Memoirs of the Life, Time, and Writings
of the Reverend and Learned
Back to Contents
Period IV From My Being Licensed, Till I Removed Into The Bounds Of The Presbytery Of Stirling
Being licensed to preach the gospel, I passed two years and three months in the character of a probationer; the first part of the same in my native country, the second in the bounds of the presbytery of Stirling, and the third in my native country again, where I was settled. These years brought in continued scenes of trial to me; being, through the mercy of God, generally acceptable to the people; but could never fall into the good graces of those who had the stroke in the settling of parishes.
Having, on the 18th of June, studied, and once mandated, the first sermon I preached, and having gone to a fellowship meeting, and upon my return fallen again to work, I was so confused, that I lay grovelling on the ground for some time in great perplexity, wishing I had never undertaken that work. But recovering myself, I betook myself to prayer; and thereafter it came so easily to hand, that I saw the finger of God in it.
According to the impressions wherewith I was prompted to enter on trials, I began my preaching of the word in a rousing strain; and would fain have set fire to the devil's nest. The first text I preached on, the Sabbath after I was licensed, was Ps. 50: 22; the second, Matt. 7: 21. Thus I went on for the first two months. But speaking with Mr. John Dysert minister at Coldinghame, of the strain of preaching I had continued in, he said to me to this purpose: But if you were entered on preaching of Christ, you would find it very pleasant. This had an effect on me so far, that immediately I did somewhat change my strain; where I had occasion to enter on a new text: and then I preached, first, on Isa. 61: 1, and next, on 1 Pet. 2: 7. I have often, since that time, remembered that word of Mr. Dysert's, as the first hint given me, by the good hand of my God, towards the doctrine of the gospel.
The first Sabbath I preached, being timorous, I had not confidence to look on the people; though I believe I did not close my eyes: yet, as a pledge of what I was to meet with, an heritor of the parish, on that very sermon, called me afterwards, in contempt, one of Mr. Henry Erskine's disciples. In which he spoke truth, as Caiaphas did, that worthy minister of Christ being the first instrument of good to my soul: but the thing he meant was, that I was a railer. The second Sabbath I had more confidence; and the next again more, till very soon I had enough; and was censured as too bold, particularly in meddling with the public sins of the land. The truth is, my God so far pitied my natural weakness, indulging me a while after I first set out to His work, that, whatever fear I was liable to ere I got into the pulpit, yet when once the pulpit-door was closed on me, fear was as it were closed out, and I feared not the face of man when preaching God's word. But indeed that lasted not long, at least after I was a minister.
Soon after I was licensed, I was peremptorily resolved not to continue in the Merse, though there was appearance of encouragement: and I received a letter from the presbytery of Stirling, inviting me to their bounds, whither it was my own inclination to go. So, on 27th July I craved of the presbytery an extract of my licence. But they, designing to have me settled in Foulden, would not grant it. By this time I had preached once in that parish, and they were inclined to have me to be their minister; but I was not fond of it. Their Episcopal incumbent had newly removed from them; and when I was to go thither, I foresaw a strait, in allowing his preceptor to officiate as such to me, without a judicial acknowledgement, which I, not being a minister, could not take. Consulting it with Mr. Colden, he would not urge me against my light; but told me, he feared the bailie, being Episcopal, would take it ill. I resolved to venture on that. So when the precentor came to me, in the Sabbath morning, I told him, I myself would precent; but showed him no reason why. This I took to be the most reasonable course in my circumstances, having no authority. Nevertheless the bailie was favourable. Thereafter I preached frequently in that parish while I continued in the country; had many good days in it, the meetings frequent, and people very desirous to hear the word. Meanwhile I still precented there, till about two Sabbaths before I left the country; by which time the presbytery had confirmed the preceptor in his office.
I was still detained in the country by the presbytery, that I might be settled in that parish aforesaid. But that could not be done without my Lord Ross's concurrence. Wherefore the presbytery appointed Mr. Colden and Mr. Dysert to speak to him at Edinburgh for that effect. And the former, upon his return from Edinburgh, told me, on 10th September, that my Lord Ross did not refuse his concurrence; only he desired me to come to Paisley to see him, that he might go on with the greater clearness: and hereto he withal advised me. But I had no freedom for it. So, 5th October, I desired of the presbytery my liberty to leave the country, which I had in vain desired of them three several times before. In answer to which, Mr. Colden afterwards told me, that the presbytery would let me go, providing I would go to Paisley to see my Lord Ross. I would have been content to have been providentially led to have preached in my Lord's hearing: but to go to him directly on that purpose, was what I could never digest, though I was dunned with advice for it, and had nobody to bear with me in resisting it, but the unhappy Mr. J B—-, then living a private man in Dunse. I considered, that I had done all that lay in my road in the matter, having preached several times in the parish which in the designed event was to have been my charge: they were satisfied, and should have had their Christian right to choose their minister: I looked on the method proposed, as an interpretative seeking a call for myself; a symbolising with patronages, and below the dignity of the sacred character: and I never durst do anything in these matters which might predetermine me, but behoved always to leave the matter open and entire, to lay before the Lord for light, till He should please to determine me by the discovery of His mind therein; and I could not look on the matter of my compliance with the call of Foulden as entire, after I should have done as I was advised.
Wherefore, upon the 13th, I insisted as before, and the presbytery granted my desire: but withal demanded of me, 1. That I should preach a day at Abbay before I went away; 2. That I should go by Paisley, and see my Lord Ross; 3. That my licence should bear, that I should not, without their advice, engage with any parish. To the first and last I readily yielded; but the second I could by no means comply with.
Being resolved to take my journey for the bounds of the presbytery of Stirling on the Tuesday after the October synod, now at hand, I sent to the presbytery - clerk for my licence accordingly: the which I received; but so very informal, that it could not well be presented to a presbytery. Whereupon I was persuaded to go to Kelso to the synod, that I might get it drawn there in due form; resolving to go straight from thence, without returning to Dunse. But Providence had more work for me to do at home.
The presbytery having appointed me nowhere, for the third Sabbath after I was licensed, I was invited to preach that day in the parish of Abbay, one of the four kirks of Lammermoor; the which invitation I accepted, and studied a sermon for that end on Rev. 3: 90, which I believe was never delivered. But Mr. Colden being on the Saturday called to a communion at Earlston on the morrow, I was obliged to preach for him at Dunse that Sabbath. The presbytery would never send me to the said parish of Abbay till I was just going out of the country, as said is; they having a design to transport unto it the Laird of Abbay, minister of Aiton, whom they looked on as unfit for that public post. But he being both a weak and an untender man, was unacceptable to the parish of Abbay, as well as to his brethren. By their appointment foresaid, I preached there the Sabbath before the synod, 17th October. There had been before that an inclination in that parish to me to be their minister; the which was first moved to me by Abbay himself, and afterward by an elder with much affection. After being appointed to preach there, they showed themselves very cordial for my settlement among them, very affectionate to me, and unwilling that I should go out of the country.
Having come to Kelso as aforesaid, the drawing up of my licence in due form was shifted and put off. It was represented, that a lady had engaged to write to Lord Ross in my favour: I was urged to fall from my intended departure; and Mr. Colden, whom I particularly regarded, told me, he thought Providence lay cross to it. So I behoved to return home again without my licence, unexpected, to my friends.
Being thus locked in at home for that season, I preached several times at Abbay during the winter, lodging ordinarily in Blackerstone; where, at family-prayer, 14th December, I fainted away, not having got the prayer formally closed, as they afterwards told me. There was an appearance of my settling there; the people were knit to me; and that was the only parish, I think, that ever I was fond of. But I smarted for the loose I foolishly had given to my heart upon it. I proposed to myself to be very happy in such a small charge, being told that they would be but about fourscore of people: but then there appeared to be an occasion of diffusive usefulness in that hill-country, the other three kirks thereof being still possessed by curates. The stipend was about 700 merks, the place retired among the hills, the manse pleasantly situate on Whitwater, and within three or four miles of Dunse. But the presbytery was still against settling me there.
1698.—On 16th January 1698, the elders, who twice before that had desired a minister to moderate in a call there, but were repulsed, applied to them again for the same end, and were repulsed as formerly.
About the latter end of that month, Abbay being in Dunse, told me, that sometime he had a mind for that parish himself, but now he had changed his resolution, and would join with the elders, in order to my settlement there. And about the 8th of February, the elders appearing again before the presbytery, renewed their address for a minister to moderate in a call there: and Abbay himself joining them accordingly, as an heritor, the presbytery could no longer refuse it; but, in the meantime, they took a long day for it, purposely it would seem, and appointed the 10th of March for that effect. As we came out of the presbytery, Abbay told me, according to his manner, he would preach my ordination-sermon.
Now the poor parish thought themselves secure; and things seeming to go according to my heart's wish, I was much comforted in the thoughts thereof. But, behold, in a few days Abbay changed his mind, and all endeavours were used to turn about the call for him; which with the heritors was easily obtained, none of them residing within the parish. The point on which it seemed to turn was, that now or never was the occasion of consulting his interest; which missed, the presbytery would by some means get him turned out of Aiton. This, I was informed, some ministers did put in the head of his friends, by whose persuasion he changed his mind and course again in that matter.
Observing the matter to be going thus, I fell under great discouragement, by means of the disappointment, having foolishly judged that place the fittest for me. Then it was my exercise, and a hard one, to get my heart brought to a submission to Providence in that point; the which submission I desired, if my heart deceived me not, more than the removal of the stroke. Being sore broken by the disappointment, I took hold of an occasion to preach, for my own ease, a sermon on 1 Sam. 3: 18, on a week-day at Dense. After sermon, one of the hearers came to me, and thankfully acknowledged God's goodness in bringing her to that sermon, so suited to her case. She was a godly woman of Polwarth parish, who shortly before had lost her husband. This sermon was not without advantage to myself in the point I was aiming to reach. Howbeit, that discouragement and the spring-season trysting together, there was a notable breach made in my health, which continued for a long time after, the which I dated from the beginning of that month of March. When I had near studied that sermon, I was in hazard of fainting away; but being taken care of, and laid to bed, I recovered.
6th March.—Preaching in Dunse, such an indisposition of body and faintness was on me, that I thought either to have swooned in the pulpit, or to have been obliged to go out abruptly: but, by good Providence, there was opposite to the pulpit an aisle wanting some of the roof, by which came a refreshing gale that supported me, and the Lord carried me through, giving me a taste of His goodness, of which I was I preaching. The same day eight days, after preaching in the same place, tile indisposition recurred; and as I was going into the kirk very pensive, and thinking of the hazard of swooning in the pulpit, and how it would be matter of reproach, I heard the precentor reading, and found them singing Ps. 57: 3, "From heaven He shall send down, and me from his reproach defend," etc., which was sweetly seasonable to my soul.
Having been for some time very indisposed, I was under some apprehensions of death, but very unwilling and afraid to die: in which case I had occasion to ride by that spot of ground where I was formerly so content to die, which let me see a vast difference in the frame of my spirit now from what it was then.
10th March.—The call was drawn up for Abbay himself, my Lord Mersington, a good-natured, well-inclined man, being the main agent in the affair; at whose door the poor people, among, whom there were wet cheeks on that occasion, laid the blood of their souls; but it prevailed not with him. One of the elders, Abbay's own tenant, was brought to subscribe the call. It was brought before the presbytery on the 15th; and MeIsington having a commission from Abbay, had signed it for him in his name as an heritor. Two elders and a parishioner appeared that day before the presbytery, and reclaimed, earnestly en treating them to consider, that they behoved to answer to God for what they did. But the presbytery sustained the call. Mr. Colden would say nothing in the matter, but went out in the time. They appointed him to write to Lord Ross, and to the minister of Paisley, to deal with my Lord on my account with respect to Foulden. This was the ungospel-like way that even then much prevailed in the case of planting of churches; a way which I ever abhorred. I had been named by the commission of the assembly to go to Caithness, a few days before the moderating of that call: but Mr. Golden telling them, that, on the Thursday after, a call was to be moderated for me, it was dropped. So by it Providence diverted that mission of me, which would have been very heavy.
On the 29th, the writing of the letters aforesaid having been forgot, a letter from Mr. Wilkie, bailie of Foulden, was read coram, bearing, that he would cordially concur for my settlement in Foulden; but thought reason and good-breeding required that I should go to Lord Ross. Whereupon they peremptorily enjoined me to go to him: and Mr. Colden told me, I would be out of my duty if I went not. Nevertheless, having no clearness for it in my own conscience, I continued unmoved in my resolution; though it troubled me that they should have appointed me.
At the April synod I was invited to the presbytery of Kelso; but being advised to wait till the following presbyteryday, I preached at Foulden: and, 1st May, hearing there that my Lord Ross was to send them another man, I resolved forthwith to go to the presbytery of Stirling, having given over thoughts of Kelso.
Accordingly having got up the extract of my licence, and testimonials, on the 10th, I went away on the 15th; and having come to my quarters at Edinburgh, I was overtaken with a fainting-fit. On the 17th I arrived in the bounds of the presbytery of Stirling.
Providence having thus tried me in my native country, especially in the affair of Abbay, I was so taught, that no place did ever after get so much of my fond affection. But, notwithstanding all the bustle made for the Laird's transportation to that place, it did not at this time take effect: but, after I was gone, Mr. George Home minister of Selkirk was planted in it, he having been uneasy in that public post. And afterward, when I was a member of the presbytery of Churnside, a process of drunkenness was commenced against Abbay, which yet proved ineffectual for his removal out of Aiton. But Mr. Home being dead, he was at length, I think before I came to Fttrick, transported thither; the people by that time being taught more tamely to bear the yoke.
Back to Contents