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Memoir of the Rev James MacGregor D.D.
Chapter II. - From his Birth to his Licensure 1759 - 1784


“My manner of life from my youth, which was at tho first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews.” Acts xxvi. 4.

The Rev. James Macgregor was born at what was then a small hamlet called Portmore, just at the foot of Loch Earne, in the parish of Comrie, and county of Perthshire, North Britain, in December 1759.1 The spot is now occupied by the village of St. Fillans, so called from a certain saint whose name tradition hands down as a resident of this neighbourhood, who in the days of his mortality filled the office of Prior of Pittenweem, and afterwards was the favourite saint of Robert Bruce, and a relic of whom was carried in a shrine by the Abbot of Inchaffray at the battle of Bannockburn. Here rising from a little rocky knoll, on which two indentations are pointed out as the marks of the knees of the saint at his devotions, is Saint Fillan’s Spring, which was long believed to possess miraculous power over disease; and even yet it is viewed by the superstitious Highlanders as possessing saintly virtue.

“And magic virtues charmed St. Fillan’s Spring.”

That district presents much fine scenery, being on the borders of the Highlands, and blending the grandeurs of the hill country, with the beauties of the Lowlands. The lake itself is a beautiful sheet of water, about seven miles long, gemmed by a solitary islet, and lying in placid loveliness in the midst of a ring of heathy mountains, while in the distance are seen the summits of the highest mountains of the Western Highlands. “ There are few Scottish lakes more worthy of a visit than Loch Earne. Its shore throughout, and for at least half a mile inland, is clothed with thriving copse and brushwood, creating continual changes of the scenery, and a succession of the most picturesque and romantic views. Beyond these woods on every side hills and mountains arise, piercing the clouds with their lofty summits and adding grandeur and sublimity to the scene. Looking from either end of the lake, the view is peculiarly magnificent, the whole valley can be seen at once, with its enormous vista of mountains enclosing all around—the transparent lake which forms its glassy centre—and the beautiful fringing of wood with which the base of the mountains and the shores of the lake are adorned.”

From the foot of the loch eastward stretches a beautiful vale or strath, commonly called Stratbearne, and sometimes denominated the Arcadia of Scotland, faced on both sides by extremely rugged hills. Issuing from the loch, near the village of St. Fillans, the river Earne finds its way through this valley, sometimes amidst forests of pine and larch, or in the shadow of perpendicular crags, or again stealing through a wide open moorland, with a few patches of corn diversifying the heath and the rocks. About six miles to the east, where two mountain streams, the Puehill and the Lednock, after pouring down the ruirged sides of the Grampians, in many a cascade and with eternal noise, unite with the river Earne, like soldiers, returning to the quiet valley of their youth, “when wild deadly blast was blawn,” stands the village of Comrie. The district has of late attracted the attention of the scientific world by the earthquakes to which it is frequently subject.

We have alluded to the physical appearance of the country; that our readers may have some idea of the scenes amid which his early days were spent, and also because we believe it had its influence upon his character. Not only did it fondly dwell in his recollection afterward, but we believe that it tended to nurse the poetic fires within him,3 and to cherish that love of nature particularly in her grander moods, which often amid his physical toil in our Western wilds kindled within him the warmest emotions of delight, as his eye rested upon the glories of some of our American landscapes. Perhaps also it tended to nurture that peculiar temperament which seems characteristic of dwellers among the mountains—that deep sense of the awful and sublime, that veneration for the mysterious and supernatural which in the uneducated gives birth to the fears and the wonders of superstition.

Throughout the length of the valley described, were at that time scattered a number of hamlets of various sizes occupied by a poor but industrious population, in general each family possessing a small house, and a few acres of land called a croft, from which they obtained a moderate subsistence. To this class belonged the parents of the subject of our memoir. This system has of late years been broken up throughout the Highlands by the proprietors forming their land into larger farms, a measure which has caused the scattering of the Highlanders over the wide world.

Of his birth or the circumstances of his childhood, we have no particulars, except one which has come down to us by tradition, viz., that at his baptism his father solemnly dedicated him to the work of the Lord, should it be his gracious will, jn the ministry of his Son. As already mentioned;, two sons had been already born in the family, who did not long survive. "Whether this influenced the mind of his father, or whether the proceeding was merely the impulse of a pious heart, we know not: but it is delightful to contemplate such an exhibition of parental piety, and to behold his parents manifesting the spirit, if not using the language, of Hannah: “For this child I prayed, and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him. Therefore, also, I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he liveth, he shall be lent to the Lord.” And looking at the subsequent career of the child, we cannot help remarking the goodness of a covenant-keeping God, and pointing out the encouragement it affords to pious parents to follow a similar course. The practice of parents training one or more of their children for the office of the holy ministry, so common among the Scottish peasantry, is one which God has been pleased greatly to bless. Doubtless there may have been in many instances a mingling of worldly ambition, and it is sad to see the useless and misspent sacrifices, that have sometimes been made to train young men for the ministry whom Providence never intended for the work. Yet when such sacrifices have proceeded from right motives—when they have been accompanied with faith and prayer, and particularly when they have been the result of a pious parental dedication, God has in numberless instances blessed them as the means of filling the ranks of the ministry with able and faithful labourers. “God has not left himself without witness.” “His faithfulness to his household covenant, and to his New Testament Church, has been signally manifested in a long line of ministers parentally dedicated to him in this holy work. From Samuel and those that follow after, a great cloud of witnesses have testified of these things. It has always pleased God to propagate his church by means of a pious posterity. He has transmitted his gospel ministry by this means. The sanctity of the domestic relation, and the power of parental influence and prayer, have been employed by him for so momentous a result as the recruiting of labourers for the harvest-field of the world. And by all the necessities of his church, and of perishing millions in all lands, he calls upon Christian parents to lay their sons at the foot of the altar, and to crave for them, as their high Christian birthright, the distinguished honour of serving him in the ministry of reconciliation.” Our own church exhibits another distinguished example of the same thing in Mr. Geddie, their first missionary to the New Hebrides, who was in infancy dedicated by parental piety to the service of the God of missions, and who has been honoured as the first to plant the gospel among a new and interesting family of the human race. Were the same spirit more generally prevalent in the church, we would not hear, as we now do from every Protestant communion on this continent, the cry, “ The harvest is plenteous, but the labourers are few.”

Of his early days we know little, except that he bore the character of a lively and active, yet gentle boy, of very inquisitive disposition, and occasionally giving evidence of a quick temper. Those who knew him in after years, when he exhibited a Christian placidity of mind which scarcely any provocation could disturb, will scarcely credit this last statement; but when they remember the holy fire, unmixed with human passion, which at times burst forth from him, they may believe that such would have been his character before natural tempers had been so thoroughly subdued by divine grace. Yet in general he was mild, kind, and affectionate, and though possessing great animal spirits and forward in fun, was never given to wickedness. From the account we have given of his father, we need scarcely say that he enjoyed the inestimable privilege of pious parental training. The family exhibited, indeed, the excellence of Scottish piety, as delineated in the Cottar’s Saturday Night, which might well lead the poet and the patriot alike to exclaim,

“From scenes like these, old Scotia’s grnndeur spring!,
That makes her loved at home, revered abroad.”

The society among whom his lot was cast was of a similar description. Mr. Gilfillan, when settled in the parish, a number of years later, indeed describes the inhabitants of the parish as “generally prejudiced against the Secession—the present and rising generations fatally sunk in security—bent on all sinful and vain diversions—averse to reading and enquiry—and nn<rry when their duty is told them/’ The picture seems too darkly coloured. At all events it is not true of that section in which Dr. McGregor spent his early life. It is generally described as a quiet neighbourhood, with but a scanty population, and this generally of a pious and exemplary character. Under such influences his character received an impress of goodness from his earliest years. In the kind Providence of God he was never permitted to run the course of youthful folly, so frequent even among those, who have afterwards become eminent in the Church of Christ. Throughout his early life his conduct was characterized at least by morality and outward respect for religion.

How early he became decidedly pious, we know not. With that modesty, which prevented him saying much of himself, and that reserve on personal experience, so characteristic of Scottish piety, we have not heard of an instance in which he referred to the subject. But from his enquiring turn of mind, from the manner in which religion filled the mind of his father, and pervaded his whole household arrangements, he must have had his attention directed to the subject at a very early age; and from any information we have received, we are inclined to believe that he was one of those who are “sanctified from their mothers’ womb,”—that the seeds of religious truth took root in his childish mind with the first impressions of a pious home, and the first instructions of his parents’ lips. For this we have no decided evidence, but several circumstances induce us to regard it as highly probable.

