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Pioneer Life in Zorra
Chapter XX. Rev. John Fraser, M.A., of Thamesford

"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 epistles.

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 and power.

"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 oratorical invective?"

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, 1893.

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 John Fraser.

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