Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Memoir of the Rev James MacGregor D.D.
Chapter XVIII. - Christian and Benevolent Enterprises
1808 - 1815

“That the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified." 2 Thess.iii. 1.

After his missionary tour in Prince Edward Island at the time of the induction of Mr. Pidgeon in 1812, we know of no missionary journeys undertaken during the two following years. Rut he had plenty of work at home. Besides the different sections of his congregation on the East River, he had to give occasional supply of preaching to Merigomish. Besides at that time it was customary when the Sacrament of the Supper was dispensed in one congregation, that all the neighbouring ministers should assist. This occupied a considerable amount of time in summer, the season most suited for missionary excursions. He was also clerk of Presbytery, and though the correspondence of the Church at that time was not very voluminous, yet it was sufficient to be felt as an encroachment upon his time.1

Besides about this time there was a large influx of emigrants from the Highlands, which continued for several years. These persons occupied the back settlements of the county of Pictou, and some portions of the adjoining counties. Those who settled in the southern parts of the county naturally fell under his care, and he did what he could for their spiritual welfare. But being the only member of Presbytery able to preach in Gaelic, with the exception of Mr. Boss, who was imperfect at it, he was also frequently called to visit other settlements. Of such visits the following will serve as a sample. Being urgently solicited to go out to the back of Rogers’ Mill, to preach to the Highlanders there, he consented if Mr. Ross would find a man to accompany him. Mr. John Douglass was the person selected. When they reached the place, they found a man who had come fifteen miles to hear sermon. The Doctor immediately said, “We need not complain of the distance we have come.” He preached twice on Sabbath to a large congregation. As the service was concluding he said to Mr. Douglass, “John, there is a large number of people here, how would it do to give them another sermon to-morrow?” Mr. Douglass replied, “We can only get home to-morrow, and if you have preaching early you can do that afterward.” He accordingly intimated preaching the next day at 10 o’clock. Squire MacCara, with whom he lodged, promised to have dinner ready when sermon was over, that he might not be detained. When the sermon, which was in Gaelic, was about concluding, Mr. MacCara asked Mr. Douglass if he was near done. Mr. Douglass replied that he was. Mr. MacCara sped away to have dinner ready. But a moment after two old women came in, who had so exerted themselves to get there, that the perspiration was coming through their hair and wetting their caps. The Doctor immediately resumed his discourse, and preached almost as much longer. When they came to Mr. MacCara’s, dinner was cold. The Squire said, “We must blame Mr. Douglass, for he told me that you were nearly done.” Mr. Douglass replied, “We must blame Doctor MacGregor, for he lengthened out his discourse.” “We must blame the old women" said the Doctor. He then explained how it happened. “Oh, if that’s the way,” said the Squire, “we must not complain.”

It is time however that we refer to his efforts on behalf of the missionary and benevolent institutions of the age. His interest in these had been practically manifested previous to the time in his history at which we have arrived, but from this time exertions were more systematic and extensive, and we wished to describe his efforts on behalf of different measures together.

From the incidents already recorded, it will have been apparent, that he was always remarkable for his charitable donations. During the whole of his ministry, there were numbers of new settlers arriving, who were for some years very poor. Often did he relieve such, particularly by giving them supplies of seed in spring. For such objects the sums sometimes given were for his circumstances very large. Thus a minister known to be very poor having visited him, and spent some weeks with him, he, on his departure, gave him £6 to buy a cow. As this minister died in 1799, this must have happened in the early part of his ministry. Indeed had it not been for the economy of himself and his wife, and their good management of their farm, his liberality might have embarrassed him in his worldly affairs.

This charity was in a number of instances returned into his own bosom. One curious example may be given. A sister of his, in humble circumstances, was on her way to Canada in an emigrant vessel with her family. On passing the coast of Nova Scotia, she expressed a wish that she were on land with her brother. One asked who was her brother there? She replied, “Doctor MacGregor, a minister in Pictou.” The cook having heard this, told them that he had once landed at Pictou, after being shipwrecked, that the Doctor himself had come down to the wharf and taken off his own top coat and given it to him. He had also provided him with employment during the winter. The poor fellow was so grateful for this kindness that, during the rest of the voyage, he could not do enough for them.

But, considering the character of his own labours, and the missionary spirit which had ever characterized him, we might expect, that when the great movements of the present day for the extension of the Redeemer’s kingdom commenced his heart would be deeply interested in them. Accordingly, from their very outset, he watched their progress with the liveliest feelings of delight, and gratitude to the Great Head of the church. Intelligence from abroad was then only received at distant intervals, but when received was doubly welcome. People used to say that they could tell when he had received missionary tidings from abroad, by his preaching on the Sabbath after. The information thus received he diligently circulated among the people, and as soon as circumstances permitted, he endeavoured to enlist their sympathies practically in support of the leading Christian enterprises of the day.

This it must be observed was no easy matter. It is always a matter of some difficulty to bring a church unaccustomed to efforts of the kind, to do its duty. This was more difficult at the commencement of Missions, for then every thing was new. But it was especially difficult in his position in a new country, with a sparse population, the church consisting of a very few congregations,—many of its members poor, the large majority maintaining themselves only by hard labour, and scarcely any ' wealthy, and thinking themselves scarcely able to maintain the gospel among themselves. Indeed many would have considered that he would have been perfectly justified in not making any appeal to his people at all on the subject, more particularly when it was considered how imperfectly the stipends of himself and his brethren were paid. But his zeal on these subjects was as a consuming fire within his bones, and he engaged in the work with all the ardor of his nature. His success will appear by an account of the principal efforts of the kind made in his own and the neighbouring congregations.

The institution which most deeply enlisted his sympathy, and on behalf of which he first engaged the efforts of his people, was the British and Foreign Bible Society. From the time of its formation he was interested in its proceedings, and he heard of its progress with intense delight. From an early period he adopted active measures in promoting its objects, both by circulating the Scriptures within his own sphere, and by raising subscriptions to aid the operations of the society. From the report of that Institution for the year 1808, we take the following extract of a letter from him, dated 4th December, 1807:

Dear Sir:—By the reports of the British and Foreign Bible Society, I see among their good endeavours, their exertions, in favour of my countrymen, in the Highlands of Scotland. Of these many thousands, both Protestant and Catholic, have emigrated both formerly and of late into these parts of America. This district situated about 100 miles north-east of Halifax, contains 1300 or 700 families of them, of which the majority are Protestants. Among these I have ministered in the gospel about twenty years, in their mother tongue, and for twelve years another minister has served in my neighbourhood in the same language. There arc also many Highlanders in Prince Edward Island, (formerly St. John,) and Cape Breton; in the former they make the majority of the inhabitants. There is scarcely a corner of the Province, in which they arc not to be found. The Catholics in general are quite indifferent about the Bible; but almost all the Protestants wish to have it, and as they cannot at present get it in Gaelic, most of them have it in English. Most, of the old people cannot understand the English, nor read, but they send their children to school, and these can understand both languages, and of course translate, after a manner, a chapter for the benefit of their parents, which they generally do, morning and evening. Many of the young generation, and numbers of the old, can read the Gaclie, for though we have but three or four full copies of the Bible and a few odd volumes, yet we have plenty of Psalters, Catechisms, and some religious tracts. It would certainly be a great mercy to have Gaelic Bibles somewhat plenty among them. Many conld pay for them, but many others could not, especially of the late emigrants, who are very numerous. If you could send me fifty copies, or any other number gratis, for the use of the latter, I would distribute them as faithfully as I could. If you could send me fifty copies for sale, I would send you the pay as soon as I could, though I cannot now mention the exact time. More might be sent for afterwards, if these were found productive of the expected advantage. Our neighbour Province of New Brunswick is in considerable want of Bibles.

May the great author of the Scriptures bless the Society, and prosper their endeavours, that the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified.

I am, Dear Sir,

Yours, most sincerely, James MacGregor.

The above exhibits in a striking point of view the scarcity of the Scriptures in Gaelic, even at the beginning of this century. Similar destitution existed in the Highlands of Scotland. The Society, which had just published a version of the Scriptures in Gaelic, promptly met his request, and large supplies of the Scriptures both in Gaelic and English were forwarded. In the year 1808 we find Bibles and Testaments sent on his recommendation to Mr. Mortimer for sale, and in the same year we find reported among the Society’s operations, a grant of 500 Bibles and Testaments in Gaelic to Nova Scotia and Canada. A portion of these were sent to him, and the Secretary says, in a letter: “Of those entrusted to your care, the Committee voted them for sale or gratuitous distribution, according to your discretion; therefore if you can find persons desirous of a Bible, who are too poor to purchase one at a reduced price, you have a discretion to give them one, although if they pay but a trifle for it, they would take greater care of it, and perhaps read it oftener than if it were given to them gratis.”

From the manner in which the last mentioned grant is mentioned, as well as from some of the correspondence, it would almost appear as if the committee considered Nova Scotia as somewhere in the back-woods of Canada, and Quebec on the direct route to it. The following extract of a letter of the Doctor’s, written probably in 1812, regarding another lot, seems to indicate this, or at all events shows the difficulty of communication at that time.

On February 7th, I received yours of May 20th, 1811. The duplicate I received some time before. The books are still in Quebec. They were put on board the brig Peggy, Cap. Richard Smith, for Halifax. She met with a violent gale, and had to go back to Quebec in distress, and there she stayed all winter, but we expect her early in summer. As the harbour of Quebec is frozen four or five months in the year, and as the communication between Nova Scotia and Qucbcc is not frequent even in summer, it is easier for us to get any thing from London than from Quebec. If the Society should have occasion to send us any more books the better way will be to wait for a vessel bound for Halifax, or Pictou. I have gotten information that the most part of the Peggy’s cargo was damaged, but that the books narrowly cscaped. May kind Providence watch over them still. I spoke to Mortimer’s clerk, ( himself not being at home,) concerning the books sent him in 1808. Ilis excuse was, that it is not their custom to pay for consignments till they are sold, and that these books were not sold til] very lately, owing to their not having the metre Psalms, but he said they would be paid now.

When these Bibles arrived they excited the greatest interest. Persons, whose recollection extends that far back, describe the scene, when they were opened, as like the gathering, which we may sometimes see in our villages, of boys crowding around an apple-cart.

We may mention here that so well known and appreciated were his attainments as a Gaelic scholar, that when this society published their first edition, they requested him to give it a careful revision, and mark any errors that he might observe. We find the following in a letter from the Secretary, under date, 25th September, 1810:

“You will oblige the Committee by sending to me your list of errata in the Gaelic Bible, by a spring packet, and should any others be afterward observed by you, the list of them may follow.”

He accordingly examined it with great care, and made a considerable list of errata, as appears from the following extract of a letter written about the year 1812:

“The above list is doubtless incomplete. Few of the errata will disturb a common reader. If I observe more, I will mark them. In two or three instances I was guided only by my own knowledge of the language. Eccl. xii. 6, and Isa. Ii. 6, seem wrong in the first edition, and though it is pretty evident that they arc typographical mistakes, vet, as I would wish no dependence to be had on my judgment, I would like these instances to be referred to better judges. There is another erratum which I have marked, in about 300 places, and I doubt not but it occurs much oftener; for it is so small that it was long before I noticed it. It is an apostrophe, which in certain situations stands for the possessive pronoun hi.*, and is placed before the word with which the possessive agrees. It is a late improvement, and useful, but many readers will not notice it. In the London Edition it is omitted oftener than it is printed, before the Proverbs; hut after that book I observed one omission only. I have made a separate list of these.”

From an early period too, he began to raise subscriptions among his people for the promotion of the objects of the society. We find a letter from the Secretary of the Institution, acknowledging a letter from him of 4th of June, 1809, enclosing a bill for £80 sterling, and referring also to one previously sent for £04. These sums were, doubtless, in part sent as payment for copies of the Scriptures sold, but old persons recollect that about the year 1808 or 1809, he called on them, and having set before them what the Institution was doing, appealed to them for a contribution, to promote its objects, which they gave. So that a portion of these remittances, we cannot say how much, was given as a free contribution.

At length after a consultation among the brethren it was resolved to form a society, for the more efficient carrying out of the objects of the institution, and a meeting was held at the West River for the purpose. He preached on the occasion from 2 Thess. iii. 1.—“That the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified.” The following, which contains a rough sketch of the first part of his sermon on the occasion, may be worthy of preservation :

“That the word of the Lord might have free course and be glorified was ihe great desire of the apostle Paul. To this end all his endeavours were directed, for he knew that the Holy Scriptures alone were able to make sinners wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. This is the river that makes glad the city of our God, and it was the desire of the apostle, that it might flow in an even channel gladdening the nations to the ends of the earth. The word of the Lord has free course when instead of being neglected or opposed, it is rightly received as the saving and sanctifying truth of God ; and it is glorified, when its life and power are displayed in the humble, holy, and lovely conversation of true believers. Such a conversation glorifies the word, &c. No other cause is adequate to produce such an effect.

“We all ought to imitate Paul in his strong and active zeal to give free course to the word of the Lord. Our zeal must be languid indeed, if it is not animated and encouraged by the present appearance of Providence. Who does not rejoice at the strong and rapid course which is given to the word of the Lord in our day, especially since the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society? How great things has it done in a few years ! What, a grand prospect does it open to our view ! and who would not wish it a thousand times stronger than it is, that it might circulate the Scriptures among the hundreds of millions who inhabit the globe.

“To give you a clearer idea of the propriety of forming ourselves into a Bible Society, that we may have the honour of contributing a share in helping forward the work of the Lord, we shall, I. give you a general idea of the course which the word of the Lord has to run, II. What is now doing to give it a course, and III. some encouraging considerations.

“The Scriptures themselves show that the word of the Lord must have a course till it reaches the ends of the earth. God hath given Christ the Heathen. All the ends of the earth shall, &.c. All kings shall serve him, Ilab. ii. 14; Mai. i. 11.

“God has divided the earth into four grand divisions, Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. Three of these, Europe, Africa, and America, arc supposed to contain in round numbers, one hundred and fifty millions each, and Asia five hundred millions. We would not vouch for the accuracy of these computations, but they may serve the purpose. It is probable that there arc more Jews and Mahometans in Europe than there are Christians in Asia and Africa. But supposing them equal, we have in these three divisions one hundred and fifty millions of Christians, and six hundred and fifty millions of heathen. Suppose America to contain fifty millions of heathen and one hundred millions, perhaps it were enough to say fifty millions of Christians, then wc have a total of seven hundred millions without a Bible. From the researches of the British and Foreign Bible Society, it appears, that in a portion of the Russian empire, there arc four hundred thousand families without a Bible. Hence some judgment may be formed of other parts of the empire. In several of the Provinces, on the European continent, Bibles are very scarce, partly by the poverty of the people (such poverty as we can hardly conceive) to which the scourge of war has contributed; and partly through want of zeal and exertion in the clergy. Even in England, Bibles arc scarcer than any one would have imagined—Ed. Rep. p. 15.

“It is not to be supposed that Bibles are more plentiful on the continent of America than in Europe, for the comparative disadvantages of the former arc great. Not to mention the Roman Catholics, it is well known that the Protestants in the inland parts of the continent, and in all new settlements, arc in great want of Bibles. Even in Philadelphia Bibles are very scarce. —Bible Report, p. 50.

“Thus it appears that the proportion of mankind which enjoys the Bible is very small compared with those who are without that precious trust. Here then is a large field to be occupied, a long course which the Bible has to run.”

A Society was accordingly formed, embracing the whole county, with a committee of directors, consisting of so many from each congregation. A series of rules was drawn up for the management of its affairs. These regulations were very good, but they were never carried out. The Society never met again, and the committee held only two or three meetings, and with the exception that members of the committee acted as collectors in their quarters, the whole business of the Society devolved upon him. In fact it used to be said, that he was the Society. He was clerk and kept any minutes that were kept, —he was secretary and conducted all the correspondence,—he was acting treasurer, receiving the money collected and making all the remittances,—he was distributing agent, and in his own quarter salesman, and often he acted as collector. Besides by his fervent addresses throughout the church, he awakened the liberality of the people.

His zeal was successful. In the first year the sum of £75 sterling was raised, of which £50 was remitted as a free contribution, and £25 to purchase Bibles and Testaments. In the second year, £50 was collected, all of which was sent as a free contribution. In the third year, £75 was remitted as a free contribution. After this contributions diminished, but every year something was sent home, and almost every year a considerable number of copies of the Scriptures were imported.

To give an idea of his addresses we shall insert here part of the rough draft of one of them:

“They have roused the slumbering zeal of Christians far and wide, and animated them to act with surprising energy in the grand undertaking. Pious people never looked upon the British and Foreign Bible Society with indifference, but probably not one even of its founders ever expected to see it an object so universally interesting, as it already appears. It was a voluntary association of private individuals. It may do a considerable good (they probably thought,) but at home it is not very hard for any one that wishes it to get a Bible, and abroad they can have no influence to achieve any thing very mighty. But the Society received daily accossions of strength, and their transactions became daily more interesting, people’s hopes were more and more raised, and new assistance poured in from all quarters. They undertook to publish twenty thousand Gaelic Bibles, ten thousand Gaelic Testaments, for enlightening the benighted Highlands of Scotland, and the same number in Welsh, for the benefit of Wales, and they remitted several considerable sums to Germany, Switzerland, Russia, &.C., for distributing Bibles. By and by they began to send parcels of Bibles abroad to several of the Eastern nations in their own tongues, and also to the East and West Indies, and to the British colonies; and at home they have poured their treasures into the laps of the poor.