His father had, by attention to his little farm as well as by his trade as a weaver, and also, (“tell it not in Gath,” in these temperance days,) by keeping a still, and manufacturing a little whiskey, provided the means of giving his son a classical education ; and mindful probably of his early vow, at the age of eight years placed him at the grammar-school at Kinkell. Here his father paid his board, but he was not allowed to be idle, for the thrifty wife, with whom he lodged, imposed on his good nature by obliging him at night to reel four dozen knots of fine linen thread, which her two daughters and two servant girls had spun through the day.

From this period he was little at home except at vacations. He also attended for a time the grammar-school at Dumblane. Of this period of his life we know almost nothing. All his cotemporaries are gone, and we have not met with any who were acquainted with him at cither of these places, but by those who were residing in his native place, he is described as having been quick to learn. The following incident however, which occurred while he was at Kinkell, is of interest. He and some other boys were in a boat on the river Earne, and some of them having given it rather a sudden swing, he was thrown into the water, and immediately sank to the bottom, where he appears to have been deprived of all energy, and remained under water seemingly in a state of unconsciousness. To all appearance his course seemed run, but God had destined him for other work. After lying for a few moments, the thought rushed through his mind, that he was a great fool to lie there and be drowned; and immediately putting forth all his energies, he reached the surface and was assisted into the boat by his companions.

From Dumblane he proceeded to Edinburgh to attend the University. Here he passed the usual curriculum of study. It is now impossible to obtain any account of him at that period of his life. But his habitual application to study would lead us to believe that he would be at least a diligent student, and from the strong mental powers which he undoubtedly possessed, and his extremely inquisitive disposition, as well as from the evidence he gave afterwards of his attainments, we are safe in concluding, that if he were not a profound scholar, he had in all the branches of education made respectable progress. We have also in our possession translations made at this time from some of the Greek Classics, which afford farther evidence of the same thing.

While receiving his education, he was supported principally if not entirely by the industry of his parents. While residing in Edinburgh he lodged with a female friend of the family, who did his cooking for him, while from his father’s farm there came meat, meal, butter, &c., besides articles of female handicraft provided by the thrifty care of his mother and sisters. In that household was exhibited the spectacle so characteristic of Scotland, where the industry of all was cheerfully employed, and sacrifices cheerfully endured, with the view of fitting a beloved son and brother (in this case an only one) for the work of the ministry,—all their toil and self-denial cheered by the hope of seeing him filling a station of respectability and usefulness, and their piety gratified with the prospect of his being the means of advancing the Redeemer’s kingdom. In these labours and sacrifices, the mother, as was natural, was the most forward, sometimes almost exciting the jealousy of the sisters, who, as they saw the best ham, or the best of something else laid aside for “James,” would sometimes say, “Ah, mother, if you get James provided for, you don’t care for the rest of us.”

We believe however that while attending college he partly supported himself by teaching. Sometime about the year 1776 (which must have been before he completed his college curriculum) he taught school at Glenlednock, about four miles north of Comrie. Here he had a large school, and was much esteemed as a teacher. An individual, living in 1856, who attended his school, and in whose father’s house he lodged, describes him as having been an active, sprightly lad, full of life and activity, very sociable in the family, and so full of fun, as sometimes to elicit a reproof from the grave but pious old man with whom he lodged, in whom the vivacity of youth had long since passed away. While teaching here he also employed himself in translating the book of Proverbs into Gaelic, probably for the purpose of improving himself in that language.

Before describing his Theological course of study, it will be necessary to give some account of ecclesiastical affairs in Scotland during the years preceding. In the preceding chapter we have given a brief narrative of the origin of the Secession. For some time its progress was rapid, so that in the year 1744, it became necessary to divide the Presbytery into three, under the inspection of a synod called the Associate Synod, which held its first meeting at Stirling in March 1745. At that time there were reported as in connection with the body, thirty settled congregations and thirteen vacancies in Scotland, while already the cause had made progress in Ireland. But already a dark cloud was lowering over the infant church. A vexatious dispute had been introduced into Synod respecting the religious clause of certain oaths, required to be taken by the burgesses in the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Perth. This clause ran in the following terms, “Here I protest before God and your Lordships, that I profess and allow with my heart the true religion presently professed within this realm, and authorized by the laws thereof; I shall abide thereat and defend the same to my life’s end, renouncing the Roman religion called Papistry.” By some this was held as implying an approval of the corruptions of the Church of Scotland, against which the Secession was testifying, and they therefore refused to take the oath; but others held that it only meant the true religion itself in opposition to Popery, and therefore were willing to take the oath, or at least regarded the point as one on which conscientious men might honestly differ, and which therefore might properly be made a matter of forbearance. The controversy increased in bitterness till in 1747, only fifteen years after the Secession, they split into two sections: those who condemned the taking of the oath being usually known as Antiburghers, and their Synod being entitled the General Associate Synod, and those who did not object to the taking of it, being commonly known as Burghers, and their Synod bearing the name of the Associate Synod.

