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Dr Alexander Cameron
Chapter III. Renton - The Mission Station


The onerous work of forming a new congregation in the Vale of Leven was carried on in the face of many obstacles, and not without considerable opposition. Mr Cameron writes, under December 9th, 1856 :—

“We had the meeting of Presbytery last Wednesday, when our case was again discussed. There was no objection made to our building a place of worship ; but we were refused permission to preach English in the afternoon. Against that restriction we appealed to the Synod, so that the matter cannot be decided until April next, for the Synod will not meet before that time. Only two ministers in the Presbytery were for giving us the English; the rest were either against us or did not vote.”

The Gaelic congregation at Greenock—whose minister at this date was the famous and able evangelist, Rev. John Macrae, better known in the Highlands as Mac Rath Mor—made some approaches to Mr Cameron with a view to his becoming colleague and successor. And it is clear from the following remark that the senior minister did not disapprove of the proposal:—“My health is not improving of late. I have serious thoughts in connection with that subject, and would like to have a confidential conversation with you.” This is how Mr Cameron writes regarding the matter :—

“Renton, January 10th, 1857.—The report to which I refer is that the office-bearers of the Gaelic congregation are anxious that I should become colleague and successor to Mr Macrae, who is no longer able to discharge the whole duties of the charge. The thing, however, may not come to any definite result. They were wishing to get me for three or four months from the time that I had been officiating there, but I could not do that on account of my connection with this station; for I cannot leave this place altogether before April at the soonest. Again, although the people would be unanimous in their desire of getting me, I cannot say that I could undertake a charge of such weight and responsibility, for I am told that it is the most important Gaelic charge in the Church. I was told a few days ago that the people would be quite unanimous in calling me; but of course I do not know, nor can anyone know with certainty at present. I have had two letters asking me to preach in a vacant charge in the Island of Arran; but I declined going on each occasion, and I suppose my last note will be considered as a final refusal.” [He never forgets his excellent correspondent’s afflicted lot and need of sympathy.] “Let the word itself be your source of consolation, or rather Christ in the word. It is sweet to be getting an occasional crumb of the children’s bread from the Master’s table. Every crumb received here is an earnest of the everlasting banquet at which you will yet sit with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

He was requested to visit Caithness and to preach at Pulteney-town, Wick, which invitation he accepted.

“February 16th.—There was a large attendance yesterday both forenoon and afternoon. In the afternoon it was calculated that there would be about 800 present. They were hearing very attentively. I preached both forenoon and afternoon from the same verse, Song of Solomon vii. 10, ‘I am my beloved’s, and his desire is towards me."

The appeal made to the Synod on behalf of the Renton congregation for permission to have an English service was successful.

“April 23rd.—Our case came before the Synod on Wednesday forenoon, when the decision of the Presbytery was unanimously reversed, so that we have gained a victory at this stage. The Presbytery has protested and appealed to the General Assembly; but their case is now hopeless, and, therefore, I think they will fall from their appeal before the Assembly sits. It is not likely that the Assembly will overturn a unanimous decision of the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr. You are aware that the case is about our having leave to preach English in the afternoon of Sabbath, which the Presbytery refused us. I pleaded the case for the congregation at the bar of the Synod. My speech occupied forty minutes in its delivery. I was not pleased with it myself; but several others spoke of it in very flattering terms. The speech on the opposite side was by a Mr -, and it is allowed by those on the same side with him that he made the next thing to a fool of himself by the way in which he spoke. His whole speech was one tirade of abuse against the Highlanders, and no argument whatever.”

At this date and juncture Mr Gameron began to keep a diary; but, like many others who similarly started well, he did not persistently persevere, and blanks of weeks, months, and years soon appear. Although at first acquaintance it might not he suspected, he possessed great store of unconscious humour, which sometimes, at fitting moments and amid suitable surroundings, found full scope. id his lively moods there were few more hearty or congenial conversationalists. No doubt, when one is accustomed to be much alone, the free use of speech and ready repartee may somewhat falter. From this view-point silence is scarcely always golden. A few extracts will suffice to illustrate these points: —

“Sabbath, May 3rd, 1857.—The discourse too long. Must study conciseness. How often in regard to this matter have I said, ‘I shall be wise.’ but that has hitherto been far from me. My mind considerably burdened with anxieties. May the Lord save me from wicked men who seem to be angry at me for no other causes than that I rebuked their sin. Lord preserve me likewise from that woman Mrs -, to whom Thou knowest I have given no cause for hating me. From being the next thing to an idolater, if not altogether one, she has turned, it seems, to be a mean but bitter enemy, for no other reason apparently than that she fancied, or took it into her head, that I think more of Mrs D.’s humble aud unpretending piety than of her own flaming profession, although I am not aware of having ever instituted any comparison between them. Upon Thee, 0 Lord, I cast myself: save me from her tongue. 'I am thine; save thou me.’ I was never, however, in more need of the rod, although I think I would prefer another to a woman’s tongue.”

