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Northern Lights
James Haldane


JAMES HALDANE, like his brother, was intended for the sea. He matriculated in the University of Edinburgh, and then, accompanied by Dr. Macknight the commentator and Dr. Adam the rector of the Edinburgh High School, set out for a tour through England, it being the wish of his uncles that he should see as much as possible of the country before leaving for adventures on the ocean. Dr. Macknight might be a pleasant travelling companion, but his counsel and conduct were not likely to impress young Haldane with much reverence for the Sabbath. The Doctor allowed geography to modify his religion, and he argued that being out of the bounds of Presbytery, they were free to do as they liked on the Sabbath. Heedless of the hour of prayer, and the open doors of the sanctuary, they prosecuted their journey, and took their pleasure as on ordinary days. When seventeen years old Mr. J. Haldane went as midshipman on board an East Indiaman, "The Duke of Montrose.” The East India service was at that time dignified and lucrative, the officers in it were equal in position with those of the Royal Navy, and as the Duncans and Haldanes had great influence, monetary and otherwise in it, Mr. J. Haldane had a good prospect of advancement and fortune. Though a stranger to religion his outward conduct in his sea-faring life was on the whole irreproachable. He was far from making his aristocratic connections an excuse for idleness and dissipation, and not only acquainted himself with the science of his profession, but also disciplined and improved his mind by a course of useful reading.

On his voyages he had some narrow escapes from death. A gale was blowing, and he was ordered to go aloft with a party of men to take in sail. He was mounting the rigging when the captain told him to stop, and ordered a seaman to go first. The seaman was struck on the head, fell overboard and was drowned. Happily he was a Christian man, the only one Mr. J. Haldane said he had ever met with on the sea; and his soul rose from the waves to the “sea of glass mingled with fire.” Had the midshipman been foremost in climbing to the yards as he intended, the fatal blow would have fallen on him, and he would have gone without preparation into eternity. The ship was anchored off an island in the Indian Ocean, and Mr. J. Haldane went on shore and wandered into the woods, to seek and converse with some of the natives, whom he had seen about the ship, while the crew was taking in water. He found their fire, but looked in vain for them, and had soon cause to thank God that he had not been successful in his search, for a few hours after, and apparently prompted only by savage antipathy to white men, they murdered one sailor and severely wounded another. On one occasion he fell into the water from a boat: he was unable to swim, but providentially had an oar in his hand, and remembering an old sailor had told him that no one need be drowned while he could grasp an oar, kept himself afloat until rescued. Through the influence of a friend of his late father, he obtained an appointment as third officer on an Indiaman named the “Foulis.” He received the intimation of his promotion when with his friends in Scotland, but going to London as speedily as possible was mortified to find that his place had been filled up and that the ship had sailed. But he had eventually to rejoice in that frustration of his hopes, for the “Foulis” was never heard of, and it was supposed she had been burnt or sunk.

Mr. J. Haldane evinced great skill, courage and presence of mind as a sailor, and the captain of the “Duke of Montrose” said that when the wind was high or the navigation difficult he could never sleep in comfort unless he knew that James Haldane was on the deck. By his promptitude he saved the ship from striking on the rocks in the Mozambique Channel. A passenger was walking on the deck at midnight or very early in the morning and heard remarks from some of the seamen which alarmed him. He ran to Mr. J. Haldane’s cabin, and rousing him from sleep told him what he had heard. Rising instantly he rushed on deck, the captain was called, and the lead heaved, when, instead of being out of soundings, they found they had only nine fathoms of water.' The captain was confused, and Mr. J. Haldane seeing that no time was to be lost in further consultations, put a speaking trumpet to his lips, and sent an alarm to every hammock and cabin, “Every soul on deck this instant.” The ship was immediately put about, but not before the dreaded shout, “Breakers ahead!” sounded from the main-top. Had they gone in the same direction for another half-hour the ship would have been a wreck, and many lives would have been lost.

In 1794, Mr. J. Haldane married a niece of Sir Ralph Abercromby, and was thus brought into relationship with a remarkable family. The head of the family, Mr. Abercromby of Tulliebody, whose wife was a niece of Bishop Burnet, had four sons and four daughters. He lived to see his sons all eminent in their several professions. At the same time, his eldest son was Commander-in-chief of the British forces in the West Indies and his youngest son in a like position in the East Indies, and both decorated with the red ribbon and the star of the Order of the Bath. Another son made a large fortune as the captain of an East Indiaman, and a fourth became eminent as a Scottish judge. Of his four daughters, three were married to gentlemen of high ancestry and abundant wealth, and resided so near him that he could drive with ease to their mansions, and one remained with him as the stay and comfort of his old age.

