One of the great things about studying missionaries from the past is the treasury of public domain books to be had free online either at Archive.org or Google Books written by those very missionaries. Recently while reading John G. Paton’s autobiography, I was struck by an account from his years as an inner city missionary in Glasgow.
Paton left a thriving ministry to drunks, prostitutes, and the urban poor to take the gospel to the cannibals in New Hebrides. Even forty years later, his accounts of that time glow with tender-hearted fondness.
This passage about the passing of an eight-year old boy named John Sims was particularly moving. Paton writes,
In my Mission district, I was the witness of many joyful departures to be with Jesus,—I do not like to name them “deaths” at all. Even now, at the distance of nearly forty years, many instances, especially amongst the young men and women who attended my classes, rise up before my mind. They left us, rejoicing in the bright assurance that nothing present or to come “could ever separate them or us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Several of them, by their conversation even on their death-bed, were known to have done much good. Many examples might be given; but I can find room for only one. John Sim, a dear little boy, was carried away by consumption [tuberculosis]. His childish heart seemed to be filled with joy about seeing Jesus. His simple prattle, mingled with deep questionings, arrested not only his young companions, but pierced the hearts of some careless sinners who heard him, and greatly refreshed the faith of God’s dear people. It was the very pathos of song incarnated to hear the weak quaver of his dying voice sing out,—
Shortly before his decease he said to his parents, “I am going soon to be with Jesus; but I some times fear that I may not see you there.”
“Why so, my child?” said his weeping mother.
“Because,” he answered, “if you were set upon going to heaven and seeing Jesus there, you would pray about it, and sing about it; you would talk about Jesus to others, and tell them of that happy meeting with Him in Glory. All this my dear Sabbath school teacher taught me, and she will meet me there. Now why did not you, my father and mother, tell me all these things about Jesus, if you are going to meet Him too?”
Their tears fell fast over their dying child; and he little knew, in his unthinking eighth year, what a message from God had pierced their souls through his innocent words. One day an aunt from the country visited his mother, and their talk had run in channels for which the child no longer felt any interest. On my sitting down beside him, he said,—
“Sit you down and talk with me about Jesus; I am tired hearing so much talk about everything else but Jesus; I am going soon to be with Him. Oh, do tell me everything you know or have ever heard about Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God!”
At last the child literally longed to be away, not for rest, or freedom from pain—for of that he had very little—but, as he himself always put it, “to see Jesus.” And, after all, that was the wisdom of the heart, however he learned it. Eternal life, here or hereafter, is just the vision of Jesus.
-pp. 75-77 John G. Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides: An Autobiography