Memories of my father – Jock Purves
My father Jock was the eldest of five, and it was always with him that the wider family discussed family, professional and spiritual matters. He was similarly recognised in the village where we grew up.
Although there was a godly local Presbyterian minister it was often to my father that many came. Through the years not one home or family in the village, believers and unbelievers alike, could not bear witness to his involvement. Our door was an open door, and they came for help, to talk and to weep.
My father possessed that rare gift of loving whoever he came across, and he was able to give himself to that person, yet still be a man with authority. He had a deep respect for any fellow man, prince or pauper, and we were taught from an early age to do likewise.
Any attempt to condemn or despise was answered by the question, ‘What good can you see?’ One well-known Christian leader said to him, ‘Jock, you would see good in the devil!’ He was big in grace.
This generosity came from his own experience of Jesus Christ. One day during the last year of his life I noticed him sitting reading his Bible in the quiet of his bedroom, ‘I need this more than ever, I have so much more to learn of him’, he said.
He was known to weep over the great truths of salvation. His faith was strong. I never heard him express a doubt or complain of God’s providence. It was this daily reality which drew me to Christ.
At one stage I had longed for the day of escape from that godly home when I became a student and could do as I pleased! But the evidence of his daily faith constrained me and the salvation so real to him became mine too.
Jock Purves was born at the beginning of the century. He had poor health as a child and left school at the age of fourteen. Apprenticed as a moulder, he began evening classes to make up for missed days at school. He delighted in English language and literature, and Scottish history. We were all eventually to share his love for our Scottish heritage and nation.
In 1919-1920, the Scottish evangelist D. P. Thomson held a mission in Dad’s hometown of Bathgate. There was a significant movement of God’s Spirit at the time and many were converted. My father was one of them.
In 1925 he went to Kashmir and Tibet as a pioneer missionary with Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade (WEC). These years proved to be adventurous service indeed. He often lived alone in a primitive village at 11,000ft, cut off from the rest of the world by eight months of snow a year.
There he ran a clinic and a school as part of his evangelistic work. He gathered a small group who, by faith, received the gospel. These lovely Tibetan Christians were forever precious to him. Many feature in his book The unlisted legion (Banner of Truth).
However, on his first furlough, he made the decision to do a university degree. After matriculation he was awarded a place at Edinburgh University in 1933 to read English and history. But it was at this point that WEC was having difficulties and made an approach to him.
So he left university and returned to WEC, which he served until his home-call in 1988. His university books remained on his shelves, and he would take them down to show us, but never with any regret or bitterness. Nevertheless, he made sure that each of his four children went to college and university!
Study and attention to homework had high priority in our home when we were children. Yet he shared those days with us to the full. There was no piece of literature he did not know, or a Scottish battle which was not familiar to him!
My father was thirty-seven when I, the eldest, was born, and nearing fifty when his youngest was born. With him we climbed mountains, played tennis, ran races, threw snowballs, sang songs, went for walks and travelled far and wide.
It seemed that nothing lay outside his ken, including ornithology and entomology. He showed us constellations in the sky and fossils in the coal for the fire.
He planned memorable Saturday outings for us. We would travel to Edinburgh by train to spend the day in the museums, libraries and art galleries. He made everything live for us. We walked his boyhood haunts in the Bathgate hills of west Lothian searching for traces of silver in the old silver mines.
When he was researching his biographies of the Covenanters, we would visit sites and search for memorials in the Pentland Hills.
Arriving home for tea we would gather round the fire and listen to Dad’s tales of childhood, and travels to India and the ‘roof of the world’ in the Himalayas. He was a superb storyteller and those evenings drew us together as a family.
On top of the piano were the words of C. T. Studd: ‘If Jesus Christ was God, and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him’. The theme of sacrifice is prominent in my memories of my father.
I have mentioned that he sacrificed his university career. With it went hopes of entering the Church of Scotland ministry.
We were evacuated during the war from WEC’s headquarters in London, and went to live in a village near my father’s family home. We then lived for six years in two rented bedrooms, before eventually having our own home.
It was in this new home that he did his research into the Covenanters. As a little girl I used to stand and watch him work his way through documents, papers and books.
Out of this came the two books, Fair Sunshine and Sweet Believing – now combined as Fair Sunshine (Banner of Truth). These books wonderfully enriched his life because they brought him into contact with people all over the world.
There were times when he would be away for long periods on deputation tours for the mission. We would help him pack his Gladstone bag. Then, as the day for his return drew near, excitement mounted because his bag would have something for each of his children. No matter how busy his preaching schedule, that was never overlooked.
He would often have left home on a cold day, my mother encouraging him to button-up his coat and have on a warm scarf and gloves. More often than not he returned minus the warm coat. ‘Where is your coat, Jock?’ my mother would ask.
‘I met a man who didn’t have one, so gave him mine’, he would explain. This happened many times, yet within days someone would send or deliver a coat without knowing his circumstances. Coats came to have significance as a token of God’s faithfulness to him!
Life of faith
As children we had the greatest difficulty in explaining what our father was and where his salary came from. He was a preacher, minister, writer, public speaker, social worker, poet, magazine editor and historian; but in the normal sense of the word he didn’t have a salary! However, money was never mentioned at home. It was a life of faith.
Although we never had what other children had, neither did we miss out. Our life was rich and full. In all of sixty years he learned by experience to say ‘Great is your faithfulness’.
Perhaps my most poignant memory of my father is of his dying, on 18 July 1988, on the eve of his 87th birthday. He had taken a wedding three weeks before, but we began to realise that his final days were approaching.
My brother arrived home from Jamaica and the three sisters joined him and mother at Dad’s bedside.
Raised up on pillows and in increasing weakness, the scene portrayed a valiant soldier going home after battle. I was conscious that we were witnessing something wonderful, though in many ways hard to watch.
I recalled how he would tell me as a child of the home-going of the great Covenanting and Puritan heroes; the saints he knew so well as to call them friends. This was the picture now.
My mother gathered him in her arms telling him that he was about to cross the river. Alluding to Pilgrim’s Progress she referred to the river being deep, but not to be afraid; that he must put his feet down and go through safely to meet his Saviour, and so he did.
‘I have loved to hear my Lord spoken of; and wherever I have seen the print of his shoe in the earth, there I have coveted to set my foot too’ (Mr Standfast, in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress).