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Memoir of the Rev James MacGregor D.D.
Chapter IX. - General view of his early Ministrations in Pictou


“Thus saith the Lord, I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Israel was holiness to the Lord and the first fruits of his increase.” Jer. ii. 2, 3. |

Having advanced thus far, it may be proper to pause in our narrative, to give a general view of his early ministrations, more especially as our subsequent chapters will introduce us into his Missionary labours abroad. The sketch we shall give, however, is not intended to describe merely the years over which we have passed, but will be descriptive of the whole nine years in which he was alone, and also to some extent of his pastoral labours during his whole life.

When he arrived, he was deeply discouraged at the gloomy appearance of the country and the low state of the people. A letter of one of his friends represents him as having written of “the dismal appearance of the place, and that if he could have conveniently got away from it he would have come.” Still he set about his labours with energy, though oftentimes with very depressed spirits.

From the first his sermons were sound and evangelical, and delivered in an agreeable manner. But neither in vigour of thought nor fervour of appeal, did they reach the superlative excellence of those of his after years. But the improvement was very rapid. One circumstance which perhaps more than any other especially tended to arouse the ardour of his nature, was his view of the condition of the settlers. “His spirit was stirred within him when he beheld" the ignorance and spiritual desolation around him, and all his energies, intellectual, and spiritual, as well as physical, were awakened on their behalf. To the preparation of his discourses, he devoted as much time and labour as his circumstances would permit. When at home he was diligent in study, and in his little garret he spent hours over his books, it might be when others were asleep. But he was much of his time from home, and even when at home he had often little time allowed him for study. He was not long here till he was greatly interrupted when at home by calls from persons wishing to converse with him. There were times when not a day would elapse without such calls, sometimes to the number of half a dozen. Many of these would be anxious about the salvation of their souls—some would come to have their perplexities solved either in regard to matters of religious experience or Christian doctrine, while some perhaps came from curiosity, or to enjoy his company. He however never repelled any, and spent much time in conversing with them, although their business was not of such a nature as to justify such encroachments upon his time. So little consideration had the people that some would come to converse with him on the Sabbath morning. Under these cir-stances it was little of regular study that he could do.

He was therefore soon under the necessity of abandoning the practice of writing out his sermons in full. The mode which he adopted, and which he followed through life, was to write outlines, containing the heads and particulars, with the leading illustrations, and the principal passages of Scripture to be quoted. Of these we have already given samples. These were the result of much thought, or as much as he could give, and he learned to study in every situation, sometimes with the noise of children around him, at other times travelling along the road. On one occasion going up to preach at a private house, in company with old James MacDonald, the elder, the latter happened in conversation to quote a particular passage of

Scripture. A little after the Doctor became silent, as if musing. James thinking that he was studying his sermon, did not disturb him. When they arrived at the. place of preaching, the Doctor preached on the text which James had quoted, with great life; observing afterward, that he had intended to preach on another subject, but that the remark of James had led him to select the one chosen. Frequently, however, he was obliged to preach without much study, and he was graciously sustained, as many of the servants of the Lord have been in such circumstances. On one occasion, coming home to Donald MacKay’s very late in the week, he was obliged to preach without much preparation. When service was over, Donald said to him, “I think you got that sermon out of your sleeve.” He acknowledged that he had not much time to study it. “Oh,” said Donald, “I wish that you would always preach without study, if you would give us such sermons as that.”

It has been said that the nature of a minister’s preaching might be learned from a list of his texts. We have such lists for some months of his early ministry. From these wc learn, that his preaching was occupied with the great themes of evangelical truth. One practice, then common in Scotland, which he followed, may be particularly noticed, viz., preaching courses of sermons, sometimes on some great doctrine of the gospel, at other times on the several verses, in succession, of some rich portion of the word of God. Thus we find a series of discourses on Rom. viii., another on John xv., and a third on Isaiah liii.; commonly one verse, but sometimes only one clause, and at other times two verses being employed at a time. That he did not neglect the practical duties of religion, we may learn from his course of sermons on the Ten Commandments already described. Besides he regularly followed the Scottish practice of lecturing, or continuous exposition of the books of Scripture, his first course being on the gospel of Matthew.

Very soon a deep impression was made upon the minds of the community, manifested in the eagerness with which they attended upon his ministry, from every part of the district.

Many doubtless were attracted by tbe novelty of the service (for preaching was then a novelty), and even to those who had a spiritual taste for the word, this added an additional charm to his ministrations. But many came from higher motives, even to hear words by which they might be saved. In winter they could not all assemble at one place, as the snow shoe was the only mode of conveyance. But in summer, whether the preaching was at the East or "West River, the inhabitants of all the neighbouring settlements attended. A large number came by water in canoes or boats, but many walked; and we have heard even of young women walking regularly to the East River, from West River and Rogers Hill, distances of ten, twelve, or fifteen miles. The aged would set out on Saturday, and stay overnight with some friend on the way, while the young and robust would leave home early on the Sabbath morning, perhaps before sunrise. They usually travelled in small companies, the older endeavouring to lead the conversation to religious subjects. Most of them walked barefoot, some carrying their shoes and stockings in their hands, till they arrived at a brook near the church, where they washed their feet, and put on their shoes and stockings, and thus proceeded to the place of meeting.

