SAGE, DONALD FRASER
SCOTT, CHARLES M.
SHAW, ALEXANDER LAMONT
SHIRREFFS, JOHN MILNE
SIMPSON, DAVID, Aberdeen
SIMPSON, JAMES A.
SINCLAIR, WILLIAM, Kirkwall
SINCLAIR, WILLIAM, Plockton
SMITH, JAMES, Cramond
SMITH, JAMES, Dumbarton
SMITH, JAMES, Tarland
SMITH, ROBERT, Lochwinnoch
SMITH, ROBERT, Corsock
SMITH, WILLIAM, Kincardine O’Neil
SMITH, WILLIAM, Wolflee
SMITH, WILLIAM PIRIE
STEVENSON, WILLIAM HENDERSON
STEWART, ALEXANDER, Killin
STEWART, ALEXANDER, Chapelhall
STEWART, JOHN, Pitlochry
STEWART, JOHN, Ardrossan
STEWART, ROBERT WALTER
STILL, WILLIAM GRAY
STIRLING, WILLIAM ARNOT
STUART, DONALD MCNAUGHTON
STUART, JAMES, Kirkwall
STUART, JAMES T.
PROFESSOR MARCUS SACHS, ABERDEEN
(Died September 29, 1869)
Author: Principal Lumsden
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, April 1, 1870, p.80
Although the loss which the Church has sustained in the death of this able and learned professor has been referred to in a previous number, it is proper to put on record here a few particulars regarding his history and character. He was born at Inowraclaw in the Grand Duchy of Posen. He was of a Jewish family; and as there were some of his older relatives who were devout and studious and intelligent adherents of the ancestral faith, he was trained in a firm attachment to the Old Testament, and in an extensive acquaintance with the Talmudical writings. From his early faith he was thoroughly withdrawn by coming into contact at Berlin University with the philosophy which was so prevalent among the German youth. But whilst shaken loose from all positive religious belief, his sense of honour and pride of ancestry prevented him from purchasing advancement in his native country by renouncing Judaism, and adopting, like so many other German free-thinkers, the Christian name. In order to get rid of the barriers which at that time in Prussia obstructed the progress and irritated the mind of a Jew, he came to this country, after a very distinguished career as a student in the University of Berlin, expecting that in a land of liberty and toleration he might push his way as a literary man. Before he had been long in Scotland he became acquainted with several Christian men and ministers. But it was chiefly owing to his intercourse with the late Dr. John Brown of the United Presbyterian Church, Edinburgh, that his religious views underwent a change. Firm in his own persuasions, and outspoken as a courageous and honest man, he was far from trying to conceal his sceptical sentiments, and disputed for them with all the confidence of one who felt that he never could be moved. But a book on the argument for Christianity (we are sorry that we do not know its name), which Dr. Brown had lent him, proved, under the blessing of God, the direct and immediate means of effecting in his mind a change which, not only to himself, but to all who knew him, seemed, humanly speaking, almost beyond the range of possibilities. He was baptized by Dr. Brown in his church in Broughton Place; and it is no more than justice to Dr. Brown to add that it was with his consent and by his advice that Mr. Sachs joined the Free Church.
In a very beautiful paper contributed to the Scattered Nation by the Rev. A. Saphir, it is said that the Jews “are apt to regard every Israelite who returns to the true faith of Moses and the prophets by acknowledging Him of whom they testified, as deficient either in intellect or in honour. But none knew Professor Sachs without recognizing in him a man of a powerful mind and great learning, and of the highest sense of honour. I believe that his Jewish relatives and friends were fully convinced of the sincerity of his religious views, and regarded him to the end with the warmest affection.” And how fully consistent with the character of a Christian convert was his subsequent life, will be testified the most amply by those who knew him best. He was an “Israelite indeed, in whom there was no guile.” The sincerity and cordiality of his friendships were unmistakable. With boldness and fearlessness in stating his opinion when circumstances required it, he combined, in a remarkable degree, great humility and a shrinking sensitive modesty and reserve. So far from being apt to parade his religious experience before others, and ostentatiously to reprobate the errors which he had abandoned, he rarely referred to the fact or circumstances of his conversion. This reticence was not caused by any unwillingness to own his Hebrew origin. For he gloried in his nation. He took evident delight not only in expatiating on the people as they were of old, but in pointing out all that is excellent and honourable in the character and institutions of both modern and medieval Jews; spoke most tenderly of those who yet remain in unbelief, and bitterly scorned only the professed “Jewish converts,” who by their unworthiness bring so much discredit on both the Jewish and the Christian name. He seldom appeared as a preacher. Both his extreme modesty and his utterance somewhat disqualified him for effectiveness in this service. But he devoted himself with conscientious diligence and scrupulous honesty to the work which the Church had assigned him, suffering no personal gratification or extraneous engagement to interrupt the prosecution of his professional duties; whilst in such humble labours as the teaching of a Sabbath school, and private visits of sympathy to the distressed, he sought such opportunities as he could use of serving the Lord Christ.
The hand of God ought thankfully to be acknowledged in His providentially raising up for the service of the Church a man so trained, and so richly endowed by nature and grace, as if he had been specially set apart, like the Apostle Paul, for the very work to which eventually he was called. The Church at large does not know the greatness of the loss which has been sustained in his removal. He had so high a sense of what was due to the public, and such humble ideas of himself, that he could scarcely ever be persuaded to commit any writings to the press. But we hope that his friends will be encouraged to publish his carefully prepared and carefully revised Prelections on the Minor Prophets. A tractate which he meditated on the Talmud (with special reference to a shallow but widely-circulated article which recently appeared in one of the Quarterlies), and for which he had collected the requisite materials, he was prevented from commencing by the illness which terminated in his death The value which his students set on his teaching and on his friendship affords one significant testimony to his work. We understand that they are now taking steps in some measure to express that by erecting a bust of him in the College Hall.
REV. DONALD SAGE, RESOLIS
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, June 1 1869, p.91
Died at the Free Church manse of Resolis, on the 31st of March, the Rev. Donald Sage, a Disruption minister, and the last of the Ross-shire Fathers.
He was descended from ancestors remarkable in the north of Scotland for godliness and ability. His father, the Rev. Alexander Sage of Kildonan — a man who feared God, and an evangelical preacher—is still held in grateful remembrance for his uncompromising testimony against unheard-of oppression, exercised half a century since, in the expatriation of multitudes to America, when his own extensive parish was literally cleared of its inhabitants.
Both his grandfathers — the Rev. Aeneas Sage of Lochcarron, and the Rev. D. Fraser of Ferrintosh—were men distinguished for their zeal and success in the ministry of the gospel. His great-grandfather, also — Mr. John McKay, successively minister of Durness in 1706, and of Lairg in 1714—combined ardent piety with strong mental vigour, and was much acknowledged in winning souls to Christ.
The subject of this sketch, born in the manse of Kildonan, Sutherlandshire, in 1789, was early brought to a knowledge of the truth, and was in every respect a worthy descendant of such an ancestry. Chiefly educated by his father, he became an excellent Latin scholar, and afterwards studied philosophy at Marischal College, Aberdeen, and divinity principally in Edinburgh.
His rare mental endowments were assiduously cultivated by habits of energetic research and intimate acquaintance with many of the Dutch and Puritan divines; but, beyond all else, he prayerfully studied the Bible, and through its felt influence his mind was pre-eminently cast in a gospel mould.
As a friend, he was most warm and lovable; as a companion, fascinating and instructive; but it was as a minister of the gospel that he specially shone. When tutor in the family of Mr. Matheson of Attadale, in Lochcarron, he received license, and was held in great esteem by that holy man of God, Mr. Lauchlan McKenzie, minister of that parish, who earnestly desired to have him appointed his colleague and successor. But it was in his own native county that he was ordained, in 1816, to the mission of Achness, in Strathnaver, where, surrounded by many who both prized his ministry and loved himself, he laboured with all the fervour and zeal of his youth, until with his congregation he was evicted from that beautiful strath.
In 1819 he was admitted minister of the Gaelic Chapel in Aberdeen, where his services were much appreciated by not a few who could value his doctrine.
By more than one congregation he was earnestly desired as a pastor; but high-handed Patronage was deaf to such petition! The parish of Resolis becoming vacant, the patron, to his honour be it mentioned, at once acceded to the unanimous wish of the people, and issued the presentation in favour of Mr. Sage, who was inducted in May 1822. A novice in divinity or Christian experience would not at that date have satisfied the deep-toned piety of the district; but in him all classes found a man of acknowledged excellence, and the most distinguished Christians awarded him a place and position with his beloved brethren and neighbours, Dr. McDonald of Ferrintosh and Mr. John Kennedy of Redcastle.
Disruption times came, when he and his large attached flock came out and joined the Free Church in 1843. During the first Disruption Assembly Mr. Sage confined himself to his study, engaged in earnest prayer, and obtained such evidence of the path of duty as made him thank God and take courage. Difficulties beset him peculiarly trying. The hearts of some of those in power were shut against him, and for a time he was denied a shelter for himself and his young family in the parish and neighbourhood; but at length a house having been procured, he could not feel himself unburdened until he entered it. One of those who had been chiefly instrumental in his discomfort, several years afterwards, in the near prospect of death, earnestly begged for an interest in his prayers—a request with which he readily complied.
As a minister, he did not serve his Master with what cost him little. He had a taste for accomplished composition, and for several years carefully emendated his sermons; but his great aim in pulpit preparation was to discover the mind of the Spirit in the passage he considered, and prayerfully he sought until the truth was reached and his whole soul absorbed in it. Intensely loving natural beauty, he enjoyed studying in some retired spot; and incidents which then came under his observation frequently suggested striking illustrations in presenting his luminous, fervent, and unctuous exhibitions of divine truth.
In addressing the unconverted, his appeals were unusually solemn; and faithfully he exposed their subterfuges, and pointed to the excellency of Christ and the freeness of the gospel offer. Inquirers he met by anticipating and answering their objections, as a wise ambassador; and to poor and broken-hearted ones he was peculiarly tender, and to not a few of the sons of sorrow he was a son of consolation. One of them who loved and revered him, in speaking of him with deep emotion since his death, exclaimed in broken English, “Ah, he was the minister who could take meat out of a text for needy, hungry souls!” Perhaps there was no feature in his character more marked than his depreciation of himself and his services; and this arising from his soul-humbling views of the glory of the Redeemer.
For the past few years, from increasing bodily infirmity, he was seldom able to engage in preaching; and about two months since he was suddenly and entirely prostrated, while his faculties were unimpaired, and his mind much comforted by the doctrines contained in the Gospel and Epistles of John, from which in the days of his vigour he preached many a savoury sermon. Deeply exercised by a sense of his own utter sinfulness, the glory of Christ, and the rich, sovereign love of God in Christ, he longed to be with him, that he might behold his face. When referring to his sufferings, he said that he felt it was the Lord who had brought him into these deep waters, that in them he was guiding him, and that he would deliver him out of them. “Mark thou the perfect, and behold the man of uprightness; because that surely of that man the latter end is peace.”
The parish in which he laboured for nearly forty-seven years was signally favoured in having had three such ministers as Mr. Inglis, Mr. McPhail, and Mr. Sage; and in the removal of such men how loud the call for prayer! “Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth.”
REV. DONALD FRASER SAGE, KEISS
(Died February 25, 1890)
Author: Rev. John Connell, Thurso
Source: The Free Church Monthly, April, 1890, Obituary, p.118
By the death of Donald Fraser Sage our Church has lost a most conscientious, most serviceable, and most lovable man. He died at Keiss on the evening of the 25th February of influenza-pneumonia, after a very short illness. Mr. Sage had been about ten years minister at Keiss, and had reached the forty-ninth year of his age. His father was the far-famed Donald Sage, minister of Resolis. Mr. Sage had just edited “Memorabilia Domestica”—descriptive of the men and manners of the north during the last hundred and fifty years—a work written by his father, and which has already awakened a keen interest at home and in the colonies. A writer says: “There is but one opinion expressed as to the judiciousness and literary skill displayed by the late Mr. Sage of Keiss in preparing the manuscript for the press; and this crowning work of his life, dictated by filial devotion, will endure as a fitting and worthy memorial of himself.” Mr. Sage was in a special sense “a son of the manse.” On his father’s side he represented four generations of ministers in an unbroken line. On his father’s mother’s side he came of a priestly house—the Frasers of Kirkhill. His own mother also was a child of the manse, the daughter of the Rev. W. Mackintosh of Thurso, predecessor of the Rev. Dr. Taylor, and the granddaughter of the Rev. W. Sutherland, the predecessor of the Rev. Mr. Phin of Wick, father of the late Dr. Phin of Edinburgh. Mr. Sage took his arts course at Edinburgh University, and his divinity classes at the New College. He was licensed in 1865 by the Free Presbytery of Chanonry, and in 1873 went to Canada, where he was for six years minister of Parkhill Presbyterian Church, Ontario. He returned to Scotland in 1879, and in July 1880 was inducted minister of the Free church of Keiss. His ministry there was a great success, especially amongst the young, and in this work he was ably and lovingly aided by his wife, a daughter of Dr. Thomson of Constantinople, whom he married on his settlement at Keiss. Mr. Sage had many attached friends outside his congregation and the Free Church. Of a singularly gentle and unassuming disposition, he desired to live at peace with all men where there was no sacrifice of principle. His gifts were not of a brilliant and showy kind, but they were of sterling quality. Though somewhat slow in his movements, he had great firmness of character and strength of conviction, and these had for company a certain diffidence of manner which had its roots in humility and in respect for the views of others. He had a generous nature, true sympathy, tender sensibility, and sound judgment. His preaching was conspicuously evangelical—its subject “sin, righteousness, and judgment.”
That was a touching scene in the Keiss Free Church on the funeral day, when some fifty lads of about fourteen years, suffused with grief, entered two abreast to take part in a service which spoke of the death of one who but a week before had shown to them the way of life. A large company of mourners conveyed Mr. Sage’s remains to Wick, eight miles distant, and on Saturday, the 1st March, they were laid, at Nairn, within the tomb by human hands.
Mr. Sage leaves a widow and four little girls to mourn his loss. For them we invoke the aid of the “Husband of the widow and the Father of the fatherless.” And may the “Man of sorrows” be with them in their sorrow, even He in whom sorrow was deepest, too deep for us to fathom it. This “till the day break and the shadows flee away.”
REV. CHARLES M. SCOTT, EDZELL
(Died November 3, 1890)
Author: Rev. James Nicoll, M.A., Friockheim
Source: The Free Church Monthly, January, 1891, Obituary, p.21
The briefness of this devoted minister’s career gives a melancholy interest to his memory. He preached his first sermon as minister of the Free Church of Edzell on 23rd February 1890, and his last on the 31st of the following August. An insidious disease had begun to undermine his strength as early as midsummer; but though he was scarcely able to preach during the month of August, he was sanguine that a brief holiday would restore him to his usual health. That expectation was not realized. In the end of October more dangerous symptoms appeared, and it was soon seen that his end was approaching. He died in his father’s house at Friockheim on 3rd November. His remains were followed to the grave by a great company of friends, a large representation of his bereaved congregation being among the number. He was only thirty years of age.
Mr. Scott received his early education in the Free Church school of Friockheim. After the passing of the Education Act he was apprenticed as pupil-teacher in the public school of the village. Having resolved to devote his life to the Christian ministry, he went at the close of his apprenticeship to the Grammar School of Old Aberdeen to prepare himself for the university. He attended the Arts classes in the University of Edinburgh, and in 1884 he took his degree. Having successfully gone through the usual curriculum of theological studies in the New College of Edinburgh, he was licensed to preach the gospel by the Free Presbytery of Arbroath in June 1888.
During the whole of his studies in the university and the divinity hall he held one of the Duncan Bursaries, which are in the gift of the Arbroath Presbytery, and which are bestowed year by year as the reward of passing a searching examination.
Shortly after being licensed as a preacher he became assistant-minister in Lorn Street Free Church, Campbeltown, where he laboured with much approbation and success till May 1889. He was afterwards appointed to a similar post at Monikie; but he had scarcely begun his work there when he received a call from the Free Church congregation at Edzell.
Endowed with considerable intellectual gifts, Mr. Scott was second to none in perseverance and faithfulness. By the help of these valuable though inconspicuous talents he pressed forward through the many difficulties and discouragements that crossed his path. But there is reason to fear that his zeal overtaxed his strength, and thus exposed him to the disease which eventually carried him off. His character contained a deep vein of seriousness; from the days of his boyhood his life seemed to be constantly controlled by the grace of God. As child, school-boy, student, and preacher he had an unblemished reputation. A companion of his student days, himself a minister of the gospel, remarks: “In the main he was reticent as to his own spiritual experiences, but at times I got a glimpse of these, and saw they were living and real. With a reverence for the truth wherever found, he joyed in the truth as it is in Jesus, and held on firmly by the doctrines of our Christianity, not as dogmas, but as truths meant to influence man eternally.” In the pulpit the intensity of his convictions, the earnestness of his faith, and the evangelical bent of his mind were obvious to every hearer. He preached to his people nothing but “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Shortly before his death he gave emphatic testimony as to what the nature of his inner life had always been. Having been asked whether he was prepared to meet his God, he replied, “Yes, long, long ago;” and he added, “I would not have been such a fool as to teach others what I had not been taught myself.”
Judging from his intense sympathy with evangelical truth, the deep interest he took in his work, the geniality of his disposition, and his quiet and unpretending manner, his friends had predicted for him an effective and fruitful ministry. Their hopes have been blasted. Scarcely had he girded himself for the work of his life than he received the Master’s summons. According to man’s view he has been taken away in the midst of his days, his work quite unfinished; his removal shows that the Master thought otherwise.
REV. WILLIAM SELBIE, MARYCULTER
(Died December 4, 1895)
Author: Rev. David M. W. Laird, Durris
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, April, 1896, Obituary, p.93
Mr. Selbie was a native of Kincardineshire, and of the very parish where he was afterwards minister. Not long after his birth, in 1823, his father removed to Keith Hall in Aberdeenshire, to be a factor of some kind to Lord Kintore. There he was brought up, till he went to Aberdeen to engage in business. But the Disruption time was a stirring religious epoch, and many youths were fired with enthusiasm to enter on the work of the ministry. Those who had such aspirations were, generally, on the side of the evangelical party, which became the Free Church. Mr. Selbie took a great interest in the church’s struggle for independence, though his friends at home were mostly unsympathetic. He began to study for the church about the year of the Disruption, and during the next eight years he attended college, while he maintained himself by teaching, mostly in connection with the Union Free Church school.
Licensed in 1852 to preach the gospel, he laboured for a short time in Gamrie, Banffshire, among a small community of fisher people. He was ordained in 1853 to the united charge of Maryculter and Bourtree Bush.
Maryculter forms the southern portion of the old Roman parish of Culter on the Dee, a few miles west of Aberdeen. One of the Popes allowed the parish to be divided, as the river Dee made it impossible that the inhabitants of both sides could worship in one church; the north half being called Peterculter, and the south half Maryculter. The church at Bourtree Bush is some four miles distant, and for more than twenty years Mr. Selbie preached there every Sabbath afternoon, having, doubtless, many a weary walk and drive on the windy and often snowy road which unites the two.
The congregation at Maryculter was a thoroughly rural one, and has latterly become somewhat reduced in numbers, owing to changes in the population. The church, a plain, unpretending building, stands upon an exposed moor, away from the high road, as it was impossible to get any better site at the Disruption time, and is therefore not well situated to suit the needs of the population. But Mr. Selbie threw himself heartily into the work, and did all that any one could do to uphold the cause of Christ in the district. There is little to chronicle about his labours, which went on quietly and faithfully for forty-two years. He took a great interest in education, and, indeed, in all the affairs of the parish.
Mr. Selbie was a faithful and earnest preacher of the gospel, and his hearers felt that they were coming under the influence of a man who lived under the powers of the world to come. There was no mistaking his affectionate earnestness about the highest interests of his people. He laid down the gospel wisely and lovingly, and some have testified that light and peace and joy were theirs through him. Among the blessings that resulted from his faithful labours, not the least was the gift made to other congregations at home and abroad, when those, trained under his ministry to be attached members of the Free Church, went away, cherishing grateful memories of the simple worship of the little country sanctuary.
He was much esteemed as a visitor and a comforter in times of sorrow at the homes of the parish, as he understood so well the character and ways of the people, and ever took such an affectionate interest in them. His hearty shake of the hand, and the glance of his bright black eye, made it at once manifest what manner of man he was—sincere, simple-hearted, kindly, and desirous of doing good.
As to the business of the Presbytery of Aberdeen, Mr. Selbie took an active interest in all that concerned the Free Church in the north. Especially in the discussions regarding the higher criticism of the Bible he took his share, and while uncompromisingly faithful to the older views as to inspiration, he showed himself able to discuss great questions with fairness and intelligence.
Though in his early ministry his health was somewhat feeble, and, as his diaries attest, he had no expectation of seeing many years of usefulness, he became latterly much more robust, being seldom or never laid aside from pulpit duty. But a few years ago influenza attacked him severely, and though he recovered wonderfully, he was never again so strong as he had been.
About the middle of November 1895 he was suddenly struck down with a kind of apoplexy, and after ten days of inability to speak, and of considerable suffering, he passed away on the fourth of December. He is buried in Maryculter churchyard amid beautiful scenery, not far from the Dee. The day of his burial was a most stormy one, and the ground was white with snow, but a large company of sincere mourners from the parish and neighbourhood helped to lay him in the grave. He was indeed universally respected and beloved as a good minister of Jesus Christ. He has left behind him a widow and five children, all of whom but one daughter had long left the old manse. His second son is the Rev. J. A. Selbie of the Free Church, Birsay, Orkney.
REV. ROBERT SHANKS, A.M., BUCKIE
(Died April 17, 1884)
Author: Rev. John Mackay, Cullen
Source: The Free Church Monthly, July 1, 1884, Biographical Notices, p.214
By the death of Mr. Shanks another breach has been made in the ranks of our Disruption men.
Mr. Shanks was born in Partick in November 1798. At an early age he entered the University of Glasgow, where he graduated as A.M. After completing his arts course he commenced the study of theology in the Divinity Hall of the same university, and in due time was licensed as a probationer of the Church of Scotland. Shortly thereafter having obtained an appointment as tutor and travelling companion to a young Highland proprietor, he enjoyed the advantage of spending with him a considerable time on the Continent. During a winter passed in Paris he had the privilege of attending a course of lectures in the Sorbonne by the late M. Guizot, of whose character and historical prelections he ever entertained the highest admiration. Mr. Shanks’s residence abroad afforded him opportunities for studying the character of Romanism in its debasing influence over the lower orders; and in, if possible, its still more pernicious influence over the educated. The experience thus acquired peculiarly fitted him for the work to which he was appointed on his return to this country, as one of the agents of the then lately formed Scottish Reformation Society. In this capacity there are few places in Scotland where his voice was not heard by crowded audiences, in the vindication of Protestant truth and the able exposure of Papal error.
It was while thus engaged that Mr. Shanks visited Buckie for the first time. The Buckie of the present day, with its commodious harbour, wide and regular streets, handsome villas, costly churches, and well-furnished schools, presents a striking contrast to the Buckie of fifty or sixty years ago. It was then in all respects, materially, socially, and religiously, an uncultivated and uncared-for field. For such a field of labour he was qualified no less from his physical than from his mental vigour. Accordingly on the unanimous and cordial invitation of the newly-formed congregation, Mr. Shanks was in the autumn of 1837 ordained as first Presbyterian minister of Buckie, with which his name has ever since been so closely associated.
There are still not a few who are able to testify to Mr. Shanks’s share in the happy change wrought in Buckie, and who gratefully remember the early years of his ministry, and the abundant labours in which he engaged for the promotion of the spiritual interests of his people. In addition to his pulpit services, Bible classes, and Sabbath schools on the Lord’s day, Mr. Shanks long continued to teach from house to house, and to hold cottage prayer-meetings, not only in Buckie, but in all its surrounding villages, on the other days of the week, at a time when these and similar means of good were little known or used.
But in the temporal welfare of his people Mr. Shanks felt equally interested. Not unfrequently he has been seen during a storm giving his powerful aid to the fishermen in saving life and property. Not content with this, he built on his own responsibility a large wooden harbour, which, until wrecked by a tempest, proved no small boon to the inhabitants. To meet the great educational wants of the place, he fitted up on his own premises, and at his own expense, a large school-room, in which, under a series of well-qualified teachers, excellent work continued to be done, until superseded by the more commodious schools he afterwards built with the aid of the Ferguson Trust. To his exertions, too, the Free Church congregation owe the large and handsome church in which they have worshipped since forced to quit the Establishment.
As might have been expected, there were few public controversies of his day in which he did not take an active part. But no one ever engaged in controversy with less bitterness, or sooner forgot an injury, or was readier to do a kind turn to an opponent. Of a singularly robust constitution, he scarcely knew a day’s illness during his long life. His death, which occurred at his residence, Gordondale Road, Aberdeen, was rather unexpected.
He had been elected by his Presbytery as one of their commissioners to the late General Assembly, but ere its meeting he had been summoned to join the general assembly and church of the first-born. Among the last words he uttered, and no words could be more appropriate to his case, were these:—”The hour of my departure’s come; I hear the voice that calls me home: Now, O my God! let trouble cease, And let thy servant die in peace.”
Mr. Shanks’s remains were accompanied to their last resting-place by a deputation of fishermen, who came all the way to Aberdeen to show their respect for the memory of one who had so long lived and laboured among them.
REV. ALEXANDER LAMONT SHAW
(Died August 22, 1889)
Author: Rev. A. McDiarmid, Morven
Source: The Free Church Monthly, January, 1890, Obituary, p.20
Mr. Shaw was born in 1846 in the island of Jura. When a boy he felt a strong inclination to go to sea. His desire was gratified, and he soon rose to the position of first mate. But having in early manhood come under the power of the truth, he felt a strong disposition to study for the work of the ministry, and was ultimately enrolled as a student at Glasgow University in 1869-70.
In the session of 1874-75, he entered the Divinity Hall of the Free Church College, Glasgow. During the greater part of his Divinity Hall course, he laboured as missionary in connection with the Argyle congregation in that city, a work which he much enjoyed, and to which he afterwards looked back with the greatest pleasure. His robust health and herculean frame admirably fitted him for the arduous work of a city missionary.
He was licensed by the Presbytery of Dunoon in the summer of 1880, and, after a short probation, was unanimously elected in 1881 by the congregation of Torosay and Salen, in the island of Mull, to be their pastor. Here he laboured during the last eight years.
As a preacher, Mr. Shaw was clear, logical, and evangelical. He took a great interest in the young, and acted as Corresponding Member of Presbytery for the Welfare of Youth Scheme. He was also a strong supporter of the temperance cause, and a kind and generous friend to the poor, among whom he will be much missed.
The Free Church at Salen, whose erection was chiefly due to him, is a credit to the congregation, a most picturesque object in the landscape, and will prove an enduring memorial of the minister who built it.
On his journey homeward in August last from preaching to the fishermen at Lerwick, he took suddenly ill at Lybster. He was tenderly nursed in the Free Church manse. For six days he suffered from pneumonia. On the morning of August 22 he seemed much better, but later on in the day cardiac failure and syncope set in, and ere the day closed Mr. Shaw was dead. He was cut off in the midst of his days, at the early age of forty-three.
When the sudden and startling news of his death arrived, universal regret was expressed at his early removal from the work of the ministry, and much sympathy was felt for his wife and three children, as well as for his widowed mother, who mourn the loss of a dutiful son, a loving husband, and a kind and indulgent parent. His remains, over which a memorial stone is soon to be built by his congregation and friends, were interred in Pennyfuir Cemetery, Oban.
REV. DUGALD SHAW, LAGGAN
(Died October 15, 1890)
Author: Rev. Norman Macdonald, Alvie
Source: The Free Church Monthly, February, 1891, Obituary, p.54
Mr. Shaw was born at Carradale, Kintyre, in the year 1810. Giving early indications of the gift of ready utterance, as well as of genuine piety, he was advised on leaving the parish school to study for the Christian ministry in connection with the Church of Scotland. The necessary arrangements having been made, he entered the Glasgow University about the year 1828, where he had for his fellow-students a brilliant galaxy of young men who were eminent not less for their piety than for their gifts and attainments. Among these were the talented and saintly James Halley, Robert Johnstone, who afterwards was missionary at Madras, and William Burns, the well-known China missionary. Enjoying for several sessions the society of such God-fearing and enthusiastic young men, it is no wonder that the subject of this notice should have, to some extent, imbibed their spirit. These students owed much, under God, to the deep piety as well as to the scholarly attainments of the venerable Dr. Macgill. As Sir Daniel K. Sandford, the eminent professor of Greek, was the light of the arts department, Dr. Stevenson Macgill was the soul and guiding star of the theological. This master in Israel never lost sight of the important life-work to which those under his charge were looking forward. Aiming as much at the personal salvation of the students as at their equipment in sound theological knowledge, he was the honoured instrument of raising the standard of piety in the college, and of sending forth from the Glasgow Divinity Hall as devoted a band of youthful labourers as ever issued from a theological seminary.
Mr. Shaw was licensed to preach the gospel by the Presbytery of Lochcarron, of which Dr. Beith, late of Stirling, was then the Moderator. This was some time before the Disruption. During part of his college course, Mr. Shaw was employed as tutor in gentlemen’s families; and in this capacity he continued to act for some time after receiving license. At this time, while supporting himself by teaching, he preached the gospel without fee or reward. For this self-denying service, however, he was richly compensated by the Master; for while engaged in it the fruits of his ministry began to appear, in the conversion of sinners and in the stirring up of God’s people to a more full and vivid realization of divine things. This led him to discontinue the more secular part of his work, and to devote his whole time and strength to the preaching of the Word. Wherever he went at this period a rich blessing appears to have attended his labours. In the island of Mull, at Muckairn, and in Strathbraan, many were awakened and brought to the knowledge of the truth through his preaching. It was in Strathbraan that he met the saintly Isabella Macfarlane, whose memoir he wrote and published in 1870. In her letters, Miss Macfarlane speaks of the spiritual benefit she derived from his ministrations. Preaching one day in Hope Street Church, Glasgow, Lady Lucy Smith, the daughter of the Earl of Melville, was one of his hearers. She was much struck with the great earnestness as well as the evangelical character of his preaching, and sent him an invitation to visit her in her hotel. He complied with her request; and so much impressed was she with his modest self-possession and moral earnestness, that she induced him to accompany her to Nottingham, where he lived in her house, and preached in many districts on her estate, and often in her drawing-room. Here also his services were abundantly blessed.
Mr. Shaw came first to Laggan in 1847, and in the following year was ordained pastor of the Free Church congregation there. Among his warmest friends during nearly the whole of his long pastorate were Cluny Macpherson and his lady, who took a great interest in the congregation as well as in its minister. Mr. Shaw was instrumental in building two handsome new churches in his parish. Tbe former of those was burned down in November 1875, on Monday of the communion, and a new one, the present edifice, built on the same site. It was free of debt only a year or two ago.
A great revival took place in Laggan in 1860-61 under Mr. Shaw’s ministry. It began with the pastor himself being stirred up, and was manifested in greatly increased earnestness in his preaching. Ere long the usual meagre attendance at the weekly prayer-meeting was so increased that no ordinary building could hold the worshippers. Wherever the pastor went, he no sooner began to preach than some of the most careless and profane began to cry out, “What shall we do to be saved?” Many of the fruits of this revival are still to be seen both in Laggan and in Canada, where great numbers of the people emigrated soon after.
For ten years at least after the commencement of the union negotiations, Mr. Shaw was a steady supporter of the proposed union. He was also in favour of Disestablishment till within the last few years of his life. But he never could tolerate the irreverent critics, as he regarded them, who denied the plenary inspiration of the autographic Scriptures.
In his preaching, Mr. Shaw was as practical as he was evangelical; but his chief gift was his power in prayer, in which he poured out his soul before God, often heaping adjective upon adjective in the vain endeavour to give adequate expression to his feelings and aspirations. He was a most laborious pastor, who never grudged any exertion for the benefit of his flock. Physically strong and wiry, he could walk long distances without fatigue. In character he was distinguished for guileless simplicity, combined with much shrewdness and tenacity of purpose.
About three years ago Mr. Shaw met with a serious accident in Glasgow, as he was coming out of an omnibus before it came to a standstill. He fell, was stunned, and carried insensible to the nearest shop, where, restoratives being applied, he recovered consciousness. But the shock to the system in the case of one bordering on fourscore years is not so easily got over; and though he rallied and after a time resumed his pastoral work, he never was the same after as before the accident. His last appearance in the pulpit was in April, when he fainted during the service, and had to be helped out, to enter it no more. The last text from which he preached was, “The time of my departure is at hand.” As the end was approaching, he was fast ripening for the heavenly garner. Shortly before his departure he was heard repeatedly saying, “This is not death; it is a gathering unto Himself.” Suffering no physical pain, and filled with the joy of the Lord, this simple-minded, guileless, godly man fell asleep in Jesus, on the fifteenth day of October last, in the eighty-first year of his age and forty-second of his ministry.
REV. DR. SHAW, WHITBURN
The Record of the Free Church of Scotland, March 2, 1863
The death of the Rev. Dr. Shaw of Whitburn occurred under very painful circumstances, being the result of an injury received in stepping from a railway carriage. Dr. Shaw was a native of Perth. He passed the usual literary curriculum in the University of Edinburgh. In the logic class he specially distinguished himself, and obtained one of the prizes given by the professor for an essay on consciousness—a fact which shows the pre-eminence in youth of the same order of faculties for which he was all his days distinguished. When he finished his literary studies, he entered the Divinity Hall of the Constitutional Presbytery—a denomination which had been recently formed by a secession from the Associate Synod, when that body adopted what were then called New-light, and have since been called Voluntary principles. The Divinity Hall had long been held under the distinguished presidency of Professor Bruce, at the village of Whitburn, the future sphere of Dr. Shaw’s ministerial labours. In that remote rural district, far from libraries and from all literary advantages, with only one professor for all branches, and he a minister preaching twice every Sabbath, some of the ablest men, the most accomplished divines, and the best preachers, were reared that ever were in Scotland—such as Drs. M’Crie, father and son, Drs. Paxton, Stevenson of Ayr, Duncan of Midcalder, and also Dr. Duncan of the New College, Edinburgh. In this distinguished school of the prophets Dr. Shaw received his theological education. In May 1817, be was ordained to the ministry of the gospel in the congregation of Whitburn.
During the long period of six and forty years he preached the gospel of Christ in its purity, its freeness, aud its completeness. As a divine, he was distinguished for solidity and accuracy. As a preacher, his discourses had no embellishments, but they were sound and substantial, and much fitted for the edification of believers. In his private deportment he was grave, dignified, and under continual self-control; and yet beneath this air of restraint there beat the heart of as true a friend, as honourable and upright a man, and one who was as habitually swayed by a sense of duty, as any whom it has been our privilege to know. In the whole district of country around Whitburn he was held in most profound respect, as a man who could be thoroughly relied on to give his honest support to what was right, or steadfastly resist what he believed to be wrong.
REV. JOHN MILNE SHIRREFFS, LOCHGILPHEAD
(Died 12th September 1887)
Author: Rev. Thomas Crerar, M.A.
Source: The Free Church Monthly, March, 1888, Memorial Sketches, p.83
Mr. Shirreffs was born at Belhelvie, Aberdeenshire, in 1837. He received his preliminary education in the country, and afterwards went to the Aberdeen grammar-school. Thence he proceeded to college, where he gained a bursary. He could not complete his studies, however, at that time, and accepted a teaching engagement at Fordoun. Thereafter he spent two years as a teacher in Herefordshire, where he was very successful in his work. He then returned to Scotland, entered the University of Edinburgh, and afterwards the New College. The interruption in his studies was occasioned by his own circumstances, not by any hesitation as to the career he should adopt. From boyhood it was his great wish to be a minister of the gospel. One of the chief influences in forming his religious character was the ministry of Mr. Moir of New Machar. Mr. Shirreffs greatly admired and loved him, and said that when Mr. Moir died it seemed to him as if the sun had gone
Having reached the mature age of twenty-six when he entered the Theological Hall, he was able to undertake mission duties which a younger student could not have performed so well. He spent four successive summers in Shetland, doing evangelistic work. During that time there was a decided religious movement among the people, and his work was fruitful in the highest sense. He also succeeded in raising funds for the building of a church in the district where he laboured, and it was free of debt when he left Shetland. Licensed in 1867, he was ordained a few months after at Towie, in the Presbytery of Alford, and was introduced to his charge by the late Mr. Harper of Bothwell. During the eleven years he remained in Towie, Mr. Shirreffs proved himself a faithful minister of Christ. With two churches and a scattered congregation to attend to, his work was by no means light. He found time, however, to make good use of his pen on many occasions in the discussion of questions which interested the Church. He was a frequent contributor to the press, and his style was clear, forcible, and logical. He was the author of a very able pamphlet, entitled, “Hymns in Public Worship,” which received much attention when it appeared. In 1878 Mr. Shirreffs accepted a call to the Martyrs’ Church, Lochgilphead, as colleague to Mr. McCaig. The state of his health made this call to a genial climate welcome. He was most warmly received by the people, and he requited their affection. During the nine years of his ministry, they were the objects of his faithful care. Whatever affected them interested him. He was ever ready to sympathize with them in their private troubles. He did the work of a pastor and of a friend among them, and took his part also in the management of their public affairs. Clear-headed and simple-hearted, with keen perceptions, a vigorous mind, and abundant kindliness, he was a man to respect and love. His sincere piety and consistency of character made him in himself a witness for the gospel.
Author: Rev. Thomas Crerar, M.A.
Source: The Free Church Monthly, March, 1888, Memorial Sketches, p.83
Some years ago Mr. Shirreffs knew that he was afflicted with heart disease, and though this did not destroy his natural buoyancy of spirit, nor seriously impair his activity in the work of God, it made him feel that his ministry was not likely to be a long one. Those who knew him well saw how his spiritual character was being mellowed and ripened as he approached the place where the “shadow feared of men” sat and waited for him. Beginning his career in the midst of evangelistic work, it was in the midst of such work that he closed his ministry. This was exactly what he would have wished. While interested in many things, as a man of wide sympathies and informed mind, he was above all interested in the conversion of souls to God. It was therefore a cause of great joy and thankfulness to him in the spring of the past year to see unmistakable proofs of the outpouring of the Spirit on his field of labour. He was himself unable, owing to weakness, to address the special meetings that were held, first by Mr. McKenzie of Campbeltown, and then by Mr. Campbell of Glasgow. But he opened them with prayer, and his prayers were described by those who were present as most remarkable. He was able also to speak to anxious inquirers, and this was almost his last work. At the communion on 26th June he had the joy of receiving an unusually large number of young people into the fellowship of the Church. He preached on the evening of the 10th July on the subject of decision for Christ. By the time he had finished he was so exhausted and oppressed that he actually groaned aloud during the singing. That was his last sermon; for though he prepared another, dating it 17th July, and noting on its margin suitable psalms and hymns, it was never delivered. The text he chose is suggestive, and tells of his own faith in God. It was from Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me: thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
On the 14th August he was taken on board the Columba, and was able to proceed as far as Glasgow. Those who saw him on the journey knew that he would never sail down the Clyde again. And he knew it himself. But his heart was at peace. His last month was spent at the home of relatives at Mount Vernon. A few days before he died he said to his wife, “There is one lesson we learn from the Jewish passover—there are many lessons, but there is one in particular—and that is, the substitutionary nature of it. ‘Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.'” She answered, “That is true;” and he added, “True, true, true.” On the morning of the 12th September Mrs. Shirreffs was standing beside her husband when a sudden paroxysm seized him. A change of countenance told her that the end had come. He had little more than time to say, “I am going home,” when he fell asleep in Christ.
Among the letters of sympathy which his sorrowing widow received there is one from which a paragraph may be quoted:—”My heart aches for you. I feel it so much myself that I do not know what it can be to you. Mr. Shirreffs was dear to me as a father, as indeed he was—my father in Christ. I hope to meet him again. It gave me a strangely solemn feeling to think that the beginning of this week I was praying for him while all the time he was safe at home.” Blessed are the dead whose graves are covered with such flowers.
REV. JOHN SHOOLBRAID, MORTLACH
(Died February 18, 1876)
Author: Rev. James Scott, B.D., Aberlour
The Free Church Monthly September 1, 1875, p.228
The good old patriarch, who lately closed his long and faithful ministry of half a century, was born in Kennoway, Fife, in 1796, of godly parents, on whose memory he delighted to dwell. He studied at St. Andrews University in his native county. Having been trained in theology at the Hall of the Secession Church, and duly licensed in 1823, he became so popular a preacher that he was settled at Lochwinnoch in 1824. Here he remained faithful to his trust for seventeen years, when failing health led him to resign his charge and to retire in 1841 to Elgin, where he possessed considerable property. During the stirring events of that period he identified himself with the Free Church by preaching in the town and neighbourhood; and having been ultimately admitted a minister of the Church by the Inverness Assembly, he was called to Mortlach, and inducted in 1846, where he laboured without intermission, and with great diligence and devotedness, till the autumn of 1874, when, on the appointment of an assistant and successor, he retired from the active work of the ministry.
As a man, Mr. Shoolbraid was one of the homeliest and humblest men we have ever met. As a preacher, he was a Puritan, both in the matter and in the form of his preaching. His sermons were not only carefully prepared and thoroughly evangelical, but sometimes even unctuous. He possessed to the last a clear and powerful voice, which he managed with singular dexterity. In his younger days he must have been no mean elocutionist, for we have heard the old man eloquent even at threescore years and ten.
As a pastor, he was particularly painstaking and patient with them that were out of the way, when they did not scorn advice and openly oppose the truth; and so good an example to his flock of the virtues and graces of the Christian life, as to receive at his decease from the local secular press the character of “the good pastor of the Free Church of Mortlach.”
His wife predeceased him, but he has left a son and two daughters to mourn his loss.
REV. DAVID SIMPSON, ABERDEEN
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, October 1, 1864, p.639
On the 28th July last, the Rev. David Simpson, minister of Free Trinity Church, Aberdeen, entered into his glorious everlasting rest. He died in the seventieth year of his age, and in the forty-second of his ministry. He was a native of Findhorn, and his parents, pious people in the humbler walks of life, devoted him from his birth to the service of God in the ministry. He received the principal part of his elementary education at the parish school of Cromarty, where he resided for eight years with a maternal uncle. He afterwards attended as a student in Marischal College, Aberdeen, and graduated at the age of seventeen. For the next eleven years he was tutor in a gentleman’s family in the north. During this period he studied divinity and was licensed as a preacher in the Church of Scotland.
Soon thereafter he was employed as assistant by the Rev. Duncan Grant, then in Alves; and in 1823 he was elected and ordained as minister of the Quoad Sacra Church at Burghead. On 3rd May 1825, he was inducted as successor to Mr. Murray in Trinity Chapel, Aberdeen, in which charge he continued to minister, with much comfort to himself and acceptance to the people, until the Master, whom he loved so well and served so cheerfully, called him up higher. Having had a slight shock of paralysis about two years ago, he concurred in arrangements made for the appointment of a colleague and successor, and, much to his satisfaction, the Rev. W. H. Gualter from Hawick was associated with him in the ministry on the 5th May last. He spent part of the months of June and July of this year in Cromarty, the scene of the happy years of his boyhood, and preached his last sermon in the Free Church there. On his return, he paid a visit to the Rev. W. K. Mitchell, nephew of his beloved wife, who survives him; and under a second attack of paralysis, after a few days’ illness, he breathed his last in the Free Church Manse, Cluny.
From the first, Mr. Simpson took a high place among the ministers of Aberdeen as a sound, evangelical, and popular preacher. His congregation, large and influential when he became pastor, continued so to the end of his life. Without having any claims to high erudition, he was well acquainted with the Scriptures and with modern theology, and continued a diligent reader to the last. While not neglecting more profound works, he had much delight in perusing sacred poetry, Christian biography, and books on experimental religion. His sermons were evidently prepared more with a view to edify and impress his flock than to exhibit his own talents or theological acquirements. They were characterized by much simplicity and pathos, and often contained illustrations very happily introduced, and passages of great power and eloquence. His style of composition was always clear—often beautiful. In his preaching he faithfully discriminated between the people of God and the unconverted, and many of his appeals to the latter class were most searching and solemn.
As a pastor Mr. Simpson was most conscientious and affectionate. He lived for his people, and was esteemed and beloved by them. In two branches of the pastoral work he specially excelled—the one, his dealing with the young; the other, his visiting of the sick and dying. Although he had nothing particularly showy about him to attract the young, yet he had such a kindly serious way of speaking to them that he gained their attention and led them to reflect on what he said. In addition to many sermons preached and published on special occasions, he gave to the public a small volume of discourses to the young, which had a large circulation, and proved very useful at the time. To the afflicted his visits were frequent and welcome. Many a dying Christian has been greatly solaced by his conversation and prayers, and has blessed God for the privilege of having so pious and experienced a minister to speak of Jesus, and to pour the consolations of religion into the soul that had soon to appear in the immediate presence of God.
During his ministry, the congregation of Trinity Church was singularly free from heats and jarrings, and exemplified the truth of the Psalmist’s words, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” To his urbanity, and Christian prudence, and punctuality, it was chiefly owing that the business of his Session and Deacons’ Court was conducted with exemplary propriety and cordiality. The happiness of the Christian life, and the joys of heaven were much the theme of his preaching in the latter part of his ministry. Thereby “he being dead yet speaketh,” and seems to say to his sorrowing flock, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on earth.”
In many of the public and social questions of the day, Mr. Simpson took a lively interest. He was among the first—if not the very first minister—in Aberdeen to espouse the temperance cause. Deeply affected by the frightful ravages of intemperance among the working classes, and by the mischief done by the ordinary drinking usages of society, he adopted the abstinence principle and acted upon it for a considerable time, and took a less prominent part in support of the movement only when his medical adviser prescribed the use of wine to him amid his “often infirmities,” but his views as to the Christian expediency of the abstinence cause remained unchanged to the last.
In two matters having a direct bearing upon the religious interests of mankind, he took a leading part, and rendered valuable services to the Church and the community—the Sabbath question and the cause of Foreign Missions; and in the Presbytery and Synod of which he was a member, he was looked upon by his brethren as a man of such fervour of Christian feeling and such experience in the spiritual life, that they frequently called on him to lead their devotions when prayer was offered up on special occasions.
For twenty years of his ministry he was in connection with the Established Church of Scotland. Himself twice called to the charge of souls by the voice of the people, he was strongly opposed to church patronage, and contended for the right of the members of every congregation to choose their own pastors and office-bearers. Consequently when the non-intrusion controversy arose, he took his side with the Evangelical party. Acting in compliance with the appointment of the Church, although at no small risk to his own health at the time, he preached in Huntly, and intimated the sentence of suspension against the minister there, at the commencement of the Strathbogie case.
Mr. Simpson was one of a band of able and devoted ministers of the gospel, whom the Lord in his gracious providence raised up in Aberdeen, and to whose faithful labours mainly are to be ascribed important results— among these the remarkable fact, that every minister in the city left the Established Church at the Disruption, followed by the great bulk of their congregations. In Mr. Simpson’s case, it may be said, they all left; and old Trinity Church, once so crowded with worshippers, became and remains to this day a desolation. An attempt was made to get a congregation formed in it, but proved a signal failure. Those who knew of what stamp such men as Drs. Kidd, Foote, Murray, were, also the character of Messrs Lyon, Thorburn, Leith, Parker, Gray, Forbes, Philip, all contemporaries and fellow-labourers with Mr. Simpson in Aberdeen, and all now removed to the upper sanctuary, will not be surprised that they made a deep and lasting impression upon the community in the midst of which they lived and laboured. Without saying, “We ne’er shall see their like again,” we may truly say, they rendered eminent service to the Church and to the cause of Christ in their day and generation, and deserve to be held in everlasting remembrance. “Blessed are the dead, which die in the Lord, from henceforth; yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.”
REV. DAVID SIMPSON, LAURENCEKIRK
(Died June 30, 1893)
Author: Rev. R. M. Boyd, Glenbervie
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, September, 1893, Obituary, p.214
In the removal of Mr. Simpson, our Church has to mourn the loss of a true “man of God,” and a Christian minister of the best type. His life was uneventful; his career not one of striking incidents or outward display, but of quiet, unpretentious usefulness. The son of a small farmer in the town-land of Bresagh, County Down, he was born on the 26th of February 1826. Father and mother were of the same class, and their character so deeply impressed him that to the end of his life he cherished for them a reverential esteem and affection. While Ireland was the place of his birth, he was of purely Scottish descent. His family record went back to some of the Scotch settlers who sought refuge in Ulster in the days of the Stuart persecutions, and the old Covenanting spirit was fully alive in him. Educated at two country schools in the neighbourhood, he had the common experience of a schoolboy in a rural district. At an unusually early age he was set to learn Latin, and compelled by a hard teacher to read Virgil and other difficult authors before he was nine years old. His minister in boyhood was the Rev. John Downes, then a well-known man among the Original Seceders of Ulster; and there is reason to believe that by his ministrations and Mr. Simpson’s home training combined, deep religious impressions were made upon his mind from a very early period. At twelve he left school, and was sent to an uncle in Newtonards, to learn the business of a druggist, which he followed there, and in Lisburn and Belfast, for about seven years. But his heart turned towards the ministry of the gospel, and after earning sufficient to give him a fair start in a university career, he came over to Scotland, entered as a student at Edinburgh, and passed through the usual course of arts, under Professor Pillans, Sir W. Hamilton, Christopher North, and the other eminent men who then made Edinburgh famous. In due time Mr. Simpson entered the Divinity Hall of the Original Secession Church, and there, under Professor Macdougall, he used to say, his mind became first fairly opened to exact philosophical thinking. His studies completed, he was licensed as a probationer, preached for a time at Kirriemuir and other places, and was at length called to Brechin, where he was ordained on the 1st of January 1851. While there, his vigorous ministry began to infuse new life into a cause that had been in a somewhat declining state. In 1852, along with the majority of the Original Seceders, he joined the Free Church. Of those who united, he was at the time of his death the sole survivor, and this position of isolation he felt somewhat keenly since the death of his intimate friend the Rev. Edward A. Thomson, of Free St. Stephen’s, Edinburgh. In 1854, he was called with singular heartiness and unanimity to Laurencekirk, where he was inducted on the 29th of June. He survived the thirty-ninth anniversary of his settlement barely half-an-hour, so that his Laurencekirk ministry covered the exact period of thirty-nine years.
At the outset he had difficulties of no ordinary kind to face. The congregation had passed through a period of very special trial. The task of welding it together, and overcoming the latent elements of discord, was no easy one; but by prudence, kindliness, and quiet, persistent fidelity to his Master and the truth committed to him, he accomplished it as few men could have done. A man of scholarly tastes, the range of his reading was wide and varied, and he made good use of his accumulated stores of study and experience to illustrate and commend his message. His preaching was mainly expository. He combined in a singular degree deep thinking and close reasoning with clearness of statement. His language was ever fitly chosen, and his manner solemn and impressive. To the very last he gave himself with earnest meditation and intense prayerful effort to the work of preparation for the pulpit. In public prayer he had an unusual gift—the outcome and reflection of his intimate communion with God in secret. As a pastor he sought ever to leave the savour of Christ’s presence in the homes he visited, and was marked by a sympathetic human kindliness which opened men’s hearts to him as the sun opens the flowers. For his prayer-meetings he made very special preparation, and much of his best thought was given at these, sometimes to a very small number of hearers. His Bible-class was always a great pleasure to him. While he never felt himself specially gifted in addressing children he had yet a genial humour that attracted them and could at times awaken their liveliest attention and impress upon them much valuable truth. In the business of the Church he always showed a very high sense of duty, attending the committees for years with great regularity. His brethren in the Presbytery leaned upon his judgment, found a source of strength in his counsel, and will sorely miss his genial brotherly kindness. As a citizen he was deeply interested in all that concerned the welfare of the community, while yet never obtruding himself in a way that was inconsistent with his position as a minister of Christ. He served for a number of years on the School Board of the parish, and on that and all other public duties he brought to bear a liberal and enlightened judgment, a lofty conscientiousness, a spirit that realized the all-pervasive presence and authority of the living God.
On several occasions Mr. Simpson did excellent service at some of the stations of the Continental Committee. His labours were highly esteemed. Both at Montreux and in the Scotch Church at Rotterdam he made some warm and attached friends. These Continental visits were sometimes of great benefit to him physically, as his health was never very robust. In 1863 his life for a time was almost despaired of, and he was sent to Queenstown for a three months’ rest. During the last ten years of his life he was repeatedly laid aside from duty but bore up with wonderful cheerfulness, and did his work faithfully to the last. The end came somewhat suddenly. After barely a week’s illness during which his sufferings were at times acute, he peacefully fell asleep, angina pectoris the immediate cause of death.
Mr. Simpson was married in 1861 to the daughter of an Irish gentleman, whose genial companionship and quiet helpfulness did much to brighten his life and ministry. She and their only son survive to mourn his loss.
REV. JAMES A. SIMPSON, BONNETHILL, DUNDEE
(Died September 4, 1899)
Author: Rev. Henry F. Henderson, M.A., Dundee
Source: The Free Church Monthly, May, 1900, Obituary, p.114
Born in Cullen, Banffshire, on the last day of a famous year – 1843 – those who knew Mr. Simpson in his boyhood speak of him as having been a particularly gentle, docile lad, warm-hearted and affectionate. At the Grammar School of his native town he acquitted himself well, and, on the recommendation of the head-master, became a pupil-teacher in it. When the wonderful revival of 1859 occurred he was at an impressionable age, and like many young men of that time, Mr. Simpson came under the influence of the movement, and became a decided Christian. I believe that it was to the impressive preaching of Duncan Mathieson, the Scottish evangelist, that he owed his conversion, under God. Coming thus early under the power of divine grace, he immediately felt a burning desire within him to bring others into a knowledge of the truth. Accordingly he began forthwith to address meetings in fishermen’s cottages in the Seatown, as well as in the old Methodist Chapel. Great good, as we can well believe, attended these gatherings and it is said that in many cases the good fruits are to be seen to this day. I am told that Duncan Mathieson took a special interest in Mr. Simpson, and advised him to devote himself to the ministry. Acting on this advice, he passed through the Arts course in Aberdeen, and afterwards took the Divinity course in the New College, Edinburgh. His interest in revival work meanwhile did not abate; it even became greater. During his summer vacations from year to year while a student, he flung his whole soul into it, holding meetings under his friend the evangelist at such gatherings as feeing markets, where the voice of the young man rang out in rich and powerful tones, and drew to him great crowds of people to hear his message. He did not spare himself at this open-air work, or in the singing of the hymns, so much in favour at that remarkable time. For some months he assisted the late Dr. Blaikie at Pilrig; and as often as he returned on visits to his native town, meetings would be organised, crowds gathered, and great good accomplished.
In the summer of 1868 Mr. Simpson came to Dundee in the capacity of missionary assistant to the Rev. John MacPherson, the respected pastor of Hilltown congregation.With undivided energy his life-work was now taken up, and, as a result, within a short time the hall in which he began work in Dundee gave place to the beautiful structure now well known under the historic name of Bonnethill. The Rev. Sir Henry Wellwood Moncrieff, Bart., opened the new church in 1871 and in the following year Mr. Simpson was ordained as the first pastor. Here he laboured faithfully for the long period of twenty-seven years, among a people who grew year by year more attached to his doctrine and spirit. His ministry was blessed in many ways, singularly so in its influence for good among young men. I understand that Bonnethill has given more young men to the ministry of the church than any other congregation in the Presbytery. Mr Simpson’s health broke down last summer, and he was reluctantly compelled to go off on six months’ leave of absence. But, alas, he hardly lived to begin his term of leave, the end coming suddenly on the fourth of September in his manse in Dundee, to which he had returned and where he was lovingly attended by his wife, the faithful sharer of his sorrows as well as of his joys.
REV. JAMES SIMPSON, M.A., PORT WILLIAM
(Died Janaury 31, 1900)
Author: Rev. James Gorrie, Sorbie
Source: The Free Church Monthly, May, 1900, Obituary, p.115
Mr. Simpson was a native of Glasgow. After serving his apprenticeship as a pupil-teacher, and acting for a time as assistant in Millar’s Institution, Thurso, he was appointed schoolmaster at Blacklew, Banffshire. After twelve years of faithful service there he was transferred to Dallas Morayshire. While acting as teacher he seems to have been most painstaking in the interest of his scholars. The writer has seen testimonies from some of his old pupils acknowledging their great indebtedness to him for the interest which he took in them and the efforts he put forth in their behalf.
In 1875 and during his teaching career he graduated at the University of Aberdeen. But he had always a longing for the pulpit; and leaving the scholastic profession, he entered the Free Church Divinity Hall, Aberdeen, where he gained many distinctions for his scholarship, and was licensed by the Presbytery of Forres.
He was appointed assistant at New Deer, Aberdeenshire, and subsequently at John Knox Church, Glasgow. In both places he proved himself a faithful and zealous worker.
In 1889 he was ordained to the ministry at Port William. The experience which he had gained while acting as an assistant was of great service to him in this new sphere of labour. Few are aware of the difficulties which he had to contend against when he went to Port William. The congregation had passed through a great many trials and troubles, which had caused it greatly to decline, and in many respects it seemed a hopeless task he was undertaking; but it was God’s work, and He had better things in store for it. Those who knew best Mr. Simpson’s Christian character and zeal expected good things of him and they were not disappointed for in due time he gathered a warmly-attached congregation around him by preaching the gospel fearlessly and faithfully.
Through his confidence and hopefulness, his patience and perseverance, strengthened by a simple child-like faith in the goodness and faithfulness of his divine Master, he achieved one success after another. At the time of his settlement the church at Port William was a cold and comfortless building, and the attendance on the means of grace was small. Mr. Simpson at once set himself to get the church made beautiful and comfortable and the services bright and cheerful. In this he succeeded far beyond his most sanguine expectations. Through his persistent and unwearied efforts the church was greatly renovated, a new and handsome manse and a mission hall were built, and the feu duty redeemed. At the present time there is not a penny of debt on the property. From this congregational centre Mr. Simpson soon made his influence to be felt on the surrounding district. The congregation from its widely scatted nature, required a good deal of labour in order to overtake it. But by carrying out a regular house-to-house visitation of the members, he soon exercised a salutary influence upon them, and upon many of the churchless outside his own congregation. On these occasions he was always made welcome by all parties for his kind and sympathetic dealings with the sick and afflicted. Mr Simpson was most faithful in all his pastoral duties and deeply interested not only in the well being of the members of his own flock, but of all with whom he came into contact and thereby proved himself in very deed to be a faithful and a devoted minister of the gospel of the grace of God.
He was well read up in standard theology. His preaching was thoroughly evangelical. He gave a great amount of labour to his pulpit preparations, and his sermons were always earnest and impressive. In listening to him one was made to feel that he spoke what he believed and experienced. He preached the word both in season and out of season. When he had no Sabbath evening service in the church, he held a meeting in some one of the outlying parts of the parish, which were highly appreciated, as evidenced by the numbers that attended these services. To go to these outlying places he had to travel from three to six miles. His great desire was to bring the truths of the gospel before the minds of the people and it can truly be said that the honour of God and the salvation of the souls of the people were the great object which he had in view in all his planning and working. “Jesus Christ and him crucified” was the grand centre of all his preaching. During the summer months, he generally had a series of evangelistic services, aided by many of our most distinguished ministers.
Mr. Simpson had a wonderful organizing faculty. The number of meetings which he held and the societies which he formed for interesting and instructing the people were worthy of all praise. He conducted a most successful Bible Class for young men and women; a total abstinence society and a band of hope, in which he took a very special interest; and a congregational and Sabbath-school library. He delivered a special lecture to young men and women on the third Sabbath of every month, which was very popular, and drew out large congregations, he also made much use of lantern slides in giving lectures on mission work and other interesting and instructive subjects. Mr. Simpson closely identified himself with the temperance cause, of which he was a good friend, and laboured hard to create a healthy temperance sentiment throughout the parish. In all the efforts which he made for the moral and spiritual well-being of the people he was cheerfully and actively supported by his office-bearers, and also by the hearty co-operation of many friends outside his own communion, which greatly encouraged him, and strengthened his hands in his manifold labours.
As a friend Mr. Simpson was most affectionate and unselfish, always most willing to aid his brothers when asked to do so. His kindly smile and quiet humour endeared him to all who came in contact with him.
A vacancy having occurred in the clerkship of the presbytery, the brethren elected him to be their clerk, the duties of which office he attended to most carefully and conscientiously. He had a good knowledge of church procedure and was able to conduct the business of the court in a proper and orderly manner. Mr. Simpson had a somewhat severe attack of pleurisy last spring from which he never fully recovered. Towards the end of last year he applied for leave of absence for a time, which the presbytery readily granted in the hope that the rest might restore him; but God had otherwise ordered it. His affliction rapidly developed and the end came somewhat suddenly. He died in the fifty-sixth year of his age, resting on Jesus Christ, the dear Saviourhe so lovingly and faithfully preached unto others. His remains lie in the Southern Necropolis, Glasgow.
REV JOHN SIMPSON, ROXBURGH FREE CHURCH, EDINBURGH
(Died April 6, 1872)
Author: Rev. George Smeaton, D.D., New College, Edinburgh
The Free Church Monthly Record, March 1, 1873, p.58
This excellent man was born at Musselburgh, on the 4th September 1828. He early gave indications of a taste and aptitude for study, and a passion for reading, which, when he came under religious impressions, naturally led him to turn his attention to the ministry. A diary kept for his own use after his conversion, and which is brought down till after his translation to Edinburgh, shows an enthusiastic student, a vast extent of reading, and a great desire of usefulness during the course of his theological studies at the New College in Edinburgh. His watchful jealousy over himself comes to light in such entries as the following:—”Not a little done in the way of mere study; but I have come far short in duties of prayer and calm meditation on the Word of God.” He was at that time a diligent visitor in a neglected district, which brought him into contact with human hearts as well as with books. His sense of the divine holiness comes to light in the constant fear of pride and self-complacency in any form, and in a desire to sink himself that Christ might be exalted. While still a student, he makes a personal covenant with God, and dedicates himself in the most solemn way to his service. Having been called to occupy the station at Carlops before his theological studies were completed, he enters upon it, after much prayerful consideration, in the follwing state of mind:—”It is gratifying to think, that while striving to serve my heavenly Master, I should be acceptable to the people. Guard against pride. Truly, in the way of literary attainments, I have nothing to boast of. Frith, Tyndale’s companion in translating the Bible, used to say: ‘My learning is small; but the little I have I am determined to give to Jesus Christ, for the building of his temple.’ Let his language be mine.” From Carlops, where the station grew and prospered under his hand, he was transferred to a Free Church station at Loanhead in April 1856, where he laboured with the greatest energy, and where he was ordained minister in October 1858. Here his solid instructions and his earnest appeals, which the writer of the present notice had occasion several times to hear, were much blessed. His work was manifestly done with a single-eyed simplicity, as in the sight of God, and with an indifference to man’s opinion, provided he was accepted of his Lord. After five years’ labour, accompanied with marked impression, he accepted a call to Edinburgh. In noticing in his diary his last sermon at Loanhead, from 1 Cor. 15:. 53, he adds: “Many much affected. Solemn parting. The Lord has given me some seals of my ministry; but oh, fear many are still unconverted! And thus ends my ministry here. O Lord, let all my sins and shortcomings be forgotten, and let me enter upon my new and wider sphere of labour in humble dependence on thy Spirit’s aid, and with a fixed resolution to know nothing but Christ Jesus, and him crucified.
He was inducted to the charge of Roxburgh Church, 25th June 1863, and here he laboured with exemplary assiduity and diligence. He was not a man of bustle or ambitious love of distinction. He made no effort to attract attention himself, but did the work of a laborious self-denied pastor. He was seized with his last illness, which he bore with memorable serenity and patience for many months, till he passed away, on the 6th April 1872. His widow and three children, all in tender years, survive.
Every one who knew Mr. Simpson felt attracted toward him by the transparent truthfulness and simplicity of his character, and by the unaffected humility with which he was indeed “clothed.” His zeal for truth, his disdain for the unreal and the ostentatious, and the rock-like strength of his faith as derived from the Bible, gave him a high moral power. As to his preaching, reconciliation through the blood of Christ occupied a commanding place in the forefront of all his teaching. And the fidelity of the pastor, the value which he attached to a single soul, and his interest in the young, as well as in the more mature minds under his charge, gave him a hold of his people altogether remarkable. He was esteemed by all his flock as their friend and father. His mind was of an exegetical turn, and he was often singularly felicitous in discussing topics which demanded delicate and exact treatment. He manifestly came to his flock from the BridegrooMcs presence, and as the friend of the Bridegroom, who stood and heard his voice. The last entry but one in his diary is full of this, and is as follows:—”Spend more time in prayer. I feel more and more persuaded that it is only when I come to the pulpit from close communion with God that saving good will be accomplished. Lord, draw me to thy throne of grace. A prayerful minister must be a powerful minister.”
REV. ROBERT SIMPSON, D.D., KINTORE
(Died June 29, 1870)
Author: Rev. James Sutherland, Turriff
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, September 1, 1870, p.193
Dr. Simpson was born in Brechin, on the 24th of November, 1791. In his native town he was well known and much esteemed for many years. He was educated in the Parish and Grammar School of Brechin, and subsequently at King’s College, Aberdeen. Having graduated in arts, he prosecuted his theological course, partly in Aberdeen, and partly in Edinburgh. While he was at College and the Divinity Hall, he attained great distinction as a classical scholar, and devoted himself with much diligence and success to the study of Hebrew and other Oriental languages, at a time when there were not such facilities for acquiring these languages as now happily exist. He was licensed to preach the gospel about the year 1821. For some years after this, he assisted Rev. Dr. Ross in the East Church, Aberdeen; and when that venerated minister died, he acted in the same capacity to Principal Brown in the West Church, in both of which congregations his services were highly prized. For some years he held the important situation of Head Master in Gordon’s Hospital, Aberdeen; for two sessions, also, he was Murray Lecturer in King’s College. His distinguished scholarship was worthily recognized in 1831, by his induction to the chair of Hebrew in Marischal College, Aberdeen, as joint professor with Dr. Kidd. Had he continued in that occupation, he would, doubtless, have given a much needed impulse to the study of Old Testament interpretation in the north of Scotland. But in 1833 he received a presentation to the parish of Kintore, where he entered on the duties of his ministry with a zeal and Christian energy which won for him the affection, not only of the parish, but of the whole neighbourhood. It was while he was engaged in his ordinary pastoral work, that he wrote an admirable series of papers in the Scottish Christian Herald, entitled, “Hebrew Gleanings.” These papers on “The Sabbath,” “The Transmission of Old Testament Scripture,” &c, indicated exact and comprehensive scholarship, blended with the power of making it thoroughly popular. The Ten Years’ Conflict had just commenced when Dr. Simpson came to Kintore. During that eventful time, he was always found co-operating most heartily with the Evangelical party. At the Disruption, he cast in his lot with the Free Church without the slightest doubt or hesitation, although, in doing so, like many others, he had to give up the comforts of a pleasant home, and a sure provision for a young family. When the Free Synod of Aberdeen held its first I meeting; after the Disruption, Dr. Simpson was unanimously elected Synod Clerk; and he discharged the duties of that office with the greatest fidelity and courtesy, until within the last four years, when the writer of this notice was associated with him. In 1858, he had the degree of D.D. conferred upon him, by King’s College, Aberdeen. His pulpit services were thoroughly evangelical, clear, and pointed, conveying the impression of deep and decided earnestness. In his sermons he always set forth the Lord Jesus Christ as a free and a present Saviour, while at the same time he sought to build up believers in holiness and comfort. He took a lively interest in the social circumstances, as well as in the spiritual welfare of his flock; and as long as strength remained to him, he was often to be found in all their households. When he felt that the growing infirmities of years were unfitting him for the efficient performance of his work, he took steps for the settlement of a colleague and successor in the congregation. It was a cause of great thankfulness to Dr. Simpson that his flock were guided to the selection of one with whom his own intercourse was so agreeable, and who has proved himself most acceptable to the people. Latterly the health of our departed father was very feeble and precarious, but his mind retained its vigour and clearness to the end. He contiuued to take the deepest interest in the cause of Christ, both locally and throughout the Church, experiencing great pleasure in hearing from time to time of the progress of that cause which had been ever so dear to him. About four months ago his end seemed to be at hand; but he rallied again for a short season, during which he gave the fullest testimony to the cheering and sustaining grace of God. At last, after a brief renewed attack of bronchitis, his gentle spirit passed away, to meet the Master’s welcome and the servant’s reward.
We refrain from enlarging on the sterling excellence and Christian worth of this much esteemed minister of the Free Church. We have contented ourselves with a brief sketch of his outward history; for it was his own expressed wish that there should be only a very simple and strictly truthful notice of him sent to these pages. With the characteristic modesty which appeared in all that he said and did during his lifetime, he shrank, in the prospect of death, from everything like flattery and exaggeration. The words of truth and soberness were ever on his lips, and he desired that none else should be employed in any memorial of him. He has gone to his grave “in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season.” May the great Head of the Church raise up a succession of such pastors in the land, who will bear aloft the banner of the Cross — that banner which, from year to year, is dropping from the hands of the Pre-Disruption Fathers, and which they are exchanging for the palm of victory!
REV. DAVID SIMSON
(Died March 8, 1871)
Author: REV. DAVID MITCHELL, BLAIRDAFF
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, May 1, 1871, p.104
The Rev. David Simson of Oyne, another of the Disruption Fathers, has passed away. He was born at the manse of Tulliallan on 13th March 1801, and died 8th March 1871. Educated at the Edinburgh University, he afterwards studied for the Church at the Aberdeen Divinity Hall, and for some time was engaged as tutor in the Pittodrie family, by whom he was highly respected. When the Church of Oyne Aberdeenshire became vacant, Mr. Simson was presented by the patron to that living in 1839, and discharged all the ministerial duties of the parish with faithfulness and assiduity. At that period the horizon of the Church of Scotland was becoming clouded, and a storm was gathering for which he was not altogether unprepared. Though he did not appear in the forefront of the contest then going on, yet he never doubted which side to take, and continued steadfast in the ranks until the end of the conflict; and when the memorable Disruption took place, he was found among those who maintained the crown rights of the Redeemer and the privilege of the Christian people. Like his much esteemed and beloved brother in the adjoining parish of Chapel of Garioch, he was exposed to no little persecution, having only an old dilapidated house for a residence, and a cold uncomfortable cart-shed for a church; and yet he bore his trials quietly, patiently, ever cheerfully, and with that gentlemanly spirit by which he was marked in all his procedure. This state of things continued for nearly five years, when the late Colonel Erskine, between whom and Mr. Simson there was mutual respect, granted in a kind and liberal manner suitable sites for church and manse. From the Disruption until within a few days of his death Mr. Simson, though latterly far from strong, continued to labour among a numerous and attached flock, leading a uniform, upright, and consistent life, visiting from house to house with the greatest punctuality, endeavouring to rouse the careless, encourage the well-doing, comfort the afflicted and sympathize with the bereaved. He was most regular in his attendance at meetings of Presbytery, taking his full share of all public duties, and ever kind and courteous in his intercourse with his brethren. And in the years that immediately followed the Disruption he took a most active part and was very useful in the formation and fostering of new stations and charges within the bounds, grudging neither time nor labour, both by day and night, provided he could in any degree promote the interests and extension of the Free Church of Scotland in the district where his lot was cast.
REV. WILLIAM SINCLAIR, KIRKWALL
(Died March 20,1874)
Author: Rev. Adam Rettie, Evie And Rendall
The Free Church Monthly, August 1, 1874, p.171
Mr. Sinclair was born at Edinburgh, on the 21st March 1811. He received his education, first under Dr. Boyd in Heriot’s Hospital, then at the High School, and afterwards at the School of Arts and the University. His career as a student was characterized by great diligence and success; so that in classics, in moral philosophy, and chiefly in pure mathematics and the physical sciences, he attained a high place among his compeers. Having studied theology under Drs. Chalmers and Welch, he was licensed to preach the gospel by the Presbytery of Edinburgh in December 1837. Thereafter he became assistant to the Rev. Dr. Elder, then of St. Paul’s, Edinburgh, now of Rothesay, and afterwards to the Rev. Mr. Brotherston of Alloa. Whilst a licentiate of the Church of Scotland, Mr. Sinclair, in the face of strong temptation to the contrary, unhesitatingly and most willingly cast in his lot with the non-intrusion party of that Church, and was by the leaders of that party, on the suspension of the seven Moderate members of the Presbytery of Strathbogie, sent to Huntly as one, in their view, well fitted to occupy that important position. From Huntly he was transferred to Ellon, and from the congregation formed there he received a call. This, however, he declined, accepting instead the pastorship of Grange, which was offered to him at the same time. In October 1845 Mr. Sinclair was translated to the Free Church in Kirkwall, then vacant by the translation of the Rev. Mr. Petrie to Govan; and there he laboured till the close of his life. His ministry extended over a period of nearly thirty-one years, upwards of twenty-eight of which he spent in Kirkwall.
As a minister, Mr. Sinclair sincerely and earnestly sought the spiritual good of those committed to his charge, both old and young. He made the Word of God his constant, earnest, and prayerful study, and was intimately acquainted with the truths which it reveals. And his discourses, accordingly, were singularly clear, able, faithful, and impressive, and thus were eminently fitted to instruct, edify, and delight those who heard them. He was indeed a faithful steward of the mysteries of God — a scribe well instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, who could bring out of his treasure things new and old; and, as a man, he was truly a man of faith — one who was himself under the saving influence of the truth which he preached — one who had learned of Christ, who knew and had received his grace in truth, and who sincerely trusted in him as his only Saviour for his salvation, and who, by his walk and conversation, showed that his faith was not a dead but a living and saving faith. Not that he was perfect, as no man is in this life perfect; but none could really know him without being convinced that he was a sincere, and not merely a sincere but an advanced, Christian — one of the true Israel of God. Sore, indeed, were the trials which, during the latter years of his life, he had to endure; but in his case they were sanctified trials — trials which were overruled and blessed for the strengthening of his faith, and patience, and hope, and other graces, so that his experience was, in no small degree, like that of the Apostle Paul — “Though our outward man perish, the inward man is renewed day by day.”
REV. WILLIAM SINCLAIR, M.A., PLOCKTON
(Died November 2, 1899)
Author: Rev. A. Galbraith, Lochalsh
Source: The Free Church Monthly, March, 1900, Obituary, p.65
Few ministers in the Highlands were better known or more highly respected that Mr. Sinclair. His father, Alexander Sinclair, was tenant of the farm of Bunchrew, and his mother was a daughter of Simon Fraser, tenant of the farm of Bridgend of Beauly. He was born in the house of his maternal grandfather at Bridgend on March 17, 1824, and was thus in his seventy-sixth year when he died. Both his parents are spoken of in affectionate terms by those who knew them as worthy Christian people who feared the Lord, and by their example influenced their family to follow in their footsteps.
We have reason to believe that the subject of our sketch was early brought under the influence of the truth, and that he was by grace enabled to give himself to the Saviour before he decided to study for the ministry. In his early years along with his parents, he sat in the Free North Church of Inverness where he was accustomed to hear such men as Mr Cook, Dr MacDonald of Ferintosh and others whose preaching made a deep impression, and inspired him with veneration for the old, good class of ministers and their teaching which stuck to him to the end of his life. His early education was received in the town of Inverness. In 1840 he went to King’s College, Aberdeen, where he acquitted himself with distinction in all his classes, and took his degree of M.A. in 1844. He studied divinity in the New College, Edinburgh, under Dr. Chalmers, Dr. Cunningham and their colleagues, and for those great men he cherished the highest admiration and affection. On completing his course in the Hall, he was licensed to preach the gospel by the Free Presbytery of Edinburgh on February 28, 1849.
After receiving licence, he served his year of probation, as was then customary, preaching in various places – the last of these being Plockton, the pastorate of which was vacant through the translation of the Rev. Alexander MacDonald to Glen Urquhart. This congregation gave him a unanimous call, and on the second day of October, 1850, Mr. Sinclair was ordained and admitted to the pastoral charge of the congregation of Plockton and Lochalsh. The venerable Mr. Matheson of Gairloch, who presided preached from 2 Tim. 2:15: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” – a text singularly descriptive of Mr. Sinclair’s labours and preaching. As minister of the extensive parish of Lochalsh, it was his duty to preach on both sides of the parish on alternate Sabbaths. It is right to notice that in the discharge of his duties he was greatly encouraged by Mr Lillingston, the proprietor, whose hospitable house was always open to him when on that side of the parish. This arrangement continued till Lochalsh was made a separate charge, and a minister was settled in 1861. In addition to all his labours, Mr. Sinclair was clerk of the Free Presbytery of Lochcarron from 1851 till his death, and clerk of the Free Synod of Glenelg since 1878.
Almost on the threshold of his jubilee year as minister in Plockton, many friends and admirers in and beyond his own congregation were looking forward to this interesting event, when they hoped to show their appreciation of his devoted life and manifold labours. But the master had otherwise ordered it; and after being for about a couple of weeks confined to bed, he was taken home to his rest and reward. His work was done, his strength gradually failed, and without pain he fell asleep.
Mr. Sinclair was widely known and highly respected by all who knew him. A thorough gentleman as well as a Christian, scholarly, well-informed and most genial and winning in his ways, he was a delightful companion. His hospitality in his own house could scarcely be surpassed. He was married to a daughter of the late Rev. Dr. Ross of Lochbroom in 1853, who died in 1858, leaving him a widower with two young children. A sister-in-law came to live with him and remained with him during the remainder of his life. To this devoted Christian lady the people of Plockton owe a debt of gratitude for all that she was to their minister and to themselves. His only daughter died over two years ago; and although he was no stranger to domestic bereavements, this last stroke told so heavily upon him that its effects were manifest to all his friends. By old and young of his congregation he was greatly beloved and will be long and affectionately remembered by them. Many young men and women, now holding responsible positions in different parts of the world, largely owe their success in life to Mr. Sinclair’s efforts in the cause of education. Mainly through his instrumentality the school at Plockton rose to the position it now occupies; and in acknowledgement of his services in this respect, he was elected chairman of the school board, an office he held to the time of his death. In the rising generation he took the deepest interest, and rarely passed one of them on the road without a kindly word.
As a theologian he was well read in the writings of the old divines, and above all, he was a diligent student of his Bible. His exegesis of scripture was careful and accurate, and his sermons were consequently textual, fresh, and thoroughly evangelical. Perhaps there was no duty in which he excelled more than in catechising. In this work he took peculiar pleasure and with unbounded admiration for the Shorter Catechism, he was clear and masterly in his exposition of its doctrines. In church politics he was conservative; and though liberal with his own means, he could not be liberal at the expense of divine truth. He was a thorough and consistent Free Churchman opposed to Erastianism on the one hand, and to Voluntaryism on the other; and never more than at the end was he determined to hold fast the distinctive principles of the church which he loved so well and served so faithfully. The loss of such a good and consistent man to his own congregation and to the Highlands generally is very great. A most affectionate friend, loved and admired by all who knew him, he is sorely missed. But “he finished his course, he kept the faith: and is now enjoying the reward of his long and manifold labours in the vineyard. May the Lord provide one like-minded to break the bread of life among his bereaved and sorrowing flock. “Help, Lord ,for the godly man ceaseth.”
REV. JOHN SKENE, M.A., DUNDEE
(Died January 26, 1892)
Author: Rev. W. R. Moncur, Liff
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, May, 1892, Obituary, p.123
Mr. Skene was born in Aberdeen on 7th August 1818. His parents were godly. When he was scarcely eight years of age his father died. While living with his mother and two aunts—all eminent for their piety—he was in the habit of going with them to Trinity Parish Church, where the Rev. David Simpson was then minister. Mr. Simpson was noted for his earnest evangelical preaching, and the deep interest he took in the young connected with his congregation. Such were the influences under which Mr. Skene was brought in the days of his boyhood, the traces of which were clearly visible throughout his after-life and ministry.
When nine years of age he entered the Grammar School, then under the rectorship of the celebrated Dr. Melvin. Here he continued the usual number of five sessions, taking a place in the prize list and laying the foundation for a sound knowledge of the classics, which he continued to cultivate through life. In 1832 he became a student at the University of Aberdeen, where he gained a bursary by competition, took a place in the prize list for classics and moral philosophy, and graduated M.A. in April 1836. The usual course at the Divinity Hall followed. In May 1843, two weeks before the Disruption, Mr. Skene was one of seven all licensed by the Presbytery of Aberdeen, all now deceased, and all of whom, with one exception, joined the Free Church in May 1843.
Soon after license Mr. Skene was appointed Sabbath evening lecturer in Gilcomston Free Church, which position he continued to hold, also preaching in other places as required and teaching in the Sabbath school, until called to succeed the Rev. P. L. Miller, Wallacetown, Free Church, Dundee, translated to Newcastle. Mr. Skene’s ordination took place on the 10th November 1847 in one of the Church Extension buildings erected some years before the Disruption, and where the Wallacetown Free Church congregation continued to worship until 1852, when the building was taken possession of by the Established Presbytery of Dundee, and the Free Church congregation left to seek accommodation where they could find it. This was not the only trial Mr. Skene and his congregation were subjected to at this period of his ministry. Another trouble of a still more trying nature arose in the congregation, caused by no fault of the minister, but in the faithful discharge of a very painful duty which in the circumstances he could not conscientiously avoid. By this time Mr. Skene had obtained a place in the affections of his people which no opposition either without or within the congregation could shake. Old and young, with few exceptions, were only more firmly united to their minister and to each other. Temporary accommodation for the public worship of God was obtained in a large well-ventilated hall kindly granted to the congregation, free of all expense, by the Messrs. Baxter Brothers and Company. The same firm also contributed liberally to the Building Fund. On the 19th January 1859 the new Free church was opened by the Rev. Dr. Thomas Guthrie, Edinburgh, and on the Sabbath following by the Rev. Dr. Foote of Brechin. Afterwards a Free Church manse was obtained, which Mr. Skene took possession of in May 1874.
On account of his retiring disposition, Mr. Skene did not take the prominent place in church courts he might otherwise have done; but few or none of his brethren took a deeper interest in the Free Church than he did. He was always ready and in his place to support by his vote Free Church principles as understood at the Disruption. He was an accomplished scholar, one of the best in his Presbytery. Being very systematic in all his habits and punctual in all his engagements, he was able to perform all his ministerial duties with the greatest regularity and efficiency. His visits to the sick and afflicted, and from house to house as well, his interest in the young by means of classes and otherwise, were much appreciated. His preparations for the pulpit were very thorough, and completed a day or two before the end of the week.
On account of failing health he retired in 1877, and the Rev. James Fenton was appointed his colleague and successor. Then Mr. Skene returned to his native city, where he still lived and continued to preach as his strength and opportunity permitted, and also visit some of the poorer districts of the town, until about within two years of his death. After this he was almost wholly confined to the house, employed chiefly in reading his Bible in the original and English version, till He who called him unto the kingdom of his grace in the days of his youth called him to the kingdom of his glory in the seventy-fourth year of his age. He is survived by his widow, a son, and daughter. His son, Rev. Alexander Leslie Skene, M.A., is at present in charge of the Free Church mission station at Sandhaven, near Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire.
REV. JOHN SMALL, POONA
(Died May 9, 1899)
Author: Rev. Principal Mackichan, D.D.
