Happy Father’s Day

It has been said that the greatest thing a father can do for his family is to live a holy life. The example of James Paton, the father of John Paton, is a beautiful illustration of the impact of a godly father on the lives of his children.

John G. Paton was a missionary to the New Hebrides in the South Seas. He was born in Scotland in 1824. John Paton pays tribute to his godly father in his autobiography. At the various crossroads in his life John Paton said, “I committed my future to the Lord God of my father.” John loved and reverenced his father and learned many profound things about God because of his father’s way of living before his family and his God.

The following sections are taken from John’s autobiography, “John G. Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides.”

John Paton and his many siblings (eleven in all) were impacted by the observance of their father’s daily intercessions when he closed himself into his ‘Prayer Closet’, a small middle room in their humble, three-room cottage. This is how he described it…

“Daily, and oftentimes a day, generally after each meal, we saw our father retire, and “shut to the door”; and we 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 the 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 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. 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 again in that Sanctuary Closet, and, hearing still the echoes of those cries to God, would hurl back all doubt with victorious appeal, “He walked with God, why may not I?”

“How much my father’s prayers at this time impressed me, I can never explain, nor could any stranger understand when on his knees and all of us kneeling around him in family worship, he poured out his whole soul with tears for the conversion of the heathen world to the service of Jesus, and for every personal and domestic need we felt as if in the presence of the living saviors and learned to know and love him as our divine friend. As we rose from our knees, I used to look at the light on my father’s face, and wish I were like him in Spirit, – hoping that, in answer to his prayers, I might be privileged and prepared to carry the blessed Gospel to some portion of the heathen world.”

The daily practice of family worship including Scripture readings, Psalm singing and prayer caused John Paton to say this about his childhood…

“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, while the High Priest led our prayers to God, and offered himself and his children there. And blessed to others, as well as to ourselves, was the light of such example!”

John Paton’s mother was seldom able to make the arduous eight mile walk to attend church. So each Sabbath evening, John’s father would retell the substance of the day’s sermons. He would entice the children to help him remember some idea or point and encouraged them to read to their mother from their notes. The custom had a very definite positive impact…

“There were eleven of us brought up in a home like that; and never one of the eleven, boy or girl, man or woman, has been heard, or ever will be heard, saying that Sabbath was dull or wearisome for us, or suggesting that we have heard of or seen any way more likely than that for making the Day of the Lord bright and blessed alike for parents and for children. But God help the homes where these things are done by force and not by love!”

Regarding the times of discipline in the Paton home…

“If anything really serious required to be punished, he retired first to his “closet” for prayer, and we boys got to understand that he was laying the whole matter before God; and that was the severest part of the punishment for me to bear! I could have defied any amount of mere penalty, but this spoke to my conscience as a message from God. We loved him all the more, when we saw how much it cost him to punish us; and, in truth, he had never very much of that kind of work to do upon any one of all the eleven-we were ruled by love, far more than by fear.”

The time had come for young John Paton to leave his family home and attend divinity school (a forty-mile walk away in Glasgow). This scene captures the depth of love between John and his father…

“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) streaming like a girl’s over 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 adieu, I rounded 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 dike to see if he yet stood where I 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.”

“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 pure 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.”

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