Rev. William Gebbie
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The following Pen-Portrait of one well-known in this district was written by me for the Christian Leader of Sept. 20, 1883 :— It is interesting, even as a mere observer of human, nature, to study characters that are out of the common. One likes to see a person who dares to be himself, and to stand alone, if that be necessary, amid the crowd of similarities who unite to form human society. We may not agree with such a person in all his views, but we can admire him for all that—nay, admire him perhaps all the more heartily, as possessing a side of character we may be deficient in ourselves.

Such a man in many respects was the late William Gebbie, parish minister of Dunlop. He was intense in his religious views and feelings, and had no sympathy with the modern school of breadth and culture. What is commonly called "saving souls" was a passion with him. He pursued it constantly—everywhere, in season and out of season. His zeal never tired. His keenness for that sort of work never lost its freshness.

In order to introduce the subject of personal religion to those whom he wished to converse with, he was in the habit every year of thinking out a new plan of attack. One year he would begin by asking the unsuspecting listener, "Have you heard the news ?" "No; what is it ?" "Jesus Christ has died for the sins of the world." "Oh, that is no news." "Indeed, I am glad you know it, and hope you have accepted it personally." Another year he would startle the rough workman at his side in the train, or elsewhere, by asking, "Can you fight the devil ?" "No," the workman would reply, "I can’t." "Then" said Mr Gebbie, "I hope you have got someone to fight him for you." "I am not sure of that," would grudgingly come as a reply, which gave the eager speaker the opportunity he longed for to sow beside all waters. On still another occasion he would pose the quiet, thrifty-looking woman at his side by asking, in an earnest way, "Have you paid all your debts ?" The indignant answer would be, "Of course I have;" an answer which was at once followed by the quaint remark, "I mean your debts to God."

I remember Mr Gebbie on one occasion staying at my house for a few days, and his life and habits were a study. His appearance in the morning was generally heralded by some text he had discovered in his meditations with a special meaning in it, and on which he would dilate. He mentioned to me that he always slept with a New Testament under his pillow. Then, after breakfast, he would sally down the town with a bundle of tracts in his pocket, addressing himself to all and sundry with wonderful tact and unfailing good humour. To a group of men whom he was not quite sure of, he would begin with, "Would you take a tract from an auld man ?" which at once put the roughest on his good behaviour; while to children he was wonderfully fascinating, and would seek out his nicest picture tracts to please them. He spoke on personal religion to nearly everybody whom he thought he could approach. Beggars were all helped, but each must give a spiritual account of himself at the same time. The servants in the houses where he stayed, the friends he met with, the strangers he travelled with, all must be spoken to in some fashion on this subject. He would even seriously reason with a drunk man at a railway station, and quieten him at least, when all other plans had failed. And the reason of all this was that doing good in this way was with him not a duty but a passion. He had not to nerve himself to do it. It was the one greatest pleasure of his life.

On another occasion I preached for Mr Gebbie, and there again the ruling passion was seen. In his house, texts on the walls took the place of pictures. In the inside of his pulpit, below the book-board, so as to catch the eye of the preacher, was pasted a small slip of paper, on which was written in Mr Gebbie’s well-known hand— The Father’s everlasting love, And Jesus’ precious blood, Shall be our endless theme while here, And yonder with our God.

Even his hat was utilised, for on the inside of the crown of it was pasted an evangelical text, so that when brethren at a meeting were looking for their hats they might haply be profited by casting their eye on it. "My hat is well known at the presbytery," he would say, in his quietly humorous way; "nobody ever takes it away by mistake."

And this leads me to notice a trait in Mr Gebbie’s character which wonderfully balanced its intensity, and that was its humour. He had a large fund of this, and would often convulse an audience at the most serious meeting by his droll ways of expressing himself. He told his stories dramatically, and I fancy I can yet see his look and gesture as he spoke in some such terms as the following at a meeting in our town :—

 I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong. Oh yes, and a grand thing strength is; although I have seen many young men wonderfully weak too. I have seen young men standing at street corners—strong, one would say to look at them—but the moment one waved his forefinger in the direction of a public-house (giving his forefinger a little wave at the same time) their strength vanished, and they gave in to the temptation of the devil without even a struggle." 