“And what was much more than all the rest, they published many letters from their correspondents abroad, giving a most affecting account of the state of the Continent for want of Bibles, and the eager desire of many to get them, and joy at receiving them, and their gratitude to the people whoso eared for their souls. These accounts touched the hearts of British Christians; and as the committee approved themselves men of most vivid zeal and energy, as well as unspotted integrity, they gained the entire confidence of the public. Hence we need not wonder, that tlicir funds increased with unexampled rapidity. The idea of Auxiliary Societies was taken up, and they arc already multiplied to two hundred. These provided for the wants of their respective vicinities, and eased the parent society of a considerable part of their burden, which was very requisite on account of the great increase of business; and each auxiliary poured its own tributary stream into the main river of the funds. There are also a kind of sub-auxiliaries or branch societies, consisting of smaller associations in country villages, contributing their mite to the nearest auxiliary. Still less than these, are the penny societies, consisting most commonly of day labourers, and in some instances of servant maids, associating together and contributing a penny per week each, out of their own scanty earnings. Somewhat similar to these arc other associations, in some of the larger towns, of persons whose narrow circumstances suffer them not to become direct members, yet who are willing to contribute according to their circumstances. In London each member of this association commences with a donation not less than seven shillings, and continues to pay not less than a sixpence, nor more than a shilling per month. Thus all ranks contribute with alacrity. Of the rich some give fifty, an hundred, nay a thousand pounds at once, others two, three, five, ten guineas annually. Scholars at school in some instances give a halfpenny per week. Housewives give the savings of their economy, and ladies their rings and jewels.

“But it is not in Britain alone that they have auxiliaries. In Europe there are the societies of Stockholm, Berlin, and Basic, of great utility to them in publishing and circulating the Scriptures in the different languages of Europe. There is in Ratisbon a Roman Catholic Bible Society, who are publishing a fifth edition of the New Testament. The horrors of war hitherto greatly cramped the operations of these societies, but peace will return, and then they shall flourish, and perhaps beget hundreds more around them. The example is followed with alacrity in the United States, no less than sixteen Bible Societies having been formed .there more than two years ago; but the demon of war doubtless hinders their multiplication and their utility in a great degree.

“But the most useful perhaps of all the Foreign Societies is the corresponding committee in Bengal, not merely because there the Oriental translations are carried on; the port of Calcutta is the annual resort of multitudes from all quarters, for the purposes of trade, and affords opportunities of disseminating the Scriptures far and near.

“They have taught and exemplified the great lesson of harmony and unanimity. Never before did the world see a society composed of persons from so many denominations of religion, unanimous in the prosecution of one design. Never before did the world see a society so favoured and supported by all parties of the religious public. Who would not be pleased to see above two thousand persons from the various religious denominations about London, assembled in one apartment, to devise and consult about giving free course to the word of the Lord, without a word of dispute, but with smiles of love and joy in every countenance? By circulating the Scriptures without note or comment, they have exactly hit the point, which secures unanimity; for though Christians cannot agree about the meaning of Scripture, they all agree that the Scripture is the word of God, and infallible truth showing the way of salvation. Therefore all are desirous of its universal circulation. The Scripture is a rallying point for Christians. What will they agree about at all, if they agree not to circulate the Scriptures without any other limits than those of the earth?

“But the Bible Society is said to be the occasion of much difference in opinion, which leads to controversy, which again leads to bitterness and strife. This is an accusation we did not expect, and we hope it cannot be proved. People very fond of disputing will find occasion to do so, when none is given. We ask what real occasion docs the circulation of the pure word of God, which is the sole business of Bible Societies, afford for difference of opinion, controversy, strife, or bitterness. An avaricious man, who cannot part with his money, seeing his neighbour subscribe liberally feels himself condemned, and must in self-defence, abuse the Society. A peevish churchman, who cannot bear to see a dissenter distribute a Bible, or vice versa, must in like manner inveigh against it; so must all clergymen, whose people disregard their public warning against it, and, following the dictates of their own conscience, give it their countenance and support, but in all such cases the Society is innocent. One may venture to say, that there is little disputing of this sort in the Diocese of Bristol, in the Diocese of Durham, and others, because in these places, the Bishops, the clergy, the laity, the dissenters, arc all of one mind to promote the circulation of the Bible. In Scotland, no controversy has been heard of, because all go one way in this cause. But we are sure of a controversy in this Province, for the people, especially those of the Church of England, are plunged into it by a warning, a strange warning that professed to guard against it. Many of these will not obey that warning, because their hearts arc full of sympathy for the poor Christians in Europe, who cannot procure a Bible, and for the poor heathen, who know not that there is a Bible, and they contribute, “according as God hath prospered them.” Many others will choose to follow the dictates of their spiritual guides, and leave their fellow creatures, without making any effort for their relief But there would be no disputes in this Province, unless with a few peevish individuals, which would not affect the public, had Doctor Inglis addressed the members of the Church of England, to the following purpose:

Members of tiie Church of England:—Like others we have been negligent to a fault in circulating the Scriptures. We have too long left the millions of heathens in Asia, Africa, and America, lying in darkness unpitied, unrelieved. Millions more of our fellow-Protestants and others on the Continent of Europe, unable through poverty and oppression to obtain a Bible, we have left too long to languish without its consolations. There arc multitudes in our mother country, and not a few in this Province, who, notwithstanding the exertions of the Society for promoting Christian knowledge, are still destitute of the sacred Scriptures. But God is now rising to visit the world in memory, and to send his salvation to the ends of the earth, by means of a society in London, which extends its branches thoughout the United Kingdom, for the simple and grand purpose of giving the Bible to all mankind. They have already made the Scriptures more plentiful throughout the British dominions, and through all the kingdoms of Europe; they have expended above JC6000 in translating the Scriptures into the language of Asia, and they have in contemplation to extend as soon as possible the same boon to the Africans and the American Indians. It is the glory of our mother country to have given birth to this peerless society. May it be the glory of our church to be its greatest support. Brethren, let us no longer earn the we doomed to “those who are at ease in Zion.” Let us rise and help. Let us draw out our souls to those our poor neighbours. Let each cheerfully contribute his mite according to ability. Whatever other burdens we have to bear, we shall not be less able to bear them, that we engage heartily in this work of the Lord. If we altogether hold our peace, deliverance and enlargement will arise from other quarters, but we must be under the displeasure of God for refusing our help. Brethren, it is pleasant to join with our fellow-creatures of all religions, in a work so evidently to the glory of God, and the happiness of mankind.

“Ministers of the Church of England, your countenance I confidently expect. You will not only excite your people to this duty, but you will set them the example of a liberal contribution. Providence is bountiful to you. Imitate his bounty, by helping to circulate the Bible to the ends of the earth.

