“I Dare Not Trifle with My Commission”

By Evan D. Burns

As a writer, Emily C. Judson (1817-1854) sketched some illuminating anecdotes of her marriage to Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) that exhibit his Christ-enamored piety.  She recorded his single-minded devotion to preaching the gospel as a missionary and his refusal to entertain people with stories of his labors, as though he were some kind of Christian celebrity.  Emily recounted Judson speaking about Christ’s gospel at her home church (soon after they were married in 1846), though the people were manifestly disappointed with his lack of sensational stories.  This account illustrates Judson’s humility in seeking to draw attention to Christ and his gospel instead of Judson’s own reputation.  His self-forgetfulness would be a stranger to our self-promoting contemporary culture.

A short time before Dr. Judson left this country, he took considerable pains to visit my native village, and the church with which I first united….  After the usual sermon was over, he spoke for about fifteen minutes, with singular simplicity, and, as I thought, with touching pathos, of the “precious Saviour,” what he has done for us, and what we owe to him….  After the exercises were over, several persons inquired of me, frankly, why Dr. Judson had not talked of something else; why he had not told a story, etc.; while others signified their disappointment by not alluding to his having spoken at all.  On the way home, I mentioned the subject to him.

“Why, what did they want?” he inquired; “I presented the most interesting subject in the world, to the best of my ability.”

“But they wanted something different—a story.”

“Well, I am sure I gave them a story—the most thrilling one that can be conceived of.”

“But they had heard it before.  They wanted something new of a man who had just come from the antipodes.”

“Then I am glad they have it to say, that a man coming from the antipodes had nothing better to tell than the wondrous story of Jesus’ dying love.  My business is to preach the gospel of Christ, and when I can speak at all, I dare not trifle with my commission.  When I looked upon those people today, and remembered where I should next meet them, how could I stand up and furnish food to vain curiosity—tickle their fancies with amusing stories, however decently strung together on a thread of religion?  That is not what Christ meant by preaching the gospel.  And then, how could I hereafter meet the fearful charge, ‘I gave you one opportunity to tell them of me—you spent it in describing your own adventures!’”

He acknowledged that the diffusion of missionary information was a thing of great importance, but said that the good of the cause of missions did not require a lowering of the standard of gospel preaching; and that whatever was done for missions at the expense of spirituality in the American churches, was lost on the world.[1]

[1]Wayland, Memoir, 2:368-370.


Evan D. Burns (Ph.D. Candidate, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is on faculty at Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, and he lives in Southeast Asia with his wife and twin sons.  They are missionaries with Training Leaders International.