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Biographia Scoticana Scots Worthies by John Howie

The Life of Mr. JAMES MITCHEL.

He was son to James Mitchel of Dykes in the parish of Ardrossan, and was born about the year 1621. His father, being factor to the earl of Eglinton and a very religious man himself, gave his son a most liberal and religious education. -- -- For, being sent to the university of St. Andrews, when very young, he profited to such a degree, that by the time that he was eighteen years of age he was made master of arts.

After this he returned home to his father's house, where he studied for near two years and a half, the Lord in a good measure blessing his pains and endeavours therein. Mr. Robert Bailie, then minister at Kilwinning, shewed him no small kindness, both by the loan of his books, by his counsel, and by superintending his studies.

Thereafter he was called by the lady Houston to attend her eldest son at the college, in which employment he continued other two years and a half, in the which time the Lord blessed his studies there exceedingly, and the great pains taken upon him by Mr. David Dickson (then professor of the university of Glasgow), Mr. Bailie and others, had such a blessing from heaven that he passed both his private and public trials in order for the ministry to their great contentment.

After he was licensed, he came west and preached in Kilwinning and Stevenson, to the satisfaction of all who heard him, so that they blessed God in his behalf, and were very hopeful of his great abilities.

But before Martinmas 1643, he went back to Glasgow, where he both attended his studies and his pupil. He preached some few times in Glasgow, wherewith all those who loved Christ, and his cause and gospel were exceeding well pleased. At this time, Mr. Dickson, Mr. Bailie, and Mr. Robert Ramsay having great hopes of his gifts in preaching told his father, that he had great reason to bless God for the gifts and graces bestowed upon him above all their expectation, for besides these, the Lord had taken him truly by the heart, and wrought graciously with his soul. He had given himself much up to fasting and prayer, and the study of the word of God and reading thereof was now become his delight.

But the Lord having other thoughts concerning him, in a short time all their great expectations of him in the ministry were frustrated. For by his extreme abstinence, drinking of water, and indefatigable pains, he contracted that sickness, of which he died soon after. His body began to languish, his stomach to refuse all meat, and his constitution to alter. Mr. Dickson laid his condition much to heart (Mr. Bailie being at London) and kept him fifteen days with him; thereafter he went to Houston, and stayed as long there, where the lady and her daughter shewed more love and kindness than can be expressed, and that not only for the care he had of her son, but also for the rare gifts and graces God had bestowed on him. His father having sent for them he returned home. -- -- The first night on his journey, he was with Ralston, and the laird of Ducathall, being there occasionally, attended him all the rest of the way homeward; for not being able to ride two miles together, he behoved to go into a house to rest himself for an hour, such was his weakly condition.

After his arrival at home, he put on his clothes every day for fifteen days, and after that lay bedfast for ten weeks until the day of his death, during which time the Lord was very merciful and gracious to him, both in an external and internal way. -- -- For his body by degrees daily languished till he became like a skeleton, and yet his face remained ever pleasant, beautiful and well-coloured, even to his last.

The last five or six weeks he lived, there were always three or four waiting on him and sometimes more, yet they never had occasion to weary of him, but were rather refreshed with every day's continuance, by the many wise, sweet and gracious discourses which proceeded out of his mouth.

In the time of his sickness the Lord was graciously pleased to guard his mind and heart from the malice of Satan, so that his peace and confidence in God was not much disturbed, or if the Lord was pleased to suffer any little assault, it soon evanished. His feeling and sense was not frequent nor great, but his faith and confidence in God through Jesus Christ was ever strong, which he told his father divers times was more sure and solid than the other. He said, that the Lord before his sickness, had made fast work with him about the matters of his soul, and that before that, he had been under sore exercises of mind, by the sense of his own guiltiness for a long time, before ever he had solid peace and clear confidence, and often said, |Unworthy I and naughty I, am freely beloved of the Lord, and the Lord knows, my soul dearly loves him back again.| And that the Lord knew his weakness to encounter with a temptation, and so out of tender compassion thus pitied him.

He was also possest of all manner of patience and submission under all this sore trouble, and never was heard to murmur in the least, but often thought his Master's time well worth the waiting on, and was frequently much refreshed with the seeing and hearing of honest and gracious neighbours, who came to visit him, so that he had little reason with Heman to complain, Psal. lxxxviii.8. Lovers and friends hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance unto darkness.

Among other of his gracious discoveries, he declaimed much against unprudent speaking, wishing it might be amended, especially in young scholars and young ministers, as being but the froth and vanity of the foolish mind. Among other things he lamented the pride of many young preachers and students, by usurping priority of place, &c. which became them not, and exclaimed frequently against himself for his own practice, yet he 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, and 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, therefore the Spirit of supplication must be wrestled for, or else all prayer would be but lifeless and natural, and said, That being once with the Lady Houston and some country gentlemen at Bagles, the Spirit of prayer and supplication was poured upon him, in such a powerful and lively manner, two several days before they went to dinner that all present were much affected, and shed tears in abundance, and yet at night he found himself so emptied and dead that he durst not adventure to pray any at all these two nights, but went to bed, and was much vexed and cast down, none knowing the reason. By this he was from that time convinced that the dispensation and influence of spiritual and lively prayer came only from heaven, and from no natural abilities that were in man.

The laird of Cunningham coming to visit him (as he did frequently), he enumerated all the remarkable passages of God's goodness and providence to him (especially since he contracted sickness), as in shewing infinite mercies to his soul, tender compassion towards his body and natural spirits, patience and submission to his will without grudging, calmness of spirit without passion, solid and constant peace within and without, &c.: -- This is far beyond the Lord's manner of dealing with many of his dear saints, &c. |Now Sir, think ye not but I stand greatly indebted to the goodness and kindness of God, that deals thus graciously and warmly with me every way;| and then he burst out in praise to God in a sweet and lively manner.

At another time, the laird being present, May 26, looking out of his bed to the sun shining brightly on the opposite side of the house, he said, |O what a splendor 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 silly men are not able to conceive the excellency thereof, &c.|

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 first effect of our justification, then there was access and love to God, patience and submission to his will, &c. then the Lord's manifestation of himself to us, as Christ says, John xiv.21. See the 20th verse which he instanced.

He said one morning to Hugh Macgaven and his father, |I am not afraid of death, for I rest on infinite mercy, procured by the blood of the Lamb.| Then he spake as to himself, |Fear not, little flock, it is the Father's will to give you the kingdom. 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 who are these? 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.| And 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 ye will follow after me. And in the mean time 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, &c. 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) for none knoweth what affronts, grief and calamities I might fall into, had I lived much longer in this life. -- -- And for crosses and trouble, how might my life have been made bitter to 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, what a fighting life, with a stubborn people, might be my lot I know not, and then what discontentment 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 many worthy men, I pass all, and only point out one whose gifts and graces are well known to you, viz. Mr. David Dickson, who I am sure, God has made the instrument of the conversion of many souls, and of much good to 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 this 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, that in mercy is timeously 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, Ye are altogether deceived, for so long as my foot remaineth on this earth, though the other 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, to dwell or meditate on God, his word, or that endless life, as he could have wished, and that he could not find that spirituality by entertaining such thoughts of God's greatness and goodness as became him, and was often much perplexed with vain thoughts, but he was confident that the Lord in his rich mercy would pity and pass by this his weakness and infirmity, &c.

Some time before his death, he fell into several fainting fits, and about ten or twelve days before his dissolution, he fell into one, and was speechless near an hour, so that none present had any hopes that he would again recover; but in the mean time, he was wrapt up 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.| And to his mother he said, |Be of good courage, and mourn not for want of me, for ye will find me in the all-sufficiency of God.| Then he said, |O death, I give thee a defiance through Jesus Christ,| and then again he said to on-lookers, |Sirs, this will be a blythe and joyful goodnight.| In the mean time Mr. Bell came in, to whom he said, |Sir, you are welcome to be witness to see me fight out my last fight.| After which 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 was 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 reverting, and that I was likely to live longer, &c.|

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 till death in the arms of Christ.| -- -- He had many other lively and comfortable speeches which were not remembered, the day never passing, in the time of his sickness, but the onwaiters were refreshed by him.

The night before his departure, he was sensible of great pain, whereupon 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 that saying of Mr. John Knox on his death-bed, |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 twinkle, and in presence of many honest neighbours he yielded up his spirit and went to his rest a little after sun-rising, upon the 11th of June, 1643, being 23 years of age.

Thus, in the bloom of youth, he ended his Christian warfare, and entered into the heavenly inheritance, a young man, but a ripe Christian. There were three special gifts vouchsafed to him by the Lord, a notable invention, a great memory, with a ready expression.

Among other fruits of his meditation and pains, he drew up a model of and frame of preaching, which he intituled, The method of preaching. Many other manuscripts he left behind him, (as evidences of his indefatigable labour) which if yet preserved in safe custody, might be of no small benefit to the public, as it appears that they have not hitherto been published.

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