Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Egerton Ryerson
Chapter I - Early Life and Ministry


In his book entitled "The Story of My Life," Dr. Ryerson. speaks thus of his birth and parentage: "I was born on March 24th, 1803, in the township of Charlotteville, near the village of Victoria, in the then London; district, now the county of Norfolk. My father had been an officer in the British army during the American Revolution, being a volunteer in the Prince of Wales' Regiment of New Jersey, of which place he was a native. His forefathers were from Holland, and his more remote ancestors were from Denmark. At the close of the American revolutionary war, he, with many others of the same class, went to New Brunswick, where he married my mother, whose maiden name was Stickney, a descendant of one of the early Massachusetts Puritan settlers. Near the close of the last century, my father with his family followed an elder brother to Canada, where he drew some 2,500 acres of land from the government for his services in the army, besides his pension."'

Believers in the strong influence of heredity will say that the child of such parents should inherit a nature, sturdy, militant, and loyal on the one hand, and on the other hand, earnest, inward and devout. Those again who magnify the influence of nurt ure in the making of the man will find support for their view in the following statement of this man, so distinguished as one of the makers of Canada: "That to which I am principally indebted for any studious habits, mental energy, or even capacity or decision of character, is religious instruction, poured into my mind in my childhood by a mothers counsels, and infused into my heart by a mother's prayers and tears. When very small, under six years of age, having done something naughty, my mother took me into her bed-room, told me how bad and wicked what I had done was and what pain it caused her, kneeled down, clasped me to her bosom and prayed for me. Her tears, falling upon my head, seemed to penetrate to my very heart. This was my first religious impression, and was never effaced. Though thoughtless and full of playful mischief, I never afterwards knowingly grieved my mother, or gave her other than respectful and kind words." Such is the beautiful tribute that the old man, full of years and honours, pays to the mother that looked on his childhood.

"Happy he With such a mother! Faith in womankind Brats in his blood, and trust in all things high Comes eatj to bim, and though he trip and fall, He fhall not blind his soul with clay."

Whatever heredity alone may do or fail to do, and however the influences of early training1 alone may make or mar the man, it is impossible to think that the nature and the nurture that combined to bless the early life of Egerton Ryerson could fail to lead him to a place amongst the great and good.

The life of the first settler is sometimes described as a life of many hardships and few privileges. But except in a few cases and for a short time, the hardships were not more than enough to make the people hardy, and their privations were less dangerous and hurtful than the ease and plenty that so often leave the body and the mind without struggle, and there-tore without strength. And as for the comparative dearth of instruction in the early times, it may be doubted whether the present generation, beschooled and bechurched as it often is, and oppressed with the surfeit and disgust of learning, has after all so great an advantage over the people of the earlier time. Then, the schools and the churches may have been few and far between, but there was a better relish and digestion of the simpler moral and intellectual fare. It was in those times of hard work and few privileges that the boyhood of Egerton Ryerson was passed. He tells us that he learned to do all kinds of farm work And before he had reached his majority he ploughed every acre of ground for the season, cradled every stalk of wheat, rye, and oats, and mowed every spear of grass, pitched the whole first on a wagon, and then from the wagon to the hay-mow or stack." Well might he look back without regret to the hardships of his youth, if they built up the well-knit frame and much-enduring strength that marked his manhood and his age.

