One of the loveliest features in the character of this little boy was his intense love to the souls of men. He often spoke with me on the folly of men living without Christ in the world. I shall never forget the compassionate glance of his clear blue eye, as he said, " What a pity it is that they do not a' come to Christ—they would be sic happy." He often reminded me of the verse, " Love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God." 1 John iv. 7.
One Sabbath evening I spoke to the scholars in the Sabbath-school about him. When the school was over they all came in to his cottage to see him. The little throng stood silent round his bed, while he spoke to them with great solemnity. " You all know what I was. I was no better than you 8 but the Holy Spirit opened my eyes, and I saw that I was on the very brink of hell. Then I cried to Jesus to save me, and give me a new heart; I put my finger on the promise and would not come away without it; and he gave me a new heart; and he is as willing to give you all a new heart. I have sinned with you, now I would like you to come to Christ with me. You would be far happier in Christ than at your play. There are sweeter pleasures in Christ. Here are two awful verses to me :—
" There is a dreadful hell,
And everlasting pains;
There sinners must with devils dwell
In darkness, fire, and chains.
Can such a wretch as I
Escape this cursed end ?
And may I hope, whene'er I die,
I shall to heaven ascend !"
Then, pointing to the fire, he said, " You could not keep your finger long there, but remember hell is a lake of fire. I would give you all a prayer to pray to-night. Go and tell Jesus that you are poor, lost, hell-deserving sinners, and tell him to give you a new heart. Mind he's willing, and oh, be earnest—ye'll no get it unless ye be earnest."
These were nearly his very words. Strange scene ! a dying boy speaking to his fellows. They were impressed for a time, but it soon wore away. Several Sabbath evenings the same scene was renewed. The substance of all his warnings was, " Come to Christ and get a new heart." He often told me afterwards that he had been inviting them to Christ, " but (he added) they'll no come."
One evening during the week, a number of the children came in. After speaking to them in a very solemn manner, he took from under his pillow a little book, called " A letter about Jesus Christ." He turned up the part where it tells of six boys laying their finger on the promise, Ezek. xxxvi. 26, and pleading for its fulfillment. He was not able to read it to them, but he said he would give it to them ; and each boy should keep it two days, and read it, and do the same. The boys were much impressed, and agreed to the proposal.
One day during his illness his sister found him crying very bitterly. She asked him what ailed him. He said, " Do you remember when I was at the day-school at the time of the Revival ? One day when we were writing our copies, one of the boys had been some anxious about his soul; he wrote a line to me on a slip of paper, ' Ezek. xxxvi. 26. Te James Laing. Pray over it.' I took the paper, read it and tore it, and threw it on the floor, and laughed at the boy. O Margaret, if I hadna laughed at him, maybe he would have sought Christ until he had found him. Maybe I have been the means of ruining his soul to all eternity " In how touching a manner this shows the tenderness of his care for the souls of others; and also how a rash word or deed, little thought of at the time, may plant a sting in the dying pillow.
One night I went with my little cousin to see James. I said, " I have brought my Jamie to see you." He took him kindly by the hand, and said, " We're twa Jamies thegither. May we both meet in heaven. Be earnest to get Christ. You'll no get Christ unless you are earnest." When we were gone, he said to his sister, " Although Jamie bides with the minister, unless the Spirit open his eyes, he canna get Christ."
His knowledge of the peculiar doctrines of the gospel was very wonderful. It was not mere head knowledge—it came fresh and clear from the heart, like spring water welling up from a great depth. He felt the sovereignty of God very deeply. Once I quoted to him the hymn,
" Chosen not for good in me." He said, " I am sure it was for nothing in me. I am hell-deserving sinner." Often, when speaking of the great things God had done for their family, he would say, " Ah, Margaret, I wonder that Christ would look in here and take us." Once he said, " I wonder how Jesus died for such a sinner as me. Why me, Lord, why me ?"
