkable diligence and success. As we adopt
and live by similar disciplines that fit our particular challenges and ministry
circumstances in life, we will also be enabled by God to live faithfully and
productively to His glory.
# # #
I have written a comprehensive biography on Judson entitled Adoniram Judson, Devoted for Life. Much spiritual encouragement and instruction can be gained through the consideration of his outstanding life of service for Christ Jesus.
When Emily Chubbuck married and sailed from the United States to Burma as Mrs. Adoniram Judson in 1846, she immediately assumed the care of Judson’s two young sons by his previous wife, Sarah. (Sarah, like Judson’s first wife, Ann, died of illness after years of faithful missionary service in Burma.) Emily mothered her two young stepsons, Henry and Edward, as affectionately and attentively as though they were her own children.
One night around the time of Edward’s third birthday, Emily heard him call out from a little room where he slept by himself that he was “afraid.” At first she was unable to comfort and reassure him.
Emily had not taught the children to repeat memorized prayers. But she was in the habit of helping the youngsters determine what it was they needed, then having them repeat a prayer after her that addressed their need. So on this occasion she prayed with Edward, kissed him goodnight and left him apparently satisfied.
Here’s her own touching description of what happened next: “Pretty soon, however, I heard him call out, as though in great distress, ‘O, Dod!’ The poor little fellow had not sufficient acquaintance with language to know what to say next. But this up-lifting of the heart evidently relieved him, for in a few minutes after he again called out, ‘O, Dod!’ but in a tone much softened. I stepped to the door but hesitated about entering. In a few minutes he again repeated, ‘O, Dod!’ but in a tone so confiding that I thought I had better go back to my room, and leave him with his Great Protector.”
After hearing nothing further from Edward for some time, Emily at last went and found him on his knees fast asleep. “He never fails now to remind me of asking ‘Dod to tate tare of him,’ if I neglect it,” Emily afterward reported. “And I have never heard him say a word since of being afraid.”
1 Peter 5:7 encourages Christians: “Cast all your anxiety on Him [God] because He cares for you.” Romans 8:26-27 further reveals, even more amazingly, that when we don’t know exactly how to pray concerning matters that are troubling or perplexing us, God’s Spirit intercedes for us with deepest earnestness and complete effectiveness: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”
If we’re anxious, fearful, distressed, perplexed or in some other way burdened presently, let’s take our concerns to our loving heavenly Father in prayer with a spirit of childlike dependence and trust. Even if we’re not sure exactly how or what to pray, God’s Spirit will fervently intercede in our behalf, God will see our situation and what’s in our hearts, and He will compassionately come to our aid.
Have you heard of, witnessed or personally experienced an occasion when a child of God faced a situation that was so distressing or confusing that words failed when they tried to pray about it? How did the Lord respond to their unverbalized prayer? I would enjoy hearing about it.
Galatians 6:9 encourages us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest of righteousness if we do not give up.” Adoniram Judson’s thirty-seven-year ministry in Burma (from 1813 to 1850) serves as an excellent example of that scriptural principle.
Judson’s opening years in Burma can only be described as slow sledding. His first three years were spent learning the Burmese language by studying it twelve hours per day. He then wrote a seven-page tract to introduce Christianity to the Burmans and translated Matthew’s Gospel into Burmese. Public worship services were begun and were attended by about thirty people. After nearly six years in Burma, the first Burman came to saving faith in Christ. That was it for the first six years – he learned the language, wrote one short tract, translated one book of Scripture into Burmese, started worship services with a relatively small number of attendees and led one Burman to the Savior.
After Judson had been in Burma ten years, he completed an initial translation of the entire New Testament into Burmese, although it still needed revising before it was ready to print and distribute. By that time there were eighteen known Burmese Christians but all but three or four of those had been scattered by persecution.
Then came a war between Burma and Britain. Though he was an American, Judson, like all foreigners in Burma at the time, was suspected as being a spy for the British. Consequently, he was incarcerated in a pair of brutal Burmese death prisons for a year and a half. He survived those only by God’s preserving mercy. Judson then spent the better part of a year serving as a translator in the treaty negotiations that needed to be carried out at the war’s conclusion.
After the war, two coastal provinces of Burma came under British control, and religious toleration was exercised in that pair of provinces. The rest of Burma remained under the control of the Burmese government, and Christianity was still not tolerated in that vast portion of the country. At last, after thirteen and a half years of achingly-slow ministry progress, Judson and the few Burmese Christians had a secure place where they could practice their beliefs and serve the Lord unmolested.
