Establishment of new stations at Mahapu and Maeva—Appearance of the lake and surrounding scenery—Increased desire for books—Applications from the blind—Account of Hiro an idolatrous priest—Methods of distributing books—Dangerous voyages—Motives influencing to desire the scriptures—Character of the translation—Cause of delay in baptizing native converts—General view of the ordinance—Baptism of the king—Preparatory instructions—First baptism in Huahine—Mode of applying the water—Introduction of christian names—Baptism of infants—Views and feelings of the parents.
An intelligent observer may, during a transient visit to a foreign land, become acquainted, to a certain extent, with the mental, moral, and spiritual necessities of its inhabitants, but it is only by a continued residence among them that these can be accurately known. Our daily intercourse with the people of Huahine strengthened the impression of their claims to our sympathy and exertions, which our earliest interviews had made. So long, however, as we remained unable to address them in their own tongue, we felt that exhibiting a good example was all page 2 that we could do, but as soon as we had acquired a sufficient knowledge of the native language to engage in public teaching, while we alternately performed the regular services at the settlement in Fare, we established branch stations in different parts of the island.
Two were commenced on the west and southern coasts, viz. one in the fertile, and formerly populous valley of Mahapu, and the other in the extensive district of Parea. Schools were opened by approved native masters at each of these places. In the former, three hundred scholars were instructed by Narii, a well-qualified teacher. The inhabitants also erected neat places of worship. Mr. Barff performed divine service at each station alternately every other Sabbath; when between three and four hundred attended.
A similar branch-station was commenced at Tamabua, a populous and central village in the district of Maeva, on the borders of a beautiful and extensive roto, or lake, of the same name, in the northern part of the island. Here a school was opened by Tiori, an intelligent native, and three hundred and eighty adults and children were taught. A commodious native chapel was also built, ad a cottage for the accommodation of the Missionary who visited them.
As it was a considerable distance from our place of abode, I went on the Saturday afternoon, and spent the Sabbath at Maeva, where upwards of four hundred usually attended public worship. We continued our labours at these stations until the summer of 1820, when the greater part of the residents were induced to remove to the settlement at Fare harbour. Some of the happiest seasons I have enjoyed in Missionary occupations page 3 were in connexion with my occasional services at this place. The scenery of the adjacent country is remarkably fine, and, though different in character, in no respect inferior to that which adorns the borders of Windermere or Derwent Water. The lake of Maeva is five miles in length, and of unequal breadth, though often two miles wide. Unagitated by the long rolling billows of the Pacific, and seldom ruffled by the northern and eastern breezes, from which it is sheltered by mountains, its surface was often smooth as a polished mirror, reflecting the groves around, and the heavens above. It abounds with fish. These not only supply the inhabitants of the shores of the lake with the means of subsistence, but, when viewed from the light canoe, as they sported in the depths beneath, or leaped above its surface, enlivened its solitude. On the eastern side, a number of streams rose among the mountains, and, winding their way throug the valleys, at length united with its waters. On this side, though the ascent from its margin to the distant mountains was generally gradual, it was sometimes abrupt and bold: the rocky precipices, adorned with pendulous and creeping plants, rich in verdant foliage or clustering flowers, rose almost perpendicularly from the water; the hills were ornamented with clumps of the graceful cypress-shaped casuarina; and in the narrow border of lowland, that in many parts extended from the shores to the foot of the mountains, the hibiscus tiliaceus, the betonica splendida, the inocarpus, and other trees of larger growth, reared their majestic forms, and spread their stately branches, clothed with dark and glossy foliage, whne round their gigantic stems, and spread from bough to bough, the beautiful page 4 and large bell-flowering convolvolus, was often hung in wild luxuriant wreaths.
The walk from Fare to the head of the lake was delightful; for more than a mile, it was actually under what the natives call the maru uru, breadfruit shade, large groves of this useful tree growing on each side of the path. A number of small plantations give variety to the wild scenery, and many of the raatiras, or inferior chiefs, have erected their dwellings near the path. Hautia had, when we first arrived, a noble house standing at the southern end of the lake. Along the eastern shore, small villages were seen amidst a grove of cocoa-nut and bread-fruit trees. A succession of agreeable sensations has arisen in my mind on a Saturday afternoon, when, passing along the lake in my canoe, which was paddled by two native attendants, I have seen the columns of smoke curling up among the bread-fruit trees, where the inhabitants were dressing their food for the following day. Sometimes I have received their salutation from the shore; and, in contrast with their peaceful dwellings, and their present occupation, I have often been struck with the appearance of the villages, the dilapidated family maraes, or idol-temples, mouldering in ruins on almost every projecting point.
The western side of this extensive lake is bordered by a low flat tract of land, in many places a mile wide, extending from south to north. At the northern extremity of this beautiful piece of water, there is a narrow channel, by which it communicates with the sea. The western side, though very different from the opposite shore, adds to the variety of the scenery; it is thickly wooded, and, among the trees that reach the highest perfection, page 5 the cocoa-nut, waving its crown of elegant leaves, and the no less elegant casuarina, whose boughs hang in arches over the water, are most conspicuous. The eastern side was doubtless originally the shore of the sea, and the lake filled by its waters, while the low border of the land on the opposite side constituted the reef. After the reef reached the level of the sea at high-water, it ceased to ascend, but spread horizontally; fragments of coral, and pieces of wood, were thrown upon its widened surface, till at length it resisted the shock of the ocean, and the waves rolled back without overflowing it. Every year increased the substances accumulated on its surface; vegetation at length commenced, and the process of organization and decomposition, accelerated by the humidity of the atmosphere and the warmth of the climate, formed the mould, in which the trees, at present covering it, spread their roots, and find their nourishment.
