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This singularly worthy man was born at Duplin, in the parish of Aberdalgie, Perthshire, on the 25th December 1674. His father, the Rev. George Halyburton, a descendant of the family of Pitcur, in the county of Angus, was some time minister of Aberfalgie; but, in common with many other Presbyterian pastors, was ejected in the year 1662, for nonconformity to prelacy. His mother, Margaret Playfair, daughter of the Rev. Andrew Playfair, the first minister of the parish of Aberdalgie after the Reformation, distinguished herself by her devout attention to the Scriptures, many portions of which she committed to memory, and delighted in repeating. Mr Halyburton himself bears testimony to the eminent piety of both his parents, and to the care they bestowed on his religious education. After his father's ejection, a worthy gentleman, the sole heritor in that parish, granted him a dwelling-house in Duplin, and in various other ways expressed his kindness and respect.
In the year 1682, his father died in peace at the age of fifty-four; but the superior prudence and activity of his mother served in a great degree to compensate for this heavy loss. In May 1685, owing to the increased violence of the persecution for nonconformity, she withdrew with her family to Holland, where her son went to school at Rotterdam, and where, from the public services and private attentions of the Rev. James Kirkton and other ministers of the Scots church in that city, added to the counsels and prayers of his mother, he enjoyed excellent advantages. To gratify the wishes of an aunt, he was permitted, in December 1686, to return to Perth; but
maternal affection and solicitude could not allow him to continue long there. In spring 1687, his mother came home for him, and brought him back to Holland, where he attended the school of Erasmus, and made good proficiency in learning. King James, however, having emitted his proclamations for indulgence, Mrs Halyburton, a few months after, returned with her family to Scotland. She now resided for some years at Perth, where her dear son continued to make progress at the grammar-school.
“ About this time," says Mr Halyburton, in his own interesting narrative, "one Mr Donaldson, a reverend old minister, preached at Perth, and came to visit my mother-called for me, and among other questions he asked me if I sought a blessing on my learning; to which I ingenuously answered, No. He replied with an austere look, Sirrah, unsanctified learning has done much mischief to the kirk of God.' This saying stuck with me ever after, and left a deep impression on me; so that, whenever I was any way straitened, I applied to God by prayer for help in my learning, and pardon for not seeking his blessing.”
After the lapse of a few years, his mother, chiefly to promote the improvement of her son, removed to Edinburgh, where for some time he attended the school of an eminent teacher, and then entered the University in November 1692. The following summer, however, she thought proper to fix her abode at St Andrews; and there, under able professors, he pursued the study of languages and philosophy with great diligence and correspondent success. He acquired a correct knowledge, particularly both of Latin and Greek; with the former he became so familiar that he could converse in that language with fluency and elegance.
Yet, amid his assiduous attention to human literature, he did not forget that spiritual wisdom, which is “ the principal thing.” He esteemed it a highly valuable privilege that, at St Andrews, he was favoured with the Rev. Thomas Forrester's instructive and searching ministry. Even in childhood he was at least occasionally impressed with the concerns of his soul. In his memoirs of his own life, he gives an ample account of his early convictions, of the resistance he continued for a time to give them, and of the methods by which it pleased God to subdue his obstinacy, and draw him to the Saviour.
At his entrance on metaphysical and theological studies, his attention was turned to the most profound and momentous inquiries that can occupy the human mind. Strong temptations
to deny the divine origin of the Scriptures, and even the existence of God, assailed him; and on these fundamental points he was long and deeply exercised. His painful conflicts, however, were brought to a happy termination; for he was blessed with most satisfactory and reviving discoveries of the glorious character of God as manifested in the gospel of his Son; and being himself established in the grand principles of religion, and alive to their vast importance, he became peculiarly qualified for declaring and vindicating the truth to others, both from the pulpit and the press.
Having, in August 1696, become chaplain to the Earl of Wemyss, he conducted himself in this capacity, with exemplary discretion and modesty. While he occupied this situation, however, the enemy renewed his assaults; and he was at once annoyed, and excited to industrious reading and research, by the conversation of some acute individuals that were hostile to religion. From the united influence of violent temptations and distressing convictions, he was reduced to a state of extreme distress; but the God of all grace brought him up from the horrible pit, and from the miry clay, set his feet upon a rock, established his goings, and put a new song in his mouth.
Though he had received an education preparatory for the Christian ministry, “the violent strugglings” he experienced almost determined him to relinquish all thoughts of that sacred profession. Yet the great things which God had done for his soul, viewed in connexion with other considerations of weight, convinced him at last that he ought not to decline it, but rather to conclude, that by this mental discipline, God had been fitting him to speak words in season to the weary, the perplexed, and the disconsolate. His good acquirements, and his distinguished piety, in the meantime, attracted the notice of some members of the Presbytery of Kirkaldy, within whose bounds he was residing. Though he had been a student in divinity for only two years, and though his engagement at Wemyss Castle had precluded his attendance on the prelections of any Professor of Theology, two ministers of that Presbytery were sent, about the month of May 1698, to urge him " to enter on trials” for license to preach the gospel. After serious consideration and some delay, he at length judged it his duty to acquiesce in their request; and having passed creditably through the usual exercises, he was licensed by that Presbytery at Kirkaldy, June 22, 1699.
Mr Halyburton proved a most acceptable preacher, and soon received three calls; one to South Leith, to be colleague to the Rev. Mr Wishart; a second to the parish of Elie; and a third to Ceres. On various grounds, relating chiefly to the feebleness of his constitution, and the modest views he had formed of his own attainments, he gave a decided preference to Ceres; where, in consequence, he was ordained on the 1st of May 1700; the Rev. Alexander Pitcairn of Kilmany presiding on that occasion.
In the exercise of his ministry in the parish of Ceres, he discovered that zeal for the divine glory—that active concern for the salvation of immortal souls that close application to sacred studies—that impartiality in discipline—that carefulness with reference to the examination and instruction of candidates for the Lord's supper—that fidelity in warning his people against prevalent errors and sins—that humble, meek, and peaceable temper—and, in short, that universal integrity and dignity of conduct, which his previous character and exercise, and his early devotedness to God, would have led us to expect. He often renewed his solemn self-inquiries; and he abounded in earnest prayer for himself and his charge. According to his own grateful acknowledgments, too, his labours appeared to be blessed not only for awakening many from a state of security, but also for the real conversion of a considerable number of his hearers. His successor at Ceres, when he made a visit to him on his death-bed, said, “ I am persuaded, Sir, you have seals of your ministry in that parish.
In the month of January 1701, after devoutly acknowledging God, and fervently imploring his blessing on the union, he was married with Janet Watson, daughter to Mr David Watson, an heritor in the parish of St Andrews. This lady proved a truly pious and affectionate partner, and became the mother of nine children, each of whom was sincerely devoted by their parents to God. Their father, when he beheld some of these olive plants removed from his presence, displayed an exemplary resignation to the divine will. Thus, in 1705, when he lost a daughter eleven months old, he expressed himself in these words:“ Blessed be God, I have had a child to give at his call, and blessed be the Lord that he helped me to give her willingly.” And in 1712, on occasion of the death of his son George, he has the following entry in his diary: “ March 23, the Lord's day—a day to be remembered by me
-a day wholly spent in prayer and praise. O my soul! never forget what this day I felt -- I reached. My kind colleague and I prayed alternately. Oh, such a sweet day! About half an hour after Sabbath, my child, after a sharp conflict betwixt