I am going to post this story in two parts. M'Cheyne had it published shortly after Laing's death.
Here is part one...
ANOTHER LILY GATHERED – THE CONVERSION OF JAMES LAING.“My beloved is gone down into his garden to gather lilies.”—Song of Solomon 6:2As written by Robert Murray M’Cheyne
God loves his mighty works to be remembered. We easily forget the most amazing displays of his love and power, and therefore it is right often to set up a stone of remembrance. When Israel passed over Jordan on dry land, God commanded Joshua to take twelve stones out of the dry bed of the river, and to set them up at Gilgal for a memorial, " That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord that it is mighty;" Joshua iv. 24. Whenever the children of Israel looked upon these massy stones, they would remember how God brought their fathers through the swellings of Jordan.
God has done great things for us in this corner of his vineyard, whereof we are glad. The word has often grown mightily and prevailed. Many old sinners and many young ones have given clear evidence of a saving change. And though we cannot say that "the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved," yet we can say that from the first day until now he has never left himself without a witness.
We have done little in the way of making known the doings of the Lord. The record of many a saved soul is on high, and many in their heavenly walk amid a polluted world are living monuments of what a God of grace can do. In this little narrative we would raise up an humble stone to the memory of a dear boy who now sleeps in Jesus, and to the praise of that God and Saviour who planted, watered, and gathered his own lily.
JAMES LAING was born on 28th July 1828, and lost his mother before he was eight years old. Of the living members of the family I do not mean to speak; they have not yet finished their course, but are still in the valley of tears, and trials, and temptations. This only must be noticed, that not long after God took away the mother, he dealt so graciously with the elder sister that she was henceforth fitted to watch over the other children with a mother's tenderness.
James was seized with the same fever as that of which his mother died, and he never enjoyed good health afterwards. He was naturally a very quiet and reserved boy, not so rough in his language as many of the boys around. One day when he was lying on his dying bed, I was asking his sister what kind of boy he had been. She said that he was as wicked as other boys, only he did not swear. After I was gone, he told his sister that she was wrong. He never used to swear at home, because he was afraid he would be punished for it; hut when among his companions he often used to swear. "Ah!" added he, " it is a wonder God did not send me to hell when I was a swearer." Another day, hearing some boys swearing near his window, he said, "It is a wonder God did not leave me to swear among these boys yet." Such was the early life of this boy. He did not know the God who guided him, and in whose hand his breath was; and such is the life of most of our children—they "cast off fear, and restrain prayer before God."
The Holy Spirit strives even with children. And when they grieve him, and resist his awakening hand, he suffers long with them. The first time that James showed any concern for his soul was in the autumn of 1839. It was a solemn time in this place; St Peter's was like Bethel. The divine ladder was set down in the midst of the people, and its top reached up to heaven, and even strangers were forced to say, " Surely God is in this place." O that these sweet days would come back again ! His elder brother, Alexander, a sailor boy, was at that time awakened, and the same glorious Spirit seemed to visit James for a time. One evening their sister Margaret, returning home from a meeting, found her two brothers on their knees earnestly crying for mercy. She did not interrupt them, but Alexander afterwards said to her, "Jamie feels that he needs Christ too. We will easily know if he be in earnest, for then he will not need to be bidden to pray." The test was a trying one; James soon gave up secret prayer, and proved that his goodness was like a morning cloud and the early dew which goeth away. This is the mark of the hypocrite laid down by Job, “Will he always call upon God ?" Job xxvii. 10.
Another night Margaret observed James coming from the prayer-meeting in the school in great distress. He kept close by the wall of the church that he might escape observation. He was much concerned that night, and, after retiring to rest, said to his sister, in his own Scottish dialect, “There's me come awa' without Christ to-night again."
One Thursday evening he attended the weekly meeting held in the church. The passage explained was Romans iv. 4-6, and sinners were urged to receive the " righteousness without works." Many were deeply affected, and would not go away even after the blessing. James was one of those who remained, and when I came to him he was weeping bitterly. I asked him if he cared for his soul: he said, "Whiles." I asked if he prayed: he said, "Yes." He was much concerned on his return home that night both for others and for his own soul. But these dewdrops were soon dried up again.
He attended the Sabbath-school in the lane where their cottage stands. Often when the teacher was reading the Bible, or some awakening anecdote, the tears flowed down his cheeks; but he tried to conceal his emotion from the other boys lest they should laugh at him. He afterwards said in his last illness, “O that I had just another night of the Sabbath-school ! I would not care though they should laugh at me now.” Sometimes during the reading and prayer in the family, the word of God was like a fire to him, so that he could not bear it, and after it was over he would run to his wild companions in order to drown the cries of his awakened conscience
In July 1841 he went up to Glammiss for his health. I was preaching in the neighbourhood, and he wished much to go and hear, but was not able to walk the distance. One night he heard Mr Cormick of Kirriemuir preach in a cottage on John vii. 37. He felt it deeply, and wept bitterly; but he remarked that none of the people wept. He knew well when people showed any concern for their soul; and he often remarked that to be anxious is not to be in Christ. When he came home he spoke much of the carelessness of the people where he had been. "Ah ! Margaret, there was no Bible read yonder. The people a' went to their bed just as if there had not been a God." What a faithful picture is this of the state of many of our country parishes!
One night after his return a neighbour was sitting by the fire reading the work of an old divine. It stated that even carnal men sometimes receive a conviction they never can forget. She turned to James and asked him if he had never received a conviction that he could not forget. “Yes,” he said, “I can never forget it; but we cannot seek Christ twice.” Thus did the long-suffering of God wait upon this little boy; the good Spirit strove with him, and Jesus stood at the door and knocked; but he would not hear.
The day of Immanuel's power, and the time of love, was however near at hand. As the cold winds of October set in, his sickly frame was much affected; he became weak and breathless. One Tuesday, in the end of October, he turned decidedly worse, and became intensely anxious about the salvation of his soul. His lamentable cry was, "Oh, Jesus, save me—save me!" Margaret asked if his concern was real, for he had often deceived her hopes before. He wept, and said "Yes." His body was greatly pained, but he forgot all in the intense anxiety for his precious never-dying soul. On the Saturday I paid a visit to their humble cottage, and found the little sufferer sitting by the fire. He began to weep bitterly while I spoke to him of Jesus having come into the world to save sinners. I was enabled in a simple manner to answer the objections that sinners make to an immediate closing with Christ. Margaret wondered; for the minister could not have spoken more to the case of her brother if he had known it; and she inwardly thanked God, for she saw that he was directing it James spent the rest of the day on his knees in evident distress of soul. O how little the most of those called Christians know what it is to pass through such deep waters! Margaret asked him if he was seeking Jesus: he said, “Yes.” She asked, “If he would like anything—a bit of bread?” he said, “No; but I would take a bit of the bread of life if you would give it me." She replied, " I cannot give you that; but if you seek it you will get it." He remained alone till evening, and was never off his knees. Towards night he came to the other end of the cottage, and put this question—" Have I only to believe that Jesus died for sinners? Is that all?" He was told, “Yes.” “Well, I believe that Jesus died for me, for I am a poor hell-deserving sinner. I have been praying all this afternoon, that when Jesus shed his blood for sinners, he would sprinkle some of it upon me, and he did it." He then turned up Rom. v. 8, and read these words, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” His sister wept for joy, and James added, “I am not afraid to die now, for Jesus has died for me.” Often after this he bade his sister read to him Rom. v., Psalm ciii., and Psalm cxvi. These were favourite portions with him.
From that day it was a pleasant duty indeed to visit the cottage of this youthful inquirer. Many a happy hour have I spent beneath that humble roof. Instead of dropping passing remarks, I used generally to open up a passage of the word, that he might grow in knowledge. I fear that, in general, we are not sufficiently careful in regularly instructing the sick and dying. A pious expression and a fervent prayer are not enough to feed the soul that is passing through the dark valley. Surely if sound and spiritual nourishment is needed by the soul at any time, it is in such an hour when Satan uses all his arts to disturb and destroy.
One Thursday afternoon I spoke to him on Matt, xxiii. 37, " How often would I have gathered your children." He was in great darkness that day, and, weeping bitterly, said, " I fear I have never been gathered to Christ; but if I have never been gathered, O that I were gathered to Christ now!" After I was gone he said, " It would give me no peace though the minister and every body said I was a Christian, if 1 had not the sense of it between God and myself."
He was very fond of the Song of Solomon, and many parts of it were opened up to him. One day I spoke on Song v. 13, "His lips are like lilies, dropping sweet-smelling myrrh."
told him that these were some of the drops that fell from the lips of Jesus—" If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink." " I came to seek and to save that which was lost." " Wilt thou be made whole?" " I give unto them eternal life." He said solemnly, " That's fine."
Another day, Song i. 5, " I am black, but comely," was explained. He said, "I am black as hell in myself, but I'm all fair in Jesus." This was ever after a common expression of his. Another day I spoke on Song v. 15. " His legs are like pillars of marble set upon sockets of fine gold;" and showed the almighty strength of the Lord Jesus. The next day when I came in, I asked him how he was; but, without answering my question, he said, "I am glad you told me that, about Jesus' legs being like pillars of marble, for now I see that he is able to carry me and all my sins."
On one occasion, he said, " I am glad this psalm is in the Bible." " What psalm ?" He answered, " Yea, though I walk in death's dark vale.'- " He Las promised to be with me, and God is as good as his word."
At another time I read to him Isaiah xliii. 2. "When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee;" and explained that when he came to the deep, deep waters, the Lord Jesus would put his foot down beside his, and wade with him. This often comforted him, for he believed it as firmly as if he had seen the pierced foot of Jesus placed beside his own; and he said to Margaret, " If Christ put down his foot beside mine, then I have nothing to fear."
One Sabbath I had been preaching on Caleb following the Lord fully (Numbers xiv. 24), and had stated that every sin committed after conversion would take away something from the believer's weight of eternal glory. Alexander, his brother, was present, it being his only Sabbath on shore. He was much troubled, and said, "Ah, I fear mine will be all lost." He told the statement to James, who was also troubled. Alexander said, " You don't need to be troubled, Jamie ; you are holy." James wept and said, " I wonder to hear you speak." Alexander said, "Ah, but you are holier than me."
In the same sermon I had said, that if believers did nothing for Christ, they would get in at the door of heaven, but nothing more. The sailor-boy told this to his brother, who wept again, saying, " I have done nothing for Christ." Alexander said he had done less. James added, " I would like to be near Jesus. I could not be happy unless I was near him." Speaking of those who had gone to glory long ago, James said, that " those who died in Christ now, and did most for him, Jesus would take them in by (that is near to himself), though they were late of coming."
How lovely this simple domestic scene ! Happy families; but, ah! how few where the children fear the Lord, and speak often one to another. Surely the Lord stands behind the wall hearkening, and he will write their words in his book of remembrance. " And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels."
Some of my dear brethren in the ministry visited this little boy, to see God's wonderful works in him, and to be helpers of his joy. It is often of great importance in visiting the dying, to call in the aid of a fellow-labourer. Different lines of testimony to the same Saviour are thus brought to meet in the chamber of sorrow. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. Mr Cumming of Dumbarney, visiting him one day, asked him if he suffered much pain James, " Sometimes." Mr C, " When you are in much pain, ran you think on the sufferings of the Lord Jesus?" James, " When I see what Jesus suffered for me it takes away my pain. Mine is nothing to what he suffered." He often repeated these words, " My light affliction, which is but for a moment."
At another time Mr Miller of Wallacetown called with me, and our little sufferer spoke very sweetly on eternal things. Mr M., " Would you like to get better?" James, " I would like the will of God." Mr AT, " But if you were getting better, would you just live as you did before?" James, "If God did not give me grace I would." During the same visit I was asking Margaret when he was first awakened. She told me of his first concern, and then of the first day I had called. James broke in and said, " Ah, but we must not lean upon that." His meaning was, that past experiences are not the foundation of a sinner's peace. I never met with any boy who had so clear a discovery of the way of pardon and acceptance through the doing and dying of the Lord Jesus laid to our account. One time I visited him, I said, " I have been thinking of this verse to-day, ' The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake.'" Isaiah xlii. 21. He said, "Explain that to me, for I don't understand it." I opened it up to him, but I feared he did not take up the meaning. Some days after he said to his sister, " Margaret, I have been thinking of a sweet verse to-day." She asked what it was; but it had slipped from his memory. M., " Was it about Christ?" James, " Aye." She quoted one. James, " No that's not it," At length she quoted, " The Lord is well pleased," &c. "Ah, that's it (he said), I was thinking, it's no for my righteousness' sake, but for his righteousness' sake." This showed how fully he embraced what so few comprehend, the way of salvation by "the obedience of one" for many. Surely God was his teacher, for God alone can reveal the sweetness and glory of this truth to the soul of man.