General view of a Christian church—Uniformity of procedure in the different stations—Instructions from England—Preparatory teaching—Distinct nature of a Christian church—Qualifications and duties of communicants—The sacrament of the Lord's Supper—Formation of the first church of Christ in the Leeward Islands—Administration of the ordinance—Substitute for bread—Order of the service—Character, experience, and peculiarities of the communications—Buaiti—Manner of admitting church members—Regard to the declarations of scripture—Instances of the power of conscience—Appointment of deacons—Improvement in parental discipline—Great attention to religion.
While the Lord of Missions was thus thinning our ranks, he was shewing us that the work in which we were engaged was not ours, but his; that though the agent was removed, the agency under which he had acted was not thereby impeded. The pleasing change we had observed among our people every year, increased during the present in an astonishing manner, and we had the high satisfaction of witnessing the formation and organization of the first church of Christ in the Leeward or Society Islands. It took place early in the month of May, and shortly after the opening of the new chapel.page 54
Although we did not experience that difficulty which, from the peculiar circumstances of the Mission and the people, had attended the first administration of baptism, we regarded it as a matter requiring grave and prayerful deliberation. We felt that our proceedings would influence the views and conduct, not only of those by whom we were surrounded, but perhaps of future generations. A foundation was now to be laid, on which, so far as order and discipline were concerned, the superstructure of the Christian church in that island was to rise in every succeeding age, and by which it would certainly be affected in many important respects. Anxious therefore to begin aright, we sought, and trust we received, Divine guidance, endeavouring to regulate our proceedings altogether by the directions of the sacred volume. It was, however, difficult to divest ourselves entirely of those views of the subject which we had imbibed from the writings of men.
A Christian church we considered to be a society of faithful and holy men, voluntarily associated for the purposes of public worship, mutual edification, the participation of the Lord's supper, and the propagation of Christianity: the Lord Jesus Christ was regarded as its spiritual Head; and only such as had given themselves unto the Redeemer, and were spiritually united to him, members. These were our general views. In England we had belonged to different denominations, and, however adapted the peculiarities in discipline, of those communions, might appear to the circumstances of British Christians, we did not deem it expedient to take any one altogether for our model. It appeared to all more desirable, in the existing state of the people, to divest the churches we might be page 55 honoured of God to plant among the Gentiles, of every thing complicated or artificial, that they might be established in the purest simplicity of form, and, as far as possible, according to the directions of revelation. Had any been pertinacious of their peculiarities, they had now the fairest opportunity of acting accordingly.
General good, however, was our object; and that line of procedure, which, as a whole, we could unitedly pursue, in closest accordance with scripture, and at the same time with greatest advantage to the people, was more desired by every one, than any peculiar views on minor points. I believe it is from the paramount influence of these feelings, more than from any other cause, that such uniformity exists. There was no agreement previously entered into among the Missionaries, but those of each station were left, with the people around who might be brought to a reception of the truth, to assume for themselves such form of constitution and discipline, as should in their views be most accordant with the word of God; and yet I am not aware, that in any material point there is the smallest difference among them.
As the subject had long been one of considerable anxiety, we had written to the Directors of the Society for their advice. They in general referred us to the New Testament. Several persons, however, interested in the progress of truth among the islands, wrote to the Missionaries individually, and also communicated their views to the public through the medium of the Evangelical Magaine. Among others, the Rev. Mr. Greathead, whose views of church government were rather peculiar, wrote very fully. His plans were at first adopted by one or two of the Missionaries; page 56 yet the free admission, not only to baptism, but to the ordinance of the Lord's supper, of such persons as sincerely desired to received the same, without requiring evidence of their being true spiritual converts to Christ, threatened great irregularity and confusion; it was therefore discontinued.
In our public instructions, we inculcated on those who, we had reason to believe, were under the decisive influence of the Spirit of Christ, the duty of commemorating his dying love by that ordinance which he had instituted, and by which his disciples were to shew forth his death till he should come.—Those who had been baptized, now desired to be more particularly informed how, and in what circumstances, they were to observe this injunction of the Lord. We, therefore, proposed to devote one afternoon every week to the instruction of such as, having been baptized, desired to be united in church-fellowship. Fifteen indiduals attended the first meeting, and were afterwards joined by others. We met them regularly, and endeavoured to instruct them as fully and familiarly as possible in the duty of partaking of the sacrament; the nature, design, and scriptural constitution of church-fellowship; the discipline to be maintained, the advantages to be anticipated, and the duties resulting therefrom.
Next to the personal piety, which in church-members is considered indispensable, it appeared most important to impress the minds of the people with the distinctness of a Christian church from any political, civil, or other merely human institution. In the system of false religion under which they had lived, and by which their habits of judgment had been formed, the highest civil and sacerdotal offices had been united in one person.— page 57 The king was generally chief priest of the national temple; and the high-priesthood of the principal idols was usually held by some member, or near relative, of the reigning family. On many occasions of worship also, the king was the representative of the god. The chiefs and the gods appear always to have exercised a combined influence over the populace. The power of the gods often seemed only exercised to establish the authority of the king, who was by the people regarded as filling his high station by lineal descent from them, while the measures of the government as often appeared to be pursued to inspire fear, and secure acknowledgments for the gods. Hence, when human sacrifices were required, the priest applied to the king, and the king gave orders to provide the victim. Since the kings and chiefs, as well as the people, had embraced the gospel, and many had taken the lead in propagating it, and had uniformly adorned it by their example, the people sometimes said, that had their chiefs been idolaters or wicked rulers, it would have been improper for them to have interfered in any matters connected with Christianity, but that now they were truly pious, it accorded with their ideas of propriety, that in the Christian church they should, as Christian chiefs, be pre-eminent.