I remember him also telling me how he used to delight, when a student in Glasgow, looking out from the window of his lodging, and crying to any dusty baker or sooty sweep who was passing

—" Ho! keep off the pavement there," laughing to see him scuttle off, and then look round in wonder as to where the voice came from. And he told me he could gather a crowd any day on Broomielaw Bridge by simply getting a friend to rush with him to the side and gaze intently on the water below. People would gather instantly, all looking down, whereupon with the most innocent face imaginable he would ask his nearest neighbour, "What is the matter?"

The first time I saw Mr Gebbie was in the General Assembly of 1861. He had been accused by several people in his parish of holding unseemly meetings at the religious revival there. He had defended himself at the presbytery and synod, and now he waited the decision of the highest court of the Church. The decision was that he should be censured. I don’t remember distinctly the terms of the censure, but I remember as distinctly as yesterday, the pale, spare, gentlemanly figure that stood up that day and bowed to the decision of his brethren. Young as I was, I felt that somehow injustice was being done here. If people are to be censured for being zealous over much, what should be done to those who are zealous over little? My heart went out instinctively to that lone man turning away so sadly, amid the cold looks of the indifferent throng who crowded past him, and I felt sure there would be a great reversal some day, when the first would be last and the last first. Such was my first sight of Mr Gebbie: my last was a twelvemonth ago in Troon, whither he had gone for a change of air. "I am seeking for health, but I cannot find it," was his pathetic remark as we grasped hands merely to part again. The face was the same—clear and fresh, with the kindly beaming eye, and the slow tremulous speech, but the figure was wasted like an old scabbard that had been worn out by the keenness of the blade within.

Mr Gebbie wrote many tracts and short sermons. They are all in one strain however, for, as he said of his preaching, "he had only one string to his fiddle," but that one string was the highest, "I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified." Still, although his writings are all on the same key-note, they are wonderfully fresh, and the style is clear as a limpid brook. Nobody can ever mistake his meaning, as nobody can ever mistake his earnestness. He was a man with a mission. He lived for it, and he died for it. He counted not his life dear unto him that he might win souls for his Redeemer.

Like every other person of an intense nature, Mr Gebbie had his opponents. But I don’t think there was anybody who hated him. He was so gentle, so humble, and withal so overflowing in kindly humour, that it seemed impossible to say or think an uncharitable thing of him. Of course it is true he had a single eye, and cared for no object but the one. Then the great revival battle in his parish must have left scars behind. And still further, he was a marked man on the evangelistic side, which implied that many eyes were keenly scanning his faults and failings. Probably he had his failings too, on which censure ought to fall; but it is hard to find a perfect man in this fallen world. In theological matters he was a man of what are called extreme views in many things. He was a devout believer in the return of the Jews for one thing, had strong leanings towards the perfectionist view of life, and was an out-and-out Pre-millennialist, and declared at a meeting shortly before his death that he did not expect to die, but to be translated at the Great Appearing. But in this he has only added another to the many prophecies of the mistaken.

The facts of Mr Gebbie’s life are few and simple. He was born in Kilmarnock; studied at Glasgow University; was assistant for a short while in Paisley; and was for forty years minister of Dunlop, where he died on the 2nd of August, 1883, aged seventy-three years. Although long a comparative invalid through weakness, he was wonderfully revived lately, and when at Girvan a few months ago he declared that he had not been so well for many years. But the end was nearer than he anticipated. He took seriously ill in his own house, and passed away suddenly in a paroxysm of pain, his last words being, "Come, great Deliverer, come!" And thus has gone from among us a man who lived for God in a way few know, and wrought for the personal salvation of others with a perseverance that few practise. You could not be in his company a few minutes without feeling his influence; for he had no thought of standing idle in the market place or anywhere else, but was willing abundantly to be accounted a fool for Christ’s sake that he might if possible save some.

