Conduct of the Leeward Island chiefs—Hostilities in the island of Raiatea—Subversion of idolatry in Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, and Borabora—General reception of Christianity in the Society Islands—Abolition of the Areoi society—Arrival of Mr. Crook—Pomare's family idols sent to England—Translation of the king's letter—Conduct of the Missionaries—Accounts of their labours and success—Inquiries suggested by the change—Remarks on the time, circumstances, means, and agents, connected with the establishment of Christianity—The Missionaries not Unitarians.
The mighty workings of the Spirit of God, in producing this remarkable change, were not confined to Tahiti, Eimeo, and the adjacent islands, forming the Georgian group, it extended also to the Leeward or Society Islands. A simulataneous movement appears to have taken place among the rulers of the people, to throw off the yoke of pagan priestcraft, to rend asunder their fetters, and remove from the eyes of the nation, in its remote extremities, the veil of delusion by which they had so long been blinded. Tamatoa, the king of Raiatea, shortly after his return from Tahiti, publicly renounced idol-worship, and declared himself a believer in Jehovah and Jesus Christ. Many of the chiefs, and a number of the people, followed his example.
The prince of darkness, the author of paganism, whose sway had been unrivalled, and whose seat page 168 and stronghold had long been here, as well as in the other islands, did not tamely surrender his dominions. The idolatrous chiefs and inhabitants took up arms, to defend the cause of the gods, and revenge the insult offered by the king Their efforts, however, were but as the ragings of an expiring monster, whose fangs were broken, and whose heart had been pierced. The idolaters were defeated, and afterwards treated with the same clemency and Jenient conduct which the Christian conquerors in Tahiti had manifested, and Christianity was firmly established. The vanquished, however, though spared and liberated by the generosity of Tamatoa, shewed themselves unworthy of the kindness with which they had been treated, by still talking of war on behalf of the idols. But as their numbers were few, their influence small, and as the great body of the people were doubtless favourable to the new order of things, hopes of success were comparatively faint, and no further attempt was made.
The chiefs and greater part of the population of Tahaa, an island included in the same reef with Raiatea, imitated the example of Tamatoa and the Raiatean Christians, and destroyed their idols.
The intelligent and enterprising chiefs of Borabora, Mai, and Tefaaora, were remarkably active in weakening the influence of the gods on the minds of the people under their government, undermining and subverting every species of idol-worship that prevailed in the islands. They succeeded, at length, in inducing the inhabitants, by their example and persuasion, to seek an acquaintance with that more excellent way revealed in the word of God, for whose worship they erected a convenient and respectable building.page 169
Mahine sent a special message to Huahine, and the same change took place in that island; which was perhaps, for its size and population, more attached to its idols than any other. Idol-worship, with all its attendant cruelty and moral degradation, was discontinued. The temples were demolished, and the gods committed to the flames. Thus, in one year, the system of false worship, which had, from the earliest antiquity of its population, prevailed in these islands, was happily abolished—it is hoped, to be revived no more.
In the course of the following year, the loss sustained by the death of Mr. Scott was repaired by the arrival of Mr. Crook from New South Wales; he reached the islands in the month of May, and rendered important service in the prosecution of the common enterprise.
During the same year, the profession of Christianity became general throughout the whole of the Society Islands. By universal consent the infamous Areoi society was destroyed at the same time. Its own members appear to have made no efforts to preserve, and no class of the community even solicited, its continuance. The entire dissolution of this association, and the abolition of its cruel and abominable practices, on the introduction of Christianity, is one of the most powerful demonstrations God has given to his church and to the world, of the irresistible operation of those means which he has appointed for the complete demolition of the very strong holds of paganism, and the universal extension of virtue and of happiness among the most profligate and debased of mankind. It is a matter of devout acknowledgment to the Almighty, by whose power alone the means employed have been rendered efficacious in its page 170 annihilation, and furnishes a cause of hallowed triumph to the friends of moral order, humanity, and religion.
No sooner did these deluded, polluted, and cruel people, receive the gospel of Christ, the elevated sentiments, sacred purity, and humane tendency of which, convinced them that it must have originated in a source as opposite to that whence idolatry had sprung, as light is to darkness, than the spell in which they had been for ages bound was dissolved, and the chains of their captivity were burst asunder. They were astonished at themselves, and were a wonder to all who beheld them. The fabled legends by which, as by enchantment, they had been deceived, were banished from their recollections; the abominations and the bloodshed to which they had been addicted, ceased; and they became moral, virtuous, affectionate, devout, and upright members of a Christian community. There is reason to believe that many, even of the Areois, have been purified from their moral defilement, in that blood which cleanseth from all sin, and that the language addressed by the apostle to the Corinthians∗ may with propriety be applied to them.
