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 V. The Men's Day

"The king lost his head—fools may whimper and whine,
But he lost it, believe me----by judgment divine.
Our kings were the godly, the grey-plaided men,
Who preached in the forest and prayed in the glen.'

THE old log church was not an elegant structure, but it was the best building in the township. Its dimensions were forty-eight feet by twenty-eight feet, and eighteen logs high. It was well hewed outside and inside; chinked, and plastered with lime. There was a gallery, access to which was by an outside stair. There was no spire, no cushions, no carpet, and for the first winter or two, not even a stove. The windows and furniture were of the most primitive kind. It was capable of holding about four hundred persons, though on Communion occasions many more would be crowded into it.

But this first Zorra church was the religious centre of a very large district, and it had associations that made it dear to the hearts of our Scottish forefathers. Thither the tribes went up, not only from the two Zorras, but from Nissouri, Blanshard, North Easthope, East and West Williams, and other Highland settlements. There the pioneers heard those precious gospel truths, and sang those sweet Psalms so familiar to them in their native land There they dedicated their offspring to God in baptism, and often sat around the Communion Table in loving fellowship.

It is 10 a.m.; the regular service will not begin for an hour, but the church is already well filled with devout worshippers from far and near, and Sandy Matheson, in a clear, distinct voice, is reading a chapter "just to improve the time." This same Sandy Matheson was the precentor, and as he sang those majestic Psalms in the old Gaelic airs, right heartily did the whole congregation join with him, until there was a volume of sound surpassing in power, if not in harmony, anything furnished us to-day by our choirs and "kists o' whus'les."

Here it may be stated that the work of the old Gaelic precentor was not so easy as many to-day many suppose. He had not, it is almost needless to say, the help of organ or choir, and even the tuning-fork was regarded with suspicion. He was religiously required to "line" the Psalm, that is, to repeat or chant each line before singing it. This habit originated, very likely, in those days when the people were poor, Bibles scarce, and few able to read. But the habit has come down from one generation to another, and in many Gaelic congregations can still be seen. The minister announces the Psalm, and reads over the stanzas he wishes to be sung. He repeats the first two lines, and the precentor sings them, and so far all is easy. But now the precentor has to chant or repeat the next two lines, and here is where the difficulty begins. He has to keep in mind the note with which he concluded his second line, and he has also to keep in view the note with which to begin his third line, and begin and end his chant accordingly. And it was just here that many an oganach, or youngster who had aspirations for the precentor's chair, came to grief.

To those who did not understand the true poetic sentiment in the Highland nature, this singing may have seemed a strange combination of weird, meaningless sounds, but to the warm-hearted Highlander they were the "Songs of Zion." The swaying motion of the precentor, the movements of the hand, foot, and the Psalm book, the uplifting of the eyes to heaven, and the hearty responsiveness of the congregation, were an inspiration to preacher and people.

Now the tall, stately, familiar form of the pastor appears. He is accompanied by some neighboring ministers who have come to assist him on this occasion. I say "neighboring," although some of them lived fifty or sixty miles away. The reading instantly ceases, and there is a hush of silence pervading the congregation, as with solemn mien Mr. Mackenzie enters the pulpit and takes his seat. The service is mostly, though not exclusively, in Gaelic; but for the sake of unlearned readers we will give it, with the exception of a sentence or two, in English. The opening sentence was as follows : "Toisichmid air aoradh follaiseach an Tighearna le bhi seinn chum a chliu anns a' naothamh saim thar a cheithir fichead," which is thus rendered : "Let us begin the public worship of God by singing to His praise in the eighty-ninth Psalm." The reader who understands both the Gaelic and the English will at once see a majesty and solemnity in the Gaelic of this religious formula that is wholly lacking in the English translation. The first Gaelic word, for instance, as any reader can see, consists of no less than ten letters, and is equivalent to the first three English words, "Let us begin." And yet, let me observe, the Gaelic, so rich in words of devotion, has no profane words. When Gaelic men utter profanity they have to use the English language.

And now every heart goes forth in the words:

God's mercies I will ever sing;
And with my mouth I shall
Thy faithfulness make to be known T
o generations all.")

After singing there was prayer; but frequently before the prayer the precentor would rise in his desk and say, "The prayers of the congregation are asked for on lot - concession -, upon whom the hand of God is being heavily laid." Then the congregation stood up, and with bowed heads engaged in prayer. After this a chapter was read, and another Psalm sung, and then began the distinctive work of the "Men's Day," sometimes called "The Question Day," and sometimes also "The Day for Self-examination," (La Rannsaichaidh).

It was always the Friday before Communion, and the proceedings formed a marked feature of Highland Presbyterian worship. The exercises corresponded in some respects to the Christian Endeavor meetings of to-day, but only "the men"—that is, persons of age, experience, and prominence—took part in them. Our account of the proceedings of this day is necessarily very imperfect; but it will at least show that our fathers were brainy men, close observers of nature, devoted students of the Bible, and able, in an original and quaint manner, to express their views of Bible truth. The general subject was always self-examination, or the marks of the true believer, and was always expressed in the form of a question. The minister invited some brother, in dependence on divine guidance, to propose a scripture text appropriate to the occasion. Soon there arose a venerable man, his head silvered with the frosts of more than threescore and ten years; only a few grey locks are left him, and these float over his shoulders. In slow measured cadence he read Gen. xxiv. 58, " Wilt thou go with this man? and she (Rebekah) said I will go." "These words," said the speaker, "will afford us an opportunity of inquiring into the evidences of character in those whose purpose in life is to go with the Man, Christ Jesus. A tree may be known by its leaves, a flower by its fragrance, music by its harmony, and all things by the qualities which they present to our senses. So a Christian should be known by the life he lives. Will the brethren point out some of these marks?"

The minister re-stated the question, explained its nature, indicated its application, and encouraged all to speak their minds freely. "The question proposed," said he, "is a very appropriate one. This man we will take as representing the Son of God, who became man, lived as our example, and died as our substitute. In Him are stored up all the blessings which infinite wisdom and love have appointed for sinners, both in the state of grace and the state of glory. 'I am He who liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore.' Because He lives He blesses those who 'go with Him'; and by His Spirit changes them into His own image, from glory to glory, until at last they shall be like Him, when they 'shall see Him as He is.' May there be many to-day willing to go with the man Christ Jesus. That you may know whether or not you are going through life with Him, we will consider the marks of those who go, as well as their blessedness. And as Rebekah's purpose, in going with Abraham's servant, was to enter into the marriage union with Isaac, we will consider the relation between Christ and His people under that suggestive and beautiful figure. Now, brethren, waste no time."

John Mackay was the first to respond. "Observe, my friends," said he, "that Rebekah was willing to leave her country, her relatives and friends, in order to go with this man, and receive Isaac for a husband. 'Thy people,' said she in her heart, to Isaac, 'shall be my people, and thy God my God.' Young people, you have been baptized in the name of the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Forsake the world, and enter into this sacred union with Christ, and you will be as Isaac and Rebekah, as Ruth and Naomi, as Jonathan and David."

"Christ's bride," said Alexander Munro, "was black and uncomely when He set His heart upon her, but she became fair and beautiful. I remember hearing a father in Dornoch tell the story of a man who owned a garden that was overrun with weeds. But in some way this man became the possessor of a foreign flower of singular vitality. He sowed a handful of the seeds of this flower in his weedy garden, and then left it to work its own sweet way. Time passed on, and the man knew not how the seed was doing, till one day he opened the garden gate, and saw a sight which astounded him. He knew that the seed would produce a beautiful flower, and he looked for it; but he little dreamed that the plant would cover the whole garden. But so it was; the flower had destroyed every weed, till, as he looked from one end of his garden to the other, he could see nothing but the fair colors of that rare plant, and smell nothing but its delicious perfume.

"Christ is that plant of renown. If you take Him into your heart He will gradually destroy every weed of sin, and over your whole nature there shall be the beauty of the Lord."

"We see," said Robert Matheson, "that Rebekah joined interests with Isaac, a man of God, one of whose characteristics was 'meditation in the field,' V. 63; and it seems to me that those who are wedded to the Lord Jesus Christ will meditate on the works of God, and hear what God has to say to them in the world around. They will see Him in the flowers, and hear Him in the winds, and behold His glory in the heavens. And thus in the house or in the barn, in the field or in the woods, they will be 'still with God.'"

The Christian Endeavor era had not yet dawned in Zorra, and it must be confessed that some of the fathers regarded with suspicion young persons aspiring to prominence in the church. "Young people," said one speaker, "should be seen, not heard. What would you think of a chicken, just out of the egg, getting on the fence and crowing? Don't you think he should wait till his feathers appeared? A colt, only a few days old, is long in his limbs, tall, erect, lively, but as yet very unfit for burden or harness. Modesty became the wife of Isaac, and modesty is a becoming grace in the young bride of Christ."

In a somewhat pessimistic strain the next speaker continued, "Our age is a superficial one—fair exterior, but hollow at heart. Last autumn, just after the first frost, I was walking in the woods, when I saw a most beautiful sight. I was fairly enraptured with the gorgeous scene. All the colors of the rainbow seemed commingled in beautiful harmony. I stood and gazed upon the sight, and lest I might never see so fine a sight again, I went up and closely examined, when alas! alas! it proved to be nothing more than a hollow stump covered with ivy. That is the religion of too many—nothing but leaves. Remember the fig-tree and what became of it."

It has been charged against the pioneers that they were contracted in their views, and took little interest in anything beyond their own bounds. No doubt the fathers lived in the same world as other Christians of their day. The spirit of missions has greatly deepened and broadened since their time. But to accuse the fathers and mothers of Zorra of meanness or selfishness, or of a lack of broad, generous sympathy, is to bear false testimony. Nobly they bore one another's burdens, and according to their opportunities did good unto all. And on these occasions selfishness was strongly denounced, and the duty of the Church to the heathen world never failed to be emphasized.

Donald Macleod was a man of blessed memory. My heart thrills with gratitude as I recall his influence upon my early Christian life. During a ministry of thirty years I have been associated with not a few earnest, effective Christian workers, but never have I known any one who did so much, and did it so unostentatiously as this man, so tender, yet so strong; so quiet, yet so aggressive! He was elder and deacon, and well did he discharge the duties of both offices. He was precentor in both the Gaelic and English services, and though receiving no fee, he was never absent from his post of duty. He was the only teacher of a Sabbath School of seventy scholars; and each winter he taught, without remuneration, a large singing school. Twice each year he travelled over a large section of country, collecting for the minister's stipend and for the missionary schemes of the church. And while fervent in spirit he was diligent in business, and was regarded as one of the best farmers in the community; there were no standing accounts against him, nor was there ever a mortgage upon his farm. He was an advanced temperance man, and declined to supply his harvesters with whiskey; but for this wholesome deprivation he allowed them extra wages. There was a poor old creature in the neighborhood without money and without friends. Donald Macleod built for her a little house near his own, and fed her from his own table till the time of her death, at the age of about one hundred years.

A Presbyterian missionary relates the following: One night in company with a young friend I was passing by this old woman's house and heard her earnestly praying aloud. Curiosity prompted us to go up to the door and listen. Her prayer was as follows: "Lord I am a poor old woman, lonely as the pelican in the wilderness, the owl in the desert, the sparrow upon the house top; but Thou hast not forsaken me. I thank Thee, Lord, for this good man, and his wife and children, who are so kind to me. Be good to them and bless them in time and eternity."

Let us hear what Donald Macleod has to say on the "Men's Day." This is how he spoke: "Unselfish devotion to the interests of her husband is a mark of a good wife. Are we unselfishly devoted to the interests of our Lord, and of one another? Alas, how selfishness abounds! How many are like the whirlpool, always taking in, and never giving out; like the marsh, keeping all it gets till it becomes stagnant, putrid, pestiferous; or like the clod, daily drinking in the light and warmth of the sun, but giving out none, remaining the same black clod still. We are all more or less selfish. There has never been but one absolutely pure, unselfish life,—that of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Spiritual life dies not, but there are times when it sinks low, like the sap in the tree during the winter, to rise again at the voice of spring. The pioneers were not strangers to such religious experience. Few of them, indeed, claimed the full assurance of salvation. "God only knows the depravity of my heart," said one. "'Was there ever such a guilty wretch? J sometimes wonder if I am a child of God at all. 0 minister," said he, turning to the pastor, and speaking in most pathetic tones, "were I ready I would willingly depart; but alas! those doubts and fears. Still, like Rutherford, I will hold to Christ under the water, and if I must drown I will not let go my hold of Him." The speaker was one greatly beloved by the people, and many were moved to tears by his earnest words.

As he sat down, there slowly rose to his feet an old man with wintry beard falling upon his breast, but a strange glow of fire in his eyes, which told of a life within that winter could not touch. With evident but delicate reference to the last speaker, he said in a quiet, subdued voice, "We are guilty, but let us not forget the infinite ransom paid. Rebekah knew that she was Isaac's wife, and it would be no honor to Isaac to have her doubting her relationship to him. We owe ten thousand talents, and we are not able to pay one, but the husband assumes the wife's debt. The God-man has paid our debt to the uttermost farthing. We believe this, and the result is as a calm after a storm. A sweet peace fills the soul. The clouds vanish, the sun appears brighter than before, the earth puts on her robes of beauty; the flowers pour out their fragrance, the birds sing, and all is joy and peace."

"Whether I sing or whether I sigh," said Elder Rose, "the promise is true, and the Pro- miser is faithful. Sometimes I stand on Tabor's summit, and sometimes I am hidden in Baca's vale, but His love abideth, and His promise is, 'They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God."

The next to speak was George MacKay, better known as duine Righ-lochan (the man of King-lochan). He was a man of strong religious character, and bore a very prominent part in the early religious life of Zorra. "It is many years," he said, "since I decided to go with this Man, and I have never found Him once unfaithful. Goodness and mercy have followed me all my life. Not one good thing bath failed of all the Lord God bath promised."

There he stood, the aged saint, tottering into the grave, but happy as happy could be.

Turning to the young people he continued, with a heavenly glow upon his countenance, "Come early into the marriage union with Christ, and you will be His happy bride as long as you live."

Such an appeal coming from a veteran Christian, covered with the scars of battle, made a powerful impression.

"It seems to me," said James Adams, "that a sure mark of being Christ's bride is to be like Christ. We sometimes see a striking resemblance developing between husband and wife— a similarity, not merely in modes of thought and in general character, but in their very appearance, their countenance. Certainly it is so with Christ and his people. You thrust a bar of cold black iron into the fire, and keep it there. By and bye the iron becomes changed into a red fiery mass. So when we come into close union with Christ, we become gradually changed into the image of Christ."

"Friends," said Alexander Wood, "do not lay too much stress upon mere internal feelings, or mere external marks. They are both liable Turning to the young people he continued, with a heavenly glow upon his countenance, "Come early into the marriage union with Christ, and you will be His happy bride as long as you live."

Such an appeal coming from a veteran Christian, covered with the scars of battle, made a powerful impression.

"It seems to me," said James Adams, "that a sure mark of being Christ's bride is to be like Christ. We sometimes see a striking resemblance developing between husband and wife— a similarity, not merely in modes of thought and in general character, but in their very appearance, their countenance. Certainly it is so with Christ and his people. You thrust a bar of cold black iron into the fire, and keep it there. By and bye the iron becomes changed into a red fiery mass. So when we come into close union with Christ, we become gradually changed into the image of Christ."

