John G. Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides – James Paton (ed)

“A wild chief followed me about for four hours with his loaded musket, and, though often directed towards 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 until 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. His words, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,’ became to me so real that it would not have started me to behold Him, as Stephen did, gazing down upon the scene.”

I am reviewing today the autobiography of John G. Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides.

John G. Paton was born in Scotland in 1824 to James and Janet Paton, one of five sons and six daughters. He trained as a minister and served for over ten years in numerous congregations. During this time he felt God’s particular call to serve as a missionary in the New Hebrides, now Vanuatu. The first ever missionaries to the New Hebrides had been killed and eaten on the beach where they had landed eighteen years before. So after much prayer he offered himself for this position. He comically notes he said to his fellow student, “I have been away signing my banishment.” After a long and silent meditation, his friend’s answer was, “I will go as well.” So in 1857, at 33 years of age, Paton set sail for Tanna, an as yet unreached island.

Throughout his autobiography, Paton reflects on God’s Sovereign hand at work in equipping and preparing him for his work; and in preserving him spirit, soul and body during the many trials he faced. He was in constant danger for his life; suffered great personal loss with the death of his friends and loved ones (after four years he was the only one left alive); endured the shocking cruelties of the heathen people to each other; and desired always to be able to share with them the light of the gospel.

I have learnt a great deal from books on doctrine and Christian living, but my particular love is Christian biographies, where God’s hand at work in a believer’s life can be clearly seen. Much can be learnt from their examples of struggles and triumphs. Although Paton lived in a very different age, and served in a very different environment, he served the Living God who does not change. The struggles of loss, persecution, the need for physical provision, disappointments and discouragements can touch us all today. Here is the story of a godly, faithful man who trusted in his God. The story of his life is also an encouragement as you see God’s constant care for one of His children. Paton is always quick to point out his weakness; and to say that when he is weak, then God shows Himself strong.

This book has lots to share with those who have had difficulties, lost friends or family members; to those studying and seeking God’s will; to those persevering through seemingly impossible circumstances; to those who are waiting on God’s provision. It also speaks to parents raising their children in the Lord, and then giving them back to Him for His service.

These are words written by a man with great faith and trust in his God. He wrote this book, as he says in his own words, that, “you the reader might go alone before your blessed Saviour, and pledge yourself so to live, and so to die, in the service and fellowship of the Lord Jesus, that you and I, who have companied with each other through these pages, may meet again and renew our happy intercourse in our Father’s House.”

Review by Taliah Gooch

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