When they assembled, all, with the exception of the profligates, who soon relinquished attendance, listened with the utmost attention, the younger portion of the audience as to something both new and strange, the older with a pleasure chastened by the recollection of similar privileges enjoyed in their native land. The only interruption, we have heard of, was by a Quaker, present on one occasion, who when the Doctor had after sermon called upon the parents to present their children for baptism, stood up and said, “Friend James, who gave thee authority to do that?” The Doctor replied, “Como to me to-morrow and I will tell you.” The Quaker did not accept the invitation.

When the services were over, they travelled in groups home ward, when the conversation, led by one of the elders or some aged Christian, would be on spiritual subjects; but would chiefly turn upon the sermons of the day, and among the company, the greater portion of what they had heard would be repeated. In this Robert Marshall and Kenneth Fraser were particularly distinguished'. Returning from the Loch Broom Church, the hitter would collect those going in the same direction with him, at. a spot where there was a windfall on the path. Here they sat down, and the bread and other refreshments which they had brought being handed round, he would begin at the youngest, and require him to tell what he recollected of the sermon, and proceed in the same manner to the eldest, and among them the greater portion of the discourses would be recalled.

A good many of the older people from the Highlands could not read, but it is said that many of them could give a wonderfully correct account of the sermon, and had much Scripture in their memories. Those who could read had been taught in a manner common till a much later period in the Highlands. This was to take the English Bible, and teach the pupils to give a Gaelic word for each English one. Thus even those who could speak very little English, could give an account of an English sermon, or translate a chapter of the English Bible into Gaelic. And as Gaelic Bibles were then very scarce, this way of reading the Scriptures was very common among them.

Next in importance to the public preaching of the gospel, and perhaps occupying more time, and involving more labour, were his ministrations from house to house, and his public catechising. But regularly did he discharge these important parts of pastoral duty. His visitations were conducted in the following manner: After the usual salutations, he lost no time in proceeding to the object of his visit. He commenced by asking each member of the household, beginning at the head of the family and proceeding to the youngest, whether they regularly observed the duty of secret prayer. He next asked the head of the family whether he discharged the duty of family worship. The various answers to these questions led to corresponding explanations and exhortations. He then commenced with the husband and started some subject in religion, and put such questions as might best serve to elicit his state of mind, lie thus engaged him in conversation, and tendered such advice, encouragement, or warning, as his case seemed to require. lie did the same with the wife, and with each member of the family around to the youngest child, to whom lie put a few questions, and spoke a few kindly words. Thus his visitation was a direct religious conversation with every individual, and an earnest pressing home upon each of religious things. We need not say that such an exercise, in the style of familiar conversation of which he was master, was fitted to make him acquainted with the spiritual condition of every member of his flock, and how such close personal dealing was fitted to produce saving impressions. The whole was concluded by an affectionate, fervent prayer. So much time was occupied in these exercises, and the houses were so much scattered, that three or at most four families were as many as he could visit in a day.

The following is a brief description of his diets of examination. On Sabbath intimation was given that all the families, within a certain distance, would meet at such a house on a particular day named. Such was the interest which these meetings excited, in those days, that not only would the members of the families in the quarter attend, but a number from other sections would esteem it a privilege to be present, and would attend to receive instruction as hearers, so that the house would be full. After prayer he commenced with one family, usually that in whose dwelling they were assembled. Commonly some question of the Shorter Catechism was chosen as the basis of instruction. Perhaps Justification was the theme, and then the father was examined on some point in the question, such as the meaning of Justification, or the condemnation of all men by nature, and the impossibility of being justified by our own doings. The answers given afforded opportunities for the correction of errors—for the elucidation of what was not clearly understood, or the fuller illustration of what was but imperfectly appreciated. Then he turned to the mother, and proceeded to elucidate, by means of questions to her, another point in the question, and so with the other members of the family in order, with the exception of the very young children. The next family was dealt with in a similar manner, and so on till he had gone over them all. And now the signal is given, “You young children, come around me/' and immediately there is a pattering of little feet, and a rush forward of the juvenile portion of the audience. Glistening eyes show the eagerness of many a little heart, to show how he has “learned his questions,” and his anxiety to gain an approving word from “the minister.” Some questions suited to their capacity are put to each. Those who have answered well receive their due meed of approbation, while others are encouraged to do better next time, and all receive a kindly exhortation. A short address to the whole assemblage and prayer conclude the service.

“There were many circumstances,” to use the language of another, “that imparted to these meetings a peculiar interest— the number and variety of the questions proposed—the diversified and often striking illustrations of the subject under review—the answers given—their different degrees of pertinency, and the ground they afforded for remark, elucidation, or correction, on the part of the examinator—the amount of doctrinal matter exhibited—the familiar style in which the whole business was conducted—all this conspired to render of high consequence this portion of ministerial labour. It was the general persuasion, that, at one such meeting, there was often more information communicated than was to be derived from many sermons. But the truths brought under notice, frequently formed the subject of after reflection and conversation. It was kept in mind, who had best acquitted themselves in the answers returned, what the mistakes that had been incurred, the corrections by which they had been followed, and their coincidence with the infallible standard of revelation. The tendency of all this was to produce more correct, and extensive views of divine doctrine, to qualify to hear the gospel with more understanding, to peruse treatises on religious subjects with greater advantage, and to render more fit for subsequent examination. While thus a taste for sacred truth was invigorated, there was also a greater aptitude to impart information to those, whose cases might more urgently require it.”

