John Binning of Dalvennan was married to Margaret M'Kell, a daughter of Mr. Matthew M'Kell,(89) minister at Bothwell, and sister to Mr. Hugh M'Kell.(90) one of the ministers of Edinburgh; he had by her Mr. Hugh and Alexander. The father was possessed of no inconsiderable estate in the shire of Ayr, for Mr. Hugh having died before his father, John, the only son of Mr. Hugh, was served heir to his grandfather in the lands of Dalvennan. Alexander, the second son, who died about ten years ago, got the lands of Machrimore, and was married to a daughter of Alexander Crawford of Kerse, and is succeeded therein by his son John Binning, at present a writer in Edinburgh.
The worldly circumstances of the grandfather being so good, he was thereby enabled to give his son Hugh a liberal education, the good and desirable effects of which appeared very early upon him; the greatness of his spirit and capacity gave his parents good ground to conceive the pleasant hope of his being a promising child. When he was at the grammar school, he made so great proficiency in the knowledge of the Latin tongue, and Roman authors, that he outstripped his condisciples, even such as were some years older than himself. When his fellow schoolboys went to their play and diversion, he declined their society, and choosed to employ himself, either in secret duty with God, or conference with religious people. His pastime was to recreate himself in this manner. He had an aversion to sports, games, and other diversions, not from any moroseness, or melancholy of temper, being rather of an affable, cheerful and debonair disposition, but thinking that time was too precious to be lavished away in these things. Religion and religious exercises were his choice, and the time he had to spare from his studies he spent that way. He began to have sweet familiarity with God, and to live in near communion with him, before others began seriously to lay to heart their lost and undone condition by nature, and that additional misery they expose themselves to, by walking in a wicked way and sinful course. When he arrived at the thirteenth or fourteenth year of his age, he had even then attained so much experience in the ways of God, that the most judicious and exercised Christians in the place confessed they were much edified, strengthened, and comforted by him, nay, that he provoked them to diligence in the duties of religion, being abundantly sensible that they were much outrun by a youth.
Before he was fourteen years old, he entered upon the study of philosophy in the university of Glasgow, wherein he made very considerable progress, and with as much facility outstripped his fellow students, as he had done his condisciples in the Latin school, by which means, he came to be taken notice of in the college by the professors and students. And at the same time that he made proficiency in the liberal sciences, he advanced remarkably in religion. The abstruse depths of philosophy, which are the torture of slow engines and weak capacities, he dived into without any trouble or pain. And notwithstanding his surprising attainments and improvements, his great acumen and ready apprehension of things, whereby he was able to do more in one hour, than others in some days by hard study and close application, and though on these accounts he was much respected by the eminent ministers of the city, and learned professors of the university, yet was he ever humble, never exalted above measure, nor swelled with the tympany of pride and self conceit, the common foible and disease of young men of any greatness of spirit.
So soon as he had finished his course of philosophy, he was made Master of Arts(91) with great applause, and having furnished his mind with an uncommon measure of the ancillary knowledge of letters, he began the study of divinity, with a view to serve God in the holy ministry. At which time there happened to be a vacancy in the college of Glasgow, by the resignation of Mr. James Dalrymple of Stair, who had been Mr. Binning's Master. This gentleman was so great and so good a man, that it is impossible to avoid giving an account of some of the remarkable things of his life. The first employment he had, was in the army, being a captain in William Earl of Glencairn's regiment of foot; but as he had made his studies with great application, at the earnest request of the professors of the university of Glasgow, he stood as candidate for a chair of philosophy, in a comparative trial, (in buff and scarlet, the military dress of those days,) to which he was with great applause preferred. In this station he was greatly esteemed for his uncommon abilities in philosophy, and other parts of learning. But being resolved to follow the study of the law, he soon resigned his office of professor, and entered Advocate upon the 7th of February, 1648; and quickly distinguished himself by his pleadings before the Court of Session, avoiding always to take any employment, either as advocate, or judge, in criminal matters, though often respectively pressed to accept of both; which proceeded from a delicacy in his opinion, lest, to wit, he might possibly be the instrument either of making the innocent suffer, or to acquit the guilty. In this situation he continued, till the Tender was imposed, when he, with many other eminent lawyers, withdrew from the bar. On June 26th, 1657, he was, by a commission signed by General Monk,(92) in name of the Protector's council of Scotland, appointed to be one of the Judges, which was soon confirmed by a nomination directly from the Protector himself, in the month of July thereafter, which he had no inclination to accept of, being himself no favourer of the usurpation. For as he had been secretary to the commission which had been sent to the king to Breda, he had waited upon his majesty upon his landing in the North. However, being importunately pressed to accept by many eminent men, and amongst them by several ministers, who all distinguished between his serving as one of the Council under the Protector, and exercising the office of a Judge, by administrating justice to his fellow subjects, he did accept, and his act of admission only bears his giving his oath, de fideli administratione. After the Restoration, he was made by the king one of the ordinary Lords of Session, by his majesty's nomination, dated at Whitehall, February 13th, 1661-2. And in the year 1671, he was created President of that Court, in the room of Sir John Gilmour of Craigmiller. In the parliament 1681, he made a great appearance for securing the Protestant religion, and by reason of the difficulties of the times, he desired leave of his majesty to retire from business, and live quietly in the country. But in this he was prevented by a commission, dated the 14th of October, 1681, which having passed the great seal, was produced the 1st of November thereafter, by which commission he was superseded as President of the Session, and in the year 1682, was obliged for his safety to retire to Holland. For though he had the king's promise that he should live undisturbed, yet he was let know that he could not be in safety, and after his retreat to Holland, several unjust but fruitless attempts were made to have him tried for treason, both before the parliament and justiciary, for no other reason than that he had always with sincerity and firmness, given his opinion to the king and his ministers, against the measures that were then followed, and which in the following reign, at length brought about the glorious Revolution, at which time, anno 1668, he attended King William in that expedition, by the success of which we were most happily delivered from tyranny and slavery. On November 1st, 1689, Sir James Dalrymple of Stair, his letter as President of the Session was produced and recorded, and he was accordingly admitted and restored to his office. In the year 1690 he was created a Viscount upon account of his great services and merit. He published, while in Holland, his Institutions of the law of Scotland, (a more full edition of which came out in 1693,) and two volumes in folio, of Decisions, from the year 1661, to 1681 inclusive. He also published a system of physics,(93) valued greatly at the time. And a book entitled, A Vindication of the divine attributes, was also his, in which there is discovered great force of argument and knowledge. He was looked upon before his death, as the living oracle of our law, and at present his Institutions are appealed to, as containing the true and solid principles of it.(94)
Mr. Binning, who had lately been his scholar, was determined after much entreaty, (of which we shall presently give an account,) to stand as a candidate for that post. The Masters of the college, according to the usual laudable custom, emitted a programme, and sent it to all the universities in the kingdom, inviting such as had a mind to dispute for a profession of philosophy, to sist themselves before them, and offer themselves to compete for that preferment, giving assurance that without partiality and respect of persons, the place should be conferred upon him who should be found dignior et doctior.
The Ministers of the city of Glasgow considering how much it was the interest of the Church, that well qualified persons be put into the profession of philosophy, and that Universities by this means become most useful seminaries for the Church; and that such as had served as Regents in the college, were ordinarily brought out to the ministry, who, as the Divinity chairs became vacant, were advanced to that honour, -- many instances of which I am able to condescend upon, and they knowing that Mr. Binning was eminently pious, and one of a solid judgment, as well as of a bright genius, set upon him to sist himself among the other competitors, but had great difficulty to overcome his modesty. However, they at last prevailed with him to declare, before the Masters, his willingness to undertake the dispute with others.
There were two candidates more, one of them had the advantage of great interest with Doctor Strang, principal of the college at that time, and the other a scholar of great abilities, and of the same sentiments with the Doctor, in some problematical points of divinity, which with great subtilty had been debated in the schools. Mr. Binning so managed the dispute and acquitted himself in all the parts of trial, that to the conviction of the judges he very much darkened his rivals. And as to the precise point of qualification, in respect of literature, cut off all shadow of a demur and pretence of difficulty in the decision. However, the Doctor and some of the Faculty who joined him, though they could not pretend that the candidate they appeared for, had an equality, much less a superiority in the dispute, yet they argued, a coeteris paribus, that the person they inclined to prefer, being a citizen & son, having a good competency of learning, and being a person of more years, had greater experience than Mr. Binning could be supposed to have, and consequently was more fit to be a teacher of youth. Mr. Binning being but yesterday a fellow student with those he was to teach, it was not to be expected, that the students would behave to him with that respect and regard which should be paid to a master. But to this it was replied, that Mr. Binning was such a pregnant scholar, so wise and sedate as to be above all the follies and vanities of youth, that he knew very well how to let no man despise his youth, his wit was neither vain nor light, and his fancy was obedient to his reason, and what was wanting in years was sufficiently made up by his singular endowments, and more than ordinary qualifications. A Member of the Faculty, perceiving the struggle among them to be great (and indeed the affair seemed to have been argued very plausibly on both sides), proposed a dispute between the two candidates extempore, upon any subject they should be pleased to prescribe. This being considered by the Faculty, did quickly put a period to the division among them, and those who had opposed him not being willing to engage their friend again in the lists, with such an able antagonist, yielded the question, and Mr. Binning was elected.(95)
Mr. Binning was not full nineteen years of age, when he commenced Regent and Professor of Philosophy,(96) and though he had not time to prepare a system of any part of his profession, being instantly after his election to take up his class, yet such was the quickness and fertility of his invention, the tenaciousness of his memory, and the solidity of his judgment, that his dictates(97) to the scholars had a great depth of learning of that kind, and perspicuity of expression. And I am assured, that he was among the first in Scotland that began to reform Philosophy from the barbarous terms, and unintelligible distinctions of the schoolmen, and the many vain disputes and trifling subtilties, which rather perplexed the minds of the youth, than furnished them with solid and useful knowledge.(98)
He continued in this profession for the space of three years, and discharged his trust so well, that he gained the general applause of the university for his academical exercises. And this was the more wonderful, that having turned his thoughts towards the ministry, he carried on his theological studies at the same time, and made vast improvements therein, to which he was enabled, by his deep penetration, and a memory so retentive, that he scarcely forgot any thing he had read or heard. It was easy and ordinary for him to transcribe any sermon, after he returned to his chamber, at such a full length, as that the intelligent and judicious reader who heard it preached should not find one sentence to be wanting.
During this period of his life, he gave a proof and evidence of the great progress he had made in the knowledge of Divinity, by a composure on that choice passage of the Holy Scripture, 2 Cor. v.14, "For the love of God constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead."
This performance he sent to a certain gentlewoman for her private edification, who had been detained at Edinburgh for a long time with business of importance, and having perused the same, she judged it was a sermon of some eminent minister in the West of Scotland, and put it into the hands of the then Provost of Edinburgh for his opinion, who was so well satisfied with it, that supposing it to be taken from the mouth of one whom the city had formerly resolved to call, was restless till a call was brought about to him, to be one of the ministers of the city. But when the lady returned back to Glasgow, she found her mistake, by Mr. Binning's asking the discourse from her. This was the first discovery he had given of his great dexterity and ability in explaining of Scripture. At the expiration of his third year as a professor of philosophy, the parish of Govan, which lies adjacent to the city of Glasgow, and is within the bounds of that presbytery, happened to be vacant. Before this time,(99) whoever was principal of the college of Glasgow, was also minister of Govan. For Mr. Robert Boyd of Trochrigg,(100) (a person of very great learning, as his commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, and his Hecatombe Christiana testify) after he had been minister at Vertuille in France, and professor of Divinity in Saumur, returned to Scotland, and was settled principal of the college, and minister of Govan. But this being attended with inconveniences, an alteration was made, and the presbytery having a view of supplying that vacancy with Mr. Binning, did take him upon trials, in order to his being licensed as a preacher(101) and after he was licensed, he did preach at Govan, to the great satisfaction of that people. Mr. Binning was sometime after called and invited to be minister of the said parish, which call the presbytery heartily approved of, and entered him upon trials for ordination, about the 22d year of his age, and as a part of trials, they prescribed to him a common head, De concursu et influxu divino cum actionibus creaturarum, -- the occasion of which was, that Dr. Strang, principal of the College, and a member of the presbytery, had vented some peculiar notions upon that profound subject. And having delivered a very elaborate discourse, viva voce, to the admiration of all who heard it, he gave in, according to custom, his thesis to be impugned by the members of the presbytery, which was the direct antithesis of Doctor Strang's opinion in his dictates to the students on that controversy. The Doctor being pitched upon to be one of his opponents, found his credit and reputation much engaged, and exerted his metaphysical and subtile talent on that occasion. But Mr. Binning maintained his ground by the weight and solidity of his defence, to the great satisfaction of all that were present, so that some were pleased to say, that young Mr. Binning appeared to be the old learned Doctor; Nay, the Doctor himself after the recounter, admiring Mr Binning's abilities and parts, said, "Where hath this young man got all this learning and reading?".(102) When he had finished his trials, he had the unanimous approbation of the presbytery, nay, their declaration and testimony of his fitness to be one of the ministers of the city, upon the first vacancy. And I am assured, that at the very same time the Masters of the University had it in their view to bring him back again to their society, whenever the profession of Divinity should become vacant.
He was, considering his age, a prodigy of learning, for before he had arrived at the 26th year of his life, he had such a large stock of useful knowledge, as to be philologus, philosophus, and theologus praestans,(103) and might well have been an ornament to the most famous and flourishing university in Europe. This was the more astonishing, if we consider his weakness and infirmity of body, not being able to read much at one time, or to undergo the fatigue of assiduous study. But this was well supplied, partly by a memory that retained every thing he heard or read, and partly by a solid penetrating judgment, whereby he digested it well, and made it his own, so that with a singular dexterity, he could bring it forth seasonably, and communicate it to the use and advantage of others, drained from the dregs he found about it, or intermixed with it; insomuch that his knowledge seemed rather to be born with him, than to have been acquired by hard and laborious study.
From his childhood he knew the Scriptures, and from a boy had been under much deep and spiritual exercise, until the time (or a little before it) of his entry upon the office of the ministry, when he came to a great calm and lasting tranquillity of mind, being mercifully relieved of all those doubtings which had for a long time greatly exercised him, and though he was of a tender and weakly constitution, yet love to Christ, and a concern for the good of precious souls committed to him, constrained him to such diligence in feeding the flock, as to spend himself in the work of the ministry. It was observed of him, that he was not much averse at any time from embracing an invitation to preach before the most experienced Christians, even the learned professors of the university, and the Reverend ministers of the city, and when one of his most intimate friends noticed herein a difference from that modesty and self denial, which appeared in the whole of his way and conduct, he took the freedom to ask him, how he came to be so easily prevailed with to preach before persons of so great experience and judgment, whose eminent gifts and graces he highly valued and esteemed? He made this excellent reply, that when he had a clear call to mention his blessed Master's name in any place, he had no more to say, but, "Here am I, send me. What am I that I should resist his heavenly call? And when he, whose name is holy and reverend, is spoken of and to, and is there present, the presence of no other person is to be regarded or dreaded, and under that impression, I forget who is present, and who is absent."
Though he was bookish, and much intent upon the fulfilling of his ministry, he turned his thoughts to marriage, and did marry a virtuous and excellent person, Mistress Barbara Simpson,(104) daughter of Mr. James Simpson, a minister in Ireland.(105) Upon the day on which he was to be married, he went accompanied with his friends (amongst whom were some grave and worthy ministers) to an adjacent country congregation, upon the day of their weekly sermon. The minister of the parish(106) delayed sermon till they should come, hoping to put the work upon one of the ministers he expected to be there. But all of them declining it, he next tried if he could prevail with the bridegroom, and succeeded, though the invitation was not expected, and the nature of the occasion seemed to be somewhat alien from his being employed in that work. It was no difficult task to him upon a short warning to preach, having a prompt and ready gift. He was never at a loss for words and matter, and having stepped aside a little time to premeditate and implore his Master's presence and assistance (for he was ever afraid to be alone in that work) he went immediately to the pulpit, and preached upon 1 Pet i.15 "But as he who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation." At which time, he was so remarkably helped, that all acknowledged that God was with him of a truth. And the people of the parish, who had come to hear their own minister, (a truly pious and excellent man,) were so surprised and taken with him, as if God, besides his ordinary resident (so Mr. McWard expresses it) had sent them an extraordinary ambassador to negotiate a peace between God and them, and a prompt paranymph unto, and a skilful suitor of a spouse for Jesus Christ the blessed Bridegroom, that he might present them as a chaste virgin to this divine Husband.
However he studied in his public discourses to condescend to the capacity of the meaner sort of hearers, yet it must be owned, that his preaching gift was not so much accommodated and suited to a country congregation, as it was to the judicious and learned. (107) The subjects of sermons are so numerous and various, and the order of men's disposing of their thoughts upon these subjects so different, that a suit of clothes may be as soon made to answer every man's back, as a fixed and invariable method may be prescribed, that shall agree to every subject, and every man's taste. Mr. Binning's method was singular and peculiar to himself, much after the haranguing way.(108) He was no stranger to the rules of art, and knew well how to make his method subservient to the subjects he handled. And though he tells not his discourse has so many parts, yet it wanted not method, it being mani mum artis celare artem.(109) His diction and language is easy and fluent, neat and fine, void of all affectation and bombast. His style is free from starch lusciousness and intricacy, every period has a kind of undesigned negligent elegance, which arrests the reader's attention, and makes what he says as apples of gold set in pictures of silver, so that, considering the time when he lived, it might be said, that he had carried the orator's prize from his cotemporaries in Scotland, and was not at that time inferior to the best pulpit orators in England, the English language having got its greatest embellishments and refinings but of late years. In his Sermons, his matter gives life to his words, and his words add a lustre to his matter. That great divine, Mr. James Durham,(110) an excellent judge of men, gave this verdict of him, that "there is no speaking after Mr. Binning," and truly he had the tongue of the learned, and knew how to speak a word in season. The subject-matter of his Sermons is mostly practical, and yet rational and argumentive, fit to inform the understanding of his hearers, and move their affections and when controversies come in his way, he shows great acuteness and judgment in discussing and determining them, and no less skill in applying them to practice. His discourses are so solid and substantial, so heavenly and sublime, that they not only feed but feast the reader, as with marrow and fatness. In the most of them, we meet with much of the sublime, expressed in a most lofty, pathetic, and moving manner. Mr. M'Waid says in his letter, "That as to the whole of Mr. Binning's writings, I know no man's pen on the heads he hath handled more adapted for edification, or which, with a pleasant violence, will sooner find or force a passage into the heart of a judicious experienced reader, and cast fire, even ere he is aware (O happy surprise!) into his affections, and set them into a flame." And in another part of the same letter, he says, "The subjects he discourses upon are handled with such a pleasant and profitable variety of thought and expression, that the hearer or reader is taken with it, as if he had never met with it before. He was such a skilful scribe, as knew how to bring out of his store things new and old; the old with such sweetness and savour as it seemed still new, and the new retained its first sweetness so as never to grow old."
He and some young ministers in the same presbytery, who had been students of divinity when he was professor of philosophy, did keep private meetings for Christian fellowship, and their mutual improvement. But finding that he was in danger of being puffed up with the high opinion they had of him, he broke up these meetings, though he still kept up a brotherly correspondence with them, for the rigorous prosecution of their ministerial work. He studied to be clothed with humility, and to hide his attainments under that veil. Though he wanted not matter and words wherewith to please and profit all his hearers, yet at every thought of his appearing in public to speak of God and Christ to men, his soul was filled with a holy tremor, which he vented by saying, "Ah! Lord, I am a child and cannot speak. Teach me what I shall say of thee, who cannot order my speech by reason of darkness." In his first Sermon, on the fourth question of our Shorter Catechism, he expresses himself in a most elegant and rapturous manner. "We are now," says he, "about this question, What God is? But who can answer it? Or if answered, who can understand it? It should astonish us in the very entry, to think we are about to speak and to hear of his majesty, 'whom eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,' nor hath it entered into the heart of any creature to consider what he is. Think ye, blind men could understand a pertinent discourse of light and colours? Would they form any suitable notion of that they had never seen, and cannot be known but by seeing? What an ignorant speech would a deaf man make of sound, when a man cannot so much as know what it is, but by hearing of it? How then can we speak of God who dwells in inaccessible light, since though we had our eyes opened, yet they are far less proportioned to that resplendent brightness, than a blind eye is to the sun's light?"