∗1 Cor. vi. 9, 10, 11.
The astonishing and gratifying change which has taken place among them, nothing but Christian principles could have effected. Numbers of the Areois early embraced Christianity, and some from the highest orders were among the first converts. With few exceptions, they have been distinguished by ardour of zeal, and steady adherence to the religion of the Bible. Many of them have been its most regular and laborious teachers in our schools, and the most efficient and successful page 171 native Missionaries. Among this class, also, as might naturally be expected, have been experienced the most distressing apprehensions of the consequences of sin, and the greatest compunction of mind on account of it. Many of them immediately changed their names, and others would be happy to obliterate every mark of that fraternity, the badges of which they once considered an honourable distinction. I have heard several wish they could remove from their bodies the marks tataued upon them, but these figures remain too deeply fixed to be obliterated, and perpetually remind them of what they once were. It is satisfactory to know, that not a few have enjoyed a sense of the pardoning mercy of God, and though some have been distressed in the prospect of death, others have been happy in the cheering hope, not of a pagan elysium, or a sensual sort of Turkish paradise, but of a holy and peaceful rest in the regions of blessedness.
One of these, whose name was Manu, bird, resided at Bunaauïa, in the district of Atehuru. His age and bodily infirmities were such as to prevent his learning to read, yet he constantly attended the school, and, from listening to others, was able to repeat with correctness large portions of the scriptures, which were regularly read by the pupils. From meditation on these, he derived the highest consolation and support. He was an early convert to Christianity; his deportment was uniformly upright; his character respected by all who knew him; and for several years before his death, he was a member of the Christian church at Burder's Point. The recollection of the abominations and iniquity of which he had been guilty while a member of the Areoi institution, though not greater page 172 than those of his companions in crime, often filled his mind with horror and dismay. Whenever he alluded to that society, or to the crimes committed by its members, it was always with evident feelings of the deepest distress. From these it was his mercy to find relief, through faith in the atonement of Christ. This was his only ground of hope for pardon from the Most High; and when, by thus looking to the great means of purity and peace, he was enabled to rest in hope, and his mind became calm and peaceful, tears of contrition were often seen, while he gratefully remembered the amazing love of God. Towards the latter part of his life, his pastor had the pleasure of observing the greatest circumspection and moral purity in his whole conduct, with a high and increasing degree of spirituality of mind and tranquil joy. How striking the contrast which the evening of his days must have presented, to the early part of his life, spent among the impure, degraded, and wretched members of that infamous association to which he belonged! It is not surprising that his own mind should have been so deeply affected; but from all the moral pollution and guilt then contracted, he was washed and renewed, and prepared for the society of the blessed in the abode of purity and happiness. He died suddenly on the 5th of March, 1823; and, to use the language of the Missionary who watched his progress and his end with the deepest interest, we doubt not that he is gone to be with that Saviour, “whom he loved with all his heart.”
Soon after the abolition of idolatry by the inhabitants of Huahine, Raiatea, and the adjacent islands, several of the chiefs and the people of Borabora and Raiatea visited Maurua, the most westerly of page 173 the Leeward Islands, and succeeded in persuading the chiefs and people to demolish their temples and idols, and receive Christian instruction. The most pleasing results continued also to attend the efforts of the new converts in Tahiti.
In the beginning of 1816, Pomare sent most of his own family idols to the Missionaries, that, as he observed in a letter accompanying them, dated February 19th, “they might either commit them to the flames, or send them to England.” These idols I saw at Port Jackson; they are now deposited in the Missionary Museum, Austin Friars. It is impossible to behold them without sympathizing in the feelings of Pomare, when he calls them “Tahiti's foolish gods.” The following is a translation of the letter which he sent with them. Its interesting contents will justify its insertion.