The greatest want in the religion of children is generally sense of sin. Artless simplicity and confidence in what is told, are in some respects natural to children; and this is the reason why we are so often deceived by promising appearances in childhood. The reality of grace in a child is best known by his sense of sin. Little James often wondered " how God sent his servant sic often to him, such a hell-deserving sinner." This was a common expression of his. On one occasion, he said, " I have a wicked, wicked heart, and a tempting devil. He'll not let me alone, but this is all the hell that I'll get. Jesus bore my hell already. O Margaret, this wicked heart of mine would be hell enough for me though there was no other. But there are no wicked hearts in heaven." Often he prayed, " Come, Holy Spirit, and make me holy—make me like Jesus."
The way of salvation through the righteousness of Christ was always sweet to him. He had an uncommon grasp of it; Christ crucified was all his salvation and all his desire. One day his sister said to him, "You must meet death in Jesus, and go to the judgment-seat in Jesus, and spend eternity in Jesus. You will be as hell-deserving in yourself when you stand before the throne as now." He smiled sweetly, and said, " O Margaret, I see it must be all Jesus from beginning to end."
Another time a little boy who was in concern for his soul came to see James, and told him how many chapters he had read, and how often he had prayed. James did not answer at the time, but a little after he said to his sister, " David was here, and told me how many chapters he had read, &c. I see he's upon the working plan; but I must tell him that it's no his reading, nor yet his praying, but Jesus alone that must save him."
Another day he said, " The devil is letting me see that this word and another word in my prayer is sin, but I just tell him it is all sin. I bid him go to Jesus, there is no sin in him; and I have taken him to be my Saviour."
He had a very clear discovery of the dead and helpless condition of the carnal mind, and of the need of the holy Spirit to convert the soul. Telling me once of the boy under concern, and of what he had been saying to him, he added, f But it is nonsense to speak of these things without the Holy Spirit." At another time I was speaking on John xiv. 1. He seemed to be thinking about something else, and suddenly said, " When we lose our first love, it's no easy getting our second love; only the Spirit of God can give it."
Often when he saw the family preparing to go to church, he would pray that I might be filled with the Holy Spirit in speaking, so that some sinners might be caught. " I mind often sitting on the pulpit stairs careless; I would like if I had that place again. If I had but one sermon I would not be so careless now." He often wished to be carried to the church, but was never able to bear the exertion
He was no stranger to temptations from the wicked one I scarcely ever visited him but he spoke to me of these. Once he said,." The devil often tempts me to think upon good people, but I tell him it is Christ I want." Another time," What do you think ? The devil now tempts me to believe that I'll never be saved, because I have repented on my death-bed." Often when tempted, he would cry, " If I perish, I'll perish at Christ's feet." A few days before he died, he said, " I am afraid I will not be saved yet, for the devil will catch my soul as it leaves my body. But Jesus says, ' Ye shall never perish.' If I am in the hand of Jesus, the devil cannot pluck me out there."
Once I found him kneeling on a pillow by the fire ; he complained of great darkness, and doubted his interest in Christ. I told him that we must not close with Christ because we feel him, but because God has said it, and that we must take God's word even in the dark. After that he always seemed to trust God in the dark, even at times when he had no inward evidence of being Christ's. At one of these times, a believer, who is often in great darkness, came in, and asked him, " When you are in darkness, Jamie, how do you do? Can you go to Jesus?" He answered, in his own pointed manner, " Annie, woman, I have no ither get to gang."
The last text I explained to him, was 2 Tim. iv. 7, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.'' I was wonderfully helped in showing him that, from conversion to coronation, the life of a believer was one continued fight. He said, " Would you not think that the devil would let a poor young creature like me alone? but he's an awful tempter."
He had a mind that loved to think on the deep things of God. One day a believer called and prayed beside his bed, asking for him that he might be " filled with all the fulness of God." The same person came another day, and before praying, enquired, " What shall I ask for you?" He said, " You mind what you sought for me the last time. You prayed that I might be filled with all the fulness of God: I canna get any more than that, but dinna seek any less today."
A dear Christian lady used to bring him flowers. She spoke to him of Christ being " the lily of the valley," and on one occasion brought him one. He asked her to pick it out from the rest, and give it into his hand. Holding the gentle flower in his pale wasted fingers, he looked at it, and said, " This might convince the world that there is a God, though there were nothing else. Aye, there is a God—there is a heaven—there is a hell—and there is a judgment-seat— whether they will believe it or no." He said this in a very solemn way, pausing between every member of the sentence.
He loved singing praise to God, though not able to join in it himself. He frequently made us sing beside his bed, and often bade them sing the 23d Psalm. " I have no strength to sing here (he would say), I have a heart, but not strength; when I get to heaven I'll be able to sing there." Sometimes he would bid them sing these words, " I'm not ashamed to own my Lord." He often repeated that hymn, and he left it in charge that it should be sung by the scholars on the night of his death. The 65th Paraphrase was also precious to him, especially that part, " Hark how the adoring hosts above." He loved these verses, and often wished that he were among that praising company.
My sister once sent him a hymn, " The fulness of Jesus." He said he liked it all, but he liked the last verse best.
He delighted in secret prayer. In weakness and pain, yet he spent hours upon his knees, communing with, an unseen God. When unable for the outward part of the exercise, he said, " O Margaret, I prayed to Jesus as long as I was able. But now I'm not able, and he does not want it from me; but I'm just always giving him my heart." Many a night he got no sleep. I asked him if he wearied during the silent watches. He said. " No; his left hand is undo my head, and his right hand doth embrace me." God gave this dear boy a very calm and cheerful spirit in the midst of all his trials. Neither bodily pain nor the assaults of the devil could sour his temper, or ruffle his placid brow. At any time when his pain increased, he would say, "It is the Lord, let him do. what seemeth him good." One time in deep darkness, he cried out, " Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." Again, when his soul was more in the light, he would say, " I long to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better;" " but then I'm willing to wait the Lord's time; good is the will of the Lord." Again he would say, " I long to be with Jesus. I long to see Jesus that died for me. If I am spared to go out again, I must just go leaning upon these words, ' My grace is sufficient for thee.' They will be sure to mock me, but they mocked Jesus before." Once he said to me, " I wondered when I have heard you say that Christ was sweet, but now I feel him to be sweet, sweet." One time I spoke of the fulness that is in Christ; he said afterwards, ' I just think that I am lying with my mouth at Christ, drawing from him."
On the last day of 1841, he said to his sister, " I will tell you what I would like for my New Year (Gift). I would like a praying heart, and a heart to love Christ more." Next day a woman came in, and said, " Poor Jamie ! you'll get no fun this New Year's Day." James said, " Poor body, she thinks like as I care for the New Year. I have far "better than you have, though you had the whole world. This is the happiest New Years Day that ever I had, for I have Christ." She was very deaf, and did not hear what he said; but he often pitied that woman and prayed for her.
At an-ther time his father said, " Poor Jamie !" He replied, " Ah, father, don't call me poor, I am rich; they that have Christ have all things."
A little after the New Year, he said, " Margaret, I am not to die yet, for I have mair to suffer; but I am willing, though it should be for years.' On one occasion when he was suffering much pain, he said, " Five minutes in glory will make up for all this suffering."
When Margaret had to go out with her father's dinner, she used to lock the door, leaving James alone within. On returning, she asked, "Were you wearying, Jamie ?" His reply was, “Oh no, Jesus takes care of me when you are out" One of his country friends came in one day to see him, and said, “I am sure you have a weary time of it, Jamie." He said, "Oh no, I never weary; Christ keeps me from wearying."
After a very happy communion season in April, I went to visit him, and he spoke in a most touching manner. " I was not sorry on Sabbath that all the people were sitting at the Lord's Table, and me lying here, for I thought I would soon be at the table above with Christ, and then 1 would be far happier."
In a season of great darkness, ho said, " Margaret, give me my Bible" (meaning a little book of texts, called Dew Drops); when he had got it, he sought out the verse, "The Lord is a stronghold in the day of trouble, and he knoweth them that trust in him." He said, " Margaret, 111 trust in him, though I cannot see him. I will lie down upon that verse." When his bed was made at night, he would take another verse to lie down upon, as he called it; so he was fed by the dew and the word.
A young woman who lived in the same lane was awakened to deep concern the same winter that James was brought to Christ. Before her concern she never came in to see James, though her mother often advised her to do so. But when she was brought to feel her sin and misery, she came in every Sabbath night, and was always tenderly kind to James. " How are you to-night, Jamie? (she would say) you are well off when you can say, I have found Christ." Early in spring, this young woman evidently found the true rest for her weary soul in Jesus. She became a candidate for the Lord's Table, and was to have been admitted, but God called her away to sit at the table that can never be drawn. She died full of joy, with the praises of God upon her lips. Margaret had been present at this interesting death-bed, and when she returned home she told James. He answered with great composure, " I wish I had been away with her; but I must wait the Lord's time. Betsy is singing now, and I will soon be there too."
James used to take the bitterest medicines without any reluctance. He folded his hands, shut his eyes, and asked God to bless it to him. "Ah! Margaret, if God do not bless it to me, it will do me no good." Often she asked, " Is it not bitter?" He would say, "Yes, but Jesus had a bitterer cup to drink for me."
In the summer of 1841, another remarkable boy, named James Wallace, had died in the Lord. He was one whom God taught in a wonderful manner. He had a singular gift of prayer, and was made useful to many, both old and young James Laing had known him well in former days. In 1839, a younger brother of James Laing, named Patrick, had died also, not without pleasing marks of having undergone a divine change. It is needful to know these things, to understand the following dream of our little pilgrim.
A short time after he believed, he said, " Margaret, I will tell you my dream." Margaret was afraid of some fancy leading him astray, and asked what it was. James, " I thought there was a ladder, the foot of it on earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. I thought it was heaven I saw. There was a great multitude of people, but I knew none of them but Patrick and Jamsie Wallace. When I was standing on the first or second step of the ladder, Jamsie Wallace looked down and said, ' Aye, here's another one coming stepping up.' " He explained it by referring to Jacob's ladder, and that Jesus is the ladder. Margaret said, " Aye, and you are just on the first step."
He was very fond of the life of John Ross, and nearly had it by heart. He said he was in the same mind. Another little book he loved was, " A Dying Thief and a Dying Saviour." He left it to his father. The hymn at the end of it, " There is a fountain filled with blood," often fed his soul.
He could write a little, and, like John Ross, he used that talent in writing down precious sentences: one of his little papers is now before me. " Stand fast in the Lord. Be ye faithful unto death. Abide in him, abide in him. Pray without ceasing. This is the end."
In the latter part of his illness he was used as an instrument in awakening another boy, whose impressions I earnestly hope may never wear away. D. G. had been a very wild boy—so much so, that he was expelled from the Sabbath-school. He found his way into James' cottage, and there saw exemplified the truths he would not listen to in school. From that day till James died, David regularly visited him, and learned from him with deepest interest the things that belonged to his peace. James often prayed with him alone. Sometimes both prayed at the same time for a new heart. Margaret was always made to withdraw at these times. He pleaded with this boy to seek Jesus when young, " for it's easier to find Jesus when we are young. Look at Annie (a grown-up person, who had been long under concern), she has been long in seeking Christ, and she is long in finding. Mind what I told you, for I will soon be in heaven." Boy," Will you get to heaven?" James, " O yes, all that believe in Christ get to heaven, and I believe that Jesus died for me. Now, David, if I see you on the left hand, you will mind that I often bade you come to Christ." Boy, " I'll have naebody to pray with me, and tell me about my soul, when you are dead." James, " I have bidden Margaret pray for you, and I have told the minister; and go you to our kirk, and he will tell you the way to come to Christ."
Three times a-day did this anxious inquirer seek the prayers and counsels of his youthful instructor, till James' strength gave way, and he could talk no more. The day before he died the boy came in; James could hardly speak, but he looked steadily at him, and said, " Seek on David."
The last visit I paid to this young Christian was on the Tuesday before he died, in company with Mr Miller of Wallacetown, and Mr Smith, one of our Jewish missionaries at Pesth, who was that same day to sail from his native land. After speaking a little we prayed, and I asked what I would pray for him. James said, “Dying grace.” He shook hands with us all. When the missionary held his hand, he said, "God's people have much need to pray for you, and for them there." When we had gone out he said, "Maybe I'll never see the minister again."
On the Thursday he said, "Ah! Margaret, mind it's no easy to die. You know nothing about it. Even though you have Christ, it is dark." The same day he bade her give D. J. his Sunday trowsers, and new boots, that he might go to the church. He gave his father "The Dying Thief;" and said, " I am going to give Alick my Bible," (meaning Dew Drops). There was a piece of money under his pillow. He said it was to buy Bibles to them that never heard of Jesus.
