Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Pioneer Life in Zorra
Chapter XVII. Rev. Lachlan McPherson of Williams

"Brother thou wast mild and lovely,
Gentle as the summer breeze
Pleasant as the air of evening
When it floats among the trees."

AWAY back in the thirties, three young men, all in the prime of life, started from the township of Williams to attend the Communion in Zorra, a distance of forty miles. For some time they travelled by themselves, but, like Israel of old going up to Jerusalem to attend the yearly feasts, these young men went from strength to strength, their number being constantly increased until when they reached Zorra, the Jerusalem of their day and country, there was a goodly company of them. The Communion services were greatly enjoyed by all the three, and now they were on their return journey—quite a company at first, but they soon began to separate, each going his own way, until the original three were left to pursue their journey alone as they had begun it. Conversation was kept up at firsts but at length was dropped, and the three walked in perfect silence for some time, until they came to a resting place. This was a spring of water by the roadside, bubbling up from a white pebbly bottom, and gushing out from between the roots of a great oak tree that had probably sheltered it for many centuries. It was a lovely spot, bestrewed with maguerites, dandelions, blue flags, yellow daisies, white lilies, and the wild roses delicately fair with their faint evanescent odor. Here on a rough stone they all sat down and slaked their thirst, while they satisfied their hunger with bannock bread, butter, and crowdy, with which their hospitable Zorra entertainers had furnished them on parting. Still not a word was spoken; all were silent. At last one of them broke the spell by asking the others:

"What are you thinking about?"

"I was thinking," replied one, "that I would sell my property in Williams and go to Zorra, where I can get the gospel."

"And what are you thinking about?" was the return question.

"My thought was different from yours; I was thinking how we could get the gospel to Williams."

While sitting there under the shadow of the great oak, and by the spring of water, they held a counsel and the decision was that they would begin by holding a prayer meeting, each in his house by turns. One of them who was soon to return to Zorra to teach school, was to be on the lookout for some minister or probationer who could be persuaded to come to Williams, for as yet there was no settled minister there. This latter was Lachlan McPherson, and the result of the conference was that, when Rev. Duncan McMillan came to visit his friend, Rev. D. Mackenzie of Zorra, Mr. McPherson, who was now teaching school in Embro, prevailed upon him to visit Williams. Soon after he was ordained and inducted as their first minister; and in this way the gospel was brought to this important section of country. The other two who took part in the conference were J. McIntosh and D. Fraser. After teaching in Embro for a few years, and studying Latin and Greek with the Rev. Mr. Mackenzie, Mr. McPherson took a full course of theology in Knox College, Toronto. In 1849 he was settled as minister of Williams, his first and only charge. Here he labored with fidelity and success for thirty-four years, when, owing to ill-health, he resigned, and took a trip to Scotland, hoping to regain his health; but in vain. In July, 1885, he wrote from Inverness to his old and esteemed elder, Mr. William Menzies, of Ailsa Craig, to come to Scotland and take him and his wife back to Canada, if only (as he said) "to die among his dearest friends." He was too weak to undertake the journey alone. Mr. Menzies says: "I gladly responded to his most pathetic request, and aided by a kind Providence, removed Mr. and Mrs. McPherson, as they desired, to Ailsa Craig." But health returned not. The cistern was broken and the waters were too surely ebbing away. He died in March, 1886, in the seventy-second year of his age. Mrs. McPherson returned to Scotland in July following.

Mr. McPherson deserves a place in this volume because of his intimate association with the minister and people of Zorra, especially on their Communion occasions.

In stature he was rather under the average height; in disposition he was grave and serious, but very pleasant and never morose. His portrait appears at the beginning of this chapter, and the artist, as if by an unconscious inspiration, has wonderfully succeeded in giving expression to the kind, benignant countenance of Mr. McPherson, strikingly reminding one of the well-known pictures of the sainted McCheyne. There was nothing trifling or frivolous about him, and yet he was perfectly free from everything like affectation in his manners. He had that dignity that so befits the servant of Christ, and yet he answered to a remarkable degree Paul's description of a Christian minister, "gentle, apt to teach, patient, meek."

In the pulpit his manner of address was rather slow, but earnest and solemn. His subject was always well studied out, and very orderly, everything being in its proper place. Indeed, orderliness was one of his characteristics in every department of life; his very penmanship was model, every letter being perfectly formed. What a contrast to the hieroglyphic penmanship of some ministers! He was a patient, conscientious student; and every week wrote out in full two long sermons, one in Gaelic and the other in English, but the manuscript was never brought into the pulpit.

He was a man of much prayer, and this gave mellowness and sweetness to his home life.

"When one who holds communion with the skies
Has filled his urn where those pure waters rise,
And once more mingles with us meaner things,
'Tis e'en as if an angel shook his wings;
Immortal fragrance fills the circuit wide,
That tell us whence these treasures are supplied."

From the ivory palaces of meditation and prayer he came forth to unfold the glory of the Saviour, and to woo sinners for Him whom his soul loved. The great leading doctrines of the scriptures were expounded with singular clearness, fidelity, and zeal. The atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ; the infinite merit of His righteousness; the necessity for the Spirit of God to enlighten, convict, and save; justification by faith the only way of salvation; the crown rights of Immanuel, King of Zion and King of Kings ;—these great doctrines, not "thundered" but "poured out in gentle streams" by Lachlan McPherson, were blessed by the powerful demonstration of God the Spirit to the souls of men, putting life into dry bones, and clothing them with power and beauty. He had many souls for his hire; some in Zorra, but more in Williams. And the unflinching maintenance, and vigorous defence of these doctrines are urgently demanded in our day when there is such a strong tendency to formalism and worldliness.

On the doctrine of the Headship of Christ over the Church and over the Nations, he was peculiarly sensitive lest the scripture standard might be lowered. And when the Free Church and the United Presbyterian Church were united in 1861, Lachlan McPherson and his devoted people testified against the union, and refused to enter it. This is scarcely the place to discuss the great practical importance of this doctrine; but just as its importance is appreciated and maintained will the Church of Christ be free from human excrescences in its polity and doctrines, and Christ be recognized in our politics, from which at present He seems to be excluded. Afterwards, however, Mr. McPherson and his people came into the united church, only to leave it forever, along with his life-long friend, John Ross of Brucefield, and their two elders, when the larger union of 1875 was consummated. The reasons will appear more fully in our next chapter.

Strange that a man of such a mild and gentle spirit should yet, Athanasius-like, stand out alone against the action of all the ministers of his church. But such a man was Lachlan McPherson. He combined the lion and the lamb. To him conscience was supreme, and its behests he always obeyed at whatever cost. Perhaps few men ever possessed at the same time so much of the "suaviter" and the

"Nor number, nor example, with him wrought
To swerve from truth, or change his constant mind,
Though single."

The following are a few specimens of Mr. McPherson's pulpit utterances, for which I am indebted to a correspondent who was, for many years, intimately associated with him in church work. This correspondent writes: "The first time I saw or heard Mr. McPherson was in the summer of 1852, at the Communion in Brucefield. His text was Isaiah 50: 10, 'Who is among you that feareth the Lord, obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.' He raised the question, Is it so that one who is trusting in the name of the Lord, and obeying the voice of His servant, can, nevertheless, be walking in darkness and without light? Yes, even such a one can be in darkness; but here is the remedy, 'Let him trust in the Lord and stay upon his God."

On one occasion in the same place, his text was I Pet. 2: ii, "Dearly beloved, I beseech you, as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul." He said, "War supposes killing; and if you do not kill your lusts, your lusts will kill you—they will kill your soul."

At another time, preaching from Malachi 3: 17, "And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels," he said, "Some of them are not much, like jewels now; they are jewels, but they are diamonds in the rough."

At another time, preaching from 2 Cor. 6: 17-18, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate saith the Lord," etc., he said, "You cannot coax the world to heaven, it will not go with you one foot; the best thing that you can do for the world is to come out and testify against it."

On Gal. 2: 20, "Christ liveth in me," he remarked, "Let Christ speak through your mouth, and weep through your eyes, and smile through your face; let Him work with your hands, and walk with your feet, and be tender with your heart."

At times his illustrations possessed great force and beauty. Speaking of the believer's peace, and its independence of external circumstances, he compared it to the still, mysterious depths of ocean, that are beyond the reach of winds and waves.

Describing the natural blindness and folly of the unrepentant sinner, he said, "Be not like the foolish drunkard, who, staggering home one night, saw his candle lit for him, and exclaimed, 'two candles,' for his drunkenness made him see double. 'I will blow out one,' and as he blew it out, in a moment he was in the dark. Many a man," said the preacher, "sees double through the drunkenness of sin—he thinks he has one life to sow his wild oats in, and then the last part of life in which to turn to God; so, like a fool, he blows out the only candle that he has, and in the dark he will have to lie down forever. Haste thee, O traveller to eternity! thou hast but one sun, and if that sets, thou wilt never reach thy home."

For Mr. McPherson we do not claim any extraordinary gifts of intellect, but we do claim for him a rich endowment of that goodness which only the Divine Spirit can impart. We may not be able to say, "Tread lightly on his ashes, ye men of genius, for he was your kinsman;" but we can say what is far better, "Weed his grave clean, ye men of goodness, for he was your brother."

Return to Book Contents Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus