June 16, 2007
John Paton was a Scottish missionary to the Islands of the South Pacific. He died 100 years ago this year. He was born in 1824. He went out to the Islands at the age of 34 in 1858. And there he labored for the rest of his long life. After 31 years, he wrote his autobiography. In it, he remembered the timealmost 50 years earlierwhen his dear father had walked him out of his village, and toward Glasgow, where his future lay. And with 50 years having gone, Paton was still obviously affected by this man who so trusted in God, feared Him, and delighted in pleasing Him.
I started out from my quiet country home on the road to Glasgow. Literally “on the road,” for from Torthorwald to Kilmarnockabout forty mileshad to be done on foot, and thence to Glasgow by rail. Railways in those days were as yet few, and coach traveling was far beyond my purse. A small bundle, tied up in my pocket-handkerchief, contained my Bible and all my personal belongings. Thus was I launched upon the ocean of life. I thought on One who says, “I know thy poverty, but thou art rich.”
My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then, whenever memory steals me away to the scene. For the last half-mile or so we walked on together in almost unbroken silence,–my father, as was often his custom, carrying his hat in hand, while his long, flowing yellow hair (then yellow, but in later years white as snow) streamed like a girl’s down his shoulders. His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me; and his tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain! We halted on reaching the appointed parting place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly and affectionately said:
“God bless you, my son! Your father’s God prosper you, and keep you from all evil!”
Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left himgazing after me. Waving my hat in adieu, I was round the corner and out of sight in an instant. But my heart was too full and sore to carry me further, so I darted into the side of the road and wept for a time. Then, rising up cautiously, I climbed the dyke to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dyke and looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he had gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face towards home, and began to returnhis head still uncovered, and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me. I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonour such a father and mother as He had given me. The appearance of my father, when we partedhis advice, prayers, and tearsthe road, the dyke, the climbing up on it and then walking away, head uncoveredhave often, often, all through life, risen vividly before my mind, and do so now while I am writing, as if it had been but an hour ago. In my earlier years particularly, when exposed to many temptations, his parting form rose before me as that of a guardian Angel. 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 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.” (Paton, Autobiography, pp. 25-26)