“I think God is kindly drawing us individually and collectively from creature dependences, and producing greater subduedness and brokenness of spirit. If we were really to put the work in which we are engaged into Gods own hand, it would no doubt be done. We have been looking to men and means, to deputations and rousing addresses, to activity wearing out the physical frames of men, supposing that surely some great effect must be produced.
“I believe that a more practical acknowledgment of the great truth: it is not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts, is urgently called for and indispensably necessary. An intense love of souls, combined with a deep and overmastering conviction that their effectual calling is as much Gods work as their election, would send us to the closet as much as to the pulpit, and fill the one with cries and tears as well as the other with instructions, invitations, and appeals. O for such a love to my people as would chain me to the footstool of Jehovah! This is a department of the work of the ministry on which I cannot reflect without feeling constrained to pray, Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O Lord! I find that not only does Scripture represent the duty of the ministry as consisting in prayer in the first instance, but that those who, in our own and in foreign lands, have been eminently successful in winning souls, have spent a large portion of their time, often whole nights, in prayer. One mighty consolation we have is: He whom God has anointed shall not fail on His part. My servant shall deal prudently.”
Again he writes, ” . . . May we be faithful unto death, that we may receive a crown of life! How infatuated are men with regard to Popery! One would have supposed that history, if not Scripture, would have taught them its nature. How impudent is the great whore! She holds up her head as if blasphemy were not on her brow, and blood had not made her drunk.”
“April 1845. I am pursuing my usual course of duty with greater or less pleasure and success. Externally everything connected with my congregation has hitherto been prosperous. God has given me favour in the eyes of the people, for which I desire to be humbly thankful, feeling myself most unworthy. I think I have reason to believe that God has given me some seals of my ministry here, over whom I would rejoice. In order to minister to a congregation embracing 1200 communicants, you may well know my incessant labours; but the Lord has given me health, and enabled me to do His work with a degree of spirit and cheerfulness which I did not feel in another field.”
“19 September 1845. I have been unwell for a short time, and have not preached for three Sabbaths. By over-exertion I strained my chest, and have been taught that I am mortal and should be in readiness to lay down this tabernacle. I am better again but must be cautious for some time to come. I think I have reason to bless God for calling me aside and making me consider. What a humbling retrospect does my ministry present!”
“October 1845. I have been going over, in sermons, our Lords conversation with Nicodemus, and preached Sabbath last from the glorious text, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. I trust that not a few felt the melting power of the love of God in their icy hearts.”
From Rothesay, whither he had gone for the recovery of his health, he thus addressed one of his elders: “12 November 1845. As silenced I feel under the divine rebuke. I long again to proclaim again the glorious gospel of the grace of God to my beloved flock. The Lord is teaching me many lessons in the meantime, had I sufficient teachableness and humility to learn them. May He bless the present separation both to myself and people. Each one, in his own personal salvation, has a mighty and most pressing matter in hand an awfully-important business to transact but how overwhelming the work of the pastor of hundreds of people, from among whom souls are weekly passing into the eternal worlds!”
Again, to the same elder: “Rothesay, November 22. No mention has been made to me of the illness or death of any members of the congregation during my absence. I have little doubt but that death has been doing its work emptying the church and filling the graveyard. I have little doubt but that some have gone from our assembly to join in the wailings of the lost or the songs of the blest. It is a solemn thought to those of us who are over the congregation in the Lord, that its members are passing one after another into the eternal world and going before us with a report as to the character and fruits and lasting spiritual results of our ministrations. There may be some in torment whom we have failed to instruct and exhort and beseech and warn and who may be charging us with their blood and accusing us to justice with the accuser of the brethren! It would be a blessed thought, could we cherish it on good and sufficient grounds, that there are some in heaven whom we have turned unto righteousness, to whose growth in grace we have ministered, whose way we have smoothed as they advanced to their glorious inheritance! If ever we reach the New Jerusalem and tread its golden streets, shall not such be the objects of peculiar feelings of delight to us, and we to them? Let us abound in prayer to Him who can crown our poor labours with the most glorious results.”
He thus addresses his beloved mother: “Rothesay, November. I was delighted and thankful to receive your letter. I am now longing very much to be with you again, and to be preaching the glorious gospel of the grace of God to my dear flock. But God requires us to bear and suffer His will, as well as to be active in doing it. They also serve who only stand and wait on His commands, as in His providence. It is my prayer, and I am sure it is yours that, through free and sovereign grace, this affliction may lead to my being a more humble and devoted and praying minister of the blessed Word. I am often led to such views of my past ministry as to make me wonder that God should have allowed me till now to speak for Him at all. Should He permit me again to enter His vineyard as a labourer, I can ascribe it to nothing but sovereign and marvellous forbearance and mercy. Dr M thinks that Aberdeen would suit me as well as Rothesay, provided I could abstain from much exertion and care. The whole matter is in Gods hand, and I desire to be led and disposed of by Him.
“I am glad to hear by all who write to me that you are so well and so cheerful. I know that, however much you like to have us2 with you, your happiest hours are spent with God. I firmly believe that you are under His immediate care and keeping, and that even if He were to remove us from you altogether, you would find Him all-sufficient. You were willing to send me to Canada, had God shewn it to be His will that I should go, and you will not mind a few weeks absence. There are so many to whom I might send my kindest and most affectionate regards that I refrain from mentioning anyone. In every prayer of mine I make mention of them all. O that Jehovah would breathe forth His quickening Spirit that many might become monuments of His rich and sovereign grace. I feel the strength and tenderness of the tie that binds me to my flock more strongly when away from them.”
After his return to Aberdeen he writes: “December 6. I feel very much better since I came home. I have, no doubt, received benefit at Rothesay, which has appeared since I returned; especially I trust that God has been dealing with my soul. What need had I to be stopped and rebuked and chastened, and yet how gently hitherto has God done this. I earnestly pray that, should He spare me and employ me in the work of the ministry, I may be made to act in another spirit, and with other feelings, and under the influence of higher motives. To me to live may it be Christ. I was delighted to hear that my sermon made any impression of a salutary kind upon any one.”3
“Aberdeen, December 11. Yesterday was the day appointed for public worship in connection with the harvest and the present state of the country. I officiated in the forenoon. O for the felt and seen power of the Spirit in the Word preached! I sometimes feel strong temptations in the pulpit. How difficult it is to keep the heart when under so many influences as are brought to bear upon it in public. How dangerous it is to praise the sermons of a minister not established in grace! I deeply feel the want of humility, self-disregard and burning love to Christ. I am forced to confess before God that I have spent some of my most guilty hours in the pulpit and in ministerial employment: Cleanse me from blood-guiltiness in connection with my ministry, O God, Thou God of my salvation.
“I thank God for having touched me gently in my body and made me consider. In Psalm 32:8,9, God says, I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go; I will guide thee with Mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding, whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle. God has fulfilled to me the promise of the first clause; but I, having been like the horse or mule, now feel as if God were using the bit and bridle. It is a great mercy in God by any means to bring us to our right mind, to Christ, to Himself.
“Mr B has just called; he seems very much subdued very much like one whom God has rendered poor in spirit. We had a while of very interesting and delightful conversation. He wished to know a little of our mothers experience in her season of deep darkness, and seemed cheered and comforted by it. I have no doubt but that his sore trial will enable him to comfort many with the same comfort wherewith he himself is comforted of God. If God bring his ministers through deeper exercises, if He lead them through fire and water, it may be to make them shine more as stars in His right hand and to fit them for a great work among their people. How mighty is the power required to save a soul! How much has to be overcome within and without. Perhaps the believer could not bear a sight of the difficulties of his salvation. The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence. The gate is very strait, and there is an agony involved in passing through it; and yet believers are more than conquerors. There is a superabundance of strength in Christ for effecting their deliverance.”
“Aberdeen, December. I am now recovering strength, and am preaching once a day. Such visitations of God are not among the least of His many mercies. We are so very prone to live to ourselves, and for time, that when God conducts us to, and makes us look over, the brink of eternity, the whole scene strikes us as new and strange. This should not be the case. We should be very familiar with death and what is to follow. I bless God for my light affliction. The salvation of the soul is a thing of such awful moment, that we may rejoice if we be brought to heaven even through fire and through water. Dealing with God, transacting with Him for eternity, is no trifle, it is an agony, a fight, a reaching and pressing forward, and were God not to stir us up every now and then, we would fall asleep. Have you yet resolved the tremendous question, How do matters stand between my soul and that God in whose hands I am, and according to whose laws, amid perfections, I shall soon be tried and sentenced? How glorious the truth, “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus”.
“Aberdeen, January 13, 1846. Since my return to Aberdeen I am much better in health. I am gradually resuming all my pastoral labours. Having the sentence of death written on our frames, and being made so often to read it there, with what earnestness and anxiety does it become us to seize upon opportunities for doing the work of God! My charge here is very large, and anything like an adequate performance of its duties implies continued and constant labour, with much to lead to the putting of the question, Who hath believed our report? I occasionally fall upon some spot where a little of the good seed has taken root and sprung up. The feeling which daily grows upon me is my utter insufficiency, my impotency to do anything in such a work. I believe that were the ministers of the gospel to labour less and pray more, were they to proportion differently their pleadings with man for God and with God for man giving a greater prominence to the latter, more would be accomplished. I am persuaded that God has much to do in reviving and purifying the ministry before there be an extensive quickening of the people.”
He wrote these last lines: “Aberdeen, May 4, 1846. This has been spiritually a trying season for me. I trust that the fruits of it will be reaped both by myself and my flock. You will see that my hand shakes very much.”
His letters have brought us very near to the time of his departure. His desire to preach “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” more fully than he had ever done, and to spend and be spent in His service, seemed to grow in intensity until happily superseded by the “desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better”.
In addition to his prostration from over-exertion, he caught cold, which took the form of influenza, with slight fever. This appeared never entirely to leave him, and rapidly wasted his strength. He removed to Banchory about the beginning of May, and amidst great weakness took a little exercise on horseback for a few days. But he was truly worn out, and was very soon unable even to raise himself in bed, to which his weakness confined him. His nights were restless, and his uncomplaining meekness and submission were quite affecting. His spiritual exercises were more joyous than, as his letters indicate, they had often been. Particularly in his last hours, his experience was truly remarkable. In describing this experience, his voice, which had been for two or three weeks so low from weakness that his aged mother scarcely heard him speak, became so firm and loud that she heard him distinctly and stood gazing on his happy countenance while his happy spirit was thus joyously departing “to be with Christ” his beloved, and with his redeeming God.