My Days and My Ways
Time sped on, and I began to feel unwell. Looking back, I do not wonder at it. I have been carrying out vegetarian ideas, with a view to intellectual assistance, and while living on the most frugal diet, I worked hard all the week and Sunday into the bargain. It was no wonder, therefore, that my condition began to run down. Under the circumstances,
My solitary stay at the poorly-appointed house of a hard Scotchman became hurtfully comfortless. The upshot was an understanding, by letter, between me and “her” that we should hasten arrangements for independent housekeeping. Accordingly, we got married on my next birthday (April 8tyh, 1859), a thing we have never regretted. Our marriage experience has been nothing but a pure blessing, spiritually, and in all other respects. It would have been lost time to have waited longer. I always felt that marriage was a something that lay in my path, as a wall that had to be climbed, or a bridge that had to be crossed, before I could enter upon the earnest work of life.
Thinking of John and Jesus, they were “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,” as also Paul; but there is variety in the tools used as well as in the work of God. In my own case (if I have been a tool) I felt it was inevitable that I must, like Peter, “lead about a sister – a wife.” And now, looking back, I can see how serviceable it has been in every way for the work that that has been done (if any work has been done that will stand in the day of the Lord). I can see also how much God has favoured me in the wife He guided me to, though it is not permitted to a husband to say much in the praise of his wife. There are not many women who have a real and spontaneous taste for spiritual things. There are not many men either, but the proportion of women is smaller. It must be this that Solomon refers to, when he says: “One man among a thousand have I found, but a woman among all these have I not found.” I could never take any credit for selecting so good a wife. I was looking in another direction, because there was nowhere else for me to look. I recognised that marriage must be “in the Lord,” and the number of those answering to this description was extremely small. Consequently, it was one or other, in a very limited circle, or nobody; but being guided to the right quarter, I soon dropped all other ideas.
The marriage took place in Edinburgh, in the house of the bride’s father (24 Brunswick Street), in the presence of a company of about twenty friends. Mr. George Dowie, and estimable private friend, officiated as the organ of the law in the case, and delivered as amusing address on the audacity of the youngster in aspiring to the hand of such a bride, and on his still more surprising success, where other suitors had shyly looked in vain. He also read an original poem in the style of Sir Walter Scott, in which the parties to the marriage were made to figure somewhat heroically and prophetically. A verse to two inserted here might have been interesting, but they are not accessible. It is thirty-two years ago (1890). Time makes wonderful havoc of human things. Each new generation treasures its own toys and mementos. Old Time looks on imperturbably with a smile of compassion. The mighty wheel goes round, and, alas! for the perishing things. The universal rot takes all at last. Some things cannot be taken. Happy those who have these in possession.
I confess I was impatient of the marriage conventionalities. I endured them; that was all. Enjoy them I could not. The greetings and the socialities – I waited till they should all be past and I should be free to depart and live the life dictated by godliness and common sense. The atmosphere around me was stifling. It was put down to my pride. This was a great mistake. I can humble myself to anything, but I cannot hold communion with a mentality that acts only on man and social trivialities, and that has no affinity for the stupendous facts connected with God and His revealed purpose. Of course we have to accommodate ourselves where we cannot commune, but accommodation is a different thing from true fellowship. Fellowship I found in my companion. I therefore desired to be free to enjoy the gift, and was glad at the prospect of this freedom when the time should arrive for our departure to England. There was first a fortnight of the amenities to be got through. In the course of these, there was a visit to be paid to Kincardine, a small sea-port on the Firth of Forth, about twelve miles or so up the river by steamboat.
At the end of the voyage I was called on to discharge my first marital responsibility. Double fare was demanded. For some reason or other, which I cannot now recall, I was unprepared. The situation was absurd. I could produce just 2 ½ d. toward the bill. My companion was amused, and stood in the breach. We duly landed, and found ourselves in a quiet, pleasant, declining place (for some change in local affairs had led to the business going away to Stirling, some twenty miles further up). There were some relatives, on my companion'’ side. I had never seen them before, I have never seen them since. There was no point of connection. What is flesh? “A wind that passeth away.” There is no form of kinship in it for those whose foundations are rooted in God. It is transient as a flower, and uninteresting as a weed in the ditch. It is only good as soil for the seed of the kingdom. Where this is absent it has no attractions. There is nothing noble in the flesh left to itself. It is petty, insignificant, narrow, cloudy. Only in the things of the Spirit is there that which is noble, sublime, far-reaching, broad, intelligent, interesting, and everlasting. Every man who truly
approximates to the spirit and standard of Christ realises for himself the verity of the rule of friendship laid down by Him: “He that doeth the will of my Father, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” Looking round on all of them, he exclaimed to him that hold him, “Who is my mother? And who are my brethren?”
