Memoirs of the Life, Time, and Writings
of the Reverend and Learned
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Period VI From My Return Unto The Nierse, To My Ordination To The Holy Ministry At Simprin
Being thus returned home again, I had no occasion to go out of the town above a mile, until four Sabbaths were past; and during that time, in the end of May and beginning of June, the thoughts of my uselessness were very heavy to me; which put me to beg of God an opportunity to serve Him, whatever pains it should cost me to accomplish it. Howbeit I was not altogether idle on Lord's days, being employed mostly in Dunse, and once in Langton.
While this lay upon me as the main weight, I found myself beset with several other difficulties. The unacquaintedness of most of my friends with religion was grievous, and made their conversation but uncomfortable; but my eldest brother Andrew, being a judicious man, and of experience in religion, was often refreshful to me. I had no heart to visit the ministers, knowing none of them I could unbosom myself to, save Mr. Colden at Dunse, and Mr. Dysert at Coldingham. The binding at my breast had returned, and I was seized with pains in my back, and in the hinder part of my head, so that I began to apprehend my time in the world might not be long; and on that occasion I found I had some evidences for the better world, and was somewhat submissive to the divine disposal, in the case as it appeared. Withal the consideration of the case of the land was heavy on me, and I had a sorry prospect of what might be to come, so that I judged them happy, who, having done their work in the vineyard, were called home, and not made to see the dishonour done to God amongst us. Wherefore I was desirous to be out of my native country again, and wished for a providential relief. But by a letter from a friend, shewing that the business of Dollar was like to succeed, I found that I behoved to continue yet a while where I was on the account thereof.
It now lay heavy on my spirit at several times, as above noticed, that I was cast out of a corner, in which the Lord was pleased to make use of me, and own me with some success in His work, into another corner where I had nothing to do. This occasioned variety of perplexing thoughts. I inquired what might be the Lord's end in it, and nothing doubted but that I was called to leave that place, from whence I came. 25th May in prayer it was suggested to me, that God had so dealt with me, for my former levity, and misimproving His help given me in preaching; for which I endeavoured to be humble. On the 26th, I had engaged to lecture next Sabbath for Mr. Colden. Finding my heart disposed for prayer, light from the Lord in two or three particulars was much in my eye. In prayer I had a frame from the Lord, serious, earnest, depending, bare, and laid open to hearken to the counsel of God. Before I came to pray for what I should lecture on, my heart was raised to an admiration of, and love to Christ, and desire to commend Him; and it was laid before me as my duty to lecture on Ps. 14, and this with life and elevation of my spirit, which continued with me when I prayed for the lecture. Thinking on this after prayer, I began to suspect that light; because it came before I had prayed for it, expressly at least. But considering that I went to God for light in it, and considering that passage, Isa. 65: 24, and finding my inclination to commend Christ remain, I was satisfied. There was a second point in my eye, which still remained dark; and therefore I went back purposely to God for it. I found my heart in prayer much going out in love to Christ; my heart was knit to Him as the dearly beloved of my soul; which made me to express my love to Christ, not in an ordinary way, as I use to do. I was helped to depend, and got strength to my heart to wait for light in it. And the nature of it was such, that it might bear a delay. As for the third point, it was not ripe, and I could but table it before the Lord. The Lord was not wanting to me in the delivery of that lecture.
In the meantime, my settling in Simprin had been first moved to me on 19th May, in Mr. Colden's house, by his wife, in his presence; and that, till another occasion should offer. He seemed to me not to have confidence directly to propose it; but told me, the stipend was five chalders of victual, and 80 merks. But as I never durst entertain the thoughts of settling with such a design, I showed that I had no mind to engage with any but such as I might continue with. Thinking afterwards on these things by myself, I found no great unwillingness to venture on the stipend; the rather, that my father having disported his interest in Dunse to me, I reckoned I would have about £100 Scots yearly there: but the people being only about ninety in number, and in a quite other situation than the parish of Abbay, I found I could have no heart to them. On the 26th again, Mr. Cooden proposed to me, that if I would settle there, he would write for that effect to Langton, to whom the parish entirely belonged. I told him, that for me to say so, would be to cut off all future deliberation, which was what I had no freedom to do: the which he acknowledged to be true, and therefore urged me not. That worthy man was indeed concerned for me, and told me, he was persuaded God had thoughts of good towards me; and that, notwithstanding all the difficulties that had cast up in the way of my settlement, the event would be to the glory of God, and comfortable to myself. And therein he was not mistaken. In this his concern for me, he took me to Coldingham, 8th June, to see Mr. Dysert, who formerly had been minister of Langton. There they concerted to move for that settlement; and in consequence thereof Mr. Dysert wrote to the elders of Simprin, for that effect. The letter to the elders of Simprin was unadvisedly put in my hand to dispatch; which I, not having confidence, it seems, to refuse it, did receive: but it was never delivered, for afterwards I tore it in pieces. And this their conduct could hardly have had a different issue, according to the principles by which I steered my course, that justly made all activity in procuring my own settlement frightful to me.
The bent of my heart to preach Christ continued all along, from the time above mentioned, as I had opportunity: but for a considerable time I met with many rubs in my way. On the 2nd of June, after prayer for a text, and help to study, I could fix on none, though I sought it till my body was weary, and my spirit much dejected. Next morning my darkness remained, and nothing could gain clearness to me. Thus my heart being dejected through desertion, I went to prayer again; but my very heart and flesh were like to faint. Such was the grief of my heart, that I could not speak a word to God, after I had begun, but groaned to the Lord: I got words again, but was interrupted the same way, not being able to speak. I saw the misimprovement of former help still to be the cause of the Lord's pleading with me; but having so often confessed it, being grieved for it, etc., I thought there behoved to be something else; and some other thing I suspected, but could not fix on it. I thought I was most unworthy to be a preacher, and that it would be well done to silence me, as ignorant of the mystery of Christ: for, from the beginning of this exercise, it was always in my heart to preach Christ, and denying of ourselves to all things but Christ; and though it succeeded ill with me, I durst not change my purpose. My soul being somewhat encouraged by that word, Matt. 11: 28, "Come unto me, all ye that labour," etc., I was helped to believe in some measure, and conversed with God in prayer, and that word was brought to my mind for a text, Ps. 73: 25, "Whom have I in heaven but thee?" etc. I had much difficulty in my studies on it. The word read in the ordinary at evening-exercise, came pat to my case with a check, Heb. 12: 5, "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord," etc. My dejected frame of spirit often recurred, and was with me on the Lord's day morning, 4th June; at which time, in prayer, the Lord put in His hand at the hole of the lock, and my bowels moved for Him; my heart was touched, and in a mournful mood I cried to Him. Some time after I found I could not believe; and how shall I preach? thought I: yet I thought I would venture, and lean on Christ; and this I thought was faith, notwithstanding my former denial. In the forenoon, I thought my heart was very unwieldy. In the afternoon I had several ups and downs in the very time of the work. My soul bare me witness, that I was not satisfied with ordinances without Christ. And after all was over, in my retirement, I was clear, in that, though I many times fear I have never yet got a sufficient discovery of Christ, yet whatever discovery I have had of Him, I was satisfied to take Christ alone, and that I could not be satisfied without Him, though I had the whole world, yea heaven itself. The Lord gave me such a sight of my own vileness, that when I looked to myself in that pulpit, I loathed myself, as unworthy to have been there with such a whole heart, and without right uptakings of Christ. I examined myself on my desire of Christ, saying, What if it be merely from an enlightened conscience? but my soul said, it would desire Him, though there were no fear of wrath; and though (per impossibile) I had a dispensation for my most beloved lusts, I would not desire to make use of it. I thought I loved Him for Himself. I preached this day in Langton; and after the evening-exercise Mr. Dysert said to me, You would have done better to have gone to the west, beside Mr. Murray, for there you would have got a kirk. My proud heart took this ill, and I had a secret dissatisfaction with my own lot, in that I was not settled. Reflecting upon this in secret, I observed, how in three things, since I came to this country, Satan has overcome me, even in those things that I preached against. 1. Preaching at Dunse, I preached against immoderate sleep as a great waster of time; and quickly after I fell into this. 2. Last Thursday I preached, that unwatchfulness was the cause why it is not with God's people as in times past; and the very same night my heart fell a-roving. 3. At this evening-exercise I lectured on Heb. 13 and particularly that word, "Be content with such things as ye have;" and immediately alter this, dissatisfaction seized me, for which my heart abhors my heart. Wherefore being convinced of my danger, I resolved, in the Lord's strength, from henceforth to make my sermons the subject of my Sabbath-night's meditation, and so to improve them for myself. The sermon I found was not lost as to some others.