He was a great student in the books of creation and providence, and took much pleasure in meditating upon what is written in these volumes. The wonders he discovered in both, led him up to the infinitely wise and powerful Maker and Preserver of all things. Once, when he came to visit a gentleman of good learning, and his intimate acquaintance, the gentleman took him to his garden, and in their walk he discoursed with him to his great surprise of the objective declarations, which every thing makes of its Almighty Creator and talked of the wisdom and goodness of God, particularly in clothing the earth with a green garb, rather than with a garment of any other colour, and having plucked a flower from it, he made a most savoury spiritual discourse. He so dissected and anatomized the same, as to set forth the glorious perfections of its Maker in a most taking and entertaining manner.
But the main object of his pious and devout contemplations was God in Christ reconciling the world to himself. For God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, had shined into his heart to give him the light of the knowledge of God, in the face of Jesus Christ, so that he not only understood the mysteries of the kingdom of God himself, but it was given to him to make others know them. His preaching was in the demonstration of the Spirit, and of power. His Sermons are the very transcript of what had past betwixt God and his own soul. He spoke and wrote his experimental knowledge, and did both speak and write because he believed He did earnestly contend for the articles of faith and truths of religion, and could never think of parting with one hoof, or the least grain of truth, being persuaded, that Christian concord must have truth for its foundation, and holiness for its attendant, without which it will decline into a defection, and degenerate into a conspiracy against religion. As to the duties of Christianity, he enforced the performance of these with all the arguments of persuasion, so that, through the blessing of God, his pulpit discourses became the power of God to the illumination of the understandings of his hearers, the renovation of their natures, the reformation of their lives, and the salvation of their souls.
The difficult part of a reprover he acted in the most prudent and gaining manner, when he did lick with his tongue the mote out of his brother's eye, he did it with all tenderness, and with the tear in his own. His words wanted neither point nor edge for drawing the blood, when the case of the offender made it an indispensable duty; and when he was necessitated to use sharpness with any, they were convinced that he honestly and sincerely intended their spiritual good. His compassion on the ignorant and them that were out of the way, made it evident how much he considered himself as encompassed with infirmities, and so within the hazard of being tempted.
He was a person of exemplary moderation and sobriety of spirit, had healing methods much at heart, and studied to promote love and peace among his brethren in the ministry. He vigorously contributed to the recovery of the humanity of Christianity, which had been much lost in the differences of the times, and the animosities which followed thereupon. These virtues and graces had such an ascendant in his soul, that when he carried coals about with him, taken from the altar to warm the souls of all, with whom he conversed, with love to God, his truths, interests and people, so he carried sanctuary water about with him to cool and extinguish what of undue passion he perceived to accompany the zeal of good and well designing persons; a temper that is rarely found in one of his age. But ripe harvest grapes were found upon this vine in the beginning of spring; and no wonder, since he lived so near the Sun of Righteousness, and lay under the plentiful showers of divine grace, and the ripening influences of the Holy Spirit.
The prevailing of the English sectarians under Oliver Cromwell, to the overthrow of the Presbyterian interest in England, and the various attempts which they made in Scotland, on the constitution and discipline of this church, was one of the greatest difficulties which the ministry had then to struggle with. Upon this he made the following most excellent reflection, in a Sermon preached on a day of public humiliation, "What if the Lord hath defaced all that his kingdom was instrumental in building up in England, that he alone may have the glory in a second temple more glorious?"(111) And when he observed, that the zeal of many for the Solemn League and Covenant, (by which they were sworn to endeavour the preservation of the reformed religion in Scotland, and the reformation of religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland,) was not attended with a suitable amendment of their own lives, he takes up a bitter lamentation over them in a very remarkable paragraph. "Alas! we deceive ourselves with the noise of a covenant, and a cause of God, we cry it up as an antidote against all evils, use it as a charm, even as the Jews did their temple, and in the mean time we do not care how we walk before God, or with our neighbours. Well, thus saith the Lord, 'Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these. For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings, if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt,' &c. Jer. vii.4-6. If drunkenness reign among you, if filthiness, swearing, oppression, cruelty reign among you, your covenant is but a lie, all your professions are but lying words, and shall never keep you in your inheritances and dwellings. The Lord tells you what he requires of you, is it not to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with God? Mic. vi.8. This is that which the grace of God teaches, to deny 'ungodliness and worldly lusts,' and to 'live soberly, righteously, and godly,' towards God, your neighbour, and yourself, Tit. ii.11, 12, and this he prefers to your public ordinances, your fasting, covenanting, preaching, and such like."(112)
When the unhappy distinction betwixt the public Resolutioners and Protesters(113) took place in this church. Mr. Binning was of the last denomination. This distinction proved to be of fatal consequences. He saw some of the evils of it in his own time, and being of a catholic and healing spirit, with a view to the cementing of differences, he wrote an excellent Treatise of Christian love,(114) which contains very strong and pathetic passages, most apposite to this subject, some of which we will afterwards have occasion to quote. He was no fomenter of faction, but studious of the public tranquillity. He was a man of moderate principles and temperate passions. He was far from being confident, or vehement in the managing of public affairs, never imposing or overbearing upon others, but willingly hearkened to advice, and yielded to reason.
After he had laboured four years in the ministry, serving God with his spirit in the gospel of his Son, whom he preached, warning every man and teaching every man in great ministerial wisdom and freedom, that he might present every man perfect in Christ Jesus -- whereunto he laboured, strong according to his working, which wrought in him mightily, -- ;he died of a consumption, when he was scarce come to the prime and vigour of life, entering on the twenty sixth year of his age, leaving behind him a sweet savour after he was gone, and an epistle of commendation upon the hearts of his hearers. While he lived, he was highly valued and esteemed, having been a successful instrument of saving himself and them that heard him, of turning sinners unto righteousness, and of perfecting the saints, and died much lamented by all good people, who had the opportunity and advantage of knowing him. He was a person of singular piety, of a humble, meek, and peaceable temper, a judicious and lively preacher, nay, so extraordinary a person, that he was justly accounted a prodigy for the pregnancy of his natural parts, and his great proficiency in human learning, and knowledge of divinity. He was too shining a light to shine long and burned so intensely that he was soon put out. But he now shines in the kingdom of his Father, in a more conspicuous and refulgent manner, even as the brightness of the firmament, and as the stars for ever and ever.
The last Sermons he preached were those on Rom. viii.14, 15: "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." He concluded the last of these discourses with a reflection on these words. "We cry, Abba, Father." "This (says he,) is much for our comfort, that from whomsoever, and whatsoever corner in the world, prayers come up to him, they cannot want acceptance. All languages, all countries, all places are sanctified by Jesus Christ, that whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord from the ends of the earth, shall be saved. And truly it is a sweet meditation to think, that from the ends of the earth the cries of souls are heard; and that the end is as near heaven as the middle, and a wilderness as near as a paradise, that though we understand not one another, yet we have one loving and living Father, that understands all our meanings. And so the different languages and dialects of the members of this body make no confusion in heaven, but meet together in his heart and affection, and are as one perfume, one incense, sent up from the whole catholic church, which is here scattered upon the earth. O that the Lord would persuade us to cry this way to our Father in all our necessities!"(115) Thus having contemplated that subject concerning the adoption of children, he was taken hence to the enjoyment of the inheritance reserved in the heavens for them, and the Spirit called him by death, as the voice did John the divine, Rev. iv.1, "Come up hither."
He was buried in the churchyard of Govan, where Mr. Patrick Gillespie,(116) then principal of the university of Glasgow, at his own proper charges, (as I am credibly informed,) caused a monument(117) to be erected for him, on which there is to this day the following inscription in Latin:
HIC SITVS EST MR. HVGO BINNINGVS,
He left behind him a disconsolate widow, and an only son, called John after the grandfather, to whom the grandfather at his death had left the estate of Dalvennan,(118) but John having been engaged in the insurrection at Bothwell bridge, anno 1679, it was forfeited, and he continued dispossessed of it till the year 1690, when, by the 18th act of parliament in the said year, the forfeitures and fines past since the year 1665, to the 5th day of November, 1688, were rescinded.(119) His widow was afterwards married to one Mr. James Gordon,(120) a presbyterian minister for some time in the kingdom of Ireland. She lived to a great age, and died in the year 1694, at Paisley in the shire of Renfrew, about four or five miles from Govan; which, when the people of that parish heard, the savoury memory they still had of their worthy pastor, made them to desire the friends of the defunct, to allow them to give her a decent and honourable burial, beside her deceased husband, undertaking to defray all the charges of the funeral, which was done accordingly. And to this day Mr. Binning is mentioned among them with particular veneration. He was succeeded by Mr David Vetch,(121) who likewise died young.
Before I conclude this Relation, it is proper I give some account of his writings. The books published at different times under his name, which are contained in this volume, are all posthumous. Wherefore it will not be strange, if the reader shall meet with some passages in them that are less perfect and complete, since he did not intend them for the press, and that they want those finishing strokes, which such a masterly pen was able to give them. The good effects his discourses had upon the hearers, and the importunity of many judicious and experienced Christians to have them published, that they might have the same influence on such as should read them, encouraged some worthy ministers to revise and print them. And since these sermons have for a long time had the approbation both of learned divines and serious Christians, they need not any recommendation of mine.
The first of his works that was printed,(122) is entitled, "The Common Principles of the Christian Religion, clearly proved, and singularly improved, or a Practical Catechism, wherein some of the most concerning foundations of our faith are solidly laid down, and that doctrine which is according to godliness, is sweetly, yet pungently pressed home, and most satisfyingly handled." Mr. M'Ward speaking of this performance, says, "That it was not designed for the press, that it contained only his notes on those subjects he preached to his flock, and which he wrote (I suppose he means(123) in a fair hand) for the private use and edification of a friend, from whom he had them, and when put into his hand to be revised, he says, he did not so much as alter, or add one word, to make the sense more plain, full, or emphatical." This book is an excellent exposition of the Westminster Catechism, so far as it goes, viz. to the twenty first question, "Who is the Redeemer of God's elect?" Mr. Patrick Gillespie writes a preface to the reader, wherein he expresses his high opinion of it in the following encomium. "In this book Mr. Binning explains many of the fundamental articles of the Christian faith and had he lived to have perfected and finished this work, he had been upon this single account famous in the church of Christ." The Assembly's Catechism has had many expositions by pious and learned ministers, some of them by way of sermon, and others by way of question and answer. But this, so far as it goes, is not inferior to any. A learned layman, Sir Matthew Hales chief justice of the king's bench, the divine of the state in King Charles II.'s reign, judged the Assembly's Catechism to be an excellent composure, and thought it not below him, or unworthy of his pains to consider it. For in the second part of his "Contemplations moral and divine," we have his most instructive meditations upon the first three questions. These had been the employment of his horoe sacroe, and it is a pity he did not go on to the other questions. The shortness of Mr. Binning's life has deprived us of a complete course of useful catechetical discourses. This book was so greatly esteemed in this country, that before the year 1718, there had been no less than five impressions cast off the press,(124) and all these being sold off, a sixth was made in the said year. As they were much valued at home, so they were highly prized abroad, and as an evidence of this, I find that Mr. James Coleman, minister at Sluys in Flanders, translated them into the Dutch language.(125)
In the year 1670, another posthumous work was printed; it is entitled, "The Sinner's Sanctuary, being forty Sermons upon the Eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, from the first verse down to the sixteenth." The Publishers in their preface acquaint us, that they were encouraged to print it because the former treatise was universally received by the intelligent and judicious in the principles of the Christian faith. In this book, as in all his other writings, the readers will perceive a pure stream of piety and learning running through the whole, and a very peculiar turn of thought, that exceeds the common rate of writers on this choice part of the Holy Scriptures. Dr. Horton, Dr. Manton, and others, have printed a great number of useful practical discourses, but so far as he goes, he is not exceeded by any of them.
A third treatise was printed at Edinburgh, in the year 1671. The title of it is, "Fellowship with God, being twenty eight Sermons on the First Epistle of John, Chap.1st, and Chap.2d, Verses 1, 2, 3." In this book, we have the true ground and foundation of attaining the spiritual way of entertaining fellowship with the Father and the Son, and the blessed condition of such as attain to it, most succinctly and distinctly explained. This book was revised and published by one A. S. who, in his preface to the reader, styles himself, his servant in the gospel of our dearest Lord and Saviour. I need give no other commendation of it, than that summary eulogium which that minister has left us. "In a word, (says he,) here are to be found, convictions for atheists, piercing rebukes to the profane, clear instructions to the ignorant, milk to the babes in Christ, strong meat for the strong, strength to the weak, quickening and reviving for such as faint in the way, restoratives for such as are in a decay, reclamations and loud oyesses after backsliders to recall them, breasts of consolation for Zion's mourners. And to add no more, here are most excellent counsels and directions to serious seekers of fellowship with God, to guide them in their way, and help them forward to the attainment of that fulness of joy which is to be had in fellowship with the Father and the Son."
The last treatise that has been printed is, "Heart Humiliation, or Miscellany Sermons, preached upon some choice texts at several solemn occasions." These likewise were revised and published by the above A. S. in the year . Mr. Binning considering the great confusions and lamentable divisions that prevailed in the church in his day, and the abounding immorality and profaneness of the age, was deeply weighed therewith. His righteous soul was so vexed and grieved on these accounts, that he vented his mind in a most pathetic and moving manner, when the days of public humiliation and fasting were observed. With respect to the many fasts then appointed, and the few good effects they had, he says in his sermon on Isa. lxiv.7 -- "There is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee," -- "The fasting days of Scotland will be numbered in the roll of the greatest provocations, because there is no real and spiritual conviction of sin among us, custom now hath taken away the solemnity, and there remaineth nothing but the very name."(126) And in this same sermon, he says, "Doth any of you pray more in private than ye used? Or what edge is upon your prayers? Alas! the Lord will get good leave to go from us, it feareth me we would give Christ a testimonial to go over seas. Hold him, hold him! Nay the multitude would be gladly quit of him, -- they cannot abide his yoke, his work is a burden, his word is a torment, his discipline is bands and cords, and what heart can ye have to keep Christ? What violence can ye offer to him to hold him still? All your entreaties may be fair compliments, but they would never rend his garment."(127) There are still several manuscripts of Mr. Binning's carefully preserved, which are in nothing inferior to any of his printed works. There is a valuable Treatise upon Christian Love, consisting of several sheets writ in a very small character, -- it is divided into chapters, and several sermons upon very edifying subjects, useful and profitable for our times, -- which are designed to be printed in a separate volume, which every body may easily discover from the style and genius of the author to be his genuine writings, his manner of thinking and writing being a talent so peculiar to himself, that it scarcely can be imitated by any other person.
Had it pleased the Almighty to have spared so valuable a life for some time longer, he would have vindicated divinity from the many fruitless questions, unintelligible terms, empty notions, and perplexed subtilties, wherewith it had been corrupted for a long time by the schoolmen. As he was excellently fitted for this, so it was much upon his heart to have reduced divinity to that native simplicity, which had been lost in most parts of the world. A good specimen of his ability this way he hath given us in his catechism, and so, though he lived but a short time, he yet lived long enough to raise the greatest expectation that hath been known of any of his standing.
Mr. M'Ward assures us, That if Dr. Strang's dictates De Voluntate Dei circa peccata(128) had been published before Mr. Binning's death, Mr. Binning had an examen of them ready for the press. But this treasure, to the great loss of the learned world, cannot now be found. As for his philosophical writings which he taught in the University, I am assured that his course of philosophy is in the hands of a learned gentleman in this city, who gives them an high commendation.
There is a book published under his name in 4to, consisting of fifty-one pages, with this title, "An Useful Case of Conscience, learnedly and accurately discussed and resolved, concerning associations and confederacies with idolaters, infidels, heretics, malignants or any other known enemies of truth and godliness." But it is very much questioned by the most intelligent, if that book was really Mr. Binning's. The publisher does indeed put Mr. Binning's name to the title page, but conceals his own, and he brings no manner of voucher, showing that Mr. Binning was the author, but sends it abroad into the world in a clandestine manner. Neither the name of the printer, nor of the place where it was printed is mentioned in the title page.(129) It was printed in the year 1693, when the first General Assembly of this church after the Revolution, which consisted of both Public Resolutioners and Protesters, had agreed to bury for ever all their differences about the Public Resolutions, concerning the question of employing malignants in the army, that was raised against the kingdom of England. It seems that he dreaded the frowns and censure of those worthy and faithful ministers of Jesus Christ, who had been a long time in the fire of persecution. But if we further consider, that our late glorious deliverer, King William, was in the year 1693 engaged in a defensive war with the Emperor of Germany and the King of Spain, against Louis XIV., the bloody tyrant of France and terror of Europe, who aimed at the universal monarchy thereof, and to overturn the happy revolution, the blessed benefits of which we have enjoyed ever since, it is evident, that the publisher was afraid of the resentment of the civil powers, especially when the spreading of that pamphlet might have an unhappy tendency to alienate the affections of his subjects, when he was carrying on that just and necessary war, for the preservation of our civil and religious liberties, to which we had been but lately restored. Nay, it is said, that when this pamphlet was spreading in the army in Flanders, it was like to have a bad influence on the soldiers, which made King William take an effectual method to suppress it. Further, Mr. Binning died in the year 1653, and this pamphlet was not published till the year 1693, so that, for the space of forty years it was never heard of nor made public by any of the Protesters themselves in that period, which would not have been neglected, had they known that Mr. Binning was the author of it. And lastly, Mr. Binning was of a pacific temper, and his sentiments with respect to public differences were healing, which are evident from the accounts already given of his printed books. And to show that he was a promoter of brotherly love, and of the peace of the church, I shall set down a few passages taken from his Treatise of Christian Love, which are as bright and strong for recommending the same, as any that I have met with in the writings of any of our divines, so that I can't allow myself to think he could be the author thereof. In chapter 2d of that Treatise, he says, "There is a greater moment and weight of Christianity in charity, than in the most part of those things for which Christians bite and devour one another. It is the fundamental law of the gospel, to which all positive precepts and ordinances should stoop. Unity in judgment is very needful for the well being of Christians. But Christ's last words persuade this, that unity in affection is more essential and fundamental. This is the badge he left to his disciples. If we cast away this upon every different apprehension of mind, we disown our Master, and disclaim his token and badge."(130) He goes on in the same strain in the following paragraph -- "The apostle Paul puts a high note of commendation upon charity, when he styles it the bond of perfection. 'Above all things (says he) put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness,' Col. iii.14. I am sure it hath not so high a place in the minds and practice of Christians now, as it hath in the roll of the parts and members of the new man here set down. Here it is above all. With us it is below all, even below every apprehension of doubtful truths. An agreement in the conception of any poor petty controversial matter of the times, is made the badge of Christianity, and set in an eminent place above all."(131) And in the same chapter he adds, "This is the sum of all, to worship God in faith and purity, and to love one another. And, whatsoever debates and questions tend to the breach of this bond, and have no eminent and remarkable advantage in them, suppose they be conceived to be about matters of conscience, yet the entertaining and prosecuting of them to the prejudice of this, is a manifest violence offered to the law of God, which is the rule of conscience. It is a perverting of scripture and conscience to a wrong end. I say then, that charity and Christian love should be the moderatrix of all our actions towards men. From thence they should proceed, and according to this rule be formed. I am persuaded if this rule were followed, the present differences in judgment of godly men, about such matters as minister mere questions, would soon be buried in the gulf of Christian affection."(132) I shall mention only another in the same chapter. "Is not charity more excellent than the knowledge and acknowledgment of some present questionable matters about government, treaties, and such like, and far more than every punctilio of them? But the apostle goes higher. Suppose a man could spend all his substance upon the maintenance of such an opinion, and give his life for the defence of it, though in itself it be commendable, yet if he want charity and love to his brethren, if he overstretch that point of conscience to the breach of Christian affection and duties flowing from it, it profits him nothing. Then certainly charity must rule our external actions, and have the predominant hand in the use of all gifts, and in the venting of all opinions."(133) And now, having given a just character of this eminent minister of the gospel, a true account of his life, and some slight remarks upon his writings, I shall no longer detain the reader from the perusal of those treatises that are contained in this volume; from which you will know more of Mr. Binning, than from all I and others have said in his just praise. I shall now conclude, by acquainting the purchasers and readers of this volume, that I am allowed by the publishers to assure them, that the rest of his practical manuscripts are revising for the press; and that with all expedition they shall be printed; from which I am hopeful they shall receive as great satisfaction, as from any of his pieces already published.