John Jenkins.

Life of the Rev. Alex. Mathieson, D.D. / with a funeral sermon by John Jenkins online

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Napier asked him to return with him to Glasgow, which he did.
In Glasgow they went into an "eating house" to get some refresh-
ment. While sitting there in a room by themselves the door w as-
opened by a gentleman in whom Napier at onee recognized a friend
from Montreal. Being invited to join them, the conversation turned
upon the occasion of this gentleman's visit to Scotland. Having
stated his business Napier asked him. if he had nothing else
in view. "Yes," said he, "I have; St. Andrew's Church in
Montreal, to which I belong, is vacant, and the congregation
deputed me, when coming to Scotland, to make inquiries for a
minister. " " There s your man, " said Napier, pointing to Mathie-
son. The latter, being asked as to his willingness to accept the
charge, did not long hesitate in expressing it. After some con-
sultation with Mr. Burns, the former] minister of St. Andrew's
(Jliurch and who was specially charged with the selection of hi*



successor, the result was, Mr. Mathieson's appointment and
departure for Canada.

At the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr, which met on the second
Tuesday of October, 1826, application was made by the Presbytery
of Dumbarton for leave to meet on the 10t!i of that month, in
advance of the regular meeting, for the purpose of proceeding
to Mr. Mathieson's ordination, and expediting his departure
Canada. The petition was unanimously granted, and on that day
the Presbytery met accordingly and in due form he was " set apart"
for the Holy Ministry. And the Doctor has been heard to
refer with lively satisfaction to the fact that a large number of
" the brethren" from the Glasgow Presbytery graced the occasion
with their presence in testimony of respect and esteem for him > as
well as to manifest their disapprobation of " the remonstrance" *
which had been sent to that Presbytery from Canada.

If any particular account of the solemn ordination services was
preserved, we have not been able to lay hands on it; and therefore
suppose that the proceedings were conducted in a satisfactory
manner to all concerned. We may be sure that " the imposition of
hands" was not forgotten, for that was a part of the ceremony for

* " There had arisen some coolness betweea the congregation of
St. Gabriel-street and St. Andrew's in consequence of a communication
secretly concocted and sent to almost every Presbytery in Scotland. It
was termed a remonstrance setting forth that the then ministers of St.
Gabriel's had offered their services to the congregation of St. Andrew's
ChurcL : that they were dissenters, disaffected to the Church of Scotland :
that there was sufficient clerical strength for the dispensation of ordinances
to both congregations : that they had not fulfilled their obligations to former


which the Doctor was a great stickler, and concerning which there
is a good story told by Gait, in his " Annals of the Parish," which
the Doctor used to relish greatly. Although Mr. Gait makes
the anecdote suit the creation of his own fancy, the real hero of the
story was the then eccentric Minister of Govan, Mr. Thorn, who being
present at an ordination could not, for the press, get near enough
the candidate to place his hand?* upon his head, but, instead,
reached forth a ponderous staff, which he carried, and touching
the young man's head with it remarked in audible, if not very
complimentary, tones, " timmer to timmer this must do for the
present." That the inevitable Presbytery denner took place does
not admit of a doubt, for, otherwise, in those days the work would
not have been accounted " half done/' The following reference to
a Presbytery dinner may or may not apply to the date of his
ordination but is sufficiently apropos to the occasion : " I must
tell you how Dr. G. spoiled a fine speech I was making with his
dry jokes. I was going on, I believe, making the most strong pro-
testation, that in whatever quarter of the world I might wander,
there was one old lady I would never forget, and whose health I
meant to propose. The light of beauty might grow dim, and th
smile of love cease to stir my breast, but the kindness of my old

Incumbents, &c., &c., and therefore cautioning Presbyteries not to send
another minister to Montreal. "When the nature of the document became
known to Mr. Burns he became rery indignant, drew up a reply and sent
copies to several Presbyteries. But the selfish spirit of the document itself
was a sufficient answer, and but little notice was taken of it. This matter,
however, caused a bitterness of feeling to exist between the two con-
gregations, which was not removed for years afterwards.


friend. ' Wha ist ?' said the Doctor; ' is it auld Lady B ?