I was also extremely hard put to it the week following, after my return from Coldingham, insomuch that having attempted to study Cant. 1: 3, I was obliged to give it over, and fall on Luke 13: 24. By this means preaching became, in a sort, a terror to me; so that on the 14th I quite declined preaching the week-day's sermon for Sir. Colden. The reason of which being asked by Sir. Balfour above mentioned, as he and I were walking alone by the way; I freely told him, that preaching was become another kind of a task to me, than sometime it had been; that I was discouraged, through the straitening I found as to the preaching of Christ, arguing my ignorance of Christ: the which ignorance of Christ, in the very time I was speaking this, was most grievous to my soul; to that degree, that my very body was affected, and my legs began to tremble beneath me. He said, it was an eager temptation, to drive me off from preaching of Christ. Parting with him, I came home very sorrowful, yet looking upward, seeing the emptiness of all things besides Christ, or without Him. The Lord was pleased to lay bands on my unstable heart, till I got my ease showed before Him: and He let me see my need of Christ, and I began to apply the word, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The Lord showed me the vanity of health, wealth, etc., and made my soul to prefer Christ to them all; and indeed I contemned all things in comparison of Him, yea even heaven itself. I sung with my heart Ps. 40: 11, and downwards, and in prayer pleaded the promise with some confidence; being resolute for Christ, and that no other thing should ever satisfy me. That straitening aforesaid sometime seemed to me to say, that for all the motion made for my settlement in my native country, I behoved not to think of settling in it, where I was thus hardly bestead as to the preaching the word. But the issue of this exercise was, that I was made less concerned, how I might be disposed of as to my settlement; not caring what place I should go to, so that I got Christ: and my soul said to Him, "Set me as a seal on Thine heart, as a seal on Thine arm!" On the 18th, preaching at Berwick, my subject was, "A discovery of Christ made to the soul"; and in the study of it I was not straitened: but in the delivery of it I was so deserted, that in my retirement after, I had most heavy thoughts of my unworthiness, and unfitness for the great work of preaching Christ. In like manner, after the communion at Coldingham, where I preached on Saturday, and Sabbath afternoon without; I was pressed with a sense of my insufficiency for that work, that heaven was very desirable to me: withal I was but little edified with one of the sermons I heard on the Monday, there appearing too little of Christ in it.
Thus it pleased the Lord to humble me to the dust, and to empty me of myself, with respect to the great mystery of Christ; and to give my heart a particular set and cast towards it, which has continued with me to this day; and shall, I hope, to the end, that I get within the vail.
I had on the 15th received a letter, showing, that, on the day appointed, the votes had been gathered at Dollar; and that, about three of the malignant party and three of the elders being excepted, they were all with one voice for me to be their minister; but that, notwithstanding, the presbytery had still some dependence on Argyle in the matter. This account of the state of that affair, as being yet undetermined, was straitening to me; inasmuch as it obliged me to continue a while longer in the Merse, which I could not well do.
22nd June.—Having been for some time in great deadness, this morning I had a kind of impulse to pray, with a willingness in my soul to go to duty; and having found by several sad experiences the danger of delays, with all speed I embraced the motion; and the Lord revived me, in so far that my heart and flesh longed for the living God, and cried out for Him as the dry parched ground for rain. The Lord loosed my bands: and though I studied the sermon I preached this day, being the weekly sermon at Dunse, in very bad case; yet He was with me in preaching it, and the Spirit did blow on my soul, both in public, and in secret thereafter; so that my heart loves Christ.
On the morrow my frame lasted; and being to go to the sacrament at Coldingham, I saw my hazard from my malicious enemy, that he would be fair to assault me before such an occasion. I thought I endeavoured to commit my heart to the Lord. But, alas! that which I feared came upon me; which brought me to a sad pass: my confidence in prayer was marred; my guilt stuck close to me, and cost me much struggling by the way as I went to Coldingham, so that I will not forget the pitiful case I was in while going through the whinny moor. I made use of and endeavoured to apply that word, "I, even I am He that blotteth out thy transgressions," which did somewhat stay my soul. I went halting all the day; but at evening-exercise, to which I went with a deep sense of my unworthiness, the Lord loosed all my bands. But another sharp trial followed, a great fear that Satan might as before give me another bruise. I went to God with it, prayed for a word of promise to grip to for security; and when I arose from my knees, that word, Isa. 26: 3, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace," etc., came to me with some life and support to my soul, and was afterwards sweetly made out to me.
2nd July.—Preaching in a certain place, after supper the mistress of the house told me, that I had put not only those that never knew anything of God in the mist, but even terrified such as had known Him. This was by my doctrine of coming out of self-love, self-righteousness, self-ends, privileges, duties, etc. She restrained hypocrites to that sort that do all things to be seen of men; thought it strange for people to think of meriting anything at the hand of God, or that hypocrites would crush inward evil thoughts; and harped much on that, How can it be that one can be a hypocrite, and yet hate hypocrisy in others; that one could be a hypocrite, and not know himself to be a hypocrite? I have been preaching much this long time to drive people out of themselves to Christ, and this let me see the need of such doctrine.
In the beginning of that month, no word being come from the presbytery of Stirling, I had laid my plot to remove; and first to go to that country upon business, and then to Galloway. Meanwhile the presbytery, who met at Churnside on the 4th, had desired me to preach at Simprin the following Lord's day; to which I consented, being to continue in the country till the Sabbath was over, and nowhere else engaged.
6th July.—Yesterday and this morning there was in my heart a great averseness to duty. I heard Mr. Colden's weekly sermon, and got several checks and rebukes from it. The psalm we sung held my sin before my eyes. After dinner I began seriously to reflect on my case. I dragged myself to prayer, but it was a strange exercise to me. Many sad halts I made in it. I saw my dreadful departings from the Lord, so that I durst scarcely seek anything of God, and not but with great difficulty seek a crumb of mercy, or that the Lord would take away this averseness from duty. I remember I was going to seek one drop of Christ's blood for my miserable soul, but with horror of mind, and a shivering of my very body, I durst not ask it. I thought I would have been content to have been revenged on myself, and to have put a penknife into my heart. I laid myself down before the Lord, desiring Him to do with me what He pleased, though it were to make me a monument of His indignation. Afterward I sat and walked like one out of his wits, took up the Bible to read, and that word at the first met me, Jer. 8: 9, "The wise men are ashamed," etc. This put me to a sad pass. I turned to my ordinary; but there was no help. Afterwards I was saying within myself, O what will the Lord do with me! and that word came into my mind, Isa. 49: 16, "Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands," etc. I frequently rejected it, yet it still returned; at last, thought I, dare I believe it? and by this time I had more uptakings of mercy, went to prayer, and was somewhat helped to believe.
