John Cairns.

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come from all parts of the country, drawn by affection as well as
veneration for him of whom their Church had been so proud. Along
with them was a very large number of ministers of the other Scottish
Churches, and representatives of public bodies. The galleries were
thronged with the general public. The brief service was of that
simple and moving kind with which Presbyterian Scotland is wont to
commemorate her dead. There was no funeral oration, and the prayers,
which were led by Dr. Macgregor, the Moderator of the Established
Church General Assembly, by Principal Rainy, and by Dr. Andrew
Thomson, while full of the sense of personal loss, gave expression
to the deep thankfulness felt by all present that such a life had
been lived, and lived for so long, among them. One incident created
a deep impression. After the coffin had been removed, the various
representative bodies successively left the hall to take their places
in the procession that was being marshalled without. "Wallace Green
Church, Berwick" was called. Then a great company of men rose to their
feet, showing that, after an absence of sixteen years, their old
minister still retained his hold on the affections of the people
among whom he had lived and worked so long.

Outside the hall the scenes were even more impressive, and were
declared by those whose memories went back for half a century to have
been unparalleled in Edinburgh since the funeral of Dr. Chalmers, in
1847. Along the whole of the three miles between the Synod Hall and
Echo Bank Cemetery traffic was suspended, flags were at half-mast, and
all the shops were closed. As the procession, which was itself fully
a mile in length, made its slow way along, the crowds which lined the
pavements, filled the windows, and covered the tops of the arrested
tramway cars, reverently saluted the coffin. When the gates of the
University were passed, not a few thought of the time, more than
fifty-seven years before, when he who was now being borne to his
grave amid such great demonstrations of public homage, came up a shy,
awkward country lad to begin within these walls the life of strenuous
toil that had now closed. How much had passed since then! How great
was the contrast between the two scenes! A little later, when
the procession passed down the Dalkeith Road, everyone turned
instinctively to the house in Spence Street, where he had lived his
simple and godly life, unconscious that the eyes of men were upon him.
As the afternoon shadows were lengthening he was laid in his grave;
and many of those who stood near felt that a great blank had come into
their lives, and that Scotland and the Church were the poorer for the
loss of him who had followed his Master in simplicity of heart and had
counted cheap those honours which the world so greatly desires.[22]

[Footnote 22: Six years later the sister who had so long lived with him
was laid in the same grave. William Cairns sleeps with his kindred in
Cockburnspath churchyard.]

It is difficult to count up the gains and losses of a life. He had
great gifts, - gifts of abstract thinking and writing, powers of
scholarly research and continuous labour, - but his life had followed
another path determined by his early choice. Was this choice a wise
one? It is difficult to say. But two things seem clear. One is that
he never appears to have regretted it. At the public service in the
Synod Hall, Principal Rainy gave thanks for "those seventy-four
years of happy life." These words are entirely true. His life was
an exceptionally happy one. This surely means a great deal. If he
had missed his true vocation, he could not have had this happiness.

The second noticeable point is, that his choice made the influence
of his personality strong throughout Scotland. He seems to have
recognised that his true home lay in the region of Christian faith
and works, in the great common life of the Church; and so he made his
appeal, not to the limited number of those who could read a learned
theological treatise which the changing fortunes of the battle with
Unbelief might soon have put out of date, but to the common heart of
the whole Church. That great assemblage from all parts of the country
on his funeral day was the response to this appeal, and the best
answer to the question as to whether he had erred in the choice of a
calling and wasted his powers. Waste there undoubtedly was. In every
life this cannot but be so, for a man must limit himself; but, if it
be for a high end, the renunciation will be blessed with some fruit
of good. And so, although the memory and the name of John Cairns may
become fainter as the years and generations pass, his influence will
live on in the Christian Church, to whose ideal of goodness he brought
the contribution of his character.

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Online LibraryJohn CairnsPrincipal Cairns → online text (page 11 of 11)