Archive for the ‘Vignettes from 19th Century District Visitation’ Category

Here is the fifth & last installment in this series.  To begin at part 1, click here.  Certainly, we observe that territorial missions is not for the faint of heart!

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In my Mission district, I was the witness of many joyful departures to be with Jesus,—I do not like to name them ” deaths ” at all. Even now, at the distance of nearly forty years, many instances, especially amongst the young men and women who attended my classes, rise up before my mind. They left us, rejoicing in the bright assurance that nothing present or to come “could ever separate them or us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Several of them, by their conversation even on their death-bed, were known to have done much good. Many examples might be given; but I can find room for only one. John Sim, a dear little boy, was carried away by consumption. His childish heart seemed to be filled with joy about seeing Jesus. His simple prattle, mingled with deep questionings, arrested not only his young companions, but pierced the hearts of some careless sinners who heard him, and greatly refreshed the faith of God’s dear people. It was the very pathos of song incarnated to hear the weak quaver of his dying voice sing out,—

“I lay my sins on Jesus,                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The spotless Lamb of God.”

Shortly before his decease he said to his parents, ” I am going soon to be with Jesus; but I sometimes fear that I may not see you there.”

“Why so, my child?” said his weeping mother.

” Because,” he answered, ” if you were set upon going to heaven and seeing Jesus there, you would pray about it, and sing about it; you would talk about Jesus to others, and tell them of that happy meeting with Him in Glory. All this my dear Sabbath school teacher taught me, and she will meet me there. Now why did not you, my father and mother, tell me all these things about Jesus, if you are going to meet Him too ? ”

Their tears fell fast over their dying child; and he little knew, in his unthinking eighth year, what a message from God had pierced their souls through his innocent words. One day an aunt from the country visited his mother, and their talk had run in channels for which the child no longer felt any interest. On my sitting down beside him, he said,—

” Sit you down and talk with me about Jesus; I am tired hearing so much talk about everything else but Jesus; I am going soon to be with Him. Oh, do tell me everything you know or have ever heard about Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God!”

At last the child literally longed to be away, not for rest, or freedom from pain—for of that he had very little—but, as he himself always put it, ” to see Jesus.” And, after all, that was the wisdom of the heart, however he learned it. Eternal life, here or hereafter, is just the vision of Jesus.

Amongst many of the Roman Catholics in my Mission district, also, I was very kindly received, and allowed even to read the Scriptures and to pray. At length, however, a young woman who professed to be converted by my classes and meetings brought things to a crisis betwixt them and me. She had renounced her former faith, was living in a Protestant family, and looked to me as her pastor and teacher. One night, a closed carriage, with two men and women, was sent from a Nunnery in Clyde Street, to take her and her little sister with them. She refused, and declined all authority on their part, declaring that she was now a Protestant by her own free choice. During this altercation, a message had been sent for me. On arriving, I found the house filled with a noisy crowd. Before them all, she appealed to me for protection from these her enemies. The Romanists, becoming enraged, jostled me into a corner of the room, and there enclosed me. The two women pulled her out of bed by force, for the girl had been sick, and began to dress her, but she fainted among their hands.

I called out,— “Do not murder the poor girl! Get her water, quick, quick!” and leaving my hat on the table, I rushed through amongst them, as if in search of water, and they let me pass. Knowing that the house had only one door, I quickly slipped the key from within, shut and locked the door outside, and with the key in my hand ran to the Police Office. Having secured two constables to protect the girl and take the would-be captors into custody, I returned, opened the door, and found, alas! that these constables were themselves Roman Catholics, and at once set about frustrating me and assisting their own friends. The poor sick girl was supported by the arms into the carriage ; the policemen cleared the way through the crowd; and before I could force my way through the obstructives in the house, the conveyance was already starting. I appealed and shouted to the crowds to protect the girl, and seize and take the whole party to the Police Office. A gentleman in the crowd took my part, and said to a big Highland policeman in the street,—

” Mac, I commit that conveyance and party to you on a criminal charge, before witnesses ; you will suffer, if they escape.”

The driver lashing at his horse to get away, Mac drew his baton and struck, when the driver leapt down to the street on the opposite side, and threw the reins in the policeman’s face. Thereupon our stalwart friend at once mounted the box, and drove straight for the Police Office. On arriving there, we discovered that only the women were inside with the tick girl—the men having escaped in the scuffle and the crush. What proved more disappointing was that the lieutenant on duty happened to be a Papist, who, after hearing our statement and conferring with the parties in the conveyance, returned, and said,—

“Her friends are taking her to a comfortable home; you have no right to interfere, and I have let them go.” He further refused to hear the grounds of our complaint, and ordered the police to clear the Office.