“An address in this spirit would more become a clergyman and a Chris* tian, would tend to peaee and harmony, in support of the Bible Society, and in all probability, would not lessen, but increase the collections for the Society for promoting Christian knowledge; fbr the public mind would naturally expand to meet his generous disposition, whereas, now it will as naturally contract with his narrow views. It is sufficiently ascertained that the liberality of the public grows along with the increase of societies for the public good.”

The following is one of his own outlines of another address:

Benefits of the Bible Society.

1. It gives the Bible to many at home and abroad, who otherwise would not have it.

2. It strengthens the zeal, the prayers, and the comforts of its friends.

3. It produces unanimity, reconciliation, and love among Christians, that were alienated from one another.

4. It enlarges Christian acquaintance, being productive of much correspondence between Christians at home and abroad.

5. It gives opportunity to individuals, who otherwise would not have it, of doing good by the little pittance which they can spare.

6. It affords an honourable employment to individuals by printing.

7. It softens the horrors of war, giving to enemies the best of gifts.

8. It strengthens other societies, as the Missionary and Religious Tract Societies.

9. It produces other societies, as the Society for supporting Gaelic Schools,—schools in Ireland, &c.

10. It may be a lengthening out of the national prosperity.

These extracts will serve to show his interest in the institution. In fact his whole soul was thrown into the efforts on its behalf. Its annual reports he read with an almost childish delight, his own contribution was always liberal, and he early taught his children to contribute their offerings. Indeed he seemed to have it ever before his mind. When others would propose plans involving what he deemed unnecessary expense, his reply would be a proposal of a way to save the money, adding, “and we can give it to the Bible Society.” “It is truly gratifying to me to hear of the Hibernian Society, and the circulating Gaelic schools. Both institutions are most likely to be very beneficial to ignorant souls. But oh, the Bible Society! how matchless, how salutary! Gathering strength as it moves on, discovering and dispelling darkness and misery. Surely this is the marvellous work of God.”

To this zeal we believe may be attributed the fact that the British and Foreign Bible Society has always been supported more liberally in this county than in any other county of the Province.

But while the Bible Society, above all other institutions, engaged his sympathies, his attention was by no means confined to it, and the efforts which he made on behalf of the other missionary undertakings of the day, show him to have been a man not only quite abreast of the age, but in his views and desires far ahead of that portion of the church in which he was. The 33* first efforts of this kind that we shall notice, though the measure did not originate with him, was raising money to send home to the parent church, to defray the expense of preachers coming to this country. Previously congregations that were vacant had raised money to pay the passage money of preachers, but an effort was made now by the Presbytery, and the congregations having settled ministers, to raise money to repay the Home Synod for past advances as well as to relieve them from any future expenses. The following account of the effort is from the Christian Magazine, for 1809:

By letters received from Nova Scotia, we learn that in the course of last year, a motion was agitated in the Associate Presbytery of Pictou, to apply to the General Synod for more preachers. Against this proposal an opposition was started by some of the members, and Mr. MacCulIoch in particular, declared that he would consider it as his duty to protest, unless a general application were first made to their own congregations, to repay the Synod at least a small part of the sums they had advanced on behalf of that country. He could see no reason why they, in that Province, without either taxes or war, and some of them in affluence, should not concur with others for the propagation of the gospel. It was accordingly agreed that they should attempt to establish a small fund for the advancement of religion by various means; and desirous of contributing their own share to so good a work, and to set their people an example, they began by laying a considerable assessment on themselves. The members of Presbytery were then appointed to lay the views of the Court, every one before his own congregation, and appeal to their benevolence. This was accordingly done, and their people instantly and very generously acceded to their views. The three congregations in the district of Pictou have collected about .£160 currency, or about £144 sterling. The return had not been made from two ministers who lay at a considerable distance, but it was not expected to be so much. In Pictou they have had a very great trade last year, which has made money more plentiful than ever it was before, and enabled them to contribute so liberally for the propagation of the gospel. On account of the expense attending the first settlement of a minister, they have not applied to Mr. Gordon’s congregation in Prince Edward Island.

At last meeting of Presbytery, it was agreed that the £100, that is £90 sterling should be remitted to the Synod. Mr. MacCulIoch has accordingly transmitted to the Rev. Mr. Ferrier, Paisley, the first part of a bill of exchange for this sum. The Presbytery would gladly have transmitted more, if it could have been done without interfering with their other plans. Mr. MacCulIoch trusts, however, that their remittances in future will be both more regular and more abundant than formerly.

The Presbytery of Pictou are also desirous that some standing commit, tee were appointed by the Synod, as a medium of communication between them. They wish to be made acquainted with Synodieul occurrences, and are willing to pay for a regular report; and they think also that it might tend to the advancement of religion among them, were the Synod at a little more pains to ascertain their real situation.

Another subject which had for years engaged the attention of the brethren, was the obtaining ministers to supply the spiritual destitution around them. The inadequacy of the supply from Scotland, after repeated and earnest applications, had led them to consider the propriety and practicability of training ministers in this country. As early as the year 1805, it was proposed to establish an institution for that purpose, and a society was formed for its support. Subscriptions were accordingly taken throughout the county. We have before us the list on the East River, which is headed by Doctor MacGregor, with a subscription of £20, “provided the Harbour congregation pay me the sixteen pounds which they owe me.” Others follow with subscriptions of £10. Writing on the 31st October of that year, he says:

“The increasing demand for ministers seems to intimate the necessity of raising them in this country. The great expense of every thing here renders this undertaking next to hopeless in our circumstances, yet Mr. MacCulloch, who started the idea, has sanguine hopes. Pictou people have subscribed about JE1000, a more liberal subscription than they were well able to pay. We expect some money from the Province Treasury, if we give our seminary a little name, as not rivalling the University which Government has established. We expect great assistance from Britain and Ireland. We intend to send Mr. MacCulloch home to beg. I fear it will produce but few ministers in my day, but I do not think it improper to make a beginning, for it is highly probable that it will succeed by degrees and be very beneficial to posterity.”

The project did not succeed at that time, but we find from several of his letters that it was not lost sight of. From the following extracts, it will be seen that the measure was still kept in view, and that something was done toward it, by placing promising young men under the instruction of the members of Presbytery, and by raising funds to aid and support them.

Thus writing to Mr. Gilfillan, under date, 4th December, 1810, he says:

“We have no hope of an adequate supply of ministers to the church here, from the Synod. Our plan must be to raise ministers for ourselves, and yet our ability is so small, that we have little hope of success for a good while to come. We have begun as low as possible. Mr. Ross has, at present, a young lad begun to learn Latin, with a view to the ministry. We think we could find finances for carrying on four students at a time, if their parents would help moderately. But we hardly expect to find students for some time. The thing is new here. Our plan is to appoint one of ourselves to teach them the languages, and in place of lectures on philosophy, to collect a small library of books in history, and the most useful sciences, make them read these, and help them by frequent examination and directions to get as good a view of them as we can, and perhaps a few lectures on Divinity. To accustom them to compose, we mean to give them subjects of discourse from time to time, beginning at an early period and continuing all along.”

Again he says in writing to Dr. Keir, under date, 6th October, 1814:

“We are also contemplating the formation of an Academy at Pictou, for the purpose of general learning, and especially of raising a ministry among ourselves. We already feel that Scotland cannot provide for us, and we doubt not it will be less and less able in all time coming. Want of ministers has already lost Cumberland to the Presbyterians, Miramiehi to the Secession, and Halifax to the Antiburghers. For the same reason Merigomish and Shubenacadie are still vacant, and other congregations prevented from coming into existence.

“But an Academy is a matter of such magnitude, that we do not well know how to think of beginning it. However, it must be begun some time, and we think it better to do something, though we are weak, hoping that Providence will befriend it, and cause it to grow, rather than leave all to another and richer generation, lest that might be losing the opportunity of it, perhaps wholly. We think that if we had funds for maintaining two good Professors, we might hope they would send forth good scholars in different departments. We would need £400, if not £600 annually, as salary to these; and a good sum for the building, apparatus, and library. To raise money we propose to have a yearly collection in every congregation, to form a society of the most zealous friends, each member of which shall contribute at least twenty shillings yearly, and we hope that many religious people will bequeath it legacies in their testaments. What other helps Providence may provide I cannot say, but I hope the best.

“In the meantime Mr. Ross is teaching five boys the Greek and Latin, with a view to the ministry. To encourage people to send their sons, the Presbytery promised to give their boys books and education gratis, and they have fulfilled their promise to the boys; but they arc in debt to Mr. Ross, for they promised him thirty pounds annually for teaching. To discharge this debt we must make another collection in our congregations. And I am desired to give Mr. Pidgeon and you a broad hint, that a collection will be acceptable from your congregations. I think it reasonable they should contribute, for, hitherto, they have not been burdened with any thing for the ministry. None knows but the Island may be the first to reap the benefit of the ministers we raise. I am to write to Mr. Pidgeon, but you and he may consult. I have been too long in writing to you, for it would be agreeable to have the collection this fall, but if you find the fall too far gone before you get this, you can embrace the first opportunity.”

Again he writes to the same brother, under date, 31st August, 1815:

“I much wonder that I have never heard from you since I saw you. This is the third letter from me to you. Along with one of them, I sent you and Mr. Pidgeon a parcel of tracts, Gaelic and English, which I know not whether they reached you or not. In one of these I informed you that we have five students under the charge of Mr. Ross, coming forward to the ministry. I likewise gave you a hint, that the Presbytery appointed a collection to be made in all their congregations, and that they expect you Island ministers would make it in yours. Of course I did not hear that you had made it. The design of it is, partly to indemnify Mr. Ross for his trouble, and partly to buy books' for the boys to encourage them. Providence has been very kind to us, giving us peace and plenty, while our neighbours have had their friends slaughtered, their villages burned, and their fields plundered by war. We enjoy a pure dispensation of the gospel, but our posterity is like to be destitute of it. God is pouring out his spirit largely upon Christians of all denominations, almost all over the church, so that they are making wonderful exertions in favour of the Redeemer’s kingdom. Such considerations as these should open our hearts and the hearts of our people, to contribute our mite to perpetuate the ministry in the Church of Christ. If therefore you did not make this collection in your congregation, or if you did not receive the former letter, in which I mentioned the collection, it will be proper for you to inform the Session of the Presbytery’s design, and intimate the collection. The Presbytery composed an address showing the necessity and propriety of the measure. I cannot (at least, at present) take the trouble of transcribing and transmitting this address to you. But you can compose one if you see it needful. The Presbytery does not expect great things from your congregation, but it is proper that they should do a little, that they may have a hand in the work of the Lord. Besides it is possible that they may enjoy the fruits of this institution, as soon as any of our congregations.”

We are not aware to what extent these collections were made, but soon the academy was established, of which we shall have to speak in a future chapter.

Another measure in which he engaged at this time was the circulation of religious tracts. Having received some Gaelic tracts from Scotland he wrote the following appeal addressed to the Secretary of the Edinburgh Tract Society:

Dear Sir:—By the recommendation of Mr. Daniel Anderson, who was lately a teacher in Edinburgh and acquainted with you, I have been induced to send you these lines, the design of which is to solicit your aid and exertion to obtain a parcel of Gaelic religious tracts for distribution among our countrymen here. There are many thousands of Highlanders, formerly and of late, in this and the neighbouring Provinces and Islands. In Pictou there are several thousands of Highlanders, I have sixteen hundred souls of them in my congregation, on one river called the East River of Pictou. Mr. Ross has a large and scattered congregation of them, on the West River and Middle River of Pictou. He lias indeed a considerable number in his congregation who do not understand the Gaelic, but mine are almost all Highlanders. North from Pictou, about twenty miles distant, lies Prince Edward Island, formerly called St. John’s Island, in which there arc seven or eight thousand Highland souls, of which a considerable number are Roman Catholics. These have a Highland priest, but the Protestants get no preaching in their native tongue, but from Mr. Ross or me, who visit them occasionally. East from Pictou on the shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in this Province, there are between three and four thousand of them, mostly Roman Catholics. Through a great part of this Province, there is a mixture of Highlanders. Many are settled in Cape Breton Island, and in the Province of New Brunswick. Except Mr. Ross and me, there are no ministers in all these parts, who preach regularly in Gaelic. There is a Mr. Farquharson about eighty miles from Pictou, one of the Tabernacle preachers lately come out, who does it occasionally. In this Province, the great body of Roman Catholics are by themselves; in Prince Edward Island, they are more mixed with Protestanls. Very few of the Roman Catholics are any way desirous of religious instruction, though I believe they are more diligent to put their children to school, than to teach them at home. The Protestants are pretty diligent to educate their children, but education is much more expensive here than at home, not only because labour in general is higher priced, but because the population is so thin and the country so wild, rugged, and destitute of roads, that it is difficult to collect so many in one place, as is sufficient to support a schoolmaster. From this statement you may easily conceive, that religious knowledge cannot abound among our countrymen here. Many of them are wofully careless; but they also want opportunity. Gaelic books arc very scarce. Of late we have got a sufficient supply of Gaelic Bibles and Testaments very cheap from the Bible Society in London; four hundred Bibles and six hundred Testaments have come to Pie-tou, and one hundred Bibles and four hundred Testaments to Prince Edward Inland. We can have more as we need them. The Religious Tract Society in London sent us one thousand copies which is a sufficient supply. We have also a sufficient supply at present of Air. Campbell’s “Stnuamtean cud thromacha mubhas agus fhulangas an to Slanuighir I have also some dozens of “Erail do'n Chhinn ata a fcitheamh an Scolibh Sabard." I got some years ago two or Ihrce dozen of “Firridnibh scilleir,” and a dozen of“ Watts' Tearmunn do'n orgridh, but they are all gone. I have sent again and again to the Glasgow booksellers for them, but they never got them. They would be particularly useful to the young generation. Other small tracts I know not: doubtless there are large treatises of which I have not heard. If you could have influence enough to send me ten pounds worth, and one half of them gratis, I would by the first opportunity repay you the other five pounds. All the later emigrants arc poor, having had a great sum to pay for their passage, and every thing to begin anew here; and unless they yet books for nothing, they cannot get them at all. I would be much obliged to you if would take the trouble of sending me a list of all the Gaelic books published within these twenty years, and a copy of each religious book except the above. Is there a dictionary published besides Shaw’s? If there is, what is the price of it? What bookseller in Glasgow deals most in Gaelic books, for it is most convenient for us to deal with Glasgow? I have written to Mr. J., for a pared of English tracts. I understand that lie has the success of the gospel at heart; you will be good enough to consult him. I hope you and lie will be able to do something for those dispersed in this wide wilderness, and though men should not pay you, God will not forget such a labour of love; you will direct to me to the care of Mortimer, Liddel & Co., Pictou, Nova Scotia.

Praying that the grace of the Lord may abound toward you, I remain, Yours, sincerely,

James MacGregor.

P. S. Is “Alldne's Earail dhurach dach,” in print?—perhaps it may be preferable to send us a considerable variety of tracts or books, rather than a great number of copies of a few sorts.

Upon this appeal the Committee remark in the Christian Magazine for March, 1810:

The above letter has lately been received by the Clerk of the Edinburgh Tract Society, and was taken in consideration by their Committee, who have resolved to send to Doctor MacGregor, a number of copies of the only Gaelic tract published by the Society. But as they conceive the importance of the case demands greater aid than the present state of their funds can furnish, it was judged proper to solicit subscriptions from those approving of the measure, for the special purpose of printing and distributing gratis a selection of good tracts, in the Gaelic language. The Society are already in possession of translations of several of their tracts, and can easily procure others, when necessary. The only thing wanted is means to defray the expense, and for this they look to the friends of religion. Whatever sum the Society is entrusted with, shall be faithfully devoted to that purpose.

As the result of this appeal, the Committee sent him at least one grant of tracts, for gratuitous distribution, to the number of five thousand in Gaelic and eleven hundred in English, the receipt and disposal of which is thus described in a letter from him dated 20tn Nov., 181 :

Your letter of July 31st came duly to hand, and the Gaelic and English tracts without any damage. Permit me to say, that I, and many others here, are under special obligations to the Religious Tract Society for their exertions on our behalf. Having received a few Gaelic tracts, sent by the Rev. Alexander Stewart, now in Dingwall, I thought they must have been published by the Religious Tract Society, and that they must have had a variety of others, besides those 1 had gotten. Had I known the real state of matters, 1 certainly would not have troubled the Society, for I could not have hoped that they would have been at the pains to translate tracts for our sakes. But now I see the wise and gracious hand of God overruling the matter for the good of my countrymen, both at home and abroad. I have already distributed the greatest part of the tracts; I have given one of each kind of the Gaelic tracts to every family in my own congregation, even to the families who cannot read them, upon their promising to employ a neighbour visiting them, or a traveller lodging with them, to read them.

I have also sent to Mr. Ross a copy for every family in his congregation. I have sent parcels to five different settlements at a considerable distance within the Province; a large parcel to Prince Edward Island, and a few to one settlement in Cape Breton : and I intend to send more after them by the first opportunity. With regard to the English tracts, I find that a faithful distribution of them is a matter of greater difficulty than I expected; for, on the one hand, people who are beyond the reach of ministers have clearly most need of them, and there are plenty of such people here; but among these there is more danger of their lying by unused. On the other hand, though those that are within reach of their ministers have less need of them because they have the benefit of preaching, yet they are more desirous of them, and to appearance they will improve them better. I am often at a loss what to do; however, I have not yet absolutely refused any that applied. I mean to distribute them all gratis; but I have been telling a few of my neighbours who I know are not poor, that we should send some little token of gratitude to the Society; accordingly I have gotten a few dollars, but that generous spirit which works so powerfully and so beautifully in Great Britain, has yet to awake in this quarter; and it is to be feared, that the many hindrances which flow from the infant state of the country will prevent its awaking, or, at any rate, its acting with vigour for a considerable time to come. For my own part, I should think it an honour to assist the zealous efforts of the Societies in Britain, for sending the truths of the gospel among the nations ; but, when I look around I see ten times more to do than I can do. For one tiling, there is a continual demand for supply of sermon from scattered settlements all round, that are so weak that they cannot support ministers for themselves. At Truro, about fifty miles distant from my residence, we have formed a Society which is partly a Bible, and partly a Tract Society, our strength is small, and we can only say that we have made a beginning; but I hope, through grace, that we shall grow stronger, and be of some benefit to the destitute people around us. As to the utility of tracts, I can give no accounts of conversions occasioned by them; but I have no doubt of their great utility. They are universally relished by God’s people; and this being the case, they cannot but be edified by them. They contain the most precious truths of the gospel expressed with force and perspicuity; there is such a beautiful harmony runs through them, though doubtless they have been composed at different times and places, that I think they cannot miss being useful to every one who loves the truth. 1 know likewise that they have been useful to thoughtless and ignorant persons, so far as to make them consider and reform in part, though I cannot say what the issue may be. But though it is desirable for the Society to see the fruit of their labours, yet, I think, they may safely rest their cause with God, and say, “Surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.”