On the 8th, considering the perplexing circumstances I was in, and finding my heart brought to a better temper with respect to them than some time before, I began at night seriously to deliberate how I might carry under them as a Christian; which was continued next morning, being Friday. There were three things I saw weighty in the complication: 1. The broken state of my health; 2. My being in terms of marriage; 3. No probability of my settlement. To carry Christianly in these perplexing circumstances, I proposed to myself, that I should, 1. Live near God, so as my heart should not have wherewith to reproach me; 2. Beware of anxious thoughts about them; lay them before the Lord in prayer, and leave them on Him, trusting Him with them, though in a manner blindly; 3. Believe the promise, that all things should work together for my good; 4. Remember that man's extremity is God's opportunity, with my former experiences of the same; 5. Use the means with dependence on the Lord for success; 6. Be diligent about the work of my station, and ply my studies more closely; and for this end, beware of sleeping too much; Lastly, Not think that, because God does not presently answer, therefore He will not answer at all, but wait on Him; and that if at any time I begin to faint under my difficulties, I should press myself to hang by the promises, remembering the shortness of my time, and that no man knows love or hatred by all that is before him; and should read Heb. 12. And my conscience bare me witness, that to be helped so to live in a course of filial obedience, would be more sweet to me, than to be rid of all these difficulties. These measures thus laid down, I thereafter went to prayer, especially for direction unto a text for Simprin, and help in my studies: and the Lord dealt well with me. I had light and life in prayer, and a contented mind after. And it was but a little ere I fell on that text, John 6: 68, "Lord, to whom shall we go?" etc., being still resolved to preach Christ: and I had very satisfying and sweet thoughts on it in the general: These things were dispatched before breakfast in the Friday morning.
And here, I think, was the full sea-mark of my perplexing circumstances aforesaid; at which they did immediately begin to go back, and Providence began to open toward my relief, though as yet I perceived it not. But my God had carried them forward to an extremity, and caused them to appear in their full weight, and had moulded my heart into a calm, contented, and depending frame. And meditating on that, How I should know whether this keeping of my heart under my difficulties was Christian or merely rational, I thought I knew it to be Christian, 1. In that in some measure it was from a sense of the command of God; 2. By means of the promises; 3. I desired it for God's glory, as well as my own good.
Towards the evening of that same day, I understood by a letter, that the business of Dollar was still in agitation; and that they desired me not to dispose of myself otherwise, seeing they were like to succeed in their attempts for my settlement among them: as also, that Mr. William Reid, minister of Duning, in Strathearn, desired that I should come and stay a while with him. He was a worthy man, one of the old sufferers in the persecution; and had a heavy task in that parish. In the time of the rebellion, several years after this, he was lying a-dying, when the news came in the morning, that that town was to be burnt by the rebels. His afflicted wife being greatly moved, on the account of him, who could not be carried off, while every moment the rebels were expected to execute the fatal design; he comforted her, and bid her be easy, for that they should not have power to hurt a hair of his body. Accordingly his Master called him home; he expired, and was in his grave too, before the town was set on fire; being buried in haste, while he was yet almost warm, the melancholy circumstances of the place so requiring. This account his widow gave my wife. Before I came south, he had invited me to their presbytery, on a design for Auchterarder, then vacant: but I could not then answer the invitation. This being now providentially laid before me, I went to God for direction in it, being laid open to His determination, and helped to trust Him for light. Thereafter considering of it, there was one scruple in the way of that motion that I could not get over, viz., that it might be constructed a going to seek and hang on for the parish of Dollar.
After some necessary business dispatched, I prayed with confidence for what I asked; and having made myself ready, and devoted myself to the lord, I went towards Simprin, my heart being heavenly, and tending upward, by the way. I find I have, in the memoirs of that day, called the religious action used before I went away, by the name of devoting myself to the Lord: and though I have now no distinct remembrance of the thing, yet I judge, that, had it been no more but committing myself to Him as usually, I would not have so expressed it; and that it has indeed been such an action as the word bears, an action very suitable to the way the Lord was leading me, however unknown to me. That night, being at Simprin, I found once a desire to be very remote, and in an inconsiderable post, and even a kind of content to be posted there: and this, I think, was an effect of my looking on the vanity of the world: but that lasted not. The day before, ere I entered on the study of my text, I had a temptation, not to enter on that great text in such a mean place as Simprin, but to reserve it for some other place; but repelled it as a temptation indeed. I was obliged to enter on the study of it, without seeing any commentary upon it: afterward I saw two; but both were unsatisfying, and mainly served to confirm me in the great purpose thereof. The Lord was gracious to me in the address I made to Him, with respect to my study; and I had advantage to my own soul, by getting a view of the emptiness of all things besides Christ, and thereby seeing Him more precious. On the Sabbath morning I had a desire after Christ, and His presence in ordinances; but was somewhat discouraged with the prospect of a small congregation. In the forenoon I was solidly in earnest in my discourse, but without such moving of affections as at other times: but the unbeseeming carriage of the people, few as they were, partly by sleeping, partly by going out, was very discouraging. I had never preached there before; and after the forenoon-sermon, I thought I could not like to preach to so few: but in the afternoon, the Spirit blowing somewhat on me, I had forgot almost whether they were many or few. At night the two elders proposed my settling with them, and desired my consent; which I told them I could give to none before a call. And that night I found my heart somewhat incline to embrace that charge; but they seemed not to be very pressing. I note the circumstances of this affair so very minutely, because the event showed, that much depended thereon, and that that was the place determined of God for the bounds of my habitation: and in this progress towards that event, there was an emblem and pledge of what I afterward met with during the time I was minister there.
On the Wednesday morning after, Mr. Colden coming to my chamber, seemed to approve of my going to Galloway; but did not once ask me, what I thought of Simprin, or how I stood affected to it? This beat down any hope I had conceived of it; but being but little moved towards it, that could not much affect me. A little after, one of the parish came and told me, that he had spoke with Langton, who showed a forwardness for my settlement there; and in the evening, Mr. Colden and Mr. Balfour came and told me, that Langton and the parish of Simprin minded to give me a call, but feared they would not get me; to which I answered, with an air of indifference, Well, let them be doing. But, according to my manner of too great thoughtfulness on matters of weight once set before me, I could sleep none at all that night, though I was to preach the week-day's sermon on the morrow. On Saturday morning, Mr. Colden told me plainly, that it was not his desire I should settle in Simprin, because I would have so little opportunity to do service there; yet concluded the necessity of walking by the determination of Providence. In the afternoon I went to Eccles.
In the Sabbath morning at Eccles, 16th July, I was concerned rather about how to preach, than what; had a prospect of great difficulties in a little to be encountered; Stenton communion approaching, the business of Simprin now in motion, and the affair of Dollar in I knew not what state, together with other straitening circumstances. Fearing lest these should make a deep mire for me, drove me nearer to God, sensible of my need of a token for good from Him in such a situation. And I had some help from Cant. 8: 5, "Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?" and Isa. 61: 8, "I will direct their work in truth." I had that day much help, light, and life, in delivering the word; and my heart was wound up in prayer, elevated, and entirely set on the work. The two Sabbaths immediately preceding, I had in converse discovered, in professors of religion, much unacquaintedness with Christ, and with their own hearts, particularly as to the legal bias thereof; which occasioned my preaching the week-day's sermon aforesaid on Deut. 9: 6. And this Sabbath, in converse with a professor, I saw the pride of my own heart, the levity of others, with little appearance of the power of religion; which made me sadly to fear settling in the Merse; where I found I could meet with few exercised to godliness, and made partakers of the knowledge of Christ.
22nd July [Saturday], being at Stenton, and in good case spiritually, by reason of the Lord's helping me to right uptakings of Himself in some measure, and dealing bountifully with me in prayer, I was attacked with discouragement upon the prospect of my difficulties; which sent me to the Lord, and I got some help. I heard the sermons preparatory for the sacrament in some good frame: but near the close of the last prayer, thoughts of my difficulties bore in themselves on me; which, as they came, I rejected again and again; and after these repulses they got, I became more serious. But Satan was in earnest, would not let me pass so; but in came other thoughts, which raised my heart into a violent passion, and in a strange manner I rejected them, repelling one sin with another, wishing evil to the person of whom I thought. This wish came in most suddenly upon me as lightning, and did very much confuse me, was heavy to me, and marred my confidence with the Lord. So when I came in from the kirk, I was most ugly and hell-hued in my own eyes, and verily believed there was none so unworthy as I. Then my heart-monsters, pride, worldly-mindedness, discontent, etc., stared me in the face, and my poor heart was overwhelmed with sorrow. To-morrow morning I got a revival; and through the day, for the most part, it was not very ill. But being to preach without in the afternoon, I got up to Mr. Stark's garret betwixt sermons, and at the south-east corner of it I conversed with Christ, and it was a Bethel to me. Long looked for came at last. If ever poor I had communion with God, it was in that place. The remembrance of it melts my heart at the writing hereof. And accordingly my public work was sweet; for God was with me, and, as I learned afterwards, it wanted not some success. God's voice was discerned in it. I shall only remark further, that at the communion-table I mainly sought, not comfort, but grace and strength against corruptions. I got both in some measure.
I had determined to go from Stenton to Clackmannanshire; and coming home on the Monday, I received a letter from thence, advising, that the elders of Dollar had applied once and again to the presbytery; but nothing could prevail with them, till the parish should get a new consent from Argyle. This confirmed me in my purpose, as shewing the presbytery not to be fond of my settling there, nay, nor in earnest for it. I went to God for help, to carry right in my difficulties; and was encouraged. After which, providentially falling on Flavel's mystery of providence, I got my own case seasonably discussed therein, p. 2 01. And by the means of resignation there proposed, I endeavoured to bring my heart to that disposition; and so went to prayer with confidence in the Lord.
That afternoon, being at Langton, Mr. Balfour told me, that the Laird had not taken the method laid down by Mr Colden and him; whereby the call of Simprin might have been before the presbytery that day fortnight; and thereby I saw, that I would not know before I went to Lothian, whether that affair would issue in a call or not. Coming along the way with Mr. N-- H--, then minister of Preston, a man of great parts, but not proportionable tenderness, and now several years ago deposed, I was much satisfied with his converse; so that the night was far spent ere we parted. And as we were about to part, he told me of a design some had for another to Simprin; with which I was surprised and amazed: but in the progress of our discourse, I found that design to be, only in case I would not accept. Whereupon he advised me to accept, and against going to Galloway. After I came home, reflecting on these two things, I took both of them to be intended by Providence, letting me see what were my thoughts under both, to clear me towards accepting of the call of Simprin, if offered. That night I lay down, meditating on that word, "Abraham went out, not knowing whither he went."
On the morrow after, conferring with Mr. Balfour, we judged the affair of Simprin could now hardly be expeded before Michaelmas. And finding the hardship of my being in a fixed charge, for a whole year, without receiving any stipend, which in that event behoved to be the case, would render my settling there at all impracticable, I thought it necessary to intimate the same to Mr. Dysert before I went out of the country.
Next day, being the 20th, I began to study for Stenton communion, having the night before gone to God for a text, with confidence and particular trust; and in a little got one; being to go away the following day. But betwixt ten and eleven forenoon I was sent for to a monthly meeting for prayer, at Polwarth, two miles from Dunse. Being strained with this message, I laid it before the Lord, and was determined to go; considering that the day and way were ordinarily alike long with me, as it has continued to be in my experience to this day; and judging that my spirit might thereby be the more fitted for that communion-work; and that going at God's call I might expect necessary furniture for what I had to do after. Accordingly I went away, studied by the way a part of the forenoon's sermon, was countenanced of the Lord there, and returned home again about six o'clock. I completed what I minded to deliver, before or in time of the action; and having prayed again, went on and studied the sermon to be delivered after the action, without, having burnt a candle. Thus as much was got done, as I would have done had I been nowhere abroad that day. I found my spirit bettered by all, my soul somewhat heavenly, and raised towards the Lord: I saw it was good to follow duty, and trust God; and that it is "not by might nor by power," but by the "Spirit " of the Lord, things are got comfortably done.
On the 21st I went to Stenton, where that night, in meditation, I got a view of the transcendent glory and excellency of Christ, with the emptiness of all things besides Him; and the desire of my heart was towards Him. How it fared with me at that communion, I have related above. Under the deadness there mentioned, which was on the Saturday's night, being to make public exercise in the kirk, I went to secret prayer; but really could not pray, yea not so much as groan sensibly unto the Lord: only I was sensible of my hardness of heart, and in a sort grieved for the Lord's absence. So entering on the work in this heavy case, the tears broke out with me: but all along I was under desertion. When I came in from that exercise, I went to prayer; but could not pray; and joined but very lifelessly in family-prayer. But afterwards reading over my notes, which were on Jer. 29: 13, "And ye shall seek Me, and find Me," etc., I got somewhat above that deadness, and reached to some confidence in the Lord in prayer. The Lord lifted me up in that place; but thus low was I laid before it. Sitting down at the Lord's table on the morrow, I took it for a sure sign I should yet sit down at the table above: and among other particular requests there, I had one for light in the call of Simprin, if offered; and came away with hope, but no more. The remaining part of the night, after the happy afternoon's work and entertainment mentioned above, I was kept in a heavenly frame, with love to Christ, and admiration of His goodness, loving the very place where He manifested Himself. And on the morrow having insisted on the requests I had at the table, I found afterwards the Lord had made my soul satisfied, as to what way He might dispose of me, especially with respect to Simprin.
Being resolved to go from Stenton as above said, on that Monday's afternoon, Mr. Stark having given me a compliment of two dollars, and the use of his horse for my journey, I went to Edinburgh: and being engaged to return on the Saturday, and in the morning sought of the Lord a text for the following Sabbath, I did by the way think on, and get some insight into Ps. 119: 32, "I will run the way of Thy commandments, when Thou shalt enlarge my heart." On Tuesday I went to Barhill; and on Wednesday to Clackmannanshire, where I met with one of my correspondents, who told me, that the elders of Dollar, whom he had discharged to come near me, were wrestling as eagerly as ever to accomplish their design, and were waiting the return of a letter to Argyle. I showed him my situation, and committed to one to shew the presbytery of Stirling, that I looked on myself as absolved from my promise to them. On the Thursday I went back to Barhill, on the morrow after to Edinburgh, and returned to Stenton on Saturday about four o'clock. Mr. Stark had come back from some intended journey but would take no part of the Sabbath's work: so after prayer, being cleared and satisfied as to the text aforesaid, I studied my sermons with ease in the space of little more than three hours; the Lord laying things to my hand, and that with enlargement of heart. So still day and way were alike long; and I had much of the Lord's help in the whole Sabbath's work.
