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Discover the Book - November 14, 2011

  • 2011 Nov 14


Wearing His Salvation

John Gibson Paton (1824-1907) was a pioneer Presbyterian missionary to the New Hebrides (now Vanuata), a group of islands in the southwest Pacific. Born at Kirkmahoe, Dumfriesshire (Scotland), Paton was educated in theology and medicine at the University of Glasgow. Ordained in 1858, he and his bride sailed to the southwest Pacific to begin work among the savage cannibals on the island of Tanna. On November 5, 1858, John Paton and his wife Mary Ann waded ashore a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. The island of Tanna was then inhabited only by fierce cannibals. The ship which ferried the Patton’s up a thousand miles north from New Zealand would not even drop anchor because of the reputation of the savages. So, all alone, thirty-four-year-old John and his bride rowed to their place of ministry. In his journal Paton says his heart was overflowing with joy as they set foot on the jungle shore. That joy would soon find refinement in the fires of great affliction.

Just over three months later, on February 12, little Peter Robert their first child was born. In the hot and bug-infested jungle Mary did not recover from the pangs of birth. First came severe fever, then dehydration and nausea, and finally pneumonia and delirium. As the baby greeted his third week of life, his mother died. In the wet soil of the rain forest John knelt to dig a shallow grave with his own hands. There he laid his wife's lifeless body to await the resurrection.

Sleeping on the grave to keep her precious remains from being dug up and eaten by the cannibals, he tried to care for his infant son. It was useless, little Peter followed his mother in less than three more weeks. On his knees again beside the fresh grave of his wife John Paton wrote that with ceaseless tears mixed with earnest prayers he claimed that island for the gospel of Jesus Christ as his hands dug a tiny grave. After almost four years of faithful work he left the island without seeing a single convert.

Many years later his son by another marriage resumed work on Tanna and eventually saw the entire island come to Christ. Many years later Paton revisited the island. He was greeted by the chief of the former cannibals who asked him who the great army was that had surrounded his hut every night when he first came among them. John Paton knew it had to be God's angels who had protected him. Because of his faithful work and that of his son, when he left the New Hebrides for the last time, after ministering on another island as well, it is reported that he said with tearful eyes, "I don't know of one native on these islands who has not made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ."

What kept missionary John Paton from quitting, becoming embittered, or even abandoning his faith in Christ? One thing alone: He had taken salvation as his helmet. He wore his helmet of salvation and thus his heart and mind were kept even in the most severe troubles.

*       How can we have a consistent Christian life with all the pressures that are weighing in on us? 

*       How can we have that degree of holiness so that we feel that access that God talks about and wishes for us to have?

*       How can we know victory?  

*       How can we overcome those persistent doubts that so often beset us? 

*       How can we rise above the weaknesses that seem to be built right in—the inherent weaknesses that are part of our humanity and flesh? 

*       How can we defeat discouragement?  That terrible, kind of gloomy blanket that comes over our Christian lives, like we just can't make it—we just can't fulfill our role as a father or as a mother or as a teacher or as a leader. It just seems like we get discouraged every time.  

*       How do we find in our lives the living up to God's expectations and how do we fulfill His desires for us?

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