We told them they had not imbibed these ideas in a Christian, but in a pagan school; that the authority of their kings and chiefs was exerted over their persons, and regarded their outward conduct; that they held their high station under God, for the well-being of society, and were, when influenced by uprightness and humanity, the greatest blessings to the communities over which they presided. We also stated, that in this station page 58 every Christian was bound, no less by duty to God than to man, to render obedience to their laws, to respect and maintain their authority, and to pay them every due homage. We also told them, that in the church of Jesus Christ, which was purely a religious association, so far as distinctions among men, from dignity of station, elevation of office, fame, or wealth, were concerned, all members were brethren; and that Christ himself was the only spiritual chief or King; that his influence or reign was not temporal, but, like his authority, spiritual. The only distinction recognized in a Christian church, we informed them, regarded those who acted as officers, and that such distinctions only prevailed in what concerned them as a church, or voluntarily associated religious society, and did not refer to their usual intercourse with the community of which they were members, and in which they were governed by the ordinary regulations established in civilized society. The exercise of any civil power in matters purely religious, we did not think would be advantageous to the latter; and even if such had been our opinion, we could find in the New Testament no example or precept to authorize such proceedure.
The duties which those who united in church fellowship were required to perform towards each other, towards those desirous of uniting with them, and to the careless or irreligious, were also fully and frequently brougth under their notice, together with the paramount duty of every Christian to endeavour to propagate Christianity, that the Christian church might become a kind of nursery, from which other churches might be planted in the extensive wilderness of paganism around.page 59
Next to this, the institution, nature, design, administration, and uses of the Lord's supper, were familiarly explained, that they might understand, as far as possible, the engagement into which they were desirous to enter, and the observances connected therewith.
The Lord's supper, or sacrament, we regarded as analogous to the passover, symbolical of the death of Christ as a propitiation or sacrifice, of which event it was commemorative; that it was designed to perpetuate the remembrance of His death, even to the end of time, and was to be in faith participated by all who build their hopes of admission to the heavenly state on His atonement.
Having been for some months engaged weekly in imparting this kind of instruction to those who had expressed their desire to receive the ordinance of the Lord's supper, the month of May was selected for forming the church. Sixteen individuals, who in the judgment of charity we had every reason to believe were sincere Christians, then met us, and, after imploring the blessing of the great Head of the church, offering a suitable address, and receiving their declaration of faith in Christ, and desire to enjoy the privileges of christian fellowship, a voluntary association was formed, the right-hand of fellowship was given, and they recognized each other as members of the first church of Christ in Huahine.
We did not present any creed or articles of faith for their subscription on this occasion. Sensible of the insufficiency of all mere human writings, however excellent, to restrain the mind, or control the opinions of men, we thought it best to dispense with them, lest the bare assent, or subscription to certain articles of faith, or doctrines of truth, page 60 should be substituted, as grounds of confidence, for an experience of the influence of those doctrines on the heart. Their names only were entered in a book kept by the Missionaries for that purpose, and called the Church-book. This little meeting was held in the chapel at Fare, on Friday evening, the 5th of May, 1820: and it is hoped that what was done on earth among the disciples of Christ below, though it may be dissolved by death, will be realized in his presence above, and endure through eternity.
On the following Sabbath, May the 7th, an unusual number attended the large place of worship. Mr. Davies preached in the forenoon, from Luke xxii. 19. In front of the pulpit, a neat table, covered with white native cloth, was fixed, upon which the sacramental vessels were placed. These had been furnished from England. Wheaten bread was an article of diet that we did not very often obtain ourselves, and which the people seldom tasted: we should have preferred it for this ordinance, yet, as we could not, from the irregularity and uncertainty of our supplies at that period, expect always to have it, we deemed it better to employ an article of food as nearly resembling it as possible, and which was at all times procurable. From these considerations, we felt no hesitation in using, on this occasion, the roasted or baked bread-fruit, pieces of which were placed on the proper vessel.
Wine, we were also thankful to possess for this purpose; and although we have sometimes been apprehensive that we might be under the necessity of substituting the juice of the cocoa-nut for that of the grape, or discontinuing the observance of this ordinance, (to which latter painful alternative, page 61 some of our brethren have been reduced,) we have been providentially favoured with a sufficiency. Over the elements placed on the table, a beautifully white cloth had been spread, before the accustomed service began. When this was over, although it was intimated that any who wished might retire, no one left the chapel. Mr. Davies, the senior Missionary or pastor of the church, took his station behind the communion-table; Mr. Barff sat at one end; and I took my seat at the other.
When the communicants had seated themselves in a line in front, we sung a hymn. The words of institution, viz. passages of scripture containing the directions for the observance of this hallowed festival, &c. were read, a blessing implored, and the bread, which was then broken, handed to each individual. The wine was next poured into the cup, a blessing again sought, when the wine was handed to the communicants. After this, another hymn was sung, a short prayer offered, and the service closed.
I have been thus particular in detailing the order observed on this occasion, as affording not only a correct statement of our proceedings at this time, but also a brief general view of the manner of administering this sacred ordinance in the different Missionary stations throughout the islands.
It would be impossible to give any thing like an adequate description of my own emotions, at this only interesting service. The scene was worth coming from England to witness, and I trust the impression was as salutary as it was powerful and solemn. I am also quite unable to conceive what the feelings of our senior colleague must at this page 62 time have been. He had been many years among the people before any change in favour of Christianity took place, and had often beheld them, not only ignorant and wretched, sunk to the lowest state of debasing impurity, and accustomed to the perpetration of the most horrid cruelty, but altogether given to idolatry, and often mad after their idols.
Our joy arose, in a great degree, from the delightful anticipation awakened in connexion with the admission of the anxious multitude, who were waiting to enter into, and, we hoped, prepared of God to participate in, all the blessings which this ordinance signified, and in reference to the eternity we hoped to spend with them, when we should join the church triumphant above. His joys, however, in addition to those arising from these sources, must have been powerfully augmented by the recollection of what those individuals once were, and the many hours of apparently cheerless and hopeless toil he had bestowed upon them, now so amply, so astonishingly rewarded.
A state of feeling, almost unearthly, seemed to pervade those who now, for the first time, united with their teachers in commemorating the dying love of Christ. Recollection, perhaps, presented in strong colours the picture of their former state. Their abominations, their reckless cruelty, their infatuation in idolatry, the frequent, impure, and sanguinary rites in which they had engaged—their darkened minds, and still darker prospects—arose, perhaps, in vivid and rapid succession. At the sdame time, in striking contrast with their former feelings, their present desire after moral purity, their occupation in the worship of Jehovah, their hopes of pardon and acceptance with him, page 63 through the atonement made by the offering of his Son, the boundless and overwhelming effects of his love herein displayed, and the radiant light and hopes of everlasting blessedness and spiritual enjoyment, which, by the event commemorated, they were encouraged to anticipate, were all adapted to awaken, in minds susceptible as theirs, no common train of feelings. Often have we seen the intense emotion of the heart, at these seasons, strongly depicted in the countenance, and the face suffused with tears.