The story of Egerton Ryerson's school days is not long. lie had such advantages from the district grammar school as might be had in those days by a boy who was at the same time learning '"to do all kinds of farm work," and when he was fourteen years of age he was sent to attend a course of lectures "given by two professors, the one an Englishman and the other an American, who taught nothing but English grammar." Into this study he threw himself with great enthusiasm, and he made such progress that his instructors were glad to secure his help as a teacher when one of them was incapacitated by illness. In this way the chief maker of the Ontario school system tried his prentice hand as a teacher when a lad of only fifteen summers. Further instruction from teachers was not given him in his boyhood, but as soon as he reached his majority and had the direction of his own life, he sought for himself the best help Available in the pursuit of learning. In the story of his life he writes: "I Pelt a strong desire to pursue further my classical studies, and determined, with the kind counsel and aid of my eldest brother, to proceed to Hamilton and place myself for a year under the tuition of a man of high reputation both as a scholar and a teacher, the late John Law, Esq., then headmaster of the Gore district grammar school. I applied myself with such ardour, and prepared such an amount of work, both in Latin and Greek, that Mr. Law said it was impossible for him to give the time and hear me read all that I had prepared, and that he would therefore examine me on the translation and construction of the more difficult passages, remarking more than once that it was impossible for any human mind to sustain long the strain that I was imposing upon mine. In the course of some six months his apprehensions were realized, as 1 was seized with a brain fever, and on partially recovering took cold, which resulted in inflammation of the lungs, by which I was so reduced that my physician pronounced my case hopeless, and death was hourly expected." From this illness he slowly recovered, thanks to his good constitution and to his mother's care. He took up his classical studies again, but almost immediately afterwards began his work as a Methodist preacher. This is all the story of the schooling received by one who for so many years, and with so great distinction at home and abroad, directed, and indeed created, the school system of Ontario.

The Story of the moral development of a young life is always interesting, but it is peculiarly so in the case of a man who may be regarded as a type. Such a man was the subject of this memoir. He furnishes an example of the development of the religious life in one who has grown up under the influences of Christian nurture, and at the same time an example of the way in which that life is unfolded under the conditions found in the great religious body to which he belonged, and to which his talents and energies were given as an honoured leader for nearly three score years. We have already seen -what he tells us of the religious influences and impressions of his childhood. At the age of twelve, when the passive and receptive stage is rising into the stage of more serious reflection and more active self-determination, he passed into a higher form of religious life, a life in which he not merely accepted the traditional teachings as to sin and salvation, but realized in his own soul the profound interests of the moral life, and bravely took up its struggle, trusting all the issues of this life and of the great hereafter to the High (rod and to Jesus Christ, who had made His mercy known. He tells of the change that took place in these words: "My consciousness of guilt and sinfulness was humbling, oppressive and distressing; and my experience of relief, after lengthened fastings, watchings, and prayers, was clear, refreshing, and joyous. Jn the end 1 simply trusted in Christ and looked to Him for a present salvation; and as I looked up in my bed the light appeared to my mind, and, as I thought, to my bodily eye also, in the form of one, white-robed, and with more of the expression of the countenance of Titian's Christ than of any person I have ever seen. I turned, rose to my knees, bowed my head and covered my face, rejoiced with trembling, saying to a brother who was lying beside me that the Saviour was now near us. The change within was more marked than anything without, and perhaps the inward change may have suggested what appeared an outward manifestation."

It may be interesting to compare this experience with that of Thomas Carlyle, who at about the same time was passing through the pangs of a belated and abnormal spiritual birth. He tells the story in the Sartor Resartus, and he says it actually took place in his own experience. "The heart within me, unvisited by any heavenly dewdrop. was smouldering in sulphurous, slow-consuming fire.... I lived in a continual, indefinite, pining fear.... It seemed as if all things in the heavens above and in the earth beneath would hurt me. . . . When all at once there rose a thought in me, and I asked myself: 'What art thou afraid of? Wherefore, like a coward, dost thou forever pip and whimper, and go cowering and trembling? Despicable biped! What is the sum total of the worst that lies before thee? Death? Well, death, and say the pangs of Tophet too. and all that the devil and man may, will, or can do against thee! Hast thou not a heart: canst thou not suffer whatever it be; and. as a child of freedom, though outcast, trample Tophet itself under thy feet, while it consumes thee?'... And as I so thought, there rushed J ike a stream of tire over my whole soul; and 1 shook base fear away from me forever. . . . The everlasting No had said: 'Behold thou art fatherless, outcast, and the universe is mine (the devil's);' to which my whole Me now made answer: 'I am not thine, but free, and forever hate thee!"' Elsewhere Carlyle writes: "Foreshadows—call them rather fore-splendours... of that truth, that beginning of truths, fell mysteriously over my soul. . . . The universe is not dead and demoniacal, a charnel-house with spectres, but God-like, and my Father's!"

It is of this experience that Carlyle says, "I found it to be essentially what Methodist people call their conversion—the deliverance of their souls from the devil and the pit. Precisely that in a new-form. And there burned accordingly a sacred flame of joy in me, silent, in my inmost being, as of one henceforth superior to fate. This holy joy lasted sensibly in me for several years. ...... nor has it proved what I can call fallacious at any time since." Carlyle was wont to assure his pious mother that his opinions, although clothed in a different garb, remained essentially the same as her own. and we may well believe him tor he would lie to no man and he could not lie to his mother. But in comparing the experience of what, he calls his new birth with that of Egerton Ryerson, we must remember that the one was a rugged man. hard-headed and metaphysical, and a worshipper of will and force, whilst the other was a bright but unsophisticated boy who followed without doubting 8 his moral intuitions and affections and recognized the eternal goodness in the Son of Man. The one was like an oak tree that grew alone, through the scorching heat of summer and the winter's cold and tempests, the other was like a pine tree that grew tall and shapely in the forest.

This story of the moral and spiritual development of Egerton Ryerson has a historical as well as a psychological interest. It is an example of the change that usually attended the ministrations of the pioneer preachers, and its presence or absence is still looked upon amongst Methodists as the sign of a standing or falling church. In telling the story some of the converts, especially in later times, use language less intense and striking than that of Egerton Ryerson, and others use language almost as mystical and imaginative as that of Carlyle, but the essential things are always the same and in harmony with the inwardness of the Great Apostle's preaching, "repentance towards God and faith toward our Lord .Tesus Christ."

The circumstances of the early settlers and their habits of life and thought were in some respects most favourable to the work of the first preachers. The lives of the people were simple, laborious and comparatively free from the distractions and dissipations of later times. They had 110 relish for the fine-spun and mystifying speculations that so often befog and enervate the mind. They had not learned to question the truthfulness of the intuitive reason, and they no more called for logical demonstrations of the Good than for logical demonstrations of the Beautiful. Their intellectual palate had not been vitiated and their digestion spoiled by daily doses of newspaper omniscience or by a supping of the devil's broth in low comedy and fiction. Whatsoever things commended themselves to their simple minds as lovely and of good report, those things were beautiful and good to them beyond all dispute. And they must either revere and obey or feel that they were in opposition to the Eternal order. When, therefore, the pioneer preacher came to those people, he found the way open to their hearts and minds. And the preachers were, as a rule, men of the people, and they knew their hearers though they did not always know Greek. They preached the facts of the inner life and of the gospel of the grace of God, rather than theories about the facts and the gospel; and above all things, they sought to help the people to the supreme moral choice which brought inward peace and supplied a fixed principle of life.

A passing notice may here be given to the scenes of the early religious experiences and labours of the first makers of this country. Except in the cities and towns a regular religious service seldom occurred more than once a week. In many places it would take two or three or even six weeks before the pioneer preacher could complete his round of hundreds of miles. But when the work of the year was slack and the weather favourable, special religious services were held as if to compensate for the usual dearth of religious privileges. In the larger places what were called "protracted services" were held, when evening after evening for two or three weeks the preacher and his helpers brought all their powers of instruction and persuasion to bear on their hearers. These services were commonly held in the winter season; but in the pleasant summer weather, between the spring work and the harvest there were held in the sparsely settled districts camp meetings, when for a week or ten days the people would dwell in tents and give themselves to religious exercises. They would then return to their homes, some of them to have few opportunities for public worship for the rest of the year. As the places for regular religious services multiplied, these protracted meetings and camp meetings gradually fell into disuse, but in the old time they often served a good purpose.

Returning from these observations on the religious life of Canada in the early days, observations intended to show something of the environment in which Egerton Ryerson grew up, we resume the story of his own life on the religious side. From his thirteenth to his eighteenth year, no events of much note are put on record. When, however, at, the age of eighteen he formally joined the Methodist Church, he was met by his father with these words: "Egerton, I understand you have joined the Methodists. You must either leave them or leave my house." The military spirit of his early habits seems to have followed the father into his domestic life, and the young man knew him too well to expect that there would be any change in the word of command. But the son too was a good soldier when called upon to endure hardness for what he considered a sacred cause. His decision was soon made, and the next day he left his father's roof to begin the struggle of life on his own account. "In this trying time," he says, "I had the aid of a mother's prayers and a mother's tenderness, and a conscious divine strength according to my need." It s a further mark of his noble character that he utters no word of reproach or bitterness on account of treatment he had received, but to the end of his life speaks words of tenderness and reverence for his father.