I see y're no gaun to wander through the warld yet, gin ye can
wile the auld lady wi your winsome speeches into matrimony.
There is ae thing : ye'll no be fashed wi mony bairns.' The whole
table were in an uproar. I said I was going to propose the health
o' her bairns too, and may she aye boast 'o as mony soncy chiels as
I see around me. My toast is, ' The auld wife 'o Dumbarton and
her bairns.' The joke was unforseen, and the good Doctor quaffed
to the auld wife with all his heart. The joke is this a young
scion of the Kirk and you know they are extraordinarily blate in
general being called upon for a toast declared he had none. One
of the members present said to him ' give us a young girl then ! '
' I hae nane tae gie, ' was the reply. ' Surely you can give us an

auld wife then.' ' Weel, I'll gie ye the Presbytery of

The joke was good, and from that time the Presbytery denominates
herself ' the auld wife.' "

Before leaving Scotland he made a parting pilgrimage of the
Presbytery of Dumbarton and received so much kindness and so
many expressions of earnest hopes for his future happiness and use-
fulness as lead him to say " it melted my very heart into a jelly 1"
He visited Paisley and preached for his intimate friend the Kev.
Patrick Brewster of the Abbey Church. " After sermon," he says,
" a military gentleman waited on me to present me with ten shillings,
being the pay of the officiating chaplain for the day. (The yeo-
manry cavalry were on permanent duty, and attended divine
service.) In vain I protested I had nothing to do with the money the
unknown insisted I should take it, and there was no contending
the point, for a priest would have no chance with a soldier in bran-


dishing steel unless it was in the bloodless shape of a pen. V T hat
shall I do with my ten shillings ? Being the first money I have
received for preaching, I am proud of it it is from the King
I think I shall buy a purse with it to hold my savings, and then I
am sure it will be a lasting memento, as it is never likely to be the
worse for the wear."

At last the day of his departure from the Clachan and from
auld Scotia came. " There was a singular melancholy this morning
in our little parlour. Breakfast passed in silence. My baggage had
been sent off early by the steamer under charge of a servant, while
I was determined to linger as long as I possibly could on ' the
sweet Isle of the blessed.' I went to th,; kitchen to bid farewell to
the servants. The kitchen is often a melting scene, and was par-
ticularly so now in another sense. I pretended to laugh at the
tears of the poor girls, but my heart was sad. I was a particular
favourite of the old nurse and permitted her liberty of speech,
which I was always very cautious in allowing to the other servants,
and of this she was not a little proud, she, supposing that she might
extend her prerogative at the moment of separation, clung round
my neck and poured out a torrent of tears. Then came my " Aunty
Betty," who had been evidently mustering courage to meet
this moment. The half smile with which she met me vanished
like the dew-drop in the sun when she attempted to speak. '
Math'son we have had our quarrels they were never deadly
ones the sun never went down on our wrath and now my heart
is breaking to part with you. Go, go, and God's blessing be with
you, when you return your poor old Aunty Betty will be laid in the
dust ; ' and with that she sprung to her room, and I left that sweet


abode of my purest and happiest days with feelings I would in vain
try to describe. It was something of a wild vacuity of mind that
was almost insensible to all that was passing around."

But the ordeal of parting with the members of the family, with
the friends at the manse, and, last of all, with his good old father,
was a scene "utterly overwhelming," and too sacred to be described.
It, was evening when he got aboard the steamer for Liverpool, and,
being thoroughly exhausted with the anxieties of the day he retired
to his cabin and found some relief in a flood of tears. " You will
laugh at my weakness. I care not I would rather be ridiculed
than be without feeling ; if it has its pains it has its pleasures."
Next morning he was tumbling amid the meeting of waters, off the
Mull of Cantyre, in a very subdued state of mind, taking a last
look at Caledonia's " rugged strand " and pensively muttering to
himself" Fare-well, fare-well; my native land ! " &c. A few days
were spent " pleasantly enough " in Liverpool till the 16th
November, when he found himself on ship-board, bound for New-
York. It was a moment of " mingled agony and delight." The
ship was just getting under weigh, and there stood on the quay a
little knot of friends waving adieu. "I kept my eye fixed on them
as long as I could distinguish them among the crowd, and then
I felt as though I were an outcast on the world, and abandoned
myself to the luxury of grief, while the good ship, under a crowd
of sail, was soon in the ' Fair way ' of the English Channel.
During the night the wind increased greatly, and when I awoke it
blew very fresh and the ship was pitching furiously. I attempted
to get up; but not having been yet long enough on board to keep
the centre of gravity I was pitched headlong on the floor of my


