Titus Coan (1801-1881)

Revivalist Missionary in Hawaii

 

 

Who Was Titus Coan?

Titus Coan was a revivalist missionary who was stationed at Hilo, Hawaii, and brought about the conversion of thousands of natives. In fact, he eventually had a membership of 15,000 members in his church, making it the largest Protestant Church in the world at that time. His success came through quickly mastering the language, befriending and loving the natives, visiting every person who lived within 100 miles of his station and ongoing itinerations to stay in touch with the people, sometimes preaching more than 25 sermons in a day, keeping a notebook to keep track of his members, and once keeping a camp meeting going for more than two years that greatly deepened spirituality. He also became an observer of the Mauna Loa Volcano and sent his findings to geologists and magazines on the mainland. Faithful to his post, he only came back one time, for one year, to the mainland, after he had been there for 35 years. He died at Hilo in 1882 at the age of 81.

Titus Coan Directory

Why Learn about Titus Coan?

Some Quick Facts on Titus Coan

Biographies About Titus Coan

Titus Coan's Conversion

Stories on Titus Coan

Titus Coan’s Poetry

Some Sermons of Titus Coan

Titus Coan on Prayer & Healing

Titus Coan on Practical Christianity

Titus Coan on Victory

Titus Coan on Revival and the Holy Spirit

Titus Coan Books

Additional Resources

Why Learn About Titus Coan

In reading and learning about Titus Coan you learn about what God can do through one man who gets close to the people around him and loves them into the Kingdom. You also learn about the importance of visitation (he decided to visit every person who lived within 100 miles of the mission station), keeping track of how they are doing (he kept notes in his ever-present notebook), preaching revival sermons to awaken conviction and bring about conversions (he was fearless in preaching to the chief for example), and loving the people you are working with (the natives knew that Coan loved them). His story is also very inspirational!

Some Quick Facts About Titus Coan

Born: Killingworth, Conn., USA, February 1, 1801

Parents: Father, Gaylord Coan, was a farmer; his mother, Tamza Nettleton, was a relative of Asahel Nettleton.

Siblings: Coan was the youngest of seven sons.

Education: Early education at East Guilford Academy; later studied at Auburn Seminary where he graduated with high honors.

Vocation: Coan's background included farming (as a youth), teaching (seven years) and serving as an officer in a military company. Though he had interest in pursuing a future in business, feeling strongly called into ministry, he began ministry studies at Auburn Seminary in June of 1831.

Conversion: Conversion came during the course of a revival of Charles Finney in Western New York. In reading Jeremiah 3:19 Coan heard God's voice calling him into relationship, to which he responded with an "unreserved, unconditional, cheerful and eternal surrender of himself to God."

Preparation for Ministry: He studied at Auburn Seminary for several years and completed the program with high honors [according to a New York Times notice of his death.] On the 17th of April, 1833, the Presbytery of Cayuga county, meeting in Auburn, N. Y., licensed him to preach, and he spent his next vacation at Rochester, where he supplied a vacant pulpit. While he was still studying at Auburn, he was selected as one of two to go to Patagonia and explore it, evaluating whether it could be wisely entered as a mission field [Patagonia is the southernmost portion of South America]. He remained there only nine months. However the rigors and testings of that journey helped prepare him for his future ministry in Hawaii.

Marriage & Departure for the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii): He married Fidelia Church on January 3, 1834. On December 5, 1834 they departed for Hawaii on the Hellespont. The voyage took a little more than six months. They reached Hawaii on June 26, 1835.

Hawaiian Mission Service: Coan spent his early time learning the language and preached his first sermon three months later. At the same time he sought and succeeded in winning the confidence of the natives. Success came as a result of his interest in them: his acting as town physician—providing health remedies and medicines for those who were sick, counseling, resolving conflicts and showing his love to the people. He was preacher, pastor, magistrate, teacher, guide and friend all at the same time. He began making walking tours through his territory and sailed the coast in his canoe. Everywhere he went he preached and developed friendships with the people. During these forays he endured many hardships including torrential downpours. The people came to know and like him. As a result the population of Hilo swelled from 1,000 to 10,000. Once a camp meeting went on for two years, the sound of a bell bringing thousands of congregants to the meetings at any hour of the day or night. As a result a large part of the population was converted. In fact, he would eventually have a church with upwards of 15,000 members, the largest Protestant Church on planet earth.

Revival: In the autumn of 1837 a protracted meeting that lasted eight days was held at the mission station. Opening the meeting with the text "Prepare ye the way of the Lord," a sobering effect was produced. Adding to the response, a wave of between 15 and 20 feet came crashing ashore and swept away 100 houses and the occupants. Fortunately only 13 people died, but it was a sobering and convicting affirmation of Coan's call to "be ready," and hundreds of natives flocked to God. The revival continued for more than two years—in fact the revival is said to have gone from 1837 to 1842.

Girls School: In 1838 Fidelia founded a boarding school that had girls between the ages of 7 and 10. Natives built the school house and provided for daily needs. Later it was expanded. It was closed in 1846 since there were 50 common schools for which her husband had responsibility.

Growth of Mission: Prior to 1837, prospective church members were rigorously examined and less than 1,200 had been admitted. After that year admissions averaged nearly 2,000 annually. By 1853, in a native population of about 71,000, over 56,000 were Protestants. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) moved to declare Hawaii Christianized and terminate the mission.

Mission Work in the Marquesas Islands: Coan encouraged a mission by Hawaiians to the people of the Marquesas Islands and made two voyages there as a delegate of the Hawaiian Missionary Society.

Volcano Studies: Because of his close proximity to the erupting volcanoes of Hawaii, Titus Coan became one of the more knowledgable experts  on volcanoes. In making his observations he would sometimes get very close to the eruptions. When the United States Exploring Expedition visited Hilo in 1840-1841, Coan developed a relationship with James Dana, the main geologist. They corresponded over four decades, Caon sending Dana ongoing observations of the Volcano. Fidelia and Lydia wrote articles about the volcano, and Fidelia was the first American woman to publish in a scientific journal—The American Journal of Science in 1852). 

Return Trips to the Mainland: Titus Coan and his wife remained in Hawaii for 35 years, at which time he returned for one year (1870). They returned in 1871. Fidelia died in 1872. 

Children: Four children. Titus Munson Coan, born in 1836, became a physician, served in the American Civil War and died in 1921. Harriet Fidelia was born in 1839 and died in 1906. Sarah Eliza was born in 1843 and died in 1916. Samuel Latimer Coan was born 1846 and died in 1887.

Remarriage: Titus Coan married Lydia Bingham, the daughter of Hiram Bingham, a pastor and earlier missionary, on October 13, 1873.

Books: Adventures in Patagonia (1880); Life in Hawaii (1882).

Death: December 1, 1882 in Hilo.

Biographies

 

 

Short Biography from Adventures in Patagonia

An excerpt: "The fame of this man of God spread abroad, and wherever he went the people "thronged him." When he could not go to them they came to him. From all parts of the island they flocked to Hilo. "Whole villages gathered from many miles away, and made their homes near the mission house. Within the radius of a mile the little cabins clustered thick as they could stand. Hilo, the village of ten hundred, saw its population suddenly swelled to ten thousand, and here was held, literally, a camp meeting of two years. At any hour of the day or night a tap of the bell would bring together a congregation of from three to six thousand. Meetings for prayer and preaching were held daily. Congregations so vast and so long continued have not often been assembled since Apostolic times, and the Spirit came down upon them as on the day of Pentecost. The preacher himself was thrilled by the scene, and catching an inspiration from the thousands of eager eyes and listening ears, felt lifted up with a strange power. "There was a fire in his bones." Were the congregation ever so large and tumultuous, it hushed at the sound of his voice. He said: "I would rise before the restless, noisy crowd and begin. It wasn't long before I felt that I had got hold of them. There seemed to be a chord of electricity binding them to me. I knew that I had them, that they would not go away. The Spirit would hush them by the truth till they would sob and cry 'What shall we do?' and the noise of the weeping would be so great that I could not go on." (Read the rest of this short biography)

Four Memorable Years in Hilo

This short pamphlet written by S. J. Humphrey was greatly praised by the Christian press on the mainland.

Titus Coan Chapter

This is a delightful chapter taken, with some adaptation, from Godbeys' Light in Darkness: or, Missions and Missionary Heroes. In this shorter biography you will gain additional detail on Coan's missionary travels, Fedelia starting a school, etc. It is also well written. (Read Godbeys' chapter on Coan.)

Titus Coan: A Memorial (From the Friend's Review)

An extract: "In the autumn of 1837 a protracted meeting of eight days was held at the Station, of which T. Coan wrote: ''God wrought for us. I opened the meeting with a sermon from the text, 'Prepare ye the way of the Lord.' Great effect was produced. On the second day of the meeting God came in terror. The sea rose suddenly to the perpendicular height of 15 or 20 feet, and fell in one mountain wave upon the shore, sweeping away nearly 100 houses with all their tenants. All was sudden as a peal of thunder. No premonitions were given. None had time to flee. The scene was awful. Hundreds were engulfed in a moment. To the people the event was as the voice of God speaking to them from out of heaven, 'Be ye also ready.' Time swept on. The work deepened and widened. Thousands on thousands thronged the courts of the Lord. Everywhere the trumpet of jubilee sounded loud and long, and as clouds, and as doves to their windows, so ransomed sinners flocked to Christ." (Read the rest of this instructive Memorial)

Titus Coan: A Sketch from the Sailor's Magazine

This is a short but informative sketch on the life and death of Titus Coan that is worth taking time to read.

 

Titus Coan's Conversion

"From his journal: December, 1832.—"It is but a little time since I found my sins an oppressive load. My Savior hid his face for a moment. I sought him at twilight, at midnight. I inquired of the watchmen. I wandered over the field of truth. I looked, I listened, I fainted. My Beloved spake—my soul melted—I bathed his feet with my tears. I would not let him go till he pardoned and smiled. Do you ask where I found him? In Jer. iii, 19. At first his voice was indistinct, but it arrested my attention. I listened and he spake again. Is this, said I, the voice of my Father? Again the notes became more distinct and tender and earnest. He was inquiring how he should put me among his children. He stated the condition. 'Thou shalt call me my Father, and thou shalt not turn away from me.' My heart responded, 'My Father, my Father, thou art the guide of my youth.' I had read these words before, but I never found and ate them with such relish as now. The condition, 'Thou shalt not turn away from me,' seemed equally precious as the privilege of adoption. I thought I made or renewed an unreserved, an unconditional, cheerful, eternal, surrender of myself to God. I have not only been willing for years to go on a mission, but more than willing. I have been anxious. The Lord may not count me worthy of the privilege. Let God reign."

 

Stories About Titus Coan

Volcano Adventures: Observing the Mauna Loa Volcano

Close to where Coan was living in Hilo was the Mauna Loa Volcano. At some point it erupted and he spent many days approaching the molten streams, making observations. It was feared that the lava would cover Hilo but suddenly it quieted down, something which Coan felt came in answer to prayer. This excerpt comes from a Memorial written on his life. (Read about Coan's adventures)

Titus Coan: The Eruption of Mauna Loa, Hawaii, 1852

Here Coan describes how he went with companions to see the volcano from close up. Eventually he pushes on ahead without any companions—one had returned to warn the woman, some did not have the right clothing, and the guide was too slow—and finds himself at 10,000 feet in a place where human feet have never trod and there experiences the power of nature—God—in unprecedented ways. This makes for exciting reading!