The hundreds who remained to witness the scene were not unconcerned spectators. Their deep interest in what was passing, was indicated in their thoughtful and agitated countenances, and the subsequent conduct of many evinced the kind of impression they received. The anxious concern which we had witnessed among the people, since the preceding summer, appeared to increase, and demanded redoubled efforts for their spiritual advantage. Numbers came as candidates for baptism, and regularly attended the meeting for the instruction of such. Others, from among those who had been baptized, desired to be admitted to church fellowship.
Our liveliest affections were awakened on their behalf; but while we had reason to believe many were sincere, we had also reason to fear that others were influenced by less commendable motives. Anxious to afford encouragement or caution, as the circumstances or character of each required, it was not easy to satisfy our own minds as to the best manner of proceeding. We feared to discourage any who were sincerely seeking a more intimate acquaintance with Christ, and who were desirous to be fully instructed in all things concerning page 64 his will. On the other hand, we were equally fearful of encouraging the indulgence of improper views, or of admitting to the ordinances of the gospel any who were uninfluenced by those motives which Christ would approve.
There was, however, no part of our charge in whose welfare were now felt so deeply interested, as the little flock, of which the great Shepherd had made us the pastors. So far from considering our work done, with special reference to those whom we had instructed in the nature of a Christian church, and had admitted to this fold, we considered it as only the commencement of a new series of important and interesting duties, arising out of the new relation now subsisting between us. We experienced an attachment binding our hearts to theirs, to which we had before been strangers, and we had reason to believe the feeling was reciprocal.
Their knowledge was but limited, notwithstanding all our efforts to instruct them; and as their duties increased, their situation became more conspicuous, and their temptations greater. Latent depravity still lurked in their hearts, and it might be expected that their great spiritual adversary would not leave them unmolested. We were also fearful lest the privileges they were raised to enjoy might engender or nourish secret pride, or induce a disposition to rest satisfied with having obtained admission to the outward and visible church of Christ, and thus lead them to neglect that constant seeking after God, and the cultivation of those Christian virtues, by which alone they could sustain, with credit to Christianity, and benefit to their own minds, the situation to which they had been raised. They would naturally become models page 65 of imitation to others, and would exert no ordinary influence on the community at large. It was therefore gratifying to behold them humble, prayerful, watchful, and diligent. The weekly meeting with the candidates for communion, whose number was greatly increased, we constantly attended, and recommended the church members not to absent themselves unnecessarily.
At these times we endeavoured to explain the truths in which they were most interested, and, with regard to the members themselves, leaving the first principles of the doctrines of Christ, we endeavoured gradually and gently to lead them on to a more extensive acquaintance with the grand and varied doctrines of the gospel, and the important relative and other duties resulting therefrom.
These meetings were exceedingly interesting, from the simple yet unequivocal evidences often afforded of the operation of the Spirit of the Almighty upon the hearts of the people. Our little church, from time to time, received considerable accessions of such as we had reason to hope were also members of the church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven.
In the admission of members, we acted with what perhaps many would consider the extreme of caution. Individuals whose moral character has been irreproachable, whose views of divine truth have been clear and scriptural, and whose motives, so far as we could judge, have been pure, have remained two, and sometimes three years as candidates, although we could not prefer any allegation directly against them. The admission of such has been declined, because we feared, that though their knowledge was commendable, and their conduct page 66 influenced by the precepts of the gospel, their hearts were not under its decisive influence; in short, that they had not undergone that change of mind, which our Lord himself, in his conversation with Nicodemus, called being “born again,” and without which he had declared no man can enter into the kingdom of heaven. In other instances, however, the testimony relative to this change was so decisive and powerful, that we could not, dared not, hesitate.
The reason the natives have given of their Christian hope, has often been not only satisfactory, as it regarded the individual, but important, and in a high degree interesting, as an evidence of the universality of the depravity of man; and also as shewing the effects of Divine truth, under the influence of the Spirit of God, to be the same in every clime, producing corresponding effects upon men of every diversity in colour, language, and circumstance. Hence, one of the strongest modern evidences in the history of man, of the unequivocal origin of Christianity, has been afforded, and its perfect adaptation to the condition of the whole human race.
The same latent enmity to the moral restraints Christianity imposes on the vicious propensities of men, the same unwillingness to admit its uncompromising claims to the surrender of the heart, was experienced here, as in other parts. The same tendency to suppose the favour of God might be obtained by services which they could perform, and the same unbelief under convictions of sin, and unwillingness to go to the Saviour without a recommendation—that is so often met with in others—was felt by them.
But while, in these respects, the experience of page 67 the converts in the South Sea Islands resembled that of Christians in other parts of the world, there were points in which it has often appeared to us peculiar. We never met with one who doubted the natural depravity, or innate tendency to evil, in the human heart. We never met with any who were inclined to suppose they could, without some procuring cause, be justified in the sight of God. This may perhaps arise from the circumstance of there being no individual among them, whose past life had not been polluted by deeds which even natural conscience told them were wrong, and consequently, no arguments were necessary to convince any one that he was guilty before God. They must have denied the existence of the Deity, and of all by which the living God is distinguished from their own senseless idols, before they could for a moment suppose their past lives appeared otherwise than criminal before Him. Their fearful state, and the consequences of guilt, they never disputed, but were always ready to acknowledge that they must not only appear criminal, but offensive to the Most High, on account of their vices. There were, however, in connexion with these truths, matters associated with the impression upon their minds, that sometimes a little surprised us.