This “breach,” as it was long called, may be regarded as the one great blot upon the history of the Secession. Division under any circumstances must have been attended with many evils, but in this case these evils were greatly increased by the spirit in which the controversy was conducted, angry feelings were excited, the friendships of years were severed—and bitter recriminations were launched against each other,

“Each spake words of high disdain
And insult to his heart’s best brother.’'

But while the “contention was so sharp,” as to cause the parties, like Paul and Barnabas, to “depart asunder the one from the other,” it is easy to perceive that much of their proceedings originated in a morbid conscientiousness, which feared the admission of the slightest blot upon the purity of their public profession. The discussions to which the question gave rise, were also the means of throwing light upon the important question of the power of the civil magistrate in religion, and led to clearer and more advanced views on the subject. Thus the way was prepared for that great controversy, which more extensively agitated Scotland many years after on a point involved in it, viz., that of Civil Establishments of religion, and the bulk of both branches were led to take their position as the strenuous advocates of the most entire freedom of the church from all dependence upon the civil power. And it is well known that out of the latter controversy, usually known as the Voluntary controversy, arose the far famed Non-intrusion controversy, which finally issued in the formation of the Free Church of Scotland. It is gratifying to observe that in other ways the division was overruled for good. Each body continued faithful to the doctrines of grace, and the liberties of Christ’s people. Each watched over the other’s purity, and as Paul and Barnabas on their separation went in different directions, and thus were the means of spreading the gospel more widely than when united, so the separation of the Seceders was the means of their carrying the great principles for which both were contending, into a greater number of places than would have been done had they remained together. And perhaps it saved them from the persecutions of the ruling power. It has been handed down by tradition, that some of the leading parties connected with the ecclesiastical affairs of Scotland, intended to use their interest with the Government of the day to adopt measures for the suppression of the Secession. But that when they heard that they had split, they concluded that it was unnecessary, as they must soon be destroyed by their mutual strife.

We have furnished this account of the division in the Secession, as some acquaintance with it is necessary to understand the course afterward adopted by the subject of our memoir. For the benefit of those of our readers not acquainted with the Ecclesiastical history of Scotland in the period referred to, we may remark, that the course of the Established Church was worse instead of better than before. Had her leaders had “understanding of the times,” they might, by timely concession, have at least checked the growth of the Secession, if not have extinguished it altogether. But the very opposite policy was adopted. The very divisions of the Secession encouraged them to persevere in their career of corruption and oppression. The most obnoxious presentees continued to be forced upon an indignant people—and Presbyteries and presentees in some instances could only reach the parish church under the protection of dragoons, and under the same care went through the monstrous mockery of committing to the patron’s nominee, by prayer, the charge of the souls in the Parish. Individual members of Presbytery were not even allowed the liberty of absenting themselves from such unhallowed proceedings; and in some instances, where a minister refused to take part in such a prostitution of the ordinances of religion, he was summarily deposed for his so called contumacy. It was in this way that Thomas Gillespie, one of the most amiable and upright men of his time, was cast out of the church, and became the founder of the Presbytery, which afterward became the Synod of Relief, The ruling party now aimed at the entire suppression of popular power in the church. Under Principal Robertson, who succeeded to the leadership of the Assembly about the year 1763, it was boldly proclaimed, and acted upon, that the call of the people was not necessary, and that the presentation of the patron was sufficient reason for the Presbytery taking steps toward his ordination. Of those in the church who after the rise of the Secession had opposed their efforts to patronage, some like Willison had passed away from the scene, others like Witherspoon sought in America a free field for their energies, while others had sought in one or other of the Dissenting bodies, that relief for their consciences, which they could not find in the Establishment. And at length “Moderatism” reigned undisturbed over its whole proceedings. Under this system a ministry preaching, to use the language of Dr. Chalmers, “a morality without godliness, a certain prettiness of sentiment, occasionally served up in tasteful and well turned periods, the ethics of philosophy or the academic chair rather than the ethics of the gospel”—a ministry that after subscribing a Calvinistic creed, taught openly Arminian, Pelagian, or Socinian errors—a ministry oftentimes not even, moral in its deportment, filled the pulpits of the Established Church, and by its deadening influence, was destroying vital godliness among the people, so that were it not for the lights kindled in Dissenting temples, there is every likelihood that evangelical truth would have been quenched throughout the land.

