A Consecrated Father
Somewhere in or about his seventeenth year, my father passed through a crisis of religious experience, and from that day he openly and very decidedly followed the Lord Jesus. His parents had belonged to one of the older branches of what now we call the United Presbyterian Church; but my father, having made an independent study of the Scotch Worthies, the Cloud of Witnesses, the Testimonies, and the Confession of Faith, resolved to cast in his lot with the oldest of all the Scotch Churches, the Reformed Presbyterian, as most nearly representing the Covenanters and the attainments of both the first and second Reformations in Scotland. This choice he deliberately made, and sincerely and intelligently adhered to; and was able at all times to give strong and clear reasons from Bible and from history for the principles he upheld. Still his sympathies and votes always went with the more progressive party in that ancient Church. He held it to be right that Cameronians, like other citizens, should exercise the municipal and political franchise, and he adhered to the “Majority Synod,” which has since been incorporated with the Free Church of Scotland. While glorying in the Psalms, he rejoiced to sing other hymns and spiritual songs (thanks to Ralph Erskine’s “Sonnets,” perhaps, for that !) from his earliest days, at least everywhere except in the ordinary Public Worship ; and long before he died, though he still held the Psalms to be supreme, he had learned to hear with glowing delight vast congregations singing the hymns of modern days, had learned joyfully to join in these songs of Zion, and was heard often to confess his belief that God had greatly owned and blessed the ministry of song in the service of the Gospel.
Besides his independent choice of a Church for himself, there was one other mark and fruit of his early religious decision, which looks even fairer through all these years. Family Worship had heretofore been held only on Sabbath day in his father’s house; but the young Christian, entering into conference with his sympathising mother, managed to get the household persuaded that there ought to be daily morning and evening prayer and reading of the Bible and holy singing. This the more readily, as he himself agreed to take part regularly in the same and so relieve the old warrior of what might have proved for him too arduous spiritual toils. And so began in his seventeenth year that blessed custom of Family Prayer, morning and evening, which my father practised probably without one single omission till he lay on his deathbed, seventy-seven years of age ; when, even to the last day of his life, a portion of Scripture was read, and his voice was heard softly joining in the Psalm, and his lips breathed the morning and evening Prayer,—falling in sweet benediction on the heads of all his children, far away many of them over all the earth, but all meeting him there at the Throne of Grace. None of us can remember that any day ever passed unhallowed thus ; no hurry for market, no rush to business, no arrival of friends or guests, no trouble or sorrow, no joy or excitement, ever prevented at least our kneeling around the family altar, while the High Priest led our prayers to God, and offered himself and his children there. And blessed to others, as well as to ourselves, was the light of such example ! I have heard that, in long after years, the worst woman in the village of Torthorwald, then leading an immoral life, but since changed by the grace of God, was known to declare, that the only thing that kept her from despair and from the hell of the suicide, was when in the dark winter nights she crept close up underneath my father’s window, and heard him pleading in family worship that God would convert “the sinner from the error of wicked ways and polish him as a jewel for the Redeemer’s crown.” “I felt,” said she, “that I was a burden on that good man’s heart, and I knew that God would not disappoint him. That thought kept me out of Hell, and at last led me to the only Saviour.”
My father had a strong desire to be a minister of the Gospel; but when he finally saw that God’s will had marked out for him another lot, he reconciled himself by entering with his own soul into this solemn vow,—that if God gave him sons, he would consecrate them unreservedly to the ministry of Christ, if the Lord saw fit to accept the offering, and open up their way. It may be enough here to say that he lived to see three of us entering upon and not unblessed in the Holy Office;—myself, the eldest born ; my brother Walter, several years my junior; and my brother James, the youngest of eleven, the Benjamin of the flock