Under declarations of the nature and dreadful consequences of sin, aggravated as theirs had been, the denunciation of the penalties of the law of God, and even under the awakenings of their own consciences to a conviction of sin, we seldom perceived that deep and acute distress of mind, which in circumstances of a similar kind we should have expected. In connexion with this, when such individuals were enabled to exercise faith in the page 68 atonement of Christ, and to indulge a hope of exemption from all the fearful effects of sin and guilt, this apprehension has not, in many instances, been attended by that sudden relief, and that exstatic joy, which is often manifested in other parts of the world, by individuals in corresponding circumstances. Yet, in many instances, we have not doubted the sincerity of their declarations, or the genuineness of their faith in the Redeemer.
We have often tried to account for this apparent anomaly in their Christian character, but have not been altogether satisfied with the causes to which we have sometimes assigned it. It does not appear, generally, that their emotions are so acute as ours, or that they are equally susceptible of joy and sorrow with persons trained in civilized society. Besides this, though their ideas of the nature and consequences of sin, the blessedness of forgiveness, and the hope of future happiness, were correct so far as they went, yet the varied representations of the punishment and sufferings of the wicked, and the corresponding views of heaven, as the state of the greatest blessedness, being to them partial and new, the impressions were probably vague and indistinct; while with us, from long familiarity, they are at once vivid and powerful. Without pausing to inquire into its cause, it seemed right to mention the fact; better reasons may perhaps be assigned.
We have often also remarked, that there are but few of what would be called sudden conversions. In general, the process by which their views and feelings have been changed, has been gradual, and almost imperceptible, as to its precise manner of operation, though ultimately most decisive page 69 in its nature, and unquestionable in its tendency. Though these gradual transformations are the general means by which, through the Holy Spirit, we hope many have been made partakers of the grace of eternal life, there have been exceptions. Some have been melted under the truth, others have been led to rejoice in the promises of the gospel, and raised to gladness and praise. These facts are adapted to shew that the Spirit of God is not limited, in the manner of His operations on the human mind, to any one particular kind of order and rule.
The accounts of their views of Divine truth, and their reasons for desiring to join with us, have often been delightful and satisfactory, not only in the Society, but also in the northern isles of the Pacific. One from a native of the latter, although it has appeared in the American Missionary Herald, has not been given to the British public; and its character is so unequivocal, that I cannot deny myself the pleasure of inserting it.
Buaiti, the individual to whom it refers, is between thirty and forty years of age. I believe I had the honour of preaching the gospel in his native islands the first time he ever heart it. It, however, produced no salutary effect then; nor, indeed, until some time after. Since I left the islands, the preaching and instructions of Mr. Richards have been singularly useful to this individual, as well as to others; he has given every evidence of their having, under the blessing of God, produced an entire and highly beneficial change in his sentiments, feelings, and conduct.
The late queen of the Sandwich Islands, with her usual benevolence, had always treated him with kindness; and the recollection of it is still page 70 retained. Buaiti was his native name, but, when he was baptized, he wished to be called Bartimeus; and, in order to preserve the sense of his loss in the death of the queen, he requested that Lalana, London, the place of her death, might be added to his name. When he was admitted a member of the Christian church at Lahaina, he was asked by the Missionary, Why do you request to be received into the church? He replied—
Because I love Jesus Christ, I love you, and I desire to dwell with you in the fold of Christ, and to join with you in eating the holy bread, and drinking the holy wine.
What is the holy bread?
It is the body of Christ, which he gave to save sinners.
Do we then eat the body of Christ?
No; but we eat the bread which means his body: and, as we eat bread that our bodies may not die, so our souls love Jesus Christ, and receive him for their Saviour, that they may not die.
What is the holy wine?
It is the blood of Christ, which he poured out on Calvary, in Jerusalem in Judea, to save us sinners.
Do we, then, drink the blood of Christ?
No; but the wine signifies his blood, just as the holy bread signifies his body: and all those who go to Christ, and lean on him, will have their sins washed away by his blood, and their souls saved for ever in heaven.
Why do you think it more suitable that you should join the church than others?
Perhaps it is not, (hesitating.) If it is not proper, you must tell me. But I do greatly desire to dwell with you in the fold of Christ.page 71
Who do you think are the proper persons to be received into the church?
Those who have repented of their sins, and have obtained new hearts.
What is a new heart?
It is one which loves God, and loves the word of God, and does not love sin, or sinful ways.
Do you think you have obtained a new heart?
At one time I think I have, and then again I think I have not. I do not know,—I hope I have a new heart.
What makes you hope you have a new heart?
This is the reason why I hope I have a new heart. The heart I have now is not like the heart I formerly had. The one I have now is very bad, it is unbelieving, and inclined to evil. But it is not like the one I formerly had. Yes; I think I have a new heart.
The satisfaction arising from this simple yet decisive testimony, is increased from a knowledge of the fact stated by Mr. Richards; namely, that these questions and answers were not committed to memory, and merely recited on the occasion, but that they were the undisguised motives and feelings by which he was influenced. He had no knowledge of the questions that would be proposed, until the time when they would be publicly asked, and consequently could not have previously framed the replies he gave. The above may be taken as a sample of the kind of declarations made by those who are united in church-fellowship; and though it relates to a native of the North Pacific Isles, it resembles, in its principal characteristics, many given by the natives of the Southern group. Simplicity is the distinguishing feature in all their religious intercourse of this kind.page 72
The meeting of such as were desirous of uniting with us continued; and from among those who attended, many were added to the church. Besides this meeting, we held one with the communicants only, on the Friday evening preceding the Sabbath when the ordinance was administered, which was the first Sabbath in every month. At these times, new members were proposed by the Missionary, or by any member, to the whole body. Inquiry was made of those present, as to their eligibility, and if any had objections to an individual, he was requested to state them there; if not, one or two of the members were directed to call upon the parties at their habitations, to converse with them, and report the same at the next meeting, for the satisfaction of the church. It was regarded by us a duty, to see these persons more than once during the intervening month.
At the next meeting, these individuals were proposed by name; the recommendation of the persons who had visited them, and of the Missionary, given; and if the members present knew any reasons why they should not be united with them, they were requested to state the same; if not, to signify assent by lifting up the right hand. When the members proposed had been thus individually approved, as they were usually in attendance, they were brought to the chapel, and interrogated singly, as to their reasons for desiring to unite with us. To these questions brief replies were usually rendered; and they were informed that the members of the church, considering them proper persons, were happy to receive them. The right hand of fellowship was then given by the Missionaries, and subsequently by the members, to those thus page 73 received; and the meeting closed with devotional exercises.
