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promise to make some attempt to realize it. In 1795, the Missionary Society was formed, the main object of which was to disseminate the light of divine truth over all the dark regions of the earth. The following year saw thirty teachers embark in the Thames, on board of a ship called the Duff, under the command of Captain Wilson, whose name is favourably associated with this most generous project. On the 23d September, they left the shores of Britain ; and, in the beginning of the succeeding March, they descried the bold outline of Otaheite on the verge of the horizon.
Of the persons selected to discharge the duties of this important undertaking, four are described as
“ ordained ministers ;” the rest were mechanics of various orders, qualified to teach the useful arts, or to exercise them in their own behalf. The directors inform us that they were desirous to obtain some possessed of literary attainments; but they were not less solicitous to procure adepts in such manual occupations as would make them most acceptable to the heathen in that state of inferior civilisation to which they had advanced. Only those candidates were received whose characters could bear the most minute examination, and who, besides, could produce evidence of superior intelligence and a hearty devotedness to the great cause to which they were about to consecrate their exertions during the remainder of their lives.*
On the 7th March 1797, the missionaries landed on the shore of Otaheite, where they were met by the king and queen, who received them in a very cordial manner. The strangers were immediately conducted to a large house, which the natives had erected for the accommodation of Captain Bligh, whom they still expected to return. Nor were the generous rulers satisfied with this act of kindness towards their visiters; they also ceded in a formal manner to Captain Wilson and his passen
* Wilson's Missionary Voyage in the Ship Duff, p. 4.
gers the whole district of Matavai, in which their dwelling was situated. Presentations of this kind, it is said, were not uncommon among the islanders as a matter of courtesy to a guest; but, generally speaking, the persons who received the compliment did not think of appropriating the lands or plantations to their own use. It is believed, however, such was the estimate of the advantages expected to result from the residence of the missionaries among them, that, in order to afford every facility for the accomplishment of an object so desirable, the people as well as the chiefs were sincere in making the cession now mentioned. But no attempt is made to conceal the motives which led to such munificence. Whatever advantages the king or his advisers might hope to derive from the settlement of the English on his island, it is clear that as yet they were not influenced by any desire to receive instruction either secular or religious. This was made manifest by some remarks which at a later period dropped from one of the leaders, who said that the missionaries gave the people plenty of talk and prayer, but
very few knives, axes, scissors, or cloth. A wish to possess such property, and to receive the assistance of the Europeans in the exercise of the mechanical arts, or in their wars, was probably the motive by which the natives were most strongly influenced.*
It will not be denied, that the selection of the persons who, on this occasion, were destined to labour in the arduous field of a South Sea Mission, was regulated by prudence, as well as by a due regard to the ultimate object which it was meant they should accomplish. The mixture of artificers with men of a higher class, who had devoted their thoughts to professional learning, so far from being objectionable, sets forth in the clearest light the wisdom and intelligence on which the whole scheme was founded. It proceeded on the judicious determination to combine with the elements of christian knowledge the means of expanding the minds and improving
* Polynesian Researches, vol. ii. p. 9.
the taste of the inhabitants; to bestow upon them, in short, the habits of civilized men, as well as the refined sentiments and exalted hopes of true believers.
On no point have the friends of missions differed more than as to the mode in which their labours should be commenced, and the means whereby their benevolent objects might, in the first instance, be most effectually realized. Judging from the analogy of the Divine proceedings in the introduction of Christianity into the world, where much schooling and a fulness of time were required to prepare the minds of men for profiting by the higher knowledge about to be conveyed to them, it might be inferred that the peculiar doctrines of the gospel ought not to be revealed to the heathen until they shall have been somewhat fitted for receiving them, by inuring their minds to such intellectual exercises as will almost necessarily lead to reasoning and reflection. This inference may be farther strengthened, by calling to mind the injunction addressed to the first apostles of our faith, who were commanded to teach all nations, and then to initiate them into the christian covenant by the sacrament of baptism. For a time, too, the blessings of the New Law were restricted to those who, during several centuries, had been under that schoolmaster, whose teaching, however obscure in its elements, was calculated to make them ready for higher attainments. It has therefore become a maxim among the most distinguished of theological writers, that “men must be rational and civilized before they can be made Christians, because knowledge has a happy tendency to enlarge the mind and to encourage generous sentiments.” On similar grounds it has been maintained, that “ Christianity cannot immediately transform the minds of men, and totally change the general temper and complexion of any people ; but, on the contrary, it will thereby itself undergo considerable alteration, and its own influence and effect depend thereon. And as barbarous and savage nations are unable to bear the truth, so vicious and immoral ones are in like manner incapable of bringing
forth the fruits thereof. If such a people did receive the true religion, they would immediately drop it again.”
Such conclusions derive no small confirmation from the history of missions in general, and even from that of the successive attempts which have been made to convert the natives of the South Sea Islands. At first the sublime truths of revelation were received with so much apathy and carelessness, that they made no impression on the flexible minds to which they were addressed. The yielding savages listened to instruction with the apparent docility of children: their natural softness of temper
inclined them to accept with an air of gratitude a boon which seemed to be highly valued by those who offered it; but, during a period of nearly twenty years, the zeal of the preachers was not rewarded by the conversion of a single individual whose example could have any effect upon others. It may be observed, too, that a path was gradually opened up for the reception of the gospel among the inhabitants of the Society and Georgian groups, by the respect which they entertained for a people who had made so great an advance in the arts which minister to human power and comfort. They concluded, that the god who could teach his votaries to print books, make gunpowder, and build ships of war, must be greatly superior to their own idols, who could contribute nothing to the embellishment of peace, and afford little aid in the day of battle. There cannot be any doubt that it was with the view of improving his subjects in the mechanical arts, and more especially augmenting his military resources, rather than with any reference to spiritual advantages, that Pomare finally resolved to abjure the absurdities of the superstition in which he had been educated.
The annals of all countries where Europeans have planted their literature and religion afford instruction
* These opinions were the result of profound reflection on the part of Dr Nathaniel Lardner, and of Bishop Law, the celebrated author of the “ Considerations on Theory of Religion.”
as well as warning relative to the manner in which the minds of ignorant tribes should be approached with the principles of theological knowledge. The Spaniards in America, not less than the Portuguese in Africa, were chargeable with much imprudence in this respect. To the pious men who followed the steps of the invaders in either continent, it seemed sufficient if they could induce the uninstructed natives to receive baptism, or to observe, even mechanically, certain forms of the church ; and hence it cannot appear surprising that Christianity failed to obtain any permanent footing in those parts of the world, notwithstanding the earnest desire with which the conversion of the people was pursued by the clergy and encouraged by the government.
It was long ago remarked, that whatever might be the merit of the Spanish ecclesiastics, the success of their endeavours in communicating the knowledge of true religion to the Indians was more imperfect than might have been expected, either from the amount of their own zeal, or from the dominion which they had acquired over their minds. For this failure various reasons may be assigned. The first missionaries, in their ardour to make proselytes, admitted them into the church without previous instruction in the doctrines of religion, and even before they themselves had acquired such knowledge of the several languages as to be able to explain to their converts the mysteries of faith or the precepts of duty. Resting upon a subtile distinction in scholastic theology, between that degree of assent which is founded upon a complete knowledge and conviction of duty, and that which may be yielded where both these are imperfect, they adopted this strange practice, no less inconsistent with the spirit of a religion which addresses itself to the understanding of men than repugnant to the dictates of reason.
As soon as any body of the inhabitants, overawed by the dread of power, or moved by the example of their own chiefs, expressed the slightest desire of emb
the creed of their invaders, they were instantly baptized. While this rage of conversion