As the events are attempted to be arranged chronologically, there may appear to be some lack of continuity and consecutiveness; but the gain in variety and vivacity may counterbalance the loss: and I shall consequently have to quote alternately from the diary aud from the correspondence. Ecclesiastical affairs and affairs of the heart are found side by side ; but they are by no means always synonymous :—

“May 15th.—I am kept very busy. Our case is to be taken to the General Assembly by the parties in the Presbytery opposed to us. I trust we shall be successful ; but it will be a great trial for me to appear and speak there. I have not yet begun to prepare my speech, but I know the subject well, and that is a great matter.”

“Poor Lord Byron loved, when he was very young, a lady who did not return his love, but who sometime after married another. This disappointment was the cause of the miserable life which he afterwards led. His case is one of the many sad illustrations of the fact that one can truly love only once.”

The difficulty of attaining to acquiescence in one’s lot is thus described :—

“O! to be able to say, the Lord’s will be done ; but that is a high attainment—higher than many know who talk much and loudly about resignation. It is difficult to be thoroughly resigned to the will of God. I know it; I feel it. It is easy to speak of resignation until our own gourd is smitten.”

His views on economy are thus expressed :—

"June 10th.—I must economise. It is only in the matter of books that I am extravagant. Must resolve to purchase no more, or, at least, very few. My expenditure in other respects, except perhaps travelling, very moderate indeed—not niggardly, however.”

Broken resolutions relative to early rising have formed a prolific theme of poignant regrets, both before and since the days of Dr Samuel Johnson.

“Read more of Hedley Vicar’s Life. Would that I could imitate him in his desire and endeavour to! be useful to his fellow-men ! Why not'{ I want zeal. Must stir myself up. This will never do. Must try to rise in the morning, to study more of next Sabbath’s discourse. Can I carry out this resolution I Lord, help me to do so. Nearly one o’clock a.m.”

“June 11th.—Did not rise this morning earlier than usual, notwithstanding last night’s resolution. Shall try to-morrow, if spared.”

To return to the Renton Station Case. The Assembly left it undecided until the August Commission, but meanwhile referred it to the Presbytery to see whether the congregation could be accommodated In the church already erected in the village. It was a time of much anxiety to Mr Cameron.

“I failed to state the case of this congregation in the Assembly so well as I did before the Synod, and that is preying upon my mind.”

“July 7th.—“But after the Presbytery met on 24th June, we saw that there is little chance of any arrangement being effected that will benefit this congregation.”

The Presbytery appointed a Committee to carry out the Assembly’s instructions.

“Since the appointment of that Committee, I have lost heart, for I am afraid that what I have been labouring for so long time to accomplish, shall fall to the ground, and that instead of leaving this congregation in possession of a suitable place of worship, which they might call their own, I shall have to leave them scattered hither and thither.”

“If an arrangement can be effected by which the two congregations can be suitably accommodated in the one building, so as to avoid the necessity of erecting another, that arrangement ought by all means, for the good of the muse generally, to be carried out, even should particular interests to some small degree suffer. How great is the value of firmness in resolution as well as in action ! A man whom you can find exactly where you left him is the man .to be depended upon in an emergency.”

“July 18th.—“I have not been very well for some time back. The anxiety connected with the movement in our congregation, and the opposition it is encountering, are telling upon my health. . . . Ah ! how I long to go North, to see all my friends, and to get a few weeks’ rest ! I have great need of escaping from this scene . f strife. The idea of it makes me miserable, and yet I cannot think of leaving this poor congregation in its present state.”

“July 25th.—On Saturday I saw Mr Campbell, Tullichewen, for some time. He is most anxious that the Highlanders may be accommodated in the Renton Free Church, of which he is an elder. His fellow-office-bearers are anxious to bring about the same result; but, considering the opposition of the Presbytery— or, at all events, of part of the Presbytery—I do not expect that that result is attainable.”

“November 16th, Renton.—To-morrow morning,' D.V., I leave this for Edinburgh, to defend our case at the bar of the Commission, on Wednesday—probably in the evening. It is a great trial to stand up to speak before so many people, but I trust I shall be strengthened and guided. I feel very anxious. . . . I am not thoroughly prepared. The difficulty will be in condensing mv materials so that the hearers will not be wearied, and in presenting them in the clearest and most impressive way, so as to convince the hearers, who are to be the judges, that what you ask is reasonable and right. If we lose, the loss to this poor station will be incalculable.”

The case was gained, and the following congratulatory letter from Mac Rath M6r is noteworthy :—

“Free Manse of Lochs, 27th November, 1857.

“My Dear Sir,—I was at Stornoway this week attending the Presbytery, and was indeed glad that your case, in which I took a deep interest from the first, was brought to a right termination. You have now the ball, so to speak, at your feet; and it now only remains that you go to work with prudence and energy. The Party wishing for a change may propose what they choose to you, but unless such a proposal is both reasonable and practicable, you should not entertain it for a moment, nor pause for an instant in your onward progress. I congratulate you on being chiefly instrumental in laying a solid foundation for a Gaelic congregation at Renton ; and now that the foundation is laid, let a superstructure be raised worthy of the struggle which is happily brought to an end. The good hand of the Lord is what should be recognised in the whole matter. I suppose you will now take up the first instalment of the subscriptions without delay.

“You may let fall into oblivion. ... In your present position, it will be easier for you to forgive him than for him to forgive you. The defeated offender is always stiff to deal with. However contrary to our notions of right and wrong, yet so it is.

“I am sorry to say that Mrs Macrae is not improving. She seems to be losing ground in the same proportion as I gain it. All the rest of us are quite well.

“What a panic in the commercial world ! Are all these commotions and earthquakes at home and abroad foreshadows of the great things promised! It is certain that the times are not ordinary. Bat I must stop before I commit myself.—Yours sincerely, “John Macrae.”

This is how Mr Cameron alludes to the successful termination of the anxious and protracted struggle :—

“19th December.—You would have seen from the newspapers that we have gained our case. The English was introduced on the Sabbath before last by Mr Alexander, of Duntocher, our tried friend in the Presbytery all along. Last Sabbath we had Gaelic from l|jjto 1, and English from 1 to 2. The house was full on each occasion.”

“I long for an opportunity of spending a few weeks in Badenoch. I do not know that I shall remain here beyond the end of this quarter. I am not yet quite determined as to what 1 shall do. As our case is settled, it is easier for me to leave ; but some of the people say that if I leave, the church will not go on.

I would like to see the foundation stone laid before I would go to any other place.”

Although Mr Cameron’s attention was fully engrossed with affairs at Renton, he was not forgotten elsewhere, for we find—

“July 7th.—When in Rothesay, I saw a paragraph in a newspaper which stated that I was elected, on the previous week, by the Pulteneytown congregation, by a majority of 86. No other one was proposed, but a motion was made for delay. . . .

They know that I shall not accept a divided call, and that it is more than I can tell whether I should accept a unanimous call from a congregation that does not require Gaelic every Sabbath.”

Friendship and fellowship formed constitutive elements in his character.

“July 18th.—I do not know that [ have ever told you of a friendship that I have recently formed. I refer to that of Mr G., a fellow-student. He is one of the finest young men that I have ever met with, and for some time back I have been a good deal in his society. He is with me at present.”

He held humble views of himself as a preacher at the very time that competent judges hailed him as one of the most promising and effective among the rising young men.

“July 25.—Since my return from the North, I think 1 have lost ground as a preacher. I find it, at all events, much more difficult to preach now than I did some time ago. I compare myself to Samson when shorn of his locks. I cannot go out to shake myself as I did on former times. I believe I know what this is owing to. My mind has of late been so much harassed with other things that it does not possess its former vigour and buoyancy.” Apropos of this, D., June 10th.—“O Lord, impress myself with the truth that others may be impressed. The secret of my want of success in preaching lies, I suspect, in my want of' spirituality. It is those who sow in tears who will reap in joy in the Lord’s own time.”

And yet from the depths of such distress, and out of the abundance of the heart, he comforts his distressed correspondent.

“Whatever your experience may now be, at the time you said ‘ 1 shall die trusting in Him,’ you were as firmly persuaded of the truth of what you were saying as you were of your own existence, and if so, that proves that it was a genuine expression of faith. It is possible that the words ‘I believe,’ or ‘I shall die trusting in Him,’ were scarcely out of your lips when you had to cry, ‘Help thou mine unbelief,’ but that does not affect the genuineness of your faith—it only proves the remaining sinfulness and corruption of your heart.”

Here is a very sensible view of differences of opinion not unknown in the Church and in the world at the present day—

“Mr E. is strongly opposed to the side taken by Mr A. What a pity that godly men differ so much ! It grieves me much to witness the coldness between these men. I believe they both err in some things and are both right in other things connected with that case. May the Lord bring them to see eye to eye.”

“September 11th.—I have now more longing for studying the Bible, and the trials of the months that are now past have, I am confident, been blessed to my soul.”

Referring to his book-buying mania, he acknowledges a certain amount of “recklessness in that way,” but immediately adds, “yet some excuse may be offered for my conduct seeing that I shall never more have such an opportunity of buying useful books if I go to reside in the country.”

There is allusion made to one feature of his character which, I daresay, would readily escape the notice of his ecclesiastical opponents.

“Drank tea at Mr R.’s. Some conversation about the proposed church accommodation. A delightful family. They could not but regard me as a very forward individual. How is it that I appear so forward when suffering from exceptional shyness? Is it not owing to an unnatural effort to escape from my conscious diffidence—an effort which leads me to the opposite extreme before I am aware of it, and then, upon discovering that I have been speaking or acting out of my ordinary and natural manner, I feel pained.”

We come now to the year 1858, and find Mr Cameron still labouring at Renton, consolidating the congregation and collecting funds to erect a new church. With the advance of knowledge many cherished opinions inevitably undergo modification, while all that is good ought assuredly to be conserved.

“Yet I doubt not through the ages one increasing purpose runs,
And the thoughts of men are widen’d with the process of the suns.”

There must come release from some influences and deliverance from the dominance of some views that may be very popular but scarcely scientific—at least somewhat unsafe if unduly emphasised.

“7th January.—I have been dreaming much about him (a friend) of late, and, although I have little faith in dreams, I have so much of my early prejudices still clinging to me that they cause me uneasiness.”

To the same three years earlier he writes :—

“It is your anxiety that gives you these unpleasant dreams. I am troubled with them myself, and it was only last night that I had a very unpleasant one. Remember, however, that whatever comes not from the Lord is not for our edification, and we ought not to attend to it. Again, the Lord speaks to His people only by His Spirit, and the Spirit speaks only in the Word He speaks, of course, in His providence and through His works; but it is the Lord that casts light on these things. It is to the surer Word of prophecy that we must come to know the Lord’s will regarding it.”

The writer heard Mr Cameron repeatedly tell the following anecdote, which deals with the less serious aspect of the above subject. One morning a beggar called at the manse for alms, and the servant—a good and kindly woman—gave him at once all the meal in the house. She had none left wherewith to make porridge, and she mentioned the incident to the minister, who simply asked— “ Why did you give all away?” To which the reply was—“A Scripture came to my mind to do so.” “And why,” was the further and final query, “did you not also get a Scripture for my porridge ? ”

His conviction as to the necessity of writing, though not of reading, his sermons, is given in the same letter:—

“I am at present studying very hard and writing a great deal, although I do not remember when, before this evening, I had written a letter. The last, so far as I remember, was to yourself, now more than a fortnight ago. I am now endeavouring to write my sermons at full length—a thing which all preachers ought to do, for the sake of their hearers and of themselves.”

“January 16th.—We are making arrangements for beginning our church early in the spring, and while these arrangements are in progress, it will be very difficult for me to go to any other place.”

Spiritual progress and prosperity profoundly aud constantly concern him.

“Backsliding does not consist so much in the committal of outward sins as in a dead insensible frame of mind ; and it is that frame of mind from which our outward sins proceed. Ah, if I could get out of that frame of mind into a livelier and holier frame, I think I would be happy. The way out is thus set forth. Have your eye steadily fixed on the promise. You may be in darkness, but don’t let the word go. Think upon it, and it is-while thinking upon it that the light of faith and peace will gleam into the soul.”

The illness of Mr Cameron’s faithful and furnace-tried correspondent has for a considerable period assumed a serious form :—

“19th January.—You will bring none of your sinful dross into Heaven, and hence the reason why the purifying fire is made so hot; but He is able with the trial to make a way of escape.

They who are clothed in white before the throne, and have the palms of victory in their hands, are those who come out of great tribulation. 0, remember the blood of Christ, in which their robes have been washed! .... I have many trials that others have not, but I have none that I do not require. By them the Lord is preparing me, either to follow you soon, or else to be in some measure useful to His poor Church in the world, if He-intends to spare me. I would not, however, exchange my lot with all its crooks for the easier lot of others whose ‘ hearts are as. fat as grease,’ Ps. cxix. 70. It is better to be cast into the hottest furnace of affliction than that our souls should lose their edge.”

“20th January.—Remember what you once wrote me; that you would die trusting in Christ. Honour Him by trusting Him, and He will honour you by sustaining you. Those that honour Me will I honour,’ is the promise. . . . May the Son of man by His Spirit be with you in the furnace. Rest assured that you are daily and hourly upon my mind.”

"23rd January.—At this moment I do not know well how you are. From your father’s letter, I understood that you were suffering much ; but your real state I do not know. When I am writing these words you may be no more. And . . . the hour that releases your soul from the tabernacle which suffers so much will be a triumphant hour for you, although a sad one to those who love you, and whom, for a season, you leave behind. The separation, however, will be only for a season—a short season i and then those who loved each other in the Lord will meet again, when there will be neither sin nor suffering. . . . While your day of warfare continues, seek to have the blessed Captain of Salvation in your eye. He too had to die, and what a death!”

