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John Paton and World Missions

Author
Category Articles
Date November 6, 2007

Let the peoples praise Thee, O God; let all the peoples praise Thee. Psalm 67:3.

John Paton1 was born to godly Presbyterian parents in 1824 in a small village outside of Glasgow, Scotland. He was reared on the Shorter Catechism and the Westminster Confession of Faith in daily family worship, and from his earliest days had a burden and zeal to preach the gospel to the heathen (as they were called in those days) in the South Pacific Islands, in the chain of islands then called the New Hebrides. John’s zeal for this specific mission work did not dissipate as he grew older. In fact his burden continued to grow throughout his teen years into early adulthood when he served as a minister at the City Mission of Glasgow. Finally in 1858, at the age of 34, John and his wife Mary Ann Paton, along with another missionary, Joseph Copeland, sailed from Scotland for the New Hebrides. Mary Ann had become pregnant with their first child one month prior to their departure. The voyage took four months and they finally arrived at what is now called Vanuatu (where an episode of the reality television programme Survivor was filmed a few years ago). The people of Vanuatu were animistic, superstitious, illiterate, Stone Age, cannibalistic savages. Only a few years before, two missionaries stepped on the island and were quickly murdered and eaten by the people there. Three months after John and Mary Ann’s arrival, she gave birth to their first child, but there were complications with the pregnancy. Mary Ann died a few days later, as did their son. Prior to her death Mary Ann said that she in no way regretted leaving family, friends, and the comfort of Scotland to come to the New Hebrides; and if she had the opportunity to do it again, she would not hesitate to do so. John later remarried and had several children by Margaret Whitecross Paton. The Patons lived many years with the threat of being murdered by the local people and things were constantly stolen from them. They lost other children due to illness. But the gospel finally came with great power to the people of the New Hebrides, transforming them into a peaceful, loving, forgiving, hard working community of believers.

Here’s my question – what sustained John Paton in his missionary zeal? No doubt he had a love for the people. He was certainly burdened for them and had compassion on their souls, knowing that without Christ they were certain to go to hell. As important as compassion is for those who do not know God, I suggest this will not sustain a missionary zeal, whether it be for missionaries serving on the field or for Christians in western churches who pray and support various missionaries. Something more is needed, and Psalm 67 captures that something more. Only a zeal for the true and living God to receive His due, to receive the glory and adoration which alone belong to Him, will sustain a missionary or a world mission’s commitment in a local church.

The Psalmist has this burden. The foundation of his zeal is the Aaronic blessing in verse one, ‘God be gracious to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us’ [Numbers 6:25]. He prays for God’s Shalom, the fullness of blessing, on His people. Why? Verse two tells us – that God’s way (His work of creation and providence) may be known on the earth, to all the nations; and that His salvation (the unfolding of his covenant of grace beginning with Abraham but expanding to all the nations) would come to all the great peoples of the world.

John Piper has noted that most pastors are guilty of blaspheming God because they do not mine the depths of the doctrine of God in their preaching. We give our people a paltry picture of the transcendence and immanence of God. One has suggested that Albert Einstein, who saw something of the immeasurable immensity of creation, had no use for organized religion because pastors were not giving the Creator his due. Piper reminds us that light travels at the speed of 5.88 trillion (5.88 X 1012) miles per year and our galaxy is 100,000 light years in diameter, about 588,000 trillion miles. There are at least one million galaxies within the optical range of our most powerful telescopes and our galaxy has 200 billion (200 X 109) stars. The sun, one of the lesser stars in our galaxy, has a surface temperature of 6000 degrees centigrade.

The true and living God alone is worthy of worship and a zeal for him to be worshipped by all the great people groups of the world ought to be a burning passion in our hearts. When I stand at Shinto shrines in Japan, Buddhist and Hindu temples in India, a Muslim mosque in Hartford, a shrine of western secularism and materialism – the West Farms Mall in West Hartford – then a holy zeal burns within my heart knowing that the Triune God, the only true and living God is being short-changed. When I see Mormons, Muslims, and Jehovah’s Witnesses denying the full deity of Jesus, the Son of God, grief and anger well up in my heart.

My compassion for the lost ebbs and flows. To be honest about it, I sometimes don’t like people who are vastly different from me. I don’t like their culture and their values. I am not saying this is acceptable. I am not saying this is not sin. I am only being honest with you. So if I am counting on compassion to fuel my zeal for evangelism and world missions then I will not stay at it; but when I consider God’s passion for his glory to be made known so that all the nations may worship him [see Psalms 2, 67, 96, 100], then I maintain my zeal. The truth which keeps me going, what moves me every time I meditate on it is the beatific vision of the Apostle John:

Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation … myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands were saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing’ … And after these I looked and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ [Revelation 5:9ff; 7:9, 10]

Is your zeal for world missions waning? Have you never had such zeal? Deepen your understanding of God and then ask him to give you a burning desire to make Him known to all the peoples of the world.

Notes

  1. Further reading from Banner of Truth Trust on the Patons includes Paton’s autobiography, edited by his brother, James Paton, John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides.2 Paton’s story is also told in Five Pioneer Missionaries, where Paton’s life is covered by John D. Legg.3 Also available is Margaret Paton: Letters from the South Seas, by Paton’s second wife, Margaret Whitecross Paton.4
    • John G Paton

      John G. Paton

      The Autobiography of the Pioneer Missionary to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu)

      by John G. Paton


      price £14.50
      Avg. Rating

      Description

      Let the peoples praise Thee, O God; let all the peoples praise Thee. Psalm 67:3. John Paton1 was born to godly Presbyterian parents in 1824 in a small village outside of Glasgow, Scotland. He was reared on the Shorter Catechism and the Westminster Confession of Faith in daily family worship, and from his earliest days […]

    • Five Pioneer Missionaries

      Five Pioneer Missionaries

      David Brainerd, William C. Burns, John Eliot, Henry Martyn, John G. Paton

      by 


      price £6.00
      Avg. Rating

      Description

      Let the peoples praise Thee, O God; let all the peoples praise Thee. Psalm 67:3. John Paton1 was born to godly Presbyterian parents in 1824 in a small village outside of Glasgow, Scotland. He was reared on the Shorter Catechism and the Westminster Confession of Faith in daily family worship, and from his earliest days […]

    • Margaret Paton

      Margaret Paton

      Letters from the South Seas

      by Margaret Paton


      price £13.00

      Description

      Let the peoples praise Thee, O God; let all the peoples praise Thee. Psalm 67:3. John Paton1 was born to godly Presbyterian parents in 1824 in a small village outside of Glasgow, Scotland. He was reared on the Shorter Catechism and the Westminster Confession of Faith in daily family worship, and from his earliest days […]

Rev. Allen M. Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.

www.christcpc.org

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