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The Hawaiian Revival

A. T. Pierson

Titus Coan, nearly sixty years ago, in 1835, began his memorable mission on the shore belt of Hawaii. He soon began to use the native tongue, and within the year made his first tour of the island. He was a relative of Nettleton and had been a co-labourer with Finney, and had learned what arrows are best for a preacher's quiver, and how to use his bow. His whole being was full of spiritual energy and unction, and, on his first tour, multitudes flocked to hear, and many seemed pricked in their hearts. The multitudes thronged him and followed him, and like his Master, he had no leisure, so much as to eat; and once he preached three times before he had a chance to breakfast. He was wont to make four or five tours a year, and saw tokens of interest, that impressed him with so strange a sense of the presence of God, that he said little about them and scarcely understood, himself. He could only say, "It was wonderful!" He went about, like Jeremiah, with the fire of the Lord in his bones; weary with forbearing, he could not stay.

In 1837, the slumbering fires broke out. Nearly the whole population became an audience, and those who could not come to the services were brought on their beds or on the backs of others. Mr. Coan found himself ministering to fifteen thousand people, scattered along the hundred miles of coast. He longed to be able to fly, that he might get over the ground, or to be able to multiply himself twentyfold, to reach the multitudes who fainted for spiritual food.

"Christian history presents no record of divine power more thrilling than this of the Great Revival at the Hawaiian Islands from 1836 to 1842. When in 1870 the American Board withdrew from this field, there were nearly sixty self-supporting churches, more than two-thirds having a native pastorate, with a membership of about fifteen thousand. That year their contributions reached $30,000. Thirty percent of their ministers became missionaries on other islands."

Necessity devises new methods. He bade those to whom he could not go, come to him, and, for a mile around, the people settled down—Hilo's little population of a thousand swelled tenfold, and here was held, on a huge scale, a two years' unique "camp meeting." There was not an hour, day or night, when an audience of from two thousand to six thousand would not rally at the signal of the bell.

There was no disorder, and the camp became a sort of industrial school, where gardening, mat-braiding, and bonnet-making were taught as well as purely religious truth. These great "protracted meetings" crowded the old church with six thousand hearers, and a newer building with half as many more; and when the people got seated, they were so close that until the meeting broke up no one could move. The preacher does not hesitate to deal in stern truths. The law with its awful perfection; hell, with its fires, of which the crater of Kilauea and the volcanoes about them might well furnish a vivid picture—the deep and damning guilt of sin, the hopelessness and helplessness of spiritual death —prepare the way for earnest gospel invitation and appeal. The vast audience sways as cedars before a tornado. There is trembling, weeping, sobbing and loud crying for mercy, sometimes too loud for the preacher to be heard; and in hundreds of cases his hearers fall in a swoon.

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.

There were greater signs of the Spirit than mere words of agony or confession. Godly repentance was at work—quarrels were reconciled, drunkards abandoned drink, thieves restored stolen property, adulteries gave place to purity, and murders were confessed. 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 or garments' sake and robbed and outraged human beings for a pastime—this gigantic criminal came into the meetings with his sister, the priestess—and even such as they found an irresistible power there—and with bitter tears and penitent confession, the crimes of this monster 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.

In 1838, the converts continued to multiply. Though but two missionaries, a lay preacher, and their wives, constituted the force, and the field was a hundred miles long, the word and work was with power, because God was in it all. Mr. Coan's trips were first of all for preaching; and he spoke on the average from three to four times a day; but these public appeals were interlaced with visits of a pastoral nature at the homes of the people, and with the searching inquiry into their state. This marvelous man kept track of his immense parish, and knew a church membership of five thousand as thoroughly as when it numbered one hundred. He never lost individual knowledge and contact in all this huge increase— what a model to modern pastors, who magnify preaching but have "no time to visit!" It was part of his plan that not one living person in all Puna or Hilo should not have the gospel brought repeatedly to the conscience, and he did not spare any endeavour or exposure to reach the people.

He set his people to work, and above forty of them visited from house to house within five miles of the central station. The results were simply incredible were they not attested abundantly.

After great care in examining and testing candidates, during the twelve months, ending in June, l839, 5,244 persons had been received into the Church. On one Sabbath, 1,705 were baptized, and 2,400 sat down together at the Lord's Table. It was a gathering of villages, and the head of each village came forward with his selected converts. With the exception of one such scene at Ongole, just forty years later, probably no such a sight has been witnessed since the day of Pentecost. What a scene was that when nearly two thousand five hundred sat down together to eat the Lord's Supper! And what a gathering! ''the old, the decrepit, the lame, the blind, the maimed, the withered, the paralytic, and those afflicted with divers diseases and torments; those with eyes, noses, lips and limbs consumed with the fire of their own or their parents' former lusts, with features distorted and figures the most depraved and loathsome,— and these came hobbling upon their staves, and led or borne by their friends; and among the throng the hoary priest of idolatry, with hands but recently washed from the blood of human victims, together with the thief, the adulterer, the Sodomite, the sorcerer, the robber, the murderer; and the mother—no, the monster—whose hands had reeked with the blood of her own children! These all met before the cross of Christ with their enmity slain, and themselves "washed and sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."

During the five years, ending June, 1841, 7,557 persons were received to the Church at Hilo,— three-fourths of the whole adult population of the parish. When Titus Coan left Hilo in 1870, he had himself received and baptized 11,960 persons.

These people held fast the faith, only one in sixty becoming amenable to discipline. Not even a grogshop was to be found in that parish, and the Sabbath was better kept than in New England. In 1867, the old mother church divided into seven, and there have been built fifteen houses for worship, mainly with the money and labour of the people themselves; who have also planted and sustained their own missions, having given in the aggregate one hundred thousand dollars for holy uses, and having sent twelve of their number to the regions beyond.

Christian history presents no record of divine power more thrilling than this of the Great Revival at the Hawaiian Islands from 1836 to 1842. When in 1870 the American Board withdrew from this field, there were nearly sixty self-supporting churches, more than two-thirds having a native pastorate, with a membership of about fifteen thousand. That year their contributions reached $30,000. Thirty percent of their ministers became missionaries on other islands. That same year, Kanwealoha, the old native missionary, in presence of a vast throng, where the royal family and dignitaries of the islands were assembled, held up the Word of God in the Hawaiian tongue, and in these few words gave the most comprehensive tribute to the fruits of gospel labour: "Not with powder and ball, and swords and cannon, but with this living Word of God, and His Spirit, do we go forth to conquer the Islands for Christ!"

A. T. Pierson, The New Acts of the Apostles, A Series of Lectures Delivered in Scotland in 1893. (New York: Baker & Taylor, 1894), pp., 279-284