Saturday, November 02, 2013

Eaten By Cannibals – The Life of John Gibson Paton

Last Sunday, I presented the life of John G. Paton to our church here for their encouragement and for their challenge to the call of the gospel, not in the South Pacific only, but here in our own lives and community for the sake of the Lamb who [was] slain, and purchased for God with [his] blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev 5:9).

Paton went to the South Sea’s New Hebrides Islands in the middle of the 1800s to reach the cannibalistic tribes there with the gospel. He is perhaps most famous for his response to Mr. Dickson, which Paton recounts this way:

Amongst many who sought to deter me, was one dear old Christian gentleman, whose crowning argument always was, "The cannibals! you will be eaten by cannibals!" At last I replied, "Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms, I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer."

The old gentleman, raising his hands in a deprecating attitude, left the room exclaiming, "After that I have nothing more to say!"

So Paton embarked on a lifelong journey, having left a ministry in which he was offered “any reasonable price” to stay. He refused that offer, recognizing that there were many who could do what he was doing there, and none who were willing to go to the cannibals. He went, like so many in those days, with no exit plan.

Paton endured much, more than can be conceived by most of us. He endured the death of his first wife and son, largely due to the location in which he built the first mission house. He experienced repeated threats to his life and property. He ultimately fled his first mission station without seeing much fruit. He experienced the travails of traveling to raise money, and then he returned to try once again, this time in a new location.

And he did it all with faith, an unshakeable conviction that heathen needed the gospel. In reflecting on his suffering on the island of Tanna he says, 

In the darkest moment I never doubted that ultimately the victory there, as elsewhere, would be on the side of Jesus, believing that the whole Earth would yet be filled with the glory of the Lord. But I sometimes sorely feared that I might never live to see or hear of that happy day! By the goodness of the Ever-merciful One I have lived to see and hear of a Gospel Church on Tanna, and to read about my dear fellow-Missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Watt, celebrating the Holy Supper to a Native Congregation of Tannese, amid the very scenes and people where the seeds of faith and hope were planted not only in tears, but tears of blood,—"in deaths oft."

In the end, he saw the victory that he longed for, both on the island of Tanna (from which he fled under threat of life), and the island of Aniwa (to which he returned and lived and worked with visible success). He was instrumental in raising funds for missions, and encouraging others to go.

The story of Paton is too long to recount anything of substance here. Suffice it to say, for now, that reading his story is a great challenge.

As I have said before, reading stories like these make you think you can do anything for Christ, and at the same time make you think you have done nothing.

I commend to you the life of John Paton for your edification and your challenge. Feel free to weep in his pain, to fear in his danger, to laugh in his humor (particularly when you read of the lady who desired to show her conversion by the clothes that she wore), to rejoice in his ending, and “having considered the result of his conduct, [feel obligated to] imitate his faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

**In preparation for this I read The Story of John G. Paton Or Thirty Years Among the South Sea Cannibals and J. Theodore Mueller’s short biography entitled John G. Paton: Missionary To The New Hebrides 1824-1907.

If you are interested in my presentation, you can hear it here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of my favourite quotes from Paton's autobiography demonstrates the impact of culture on the application of the gospel.

The Scots man Paton is reflecting on his years of ministry among the cannibals...wild, naked savages when he arrived. But through the influence of regeneration and discipleship, they are now participating in the public worship, all in their right mind and "properly clothed in kilts."

Sorry I don't have the book handy to provide a page reference, but I always get a chuckle when I read that again.