As a result of this religious freedom and the foundational ministry work that had already been done, the final twenty-four years of Judson’s ministry were marked by considerable spiritual fruit. Virtually every day he was involved in evangelizing and edifying indigenous people. Assisted by a number of native associates, he carried out several evangelistic and church-planting itinerations in a few different parts of Burma, including areas officially closed to Christianity.
Judson translated the Old Testament into Burmese, then revised his Burmese translation of the entire Bible. He wrote several other Gospel tracts and church manuals to assist in winning Burmans and building up Burmese congregations. This literature was translated into a few different languages that were used in Burma. Literally millions of pieces of Christian literature were distributed throughout the country. In the closing years of his life Judson produced a 600-page Burmese-English dictionary to assist missionaries for generations to come in learning and using the language.
By the time of Judson’s death, scores of churches had been established in Burma. As many as 6,000 indigenous people, representing a variety of ethnic groups, had become Christians. More than thirty missionaries were serving in several different locations.
More often than not in our individual or collective ministries, there’s an initial foundation-laying stage when progress is slow and results are modest. Even after a ministry is up and going there are inevitable plateau periods in which it seems little progress is being made. It’s easy during such phases to get impatient, discouraged and to be tempted to give up.
But as we carry on faithfully and diligently in ministry, month after month and year after year, God has a way of blessing that type of service. Over time He allows our ministry to grow, to bear much spiritual fruit and to accomplish great good. So let’s be encouraged to keep on keeping on in our ministry efforts for the Lord, even if we’re in a slow, discouraging season presently.
I would enjoy hearing instances you’ve seen or heard of where long-term faithfulness in Christian service led to significant spiritual fruitfulness.
Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) endured numerous hardships in his thirty-eight years of pioneer missionary work in Burma. He experienced: permanent separation from family and friends in the homeland; protracted periods of isolation and loneliness; spartan living conditions; challenging ministry circumstances in a pagan religious culture that opposed Christianity and persecuted Christians; recurring, debilitating illness from foreign disease; the deaths from illness of two wives (at ages 36 and 41), six young children and several missionary colleagues in their 20s and 30s; the strain of living under a government that was despotic, corrupt, capricious and sadistic; extended imprisonment in a pair of Burmese death prisons where he endured horrific, brutal conditions.
Judson readily acknowledged the difficulty and heartache of undergoing such trials. But at the same time he ever trusted the Lord and sought to willingly submit himself to the divine will even in the midst of marked hardships. In facing trials, Judson did not assail God’s character, question His wisdom or doubt His love. Instead, he clung to the fact that God is totally righteous, all wise and ever loving as the bedrock truths upon which he could firmly stand in enduring hardships.
Following the death of his second wife, Sarah, a house fire that destroyed many of his family’s possessions, and a long delay in a vital translation project, Judson wrote to a fellow missionary who had suffered similarly: “I have recommenced the work of the dictionary, which has been suspended nearly two years. Why has this grievous interruption been permitted, and all this precious time lost? And why are our houses and property allowed to be burned up? And why are those most dear to us, and most qualified to be useful in the [missionary] cause, torn from our arms, and dashed into the grave, and all their knowledge and qualification with them? Because infinite wisdom and love will have it so. Because it is best for us, and best for them, and best for the cause, and best for the interests of eternity, that it should be so. And blessed be God, we know it, and are thankful, and rejoice, and say, Glory be to God.”
Near the end of his ministry, missionary support from America suddenly faltered, forcing Judson to abandon plans to return to the capitol of Burma where he hoped to further advance the Gospel. Instead, he needed to retreat to a mission station where a number of other missionaries were already serving. At first Judson felt forsaken by supporters in the homeland and was deeply disappointed at these developments.
But his third wife, Emily, reported: “He very soon began to devise apologies for everybody, and said we must remember that so far as we were concerned, or the missionary cause itself, God had done this thing, and done it, as he always does, for good. It was not his will that we should go to Ava then, and we had no right to complain of the means he made use of to prevent it. He insisted, too, that our obedience was not to be yielded grudgingly; that it must be a cheerful acquiescence in all that God had done, and a sincere, careful study of the indications of his providence afterwards, without any suspicion that our ways were hedged by any thing harder or thornier than his love and mercy.”
