This eminent minister of Jesus Christ was born about the year 1538, in the neighbourhood of Perth. After passing through the usual course of education, at the university of St. Andrews, he went for some years to France, as tutor to the three sons of the countess of Crawford. Upon his return, about 1568, he commenced the teaching of Hebrew in St. Andrews; and shortly after, was elected sub-principal in the university of Aberdeen. Here he continued till 1572, when he invited to become successor to Mr Knox, as a minister of Edinburgh. In this situation he approved himself ' a workman that needeth not to be ashamed;' but it is chiefly as a defender of the reformation principles, and on account of the sufferings he endured in that cause, that he deserves a high place among the worthies of Scotland. In the year 1584, he was obliged to flee into England from the vengeance of the king, and he died on the 12th of October, that year. Upon the 7th of that month he caused to be written, read over, and subscribed the following testament, which, as it contains his dying sentiments and views of eternity, both as to his own spiritual state, and with regard to the concerns of the church, we insert here as his last words:
' At London, in Honielane, Cheapside, in Mr Anthony Martin's house, on Wednesday, October 7th, 1584; I, Mr James Lawson, minister of God's word, of the flock of Christ at Edinburgh, wish grace, mercy and peace from God the father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, and the continuance of the Holy spirit, to all those that serve the Lord and love his blessed evangels, giving to understand, to whom it appertains, that, being whole in mind, but finding my God summoning me by his messenger sickness, wherewith he has laid me on bed, to put an end, as appears, to my course in this my transitory life, have thought it good to commit my testament and latter will to writing, as follows:-
First, I thank my God, through Jesus Christ my Saviour, who has not only of His unspeakable mercy, whereof I confess myself most unworthy, ( if He should deal with me according to my deserts), plucked me out of gross ignorance and blindness of superstition, papistry, and idolatry, especially since the time I heard that notable servant of God, Mr Knox, of blessed memory, impugn with great authority of doctrine that antichristian tyranny; but also of His great goodness from time to time, has moved me by His sacred word and instruction of His Holy Spirit, to dedicate myself and the small talent which His wisdom hath entrusted to me, to the edification of His people in the holy ministry, ordained in His Kirk, and has blessed also the same, first in His congregation of Aberdeen, and last in the town of Edinburgh; testifying to the whole world, that as I have felt from time to time the working of His Holy Spirit kindling in my breast a bent and ready will to discharge my own conscience in teaching the word of God purely and sincerely, without fearing the faces of men, and also to procure the establishment of that ecclesiastical discipline revealed and set down in the holy scriptures of God, according to the measure of knowledge given me to do, so I feel of God's special love, a delectation, a zeal, and thirst sealed up in my heart to persevere in the same, as the infallible truth of God, and to continue in the same if it shall please God to prolong my days.
Albeit, Lord, far be it from me to boast or glory in anything in Thy presence, before whom the angels are not able to plead their innocence! But, in the cause of thy Son Jesus Christ, seeing the want of sufficient zeal, diligence, and ability in the said office, and the many infirmities and imperfections staying me in the performance thereof, as it became me, I have my refuge to the throne of grace, acknowledging, after all my irksome travels wherewith I am broken, that I am an unprofitable servant, referring the whole praise of my weak ministry to the glory of Thy Holy Name, by whom I have my being and moving, craving in the meantime pardon of all my offences and sins, being now assured of the remission thereof through the merits of the death and passion of Jesus Christ, with whom I am conjoined in His everlasting covenant, by lively faith, whereby I presently possess His mercy: Unto whom I render most hearty thanks unto His gracious goodness, that He has not only used me as a poor instrument to communicate His heavenly counsels unto others, but also has called me to great honour to suffer for the defence of His truth and ecclesiastical discipline contained therein, and has of His careful providence given lively experience of the performance of that promise which His Son, my Saviour, made, that whosoever shall forsake house, father, mother, brethren, sister, wife, or children, for His name's sake, or the Gospel's, should receive a hundred fold now at this present, and life everlasting in the world to come.
Not only to the most godly and learned brethren and sisters among strangers, and especially in the godly family where the Lord brought me, and wherein I have been most savingly entertained, at my heart's desire, but also to so many of my brethren and fellow labourers in the evangel with me, of my own country, whose kindness, courtesy, and good offices towards me shown, I wish the Lord to register to the one and to the other. And now turning my exhortation to my faithful brethren whom God has called to dispense the holy mysteries of His word and sacraments, whose days it shall please the Lord to prolong after my departure, I beseech them all in the bowels of Jesus Christ, that they take heed that they employ their whole studies during whatsoever time shall be granted them on the face of the earth, to prosecute the glad tidings of salvation, in season and out of season, neither for lucre nor for the fashion, but earnestly, zealously, and with ready mind, in promoting, planting and advancing that ecclesiastical discipline, in the house of God, which is established in His word, and so much the more valiantly and constantly to stand in defence thereof, that Satan's supports (pseudo-Episcopalians) and grievous wolves are entered in and umpiring as if they were lords over God's heritage, whom neither the apostle Paul, nor any part of the word of God, did ever allow maliciously to impugn the same.
