James Alexander Haldane (1768-1851)
Revivalist, Minister, Writer
James Alexander Haldane was born at Dundee, on July 14th, 1768, within a fortnight after the death of his father. His parents were both of the same ancient family line, as they were first cousins. He had one sister who died in childhood and a brother, Robert Haldane, who was four years older. His father, James, was a sea captain who had a reputation for enforcing moral discipline on his ships. He was about to be elected an East India Company director when in 1768 he got a sore throat, was incorrectly treated, and died. He died a professing Christian. James’ mother was shocked by events, giving birth to him two months early, just two weeks after her husband’s death. Mrs Haldane was from a decidedly Christian family. The two brothers were blessed in having a mother who was gentle, maternal and, an ardent Christian who prayed fervently for her children (often at their bedside while they were sleeping) and taught them the ways of God. Unfortunately, she died when James was only five. Both her sons were conscious of her part in their walking in the ways of God. She died from something like flu. Her Christian doctor was so affected by how she behaved during her last days that he said her attitude was enough to make one in love with death.
Their maternal grandmother, a former great society beauty, looked after the children following their mother’s death. The boys’ two uncles were experienced military men; one a retired Colonel (who later became their guardian), the other a Captain (soon to be Admiral) in the navy. As experienced men of the world, they understood the importance of a good education more than most of the Scottish gentry, so they ensured that their nephews received the best they could provide. They were both sent to the grammar school in Dundee. When their grandmother died in 1777, their uncle, Admiral, Viscount Duncan, sent them to board at the highly reputed High School in Edinburgh. Two of their classmates were John Campbell, the African missionary, and Greville Ewing, the minister of the Independent congregation in Glasgow — men with whom the Haldanes were to be later intimately connected. The boys missed a stable home life, but otherwise they lived an exceedingly privileged one, like the wealthy gentlemen they were.
After attending the High School of Edinburgh, and distinguishing himself not only by holding a high place in the class, but being foremost in every schoolboy escapade, James went to Edinburgh University for three years. He completed his studies in Latin and Greek, and gone through the curriculum of logic, metaphysics, mathematics, and natural philosophy. His uncles decided that James should see as much of England as possible before joining the navy, so they sent him on a tour of the north, down to Derbyshire. James was struck by the attitude of the minister in the party, who, as soon as they crossed the border, decided that as they were now out of the jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church, they could disregard the Lord’s Day. On his return he left Charles Street, where he had been boarding for seven years, and spent the months before going to sea with his uncle at Lundie House.
Through the influence of his mother’s faith, James looked very seriously on matters of religion, and the death of his sister would only have increased this. On arriving in Edinburgh both brothers were laughed at for their reverence of sacred things. James recollects later, “Till I was twelve years old I continued to pray, go to church, and read the Bible or other good books on the Sabbath, but it was only from a principle of duty, and was indeed only that kind of bodily exercise that profiteth little. I had no pleasure in any religious duty, but conscience retained a certain influence, and made me afraid to give them up.” From thirteen to sixteen he paid less attention to such things, often spending Sunday evenings in idle conversation with his friends. He also began to swear, as this was thought to be ‘manly,’ although he still prayed a little. However, after a quarrel with a friend James returned to some form of religious life, reading his Bible on Sunday and giving up swearing for a season. He was laughed at for reading the Bible, but this encouraged him in what he was doing, rather than the opposite.
For three generations his family had had a chief interest in one of the East India Company’s ships. He was destined from birth to join the Company in which his father served. However, some female relatives thought the sea a most unsuitable career for a boy of James’ temperament and wanted him to become a vicar in the Church of England, so that he could one day become a bishop. Also there was a tempting offer from Mr Coutts, a close friend of James’ father. Coutts considered himself indebted to James’ father, so he offered to take him into his bank, with a view to having a share in the business. This would have proved a very profitable venture. However, James decided to go to sea, which for a young man must have been a very exciting prospect. In 1785, at the age of sixteen he joined the ‘Duke of Montrose’ as a midshipman. The East Indiaman was bound for Bombay and China. The East India Company had a monopoly on trade, so it was a very profitable career for a young man with good connections, and Haldane certainly had good connections. The risks of war meant that their ships needed to be manned and armed on a scale approaching that of the Royal Navy. It had been decided in advance that once Haldane was of an age when he could command a ship, the captain of the ‘Melville Castle,’ a relative, would retire and hand over the ship to him.
