The History of Leith

March 24, 2012


Our old minister, Dr Mitchell, is dead. From many
pulpits tributes of sincere thankfulness for his ministry
have been paid. Impressive words wefre spoken to
us regarding him, at the Memorial Service, by our
Moderator, Mr M’Culloch. Mr White, in the Barony
Church, Glasgow, gave utterance to Dr Mitchell’s
great qualities, speaking of his gifts, his amazing
versatility, and his indefatigable energy. Even as far
north as Tomintoul and Peterhead references were
made to the esteem in which the old Doctor was held,
and to the loss which his death had occasioned.
Pre-eminently Dr Mitchell was a preacher. His
power of expression, and his command of language,
were extraordinary. 1 remember him telling me,
once, that he had been calling upon a lawyer in connection
with some small matter. The lawyer was in
his office, busy dictating a letter to his clerk. He
asked Dr Mitchell to wait till he had finished it. The
time went by. The lawyer’s words came from his lips
as hesitatingly and slowly as minute guns. Noticing
that the Doctor appeared slightly restless, he said :
“This will remind you, Dr Mitchell, of the composition
of your sermons.” “It reminds me of anything
in the world except that,” replied Dr Mitchell. We,
who knew him, would endorse that answer.
In part, his ability as a preacher was also due to his
quite unusual mental powers of association, which,
acting in a mind abundantly stocked with personal
experiences, and facts and ideas of every kind, enabled
him to bring to bear on any point which he wished to
make clear, such a wealth of illustration, such numerous
analogies and resemblances, as made it clear
Illustrative of those powers of memory, he once told
me that when preaching in some continental church,
and when about to exemplify his meaning by an
anecdote of Luther, he observed a Roman Catholic
acquaintance amongst his hearers. Desirous of not
giving offence to the feelings of one to whom even the
name of Martin Luther might not be agreeable, he
cast about in his memory for another example. This
immediately occurred to him. It was a story which
he had read in his teens, and which he had not since
thought about.
His knowledge of the Bible was astonishingly complete
and accurate. I believe that if every copy of the
Scriptures in the world had been suddenly destroyed,
Dr Mitchell, from memory, could have replaced almost
the entire Old and New Testaments. Very marked in
his preaching was his evident sincerity and earnestness.
It is here, perhaps, we touch one great secret of his
success as a preacher. He was himself strongly conconvinced
of the truth of his message, and firmly believed
that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was the one great and
foremost need of every human soul.
When a man like this dies, one is tempted to regret
that, unlike the artist or man of letters, he leaves
nothing behind. The sermon is not intended for after
ages; it is written for one generation. Moreover,
except in a few particular instances, when Dr Mitchell’s
words were taken down for newspapers, his sermons
were never upon paper at all. Thus, perhaps, and for
other reasons, it has been suggested that some memorial
should be the people of South Leith, to
keep him in perpetual remembrance. All honour to
those who made the suggestion. Even our Saviour
approved of memorials, as, for instance, when he said,
“Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the
whole world, there shall also this, that this woman
hath done, be told for a memorial of her.” Therefore,
if it be practicable, let it be done. We must not,
however, imagine that Dr Mitchell has left no memorial
of his labours behind him. In the economy of this
moral universe, there is no word or action of ethical
import that is ever lost. Such words and deeds go to
the formation of character in one or more human
beings. It is the understanding of this that redeems
human life from its apparent triviality, and gives to
the smallest of our moral actions a momentous nature,
as, indeed, such appear to have had in the eyes of
Jesus Christ.
When we think of the great number of human beings
who, in that forty years’ ministry, in Leith alone,
came under the influence of Dr Mitchell, and when
we remember how potently and uniformly that influence
was exerted for good, it will be seen that he has left
behind him a memorial inscribed, not. indeed, upon
parchment, nor graven in brass nor marble, but
fashioned in immortal human souls.
Therefore it will be, that when much that is deemed
very lasting in this world perishes, this great work of
our old minister will still be preserved, to come to
light in the glorious radiance of that great day when
the Lord makes up His jewels.
W. M. L.

source-South Leith Magazine 1911

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