We did not require any written confession of faith, nor invariably a verbal account of experience, from the persons admitted. In this latter respect, our procedure was not uniform, but regulated by the peculiar circumstances of the individual.
There is another pleasing trait in their Christian character, namely, their undoubting reception of the scriptures, as a Divine revelation. We have plainly and uniformly stated its truths, inculcating among them no opinions or sentiments, on matters of religion, but such as are found in the Bible; declaring that what it taught was essential, and that all the opinions of men, however excellent, are in comparison unimportant. To the Bible we have always appealed, as the authority for what we have taught, stating that its declarations allowed of no evasion. The injunctions of scripture they have therefore been accustomed to receive implicitly, as they are recorded; and while they exercise their own judgments very freely in matters of human opinion, I never knew one, who professed himself a Christian, inclined to doubt the authority of the Bible. To this standard we have always referred their sentiments and their conduct; and by the criterion it furnishes, we always recommended their examining their own condition, rather than comparing themselves with others.
Often, when we have recommended some measure of a religious or general nature, which we have supposed would be advantageous to them, they have inquired, What says the scripture? Is there any thing about it in the word of God? If, as was sometimes the case, we were under the necessity of stating, that there was nothing in the page 74 scripture directly referring to our recommendation, but that it was according to the general tenor and spirit of the scriptures, or corresponding with the practive of Christians in England, or that we thought it would prove beneficial,—they would sometimes answer, “That may be very good, but as it is only a matter of opinion with you, we will think about it.” On the other hand, so far as those who were members of our churches, or had been baptized, were concerned, I cannot recollect any measure we ever proposed, for which we could refer to the explicit declaration of scripture as our authority, that they did not at once unhesitatingly adopt. It was much more satisfactory to us that the conduct of their lives should be regulated by principles derived from the scripture, than by the opinion of their teachers, however highly they might respect them; and we had always rather that they should ask, “What says the word of God?” than, “What say the Missionaries?” The opinions of their teachers may change, or teachers of different opinions may succeed them, but the word of God will endure unalterably the same, being a more sure word, whereunto they do well to take heed.
What the experience of my predecessors in the field may have been, with regard to the manner in which the natives were disposed to admit the claims of the scriptures to a divine origin, I am not prepared to state with confidence. I believe, however, it was not so much to the divine authority, as to the doctrines of the sacred volume, that they objected. So far as my recollection serves, with regard to the island of Huahine, the inhabitants, though not idolaters, certainly were not Christians, except in name; and in the Sandwich page 75 Islands, where, on my first arrival, the people were more opposed than inclined to all that is essential to Christianity, I do not remember to have met with an individual disposed to doubt the origin, or dispute the authority, of revelation. It was to the injunctions and doctrines of the Bible, that humbled their pride, and prohibited their vicious practices, &c. that they objected.
It may be said, that while they believed in idolatry—and revelations from the gods by dreams, or other intimations through the medium of the priests, were acknowledged—they might suppose the truths of the Bible to be a collection of revelations similar in kind to these, only, as a priest on one occasion stated to me, better preserved, being “made fast upon the paper.” But after they had renounced idolatry, and treated with contempt the notions formerly entertained respecting the power of the gods, and regarded all the pretended revelations of them as deceptions of the priests, the claims of the Bible remained undisputed.
The uniform acceptance of the declarations of Scripture as Divine communications to mankind, was not the result of any arguments employed by us. We never attempted to establish by argument what they were not inclined to doubt. Our instructions were, therefore, generally delivered in the simplicity of assertion or testimony, accompanied with suitable admonition and application to our hearers; taking it as an admitted principle, that the scriptures contained a declaration of the will of God.
When asked, as we sometimes were, “How do you know the Bible is the word of God?” we did not adduce an infallible church, by which it had been determined what were the canonical books, page 76 and by whom they had been preserved; nor did we refer them often to the testimony of history, to prove that the persons, whose names were affixed to the different parts, actually wrote the books ascribed to them; but we referred them to their internal evidence, their harmony or accordance with the works of creation, and the dispensations of Providence, in their display of the Divine character and perfections, their admirable adaptation to the end for which they were given, and the universality of their application to mankind. Next to the agency of that blessed Spirit, under whose influence those scriptures were first penned, and by which alone they become the means of spiritual illumination to any individual, the internal evidences of the Bible have operated upon the minds of the natives with greatest force. When they have been asked why they believed the scriptures to be the word of God, they have answered, “We believe they have a higher than human origin, because they reveal what man could never know; not only in reference to God himself, but our own origin and destinies, and what, when revealed, appears to us true; because its declarations accord with the testimony of our own consciences, as to the moral character of our actions; and because, though written by persons who never saw us, or knew our thoughts, it describes so accurately our inclinations, imaginations, motives, and passions. It must have been dicated by One who knew what man was, better than we know each other, or it could not have displayed our actual state so correctly.” These, or declarations to the same effect, if not given in precisely the same words, were the reasons they frequently assigned for believing the divine origin of the scriptures.page 77
Several remarkable instances of the effect of the word of God, and the power of conscience, occurred about the year 1819. One Sabbath morning, Mr. Nott had been preaching from the words— “Let him that stole, steal no more.” In his discourse, he had refuted the idea they had formerly held, that theft was no crime, but rather an act of merit, if committed with dexterity; and had shewn that the circmutsance of detection or escape did not alter the moral quality of the act in the sight of God; that every means employed unjustly to deprive another of his property, was an act of theft and that restitution ought to be made for past robberies, as well as honesty practised for the future. The next morning, when he arose and opened his door, he saw a number of natives sitting on the ground in the front of his dwelling. Their appearance was rather singular, and the unseasonable time of their assembling led him to inquire the cause. They answered, “We have not been able to sleep all night; we were in the chapel yesterday; we thought, when we were pagans, that it was right to steal when we could do it without being found out. Hiro, the god of thieves, used to assist us. But we heard what you said yesterday from the word of God, that Jehovah had commanded that we should not steal. We have stolen, and all these things that we have brought with us are stolen goods.” One then lifted up an axe, a hatchet, or a chisel, and exclaimed, “I stole this from the carpenter of such a ship,” naming the vessel, &c. Others held up an umeti, or a saw, or a knife; and, indeed, almost every kind of moveable property was brought and exhibited, with confessions of its having been stolen. Mr. Nott said, rather smilingly, “What page 78 have you brought them to me for? I do not want them.” (The sentiment had often been circulated, that the receiver of stolen goods was as bad as the thief.) “You had better take them home, and, if you have stolen any from your own countrymen, return them; and when the ships come again from which any of the goods have been stolen, take them back, together with a present to the captain or the carpenter, expressive of your desire to make restitution.” They all said— “Oh, no, we cannot take them back; we have had no peace ever since we heard it was displeasing to God, and we shall have no peace so long as they remain in our dwellings; we wish you to take them, and give them back to the owners whenever they come.” Such was the power of conscience, that although they were even tools, which the natives value more highly than gold, and although Mr. Nott requested them to take them back, he could not persuade one of them to do so; they left them all with him, to be returned to their owners. They went even farther than this: some had stolen articles from one of the Missionaries at Eimeo. They fitted up a canoe, and with the first fair wind undertook a voyage upwards of seventy miles, for the purpose of carrying back what they had taken.
In the island of Raiatea, a native, walking on one occasion towards the mountain, discovered a hen's nest, with a number of eggs in it, at the root of a tree. He eagerly seized the prize, put the eggs in the native cloth he wore, and proceeded with them to his house. On the way, he recollected the commandment—“Thou shalt not steal,” and though he had found the nest far from any habitation, in the midst of the woods, and did not know that he had robbed any one except the hen, page 79 yet he knew the eggs were not his; and so powerful was the impression of the impropriety of the action, that he returned to the nest, and very carefully replaced the eggs.
A similar course was pursued by a native with whom I was once travelling across the island, with regard to a pocket-knife that he had picked up, but afterwards threw down, near the same place, simply because it did not belong to him.
These facts are most pleasing and decisive illustrations of the power of Christian principles. Yet every individual is not influenced by them. These were Christian men; there are others who are such only in name, and who are addicted to the practice of pilfering and theft, especially at those stations near the harbours which are the most frequent resorts of shipping, where the temptations are greatest, and the influence of foreign intercourse most injurious. Nevertheless, when we consider that they were formerly, as every navigator by whom they were visited has testified, almost a nation of thieves—that Hiro, the god of thieves and plunderers, occupied a place in their mythology, and had a temple and priests—we cannot but admire the operation of Christian principles in producing, in such a number of instances, a conscientious regard to justice and honesty. It was, there is reason to believe with many, the result, not of an apprehension of detection, but of a strict regard to moral rectitude, and the declared will of Him who said, “Thou shalt not steal.”
Towards the close of the year 1820, Mr. Davies left Fare, to supply the station at Papara, in Tahiti which had been destitute of a Missionary since the decease of Messrs. Tessier and Bicknell. The management of the press, supplying the books for page 80 the whole of the Leeward Islands, the superintendence of the schools, promoting the civilization of the people, attending the religious meetings together with our pastoral duties, now pressed so heavily upon us, that we found some assistance requisite. This we necessarily sought among the converts, and were happy to find four persons members of the church, suitable to act as assistants, whom we proposed to the church to elect as deacons. Diaconi is the term by which they are designated; not, however, selected from any strong predilection to the term, or any extraordinary importance attached to it, but because a scriptural term, and one more easily assimilated to the idiom of their language than some others.
On the 15th of February, 1821, they were set apart in the church to this office, by an address from 1 Tim. iii. 10. and prayer for the blessing of God upon them. Auna, Taua, Pohuetea, and Matatore, were the persons selected, and so long as I continued in the islands, we found them consistent Christians, and valuable coadjutors in managing the temporal concerns of the church, visiting the sick, attending the prayer-meetings, &c.
Religion was now almost the sole business of the people at Fare, and the adjacent districts; and although the meetings were frequent, many continued to visit our dwellings, sometimes by daybreak; and often, after we had retired to rest at night, one or two would come knocking gently at our doors or windows, begging us to give them directions, or to answer their inquiries as to the thoughts that distressed their minds. No time, no place, appeared to them unappropriate; and whether they sat in the house, or walked by the way—skimmed page 81 the surface of the water in their light canoe, or laboured in the garden—religion was the topic of their conversation. Their motives were various, and probably often of a very mixed character. Some were influenced by a desire to be thought well of by their neighbours; many wished to be baptized without feeling the necessity of, or more earnestly seeking, that spiritual purification which it signified; and others, perhaps, considering church-membership as the highest Christian distinction they could gain, desired to be admitted to the communion, as an end of their profession, rather than a means of higher spiritual attainments.
Such individuals, we deemed it, on all occasions, necessary to caution with the greatest distinctness and fidelity. But while these were the motives by which we have reason to believe many were influenced, there were others who certainly acted from different feelings, who were unable to rest under a sense of guilt and its fearful consequences; who desired to hear more about God, his mercy to sinners, and the love of their Saviour, that their burden of sin might be removed; while some, desirous of expressing their sense of the goodness of God, were anxious to be informed what they might do to promote his praise. I can-not look back upon this period of my Missionary life with indifference; nor can I contemplate the state of the people at this time, without believing that the Spirit of God was powerfully operating upon the minds of many. Of this, their subsequent lives have afforded satisfactory evidence. Instability is one of the prominent traits of Tahitian character; and did we not believe in a higher agency than their own purposes or principles, we page 82 should fear that many would abandon the profession they have made, and return to their former course of life.
Although the advantages resulting from frequent meetings for religious conversation were too obvious to allow us to withhold every encouragement; and though, under the present circumstances and feelings of the people, they were peculiarly so; yet, as many of the communicants, and several who were desirous of uniting with them, were females, there were many things in reference to which they needed advice, but which they did not deem suitable to introduce at a public meeting. Mrs. Barff and Mrs. Ellis, therefore, being able to converse familiarly in the native language, proposed to meet the female members of the church, and those of their own sex who were desirous of joining them, once a week, for general conversation, and mutual spiritual improvement. This was an interesting meeting; it was held alternately at our respective habitations, Mrs. Barff and Mrs. Ellis both attending. It commenced with singing a hymn; a prayer was offered, and a portion of scripture read. After this, the most unreserved conversation followed, on religious subjects, the training of their children, and other relative duties connected with the new order of things which Christianity had introduced.
