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I have not only compared the membership of the session, I have also compared the two signatures of the moderator. Surely there never was handwriting that for so long a period retained its original character. The names might have been printed from a wood block, so closely do they resemble each other. And yet in what different circumstances were they written, and with what different out-looks. It must have been with a quiet but sincere pleasure he took his place in the Kilsyth Kirk Session for the first time. The parish of Dun was a poor place then, and is a poor place still. Its population is dwindling. It contained seven hundred people then, and it contains little more than five hundred now. His appointment here meant substantial advancement. Dun is as beautiful and sleepy a place as one could find in all Scotland. In Kilsyth, there was more life, a deeper interest in things spiritual, and larger emoluments, a matter of importance to a clergyman with a family of boys. And then his presentation had come at an opportune time. He had reached middle life, and being in the maturity of his strength he could look forward with some confidence to the enjoyment of his preferment for a period of years, and to the performance of good work in a larger and more responsible sphere.
Such probably were his feelings and anticipations as he appended his name to the minutes of the kirk session for the first time; but what were his thoughts as he signed the minute of the gth May, 1843? He is getting an old man now, and there is a storm cloud gathering in the ecclesiastical heavens. It was a time of crisis, and he was aware of all that was going on. To the solid qualifications of the pastor, Dr. Burns did not add the accomplishments either of the orator or man of letters. There is consequently no means of forming a true opinion of the state of his mind at this juncture. From all that can be gathered he seems to have been one of those—and they were many—who cherished to the very last the sincerest conviction that secession would be avoided. There is reason to suppose that when he found himself one of the band that left the Assembly, and walked down to Canon Mills, his position surprised nobody so much as himself. He had never thought the wordy storm would ever come to that. But to that it did come. The worthy man found at the last that he had got into a current which had been carrying him forward imperceptibly, and had swept him almost before he had time to realise it, beyond the bounds of the church to which he had been ordained, and to which he was attached by the tenderest ties.
It is not very easy to get near to Dr. Burns. Even in his son's portrait his figure seems distant and far-away. We never get quite close up to him. A good man he undoubtedly was, a strong man he could hardly have been. If the Livingstons, or Robe, or Rennie, had lived through the Secession, we would have heard their voices mingling in the clamour, and seen the flashing of their swords in the fight. But it is not so with Dr. Burns, and even in the revival of 1839; he does not move amid the spiritual scenes of that year, as we see Robe moving amid the times of refreshing that were granted to the parish in 1762. Burns does not ride on the whirlwind, and direct the spiritual storm as Robe did, but seems contented to leave the leadership in the hands of others. As a pastor he was everywhere, as a preacher he was nowhere. But all this granted, the life of Dr. Burns has a rare attractiveness which is all its own. It is full of repose, it is wrapt in a clear spiritual calm. He has his soul-dwelling, not on the mountain top, where there
are only scanty herbage, the blasted peaks and the toiling tempests, but down in the valley where the crops ripen, where the oxen feed on the lush grass, where there is prosperity and tranquillity. It does one good to look back on the man who took time to live, who did his work quietly, and in whom there was an entire absence of all fussiness. In the Church of our day the spirit of . Martha is wholly prevalent. One's car is deafened with the noise of the rattling of the pots and the pans of the ecclesiastical kitchen. There is a prevailing restlessness and discontent. The movement and heat speak not of health, but of fever in the blood. There is a greater eagerness to be seen of men, and to stir up the little dust of praise than to live the life of day to day sobriety and Christian devotedness. The flock is pampered rather than fed. Congregations think they are doing nothing unless they are working for bazaars, introducing organs, building churches, raising endowment funds and what not. Dr. Burns was one whom this modern spirit had not yet touched. He played the part of Mary. During his long ministry he lay at the feet of Christ. Take away the revival and the secession, and Dr. Burns' life flows onward without a ripple, without a break, calmly and deeply like some nameless stream only known to the flower-banks it laved, the flocks it refreshed, the cottage houses it passed in its onward progress. A casual observer will be inclined to say that in the course of his long ministry, Dr. Burns did little or nothing, but a more discerning, a more spiritual critic will unfailingly aver, that he chose that good part which could not be taken from him.
William H. Burns was born on the 15th February, 1779. His father was an officer of customs at Borrowstounness, and afterwards factor to the Duke of Hamilton
on the Kinneil estate. There was a large family. He had three brothers lawyers, and three ministers of the Church of Scotland. William's boyhood was like his life, contemplative rather than eventful. At the early age of thirteen he entered the University of Edinburgh. Having passed through the curriculum of arts, he became a student of divinity in 1795, and received license as a preacher of the Gospel from the Presbytery of Stranraer in 1799. His probationary period was of the shortest. On the 4th December, 1800, he entered on the charge of the parish of Dun, in Forfarshire, having been presented by John Erskine, who was both the laird and the patron of the parish. The young preacher had been adroitly brought under the notice both of patron and people by his uncle, who was at that time one of the ministers of Brechin. At first assistant to his aged predecessor, he made an excellent impression on the patron on the occasion of a service held in the parish church on a national fast-day appointed in connection with the war. Mr. Erskine, who had guests, asked them to attend church along with him, and judge of the young inan's politics. The preacher having delivered one of his divinity hall homilies, the party were delighted, not with the politics, but with the entire absence of them. So the patron was pleased with the sagacity of the young minister in avoiding the pulpit discussion of political topics, sounded his praises through the parish, did a little canvassing on his behalf, and gave him the presentation. For twenty years Dr. Burns ministered to the parishioners of Dun. They were years of quietness, and of routine duty faithfully performed. He preached every Sabbath day in the church ; he baptized the children ; he blessed the union of loving hearts; he visited the sick ; attended the presbytery meetings; and that was all. He must have had leisure time at his disposal, but the thought of turning it to high literary account seems never to have occurred to him. After he had been six years in Dun he married Elizabeth, daughter of James Chalmers, printer, Aberdeen, and by her he had a family of six sons and four daughters.
It is unfortunate that whilst his son and biographer, the Rev. Islay Burns, gives such minute account of his father's presentation and call to the parish of Dun, he should have preserved so severe a silence about his presentation and call to the parish of Kilsyth. He was presented by George IV., but by whose influence I have never been able to learn. He received the presentation in September, 1820, and was admitted on the 9th April, 1821. In the year following he went to pay his respects to his patron at Edinburgh, but that the family entertained some grudge about the matter may be concluded, for his son says, "He knows not how his father demeaned himself under the sudden blaze of majesty." There is also a mystery about Dr. Burns' call to the parish of Kilsyth and the number of signatures appended to it. That there was a call is conceded. If there had been no Patronage in the days of Dr. Burns, I have no doubt the voice of the people might have made him minister of Dun; on the other hand, however, I have not the least doubt that the popular vote would never have given him the parish of Kilsyth. In themselves these matters would scarcely have been worth noticing, but they are of obvious interest when we come to see the strong position which Dr. Burns took up against Patronage.
After the death of Dr. Rennie, the heritors and kirk session approached the presbytery to grant them a preacher to fill the pulpit till a new minister was appointed. Having undertaken to make liberal provision