By Evan D. Burns
In his eminent biography of Adoniram Judson, Francis Wayland carefully demonstrates how the Judson’s valued the preaching of the gospel in missions as opposed to doing other good “fruitful” ministries which seemed to bring in more immediate “fruit”. The following account is very applicable to missions, especially today amidst our need-for-speed missions pragmatism.
During these long years of preparation, surrounded by heathen, not one of whom had ever received a single Christian idea, and, for the greater part of the time, destitute of any religious associations, except what they found in each other, Mr. and Mrs. Judson were never for a moment harassed with a doubt of ultimate success. It never entered into their minds that it might be desirable to find a more promising field. If the idea had once arrested their attention, he could not, he said, tell what the result might have been; but God preserved them from being tempted with it. They never felt a single regret or misgiving, and hence their letters never even allude to it, except it be to encourage their friends at home, who, they feared, might despond, in consequence of their want of success. They always enjoyed the most entire certainty as to the result of their labors, though occasionally doubting whether they should live to witness it. Their confidence rested solely and exclusively on the word of God. They believed that he had promised; they, doing, as they believed, his will, accepted the promise as addressed to themselves personally. Their daily work was a transaction between God and their own souls. It never seemed possible to them that God could be false to his promises. Their confidence was the offspring of that faith which is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. By it they went forth, not knowing whither they went. By faith, through many long years of discouragement, they endured, as seeing Him who is invisible; relying not at all on what they could do, but wholly on what God had promised to do for them.
….The direct way of securing the aid of almighty power, is to follow in the path marked out by omniscient wisdom. Mr. Judson therefore endeavored, first of all, to ascertain the manner in which Christ and his apostles labored to extend Christianity. This seems plainy exemplified in the New Testament. It is by the action of individual mind on individual mind. It is by embracing every opportunity, which our intercourse with men presents, to tell them of the love of Christ, of their danger and their duty, and to urge them, in Christ’s stead, to be reconciled to God. Thus did Christ, and thus did his apostles labor. They had no plan, no sapping and mining, no preparatory work, extending over half a generation before they should be ready for direct and energetic effort. As the apostles opened their commission, they saw that it commanded them to preach the gospel to every creature. They obeyed the commandment, and God wrought with them by signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.
Mr. Judson followed these examples, and his labors were attended with signal success. Hence it will be perceived that he addressed himself at once to adults, to those who denied the existence of an eternal God; and the Holy Spirit carried the message directly to their hearts. Missionaries have sometimes said that we could scarcely expect men grown old in heathenism ever to be converted, since they were beyond the reach, at least, of our immediate efforts. We must therefore begin with children. We must establish schools, by our superior knowledge gain influence over the young, and with their daily lessons instill into their minds a knowledge of Christianity. And more than this: as the religious systems of the heathen are indissolubly associated with false views of astronomy, geography, and physical science generally, if we can correct these errors, the religion resting upon them must by necessity be swept away. As these views have been carried into practice, a change has naturally come over missionary stations. Ministers of the gospel to the heathen have become schoolmasters. Instead of proclaiming the great salvation, they have occupied themselves in teaching reading, spelling, geography, arithmetic, and astronomy. While some are thus engaged as teachers, others are employed as book makers for the schools. Thus it sometimes comes to pass, that of the men sent out for the express purpose of preaching the gospel, a large portion do not preach the gospel at all.
Francis Wayland, The Memoir of Adoniram Judson, 1:205-208.
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.