My Days and My Ways
CHAPTER THREE: Baptism
I had said nothing beforehand about my purpose to cease chapel attendance, because I knew that would have frustrated my object. My absence from chapel would come as a shock, and lead to a storm I feared. It was so, but it did not break at once. When I got home, my mother was sitting over the fire, with her chin upon her hands. She did not speak to me: but there was thunder in her face and manner. The day passed in cloud and sultriness. At night, the storm broke. I had
got to be, when my mother came, and she told me I must attend chapel or leave the house. I gave her to understand it was impossible I could attend chapel; and, as for leaving the house, it seemed equally out of the question. There was much loud talk and tears. My eldest brother (John, who afterwards died in the faith at Ottawa, in Canada), understanding the situation, came from another room, and took my part. It was finally arranged there should be a compromise – that I should attend chapel in the evening (when there was no meeting of the brethren), but that I should be at liberty to attend the meetings of the brethren morning and afternoon.
With this treaty of peace, the war ended. But it was soon resumed. On the next Sunday, with a glad sense of relief, I attended the meetings of the brethren morning and afternoon, and in the evening I went with my brothers to the chapel (or church, as all chapels are called in Scotland). On the way to church in the evening, my brothers asked me why I wanted to absent myself from church. I replied, “Because Mr. Anderson (that was the name of the preacher), does not preach the Gospel.” My brothers reported this remark to my mother, and this led to a renewal of the storm. My mother was greatly excited. Her chief distress was for my brothers. “What were my poor brothers to think, as they sat listening to Mr. Anderson, when their elder brother told them he did not preach the Gospel?” so said she to me, in the midst of grief and anger. I feared terrible consequences: either exile from home or a cancelling of the liberty I had received. I was agreeably disappointed. The terrible outpour ended with a command never more to enter the church door. This was my final emancipation. From that day, I bade farewell to pulpits and all kinds of ecclesiastical edifices, and clerical operations. I have had nothing to do with them since. It was a great rupture of home friendship, but this was mitigated to some extent by the sympathy of my sister and elder brother, who both ultimately became obedient to the faith. The unhappiness of home drove me to take a closer refuge in the Bible, and in the companionships arising out of the understanding of its glorious contents.
About this time, on the recommendation of my sister, I became apprenticed to a druggist (James McLean, 43, Castlegate, Aberdeen). He died six or eight years afterwards. I derived great advantage from my experience here. It gave me an opportunity of improving my education on various points, and greatly extended my knowledge of men and things. I took lessons in Latin, and learnt Pitman’s shorthand. The latter acquisition was due to my acquaintance with brother Mowatt’s family, who formed the kernel of the Aberdeen meeting. The eldest son, “Aleck,” was a member of a shorthand mutual improvement class, which I joined through him. The class met once a week, and was a great help to me in the matter of learning to speak and write.
I remember my first attempt at the former. I had never previously uttered two consecutive sentences, otherwise than in conversation. I was called on, in rotation with the other members, to make some criticism on an essay that had been read. I got up in imitation of the others; I leant forward, with my hands helplessly outspread on the table before me. My brain got into a whirl. I managed to gasp out a few words and then sat down. In itself, the effort was a frightful failure: but it was of great importance as the breaking of the ice. Next time I was called on, the ordeal was not so severe, and gradually the embarrassment diminished with every occasion, until I found facility of utterance taking its place. This result was aided by the practice of trying to take down all the speeches delivered at the meetings of the brethren on Sundays. At last I ventured to speak at one of these meetings. I made a few remarks on the 95th Psalm, contending it was a picture of the kingdom from its introduction of Samuel and Moses. Brother Mowatt congratulated me on making a start, but thought I had made a mistake in the application of the Psalm.
Before this, my immersion into Christ had taken place in 1853, when I was 14 years old. I was examined by brethren A. Black and J. Mowatt, and immersed by the former in the River Dee, about a mile outside the town. A fisherman’s hut afforded undressing convenience. It was a beautiful summer’s Sunday morning. There was a crowd of Sunday strollers on the bank, who gave a loud laugh when the act of baptism was performed. Another was immersed at the same time – I think a farm-hand, by the name of Lawson. I am also under the impression that the same morning, my grandmother and uncle (Reid) were immersed. If not then, it was not long before or after. Next Sunday morning, we were very affectionately received at the breaking of bread. It was a very gratifying occasion, as I suppose it is to every one who is received among the brethren for the first time. We received the right hand of fellowship by being made to stand at the door of exit as the meeting dispersed, -- each one shaking us by the hand as they passed out. I was a diligent attender at all the meetings afterwards.
It was about this time I commenced the systematic reading of the Scriptures, which is now so general a practice, with the aid of The Bible Companion. I found I must read, first for information, and then for daily sustenance in the things of the Spirit. Reading led to marking special passages with ink – arising from the need for ready quotation in conversation with those who opposed the truth. I think I first got the idea of marking from Mrs. Stow’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, over whose case (Uncle Tom’s) I cried bitterly at the idea of his exclusion from the kingdom.
My Bible reading was at first discursive. Then I began to see the need for system. I adopted a system of my own. I divided the Old Testament into four parts, and the New Testament into three parts. During my breakfast hour, I read a chapter from each of the New Testament parts; and during my dinner hour, a chapter from each of the Old Testament parts – seven in all. I continued this for eight months, gradually finding it too much for continuance. I then reduced the whole to four parts, taking two and two, breakfast and dinner. This I persevered with for some years, and finally came down to three at one sitting -- which I have continued ever since. At the commencement of my Bible reading, I trusted to memory for the next chapters to be read. But after several years’ experience, I found it convenient to have a written guide. So I made a calendar of the entire readings for the year, in a penny pass book, which greatly facilitated the process.
Friends got to know of this, and first one and then another asked me to provide them with a copy. I did this with much pleasure, until I had written 18 copies. Then I came across a printed little work of the same character, which suggested the idea of having my guide printed. This was done, under the name of The Bible Companion, which, with some modification, has continued in use ever since. Many, many thousands have been printed and circulated – (I know not how many), and to this day there is no pamphlet in connection with the truth in such steady demand. This result is gratifying, as it means that the enlightened reading of the Scriptures is a growing custom, which cannot fail to be a blessing to all who practice it.
For about five years, I assembled with the Aberdeen brethren. During this time, the Crimean War broke out. We had all been looking out for an advance by Russia upon Constantinople, and it was very exhilarating to find events apparently shaping in the very direction. It was a great disappointment, however, to find Russia foiled and finally driven back by the allied defenders of Turkey. We were able to take some consolation, from the reflection that the time had not come for the Gogian invasion of the Holy Land, that is, that according to our chronological reckoning, the time was premature by 15 years. We all recognised that the Papal period did not expire till A.D. 1866-8, and that the Lord’s coming could not be looked for till then at the earliest. Russia’s advance had come upon us as a refreshing surprise, and had excited premature expectations. When it ended in her repulse, we interpreted it in harmony with the fact just stated. Brother Mowatt indeed contended for it was a necessity, on the strength of the statement in the Ezekiel prophecy: --
“I will bring thee forth and all thine army.” He argued from this that there was a “turning back” before the “bringing forth”. We did not quite agree with him. At all events, it enabled us to be reconciled to the disappointment of our hopes. Our idea had been, that though Russia was evidently coming on before the time, her movements, actually commenced, might extend to the very time, and that Christ might come in the meantime to prepare Israel and his house against the Gogian catastrophe. The events of the time gave me a powerful interest in public events, which has never ceased, though time and delay have sobered it on some points.
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