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John G. Paton: Missionary to the Cannibals of the South Seas

By Paul Schlehlein
January 2019 | Review by Paul Mackrell
  • Publisher: Banner of Truth
  • ISBN: 978-1-84871-765-7
  • Pages: 188
  • Price: £6.00
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This is an excellent book. John Paton left his native Scottish soil and set sail with his wife and infant son for the mission field 160 years ago. His destination was the New Hebrides: a cluster of islands in the Pacific discovered by Captain Cook in the previous century.

Tragically, one of Paton’s first tasks was to bury his wife and son, both of whom had succumbed to tropical fever. Such afflictions were endemic in the low-lying swampy region he had unknowingly selected as a place to settle.

Made clear by the book’s title, the tribespeople were cannibalistic. Other missionaries had died in that most grotesque manner, sacrificing their lives to shine gospel light into such darkness. John survived and later became an ambassador for the cause of Christ: travelling, preaching and raising funds. His moving autobiography, written at the end of his life, became a best-seller.

Purists might question the need for another book when we have John Paton’s own account of his life. The point is that these accounts need to be retold for a modern audience. We need to be gripped anew by the dedication and selflessness which motivated previous generations of God’s servants.

Paul Schlehlein, himself a missionary, tells Paton’s story extremely well. He also gives it context and perspective. A good section of the book is devoted to addressing issues such as cannibalism. When, for example, does the risk of being a local presence for the sake of Jesus Christ venture into recklessness?

Schlehlein also gives detail about Paton’s marriage and family that were omitted from the autobiography. Perhaps in an overly modest approach, Paton had deemed such details to be of insufficient interest to merit inclusion.

This book is faithful to the legacy of John Paton and will hopefully serve to make him better known among us. We have much to learn from his example.

As John MacArthur says in his commendation of the book, ‘In this age, when giving a trophy to everyone is standard, and when minimal Christian dedication is celebrated, all believers need to go back to the past to see what true devotion to Christ and the gospel really looks like. You will see it in John Paton’.

Paul Mackrell,

West Sussex