A little while after his marriage Mr. J. Haldane finally quitted the sea, and lived alternately at Stirling and Edinburgh. He as well as his brother had profited by the ministrations of Dr. Bogue in Gosport, and his good impressions were deepened by intercourse with godly people in Scotland. Though at first he revolted from the simplicity of the plan of salvation, and would have done some great work as a substitute for faith in Christ, he was ultimately brought into a spirit of childlike submission, and believing on the Lord Jesus knew that he was pardoned and accepted by God. Soon after his conversion he was confirmed in his purpose to devote himself to the service of God, by being brought into intimacy with the Rev. Charles Simeon of Cambridge. This excellent clergyman, one of the princes of the evangelical party in the Church of England, visited Scotland in the year 1796, and being wishful to see the Highlands, Mr. J. Haldane decided to go with him. Starting from Airthrey they went to Perth, thence to Dunkeld, and through the magnificent pass of Killiecrankie, where with birch woods waving and rocky pinnacles frowning above their heads and the waters of the Garry filling their ears with their wild music, they thought of the day when Claverhouse was struck down and ended the life which had been little better than a curse to his native land. They wandered from one romantic scene to another until they reached the top of Ben Lomond, and reminded, as they looked thence on cliff and crag and riven precipice that “the strength of the hills is His also,” they knelt in prayer, and solemnly dedicated themselves to God. Mr. Simeon, refreshed in body by the pure breezes of loch and mountain, returned to Cambridge, but said that with the exception of a Methodist preacher whom he overtook about five miles south of Dunbar, he did not come in contact with a single person between Edinburgh and Leeds with whom he could enter into communion on matters of religion.

In his choice of evangelical work Mr. J. Haldane was largely influenced by Mr. John Aikman and Mr. John Campbell. Mr. Aikman had been a merchant in Jamaica. On a visit to England he found Newton’s “Cardiphonia” on a book-stall in London, and thinking it to be a novel, purchased it as an addition to a circulating library he was then establishing in Jamaica. Though disappointed as to its contents, he began to read it, and before he laid it down determined to give his heart to God. He retired from his West Indian business, and entered himself as a student in the Edinburgh University, purposing to devote his powers to the work of the ministry. He was on friendly terms with Dr. Erskine, who though an eminent evangelical was associated in a collegiate charge with Dr Robertson, whose ministry was characterised by a chilling moderatism. Before setting out on a visit to London, Mr. Aikman waited on Dr. Erskine to ask if he could servo him in any way when there. Dr. Erskine told him he had no commission: “Only,” he said, “if you see John Newton commend me to him most kindly, and tell him how much I rejoice in all the good he is doing.” “But,” added the Doctor, “do you know, Mr. Aikman, there is one thing about Mr. Newton which surprises me exceedingly—that he being himself so faithful an evangelist should continue in a Church where the dogma of baptismal regeneration is admitted in any shape, whether direct or equivocal, into her formularies. That is a compliance which I could not sanction.” When Mr. Aikman reached London he went to the church of St. Mary Woolnoth, heard Mr. Newton preach, and after the service delivered to him the compliments of Dr. Erskine, but without giving the additional remarks. Mr. Newton answered thus: “O! my good old friend, Dr. Erskine, I am always happy to hear of him, he is indeed a man of God. But do you know, Mr. Aikman, there is one thing surprises me very much about Dr. Erskine, more indeed than I can express; and that is, that one so truly evangelical in his doctrine can remain as a colleague of Dr. Robertson, who certainly preaches to his people another Gospel. That, Mr. Aikman, is a compliance which my conscience would not sanction.” Mr. Aikman ultimately settled as the minister of a tabernacle in Edinburgh, which he built at his own cost with the exception of four hundred pounds given to him by Mr. Robert Haldane, for his care in teaching the students in the seminary which had been instituted in the above city.

Mr. Campbell was an ironmonger, and had a shop in Edinburgh, but his heart was ever intent on plans of usefulness, and it is said of him that he was “the living model of a City missionary, a District-visitor, a Scripture-reader, a Sabbath-school teacher and a Sabbath-school originator, long before Christians had learned to unite themselves in societies to promote these objects.” He became minister of a Congregational Church in Kingsland, London, and also did good service to the Mission Cause by his visit to the stations of the London Missionary Society in South Africa. With Mr. Aikman and Mr. Campbell Mr. J. Haldane had much Christian communion, and readily co-operated with them in their godly and philanthropic movements. He began his evangelistic career by accompanying Mr. Campbell in a tour to the West of Scotland, for the purpose of distributing tracts and establishing Sunday-schools. After preaching a few times he set out with Mr. Aikman and another friend on a Missionary tour to the North of Scotland. They visited many towns; and usually standing in the open air, drew together great multitudes. Mr. J. Haldane preached twice at Wick, in Caithness, on the day his uncle won the great naval victory of Camperdown. He went with his friends to another town, the people of which, having heard of Admiral Duncan’s success, were wild with excitement; and as the inn was full, the evangelists were shown into an inferior room. Mr. J. Haldane wrote a letter of congratulation to his uncle, and desired the waiter to carry it to the post-office. The latter was struck by the direction, and called the attention of the landlord to it, who immediately went with many apologies to the gentlemen, begged them to follow him to another room, and assured them he would be only too proud to give the best accommodation in his house to any friend of the victorious Admiral.

From the mainland they went to the Orkneys; which, though rich in Scandinavian legends, and relics of St. Magnus and the grim old sea-king Haco, and picturesque with “beetling crag and shelving holm,” were but poorly provided with religious ordinances. The good men, with their tidings of mercy, went from one rugged coast to another, gladdening the ears of the people with the unwonted sounds of Gospel truth. Taking advantage of a fair in Kirkwall, they preached in the old palace close several times a day, and at night almost emptied the fair, having thousands to hear them. In their evangelistic work the Haldanes found a powerful helper in Rowland Hill. Mr. J. Haldane and Mr. Aikman were at Langholm, in the County of Dumfries, having gone there to preach during the annual fair. The golden radiance of a summer’s evening was on the landscape, and they were walking along the bank of the Esk, when they saw a tall gentleman in clerical garb, in earnest conversation with the parish minister.

The stranger proved to be Rowland Hill. Their hearts warmed to each other, and Mr. Hill readily united with them in their Christian labours. Accompanied by Mr. J. or Mr. R. Haldane, he went over several districts of Scotland, frequently declaring the Word of Life in the open air. His most remarkable service was on the Calton Hill, Edinburgh, when from fifteen to sixteen thousand persons assembled to hear him one Sabbath evening. With such a crowd before him, and such panoramic glories on every side, the stem majesty of Arthur’s Seat, the waters of the Frith, the castle crowning the grim rock, the city with its memories of martyrs and heroes for the truth—the preacher might well be awed and impressed, and bring before his hearers reasons for “the consideration of the immortality of the soul and the awfulness of eternity.”

Another distinguished helper of the Haldanes was the Rev. Dr. Cowie, of Huntly, who was popularly spoken of as the Whitefield of the North. He was minister of the Anti-burgher section of the Secession Church. When Mr. J. Haldane first went to Huntly, he would not countenance him by going to the chapel in which he preached, but listened to him from the open window of a contiguous house. The discourse removed his prejudices, and he said of the preacher: “He carries his credentials with him.” There was such bigotry in the Secession Church of those days, that Mr. Cowie was deposed from the ministry by the Anti-burgher Synod for holding brotherly intercourse with, and listening to unordained and irregular messengers of the truth. But his people adhered to him, and he was for many years a great blessing to Huntly and the neighbourhood. He was always careful to leave his hearers without excuse for the neglect of salvation, and used to say to those about to preach:—‘I go direct to the conscience, and in every sermon take your hearers to the judgment-seat.” One day his pulpit was occupied by a minister, who spoke as if the Holy Spirit was not needed either by saints or sinners. After the sermon he stood on the pulpit steps, and said: “Sirs, hand in wi’ your auld freen the Holy Ghost, for if ye ance grieve Him awa, ye’ll nae get Him back sae easy.”

In 1799, Mr. J. Haldane was ordained pastor of a body of Christians who met for a time in a building in Edinburgh known as the Circus, and afterwards in a tabernacle, which was provided by his brother’s munificence; but he was careful to stipulate that he should still be free to prosecute his favourite evangelical work in any part of the land. In some of his tours he had to suffer reproach for Christ’s sake. He and Mr. Campbell being in Dumfriesshire, a collier directed them on their way to some place with which they were not acquainted, but apologized for not walking with them, and entreated them not to mention the slight help he had given them, as it might bring, him into trouble. When the evangelists were seated at supper that night, Mr. J. Haldane said that it was the anniversary of an occasion when he had dined in great state with the Governor-General of India in Calcutta, and added: “Had I been told in the midst of that scene of splendour, which St. James’s Palace could not have surpassed, that in a few years I should be engaged in an occupation which would make my company shunned by a collier! should have been indeed surprised.”

On one occasion he and Mr. Campbell were arrested and taken before the Sheriff of Argyleshire. He was an old man, and did not care to be troubled by having field-preachers arraigned before him. After some questions, which were satisfactorily answered, he asked: “But have you taken the oaths to Government?" They replied that they had not but were willing to do so at once. The sheriff told them that he had not a copy of the oaths, and that they must go to Inverary to be sworn, thinking that he would thus get rid of them without disobliging those who had ordered their arrest. A Glasgow merchant who was present referred to the provision of the Toleration Act, that the oaths, if required, should be administered by the nearest magistrate. “Now,” said Mr. J. Haldane, “you are the nearest magistrate. We are peaceable, loyal subjects, transgressing no law, and prepared to do all that the law requires; but to Inverary we will not go, except as your prisoners, and on your responsibility.” The sheriff had to give way, and said : “Gentlemen, you are at liberty." The opponents of field-preaching were numerous, and were disposed to resort to extreme measures, in order to silence the men whose purpose was to alarm the formalist and to instruct the ignorant; but Mr. J. Haldane was not the man to be intimidated by menace, or to be turned from his path by ridicule or adverse opinion. As Dr. Lindsay Alexander has said: “The habits he had acquired at sea, in battling with the elements and with the untamed energy of rude and fearless men, stood him in good stead when called to contend for liberty of speech and worship, in opposition to the bigoted and tyrannical measures of those who would fain have swallowed up alive the authors of the new system. He was not a man to quail before priestly intolerance or magisterial frowns. Dignified in manner, commanding in speech, fearless in courage, unhesitating in action, he everywhere met the rising storm with the boldness of a British sailor and the courtesy of a British gentleman, as well as with the uprightness and the inoffensiveness of a true Christian."

In 1808, Mr. J. Haldane adopted Baptist principles and was baptized by immersion. His brother, and two hundred members of the Church in the Edinburgh Tabernacle followed his example. This occasioned divisions and secessions, but Mr. J. Haldane abated nothing of his zeal, nor did he give much prominence in his ministry to his sentiments on baptism, being more anxious to draw sinners to Christ than to win converts to opinions which did not involve the question of salvation.

He went on in his course of usefulness to his eighty-third year, and it must have been pleasant to see the fine old man going to and fro between his house and the tabernacle, and preaching three times on the Sabbath, until compelled by increasing debility to limit his exertions. The close of life was not to him dark with gathering clouds, but rather resplendent as the sunsets he had seen from the deck of his ship, when sailing amid the gorgeous scenes of eastern archipelagoes- In one of his sermons he thus exultingly expressed his faith and hope: “I am crucified with Christ/ I died in His death. I rise in His resurrection. ‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me/ Not I, a poor wretched rebel, whose foundation is in the dust, who dwell in a cottage of clay. It is I, the disciple of Christ, the member of Christ’s body, who look forward to the glorious ‘inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away,’ when this ‘vile body’ shall ‘be fashioned like unto Christ’s glorious body; ’ when I shall have done with sin, when I shall have done with sorrow, when I shall have done with everything that could interrupt my communion with Christ; and when beyond ‘ the utmost bound of the everlasting hills, I shall lay my crown at His feet, singing the song of Moses and the Lamb.” His death was in harmony with his life. His wife said to him: “You are going to Jesus.” A smile lighted up his countenance, and with great emphasis he said “O yes! Beloved and venerated by thousands, he passed away to his eternal rest. He was buried in Edinburgh, and was honoured by demonstrations of esteem from ministers and laymen of all sections of Christ’s Church.

The brothers Haldane did not labour in vain. Though their tabernacles are no longer known by their name, and though their books are now but little read, their spirit lives in the vitalised religion of the Scottish Churches. They were needed by the times in which they lived; they originated grand evangelistic schemes, and all Christian workers, from the Solway Frith and the Cheviot hills, to the farthest verge of Caithness and to the Orcadian isles, owe something to their example of self-denying toil in the name of the Lord Jesus.


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