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Memoir of the Rev James MacGregor D.D.
Chapter VIII. - Third and Fourth Years' Labour 1788 - 1790


“Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to the councils,—and ye shall be brought before Governors and Kings for my sake.” Matt. x. 17, 18.

“Three weeks before the sacrament, a gentleman from Amberst put into my hand a petition, craving some supply of sermon, subscribed by a number of persons there. This was the first notice that I had of a body of Presbyterians, except at Merigomish, anywhere in the Province, destitute, and wishing for preaching. I laid the petition before the session, and they appointed me to preach at Amherst on the second, third, and fourth Sabbaths of August. Amherst being one hundred miles off, the gentleman wished much that I should go with him immediately, but this could not be granted, as the sacrament was given out. He returned and took me to Amherst at the time appointed. Going through Mr. Smith’s congregation, the Chiganois people, who formed part of it, set upon me to give them a week-day sermon upon my return. At first I refused, as it might be offensive to Mr. Smith and others; but they plied me with arguments, so that I had to yield. They said that they sought nothing but the gospel, and that I could not answer to my Master for refusing to preach the gospel to perishing sinners. Not wishing to appear obstinate, I consented; and, accordingly, on my return, preached there to a small congregation, happy to find such an apparent earnestness for the gospel. I found, however, that considerable alienation from their minister existed in the congregation, which I was sorry to find I could do little to remove.

“After leaving Colchester, we had to go through fifty miles of woods to Amherst, in Cumberland, with only a few houses in the whole distance. Nothing worth mentioning happened to us in our journey, save that my guide, who rode a high horse, mired him most fearfully, so that I despaired of his life. After a great struggle he got out, but I would not suffer my beast to follow his track upon any account, so that we had to go up through the woods a good way, searching for a place where the mire might be passed, which, at last, we found, and returned down the other side till we found the horse.

“When I came fairly in sight of Amherst, I was charmed with the view, especially of its marshes, which are extensive, perfectly level, and, to appearance, extremely fertile. After a few days I crossed to the Westmoreland side, where I saw the largest of the marshes, Tantramar: it is the largest and most beautiful piece of level land which I ever saw, extending about six miles in breadth, and sixteen in length, but narrowing much toward the northern extremity. Little of it was yet mown, but I was told that after a few weeks it would be covered with thousands of hay ricks.

“The settlers of Amherst were Presbyterians, from the north of Ireland, who had emigrated there on account of the tithes and other taxes, which they counted oppressive. They got excellent lots of land at Amherst, on which they could live well without labour, as each lot had a good portion of marsh annexed to it, which enabled the farmer to keep a good dairy, and to manure sufficiently his upland, which was but of moderate quality. They were a pious, intelligent people, who much regretted their situation, destitute of a gospel minister. I preached three Sabbaths to them, besides some week-day sermons, visitations, and religious conversations. My ministrations appeared very acceptable to them. Before I left them they held a public meeting, at which they signed a petition to the Synod, for a minister, specifying a sum for his maintenance; and the petition they committed to me to transmit to the Synod, which I did.

“Here I saw a woman who had been bedfast for a number of years, and who was on the borders of despair account eternal salvation. "When I first went to visit her, she hid herself under the bed clothes and would not speak. I asked her many questions, but got no answer. At last I said some outlandish thing, which made her pop out her head and speak. She was pale and emaciated, and her countenance the picture of despair. She spoke freely, and described her ease plainly and particularly, and showed great quickness and penetration in her replies to my arguings. Though she was without spot before the world, yet she believed herself to be before God, who sees the heart, the most guilty and the vilest being that ever existed, shut up from all access to faith, repentance, or hope, and sealed over to endless ruin. In her view, the sins of Saul, David, and Manasseh, of Peter, Paul, and Judas, were not at all equal to hers. She saw aggravations in her sins, which could not exist iu those of Beelzebub. I had a most lively feeling for this woman’s distress, but could not help her. I visited her as often as possible, and always left her better, but always found her on my return as distressed as ever. "When leaving Amherst I called to bid her farewell. I conversed and prayed with her, besought her and charged her not to sin against her own soul, by rejecting an infinitely gracious Saviour and all his blessings. A gentleman from Amherst accompanied me to Colchester, and I made the rest of my way alone, thinking more of this woman than of all the rest in Amherst.

“She had been confined five years before I saw her, and it was four years after before she got relief. She was seven years without washing her face but once, and very soon after she bedaubed it with ashes, that her face might not belie her heart. During the next five years I went back to Amherst there, and during my stay there two of the times, I did my utmost to comfort her, but in vain. The last time I was there she was happy. When God’s time came she obtained relief, and that without any human means but her own reflection. Several experienced Christians in Amherst did all they could for her for some years at first, but finding their labour in vain, they lost all hope of her relief in this world. One morning, as hopeless as ever, she was recounting in her thoughts all the great sinners of whom she had read in the Bible and in the histories of the Church, who had obtained mercy, and concluding as usual that she was a greater sinner than all, when a thought suddenly struck her, what should hinder Christ from bestowing upon her one great pardon far exceeding the pardons which he had scattered over the whole of the individuals of whom she had been thinking? Was it above his power, or his love, or his grace? No. From that moment she saw her pardon possible, and soon she saw it probable, and soon again sure. Shortly after she broke her arm, and not being rightly set, it never mended, and was often attended with excruciating pain, which she bore with great patience. She was to the last a cheerful and judicious Christian, filled with joy and peace of believing.

“ On coming home, I enclosed the Amherst petition in a letter to the Synod, in which I earnestly urged them to answer the prayer of the petitioners. I represented that the Amherst Presbyterians were pious and intelligent people, and substantial farmers; and though they were not numerous, the neighbourhood was populous, and without ministers, so that there was good reason to hope that a minister would be successful among them. I now entertained hope of seeing a brother in the ministry before long, but was disappointed.

“Having occasion to travel hither and thither through the congregation, several friends urged me to buy a horse and ride. I did not relish the proposal, for I could not conceive how riding could be a pleasure through the forests of Pictou; and when I did ride, as was sometimes the case, I always felt more pain than in walking. But they replied, that if I were used to riding a while I would like it better. I was therefore persuaded, and bought a horse, and rode him as oft as I could for nearly a year; but still I had more pleasure in walking than riding, and therefore sold the horse and took to my feet again.

When winter came, I followed the same plan of visitation and examination, as well as preaching, which I followed before, and found the work specially pleasant but very fatiguing. It was very pleasant, for though I visited many families without religion, yet in many others I had sweet fellowship, conversing of our faith and unbelief, our joys and griefs, our hopes and fears, our trials and deliverances, and the wonderful and gracious managements of God in leading our souls onward in our heavenly course. Our conversation was in heaven, at least in part; and, without question, we enjoyed a little heaven below. But it was very fatiguing, for the bounds of the congregation were gradually enlarging. Pious Highland families in other parts of the Province, finding that the gospel was preached in the Gaelic in Pictou, disposed of their places, and came there to settle. These, with other emigrants, settled in the outskirts of the congregation, but as they chose the best of the land, they frequently left large pieces of the more barren land behind them unsettled, all which I had to travel over every time I went to see them. This continual extension of the congregation soon rendered the visitation of it impossible.

