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The Island Mission: Being a History of the Melanesian Mission from Its Commencement

Reprinted from "Mission Life."

London: William Macintosh, 1869.


IN March, 1864, Bishop Patteson left New Zealand for Australia; and during the next six weeks he was busily engaged in advocating the claims of his Mission. He visited Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, and at each place spoke to large and attentive audiences. The address delivered at Sydney is so interesting, and so characteristic of the speaker, that a few extracts from it are here given.

The Bishop began by saying that, while every Church ought to be a Missionary Church, the Church of Australia was specially bound, first to the aborigines of the country, and then to the heathen of the neighbouring islands. The islands of the Western Pacific were little known to the world in general; the southernmost of them (the Loyalty Islands) were occupied by the London Mission, and a few round Anaiteum by the Scotch Mission; northward of these, there was no Missionary agency whatever at work until you come to Borneo.

Then he described the Bishop of New Zealand's work among the islands, with the loyal fear that [220/221] always possessed him, lest people should attribute to him any credit which was the due of the Primate. He spoke of the plan, originated by Bishop Selwyn, of educating lads from these islands to be the future teachers of their countrymen; and he said that the reason why little publicity had been as yet given to this Mission was, that they wished to try fairly and quietly this method of operation, which had not been tried before. The plan had succeeded, and now he was in a position to come and speak to them about it, because he had tested it, and found it to be sound.

"The plan is this: here are very many islands, inhabited, you will remember, by people speaking different languages--they are a wild, barbarous people, living the most savage lives that men can lead, and the practices common among them are almost indescribable. I will not dwell upon that state, because we are naturally too much disposed to dwell on the dark side of the picture. It is not, therefore, necessary that I should speak much about their depravity, as there would not be much good in dwelling upon it, and we are apt to forget that it is owing to God's grace and mercy that we are not similarly circumstanced; and perhaps, notwithstanding our privileges and advantages, we are not so much better after all. When we look at the apathy, the careless indifference in the discharge of duties, and the want of anything like self-denial on the part [221/222] of many people, and then remember that we have received for several centuries the heritage of Christianity, I do not think that, on the whole, we have any right to talk of the Melanesian savages as being such fearfully depraved specimens of the human race. I do not like to hear this language; knowing as I do this people so well, I sometimes feel it as a personal insult. Amongst them I have met some whom I might fairly speak of as thorough gentlemen.

"I do not deny that evil practices are going on; but the point to which I wish to direct your attention is not so much the moral depravity of all those races as their capacity for being taken out of that state of sinfulness, and brought from their blindness and ignorance into a state of purity, knowledge, and holiness. What we want to testify to you is this, that as God has made of one blood all the nations of the earth, it stands to reason that there is no human being incapable of receiving the blessings that God has bestowed upon us, as members of the common race of mankind collectively. If any one denies that the Australian black, or the Melanesian savage, is a man at all, I meet him on the simple ground of physiology; that will answer the question whether he is a man or not. But if you allow him to be a human being at all, see the inference that is to be drawn from that fact. If he is a human being, he is a partaker of that nature which our Blessed Lord took upon Himself when He [222/223] came down to earth to suffer and die for us, because He took a nature common to us all--His Divine Person. And now, let any Christian man tell me that a man who shares that common nature which the Lord of Glory took in His Divine Person is incapable of being taught what our Lord came down from heaven to teach. I know that no Christian man will dare to say that.

"Now, I hope that once for all every child will have a proper answer to give to that uncharitable and unchristian way of talking, about the incapacity of any race under heaven of being saved. Never listen to such talk again. It is utterly untrue, and opposed to the whole spirit of Christianity. Every single man, because he is a man, is a partaker of that nature which is common to all, and that is the nature which, at the right hand of God, is united to the divine nature in the Person of Christ. You will understand that there is no answer to that argument.

"Well, let us consider it to have been established, that every human being is capable of being taught that which is necessary for his salvation. I do not say that every man who is capable of learning would be able to teach others; it is not every spark that is capable of being fanned into a flame. But the capacity for learning is there--that is the point I am contending for; and it is because we know it to be there that our plan of operations has been directed [223/224] in the way I am now attempting to describe to you. I do earnestly trust that we do not go to the heathen man in any spirit of Pharisaical pity or contempt for him; we do not denounce him for being a wild heathen savage; we do not treat him with contemptuous pity, as if he stood outside the bounds of God's universal love; but we go to him, assuming that there is in him a capacity for receiving that message that is sent to every creature under heaven.

"We know it is there: the difficulty is in calling out that latent faculty; and in that consists the skill of the Christian teacher, to try, as it were, and discover what is latent in the heart of a man to whom he is trying to teach the doctrines of Christianity--what it is he can lay hold of, and by which he may draw the man gradually into a region of light and truth and knowledge, which he seemed, at one point, to be utterly incapable of entering into."

Then Bishop Patteson described how he went ashore upon a new island; how his confidence and defencelessness begat confidence in the natives; how the lads whom he persuaded to come with him to New Zealand learnt the first lessons of civilisation, which is the fruit of Christianity, long before their minds were ripe for doctrinal truth; and how, of fifty scholars, half might be trained as possible Missionaries to their countrymen, while the other half would have fulfilled their mission in returning to [224/225] their islands and making way for a friendly reception of the Missionary whenever he would visit them. If the plan of the Mission were ever actually carried out in its fulness, the winter, when the scholars returned to their own homes, would be the time for the residence of an English Missionary in the central island of each cluster, to keep up the influence begun by the New Zealand College. But this plan they had as yet only been able to carry into effect in the Banks cluster of islands.

