Adoniram Judson Gordon

Adoniram Judson Gordon

Born: Ap­ril 13, 1836, New Hamp­ton, NH.
Died: Feb­ru­ary 2, 1895, Bos­ton, MA.
Buried: For­est Hills Ce­me­te­ry, Ja­mai­ca Plain, Bos­ton, MA.

Hymns by A. J. Gordon

The acrid smell of tobacco smoke filled the air as Adoniram Judson Gordon stood atop a table, facing a room of rowdy college boys. It was supposed to be a hazing ritual, but the young ministerial student had other plans. With quick wit and nerves of steel, Gordon launched into an impromptu sermon, his words cutting through the haze: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves.”

The pointed message struck home, transforming a moment of potential humiliation into a display of Gordon’s formidable character. But he wasn’t finished yet. As the agitated students rushed at him, Gordon “sprang at the ring-leader, tore his coat in halves,” showcasing not just his spiritual fortitude but his physical prowess as well. This incident foreshadowed the impact he would have on American Christianity – a man of both word and action.

Early Life and Education

A.J. Gordon, as he came to be known, was a man of many talents and passions. His very name was a harbinger of the remarkable life he would lead. Born in 1836 to Baptist parents in New Hampton, New Hampshire, Gordon was named after Adoniram Judson, the pioneering American missionary who had recently completed a Burmese translation of the Bible. This namesake would prove prophetic, as Gordon’s life would become inextricably linked with missionary work and evangelism.

At the age of 15, he experienced a profound Christian conversion, a pivotal moment that set him on a path to become not just a respected pastor, but a hymnwriter, educator, and missionary advocate whose influence continues to resonate in evangelical circles today. After completing his education at Brown University and Newton Theological Institution, Gordon embarked on a ministerial career that would define his life’s work, living up to the legacy of his missionary namesake.

Ministry and Impact

His leadership at Clarendon Street Baptist Church in Boston transformed the congregation from an affluent but spiritually complacent group into a vibrant center of evangelism and mission. Under Gordon’s guidance, the church became known as “one of the most spiritual and aggressive in America.”

Gordon’s impact extended far beyond the walls of his church. His musical talents led him to edit hymn books and compose tunes. In the 1870s, he discovered the lyrics to “My Jesus, I Love Thee” in a British hymnal, but felt they deserved a better musical setting. Inspired, Gordon composed the now-beloved melody that perfectly complemented the text. This pairing of his tune with the original poem has become a staple in evangelical worship services across the globe, showcasing Gordon’s gift for recognizing and enhancing the power of sacred music.

Theological Contributions

But Gordon was more than just a pastor and musician. He was a theological thinker who wasn’t afraid to challenge conventional wisdom. His writings on the Holy Spirit and divine healing, particularly “The Ministry of Healing,” became influential texts in early Pentecostal circles. Gordon also stood out as an early advocate for women in ministry, penning a detailed Biblical defense of women’s roles in the church at a time when such views were far from mainstream.

Educational Legacy

Gordon’s passion for education and missions led him to found the Boston Missionary Training Institute in 1889, which would later become Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. These institutions continue to shape evangelical thought and prepare Christian leaders to this day.

Missionary Zeal

Throughout his life, Gordon maintained a deep commitment to global missions. He served as chairman of the American Baptist Missionary Union and was instrumental in supporting mission work in the Congo. His involvement with D.L. Moody’s conventions and the Student Volunteer Movement helped inspire a generation of young people to dedicate their lives to missionary service.

Lasting Influence

A.J. Gordon’s life demonstrated the power of faith put into action. From his bold stand as a college student to his work as a pastor, educator, and missionary advocate, he profoundly influenced American Christianity. Though he passed away in 1895 at the age of 59, his legacy lives on through the institutions he founded, the hymns he wrote, and the countless lives he touched with his message of faith and service.

As we reflect on Gordon’s multifaceted contributions to Christianity, we’re reminded of the impact one dedicated life can have. His story challenges us to consider how we, too, might use our talents and passions in service of a greater cause.

Don Chapman

Don Chapman

Composer/arranger Don Chapman has created HYMNDEX as a labor of love to help new generations learn about the lives, legacies and lyrics of historic hymn writers.