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Rev John Watson Or Ian Maclaren





During the course of my ministry, and especially of recent years, I have
been moved to certain actions for which there seemed no reason, and
which I only performed under the influence of a sudden impulse. As often
as I yielded to this inward guidance, and before the issue was
determined, my mind had a sense of relief and satisfaction, and in all
distinct and important cases my course was in the end most fully
justified. With the afterlook one is most thankful that on certain
occasions he was not disobedient to the touch of the unseen, and only
bitterly regrets that on other occasions he was callous and wilful or
was overcome by shame and timidity. What seem just and temperate
inferences from such experiences will be indicated after they have been
described, and it only remains for me to assure my readers that they are
selected from carefully treasured memories, and will be given in as full
and accurate detail as may be possible in circumstances which involve
other people and one's own private life.

It was my privilege, before I came to Sefton Park Church, to serve as
colleague with a venerable minister to whom I was sincerely attached and
who showed me much kindness. We both felt the separation keenly and kept
up a constant correspondence, while this good and affectionate man
followed my work with spiritual interest and constant prayer. When news
came one day that he was dangerously ill it was natural that his friend
should be gravely concerned, and as the days of anxiety grew, that the
matter should take firm hold of the mind. It was a great relief to
learn, towards the end of a week, that the sickness had abated, and
when, on Sunday morning, a letter came with strong and final assurance
of recovery the strain was quite relaxed, and I did my duty at morning
service with a light heart. During the afternoon my satisfaction began
to fail, and I grew uneasy till, by evening service, the letter of the
morning counted for nothing.

After returning home my mind was torn with anxiety and became most
miserable, fearing that this good man was still in danger and, it might
be, near unto death. Gradually the conviction deepened and took hold of
me that he was dying and that I would never see him again, till at last
it was laid on me that if I hoped to receive his blessing I must make
haste, and by-and-by that I had better go at once. It did not seem as if
I had now any choice, and I certainly had no longer any doubt; so,
having written to break two engagements for Monday, I left at midnight
for Glasgow. As I whirled through the darkness it certainly did occur
to me that I had done an unusual thing, for here was a fairly busy man
leaving his work and going a long night's journey to visit a sick
friend, of whose well-being he had been assured on good authority. By
every evidence which could tell on another person he was acting
foolishly, and yet he was obeying an almost irresistible impulse.

The day broke as we climbed the ascent beyond Moffat, and I was now only
concerned lest time should be lost on the way. On arrival I drove
rapidly to the well-known house, and was in no way astonished that the
servant who opened the door should be weeping bitterly, for the fact
that word had come from that very house that all was going well did not
now weigh one grain against my own inward knowledge.

"He had a relapse yesterday afternoon, and he is ... dying now." No one
in the room seemed surprised that I should have come, although they had
not sent for me, and I held my reverend father's hand till he fell
asleep in about twenty minutes. He was beyond speech when I came, but,
as we believed, recognised me and was content. My night's journey was a
pious act, for which I thanked God, and my absolute conviction is that I
was guided to its performance by spiritual influence.

Some years ago I was at work one forenoon in my study, and very busy,
when my mind became distracted and I could not think out my sermon. It
was as if a side stream had rushed into a river, confusing and
discolouring the water; and at last, when the confusion was over and the
water was clear, I was conscious of a new subject. Some short time
before, a brother minister, whom I knew well and greatly respected, had
suffered from dissension in his congregation and had received our
sincere sympathy. He had not, however, been in my mind that day, but now
I found myself unable to think of anything else. My imagination began to
work in the case till I seemed, in the midst of the circumstances, as if
I were the sufferer. Very soon a suggestion arose and grew into a
commandment, that I should offer to take a day's duty for my brother.
At this point I pulled myself together and resisted what seemed a
vagrant notion. "Was such a thing ever heard of,--that for no reason
save a vague sympathy one should leave one's own pulpit and undertake
the work of another, who had not asked him and might not want him?" So I
turned to my manuscript to complete a broken sentence, but could only
write "Dear A. B." Nothing remained but to submit to this mysterious
dictation and compose a letter as best one could, till the question of
date arose. There I paused and waited, when an exact day came up before
my mind, and so I concluded the letter. It was, however, too absurd to
send; and so, having rid myself of this irrelevancy, I threw the letter
into the fire and set to work again; but all day I was haunted by the
idea that my brother needed my help. In the evening a letter came from
him, written that very forenoon, explaining that it would be a great
service to him and his people if I could preach some Sunday soon in his
church, and that, owing to certain circumstances, the service would be
doubled if I could come on such and such a day; and it was my date! My
course was perfectly plain, and I at once accepted his invitation under
a distinct sense of a special call, and my only regret was that I had
not posted my first letter.

