Read CHAPTER VI of The Life of Col. James Gardiner Who Was Slain at the Battle of Prestonpans‚ September 21‚ 1745, free online book, by P. Doddridge, on ReadCentral.com.

LETTERS.

I will therefore draw back the veil, and show my much honoured friend in his most secret recesses, that the world may see what those springs were, from whence issued that clear, permanent and living stream of wisdom, piety, and virtue, which so evidently ran through all that part of his life which was open to public observation. It is not to be imagined that letters written in the intimacy of Christian friendship, some of them with the most evident marks of haste, and amidst a variety of important public cares, should be adorned with any studied elegance of expression, about which the greatness of his soul would not allow him to be at any time very solicitous, for he generally (as far as I could observe) wrote as fast as his pen could move, which, happily both for him and his many friends, was very freely. Yet here the grandeur of his subject has sometimes clothed his ideas with a language more elevated than is ordinarily to be expected in an epistolary correspondence. The proud scorners who may deride sentiments and enjoyments like those which this truly great man so experimentally and pathetically describes, I pity from my heart, and grieve to think how unfit they must be for the hallelujahs of heaven, who pour contempt upon the nearest approaches to them; nor shall I think it any misfortune to share with so excellent a person their profane derision. It will be infinitely more than an equivalent for all that such ignorance and petulancy can think and say, if I may convince some, who are as yet strangers to religion, how real and how noble its delights are if I may engage my pious readers to glorify God for so illustrious an instance of his grace and finally, if I may quicken them, and, above all, may rouse my own too indolent spirit to follow with less unequal steps an example, to the sublimity of which, I fear, few of us shall, after all, be able fully to attain. And that we may not be too much discouraged under the deficiency, let it be recollected that few have the advantage of a temper naturally so warm; few have an equal command of retirement; and perhaps hardly any one who thinks himself most indebted to the riches and freedom of divine grace, can trace interpositions of it in all respects equally astonishing.

The first of these extraordinary letters which have fallen into my hand, is dated near three years after his conversion, and addressed to a lady of quality. I believe it is the first the major ever wrote, so immediately on the subject of his religious consolations and converse with God in devout retirement; for I well remember that he once told me he was so much afraid that something of spiritual pride should mingle itself with the relation of such kind of experiences, that he concealed them a long time; but observing with how much freedom the sacred writers open all the most secret recesses of their hearts, especially in the Psalms; his conscience began to be burdened, under an apprehension that, for the honour of God, and in order to engage the concurrent praises of some of his people, he ought to disclose them. On this he set himself to reflect who among all his numerous acquaintance seemed at once the most experienced Christians, (to whom, therefore, such things as he had to communicate might appear solid and credible,) and who the humblest. He quickly thought of the Lady Marchioness of Douglas in this view; and the reader may well imagine that it struck my mind very strongly, to think that now, more than twenty-four years after it was written, Providence should bring to my hands (as it has done within these few days) what I assuredly believe to be a genuine copy of that very letter, which I had not the least reason to expect I should ever have seen, when I learned from his own mouth, amidst the freedom of an accidental conversation, the occasion and circumstances of it. It is dated from London, July 21, 1722, and the very first lines of it relate to a remarkable circumstance which, from others of his letters, I find happened several times; I mean, that when he had received from any of his Christian friends a few lines which particularly affected his heart, he could not stay till the stated return of his devotional hour, but immediately retired to pray for them, and to give vent to those religious emotions of mind which such a correspondence raised. How invaluable was such a friend! and what great reason have those of us who once possessed a large share in his heart, and in those retired and sacred moments, to bless God for so singular a felicity; and to comfort ourselves in a pleasing hope that we may yet reap future blessings, as the harvest of those petitions which he can no more repeat.

His words are these:

“I was so happy as to receive yours just as I arrived, and had no sooner read it but I shut my door, and sought Him whom my soul loveth. I sought him, and found him; and would not let him go till he had blessed us all. It is impossible to find words to express what I obtained; but I suppose it was something like that which the disciples got, as they were going to Emmaus, when they said, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us,’ &c.; or rather like what Paul felt, when he could not tell whether he was in the body, or out of it.”

He then mentions his dread of spiritual pride, from whence he earnestly prays that God may deliver and preserve him.

“This,” says he, “would have hindered me from communicating these things, if I had not such an example before me as the man after God’s own heart, saying, ‘I will declare what God hath done for my soul;’ and elsewhere, ‘The humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.’ Now I am well satisfied that your ladyship is of that number.”

He then adds:

“I had no sooner finished this exercise,” that is of prayer above mentioned, “but I sat down to admire the goodness of my God, that he would vouchsafe to influence by his free Spirit so undeserving a wretch as I, and to make me thus to mount up with eagles’ wings. And here I was lost again, and got into an ocean, where I could find neither bound nor bottom; but was obliged to cry out with the apostle, ’O the breadth, the length, the depth, the height of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge!’ But if I gave way to this strain I shall never have done. That the God of hope may fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost, shall always be the prayer of him who is, with the greatest sincerity and respect, your Ladyship’s,” &c.

