Throughout their lives John and Janet Lawrie had to accept a good deal of heartache and sorrow. Although John does not say much about his own personal feelings, and gave the appearance of bearing grief with Stoical indifference, there were times when he did show compassion and sorrow. Writing at the time when T.J.Gore lost his two children, John referred to two of his own children who had died of diphtheria in 1854.
Some years ago I lost in one week my eldest and, at the time, my only son and a daughter; both were darling children, giving great promise of great endowments of body and mind; they were, too, about the same age as your children, you may then judge I can understand the loss you now feel, and I would have come to see you and weep with you had I not been kept at home with an affliction in my family worse than death - a living death. I have had the opportunity this last week to see proof that it is quite possible in certain abnormal conditions of the brain powers that such distress and anguish may be inflicted upon man, as that is not necessary that a literal lake of fire and brimstone become an agent of suffering... (1)
John in referring to the infliction in his family was speaking about Elizabeth, born in 1847. In the year of writing 1878, she was thirty-one years old. John went on to say that she had had this mental anguish for twelve years. What happened in 1866, if anything, we are not told. Elizabeth would have been nineteen. Possibly some event disturbed her mentally and left her in this state for the rest of her life .(2)
In writing on Experience in Affliction in 1874, John said of Elizabeth,
God has smitten me in the tenderest part, in a child dear to me as my own soul . . . I think it would be wrong in us to understand that particular sins have special chastisements appointed to correct them; the better conclusion is that they are meant to chasten the soul's affections - to purify the heart - to correct all wayward feelings...One strong consolation there is for us in every event that befalls us or our family, however adverse or painful, that we know God reigns, we are not exposed as victims to a blind fate or to some inexorable law of nature; but God's reign is so extensive, as that not a sparrow can fall to the ground without Him. (3)
John felt deeply for Thomas Gore whose children had died. He believed he could understand the feelings of others having lost three children of his own. But John saw beyond the sorrow of the death of loved ones to an eternal hope. He encouraged Gore by saying that they both wouldn't find it difficult to lay up treasure in heaven as some of their dearest treasures were already there. Their refuge was in the presence of God and it was he who would give them all the strength they needed in time of sorrow. John was also able to say,
It is well that you end I should be afflicted, so that we may be able to comfort others in affliction with the same comfort wherewith our own souls have been comforted. (4)
To be able to share convictions with one's family and others was of primary importance to John. In his later life he reflected upon this and was able to relate how his concern compelled him to convince his brothers and sister, who were at that time still Presbyterians, to accept the religious position he had come to. As a group in South Australia they at first virtually set up a family church, thirty-seven of his family or relations at length joining the congregation. But through the years the church expanded and took in neighbours and friends until the congregation at Alma numbered 130 or more.
John pointed out that the growth of the church where he worked came through the members themselves all using their particular gifts, and working to the degree of their ability. No special efforts such as revivals, sensational preaching or singing had been used. Their church grew through quiet, consistent perseverance. Love, he said, may not produce the results as quickly as other methods, but if used with integrity the results will last longer and be more extensive.
To a number of people John gave the appearance of being a hard man. He believed in hard work; waste not, want not. He believed in strictness and discipline. John set high ideals for himself.
When I was a young man, and my earnings were only two shillings and sixpence per day, I made a resolve, I would not marry a wife, till I had saved a hundred pounds. I stuck to my purpose end accomplished it. I have since met with reverses, but have, however, profited much more by the habits of self-denial and economy thus early acquired than by the little money secured. I think it is very important to make a good beginning, to start fair in life's pursuits, I think no young man is warranted to marry a wife, and undertake the task of maintaining a family, unless he has been saving more than half his earnings. Such wise and prudent aims made by a young man, and manfully carried out, will go a far way, through the blessing of God, to keep him safe from the many temptations, and I think, tend to promote the best interest of the soul; the old saying, that a thing well begun is half ended, is worthy to be remembered. (5)
There is considerable information which portrays John as a man of compassion who evoked a warm response from many who got to know him well. He dearly loved the Lord and was responsible for bringing many people to him The people who became his friends were real and loyal friends. Many feared John's moroseness mistaking it for a hardness towards others. All his life John was beset with a stammer which produced a frustration, making it difficult for him to be natural with many people as they would have liked. There was also another side to John. He was not always serious, he enjoyed a joke and being part of one. T.J.Gore was able to write of John,
As a companion our brother was very excellent. He was always lively and cheerful. He loved to think our religion was intended to make us happy, and not miserable. (5)
Janet of course was the one who undertook to provide the hospitality and her kindness was known and appreciated throughout the brotherhood. She was a wonderful woman. She had a very gracious way about her and when people were there at night she'd go up to the bed-room and bring their hats down when she thought it was time to go. She'd do it so graciously that the people weren't offended.
T.J. Gore conducted the marriages of both John's son, young John, and Susan, and grandson Thomas and Alice in the home on the property at Pinery called "Kilmarnock."
Baptism took a prominent place in John's teaching and preaching. It was an obligatory part of the plan of salvation, but he followed Campbell's position of giving Christian love the greatest place in the Christian's life. It was love that united. It was that love that was placed above the rite of baptism with all its importance. It was John's firm belief that true believers in Christ were pardoned for their sin even if they hadn't been baptised for the remission of sins. He sincerely believed that his mother and other "dear relatives" who were God-fearers and worshipped Him in all sincerity, but did not know about baptism for the remission of sins, he would see again in heaven.
I know of no obstacle in the Bible or in my understanding of its meaning, to hinder the realization of such hopes . (7)