 

Revival

Hilo Pentecost

"Titus Coan began his ministry about sixty years ago on the shore belt of Hawaii. He preached with great simplicity, made no effort to excite, but rather to allay excitement. He depended on the Word, borne home by the Spirit, and the Spirit wrought mightily. Some would cry out—"The two edged sword is cutting me to pieces." The wicked scoffer who came to make sport dropped like a log and said, "God has struck me." Once while preaching in the open field [before] two thousand people, a man cried out, "What shall I do to be saved?" and prayed the publican's prayer; and the entire congregation took up the cry for mercy. For half an hour Mr. Coan could get no chance to speak, but had to stand still and see the Salvation of God. The high priest of Pele and custodian of her crater shrine, who by his glance could doom a native to strangulation, on whose shadow no Hawaiian dared tread; who ruthlessly struck men dead for their food and garments' sake, and robbed and outraged human beings for a pastime; this gigantic criminal came into the meetings as did also his sister, the priestess; and even such as they were made to experience the power of the word of God. With bitter tears and penitent confession, the crimes of this ministry of idolatry were unearthed. He acknowledged that what he had worshipped was no god at all, and publicly renounced his idolatry and bowed before Jesus. These two had spent about seventy years in sin, but till death maintained their Christian confession.—William Adamson, Missionary Anecdotes, (Glasgow: Thomas D. Morison, 1896), 178.

The Hawaiian Revival

Titus Coan was made for the work God had for him, and he controlled these great masses. He preached with great simplicity, illustrating and applying the grand old truths, made no effort to excite but rather to allay excitement, and asked for no external manifestation of interest. He depended on the word, borne home by the Spirit. And the Spirit wrought. Some would cry out, "The two-edged sword is cutting me to pieces." The wicked scoffer who came to make sport dropped like a log, and said, "God has struck me." Once while preaching in the open field to two thousand people, a man cried out, "What shall I do to be saved?" and prayed the publican's prayer; and the entire congregation took up the cry for mercy. For a half hour Mr. Coan could get no chance to speak, but had to stand still and see God work. (Read the rest of what Pierson has to say on the revivals in Hawaii under Titus Coan.)

 

Books

Titus Coan: Life in Hawaii (pdf)

Lydia Bingham Coan: Titus Coan: A Memorial (pdf)

Gulick: The Pilgrims of Hawaii (pdf)

 

Other Resources

Hawaiian Mission House Archives (Web site)

 

Quotations

(Click here for many more quotes)

On Academics: "I am pent up here amid the venerable lore of ages, and hurried from field to field of metaphysical, ethical and theological research. After examining the various and contending theories, the magisterial dogmas, the abstruse and subtle disquisitions, the vain and unsatisfying speculations, the grave and confident conclusions of numerous theological disputants, I gain relief from their perplexing speculations by taking my precious Bible and stealing away close to the feet of Jesus. He has told me, when I want anything, to ask Him, and His promise never fails, He never upbraids. He does not, indeed, answer all my irreverent inquiries, but He teaches me not to dive beyond my depth, nor soar amid brightness too dazzling. With Jesus for my teacher, I can sit and quiet myself as a wearied child."

"I have now another class in the prison. Most of them I hope are converted. 'Tis truly affecting to hear some of them confess their former sins, and with bursting hearts tell of the love of Jesus. I love to go into that prison, because Jesus loves to go there. I often feel as if I wanted to wash the feet of those who are Christ's freemen there, for it seems as if my Master would do it."

"At one place where I preached, there was an old and hardened Chief, who neither feared God nor regarded man. I preached to him fearlessly, personally, pointedly, calling him by name, and in the presence of his people I charged home his guilt upon him, and in the name of the Lord urged him to immediate repentance. He was much moved, and promised repentance the first day, but I was not satisfied that his proud heart was broken. On the second day I renewed the charge. He stood the siege for awhile, but at length his feelings became insuppressible, and all on a sudden he broke forth in a cry that almost rent the heavens. The sword of the Spirit was in his veins. He submitted on the spot, and appears like a newborn babe. The effect of this scene on the congregation was overwhelming. The place was shaken. Multitudes cried out for mercy, and multitudes turned to the Lord. I could tell you of many similar facts. God has done great things for us. I feel like lying in the dust and adoring His grace.

