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Memoirs of John Urquhart
Chapter 5 Part B

"August 10, 1826.

"MY VERY DEAR FRIEND—I am really ashamed of not writing sooner; and yet it has not been for want of inclination. I have been waiting for an opportunity to send; and I write this, expecting that I may be able to send it by Miss Cathcart. It is not often that a day has passed without remembering you before the Lord. Now that I have no Christian friend (indeed no friend at all) near me, I find it, indeed, a delightful exercise, to meet my brethren and sisters in the Lord at a throne of grace. You have been long a prisoner, and I am now an exile. Yes; I am indeed banished from all that I love in this world; and I sometimes think that the Lord may be thus preparing me for the trials of the missionary life, by debarring me the privilege of Christian intercourse. I am often much depressed; and this convinces me that I have not yet given my whole heart to God. I think I can see that I have been sent here for good. The Lord often leads us into the wilderness, to speak comfortably to us. He breaks the cisterns we have hewed out for ourselves, to lead us to the life-giving fountain. It is perhaps well for us, when communion with God is our only enjoyment; and so it is with me from necessity.

"I was glad to hear that you had had some little respite, so as to be able to wait upon God in the assembly of his people. How amiable are his tabernacles! What must heaven be, where the Sabbath is eternal, and the temple is the Lord himself! —‘Yet a little while,’ (in your case a very little while at the longest), ‘and he that shall come, will come, and will not tarry.’

"I have been reading Samuel Rutherford’s letters of late, and have been much delighted with them. What advances he had made in the way of holiness! I think, in the present day, Christians are apt to be content with too little. There might be more of that knowledge of God and of his Son, which is eternal life, — even in this world, if we would but seek for it more earnestly. It is not enough to enter the strait gate, we must also walk in the narrow way. Sanctification is part of our salvation. And hence it is, that our most gracious Father sees meet to visit his children (as you can testify) with manifold afflictions and temptations, that the trial of their faith being much more precious than that of perishable gold, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearance of Jesus Christ. I doubt not, you can testify that the furnace of affliction is a refining surface.

"My dear friend, I should value a letter from you very much. My experience in the Christian life amounts to nothing more than a discovery of my wretchedness, and a wish for something better. I can write little to comfort you, -- I can only complain of short-coming. My own deadness and indifference, often make me doubt whether I have yet tasted that the Lord is gracious. I know not anything so calculated to confirm and strengthen the faith of an infant Christian, as the testimony of an aged saint,— especially an aged sufferer, who can tell that all the promises of God are yea, and amen. It is true, our faith should need the aid of no auxiliary evidence, when we have the promise, — nay, the oath of Him who cannot lie. But it does need it. I feel my faith often mingled with distrust. And even when I can say ‘I believe,’ I have need to prefer the petition, ‘Lord, help my unbelief.’ If you are so much recovered, as I have some reason to hope, from what I have heard, perhaps you may write a few lines of encouragement to

"Your most affectionate brother in the Lord."

"August 15, 1826.

"MY DEAR FRIEND — I thank you for your kind and undeserved letter, and rejoice to hear of your attempt to illuminate the dark places of our own land. I am anxious to hear of the success of your plans. I have been led in the very consideration of the missionary question, to regard more attentively the state of our own country as to religious knowledge. It has been the increasing argument of my friends, against my intention of going to the heathen, that there is much yet to be done at home. The force of this argument, I feel to a certain extent; but I find it is apt to be urged sometimes, by those very persons who are slumbering on as if nothing were to be done at all. There is much to be done at home; and there is need for very vigorous exertion. There are many, in this nominally Christian country, who are quite ignorant of what true Christianity is. This is, indeed, a dreadful thought, when we consider how many true Christians are scattered over the land. Take the case of some deadly bodily disease, (an illustration which has been so often put), and think how we should look upon him who could calmly sit still, and see his neighbour or his townsman drop into the jaws of death, while he was acquainted with a remedy, whose application, experience had proved to be, a certain cure. Would it be an excuse for this indifference, that an unaccountable prejudice existed against the remedy in question, or that it was one of the fearful symptoms of the disorder, that the unhappy victim imagined himself in good health? Suppose even further, that dispensaries were established through the land, where the medicine was distributed gratis, to all who chose to apply. (But, alas! I almost had forgot that in order to complete the analogy here, I must further suppose, that at many, nay at the greater number of these dispensaries, a counterfeit drug was given for the real elixir.) Would humanity think it too much, in such circumstances, to walk from one scene of wretchedness to another, and earnestly recommend to the unhappy sufferers, the use of a specific of such sovereign virtue? Is it true, that a malady is actually raging in our own land, — in our own town, in our own neighbour’s house—it may be in our own family, a malady so dreadful, that the whole sum of human wretchedness, in all its sad forms of bodily pain or mental anguish, can give but a faint idea of it, and is indeed, but one of its least fearful consequences? Is it true, I say, that we believe such a fell disorder to be raging at our very doors; and believe, too, that we have discovered a sovereign antidote to its baneful influence, and yet scarce put forth a finger to administer the balm of life to our fellow-sufferers? I do think, my dear sir, that private Christians must do more than they do, if they would stand clear of the blood of those who perish around them. They are not called to minister in public, — but might they not do much in preaching the Gospel from house to house. In the supposed case of bodily disease, would it be an excuse for indifference or neglect on the part of any one who had the means and opportunity of usefulness, that there were physicians in the land, whose business it was to attend to the sick? And is not the case quite parallel? I did not intend to fill my sheet in this way; but when I get into a subject, I often find it difficult to leave it. I forget that I am writing a letter, and not an essay. I have attempted to get some people to meet with me here; but there is no village quite near, and it being harvest, it has quite failed in the meantime; but I mean to make another attempt after the harvest is over. I am confined, in the meantime, to private visiting, and the distribution of tracts. This, I think, a means of usefulness, which ought to be neglected by none who would attend to the injunction, —‘In the morning sow thy seed,’ &c. I have thought a good deal of Ireland of late. It has strong claims; still, I think the heathen have stronger."

"August 16, 1826.

"MY DEAR FRIEND — It has not been forgetfulness, or want of inclination that has kept me from writing sooner. I have often thought of writing; but I feel, that the whole favour of this correspondence is on your side, for I have little to communicate that can be interesting to you. My only motive for troubling you with a postage, would have been the hope of eliciting a letter from you in return; and this, I thought too selfish a motive to allow myself to be influenced by it. But, at your request, I will write to you, as the desire to comply with this will be a sufficient apology for an uninteresting letter. I am here quite retired from the world. Colonel M sees very little company, and even with that little, I can mix as little as I choose. I dine, in general, with my pupil, (at my own desire,) and spend nearly the whole day in my study. This state of seclusion has its advantages and its disadvantages too. There is much time for the study of one’s own heart, and for the contemplation of an unseen world. But the mind is apt to prey too much on itself. There is none of that reciprocal sympathy, which is so delightful; which, by dividing our griefs, can almost remove our sorrow; and, by partaking our happiness, does not diminish but multiplies our joy. I have no one here who is like-minded with me; and in these circumstances, my spirits sometimes sink very low. I know this is very sinful, for God is here, and the access to his throne is here as free as in the bosom of Christian society. This, indeed, is my only enjoyment;

"‘That were a grief I could not bear,
Didst thou not hear and answer prayer;
But a prayer-hearing, answering God,
Supports me under every load.’

"Sometimes when I enjoy a nearer approach to God, I can, indeed, feel that the loss of Christian fellowship is more than made up; but, in seasons of coldness and indifference, there is none to stir me up, and nothing that can give comfort. But it is well that it is so. It is well to be compelled to have continual recourse to a throne of grace. How sinful for a Christian ever to think of despondency, with such glorious hopes, and such precious promises to encourage him. But sin will damp the most glorious hopes, and unbelief will render unavailing the most precious promises. Perfect happiness can be attained only by the attainment of perfect holiness: while sin wars in the members, there must be a want of enjoyment. I feel that it is sin which separates between my soul and God. I am sometimes discouraged to think that I have now seemed to myself a believer for a considerable time, and yet I look in vain for a progress in holiness and likeness to God. If I have advanced at all, it has been in the discovery of my own utter worthlessness. I do feel more than ever, that I am poor, and miserable, and wretched, and blind, and naked. O that the Lord would discover to me more abundantly the riches of his grace, and let me feel more the presence of that Comforter, who is assuredly with me, if I have not received the grace of God in vain.

"I have few opportunities of usefulness here; and this is sometimes a cause of sinful discouragement. I attempted a meeting, which failed, owing to the hurry of the harvest! I have visited most of the cottages near, and distributed tracts, in which employment my little pupil is very willing to assist me. I have discovered one house of mourning, a family that has been much afflicted; there is a willingness to listen to divine things. I went with a person last Sabbath, who preached on an outside stair, in one of the lanes of Glasgow. I confess that it was not without trembling, and some degree of reluctance, that I consented to conclude the service by prayer. The people who gathered around us, I am convinced, cannot be reached in any other way. O! to be willing to be accounted the off-scouring of all things for Christ’s sake. I have seen Mr. Burnet, and have promised to take Ireland into consideration, in making up my mind as to the course of life by which I can most glorify God. I still feel the claims of the heathen to be the strongest, although some very highly respected friends here, think I might be more useful at home. I trust my only wish is, to know the will of God."

The following extracts are from various letters, written to his friend, William Scott Moncrieff in the months of July and August.

"From what you say of your friend, I suppose he has made an engagement with Mr. G—. I trust it will turn out for the mutual benefit of himself and his pupils; indeed, why should I say, I trust? (which is always an expression of some degree of distrust;) we know that all things work together for the good of them that love God. I rejoice to hear of your intended return to St. Andrew’s; you must stir up the embers of the flame that has been kindled. There is much to be done, my dear friend, everywhere; and I think every Christian, however obscure, must feel in some degree with the apostle, that there is a woe pronounced against him, if he publish not the joyful intelligence with which heaven has favoured him. It is well that death should sometimes deprive us of a familiar acquaintance, or a dear relative; for the death of thousands whom we have never seen, or at least never known, has been scarcely sufficient to prove to us, that we may die; and all the warnings we receive fail of practically convincing us that we must. How difficult to conceive the true ratio of the finite to the infinite, of this brief life to that never-ending existence into which it ushers us. And, if difficult to conceive, O, how difficult practically to feel it! There is something delightfully pleasing in the ‘little while’ of the New Testament, if we are waiting for our Lord; but, if careless and indifferent, or afraid of his coming, how alarming the idea, that ‘the Lord is at hand!’ Let us gird up the loins of our mind. Let us devote all our time to the service of our Master; ‘now is our salvation nearer, than when we believed.’ Our friends are parting from us on every side, and we are scattered over the wide world. It is all well; ‘this is not your rest.’ Let our hopes rest on nothing short of heaven. It is true, that the communion of the saints on earth resembles the intercourse of just men made perfect; but O, what a resemblance! How unlike these grovelling souls to the spirits around the throne! And these corruptible bodies, how vile compared with those immortal forms, which shall be fashioned like the glorious body of the omnipotent Sovereign of the universe! And even our communion with God here, how distant, how much interrupted by sin, or obscured by unbelief! How few, and far between the visits of our Saviour’s love, when we think of that place where they ‘cease not day and night to praise him;’ and where they have no need of a temple, for ‘the Lord God and the Lamb are the temple thereof.’ Let us hold fast our confidence, and run with patience, looking unto Jesus; and, ere a few more years have rolled over us, we shall join that ‘multitude which no man can number.’

"You could not have sent me anything more appropriate than Stewart’s Discourses on the Advent. You know me too well to need to be told how I felt when separated from you all, and without a single individual to whom I could speak with freedom on the subjects nearest my heart. Mr. Stewart’s book I have found a delightful companion. If I can guess at his peculiar views of the Redeemer’s advent, through the veil of modesty which almost conceals them, I am scarcely prepared entirely to agree with him. I have been so accustomed to dwell with pleasure on those brighter times to which prophecy seems to point, that the bare possibility that the Lord may come to-day, or to-morrow, seems to blast all these delightful hopes; ‘a multitude, which no man can number, must first be gathered out of every tribe, and kindred.’ Still, as Mr. Stewart observes, this may be very soon accomplished. Oh, that we may be looking for, and hastening on, the coming of the day of God!

"I have a great dislike to writing letters, but nothing gives me greater pleasure than to receive them. I guess that this is pretty nearly the case with some of my friends, and therefore a consideration of the golden rule should lead me to like the task of letter-writing better. I am most particularly anxious to hear from my friends, since I came to this solitary place; and a friendly letter, always pleasing, will now be doubly sweet. The words, and the looks of friendship I cannot now enjoy. Its written communications are all that are left to me. How unthankful we are ever apt to be! What a privilege is it that we can convey our thoughts to an absent friend! Without the noble invention of writing, a few miles would separate us more effectually from our friends, than half the circumference of the globe can, possessed as we are of this wonderful medium of intercourse. But, after all, epistolary correspondence is but a poor substitute for personal intercourse. We have symbols to express our thoughts, but we have no written characters that can express that peculiar vividness of impression, or tenderness of feeling which is conveyed by the eye, the features, and the very tone voice of a present friend. The words of a letter are in some respects dead, like the characters that represent them, while the words of the friend with whom we converse, and even the ideas, which these words express, seem to borrow life and loveliness from the lips and countenance that give them utterance. 1 have been writing several other letters to-day; and I believe that, in all of them, I have been mourning over the loss of friends, and lingering on the recollections of other days. And yet I feel that it is wrong to do so. This is a world of change; and, if our affections are set on any, even the worthiest of the objects that flit before us, our happiness will be but short-lived. If we be risen with Christ, let us set our affections on things above. If we would faithfully serve our Master, we must not look for a life of ease here, or even of enjoyment; we must ‘endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.’ I do little else than study, and walk with my pupil, who is a very interesting boy. I have only been to ride once; I went to call with Colonel M at Lord Douglas’s, but my horse ran off with me three several times; I was very thankful to have escaped safe, and have not thought it prudent to risk my life in such circumstances since. Colonel M promises to get a pony, which I can ride, soon. Let it be our great object in our letters to provoke each other to love and to good works; for all is trifling, that does not bear directly or indirectly on eternity."

"I relish my solitude much better than I did. I am utterly confounded to think of the unnumbered mercies the Lord has heaped upon me, and on the discontented ungrateful feelings, I have often indulged. I have had a long walk this evening, visiting from cottage to cottage, with the view of collecting a few young people to form a weekly meeting. Great backwardness is manifested; and I have but faint hopes of its succeeding. I regret that I had so little Christian intercourse with you, and my other friends, in Edinburgh. I find that the bustle of travelling, and the excitement of new scenes and new circumstances, have a strong tendency to destroy spirituality of mind."

A letter from his friend C., appears to have contained some intimations of a very afflicting and painful nature, respecting the workings of his mind. It produced the long letter, which follows:

"MY EVER DEAR C. --Your last letter was, indeed, a most overwhelming letter, and did I really know any remedy for your mental distress, it were indeed cruel to have delayed so long to administer it. But I have been perplexed and confounded. I have resolved to write and yet tremble to take up my pen. I have delayed thus long, to meditate and to pray. When the spirit of my friend was wounded, — so severely wounded, I feared to take the knife into my own unskilful hand; and it seemed to me wisest to apply to the great Physician of the soul. The more I have thought of your case, the more I feel that it is beyond the power of human relief. I have done all I can. I have entreated Him, who alone can bind up the broken spirit, to send relief. He knows, from dread experience, the depths of temptation; he has experienced the horrors of an hour, when God seemed to have forsaken him, and the power of darkness appeared to rage triumphant. I write in the full hope, that ere now, your darkness has been dispelled by light from above; for it is light from Heaven alone, which can dispel such darkness. You see, I have taken a large sheet of paper at your request; but it is only because of that request: for really, I can pretend to give no consolation. I can only direct you to a higher source; but I can do so with the fullest confidence, that there you will assuredly find it.

"The metaphysics of natural religion I have studied but little; but if I can judge from that little, it seems to me, that the pretended demonstrations of the immortality of the soul, and the moral attributes of God, are little better than proofs how profoundly and ingeniously man can trifle. Much solid argument may be expended in the investigation, and many an ingenious method of argumentation discovered. We may have logically refuted, or appeared to refute, the objections of an opponent; but when we come to retrace all the steps, we find that no lasting impression is produced, — nothing satisfactory attained. Such discussions seem to me, to end in nothing more than the ingenious and well-calculated moves in a game of chess. We have had some intellectual amusement; and perhaps, too, we may have won the game, — but that is all. I have lately read the third volume of a novel called Tremaine, where the arguments of Clark, &c. seem to me well condensed, and convincingly stated; but the above was my impression on perusing them. By the way, the above is no ordinary novel; it is well worth a reading. The clear, the acute, the matchless Brown, seems, on this subject, a trifler. Indeed, the dark cloud of mystery which veils the spiritual world, gives us a liberty to imagine of it what we please, and a little ingenuity is all that is necessary to seem to prove, what we imagine, in a region wholly unknown. The more we think, the more we are persuaded of the reality of our own fancies, as when we gaze on the shapeless masses of coal in a fire, or on the clouds of a confused sky, our imagination can picture forth the outlines of animals, or castles, or forests, or any thing, which seem to grow more and more distinct the longer we gaze. But where have I wandered to? I might have told you in one little sentence, that I have felt these metaphysical reasonings to be as unsatisfactory as you do, who have dived deeper into their profundities. Let me say, however, before leaving this tantalizing subject, that I do think the existence, (and if the existence, of course the natural attributes of God), abundantly proved by the objects around us. For this, Dr. Brown says, and I think truly, that we have not to search far amid the mysteries of nature, to find proofs; far less to tread the labyrinths of a priori argumentation. He who sees not a Deity in the marks and designs displayed in his own body, or in many of the most familiar objects around him, will not be convinced by demonstration itself.

"To leave this then, — How delightful the facts of the gospel and the well-accredited testimony of an eye-witness from the world of spirits! But I know the dreadful subject, which is the cause (shall I say, which was the cause) of your doubts and your distress. Millions created for a moment’s giddy pleasure, — and then an eternity of unmingled wretchedness. Ah, my friend, the argument has struck my mind too with overwhelming force; and its stroke has cut the deeper, edged, as it has been in my case, (I believe in yours too), with the poignant reflection, that some whom I hold dearest ‘according to the flesh,’ seem, at present, to be walking on to the gulf of eternal perdition. But why should I introduce this here? You can sympathize with me. Oh, if there is ever a time that this proud heart can think with real delight of its own insignificance and ignorance, — it is, when oppressed by this awfully mysterious subject. When my mind has been darkened by presumptuous thoughts regarding the justice and mercy of the Eternal, the feeble ray of a single twinkling star has seemed like a ray of hope; and the conception of myriads of such worlds, or clusters of worlds, if it has not dispelled the darkness of the soul, has at least given the certain expectation, that soon it WILL be dispelled. What are we, that we should fathom the counsels of the eternal and omnipotent Jehovah? ‘Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?’ Has not God revealed to us enough, to warrant this trial of our faith, especially when the express assurance is given, that a time is coming, when we shall ‘know as we are known?’

"After writing this long letter, I am almost ashamed of it. I have written, as if I were combating the arguments of an infidel, instead of attempting to console a Christian brother, whom the adversary has been permitted to attack. It would, indeed, be cruel to heal up a cankering wound, ere it had been probed to the very bottom; but I think I am not guilty of this, when I say, that even in that most dismal letter, there are the proofs of a regenerated soul. Peter was given up to the temptations of Satan, that he might be shown his own weakness. Some of the most eminent servants of God have been left to wander even into the dreary regions of atheism for a while, as if to show their own depravity, when unassisted by divine grace. O do not talk of the unwilling rejection of a God! All atheists are wilful atheists. This, I must believe, while I believe the Bible. God has had some end in view, my dear friend, in giving you up to these dreadful thoughts. I trust he will bring good out of seeming evil, and that this severe trial will lead you to lie more humbly at the foot of the cross, and to put less confidence than ever in the speculations of a bewildering philosophy. Excuse — no, I will not say excuse, I have spoken with the freedom of Christian love. I have not half answered your letter, and yet my paper is quite full.

"Remember me to our dear Nesbit, if he is still with you. The same post that brought your last, gave me the delightful news of another added to our little band of Christian missionaries, our much respected Rentoul. I have had a letter to-day from John Adam, making the very solemn proposal of joining him, in a mission to Madras, to leave this country in two years. Pray for my direction. We return to Dysart in the middle of next month, to be there for some time. I am glad of this, for here I am alone as to Christian intercourse. If I were actively employed in the service of the Lord, I think I could be happy in a desert; but here I do little or nothing. In study, I have done a little; I have read the first book of Samuel in Hebrew; three books of the Anabasis of Xenophon, which seems to throw some light on the style of the New Testament. In Theology, I have studied Paley’s Evidences pretty carefully, and Bishop Lowth’s Prelections. I have nearly finished Dr. Pye Smith’s Scripture Testimony to the Messiah (a most interesting work, which I beg earnestly to recommend to your perusal), and have just commenced Mosheim’s Church History. It is late, but I can scarcely give over writing."

His friend, Mr. Herbert Smith, having proposed to him to assist, and co-operate with him, in some plans of usefulness which he was pursuing, it produced the following letter in reply: —

"TENNOCH SIDE, August 30, 1826.

"MY DEAR FRIEND — If I have delayed a few days in answering your very interesting letter, you can easily guess the reason. Your proposal demanded consideration and prayer. Did I make my own feelings the standard of my conduct, I should, in all probability, without hesitation, have answered your kind proposal with a hearty affirmative. Two circumstances, in my present situation, have contributed not a little to depress my spirits, the want of Christian society, and an exclusion from active exertion in the cause of the gospel. You can conceive then, how delightful to my imagination was the picture of a truly Christian companion, co-operating with me in acts of evangelical usefulness, and exciting me to more zealous exertion. Were inclination my guide, then, you see how gladly I should have embraced your kind offer. But this would have been wrong. In forming any plan, we must not calculate on our own enjoyment merely. The Christian must look to higher objects. His question must be. ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ On considering the matter, therefore, in this light, I feel constrained, (in spite of my own longings to comply,) for the present at least, to decline personally co-operating in your interesting scheme. The difference of our religious sentiments, in a few points, has not influenced me in the slightest degree in my decision, except in the single point that it occurred to me, that the fact not of my being, but of my being called a Dissenter, might probab1y impede, more than your liberality may allow you to suspect, the promotion of a plan, which, from its very nature, must depend a good deal for its success, on the co-operation of churchmen of all descriptions. Had I thought of accepting, this must have made me hesitate; but as it is, other reasons have determined my opinion, that it is my duty to remain in Scotland for some little time.

"There is a sort of understanding, (although no positive agreement,) that I remain in Colonel Morland’s family for a year. I have now been nearly four months. Here I have only one pupil; and, of course, much time for study, which I think invaluable, as I know not how soon my opportunities of study may be past. I am particularly anxious to study closely the original Scriptures, in case of being employed in the very responsible work of translation. This reconciles me to a retirement from active exertion in the meantime, although even in that point, I hope to be able to do a little in the neighbouring cottages. I should feel it cowardly to fly from a station where God has placed me in his providence, perhaps from some gracious purpose, merely because it deprives me of some pleasures, for which the Lord himself knows well how to compensate. The soldier in the camp must not murmur, because he wants the comforts of domestic happiness. To all human appearance, indeed, there is little prospect of my doing anything here, to promote the knowledge of the truth, except through my pupil.

"On the subject of missions, every prayer strengthens my purpose. I am aware of the glare of romance, which fancy may throw round the idea of Christian expeditions to foreign lands; but I have tried to make due allowance for this, and have prayed that a youthful imagination might not lead me astray. The result is, I am every day more and more convinced, that my convictions in regard to this matter, are founded on Scripture. It is impossible, within the limits of a single sheet, to state the grounds of these convictions. I have written something on the subject, which I may, perhaps, have some opportunity of communicating to you in one shape or other. I have taken medical advice, and am told, that my constitution is more likely to stand in a warm climate, than if it were more robust; but no definite opinion can be given on the subject. The same post which brought yours, brought a letter from our friend John Adam, announcing his intention of going to Madras in two years, and asking me to accompany him. This is at present under consideration, and my decision may affect my more immediate plans. My present plans are, if the Lord will, to remain here till May or June next year, and then pay a farewell visit to my dear relations, before leaving them for ever in this life. It is a long time to look forward to next summer; but should you continue where you are, and think I could at all assist you, I may then, by the divine blessing on my studies, be able to give more efficient assistance for a month or two. In the meantime, I shall pray for your success, and perhaps you will have the kindness to let me hear soon how matters prosper."

Various friends interested in the religious welfare of Ireland, having requested him to take its claims on himself into consideration, he wrote the following letter to the Rev. John Burnet, of Cork, which I insert, not only as a part of his history, but to show the comprehensive views he could take of a subject, and how deeply he interested himself in everything which related to the kingdom of Christ: —


"MY DEAR SIR — I have had but a short notice of this opportunity of sending. The following are the queries that occur to me at the moment: —

"1. What is the proportion of professed Protestants to Roman Catholics; and what the state of religious knowledge and practice among the former?

"2. What the proportion of evangelical ministers in the Church of Ireland?

"3. What the number and character of Protestant Dissenting ministers? I include Presbyterians of course.

"4. Are any Itinerancies undertaken by resident Irish ministers, and to what extent?

"5. What is the number and character of the Hibernian Society’s Agents? Are the readers also preachers, or are they all pious men? Of course, you understand me to mean, as far as our imperfect judgment can decide.

"6. What is the number of the Hibernian Society’s schools, and how taught? Are the schoolmasters understood to be pious men? Is religious instruction the professed object of these schools, or only common education?

"7. Does the Hibernian Society support any preachers; and if so, how many? Are the two you mentioned, their agents?

"8. Do the people manifest a willingness to hear? And can you allude, in general terms, to the success that has attended the efforts already made?

"These queries will, at least, show you, my dear sir, how ignorant, perhaps how criminally ignorant I am, of the state of the interesting country in which you labour. I could multiply more inquiries, of a similar description; but I think, under these, you may arrange any information your time may permit you to communicate. If anything else should be suggested by these, and your engagements permit, you will have the goodness to mention it. I should be glad to hear arguments too, if any particularly present themselves. I promise solemnly to consider the matter before the Lord, and to lay it before such of my companions, as I think, might be fitted for the work. In the meantime, I honestly acknowledge to you, that I feel the claims of other parts of the world to be stronger. I trust my only wish is to know the will of God in this matter. I feel my ignorance and incapacity to judge, but he leadeth the blind by a way they know not. When you see Captain Felix, have the kindness to give him my respects. Excuse this very hurried letter, as it gets late. The Lord bless you in your labours."

While this letter shows his willingness to submit to whatever might appear to be the will of God in regard to the field of labour; it still discovers how much his heart was set upon the great object to which his life had been devoted. In the letter which follows, to Mr. Adam, he gives full scope to his feelings, and refers again to the difficulty of obtaining the consent of his friends.

"DYSART HOUSE, September 17, 1826.

"My VERY DEAR JOHN — I dare say you expected an answer to your interesting letter long ere now, and have been attributing my silence to my wonted carelessness. But in truth, this is not the case. I was cheered with the prospect of a short visit to Perth, soon after receiving yours, and I thought it better to defer writing till I should know the mind of my friends concerning your very important proposal. My own opinion, excepting in so far as that of my friends and other circumstances might affect it, was fixed almost as soon as I read your letter. With a deep and increasing conviction of the duty of going to the heathen, and with a strong impression of the advantage, and in my case, almost the necessity of a known and tried companion; this latter circumstance, seemed to me of itself, sufficient to turn my attention to a portion of the missionary field, of which, I confess, I had never before seriously thought. The language of Ruth to Naomi, is the sincere expression of my feelings, when I read your proposal. But notwithstanding this, I do not yet feel quite at liberty to seal the contract, as you express it.

"On consulting my friends I was astonished to find them even more opposed than before. There seemed to be even some disappointment, that I had not, by this time abandoned the idea of being a missionary altogether. Had the impulse on my mind been a mere boyish fancy, in all probability, this would have been the case, exposed as I have been to influences altogether unfavourable. But I trust there is no enthusiasm in supposing, that the impression has been made by the Spirit of God, when time and meditation and prayer, make it deeper and deeper. Still my relations are quite against my views. The first argument is weakness of constitution. Most unfortunately I happened to have a little cold on this visit home; and you remember I was rather unwell when you were with us. These trifling circumstances make my friends feel more confident in their argument. I confess that I have felt the force of this objection very strongly; but, after due consideration, it does not seem to me sufficiently strong to warrant the plea of inability to enter on missionary work. I consulted the physician of Colonel Morland’s regiment on the subject. His opinion quite coincided with what I had often heard before — that no physician could predict how any particular constitution would suit a hot climate; but, in general, persons of a thin spare habit were more likely to stand, than those who were stouter. This argument, you see, then, I could get over, but there is yet another, which my parents have strongly urged, and which is of so painful a nature, that were you not my most intimate friend, I should not lay it before you.

* * * * * *

I confess that, all along, it has weighed deeply with me, and has produced a greater willingness to submit to the wish of my friends, in putting off; for a little, the final decision. But we must not be distrustful. All things are possible with God. How far ought these circumstances to weigh with me? I confess, they make me hesitate to give you a decided answer, which else I should do, with all my heart, in the affirmative."

The last letter which I received from him, was dated September. In this letter, he expresses himself with his accustomed affection, and unbosoms to me all his anxieties. Part of it, as well as of the preceding letter, I am obliged to withhold, from motives of delicacy, though it relates to his chief difficulty in accomplishing the acquiescence of his parents in his leaving this country.

"DYSART HOUSE, September, 1826.

"MY VERY DEAR SIR — I know, that of late, the fatigues and anxieties of public business must have pressed on you with more than ordinary severity; and when at home, a few days ago, I heard that in addition to this, you had been visited with bodily distress. In these circumstances, it may seem presumptuous in me to encroach on your time and attention, but I trust you will forgive me. Though circumstances have separated both of us from the place where I was wont to look up to you as my pastor, where our family regarded you as one of their most intimate and most highly valued friends; yet I cannot help feeling, as if these close and endearing relations subsisted between us still. When in perplexity how to act, my mind involuntarily turns to you as the person most fit to direct me; and when any affliction distresses our family, I still seem to feel that we have a claim upon your sympathy, even though I know that you are surrounded by so many, who have now stronger claims upon your affection and your friendship. It may be wrong to feel thus; but if so, I must just repeat it — you will forgive me.

"When I wrote last to you, I had the intention of offering myself to the London Missionary Society this summer. The only impediment was the opposition of my friends. I had already refused a good situation, without consulting my father. He was rather displeased. On the offer of a second, I thought it right to submit to his decision. His letter desiring me to accept, and your answer to my last letter, came by the same post. I was a good deal perplexed; but at last, against my own inclination, I submitted to parental authority. I thought this acquiescence might reconcile my parents to my ultimate design, which I still kept steadily in view. In this I am disappointed. They seem to have expected that time and new scenes of life would efface the impression. On a visit home, last week, I found their opposition to my leaving this country more determined than before. * * *

"I will never cease to hope, I will never cease to pray. These are calamities, which my remaining in this country cannot alleviate, and yet they unnerve all my fortitude in the view of parting. Tell me how far you think this trying dispensation of Providenee ought to weigh with me. Mr. Adam writes me, that he thinks of offering himself to the London Society, with a view to a station at Madras. I know the directors do not give the young men their choice as to the station they are to occupy; and, indeed, it would be wrong to do so. I trust I am ready to go to any part of the world, where they think I may be most useful; but still I feel that the presence of a tried and beloved friend would be a mighty stimulus to exertion, and a great solace in trials. He talks of going in two years. Did the directors agree to such an arrangement, when should I be required to come before them? In my present situation, I have only one pupil, so that I have a few hours for study. I have applied pretty diligently to Hebrew this summer; and have studied carefully, Paley’s Evidences, Dr. Pye Smith’s Scripture Testimony, Bishop Lowth’s Prelections. I go on with Mosheim’s Church History, and Home’s Introduction. We are, at present, at the Earl of Rosslyn’s house here, where we shall continue three or four weeks. I cannot tell what my plans are at present. I am quite confused. I think I shall stay over the winter, at all events, in this family, unless the Lord, by the indications of his providence, seem to point out some other path. I find Lord Rosslyn exceedingly kind and attentive. I trust, the peep I have had at the pomp and luxury of the world, have tended to convince me more decidedly, that it is an unsatisfying portion. My pupil gives me great satisfaction. He has a very good mind. He is only ten years of age, and yet enters with delight into the study of astronomy; philology he is also very fond of. I have conscientiously taught him the doctrines of the gospel. His judgment approves them; and sometimes I have thought his heart was impressed. If the Lord choose him for himself, he may be eminently useful in the Church. His talents, and family connections, open the way to very high stations."

He refers in this letter to his reading, of his diligence in which, abundant evidence remains among his papers. Besides attention to the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, and to his classical reading, he abridged during this summer and autumn, with great accuracy, Home’s Introduction, Paley’s Evidences, Dr. Smith’s Scripture Testimony to the Messiah, and Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History. That he was not inattentive to other things, is very evident from his letters.

In consequence of this letter, I wrote to his father some time after, urging the necessity of no longer opposing a desire which seemed so evidently of God, and pointing out the consequences of persisting in resistance. I believe this, and other things, contributed to produce the desired effect; and John was satisfied, that when the time came, he would no longer meet with opposition from his parents. It is gratifying to me to be able to state this; as it must be a source of satisfaction to them now, to reflect that their resistance could have had little or no influence on the cause of his early removal. My answer to this letter, which was delayed in expectation of hearing from his father, he never received. It was written the day on which he died, and was received in Glasgow on the day of his funeral. A few more letters and papers will conduct us towards the closing scene.

"DYSART HOUSE, September 28, 1826.

"MY VERY DEAR FRIEND — I am covered with shame on reading your very kind letter, and especially on observing its date. I will make no apology, but simply beg you to forgive me, and not to attribute my carelessness to want of affection, or even to forgetfulness of one of my dearest friends, and most highly esteemed companions.

"Your letter was, indeed, a refreshing one. Affliction is a blessing; and, I doubt not, that on looking back on the late trying dispensation of the Lord towards your family, you feel it good for you to have been afflicted. Your letter found me grovelling in the dust, wrapt in selfishness, and sunk in depression; brooding over my own vileness, and mourning the loss of privileges I had never deserved; yet, regardless of the inestimable blessings which still remained. Such a letter was quite the medicine for my distempered mind. I forgot myself in sympathizing with your affliction; and the deep impression which a near view of eternity had made upon you, was, I trust, in some degree communicated to myself. O how difficult to keep up a rational conviction of the relation between time and eternity! How does our practice give the lie to our profession!

"29th. I have been here a fortnight, and am likely to remain a fortnight longer, for which I am truly thankful. Here I am surrounded with Christian friends; and the value of such a privilege I feel more than ever, since I have had some experience of its loss. There is, indeed, an inexpressible heaviness in having no one like-minded. I have temptations here too, but I trust the Lord will uphold me. I am a good deal alone; but I must mingle a little with the society here; and to one accustomed to move in the humblest walks of life, the drawing-room of a peer is not the place to learn humility, or to be more deeply impressed with the realities of an unseen world. Yet, I trust, this peep at the luxury and pomp of the world may be sanctified to me. In what very trifling do the votaries of fashion spend a life, which must determine their condition in that eternal state, into which time soon will usher them! Surely, man at his best estate, is altogether vanity. I have just come from the sick bed of one of the servants, who has been ill since I was here last. He is in a very interesting state; and, I trust has found comfort in looking to Jesus. I am anxious to hear of your brother’s parish. I trust the Lord causes his work to prosper. I know you have been active in assisting him. Tell me the nature of your exertions. Herbert Smith was to begin, when I heard from him, meetings like ours in St. Andrew’s. Henry Craik and John Brown have commenced them in Exeter. Did you see Henry before he left? You know he succeeded Nesbit, who will be in Edinburgh soon. John Adam means to go to Madras, probably in two years. He proposes that I accompany him. I am in considerable perplexity how to determine. Pray for me, that I may not be left to do my own will. Perhaps you know that W. Alexander, and W. Scott Moncrieff return to St. Andrew’s this winter. What are your plans?

"I have been a good deal depressed at the thought of my uselessness. I have done little to promote the glory of God this summer; and in study, I have effected very little. My pupil gives me encouragement. I trust his mind is pretty thoroughly imbued with those precious truths, of which I found him very ignorant. At times he has seemed affected. The Lord deepen and preserve these impressions. Last Saturday night, I was much interested and affected by what he said in the middle of our usual exercise, he stopped, and said very earnestly, ‘Eternity!’ Mr. Urquhart, ‘eternity! I have had a thought of that which I never had before.’ Unwilling to interrupt his feelings, I paused, and fixing his eyes on the fire, he said, in a little, with a tone of deep earnestness: ‘Well, I never was impressed till now with the necessity of believing immediately on the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Such impressions may wear off; but I trust they will return. I am not without the hope, that the Lord may raise up this child to be eminently useful in his church. He is a very original thinker, and pursues science and literature with an ardor that is not common at so early an age. I am not sure whether to address to Edinburgh or Kirkliston. I enclose this to our mutual friend, W. Scott, who will know where to find you. Write soon, and be particular in telling your doings and your plans, to your ever affectionate," &c.

"DYSART HOUSE, October 9, 1826.

"MY VERY DEAR SISTER — I have been long expecting to hear how my father arrived, &c. And I suppose, from this long silence, you expect me to write first. I do not remember what arrangements my father made about writing, when I saw him; but I certainly had the impression, that, as I had more to excite anxiety than you, I had the best claim to have my anxiety first relieved. How did my father arrive? How are you all, in regard to health, &c. How is David, the person about whom I am most anxious? These and a thousand other such questions, I should like much to have answered. I beg that a letter may be sent soon, as, for aught I know, we may leave Dysart in a few days. I was much pleased with your letter, my dear Anne, and hope for a frequent renewal of the pleasure I have in hearing from you. You ask me to write to you about religion, and I believe the request proceeds from your heart for, I cannot think you would allow any motive whatever to make you trifle with sincerity on a subject of infinite importance. You know the absolute necessity of decision in this matter. Persons of amiable dispositions are apt to be moulded into the sentiments of those around them, almost without the consciousness that the opinions they have adopted are not their own, and have never had any solid foundation in their own judgment; and, probably, have never made any serious impression on their own heart. We must think and feel for ourselves, as every one of us shall have to answer for himself to God. I have nothing new to write you, my dear sister, on the subject of religion. All my little experience of a deceitful world, and a still more deceitful heart, tends only to confirm me in the belief of those grand truths, which the Lord has permitted us to know from infancy. When the heart is overwhelmed with guilt, there is nothing can give comfort, but the consideration, that Christ has made a full atonement; and the repeated declarations of Scripture, that, if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved. The gospel cannot be believed, till we feel that we are guilty. It is one thing to think of the death of Christ, when we have no apprehensions about our state in a future world; and a very different thing indeed to catch a glimpse of this way of escape, when justice has shut up every other avenue, and the wrath of God seems ready to burst upon the soul, which feels itself to be accursed. Aye, then we can estimate, in some degree the value of a pardon, which the Son of God had to leave heaven to procure; we can then tell something of what is meant by having peace with God; we experience the blessedness ‘of the man whose iniquities are pardoned.’ Now this guilt and exposure to the wrath of God, is not an imaginary case, into the belief of which we may work ourselves. It is the plain matter of fact. The Bible describes it most plainly, as the state of every son and daughter of Adam. Why then will we shut our eyes to it, and rest secure and contented, without applying to the remedy that has beeh provided?

"It is the great evil in letter-writing, that we can scarcely enter on a subject, when we are compelled to leave it. Nothing worth notice has occurred since my father was here. I have seen a little more of the folly of the world, and have experienced more of the weakness and worthlessness of my own heart. I have written to John Adam, about Madras, but have not yet received an answer."

"TENNOCH SIDE, October 26, 1826.

"MY DEAR SISTER — I believe you owe me a letter; but as I am not very punctual in paying my debts in that way in general, it may perhaps atone for some long delayed epistle, to have sent one, at least, before it was due. I often think that my letters are too abstract to interest you, and that this discourages you from writing freely to me. I have seen parts of the country you have never visited, and have sometimes thought of sending you some descriptions of scenery, &c. But really, I have no head for description. Trees, and fields, and rivers occur everywhere; and were I to tell you what I have seen in that way, it would only recall the scenes you yourself are familiar with; for I have not the tact of classifying and arranging these elements of natural description, so as to form any distinct picture of a particular landscape. But I have made a journey lately, where there were no trees, no fields; there was a river, indeed, beside us, but fish never swam in it; and in the air, far around, a bird had never been known to fly. After this mysterious introduction, I feel obliged to apologize for my subject. But after all, I can assure you, though you may hear people talk with great contempt of a coal-pit, you may travel many a mile in this world of light and sunshine, without seeing anything half so wonderful as the coal mines at Dysart. But this I should have left you to guess, after my description; for I fear, after having said so, I shall fail to make you think as I say. Well, to fall upon the subject, without further preface. Having made an engagement, the day before, with my good friend, Mr. Barclay, who conducts the work, and who promised to equip me for the expedition, I repaired to his house early after breakfast. I found only one dress had been procured, which they insisted on giving to me. I wish you had seen us as we set out. You can fancy my slender body, wrapt in a sailor’s jacket and trowsers, which had been made for a stout man, and crowned with an immense old hat, which had an irresistible tendency to rest upon my shoulders. After half an hour’s walk in this fantastic attire, during which time I afforded some merriment to the natives, and felt now and then a little hesitation on the subject of personal identity, we reached the place of descent. It is a perpendicular shaft, with a wooden partition in the middle, reaching to the bottom. On one side of this partition are placed short wooden ladders, in a zig-zag direction, from top to bottom of the pit. Having each lighted his candle, we addressed ourselves to the work of descending, and were right glad, after some fatigue, and no little wariness, to find that we had reached the bottom. At this spot, we were about half a mile from the shaft where the coals are taken up. Mr. Barclay led the way, with a lantern, and after we had followed for some time, we began to perceive that we had entered a spacious gallery, the roof about twelve feet high. By the glimmer of our candles on the right hand, the wall seemed to be solid, but on the left, now and then appeared a spacious gloomy cavern, which seemed to turn at right angles to the route we were pursuing, but how far we could not tell; all beyond a few yards, was covered with an impenetrable darkness. To let you know more than I did, when surveying these gloomy regions, we were walking in what miners call the level, which is excavated in a horizontal direction, (as its name imports) in a line at right angles to the direction which the stratum dips. In this way, a level channel is obtained for the water that accumulates, without passing from the vein of coal, which you will easily perceive, could not be accomplished by running a mine in any other direction. In that case, if you follow the coal, you must descend with the stratum; if you keep a level, you leave the coal. The caverns on our left hand, were the workings, which are always wrought upwards; hence we had none on our right hand. On this side a river flowed, which was supplied by tributary streams, that issued from the caverns I have attempted to describe, or sometimes by a water-fall, where the roof had given way. Hitherto the murmur of the stream had alone broken the dreary stillness of these caverns, and the feeble rays of our candles had only made visible the darkness they could not dissipate; but now other sounds and sights began to burst upon us; a fire was seen blazing in the distance, and a number of motley faces, which still preserved some colours that could reflect the light, (reflected by nothing else,) danced and gleamed before us like the figures in a magic-lantern. The clanking of chains, and the trampling of horses, were now distinctly heard; and a hollow sound, as of distant thunder, grumbled through the subterranean vaults, as the loaded baskets (I might almost call them wagons) were dragged along. We had now, in fact, arrived at the pit, where the coals are raised by a steam engine; and by that time, I was as much tired with my walk, as I now am in describing it. We had not yet travelled over half the ground; but as the rest of our journey was more expeditious, I hope to make the description more brief. A train of empty baskets were ready to move, in which we made very comfortable seats of straw. Our horse was harnessed, our lights adjusted, and in a few minutes we started at full trot to explore the yet unseen recesses of this endless labyrinth. What we saw here, was just what we had seen before, till we arrived, after travelling another mile, at the place where the men were at work. Here the air was very close, from the smoke of their lamps, and we were glad to make our way back on loaded baskets, though contrary to the laws of those realms. We took no candles in returning, as a lamp is attached to each train of baskets. By accident this only remaining light went out about the middle of our journey, and we were left in darkness, of which those above ground can form no conception. Our horse continued to canter along, as if nothing had happened, at a rate that made it a little difficult for me to keep my seat. In some time, a twinkling lamp again appeared in the distance, on passing which, things went on as before. The baskets we travelled in, are set on wheels, which move on a railway. The horses are in excellent condition, and have very good stables in the mine. They never see the light of day, from the time they are first lowered down. Of our return, I need not describe further.

"When you have read the above confused description, read the twenty-eighth chapter of Job, and tell me if it does not throw some light on the sublime description there. If not, I have failed to represent to you what I have seen. Man can, indeed, do much; but, after all, his power is limited. He can put forth his hand upon the rocks, and overturn the mountains by the roots. He can cut out rivers among the rocks; he can bind the flood, from overflowing. His eye seeth every precious thing, and the thing that is hid, he bringeth forth to light. But where shall wisdom be found? God alone knoweth the way thereof; and O, let us thank him with our whole hearts, that what human skill could never have discovered, he has freely made known to us by the gospel. Man can ‘bore the solid earth;’ but the depth, saith of this wisdom, ‘It is not in me.’ Man can fathom the ocean and explore its hidden caverns; but the sea saith, ‘It is not with me.’ In what a pitiable condition is man, with all his boasted wisdom, without divine revelation. O how thankful then should we be, that this precious gift, the gift of heavenly wisdom, is freely offered to all! It is easily accessible to every individual. No careful and laborious search is to be made, ere we can discover it; no difficult task to be performed, ere we can deserve it. ‘Say not then in thine heart,’ &c. (Read the passage, Rom. x. 8; and the parallel verses, Deut. xxx. 11-15.)

"Let us embrace with eagerness and joy, the precious truths that God has revealed to us. Pardon and reconciliation, and spiritual renovation, are the gifts that are offered. They are not to be compared in value to any earthly thing. They have been purchased by the blood of Christ, and are offered to us for nothing. O let us not then despise or neglect these invaluable gifts, which the possession of a thousand worlds could not enable us to purchase!"

"DYSART HOUSE, October 13, 1826.

"MY DEAR TRAIL — Perhaps I should have written sooner, but I trust you will not attribute this delay to want of affection. I have really nothing particular to communicate, except my very sincere thanks for your truly kind and refreshing letter. I trust this will find you a preacher of the gospel, and I am sure, if once all external barriers are removed; the state of those around you, will constrain you to be instant in season, and out of season. You mention having heard from our dear friend Adam; and I suppose, he addressed you on the subject which has taken possession of his whole soul. Have you been thinking more of the missionary work? I feel the argument for personal engagement every day more strong; and if there are times when I have a longing persuasion that it may be my duty to remain at home, they are times when the chilling influence of the world has cooled every holy affection. This convinces me, more than anything, that the matter is of God. Did I tell you, that our friend, Rentoul, has been so impressed with the duty of preaching to the heathen, as to have almost (I trust, by this time, altogether) decided on offering his services to the London Missionary Society? Henry Craik has written me, since his arrival at Exeter, which place he seems to like very much. John Brown and he are making some exertion for the spiritual good of the people.

"I had a letter from Mr. Adam yesterday, who seems to think of Madras as the place of his destination. I suppose he had begun to study Sanscrit when he wrote to you. He goes on with it. I could have wished much to accompany John Adam, but many circumstances seem to demand a considerable delay on my part. May the Lord make me submissive. I know his ways are the best. Generally on looking back, we can see that every step we took was necessary for our welfare, although when we took these steps, all was darkness and perplexity; ‘The Lord leadeth the blind by a way that they know not.’ It is a privilege even to be blind, if we have such a Leader. Since we came here, the Earl of Rosslyn’s family have been all at home, and there has been a good deal of company. Lord Loughborough, Lord Rosslyn’s son, was married last Tuesday.

"I feel that the near approach of rank and fashion has a strong, though almost imperceptible influence, in super-inducing a spirit of worldliness. Every new scene that opens to me convinces me that the world in which we live is more dangerous than ever I imagined, and every new temptation shows me that my strength is utter weakness. How difficult to learn the lesson of our own utter worthlessness! Experience alone can teach it. O that we may be enabled to look more simply to Christ alone! In him we are complete. Through Christ strengthening us we can do all things. I thank you for your kind present, and for your still kinder advices. Pray for me, that the Lord would uphold me; for I feel that I walk on slippery places. Nesbit will be in Edinburgh soon. W. S. Moncrieff and W. Alexander, my old companions, are the only persons I know going to St. Andrew’s.

"I hope they will be strenuous in their exertions. We return soon to the neighbourhood of Glasgow, where I expect to spend the winter."

"DYSART HOUSE, October 16, 1826.

"MY VERY DEAR FRIEND — I have just been conning over your very interesting letter, by way of foraging for my own pen, for I fear this will be a very barren and uninteresting letter. Every line of your epistle is filled with what is interesting, so that I scarcely know what to allude to first. The first thing that strikes me is, that the date of this letter is exactly a month later than yours, which was the time fixed for our dear Nesbit’s leaving you. I trust he has left you, else I shall be denied the pleasure an interview with him, as I pass through Edinburgh for Tennoch Side, the end of this week. But, by the way, when your letter was written you did not know I had left that part of the country. It is now about five weeks, since Colonel Morland’s family came to Dysart, and on leaving our former residence, I was permitted to pay a visit to Perth, which was doubly sweet to me, from having been removed for a time from all who were like minded. One thing I was much disappointed in, my parents showed a more determined opposition than ever to my going to the heathen. I had hoped that, by this time, they would have been quite reconciled, and I had formed my plans accordingly. I have now no plan. I am waiting till the Lord, by his providence, point out the way to me. Even my dear John Adam recommends delay in my circumstances. I fear he must leave me behind him, for I suppose, to be qualified to go with him even as an assistant, I should require to be in London immediately. But it is well that we should have our plans frustrated. God has marked out the way for us already, and it is very presumptuous in us to try to mark it out for ourselves. I feel that the present is very apt to be overlooked, in laying schemes for the future, and the opportunities of usefulness that daily present themselves, are apt to be neglected in the imagination of still more favourable opportunities that are to come. This is evidently a device of Satan’s. How many precepts have we in Scripture to guard us against delusion!

"Since I have been here, I have seen a good deal of what is called the world. Lord Rosslyn’s family has been at home, and there has been a good deal of company. There is a fascination about rank, and fashion, and gaiety, and splendor, which has an almost imperceptible influence even on the heart that is conscious of their utter vanity. The smile of the world is more dangerous than its frown; and the kindness and attention of those who are called great, have a strong tendency to lead away from the simplicity that is in Christ. This I have, in some degree, experienced.

"I do not know whether I ever wrote anything about my pupil. He is a boy of a very affectionate and amiable disposition: and if I am not mistaken, he has an intellect of no ordinary cast. But he has been quite spoiled, he has never been accustomed to obey anybody, and has never been punished for a fault. Of course, you can see, in such a cage, I have a good deal to try me, but yet I have encouragement too. He has been several times a good deal impressed with the doctrines of the gospel, and though these impressions may wear off again, at present they give encouragement to hope and pray, that the heart which has been influenced by them, may be, sooner or later, entirely subjugated to the Lord. I rejoice to hear of your exertion in your neighbourhood. Persevere, my dear friend. I mean to renew my efforts to have a meeting near Tennoch Side. Give my affectionate regards to John Brown. I am glad to know, that, practically, he has given up his peculiar tenets. I am not in a condition for writing on Mr. Grove’s pamphlet at present, as it is some time since I read it, and I have not a copy here with me. I feel in a very peculiar manner towards Mr. Grove, though I have never seen him. I would travel a good way to meet with him. Give him my respectful and affectionate compliments. I will not send any expression of affectionate regard for my dear Nesbit, for I indulge a hope of seeing him in Edinburgh. I like the general outline of the Hamiltonian System very much. I have adopted it so far in Hebrew, as to take all the assistance I can from our English translation, at the same time examining the grammatical structure of each word. Pray for me, my dear brother. I have need of your prayers, for I am in a very cold and lifeless state. Ever, my dearest Henry, yours most affectionately."

"TENNOCH SIDE, November 16, 1826.

"MY DEAREST FRIEND — For some time back, I have every day been thinking of answering your very kind letter. I had actually sat down some days ago, but finding I had nothing of importance to communicate, I felt unwilling to break, without a cause, upon your very valuable time. But I cannot resist the pleasure of conversing with you for a little, for it is now some time since I have talked with a Christian friend.

"You know I have been a wanderer since I wrote to you, and perhaps it may amuse you to give some account of myself! But I have such a memory. I had forgot that I had written to you from Dysart. In passing through Edinburgh I saw Scott and Tait, and Alexander, of whom, the last alone has returned to St. Andrew’s. I have heard that Rentoul intended going, but not from himself. Alas, poor St. Andrew’s! I am anxiously expecting a letter from Alexander. Craik left Edinburgh without giving any account of the Missionary Society’s book, which he had as secretary; and I had great difficulty in compelling Alexander to write about it. By the way, I have heard Duff is returned. I trust he will be staunch and zealous. I mean to write to him soon. Since I am in the way of giving news, I may mention, that I had a letter the other day from our old friend Hoby, accusing both yourself and me of not writing. He has ‘pitched his tent,’ as he expresses it, at Weymouth, being disappointed in his attempt to find a settlement near the Metropolis. His letter breathes a strong missionary spirit. ‘It is impossible,’ he says, ‘to think of going now; but would to God I could find a more extended sphere of usefulness among the heathen, than I am likely to find here.’ This, in part, I do not quite understand, for it would appear, that there is abundance of work at home, for those who cannot go to heathen countries.

"I am back to my hermitage, and have been here for three weeks. All around is more dreary now than ever; and, in other respects, external circumstances are no better than they were, and yet I know nothing of that strange dejection which pressed so heavy on me before. I wish you would destroy anything I wrote to you then; as, if I wrote as I felt, I must have appeared to you little other than a fool or a madman. I cannot help thinking, on looking back, that I was afflicted with a lighter species of the most dreadful malady that can visit a rational being. I do in earnest thank the Lord that I now enjoy not only health of body, but that littled valued, but highly precious blessing, soundness of mind. I cannot say that the advice of your last letter did not damp me a little. But you are right, I must wait till the Lord direct me. If you must go without me, I think I can bear it. All my experience tells me that I want a tried friend to lean upon, (a sentiment by the way, which you strangely misinterpreted in a letter to Scott;) and such I hoped you might be to me. But I see my error, I must lean upon Christ. I am more convinced than ever that happiness depends little on what is without. O, for a closer walk with God! for this alone, in any circumstances, can give true enjoyment. I have seen a good deal of the gaiety of the world since I saw you.. It is all vanity. I have learned that lords and ladies are just men and women. It is probable that we return to Lord Rosslyn’s at Christmas, to remain some time, so you see I am quite a pilgrim. ‘We have no abiding city here.’ That reminds me of a delightful month at Homerton, and of many a change since."

"TENNOCH SIDE, November, 1826.

"MY DEAR FRIEND — I trust you continue to enjoy, in some degree, the measure of health and freedom from pain, which you did when I last had the pleasure of seeing you. But the uncomfortable weather we have had for some time, almost forbids me to think so. Whichever way it is, I know that you refer it to the Lord, who doth all things well. It is in kindness that he afflicts, and it is in kindness too, that he sometimes gives a short respite from suffering. Perhaps it is in such seasons that the benefit of affliction is most felt. In the midst of severe distress, the most serene mind must be agitated; and it is difficult to feel that the Lord afflicts, because he loves us. In such circumstances David was beginning to fear that the Lord had forsaken him; it was only by escaping from himself, as it were, that he could find comfort. ‘This is my infirmity,’ said he, ‘I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High;’ or, as some translate it, ‘the change of the right hand of the Most High,’ that is, his varied dispensations, in dealing with his people. But when severer suffering is for a while removed, there is often a holy calmness that pervades the soul, and the remaining affliction, instead of ruffling the mind as before, has a soothing influence; and, like the exercise of fasting, melts the whole soul into willing submission to the divine will. It is with bodily affliction, in some respects, as it is with the diseases of the mind—

"When the wounds of woe are healing,
When the heart is all resigned,—
‘Tis the solemn feast of feeling,
‘Tis the Sabbath of the mind.’

"This sacred repose I am sure you have often felt, and have thought the trouble well worth the bearing, which yielded such peaceable fruits. Such seasons are the earnests of that rest which remaineth for the people of God. It is an acquiescence in the divine will that causes this holy calm within the breast. How sweet and sacred must that rest be, which remaineth for us! Then all the dispensations of God will have wrought together in producing perfect resignation to the will of our Heavenly Father. Surely this must be perfect peace. Let us welcome, then, all that fits us for such a state of holy enjoyment. All things work together for our good. You will excuse me for writing on a subject of which I may be supposed to know little. True, I have had little bodily affliction; but I have not lived eighteen years in such a world, without tasting the bitterness of sorrow. You know some trials that have pressed heavily upon me. You have been long severely afflicted, and if anything I can write can suggest any consolation, I shall esteem it a high honour to have been permitted to minister to one of the saints."

"TENNOCH SIDE, November 30, 1826.

"MY DEAR TRAIL — The important subject of your letter has been much in my thoughts, and often in my prayers since I received it. I have felt a reluctance to write, from a feeling of the deep responsibility of influencing you in so momentous a matter, and from a consciousness of utter unfitness for the task you impose on me. On many accounts I am not the person to advise you. The book of Providence is often difficult to interpret, and I will not pretend to offer an opinion on the particular passage of it, you have laid before me in your own history. We do well to remember, however, that the devil can quote from this declaration of the divine will, as well as from his written word, to give effect and plausibility to his temptations. Perhaps we can never be sure that we interpret the divine Providence aright, in deciding a doubtful question of duty, except when the mind has been duly exercised by prayer, in regard to the subject connected with the particular event, or chain of events under consideration. If the mind thus prepared has a particular bent, which is favoured or not opposed by external circumstances, I think in such a case we have rational grounds for supposing that prayer has been answered, and the desired direction has been given. Since supernatural communications have ceased, I see not how prayer can be otherwise answered. And there is no scope for the working of enthusiasm in obeying this inward impulse, when we limit it by the declarations of Scripture, and confine it to those points of conduct which as you observe, are left undetermined by the sacred word. This is the course you have pursued, I doubt not. It is the course I have tried to pursue. The Lord will direct us, my dear Trail. He who has made the path plain hitherto, will direct us still. I am tired of laying plans, they have been so often frustrated. After all, I see that I have been ever too anxious about the future, and all such anxiety is useless, for the Lord will lead the blind by a way that they know not.

"My views with regard to missions are still much the same. The gospel is for mankind, for the world; and why should one little island contain nearly all the messengers of peace? The little success in some parts is no discouragement, nor does it even show that men had run where they were not sent. Remember the first attempts in Otaheite. Consider the continent of Asia. John Adam remains in London, preparing, I suppose, for India. I say nothing of Rentoul, as I hope you have met him at St. Andrew’s; if so, remember me very affectionately to him, also to Duff, and W. Alexander. Craik and Brown remain in Exeter. I have not yet heard of Nesbit’s arrival in Scotland. I am anxious to hear how matters go on in St. Andrew’s this winter."

He wrote, in the month of November, a paper on "Fiction as a Medium of Religious Instruction," which was inserted in the Christian Herald, a periodical work, published in Edinburgh. [See Appendix M.}

Return to the John Urquhart Index Page


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