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RABBI SAUNDERSON

by

IAN MACLAREN

With Twelve Illustrations by A. S. Boyd







London: Hodder and Stoughton
27 Paternoster Row
1898





To

Mrs. Williamson


OF GLENOGIL

WHO HAS INHERITED

THE GIFT OF WITTY SPEECH

AND HAS LAID IT OUT AT USURY

TO THE JOY OF HER FRIENDS

AND THE

GLADDENING OF LIFE




Contents


A SUPRA-LAPSARIAN
KILBOGIE MANSE
THE RABBI AS CONFESSOR
THE FEAR OF GOD
THE WOUNDS OF A FRIEND
LIGHT AT EVENTIDE




Illustrations


He put Jamie's ecclesiastical history into a state
of thorough repair

The farmers carted the new minister's furniture
from the nearest railway station

Searching for a lost note

The suddenness of his fall

"Some suitable sum for our brother here who is
passing through adversity"

"We shall not meet again in this world"

When Carmichael gave him the cup in the sacrament

"Shall . . . not . . . the . . . Judge . . . of all the
earth . . . do . . . right?"

"You have spoken to me like a father: surely that is enough"

Then arose a self-made man

He watched the dispersion of his potatoes with dismay

He signed for her hand, which he kept to the end




A SUPRA-LAPSARIAN

Jeremiah Saunderson had remained in the low estate of a "probationer" for
twelve years after he left the Divinity Hall, where he was reported so
great a scholar that the Professor of Apologetics spoke to him
deprecatingly, and the Professor of Dogmatics openly consulted him on
obscure writers. He had wooed twenty-three congregations in vain, from
churches in the black country, where the colliers rose in squares of
twenty, and went out without ceremony, to suburban places of worship,
where the beadle, after due consideration of the sermon, would take up
the afternoon notices and ask that they be read at once for purposes of
utility, which that unflinching functionary stated to the minister with
accuracy and much faithfulness. Vacant congregations desiring a list of
candidates, made one exception, and prayed that Jeremiah should not be
let loose upon them, till at last it came home to the unfortunate scholar
himself that he was an offence and a by-word. He began to dread the
ordeal of giving his name, and, as is still told, declared to a
household, living in the fat wheatlands and without any imagination, that
he was called Magor Missabib. When a stranger makes a statement of this
kind to his host with a sad seriousness, no one judges it expedient to
offer any remark; but it was skilfully arranged that Missabib's door
should be locked from the outside, and one member of the household sat up
all night. The sermon next day did not tend to confidence - having seven
quotations in unknown tongues - and the attitude of the congregation was
one of alert vigilance; but no one gave any outward sign of uneasiness,
and six able-bodied men, collected in a pew below the pulpit, knew their
duty in an emergency.

Saunderson's election to the Free Church of Kilbogie was therefore an
event in the ecclesiastical world, and a consistent tradition in the
parish explained its inwardness on certain grounds, complimentary both to
the judgment of Kilbogie and the gifts of Mr. Saunderson. On Saturday
evening he was removed from the train by the merest accident, and left
the railway station in such a maze of meditation that he ignored the road
to Kilbogie altogether, although its sign-post was staring him in the
face, and continued his way to Drumtochty. It was half-past nine when
Jamie Soutar met him on the high road through our glen, still travelling
steadily west, and being arrested by his appearance, beguiled him into
conversation, till he elicited that Saunderson was minded to reach
Kilbogie. For an hour did the wanderer rest in Jamie's kitchen, during
which he put Jamie's ecclesiastical history into a state of thorough
repair - making seven distinct parallels between the errors that had
afflicted the Scottish Church and the early heretical sects, - and then
Jamie gave him in charge of a ploughman who was courting in Kilbogie, and
was not averse to a journey that seemed to illustrate the double meaning
of charity. Jeremiah was handed over to his anxious hosts at a quarter
to one in the morning, covered with mud, somewhat fatigued, but in great
peace of soul, having settled the place of election in the prophecy of
Habakkuk as he came down with his silent companion through Tochty woods.