The most conspicuous and picturesque object, in connexion with the lake scenery, is moua tabu, sacred or devoted mountain, which rises on the eastern shore near the northern end. It is a beautiful, and in one direction appears almost a regular cone, partially covered with trees and bushes, even to its summit, while the shining basaltic or volcanic rocks, occasionally projecting through the cypress or pinegrowing casuarina, add to the novel and agreeable diversity which its figure produces. The northern shore of the roto, or lake, of Maeva, was the favourite residence of many of the native kings. Here, also, the chief who governed the island after the last visit of Captain Cook, resided, and erected a house for Mai, or Omai, that he might be near him. The shores, and even the smooth surface of page 6 the lake itself, have been the scene of some of the most sanguinary battles that have been fought between rival parties on the island, or the people of Huahine and those of Raiatea and Borabora. Near its margin, on a rising ground, one of the largest artificial fortifications in the group still remains in a state of nearly entire preservation.
But it is not so distinguished by any of these as by the vestiges of the ancient superstition of the island, which every where abound. Temples to the gods of the water were erected on every point of land, and family maraes in almost every grove, while the extensive national temple of Tane stood near the northern extremity of the lake, where the greater number of human sacrifices were offered, where the idols were usually kept, and the national religious assemblies convened.
Every object around the lake, and every monument of art or labour, in the district of Maeva, bore marks of its connexion with their ancient religion. I have often visited the ruins of the large national temple of Tane, and the site of the house of Oro, and in my intercourse with the people of Maeva, at the meeting for inquiries, these were frequent topics of conversation, as well as those matters more immediately connected with the introduction of Christianity, and the advancement of education.
The multiplication of schools soon increased the demand for books; and though a number printed in Eimeo had been distributed, they were soon found inadequate to the necessities of the people. The great desire of all classes for books, hastened the completion of the spelling-book already in the press.
I have often been amused with the ingenuity and perseverance manifested by the natives in page 7 their endeavours to obtain a substitute for books The bark of the paper mulberry was frequently beaten to a pulp, spread out on a board, and wrought and dried with great care, till it resembled a coarse sort of card. This was sometimes cut into pieces about the size of the leaves of a book; and upon these, with a reed cut in the shape of a pen, and immersed in reed cut in the shape of a pen, and immersed in red or purple vegetable dye, the alphabet, syllabic, and reading lessons of the spelling-book, and the scripture extracts usually read in the school, have been neatly and correctly copied. Sometimes the whole was accurately written on one broad sheet of paper like native cloth, and, after the manner of the ancients, carefully rolled up, except when used. This was often the only kind of book that the natives in remote districts possessed; and many families have, without any other lessons, acquired a proficiency, that has enabled them to read at once a printed copy of the scriptures. It has also gratified us, as indicative of the estimation in which the people held every portion of the word of God, and their desire to possess it, to behold them anxiously preserving even the smallest piece of paper, and writing on it texts of the scripture which they had heard in the place of worship.
These detached scraps of paper, containing the sacred texts, were not, like the phylacteries of the Jews, bound on the forehead, or attached to the border of the garment, but carefully kept in a neat little basket. The possessor of such an envied treasure might often be seen sitting on the grass, with his little basket beside him, reading, to his companions around, these portions of the scripture. I have a number in the hand-writing of the natives, some of which they have brought, to have page 8 them more fully explained, or to inquire what connexion they bore to parts with which they might be better acquainted. Their use, however, was superseded by the printing of the Gospel of St. Matthew, an edition of upwards of two thousand copies of which was finished in less than eighteen months after our arrival in Huahine.
The people were anxious to receive them, and multitudes thronged the place where they were preparing, for some time before they were ready. The district of Fare presented a scene strongly resembling that which Afareaitu had exhibited when the first portion of the sacred volume was printed there; and many said they could not sleep, from the apprehension of not obtaining a copy. As it was not easy to distribute them to the greatest advantage, we determined to give a copy to none but such as could read; but so importunate were many, that we could not abide by our resolution. Sometimes those who were scholars induced their chiefs to apply for a number of copies, guaranteeing their payment, and their suitable appropriation. From this representation, many were given to the different chiefs; but we found it desirable afterwards, in order to insure the most advantageous distribution, to give only to those who we ourselves were satisfied could read.
Several blind persons applied at the different stations, earnestly soliciting books, stating, that though they could not read, they could hear and remember as well as those who could see. To have denied to those suffering natural darkness the means of obtaining spiritual light, when we had every reason to believe they were sincere in their expression of desire for it, would have been page 9 cruel; and we rejoice in having been honoured of God to communicate the gospel, as the servants of Him who—
—“from thick films shall purge the visual ray,
And on the sightless eye-ball pour the day.”