For the next two years he was employed as an assistant in the London district grammar school and at the same time he diligently pursued his own studies. The bent of his mind even at this early period is seen in the character of the works that he read with greatest interest:—"Locke, 'On the Human Understanding'; Paley's 'Moral and Political Philosophy,' and Blackstone's 'Commentaries,' especially the sections of the latter on the Prerogatives of the Crown, the Rights of the Subject and the Province of Parliament."

His return for a year to his father's home and his selection of a course of life for himself may best be told in his own words:

"As my father had complained that the Methodists had robbed him of his son, and of the fruits of that son's labours, I wished to remove that ground of complaint as far as possible by hiring an English farm-labourer, then just arrived in Canada, in my place, and paid him out of the proceeds of my own labour for two years. But although the farmer was the best hired man my father had ever had, the result of his farm productions during these two years did not equal those of the two years that I had been the chief labourer on the farm, and my father came to me one day uttering the single sentence: 'Egerton, you must come home,' and then walked away. ... I had left home for the honour of religion, and I thought the honour of religion would be promoted by my returning home and showing still that the religion so much spoken against would enable me to leave the school for the plough and the harvest field, as it had enabled me to leave home without knowing at the moment whether I should be a teacher or a farm-labourer. 1 relinquished my engagement as a teacher within a few days, engaging again on the farm.... My father then became changed in regard both to myself and the religion I professed, desiring me to remain at home; but having been enabled to maintain a good conscience in the sight of God, and a good report before men m regard to my filial duty during my minority, I felt that my life's work lay in another direction." What that other direction was he does not tell us in the story of his life, but his love for the study of political philosophy and constitutional law, and the quality of mind exhibited throughout his life, incline us to think that the legal profession was the one to which he was attracted. However that may be, his first care was to qualify himself for his life's work by a better intellectual equipment and discipline. In those good old times the study of the classics was the approved method of preparation for all professional life. The young man accordingly placed himself under the tuition of the best scholar and teacher within his reach, and applied himself to his classical studies with great zeal and success, lint as we have already seen, his zeal was not according to knowledge, for the close hard work induced brain fever and led to further illness from which it was thought he would not recover.

During his illness, and in the prospect of death— a prospect not dreaded at the time,—he looked again over his plans of life and asked himself what might have been, and again what ought to be if his life should be prolonged. Then Ik; resolved that he would not follow his own counsels, but "would yield to the openings and calls which might be made in the church by its chief ministers." With this resolve, peace and joy came to his mind and healing to his body, so that his mother, entering his room soon after, exclaimed: "Egerton, your countenance is changed: you are getting better." He recovered, to the surprise of his friends, and m due time resumed his classical studies at Hamilton. A few days later he went to attend a religious service where his brother William wras expected to preach. His brother, however, did not appear at the appointed time, being prevented by serious illness, and the young student was suddenly called upon by the authorities of the church to take his brother's place in the ministry for the rest of the year. He was astonished, and for a time speechless from emotion, but, an St. Paul was "not disobedient unto the heavenly vision" which appeared unto him to make him "a minister and a witness," so did this young Canadian student at the call of the church give tip his early plans and take upon himself the care of souls. His first sermon was preached on Easter Sunday, April 3rd, 1825, and his text was: "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy."—Psa. 12G: 5.

The brief records of his early ministry contained in the young preacher's diary throw much light on the condition of the country and the habits of the people in the first half of the last century. At the same time they reveal the spirit of the men who, in the heroic days gone by, attempted and achieved great things for God and for their country. Our respect for those men is none the less but rather greater because they did not think that they were great men or imagine that they were attempting extraordinary things. They thought humbly of themselves, they felt the weaknesses and limitations of mortal men. but through all the changes of feeling and through good report and ill, they persisted m the brave endeavour to do their duty. They were without the smug content that sometimes marks the clever men of an inferior grade. They rather felt- —and felt most painfully at times—the depression of the truly great who realize how little they know as compared with what they have yet to learn, and how imperfect are their best works as compared with the ideals towards which they struggle and aspire. The following brief extracts from liis diary will tell of the young itinerant's character and labours with simple eloquence:

"April 3rd, 1825 (Easter Sunday).- I this day commenced my ministerial labours. . . . Oh, my soul, hang all thy hopes upon the Lord! Forbid that I should seek the praise of men, but may I seek their good and God's glory. ..."

