Excerpts from


The Hand of God in History - 7


By Rev. H. Read, A.M.

(Philadelphia: John E. Potter and Company, 1870)


 In this section, we bring you some of the 18th century stories about God's hand in the lives of His faithful missionaries -- at the start of  "modern" missions. Be sure to see how He prepared and used the Moravian followers of the martyred John Hus to prepare the way.

A Prayer for Purity by Nicolaus von Zinzendorf

Chapter 1 Chapter 2

Moravians & Zinzendorf





Chapter 7: God in Modern Missions

Within the space of forty years (1792-1831), there arose, from the kindly influences of a preceding age, more than forty charitable institutions, half of which are missionary institutions, and the other half auxiliaries to the same great work. ...

The whole early history of Moravian missions, the earliest of modern missions, is a record of interesting providence. Two young Greenlanders are providentially brought to Copenhagen. They come to the notice of the Moravian brethren; their history and condition is searched out, and a mission is immediately determined upon. Hence the origin of Moravian missions.     

That a congregation, not exceeding six hundred persons in all, and most of them exiles from their native land, and poor, should originate the idea of missions to Greenland, to the West Indies, to Labrador, to America, to Africa, and Asia, is, of itself, sufficiently providential to enlist our admiration. But that they should, from generation to generation, amidst incredible hardships and praiseworthy self-denial, sustain these missions, is still more to be admired.

A volume would scarcely detail the all but miraculous interpositions of Providence in behalf of those missions. In the midst of extraordinary perils by sea and by land, from the elements and from savage men, the hand of God was, in a signal manner, with those devoted and self-denying men, who, for Christ’s and the gospel’s sake, braved the eternal snows of the north, or scorched beneath the broiling sun of the equator. Oft did they encounter famine, pestilence, shipwreck, and distressing extremes of heat and cold; and the Lord delivered them out of them all.

When we take into the account the fewness of their number, their circumscribed ability, and the humbleness of their condition, the Moravians stood on an enviable pre-eminence in the work of missions. Here, emphatically, God ordained strength out of weakness, making bare his own arm, and showing to the nations that He can conquer by the few or the many: David with his sling, single-handed, against Goliath.

A better day was dawning on the church. This little star which rose and shed its placid light over the dark waters of Paganism, was the precursor of the constellation that should soon rise and shine brighter and brighter till the whole earth should be radiant with their light. (pages 125-126)

The shock of an earthquake is felt in Tahiti, a thing, till then, unknown to the Tahitians. This creates no little alarm, and gives rise to many conflicting opinions as to the meaning of such a phenomenon. At length, an old chief rehearses to the people a tradition which existed on the island, viz.: that there is an unseen God, and that strangers would, at some period, visit the island to tell them a bout this Being. In his opinion, he said, the earthquake was caused by this unseen God, and that the men who should tell them about him, must be near at hand.

In a few days a strange sail is seen standing into the bay. It was the Duff, Captain james Wilson, with the first missionaries for Tahiti. (pages 130-131)

Instances like the following might be recounted to almost any extent. An epidemic prevails on the island of Rurutu, an island some three hundred miles south of Tahiti.

The superstitious inhabitants, believing it to be the infliction of some angry god, two of their chiefs determine to build each a large boat, and, with as many of their people as could be conveyed, to commit themselves to the winds and the waves, in search of some happier isle. They feared, if they stayed, “being devoured by the gods.”

A violent storm overtakes them; one canoe yields to its fury, and nearly the whole crew perish; the other is driven about for three weeks, over the trackless deep, they know not whither, in the most pitiable condition for the want of food and water. But an unerring hand guided them. They were driven to the Society Islands. (page 131)

Totally unacquainted with Christianity, or the comforts of civilization, these untutored savages were not a little astonished at the improved condition of the Society Islanders. Their books, schools, temporal comforts, mode of worship, and especially the account they now heard of, the true God, were novel and astounding. They were at once convinced of the superiority and the divinity of the Christian religion, and believed they had been conducted here that they might become acquainted with a more excellent way. They became immediately interested in the gospel; made astonishing proficiency in learning, and after a few months returned to their native isle, accompanied, at their earnest request, by two native missionaries, who brought light into the land of darkness. (pages 131-132)

This remarkable providence not only brought to the notice of the mission a new island, full of benighted, immortal souls, and was the first of a series of events which soon added this lovely isle to the domains of Immanuel’s empire, but in connection with this, appeared the first germ of the missionary spirit among the native converts of the South Sea Islands. Freely they had received, and from this time forward, freely did they give, till island after island, group after group, were encircled in the extended arms of Christian benevolence. (page 132)

The history of the South Sea Islands is a history of providential interpositions. Pomare, King of Tahiti, proposed to his assembled chiefs the adoption, of Christianity and the destruction of their idol gods. Many chiefs strenuously oppose.

A powerful chief comes forward, accompanied by his wife. They cordially second the king’s proposition, declaring that they had, for some time past, been contemplating the destruction of their own idols. This state of mind had been induced by the death of a beloved and only daughter. Having in vain sought help from priests and gods, by all that rich sacrifices and profuse presents could avail, they were bitterly enraged at their gods, and ready to cast them away as useless. (page 132)

The scale now seemed turning in favor of Christianity, when another occurrence threatened more than to balance it. Tapua, another mighty chief and a formidable warrior, who had conquered many islands, was present at this consultation, and threatened by every means in his power to oppose the king’s proposition to destroy the idols. But his puissant arm was soon palsied, and his haughty spirit yielded to the all-conquering scythe of death. (page 132)

His timely removal left behind no formidable obstacle to the destruction of idolatry and the introduction of Christianity. But for the death of this chief, Christianity,* it is believed, could not have been introduced. (pages 132-133)

Who can read the record of such events, and not discern the hand of God? What miracles once effected, may now be achieved by the special interpositions of Providence.