It is a pleasing fact, that in the South Sea Islands, a number of blind persons have not only had their understandings enlightened by the perceptive parts of scripture truth, but that to many it has proved “the light of life,” more valuable than natural light, as the soul is more precious than the body, and eternity more important than time. Some have died, and we have reason to believe have entered those realms of day, where night and darkness are unknown.
One remarkable instance occurred during the year in which I left the islands. The native name of the individual to whom I allude was Hiro. He was the priest of one of the principal temples of Parea, in the lesser peninsula of the island, or Huahine iti. He was a priest of Hiro, the god of plunderers and thieves, and, in perfect accordance with the spirit of his office, was the captain or leader of a band of robbers, who spread terror through the surrounding country. He was one of the first and most determined opposers of Christianity in Huahine; reproaching its adherents, defying the power, and disclaiming the authority, of its Author. But, like Saul of Tarsus, he found it hard to resist.
He was in the prime and vigour of manhood, being at the time between thirty and forty years of age. When the number of Christians increased in his neighbourhood, and the Sabbath-day was first publicly observed, in order to shew his utter contempt of Christian institutions, he determined to page 10 profane that day “in defiance of Jehovah.” He repaired for this purpose to some grounds in the neighbourhood of the temple, and engaged in erecting a fence; but while thus employed, his career of impiety was suddenly arrested. The twig of a tree came in contact with his eyes; almost instant blindness followed; and, like Elymas, he was led home by his affrighted companions, who considered it a visitation from the Almighty.
I had frequent interviews with him afterwards, one in the precincts of his own temple, which I visited in company with Messrs. Bennet, Tyerman, and Barff. His spirit was subdued; he subsequently became a humble, and, we trust, sincere disciple of that blessed Redeemer whom he had persecuted. He died trusting in the merits of Christ for acceptance with God the Father. The history of the conversion of the great apostle to the Gentiles interested and affected him much; and though the scales on his bodily eyes were not removed, but his blindness continued until his death, which occurred in 1824, such was the impression which analogy of circumstances produced, that when he presented himself for baptism, he desired to be called Paul.
Other instances of spiritual illumination, equally pleasing, now exist both in the Society and Sandwich Islands, in reference to individuals suffering one of the most distressing and hopeless privations to which humanity is exposed. Some of our most interesting conversations with the natives have been with such. “My eyes,” said a blind man one day to Mr. Williams, “behold no attractive objects when I am engaged in prayer, or hearing the word of God; and yet my heart wanders, and my thoughts are often engaged on other subjects. My eyes see page 11 not another man's property, &c.; and yet, when I hear it spoken of, my heart covets it. The objects that tempt others to sin, are unseen by me; but my imagination creates objects of sin, which often occupy my thoughts.”
The experience of Bartimeus Lalana, a native of the Sandwich Islands, is also remarkably interesting and satisfactory. Blindness is not more common among the Polynesians than with the inhabitants of other countries; yet there are numbers of aged persons who have lost their sight; and the influence of that sympathy which this affliction always awakens in a Christian bosom, is now excited in the natives themselves, though formerly the blind were objects of neglect and ridicule. There is now connected with the Missionary station at Bunaauïa, or Burder's Point, a blind man, who could repeat correctly half the Gospel by John, very soon after it was printed.
When we have been distributing the scriptures, two or three fine boys or girls have come, begging for copies, though they could not read—assuring us, they were learning; and, when they have failed, they have entreated that we would write their names on the books, and reserve them till they were able to read. To our satisfaction, in this request they have often been joined by their parents, who have offered payment for the copies. We have usually complied with their wishes, and have witnessed the most entire confidence on their part, as it regarded the ultimate accomplishment of their wishes, when once their names have been written.
In Huahine it was necessary to select some public place for the distribution of the books; the school-room was fixed upon, and, on the day appointed, page 12 the place was actually thronged until the copies were expended. In their application at our own houses, we found it impossible to restrain the people; they filled our yards and gardens, and thronged every window, sometimes to such a degree, that one of the Missionaries, Mr. Bicknell, found it necessary to fasten the lower doors and windows of his house, and retire to the chamber. The natives then procured long bamboo-canes, and, fastening their measure of oil, the price of the book, to one end, lifted it up to the window. Mr. Bicknell was so influenced by the ingenuity and determination of the contrivance, that he distributed a number of copies, by fixing them in a slit or notch in the end of the cane presented at his window.
When the edition issued from the press in Huahine, the proportion for Raiatea, Tahaa, and Borabora, was sent to the Missionaries residing in these places; but the supply was too small, and numbers of the disappointed individuals, supposing they should find a greater abundance at Huahine, came, when the wind was fair, twenty or thirty miles in their canoes, several of which were such small and fragile barks as quite astonished us. I was really surprised at the temerity of the individuals who had committed themselves to the mercy of the waves of the largest ocean in the world, in the hollowed trunk of a tree, twelve or twenty feet long; the sides of which, when the men were in it, were not more than four or five inches above the surface of the water.
It would be too much to suppose that they were all influenced by the highest motives, in the desire they thus manifested for the sacred volume; but while some probably sought it only as an article of property in high and general esteem, others were page 13 undoubtedly actuated by a conviction that it was able to make them wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
The intensity of ardour manifested by many at first, has, as might be expected, subsided: still the scriptures are earnestly sought, and highly prized, by a great portion of the adult population.
