THE REV. JOHN MACPHERSON,
Author of "The Life of Duncan Mathieson."
From East London to West Canada is a change pleasing to imagine. From dusky lane and fetid alley to open, bright Canadian fields is, in the very thought, refreshing. A child is snatched from pinching hunger, fluttering rags, and all the squalor of gutter life; from a creeping existence in the noisome pool of slum society is lifted up into some taste for decency and cleanliness; from being trained in the school whose first and last lesson is to fear neither God nor man, is taught the beginnings of Christian faith and duty, and by a strong effort of love and patience is borne away to the free, spacious regions of the western hemisphere, of which it may be said, as of the King's feast, "yet there is room," and where even a hapless waif may get a chance and a choice both for this world and the world that is to come. This is a picture on which a kind heart loves to rest. But who shall make the picture real?
Go and first catch your little Arab, if you can. I say, if you can; for he is too old to be caught by chaff, and you shall need as much guile as any fowler ever did. Then with patient hands bestow on his body its first baptism of clean water, a task often unspeakably shocking; reduce to fit size and shape a cast-off suit humbly begged for the occasion, and give him his first experience of decent clothing. Thereafter, proceed to the work, sometimes the most trying ever undertaken, of taming this singularly acute, desperately sly, and often ferociously savage little Englishman, training him to be what he is not, or harder task still, to be not what he is. Having, by dint of much pains and many prayers, obtained, as you hope, some beginnings of victory over the most wayward of wills, and the most unaccountably strange of mixed natures, with its intellectual sharpness and moral bluntness, its precocious knowingness and stereotyped childishness, its quickness to learn and slowness to unlearn, prepare for the next stage of your enterprise. Lay out your scheme of emigration, get the money where you can, that is to say, call it flown from heaven and wile it out of earthly pockets, anticipate all possible emergencies and wants by land and sea, finish for the time the much epistolary correspondence to which this same fragment of humanity has given rise, tempt the deep with your restless charge, bear the discomforts of the stormiest of seas, and inwardly groan at the signs of other and worse tempests ready ever to burst forth in the Atlantic of that young sinner's future course; and when after many weeks of anxious thought, fatiguing travel, and laborious inquiry you find a home for the child, fold your hands, give thanks and say, "What an adventure! What a toil! But now at length it is finished!" And yet perhaps it is not half finished.
Multiply all this thought and feeling, all this labour and prayer a thousandfold; and imagine the work of a woman as tenderly attached to home and its peaceful ways as any one of her sisters in the three kingdoms, who has made some twenty-eight voyages across the Atlantic "all for love and nothing for reward;" has, by miracles of prayerful toil and self-denying kindness, rescued from a worse than Egyptian bondage over three thousand waifs and strays, borne them in her strong arms to the other side of the world, and planted them in a good land; meanwhile, in the intervals of travel, facing the perils and storms of the troubled sea of East London society at its very worst, and from a myriad wrecks of manhood and womanhood, snatching the stragglers not yet past all hope, and, in a holy enthusiasm of love, parting with not a little of her own life in order that those dead might live.
The outer part of the story alone can be told: the inner part only God and the patient toiler on this field can know. Yet the inner work is by far the greater. The thought, the cares, the fears, the prayers, the tears, the anguish, the heart-breaking disappointments, and the fiery ordeals of spirit by which alone the motive is kept pure and the flame of a true zeal is fed, -- in short, all the lavish expenditure of soul that cannot be spoken, or written, or known, until the Omniscient Recorder, who forgets nothing and repays even the good purpose of the heart, will reveal it at the final award, is by far the most important service as it is ever the most toilsome and painful.
In the work of the kingdom of God on earth the true worker is in point of importance first. Apart from the wise, holy, beneficent soul, even the truth of the Gospel is but a dead letter. It is in the intelligence, loveliness, magnanimity and sweetness of a human spirit, touched finely by His own grace, that the Holy Ghost finds His chief instrumentality. Preparation for a good work is usually begun in early life, and the worker, whose story is to fill the following pages, unconsciously learnt her first lessons for this service in her father's house. There was, indeed, seemingly little to be learned of any rare sort in the quiet village of Campsie, where life passed as peacefully as the clouds sailing along the peaceful heavens. Almost the only break in the even tenor of those days was an occasional sojourn in the house of her uncle, the Rev. Dr. Edwards, a minister of the United Presbyterian Church in Glasgow, where that venerable soldier of the cross still lingers, as if halfway betwixt the Church militant and the Church triumphant But whether in the father's house or in the uncle's manse, kind and truthful speech was the coin current, a good example the domestic stock-in-trade, and an interchange of cheerful, loving service the main business. It was a quiet school, whose very hum was peaceful; and yet the schooling was thorough; things strong often grow as quietly as things feeble. The oak rises as silently in the forest as the lily in the garden. Strong characters, too, under any conditions of life, school themselves much more than they are schooled. Active, inquisitive, resolute, and possessing a fair share of the national perfervidum ingenium, not without some tincture of those elements of the Scottish character known as the "canny" and the "dour," our worker early developed that robust vigour of mind and body which has so long stood the wear and tear of severely trying work.
