Missionary Hero of Fiji
Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Charles Bailey
“Is there some desert or some pathless sea
Where Thou great God of angels, wilt send
Show me the desert, Father or the Sea
Is it thine enterprise? Dear Lord, send me.
And, though this body lies where ocean rolls.
Father, write me among all faithful souls.”
MENDING their nets where “thy waters, Gennesaret, chime” on the ear, Peter and the Sons of Zebedee heard the Master’s call, and went forth no longer fishers on the deep, but fishers of men. Myriad times since their day in the intervening centuries of Christianity’s soul-winning enterprise has God summoned His devoted servants from humblest walks of life to highest service in the Kingdom of His Son, the weak things of the earth used to confound the mighty, and the things that are not to bring to nought things that are. From cobbler’s bench Carey became India’s great Apostle of modern missions; from shop and forge Morrison and Marsden, gospel pioneers in China’s boundless realms, and among the Maori tribes of New Zealand’s isles. So, too, the ranks of those who till the soil have sent many an ardent, whole-souled, successful pleader for Christ to the far-distant lands of heathenism. Moffatt was a gardener; and William Milne, Morrison’s noble-minded helper, a shepherd boy on the hills of his native Aberdeenshire. Similarly one of Fiji’s mightiest workers for God, John Hunt, no whit behind the chiefest – equal if not in ability yet certainly in the all-consuming nature of his consecration – of Britain’s army of missionary toilers, forsook the plough that he might labour, sow and reap in the fields of God’s eternal truth.
Eight decades ago John Hunt began his life work in far-off Fiji. On April 29th, 1838, he bade farewell to England and sailed for the scenes of his coming trials and successes. The following December he and those with him reached Fiji, and a few months later, some knowledge of the native language acquired, he commenced in 1839 his public endeavours for the Saviour there, and by the autumn of that year was fully engaged in teaching and winning the heathen people around. Ten years afterwards, worn out by absorbing yearning and incessant effort for souls, like Henry Martyn and Murray McCheyne, he died before reaching the meridian of his manhood, October 1848, but thirty-six years of age. Truly “his character and struggles entitle him to be held in everlasting remembrance and honour.”
Born at Hykeham Moor, near Lincoln, at the age of ten he left school to work as a farm boy, and six years subsequently was led to decide definitely and whole-heartedly for the Saviour. A very serious illness at that time deepened previous religious impressions, and intensified his natural predilections Godward. There and then he resolved to serve God, and immediately fell upon his knees to pray. Soon the reality of-his consecration was unmistakably evident in his constant attendance at the means of grace, and the utilisation of his spare hours in the reading of religious volumes. Biblical knowledge being the centre of all his thought. It is humorously related of him that once told by his master to take a load of grain to market he was so engrossed with Scripture meditation that he took the horses and waggon to the market but without the grain.
Encouraged by his Methodist employer, he attempted public exhortation, but his first effort outside his own locality was a distinct failure. However, he persevered, and ere long his appeals, ungrammatical and uncultured though they were, reached the heart and conscience of his hearers, and the tears and sobs of the audience not unfrequently testified to his power as a Gospel preacher aided by the Spirit‘s influence. Offering himself for missionary service, he spent two years in preparation, and fully expected that Africa would be his destination, but the claims of Fiji as voiced in an irresistible plea, “Pity poor Fiji,” were so imperative that thither it was determined he should go.
On the island of Rewa, where John Hunt and his equally consecrated Christlike wife settled first, the conditions were as vile and wretched as ever their preconceived notions had pictured them. Physically a fine race, the Fijians were steeped in ignorance, cannibalism, infanticide, lying and almost every other imaginable vice and degradation. One man boasted he had eaten of nine hundred bodies of cooked human victims. Later the missionaries moved to Sornosomo, where no Christian agent had ever placed foot, and where a Scotchman had recently been murdered for his possessions. Hunt preached and taught, warned and persuaded, but in vain. No visible effect was produced. He who had been so successful as a youth at home, appeared to have little power in Fiji. In fact, savagery seemed to increase. Eleven dead men were devoured just in front of the mission-house. Again sixteen women were slaughtered within twenty yards of the mission door. Barbarous ceremonies were continually held, and the ovens for this dread purpose were so close to the missionaries‘ dwelling that the stench was insufferable, and yet, if the doors were fastened, the missionaries were threatened with the King’s anger and possibly with death. Chiefs tried to quarrel with them, and food at times was only with utmost difficulty procured. Hunt was afterwards stationed at Viwa, and there for some months depressing circumstances were experienced, but at length the apostolic promise was richly verified that we shall reap if we faint not. A wonderful revival burst forth. Crowds congregated to hear and accept the Gospel. Cries for mercy came from chief and meanest tribesman alike. “We praise Thee O God. We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord,” sang the assembled converts. Time after time was heard the broken-hearted call “Jesu, Jesu,” and the mats were bedewed with the tears of communlcants at the table of the Lord. Wrote John Hunt: “This is a way of saving souls which lays the pride of man in the dust. We like to have souls saved in connection with the gradual use of means so that we can philosophically trace the event to its cause. But the blessed God goes out of our ordinary way, pours contempt on our philosophy, and by means we should never have thought of accomplishes His own purpose. So be it, blessed Saviour! We hail the day which has dawned upon us; the day of His power! ” The noble-hearted worker for God continued his patient sowing and reaping until he could report upwards of three thousand natives attendant upon the ministrations of himself and his colleagues.
Alas, not long did the hero of Fiji‘s pioneer Gospel enterprise labour. His strength began to fail, and in 1848 he passed to his everlasting reward. Among the words of his last hours were: “Lord save Fiji! Save Fiji‘. Thou knowest my soul has loved Fiji” ; and “I see nothing but Jesus. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” He had completed the New Testament’s translation and had commenced the Old Testament. He had seen hundreds, if not thousands, of idolatrous Fijians brought to the Saviour’s feet, and he realised that Fiji would in days to come be one of the greatest glories of the Gospel’s power throughout the world.
Ploughboy, preacher, heroic pleader for God in distant heathen isles, John Hunt left a treasured legacy of inspiring lessons for the workers of to-day. An exemplification of ”All of Christ and none of self” he would willingly, in humble estimate of himself, have gone as a mere servant to an African missionary to labour in garden and on farm and teach in Sunday-school. Fuller service, however, had God in store for him. A man of prayer and of the Word, not unfrequently in early manhood he spent two whole nights a week petitioning and meditating thus. Said he, “We can never speak to or for God better than when we do it in His own words.” He was a man of Christlike consistency of life.
Also note his words: ” I see that to be useful as a public speaker I must be eminent as a private Christian.” His faith was invincible. When conditions in Fiji were most adverse and the harvest of souls not even dimly discernible, he had no doubt of the ultimate issue. “We expect to sow in tears as confidently as to reap in joy, therefore trials and privations are words seldom used by us, and are thought much more of by dear friends at home than by ourselves.”
Fiji became a miracle of Gospel grace, and John Hunt deservedly ranks high with Livingstone, Paton, Chalmers, Hannington, and a hundred others in the modern apostolic and especially Pauline succession of devoted missionary workers. In the words of Dr. Woodrow Wilson, America’s Christian President, “Life lasts only a little while, and if it goes out lighted with the torch of glory it is better than if it lasted upon a dead level a thousand years.”
Christian Messenger 1919/245