"Friends," said Alexander Wood, "do not lay too much stress upon mere internal feelings, or mere external marks. They are both liable to mislead. There may not be much peace or comfort, and the life may be imperfect, and yet there may be true faith. The most devoted wife is not always the one who speaks most about her love to her husband. Grace is a thing of the heart, and sometimes, like a spark of fire, it may be very small, but oh! blow gently upon it, fan it, and it will become a flame. Last winter I rose early one morning—a very cold, frosty morning. I found the fire was entirely out; but I took the steel and flint, and although shivering in the cold, I patiently kept striking till I espied a little spark down in the tinder. It was a very little one, but I gently blew it into a little flame, and soon the whole room was warm. And our dear Lord quenches not the feeblest spark, but by His blessed Spirit fans it into a flame that will give light and warmth to all within its reach."

Alexander Nasmyth was not a Highlander, but seemed greatly to enjoy "the Men's Day." "Rebekah," said he "was sought and found and espoused to Isaac. So with Christ and the believer. We did not seek Him till He first sought us. We are the bride to win whom He came from afar. And since we heard His sweet, clear, tender voice, it has been, as our brother has said, rest and peace and joy. The bird, resting upon the branch and pouring forth its volume of song, is a true picture of the believer resting on Jesus."

Hector Ross spoke of the blessedness of the bride of Christ, and quoted the words of the song, "My beloved is mine and I am his."

The last to testify was Donald Urquhart. "Of Rebekah," said he, "it could be said, 'The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her.' Can Christ, in like manner, safely trust us? Can He trust us with time and money and opportunities? Can He be sure that we will not purloin for ourselves what is rightfully His?"

Such were some of the men that formed the first church in Zorra, a church which for more than three-score years has been a light that has never been extinguished, guiding wandering ones, and pointing them heavenward; a fountain from which have issued refreshing streams for thirsty souls. Humble though their lot was, and rough their appearance, these men had clear heads and warm hearts ; they gave of their scanty means, made sacrifices and self-denials endured discomfort, sitting upon bare, hard board benches, in a cold, unwarmed building in midwinter, that they might worship God and bring up their families in the fear of the Lord. To-day we are reaping the fruit of their toil and sacrifice. They labored faithfully and we have entered into their labors.

It was now 3 p.m., and the services had continued since 11 a.m. Still there was no uneasiness or desire to break up the meeting. Rev. Mr. Mackenzie summed up the addresses, reviewing and emphasizing salient points, counselling the erring, encouraging the halting ones, and driving home the truth to saint and sinner.

"Give Christ," said he, "your heart, your life, your all. 'None but Christ, none but Christ!' This has been the martyr's cry amidst the fire; let it be ours in life and in death!"

He then called upon Rev. Mr. Allan to close the service. Mr. Allan was eminently fitted to do so. He was a man of a broken spirit. Having felt the bitterness of sin in his own soul he knew how to deal with inquirers ; and, when he spoke, there was power in every word. On this occasion he was peculiarly tender in his pleading. "The servant," in verse 66, "telling Isaac all things that he had done," he used as a figure of the child of God telling his Master of his work in bringing anxious souls to Christ. With melting pathos he dwelt on the spiritual side of the fine picture in verse 67 "Isaac brought her into his mother's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her." "Here," said the preacher, "is a picture of Christ loving the church, and giving Himself for the church. 'I am married unto you, saith the Lord, I have loved thee with an everlasting love.'" Then, in the most persuasive tones, the preacher appealed to his hearers, "Will you go with this Man?" Having put the question, he made a long and solemn pause. Then, looking from side to side of the church upon his hearers, he quietly asks, "Who says, I will go?" The inspired counsel to Christ's bride is then sung:

"O daughter, take good heed,
Incline, and give good ear
Thou must forget thy kindred all,
And father's house most dear.

"Thy beauty to the King
Shall then delightful be
And do thou humbly worship him,
Because thy Lord is he."
—Ps. xlv. 10.

Rev. Lachlan McPherson led in prayer, and the people departed, feeling it was good to be there.

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