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Darling Memorial Sketch Book
Millerhill Home Mission


But true benevolence, especially when it is rooted in Christian faith, always manifests its life by growth; and Mr Darling had only been a few years in Edinburgh when he gave a new illustration of this law by the institution of what has long been known as the Millerhill Home Mission, which owed its origin to him alone, and was indebted to him mainly for its further beneficent and steady development. The district known by this name stands at a nearly equal distance between Musselburgh and Dalkeith, and contains four villages with about fifty houses in each— Millerhill, Old Craighall, Adam's Row, and Monkton Hall. His heart yearned for a sphere which lay conveniently to his hand, and he found it in this group of villages not far from each other, and which could be reached from Edinburgh by railway in half an hour, and at almost any hour in the day. Standing as outposts on the remote borders of their respective parishes, they were inconveniently far from any place of worship. Very few of the inhabitants frequented any church, and pastoral visitation or oversight among them was almost unknown. Mr Darling began in 1871, by taking on lease a little cottage in the midst of them, in Old Craighall.

His first step in this new evangelism was to open a Sabbath school in this village, having connected with it a meeting for adults at the dismission of the school. This was to break ground on a hitherto neglected and uncultivated soil. He was encouraged in this earliest effort by the late Sir Archibald Hope of Pinkie, who kindly granted him the free use of the village day-school on Sabbath evenings. The next step in advance was the bringing of a Bible-woman on the scene. This gave to the mission a living connection with every house in the four villages, for the humble Bible-woman was welcomed into homes where even the minister or the regular missionary would not always have been so readily received. Her labours were at once very abundant and wisely varied. The Scriptures were read in every house, and wherever it was convenient prayer was offered. To how many was this a new experience! Nor was the temporal good of those villagers forgotten, or even cast into the shade. Classes were formed for teaching the girls sewing and knitting, and every other likely expedient was used to produce habits of industry, cleanliness, and thrift in the homes. By-and-by the Penny Savings Bank cropped up as an important factor in the moral and social elevation of the people. Mothers' meetings were also formed, and presided over by the Bible-woman, in all the four villages.

When Mr Moody was in Edinburgh in 1873-74, a great religious interest was awakened among those villagers, and a wave of revival spread over the whole of the district. Evangelistic meetings extending over a period of five weeks were held in the parish church and schoolroom of Newton, and earnest students in whose hearts the holy fire had been kindled came down from Edinburgh to address the crowding multitudes, Mr Darling's own family gladly and efficiently assisting in the service of song. Inquirers began to present themselves on the second week of the meetings, and the stream of interest flowed on and deepened to the end. At length it became necessary to secure the labours of an evangelist, who should assist in reaping and gathering in the waving harvest.

All this increase of agency necessarily involved an increased expenditure and pecuniary responsibility, and during the earlier years of the mission these were entirely and cheerfully borne by Mr Darling. But the time came when this burden must be shared, and at length a society, under the name of the "Millerhill Home Mission," was instituted, Mr Darling continuing to give and work with undiminished liberality and energy.

While he was quite as active as in his younger days in the cause of total abstinence, and was blessed with much success in reclaiming both men and women from intemperance, he still continued to attach special importance to the formation and fostering of Bands of Hope for the young, knowing how much the character of the future generation depended on the moral training of the children of the present, and how much easier it always was to prevent evil than to recover from its bondage. He had a strong belief, moreover, in the power of children to influence children, and to help and cheer each other in the right way.

One of the sunny memories which he delighted to recall, even in his advanced years, was a joint meeting of the Bands of Hope of Musselburgh with those of Millerhill and the other three villages The juvenile gathering was at Musselburgh. It was a beautiful and sunny afternoon in the month of July, and after a united meeting on the grounds of Pinkie (kindly granted for the occasion by Sir Archibald and Lady Hope), with suitable entertainment and hymn-singing, there was a short convoy given by the Musselburgh children to their visitors from the four villages. The Musselburgh Band of Hope walked along the eastern side of the Esk between the two bridges and the Millerhill Band on the western side. Trees in all the exuberant bloom and beauty of midsummer lined the banks of the stream on either side, yet not so much as to conceal from each other "the little travellers Zionward" with their tiny waving banners. While moving with equal pace, they sang with mingled pathos and hope the touching hymn, "Shall we gather at the river?"

At the end of eighteen years (1889) Mr Darling withdrew from his loved work in Millerhill. He felt that his service was no longer needed, for the ministers on whom the spiritual oversight and religious instruction of the region had all along rested were now ready to have it transferred to their hands. But he could distinctly trace, within the circle containing those four villages, many signs of a general elevation in the moral tone of the community. And he could tell of multitudes recovered from a vicious life, and of many brought into the kingdom of God. All this he knew. But how much remains to be revealed in a future world?

The following testimonies are interesting and valuable:—

From Principal Cairns.

"Another recollection which I can recall is still earlier; the event must fall soon after I came to Edinburgh. Mr Darling had for some time kept up with his family a meeting on the Lord's Day evening at the mining village of Millerhill, east of Portobello. He applied to me one evening to take this meeting. I was very busy with preparations, if I remember rightly, for my college work, and sought to escape. But he was so unaffectedly in earnest, that I had to comply; and I well remember the happy evening that was spent with himself, and one or more members of his family who took me out, and brought me home, and the impression of self-denial and zeal which this labour made upon me."

From a Railway Surfaceman, formerly of Millerhill.

"About twelve years ago, a friend of mine invited me to a temperance meeting at Old Craighall. I went. Your father was in the chair. At the close he asked me to join. I promised I would at the following meeting. My brother-in-law went with me, and I joined, and all this time I was a stranger to God and His mercy. One Sabbath afternoon, about a month after this, I saw your father coming to the meeting. He said to me, 'Man, Andrew, will you come with me to-night and hear a grand preacher telling us all about the Lord Jesus Christ?' This I refused, but he was not very easily shaken off, for the next Sabbath he came to my house, and told me that I must go. I went, and that night was the beginning of days to me. Shortly after, the Lord saved me in the schoolroom at Old Craighall. After your father heard of what had happened, he came to me and said many comforting words to me, and told me if I should get into any difficulty when reading the Scriptures, just to go up to the cottage, where I would find an old Christian friend who would pray with me and help me. Of course I did all this, and I have to thank the Lord and your dear father that I am what I am.

"He was always ready to help in any good work. One very stormy night, I remember, Mr Dunn, the evangelist, and a few of us were singing in the Rows, and inviting the people to the meeting. Snow was falling fast, and we were just about to give up singing when your father's voice was heard singing among the rest. He had just come from Edinburgh, and it was very dark; it was in the month of November. After we sang 'Hold the Fort,' which he asked to be sung, he saw the people going away to the meeting, and he ran away to get a brush to brush the snow from their clothes, so that they would be comfortable in their seats.

"The Sabbath school which he so ably conducted is still to my knowledge bearing fruit. He could always command silence when it was needful. I can bear testimony to the children loving him with warm hearts.

"I can safely say that Mr James Darling was the means of more good in Old Craighall and district than ever he was aware of."

The writer of this letter became a successful colporteur in connection with the National Bible Society of Scotland.


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