THE Rev. Gavin McBean was a grave,
solemn old man, who inspired awe rather than affection. He was brought up
in the old Covenanting school, was most unbending, and maintained, during
the forty years that he preached in the Ninth Concession kirk, a dignity
and reserve which held the people at arm’s length. He was, however, a man
of education and refinement, and, as Muckle Peter stoutly maintained
against all critics, "a man o’ Goad, deeply versed in th’ Scruptures, an’
a powerful releegious controversalist."
He never, however, succeeded in
getting down to the plane of the people, in inspiring their confidence,
and in walking with them as a guide, philosopher, and friend. The
character of his sermons was cold and generally of an abstract nature, and
he invariably wound up by appeals for money to carry on the "schemes of
the church." This was not the kind of pulpit pabulum calculated to inspire
the religious enthusiasm and fervour of the settlers, and as a consequence
the subscriptions diminished, until the taking up of the collection by the
elders came to be called the "getherin’ of the coppers"; it was a rare
thing to find on the "plate" a coin larger in denomination than a copper
or penny. Indeed, it was the frequent custom for the adherents to call at
the toll-gate on the way to service, and get their
reduced to the smallest possible denomination.
The word "plate" is quoted, because
the vehicle actually employed to "gether the coppers" was a black velvet
bag about eight inches deep with a tassel at the bottom and was attached
to a long stick. When this was passed along the pews, any member of the
congregation could make as big a chink by dropping in a copper or even a
button, as he could with a York shilling.
I have known the McNabb boys take to
the barn when they saw the minister coming down the Concession on his
annual round. It was all their mother could do to get them to come into
the house, have their faces washed and a fresh clean smock hurriedly
placed on their backs by the time the good man arrived.
Then the widow, all bustle and
excitement (for the minister’s annual visit was an important event to the
settlers), would stand the children in a row and question them on the
"Now, Jamie lad," she would say,
"tell me what is the chief end of man. The minister will be here in a
moment, and I would be fashed to have him think that your spiritual
training was neglected." Jamie gave the answer that is familiar to every
"How many persons are there in the
Godhead?" the widow next asked, of Willie. Willie was able to give the
correct answer promptly.
"What is justification?" was the
question asked of Lizzie. And when it was answered, the anxious mother
asked a few other questions taken at random from the catechism, and by the
time the answers were given, there was a knock at the front door, which
Mrs. McNabb hurried to open, and the minister was ushered into the "front
room." After a formal greeting, and a careful scrutiny of the room and its
contents, he promptly proceeded to business.
"I hope, Mistress McNabb, that you
are training up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."
Mrs. McNabb remained silent. It was,
however, a very common practice among the settlers to remain silent and
let the minister do all the talking. The practice led him ultimately not
to expect any answer. Sometimes, to reply would seem to border on
"Bring in your children," said the
minister. "I should like to examine them on the Shorter Catechism and see
if their minds are stored with religious truth."
The family filed into the room at
the widow’s command, and took their stand with backs to the wall, facing
the minister. Then the latter, drawing his little book from his side
pocket, questioned the boys and girls closely on the catechism and the Ten
Commandments, asked a few questions relating to the history of the Old
Testament celebrities, and concluded by suggesting to the widow that it
would be an excellent plan, and one which would keep the children out of
mischief, if she would set each of them the task of reading ten chapters
from the New Testament every Sunday.
"I would also suggest," he added,
"that instead of visiting them with corporal punishment for any breach of
discipline or domestic offence, you should assign them some such task as
the reading of one of the four gospels, — John preferred."
The widow offered no suggestion or
comment, and after the minister had prayed he took his leave, intimating
that he would be returning up the line about supper time, and if she had
no objection, he would drive in and sup with her and the family. Of course
Mrs. McNabb readily acquiesced, for it was usually deemed quite an honour
by the good housewives of the Scotch Settlement to entertain the minister.