[Illustration: HE PUT JAMIE'S ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY INTO A STATE OF
THOROUGH REPAIR]

Nor was that all he had done. When they came out from the shadow and
struck into the parish of Kilbogie - whose fields, now yellow unto
harvest, shone in the moonlight - his guide broke silence and enlarged on
a plague of field-mice which had quite suddenly appeared, and had sadly
devastated the grain of Kilbogie. Saunderson awoke from study and became
exceedingly curious, first of all demanding a particular account of the
coming of the mice, their multitude, their habits, and their
determination. Then he asked many questions about the moral conduct and
godliness of the inhabitants of Kilbogie, which his companion, as a
native of Drumtochty, painted in gloomy colours, although indicating as
became a lover that even in Kilbogie there was a remnant. Next morning
the minister rose at daybreak, and was found wandering through the fields
in such a state of excitement that he could hardly be induced to look at
breakfast. When the "books" were placed before him, he turned promptly
to the ten plagues of Egypt, which he expounded in order as preliminary
to a full treatment of the visitations of Providence.

"He cowes (beats) a' ye ever saw or heard," the farmer of Mains explained
to the elders at the gate. "He gaed tae his room at half twa and wes oot
in the fields by four, an' a'm dootin' he never saw his bed. He's lifted
abune the body a'thegither, an' can hardly keep himsel awa frae the
Hebrew at his breakfast. Ye'll get a sermon the day, or ma name is no
Peter Pitillo." Mains also declared his conviction that the invasion of
mice would be dealt with after a scriptural and satisfying fashion. The
people went in full of expectation, and to this day old people recall
Jeremiah Saunderson's trial sermon with lively admiration. Experienced
critics were suspicious of candidates who read lengthy chapters from both
Testaments and prayed at length for the Houses of Parliament, for it was
justly held that no man would take refuge in such obvious devices for
filling up the time unless he was short of sermon material. One
unfortunate, indeed, ruined his chances at once by a long petition for
those in danger on the sea - availing himself with some eloquence of the
sympathetic imagery of the one hundred and seventh Psalm - for this effort
was regarded as not only the most barefaced padding, but also as evidence
of an almost incredible blindness to circumstances. "Did he think
Kilbogie wes a fishing-village?" Mains inquired of the elders afterwards,
with pointed sarcasm. Kilbogie was not indifferent to a well-ordered
prayer - although its palate was coarser in the appreciation of felicitous
terms and allusions than that of Drumtochty - and would have been
scandalised if the Queen had been omitted; but it was by the sermon the
young man must stand or fall, and Kilbogie despised a man who postponed
the ordeal.

Saunderson gave double pledges of capacity and fulness before he opened
his mouth in the sermon, for he read no Scripture at all that day, and
had only one prayer, which was mainly a statement of the Divine Decrees
and a careful confession of the sins of Kilbogie; and then, having given
out his text from the prophecy of Joel, he reverently closed the Bible
and placed it on the seat behind him. His own reason for this proceeding
was a desire for absolute security in enforcing his subject, and a
painful remembrance of the disturbance in a south country church when he
landed a Bible - with clasps - on the head of the precentor in the heat of
a discourse defending the rejection of Esau. Our best and simplest
actions - and Jeremiah was as simple as a babe - can be misconstrued, and
the only dissentient from Saunderson's election insisted that the Bible
had been deposited on the floor, and asserted that the object of this
profanity was to give the preacher a higher standing in the pulpit. This
malignant reading of circumstances might have wrought mischief - for
Saunderson's gaunt figure did seem to grow in the pulpit - had it not been
for the bold line of defence taken up by Mains.

"Gin he wanted tae stand high, wes it no tae preach the word? an' gin he
wanted a soond foundation for his feet, what better could he get than the
twa Testaments? Answer me that."

It was seen at once that no one could answer that, and the captious
objector never quite recovered his position in the parish; while it is
not the least of Kilbogie's boasting, in which the Auld Kirk will even
join against Drumtochty, that they have a minister who not only does not
read his sermons and does not need to quote his texts, but carries the
whole Bible in at least three languages in his head, and once, as a proof
thereof, preached with it below his feet.