There were none such answerable to this rule in the place where we were visiting. There was an uncle mildly interested in Bible things, but with none of the earnestness that leads to decisive action or even to fuller enlightenment. Jesus has signified to us, since His ascension, His estimate of lukewarmness. That estimate is a reasonable one. His greatness and His glory are insulted by the feeble appreciations of such as think they are conferring honour on the truth by their attentions, or who bestow on it a very uncertain fraction of the affection they feel for all worldly things. “Not worthy of me,” is Christ’s own verdict in advance in such cases. Won’t people rub their eyes and wonder how they could be so foolish when they stand in Christ’s actual presence, and behold with their eyes the actuality of His relation to the earth’s affairs?
There was another uncle, a bluff and deep-voiced captain, who had done well as a ship owner. He was more energetic, but not so intelligent as his brother. He was zealous for the traditions of his “Covenanting” fathers, and hated the truth. Piety and whisky entered largely into his life. With loud prayer-saying he kept his house on their knees the best part of an hour every day; and kept himself jovial on the other parts of the day with copious draughts from the decanter. It was considered quite a feat of respectability to mix religion and the brandy-bottle thus. A man was not a man who could not carry a good quantity of liquor without quite losing his self-control. A boozy sort of hilarity was consequently chronic with some. The habit was fatal with others.
The captain had an only son who took the pledge under the influence of his cousins. It would have been well if his father had encouraged him in this. On the contrary, he went into a towering passion when he heard of it, declaring that a man was no man who did not know when to stop without being a teetotaller. On this plea he compelled his son to drink. His son at last went down to a drunkard’s grave. The captain passed away in due course, and so did his finical wife, who kept a house of spotless elegance without happiness. The scene looked at now, against the background of vacuity and night, appears in its true character of folly. Why can’t people see the folly beforehand? Some do, and are voted bores. Destiny will justify wisdom yet. Our stay was short and uninteresting. I was principally a gazing-stock to vacuous gossips, as the schoolboy on whom a worthy Edinburgh lady of their acquaintance had thrown herself away.
Returning to Edinburgh, sundry visits here and there which decorum called for, but served no rational end, whiled away the time, and we gladly escaped by the Caledonian train that took us to England by way of Carlisle. A final conventional call in Manchester (on acquaintances supposed to have some love for the Bible, but who never came to anything in that line – and what other line is there that does not end in the dark?) brought our penances to an end, and landed us in Huddersfield, where the Examiner editor’s lady had prepared a snug little cot in Hebble Row, Bradford Road. It was the spring of the year, with bright and joyful weather. The suburbs of Huddersfield were more pastoral than they are now. We had many a pleasant wander among the fields and woods. Often we had to separate in consequence of my newspaper duties.
I discovered the other day a scrapbook in which we made use of these separations for written communion. I would write a little bit, to which she, in my absence, would make a written response, and I, next time, to her, and she again, and so on. This extract or two, copied out (from what I had long forgotten), will illustrate the colour of our thoughts at the time.
R. Beloved, thy blooming cheeks, thy sprightly mien and loving looks do speak of happy days. It is not so with many, and as my curious spirit is always on the search for what is rare and useful, tell me the secret of thy healthful gladness and they calm content. Whither hast thou been?
J. Oh, thou knowest well. I have been with thee on the green hill-side. When all around was joy and gladness, say, how could I be sad? Nay, how could I but be joyous in thy loving company, and listening, ‘mong the singing birds to the melody of thy loving voice, speaking to me words of cheer, and comfort, and instruction?
R. ‘Tis pleasing to mine ear to listen to approval such as thine: but while thy flattering compliment my fancy tickles, I
feel a sad-like consciousness of unworthiness that makes me almost sorrowful to hear thy words of approbation. My soul hangs heavy with regret, and would fain burst the bonds which seem to fetter it; and stand in all the worthiness which such an one as thou deservest to have. Say how I may succeed, my dearly beloved.
J. Full well thou knowest. Would that thou should’st ever gird thee in thy might and act as thou knowest it is right to act. When thou deniest thyself of aught that panders to the fleshly taste, thou feelest thyself upright and reaching forth unto the stature of a perfect man. And when with purpose high thou deignest not to fret theself on trivial matters, then thine own approves and loves thee in her heart of hearts.
R. Thou answerest well, and my heart doth practically know the truth of what thou sayest; but, alas! while I know the right, I often the wrong pursue; and, as a consequence, the clouds obscure my mind when heaven’s bright sunshine might the mists dispel, and make me happy in the way. Yet, dream not that I hopelessly despair. I strive to press towards the make which high is set; and though my failures oft-times many be, yet when I turn me back to bygone years and think of what is now, I conscious am of some small progress in the pathway of improvement. Pray tell me how it is with you, and how thou orderest thy steps amid so many drawbacks.
J. Truly a question hard to answer. I know the way I fain would go, and difficult indeed I find that pathway to pursue, if I look only at the task to be performed. But if I pause to calculate on the blessings to be gathered in the path of plodding duty, then the bypaths, so enticing to the eye of sense, I most determinedly shun, and tho’ll (bear) the bitter roughing in the way of right until the promised blessings in the same shine forth in truest satisfaction. Is it not thus that thou dost trace thy steps of progress?
R. ‘Tis thus I would; but when I would do good, I find a tendency within me to do what I approve not, like a brother bold of ancient days with who I oft exclaim, “Oh, wretched man that I am.” Yet, anon, I courage take, and join with him in shouting: “Thanks be unto God who us the victory doth accord!” And yet again my heart grows sad and satisfaction flies my troubled brain. Why should this thing be? Methinks I hear thee answer what I have discovered by experience. This state is one of imperfection and of fleshly weakness, in which it is impossible to realise the fonder wishes of our souls: but yet ‘tis also true that much is possible which we have never attained to. ‘Tis also true that much of the dull dissatisfaction of which I am complaining is the direct result of misbehaviour, and doubtless we are disposed too often to attribute to the feelings of nature evils and faults which properly belong to us, and are produced by what we do and are, when we might have undone those foolish things, and be more noble and heroic in the moral strife. Since this is clearly so, I leave to thee, my dearest, the task of giving counsel where the aid is needed, and extending thine encouragement to a spirit struggling (to be free) from the meshes in which it is entangled.
J. Take courage! Good men through every age have felt the same soul-stirrings, and have longed to be the image of their Master. Yet even He was perfected through sufferings. Who can tell their depth and keenness? How prolonged the seasons of temptation? Hear His words of comfort to His followers: “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome.” It does seem hard, from day to day to plod our way, and still pursue the course prescribed. ‘Tis hard, indeed. Still let us strive. This be our steadfast aim – to do the very thing we would do; and be what we would really be. Shall we thus mark our course?
R. Need I reply, my dearest one? Thou knowest fell well that these are just the purposes I have made. But ever and anon, even when success doth crown endeavour, and naught doth seem to mar the beauty of the path we tread, the cry come welling from my heart: “Oh, that from Zion deliverance great were come to Israel.” This moment do I wish most fervently that God would consummate His gracious purpose, and put an end to this long interregnum by sending forth our Lord once more to show His power in acts most unexpected by the world, but for which we hope most ardently. I mean that He should overturn existing forms of human power which are but usurpations: restore His people Israel from their wide dispersion; redeem His waiting and His sleeping people from the bondage of Corruption in which they now are held; and establish most supremely over God’s whole earth the kingdom which He has received from His Almighty Father.
J. ‘Tis well, beloved, that such longings should thy soul possess, for then the sweeter will deliverance prove if now we fell the weighty load of sin’s oppressive bondage. Labour still and patiently endure till, having run unto the very end of this race of daily stages, we reap the rich reward of life immortal.
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