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, September, 1899, p.216
The Rev. John Small was born at Arbroath in 1833. He enjoyed, in common with the other members of his family, the advantages of a godly upbringing, which ultimately gave form to his character and piety, although some years elapsed before its fruits became truly manifest. He was trained for the profession of teacher in the Free Church Normal College, Moray House, Edinburgh, and after some time spent in London, in charge of the Regent Square Congregational School, he was appointed to the Free Church School at Redding, near Polmont. From his earliest days he was distinguished by a rare tenderness of conscience, and the spiritual crisis through which he passed during his Redding days was marked by experiences that were deep, decisive, and abiding. The turning-point in the experiences of this time, which he ever after regarded as the era of deliverance, was connected with a service in the Redding Schoolhouse, conducted by the late Rev. Lewis Irving of Falkirk, whose evangelical ministry made a deep impression on the whole region, of which Falkirk was the centre. The message of the preacher on that Sabbath day in Redding proved, to one at least of those who heard him, God’s word of forgiveness, peace, and life in Jesus Christ.
Soon after this Mr. Small removed to Aberuthven, and when the revival of 1858-59 began to make itself felt at that place, he entered heartily into the movement. His new-born life straightway found expression in guiding other troubled souls out of the darkness into the light.
Mr. Small’s outward call to the mission field came to him through a very ordinary channel. He observed an advertisement to the effect that a teacher was wanted for the Free Church Institution at Poona, and he at once decided to offer himself. The only serious difficulty which he thought might stand in the way of his appointment was the fact that he was a married man; but this he found, to his joy, was a recommendation rather than a difficulty. In this case the wisdom of Dr. Candlish, the convener of the Foreign Missions Committee, was fully justified by the result; for the church was thus able to secure, in addition to Mr. Small, a fellow-worker who stood by him to the end of his labours—a true helpmeet, who shared his missionary spirit and his missionary work. Many in the church at home know that the Poona Mission owes much to Mrs. Small; but only those who have been in the midst of the ceaseless activity that centres in the mission house at Poona can know all that this means.
Mr. Small arrived in India at the close of the year 1863, before his thirtieth birthday, and immediately began his work in the Free Church Institution at Poona.
Poona was then a strongly-equipped mission station of the Free Church. The Rev. James Mitchell, the veteran evangelist of Poona and the Deccan, was still alive; the Rev. Mr. Gardner was at the height of his usefulness in the Institution, which then occupied a high position as an educational and missionary agency. There were thus three missionaries occupying the position. In the Institution Mr. Small found a most congenial sphere. It was then a centre of important influence among the young men of the Deccan capital, and Mr. Small’s arrival was a great addition to its strength and efficiency. He devoted himself with great success to the study of the Marathi language, in the knowledge and use of which he became so proficient that his Marathi was accepted amongst the critical Brahmans of the Maratha capital. The new teacher soon became a centre of spiritual influence among the young men of Poona, who found in him not only an able and efficient instructor, but also a winning example of the spirit of the gospel which he taught. As soon as he was able to use the vernacular, he turned his attention to village preaching, and the surrounding villages became familiar with his presence and his message.
These three elements distinctly contributed to strengthen his hold on Poona—the efficiency of his work as a teacher, the gentle affectionateness of his nature, and the reality of his spiritual life. The grasp which he had gained of spiritual realities in the time of his deliverance was so strong, that ever afterwards his life seemed to breathe the atmosphere of the heavenlies, and those who came in contact with him, whether Hindus or Christians, could not fail to feel the touch of the spiritual world. Thus he rejoiced in work which brought him near to the simple villager and the humble Christian; while in his daily classes he was in closest contact with some of the brightest and most interesting of the young men of Poona. An experienced and successful vernacular preacher, he yet clung with an unchanging affection to the work of missionary education. When in the course of years his own work began to lie more and more in other fields, his faith in educational missionary work seemed only to grow stronger; and when, about ten years ago, the Poona Institution was closed in order to secure an enlargement of other departments of the church’s work in India, none mourned the necessity for such retrenchment more deeply than he. He knew from the experience of years what this meant for the young men of the city which he loved. Deprived of the opportunities which an institution afforded, he endeavoured in various ways to work for the spiritual good of the educated classes in Poona; but he never ceased to mourn the loss of that intimate contact with the life of Poona which he once enjoyed. Recent developments in the history of that city, throbbing with an intellectual energy which nothing but Christianity can guide to the highest ends, have done much to bring home to Christian hearts the great spiritual needs of Poona, and many are still not without hope that the longing of Mr. Small’s last years for a return to the methods of these earlier days may yet be realized.
In 1869 Mr. Small was ordained by the Presbytery of Bombay. He was not long in Poona before it was found that, though unordained, he was eminently fitted for the full ministry of an ordained missionary, and the Presbytery of Bombay, recognizing this, took steps to secure his ordination.
From 1870 to 1874 he was attached to the Bombay College, and at the close of that period he proceeded on furlough.
My first meeting with him took place in 1874, in Free St. Matthew’s Church, Glasgow, on the occasion of my ordination, and at this distance of time I can still remember the impression of hopefulness and courage which his presence and his message brought. I did not then know that we should so soon be working side by side in Bombay. Towards the close of 1875 Dr. Wilson died, and at Dr. Duff’s request Mr. Small, cutting short his well-earned furlough, came out to reinforce the Bombay Mission. His presence and active co-operation were of the greatest service to the Bombay Institution at this juncture, and the Bombay Native Church especially profited by his pastoral care at a very critical period in its history.
Reinforcements having arrived for Bombay, Mr. Small was set free to proceed to Poona to develop the vernacular side of the mission there—a work tc which the remaining twenty years of his life were devoted. During this period his activities were manifold. The native church claimed his first attention. He became its pastor, transferred it to a more convenient place of worship, and threw himself into the daily and weekly duties connected with its oversight. He encouraged it in the duty of self-support, continued to press for the appointment of a native pastor, and when this desire was realized, stood by the pastor and the kirk-session in every part of the congregational work.
The work of preaching in the city received constant attention, and during the cold weather tours in the surrounding districts were undertaken. The famine of 1877 threw a number of orphans on his care, and when the question of the future of the boys had to be faced, Mr. Small started the Orphanage Press. On this he bestowed infinite pains, and gradually the press grew in usefulness as a missionary agency, and became one of the institutions of Poona.
Nor was Mr. Small, amid these growing cares, unmindful of his countrymen. As might have been expected, there gathered round him a number of earnest-minded officers, whom he sought to help in religious life and Christian work, and whose co-operation in his own work he highly valued. The Union Prayer Meeting, which for over half a century has been held in the Free Church Mission compound, was the rallying-point for all such, and the permanence of this meeting is due very largely to Mr. Small’s unceasing interest in its maintenance.
These were happy years in Mr. Small’s Indian life. They were not free from trials, but they were spent in constant service of a congenial kind. Several of them were brightened by the presence of members of his family, associated with him in the work, and all of them were made glad by tokens of the divine blessing in the ingathering of Christians and the spiritual growth of the church.
The arrival of the Rev. Mr. Torrance in 1892 was a great comfort and relief to Mr. Small amid the increasing burdens of the work. Mr. Torrance sailed on the first of March on furlough, Mr. Small undertaking to carry on the work till he should return, when he himself would have to face a final separation from India. To enable him the better to sustain the full burden of the work, he went to the hill station of Mahabaleshwar at the approach of the hot weather, intending to spend two months there. He took part in a Christian convention which was held there during the last days of April and the first days of May. At one of these meetings he delivered a vigorous address on missionary work, which embodied some of the fruits of a very full experience of its encouragements and its trials. This was his last public utterance. It was at the close of one of these meetings that he became conscious of the first symptoms of the illness which a few days later was to prove fatal. While attempting to walk fast he was seized by a sudden, severe pain in his chest, which, however, soon passed away. Two or three days later he went down to Poona to transact some mission business, meaning to return to the hill in a couple of days. The day after his arrival in Poona he spent in completing this business, and in the evening he attended the Union Prayer Meeting. On the following day, before he could start for Mahabaleshwar, while out visiting the family of the native pastor, he was taken ill. When he reached the mission house, his condition was found to be serious. Medical aid was called in, and Mrs. Small was summoned by telegraph. She arrived next day, to find him suffering from heart spasms, which caused him much agony. He continued in this state till the following Tuesday morning, when death brought rest to the wearied sufferer. During these days of pain he was able to speak but little to those around him. All that he was able to say revealed, behind all this bodily distress, the faith of one whose soul was resting on the finished work of a divine Saviour.
The news of Mr. Small’s death speedily reached many parts of India, and not only in Poona, but wherever his name was known, there was widespread mourning. The following morning a great multitude of all classes of the community followed him to his burial. Hindus, Parsees, Mohammedans, Europeans, and native Christians joined in the sad procession. The grief of the last was specially conspicuous. They were deeply attached to one who had spent his life amongst them, who had guided many of them to the Saviour, and had stood by them in all the struggles of their Christian life. They had lost their best earthly friend, and well might they mourn.
Many of us had looked forward to Mr. Small spending his last days in his own land; and yet we cannot but feel that, in ordaining otherwise, God has accomplished a wiser purpose, and has rendered the memory of his servant more sacred. Falling at his post in the midst of his labours, his dust mingling with the soil of the land for which he had lived, he has left to us the memory of a life completely given to the service of his Master in the city which he loved, to which his death has now united him as closely as his life. To many of us the memory of his labours in Poona will be more abiding and more inspiring when we think of or pass by the place where his body rests in the hope of a blessed rising.
It is not necessary to attempt here any analysis of his career. It must be evident that the secret of all that was memorable in the life of this devoted servant of God lay in the reality and depth of his spiritual experience. His religious life had its foundations deeply laid in the Saviour’s redeeming work, and this life, united to a singular tenderness of conscience and of affection, produced a personality full of attractiveness and spiritual power.
Mr. Small was a high example of the higher Christian life, yet his theology was in substance the old living evangelical theology, of which he had learned the foundations in the pious home of his birth. This, as he knew it and loved it, sufficed for the nourishment of the highest spiritual life. His was no mere surface evangelicalism; it had its roots deep down in mind and conscience, and its fruits beautified the whole of life. No man was more tender in his consideration for the prejudices of others, Hindus as well as Christians, yet no man could have been more stanch in his defence of the great principles of the faith. He had not allowed his absence from home or his engrossment in his special work to interfere with the culture of his mind. He was a lover of books, and was widely read, not only in matters relating to India and its history, but in other branches of literature. His strength and intensity were manifest in the freshness and vigour of his thinking, which seemed always to be pressing inwards from the surface to the centre of things. But nobler than these were the spiritual graces which adorned his character. It was impossible to know him without being conscious of a higher presence enveloping his life. Of a buoyant, cheerful disposition, delighting in all true mirth, he was the most genial of friends; but his geniality was a sanctified sympathy, which never obscured the presence of the higher side of life. It found a special outlet in his intercourse with the young. This power to sympathize with youth, which is the truest mark of a healthy old age, he maintained in a wonderful degree. He was never happier than when he was in the society of the young, and they could not be happier than when they had him for a companion. The number of letters which came pouring in after his death from all quarters, written by young and by old, testified to the breadth of his sympathies, and to the help which his bright, cheerful, and thoughtful interest in others had brought to many. The secret of perpetual youth lies in having our interests outside ourselves, and this secret was his. Through his grace of self-effacement he commanded an influence and a respect of which he was never conscious; but others knew it, and were conscious of its power, and this is the reason why so many felt themselves bereaved when they learned that the beloved missionary had entered into his rest.
Mrs. Small continues for a little to occupy her old home, and to assist in carrying on the work of the mission during the present vacancy; Miss Small is at the head of the Training Institute of the Free Church Women’s Missionary Society; another of the Misses Small has been long connected with a vigorous and growing work for women in Nagpur; while the third has her home in a Scotch parish manse. The bereaved family do not need to be assured of the sympathy of their numerous friends in Scotland and in India, and of all who knew the name and the work of Mr. Small.
PROFESSOR GEORGE SMEATON, D.D.
(Died April 11, 1889)
Author: Rev. J. G. Cunningham, Free St. Luke’s, Edinburgh
Source: The Free Church Monthly, September, 1889, Biographical Notices, p.278
Smeaton’s ministry covered a period of fifty years and one month, for the date of his ordination by the Presbytery of Edinburgh was March 14, 1839. There was no public celebration of his jubilee, but we know few men by whom such a tribute of repect was more thoroughly deserved; for the fiftieth anniversary found him as usual heartily engaged in his work, and the record of his life in the half century which had elapsed might be summed up by the statement that he constantly aimed at the fulfilment of the apostle’s resolution, “We will give ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”
He gave himself to prayer. We once heard him offer this singular petition in leading our devotions at the beginning of the class-hour: “Lord, teach us to economize time for prayer.” The lesson was one which he had mastered in a rare degree. The direct, earnest, and varied requests which flowed from his lips in public prayer were manifestly the utterances of one who was accustomed to be much alone with the Lord. For his students especially, he laboured fervently in prayer, not only in secret and at the family altar, but also from week to week in a meeting held under his roof, at which a goodly company of the Lord’s people met to plead the fulfilment of the promise, “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.”
He gave himself also to the ministry of the Word. This had been his early determination, under the guidance of divine grace; and although his exceptionally brilliant career at the University of Edinburgh might easily have opened up to him avenues towards distinction elsewhere than in the Church, he adhered to his original purpose, and was one of the band of gifted and devoted men who studied under Dr. Chalmers, and caught the inspiration of his generous and sanctified enthusiasm. Few rewards for eminent diligence and ability were then attainable by theological students; the only bursary for which Mr. Smeaton was eligible as a competitor was gained by him in his last year at the Hall.
The Presbytery of Edinburgh ordained him soon after his license as pastor of the congregation then newly formed at Morningside, a south-western suburban district of the city. Notwithstanding his comparative youth (for he had not yet completed his twenty-fifth year), he soon gathered around him an attached people, in the midst of whom he could truly say, “The lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places.” And he might naturally have desired to remain, where everything, both in the circumstances and in the character of the congregation, assured him of comfort and help in his work. Within eighteen months, however, of his settlement at Morningside, he received an unsolicited presentation to Falkland, and recognized in this a call which he was not at liberty to decline. That parish had been, like too many others in Scotland, blighted by a cold and unevangelical ministry for a long season; and when the door was thus opened to him, his convictions of duty coincided with the advice of Dr. Chalmers and other leading ministers, who urged that the more necessitous field had the stronger claim. To Falkland he went in November 1840, and set himself bravely but quietly to his work, notwithstanding the difficulties which the laxity of discipline under his predecessors, and a general prejudice against distinctively evangelical preaching placed in his way; and God largely owned his faithful labours. While he was at Falkland the whole country was agitated by the conflict between the two parties into which the Church of Scotland was divided on the question of spiritual independence, and when the Disruption came Mr. Smeaton was followed by a considerable number of his people, when, for Christ’s sake and for conscience’ sake, he quitted the Establishment.
While he was vigorously addressing himself to the arduous work of building up the cause of the Free Church in the parish of Falkland, the congregation at Auchterarder called him to be their pastor. The extreme desirableness of a harmonious settlement in the place which had been, in the sight of the whole nation, the battlefield on which the right of congregations to choose their own pastors had been vindicated, was manifest; and moved by this consideration, taken along with the unanimity of the call (signed by eight hundred and fifty members), Mr. Smeaton obeyed what was virtually the desire of the whole Church and went in the summer of 1843 to Auchterarder. For ten years he made “full proof of his ministry” in this sphere, devoting himself with unwearied energy to every part of pastoral duty. The original congregation was soon thoroughly equipped, and continued steadily to prosper; and at Aberuthven, where Mr. John McEwan (now of John Knox’s Church, Edinburgh) laboured for some years, another congregation of the Free Church was planted under Mr. Smeaton’s care, the nucleus of the new congregation being one hundred and fifty members of his congregation who lived in that district, and, by his advice, cast in their lot with the new charge.
Notwithstanding the incessant demands which pastoral duties made upon his energies and time, Mr. Smeaton had persevered during these fourteen years in the assiduous study of theology. He had so completely acquired the Dutch and German languages that he had access to the writings of the most distinguished Continental scholars, many of whose works, then comparatively unknown in this country, loaded the shelves of his library. The time at length arrived when the Church claimed his help in work for which his intimate familiarity with the Greek language and his profound learning, along with his success as a pastor, peculiarly qualified him —namely, the training of educated and efficient ministers of the gospel. He complied with the call, and taught two classes of theology in Aberdeen in the session 1853-4. In 1854 the General Assembly appointed him to the professorial chair, which he filled with such marked ability that in 1857 he was transferred by the General Assembly to the New College, Edinburgh, and entered on the duties in which the last thirty-two years of his life were to be spent. We well remember the zeal and hope with which the students of our day welcomed the new professor, and entered eagerly under his able guidance on the exegesis of the New Testament, a department of theological research which had then only begun to be valued and cultivated as it deserved. For our own part we found in the work of the class and in the sympathetic fellowship of the professor an intellectual impulse and a spiritual impression of the most helpful and useful kind. The nature of the teaching imparted is before the Church in the two well-known volumes on the doctrine of the Atonement as taught in the Gospels and by the apostles, and in his course of Cunningham Lectures on “The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit,” of which the first edition was soon exhausted. The second edition of this valuable work was carefully prepared by him in the course of last winter, and was published not more than a fortnight before he died. In recognition of his scholarship the University of Edinburgh conferred upon its distinguished alumnus the degree of doctor of divinity.
The question of resigning the office which he had held so long, and for which his advancing age could not but in some measure disqualify him, was often considered by Professor Smeaton in recent years. Some might think that he was entitled to rest, but there were two considerations which made him shrink from the responsibility of laying down the work. On the one hand his health was remarkable—even in the last session he was not once unable for his ordinary duty; and, on the other hand, he was urgently pressed by the friends with whom he was most intimate, and on whose judgment he placed most reliance, to continue at his post. In the circumstances he could only leave the decision in the hand of the Lord. In the very last letter which he wrote (to the Rev. D. Hunter, dated April 13, 1889) he referred to it in these words: “I reached my seventy-fifth birthday last Monday. I have had a long and happy life, for which I cannot be sufficiently thankful, and would like now to live for the day. I finished another College session a fortnight ago, and am just leaving it in the hand of the great Disposer to indicate when I am to stop my public duties. This is a matter on which man cannot direct me. But I know in whose hand I am, and in whose hand are my times.”
Little did he think when he penned these lines that within a few hours the Master would call him to his rest. He had written the letter in the evening of a busy day; soon after midnight he awoke in pain. Prompt remedies were used with little effect, and about three o’clock the pain suddenly left him, a pleasant smile passed for a moment across his countenance, and “he was not, for God took him.”
Dr. Smeaton is survived by his widow, a sister of Dr. Goold (of Martyrs’ Free Church, Edinburgh), to whom he was married in 1840, and one son, William, an editor in New Zealand. Two daughters died young; one daughter died in 1862, and the eldest son in 1870. By his warm affectionate nature these bereavements were keenly felt; but the Father of mercies and God of all comfort sustained him, and often did he comfort others in tribulation by the comfort wherewith he himself had been comforted of God. In the chamber of sickness and the house of mourning he was ever a welcome visitor, and to the last he did not grudge hours spent every week in this gentle and useful ministry. Few, if any, miss him more than the invalids in the wide circle of his acquaintance to whom he often gave words of refreshing and consolation.
REV. JAMES SMITH, CRAMOND
(Died September 1894)
Author: Rev. J. G. Cunningham, Edinburgh
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, March, 1895, Obituary, p.68
Mr. Smith was licensed by the Presbytery of Glasgow early in 1843. The discourses read by him on that occasion were commended as sustaining the reputation of one who had gained distinction at the University of Glasgow, in theology as well as in classics; his Latin exegesis, in particular, being spoken of as the best that had been read before the presbytery “since the days of James Halley.” His last sermon as a probationer in the Established Church of Scotland was preached in St. Enoch’s, Glasgow, on May 14, 1843, the Sabbath preceding the Disruption. Casting in his lot with the Free Church, he laboured with acceptance at a number of places, one of them being near Row, where, in a barn, he ministered to what is now the Shandon congregation. He was ere long appointed assistant to Dr. Brown, Free St. John’s, Glasgow, where he remained, labouring abundantly and learning much, until he was, in 1847, called to succeed Mr. (now Professor) Campbell Fraser at Cramond. Other calls were sent to him about the same time—two from London, one from Ireland, and another from the West Free Church, Edinburgh. Believing, however, that Cramond had the strongest claim, he promptly intimated his acceptance of the call to that charge. In the report of the presbytery’s proceedings on the occasion we find that Dr. Candlish said that “the spirit manifested by Mr. Smith was altogether admirable, and that the course he had pursued was perhaps, in the circumstances, the best and most judicious that he could have pursued with a view to his future usefulness in the church.”
Before Mr. Smith’s settlement in the parish of Cramond, a church had been erected at Davidson’s Mains (better known in those days as Mutton Hole, a corruption, as Mr. Smith constantly maintained, of “Monkton Hall,” an ancient monastic settlement). Under Mr. Smith’s prosperous ministry a commodious schoolhouse and an excellent manse were built ere long beside the church. Two side-schools were also provided at Granton and Lennie, within the parish; and when the first School Board was elected, cordial recognition of Mr. Smith’s services in the cause of education was duly made.
Few ministers have had more occasion than Mr. Smith to say, “The lines are fallen to me in pleasant places.” While enjoying immunity from the bustle and distractions of the metropolis, he was near enough to Edinburgh to avail himself of its libraries and other advantages, and was easily accessible to friends from the city who were attracted to his church by his scholarly and evangelical preaching, or to his manse by the kindly hospitality for which it was well known; and the diversified scenery of woodland, shore, and glen, which (on foot or in his pony-phaeton) he traversed in the discharge of pastoral duty, yielded him a constant delight. As a faithful and friendly visitor he was always welcome; and the practical knowledge of medicine which he had diligently acquired in his college days often gained the warm gratitude of mothers, who found him not only kind in sympathy, but reliable as an adviser in regard to the ailments of their children. In the preaching of the gospel Mr. Smith was no stranger to the “joy of harvest;” he was quick to discern the first indications of an approaching season of refreshing, and to make the most of such times. During the revival of 1859-60 he held meetings every night for weeks, and had a large share of that success which is most gladdening to a true minister of Christ.
My acquaintance with Mr. Smith dates from an interesting occasion of intercourse in 1852, when the late distinguished Professor of Commercial Law in London, Dr. Leone Levi, sat down for the first time at the Lord’s table, soon after his admission to the Christian Church by baptism at the hands of the late Dr. G. R. Davidson of Lady Glenorchy’s, Edinburgh. Desiring to be a partaker of the Lord’s Supper before he removed to London, Dr. Levi applied for this privilege to Mr. Smith. At Dr. Levi’s request, I accompanied him when he walked out to call on Mr. Smith, and to attend the preparatory services, as well as those held on the communion Sabbath, and I shall never forget how both of us prized the ministration of Word and sacrament which made that day of fellowship as a day of “heaven upon the earth.” Soon after that introduction, the annual presbyterial examinations brought me into contact with Mr. Smith as a most competent and courteous examiner in classics and other subjects of study; but it was mainly after my settlement in the same presbytery that I began to know him intimately. Almost every visit to his manse is remembered as an occasion of fellowship “sanctified by the Word and prayer,” and varied, if time permitted, by a pleasant ramble to some favourite scene or charming point of view in the district which he knew and loved so well.
In the autumn of 1890, Mr. D. G. Mitchell was ordained colleague and successor to Mr. Smith, who resigned the manse and removed to Glasgow, where he was always glad to hear of the encouragement and blessing enjoyed by his colleague. After about four years of retirement his health failed rapidly, and on September 22, the seventy-fourth anniversary of his birth, he died. He was able to look forward calmly to his departure, and it was his express desire that his grave should be in Cramond churchyard. There his body was committed, a few days later, to the last resting-place, next to the graves of two saintly and devoted ministers of the parish in an earlier generation, Dr. Bonar and Dr. Muirhead. There was a large company of mourners, some of whom “came from far;” the shops were all closed, and the whole countryside seemed to be moved and solemnized by the tribute of universal respect paid to the blameless life and blessed ministry of a man of God who “being dead, yet speaketh.”
JAMES SMITH, DUMBARTON
The Record of the Free Church of Scotland, March 2, 1863
The Rev. James Smith of Dumbarton had been laid aside from active duty by severe illness for some years previous to his death, which took place in November last. Mr. Smith was the son of an Aberdeenshire minister, a man of learning, who, in days when a knowledge of German was much less common than now, translated four volumes of Michaelis on the Law of Moses—a work of literary labour, which hastened him to an early grave. His widow, with a large family, had the usual struggle in such cases, but was spared to see her children fight their way, under God, to respectable positions in society. The late minister of Dumbarton inherited the literary taste and ability of his father, of which he gave proof when he conducted, for a short period, the Church of Scotland Magazine.
Having received the first appointment to Well Park Church, Glasgow, one of the quoad sacras, he most faithfully and laboriously acquitted himself in his charge, and contributed not a little to its early success. Ere long, and as the fruit of his popular acceptance as a preacher, and character as an unwearied pastor, he received a presentation to the Parish Church of Dumbarton; and all who can recall what he was more than twenty years ago, will remember what an active, useful, and devoted minister he was—how he spared no trouble to serve those who needed his service, and how forward his hand was in every good work. Holding conscientiously the old principles of the Church of Scotland, he threw in his lot with his brethren at the memorable Disruption, thereby making important sacrifices, which he never regretted, and became the zealous and successful minister of the Free Church.
He was a man of extensive general information, and had great pleasure in imparting it. Besides his strictly professional labours, in which he was most faithful and diligent, as time would allow he laid himself out for usefulness by taking part in the courses of lectures, delivered both in Dumbarton and the vicinity, on subjects of general interest fitted especially to instruct the youth. His memory will long be cherished by not a few as that of an able expounder of the Word of God, a kind and sympathizing friend, and one who had the spiritual welfare of his people supremely at heart. He died in the circle of his friends at Aberdeen, and his latter end was peace.
REV. JAMES SMITH, M.A., TARLAND
(Died January 22, 1900)
Author: Rev. John Rainnie, M.A., Perth
Source: The Free Church Monthly, October, 1900, Obituary, p.239
The subject of this brief sketch first saw the light in the opening days of 1838, at Marnoch, destined soon thereafter to become the scene where the decisive battle for the rights of the Lord’s flock and for the spiritual independence of the Church of Christ was fought and won. There he spent a happy childhood, in a large circle of brothers and sisters, and received his first lessons in the faith from his God-fearing parents, in particular from his mother.
While but a child of eight, he was sent to the Fordyce Academy, and for Mr. Largue, of that institution, he was led to cherish a high admiration and warm affection, as a painstaking teacher and thorough disciplinarian.
Leaving the Fordyce Academy a lad of fourteen, he entered King’s College and University at Aberdeen. There he gained the twelfth place at the Bursary Competition, and all along his university course held a good place in his class in all the branches of study. He graduated in 1856. Yet he himself often confessed that he was too young in years to make the most of a university training.
On leaving the university, Mr. Smith was for some years engaged in teaching. He began his work as teacher in the Fordyce Academy, where he had been so recently a scholar. Thereafter he had the charge of the Free Church schools at Premnay and at Rothiemay successively. He was a born teacher, and quite inspired his scholars, with whom he was a great favourite. He did more than communicate to them the elements of a sound secular education; for several of his old pupils at Rothiemay were not ashamed, in after-years, to acknowledge him to have been their spiritual father—a fact which suggests how powerful and salutary an influence he must have exercised as a teacher of youth.
During his residence at Rothiemay he passed through a very remarkable spiritual experience, in and by which the Holy Spirit was doubtless preparing him for his great life-work as an ambassador for Christ.
Rothiemay is in the immediate vicinity of Huntly. At the time of the revival of 1859-60, Huntly became, and for some years thereafter continued to be, a great centre of religious life, not only to the parishes lying around, but to the counties of Aberdeen and Banff. The evangelistic meetings, held annually in the park at Huntly Lodge, were to many a means of quickening in the divine life. These gatherings were addressed by eminent evangelists—lay and clerical — hailing from various quarters, and belonging to different denominations, who were all filled by the one spirit, and inspired by the supreme desire to win men for the kingdom of God. As might naturally have been expected, Mr. Smith frequently attended these gatherings; and at one of them he passed through a never-to-be-forgotten experience, which some might term a second conversion, and which certainly issued in the deepening of his spiritual life. Up to this point his own personal sinfulness had never been brought home to him in any marked degree. But as he listened to the word preached, the spirit of truth gave him such a sight of himself that for a considerable period “he dwelt in darkness and in the depths,” and felt himself to be for ever “undone.” At last he was delivered from the grasp of Giant Despair, and brought into a wealthy place, where he had a richer experience than ever before of the love of God. Such an experience was bound to tell on his whole after-life and ministry. He now knew, beyond all possibility of doubt, that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. Was it not in this school of experience that he attained to that knowledge of the gospel of which Mr. Crerar (of North Leith), his fellow-student in the New College, testifies as follows: “Mr. Smith had a better knowledge of the gospel than he had of theology, and the latter he knew better than most students”?
At this period Mr. Smith became closely associated with that devoted minister and eminent evangelist, Mr. Murker of Banff, in his evangelistic tours through Banffshire, and found much profit from his fellowship.
In 1863 he entered the New College, Edinburgh, and at the close of his curriculum had the honour of being the Cunningham Fellow of his year. He then went to Germany, and at Erlangen studied under that distinguished theologian, Delitzsch.
In the autumn of 1867 he was the first of a leet of candidates appointed to preach in the vacancy at Tarland. But so favourably impressed was the congregation by his services that he was at once chosen, with perfect unanimity, to be their pastor. On the twelfth of December he was ordained to the office of the holy ministry, and all through the thirty-two years that remained he gave himself to the work with untiring energy and rare fidelity, and was not without manifest tokens that his labour was not in vain in the Lord. As preacher and teacher, as pastor and evangelist, he proved himself a workman that needeth not to be ashamed—always abounding in the work of the Lord. He was naturally gifted with intellectual abilities of a decidedly high order. These he had carefully and wisely cultivated and exercised. His was a richly-furnished and well-balanced mind. He was a wide reader and a clear thinker; hence he had a thorough grasp of many and varied subjects. He could express his views with singular clearness, force, and felicity, and that either with his pen or in public debate. He was a man of wide sympathies, and kept an observant eye on all that was transpiring in the world around him. Above all, his was a noble independence of mind; and he had the courage of his convictions—being, as one said of him, utterly true. Beneath a somewhat brusque exterior he was a most lovable man, a genial companion, and true friend.
A sketch of Mr. Smith’s work would be altogether incomplete without some reference, however slight, to the public services which he rendered, so ungrudgingly and so effectively, to the community around him, and to his church in particular.
In his own parish and district he served his generation most faithfully and with great acceptance in many ways. He was an active and interested member of the School Board and of the Parish Council in Tarland. Each of these bodies put on record their sense of the good services he had rendered, and of the loss they had sustained by his removal. In a less humble sphere, but in no less hearty a way, he for long sought to promote the well-being of the community and the cause of gospel temperance, not only by his example, but as the President of the Tarland Abstinence Society— an office which he filled for thirty years—and by giving sound and valuable instruction to the Band of Hope. In the Presbytery of Kincardine O’Neil, first as a member, and afterwards as the clerk and father of that presbytery, he made the Free Church his debtor in many ways. By his thorough loyalty to the cause, by his sterling integrity, by his soundness of judgment, by his first-rate administrative ability, by his brotherly kindness and unfailing good temper, he won the confidence and love of all his brethren.
His co-presbyter, Mr. Cowan of Banchory, says of him in this connection:—”The memory of his kindness, on occasions when we visited the manse at Tarland, is one which those of us who experienced it will gratefully cherish. … In nine cases out of ten, probably, he got his own way, not because it was his way merely, but because it was also evidently the right and sensible one. … As a member of the Presbyterial Reading Club he contributed notes on recent books and criticisms, which for drastic terseness it would be difficult to equal.”
At their April meeting the Synod of Aberdeen put on record the following testimony regarding him:—”For more than thirty years Mr. Smith laboured assiduously to promote the kingdom of Christ in the parish of Tarland and surrounding district. He was an earnest and evangelical preacher, and a faithful and devoted pastor. … His high intellectual attainments, ripe scholarship, and skilful debating power always gained for him the ear of the brethren, who found him a wise counsellor and a safe guide. By many he was often consulted on matters affecting the progress of Christ’s kingdom, and to such he was ever ready to lend all the assistance in his power.”
Mr. Smith had the pen of a ready and forcible writer, and that on a great variety of subjects. Of this the following prizes gained by him as an essay writer are ample proof:—£250 for an essay on “Temperance Reformation, and its Claims on the Christian Church;” £50 for essay on “The Communion Wine Question;” £50 for essay on “The Sabbath;” £50 for essay on “The Papal Authority.”
Some time before his demise it was evident to his friends that his strength was beginning to fail. But the spirit of the man sustained his infirmity, and his intellectual powers were vigorous till the last. On Sabbath, the fourteenth of January, he preached twice. The subject of the evening service, conducted at Dinnet— some five miles from Tarland — was based on the well-known words: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” Words singularly appropriate to the preacher and his circumstances, though he knew it not. In the early part of that week he visited some families in the village. After a few days’ illness he gently fell asleep on the morning of Monday, the twenty-second of January. “Blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when He cometh, shall find watching!”
For Mrs. Smith, his widowed wife, who did so much to brighten his home, and who has been in all respects a devoted helper of her husband all the days of his ministry at Tarland, much sympathy has been expressed by the community at Tarland, and by many friends throughout the church.
REV. JOHN SMITH, EDINBURGH
(Died 16th April 1887)
Author: Rev. J. Coutts, Whiteinch
Source: The Free Church Monthly, August, 1887, Biographical Notices, p.246
The peculiarly affecting circumstauces of his death have made the name of Mr. Smith known in a way certainly never anticipated by him, for he was not one who sought public notice, and his was not an eventful life. He was simply a hard working and thoroughly efficient Home Mission minister; but in a Church like ours that is no mean praise.
His birthplace was in the parish of Rothiemay, Banffshire, close to the Church of Marnoch, of “Intrusion” fame, his father being a devoted elder in New Marnoch Free Church, under Rev. David Henry.
The memories and associations of that region were stimulating spiritually as well as ecclesiastically, and a wave of blessing swept over it in 1859 and succeeding years, which had well-nigh spent its force ere it caught and carried the lad of seventeen into “peace in believing.” Teaching in a Sabbath school for neglected children, and taking part in cottage meetings, were among his earliest efforts in active Christian work, and by-and-by he quietly intimated his purpose of leading the business to which he had been apprenticed and giving himself to the work of the ministry.
Every spare hour had indeed for some time been devoted to private study, and ere long he was ready to enter Aberdeen University, and in due time the Divinity Hall there.
During the greater part of his undergraduate course and all his Hall curriculum he was engaged as student-missionary in connection with Free Trinity Church, giving good proof of his peculiar fitness for that kind of work, On leaving the Hall he came to Shettleston, where the Free Church had for years been in the position of a station, but making no progress. New vitality and earnestness, however, began to appear under Mr. Smith’s hands. The Assembly of 1870 raised it to the footing of a regular charge, and on the 18th August of that year Mr. Smith was ordained its minister.
From that time till his removal to Edinburgh his ministry was one of continuous, unassuming, but thorough-going work, the congregation steadily prospering and becoming a centre of living energy in the district. And the man at the head of its affairs was in many ways singularly fitted for the work. At first, indeed, one was likely enough to be deceived, by a little bluntness of tone and general off-hand manner, into assuming that Mr. Smith was one who would take things easily in preparation for the pulpit, and perhaps in organization as well; but it did not take long to discover how thoroughly one had mistaken him. For though attempting no elaborate literary finish, no minister could bestow more of genuine hard study on his discourses than he; so that, while gifted with an unusually retentive memory and ready utterance, he would not go to the smallest kitchen-meeting without careful preparation Thus, even when an address seemed impromptu, you were struck by the amount of solid, well-digested truth, and the thoroughness with which the subject was handled. Thoroughness, indeed, was characteristic of all he undertook. Of a particularly sound judgment, he was quick to seize on whatever was really workable, and to discard the merely plausible and pretentious.
But the secret of his undoubted power with his people was above all else the manliness of his whole Christian character, the impression he gave of being so genuinely real in whatever he did or said, and the genial frankness, which was always the same with rich or poor. There was in him, too, a kindly humour, which made his visits like blinks of sunshine, and with all sufferers his sympathy was of the tenderest.
He was a life-long abstainer, and a capital speaker on gospel temperance from his knowledge of human nature and deep concern for the tempted and fallen through strong drink.
The call to Chalmers’ Territorial Church, West Port, Edinburgh, brought many “searchings of heart,” though the attractions of such an unrivalled sphere for home mission would overcome the fears he frankly expressed. To those who knew Mr. Smith and the West Port it seemed that he was the very man to follow up the labours of Tasker and Jolly with work of the best kind; but suddenly, on the very threshold, he was caught up “to be with Christ,” leaving two congregations without a pastor, and a widow with five little children, sorely needing the prayers and sympathies of all who love the Lord and honour his faithful servants.
REV. DR. ROBERT SMITH, CORSOCK
(Died June 12, 1894)
Author: Rev. Charles McNeil, Dumfries
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, September, 1894, Obituary, p.215
Dr. Smith was born in 1816 in the parish of Benholm, where his father was a well-to-do farmer. Ten or twelve years later the family removed to the parish of St. Cyrus, where he came under the ministry and influence of the well-known Dr. Keith, to whom he doubtless owed that interest in prophecy and the Jews which became the prominent characteristic of his life. From the parish school of St. Cyrus he went to the grammar school at Aberdeen, and afterwards to St. Andrews University; and from early life he seems to have had a desire to devote himself to a missionary career.
The other members of the family—namely, three brothers and a sister—also all went abroad, and are still living in South Africa. One of his brothers was many years a missionary teacher in connection with Lovedale Institution; another devoted his life to education in Cape Colony, and the Honourable Charles Smith was long prominently connected with the Cape Government. Dr. Smith had thus the advantage of being brought up in a family of energy and enthusiasm, and in after life he proved himself a man of outstanding gifts and graces.
He belonged to that noble band of young men who, on the eve of the Disruption, stood fast by the evangelical party in the church; and there are those who still remember the glowing spiritual warmth that characterized his services at a communion in St. Mary’s, Dumfries, shortly after his ordination as a missionary in 1842.
His first sphere of labour was among the Jews in Hungary, where, amid much opposition and many trials, he continued to work for over ten years. Of this period Dr. Smith said at his jubilee: “I was a wanderer on the face of the earth, having no certain dwelling-place; but God was pleased to provide a home for us in himself, more endeared to us and more stable also by his grace than any earthly tabernacle could be.”
The mission was peculiarly arduous and irksome, for, in addition to all the difficulty of reaching the Jews themselves, he was exposed to the continuous irritation of government interference and police surveillance. The effect of this early period upon Dr. Smith’s character was unmistakable, even to those who were privileged to know him only in later years. His almost instinctive habit of cautiously weighing all sides and consequences of any question or action, with his firm, resolute manner of acting once his decision had been taken, was that of one who had passed through many critical situations. But still more, his simple faith in God and confident reliance upon God’s providence for his ordering all things was that of one who had known what it is to have no other refuge or help.
His connection with the Jewish Mission also gave a distinct complexion to his whole thoughts and studies in after life. He loved the Jews, and the study of their future was the one subject to which all his leisure was devoted. He was accordingly a devout student of prophecy, and even during his last illness he was still busy with notes upon Isaiah, which he meant for publication. In conversation he showed a remarkable mastery of the details of prophecy, and never failed to impress even those whose studies did not much run in these lines with the charm of the subject.
Dr. Smith had a thorough knowledge of Hebrew, as indeed his work among the Jews required; but he was also master of several languages, and for some years after leaving Hungary he acted as theological professor in one of the colleges of Holland, the students of which still bear testimony to their affectionate recollection of their esteemed teacher of over thirty years ago.
Failing health, however, made it necessary for him to return from the Continent, and after some years spent in England, where a tempting offer to enter the Episcopal Church was made to him, he became the pastor of the rural congregation of Corsock. Here his ministry was carried on for twenty-seven years with great diligence and enthusiasm, and was crowned with marked success. His careful, scholarly, evangelical expositions of divine truth, his earnest, fervid, and telling appeals, and his singularly beautiful and deeply spiritual prayers will be long remembered by his people. And he was no less a pastor than a preacher. Though naturally a student, and finding his most congenial sphere in his study among his books, he never neglected pastoral duties. He bore his people on his heart, and few are so faithful in the house-to-house visitation of their flocks as he continued to be, even down to the close of his ministry, when already considerably over the threescore years and ten. The genuine warmth and sympathy of his friendship was felt by all, and his fatherly affectionate interest in the young created bonds the memory of which will not soon be effaced.
Dr. Smith was, however, more than the devoted and successful pastor of a country congregation. He was a trusted counsellor in the Jewish Committee of our church, and more than once represented them on the Continent in connection with questions of difficulty. In the presbytery he was looked up to as the father of the court, and his sound judgment was always recognized as of great value to the brethren. Many years ago he received the honour of being appointed to the clerkship of Dumfries Synod; and his scholarship and services were also recognized beyond the pale of his own church by his having the degree of Doctor of Divinity conferred upon him.
But after all, much as he was to be admired as a scholar and a minister, he was greatest in the genuine spirituality of his Christian life. No one could come into contact with him without feeling the influence of his intense faith, his devout reverence, his simple piety, his ardent enthusiasm for the service and glory of Christ. He always struck myself as one living consciously and constantly very near to God, and the beauty of his home life with his spiritually-minded and equally devoted wife, who predeceased him only a year, was a thing never to be forgotten by those privileged to see it. And the faith which animated and inspired him for service sustained and comforted him in his season of suffering. It pleased God to take him to himself through an ordeal of painful disease; but his patient, cheerful resignation grew ever the more manifest. His one desire was that he might be enabled to bear his Father’s will patiently, and he was so strengthened. He experienced that grace which is all-sufficient and that strength which is made perfect in weakness; and when the divine purposes were finished, “having served his day and generation according to the will of God, he fell on sleep.” His dust rests just outside the walls within which he so delighted to preach “Christ and him crucified,” and he has gone to be with that blessed Lord and Saviour himself whom he so loved, trusted, and rejoiced to serve.
REV. DR. ROBERT SMITH, LOCHWINNOCH
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, March 1, 1865, p.759
Dr. Smith, whose death took place at the age of seventy-eight, was ordained as minister of the parish of Lochwinnoch fifty years ago. He was a native of Kilmaurs in Ayrshire, where his father was a respectable farmer and afterwards a small proprietor, and also an elder in the parish church in connection with the ministry of the late Rev. John Roxburgh. Possessed of singular manliness of natural character, and early brought under the influence of divine grace, he preached the gospel from the first with clearness, affection, and power, and throughout the whole course of his laborious and zealous ministry grace was given him to be faithful in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. In 1843 he surrendered, for conscience’ sake, the living and home which he had enjoyed for more than a quarter of a century, and cast in his lot heartily with the Free Church. This step he never regretted: the lapse of years only deepened his conviction that the sacrifices made at the Disruption were demanded by faithfulness to Christ as the Head of the Church; and, at the same time, happily confirmed in his own experience, notwithstanding temporary loss and trial, the truth of the divine promise, “Them that honour me, I will honour.”
He was endowed with much energy and elasticity both of body and mind, and he consecrated all his faculties to the great work in which he was engaged. He had naturally an ardent temperament, which was softened and subdued by the lessons of experience and the lapse of years. He once said to a friend, “When I began my ministry I was somewhat sharp and severe in reproving and checking what was wrong; but I have come to think that I am more successful in accomplishing my object by using milder means, and this course is far more agreeable to my own feelings.” His Christian worth and the transparent honesty and genial kindness of his disposition had, in the course of his long ministry, endeared him to a wide circle of friends; and to many, both in this and in other lands, the intimation of his decease will recall tender and memorable associations. He was very kind and attentive to young men preparing for the work of the ministry, and took special interest in their welfare, not merely while they were pursuing their studies, but after they were settled in life. And it is well known that the parish of Lochwinnoch has furnished a very fair proportion of candidates for the ministerial office. To them and to all others with whom he was brought into contact, Dr. Smith was ever ready to extend a helping hand and perform a friendly act.
In 1859, a colleague was ordained to Dr. Smith, whose health, for eighteen months after this appointment, continued such as to permit of his preaching at least once every Sabbath, and discharging his full share of other pastoral duties. The last occasion on which he preached was when presiding at the communion on Sabbath, 9th June 1861. None that saw and heard him on that day had any idea that the course of his public ministry was so near its end. On the following Saturday, however, he was prostrated by a paralytic stroke, affecting the left side, but, happily, leaving the intellect and the organs of speech unimpaired. When the first severity of the shock was past he was able to meet his friends for a few hours every day, and many salutary and memorable words were spoken by this “prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ,” both to young and old, during the three and a-half years of his illness. He made it a rule never to part with any friend without prayer, and in private his intercessions on behalf of the congregation and of individuals were frequent—nay, at times almost constant. The Lord mingled many mercies with his protracted trial, giving him the peace which passeth all understanding, and cheering him both by the unwearied tender care of his affectionate, family, and many tokens that he was not forgotten by his people and his friends.
About three weeks before his death, the illness of Dr. Smith assumed a more serious aspect, requiring the utmost care. Realizing the nearer approach of death, he contemplated it with calm fortitude and unwavering faith in Christ, his one chief desire being that “God would glorify himself by this illness and death.” On a Sabbath morning the summons came. About ten o’clock that day he became much worse, and rapidly sank until half-past one o’clock, when the Lord granted to him a gentle release, the sleep into which he had fallen passing without any struggle into the sleep of death. Scarcely had the congregation begun to disperse to their homes after a solemn service in the house of God, where they had so often listened to his familiar voice, when their long-beloved pastor received the call to attend the service of the upper sanctuary, and exchanged the Sabbath on earth for the rest which remaineth for the people of God.
REV. STEVENSON SMITH, SANQUHAR
(Died December 18, 1884)
Author: Rev. James Fordyce, Bishopbriggs, Glasgow
Source: The Free Church Monthly, April 1, 1885, Biographical Notices, p.115
Mr. Smith was born in Hamilton, near Glasgow, on the 16th August 1833. When he was still in his infancy, his parents removed to Glasgow, where in due time he received his education. He passed through the Arts classes of the University with distinction, taking a foremost place in classics. At the close of his university course he spent nearly two years in Germany, at the Universities of Berlin and Heidelberg. After returning to this country, he entered the Divinity classes in the Free Church College, Edinburgh. He completed his Divinity course in the Free Church College, Glasgow, and was licensed by the Free Presbytery of that city in June 1861. In 1863 he received a call from the Free Church congregation of Sanquhar, and was ordained their pastor in August the same year. The pastoral tie thus formed continued for a period of nearly twenty years. In March 1867, Mr. Smith married Helen Elizabeth, last surviving daughter of the late Alexander Hamilton, Esq., London.
When Mr. Smith returned from Germany, his intimate college friends soon found that the teaching of German professors had not in the slightest degree unsettled his views on any of the doctrines of Scripture. In no sense of the word had his theological views become Germanized. Mr. Smith had enjoyed the inestimable benefit of a godly upbringing. He had early become a subject of divine grace. He had experienced the power of divine truth, and the preciousness of Christ as a Saviour, before he began his studies for the ministry, and was therefore able to appropriate what is good in German theology, and to reject what is pernicious. Perhaps no Scotch student ever returned from studying in German universities with a mind so untainted by rationalistic views.
To those who knew him intimately, his open, manly, and generous nature made him a very dear and trusted friend. Truthfulness, uprightness, and straightforwardness characterized his whole course of conduct. His attainments as a theologian were of no mean order. His clear, well-defined views were expressed in beautifully appropriate language. As a preacher he was thoroughly evangelical and practical. He handled not the Word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commended himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. Those who heard him preach felt they were listening to one to whom God had given “not the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” The statement which is appended to this sketch shows how his ministrations were appreciated by his congregation. Mr. Smith was led to take a prominent position against the views of Professor Robertson Smith. Many of his brethren in the ministry will remember a pamphlet of his, published at the time, entitled, “Inspiration: a Study.”
In the providence of God, Mr. and Mrs. Smith were called to suffer repeated bereavements. Their first-born died in infancy. The next, an amiable and promising boy, died in his tenth year. About two years afterwards, their third child died in her tenth year, after a protracted illness. Their youngest child survives. The good Lord spare him to be a comfort to his widowed mother. Mrs. Smith’s health was so impaired by these domestic afflictions that a change became absolutely necessary. Mr. Smith’s health, too, began to fail him, and after anxious and prayerful consideration, he saw it to be his duty to resign his charge. This resolution he came to with a heavy heart. In due time the needed change and rest began to tell favourably both on Mrs. Smith’s health and his own, and with returning health he longed earnestly to be again engaged in the regular work of the ministry. Christian friends were anticipating that he had yet many years to labour in the Lord’s vineyard; but the great Head of the Church had appointed otherwise. On Sabbath, 16th November, Mr. Smith preached in the forenoon for Dr. McDonald, North Leith, and in the afternoon for Dr. Moody Stuart, Edinburgh. During the week be felt somewhat unwell, but was able to worship on the two following Sabbaths in Morningside Free Church. His ailment developed into fever, which for a time did not seem dangerous; as to what its issue might be, he expressed his entire resignation to the will of God. Humble submission to the divine will was a marked feature of his Christian character. The peace of God kept his heart and mind. During his illness he often engaged in singing psalms. A day or two before his death he sang sweetly the words, “We’ll go into his tabernacles, and at his footstool bow,” etc. When he felt his end approaching, he engaged frequently in prayer, commending his wife and child to the care of God, and resigning his spirit into the hands of his Saviour. On Thursday, 18th December, about eight o’clock evening, he calmly breathed his last. “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace.” When the kirk-session of the Free Church congregation, Sanquhar, learned the sad news of his early death, they forwarded to Mrs. Smith the following expression of their heartfelt sympathy. It is also a precious tribute to the memory of their deceased pastor:—
“Sanquhar, December 27, 1884
“Dear Mrs. Smith,—We, members of the kirk-session of the Free Church congregation at Sanquhar, would beg with all respect to tender the expression of our deepest sympathy with you in your sudden and most painful bereavement.
“The announcement of the death of your late husband, and our late esteemed pastor, sent a thrill through the hearts of the whole of his former flock, and kindled a feeling of the keenest sympathy with those very dear to him whom he has left behind. This is not to be wondered at when it is considered how much he was admired as an elegant and accomplished scholar and able preacher, and also for his frank, manly, generous character.
“Having laboured devotedly in this congregation, his first and only charge, for a period of well-nigh twenty years, the death of Mr. Smith at any time could not fail to have made a deep and sad impression on his former flock; but that is specially the case when it has occurred so very soon after his retirement from the ministerial office here.
“His ministrations among the sick and bereaved have been held particularly in affectionate remembrance in many a household, not only within his own congregation, but also throughout this whole district. The testimony that has been thus borne at this time to his precious labours in this sphere of ministerial work is most remarkable, and proves that he has been truly a Barnabas—’a son of consolation’—to many a distressed heart, and that his memory will be tenderly cherished in this whole community for many a day.
“We feel it an honour to be the medium of making this communication to you; and our earnest hope and prayer is that that same comfort and consolation which he was so singularly fitted to minister to others may be abundantly vouchsafed to his own dear ones in the day of their sad and bitter bereavement. ‘He being dead, yet speaketh.’ We subscribe ourselves, dear madam, yours in Christian sympathy.”
REV. WALTER SMITH, HALF-MORTON AND GRETNA
(Died April 20, 1890)
Author: Rev. James Panton, Langholm
Source: The Free Church Monthly, July, 1890, Obituary, p.214
The subject of this brief notice was born in the vicinity of Lockerbie on January 10, 1818. His father was a farmer in that district, and he was sent for his early education to the parish school. He passed through his college curriculum during the ten years’ conflict, and finished his theological studies under Dr. Chalmers in the memorable year 1843.
He was immediately appointed teacher in the parochial school at Gair, in the parish of Kirkpatrick-Fleming; but when the Disruption took place he, without hesitation, cast in his lot with the Free Church. On the rumour of this choice reaching the ear of the parish minister, Mr. Smith received a letter asking if it were true, and intimating that in the event of no reply being received he would discharge his duty in bringing the matter before the first meeting of the Presbytery of Annan, to be “dealt with as that court saw fit.” Mr. Smith was dismissed.
He was licensed—the first student by the Presbytery of Lockerbie—on 2nd August 1843, delivering the popular sermon of his probationary trials at the induction service of the late Mr. Kinnear of Moffat. He was ordained at Halfmorton in May of the following year as successor to Mr. (now Dr.) Clark, the only minister in the Presbytery of Langholm who came out at the Disruption, and was soon engaged in those stirring and laborious times amid circumstances which demanded that every step be taken with prudence, tact, and energy. His wide-spread district extended along the Borders from Canonbie, famous for Disruption memories, to Gretna, notorious for its irregular marriages. This was a hard and trying field, but with resolute spirit and steady perseverance he took his full share of work throughout the district. He would set out on horseback on the Sabbath morning, preach in the “wooden kirk” at Langholm in the forenoon, in the “tent,” “sandhole,” or on “roadside” at Canonbie in the afternoon, and after that at the moss-side at Halfmorton. Then on the Monday, after the day with its three services and ride of twenty miles, he engaged in conferences about securing sites, building churches, and organizing congregations, with a desire intensified with the difficulties and exposures of the Sabbath. The Witness newspaper, read on the Mondays like a chapter of “Acts,” was also an inspiration and encouragement, as it showed how the cause progressed in large centres and other districts.
When things were in regular working order, Mr. Smith was called to St. Peter’s, Liverpool, which was in deep waters; but he accepted the call, and spent eight of the best years of his life in that city in assiduous and successful work. Health, however, gave way, and in his weakness his old congregation, being in need of a minister, gave him another call. This he felt his duty to accept, and so he had the unique experience of being licensed and twice settled by the same presbytery. Gradually his health improved, and he rendered thirty-eight years’ faithful and whole-hearted service in his loved Halfmorton to a loyal and attached congregation.
As a minister, God had endowed him with an excellent union of the gifts and graces necessary for the right discharge of his duties. He had a ready apprehension, a clear understanding, a sound, stable, and penetrating judgment, and a retentive memory, all improved by diligent study. He ever felt, though his people were scattered, that preaching the word was the chief part of a minister’s work and the most essential for securing the ends for which the office exists. He was studious in his habits, and kept his mind fresh with the best literature.
As a preacher, Mr. Smith was strongly and earnestly evangelical—Christ and him crucified being the burden of his pulpit ministrations. He fed his flock with the substantial doctrines of grace, which were his own pleasure and delight, and strove to lead them to be thorough Christians, eminent in knowledge, holiness, and obedience.
As a pastor, he was ready to serve all in every way, and to the uttermost of his strength. He was diligent in visiting the sick, ready to give help and wise counsel in matters of difficulty and importance, and his people greatly appreciated these. He was full of sympathy to the distressed and mourning, took an interest in each, and cherished the kindliest feelings towards all. Where he could give help, thither would he go; his great ambition being to do good and be a public blessing to the district.
As a man, he was held in the highest esteem for his sterling character and mental powers; and that esteem deepened with acquaintance and years. He was of scrupulous fidelity, and his word was to him always strictly sacred. He had a keen sense of equity, justice, and of all that was honourable; but he was tender and sympathetic with his fellowmen, kindly and courteous in his manner, and sagacious in his conducting of church affairs, weighing the issues of action with great wisdom. These qualities were brought to the discharge of the duties of clerk to the presbytery, an office he filled with great acceptance for seventeen years. His intimate knowledge of church law, his business capacity, his judiciousness and obliging disposition, were of the greatest service to his brethren, and highly valued by them. His worth won their affection, and his ability their confidence, and now they cannot but miss and mourn his loss. His health had been failing for months, but he preached until January last, when he was prostrated with a chronic malady. Expectations were cherished that he would regain strength, and be able again for some work; but his medical adviser peremptorily forbade, and steps were taken to secure a colleague. He gradually became weaker, and passed away on the Sabbath morning, the 20th April, in the peace of the gospel he loved to preach.
Mr. Smith’s family consisted of five sons and three daughters, all brought up with plain living and hard thinking. His wife predeceased him by seven years; and his oldest son, Dr. John Smith, medical missionary, was the esteemed companion of Mr. Mackay of Uganda, whose recent death all are lamenting. Dr. Smith graduated in 1875, offered himself to the Church Missionary Society, and was sent. out to Africa, but died twelve months after leaving this country on the shores of the Nyanza. The second son is an accountant and actuary in Melbourne; the third is a licentiate of our Church, has taken a high degree in a German university, and now fills a professor’s chair in America; the youngest two have had a distinguished university career, and now occupy important and influential positions in Edinburgh.
REV. WILLIAM SMITH, M.A., KINCARDINE O’NEIL
(Died July 9,1887)
Author: Rev. Robert Reid, Banchory
Source: The Free Church Monthly, November 1, 1887, Biographical Notices, p.369
Many a man who has not had a brilliant career has nevertheless led a useful life, and without rising to eminence, has, by quiet, conscientious, persevering well-doing in his own sphere, left some mark behind him, and made the world the better for his being in it. Such a one was Mr. William Smith, late minister of the Free Church, Kincardine O’Neil, who, “after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep” in the seventy-second year of his age, and the thirty-ninth of his ministry.
Born in the parish of Banchory-Devenick, after receiving an ordinary elementary education in his boyhood, he was for a time employed as a clerk by a mercantile company in Aberdeen. In this situation he occupied his spare time in private study, chiefly of Latin, and afterwards attended the Grammar School in that city. After passing through the usual curriculum of study in Marischal College and University, he obtained his degree of M.A., and was a student for one session in the Divinity Hall of the Church of Scotland; but when the Disruption took place, he joined the Free Church, and completed his course of theological study by attending the classes appointed by the Free Church for students of divinity at Aberdeen. He was licensed as a preacher of the gospel by the Presbytery of Ellon; and after officiating as a probationer at various preaching stations, he was called and ordained in January 1849, as colleague and successor to the Rev. Alexander Gatherer, the first pastor of the Free Church congregation at Craigmyle, Kincardine O’Neil. Addressing himself with energy and hopefulness to the duties before him, he was instrumental, by the divine blessing, in gradually imparting new life and stability to his congregation, that had been much weakened and discouraged for a time by their former minister being suddenly laid aside, wholly incapacitated for work, and by other causes. Through the greater part of his ministry, his public services in church were attended and highly appreciated by many who were not members of his own congregation, and who, as he was not of a proselytizing spirit, gratefully received any visits he had time to pay them, and greatly enjoyed his prayers and exhortations in private. He was especially attentive to the sick and the dying, whether they were connected with his own flock or not, and was often used by the Lord in speaking a word in season to the weary and in comforting the distressed.
As a man and a Christian he was kind, conciliatory, humble, remarkable for the honesty and transparency of his character—an Israelite, indeed, in whom was no guile. As a preacher he was clear, simple, and forcible, making Christ and him crucified the chief theme of his discourses. Towards the close of his ministry the members of his flock were sensible of a more than ordinary earnestness and fervour pervading his preaching and his prayers. As a pastor he was loving, faithful, and diligent. His sound and discriminating judgment, as well as his sincere piety, led his office-bearers and people to place the utmost confidence in his counsels and plans, and to come to him for direction in their difficulties; while his painstaking and accuracy were such that his brethren felt assured that every matter devolving on him, or intrusted to him as a member of Presbytery, would be attended to conscientiously and carefully.
Mr. Smith had much enjoyment in the relationships and endearments of his home life. His family was large. One of his sons studied for the ministry, and is the present minister of the Free Church, Abernyte. His wife died ten years ago. During his last illness, which extended over several months, he was perfectly calm and resigned, putting himself, his family, his attached congregation, and the cause he so much loved and laboured to promote, into the hands of his covenant God. “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace.”
REV. WILLIAM SMITH, WOLFLEE
(Died February 28, 1891)
Author: Professor Skinner, M.A., London
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, October, 1891, Obituary, p.308
Mr. Smith was born at St. Fergus in the year 1855. The youngest son of a highly-esteemed elder of the Free Church, he was brought up in a family whose earnest, unobtrusive piety bore rich fruit in unselfish devotion to every good work.
The impulse to prepare himself for the work of the ministry seems to have been due to the intellectual and spiritual stimulus he received, at the most impressible period of his life, from the Rev. Alex. Linn, who came to St. Fergus when he was a lad attending the minister’s Bible-class. He went to the University of Aberdeen, and after passing creditably through his undergraduate and theological curriculum, was licensed by the Free Presbytery of Deer on the 26th July, 1881.
From that time to the end of his life he devoted himself with untiring zeal, and amidst discouragements which would have caused many a man to lose heart, to the work of preaching the gospel. Save for the short space of eighteen months, during which he was settled in Scarborough, he was never privileged to minister to a congregation of his own. In 1887, after a brave effort to cope with difficulties that proved insurmountable, he resigned his charge at Scarborough, and returned to Scotland to find employment as a probationer of the Free Church. In the preaching-station at Roberton, near Hawick, where he was greatly beloved and appreciated, and in several congregations where the minister was laid aside by ill-health, he laboured for lengthened periods with much success.
In the summer of 1890 he occupied the pulpit of the late Mr. Russell of Wolflee during his illness, and with such acceptance that on the death of Mr. Russell he was unanimously and cordially called to be his successor. But in the last few months of his life his health had broken down, and he entered on his new sphere only to die.
He was inducted on the 9th January last, and died on the 28th February, having preached but once in his own pulpit.
It is impossible for any who knew him to repress a feeling of sadness at the thought of a life so full of the experience that comes through discipline, being cut short on the threshold of what would doubtless have been a career of great usefulness. Mr. Smith appeared to possess all the elements of a profitable and successful, if not brilliant, ministry. His pulpit work was characterized by great thoroughness and earnestness, and his sympathetic nature quickly drew out the affection of those amongst whom he laboured.
Looked at from an earthly point of view, his life was full of discouragements and disappointments, and there is no doubt that hope deferred had told on his health. But of this he spoke little; he never gave way to despondency or envy; he was always patient, always cheerful, and always ready to throw himself heartily into whatever opportunity of service was opened to him. And though the graces of character that affliction developed in him were not destined for the service of the Church on earth, they serve to remind us, as was said by Mr. Linn in his funeral sermon, that neither “outward comfort nor earthly success is essential to the attainment of the highest spiritual results.”
REV. WILLIAM PIRIE SMITH, D.D., KEIG AND TOUGH
(Died February 24, 1890)
Author: Professor Lindsay, D.D.
Source: The Free Church Monthly, June, 1890, Obituary, p.180
A finely-cut face, not unlike the portraits of Erasmus, but with eyes that showed more warmth and power of self-sacrifice, thin white hair, the body bent forward, hands resting on the elbows of the arm chair in which he sat, hasty uprising, kindly words of welcome and kindlier smile—so much memory still keeps of the first sight I had of Dr. Smith in the Free Church Manse of Keig when, a college friend of his son’s, I entered it to spend a few days under its roof. He is gone from us now, but more than memory remains. He put something into man; life, my own among the number, which is still there. He was one of the quiet men who gave our Free Church its power, and such a man is always more than a memory. For he had renounced for Church’s sake a scholar’s life and a scholar’s work and a scholar’s reward, to take charge of the poorest of country parishes. He had flung all that behind him for conscience’ sake; and students alone know how much that means, and it did me good at that time to see it and know it.
Dr. Smith was born in Aberdeen on the 14th April 1811. His mother wished to educate him for the ministry; but the boy could not bear to be a burden to her, as she had two children besides himself to support, and when fourteen years of age he went to learn a trade. Six years passed, and every spare moment had been spent in reading. He started from home in the morning and read as he went to his work. The day’s task done, he read himself home again. It came into his head that he would learn Latin, and he began it, worked hard at it in odds and ends of hours. He got over some difficulties and round some corners by applying to an acquaintance who was a Grammar School boy.
Those were the days of the old-fashioned bursary competition so vividly described by Professor Masson, when competitors from every parish in Aberdeenshire and the neighbouring counties, with dictionary under arm, crowded old Marischal College quadrangle once a year. Young Smith had been fifteen months at his Latin when, in his quick impassive way, he thought he would try his chance among the rest. It wanted but three weeks to the day of examination. He left his trade, spent these three weeks at the Old Town Grammar School, and took his place among the crowd of picked candidates by whom eager schoolmasters had given years of training. The young man got his bursary. At the close of his first session he was medallist in Latin and in Greek, and had laid the foundations of that accurate scholarship which he retained till the end. At the close of his university course he gained the Hutton prize for general scholarship—the highest distinction that an Aberdeen student could then win.
He did not at first think of the ministry. He was a student above all things, and a born teacher. To teaching he betook himself. He taught the Lancastrian School in Aberdeen for some time, and then became parish schoolmaster in Kincardine O’Neil.
If north country boys had their bursary competition, north country schoolmasters had their Dick Bequest Grants to win. The parish schoolmaster of Kincardine O’Neil gained not only the highest sum then given from the Dick Bequest, but an extra sum for special merit — the highest ever given. In 1840 he returned to Aberdeen to become the favourite assistant of Mr. Peter Robertson, the famous teacher of the Aberdeen West-End Academy, where he met and married Mr. Robertson’s daughter. In a year or two he became rector of the Academy.
The great Evangelical movement was filling Scotland in those days. Young Smith was with it heart and soul. He taught a Bible-class in connection with Holborn Church. A number of young men, most if not all of them students of divinity, met at his house regularly to hold a prayer-meeting. If the city of Aberdeen was Evangelical, the county was Moderate; and when the Disruption came, men were needed to face the trials of the ministry in parishes where Moderate ministers, lairds, and often a majority of the people were opposed to all Evangelical preaching.
The young rector had a good income, an honourable position, peace to gratify his scholarly instincts, and the prospect, almost certain, of a university chair. On the other hand, there lay the parishes of Keig and Tough with their Evangelical remnant, sheep without a shepherd, with site-refusing lairds, never a Johnnie Gibb of Gushetneuk to take the burden on his sturdy shoulders, and not even the equal dividend to look to. Somehow or other, for these are matters not to be understood by every one, the young couple felt that they must go to Keig and Tough, and thither they went, and neither ever regretted the step. Love is paid in its own coin; it knows no other legal tender; and love to God has not for its proper reward a quiet and luxurious life.
Mr. Smith was licensed in the spring of 1844, and ordained on December 5,1845. When the Sabbaths came round he preached in a hastily knocked together little wooden church in Keig parish, and then drove to Tough and preached in a barn there. The proprietor had to be pilloried in Parliament before a site could be wrung from hiin. Then came church building and manse building, as well as preaching and pastoral work.
We Free Churchmen know all about the ministers who fill our city pulpits, and men who lead the aggressive evangelistic work in our great towns are duly honoured; but after all, the heroic work of our Free Church, whether in Disruption times or now, is done in our country parishes.
Dr. Smith spent thirty-five years in this work, and he, one of the finest and most accurate scholars Scotland has produced, never dreamt he had thrown his life away in preaching from Sabbath to Sabbath to his small congregation, in visiting his people, and in waiting on the sick and on the dying.
When the Revival movement of 1860 stirred these Aberdeenshire parishes, Dr. Smith threw himself into it with great heartiness. Free Church ministers, then students, still remember and speak of the earnestness of his appeals and addresses.
The man who had read as he walked to and from his work, who had taught himself Latin, retained to the end a wonderful sympathy with all poor students. Every lad in the Vale of Alford knew that if help was needed in his studies he could get it at the Free Church Manse of Keig, and some who are now in honourable positions at home and abroad got all the education they needed to carry them to college. Dr. Smith’s own children had no schoolroom but their father’s study.
Dr. Smith retired from active work in 1881. Two and a half years ago he was struck down with paralysis, and bore the long trial with great patience. At first he was very anxious to “depart,” but as he said to a friend, “I have got over that, and am willing to wait God’s time.” The quiet departure time came on the 24th of February. His last words were, “Quite happy.”
Dr. Smith has left behind him a widow, surely the fittest helpmate God ever gave to a man, four daughters and two sons, the survivors of a family of eleven.
All the world knows the one son — Professor Robertson Smith, LL.D., of Cambridge, whose second set of Burnet Lectures, delivered in Aberdeen just before his father’s death, make the most brilliant, certainly the most scientific, vindication of the unique and therefore supernatural character of Hebrew prophecy ever published.
REV. ALEXANDER N. SOMERVILLE, GLASGOW
A Great Scottish Evangelist
Author: Rev. Walter Ross Taylor, Glasgow
Source: The Free Church Monthly, January, 1890, Obituary, p.8
The tidings of the death of Dr. Somerville, on 18th September last, carried sorrow not only into every Free Church home, but to countless Christian hearts in every quarter of the globe. During the later years of his life he had become personally known far and wide to a degree quite exceptional; and wherever known, he was venerated and beloved. While his attractive presence, happy smile, and gentle courtesy at once conciliated favour, the unique and courageous character of his mission, the apostolic enthusiasm and energy with which he conducted it, and the sparkling brilliancy, loving spirit, and glowing fervour of his addresses, awakened interest everywhere, and drew thousands, alike Jews and Greeks, Romanists and sceptics, to listen to his words. In fact, men looked with wonder at one with his snow-white locks, and speaking no language but his own, as he fearlessly made his way into foreign lands and cities, braving both police difficulties and fanatic hostility, to make known the gospel message; and the sight stirred within them a new sense of the reality of Christian faith and consecration. Thus, as the years went on, and fresh fields were traversed, he became a “living epistle of Christ,” in regard to whom it might be truly added, “known and read of all men.”
It is not to be forgotten, however, that the mission tours which latterly made Dr. Somerville so prominent were no sudden outburst of late-born zeal; the same quick energy and evangelistic enthusiasm had characterized his whole previous career. So far as regards the man himself, indeed, those later years served only to make the Churches at home and abroad aware what manner of man he had always been.
Born in Edinburgh, on January 30, 1813, and there also educated, he entered on his theological studies at a deeply interesting and eventful period in the religious history of Scotland; and the quickened life which was then throbbing in many of Chalmers’s students found in his heart a congenial home. Hence those college years left their abiding mark on him. Years of thorough study, they were made still further formative and fruitful through inspiring companionship. The friendship between McCheyne and Somerville was quite a feature of those sessions. Both being Edinburgh boys, and within a few months of the same age, they had early known each other; and having passed about the same time through the great spiritual crisis, the two students were literally inseparable. “I was often amused,” wrote the late Mr. Dodds of Dunbar, “at the closeness of their companionship. They sat beside each other in the classroom; they came and went together; they were usually seen walking side by side in the street; or if one of them turned a corner, the other was sure to come in sight a minute after. Many sweet and precious morning hours they devoted together to the study of the Hebrew Bible and Septuagint, as also to prayer.” If, in after years, Dr. Somerville proved to be a minister at once “fervent in spirit” and “mighty in the Scriptures,” this glimpse into his college life helps us to see how he became so.
After having followed McCheyne in the goodly succession of assistants at Larbert, the young preacher was ordained, on November 30, 1837, to the pastoral charge of the Anderston Quoad Sacra Parish, Glasgow; and henceforth the western capital became his life-long home. Here, almost from its commencement, a manifest blessing rested on his ministry. The time was one of spiritual revival in various districts,—notably in Kilsyth and Dundee, –and Anderston Church, under its indefatigable pastor, enjoyed a copious share of the blessing. In the autumn of 1839, it was necessary to have the church open every night each week for three months in succession. One effect of such labours appeared in 1843. Though Mr. Somerville had then to leave buildings which had become dear and hallowed to him, there was no parting with his people. He took them “out” along with him; and it was characteristic that he did not fail to take his pulpit Bible also. So soon as he had finished his last service in the old place, he snatched up the Bible and marched out with it beneath his arm!
It is impossible, within present limits, to describe the enterprises and labours which were crowded into his busy life during his Free Church pastorate. Of these, the interests of his large and devoted congregation had always the first place; and especially in seasons of revival—as, for example, in 1859, when is church was open nightly for eleven months, and again in connection with Mr. Moody’s work—his whole being was on fire, and his powers of sustained exertion were put to their full stretch. But his wide sympathies and abounding energy never admitted of his being monopolized by his congregation, from the very first he showed he was at heart an evangelist. Open-air preaching was then almost unknown, except among the Methodists; but the need of the sunken masses irresistibly appealed to him, and on Sabbaths the minister of Anderston might be seen hurrying to Glasgow Green, his bands still on, to tell his message to the poor people who crowded round him from the slums. So, too, we find him at one time evangelizing among the miners round Airdrie, at another as far north as the Shetland Islands. In those early years, also, he rendered yeoman service to the Free Church as a deputy commissioned to expound the Church’s principles, visiting first several cities in England, and afterwards proceeding to Canada and the United States. Such labours told even on his strong frame, and in 1848, his voice having given way, he took advantage of a winter of enforced silence to visit the East— Egypt, Sinai, and the Holy Land – to gather fresh facts for future vivid use. Thereafter we find him at work on behalf of China, and stirring up the Glasgow Bible Society, of which he was one of the Secretaries, to utilize the opening of China to the Gospel, and pour into it 20,000 copies of God’s Word. Next, impressed deeply with the importance of the world-wide circulation of Scripture, he laboured to unite and develop the Bible agencies separately working into one powerful society; and from his pen came the appeal which prepared for the formation of the National Bible Society of Scotland. Leghorn, too, had a large place in his efforts; and still more Spain. Through acquaintance with the Spanish exile Matamoros, his sympathies were intensely awakened on behalf of Spain; and with the practical thoroughness which he combined with enthusiasm, he visited that country no fewer than five different times to arrange difficult details, and to cheer on the workers. For in those years he indulged in no “minister’s holiday.” The holiday season came round, but to him it brought a call to work elsewhere. His rest was found not in cessation from work, but in change of sphere.
At length, after forty years of arduous and varied service, at a time of life when most men begin to anticipate retiring from active duty, Mr. Somerville turned his thoughts, with all the ardour and hopefulness of his youthful years, to the work of evangelizing the “regions beyond.” It was not a hasty resolve; events had been paving the way. For one thing, he was influenced by his experiences during his six months’ mission to India in the winter of 1874-75. He had gone at the request of the Anglo-Indian Christian Union to undertake its first winter mission to our countrymen in India; but no sooner was he face to face with heathenism than his overmastering evangelistic instinct carried him far beyond his commission, and he found to his joy that non-Christian natives listened with obvious interest to his addresses. Then, within a year after his return from India, he was again commissioned abroad; this time by the Free Church Assembly. A union had been happily formed between the Presbyterian Churches in Canada, and it was felt that no one could be a fitter deputy from the Free Church to the first General Assembly of the United Church, to be held in Toronto in June 1876, than the large-hearted minister of Anderston. To himself this call came as another summons to evangelize; and as he fulfilled his mission throughout the Dominion, the conviction grew upon him that such work, if properly carried on, had great possibilities. In the meantime, earnest men in Glasgow, greatly stimulated by the revival movement under Mr. Moody, were anew laying to heart the Master’s charge, “Go ye into all the world,” and were bethinking them what new and effective effort they could put forth. And thus it came about, through God’s gracious leading, that the directors of the Glasgow United Evangelistic Association, at a meeting on 13th November 1876, heartily agreed “that the Rev. A. N. Somerville be invited to give up his ministerial charge, and for the future devote his life to the furtherance of the gospel at home and abroad;” and that Mr. Somerville, on his side, when this invitation was placed in his hands, intimated his willingness to accept it, ”but on the express condition that he should receive nothing whatever by way of salary, and that only travelling expenses be defrayed.” Accordingly, at a thrilling and memorable meeting of the Free Presbytery of Glasgow, on 8th February 1877, a deputation, including ministers and members of almost all the evangelical denominations in the city, appeared before the Presbytery and earnestly pled that the man of all others best fitted for such work— ” whose whole ministry had been a training for a world-wide evangelist”—should be relieved from his pastoral duties, and set free to proclaim God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. To such a request there could, in the circumstances, be but one answer. The Presbytery, like the Assembly afterwards, felt that it was no common privilege to have such a man to surrender for such truly apostolic work.
On May 3, 1877, then a veteran of sixty-four years of age, Dr. Somerville—for the University of Glasgow had seized the occasion to confer on him the degree of D.D.—started from Glasgow en route for Australia, to begin his evangelistic enterprise in that new continent. All details regarding this and succeeding missions must be left in the skilful hands to which the writing of Dr. Somerville’s memoir has been intrusted; only a few illustrative incidents can be given here. In Australasia the work was continued for eighteen months. Let one incident at the close indicate the impression produced. In compliance with a requisition signed by fifty ministers of Melbourne, Dr. Somerville agreed to preside at a united communion service, at which members of all Protestant Churches were welcome. Melbourne was stirred. An immense congregation gathered, and not fewer than four thousand persons partook of the sacrament. To those who looked from the platform on the sea of upturned faces, the scene, with its accompaniments so solemn yet so joyous, bore “a closer resemblance to what they expected to see in heaven than any other scene they had ever witnessed on earth.”
When at work in France, in 1879, another new departure was made, and one of far-reaching importance. Hitherto Dr. Somerville had addressed himself only to those who understood English; but now the thought flashed on him,—Why not speak through an interpreter? Forthwith the experiment was tried, and with the happiest results. The preacher’s short, compact sentences were turned into French as quickly as they were spoken, and as the discourse proceeded, marked by all the fervour of manner and expressiveness of delivery which ordinarily characterized his speaking, both preacher and hearers seemed to grow unconscious of the interpreter’s intervention. Here was indeed a discovery. How the heart of the veteran evangelist must have thrilled as he thought of the wide door now open before him—a door wider far than he had dreamed of! Differences of language need put no barrier henceforth in his way. Anywhere, everywhere, whatever the tongue spoken, he could go and proclaim his message of God’s love in Christ, in the confidence of being listened to and understood. Literally, while life and strength lasted, his field now was the world.
Next year, accordingly, we find him using his new gift in Italy, and with extraordinary popularity and success. The most capacious theatres in the various cities had to be secured for his meetings, and the people flocked to them in thousands. The most celebrated singers could not have drawn larger crowds than were attracted, in Roman Catholic Italy, to these evangelistic meetings! Of one of the meetings in Florence the late Dr. Stewart of Leghorn wrote:—”It was the strangest sight I had ever seen in Italy. That an audience of 3,000 persons, of all ranks, should have listened with the most marked decorum and intent interest, for two hours, to a most earnest gospel exposition, delivered by a foreigner, through an interpreter, was a thing I could not have believed unless I had seen it.” Well might he give God thanks “that the fierce bigotry of a quarter of a century ago had given way to so complete toleration,” and that a man so remarkably endowed for the work had been sent forth to those lands as an evangelistic pioneer.
Similar success attended his mission next year to Berlin and other cities of Germany, and on this occasion his deep interest in the young found expression. At one meeting in Berlin as many as 2,500 children were present, a clear evidence of the extent to which the hearts of the parents had been moved. Moreover, he made all his meetings, as he had previously done in Italy, serve another purpose very near his heart. The National Bible Society, with equal wisdom and generosity, had given him permission to draw on them for 20,000 Gospels; and at the close of each meeting a copy was presented to every person who asked for one. His visit could be but brief, but he took care that the good seed of the kingdom should remain.
In the winter of 1881 he again made Germany his field, this time South Germany. Next we find him leaving Europe for a season, and speeding away to South Africa. Here, for nearly a twelvemonth, he laboured among the colonists, and also, in his own unique way, among Kafirs, Zulus, Fingoes, and other natives. From this again he passed to a very different region,—to classic Greece, to the land of the “Seven Churches,” and to Turkey. As might be expected, he had a larger amount of fanatical opposition to encounter during this mission than he had known before; but the brave old veteran never quailed, any more than the great apostle who had traversed those lands before him.
Meantime the Church at home was deeply sensible that it was high time to secure Dr. Somerville’s services for the Moderator’s chair of the General Assembly. And services these turned out to be of an entirely exceptional character. Not only were his addresses from the chair signally brilliant and inspiring, but during his year of office—1886-87—he made a complete tour of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and preached in every Highland congregation. His own graphic account of that remarkable undertaking seems to be still ringing in our ears, and it is needless, therefore, even had space allowed, to enter here into details. Nor need we dwell on his next and last great mission abroad, which he undertook at the request of our Jewish Committee, for its incidents are fresh in memory and heart. The Church will not soon forget the indomitable energy with which, in his seventy-fifth year, he set himself to face the rigours of winter in Bohemia and Hungary, that he might carry the tidings of love and salvation to “God’s ancient people” in those lands; nor yet fail to remember, for guidance and encouragement, both the singularly happy tact of the evangelist and the ready entrance he obtained into Jewish hearts. We cannot doubt that his noble address on “What Christianity owes to the Jews” was, to many a Jew, a revelation of Christian love as unexpected as it was pleasing, and that the enthusiastic plaudits with which his words were welcomed date an important change in Jewish feeling towards Christianity.
After his return from Central Europe, it became increasingly obvious, both to his noble-hearted wife, who had so ungrudgingly borne the sacrifice of separation in previous years, and to his family and friends, that, though his spirit still glowed with its old fire, his physical frame was no longer equal to the strain of continuous travelling and labour. The Master, who had so markedly sustained and honoured him in the past, now called him to “rest a while” before entering on higher service above. His work, accordingly, was mainly limited to preaching for brethren, and otherwise taking part in home duties, so far as strength allowed. One of his latest public acts gave him peculiar satisfaction. Invited by the Jewish Committee of the Established Church to address their General Assembly on the “Ingathering of Israel,” he cordially complied, and once more girded himself for a big effort; and to the honour of our brethren be it recorded that, so soon as he stood up to speak, the whole Assembly rose to their feet in a spontaneous outburst of reverence and affection.
But the end was drawing near, and at last it came suddenly. It was an end such as suited his quick nature, and such also as his loving heart could have wished, for it found him at home, surrounded by those dearest to him, in the arms of one of his sons. Thus passed away one of the brightest, strongest, most heroic, yet withal one of the most genial, gentle, and attractive of the men of our time, a man “full of faith and of the Holy Ghost.” He has gone from us, and our hearts are sore; but the example and influence of his consecrated and courageous life will long abide as a precious memory, a stimulus, and an inspiration.
REV. ADAM SPENCE, HOUNDWOOD
(Died January 23, 1882)
Author: Rev. William Armstrong, Rutherglen
Source: The Free Church Monthly, August 1, 1882, Brief Biographies, p.231
Mr. Spence was born in 1814. His father at the time farmed a small holding on the estate of Mr. Buchan of Kelloe,—a name dear to many connected with the Disruption struggles. Mr. Spence’s mother seems to have been a woman of very deep and earnest piety. He ever cherished a most tender affection for her. She lived to see her son in honour; and on the Sabbath after her death he referred to her with tears as the best and kindest friend that he had ever had on earth.
Little is known in regard to his early education. He was not designed, except by the great Head of the Church, for the ministry; and, like many more, he had very much to educate himself. A life-long friend writes that he used to take his Greek and Latin grammars with him in the cart when sent by his father into Northumberland for coal.
It was when attending Mr. Buchan’s Sabbath school that Mr. Spence received his first religious impressions; but it was not until he was about twenty-four years of age that he was brought to the full knowledge of the truth. By this time the family had removed to the neighbourhood of Whitsome, where Mr. Cowe, afterwards of Portobello, and subsequently of Free St. Stephen’s, Glasgow, then ministered in all the freshness and power of early manhood. Mr. Spence does not say that Mr. Cowe was the instrument used by God in leading him to the knowledge of the truth; but it is evident from his journal that Mr. Cowe was of the greatest service to him. He encouraged and counselled him in Christian work; he guided and helped him in his studies; and afterwards, when Mr. Spence went to study at Edinburgh, he kept him for two years in his own house at Portobello free of all expense.
