of James Robertson
FAREWELL TO THE PASTORATE
WITH the Assemblys telegram in his
hand, Mr. Robertson summons his Session, and together they deliberate upon
this most momentous call. The Session had been more or less prepared for
some such action of Assembly. Long before he was appointed Superintendent
their pastor had been superintending. They knew well enough that though
the Presbyterys overture made no nomination for the office, there was
only one man to whom the West would intrust their missions, and only one
man fit for the work. Impressed as they are with the necessities of Knox
Church, Winnipeg, the greater necessities of the vast mission field of the
West impressed them more deeply. The Church had called their minister to a
larger and more important sphere of labour. With affection and regret,
therefore, but without hesitation, they advised his acceptance of the
appointment. He wired the Assembly his decision. He will accept the
appointment, but stipulates that his salary be that of Manitoba College
professors, with all travelling expenses added. In a letter to his wife
who, with the family, had gone on a visit to her home in Eastern Canada,
he describes his line of action and discusses a little the future. It is
dated from the Manse, Winnipeg, June 16, 1881:
My DEAR WIFE : "Your
letter bearing intelligence of your safe arrival
at home I just received. The notes of the children from St. Paul I also
received. From Chicago I heard through Mrs. Hart. I was glad to find that
you all got down there so well, and hope the stay there may do you all
good. I am inclined to think that it will be protracted beyond our first
anticipations. As you will have learned ere this reaches you, I have been
appointed Superintend-dent of Missions in Manitoba and the Northwest by
the unanimous vote of the Assembly. I have accepted the appointment. Would
like to have communicated with you ere taking the final step, but the
Assemblys call was urgent and there was no time to write. I called the
Session together on receipt of telegram and consulted with them. They
regarded the offer as a step in advance and would not oppose the wish of
the Assembly, thinking it useless. They regarded me as the most fit man
for the position, the most fit, they thought, in the Church. They
considered the office necessary in the interests of the Church, and
telegraphed to this effect to the Assembly. The salary offered was two
thousand dollars and I was to pay my own travelling expenses. After
maturely considering the question, I telegraphed Accept call of Assembly,
but cannot live here respectably on conditions stated. Make salary
equivalent to that of professors of Manitoba College and travelling
expenses. To this Cochrane replied at once, You are appointed on
condition stated and will enter on work in July. He is coming out here to
induct or help induct. I will arrange as soon as convenient for going over
all the fields, returning here in the fall, after which I will likely go
east to spend the winter. . . I regret much that I shall be away from home
a great deal. This cannot be helped." How little either of them guessed
how pathetically prophetic of their future experience were these words!
The future is to them quite unknown. They had made arrangements for the
building of a house and the establishing of a home in Winnipeg. "What now
about building?" he writes. "Am I to go on at once and build, or to
postpone till next year? The money for the house has been paid and I can
proceed, but if you are to stay down all summer and I am to go down in the
fall, it would seem as if we had better postpone building till next year.
You could get a house in Woodstock and the children could go to school
there. But when you write you could let me know what you think of the new
situation. As you see, I am yet in the manse. They are in no hurry fixing
it up. I make my own bed and clean my own boots and fix up my own room,
and board at the Queens. Time will decide my future."
The parting from Knox Church was not
without pain to minister and people. The congregation were losing their
first minister and he had made them what they were. The minister was
severing the bond that had been strong enough to draw him to this new land
and had grown stronger during the seven years of his labour in it. But to
both people and minister the feeling that the Church had called him to a
wider sphere and to higher work, made acquiescence easier. To the
congregation the loss of their pastor at that particular period in their
history was a serious blow. The line of cleavage between the two elements
in the congregation was still pretty clearly defined. Indeed, many feared
that once the strong unifying personality of the minister was removed,
disintegration would ensue. Happily these fears were groundless, though to
a certain extent they were shared by the minister himself. Writing to his
wife soon after his appointment he says:
"There are elements in the
congregation that are difficult to manage. They may now divide according
to their predilections. The Knox Church part may try to get a Kirk
minister, while the other will likely get an Old Canada Presbyterian. In
any case I fear that a division is inevitable and perhaps this will help
the matter. I am sorry to part with a congregation which I was to so large
a degree instrumental in building up."
The affection and the regret with
which his people bade him farewell find expression in various addresses
and presentations. The address from the Session was as follows:
"To THE REV. JAMES ROBERTSON:
"In taking leave of you on your
entrance upon the responsible duties of Superintendent of Missions in
Manitoba and the Northwest, we as a congregation desire to express our
heartfelt appreciation of the services which, as our pastor, you have
rendered us during the past seven years.
