Andrew Bonar

Chapter 1
His Conversion

"Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?"
Micah 6:6

“Let Israel rejoice in Him that made him” (Ps. 149: 2), is a call of the Holy Spirit addressed to those who have been made new, and made meet for the glory that is to be revealed, by Him who gave them their being. Whatever a believing man is, he owes it all to the sovereign grace of his God, who made him a vessel of honour; for his “willing and running” (Rom. 10. 16) came not from himself, but originated with God, “who sheweth mercy.”

It was entirely so with him of whom these pages speak. DAVID SANDEMAN, second son of Glas Sandeman, Esq. of Bonskied, was born at Perth, 23d April 1826. The pleasant residence of this prosperous family was Springland, close to the river Tay, within a mile of the town, and not far from a locality renowned in Scottish history, the old palace of Scone, where the kings of Scotland used to be crowned.

In his infancy he was somewhat more sedate than children usually are, and in boyhood shewed no great interest in games that delighted his companions; yet he was always fearless in manly exercises, a bold rider, skater, and swimmer. It was not quickness, but perseverance, that distinguished him from other boys, along with regularity in all his habits and a strong sense of duty. At school, while his companions loved him for his kindliness, his teachers remarked his diligence and conscientious industry, which enabled him to outstrip cleverer scholars, so much so, that the rector of Perth Academy, Dr Miller, testified, in referring to his mathematical studies, that to him belonged the praise of bringing forward the entire class of which he was a member.

The only incident of his younger years which seems marked by any special interest is his being sent, at the age of fifteen, to the Pestalozzian Institution at Worksop, in Nottinghamshire, conducted by Dr Hildenmaier. There, besides laying the foundation of other acquirements, he began to learn French and German, for in that Institution conversation was carried on in both these languages; and it may be that this circumstance contributed to foster his liking to foreign tongues, and may thus have had some remote influence, in after years, in deciding his mind toward China. At this place, too, his youthful affections were drawn out by the kindness of his instructors, and his mind developed amid pleasant scenery; his common excursions, even in seasons of recreation, being to such spots in the neighbourhood as Chatsworth or Welbeck Abbey.

At this period he rose early, was thorough in the preparation of lessons, acted conscientiously, shewed great respect to the teachings of the Word of God, and observed the forms of godliness as others round him did. Many would have thought that he had the fear of God before his eyes. It was not so, however, at that period, though the Lord was keeping abundant mercy for him. The instrumentality employed in bringing about his change was of various kinds, as is perhaps most frequently the case with the Lord’s work in conversion. He himself, in reference to agents employed by the Lord in effecting such changes, made the interesting remark in after years to a friend at Jordanhill—” It is just like a large vessel returning laden with goods; it will be found at last that every individual believer has had a share in the ingathering of souls. As for myself, when letting down the Gospel-net, I always feel that other believers are letting it down along with me.”

We have his own testimony that he lived eighteen years without God. Thus, in 1849, he writes in looking back : -
“For eighteen years of my life I believe that I was truly without the knowledge of God. During all that time, my conduct was never influenced by the thought of His existence as a person, or of any thing I did being pleasing or displeasing to Him. Assuredly I worshipped as the heathen at Athens, an ‘unknown God;’ or as the Samaritans, I ‘knew not what.’ Anything like a knowledge of Him was a vague, undefined sense or fear of future retribution for evil done, and that a God, a powerful Being, would inflict it.
“An undefined sense of duty, my parents, masters, emulation among my fellow-pupils, carnal lusts, and above all - ’self;’ these, I believe, were my gods; at least, they held all the place where God should have been.
“I was dissatisfied or happy, entirely as I managed to please or displease them. Of the worship due to Jehovah, the God of Abraham, I was as ignorant as a stock or stone.”

On 4th April 1852, he takes a similar review of the past :—“ This day corresponds to the Sabbath of my new birth. I still bitterly repent the time I spent in Satan’s service. It is unmingled bitterness: I went smoothly on in utter disregard of Christ. I never honoured Him as God, as my Creator, my Judge, and my risen Redeemer. I was a decent rebel, outwardly respectable, but in reality a despiser of Christ.”

And yet from infancy he had been taught by his parents the way of salvation, and had been moving among those who not only knew the Lord, but also adorned the Gospel by their holy life. Often does he refer, at a later period, to his mother’s prayers and anxious yearnings over him in those days; sometimes to books put into his hands; and also to faithful ministers whose preaching of Christ and His salvation he felt to be impressive. Still for eighteen years his soul was dead to God. In the years 1839 and 1840, the ministry of Mr Millar, then minister of St Leonard’s, Perth (now of the Free Church at Clunie), and next that of Mr Milne, his successor, produced a considerable impression on his mind, which was deepened by attending the services conducted by Mr W. C. Burns, now missionary in China, during a season of revival. It was only then that he began to see what the sinner is by nature, and what is the way of escape. A friend remembers meeting him and his two brothers in the lobby of the church, after a sermon by Mr Burns on the words—” Deliver from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom;” and how, with a solemn expression of countenance, he said, “I never knew till to-night what my Saviour did for me.” Sacramental seasons also, at that period, used to give an impulse to his feelings. For about two years he remained in this half- awakened state.

In December 1842, he came to Glasgow to learn business. Blameless from infancy to the world’s eye, ever ready to shew kindness to others, kept, too, by the hand of a gracious God from all outward vice, and even the appearance of evil, nevertheless he was, and knew that he was, unconverted. He had gone only so far as nature may go; he was not born of God. One step onward he seemed to take in Glasgow— namely, he was taught the lesson of the world’s utter insufficiency to give the soul what it craves. “He that drinketh of this water shall thirst again,” was his experience.

He maintained the form of prayer, and even of Christian converse, with those with whom he boarded. The ministration of Mr Somerville of Anderston, whom he had fixed on as his pastor, interested him, and roused his soul from time to time; while visits to a circle of Christian friends, to whom he was introduced, contributed to keep the things of salvation more and more before his mind. Then came the memorable Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843. Having carefully watched the progress of the great controversy, he had no hesitation in following his minister out of the Establishment, and in giving his hearty adherence to the principles of the Free Church, persuaded as he was that the Free Church held the truth by which the Great Head of the Church is honoured, and might therefore expect His blessing.

In the beginning of April 1844, being about to leave Glasgow, he called upon Mr Somerville, who took the opportunity of frankly inquiring into the state of his soul. The conversation made such an impression on his mind, that he has recorded part of it in his journal :—“ You say” (said Mr Somerville to him) “that you do not care for the world—that it is not that which keeps you from Christ, or anything connected with it. You have now been more than a year in this place. You came anxious about your spiritual state, and you go away in the same manner. How long is this to continue? If it is nothing in the world that prevents your coming to Christ, it must be the unwillingness of your own heart.” He then added, “I would beseech you not to rise from your chair till you have accepted Christ’s free, full, and open offer of salvation to all who will come to Him!” Both the words and the solemn earnestness with which they were spoken affected him deeply. It was an interview which he never ceased to remember.

In this state of soul he returned to Springland. The time of the dispensation of the Lord’s Supper was drawing on, which naturally led his mother to say to him, “David, did you ever give yourself to Christ? You have no right to remain one week without loving Him.” His pastor also, Mr Milne, met him, and urged on him the duty of professing his faith in the Lord Jesus, by taking his place in the number of communicants. He objected, specially stating his fear of bringing dishonour on the cause of Christ by his inconsistency, as well as the difficulty he felt regarding his personal state. This same month his eighteenth birthday came round, in connection with which a thought had been very seasonably presented to his mind by a passage in Angell James’s “Father’s Present to his Children “—a passage in which it is remarked that the usual time when persons decide for the Lord, or for the world, is from the age of fourteen to eighteen. “I felt,” says he, “as if this might be the case with me.” The fact that the Lord’s Supper was to be dispensed in the congregation roused his conscience to the anxious inquiry, Am I in a state fit for that ordinance? His honest conclusion was that he could not go to the Lord’s table, for as yet he was not willing unreservedly to give himself to the Lord. “I was still rejecting” (these are his words) “the waiting Saviour’s free calls to come. I was wilfully sinning against what I knew so well. I was an open rebel, so much the guiltier because brought up near Him, and so well acquainted with His law.”

On the Sabbath evening, with these feelings disquieting him, he had engaged in prayer with his sister, and retired to his room. Then it was that the Lord found the sheep that was lost, and laid it on His shoulder. While pondering alone on his spiritual condition, his heart was drawn out “by the omnipotent hand of God” to think simply of Christ, and the “willingness of Christ to receive all who have a true wish to come to Him.” He says he knew that this wish was not of man, but of the Holy Ghost ; (John 1: 12,13.) it was the Lord who enabled him now to take Christ as all his salvation and all his desire. That was the evening (7th April) when he for the first time felt his soul cast anchor on the Rock of Ages.

Hear his strains of adoring gratitude :—“ The Lord God Almighty, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, the triune Jehovah, be praised, be eternally glorified!” “I may henceforth call God my hope, my only hope, my life, my death (for I would as it were fall asleep in Him), my all! O the high, the mighty, the glorious work of salvation! How it sinks man, and raises and exalts the God of salvation !”

Soon after we find him saying that his short experience has already given him proof of his heart’s proneness to depart even from this God of love, and that he could not of himself continue for a single instant abiding there. But here is his prayer—” O my soul, expect everything from the Lord Jesus. He is encircling thee in his arms of love, ever watching to preserve thee from danger.” And very remarkable it is to find one characteristic of all his after course at once beginning to develop itself—namely, his sense of the immense importance of prayer. “Continually, in prayer, ask his direction. Thou hast as it were only to whisper, or rather breathe, complete dependence upon Him, and ask Him to work for thee, by thee, through thee, and He will do what seemeth Him good.”

Having come to Christ, he must join those who can say, “My beloved is mine.” Accordingly, he sat down at the Lord’s table, seven days after this, in St Leonard’s Free Church, presided over by his beloved friend Mr Milne. His entrance into the marvellous light had been distinct and clear. His experience at this period is such as calls up to our thoughts the spiritual history of one of our fathers, Fraser of Brea. At the age of eighteen, this man of God heard intimation made that the Lord’s Supper was to be dispensed next Lord’s day, which led him to solemn searching regarding his fitness to go to that ordinance. He wished to go, and know that he ought to go; but then he also knew that he ought to be converted first, and feared that if he went in a Christless state “he might give over hopes of ever thereafter being converted.” Full of these thoughts, he, before the Sabbath came, set himself to seek the Lord Jesus. While thus alone in his closet, solemnly considering the state of his soul, the Lord enabled him all at once to perceive that Christ was a Saviour indeed—a full Saviour, the sinner’s Saviour, gloriously complete in His work and in His offices, because so glorious in His person, and no less glorious in His love and grace. “Where am I now ! what is this !” were his first words of adoring wonder. “Heart and hand, and all that I have, is thine! Begone, poor world !” Next Sabbath found him seated at the table of his Lord.

Go to chapter 2

Transcribed from Memoir of the Life and brief Ministry of the Rev. David Sandeman,
missionary to China
first published
Berners Street
HTML transcription files copyright © 2002-2017.

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This page added 6 May 2002