And as concerning the flock of Edinburgh, howbeit this body of mine has greatly wasted, yet I repent me nothing of my travail there, being assured that the Lord has there a Kirk which unfeignedly fear His name, and for whose salvation the Lord has made my ministry profitable. Therefore, from my heart I leave my blessing to all the faithful there, who dearly love the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; and my God, blessed for ever, bless them not only with true and faithful labourers in the ministry, and to preserve them from ravenous wolves, but also with continual increase, with all godliness and perseverance in that true faith and doctrine which I have taught among them, and at last with everlasting life in heaven, whereby both they and I shall mutually rejoice. And for a few others, whose names , in charity, I suppress, who as they grieved my heart often while I was present with them, by resisting the upright and godly cause and assisting the enemy, so now, since my departure from them, through their subscribing that false and infamous libel set out against us, their pastors, and sundry other unthankful dealings; which we neither merited nor looked for at their hands, they have done what in them lay, to wound the same; for my part, I forgive them with my heart; and seeing they would colour their baseness under the shadow of obedience to a superior power, I beseech the Lord to forgive the king for obtruding that letter, injuriously exacting their subscription thereunto, and to give, them both true repentance therefore, and not lay the burden thereof to their charge, nor leave at their hands my blood. May the same Lord open the king's eyes to behold in what hazard he has brought the true religion, his own person, fame, and state, together with the best and most obedient subjects within his realm, and give him grace in time to withdraw himself from those pestilent and wicked counsellors wherewith he is environed and leave that unhappy course wherein he has wrapt himself, most fearfully, to the great danger of his body and soul, unless he repent. Amen
'And now I recommend my soul into the hands of my heavenly Father, the Creator thereof, and to Jesus Christ my only Redeemer and Saviour, by whom the parts of heaven are made patent unto me, willing my trusty and dearly beloved brethren, insert witnesses of this will, to cause bury my body in that place and later that manner which shall seem good unto them, there to sleep until the day of the joyful resurrection to life everlasting, when my soul and body joined together shall have the full fruition of His face with the bodies and souls of all the faithful. And now, concerning the ordering of my family, seeing the possession of earthly things is not able to enrich my posterity; I desire as God is the father of the fatherless and Comforter of the widow's case, by the riches of His blessing to supply their poverty; and touching the portion of goods given to me I put the same in the hands of my most special friends, Robert Fairly of Braid, Mr John Lindsay senator of the college of justice, John Johnson, Elphingston, burgess of Edinburgh, with my loving spouse Janet Guthrie, whom I constitute executors of this my testament, and they with whose fidelity the intromission shall be committed upon sufficient security that all things shall come to the use of my children; which burden I most earnestly request then to take upon them for the love and familiar conjunction that has been between us in Christ, giving power to them to make and subscribe as inventory of my books, household gear, and other valuables left behind me in Scotland, wherever they shall be transported, and also praying my beloved brethren, the witnesses underwritten in this testament, to make and subscribe another inventory of my books, clothes, and other valuables which I have in London, and deliver them to be kept by my brother Mr Walter Balcanquall; the whole books, clothes, and other valuables and household gear, whatsoever, contained in the said inventories, to be set at reasonable prices, and to be sold at the said sight and appointment of my said executors, and that part thereof which shall of right be judged by them to appertain to me, shall be divided into four equal portions, to my wife and three children, to bring them up in the fear of God at the schools, in such company as their wisdom shall think most meet and expedient.
And as touching the gold and silver presently in my possession here, amounting in whole to the number of 76 pieces, I have committed them to the credit of Mr Walter Balcanquall, to be disposed as follows: Imprimus, He shall deliver to the French Kirk at London, three angels, to be distributed to the poor. Item, to Mrs Vanual, who kept me in my sickness, an angel. Item, I will that my loving brother, Mr James Carmichael shall take a rose-noble instantly, and deliver it to my dear brother and loving friend , Mr Walter Balcanquall, who has been so careful of me at times, and especially in time of my present sickness, to remain with him as a perpetual token of my special love and thankful heart towards him.
Item, I will that the said Mr Walter deliver in my name to my dear and well beloved spouse, Janet Guthrie, beside other provision made, or that may fall unto her by my testament, the Portugal ducat, in sign of my loving kindness, which she has well deserved, as a faithful brother gave the same to me as a pledge of singular love towards me. And touching the pieces of gold and English silver, resting of the sum foresaid, I will that the said Mr Walter deliver the same, bona fide, to my said executors bestow in the manner following: Imprimis, To my sister, Christian Lawson, the sum of twenty pounds Scots, and all the rest to be equally parted between my three children, in three portions: providing always, that the recompense of the physicians, apothecaries, and whatsoever expenses necessary shall be made in time of my sickness, or shall be owed by me in London, when it shall please God to call me out of this valley of misery, which is just debt, and which I am owing presently, or expense in transporting my remains home, be first paid to my brother Mr Balcanquall at the sight of the said brethren, of the readiest of the said sum, which shall be disbursed thereof, by the said executors after the sight of the ticket thereof, by the said brethren, which shall be a sufficient discharge unto him for the same.
Lastly, I earnestly request of my loving brethren, Mr Andrew Melville, Mr John Davidson, and Mr James Carmichael, to concur with my brother Mr Walter Balcanquall in revising my written books and papers as well at London as elsewhere, and use the same as they think may best serve for the glory of God and comfort of the Kirk, and my will is, that my said executors deliver them thankfully unto their hands, giving power also to my said executors to put this my testament, if need be, in more exquisite and ample form with all clauses requisite, the substance always being reserved. In witness and verification of this my testament and constant will, in the premises, and in confirmation of my testament, written at my request by Mr James Carmichael, I the said Mr James Lawson, hath subscribed the same with my hand, and desire my goods and trusty friends, Mr Andrew Melville, provost of the new college of St. Andrews, Mr James Carmichael, minister of God's word in Haddington, Mr John Davidson, minister of God's word at Libberton, and Mr Walter Balcanquall, my colleague, in the ministry at Edinburgh to testify the same by their handwriting, the which also they did in my presence, after we had all heard the same distinctly read, day, month, year, and place foresaid. Called in the Lord.'