Book Review – To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson


Missionary biographies have been a source of inspiration for hundreds of years. The lives of Hudson Taylor, Jim Elliot, William Carey, and Amy Carmichael have inspired generations of Christians to give their lives for the sake of the gospel. Among those distinguished inspirations, one name stands out: Adoniram Judson. His life’s work of taking the gospel to Burma’s unreached people groups is truly inspiring.  

Several biographies have been written on Judson’s life. But none stand out like Courtney Anderson’s To the Golden Shore. Published in 1956, it was so popular that it was re-published in 1987. While the exact number of copies sold is unknown, there is no doubt that this book has left its mark on any who read it. Why? For at least two reasons: its captivating style and compelling structure.

Captivating Style 

Anderson does not simply take you through the life of Adoniram Judson but into it. Beautiful word pictures describe each scene, and every detail is described with care and precision. He relies heavily on historical facts and autobiographical works to reconstruct Judson’s life. Judson and each of his wives wrote often and these works—consisting of letters home, notes to each other or children, reports to a mission’s society, etc.—contribute to the picture.

I could choose many examples. I’ll recall just one, Anderson’s retelling of the moment Judson decided that God was leading him to mission work. He writes: 

One can imagine him slowly pacing the snowy ground between the bare, spectral trees, his breath pluming in the frost, his mittened hands stuffed in his coat pockets. It may have been late in the afternoon with the pale sun low in the west and the first lights gleaming from under the eaves of Phillips Hall. He never recorded the day or the time of day, we know only that “It was during a solitary walk in the woods behind the college, while meditating and praying on the subject, and feeling half inclined to give it up, that the command of Christ ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature,’ was presented to my mind with such clearness and power, that I came to full decision, and though great difficulties appeared in my way, resolved to obey the command at all events.  

This type of writing is throughout the book. Whether it’s Judson’s first love Nancy (sometimes called Ann) journaling her initial disappointment in Adoniram when they first met, his love letters to her or letters to children sent to the States, each note or letter and the surrounding circumstances are expressed in captivating detail.  

Compelling Structure 

Anderson employs two structural strategies that provide the reader with helpful historical context for Judson’s life. At the beginning of each chapter, the dates of the events are listed. If the reader is paying attention, this sheds light not just on what is happening in Judson’s life, but also his place in history.  

The second strategy is the three sections that comprise the book: The Embarkation, the Dangerous Voyage, and To the Golden Shore. Each title is an accurate description of what the coming chapters will hold, but there is a greater meaning to them when considered in the larger context of Judson’s life. Let me explain.

“The Embarkation” covers Judson’s life from childhood to his seminary days to the days leading up to the inaugural voyage East. The climax of this section is the embarkation of Judson and his companions on their first missionary journey. But there’s more to it than simply a departure from Boston Harbor. For some twenty years, God had brought Judson through rebellion, hardship, and toil to the place of willingness to devote his life to the gospel. So, with the ship’s departure on that wintery, fateful day in 1812, Judson embarked on the grand story of what was to be the rest of his life.  

“The Dangerous Voyage” describes that first voyage and the dangers which attended the party trying to make Burma. But it was more than just a story of a single voyage. For Adoniram and Nancy Judson, their whole lives had become a dangerous voyage. They were about to face disease, imprisonment, war, loss of children, loneliness, and death. This is the price they would pay for the cause of taking the gospel to the unreached.  

The final section, “To the Golden Shore,” seems to be anything but golden. It begins with the death of Judson’s first wife Nancy. It continues to cover the last twenty-four years of Judson’s life which includes his marriage to Sarah, his separation from and loss of children, and, eventually, Sarah’s death. The section goes on to describe Judson’s marriage to his third wife, Fanny, and the loss of another child. It concludes with his own death. Though it’s the saddest section, “To the Golden Shore” is also the most victorious because it features the arrival of so many saints to that eternal golden shore where there are no hardships or trials but only peace and rest.


Judson served as a missionary in a place no one thought the gospel could penetrate. He saw many converts to Christianity and impacted thousands more through his ministry and writings. He translated an entire Bible and dictionary into the Burmese language. He confronted heads of state with the truth of the gospel, he was imprisoned, and he nearly died on many occasions. He fathered 12 children, he lost more than one, and he outlived two wives. Upon his return home, he became an American celebrity. His life reads like a Hollywood movie script—and all of it was done for the sake of the gospel.  

To the Golden Shore takes you into the story of Judson’s life in such a way that, if you allow it, you will rejoice with each victory, become misty-eyed with each heartache and loss, and marvel at the amazing dedication and faithfulness of a man so convinced of the power of the gospel that he sacrificed everything for it. The book ends with these words, “As for Adoniram Judson, the man was dead, but his memory lived. . . . Then, as the decades passed and the legend faded, new events, one superimposed over another, nearly obliterated the memory, though the influence survived. This has been an attempt to remove some of the grimy crust of time, and reveal, at least a little, the bright features underneath.” You will find that To the Golden Shores removes more than a little crust from the memory of Adoniram Judson; in fact, it reveals that the features underneath his life are indeed bright and vibrant

Aaron Jerome

Aaron serves on staff with Reaching & Teaching as Mobilizer to the North. He and his wife Karen live in the Metro Detroit area with their two children. Aaron has always had a passion for ministry and for the local church in particular and is thrilled to be working with RTIM to spread the gospel and support churches locally and around the world. He and Karen are very actively involved at their home church, Five Points Community Church, where they have been members since 2014.

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