John G.Paton (1824-1907), Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides Islands (Vanuatu)

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On Saturday, Elsie Orr is going to help me with the Little Bereans class. She is going to tell them the story of John Paton. When I was hunting around in the Web for colouring pages and other things, I came across an article called Characters of True and False Disciples by John Macarthur.

The following story of John Paton is used as an illustration (and what an illustration it is!):

The first time I ever preached in this church, long time ago, I told you a story about a missionary that is perhaps the greatest illustration of obedience in my recollection. John Paton was his name and he was a young student in England. And he didn’t exactly know where God wanted him to go but he felt a call to the mission field and he was a student in seminary at the time. He’s just recently been married. And God began to lead him in the area of the New Hebrides islands and the New Hebrides islands were inhabited by man-eating cannibals. And in those days it was a severe test of a man to go to the mission field.

Now Paton didn’t argue. Took his little bride, got on a ship and they took off for the New Hebrides. No questions asked.

Now I look at my own life, when I was in seminary if God had come to me and said, “Listen, MacArthur, I’d like you to go to an island of man-eating cannibals,” you know what I would have said? “Now, God, I just want to share a couple of thoughts with you. God, I graduated from seminary. I made it. I’m…why should I be somebody’s lunch? Listen, God, I know a Bible-school dropout. They’ll eat him and who will know? His ignorance will never come across. Why me?”

Well that’s what the flesh would say, that’s not what John Paton said. He gathered up his little wife and the boat let him off 200 yards from shore in a little dinghy and they rowed to the shore. What do you do when you arrive on an island you don’t know the language, you can’t speak one word and you’ve got man-eating cannibals? Well you don’t stick a sign in the sand that says, “VBS next Saturday.” It’s a little more difficult than that.

What do you do? You pray a lot and you stay awake a lot. And that’s exactly what they did. And they watched and the natives watched, and then they watched…and it just was a constant thing. And the natives never seen people like that before, of course, were just struck with them. Well several months went by and one day his wife gave birth to a little baby. Two weeks later the baby contracted a tropical disease and died and a day later his wife died and he buried those two side-by-side right in front of the little lean-to he had built on the shore there. And he said in his biography, “I slept on the graves for three nights to keep the natives from digging up the bodies and eating them.” And he said, “I said to God, ‘Just how far does obedience go, God? What do You want from me?'”

But then through the providence of God a native that was outcast from the tribe found his way to John, scared the tribe was after him and began to communicate in little words. Pretty soon there was enough communication for John to share with him. He began to share the gospel with him…thank you, sir…he began to share the gospel with him, just in a simple level. It took a matter of days to communicate. He learned how to say stone and tree and all of this and pretty soon he told them there was a God who had a Son who died, and so forth. Over a period of about a week or so he led this native to Jesus Christ and that native brought another native. And pretty soon he had a little group of protectors and they would hide him when the natives came to kill him. And his biography reads like a jungle adventure, like nothing you’ve never read.

Well, as God would have it, John Paton stayed on those islands for 35 years. And at the end of 35 years he said in his biography, “I do not know of one single native that has not made a profession of faith of Jesus Christ.” You see, that’s what one man does with unquestioning, unhesitating obedience. The cost isn’t the question, obedience is. And oh, the beauty of a disciple that’s obedient.

John Paton’s autobiography

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3 responses »

  1. I, too, look forward to reading more on the life of this great missionary. I must examine myself more closely. To quote a hymn: “Am I a soldier of the cross?”

    This account saddens me, however, because my pastor taught last week that God’s will for your life is easy to know because you will be happy doing what you are doing. And people are eating it up. We have been spiritually challenged in recent months (by others)and I think my pastor is just trying to lull them back into complacency. Makes me want to cry.

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