May you be saved by Jehovah, and Jesus Christ our Saviour. This is my speech to you, my friends. I wish you to send those idols to Britane for the Missionary Society, that they may know the likeness of the gods that Tahiti worshipped. Those were my own idols, belonging to our family from the time of Taaroamanahune even to Vairaatoa: and when he died he left them with me. And now, having been made acquainted with the true God, with Jehovah, He is my God, and when this body of mine shall be dissolved in death, may the Three-One save me! And this is my shelter, my close hiding-place, even from the anger of Jehovah. When he looks upon me, I will hide me at the feet of Jesus Christ the Saviour, that I may escape. I feel pleasure and satisfaction in my mind; I rejoice, I praise Jehovah, that he hath made known his word unto me. I should have gone to destruction if Jehovah had not interposed. Many have died, and are gone to destruction, kings and common people; they died without knowing any thing of the true God; and now, when it came to the small remainder of the people, Jehovah hath been pleased to make known his word, and we are made page 174 acquainted with his good word, made acquainted with the deception of the false gods, with all that is evil and false. The true God Jehovah, it was he that made us acquainted with these things. It was you that taught us; but the words, the knowledge, was from Jehovah. It is because of this that I rejoice, and I pray to Jehovah, that he may increase my abhorrence of every evil way. The Three-One, He it is that can make the love of sin to cease; we cannot effect it; it is the work of God to cause evil things to be cast off, and the love of them to cease.
I am going a journey around Tahiti, to acquaint the Raatiras with the word of God, and to cause them to be vigilant about good things. The word of God does grow in Tahiti, and the Raatiras are diligent about setting up houses for worship, they are also diligent in seeking instruction, and now it is well with Tahiti.
That principal idol, that has the red fathers of the Otuu, is Temeharo, that is his name, look you; you may know it by the red feathers; that was Vairaatoa's own god, and those feathers were from the ship of Lieutenant Watts;∗ it was Vairaatoa that set them himself about the idol. If you think proper, you may burn them all in the fire; or, if you like, send them to your country, for the inspection of the people of Europe, that they may satisfy their curiosity, and know Tahiti's foolish gods!
∗The Lady Penrhyn, which visited Tahiti in 1788.
This also in one thing that I want to inquire of you: when I go round Tahiti: it may be that the Raatiras and others will ask me to put down their names; what shall I do then? Will it be proper to write down their names? It is with you—you are our teachers, and you are to direct us. We have had our prayer-meeting the beginning of this month, February; it was at Homai-au-Vahi; the Raatiras, and all the people of the district assembled, leaving their houses without people. They said to me, ‘Write down our names.’ I answered, ‘It is agreed.’ Those names are in the enclosed paper, which I have sent for your inspection. Have I done wrong in this? Perhaps I have: let me, my friends, know the whole of your mind in respect of this matter.
May my friends be saved by Jehovah the true God! I have written to Mahine for a house for the use of the Missionaries, when they arrive; you will let Mahine know where the house is to be, and he will get the people to remove it there. Let it be at Uaeva, near you.page 175
It is reported here, that there is a ship at Morea, and I was thinking it might be the ship with the Missionaries; but it may be that it is only an idle report. However, should the Missionaries arrive at Morea, write to me quickly, that I may know. Let me know also, what news there may be from Europe and from Port Jackson. Perhaps King George may be dead, let me know. I shall not go around Tahiti before the month of March.
May you be saved, my friends, by Jehovah, and Jesus Christ, the only Saviour by whom we sinners can be saved.
Pomare, King of Tahiti, &c. &c. Tahiti Motu Ta, Feb. 19, 1816.
It was shortly after these events had transpired, that we reached the islands. Previous to our embarkation from England, we had heard that a favourable change, in regard to Christianity, had taken place in the minds of the king of Tahiti, and a few of the people. On our arrival in Port Jackson, this intelligence was confirmed, and we were also encouraged by the accounts we received of the abolition of idolatry by the whole of the inhabitants of the Georgian or Windward Islands.
When we arrived, we found, not only that the reports we had heard were correct, but that the change had progressively advanced, becoming daily more extensive in its influence and decisive in its character, and that the whole of the inhabitants were no longer idolaters, but either professors of Christianity, or desirous to receive religious instruction.
It was naturally a matter of the deepest interest to a Missionary, important in all its bearings on the object nearest to his heart, and first in the aims and the purposes of his life.
The accounts given by the Missionaries, on my first arrival, and the many interesting facts which subsequently came to my knowledge, when I had page 176 acquired such an acquaintance with the language of the people, as to be able to pursue my inquiries among them, have made an impression on my own mind that will never be effaced, and not only excited the highest delight, but convinced me, that, in the circumstances under which the change occurred, the agency by which it was accomplished, and the continuance of its effects, it is altogether one of the most remarkable displays of Divine power that has occurred in the history of mankind, and is, perhaps, unparalleled since the days of the apostles. Detached notices of this event have been transmitted to England in the letters of the Missionaries, and in the different publications of the Missionary Society. No connected and regular account has, however, yet been furnished; but in reviewing all that has been recorded, it may be confidently affirmed, in the language of the deputation sent by the Society to the South Seas, that “God has indeed done great things here.”