It is pathetic to find in the same letter a reference to a more mundane matter which, in a measure, relieves the intensity of feeling awakened by impending gloom caught from imminent proximity to the shadow of the tomb. “O love, if thou wert all and nought beyond, 0 earth !” “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable.”

“I have this day received a private letter from Kilmartin informing me that I have been unanimously chosen to be their minister, and that they are to be before the first meeting of Presbytery praying for a moderation in a call. I do not know what to say about the matter. I must seek to be guided by Him who is able to give light to show the way in which we ought to walk. It is a small charge, but that is so ‘far a desirable element. I do not wish a large charge. . O, that I may receive the Holy

Spirit! I have this evening got new light, perhaps not new light, but clearer light upon the subject of the indwelling of the Spirit in the souls of believers. The Sprit Himself dwells in them. He not only bestows grace upon them, but he Himself takes up His abode within them, and having done so He continually communicates His grace unto them in the measure which He knows will be for their good. . . . Earnestly desiring that the everlasting arms may continually encompass you, and believing that they shall, I remain. . . .”

Perhaps nothing can better exhibit and illustrate the preaching and practice of Mr Cameron as a probationer endeavouring to establish a congregation at Renton than the following letter, which shows him at his busiest and best:—

“January 26th.—I have to preach on Thursday evening (at Rothesay). I have chosen for my text Jer. iii. 14th, ‘Return unto me ye backsliding children, I am married unto you.’2 Pray that the Lord may enable me to speak unto the people a word in season. The service commences at six o’clock, and at that time be praying. God can hear you in Badenoch and give me an answer in Rothesay at one and the same time. I shall tell you my heads that you may be thinking over the subject yourself, if you are not so very weak that you cannot think upon anything.

I. Backsliding—(1) Its nature; (2) its causes; (3) its process, or how it progresses from a small beginning; (4) its sad consequences—deadness, unfruitfulness, want of comfort, and at length, it may be, reproach to the cause of Christ, and some of the evil consequences or fruits of backsliding in heart from God.

“II. The exhortation to return unto God. To return is the duty of the soul, but it is the Spirit alone that enables us to return —‘Turn thou me and I shall be turned.’ .

“III. The motives to return. ‘I am married unto you, and I will take you one of a city and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion.’ (1) The glory and beauty of Him to whom they are married—thy Maker is thy Husband; (2) the relation in which they stand to Him ; they are married unto Him ; and Christ’s spouse ought not to play the harlot with any other lovers; (3) all the goodness and love vouchsafed to them; (4) the remembrance of their former character and misdeeds; (5) the nature of God; for, although He is a God of love, He is also a jealous God, and He is very much displeased with the sin of having other gods. What a powerful motive to induce us to walk in the fear of God, and to return from all our backslidings is contained in the words,

‘I am married unto you!’ And consider that other motive (ver. xxii.), ‘I will heal your backslidings.’

“After I was over with my work last Sabbath, a man came to the door asking me to go to see a poor woman, one of our hearers, who was apparently dying. I was very tired, and, therefore, felt in my mind unwilling to go; but I never refuse to go to see a sick person at any time, and therefore I went. I knew the woman a little before but not intimately. She came here in summer from the Island of Tyree, with a married sister. She has been long poorly in health; but she used to be out on the Sabbath pretty often. A few months ago a brother she had here became ill, and when going to see her brother I used to see her. I found out then that it was her illness that was keeping her at home whenever she staid at home on the Sabbath. She was, however, very quiet—and did not speak much—and therefore I did not think very much about her. A few weeks ago, one of the hearers, a pious woman who was a hearer of old Mr Kennedy, spoke to me about this woman that I was called to see last Sabbath night. Mrs Dingwall, the woman from the north, was noticing the other at the hearing, and was thinking that there was something about her which was not about the rest ; but she did not know who she was or where she lived. I had forgotten what Mrs Dingwall had said until I saw the other woman last Sabbath. When I went in the first thing she said was that she was dying, and that she was without God and without hope. I remained in the house nearly two hours, during which time I got some things out of her which led me to conclude that she is a sincere and humble, though much tried Christian. She complained much of her deadness, and that though she had been long following the means, she had not got anything, and several other things of the same kind; which showed that she was speaking more from what she was then experiencing than from what was her real state in the sight of God. Her bitter complaints with regard to her deadness, her unfruitfulness, and her emptiness I could not but regard as marks of the divine life In her soul. Again, In answer to questions, she would own that she had more desire for the society of the Lord’s people than for any other society—that it was her desire that Christ might be hers, although she could not say that he was actually hers. Altogether I thought I saw more of Christ’s image in her than in any that I have seen for many a day ; and while reading the chapter and engaging in prayer, I felt my feelings so overpowered that. I could not help weeping. She seemed so humble and so self-denied, although she considered herself the very reverse of that, that I felt ashamed and confounded. I thought of the Sabbaths that that poor child of God had sat under me without probably getting a crumb for her poor soul. I would be aiming at high things—high doctrines, and so forth—and here was a poor, humble and needy soul, who probably could not understand high doctrines, but who desired a crumb of the children’s bread. After returning to the house I could not help weeping. I felt humbled and ashamed. Pain and suffering cannot wring a tear from me, although tears would often relieve my heart, but to hear or to see instances of the power of grace overpowers my affections, as if I were a little child. I was yesterday seeing her twice, and each time I thought that my cold and hard heart was the better of going. I could not but feel as if the Lord were in that little chamber. She told me yesterday a good deal about how things first began with her. She told me that the Gospel used to impress her more than the law did ; and she was afraid because she was not brought through great distress of mind and deep conviction that she had not experienced a real work. She was for a long time uneasy, and knew that she needed a Saviour, before one Sabbath that the minister was preaching from the text, ‘He shall gather the lambs with His arms, and carry them in His bosom; and shall gently lead those that are with young,’ when she experienced some melting of the heart. She afterwards had many experiences of the same kind, although she said these "were not so often when hearing that minister as when hearing others who would be touching her case. She said that the minister would be so high, and would not come down to the little things that she would have, and that remark stung me to the quick. I thought "with myself, that is just my way. Altogether, I trust the Lord will bless to my soul the instruction which He has been giving me from the sickbed of that poor woman. It is the most precious, at all events, the sweetest that I have met with this summer. It has taught me, in some measure, how rude, and ignorant, and brutish I am ; and how easily God, by His foolish and weak things, can confound our great and wise things. She was saying yesterday that she thought if the Lord would set her house in order, she would be willing that the pins of her tabernacle would be loosed; ‘and yet,’ she said, 'there is a clinging in the heart to life ’ . . . What a person I have been, to have such a woman as this in my hearing, and living a few yards from me, all the summer, without knowing of her ! But she was so modest and diffident that she would not speak, and had it not been for her trouble, it is probable that I should not discover her worth at all.”

Word reaches him that his correspondent is not better but weaker, and he concludes with the fervent wish—“May the Lord strengthen you, and enable you to endure until His will concerning you be accomplished!”

It is worthy of remark that the preceding letter is throughout a literal translation from the Gaelic—retaining all its idioms—of the conversation reported.

The shadows are thickening on this side Jordan in the case of the much loved and devoted friend, or more than a friend, who a few week’s later entered into rest, but the glimpses of light and glory from the further side make plain the past and present, and reconcile many heartrending contendings — the patient sufferer with the trying farewell, and the loving ones that remain with the will of the Supreme.

“February 13th.—I thought that I would have seen you before this time ; but it seems we can never get things exactly as we wish.”

“February 15th.—You would conclude from my last, that there would be little chance, owing to your weak state, of you and me ever meeting in this world. . . . May the Lord take you in His arms. May He divide the waters before you. May He in every respect conform you to Christ’s blessed image. Remember the promise, that He will never leave you, nor forsake you. May God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—be your everlasting stay!”

The last letter of this touching, tender, and consolatory correspondence closes thus :—

“February 20th.—. . . How can I, with my ignorance and deadness, say anything to suit your case! Oh! that the Lord would teach me to speak a word in season to weary souls, which is one of the most important functions of the Christian ministry. Think of the Word as often as you can, especially those words that were precious to you during the beginning of your trouble. You may find some drops of honey still in the jaw bones by which you thought you were enabled before to slay some of the enemies of your soul—in those passages of Scripture that were wont to give you comfort. Remember . . . that God’s covenant standeth fast. Our experience may change, and the Lord for wise ends may vary his dealings towards us; but the covenant, being based upon God’s unchangeableness, can never be modified. When He once becomes our God, He becomes our God for ever and ever. Remember that sweet passage, ‘I am the Lord thy God.’ Seek always to be looking more to Christ in the word, and less to your own poor experience. He is the fountain of life and comfort, but you are deadness. He is the chief among ten thousand, but you are vile and sinful. You have no righteousness of your own ; but he has righteousness with which divine justice is fully satisfied. In Him, you who have nothing have righteousness and strength. The Lord, your Redeemer, will give you grace and glory, and He will withhold no good thing from you. Your present affliction you will yet see to be for your good, should you not see it until you are in glory.”

In the Life of Dr Robertson of Irvine there is an amusing story told regarding a poor peripatetic probationer who had long wooed vacancies unsuccessfully, and who, in a weary, yet reflective mood, thought he could get some comfort from comparing himself with his hostess, Miss Robertson. “You and I are like one another; you never got a husband and I never got a church.” “How many nails have you had V was the prompt reply. “Ah! none,” was the reluctant response. “Then, don’t you be evening yourself with me, sir,” effectively ended the colloquy.

The reverse of this was Mr Cameron’s experience. A cordial call was presented to him by the people of Kilmartin. Mr P. Sinclair apprises him of the fact, thus :—

“Kilmartin, 30th April, 1858.—The Presbytery met at the Free Church here yesterday, when an opportunity was given to the people to sign the call in your favour. There are already upwards of 180 names to it, and many have not yet had an opportunity to sign it. I am safe in saying that a more cordial call was never given to a Free Church minister. We earnestly hope that nothing will prevent your accepting it.”

This is the reply, delayed undulv but excusably during an intervening period of deep bereavement and intense sorrow. It also illustrates how he obeyed the injunction, “in honour preferring one another.”

“Renton, June, 1858.—Having been from home for several days I did not receive your letter asking me this week to Kilmartin until I returned yesterday afternoon, and I was not able to write you sooner.

“It would give me great pleasure to go to Kilmartin on this occasion, especially as Mr Kennedy is to be there, were it not that I must be here on the Sabbath. There are eertain reasons that render that necessary. I was away last Sabbath, and must be away again on the 13th. I do not see, moreover, that my going to Kilmartin could be profitable to anyone except myself; for I could scarcely consent to take one of the services out of Mr Kennedy’s hands. I would have gone, however, most gladly as a hearer, were it not for the difficulty of being away on the Sabbath in the circumstances to which I have alluded.

“I Hid not reply to your previous note simply because I did not know how to do so. I was not then seeing my way either to accept or reject the call. Kilmartin, I must own, presented to my mind many inducements to make choice of it—for a season at least—as my field of labour. I have at the same time difficulties in the way of my leaving this place for any other place, and special difficulties in the way of my leaving it for Kilmartin. And thus my mind was long in an undetermined state, although I was honestly and sincerely desiring, if I was not. deceiving myself, to know what was the path of duty.” So he elected to remain in Renton.

About the same time a movement on his behalf was started at Duthil, near Grantown, an account of which is given in a letter from Rev. Mr Mackay—afterwards the well-known and highly respeeted Dr George Mackay, of Inverness, who was one of the foremost preachers of this century in the Highlands.

“Inverness, 23rd June, 1858.—Therefore 1 write you as one in whom you have some confidence to say that I am authorised to state that there is a prospect of unanimity in giving a call to you, if any encouragement can be given to do so. Duncan Cameron [better known as the smith of Aviemore, an excellent and able man, and a good speaker at the Friday Fellowship Meetings], explicitly said so, and desired me to write you to that effect. I did not like to speak to others without communicating with yourself first ; but I asked him very distinctly if he was sure that he was correct in his views as to the minds of the people. He declared he had no doubt whatever.” The requisite encouragement does not seem to have been forthcoming, and so the matter dropped.

The Paisley people seem to have persevered in the face of discouragement and denial, for we find the following letter from Rev. A. R. Findlay :—

“Houston Free Manse, 1st December, 1858.—I am instructed by the Free Presbytery of Paisley to inform you that a call to you from the Free Gaelic Church of Paisley, signed by 124 office bearers and members, and a concurrence in the call, signed by 137 adherents, was laid on the table this day, and sustained. The Presbytery agreed to meet specially on Wednesday, the 15th, at 11 o’clock a.m. in the usual place of meeting, when they expect that either personally or by letter you will state your acceptance or non-acceptance of said call.”

This cordial call to Paisley he found it necessary, on account of his arduous mission work at Renton, to regretfully decline. And in after years he spoke affectionately and gratefully of the kindness of the Paisley people.

But he preferred to remain at his post in the Vale of Leven.

Yet another opportunity was afforded him, and, indeed, pressure was brought to bear upon him to go to the Colonies. He writes under date 19th September, 1859, in reference to this matter:—

“I may mention that Dr Bonar is urging me strongly to go out to Lower Canada for a few years. I don’t think, however, that I shall go at present, but if I shall be long spared I shall visit America, although I do not think that I shall ever remain in it permanently.”

This resolution was never carried into effect. In the same letter he indicates the approach of his definite settlement and continuance in his present sphere :—

“The congregation at Renton are taking the usual steps in the matter of their call. The moderation is to take place on Thursday first (22nd September). It is likely that I shall accept it, but I feel that the matter is one of great difficulty. The responsibilities of the ministerial office are tremendous, and how few take that to heart as they ought.”

It was not without much anxiety and exertion on the part of preacher and people that affairs had come to be in their present satisfactory position. Writing on July 18th, 1859, Mr Cameron

“We began to build, our church in September, and we applied for sanction to the last General Assembly. The church was opened for public worship on the 22nd of May. Mr Macrae, late of Greenock, preached in the forenoon and Dr Roxburgh, Glasgow, in the afternoon and evening. The collection at the forenoon diet —that is the Gaelic diet—was about £30, and at the other two diets, £12, which made about £42 in all. The church is very neat and is exceedingly well finished. Our application for sanction was unanimously granted by the General Assembly. Our Sustentation Fund contributions will amount, I expect, to £200. The income of the minister will be about £160, and house-rent until a manse can be built.”

Mr Cameron’s services were highly and widely appreciated at this early date in his career, and many predicted for him a successful future. He was invited to exchange pulpits with Mr Aird of Creich—the now venerable and highly popular Dr Aird, on whom his Church conferred its highest honour in 1888 by appointing him Moderator. It will not be uninteresting to know the incidents of a journey to the north on the occasion of the proposed exchange. The date is, Free Manse of Creich, Monday. 19th September, 1859:—

“I left this place on Monday morning a little before five o’clock, and walked to Alness, a distance of twenty-one miles, where I arrived at ten o’clock forenoon. But when I arrived there I found that the coach had passed to Inverness about half an hour before my arrival. I could therefore do nothing but either walk to Inverness, or else wait for the mail which would pass sometime through t le night, and which would be too late to enable me to get forward comfortably from Inverness on Tuesday morning. I therefore crossed the Ferry at Alness to the Black Isle, walked on to Kessock Ferry, a distance of fifteen miles, crossed that ferry, and walked to Inverness, so that I walked on Monday altogether between thirty-eight and thirty-nine miles, not counting the ferries. I remained at Inverness that night, and on Tuesday morning I left by the railway at twenty minutes before seven o’clock for Glasgow, where I arrived about 7.30 in the evening.”

And now for the return journey, which is equally difficult—

“I was obliged to leave Glasgow on Friday forenoon. I went first to Edinburgh and thence to Aberdeen, where I arrived late that evening. I left Aberdeen on Saturday forenoon at eleven o’clock for Inverness, where I arrived a little after seven o’clock in the evening. I left Inverness a few minutes after eight o’clock by the mail coach, by which I came to a place called Novar, which is eight miles on this side of Dingwall, and exactly twenty miles from this place by the hill road. The coach was there at half past 11 o’clock at night. I did not like to go round the way of Tain by the mail, as in that case I would be travelling by a public conveyance up to 5 o’clock on Sabbath morning. I therefore left the mail at Novar and walked to this place across the hill. There was good moonlight and the road is very good, although there are many steep braes; but on the hill it is as dreary as on Drumochter, for you meet only one house for a distance of between 11 and 12 miles—and what was still worse, I had a good deal of rain on the hill. However, I walked on and entered this house immediately after the clock struck five in the morning. Now, when you consider that I was travelling without stopping, except during Friday night at Aberdeen, from half-past ten o’clock on Friday forenoon, first by the train and then by the coach, you can understand that I was sufficiently exhausted when, after walking the last twenty miles on foot, I entered the Manse of Creich. I went to bed at 6 in the morning and slept until 9. I then got up, and at 11.30 I had to be engaged in the Sabbath service. They begin here the Gaelic service at 11.30 and the English at 2. I never felt it more difficult to engage in my Sabbath duties, considering the state of both my body and my mind, and also that I would have the heaviest [greatest] men in this part of the country, such as Gustavus Munro (Havy Munro he is generally called) and Hugh Graham for my hearers I suppose you would have heard Donald Duff speaking of them. I had, however, much cause of thankfulness; I seldom preached with more satisfaction to myself, although it might not have been the same to. others. All the time that I was engaged I felt no fatigue, and to-day I feel as fresh as ever.”

On the same date Rev. Mr Dewar, Kingussie, writes in reference to the Renton call:—

“I am very glad to hear of the doings of the Highlanders of the Vale of Leven. They deserve to get a minister, and I hope they shall soon have the man of their choice. I do not see how you can refuse their call. Think what the consequence may be if you do so. At the present moment they are full of zeal and hope; their efforts are at long last about to be crowned with success; they are, I presume, unanimous in the choice of a minister, and I suppose the prospect of getting that particular individual stimulated them all along. But let them be disappointed, and their zeal will receive a check, their first ardour will be damped, then they will try one after another of the most eminent ministers in the Highlands till they find that a hopeless game, then they will try to choose a probationer, then they will get divided, and then the old story of fighting with one another and with the Presbytery till they lose all heart. All this might not happen, but it is at least probable it might; it has often happened, especially in Highland congregations in towns, and that which has been is that which shall be. But I hope the Renton congregation will be spared the trial.”

This augury proved correct. Mr Cameron, after much deliberation and some hesitation, accepted the call of the congregation, for whose best interests he had laboured so strenuously and successfully. The usual steps preliminary to a settlement having been passed through, he was ordained minister of the Gaelic Church, Renton, on the 17th November, 1859.


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