Mr. Spence, not long after his conversion, became an elder in the parish church, and began almost at once to take a most active interest in the controversies that led up to the Disruption. He was from the first a most pronounced evangelical and non-intrusionist. Every opportunity that presented itself was made use of for giving expression to his views. He recorded his vote in the Presbytery; he addressed small meetings; he promoted larger gatherings; and in every possible way sought to preserve the Church of Scotland from unfaithfulness and dishonour. When the hour of trial came he was not “found wanting.” He was in Tanfield Hall at the side of his revered minister. And he often used to refer to those days of debate and suffering as the best in spiritual power and sweetness that he had ever had on earth.
Soon after the Disruption Mr. Spence left his home to study for the ministry, but not to go through a full curriculum. He spent only two years at the Divinity Hall. His eminent piety, his great natural gifts, as well as the exigencies of the Church, made those in power feel that they should exact no more. He was accordingly taken on trial by the Free Presbytery of Dunse and Chirnside, and licensed by them to preach the gospel. After labouring for some months with great acceptance at Auchencrow, a station within their bounds, the same Presbytery ordained him in 1845 as minister at Houndwood, where he remained till the Master called him home at the beginning of this year.
When Mr. Spence became minister of Houndwood, the congregation were without a church, and numbered only about 157 members. But with the generous help of Mrs. Coulson of Houndwood House and the abundance of his own labours a good church soon arose, and the membership increased until it reached about 300, at which it continued to stand during the greater part of his ministry.
It is a common complaint that congregations good at the Disruption are in some cases very small now. But it was otherwise with Mr. Spence’s. His congregation kept good to the end. In the Blue-book for 1881 the membership is 285. And this, under God, was due to nothing but the hard, self-denying work that Mr. Spence continually went through. He was instant in season and out of season. The work that he did every Sabbath day ought to make many of us feel ashamed. After a long double service in the church he used to ride to the extreme end of his parish—a distance of nine miles—and preach again in the afternoon, and then ride to another point and preach once more in the evening, visiting any sick by the way.
In addition to his work at home, Mr. Spence was always ready to lend a helping hand wherever he saw that he could be of any use. No one ever had a kinder neighbour; and when the summer months came round he was often among those who volunteered for home mission work among the lapsed. Indeed, a few weeks spent in open-air preaching was almost all the holiday that he ever took. No one ever saw him recruiting his exhausted energies at the sea-side. This was, of course, a great mistake, and is only mentioned in order to make manifest the singular devotedness of the man.
The abundance of Mr. Spence’s labours continued to the end. His bow never was unbent—his sickle never was laid up. With incredible toil he got a church built and opened free of debt in 1881, in a needy and growing village in his parish; and on the last Sabbath of his active life on earth, after conducting the ordinary services in his church, he rode three miles in one direction from his home to visit a sick man, and then rode four miles in another direction to preach in a barn in the evening.
His useful life was cut short by an accident. He was thrown from his horse on the evening of the 20th January when coming home about eight o’clock from making some pastoral calls. When found by the road-side he was insensible. On the next day consciousness returned at intervals. But his case from the first seems to have been hopeless, and on the 23rd he calmly fell asleep in the friend’s house into which he had been carried.
His funeral was the largest ever remembered in the district. All classes of society and all denominations of Christians joined in doing honour to his memory. On the heights above the valley through which the mournful procession passed were seen little groups of working people from the farms, who had come out to take their last farewell. All felt that they had lost a friend. And indeed they had. He was a great gift to that whole district. It may be long before they see another like him.
REV. DR. SAMUEL SPENCE, KILBIRNIE
(Died January 30, 1891)
Author: David Scott, D.D., Saltcoats
Source: The Free Church Monthly, May, 1891, Obituary, p.148
Dr. Samuel Spence, who died in the eighty-ninth year of his age, and the fifty-ninth of his ministry, was a native of Dumfries, and was educated at the academy of that town, where he distinguished himself by his talents, diligence, and attainments. He was brought up in connection with the United Secession congregation of Loreburn Street, then presided over by the venerable Rev. Wm. Inglis, of whom he was accustomed to speak with reverential respect.
After attending the Edinburgh University, where he had as classmates the late Professor McDougall and Dr. Horace Bonar of Edinburgh and the present Professor Blackie, and amongst whom he occupied a high position as a prizeman, he in 1826 entered the United Secession Divinity Hall, then under the professorial superintendence of Drs. Dick and Mitchell. After undergoing a full curriculum of study, he was duly licensed as a probationer, and his popularity was such that he was called to Chapelknowe, and Russell Street congregation in Liverpool, to the latter of which he was ordained on 3rd January 1833.
After labouring there for five years, he was translated to the newly-formed congregation of Wishart Church, Dundee, to which he was inducted on 24th October 1838. Here he had as one of his contemporary ministerial workers the late Robert M. McCheyne, with whom he had pleasant intercourse and whose memory was ever precious to him.
Owing to the doctrinal discussions which then agitated the United Secession, Dr. Spence in June 1844 resigned his charge, and shortly thereafter was received into the Free Church of Scotland. Having been speedily called to Carluke, Milton Church, Glasgow, Girvan, and Kilbirnie, he preferred the last and was duly inducted on 10th October 1844, so that his second probationership only lasted a few weeks.
The Kilbirnie congregation was then small, as the church was new, having only been opened on the preceding 28th July. It was encumbered with debt and there was no manse. Despite, however, all difficulties, Dr. Spence, by the divine blessing, was spared to see not only the church free from, debt, but also a comfortable manse erected, besides an excellent Free Church school and a dwelling-house for the teacher; and better than all, an excellent congregation gathered, amongst whom, it is believed are fruits which shall be to him a crown of rejoicing in the great day.
“During his long and useful ministerial career” (an esteemed elder records), “Dr. Spence was on one Sabbath prevented through illness from preaching. In recognition of his scholarship he receive his degree from a foreign university. He was of spare frame, very temperate in his habits, and a diligent student. For a year or so previous to retiring he was in frail health, but change of air and rest seem to have prolonged his days to the good old age he attained.”
Owing to his age and bodily infirmity, the General Assembly in 1880 allowed the congregation to call a colleague and successor; and Dr. Spence having withdrawn to the suburbs of London, the people exercised their privilege, and are now under the care of the Rev. Alex. B. Brown, M.A.
The late Dr. Spence, who has left a widow to mourn his loss, was not only highly esteemed for his piety, his literary culture, classical attainments, and ministerial fidelity, but also because of his Christian consistency and exemplary deportment. He was a man of strict integrity, amiable disposition, and genial manners; and the beauty of his composition his fervour in prayer, and earnestness in preaching the glorious gospel, will long be remembered. As he advanced in years the mellowness of his Christian converse became more and more apparent. Regarding the closing scene of his life, she who had been for so many years the sharer of his joys, and the divider of his sorrows, thus writes: “My dear husband passed away very peacefully. My sister-in-law and myself were just sitting looking at him, and did not perceive when he breathed his last. He had been quite unconscious for some days; but before that he woke up one day, told me he was dying, said how happy I had made his life, and then gave a most precious testimony to his belief and to all he had preached. I was glad of this, for I had become afraid he would never speak sensibly again. I knew it all before, still I was much gratified with dying testimony. What a blank it is to me! The Lord doeth all things well, and it is well with the departed. He mentioned frequently the last chapter he had read at family worship, Matthew 25 — the parable of the Ten Virgins, and the words of verse 13, ‘Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.'”
And now that he has been gathered to his fathers in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in its season, surviving friends may well say: “Help, Lord, for the godly man ceaseth, for the faithful fail from among the children of men.”
REV. JAMES STARK, GREENOCK
(Died January 5, 1890)
Author: Rev. William Laughton, D.D., Greenock
Source: The Free Church Monthly, December, 1890, Obituary, p.372
Mr. Stark has been long withdrawn from public life—failing health having led to his retirement from the active duties of the ministry in 1873. But those who can look back thirty or forty years, remember the prominent and influential place which he occupied in Greenock and the west of Scotland. Born at Cumbernauld in January 1810, he attended the University of Glasgow, and studied at the Divinity Hall of the Original Secession Church. Having been licensed in 1832, he was ordained in January 1834 as colleague to the Rev. Mr. Moscrip in the pastoral charge of the congregation at Cartsdyke, in the east end of Greenock, and became the sole pastor in 1838. Along with the body to which he belonged, he joined the Church of Scotland in 1839; and in the great movement of 1843 he and his congregation were found in the ranks of the Free Church, of which he proved one of the ablest supporters. He continued in the active work of the ministry for well-nigh forty years, with unwearied diligence and marked success, acceptable alike in the pulpit and in the visitation of his flock. The congregation, comparatively small at the commencement of his ministry, increased so much that after some years they were able to erect a new and handsome edifice at Wellpark, to which they removed in 1854.
Mr. Stark’s preaching was of no common kind. Some might question whether, strictly speaking, it was popular in its style. But simple and unadorned though it was, almost to a fault, with very little of the rhetorical or declamatory, it was yet interesting and attractive to ordinary hearers in a high degree, and still more so to hearers of superior intelligence. The materials of his preaching were mainly derived from two sources—from Scripture and the old gospel on the one hand, and the everyday life of his hearers on the other. His sermons were remarkable for felicity of arrangement, his divisions simple yet ingenious, suggestive and easily remembered: in this he was equalled by few among his contemporaries. He was singularly happy in his choice of words: educated hearers were often surprised at his English—its idiomatic purity and strength. He had, indeed, a very special dislike to redundancy of words—never using two if one was sufficient to convey his meaning. This was just in keeping with the character of the man—truthful, without pretence or any desire to appear something else than he really was.
Beyond his own congregation Mr. Stark was well known as a speaker in Church courts and other public meetings. In controversial discussion and debate he was second to few. His mind was of the logical order—analytic, quick in seeing distinctions, and detecting fallacies in argument. His clearness of apprehension and ready command of language gave him a great advantage in debate. There were not many that could safely enter the lists with him. He lived in stormy times, and took part more or less prominently in the Voluntary controversy, the Non-intrusion controversy, and in the various discussions which preceded and followed the Disruption. While yet a very young man, before his settlement in Greenock, he had a public encounter with the redoubtable Dr. John Ritchie of the Potterrow, in which it was generally thought that the stripling was more than a match for the Goliath of Voluntaryism.
It must not be supposed, however, that his capacity for debate drew him aside from other and higher duties; his native good sense guarded him against this danger, to which his controversial talent was likely to expose him. Of course he took an active part in the business of the Church courts to which he belonged. In Presbytery, Synod, and General Assembly he was a frequent speaker, always effective and to the point, but no maker of long speeches, and doubtless none the less acceptable on that account.
In private life Mr. Stark had many friends, who were warmly attached to him, and found much pleasure in his company. His lively conversation, keen sense of humour, and store of anecdote were always interesting. And to those who could enjoy a little logical fence, or engage him in discussion, whether on speculative or practical topics, it was eminently stimulating and attractive. He had a fresh and open mind, able to look facts in the face, and not to be imposed on by mere words and phrases. It should be added that he never lost his temper in argument, and when most keen in debate was never betrayed into controversial bitterness or asperity.
Mr. Stark was no stranger to the trials of life; those of a domestic kind he felt very deeply. There was one more particularly which cast a shadow over the rest of his days—the loss, namely, of his only son in 1869, a young man of rare promise, who died of fever during the last session of his divinity course. It was a blow from which Mr. Stark never thoroughly recovered; he was not the same man afterwards. Some years before his death he lost a much-loved daughter, and a year or two later the faithful companion of his life’s journey was taken away. How much he felt these losses did not appear on the surface. As is too common with Scotchmen, his deepest feelings were severely restrained as regarded the expression of them; he kept his sorrows to himself, and felt the pressure of them all the more heavily. But assuredly there was Fatherly discipline in all these trials, meant to perfect the work of grace and prepare him for the future rest and the better country.
REV. JOSEPH STARK, M.A., KILFINNAN
(Died August 24, 1877)
Author: Rev. Robert Elder, D.D., Rothesay
The Free Church Monthly November 1, 1877, p.27
The Rev. Joseph Stark was born in the parish of Kilsyth on the 16th January 1798, and received the elements of his education in the school of Banton in that parish, and in the parish school of Cumbernauld. Thereafter, he attended the University of Glasgow during three sessions, and completed his arts course in Edinburgh, under the late Sir John Leslie, taking his degree of M.A. at Glasgow in 1819. For some years subsequently he was occupied in teaching, and having at the same time passed through his course in theology at the University of Edinburgh, he received license from the Presbytery of Paisley. During this period he had under his tuition the eldest son of the late General Lamont of Lamont, by whose favour he was afterwards appointed to the parish of Kilfinnan in Argyleshire, where he was ordained by the Presbytery of Dunoon in 1832. To qualify himself for this position, Mr. Stark had to master the Gaelic language, of which he knew nothing whatever in early life; and, by dint of persevering application, he succeeded in acquiring a thorough knowledge of it, so as to preach and converse with ease in that tongue.
The parish of Kilfinnan embraces a wide Highland district, extending from the middle of the Kyles of Bute along the shores of Lochfyne to the boundary of Strachur parish, and contains a large scattered population, chiefly engaged in agriculture and fishing, a considerable number also being employed in the Kames powder-works. The parish church was the only place of worship, and was necessarily so far distant from a large proportion of the people as to preclude the possibility of regular attendance; but, chiefly through the zealous exertions of Mr. Stark, an extension church was soon erected in the northern district of the parish, about seven miles from the parish church, and was for several years supplied by occasional services from himself, and by preachers whom he engaged for the purpose. The pastoral visitation of such a parish was attended with difficulties of the most formidable kind, and it is impossible to speak in terms too high of the unwearied diligence and energy with which Mr. Stark set himself to that work, and continued to devote himself to it during his long ministry.
It is difficult for friends in more favoured districts fully to estimate the trial of faith and patience through which ministers, in such positions as Mr. Stark occupied, were called to pass, when the question of abandoning the Establishment came to press on their consciences, by reason of the encroachments of the civil courts on the spiritual liberties of the Church. The thought of losing the favour and countenance of those whose influence among the people was paramount, of casting away the advantages of a comfortable home and income, in circumstances which seemed to forbid the hope that any new position could be attained which would compensate for the sacrifice, or warrant the expectation of future usefulness, must have pressed heavily on their spirits, and operated as a powerful temptation to turn them from the path of duty. But Mr. Stark never seemed to hesitate, nor to falter in his loyalty to the Divine Head, and to the great Scriptural principles at stake; and so, in the full view of the overwhelming difficulties of his position, he cast in his lot with the Free Church in 1843, along with his faithful co-presbyters Dr. Mackay, Dunoon; Messrs. Craig and Peter Macbride, Rothesay; and Mr. Alexander McBride, of North Bute.
For about six years thereafter, no site could be obtained for a Free church or manse; his friend and principal heritor, Mr. Lamont of Lamont, while always professing the greatest respect and regard for his old tutor personally, being strongly opposed to the Free Church movement, and resolute in upholding the interests of the Established Church in the parish, of which he was patron. During this period great hardship was sustained by Mr. Stark and the many parishioners who adhered to him, his public services, which were abundant, being conducted first in a cottager’s house, temporarily fitted up, afterwards in a barn, and often in the open air; while he rented for some years an old mansion house, and afterwards built a house for his residence in Tighnabruaich, a detached district of the parish. At length a site was granted by Mr. Lamont, and in 1850 a comfortable church was erected at Millhouse in the neighbourhood of the powder-works and about three miles from Mr. Stark’s residence, which has since been occupied by a large and prosperous congregation. Another was erected afterwards at a station five or six miles distant, on a site obtained from Mr. Rankine of Otter, distant seven or eight miles from Mr. Stark’s dwelling. The erection of these places of worship caused great labour and expense to the worthy pastor, but the work was carried through with cheerfulness and self-denying zeal; and he continued with great toil to preach the gospel and administer divine ordinances in both these distant stations till within the last few years, when advancing age and growing infirmities compelled him to obtain the services of a colleague.
Reference has been made to the district of Tighnabruaich, where Mr. Stark had fixed his residence. It is well known to tourists as a spot pleasantly situated on the shore of the Kyles, and is now a flourishing watering-place. When Mr. Stark built his house there, there were comparatively few strangers in the way of resorting to the place; but there was a considerable body of the parishioners of Kilfinnan in the district, far removed from the places of public worship, and for their benefit every effort was made by him from an early period to furnish a supply of the means of grace. After occupying various temporary places, a small wooden church was erected, where divine service was for many years conducted; and latterly, through the indefatigable zeal of Mr. Stark, a commodious church and manse were erected. In supplying divine ordinances at this third station of his extensive charge, he enjoyed for many years the gratuitous and acceptable aid of his esteemed brother, the Rev. Alexander Stark, who had been long a minister in Shetland, and had retired from his charge, but who still survives in extreme old age to mourn the loss of a dear brother by many years his junior. The station of Tighnabruaich, which he had done so much to foster, having wonderfully increased as a watering-place, was erected at last General Assembly into a sanctioned charge, and the Rev. James Young, formerly of Selkirk, has recently been inducted as its first minister.
Although for a few years past Mr. Stark had retired from the public duties of the ministry, he manifested to the last the deepest interest in all that concerned the social, educational, and spiritual well-being of the district with which he was so long connected, and enjoyed the respect and affection of all classes. He also continued to cherish a warm and intelligent interest in the various schemes and movements of the Free Church, and of all evangelical Churches, and to take an active part in the business of the Church courts, being much beloved by his brethren in the ministry. His health had been gradually failing in course of the present year, and having gone to Glasgow on a visit about the beginning of July, he became worse, and after lingering for a few weeks, departed this life on the 24th of August, in the eightieth year of his age, and the forty-sixth of his ministry. His aged brother, who was with him, writes: “His latter end was very peaceful; he expressed no fear nor doubt, but rested firmly on Christ the sure foundation.” To some of his friends he said, when the end was approaching: “I have got the promise and am waiting; the end is sure.”
Such was Mr. Stark in his life and death. Endeared to all who knew him by his humble consistent Christian character, by his self-denying and untiring zeal in the cause to which his long life was devoted, and by his many amiable qualities, he has gone, as we trust, “to be for ever with his Lord.”
REV. THOMAS STARK, LANARK
(Died December 2, 1869)
Author: Rev. James Walker, Carnwath
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, June 1, 1870, p.125
We have been too long in paying a tribute to the memory of one of our ministers recently deceased, the Rev. Thomas Stark, Lanark.
Mr. Stark was a native of Chryston. At a somewhat later period of life than is usual, he became a student at Glasgow College, where he was a contemporary of Halley and Arnot, and others now well known to the Churches. Soon after he was licensed he came to Lanark as assistant to the late venerable Mr. Menzies. The Voluntary Controversy was running high at the time, and Mr. Stark took a strenuous and decided part in it. So far as we know, the only fruits of his pen he ever published were some tracts on that subject. The Lanark people showed their appreciation of his character and gifts, by calling him to be minister of the newly-erected quoad sacra church in 1841. There he laboured till the end, greatly loved by his people, and held in universal respect by the community in which he was so well known. Mr. Stark did all his work well and faithfully; but he especially excelled in his classes for the young. For thirty-three years he had a weekly Bible class attended by young people of various denominations, and he was hardly ever absent from his Sabbath school. He cordially threw in his lot with the Free Church at the Disruption, and along with the late Dr. Parker, then of Lesmahagow, he was largely instrumental in the organization of several Free churches in the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire, over which he ever afterwards watched with a fatherly care.
Mr. Stark was a vigorous and a capable man, well versed in theological questions, and if he had had more ambition, might have reached a much more conspicuous place in our Church. In his own Presbytery, and among the brethren who had any intimate acquaintance with him, there was the utmost deference rendered to his judgment in any matter of difficulty or delicacy. With a strong, clear head, and a singular kindliness of disposition, he was an adviser in whom you were disposed to put almost implicit confidence. His loss in this respect is a very serious one to the district.
Mr. Stark’s piety, though unpretentious, was deep and sincere, and made itself felt by all who were brought into familiar contact with him. He bore a long and painful illness with a most entire and blessed resignation. As a proof of the affectionate respect entertained for him, it may be mentioned that a short time before his death he was presented by his friends with a silver salver and a cheque on it for nearly six hundred pounds.
REV. JOHN STEPHEN, A.M., ABERDEEN
(Died June 17, 1881)
Author: Rev. J. Longmuir, LL.D.
Source: The Free Church Monthly, September 1, 1881, Biographical Notices, p.226
Soon after the rising of the last Assembly, a much-respected pre-Disruption minister was summoned to “the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven.” The name of Mr. Stephen is to be added to the numerous list of Scotsmen who have shown what may be accomplished by perseverance in the midst of difficulties. He was born in Aberdeen, March 10th 1800; and having been deprived in boyhood of a father’s care, he was left in very humble circumstances. Having been apprenticed to a cooper, he followed that business for some years, cultivating his ardent mind by the study of such works as he could obtain. Under a deep conviction, that it was his duty to serve the Lord in proclaiming “the glorious gospel of the blessed God,” he passed through the ordinary curriculum at college, during which he was noted for the metaphysical bent of his intellect, and received the degree of A.M. on the completion of his course. At the close of his studies at the Divinity Hall, he received license as a preacher by the Presbytery of Aberdeen in 1836. His carefully-prepared discourses, the evangelical treatment of his subjects, and the earnestness of his manner soon rendered him a popular lecturer. One of the earliest fruits of Dr. Chalmers’s famous Church Extension Scheme was the erection of John Knox Church in a poor but populous part of one of the parishes of Aberdeen. A vacancy having occurred in this church, Mr. Stephen was unanimously elected; and, having been ordained minister of the charge, 27th September 1838, he there successfully prosecuted his ministry till the Disruption. He attended the meetings of Convocation, and, on speaking to the first resolution, that, should the Legislature give effect to the Auchterarder decision, the Church of Scotland must break her connection with the State, he expressed his conviction, “that their strength lay in going the whole length of the resolution.” When the Disruption took place, the great bulk of his congregation joined the Free Church, and erected in Gerrard Street, in the neighbourhood of their former church, a large, unpretentious, low-roofed building, in the early Free Church style, in which Mr. Stephen continued faithfully and zealously to labour to a congregation averaging upwards of eight hundred members, till increasing years with their concomitant infirmities led him, in 1877, to apply for a colleague and successor; when the Presbytery unanimously resolved to recommend the application to the Assembly, and recorded “their deep respect and affection for their most esteemed brother, and their sense of the faithful and acceptable labours which, during so long a term of years, he had carried on in that congregation and district.”
Whilst Mr. Stephen was conscientious in his preparations for the pulpit, and zealous in his pastoral duties, he was particularly attentive to the religious instruction of the young, and always maintained a flourishing Sabbath school in connection with his congregation. He was regular in his attendance at Presbytery, and manifested his linguistic attainments in his examination of the students that came before them. One of his last appearances among his brethren was in giving in his Report, as Convener of the Committee for the examination of the divinity students of the third year, after which he was seldom able to leave the house.
On the Lord’s day after the funeral, the Rev. Mr. Dalgarno, Peterculter, conducted the services in John Knox Church, and in concluding his discourse, founded on Hebrews 11:35, and referring to Mr. Stephen, he said: “He had a strong, well-cultivated, and discriminating mind; a warm heart to the truth as it is in Jesus; and he seemed to throw his whole soul into the subject of his discourse, and made his hearers feel that he was deeply in earnest, that he believed what he preached, and that he felt the importance of the truth that formed his theme. His last days were spent in prayer, confiding his all, his life, his soul, his dear family, his congregation, his co-pastor, his friends individually, and the cause he loved so well, to God.”
In the afternoon the Rev. Mr. Bannatyne, Union Church, based his discourse on 2 Kings 2:11, 12, and in the close of his remarks, observed: “We are told again and again that Mr. Stephen was in humble circumstances. I, for one, am quite tired of hearing things of that sort; as if the experience acquired in such a position with all its surroundings were not as much needed and could not be turned to as good account in the ministry as experience acquired in totally different circumstances. I do firmly believe that in the circumstances of his early life, and in the companionship of the years of his handicraft career, and in the books, far from literary, open for him to study then, there were preparatory elements, not found in college classes, which many ministers would be much the better of; and which, with other things, along with God’s blessing, made your late minister the excellent pastor you all found him to be.”
In the midst of his numerous pastoral duties, he found leisure to commit to the press a series of lectures he had delivered in the pulpit in “Expositions on the Romans”; “The Utterances of Psalm 120”; and on Colenso’s writings on the Pentateuch. On the first meeting of the Presbytery after his departure, it was unanimously resolved to put on record an expression of the sense of the loss they had sustained, and of sympathy with his wife and daughters.
REV. JAMES STEVENSON, NEWTON-UPON-AYR
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, November 1, 1865
At the close of his sermon in the church of Newton-upon-Ayr on Sabbath, the 8th of October, being the Sabbath immediately after the funeral of the Rev. James Stevenson, minister of the congregation, the Rev. Dr Julius Wood made the following statement:—
“After a college career of most diligent and successful study, in which Mr. Stevenson held an honourable place among students, some of whom have a distinguished name in the world, he was licensed to preach the gospel by the Presbytery of Glasgow in May 1836: and at the very close of the same year, he was ordained as your minister. I may mention in passing, as somewhat remarkable, that this congregation of Newton-upon-Ayr, since its formation about the year 1776 or 1778, that is, nearly ninety years ago, has had only three ministers, namely, Mr. Peebles, myself, and Mr. Stevenson. Two of them have entered into their rest, and the third yet remains to work and wait, as the Master may give him strength and grace, for a little while—it can now be only a very little while.
“My acquaintance with Mr. Stevenson began about the time he became your minister. It continued with growing esteem and affection to the close of his life. You know the interest I have felt in this congregation. You were my first love. The first fresh years of my ministerial life were devoted to you, and I met with a most kindly and encouraging response on your part. When I left you for another field of labour, the chief thing that weighed on my mind regarding you, related to the appointment of a successor. And you may well imagine the joy I felt when, as I came to see you year after year, and had the visits of Mr. Stevenson in return, I found that the Lord had indeed provided you with an able, faithful, godly, and most devoted minister, and that under his care you remained a large, united congregation, characterized by sound doctrine and active practical godliness.
“There was something out of the common in the way in which Mr. Stevenson fulfilled the work of his ministry in every department of it. He was distinguished by a remarkable exactness of method, and orderliness of arrangement. He placed a high value on time, and sought to turn every hour to account. He carefully laid out his work; he looked at everything in the light of duty; and he spared no expense of labour to accomplish what he believed to be required of him. In this way he got through a very large amount of work. Only his friends sometimes thought that he might have spared himself in some things, and so have reserved his strength, humanly speaking, for doing more in the Master’s service than even the abundant things that he was honoured to accomplish. Nevertheless, this was his manner among you.
” I speak advisedly when I say that never was a minister more faithful, laborious, and thorough in preparing for his pulpit duties than was Mr. Stevenson. And, after all, it is in his pulpit duties that the strength of a minister lies. Clearly apprehending divine truth himself, and feeling its power, he brought it out to you, Sabbath after Sabbath, in rich variety, so as to warn the ungodly, to convince sinners, to point the way to the Saviour, to remove stumbling-blocks, to comfort those in distress, to feed the people of God, and to urge a growing holiness in heart and life.
“Then, in his private ministerial duties, who could be more attentive, affectionate, and sympathizing than Mr. Stevenson? In his stated and regular visitations of his congregation, how conscientious and laborious! In visiting the sick, how kindly, feeling, and faithful! In dealing with the afflicted, how full his words were of sympathy and comfort! His classes for the young, how numerously attended, and how successful, throughout all the years of his ministry—almost twenty-nine years—so that he must have had under his direct personal tuition in the truths of religion a large proportion of the inhabitants of this place! And thus laboriously, patiently, and prayerfully sowing the seed, he waited for the fruit. And when it came so fully in your revival season, how your minister laboured and rejoiced, and thanked the Lord, whilst he filled his arms with the sheaves!
“Mr. Stevenson was as much the minister out of the pulpit as in it. His keeping far away from all unseemly levities, whilst no one enjoyed more than he did, in due season and measure, the pleasures of social intercourse—his pure mind —his combination of firmness with gentleness—his watchfulness to advance Christ’s cause, and promote the good of your souls by a word in season—are things well known to you all. Many a bright, and happy, and laborious day he, and his partner, and the members of his family had among you. You feel and I feel the desolation now. Yon manse! This church and pulpit! The cheerful welcome; the active step; the earnest, solemn pleading with you in this house, from this pulpit where I stand, and from the head of that communion-table; the rounds of loving, loved, faithful ministerial duty; these must now pass into other hands. But you who have enjoyed so long such ministrations have a grave responsibility. Have you profited? Some of you have, I know. Others, it is to be feared, have not. Poor triflers with the grace of God, and with your own precious souls, may you this day, sitting there now without a pastor to care for you, think of your late minister’s many prayers for you, and his earnest warnings and entreaties to attend to the things of your peace; for you will hear his voice no more.
“Mr. Stevenson was ready for every good work within his reach, even beyond his own congregation. He bestowed much time and labour on home mission work as the deputy of the Church on various occasions, and also more specifically in this town. In its early stages he was a nursing father to Wallacetown Free Church. He had the principal management of the Tract Society of the town, including the selection of the tracts, during the whole period of his ministry;—and who can tell what may have been, and may yet be the blessed results of the distribution of these monthly tracts, throughout a period of more than thirty years. He took a deep interest in the County Bible Society, and was for many years its active and influential secretary.
“The cause of education in this place has been immensely indebted to him. Look at your flourishing schools containing about four hundred children, originated by his enlightened zeal, and sustained by God’s blessing on his loving and watchful superintendence, and you will see what a debt the community owed to him in that quarter.
“Mr. Stevenson enjoyed the universal respect and esteem of his brethren in the ministry. Though not taking much part in the business of the higher Church courts, he felt a deep and intelligent interest in all matters of Church polity. He was a most valuable member of Presbytery, whose meetings he regularly attended, and where his sound judgment, calm temper, kindly disposition, along with a strong love of truth and peace, and the high regard entertained for him by all, enabled him to do much for the right ordering of the affairs of Christ’s Church in the district.
“It was Mr. Stevenson’s lot to live in times when faithful men were called upon to witness and suffer for the truth. And grace and strength were granted him not to shrink from that witnessing and suffering. He never for a moment wavered in maintaining the crown rights of the adorable Redeemer, and the privileges of the Christian people. And you stood with him in that conflict. And when the Disruption came, how promptly and vigorously did he and you go forth from a Church in which you could no longer remain with a good conscience! How great and valuable his talent for organizing, and for making others work as well as himself, you had ample proof in the work done by him and you after the Disruption. Look at your churches, your schools, your manse, so that I know not whether there be any congregation of the Free Church more completely furnished than you now are, with all outward things for promoting a congregation’s prosperity and usefulness. Under God, you owe much of this to Mr. Stevenson—to his practical wisdom, his business habits, his hallowed zeal, and his indomitable perseverance.
“During the latter years of his ministry it seemed good to the Lord that Mr. Stevenson should be tried by an accumulation of severe family afflictions. One after another, in rapid succession, they came upon him, each seemingly heavier than the last. Whilst he felt these most keenly, he bowed submissive to the Lord’s will, asking grace and strength, and the sanctified use of the trial. His last illness was long and lingering; now and then there was a gleam of hope, perhaps occasionally something more, and then again it seemed as if the end was indeed at hand. Towards the close his sufferings were very great, but he was not forsaken, and they are over now.
“Mr. Stevenson had hoped for—shall I say he had counted on—a longer ministry. Ah! my friends, I have met with this before. We ministers plan and purpose; we often die with our plans and purposes not half executed: and so when death comes and tells us that our working here below has come to an end, we are startled and feel that we have been expecting and counting on a longer ministry. We say, as it were,—’Is this all that I have done for being born and for being a minister? And am I to have no more time nor opportunity for all that work I saw before me and had laid out for myself?’ Deeply interested in his work, Mr. Stevenson had a feeling of this kind. And so this which seemed to him an abrupt, and at first thought an untimely end of his ministerial labours, together with a looking at the performance of his many duties in the light of a deep conscientiousness, occasioned at one period of his illness a measure of darkness as to his spiritual state. With the earnestness of a soul aware that it is on the brink of eternity, he looked out for evidences that he was in a state of salvation. Yes, ministers need to do that as well as their people. And, ah ! my friends, you will make the inquiry,—’Where am I to spend my eternity?’ in a very different way when you come to stand face to face with death from what you do when in the full vigour of bodily health. It is sometimes difficult to find satisfying evidences of our spiritual state in that which must always be, even at the best, our imperfect sanctification. Our dear friend, with his clear and strong views of duty, saw so many sins and shortcomings even in what appeared to others to be his pure and active life, that he was for a time perplexed and doubting. But before the close his perplexities and doubts all passed away. He seemed to do what a holy man did before him—and many a dying saint, I believe has done the same—he seemed to take his good deeds and his bad deeds and lay them all in a heap at the foot of the Cross, and look up with childlike confiding trust in the Crucified alone. The empty, longing, trusting soul, and the loving, willing, full Saviour, were brought together, the one simply to receive, and the other to give, and the Spirit of God united them by a living faith. And thus, not of works but of grace, there was peace—perfect peace. And so your beloved minister fell asleep in Jesus, and entered into his eternal rest. For it was a voice from heaven that said,—”Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth; yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.”
REV. JOHN STEVENSON, BARRHILL
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, June 1, 1868
It has pleased God that death should visit the Presbytery of Ayr a third time during the last two and a half years. The Rev. John Stevenson, younger brother of the Rev. James Stevenson of Newton-upon-Ayr, whose decease was noticed in the Record in the latter part of the year 1865, died on the 24th of March last, after at illness of only about twenty-four hours’ duration.
It was not originally intended that he should follow the work of the ministry, and he was for some time employed in another line of occupation. He was in the middle of his college course when the Disruption occurred and he does not seem ever to have had the slightest hesitation respecting the course of duty at that trying crisis. Receiving license while the scarcity of labourers was still felt, he threw himself at once into the supply of the preaching stations, and after being employed at such work for about eighteen months, chiefly within the bounds of the Presbytery of Ayr, he was ordained, in 1849, to the charge of Barrhill, in the Carrick district of that Presbytery. There the remaining eighteen and a half years of his life have been spent in the faithful, constant, and diligent discharge of his ministerial duties.
Under his care the congregation has been well maintained. Few of the smaller class in secluded localities are better equipped, having, besides a tasteful church and suitable manse, an excellent school, school of industry, and teacher’s dwelling-house. In providing these buildings liberal assistance was rendered by Rigby Waam, Esq., of Corwar. He was about three years married and has left a widow and one child. His mother, at the age of about eighty-eight, has survived the decease of her third and last son. The funeral sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. Livingston of Stair, in which, among other things, notice was taken of the fact that Mr. Stevenson’s last pulpit address, delivered only two days before his death, was from the words, “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven;” and the last words of the discourse those of Cowper’s well known hymn, “God moves in a mysterious way.” How apt are both quotations to his own sudden departure!
Confining his exertions almost exclusively to his pulpit and pastoral avocations, Mr. Stevenson laboured at these with a quiet but steady and persevering industry. The deep and lively interest which he uniformly took in the spiritual well-being of his people, won for him a warm and wide-spread affection; while his amiable disposition and kindly sympathies made him specially acceptable to the sick and the bereaved. In private intercourse he manifested a frame of mind so placid and genial as made him a general favourite; and few, it may be affirmed, have more fully realized the character enjoined by the apostle, “gentle and showing all meekness unto all men.”
REV. WILLIAM STEVENSON, FORMERLY OF MADRAS
(Died August 22, 1916)
Author: Dr Martin, Morningside, Edinburgh
The Stevenson Papers, NLS Acc 9200/7
Tribute to Rev William Stevenson from Morningside Church, 27th August, 1916.
Tribute by Dr Martin:
I little thought in preparing this discourse that it would fall to me, at its close to announce to the members of Morningside Congregation the removal of one of their oldest officials – and my own oldest friend in the world – who, after a long life in which he witnessed a good confession before many witnesses has suddenly passed to the open acknowledgement and reward of the life-long service.
With regard to his removal Mr Duke writes as follows:
I deeply regret that I am unable to be present today to pay my tribute in person to the memory of the Rev. W. Stevenson and I have asked Dr Martin to say these few words on my behalf and on behalf of the many friends in Morningside who so sincerely mourn his loss.
Of the services which Mr Stevenson rendered to the church at large in active work in his earlier days in India and in later years as secretary of the Women’s Foreign Mission, there are others perhaps who can speak, and will speak with more accurate knowledge. But no one can speak with a deeper appreciation of all that he meant to us in Morningside than perhaps myself. Ordained to the Ministry in 1864, he held that high office in the church of Christ for 52 years. His connection with the Kirk-Session of Morningside began in 1889, when he was inducted to the eldership in the ministry of Dr Martin. During all these years, he has endeared himself to everyone who came in contact with him. His loving heart was ever open to all who were in trouble and he knew the word to speak that brought them comfort out of the message of Jesus. His fellow office bearers especially will feel in his removal from their midst the loss of a dear and trusted and deeply-valued friend. It was their tribute to the high regard in which they held him that in the present circumstances of the congregation they invited the Presbytery to appoint him as their Moderator.
Of all he was to me personally and of the many memories that he recalls, it is difficult to speak. But no one tried to help and encourage me more in my work than Mr Stevenson, and there is no face that will be more sadly missed by me in Morningside than his.
Our deepest sympathy goes out to those who loved him most of all – the members of his family – who within a few months have had to bear this double bereavement of father and mother. May the God of all comfort be near to them, and deal very gently with them in this the hour of their sorrow, and lead them in to the peace of his will.
Dr Martin continues:
To this I have little to add. I remember our dear brother as long as I remember anything. While a student in New College he assisted my father in the mission connected at that time with Greyfriars Free Church; and I can just recall standing, as a very little lad, beside him while the needs of the district were being discussed between them and perhaps the circumstance so far explains how it is that one’s thought of him has always been that of the missionary of Jesus Christ seeking first and always the spread of his evangel amongst the ignorant and needy.
His whole life and all his powers were dedicated to that supreme purpose. In his early manhood he was one of a group of able men with whose help Principal William Miller succeeded in making the Madras Christian College so great a power in Southern India; and when family circumstances recalled him to this country rather more than 30 years ago, he always regarded it as a happy providence that his appointment as Secretary of the Women’s Foreign Mission enabled him still to continue to labour for the heathen world. The history of the Mission during those years has been very remarkable. Its staff of European missionaries and its income have multiplied between two and three fold and those best acquainted with the facts would be the first to say that to his steady judgement and foresight and unwearying assiduity and enthusiasm, so notable a result is in good part due. He was also one of the original founders of the Women’s Missionary College which provides so valuable an equipment for women’s work in our own and other churches. It had been hoped that he would crown his services to the Mission by writing the story of its progress, and he had, I understand, begun his preparations, but this has been denied him. And yet we ought not to repine. He had filled a long life with single-hearted toil and now has passed to his rest.
You know probably the manner of his summons. He had gone to Crieff – in his native strath – for a holiday; and on Tuesday night last in sleep apparently he “was not for God took him”. His loss will be mourned by very many for he had the art to keep his friendships in repair and was leant upon and loved by many much younger men. Some of us have never known a more Christianly wise man or a friend more magnanimous, steadfast and considerate. For his family we can but echo the prayer Mr Duke has closed with.
REV. WILLIAM HENDERSON STEVENSON
(Died at Pachamba, India, August 13, 1888)
Author: Rev. Robert Howie, M. A.
Source: The Free Church Monthly, September, 1889, Biographical Notices, p.278
This devoted missionary was born in Dundee, in the year of the Disruption, of respectable and God-fearing parents. His father was a mason to trade. His parents having removed to Auchterarder, he received his primary education in the Free Church school in that parish. At the age of thirteen he was brought to the Saviour under the ministry of the Rev. William Milne, now of Calcutta. After his conversion his father proposed that he should leave school and serve an apprenticeship as a mason; but as his own desires lay in another direction, he one evening retired to a place of solitude, prayed fervently for divine guidance, and solemnly vowed that if his way were opened up he would become a missionary among the heathen. On returning to his home he found that his mother was absent, and that she had been sent for by his teacher, Mr. Ross, with the view of obtaining the consent of his parents to his becoming a pupil teacher. They at once gave their consent, and he, joyfully recognizing in this providence a prompt answer to his prayer, and the first step towards the accomplishment of the object on which he had set his heart, returned that very evening to the place where he had wrestled in prayer, and with grateful heart anew yielded himself up a living sacrifice with a view to service for the King in the foreign field. Henceforth all his energies were directed towards the fulfilling of the special vow of that evening. He never wavered from his purpose. So eager was he that he resolved that, if he could find no opening in connection with the Foreign Missions of his own Church, he would apply elsewhere.
Having completed his apprenticeship as pupil teacher in the Auchterarder Free Church School, he came to Glasgow to attend the Free Church Normal Seminary, where he took a distinguished place Thereafter he taught as an assistant, first in St. John’s Academy, Hamilton, and then in the Free Church School, Partick, giving proof in both spheres of labour of great ability and of special aptitude. During his stay in Glasgow he placed himself under my ministry, first in Trinity Free Church and then in St. Mary’s, Govan. During these years his passion for souls, and his special and growing fitness for service for the King, were conspicuous, and exerted a most healthful influence on all with whom he was brought into contact, especially on the young men of both congregations. As a deacon in St. Mary’s Church, as president of the Y. M. C. A., as a Sabbath-school teacher, and in various other capacities, he not only rendered most important help in the congregation, but gave a great impulse to every form of aggressive effort. By his pithy, pointed appeals, not only in kitchens but in the open air, he showed how well qualified he was to act as an evangelist, how thoroughly he was imbued with the spirit of a true missionary; while the success he had in winning souls to Christ doubtless helped to make still more clear to him the Lord’s call to consecrate all his powers to such work in the foreign field. All that he did for Christ in the home field was a special training and preparation for the work abroad, and was a proof of the intimate connection that ever subsists between the Home and the Foreign Mission work of the Church. He afterwards told me of the special stimulus and encouragement he received from one poor member of the congregation in the district over which he was placed as deacon. A working-man with a large family, in receipt of 21s. per week, gave him 2s. 6d. per month for the Sustentation Fund, and 5s. per quarter for Foreign Missions; and this seemed to him in the circumstances so noble an act of self-denial that he thought it would be sacrilege to do other than turn such gifts of the home Church to the best possible account in efforts to win souls to Christ in the foreign field.