Much was to be looked for from such a man; but even Mains, whetted by
intercourse with Saunderson, was astonished at the sermon. It was a
happy beginning to draw a parallel between the locusts of Joel and the
mice of Kilbogie, and gave the preacher an opportunity of describing the
appearance, habits, and destruction of the locusts, which he did solely
from Holy Scripture, translating various passages afresh, and combining
lights with marvellous ingenuity. This brief preface of half an hour,
which was merely a stimulant for the Kilbogie appetite, led up to a
thorough examination of physical judgments, during which both Bible and
Church history were laid under liberal contribution. At this point the
minister halted, and complimented the congregation on the attention they
had given to the facts of the case, which were his first head, and
suggested that before approaching the doctrine of visitations they might
refresh themselves with a Psalm. The congregation were visibly
impressed, and many made up their minds while singing

"That man hath perfect blessedness";

and while others thought it due to themselves to suspend judgment till
they had tasted the doctrine, they afterwards confessed their full
confidence. It goes without saying that he was immediately beyond the
reach of the ordinary people on the second head, and even veterans in
theology panted after him in vain, so that one of the elders, nodding
assent to an exposure of the Manichaean heresy, suddenly blushed as one
who had played the hypocrite. Some professed to have noticed a doctrine
that had not been touched upon, but they never could give it a name, and
it excited just admiration that a preacher, starting from a plague of
mice, should have made a way by strictly scientific methods into the
secret places of theology. Saunderson allowed his hearers a brief rest
after the second head, and cheered them with the assurance that what was
still before them would be easy to follow. It was the application of all
that had gone before to the life of Kilbogie, and the preacher proceeded
to convict the parish under each of the ten commandments - with the plague
of mice ever in reserve to silence excuses - till the delighted
congregation could have risen in a body and taken Saunderson by the hand
for his fearlessness and faithfulness. Perhaps the extent and
thoroughness of this monumental sermon can be best estimated by the fact
that Claypots, father of the present tenant, who always timed his rest to
fifty minutes exactly, thus overseeing both the introduction and
application of the sermon, had a double portion, and even a series of
supplementary dozes, till at last he sat upright through sheer satiety.
It may also be offered as evidence that the reserve of peppermint held by
mothers for their bairns was pooled, doles being furtively passed across
pews to conspicuously needy families, and yet the last had gone before
Saunderson finished.

Mains reported to the congregational meeting that the minister had been
quiet for the rest of the day, but had offered to say something about
Habakkuk to any evening gathering, and had cleared up at family worship
some obscure points in the morning discourse. He also informed the
neighbours that he had driven his guest all the way to Muirtown, and put
him in an Edinburgh carriage with his own hands, since it had emerged
that Saunderson, through absence of mind, had made his down journey by
the triangular route of Dundee. It was quite impossible for Kilbogie to
conceal their pride in electing such a miracle of learning, and their
bearing in Muirtown was distinctly changed; but indeed they did not boast
vainly about Jeremiah Saunderson, for his career was throughout on the
level of that monumental sermon. When the Presbytery in the gaiety of
their heart examined Saunderson to ascertain whether he was fully
equipped for the work of the ministry, he professed the whole Old
Testament in Hebrew, and MacWheep of Pitscowrie, who always asked the
candidate to read the twenty-third Psalm, was beguiled by Jeremiah into
the Book of Job, and reduced to the necessity of asking questions by
indicating verbs with his finger. His Greek examination led to an
argument between Jeremiah and Dr. Dowbiggin on the use of the aorist,
from which the minister-elect of Kilbogie came out an easy first; and his
sermons were heard to within measurable distance of the second head by an
exact quorum of the exhausted court, who were kept by the clerk sitting
at the door, and preventing MacWheep escaping. His position in the court
was assured from the beginning, and fulfilled the function of an
Encyclopaedia, with occasional amazing results, as when information was
asked about some Eastern sect for whose necessities the Presbytery were
asked to collect, and to whose warm piety affecting allusion was made,
and Jeremiah showed clearly, with the reporters present, that the
Cappadocians were guilty of a heresy beside which Morisonianism was an
unsullied whiteness. His work as examiner-in-general for the court was a
merciful failure, and encouraged the students of the district to return
to their district court, who, on the mere rumour of him, had transferred
themselves in a body to a Highland Presbytery, where the standard
question in Philosophy used to be, "How many horns has a dilemma, and
distinguish the one from the other." No man knew what the minister of
Kilbogie might not ask - the student was only perfectly certain that it
would be beyond his knowledge; but as Saunderson always gave the answer
himself in the end, and imputed it to the student, anxiety was reduced to
a minimum. Saunderson, indeed, was in the custom of passing all
candidates and reporting them as marvels of erudition, whose only fault
was a becoming modesty - which, however, had not concealed from his keen
eye hidden treasures of learning. Beyond this sphere the good man's
services were not used by a body of shrewd ecclesiastics, as the
inordinate length of an ordination sermon had ruined a dinner prepared
for the court by "one of our intelligent and large-hearted laymen," and
it is still pleasantly told how Saunderson was invited to a
congregational soirée - an ancient meeting, where the people ate oranges,
and the speaker rallied the minister on being still unmarried - and
discoursed, as a carefully chosen subject, on the Jewish feasts, - with
illustrations from the Talmud, - till some one burst a paper-bag and
allowed the feelings of the people to escape. When this history was
passed round Muirtown Market, Kilbogie thought still more highly of their
minister, and indicated their opinion of the other parish in severely
theological language.

Standing at his full height he might have been six feet, but, with much
poring over books and meditation, he had descended some two inches. His
hair was long, not because he made any conscious claim to genius, but
because he forgot to get it cut, and, with his flowing, untrimmed beard,
was now quite grey. Within his clothes he was the merest skeleton, being
so thin that his shoulder-blades stood out in sharp outline, and his
hands were almost transparent. The redeeming feature in Saunderson was
his eyes, which were large and eloquent, of a trustful, wistful hazel,
the beautiful eyes of a dumb animal. Whether he was expounding doctrines
charged with despair of humanity, or exalting, in rare moments, the
riches of a Divine love in which he did not expect to share, or humbly
beseeching his brethren to give him information on some point in
scholarship no one knew anything about except himself, or stroking the
hair of some little child sitting upon his knee, those eyes were ever
simple, honest, and most pathetic. Young ministers coming to the
Presbytery full of self-conceit and new views were arrested by their
light shining through the glasses, and came in a year or two to have a
profound regard for Saunderson, curiously compounded of amusement at his
ways, which for strangeness were quite beyond imagination, admiration for
his knowledge, which was amazing for its accuracy and comprehensiveness,
respect for his honesty, which feared no conclusion, however repellent to
flesh and blood, but chiefly of love for the unaffected and shining
goodness of a man in whose virgin soul neither self nor this world had
any part. For years the youngsters of the Presbytery knew not how to
address the minister of Kilbogie, since any one who had dared to call him
Saunderson, as they said "Carmichael," and even "MacWheep," though he was
elderly, would have been deposed, without delay, from the ministry - so
much reverence at least was in the lads - and "Mister" attached to this
personality would be like a silk hat on the head of an Eastern sage.
Jenkins of Pitrodie always considered that he was inspired when he one
day called Saunderson "Rabbi," and unto the day of his death Kilbogie was
so called. He made protest against the title as being forbidden in the
Gospels, but the lads insisted that it must be understood in the sense of
scholar, whereupon Saunderson disowned it on the ground of his slender
attainments. The lads saw the force of this objection, and admitted that
the honourable word belonged by rights to MacWheep, who was a "gude
body," but it was their fancy to assign it to Saunderson - whereat
Saunderson yielded, only exacting a pledge that he should never be so
called in public, lest all concerned be condemned for foolishness. When
it was announced that the University of Edinburgh had resolved to confer
the degree of D.D. on him for his distinguished learning and great
services to theological scholarship, Saunderson, who was delighted when
Dowbiggin of Muirtown got the honour for being an ecclesiastic, would
have refused it for himself had not his boys gone out in a body and
compelled him to accept. They also purchased a Doctor's gown and hood,
and invested him with them in the name of Kilbogie two days before the
capping. One of them saw that he was duly brought to the Tolbooth Kirk,
where the capping ceremonial in those days took place. Another sent a
list of Saunderson's articles to British and foreign theological and
philological reviews, which filled half a column of the _Caledonian_, and
drew forth a complimentary article from that exceedingly able and caustic
paper, whose editor lost all his hair through sympathetic emotion the
morning of the Disruption, and ever afterwards pointed out the faults of
the Free Kirk with much frankness. The fame of Rabbi Saunderson was so
spread abroad that a great cheer went up as he came in with the other
Doctors elect, in which he cordially joined, considering it to be
intended for his neighbour, a successful West-End clergyman, the author
of a Life of Dorcas and other pleasing booklets. For some time after his
boys said "Doctor" in every third sentence, and then grew weary of a too
common title, and fell back on "Rabbi," by which he was known until the
day of his death, and which is now engraved on his tombstone.

Saunderson's reputation for unfathomable learning and saintly simplicity
was built up out of many incidents, and grew with the lapse of years to a
solitary height in the big strath, so that no man would have dared to
smile had the Free Kirk minister of Kilbogie appeared in Muirtown in his
shirt-sleeves, and Kilbogie would only have been a trifle more conceited.
Truly he was an amazing man, and, now that he is dead and gone, the last
of his race, I wish some man of his profession had written his life, for
the doctrine he taught and the way he lived will not be believed by the
new generation. The arrival of his goods was more than many sermons to
Kilbogie, and I had it from Mains' own lips. It was the kindly fashion
of those days that the farmers carted the new minister's furniture from
the nearest railway station, and as the railway to Kildrummie was not yet
open, they had to go to Stormont Station on the north line; and a
pleasant procession they made passing through Pitscowrie, ten carts in
their best array, and drivers with a semi-festive air. Mr. Saunderson
was at the station, having reached it, by some miracle, without mistake,
and was in a condition of abject nervousness about the handling and
conveyance of his belongings.

[Illustration: THE FARMERS CARTED THE NEW MINISTER'S FURNITURE FROM THE
NEAREST RAILWAY STATION]

"You will be careful - exceeding careful," he implored; "if one of the
boxes were allowed to descend hurriedly to the ground, the result to what
is within would be disastrous. I am much afraid that the weight is
considerable, but I am ready to assist"; and he got ready.

"Dinna pit yirsel intae a feery-farry (commotion)" - but Mains was
distinctly pleased to see a little touch of worldliness, just enough to
keep the new minister in touch with humanity. "It'll be queer stuff oor
lads canna lift, an' a'll gie ye a warranty that the'll no be a cup o'
the cheeny broken"; and then Saunderson conducted his congregation to the
siding.

"Dod, man," remarked Mains to the station-master, examining a truck with
eight boxes; "the manse 'ill no want for dishes at ony rate. But let's
start on the furniture; whar hae ye got the rest o' the plenishing?

"Naething mair? havers, man, ye dinna mean tae say they pack beds an'
tables in boxes; a' doot there's a truck missin'." Then Mains went over
where the minister was fidgeting beside his possessions.

"No, no," said Saunderson, when the situation was put before him, "it's
all here. I counted the boxes, and I packed every box myself. That top
one contains the fathers - deal gently with it; and the Reformation
divines are just below it. Books are easily injured, and they feel it.
I do believe there is a certain life in them, and . . . and . . . they
don't like being ill-used"; and Jeremiah looked wistfully at the
ploughmen.

"Div ye mean tae say," as soon as Mains had recovered, "that ye've brocht
naethin' for the manse but bukes, naither bed nor bedding? Keep's a',"
as the situation grew upon him, "whar are ye tae sleep, and what are ye
tae sit on? An' div ye never eat? This croons a';" and Mains gazed at
his new minister as one who supposed that he had taken Jeremiah's measure
and had failed utterly.

"_Mea culpa_ - it's . . . my blame," and Saunderson was evidently humbled
at this public exposure of his incapacity; "some slight furnishing will
be expedient, even necessary, and I have a plan for book-shelves in my
head; it is ingenious and convenient, and if there is a worker in
wood . . ."

"Come awa' tae the dog-cart, sir," said Mains, realizing that even
Kilbogie did not know what a singular gift they had obtained, and that
discussion on such sublunary matters as pots and pans was useless, not to
say profane. So eight carts got a box each; one, Jeremiah's ancient kist
of moderate dimensions; and the tenth - that none might be left
unrecognised - a hand-bag that had been on the twelve years' probation
with its master. The story grew as it passed westwards, and when it
reached us we were given to understand that the Free Kirk minister of


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