On embarking upon his new profession, James Haldane devoted himself seriously to his duties, ambitious to become a good seaman and skilful navigator. The third officer had gone to sea under the patronage of James’ family; he was a good sailor and spent time teaching James what he knew, and also allowed him to study in his cabin. The voyage was tedious, as time was of no consequence because there was no competition, but it did give the young sailor plenty of time to indulge his love of literature. He had brought on board a sea chest full of a wide variety of good books. He was unconsciously training himself to become an able theological writer and eloquent preacher. His attention to his duties attracted the approbation of his superior, because his zeal and energy were always combined with good sense, intelligence and skill.
He made a total of four voyages to India and China. During the long period over which these lasted, he saw much of life, as well as experienced the usual amount of hair’s-breadth escapes so common to his profession. During his third voyage, while returning from India as third officer of the Hillsborough, he encountered one of those dangers that were so frequent in the naval and military service. One of the passengers, a cavalry officer, notorious as a quarrelsome bully and a good shot, picked a quarrel with James Haldane and threw a glass of wine in his face at the mess table. Haldane returned the compliment by throwing a decanter at the man’s head, thankfully it missed, shattering on the wall and showering the officer with wine. A challenge was inevitable. Haldane could not really refuse owing to his antagonist’s reputation as a duelist; a refusal might have looked like cowardice. Such was the law of honour which existed at that time. No opportunity occurred for the duel to take place until the ship arrived at St. Helena. James Haldane had made his will and written a farewell letter to his brother the night before, to be delivered in the event of his death. He raised his pistol at the signal, and praying to himself, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” he fired. The pistol burst and one of the splinters wounded him in the face. His opponent, whose weapon at the same moment miss-fired, declared himself fully satisfied.
On his third voyage, although he was only third officer, the chief officer was in bad health and the Captain did not have much confidence in himself, so Haldane was often in command. In every emergency or difficulty it was to his dauntless resolution and experienced seamanship that all eyes turned. The Captain himself acknowledged that when it blew hard at night, he never slept with comfort unless he knew that Haldane was on deck. At the end of the voyage the Captain presented him with an expensive collection of charts as thanks. Haldane testifies that he still had some form of prayer during his time at sea, but these times became gradually less frequent. He gave up praying in the morning, but retained his evening prayer, although he often fell asleep in the middle of praying.
After his fourth voyage was completed, James Haldane, now twenty-five, was found fully competent to assume the command of the Melville Castle. On passing his examinations he was promoted to Captain in 1793. After his appointment, he married Miss Joass, only child of Major Joass, fort-major of Stirling Castle, and niece of Sir Ralph Abercromby. Her relatives were not that happy at her marrying a younger son who still had to make his fortune, but the mutual love of the pair was so apparent that at last all parties were reconciled to the event.
At the end of the year the Melville Castle was at Portsmouth ready for an Indian voyage. Haldane, having said goodbye to his wife in London, had already joined his vessel, but delays occurred that prevented its sailing for four months. While the fleet was lying at anchor, a mutiny broke out in the Dutton. Owing to the delay of the voyage, many men had run out of supplies, so they asked for an advance of pay to buy more supplies. Haldane gave money to his crew for this purpose, but the Captain of the Dutton refused. The situation became so dangerous that the chief officers were obliged to abandon the ship. The crew, arming themselves with what weapons came to hand, threatened to sink every boat that came alongside to board them, or at worst to blow up the ship, or sail the Dutton into a French port. In this state of uproar, Captain Haldane jumped into one of the boats of the Melville Castle and approached the Dutton, to cries of “Keep off, or we’ll sink you!” Undeterred by these threats, he boarded the ship, sword in hand, and relieved the remaining officers who were about to be overpowered on the quarter-deck. His prompt action so surprised the mutineers that they soon surrendered. But while this was happening on deck, a noise was heard below. On learning the cause of the noise, he rushed to the powder magazine where two drunken men were threatening to blow the ship to heaven or hell. One of them was wrenching the iron bars from the doors of the magazine, while the other had a shovel full of burning coals that he was ready to throw in. Haldane aimed a pistol at the chest of the man at the door, telling him that he was a dead man if he moved. He commanded the crew to put the two offenders instantly in irons, which they did. The other ringleaders were secured and taken off the ship the next day. The rest of the crew went back to their duties peacefully.
