From the Heavenly Home of John G. Paton: ‘He Walked with God, Why May Not I?’

Recently I’ve started reading an autobiography that’s long been on my list: John G. Paton: The Autobiography of the Pioneer Missionary to the New Hebrides (Vanautu).

I first learned of it when I asked a Banner of Truth bookseller at a conference, “What’s the best book in your stack?” Without hesitation he pointed me to Paton’s autobiography.

Sometime later I saw a friend post about it online, and just a few months ago I heard a pastor say something like, “If you want an unforgettable image of a nurturing Christian home, read the beginning of ol’ Paton’s autobiography.”

So I bumped it up the list and I’m finally getting to it. And I’m underlining everywhere.

I happened to have it with me when I arrived at work this morning, and was sharing all this with a coworker, who encouraged me to post about it. And seeing as we’re so close to Father’s Day, now’s as fitting a time as ever to share my favorite two passages of the book so far.

Here is Paton describing the layout of their home and the spiritual disciplines that took place there. (Note that this book was published in the late 1800s. The author’s spelling is left intact.)

Our home consisted of a “but” and a “ben” and a “mid room,” or chamber, called the “closet.” The one end was my mother’s domain […]. The other end was my father’s workshop […]. The ‘closet’ was a very small apartment betwixt the other two, having room only for a bed, a little table and a chair, with a diminutive window shedding diminutive light on the scene. This was the Sanctuary of that cottage home.

Thither daily, and oftentimes a day, generally after each meal, we saw our father retire, and ‘shut to the door’; and we children got to understand by a sort of spiritual instinct (for the thing was too sacred 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 that door on tiptoe, not to disturb the holy colloquy. The outside world might not know, but we knew, whence came that happy light as of a newborn 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.

Never, in temple or cathedral, on mountain or in glen, can I hope to feel that the Lord God is more near, more visibly walking and talking with men, than under that humble cottage roof of thatch and oaken wattles. Though everything else in religion were by some unthinkable catastrophe to be swept out of memory, or 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?”

And then later…

And so began in his seventeenth year that blessed custom of Family Prayer, morning and evening, which my father practised probably without one single avoidable omission till he lay on his deathbed, seventy-seven years of age; when, even to the last day of his life, a portion of Scripture was read, and his voice was heard softly joining in the Psalm, and his lips breathed morning and evening Prayer—falling in sweet benediction on the heads of all his children, far away many of them over all the earth, but all meeting him there at the Throne of Grace. 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 prevent at least our kneeling around the family altar, while the High Priest led our prayers to God, and offered himself and his children there.

Fathers, may God strengthen you for your high calling of raising children in the Lord.