John Paton’s Spiritual Upbringing

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With Sappers and Miners

I saved as much at my trade as enabled me to go six weeks to Dumfries Academy; this awoke in me again the hunger for learning, and I resolved to give up that trade and turn to something that might be made helpful to the prosecution of my education. An engagement was secured with the sappers and miners, who were mapping and measuring the county of Dumfries in connection with the Ordnance Survey of Scotland. The office hours were from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m.; and though my walk from home was above four miles every morning, and the same by return in the evening, I found much spare time for private study, both on the way to and from my work and also after hours. Instead of spending the mid-day hour with the rest, at football and other games, I stole away to a quiet spot on the banks of the Nith, and there pored over my book, all alone. Our lieutenant, unknown to me, had observed this from his house on the other side of the stream, and after a time called me into his office and inquired what I was studying. I told him the whole truth as to my position and my desires. After conferring with some of the other officials there, he summoned me again, and in their presence promised me promotion in the service, and special training in Woolwich at the Government’s expense, on condition that I would sign an engagement for seven years. Thanking him most gratefully for his kind offer, I agreed to bind myself for three years or four, but not for seven.

Excitedly he said, “Why? Will you refuse an offer that many gentlemen’s sons would be proud of?”

I said, “My life is given to another Master, so I cannot engage for seven years.”

He asked sharply, “To whom ? ”

I replied, “To the Lord Jesus, and I want to prepare as soon as possible for His service in the proclaiming of the Gospel.”

In great anger he sprang across the room, called the paymaster, and exclaimed, “Accept my offer, or you are dismissed on the spot I”

I answered, “I am extremely sorry if you do so, but to bind myself for seven years would probably frustrate the purpose of my life ; and though I am greatly obliged to you, I cannot make such an engagement”

His anger made him unwilling or unable to comprehend my difficulty ; the drawing instruments were delivered up, I received my pay, and departed without further parley. The men, both over me and beside me, were mostly Roman Catholics, and their talk was the most profane I had ever heard. Few of them spoke at any time without larding their language with oaths, and I was thankful to get away from hearing their shocking speech. But to me personally both officers and men had been extremely kind, for which, on leaving, I thanked them all very cordially, and they looked not a little surprised,—as if unused to such recognitions!

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Prayer without fervency and violence is no prayer; it is speaking, not praying.

— Thomas Watson

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