"War a good warfare, holding
faith and a good conscience."
—1 TIM. i. 18, 19.
OUR series of pen sketches
would be incomplete without a chapter on Rev. Daniel Gordon, of Harrington.
For though the period of his labors scarcely dates back to what is commonly
known as pioneer days, yet in character and work he formed the last but not
the least of that noble band of seven, who did so much to build up a sturdy
Presbyterianism, and to mould the religious character of the people in this
Rev. Daniel Gordon was born
at Tummelside, Perthshire, Scotland, on March 22nd, 1822. On both sides of
the house he was, as the Scotch would say, "weel connec'it." On the mother's
side the lineal descent can be traced to the celebrated Stuarts of
Fincastle, and through them to Mary Queen of Scots.
In the sixteenth year of his
age, and while a student at the Perth Academy, he was brought to a saving
knowledge of Christ through the preaching of Rev. W. C. Burns, afterwards
the famous missionary to China. Burns was at this time occupying, in Dundee,
the pulpit of Robert Murray McCheyne, who was sent by the church on a
mission of inquiry to the Jews in Palestine. It was a time of mighty,
out-pouring of the Spirit upon the people. At Kilsyth, Dundee, Perth, and
the regions round about, great meetings were held from night to night, and
many souls were saved. It pleased God," says McCheyne (Memoir, P. 282), "to
bring an awfully solemn sense of divine things over the minds of men. It
was, indeed, the day of our merciful visitation."
Mr. Gordon, the subject of
our sketch, entered fully into the spirit of the revival, and travelled for
a time, from place to place, with Mr. Burns; and although only sixteen years
of age, assisted in the good work. May we not in large measure trace the
strong evangelical views of doctrine and the fervor of delivery which have
ever characterized Mr. Gordon's ministry, to the powerful spiritual impluse
his nature received at the time of his awakening?
A letter he received at this
time from Mr. Burns is full of interest. It is dated, Dowally, June 16th,
1841. In glowing language Mr. Burns refers to the work of grace in which he
was engaged. After mentioning a number of students he had met the Sabbath
before, he adds, "May Jehovah keep them, and you and me in the hollow of His
nail-pierced hand, and then we shall be safe, and shall shine as the stars
forever and ever. Oh, Daniel, keep near to Christ! Be like him whose name
you bear. The decree of a king could not keep him from entering into his
chamber, and with his window open toward Jerusalem praying three times a
day! Surely he had found his noonday season of prayer precious, when he
would not give up even it to save himself from the jaws of the lions! May
you find Jesus as sweet and as near as he did, and be made fit through
divine grace to serve Him even in the days of desolating trials." What a
prophetic significance it imparts to these last words, when we remember that
within two years from the time they were penned, the disruption of the
Church of Scotland took place. And was not the prayer of Burns for Daniel
Gordon wonderfully answered? Who that knows the character and work of Gordon
but will testify that even "the decree of a king" could not prevent him
worshipping and serving his God?
In 1840 Gordon entered
Marshall College, Aberdeen, and here completed his Arts course in 1844. In
1845 he entered the Free Church Assembly Hall, Aberdeen, where he studied
theology for three years. Then going to Edinburgh he studied for two years
longer under such professors as Buchanan, Cunningham, Duncan, Candlish, and
On July 12th, 1849, he was
licensed by the Presbytery of Dunkeld, and in the following month he set
sail for Canada. He came here under the auspices of the Colonial Committee
of the Free Church of Scotland.
Arriving in Montreal on
September 27th, he was, without delay, ordained by the Montreal Presbytery
to the work of the ministry.
For four years he labored as
an ordained missionary over all the eastern townships, his centre of
operations being Lingwick, Que. Like many of of the pioneer missionaries,
Mr. Gordon abounded in labors and privations. Long journeys, scanty fare,
preaching twice every day for weeks at a time, marrying, baptizing, burying,
settling disputes, healing divisions, organizing congregations, counselling
and cheering, and attending to the temporal as well as spiritual wants of
immigrants—these were among the things that demanded his constant care.
In 1853, Mr. Gordon received
a call to Indian Lands, Glengarry, Ont., which he accepted. Besides looking
after the spiritual interests of Indian Lands, he had the pastoral oversight
of the large district of country now represented by the congregations of
Maxville, Roxborough, Kenyon, and Apple Hill. The country was in a very
primitive condition, and the story is told of how, on one occasion, a bear
entered Mr. Gordon's log manse at Indian Lands, and ate up a large share of
the family's provisions.
The first part of his
ministry here was greatly hindered by disputes between the Free Church
people and the adherents of the Old Kirk, concerning the ownership of the
church property. Mr. Gordon, as representing the Free Church party, was
taken before the Court of Queen's Bench. The trial took place before Judge
Day, and the the late Sandfield Macdonald was Mr. Gordon's lawyer. Like a
chieftain in the old feudal days, our friend marched to Cornwall at the head
of fifty stalwart Highlandmen. He was charged with housebreaking, because,
contrary to the wishes of half a dozen kirkmen, he had taken forcible
possession of the manse. To lose his case meant imprisonment. But he and his
friends were triumphantly vindicated, and returned home to engage in more
congenial work than going to law with brethren.
About this time also our
friend was greatly annoyed by a preacher of the Plymouth persuasion. This
man had already succeeded in breaking up the congregations at Lochabber,
Lochiel, and Lachute; and he was now travelling Glengarry, like Pat at
Donnybrook Fair, challenging anyone to fight him. The people were disturbed,
and the faith of some was being shaken. Mr. Gordon was no lover of
controversy, but he could not remain indifferent while the armies of the
living God were thus daily defied.
He accepted the challenge. It was decided to meet each evening for ten
nights and discuss the disputed question under the ordinary rules of debate.
The first night came. At least twelve hundred persons were present to hear
the combatants. We cannot go into particulars. Suffice it to say that Mr.
Gordon, surrounded by his Glengarry Highlanders, swept everything before him
like a Western tornado. The debate came to an end the first evening, for the
opponent never showed up again.
After this, Mr. Gordon led
the people in the erection of a large and beautiful church at Indian Lands.
His own people were liberal but poor; and to raise the necessary funds he
went home to Scotland His mission was cordially commended to the sympathy
and liberality of the Scotch people, by such eminent men as Dr. Guthrie, Dr.
Duff, Dr. Candlish, Dr. Thomson and others. So commended, it was, as might
be expected, highly successful.
The opening of the new church
was made the occasion for earnest and persevering prayer for an outpouring
of the Spirit. These prayers were heard; and from 20th July, 1864, till
August, 1865, "no twenty-four hours of the whole year passed away that the
walls of that sacred house did not resound with the voice of praise and
prayer." Night after night the place was packed. There were many enquirers.
Mr. Gordon took charge of the young men, Mrs. Gordon looked after the young
women, and the elders talked with the old people. Many were born again, and
upwards of one hundred were added to the church. Among them were not a few
who afterwards studied for the ministry and most of whom are still living.
The following names may be given: Rev. Colon McKeracher, Rev. D. McKeracher,
Rev. D. McRae, of British Columbia; Rev. D. B. McRae, of Collingwood; Rev.
Mr. Bennett, of Montreal, Rev Mr. McGregor, and Rev. James Stewart.
Mr. Gordon was inducted into
the charge of the Harrington congregation on July 4th, 1871. Here for
nineteen years he labored earnestly and effectively, preaching three times
each Sabbath—first a Gaelic service, then immediately after, an English
service, and then English service in the evening. For the first eight years,
the evening service was held one Sabbath in the church, the next in Mr.
McLean's bush, east of the village, and the next in Mr. Murray's orchard, to
the west. These outdoor meetings were largely attended, and greatly enjoyed
by preacher and people. Many will long remember the powerful voice borne on
the still evening air, warning, pleading, exhorting with all fidelity and
In stature, Mr. Gordon lacked
less than an inch of six feet, straight as a needle, and military in his
bearing. His eyes, usually of a soft, melting blue, sometimes in the pulpit
fairly blazed with excitement.
