“Don’t make your children angry by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction approved by the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4
John Gibson Paton was born in a Christian home near Dumfries, Scotland, in 1824. From an early age he had a special awareness of a closet in the three-room cottage, where he lived with his parents and ten brothers and sisters. He described it thus:
The closet was…the Sanctuary of that cottage home. Thither daily, and oftentimes a day…we saw our father retire, and “shut the door”; and we children got to understand by a sort of spiritual instinct…that prayers were being poured out there for us…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…My soul would wander back to those early scenes, 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?”
Before the age of twelve, Paton had begun learning his father’s trade of making stockings, but he had already given his “soul to God, and was resolved to aim at being a Missionary of the Cross, or a Minister of the Gospel.”
Paton applied for a position as a tract distributor, which included one year of training at the Free Church Normal Seminary in Glasgow. When it was time to leave for Glasgow, his father walked with him for the first six miles of the journey. Paton recalled:
His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are in my heart as if it had been yesterday…For the last half-mile or so we walked on together in almost unbroken silence…His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me…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 prayers; in tears we embraced, and parted…I was soon out of sight. But my heart was too full, 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, he got down [and] set his gaze toward home…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 he gave me.
After ten years of city mission work and theological studies, on April 16, 1858, Paton and his wife left Glasgow to do mission work in the New Hebrides (present-day Vanuatu), where he became the pioneer missionary to the island of Tanna. Within a year his wife died in childbirth, and his newborn son was quick to follow. Paton left the Island in 1862 to raise funds and more recruits, returning in 1866 to island of Aniwa. There during the next fifteen years of ministry most of the island’s inhabitants (who were cannibals) put their faith in Jesus.
The heritage Paton received from his father lived on, as three generations of his family served until 1970.
In what ways did John Paton’s father influence his life? If you are a parent, how are you influencing your children’s lives? If you are not a parent, what can you do to influence the children and youth around you?
*Mike and Sharon Rusten are not only marriage and business partners; they also share a love for history. Mike studied at Princeton (B.A.), the University of Minnesota (M.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Th.M.), and New York University (Ph.D.). Sharon studied at Beaver College, Lake Forest College, and the University of Minnesota (B.A.), and together with Mike has attended the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College). The Rustens have two grown children and live in Minnetonka, Minnesota. This article was adapted from the April 14 entry in their wonderful book The One Year Book of Christian History, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2003.