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Past and Present
The Two Soldier Preachers

There is much in the spirit and accompaniments of war in general at variance with the genius of Christianity. No wonder, therefore, that many good persons should doubt the compatability of the soldier’s position with the character of a Christian. Yet we cannot deny that there have been truly devout and holy men in the army. Perhaps few, if any such, entered it; but there can be no question that some have become such while there. We have one remarkable instance at least in the case of Colonel Gardiner. The Gospel has proved itself sufficient, under the divine blessing, to subdue the dauntless heart of the soldier. And the Gospel preached by Methodist preachers has won more than its share of trophies from the military ranks. This has been the case from first to last during the whole career of Methodism. And some of these trophies have become heralds of salvation in turn. Some of the most zealous and successful Methodist preachers have been soldiers in their time. In proof of this we need but transcribe the name of Haime, of Stamforth; of Captain Webb, of Burgess, and of Bamford of Nova Scotia. Whether it was a heroic spirit which led these men into the army; or whether it was there they imbibed it, certain it is they carried it into their religion and ministry. We have some living instances of this Christian heroism in our Canadian connexion in the person of a Harmon, now almost hors de combat, and a Hardy, and others, who were once in the army.

Two remarkable men, who had been soldiers, identified themselves with the Methodist ministry, in Canada West, at the close of the last American war, figured largely (the one for a short period, the other for a long one) in connection with Canadian Methodism. These were James Peel and George Ferguson.

As we have scarcely materials for a sketch of the first; so also in the second instance, we have no disposition to forestall a. work which ought to have been attended to long ago; viz: the publication of the Journal of the Bev. George Ferguson. Why is it not done ? We therefore mention them together. They must have been nearly of the same age, and they served during nearly the same period. They were both preaching soldiers. They were both. purchased out of the army: at least I think so. Ferguson certainly was, by our people in Niagara and its vicinity; and Peel is thought to have been by friends, if I mistake not, about Montreal and the Ottawa. Be that as it may, they were discharged about the same time— were not unlike each other in point of disposition, being cordial and loving—and commenced their labors together on the old Ottawa circuit. It is certain at least that they were there for a time together.

Appropos of this, a curious incident was related of these two simple-hearted, fervent, believing men, by the family concerned, as having occurred while they were in that part of the country. There is a beautiful tract of land in the neighborhood of La Chute, on the North River, which falls into the Ottawa. This was originally settled by an interesting class of people from the United States; from among whom a large and prosperous society was raised up by the labors of a Sawyer, a Luckey, and others. But a succession of blighting frosts had caused such a failure in the crops for several years prior to the time to which we refer, that one family after another had left, and sought a home in a more genial climate, till the society was not only much reduced in numbers, but very few homes were left to shelter the hapless itinerant in a place which had always been considered “head quarters” on the circuit; and the occupant of the principal one of the few remaining “lodging places for wayfaring men,” “Father Waldron,” as he was called by his friends, had also resolved to leave. The two preachers were spending a night under his hospitable roof; but the intention of their host to leave, communicated to them, had made them sad; they did their utmost to persuade him to stay, setting before him the evil that would result to the cause if he left, and the consequent good he would be the means of doing if he remained. When the hour of devotion arrived, both of the preachers engaged in prayer, one after the other, and made the subject which lay near their hearts ground of earnest supplication. Ferguson prayed first, and earnestly besought the Lord to prevent Bro. Waldron from going away. To each petition, Peel subjoined the expressive response, “Hedge him up, Mighty God!” And when his time came to plead in prayer, he told the Lord they could not afford to part with Bro. Waldron—besought him to induce him to stay—and to reward him for so doing with an abundant crop. He enumerated eve ry kind of produce he could think of by name; and prayed that brother W’s hay and potatoes, and wheat, and rye, and oats, and peas, and barley, &c., might be abundant. Mr. W. was induced to stay another year ; and by a very remarkable co-incidence, with Mr. Peel’s request, he had an abundant crop the following season, of everything, both in field and garden, excepting onions. When this fact was mentioned to the preacher:

"Oh,” said Peel, “I forgot the onions!”

Though there were so many things in common between these two men, there were also points of dissimilarity. Ferguson was born in Ireland; Peel, in England. The former had but poor advantages for education; the circumstances of the latter had been more favourable in that respect. The former was not distinguished for more than ordinary powers of mind; we should judge the latter had powers above the common. Ferguson had never risen above the ranks at all; Peel was a non-commissioned officer. The former had only served in this, and his native country; the latter had been through the Peninsular campaigns. Ferguson was married, Peel was single. The former had a long career, the latter a short one.

