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Adoniram Judson: the Last Days of a Life of Sacrifices

from The Story of Baptist Missions... Chapt. 17 by G. Winfred Hervey
At Rangoon again—At Study in a Garret—Demands on his attention as a Confidential Adviser—Reluctantly gives himself to Translating—Finishes the Burmese Bible—Thoughts on the Nature of Primitive Preaching—Marries the Widow of the lamented Missionary Boardman—Her Mission Work in Tavoy—Mr. J. Begins to Revise the Burman Bible—Dr. Malcom's Visit—Completes his Revision of the Burmese Bible—His desire that it should be placed in every Burman household in the Church—The Excellence of this Bible as a Literary Work; its Future Reception—Drawn from home by Sickness of his Family—Commences a Burmese Dictionary—Mrs. S. B. Judson's health requires a Sea voyage—Her Death and Burial at St. Helena—Mr. J. sets sail for Boston—Unexpected Welcome—His travels through the Unites States—His Addresses before Colleges etc.—Attends the Southern Baptist Convention—Rev. Dr. Jeter's Farewell Address—Prepares to return to Burmah—Third Marriage—Embarks in company with New Missionaries—Contemplates returning to Ava—Goes forward to Rangoon, and then returns to Maulmain—Takes a violent Cold—Sickness—Dies and is Buried at Sea—The Mysteries that turn out Mercies—The Darkness of to-day is because of the Sowing of Light—Dr. J's High Estimation of the Services of Forgotten Men and Women—A Good Time Coming—The Emperor of Burmah builds a Church, Parsonage and School-House near the spot where stood the Cage of the Starving British Lion.

Adoniram JudsonReturning to Rangoon, Mr. Judson took up again the work of translation. He confined himself to a garret in order to get time to carry forward his version of the Psalms, which had been neglected for three years. His missionary vocations now multiplied. He was the confidential adviser of the English Commissioners stationed on the Burmese coast. The Rooms in Boston often consulted him about prudential matters. It was at his suggestion that Dr. Jones went to Siam, Mr. Brown to Assam, and Mr. Boardman to Tavoy. Yet he loved, beyond any other service, preaching in the jungle or forest. Being of a consumptive tendency and sanguine temperament, he instinctively craved the open air, public speaking, and a life of adventure. It was not without a struggle, therefore, that he began to devote himself to the work of translation, in compliance with the wishes of the Missionary Board. The paper, we are told, which records his resolution to forsake the jungles, was found bedewed with his tears. To many, the sedentary life of a translator would be regarded as one of greater promise of life and health. It was not so to him; to him it was a shortening of his days and a darkening of even these with eclipses, clouds and storms.

When Mr. Judson returned to Maulmain, he shut himself up for two years in a room he had prepared at the end of the native chapel, for the purpose of completing the Bible in the Burmese language. In the meantime he employed several assistants, whom he sent daily into different parts of the city and surrounding country to speak publicly, to read and distribute tracts, and to talk with the natives concerning their religious interests.

At length, after many years of labor, he was permitted to rejoice in the completion of the Burmese Bible. In an humble postscript, dated January 31st, 1834, he writes, "Thanks be to God, I can now say I have attained. I have knelt down before him, with the last leaf in my hand, and imploring his forgiveness for all the sins which have polluted my labors in this department, and his aid in future efforts to remove the errors and imperfections, which necessarily cleave to the work, I have commended it to his mercy and grace; I have dedicated it to his glory. May he make his own inspired word, now complete in the Burman tongue, the grand instrument of filling all Burmah with songs of praise to our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ! Amen."

Alas! poor erring man! while you were so long and painfully employed on those pages, you were not, according to the sapient judgment of some noisy men of to-day, "preaching the Gospel." It is but fair, however, to add that you took a somewhat wider view of preaching. After laboring among the heathen more than thirty years, you returned to your native land, and in an address before one of our benevolent societies you declared that "the Apostle did as really and certainly, as effectually and extensively, proclaim the Gospel, when he penned his Epistle to the Hebrews and his letter to the Romans, as when he addressed the Jews in their synagogues, or received company in his own hired house at Rome." In this error, if error it was, Dr. Judson was confirmed by the immortal Carey, who considered the reading of "a proof" of Scripture on the Lord's day, to be as holy an act as to study and preach a sermon, or to engage in any of the solemnities of worship; and indeed, in its consequences, of far higher importance.

