"There, there, on eagle wings
And time and sense seem all no more,
And heaven comes down our souls to greet,
And glory crowns the mercy seat."
CHRISTOPHER NORTH speaks of
the Scottish Sabbath as "a day upon which the sun rose more solemnly, yet
not less sweetly, than on other days, with a profound stillness pervading
both earth and skies." Such was the Communion Sabbath in Zorra, on the
occasion of which we write. A brilliant Canadian sun cast a radiant light on
field and forest, while above was the dark blue sky, with here and there a
fleecy cloud. For hours before the time of meeting, worshippers, many of
whom had travelled from five to ten miles, might be seen gathering to the
It was a time of much prayer
in the congregation, and it was no uncommon thing for the church-goer to
see, here and there, persons emerging from the woods, where they had spent
the whole morning in wrestling with God for his blessing upon the Communion
services. Such prayers united the pioneers with their Maker. To-day the
British people all over the world are sounding the praises of General
Gordon, and doing themselves honor by erecting a monument to his name.
Perhaps a braver man never breathed God's air. But whence his faith, his
courage, his heroism? He was what he was because of secret prayer. During
each morning of his first sojourn in the Soudan, there was one half-hour
when there lay outside his tent a handkerchief, and the whole camp knew the
full significance of that small token, and most religiously was it respected
by all, whatever was their color, creed, or business. No foot dared to enter
the tent so guarded. No message, however pressing, was carried in. Whatever
it was, life or death, it had to wait till the guardian signal was removed.
Everyone knew that God and Gordon were alone in there together.
In more senses than one the
pioneers were strong men, because they were men of prayer. Some came to the
church with ox-teams, but most on foot, and up to the time of worship they
darkened the roads as they still kept coming.
And now the church is crowded
from end to end with thoughtful, earnest worshippers. Perhaps the majority
of those present are men, but the women are there in large numbers. They sit
in families, the mother at one end of the pew, the father at the other, with
the children in the order of their ages between—a happy contrast to what we
too frequently see in our churches to-day--father and mother in a centre
pew, the boys in the gallery, and the girls somewhere else. While, of
course, the greater number are residents of the township, many are there
from such places as East and West Williams, Ekfrid, Mosa, Gwillimbury, etc.
Looking around the congregation you can discern almost everywhere that
physical robustness and vigor, and that energy and force of character, that
have always distinguished the: best class of Scottish peasantry. The old
women wear the white mutch with a black ribbon tied around; the young women
are plainly dressed, but for neatness and good looks would compare favorably
with those of any congregation to-day similarly situated.
"A tuck, a frill, a bias fold,
A hat curved over gypsywise,
And beads of coral and of gold,
And rosy cheeks and merry eyes,
Made lassies in that long ago
Look charming in their calico."
Regular living, plenty of
sleep, fresh air, plain diet, and wholesome exercise did more for health and
beauty than all the advertised nostrums of our day could have done. These
men and women loved their church, and were ready to make any sacrifice to
attend its ordinances. Around the pulpit and in front of it were seated the
elders. We give their names: Robert Matheson, George MacKay, John MacKay,
Hector Ross, Alex. Matheson, Alex. Rose, Wm. MacKay, and Alex. Munro. The
preacher was the Rev. D. Mackenzie, and seldom did he preach with more
fervor and power than on this occasion. The Psalm sung was the one hundred
"I love the Lord because my
And prayer he did hear.
I while I live will call on him
Who bowed to me his ear."
It is needless to say there
was no choir or organ. The singing was not artistic, but it was hearty and
congregational, unlike too much of the singing of to-day, where all is done
by a choir and an organ, while the congregation remains as voiceless as an
asylum of mutes or a graveyard of the dead. The prayers were specific,
appropriate, fervent, and unctional. The text was 2 Cor. viii. 9: "Though He
was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor." Every eye was upon the
preacher as he dwelt on (1) what Christ was—" He was rich"; (2) what He
became—" He became poor"; (3) why this wonderful change—"for your sakes".
With clearness and effectiveness the preacher described Christ as the
sinner's substitute. "For your sakes He left the glory He had with the
Father from all eternity; for your sakes He became man; for your sakes He
lay in the manger, suffered hunger, thirst, weariness, and persecution. For
your sakes He spoke wonderful words and wrought wonderful miracles. For your
sakes He endured the mock trial, the scourging, the agony, and the
crucifixion." Then there was an invitation given to all poor and sorrowing
ones to come and, through His poverty, receive the riches of divine grace.
"You are poor in the things of this world," said the preacher, "but to-day
you may become millionaires in grace." A part of the twenty-sixth paraphrase
"Ho! ye that thirst, approach
Where living waters flow;
Free to that sacred fountain all
Without a price may go."
After this there was the
"fencing of the table." This was a distinctively Highland custom, and has
now fallen into disuse. But Whether its disuse is conducive to better church
membership, or to a higher type of religion generally, is very doubtful. It
is quite possible that in unskilled hands the "fencing of the table" might
discourage weak believers; but it preserved the true dignity of the sacred
ordinance, and made a clear distinction between the genuine and the
spurious—a distinction that is certainly not too much emphasized in our
churches to-day. A faithful "fencing of the table" in our day might
considerably diminish the list of church members, but would it diminish the
real strength and efficiency of the Church? If it diminished the quantity
would it not improve the quality? "But what was this fencing?" asks one of
my young readers.
