« PrécédentContinuer »
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
scripture directly referring to our recommendation, but that it was according to the general tenor and spirit of the scriptures, or corresponding with the practice 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
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,
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 dictated 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.
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