A few months after this scholarly triumph, Mr. Judson was joined in marriage to Mrs. Boardman, who after the death of her husband had been carrying forward the mission at Tavoy, establishing schools, making long and perilous tours through the Karen forests, and actually conducting the worship of the natives. Her work and character will engage our attention in another part of the present volume.

Mr. Judson now began to revise the Burman Bible. The progress of criticism, and improved helps to the study of the originals, enabled him to discover some imperfections in his version. He was still, however, giving much time to the pastoral care of the native church in Maulmain. Amid these labors his heart was greatly cheered by the arrival of the Rev. Dr. Malcom and fourteen missionaries. During his stay at the capital of Burmah, Dr. Malcom preached a sermon to the British and American residents and sojourners. He tells us that Mr. Judson had not heard a sermon in English for fourteen years.

Dr. Malcom's account of Mr. Judson's health and vigor is a thought too exaggerated. The fact was he had suffered from the annual fever for eight years in succession, and though it was gradually growing lighter, yet it was still hanging on and depriving him of a great deal of time. Less than two years later, 1839, consumption commenced its attacks and compelled him to visit Calcutta. He took several short voyages, but without removing pain in the organs of speech. He was invited to visit his native land, but he could not consider it his duty to leave unfinished the great labor of his life. But these years of declining health were enlivened by another and crowning success. In 1840 he completed his revision of the Burman Scriptures, of quarto size. He resolved to present it to each Christianized head of a family, in rather a formal manner, carrying it himself to the house, and there solemnly enjoining its daily perusal and the habit of morning and evening family worship. This was practicable; for most Burmans can read. It had been the great hope of his life to make this version of the Bible, and to gather a church of one hundred native members. His hope had been realized. It was now his purpose that this Bible should be presented to every family in the blood-bought and dearly beloved flock.

Of this version, scholars of that day said that it was the most perfect work of the kind that had as yet appeared in India. Mr. Judson brought to this task no common preparation. His intercourse with all sections of the people, from the death-prison to the golden palace, had made him but too well acquainted with every dialect of the Burmese language. No other foreigner has ever been to such a school, and none therefore can pretend to have attained to such a mastery of this heathen tongue. A gentleman of high rank in India, and a proficient in the Burmese language, writing in the Calcutta Review, "ventures the opinion that as the Luther Bible is now, in the hands of Protestant Germany, so, three centuries hence, Judson's Bible will be the Bible of the Christian churches of Burmah."

While Mr. Judson was receiving congratulations from all quarters on account of the conclusion of his great work, he was driven from his home by the sickness of his wife and children. While on a short voyage for their benefit, his youngest child, Henry, died at Calcutta, and was buried in the mission grave-yard at Serampore. He then made a voyage to the Isle of France, and after an absence of five months returned to Maulmain.

In compliance with the instructions of the Board of Missions, he had already commenced the Burmese Dictionary. Upon this he continued to labor until he was again interrupted by the dangerous sickness of Mrs. Judson. Being invited to accompany the British Commissioner and his family in an excursion along the Tenasserim coast, Mrs. Judson tried for six weeks the benefits of sea-air, touching at Tavoy and Mergui, but returned weaker than when she set out. Her only hope of complete recovery was in a sea voyage to a northern climate; and accordingly Mr. Judson, his wife and three children, embarked for England. He also took with him two native assistants, to aid him in continuing the Dictionary whilst absent from Burmah. On arriving at the Isle of France, Mrs. Judson was so much better that she resolutely began to think of going forward without her husband. But being attacked with a relapse of disease, she consented that her husband should accompany her. They now embarked in a ship directly for Boston. Mrs. Judson declined very rapidly, and it seemed she must die and be buried at sea; but she continued to sink and revive until she reached the port of St. Helena, where she expired on the 1st of September, 1845. In other pages of this volume the reader will find some further account of this most excellent Christian lady.