Such was the state of the Church of Scotland during the youth and early manhood of the subject of our memoir, and as he watched public events with deep interest, we need not wonder that he was by examination, as well as by education, a thorough Seceder. But it is also necessary to remark that he was also educated a strict Antiburgher. At the division the Erskines took the Burgher view, while Moncrieff, then Professor of Theology, embraced the opposite sentiment. To this party the congregation to which Dr. Macgregor’s father belonged, as well as most of the Seceders in that quarter, adhered, and it must be observed that this was by far the “straitest sect” of the two. In regard to intercourse with other bodies they took ground which would now scarcely be taken by any church in Christendom. They avowed the principle that there should be no communion without union. So far from allowing forbearance in matters of minor importance, they held the very making a distinction between essentials and non-essentials to be the very grossest latitudinarianism, and forbearance they regarded as a sinful concurrence with what is evil. Nay farther, they held that even hearing in the churches of those who did not unite with them in their protest against prevailing corruption, was a lowering of their testimony, and becoming partaker in the evil deeds, against which they had erected a standard. Following out these principles, they would have refused communion equally with one who swore the Burgess oath, as with one who denied the atonement, and would have brought under discipline any member of the church, who would have heard a sermon from a parish minister. Notwithstanding the obligation, under which Dr. MacGregor’s father lay to Ebenezer Erskine, he was thoroughly trained a strict Antiburgher. Mr. Gilfillan naively remarks of him, “ As James’s temper was rather gentle and soft than bold and intrepid, and not fully understanding the terms of communion in the Secession, he almost yielded to the plausible but lax opinion of hearing a good sermon anywhere. But being at a sacrament at Orwell about that time, a young minister, his name he thought was Mr. Smyton, obviated that difficulty, and henceforward he was so fixed in his principles, that nothing could shake them till his dying day.” In these strict principles his son was trained, and he at first avowed them until circumstances led him either to modify or abandon them altogether. It is necessary to refer to these things as the subject will come up in a subsequent part of the narrative.

After completing the usual college curriculum, he was admitted to the study of Theology, under the Rev. William Moncrieff, Alloa, who had succeeded his father, the Rev. Alexander Moncrieff of Abernethy, as Professor of Theology to the General Associate Synod. A writer, speaking of those excellent men who adorned the early history of the Secession, thus describes him: “One of the most amiable of those excellent men was Professor Moncrieff of Alloa. He was a person of very dignified presence, but of great kindness of heart. His deportment was in every respect becoming. He was admitted by all who knew him to be a man of great piety and worth. He was beloved by his pupils as a man, admired as one of the most engaging preachers of the day, and revered for his qualities and conduct as a Theological teacher. His prelections were distinguished by simplicity, clearness, and precision, both of style and sentiment. He excelled in removing the difficulties which met him in his course, and in briefly but satisfactorily refuting the arguments and reasonings of adversaries.”

The Hall met at Alloa for two months in Autumn, and the term of study was five years. During the vacation the studies of candidates for the ministry were prosecuted under the care of Presbyteries, and sometimes young men were taken for a time to reside in the families of aged ministers for the purpose of receiving their aid in the work. We do not know the exact date of his attendance, but we have in our possession, notes of lectures by Professor Moncrieff in the year 1781. Neither know we any thing of him as a student. All who were in attendance at that time have long since finished their earthly course. The only memorials that remain are the notes of Professor Moncrieff’s lectures just referred to, and some notes of sermons heard while in attendance at the Hall. The notes of the lectures are plainly written out, and give in short compass, yet in a very clear manner, the substance of the lectures. They show his orderly habits and his attention to his business as a student. The character of his mind would prepare us for this, and as a result he showed from the time of his arrival in this country, a thorough acquaintance with the Scriptures and with Theology. We know also that previous to his arrival in this country he had particularly attended to the study of Hebrew, and had acquired an intimate acquaintance with the language. This attainment was by no means common at that time in Scotland. It is mentioned in the life of Dr. Dick, that while residing with a parish minister just about this time, he surprised him by his being acquainted with that language, this being an accomplishment which few or none in the district but himself could boast. We have in our possession fragments of a com-mon-place book of Dr. MacGregor, which show that he read the language critically.