Some of Mr Gebbie’s Sayings.

A sailor, whom Mr Gebbie once spoke to, said he was not sure that Christ died to save him. "Suppose," said Mr G., "it had been written in the Bible that Jesus Christ died to save sailors, would you not have been sure it was for you?" "I would," said the sailor. "Well, could you not be as sure when it is written that He died to save sinners? Is it not as certain that you are a sinner as that you are a sailor?"

Another man professed to be troubled with the same difficulty. Mr Gebbie quoted the verse—" Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins." "Yes," said the inquirer, "but these words were spoken to the Jews." "Well, said Mr G., "there is another passage which says— ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.’" "Ah," said the man with a smile, "you have me now. I cannot deny but I am a creature."

"Suppose, Letter-carrier, you got a letter addressed, ‘Sinner, Parish of Dunlop,’ what would you do with it ?" "I would return it, Sir, as not sufficiently addressed." "Should you not rather open it as addressed to yourself?" was the quaint response.

An old woman, who kept a shebeen, was converted. She went home from the meeting, took the large jar from its hiding-place, set it on the table, and thus addressed it—

"Jar, you and I have lived together for many years. But now, Jesus Christ is coming to live with me, and you and He will not agree; so you must go!" Suiting the action to the word, she dashed it to the ground and broke it to pieces.

There is nothing between looking to Jesus and being saved; and where God has put nothing, why should we? It is the putting something there which keeps so many in bondage. Neither is there any interval between looking and being saved. They are as closely connected as Cause and Effect. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." The Bible does not say, "Look, and do something else, and thou shalt be saved"; or, "Look, and after some interval of time, thou shalt be saved." But it says, "Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth."

It is of no use for you to pump, pump, pump at your own wretched heart. You can never pump salvation out of it. That flows down to you from the blessed Lamb of God.

The hymn says, "I lay my sins on Jesus"; but the Bible says better. For if it was left to myself, I might forget some of my sins, and so be unforgiven. But the Bible says—" The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquities of us all"; and when He has taken the matter in hand, there will be none forgotten. All will be laid on Jesus, and all taken away.

Sinner, you have not to make up a title before you come to Christ. You are invited to come with the title you have; and you will find, to your unutterable joy, that the salvation of God is yours.

A young lady was one day telling her class in the Sabbath School that those who believed in Christ were saved. A little girl said—" Teacher, do you believe in Jesus Christ?" She replied, "Yes, I do believe in Him." "Then, are you saved ?" "Well, I hope I am," was the reply. "But," said the little one, "I thought you told us that those who believed in Christ were saved." 

Think —First, that I could do nothing for my own salvation. Second, that God did not want me to do anything for my own salvation. Third, that Jesus Christ had done everything for my salvation.

An old farmer on his death-bed, reading those words— "To an Inheritance, incorruptible, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you," looked up and said with a smile—" I’ll soon he a laird!"

Wanted! Recruits to enlist in the King’s army, and follow the Captain of Salvation through good report and evil report, counting it an honour to suffer shame for His Name. Persons of any age, sex, or character, healthy or diseased, may apply at once at Headquarters. Bounty, a full forgiveness. Pay, everything needful for the present life, a Free-pass to heaven above, with a Crown of glory, and a Kingdom which cannot be moved.

Mr Gebbie once remarked to a friend—" I never meet a person for the first time but a strong desire leaps up in my heart to be the means of his salvation."

At a meeting in the country, Mr Gebbie began his address in this characteristic fashion—" There are two things make me happy to-day. The first is to see so many people come together to hear the Gospel in a barn. And the second is that I am a saved man."

That was a beautiful remark of his dying daughter— "It is so nice to think that our Saviour will be our Judge." On her New Testament was found written the words—" I gave myself to the Lord on Thursday, 18th October, 1860."

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