Another passage to the same purpose I find in a memorandum, which he seems to have written for his own use, dated Monday, March 11, which I perceive, from many concurrent circumstances, must have been in the year 1722-3.

“This day,” says he, “having been to visit Mrs. G. at Hampstead, I came home about two, and read a sermon on these words, Psalm cxx, ’But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared;’ about the latter end of which, there is a description of the miserable condition of those that are slighters of pardoning grace. From a sense of the great obligations I lie under to the Almighty God, who hath made me to differ from such, from what I was, and from the rest of my companions, I knelt down to praise his holy name; and I know not in my lifetime I ever lay lower in the dust, never having had a fuller view of my own unworthiness. I never pleaded more strongly the merits and intercession of Him who I know is worthy never vowed more sincerely to be the Lord’s, and to accept of Christ, as he is offered in the gospel, as my King, Priest, and Prophet never had so strong a desire to depart, that I might sin no more; but ‘my grace is sufficient,’ curbed that desire. I never pleaded with greater fervency for the Comforter, which our blessed Lord hath promised shall abide with us for ever. For all which, I desire to ascribe glory &c. to Him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

There are several others of his papers, speaking much the same language, which, had he kept a diary, would, I doubt not, have filled many sheets. I believe my devout readers would not soon be weary of reading extracts of this kind; but that I may not exceed in this part of my narrative, I shall mention only two more, each of them dated some years after; that is, one from Douglas, April 1, 1725; and the other from Stranraer, 25th May following.

The former of these relates to the frame of his spirit on a journey; on the mention of which, I cannot but recollect how often I have heard him say that some of the most delightful days of his life were days in which he travelled alone, (that is, with only a servant at a distance,) when he could, especially in roads not much frequented, indulge himself in the pleasures of prayer and praise. In the exercise of this last, he was greatly assisted by several psalms and hymns which he had treasured up in his memory, and which he used not only to repeat aloud, but sometimes to sing. In reference to this, I remember the following passage, in a letter which he wrote to me many years after, when, on mentioning my ever dear and honoured friend the Rev. Dr. Watts, he says, “How often, in singing some of his psalms, hymns, or lyrics, on horseback and elsewhere, has the evil spirit been made to flee:

“’Whene’er my heart in tune was found,
‘Like David’s harp of solemn sound!’”

Such was the first of April above mentioned. In the evening of that day he writes thus to an intimate friend:

“What would I have given this day, upon the road, for paper, pen, and ink, when the Spirit of the Most High rested upon me! Oh for the pen of a ready writer, and the tongue of an angel, to declare what God hath done this day for my soul! But, in short, it is in vain to attempt it. All that I am able to say, is this, that my soul has been for some hours joining with the blessed spirits above in giving glory, and honour, and praise unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb, for ever and ever. My praises began from a renewed view of Him whom I saw pierced for my transgressions. I summoned the whole hierarchy of heaven to join with me, and I am persuaded they all echoed back praise to the Most High. Yon, one would have thought the very larks joined me with emulation. Sure, then, I need not make use of many words to persuade you, that are his saints, to join me in blessing and praising his holy name.” He concludes, “May the blessing of the God of Jacob rest upon you all! Adieu. Written in great haste, late and weary.”

Scarcely can I here refrain from breaking out into more copious reflections on the exquisite pleasures of true religion, when risen to such eminent degrees, which can thus feast the soul in its solitude, and refresh it on journeys, and bring down so much of heaven to earth as this delightful letter expresses. But the remark is so obvious, that I will not enlarge upon it; but proceed to the other letter above mentioned, which was written the next month, on the Tuesday after a sacrament day.

He mentions the pleasure with which he had attended a preparation sermon the Saturday before; and then he adds:

“I took a walk upon the mountains that are over against Ireland; and, I persuade myself, that were I capable of giving you a description of what passed there, you would agree that I had much better reason to remember my God from the hills of Port Patrick than David from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill of Mizar.” I suppose he refers to the clearer discoveries of the gospel with which we are favoured. “In short,” says he immediately afterwards, in that scripture phrase which had become so familiar to him, “I wrestled some hours with the Angel of the covenant, and made supplications to him with floods of tears, and cries until I had almost expired; but he strengthened me so, that, like Jacob, I had power with God, and prevailed. This,” adds he, “is but a very faint description; you will be more able to judge of it by what you have felt yourself upon the like occasions. After such preparatory work, I need not tell you how blessed the solemn ordinance of the Lord’s supper proved to me; I hope it was so to many. You may believe I should have been exceeding glad, if my gracious Lord had ordered it so, that I might have made you a visit, as I proposed; but I am now glad it was ordered otherwise, since he hath caused so much of his goodness to pass before me. Were I to give you an account of the many favours my God hath loaded me with, since I parted from you, I must have taken up many days in nothing but writing. I hope you will join with me in praises for all the goodness he has shown to your unworthy brother in the Lord.”

Such were the ardours and elevation of his soul. But while I record these memorials of them, I am very sensible that there are many who will be inclined to censure them as the flights of enthusiasm; for which reason, I must beg leave to add a remark or two on the occasion, which will be illustrated by several other extracts, which I shall introduce into the sequel of these memoirs. The one is, that he never pretends, in any of the passages cited above, or elsewhere, to have received from God any immediate revelations which should raise him above the ordinary methods of instruction, or discover any thing to him, whether of doctrines or facts. No man was further from pretending to predict future events, except from the moral prognostications of causes naturally tending to produce them, in tracing of which he had indeed an admirable sagacity, as I have seen in some very remarkable instances. Neither was he at all inclinable to govern himself by secret impulses upon his mind, leading him to things for which he could assign no reason but the impulse itself. Had he ventured, in a presumption on such secret agitations of mind, to teach or to do any thing not warranted by the dictates of sound sense and the word of God, I should readily have acknowledged him an enthusiast, unless he could have produced some other evidence than his own persuasion to have supported the authority of them. But these ardent expressions, which some may call enthusiasm, seem only to evince a heart deeply affected with a sense of the divine presence and perfections, and of that love which passeth knowledge, especially as manifested in our redemption by the Son of God, which did indeed inflame his whole soul. And he thought he might reasonably ascribe these strong impressions, to which men are generally such strangers, and of which he had long been entirely destitute, to the agency or influences of the Spirit of God upon his heart; and that, in proportion to the degree in which he felt them, he might properly say, God was present with him, and he conversed with God. Now, when we consider the scriptural phrases of “walking with God,” of “having communion with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ,” of “Christ’s coming to them that open the door of their hearts to him, and supping with them,” of “God’s shedding abroad his love in the heart of the Spirit,” of “his coming with Jesus Christ, and making his abode with any man that loves him,” of “his meeting him that worketh righteousness,” of “his making us glad by the light of his countenance,” and a variety of other equivalent expressions, I believe we shall see reason to judge much more favourably of such expressions as those now in question, than persons who, themselves strangers to elevated devotion, perhaps converse but little with their Bible, are inclined to do; especially, if they have, as many such persons have, a temper that inclines them to cavil and find fault. And I must further observe, that amidst all those freedoms with which this eminent Christian opens his devout heart to the most intimate of his friends, he still speaks with profound awe and reverence of his Heavenly Father and his Saviour, and maintains (after the example of the sacred writers themselves,) a kind of dignity in his expressions, suitable to such a subject, without any of that fond familiarity of language, and degrading meanness of phrase, by which it is, especially of late, grown fashionable among some (who nevertheless I believe mean well,) to express their love and their humility.

How often are the good thoughts suggested, (viz. to the pure in heart) heavenly affection kindled and inflamed!  How often is the Christian prompted to holy actions, drawn to his duty, restored, quickened, persuaded, in such a manner, that he would be unjust to the Spirit of God to question his agency in the whole!  Yes, on my soul! there is a Supreme Being, who governs the world, and is present with it, who takes up his more special habitation in good men, and is nigh to all who call upon him, to sanctify and assist them!  Hast thou not felt him, oh my soul! like another soul.

On the whole, if habitual love to God, firm faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, a steady dependence on the divine promises, a full persuasion of the wisdom and goodness of all the dispensations of Providence, a high esteem for the blessings of the heavenly world, and a sincere contempt for the vanities of this, can properly be called enthusiasm, then was Colonel Gardiner indeed one of the greatest enthusiasts which our age has produced; and in proportion to the degree in which he was so, I must esteem him one of the wisest and happiest of mankind. Nor do I fear to tell the world that it is the design of my writing these memoirs, and of every thing else that I undertake in life, to spread this glorious and blessed enthusiasm, which I know to be the anticipation of heaven, as well as the most certain way to it.

But lest any should possibly imagine, that allowing the experiences which have been described above to have been ever so solid and important, yet there may be some appearances of boasting in so free a communication of them, I must add to what I have hinted in reference to this above, that I find in many of the papers before me very genuine expressions of the deepest humility and self-abasement, which indeed such holy converse with God in prayer and praise does, above all things in the world, tend to inspire and promote. Thus, in one of his letters he says, “I am but as a beast before him.” In another he calls himself “a miserable hell-deserving sinner.” And in another he cries out, “Oh, how good a master do I serve! but, alas, how ungrateful am I! What can be so astonishing as the love of Christ to us, unless it be the coldness of our sinful hearts towards such a Saviour?” There were many other clauses of the like nature, which I shall not set myself more particularly to trace through the variety of letters in which they occur.

It is a further instance of this unfeigned humility, that when (as his lady with her usual propriety of language expresses it in one of her letters to me concerning him,) “these divine joys and consolations were not his daily allowance,” he, with equal freedom, in the confidence of Christian fellowship, acknowledges and laments it. Thus, in the first letter I had the honour of receiving from him, dated from Leicester, July 9, 1739, after mentioning the blessing with which it had pleased God to attend my last address to him, and the influence it had upon his mind, he adds, “Much do I stand in need of every help to awaken me out of that spiritual deadness which seizes me so often. Once, indeed, it was quite otherwise with me, and that for many years:

“’Firm was my health, my day was bright,
And I presumed ’t would ne’er be night,
Fondly I said within my heart,
Pleasure and peace shall ne’er depart,
But I forgot, thine arm was strong,
Which made my mountain stand so long;
Soon as thy face began to hide,
My health was gone, my comforts died.’

And here,” adds he, “lies my sin and my folly.”

I mention this, that the whole matter may be seen just as it was, and that other Christians may not be discouraged if they feel some abatement of that fervour, and of those holy joys which they may have experienced during some of the first months or years of their spiritual life. But, with relation to the colonel, I have great reason to believe that those which he laments as his days of spiritual deadness were not unanimated; and that quickly after the date of this letter, and especially nearer the close of his life, he had further revivings, as the joyful anticipation in reserve of those better things which were then nearly approaching. And thus Mr. Spears, in the letter I mentioned above, tells us he related the matter to him, (for he studies as much as possible to retain the colonel’s own words): “However,” says he, “after that happy period of sensible communion, though my joys and enlargements were not so overflowing and sensible, yet I have had habitual real communion with God from that day to this” the latter end of the year 1743 “and I know myself, and all that know me see, that through the grace of God, to which I ascribe all, my conversation has been becoming the gospel; and let me die whenever it shall please God, or wherever it shall be, I am sure I shall go to the mansions of eternal glory,” &c. This is perfectly agreeable to the manner in which he used to speak to me on this head, which we have talked over frequently and largely.

In this connection I hope my reader will forgive my inserting a little story which I received from a very worthy minister in Scotland, and which I shall give in his own words: “In this period,” meaning that which followed the first seven years after his conversion, “when his complaint of comparative deadness and languor in religion began, he had a dream, which, though he had no turn at all for taking notice of dreams, yet made a very strong impression upon his mind. He imagined he saw his blessed Redeemer on earth, and that he was following him through a large field, following him whom his soul loved, but much troubled, because he thought his blessed Lord did not speak to him, till he came up to the gate of a burying-place, when, turning about, he smiled upon him in such a manner as filled his soul with the most ravishing joy, and on after reflection animated his faith in believing that whatever storms and darkness he might meet with in the way, at the hour of death his glorious Redeemer would lift up upon him the light of his life-giving countenance.” My correspondent adds a circumstance for which he makes some apology, as what may seem whimsical, and yet made some impression on the colonel, “that there was a remarkable resemblance in the field in which this brave man met his death, and that he had represented to him in the dream.” I did not fully understand this at first; but a passage in that letter from Mr. Spears, which I have mentioned more than once, has cleared it:

“Now observe, sir, this seems to be a literal description of the place where this Christian hero ended his sorrows and conflicts, and from which he entered triumphantly into the joy of his Lord; for, after he fell in the battle, fighting gloriously for his king, and the cause of his God, his wounded body, while life was yet remaining, was carried from the field of battle by the east side of his own enclosure, till he came to the church-yard of Tranent, and was brought to the minister’s house, where, about an hour after, he breathed out his soul into the hands of his Lord, and was conducted to his presence, where there is fulness of joy, without any cloud or interruption, for ever.”

I well know that in dreams there are diverse vanities, and readily acknowledge that nothing certain could be inferred from this; yet it seems at least to show which way the imagination was working even in sleep; and I cannot think it unworthy of a wise and good man sometimes to reflect with complacency on any images which, passing through his mind even in that state, may tend either to express or to quicken his love to the great Saviour. Those eminently pious divines of the Church of England, Bishop Bull and Bishop Konn, do both intimate it as their opinion that it may be a part of the service of ministering angels to suggest devout dreams and I know that the worthy person of whom I speak was well acquainted with that evening hymn of the latter of those excellent writers which has these lines:

“Lord lest the tempter me surprise,
Watch over thine own sacrifice!
All loose, all idle thoughts cast out;
And make my very dreams devout!”

Nor would it be difficult to produce other passages much to the same purpose, if it would not be deemed too great a digression from our subject, and too laboured a vindication of a little incident of very small importance when compared with most of those which make up this narrative.