From the state of the country, as we have already described it, these pastoral duties could not be discharged without much labour in travelling. In summer the harbours were crossed and the streams ascended in canoes. Those used by the whites were usually constructed of a single tree, which had been hollowed out, generally one of the large pines, which were then abundant. These, when properly made, formed a very convenient craft capable of carrying four or five persons with perfect safety. But from the situation of the people, it was only a small portion of his travelling that could be performed in this manner. Much of it was by land, and only in a few places were there even paths. What were called roads scarcely served any purpose but to prevent the traveller going astray. They were narrow, and the traveller was apt to be scratched by the branches of trees, by which they were crossed, stones and roots of trees rendered the walking difficult, and at most seasons of the year they were wet and boggy, though over the worst places logs were laid. All these circumstances rendered walking disagreeable. But the chief of the travelling was along shore or along the banks of rivers, which were often encumbered with trees and stones, and at other places presented bogs, in which the pedestrian was in danger of being mired, or creeks which required a long circuit round, or brooks which it was necessary to ascend for some distance to a convenient place of crossing. But the greater part of his regular family visiting and catechizing was done in winter. It is certain that whether more snow fell then than now, that it lay more continuously through the winter, and most of the travelling was on snow shoes, except when crossing the ice, or when the snow had been softened by a thaw, and, being afterward frozen, became sufficiently hard to bear the traveller.

But in this work he was remarkably active. There were few men equal to him in going through the woods. His very gait was peculiar. It was so fast that he kept others who were in company with him on a half run. The late Alexander Cameron, of Loch Broom, one of his elders, and a strong active man, used to say that he never saw a man, with whom it was as difficult to keep beside. By running he could outstrip him, but if he relapsed into a walk, the Doctor was sure to be soon away head of him. Though not a very strong man, yet he possessed such remarkable powers of endurance, that he travelled long distances with comparatively little fatigue, and outdid many, who were accustomed to labour and travelling in the forest.

In visiting among the people during these years he also endured much privation from the poverty of the people. Their little huts had only one way in which they could be kept comfortable from the cold, viz., by large fires, and happily wood was abundant. There were none of those diabolical inventions, called cooking stoves, which only render darkness visible, and by consuming the oxygen of the air, and leaving the inmates of the dwelling to breathe the impure residue, are destroying the health of the young of our land, and sending fell consumption on his destroying march through our borders. But a large chimney, with a capacious open fire-place, occupied almost one entire end of the house. In the back of this fire-place, was placed a large billet of wood, cut off the thickest tree that could be found, and familiarly called “the back log.” In front of this, resting on two iron supporters called “dog irons,” smaller sticks were laid, under which the fire was placed. A glowing blaze soon ascended, which diffused by radiation at once heat, and light, and cheerfulness, to the whole dwelling.

But their accommodations, otherwise, were of the poorest kind. Often the hard plank was his only bed, and potatoes his only fare. We have heard of his waking to find his coverlet white with snow. Where the people were in better circumstances, a comfortable bed was provided, sometimes the only one in the house. But during these years, on his visitations, which were mostly in winter, his most common bed was some straw spread out before the fire, and covered with a rug. Such clothes as they had were given for a covering. He would take off his coat and wrap it round his feet, which were most apt to become cold. But his chief dependence for heat was upon the fire, which was left burning when he lay down, but which he was frequently obliged to replenish during the night. Yet never was lie known to complain. No expressions but those of gratitude escaped his lips. But how keenly he felt such privations may be learned from the remark which he frequently made in his advanced years, when surrounded by the comforts of life, that he never lay down to rest at night, without feeling thankful for a bed.

His fare too was of the humblest kind, but he partook of it with thankfulness, knowing that the people did the best for him they could. He not only forbore all complaint, but with a delicate appreciation of the feelings of poor people, employed every means of making them sec that lie valued their kindness. Thus when potatoes and gruel were the only articles of diet provided, we have been told of his eating heartily, lest they should think that he either despised their fare, or felt the want of better; or again when a little bread and milk was offered, and the poor woman felt mortified at not having any thing else, we have heard of his speaking even in terms of reproof, as if she were despising God’s mercies, saying to her, “What more would you wish? Here is bread—the emblem of Christ and his blessings, and milk—the emblem of the word of God. Desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.”

But in nothing was he more distinguished than by his conversational powers. In this he possessed a peculiar gift. Whether travelling, or in the house, lie kept up one uninterrupted stream of interesting conversation. The only time that might be considered an exception to this, was when travelling to preaching. Then he was commonly silent, but returning he was more than usually fluent. Much of his conversation was directly on the subject of religion, and whatever subject came up he possessed a remarkable faculty of giving it a religious turn. This power was remarked by every person who came in contact with him. In after years, some of his brethren used to say, they really envied him. One of them said, “We’ll go into a house, and will be thinking upon what subject to begin and how to introduce it, but before we know, Mr. MacGregor will be right, in the midst of religious conversation.” On one occasion travelling in company with another minister, he called at a house on the way, while the former went on to the house where they were to stop. When the Doctor arrived he found him laughing and talking with sonic levity with a young woman in the house. The Doctor immediately began to speak rather reprovingly to him. The latter replied, “We can’t always be talking religion.” “Oh,” said the Doctor, “you should look at the example of the Saviour. When he entered a house, he went slap dash into the subject of religion.” Nothing could more strikingly illustrate his own practice. He has been known to say that he never met with but one man with whom he could not engage in religious conversation. This was an old soldier, a drunken, ignorant, Irish Roman Catholic. He could find nothing which would serve as a handle by which to get hold of his mind. He remarked that it seemed strange to him, that he should have travelled some miles with him, and not have been able to do any thing for his spiritual enlightenment. What a reproof is this to so many ministers and private Christians, who spend, it may be, days in the company of others, without an effort to direct their minds to the great concern!