Next morning, a false and foolish account of the whole affair appeared in the Newspapers, condemnatory of the Mission and of myself; a meeting of the directors was summoned, and the Superintendent came to my lodging to take me before them. Having heard all, and questioned and cross-questioned me, they resolved to prosecute the abductors of the girl. The Nunnery authorities confessed that the little sister was with them, but denied that she had been taken in there, or that they knew anything of her case. Though the girl was sought for carefully by the Police, and by all the members of my class, for nearly a fortnight, no trace of her or of the coachman or of any of the parties could be discovered; till one day from a cellar, through a grated window, she called to one of my class girls passing by, and begged her to run and let me know that she was confined there. At once, the directors of the City Mission were informed by me, and Police were sent to rescue her; but on examining that house they found that she had been again removed. The occupiers denied all knowledge of where she had gone, or who had taken her away from their lodging. All other efforts failed to find her, till she was left at the Poor House door, far gone in dropsy, and soon after died in that last refuge of the destitute and forsaken.

Anonymous letters were now sent, threatening my life ; and I was publicly cursed from the altar by the priests in Abercromby Street Chapel. The directors of the Mission, fearing violence, advised me to leave Glasgow for a short holiday, and even offered to arrange for my being taken for work in Edinburgh for a year, that the fanatical passions of the Irish Papists might have time to subside. But I refused to leave my work. I went on conducting it all as in the past.  The worst thing that happened was, that on rushing one day past a row of houses occupied exclusively by Papists, a stone thrown from one of them cut me severely above the eye, and I fell stunned and bleeding. When I recovered and scrambled to my feet, no person of course that could be suspected was to be seen!  The doctor having dressed the wound, it rapidly healed, and after a short confinement I resumed my work and my studies without any further serious annoyance. Attempts were made more than once, in these Papist closes, and I believe by the Papists themselves, to pour pails of boiling water on my head, over windows and down dark stairs, but in every case I marvellously escaped; and as I would not turn coward, their malice tired itself out, and they ultimately left me entirely at peace. Is not this a feature of the lower Irish, and especially Popish population.  Let them see that bullying makes you afraid, and they will brutally and cruelly misuse you; but defy them fearlessly, or take them by the nose, and they will crouch like whelps beneath your feet. Is there anything in their Religion that accounts for this? Is it not a system of alternating tyranny on the one part, and terror, abject terror, on the other?

About this same time there was an election of elders for Dr. Symington’s congregation, and I was by an almost unanimous vote chosen for that office. For years now I had been attached to them as City Missionary for their district, and many friends urged me to accept the eldership, as likely to increase my usefulness, and give me varied experience for my future work. My dear father, also, himself an elder in the congregation at Dumfries, advised me similarly; and though very young, comparatively, for such a post, I did accept the office, and continued to act as an elder and member of Dr. Symington’s kirk session, till by-and-by I was ordained as a Missionary to the New Hebrides, where the great lot of my life had been cast by the Lord, as yet unknown to me.

All through my City Mission period, I was painfully carrying on my studies, first at the University of Glasgow, and thereafter at the Reformed Presbyterian Divinity Hall; and also medical classes at the Andersonian College. With the exception of one session, when failure of health broke me down, I struggled patiently on through ten years. The work was hard and most exacting ; and if I never attained the scholarship for which I thirsted—being but poorly grounded in my younger days—I yet had much of the blessed Master’s presence in all my efforts, which many better scholars sorely lacked ; and I was sustained by the lofty aim which burned all these years bright within my soul, namely,—to be qualified as a preacher of the Gospel of Christ, to be owned and used by Him for the salvation of perishing men.

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Here is the fourth installment in this series.  To begin at part 1, click here.

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Though intemperance was the main cause of poverty, suffering, misery, and vice in that district of Glasgow, I had also considerable opposition from Romanists and Infidels, many of whom met in clubs, where they drank together and gloried in their wickedness and in leading other young men astray.  Against these I prepared and delivered lectures, at the close of which discussion was allowed; but I fear they did little good. These men embraced the opportunity of airing their absurdities, or sowing the seeds of corruption in those whom otherwise they could never have reached, while their own hearts and minds were fast shut against all conviction or light.