One passage of significance in the family history deserves notice, especially as suggesting a peculiar feature in her early training and supplying a link in the chain of providential events. In work among the young her father was an enthusiast. With a heart bigger than her own family circle, her mother took in two orphans to foster and rear. Thus in the work of caring for the outcast and the forlorn Annie Macpherson was "to the manner born." Inheriting her father's enthusiasm and her mother's sympathetic nature, the quick-witted, warm-hearted girl would not fail to note the equal footing enjoyed by the stranger children, and would know the reason why: the much tact employed to keep the new and difficult relations sweet would engage her attention; and the exceeding tenderness with which the motherless little ones were treated, would be a very practical Gospel to our young scholar in Christian philanthropy. Were matters sometimes strained? did little jars arise and a shadow now and then gather on the faces of the strangers because their own mother was not? The wise foster-mother would set all right again by some merry quip, some gleesome turn, some one of those playful gleams of humour which furnish a key to the secret of successful work among the young. To be a mother to those orphans, to make life in its duties and joys, as far as possible, the same to them as if they had not lost their own mother, ay, and to teach them to gather the brightest roses from the thorniest bushes, was at once a good work in itself, and a model for one who was destined to similar service, only on an immensely wider scale and on a tenfold more difficult field. The sisterly fostering of the orphans was a providential training for her future life-work. To learn to love and to serve over and above the claims of mere natural affection, could not fail to enlarge the heart and awaken the sympathies of a quick, susceptible child. Little did her mother know what she was doing when she took the orphans to her bosom. She only thought to make a warm home and a bright future for the hapless pair; but in effect she was preparing a warm home and a bright future for thousands of the poorest children on God's earth.
But there was something better in store. Girlish days swept by much as usual -- the rapid growth of warm thought and feeling making each revolving year a continuous springtide, an opening summer. At nineteen, Annie Macpherson looked out on a world that always promises more to youthful eyes than it ever fulfils. Eager hope was drawing much on a future whose furthest horizon was Time. Suddenly a shadow fell. A word spoken by a friend was the vehicle of a divine message. A more distant and awful horizon arose to view: Time with its hopes and joys, like a thin mist in early morning, vanished in the light of eternity; and quickly from that young heart, pierced with a new sorrow, went up the prayer, "God be merciful to me a sinner!"
How little the world understands that same old prayer. Yonder afar off stands a man who, having trafficked in all iniquity, having matured in wickedness, and perfected himself in the fine art of dodging truth and conscience, is at length found out in the thicket of his own vices by a bull's eye that glares on him like hell. Well it befits such an one, even the world admits, to smite upon his breast and cry for mercy. But for a girl in her teens, an innocent, merry-hearted, pure-minded young thing, to raise a cry for mercy like a very publican or a prodigal, is confounding to the world's sense of propriety and measure in things; and hence that world is angry, and in effect repudiates the need of so much mercy, of so much abasement and urgency in a case like this. The root and rise of this cry for mercy the natural man does not understand; but that soul knows it right well, where the lightnings of Omniscient Holiness have gleamed and the shadows of God's anger have fallen.
The cry was heard. Light arose on that troubled soul, the Saviour appeared and drew the sinking one out of the waters. Even where there is little to be changed outwardly, conversion is always followed by remarkable effects; the light of the morning is like a new creation on the cultivated field as well as on the barren moor. Our young convert saw everything in a new light. She understood now, as she had not before, why her mother, stealing precious hours from sleep, wearied her fingers and weakened her eyes with the self-imposed task of providing for the necessities of children not her own. If a ruling motive is one of the greatest things in the secret of a human life, the grandest of all forces on earth is the love of Christ. This she felt, and it was to her a divine revelation. From the feeble starlight of natural sympathies she had passed into the clear day of Christian affections, and she now knew the secret joy and power of self-sacrifice. A hundred lessons and practical illustrations given her by both her parents were suddenly lighted up with a new meaning, and clothed with a beauty she had not heretofore seen, and a power she had not hitherto felt. All she had learned before of truth, and prudence, and kindness, she learned over again, and learned with the quickness characteristic of the young convert. Very soon her whole treasury of knowledge and feeling, of experience and character, was laid with youthful jubilance on the altar of the Lord. From that hour she began to work for Christ with an intensity of enthusiasm that ever since has known no abatement.