cabin, became very sick and made the best of my way to bed.
When at length I got on deck, I found that my fellow-passengers
had all been prodigiously sick with the exception of one, a very fat
man, who went about wringing his hands and asking the sailors if
they were afraid, and to augment his horrors the fellows told him it
was impossible that the ship could outlive the gale another hour.
The wind blew furiously. The sails were close-reefed, and we were
careering through the water at the rate of twelve knots an hour.
The sea was awfully grand, and there was something overpowering
in'the idea of solitude so complete."

Cape Clear was passed the next morning, by noon they were out of
soundings, and, with studding-sails set, they were ?oon on the bosom
of the broad and boisterous Atlantic. On the 3rd of December
they were overtaken by a storm- " Towards evening the wind
became exceedingly tempestuous, and whatever was not firmly
lashed down was rolled about with great violence. Most of us had
retired to our cribs earlier than usual. Though the noise of the
waves breaking against the sides of the ship, the gurgling mur-
murs of their broken strength, the moaning of the wind through
the cordage, and incessant creaking of the timbers, formed no sweet
lullaby, still, I slept very soundly till midnight when the captaiu
called us on deck to observe two ignes fatui that flitted along the
yard-arms of the mizen and main-top masts. This appearance is
by sailors accounted ominous, and combined with the gloom of the
night was certainly adapted to strike terror into every heart not well
fortified against superstitious fears. The swell of the sea was
awfully grand. The tops of every wave seemed a sheet of pale fire,
a striking contrast to the long dark, hollow troughs between, into


which every few moments the ship plunged as if seeking destruction.
The gale increased until mid-day following when the sight became
truly sublime. I would not have lost the spectacle which the
furious, foaming sea then presented for whole months of summer
sailing. The huge billows like dark green mountains, their tops of
purest white, interspersed with emerald tints, rolled fearfully along.
Now they hung their immense mass of water almost perpendicular-
ly over us, threatening us with instant destruction, and then, as
the ship rose buoyant on their surface, they went whizzing past, as
if murmuring that they had been disappointed of their prey. The
fat man's alarm increased with the gale, and, before it abated, he
had written his ' last will and testament' and put it into a sealed
bottle ready to be hove over board."

Without further incident worthy of note they reached their de-
sired haven and cast anchor inside of" Sandy Hook " on the 13th of
December, having made what was then accounted a rapid passage of
twenty-seven days. We will not here detail Mr. Mathieson's first iu>
pression of America, though they are before us in terse and vigourous
words : suffice it to say that he soon discovered for himself those
salient points of American character that float on the surface of
society, and which European writers usually seize upon with avid-
ity. He thought Broadway was " rather a handsome street, with
some neat buildings, chiefly of brick," from which, however, his
attention was now and then attracted by the eccentric dress of some
of the females, as well as of some of the male gender. " Gene-
rally speaking the ladies are not handsome ; they are not trim about
the ankles : they want the fine swell and expansion below the waist
of an English lady, and their busts are shockingly bad ; they want


the bloom and expression of mingled simplicity and! archness which
distinguish our Scotch lassie, but still their countenances are rather
pretty, and some of them have beautiful black eyes." But he ascer-
tained that the ladies were in general far more intelligent, and their
information more extensive, than the male sex, and that they could
talk politics, and even knotty points of theology, with the greatest
facility. He was surprised at the gastronomic feats performed by his
fellow-lodgers in the City Hotel, and took note of their chewing
and smoking proclivities with the usual, accompaniments. On the
Sabbath morning he worshipped in the Scotch Church and heard
an excellent Calvinistic discourse from a Mr. Philips. In the after-
noon he attended service in the Episcopal Church where he heard
a good sermon and was charmed with the music. In the evening he
stepped into one that he saw lighted up, and which proved to be a
Universalist meeting-house. It was crowded to excess, " but, such
silly trash was never pronounced from human lips as came from him
who professed to teach the auditory."