"April 8th.—The Lord being my helper, my little knowledge and feeble talents shall be unreservedly devoted to His service. I do not yet regret giving up my worldly pursuits for the w el-fare of souls. ..."

"April 10th (Sabbath).—____I felt much of the presence of the Lord, and I do bless the Lord he has converted one soul in this place to-day. I feel encouraged to go on."

"April 10th,- - So bowed down with temptation to-day I almost resolved to return to my native place. But, in God's strength, I will try to do my best during the time I have engaged to supply my brother William s place."

"April 25th and 26th.—And thus I go on, depressed and refreshed: almost discouraged because of the way, and then cheered by the kind and fatherly conversation of the Rev. Thomas Madden."

"3Iay 12th. I have this day ridden nearly thirty miles, preached three times and met two classes. I felt very much fatigued, yet the Lord has given me strength equal to my day."

"May 10th.—. ... Since I commenced labouring for my Master I have found fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, all ready to supply my every want."

"May 20th.~Fox many days I have been cast down by a weight of care. My father is exceedingly anxious that 1 should return home and remain with him during his lifetime. A position in the Church of England has presented itself, and other advantageous attractions with regard to this world offer themselves. It makes my heart bleed to see the anxiety of my parents. But is it my duty? If they were in want I would return to them without hesitation, but when I consider they have everything necessary, can it be my duty to gratify them at the expense of the cause of God? Surely if a man may leave father and mother to join himself to a wife, how much more reasonable to leave all to join himself to the Christian ministry! My parents are dear to me, hut my duty to God is dearer still. One thing I do desire, that 1 may live in the house of the Lord forever.1 And shall I leave a church through whose faithful instructions 1 have been brought to know God for any advantages that the entrance of another might afford me? No, far be it from me. As I received the Lord Jesus, so I will walk in Him. ..."

"August 10th. My soul rejoices at the news I have heard from home, that my eldest brother (George) has resolved to join the Methodists and become a missionary to the Indians. . . . My father has become reconciled, and my mother is willing to part with her sons for the sake of the church of Christ."

In September, 1825, Mr. Ryerson was appointed an assistant preacher on the York and Yonge street circuit. This circuit comprised the town of York (now Toronto) and the surrounding country, "over which," he says, "we travelled, and preached from twenty-five to thirty-five sermons in four weeks, preaching generally three times on Sabbath, and attending three class meetings, besides preaching and attending class meetings on week days."

It is worthy of note just here that Oolonel Ryerson lived to an advanced age, and died in 18S±. If, therefore, his son had at this time (1825) considered his filial emotions only and not also the work to which he was called, he would ha\e waited for twenty-nine years to bury his father, and his duty to his church and country would have been left undone.

In the early part of the following year (April and May 1826) these labours of the intinerant preacher, excessive and exhausting as they must appear, were greatly increased by the controversy that arose on the question of the Clergy Reserves and by his defence of his co-labourers and co-religionists from the ungenerous and unjust charges brought against them by their privileged ecclesiastical opponents. In the next chapter the origin of this controversy will be explained and the story told of Egerton Ryerson's valiant championship of the cause of religious liberty and equal rights. It was not of choice that he engaged in controversy, but he was constrained by the urgent appeals of those who felt themselves wronged to undertake their defence. Again and again he tells of his preference for the care of souls and the preaching of the gospel. At the same time we may be allowed to think that his soldierly ancestral instincts found a certain satisfaction in the fray when he was once committed to it, and when he knew that he was fighting for a good cause. His controversial life seems to have been guided throughout by the precept of the old councillor in Hamlet.

