Life in Hawaii, by Titus Coan
Copyright ©1882, 1997 (electronic edition by Edward J. Coan)

Chapter VII.

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More Church-Building—Commodore Jones's Visit--Progress of Conversions—The Sacraments under New Conditions.

OF church buildings we had at one time not less than fifty, and of school-houses sixty or more. These were all built by the free will of the people, acting under no outward constraint. Some of these houses would accommodate 1,000 persons, others 500, 300, and 150, according to the population for which they were erected. They were, of course, built in native style, on posts set in the ground, with rafters fastened with cords, and the whole thatched with the leaf of the pandanus, the sugar-cane, or dried grass. They were frail, needing rethatching once in three to five years, and rebuilding after about ten years. They were usually well-kept, and with open doors and holes for windows, they were light and airy.

In this list I do not include the great buildings at Hilo.

A mighty wind having prostrated our large meeting-house, we commenced, during the winter of 1840–1, to collect materials for our first framed building. All the men who had axes went into the highland forest to fell trees and hew timber. When a large number of pieces were ready, hundreds of willing men and women, provided with ropes made of the bark of the hibiscus, with light upper garments, and with leggins of the Adam and Eve style, such as never feared mud and water, went to bring down these timbers. Arranged by a captain in two lines, with drag-ropes in hand, ready to obey the command of their chosen leader, they stood waiting his order. At length comes the command, "Grasp the ropes; bow the head; blister the hand; go; sweat!" And away they rush, through mud and jungle, over rocks and streams, shouting merrily, and singing to measure. Then comes the order, "Halt, drop drag-ropes, rest!" This is repeated at longer or shorter intervals according to the state of the ground.

I often went up to the woods, on foot of course, and grasped the rope, and hauled with the rest to encourage and keep them in heart. We had no oxen or horses in those days, for the days were primitive, and the work was pioneer work. The trees, the jungle, the mud, the streams, and the lava-fields were all primordial.

When the materials were brought together, we employed a Chinese carpenter at a reasonable price, to frame and raise the building, all his pay to be in trade, for "the golden age" had not yet dawned on Hawaii. The natives, men and women, soon covered the rough frame with thatching. There was no floor but the earth, and the only windows were holes about three feet square left in the thatching on the sides and ends. This was the first framed church edifice built in Hilo, and in this building, capable of seating about 2,000 people, we first welcomed Commodore Ap Catesby Jones, of the frigate United States, with his officers and brass band. The courteous commodore and his chaplain consented to deliver each an address of congratulation and encouragement to the people for their ready acceptance of the Gospel, and for their progress in Christian civilization. He alluded to a former visit of his to Honolulu by order of the United States Government, to investigate certain complaints made by a class of foreign residents against the American missionaries, stating that on a patient and careful hearing of the parties, the missionaries came out triumphantly, and their abusers were put to shame.

Our people at this time had never heard the music of a brass band, and the commodore kindly gave them a treat. After playing several sacred songs which delighted the natives beyond all music they had before heard, the band, at a signal from the commodore, struck up "Hail Columbia." An electric thrill rushed through the great congregation, and all sprang to their feet in amazement and delight. Since then they have become familiar with the music of the United States’, the English and French navies.

Perhaps the most perfect band we have heard in Hilo was that of the Duke of Edinburgh, who visited us in the steam frigate Galatea in 1869.

When our first framed church building became old and dilapidated, we decided on replacing it with an edifice of stone and mortar. But after a year’s hard toil in bringing stones on men’s shoulders, and after having dug a trench some six feet deep for the foundations without coming to the bed-rock, we, by amicable agreement, dismissed our mason and engaged two carpenters.

The corner-stone was laid November 14, 1857, and the building was dedicated on the 8th of April, 1859. The material was good, and the workmanship faithful and satisfactory. The whole cost was $13,000.

It was then the finest church edifice on the islands. On the day of the dedication, there was a debt on the house of some $600, and it was our hope and purpose to cancel the debt on that day. But the day was stormy, the paths muddy, and the rivers were without bridges. Things looked dark, but we were happily surprised to see the people flocking in from all points until the house was crowded to its utmost capacity.

Prayers and a song of praise were offered, but we had resolved, by the help of God, not to dedicate the house until the debt was paid to the last farthing. So the people were called on by divisions, according to their villages, to come forward with their offerings; and this was done with such promptness, such order, and such quietness that we soon counted and declared a contribution of over $800. When the result was announced, a shout of joy went up to heaven.

The debt was paid, the house was dedicated, $200 were left in the treasury, and the people went home rejoicing and praising the Lord. On the 27th a contribution of more than $400 was taken, making our dedication offerings $1,239. Our treasury for the meeting-house has never been empty, though we have expended several thousand dollars more in purchasing a large bell, in painting and repairing the house, and in keeping it and the grounds neat and in good condition.

It was an affecting scene to see the old and decrepit, the poor widow, and the droves of little children come forward with their gifts which they had been collecting and saving for months, and offering them with such cheerful gladness to the Lord.

In 1868 an awful earthquake tore in pieces stone walls and stone houses, and rent the earth in various parts of Hilo, Puna, and Kau. Had we built according to our original plan and agreement with the mason, "our holy and beautiful house" would have become a heap of rubbish, and our hearts would have sunk within us with sorrow. How true that "a man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps."

