His natural parts bring very great, his understanding quick and penetrative, his judgment clear and profound, his fancy rich, his memory strong, and expressions masculine, they did with such a grace take with them who were not acquainted with his accents or idioms, and to all these his acquired learning was answerable, the culture of which he, through the divine blessing, improved with great diligence. History, the eye of learning, he singularly affected, especially sacred history, the right eye. But to him all history was sacred, seeing he considered God's actions more than man's therein. Nor did he value any man, but for the knowledge of God, wherewith he himself was so much acquainted; for his conversion to God was very early.
Before he was full 23 years old, he was called to a pastoral charge, and was settled therein at Cambuslang in the shire of Clydesdale, where he served the Lord in the ministry, till after the restoration of Charles II. when that storm arose that drove out so many, and particularly that act (commonly called the Glasgow act) whereby near 400 faithful ministers were ejected, of whom the world was not worthy.
He had taken to wife Christiana Hamilton, justly famed for her person, gifts and graces. By her he had seven children, and with them and himself, sweetly committed unto his God's provision, he humbly received the honour of his ejection. Of the children the Lord received three of them to himself, before their mother, and two of them died afterward; the other two survived their father for some time. As for his worldly substance, his share seemed according to Agur's desire, and with Luther he said, To his knowledge he never desired much of it, or was very careful for or about it; for during the most tragical days, his table was spread and cup filled, and his head anointed with fresh oil, his children were liberally educated, and in his work he was profusely rich; but of his own laying up he had no treasure but in heaven. His own testimony of his life was this, It was once made up of seeming contrarieties, great outward trouble and great inward comfort, and I never found (said he) more comfort than when under most affliction.
For some time after his ejection, he lived mostly at Edinburgh, Fife and other places until Sept.1673, that all the ministers in and about Edinburgh being called to appear before the council to hear their sentence, to repair unto the places of their confinement; but he and some others not appearing were ordered to be apprehended wherever they could be found. Which made him shift as well as he could for some time, till he was at last apprehended and imprisoned in the tolbooth of Edinburgh, where he was during the time of Bothwel battle. A little after he was, with some others, called before the council, and tho' they were willing to find bail for their appearance when called, yet because they refused to live peaceably, and not to rise against the king or any authorized by him, they were remanded to prison. However he was liberated and went to Holland, where, after the death of the famous and faithful Mr. Brown, he was admitted minister of the Scots congregation at Rotterdam.
And here again his activity in the ministry was such as was to be expected from such a large soul, comprehensive of the interest of God and his church. What a writer he was need not here be told, but in preaching he might be called a Boanerges and Barnabas also for converse, and for all things useful. What might Cambuslang testify of him! What might Edinburgh and adjacent places, where, after his ejection, he lived and laboured? What might Rotterdam say, where, from the year 1679, till towards his end, he was a most bright and shining light? There was no time wherein we may suppose that he had no good design going on. It is well known that the sun of his life did set on an excellent design, which was, of sending forth a treatise concerning the ways of the Holy Ghost's working upon the souls of men, &c.
As he was religious, so he was said to be of a peaceable and friendly disposition, as not affecting controversy much, so that when speaking of the differences amongst some brethren, he would say, I am amazed to see good men thus tear one another in the dark, nor can I understand how they should have grace in a lively exercise, who value their own particular designs above the interest of the catholic church, &c. Nor is it to be forgot what he said to one of his own begotten sons in the faith, I bless God (said he) that in 15 years time I have never given any man's credit a thrust behind his back, but when I had ground to speak well of any man, I did so with faithfulness, and when I wanted a subject that way, I kept silence.
And according to his practice, his life was a life of worship extraordinary. His solemn dedication of himself to his God was frequent; his soliloquies with him almost perpetual; as spending his days and years after this manner, in order to which we find it was his custom from the 15th or 16th year of his age, to set apart the first day of every year for renewing his covenant with God; or if interrupted that day, to take the next day following. For the first years of his life we cannot give any particular account of the manner of his doing this; but we may guess what they have been, from the few instances following.
1691. In the entry of this new year, (as I have now done for many years most solemnly) I desire again to renew my personal engaging of myself to the Lord my God, and for him, and with my whole heart and desire to enter myself into his service, and take on his blessed yoke, and humbly to lay claim, take and embrace him (O him!) to be my God, my all, my light and my salvation, my shield and exceeding great reward. Whom have I in heaven but thee, O Lord, or in the earth whom I desire besides thee? And now under thy blessed hand my soul desires, and does here testify my trusting myself and securing my whole interest, my credit, my conduct, my comfort, my assistance, and my poor children and to leave myself herein on thy gracious hand, on my dearest Lord, whilst in time, as I write this the 2d day of January 1691.
1692. In the entry and first day of this new year, that I desire as formerly to enter (in this hidden record) a new surrender and offering of myself to my dear Lord and Master, who hath been wonderfully tender and gracious to me, and hath brought me by his immediate conduct through the days and years of my pilgrimage past, hath still cared for his poor servant, and given more singular mercies and evidences of respect than to many else; and now, as still formerly, hath taken me through this last year with singular evidences of his presence and assistance, and as I trusted myself to my Lord, so he hath graciously answered; for which and his special grace hitherto, I desire to insert this witness of my soul's blessing the Lord my God.
And now I do here with my full and joyful consent testify my giving up myself again to the Lord, and to his work and service here, and wherever he shall call me, with desire to consecrate my old age to my God and the guide of my youth. I love my Master and his services, and let my ears be nailed to the posts of his door, as one who would not go free from that blessed yoke and service, and lay in hope the whole assistance hereof on his grace and help, &c. To him I commit myself, my ways, my works and services, which, with my whole desire, I offer to my Lord, in whose hand I desire to secure my credit for the gospel's sake, my comfort and enlargement in this day of deep trouble and anguish, together with my poor children and the whole interest of my family and concerns, desiring to put myself with humble confidence, and all that is dear to me, under his care and conduct. O my soul, bless thou the Lord! This I write the first of Jan.1692. My Lord and my God.
1694. In the first day and Monday of this new year 1694, that as I have formerly through most of my life past, so now I desire to renew my dedication and engagement to the Lord my God, and to join in the same witness with what herein hath been formerly with my whole heart and desire, and to offer to my dearest Lord praise, in remembrance of what he hath been through the year past, and in the whole of my life, whose gracious tender conduct hath been so wonderfully (and well hast thou, Lord, dealt with thy servant according to thy word) in all that hath befallen me, &c.
And now I do again by a surrender witness my entire commitment of myself, my poor children, my credit for the gospel, my conduct and comfort in so extraordinary a juncture to my dearest Lord, to his gracious and compassionate care and providence; together with my works, and any small design to serve him and my generation; and I do intreat new supplies of his grace and strength to secure and make his poor servant (if it were his blessed will) yet more abundantly forth-coming to him. And with hopes of acceptance I write this Jan.1st, 1694. Post tenebras spero lucem.
But now drawing near his end in the same year 1694, upon the 17th of July he took sickness, and on the 25th died. On his first arrest, O friends, said he to such as were about him, sickness and death are serious things; but till the spark of his fever was risen to a flame, he was not aware that that sickness was to be unto death; for he told a relation, That if it should be so, it was strange, seeing the Lord did not hide from him the things that he did with him and his. Yet before his expiration, he was apprehensive of its approach: Calling to him a friend, he asked, What freedom he found in prayer for him? seems God to beckon to your petitions, or does he bring you up and leave dark impressions on your mind? This way, said he, I have often known the mind of the Lord. His friend telling him he was under darkness in the case, he replied, I know your mind, trouble not yourself for me; I think I may say, I have been long above the fear of death.
All the while his groans and struggling argued him to be under no small pain, but his answers to enquiring friends certified that the distress did not enter his soul. Always he would say, I am very well, or, I was never better, or, I feel no sickness. This would he say, while he seemed to be sensible of every thing besides pain. But the malignant distemper wasting his natural spirits, he could speak but little, but what he spoke was all of it like himself. Having felt himself indisposed for his wonted meditation and prayer, he thus said to some near him, I have not been able in a manner to form one serious thought since I was sick, or to apply myself unto God; he has applied himself unto me, and one of his manifestations was such as I could have borne no more. Opening his eyes after a long sleep, one of his sons asked how he did? He answered, Never better. Do you know me? said his son. Unto which with a sweet smile he answered, Yes, yes, dear son, I know you. This was about two hours before he died. About an hour afterwards he cried earnestly, Help, help for the Lord's sake, and then breathed weaker and weaker till he gave up the ghost, and after he had seen the salvation of God he departed in peace in the 64th year of his age.
Thus lived and died Mr. Fleming, after he had served his day and generation. His works yet declare what for a man he was; for besides the forenamed treatise, the confirming work of religion, his epistolary discourse, and his well known book, the fulfilling of the scriptures; he left a writing behind him under this title, A short index of some of the great appearances of the Lord in the dispensations of his providence to his poor servant, &c. And although the obscurity of these hints leaves us in the dark, yet as they serve to shew forth his Master's particular care over his servant, who was most industrious in observing the Lord's special providences over others, and perhaps may give some further light into the different transactions of his life, they are here inserted.
* * * * *
"How near I was brought to death in my infancy, given over and esteemed a burthen to my friends, so as my death was made desirable to them; I being the refuse of my father's children, yet even I was then God's choice, and in a most singular way restored.2. That remarkable deliverance, in receiving a blow by a club when a child, which was so near my eye as endangered both my sight and life.3. The strange and extraordinary impression I had of an audible voice in the church at night, when being a child I had got up to the pulpit, calling me to make haste, &c.4. That I, of all my father's sons, should be spared, when the other three were so promising, and should thus come to be the only male heir surviving of such a stock.5. That solemn and memorable day of communion at Gray-friar's in the entry of the year 1648, where I had so extraordinary a sense of the Lord's presence, yea, whence I can date the first sealing evidence of my conversion, now 40 years past.6. The Lord's gracious and signal preservation and deliverance given me at Dumbar fight.7. These solemn times and near approaches of the Lord to my soul; the first at Elve when I went there, and the other a little after my father's death in the high study.8. The scripture Acts xii. was given me to be my first text, and how I was unexpectedly and by surprize engaged therein.9. The great deliverances at sea going to Dundee, the first time in company with the duke of Lauderdale, the other in company with Mr. Gray of Glasgow.10. That extraordinary dream and marvellous vision I had twice repeated, with the inexpressible joy after the same.11. These memorable impressions and passages about my health, when it seemed hopeless, at my first entry upon the ministry, and the strange expression of Mr. Simpson of Newmills.12. The Lord's immediate and wonderful appearance for me in my first entry to the ministry, with that extraordinary storm on the day of my ordination, and the amazing assault which followed the same in what befel, wherein Satan's immediate appearance against me was so visible. -- 13. The great and conspicuous seal given to my ministry from the Lord, in the conversion of several persons, with that marvellous power which then accompanied the word on the hearts of the people.14. That signal appearance of the Lord and his marvellous condescendence in my marriage lot, and in the whole conduct of the same.15. My deliverance from so imminent hazard of my life in my fall from my horse at Kilmarnock.16. The Lord's marvellous assistance at the two communions of Cathcart and Dunlop, with the great enlargement I had at the last of these two places at the last table.18. That as my entry to my charge was with such a bright sunshine, so no less did the Lord appear at my parting from that place, &c.18. The Lord's special providence as to my outward lot after my removal thence, in many circumstances that way.19. The gracious sparing my wife so long, when her life was in such hazard in the years 1665 and 1672.20. The preservation I had in going over to Fife in the year 1672. and the settlement I got there.21. The dream at Boussay, wherein I got such express warning as to my wife's removal, with the Lord's marvellous appearance and presence the Thursday after at St. Johnston's.22. That extraordinary warning I got again of my dear wife's death, and of the manner of it at London in the year 1674.23. These two remarkable scripture places given me at West Nisbet in my return from London 1674. viz. that in Rom. iv. in the forenoon, and that in Psal. cxv. in the afternoon.24. Those great and signal confirmations given me at my wife's death, and that great extraordinary voice so distinct and clear which I heard a few nights after her death.25. These special confirmations given me at my leaving my country at West Nisbet, Ridsdale, Stanton, and the first at sea from the Shiels.26. These solemn passages to confirm my faith from Heb. xi. and Exod. xxxiii. and at other times at London, and the last night there before I went away.27. These extraordinary and signal times I had at my first entering at Rotterdam.28. These two marvellous providences that did occur to me at Worden, and about the business of William Mader.29. The marvellous sign given me of the state of my family, in what happened as to the sudden withering of the tree, and its extraordinary reviving again at my first entry to my house at Rotterdam.30. The great deliverance from fire in the high street.31. The good providence in returning my diary after it had been long lost.32. The special providence in preserving my son from perishing in water.33. The surprizing relief when cited by the council of Scotland to appear, with that sweet resignation to the Lord which I had then under such a pungent trial.34. The remarkable event of a warning I was forced to give that some present should be taken away by death before the next Lord's day.35. The Lord's immediate supporting under a long series of wonders (I may truly say) for which I am obliged in a singular way to set up my Ebenezer, that hitherto hath the Lord helped.36. The remarkable appearance of the Lord with me (which I omitted in its place) in the strange providence relating to Mr. Monypenny's death in Preston-pans.37. The solemn providence and wonder in my life, my fall under the York coach in August 1654, when the great wheel went over my leg, so as I could feel it passing me without hurting, far less breaking my leg, as if it had been thus carried over in a just poise, to let me see how providence watched over me, &c.38. The comfort God gave me in my children, and those extraordinary confirmations I got from God upon the death of those sweet children whom God removed from me to himself."
Now, reader, go and do thou likewise, for blessed is that servant, whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing, Matth. xxiv.