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Memoir of the Rev James MacGregor D.D.
Appendix E. Letter of Associate Presbytery of Pictou to General Associate Synod

Pictou, Feb. 5, 1799.

Rev. Fathers and Brethren—Moved, we hope, with zeal for the glory of God, and concern for the salvation of our fellow creatures, we beg leave to intreat you in behalf of the people of this country, and to second by our influence with you, the applications made to you from several congregations here, that you would send to them ministers of the gospel to feed their souls. They have great need of gospel ministers. There are many people in this and the neighbouring Provinces, who are now and have, for a long time, been without the gospel. Many of the young generation have never heard its joyful sound. There are many infant settlements so weak, that they cannot support a fixed dispensation thereof, who earnestly desire occasional supplies; many others are able and willing, but all their endeavours to obtain it have hitherto been in vain. You have some young men under your inspection, who might come over and preach to some of these people; and sure it is their duty to come. It is a most grievous thing to think of their perishing for lack of knowledge, while there is a possibility of giving them the means of knowledge, every one ought to pity and help them to the utmost. We do what we can, but our labours cannot be much felt in such an extensive circle. There is a necessity for more hands to be employed in the work. The work is the most honourable, pleasant, and profitable, in which any one can be employed; and it is astonishing that any who are called to it, should not engage in it with some degree of the zeal of the great apostle of the Gentiles, and disregard every difficulty and opposition in the way. What should ministers tear in the work of Christ? How grievous then is it, that there is a necessity of pressing them to it by all sorts of arguments, and that all will not do!

This is an age in which there appears a great deal of zeal for the propagation of the gospel among the Heathen. An equal zeal for its propagation among those who have little or nothing of Christianity but the name, is no less necessary, and the work is far less arduous. Those who have never heard of the name of Jesus, are not the only people who have need of hearing the gospel. There are many people here who have heard of Christ, who have Bibles, and who have sometimes heard the gospel preached, who yet may be said to be in a perishing situation for want of the means of grace, and whose ease calls as loud for help as that of the heathens. It is as really duty to provide for those as these. Many publications have appeared of late in various forms, urging by every imaginable argument the duty of ministers to go to the heathen. Though we cannot plead the cause of the people here so eloquently as they, nor make use of language so affecting, yet we beg leave to say, that there is no argument in these publications which will not conclude in their favour with equal propriety. We beg you therefore to think of them when you read these publications, and we earnestly wish the young men preparing for the ministry to do so.

But there are some things more favourable in the case of the people here than in that of the heathen, at least in the estimate of flesh and blood; and were not these counted upon, there would be no need of this address. Surely it is not such a hardship for ministers to go to the nearest parts of America, not beyond our own dominions, to a civilized country, where they have countrymen and friends before them, and to a people sensible of their need of ministers, and earnestly desirous of them, as it is to go a long voyage (to the Pacific Ocean, for example), far beyond the British dominions, to an unknown country, and to a people uncivilized and insensible of the value of ministers. If there are men found willing to go through these greater hardships, we hope there will not be wanting some willing to go through the less; though with heart-felt sorrow we have long observed their backwardness.

It is about ten years since the people of Amherst sent you a petition for a minister. The subscribers were not numerous, but they were mostly men of sense and piety. It was the superior confidence they placed in you, that induced them to apply to you; and every year since they expected an answer, though their hopes grew fainter the longer they waited. They gave a call to Mr. Brown very soon after his arrival in this Province; and had he been left to his own choice, there is little reason to doubt that he would have preferred them to the people among whom the Presbytery appointed him, though he was not dissatisfied with their appointment. Delay and disappointment discouraged them, several of them sold their possessions, and removed to other places of the Province, and to the United States, where they could find the gospel. Others are removed by death; so that few of the subscribers are now in Amherst. Those who have come in their places, especially the young generation, having little acquaintance with gospel doctrines, and being hopeless of any relief from you, have now bargained with a minister whom chance threw in their way, and of which they may repent ere long. Amherst is grown to be a populous place, and had you sent a minister to it, it might now have been a flourishing congregation; whereas it has been ten years without the gospel, after applying to you for it, and they arc perhaps badly provided for at last. To other places who observe the bad success of Amherst, what a great discouragement is this!

About seven years ago, the people of Princetown, and Stanhope, and St. Peter’s in the island of St. John, applied to you for two ministers, and they have waited ever since with patience (or rather impatience), frequently inquiring if there was any hope of a speedy answer to their petitions. For a number of years we returned for answer, that ministers might soon be expected; but we are ashamed to give them that answer any longer, and now we know not what to say. That people stand in need of the gospel almost as much as any people on the face of the earth; for beside all other considerations, their being in an island prevents them from having so ready access to other means of knowledge as if they were on the continent; and they arc surrounded with Papists, who have always one or more priests among them, who use all their dexterity in making converts, especially among the young generation. There are in the island of St. John, eight or ten other settlements that would require supply of sermon, being yet so weak, that they cannot support ministers for themselves. It is a great trial of patience, to wait seven years for a minister, and to have an opportunity of hearing the gospel for two or three Sabbaths only during all that time. There arc good Christians in the island of St. John, who, in all probability, have not heard five sermons these twenty-five years; and probably there arc some there twenty-five years old who never heard a sermon! Who would not compassionate this people? We hope two ministers would be very agreeably situated among them, and in ;i short time there would be a demand for a number more. We earnestly beseech the Synod to consider the case of this island, and to send over two ministers to them as soon as possible.