Parental discipline among the people, prior to their reception of Christianity, had been remarkably lax. The children were their own masters as soon as they could act for themselves, and the restraint which the mother could impose was trifling indeed. Such, indeed, was the abundance of provision, that the maintenance of a child was a matter of no anxiety to any one. Hence, if a boy page 83 felt offended with his parents, he left them without ceremony, attached himself to another family in an adjacent or remote district, and remained for months without visiting his father's house. To restrain these fugitive habits, and train their children to regular industry, was one of the duties inculcated on Christian parents; yet the children could but ill brook any restraint. I have seen a child, not more than six years old, strike or throw stones at his mother, and the father would often-times be scarcely more regarded. And notwith-standing all the instructions they have received, that important duty, the proper management of children, is still very imperfectly understood and practised.
The mothers appeared anxious to influence the minds of their children, and gain their respect by kindness. The fathers sometimes had recourse to harsher measures. Hoibu had two sons, that were a source of great trouble to him. One of our number went one day into his house, which was a native dwelling, with no other ceiling than the inside of the roof, the ridge-pole extending along the centre, about twenty feet from the floor. After talking some time with the man, the visitor heard something rustling in a long basket of cocoa-nut leaves at the top of the house, and, looking up, saw the legs and arms of a boy protruding from the basket. On inquiring the cause of this, Hoibu said, the boy had been disobedient, and, in order to convince him of his error, he had first talked to him, and then put him into the basket, and, passing a rope over the ridge-pole, had fastened one end of it to the basket, and, pulling the other, had drawn him up there, that he might think on his disobedience, and not be guilty of the same again. page 84 He was informed that it was rather a novel mode of punishment, and that it was hoped he would not keep him there long. He said, no, he should lower him before the evening. A similar mode of punishment may, I believe, have been used in some of our public schools, in which a kind of large birdcage has been substituted for a basket; but of this Hoibu had never heard. The invention was his own, and it was scarcely possible to repress a smile at the ludicrous appearance of the suspended boy.
Although the training of their children, and other domestic duties, which the females were now called to discharge, were important matters of inquiry, there were others, more deeply interesting, frequently brought forward at their meetings. Some of these questions regarded the children who were born since the gospel had been introduced, and who they were most anxious should share all its blessings; others frequently referred to such as they had murdered under the influence of idolatry. Sometimes a mother would, in enumerating the crimes of which she had been guilty, recount the number of her children she had destroyed, and with anguish relate her struggles of affection, or pangs of remorse, and the distress she now felt; observing, that their images were ever present to her thoughts, and, as it were, constantly haunting her paths, so that she was afraid even to retire to the secret places of the bushes for private prayer, lest their ghosts should rise before her. Often such individuals would say, they feared there was no hope of mercy for them, that they had repeatedly committed the premeditated murder of the innocent, and would perhaps repeat the scripture declaration, that no murderer hath eternal page 85 life abiding in him, and ask, “Ought I go to Jesus Christ for pardon? were any murderers of their own children ever forgiven?”
While some would ask such questions as these, or state them as the exercises of their own minds, there were others who would speak of the cruelties of which they had been guilty, with a want of feeling that has appeared to border on insensibility to their enormity. Many, however, especially those who were most sensible of the mercy of God through Christ, would on these occasions expatiate on the amazing forbearance of Jehovah, in sparing such merciless creatures as they had been. They would also express their astonishment at the love of Christ in dying for them; and the abundance of his compassion, in continuing to send them the intelligence of his salvation, and, after they had long disregarded it, not only forbearing, but making them willing in the day of his power; melting their hearts, drawing them with cords of affection, and now causing them to rejoice in his love shed abroad in their hearts.
Occasionally they would, in most affecting strains, allude to the anguish which the sight of their neighbours’ children produced, by recalling to remembrance those whom they had destroyed. The contrast they often drew between their own childless and desolate condition through their former cruel practice of infant murder, and that of those happy parents who, under the reign of the Messiah, were surrounded by their children, was touching and painful. These were topics that could not be discussed without emoion, either by those who brought them forward, or by those from whom direction and advice were sought.
There was another matter connected with this page 86 of scarcely inferior interest, and that was the state of those infants after death. Are their spirits, they would say, in outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth—or are they happy? In reply to this, they were informed, that though they had not sinned, they had suffered death as the effect of Adam's transgression, yet that there was reason to hope and believe they were interested in the covenant of redemption, the condition of which the Lord Jesus Christ had fulfilled, and that therefore they were happy.
It is impossible to conceive the satisfaction of mind which this opinion has inspired in those who had been guilty of the destruction of their offspring, though they were still sensible that the final condition of the murdered infants did not diminish the criminality of the unnatural deed.
In reference to this point, they would often ask whether they should in heaven know those they had been acquainted with on earth, and especially if there they should recognize the children they had destroyed. In reply, they were informed, that from all that was said on the heavenly state in the scriptures, there was reason to believe that friends on earth would know each other there, and that it was probable christian mothers would meet their children.
These were not mere speculative inquiries, the parties had a deep personal interest in them; and Mrs. Ellis has been greatly affected in witnessing the emotions with which these discussions have been carried on. I can readily suppose it altogether impossible to conceive of the rapturous expectation with which a christian mother, child-less and desolate from her own cruelties, would by faith anticipate meeting in a world of spirits the page 87 children she had murdered in her days of ignorance on earth, and joining with them to celebrate the praises of Him who had snatched them from the region of sin ere they had felt its bitter contamination, and by whom she had been brought to share redemption from its curse.
This opinion was not given simply to afford alleviation to the distressed feelings of such unhappy parents, but because it did not seem opposed, but rather favoured, by the word of God, agreeable to the benevolent character of the Deity, and adapted to enlarge our views of His compassion, without affecting His other attributes. We could, therefore, adopt the language and sentiments of the poet, in the belief that,
“The harp of heaven
Had lack'd its least, but not its meanest string
Had children not been taught to play upon it,
And sing, from feelings all their own, what men
Nor angels can conceive of creatures, born
Under the curse, yet from the curse redeem'd,
And placed at once beyond the power to fall,
Safely, which men nor angels ever knew,
Till ranks of these, and all of those, had fallen.”
