Many times since the first time of hearing the name John G. Paton, I have reflected on his life. Today I had to turn in my eight page biography here at the CPCP. Following here after is that paper, may it bless you and compel you to Glorify Christ even more in your life.
Having walked some distance with his father, John G. Paton, parted ways and began his three day journey to Glasgow. At Glasgow, Paton hoped to accrue the position of district visitor and tract distributor for the West Campbell Street Reformed Presbyterian Congregation. This appointment would allow him to receive one year of training at the Free Normal Seminary at no cost to him. It was his hope that he would be trained for teaching and then be able to push forward into Holy Ministry. John upon application also had to compose an essay on a subject, by his own thought and own writing. He composed two poems on the Covenanters, with little chance of being accepted. However, He had received a letter that he was to appear in Glasgow and compete against another fellow for the position in the Church. Having to walk forty miles and then catch the train to Glasgow, Paton was launched into the ocean of life. He reflected on the One who says, “I know thy poverty, but thou art rich.”
Having completed his studies and recovering from sickness that had come upon him during his schooling, John began to teach a School at Girvan. Teaching there until he had made enough money, he returned to Glasgow and became a student at the College. During his time however he had used up all but nine shillings, part of his money being lent to a fellow student who had never repaid him. This kept him from being able to enter classes. John set out to sell his school books in hope that he might remain for even just a little longer. Being convicted however as if he were a thief, ran from the pawn shop. Along his way John saw a sign reading “Teacher wanted, Maryhill Free Church School; apply at the Manse.” Having been accepted for the position, John began teaching early the next morning.
The school was said to be in a wreck having been filled with rough characters from the mills and coal-pits, who attended the evening classes. On one occasion a young man and woman began to attend. Tending from the first moments to only be interested in causing troubles. John having earnestly sought quiet and order, was mocked and the young man caused quite the raucous. John asked him to quiet or leave that at all hazards he would keep order, the man mocked and took on a fighting attitude. John quietly locked the door placing the key in his pocket, he then took the heavy cane that had been given him by the Minister of the school. Having warned John that several school masters and been abused and he should use the cane freely. He turned cane in hand towards the young man. After several difficult rounds evading punches and giving a number of blows with the cane the young man crouched, beaten at his desk. John instructed him to begin his book work which he did. Warning the rest that they should spread the word, if education was desired John would oblige but if they wanted trouble they would be conquered with that heavy cane. John had gained control and following his work the school flourished. This same attitude carried through John’s life.
After his time at the Maryhill School, John set out to work as part of the Glasgow City Mission. After due examining from the directors, he passed his trials and was appointed as a City Missionary. At this time John was around the age of twenty-three. He was appointed to an area that he felt was in much need and yet to be entreated upon by mission work. It was the area in and around the Green Street of Calton that he had been assigned. John left after that meeting praising God for all His mercies, and having seen His gracious hand lead him, and for the trials that had prepared him for his service.
After a year of toiling to call people in, Paton had six or seven who had been led to begin attending regularly a Sabbath service in the hay-loft of a barn. There was another group who met during the week in the home of an Irishwoman. She was the wife of a hard drinking abusive man. Through her and John’s prayer that man became a total abstainer and began attending church regularly. After a year of service the directors discussed moving John to a new area, thinking that the people of Green Street were unreachable. However, Paton pleaded with them to allow him to remain and work for six more months. This time was granted. When he met again with his current church goers he compelled them that they must bring in more people or he would be moved to work in a new area. The number of attendees immediately doubled. The attendees afraid that Paton would be moved did another great work and doubled the attendance again. At this point John’s work occupied every evening of the week and two services on Sunday. This continued with great success. During one visit John met an eight year old boy, John Sim. This boy shortly before his death said to his parents, “I am going soon to be with Jesus; but sometimes fear that I may not see you there.” His mother responded. “Why so, my child?” the boy replied, “Because, if you were set upon going to Heaven and seeing Jesus there, you would pray about it, and sing about it; you would talk about Jesus to others, and tell them of that happy meeting with Him in glory. All this my dear Sabbath School teacher taught me, and she will meet me there. Now why did not you, my father and mother, tell me all these things about Jesus, if you are going to meet Him too?” This boy longed to be with Jesus and impacted all around him, greatly. This and many other works of God followed Paton’s work as a City Missionary.
Enjoying his work in Glasgow, now thirty-two Paton says, “ I continually heard the wail of the perishing Heathen in the South Seas; and saw that few were caring for them.” He thinking that someone could carry his work forward in Calton, heard the call of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland for another missionary to join Rev. John Inglis in the New Hebrides. After a length of searching for a missionary the church resorted to casting lots and after such were still without a missionary. The Lord continued to press upon Paton, “ Since none better qualified can be got, rise and offer yourself!” Paton went about doing exactly that. He was released from his current work and commended to the work among the South Sea Heathens.
Upon fellow christians hearing of John’s desire, began imploring him not to go. One man always said, “The cannibals! You will be eaten by Cannibals!” Paton responded, “ Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.” The man left remarking, “After that I have nothing more to say!”
On the April 16, 1858 John G. Paton set sail to the foreign mission field. Along the journey to Melbourne he was under Captain Broadfoot, a scot, brave, and kind. John was permitted to hold bible classes on board and the captain led the singing of the hymns. It wasn’t always this way during ship travel. On the next ship the crew was rowdy and full of profane language. The captain keeping his first mate for the sole purpose of swearing at the men. However disagreeable this trip the Lord allowed them to make it. They came to the island of Tanna with their gear and set about building a house.
Having landed on the island of Tanna, November 5th, 1858, the Paton’s had much hope for the work that was to be done on this Heathen island. However, on March 3rd, 1859, Mary Ann Robson died not long after giving birth to Peter Robert Robson. Peter followed her in death on March 20th, 1859. The sickness that encompassed the Paton’s was due to a lack of knowledge on where to build a home on this island. Later, being warned by a Chief that you must sleep on high ground so the trade winds will blow through and keep you well John decided to move his home.
In the years that Paton remained on Tanna, he was continually given over to fever and sickness. He did much work in spite of being near death many times, either from nature or from man. One instance in which Paton had been in danger and spared by the Lord follows as such, one day John heard strange bleating from one of his milk goats and so rushed to the goat house. Upon entering he was surrounded by warriors. Thinking his death was imminent he began talking to these warriors about their sin and its punishment. John also told them how his only desire and reason for staying on Tanna was that he could impart happiness to them by teaching them to worship Jesus Christ. He also told them that if they killed him they would lose their best friend and he would be taken into eternal happiness with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. They all slipped into the darkness of the jungle.
Early in the year 1862, John G. Paton left the island of Tanna, it being consumed with war. He left with only his bible and translations into Tannese. John left in sorrow knowing that the Lord’s work had been driven from the island of Tanna.
Paton, then spent the time from 1862-63 travelling around Australia raising support for a mission ship. He had a desire that the ship used by the missionaries should not be stained with the blood of slaves, nor known for the trading of guns and ammo. Being commissioned by other missionaries, Paton sought diligently to raise the entirety of funds for a new ship.
During this year he also spent much time recruiting more missionaries for the cause of the Heathens. John paton conducted mission services almost everyday and two or three on Sunday along with visiting every possible Sunday School that was along his path. Having done what he could to secure workers for the ministries, the Australian Committees, compelled John to return to Scotland for the purpose of bringing more missionaries to the New Hebrides.
The thought of returning to Scotland wasn’t a thought John took lightly, in fact he put out a “fleece” for the Lord. With this fleece Paton was solemnly convinced that returning home to Scotland was what the Lord had sovereignly planned for him. During the three month travel from Australia to London, the ship enjoyed a time of fellowship and service to the Lord. As they came around the Cape of Good Hope the ship was struck with lightning. All aboard survived and the captain came to John asking that all of them pray together thanking the Lord for His protection. Having left Australia May 16th, 1863, Paton arrived in London, August 26th, 1863.
Within two days of returning, John G. Paton had made his way home to Torthorwald to see his father and mother. Having been gone for five short years, but so much having come upon him in that time, they were filled with joy and sadness as they welcomed him. During his time in Scotland, calling out missionaries and seeking funds the Lord blessed Paton with a wife. Margaret Whitecross, was well equipped by God’s sovereignty, as help-mate to John. The two were married in 1864. The last time of visit with his parents was the day his father commended him and Margaret to the work of the Lord once again that salvation may be given to the Heathen.
John and Margaret Paton landed in Australia on January 17th, 1865. As soon as he could, John went and saw the Dayspring. The mission ship that he had toiled to get. The Lord had blessed the missionaries with a double masted Brigantine. A beautiful ship that John says, was “ Set a-floating by the pennies of the children to bear the Gospel to these sin-darkened but sun-lit Southern Isles.”
The Patons and other missionaries sailed for the Islands on August 8th, 1866. Mid October found them at port on Tanna. Many Tannese desired for John and his wife to stay. However, the missions society had given him orders to base on Aniwa. Paton’s heart was in pain as he left a certain chief groping in the dimly lit twilight of the soul. In November 1866, Aniwa became the home of John G. Paton. He spent fifteen years working on Aniwa. He said, “ I claimed Aniwa for Jesus, and by the grace of God Aniwa now worships at the Saviour’s feet.” During his time on Aniwa Paton was once again faced with the hardships of life among Cannibals. To keep peace he would run right in between the two contending parties and has said that he was invulnerable as long as he was doing the work of the Lord. He continued living this out until he went to sleep in the Lord on January 28th, 1907.
As we have seen John G. Paton was a mighty servant of the Lord. Having undertaken many arduous and perilous task for the sake of reaching the Heathens for the Lord Jesus Christ. He spent over fifty years preaching the Gospel and calling lost sheep to their Great Shepherd. All of his work done with a humble heart and high view of God. There is one area of John’s life that hitherto we have yet to take a look at. This I would consider the greatest and most impactful to his service of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must diligently look back to his childhood and understand the history and love of Christ that his parents demonstrated continually for him.
John Gibson Paton was born May 24th, 1824 near Dumfries, Scotland. He was born the son of a stocking maker, his father James Paton. His mother, Janet Jardine Rogerson, a warm loving woman. It must be undertaken for you to envision the humble cottage home within which John grew up. It was composed of three rooms, two larger at either end and one very small room in the center. This is important because this small room was the sanctuary of the home. John’s father would retire here after every meal and many times a day to pour out prayers for the family and the world. Upon exiting, the great glow of having been in the presence of God was upon James Paton. John would often think back to that closest and how his father had walked with God.
Now, John’s parents came to know each other through an apparent hat stealing prank. As James Paton would daily and at certain times of day go off to a tree and pray in fervency and recite Ralph Erskine’s “Gospel Sonnets”. After taking his hat several times Janet pinned a note to the tree apologizing and asking that James would pray for her. Indeed he did pray for her. Sometime around age seventeen, James would make a decision after much study to join with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, which would carry through the life of his son John and his mission work in the New Hebrides. Another decision that James made early on was to have family worship. Having brought it to fruition in his parents home, conducting family prayer morning and evening, bible reading, and singing of Psalms. James continued this with his own wife and children. John says, “blessed to others, as well as to ourselves, was the light of such example!” James Paton had sought to be a Minister of the Gospel, but seeing God’s will had set him differently, prayed that if God gave him sons he would consecrate them for the work of the Lord. James demonstrated for his family the great joy of attending services. On the Sabbath evening was undertaken Bible reading between mother children and visitors. This intermingled with question, answer and exposition. The family was taught the Shorter Catechism, which John would later share with the converts in Tanna and Aniwa. James devotion to the Lord came through in his discipline of the eleven children. If it were considered serious he would go to the closet for prayer and lay it all before the Lord. John says this was the severest part of the punishment, knowing that it was being laid before the Lord in it’s entirety. His father having been dedicated to the Lord, beautifully demonstrated the life of a christian.
It was this man James Paton having raised John in the fear and admonition of the Lord that undertook walking the first six miles of John’s trip to Glasgow to be appointed as tract distributor. All along the way his father sharing, praying and pointing him heavenward that brought John to this memory many a time. When they had reached their parting place his father blessed him and turned back. After a time of crying and walking he climbed a dyke and looked back to see his father also climbing up a dyke, not seeing John, he departed. John vowed deeply that by the help of God he would not dishonor his mother or father.
John G. Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides, “ It is no Pharisaism, but deep gratitude, which makes me here testify that the memory of that scene not only helped, by God’s grace, to keep me pure from the prevailing sins, but also stimulated me in all my studies, that I might not fall short of his hopes, and in all my Christian duties, that I might faithfully follow his shining example.” May the children of every christian be able to say these words.
Consider now the words that Paton ended his Autobiography with, “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 moment and every power still left to me to carry forward to the uttermost that beloved work. Doubtless these poor degraded Savages are a part of the Redeemer’s inheritance, given to Him in the Father’s Eternal Covenant, and thousands of them are destined through us to sing His praise in the glory and the joy of the Heavenly World! And should the record of my poor and broken life lead anyone to consecrate himself to Mission work at home or abroad that he may win souls for Jesus, or should it even deepen the Missionary spirit in those who already know and serve the Redeemer of us all for this also, and for all through which He has led me by His loving and gracious guidance, 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.”
Paper arranged and written by: Daniel E. Burgess II
Sources: John G. Paton An Autobiography, five pioneer missionaries (banner of truth)