It is much to be regretted, that the Missionaries on the spot—who were intimately acquainted with every indication of the moral and spiritual process that was going on, even in its incipient stages, and every event which marked its gradual development, until, in the language of the natives on another but similar occasion, it burst upon them like the light of the morning—did not, at the time, prepare a full and particular account of the work which, under God, they had been instrumental in effecting: but their motto always was, to “say too little rather than too much,” to persevere in labour, rather than employ their time in detailing their engagements; and to exercise the greatest caution and brevity in speaking of any thing connected page 177 with themselves, or the people around them, lest subsequent events should disappoint the anticipations which existing favourable appearances might originate. This prudential reserve, on some accounts, cannot be too highly commended; yet, it is possible to carry it too far; and, in the present instance, however honourable to the individuals who maintained it, it cannot be doubted that the world has been thereby deprived of a full record of events, intimately connected with the destinies of the of the people among whom they transpired, and with the propagation of the gospel in the most distant parts of the world, during every future age of the Christian church.
I have endeavoured to present an outline of this great change. I would, however, only offer it as a substitute for the more explicit statement which my predecessors in the islands might render; and if, by attracting their attention to the subject, I should induce them to furnish such a desideratum, my attempts will not have been altogether in vain. Should this be elicited, they will confer no ordinary benefit on the cause of Missions, and afford great satisfaction to the Christian world.
A number of interesting and important inquiries is naturally suggested by this amazing change; and we are anxious to be made acquainted with every fact, in the application of those means which induced its commencement, and sustained its progress. In all its departments, and under every circumstance, it bears the impress, and exhibits, in the clearest manner, the sovereignty and the power, of the Almighty, in regard alike to the time of its commencement, the circumstances of its progress, and the means of its accomplishment.
In regard to the time of its occurrence. During page 178 no period in the history of the Mission, could “the time to favour” the nation have appeared more unlikely than the present. The king's mind appears to have been first seriously exercised in reference to the declaration which he subsequently made, after the dispersion of the Missionaries, and their departure from the islands, when only one (viz. Mr. Nott) remained with him; and when, in consequence of the state of perpetual alarm and agitation in which the people were kept by the war, none could be induced to attend preaching or instruction. It is probable that at that period public ordinances were altogether discontinued. The first public or open indications of the change, were given at a time which, according to human probabilities, was but little favourable to such events. The Missionaries had but recently returned from their banishment, and the work of instruction had scarcely been resumed; it was the beginning, and but the beginning, of a second attempt to plant the gospel in those islands. The Missionaries, considering the whole of the twelve years spent in Tahiti as so much time lost, were commencing afresh their endeavours on another island, and could hardly expect that at this time, after such a protracted delay, God would at once prosper their enterprise.
The circumstances of the nation, and of the Mission, were by no means favourable to such a change. It was not a time of peace and leisure, but of protracted, obstinate, and barbarous war—the king and his adherents were in exile, alternately agitated by the entreaties of their auxiliaries to attempt to retrieve their affairs by a descent upon Tahiti, or expecting their retreat to be invaded by their audacious and rebellious page 179 conquerors. It was a period of humiliation, darkness, and distress; while the population of Tahiti itself was torn by factions, and desolated by wars, that threatened its extinction. Their teachers were not much more favourably circumstanced. Few in number, compared with what they had been when they maintained their former station in Matavai, and suffering under the heaviest domestic bereavements; prevented by personal indisposition, and other circumstances, from engaging, either very frequently or extensively, in the main work of instructing the people; their exertions, greatly to their own regret, were exceedingly circumscribed. In addition to these discouragements, the prejudices of many of the king's most warm and valuable friends were unusually strong, as they considered the continuance of his misfortunes to result, in part, from the countenance he gave, and the inclination he manifested towards, the religion of the foreigners.
In the means employed there was nothing extraordinary. It is recorded, in the history of the Greenland Missions, that the Moravian brethren, for five or seven years, laboured patiently and diligently in teaching their hearers what are termed the first principles of religion—inculcating the doctrines of the being and attributes of God, and the requirements of his law—without making the least favourable impression upon them, or being, in many instances, able to secure the attention of the people to their instructions. The first instance of decisive and salutary effect from their teaching, was, we are informed, what would, in general, be termed accidental, and occasioned by their reading to some native visitors an account of the sufferings and death of the Saviour, which they page 180 were translating into the vernacular tongue. The attention of one of the party was arrested, his heart deeply affected, and ultimately his character entirely changed. This circumstance led to a complete alteration in the instructions they gave. The incarnation, the life, especially the sufferings and death, of the Lord Jesus Christ, were, from this time, the principal subjects brought before the minds of their hearers; and the results were such as to shew the propriety of the alteration. Where they had before been unable to make the least impression, they now beheld numbers deeply affected, on whom these truths appeared to produce an entire change of character and deportment. I do not, however, suppose we are to infer from the account that is given of this amazing work in Greenland, that, during the first five or seven years of their labours there, the being and character of God, &c. were inculcated, to the exclusion or neglect of the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. Their teaching would, in that case, have been more defective than I am willing to suppose it was. Nor do I think we are to conclude, that, after the change in their instruction, the doctrine of the Saviour's advent, sufferings, and death, were insisted on, to the exclusion of the former; this mode of exhibiting scripture truth would have been almost as defective as the other: but I suppose that, during the earliest years of their labours, the first principles of religion were more frequent and prominent in their instructions, than the doctrines peculiar to the gospel, and that, subsequently, these points received that more frequent attention, which the character, being, and law of God, had formerly obtained. No alteration, even of this kind, however, page 181 appears to have taken place in the kind of doctrines inculcated by the Missionaries among the Tahitians. From the time of my arrival in the islands, I had always a great desire to know whether any change had been made by the early preachers in their discourses, and other means employed at this period: but I have not been able to learn that there was any thing extraordinary; they do not appear in any respect to have varied the manner, or the matter, of their instructions. I have often asked Mr. Nott, and others who were on the spot, if there was any alteration in the mode of instruction, or the nature of their addresses, as to the prominency of any of the doctrines of the gospel, which had not been so fully exhibited before; but I have invariably learned, that they were not aware of the least difference in the kind of instruction, or the manner of representing the truths taught at this period, and those inculcated during their former residence in Tahiti.
Their aim had always been to exhibit fully, and with the greatest possible simplicity, the grand doctrines and precepts taught in the Bible, giving each that share of attention which it appeared to have obtained in the volume of revelation. God, they had always endeavoured to represent as a powerful, benevolent, and holy Being, justly requiring the grateful homage, and willing obedience, of his creatures. Man, they had represented as the Scripture described him, and their own observation represented him to be, a sinner against his Maker, and exposed to the consequences of his guilt;—the love of God, in the gift of his only begotten Son, as a propitiation for sin, and the only medium and ground of reconciliation with God, page 182 restoration to the enjoyment of his favour, and the blessing of immortality. The death of Christ in the place of the sinner, and faith in this atonement, as the sinner's justification before God, were truths most frequently exhibited. The doctrine of Divine benevolence, thus displayed, was altogether new to the Tahitians; nothing analogous to it had ever entered into any part of their mythology. Its impression on their minds was at this time proportionate. The necessity also of Divine influences, to make the declaration of these truths effectual to conversion, and to meeten those who believed, for the heavenly state, had ever been inculcated in the catechetical and other exercises of the school, in the meetings for reading the Scriptures and conversation, and in the discourses delivered in their assemblies for public worship.∗
∗Since the publication of the former edition of this work, I have not been a little surprised, as most of my readers may suppose, to find the Missionaries in the South Sea Islands classed by Unitarians among the teachers of Unitarianism. At the last annual meeting of the “British and Foreign Unitarian Association,” held at Manchester, Dr. Carpenter, in a speech published in the “Report of the Proceedings” made the following statement:—“The accounts I have heard given by Mr. Ward, of his method of instructing the Hindoos, brought nothing into view which I should not myself have gladly taught them; and those who have examined the work of Mr. Ellis on the South Sea Islands, (Polynesian Researches,) may perceive, that in them the simple principles of Unitarianism are essentially taught.” The speech, containing these affirmations, was made after a public dinner, in connexion with a toast referring to Missionary exertions; a subject at all times inappropriately brought forward when associated with usages of conviviality, derived not from a Christian source, and in the observance of which, good old George Herbert's advice,
“Drink not the third glass,”
is not always regarded. Christianity is not, as some of its enemies have misrepresented it, a morose unsocial system; it is eminently adapted to promote cheerfulness, and social as well as individual enjoyment; but its enjoyment is of another and a higher order than that of which the mere animal parts of our nature are susceptible—the excitement of wine—beneath the influence of which, the loftiness and energy of intellect, and the kindliest affections of the human heart, are often alike degraded and destroyed. On occasions of festivity, when toast follows toast, though the parties may not have passed the boundaries of sobriety, the giving of Christian sentiments as toasts, is not very honourable to Christianity itself. It is like introducing the sacred form of Religion, entwining the leaves of the ivy and the vine around her brow, placing the bacchanalian cup in her hand, and causing her to utter the responses which direct the orgies of the place. The habit of sitting, or standing up, and repeating, before drinking a glass of wine after dinner, a religious sentiment, is much less followed than formerly; and the sooner it is altogether discontinued the better. The practice is not peculiar to Unitarians, though, at the Manchester dinner, the toast, in support of which Dr. Carpenter's speech was made, was one of a series, which, according to the Report, extended to twenty-one.
