A Father’s Love

The story of Jacob and Joseph reuniting in Egypt after 22 years reminds me of the special love between a father and a son. No story moves me more on that theme than the story of John Paton, a 19th century missionary to New Hebrides in the South Seas. One of 11 children, John would write in his autobiography that the most memorable impression from his childhood was his father’s prayers for his children as he went to what John called his father’s Sanctuary Closet daily. He wrote, “my soul would wander back to those early scenes, and shut itself up once again in that Sanctuary Closet, and, hearing still the echoes of those cries to God, would hurl back all doubt with the victorious appeal, “He walked with God, why may not I?” John left home in his early 20’s for Glasgow, Scotland, to divinity school, where he would prepare for life as a missionary to the cannibals in the South Pacific. He records the story of his leaving for seminary in his autobiography:  

“My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then, whenever memory steals me away to the scene. For the last half mile or so we walked on together in almost unbroken silence – my father, as was often his custom, carrying hat in hand, while his long flowing yellow hair (then yellow, but in later years white as snow) streamed like a girl’s down his shoulders. His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me; and his tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain! We halted on reaching the appointed parting place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly and affectionately said: “God bless you, my son! Your father’s God prosper you and keep you from all evil!”

Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him – gazing after me. Waving my hat to him, I rounded the corner and out of sight in an instant. But my heart was too full and sore to carry me further, so I darted into the side of the road and wept for a time. Then, rising up cautiously, I climbed the dike to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dike and looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face toward home, and began to return – his head still uncovered, and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me. I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as he had given me.” (John G. Paton, D.D., Missionary to the New Hebrides)

May God grant us as parents and grandparents to love like John Paton’s parents loved him. And where we fail, or where we were failed by our parents, as none are perfect, may God give us grace to forget what lies behind and to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!

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