As a preacher he was sui
generis and paid little attention to the ordinary rules of homiletics.
He was a thorough Calvinist, seldom preaching without keeping the
distinctive Calvinistic doctrines prominently in the front. His oratory was
not the gentle, flowing stream, but the rushing, roaring torrent. He
frequently took his manuscript or notes into the pulpit, but after the first
few minutes, he forgot all about them. He was not what is usually called a
textual preacher, but he said many good things and expressed many grand
evangelical truths in his sermon, and was regarded by his own people as a
He was practical to a fault.
Once, preaching on "Wheat and Chaff," he observed some of his congregation
listless. Suddenly he stopped and shouted," Wheat! Wheat, $1.75 per bushel
in Stratford! Instantly every eye was open and every head raised. "Ah," said
the preacher, I don't know what wheat is in Stratford, but I see you all
wake up when you hear about money; but when I offer you first class wheat
out of God's own granary, you are indifferent, and go to sleep." Needless to
say there were no more sleepers that day.
In one of his congregations
before coming to Harrington, some of the people allowed their dogs to
accompany them to the church. This was a great nuisance, and one morning
when the canines were present in great numbers, Mr. Gordon, after announcing
the text, said in a calm, dispassionate, but firm tone, "In dealing with
this text we will first and foremost put out the dogs." The thing was done
as speedily as possible, and a wholesome lesson taught Mr. Gordon's
At another place some of the
people were in the habit of coming late to church, and what was still more
annoying to the preacher, the whole congregation would turn round to see the
late corner. On one of these occasions Mr. Gordon exclaimed, "Brethren,
never mind turning round; it's J. B---- and his new wife; I married them
Preaching on Zacchus he
described him as a "duine beag brona'ch cosmhuil ri Ian so" pointing to his
light-weight precentor, (a weak little man like John here).
Nature was to him an open
book which he loved to read. Once when attending the General Assembly at
Winnepeg, he went with others across the prairies. One day looking out of
the car window across the vast expanse, he exclaimed, "It's all mine"
(stretching out his hand). When every eye in the car was upon him, he said,
"All things are yours," etc.
He held strong views on the
temperance question, and was not afraid to announce them. When, in 1884, the
Canadian Temperance Act was being submitted in Oxford, Mr. Gordon was among
its foremost advocates. One night the meeting was in Kintore church. Both
sides were announced to speak. E. King Dodds appeared on behalf of the
liquor men, to oppose the measure. The church was packed full. Many
clergymen of different denominations were present. It was arranged that a
number of ministers would speak, then King Dodds would reply, after which
Mr. Gordon would give the closing speech. He did, and the scene will never
be forgotten. He dealt with the whiskey champion's pleas for licensed
bar-rooms, and as he went on depicting the domestic brutality and
destruction, temporal and eternal, of the liquor traffic, he warmed up to
his subject, his eyes glared like a tiger's, his voice roared like a lion's,
his hands gesticulated like a madman's. He fairly danced with excitement.
"My soul,' exclaimed he,
"abhors this traffic in the bodies and souls of men; God could not be God if
He didn't hate it, and there can be no devil who doesn't love it. And shall
we continue to license and protect it? In behalf of childhood and womanhood
and manhood; in behalf of the gospel of Christ I appeal to you my friends
against this enemy of our race, this demon of hell."
Under this terrific fire the
liquor champion cowered, and left the platform, and took his seat near the
door. But Mr. Gordon, still pouring forth a torrent of denunciation, soon
followed him. The crowd cheered vociferously, and King Dodds, concluding
that under the circumstances absence of body was better than presence of
mind, quickly seized his hat and fled from the building. But the excitement
was too great for Mr. Gordon, who suffered for weeks after with nervous
Mr. Gordon has been described
in one of our church papers as "one of the manliest men that ever served the
Presbyterian Church in Canada." "He could, and often did," continues the
same writer, "stand up alone for his convictions."
He was often called to
contend earnestly for the faith, but to a wonderful degree he was able to
eliminate offensive personalities from the discussion, and never did he
emerge from the contest with besmirched garments.
The late Samuel Wilberforce,
Lord Bishop of Oxford, was a very learned ecclesiastic, and quite a polemic.
He was, however, a man of polished manners, and very courtly address.
Indeed, many regarded him as too disposed to say pleasant things, and so he
came to be dubbed "Soapy Sam." One day he was the guest in some great house,
when a child, noways awed by his greatness, ran up to him, and asked, "Why
do people call you 'Soapy Sam?"
He took the question
good-naturedly, and placing the child on his knee, said, "I will tell you,
my darling. It is because I very often get into hot water, but always come
out clean!" So our friend, Mr. Gordon was frequently in hot water, but we
have never heard of an instance when he did not come out clean.
Mr. Gordon, while faithful,
was kind and generous in dealing with offenders. John G., an adherent of his
congregation, was a victim of strong drink. One day Mr. Gordon found him
lying drunk in the ditch. He took him up, shook him well, asking him, "What
brought you here John? The drunken man made prompt and correct answer,
"Hic-hic—sin, Mr. Gordon, sin."
On another occasion he found
the same man paralyzed with drink. He took him to the manse, put him to bed,
and next morning the drunkard woke up amazed to find that he had slept all
night in his minister's house.
A poor girl, a member of his
church, had been betrayed; but her betrayer made what reparation was in his
power by marrying her. However, both had to appear before the session. There
were a number of "Lachlan Campbells" in that session. Many severe things
were said, and it was proposed to expel the guilty couple. Mr. Gordon, for a
time, listened in silence to all the hard speeches; but he could stand it no
longer, and with tears streaming down his cheeks he sprang to his feet,
stood by the poor weeping woman, and shaking his fist defiantly at his
elders, exclaimed, " Let him that is without sin cast the first stone at
In private life he was
extremely warmhearted and loveable. A few weeks ago the writer interviewed
him at his present home in London, Ont. I found him recovering from severe
illness, but bright and cheerful, rejoicing in the Lord. He talked of Dr.
Willis, the keenest logician the Canadian Church has ever had; of Dr.
Chalmers, the great Free Church leader in Scotland ; and of W. C. Burns, the
famous missionary, to whom under God he owed his conversion. He spoke
hopefully of the Canadian Church to-day. Then he took down his bagpipes, the
gift to his father from the late Duke of Gordon, and played with spirit that
pibroch that never fails to stir the Highland heart—"Mackintosh's Lament."
It was a fine scene, not readily to be forgotten, the old man approaching
his four score years, buoyant as a boy, and happy as if already by
anticipation in heaven. Before separating, we, on our knees, commended each
other to God and to the Word of His grace.
In the portrait, at the
beginning of this chapter, Mrs. Gordon appears with her husband. She is well
entitled to this place for in the highest sense she was his "better half."
She was a woman of excellent education and lofty piety. Her quiet and
pleasant manner, and the kindly interest she took in the concerns of the
congregation endeared her very much to the hearts of the people. The
existence of "Gordon Mission Bands" in the Presbyteries of Stratford, Paris,
and other places will continue as monuments to her memory. She belonged to a
highly intellectual family, including the late Robertson Smith, Professor of
Hebrew in Cambridge College; Rev. Andrew Murray, the author of so many
well-known works on the Christian life; Miss Robertson, a well-known author;
and her own son Charles, an able minister and a brilliant writer.
Mr. and Mrs. Gordon were
married at Sherbrooke in 1851, and until her death, in 1890, she wrought to
the limit of her strength, yea, and beyond it, in doing the Lord's
service—teaching a Bible class that often had more than 100 members in it,
visiting the sick, relieving the poor. She organized all the Presbyterian
Auxiliaries of the Women's Foreign Missionary Society in the Stratford
Presbytery, and many other auxiliaries and mission bands throughout the
country. She will long be remembered.