Andrew Bonar

The awakening of Duncan Matheson (1824-1869)

"On Thursday, 25th Oct., 1846, being the fast-day before communion, I attended Lady Glenorchy's church, (Edinburgh) where I heard Mr. A. Bonar, biographer of M'Cheyne, preach on the portion of the wicked in Psalm 11, 'Upon the wicked He shall rain snares, fire, and brimstone, and an horrible tempest : this shall be the portion of their cup.'
I felt as he proceeded as if all were to myself. I dreaded the portion I was about to receive. I knew I deserved it. I left the church weeping, but tried to hush my fears by fostering in my mind a purpose of being converted that day twelve months. I had the notion that I could be converted when I liked : I had only to begin praying, and reading, etc., and then all would come right. Fatal delusion! There are gales of mercy, there are tides of grace, which do not always wait for us. It will always be man's inconvenient season when it is God's convenient time. I was afraid to return to the church in the evening. Satan furnished me with a pillow on which to sleep. It was this : 'If you are to be converted you will be converted ; if not, you cannot help it.' I took the opiate greedily, and was rocked to sleep in the devil's cradle."

"Many strike on this rock ; many a noble ship has been dashed to pieces here. This is not Calvinism, but fatalism. Can the husbandman expect to reap if he does not sow, or the sailor reach the port if he does not spread the sail to catch the breeze? What sick man would say, 'If I am to get well I shall, no matter though a physician be not called or medicine taken.' Of all preachers of election, Satan is the worst. He distorts that glorious truth, the first link in the golden chain of man's salvation. He hides the blood of Christ through which sinners should behold it. He keeps out of sight the only decree with which sinners have to do, viz., 'He that believeth shall not be damned.' 'You are not elect,' said the adversary to a sorely-tried Christian. 'Elect!' replied the man of God. 'Have you seen the book of God? Liar, get you hence ; I have had more than ye ever had - an offer of Jesus Christ, and I have taken Him.'"

"Next day I was sad, and unable to smile ; but I tried to conceal my state. Sermon after sermon rose to mind, and my dying mother's counsels flashed into my heart. When the church bells began to ring on Saturday, two fellow workmen, G.T. and M.T., infidels, began to curse and swear, blaspheming especially the Lord's Supper. Shocked, I could have fled from the place ; and the prayer came into my heart, 'Father, forgive them ; for they know not what they do.' Then a voice seemed to say, 'How do you take the name of Father into your lips, seeing you reject Christ? Your hell will be deeper than theirs ; for you know, and do not. God is not your Father : Satan is.'"

"I could work no more, and I went home to ponder and weep. The arrow was driven home ; and this time I did not seek to withdraw it. On Sabbath morning I was early astir, and Bible in hand, was the first at church. In serving a table, Mr. Bonar said, 'This is a feast of love, the deepest love.' A voice seemed to ask me, 'Why are you not at it?' My heart was thrilled. I looked round, and saw no one. The question drove me from the church, and I rushed home. Even in this solemn hour I dared dally with my convictions, and went to see a friend, resolved to shun the church lest I should be tormented afresh. My heart was too full to conceal my thoughts, and I began to speak about religion. The topic being manifestly disagreeable, I left the house with feelings of wounded pride. Reaching the Calton Hill, I looked down upon the city, with its thousands of gleaming lights, and upwards to the stars, which seemed to shine most sweetly upon me. I felt inwardly urged to go to church. I went with reluctance, and almost not knowing what I was doing, or whither I was going. I became desperate and passed the church door, but returned as if some invisible power moved me against my will. Again, when I was about to enter, I tore myself away. Two powers seemed to be lugging me hither and thither. Again I returned, and with a bound crossed the threshold, and mounting the gallery stairs took my seat in the passage. I felt I was a poor, miserable castaway. The sermon was nearly finished. One showed me the text : 'The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.' (Ex. 34:6,7)
Mr. A. Bonar was preacher, and had come to the words, 'will by no means clear the guilty.' In a moment I felt the burning, piercing eye of God upon me. A mountain of wrath seemed to crush me down ; and hell was opened beneath me. All round about me seemed to be on fire. Louder than the loudest thunder came the words : 'By no means clear the guilty ;' and, 'Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.' The congregation was dismissed ; the people departed ; but I remained fixed to the spot. Some as they passed gave me a look of pity. At last I rose and reeled home to my lodgings, realising with awful vividness God, heaven, hell, judgment, and eternity. Falling on my knees I uttered my first real prayer, 'God be merciful to me, a sinner.' I was now thoroughly awakened, but I was not saved."

This struggle lasted for several days, but he dates his salvation to October 1846. He spent the rest of his life, serving God as an evangelist, in the Crimea during the war there, distributing tracts and Bibles, and then in Scotland, until he died at age 45, in 1869.
Shortly before his death he made arrangements with a Bohemian pastor for the translation of Bonar's 'Memoir of M'Cheyne' into Bohemian.

The account is taken from the book 'Duncan Matheson, the Scottish evangelist,' by Rev. John MacPherson.
Andrew Bonar notes in his diary on 26th March 1871 :"To-day read for a time the Memoir of Duncan Matheson, one of the labourers passed into glory. Lord, give me more power, more zeal, more love."

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