"Until we visited the island of Mota the people never went about freely: everybody venturing al short distance from home was armed with bow and poisoned arrows. The first time I walked round the island, after I had been a few days upon it, as I was coming back along a narrow path to the spot where I had been obliged to put up our little boat, I was met by three men with their bows all drawn. I said, 'Shoot away; it is all right.' They said, 'We heard you had been killed at the other end of the island, and we were coming to bring you off.' This will give you some idea of their shrewdness and cunning. I saw through their object at once. They wanted to persuade me that the people at the other side of the island were very unfriendly, so that they might get for themselves beads and hatchets, and other things I had brought with me. I, of course, walked back. I said to them, 'I do not come here [225/226] to make friends with any one person, but with all. What I want to buy for food I mean to buy from them as well as from you. My business is to put down all your quarrelling and fighting.' Now, was not this a very good lesson for them? Long before I could begin to use anything like phrases, which would have been only vague and unmeaning to them, I gave them practical lessons of leading a life that is the same kind of life as a Christian leads. It would be easy to say to them afterwards, 'Now you are leading a happy, comfortable, pleasant life. In old times the inhabitants of the islands I came from were just as rude and savage as you are; and the way in which they came to lead a more peaceful life was just the same kind of process that I wish to put before you now.' Then they see at once what my object is, and they are taught to regard themselves as belonging to the great family of man. They say, 'Here are people who were once in just the same state as we were; but they have been taught to build great ships, to make nice clothes, and to build fine houses, and all by the way they want to teach us.' From being ignorant, foolish, and quarrelsome, they come to take their place in the general community, and they begin to entertain some ideas of progress; they show a little more self-respect; and these notions underlie the regular education of the whole people. I think you will come to understand that we thus [226/227] exercise a real influence for good over the people at large, all of which, really and truly--as good can only come from the Author of all good--is the work of God. And inasmuch as we know that Christ alone is the Mediator between God and man, it must be the work of Christ and of His Spirit. I could teach these people to utter the sacred name of Christ, if I wanted; but what would be the good of that, if they did not attach the notion to it that rises up in our minds? And why does it rise up in our minds, but because we have heard in our infancy the reasons why Christ died upon the cross? And if we did not know the object that brought Him from heaven, who He was, what He did, and why He died, there would be no more use in our learning that name than in a parrot learning it. You must teach the associations and the thing, and then when your scholars understand the thing, you can take some word in their language, and appropriate that particular name to the expression of the particular association which really it is intended to convey to their minds.

"There is a special responsibility resting upon us, who are the sole witnesses of the truth among these people. Any mistake on our part--any hasty expression--may be injuring for ever, perhaps, some of these people, who are now regarding us as the only witnesses to the truth of the new religion that is [227/228] being brought to them; and if they cease to place confidence in us, in whom would they place confidence? and if we unnecessarily place obstacles in their minds to the reception of Christianity, just conceive the fearful injury that will be done to them. If we were to teach them a whole host of vague, unmeaning words, which, after a while, they might themselves see to be very inadequate exponents of the truths that underlie them; or find them to be applied by us to quite different ideas to those with which they had associated them, I do not think that we shall be fulfilling our duty to God or to them. Our duty is, as far as in us lies, to teach them the practical lessons of Christianity--love to God and to man--and to teach them that Christ is the Mediator between God and man; that every blessing from God comes through Him, and that every prayer and good thought naturally rises to heaven through Him. But the question is, how to teach it? and it is not to be taught by merely speaking about it, even did their language contain the words that would readily express these ideas.

"Our duty is first of all to show them what a Christian life is; and then, by carefully examining the language, to search for the most suitable words to express Christian ideas, and to appropriate them to those ideas already imparted: to teach them the meaning of repentance, of faith, of all those words [228/229] so common with us, but not on that account so well understood by us. For how often amongst us is the unfortunate use of words to which each attaches what he thinks the proper meaning, a fruitful source of controversy and dispute! I want each word that I use to convey a certain idea to them, and no other; and until I feel perfectly certain that that word really does convey that idea, I had better not use it at all; otherwise I might give a wrong turn to their religious belief.

"I do testify to you," concluded the Bishop, "that if you go the right way to work in dealing with the native races: if you treat them with entire confidence, assume the existence in them of those instincts which belong to them as human beings, and seek to elicit from them all their latent yearnings and cravings after something better than what they at present possess--recognising in them a sense and power of appreciating truth--not troubling yourself with arguments about their superstitious practices, but stating the. positive truth, and trusting to that proof to win a power in their hearts--being careful of everything you do in your intercourse with them--never taking any step beyond the correctly ascertained knowledge of subjects you speak about, and being content to proceed cautiously rather than aiming to produce speedy results; you may, under God's blessing, lay the sure foundation upon which native churches may be built in Melanesia to last for ever."

[230] These words, and their like, spoken at the chief towns of all the Australian provinces, were not without their effect. The Churches of Australia, including of course New Zealand, pledged themselves to support the Mission, so as, in a few years, to free it from the need of help from the mother country. A plan was discovered by which the Mission vessel could be insured, and thus the expense which had attended the wreck of the first Southern Cross lightened, should such a calamity again take place.

Thus, at the very time that the second sickness at the Melanesian College was causing so much anxiety, the Church of Australia, in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, was pledging itself to the support of the Mission. The sickness was a transient though a very great sorrow; the adoption of the Melanesian Mission as the special Mission work of the Church of Australia will, by the grace of God, prove a permanent source of gladness and blessing to millions in all ages.

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