On the evening of her burial, the widowed invalid and his motherless children re-embarked for Boston, and arrived in the harbor October 15th. Before coming on shore, he was filled with solicitude. With almost total loss of voice, and, from long neglect of the oral use of his mother-tongue, scarcely able to put three sentences together, how would he be able to address public assemblies? And as the time of his arrival could not be anticipated, where was he to look for lodgings for himself and his little ones? But his brethren in Boston had been on the lookout for his arrival, and received him with cordiality and great enthusiasm. A hundred of the most hospitable mansions in Boston were ready to receive him, and all the best families felt it would be a high honor to number him among their guests. In addressing churches, colleges and societies, some pastor usually stood by his side to repeat to the audience the words whispered in his ear. His best addresses were those which he wrote beforehand, to be read by some minister on the occasion for which they were intended. For nearly nine months he travelled from city to city and college to college, being everywhere received with hearty and reverent welcome. He had been absent from his native land ever since he first left it (now more than thirty years ago), in the ardor of youth and in the company of a young and hopeful band of missionaries, including his own beautiful Ann and the gentle Harriet Newell.

The present writer would be glad to describe his own interview with the veteran missionary, but implacable time and space forbid him to linger on this and far more important incidents. He can only give the conclusion of Rev. Dr. Jeter's eloquent address of welcome in behalf of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention:—

"But I must close my remarks, Brother Judson, we are acquainted with your history. We have marked your toils, have sympathized with your sufferings, have shed many a tear at the foot of the "hopia tree," have gone in fancy on mournful pilgrimage to the rocky island of St. Helena, have rejoiced in your successes and in the successes of your devoted associates, and have longed and fervently wished to see your face in the flesh. This privilege we now enjoy. Welcome, thrice welcome are you, my brother, to our city, our churches, our bosoms! I speak as the representative of Southern Baptists. We love you for the truth's sake, and for your labors in the cause of Christ. We honor you as the Father of American Missions.

"One thought pains us. To-morrow morning you will leave us. We shall see your face no more. You will soon return to Burmah, the land of your adoption. There you will continue your labors, and there, probably, be buried. But this separation is not without its solace. Thank God, it is as near from Burmah to Heaven as from Richmond or any other point on the globe. Angels, oft commissioned to convey to Heaven the departing spirits of pious Burmans and Karens, have learned the way to that dark land. When dismissed from your toils and sufferings, they will be in readiness to perform the same service for you. God grant that we may all meet in that bright world. There sin shall no more annoy us, separation no more pain us, and every power will have full and sweet employ in the service of Christ.

"And now, my brother, I give my hand in token of our affection to you and your cordial reception among us."

Mr. Judson often longed to return to Burmah. Wise men thought he ought to remain in America two years longer, assuring him that by that time his health might be permanently restored. But his heart was already in the field of his former battles and victories. Before proceeding to Boston to prepare for his homeward voyage, he was, June 2d, 1846, united in marriage with Miss Emily Chubbuck, a literary lady of brilliant gifts and unaffected piety, respecting whom more will be said in another part of this volume. On the 11th of July he embarked, with Mrs. Judson and several new missionaries, and arrived at Maulmain on the 30th of November. Before leaving America he had provided for a possible return to Rangoon, or even to Ava. A change had taken place in the Burman government, though he had no great confidence that it had smoothed the way for his return in the character of a simple missionary, intent on the conversion of the natives. How the "Master of Life and Death," the "Lord of the Land and Sea," and "Sovereign of Twenty-four Umbrellas," would receive him when his golden feet condescended to advance, he could not pretend to predict. Still, it might possibly be "the accepted time" for the land of Gautama. He therefore proceeded to Rangoon, re-organized the church there, and awaited an opportunity to go up to Ava. But the unexpected news from America, that the appropriations for the mission had been reduced, caused him to return to Maulmain and give himself to the composition of the Dictionary. For six months he thought it expedient to abstain from preaching, and never again fully assumed a pastoral care.

