Paton's autobiography is my favourite missionary story.
Licensed to Preach the Gospel
It was on this day, December 1, 1857, that he was licensed to be a preacher of the gospel by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland. It would be just four months later that he would be ordained as a minister of the gospel. But what is significant about this date in December is that he had already been faithfully carrying on the work of the gospel as a home missionary with the Glasgow City Mission in Glasgow, Scotland.
The latter city mission advertises itself even now as the world's first City Mission, having begun in 1826. His ministry with them was that of working in one of the poor and downtrodden neighborhoods of that city, seeking to lead its citizens to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Yes, temporal needs were to be provided to them. But as the slogan on the city mission states, "Providing hope for Today, Tomorrow, Eternity." And clearly the need was great, for as Paton wrote on page 55 of his Autobiography, "in many of its closets and courts, sins and vice walked about openly—naked and not ashamed."
Upon being assigned to his particular neighborhood, Paton sums up his ministry as "being expected to spend four hours daily in visiting from house to house, holding small prayer meetings amongst those visited, calling them together for evening meetings, and trying by all means to do whatever good was possible amongst them."
After the first year of fairly exhausting labors in their midst, John Paton could count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who attended his public meetings. But then the site of those meetings was hardly inviting in that it was, in his words, "a hay loft under which a cow feeder kept a large number of cows, and which was reached by an outside rickety wooden stairs." (p. 56). Finding so little spiritual fruit, the directors of the city mission planned to move the young missionary to a more promising neighborhood, but John Paton begged for more time, even six months longer. Thankfully the directors agreed, and within that time, attendance doubled and then doubled again. Particularly helpful was the move to buildings purchased for the ministry by Dr. Symington's congregation, where Rev. Paton was a member.
Notice, dear reader, the following description of his work there: On Sunday morning at 7 am, Paton offered a Bible study, which was eventually attended by 70 to 100 people. No day off on Monday either! Another Bible study was offered on Monday night. Wednesday was the weekly prayer meeting. Thursday brought a Shorter Catechism class, which turned into a Communicant's class for church membership. Seven members from this theological class eventually entered the ministry. Friday night was a Singing class, which taught church music to the attendees. And Saturday night was a Total Abstinence class for the many drunkards in the neighborhood. All together, some five to six hundred residents regularly attended meetings led by Rev. Paton. Whew!
And yes, during this busy schedule, John Paton continued on with his own education at the University of Glasgow, the Reformed Presbyterian Divinity Hall, and also classes in medicine at the Andersonian College. God's Spirit was doing much with this young man, and would do much for him in the future.
Words to Love By:
John Paton said, "I was sustained by the lofty aim which burned all these year bright within my soul, namely—to be qualified a preacher of the Gospel of Christ, to be owned and used by Him for the salvation of perishing [men and women]." ( p. 82) Oh, how the visible church today, even the local congregation where you yourself are a member, needs people who have as their aim in life, that of being "owned and used by Him" for the salvation of others. Pray with us, will you, that the Lord of the harvest will send laborers into the fields.
And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."—Luke 10:2, ESV.