Emily further testified of Judson: “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!’”
Many modern Western Christians do not handle adversity well. They are surprised by it and quick to doubt or even accuse God when He allows them to experience hardship.
Instead, like Judson, we should fully expect trials and should seek to willingly embrace adversity and sacrifice in our living for and serving the Lord. By readily trusting in God’s character and submitting to His will, we will be helped through the inevitable trials of life, others will be benefited by our example and Christ will be glorified.
I would enjoy hearing how Judson or other stalwart Christians have encouraged you to trust the Lord, even in hard times.
I’m excited, delighted and grateful to God that my newest biography, Adoniram Judson: Devoted for Life, is being released in the U.S. this month. Judson (1788-1850) was a pioneer missionary in Burma (modern Myanmar) for thirty-eight years. Here are several significant reasons it’s worthwhile to read an account of his life and ministry:
Judson was reared in the home of a conservative Congregational minister. But as a precocious young man full of carnal pride and ambition, he rejected his parents’ Christian faith. The true story of how God used a stunning turn of events to graciously show Judson the error of his way and to draw him to Himself is both fascinating and instructive.
Judson has the distinction of being the foremost member of the very first group of foreign missionaries ever sent out from the United States. So in reading his history we also learn the exciting story of the birth and rapid growth of the foreign missionary enterprise in the U.S.A.
Judson became America’s first great foreign missionary hero. Accounts of the Judson family’s trials, triumphs and tragedies captured the hearts of Americans and British alike and became the most widely ready American missionary lore of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. To this day their story remains one of the most inspiring and compelling sagas of the modern missionary movement.
Judson is a premiere example of steadfast service to Christ, even in the face of numerous sacrifices and hardships. The trials he endured while carrying out nearly four decades of costly missionary service included: permanent separation from family and friends in the homeland; isolation and loneliness; spartan living conditions; challenging ministry circumstances in a pagan religious culture that resisted and opposed Christianity; recurring illness from foreign disease; the deaths of several family members and missionary colleagues; a brutal and protracted period of imprisonment. Judson’s example motivates us to remain faithful in our service of Christ, despite the challenges and hardships we encounter in doing so.
Judson persevered through staggering trials with unshakable trust in God’s all-wise, ever-loving providential will. In spite of the ongoing challenges, Judson continually manifested undimmed faith in the power and ultimate conquest of God’s Word and the Christian Gospel. In doing so, he models for us some of the primary keys to carrying out steadfast Christian service despite attendant difficulties.
Judson’s missionary career reminds us of the considerable spiritual fruit that can be borne through patient, persevering ministry effort. In Judson’s first six years of tough, slow pioneering work in Burma, only one Burman came to faith in Christ and Judson was able to translate only the Gospel of Matthew into the Burmese language. By the end of Judson’s life, there were 5,000-6,000 indigenous Christians and scores of churches in Burma. Judson had not only translated the entire Bible into Burmese but had also produced an extensive Burmese-English dictionary to assist other missionaries in their ministry endeavors.
In his ministry, Judson was first and foremost a missionary and an evangelist. He was consumed with the desire and the necessity to carry the Gospel to those who had not yet had the opportunity to hear and receive it. His passion and example in that regard serve as a needed reminder of the importance and effort that contemporary Christians should continue to give to missions and evangelism.
Judson was adept at leading indigenous people to Christ and in training and releasing them to carry out fruitful ministry themselves. He has much to teach modern missionaries about how to work skillfully with the native peoples they’re trying to reach, disciple and train.
Judson was serious about and disciplined in his personal spiritual life. He worked hard at exercising spiritual disciplines, growing in personal holiness, developing a Christlike character, and interacting with others in a loving, godly fashion. He shows us that it’s important to give serious attention and effort to our personal spiritual development, character and habits. That is the necessary personal spiritual focus and conditioning out of which faithful, fruitful service of the Lord flows.
My book, Adoniram Judson: Devoted for Life, is the first new extensive biography published on Judson in fifty-seven years. I’m glad and grateful that Christian Focus Publications has agreed that the time had come for a fresh retelling of Judson’s worthy life story for the encouragement and benefit of the current generation of Christians.
I would enjoy hearing of your level of acquaintance with Adoniram Judson and what you’ve appreciated learning from his example.