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REV. THOMAS M. OATTS, SALTON

(Died August 5, 1875)

Author: Rev. J. H. Wilson, Barclay Chorch, Edinburgh

The Free Church Monthly October 1, 1875, p.255


The removal of this promising young minister at the age of twenty-eight, and after a brief ministry of ten months, has produced a deep and wide-spread feeling of sorrow. After having engaged in evangelistic work in Glasgow, with much acceptance, during his student life, and at Sanday, in Orkney, during the summers of 1873 and 1874, he was elected to the vacant charge of Salton, without a dissenting voice, on the recommendation of the late Principal Fairbairn, the former minister of the congregation, who was to have introduced him to his charge, but was himself suddenly removed by death shortly before the settlement took place. Mr. Oatts preached his first sermon at Salton from 1 Tim. 1:15 — the text that had led him to decide for Christ, and to give himself to the work of the ministry. From that time onwards he laboured with untiring assiduity up to the night on which his last illness began. An intimate friend speaks of his work as having been the one thing he lived for, and as having been a source of constant joy to him. He is described as spreading sunshine wherever he went, by his happy, humble, loving manner. His love to the children was intense. For many months he devoted a part of every Sabbath to them, addressing them for about fifteen minutes before beginning his sermon. He often turned in to the day school, and gave the children a singing lesson. His last text was, “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” &c.

Early in summer he began a meeting on Sabbath afternoons, for the exposition of the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” for which he made careful preparation. For several months these meetings were kept up, and excited unusual interest, people of all denominations attending them. It was something rare to find, in a secluded country church, with no dwelling near it, a larger congregation gathered, each Sabbath afternoon, than at the ordinary diet of worship.

His last work was the conducting of a district prayer-meeting, at Salton on a week-day evening. He was taken ill that night, and symptoms of typhoid and diphtheria ere long appeared. During his illness his absorbing desire was for his people’s good. He was specially concerned about the young men of the congregation. Referring to one of them, he said, “Tell him, I go in myself a sinner saved by grace. I have prayed much for him, but could never speak to him.” To one of his flock he said, “God will send you another pastor far more faithful than I have been;” and added, “but if the Lord has another soul for me to gather in, he can easily raise me up again.” He thanked God that he had given him some seals of his ministry, and added, “There may be many more I don’t know of. You know it was ten years before the minister who was the means of my conversion knew of my case.”

He suffered severely during his illness; but many intervals were devoted to fervent, elevated, and affectionate prayer for his family and friends, his congregation, the Church’s work at home, and especially her work abroad. Amid the wanderings of delirium he would earnestly preach to his people, and at other times pray coherently, speaking of Barclay and Gibson, who had gone to China, and asking, “Why are so few men going to the heathen?” At other times his spirit seemed in conflict with Satan, and he would break out into cries of “Victory! victory through Christ!” Not long before the close, he sang, in a low, tender strain, the first four lines of “Safe in the arms of Jesus,” and uttered a short but comprehensive prayer for his people, that Christ might be formed in them the hope of glory. About ten o’clock, he said, utterly exhausted, “Oh, I am tired — I am very tired. When will I be home?” The nurse answered, “It won’t be long now.” He seemed comforted, and died a few minutes afterwards, in perfect peace. He expressed a desire to be buried at Salton, among his people, and said, he never liked inscriptions on tombstones, but if a tombstone should be erected, there were two texts he would like to have inscribed on it —1 Tim. 1:15, and 2 Cor. 5:20 — saying, these would speak to the people of Salton when his voice could not reach them; and perhaps his death would be more blest to them than a long life would have been.

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REV. JOHN REID OMOND, D.D., MONZIE

(Died July 4, 1892)
Author: Rev. William Laughton, D.D., Greenock
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, October, 1892, Obituary, p.253


Dr. Omond was a native of Orkney, born at Kirkwall, 2nd August 1804. He received his early education there, first at school, and afterwardsvunder a private tutor. He studied at the University of Edinburgh, where he took a distinguished place, especially in the Moral Philosophy class, then taught by Professor Wilson. His intention, in the first instance, was to become a Writer to the Signet, and he served his apprenticeship accordingly with a leading Edinburgh firm; but by the time it was completed he had changed his plan of life, and resolved to devote himself to the ministry. He entered the Divinity classes of the Edinburgh University in 1830, and went through the usual course of four sessions. Those were the early years of Dr. Chalmers’ work in the Chair of Theology, when he exerted such a powerful influence on the rising ministry of the Church. Mr. Omond was one of his favourite students, and enjoyed much intimate intercourse with him. It was then that important questions took their rise which were to agitate the Church for years to come—the Voluntary controversy, the question of patronage and non-intrusion, as well as the doctrinal questions raised by the teaching of Campbell of Row, and the writings of Edward Irving. These subjects afforded ample materials to students for discussion in debating societies, in which Mr. Omond always took a leading part. In the Theological Society particularly, he held a foremost place with Hanna and Moncreitf, William Wilson, John Anderson of Madras, and Dr. McCosh of Princeton; and was president of that society for two sessions—an unusual distinction. He was a general favourite among his fellow-students; his intellectual force and literary attainments commanded their respect, all the more that he was considerably older than most of them; but there was, besides, something about him singularly attractive—a friendliness of disposition and a genuineness of character which secured the confidence of all around him.

Mr. Omond was licensed in August 1834, and in the following month began work at Logiealmond, then only a mission-station. In September 1836 he was ordained minister of the parish of Monzie, in the Presbytery of Auchterarder, which continued to be the scene of his ministerial labours during the rest of his long life.

He was soon known as an earnest preacher, a diligent and faithful pastor, as well as an able defender of the principles for which the Church had to contend. His relation to the people of his charge was close and intimate. They knew him as their minister, not in a mere official sense; they looked up to him as the friend, almost the father, trusted and beloved by all. As years advanced the relation had something patriarchal in it. In his preaching there was no rhetorical effort, no aiming at something new or startling; it was simple, earnest, often familiar, always level to the capacity of his hearers, and fitted to interest and instruct them. As regarded the main subject of his preaching, it was the old gospel of the grace of God in its adaptation to the many varieties of human character and experience. In dealing with the religious experience of his people, especially in a time of awakening, there was much of spiritual wisdom as well as tenderness. A remarkable movement of this kind in his congregation and neighbourhood, between 1800 and 1862, was watched over and guided with much care, and the fruits remain to this day.

The important part which Dr. Omond acted before the Disruption cannot be understood unless we remember that, as a member of the Presbytery of Auchterarder, he was in the very forefront of the conflict, having to take a direct part in it from the very outset. In the very difficult and trying position in which he and his brethren were placed, his firm hold of the great principles at stake, his acquaintance with the historical aspects of the question, his knowledge of business and of church law, above all, his sound judgment and unswerving fidelity, were of incalculable value to the whole Church. The work of reorganization which immediately followed the Disruption occupied much of his time and attention. It was work of the utmost importance, for which he was peculiarly fitted, and in which he did not spare himself. But the efforts and anxieties of the Disruption period—before and after the crisis—taxed his strength too much. In 1844 his health gave way, and he was confined to the house for several months, and he was again laid aside in 1845. In subsequent years he took little part in public life beyond the limits of his own Presbytery and neighbourhood. This was surprising to all who knew him, considering the great ability of which he had already given such decisive proof. It was no doubt owing to a constitutional shyness, which he was never able to overcome. Nothing, it would seem, but a high and imperative sense of duty could have induced him to take the prominent part he did at the period above referred to.

Dr. Omond was a man of literary tastes and varied attainments. While yet a student he acted as editor of the Presbyterian Review, from 1830 to 1834. He furnished preface and notes to an edition of Crookshank’s “History of the Church of Scotland,” published in 1845; and he contributed several articles to the seventh edition of the “Encyclopaedia Britannica.” He was fond of historical and antiquarian researches. Few were so well versed in Scottish Church history, his library containing much that was rare and curious of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. But his reading was not confined to what was merely theological or ecclesiastical; it had a much wider range. He had an open mind, interested in the intellectual movements of the age and keeping abreast of current literature. He had the tastes and habits of a student, though these were never allowed to interfere with the duties of his proper calling. In 1887 the degree of D.D. was conferred on him by the University of St. Andrews. It was gracefully done and unquestionably merited; but one cannot help thinking that it should have been done long before by his own university.

To sum up Dr. Omond’s character in a few sentences would be a difficult task. He was no common man; with a marked individuality which it is not easy either to describe or analyze. It was not due to any one predominating quality, but rather to the union of qualities not usually found together. His consideration for others and gentleness of manner could escape no one. To suppose that this was mere softness, or that there was something weak about him, would have been a great mistake. In masculine judgment, shrewdness of observation, and keen insight into men and things he was excelled by few. He had strong moral fibre; along with firmness of purpose he possessed that moral courage which will not shrink from duty, however painful or dangerous. With all his gentleness he had the capacity of righteous indignation—vehement even— at anything mean or base. Yet, though compelled to take part in a controversy which engendered no little bitterness, he was never imbittered by it; always candid and courteous towards those with whom he differed. But we do not understand Dr. Omond’s character unless we clearly recognize how much the living faith of the gospel had to do with it. He was truly a man of God, walking closely with God, and faithful above many in the Master’s service. His religion was neither ostentatious nor effusive; it was deep, earnest, and practical. There was no mistaking its influence on his life; he was, indeed, an example to the flock. Involved in the ruinous disaster of the City of Glasgow Bank, he bore the loss it entailed with Christian equanimity and cheerfulness, as one who knew that he had in heaven a better and enduring substance. It was a lesson to his people and friends, and strongly impressed many of them.

The end came without any prolonged period of sickness or suffering. His strength had been gradually declining for several years, while he retained his mental faculties in a remarkable degree. On Sabbath, July 3, it was obvious that the end was near; he seemed to fall into a sound sleep, but it passed into a state of unconsciousness, and on the following evening, without a struggle, he breathed his last in presence of all his family. It was the Monday after the communion, and the bell was just about to ring for the thanksgiving service. On the following Saturday seven of his elders bore the coffin to the grave. “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace.”

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REV. GEORGE ORR, SYMINGTON

(Died July 16, 1882)
Author: Rev. A.H. Cowan, Troon
Source: The Free Church Monthly, October 2, 1882, Brief Biographies, p.296


On a summer evening in 1838 a young man, on descending from the Glasgow coach near the cross of Kilmarnock, was accosted by two farmer-like men, elders of the adjacent parish of Symington, who asked him to preach there on the following Sabbath. He went, and was ere long settled as colleague and assistant in that rural pastorate, in which he laboured with great acceptance for sixteen years. He was on his way to visit his widowed mother, who lived in the neighbourhood of Irvine, but had failed to get by the Irvine coach, and so went round by Kilmarnock, and, being in the way, the Lord led him to his appointed work.

He was born in the north of the neighbouring parish of Dundonald in 1813, and received an excellent education at the Academy at Irvine, whence, at the early age of fourteen, he passed to the Glasgow University, where he studied for eight years in the arts and divinity classes. He was a diligent and successful student; but he had his own difficulties to contend with, for his father was cut off in 1832, and thereafter he had to fight his way, and by the help of a good bursary and teaching he completed his course. Licensed in 1837, he went to work at once as assistant in the Middle parish of Paisley, and was there when, in the way indicated, he was called to Symington. He was from his youth up singularly amiable and unambitious, and as a matter of course universally beloved. While yet a young student it pleased God to reveal his Son in him, and this invested his naturally winning disposition with a charm which even casual visitors felt, and which bound to him with cords of love those amongst whom his lot was cast. The preaching in much of Ayrshire had not been of a converting kind, and that in the parish in which he was settled had not been different from what was common. His very soon told, for it was earnest, full, and faithful. His intenseness of desire for the salvation of his people amounted often to a kind of agony, and yet there was always in it the most profound charity and tenderness. At a communion time ministers around, with anything of his own spirit, rejoiced when his services were secured.

Of course, while yet “green” to the work, the conflict with the civil powers waxed hot. Though intimately acquainted with the legal aspects of the contest, he did not greatly concern himself about these. With him it was simply a question of personal loyalty to the Lord Jesus, who had loved him and given himself for him. Hence, so far from hindering, it helped him in the special work on which his heart was set—the saving of souls.

It came to pass in his case, as in that of most like-minded, when the Disruption came, the bulk of his congregation left with him. And then came incessant toil, for but few in the Presbytery came out, and these had enormous districts to overtake if any stand was to be made for the honour of the Church’s King. Grant and Burns, Stevenson and Kirkland, Bannatyne and Chalmers, Hutchison and Wallace, and last, but not least, Mr. Orr, went everywhere preaching the word in season, out of season. It was a time of great quickening and, the day will show, a time of great blessing to many.

Of course there were grave difficulties to contend with in Symington, but these, in answer to prayer and pains, were overcome. His constitution never was robust, and that toil increased his delicacy. In 1846 he was still lodging in a most unsuitable and unhealthy house, and there was seized fever, which brought him to the brink of the grave. The writer saw him during it, and again when he relapsed, when there was scarcely any ground of hope that he would continue with us. He was calm, quite contented that it should be as it pleased the Lord, though many of his people lay heavy on his heart. He was spared, but his health was permanently broken, and thenceforth he became increasingly delicate and frail. For nearly nine years he bravely struggled on, but in 1855 he had to yield. He retired with the usual allowances; but in 1866 these he gave up, though his private means were limited, “as a relief to my own mind, for I feel deeply to be any longer a burden on the Sustentation Fund.”

He spent a few years in Ayr, and thereafter went to Edinburgh, where he died in July last. In these latter years he was scarcely ever able to preach; but what of strength he had was spent in visiting the sick, the old and infirm, by whom his visits were greatly prized. His death was like his life—the Saviour whom he loved so warmly and served so faithfully cheering and gladdening his departing spirit.

His life was of as much use as his preaching. It is still a power in the parish. Men of his stamp were invaluable in the special time of trial through which he passed. The Lord raise up many like-minded, who, saved themselves by the grace of God, are faithful to the Saviour, and anxious that others shall be partakers in that grace!

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