Thomas Boston in his most interesting autobiography tells us about one of his elders who, though a poor man, had always ‘a brow for a good cause.’ Now nothing could better describe the Gordons of Earlston than just that saying. For old Alexander Gordon, the founder of the family, lifted up his brow for the cause of the Bible and the Sabbath-day when his brow was as yet alone in the whole of Galloway; his great-grandson Alexander also lifted up his brow in his day for the liberty of public worship and the freedom of the courts and congregations of the Church of Scotland, and paid heavily for his courage; and his son William, of whom we are to speak to-night, showed the same brow to the end. The Gordons, as John Howie says, have all along made no small figure in our best Scottish history, and that because they had always a brow for the best causes of their respective days. As Rutherford also says, the truth kept the causey in the south-west of Scotland largely through the intelligence, the courage, and the true piety of the Gordon house.
While still living at home and assisting his father in his farms and factorships, young Earlston was already one of Rutherford’s most intimate correspondents. In a kind of reflex way we see what kind of head and heart and character young Earlston must already have had from the letters that Rutherford wrote to him. If we are to judge of the character and attainments and intelligence of Rutherford’s correspondents by the letters he wrote to them, then I should say that William Gordon of Earlston must have been a remarkable man very early in life, both in the understanding and the experience of divine things. One of the Aberdeen letters especially, numbered 181 in Dr. Andrew Bonar’s edition, for intellectual power, inwardness, and eloquence stands almost if not altogether at the head of all the 365 letters we have from Rutherford’s pen. He never wrote an abler or a better letter than that he wrote to William Gordon the younger of Earlston on the 16th of June 1637. Not James Durham, not George Gillespie, not David Dickson themselves ever got a stronger, deeper, or more eloquent letter from Samuel Rutherford than did young William Gordon of Airds and Earlston. William Gordon was but a young country laird, taken up twelve hours every day and six days every week with fences and farm-houses, with horses and cattle, but I think an examination paper on personal religion could be set out of Rutherford’s letters to him that would stagger the candidates and the doctors of divinity for this year of grace 1891. ‘William Gordon was a gentlemen,’ says John Howie, ’of good parts and endowments; a man devoted to religion and godliness.’ Unfortunately we do not possess any of the letters young Earlston wrote to Rutherford. I wish we did. I would have liked to have seen that letter of Gordon’s that so ‘refreshed’ Rutherford’s soul; and that other letter of which Rutherford says that Gordon will be sure to ‘come speed’ with Christ if he writes to heaven as well about his troubles as he had written to Rutherford in Aberdeen. What a detestable time that was in Scotland when such a man as William Gordon was fined, and fined, and fined; hunted out of his house and banished, till at last he was shot by the soldiers of the Crown and thrown into a ditch as if he had been a highwayman.