One infidel Lecturer in the district became very ill.  His wife called me in to visit him. I found him possessed of a circulating library of infidel books, by which he sought to pervert unwary minds. Though he had talked and lectured much against the Gospel, he did not at all really understand its message.  He had read the Bible, but only to find food there for ridicule. Now supposed to be dying, he confessed that his mind was full of terror as to the Future. After several visits and frequent conversations and prayers, he became genuinely and deeply interested, drank in God’s message of salvation, and cried aloud with many tears for pardon and peace . He bitterly lamented the evil he had done, and called in all the infidel literature that he had in circulation, with the purpose of destroying it.  He began to speak solemnly to any of his old companions that came to see him, telling them what he had found in the Lord Jesus. At his request I bought and brought to him a Bible, which he received with great joy, saying, ” This is the book for me now ;” and adding, ” Since you were here last, I gathered together all my infidel books; my wife locked the door, till she and my daughter tore them to pieces, and I struck the light that reduced the pile to ashes.”

As long as he lived, this man was unwearied and unflinching in testifying, to all that crossed his path, how much Jesus Christ had been to his heart and soul; and he died in the possession of a full and blessed hope.

Another Infidel, whose wife was a Roman Catholic also became unwell, and gradually sank under great suffering and agony. His blasphemies against God weie known and shuddered at by all the neighbours. His wife pled with me to visit him. She refused, at my suggestion, to call her own priest, so I accompanied her at last.  The man refused to hear one word about spiritual things, and foamed with rage. He even spat at me, when I mentioned the name of Jesus. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him!”  There is a wisdom which is at best earthly, and at worst ” sensual and devilish.”  His wife asked me to take care of the little money they had, as she would not entrust it to her own priest.  I visited the poor man daily, but his enmity to God and his sufferings together seemed to drive him mad.  His yells gathered crowds on the streets.  He tore to pieces his very bed-clothes, till they had to bind him on the iron bed where he lay, foaming and blaspheming.  Towards the end I pled with him even then to look to the Lord Jesus, and asked if I might pray with him?  With all his remaining strength, he shouted at me,—

“Pray for me to the devil!”

Reminding him how he had always denied that there was any devil, I suggested that he must surely believe in one now, else he would scarcely make such a request, even in mockery. In great rage he cried,—

“Yes, I believe there is a devil, and a God, and a just God, too; but I have hated Him in life, and I hate Him in death!”

With these awful words, he wriggled into Eternity ; but his shocking death produced a very serious impression for good, especially amongst young men, in the district where his character was known.

How different was the case of that Doctor who also had been an unbeliever as well as a drunkard!  Highly educated, skilful, and gifted above most in his profession, he was taken into consultation for specially dangerous cases, whenever they could find him tolerably sober.  After one of his excessive “bouts,” he had a dreadful attack of delirium tremens.  At one time, wife and watchers had a fierce struggle to dash from his lips a draught of prussic acid; at another, they detected the silver-hafted lancet concealed in the band of his shirt, as he lay down, to bleed himself to death.  His aunt came and pled with me to visit him.  My heart bled for his poor young wife and two beautiful little children.  Visiting him twice daily, and sometimes even more frequently, I found the way somehow into his heart, and he would do almost anything for me and longed for my visits. When again the fit of self-destruction seized him, they sent for me; he held out his hand eagerly, and grasping mine, said,—

“Put all these people out of the room, remain you with me; I will be quiet, I will do everything you ask!”

I got them all to leave, but whispered to one in passing to “keep near the door.”

Alone I sat beside him, my hand in his, aid kept up a quiet conversation for several hours.  After whad talked of everything that I could think of, and it was now far into the morning, I said,—

“If you had a Bible here, we might read a chapter, verse about.”

He said dreamily, “There was once a Bible above yon press ; if you can get up to it, you might find it there yet.”

Getting it, dusting it, and laying it on a small cable which I drew near to the sofa on which we sat, we read there and then a chapter together. After this, I said, ” Now, shall we pray? ”

He replied heartily, “Yes.”

I having removed the little table, we kneeled down together at the sofa; and after a solemn pause, I whispered, “You pray first.”

He replied, “I curse, I cannot pray; would you have me curse God to His face?”

I answered, “You promised to do all that I asked ; you must pray, or try to pray, and let me hear that you cannot.”

He said, “I cannot curse God on my knees ; let me stand, and I will curse Him; I cannot pray.”

I gently held him on his knees, saying, “Just try to pray, and let me hear you cannot”

Instantly he cried out , “O Lord, Thou knowest I cannot pray,” and was going to say something dreadful as he strove to rise up.  But I just took the words he had uttered as if they had been my own, and continued the prayer, pleading for him and his dear ones as we knelt there together, till he showed that he was completely subdued and lying low at the feet of God. On rising from our knees he was manifestly greatly impressed, and I said,—

“Now, as I must be at College by daybreak and must return to my lodging for my books and an hour’s rest, will you do one thing more for me before I go?”

“Yes,” was his reply.

“Then,” said I, “it is long since you had a refreshing sleep; now, will you lie down, and I will sit by you till you fall asleep?”

He lay down, and was soon fast asleep.  After commending him to the care and blessing of the Lord, I quietly slipped out, and his wife returned to watch by his side. When I came back later in the day, after my classes were over, he, on hearing my foot and voice, came running to meet me, and clasping me in his arms, cried,—

“Thank God, I can pray now!  I rose this morning refreshed from sleep, and prayed with my wife and children for the first time in my life; and now I shall do so every day, and serve God while I live, who hath dealt in so great mercy with me!”

After delightful conversation, he promised to go with me to Dr. Symington’s church on Sabbath Day; there he took sittings beside me;  at next half-yearly communion he and his wife were received into membership, and their children were baptized;  and from that day till his death he led a devoted and most useful Christian life.  Henceforth, as a medical man he delighted to attend all poor and destitute cases which we brought under his care; he ministered to them for Jesus’ sake, and spoke to them of their blessed Saviour. When he came across cases that were hopeless, he sent for me to visit them too, being as anxious for their souls as for their bodies. He died, years after this, of consumption, partly at least the fruit of early excesses; but he was serenely prepared for death, and happy in the assured hope of eternal blessedness with Christ He sleeps in Jesus; and I do believe that I shall meet him in Glory as a trophy of redeeming grace and love!

[Go to last post.]

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For the previous installment, click here.  I include all of Paton’s comments reflecting his total abstinence views, though I do not share them.  They do provide an accurate picture of what some laborers in the city mission movement themselves endorsed. 

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Great good resulted from this Total Abstinence work. Many adults took and kept the pledge, thereby greatly increasing the comfort and happiness of their homes. Many were led to attend the church on the Lord’s Day, who had formerly spent it in rioting and drinking. But, above all, it trained the young to fear the very name of intoxicating drink, and to hate and keep far away from everything that led to intemperance. From observation, at an early age I became convinced that mere Temperance Societies were a failure, and that Total Abstinence, by the grace of God, was the only sure preventive as well as remedy. What was temperance in one man was drunkenness in another ; and all the drunkards came not from those who practised total abstinence, but from those who practised or tried to practise temperance. I had seen temperance men drinking wine in the presence of others who drank to excess, and never could see how they felt clear of blame; and I had known ministers and others, once strong temperance advocates, fall through their “moderation ” and become drunkards. Therefore it has all my life appeared to me beyond dispute, in reference to intoxicants of every kind, that the only rational temperance is total abstinence from them as beverages, and the use of them only as drugs, and then only with extreme caution, as they are deceptive and deleterious poisons of the most debasing and demoralizing kind. I found also, that when I tried to reclaim a drunkard, or caution any one as to intemperate habits, one of the first questions was,— “Are you a pledged Abstainer yourself?” By being enabled to reply decidedly, ” Yes, I am,” the mouth of the objector was closed ; and that gave me a hundred-fold more influence with him than if I had had to confess that I was only “temperate.” For the good of others, and for the increase of their personal influence as the servants of Christ, I would plead with every Minister and Missionary, every officebearer and Sabbath school teacher, every one who wishes to work for the Lord Jesus in the family, the Church, and the world, to be a Total Abstainer from all intoxicating drinks.

I would add my testimony also against the use of tobacco, which injures and leads many astray, especially the very young, and which never can be required by any person in ordinary health. But I would not be understood to regard the evils that flow from it as deserving to be mentioned in comparison with the unutterable woes and miseries of intemperance. To be protected, however, from suspicion and from evil, all the followers of Jesus should, in self-denial (how small!) and consecration to His service, be pledged Abstainers from both of these selfish indulgences, which are certainly injurious to many, which are no ornament to any character, and which can be no help in well-doing. Praise God for the many who are now so pledged!  Happy day for poor Humanity, when all the Lord’s people adopt this self-denying ordinance for the good of the race !

Not boastfully, but gratefully, let me record that my Classes and Meetings were now attended by such numbers that they were amongst the largest and most successful that the City Mission had ever known ; and by God’s blessing I was enabled to develop them into a regular, warmly attached, and intelligent Congregation.  My work, however exacting, was full of joy to me. From five to six hundred people were in usual weekly attendance; consisting exclusively of poor working persons, and largely of the humbler class of mill-workers. So soon as their circumstances improved, they were constantly removing to more respectable and healthy localities, and got to be scattered over all the city. But wherever they went, I visited them regularly to prevent their falling away, and held by them till I got them interested in some Church near where they had gone to live. On my return, many years after, from the Foreign Mission field, there was scarcely a congregation in any part of the city where some one did not warmly salute me with the cry, ” Don’t you remember me ?” And then, after greetings, came the well-remembered name of one or other member of my old Bible Class.

