In appreciation of Judson

by David Melton

I was an undergrad when my brother-in-law, James Nash, first got me to read the little Moody Press biography of Adoniram Judson. From that moment I was hooked. I would have been hooked a few years earlier but when my sister, Grace, recommended it to me, I laughed her off. I said to her, “I don’t want to read that dumb twelve-year-old-girl book.” I could not have been more wrong. Only one other story outside of the Scriptures — the story of my father’s conversation which radiated the Gospel to me and now to my household — trumps the impact of Adoniram Judson’s story on me for 35 years (it would be a good 40 if I had listened to Grace). Maybe that’s because Elisabeth Elliot’s words from Shadow of the Almighty have been etched in my mind for years: “If we are to find the channel and the harbor, surely we need some lights to steer by.” For me, Judson has been a beacon.

This month is the 200th anniversary of the sailing of two Massachusetts young people, Adoniram and Ann Judson, from Salem to the mission fields of the East. I have been laying this bicentennial on our Boston students pretty thick.

I have always been most stirred — once I understood the story of the Judsons — by the original letters and diary letters that have survived. I’m sitting here today with a three-inch-tall file I’ve accumulated through the years of copies of original Judson writings, as well as my copy of the 1853 memoir compiled by Francis Wayland.

For example, I love the way Ann tried to explain to a lifelong friend why she and Adoniram had become Baptists: “Thus, my dear Nancy, we are confirmed Baptists, not because we wished to be, but because truth compelled us to be.”

In another setting, when avoiding conflict was impossible, Judson conveyed that he communicated so as “to please One whom I desire to love supremely, and whose smile I covet above all created good.”

Frustrated? Try this one. “If we cannot do all the good we would, let us do all the good we can, and not fret because our means are limited.”

Philosophy of ministry? “The preached Gospel and the written Word are the two arms which are to pull down the kingdom of darkness and build up the Redeemer’s.”

Is the ministry fire in your gut in need of a little stoking like mine does all too often? “Happiness consists not in outward circumstances. Millions of Burmans are perishing. I am almost the only person on earth who has attained their language to such a degree as to be able to communicate the way of salvation. How great are my obligations to spend and be spent for Christ! What a privilege to be allowed to serve Him in such interesting circumstances, and to suffer for Him.”

Light for my way. Happy Judson bicentennial. Thanks, James. Sorry, Grace.