Thursday, May 15, 2008

John Gibson Paton - Scottish Missionary

John Paton

John G. Paton (1824-1907) was a Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides. Before sailing there with his newly wed wife in 1858, he was a city missionary in Glasgow for ten years. Began work on Tanna, an island inhabited by savage cannibals; later worked on the island of Aniwa. He gave to the Aniwan people the first hymnbook in their own language and translated the New Testament into their language.

Trials and hairbreadth escapes only strengthened my faith and nerved me for more to follow; and they trod swiftly enough upon each other's heels. Without that abiding consciousness of the presence and power of my Lord and Saviour, nothing in the world could have preserved me from losing my reason and perishing miserably. His words Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end became to me so real that it would not have startled me to behold Him, as Stephen did, gazing down upon the scene. It is the sober truth that I had my nearest and most intimate glimpses of the presence of my Lord in those dread moments when musket, club or spear was being levelled at my life."

"This is strength; this is peace; to feel, in entering on every day, that all its duties and trials have been committed to the Lord Jesus — that, come what may, He will use us for His own glory and our real good!"

"Nothing so clears the vision and lifts up the life, as a decision to move forward in what you know to be entirely the will of the Lord."

Bits of his life:

The savages of Aneityum had accepted Christianity with alacrity and sincerity. Indeed, many of them had gone forth to other islands and suffered much for Christ's sake and the gospel's -- even martyrdom, in a number of instances. Several of the Aneityumese Christians were helping Paton in his efforts to evangelize the Tannese.

One day he received information that he and his Aneityumese teachers were destined to be the victims of a feast which the natives were planning. They looked out of the window and saw a band of armed killers approaching. Knowing that they were cut off from all human hope, they turned to prayer. For many hours they heard the savages tramping around the house, threatening to break in or set the place on fire. As they prayed, their hearts were quieted with the assurance that He who was for them was greater than all their foes. Says Paton: "Our safety lay in our appeal to the blessed Lord who had placed us there, to whom all power had been given in heaven and on earth. This is strength, this is peace -- to have sweet communion with Him. I can wish my readers nothing more precious than that."

The indomitable herald of the Cross was thinking of Matthew 28:18-20 and the reassuring Presence it vouchsafed to him: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go, therefore ... and lo, I am with you."

The Hand that reassured the missionary restrained the enemy, and at length the killers departed without accomplishing their design.

Paton kept several goats as a source of milk supply. One day he heard an unusual bleating among the goats, as if they were being killed or tortured. He rushed to the goathouse. Instantly a band of armed men sprang from the bush, surrounded him and raised their clubs. He had fallen into their trap! "You have escaped from us many times," they said, "but now we are going to kill you!" Lifting his hands and eyes toward heaven, Paton committed his cause to the Lord whose servant he was. As he prayed, the Divine Presence overshadowed him, his heart was filled with a tender reassurance and the cannibals slipped away one after another. "Thus," affirms the missionary, "Jesus restrained them once again. His promise is a reality; He is with His servants, to support and bless them, even unto the end of the world!"

The promise that was ever on his lips!The Presence that was ever in his heart!The promise that held him! The Presence that reassured him!"Lo, I am with you all the way!"

On several occasions ships called at Port Resolution and the missionary was urged to sail away to safety. In each instance he declined, hoping that he might yet win the Tannese for Christ. But, finally, when the mission house was broken into and everything he had was either stolen or destroyed, he realized that to stay longer meant the direst of fates -- namely, to be killed and eaten by the cannibals or else to die from slow starvation. Having decided to leave Tanna for a season, he made his way across the island, amid indescribable hardships and countless perils, to the mission station occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Mathieson.

Completely worn out with long watching and fatigue, Paton fell into a deep sleep. About 10 o'clock his faithful little dog, Clutha, the only thing left of all his possessions, sprang quietly upon him and woke him up. Looking out, he saw that the house was surrounded by savages, some with blazing torches, the rest armed with various weapons. Quickly they set fire to the church close by and then to the reed fence connecting the church and the dwelling house. In a few minutes the house, too, would be in flames, while infuriated men waited to kill the missionaries when they attempted to escape. Humanly speaking, their lot was hopeless. Kneeling, they committed themselves, body and soul, to the Lord Jesus, pleading His presence and His promised deliverance: "Call upon me in the day of trouble and I will deliver thee."

Opening the door, Paton rushed outside to cut the reed fence. Instantly he was surrounded by a company of savages with raised clubs shouting, "Kill him! Kill him!" "They yelled in rage," says Paton, "but the invisible Lord restrained them and delivered me. I stood invulnerable beneath His invisible shield."

The presence of the invisible Lord!The protection of the invisible shield!The deliverance of the Divine Presence!

Just at this juncture, a rushing, roaring sound came from the south. An awful tornado of wind and rain was fast approaching! If it had come from the north, the flames from the church would have quickly reached and burned the mission house. Instead, the wind blew the flames away from the house and soon a torrent of rain was falling. Terror stricken, the natives fled, shouting: "This is Jehovah's rain! Truly their God is fighting for them and helping them."

Their fright was short-lived, however. Early the next morning, they returned to complete the bloody work they had commenced the preceding night. With wild shrieks they drew near the house. Presently, amid the rising crescendo of shouting and excitement, the missionaries heard the cry, "Sail O! Sail O!" They were afraid to believe their ears but it was true: a vessel was sailing into the harbor just when all hope seemed lost. The missionaries were soon rescued and taken to Aneityum.

"In joy we united our praises," says Paton. "Truly our precious Jesus has all power. Often since have I wept over His love and mercy in that deliverance."

Jesus -- the source of all power!Jesus -- the fountain of love and mercy!Jesus -- the author of every deliverance!

Jesus claimed, "All power is given unto Me" and promised, "Lo, I am with you."
On the basis of manifold miraculous experiences in the life of John G. Paton, Christ's claim and promise were abundantly established.

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