I recently started reading the autobiography of John G. Paton. Those familiar John Paton can attest to the fact that he stands as a titan among missionaries for his Christian work in the New Hebrides during the mid-19th century. When he arrived in the tropical islands located in the South Pacific Ocean, entered an abominable and nightmarish environment. Despite his tribulations, he staunchly devoted himself to the Christian faith and served as a guiding light for Christians and missionaries at home and abroad.
However, its become apparent early on that out of all the souls that shaped and impacted his devotion to Christ, none impacted him more than his father, James Paton. The encomiums John Paton bestows on him are, by itself, worth the read. I've always learned best by watching the examples of others, and this is also true in my faith. That is to say, that the testimony of James Paton filled me with a longing to be a father like him.
John first writes about his mother’s arrested attention of a young James who made a habit of, "Stealing alone into the quiet wood, book in hand, day after day, at certain hours, as if for private study and meditation." While alone in the woods, James devoutly read and recited Ralph Erskine's Gospel Sonnets. His mother’s curiosity soon engendered a holy respect for James as she watched him kneel day after day and "pour out all his soul in daily prayers to God." If there was ever an exceptional display of the fruit of Christian character that struck a chord of another, his mother’s love for James was so immense that she, "grieved to wound anything nobler or tenderer" than herself.
James' love for Christ began in his teenage years. He persuaded his mother and father of the importance of worship and eventually led his family in daily morning and evening family worship. Once he married and began raising a family of his own, he continued the tradition of family worship until his deathbed. John fondly remembers that no obstacle or event stood in the way of family worship:
"None of us can remember that any day ever passed unhallowed thus; no hurry for market, no rush to business, no arrival of friends or guests, no trouble or sorrow, no joy or excitement, ever prevented at least our kneeling around the family altar, while the High Priest let our prayers to God, and offered himself and his children there"
By the same token, no family worship is wrought without personal devotion to God. After each meal, James would retire to his closet and shut the door. As a child, John remembers the immense impact:
"We got to understand by a sort of spiritual instinct (for the thing was too scared to be talked about) that prayers were being poured out there for us, as of old by the High Priest within the veil in the Most Holy Place. We occasionally heard the pathetic echoes of a trembling voice pleading as if for life, and we learned to slip out and in past the door on tiptoe, not to disturb the hold colloquy. The outside world might not know, but we knew, whence came that happy light as of a new-born smile that always was dawning on my father's face: it was a reflection from the Divine Presence, in the consciousness of which he lived. Though everything else in religion were by some unthinkable catastrophe to be swept out of memory, were blotted from my understanding, my soul would wander back to those early scenes, and shut itself up once again in that Sanctuary Closet, and, hearing still the echoes of those cries to God, would hurl back all doubt with the victorious appeal, "He walked with God, why may not I?"
The example of his father's love for Christ also manifested itself to others that knew him outside the home. One night, a woman on the verge of suicide, walked by the house of John as he was leading family worship. She crept close to the window and heard James' prayers. She immediately felt, "That I was a burden on that good man's heart, and I knew that God would not disappoint him. That thought kept me out of Hell, and at last, led me to the only Savior."
There is one scene that is etched in my mind that serves as the scarlet thread to tie his love with his father, through Christ. John, now in his early twenties is to leave home and attend divinity school in Glasgow, Scotland. It was a 40-mile walk from his hometown of Torthorwald to the train station at Kilmarnock. It was likely that John would never see his father again. Nearly half a century later John wrote:
"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 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 him - gazing after me. Waving my hat in adieu, I rounded the corner and out of sight in 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 time. Then, rising up cautiously, I climbed the dike to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dike and looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face toward home, and began to return - his 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 dishonor such a father and mother as he had given me."
This is quite a testimony that is compelling and worthy of sharing, especially for the present time. James Paton's fatherly example would serve as a source of courage and purity during John's spreading of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is my hope and prayer that we all could be such fathers of faith, prayer, and love. In our daily battles many of us will fail, but have faith, for the day is coming when we will meet our one and only Father in Heaven.