By this time Haldane had acquired a good reputation in his profession. His skill as a sailor, his excellent qualities as an officer, and his courage in emergencies, had endeared him to seamen and passengers alike. The political influence which favoured him, not only through his friends at home, but also in India where his wife’s uncle, Sir Ralph Abercromby, was commander-in-chief of the British army, insured him quick advancement in both rank and fortune. His wife’s relatives, and his own, expected him to fulfil the promise of his career. And yet he had already decided to abandon the sea and all its alluring advantages! While waiting at Portsmouth he began to read the Bible more intently. In a letter written years later he says, “…I began to think I would pay a little more attention to this book. The more I read, the more worthy it appeared of God; and after examining the evidences with which Christianity is supported, I became fully persuaded of its truth.” Elsewhere he wrote, “At length some impression seemed to be made on my mind that all was not right, and knowing that the Lord’s Supper was to be dispensed, I was desirous of being admitted and went and spoke with Dr Bogue (whom he had met before he went to sea) on the subject. He put some books into my hand on the nature of the ordinance, which I read, and was more regular in prayer and attending public worship. An idea of quitting the sea at this time was suggested apparently by accident, and literally so, except in so far as ordered of God. The thought sunk into my mind, and, although there were many obstacles, my inclination rather increased than abated. Being now in the habit of prayer, I asked of God to order matters so that it might be brought about, and formed resolutions of amendment, in case my prayer should be heard. Several circumstances occurred which seemed to cut off every hope of my being able to get away before the fleet sailed; yet the Lord overruled all to further the business about two days before it left England.”
The decision was helped by the views of his brother Robert, who had also left the sea, and was about to devote himself to a distinguished career of religious activity. Robert had previously offered his brother a generous proposal to get him to live near the family estate of Airthrey, but James did not take it up. When Robert heard that James had been offered around £15,000 for the Captaincy of the Melville Castle, he wrote to his brother, urging him to accept as it would provide enough funds to support James for the rest of his life. James Haldane accordingly sold his interest in the Melville Castle, and rejoined his wife in Scotland in the summer of 1794.
After some time at Stirling Castle and Airthrey the Haldanes came to live in Edinburgh after their first child was born. They took a house in George Square and attended the ministry of the respected Walter Buchanan. He continued looking into the scriptures and discussed important biblical truths with different ministers, and the Lord gradually opened his eyes. It was in this way that both the brothers qualified themselves for their appointed work. In their case, it was from no sudden fit of enthusiasm that they devoted themselves to a career which excited the wonderment of society, and had to be persevered through years of opposition; on the contrary, they were led to the faith through a long period of enquiry. James Haldane reports on how he came into Christian work, “For some time after I knew the truth I had no thoughts towards the ministry. My attention was directed to the study of the Scriptures and other religious books, for my own improvement, and because I found much pleasure in them. When I first lived in my own house, I began family worship on Sabbath evenings. I was unwilling to have itmore frequently, lest I should meet with ridicule from my acquaintance. A conviction of duty at length determined me to begin to have it every morning; but I assembled the family in a back room for some time, lest anyone should come in. I gradually got over this fear of man; and being desirous to instruct those who lived in my family, I began to expound the Scriptures. I found this pleasant and edifying to myself, and it has been one chief means by which the Lord prepared me for speaking in public. About this time some of my friends remarked that I would by and by become a preacher. A person asked me whether I did not regret that I had not been a minister, which made a considerable impression on my mind. I began secretly to desire to be allowed to preach the Gospel, which I considered as the most important, as well as honourable employment. I began to ask of God to send me into his vineyard, and to qualify me for the work.”