But while his conversation was largely Occupied with religion, yet much of it was upon other subjects. At one time he might be heard instructing those around him in the mysteries of the Copernican system, although the idea that the earth moved round the sun, provoked the incredulous declaration from one, whose senses seemed to contradict such a view: “Lies, lies! when I built my house I put the door on the west side, and it’s there yet;” at another time, explaining the wonderful processes of nature, evaporation from the sea, the carrying of the clouds over the land by the wind, the descent of the rain, and the combined influences, by which the fruits of the earth arc brought to maturity. Or again he might be found pointing out improved modes of culture, or advising them as to improved modes of management; while again he would be gleaning information from them on subjects, with which his companions were better acquainted than himself. Nor should it be omitted that he would sometimes enliven the company with some harmless joke.

The following incident, simple as it is, will serve to give an idea of his usual manner. Two young men had gone over to Salmon River to get some grain ground. There were indeed by that time one or two mills erected in Pictou, but they were useless. While there the Doctor arrived on his way home from a mission to Amherst, lie was asked to stay all night, but at first felt inclined to go on, as he had been several weeks absent from home. Rut on finding two of his own people there, who could not leave till the next morning, he consented to remain. After having had dinner and being rested a little, he went down to the mill and took a plan of it. The next day they set out on their return home, he riding on horseback, they walking, with their sacks of flour across their horses’ backs. Going through some bushes, they pulled a quantity of hazel nuts, which they gave him to eat. On emerging into an open space, he said, “Now you’ve been giving me food, I will give you some spiritual food.” lie accordingly took out Fleming on the Fulfilling of Scripture, out of which he read for some time. So interested did they become, that my informant, who was one of them, said, that the very first opportunity he had, be purchased a copy of the work. The plan of the mill he brought home to John Fraser (squire) who was about erecting one. Ifc was not quite perfect, and he sent it to a millwright in Halifax, with whom he was acquainted, who made some corrections upon it, and from his plan as thus amended, Fraser built his mill.

In the opportunities afforded him of intercourse with the people no class was overlooked. Wherever he met with the young he would always engage in conversation with them. So attracted were they to him, that boys would follow him for some distance along the road to enjoy his company. Persons now aged or in middle life, have told me of meeting him on the road, and his stopping to give them exhortations, which they bad never forgotten. But it seemed as if he made it especially his object to pay attention to such unfortunate creatures, as from age, poverty, or some infirmity, are apt to be despised.

While we have referred particularly to his labours directly on behalf of religion, we must observe, that his efforts were also directed to whatever else he considered as tending to promote the welfare of the community, and the comfort of individuals and families. Particularly did he labour to improve the education of the place, to induce among the people a deeper sense of its value, and to make greater exertions for its support, while he was diligent in his endeavours to introduce more efficient systems. He also himself imported Bibles and religious books for sale and circulation among the people. Those were not the days of Bible and Tract Societies, and this could not be done so easily as now. But he had that active turn of mind, that he was always busy about something, and attended to every thing small and great, even to what might seem trifling. Thus when asking the head of a family, if he observed family worship, and learning that he did not at night for want of light, he would direct them to take some pine roots, and have them split up and dried, and the wife to hold one of them as a torch while the husband read. Or again in the house where he lodged, he might be found telling them to put a large back log into the chimney on Saturday night, which would do over Sabbath, or to carry in sufficient water to do till Mundy. Or on one of the preaching days of a sacrament, he would tell the young and vigorous to go over to the East or "West River, and leave the old to occupy the houses near at hand.

All this was done in so kind a manner, that these very little things aided in causing the affections of the people to entwine around him. Even when he reproved, and no man was ever more faithful in giving reproof, it was done with such kindness, But the offending were attached to him at the very time that he exposed their faults. Instances there were in which he reproved with severity, but these were peculiar cases, and in general his reproofs were rendered effective by the very gentleness of his manner.

With such a manner of going out and coming in among them, we need not wonder that he attained a place in the affection of the people, as high as ever any mere man did in the hearts of his fellow men. Even very rough characters were attracted to him, of which the following may be given as an instance. On one occasion returning home from Prince Edward Island, late in the autumn, a strong north-west wind arose and the waves ran high, in consequence of which they could not reach Pictou Harbour. The nearest point they could make was the beach extending out from near the mouth of Merigomish Harbour. He was landed here and his companions set out on their return. He took up his knapsack, and was looking which way to direct his course, it being his intention to go to Mr. Roy’s, when he saw a tall stout man coming along. He turned out to be an old soldier, but a very rough Irishman—a very strong man, and one who had been noticed for his bravery in the field. The Doctor asked him the way to Mr. Roy’s. He said he would go with him to show him the way, and carry his knapsack for him, and added, “If it would not hurt you I would carry yourself.” He led him first to Mr. Roy’s, where the)’ lodged that night. In the morning he said that he would go with him to the East River and carry his knapsack, and if he wished to go farther he would go with him.