Of his mental powers at this time the only specimens we possess are two discourses, the one marked “Edinburgh 1781” on James ii. 24, the other about the same period on Rom. iii. 28, an Exegesis on 1 John iii. 14, and an Essay on Baptism. These would pass as good, and we may say as superior, in any Theological Seminary.

Having mentioned an Essay on Baptism among the papers prepared when a student, we may here remark, that at an early period of his career, his mind was agitated with doubts on the questions at issue between Baptists and Pedobaptists. In the preface to the treatise published in the present volume among his remains, he remarks, “The author was brought up a Pedobaptist, but in consequence of reading the arguments on the Baptist side he hesitated.” We are not certain as to the time at which this took place, but it is understood that it was previous to his arrival in this country. It is believed that for a time his mind was strongly inclined to the Baptist view of the question. It is therefore instructive to read his account of the manner in which his difficulties were removed. “He searched anew the New Testament as impartially as he could, and with a fear lest his early prejudice for infant Baptism might mislead him. Still however he hesitated, for there he could not see a clear foundation for either side. There he could not see a command for, or an example of, infant Baptism so plain as to satisfy him, nor could he find satisfactory evidence for or against immersion, but still he thought that all light on God’s Baptism should be expected from searching not heathen authors, but God’s own word. Providence having led him to notice Paul’s phrases, ‘doctrines of Baptism,’ in Heb. vi., and ‘divers Baptisms/ as the words should be rendered in Heb. ix., he was and is persuaded that lie found a clew to guide him into the truth. Paul sent him to Moses. To Moses he went, and among his Baptisms he found one, which, as he believes, the prophets foretell shall continue till the end of time. Building the instructions of the New Testament upon this foundation, he is satisfied that sprinkling of infants with clean water is an ordinance of God.”

His views on the subject will be found in this treatise. It was however prepared long after, being one of the latest efforts of his pen. But it embodies the views which he held from the commencement of his ministry. The reader will perceive that they are entirely founded on Scripture, that he traces the ordinance, not to any Heathen practice or Jewish tradition, but to the appointment of God under the Old Testament, and finds the same institution modified under the New, and adapted to the nature of the more advanced dispensation. In presenting this view, he did not undervalue the arguments commonly used for Infant Baptism, but this was an important view which had been long overlooked. We have been pleased to observe, that in recent discussions this view is beginning to receive the prominence to which it is entitled, but as we believe that he derived his views entirely from the prayerful study of the word of God, we regard this treatise as affording evidence of how a plain mind engaging in seeking the knowledge of God’s revealed will, with a simple desire to know the truth, and with earnest prayer for divine direction, will be guided into the truth. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.” “The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way.”

From this time his convictions on the subject became decided and continued unshaken to the end. He used to say that he was “sure that the Baptists were wrong.” One said to him, “The Baptists think that they are right.” “Yes,” he replied, “but there is a great difference between thinking and being sure.” And he was accustomed afterwards to express himself in strong terms of gratitude to the God of truth in guiding him to the conclusions at which he had arrived. He however retained a warm feeling of kindness to the Baptists as a body, which he afterwards manifested in a practical manner on more than one occasion.

We cannot but remark how wisely ordered it was in Providence, that he should thus have been led to a thorough examination of the subject. A large proportion of the ministry of Scotland have not completely mastered the Baptist controversy. They are seldom called on to discuss it, and are therefore not always ready at once to encounter opponents. But in this country, where the Baptist system prevails, and its advocates are zealous and ready armed with the usual plausible but superficial arguments by which they defend their views, the minister is frequently called to defend God’s household covenant with believers, and to contend against that superstition, which attaches so much efficacy to an outward rite, according to the quantity of water, and the mode of its application. Dr. MacGregor, during the course of his ministry, necessarily came frequently in contact with those who held these views, and we cannot but regard it as a wise arrangement of Divine Providence, that he should thus be so thoroughly prepared for the work. We may here remark, that his preaching on the subject was often most effective—that it confirmed believers in the doctrine—removed the doubts of enquirers, and stopped the mouths of gainsayers. A Wesleyan minister lately remarked, that “the only time he had ever heard him preach was on this subject, and his sermon he could never forget,” and we shall hereafter accord proof of his success in quieting agitation on the subject.

We have thus anticipated what properly belongs to a subsequent portion of the history, and we therefore return to consider him as a student. During the vacations of his college and Theological curriculum he was frequently about home. He is described as then being “a fine frank lad/’ full of fun and activity. The companions of his boyhood embraced such occasions to meet in his father’s house, and ho would keep them the whole evening in amusement. Those who knew him in his later days—who recollect the deep seriousness that pervaded his whole conversation—his objection to sinful levity or even excessive mirth, will scarcely credit this; but the evidence upon which we make the statement is undoubted; and those who peruse his writings, will sometimes detect in them an under current of mirth, which though repressed by the weight of what he felt resting upon him as a minister of Christ, occasionally came to the surface, and in the company of his familiar friends, particularly his brethren in the ministry, burst forth in a rich fountain of harmless merriment, and which gave in after life to a piety of the deepest and most earnest nature, an air of cheerfulness, which preserved it from any appearance of moroseness or gloom. He was possessed then of great bodily activity, and was a superior swimmer. An old man living in 1857, pointed out a tree well out in the lake to which he used to swim.

At the same period he is represented as remarkable for a most inquisitive disposition, “searching into every thing,” as it was expressed to the writer. One curious example of this was mentioned at Comrie. On one of the neighbouring hills, was a stone, which either in its appearance or position seemed somewhat singular. Desirous of understanding its mysteries, he engaged some men with a bottle of whiskey to turn it over. They did so but found nothing under it. It was probably connected with some superstition, possibly with the idea of money being found under it. From the same inquisitive disposition lie had made himself familiar with the superstitions of his countrymen and the legends of his native district. Of these he afterward wrote home an account, which is now not to be found. It may be mentioned that the neighbourhood, though not connected with the religious history of Scotland, has many interesting historical associations. It was the scene of bloody conflicts between the Romans and the Caledonians, and it was at the foot of the hills already described, that the conquerors of the world were arrested in the career of conquest. The battle of Mons Grampius, it is generally believed, was fought a little to the east of Comrie, and some of the hills in its neighbourhood bear names, whose meaning in Gaelic commemorates the contests of that era. The district also has associations, which would be interesting to a Highlander, particularly when the spirit of clanship existed in considerable force. The immediate vicinity of his birth place, was the scene of many sanguinary conflicts between the Campbells and MacGregors; while eastward of Comrie, is the village Fiantiach or Fingal’s house, and Cairn Comhol, in memory of Fingal’s father, and also the supposed tomb of Ossian. It will be unnecessary to inform our readers that he was too true a Highlander ever for a moment to doubt the authenticity of Ossian’s Poems.

During the course of his Theological studies he taught school at Morebattle, in the south of Scotland. A widow lady, living in 1856, daughter of the Rev. James Morrison of Norham, on the south side of the Tweed, a few miles below Berwick, and niece of the Rev. David' Morrison of Morebattle, under whose ministry he was placed, recollects of his paying a visit of a few weeks to her father’s family, in which he was much esteemed, as in all the families and by all the persons with whom he privately associated. He was then a tall, dark, fine looking man, of very cheerful disposition. He sang Gaelic songs to them, and wrote several poetical pieces in English, which her father and the family admired. She also states that by her father, as well as her uncle, and the other ministers of the neighbourhood, he was highly esteemed as a man of decided piety, excellent talents, and engaging disposition and manners.

He also taught for some time in Argyleshire with the view of improving himself in Gaelic. Though this was the vernacular language of his native district, yet the dialect spoken by the people there, was not considered very pure. From the state of the Highlands at that time, with but a small proportion of its ministers who either knew or preached the gospel, and many of the inhabitants in a state of ignorance and superstition, but little in advance of what they were at the time of the Reformation, and the Secession having few Gaelic preachers and anxious to add to their number, he felt himself called in the Providence of God, as well a.s impelled by his affection for “his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh,” to preach the gospel among his Highland countrymen. And in order that he might be “thoroughly furnished” for the work, he took a school in the Western Highlands, where he had opportunity of making himself master of the language, probably where some eminent Gaelic scholars resided. We may mention that, as the result of his attention to the subject, he became one of the most thorough Gaelic scholars of his day whether in Britain or America.

He did not however disdain humbler occupations. There is in the possession of his family a large map of Perthshire, which he purchased several years after he came to Nova Scotia, and he informed his family, that he had acted as chain bearer in the surveys, upon which it was made.

It may be mentioned here that he had somewhat of a philological taste; and having made himself an excellent Hebrew scholar, and at the same time studying his native tongue, not in a superficial manner, but in its scientific construction, he became convinced of the existence of certain radical affinities between these two languages. This was afterward brought before the public by Dr. Jamieson, in his learned work entitled Hermes Scythicus. In a letter to the Doctor, accompanying a copy of this book as a present, Dr. J. says, “It will remind yon of our old lucubrations about the Hebrew and Gaelic.” It has come down to us as a dim tradition that his investigations on this subject, previous to his coming to this country, were likely to have given him a name among the literati of his country, though from his great modesty, he never spoke of it himself.

His naturally inquisitive disposition and warm affection for his Highland countrymen, also led him to enquire into the history and characteristics of the- various Highland clans. Reference to these will be found in one of his Gaelic poems, to be referred to hereafter. The same feeling led him about this period to resume the patronymic of his ancestors. It is well known that the clan Gregor had been outlawed, and that it was for a time unlawful even to use the name. His father’s family had in consequence for several generations borne the name of Drummond. Rut having evidence from written documents or authentic tradition, that they were genuine members of this celebrated elan, he took their name, though his relations generally continued to be known as Drummonds. Having referred to the warmth of his feelings as a Highlander, we may insert here a draft of a letter, though written after he was licensed, addressed to a clergyman in the north, of the name of MacGregor, which we have deciphered from his short hand MS.

Rev. Sir—Pardon the presumption of an unknown young clergyman, who troubles you for once with his correspondence. The chief reason for my writing to you is my joy for having found a minister of iny own clan, for I am a MaeGregor, anti I hear that you are of the same clan. I never knew any minister of my own clan, but Mr. J., to whose kindness I am much obliged, until in June last, being in the north country, I heard of you. I was north at N-, and on my way back, I found that the landlord at A. was a MacGregor, on which account I callcd for him, and had a little conversation with him, and lie told me particularly concerning you. I rejoiced as soon as I heard it. I was in haste, being obliged to be in Crieff against Sabbath, and on that account did not call upon you. Yet notwithstanding I am now sorry that I did it not, for I found a MacGregor in G-, who is acquainted with your Character at least, and recommended your acquaintance to me, and blamed me for not calling. I cannot help this now, but if I come to the north again, I shall probably sec you. The only reparation that I can make at present, is to trouble you with these few lines, by means of an acquaintance that is passing the road.

I am truly glad to find a MacGregor of your character, for though our clan were treated worse than they deserved at the hands of nun, yet I believe they never were, any more than the vest of the clans, very religious. It is good that there are now religious  amongst them, especially that there ;ire sonic whose office it is to preach Christ’s gospel, and to declare to sinners, the gift of God, eternal life. Let us rejoice that the grace of God is free, free to the chief of sinners, and let. us labour to declare (?) the glory of God and do good to the souls of sinners. I shall think myself honoured if you please to make a return to this and direct it, J. D. McG., &c.

To make the most of the scanty materials in our possession for the illustration of this portion of his life, we may give two extracts from letters which serve to throw a little light upon his character and history previous to his arrival in Nova Scotia. The Rev. James Robertson, of Kilmarnock, in a letter dated June 1788, says, “My wife presents her most affectionate respects to you, minding the time when you burnt the candle and beat the coals to read, when you should have been sleeping.” And Mr. David Wallace, writing from Paisley, says, “I have no doubt that after your long absence from this country, you will not recollect my name, but you may perhaps remember that when in Paisley you frequently visited the mother-in-law of my father, William Wallace, who as she had but little English, took much pleasure in your conversation in the Gaelic language, and when I also (being then about five years of age) had the pleasure of sitting on your knee, which was to me at that time sublime happiness. The sentiments of regard impressed upon the hearts of my parents, on account of your kindness to them, and my grandmother mentioned above, and which local distance and length of time cannot obliterate, are the incentives to my now (at their desire) writing you.”


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