At the old Communion the
communicants did not, as to-day, sit in their pews while they partook of the
bread and wine. There was a long table extending through the centre of the
church, from one end to the other. This was covered with a snowy white linen
cloth. And before the communicants were invited to surround the table, the
fencing took place. First the minister warmly invited all true believers to
the table. "Eat, O friends; drink, yea, abundantly, O beloved." Then
unworthy communicants are solemnly warned, The holiness of God's law is
declared, and its application to the thoughts of the hearts as well as the
outward life. "This is a holy ordinance, and only those who are living holy
lives have a right to it. Any living in sin who approach this table are
guilty, as Ananias and Sapphira were, of lying unto God. All such we
solemnly debar from the table of the Lord. This bread and wine are not for
you. Some of you know the sins you indulge; perhaps it is the profanation of
the holy Sabbath, 'doing your own ways, finding your own pleasures, speaking
your own words.' Some of you may be guilty of swearing or lying, or
dishonesty, or drinking, or uncleanness. If you take your place at this
table you will eat and drink unworthily; and in the name of the Lord Jesus,
the great King and Head of His Church, I solemnly debar you. Remember, he
that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh judgment to himself.
But all you who truly love the Saviour, and are seeking to serve Him, come
Slowly, one by one, the
communicants leave their pews and take their seats at the table, Evidently
the feelings in the minds of some are those of dread rather than of
affection; and the minister occasionally remonstrates with them for their
slowness in coming forward, reminding them that they are not coming to a
place of execution, but to a feast of love. At length the table is supplied
with guests, and what was called the "first table address " is delivered.
This is full of encouragement and comfort to believers. Then, in solemn
silence, the ordinance is observed, each partaking of the bread and wine.
After this there is the "second table address" in which the communicants are
reminded of the solemn vow they have taken, and are exhorted to go forth
into the world living the life of Jesus.
The services are now over;
yes, they are over, but not in their results. These still live, not only in
the hearts of the few who enjoyed them and remain to this day, but in the
hearts and lives of their children, and their children's children. In lives
made purer and nobler and better throughout all time and eternity, the
service of the old "Communion Sabbath" will be seen. Much criticism has been
expended on these great Zorra Communions. We are told that the ungodly of
the township, as well as those of the neighboring towns and villages, took
advantage of these gatherings for no good end—that they came to them only to
indulge in rioting and drunkenness. This is no doubt true, and is one of the
numberless instances of the abuse of a good thing. But yet, even if we had
the power to prevent such persons coming to such gatherings, we would
hesitate to use the power. True such persons are no help to the ordinance,
but they have precious souls ; and where is it more likely that the "other
sheep not yet of this fold" may be gathered in, than in the "green pastures"
where the Good Shepherd feedeth His flock, and where His "remembrancers" are
met together in His name and by His authority?
But again, it is objected
that even the Lord's people, coming in such numbers from a distance, would
have been better at home; that their coming was an imposition upon the
hospitality of the congregation. Such a complaint, however, never came from
those who entertained them. Such a complaint would have been quite
inconsistent with the well-known hospitality of our pioneer fathers and
mothers. "Come with me," said a good woman to a group of strangers standing
at the church door, "there is room in my house for ten of you, and there is
room in my heart for ten times ten."
It was the poet Burns who
"When death's dark stream I
A time that surely shall come;
In heaven itself I'll ask no more
Than just a Highland welcome."
These were times of
refreshing, and the greatness of the multitude added to the enthusiasm of
the occasion. A big church and only a few people in it, the fathers used to
say, was like a great barn with only one bundle of straw in it— the winds
howl through it. A coal of fire left alone is not likely to burn brightly,
but many glowing coals laid together help to keep each other alight. In the
Church of God under the Old Dispensation the men of Israel did not come up
to Jerusalem by twos and threes, but from all parts of Judea—north, south,
east, and west with glad hearts they came in great companies, and their
praise was a great shout, like the voice of thunder.
The pioneers, like the
apostle, were "filled with the company of the brethren," These sacramental
occasions were the only opportunities many of them had of knowing each other
in this world, and of holding pleasant and profitable intercourse.
Acquaintances sprang up between persons from different parts of the country
who met at the Communion. This acquaintanceship in many cases warmed into
Christian fellowship, so that ultimately one element of happiness in the
Zorra Communion was the pleasure of seeing the faces of dear friends, and
enjoying the sweet fellowship of kindred souls. Who can forget the heartfelt
greeting that took place when a number of old friends met after an absence
of a whole year; or the joy, commingled with sorrow, that filled the hearts
of the Lord's people on Monday, the last day of the feast—joy, because of
the spiritual and social blessings of the season, but profound sorrow that
now the Communion was at its close, and that they were about to separate and
return to their distant homes, many of them not expecting to meet again for
another year, that is till the next Communion season? "When shall we have a
Communion without a Monday?" was an expression on the lips of many, and
meant "When shall we meet to part no more?" Nearly all of these grand old
saints are now enjoying their Communion without a Monday. May we be worthy
sons of noble sires!