It has been a life-changing journey for me.
I won’t even try to describe the sacrifices that Judson and his family and colleagues made to bring the gospel to the Burmese people in the first half of the 19th century. The hardships they suffered are almost unimaginable to a pampered 21st century American. But reading this detailed account of their trials has perhaps given me a little insight into what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Jesus’ half-brother James instructed the followers of Christ to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2). Judson didn’t always do so, at least not in immediate response to setbacks and sorrows; at times, he became discouraged and depressed, and he struggled mightily with doubts about his own motives for his service to the Lord.
But I’m certain that he agreed wholeheartedly with Paul’s reminder that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
Over his decades of service, many Burmese did come to Christ thanks to Judson's courage, commitment and relentless determination. And the Lord allowed him to see at least some of the fruit of his labors. For instance, in the wake of the death of a woman named Mah Men-lay, the first Burmese woman converted to Christianity, he received this report about her last days:
“She is not inclined to converse much; but how delighted you would be to hear her, now and then, talk of entering heaven and of meeting Mrs. Judson, and other pious friends! The other day, after having dwelt for some time on the delightful subject, and [mentioning] the names of all the friends she should rejoice to meet, not omitting dear little Maria, she stopped short, and exclaimed, ‘But first of all, I shall hasten to where my Saviour sits, and fall down, and worship him, for his great love in sending the teachers to show me the way to heaven.’” (To the Golden Shore, Judson Press, 1987 edition, page 383)
As the great hymnist Isaac Watts wrote in “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (1707), “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
No word on whether Adoniram Judson knew that particular hymn. But he certainly lived its teaching, and that of the biblical passages that sparked it.
What an inspiration it is to read about the lives of the missionaries who, over the centuries, have “died to self” daily for the sake of the gospel (see, for example, Galatians 2:20 and John 12:24, among many passages that admonish us to follow suit). I pray that the Lord would give us, His followers today, just a fraction of the fire that fueled these men and women; perhaps we really could win the world for Him!