There was another class in whom he felt a deep interest, to which we may refer, although his interest in them secured no particular result. We allude to the Aboriginal Indians. He was very charitable to them. Coming along the Middle River he once fell in with two Indians drawing an aged relative on a hand sled. Entering into conversation with them he discovered that they were in want, and gave them an order on two of his parishioners living near for the amount of their share of his year’s support. Ope of the latter remarked to the Indians, that he was better to them than their own priests. They replied, “Our priests always wantum, but he givum.” But he especially felt an anxiety to promote their spiritual interests, and often talked of plans for this end. Some years later, the Earl of Dalhousie, then Governor of the Province, being in Pictou, called in company with Mr. Mortimer to see him. Conversation having turned upon the benevolent and missionary efforts of the day, the Doctor said, “But there is a poor unfortunate class among ourselves, that I wish we could do something for, I mean the Indians.” “Oh,” said the Earl, “they are just like the brutes, you can’t do any thing for them.” “Oh,” said the Doctor mildly, but very solemnly, “ Your Lordship should not say so,” and he went on to refer to the success of the gospel on tribes equally degraded with them. But such was the jealousy of the Romish priests, under whom the Indians were, that he never succeeded in doing any thing effectual for them.

But the most interesting of the services of these early times was the dispensation of the sacrament of the Supper, which after the first summer took place annually. The event was the subject of preparation for some time previously. Intimation was given several weeks beforehand, and times were appointed for conversing with those who sought admission to the church. They were subjected to a most thorough examination as to their knowledge of the doctrines of the gospel, their experience of its saving power, and their performance of their religious duties, especially secret prayer, and, where the parties were heads of families, family worship and the catechizing of their households. Sometimes their spiritual gifts were tested by their being called on to engage in prayer before him. The Session also met, it might be several times, when the conduct of church members was strictly inquired into, the unruly were warned, the erring admonished, differences were adjusted, arid scandals purged.

The dispensation of the Supper was the occasion for the gathering of multitudes, like the children of Irsael assembling in Jerusalem to their solemn feasts. Not only did persons come from all parts of the county of Pictou, and from the various settlements in Colchester, but numbers travelled from Nine Mile River, Ivenneteook, and other places in the county of Hants, at a distance of at least eighty miles, and in later years some came from Prince Edward Island. The houses and barns of those who lived within a reasonable distance of the place, were freely opened for the reception of strangers, and sometimes both would be well filled. In preparation for such assemblages we have heard of those who were in somewhat better circumstances baking bread by the barrel, but the poorer were equally ready with the wealthy to provide as they were able for the entertainment of strangers. It is told that Robert Marshall, when providing to the best of his power, for those who came from a distance, and yet feeling the humble character of the provision made for them, was in the habit of acknowledging the fact with the remark, “Gin ye’re Christians, ye’ll be content wi’ it, an’ gin ye’re no, it’s mair than ye deserve.”

The spot selected for the observance of the ordinance was on the Intervale, on the Middle River a little below the bridge at Archibalds, on what is now the farm of Mr. John Douglass, under the shade of a high bank on the west side of the river. But the stream has encroached so much upon the Intervale, that its waters now puss over the spot where the sacred Supper was observed. By midday the sun was so far round, that the bank shaded the worshippers from his rays. Here a tent was placed for the minister, the multitudes sat or reclined upon the green grass of the Intervale, or under the leafy shade of the trees on the bank, facing the minister.

Early in the week people began to arrive, so that by the day the services were to commence they were assembled by hundreds, in after years by thousands. The ordinance was dispensed in the manner common at that time in Scotland, and as this is in many places now known only as matter of history, we may give a particular account of the services which were usually observed in conneetion with this solemn rite of Christian worship. Thursday was the first day of “holy convocation,” it being called the day of humiliation or fasting. On this day two sermons were preached, one in English and the other in Gaelic. These discourses were usually directed to the object of bringing sin to remembrance, and exhorting men to confession and repentance. The Psalms selected bore reference to the same subject, while the prayers were principally devoted to the acknowledgment of sins, and supplications for mercy on account of them. The remaining part of the day was spent with the solemnity of a Sabbath, being devoted to such secret and family religious exercises, as were suitable to such a day. Some, though not the majority, observed it literally as a fast, abstaining entirely from food before preaching, and afterward partaking only of such slight refreshment, as was necessary to support nature.

Friday was what was called by the Highlanders, “the day of the men,”—a day for private religious meetings conducted by the elders, catechists, or more experienced Christians, similar to what is called in the United States and other places, conference meetings. Prayer, praise, mutual exhortation, remarks on the subject especially selected for consideration, or, as it was commonly called, “the question,” (which, however, usually involved marks of grace,) formed the exercises of this day. Saturday was the preparation day, and again he preached a sermon in each language, generally of such a nature as was fitted to prepare the minds of Christians for the solemn services before them.

The remaining portions of these days were not devoted to religious exercises, as the Thursday. Much of them was spent in friendly intercourse among the people. Not only did all the people in the county know one another, but they generally knew most of the residents in the neighbouring counties. And they generally lived as a band of brothers. And these annual services were almost the only occasions when they could meet, and there was but little communication otherwise in the interval. We need not wonder that there was much interchange of friendly feelings. But yet these meetings in the several families around were scenes of hallowed Christian fellowship. In their dwellings was “ heard the voice of rejoicing and salvation.” The conversation led by the serious, perhaps by some hoary headed elder, would revert to the sermons of the day— perplexities on the minds of the enquiring would be solved by the knowledge and experience of riper Christians—kindly exhortations to the young would be received with reverence from the lips of the aged—while all were sanctified by devotional exercises. In this way we believe that many families, in the spiritual profiting derived from the company of their guests, have had reason to feel, that they had “entertained angels unawares.

Then came the Sabbath, in which all the services had to be conducted by himself. After the opening Psalm and prayer, came what was called the Action Sermon, usually devoted to the great central truths of Redemption, specially exhibited in the ordinance of the Supper. This was followed by prayer and praise, and then by the service usually known in Scotland as "the fencing of the tables," which consists in a plain statement of the character of those who have and those who have not a right to observe the ordinance, and which was generally concluded by the reading of such passages of Scripture as Psalm xv.; Matt. v. 1-12; Gal. v. 19-24. Then followed part of an appropriate Psalm, during the singing of which the elders brought forward the elements and placed them upon the communion table, while the first company of communicants slowly and reverently took their places on the seats, provided for them. These consisted of two long benches on which they sat facing one another, with a narrow table covered with a pure white cloth between them. On the seats being filled, the minister took his place at the head of the table, and having first read as authority for observing the ordinance, one of the scriptural narratives of its institution, usually Paul’s in 1 Cor. xi. 23-20, he offered up prayer, especially giving thanks for the blessings of salvation, and for this ordinance in which it is commemorated. Then followed what was called the “serving of the tables.” A short address was delivered to those at the table, when the minister broke the bread and handed a portion of it and afterwards the wine to those nearest to him, repeating as he did so the words of institution. The elements were then passed along from one to another, to the foot of the table, the attending elders supplying deficiencies, while the minister continued his exhortation. When the address was concluded, he dismissed them from the table with such words as the following, “ Go then from the table of the Lord singing his praise, and may the God of peace go with you.” At the utterance of these words, the precentor gave out the first line of the verse immediately following what had been last sung of the Psalm of which the singing had commenced; and as the singing proceeded, those who had been at the table rose, and began, many with moistened eyes, slowly and reverently, as if treading on holy ground, to retire, while another band with the same measured tread advanced and took their places. Another table service followed and another singing, and so on till all those who spoke the one language were served, when those who spoke the other were served in a similar manner in their native tongue, until on the whole altogether there would commonly be seven table services. After the service of communicating was over, a Psalm or Hymn, in imitation of the Saviour, (Mark xiv. 2G,) was sung, after which the minister delivered the concluding exhortation, usually called u the directions.” This consisted commonly of advices to those who had communicated, as to their future conduct, and an earnest appeal to those who had been merely spectators, to embrace the Saviour and profess his name. Then came the evening sermon, the whole being concluded with prayer and praise. These services often occupied the most of the day. They commenced at ten or eleven o’clock, but the nun would be far down the western sky before the last sermon would be over. On Monday, which was commonly called the Thanksgiving day, there were again two sermons.

We need not say that such services so long continued, and conducted entirely by himself were severe exercises to him both intellectually and physically; and we need not wonder at hearing of him on the morning of the first of these days, as he descended the hill on the east side of the river, where he came in sight of the crowd collected, stopping for a moment, and expressing a wish that the services were over. But while beforehand he was diligent in his preparations, he learned in the hour of need to east himself upon the Lord, and he was graciously sustained. The promise was fulfilled, “It shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.” He seemed to rise with the occasion, and in the vigour and unction of his address to increase to the end. Indeed from the descriptions given, his efforts on these occasions were the most astonishing of his life. It was on these occasions, particularly, that the remarkable power of his voice was exhibited. But few men could address large audiences in the open air as easily as lie could. His voice was not indeed loud nor anything of what is called stentorian, but it was beautifully clear and melodious as a woman’s. There was not the least harshness about it, but its tones were rather plaintive and tender, yet such was its compass that he was easily heard over the largest assembly; and so clear was his utterance, that he was heard as distinctly at the outer edge of the crowd, as at the very centre. We have had places pointed out to us at distances of half a mile, where not only was his voice heard, but the words were distinguished. And on the occasion which we are describing it was remarked that it increased in clearness and fulness till the last day of the service.

To the people we need not say that these were occasions of deep interest, and notwithstanding the labour they involved, they were seasons of pleasure to himself. The whole circumstances in which they were assembled were fitted to stir the soul of both preacher and congregation. The spot upon which they were met, the quiet grassy glade, on which the tables were spread, with the wooded bank in front, looking down upon the river, and around the sloping hills covered with forest then in all the verdure of summer, and only here and there broken by the small clearing of the settler, formed a scene from which the eye even of the mere lover of nature might drink in delight ; but he must have been of a cold heart, who could gaze unmoved on that multitude assembled under the broad canopy of heaven to engage in the highest and holiest rites of our religion—the old men reverently uncovered while their gray locks were occasionally stirred by the summer breeze—the aged women, their heads covered only with a cap and handkerchief, sitting near the speaker, or, it might be, admitted into the tent with him,—together with those in the prime of life, the busy matron and the sturdy woodsman, the maiden diffidently coming forward to join in covenant with the heavenly bridegroom and the children now first brought to witness “the sacrament" and gazing with childish curiosity at each successive service—all now reverently standing with bowed heads, the aged like Jacob leaning on his staff, or in companies passing slowly to and from the communion table, or again all listening with eagerness as the sweetly tender tones of his voice rang through the valley— more especially in the sacred stillness of a summer eve, when nature seemed hushed in silence, and the trees of the wood appeared as if listening to the voice of the servant of God, while the far off echoes sounded as the response of the work of creation to the celebration of redemption.

But we must especially notice the singing. Who that has heard the service of praise at a Highland sacrament at the present day can have forgotten it? The old tunes, all in the minor key, with their peculiar mournful expression.

“Perhaps Dundee's wild warbling measures rise,
Or plaintive Martyrs, worthy of the name,
Or noble Elgin beets the heavenward flauie,
The sweetest far of Scotia’s holy lays,
Compared with these, Italian trills are tame,
Nao unison ha’e they with our Creator’s praise.”

The peculiar reading or chanting of each line by the precentor, previous to singing,—then the singing with no accompaniment to the human voice, but the ripple of the river and the rustling of the forest—not conducted by a few performers, it may be, hired to do the praises of God on behalf of the congregation, but the whole multitude joining heart and voice, in a volume of melody which rolled toward heaven as the voice of many waters. “Oh,” said a Lowlander who understood not a word of Erse, "that Gaelic singing, there is grace in the very sough o’ it."

But to himself and the godly of the land, these seasons were especially delightful as great spiritual festivals. His heart was moved for the multitude fainting for the bread of life, and he laboured as in agony for their salvation. “His doctrine dropped as the rain, his speech distilled as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass.” His joy was fulfilled as he saw them eagerly listening to the word of life, and saw so many whom he had reason to regard as his spiritual children, feeding as in green pastures and beside the still waters. While many a pious heart, as they went up to these solemnities, instinctively sung in the words of the Psalmist, “I joyed when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, 0 Jerusalem,—whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, into the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the Lord.” To such these services were as cold water to a thirsty soul. "The Holy Spirit came down as rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth.” The hearts of believers were satisfied “even as with marrow and fatness,” and the “Lord shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this and that man was born here.” Multitudes there have been constrained to say, “How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

To no class were these services more interesting than to the Highbinders, who came from a distance. Except when they came to Pictou, or when he visited them, they never heard the gospel in their native language, for he was the only Gaelic speaking minister in the Lower Provinces. It is well known, that their mountain tongue has a peculiar influence upon this people. But all the circumstances of these occasions, the deep solemnity of the services, the earnestness of his address, the associations which it called up of their native land, and of similar gatherings there, rendered its tones still dearer and more impressive; and with tears streaming down their faces, they eagerly listened for hours to the words of eternal life, in language which fell on their ears like sweetest music, and awakened the most tender recollections. So deeply were they affected by these services, that it was quite common for them immediately on their return home to look out for a purchaser for their farms, and, as soon as they could sell, to remove to Pictou, that they might be under the ministry of Doctor MacGregor and enjoy the gospel in their native tongue.

Of the incidents of these sacraments, one of the most remarkable of which we have heard is the following: On one occasion a very heavy shower of rain appeared approaching right upon the congregation assembled. It was just at the time of the change from the one language to the other. The people became quite agitated. He called upon them to be composed, and engage with him in prayer. He then offered a most earnest prayer, presenting before his heavenly Father the case of the multitude exposed without shelter, and earnestly entreating him, that as he gathered the winds in his fists, and stayed the bottles of heaven, that he would avert from the congregation the threatened torrent. The prayer was heard; the cloud which appeared coming right upon them was diverted from its course, but passed so near them, that they could see the heavy

drops falling into what was called the “'deep pool,” and a few drops were felt by those on the outer edge of the congregation, lint not a person in the congregation was wet, although a few yards below there was a heavy rain, and a brook which emptied into the river close by was swollen to a torrent.

We do not say that there never was any impropriety in the conduct of those who attended these meetings. There were, as might be expected, thoughtless persons who behaved with levity. In later years when population increased, and the progress of trade brought an influx of a looser class, there were irregularities; but we do not think that there ever were those worst scenes, which Burns has described in his Holy Fair. And in the early years of his ministry, the utmost decorum prevailed, and to the godly they were scenes of spiritual enjoyment, which formed green spots in the wastes of memory, and indeed few of that generation could speak of them without emotion to the latest hour of their lives.

Amid these arduous labours, and the severe trials which he has described, he for some time felt something of the discouragement which he did on his first arrival. His good friend Donald MacKay, with whom he lodged, who, though having severe domestic trials, was a man of a cheerful turn of mind, used to employ all his efforts to enliven his times of depression. He used to relate the following as an instance : One day the Doctor had been up the East River, and returned home quite cast down. There was then no path, and travelling was along the shore. At Fish Pools, there is an overhanging rock close by the river. When the water is low, there are ledges on which one can pass without much trouble. But when the river is high, it is very difficult getting along, and if a person misses his footing, the water is deep, and he is certain to be completely drenched. On his way home he got into the water and was of course thoroughly wet. This, added to some other discouragements he had met with through the day, so affected him that he sat down in very low spirits. Donald came in, and seeing him in this state said, “You seem low spirited, what’s the matter.” “Oh,” said he, “I am done out. 1 can do no more. I must go home.” "Go home!” said Donald, "and what will yon do with those sheep in the wilderness? They'll be bleating after you.” “What is the use of my staying here? I am doing no good,” was the Doctor’s reply. “But you are only sowing the seed,” Donald rejoined. "But there is no appearance of any fruit.” “Is there not?” said Donald; “look at him. Before you came here he was living utterly regardless of religion, and now see the change in him.” He then went on to enumerate one instance after another of benefit from his ministrations. The Doctor’s heart soon revived, so that he entered with cheerfulness into conversation, and Donald used to say that he never saw him so depressed afterward.

Gradually, however, he became so deeply interested in his work, so strongly attached to the people, and saw such manifest tokens of the blessing of God attending his labours, that all his depression entirely passed away. Writing in the year 1792 to the preachers at home, he says, “I have been here about six years, in as disadvantageous circumstances, I suppose, as any whom the Synod ever sent to this continent; and though indeed I have been in it, in weakness, in fear, in trembling, yet I account it the happiest thing that ever befell me, that I was sent to America. I had my reluctance, my struggle, ere I set off, but I have reason to bless God while I live, that I was not suffered to comply with the counsels of flesh and blood to stay at home. I am sure that all the world would not keep you out of America, if you only knew what it yields.”