The whole of the New Testament has been translated and printed, not indeed in a uniform volume, but in detached portions, which many of the natives have bound up together. Separate portions of the Old Testament have also been translated, and some of the books are printed; it is to be hoped that a uniform edition of the Bible will, at no very distant period, be circulated among the people. Whether or not any of the Apocryphal books will ever assume a Polynesian dress, it is impossible to say, but at present it is im probable.
The dialects spoken by the tribes inhabiting the different groups in the South Sea, being strictly analagous to each other, it was hoped that the Tahitian translation of the scriptures would have answered for the whole; there is, however, reason to fear that distinct translations will be necessary, not only for the Sandwich Islands, the Marquesas, and Tongatabu, but also for the Hervey Islands, which are not more than 600 or 700 miles distant from the Society Isles. So strong a resemblance, however, exists between the dialects, that the Tahitian translation will require only slight variations, the idioms and structure of the language being, in all their distinguishing features, the same.
When the uncultivated nature of the language, into which the scriptures have been translated, is considered, connected with the remembrance that page 14 it is only by the labours of the Missionaries that it has been within the last few years reduced to a system, and employed in a written form, it cannot be expected that these books, more than any other first translations, should be altogether faultless. The knowledge of the Missionaries themselves in the language, notwithstanding thirty years’ attention to it, is constantly increasing; and, compared with future translations which their successors or well-educated natives may make, the present will, perhaps, appear imperfect. Nevertheless, from the qualifications of the translators, their unquestionable integrity, and united patient attention to the preparation of every work, I believe the only imperfections that may be found, will refer to minor points of style in idiom or language. Some of the Missionaries excel in acquaintance with the original languages, others with the native dialect, and every copy is inspected by all, before going to the press.
The year 1819 is also distinguished in the annals of the South Sea Islanders, by the administration of the rite of baptism to the first Christian converts in the islands. Pomare and others made a profession of Christianity in 1813; names were written down; the change became general during the same year; persecution raged with violence in 1814; the inhabitants of Tahiti and Eimeo embraced the gospel in 1815, and those of the remaining group in 1816; and it certainly appears singular that none should have been baptized until 1819. This delay, however, did not arise from any doubts in the minds of the Missionaries as to the nature of the ordinance itself, the proper subjects of it, or the manner in which it was to be administered; on all these points they were agreed. It arose from a page 15 variety of circumstances, peculiar in their kind, local in their influence, and such as they could neither foresee nor control.
At first, their continuance and their existence were very uncertain, in consequence of the efforts of the idolaters, and the war that followed; afterwards the conduct of the king, who, on his first profession, they would not have hesitated to baptize, was such, as to induce them to fear that his baptism would injure the Christian cause among the people; and subsequently, as they were on the point of separating and forming distinct stations, it was thought best to defer it till they should have entered upon the fields of their permanent labour, where they hoped to gather around them congregations of converts, administer the rite of baptism, and form Christian churches.
The Missionaries considered the proper subjects for the ordinance to be those who professed their faith in Christ, as the only Saviour, and the children of such individuals: but considerable difficulty was experienced in determining what the moral or religious qualifications of the adults ought to be, and the connexion that should exist between their baptism, and admission to the communion. Although we read different authors on the subject, their views were seldom altogether adapted to our circumstances, and I believe we derived but little real assistance from any.
We desired to bow only to the authority of scripture, and to follow implicitly its directions. We considered our circumstances by no means dissimilar to those of the individuals for whose guidance the directions of scripture were primarily given Having the commission of our Lord to his disciples for our warrant, and the conduct of his page 16 apostles in the execution of it for our model, we hope we have been enabled to proceed according to the divine will, and in such a manner as to secure the approbation of the Christian churches by which we had been sent to preach Christ among the gentiles. Our situation at this time we regarded as most critical, and our procedure in this respect such as, it was presumed, would have an important bearing on future generations.
Happily, however, for us, and for all placed in similar circumstances, the terms of the commission are unequivocal and explicit; and we could not but perceive, that by the same warrant, in virtue of which we preached the gospel, and, as the word is rendered in the Tahitian, proselyted those among whom we laboured, we were also bound to baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The intimate connexion between the administration of this rite by the apostles, and the reception of the gospel on the part of those to whom they preached, also convinced us of the design of our Lord, that it should follow the belief in the testimony concerning him, which we were commissioned to deliver. Hence, it was regarded as our duty to baptize those who desired to become the disciples of Christ, as well as to instruct them concerning his will.
We did not apprehend that there was any spiritual virtue or efficacy connected with, or contained in, baptism, nor did we consider any spiritual blessings communicated by it, much less that most important of all, the one thing needful—a regeneration of the heart. It appeared designed, by the great Head of the church, to occupy, in the dispensation of the new testament, that place which circumcision did in the old. page 17 The acts of desiring and receiving baptism, on the part of the subject of it, were viewed as a public and solemn renunciation of paganism, and a declaration of discipleship with Christ; and the circumstance of baptism was regrded as constituting the grand, public, and open line of demarcation between the idolatrous and the thus separated or Christian portions of the community. While we thus felt ourselves bound to baptize those who, like the Ethiopian eunuch, and those to whom Philip preached in Samaria, professed their belief in the Saviour, and the grand truths of the Christian system, we also felt that it was desirable to receive suitable evidence of the sincerity of such profession.
As to the degree of evidence that should be required, there was a considerable difference of opinion. A few of our number supposed that no adults should receive this initiatry rite, but such as, there was every reason to believe, were regenerated persons; and that a general belief in the testimony that Christ was the Saviour of men, and a desire to receive farther instruction, however sincere it might be, should be accompanied with an experience of that change of heart, which these truths, under the special influences of the Holy Spirit, are adapted to produce; and, in short, that such only should be baptized as would be at once unhesitatingly admitted to the Lord's supper.
The majority, however, of the Missionaries were of opinion that the ordinances were totally distinct, and that though it was proper that every church member should have been baptized, yet it did not follow that every one who had received such rite was thereby admitted to church fellowship. Satisfactory page 18 evidence of sincerity in belief that Jehovah was the true God, and Jesus Christ the only Saviour, was considered a sufficient warrant for its administration to those who required it.
No one, however, at any time desired to exercise undue influence over the opinions of his coadjutors; and, although uniformity was desirable, we did not think it important to sacrifice much for oneness of sentiment or practice in this respect. After repeated and prayerful deliberation, recognizing, and aiming to act upon, the broad and liberal principles upon which the Institution, under whose patronage we laboured, was founded, it was mutually agreed that each Missionary should, in his own station, pursue that course which appeared to him most in accordance with the declarations of scripture.
In two of the stations, or perhaps three, the Missionaries have baptized those only whom they had reason to believe had been baptized by the Holy Ghost, and were Christians in the strictest sense of the term; the children of such persons they also baptized. In the other stations, the Missionaries have administered this rite to ah whom they had reason to believe sincere in profession of discipleship, without requiring evidence of their having experienced a decisive spiritual change. In this respect some slight difference prevailed, but on every other point there has been perfect uniformity in their proceedings.
The first public baptism that occurred in the islands took place in the Royal Mission Chapel at Papaoa, in Tahiti, on the 16th of July, 1819. Pomare, the king of the island, was the individual to whom, in the midst of what, but a few years before, had been a scoffing, ignorant, obstinate, page 19 cruel, and idolatrous nation, that rite was administered. It was the Sabbath-day. The congregation in the chapel, though less numerous than during the services of the previous week, amounted to between four and five thousand. The subject of discourse was appropriate, Matt. xxviii. 18–20. At the close of the sermons, the Missionaries gathered round the central pulpit; the ceremony commenced with singing. Mr. Bicknell, one of the Missionaries who had arrived in the Duff, implored the Divine blessing, and then, assisted by Mr. Henry, the only other senior Missionary at Tahiti, poured the water on his head, baptizing him “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The venerable Missionary then addressed the king, not without agitation, yet with firmness, “entreating him to walk worthy of his high profession, in the conspicuous station he held before angels, men, and God himself.” Mr. Henry addressed the people, and Mr. Wilson implored the Divine benediction, that what had been done on earth might be ratified in heaven.
Although the subsequent conduct of Pomare was a matter of the deepest regret to his best friends, yet there was something in the ceremony unusually imposing; and the emotions associated with it must have been intense and interesting, especially to the two elder Missionaries, who had performed the rite. He had been identified with the chief events of their lives; upwards of two and twenty years had rolled by since the providence of God first brought them acquainted with him on the shores of Matavai; and in connexion with that interview, which memory would, probably, present in strong and vivid colours on this page 20 occasion, they, perhaps, recollected the opinion formed of him, by the humane commander of the Duff, that he appeared the last person likely to receive the gospel. Yet amid the thickest darkness that had ever veiled their prospects, in him the first cheering ray of dawning light had broken upon them: he was their first convert; in every difficulty, he had been their steady friend; in every labour, a ready coadjutor; and had now publicly professed that his faith was grounded on that rock whereon their own was fixed, and his hopes, with theirs, derived from one common source. What intense and mingled hopes and fears must have pervaded their hearts! what hallowed joy must they have felt in anticipation of his being with them an heir of immortality, chastened with appalling, and not ungrounded fears, that after all he might become a cast-away!
Numbers, both adults and children, were subsequently baptized in the Windward Islands, but it was not until some months after, that the ordinance was dispensed to any in the Leeward or Society group.
It was in Huahine that the first, from among those who had renounced paganism in the Leeward Islands, were thus initiated into the outward church of Christ. Huahine was a new station, and few of the inhabitants, when we landed, knew much more of Christianity than its name. Fifteen months had elapsed since our arrival, and during that period, among a people who had every thing to learn, we had made the doctrines and general precepts of the gospel the topics of our discourses. Many of them now came forward, declaring their desire to become the disciples of the Saviour, to make a public profession of faith in page 21 him by baptism, and to seek instruction in all his will. We found that, had we been so disposed, we could no longer defer the rite, with regard at least to some who applied.
Anxious that it should be on their part a reasonable act, and that, before being received, it should be understood, we proposed to meet one afternoon every week, with those who desired to be baptized. At this meeting we endeavoured to instruct them in the origin, nature, design, and subjects of the ordinance, together with the duties of those who should receive it. There was no wish on our parts to baptize by stratagem, as some of the popish Missionaries have done, but we sought to make the people well acquainted with the matter in all its bearings.—At the first weekly assemblies, between twenty and thirty of the most promising of the converts attended, afterwards the numbers exceeded four or five hundred.
In the instructions given, the scriptures, and the scriptures only, were our guide; and we endeavoured to inculcate the doctrine as we found it there, and as if it had never been controverted. Our warrant for its administration we derived from our Lord's commission to the first Missionaries, which was also our own. In its nature, we instructed them not to consider baptism as possessing any saving efficacy, or conferring any spiritual benefit, but being on our parts a duty connected with our office, and on theirs a public declaration of discipleship or proselytism to the Christian faith; designed to teach unto all, their moral defilement in the sight of God, and their need of that washing of regeneration, and spiritual purification, which it figuratively signified.
The duties of those who desired it were also page 22 inculcated, and the necessity that existed not only for their renunciation of every open idolatrous practice, and attention to instruction in the principles, but a deportment accordant with the precepts of Christianity, in the conspicuous situation in which this very act would place them, before those by whom they were surrounded. We also informed them, that it appeared to us from the scripture, that the ordinance was designed for believers and their children, and therefore directed that, as they desired them to be brought up in the Christian faith, they should dedicate them to Jehovah, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, by baptism. It was found necessary, at the same time, plainly to caution them against supposing there was in baptism any thing meritorious, or on account of which they would receive any special blessing from God, other than that which would follow general obedience to his word. This was the more requisite, as there was reason to apprehend, that from the influence of a system in which strict observance of rites and ceremonies, without regard to motive or moral character, was all that was necessary, they might rest satisfied with having received the mere external declaratory rite. We also endeavoured carefully to avoid holding out any prospect of distinction, or temporal advantage, as an inducement to the people to apply for baptism, but constantly and plainly represented its observance as only an act of obedience to Him whom they professed to desire for their Master and their Lord, and who had promised that his people should be baptized with the Holy Ghost.
This weekly meeting was designed to answer another purpose, that of affording us the means of judging of the sincerity of the candidates, as well page 23 as of imparting to them necessary instruction. After several months had been occupied in devoting one afternoon in the week to their instruction, it was deemed proper to baptize a number of the candidates, and two of their children.
It was now necessary to determine upon the mode: this had never appeared to us a very important part of the matter. We should not have objected to immerse any individuals who had themselves desired it. But as the scriptures are not decisive on this point, and though it is stated that Philip and the Eunuch went down to the water, or into the water, yet it was not in this act, but in the application of water in the name of the Trinity, that we considered baptism to consist: in such application, it is not stated that the Eunuch was immersed. Hence, we did not explain this, or other passages of similar import, as signifying immersion—and consequently the converts did not desire it. But had one of our own number thought it proper to have administered this rite by immersion, I do not think we should have said he acted wrong in so doing. In this respect, however, there was no difference of opinion, and consequently a perfect uniformity of practice prevailed. With regard to the other modes, we did not think it was very material whether we poured or sprinkled the element upon the individual.
The 12th of September, 1819, was fixed for the baptism of the first converts in Huahine. It was also the Sabbath. A suitable discourse was delivered in the morning to a numerous congregation who thronged the chapel. Mr. Davies, being the senior Missionary at the station, officiated, assisted by Mr. Barff and myself.
The climate in the South Sea Islands is remarkably page 24 fine, the weather warm, the streams abundant, and the waters clear as crystal; and, had we been disposed to perform the service in the open air, under the shade of a spreading grove, we had every facility for so doing. The converts might have been led into the river, and, standing on the bank or in the stream ourselves, we might have applied its waters to their persons, using the words prescribed. On such occasions, the most delightful scenes, of which it is possible for imagination to conceive, would have been presented; scenes similar, perhaps, to those often witnessed in the days of the apostles; and for the sake of effect, and the associations they would have awakened, I have sometimes for a moment wished we had. But the wish has only been momentary; for whatever might have been the impression of such a scene, or the emotions enkindled, they would not have been attended with any valuable practical result. On the present, therefore, and every subsequent occasion, the rite was administered before the whole congregation in the place of worship.
During the ordinary morning service, the approved candidates sat in front of the pulpit. At its close, they kept their places, and, after imploring the divine blessing upon the service, we proceeded to its performance. Their profession of faith in Christ, and desire to be instructed in his word, had been received at a preceding meeting; and it was only necessary now, after a short address to the whole, to ask the name of each adult, and the parents the names of their children. This, Mr. Davies did,—beginning with Mahine, the principal hereditary chieftain of the island. Having received his reply, Mr. Davies immersed his hand page 25 in a vessel of water, which Mr. Barff or myself held by his side, and then holding his hand over the crown or forehead of the chief, while the water from his hand flowed or fell upon Mahine's head, Mr. Davies pronounced aloud, with distinctness and solemnity, Mahine e tapape du vau ia oe i te ioa o te Medua, e o te Tamaidi, e o te Varua maitai: “Mahine, I apply water to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Repeating the same words, and applying the water in the same manner, to every individual, he proceeded to baptize the whole number, who kept their seats during the ceremony.
Mahine was not baptized first because he was the king of the island, but because he was one of the earliest converts, and had been most diligent in his attention, and consistent in deportment. We were careful to avoid giving any preference to rank and station, simply as such; and, on the present occasion, we beheld Hautia, the governor of the island, and others of high rank, sitting by the side of the humblest peasants of the land. In reference to civil or political station, we always inculcated the requirements of the gospel, that all should render honour to whom honour is due, invariably presenting a suitable example of the most respectful behaviour to individuals of rank or distinction. But in the church of God, and in the participation of the privileges of Christianity, we as invariably taught that all were brethren, that there was no precedence derived from worldly exaltation, that one only was our Lord and King, the Saviour himself. This principle we were happy to see recognized by themselves on this occasion, as some of the principal chiefs sat at the lowest end.page 26
The word tapape, used in the first instance, was that which appeared the most suitable, as we were anxious to divest the rite of every thing extraordinary or mysterious. The signification of the word is to apply water, without expressing the precise mode of application. They have no word answering to the term baptize, as now understood in the English language, though they have distinct words for sprinkling, pouring, bathing, plunging, &c., but we considered the simple application of water to approach nearer to the original word baptisto, than either of these; and it seemed so appropriate, as to render it unnecessary to introduce any other. Subsequently, however, our opinions changed, and we adopted the original word, which in Tahitian, is written ba-pa-ti-zo, and used only to signify this sacred rite. We have thus left it as we found it, leaving the scripture to speak its own language, without limiting it to what we suppose its peculiar signification.
The water was not sprinkled on the face with force; the sign of the cross was not made, nor was water poured on the head from any vessel; but, taking one hand from the vessel containing the water, and holding it over the individual, we allowed so much water as was held in or attached to the hand, to fall upon the crown or forehead of the baptized, pronouncing, at the same time, the name, and the words prescribed in the Gospels.
Some difficulty was experienced with regard to the names, as many of the natives, especially the chiefs, have a number; some of office, others hereditary, and not a few intimately connected with their former idolatry, or its abominable institutions. It was not thought desirable that they should assume a new name on receiving baptism, or that page 27 it should interfere with any name of office, station, or hereditary title, that might appertain unto them. But every blasphemous, idolatrous, or impure name, (and those of some of the Areois and priests were so to a most affecting degree,) we recommended should be discontinued, that they should select those names, by which, in future, they would wish to be designated. A few of the adults chose foreign, and in general scriptural names, for themselves or their children.
This produced a considerable change in their language. Formerly, all names were descriptive of some event or quality—as Fanauao, day-born, Fanaupo, night-born, Mataara, wakeful or bright-eyed, Matamoe, sleepful or heavy-eyed, Paari, wise, or Matauore, fearless, &c. A number of terms were now introduced, as Adamu Adam, Noa Noah, Davida David, Ieremia Jeremiah, Hezekia Hezekiah, Iacoba James, Ioane John, Petero Peter, &c. with no other signification than being the names of the persons.
With regard to infants, we only baptized those whose parents, one or both, were themselves baptized, and who desired thus to dedicate their children to God, and engaged to train them in the principles of Christianity; and then we only baptized infants, unless the children of more advanced years understood the nature of the ordinance, and themselves desired to make, by this act, a public profession of their discipleship to Christ, and their wishes to be instructed in his word.
Sometimes the infant was held in the arms of its parent, who stood up while the rite was administered; at other times, and I believe invariably during subsequent years, we have taken the child in the left arm, and baptized it with the right page 28 hand. Whenever any of our own children have been baptized, we have brought them to the chapel, and have performed the ceremony at the same time and in the same way as with the natives; that they might perceive that in this respect there was no difference between us.
The baptism of infants has certainly been among our most interesting religious exercises. It was generally performed after morning service on the Sabbath. We usually addressed a short and affectionate exhortation to the parents, enforcing their responsibility, and duty towards the dear children they were thus offering; not indeed as an innocent child was formerly offered in sacrifice to senseless idols, or to a cruel imaginary deity, but to be trained up in the nurture and admonition of that Divine Parent, who has said, “I love them that love me, and those that seek me early shall find me.”
I have been sometimes almost overwhelmed on beholding the intensity of mingled feeling, with which three or four smiling infants have been brought by their respective parents to the rustic baptismal font. I have fancied, in the strongly expressive countenances of the parents, the emotions of gratitude, and the ray of hope and anticipated joy in the future progress of the child, when it should exhibit the effects of that inward change, of which this was the outward sign.
In strong and distressing contrast with sensations of this hallowed and delightful kind, I have supposed the memory of far different acts, in which, as parents, many of them had been engaged, has remained; I have supposed that recollection has presented the winning look of conscious page 29 innocence, which some dear babe has cast upon them, or the plaintive cry which from its lisping tongue first broke upon their ears, but which was unheeded, and they monstrously committed cool, inhuman murder—when they should have cherished the tenderest and softest sensibilities of the human bosom: I believe this has not been in my imagination only. The feeling depicted in the humane and Christian parent's countenance, suffused with tears, has often been an index of no common inward agitation. Subsequent conversation has confirmed the fact; and many have brought their children to present them unto God in baptism, who, while idolaters, had more than once or twice been guilty of the barbarous crime of infant murder. This practice is abolished; and, instead of shameless murder, or pagan sacrifice, the parents now delight to bring their infants to the Christian sanctuary, and thus dedicate them to God.
