Memoirs of the Life, Time, and Writings
of the Reverend and Learned
Back to Contents
Period III From My Laureation, To My Being Licensed To Preach The Gospel
That summer the bursary of the presbytery of Dunse was conferred on me, as a student of theology; as was that of the presbytery of Churnside on my comrade John Cockburn. And after the laureation, some time before the harvest, I entered on the study of theology; Mr. James Ramsay, minister then at Eyemouth, now at Delco, having put the book in my hand, viz. Pareus on Ursin's catechism; the which I read over three or four times ere I went to the school of divinity. Among the first books of that kind which I had a particular fondness for, was Weems's Christian synagogue.
I went, on invitation, to F--s, and spent some weeks there, after the harvest, with his two sons, and James (after Mr. James) Ridpath, students in philosophy, to whom I was there helpful in their studies. And that I may reckon the only time in my life in which I had a taste of the youthful diversions; whereof I soon saw the vanity, and wherein I drove but heavily, the family being altogether carnal. But while I was there, I kept up the worship of God in the family: nevertheless I found that manner of life ensnaring.
1695. About 20th January 1695 I went to Edinburgh to the school of divinity, then taught by the great Mr. George Campbell. There was then a great storm of snow on the ground. By the way, being extremely cold, I alighted off my horse, (I think it was betwixt Ridpath-edge and Redstoneridge), and walked. Having walked a while, a swoon began to seize me, and I could walk no more. I took horse, but was scarcely able to sit on it. My brother, who by good Providence was with me, put a bit of bread in my mouth; and I had scarcely as much strength left as to lift my jaws and chew it. It would have been desirable to me to have been near the meanest cottage. And I recovered. At that time I took a chamber, and dieted myself again, about the space of a month: but weary of that way, Mr. Ridpath aforesaid and I tabled ourselves, as most convenient. He being a smart youth, and disposed to profit in philosophy, I did good to myself, by being serviceable to him in the matter of philosophy, which was his only study at that time. Having some taste of music before, we went to a school one month, and made good proficiency; pressing forward our teacher, and pursuing it in our chamber: so that by that means we had the tenors, trebles, and basses, of the common tunes, with some other tunes, and several prick-songs. My voice was good, and I had a delight in music.
A few of us, newly entered to the school of divinity, were taught for a time Riissenius's compend, in the professor's chamber. Publicly in the hall he taught Essenius's compend. I was also for a while, at that time, I suppose, with Mr. Alexander Rule, professor of Hebrew; but remember no remarkable advantage I had thereby.
About the latter end of April, I returned home, clothed with testimonials from Professor Campbell, bearing, that I had diligently attended the profession, dexterously acquitted myself in several essays prescribed to me, behaved inoffensively, gravely, and piously. He was a man of great learning, but excessively modest, undervaluing himself, and much valuing the tolerable performances of his students.
Mr. James Murray, minister of Penpont, whose schoolfellow I had been at Dunse a little while, having engaged me to embrace the grammar-school of Penpont, came to the Merse about the harvest, and invited me to go with him, showing considerable encouragement. I could not then go along; but afterwards I made ready for it, and exhausted what remained of my burse, which was in all £80 Scots, in fitting out myself. Upon this view, showing a minister of the presbytery, a wise man, that I minded not to desire the burse again, he bid me fasten one foot before I loosed the other: An advice which I had frequent occasion of minding thereafter.
In September, Mr. Murray having sent his horse for me, but withal in a letter signified his fears of the miscarrying of that project, but that in that case I might have another school. I, not a little troubled at the sudden change, did notwithstanding go to Penpont, in company with the worthy Mr. Henry Erskine aforementioned.
There I continued with Mr. Murray about a quarter of a year, in suspense with reference to that project: in which time, Mr. G. B., minister of Glencairn, desired me to take the school of that parish; which I was unwilling to accept. All hope of the school of Penpont being at length cut off, and I ashamed to return home, Mr. B—— was wrote to, for what was before refused; and he made return, that he could not be positive as to the matter. Under this trial, which I was brought into by precipitant conduct, I was helped in some measure to trust God.
