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Pioneer Life in Zorra
Chapter VII. The Old Communion Sabbath—"Doing the Word"


"Raise ourselves above ourselves we must,
Else our lives to others are but dust."

"Is THE sermon done?" was the question asked one who had returned from church sooner than expected. "No," was the prompt reply, "the sermon is preached, but it is not done. The 'doing' of it is for you and me during the week." Having seen our pioneer fathers as "hearers of the Word," let us to-day accompany a few of them on their way home from the communion, and see them as "doers of the Word." "We have heard wonderful things th' day," said Elder Munro. "Yes," observed Alexander Murray, "that was a very practical discourse. If the Lord did so much for us, ought we not to be ready to do something for Him and for one another?"

"I sometimes think," said Donald Urquhart that it was to take away our selfishness, and to make us kind and generous to one another, that the Lord placed us in Zorra. Yonder we were in Scotland, caring nothing for one another, but the Lord disturbed our nest, forced us from our homes, and placed us in this wilderness, where we are so dependent on one another's sympathy and help."

"And bow easy it is to help when there's a mind to," added Mrs. George MacKay. "The other day my little girl came home from school, telling me what a dear little girl Maggie Murray was. Next day I met Maggie, and thanked her for being so good to my little girl. 'Why no!' said Maggie, 'I did nothin' for her, she was cryin' and I just cried with her.'"

"Ah," said Donald Urquhart, "there is a great deal in crying with one another. Do you know that one of the best Christians in Zorra to-day was converted by a tear? Alexander MacNeil, whom you all know and love, had for years listened to some of the grandest preachers in Scotland, including the great Dr. MacDonald himself. But the most earnest and evangelical preaching did him no good. Many others were converted, but he remained hard as ever. After coming to Zorra he often exchanged work with John Morrison, a man who had felt the power of the truth. One day, as MacNeil and Morrison were threshing wheat together in the barn, between the strokes of the flail Morrison spoke a word for Jesus; but MacNeil only laughed at him and hinted at hypocrisy. Now Morrison, as you know, is a man transparently honest and very sensitive, and his soul was filled with grief at MacNeil's banter. So in the flush of emotion a big tear, like a pearl, dropped, although he still kept on with his flail. He tried to hide the tear as well as he could, but MacNeil noticed it; and what years of preaching could not do, that tear did effectually; for MacNeil thought to himself, 'What! does John Morrison. care for me, and weep for my soul? Then it is time I should care for it, and weep for it myself.' And from that day to the present Alexander MacNeil has lived a different life. He was converted by a tear and between the strokes of a flail."

Thus the conversation went on for the first mile or so of the homeward journey. Here John Gunn suggested to Tammas Clarke the propriety of both of them calling upon a poor sick girl who was wasting away in consumption. This girl had a somewhat remarkable experience, and before inviting the reader inside the humble home, we must give him a bit of her history. She and a younger sister had emigrated some years before with their parents from Sutherland- shire. They located in the eastern part of Zorra. With untiring perseverance the father worked, clearing the bush lot, until back of the little log house there was a clearance of fifteen or twenty acres. But alas! one day, chopping alone in the woods, a limb fell upon him, and mortally wounded him. For hours he lay upon the cold earth, bleeding and groaning, with no one to help. His wife was the first one to find him. She did not faint nor scream, but acted like a good, sensible woman, Her shawl she put as a pillow under her husband's head, and with part of her other clothing, she hastily bandaged the gaping, bleeding wound. Neighbors soon arrived. Two boards were procured and nailed side by side. Upon this the poor man was carried home; but he survived only a few days. His last words were, "Oh, Jean, I'm unco' sorry to leave yersel' and our twa bonnie bairns, but the Lord will tak' care o' you an' them."

With a noble spirit Jean faced her now heavy task, trying to do the work of both husband and wife; but the task was too much for her. Sorrow, want of proper nourishment, overwork, and exposure, constituted a burden too heavy to bear; and in a few months a naturally frail constitution succumbed, and Jean followed her "gude man" to the land o' the leal.

And now the two girls were left without father or mother, in a strange land, with no one to counsel or to provide. For a time they fought bravely the battle of life. Mary, the elder, had learned to sew, and her mother had also taught her until she had a fairly good education. Being left destitute, she gathered around her a number of the neighboring children, and taught them reading, writing, arithmetic, and sewing. Then, after her scholars were dismissed, with busy needle, under the midnight lamp, she toiled for herself and sister, and the prospect seemed to be brightening. But alas! the delicate frame had been overtasked. The hectic flush and the hacking cough soon revealed the fires consuming within. And now, in that humble home, she sat a patient sufferer by day, a weary watcher by night, unable to lie down for fear of suffocation, kept awake all night by the incessant cough, dependent largely upon the charity of neighbors, her only prospect that of early descent to the grave.

"Poor girl!" I hear the reader say, "could any lot be harder?" But along with our two friends let us enter the little log shanty and hear what she has to say. With kind but manly bearing, John Gunn walks forward to the invalid and, taking her thin wax-like hand in his, asks:

"Mary, how are you to-day?"

A bright smile plays over her face and lightens every feature, as she answers, "Thank you. I am very well." By this she means, not that her health is good, but that she has no complaint to make against Him who doeth all things well. John draws up a chair, sits down beside the invalid, still holding her hand in his. In sympathetic tones he asks:

"Are you suffering much to-day?"

Another sunny smile. "Yes, a great deal to-day; but it is all right."

Will the reader tell us what enables this poor child of sickness, sorrow, and want, to know that it is all right with her? Has human philosophy ever taught so profound a truth? Listen again:

"Do you not," says John, "get very tired sitting day and night in this chair without change of posture?"

"Of course it would rest me very much if I could lie down sometimes, but my Heavenly Father has been so good to me since I have been in this chair, that, if it were His will I could sit here forever."

Again let the reader reflect. Who is this Heavenly Father? How has He been good to her? What gives her contentment in that chair of suffering? Another question the good man asks:

"Are you not very lonely in the dead hours of night, when your cough keeps you awake and your sister is asleep?"

"Oh, no! When my cough is not too distressing, the night is my happiest time; for when my sister, at my entreaty, has gone to sleep, and the fire burns low, and everything is still in the house, then my Heavenly Father is nearest, and my Saviour is right by my side, and I am so happy that I can hardly keep from awakening my sister to tell her how happy I am."

"Well," replies John, "I am so glad that Jesus is with you and sustaining you."

"Oh, yes," says Mary, and taking a little Bible from the table beside her, she reads, "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." Turning to Isaiah xxvi, she says, "Here is a passage that is sweet to my soul," and then reads, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee."

Four verses of the grand old Covenanters Psalm were sung:

"God is our refuge and our strength,
In straits a present aid;
Therefore, although the earth remove,
We will not be afraid."

Then all engaged in a few words of earnest prayer:

"O thou Eternal Father, infinitely great, and good, and tender! hear us, we beseech Thee. Clouds and darkness often encompass Thee, but justice and truth go before Thy face. Thou hast a right to do with Thy own what seemeth good to Thee, and Thou dost never love them more than when they are in the furnace. O Father! look in pity upon this poor child of sickness and trouble; reveal to her Thy grace, and enable her calmly to rest in Thy love. Sustain her faith, brighten her hope, and cause her to triumph to the end. Amen."

As again John Gunn and Tammas Clarke took the road, the latter said,

"Well, John, I never saw nor heard the like o' that afore. I dinna understan' it."

"Ah!" said John, "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him. This experience he imparts to His beloved. Take Christ as your Saviour, Friend, and Brother, and then you will know what sustains this dying girl, and what makes her so contented and happy amid all her sufferings."

"I never before," said Tammas, "felt as I now do, that there is something real in religion. Why, the sermon this morning, and the sight of the sacred emblems, did not impress me like the testimony of that poor girl."

Not word was spoken while they travelled the next two or three miles along the narrow path through the woods, the one man following the other, as we say, in Indian file. It was evident that there was a fierce conflict going on in Tammas's mind. The testimony he had just heard was a revelation to him. He had never heard anything like it since, in Dornoch, his dying mother took him by the hands and told him to meet her in heaven. John was quick to discern Tammas's mental condition, and thought it prudent to leave him to his own meditations. Coming to the place of parting, John said, "You'll be at the meeting to-night, Tammas."

"Ou, aye," said Tammas, scarcely realizing the nature of the question.

It may here be stated that on each of the five evenings of the Communion, ten or twelve prayer meetings were held in the different sections of the township. These meetings were attended by the families in the locality, the young and the aged. This evening the prayer meeting was not held inside the house, but in the cool shade of a spreading beech tree near by. Tammas was there in good time, and, contrary to his usual custom, did not seek a back seat, but sat near the little table on which rested the Bible and the Psalter.

John Gunn conducted the service. It had been a warm afternoon, but now a heavy dew was falling and the evening was getting chilly. The first to lead in prayer was Elder Rose. He was in his shirt sleeves, his coat lying on the back of his chair. Just as he was rising to pray, a friend sitting by him, perceiving the lowering temperature, and apprehending the danger of catching cold, suggested to the elder the propriety of putting on his coat before engaging in prayer. Suiting the action to the word, he helped to put it on. Then began a prayer that will never be forgotten by those present. The power of the Spirit was there. Taking his idea from the putting on of his coat, the elder supplicated God:

"O Lord, put on us Thine own robe, the glorious garment of Thy righteousness (Oh Thighearna cuir umainn culaidh uat fein eadhon trusgan glortmhor t' fhireantachd); we need it; it is a cold world this, and we cannot live without Thy robe. It is of infinite value, and has cost Thee a great price, even Thy dear Son, His life and death; but Thou wilt give it to us without money and without price. Oh that each one here to-night would accept this beautiful robe; then would Thy comforts fill his soul, and his peace flow as a river."

"I understan' it a' noo," said Tammas to John Gunn, when the meeting was over.

"Understand what? was Gunn's query, put just to draw out his friend.

"Understan' what it is to become a Christian," said Tammas.

"Well, let me hear you explain it."

It's juist to tak' Christ as Elder Rose took the coat. It is as simple as can be. I saw it while the elder was praying about the robe, its cost, its beauty, its comfort, its freeness. I see now how poor dying Mary is so patient and cheerful in her trouble. It a' comes from taking Christ without questionin'."

"Yes," said John, "that's it. Keep that always in your mind, Tammas. It will dispel every doubt and fill you with peace and comfort."

Thus came to a close an old Communion Sabbath in Zorra—a day, on the part of God's people, full of good words and works. That old Sabbath in many of its forms is now an institution of the past, but its fruits still remain. The Lord was in the midst of His people, and His presence made the Communion seasons times of refreshing, so that the Sacrament became throughout the township the great event of the year, from which all other events were dated. Ask a pioneer, "When did you begin haying last year?" and his reply would be that it was three or four weeks (as the case might be), after the Sacrament.


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