Peel was not personally known to the writer, although he with another was the second appointment to the “ framed meeting-houss,” which was then included in the Yonge-street circuit; but he has heard him rapturously spoken of by earnest Methodists in this and two or three other circuits he chanced to travel in common with him, a few years intervening,—the Belleville, the Ottawa, and the Perth circuits. From these sources I have learned that he was studious, cheerful and affectionate in his intercourse with the people, by whom he was greatly beloved ; a very acceptable and interesting preacher, and very laborious and faithful in his work, a thorough visitor from house to house. He sported with privation. Recounting to a pious old lady in the Ottawa country, the adventurous incidents of a pioneering tour up the river, and describing the salt-junk of formidable texture, on which he had dined on one occasion, he was asked by her, “Had you no sass (sauce) brother Peel?” “Yes, plenty,” was his cheerful response. “Why, what was it?”—Elevating his voice to make her hear,— “The love of God, grandmam.” “Brother Peel’s good sass,” became quite proverbial with her ever after. He was well versed in church history, and very clear on questions of church order. He loved to preach from texts in the prophecies, which he excelled in expounding; so said some of his intelligent hearers. The manner of his death was somewhat tragic, brought about by a persevering determination to go through with his work. It was on the old Bay of Quinte circuit. A cold Saturday night, late in the fall, or early in the winter, found him in the neighbourhood of his Sabbath morning’s appointment, at Adolphustown meeting house, on the East side of Hay Bay. During the night the ice “ took ” so strongly as to prevent crossing in a boat, but not sufficiently strong to support the weight of a horse. Still the preacher determined to reach his afternoon’s appointment, at Switzer’s chapel on the other side of the Bay. Finding the ice sufficient to support his own weight, he started on foot for the other side, against the dissuasions of his friends. But finding the ice so slippery that he could not possibly walk upon it with his boots on, he took them off and crossed it in his stockings alone, reeking as he was with perspiration from his morning’s labours. This, with the walk some miles on the other side was enough to occasion his death. He felt indisposed during the afternoon service, and tried to get an old exhorter in the neighbourhood, to do what was then thought indispensable, “ meet the class after preaching.” The brother, likely from motives of delicacy, declined to do it in the preacher’s place. Peel went through with the whole of what he thought his duty—-went home to his quarters—and took to his bed, from which he never rose. He died in a few days in holy triumph. The only expression of complaint that escaped him during the sufferings that so abruptly closed the career of this ardent young man, was this, which he uttered in a half upbraiding tone of voice, “ Father Switzer might have met the class!” He had no relations to mourn for him in this country; but there was one who mourned for him till she became bereft of her reason. For it might be said of him as Wesley laconically said of another lovely young man, Joshua Keighley,—

"He was about the marriage state to prove,
But death had swifter wings than love.”

The books which composed his small but well assorted library, together with his watch, were sent to his betrothed. And if I mistake not, they are still preserved as precious relics in the family of her brother, Mr. Caswell, in Elizabethtown, where any of the brethren in those parts may see these interesting memorials of James Peel. Peace to his memory!

By a very remarkable providence the friend of Peel, the weakly and diminutive Ferguson, was spared,

“To linger out below,
A few more years in pain.”

It will be our lot to describe a number of large, fine looking men: Ferguson was the opposite, small, very small; and after some years, much emaciated with his exhausting labors. It was strange that he should have ever been taken for a soldier 5 for he never seemed able to carry a knapsack. How he was enabled to hold out twenty-six long years in the active work, such as' the' work was during the greater part of his time, in all sorts of circuits, from the Ottawa to the Thames, especially considering the way he worked his circuits, it is hard to say. Ferguson preached arid laboured in every public service, very much as we might expect a man to do, who meant to kill himself before he stopped. He was always very excitable, but if he got into what he called, " one of his gales,” the excitement was tremendous. On such occasions he usually preached himself out of the pulpit, asserting in excuse that he was “ a travelling preacher.” And he had the power of exciting the people, as well as the susceptibility of becoming excited himself. Nor was it mere excitement: there can be no doubt that Ferguson was the instrument of many glorious revivals, of hundreds if not thousands of conversions. But some will say, “How did he effect them? Was it his eloquence and transcendent ability?” No, for he possessed neither one nor the other. It was by his zeal and earnestness, and the power from God that rested on him and that accompanied what he said..

He prayed much; and as he thus honoured God, the Great Head of the Church honoured him, and gave him souls, for the salvation of which he constantly travailed in spirit. He had so injured his once clear and powerful voice, (little men have sometimes big. voices) that for many years his voice in ordinary conversation was a hoarse sort of whisper. In this tone, he. began his sermons, but so soon as he became warmed with speaking his voice became clear, and loud.. Hence he was in the habit of notifying his congregations that they would have some difficulty in hearing at first, but he would warrant them to hear before he was done. Our first sight of this .diminutive soldier of Jesus was in the summer, of 1824, when Bishop Hedding, Dr. Bangs, and a large number of the Canadian Preachers, held a conference with the York Society on the^ agitating question of separation from under the jurisdiction of ‘ the American General Conference. We next saw him and heard him preach for the first time, with power, at the Presque-Isle camp-meeting in ’29, celebrated for the presence of the eccentric Lorenzo Dow. After this we saw him frequently and enjoyed the pleasure of his faithful friendship till the time of his happy death. A good and holy man was George Ferguson ; but no adequate justice will be done him till his journal is published.

“Servant of Christ, well done!
Thy glorious warfare's past:
Thy battle’s fought, thy race is run,
And thou art crowned at last."

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