Indeed it seems clear that during these years a considerable change passed over his character. We are not able distinctly to trace its progress, but there seems sufficient evidence of the fact. During the first year or two his piety, though marked, was not of the depth and fervour of his later years. We have heard an instance, and only one, soon after his arrival, where he gave way to an angry impatience. It was at a diet of examination at the West River. It was held for the Gaelic people there, of whom there were but five families. Some of them had been late in coming, which irritated him a little, but when he began to examine them he found most of them so ignorant, that he lost patience with them, and dismissed them with what was regarded as a very angry reproof. This was very different from his character in later years. In nothing was he more distinguished than by the perseverance with which he laboured to teach the ignorant; and the patience with which he bore with their slowness to receive instruction.

But there is evidence otherwise of the rapid growth of his piety during the first years of his ministry. The difficulties by which he was surrounded, the trials he was called to endure, and his lonely condition, led him to a closer walk with God. Those who lived in Donald MacKay’s house, could tell of the hours he spent over his Bible, or in secret converse with God. To this he seems to allude in the following extract of an address on behalf of the Pictou Academy :

“It is now about thirty-eight ye^rs since I was missioned by the Associate Synod to Pictou, where my situation for some years was so discouraging, that I believe an angel from heaven could not have persuaded me that in my day there would be occasion for the application I am now making. Pictou, equal in extent to a large county, contained then nearly ninety families of various religious denominations, but chiefly Presbyterians, and so scattered that nowhere was one house to be found near another. They had no school, no road, no bridge; indeed they had scarcely any convenience. I could view myself in no other light than that of an exile from social enjoyments, not only for a while, but all my life, but my despair of earthly comforts occasioned a more active application for those that were spiritual. I have, however, enjoyed a good share of both."

At all events the result was manifest to those who came in contact with him, in the ripened spirituality and the matured Christian experience characteristic of his after life.

It only remains to be noticed here that he soon reaped an abundant harvest. The whole community with a few exceptions were excited on the subject of religion, and a great change took place in its moral character. The letters of his friends in our possession, some of them written as early as 1788, all speak of their receiving intelligence from him of abundant success. Thus the Rev. A. Pringle, of Perth, writing on the 21st July of that year, and noticing a letter from the Doctor of date 17th September 1787, says:

“I see by it and by some others which I have had occasion to read, that you are living on the fatness of God’s house in the midst of a forest. It is easy with our glorious Master to turn a wilderness into a fruitful field. You say that you are happy and reconciled. I wonder not to hear you say so. Your ministry is blest, your people arc prospering in religion, your enemies are confounded and silenced, and your own soul is thriving. I think that you have good reason to sing unto the Lord, for lie is doing excellent things. I desire to rejoice with you and to join in returning all the praise to our common Lord.

“You complain of the want of British prayers. I fear you have too just reason. Yet I hope, that a warm concern for the success of the gospel in America is rather on the increase. I believe, a letter dropping in now and then, will tend greatly to quicken us. It is spring in Pictou, but autumn in Scotland. Our valley is full of dry bones, but we are living in hopes of a reviving breeze from the four winds. When it goes well with you, Oh, don’t forget your old withered companions.”

And the Rev. P. Buchanan thus writes under date 28th Oct. 1790:

“The account you give of the success of the gospel in your congregation is comfortable and refreshing indeed. May the gracious Lord be pleased to continue his favour in this respect, keep you and your congregation humble, that you may be always thankful and self-diffident, that you may by grace be kept from saying, ‘I am rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing/ but another well qualified minister.”

Similar remarks might be gleaned from the letters of other correspondents. But to all around the change on the community was visible. A writer in the Acadian Becorder for 1826, says:

“I was in Pictou when its oldest clergyman, Doctor MacGregor, began the exercise of his ministry among us. I could not imagine that he would be able to continue among us, for the people were few, and scattered over a large territory; none of them were rich, and they were of different religious denominations, though I must acknowledge to their honour that they conducted their divisions with mutual candour and forbearance. But after a little time, I found that the clergyman enjoyed the good will, the approbation, and esteem, of almost all the inhabitants. They came far and near to hear him, by land and by water, though there were no roads, and but few boats (but canoes) in the place; and they heard not in vain. He in his turn travelled early and late to visit them in their houses, to press upon them all the duties of domestic piety. His labour was not lost. Piety and benevolence sprung up apace. Decency of conduct, peaee and harmony among neighbours, with frugality and industry, flourished in Pictou for many a year. Often have I heard the happy state of Pictou envied in the neighbouring settlements.”

The result of his labours appeared in the complete change which passed over the moral and religious condition of the community. It would be difficult to find a community any where in which the ordinances of religion were as regularly and universally observed, and the practical duties of godliness as conscientiously discharged, as they were throughout the district of Pictou. And this character it has in a good measure retained. There has been degeneracy—there has been an infusion of other elements with the worst results, but though the lustre of its early piety has been sometimes tarnished, it has never been extinguished. As a whole we have never seen a community in which all the duties of religion are as universally observed— and we have reason to hope that the seed sown will not be extinguished to the latest posterity.

A fuller account of the travelling in those times will be given hereafter in our eleventh chapter.


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