On receiving this you will not have to say, as formerly, that I let your last letter lie six weeks unanswered. I am now to say for once, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul”. You know that, when the Queen’s recruits get the bounty, who so light-hearted as they? And when the Queen’s pensioners receive their pay, there is a little of the bravery of their youth revived for the time. Therefore I will take advantage of my present sense of freedom of mind, to give you what I venture to call the Lord’s dealing with my soul. Strange to say, I never felt so inclined before; nor can I tell what induces me now. That it is not to raise myself in your estimation I know you will believe; and if you can help me to praise the Lord for His wonderful goodness, we will be sharers in each other’s joy.
Well, in the family in which I was born, there was no religion; I was not even taught to pray. But one day, as I was amusing myself in a yard where some empty carts were placed, one of them overturned and fell upon me, so that I was nearly suffocated. It then came into my mind, I know not how, to cry, “O God, help me!” And in a minute or two, someone passing nearby came and relieved me. I do not remember praying again until I was 12 years, when, after a sermon which frightened me, I prayed earnestly to God to take away these fears. And in this I was answered also, for all my fears left me.
Again, about the age of 18, I was very much aroused by a sermon preached by Dr Macdonald, and now I began to read the Bible and pray regularly, and I became so reformed that myself and the good people of the district thought I was a converted lad. I wonder yet at the warmth of my affections at that time towards all that was good, and yet I knew not God. By and by I began to cool in my religion, and turned back to some of my foolish practices, and being unstable myself, thought, or wished to think, that all religious people were hypocrites. In this frame of mind I attended one evening a harvest-home gathering, where there was mirth of various kinds, piping, and dancing. The following Saturday, as I arrived at the door of a house where a prayer-meeting of the Lord’s people which I occasionally attended was held, one of the old Christians met me and said, “I am sorry that we have agreed to exclude you from our meeting, as your conduct is not consistent”. I turned away without uttering a word, but felt as if a dagger went through me. But by and by my pride got the upper hand; so I went back to the world full swing, and continued about six years despising all that belonged to God, both openly and in my heart. (O the Love that kept me out of hell these years!)
It happened, however, one Sabbath evening, that I took up Boston’s Fourfold State, not at all from choice but to kill time, for the Sabbath was a wearisome day to me; and the part that opened was a description of the desperate state of the lost in hell. This made me very wretched; so I said, “Well, I will once more, and only once, try to pray”. I attempted the duty, but all I could venture to say was, “Lord, give me a new heart”. I continued to use these words for weeks, but the only effect was that I was becoming more and more miserable. Being in a wood one evening, I bent down on my knees and repeated my usual prayer, when all at once I felt as if I was in the presence of God and that He spoke to me in these words, “What although you should get a new heart? I could not receive you for the sake of your new heart.” I was overpowered and self-condemned, when in a little these words seemed to follow, “You must be accepted in another”; and then there opened up to my view the glorious Person of the Son of God, Christ Jesus the divine Saviour in power and glory at the Father’s right hand! My very soul leaped for amazement and joy, and then and there I received Christ as my Saviour and Lord.
For a considerable time that joy continued, but then some fearful temptations set in upon me, in particular as to God’s sovereignty. The enemy would ask me to justify God in His various dealings, as in the permission of evil; and when I could not do this, he would say, “You are still on my side”. But I got a wonderful deliverance as to this also. One evening, coming from my work, the tempter was plying me with his atheistic suggestions; so I turned into a field to confess to the Lord my helplessness. Then, as I was bewailing my case before the All-seeing One, it appeared as if all at once “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” stood before me, and as if a voice said, “If that tree had stood there untouched until now, is there not in your breast what would move you to stretch out your hand to its forbidden fruit? This humbled me, for I saw that the soul of man, freely and of its own will, took on the guilt of sin. I also got a melting view of the grace that did not utterly and for ever destroy the sinner because of disobedience, but provided a way of forgiving transgressors to the praise of His mercy and love.
After this the tempter was again at work in another form, telling me that these discoveries of spiritual things would leave my heart unweaned from sin as did my first, false religion. But no, I got such glimpses from time to time of the glorious Person of Emmanuel as drew me after Him and kept up in my soul, even at its lowest case, a whisper that seemed to say, “There is in God, and only in Him, what will satisfy all thy desires”.
Many providences have I to record since then, but were I to tell you even the outside history of these, apart altogether from the workings of my own mind regarding them, you would think me a weary correspondent. The Lord has borne with me, notwithstanding numerous provocations, and enabled me to keep close to His cause and service in four different counties.
1. Written in 1871, this is one of a series of Duff’s letters printed in volume 4 of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, which has now been republished by Free Presbyterian Publications at £16.50, with a special offer of £13.50 until December 31. Donald Duff, who died in 1885, was a noted Christian, who spent the last 15 years of his life as a catechist in Stratherrick. This letter was sent to Mrs Auld of Olrig, Caithness, whose husband Alexander Auld (in his Life of John Kennedy) described Duff as having “rare gifts of mind, extensive religious knowledge and high attainments in the divine life”.