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Lady Glenorchy looks out for Minister for her Chapel in EdinburghMakes choice of the Rev. Mr Sheriff-Mr Sheriff falls into bad health-Obtains an assistant-Forms the congregation into church order His health gradually declines-Extracts from Diary, from November 2, to 14, 1777-Lord's Supper dispensed for the first time in the Chapel-Death of Mr Sheriff-Extracts from Diary, from February 6, to June 14, 1778.
AFTER the decision of the General Assembly, the chapel was, for four months, chiefly supplied by the ministers and probationers of the city and neighbourhood, while her Ladyship was actively endeavouring to find a fit person who might be settled in it as pastor. At length she heard of Mr Francis Sheriff, who, she thought, would in every respect suit the situation. He had been educated at the University of Edinburgh, licensed and ordained by the Presbytery of Haddington, and was now a chaplain in one of the Scots regiments in Holland,—a situation which he could resign when he pleased without the intervention of any church court. He was twenty-seven years of age, accomplished, of good appearance, and had fine abilities; and was possessed of all the simplicity, integrity, and ardour of one recently brought to the knowledge and experience of the gospel. He had friends in Edinburgh, and through these Lady Glenorchy invited him to come over and preach in her chapel, and reside in her house, with the understanding, that if, on due acquaintance with each other, all
parties concerned were satisfied, he should be settled as their minister. About this time he began to be unwell, and was advised by the medical men of Holland to return to his native land, as the best remedy they could prescribe. The union of these two things led him to consider it to be his duty to accept of the invitation.
Accordingly, he left Holland, in the middle of September, arrived in Edinburgh in the end of that month, and on the first Lord's day afternoon of October, he preached in the chapel. He also officiated in it two whole days of the same month. The conducting of the worship of a whole day in so large a house was too much for his strength; he therefore did not attempt it again. Lady Glenorchy, aware that it was not probable that he would ever be able for the entire duty of the situation, engaged one to assist him who had repeatedly preached in the chapel, and was very acceptable to the congregation.
Her Ladyship, understanding that Mr Sheriff was universally approven of by the stated hearers in the chapel, and that it would be most agreeable to them that he should become their pastor, gave him, on the 14th of November, a letter directed to her trustees for the management of the affairs of this institution, informing them that she had appointed him minister of it; and the next Lord's day intimation to this effect was made from the pulpit. As the question agitated in the Church Courts concerning the chapel had arisen out of the mode of settling an already ordained minister in it, and as there then was not any known determinate rule by which to regulate the matter, Lady Glenorchy dreaded the experiment of again applying to the Presbytery. Mr Sheriff nevertheless considered it to be his duty to go to the first meeting of Presbytery, to inform them
that he had received and accepted of Lady Glenorchy's appointment to be minister of her chapel, and to offer to sign the formula and standards of the church, in terms of the sentence of the General Assembly. He did so, but was received very coolly by some of his old acquaintances; and in consequence of murmurs of threatened opposition reaching his ear, he thought it prudent to retire without making the attempt.
Immediately, however, upon his appointment, he began, with the aid of his assistant, to form the congregation into church order. The state of his health did not permit him to visit the members of it in their houses, but he invited, from the pulpit, those indigent persons who were admitted to free seats, to meet him on appointed days, and he conversed with each of them separately. This duty employed him to the middle of the following February.
On the forenoon of the 14th of December, Mr Sheriff again conducted the worship of his people in public. Lady Henrietta Hope happening to be in town, heard him on this occasion, and in her Diary has given this account of it: "Mr Sheriff sung the 100th Psalm, and preached from Psalm xxxvii. 4. ‘Delight thyself also in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.' And truly his words were trying and quickening, and, blessed be God for the riches of free grace, though humbling, yet also comfortable; for, alas! although far short of the degrees in which they ought to be, yet surely he named the chief desires of my heart. I was wondrously encouraged by this sermon, and my spirits raised, and I think I received it of the Lord. I was grieved for Mr Sheriff; it is the first time I have heard him, and there is reason to fear it will be the last. I am grieved for my friend, I am grieved for the congregation,
who seem in him to have a faithful pastor. But what the Lord gives, may he not take away? and if he gave him, cannot he give another? O for firm faith and absolute trust in his power and goodness!"
The fears of this excellent lady were too well founded; for although Mr Sheriff did again appear in the pulpit after that, twice to make intimations, and once at the administration of the Lord's supper, to fence the tables, and give the closing exhortation, of which we shall shortly take notice, he never preached again.
As Lady Glenorchy had been somewhat elevated at the prospect of seeing her chapel, at the first arrival of Mr Sheriff, likely to be desirably settled, she was now proportionally distressed when these prospects were thus overcast. This, with other things, seems to have even more than ordinarily disturbed the course of her Christian comfort, as appears from her Diary during this time.
Edinburgh, November 2.-This day and some preceding ones it hath pleased God to give me convictions of having backslidden from him in heart and life. A ray of divine light from time to time has darted into my mind, and shown me various heart sins and corruptions that have, like noxious weeds, overrun my soul, so that the seeds of grace are almost choked up, and cannot shoot forth. Some degrees of conformity to the world in dress and behaviour have rendered my company too agreeable to the people of the world, and this has caused my being oftener with them than formerly. I was led into this from what I took to be a desire of doing them good; but I find they have robbed me of precious time and peace of conscience. My soul has also been hurt by unfaithfulness to acquaintances and relations, who are going on in the broad road, un
mindful of their eternal concerns, yet I have not warned them of their danger. I have suffered worldly prudence and fear to keep possession of my heart, and unbelief has gained ground, and inability to speak properly to them increased. My zeal has cooled.— These things have produced distance from God, carelessness, slothfulness of spirit, forgetfulness of God's omnipresence, neglect of frequent prayer, wasting of precious time, want of self-examination, meditation, searching the word with diligence, and, in short, every symptom of a heart estranged from God; and what is worse, I was insensible to the evil of this state, till within these few days, that the Lord, in his abundant mercy, has sent a choice servant of his, Mr Sheriff, into my house, who hath been the instrument of showing me from whence I have fallen, and by his own life and conversation, as well as preaching, called upon me to strengthen the things that are ready to die, convincing me, that for some time past I have been as one long dead. What shall I render to the Lord for his mercy? O to be thankful! to be now enabled through grace to set out afresh,-to redouble my speed from the city of destruction, towards the heavenly city,-to redeem the time, and to pray that the Lord may restore the years that have been devoured by the locust, the caterpillar, and the canker-worm,-and that he may yet be glorified in his servant, by showing forth his power in subduing every base lust, and bringing down every high thought and imagination of my heart, to the obedience of Christ. He has this night permitted me to rest my soul upon Christ with some measure of confidence, and also to commit my way and concerns to him. Confirm my faith in thy blessed word, O my God. Strengthen, stablish, and settle my base wandering heart. Rule in me, reign over me, and guide