The state of religion in Scotland at this time was very dire. The industrial revolution had changed the makeup of the country with the number of factories employing many workers. People were being attracted to the cities, but there were not enough churches to cater for the numbers. At this time there was also the problem of the Moderate party. For about fifty years the theological schools had been turning out ministers who were more interested in the morality of their congregations than their salvation. Many of the ministers did not know Jesus themselves, so they were incapable of teaching others. This infection was all through the Church, and the Moderate party was in the majority.
In 1796 Charles Simeon of Cambridge was invited by Walter Buchanan to Edinburgh. While there he decided to go on a tourist tour of Perthshire, so it was arranged that he should meet James Haldane at Airthrey. On his arrival Haldane offered to accompany Simeon on his tour, so they set off on the 20th June. The tour went through Dunkeld and then to Moulin where they met Stewart, the minister there. They left for Blair Athol, but there was no room at the Inn, so they accepted Stewart’s offer of a bed at the manse. As a result of conversations with Simeon, Stewart was converted. A few years later the Lord blessed Moulin with a revival which was a direct result of that unexpected evening with Simeon and Haldane. The three weeks spent with Simeon must have been extraordinarily beneficial to Haldane. Simeon writes, “We were mutually affected with fervent love to each other..” Clearly Haldane must have been truly converted at this point, otherwise Simeon would not have used such terms; indeed, he must have matured considerably. By this time Haldane’s whole soul was absorbed in the Love of Christ.
Soon after this Haldane started to distribute tracts. Simeon had done this on his tour, probably the first time tracts had ever been distributed in Scotland. Haldane experienced much fruit from doing this. John Campbell had set up a Society in 1797 to promote Sabbath-schools in destitute places. Robert Haldane helped finance many of these and James decided to be involved as well, but before doing so he agreed to go on a week’s tour of the west with Campbell. They took a thousand tracts with them and set up Societies in Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock, getting support from ministers of all denominations. In handing out all their tracts, they only had one instance where the offer of a tract was refused. They learned later that sixty Sabbath-schools were set up as a result of their week’s tour.
John Campbell arranged for a Joseph Rate, a preacher from Brogue’s academy at Gosport, to minister each Sunday at the large collier village of Gilmerton because they had not heard the Gospel properly preached for about forty years. Haldane and his friend, John Aikman, agreed to accompany Rate each Sunday. One Sunday Rate had to be away, so another preacher had to be found. Haldane asked Aikman to preach, but he refused at first, until Haldane said that if Rate was away again for the next Sunday, he would take the turn to preach. Needless to say Rate was unable to be there the following Sunday, so James Haldane preached for the first time on May 6th, 1797.
Dr Stuart was present on the occasion, commenting that he was both surprised and delighted with the power, energy and earnestness of the preachers. The people flocked to hear Aikman and Haldane. The parish minister, who was at first quiescent, burned with indignation and took action to ban them from using the school house that had been filled to overflowing. This was a very unusual event, men who were not ordained were preaching. Some of the ministers were afraid of the consequences of lay preaching. However, the two men increased in boldness, deciding to make a tour of the North of Scotland, which they heard was in a dreadful religious state. The plan was to examine the state of religion and distribute tracts as they went, and preach the Gospel in the streets of the towns and villages they visited. After prayer and discussions with various people, they decided to go. They were not going as ministers, but as evangelists calling people to repentance. This was the beginning of an annual summer tour with Aikman, Innes or Campbell, which continued for nine years during which Haldane preached in almost every town and large village in Scotland. This was a work that contributed largely to the change in the spiritual atmosphere of Scotland.
This first tour, in 1797, extended through the northern counties of Scotland and the Orkney Islands. They preached wherever they could find a place to assemble men together—in school-rooms and hospitals, at market-crosses, and in church-yards. The custom in those days was for a drummer or bellman to announce news, so these were used to announce their intention to preach. In this way they travelled through Perth, Scone, Cupar, Glammis, Kerrymuir, Montrose, and Aberdeen. In Aberdeen thousands came to see the novelty of a captain of an East Indiaman turned preacher. The tourists then proceeded to Banff, Elgin, Forres, Nairn, and Inverness; and having learned that a great fair was soon to be held at Kirkwall, to which people would travel from every island of the Orkneys, they decided to go to these far off islands. Haldane wrote that the Orkneys needed the preaching of the true Word of God as much as the Pacific Islands, which of course at that time had heard practically none. Many of the churches were in ruins, many of the islands were hard to get to, and many of the ministers were incapable. Kirkwall was used as their headquarters. Haldane, the bold sailor, was ever ready to scud before the wind in an open boat to preach the Gospel at whatever island might most require his services. In some of these desolate places there had been no religious ordinances for several years. While in Kirkwall, where he and his fellow-traveller preached daily during the fair, they had congregations of many thousands. It was the old Scottish spirit of the days of Knox and the Covenant revived among a people who had long and most unjustly been neglected. After having visited the twenty-nine inhabited islands of Orkney, and sometimes preaching three times a day, the tourists left for Caithness, and began to preach in its principal town, Thurso. On this occasion Haldane was on his own as Aikman had hurt his leg quite badly. His usual congregation in Thurso numbered from 800 to 3000 and there was a noticeable outpouring of the Holy Spirit with people getting saved. It was much the same at the next stop at Wick. A note from his journal of what happened at Wick is representative of many of the places on the tour, and shows why Haldane felt the need to go on this arduous trip. “Lord’s-day, October 1.—Preached in the morning to about 2500 people. Heard the minister, in the forenoon, preach from Matt. xxii. 5: ‘And they made light of it.’ He represented that men, in becoming Christians, first began to work out their own salvation and that when God wrought in them, &c. He spoke much of the criminality of such as found fault with ministers, ‘who were,’ he said, ‘the successors of the apostles—the ambassadors appointed to carry on the treaty of peace between God and man!’ In the afternoon preached to about 4000 people, and took notice of what appeared contrary to the Gospel in the minister’s sermon, himself being present.”
On October 11th, 1797, Mr. James Haldane left Wick, the very day on which his uncle, Admiral Duncan, gained the celebrated naval victory off Camperdown, and the firing of the guns was heard on the coast of Caithness, while the nephew of the conqueror was preaching his farewell sermon in the market town. On his return from this evangelistic tour, Haldane preached at the different towns on his long route home until he reached Airthrey on the 7th November, having been away for nearly four months. It was a very taxing tour, with Haldane preaching two or three times every day, but fortunately Haldane was young and strong.The Rev Cowie of Huntly wrote, having heard Haldane preach, “I and several other ministers heard Mr. Haldane on his late tour; and I confess, though I have been little short of thirty years a minister, have heard many excellent preachers, and laid my hand on many heads, I have very seldom heard anything so much to my satisfaction, and nothing that could exceed Mr. Haldane’s discourses. I could even say more, but I forbear. He carries his credentials with him, and needs not recommendatory letters.“
Haldane continued these tours until there was an increase in Evangelical ministers in Scotland, and until the general revival of religion, superseded the need for him to carry them out. There were many striking stories of wonderful conversions. There is no doubt that this tour and the others that followed, particularly in the north, awakened the people to those great principles of religion which had been long forgotten. The tours also had the effect of halting the progress of Socinianism which was threatening to take over the nation. (Although it is difficult to get a precise idea of how successful the tours were, as there are no statistics available, I believe that Haldane sparked revival in many of the towns he visited, particularly during his first two tours of the north which included the Orkneys and the Shetland Isles.) After his return from this first tour Haldane’s situation was completely changed. The idea of leading the retired life of a country gentleman was at an end. He had assumed a new character, incurred new responsibilities and attracted to himself the notice of all Scotland.
In December 1797 the Haldane brothers set up a society, consisting of Christians from all denominations, under the name of ‘The Society for Propagating the Gospel at Home.’ Their sole intention was to make known the Evangelical Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. James Haldane spent his time between tours evangelising the villages around Edinburgh, speaking to large crowds on Calton Hill and spending a lot of time studying the Bible. He was soon to add another occupation to these. His brother, Robert, after having failed in his attempt to establish a great Indian mission, was now employed in the building of churches in order to help with the shortage in the cities and the extension of evangelical religion at home. It was natural that in such a work he should seek the help of his brother. The churches that Robert Haldane built were called Tabernacles after churches of the same name built by George Whitefield. The Circus Church or Tabernacle as the first church was called, was in Edinburgh and could hold 2,500 people.
On February 3rd, 1799 James Haldane was ordained as the minister of the first of his brother’s churches. The following extract from the account of James Haldane’s ordination will fully explain his views and purposes on becoming a minister. He “expressed his intention of endeavouring to procure a regular rotation of ministers to assist him in supplying the tabernacle. He declared his willingness to open his pulpit for the occasional labours of every faithful preacher of the Gospel, of whatever denomination or country he might be. He signified his approbation of the plan of the church which had chosen him for their pastor, as being simple and scriptural, but disavowed any confidence in it as a perfect model of a church of Christ, to the exclusion of all others. He wished to remember himself, and ever to remind his hearers, that the kingdom of heaven was not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Finally, he declared that he meant not to confine his exertions to that church, but to devote a portion of his time every year to the labours of itinerancy, to which he conceived himself, in the providence of God, to be especially called.” He became the first minister of the first Congregational church in Scotland; by 1897 they numbered around 100 congregations.
Ever since the tour of Simeon in 1796 the Moderate party had been seething at the success of the itinerant preachers, particularly James Haldane, Aikman and Rowland Hill. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met in May 1799 passing an act that ‘prohibited all persons from preaching in any place under their jurisdiction, who were not licensed; and also, those who are from England, or any other place, and who had not first been educated and licensed in Scotland.’ This appalling act, which was passed by a Body that one person described as, ‘more favourable to Deism than any other religion,’ was aimed specifically at itinerant preachers and Sunday-school teachers. To the shame of Scotland, this act remained until 1842 when it was unanimously rescinded; everyone recognising its discreditable nature. Every parish was to read out to their congregations a warning against the Society for Propagating the Gospel at Home. It is good to note that some ministers disobeyed the Assembly ruling.
According to the promise made at his ordination, James Haldane devoted a large portion of every summer to an extensive missionary tour. This continued until 1805, but he still continued to make short trips to portions of the Highlands, and the north and west of Scotland that were still resistant to change; and wherever he went, his stirring eloquence was calculated to rouse the attention and win the hearts of those who listened. Few were so well qualified to restore the reputation of the office of itinerant preacher from the condemnation and contempt into which it had fallen. Apart from his sturdy figure, and bold, dignified, gentlemanly bearing that commanded the respect of every class, his position in society gave him weight among a people where the old feudal feelings were still a part of the national characteristics. Only a love for the people and a love of God could have inspired someone like him to undertake such an onerous task.
The first important event that occurred in Haldane’s life as the minister of a settled congregation came about in 1808 from the divisions in that party of which he was so important a member. While a religious body is small, with the whole world against it, there is neither time for disagreement, nor reason for division. However, with its expansion grows security, which promotes dissension. Dissension had now begun among the Independent congregations of Scotland, and it was based upon the questions of ecclesiastical government and discipline. It was agreed by everyone that the apostolic model was the only authoritative rule: but what was that model? Here every one had his own theory or interpretation. The frequency with which the Lord’s supper should be administered, the way of conducting their weekly fellowship meetings for social worship, and the amount of pastoral duty that might be carried out by gifted lay members were all keenly contested as matters of religious, and therefore of infinite importance. To these, also, was added the question of Paedobaptism, in which James Haldane himself was personally and deeply interested. He had been studying the subject for several years, and after some time he announced to his congregation, that “although his mind was not made up to become himself a Baptist, yet that at present he could not conscientiously baptise children.” He himself was baptised; but still his wish was that the difference of opinion should be no ground of disunion between Baptists and Paedobaptists. This, however, was too much to expect from any sect or class of Christians, and accordingly there was a split in his congregation. Nearly two-thirds left, some to the Establishment, and others to the two tabernacles in College Street and Niddry Street. As a result of this, the two Haldanes stopped being the leaders of the sect which they had begun, and which they had up until now financed. As for James, he now ministered to a very limited congregation, and with diminished popularity. This must have been a subject of regret to him, but it was one to which he seldom alluded and never took personally. He saw that the good which he had tried to accomplish was in progress elsewhere; and he was content to be nothing, and less than nothing, so long as the Gospel was lifted high.
James Haldane regularly officiated to his own Edinburgh congregation, carried out his pastoral duties to the sick and poor, preached occasionally in the open air in its neighbourhood, and sometimes went further afield on short evangelistic tours. He was looked upon as a remarkable man, even by the unsaved. One of his congregation was with a group of irreligious people who were scoffing at ministers of religion. One of them asked her which church she went to, and on being told James Haldane’s, they immediately dropped their levity, and one said, “Well, we cannot deny that he is a consistent good man!” On another occasion a mason on a building site found several thousand pounds of notes that had been stashed by a robber. Not knowing what to do with the money he asked his colleagues, but they could not help. They eventually decided to ask the advice of James Haldane, who none of them knew, but whose reputation was enough for them to trust that he would have the answer. The mason received a £100 reward. There is not so much to write about the work of a minister compared with that of an itinerant evangelist who brings revival to different downs across the nation, but although the work is more in secret, it is still of course just as valuable.
In 1816 Haldane was in Cumberland with his wife where he met Dr Everard, Archbishop of Cashel in Ireland. Everard had a very cultivated mind, having seen much of the world. He first appeared in the hotel as Mr Everard, but his true position was given away by the awe in which a priest so obviously held him. The Archbishop made a point of joining Haldane in conversation and over the day their intimacy increased, with many discussions about the claims of the Romish Church and the doctrines of the Gospel. The discussions became very deep, but in a spirit that inspired mutual respect. A few days before leaving, Everard confined himself to his room, but before leaving he asked for a meeting with his Protestant friend. He told Haldane that their discussions had shaken him more than anything he had heard before, and they had made him very uneasy; so he had decided to fast and pray, to seek God to find out if he had been in error. His thinking was, “Here is a man who is certainly mighty in the Scriptures, but who interprets the Bible for himself and depends on his own private judgement. The case is different with myself. If I err, I err with a long line of holy men who have lived and died in the bosom of the Catholic Church.” This they discussed for a time, with Haldane suggesting that he needed to look more into the Bible for his answers. They parted in friendship. A few years later the Archbishop died, and there were rumours in the neighbourhood that he had not remained steadfast in the Romish faith.
In 1819 Haldane’s wife died in the presence of her husband and her eight surviving children. In 1820 he ministered in the Isle of Man with some success. All through the years Haldane saw conversions through his ministry; in his church and elsewhere. In 1822 he married Margaret Rutherford, with whom he had another six children. Of his many children, perhaps four died before him, including his eldest son and daughter.
Haldane published several tracts on the most important religious doctrines of the day, which were widely circulated. He was also engaged as a controversialist, in which capacity he published a “Refutation of the Heretical Doctrine promulgated by the Rev. Edward Irving, respecting the Person and Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ”; and when Henry Drummond came to the rescue of his pastor with his “Candid Examination of the Controversy between Messrs. Irving, Andrew Thomson, and James Haldane,” Haldane replied with a volume of 277 pages. But controversy was not something he enjoyed, and Dr. Johnson would have rejected him because he was not good at hating. He wrote, “I see many evils, both at home and abroad, which I hope the Lord will correct; but I do not see anything which I can do, unless it be to live near to God, and to preach his Gospel where I am placed in the course of his providence.” He also published “Observations on Universal Pardon, the Extent of the Atonement, and Personal Assurance of Salvation.”
His brother Robert died in 1851. During the closing hours of his life, Robert told his wife of the great benefit he had derived from the sermons and publications of his brother James, from which, he said, he had derived more solid edification than from any others. He also spoke of the complete harmony of mind and purpose that had existed between the two of them from the beginning. James was then seventy-four years old, and had already outlived many of his early associates. However, he still had eight more years of work ahead. In 1842 he published a treatise entitled “Man’s Responsibility; the Nature and Extent of the Atonement, and the work of the Holy Spirit; in reply to Mr. Howard Hinton and the Baptist Midland Association.” In 1848 he reappeared as an author, by publishing an “Exposition of the Epistle to the Galatians.” Between these, he also published two tracts on the important subject of the Atonement. Until he was eighty, he used to conduct three public services every Sunday. In 1849, having completed the fiftieth year of his ministry, his flock and the Congregationalists of Edinburgh agreed to celebrate the event by a jubilee on the 12th of April; and the meeting was attended by ministers of all denominations who were eager to testify their love for such a venerable father in Israel. After this, his life and work were continued until 1851. The only illness he suffered from was gout, which appeared on several occasions, and which was the cause of his last illness. Right up until the end his mind was as sharp as ever. On reaching eighty, in a letter to his son Alexander, he comments on how his brother was so careful with his health, avoiding every draft; whereas he just let things take their course. He was still preaching with power until the end; in fact, he was meant to preach at Dr Chalmer’s Free Church the day after he died, and he was writing his exposition of the Lord’s farewell prayer until a week before his death. He died on the 8th of February at the age of eighty-two.
An Edinburgh newspaper reported, “No man was less disposed to court the applause of men, or indulge the semblance of ostentation; but the respect shown to his memory by the ministers and members of different religious communities in the city, is a noble demonstration of Christian sympathy with all that is exemplary in a long and consistent career of Christian devotedness.”The streets were lined with people on the day of the funeral. From the gate of the West Churchyard to the church, rows of clergymen lined each side of the principal avenue. One old member of his church was walking with all the church members in advance of the hearse, but on account of his age he was urged to take a seat in one of the mourning coaches. He refused, saying that “his proper place was at the feet of his pastor.” Haldane had led him to Christ fifty years earlier.
Tributes came in from all over. One such described his character, “His matured proficiency in the knowledge of the Scriptures, his enlightened conscientiousness, his Christian dignity and decision, his unsullied consistency of character and his persevering energy in doing good, will not soon be forgotten, and ought to have the force of an attractive example.”
Another writes, “…The grace of God was surely seen in the departed saint. A long and eminently consistent life put to silence the foolishness of the adversary, and I believe many ransomed spirits are now around the throne who have welcomed him to the heavenly mansion as the blessed instrument of turning them from darkness to light, and leading them to a knowledge of saving truth as exhibited in the Gospel. I have long been persuaded that your father and uncle were specially raised up to be the means of reviving the Church in their native land.”
The ‘Witness’ says on the occasion of the writing of the biography of the two brothers, “Till the appearance of these Memoirs, the younger reading public, we believe, were not aware of the greatness of James Haldane, nor of the influence and extent of those Evangelistic labours which he extended to almost every corner of Scotland, and to the furthest Orkneys. He was raised up to do a great work, just before the revival of Evangelical religion dawned in the Establishment; and this work he prosecuted with an indomitable will, an intrepid meekness, an energy not to be broken by labour, and with a success for which Scotland will not fail to hold him in everlasting remembrance.”
This essay is taken from “Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen” by Robert Chambers. This can be seen on http://www.archive.org/stream/abiographicaldi00thomgoog. This in turn was taken from “The Lives of Robert and James Haldane” by Alexander Haldane, published in 1853. This can be seen on http://www.archive.org/details/memoirslivesrob01haldgoog.