There was another conflict, however, into which he threw himself with all the generous enthusiasm of a good soldier.1 His arduous pastoral duties and his exciting theological and semi-political controversies did not so engross him as to prevent the outgoing of his heart and mind in sympathy with those who were in greatest need of light and help, viz., the heathen aborigines of the country who were then very numerous. So strongly did he feel on this matter that he resolved to give his life to these poor people; to turn aside and share their affliction and poverty rather than go out to meet the comfort and distinction that appeared before him on another path. The following quotation from his diary will reveal his mind on this matter:

"August 17th.—Scarcely a day passes without beholding new openings to extend my ministerial labours. To-day. in an affecting maimer, 1 witnessed the hands of suffering humanity stretched forth to receive the word of life. More than five hundred aborigines of the country were assembled in one place. In a moral point of view they may be said to be 'sitting in the valley of the shadow of death.' 'The day star from on high' has not yet dawned upon them. Alas! are they to perish for lack of knowledge? ... Oh, Lord, if Thou wilt qualify me and send me to dispense to them the Bread of Life, I will throw myself upon Thy mercy and submit to Thy will!"

In accordance with this desire, Mr. Ryerson received an appointment as missionary to the Indians at the Credit, but at the same time he was required to preach on two Sundays out of four in the town of York. He commenced his work among the Indians m the middle of September, 1820. That he endured some hardness may be gathered from his account of his place of abode. "In one of these bark-covered and brush-enclosed wigwams, I ate and slept for some weeks, my bed consisting of a plank, a mat, and a blanket, and a blanket also for my covering; yet I was never more comfortable and happy." The spirit of chivalry in which he entered upon this work is clearly seen in his diary when he says, "I feel an inexpressible joy in taking up my abode with them. I must acquire a new language to teach a new people."

The practical nature of his work is seen in his immediate effort to lift the people out of their heathenish degradation into a higher state where the comfortable environment of a Christian civilization might foster the moral and intellectual life of a people just emerging from paganism. And the energy and perseverance of this young missionary and maker of his country is seen m the fact that in less that ten days after his arrival amongst the Indians, they resolved to build a house "to answer the double purpose of a school house and a place for divine worship." The Indians under his charge were about two hundred in number, and very poor, but they entered with enthusiasm into the new enterprise. They subscribed one hundred dollars towards the building in less than an hour. The missionary mounted his horse and visited his old friends in Hamilton, and in the York and Yonge street and Niagara circuits, and begged the rest of the money required. At the end of six weeks the house was built and paid for. All this was done, as he says, with a touch of humour, "while our swell' friends of' the government and of the Church of England were consulting and talking about the matter. It was thus that the church-standing of these Indian converts was maintained, and they were enabled to walk in the Lord Jesus as they had found Him."

The methods of missionary work followed by Mr. Ryerson some five and seventy years ago, were of the most modern and approved kind and worthy of imitation by the missionaries of the present day. He did not take his stand on a height of privilege and attainment and call to the people, bidding them to come up to him, but he came down to them and helped them to ascend. He shared their humble dwellings, lived on their homely fare, and, like the Divine Teacher, he too became poor that through his poverty his heathen brethren might become rich. Writing to one of his brothers he says: "I am very unpleasantly situated at the Credit during the cold weather, as there are nearly a dozen in the family, and only one fire-place. I have lived at different houses among the Indians, and thereby learned some of their wants, and the proper remedies for these. Having no place for retirement, and living in the midst of bustle and 22 noise, I have forgotten a good deal of my Greek and Latin and made but little progress in other things. My desire and aim is to live solely to the glory of God and the good of men." Again he writes in his diary, "I have been often quite unwell, owing to change of living and being out at. night; my fare, as to food, is very plain but wholesome, and I generally lie on boards with one or two blankets intervening." He could not but feel the hardship of the situation and suffer from it, yet even as he speaks of these things, he gives expression to his admiration of the noble character of his humble hosts.