But it was not in America alone that his countrymen were the objects of his solicitude. He heard with deep interest, of every effort made for the spiritual welfare of the Highlanders in Scotland. His sympathy with such measures will appear by the following draft of a letter, written in 1814, to a friend in Scotland, which was accompanied with a contribution of £60 sterling to the Gaelic School Society.

A Mr. Ferguson, North Bridge, having a commission to send me some religious tracts, sent me also some reports of societies, and particularly the report of the Society for supporting Schools in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The more I consider this Institution the more I am filled with admiration at the divine goodness toward my poor countrymen. 1 take this to be the most merciful Providence that ever befell ihem, unless perhaps the plenty of ministers among them. Notwithstanding the ministers, multitudes of them continue to this day, in almost heathen darkness. But I hope, however, that now a light is getting in among them, that will enlighten every corner of the Highlands, and that shall shine unto the last day. I think it my duty to aid, as much as I can, the efforts of this truly honourable and benevolent Society. I have gone round among my friends and neighbours, and collected more than I expected, though less than I wish. I request you to give it to the Treasurer of the Society. Mr. Mortimer is at present in Halifax at the Assembly. As my collection was not ready when he went away, I agreed with him to send this letter after him, and that he should enclose a draft for the sum upon some of his correspondents in your favour. I send a list of the donors’ names with the sums given by each, that they may be published in the Society’s report. My main design herein is to stir up backward Highlanders at home, and many places abroad where the reports may come, to follow their example. Doubtless there are many patriotic Highlanders and others in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, and many other places on the Continent of America, in the East and West Indies, in Africa, &c., who would cheerfully aid the Society, if there were proper persons to solicit donations. These the Society may find. I expect fo send you some pounds more after some time, from persons who cannot conveniently give it, and persons of whom I cannot conveniently solicit at present. We mean to try to set up Gaelic schools here, and hope lo get a number of adults to learn. The Roman Catholics are not so much inclined to learn to read Gaelic. Will you be good enough to request the Committee or desire the Treasurer to send me eighty Gaelic books, on credit, till I can sell them, or otherwise find the means to pay for them? 1 expect a parcel of tracts from the Religious Tract Society, and if you contrive that the Gaelic Spelling books, &c., if they are given, and the tracts should be sent off together, it would be a favour. May the Lord keep his powerful and good hand about these great and good Societies in Britain, calculated to give “free course to the word of the Lord that it may be glorified.”

Besides these we find a letter from the Secretary of the London Society for promoting Christianity among the Jews, dated 15th May, 1815, acknowledging the sum of £11 17s. sterling as a contribution to its funds, from the females in Pictou.

Nor was there any thing of sectarian feeling in the interest with which he regarded efforts for the promotion of the Redeemer’s kingdom. He rejoiced particularly in those institutions, in which Evangelical Christians of different denominations might unite. lie watched with interest the labours of the missionaries of other names, weeping with them in their trials and rejoicing in their success. This was particularly manifested when tidings of the labours and trials of Judson fell upon the ears of the Church. He then gave a practical exhibition of his sympathy with them, by laying the matter before the benevolent in his congregation, and the result was a contribution of £50 to the Baptist Mission in Burmah.

The facts and documents just given will be sufficient to show the deep interest which he took in the Christian enterprises of the day, and his activity on their behalf. Such an interest is quite common now, but it was far from being so at that time. Such exertions are now expected as part of the regular efforts of the church. But at that time, in the church here at least, the interest of the people in such movements had to be created. They required to be informed as to the nature of such undertakings, and to be instructed ab initio in the duty of Christian liberality. This had to be done under great disadvantages, from the state of the country as already mentioned, but also from the fact of many of his people being Highlanders, who had never been taught to give in their own country, either for the support or the extension of the gospel. When all the circumstances of the ease are considered, we think that his success was wonderful.

In these efforts he was cordially supported by his brethren, particularly Mr. Ross and Doctor MacCulloch; but we believe we do no injustice to these brethren, when we say that Doctor MacGregor was yet the mainspring of all these movements. In fact the superior intensity of his zeal and activity in advancing them was acknowledged by all. The following amusing incident may illustrate the extent, to which his mind was absorbed by such objects. Returning from a meeting of Synod at Truro, in company with the brethren of the Presbytery, they entered a house at Salmon River; and having sat down, he fell asleep. Doctor MacCulloch having called attention to the fact, Mr. J. Douglass, elder, said, u If you want to awaken him just begin talking about some religious society.” Doctor MacCulloch laughed, but agreed to try, and commenced talking about a society for founding schools in Ireland. In the midst of the conversation, Doctor MacGregor spoke right out, saying, “Oh yes, we ought to do far more for that society than we are doing.” All present burst into laughter.

Many of these measures originated with him, for all of them he set an eminent example of liberality himself, and he was particularly successful in exciting the interest of the people and in collecting contributions, so that he was good humoredly called the “prince of beggars.” His success arose, however, not from any thing like dragooning the people, or by pressing importunity, but from his kindly manner of setting facts before them, and especially from his personal influence. Such was the veneration in which he was held, that in many instances a recommendation from him was sufficient to ensure a contribution. As the result of his efforts, this portion of the church became distinguished for the promptitude and, for their circumstances, the liberality, with which they contributed to the various benevolent enterprises of the day, and this character it has in a large measure retained till the present day.

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus