My father had a strong desire to be a minister of the Gospel; but when he finally saw that God's will had marked out for him another lot, he reconciled himself by entering with his own soul into this solemn vow,—that if God gave him sons, he would consecrate them unreservedly to the ministry of Christ, if the Lord saw fit to accept the offering, and open up their way. It may be enough here to say that he lived to see three of us entering upon and not unblessed in the Holy Office;—myself, the eldest born; my brother Walter, several years my junior; and my brother James, the youngest of eleven, the Benjamin of the flock...
Each of us, from very early days, considered it no penalty, but a great joy, to go with our father to the church; the four miles were a treat to our young spirits, the company by the way was a fresh incitement, and occasionally some of the wonders of city-life rewarded our eager eyes. A few other pious men and women, of the best evangelical type, went from the same parish to one or other favourite minister at Dumfries,—the parish church during all those years being rather miserably served; and when these God-fearing peasants "foregathered" in the way to or from the House of God, we youngsters had sometimes rare glimpses of what Christian talk may be and ought to be. They went to the church, full of beautiful expectancy of spirit—their souls were on the outlook for God; they returned from the church, ready and even anxious to exchange ideas as to what they had heard and received of the things of life. I have to bear my testimony that religion was presented to us with a great deal of intellectual freshness, and that it did not repel us but kindled our spiritual interest. The talks which we heard were, however, genuine; not the make-believe of religious conversation, but the sincere outcome of their own personalities. That, perhaps, makes all the difference betwixt talk that attracts and talk that drives away.
We had, too, special Bible Readings on the Lord's Day evening,—mother and children and visitors reading in turns, with fresh and interesting question, answer, and exposition, all tending to impress us with the infinite grace of a God of love and mercy in the great gift of His dear Son Jesus, our Saviour. The Shorter Catechism was gone through regularly, each answering the question asked, till the whole had been explained, and its foundation in Scripture shown by the proof-texts adduced. It has been an amazing thing to me, occasionally to meet with men who blamed this "catechizing" for giving them a distaste to religion; every one in all our circle thinks and feels exactly the opposite. It laid the solid rock-foundations of our religious life. After-years have given to these questions and their answers a deeper or a modified meaning, but none of us have ever once even dreamed of wishing that we had been otherwise trained. Of course, if the parents are not devout, sincere, and affectionate,—if the whole affair on both sides is taskwork, or worse, hypocritical and false,—results must be very different indeed!
Oh, I can remember those happy Sabbath evenings; no blinds down, and shutters up, to keep out the sun from us, as some scandalously affirm; but a holy, happy, entirely human day, for a Christian father, mother, and children to spend. How my father would parade across and across our flag-floor, telling over the substance of the day's sermons to our dear mother, who, because of the great distance and because of her many living "encumbrances," got very seldom indeed to the church, but gladly embraced every chance, when there was prospect or promise of a "lift" either way from some friendly gig! How he would entice us to help him to recall some idea or other, praising us when we got the length of "taking notes" and reading them over on our return; how he would turn the talk ever so naturally to some Bible story or some Martyr reminiscence, or some happy allusion to the "Pilgrim's Progress"! And then it was quite a contest, which of us would get to read aloud, while all the rest listened, and father added here and there a happy thought, or illustration, or anecdote.
Others must write and say what they will, and as they feel; but so must I. There were eleven of us brought up in a home like that; and never one of the eleven, boy or girl, man or woman, has been heard, or ever will be heard, saying that Sabbath was dull or wearisome for us, or suggesting that we have heard of or seen any way more likely than that for making the Day of the Lord bright and blessed alike for parents and for children. But God help the homes where these things are done by force and not by love!
The very discipline through which our father passed us was a kind of religion in itself. If anything really serious required to be punished, he retired first to his "closet" for prayer, and we boys got to understand that he was laying the whole matter before God; and that was the severest part of the punishment for me to bear! I could have defied any amount of mere penalty, but this spoke to my conscience as a message from God. We loved him all the more, when we saw how much it cost him to punish us; and, in truth, he had never very much of that kind of work to do upon any one of all the eleven—we were ruled by love far more than by fear.
From John G. Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides: An Autobiography. Edited by his brother. New Illustrated ed. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, [1889?].
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