Memoirs of the Life, Time, and Writings
of the Reverend and Learned
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Period II From My Leaving The Grammar-School, To My Laureation
Between my leaving of the grammar-school, and my entering to the college, two years intervened. And here began more remarkably my bearing of the yoke of trial and affliction, the which laid on in my youth, has, in the wise disposal of holy Providence, been from that time unto this day continued, as my ordinary lot; one scene of trial opening after another.
Prelacy being abolished by Act of Parliament, 22nd July 1689, and the Presbyterian government settled, 7th June 1690, and the curate of Dunse having died about that time, the Presbyterians took possession of the kirk, by the worthy Mr. Henry Erskine's preaching in it on a Wednesday, being the weekly market-day; the soldiers being active in carrying on the project, and protecting against the Jacobite party. The purity of the gospel being new to many, it had much success in these days, comparatively speaking; and in the harvest that year, my mother fell under exercise about her soul's case, and much lamented her misspent time; and there was a remarkable change then made upon her.
My father, as well as myself, inclined that I should proceed in learning; but apprehending the expense unequal to his worldly circumstances, was unwilling to bear the charges of my education at the college: whereupon he tried several means for effectuating the design otherwise, particularly in the year 1690; but prevailed not. Hereby I was discouraged, and had some thoughts of betaking myself to a trade; the which being intimated to him, he slighted, as being resolved not so to give it over: and I entertained them not, but as the circumstances seemed to force them on me.
In the end of that year he took me to Edinburgh, and essayed to put me into the service of Dr. Rule, principal of the college, not without hope of accomplishing it; but one who had promised to recommend me to the Doctor, having forgot his promise, that essay was made in vain; and I returned home, having got that notable disappointment on the back of several others.
Meanwhile the difficulties I had to grapple with, in the way of my purpose, put me to cry to the Lord in prayer on that head, that He Himself would find means to bring it about. And I well remember the place where I was wont to address the throne of grace for it, having several times thereafter had occasion to mind it, in giving thanks for that He had heard the prayers there put up for that effect.
About, or before this time, was the melancholy event of Mr. J. B--'s falling into adultery. He was born in Dunse, and so an acquaintance of my father's; and he was minister of the meeting-house at Mersington, and not young. This dreadful stumbling-block, laid especially at such a critical juncture as the Revolution, filled the mouths of the ungodly with reproach against the way of religion, and saddened the hearts of the godly to a pitch. I well know, that many a heavy heart it made to me, and remember the place where I was wont heavily to lament it before the Lord in secret prayer.
On the 1st day of February 1691, it pleased the Lord to remove my mother by death, not having lain long sick. To the best of my knowledge, she was not above fifty-six years of age, my father and she having lived together, in the state of marriage, from their youth, about thirty years. While she died in one room, my father was lying in another sick, as was supposed, unto death; and heavily received the tidings of her departure. Returning from bidding some friends in the country to her burial, I met on the street one whom I asked concerning my father, that told me, in all probability he would never recover. This so pierced me, that getting home, I went to the foot of the garden, and cast myself down on the ground, where, according to the vehemency of my passion, I lay grovelling and bemoaning my heavy stroke in the loss of my parents, looking on myself as an absolute orphan, and all hopes of obtaining my purpose now gone. Thus I lay, I think, till my eldest brother, a judicious man, came and spoke to me and raised me up. But it pleased the Lord that I was comforted in the recovery of my father some time after. About this time, I suppose, I myself was sick about eight days.
Some time after, my father, in pursuance of what had passed betwixt him and the town-clerk, sent me, at his desire, to write with him. But whatever way they had concerted their business, he drew back, took no trial of me in the matter, and I returned. And that project was blown up.
But being, it would seem, put in hopes by my father of proceeding in learning, towards the middle of June I betook myself to my books again, which I had almost given over; and I applied myself to the reading of Justin at that time, the malt-loft being my closet: but beginning thus to get up my head, my corruption began to set up its head too; so necessary was it for me to bear the yoke.
Meanwhile I was, that year, frequently employed to write with Mr. Alexander Cockburn, a notary. The favourable design of Providence therein, then unknown to me, I now see, since it could not be but of some use to help me to the style of papers; the which, since that time, I have had considerable use for. And thus kind Providence early laid in for it.
Put here I was led into a snare by Satan and my own corruption. Mr. Cockburn being in debt to me on the foresaid account, I saw Dickson on Matthew lying neglected in his chamber; and finding I could not get the money due to me out of his hand, I presumed to take away the book without his knowledge, thinking I might very well do it on the foresaid account. I kept it for a time; but conscience being better informed, I saw my sin in that matter, and could no more peaceably enjoy it, though he never paid me; so I restored it secretly, none knowing how it was taken away, nor how returned; and hereby the scandal was prevented. This, I think, contributed to impress me with a special care of exact justice, and the necessity of restitution in the case of things unjustly taken away, being like a burnt child dreading fire.
My father being fully resolved to put me to the college on his own charges, I began, on the 15th of October, to expound the Greek New Testament; which, I think, I completed betwixt that and the first of December; at which time he took me to Edinburgh, where being tried in the Greek New Testament by Mr. Herbert Kennedy regent, I was entered into his semi-class, my father having given him four dollars, as was done yearly thereafter, paying also all other dues.
Thus the Lord, in my setting out in the world, dealt with me, obliging me to have recourse to Himself for this thing, to do it for me. He brought it through many difficulties, tried me with various disappointments, at length carried it to the utmost point of hopelessness, seemed to be laying the grave-stone upon it at the time of my mother's death; and yet after all He brought it to pass; and that has been the usual method of Providence with me all along in matters of the greatest weight. The wisdom appearing, in leading the blind by a way they knew not, shined in the putting off that matter to this time, notwithstanding all endeavours to compass it sooner; for I am perfectly convinced I was abundantly soon put to the college, being then but in the fifteenth year of my age; and the manner of it was kindly ordered, in that I was thereby beholden to none for that my education; and it made way for some things which Providence saw needful for me.
During the whole time I was at the college, I dieted myself, being lodged in a private house, to which I was led by kind Providence, as fit for my circumstances.
1692. The first year, being somewhat childish, but knowing with what difficulty I had reached what I had obtained, I lived sparingly, and perhaps more so than was needful or reasonable. Being dejected and melancholy, I went but little out of my chamber, save to the class; and thus my improvement was confined in a manner to my lessons.
1693. The second year I attended the college, I had an entire comradeship with Andrew (afterwards Mr. Andrew) Elliot, a minister's son, and now minister of Auchtertool in Fife, which several ways contributed to my advantage, and lasted during the rest of the time we were at the college. Meanwhile I still lived sparingly.
In the spring that year began a breach of my health, whereby I became liable to swoonings, which continued for several years after. It was, I think, in the month of April, when being on my knees at secret prayer, my heart began to fail, and I rose up, and fell on my back on the floor, and lay a while in a swoon. Recovering, I called the landlady: then I went to bed, but fainted a second time, in which she took care of me. Afterwards she unwarily suggested to me, that it might be the falling sickness, which occasioned me several thoughts of heart. Wherefore, as I came home in the middle of May, I consulted it; and was delivered of these fears, which were groundless; but being at home, I was, on the 2nd of June, overtaken with another fainting-fit, in which beckoning with my hand I fainted away; and while they were lifting me into the bed, I heard my sister say, that I was gone. In a little I recovered, and my father went to prayer at my bedside.
The first or second winter I was at the college, being in company with a dumb man, I was urged by some to ask him a question about my brother William. He answered me in writing, as it is Deut. 29: ult., "Secret things belong unto the Lord our God," etc.; and, moreover, that there is no such thing communicated to the dumb, but that through importunity he himself had sometimes spoke what he knew not. Thus was I reproved. And I desire that all who may read this or such like my failings, may beware of splitting on the same rocks, so heavy to me.
About 20th December I gladly went to Edinburgh again for the last year, thinking that course of difficulties near an end. I was therefore more cheerful, and in point of diet managed more liberally.
1694. About the latter end of February, I came home with John Cockburn, a comrade, son to John Cockburn in Preston. I could not get him out of the town till a good part of the day was spent; and when we were come out, he expended a little money he had left, without asking questions till it was done. Then finding there was no money with us but what I had, which could scarcely procure us both a night's lodging, we resolved to hold on our way, though our journey was in all twenty-eight miles long. Night drawing on, we were twelve miles from home, and got nothing in the inn but bread and water; there being no ale in it, it seems. Then under night we went on our way, in the moonlight: but on the hills we began to fail, travelling a-foot, and having had but sorry refreshment at the inn. Meanwhile, as we lay on the highway to rest our weary limbs, a farmer came up to us, who offered to lodge us with him near by; which was gladly embraced.
That youth and I had been schoolfellows at Dunse, and so much resembled one another in face and stature, as if we had been twins; the which being noticed by our fellows, made a most entire friendship between us at school. It lasted for a while; but was at length, upon some childish controversy, quite blown up, and was never recovered. For at the college, being more liberally furnished, he overlooked me, and gave himself to diversions; so that there was no communication, but what was general, betwixt him and me, as I remember, till the last of the three years. At what time, being once in company with him, I was like to have a plea to rid betwixt him and another; and, to the best of my knowledge, left them at length. And then again I came home with him as aforesaid. He and I both were designed for the study of divinity; but in a little time he gave up with it, went to London, applied himself to book-keeping, and went abroad, I suppose, and died. Wherefore, when I was honoured of God to preach the gospel of Christ, I was often a moving sight to his sorrowful father. Whence I must needs conclude, that "it is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth:" and surely it was good and necessary for me.
Being allowed only £16 Scots by my father for the laureation, I borrowed 20 merks from one of my brothers, and so went to Edinburgh for that end in the summer. But the day signified to me not being kept, I returned without my errand. This disappointment, with other discouragements I had met with in prosecuting my studies, furnished my evil heart, when going in a second time that season to the laureation, the occasion of that unbelieving thought, that I would never believe I could obtain it till I saw it. For this thought I presently smarted, meeting suddenly on the back of it with a dispensation which threatened to lay the grave-stone upon all that I had hitherto attained; for some officers took me up by the way to be a soldier: but the Lord delivered me quickly.
Thus holy wise Providence ordered my education at the college; the charges whereof amounted in all but to £128, 15s. 8d. Scots; of the which I had 20 merks as aforesaid to pay afterwards. Out of that sum were paid the regent's fees yearly, and the college-dues, and also my maintenance was furnished out of it. By means thereof, I had a competent understanding of the logics, metaphysics, ethics, and general physics; always taking pains of what was before me, and pleasing the regent: but I learned nothing else, save short-hand writing, which an acquaintance of mine taught me, namely, a well-inclined baker-lad. My design in acquiring it was to write sermons; but I made little use of it that way, finding it to mar the frame of my spirit in hearing, which obliged me to quit that use of it. But kind was the design of Providence in it notwithstanding; for besides its serving me in recording things I designed to keep secret, and otherwise, it has been exceeding useful to me of late years, in making the first draughts of my writings therein. "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning.''
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