John G. Paton: Pioneering In The New Hebrides (Part 2)
Taken from "Pioneering in the New Hebrides," autobiography of John G. Paton (1824-1907), edited by his brother James Paton. Copyrighted and printed 1898 by Fleming H. Revell Company.
John G. Paton labored on courageously but alone on the island of Tanna in the South Pacific, after burying his beloved young wife and infant son, both of whom had succumbed to illness. His life was threatened regularly by some inhabitants of Tanna who violently opposed the Christian message he preached. But the God in whom he put his trust proved again and again to be his present help in trouble. In his autobiography John Paton relates some of the miraculous deliverances which God gave to him in these trying times.
He writes, "One morning at daybreak I found my house surrounded by armed men, and a chief intimated that they had assembled to take my life. Seeing that I was entirely in their hands, I knelt down and gave myself away body and soul to the Lord Jesus, for what seemed the last time on earth.
"Rising, I went out to them, and began calmly talking about their unkind treatment of me and contrasting it with all my conduct toward them. I also plainly showed them what would be the sad consequences, if they carried out their cruel purpose. At last some of the chiefs who had attended the worship rose and said,
"‘Our conduct has been bad, but now we will fight for you and kill all those who hate you.’
"Grasping hold of their leader, I held him fast till he promised never to kill anyone on my account, for Jesus taught us to love our enemies and always to return good for evil! During this scene many of the armed men slunk away into the bush, and those who remained entered into a bond to be friendly and to protect us.
"But again their public assembly resolved that we should be killed because, as they said, they hated Jehovah and the worship; for it made them afraid to do as they had always done. If I would give up visiting the villages, and praying and talking with them about Jehovah, they intimated that they would like me to stay and trade with them, as they liked the traders but hated the missionaries!
"I told them that the hope of being able to teach them the worship of Jehovah alone kept me living amongst them; that I was there not for gain or pleasure but because I loved them and pitied their estate and sought their good continually by leading them to know and serve the only true God.
Saved from Instant Death
"My enemies seldom slackened their hateful designs against my life, however calmed or baffled for the moment. Within a few days of the above events, when natives in large numbers were assembled at my house, a man furiously rushed on me with his axe, but a Kaserumini chief snatched a spade with which I had been working and dexterously defended me from instant death.
"Life in such circumstances led me to cling very near to the Lord Jesus. I knew not for one brief hour when or how attack might be made; and yet, with my trembling hand clasped in the hand once nailed on Calvary and now swaying the scepter of the universe, calmness and peace and resignation abode in my soul.
"Next day a wild chief followed me about for four hours with his loaded musket, and though it was often directed toward me, God restrained his hand. I spoke kindly to him and attended to my work as if he had not been there, fully persuaded that my God had placed me there and would protect me till my allotted task was finished. Looking up in unceasing prayer to our dear Lord Jesus, I left all in His hands, and felt immortal till my work was done.
"Trials and hairbreadth escapes strengthened my faith, and seemed only to nerve me for more to follow, and they did tread swiftly upon each other’s heels. Without that abiding consciousness of the presence and power of my dear Lord and Saviour, nothing else in all 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 of the world’ (Matt. 28:20) became to me so real that it would not have startled me to behold Him as Stephen did, gazing down upon the scene. I felt His supporting power as did the Apostle Paul when he cried, ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’ (Phil. 4:13).
"It is the sober truth, and it comes back to me sweetly after twenty years, that I had my nearest and dearest glimpses of the face and smile of my blessed Lord in those dread moments when musket, club, or spear was being leveled at my life. Oh, the bliss of living and enduring ‘as seeing Him who is invisible!’
"One evening, I awoke three times to hear a chief and his men trying to force the door of my house. Though armed with muskets, they had some sense of doing wrong and were wholesomely afraid of a little retriever dog which had often stood betwixt me and death. God restrained them again, and next morning the report went all round the harbour that those who tried to shoot me were ‘smitten weak with fear’ and that shooting would not do. A plan was therefore deliberately set on foot to fire the premises and club us if we attempted to escape. But our Aneityumese teacher (a convert from the neighboring island) heard of it, and God helped us to frustrate their designs. When they knew that their plots were revealed to us, they seemed to lose faith in themselves and cast about to circumvent us in some more secret way. Their evil was overruled for good."