“We had an addition of forty-eight communicants this year (17S9), and three more strangers from Merigomish. There had been a continual strife between William MacKay and Colin MacKay, two neighbours and relations, on account of which they were both refused admission to the Lord’s Supper last year. Colin made acknowledgments now satisfactory to the session, but William would make none. The consequence was, that Colin was admitted and William not, which irritated him greatly. Had I known of this strife at first, it would have been an increase to ray trials, as I boarded with William. I found it necessary now to change my lodgings, which a kind Providence enabled me to do, as Donald MacKay, the elder, had newly built a house, with a room on purpose for my accommodation, where I lodged till I got a house of my own. I made many efforts in private, both by myself and others, to reconnect these two men, but wholly in vain, on account of the lofty and obstinate temper of William MacKay. Finding himself excluded from Church privileges, he commenced as violent a persecution of the Church as lay in his power. He thought he could do great things, but he clid very little, for very few even of our enemies would unite with him. He slandered all good men, but especially the elders and me. I owed him a year’s board at leaving his house, and though I offered to pay him, as I did the previous year, he would come to no terms but such as the law would settle. As I had to go to Amherst again, he contrived to take me prisoner in Truro, as if I were an absconding debtor. Being in the house of old Major Archibald, the sheriff came in and very sheepishly told me that he was obliged to take me prisoner. I told him I had no intention of running away. lie said he would be my bail himself. Major Archibald said, “You need not, I will be it, and in due form, if you please.” The sitting of the court at Onslow (a few miles beyond Truro) exactly suited the time of my return from Amherst, and the trial came on in less than an hour after I arrived at the court-house. I feed no lawyer, and summoned no witness, but showed to tin? satisfaction of the court that the case was wholly a litigious one, as I had offered to pay him before coming there. The jury gave him the same sum for my board which I had given him for the year before; but, most of them knowing that I had been at Amherst nearly a month, they allowed him only eleven months’ board of the year, and laid on him the costs of the suit, amounting to about £20. I could not but observe the kindness of Providence in this suit. It did not cost me a farthing, and it did not detain me two hours ou my journey.

“He was greatly irritated, and vowed revenge, if possible. I happened to afford him, as he thought, a fair opportunity, by giving him a character not suiting a good man. He sued me for £500 before the Supreme Court in Halifax, for he would not trust the Court of Common Pleas. As I could not conveniently attend the first term of the court, I had to fee an attorney to put off the trial till the next term, at which I attended with two witnesses sufficiently able to prove all that I had alleged. But, to my great disappointment, I found that the plaintiff had the privilege of putting it off to a third term, which he did; so that I and my witnesses had our labour for our pains. Thus disappointed, I resolved to take no more trouble about it, but let it take its course. Accordingly it was tried nest term, without any evidence on my part, and I was cast in 20s., and the costs of suit, which amounted to £15 or £20—a sum which served as friendly advice to me to speak cautiously, and cheaper than could have been expected. The sum which the plaintiff obtained made him a laughing-stock, and mortified him much more than if he had got nothing at all.”

Wm. MacKay was at strife, not only with Colin, but he had at the same time a quarrel with his neighbour on the other side, one Donald Cameron, a Roman Catholic. The Session by great efforts succeeded in bringing William and Colin to something like terms of reconciliation, but when this was done, the Doctor said to the former, “Now you ought to try and be on friendly terras with your other neighbour.” The proposal put him in great wrath, and he exclaimed, “ Would you have me agree with a Papist?” The Doctor began to reason with him on the propriety of his doing so, urging that the latter was alone among them, there being none of his persuasion near— that they ought to be kind to him, as it might have a beneficial effect upon his mind—that he had already begun to attend preaching, and that by continuing to treat him kindly, they did not know what saving results might follow. The more he reasoned in this way, the more angry MacKay became, accusing the Doctor of endeavouring to lead him astray, when he would have him to be at peace with a Papist, and at length ordering them out of the house.

In pleading his cause before the court at Onslow, he was said to have been very severe upon all connected with the prosecution, among other things quoting and commenting on the passage, "Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.” Such was the earnestness of his denunciations, that it is said that even the Judge got frightened. And as for the lawyer who conducted the case against him, those near him saw his coat-tails shaking with his agitation, and when he came out, he said he felt at the time as if every word the Doctor said was sending him to hell.

When the second prosecution was going on, he naturally felt much anxiety. But he met with every sympathy, and received ready assistance, not only in his own congregation, but in other places. One instance is worthy of being related : On his way to Halifax he was in the house of Mr. Robert Johnson, one of the Antiburgher party in Colchester. He had had a quarrel with the Session of Truro, and given them a great deal of trouble, and had taken offence at Mr. Cock. He had also joined in the controversy between Dr. MacGregor and the Truro brethren, and was a warm friend of the Doctor. He was a man in very good circumstances. When the Doctor was leaving his house, he said to him, “ I suppose you will want some money?” “I would be the better of a few pounds more than I have, but I have good friends before me.” "Yes, and you have good friends behind you too.” He then brought out £50, saying, “Take that and if I do not ask you for it, you will not have to pay it.” The Doctor refused to take the whole, but took a few pounds for his immediate wants.

After the last trial MacKay became his deadly foe, and continued his hostility in every form as long as they both lived. He was a man of very violent temper, and kept himself and others in hot water. His life was any thing but a happy one. Donald MacKay used to say that it happened to him iu a manner similar to what had happened to David. He had slain Uriah with the sword, and therefore it was threatened, “The sword shall never depart from thine house.” So MacKay had commenced a lawsuit against Dr. MacGregor, the first in which he was ever engaged, and from that date he was scarcely out of litigation as long as he lived, at times being at law with his own family. A large amount of property passed through his hands, he having received a grant of 2000 acres of land for a caribou calf which lie presented to the Governor, Sir John Wentworth, land which he sold for as many pounds, yet when he died there was an execution out against him. Some of his sons, however, became sincere friends of Dr. MacGregor.

As allusion is made above to his change of lodging, we may remark that Donald MacKay’s house, in which he lodged for about eight years, was one of the common log houses of the time, and that the room fitted up for him was in the garret. It was, as is said in this country, ceiled, a word applied not only to the inner roof of a building, but to describe any part of it which is lined with boards, properly jointed at the edges, in opposition to what is plastered. A plastered house did not then exist in Pictou. Here he had his bed, and a fire place, with shelves for his books, and as far as these accommodations were concerned he had not so much reason to complain. The family too were disposed to do all in their power for his comfort, and in his host, he had a Christian friend with whom he often “took sweet counsel.” But in other respects his circumstances were far from being agreeable. Donald MacKay’s wife was frequently insane, and unfit to manage her family. Our readers may imagine the consequences as to his domestic comfort. On one occasion, when the Doctor and Donald came home after being absent, they found she had thrown the bed and bedding down stairs. Donald, without one word of anger or reproach, commenced gathering them up and restoring them to their proper place. The Doctor, in admiration of his calmness, remarked to some bystanders, “Did you ever see a man like Donald?”

“Mrs. A-, who had been a woman of ill fame, was admitted to the Lord’s Supper this season. She made very great professions of repentance and reformation, and the elders were unanimously of opinion that she should be admitted. I expressed-my fears that she might turn out a stony-ground hearer, and that the spring of her profession was merely the general stir about religion that was in the congregation; at the same time I yielded to their judgment. I wrote her case to my trusty friend, the Bev. John Buist, in Greenock, who gave me his opinion that we had acted prematurely, and that the conduct of such characters should be proved for a good while before admission. She maintained a consistency of character about three years, and after that was guilty of imprudences, with which the session could not bear. If we had had patience for three years, we would not have admitted her. The question is, should we have waited all that time?

“The surveyor-general of the Province being in Pictou this harvest, I informed him that the East River meeting-house was built upon a vacant lot, containing about three hundred acres of land, and asked him if a grant could be gotten of it for a glebe to Presbyterian ministers. He answered, ‘Yes; that there was a precedent for it.’ A number of years afterward application was made for the grant, and it was obtained. As Dissenting congregations are not bodies corporate, the grant was made to Donald MacKay, Donald Fraser, and me, and to our heirs, in trust for the congregation ; and I believe it was the only mode of granting which the governor could have taken in the circumstances. The bishop, happening to see the grant in the register-office some years since, was' heard to say, ‘It is too late now; but had I known in time, neither MacGregor, nor MacKay, nor Fraser should have gotten that grant’—a pretty good evidence that bigotry still remains in perfection in the Church of England.

“This fall I was surprised by a proposal from the congregation to send home for another minister. I asked them how they thought to maintain another minister, when they had enough to do to pay me £90 ? They replied, that it would be hard for a few years, but that every year the place would grow stronger; that they would make greater exertion for the sake of getting a more frequent dispensation of gospel ordinances; and they hoped that I would lower my stipend for a few years, for the sake of getting a fellow-labourer, to lighten my heavy burden. I was very glad to hear such a reply; so I agreed to let the stipend down to £75, and they agreed to raise it £5 annually, till it would be high enough, and to do the same to the other minister. A petition for another minister was accordingly subscribed by the session and congregation, which I transmitted to the Synod, together with a letter, in which I used all the arguments I could think of to induce them to grant the prayer of the petition. At the same time I wrote to an acquaintance, a preacher, Eneas MacBcan, who, I thought, would suit both the people and me. I was high in hope that I would soon see two fellow-labourers—one for Amherst and one for Pictou, and my hope was raised still higher by a promise from my acquaintance that he would come, should the Synod so appoint. But when I afterward got the news of the Synod, I was sadly disappointed and grieved; for, although the Synod appointed him, he would not come, neither could any other be got for Amherst.

“The people of Merigomish, in a petition to the session, expressing their desire for the introduction of church order among them, prayed that proper steps might be taken for the ordination of some elders over them. The session cheerfully granted the petition, and directed that the regular steps should be taken to accomplish its design. Some time afterward Walter Murray, John Small, and George Boy, were ordained accordingly.”

“1790. This winter I underwent great fatigue in visitation, and yet had to leave many families unvisited. I sat up many nights, almost the whole night engaged in religious conversation, sometimes rejoicing with those that rejoiced, and sometimes weeping with those that wept. The work of grace was apparently increasing. Several were under great fear that they had communicated unworthily.

“I think it was this year that the first house in Pictou was built. It was some years without a second. Now it contains 1440 souls.

“We had only about twenty additional communicants, and seven strangers, three from Merigomish, and four from Shubenaeadie, nearly sixty miles off. As to attendance at the sacrament, I observe once for all that every year there were a few new communicants; and that till more ministers came and dispensed the sacrament nearer to them, some came from Shubenacadie, Kennetcook, and Nine Mile lliver, a distance of seventy and eighty miles.

“Soon after the sacrament, Mrs.- fell into grievous distress of mind, which continued near twelve months. It began with an apprehension that she had communicated unworthily, but soon spread out into a great variety of branches. The evil one was, in divine sovereignty, permitted to keep her fearfully upon the rack during the greater part of the time she was ill, holding first one temptation and then another before her face till he emptied his whole quiver. She had eaten and drunk damnation to herself—she was guilty of the body and blood of the Lord—she was a reprobate plainly—she had committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and could not be forgiven—she had sinned away her day of grace, and was justly given up to incurable hardness of heart. Faith in Christ, repentance unto life, and the love of God, were precious gifts of God, which she had provoked him, by her unparalleled pride and ingratitude, to shut up for ever from her. She had most piercing agonies from an apprehension of God’s wrath then, and most fearful forebodings of worse to come. She would swim all the way to Scotland through a sea of fire to enjoy the love of Christ. Never was a creature seen so self inconsistent as she; for at one time she would do anything and give anything to have Christ, but at another time she cared nothing at all about him, so unconcerned was she about her soul. She believed herself without a parallel among the race of Adam, and for many days expected that she would be made a dreadful monument of divine wrath before the following day. For some time she gave over praying, reading, and hearing of sermons, and was pained at the proposal of prayer. Her ease excited much sympathy among the religious part of the people, and no little pique and ridicule among the rest. Several Christians laboured much, and among them I did my best, to combat all her temptations; and we saw that our reasonings had a gradual, though not an immediate, effect toward her good. Almost every time I went to see her, there was some change in her trouble. The enemy’s artillery was at last exhausted, or rather God’s time to favour was come, and she was restored to greater peace and comfort than ever she enjoyed. Perhaps nothing contributed more eminently to her peace than meditation on God’s patience and kindness in disappointing her so frequently of being on the morrow a monument of God’s wrath on earth and in hell. In this she found herself frequently and happily mistaken, and it led her to conclude that she might be mistaken in other things of which she was equally sure. She came to see that herself alone stood all the time in the way of her comfort, that Christ was all along freely pouring his blessings on her head, but she turned them all away, till she could find in her evil heart something worthy of them.”

This may be a suitable place to remark, that he was peculiarly fitted for dealing with cases of spiritual distress, especially by his patience, his sympathy with them in their trouble, and the skill with which he adapted his instructions to their condition. He would listen to their complaints with attention, and for hours talk and reason with them. Such was the kindness of his manner, that they were greatly attracted to him. We have heard, for example, of an instance many years later, where a man who used himself to come from Cape John all the way to the East River, a distance of more than twenty miles, to see the Doctor and have him talk with him. Of his tact in meeting the difficulties of such persons the following may serve as an example : There was a woman living between where the Albion Mines are now and the Middle River, who had every appearance of being a very pious woman, but through the prevalence of unbelief, was always writing bitter things against herself and refusing peace. On one occasion her husband, who kept up family worship, was singing the words of the 131st Psalm, “ My soul is like a weaned child,” she shut the book, refusing to join bccause she could not sing these words with truth. He talked long and frequently with her, but resolved to try another mode. So one day he came along riding on horseback, and made as if he would go past. She came out and asked him with some anxiety, if he were not coming in. “I believe not.” “Why won’t you come?” “Oh, you don’t like either me or my Master.” The woman was quite hurt at the idea, but this interview was, wc believe, the means of showing her the wrong she was doing herself, and of leading her to peace.

The tendency in the present day is to look upon this state of mind as the result of mere bodily derangement. Doubtless this is often one cause, and it is a view of it that is not to be overlooked. But we fear that the spiritual element, which may frequently be the main one, is apt to be disregarded. This was the aspect, however, in which he mainly, if not entirely, regarded them, perhaps sometimes neglecting bodily causes, which might have had considerable influence. He treated the bitter things they spoke of themselves as temptations of the Evil one, and sought to remedy them by prayer and the application of “the truth as it is in Jesus.” Looking at them as maladies of the soul, his solicitude was to lead the unfortunate persons to the great Physician, and to apply to their wounded spirit the balm which is in Gilead. In this he was often very successful. Of this the following is the most remarkable instance we have heard : A man who lived at Cape John shore, named MacKinnon, had fallen into a state of melancholy, and acted in such a manner that his friends thought him crazy, and had him lodged in the Pictou jail. When there the poor man was always calling for Dr. MacGregor, and saying, that if he would see him he would soon set him all right. At length they did send for the Doctor, who came and conversed with him in Gaelic. He soon saw that the man was really anxious about his spiritual condition, and told the sheriff that the man was not crazy, and that they might safely let him go. The result of the Doctor’s conversations with the man was that he was soon rejoicing in Christ Jesus, and lived a consistent Christian life till the time of his death.

In the summer of this year (1700) he visited Onslow. We have not been able to ascertain the circumstances which led to his visit, or why he preached there, while the people were properly under the ministerial charge of Mr. Cock, but we believe that there was a party opposed to the latter, and that he had gone at their solicitation. We know that on one occasion he was refused admission to the church. The party at whose solicitation he was preaching proposed breaking open the doors, but he refused to allow any such measures to be taken and preached in the open air.

Of bis present visit the only incident that we have to record, is one that is mentioned by himself among a number of others, which he records under the title “Memorabilia,” which we will give in his own words:

“In July 1790, in Onslow meeting-house I had a speedy and remarkable answer of an ejaculatory prayer. Immediately after sermon, at my right hand stood up a man and intimated to the congregation that Mr. Chipman would preach there after half an hour’s interval. Immediately I prayed in my heart, ‘Lord, confound him, that he may not prevent the springing of the good seed sown,’ for I knew that Mr. Chipman, being a New Light preacher, would teach the people the grossest errors. About five minutes after he began to preach, Mr. Chipman fainted and continued senseless about ten minutes, and though he recovered, yet he did not preach any that day. Therefore another New Light minister, who was there, stood up to preach in his place, but after he had proceeded about five minutes, confounded, he gave it up, and the congregation dismissed.”


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