I have been often rather agreeably surprised at the anxiety of the parents to have their children baptized. Without inquiring into the origin of this solicitude, I believe it is not confined to the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands, and is certainly not unpleasant to behold. I recollect at one time the parents of three children came with considerable earnestness, and requested me to baptize their infants, rather earlier than I thought it should be done. It was not at Huahine, and the Missionary, under whose care the station was more particularly placed, was absent; I therefore proposed to defer it till his arrival. They pressed me not to decline; and one of them stated as a reason, that her child had been ill, and she was afraid it would die before it had been baptized. “Suppose,” I replied, “that it should, you know that page 30 the child will not lose thereby. No persons will be admitted to heaven simply because they have been baptized, nor will any be excluded therefrom merely because they have not.” “Yes,” answered the mother, “I know that; yet I do not feel satisfied now—but when it has been baptized, my mind will become easier.” I could not reprove her; I endeavoured, however, to impress upon her mind the conviction, that the ordinance, though a duty, did not itself confer any spiritual benefit, and relieved her mind by informing her, that I would baptize the child at the close of the evening service.
In the preceding detail, I have, perhaps, been more prolix and minute than the importance of the subject may appear to demand; I have been influenced by a desire to give that information, relative to our proceedings in this respect, to the friends of Missions in general, and to the patrons of the South Sea Mission in particular, to which, from the interest they have taken, and the support they have afforded, I have considered them justly entitled, and which I cannot but hope will be satisfactory.
Although I have only given the proceedings of one station, I believe that, with the exception of some of the Missionaries baptizing only such adults as they consider to be true Christians, and eligible for church fellowship, the ministration has been uniform in all. With us, those were baptized who made a credible profession of belief in Christ, and a desire to become his disciples, without any immediate view to church fellowship, which we considered a subsequent measure.
An address on the nature of baptism, and the duties of those who had received it, was printed page 31 after the first administration, and widely circulated, apparently with good effect. The weekly meeting for instructing those who desired baptism, was continued, and the first dispensing of that ordinance produced an astonishing effect upon the people. Multitudes, who had heretofore been indifferent, now appeared in earnest about religion, and the number who attended our preparatory meeting soon amounted to four hundred. Those who had been baptized, also, in general attended.
A state of religious feeling, such as I never witnessed elsewhere, and equal to any accounts of revivals in America or other parts, of which I ever read, now prevailed, not only in Huahine, but in the other Missionary stations. The schools and meetings were punctually and regularly attended. The inhabitants of remote districts came and took up their abode at the Missionary settlement; and nothing could repress the ardour of the people in what appeared to us their search after the means of obtaining the Divine favour. Often have we been aroused at break of day, by persons coming to inquire what they must do to be saved—how they might obtain the forgiveness of their sins, and the favour of God; expressing their desires to become the people of God, and to renounce every practice contrary to Christian consistency.
Many were undoubtedly influenced by a desire of baptism; this had introduced a new distinction, which, notwithstanding our endeavours to prevent it, they probably thought must confer some temporal or spiritual advantage on those who received it. But with others it was not so, as the event has satisfactorily proved: many who at this time were awakened to an extraordinary religious concern, have ever since remained stedfast in their principles, page 32 and uniform in the practice of every Christian virtue. We now felt more than ever the responsibility of our situation, and were afraid lest we should discourage, and throw a stumbling-block in the way of those who were sincerely inquiring after God. Yet we felt no less apprehension lest we should be the means of encouraging desires, and cherishing the delusive hopes of such as were either deceiving themselves or others, and, under cover of seeking the favour of God, were actually pursuing that which they imagined would improve their temporal condition, or add to their respectability in society. Some who had been baptized, we found it necessary to admonish, lest they should rest satisfied with the attainments already made, and neglect the more important considerations.
In the interesting and critical duties now devolving upon us, we endeavoured to act with caution, taking the word of God for our directory, and bearing in mind at the same time the peculiar circumstances of the people; avoiding precipitancy in our public measures: so that, if we erred, it might be on the side of carefulness. The everlasting welfare of the people was our only object; this we considered would not eventually suffer, whatever might be the effect of withholding baptism from those who might be proper subjects for it. But by administering this rite to those who sought it from improper motives, should it render them satisfied with the sign, instead of the divine influence signified, we might become accessary to their fatal delusion.
Under the influence of these impressions, we were perhaps led to defer the rite of baptism to those who applied for it, longer than we ought to have done; and I have known many who have page 33 been candidates upwards of one or two years. Their views of the doctrine have been in general correct, in their conduct there has been nothing unchristian or immoral, and they have uniformly expressed their desires to become the true disciples of Christ; but during that period we have not baptized them, merely because we have apprehended they did not feel the necessity of that purification of heart, of which baptism is only the external sign. When we first administered that ordinance, we had no idea of the natives thronging in such numbers to receive it, and consequently, had not deliberated on the term of that probation which we afterwards deemed it desirable to institute.