The first in a series of brief biographies of a past generation of heroes of the faith.
I would like to promote an interest in the hearts of the Lords people in the lives of past heroes of faith. While the world glories in its heroes with their achievements, they, like the morning dew, soon fade into oblivion and are forgotten. Their records are only for time. But the “heroes of faith” are etched upon Heavens eternal book and in that coming day will shine as the stars in the firmament.
Must I be carried to the sky, in flowery beds of ease?
While others fought to win the prize, and sailed through stormy seas.
In commencing, we would not overlook the galaxy of faiths worthies – the men and women in Hebrews 11. What a noble list as we sweep across the landscape of human history! We are humbled! Yet this chapter, while delightful, is an unfinished chapter. There are many more illustrious characters that have thrilled and molded the saints down the centuries and have been a source of renewed strength to us. Of course we would come up short in this presentation if we failed to mention our Lord Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of faith, the perfect pattern of faith for all to follow. He will ever be unique; none can compare to our Beloved Lord, and to Him alone all worship be ascribed. While we admire the courage and faith of many, we ADORE and WORSHIP Christ. This belongs to Him and no other.
The name of John G. Paton may be familiar to some, but to others this name may be unknown. Many believers in younger life received great encouragement in reading the biography of this worthy servant of the Lord whose hardships, exploits, and experiences left deep impressions never to be forgotten upon hearts! He and his wife were vessels in the hand of God to enter virgin soil, and had the joy of raising the banner of the Cross in islands of cruelty, murder, superstition, and darkness.
It was the 1800s in Bonnie Scotland, where God had raised up men and women of sterling character: pure, true, honest, and Christ-honoring believers. Into one of these households were born five sons and six daughters. One of the sons was called John G. Paton. It has been well said, “A home is where love is, but a house can be a mansion or a cottage, and if love is missing it is only a house of four walls and a roof!” But the Paton home was ruled by love far more than by fear. One room was called a “sanctuary” where the head of the household often resorted and spent time on his knees in intercessions and supplications to God. The children often heard the pathetic echoes of a trembling voice pleading, and they would tiptoe past their fathers door lest they disturb such holy occupation. The family Bible was a revered treasure and the family altar was a daily service. (This is sadly displaced today; it needs to be revived!). It has been recorded that an immoral woman, the worst in the village, would creep under the window in the dark winter nights to hear the prayers from a burdened heart pleading that God would convert the sinner from the error of his wicked ways, and polish him as a jewel for the Redeemers crown. The confession of this woman is touching. She said, “I felt that I was a burden on that good mans heart.” That thought,” she said, “kept me out of Hell, and at last led me to the only Savior!” Amen. What pathos in the record of James Paton concerning his father: “Never, in temple or cathedral, on mountain or in glen, can I hope to feel that the Lord God is more near, more visibly walking and talking with men, than under the humble cottage roof of thatch.”
Along with his wife, this true pioneer left for the New Hebrides, South Sea Islands, on April 16th, 1858, and arrived on the Island of Tanna on November 5th, 1858, to spread the glorious gospel of Christ. Faith took them to this wicked place to teach and preach the Word of Life. And only faith could have taken them! And faith kept them in the midst of deception, difficulties, and death. This was a miracle of God.
Faith tested in a dark hour
On March 3rd, 1859, his beloved wife died, and a week later their newborn son died also. In his diary he recorded, “Let those who have ever passed through any similar darkness as of midnight feel for me; as for all others, it would be more than vain to try to paint my sorrows! Stunned by this dreadful loss, my reason, for a time, almost gave way, but the ever-merciful Lord sustained me. As I lay my beloved ones in precious dust, whenever Tanna turns to the Lord and is won for Christ, men in after-days will find the memory of that spot still green, where with ceaseless prayers and tears I claimed Tanna for God, where I buried my dead in faith and hope.” Faith overcame and conquered.
This noble warrior of the Cross was further tested when they sought to kill him; but the hand of the Almighty, unseen, protected him. “In deaths oft” was true of him as of Paul. For hours he sat among the branches of a tree while below him he could hear the discharge of muskets and the yells of savages. His testimony afterward is worthy of recording. He said, “I sat among the branches, safe in the arms of Jesus. Some of my most precious moments spent in communion with the Lord Jesus were up among the branches.”
On another occasion, water became a scarcity, for which the Tannese blamed the missionary. But again the missionary looked to God in the digging of a well to obtain water – a task which was unheard of on the Islands. They depended upon the rains from heaven and when it came they would attribute this to their gods. The Islanders watched and wondered, but this man of God trusted in the living God. When he struck water after long hours of digging, their laughter, mockery, and scorn was turned into fear, the fear of the missionarys God. Faith again triumphed and put to flight the enemies.
The winning of the Island of Tanna for Christ was uphill work, a testing of faith to the utmost. With little fruit in the gospel (apart from a few trophies of grace), and a sowing time of tears, John G. Paton, with a burdened heart, relocated to another island where the triumphs of the gospel were manifested after blood, sweat, and tears. This new island, Aneityum, once shackled by the power of Satan, rang with the praises of the Redeemer. Faith was recompensed.
What about the Island of Tanna? A touching incident is worth recording. The prayer of a converted cannibal pouring out his soul for his people not only humbled and touched the depths of the missionary, but it reached the ear of the Almighty in the Throne-room of heaven. The prayer of this dear soul confirmed in the heart of the missionary that Tanna would one day respond to the gospel of Christ.
Tanna was finally reached by the mighty power of the gospel and claimed for Christ. The blood of martyrs on the Island of Tanna was not forgotten by God and from one of the darkest islands, the habitation of cruelty, there arose a witness to “good triumphing over evil.” The Cross of Christ towered over this island, and from redeemed spirits there rang praises. From the once naked, murderous, brutal, cruel, Satan-possessed captive slaves now sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in their right mind, sounded forth the songs of Zion. John G. Paton made this statement: “Let the atheists of France, the infidels of Europe visit this island; their atheism would be swept away by the changed lives of these native people, not only civilized but converted like the Thessalonians who turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess 1:9). The record of this mans exploits and adventures to carry the tidings of the redeeming love and grace to the lowest of Adams posterity is written where records are eternally kept. “That the world might believe that Thou hast sent Me” (John 17:21), would fit these redeemed souls. John G. Paton was a true hero of faith, sent by God. We salute such noble soldiers of the Cross. They leave us a challenge to trust in the unchangeable and faithful God.
O come let us go and find them in the paths of death they roam,
At the close of the day twill be sweet to say, I have brought some lost one home.