The people of Douglas, in this Province, were the next to petition you for a minister. This congregation is very forward and eager to obtain the gospel, but withal impatient of delay; so that there is danger, as they are not sufficiently aware of the evil of error, that they will not wait so long as you would wish or expect, but, being wearied out, will apply to some other quarter for that help which they will give over hoping for from you. A part of this congregation have an opportunity of hearing Mr. Brown occasionally, as there is but a few miles of water between them and his congregation; but this seems only to make them more eager to have a minister of their own. There is therefore special need for the Synod to consider the case of this people, and grant their petition. Though the people of Mirimichi, in New Brunswick, be last in their application, yet they themselves consider their case as so deplorable above others, especially on account of the breaking dispensations they have met with, that they are entitled to be first answered. And indeed it is hard to deny their claim.

It is difficult to say which of these four places is most in need. But if the Synod cannot supply them all at once, let some of them be supplied, and the rest as soon after as possible, if they shall wait.

The people of Cape Breton petitioned the Session of Pictou, before our erection into a Presbytery, to appoint their minister to pay them a visit to preach the gospel to them, and to give them advice and direction how to obtain a minister for themselves. The petition was granted, but the visit could not be paid till August last; partly because so few of them were desirous of the gospel, (the generality being lukewarm), that they could scarcely support it; and partly because there was no hope of getting their petition granted for a long time, through the backwardness of ministers to come out; and because so many other places were entitled to be supplied before them, they were advised to delay sending home their petition for some time. Bat had they a minister, there is no reason to doubt that he would soon form a congregation; for the gospel would be a new thing to them, and, through the divine blessing, would run as it did among the Gentiles at first. Were there a minister there, application would soon be made to him from Newfoundland, and other places. In all appearance, nothing but the want of ministers prevents the gospel from spreading rapidly through this Province, New Brunswick, part of both the Canadas, island St. John, Cape Breton, Newfoundland, &c. Had ministers been forward to come to our assistance since the first of us arrived here, the gospel would have been already spread considerably through these countries.

We wish the Synod to advert to the growing population of this country. Places that, were not capable to maintain the gospel a few years ago, are now able; places that are not now able, will be so soon. Pictou is now more capable to maintain four ministers, than they were to maintain one when they sent their first petition to you. It may be a presbytery instead of a congregation, before the present generation be gone. There is within twenty miles of Pictou, a new settlement almost capable to maintain a minister, where, fifteen years ago, there was not a single inhabitant. The country in general peoples fast; for it is not uncommon to see eight or ten children in a family grown up to be heads of families themselves; for the case is not here as at home, that the greater part die in infancy. Besides, in times of peace, there are great accessions from other places. Hence you may see the importance of planting congregations in this country, and that there will always be an increasing demand for ministers.

If the Synod thinks that more money should have been sent home to pay for their passage, we answer, We have not the face to bid the people advance more money; for as matters stand at present, it would look like as if we were asking it for ourselves. Douglas advanced money. Fraser, Thom, and Co., respectable merchants in Mirimichi, promised to write to Hunter and Co., Greenock, to answer the order of the Rev. James Robertson, Kilmarnock, for the passage of the minister to that place; and we suppose he has performed it, or, if not, it will be done before the passage be long due. None of us have been in the island of St. John these four years past, and we know not the present sentiments of the people there, save only that they are still waiting for the ministers; but when they wrote the petitions, they laid their account with paying the passage of the ministers. Besides, Lord Montgomery’s agent there had then power (and we suppose has it still) to pay the passage of the first Presbyterian minister who should come to the island. Could we give people some assurance of getting a minister the first or second year after sending home their petition, they could easily be prevailed upon to collect the money beforehand; but they cannot be much to blame for a backwardness, while their prospect of an answer is so distant and uncertain.

We apprehend there is more need than you or we have been aware of, for fervent addresses to the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers to his harvest. The sending forth of ministers is a matter of the greatest importance, and demands much prayer. Our blessed Master, previous to his sending forth the apostles, both exhorted his disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest, and continued himself all night in prayer to God. We doubt not but we have more need to stir up ourselves and our people, than you and your people, to this duty. Yet the more that you and the people under your charge abound in this duty, the sooner may we expect the answer of our suit. Perhaps it might not be improper for the Synod to cause an address to be drawn up, and circulated among the preachers under their inspection, calculated to impress upon their consciences the obligation they are under to obey calls from foreign parts, especially such calls as have been lying a number of years before the Synod unanswered. But this we leave to the wisdom of the Synod. We beseech you to exert yourselves in behalf of the people here. And we pray the Great Shepherd of the sheep to prosper all your efforts for his glory and the good of the Church.

James MacGregor
Duncan Ross,
John Brown.

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