Such toils left me but small time for private studies. The City Missionary was required to spend four hours daily in his work ; but often had I to spend double that time, day after day, in order to overtake what was laid upon me. About eight or ten of my most devoted young men, and double that number of young women, whom I had trained to become visitors and tract distributors, greatly strengthened my hands. Each of the young men by himself, and the young women two by two, had charge of a portion of a street, which was visited by them regularly twice every month. At a monthly meeting of all our Workers, reports were given in, changes were noted, and all matters brought under notice were attended to. Besides, if any note or message were left at my lodging, or any case of sickness or want reported, it was looked after by me without delay. Several Christian gentlemen, mill-owners and other employers in the Gallon, Mile-end, and Bridgeton of Glasgow, were so interested in my work that they kindly offered to give employment to every deserving person recommended by me, and that relieved much distress and greatly increased my influence for good.

Almost the only enemies I had were the keepers of Public-Houses, whose trade had been injured by my Total Abstinence Society. Besides the Saturday night meetings all the year round, we held, in summer evenings and on Saturday afternoons, Evangelistic and Total Abstinence services in the open air. We met in Thomson’s Lane, a short, broad street, not open for the traffic of conveyances, and admirably situated for our purposes. Our pulpit was formed by the top of an outside stair, leading to the second flat of a house in the middle of the lane. Prominent Christian workers took part with us in delivering addresses; an intimation through my classes usually secured good audiences; and the hearty singing of hymns by my Mission Choir gave zest and joy to the whole proceedings. Of other so-called ” attractions ” we had none, and needed none, save the sincere proclamation of the Good Tidings from God to men!

On one occasion, it becoming known that we had arranged for a special Saturday afternoon demonstration, a deputation of Publicans complained beforehand to the Captain of the Police that our meetings were interfering with their legitimate trade. He heard their complaints and promised to send officers to watch the meeting, prevent any disturbance, and take in charge all offenders, but declined to prohibit the meetings till he received their reports. The Captain, a pious Wesleyan, who was in full sympathy with us and our work, informed me of the complaints made and intimated that his men would be present, but I was just to conduct the meeting as usual, and he would guarantee that strict justice would be done. The Publicans, having announced amongst their sympathisers that the Police were to break up and prevent our meeting and take the conductors in charge, a very large crowd assembled, both friendly and unfriendly, for the Publicans and their hangers-on were there ” to see the fun,” and to help in baiting the Missionary. Punctually, I ascended the stone stair, accompanied by another Missionary who war also to deliver an address, and announced our opening hymn. As we sang, a company of Police appeared, and were quietly located here and there among the crowd, the Serjeant himself taking his post close by the platform, whence the whole assembly could be scanned. Our enemies were jubilant, and signals were passed betwixt them and their friends, as if the time had come to provoke a row. Before the hymn was finished, Captain Baker himself, to the infinite surprise of friend and foe alike, joined us on the platform, devoutly listened to all that was said, and waited till the close. The Publicans could not for very shame leave, while he was there at their suggestion and request, though they had wit enough to perceive that his presence had frustrated all their sinister plans. They had to heat our addresses and prayers and hymns ; they had to listen to the intimation of our future meetings. When all had quietly dispersed, the Captain warmly congratulated us on our large and well-conducted congregation, and hoped that great good would result from our efforts. This opposition, also, the Lord overruled to increase our influence, and to give point and publicity to our assaults upon the kingdom of Satan. Though disappointed thus, some of the Publicans resolved to have revenge. On the following Saturday evening, when a large meeting was being addressed in our Green Street Church, which had to be entered by a great iron gateway, a spirit merchant ran his van in front of the gate, so that the people could not leave the Church without its removal. Hearing this, I sent two of my young men to draw it aside and clear the way. The Publican, watching near by in league with two policemen, pounced upon the young men whenever they seized the shafts, and gave them in charge for removing his property. On hearing that the young men were being marched to the Police Office, I ran after them and asked what was their offence ? They replied that they were prisoners for injuring the spirit merchant’s property; and the officers tartly informed me that if I further interfered I would be taken too. I replied, that as the young men only did what was necessary, and at my request, I would go with them to the Office. The cry now went through the street, that the Publicans were sending the Missionary and his young men to the Police Office, and a huge mob rushed together to rescue us; but I earnestly entreated them not to raise disturbance, but allow us quietly to pass on. At the Office, it appeared as if the lieutenant on duty and the men under him were all in sympathy with the Publicans. He took down in writing all their allegations, but would not listen to us. At this stage a handsomely dressed and dignified gentleman came forward and said,—

” What bail is required ?” 

