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John Clay - A Scottish Farmer
Chapter VII - As a Churchman


This is a difficult chapter to write, for however delicate the wording, it must pierce at some point or other the innermost part of a man's soul. Deep down in everyone's heart there is a little nook veiled from the world. It is conscience, and conscience and religion are so closely connected in the Scotch nature that you cannot tell where one begins and the other ends. The mind is often filled with superstition; it nearly always occupies a narrow bed, from the view of the modern theologian. In our view it matters little as to the degree and style of religion as long as you live up to your standard of morality and that inner life which cannot be measured in this world below. John Clay was a deeply religious man and he practiced it according to the old Scotch tenets. He was an ardent churchgoer, he was constant in daily worship, and he was mighty in the Scriptures. An oath never escaped his lips. Aside from his church going, the world saw little of the enthusiasm he threw into the worship of his Maker. The fire never burned low, he kept adding fuel, and he died in the faith of a glorious eternity. He had no fear of death. He talked of it calmly and met it resolutely.

Whether he had strong religious tendencies in his youth we cannot say. So far as we know they developed after his marriage. The growth was probably slow but it was intense and lasting. Aside from the influence of his own fireside, which we do not care to enlarge upon, the great religious impetus of his life came from his association in early days with the Rev. John Fairbairn of Allanton Free Church near Chirnside and his brother-in-law John Wilson, of Edington, Mains, who was an elder in the above congregation. Owing to close communion with the former it was practically from him that he derived much of that faith and ardor which grew and waxed great in the after years. John Fairbairn was the old style minister. His finely chiseled face and brilliant eye; the keen intellect and soft persuasive voice, more especially when he was out of the pulpit and giving you a heart to heart talk, could not help appealing to those who came under his influence. Back yonder in the pinewoods from the pulpit of the modest little church there flowed week after week a flood of splendid thought and sound theology, the old-fashioned kind that spoke more of hell than of heaven. And so there grew up in its own soil a religious plant that waxed into a mighty tree and which flourished till the scythe of time came along and swept it away.

Here all but one of his children were baptized. Here he accepted an eldership which he held with a brief interval till his death, being at that time an elder in Free St. George's, Edinburgh. Here he began family worship and he practiced it to the end. Here he instilled into his children without much thought for their comfort the story of the Bible. He looked at it in the old Scotch way, forgetting that the asceticism of a Scottish Sunday does harm in many a case, but it was duty impelled by deep religious feeling which carried him along. When he came to Kerchesters he joined the East Free Church at Kelso, but after about a dozen years under Mr. Craig, for whom he had a warm regard, he transferred his allegiance in spiritual matters to the North Free Church where he sat under Robertson Nichol. For nearly thirty years he came up to Kelso every Sunday morning. It is doubtful if he ever missed a service while at home. The waggonette came round as an understood thing, and as many of the family as possible went along. In the earlier years he used to walk at least one way. It is a delightful stroll, more especially on a Summer's morning. As you leave the avenue gates at Kerchesters you look westward up the vale of the Tweed, a rich sylvan country backed by triple Eildon and the Selkirk hills, down past the hinds' cottages you go, each one contributing to the church-going crowd, then by pleasant fields to the village of Sprouston, a delightful spot by the murmuring Tweed. A foot-path leads you away to the river and as you turn up its bank you see a boat lazily making for the other side. It comes back and you get in. "Willie the boat" ferries you across. Quaint old Willie, what a grand assistant you will make for busy old Charon if he can commandeer your services! You spring to shore after paying your halfpenny and then walk up a velvet haugh, while the gentle river mirrors on its bosom the wandering clouds, a double picture to charm the eye. You join the road and walk by the walls and woods of Hendersyde whose deep shade make a grateful relief in summer days. Pass them and you hear the sound of bells, their faint soft notes stealing away to the woods and the hills. Then you enter the old-fashioned town, a silent sort of place. Your journey is ended when you sit down in a barn-like church in which economy and severity doom a Presbyterian to worship.

In 1896 on going to Edinburgh John Clay joined Free St. Georges and there he stayed till the end, although during the last 27 months of his life he could not attend the services.

But aside from his strong religious convictions, convictions which almost meant fatalism so far as the Bible was concerned, he was a churchman. He came into the world just to previous to a long era of troublous times in the Established Church of Scotland of which his family were members, and he was nine years old when the Ten Years' Conflict commenced. It rent the Church in twain. To put the matter shortly, the whole question revolved round the appointment of the Minister. Should the people do it or not? This led on to the question of spiritual independence and the thousand and one questions which hinge on to it. In the battle, for it waged almost like an armed conflict, there appeared on the horizon two great lights, Dr. Chalmers and Hugh Miller. They were backed by men such as Guthrie, Candlish and Cunningham. In fact the flower and the chivalry of the Scottish Church ranged itself against the Moderates but the Court of Session was more powerful than the eloquence and logic of Chalmers or the brilliant pen of the author of the old Red Sandstone. It seems almost tragic that this fight should ever have taken place, because at last patronage had to go and it was undoubtedly the root of the evil. The Government in London, badly advised, let the matter drift too far. Although a Scotchman was at its head he did not know the Scottish temper, its pertinacity when religious subjects were the football, and he lived to regret the mistake over and over again. The die was cast and at less than 19 years of age John Clay left the church of his fathers and was swept along on the wave of the Disruption, and he was proud of bis part ever afterwards. He came out as most men did, still a believer in Establishment, but he had no wish to go back to the Established Church and he held it in contempt for many a long year. The ghost of past days would not down and though there was a want of charity not to be defended, it was not till his last years that his enmity died out, and much of this change came through his association with the late William Robertson of Sprous-ton Parish Church, a man so pure and good that he was beloved by everyone. They he together in the same Kirk Yard, one having run his race, the other leaving while still feeling the pulsation of years that in the ordinary course of nature should have been his reward. Gradually he veered from his position on Establishment to Voluntaryism, both as regards religion and education, although in regard to the latter he never fairly acknowledged the change. His mind on this subject was very much influenced by his travels in the United States and Canada, where spiritual independence is supreme and the Governments have no religious entanglements.

His loyalty to his church increased as the years fled by and, while his stern religious nature unbent and became broader, more catholic in spirit, still his first love was his last and the enthusiasm of youth only forged links of gold to bind him to the Church of his adoption.


 


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