"Brother thou wast mild and
Gentle as the summer breeze
Pleasant as the air of evening
When it floats among the trees."
AWAY back in the thirties,
three young men, all in the prime of life, started from the township of
Williams to attend the Communion in Zorra, a distance of forty miles. For
some time they travelled by themselves, but, like Israel of old going up to
Jerusalem to attend the yearly feasts, these young men went from strength to
strength, their number being constantly increased until when they reached
Zorra, the Jerusalem of their day and country, there was a goodly company of
them. The Communion services were greatly enjoyed by all the three, and now
they were on their return journey—quite a company at first, but they soon
began to separate, each going his own way, until the original three were
left to pursue their journey alone as they had begun it. Conversation was
kept up at firsts but at length was dropped, and the three walked in perfect
silence for some time, until they came to a resting place. This was a spring
of water by the roadside, bubbling up from a white pebbly bottom, and
gushing out from between the roots of a great oak tree that had probably
sheltered it for many centuries. It was a lovely spot, bestrewed with
maguerites, dandelions, blue flags, yellow daisies, white lilies, and the
wild roses delicately fair with their faint evanescent odor. Here on a rough
stone they all sat down and slaked their thirst, while they satisfied their
hunger with bannock bread, butter, and crowdy, with which their hospitable
Zorra entertainers had furnished them on parting. Still not a word was
spoken; all were silent. At last one of them broke the spell by asking the
"What are you thinking
"I was thinking," replied
one, "that I would sell my property in Williams and go to Zorra, where I can
get the gospel."
"And what are you thinking
about?" was the return question.
"My thought was different
from yours; I was thinking how we could get the gospel to Williams."
While sitting there under the
shadow of the great oak, and by the spring of water, they held a counsel and
the decision was that they would begin by holding a prayer meeting, each in
his house by turns. One of them who was soon to return to Zorra to teach
school, was to be on the lookout for some minister or probationer who could
be persuaded to come to Williams, for as yet there was no settled minister
there. This latter was Lachlan McPherson, and the result of the conference
was that, when Rev. Duncan McMillan came to visit his friend, Rev. D.
Mackenzie of Zorra, Mr. McPherson, who was now teaching school in Embro,
prevailed upon him to visit Williams. Soon after he was ordained and
inducted as their first minister; and in this way the gospel was brought to
this important section of country. The other two who took part in the
conference were J. McIntosh and D. Fraser. After teaching in Embro for a few
years, and studying Latin and Greek with the Rev. Mr. Mackenzie, Mr.
McPherson took a full course of theology in Knox College, Toronto. In 1849
he was settled as minister of Williams, his first and only charge. Here he
labored with fidelity and success for thirty-four years, when, owing to
ill-health, he resigned, and took a trip to Scotland, hoping to regain his
health; but in vain. In July, 1885, he wrote from Inverness to his old and
esteemed elder, Mr. William Menzies, of Ailsa Craig, to come to Scotland and
take him and his wife back to Canada, if only (as he said) "to die among his
dearest friends." He was too weak to undertake the journey alone. Mr.
Menzies says: "I gladly responded to his most pathetic request, and aided by
a kind Providence, removed Mr. and Mrs. McPherson, as they desired, to Ailsa
Craig." But health returned not. The cistern was broken and the waters were
too surely ebbing away. He died in March, 1886, in the seventy-second year
of his age. Mrs. McPherson returned to Scotland in July following.
Mr. McPherson deserves a
place in this volume because of his intimate association with the minister
and people of Zorra, especially on their Communion occasions.
In stature he was rather
under the average height; in disposition he was grave and serious, but very
pleasant and never morose. His portrait appears at the beginning of this
chapter, and the artist, as if by an unconscious inspiration, has
wonderfully succeeded in giving expression to the kind, benignant
countenance of Mr. McPherson, strikingly reminding one of the well-known
pictures of the sainted McCheyne. There was nothing trifling or frivolous
about him, and yet he was perfectly free from everything like affectation in
his manners. He had that dignity that so befits the servant of Christ, and
yet he answered to a remarkable degree Paul's description of a Christian
minister, "gentle, apt to teach, patient, meek."
In the pulpit his manner of
address was rather slow, but earnest and solemn. His subject was always well
studied out, and very orderly, everything being in its proper place. Indeed,
orderliness was one of his characteristics in every department of life; his
very penmanship was model, every letter being perfectly formed. What a
contrast to the hieroglyphic penmanship of some ministers! He was a patient,
conscientious student; and every week wrote out in full two long sermons,
one in Gaelic and the other in English, but the manuscript was never brought
into the pulpit.
He was a man of much prayer,
and this gave mellowness and sweetness to his home life.
"When one who holds communion
with the skies
Has filled his urn where those pure waters rise,
And once more mingles with us meaner things,
'Tis e'en as if an angel shook his wings;
Immortal fragrance fills the circuit wide,
That tell us whence these treasures are supplied."
From the ivory palaces of
meditation and prayer he came forth to unfold the glory of the Saviour, and
to woo sinners for Him whom his soul loved. The great leading doctrines of
the scriptures were expounded with singular clearness, fidelity, and zeal.
The atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ; the infinite merit of His
righteousness; the necessity for the Spirit of God to enlighten, convict,
and save; justification by faith the only way of salvation; the crown rights
of Immanuel, King of Zion and King of Kings ;—these great doctrines, not
"thundered" but "poured out in gentle streams" by Lachlan McPherson, were
blessed by the powerful demonstration of God the Spirit to the souls of men,
putting life into dry bones, and clothing them with power and beauty. He had
many souls for his hire; some in Zorra, but more in Williams. And the
unflinching maintenance, and vigorous defence of these doctrines are
urgently demanded in our day when there is such a strong tendency to
formalism and worldliness.
On the doctrine of the
Headship of Christ over the Church and over the Nations, he was peculiarly
sensitive lest the scripture standard might be lowered. And when the Free
Church and the United Presbyterian Church were united in 1861, Lachlan
McPherson and his devoted people testified against the union, and refused to
enter it. This is scarcely the place to discuss the great practical
importance of this doctrine; but just as its importance is appreciated and
maintained will the Church of Christ be free from human excrescences in its
polity and doctrines, and Christ be recognized in our politics, from which
at present He seems to be excluded. Afterwards, however, Mr. McPherson and
his people came into the united church, only to leave it forever, along with
his life-long friend, John Ross of Brucefield, and their two elders, when
the larger union of 1875 was consummated. The reasons will appear more fully
in our next chapter.
Strange that a man of such a
mild and gentle spirit should yet, Athanasius-like, stand out alone against
the action of all the ministers of his church. But such a man was Lachlan
McPherson. He combined the lion and the lamb. To him conscience was supreme,
and its behests he always obeyed at whatever cost. Perhaps few men ever
possessed at the same time so much of the "suaviter" and the
"Nor number, nor example, with
To swerve from truth, or change his constant mind,
The following are a few
specimens of Mr. McPherson's pulpit utterances, for which I am indebted to a
correspondent who was, for many years, intimately associated with him in
church work. This correspondent writes: "The first time I saw or heard Mr.
McPherson was in the summer of 1852, at the Communion in Brucefield. His
text was Isaiah 50: 10, 'Who is among you that feareth the Lord, obeyeth the
voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? Let him
trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.' He raised the
question, Is it so that one who is trusting in the name of the Lord, and
obeying the voice of His servant, can, nevertheless, be walking in darkness
and without light? Yes, even such a one can be in darkness; but here is the
remedy, 'Let him trust in the Lord and stay upon his God."
On one occasion in the same
place, his text was I Pet. 2: ii, "Dearly beloved, I beseech you, as
strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the
soul." He said, "War supposes killing; and if you do not kill your lusts,
your lusts will kill you—they will kill your soul."
At another time, preaching
from Malachi 3: 17, "And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in
that day when I make up my jewels," he said, "Some of them are not much,
like jewels now; they are jewels, but they are diamonds in the rough."
At another time, preaching
from 2 Cor. 6: 17-18, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye
separate saith the Lord," etc., he said, "You cannot coax the world to
heaven, it will not go with you one foot; the best thing that you can do for
the world is to come out and testify against it."
On Gal. 2: 20, "Christ liveth
in me," he remarked, "Let Christ speak through your mouth, and weep through
your eyes, and smile through your face; let Him work with your hands, and
walk with your feet, and be tender with your heart."
At times his illustrations
possessed great force and beauty. Speaking of the believer's peace, and its
independence of external circumstances, he compared it to the still,
mysterious depths of ocean, that are beyond the reach of winds and waves.
Describing the natural
blindness and folly of the unrepentant sinner, he said, "Be not like the
foolish drunkard, who, staggering home one night, saw his candle lit for
him, and exclaimed, 'two candles,' for his drunkenness made him see double.
'I will blow out one,' and as he blew it out, in a moment he was in the
dark. Many a man," said the preacher, "sees double through the drunkenness
of sin—he thinks he has one life to sow his wild oats in, and then the last
part of life in which to turn to God; so, like a fool, he blows out the only
candle that he has, and in the dark he will have to lie down forever. Haste
thee, O traveller to eternity! thou hast but one sun, and if that sets, thou
wilt never reach thy home."
For Mr. McPherson we do not
claim any extraordinary gifts of intellect, but we do claim for him a rich
endowment of that goodness which only the Divine Spirit can impart. We may
not be able to say, "Tread lightly on his ashes, ye men of genius, for he
was your kinsman;" but we can say what is far better, "Weed his grave clean,
ye men of goodness, for he was your brother."