After this, Mr. Murray being in Edinburgh, Mr. B sent for me, and agreed with me to teach the school there for 100 merks of salary. Thereafter came to my hand a letter from Mr. Murray, desiring me to come in to Edinburgh for a pedagogy provided for me. Whereupon I earnestly dealt with Mr. B to quit me, while I was not yet entered; which nevertheless he would by no means agree to.
1696. On the first day of the new year 1696, being in his house, his manner was most grievous and loathsome to me; so that I feared I might there come to be hardened from God's fear. On the 9th, much against the grain, I took up the school, having never inclined much to that employment, but being quite averse to it there. I was kindly and liberally entertained in Mr. B 's house, and that freely; but the vanity and untenderness of his carriage, and of his wife's, I was not able to digest. He was wont, among other pieces of conduct very unacceptable to me, to go to an alehouse, taking me along with him, much against my inclination, under pretence of discoursing with an old gentleman. There we were entertained with warm ale and brandy mixed, and with idle stories; I obtaining by his character not to be pressed to drink. These things made me earnestly to cry unto the Lord, that he would rid and deliver me, and dispose of me so as I might be freed from them and their society. He was a young man, his wife an old woman: they had no children; and there, I think, was their snare. Being sunk in debt, they left the country at length.
After I had kept the school a little while, the Lady Mersington wrote a pressing letter to Mr. Murray, that I should take the charge of her grandchild Aberlady, as his governor. Whereupon Mr. B— was again addressed to quit me; but could not be prevailed with. I committed the cause to God, to be by Him determined what to do. And considering that no time of my continuance there had been condescended on, that the scholars were but few, and that the presbytery was clear for my going away; and above all considering that God, according to my earnest prayer, had opened an outgate from the heavy situation I found myself in, as above said, I began to question if I could, without sin, let such an occasion of riddance from it slip: so being at length fully determined, I gave up the school on the 8th of February, much against Mr. B 's will, having kept it a month. At Candlemas the boys had gifted me about 10s. sterling, which I took from them with the usual civilities, but immediately returned each one his own: so that I had nothing by them.
While I was in that country, I had advantage of converse with Mr. Murray, a learned and holy man; the meeting of which two in a character was not very frequent there; as also of Janet Maclaunie, an old, exercised, godly woman. She obliged me to take from her about half a dollar; which, as a token of that woman's Christian love, I do to this day value more than gold. I remember not but another instance of that nature, which I shall also mention in the due place. I bless the Lord, who gave me counsel then and afterwards, to seek and value conversation with serious Christians, in the places where my lot was cast; being confident, I had much advantage thereby towards my preaching of the gospel. But the small number of hearers I often saw in the kirk of Penpont, and the thronging away to separate meetings, kept, I think, by Mr. Hepburn, with other things respecting ministers and people, made a lasting bad impression of that country on me. Meantime it was my endeavour to live near God, and I was helped, while there, in some measure to live by faith. And there it was, that I first of all began to record passages of my life; the which I did on loose papers.
Having gone to Edinburgh, in pursuance of the proposal above mentioned, I did on l8th February take the charge of my pupil, Andrew Fletcher of Aberlady, a boy of about nine years of age; whose father having died young, his mother was married again to Lieutenant-Colonel Bruce of Kennet, in the parish of Clackmannan. The boy being at the high school, with a servant waiting on him, I waited on the school of divinity; which advantageous occasion proposed, had been a great inducement to me to engage in that business. And there I had a homily on Mark 10: 27, delivered 6th March, which is in retentis; but to my great disappointment we were removed from Edinburgh to Kennet, whither we came on the morrow after, viz. 7th March, and where we continued all along till I parted with him.
At Kennet, my pupil going to the grammar-school at Clackmannan, with the servant attending him, and being of a towardly and tractable disposition, my business with him was no burden; taking notice of him at home, and sometimes visiting him in the school. But my business was increased toward the latter end of the year, teaching two boys of Kennet's to read. My pupil died afterward in his youth, while I was at Simprin.
I gave myself to my study, kept a correspondence with the neighbouring ministers, there being an Episcopal incumbent in the parish when I went thither, and conversed much with some serious Christians about the place.
Though I was not properly the chaplain of the family, nor had, that I remember, any particular order from the master of the family, and neither laird nor lady were at home for a considerable time after I went thither; yet finding myself providentially settled there, in the character I bore, I judged myself obliged in conscience to seek the spiritual good of the family, and to watch over them, and see to their manners. Accordingly I kept up family-worship, catechised the servants, pressed the careless to secret prayer, reproved and warned against sinful practices, and earnestly endeavoured the reformation of the vicious.
This course not having the desired effect on some, created me a great deal of uneasiness for the most part of the time I was there: the which arose especially from an ill-disposed and incorrigible woman, who was steward, and so did of course sometimes extend itself to my entertainment; which I bore with, that I might not mix quarrels on my private interest with those I was engaged in for the honour of God. And this principle I have all along, in the course of my ministry, aimed to walk by.
Meanwhile the united presbyteries of Stirling and Dumblane meeting at Tulliallan, a neighbouring parish, 22nd June, a motion was made to give me a piece of trial; which I refused: but afterward Mr. George Turnbull, a grave learned man, then minister at Alloa, now at Tinninghame, gave me a text, John 8: 32, which I received, declaring it to be without view unto my entering on trials before the presbytery, being convinced I was not ripe for it. On that text I wrote a discourse, and gave it him. Afterward he showed me, by a letter, what he judged amiss in it; but was pleased to add, that he observed a very promising gift in it. Thereafter Mr. Thomas Buchanan, then minister at Tulliallan, afterward at Dunfermline, gave me another text, viz. Acts 20: 28, on which also I wrote a discourse, not unsatisfying to him. Both these discourses are in retentis.
My circumstances continuing uneasy through the means aforesaid, Mr. Turnbull did, on the 7th of September, by appointment of the presbytery, desire me to wait on them, bringing my testimonials along with me, on design to enter me on trials. He also spoke to Kennet about my removing out of his family; an opportunity of my going into the family of Colonel Erskine, then governor of Stirling castle, offering at that time: but Kennet showed an unwillingness to part with me; in which I believe he was very ingenuous, being a man that had some good thing rooted in him. Wherefore, though I inclined to, I could not insist for the removal: but the entering on trials I was not clear for, and so could not promise to go to the presbytery. Howbeit, being afterward persuaded to go to their meeting, I was minded to do it; but was providentially stopt.
But on the 23rd I waited on them at Stirling, leaving my testimonials at home, of set purpose. Notwithstanding they appointed me to give in my thoughts on Phil. 2: 12, the following presbytery-day, producing my testimonials. This I could not undertake, having no freedom to enter on trials as yet; and, I think, I saw them no more till I was going out of the country. But these things obliged me to lay that matter to heart, for light from the Lord therein, to know what I was called of Him unto.
I had in the summer represented to the lady the careless and ungodly lives, cursing and swearing, of the steward and another servant, persisted in after many admonitions; and hinted to her, that it was her duty to reform them; and if they would not be reformed, to dismiss them from her service. The answer was favourable: but the term drawing near, she gave over the only two common servants who had any show of religion, keeping the rest. This was very grievous to me; I told her the evil, and at large testified my dislike of that manner of management; and it was received civilly, but prevailed nothing. Meanwhile I was still acceptable to Kennet; who, when again I had an occasion of entering into Colonel Erskine's family, still refused to part with me. But by reason of his post in the military he was not much at home.
I held on, as new occasions offered, to discharge my conscience, until I left the family. And though it prevailed not according to my desire; yet, by the good hand of God fencing me, my struggle had an awe with it, and was not openly treated with contempt: though their words of me were like sharp swords, yet to me they were smooth as butter. I remember, that one Saturday's night they had set on a fire in the hall, for drying their clothes they had been washing, not to be removed till the sabbath was over. Grieved with this as a profanation of the Lord's day, I spoke to the gentlewoman; who insinuating, that she had not done without orders what she had done, refused to remove them: whereupon I spoke to the lady, who soon caused remove the clothes, and dispose of them otherwise. In like manner, on a Lord's day, word being sent me that my pupil was not going to church that day, I went and inquired into the matter, and he was caused to rise out of his bed; and both the mother and son went to church that day.
On the 6th of June, there was a sacrament at Culross, which I had no mind to go to, upon the account of a carnal reason. On the Saturday night, God reached me a reproof by one of the servant-women; which filled me with confusion, set me to prayer, and to re-examine my reasons, which I found to be but consulting with flesh and blood. I went away therefore on the Lord's day, was deeply humbled, and had very much ado with unbelief, struggling to get my feet fastened. But at the table my soul, I thought, met with Him in such measure, that ofttimes I have remembered my God from Culross and Tulliallan, when He has hid His face from me. On the Thursday before I had kept a secret fast.
July 26. The Lord's day after the sacrament at Tulliallan, where the Lord was very kind to my soul, a godly family that had been at the same sacrament, had forgot it was the Lord's day; so that they told me afterward, they had fallen to their work, had I not come to their house, and asked them if they would go to the church.
On the 2nd of August, I was at a sacrament, where I thought myself sure of great things, from the Lord's former kind dealing with me, I think: but before I went to the table, I was deserted, tempted, perplexed with doubts whether to partake or not; yet I thought it duty to go forward. I endeavoured to take hold of the Lord; but staggered sore, came away with that it had been better I had not gone. But there I saw how little I could do without Christ, thought the Lord would come back again, and I had a longing to be in heaven. Betwixt sermons I went to a place I will ever mind, and would have been content there to have ventured on eternity as I was; desertion, a body of sin, etc., being very heavy, and recommending heaven to me.
On the 30th of November, having prayed with confidence to the Lord for light and direction concerning my passing trials before the presbytery of Stirling, which they had been for some time urging, as I have noticed above, I took up my Bible, and going to turn to my ordinary, there cast up to me Job 22: 28, "Thou shalt decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee: and the light shall shine upon thy ways." This passage was very refreshful, coming so surprisingly, while I was turning to another place.
The space of a year being near expired, without any motion of a new bargain, on 25th January 1697 I wrote to Kennet, signifying that I desired not to stay, being useless, and in a sort noxious, in his family. This letter I showed to the lady before I sent it off, and she quarrelled nothing in it; we being both, I believe, weary. This done, finding my heart disposed to sing, I sung in secret Ps. 37 near the latter end; whereby I was much cleared, and prayed cheerfully after. I was then, as it were, in sight of the shore of that troublous sea.
A little after that, I found there was no hope of entering into Col. Erskine's family; and on 17th Feb., just the day before the year's expiring, I was told that Coulter had no mind to keep a pedagogue for my pupil. And thus Providence shuffled me out of business of that kind, being entangled there, when a door was opened elsewhere; which again was shut when I was disentangled; thus working towards the leading me into business of another kind. So on Monday, 22nd Feb., I took leave of my pupil, and that family. The day before, I thought it my duty to speak some things to the servants before I left them. I prayed to God for light; but was deserted, and could get nothing. I lay down on my bed in great heaviness, and thought with myself, What folly is it for me to think of passing trials to preach the gospel, seeing I cannot buckle two sentences of good sense together in my own mind? In this perplexity I went out to the field, and prayed earnestly; came in again, had no time longer to think; but was helped of God to speak without confusion, and with great facility, to my own wonder. This was useful to me afterwards, and did drive the bottom out of a grand objection I had against passing my trials, taken from my unreadiness in ordinary discourse.
The time I was at Kennet, continues to be unto me a remarkable time among the days of my life. Once I fainted there, being on my knees at evening secret prayer; and coming to myself again, was eased by vomiting. Another time praying in the Ferrytown, in Thomas Brown's family, I found my heart beginning to fail; which obliged me quickly to break off, and go to the door, where I was eased the same way as before. It was a time of much trouble to me, yet in the main a thriving time for my soul. My corruption sometimes prevailed over me; but it put me to the using of secret fasting and prayer; whereunto I was also moved by the case of the poor, it being one of the years of dearth and scarcity that the Lord was then contending by year after year. And this I did not without some success. Then it was that on such an occasion I drew up a catalogue of sins, which, with many unknown ones, I had to charge on myself; the which has several times been of use to me since: there I had some Bethels, where I met with God, the remembrance whereof has many times been useful and refreshful to me, particularly a place under a tree in Kennet orchard, where, 21st Jan. 1697, I vowed the vow, and anointed the pillar. That day was a public fast-day; and the night before, the family being called together, I laid before them the causes of the fast, and thereto added the sins of the family, which I condescended on particularly, desiring them to search their own hearts for other particulars, in order to our due humiliation. After sermons, going to the Garlet to visit a sick woman, I was moved, as I passed by the orchard, to go to prayer there; and being helped of the Lord, I did there solemnly covenant with God under a tree, with two great boughs coming from the root, a little north-west from a kind of ditch in the eastern part of the orchard.
Though it was heavy to me that I was taken from the school of divinity, and sent to Kennet; yet I am convinced God sent me to another school there, in order to prepare me for the work of the gospel, for which He had designed me: for there I learned in some measure what it was to have the charge of souls; and being naturally bashful, timorous, and much subject to the fear of man, I attained, by what I met with there, to some boldness, and not regarding the persons of men when out of God's way. There I learned, that God will countenance one in the faithful discharge of his duty, though it be not attended with the desired success; and that plain dealing will impress an awe on the party s conscience, though their corruption still rages against him that so deals with them. It was by means of conversation there that I arrived at a degree of a public spirit which I had not before; and there I got a lesson of the need of prudent and cautious management, and abridging ones self of ones liberty, that the weak be not stumbled, and access to edify them be precluded; a lesson I have in my ministry had a very particular and singular occasion for.
On the Friday before I left Kennet, it was proposed to me by Messrs. Turnbull and Buchanan, that I should now enter on trials; and withal, that the elders of Clackmannan being unwilling I should go out of the country, it was desired, that I should take for myself, or allow to be taken for me, a chamber in the town of Clackmannam; and they desired me to give my answer on the Tuesday, and go along to the presbytery on the Wednesday thereafter. Having taken these things under consideration, I was that same night almost resolved to comply with the call of that presbytery for entering on trials before them. But just next morning I received a letter from Mr. Murray, desiring me to come with all speed, and pass trials before the presbytery of Penpont; withal shewing, that if I pleased I might in the meantime keep the school of Penpont, it being then vacant. Thus Providence opened a door for my entering into another station, and doubled the call thereto. But then I was in doubt, racked betwixt these two, whether to address myself to the presbytery of Stirling or Benpont; which I endeavoured to table before the great Counsellor for His determination. In this suspense, I went, on Wednesday, 24th Feb., to the presbytery at Stirling, where I obtained their testimonial, having promised to return to them if my circumstances would permit. Having spent some days more in that country, I came to Edinburgh by sea on the 4th of March, having got an edge put on my spirit for passing my trials, by the dishonour I heard done to God on the shore of Leith, where we landed. The case is as follows. Sailing by the shore, I heard such cursing, swearing, etc., as made me to wonder at the patience of God towards sinners, and to think I would be very willing to do anything I could for suppressing these horrid sins or the like. This was useful to clear me in that point, which was now, and had been, my exercise for a good time.
About this time twelvemonth there came a young gentlewoman to see my pupil, with her face bespattered with patches; and drawing him to her to salute him, he endeavoured to pull off her patches. She put back his hand, that he could not reach her face: but he pulled a paper out of his pocket, giving an account how the devil murdered a gentlewoman for pride, and gave it her; which did much confound her.
While I was at Kennet it was a time of much trouble to me, but a time wherein the Lord was very kind to me. I was helped of God in some measure to my duty, as has been observed, and it was that which enraged them against me. The lady was my great enemy; but professed great kindness to me when she spoke to me, or to the ministers of me. One of those profane servants whom I could not induce her to put away, she was afterwards obliged to discharge with disgrace. I have often looked on the Lord's sending me thither, as done in design to fit me for the work of the ministry, to which it contributed many ways, as I have already noticed.
At Edinburgh I received my wages, being 100 merks; wrote a letter of excuse to Mr. Murray, and another letter to the place whence I had come, bearing my design to return thither shortly. And indeed, when I came to Edinburgh, I was not fully resolved to go home at all; and having writ to my father, I signified the same to him, who being, unknown to me, in terms of a second marriage, gave me an answer, advising me to return to Stirling, as I had said. Howbeit I afterwards saw a necessity of going home, to procure money for my maintenance, during the time of passing my trials before the presbytery of Stirling, being unwilling to accept of the offer of the elders of Clackmannan aforesaid, and the money received not being sufficient for that and other necessary uses. Accordingly, just upon that design, I went home to Dunse, 13th March; but He who "leads the blind by a way they knew not," led me thither on two material designs hidden to me; namely, the diverting of the marriage, which was unknown to me, and the passing of my trials there, which I was far from having in view.
The week after I went home, being still bent to return to the presbytery of Stirling, and there being no small hope of getting the money for which I had come, I received another letter from Mr. Murray, wherein, having answered all my excuses, he still insisted on my coming to Penpont to pass trials. Thus I was again put upon the rack between the two; and not knowing whither to go, I earnestly desired counsel of God, both as to the main thing, and the circumstance of place: and showing my situation to Mr. Alexander Colden, then minister at Dunse, now at Oxnam, he proposed, and persuaded me, to enter on trials before the united presbyteries of Dunse and Churnside. Considering the course of Providence, and finding myself by his proposal freed from the former perplexity, which I could no otherwise get over, I yielded. And certainly it was a kind conduct of Providence that led me to pass trials in the place of my nativity; though, for that very reason, it would seem, that it was my native country, I had no thoughts of passing there: for it was most for my reputation to pass trials where I was known from my childhood; and besides, it was the more convenient for me in my then circumstances, having my father's house to remain in.
Accordingly, on the 23rd of March 1697, I being, just the week before, twenty-one years of age complete, Mr. Colden went to the presbytery, sitting at Churnside; and having proposed their taking me on trials, they appointed me a piece of trial on James 1: 5, and that to be delivered at their next meeting in Dunse. The which being reported to me by Mr. Colden, I addressed myself to that work, kind Providence having, on the Friday after, prepared me a private chamber in my father's house, which had been occupied by another when I came home.
On the 2nd of April I spent some time in fasting and prayer, for the divine assistance in what I was called to, and was going about; and in the time I found myself helped, in prayer, to particular trust and confidence, that God would actually grant what I sought. The presbytery meeting at Dunse on the 6th, I delivered before them a homily on the foresaid text, and was helped of God therein accordingly. They appointed me then a common head, De viribus liberi arbitrii circa bonum spirituale.
I delivered an exegesis on that head, after prayer made, both in Latin, 11th May, at Churnside. Much time being spent ere they called for that piece of trial, I went out a little to revise it: but by the time I had come the length of what I reckoned myself least master of, I was called to deliver it; but withal, by the kind conduct of Providence, when I was coming on to that part of it, they stopped me. I distributed my thesis on that head, and was appointed to exercise and add next presbytery-day on Jude 15.
On the 1st of June they met at Dunse. The day before it was the great fair in that place: but I was earnest with God for His assistance in the work before me; and was helped of Him to seek His help. In the morning, before I went to the kirk, I renewed covenant with God in my chamber; and I had much encouragement from the help of the prayers of my godly friends in Clackmannan, who, I trusted, were concerned for me. By a peculiar kind disposal of Providence, when I went to the pulpit, the preceptor, who used to keep an ordinary, was not come: so, according to my own desire, I pitched on Ps. 18: 25 - 29, and presented myself; and was greatly strengthened by the singing thereof. I delivered the exercise and addition on the foresaid text, being well helped of the Lord therein. I have still a peculiar remembrance of that part of that psalm, as occasionally it comes in my way. I admire the indulgence of Providence in that matter; for the preceptor should have been singing when I went into the pulpit. And withal I have often wondered, how, considering my temper, I got confidence to give out that psalm on that occasion: but the obvious difficulty on that head was then, for anything I know, hid from mine eyes, which were fixed depending on God alone, according to. His word. They appointed me a popular sermon on John 1: 16, against their next meeting, with the rest of my trials, if I could get them ready.
At Churnside, 15th June, I delivered any popular sermon on the foresaid text, as also a chronological discourse in Latin; which, with the other discourses aforementioned, are yet in retentis. The same day, all the rest of my trials, viz. in the languages, and catechetics, were taken; the which last are now, and have been for many years, taken first, with more reason. Thus all my trials being expeded, I was that day licensed to preach the gospel, as a probationer for the holy ministry, near about three years from my entering on the study of divinity. And looking on myself as a child of Providence, and considering the manner of my education, I cannot but observe the kind conduct of that Providence in carrying me through sundry states of life, and parts of the country, in that short time allotted for me, in the character of a student.
Back to Contents