Brethren Archive

The Conversion of James Inglis.

by James Inglis

We cannot doubt that many of our readers will be interested in perusing the following sketch of the conversion of James Inglis.  It is taken from the last issue of The Witness, of which Mr. Inglis was the editor, and which closed its existence in the month of October [1872].
Mr. Inglis was born at Greenlaw, Scotland on the 6th of March 1813.  He died in New York in the 59th year of his age [on 1st June 1872]. His father was the Rev. David Inglis, of the Secession Church in Scotland.  He is described as a "faithful minister of the word of God, who proclaimed the good news of grace with a clearness too little known in his day.  At home, he trained up his children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord."  His son James early manifested superior mental powers.  One of his college mates speaking of men in his native place who became eminent, such as Principal Fairbairn and Professor Smeaton, says—"The native who rose transcendently above all his neighbours in power and brilliancy of intellect and culture was Mr. James Inglis, the eldest son of the Secession minister of the place.  His originality of thought, and his many accomplishments, showed themselves not only in his writings, but also in his conversation; and few were the circles he entered that did not wish him to figure as the chief, if not the sole speaker.''
Mr. Inglis was educated for the ministry, but was a stranger to the grace of God until he was about thirty years of age.  It appears to have been the consciousness of this that prevented him from entering the ministry at an earlier period in life.
His history from this time forward until his removal to New York, and engaging in editing "The Witness'' and “Waymarks in the Wilderness,'' is given with sufficient minuteness in the following sketch.  From that time, his chief work was the editing of these periodicals, through which he became known to thousands throughout the land.  We would not be understood as endorsing every view expressed by him in these publications; yet we are free to say that never, since the days of the apostles, have the doctrines of the utter ruin of man by sin, the perfection of Christ's atonement, the believer's perfect acquittal and acceptance in Him by grace, been more fully or plainly set forth.
Mr. Inglis, chiefly we judge, by reason of his ecclesiastical connections at the time of his conversion, was led to adopt views in relation to certain doctrines, and especially in relation to the ministry in the church, and its government, which we fully believe to be unscriptural; but he was, we think sound as the “Marrow Men” on the great doctrines of grace.  We do know also that what he has published in the Witness and in the Waymarks, has been of incalculable advantage to brethren in the ministry and other believers.  Eternity alone will reveal the amount of good he has done in winning souls to Christ and in freeing doubting believers from the bondage of fear.
We have said enough, however, by way of introducing you to this sketch.  We may only add that, if we mistake not, the author of the sketch is the person referred to in the first paragraph, as once the youthful schoolfellow.  This is his narrative:—
How wondrous are the ways of God in providence!  One event succeeds another so simply, and withal so naturally as, in most instances, to pass unnoticed, save as the result of a necessary sequence: and yet, the most commonplace events are not unfrequently links in a chain leading to the most important results.  The life and labours of James Inglis furnish many proofs and illustrations of the truth of these remarks.  In his boyhood days, a mutual attachment sprang up between him and a youthful schoolfellow, an attachment which never abated.  In all this, there was nothing uncommon or wonderful.  That two boys pursuing the same studies and mingling in the same sports should become knit together in heart and soul was no novel occurrence; and yet that attachment was in the divine purpose connected with the most important passage in the history of the subject of this notice.  For many years the two friends were separated and apparently lost to each other on earth; but an unseen hand was leading them; they were destined to meet again in circumstances of no common interest.
After finishing his college course, Mr. Inglis spent several years in literary pursuits in Scotland and then emigrated to the United States.  In the house of his youngest sister [Ann Birrell], in Tecumseh, Mich., he found for a brief season, a quiet home; but he was there, as he himself said, without an aim or purpose as to his future course.  What he should do, in what pursuit engage, and how employ his time and resources, were questions yet to be solved; and what was it alike for himself and multitudes of his fellow-men, that the solution was not left to his own sagacity.  He was strong, but not equal to the task of guiding his bark over the ocean of life.  He possessed native powers of mind transcendently brilliant, to which was added a very high degree of scientific and literary culture, and his was not the mind to leave any part of such education unappropriated.  He was no man of mediocrity or half measures.  What his hand found to do, he did with his might, and it was certain that, in whatever pursuit he engaged, he could be nothing less than a leading spirit.  With all this true of him, it was at that period, sad to think, that that noble mind, which had ascended with ease and delight the hill of science, had not then ascended the little rise of ground without the gates of Jerusalem, and gazed lovingly and believingly on Him who in after years was his life, his light, his all—to the praise of whose grace in snatching him as a brand from the burning, and in casting his naked soul, the glorious robe of His own perfect righteousness, he delighted to bear persistent testimony.
Mr. Inglis reached the United States at a time when the nation was about to plunge into the fierce vortex of a presidential campaign. The two parties, with General Cass and General Taylor as their respective standard-bearers, were mustering their forces, and the press on either side was already eagerly engaged in the conflict.  Mr. Inglis became a reader of The Adrian Watchtower, (the county organ of the Democracy,) and, after perusing the paper for several weeks, not being otherwise engaged, he wrote an article for its columns, advocating, in his own skillful manner, the claims of General Cass to the presidency, and keenly exhibiting the baldness of the pretensions of his opponent.  To his astonishment, the article appeared as the chief editorial in the next issue of the paper.  It attracted the attention of the leading spirits engaged on the Democratic side of the contest, and the conductor of the paper was questioned as to where it originated, and whence it came.  The proprietor of the Watchtower gave the required information, when, without ceremony, a deputation from the Democracy sought and obtained an interview with Mr. Inglis.  A short conversation, taken in connection with the article referred to, was all that was necessary to assure them that they had found no ordinary man.  They at once urged him to assume the editorial management of the paper.  He at first modestly declined such responsibility, on the ground of his lack of familiarity with the details of American politics.  His objections were, however, skillfully set aside, and he agreed to their proposals, only, however, as an experiment.
A few days after this interview, he was moving toward the spot where he had only contemplated engaging in the stern gladiatorship of political debate.  But a holy eye looked down from Heaven on that child of many prayers, a tender arm was around him, a loving hand was leading him; God's purposes with reference to his future destiny were about to be unfolded, and every step which he took toward his new home was a Heaven-appointed step, toward the place where life, and light, and liberty would break in upon his soul—where earth's alliances would be rent asunder, and where he would be brought into fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. Under his management, the Watchtower took a high place among the political journals of the State, and his vigorous editorials attracted the attention of General Cass himself, who became an attached friend of Mr. Inglis, and who afterward listened with deep interest to his earnest exhibitions of God's truth in the pulpit.*
* What momentous consequences, to General Cass himself, were Involved in this friendship, it is impossible to say.  One thing resulted from it which must be regarded with deep interest.  In the last months of the General, Mr. Inglis frequently visited him, and had most direct conversation with him respecting the way of salvation, and his own condition before God. Some of these interviews were of the most deeply interesting character and were referred to by Mr. Inglis with much emotion in confidential communications with one or two of his friends.  He had the happiness of hearing from the lips of the aged veteran that "confession of the Lord Jesus with the mouth" which the Holy Ghost testifies accompanies "salvation;'' and of hearing it given in such manner as to leave no doubt that it was the fruit of "belief in the heart, unto righteousness." (Rom. x. 10.)  His account of one of these interviews made a deep impression upon the writer of this note, both as respected the grace of God toward the dying General, and as respected the same grace in the heart of Mr. Inglis.  It was with broken voice that he related that on this particular occasion, the General, having once more confessed his reliance solely on the death of Christ for acceptance with God, he afterward expressed much regret that he could not kneel in prayer; and on being reminded that posture could no way affect his acceptable approach to the Father, he exclaimed, “True, but there is no place too low for me in His presence.”
While engaged in his editorial labours, he was one day informed that a brother Scotsman was the pastor of the Baptist church in Adrian, [Michigan].  He asked his name; the reply was, Rev. James Pyper.  He thought in himself, "Can it be possible that my old friend and school-fellow is in this place and in such a position?"  He resolved to lose no time in ascertaining the facts in the case. Accordingly, on the morning of the following Lord's Day, he was among the worshippers in the Baptist church.  He closely scanned the features of the speaker but could not affirm that he had ever seen him before; still, he was not satisfied.  He had indeed been listening to the friend of his youth, but the stripling whom he knew in former days had passed under the moulding hand of time, into robust manhood, and little of the look or the manner of the boy remained palpable.  A second visit to the same church in the afternoon still left Mr. Inglis in uncertainty as to whether he had, or had not, known the speaker in former days; but the matter was set at rest the following day.  The two friends met in a crowded courtroom.  Mr. Inglis sent some inquiries to Mr. Pyper through a mutual friend.  The reply to the inquiries dissolved all doubts in the mind of Mr. Inglis as to the identity of his old companion, and stepping up to the place where he stood, he gave his name and the name of his former Scottish home.  The two friends gazed in each other's eyes until vision became dim and utterance impossible.  In a silence superinduced by emotion, they left the room, and retired to the editorial office. After many mutual inquiries and explanations, Mr. Inglis was asked the question, "Are you enjoying peace in Christ?''  He replied with characteristic candour, "In view of my early advantages and instructions, I ought to be able to give you a more satisfactory answer to that question, but to my shame, I must confess that in this important matter, you are far in advance of me.''  He was firmly persuaded of the truth of revelation and spoke freely of his long-cherished desire to be a Christian in the Bible sense of that word.
Possessing as Mr. Inglis did a genial spirit, an eminently social nature, and nothing averse to convivial meetings, his position at this time was one of extreme danger.  He boarded in a hotel where he could not escape the attention of his political friends and admirers. His strength as an advocate of Democratic principles, together with the warmth of his heart and the importance of his counsels, drew around him men of various classes, and their social greetings were anything but advantageous to any concerned.  Perceiving his peril, yet without seeming to perceive it, his friend invited him to become an inmate in his family; this invitation needed no urging: with gratitude visible in every lineament of his face, he accepted the offer, and this step, under God, was the turning point in his history.  He quietly withdrew from the society of his convivial companions, and soon found a more congenial companionship in his new home, where God was worshipped as in his father's house.  He soon became deeply affected in view of his lost state.  His misspent life, marked, as he said, by sin committed in defiance of light, and no ordinary amount of light, rose in torturing poignancy before the vision of his soul, and led him earnestly to seek a balm for his wounded spirit.  It is unnecessary to notice the various agencies and instrumentalities which the Lord employed in leading him into light and liberty; suffice it to say, that after a severe struggle in the toils of legalism, his eye rested on Christ, and his faith laid hold on Heaven's sacrifice for the guilty.  The merit of Christ's work, as all-sufficient to meet the commands of divine justice, and to free his soul from sin, and save him from its consequences, was seen and felt to be a blessed reality.  With childlike confidence he rested in the Lord as his righteousness, and all was peace; the new creation work of the Spirit was there.  Although he had not at the outset, those clear and comprehensive views of the plan of redemption which in after-life he unfolded with such strength, beauty, and simplicity, for the great comfort, and edification of thousands of God’s people, still his views of the only ground of a sinner's justification before God were so advanced as to fill him with an elevated and joyous hope from the beginning of his Christian career.  He was never tossed by those stern doubts and fears which too frequently disturb the quietude of many believers but rested with a calm and steadfast assurance on the finished work of his Lord.  From the outset, II Cor. v. 21 was a precious announcement to his soul—"For He hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.''
It was soon known in the community that the editor of the Watchtower had professed hope in Christ, and it being expected on a given occasion that he would speak in a religious meeting conducted by his friend already referred to, the house was excessively crowded. After several prayers and exhortations, Mr. Inglis rose to speak, pale, struggling with suppressed emotion, yet calm and collected.  He first alluded to the strangeness of his position there, then referred, in a strain of pathos so deep, and of eloquence so touching, to the fidelity of his father, and the tender solicitude of his mother, as to bring tears into many eyes.  He next with unsparing energy, spoke of his own waywardness and sinfulness, magnified the wondrous grace that had so long borne with him, and at length snatched him as a brand from the burning. and closed with an appeal to young men so grand, so earnest, so thrilling, and withal so tender, as to produce a stillness solemn as the house of death and awaken emotions which could not be repressed; the ultimate results of which must be left to the disclosures of another state.
After several weeks of reflection and study, Mr. Inglis united with the Baptist church in Adrian, and soon after abandoned his political work, married her who is now his afflicted and lonely widow, and for a season engaged in a review of his past studies, and looked forward with joy and with hope to a speedy entrance upon the important work of preaching the gospel.  He was not long permitted to remain in retirement.  The pulpit of the First Baptist church in Detroit becoming vacant, he was invited to spend a week with the church.  He did so, and the result was a unanimous call to the pastorate.  Thus, in Detroit, he commenced his labours as a pastor; and after performing the duties of that office with great fidelity for a series of years, principally in Detroit, he at length, moved by various considerations, engaged in the main and most important work of his life, the publication of The Witness and Waymarks in the Wilderness.  As Mr. Inglis' work, since originating the above-mentioned periodicals, has been before the public, we do not deem It necessary to say anything more in relation to it in this connection.  His death, as might have been expected, was peaceful, happy and blessed.  From a memorial sermon preached in this city by Mr. Inglis' most intimate friend in his last years, Rev. Charles Campbell, we get the following interesting facts in relation to his last moments on earth.  The Rev. Dr. Nicholson, an intimate personal friend was with him frequently during the two months preceding his death.  A few moments before he fell asleep, Dr. Nicholson read at Mr. Inglis' request, II Cor. ix. 14, and said to him, "And now, dear brother, having heard once more these precious words, I know that you are more than ready to respond to them in the language of the Psalm which I will now read, 'The Lord is my Shepherd,' "—the departing saint interrupted him, saying, ''You will understand that I do not speak boastingly as of myself when I say, that every word you have read is personal to me, personal to my faith, personal to my soul."
Mr. Campbell also informs us that "on the first of June, at noon, immediately after listening to the word read, and joining in prayer with his brother and fellow-servant, Dr. Nicholson, he uttered his last words, "I will now lie down and we will praise the Lord for all these mercies."  He lay still a few minutes, opened his eyes with eager, joyous gaze, and then, without a struggle, fell asleep in Jesus.
“Evangelical Repository and United Presbyterian Review” 1872

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