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History of West Calder
Appendix III. Memoir of the Rev. W. Fleming. A.M., Extracts from


Rev William Fleming, A.M.

Born in Edinburgh, 15th February, 1777. His parents were members of the Secession Congregation in Bristo Street, and afterwards in Rose Street, formed by a disjunction from Bristo Street Congregation. His father, who was a builder, died when he was only 13 years of age. His widowed mother saw her son, who was an only child, very creditably through the University of Edinburgh and the Divinity Hall at Selkirk. Having attended the Theological Hall four sessions instead of five, which was the regular course, he was, in consequence of the scarcity of preachers, at the time licensed by the Associate Presbytery of Edinburgh to preach the Gospel on the 13th June, 1797. He was thus, at the period of his license, not quite 21 years of age ; but, though a young preacher, he was not a novice. Some of the old people in the neighbouring congregations, who yet remember his first appearance in the pulpit, speak of him as having been distinguished th<~n for the Scriptural ability and acceptable style of his discourses. He produced at once a favourable impression, by his preaching, upon the congregation of West Calder, to which there is little doubt, according to a current report, his youthful appearance and fine expressive eye somewhat contributed to the valuable acquirements which he gave evidence of possessing. He appears, accordingly, to have been called by that congregation very soon after he was licensed ; for he was ordained on the 29th March, 1798. The congregation was at that time a new congregation, having had its origin in a recent unpopular settlement in the parish, but was chiefly made up by disjunctions from the neighbouring congregations of Whitburn and East Calder. The whole amount of the membership at the period of Mr Fleming’s ordination was just ninety. Under his ministry, however, it greatly increased and flourished, so as to number, at one period, almost 400 members. While the congregation was in its infancy, Mr Fleming had to suffer considerable inconveniences from the inability of the people, not merely to erect a manse, but to pay his stipend of <£60 ; but he bore not only all patiently, but even with good humour, sympathising with and encouraging the people instead of complaining. He himself thus refers, in his own peculiar graphic manner, to this portion of his history in a very impressive address, delivered at Stonehouse, in explaining the Synod’s New Scheme for Missions and aiding weak congregations. “A young man,” he says, “was settled on a stipend of £60.. What were called the dear years of 1799 and 1800 arrived. At that time, the treasurer of the congregation waited upon the minister and presented him with £5 as the whole of the half-year’s stipend that could possibly be raised. The grief of the good man, in being obliged to do this, was very great. The minister was then in the bouyancy of youth and knew that an aged mother was able to supply his wants; and therefore, when the treasurer would have comforted his minister, the minister .had to comfort him by the Scotch expression of hope that "aiblins things would mend\ In the kindness of Providence, things did mend; and without any foreign assistance, the congregation flourished.” I may mention, Mr Fleming adds that “the minister referred to is the person who new addresses you.” For about six years after his ordination, he lived in private lodgings, during which time his excellent mother, who saw all her wishes and hopes fulfilled in her promising son, died. “They were,” as a friend personally acquainted with them both expresses it, “warmly devoted to each other’s happiness, and afforded a beautiful example of the domestic comfort resulting from the exercise of maternal affection on the one hand, and filial piety on the other. On the manse, however, being finished, which it was after considerable delays and difficulties, he commenced housekeeping, and on the 25th of September, 1806, was happily united in marriage to Janet, eldest daughter of the late Mr Dick, merchant, Bathgate, a gentleman distinguished for his unbending integrity as a man, his fervent piety as a Christian, and his public zeal as a member of the Secession Church in that town. As Mrs Fleming still survives to lament her loss, it would be a violation of delicacy to say all of her that might with justice be said; but less cannot be said than that she was every way a help-meet for him, adding, not only to his happiness as a man, but to his respectability and usefulness as a minister. With him she trod tie path of life for nearly forty years, bringing up a family of six sons, two daughters, besides three other children who in infancy or childhood were laid in the grave, and now has the satisfaction of seeing two of these engaged, like their father, in the honourable work of the ministry; these were the Rev John Fleming, Inverkeithing, and the Rev James Fleming, Whithorn, and all of them occupying useful stations in society.”

Mr Fleming is described as a ‘respectable? preacher, Scriptural and earnest rather than brilliant or profound—preaching which came home to the hearts as well as to the understanding.

As illustrating his readiness as a preacher, he upon one occasion (a week-day evening), at Longridge, preached an eloquent sermon of which he afterwards admitted, “it was all prepared on horseback after leaving my own house”—or during a ride of about six miles. it must have been a quiet roadster that sermon was composed upon.

“His steed and he right well agree ;
For of this pony there’s a rumour,
That, should he lose his eyes and ears
And should he live a thousand years,
He never will be out of humour.”

Being considered a preacher above the average, he was twice sent to London by the Synod, to supply Mile’s Lane pulpit in 1818, and Wells Street in 1828—a greater event in those days than the same would be considered now, owing to the difference in the cost and mode of travelling. In short, he was considered a preacher of the Evangelical type. “It must be added} that Mr Fleming preached the all-important truth" of the Gospel visibly, like one in earnest. It was evident he believed and therefore spoke. His manner was earnest, and his language earnest. In his private intercourse, he could be mirthful and even jocular; but all this was banished when he entered the pulpit.” After Mr Fleming had been some time in West Calder, he commenced taking in a few young men for board and education. This was not done from mercenary motives, although his very limited income would have furnished a reasonable excuse for doing this, nor were the labours of tuition suffered to interfere with his duty to the congregation. The door was open to this new sphere of action and usefulness in quite a providential manner. The Rev Dr Muckersy, the minister of the parish, who had kept, for many years, a boarding educational establishment, having, at one period, an application more than he could accommodate, recommended the individual to Mr Fleming. This un-sought-for opening was embraced by Mr Fleming, and formed for a number of years, not only a source of seasonable addition to his income, but a new opportunity of doing good. His establishment was limited for a short time to four pupils whom he taught himself. Afterwards, however, it was increased to six or eight pupils, for whom a tuitor was regularly kept, he himself simply superintend mg the whole and thus he was left to give his almost unabridged labours to his congregation. Mr Fleming was, in many respects, singularly qualified for conducting such an establishment. He possessed that cheerful, lively humour, which tends so much to attract and attach the young, and accordingly he was a universal favourite with children.

We understand from a brother, who had access to know, that he frequently, as a sequel to the catechetical exercises of the Sabbath evening, read to his pupils and children, short papers composed on purpose, two of which were published and proved interesting and popular tracts, namely, “Anthony Priault” and “The Orphan Boys”.

The writer can say in his own name, and he is confident in that also of every member of the presbytery all of whom were Mr Fleming’s juniors at the time of his death, that a kinder, warmer, or more considerate friend it was hardly possible for any to possess. Nor was it only towards ministers of his own denomination that Mr Fleming acted the friendly part. He lived also on the most friendly terms with ministers of the Establishment, particularly with Mr Muckersy, the minister of the parish, and this, in the latter case, uninterrupted till that gentleman’s death—a friendship the more honourable to both parties, as the settlement of Dr Muckersy in that parish was the immediate occasion of the secession in West Calder. But, indeed, Mr Fleming had so much the spirit of the Christian and so much the manners of the gentleman that it would have been almost impossible for him to be on any other than friendly terms with any Christian minister.

Perhaps, however, to see Mr Fleming to most advantage was to see him in his own house in the midst of his family. Never were the minister, the husband, the father more beautifully united and harmonized than in him.

Mr Fleming’s course of life, both personal and ministerial, was very uniform from the period of his settlement in 1798 to that of his death. It never exhibited the roar to the torrent. It never shewed the stagnancy of the pool. It was an equally flowing stream, agreeable to himself and useful to all connected with him. But though there were no stirring events in his ministry, it was acceptable, and it is believed in many instances decidedly profitable. As the result of this, his congregation grew from a mere handful to a highly respectable size; and, at the time of his death, after suffering considerably severe losses by emigration and otherwise, numbered 300 members in actual communion. A very few years before his death, he was, indeed, tried by some unpleasant dissensions within his congregation, and at the same time by hostile attempts from without to sow error and create division. It was the solitary public trial of his life ; and although it would be saying too much to assert that he did not make a single false step in these painful occurrences, (we claim not perfection from Mr Fleming, any more than from others,) this may be confidently affirmed, that he passed through the trial without his ministerial character or his personal respectability being in the least impaired. He lived, too, to see these dissentions-allayed, and enjoyed the privilege of leaving the congregation in a peaceful and prosperous condition.

After 48 years of labour, during which he had been almost an entire stranger to ill health, having been only one Sabbath laid aside from preaching, he was some months-before death visited with premonitory symptoms of the disease, which terminated his useful life, but were not of such a serious-character as to create alarm.

The winter communion in his congregation, which was to be on the second Sabbath of December, was at hand ; and, expecting as usual to take his place in the pulpit, he had prepared his discourse previous to the fast-day, It was, however, the will of his Heavenly Father that his place should be that day on the death-bed instead of in the pulpit.

On the morning of the fast-day, he was, on rising from bed, struck with paralysis, which at once deprived him of his speech and of the power of his right side. He retained, however, the consciousness, and was able in a great measure to indicate his wishes.

On the night of Thursday the 18th December, it was obvious that his change was at hand. We committed him in prayer to God. His breathing grew more feeble. His family gathered around his bed. Every member expected his death. His eyes opened fully; he gave a few slow but easy respirations; and the spirit had fled, we trust, to join the general assembly of the redeemed in heaven.

Of the esteem in which Mr Fleming was generally held, we have a gratifying proof in the existence of a very handsome tablet, which has been errected in the church in which he so long ministered, by the congregation assisted by heritors of the parish and other friends, and which bears the following inscription:—

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. Sacred to the memory of the Rev William Fleming A.M., for nearly 48 years pastor of the United Associate Congregation of West Calder. Through grace he devoted to the glory of his Redeemer the powers of a mind descriminating, enlightened and profound, and a heart glowing with love to God and goodwill to man. His unaffected piety, suavity of manner and great personal worth endeared him to his people and a lai'ge circle of friends by whom his memory will long be cherished. In the full assurance of hope, he fell asleep in Jesus on 18th December, 1845, in the 69th year of his age and 48th of his ministry.

“Be ye also ready.”

In the south-east corner of the old churchyard, inclosed within an iron railing, lie the mortal remains of Mr Fleming, his wife, and three of their offspring. Many a sick bed he had cheered and soothed; many a mourner, condoled and comforted; and many a funeral he had attended in that old church-yard, where ha himself was destined to sleep, and where, with sorrowing heart, he had laid his \little ones' who were not lost but gone before.

Reader, this church-yard, long a hideous sight, is now as respectable as any in the land. So you may visit the spot without having your feelings harrowed. Should you, however, find the gate carefully locked, you will please excuse the circumstances of the case, as the Scotch are in a very poor degree possessed of the finer feelings of reverence for the dead that exists in England and other lands. Hence the church-yards are not open here as elsewhere; but should you gain admittance and hie to the spot, you will find the following inscribed on the humble tombstone :—

1841.

Here lie interred, the remains of Henrietta and Catherine, daughters of the Rev William Fleming A.M., who died in infancy. Also, Henrietta, his third daughter, who died 19th February, 1827, aged 7 years. Also, the Rev William Fleming A.M., who was born 15th February, 1777 ; ordained, 29th March, 1798; and died, 18th December, 1845. And Janet Dick, his wife, who was born, 1st May, 1782, and died 17th June, 1863.


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