The desire of Mr. Stevenson to serve Christ in the foreign field was intimated to Dr. Murray-Mitchell, then secretary of the Foreign Mission Committee, by the late Mr. Todd, who had for some time been missionary of the same congregation, but was appointed to do evangelistic work in Madras. On full inquiries being made as to the special qualifications of Mr. Stevenson to act as teacher and lay evangelist, he was ultimately accepted for Pachamba, to supply the vacancy created by the breakdown in the health of Dr. Templeton; although, as he had not passed through the usual university and theological curriculum, it was at first proposed that he should be sent to the New Hebrides.
And never was any appointment made by the Foreign Mission Committee more fully justified.
The peculiar work done by Mr. Stevenson among the simple-minded Santals since 1877—the date of his landing in India—is so well known to the Church, especially since the date of his return in 1886 for his first furlough, that details need not be given in this notice.
Recognizing the importance of being able to address in their own language the people to whom he was sent, he, while absorbed in the supervision of the educational and evangelistic work at Pachamba, applied himself with such assiduity to the acquiring of the languages spoken in that district, that he was able within a year from the date of his arrival in India to preach his first sermon in Hindi. So overjoyed was he on the occasion of his being able to accomplish this unusual feat, that, like a school-boy who had carried off the highest prize of his school, he literally leapt for joy. Within the second year he was also able to preach in Santali, in which language he made such proficiency that he was associated with Mr. Campbell in the small committee appointed to translate the Bible into Santali. This knowledge of their language proved of incalculable advantage to him, as he sought to win the confidence, gain the affections, and influence the conduct of the Santals. He became the friend, the trusted adviser and guide of a large community scattered over an extensive area. I can never forget the evidence I had during my visit to India of the wonderful hold he had upon the people far and near, of which I gave some illustrations on my return in a letter which appeared in the Free Church Monthly. The many-sided gifts, the common sense, the tact, the sympathy, the unselfishness, the enthusiasm, the zeal for the honour of his Lord, he then displayed, while in keeping with the promise of his earlier years, went far to account for the great influence he wielded, and, so far as human instrumentality is concerned, for the remarkable progress that has already been made in the evangelization of the interesting people among whom he laboured. Though as a trained teacher he had special charge of the educational work of the mission, it was abundantly evident that he found his chief delight in doing the work of an evangelist, and that the thirty primary schools he was enabled to plant, supervise and supply with teachers from the central institution at Pachamba, had value in his eyes chiefly as centres for the winning of souls to Christ. His evangelistic enthusiasm was so great that, instead of being satisfied with giving a daily Bible lesson in the school, and seeking through it to win the young to the Saviour, he was instant in season and out of season in efforts of all kinds to make known to both young and old the unsearchable riches of Christ. By preaching in the villages and at the great gatherings of the people at their melas, by the use of the magic-lantern, through which he gave pictorial representations of sacred themes, and in other ways, he succeeded in diffusing over a wide area such knowledge of Christ and the way of salvation through him, and acquired such an influence over the people as a whole, that unless he had been at special pains to impress upon them the all-important truth that decision for Christ must be the result of individual conviction and conversion, whole communities would probably have declared themselves Christian without any corresponding change of heart and life on the part of individuals.
When, during the ten years he thus laboured among the Santals, he gave so many proofs of his fitness to do the kind of work specially needed among that interesting people, and received so many seals in his ministry, that the General Assembly could have little difficulty in departing from the regulation usually enforced in regard to the curriculum of study and in authorizing his ordination to the holy ministry by the Presbytery of Calcutta. To himself it was in the highest degree gratifying that his former minister, Mr. Milne, with whom he often conferred in regard to his work, acted as Moderator of the Presbytery on the occasion of his ordination. After his ordination, which took place at the beginning of the year in which he died, his passion for souls became if possible still more intense. He was more than once found by his wife pacing his room in agony; and when she tenderly inquired as to the cause, he replied that the souls of the people were weighing so heavily on him that he could not rest. Conjoined with this, there were such evident marks of growing meetness for the glory so soon to be revealed that weeks before the end came, and when he was in good health, the native Christians were in the habit of saying one to another, “The sahib looks as if he were living more in heaven than on earth; he is so full of the Spirit.”
Referring to their little children left behind in Scotland, to whom he was devotedly attached, he said to his like-minded wife (formerly Miss Mary Black, a member of the Bridgegate Free Church) that he never had the shadow of a doubt as to their conversion, as they had given them to the Lord, and he had accepted them. Referring on another occasion to the possibility of their being separated from each other by death, he expressed the hope that he might be called first, and said that it was his wish that he might die on the field. And within a fortnight his wish was gratified. Cholera, the scourge of India, appeared within the girls’ school, and one after another of the lambs was gathered by the Good Shepherd into the heavenly fold. During the illness of these little ones, Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson nursed them with all the devotion of parents. In these arduous and perilous labours they were great sustained by the prayers and sympathies of Miss Hettie Sprot, who, on their return to India, accompanied them to do work for Christ among the Santals and whose sunny Christian life illumined their time in Pachamba in the absence of their own children. On Wednesday morning, August 8th, after reading a letter referring to the lamented death of the Hon. Ion Keith-Falconer, Mr. Stevenson was suddenly seized with cholera, symptoms of the same disease having that morning also appeared in the case of Mrs. Stevenson. A native doctor who had been treating some of the children was called in, and prescribed. He also received the assiduous attentions of Dr. Saise and of Messrs. Ward and Wells, three European friends to whom his labours had been blessed, by whom he was greatly beloved, and whose self-sacrificing and heroic efforts to prolong his precious life have called forth the gratitude of the church at home as well as of the Christians abroad. Indeed, every European in the neighbourhood gave touching proof during his brief illness of the value they set upon the life of one who had proved such a blessing to the community. They had their reward in the evidence furnished them of the victory which Jesus gives in the hour of death. Standing by his bedside, Dr. Saise exclaimed, “He is not dying of himself like this. It is a hero dying!” If it had been the Lord’s will, he would gladly have remained, to labour longer among his much-loved Santals. Indeed, until very near the end, it was not clearly revealed to him that his work among them was done. To Mr. Milne, who hastened from Calcutta to his bedside, and was with him during his last hours, he said, “I leave the business of dying with God, but I can not see that my work is done.” On Mr. Ward and Miss Sprot replying, “Neither can we,” he looked eagerly at his wife, and fell instantly into a time of unconsciousness. Shortly afterwards he started up in bed as if all his old vigour had returned. On his wife saying, “What is this, Willie dear?” he replied, “I’ve just seen Jesus, and I’m not afraid.” These were the last words of the dying hero-missionary. The unusually large numbers of Santals who have since his death been received into the Church by baptism, on profession of their faith in Christ, give evidence not only of his unwearied devotion while he lived, but of the salutary impressions produced by his death. In that district of India, if anywhere in the heathen world, the fields are ripe unto the harvest. Who shall go forth to reap, so that he who sowed so plentifully in tears and they who reap may rejoice together?
REV. ALEXANDER STEWART, M.A., KILLIN
(Died August 30, 1883)
Author: Rev. Allan Sinclair, M.A., Kenmore
Source: The Free Church Monthly, March 1, 1884, Biographical Notices, p.82
Year by year our Disruption worthies are becoming fewer in number, and the venerable subject of the following brief notice is another of the noble band of men, so many of whom have “been gathered to their people.”
Mr. Stewart was born in 1811 at Ardbeich, in the parish of Comrie, on the banks of the beautiful and classic Loch Earn. His father and mother were of the Stewarts of Ardvoirlicb, an old Perthshire family that can trace its origin back to James, third son of Murdoch, Duke of Albany, Regent of Scotland, who died in 1425. When about six years of age his father removed to the parish of Balquhidder, where he rented a farm, and was well known for many years as a much-respected elder of the Church of Scotland. It was here, in the parish school, that the future minister received the rudiments of his education. Preparatory, however, to his entering college, he went to the school of Leecropt, near Stirling, then conducted by a teacher of eminence, to whom his pupil was wont to say he was much indebted for his own attainments in classical literature. Mr. Stewart was an accomplished classic, which invariably showeel itself in the ease, grace, and readiness with which he ever acquitted himself, whether at the examination of schools or of candidates for the ministry. He studied at the University of Glasgow, and one who was a class fellow of his at this period says: “We sat at the same desk, and he often surprised me by his aptitude for picking up anything new. I never met with any one who showed equal ability in arithmetic and mathematics.”
At the close of his divinity course, Mr. Stewart accepted a situation as tutor in the family of the late Dr. McLean of Rum; and it was while resident in this gentleman’s family that he was licensed to preach the gospel. Eager for ministerial usefulness, he soon thereafter accepted an invitation from the Presbytery of Paisley to become missionary to the Highlanders who in considerable numbers were engaged in the manufacturing and mining industries of that town and neighbourhood. He wrought in this field with diligence and acceptance for the space of two years, until the parish of Killin became vacant by the translation of Dr. Elder to Edinburgh, when the patron, the late Marquis of Breadalbane, made him an offer of it. He had another charge in his option—the parish of Balmaghie, in Kirkcudbrightshire, vacant by the translation of the late Dr. Brown to St. John’s, Glasgow; but his partiality for his native county and his love for Gaelic decided him in favour of Killin, where he was ordained in June 1839. Here he ministered to an attached people till laid aside from active duty by the illness of which he died, and which he bore with patience and resignation to the Master’s will till he entered into his rest.
Mr. Stewart was one of four ministers in the Presbytery of Weem—now the Presbytery of Breadalbane—who joined the Free Church in 1843, and the only one who resigned a parochial charge. He did a great deal towards building it up within the bounds of the Presbytery, and lived to see all the parishes supplied with ordinances in connection with his own Church.
Endowed with superior mental abilities, a cultured mind, a sound judgment, and a good presence, Mr. Stewart was a most attractive companion, numbering among intimate friends men such as the late Marquis of Breadalbane, Sir James Simpson, Bart., and others that might be named, who had for him a warm regard. To his brethren in the ministry he also greatly endeared himself by his affability, courtesy, and uniform Christian bearing towards them.
The autumn following his settlement at Killin Mr. Stewart was married to Miss Robertson of Foxbar, near Paisley, who survives to cherish his memory and mourn the loss she has sustained by his removal.
REV. ALEXANDER STEWART, CHAPELHALL
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, January 1 1869, p.18
In the death of this amiable and estimable man, the Church of Christ has lost one of her most earnest and devoted young ministers—one who, during the brief period of his ministerial labours, was indeed a burning and a shining light.
Mr. Stewart was a native of Fort-George, and the son of respectable and pious parents. He was educated at the parish school of Ardersier, and in early life gave signs of future usefulness. He entered King’s College in 1848, and studied there with great assiduity and success for three sessions; and he finished his curriculum by resorting to Edinburgh University, where he studied philosophy under the late Professor McDougall during session 1852-53. Besides the usual branches of study preparatory to theology, Mr. Stewart acquired an extensive knowledge of chemistry and music; and though he was extremely modest and unobtrusive, he had naturally a taste for these and kindred subjects, devoting his spare hours to their study.
But the subject for which he had the strongest liking, and which was most congenial to his heart, was the study of divinity. He entered the Hall of the New College in November 1853, and prosecuted his studies there under the late Principal Cunningham, the late Dr. Bannerman, and the other eminent professors, with diligence and application. During the summer vacations, while attending the Hall, he was engaged as tutor in several gentlemen’s families in England, and had ample opportunities of becoming acquainted with some of the leading men in other denominations. His residence there was also most beneficial to him in other respects, bringing him into contact with the higher and more refined classes of society.
At the close of his theological course he was appointed to labour in a small station (Whiflet) near Coatbridge—a neglected and spiritually destitute locality. With a mind richly stored, and a heart burning with holy zeal for the conversion of souls, he entered on his duties there, and by unwearied effort and perseverance he soon overcame the difficulties in his way. Shortly after he was licensed to preach the gospel by the Free Presbytery of Hamilton. His reputation soon spread beyond the immediate locality where he laboured, and being invited to preach in the neighbouring congregation of Chapelhall, be was afterwards chosen to labour among the mining population of that place. Chapelhall was one of those congregations that owe their origin and rise to the evangelistic deputations sent out annually by the Home Mission Committee. Mr. Stewart was the first regular pastor settled in Chapelhall. He was ordained early in the year 1859.
Notwithstanding the peculiar difficulties that he had to contend with, and the somewhat migratory character of the population, Mr. Stewart succeeded in raising and even consolidating a congregation, to remain as a monument of his ministerial success. He gave himself thoroughly to his Master’s work. It may be said of him that he literally spent his strength in the service of Jesus, labouring in season and out of season, night and day, with many tears. To a bodily frame never very robust he united a mind active and earnest, and he spared no pains likely to promote the spiritual welfare of his flock.
Some time prior to his last illness and death, it became too visible to the friendly eyes of his brethren that he was wearing himself out; but he seemed unwilling to cease even for a season his active labours, till at length he was wholly prostrated, and laid aside in the spring of last year. The last sermon that he preached was in Young Street Free Church, Glasgow on the Monday evening of the April communion. He took for his text the words, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.” It was a memorable sermon, and produced a deep impression on those who heard it. He became alarmingly ill immediately after, and for many weeks gradually declined in strength, till, in the month of August, he quietly fell asleep in Jesus, ripe for glory. He now rests from his labours, and his works follow him. He died at the early age of forty-one, and after a ministry of about ten years.
REV. CHARLES STEWART, FORT WILLIAM
(Died September 17, 1886)
Author: Rev. D. Sutherland, Kilmonivaig
Source: The Free Church Monthly, February 1, 1887, Biographical Notices, p.54
Mr. Stewart when he died was in the seventy-ninth year of his age and forty-sixth of his ministry. For the last four years of his life he ceased to take an active part in the work of his congregation, but took great pleasure in preaching to them occasionally when on a visit from his adopted home in Edinburgh.
He was brought to the saving knowledge of the truth when a young man under the preaching of the late Dr. Macdonald of Ferintosh. Thereafter he prosecuted his literary and theological studies at Aberdeen, and was in 1840 ordained to the office of the ministry in the quoad sacra charge at Fort William. He was twice married. His second marriage was in February 1853, to a lady in every way qualified to be a help-meet, a daughter of the well-known Dr. Burns of Kilsyth, and sister of the eminent China missionary, William Burns.
As one of the noble band of Disruption ministers, he had, like many others, his share of the trials and troubles incident to that eventful period. His labours at that time were not confined to his own congregation, but cheerfully extended to his neighbours in need. To him and the late Mr. Davidson of Kilmallie the neighbouring and widely-scattered congregation of Kilmonivaig owe a lasting debt of gratitude. Often, after having preached to their own congregations, they came through storm and snow in the depth of winter to minister to their spiritual wants and support their courage when every available method was applied then as now to seduce or suppress the few adherents to the Free Church interest.
To Mr. Stewart belongs the credit of having first introduced into the district of Lochaber the Friday meetings at communion seasons. He also did good service in the reform of drinking customs at funerals—customs which prevailed a good many years ago more than now, though still too much. Education also engaged his interest and attention; both the week-day school and the Sabbath school were his constant care. In his personal intercourse he was sincere and upright, never resenting any injury done to himself. Malice he never harboured, and was always ready to forgive. Of his Christian sympathy and kindness of heart many instances could be given were that necessary. Towards the poor and needy he cherished kindly feelings, and did not hesitate to relieve where real need was apparent.
To the end of his life Mr. Stewart was a loyal and devoted Free Churchman, and took joyfully the spoiling of his goods at the trying time of the Disruption, believing the principles for which the Church contended were vital, and closely related to the honour and glory of the Head of the Church. He braved the storms of November 1842 over mountain and loch to be present at the Convocation and append his name to the resolutions then passed When the day of trial came he freely and willingly surrendered a!l at the call of duty and for the glory of his Lord and Master, and never regretted the step he then took. At that time he had no private means of his own, yet he cheerfully handed over his first dividend to the interests of the Free Church in Fort Wlliam. The manse was built by his exertions, and he contributed liberally of his means to its erection, leaving the whole free of debt.
As a minister, it may be said of him with truth that he was a faithful and diligent pastor, always manifesting the utmost concern for the moral and spiritual welfare of the people under his charge, never shunning to declare unto them the whole counsel of God to perishing sinners. As opportunity offered he never neglected visiting them regularly in their homes when sickness or any other cause prevented their waiting on the public means of grace. In the discharge of this duty he persevered to the end of his active ministry among them, besides his regular diets of catechising among old and young. In this he set a good example before his younger brethren. His solicitude for the moral and spiritual welfare of his people never in the least abated after he ceased to reside among them. Though absent from them in body he was present in spirit, and his prayers often mingled with theirs at the throne of grace. His desires and aspirations were not connected to his own congregation alone. He was catholic in spirit in the best sense, and rejoiced in the progress and extension of Christ’s kingdom in all evangelical Churches. He was greatly interested and rejoiced in revival movements in whatever part of the country.
As a man of prayer he had much unction and nearness to God at the throne of grace. The Puritan theology was that which always commended itself to his understanding and heart. His ministrations were always plain and simple in language and adapted to the humblest understanding. No one could mistake his meaning. His utterances were all from the heart and addressed to the heart, and his pleading with sinners full of earnestness. No one ever charged or could charge him with hypocrisy; it was not in his nature. His knowledge of Scripture was very thorough, and he could quote from the Bible with singular readiness and aptness. His preaching was particularly free from everything savouring of novelty in doctrine or manner of worship. He invariably held by the clearly revealed doctrines of Scripture as formulated in the Confession of Faith adopted by his Church. As he advanced in years he increasingly clung to the person and cross of Christ as his only hope for eternity. On Christ as the substitute for sinners he most frequently preached.
From the manner and suddenness of his departure he left no enlarged testimony of his dying hope, but it was enough that he could say in his expiring moments that he found comfort in Jesus. His dear partner in life and his only son survive him to lament his decease. We conclude this notice by a brief quotation from one of his most near and intimate friends: “He was a truly lovable man, tender and affectionate, and pervaded with a piety which was no less humble than conspicuous. To be with him was felt to be a privilege, as he always carried about him the token of a higher Presence. He was a man of peace, and lived a comparatively quiet life even in very stirring times; he died a peaceful death in the faith in which he lived.
REV. GILBERT STEWART, GLASGOW
(Died May 18, 1872)
Author: Rev. D. Wilson, Bo’ness
The Free Church Monthly Record, September 1, 1872, p.192
The Rev. Gilbert Stewart was born in 1824 at Shettleston, near Glasgow, and received his early education there. In 1839 he entered the University of Glasgow, where he studied till 1843. From that time till 1847 he attended theological classes, chiefly in the New College, Edinburgh; and in 1847 he got license as a preacher.
From the outset Mr. Stewart was an earnest student. Free to devote his whole time to study, and with the means of procuring what books he required, he fully availed himself of these advantages. Naturally possessed of strong and varied mental powers, and having an ardent thirst for knowledge, he shrank from no toil that was necessary to acquire it. To the faithful performance of all class work he added the enthusiastic pursuit of other congenial, but never desultory studies.
The rapidity with which he mastered a book was remarkable. At the time of license the number of important works, in history, philosophy, science, and theology, which he had already passed through his mental alembic and made his own, was almost incredible. Gifted with a logical faculty of intense force and with a memory of uncommon tenacity, he assimilated with facility the intellectual stores he gathered. The result was scholarship extensive in its range and thorough in its character.
At a very early period Mr. Stewart was the subject of a deep spiritual change, the effects of which were marked and lasting. It gave direction to his studies and influenced his whole career. It led him, while a mere boy, to the daily prayerful perusal of the Bible—an exercise on which nothing was allowed to encroach. It early led him into various forms of Christian work. And it led him to devote himself to the ministry. His leaning was toward the mission field, but he found his allotted place in the vineyard at home.
The necessities of the Disruption crisis made Mr. Stewart a preacher long before he was licensed, when he was only eighteen years of age. Taking a deep interest in the controversy of the time, he travelled to Edinburgh to witness the Disruption. On returning home he was grieved to find no provision made for promoting Free Church principles in his native place.
With characteristic decision and ardour he came forward as their advocate. In the face of ridicule and hostility he addressed meetings, organized a congregation, and got a church erected, the pulpit of which he supplied with little interruption and with much acceptance till 1849, when he was settled in Barrhead.
He brought to his work there ministerial qualifications of a high order: devoted piety, a sound judgment, great intellectual breadth, and deep sympathy with his people. He was no novice. His mind was well trained and well furnished. He had practice and skill in preaching, with not a little experience in pastoral work, and he proved himself a workman that needeth not to be ashamed. He continued his habits of diligent study, and his passion for work found full scope. He was never idle, never in a hurry, and never unprepared. His sermons were uniformly characterized by comprehensive treatment of the subject, by forcible argument and graceful diction. His statement of gospel truth was clear and full. The sap and savour of Henry’s Commentary, with which Mr. Stewart was early familiar, was probably one element that gave tone to his preaching. He delivered his sermons from memory with impressive earnestness, and he often rose to the height of thrilling eloquence. His discourses not only arrested attention and convinced the judgment; audiences were often swayed by them as “the trees of the wood are moved by the wind,” and the hearts of many were enlisted on the side of truth and righteousness.
Mr. Stewart was very successful in conducting Bible classes and Sabbath schools. He was exemplary in attention to the sick. Besides visiting his flock, he performed the Herculean task of visiting every family in Neilston Parish. He also showed great aptitude for Church business. But perhaps the most marked feature of his ministry in Barrhead was the admirable system of lectures on special subjects he carried on. Series followed series in great variety, showing at once the indomitable energy of the man and the fulness of his resources. These lectures were not superficial productions. They attracted much attention and were fruitful of good. For twelve years Mr. Stewart laboured in Barrhead, doing an amount of work seldom equalled, and the rare excellence of which is well known.
The mutual attachment of pastor and people was exceptionally strong, and on neither side was there any desire for change. In 1861, however, after declining other calls, Mr. Stewart was led to accept a call to Perth. Little more than a year and a half after his translation, he resigned his charge and lived in retirement for about two years.
He began his work in East Millar Street in 1865. He found a drooping handful at that station, but there was soon a crowded church and a flourishing congregation. The charge was sanctioned in 1868, and Mr. Stewart was inducted the same year. His work proceeded much as at Barrhead.
The same systematic study and admirable preaching. The same efficient and attractive working of Sabbath schools and Bible classes. Less extra lecturing, but more pastoral and missionary labour. With a mind matured by experience, chastened and mellowed by trial, he went out and in among his people a beloved pastor who knew how to speak a word to the weary.
How his services were appreciated among the poor, was shown on the day of his funeral in the crowds of humble mourners who thronged the street from which his mortal remains were carried, and the cemetery where they were laid.
Mr. Stewart’s health began to fail last winter, and gave anxiety to his family. In spring his physician prescribed complete rest, and much as Mr. Stewart disliked idleness, he prepared to obey. Before he could do so he had occasion to attend a meeting of presbytery in the interests of his congregation. It was his last appearance in public, and within a fortnight of his end. He became aware that his death might be sudden, and with wonted thoughtfulness he gently prepared his wife for such an issue. The end came on May 18. He had been visited in the evening by his physician and also by one of his elders, who found him calm and cheerful. Shortly after ten o’clock that night, while sitting up in bed, he fell back on his pillow and was at rest.
He was a man greatly beloved. He was a genial, warmhearted friend, of manly, independent spirit. He is sorely missed in his family, to which he was ever tender and true. The blow to his flock, in its unconsolidated state, is felt as if irreparable. And by his death the Church has lost an able minister of the New Testament, whose sun has gone down at noon, with no cloud around its setting.
REV. JOHN STEWART, ARDROSSAN
(Died March 2, 1886)
Author: Rev. William Pinkerton, Kilwinning
Source: The Free Church Monthly, August, 1886, Biographical Notices, p.244
Mr. Stewart was born at Dudhope House, Broughty-Ferry, on the 9th October 1822. His parents were of the good old Scottish type, and their son inherited their excellent characteristics. He spent the greater part of his student days at St. Andrews, where he stood well in all his classes, and was a special favourite of the late Sir David Brewster, who frequently of an evening invited him to his house while he was carrying on his scientific investigations in relation to light.
We cannot forget the Edinburgh George Street Theological Hall, where we first met as divinity students. It was the first session after the memorable Disruption. Dr. Chalmers and his illustrious compeers were then in the blaze of their fame. I shall ever cherish a warm and loving memory of those days. The class rooms were thronged with students from all parts of Scotland and other lands, full of Disruption zeal. Such a galaxy of youth, fired with fervent love to Christ and earnestness in his kingdom’s cause, I cannot expect ever to see again.
Mr. Stewart began his labours at Inchinnan, then a station under the supervision of the late Dr. Duncan Macfarlane of Renfrew. After twelve months of earnest work there he was ordained by the Free Presbytery of Irvine, in September 1846, minister of the Free Church of Ardrossan. As the first minister of that charge he lived and laboured for well-nigh forty years.
As students, we both, on the Disruption day, cast in our lot with the outgoing ministers, and had the honour of walking in that long and magnificent procession to Tanfield, where the first General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Free was convened. Our lot as ministers was cast in near proximity to each other. During these past years our intercourse has been unbroken, affectionate, and instructive. A good man and true was he, and those who knew him best loved him most. He was a man of a strong intellect, and of a tender heart withal, and most conscientious in maintaining convictions which he held with a firm grasp.
Of great versatility of talent and varied acquirements, he was as much at home in discussing a question of civil and practical engineering as in handling a theological doctrine or a matter of Christian experience. He was strongly marked by individuality of character, independence of thought, and chivalrous maintenance of his principles. It was very pleasing and touching to notice in his later life the softening and mellowing of his whole nature, breathing as it were more and more of the atmosphere whither he was tending in the better land. Two books he loved much and studied oft—the book of nature and the book of sacred Scripture. He was a true interpreter of nature, seeing God in the small as well as the great, in the animate as well as the inanimate. The many walks and talks we have had I cannot forget. He could read off those interesting local and geological stratifications of rock and sand as clearly and intelligently as he could the immortal words of that divine Master whom he loved and served, and without whom was not anything made that was made. Arran, with its botanical and geological treasures, its lofty Goatfell, the dark lavender aspect which the mountain sides often assume towards evening, the glorious autumnal sunsets over the Highland hills, and the ever-changing restless blue sea, were to him objects of constant delight. These were to him the magnificent mirrors reflecting the vastness, the omnipotence, the wisdom, and the very thoughts of his God and Father in Christ. I need scarcely tell you how he loved the other book—the Book of divine revelation. He discoursed from time to time on the deepest mysteries as well as the simplest declarations of Scripture. His theme was Christ. “Via crucis via lucis” might be said to be his motto. (The way of the cross is the way of light.)
The last text which he had selected, and from which he was to have preached last Lord’s day to you, his beloved flock, was, “I am the door of the sheep;” and the last sentence written on the last page of his sermon was, “Christ is the door for us poor sinners and needy ones, and our credence of his love is our entrance into his fold.” He himself is now safe for ever within the fold of the great and the good Shepherd. Will you hear and lay to heart this day his last text and his last unspoken word?
Mr. Stewart is survived by a widow beloved, and a family of four sons and three daughters. The new Free church of Ardrossan is a very beautiful edifice, and will remain as a monument of the personal energy and architectural skill of the minister.
REV. JOHN STEWART, PITLOCHRY
Author: Rev. Alex. Rodger, Dalry
Source: The Free Church Monthly, June 1, 1882, Brief Biographies, p.175
Mr. Stewart was born in Perth, on the 8th of May 1819, from which place he removed with his parents to the island of Coll, where he spent his early youth. He afterwards removed to Edinburgh, where he began to study for the ministry, and after passing through the usual curriculum, he was licensed by the Free Presbytery of Dunkeld; and immediately thereafter, in July 1849, was ordained minister of the Free Church at Moulin, Perthshire: so that his ministry in that parish, first in the Free Church at Kinnaird, and latterly in the new church erected in the rising village of Pitlochry, extended over a period of nearly thirty-three years.
About two years ago, Mr. Stewart’s health began to fail, and in the beginning of last winter the affection and regard of his congregation were shown by their raising a sum of money sufficient to relieve him from work for the winter months, and to enable him, during a three months’ leave of absence, to make a trip to the south of Europe, and along the Mediterranean coast, from which he derived much benefit. His health, however, still continued far from being good, and about the end of last autumn his strength began again seriously to fail, though he still continued amid much weakness to carry on his pastoral work.
In the beginning of December last, his illness assumed a more serious form; but still the end came very suddenly and unexpectedly. Till a very few hours before he died, he was in his usual spirits, when suddenly he fell into a faint, and continued unconscious for an hour or two. A little after midnight on 11th January 1882, the laboured breathing ceased for ever, and he entered on the eternal rest, leaving a widow and eight children to mourn his loss.
There was nothing of pain, no sorrowful good-byes, not even an interchange of looks expressive of the sadness of the separation that was coming. Everything passed so quietly that the sorrowing circle round him hardly knew when the separating moment came. He had often expressed a wish to die in harness, and to have (if it were God’s will) an easy, gentle breaking-up of his earthly tabernacle; and the good Lord granted him his wish, in thus laying his wearied servant gently to rest. He fell asleep in Jesus.
Mr. Stewart was brought under the power of the truth at a very early age, and the instrumentality that was blessed to him was the training of an eminently godly father. When he came to Edinburgh first, he came with the fear of God evidently ruling in his heart; and he often spoke afterwards of the unspeakable preciousness of a godly upbringing, and often did he give God thanks for his great mercy toward him, in saving him from those paths of error and of sin in which, to their ruin, some of his youthful companions were led to wander.
It is an interesting coincidence that his two latest texts were these, “Save the Son of thine handmaid,” and, “He will be our guide even unto death.” The two together seem a happy and appropriate finishing of his work on earth. In preaching from the one text, speaking no doubt from his own experience, he dwelt on the good influence of godly parents, and no doubt had in his mind the instrumentality which had been blessed to himself; and in his sermon from the other text, he was virtually testifying to the enduring character of the gracious guidance which had been given to him in youth. It sounds to us now as his dying testimony to the sovereign mercy and enduring graciousness of Him who had so blessed him in his early days, and continued his gracious guidance unto and through death, and into the great hereafter that lay beyond.
For his covenant God did indeed bless him to the end. In the beginning of his last illness he was sometimes depressed, mourning (and who has not to mourn?) over the little fruit that seemed to have resulted from his ministry; but later on, and as his end drew near, he became quite comforted, saying that he felt confident that, as he had sought prayerfully to sow the seed, leaving the increase with God, there would be a harvest to God’s glory.
As Mr. Stewart neared what somewhat unexpectedly proved his closing days, this depression of spirit all left him: he rose above all care, all fear, and there came on him a peace and trustfulness that was childlike in its simplicity, and very comforting and sustaining to his heart. There was one text especially on which, in those closing days, he used to dwell very much—”The eternal God is thy refuge,” etc.; it seemed to be given him as “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.” Thus upheld in “the everlasting arms,” he was in perfect peace; in fact, on the day of his death, and till within three hours of his end, so long as consciousness remained, he was bright and happy. Among his latest thoughts and words were most affectionate thoughts and words about his people: he was evidently feeling very deeply grateful to them, and invoking on them many blessings for the great kindness they had shown him during his illness, and for all their efforts to lighten his labour and free him from anxiety and care.
A meeting of his office-bearers had been fixed for the Wednesday after he died, with the view of taking immediate steps toward obtaining a permanent assistant, and at the same time making satisfactory provision for their minister, and, in fact, all the pecuniary arrangements were complete, and only waited the formal sanction of the proper courts. All this considerate kindness was a great joy and comfort to him, and the remembrance of it will be very pleasing to his people, now that they will see his face no more.
Mr. Stewart had very decided natural ability, with much natural shrewdness and penetration, and a good deal of force of character; and the state of matters at Pitlochry, with a second good church and manse, remains behind him as a testimony to his energy and spirit. He had a most kind and generous heart; impetuous perhaps he was at times, but it was the impetuosity of an upright, independent, manly nature, as open as day, scornful of all meanness, and never stooping to anything that was either servile or low.
And now there is left to his friends and to his flock the memory of his honourable Christian life, of his happy, gracious, peaceful end, and the memory also of one who was really sincerely desirous to be a blessing to his people’s souls. On the very last day of his life, he said to a brother minister, “I am sensible of this, that it was ever my earnest endeavour to preach Christ to my people and to lead them to him.” Yes, it was, as those know who knew him best: often has he expressed to such his very earnest wish that the Lord would make him a blessing to the souls of men.
Mr. Stewart’s sudden removal awakened a very deep feeling among all classes in the village and neighbourhood, and called forth much sympathy with his bereaved family. He was buried on Tuesday, 17th January, in the churchyard at Moulin, amid the most respectful and sincere sorrow of his people, and the many friends that me to carry his remains to their last resting-place. There his dust sleeps in peace until the morning of the resurrection; for “them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.”
REV. NIEL STEWART, LUSS
(Died October 12, 1890)
Author: Rev. John Fiddes, M. A., Killearn
Source: The Free Church Monthly, January, 1891, Obituary, p.20
Mr. Stewart was a native of Perthshire, born at Pitnacree, where his father was a merchant and possessed of some property. The family removed to Edinburgh when Mr. Stewart was twelve years of age, and it was there that he prosecuted his studies with diligence and success. As is not unfrequently the case, he had to help himself forward by engaging in teaching; and as tutor, I believe, in the family of Sir William Scott of Ancrum, he enjoyed the advantage of travelling on the Continent and acquiring a knowledge of languages which in after times proved a source of enjoyment and usefulness. Keenly alive to the controversy in the Church of Scotland which culminated in the Disruption, he had no hesitation in casting in his lot with the party which constituted the Free Church. By this time a licentiate, he was not long in being called to a charge, and was ordained by the Presbytery of Dumbarton in February 23, 1844, first Free Church minister of Luss. This parish, beautifully situated on the western margin of Loch Lomond, Queen of Scottish Lakes, had not been undistinguished in some of its parish ministers. Foremost among these was the eloquent John Maclaurin, best known, perhaps, in connection with his famous sermon on “Glorying in the Cross of Christ,” who spent the first four years of his ministry here before his translation to a more extensive sphere in Glasgow. Not unknown to fame is another at a considerably later period. Dr. John Stewart, noted for his scientific attainments, and to whom we are mainly indebted for the perfection of the Gaelic translation of the Bible. At the time when Mr. Stewart began his ministry, however, the religious life of the parish was at a low ebb. Lady Colquhoun of Luss, eminent for her piety and religious publications, and who had for more than forty years been exerting herself to the utmost for the spiritual welfare of Luss, characterized it as long “dead and barren.” In the beautiful memoir of this excellent lady, by the late Dr. James Hamilton of London, we have some extracts from her Diary, in which she gives expression to her earnest longing for faithful gospel preaching, and to her great delight in Mr. Stewart’s ministry. She spoke of him as a devoted servant of the Lord, and rejoiced in evidences that he was “gaining in influence beyond the most sanguine expectations.” Her death in 1816 deprived Mr. Stewart of his warmest and most devoted helper in every good work. Steadily and perseveringly, however, Mr. Stewart laboured on, and not without seeing growing fruits of the gospel ministered by him. It is worthy of notice that, finding that a knowledge of the Gaelic language would be conducive to his usefulness, he set himself to the study of it, and in a short time so acquired it as to be able freely to converse and preach in it. The situation of the church, thought at the time of its erection, from being central in the parish, to be the best, was ere long found to be too remote (a mile and a half) from the village where the people largely reside, and to which summer visitors are drawn, and has consequently proved a decided obstacle to the prosperity of the congregation.
After labouring with unwearied diligence for close on forty years, Mr. Stewart, feeling his strength failing, applied for the appointment of a colleague and successor. This was granted, and the present minister, Rev. Mr. Jubb, M.A., was ordained in 1883. Mr. Stewart then went to reside in Stirling, and the Rev. Mr. Chalmers writes me that for the first two or three years after he came, “he was able to take all the prayers at the noon-day meeting, but could not attempt a sermon or an address. He reminded me much,” he adds, “of Simeon—calm, quiet, waiting for the hour when he would depart and be with Christ, which is far better.”
The Rev. Henry Anderson, Partick, who knew him well, says: “Very pleasant was my ministerial intercourse with Mr. Stewart, when I assisted him at communion seasons. I always enjoyed his society; there was much of the meekness and gentleness of Christ in him.”
As a man, he was of a most amiable disposition— true, loving, gentle, and yet firm and resolute; and those most intimate with him could not fail to see under his naturally undemonstrative and retiring manner great warmth of feeling and mental vigour and spiritual experience.
As a minister, he was painstaking, simple, earnest, and forcible in expounding and commending the great verities of the gospel, doctrinal and practical, and assiduous in all pastoral work.
As a presbyter, so long as health permitted, he was regular in his attendance and helpful in counsel and universally esteemed by his brethren.
The last surviving member of the Presbytery of Dumbarton touching on the Disruption epoch, Mr. Stewart died in Stirling, in the seventy-seventh year of his age.
DR. ROBERT WALTER STEWART, LEGHORN, ITALY
Author: Rev. Thomas Brown, Author of “Annals of the Disruption”
Source: The Free Church Monthly, January, 1888, Biographical Notices, p.4
By the death of Dr. Stewart of Leghorn the Free Church has lost one of the most outstanding of those ministers who took part in the Disruption of 1843. He has long been known as a “man greatly beloved,” whose praise is in all the Churches, and whose name will be held in lasting remembrance in connection with the cause of evangelical religion on the continent of Europe. We can only attempt a bare enumeration of those services which have made his life-work so memorable.
His father was the well-known Dr. Stewart of Erskine, who married in 1809 the Hon. Margaret Stuart, only daughter of Alexander, tenth Lord Blantyre; and he was their oldest son, born at the Manse of Bolton, 29th February, 1812. After passing through his literary course in the University of Glasgow, where he graduated M.A., he studied divinity for three years in the Hall, taking his last session in Edinburgh under Dr. Chalmers, and continuing his studies the following year at Geneva.
In 1830 he was licensed by the Presbytery of Greenock, and in March 1837 he was ordained as assistant and successor to his father. It was not long, however, till the quiet life of a parish minister gave place to that series of changes which made his subsequent career so eventful. In the spring of 1842 he suffered from a severe bronchial affection, and was sent by medical advice to the island of Malta, where he at once began religious services. Recognizing the importance of the place, he prevailed on the Colonial Committee to take up the station, and Dr. Julius Wood of Edinburgh was sent to commence regular Presbyterian services, no time being lost, as the newly-appointed Bishop of Gibraltar was expected to arrive on the island. In the spring of 1843 Dr. Stewart went to Constantinople, and meeting there Mr. Schwarz (afterwards of Amsterdam), induced him to offer his services to the Committee of our Church for the conversion of the Jews. Meanwhile the great change of 1843 was impending; and Dr. Stewart says: “I had to leave my family in London and hurry down by mail-coach and rail to Edinburgh to be present at the Disruption, arriving from Constantinople by uninterrupted travelling at four o’clock on the morning of that eventful day.”
It was no common sacrifice which he made when he signed the Deed of Demission. “A lovelier parish than Erskine” it would be difficult to find, “with its green fields stretching along the banks of the Clyde.” He had married (3rd September 1839) Graham, second daughter of the late Lord Cockburn: and happy in his home and blessed in his work, he was “surrounded by relatives and friends of the highest character and position.” At the call of duty he made the surrender. No house could be got in the parish to accommodate his family, and he had to remove to Gourock. The exposure which this entailed in going and returning to his parish in all weathers brought on a new attack of the same illness in an aggravated form, and he had again to retire. A year was spent in London, where he acted as Secretary to the Free Church Board of Missions; and then he went on a special mission to the Mediterranean, the result of which was that the Colonial Committee established regular Presbyterian services at Gibraltar under the Rev. Mr. Strachan, and similar services were provided in the island of Corfu, where the Rev. Mr. Charteris (uncle of the present Professor Charteris) acted as Presbyterian chaplain, supported by a committee of ladies in London.
By this time it was evident to Dr. Stewart that all hope of continuing his ministerial work in the climate of Scotland must be given up; and in March, 1845, with great regret, after a ministry of eight years, he resigned the charge of Erskine.
All this was only preliminary to the great work of his life. Within a few weeks after his resignation he received a joint-appeal from the Free Church Committee and from a ladies’ society in Glasgow, urging him to go to Leghorn to form a congregation, the ladies undertaking to raise one-half of the stipend— a promise which has been regularly fulfilled. To Leghorn accordingly he proceeded, arriving in June 1845; and at once he found himself surrounded by a noble band of Presbyterian laymen — the Messrs. Henderson, Miller, Bruce, Thomson, and others of like spirit. How the congregation grew needs not be told,—moving from a room in the Hotel to the Swiss-German church, and then to a hall of their own, and then (in 1849) to the present handsome church and manse. The opening sermon was preached “on the Sabbath following the memorable bombardment and occupation of the city by the Austrians.”
But not only did Dr. Stewart thus consolidate his own congregation. Proceeding on the same lines, he went on till he had actually called into existence a new Presbytery. “At first,” he says, “the Committee, unaware of the importance of occupying the chief towns of Italy, refused, or granted grudgingly, my requests; but by degrees I have had the satisfaction of seeing Florence, Nice, and Naples successively occupied. In 1857-59 the General Assembly formed these congregations into a distinct Presbytery—the Presbytery of Italy. Soon after his arrival it fell to Dr. Stewart to fight what he calls “a disagreeable but necessary battle with the Episcopalian chaplains, the Bishop of Gibraltar, and the British Government.” The object was “to the right of celebrating marriages, and of burying according to the law of our Church in British cemeteries.” Thanks to Dr. Stewart’s judicious representations, the object was secured on behalf of Presbyterian ministers.
Besides attending thus to the interests of his own and other Churches, Dr. Stewart’s great desire was to spread the gospel among the Italian people. The laws against proselytism were then in full force. Some years before, Dr. Keith of St. Cyrus and Dr. Black of Aberdeen had been arrested for distributing tracts on the quay at Leghorn and sent up as prisoners to Florence. Disregarding such risks, Dr. Stewart and his friends smuggled Bibles from the ships in the harbour through the city gates and out into the country, where they were distributed over Tuscany. He held meetings for Italians in his own private house with encouraging results, Mrs. Stewart having to keep watch at the door for fear of the police.
But it was especially in connection with the Waldenses that Dr. Stewart was able to realize the aspirations of his youth. In boyhood, at the Manse of Erskine, he had read the story of their persecutions, and “the indelible impression” then made influenced his whole after-life. In 1842 he paid his first visit to the Valleys to inform himself minutely as to their condition; and in 1845, before leaving Scotland, he gave a lecture on the Waldenses—one of a series delivered at that time in Edinburgh and Glasgow on the subject of Foreign Churches. From the day of his arrival at Leghorn, his great desire was to do what he could on their behalf. “They were still groaning,” he says, “under the unrelenting persecution of the Roman Inquisition,” aided by a “bigoted and slavish government.” Ere long the great change came. Italy was free, and Dr. Stewart with fresh zeal came to their aid, not merely because of the romance of their past history, but from his “firm conviction that God had so remarkably spared the Waldensian Church, because he meant to make use of her for his glory in this land … in the conversion to Christ of their fellow-countrymen through the preaching of the gospel.”
It would take long to tell of the services which he rendered to that Church in many different ways. At the meetings of Synod he was annually up in the Valleys aiding them by his presence and counsels. Single-handed, he took on himself, to a large extent, the financial burdens of the new work of evangelization on which they entered. In 1866 he came over to Britain to introduce Dr. Revel and M. Prochet, and to found, in conjunction with Dr. Andrew Thomson, Dr. Guthrie, and Dr. W. Robertson, the Waldensian Missions Aid Fund. At Leghorn he built their church, and the schools, of which Mrs. Stewart took charge, raising £350 a-year to meet the expense. But what he set himself specially to do was to have the preachers and young ministers of the Church educated and trained. With this view he built the handsome grammar school at Pomaret, and provided two sets of bursaries,—one for poor boys from the neighbouring valleys, and the other to carry the more promising youths forward to a subsequent stage. Then he purchased and fitted up, at a cost of nearly £7,000, the Salviati Palace at Florence as a divinity hall, providing at the same time a theological library there, as well as at La Tour. And added to all this, there was his last great effort—the raising of £14,000 for the Waldensian Church in Rome. The amount of correspondence and the anxious consideration which all this involved were great; but it was his delight and his reward to watch the growing efficiency of the Church in her evangelistic efforts among the Italian people. In 1857 he published “The Tent and the Khan,” a narrative of a journey he had taken through the East, including Egypt, Palestine, etc. It was received with marked favour by the public, and is still valued for the excellence of its style and the interesting nature of its descriptions.
The great change of 1860 soon brought on him various demands for evangelistic work, and it was wonderful how in all directions Dr. Stewart was prepared to throw himself into it. When the Scottish Bible Society began the distribution of Bibles, he took charge of their whole system of colportage, managing their correspondence and their accounts, translating and transmitting journals, etc., and, what was more valuable, giving them the benefit of his counsels. When the Religious Tract Society was founded at Florence, he became their president; and they testify that “the Society never had a more devoted friend or wiser counsellor or more illustrious benefactor.” And in connection with this, he took the lead in setting up and providing funds for the Claudian Press, conducted by the Rev. Mr. Will—the only Protestant evangelical printing establishment in Italy.
But there yet remained one more work on behalf of his adopted country to which he devoted the last twenty-four years of his life —the preparation of a Commentary on the Four Gospels. It was required to meet a great want, there being no evangelical commentary in existence in the Italian language. Those who are well fitted to judge have described it as ably executed, showing ripe scholarship—a treasure at once of Bible truth and of Christian experience.
In 1850 he received from the University of Princeton the degree of Doctor of Divinity; and in 1874 his own Church called him to preside as Moderator of the General Assembly, the highest honour it is in her power to bestow. Never was that honour conferred with more cordial unanimity; and no one can forget the marked ability with which he discharged the duties of the chair.
It is not for the present writer to attempt any delineation of Dr. Stewart’s character and gifts, the bare narrative of what he did is enough to show what manner of man he was. No one could meet him without feeling the charm of his manner and bearing, carrying with him as he did an atmosphere of high refinement and unaffected kindliness which attracted and won the confidence of all with whom he came in contact. Combined with this, there was a quiet energy and persistency of purpose and soundness of judgment in the management of affairs which made him an invaluable counsellor to the Societies and Churches with which he was connected. Never was there a truer friend or one more loving and beloved in all the private relations of life. In his public work one cannot but feel he was a man specially gifted and raised up to do what needed to be done for Italy in a great crisis of her religious history; and very nobly did he devote himself to the cause, spending and being spent for Christ. As years went on and strength began to fail, it was beautiful to see the mellowing and ripening of his mind as he became more and more imbued with that devout spirit and that love to his Saviour which had been the supreme influence and aim of his life. And thus, “having served his generation” as few have done, “according to the will of God, he fell on sleep.” He died at Leghorn, the 23rd of November 1887.
Dr. Stewart is survived by his widow and a family of three sons and three daughters.
His second daughter was married to the late Rev. J. Collie, M.A., who was colleague to her father at Leghorn. His youngest is married to the Rev. J. Wood Brown, M.A., minister of the Free Church, Gordon.
REV. WILLIAM GRAY STILL, BARRY
(Died October 31, 1883)
Author: Rev. Edward T. Vernon, M.A., Arbirlot
Source: The Free Church Monthly, March 1, 1884, Biographical Notices, p.82
Mr. Still was born at Port-Elphinstone, in Aberdeenshire, on the 10th of August l850. If not a son of the manse, he was the son of an elder, a typical Scotch elder, and a stanch Free Churchman, of whose character an interesting sketch appeared some time ago in one of our religious magazines. One who knew him says, “He was a man of marked individuality and earnest piety, clear-headed and warm-hearted, with an intense sympathy for culture of all kinds, and specially anxious that his family should receive a good education.”
Mr. Still reaped the benefit of this desire, so strong in the hearts of many of our Scottish peasantry, to provide a good education for their sons. First at the parish school Kemnay (to which place the family had removed), next at Peterhead Academy, and then at the Grammar School of Aberdeen, he was furnished with an education which enabled him to gain a competitive bursary when a student at the University of Aberdeen. He afterwards attended the Free Church College in the same city. As a student he seems to have displayed an indomitable perseverance in accomplishing his work, and to have made an honest effort to win the approbation of his professors. Professor Robertson Smith once said of him that “he was a model student for careful, painstaking, and conscientious work.” At the Divinity Hall he took a good place among his class-fellows. He shared with another the Foote Hebrew Scholarship, and stood second at the exit examination in 1875; information of which result he received from a friend as he stood with his two brothers watching the sods being put upon his father’s grave.
As a worker in the Master’s service he was early in the field. It was at the beginning of his second year at the Hall. He was chosen by his fellow-students to be their missionary in one of the most necessitous districts in Aberdeen. The work demanded by the circumstances of the place was arduous and trying, as it is wherever many of our home heathen are congregated. The duties devolving upon him required no little self-denial in their faithful performance. But he did them. Then, as always, whatever he undertook to do, he did well; and (on the testimony of one who saw him much at this work) “he, for the sake of Jesus Christ and the perishing, joyfully kept on the hard pathway of self-denial.”
On completing his college course, Mr. Still became assistant to Dr. Spence, St. Clement’s Free Church, Aberdeen, whose fellowship and friendship he greatly valued. Dr. Spence says: “Mr. Still’s pulpit services were very acceptable to the congregation. … I cherish a very pleasant remembrance of Mr. Still while he was associated with me.” He afterwards became assistant to the Rev. T. Stothert at Lumphanan. Mr. Stothert writes that “he endeared himself both in the manse and the congregation. His memorial is in the warmth of feeling with which his memory is cherished.”
About this time, the charge at Barry having become vacant by the appointment of Mr. (now Dr.) Salmond to a chair in the Aberdeen Hall, a call was given by the congregation to Mr. Still, which he accepted. He was ordained at Barry on December 14, 1876, being then twenty-six years of age.
Almost from the first a peculiarly sad interest became attached to him and his ministry. Only seven weeks after his settlement he burst a blood-vessel in his lungs. On undergoing a medical examination for the first time in his life, he learned that he was suffering from a serious affection of the heart, which (it was an imperfect formation), according to skilful medical men, he must have had from birth. This radical defect in the conformation of the heart of course physically unfitted him for the work of the ministry. The discovery of it was to him a surprise. But having chosen the ministry, having put his hand to the plough, he could not, he would not turn back. What strength he had would be devoted to the Master’s service. He had the knowledge of his weakness. He knew his working day might be very short. But he would not be deterred. He went back to Barry—went back to deliver a message which was terribly earnest. His people, indeed every one who knew him, intuitively felt that his ministry would be short. Need the reader of this notice wonder when I repeat that there was always attached to Mr. Still, his person, his life, his ministry, an interest peculiarly singular and sad!
For nearly four years Mr. Still steadily and diligently delivered the message he had been ordained to preach. At the end of that time he felt, though he was for a long time unwilling to believe it, that he had finished his active work in the Master’s service. He had arranged to go away for a rest. On the Sabbath before he left, he preached from “There shall be no night there.” On entering the manse, he said to his housekeeper, “I have preached my last sermon.” And so it proved.
He lingered for fifteen months afterwards. Through the kindness of the congregation and of friends in the neighbourhood, Mr. Still was enabled to spend the last winter of his life in the sunny clime south of the Alps. Though it did not restore health, his sojourn there was beneficial. Of that there is no doubt. It lengthened life. Moreover, it exhausted all effort, and left nothing to grieve over as to the use of means for his recovery. Feeling his strength rapidly going, he returned to Barry, and died there on the 31st October.
The Barry people have, as one of themselves says, “lost a very faithful minister and friend.” One and another have expressed to me their deep affection and esteem for Mr. Still. They appreciated his plain and earnest preaching. “It was singularly attractive to me,” says one. “It was always plain sailing on a true course; and he had a happy knack of delivery which was sincere, kind, and searching.” Another says, “It was closely practical, and of much spiritual power;” and further adds, after telling of one who had been converted through the instrumentality of Mr. Still, “I firmly believe that he has had far more than one ‘as a crown of rejoicing’ out of Barry.”
The true key to Mr. Still’s character was his piety. In his devout Christian life we find the secret of that strength which enabled him during his brief ministry to give himself unselfishly to the good of others, to endure labours abundant, and weariness, and painfulness, in the cause of Christ’s Church; to show himself ever considerate, humble, and sincere; and to cast himself during the long months of his illness, with the affecting simplicity of a childlike spirit, on the mercy of God in Christ.
REV. MICHAEL STIRLING, CARGILL
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, May 1, 1865, p.810
Mr. Stirling died on the 11th March, in the eighty-fifth year of his age and the fifty-seventh of his ministry. He was a native of Crieff, of which place his father was minister; and after pursuing his studies partly at St. Andrews and partly at Glasgow he was licensed by the Presbytery of Auchterarder in 1803. He became minister of the parish of Cargill in 1808, and with this congregation he remained connected till his death. He has outlived almost all his contemporaries who knew him at his best; and as he was not in his earlier days much of a public man, it is not easy for us, who are a good way behind him in point of time, fully to estimate his worth or to understand the position which he occupied.
By the time that he became a minister the terrible winter of moderatism was beginning to break. As now in nature the sap is creeping up the trunks of the trees, and swelling the buds on every branch, so then the sap and life of true faith was working within the Scottish Church—the breath of God breathed upon her, and faithful gospel preaching was making itself felt as a power. But still evangelical doctrine and evangelical Church policy could rally only a minority in the General Assemblies. Thomson was not come to the height of his influence. Chalmers was but a youth of about Mr. Stirling’s standing, and as yet “moderate” and unconverted. For many a year afterwards it was counted anything but a sign of mind or talent to be associated with the evangelical party. The common people heard them gladly, but that which called itself the cultivation and the intellect of Scotland despised the gospel then, very much as a parallel section of the community despises “the revival” now. Mr. Stirling cast in his lot with the party when they had to bear the reproach of Christ, impelled without doubt by the force of truth, for other influences must have been all in the opposite direction. Afterwards, throughout the struggles of pre-Disruption times, he steadily kept to the side which he had espoused.
The Lethendy case brought him into the front rank in the great battle for the Church’s independence. When the Presbytery of Dunkeld, under instructions from their ecclesiastical superiors, proceeded, in defiance of an interdict of the Court of Session, to do the distinctly spiritual act of ordaining Mr. Kessen to be minister at Lethendy, it was under the leading of Mr. Stirling that they did so. And when the Court of Session, in their blind determination to override the blood-bought rights of the Church of Scotland, summoned the Presbytery to their bar, and went through the very undignified and unchristian procedure of rebuking and threatening them, it was Mr. Stirling who stood at their head while they meekly heard those threatenings. As might have been expected, when at length that crisis came which required the ministers of the Church of Scotland either to surrender their livings and State connection or to submit themselves in all things spiritual to the civil courts, Mr. Stirling did not hesitate to make the surrender, and to share in the trials of the Disruption days. He was spared in vigour for a good many years after that to go out and in among his people, but for a considerable time previous to his death he was obliged by the infirmities of advanced age to retire from the active duties of his charge. Yet he laboured long, useful, beloved and respected in his generation, and now he rests till the day break and the shadows flee away.
REV. WILLIAM ARNOT STIRLING
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, September 1, 1864, p.618
It has become our painful duty this month to record the death of this young minister, who has been suddenly called away after a service of about ten years. Mr. Stirling, with his family, was enjoying a few weeks’ recreation at Broughty-ferry, and endeavouring to re-invigorate his wearied frame by sea-bathing. On the morning of the 27th July he went, before breakfast, to enjoy this refreshment, and never returned alive. Entering the river at the point occupied by Broughty Castle, where, both at the ebb and flow of the tide, the waters of the firth, confined within greatly narrower limits, rush with resistless impetuosity, he was carried beyond his depth, and sank to rise no more. His cry for help was heard by some who were near the spot, but those who strove to save him only succeeded in raising the dead body. He has left a widow and three infant children to bewail his loss. But these are not the only mourners of his untimeous death. The love and respect in which he was held by many to whom his ministry endeared him, and the suddenness of his removal, has created a deep sensation in the whole community in the midst of which he laboured. His funeral cortege passed through thousands of solemnized spectators, and the cemetery in which his body lies till the resurrection of the just was crowded by a weeping multitude, who have been deprived of one whom they recognised as a friend.
Mr. Stirling was ordained to the ministry in 1854. His sphere of labour was the district attached to Chalmers’ Territorial Church in Dundee, a district densely peopled by those who were living in practical heathenism, without God and without hope in the world. He was the first minister of the charge. After labouring in the district as a probationer for a few months, he was called to be the minister of the little flock who had been gathered together; and to the end he laboured in the locality, often in enfeebled health, but with most unwearied diligence. We cannot affirm that his ministry was a signal success. It was rather a ministry carried on, in the face of manifold discouragements, with unceasing labour and singular self-denial. With heart and soul he gave himself to his work, and made it the aim of his life to do good as he had opportunity.
Mr. Stirling was an accomplished scholar, possessed of high natural endowments, and was an able, rather than a popular preacher. His singularly modest and reserved manner, his humility, and we may say also the transparent honesty of his nature, which constrained him to say always just what he felt and believed, all operated against his great success as the minister of a mission church. His were not the endowments which draw a crowd of eager listeners. But his ministry was far from being a failure. To what extent it was successful in winning souls to Christ the great day will declare. It was successful in reclaiming not a few to the observances of Christian society. And of these, we do not doubt, there are a goodly number of whose saving conversion he was the instrument, and who will be to him an everlasting crown of rejoicing. He rests from his labours, and his works follow him.
REV. RICHARD STOTHERT, M.A., BOMBAY
(Died October 11, 1898)
Author: Rev. J. G. Cunningham, D.D., Edinburgh
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, January, 1899, Obituary, p.17
I became acquainted with Richard Stothert as a fellow-student in Professor Lushington’s senior Greek class, at Glasgow University, in the session 1850-51. The first thing which drew me to him was his extraordinary knowledge of the Greek tongue. In the choral songs of Aeschylus, and the subtle disquisitions or reported speeches of Thucydides, where others were painfully bewildered, he was at home; and in the production of iambic trimeters, while we built up the necessary number of lines artificially, by patient toil, with the aid of massive dictionaries, far better verses seemed naturally to take form, with the suddenness and beauty of Jonah’s gourd, at the dictation of Stothert’s scholarship and skill. The next thing which fascinated me was the absolute indifference of this brilliant student to prizes or other recognition of his superiority. All extra competitions for honours, such as the Blackstone Examination, he left to others, and was always generously ready to put his attainments at the service of his friends. But the strongest bond between us was formed when I came to know him as a lad of genuine piety, who, having been trained in a Christian home, had carried the pure and gentle heart of childhood out into the student’s wider world. To me, who had just been admitted (by the Rev. W. Arnot) to the Lord’s table for the first time, the fellowship of such a companion was beyond all price. We were subsequently fellow-students at Edinburgh University, where Mr. Stothert specially appreciated the lectures and the learning of Sir William Hamilton, in whose class he took a high place. When he entered the New College, Edinburgh, in the same year with his more intimate and lifelong friend, Marcus Dods, who had been his school-fellow in the Edinburgh Academy, I studied under the same professors with them; and the acquaintance formed in the university deepened into friendship when we conversed and prayed together about the work to which we believed that the Lord had called us. To Dr. Dods and myself, if not to a wider circle of our fellow-students, Richard Stothert was in those days known, not only as intensely earnest in his aims and work, but also as endowed with a gift of humour to which the cares and trials of later life gave scantier occasion for exercise. I have beside me a copy (which I had difficulty in obtaining his permission to preserve) of an imaginary valedictory lecture, in which, with a most genial irony, our witty friend represented our beloved professor as labouring to console the students under the approaching trial of spending the holidays in scenes of non-academic occupation and society. One sentence may be quoted: “When your eyes are wearied with the dull, unvaried scenes of hill and dale, turn them, I exhort you, to those precious sheets of well-ruled paper on which are traced, in lines of faultless parallelism, the words of wisdom which have fallen from my lips; your notebook in your hand, you will forget all your miseries.”
Throughout his attendance at the Hall, Mr. Stothert enjoyed, as in early years, the ministry of Dr. Moody Stuart, in whose congregation one of the most useful elders was his father, Mr. Stothert of Cargen, an officer who served his country with distinction in the wars at the beginning of this century, enduring hardness both in peril as a soldier and in privation as a prisoner of war. Under the influence of such a pastorate and such a home, and, as he often testified, very specially helped by the example of his elder brother, Thomas (afterwards minister at Lumphanan), Richard maintained a brightly consistent Christian conversation. At the close of his studies he placed himself unconditionally at the Lord’s disposal for service, whether at home or abroad. After being licensed, in 1858, he accepted a temporary appointment as chaplain to a regiment under orders for Bermuda, a duty congenial to him, on account of his hereditary interest in the army. Returning home in 1859, he was appointed to Bombay by the Foreign Missions Committee of the Free Church, and, at their request, he was ordained by the Edinburgh Presbytery on January 5, 1860, Dr. Moody Stuart presiding on the occasion.
In Bombay he was warmly received by Dr. John Wilson, and was, for the last twelve years of that illustrious missionary’s life, an esteemed fellow-labourer with him in our Bombay College. Another well-known man of God who welcomed him to intimate friendship was the Rev. George Bowen, with whose spirituality of mind and enthusiastic love for the natives of India he had the keenest sympathy. After spending above twenty years in the ordinary work of the college, varied by occasional service at Nagpore and other mission stations, in which his exceptional linguistic attainments were of important use, Mr. Stothert arranged with the Foreign Missions Committee that he should be relieved of the responsibility of full duty, receiving only a modest retiring salary, and should be free to devote his time, so far as his impaired health permitted, to those departments of missionary work in which he had found by experience that the door was specially open to him. He superintended and, practically, maintained a native Christian school at Lanowli, where the teacher appointed and paid by him has for fifteen years done excellent and faithful work. He also embraced every opportunity of preaching to native audiences, not unfrequently in the open air, and often at informal social gatherings, at which his kindness and courtesy, and his command of the vernacular, made him always welcome as a speaker. It was a notable feature of his work that he had thoroughly learned, like St. Paul, to “know no man after the flesh;” in every man, of whatever nation and whatever caste, he saw only one who might, by divine grace, be “a new creature in Christ Jesus.”
In 1870 Mr. Stothert married Miss Catherine Ewing, who had, like himself, consecrated heart and life to missionary work in India. Both parents early trained their only child, Henrietta, born in 1871, to share the interest which they took in the welfare of the boys and girls of India. This beloved daughter was taken from their side, after a brief illness, in October 1895. She was then in her twenty-fifth year, and no stronger evidence of the wholehearted devotion of her father and mother to Christ’s service could have been given than the choice which their dear child had deliberately made of missionary work in India as the noblest cause to which her life could be given. It was also characteristic of both parents that the monument which their stricken hearts devised as fittest memorial of her life and work should be a native Christian school, erected in the place most specially associated with her name.
Mr. Stothert’s health, always precarious, failed seriously in 1897, and the last year of his life was one of restricted work and discouraging feebleness. Death came to him, not unexpectedly, but somewhat suddenly, through the bursting of a blood-vessel under the strain of severe coughing, on the twenty-first of October last. He was in his sixty-fifth year, having been born on December 10, 1833.
The only contributions to literature from Mr. Stothert’s pen, not to mention articles of an occasional character, are his masterly translation of St. Augustine’s writings in reference to the Manichaeans (T. and T. Clark, 1872, 571 pp.), and Sabbath Mornings with the Bombay Mission, in which fifty-two pages, each containing an interesting brief notice of a department or station of our Bombay Mission, alternate with an equal number of pages containing prayers translated from the German Handbook of Devotion given to Germany by the venerable Johann Arnd.
From an appreciative estimate of Mr. Stothert’s character and work, which appeared in The Times of India of the twenty-fourth of October, we gladly quote the following testimony:—”Mr. Stothert was no ordinary man. Except physical strength, he had every requirement necessary for a life of high distinction. He was a scholar of unusual breadth, and knew the classical languages of West and East, and several of the spoken languages both of Europe and of India. At the same time, he took a keen interest in all questions of progress and social well-being. He was a man in affluent circumstances, whose first thoughts were for the poor. He had a quiet personal dignity which made him equally at home in all ranks. His life was characterized by a lofty integrity in aim and action. Behind everything was an intense religious faith and a spirit of entire self-denying consecration to his Master.”
REV. THOMAS STOTHERT, B.A., LUMPHANAN
(Died March 16, 1893)
Author: Dr. J. H. Wilson, Barclay Church, Edinburgh
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, April, 1893, Obituary, p.146
Mr. Stothert was born at Edinburgh in 1831. He belonged to a well-known Dumfriesshire family, that of the Stotherts of Cargen. His father occupied an outstanding position as an earnest and liberal Christian gentleman, and was for many years a devoted member and office-bearer in St. Luke’s Church, Edinburgh, under the ministry of Dr. Moody Stuart, in which congregation his son also became a communicant, and while still young acted as a deacon.
Very early in life Mr. Stothert underwent a saving change, after much spiritual conflict—an experience which told upon his whole after life, and enabled him to understand and sympathize with those who were called to pass through a like experience. He and his brother, Mr. Richard Stothert, both studied for the ministry of the Free Church; and after completing their course of study, the two brothers entered on different spheres of mission labour—the younger as one of the Church’s missionaries at Bombay, where he still is, and the elder as superintendent of the City Mission at Newcastle-on-Tyne. There he received, in part, the preparation and impulse for his future evangelistic work as minister in a rural district.
He was ordained at Lumphanan as colleague to Mr. Grant in 1865, and threw himself with all his heart into the various departments of a country minister’s work. After he became sole minister, he erected one of the most beautiful churches and manses in Scotland, by his own efforts and largely by his personal liberality. As an indication of Mr. Stothert’s readiness to take advantage of any opportunity of usefulness, it may be mentioned that during the building of the church, he was in the habit of going out and conducting morning worship with the workmen. He soon drew the hearts of the people to him by his gentleness and kindliness of manner, and still more by his manifest earnestness about their spiritual welfare. He and his first wife—a daughter of the late Rev. R. Lundin Brown of Largo—who died in 1880, laid themselves out in every possible way for the good of the people around, alike those belonging to the Free Church and those outside of it.
By-and-by, when his health began to fail, and there were repeated lengthened absences from home, Mr. Stothert had the help of energetic assistants, who speak gratefully of the benefit they themselves received, and who carried young life into the work of the church and district.
Eventually he felt it desirable to have a permanent colleague, and in 1889 Mr. Bishop was associated with him, and has since, “as a son with a father, served with him in the gospel.” His influence as a Christian gentleman and as a minister continued undiminished to the close; and when he finally left Lumphanan a few months ago, it was amid the loving regrets alike of his co-presbyters and of his people, among whom there are abiding fruits of his ministry. The kirk-session might well testify as they did that their late minister, as long as his health would permit, laboured earnestly for the good of the church, and for the advancement of Christ’s cause in this place. Even when laid aside from the active duties of the pastorate, he continued to take a very deep and lively interest in all that concerned the congregation. To his exertions and liberality the congregation are indebted for the elegant buildings they now possess as church and manse, and for many other generous gifts and kind services which he cheerfully rendered.
As a preacher, Mr. Stothert was faithful and earnest, ever manifesting a burning desire for the salvation of souls and for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ. As a pastor, he was kind and considerate, wise in counsel, and warm in sympathy. In all the relations of life he adorned the doctrine of God our Saviour, and proved by his walk and conversation the reality of his faith in Jesus Christ.
REV. ATHOLL STUART, BLAIR-ATHOLE
(Died September 13, 1894)
Author: Rev. A. Gordon, Lethendy
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, October, 1895, Obituary, p.247
Mr. Atholl Stuart was a son of the manse, and was born in Blair-Athole, where his father, the Rev. John Stuart, was for many years minister of the parish. His elder brother was the late General Ramsay Stuart, C.B., who had a distinguished career in the army, having taken part in most of the battles in the Crimea, and being afterwards for several years commander of the forces in Scotland.
Mr. Stuart passed through his university course at St. Andrews, and after being licensed as a preacher, acted for some time as assistant to his father, who was in infirm health, and who died in March 1843. While he occupied this position, during the years 1842-43, a deep religious movement took place in the parish, and great gatherings assembled to listen to the stirring addresses of Dr. Macdonald of Ferrintosh (“the Apostle of the North”), Rev. William C. Burns, and others who visited the locality. At the Disruption, Mr. Stuart, then a probationer, joined the Free Church, and was ordained as the first Free Church minister of Blair-Athole on June 6, 1844.
There are perhaps few districts in Scotland where greater opposition was shown to the Free Church, or where the people were subjected to greater hardships, than in Blair-Athole. Neither a church nor a building of any kind could be obtained for public worship. The tenants were even interdicted from allowing the people to meet for service on their land. Notwithstanding those interdicts, the congregation continued to meet from Sabbath to Sabbath in the open air, sometimes on the bare hillside, and sometimes in some deep ravine. After some months a temporary wooden structure, known as the “Island Church,” was allowed to be erected on the King’s Island, a low-lying flat partially surrounded by the waters of the Garry, and only slightly elevated above the bed of the river. In this building the people worshipped for years, although from its situation it was frequently liable to be flooded by the Garry. Once the river rose suddenly while the congregation were assembled for worship, and surrounded the church with deep water, through which the people had to wade in order to get away. On another occasion—a communion Sabbath, when Dr. Macdonald of Ferrintosh was assisting Mr. Stuart— heavy and continuous rain fell during the previous night, and when morning broke it was found that the King’s Island lay beneath a heavy flood, and that the “Island Church” stood deep in the water. Ere mid-day arrived, however, the waters of the Garry had fallen to such an extent that the church became available, and the congregation were able to meet, though naturally amid considerable discomfort.
Ultimately, after the keen feelings excited by the Disruption had somewhat subsided, a suitable site was obtained, and a handsome church was erected through Mr. Stuart’s instrumentality. He never possessed a manse. Though Blair-Athole embraces an area of some five hundred square miles, in no part of it could he procure either a house or ground on which to erect one, and for upwards of twenty years he had to live outside the boundaries of the parish. This circumstance rendered it still more difficult and expensive to carry on the work of a minister in such an extensive district.
Mr. Stuart was a man of mark in his day, and was widely known over the church. He was endowed with far more than ordinary ability, and was well read in the older theology which he loved. He was a fearless champion of the truth, a formidable debater in the church courts, and an able and faithful preacher of the gospel, his discourses being frequently interspersed with quaint and original sayings which were not easily forgotten.
In consequence of failing health, Mr. Stuart retired from the active duties of the ministry in 1881, when a colleague was appointed, and after that time he lived in Edinburgh. On June 5, 1894, a deputation from the Free Church Presbytery of Dunkeld presented him with an illuminated address on attaining his jubilee as a minister. In the month of August following he went to spend a few weeks at Kingussie. Being seized with sudden illness while staying there, he was removed to his residence in Edinburgh in much weakness, and died on September 13. The funeral took place at Blair-Athole, where his memory is still warmly cherished, especially by the older members of the congregation, who remember the work he did and the battle he fought in his younger days. Mr. Stuart is survived by two sons and two daughters.
REV. DONALD MCNAUGHTON STUART, D.D., DUNEDIN
(Died 13th May 1894)
Author: Rev. James Chisholm, Milton, Otago
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, September, 1894, Obituary, p.215
Dr. Stuart has filled a large space in the history of Otago for the last thirty-four years; and seeing that the Church of Otago was an offshoot from the Free Church of Scotland, and that Dr. Stuart was well known to many ministers and others in the old land, it has been thought that a brief notice of his life and work might not be out of place in the Free Church Monthly.
He was born in 1819 at a small hamlet called Styx, in the highlands of Perthshire. His father was a stone-mason to trade. Both parents had to toil hard and stint themselves in order to make a small income to cover the needs of eleven children. It was a pious home. Family worship was never missed. What he became in after life was very much the ripe result of the seed that had been sown in the home of his childhood. He went to school for a while, but when nine years of age was sent to eke out the scanty resources of the household by herding cows. The farmer liked him, and wanted to engage him for another year; but the place was deemed unsuitable, and he returned to home and school again.
After his own school days were over he began to teach others. He started at Leven with but one scholar, whom he taught for six weeks at a fee of threepence a week. His patient valour and fidelity in time won the respect of onlookers and secured for him a large number of pupils. He passed with distinction through an ordinary arts curriculum at the University of St. Andrews. Here, through the long winters, his own earnings were eked out by a little box regularly sent from the old home with cakes and scones and eggs and butter, “smelling of flora and the country green.” During the summer vacations he taught in school or travelled here and there as tutor, keeping his eyes and ears open to what was lovely and of good report. In Edinburgh he came for a short time under the spell of Dr. Chalmers, and drank deep draughts of inspiration from that greatest of modern Scotsmen, so massive in every noble quality.
From the gray metropolis of the north he went to the sunnier south, and did good educational work at Windsor. Thence he passed to London, where he studied theology and kindred subjects, and became fitted by scholarly attainments for the work of the Christian ministry—the goal which he had kept steadily in view from the beginning, and towards which all his past efforts had been persistently directed. Ere long he was settled in Falstone, where he was brought into contact with men of a primitive type—grave shepherds, many of them, who had leisure to meditate on the deep things of God. The young minister soon endeared himself to the people, and commended the gospel not only by his vigorous preaching but also by his devoted life. He took a keen interest in education; not only saw that there were schools for the children, but, what was even more characteristic, tried to remove all hindrances, whether of a physical or a moral kind, out of the way of children going to school.
While in Falstone the call to Knox Church found him. It was virtually placed in his hands by Dr. Guthrie, Dr. John Bonar, and Professor Miller, the commissioners who had been appointed to select a man for the new charge. He had been attracted to colonial life, and with a whole-hearted enthusiasm he started work under the Southern Cross. His success amongst the young was always conspicuous. He marked the tiniest bud of promise, and flooded it with the sunshine of his approval. He loved to preach the gospel. He had faith in its efficacy. It made him the hopeful man he was. He could never despair of even the worst, seeing the blood of Christ had been shed, and his risen and glorified manhood, with its garnered experience of earthly toil and temptation and pain and sorrow, was now on the throne of the universe. He held his Presbyterianism in subordination to the gospel, deeming it in accordance with the Word of God, fitted to give expression to the rights of the Christian people, and to furnish the most effective means of bringing the unsearchable riches of Christ to bear on the hearts and lives of all.
His many and valuable services in the cause of education were with the same intent. He worked on the lines laid down by the Scottish Reformers. He was never weary lauding them for their enlightened zeal in seeking to establish a school in every parish and a college in every notable town to lead up to the national universities. That was his model. His time and energy were freely given to adapt it to our new conditions. Ignorance, he was sure, could never be the mother of devotion. Every spark of truth and every shred of reality must help to reveal the Highest, and beget in men’s hearts a deeper reverence and in their lives a more acceptable worship. Knowledge, he felt, was the handmaid of religion; only she must know her place. She is the second, not the first.
“A higher hand must make her mild,
If all be not in vain, and guide
Her footsteps, moving side by side
With Wisdom, like the younger child.”
No one insisted more than he on the fact that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” He knew well that learning was but a will-o’-the-wisp and life an utter failure apart from the “wisdom that cometh from above, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” By his widespread activities in visiting the sick, in relieving the destitute, in carrying comfort to the bereaved, in shedding the light of kindly sympathy into despairing hearts and darkened homes, in lifting the fallen and luring them into the paths of virtue, he was but seeking to bring the manifold grace of God to bear on the varied needs of humanity. The spring of his tireless philanthropy was in the gospel. It was the love of Christ that constrained him. We are inclined to regard this as his highest claim to our reverence and love that he was a faithful minister of Jesus Christ.
To the last he stood at his post. He would not lay down his weapons, or unclasp any part of the armour that had been dinted in many a struggle. Time and death alone unharnessed our Christian knight and laid him to sleep. And who will grudge him his repose? His bodily presence is gone, but the stirring example of his Christ-like life, the radiant influence of his unselfish devotion to every good cause, remain. Let us imitate his faith; let us fight the good fight, that we too may lay hold on eternal life.
REV. JAMES STUART, KIRKWALL
(Died April 22, 1883)
Author: Rev. James Roy, B.D., Armadale
Source: The Free Church Monthly, August 1, 1883, Brief Biographies, p.243
Mr. Stuart was born in the parish of Kirkmichael, Banffshire, on the 20th September 1834, of very respectable parents. He received his classical education at the Grammar School, Aberdeen, and then studied at the University and Free Church College in that city. He maintained a good position among students who distinguished themselves in the different departments of a university and theological course.
After receiving license, he had the charge of the Free Church station at Auchterless, Aberdeenshire, for five years, when he received a most hearty call from the Free Church congregation of Kirkwall to be colleague and successor to the late Rev. William Sinclair, and was ordained on 2nd July 1868.
On Mr. Sinclair’s death on 19th March 1874, he became sole minister of that congregation. Such a charge as that of necessity required a man of superior gifts and weight of character; and though fears were at first entertained and expressed that Mr. Stuart would not be able for a lengthened period to sustain the heavy strain, such were his prudence, tact, and diligence that he surmounted every difficulty, and was able to show year after year an increasing and flourishing congregation.
The writer of this sketch, during his ministry in Orkney from 1862 to 1880, had ample opportunities of knowing the difficulties and experiencing the isolation of that remote sphere of labour; and having been in closest intimacy with Mr. Stuart during the most of his ministry there, he is able to speak with confidence not only of his high personal character, but also of the value and extent of his labours for the cause of Christ and the consolidation and extension of the Free Church.
Mr. Stuart’s personal character being so high, it will not be wondered at if his career as a minister and a citizen was marked by an energy and a thoroughness which insured success. He was decidedly above the average preacher. Possessing a capital library, filled with choice works in theology and general literature, he kept abreast of the age; and using his vigorous intellect and tenacious memory to good purpose, he brought all his discoveries to bear on the great work of preaching the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. As a rule his discourses were well prepared, were clear, logical, and evangelical, and when delivered with his Celtic fire, were convincing and powerful.
While deeply impressed with the idea of the scripturalness of the Church and a stated ministry as the means of ingathering the lost and building up the saved, he hailed without any dread of rivalry agencies of an evangelistic kind to aid in the great work of conversion, in dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes he was not very particular regarding the instrument employed, provided it did the work. At the same time, he was not easily satisfied with the work, till it was thoroughly tested and proved to be divine.
The interest he took in the cause of the Free Church in Orkney was simply unbounded. Some have said that he acted the rule of the “ecclesiastic” rather than did the work of the “Christian philanthropist;” but while he loved his Church, and loved it best of all, as every true-hearted man will love his own best, he cherished most kindly feelings towards all the evangelical sections of the Church of Christ, and in particular showed his catholic spirit by praying, and speaking, and working for the union of all the non-established Churches in Scotland when that movement was keenly discussed some years ago. Along with kindred spirits he strained every nerve to plant stations in outlying unoccupied districts in Orkney, in order that the gospel of Jesus Christ might be proclaimed in all its purity and simplicity to those who were ignorant and out of the way. Mainly by his instrumentality have churches been erected in different islands; and if the people that attend them are true to themselves and the cause they profess, they will surely cherish with gratitude the memory of a man who loved them for their souls’ sake. Yea, these churches will be monuments of more lasting and glorious issues than the finest tombstone erected over his grave to preserve his memory to future generations.
As a pastor, Mr. Stuart was most faithful and assiduous. He was ever ready to minister both to the temporal and spiritual wants of the poor and distressed. Indeed his liberality and sympathy were unstinted, as many have evidenced by the tears they have shed on account of his sudden death.
In the Presbytery and the School Board he took his full share of work. The minutes drawn up and recorded by both bodies emphatically show the high esteem in which he was held, their sense of the very great services he rendered to the religious and educational interests of the district, and their extreme sorrow at his sudden removal.
It deserves to be mentioned, as a strong testimony to his gifts and worth as a minister, that about three years ago he got a unanimous call from the Free Church congregation of his native parish. That call, however, owing chiefly to the strong opposition offered by the Kirkwall congregation, he felt called upon, though with considerable difficulty, to decline.
Mr. Stuart’s end was altogether unexpected. Possessing a stalwart frame and buoyant spirits, he gave promise of living many years to come. It was while engaged in the Master’s work that he fell a victim to the disease which ultimately cut him off. In March he was visiting his people, and became ill from exposure and fatigue. His medical adviser took a serious view of the case. He therefore went to Aberdeen about the beginning of April. His medical friend there did not anticipate danger, and was quite pleased with the progress he seemed to make; and he himself was in good spirits, and hoped soon to be at his work again. On Saturday the 21st April, he went with a friend for a drive a few miles into the country, and enjoyed it very much. During that evening he was seized with sudden sickness and unconsciousness, and these attacks continued with more or less severity until Sabbath evening at eight o’clock, when he breathed his last. The medical certificate runs thus:—”Primary cause, overwork. Cause of death, epileptic convulsion.”
Again and again during his illness he expressed his great gratitude to God for His kind dealings with him, his trust in His mercy, and resignation to His will, if death should be the result. “I am quite willing to go,” he said to a dear mutual friend of the deceased and the writer, whose kindness to him in his last illness deserves the highest praise. His mortal remains lie in the churchyard of his native parish. A sorrowing people bewail his loss. May the removal of the faithful pastor be abundantly blessed to them, and may the Lord send them a man after his own heart! “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.”
REV. JAMES T. STUART, M.A., MAYFIELD, EDINBURGH
(Died April 12, 1885)
Author: Rev. J.H. Wilson, D.D., Barclay Church, Edinburgh
Source: The Free Church Monthly, March 1, 1886, Biographical Notice, p.82
James Thomson Stuart was born at Dundee on the 24th July 1837. As a boy he was singularly good and obedient. There was a tradition in the family that he only once needed a reprimand; so that it was hard for him to understand much of the unkindness and disrespect shown nowadays to parents and elderly people. He entered the University of St. Andrews in November 1853, and took the degree of B.A. in that University in April 1856, and of M.A. in 1857. After completing his undergraduate course of study at St. Andrews, he entered the New College, Edinburgh, in November 1857, and completed his theological studies there in April 1861. At college his life was peculiarly pure and earnest. He had been led to think seriously early in life, and he used to speak of Dr. Low, Rector of Dundee High School, as the means of his conversion; and on that account he often spoke to teachers of the influence they might have on young people, if they made their teaching a real work for God.
All through his student life he was not without inward struggle. At first he seemed to lose the first love which came with his early conversion. He felt “the world and the flesh” strong tempters, and the fear of man a great snare, though all who knew him at a later period know well how singularly he rose above these in all his years of work. After leaving the University, a deeper work appears to have revived in his soul, which, after some years, became established, and thenceforth his whole desire seems to have been after a greater measure of holiness.
