“A constant unvaried ministry of love” by Islay Burns

“The simple annals of a country pastor’s daily life are uniform and uneventful, and afford little scope for the biographer’s pencil. Interesting and precious as any work done on earth in Heaven’s eyes, it is the obscurest possible in the world’s regard.

Angels look down upon it; busy, eager, bustling men heed it not. A calm routine of lowly, though sacred duties, a constant unvaried ministry of love, it flows on in a still and quiet stream, arresting no attention by its noise, and known alone to the lowly homes it visits on its way, and the flowers and the fields it waters.

The young pastor of Dun was no exception to this.

He preached the Word.

He dispensed the sacred Supper.

He warned the careless.

He comforted the sorrowing.

He baptized little children.

He blessed the union of young and loving hearts.

He visited the sick and the dying.

He buried the dead.

He pressed the hand, and whispered words of peace into the ear of mourners.

He carried to the poor widow and friendless orphan the charity of the Church and his own.

He slipt in softly into some happy home and gently broke the sad news of the sudden disaster far away.

He lifted up the fallen one from the ground.

And he pointed to Him who receiveth the publicans and the sinners.

These things and such as these, he did in that little home-walk for twenty successive years day by day; but that was all.

There is much here for the records of the sky, but nothing, or next to nothing, for the noisy annals of time.

Such as the work was, however, he did it, as all who knew him witnessed, faithfully and well, with a calm, serious, conscientious, cheerful, loving diligence that was the fruit of faith and prayer; always at his work, and always happy in it, and desiring nothing better or higher on earth.”

–Islay Burns, The Pastor of Kilsyth: The Life and Times of W.H. Burns (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1860/2019), 43-44.

“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever, was the sum and substance of his preaching” by Islay Burns

“In calling to remembrance, brethren, the former days, you cannot fail, as a congregation, to cherish the most profound and affectionate reverence of the memory of your departed pastor.

During a ministry extended considerably beyond the ordinary allotments of Providence, nearly forty years of which he laboured among you with all good fidelity in every department of pastoral duty, how weighty are the responsibilities under which you are placed for his invaluable services!

Of those services, it is hardly possible to form an exaggerated estimate. With talents of a decidedly superior order, literary and theological acquirements alike accurate and varied, depth and tenderness of spirit in addressing all classes of hearers, and pre-eminently distinguished by the Spirit of grace and of supplication—our beloved and lamented father was truly a master in Israel.

In season and out of season, when he had long passed the ordinary term of ministerial service, that aged disciple was ever found on the watchtowers of Zion. ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever,’ was the sum and substance of his preaching.

He loved to dwell on the glory of His person, the perfection of His righteousness, the merit of His atoning sacrifice, and the prevalence of His intercession. His speech and his preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.

Most faithfully, earnestly, and affectionately did he expound the doctrines, enforce the precepts, announce the terrors, and press home the exceeding great and precious promises of the word of life. He shunned not to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

As a scribe, instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, your late revered pastor brought forth out of his treasure things new and old, adapted alike to the conversion of the ungodly, and to the edification and comfort of the children of God.

His theology was that of the good olden school of our Scottish forefathers, the Erskines, Fishers, and Bostons, of the last century, those men, mighty in the Scriptures, whose names are identified with all that is sound in doctrine, and powerful in appeals to the conscience and the heart.

His trumpet never gave an uncertain sound, but sent forth its voice not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth. To how many in this congregation and neighbourhood, and in other places which occasionally enjoyed his ministrations, he was the savour of life unto life? He only knows unto whom all things are naked and opened. The day will declare it.

Those seasons of spiritual revival with which this is parish with signally blessed bore testimony to the seal which is Divine Master was pleased to affix to his servant’s fidelity; and may we not humbly hope that his removal hence may be still to some even as life from the dead?

It is not of the public services only of your late honoured pastor that it is our privilege this day to speak. Following the footsteps of the apostle of the Gentiles, whose spirit he had largely imbibed, he taught you publicly, and from house to house, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that he might present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.

And were not those pastoral labours, whether in the family or among the lambs of the flock (for the young were very dear to his heart), or at the beds of the sick and the dying, or in the chambers of bereavement, and loneliness, and grief– all conducted in the spirit of Him who was meek and lowly in heart– who did not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax—who spake a word in season to satiate every weary soul, and to revive every sorrowful soul?

Need I dwell on the bright example of Christian wisdom, consistency, and devotedness which shone forth in his daily life and conversation?

Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily, and justly, and unblameably he behaved himself among you that believe. As ye know how he exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, that ye would walk worthy of God who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.”

–Islay Burns, The Pastor of Kilsyth: The Life and Times of W.H. Burns (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1860/2019), 179-181. This excerpt is from a sermon by Rev. Dr. Smyth of Glasgow preached at the funeral of W.H. Burns on May 13, 1859.