The introduction of the gospel at Aitutaki, was similar to that of Tahiti. The death of a chiefs daughter so incensed the parents against the gods, and impaired the confidence of the people in their aid, that they immediately abandoned them. There is, perhaps, not a more marked interposition of Providence in the whole history of Christianity, than in the extensive and almost simultaneous movements among the Pagan nations of the Pacific to cast away their idols and to embrace Christianity. (page 132)

The people of another Island—Mangaia-—-brutally abuse the first teachers sent them, and drive them from their shores. A disease breaks out among them, which spares neither age nor youth, high nor low. They believe it to be the vengeance of the “God of the strangers," and from this time they received the missionaries gladly, and cordially embraced the religion of the cross.

In another instance a native Christian woman of Tahiti is providentially cast on the beautiful but idolatrous Island of Etarotonga. She speaks freely of the change which Christianity had produced on her native island. These things came to the ears of the king, and as a consequence the king and royal household, the chiefs and people, were prepared to receive the new religion, as it was shortly after introduced. (page 132)

In another instance, a foul wind arrests the “Messenger of Peace,” (the name of the missionary vessel,) which was bearing Mr. Williams from one island to another in his errands of mercy. He is, much to his disappointment -- and after contending in vain for several days with the elements -- compelled to put in at the Island of Mangaia. Here had been gained from the moral wastes of Paganism a beautiful vineyard. The vine brought out of Egypt had been planted here, and had taken some loot, and began to put forth its tender branches. (page 132-134, page 133 is a picture)

But the vandal foot of war was raised over it, and one day later the hedge wou1d have been broken down and that vine trodden under foot. The heathen chiefs had determined, by one decisive blow, to rid themselves of the whole Christian party.

Mr. W. with two or three Christian chiefs, hastened on shore, talked with the hostile chiefs, and, before the planned attack came, the raging tempest was assuaged—-the war prevented. The happy result was the dissolution of the league against the Christians as most of the heathen joined the Christian settlement.

It is a fact worthy of remark, that no considerable island in the South Seas embraced Christianity with out a war, though always defensive on the part of Christians. Providence here singularly interposed, discomfited the heathen, gave the victory to His people, and established the faith of the cross. (page 134)

I shall add but one more illustration: It was long in the heart of the indefatigable Williams, (later murdered and eaten by cannibals) to carry the news of salvation to the Navigators or Samoa Islands. The reluctance of his wife dissuaded him from the enterprise. But the thousands of that interesting group should not perish without the light of the Gospel.

Two or three years pass, and the design in the mind of Williams seems to be abandoned. His wife is brought by the heavy hand of God to suffer a protracted and severe illness. She revolves in her mind why the hand of God is thus laid on her, and what is the lesson he would have her learn. She says to her husband, “I freely consent to your absence in your contemplated visit to the Navigators Islands.

Nor was the hand of God less manifest in the progress than in the commencement of this important, and, in many respects hazardous undertaking. (page 134)

They stop on their way at the Island of Tongatabu. An active respectable looking native presents himself, says is a chief of the Navigators’ Islands, and related to the most influential families. His assertions are corroborated; and he desires and obtains a passage to his native islands in the mission ship, promising to do all in his power to favor the introduction of the gospel there.  (page 135)

During the voyage he informs Mr. Williams that he need anticipate but one formidable obstacle to the realization of his wishes in relation to the Navigators’ Islands: it was the violent opposition which might be met from Tamafainga, a kind of high-priest, in whom it was said “the spirit of the gods dwelt.” If he opposed, all further attempts would be vain.

They are wafted on by the favorable breeze, and seem soon about to land on the desired spot. But adverse winds rise up, and a furious storm drives them from their course. Their sails are rent, the vessel crippled, and several of the men sick with influenza. All these things seemed against them—why could they not have been conveyed by that favoring breeze to the destined landing? For they came on an errand of mercy, and Heaven is not wont to frown on such enterprises.

After several days painful delay they arrive, and what must have been their admiration of the dealings of Providence, when they were told that Tamafainga was dead!

He was killed but ten days before. The Storm had detained them, that they might arrive precisely at the right time to introduce the new religion. Ten days earlier, their efforts would have been abortive on account of the opposition of the high-priest. A few days later his successor would have been appointed, and all their attempts equally fruitless.

Thus the gospel was introduced into those islands under the most favorable auspices, and followed by the most unprecedented success.

But I pause for the present. To write a history of missionary providences would be to write a history of missions. Our subject affords a delightful assurance of ultimate success in all our well-directed efforts to bring God's light into the world's darkest places. ... (page 135)

He who has begun the good work will carry it on. He that can turn the winds, the waves, the pestilence and the fury of war, will accomplish His work and none can hinder. The Lord has sworn and He cannot go back, that He will give to His Son the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession! (page 136)

* While the king was meditating and proposing to destroy the idol gods, the young man who kept them formed the bold resolution of doing the deed. A day is fixed; a pile of combustibles prepared; the people are gathered around, and the ido1s are brought out and thrown on the pile.

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