In November, 1849, Mr. Judson took a violent cold while engaged, during the night, in assisting Mrs. Judson in the care of one of the children, who had been seized with sudden sickness. This cold was followed by the fever of the country, which proved to be the severest illness he had ever known. A trip to Mergui and to Amherst were tried in vain, and then a long sea-voyage was proposed. At first Mr. Judson was opposed to this, as Mrs. Judson was not able to accompany him, but he finally resolved to set off. He embarked April 3d, 1850, for the Isle of France, accompanied by Mr. Ranney. Much time was consumed in getting fairly out into the Bay of Bengal. The breezes of the sea failed to rally his wasted strength. After many seizures of suffering, followed by sleep or the consumptive's hope of recovery, his pains left him, and he gradually sank to his final rest. He was buried in the blue waters, three days away from the mountains of Burmah; "but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day." His body was buried in the ocean,

"Whose restless mounds that pass away
Mock the eye that questions where it lay."

His mortal remains were committed to the waves the same day that he died, April 12th, 1850.

It seemed good to the All-wise God that no man should be able to find the grave of the Moses of our missionary exodus. Too many of us cherish a superstitious regard for the relics of the great and the good. I do verily believe that it was for the purpose of keeping us secure against this and other hugger-mugger that our Eternal Father permitted Mr. Judson to destroy all his papers of a personal character; Mrs. Ann H. Judson to tear in pieces all the letters that were in her possession at the time of the captivity in Ava; the incendiary to consume such of his manuscripts as were reduced to ashes with Mr. Stevens' house at Maulmain; the storm to sink the ship which carried all his correspondence with Dr. Staughton; the foundering of the ship which was conveying to this country his letters to his missionary brethren in Burmah; and finally the fire in Boston which melted the stereotype plates of Dr. Wayland's sterling Memoir of our great missionary lawgiver. Did I hearken to the cry of the human that is in me, I would much lament these instances of literary destruction. Some facts which would be of much value to my readers have been consumed. But some grains of the incense of that offering remain unconsumed amidst the ashes, and I would refresh myself with their sweetness.

If one hand of the All-wise God is so clearly seen in hiding from us so much information concerning Mr. Judson, the other is equally visible in pointing very steadily and significantly to the precious records which remain for our guidance, our encouragement and our perpetual admonition.

What tragic scenes, full of agony of mind and body, succeed one another throughout the life of Mr. Judson! How often does he appear another old classic priest Laocoon, come back again, but transfigured and struggling with that old serpent the Devil, as he coils himself round and round him and his dearest ones. But, unlike the Laocoon of old, he would have preferred to suffer, if he must, less in the public gaze. He knew that there were many poor, obscure servants of the Lord who had suffered, perhaps, longer and more keenly than he; and he could not think it poetic justice that these should die and be forgotten in this naughty world. To a lady in India, herself a missionary, much given to murmuring because of the general lack of a spirit of self-sacrifice, he once replied in these characteristic words: "Why! I would pour out my blood like water in such a cause as this; and so would you, and so would hundreds and thousands, both at home and in the mission field. Many pour out what is much better, the incense of prayerful hearts. There is many a martyr spirit at the kitchen fire, over the wash-tub and in the plough-field; many obscure men and women make personal sacrifices by the side of which ours—yours and mine—will appear in the great day very small indeed."

"Wait twenty or thirty years, and then perhaps you will hear from us again!" were the words of Judson to some friends of missions who appeared to be growing impatient and hopeless. And, indeed, what has God wrought in Burmah! Near the spot where stood the lion's cage to which the sick Judson retired, mayhap to die, the King of Burmah has built a Christian church, a parsonage and a school-house, at his own expense; and his Majesty sends some of his own sons and nephews to the Christian School. Yes, O, Judson! we have heard from thee again! And the centuries, as they come and go, will hear from thee again!

Note.—The best memoir of our foremost missionary is the "Life of Adoniram Judson," by his son, Rev. Edward Judson, published by Randolph & Co., New York. The author (who, as pastor of the Berean Baptist Church, New York, is doing noble missionary work among the heathens of the metropolis) gives prominence to his celebrated father's social, domestic and personal traits, and his style is lucid, animated and manly.


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from The Story of Baptist Missions in Foreign Lands... by G. Winfred Hervey. St. Louis: Chancy R. Barns, 1885.

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