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ORIGINAL SECESSION MAGAZINE.
MEMOIR OF THE LATE JAMES AITKEN, A. M.,
PREACHER UNDER THE SYNOD OF UNITED ORIGINAL SECEDERS.
In nothing is the sovereignty of God more strikingly displayed than in the choice of his servants, and the work that he assigns them. One man possesses very moderate abilities, and has enjoyed very limited means of cultivating them. Such a one, however, he is sometimes pleased to place in an important sphere of labour; he maintains him long in it, and, by his special blessing, renders him eminently instrumental 'n promoting his kingdom. Another is endowed with a larger measi , both of natural talents and of spiritual gifts; he has been privileged to enjoy ample means for their improvement, and he is perhaps permitted to enter upon public duty; but when the opening blossoms of his piety and zeal have just begun to shed around him a rich : vour of Christ, and to give promise of a long period and a large measu e of fruitfulness, the Master plucks the promising plant, and transfers it to his own bosom.
This was verified, in a most affecting manner, in the case of that young servant of Christ whose name stands at the head of this article, Four years have now elapsed since his brief service of two months was begun and ended; but the event is still fresh, we presume, in the minds of the majority of our readers; and, while the impression remains, it has been considered that a short memorial will not be unacceptable of one who carried to his early grave the respect and affection of all who knew him. It is only a brief one that we can present to them. The life of a student is seldom diversified by any variety of incident; and the spiritual experience of one who was brought up, like Samuel, under the shadow of God's sanctuary, rarely presents those striking displays of human depravity and the counteracting influence of divine grace, that are often met with in the conversion of the outcast and abandoned. The only remarkable incident in the life of our young friend was his death, and the most interesting portion of his christian experience was his dying exercise. The work of the Spirit in God's saints, however, is always substantially the same; and as he has left behind him a few memorials of the Lord's dealings with his soul, it may not be uninteresting to our readers to
No. XIII. VOL. II.
see how his amiable character was gently moulded by the grace of God, and prepared for that early sacrifice by which he was so signally called to glorify him.
James Aitken was born in Aberdeen, July 8th, 1822. Like many others whose early piety has adorned the church of God, he enjoyed the high privilege of a pious ancestry, and a religious education. His grandfather, the late Rev. James Aitken of Kirriemuir, will long be remembered as one of the most distinguished ministers of the Secession Church, one of the original members of the Constitutional Presbytery, and a principal instrument in preserving the profession of the body at a critical period of its history; and of his own father, the Rev. John Aitken, the present respected minister of the Original Secession congregation, Aberdeen, it is enough to say, that nowhere could his son have enjoyed a happier exhibition of the principles and practice of true godliness than he was privileged to do under his roof. With such training he grew up in external conformity with its rules, but
Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God;' and to this gracious change, by his own acknowledgment, he long remained a stranger. In the eyes of others he appeared, in early life, a very amiable and docile boy, untainted by any open vice, and a general favourite with all who knew him; but in his own estimate, deliberately formed and faithfully recorded, his childhood and youth were vanity. The following acknowledgment of the sins of his youth, written after he was grown up, may appear to many exaggerated, but will recommend itself to every one who remembers how hateful sin appears to a truly enlightened and sanctified mind: The sins of my youth are bitter in my remembrance. I hated instruction, I despised reproof. The Spirit of God often strove with me, but I grieved and resisted his motions. I was careless and inattentive to my studies. I had no wish, or at least I showed none, to please my parents. The holy Sabbath of the Lord was not remembered, but habitually, and without regret, broken. I remember, about the age of eight or nine, of telling many awful lies. I was, on being reproved for my faults, sulky and obstinate to my kind parents; and these are not a tenth part of my crimes. Thou, O Lord, hast all of them, in all their aggravations, before thine holy eye. Was ever a more fit subject found for the lowest hell? O what reason have I to cry with David, “ Remember not the sins of my youth!”'
Notwithstanding the indifference so feelingly mourned over in the above extract, the Spirit of God seems, at a period earlier perhaps than he was aware of, to have been preparing him for the gracious change which afterwards manifested itself. One mean that God employed for his awakening was the rod of personal and relative affliction. Naturally of a delicate constitution, he was, at an early period, subjected to frequent attacks of rheumatic fever--the same malady which ultimately cut him off—and he had to mourn over the early grave of more than one of his brothers and sisters. Two sweet little girls died when he was still a child; a younger brother, his companion, was afterwards taken from his side; and, about his tenth year, he lost an elder sister, who had just entered her thirteenth year. The death of this amiable young lady, which took place in the house of her grandfather, at Kirriemuir, was a very affecting but gratifying illustration of the text, 'Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise.' Naturally of a peculiarly delicate and retiring temperament, she shrunk, like the sensitive plant, almost from observation. Yet her mouth was opened on her death-bed; her natural reserve and timidity were laid aside, and she became the instructor and comforter of all that approached her. The subject of this memoir was not present at the affecting scene, but the event seems to have made a deep impression upon his mind. Some time afterwards he collected her dying sayings, and sent them to a religious periodical, in a brief memorial of her, which bears testimony both to the early piety of the deceased and to the sanctified affection and opening talents of its juvenile author. *
It was not, however, till his seventeenth year that any decided symptoms appeared of a gracious change on his own character. Two years before this he had finished, with credit, his preparatory studies at the Grammar School of Aberdeen, and had entered as a student in Marischal College, where he gained a bursary by competition. As yet he had formed no fixed plan for his future life; but, like many young men similarly situated, he embraced the opportunity of obtaining a classical education, leaving it, in a great measure, to the determination of future contingencies to what account the acquisition should be turned. To the prosecution of his studies he devoted himself with great assiduity, and had already acquitted himself with much credit in those classes through which he had passed. While thus eagerly engaged, however, in the pursuit of secular knowledge, the great Teacher began to deal with his heart, and soon convinced him that there was a species of learning more important than all that the stores of ancient literature, or the discoveries of modern science could supply-the knowledge of Him, whom to know is 'life eternal.' This pleasing fact we know from a manuscript volume which was found in his repositories after his death. It is not properly in the form of a diary; at least it does not enter minutely into the transactions and experiences of every day, but consists of occasional reflections on his spiritual condition, and memorials of his exercise, made at longer or shorter intervals.
The first entry is dated December 1st, 1839, and though it does not state by what means, or at what time, the first saving impressions had been made upon his mind, it shows us that he had now commenced in earnest the study of his own heart; had gone as a sincere suppliant to the throne of grace; had sat down at Jesus' feet, and, as a humble disciple in his school, had tasted something of the joy and peace that is in believing. The following extracts seem to breathe the spirit of one who has begun in earnest to seek the way to Zion :‘My Sabbaths are fast hastening to an end; another has passed into eternity, and I know not how many more may be awaiting me. O that I were enabled to consider well what use I make of them! It is
This will be inserted in a future Number.
surely calculated to lay me low in the dust to look back at the many Sabbaths I have abused. O what a wonder it was that the Lord did not cut me off in his wrath, in those days of sin! But, blessed be his name, “his mercy endureth for ever." His language still is, “Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My Father, thou art the guide of my youth?” I have much encouragement to do so. He has been my father's God, and my father's father's God, and he is willing to be my God. All those who have been enabled deliberately to choose him for theirs have set to their seal that he is true; and what I myself have experienced of his goodness has led me exclaim, “His favour is life, and his loving-kindness is better than life.”_" His ways are ways of pleasantness, and all his paths are peace.” In reading at worship this evening the third chapter of Jeremiah, I felt considerable difficulty in repressing my feelings, and no wonder. To read of the base ingratitude of God's professing people, after all that he had done for them, is surely enough to move a heart of stone. But what affected me most was to read in that chapter my own conduct towards God. He may well say concerning me, “What could have been done more for him than I have done?" He has brought me into the world, he has cast my lot in a christian land, and in a family where his name is feared; and yet, when he looked that I should bring forth fruit, I brought forth wild fruit. I feel that the Spirit of God is striving with me. May I cherish his motions, and not grieve him, lest I be given over to myself! In his gracious mercy may he avert such a dreadful calamity; and may the good work, which I trust is begun in my soul, be carried on until the day of Christ!' February 9th. How slow is the work of God in my soul! Instead of advancing in holiness, I often appear to be going back. I have an evil heart of unbelief, always ready to depart from the living God. O that the Lord would take it, and bind it to himself! Lord, I resign it to thee; into thy hands I commend my spirit. Thou alone canst keep it safely. Give me really an interest in Christ. I would take the kingdom by force, as one that must be saved. The conduct of worldly men is truly surprising, preferring a moment's pleasure to endless happiness. My soul, como not thou into their secret; let me not taste of their cruel happiness; but let my determination be, “Whatever others do, as for me I will serve the Lord.''
The volume from which the above extracts are taken remained, till his death, locked up in the repositories of the writer; but the state of mind to which they bear testimony he felt himself induced soon after to disclose. To this he was led by the depressing influence of one of those scenes of deep dejection through which the christian pilgrim has
What gave occasion to it he does not mention. Perhaps, like Christian, he fell asleep, and lost his roll; for there is no entry in his diary for more than twelve months. At all events, his sky became overcast. A beautiful morning appeared to have dawned upon him—a morning without clouds, but the clouds returned after the rain. In this state of mind he was in danger of razing the foundations of peace in his own bosom, and looked around for a faithful and affectionate counsellor. Gladly would he have opened his mind to his
often to pass.
father, but his natural modesty forbade. He summoned up courage, however, to do so to an attached and pious relative with whom he had always been on terms of the most affectionate familiarity. This interesting communication is dated June 19th, 1840 :—“My dear Aunt, I don't intend to write you a long letter at present. My object is to request that you would remember me on the ensuing occasion. (A communion at Clola.) If you get nearness to God at this time, while you remember the prosperity of his church, the cause you profess, and the guilty land in which you dwell, O forget not your poor nephew! Let your prayer for him be, “O that Ishmael may live before thee!” I wish I could tell you the state of my mind; but really I feel myself altogether unable to do so. My chief complaint is a hard heart. O that He, who alone can, would break it! Pray that these convictions may issue in genuine conversion.'
This brief note, not only in its contents, but in its penmanship, bears testimony to the conflict then going on in the bosom of the writer, and the struggle that it cost him to reveal it. To his friends, however, it afforded great satisfaction, indicating, as they fondly hoped, the decided commencement of a gracious work in his soul ; and to himself it was followed by the happiest results, by opening a free vent to the agitating feelings of his anxious mind, and applying to them the soothing balsam of affectionate sympathy and christian counsel. From this time the dark cloud that had gathered over his spirit cleared away; and though we find in his subsequent exercise the alternations of cloud and sunshine, which often diversify the experience, especially of the young convert, the lighter shade soon gained the ascendancy. A short time afterwards he again writes to the same confidential correspondent, August 8th, 1840:- When I wrote at the time of the sacrament, I was in great terror lest my convictions should be, as, alás ! they have often proved, “like the morning cloud, and the early dew which passeth away." Notwithstanding of the fulness and freeness of the gospel, and of its suitableness to perishing sinners, I am often still perplexed, there is such a deadness and indifference about me. My judgment is convinced; but I cannot feel about the only thing in this world that merits feeling. Often have I thought, when my heart was like to burst with joy in reading the gracious invitations of the gospel, that all was now right with myself, that at last I had found peace in believing, that my life was hid with Christ in God, and that whatever difficulties and trials I had to meet with, I should have strength from God to support me under them all, and at last a glorious reward; but alas ! ere many days passed over my head, my joy was turned into mourning. That evil and bitter thing sin interposed and damped all, and has sometimes made me think of giving over in despair. But no; let me rather struggle on, encouraged by the gracious promises of God, which are all yea and amen in Christ; and by the gladdening thought, that there are many now resting from their labours in the heavenly Jerusalem, who have gone through fire and water till they attained to the wealthy place. There are pleasures which the christian feels, even in mourning, which are surely far to be preferred to the joy-the short-lived and unsatisfactory joy-which