The meeting of the females was closed with prayer by one of the natives, who, if a mother, would give the child, she had perhaps been nursing in her lap, to some one sitting by. Their prayers were marked by deep spirituality and strong feeling; and, I believe, these meetings were among the seasons of most intense and painful, or joyous and hallowed emotion, ever experienced. The individual engaging in the devotional exercise has sometimes, from the strength of feeling, been unable to proceed, and tears alone ave afforded relief.page 88
Early in the year 1821, in order to cultivate the most affectionate and profitable intercourse with our people, we proposed, in addition to visits in times of sickness, to pay to each family a pastoral visit, for part of an evening, once a month, or at least once in the course of two months. Mr. Barff and myself, dividing the families between us, were enabled to accomplish this. We were received with kindness by the parties, and it was our study to make these visits advantageous. The time was not spent in the useless recital of the passing reports of the day; we addressed ourselves to each indidual, when circumstances admitted, directing and encouraging them in their adherence to the Saviour, or inviting them to Him, and concluded our visit by uniting in prayer for the blessing of God upon their household, &c. We trust these domiciliary visits were beneficial; they were often cheering to our own minds. Some of the many happy hours I have been privileged to spend in Missionary occupations have been those passed in the native families on such occasions. Here we sometimes saw the household virtues, the endearments of social and domestic comfort, cherished—shedding their benign, elevating, and purifying influence upon a family, the principal members, and sometimes the greater part, of which were enjoying that blessing which maketh rich, and addeth no sorrow, and were preparing to join the family of the redeemed in the abodes of blessedness.
Associated with these delightful duties, there were others equally needful, but less pleasing, which we were called to discharge, in connexion with the infant church we had been honoured to gather. These were acts of discipline, in the page 89 dismissal of those who, by their conduct, had disgraced the Christian profession. On these occasions, we presented to their consideration the direction of the scriptures, and the duty of the church resulting therefrom; and when it was necessary to dismiss an individual from fellowship, it was always done with solemn prayer and most affecting regret.
We were not called to this painful duty soon or often. One or two instances occurred before I removed to the Sandwich Islands. They were, however, exceedingly distressing, especially the first, which preyed so constantly upon the mind of the individual, that, though fully convinced of his fault, and the propriety of the proceeding, he never recovered the shock he received. It was exceedingly painful to those who could no longer, without dishonouring the Christian name, allow him to be identified with them, to separate him. He soon offered every evidence of deep and sincere penitence, and was affectionately invited to return to the bosom of the church: but although he came again among them, a cloud ever after hung over him; and a disease, aggravated by mental anxiety, attacked his frame, and soon brought him to the grave.
Christian churches were formed upon the same or similar principles in the Windward or Georgian Islands, some months before this was established in Huahine. From the peculiar local circumstances of the people, the churches in Tahiti have been exposed to greater trials than that in Huahine has yet experienced, especially those formed in stations adjacent to the anchorage of shipping. In the vicinity of these, the baneful influence of foreign seamen is most destructive of moral improvement page 90 and Christian propriety; and it is probable that there is more immorality among the inhabitants, and more disorder in the churches, at the stations which are the resort of shipping, than in all others throughout the islands. Still the churches there, have not been, and are not, without some indication of the Divine care and blessing.
Subsequently, churches were formed in Raiatea, Tahaa, and Borabora, which have in general prospered. As their constitution and proceedings resemble those of Huahine, it is unnecessary to detail their origin or progress. I have selected that in Huahine, not because it is superior to others for its order, or faith, or the piety of its members, but because it was that of which I was, with my esteemed colleague, a pastor, till the providence of God called me to another field of Missionary labour—and because it was planted in the station at which I spent the greater part of the time I resided in the South Sea Islands.
I have also been minute, perhaps too much so, in detailing its nature, order, and discipline. This has not arisen from a desire to give it undue prominency, but because it forms an important epoch in the history of the people, and is a matter of considerable interest with many who are concerned in the extension of the Christian faith throughout the world; I also conceived the patrons of the South Sea Mission entitled to the most ample information on the subject.
It has not been my object to exhibit the plan and order of this, or the other churches in those islands, as models of perfection, nor to claim for them any degree of excellency which others, formed and regulated differently in some minor respects, might not possess; but simply to narrate page 91 our own views, and consequent proceedings, in reference to measures which will be regarded with indifference by few, whatever may be their peculiar opinions as to the plan we have pursued. From all, I would ask fervent prayer, that whatever has been contrary to the will of God may be amended, and that what has been agreeable thereto may continue to receive his blessing. The church of Christ in Huahine, as well as those in other islands, has had its trials. Some of its members, as might be expected, have departed from the faith and the purity of the gospel. And among the professors of religion in this and the other islands, some, designating themselves prophets, have declared that they have received special revelation from heaven. They have pretended that they were inspired by the spirit of John the Baptist, the woman of Samaria, or the apostle Paul, not to supersede the gospel, but to add something to it. The declarations of their visions and dreams have been the most absurd imaginable. Several of these visionaries, of both sexes, were persons of doubtful morals, and some have become profligate. The Missionaries are of opinion, that a desire to exempt themselves from the moral restraints of the gospel, has been the secret but principal motive by which they have been influenced. This appears confirmed by their declaring that when the mind was under the influence of the spirit by which they pretended to be inspired, they could not commit sin, as whatever they did during those seasons was the act of the body alone, and was not a moral delinquency. Their injurious efforts were met in a becoming manner by the great body of the people, and the greater part of those who were drawn away have manifested their page 92 penitence, and returned to a more sober way of thinking, and to a deportment strictly honourable and virtuous. The instances of this defection have not been numerous; and I am gratified to know, that the greater part of those united in fellowship are increasing in knowledge of the scripture, and stability of Christian character; that a number of young persons, several from the Sunday schools, have joined it; and that, though formed by sixteen individuals in the spring of 1820, it contained, in the autumn of 1827, nearly five hundred members.