His aunt came in on the Friday morning. He said, "Oh, aunt, don't put off seeking Christ to a death-bed, for if I had Christ to seek to-day, what would have become of me; but I have given my heart to Christ." Margaret asked him, "What will I do? I will miss your company in the house.” James answered, " You maun just go the mair to Jesus. Do not be ill about me now, when I am dead, Margaret. If I thought that, I would be sorry, and more than that, God would be angry at you; for I would be far happier. It is better to depart and be with Christ. Ask grace to keep you from it."
All that day he spoke very little. In the evening he grew much worse. His sister wished to sit up with him that night, but he would not allow her. She said, "These eyes will soon see Him whom your soul loves.” James said, "Aye." After midnight Margaret, seeing him worse, arose and woke her father. She tried to conceal her tears; but James saw them, and said, with a look of solemn earnestness, "O woman, I wonder to see you do the like of that." He spoke little after this, and about one o'clock on the Saturday morning, 11th June 1842, fell asleep in Jesus.
From this affecting history, all Children, and especially the dear children committed to my care, should learn an impressive lesson. What is said of Abel is true of this dear boy, "He being dead yet speaketh." He warned many of you when he was on his dying bed; he prayed for you, and longed for your conversion; and now that he has gone to the world of praise and holiness and love, the history of his dying hours is a warning and an invitation to each of you. You see here that you are not too young to have the Holy Spirit striving with you. You are not too young to resist the Holy Ghost. You are not too young to be converted and brought to Christ. If you die without Christ you will surely perish. The most of you are wicked, idle, profane, prayerless, ungodly children. Many of you are open Sabbath-breakers, liars, and swearers. If you die thus, you will have your part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone. You will see this little boy, and others whom you know, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. O repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out. You may die very soon. O that your latter end may be like his!
Parents also may learn from this to seek the salvation of their children. Alas! most parents in our day are like the cruel ostrich in the wilderness, " which leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in the dust; and forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may bieak them : She is hardened against her young ones as though they were not hers." Job xxxix. 14-16. How many of you hold up your children before God and the congregation, and solemnly vow to bring them up for God, to pray for them and in your family with them, and then return to your house with the guilt of perjury upon your soul! Alas, are not the family altars of Scotland for the most part broken down, and lying desolate? Is not family government in most of your houses an empty name? Do not family quarrels, and unholy companies, and profane jests, and sordid worldliness, prevail in most of your tabernacles t What can you expect but that your children shall grow up in your image, formalists, sacrament breakers, loose livers, fierce, incontinent, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God? O that God would touch your hearts by such a tale as this, that you may repent and turn to the Lord, and yearn over your children in the bowels of Jesus Christ. Would you not love to see them fall asleep in Jesus? Would you not love to meet them at the right hand of the Judge? Seek their conversion now, if you would meet them in glory hereafter. How will you bear to hear their young voices in the judgment, saying, " This father never prayed for me ; this mother never warned me to flee from the wrath to come ?"
Dear brethren in the ministry and labourers in the Sabbath-school, suffer the word of exhortation from one who is "your brother and companion in tribulation." May we not learn from this to be more earnest both in prayers and labours, in seeking the salvation of little children. We have here one bright example more in addition to all those who have been recorded before, that God can convert and edify a child with the same ease with which he can change the heart of a grown man. I have with religious care refrained from embellishing, or in any way exaggerating, the simple record of God's dealings with this boy. We must not " speak wickedly for God, nor talk deceitfully for him." All who knew him can bear witness that I have spoken "the words of truth and soberness." Indeed the half has not been told.
How evident is it, then, that God is willing and able to convert the young! How plain that if God give grace, they can understand and relish divine things as fully as those of mature age! A carnal mind of the first order will evermore despise and reject the way of salvation by Christ; but the mind of a child, quickened by the Holy Spirit, will evermore realize and delight in the rich and glorious mystery of the gospel. "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight." Let us awake from an unbelieving dream. Let us no more be content to labour without fruit. Let us seek the present conversion to Christ of our little children. Jesus has reason to complain of us that he can do no mighty works in our Sabbath-schools because of our unbelief.
" Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen "