"We thank thee for the quiet
rest thy servant taketh now,
We thank thee for his blessedness and for his crowned brow
For every patient step he trod in faithful following thee,
And for the good fight foughten well and won right valiantly."
REV. JOHN FRASER'S connection
with Zorra dates from a time much more modern than that of the other
ministers we have mentioned; but forty years ago he was a frequent visitor
to the district Communion occasions, and he was an important factor in the
upbuilding of the sturdy Presbyterianism of that day. His commanding figure,
his stately bearing, his powerful voice, his unctuous tone, his vigorous
delivery, and his impressive discourse will long be remembered.
He was a son of Mr. John
Fraser, banker, of Inverness, Scotland. His mother was a daughter of Major
Alpin Grant, of the Glenmoriston Grants. He was born in Farintosh and was
baptized by the famous Doctor MacDonald, "the Apostle of the North," for
whose memory he had great veneration. Mr. Fraser studied in Aberdeen, where
he won high repute as a classical scholar, and graduated from King's College
there. His tastes were scholarly, and he had a wide acquaintance with
English and classical literature. At that time the writer was a pupil in the
Woodstock Grammar School, taught by Mr. Strauchon. Mr. Fraser visited the
school, and found some of us trying to translate a very difficult Latin
sentence in Horace. He took up the book, at once cleared the difficulty,
leaving us with this sound advice: "Gentlemen, study' thoroughly the Latin
Grammar, and you can go through such a passage as this like a horse
galloping." Here is a pointer for our young students to-day; study well your
grammar, and in every department of life remember how important that the
foundation be well laid.
His special subject of study,
however, was the Word of God; and so proficient did he become in that
department of sacred learning that he not only seemed able to repeat most of
the scriptures, but he had studied critically nearly every portion of the
Old and New Testaments. It was a rare treat to hear him discourse in private
regarding the contents of one of the books of the Bible, especially Paul's
Mr. Fraser came to this
country in 1845 as one of the pioneer missionaries of the Free Church. His
first charge was Melbourne, Quebec, from which he passed successively to the
following charges in Ontario: Cornwall, St. Thomas, Thamesford, Kincardine,
and Indian Lands.
His induction into Thamesford
was on April 4th, 1859, and his resignation in July 1866. Prior to his
settlement here, he taught for some time the St. Thomas Grammar School, at
the same time supplying neighboring pulpits. For two years he thus preached
at Wallacetown, travelling each week, for the most part on horseback, a
distance of 36 miles, and receiving for his work the little "copper"
collection, which was frequently less than he had to pay for his horse.
In the home, his life was
very tender and affectionate. "He was dearer to me," writes a member of his
family, "than ever I made known. I have read McCheyne, Paton, and Drummond,
but in the memory of my father I find more to impress upon me the grand
worth of character and godliness than books could ever teach."
Concerning Mr. Fraser's
social qualities, I will quote at length from a letter by one of his most
intimate ministerial friends:
"We knew Mr. Fraser in both
his public capacity, and private conversation; and much as we appreciated
his public ministrations in pulpit, we enjoyed his private conversation
still more. For my part I do not expect again to meet one whose practical
knowledge of the whole system of revealed truth was so complete. His natural
endowments, early religious training, culture, scholarship, and still
higher, the illumination of the Spirit enlightening and guiding him into all
truth,—all combined, qualified him for the glorious *ork in which he spent
his life and exhausted his strength, although not unwillingly, above the
most, even of his fellow laborers in the Master's vineyard. His simplicity
and gentleness were traits of character rarely to be met with. The Christian
manner in which he always spoke of those who opposed him, or did him an
injury, or caused him trouble, was of the highest order. I have more than
once said to my wife, I wonder will we see a minister like Mr. Fraser any
more? The last time we had the privilege of entertaining him, he was as
interesting as ever, although in delicate health. His interest in the Bible,
in the Church, in theology, and in all pertaining to the salvation of of
souls, and the glory of God, and the honor of his Master was unabated. Well
do we remember how his pleasant face would beam with celestial radiance,
when a fresh religious idea, or a new scripture view occupied his mind."
Mr. Fraser was a good
platform speaker, and frequently gave addresses on astronomy, botany, etc.,
and while his subject may not always have been studied with scientific
accuracy, his fine appearance, beautiful diction, and remarkable fluency
never failed to command admiration.
But the pulpit was his
throne. As observed, his personal appearance was striking; he was somewhat
above the ordinary height, a florid complexion, strong features, and a
bearing peculiarly solemn and dignified. As he entered the pulpit and took
his seat there could sometimes be discerned on his countenance, gloom and
sadness as if the shadow of Sinai were upon him; at other times his
countenance was radiant with joy, indicating that the Great King was giving
him a royal message to the
people. "Amfac thusa mar a thog e shuilean?"
(Did you see how he raised
his eyes?) was an expression not unfrequently heard from some of the older
portion of his hearers on their way home from the church.
His preaching power did not
by any means show itself on all occasions. His wonderful facility of speech
was a powerful temptation to neglect that special preparation so necessary
to the gospel minister to-day. But when he was at his best, and his theme
the great central truth of our religion, few could speak with such eloquence
"In the cross of Christ,"
said he, "justice and mercy and all the attributes of the God of glory met
and kissed each other; justice raised the flaming sword but the Mighty
Shepherd bore the stroke and paid the ransom price and mercy triumphed."
Preaching on John 12: 32,
"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me," he
said: "As the lifeboat will attract the sailor battling for his life amid
the waves, so long will the preaching of a crucified Saviour draw men from
their sins, to a high, pure, and noble life. Other things may tickle the ear
and amuse the imagination, but only the preaching of the cross brought home
by the Spirit of God, can change the heart, purify the life, relieve the
troubled conscience, and save the soul. This is the only lever that will
turn the world upside down."
He knew the Highland heart as
a musician knows his instrument, and could move his hearers as the leaves
are moved in a storm. On Communion occasions what crowds flocked to his
ministrations! The fact needed only to be known that John Fraser was to
preach, and all classes, old and young, English and Gaelic, would hasten to
the place of meeting; and all would be stirred into enthusiasm or melted
into sadness by the mighty power of his eloquence.
He was equally at home in both languages.
Professor Blackie tells us that Gaelic is a language which "few can speak
and nobody can spell." Mr. Fraser could both speak and spell it well, and
write it in penmanship of such clearness and beauty, that the dullest
Sassenach could not mistake the letters.
Who that heard him will ever forget that
wonderful Communion Sabbath, when on the hill-side in Dent's woods south of
Embro, he preached to an immense congregation, his subject being "The last
Judgment?" Suddenly the clouds gathered, there was a flash of lightning, and
then the roll of the distant thunder. The preacher, with the tact and
readiness of the true orator, took the alarming commotions of nature around
him to illustrate the thunders and lightnings of an angry God against his
enemies on that "Great Day." As he depicted with a full, rich voice, and in
solemn sentences, the terrors of the judgment day, and called upon the
stones and trees to witness that he had set life and death before his
hearers, the impression was simply overwhelming. Sighs and sobs and groans
were heard throughout the great congregation and many trembled as if the
judgment had actually come.
"Did you ever hear anything more powerful than
that, even from Dr. MacDonald himself?" was the question put afterwards by
an aged and intelligent elder.
"That sermon will be for the fall or rising of
many in Zorra," said one.
It will meet us again," said another.
In the church courts he seldom spoke, but when
he did speak, few men were listened to with more respect. His anti-organ
speech before the Synod in Montreal, on June 12th, 1868, during the debate
on instrumental music, is universally acknowledged to be one of the finest
dialectic efforts ever witnessed in any of the church courts. The address as
published in pamphlet form is a classic worthy of preservation.
I give some extracts from it here for two
reasons: First, because of the intrinsic merit of these extracts; and
secondly, because they will help to relieve the memory of John Fraser and
those ministers associated with him in opposition to the organ, from the
unjust charge of ignorance, narrowness or bigotry. None of these men, so far
as I know, took the ground that the use of the organ in public worship was
unscriptural. Mr. Fraser, I know, repudiated such an argument. But they did
take the ground that neither the demands of God's Word, nor the necessities
of the church called for the use of the organ in public worship, and that
its introduction was an innovation likely to disturb the peace of the
church, and do much harm. And who will say that such an argument was not
tenable—that it was not consistent with breadth of thought, spirituality of
mind, and thorough loyalty to the church.
But let us hear Mr. Fraser. In seconding the
motion against the introduction of organs and hymns, he began as follows:
"Nothing is more out of place than the reflections which are cast on Gaelic
adherents of our church. Dislike of these innovations is not a peculiarity
of the Highlanders; and even if it were, is there a heart in the Free Church
of Scotland that does not beat in unison with their feelings? They feel
strongly. It would be a wonder—perhaps an unhappy indication—if they did
not. It would be, to me at least, the sign of an altered, a declining
loyalty to the church of their fathers —of a declining piety. They love
their church; they love her with an intense, a chivalrous affection. The
very rocks and water-falls of their native glens are holy for her sake.
Cradled in their northern hills, where Presbyterianism has had for ages the
whole field to itself, they know no church but one; and sad and untimely is
the legislation that would sorely aggrieve and alienate the hearts of that
faithful and ardent people by :the engraftment, in the face of their
conscientious protests, of a foreign element on the service of our
sanctuaries, against which the Presbyterian sentiment of Scotland is so
strong as to be proverbial." . .
"Call it ignorance, if you will—or obstinacy, or bigotry, or rustic
prejudice, that our people love their church with a devotion so deep, so
true, as that you are not able to bend it to an acquiescence in changes
which violate the simplicity of a service enshrined by holy memories in
their fondest veneration. Is that a thing to be deplored, to be treated with
indignation, to be held up for satire, for the taunts and acerbity of an
Fear having been expressed that if the organ was not introduced our young
people would in large numbers leave the church, Mr. Fraser, with great
warmth and power, replied as follows:
"It is argued that without the magic power of
instrumental music the great body of our young people will fall away from
the communion of the church, attracted by the popular and splendid
entertainments of other denominations. This, sir, if true, would be a dark
prospect. But I do not believe it. What! do they mean to assure us that the
pulpits of our church are so deficient in the great attributes of power and
attractiveness as that we must be driven to the fantastic expedient of an
organ and orchestra in order to keep our young people in steady adherence to
our cause? Does Brownlow North need the echoing harmonies of a pipe or chord
when he draws out to heaths and mountain hollows, the tens of thousands that
hang on the gospel simplicity of his ministration? Was it an organ that
filled the aisles of St. Peter's Church in Dundee; or was it the glowing
earnestness of Robert Murray McCheyne.
If we would have a devoted people—a happy,
living, vigorous church we must depend on an influence of another character
than the fine music, or the flashing oratory that regales the fancy, and
wakes up the thrill of fleeting emotional transport; we must rely on the
purity of her doctrines, the efficiency of her ordinances, and the apostolic
fervor of her pastors; on the descent of a "power," and a "glory" that would
make her tabernacles the birth-place of souls. It is then that our people
would love our Zion as "the perfection of beauty," "their chiefest joy,"
their " resting place," their "home."
One more extract must suffice.
Mr. Fraser closed his address as follows: "Sir,
I would pour out my prayer for the peace of the church, that God would be
gracious to us, and quell the agitation that afflicts us. We are called to
do a great work, to lay the foundation in this vast country of the
Christianity of future ages; and we cannot do it but in the power, the
quiescence of fraternal unity. Our church is feeble, it is the period of her
infancy; why shatter her strength with questions that gender strife rather
than godly edifying? The sound of an iron tool was not heard when Solomon's
builders were busy on the temple; it rose amid silent and harmonious
activity, a dwelling place on earth for the God of peace."
In 1886 he retired from the active service of
the ministry; but still, though physically infirm, he continued to preach
the gospel he loved so well, travelling extensively east and west, visiting
his old congregations and friends; and everywhere, in public and in private,
holding forth the word of life:
For some time Mr. Fraser had been in feeble
health, and was seized with paralysis in the house of Mr. Donald Morrison,
Thamesford. He was tenderly cared for, and Mr. Morrison accompanied him to
his home in Montreal, where he lingered in much weakness for a short time,
and then departed this life on the early morning of Sabbath, September 24th,
Where the angels
veil their faces, where the elders cast their crowns, where the weary are at
rest, where the everlasting song is sung—there reposes the freed spirit of