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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.



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