A Supreme Desire to Please Him: A New Book on Adoniram Judson

Evan Burns has just published a significant and thorough work on the spirituality of pioneer American missionary Adoniram Judson. A Supreme Desire to Please Him is a part of Pickwick’s “Monographs in Baptist History Series” and is delightful and inspiring to read. Sometime ago the author asked if I would write the foreword for his book, which I was very glad to do. As a preview of this new volume, I include my foreword below, and be sure to check out A Supreme Desire to Please Him by Evan Burns.

On the occasion of the centennial anniversary of Adoniram Judson’s first arrival in Burma, W. O. Carver, professor of comparative religion and missions at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an article for the seminary’s journal, Review and Expositor, entitled, “The Significance of Adoniram Judson.”[1] Carver set out not to provide a biographical overview of Judson’s life, but rather showed how Judson’s character and piety served as examples for a generation of missionaries and the formal start of modern missions from the United States.

Even though Carver signals the progressive theological drift from which his seminary would take nearly a century to recover, his article on Judson is appreciative and insightful.[2] While written over one hundred years ago, his conclusions regarding Judson’s place in history as well as Judson’s significance for the present, still ring true today.

In sum, Carver observed that Judson’s life had an effect “not only in drawing men into service, but rather more, perhaps, in sustaining men in service.”[3] That the study of Judson’s life could have this kind of encouraging effect on many in the centuries following his death is what makes his life significant and it is also why I am delighted that you hold in your hands a copy of Evan Burns’s A Supreme Desire to Please Him: The Spirituality of Adoniram Judson.

The study of Judson’s life and thought is fraught with difficulty for so much of what he wrote or recorded he also, at a challenging moment in his life, went to great lengths to destroy. Biographers and researchers in the past have only been able to piece together the facts of Judson’s life from those who have gone before but without any single comprehensive or standalone treatment. That changes now with A Supreme Desire to Please Him.

First, this book is the first theological synthesis and comprehensive analysis of all known primary and secondary Judson sources. In other words, Evan Burns has managed to uncover just about every imaginable stone related to Judson and then also rightly classify them.

Second, as W. O. Carver noted, one of the valuable characteristics of Judson’s life was his piety. Here, too, Burns capitalizes on perhaps the best possible avenue through which to pursue research related to Judson. By focusing on Judson’s spirituality, Burns has done something entirely original and, therefore, all the more helpful for readers.

Third, Burns has successfully moved the bar of knowledge and understanding of Judson and his contribution much higher than was previously the case. Further, his analysis of portions of Judson’s life and thought not before considered in depth is key. One example of this includes Burns’s exploring and explaining Judson’s “dark night” of self-denial following the death his wife, daughter, and father in light of the influence of Samuel Hopkins’s teaching on disinterested benevolence.

This study of the spirituality of Adoniram Judson could not come a better time in the history of Christianity. As Burns shows, Judson’s love for God and the Bible, fueled a life marked by self-denial, prayer, joy in Christ, and a desire to see such love and joy proclaimed and multiplied among the nations of the earth.

Thus, in our own day, as W. O. Carver noted, the reading of the work of God in the life of Judson can still serve to draw men and women into Gospel ministry as well as sustain those currently laboring in mission fields around the globe.

Indeed, the life of Judson and this book by Evan Burns may be the very best vehicles to call and sustain many to that end. Indeed, may God see fit to bless the nations once again through the significant life of Adoniram Judson.


A Supreme Desire to Please Him: The Spirituality of Adoniram Judson

Evan Burns
Pickwick Publications, 2016



[1] W. O. Carver, “The Significance of Adoniram Judson,” Baptist Review and Expositor 10 (October 1913): 475-484.

[2] That Carver would focus, too, on Judson’s evangelistic faithfulness is remarkable as Carver represents one of the early professors in Southern Baptist higher education who “who tried to bridge the gap between religious modernity and Southern Baptist traditionalism.” See Andrew C. Smith review of Mark R. Wilson, William Owen Carver’s Controversies in the Baptist South (Mcacon: Mercer University Press, 2010) in The Journal of Southern Religion XII (2010) available from http://jsr.fsu.edu/Volume12/Smith%20on%20Wilson.html. Or, as Gregory A. Wills states in his magisterial institutional biography of the seminary, “The teaching of W. O. Carver was an important source” behind the seminary’s growing reputation as a “liberal school” in the early twentieth century. See Gregory A. Wills, Southern Baptist Seminary, 1859-2009 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 255.

[3] Carver, “The Significance of Adoniram Judson,” 478.

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