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Son, go work to­day in my vineyard.”—Matt, xxi 28.

HY stand ye here all the day idle?” This question
could not have been appropriately addressed to
Duncan Matheson at any period of his Christian
life. Immediately on his conversion he began to
labour for the salvation of souls. At first his light was small;
but he kept trimming his lamp both for his own and others’
good, and the flame increased. Every effort of faith and
sacrifice of love seemed to add live coals to his altar of fire.
For twenty years the flame of zeal was never suffered to
expire; no, not for a single day. Night and day, in season
and out of season, he strove with all his might to win souls.
His first attempt was at Burntisland, where the minister
of the Free Church kindly gave him the use of the school,
and otherwise encouraged him. He began by wisely con­

40                          HIS PHILANTHROPY.

joining the temporal with the spiritual, making the former
subservient to the latter. Having acquired proficiency in
drawing, he offered gratuitously to teach his fellow-work-
men. The class was opened and closed with prayer and
reading of the Word. His interest in the temporal well-
being of the workmen was genuine; but he cared chiefly
for their souls. While they were learning to draw sketches,
he was striving to save sinners; while they studied architec­
tural plans, he was brooding over plans for their salvation.
Here he reaped one of the less pleasant fruits of doing
good. One of the class obtaining the use of Matheson’s
drawing instruments, disappeared with the ill-gotten spoil,
and the benevolent teacher was left at a great loss. He
was vexed, but nothing daunted. Throughout his life he
invariably set himself to promote in every possible way the
earthly welfare of his fellow-men; and this he did not
merely as a means to the highest end, the saving of souls,
but because it was his duty and his joy. Frequently, when
he had spent all his earnings in charity, did he go about
and solicit aid for the poor. Sometimes he was known to
go amongst the neighbours and beg a scuttle-full of coals,
carry them to the cheerless home of the destitute sick, with
his own hands make a fire, and then prepare “ the cup that
cheers, but not inebriates,” procured at the expense of his
own last shilling. Only after the poor, forlorn, bed­ridden,
solitary one was refreshed did he take his Bible from his
pocket to read, and pray, and speak of Jesus and salvation.
“ I never believed,” he says, “in speaking sweet words and
honied counsels to starving people. If you want to do
them good, go to them with a loaf in one hand and the
Bible in the other. Actions speak louder than words.”

About this time he succeeded in preventing a strike. His
sympathy with the men, his manly frankness, his judicious
counsel and weight of character, were, by the blessing of
God sought for in prayer, entirely successful. He felt he
obtained his reward in the evils thus averted and in the
harmony restored between masters and men. He found
the gospel to be the true remedy of every woe. Jesus is
indeed Jehovah-rophi.

Returning to Huntly, he began with all his energy and
enthusiasm to make known the Saviour he had found.

SOLEMN EVENTS,                             41

Every hour was spent in visiting the sick and distributing
tracts. His efforts were not confined to his native town.
Everywhere in the neighbouring parishes he sought his way
with more or less success. Hitherto he had confined his
evangelistic services to prayer, reading the word, and con­
versation; but the time had arrived when he must take a
step in advance. One day Miss Macpherson, a devoted
Christian, who had been his friend, counsellor, and good
angel throughout the period of his protracted spiritual con­
flict, requested him to address a company of aged women
whom she had gathered together. Matheson declined the
invitation. He “could not preach.” Miss M. reasoned,
urged, and entreated; but all in vain. Finally, demanding
what he would answer at the great tribunal for a neglected
talent, she charged him not to refuse lest souls should perish
in consequence. This was more than he could bear. He
went to the meeting, though with the greatest hesitancy and
fear. Opening the Bible at Isaiah xxxii. 11, “Tremble, ye
women that are at ease; be troubled, ye careless ones,” he
spoke with great freedom and power. Both the text and
matter of his address seemed to be laid to his hand; and
such were the results that he felt assured the Lord was
calling him to this work. The Christian lady, who by her
wisdom and faithfulness was instrumental in calling into
exercise a gift of inestimable value, little knew at that time
the greatness of the service she was rendering to the Church
and the world.

From this time onwards to the end of his days he found
at once his greatest labour and his chief joy in preaching
Christ. In a short space of time he established a great
many cottage meetings, which he carried on with un­
common vigour and success. Solemn events occurred. One
night our evangelist addressed a meeting on the parable
of the ten virgins. A woman, deeply impressed, went
home, and spent a night of sleepless anxiety. Early in the
morning she called her neighbour to go and fetch Duncan
Matheson. As the messenger left the house a great crash
was heard : the anxious enquirer had dropped dead.
“ While they went to buy, the Bridegroom came.”