One afternoon, to take my third instance, I made up my list of sick
visits and started to overtake them. After completing the first, and
while going along a main road, I felt a strong impulse to turn down a
side street and call on a family living in it. The impulse grew so
urgent that it could not be resisted, and I rang the bell, considering
on the doorstep what reason I should give for an unexpected call. When
the door opened it turned out that strangers now occupied the house, and
that my family had gone to another address, which was in the same street
but could not be given. This was enough, it might appear, to turn me
from aimless visiting, but still the pressure continued as if a hand
were drawing me, and I set out to discover their new house, till I had
disturbed four families with vain inquiries. Then the remembrance of my
unmade and imperative calls came upon me, and I abandoned my fruitless
quest with some sense of shame. Had a busy clergyman not enough to do
without such a wild-goose chase?--and one grudged the time one had lost.

Next morning the head of that household I had yesterday sought in vain
came into my study with such evident sorrow on his face that one
hastened to meet him with anxious inquiries. "Yes, we are in great
trouble; yesterday our little one (a young baby) took very ill and died
in the afternoon. My wife was utterly overcome by the shock and we would
have sent for you at the time but had no messenger. I wish you had been
there--if you had only known!"

"And the time?"

"About half-past three."

So I had known, but had been too impatient.

Many other cases have occurred when it has been laid on me to call at a
certain house, where there seemed so little reason that I used to invent
excuses, and where I found some one especially needing advice or
comfort; or I called and had not courage to lead up to the matter, so
that the call was of no avail, and afterwards some one has asked whether
I knew, for she had waited for a word. Nor do I remember any case where,
being inwardly moved to go after this fashion, it appeared in the end
that I had been befooled. And so, having stated these facts out of many,
I offer three inferences.

(1) That people may live in an atmosphere of sympathy which will be a
communicating medium. When some one appears to read another's thoughts,
as we have all seen done at public exhibitions, it was evidently by
physical signs, and it served no good purpose. It was a mechanical gift
and was used for an amusement. This is knowledge of another kind,
whose conditions are spiritual and whose ends are ethical. Between you
and the person there must be some common feeling; it rises to a height
in the hour of trouble; and its call is for help. The correspondence
here is between heart and heart, and the medium through which the
message passes is love.

(2) That this love is but another name for Christ, who is the head of
the body; and here one falls back on St. Paul's profound and
illuminating illustration. It is Christ who unites the whole race, and
especially all Christian folk, by His incarnation. Into Him are gathered
all the fears, sorrows, pains, troubles of each member, so that He feels
with all, and from him flows the same feeling to other members of the
body. He is the common spring of sensitiveness and sympathy, who
connects each man with his neighbour and makes of thousands a living
organic spiritual unity.

(3) That in proportion as one abides in Christ he will be in touch with
his brethren. If it seem to one marvellous and almost incredible that
any person should be affected by another's sorrow whom he does not at
the moment see, is it not marvellous, although quite credible, that we
are so often indifferent to sorrow which we do see? Is it not the case
that one of a delicate soul will detect secret trouble in the failure
of a smile, in a sub-tone of voice, in a fleeting shadow on the face?
"How did he know?" we duller people say. "By his fellowship with Christ"
is the only answer. "Why did we not know?" On account of our hardness
and selfishness. If one live self-centred--ever concerned about his own
affairs, there is no callousness to which he may not yet descend; if one
live the selfless life, there is no mysterious secret of sympathy which
may not be his. Wherefore if any one desire to live in nervous touch
with his fellows, so that their sorrows be his own and he be their quick
helper, if he desire to share with Christ the world burden, let him open
his heart to the Spirit of the Lord. In proportion as we live for
ourselves are we separated from our families, our friends, our
neighbours; in proportion as we enter into the life of the Cross we are
one with them all, being one with Christ, who is one with God.





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