(Click here for many more quotes)

 

Letters

Coan's Letter: Condition of the Churches

An Excerpt: "I do not believe that the precious, precious cause of missions is to be left to a blind and mad indifference, and that the lamps of life which are shining, though dimly, upon the benighted nations, are to be extinguished for want of oil. But I did and do feel that our love to our bleeding Savior is too cold, and our pity for our perishing brethren and sisters in lands of brooding darkness is too feeble. We are not awake to our privileges. Bronze gates are open, iron bars are broken, and the voice of the Eternal calls the church to improve the opportunity, lest Satan shall pre-occupy the field, and scatter the seeds of infidelity, which shall prove a more stubborn obstacle to the blessed Gospel than the old paganism." (Read all of his letter on the condition of the churches)

A Letter to his Nephew

"My Dear Nephew:

"If you are filled with the spirit of love and obedience to Christ, and an earnest, pure desire to win souls for the Master, your life will be useful and happy. I presume you do not belong to the class of young Christian students who spend the seed-time of life, and the flower of youth, in preparation to be useful, but rather, that while diligent in your studies you are 'fervent in spirit' and in prayer; and active in all proper ways and seasons in doing good. A very important part of our preparation for the service of the Master consists in earnest labors to save souls while we are cultivating our mental powers by study. I would not make myself an example of fidelity, but would bless the Lord for inclining me, long before my decision to study for the ministry, and during my theological course, to watch for souls, and to improve opportunities by the wayside and everywhere, as Providence gave them, to speak a word for Jesus. And these exercises did not hinder but helped my studies, as they brought me into contact with humanity in its multiform shades and aspects, and helped me much during my whole ministry in winning souls for Christ. How many pious and ardent young men have studied hard in college and seminary with the hope of future fruitfulness, when disease and death rapped at the door, took them suddenly away, and called them apparently 'empty handed,' or with 'nothing but leaves,' to their last account. Thus we are admonished to work while it is day, to sow our seed in the morning, in the evening, beside all waters, and everywhere and always to be found working in the Master's vineyard, until he comes to call us to a higher service. My prayer shall ever be that you may be fully consecrated, and meet for the work and warfare of life, having put on the whole armor of God."—Titus Coan

Letter to His Children on his 80th Birthday

"God gave me a happy childhood, a cheerful youth, a vigorous manhood and now a calm old age; and my heart is still young, and in sweet sympathy with all the radiant beauties of nature and in harmony with the diapason of the illimitable universe. I am not old, I cannot be old, for I am in early childhood,—in the first dawn of my being,—and I am now studying the alphabet of immortality. Ah the illimitable, the immeasurable, the boundless, the Infinite that spreads around and rises above me, without horizon and without zenith.''

 

His Comments on War

"All this must come to pass, and its coming will be hastened just in proportion as Christians one by one come out of cruel and bloody Babylon, and by word and deed, and by patient suffering if called to it, bear witness against the heathenish and the brutal customs of war. War will never be abolished by the timid, the conservative, and the wise men of this world, who call peace men and peace societies foolish and fanatical; who say 'you must take the world as you find it,' 'you cannot stop war, and all your theories on the subject of peace are Utopian, because impracticable, and you may as well let the matter take care of itself But war will cease in spite of these reasons, and it would cease at once all over Christendom if every professor of the Christian religion would arise and shake himself from the blinding dust of the war system, and resolve to have no more to do with the bloody code, but to obey the Royal law, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.' Such a united and decided testimony from the church, headed by her cloven-tongued ministry, and her thunder-toned presses, would silence all the batteries of our enemies, and stanch the red blood that flows in broad waves over the world."

 

Powerful Preacher

Preaching Abilities

"It is also to be observed, that he declares a mighty out-reaching of his heart in loving desire towards his hearers, also an all-conquering assurance possessing him at such times of the irresistible, penetrating power of the Word upon the souls of the hearers. To my mind these are most pregnantly significant expressions of that combined power of faith and love with which our departed friend was gifted by the Holy Spirit to wield the Divine Word, for the salvation of such a multitude of souls as gave evidence of true conversion to Christ through his preaching. (Read all the excerpt on his preaching)