Cloud of Witnesses

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James Mitchell

This was an amiable young man, a preacher of the gospel, who died at the early age of twenty three. He was the son of James Mitchell of Dykes, in the parish of Ardrossan, and was born about the year 1621. During his studies at the University of Glasgow, he acquired the affection and esteem of all who knew him, and passed through his trials for licence, with the highest approbation of the professors and Presbytery. He had preached only a few times, when seized with a consumption, of which he died. Of his Christian experience, and pious expressions towards the close of his life, we have the following detail.

During his sickness, the Lord was pleased so to guard his heart against the malice of Satan, that his confidence and peace were but little disturbed. He possessed all manner of patience and submission, and never was heard to murmur, but often though His Master's time well worth the waiting on, and was frequently much refreshed with seeing and hearing good pious neighbours, who came to visit him. Among other gracious sayings, he declaimed much against imprudent speaking, especially in students and young ministers; as being but the froth and vanity of a foolish mind. He lamented the pride of many such usurping a priority of place, which became them not; and exclaimed frequently against himself for his own practice, yet said, he was in the strength of God brought to mortify the same. He frequently exhorted his parents to carry themselves to one another as the word of God required, and above all things to fear God, and delight in His word; he often said, that he dearly loved the book of God, and sought them to be earnest in prayer, showing that it was an unknown thing, and a thing of another world, and that the influence of prayer behoved to come out of heaven; that the spirit of supplication must be wrestled for, else all prayer would be but lifeless and natural.

On one occasion, the laird of Cunningham coming to visit him, as he did frequently, he enumerated all the remarkable passages of God's goodness and providence towards him, especially since he contracted sickness, as in showing infinite mercy to his soul, tender compassion towards his body, patience and submission to his will without grudging, calmness of spirit, without passion, solid and constant peace within and without! 'This ,' said he. ' is far beyond the Lord's manner of dealing with many of His dear saints, and now, Sir, think you not that I stand greatly indebted to the goodness and kindness of God, who deals this graciously and warmly with me every way;' and then burst out in praise to God in a sweet and lively manner.

At another time, the laird being present, May 26th, looking out of his bed to the sun shining brightly on the opposite side of the house, he said, ' O what a splendour and glory will all the elect and redeemed saints have one day; and O! how much more will the glory of the Creator be, who shall communicate that glory to all His own, but the shallow thoughts of men are not able to conceive the excellency thereof!'

Again, Mr Macqueen being present, his father inquired at him wherein our communion with God stood? He said, ' in reconciliation and peace with Him, which is the effect of our justification.' then, he observed, there was access and love to God, patience and submission to His will, etc then, the Lord manifested Himself to us, as Christ Himself says, Ye shall know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you. And again, he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and manifest myself unto him.

One morning to Hugh Macgavin and his father, he said, ' I am not afraid of death, for I rest on infinite mercy, procured by the blood of the Lamb.' Then he spoke as to himself, ' Fear not, little flock, it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom;' and then he said, ' what are these who are of this little flock? Even sinners. ' I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.' But what kind of sinners? Only those who are sensible of sin and wrath, and see themselves to be lost, therefore, says Christ, ' I came to seek and to save them who are lost.' There are two words here, seeking and saving; and whom? Even those who are lost bankrupts, who have nothing to pay. These are they whom Christ seeks, and who are of His flock.'

To John Kyle, another morning, he said twice over, ' My soul longeth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning.' At another time, perceiving his father weeping, he said, ' I cannot blame you to mourn, for I know you have thought that I might. with God's blessing, have proved a comfortable child to you; but comfort yourself in this, that ere it be long, I will be at a blessed rest, and in a far better state than I can be in this life, free from sin and every kind of misery, and within a short time you will follow after me. And in the meantime, encourage yourself in the Lord, and let not your mourning be like those who have no hope. The Lord by degrees will assuage your grief, for so He has appointed, else we would be swallowed up, and come to nought, for I could never have been removed out of this life in a more seasonable time than now, having both the favour of God and man, being hopeful that my name shall not be unsavoury when I am gone; and none know what affronts, grief, and calamities, I might have fallen into, had I lived much longer. And for crosses and trouble, how might my life have been made bitter for me! for when I think what opposition I might have, ere I was an actual minister, by divisions of the people, the patron, and the Presbytery, it could not but overwhelm me; and then being entered, I know not what a fighting life, with a stubborn people, might be my lot, and then what discontent I might have in a wife, which is the lot of many an honest man, is uncertain; then cares, fears, straits of the world, reproaches of men, personal desires, and the devil and an evil world to fight with, these and many more cannot but keep a man in a struggling state in this life. And now, lest this should seem a mere speculation, I could instance these things in the persons of worthy men; I pass all these and only point at one, whose gifts and graces are well known to you, Mr David Dickson, who I am sure God has made the instrument of the conversion of many souls, and much good in the country; and yet this gracious person has been tossed to and fro. And you know that the Lord made him a gracious instrument in the late reformation, and yet he has in a great measure been slighted by the state and the Kirk also. What reason have I then to bless God, who, in mercy is removing me from all trouble, and will make me as welcome to heaven as if I had preached forty years, for He knows it was my intention, by His grace, to have honoured Him in my ministry; and seeing He has accepted the will for the deed, what reason have I to complain? For now I am willing and ready to be dissolved, and to be with Christ, which is best of all; wherefore, dear father, comfort yourself with this.'

One time, in conference concerning the sin in the godly, his father said to him, ' I am sure you are not now troubled with corruption, being so near death.' He answered,' You are altogether deceived, for as long as my foot remains on this earth, though the earth were translated above the clouds, my mind would not be free of sinful motions.' Whereupon, he regretted that he could not get his mind and his affections so lifted up, as he could have wished, to dwell or meditate on God, His word, and the endless life; that he could not feel spirituality as became him, by entertaining thoughts of God's greatness and goodness, and was often much perplexed with vain thoughts; but still he was confident, that the Lord, in His rich mercy, would pity and pass by this, his weakness and infirmity.'

About ten or twelve days before his dissolution, he fell into a faint, and was speechless for nearly an hour, so that none present had any hopes that he would again recover; but in the meantime he was wrapt in divine contemplation. At last he began to recover, and his heart being enlarged, he opened his mouth with such lively exhortations as affected all present; and directing his speech to his father, he said, ' Be glad, Sir , to see your son, yea, I say, your second son, made a crowned king.' To his mother also he said, ' Be of good courage, and mourn not for want of me, for you will find me in the all sufficiency of God.' and then exclaimed. ' O death, I give thee a defiance, through Jesus Christ;' saying to the onlookers, ' Sirs, this will be a joyful good night.'

In the meantime, Mr Bell came in, and to him he said, ' Sir, you are welcome as a witness to see me fight out my last fight.' After this, he fell quiet, and got some rest. Within two days, Mr Bell being come to visit him, he said, ' O Sir, but I was glad the last night when you were here, when I thought to be dissolved, that I might have met with my Master, and have enjoyed His presence for ever; but I was much grieved, when I perceived a little reviving; and that I was likely to live longer.'

To Mr Gabriel Cunningham, when conferring about death and the manner of dissolution, he said, ' O! how sweet a thing it were, for a man to sleep to death in the arms of Christ.' He had many other lively and comfortable speeches which were not remembered; not a day passing during the time of his sickness, but the on lookers were refreshed by him.

The night before his departure, he was sensible of great pain. Upon this he said, ; I see it is true, that we must enter into heaven through trouble, but the Lord will help us through it.' Then he said, ' I have great pain, but mixed with great mercy, and strong confidence.' He called to mind the saying of John Knox, on his deathbed, ' I do not esteem that pain, which will be to me an end of all trouble, and the beginning of eternal felicity.'

His last words were these: ' Lord, open the gates that I may enter in;' and a little after, his father asked, What he was doing? Whereupon he lifted up his hands, and caused all his fingers shiver and twirl, and in presence of many honest neighbours, yielded up his spirit, and went to his rest, a little after sunrising, upon the 11th of June 1643.