This is my first review of a biography. For book reviews, I usually follow this format, but I've deviated just a bit for this review. Quick Info
Title: To the Golden Shore, a biography of Adoniram Judson Author: Courtney Anderson Year Published: 1956, 1987 Category: Biography Tags: Suffering, Frontier Missions, John Piper Priority: 4 - An immensely helpful and crucial read that would be a great book to glean from.
In 1812, at the age of 22, Adoniram Judson left America for India (eventually ending up in Burma) as one of America's first foreign missionaries, burning in his heart to obey the command to make disciples of all the nations (Mt 28:20). During his missionary career, he suffered through chronic fever, a torture camp, depression that drove him to mysticism, frequent threat of death, and constant discouragement. The beginning of his ministry saw little fruit, and the latter part bore fruit only through immense suffering. Many of his children died early due to illness. Those that didn't die from disease, he had to send to boarding school when they came of age. He buried two of his wives with his own hands. He saw the little band of believers that the Lord would raise up scattered over and over again. In seemingly every possible way, Satan opposed the progress of the gospel in this man's ministry.
And, by the grace of God, he soldiered on to the very end. This is his legacy: the entire Bible had been translated into Burmese. There were dozens of missionaries in Burma through the American Baptist Convention society. His gospel tracts had been distributed to tens of thousands, and only to those who asked. Because of his influence thousands had come to faith. And his influence in Burma (now called Myanmar) persist even today, through His Bible translation and church planting. But, of course, his influence is most significant in heaven. Who knows how many countless Burmese are singing the praise of the Savior because of Judson's pioneering influence? Only the Lord, but the Lord certainly does know.
To the Golden Shore is Judson's story. It is a fresh wind of refreshment to a soul weary and downcast with the worries of the world; we would do well to know it well.
Why Should You Read?
I have no small fascination with Adoniram Judson. I first learned of his story from John Piper's biographical message in the summer of 2011. I continued to fuel my interest by reading Courtney Anderson's account of his life (this book) in the summer of 2013, and posted many quotes from the book here. This year, I finished another biography, this one written by Vance Christie.
And I still want more. Why? My intrigue is certainly influenced in some way by his daring, at times impetuous, courage for the sake of the gospel. It is due in large part to the fact that he was the one of America’s first foreign missionaries. And it is deeply tied to the fact that he was the first to preach the gospel, plant the church, baptize natives, and translate the Scriptures in Burma (modern day Myanmar). All of these are significant reasons, but it wouldn't be the primary reason.
Rather, to me, the greatest appeal is this: reading Judson's life makes me dream again. It makes me dream the "foolish" thoughts of a fresh believer, of a Christian who sees what God can do as more real than what can be seen with the eye. It makes me again dream rightly, and say with a scoff, "What is sacrifice? What is cost? What is self-denial? What is pain? In the service of my God, gain!" It makes me dream again of doing impossible things by the power of the Spirit of God, of seeing nations bow the knee to Jesus Christ, of preaching the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, of giving my life unto this singular cause, of dying with the word, "Gain!" on my lips, of entering into the presence of my Master hearing, "Well done." It makes me dream again of being faithful to the very end.
Just how does Judson's life make me dream? By way of reminder: the God who did the grand and spine-tinglingly glorious things in the past is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The God of Abraham is the same as the God of Adoniram Judson, and is my God. Judson's life reminds me that never, ever, will any man ever out-dream God's ability to glorify Himself. Never will it be that I could ever pray for something great, amazing, and glorious for God's own fame, and He respond, "Oh sorry, I can't do that." He "is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 4:20). My Savior said, "Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:13-14). We pray in His name — anything! — and He will do it. Do we believe it? Will we pray it?
I need this reminder. And as long as the Lord tarries, I will need this reminder, for my soul is constantly forgetful and wandering from the Truth. May the Lord continue to raise up men like Judson, and through them, make His name great among the nations!
Anderson is shamelessly enthusiastic about Judson, and his eagerness shines throughout the entire narrative. This is perhaps the greatest strength of the writing: you can't but be swept up into the passion. Yet, I suspect that much of Anderson's insight into the thoughts and minds of the 'characters' is based upon extrapolation rather than research. For a more dispassionate (and in my opinion, much more boring) account of Judson's life, read Christie's biography Adoniram Judson.
In addition, one should take note that in the 1800s, the Christian missionary culture was very different from modern day. In particular, it was not a scandal to send your children back to America for education, to be raised by extended family members. It was not a scandal to leave your spouse for half a year, maybe even years, at a time for the sake of the missionary endeavor. In fact, it was normative, even expected. The luxuries, or perhaps harmful, of technology like air travel and internet simply didn't exist. These missionaries had to give up the comforts of wife and children; otherwise, the mission would fail.
In addition, we would do well to refrain from naïve, ignorant criticism of so-called 'legalistic' missionary methods, in particular barring a new convert from begin baptized if they do not meet a certain level of commitment to Christ. History has shown that this practice, as well as others that American Christians might challenge, are for the good of the church.
Anyone who can read this blog post should be able to read this book with ease. I do provide a fair warning though: if read correctly, you will spend hours tearing - both definitions of the word - through this book.
Since this book is a biography, and lengthier than most of the other books I've reviewed, it would not be very profitable to list pages upon pages of quotes from each of the chapters. Instead, I will be content to quote a few relevant Scriptures that captive the essence of Judson's life. God's Word is the eternally relevant Word.
Matthew 10 37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
Matthew 19 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.
Philippians 1 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Let There Be Books
This book is part of the Let There Be Books idea that I started. Let me know if you’re interested.