Celebrating Adoniram Judson and 200 years of Christian missions

This year marks the bicentennial anniversary of the commissioning of North America’s first missionary, Adoniram Judson, and his wife, Abigail.  Although they intended to go to India, the Judsons had to venture to Burma (Myanmar) instead.  There, he put the language into writing, translated the Bible, printed tracts, and preached the Gospel to thousands of would-be converts.

For this reason, Adoniram Judson is often noted as the Father of Baptist Missions.  His journey recalls the audacity, courage, and risk required in sharing God’s Word; it is a testimony to the power of God and the Holy Spirit’s leadership in bringing souls to eternal salvation.

The story of Judson’s conversion is just as powerful.  Although his father was a Congregational minister, Judson did not come to Christ until his mid-twenties.  He started out as a Deist because a friend, Eames, convinced him that God was not the miraculous Lord Christians claimed God to be.

Years later, he was staying at an inn when he heard the death throes of a guest in the room next door.  The sounds and eventual death of Judson’s ill neighbor forced him to consider his own eternal security.  The next morning, he asked the inn-keeper who the man was; it was Eames, the same man who convinced him to become a Deist.

The story has it that the sound of Eames’ name struck Judson deep into his soul.  “He’s lost,” Judson repeated, realizing that Deism was not an adequate way to relate to God.  The revelation transformed Judson, and he committed his entire life to telling people about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Judson’s dramatic conversion reminds me of just how passionate we should be to share the Gospel with others who have yet to hear the Good News of God’s Word.   Eternal life is a gift of grace and a miracle; Judson’s legacy forces us to not take it for granted.

Late British revivalist, Leonard Ravenhill, tells a story about a convict heading to the gallows.  Before the execution, a chaplain tells the convict about the Gospel and the love that God has for everyone.

Upon hearing of Christ’s love and forgiveness, the convict stopped abruptly and faced the chaplain.  Tears ran down his face as he said, “If I had known about this love sooner, I would have changed my life long ago.  Why have I not heard about this Jesus before?”

The chaplain could not give an answer, and the convict continued, “If I knew about this, I would have gone from one end of Britain to the other, even if it meant crawling on my hands and knees across a field of broken glass, to tell everyone about God’s salvation and the gift of eternal life.”

Why are some of us not this passionate to spread the Gospel in our own day?  A relationship with Jesus Christ is the difference between life and death, between eternal security and living in endless uncertainty.   Why keep this gift to ourselves?

Perhaps we find it hard to share the Gospel with others because we are too busy fighting with each other.  Sometimes I imagine going to heaven only to stand before Jesus who says, “You know, if you weren’t so busy debating the frivolities of faith, of talking about one another and kicking one another around . . . If you weren’t so busy measuring everyone else up to your own standards and spending so much time judging one another, then you could have spent a lot more time telling other people about me.”

The legacy of Adoniram Judson is a wake-up call to the church: We have more work to do, and there is little time to do it.  Are we willing to go from one end of Rockdale County to another, even if it means crawling on hands and knees, to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  I pray that we are!

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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