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  • Writer's pictureCole Feix

The Seeds of Future Harvest

I could, and probably should, write dozens of blog articles about the mentors in my life. Particularly, from college on, I owe more than I could ever possibly repay to the great people who have sacrificed time and energy to help, educate, advise, and model the kind of godly life I want to live. We are all indebted to the people around us.

One quality I always look for in biographies is an acknowledgment of this phenomenon. To tell the story of a person, you need to tell the story of those other people who made them who they are. Collin Hansen’s Timothy Keller is a great example, and in a completely different category, I really enjoyed Brian Jay Jones’s George Lucas: A Life because of the short portraits of so many others: Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg among Lucas’s other prominent influences and friends.

It was a pleasant surprise to read the opening chapters of The Pastor of Kilsyth, a biography of William Hamilton Burns by his son Islay Burns, and discover a chronicle of the men who had gone before Burns, mentored him, and created the atmosphere into which he strode as a young pastor in Scotland. In the preface, the younger Burns makes a point of highlighting this thread in the biography: “Second, I have sought to preserve the fast-fading lineaments of an age, and of a race of worthies, of which the Pastor of Kilsyth had become the almost sole surviving representative, and of whose memories his rich store of personal reminiscence made him as it were the custodier and depositary” (xiv). These men were unremarkable in the big sweep of history, but their lives are brought to light, and their influence is preserved through their spiritual sons, continuing to this day in Scotland and on the pages of The Pastor of Kilsyth: “Though burning and shining lights in their time, [they] have received no other memorial on earth.”

It’s certainly true, and I’ve heard many times that young people will become whoever the most important five voices in their lives tell them to be. Outside of family, these five voices play the largest role in determining the future of a person. The younger Burns, in the first attempt to describe his father, begins with these influential voices.

The first was Dr. Walter Buchanan, who served for half a century in the Canongate Church in Edinburgh. A Google search for his name turns up nothing, but he had an altering impact on dozens of young men who came through the University of Edinburgh in the late 18th Century. The first quality the older Burns mentions is his engaging manner and the ability to make “raw and modest youths at their ease in his company” (18). He and his wife were “succourers” of young people, inviting them into their home, giving them books, and asking them about their lives.

Buchanan would ask “where the young men attended public worship, and of the sermons which they heard” (19). One young man bragged of going morning and evening, but Dr. Buchanan gently reminded him to meditate on what he heard and put it into practice. Hospitality characterized his life, and not just the dinner party kind of hospitality; he opened his life to those around him. These meetings, which probably seemed insignificant then, produced a harvest that would not be fully seen until the next generation.

Another one of those meaningful voices was the Rev. Dr. Thomas Davidson of the Tolbooth Church in Edinburgh. He also served for over 50 years in ministry. While he was “not so engaging in his manner as Dr. Buchanan,” he was “not less practical in his attention to their real interests” (21). He began by asking about any good biographies his guests had read. He gave practical advice “to have an interleaved Bible, and to note down critical and useful remarks, from reading or hearing, and counseled the practice of diligent and select serious reading, the improvement of time, early rising, &c” (23). We might say today that he was teaching them to do a quiet time, with a bit of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life thrown in.

As many pastors were in those days, Dr. Davidson was occupied with dozens of weekly home visits. While he was making the rounds in a certain housing complex, he noticed some new tenants. A group of three or four young men had moved to the city together to start a business and were sharing a small flat. Noticing that they were new, Davidson stopped by to introduce himself. That encounter opened an opportunity to counsel and pastor those young men. Burns concludes with a reflection on his impact: “The annals of eternity will show how much that devoted minister did in his days, in ways thus quiet and unobtrusive, in the cause of his blessed Master, and for the good of souls” (25).

What an arresting line and such a clear example for us to aspire to.

You don’t have to be in ministry, you don’t have to be a celebrity, and you don’t have to have anything more than time and interest to make an impact.

The unremarkable nature of it all is part of the point. Islay Burns notes that none of these men in Edinburgh at the time would win national renown in their lifetimes or after. None of them would write popular books or move on to pastor large notable churches. They were simply faithful in their assignments.

“There was not, indeed, among them, any one man of commanding eloquence or fame, no thrilling voice like that of Guthrie or Chalmers, on whom crowds of all ages and classes hung enchained. They were of a class fitted, rather for defensive, than for powerfully aggressive action, forming a strong and solid breastwork against the further progress of defection, rather than a gallant charging column to meet and turn the tide of war… If they did not storm the citadel of the enemy, they at least held their ground before it till stronger reinforcements arrived. They sowed the seeds of the future harvest” (33).

Such is the legacy of mentors. What a wonderful company to have been a part of and an inspiration for all of us who have the opportunity to have a similar impact. While they likely had no sense that these words would ever be written about them, God did. We could say of them what the author of Hebrews says of Abel, “And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Heb. 11:4).

Dr. Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak and the Senior Pastor of Carlton Landing Community Church in Oklahoma.


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