A man, in whose house Matheson held a meeting, taking
offence at the word, informed the evangelist that the next


meeting would be the last under his roof. The young
servant of Christ was deeply grieved, and prayed much for
an appropriate subject of final address. One text took hold
of his mind, and he could not get rid of it. Accordingly
he preached on the solemn and touching words of the Lord
Jesus : “ If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this
thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace ! but now
they are hid from thine eyes.” At the close the evangelist
shook hands with the master of the house, and said, “ Pre­
pare to meet thy God.” The ark of the Lord was thrust
out, and the ark-bearer with it. Next day the man, when
drinking with his companions in the public-house, suddenly
fell dead. These providential visitations served to deepen
the impression made by the word. Great power accom­
panied the preaching, the people were seen running home
from the place of meeting in a state of great alarm.

The Duchess of Gordon, hearing of young Matheson’s
zealous and successful labours, sent for him and offered to
employ him as missionary at a salary of forty pounds a year.
Hitherto he had maintained himself; but his means were
now exhausted. His worldly prospects were indeed bright.
His skill as a builder, his energy, enterprising spirit, business
talents, and moral integrity, held out the promise of position
and wealth ; but he cheerfully turned his back on honour
and gain, and betook himself amidst opposition and scorn
to build the walls of Jerusalem. Being now fully possessed
by the great passion of his life, the saving of souls, worldly
considerations were with him of small account. The offer
of the Duchess was accepted. He went to work with all
his might. Although he never received more than the small
salary named, he spent a large proportion of it in the pur­
chase of tracts, and in the relief of the poor; and this noble
and generous practice he followed whilst he lived.

His strength was great, and he often worked sixteen
hours a day. Sinners were converted, and he was filled
with joy. Often, however, no success attended his labours;
but although cast down and led to humble himself at the
sight of souls perishing in their wilful rejection of Christ,
he learned many a useful lesson. Some men, he observed,
concealed a hard heart beneath “a thick coat of evangelical
varnish.’’ They assented to all he said, but repented not.



He watched them at the last hour of life, and saw them die
without giving one sign of grace. There were no bands in
their death; their strength was firm. He concluded that
there is no more dangerous delusion than the confidence
begotten by a mere “ head knowledge,” or intellectual faith.

He frequently visited the old Christians who had been
disciples of Mr. Cowie, and in his intercourse with them
learned several useful lessons. One of these pilgrims was
Isobel Chrystie, then upwards of ninety years of age.
“ Come awa, my son David,” said Isobel to the missionary
one day as he entered her humble cot. “ Perhaps,” was
his reply, “ the hands are the hands of Esau, but the voice
is Jacob’s. How do you know that I am not a hypocrite?”
“Ah,” said she, “d’ ye think I dinna ken the breath o’ a
true Christian?” The Rose of Sharon may lie hid in the
believer’s besom, but its fragrance cannot be concealed
from others. “We ocht to lay down our lives for the
brithren; an’ hoo could we dee for them if we dinna ken
them?” So thought Isobel Chrystie. When in the course
of conversation allusion was made to the salvation of the
dying thief, she rattled her little staff on the floor and said,
“ That was a gey trophy to gang throw the gowden gates o’
heaven. I’m thinkin’ there was a gey steer amo’ the angels;
but nane o‘ them would try to pit him oot. Na, na; Christ
brocht him ben.” When Isobel lay dying she was unable
to recognise minister, missionary, friend, or neighbour. To
each enquiry she still replied, “ I dinna ken you.” At last
the question was put to her, “Isobel, d’ ye ken Christ?”
The countenance of the dying saint brightened at the
sound of her Saviour’s name. Looking up with a smile
she promptly replied, “ That I do, but nae sae muckle as I
would like, and will do by an’ by.” That night the aged
believer went to be with Him whom she remembered and
knew when all others were forgotten and unknown. -

A dying saint of the same generation gave him this pithy
advice : “ Haud in wi’ Christ; whatever happens, aye think
weel o’ God; and tak’ care o’ yersef; for, ye ken, a breath
dims a polished shaft.”

Another Christian, ere passing away, charged him to warn
the believers against “razing the foundations.” “I often
did it,” she said; “ I rashly denied the Spirit’s work in my


soul, and I have paid dearly for it.” This she said in
reference to the excessive and morbid retrospection in
which some Christians indulge, to the hurt of their souls
and the discredit of the gospel. They pull up faith by the
roots to see if it is growing. They pluck out their eyes to
see if those eyes are genuine. Peace and joy depart from
them. Dark suspicions of God, as if He watched for their
halting, overshadow their hearts, and they are plunged into
misery. Growth in grace becomes impossible ; for, as one
has said, “kindly thoughts of God lie at the root of sanc-
tification.” Self-examination is important; but surely not
less important is faith. Looking into the heart and looking
out to Christ should go together. The pilot at once keeps
his eye upon the compass and his hand upon the helm :
if he neglected either he would speedily lose his course.
“ Keeping the heart” must be coupled with “ holding the
Head.” “ Examine thyself” should never be separated
from “looking unto Jesus.” The best way of testing the
pitcher of our faith is by dipping it often in the Well of
Life and drawing its fill for constant use.

In the journal of his missionary labours he kept a minutely
detailed account of every visit and conversation, and his
impressions of the people. This record, large enough to fill
a volume, was written with perfect accuracy and fastidious
care, and serves to illustrate the thoroughness that always
characterised the man and his work. Plainly too it appears
from this diary that in simplicity and godly sincerity did he
bring before every man, woman, and child, the things of their
peace. As usual, he found two classes, viz., the few that
are open to conviction, and the many that entrench them­
selves behind their own righteousness. One refuses to make
any sign in regard to personal religion, and he is silenced
by silence. The candle will not burn for want of air. Another
agrees with everything the missionary says, and in that
panoply of perfect formalism no joint is found. The candle
burns, but it is in the presence of the dead. A third “ will not
speak of his religion to any man, because it is a matter be­
tween himself and God;” to which the missionary bluntly
replies that if he had true religion it would make him speak,
for he would seek communion with men of like mind, and
out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.



Some men conceal their religion as they would a scab.
Eloquent about the merest trifle, they have nothing to say
for Christ. These are the devil’s dummies. Another, a
middle-aged matron, receives him kindly, but is at first shy and
reserved. His quaint, ingenuous, spirit-stirring talk quickly
unlocks the good woman’s heart, and she begins to tell him
that she “ fears she is mair o’ a hypocrite than a Christian,
for she canna see hoo a child o’ God could hae sae muckle
indwallin’ sin as she has : but still she daurna deny that she
canna do without prayer, that she has a gey likin’ to God’s
Word, an’ a warm hert to God‘s children, and a terrible fear
o’ sin, though she is somehoo aye sinnin’ an’ sinnin’ for a‘
that.” The missionary takes up the case, and by the help
of his own experience so sets forth the truth of the gospel,
that the enquirer enters into light, freedom, and joy ; and
ever afterwards he is to her as an angel of God, and she is
to him, “ a daughter of the King.”

Sometimes he held as many as seventy prayer-meetings
in three months. In his reports he complains of scanty fruit
in the fewness of conversions. At one time he feels nothing
but “formalism” and “ leanness of soul” in discussing
solemn truths. Again, he goes to the meeting in great fear, and
finds the stone rolled away from the mouth of the sepulchre ;
instead of “ darkness, guilt, confusion arising from self-suf­
ficiency,” he enjoys enlargement and blessing. “ I have
seen impressions made, yet soon after I have seen the last
trace of them effaced. I have been helped to set a gracious
soul a step up the ladder, yet on going back I have found
them ten steps down. What I have longed, and prayed,
and sought for has been conversion unto God, and any hope
or comfort I have had in seeking this has arisen from this
very truth, that He works as seemeth good in his sight, and
calleth whom He will.”

Not satisfied with the efforts of his voice, he devised
means for the circulation of tracts on the widest scale. Means
failing him, for he had spent his last penny in the work, he
began to cry to God for aid. One night in prayer, the thought
came into his mind, “ If I could get a printing press I could
make as many tracts as I could use.” On this he began to
pray for a printing press, and for several months continued
to supplicate this gift from his God. The prayer was unex-

46               FIRST A TTEMPTS A T PRINTING.

pectedly answered. Accidentally discovering that an old
printing press was for sale, he made inquiries as to the terms,
although he did not possess the means of purchase. Much
to his astonishment, the person whose property it was let
him have it, with a set of old worn types, at a merely nominal
price. Never did warrior bear away the trophies of victory
with deeper joy than he felt in carrying the old printing
machinery to his father’s house. On reaching home, he wrote
upon it,


and then, hastening to his closet, “ fell upon his knees, and
asked the needed skill to work it.” Nothing daunted by
his ignorance of printing, he set himself to learn “the
divine art,” his only instructors the two great teachers of all
heroic souls and successful workers, to wit, Failure and
Perseverance. Apprentice and master, printer and publisher,
missionary and philanthropist, all in one, he ascended by
the slow and painful steps of experience struck out of re­
peated failure, like fire flashing from the smitten eye of him
who runneth in the dark, till at length he reached the
summit of his fondest wish, and unaided could send forth
thousands of tracts like leaves from the tree of life.

His first attempts at printing ended in failure and chagrin.
Whole nights were spent in ineffectual efforts; but never
despairing, he cried to God for help, and went to work
again. Often for hours the work of “ composing” goes on,
till at length his eye rests with complacence on a page of
type, when suddenly the whole falls down into what printers
call “ pie,” and his mortification is complete. Falling again
upon his knees, he prays for patience and help. The sight
of his own inscription, “For God and Eternity,” inspires
him with fresh zeal, and although oftentimes “ the lumbering
press goes all wrong,” he perseveres till at length success
comes to him, as Jesus came to the disciples upon the sea
at the latest watch of the night. “ I went on,” he says, “ till
I managed to print two thousand four-page tracts a day.
How I did toil, and sweat, and pray at it! Some nights I
never slept at all, but went on composing. My constitution
was strong, and night after night was spent at the work.”

The tracts brought him no money, and his own slender
means were speedily exhausted. His benevolent labours



excited little sympathy in his native town; the only con­
tribution to his tract enterprise he ever received in Huntly
was half-a-crown, brought him by a poor widow. Falling
short of paper and money, what was he to do ? Give up the
unprofitable business, and leave an ungrateful people to
themselves? Never. Not in that way are souls won for
Christ, and the glory of God advanced. Again he betook
himself to prayer, and the same gracious Master who pro­
vided the printing press provided the paper also. Certain
Christians in Lincolnshire, whom he had never seen, fell in
with one of his tracts, and pleased with its spirit and con­
tents wrote for a supply. He could not supply them for
want of paper. This led to further correspondence, and
the supply of means to procure paper from time to time.

One tract, entitled “The Lord’s Supper Profaned,”
called forth not a little opposition. After printing it, he
went round and with his own hand left a copy in every
house in his native town. For the professors who have but
a name to live it was too searching; hence it gave deadly
offence. It was blessed of God, however, in the conversion
of several persons, and is still in circulation in the Stirling
Series of tracts. Mr. Drummond, who has done so noble a
work of the same kind, re­issued the faithful tract, and
several others also of Mr. Matheson’s. Another tract,
entitled “ The Origin of the Chinese Bible Fund,” intended
to further the circulation of the Scriptures in China, found
its way into the Royal Palace, and thus afforded an illustra­
tion of Solomon‘s saying, “ Seest thou a man diligent in his
business ? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand
before mean men.”

In addition to original matter, our evangelist took extracts
from Boston, Edwards, Flavel, and other favourite authors,
and went on printing, till at length in an incredibly short
space of time he had by his own unaided efforts thrown off
and put into circulation a hundred thousand little gospel
messengers, the voice of whose quiet but powerful testi­
mony cannot have been in vain. He was now sowing what
many years afterwards he was destined to reap.

That young man, with his immense capacities for earthly
promotion and enjoyment, turning his back on all the
ambitions and pleasures of the world, and after a long day

48                    DESIRES TO GO TO CHINA

of sorest toil, spending the silent watches of night in so
great a labour of disinterested love, was surely a pleasing
sight to the angels of God. Toil, privation, ingratitude,
opposition, scorn, disappointment and failure, neither weak­
ened his hands nor discouraged his heart. He endured as
seeing Him who is invisible; and bravely did he march for­
ward in his lofty mission of self-sacrificing love to souls, ever
affording practical illustration of his own motto, “ For God
and Eternity.”

Feeling that his work would soon be done in Huntly, he
laboured night and day to win souls; and ere he left his
native place for other fields, he could say in truth he had
warned every sinner and testified the grace of God to every
soul. Of all the rare privileges enjoyed by Huntly during
a day of merciful visitation extending over the last thirty
years, not the least has been the faithful testimony and
apostolic labours of her own brave and much-enduring son
Duncan Matheson, whose name will be an honour to his
native town whilst Christianity lives within her borders, and
whose example of untiring energy, heroic perseverance, and
Christ-like love of souls will stir the hearts of the ingenuous
youth in future generations, and kindle noble aspirations in
the bosoms of many yet unborn.

At this time the perishing millions of China lay heavy on
his heart, and he longed to go forth and preach the gospel
in the land of Sinim. Much did he “ sigh and cry” about
the heathen, and often did he say in his inmost heart,
“Lord, here am I; send me.” During the last months he
spent in Huntly, as he went from house to house pleading
with men to receive Christ, the words of Heber’s hymn were
constantly sounding in his ear:

“ Shall we, whose souls are lighted

With wisdom from on high,
Shall we to men benighted

The lamp of life deny ?
Salvation, O salvation,

The glorious sound proclaim,
Till earth‘s remotest nation

Hath learnt Messiah’s name.”

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