John Paton was born in Scotland in 1824. He lived, as he wrote, “with the wail of the perishing heathen in the South Seas” ringing in his ears. And so he was compelled to prepare himself to serve as a missionary to the New Hebrides, for which he set sail in 1858.
This was a group of thirty mountainous islands, so named by Captain Cook, with an unhealthy climate and at the time inhabited by cannibals. The first attempt to introduce them to the Gospel had resulted in John Williams and James Harris being clubbed to death within a few minutes of landing in 1839.
The story of Paton’s remarkable life is recorded in his autobiography, John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides [Banner of Truth Trust; 1994]. We shall take a number of glimpses into the trials and tragedies in which Paton persevered as he served to see the triumph of the Gospel in two of these South Sea Islands.
His reason for writing his story is ours for repeating it. At the close of his life (and book) he wrote:
“Oh that I had my life to begin again! I would consecrate it anew to Jesus in seeking the conversion of the remaining Cannibals on the New Hebrides. But since that may not be, may he help me to use ...every power to carry forward ... that beloved work. Doubtless these poor degraded Savages are part of the Redeemer’s inheritance, given to Him in the Father’s Eternal Covenant, and thousands more are destined through us to sing his praises in the glory ...of the Heavenly World!
And should the record of my poor and broken life lead any one to consecrate himself to Mission work, ...or should it even deepen the Missionary spirit in those who already know and serve the Redeemer of us all – for this also I shall, unto the endless ages of Eternity, bless and adore my beloved Master and Saviour and Lord, to whom be glory for ever and ever.” [p.496]