"When your pastorate began we were a
mere handful, and worshipped in a small, plain structure. Under God you
have been the means of building up a large congregation, and to your
perseverance and energy was largely due the erection of our present
beautiful place of worship. Your genuine piety, courteous manners, and
deep solicitude for the welfare of all with whom you came in contact, have
won you lasting gratitude. The afflicted and the stranger have always
found you a true friend and wise counsellor. Many of your self-denying
acts are known to your friends, but we are satisfied that very many are
known only to yourself and to Him who seeth all things.
"In addition to the various duties
of your pastorate, you have responded to the calls that came to you from
time to time to take an active part in the educational interests of our
country, in temperance, and in all matters pertaining to the general weal.
"We wish you Godspeed in your new
and honourable sphere of labour, and Now the God of peace that brought
again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep,
through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every
good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in
His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
(Signed) "THOMAS HART, M. A., B. D.,
Without a doubt the fineness of
touch in the diction of this address and the warmth of affection breathing
through its words, reveal the hand of that very fine Christian gentleman
who was the ministers fidus Achates,
Professor Hart. And few things in this
period of Mr. Robertsons life are more beautiful than his affection for
the man who, when he might have easily allowed himself to be prejudiced by
his sense of loyalty to his own Kirk against him who represented another
Church, received him instead with generous affection and stood by him with
unshaken loyalty, then and through all the following years during which it
was given these two to live and work together.
But nothing touched the minister
more than the farewell of the ladies of the congregation. Loyally had they
stood by him, and with unwearied fidelity had they toiled with him in the
varied departments of work represented in the congregation. In those days
the men were often so absorbed in the rush and crush of business that much
of their work as members of the Church had been relegated too often to
their wives and daughters. But nobly had they answered to the often
unreasonable demands of the congregation, and without faltering they had
followed the leadership of their pastor. Their devotion to him and their
regret at his departure found expression in the following address, which
was accompanied by a gift of $632.00:
"To THE REV.JAMES ROBERTSON,
SUPERINTENDENT OF MISSIONS FOR MANITOBA AND THE NORTHWEST:
"We, the ladies of Knox Church,
Winnipeg, cannot allow the tie to be severed that has bound us, pastor and
people, without expressing to you on behalf of the congregation our
appreciation of your devoted services during the past seven years.
"The congregation at the beginning
of your pastorate was small in number and very poorly provided for the
work of advancing Christs cause in the then unorganized community in
which our lot was cast.
"We rejoice to acknowledge your
services to the congregation in the very earnest assistance given by you
in the erection of our church building, which has been a credit to the
city and a factor in advancing our cause.
"We remember gratefully your
attention to your duties at the three turning points of lifemorning,
noon, and night when, in performing the initiatory ordinance of our
Church, in uniting together kindred hearts, and in performing the last sad
rites, you were always willing to lend your aid.
"We would thank you for the faithful
instruction given from the sacred desk, for the instruction given to the
young of the congregation, and the private advice so affectionately given
to the disconsolate or the wayward.
"We regret at the present time the
absence of your beloved partner in life, who has with such kindness and at
great personal sacrifice, done her duties in a quiet and unobtrusive
manner as pastors wife.
"We congratulate you on the high
honour paid you in the unanimous call given by the highest court of our
Church, to the office which you now occupy. We feel it to be a matter of
great importance to our cause at the present time, to have one so well
fitted as yourself for the work of advancing the rapidly spreading
principles which we profess, in the great Northwest, and knowing that an
expensive outfit is necessary for your onerous work, we beg that you will
accept, as conveyed by the gentlemen of the congregation through our
hands, this purse of $632.
"We pray that Gods blessing may
still attend you; that you may be preserved safe in your abundant labours,
and that you may have an inheritance among all them that are sanctified.
In connection with the presentation
of this purse an incident occurred that cut Robertson to the quick and
aroused very considerable feeling at the time among the people. By two of
the speakers on the occasion of the
presentation, this gift was referred
to as being intended for the purchase of an outfit for the new
Superintendent. This interpretation was immediately and strongly
repudiated by the ladies who had solicited the subscriptions in the
following note sent soon after the meeting was held:
"Winnipeg, July 27, 1881.
"A difference of opinion having been
expressed as to the object for which subscriptions were solicited for a
purse to be presented to the Rev. Mr. Robertson, we beg to say that the
money was obtained for Mr. Robertsons personal benefit
"JANE AGNES BEATRICE BATHGATE,
These ladies had no intention of
making contribution to the Assemblys Home Mission Committee. Not they.
Their gift was to their minister whom they loved, and they determined that
there should be no uncertainty in the matter.
Mr. Robertsons farewell sermon was
preached to a densely crowded congregation on the 24th of July, 1881. His
text was Philippians 1: 27: "Only let your conversation be as it becometh
the Gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent,
I may hear of your affairs that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind
striving together for the faith of the Gospel."
It was a brief but comprehensive
statement of the progress of the city, the country and the congregation
during the seven years of his pastorate, and closed with an earnest appeal
to the congregation to be worthy of their great opportunity to measure up
to their responsibility as the premier congregation of this new country,
and with a few words of affectionate farewell.
From the Ladies Missionary and Charitable
Associations there came the following address, which was accompanied by
the gift of a valuable gold chain:
"To THE REV. JAMES ROBERTSON, SUPERINTENDENT OF
MISSIONS FOR MANITOBA AND THE NORTHWEST:
"We, the ladies representing the
Missionary and Charitable Associations of Knox Church, Winnipeg, beg to
present to you, on beginning the important duties to which you have been
called in behalf of the missions of our Church, our warmest
congratulations. We believe that the work of our Church for missions is
but in its infancy; that we have not yet begun to realize the importance
and urgency of our Saviours command, Go ye into all the world and preach
the Gospel to every creature. We feel that at the threshold of the great
Northwest especially, an important duty rests on us of sending the Gospel
to our fellow countrymen who are settling on these wide prairies, and also
to the wandering tribes who are crying at our doors.
"We regret that our efforts have
resulted in raising so little means in the past, but we rejoice that in
your appointment there has been recognized the importance of this great
work, by calling one so useful as you are to this sphere.
"But while this is the case, we
would not forget the past. We are glad to know that it is your intention
still to reside in our midst. We pray for the speedy return to health and
strength of your beloved partner in life, and your family.
"Be pleased to accept this chain in
memory of past associations, and kindly regard it as a token of our desire
that we may be still closely joined together in the mission work of the
Church, and that you and yours may be bound up with us in the same bundle
of life and may reach the same heavenly home.
"MARY A. SWINFORD,
"ELIZABETH A. LAIDLAW,
"MRs. J. P. ROBERTSON,
"July 26th, 1881."
On July 22d the Manitoba Presbytery
met at Portage la Prairie and made arrangements for the induction of Mr.
Robertson into his new office. In severing the pastoral tie between the
minister and congregation of Knox Church, Presbytery, in a formal
resolution, took the opportunity of recording its high appreciation of the
service rendered by Mr. Robertson not only to the congregation and the
community, but to the whole Church in the West, and expressed the most
earnest hopes for his success in his new work. For the most part there was
enthusiastic approval of the appointment, though there were not wanting
those who predicted difficulties, constitutional and other, in the working
of the new office.
The induction of Mr. Robertson to
his new position was deemed by the Presbyterian Church an event of
sufficient importance to warrant the appointing of a special Commission
for this purpose, consisting of the Rev. Dr. Cochrane, Convener of the
Home Mission Committee, and the Rev. George Bruce of St. Catharines.
Others took part in the interesting function, among them Professor Hart
and Rev. A. Bell. The service was held on the evening of July 26th, in
Knox Church, with Professor Bryce in the chair.
In the eloquent address of the
Convener of the Home Mission Committee occurs this very significant
"To Mr. Robertson is due largely the
present standing of Presbyterianism in Winnipeg and the great Northwest."
The Convener, at least, of the Committee that has had charge of this vast
and growing work has had borne in upon him something of the magnitude of
the toils endured and the service rendered to the Church and to the
Western country by the minister of Knox Church during the seven years of
his pastorate. It will be some years yet, however, before he will come to
his own with the church as a whole.
Thus, carrying with him the
affection of his people to whom he has ministered for seven years, the
gratitude of the Committee which he has served with such conspicious
success, the esteem and confidence of the Presbytery of which he has been
for these years a guide and leader, the Superintendent enters upon his new
sphere of labour, not without his fears and misgivings, but Conscious of a
high resolve to do his best to serve his country and his God as
opportunity may be his.
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