After a week's sojourn in New York he arrived in Montreal, on
Christmas eve, where he met with a kind reception from his
people and the Protestant community in general, and on the follow-
ing Sabbath was introduced to his new charge by the Rev.
Archibald Connell of Martintown.

He had come out with a small stock of sermons which were stfon
exhausted, and this caused him to work hard and to draw largely on
the hours of the night. However, he wrought cheerfully^ visited
frequently, reserved a large portion of time for pleasant recreation,
and, as the labour became by habit lighter, he gradually became
reconciled to the "banishment " from home. But ere three years

If. Ifl


had elapsed he began to long for a sight of his native land, and to
breathe once more his native air. He went "home," and was
afterwards heard to say that, had he not done so, lie must have
died. Love of country was with him a passion. He found his
friends in Scotland little altered from what he left them, and
returned to Canada in good spirits, thoroughly cured for the time
being of his home sickness. His congregation steadily increased^
and amid new friends and new attachments the feeling of separation
wore off and, save in his more pensive moods, his deep-rooted love
for the " land of brown heath and shaggy wood " assumed a
cheerful and romantic cast.

Shortly after coming to Canada his sensitive mind was sadly
shocked by an occurrence of a very tragic kind, and which rendered
it peculiarly difficult for him to bring his mind, for soni3 time after-
wards, to bear closely upon any subject. Seated in the house of
his friend M-r. Robert Watson, the flour inspector, and in social
conversation with him, he was suddenly startled by the report of
a pistol which had been fired through the window by an assassia
with deadly aim. Mr. Watson was fatally wounded and survived
only till the following evening. " 1 shall never forget," he remarks
in his funeral sermon, " the innocent, the interesting conversation
that preceded that awful moment when the thunders of the
cowardly, cold-blooded assassin so suddenly interrupted the tran-
quillity of our domestic repose ; and introduced death, and lamen-
tation, and woe literally in the manner expressed in our text
* for death hath come up into our windows,' (Jeremiah ix., 21.)
among those who, but a moment before, felt perfectly secure from
harm, and happy in each other's society." The motive which insti-


gated the crime, and the perpetrator of it, both remain to the
present day in the profoundest mystery. The sermon alluded to
was preached on the 8th April, 1827, ad was published at the
request of the congregation. Apart from the melancholy interest
attached to the occasion of its delivery, it was worthy of preservation
as the preacher's first attempt at authorship. He had never before
seen himself in print, and it was not till after he had been
repeatedly solicited, by friends whom he did not wish to disoblige,
that he at last consented to surrender his manuscript.

Mr. Mathieson soon discovered that a very different ecclesiasti-
cism prevailed in Canada from that which he had left behind him in
the Presbytery of Dumbarton. There, in every matter of dispute
or difficulty that arose, recourse was had " to the law and the
testimony." Here, every Kirk session was a law to itself, for
neither Presbytery nor Synod existed whose jurisdiction was
acknowledged by the few and widely separated ministers of the
Church of Scotland. Besides himself, there were but five Kirk
ministers in all Canada in active work ; these were Dr. Harkness
of Quebec, Messrs. Henry Esson and his colleague Edward Black,
of St. Gabriel-street Church, Montreal, John McKenzie of
Williamstown, and Archibald ConneHl of Martin town. Mr.
Semmerville and Mr. Easton, the former ministers of St. Gabriel's
and St. Andrew's, though both residing in Montreal, had retired
from ministerial work. It is true there were a few other Presby-
terian ministers chiefly ministers of the Associate Church of
Scotland, or " Seceders," who had constituted themselves " the
United Presbytery of Upper Canada." In course of time, "the
United Synod " was formed and continued its meetings until 1840,


when its members, to the number of eighteen, were received into con-
nection with the Synod of the Church of Scotland in Canada, but,
from these, the Kirk ministers above named had previously stood
aloof in the attitude of a "dignified neutrality," conforming their
procedures, as best as they could, to the polity set forth in Pardovan,
Cook's Styles, or Hill's Practice. How long they would have
remained in this isolated condition, if they had been left to them-
selves, it is impossible to conjecture. And it must be regarded as an
anomaly in religious jurisprudence that the propriety of forming
Presbyteries and Synods of our Church in Canada was first sug-
gested by the "Civil Magistrate." In the very earliest records
of the Synod we find that a certain number of ministers and
commissioners from the congregations in connection with the
Church of Scotland in Canada met pursuant to agreement in the
church of Kingston on the 7th day of June, 1831, when Mr.
McGill, in explanation of the object of the meeting, called the
attention of members to Sir. George Murray's despatch to Sir
John Colborne, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, " relative
to a union between the different classes of Presbyterians, to the
necessity of forming Presbyteries and a Synod in Canada; and of
applying to the General Assembly for recognition."* After " long
delibera'ion " on these points a unanimous decision was arrived
at, and, on the following day, the Synod of the Presbyterian
Church in connection with the Church of Scotland met for the
first time, and was constituted with prayer by its moderator, the

* The inconvenience of dealing with individual ministers in relation to
Clergy Reserves doubtless suggested the recommendation of the govern-
ment at that particular time.


Rev. John McKcnzie. The number of ministers who were
present at these deliberations was fourteen. Of this number there
are only three now living. Dr. Urquhart of Cornwall the only
surviving Minister in Canada who was then present Dr.
Cruickshank, formerly of Bytown, now the minister of Turriff,
Scotland, and the Rev. T. C. Wilson, formerly of Perth, and now
of Dunkeld, Scotland. The story of the Kirk in Canada, prior
to the time of Mr. Mathieson's arrival, is bound up in the bio-
graphies of a very few individual ministers ; and its subsequent
history must be sought for elsewhere than in these pages. It has
had its seasons of trial and depression. It has figured on the
arena of controversy. It has stood on the defensive and shewn
a bold front to a powerful rival, and it has been torn and
divided by that distinctive attribute of Presbyterianism that
delights in " Testimony Bearing." But, it can recount, too, its
"times of refreshing," and, we make bold to say, not boastfully,
but in a thankful spirit, that it has throughout maintained a con-
sistent and honourable position in the land, and that its prospects
now are brighter than at any period in its history. There are now
on the Synod's Roll one hundred and thirty-two ministers, and that
number falls far short of indicating the growth of Presbyterianism ;
for, from the division that occurred in 1844, there has sprung up
a vigourous Church with two hundred and ninety-five ministers,
making in all four hundred and twenty-seven ministers of
the Presbyterian order in the Provinces of Quebec and
Ontario alone known by the name of the Canada Presbyterian
Church to which, if we add the numbers in the Lower
Provinces, it will probably appear that the Presbyterian element


outnumbers all other denominations in the Dominion. And
we greatly misapprehend the signs of the times if a general
union of these churches is not consummated before long, with-
out waiting for the mandate of His Excellency, the Governor
General. It were an insult, however, to Dr. Mathieson's memory
did we lead the reader to infer that such a consummation
would have been agreeable to his feelings. He never could bring
himself to coincide with the opinions of those who advocated a
general union of all the Presbyterian Churches as a matter of expe-
diency or, upon the ground that a numerically large church must
necessarily exercise a correspondingly extensive influence on public
morals. In fact he deprecated every proposal that was based on
such principles, and, in terms so strong as to give colo-ur to the
impression that he was opposed to union on any terms. But
such was not the case, as we shall by and by endeavour to shew.




THIS date opens up a new era in Mr. Mathieson's history, when
he took his place as an influential member of the church courts now
established in Canada. But, that we may not lose sight of the
individual in the crowded and sometimes stormy arena of debate,
it will be better to continue our domestic annals, even though it
will compel us, in a succeeding chapter, to return to this point.
As there is no evidence to the contrary, we suppose that for some
time after his return from Scotland he took heartily with his work,

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Online LibraryJohn JenkinsLife of the Rev. Alex. Mathieson, D.D. / with a funeral sermon by John Jenkins → online text (page 4 of 18)