A few sharp words passed ; another, and apparently higher, officer entered, and took part in the colloquy. I could only hear’ the gentleman protest, in authoritative tones, the policemen having been quietly asked some questions.—

“I know this whole case, I will expose it to the bottom ; expect me here to stand by the Missionary and these young men on Monday morning.”

Before I could collect my wits to thank him, and before I quite understood what was going on, he had disappeared; and the superior officer turned to us and intimated in a very respectful manner that the charge had been withdrawn, and that I and my friends were at liberty. I never found out exactly who the gentleman was that befriended us; but from the manner in which he asserted himself and was listened to, I saw that he was well known in official quarters. From that day our work progressed without further open opposition, and many who had been slaves of intemperance were not only reformed, but became fervent workers in the Total Abstinence cause.

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Following is the next installment of John G. Paton’s account of his experience with the Glasgow City Mission, an example of 19th century urban territorial missions.  For the previous one, click here.

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The kind cow-feeder had to inform us—and he did it with much genuine sorrow—that at a given date he would require the hay-loft, which was our place of meeting; and as no other suitable house or hall could be got, the poor people and I feared the extinction ofJohn G. Paton our work. On hearing this the ostlers and other servants of Menzies, the coach-hirer, who had extensive premises near our place of meeting, of their own accord asked and obtained liberty to clear out a hay-loft of theirs that was seldom in use, and resolved, at their own expense, to erect an outside wooden stair for the convenience of the people. This becoming known, and being much talked of, caused great joy in the district, arrested general attention, and increased the interest of our work. But I saw that, however generous, it could be at the best only another temporary arrangement, and that the premises might again at any moment be required. After prayer I therefore laid the whole case before my good and great-hearted friend, Thomas Binnie, Esq., Monteith Row, and he, after inquiring into all the circumstances, secured a good site for a Mission Hall in a piece of unoccupied ground near our old hay-loft, on which he proposed to build suitable premises at his own expense. At that very time; however, a commodious block of buildings, that had been Church, Schools, Manse, etc., came into the market Mr. Binnie persuaded Dr. Symington’s congregation, Great Hamilton Street, in connection with which my Mission was carried on, to purchase the whole property for Mission purposes. Its situation at the foot of Green Street gave it a control of the whole district where my work lay ; and so the Church was given to me in which to conduct all my meetings, while the other halls were adapted as Schools for poor girls and boys, where they were educated by a proper master, and were largely supplied with books, clothing, and even food, by the ladies of the congregation. The purchasing and using of these buildings for an evangelistic and educational Mission became a blessing — a very conspicuous blessing — to that district in the Calton of Glasgow ; and the blessing still perpetuates itself, not only in the old premises, now used for an Industrial School, but still more in the beautiful and spacious Mission Halls, erected immediately in front of the old, and consecrated to the work of the Lord in that poor and crowded and clamant portion of the city.

Availing myself of the increased facilities, my work was all re-organized. On Sabbath morning, at seven o’clock, I had one of the most deeply interesting and fruitful of all my Classes for the study of the Bible. It was attended by from seventy to a hundred of the very poorest young women and grown-up lads of the whole district.  They had nothing to put on except their ordinary work-day clothes,—all without bonnets some without shoes. Beautiful was it to mark how the poorest began to improve in personal appearance immediately after they came to our class ; how they gradually got shoes and one bit of clothing after another, to enable them to attend our other meetings- and then to go to church ; and, above all, how eagerly they sought to bring others with them, taking a deep personal interest in all the work of the Mission. Long after they themselves could appear in excellent dress, many of them still continued to attend in their working clothes, and to bring other and poorer girls with them to that morning class, and thereby helped to improve and elevate their companions.

My delight in that Bible Class was among the purest joys in all my life, and the results were amongst the most certain and precious of all my ministry. Yet it was not made successful without unceasing pains and prayers. What would my younger brethren in the Ministry, or in the Mission, think of starting out at six o’clock every Sunday morning, running from street to street for an hour, knocking at the doors and rousing the careless, and thus getting together, and keeping together, their Bible Class?  This was what I did at first; but, in course of time, a band of voluntary visitors belonging to the class took charge of all the irregulars, the indifferents, and the new-comers, and thereby not only relieved and assisted me, but vastly increased their own personal interest, and became warmly attached to each other. 

I had also a very large Bible Class—a sort of Bible-reading—on Monday night, attended by all, of both sexes and of any age, who cared to come or had any interest in the work. Wednesday evening, again, was devoted to a Prayer Meeting for all, and the attendance often more than half-filled the Church. There I usually took up some book of Holy Scripture, and read and lectured right through, practically expounding and applying it.  On Thursday I held a Communicants’ Class, intended for the more careful instruction of all who wished to become full members of the Church. Our constant text-book was “Patterson on the Shorter Catechism,” than which I have never seen a better compendium of the doctrines of Holy Scripture. Each being thus trained for a season, received from me, if found worthy, a letter to the minister of any Protestant Church which he or she inclined to join. In this way great numbers became active and useful communicants in the surrounding congregations, and eight young lads of humble circumstances educated themselves for the ministry of the Church,—most of them getting their first lessons in Latin and Greek from my very poor stock of the same! Friday evening was occupied with a Singing Class, teaching Church music, and practising for our Sabbath meetings. On Saturday evening we held our Total Abstinence meeting, at which the members themselves took a principal part, in readings, addresses, recitations, singing hymns, etc. . . .


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It has been some time since I’ve read the classic John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides (1898).  A truly amazing story of God’s work through a humble, Scottish Presbyterian missionary among the cannibals of Australasia.

But I had altogether forgotten the book’s recounting of his preparatory work in the Glasgow City Mission.  He had been an active district visitor in the famous mission work founded by David Nasmith and patterned largely on Thomas Chalmers’ mission principles of locality and aggression.  In the next few installments, we’ll offer some selections from Paton’s chapter on his experience with the Glasgow City Mission.  It should give us some firsthand insight into what 19th century district visitation among the urban poor looked like.  (And, by the by, I personally abstain from his teetotalism.)

* * * * *

Before undertaking the Maryhill school, I had applied to be taken on as an agent in the Glasgow City Mission ; and the night before I had to leave Maryhill, I received a letter from Rev. Thomas Caie, the superintendent of the said Mission, saying that the directors had kept their eyes on me ever since my application, and requesting, as they understood I was leaving the school, that I would appear before them the next morning, and have my qualifications for becoming a Missionary examined into. Praising God, I went off at once, passed the examination successfully, and was appointed to spend two hours that afternoon and the following Monday in visitation with two of the directors, calling at every house in a low district of the town, and conversing with all the characters encountered there on their eternal welfare. I had also to preach a ” trial” discourse in a Mission meeting, where a deputation of directors would be present, the following evening being Sunday ; and on Wednesday evening, they met again to hear their reports and to accept or reject me. All this had come upon me so unexpectedly, that I almost anticipated failure; but looking up for help I went through with it, and on the fifth day after leaving the school they called me before a meeting of directors, and informed me that I had passed my trials most successfully, and that the reports were so favourable that they had unanimously resolved to receive me at once as one of their City Missionaries. It was further explained that one of their number, Matthew Fairley, Esq., an elder in Dr. Symington’s congregation, had guaranteed the half of my salary for two years, the other half to be met by the resources of the Mission voluntarily contributed,—the whole salary at that time amounting to £40 per annum. The district allocated to me was one especially needful and trying, that had never been occupied, in and around the Green Street of Calton, and I was enjcined to enter upon my duties at once. After receiving many good and kind counsels from these good and kind men, one of them in prayer very solemnly dedicated me and my work to the Lord; and several of them were appointed to introduce me to my district, taking a day each by turns, and to assist me in making arrangements for the on-carrying of the work. Deeply solemnized with the responsibilities of my new office, I left that meeting praising God for all His undeserved mercies, and seeing most clearly His gracious hand in all the way by which He had led me, and the trials by which He had prepared me for the sphere of service, Man proposes—God disposes.

Most of these directors were men of God, adapted and qualified for this special work, and very helpful in counsel as they went with me from day to day, introducing me to my district, and seeing the character and position of the people dwelling there. Looking back upon these Mission experiences, I have ever felt that they were, to me and many others, a good and profitable training of students for the office of the Ministry, preparing us to deal with men of every shade of thought and of character, and try to lead them to the knowledge and service of the Lord Jesus. I found the district a very degraded one. Many families said they had never been visited by any minister; and many were lapsed professors of religion who had attended no church for ten, sixteen, or twenty years, and said they had never been called upon by any minister, nor by any Christian visitor. In it were congregated many avowed infidels, Romanists, and drunkards,—living together, and associated for evil, but apparently without any effective counteracting influence. In many of its closes and courts sin and vice walked about openly—naked and not ashamed.

We were expected to spend four hours daily in visiting from house to house, holding small prayer meetings amongst those visited, calling them together also in evening meetings, and trying by all means to do whatever good was possible amongst them. The only place in the whole district available for a Sabbath evening Evangelistic Service was a hay-loft, under which a cow-feeder kept a large number of cows, and which was reached by an outside rickety wooden stair. After nearly a year’s hard work, I had only six or seven non-church-goers, who had been led to attend regularly there, besides about the same number who met on a week evening in the groundfloor of a house kindly granted for the purpose by a poor and industrious but ill-used Irishwoman. She supported her family by keeping a little shop, and selling coals. Her husband was a powerful man —a good worker, but a hard drinker, and, like too many others addicted to intemperance, he abused and beat her, and pawned and drank everything he could get hold of. She, amid many prayers and tears, bore everything patiently, and strove to bring up her only daughter in the fear of God. We exerted, by God’s blessing, a good influence upon him through our meetings. He became a total abstainer, gave up his evil ways, and attended church regularly with his wife. As his interest increased, he tried to bring others also to the meeting, and urged them to become abstainers. His wife became a centre of help and of good influence I all the district, as she kindly invited all and welcomed them to the meeting in her house, and my work grew every day more hopeful.

Seeing, however, that one year’s hard work showed sach small results, the directors proposed to remove me to another district, as in their estimation the nonchurch-goers in Green Street were unassailable by ordinary means. I pleaded for six months’ longer trial, as I had gained the confidence of many of the poor people there, and had an invincible faith that the good seed sown would soon bear blessed fruit.  To this the directors kindly agreed. At our next meeting I informed those present that, if we could not draw out more of the non-church-goers to attend the services, I should be removed to another part of the city. Each one there and then agreed to bring another to our next meeting. Both our meetings at once doubled their attendance. My interest in them and their interest in me now grew apace, and, for fear I might be taken away from them, they made another effort, and again doubled our attendance. Henceforth meeting and class were both too large for any house that was available for us in the whole of our district.  We instituted a Bible Class, a Singing Class, a Communicants’ Class, and a Total Abstinence Society; and, in addition to the usual meetings, we opened two prayer meetings specially for the Calton division of the Glasgow Police—one at a suitable hour for the men on day duty, and another for those on night duty. The men got up a Mutual Improvement Society and Singing Class also amongst themselves, weekly, on another evening. My work now occupied every evening in the week; and I had two meetings every Sabbath. By God’s blessing they all prospered, and gave evidence of such fruits as showed that the Lord was working there for good by our humble instrumentality.

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From the diary of Sir Michael Connal, evangelical Presbyterian merchant in Glasgow:

“November 6 [1838].—Visited two poor women, as a member of the Stirlingshire Charitable Society ; one a Mrs. Buchanan, a poor object, five children.just out of scarlet fever, three stairs up in a back land in the High Street; dreadful poverty, suffocating smell, rags, filth ; these sights should make me more and more active in doing good. I feel more and more satisfied with my position in providence ; may I improve it aright, devoting mind and body to the pursuit so far as is consistent with Christian light and love. May I be blessed in my mental pursuits as enlarging and strengthening my mind.”

March 12 [1844].—How various my employments often in the evening. Visited a Roman Catholic dying of consumption. Attempted to speak, but was put off with many excuses. Took up a missal and read a few verses of the 51 st Psalm.”

“October 28 [1844].—On Monday evening called round upon various families in my district. I was interested in one family especially. How much real elegance and politeness and decorum there is in a family under the influence of religion, however poor.”

January 13 [1846].— . . . On New Year’s Day went to call in the Spoutmouth on the woman Mackay; found that she had died that morning. Got a lesson not to speak harshly to those whom I visited. Was much pleased with the affection of the Roman Catholic woman, with whom she lived, for the deceased.”

October 2 [1847].—I have had much pleasure in visiting through my district. How much contentment, how much happiness, with very little of this world.”

April 5 [1848].—Went through my district; found the people glad to see me.”

October 10 [1850].— . . . I have been pressed in spirit to purchase the Dovehill Church. I think that schools could be opened there to advantage. I do think that it is my duty to turn to the next great means of the elevation of that district of the city in the institution of a school. . . . I know that it will cost me labour and trouble, but I have undertaken the adventure knowing that I have many opportunities to accomplish successfully now what I may not have at a future time. I pity the cold selfishness of some so-called Christians. Nothing but earnestness will do. Devotedness of purpose is the characteristic of Rome; why not of Protestants ?

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