Mr. Stuart left the New College in April 1861, and was licensed by the Free Presbytery of Dundee in the following June. He went straight from college to Blairgowrie, where he engaged in mission work under the Rev. Robert Taylor, now of Upper Norwood, London; and in April 1862 he became missionary-assistant in Fountainbridge Church, Edinburgh. Though now nearly quarter of a century ago, his first service in Fountain-bridge is still remembered by those who were present. His address and prayers thrilled and stirred us, and he was forthwith welcomed and valued by us as a fellow-labourer in that most interesting home-mission field. He often referred to his early labours there, and used to speak of his “Fountainbridge days” as “a red-letter time, influencing his whole after life, and stimulating his interest in mission work and in the young.” He was ordained at Borgue, in Kirkcudbrightshire, in October 1862, and in that quiet and retired country parish he began a ministry which he greatly enjoyed, and which was destined to he fraught with blessing to many.
In March 1867 he removed from Borgue to Kelso, where he succeeded the gifted Dr. Horatius Bonar on his translation to Grange Church, Edinburgh. During the ten years of his ministry in Kelso, Mr. Stuart was greatly beloved, and his work was peculiarly appreciated. He gathered young men round him, and gave the young people generally quite a missionary impulse. He gave himself earnestly to evangelistic work, up to the measure of his strength, and his influence was felt throughout the entire district. Greatly to the regret of the people there, he was translated to Mayfield Church, Edinburgh, in January 1877.
Under the fostering care of Dr. Blaikie and a zealous body of office-bearers, this charge, in one of the largest and most important suburbs of Edinburgh, had made rapid progress, and only needed a suitable minister in order to make it what it has now become— one of the most influential congregations in the city. Many of us looked on admiringly as the work advanced. The people, gathered from many quarters, became, under the gentle hand of their first minister, a compact body, lively in spirit and liberal to the cause of Christ. The members took a kindly interest in each other; and when the minister’s health began to fail, and he was ordered abroad in search of health, the office-bearers did much to supply his lack of service. Dr. Blaikie stood in unweariedly to fill up the blank; and the minister’s wife, during the long months of her husband’s illness and absence, worked in a way that at once surprised and delighted the friends outside, as well as those whose good she had so much at heart. The result of all this was, that the work of the congregation never flagged and the people kept together; but while certainly they had helps of an exceptional kind, it was surely largely owing to Mr. Stuart’s teaching and influence that the congregation was in the healthy and vigorous condition in which it was, when it was handed over to the much-esteemed brother who is now the pastor.
Mr. Stuart’s three different charges—Borgue, Kelso, and Mayfield—were in different ways the happiest of homes and spheres of labour that any man could have had. Work and people were alike congenial to him, and in all the three he had the priceless privilege of knowing that he had been used by his heavenly Master. His preaching was characterized by a sweet persuasiveness, and by a tenderness and pathos and earnestness of tone and manner, which made a deep and abiding impression on those who listened to him. Under his ministry men were awakened and attracted to Christ. And yet, perhaps, the great characteristic of his preaching, as indeed of his pastoral work and of his whole ministry, was his quite peculiar power of comforting and instructing and building up believers. This gave a singular charm to his ministry, and gathered Christian people round him wherever he went.
Mr. Stuart was never robust, and he often expressed his regret that he could not throw himself into outside work as others did, yearning as he did over the careless and perishing around. And yet, even after his health began to fail, he shrank from no duty to which he felt that God was calling him. There have been few men bolder or more faithful in the discharge of difficult duty, whether it was personal dealing with individuals or declaring publicly the mind of God in regard to any prevalent sin or evil practice. Many looked on with mingled wonder and admiration at his rare moral courage, combined with extreme sensitiveness of temperament, and with a gentleness and sympathy which may be said to have been his leading characteristic, as it was one great secret of his power. He was sorely exercised about the worldly spirit and ways of many professing Christians, often bewailing the inroads which the world was making on the Church. He lifted up a fearless testimony against the temptations to intemperance put in the way, especially of our working people. His statement of evangelical truth was very full and clear. He had an unquestioning faith in the power of the gospel, and this pervaded all his preaching. He could say, more than most, ”I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God.” He had so many sudden and dangerous illnesses that, amid all his hopefulness, he lived as one who might receive at any moment a summons to depart. It was this thought that made life such a serious thing to him, and from his standpoint the work of the ministry seemed responsible and solemn in the highest degree. He used often to regret the “useless ornamentation”—the “roundabout way of preaching” of some, by which the gospel message was covered over, and souls were left untouched and unawakened. He used to say, “I wonder why God does not send back such as I am from the borderland, that we might speak burning words of warning and entreaty. Oh, I would preach as a dying man to dying men!”
And yet no one formed a humbler estimate of his own abilities and work. He was “afraid of being thought better than he was.” His position seemed to be, as one has put it, “lying at Jesus’ feet.” He thought much of Christ as the “meek and lowly” One, and seemed brought nearer to him by that sweet text.
He had great love for children and desire to be helpful to them. He was very anxious that young people should begin to store their minds with consecutive passages of Scripture, speaking of the chapters he had got his own children to learn, as “a priceless legacy.” He got them to learn one verse each night, and to revise on Sabbath, and often said, if he were allowed to preach again, how much he would urge upon the young the need of Scripture study.
Of his later days this is not the place to say much. He was often heard speaking to his Saviour, and pleading with him to receive one so unworthy, falling back on all the old foundation texts—”Come unto me,” “Him that cometh unto me,” “Ho, every one that thirsteth,” “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth,” “Jesus, my righteousness.” Mayfield was always much in his mind. He was earnest in prayer on its behalf, and deeply interested in hearing of the success and good work of his colleague, speaking often of individual people, and with special anxiety of those about whom he had any doubt as to their consecration to the Lord.
His last sermon in Mayfield was preached from Psalm 16:5, “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup,” and the last words of that sermon were, “We cannot live on the past. Our conversion, our bygone experiences, cannot sustain us. We must live on Christ—not feelings, but Christ!”
His favourite hymn, known in the family as “father’s hymn,” was—
“O Saviour, I have nought to plead,
In earth beneath or heaven above,
But just my own exceeding need,
And thy exceeding love.
“The need will soon be past and gone,
Exceeding great, but quickly o’er;
The love unbought is all thine own,
And lasts for evermore.”
Mr. Stuart had latterly gone to reside at Crieff, where he experienced much kindness, and there, on the 12th April 1885, after much suffering, he “fell asleep,” leaving a fragrant memory behind.
Since his death a memorial tablet has been erected in Mayfield Church, bearing the following insertion:—
IN LOVING MEMORY OF THE
REV. JAMES THOMSON STUART, MA.,
INDUCTED FIRST MINISTER OF MAYFIELD FREE CHURCH,
25th January 1877.
A man of God, deeply imbued with the spirit of his Master, he laboured with diligence and success in his service. On 12th April 1885, in the forty-seventh year of his age, after a long and trying illness, he entered into rest, greatly mourned by his family, his friends, and his flock.
“The Lord is the portion of mine inheritarce and of my cup.”
REV. DAVID SUTHERLAND, A.M., EAST CHURCH, INVERNESS
(Died October 18,1875)
Author: Rev. Alexander Paterson, A.M. (late of Dunblane)
The Free Church Monthly January 1, 1876, p.17
In the death of Mr. Sutherland, the Free Church in the north has lost one of her ablest and most estimable ministers. A native of Easter Ross, and only son of one of the meekest of our Church’s elders, he was carefully trained in youth, and early sent to college, where he took a distinguished place, especially in moral philosophy. While only twenty-four years of age, he was called to occupy a pulpit famed, since its opening in 1800, for dispensing nothing but “the finest of the wheat.” There ministered Ronald Bayne, James Martin, Robert Findlater, Finlay Cook, and David Campbell (now of Lawers), all of whom left broad marks and fragrant memories behind them, as noble specimens of evangelical preachers and successful labourers in the vineyard of the Lord. In David Sutherland the East Church congregation found no mean successor to these men. Possessed of talents of a high order, which he assiduously cultivated, by these, as by his gentlemanly bearing, his genial disposition, his unbending integrity, deep-toned sincerity, and, above all, unostentatious piety, he greatly endeared himself both to his flock and to the community in which for thirty-six years his lot was cast.
As a preacher, Mr. Sutherland ranked high. If there were discourses more brilliant or more stirring, his were, nevertheless, always full of rich, varied, edifying matter, carefully thought out, clearly arranged, and easily carried away. The writer now, with mournful pleasure, recalls the many happy-Sabbaths enjoyed by him in the East Church of Inverness, where, in boyhood and in student days, he listened with delight to such chastely worded, succinctly stated, and calmly uttered expositions of Scripture truth, and heard so much of that precious divinity, now, alas! by many scouted or smiled at as antiquated, as old-fashioned, as unsuited to the advanced thought of the present age. The preacher’s constant aim was to exhibit “Christ and him crucified.” “O how the minister digs about the cross,” was the frequent remark of one venerable and esteemed elder2 to another of kindred spirit, as they took sweet counsel together, and talked of their obligations to him at whose lips they felt themselves so richly fed. “Yes, yes; and what else can do?” was ever the response of the latter. What else, indeed, can do, whether in the way of conviction to sinner or of comfort to saint? If our modern “thinkers” know of anything better, or anything as good, let them at once and plainly tell us.
As a pastor, Mr. Sutherland was also deeply beloved. His visitations were always longed for and much appreciated. By his kindly, affable manner, he thoroughly gained the affections of all classes among his people. The poorest felt at ease in his presence, and knew they could rely upon his sympathy. The needy found in him a reliever of their wants, the anxious a guide in their perplexities, the afflicted and sorrowful a comforter whom few could equal in soothing the sick-bed, cheering the death-bed, or breaking the gloom of the house of mourning. In the young he took a special interest, his flourishing Sabbath schools, his Bible classes, and his classes for instruction in the Romish controversy, all testifying to his deep anxiety that they might be early grounded in saving truth, and firmly fortified against deadly error.
That the subject of this imperfect sketch was widely respected in life and as widely regretted in death, suffice as one proof the vast throng that crowded round his bier, and bore him away for burial. From town and distant parts of country, rich and poor, high and low, in hundreds flocked together to pay the last tribute, to do the last sad office. In recording the funeral, one of the local journals — the Courier — says: “On Thursday last (Oct. 21), one of the largest funerals ever witnessed in Inverness took place on the occasion of the interment of the Rev. David Sutherland of the East Church.” His latter end was peace. In describing the last illness, a mourning relative writes: “All throughout his patience was deep. No murmur escaped his lips. His humility was child-like, his trust full; while the texts of Scripture that came streaming from his lips greatly strengthened us all in our sore affliction. He gently fell asleep in Jesus.”
REV. JOHN SWANSON, NIGG, ROSS-SHIRE
(Died January 14, 1874)
Author: Rev. John Macdonald, Fearn
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, June 1, 1874, p.125
Mr. Swanson was born at Cromarty, on the 10th day of May 1804. His parents were highly respectable. He received his first education at the Grammar School of Cromarty, and afterwards at the Tain Academy. At Cromarty his earliest and bosom companion was Hugh Miller, of world-wide fame. This friendship, begun in childhood, continued the same to the end. Their boyish adventures, the persuasive influence which young Swanson had over Miller in matters affecting his eternal interests, their dangers and escapes on sea and land, their affectionate correspondence for many years, are too well known to be detailed here, and are graphically recorded by the magic pen of Hugh Miller in his “Schools aud Schoolmasters,” and in “The Cruise of the Betsy.”
Mr. Swanson was in early life brought to a saving knowledge of the truth, under the ministry of the eminently talented and pious Mr. Alexander Stewart of Cromarty. Having devoted himself to the ministry, he entered King’s College, Aberdeen, where he highly distinguished himself as a scholar. He afterwards held, for a few years, the parish school of Nigg. In 1835 he was ordained minister of the mission at Fort William. In 1840 he was presented to the remote parish of Small Isles, where he laboured faithfully till the Disruption in 1843, when he cast in his lot with the noble band who, at the call of the Master, and in vindication of great and glorious truths, left all the emoluments and comforts of the Establishment, and constituted themselves into the Free Church of Scotland.
In his new and altered position, he underwent great trials and privations. His family had to remove to Isle Orosay, Skye; and the memorable “sloop Betsy” having been provided for him by the Church, he cruised from island to island, in good weather and bad, ministering to his flock with unwearied assiduity. He was thus necessarily exposed to great danger and fatigue; but the Lord sustained him, and carried him through safely.
From Small Isles Mr. Swanson removed to Nigg, Ross-shire, and was inducted minister of the Free Church congregation there, on the 28th day of January 1847. In this portion of the vineyard he laboured faithfully for very nearly twenty-seven years, till his Master called him home, beloved by his own people, and highly esteemed by the community at large.
Mr. Swanson was, in every sense, a man of mark, and when he was taken, “a prince and a great man fell in Israel.” He was possessed of great natural parts, which he had carefully cultivated. He was an admirable scholar, well read on all subjects; but he made no boast of his acquirements. He was a ripe theologian, not only acquainted with the works of the older divines, but keeping abreast of the age in his knowledge of the writings of the more modern divines at home and abroad.
Like godly John Newton’s minister, he could bear to be measured by square measure — that is, in and out of the pulpit. His daily walk was most consistent. He was, through grace, humble, holy, prayerful, self-denied, and abounding in good works. He bad a very tender conscience, and showed, on all occasions, that his desire was to please God rather than man.
His discourses were carefully prepared, thoroughly sound, abounding in original and striking illustrations. In these, his whole aim was to exalt Christ, and commend him to perishing sinners. On communion Sabbaths, and especially in his own church, he seemed to surpass himself, if we may use the term. As one whose heart was filled with the love of Christ, and whose whole inner man was carried away by the grandeur of his subject, he described the vastness of the love displayed by the Father, the Son, and the blessed Spirit, in the Cross of Christ, with a power, a vividness, an unction truly remarkable.
Moreover, he was specially a man of prayer. His sense of personal unworthiness was very great. His confession of sin was deep and from the heart. He approached the throne of grace with holy reverence, under the protection of the “blood of sprinkling;” and yet the prayer was short, the language simple, but one of spiritual discernment would understand that a “master of Israel,” who had nearness to his Maker, and got glimpses within the vail, was leading the devotions.
Mr. Swanson was a very kind and merciful man. The poor and the destitute were constant recipients of his bounty. Invalids from his own and the adjoining parishes, who had great confidence in his medical skill, flocked to him for advice, and this he cheerfully gave. His prescriptions were exceedingly simple and safe. When there was the appearance of anything serious, he at once advised them to consult a medical man.
For nearly two years past his health began to fail. He himself laboured under the impression that he was not to recover. He bowed submissively to his Father’s will, and pillowed himself with the weanedness of a little child on his bosom. He was now fast ripening for glory. Any service he had, through grace, done for his Master was altogether ignored and lost sight of. No other hope had he than that arising from the mercy of God in Christ Jesus — on “his finished work” alone he rested — to him alone he looked for acceptance with the Father. As he thus lived, so he died. The summons came at the set time; and he gently fell asleep in Jesus.
“Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours: and their works do follow them.”
REV. JAMES SWINTON, PORTMOAK
(Died February 8, 1877)
Author: Rev. Duncan MacLaren, Dunning
The Free Church Monthly May 1, 1877, p.123
Suddenly, on the evening of Thursday, the 8th of February last, Mr. Swinton was called to join the general assembly and church of the first born in glory. He had left his home on the morning of that day in good health; had spent several hours in work to which he was greatly devoted — the work of pastoral visitation; and having reached the last house he proposed that day to visit, and in which he intended to close the day’s labour by the services of a cottage meeting, he felt so weak as to request for himself a short season of repose. After lying upon a sofa that had been prepared for him, he was asked by the mother of the family whether he might not partake of any refreshment. “I am sick,” he replied — “I am very sick.” And scarcely had he uttered the words than he fell into a sleep from which he never woke. He died within two hours, and was carried lifeless to his manse. The tidings of his unexpected departure spread quickly through the parish, and filled all, but especially his own deeply-attached congregation, not only with surprise, but with the deepest sorrow. The day of his funeral was a day of sadness to the members of his Presbytery, his ministerial and personal friends, as well as the old and young of his flock and neighbourhood, who assembled in large numbers to carry him to his grave, and made great lamentation over him.
Mr. Swinton was born at Burntisland in 1823, and received in its parish school the elements of his education. Having been brought to a saving knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus at an early period of his life, he devoted himself with ardour to the work of preparing for the office of the holy ministry in the University of Edinburgh, and was distinguished among his fellow-students for his attainments in classical literature and mental and moral philosophy; while he was held in the highest respect for the calmness of his singularly unassuming deportment, the transparency of his upright character, and the warmth of his deeply-rooted affections. After receiving license to preach the gospel, he was appointed assistant to the Rev. Dr. J.J. Wood. Afterwards he laboured for a season in the then mission-station of Culross; and having been chosen by the people of Portmoak colleague and successor to their aged and venerable minister, the late Rev. Dr. Hugh Laird, he was, on the 14th day of February 1850, ordained a minister of the Free Church, and admitted to the pastoral charge of the Portmoak congregation. The promise of his early years has been abundantly realised. In the pulpit he proved himself a workman that did not need to be ashamed. Possessed of a clear and well-trained intellect, great reverence for the Word of God, and warm interest in the spiritual and eternal interests of the people of his charge, and animated by a large measure of the perfervidum ingenium Scotorum, he never shunned to declare to his hearers the whole counsel of God, being as firm and decided in upholding the rights and prerogatives of the Most High, as he was affectionate and earnest in unfolding the provision that Divine mercy has made to meet the wants and necessities of the children of men. His word was with power. The Lord was pleased to crown his labours with a gracious outpouring of the Holy Spirit; and never did husbandman rejoice more in the falling shower on the dry and thirsty ground, than he did in the showers of blessing which the Great Head of the Church was pleased to send during the years that lay between 1860 and 1870. The young were the object of his peculiar care; and whether in his Bible classes or Sabbath school, or day school previous to the establishment of the national system of education, or in the School Board after the Free Church schools and parish schools were merged into one, he laboured with unremitting diligence and evident delight for the godly upbringing of the young. The progress of the young, mental and moral and spiritual, as it was one of the chief cares, so, when achieved, it was one of the chief joys of his life — a feature of his character this which was touchingly attested on his funeral day by the tears that fell from the eyes of many of the young that followed his remains to his grave. The space allotted to me prevents all detailed reference to the active part he was accustomed to take in the maintenance of the Scottish Tract Society, in the management of the affairs of many of the committees of our own Church, in the convenership of the Evangelistic Committee appointed by his own Synod (the Synod of Fife), not to speak of the admirable manner in which he for many years discharged the duties of clerk to the Presbytery of Kinross. Before closing, however, I must be allowed to refer to the interest which he took in the Home Mission enterprise of the Church. He often spoke of the benefit which he himself derived from engaging in its operations, by its imparting a practical tone to his preaching which academic instruction, however valuable, cannot be expected to give; and now we may speak of the energy, and ardour, and prayerfulness, and preaching power which he brought to bear upon the work of the Home Mission in all the leading mining and manufacturing districts of our native land. He carried his fervour across the Border, and took a prominent share in laying the foundations of the present flourishing English Presbyterian congregation in the cathedral city of York.
The county of Kinross, in which he himself resided, has been the chief witness, not only of the indefatigable character of his labours, but of the great success that has attended them; and, as has been truly remarked by one of his co-presbyters, “It is but seldom that the minister of a secluded country parish can leave behind him a memorial such as the Presbytery of Kinross supplies of the life and labours of Mr. Swinton. The three ministerial charges of Cowdenbeath, Lassodie, and Kelty, all of them in spiritually destitute localities, owe the position which they this day occupy largely to the untiring zeal and energy of our dear departed brother.”
We join — we cannot but join — with his mourning widow and sorrowing flock in lamenting his unexpected departure from the Church militant; and we are cheered by the voice from heaven which saiys: “Write, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord: yea, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.
REV. DR. WILLIAM SYMINGTON
(Died February 9, 1879)
Author: Rev. John McDermid, Glasgow
Source: The Free Church Monthly, June 2, 1879, Biographical Notices, p.145
Dr. Symington was born in the Reformed Presbyterian manse of Stranraer, on the 14th February 1824, where he spent his boyhood, receiving his early training under his father’s roof. Having been early destined for the ministry, his education was conducted with a view to that profession. The gradual development of his mind, rather than any premature progress, was the object contemplated in his education; and the wisdom of this method was abundantly shown in the maturity reached by Mr. Symington in after-life. When yet young he was enrolled as a student of Glasgow University, and passed creditably through the usual classes attended by those who are designed for the Church. In the Hebrew class particularly he stood very high among his fellow-students. After his university course was finished, he entered on the study of theology under the tuition of his venerable uncle, the late Dr. Andrew Symington of Paisley, who was at that time theological professor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church.
Mr. Symington was licensed to preach the gospel towards the close of 1845; and during his brief probationary course he received three calls, one of these being to Castle-Douglas, which he accepted; and he was ordained to the pastorate of that congregation by the Presbytery of Dumfries in 1846.
After an influential and useful ministry of about thirteen years, in the locality of which Castle-Douglas is the centre, Mr. Symington was, on two different occasions, called to be colleague and successor to his father, who had been now for many years minister of the Great Hamilton Street Reformed Presbyterian congregation, Glasgow. With the second of these calls he saw it his duty to comply; and he was inducted to the collegiate charge of the Great Hamilton Street congregation in the spring of 1859. This collegiate charge, though a happy one while it lasted, was not of long continuance, as the lamented death of his father in a comparatively short time afterwards left the whole burden of the congregation on the shoulders of his son. But Mr. Symington’s gifts as a preacher eminently fitted him for a city, and for sustaining the reputation that at that time surrounded the pulpit of Great Hamilton Street. His health, however, soon began to decline, and became uncertain; which made it necessary to procure for him some relief both from his pulpit and pastoral work. This at length led, during the course of the past year, to the appointment of the Rev. Simeon R. Macphail to be Dr. Symington’s colleague and successor; an appointment that gave great satisfaction to the senior pastor as well as to his congregation, and that happily not only prevents the congregation being at present a vacancy, but holds out cheering hopes of future prosperity. It may be mentioned that the last sermon Dr. Symington preached in his own pulpit was on January 12th of this year, which was listened to, we have been told, with marked attention. On the Sabbath following he preached at Greenock, and baptized the child of his cousin, the Rev. Andrew Symington of Greenock; while on Sabbath the 26th of January he assisted the Rev. Mr. Edgar of Barrowfield Church at the dispensation of the communion. He was thus engaged, to the extent of his bodily ability, in the work he so much loved up to the very close of his sudden and lamented death, at the comparatively early age of fifty-five.
Dr. Symington will long be remembered by those who knew him as a man of highly-cultured mind, of excellent judgment, of most amiable disposition, of dignified, self-possessed, kind, and courteous bearing. His gentleness was such as made it impossible for him to wound or annoy the feelings of any one, if this could possibly be avoided. Then he was the very soul of honour; a mean or ignoble act he recoiled from as at once unworthy of a man and a Christian. This style of life, sustained as it doubtless was by religious principle, made his friendly fellowship at once true and elevating.
As a preacher he was in the best sense evangelical. He had no fondness for novelties in doctrine, or for saying anything that was startling or sensational. His solid judgment and exquisite taste forbade this. He was a sound Calvinist, not merely because he was trained in this school of theology, but because he was personally convinced that the Calvinistic system of doctrine was in accordance with the Word of God. In his public ministrations, however, there was nothing that betokened the bondage of a man who is held in fetters by any theological system, and who is afraid to utter a word, without explanation, that might have the appearance of a deviation from it. The perfect freedom and freshness of his expositions and discourses manifested them to be directly drawn from the divine Word, and, at the same time, to be in fullest and richest sympathy with his own mind and feelings. While his preaching was pre-eminently lucid and scriptural, and practical rather than speculative or controversial, it was arranged, as to its form, with a rare beauty and elegance, that to a mind of any culture rendered it peculiarly attractive. His delivery was exceedingly dignified, and harmonized with his commanding figure; and this, combined with the logical sequence of his thoughts, and the felicity with which they were often expressed, not to say the intrinsic value of the thoughts themselves, made many of his sermons alike fascinating and edifying. These statements are made by the writer advisedly, and as the expression of his own sincere feelings. For in the earlier part of Mr. Symington’s ministry he has heard from him sermons that, whether as regards religious power, or mental vigour, or the diction of real culture, would compare favourably with the best sermons he ever heard.
In his ecclesiastical capacity Dr. Symington, while thoroughly attached to the Church in which he was brought up, and to its principles, at the same time saw how the application of these principles not only might, but ought to be varied in adaptation to the developments of divine providence. He therefore, from the first, approved of the movement for union among the Churches, in which the Reformed Presbyterian Synod was invited to take part; and he took a cordial part all along in the negotiations which happily issued in union with the Free Church in May 1876.
It may perhaps be mentioned that since this union, less than three years ago, the death of Dr. Symington is the eighth death among the ministers of the old Reformed Presbyterian Church. What an impressive lesson this is to those who still survive to work while it is to-day, since the night cometh when no man can work!
It was amidst manifestations of mingled respect and sorrow that the remains of our late lamented friend were conveyed from his residence to their last resting-place in the Glasgow Necropolis, where the ashes of so many of the honoured dead repose. He was buried in his father’s tomb. The dust of father and son, who so often from the same pulpit spoke with eloquent lips the words of eternal life, are now mingled together in the same sepulchre. Their spirits are now, we trust, with Jesus among the washed and the sanctified, their bodies resting in the grave till the resurrection of the just, when those who have died in the Lord shall rise in union to Him in whom they died; this corruptible putting on incorruption, and this mortal putting on immortality, when the saying that is written shall be brought to pass, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
REV. JOHN SYM, EDINBURGH
(Died 28th January, 1855)
The Home and Foreign Record, March, 1855, p.212nthly, June 1, 1886, Biographical Notices, p.179
On the morning of Sabbath, the 28th of January last, while the bells were ringing for the first service, it pleased God to remove by death this amiable and talented minister of Christ. The report of an event so wholly unexpected smote on the hearts of all that heard it like a knell at midnight, and it was some time before the listener could bring himself to believe that he had heard aright. Evil tidings spread quickly, and already the death-message had met several of his own flock on their way to the house of prayer. Most of them were quite ignorant of their minister’s illness, and expected nothing else than to see him in his wonted place on this their communion Sabbath. Many a prayer had ascended that morning to the throne of grace in his behalf, the supplicants little imagining that he for whom they pleaded so earnestly, in the prospect of his Master’s service, was at that moment in the midst of “the swellings of Jordan.” Others who had entered the church in ignorance of what had happened, were only apprised by the first prayer offered up by Dr Bannerman, who officiated in his stead, that their beloved pastor was no more.
Mr Sym was apparently in his usual health on the preceding Sabbath. On that day he had preached with his wonted vigour from Isaiah 35:3, “Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.” A preacher having officiated in the afternoon, Mr Sym baptized a child; and it has since been remarked that, contrary to his usual custom of allowing the officiating preacher to pronounce the benediction, he performed that office himself. It was the last blessing he pronounced over his flock. That evening he preached at his mission station, Leven Lodge, taking as his subject, 2 Kings 5:1-3. On the Monday following, after meeting with his class of young communicants, he officiated at a prayer-meeting in Fountain Bridge Territorial Church, and thereafter met with his session. On Tuesday, he was paying visits in the town and its environs to his friends, who remarked nothing unusual in his appearance: but at night he complained of illness, and retired early to rest, when he was seized with inflammation. In the course of the week this was completely subdued, and no danger was apprehended. But on Saturday evening fever supervened; the symptoms rapidly became more alarming; delirium ensued, and, without any interval of consciousness, he continued to sink, till about a quarter before eleven o’clock on Sabbath morning, when he breathed his last, having just completed the forty-sixth year of his age.
Seldom has a gentler and quieter spirit passed away—gently and quietly as it had walked—from the land of the living. Among the many mournful cavalcades which the present winter has witnessed in our streets, few have been followed by hearts more unstrung with grief, and eyes swollen with more unbidden tears, than his, as his remains were conveyed by his friends, his brethren, and his flock, to their resting-place in the Greyfriars’ Churchyard. Hardly even yet can we realise his departure: and in attempting the following brief sketch, we feel haunted by a vague consciousness of his presence, and checked by reflecting that no man would have deprecated so much the idea of being dragged before the public in the shape of a formal and lengthened obituary. But a sense of duty to the living, who may profit by his example, our obligation to the grace of God which made him what he was, “a burning and a shining light,” and a grateful recollection of the services which he rendered to his Church, with one of whose schemes his name has for some years been identified, seem to demand that he should not be allowed to depart without some memorial in these pages.
John Sym was born at Paisley on the 19th January 1809. It is pretty generally known that he was a cousin of the late distinguished Professor John Wilson. When but a youth, he had all the gravity and sagacity of ripened manhood. “When he was a student in theology,” says one of the companions of his youth, who maintained with him a long and intimate friendship – the Rev. George Craig, of Sprouston, Kelso – “he was the originator and master-spirit of a small and select society, which met weekly for study of the Word of God and prayer; and though he was the youngest member in it, I remember well the maturity of judgment he displayed in the handling of the Word, and the unction with which, in his turn, he guided our devotions. There was even then a solidity and maturity in his views of divine truth which are usually the results of much study and experience.” Having received licence in 1832, he laboured for some months as a preacher in St Enoch’s, Glasgow, then vacant by the translation of Dr Macfarlan to Greenock. The value placed upon these early ministrations by the people of St Enoch’s was very high; and considering his youth at that time, enhanced by the extreme juvenility of his appearance, it was remarkable that his pulpit services should have had so much weight, and that the youthful prophet should not have been without honour in his own country. In the year 1833, he was ordained to the parish of Sprouston, near Kelso, and had not continued there more than a year, when, sorely to the regret of his people, he was selected to succeed the late Dr Inglis as one of the ministers of Greyfriars’, Edinburgh. In this charge he laboured for some time as colleague with Dr. Guthrie, till the removal of the latter to St John’s. At the trying period of the Disruption, without a moment’s hesitation, he cast in his lot with those who—feeling that they were shut up, as honourable men and as consistent witnesses for truth, to forsake an establishment in which the laws of Christ were held subservient to the will of man—constituted the Free Church of Scotland. In taking this decisive step, he was followed, from mingled attachment to the man and his cause, by a respectable portion of his congregation; and the best evidence of the fidelity and success with which he has since ministered among them is to be found in the universal sorrow into which they have been plunged by his death, attesting how he had endeared himself to young and old, and how deeply his character and ministrations had sunk into their souls, and entwined themselves with every fibre of their hearts. Such a result, so nearly resembling that of a domestic bereavement, is not to be ascribed solely to his public services, ably and affectionately as these were conducted. It points to the closer converse and companionship of the pastor, and tells of broken hearts that have been healed, and of bleeding wounds that have been staunched, and of the gloom of personal and domestic affliction that has been cheered, by the sweet soothing voice now, alas! hushed in death, and by the tender, assiduous hands now mouldering in the dust.
In his ecclesiastical sphere, Mr Sym rendered the most important services, by the zeal, the wisdom, and the ability with which he acted as Convener of the Home Mission Committee. It is not easy to say how much the Church has lost by the removal of one so sagacious in counsel, so upright, so warmly interested in her affairs, and so well fitted by tact and experience for their management. It is affecting to know that the last public service in which he engaged was that of officiating at his own mission station; and that, even in the moments when the delirium of fever raged beneath that brow, formerly so placid and sedate, his mind seemed, from its incoherent expressions, to be intensely occupied with the affairs of the Home Mission.
Owing to the unassuming modesty of the man, Mr Sym’s worth was not so generally known as it deserved. If, indeed, there was anything that he seemed to carry to excess, it was the retiring, the almost feminine delicacy with which he shrunk from obtruding himself on the gaze of the world. Not that he was deficient in honourable ambition to excel— for, whatever he did, he strove to do well; but the standard of excellence which he proposed to himself was neither a low nor a common one, and led him to avoid ordinary opportunities of public display.
“He’d learnt to prize the quiet lightning deed,
Not the applauding thunder at its heels,
Which men call Fame.”
No man seemed to have so rigidly gauged his own mind, and firmly settled his own position in the sphere of human activity. To those who knew him well, his self-estimate stood far below the real mark. To talents of no common order, and fitted to shine in the field of speculation, he added a native shrewdness and penetration admirably qualifying him for bringing these talents into practical use. He was daily rising in the estimation of his brethren; and had it pleased Providence to spare him a little longer, evidences were not wanting to shew that, in spite of his native reserve, the innate force of his mind would have elevated him into greater eminence than ever.
But though thus in some measure self-secluded from the world, none could come into the most casual intercourse without discovering the genuine kindness and courtesy of the man, the suavity and dignity of the minister, and the unobtrusive piety of the Christian. He was, indeed, in mind as in bearing, the Christian gentleman. Cast in the most delicate and elegant mould consistent with manly beauty, his character was legible in the amiableness of his aspect, the urbanity of his manners, and the sweetness of his language. And yet he would have erred greatly who interpreted that mild dignity of mien to signify aught like lack of firmness. Having once chosen his ground, no man could occupy it with more unflinching determination. Whether it might be a case of discipline, in which it might be needful to say in regard to abuses in the Christian temple, “Take these things hence!” or a great public question, involving the sacrifice of worldly honours and emolument, private friendship or ancestral associations, Mr Sym’s high-souled integrity had counted the cost and stood the test. Next, indeed, to his devotedness to the work of his Master, there stood enshrined in the innermost chamber of his soul, a lofty and almost chivalrous devotion to truth. Truthfulness itself in heart, in action, and in utterance, he aimed at a rigid simplicity, which, ever disdaining to affect more than he felt, may have sometimes assumed the aspect of an indifference which he really did not feel. Hence he was a man of few and well-chosen words, a doer of deliberate and well considered deeds, and a preacher of anxiously prepared discourses. His was a well-balanced mind, which enabled him through life to maintain a high moral consistency, unblemished by the slightest marked deviation from the path of prudence, honour, and probity. “Though” —to avail ourselves again of the language of his friend referred to — “though frank and playful as a child, he was never taken off his guard, so as to give utterance to incautious speech regarding friend or foe. He was singularly free from all bitterness of spirit or remark. What he said in his most unguarded moments might be proclaimed upon the housetops. He was a lover of peace, and a peacemaker. One of the finest sermons which I heard him deliver, while yet a preacher, was on the text, ‘Blessed are the peace-makers.'” He adds, “He had the large-hearted benevolence of the Christian philanthropist. What he did for the temporal and spiritual good, both of the deserving and undeserving, he had no desire that the world should know, and the great day alone will declare it.”
We cannot, however, omit recording one public benefit which Mr Sym originated,— we refer to the establishment of the Victoria Lodging-houses. In 1840, it was his painful duty, as one of the city ministers, to attend upon an unhappy man, James Wemyss, who had been sentenced to death for the murder of his wife. The murder had been committed in a lodging-house in the Grassmarket; and Mr Sym’s attention having been thus drawn to the wretched character of these houses, and to their evil influences on their inmates, he never rested till, by bringing the matter under the notice of leading men, and awakening public attention to the magnitude of the mischief, he succeeded in the establishment of the Edinburgh Lodging-house Association, which has been the means of conferring great practical benefits on the working classes. Nor can we well overlook the active interest which he took in Chalmers’ Territorial Church,—a circumstance to which its respected minister, the Rev. William Tasker, made the following grateful allusion in the discourse which he delivered to the bereaved congregation, on the Sabbath after Mr Sym’s funeral:—”Left as we were—orphans, and yet in infancy—for many months I often knew not what to do. Leaning as we did, under God, upon ‘the old man eloquent,’ it was enough to know that we had him. But when in an instant he was taken from our head, ‘we, being desolate, sat upon the ground.’ It would be base ingratitude were I to refrain from speaking of all the sympathy we received. Nevertheless, I am free to testify here in the presence of God and man, that with the exception of one hereditarily interested, your departed pastor stood forward the nearest, and continued the wisest, the tenderest, and the steadiest of all our friends, next to him that is gone, and whom he had now followed.”
In private life, the cloud of reserve which, to the eye of a stranger, appeared to shade his character, brightened into sunshine, revealing the loving husband, the anxious father, the genial friend, the pleasant companion. Ever ready to tender a word of friendly counsel, there was a ray of happy humour, and harmless as happy, that would occasionally sparkle on the quiet current of his conversation; and anon, as the subject assumed a more serious cast, he would produce, with his usual ” Don’t you think ?” some finely-turned sentiment, which, embedded in its beautiful setting, would glow and glitter, “like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”
On his character as a preacher, it is not needful that we should enlarge. Suffice it to say, that he was not more remarkable for his eloquence and pathos, his affectionate simplicity and impressive earnestness of manner, than for weightiness and unexaggerated truthfulness of his statements. Forming himself originally after the model of the late Dr Welsh (between whom and him there existed a feeling of high mutual admiration, and during whose last illness, it will be recollected, he took charge of his class to the close of the session), his discourses were marked by exquisite taste; but eschewing the ordinary road to popular applause, he sought to gain his object by appealing less to the fancy than to the heart, less to the intellectual than to the judgment and conscience of his hearers. Seldom have the lines of Cowper, giving his ideal of a good preacher, been more fully realised:—
“I would express him simple, grave, sincere;
In doctrine uncorrupt; in language plain,
And plain in manner ; decent, solemn, chaste,
And natural in gesture; much impress’d .
Himself, as conscious of his awful charge,
And anxious mainly that the flock he feeds
May feel it too; affectionate in look,
And tender in address, as well becomes
A messenger of grace to guilty man.”
Mr Sym has left behind him a mourning widow, with seven children, six of whom are daughters, and the eldest of whom is only sixteen. Providence, while taking him away, in the prime of life and in the midst of his usefulness, kindly spared him the pain of separation from this endeared circle, by drawing over the scene the curtain of unconsciousness; and, in these circumstances, the following passage, from a discourse on the death of Stephen, which he lately delivered to his people, must be read with peculiar interest, and serves indeed as a fitting improvement of the melancholy event which it seemed to anticipate:—
“We too, my friends, must all taste of death. Even to the best of us, it is an awful thing to die. It may be we may have a bed of down on which to breathe out our soul, and not, like Stephen, surrounded with enemies, but with a cluster of weeping friends, or helpless little ones, imploring the delay of our departure. But to the righteous, how serene and peaceful is that night! Though darkness reigns outwardly, the light of heaven dwells within. It is like the bud just opening, to shew the full beauty of the rose. If we look to Jesus as our Saviour, who is standing near to shield us in the last alarms, we need fear no evil.”
REV. JOHN SYMON, ST. PAUL’S, PERTH
(Died August 20, 1896)
Author: Rev. D. Douglas Bannerman, D.D., Perth
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, November, 1896, Obituary, p.281
Mr. Symon was one of a class of men to whom the Free Church of Scotland owes much of her position and influence in the country, especially in its mining and industrial centres. In youth and early manhood he worked as an artisan in Perth and Arbroath. Brought to full decision for Christ in the memorable times of 1860-62, he gave himself to home mission and evangelistic work as opportunity offered, and soon showed gifts which drew the attention of Christian friends, and led to his being helped and encouraged in the path which ultimately brought him to the ministry.
After good service in the home mission field in Edinburgh, he was recommended to me for a mission station in a mining district near Dalkeith. I well remember my first interview with him, and the impression of genial vigour and capacity for service which he made upon me. There had been good work done in the iron church at Newton-Grange by two previous missionaries, both of whom are now ministers of our church. Mr. Symon was just the man to take up the work of the mission and carry it forward to a point from which it rose, in the hands of his successor, Mr. Hardie, to be a regular sanctioned charge, the Free Church of Newbattle, with minister, church and manse, and halls of its own, a great centre of evangelical life and work in a wide and populous district, and doing its duty liberally by the Sustentation Fund and missions at home and abroad.
From Newbattle Mr. Symon was called to his native city of Perth to undertake the work of gathering and building up a congregation in an old Disruption edifice in a central part of the town, left vacant by the removal of the congregation which had formerly occupied it to a new church at some distance. Beginning with a mere handful of people, Mr. Symon made such progress within two years, on the lines of genuine home mission work, as to induce the General Assembly of 1881, on the request of the presbytery, to sanction his settlement, on exceptional conditions, as pastor of a growing and most interesting congregation. After his ordination in that year, the work of ingathering and upbuilding, and the development of Christian activity, in the congregation went on steadily, until, at last Assembly, the return of members for St. Paul’s was 556, and this notwithstanding constant and heavy losses year by year, through the removal of members from Perth to other places. How much zeal and ability, what unceasing pastoral work, what devotion to the cause of the gospel, what good seed sown here, to spring up and bear fruit in other fields, are represented by such a result cannot be expressed in words. “The day will declare it,” when every such servant of Christ in His church “shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.”
Mr. Symon’s influence was felt far beyond his own congregation. He was recognized as a power for good in the city and a wide surrounding district in the cause of the gospel, of gospel temperance and purity, and in all that concerns the highest welfare of the community. Especially was this the case as regards the working classes, to whom his heart always went out with a special warmth, and to whom he spoke with a practical knowledge of their difficulties and temptations, and with a genuine and manly sympathy which gave him a peculiar influence and helped him to draw so many of them to the church, and, as we trust, to the Saviour. Mr. Symon’s strong and living hold of the central truths of the gospel, along with his gifts of natural eloquence, of humour, and of pathos, made him peculiarly acceptable and effective in special missions at Strathpeffer and elsewhere. Not a few testimonies have been received as to the fruit of his labours in these fields.
The scene in and around the church at his funeral was a singularly impressive and touching one, from the numbers of working people and their children present in such deep and unaffected grief. Certainly the saying that “a prophet hath no honour in his own country” did not apply to Mr. Symon. He lived and died “among his own people,” in the city in which he was born, respected and loved in no ordinary way, and mourned and missed as few men are. It is an unmistakable and most honourable testimony to the genuineness of his character and the consistency of his life both as a Christian man and a minister of Christ.