It is not, however, my object now to remark on the toasts, nor even the speech of Dr. Carpenter, excepting so far as the speech regards the instructions given to the Tahitians. It is not necessary that I should offer any vindication of what Mr. Ward and his companions taught the Hindoos. His sermon on the love of Christ, besides other public records which he has left, prevent its being questionable whether he taught Unitarianism or not. And I cannot but regret, that by Dr. Carpenter, towards whom I entertain no other feelings than those of respect, and desire to use no other language than that which courtesy would dictate, any statement in these volumes should have been so misunderstood as to have occasioned the declaration to which I have felt it needful to refer. It is somewhat singular, that my companions and myself, though in each instance we have inculcated the same sentiments, should have been represented by one class of readers as, “by my own account,” usually choosing, for subjects of address, “the immaculate conception, the Trinity, and the Holy Ghost, and other mysterious doctrinal points;” and by another class, as teaching “the simple principles of Unitarianism.”
It is difficult to suppose that, when this latter assertion was made, it simply meant, that, in connexion with other great doctrines of revelation, the Missionaries taught that, in opposition to the “lords many, and the gods many,” the gods of wood, and stone, and feathers, the works of their own hands which the heathen worshipped, there was One living and true God. By “other great doctrines of revelation,” I refer, in addition to the existence, perfections, and character of the true God, to the doctrine of the fall of man from his original state of rectitude and happiness; and, in consequence of this, to an inherent disposition to prefer and practise evil, and an exposedness to its penalty; to the Messiah, the divinely appointed and only means of deliverance; to the divinity of Christ; to the atonement by his death; to faith in him as the sinner's justification before God; and to the divinity of the Holy Spirit, and the necessity of his influence to render the declaration of the gospel effectual to those to whom it was proclaimed.
If Dr. Carpenter meant that, with these doctrines as parts of a revelation, to the completeness of which they were essential, and in the full declaration of which their own fidelity was to be proved, the Missionaries inculcated a belief in one God; he must have known, that the term Unitarianism, when used as descriptive of such teaching, was inapplicable to the sentiments of those who have designated themselves Unitarians. But if, when Dr. Carpenter stated that in the South Sea Islands “the simple principles of Unitarianism are essentially taught,” he meant that the Missionaries instructed the natives in the belief of one God, to the exclusion or neglect of the other great doctrines of revelation above stated, viz. that they taught what those whom he addressed considered as the essential principles of Unitarianism—then the assertion appears entirely gratuitous.
There is not, and there has not been, a single Missionary there, since their first establishment, now four-and-thirty years ago, who, had he inculcated what Unitarians themselves call Unitarianism, would not have been regarded, by his companions, as having renounced his faith, and forsaken his Lord. The command of Christ to teach all nations, in obedience to which the Missionary had devoted his life to the labour of preaching the gospel, directed him to baptize every proselyte in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and thus explicitly enjoined the exhibition of the doctrine of the Trinity, which every Unitarian professes to deny: and, so far as Polynesian Researches is concerned, the affirmation appears without the least foundation.
In confirmation of this, it is unnecessary to do more than refer to the work itself. The passage, in connexion with which these remarks are introduced, together with every other, in which the sentiments held or taught by the Missionaries are stated, are sufficient to shew that they have not promulgated a mutilated gospel—the vast accession of enjoyment to all classes, shews that is not a melancholy system—while the opinions expressed by the converts themselves, shew that their faith is not what is usually denominated Unitarian. This is abundantly proved by the statements made in seasons when men are most likely to be sincere—the near approach to the unseen world, and the direct appeal to the Most High in prayer. Illustration of this remark may be found in Pomare's prayer, recorded in page 163; his letter, page 173; the experience of the dying Areoi, page 172; the conduct of the astonished native, on hearing the 3d Chapter of St. John's Gospel, as given in page 187 of the present volume; and other places, which it is needless to enumerate. On the tenets of Unitarians, their adaptation to the circumstances of ignorance, depravity, guilt, and wretchedness, inseparable from paganism, even in its most favourable circumstances, I make no remarks.
The foregoing statement of the teaching of the Missionaries in the South Sea Islands, I have deemed not less just to them than due to my readers.
The wonderful change that now seemed to be wrought in the minds and hearts of many, did not appear to be more the immediate result of instructions given at the time, than the remote but certain effect of truth imparted, and precious seed, which, having been scattered years before, was now revived with a power, that the individuals themselves could not comprehend, nor on ordinary principles explain. This circumstance should never be lost sight of; it is a wonderful manifestation of the faithfulness of God, who has declared page 184 that his word shall not return unto him void, but shall be found even after many days; and it is remarkably adapted to cheer the hearts of all who are called to labour and wait patiently, sowing season after season in hope, without reaping the wished-for harvest.
The universal, and in many instances decisive moral and religious change, that has been effected in the South Sea Islands, (of the commencement, and more important parts of which, a regular, though necessarily brief account, has now been page 185 given,) appears, in whatever view we can possibly contemplate either its nature or its results, nothing less than a moral miracle. A change so important in its character, so rapid in its progress, so decisive in its influence, sublime almost in proportion to the feebleness of the agency by which it was, under God, accomplished, although effected on but a small tribe or people, is perhaps not exceeded in the history of nations, or the revolutions of empires, that have so often altered the moral and page 186 civil aspect of our world. This great and important event, confirmed in its results, and strengthened in its character, by the extension of its influence, and the increasing power of the principles it implanted, during the last fourteen years, already occupies no inferior place among the modern evidences of Christianity, and the demonstrations of its legitimate tendency to ameliorate the condition, and elevate the moral and intellectual character, of the most wretched and depraved among mankind. page 187 Emotions of astonishment, admiration, and gratitude, involuntarily arise in every mind in the least degree susceptible of humanity or religion; while increasing convictions of the divine origin of revelation must fasten on the understanding, and additional encouragement strengthen the hopes, of every individual who, according to the promise of God, is anticipating the arrival of a period, when a transformation, equally decisive and lovely, shall change the moral deserts of the earth into regions of order and beauty, and the wilderness shall become as the garden of the Lord.
In order more fully to illustrate the kind of scripture truth that appears, in connexion with others, to have affected deeply the minds of the people, one single instance, among many that might be adduced, will shew, that in the mild and verdant islands of the south, as well as the frozen and barren regions of the north, in Tahiti as well as in Greenland, the attractions of the Cross move and melt the human heart. It was the custom of the Missionaries, not only to instruct the natives in the school, preach to them in the chapel, and itinerate through the villages, but to assemble them for the purpose of reading, from manuscript, such portions of the scripture as were deemed suitable to their circumstances. On one of these occasions, Mr. Nott was reading the first portions of the Gospel of St. John to a number of the natives. When he had finished the sixteenth verse of the third chapter, a native, who had listened with avidity and joy to the words, interrupted him; and said, “What words were those you read? what sounds were those I heard? let me hear those words again.” Mr. Nott read again the verse, “God so loved,” &c. when the native rose from his seat, page 188 and said, Is that true? can that be true? God love the world, when the world not love him! God so loved the world as to give his Son to die, that man might not die! Can that be true? Mr. Nott again read the verse, “God so loved the world,” &c. told him it was true, and that it was the message God had sent to them, and that whosoever believed in him, would not perish, but be happy after death. The overwhelming feelings of the wondering native were too powerful for expression or restraint. He burst into tears, and as these chased each other down his countenance, he retired to meditate in private on the amazing love of God, which had that day reached his soul; and there is every reason to believe he was afterwards raised to share the peace and happiness resulting from the love of God shed abroad in his heart.
Connected with the means employed in the accomplishment of this important work, a few remarks on the agents who, under God, were instrumental in effecting it, may not be inappropriate. In common with the Missionaries in other parts of the world, they have been described, by the enemies of religion, as ignorant and dogmatical fanatics; more intent on the inculcation of the peculiarities of their sect or party, than promoting the wellbeing of the people; holding out no inducement, by precept or example, to industrious habits, &c. The present state of the islands in which they have spent so many years, compared with what it was at the time of their arrival, and during several subsequent years, is a sufficient refutation to every charge of this kind.
But there are individuals, from whose general habits of observation, and principles of judgment, page 189 it might have been supposed a more just conclusion would have been formed, who have occasionally described them as the most unsuitable agents that could have been employed. This mode of representation, although I do not regard the Missionaries or their proceedings as perfect, I consider to be far from just. It is not my intention to eulogize their labours, or to lavish panegyric upon their achievements. But in the estimate of their character, qualifications, and exertions, a variety of considerations ought to have a greater influence on the minds of those by whom they are thus represented, than they are sometimes allowed to exert. Missionary effort, on the extended scale and in the distant and comparatively unexplored field in which they attempted it, was an event as new among the British churches, as the broad, catholic principles, upon which it was undertaken, were unparalleled.
The authentic information possessed by many who combined in arranging the plan, as well as by those who attempted its execution, was not only exceedingly limited, but received through a medium∗ that necessarily imparted a higher glow of colouring, than those channels through which more accurate accounts have since been transmitted. Many, no doubt, embarked in the enterprise, as subsequent events fully proved, with incorrect ideas of the work, or mistaken views of the qualifications necessary for its accomplishment. It is not, however, to those who abandoned the taks, that I refer so much, as to those who (except when driven from it by the approaching desolations of murderous war) maintained their post, and died in the field; or who, after having sustained the privation page 190 and toil of thirty years of exile from country and from home, are still willing to end their days among the people with whose interests and destiny they have identified themselves.
∗Voyages of Cook, Bligh, &c.
Their family connexions may not indeed have been of the highest class, neither may the individuals themselves have enjoyed the advantages of a very liberal education, nor possessed any very extensive acquaintance with the world. It is only in comparatively recent times that individuals of this class have, by embarking personally on the arduous and self-denying work of propagating Christianity amongst pagan nations, exhibited some noble examples of Christian devotedness. Many of the first Missionaries to the South Sea Islands were acquainted with the most useful of the mechanic arts, which were adapted to produce a favourable impression upon the minds of the people. They had obtained a creditable English, if not a classical, education, a due knowledge of the scriptures, and an experimental acquaintance with the principles of Christianity; while some, with great mental vigour combined no small degree of intellectual culture. Their own improvement, and the preparation for instructing the people, was prosecuted contemporaneously with their efforts to teach the people; and the numerous and respectable philological and other manuscripts which these have transmitted to England, although never published, shew that they were far from being unqualified for their work.
Had the first Mission to the South Seas been composed entirely of individuals eminent for their scientific knowledge and classical attainments, they would probably have been less suitable agents than those who actually went; as, it may be presumed, page 191 their previous habits of life would not have furnished the best preparatives for the privations and difficulties to which they would have been exposed. Yet it would undoubtedly have been highly advantageous to the Mission, had some such gifted individuals been included among its members. Such were not, however, at that time so ready, as they have subsequently been, to engage in the enterprise; individuals of this class do not appear to have understood that the highest attainments, and noblest powers, are best employed, and their Author most honoured, when they are exerted in a cause which, of all others, presents the strongest claims, and affords the most suitable sphere, for their successful operation. The service, therefore, necessarily devolved on those who were willing, under every accompanying disadvantage, to undertake it. They were not perhaps distinguished by brilliancy of genius, or loftiness of intellect; but in uncompromising sternness of principle, unaffected piety, ardour of devotedness, uncomplaining endurance of privations, (not easily comprehended by those who have always remained at home, or visited only civilized portions of foreign climes,) in undeviating perseverance, in exertion under discouragements the most protracted and depressing, and in plain and honest detail of their endeavours and success, they have been inferior to few who have been honoured to labour in the Missionary field. I have known some of these devoted men, who, though not insensible to the endearments of kindred and home, and the comforts of civilized life, have for years been deprived of what most would deem the necessaries of life. These self-denying individuals have been so destitute of a change of apparel, that they could not, page 192 without some sacrifice of feeling, meet any of their own countrymen by whom the island might be visited; and, often rising in the morning from the rustic bed, without knowing whence the supplies of even native food for the day were to be derived, they have sent out a native servant-boy to seek for bread-fruit in the mountains, or to solicit a supply from the trees of some friendly chief in the neighbourhood, while they have repaired to the school, and pursued their daily instruction, cheered and encouraged only by the progress of their scholars.
Such are the men who have long laboured in these islands; and though others may have been associated with them, who have turned back, or proved themselves unequal to the station, where many, who stand firm at their post at home, would perhaps have fainted, or have fallen under the discouragements inseparable from it—they have been faithful. They seek not the praise that cometh from man, but the testimony of their consciences, and the approval of Heaven; and, irrespective of the honour God has put upon them, they are entitled, from their steady and successful course, to be “highly esteemed for their works' sake.”