In his endeavours to enlighten and uplift the heathen he proclaimed "the grace of God that bringeth salvation to all men," but he preached also a gospel of cleanliness, and decency, and industry, and intelligence. He brought help to them, and. better still, he taught them to help themselves. He stirred them up to build the House of the Lord. And whilst that House was primarily a place for preaching the Word and administering the sacraments in the congregation, it was also a Sunday school and a day school, whence light as well as sweetness might come into the lives of the children of the forest. Nor did the missionary despise the work of an instructor in mechanics and agriculture In "The Story of My Life," Ryerson says: "After collecting the means necessary to build the house of worship and school-house, I showed the Indians how to enclose and make gates for their gardens, having some knowledge and skill in mechanics.

"Between daylight and sunrise, I called out four of the Indians in succession, and showed them how and worked with them, to clear and fence in, and plow and plant their first wheat and corn fields. In the afternoon I called out the school-boys to go with me, and cut and pile, and burn the brushwood in and around the village. The little fellows worked with great glee as long as I worked with them, but soon began to play when I left them."

His brother William, writing to the Rev. George Ryerson tells of his observations made on the mission: "I am very certain I never saw the same order and attention in any school before. Their progress in spelling, reading and writing is astonishing, but especially in writing, which certainly exceeds anything I ever saw. They were getting forward with their work. When I was there they were fencing the lots in the village in a very neat substantial manner. On my arrival at the mission, I found Egerton about half a mile from the village, stripped to the shirt and pantaloons, clearing land with between twelve and twenty little Indian boys who were all engaged in chopping and picking up the brush. It was an interesting sight. Indeed he told me that he spent an hour or more every morning and evening in this way, for the benefit of his own health and the improvement of the Indian children. He is almost worshipped by his people, 24 and, I believe, under God, will be a great blessing to them."

Here we come again in sight of that first and last great qualification of the noblest helpers of mankind. Something of their work may be done from the sense of duty, and there may be times when nothing but the sense of duty, that "stern daughter of the voice of God," can hold them to their work; but their noblest inspiration is drawn from the heart of God rather than from Ilis will, and their greatest success is achieved through the labour of love. This generous affection transpires in many passages in the diary of Egerton Ryerson. On coming to his charge among the Indians he writes, "1 feel an inexpressible joy in taking up my abode with them," and again "my heart feels one with them." And when he had had experience of the privations of Indian life and suffered frequent and depressing illness from the hardship endured, he exclaims on returning to his work after a short absence, "I am now among the dear objects of my care. My heart leaped for joy as I came in sight of the village and received such a hearty welcome."

At the conference of 1827, Mr. Ryerson was appointed to the Cobourg circuit which at that time extended from Bowmanville to Brighton. The Indian work at the Rice Lake and Mud Lake missions was still ail object of his care, but his work was on the whole of a more pastoral and evangelistic character than that of his Credit and York appointment lie speaks of the kindness received from his people and of the greater comfort of his circumstances and the corresponding advancement in his studies. Rut the work of controversy-continued with increasing pressure and anxiety. It was about two years before this time that he was forced, much against his own inclination, into controversial writing. He speaks of it as of an affliction, but adds, "I feel it to be the cause of God, and I am resolved to follow truth and the holy scripture in whatever channel they will lead me." A few months later he writes: "My engagement in controversial writing savours too much of dry historical criticism to be spiritual, and often causes leanness of soul; but it seems to be necessary in the present state of matters in this colony, and it is the opinion of my most judicious friends that I should continue it till it conies to a successful termination." Again he writes, "During the past year (1820-7) my principal attention lias been called to controversial labours. If the Lord will, may this cup pass by in my future life."

It was not the Lord's will, however, to answer this prayer. On the contrary, controversy was more and more required of the man who would have chosen for himself the work of a missionary and of an itinerant preacher. Mr. Ryerson tells us how he had to compose on horseback sermons and replies to his ecclesiastical adversaries as he passed from end to end of his extensive and laborious circuit.

Indeed, in Cobourg, stories are still told to the third generation of the way in which those replies were written. The young preacher would come in at nightfall from his long ride and sit up till morning looked in upon him and saw the pile of firewood consumed on the one side of him and a pile of manuscript grown up on the other. In this work thus thrust upon him, he so fulfilled the Apostolic precept, "Quit you like men, be strong," that when the conference in 1829 established the Christian Guardian newspaper, Mr. Ryerson was placed in the editorial chair and charged with the duty of vindicating the character and contending for the civil and religious rights of his people.


Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus