He is acclaimed as one of the greatest men to have ever lived. His life has inspired thousands of young men to live daring lives. He was raised in a loving home. His mother taught him to read so that he was reading books by the age of 3. He raced through his schooling and stood head and shoulders above his peers for sheer intellect. His mother was delighted. His father was a Congregational Minister and taught his son the finer points of theology by the time he was in his early teens. But with great intellect at a young age often comes great arrogance and gullibility. He entered Providence College to undertake his university studies and soon fell in with bad company who championed atheism and mocked Christianity. He renounced Christianity and began to live accordingly. His mother's heart was shattered and his father was gutted.
Adoniram Judson, born in 1788, was blessed with intelligence and good looks. When he arrived at Providence College he soon came under the enchantment of "E___" (as he was later identified). "E___" led Adoniram into Deism (there could be a God, but He doesn't care about people or how they live) and then into Atheism (there is no God). During a College break Adoniram determined to go and seek his pleasure. He rode his horse to an inn where the inn keeper told him that only one room remained available - but it was adjacent to the room of a dying man. Adoniram assured the inn keeper that he wasn't phased by death and that he would take the available room.
"I'll take the room," said Judson. "Death has no terrors for me. You see, I'm an atheist."
When he settled into the room he discovered that the walls were paper thin and he soon began to hear the agonizing cries of the dying man. It moved Adoniram Judson deeply to hear a man become delirious and cry out to God. He wondered whether the dying man had made peace with God? He wondered where this man's eternal destiny would be: heaven or hell? He wondered whether the man was previously religious? Adoniram Judson struggled to go to sleep that night and began to doubt to his newly embraced atheism. His biographer records this event -
"The poor fellow is evidently dying in terror. I suppose I should go to his assistance, but what could I say that would help him?" thought Judson to himself; and he shivered at the very thought of going into the presence of the dying man. He felt a blush of shame steal over him. What would his late unbelieving companions think if they knew of his weakness? Above all, what would witty, brilliant E___ say, if he knew? As he tried to compose himself, the dreadful cries from the next room continued. He pulled the blankets over his head but still he heard the awful sounds and shuddered! Finally, all became quiet in the next room.
In the morning he checked out with the memory of the agonizing cries for divine mercy coming from the next room still haunting him. "He died" said the inn keeper. "Who was he?" enquired Adoniram. "He was a student from Providence College named E___" informed the inn keeper! This was the turning point for the now 20 year old Adoniram Judson. He returned to his parents and apologised to them and became a member of his father's church.
"...surely the love of Christ, which had so marvelously banished the darkness from my own soul, was meant for all mankind."
He quickly became a deep Christian - not merely because of his intellectual capacity, but because of his deep compassion for the lost. At the age of 20 he developed into a deep Bible reader, a young man of deep prayer, and of deep intensity to serve Christ. Around this time William Carey was achieving remarkable success for the Gospel in India. This and other things provoked Adoniram to ponder the spiritual plight of those on the Sub-Continent. He enquired with his father's denomination about going there as a missionary. But foreign missions was still a relatively new concept for them. As Adoniram spoke with his growing band of Christian friends about the urgency of this mission, money soon began to pour in and shortly enough funds were raised to advance the annual salaries of several young men. This would eventually lead to the formation of the American Baptist Missionary Union (after Adoniram saw that the Congregation practice of 'baptising' infants by sprinkling as unbiblical and adopted what he considered to be the Biblical practice of believer's baptism by immersion- causing him to lose his initial support base [quite a courageous move]).
"More than all else, I long to please Thee, my Lord. What wilt Thou have me to do?" As he prayed, he felt the presence of Jesus close beside him and heard His voice saying, "Go to the uttermost parts and preach the gospel of My love. I send you forth, like Paul, as a witness to distant nations."
From The Journal of Adoniram Judson
The now newly married Judson and his adventurous young bride set off for Calcutta by sea just days after they wed. When they arrived they were welcomed by William Carey but unwelcomed by the authorities who ordered them to leave. They were led by the Holy Spirit to go to Burma. Adoniram's towering mind enabled him to quickly master the Burmese language (considered one of the hardest second languages for an English speaker to learn and write). He and his bride were not permitted to live in the city and were tasked with making the best of the ramshackled hut nestled between the city's rubbish dump and communal letrine. They soon discovered to their horror that Rangoon was infected with cholera.
That night, said Judson in a letter written soon thereafter, "we have marked as the most gloomy and distressing we have ever passed."...But as they prayed through the long vigils of the night, the voice of the Lord comforted them, saying, "Fear not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God."
Giants of the Missionary Trail, by Scripture Press, Book Division, . The book can be ordered from Fairfax Baptist Temple, 6401 Missionary Lane, Fairfax Station, VA 22039. Email
At this time they were the only known Christians in a land of millions. Idolatry and superstition was everywhere. "Death drums" were pounded at night to ward off evil spirits. The Judsons were isolated, alone, lonely, and a little spooked.Their support soon dried up (because he became a Baptist) but the enormity of their task only grew. They would labour for 6 years before seeing their first convert. As he applied himself to translating the Bible into Burmese the opposition to his work became heated from the local authorities. By this stage, he and his wife, Ann, now had a baby son. But Adoniram was arrested by local authorities as a British spy and imprisoned for 21 months. He was then sentenced to be executed. It is now regarded as one of the most passionate appeals ever made by a wife for her husband that saw a last minute reprieve for the life of her husband and his eventual release and has led to Ann being known asAnn of Ava (Ava was the then capital of Burma where Adoniram was imprisoned).
"A voice mightier than mine, a still small voice, will ere long sweep away every vestige of thy dominion. The churches of Jesus Christ will soon supplant these idolatrous monuments and the chanting devotees of Buddha will die away before the Christian's hymns of praise."
Adoniram Judson, ca. 1819
Upon his release the couple barely recognised each other. He was skin and bones and scarred from his repeated beatings. She was destitute, wearing rags, and obviously malnourished. The couple would soon bury another two infant children and all too soon Adoniram would bury his dear Ann. Yet despite this he could hold to the conviction that God was good to him. He felt the love of God sustaining him. He felt the love of God for the Burmese driving him on to continue his labour.
"If I had not felt certain that every additional trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings."
Eight years later he remarried. His new bride was Sarah Boardman, a missionary's widow also labouring in Burma among the Ka'ren people. They were married 11 years before Sarah died and they had 8 children (although 3 of them died in infancy). He returned to America for his only furlough after 33 years of Gospel labour in Burma. While there he met and married Emily Chubbuck in 1846. They had two children but one died in infancy and their son was born shortly after his father died.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;
Second Corinthians 5:14
Adoniram Judson was divinely gripped by the love of Christ. From that night in the Inn where he turned to Christ he was overwhelmed with the love of Christ for him. He soon discovered that the love of Christ was so vast that it was abundantly available to every person on the planet - if they could only be introduced to its Source.
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
Judson's love for the Burmese earned him the title, the Apostle of Love. From being such a heart-breaking disappointment to his mother, Adoniram Judson became her pride and joy. But not just her's. While returning from Burma after 38 years of labour there which resulted in the New Testament being gifted to the Burmese in their language and up to 100 converts, his health was failing. He took a sea voyage to return to America but never arrived for he although his body was committed to the sea his foot was set upon a heavenly shore to the welcoming words, "Well done."
Sometimes sons, especially those raised by Christian mothers, can break their mother's hearts. Some mothers give up all hope. But some mothers keep mothering by turning to the Father. Mrs Judson did. One hundred years later missiologists could count 270,000 Burmese people who professed Christ as a direct result of Adoniram Judson's labour. Thank God for mothers who know how to plead with the Father. If you are the believing mother of a wayward son, keep mothering!
And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'