Ministers and their Office— "Diet of Visitation"—''Seeking the Lord"
It must have been at Whitsunday
1817 that we moved from Newbattle Tollhouse to Clayhouses, a hamlet near
Gorebridge. I remember that the flitting-day was one of great rain. Being now
five years old, I was able to walk, but poor old auntie had to carry my sister
Agnes the greater part of the way.
On arriving at Clayhouses I
mourned the absence of the Marquess's Gate, [The entrance gate of Newbattle, a
residence of the Marquis of Lothian.] with its fine green and pretty gowans, but
this was soon compensated by having the bum to wash and wade in. At first I used
to go and wash my hands and face in it I suppose twenty times a day. From this
course I was soon deterred, however, by being gravely assured by a young man,
William Dobie by name, that if I did not give it up I would soon wash my face
At Clayhouses I was kept pretty
strictly at my books. Proverbs was by this time sorely tattered. I had now to
read a chapter or two in the Bible daily, and by and by my task was increased by
having to commit to memory daily one of the answers to the Shorter Catechism.
This I felt to be sore labour indeed.
I used to carry on the preaching
here also, having my sister sit before me on her little chair as precentor. I
also made many little churches below some large trees that grew in the
neighbourhood and in retired places by the burn-side. A number of little stones
represented the people attending church. I had generally four churches or
congregations which I kept in order, representing those of Gorebridge, Ford,
Dalkeith, and Liddisdale. I had also wooden or stone representatives of the four
pastors of these congregations, the Rev. Messrs. Sandy, Elliot, Brown, and Law.
While here we attended the
ministry of the Rev. Mr. Sandy, Gorebridge. At this period I had the profoundest
reverence for ministers of the gospel and their high office. I had not yet been
informed, and it never entered my mind, that they wrote or even studied their
sermons. I did not suppose that they themselves knew their texts or a single
word that they had to say till they were in the pulpit. I thought that the Holy
Spirit then and there taught them what to preach. I looked on them as an almost
superhuman order of beings. I was quite astonished and not a little distressed
when I learned that their sermons were all prepared before going to the pulpit.
I had been a firm believer in their "plenary inspiration."
I well remember a "Diet of
Visitation" held by Mr. Sandy at Clayhouses. He intimated on the previous
Sabbath that on a certain day he would visit at Clayhouses "and down near the
water." When the morning of the great day came my father was in high spirits,
but I felt much depressed. The awful hour at length came, and "the minister"
arrived! To my astonishment, and not a little to my relief, he talked with my
father a little about common things, just "like other folk." He even made some
observation about the state of "the weather"! I had always thought that he had
no more to do with the weather than his fellow-servant the angel Gabriel. At
length he actually smiled! I was lost in wonderment. I had imagined that he
would enter the house as solemnly as he was wont to enter the pulpit—deliver
some message direct from God to each of us—and then, Elijah-like, take his
departure in an equally solemn manner, without deigning to shake hands with
anyone or to utter a syllable about common things. Although now convinced that
the minister was after all only a man, it was not without a considerable
fluttering of the heart that I could answer him a few of the simple questions
contained in Brown's Short Catechism for Children, as, Who made you? Who redeems
you? Who sanctifies you? etc., and repeat the favourite psalm of youth and age—
"The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not
While penning these remembrances
of childish impressions, it is perhaps but right to add that I have not now— and
never had—any other feelings than those of the highest respect and esteem for
the excellent, faithful, sore-tried Rev George Sandy of Gorebridge. I may also
add that I have oftentimes felt when recalling these early impressions during
the course of my own career as a preacher of the glorious gospel of Christ, that
it would add immensely to ministerial usefulness were all parents to speak of
their ministers with affectionate respect. I have frequently thought, also, that
any pastor of a church may easily ascertain from the demeanour of the children
towards him how his labours are appreciated by their parents.
While at Clayhouses I had a very
mistaken view of the meaning of the exhortation to "seek the Lord." I always
considered that God lived above, and concluded that the way to seek Him was to
try to get to the highest locality within my reach. There were some beautiful
large trees at no great distance from my father's house. Often did I make the
attempt to climb these trees (though I as often failed), childishly supposing
that in making such attempts I was most truly "seeking the Lord."