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A History of the English Church in New Zealand

The Maori was a religious being


Incidents

such as this did not, of course, happen every day; but this one is typical in that it shows the _religious_ character of the Maori. Here is a war-party who start out with the object of shooting down a number of unsuspecting people. They come back talking in quite friendly fashion with the men who had baulked them of their prey. What had worked the change? Simply the singing of a hymn. Where could we find stronger evidence of a disposition naturally religious, or a more striking instance of the divine guardianship?

In trying to trace the causes of the wonderful spread of Christianity among this ferocious people, it is natural to think first of the _combination_ of benefits which the missionaries were able to bring. They stood for all the knowledge and civilisation of the outside world, as well as for the message of a world to come. They had no telephones, no motor cars, nor even matches; but they brought tools of iron and of steel, they had strange animals and plants, they used glass and china and wool and cotton, and above all they learned from books. Such marks of power could not fail to tell upon a shrewd people like the Maoris. The most intelligent of the chiefs, without at all understanding the truths of Christianity, were at once attracted by these signs of mechanical and intellectual superiority. We have seen how much the mission was indebted to the three great generals of New Zealand--Hongi in the north, Waharoa in the centre, and Rauparaha

in the south--for the main steps of its advance. It might seem at first as though the explanation of Maori Christianity were a fairly simple matter.

Yet such a conclusion would be very far removed from the truth. Undoubtedly the prestige of the white man's civilisation gave a valuable leverage at first, as in the notable case of Ruatara. Undoubtedly also, many of the common people were simply swept along by the current when once it grew strong enough to make itself felt. But the earliest real converts were old men, delicate girls, consumptive lads, and wretched slaves, whose hearts were caught not by axes and blankets, but by the message of a Father's love and of a home beyond the stars. The Maori was a religious being, and when his old faith failed him in the hour of need, he turned to the new gospel of certitude and hope. Nobler spirits among the race were drawn also by the social side of the new teaching; they saw in it a prospect of ridding the land of desolating wars; but in each case it was the true power of Christianity that operated, not the adventitious blessings which it brought in its train.

Very interesting, as evidences of the heartfelt piety of the early converts, are the letters which many of them wrote to Yate on the eve of his journey to England. There is surely nothing of a merely conventional goodness about such language as this: "I have this day, and many days, kneeled down, and my mouth has whispered and has said loud prayers; but I wish to know, and am saying within me, if I have prayed with my heart. Say you, if I have prayed to God with my heart, should I say No, and not do His bidding, as the Bible says we must and tells us how? And should I flutter about here like a bird without wings, or like a beast without legs, or like a fish whose tail and fins a native man has cut off, if I had love in my heart towards God? Oh! I wish that I was not all lip and mouth in my prayers to God. I am thinking that I may be likened to stagnant water, that is not good, that nobody drinks, and that does not run down in brooks, upon the banks of which kumara and trees grow. My heart is all rock, all rock, and no good thing will grow upon it. The lizard and the snail run over the rocks, and all evil runs over my heart."


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