It was my habit to get all the help that could be obtained from converts, and this was much. As the company of disciples increased, "they went everywhere preaching the word." The Lord ordained them, not man. In every hamlet and village there were found some who were moved by the Holy Ghost, and to whom the Spirit gave utterance; and it was joyfully true that "where the Spirit of the Lord was, there was liberty," not to dispute and wrangle, not to speak vain and foolish things, not to lie and deceive, but to utter the truth in love, without the shackles of form and superstition, but with the freedom granted by Christ.

How true the promise, "My people shall be willing in the day of my power." Willing to give up their sins, their enmity, their vile practices, their pipes, their ava, and all their intoxicants; to forgive and be forgiven; to return every man to the wife he had abused, and every wife to the husband she had forsaken; to pay their old debts; to labor with their hands for the supply of their physical wants; to see that their children were in school, in religious meetings; to see that prisons were emptied and churches fiIIed, and that the poor, the sick, the blind, and the lame were not forgotten; to see that the call of love and the offers of life were heard by all. The objects called for laborers, and they were ready at call. Sometimes ten, twenty, or forty men were sent out, two and two, through all Puna and Hilo, into all highways, hedges, jungles, and valleys, to "seek and to save the lost," the sick, the ignorant, the stupid, the timid, or the "remnant of the giants" in idolatry. And they were drawn out by hundreds into the light of the Gospel and the love of the Saviour. There was no retreat among the hills or in the forests where these helpers did not come, and no place where I did not precede, accompany, or follow them. The women also toiled earnestly for souls. They met, prayed, read the commission of the Great Prince, and went out two and two into all the villages, exhorting, persuading, weeping, and praying, and their influence was wonderful for good. They were taught by the Word and the Spirit, and understood their work. With these helpers every village became a guarded citadel of the Lord, and there were few lurking-places for the enemy, no dark passages by which he might make approaches to the camp of the saints.

So far as we could learn, there was not a house or a cabin in all these districts where the voice of morning and evening prayer was not heard; and in most places Scripture lessons and hymns were rehearsed, and efforts, often very rude and inartistic, were made to sing the praises of God.

Previous to the great revival I had been pained at the cold and formal prayers of the natives. All had seemed mechanical and heartless, and in grief I had said, "I do not feel satisfied with this praying, it seems but a thoughtless and unfeeling rehearsal of a lesson." But when the Spirit fell upon the people, all this was changed. Some of the most unlettered and weak became mighty and prevailing wrestlers like the patriarch Jacob. "The feeble among them were like David, and the house of David as the angel of the Lord." They took God at His word, their faith was simple and childlike, unspoiled by tradition or vain philosophy. They went "boldly to the throne of grace," and yet with eyes melted with tears, and hearts yearning with love for souls.

Often have I seen a whole assembly moved to tears and tenderness by the prayers and wrestlings of one man. They plead the promises with no apparent shadow of a doubt, and the answer often came speedily. Is it not recorded for the assurance of faith that "Before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear?" They were praying with melting fervor for the Spirit, and He came, sometimes like the dew of Hermon or the gentle rain, and sometimes "like a rushing mighty wind," filling the house with sobbing and with outcries for mercy.

Controversies among Christians always sadden me. Our warfare is against sin and Satan; and Heaven’s "sacramental host" should never fall out by the way, or spend an hour in their conflict with Hell in fighting with one another.

Grasping and defending vital truths, and allowing kind and courteous discussions of outward forms, the whole Church of Christ should clasp hands and march shoulder to shoulder against the common foe. The many and different church organizations, with their external rites, rules, and preferences, never offend me where there is "the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace." All Christians are bound by the supreme law of heaven to love one another, not to bite and devour nor to indulge in "envy and strife."

I believe in the beautiful rite of baptism, not as essential to salvation, but as a sign and seal of faith in Christ.

I believe that the mode and the amount of water are indifferent, and that every thinking man is at liberty to choose for himself so as to satisfy his own conscience before God, whether by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling; nor do I believe that the Bible warrants dogmatism, division, or non-communion on this subject. For myself I prefer sprinkling, not so much from the many discussions I have heard, or the arguments I have read on the subject, as from the facts in my experience.

Granting that this rite is designed to be universal as is the Gospel, Matt. xxviii. 19, I have often found it impossible to baptize by immersion. I have found in parts of Hawaii, one, two, and five miles from the sea, and as far from any pool of water sufficient to immerse even the head, men, women, and children so old or so sick that they could not be carried to any water fountain to be immersed; some ready to die, and begging me with tears to baptize them and administer to them the emblems of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. They accepted Christ with good evidence of faith and love, and welcomed His messenger with tears of joy and gratitude.

And now let me ask with Peter, "Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized?"

Similar considerations apply to the communion of the Lord’s supper. I have been in situations where it seemed a duty and a privilege to administer this sacrament, but could get neither bread nor wine. Of course this led to reflection. Shall I omit the sacrament? Shall it be postponed for months, with the probability that some of these aged and wasting forms will be laid in the dust within a few days or weeks? Which is of the greater importance, the ordinance or the articles used to symbolize and call to remembrance the death of the Lord Jesus? Do not the food we eat and the water we drink sustain our mortal bodies, and does not faith in the Saviour’s broken body and shed blood give life to our souls? The argument seemed to me logical and conclusive. And on further reflection that the bread we now use differs from that used when the ordinance was first instituted, and that much of the wine of this age is a poisoned mixture, the conclusion was further strengthened that neither our bread nor our wine was essential to our acceptable observance of the Lord’s supper.

We use bread at the Hilo churches, and for the cup a preparation without alcohol or any poisonous drug; but in making my distant tours we used the food and drink which sustains the life of the people, whether bread-fruit, taro, or potato, and water.


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