On Saturday 5th August, being at Stenton, where I was to preach on the morrow, after I had begun my studies, we were called to family-worship. Being desired, I prayed with composure for a while: but being in the kitchen, where was a great heat, my heart began to fail, so that I was obliged to break off; and going straight to the door for air, fainted away there. Lying in which case I lifted up my heart to the Lord, boding kindness on Him; recovered, and was eased by vomiting, as usual. I had rested little that week, but had been riding hither and thither; which kind of tossing I have seldom been the better of. Being confused through the remains- of my indisposition, my studies took all my time. Meanwhile this new experience of my frailty, made the little charge of Simprin more acceptable to me. Sabbath forenoon I was indisposed both in body and spirit, yet had some help of the Lord. Betwixt sermons I cried for an alteration, and got it, both in body and spirit; and was helped to express matters of some difficulty, with that distinctness, which I was sure I could not have treated of them in private. Hereof I had then had frequent experience, and since too.
On the morrow, 7th August, being to return home, I was comforted by a Christian woman, goodwife of Roughlaw, blessing God that ever she saw me, and shewing that never one had read her case, as the Lord had helped me to do, in my sermons first and last. At parting she put in my pocket about 2s. sterling, which I value as a token of Christian affection. That night I came to Dunse.
And thus, after all my perplexity, when the matter was brought to the utmost pinch, kind Providence opened an unexpected way for expeding one part of my design; and removed the other, viz. the going to Galloway, much out of my view. I was, after great straitening, liberally provided, beyond expectation. And the Lord's making my itinerant labours not unsuccessful, but useful at least to His own, and giving me a large room in their affections, afforded me a satisfaction, which I thought might be an equivalent of the comfort of a settlement.
Next day, having heard of nothing done in the affair of Simprin, it was suggested to me by one, that Langton minded to shift it till Michaelmas were past; so that night, and the morrow morning, being the 9th, thinking with myself that the Lord minded to grant my desire of not settling in the Merse, I desired of Him He would be pleased to show me how to dispose of myself next: and the same day, some time after that, I was surprised with a visit of Mr. Murray, who continued to desire me to go to Nithsdale. And indeed his coming to me at such a nick of time, did seem at first to be determining: but even while he was with me, came in one from Simprin, shewing that Langton had moved in the affair, and that it might yet be done in due time; and a little after I found that he had writ to the presbytery to go on towards my settlement there. Now my inclination was to go to Nithsdale, and I was racked betwixt the two. That night I thought seriously on them, went to God, particularly for light and direction therein; and after, as I was going to bed, I found I durst not as yet leave Simprin. On this occasion I observed the subtilty of self in two cases: 1. I feared my seeking of light proceeded more from self-love than love to Christ; 2. That my seeking the very mortification of my idols, discontent, worldly-mindedness, etc., did likewise proceed from the same fountain, which might be in regard of the disquiet the want of the one, and having of the other, occasions me. This selfishness I did manifestly observe: yet I found there was respect to the command of God in this, and thought it predominated. I thought I should have light from the Lord, or I durst not do it, though it should be to my temporal loss.
On the 10th, having occasionally continued my former request, I found that afternoon my soul content I should settle in Simprin, if the Lord should give me a clear call to it, that being then my exercise, of the issue whereof I was much afraid. At night I went to the meeting for prayer, found my heart much affected with the sad state of my native country the Merse, in respect of religion, and cried to God for an alteration therein to the better. I desired James Minto, a godly man, and a mighty pleader in prayer, though otherwise of very ordinary abilities, to remember in prayer my situation, and to plead for light to me; and my difficulties pressed me forward unto God.
The day following, having gone to prayer for a text, I was, through the blowing of the Spirit on me, brought to a contented frame of heart with respect to the affair of Simprin. And indeed at what times I was most heavenly in the frame of my spirit, it was easiest for me to get over those things that were straitening and discouraging to me in it, and founded my aversion to it. These were, 1. The rarity of the godly there, and in the country; 2. The very smallness of their number; 3. The smallness of the stipend; moreover, 4. The temper and way of the fraternity, though good men, and several of them learned men too, not agreeable to mine; the which fully opened itself in the different way that that presbytery and I took in the year 1712, and ever since; and, 5. which was the main thing that then stuck with me, The little opportunity to be serviceable there. It indeed bred me some scrupling in the matter, that I was not far from thinking I was more useful in my unsettled condition, than I would be if minister of Simprin. But I thought with myself, if the Lord will shut me up there, why not? and I feared that in this there might be something of the pride of my heart, and of ignorance of the weight of the ministerial work; and therefore desired to say, "The will of the Lord be done." At night having gone to my eldest brother's, and joined with him in his family-worship, to my great satisfaction, he came along with me to my chamber, and by our converse I was led to Ps. 119: 96, "I have seen an end of all perfection," for my text, being to preach in Dunse the following Lord's day.
On the 12th I studied my sermons on it; and in prayer in the time thereof I got some sight of the world's vanity, and in prayer after my studies, the Lord did blow on me, and I was much concerned for a lasting impression of the vanity of the world, and of the weight of the work of the ministry; the which two things I reckoned would much conduce to the easing, quieting, and clearing of my mind, with respect to the affair of Simprin. I thought then I had never seen so great difficulty to get my heart weaned from the world; but it was my soul's desire the Lord Himself would wean me, being content to part with a carnal worldly mind, if He would rent it from me, and convinced, that it would abide a pull of His hand. After some time spent in necessary business, I betook myself to meditate on my sermons that I had studied; and while, in my meditations, I was upon that head of them, the vanity of riches, just then one knocked at my chamber-door, whom opening to, I found to be a man from Simprin, who delivered me a letter with their call. This did somewhat damp me. The letter was from a committee of the presbytery, signifying that the call, being presented to them, and sustained legal, they exhorted and invited me to accept thereof; and had appointed me a common head, together with exercise and addition, to be delivered at Churnside on the 22nd. I read also the call, and returned it to the bearer, shewing him, that I would consider of it, attend the presbytery, and also preach at Simprin on the morrow eight days for my own clearing in the matter; charging him to tell the elders, to be serious with God for light and direction to me therein. After his departure, I went and poured out my soul before the Lord, for the discovery of His mind concerning it. Afterwards I thought thereon, and found my unwillingness on account of the smallness of their number: but, in opposition thereto, a fear of my ignorance of the weight of the work of the ministry, seized me; and it seemed to me I had not been enough humbled for my former levity, but that the Lord saw it necessary to humble me further for it; and I got my heart contented, and found that the Lord "strengthened me with strength in my soul," to wait on Him, and follow the conduct of His providence. Thereafter I meditated on the rest of my sermons.
Having preached at Dunse on the Sabbath, I gave myself on the Monday to fasting and prayer, to seek of the Lord a right way, in that matter now laid before me; breaking over an averseness I found to that exercise ungrateful to the flesh. Three things were suggested to me, prompting me to be so at pains for light in that matter; thinking with myself thus. 1. Unless I be sure of my call to it from the Lord, how will I stand against the discouragements I will meet with there? 2. How can I think of profiting them, if He send me not to them? 3. How will I stand with them before the tribunal of God, if I join with them without a call from Himself? Having read Ezra 9 and 10 I went to prayer, to prepare my heart for the work; thought a while, and then went to prayer again, and poured out my soul before the Lord. Thereafter I read the written confession of sin, which is above mentioned, and then made an additional one, in writing too. Which done, I thought on my sins and heart-monsters, till my soul was more humbled in me. Then bowing my knees before the Lord, I read over the two confessions aforesaid; poured out my soul before Him, making a particular confession of my sins, so far as I could remember them; arraigned and condemned myself, and looked to the Lord, in the promise, for mercy. After that, minding to renew the covenant with God, and subscribe it with my hand, I drew it up in writing: which done, I prayed, the Spirit blowing on me; and I was greatly helped to resoluteness for Christ, resolving, if I perished, I should die at His door. Then I examined myself, as to my willingness to adhere unto it, and subscribe it, in all the parts thereof, severally and distinctly: and having found myself willing, I poured out my soul before Him in prayer; in which prayer, having some such expression as this, "O Lord, art Thou willing!" that word came to me, "All things are ready, come to the marriage:" to this Amen said my soul. Rising up, I wrote down these words in the paper I had drawn, and looking up to the Lord, I subscribed it with my hand. I wrote down there also, Jer. 30: 22, Deut. 33: 27, 2 Cor. 12: 9. That paper is in retentis. After this, I meditated a while; then I went to prayer for the benefits of the covenant, particularly for that which was the occasion of this day's exercise: I cried for light, and was laid down at His feet; and came away cheerfully and contentedly, my soul saying, "Where Thou wilt, Lord; for He strengthened me with strength in my soul." Then, thinking on the business, I considered and put down in writing, that I might the better judge thereof, First, Some things seeming to clear my call to Simprin, as follows: 1. My being cast into this country, where I was exposed to it, and God's closing up all other doors hitherto. 2. On the 10th of June, Mr. Dysert wrote a letter in my favour to the elders of Simprin, and gave it me to dispatch to them. I took it, but afterwards tore it in pieces (on what occasion, I cannot now find out): yet on 4th July, being resolved to leave this country next week, being resolved to go over Forth first, and then to Galloway, was obliged to go to the presbytery of Churnside, to meet with Mr. Dysert, to borrow some money of him necessary for my going out of the country: but when I saw him, I could not command so much confidence as to ask it of him. But the presbytery took occasion to invite me to preach at Simprin next Lord's day: which I could not but consent to, knowing of no other place I was trysted to; and this was the first time I ever preached in Simprin. My father went to Mr. Dysert on the morrow for that purpose; but he could not answer my desires. Thus was I locked in. 3. I have experienced, that I have been most for complying with it, when I saw most of the vanity of the world, and bad meanest thoughts of myself. 4. On the 8th of August it was told me, that Langton minded to shift the business of Simprin till Michaelmas were over, which would have made the closing with that call almost impracticable, on account of my particular circumstances: so that it seemed the Lord had a mind I should not settle in the Merse. So that night and the morrow morning, thinking the business of Simprin almost over, I desired of the Lord He would show me how to dispose of myself. And after this, 9th August, I was surprised with a visit from Mr. James Murray, who entreated me to go to Nithsdale, giving good hopes of a comfortable settlement there. His coming to me at that nick of time seemed at first to be determining: but in the very meantime there comes in one from Simprin, showing me, that the Laird had written a letter to one of the ministers; and that the business might yet be done in due time. This put me again to a stand. Thereafter I found the Laird had written to the presbytery to go on. My inclination was to go to Nithsdale, and I was racked betwixt the two. After prayer for light, I found I durst not yet leave Simprin. 5. I could not but notice my preaching at Simprin on the emptiness of all things besides Christ, the only sermon yet preached there by me. On the 12th of August, in the forenoon, I studied a sermon of the vanity of the world, on Ps. 119: 96, being to preach it in Dunse; and just when I was meditating on that head of it, the vanity of riches, one knocks at my chamber-door, I opened, and found it was a man from Simprin, who delivered me a letter from a committee of the presbytery, with the call of Simprin; which did somewhat damp and discourage me. Hereby the Lord seemed to try whether I was really in earnest with these things or not. When the man went away, I poured out my soul to the Lord for light, afterwards thought on the business, got my heart contented, and I thought the Lord strengthened me with strength in my soul, to wait on and follow the conduct of Providence. 6. The light I have attained in this business bridles my corruptions of worldly-mindedness, etc., and my own inclinations. And I have attained to a more deep impression of the weight of the work of the ministry than before; which, I find, contributes to my clearness as to the accepting of that call. The consideration of these things after prayer, makes it some more than probable to me that this matter is of God, and fully determines me to go on in my trials, leaving the more full determination of the main thing till afterwards. Secondly, The grounds of my aversion to it. 1. The rarity of the godly in this country. This I found to be but a discouragement. 2. The very smallness of the charge. When I was considering the weight of the work of the ministry, I got a silencing answer to that. 3. The smallness of the stipend. This seems to be a temptation. The light I had from the Lord this day has downweighed this. 4. I suspect I am more useful for God in my vagrant state, than I would be if minister of Simprin. It may be otherwise. The Lord is to make use of me as He pleaseth. I truly fear it is the pride of my heart that is the source of this. This however I found could be no just ground of scrupling, though a discouragement: and I further considered, that I knew not what honourable use the Lord might have for me there. Having thus considered these things, I went to God again, poured out my soul, and laid all out before Him: and had that word, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." Afterward I wrote a line for some books necessary for me on my trials: and in the meantime came in to me the above-mentioned Patrick Gillis, one of my two praying schoolfellows. Him sovereign Providence had entirely laid aside from his design of pursuing learning: and with him I conversed a while, and prayed. After he went away, I went to prayer again, with confidence in the Lord, having such clearness, as said is. By this time the sun was down: then having given thanks to the Lord, for His assistance through the day, and for what light I had attained unto, and sought strength for carrying me on in the work immediately before me, viz. my trials, I went forth.
It has cost no small struggling to put the knife to the throat of my inclinations in this affair, and to sacrifice them to the good pleasure of God. In the remaining part of that week, I prepared my exegesis de idololatria, exercise and addition on Eph. 1: 5. I was waiting for further light therein, to break up to me from my trials; thinking with myself, that if the Lord should please to help me in them, it would much contribute to clear me. But after my entering on the study of the exercise, with a pretty good run, the wind fell; and I was left to tug and row in it, and in the addition, even to the end. But behold! this very thing, shewing me my own emptiness, contributed not a little to the clearing of me, that if I was at all to be admitted to the holy ministry, it should be at Simprin, as unfit for a more considerable post. Thus the Lord brought about what I was waiting for, in a way quite contrary to that wherein I was looking for it.
On the Tuesday after, being the 22nd, I went to Churnside to the presbytery, by that time disjoined from the presbytery of Dunse. Before I went to the pulpit, my case, with respect to myself and others, lying heavy on me, did, with my other needs, send me often to God by prayer. But after one prayer in public, wherein I had something of His presence, my frame much decayed, and the Lord left me much to the weight of my natural disposition; fear of man so prevailing, that the glass being run twice, I thought it had run but once, and so held on; insomuch that the exercise lasted above an hour and a quarter; and they stopped me after delivering a part of the addition. This made me wonder how I had passed my first trials; but God fits the back for the burden. I overheard their censures. That manner of management could not miss to fret them; but I was approved in that piece of trial, as afterward in the exegesis. The moderator presented me the call of Simprin, which I received of his hand; but returned it to the clerk, shewing I would further consider of it. At the dinner I was much discouraged, and was inclined to wish in my heart I might not be settled in that country.
On Wednesday the 30th, Mr. Golden showed me, he was sorry I had so far accepted the call of Simprin, in regard a call to Hownam might have been procured. I told him, I durst not do otherwise than I had done; and showed him a providential step pointing that way; the weight whereof he owned. On the morrow, having perfected my popular sermon, I was edified and satisfied therewith. At night I began to think of the near approach of the presbytery, when I might be required to give an answer to the call. The prospect of this was very heavy to me. I considered it a while with a sad heart: Dollar was desirable to me; Simprin was not so. When I thought how God owned me elsewhere, and what converse I had with the godly in that country, my heart was much cast down, being to be closed up in such a part of the country as is most dead and lifeless. I have little myself of life or heat, and I fear I may lose what I have or have had. I saw then my sin in itching after a settlement, when the Lord did countenance me so much in my vagrant state.
1st September.—I began to think about closing with the call of Simprin. I think Providence seems to determine to it; but I cannot yet think of giving a positive answer against Tuesday next, but would fain have some days after to think on it, when I am free of other business: not that I think to get free of it, but that in the use of means I would wait for such light as may make me go on more cheerfully in it, and deliberately, for a foundation for the time to come. So I went to prayer; and thereafter began to think on it; but could not attain such serious thoughts of it as I would have had: so that I have nothing to mark as the product of it, save the deceitfulness of my own heart, which is more ready to close with anything than what is present duty. On this day, I resolved to crave of the presbytery the following week further to advise, proposing to give my answer to him who should be ordered to serve the edict, and might act according to my answer: for I found not myself in case to do otherwise. After this, in the afternoon of the same day, Mr. Colden told me, it was still against his will I should settle in Simprin; and that he understood, that Mr. Gabriel Semple, minister of Jedburgh, one of the old sufferers, who in the time of the persecution was eminently countenanced of God, with success in the work of the gospel, especially in the borders of England, had taken it amiss that I was not sent to him; the design whereof was to be his colleague, though there was no legal fund for it in the place. This oftener than once had been moved; but I could by no means listen to it: but Mr. Colden desired me not to consent to the call of Simprin till he should speak with Mr. Semple on the affair of Hownam; the report of which conference I should have that day eight days. I being, before this proposal was made to me, resolved as aforesaid, had no scruple in it; but told him, that whatever might be the issue of that conference, I would not dare to determine the rejecting of the call of Simprin by myself: and I was resolved still to follow on, in what appeared present duty, let the Lord do with me as should seem good in His eyes.
On the morrow, 2nd September, I received letters, but no word about the affair of Dollar. In the twilight, weary with study, I went to prayer, and, with confidence in the Lord, unbosomed myself unto Him. And, O but a heavenly frame was sweet in my eyes! and I saw how pleasant a life a habit thereof, if I could reach it, would make. On the morrow after I preached at Simprin.
On Tuesday the 5th, I did with more freedom than the former presbytery-day deliver my popular sermon, and undergo all the rest of my trials, and was approved. At the presbytery's desire I gave answer to the call, and that in the terms I had before resolved upon; but with submission. They appointed the edict to be served the following Lord's day, and my ordination to be on Thursday the 21st.
7th September.—I set some time apart for prayer, in order to get direction in this affair. I found no small averseness in my heart to that duty. I went to God, and poured out my soul, wrestling against the bad frame of spirit, blessed the Lord for what He had done for me since I was a preacher, and cried for His countenance in this, meditated on the matter, but with little success. I went to God again; and afterwards some things came to me, clearing me further to accept. And as for my inward thoughts, they were such, that I saw I durst not but go on with it, finding, that the more serious I am about light in it, it is the clearer. Afterwards I went to God again, and with much more life and earnestness, the Lord helping, I made my requests, and in prayer I found that word, Ps. 18: 28, "Thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness;" which I sung the first time I was in a pulpit; and that, Job 22: 28, "Thou shalt also decree a thing," etc., given me before I entered on my first trials. Lest I should have provoked God to withdraw the light I have, which I begun to fear upon my crying still for light, I saw myself called to bless God for what He had given me. And now my confidence in the Lord was raised, and my soul blessed the Lord: I am His; let Him do what seemeth Him good with me. Catching my heart at the season when it was willing, I went to God again, and poured out my soul; but really had not freedom to harp longer on light as to the main thing, the accepting of Simprin (but rather to seek God's presence to go with me); for this seemed to me now almost, if not altogether, a tempting of God, who has already made my way clear. Further, I observed,
1. In the Lord's way of dealing with me, that the Lord has brought about for me what I was most against. A notable instance parallel to this I had at the passing my first trials; in that I was brought to pass them in my own country, which of all other places was least in my eye. This way of Providence with me I have so often observed, that I have thought indeed such or such a thing would come to pass, just because I was averse to it. And as to this business, besides my aversion to the whole country, Simprin, by any place of it, I never dreamed of, and was very much against it since it was talked of.
2. The Lord has prevented such remoras in this business as I expected, other three irons in the fire with this, having all got leave to cool.
3. Sometime I thought I would wait to see how the Lord would help me in my trials for Simprin; and I thought I would take it as clearing my call thereto, if I were helped and enlarged in them; and contrariwise. But in studying my exercise and addition, 17th August, I was straitened, and was very much discouraged through that straitening: and behold this very straitening (reflecting on it afterwards) seemed to me to clear my call to Simprin; if I were at all to be a minister, that I should be minister of Simprin, for thereby I saw much of my own emptiness. This had a convincing impression on my heart; wherefore I thought I was called of God to join with that people; and the sense of the command of God urged me, otherwise unwilling, to it.
Nota.—As to that aversion I had to settle in Simprin, I have ofttimes since thought it was no disadvantage to me; in regard it was far more easy to me to discern the light of the Lord, and what moved me to accept that charge, when it crossed my inclinations, than it would have been, had they gone both one way. In that case it had been more difficult for me to have known which of them I followed. It has been ofttimes supporting to me.
On the 9th I received a letter from my friend, such as became a Christian, bearing, that her heart did indeed rise at my last, shewing I had received the call of Simprin, but withal desiring me to follow my light, and to be single in my accepting or refusing it, that the world might not cast the balance: The same Christian disinterested course she steered all along in these matters, being my wife.
Being under some discouragements at home, 13th September, I began to be somewhat uneasy and discontent with my settling in Simprin. I was now hampered in my chamber: I had lent out my money, and could not get it back, to procure myself necessaries. These, with my future circumstances, were grievous to me. Finding myself hereby carried off my feet as a Christian, I resolved to spend some time on the morrow in fasting and prayer, for these causes: 1. To get habitual nearness to God; 2. For a due impression of the weight of the work I am called to; 3. His presence with me in it; 4. For content with my lot. Addressing myself to the intended exercise of that day, I added to these aforesaid causes, 5. That I might get victory over a particular corruption wherewith I had been often foiled; Lastly, That I might be kept from cooling in my zeal in that country. After prayer and meditation with respect to the aforementioned causes, I went to prayer with the same requests. And afterwards I began to examine myself. So examining myself, I can say, 1. I am poor in spirit, I have no righteousness of my own; and if I get not a borrowed righteousness, I see I will perish; and I count all my own righteousnesses as filthy rags, loss and dung; 2. I hunger and thirst after both an imputed righteousness and the righteousness of a holy life, Lord, Thou knowest; 3. Christ is precious to me; I have none in heaven but Thee, and there is none on earth that I desire besides Thee; and I would willingly quit all for Christ; 4. That was supporting to me in prayer, "He will give the Spirit to them that ask Him;" I have done it, and do it; and the Spirit of sanctification is the delight of my soul; 5. My heart approves of and loves the law of God, even when it strikes against those corruptions I am naturally most inclined to; 6. I have received Him, and am willing to receive Him, in all His offices. Lord, Thou knowest I speak as I think, and my conscience bears me witness: therefore I am a child of God in despite of Satan; and I will not quit my former experiences, nor say that all were delusions; and whatever come of me, I will venture myself on Christ. Afterwards in prayer I was resolute; I would not quit my claim to Him, which made me speak boldly, and that so as is not ordinary with me. Let the Lord do with me as He will. It was He that said to me on the 21st of January last, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love" and had "therefore with loving-kindness drawn me;" and I will abide by it. He may give His comforts when He pleaseth; no wonder I want them. And now I am content with my lot, and believe I will get the things that I sought this day; for He shall be my God while I live; and He has said, "All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." And I resolved to hold by His word, which He neither would nor could deny. And now I must say from my experience, that "there failed not ought of those good things which the Lord had spoken: all came to pass." I am glad to find, that I had marked in the memoirs of that day, as above inserted, that I really believed I would get the things I sought that day.
Toward the evening, being somewhat faint, I closed the work with singing Ps. 13: 5, "O why art thou cast down, my soul," etc., to the end, and prayer; and my heart was strengthened and encouraged in the Lord. And so I took a refreshment. Thereafter I found an inclination to preach on the foresaid words, Ps. 13: 5, the following Lord's day, mostly on my own account.
Nota.—1. I think God sent all this to shake me out of myself, to strike at the root of my corruption with respect to my settlement, and to make me glad to creep into Simprin. 2. I am sure God gave me in Simprin the most of the things above recorded, and though I am now, at the writing hereof, removed from it, I will ever remember it as a field which the Lord blessed.
On the morrow, going to God for a text, laid open to the divine determination, I was determined to the text aforesaid: and as after my studies thereon, in which the Lord helped me, I was concerned for a blessing on it, not only for the people, but for myself; so in my meditating thereon next day, I found advantage to my own soul; as also in the delivering it on the Sabbath, 17th September. But after sermons, in converse, speaking of the godly people in Clackmannan, and the paucity of such here, a fit of discouragement seized me, where I saw how, after I had been preaching against it, I was overtaken with it. O I find it a difficult thing to be really religious. I preached it in Langton, having procured the minister of that place to preach in Simprin that day, being the Sabbath immediately preceding my ordination; and upon that day's work, I find I had the following reflection. "What good this preaching has done to others, I know not; yet I think myself am not the worse of it: O! that it were written in my heart, as it is in my book!"
On the Monday I went to Simprin, and found, that Langton had ordered a decent entertainment for the ministers at the ordination, which I was almost hopeless of. On the morrow I went to an ordination, where I saw the candidate answered the questions by a nod or bowing of the head; which I wished not to imitate. From thence I went to Berwick; and having righted at Churnside, returned to Dunse on the Wednesday, where I got some impression of the weight of the work of the ministry fixed on my spirit, which continued with me, while at my chamber, and while abroad about necessary business, and received some comfortable account of the preceding Sabbath's work.
20th September. Prayer, meditating on what is before me, I saw much of the weight of the work; wherefore I went to God mourning, and poured out my soul to Him. I saw it a great matter to have the charge of souls, and to be faithful. Two things were mainly before me: the difficulty to carry right in the ministry in general; which was heightened from the consideration of the present state of affairs, and an impression I had of matters turning worse: and then the difficulty of carrying right to the poor parish to which I am called. These made my heart almost to sink: and indeed my heart and flesh did faint and fail; but that word, "He shall feed His flock," did bear me up. When I went to prayer again, I had more confidence and courage; and when I came away, that word came, Heb. 10: 35, "Cast not away your confidence," etc. And while I was meditating, J. F. came in to me; and told me, that last Lord's day at Langton was, in her opinion, an extraordinary day, particularly to her case and feeling; and that her case was read in the sermons. This is the second time that sermons preached for my own case had so reached that woman's. Having spent the time in prayer, meditation, and reading, till the night was well far on, and remembering how Satan is sure to lay wait for me in a special manner before some great work that I have to do, I committed soul, body, and spirit, to the Lord, and so went on with spiritual thoughts.
21st September.—But that which I feared came upon me: Satan got advantage of me indeed, and his hand appeared eminent in it. This did sadly cast me down: so I poured out my soul before the Lord, hoping against hope while I walked up and down; for in so far as it came from the devil, it dashed my confidence the less. Afterwards I grew more dull in my frame; but going to God again, I got a little more of God. I spent the rest of the time in my chamber in prayer and meditation. After I had been a while in company in Mr. Colden's, I retired to his garden and meditated, my heart being in a tender frame. And when I came away, and through the day, that word was given me for support, Deut. 33: 27, "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." And I came to Simprin in a solid composed frame of spirit, leaning on the foresaid word. This was the doing of the Lord, and wondrous in my eyes. I heard sermon with some good frame; but my heart was very much moved when I came into the kirk. Mr. John Pow minister at Lennel preached from Acts 20: 24, "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." After sermon I was ordained and set apart to the holy ministry, by prayer made over me, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. I thought the text was ordained of God for me, and my heart desired to go along with the doctrine, that ministers should prefer the faithful discharge of their ministry to all their other concerns in the world. While I answered the questions, which I did at some length, being sensible in some measure of my weakness and unworthiness to be a door-keeper in the house of my God, my heart being great, I had much ado to contain myself; and in that time there were many wet cheeks among the people. So I was ordained; and while the words of ordination were said, I freely resigned myself wholly to the Lord, my soul in eject saying, Even so, Lord. After the ordination, I received the right hand of fellowship from the brethren: but had no heritor, nor representative of an heritor, to take me by the hand; and I think there were but two elders in the place at that time. Then I received some exhortations from the minister aforesaid, actor in the work; and the work was closed as ordinary.
In this period of my life the dispensations of God towards me have been very wonderful, as in the former. I must say, upon the whole, "The Lord's ways are not our ways, etc. His paths are in the deep waters." My soul is well satisfied with the determination. He has enured me to hardness by the opposition I met with while a preacher. He frustrated all designs for my settlement, till the time before appointed, and the bounds of my habitation determined by Him were come to, Acts 17: 26. This was an useful word to me in my vagrant state, supported my heart often, and kept me from transgressing for a piece of bread. My itching desires He would not grant; but by this He has tried me how I would deny myself, and what I would make of my own inclinations. Blessed be my God that has helped me to trample on them, and made me content with my lot. It is the Lord's way with me, to shake me out of myself, and to make me renounce my own wisdom, or rather folly. When I came home from Kennet, I little thought of passing trials here, yet I behoved to do it. When I had done it, I had no will to stay; yet the Lord would. Afterwards, when I left the country, I had ill will to leave it, but God had said it. When I was in Stirling presbytery, I would have gladly staid there; but the Lord would not. When I came home, I had no good will to this business; but God had said it, and it behoved to be done. When my head was away, He put His bridle in my mouth, and turned me again. "How unsearchable are His judgements, and His ways past finding out!" And now I have undertaken this work, in confidence of support by the everlasting arms. By itching desires after a settlement have been, and are grievous to me now: but the Lord is my God, who blotteth out mine iniquities as a thick cloud. To His name be glory in the highest for ever. Amen, yea and Amen.
And thus I have followed the course of this affair, in order narrating the several steps thereof, however minute some of them may appear: and that because it issued in what was to me one of the weightiest matters of my life, namely, my ordination to the office of the ministry, and first sitting down in the world. And the reflecting on the clear divine conduct, in pointing out unto me, and carrying me to, these appointed bounds of my habitation, is like a rock of comfort to me unto this day; as it obliged me to look well about me for the like discovery of the Lord's mind, before I moved my foot again.
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