John Paton’s Spiritual Upbringing


A Typical Scottish School

IN my boyhood Torthorwald had one of the grand old typical Parish Schools of Scotland, where the rich and the poor met together in perfect equality, where Bible and Catechism were taught as zealously as grammar and geography, and where capable lads from the humblest of cottages were prepared in Latin and Mathematics and Greek to go straight from their village class to the University bench. Besides, at that time, an accomplished pedagogue of the name of Smith, a learned man of more than local fame, had added a Boarding House to the ordinary School, and had attracted some of the better class gentlemen and farmers’ sons from the surrounding county, so that Torthorwald, under his regime, reached the zenith of its educational fame. In this School I was initiated into the mystery of letters, and all my brothers and sisters after me, though some of them under other masters than mine;—my youngest brother James, trained there under a master named Lithgow, going direct from the Village School to the University of Glasgow in his fourteenth year !

My teacher punished severely—rather, I should say, savagely—especially for lessons badly prepared. Yet, that he was in some respects kindly and tender-hearted, I had the best of reasons to know. Seeing me not so ” braw” as the well-to-do fellows of my year, and taking a warm interest in me as a pupil, he, concluding probably that new suits were not so easily got in my home as in some of the rest, planned a happy and kind-hearted surprise—a sort of unacknowledged school prize. One evening, when my father was “taking the books,” and pouring out his heart in family worship, the door of our house gently opened on the latch, and gently closed again. After prayer, on rushing to the door, I found a parcel containing a new suit of warm and excellent clothes,—seeing which my mother said that “God had sent them to me, and I should thankfully receive them as from His hand, whoever might have brought them.” Appearing in them at school next morning, the teacher cheerily saluted and complimented me on my “braws.” I innocently told him how they came and what my mother said ; and he laughingly replied,—

“John, whenever you need anything after this, just tell your father to ‘tak’ the Book,’ and God will send it in answer to prayer !”

Years passed by before I came to know, what the reader has already guessed, that the good-hearted schoolmaster’s hand lifted the latch that evening during my father’s prayer.

All his influence, however, was marred by occasional bursts of fierce and ungovernable temper, amounting to savagery. His favouritism, too, was sometimes disheartening,—as when I won a Latin prize for an exercise by the verdict of the second master, yet it was withheld from me, and prizes were bestowed without merit on other and especially wealthier boys ; so at least I imagined, and it cooled my ambition to excel. Favouritism might be borne, but not mere brutality when passion mastered him. Once, after having flogged me unjustly, on my return only at my mother’s entreaty, he ran at me again, kicked me, and I fled in pain and terror from his presence, rushing home. When his passion subsided, he came to my parents, apologized, and pled with me to return ; but all in vain,—nothing would induce me to resume my studies there. Undoubtedly at that time I had a great thirst for education, and a retentive memory, which made all lessons comparatively easy ; and, as no other school was within my reach, it was a great loss that my heart shrank from this teacher.

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It is to no purpose to set ourselves merely to watch against the eruptions of actual sins in the frames of our hearts, in the thoughts of our minds, or outward actions. If we would preserve ourselves from multiplying our defilements, if we would continually be perfecting the work of holiness in the fear of the Lord, it is this we must set ourselves against. The tree must be made a good if we expect good fruit; and the evil root must be digged up, or evil fruit will be brought forth;

— John Owen