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Pioneer Life in Zorra
Chapter VI. An Old Communion Sabbath


"There, there, on eagle wings we soar,
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 log church.

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 and sixteenth:

"I love the Lord because my voice
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 was sung:

"Ho! ye that thirst, approach the spring
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 and welcome."

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 said:

"When death's dark stream I ferry o'er,
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!


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