THE WANDERER’S PATHWAY (1)
Praise God, for he is good; for still
his mercies lasting be
Let God’s redeem’d say so, whom he
from th’enemy’s hand did free;
And gathered them out of the lands,
from north, south, east, and west.
They strayed in desert’s pathless way,
no city found to rest.
For thirst and hunger in them faints
their soul. When straits them press,
They cry unto the Lord, and he
them frees from their distress.
Them also in a way to walk
that right is he did guide,
That they might to a city go,
wherein they might abide.
O that men to the Lord would give
praise for his goodness then,
And for his works of wonder done
unto the sons of men!
Psalm 107.1-7 Scottish Psalter
At the end of my National Service in the R.A.F. I was faced with three great needs – suitable employment, a spiritual home and godly companions. The first need was soon met by returning to Liberton Sardens, where I had worked during my training in horticulture. My arrival home in Edinburgh coincided with the season when extra labour was required. The more we observe God’s providence, the more we discern how perfectly all events are timed. The other two needs were met by the same all-wise and loving Saviour fulfilling His gracious promises. As the good Shepherd watches over the lambs of His flock with special care, ensuring that they are preserved from all evil and led into the green pastures and beside the quiet waters [Psalm 23) so on that first day in my civilian job there was one of Christ’s sheep to work with me. He also had been converted during National Service with the Army six years previously and had been accepted as a student for the ministry of the Free Church of Scotland. At that time we were able on a few occasions to pray together in an old storage shed, and I had the very powerful influence of his example as a Christian at his daily work, doing the most humble and menial tasks in a God-honouring way; for I had much to learn in practical obedience and submission – especially in
the matter of seeking fully to use my time at work to serve my employer, and not to waste it in idle talk.
Although I was still nominally connected with the Church of Scotland and went there on Sunday mornings with my family, I was conscious of a great spiritual gulf. The cold formality, the philosophical teaching, the worldly spirit of the people repelled me. As there was no evening service during the summer months I attended the Free Church on a few occasions. This was for me a great step out of my cultural and religious background. The congregation was predominantly Gaelic speaking, and I felt as if I were back in Nazareth listening to the peculiar singing of the Palestinian brethren with whom I had worshipped. In my youth the Â“Wee Frees”, as they are derisively known in Scotland, were only known to me as the stock-in-trade of Scotch comics, who caricatured them as extremely dour, gloomy, legalistic sabbatarians, without an ounce of Christian love or joy. Never would I have dreamed of entering one of their places of worship, yet it was here the Lord led me, to listen to His servants rightly dividing the Word of Truth. My heart had been opened, so now I listened with rapt attention to the Word of the living God being opened and applied, instead of to long involved speculations and quotations from Albert Schweitzer or Soren Kierkegaard. Soon I discovered, beneath the harsh exterior of these highland folk, that kindliness and hospitality for which they are justly renowned. My affections were soon firmly fixed in that part of Christ’s fold and weaned away from the church of my unconverted days.
Before man ever fell from his state of innocence and into all the miseries of a life alienated from his Maker and subject to the just judgement of God upon his rebellion, the Lord saw “that it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2.18). During the early days of my National Service I had become engaged to a girl I had known at school. We shared the same interests-hill-walking, books, theatre, music, dancing and the Edinburgh Festival. Shortly after our engagement I was posted to Cyprus and Louise was left alone, both her parents having died – her mother a few weeks prior to my departure. It was the death of her mother that the Lord overruled to her awakening and conversion. The sight of her dead mother posed the question, “Where is my mother now? This is only her body; the person I knew and loved has gone – but to where?” All her friends and relations tried to console her with the oft used cliche, “She is happy now; her sufferings have ended”. But this did not harmonize with what she knew is clearly taught in the Word of God, that only those who have a living faith in Christ receive that gift of eternal life, and that for others there is no hope beyond the grave, for they die in their sins. “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins”.
Soon the Holy Spirit turned her attention from her mother’s state to her own, and sent the arrow of conviction into her soul. With the
restraints of mother and fiance removed, sin flourished and gained a temporary outbreak in her life. Like myself she knew no other
religion than that vague Christless philosophy of “Be good and do good”. No good news there for a poor slave of lust, who sees only madness within and evil-doing without – hopelessly entangled in a web of her own weaving. While there were no words from the pulpit, God made the stone walls to cry out and there in the ancient ark at Cramond the Lord spoke to her, pointing her to Himself. “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me”. In the solitude of her own home she passed through the pangs of the new birth so graphically depicted by Isaac Watts:
How sad our state by nature is!
Our sin how deep it stains!
And Satan binds our captive minds
Fast in his slavish chains.
But there’s a voice of sovereign grace
Sounds from the sacred word;
Ho, ye despairing sinners, come,
And trust upon the Lord.
My soul obeys the almighty call,
And runs to this relief;
I would believe Thy promise, Lord;
O help my unbelief!
To the dear fountain of Thy blood,
Incarnate God, I fly;
Here let me wash my guilty soul
From crimes of deepest dye.
A guilty, weak and helpless worm,
On Thy kind arms I fall;
Be Thou my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus and my all.
In the solitude of her own home she cast herself upon the mercy of God and found pardon and peace in the same Saviour as Mary Magdalene and the woman at Jacob’s well.
Strange to relate, although we had kept up correspondence during the eighteen months of my absence we both were in doubt of one another and determined to part rather than to be unequally Yoked together. We found it needful virtually to rebuild our relationship from the foundation, to establish real trust and confidence, to look beyond what was of the flesh and of human origin and discern the real work of God. Only gradually did we
come to have an assurance that God had indeed begun that good work in our souls and that we were meant for one another as husband and wife. We soon began to make arrangements for our wedding and future life in Edinburgh when the Lord intervened.
On the same day that I had a final interview at the Teacher Training College I was offered a post at the Horticultural Research Station near Dundee where I would have facility to study for a National Diploma in Horticulture. After visiting the place I accepted the position and postponed our marriage for three months.
One of the factors which drew me towards Dundee was my reading of M’Cheyne’s Memoirs. I also knew that there was a Free Church there where I expected to find a spiritual home and a true ministry. Our Lord has a perfect understanding of our weakness and knows the situation which is best for each one of us. Edinburgh with all its cultured attractions, bookshops and libraries – to say nothing of the influence of family and friends – would have proved too great a trial for such a spiritual weakling, and the Lord wisely removed me to Dundee – a cultural desert – far from the worldly influences of home.
Here the Lord had provision of a widow to care for me – a mother in Israel – to watch over my soul as well as feed my body. This widow had belonged to Grove Chapel, Camberwell before the war, and had imbibed from Mr. Henry Atherton a love of good books and a desire to put them into the hands of young Christians.
In this home I was introduced to family worship which I had to lead. I was also given “The Seceders”, and found in J. C. Philpot and W. Tiptaft the religion I desired for myself. Tiptaft’s letters in the original biography of him by Philpot were my constant travelling companion for many years.
Although my stay with this widow lady was short, the effects were very long lasting both for good and evil. During the long period of her stay in Scotland she had enjoyed very little ministry or fellowship and relied on her library to make up the deficiency. Whilst the Lord had kept her soul alive in the wilderness and had provided earthly things for her and her son, isolation had fostered an extreme separation from the concerns of today. She had retreated into a past age, and I was only too open to join the retreat. She also provided lodgings for the Free Church students who came to supply in Dundee, and she came to the false conclusion that the Lord was calling me to the ministry. So I was encouraged in what proved to be a spurious and presumptuous call to the ministry. I am not putting the blame of this on the lady, but rather highlighting the danger of resting on the judgment of a Christian lady in such an important matter. There was however a positive side, and I shall
ever bless the Lord for these months when I enjoyed so much of His presence and of spiritual fellowship with a true saint who is now in lory. My love of the metrical psalms and of Christian biography ate from that time.
Apart from the ministry of the Free Church student already mentioned, with whom I had worked in Edinburgh, and the ministry of a few other students, there was very little to feed a living soul in the Dundee church at that time. Peter’s regular correspondence and the “Westminster Record” were of much value to me, especially encouraging me in the study of Scripture. It was through this magazine that I made contact with the Trinitarian Bible Society, Aged Pilgrims Friend Society and the Evangelical Library. For many years these associations enriched my spiritual life.
The fictious power of chance and fortune I defy:
My life’s minutest circumstance is ordered by Thine eye. (Toplady)
To be concluded