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THE Reverend ALEXANDER SHANKS was born in the parish of Sobo, Peebles-shire, of parents not pos sessed of much worldly affluence; but eminent in the. Church of Christ, on account of their christian gifts and graces. His father, David Shanks, was a day-labourer; and for some time a ruling elder of the Associate congregation in West Linton. Pious, benevolent, and prudent, he overawed the most profane; and, at the same time, irresistably attracted their admiration and esteem. A person of this description gave him the following high and appropriate character: "A man who never thought that he could "do enough either for God or man." Many things have been told concerning him, from all which it is apparent, that in simplicity, and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, he had his conversation in the world; and finished his course with the liveliest hope and joy, repeating the fifteenth verse of the forty-ninth psalm:
Their beauty, from their dwelling shall
But from hell's hand God will me free;
A Christian indeed, he considered well the importance of his trust as a parent, and seasoned the minds of his children with pious instructions.
Although man is not the creature of education, and his moral character is not formed by the supposed omnipotency of circumstances, yet the advantages of a well conducted education are sufficiently obvious. Like every other blessing, it is subject to abuse. Information received from parents has occasionally superseded the activity of the mind, has been retained and retailed without a due examination into its truth and importance; and hereby falsehood and folly have passed down for ages, under the amiable forms of truth and wisdom.
The subject of the following memoir early discovered a mind determined to take nothing upon trust. It was not till after a deliberate investigation that he received most of the doctrines in which he was instructed; and, having the fullest acceptation of his mind, he continued to be their prudent and zealous defender.
In the course of his preparatory studies, his conduct exhibits a pattern worthy of the imitation of all who are looking forward to the holy ministry. At that time he gave himself to reading, meditation, and prayer-The works of Boston, Ridgley, Bates, Waterland, Seed, Grotius, Abernethy, he read and studied. From some of these authors he made large extracts; and marked down arguments of his own for or against the hypothesises which they wished to establish. To maintain a proper activity of mind, he selected various passages of scripture, as subjects of daily meditation. These juvenile productions he has carefully preserved; but, as they were designed for his own improvement, it is thought improper to present them to the public eye, although they contain some beautiful ideas, and many useful reflections.
He was ordained, in October 1760, to the pastoral office and charge of the Associate congregation at Jedburgh. No sooner did he enter upon the sacred office, than he shewed himself determined, (as the Levites were commanded) to wait upon his business; and to make that his delight which the Lord had made his duty.
His constitution was naturally robust; but so intense was his application to study, both before and after his ordination, that it occasioned a paralytic disorder, which continued with him through life, and increased with his age. Taught by sad experience the propriety of making the preservation of health a part of his study, he daily took
some exercise in the open air; and relieved his mind, when fatigued with long and close thinking, by short interviews. with a few families in the town or neighbourhood; the time of his stay in each place seldom amounting to ten minutes, and never exceeding a quarter of an hour.
Some time after his ordination, his mind lost all relish for works of human composition. Books which he had formerly read and admired, were now despised and neglected. The Bible maintained an exclusive ascendency over his mind; and during this period, which lasted some years, he devoted his days and nights to the study of scripture. In searching after divine truths, and tracing them in their various connections and bearings, he found the most solid satisfaction.
The character "Mighty in the Scripture," which belonged to him in an eminent degree, and the judicious use which he made of scripture metaphor and phraseology in all his discourses, may be traced in part to this extraordinary and sanctified turn of mind. Possessing the happy art of clothing his ideas in the words of the Holy Ghost, there was in them all an unction and beauty seldom found in human compositions.
He excelled in the art of lecturing. Adhering strictly to the scope of the passage, he made a judicious division of its parts, and expounded them with so much perspicuity, that his hearers were often astonished that such ideas had never occurred to themselves. The passage under consideration comprised sometimes four, six, and sometimes twelve verses. His illustrations were concise, his reflections numerous, but natural, and practical; and distinctly named after the explanation of each verse. He seldom lectured above forty minutes; for it was his custom to preach a short sermon in the forenoon, the subject of which was, for the most part, a verse of the passage he had expounded.
His sermons, however, were most generally admired.The perfections and covenant relations of God the Father, the deity and offices of the Son, the person and operations of the Holy Ghost, and all the grand distinguishing doctrines of the christian religion, were his favourite topics of discourse, and were happily interwoven in all his subjects. In unfolding the exceeding great and precious promises, and in delineating christian experience, he shone with a
peculiar brightness. His introductions were short, but striking. His first sentence usually attracted the attention of the audience, and prepared them for listening to the method.
His methods were simple and natural; and, like the specimen given in his printed discourses, usually drawn from the words of the text. If they are not such as to please the fastidious taste of the critic, they were such as always suited the circumstances of his audience; and the circumstances of an audience must be known, in order to form a correct idea of the propriety or impropriety of the method.The greatest part of his hearers, engaged in manual labours, and little accustomed to abstract speculations, necded truth to be presented before them, not only with the greatest plainness, but in such a manner as might render it memorable. So much did he excel in this art, that a person of ordinary discernment and attention, upon looking at the text, easily recollected the leading ideas in the discourse.
In passages where any of the divine persons were mentioned the glorious person was always the first head of discourse; and when he announced, "We will speak of the glorious person," his hearers were all attention. His ideas, arrangements, and reflections, were still new to them; for, although he did not bring forward new ideas always, he clothed his former in so many new dresses, or modes of illustration, that they never failed to affect his audience with the force of truth when first discovered.
In illustrating the particulars, or leading truths of the discourse, he endeavoured to set them in the best light by a few texts of scripture, and some thoughts of his own, and quitted the illustration when his hearers were most desirous that it should be continued.
In his application to every sermon, he was close in his reasoning, and discovered a deep acquaintance with thehuman heart; and in them he frequently gave some of the most pointed and sharp rebukes. Finding a servant one day beating his master's horses, and taking the name of God in vain, he stood still and reproved him sharply. The servant made no reply; but, prompted by curiosity, came next Lord's day to hear his reprover preach. Swear not at all, (said the preacher, when concluding his discourse,). is a divine command that binds both master and servant.