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Good Words 1860
What Has Been Done in the Fiji Islands


(Concluded from page. 364.)

Success in Fiji led the missionaries of the Friendly Islands to apply to England for immediate help. A fearful tale of blood and woe was sent over. What could be told of Fijian wickedness was described, and an earnest, thrilling cry for more missionaries was raised. And not in vain. That cry came home to the hearts of English Christians, and three missionaries, with their wives, were soon appointed to the Fiji group. One of these was a young man, whose earnest life and early death will be for ever memorable. The whole powers of a strong and tender nature were employed for Fiji; and, through ten years of steady service, his large intellect and his simple, childlike heart were made a blessing to his brethren in the ministry, and to the people whom he taught in earthly and heavenly things. With the meekest humility he spoke of his own "comparatively useless life;" yet who can estimate the results of that life's work? The name of John Hunt is still revered in Fiji; and in many a gathering of Christians at home, its mere mention sends a thrill of holy feeling through every heart, and provokes to new acts of self-consecration, to liberal giving, and to believing prayer. The story of his life has been written recently, and is gaining for his example a wider circle of influence. [The Life of John Hunt, Missionary to the Cannibals. By G. Stringer Rowe. London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co.]

The limits of this paper prevent a lengthened narrative of the progress of gospel-teaching in Fiji. Perhaps the following extracts from a letter, till now unpublished, written by Mr Hunt when in the midst of his work, afford as good a view as can be given in brief space of the circumstances of the missionaries themselves, and of the way in which many of the degraded Fijians were lifted into the light and holiness of Christianity:-

"I proceed, according to your wish, to give you some account of our home, our health, and our work. Our home is as comfortable and happy, thank God, as home itself can be, considering where we are. We reside in a house made of sticks and straw, such as would not be tolerated by a decent English farmer for a cow-shed; but we have managed to make it comfortable. During the past week I have been employed in plastering the inside of our bedroom and a part of my study, which keeps out the wind. We have succeeded in building a nice stone house on this station which was intended for my residence; but I gave up my claim that Mr Jaggar might take possession of it and fix up the press, that useful machine having been for some time inactive for want of a suitable office. In all temporal things we are well off, as the phrase is, and want nothing but more gratitude. We have buried three children, and have one living—our last. She appears likely to remain with us. We believe that our children have been taken for the wisest and most gracious ends connected with the advancement of that cause which, thank God, is dearer to us than father or mother, brother or sister, son or daughter. I do not say this boastingly, but to shew you that, though children are perhaps more precious here than at home, yet even here our blessed Master can enable us to part with them willingly when He demands them. He has given us many spiritual children since He took our last dear babe. I think that I am as careful of my health as I can be not to neglect my work; but still I begin to look old. The climate, our mode of riving, and our necessarily hard labour, all tend to make an impression on both body and mind, neither of which retains much vigour for many years. . . . My work is of two kinds—1. Work in the study. 2. Work among the people. My great work in the study is the important one of translating the Scriptures into the Fijian language. It is true that many portions have already been put into Fijian in a certain way; but we have not anything like a good, idiomatic translation. I have the most important assistance that can be desired in a very intelligent native who has been with me three years, and has become a good theologian and an excellent preacher. I have him by me when translating, and make him the judge of the work, so far as the Fijian is concerned. I hope in a few years, if spared, to have the whole of the New Testament completed, and in the hands of the natives.

"The next part of my work is the native institution. I have now twelve young men under instruction. We are going through a theological course. Our text-book is a number of short sermons on the most important subjects included in the evidences, doctrines, duties, and institutions of Christianity. These we read together. I explain, enlarge, and endeavour to enforce them one day, and examine the students on what they have heard and read the following day. I find this simple plan better than giving lectures. The students ask any questions they please, and I can make the various subjects plain in conversation. At the close of each meeting we have a writing lesson. The young men who have been instructed, and are now employed as native teachers, give good evidence that our labours are not in vain. During part of the year, I have given lessons, on geography and history connected, to a class of youths, in which they appeared much interested.

''Another of our most interesting means is that of meeting the congregation on a Monday afternoon, for the purpose of inquiring what they remember of the sermons they heard on the previous Sabbath. This is such a natural mode of improvement, that it seems strange it should have been ever neglected. How encouraging to a minister to know that he is understood! how important to know if he is not understood! Some of our people remember sermons remarkably well. Many times one or other of them has remembered as much as I could myself.

"I think it very difficult to preach to this people. They require something plainer than plainness, and the illustrations must be such as one would use in addressing children; and yet you must not let them see that you think them childish. Much love to souls; a thorough acquaintance with theology, such as enables a man to express himself with perfect simplicity; a ready knowledge of the facts, character, and shades of character furnished by Scripture history and by ecclesiastical history, as well as a good knowledge of the language of the people, their peculiar customs, modes of thought, and proverbial forms of expression,—are the qualifications necessary in a good Fijian preacher.

"I could preach so as to be understood before I had been in the island six months; but I consider myself a very defective preacher at the end of as many years. I need not enlarge on pastoral duties. Visiting from house to house has one peculiar difficulty. Very often two or three families reside in one house, and the whole house consists of one room. The people are not free to speak before others, nor does it always answer the end of such visits to administer advice and correction so publicly. The only remedy is to invite the parties to my own study, at a convenient hour, which I think an excellent plan, and practicable.

"I must just mention administering medicine. This part of my duty requires much attention, sometimes considerable time, and often great anxiety. Very often I have the children, wives, or friends of heathen chiefs under my care; and you may be sure that the issue of the care, connected as it is with the spread of Christianity, becomes a subject of much concern. If practice makes perfect, I ought to be approaching to something like eminence. Dr Graham is my master; and his 'Domestic Medicine' is as important to me as any book in my study except my Bible.

"Twelve places, besides Viwa, are under my charge. I cannot go round my circuit in less than a month; as I have to sail about three hundred miles, at seven or eight different stages; so that I am one week out of four on the water. We have very little travelling inland; nearly all our circuit work is done in canoes.....There is not an important place in Fiji that I have not visited, nor a chief of any respectability, with the exception of two or three, to whom I am not personally known, and to whom I have not, in my humble way, preached the gospel. In this I have been remark, ably guided,—I might say, compelled, by Providence.

''During the past year we have been blessed with a remarkable revival of true religion here. For a considerable time we had been favoured with unusual liberty in preaching, and much power attended our devotional exercises. I proposed to my colleagues to have a penitent meeting on Saturday night, which was agreed to. We accordingly met. From that hour every meeting was a penitent meeting. Family prayer, school, class meetings, were attended with such Divine power, that no one could stand against it. A person unacquainted with such things would have pronounced the people insane; but we who knew their character saw that such agony of spirit was quite rational in such dreadful murderers and cannibals when they saw their sin and danger by the light of the Spirit of God. Such was the agony of some that we thought they must have died. Many prayed and cried until they fainted, and then recovered their strength only to pray and agonise with God until they fainted again. Many were in this state for six, eight, and even twelve hours before they obtained the rest of pardon. The language they used in prayer was very surprising. What they had long heard, apparently to little advantage, now appeared, like gold which had lain useless for want of being made into coin. Though agitated most violently, there was no irreverence, nor anything whatever to alloy the joyful, yet often most solemn and overwhelming feeling, 'Lo, God is here.' I seldom shed tears; yet on several occasions I stood in the pulpit crying like a child, from an overpowering sense of the presence of God. Nearly one hundred persons found peace in a week, and the revival spread through the circuit; so that the greater part of those who, a year ago, were only fearing God and working righteousness as the servants of God, are now loving Him as sons. The work as to its peculiar and outward manifestation has subsided; but I trust the Spirit has been given to abide with us for ever. What is remarkable, a revival of the same kind was going on at the same time at Ono, an island at the distance of two hundred and fifty miles from Viwa, under the care of native teachers, but visited occasionally by the missionaries.

"But what, you will ask, is the result? I am happy to answer, Most satisfactory. True, many of those who were most excited are now quite calm; but then this is their natural character. We were quite surprised to hear persons who in general are reserved, praying and preaching in the streets night and day. The evidence that the change is real, is found in the fact that they have received 'the spirit of adoption, whereby they cry Abba, Father.' Their experience does not now consist in a number of vague and general ideas and feelings, but having 'believed with the heart unto righteousness,' they make confession 'with the mouth unto salvation.' I think that if the extraordinary excitement they felt had been fictitious, they would have tried to keep it up; but there has been no more attempt to keep it up than there was at first to produce it. I must therefore consider it as a great work of God; especially as the conduct of the people is confirmatory.

"During the greater part of the time that this revival was going on, we were threatened with a somewhat alarming persecution from Mbau. Viwa is subject to Mbaa; and since the people of Viwa have felt the power of religion, they have been very unwilling to join the Mbau chiefs in their cruel and cannibal wars Indeed, most of them have absolutely refused to have anything to do with war. They are wiping to risk the consequences. This is the more remarkable, as none were so forward formerly in acts of cruelty and bloodshed. The change is highly offensive to the chiefs of Mbau. Viwa is not a large place, and would be easily crushed unless Providence interposed. Hitherto this has been the case. The persecution passed over. There ia a new attempt to raise it. But our God has the hearts of these savages in His hands, as much as He had the ferocity of the lions in Daniel's den; and He can make the wrath of Mbau as powerless as the flames of the Chaldean furnace; or, if He shall permit it to break out, the wrath of man shall praise Him; the remainder He will restrain.....You ask me to beg something from you. I will. First, will you use means to procure a few Bibles and Prayer-Books for thirty or forty white men living about a hundred miles from us? Shall I ask for myself two or three books that are important to my work of translation; Parkhurst's Greek and English Lexicon; Lowth's translation of the Prophetical books of Scripture, with critical notes; and Lee's translation of the book of Job? I send a specimen of our new version of Matthew, just going through the press."

Since Mr Hunt's death, many men of the same spirit have carried on the same work in Fiji; and latterly with more marked success. Thakombau's acceptance of the lotu in April 1854, led to a general change of religion among his people; and now as many as sixty thousands Fijians are professing Christians. Throughout the group, there are four hundred and thirty-five chapels and preaching places; with twenty-two missionaries and assistant missionaries, assisted by one hundred and fifty-four Fijian local preachers. Schools are numerous, and recently an order for ten gross of steel pens, one hundred dozen slates, fifteen thousand short, round, slate pencils, six dozen whistles for teachers, with other instruments of learning in proportion, startled into admiring inquiry the committee of the British and Foreign School Society in London, who sent to the Wesleyan Mission House to ascertain whether so vast a supply was really required by the savages of Fiji.

Cannibalism exists still among the heathen population; but the day for glorying in it is past. No greater insult can be offered to a native than to hint at this shameful practice. Thirty years have sufficed to produce a marvellous change; and should the future bear any resemblance to the past, at the close of another thirty years, the Fijian idols, and temples, and cannibal feasts will be things remembered only by the aged, and spoken of in whispers to their grandchildren. Perhaps even in days to come, some intelligent and slightly sceptical Fijian philosopher may interrupt the songs of praise sung by his simple-minded Christian countrymen to assure them, that the facts of their past history are purely mythical; and that legends dating from a rude but imaginative age ought to be rejected by the highest reason as utterly false.

The latest news from Fiji must not be withheld. Twelve Roman Catholic priests, with a Cardinal Bishop at their head, have established themselves in the islands. It is scarcely to the credit of their church that her emissaries should hover about those South Seas, longing but deferring, till men whose faith inspires courage have transformed fierce enemies into kindly brothers, and scenes of bloodshed into homes of peace, and then should settle down in their midst to hinder good and to work disturbance and division. We fear little from their example or their teaching. Protestant missionaries shew the native converts what a Christian family should be, and they give them the Bible. Thank God that the New Testament translated by John Hunt, is freely circulated among them; and that the Old Testament, which the Rev. James Calvert is now engaged in preparing, will soon be in their hands.


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