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accordance with their petition they were formed into a congregation on the 7th February, 1764, by the Anti-burgher Presbytery of Perth.
This infant congregation, as it may be called, continued in this position for nearly three years, strengthening themselves as they best could. By the end of 1766 they had so far prospered as to feel warranted in seeking a settled dispensation of ordinances, and on the 6th December they petitioned the Presbytery to that effect. The stipend offered was "forty pounds a year and a lodgeable house," an amount not to be measured by the value of money at the present day. „Mr. Colin Brown, preacher, was the first object of their choice, but he preferred a call from Abernethy, and was settled there in 1767. Two years thereafter, Mr. John Gray, from Edinburgh, was called by the congregation, and ordained over them on the 22nd December, 1768. This was in an eminent degree a happy settlement. The trials and testing process to which the little congregation had been subjected, were in a goodly measure ended, and soon forgotten, and under the faithful ministrations of their young pastor their numbers steadily increased.
This was satisfactory, but here, as in most other Secession congregations, a serious blunder was committed on the part of the people. From the commencement many pious, well-meaning Seceders have held the idea that ministers should not be over liberally paid ; that it was not for their good; and the consequence has been that many of them have had to struggle at the starving point, and others have been driven beyond the point and compelled to seek shelter elsewhere. This is wrong in itself, and ultimately ruinous to any body or congregation, and the evil is far from being non-existent, not only in the Secession, but in other sections of the Church at the present day. For more than twenty years Mr. Gray had to continue to make ends meet on forty pounds. During that time he reared and educated a family of six children, four of whom came to manhood and womanhood, and although the amount named was much more valuable than it would be now, it was much too small for the necessary wants of such a family. In 1791, he felt the pressure of his limited income so severe as to be obliged reluctantly to represent his circumstances to the congregation. We have been favoured with a copy of the letter which he addressed to them on the subject, and while it cannot be said to be complimentary to the congregation, it affords an insight into the beautiful simplicity and sincerity of the minister, in craving as a matter of necessity and equity an addition to his stipend. The letter is addressed to the Elders, Managers, and Members of the congregation, and is as follows:
Brechin, ist November, 1791. “ It is not without reluctance I make this application to you; nothing but a mind clearly and deliberately satisfied about the duty, both on your part and mine, could have dragged me into it. I mean that you should add to the stipend of the current year ten pounds stg. I have all along had a stipend inadequate to a comfortable subsistence, and, circumstances considered, the least of any member of this Presbytery, while the congregation have had advantages for raising it beyond any congregation in the bounds. You ought likewise to take into your consideration the burden of expenses I have always borne for the congregation at Sacramental occasions; the ten shillings you added at last occasion to the sum usually allotted, left me more than thirty shillings in arrears for necessary expenses at that time. If such a burden was imposed on any individual of the congregation, the impropriety, not to say the injustice of it, would be seen at once. A very slight view of necessary articles at those times, together with their advanced prices, will satisfy any person that the sum usually allowed for them is not proportionate. I might enlarge much on these subjects, and enforce them from various considerations, but a word is sufficient to the wise, while no argument from religion, reason, or propriety, will have due weight with others.”-I am, &c., J. GRAY.
This application was at once responded to, the additional ten pounds were frankly given ; and we should add, that the congregation very soon thereafter built for their minister a comfortable Manse.
Notwithstanding the bigotry and narrow-mindedness with which “Old Light” Seceders have been usually credited, we find occasional glimpses shewing that in some things they were not far behind their neighbours. The first school attended by the late. Dr. William Anderson of Glasgow, was an adventure school at Kilsyth. It was kept by a Mr. Mackinlay, an Anti-burgher Student, “who taught Anderson a great deal," although, according to his biographer, Gilfillan, “in a harsh and savage manner.” For anything we know, the Anti-burghers of Brechin may also have had a smack of this savage disposition, one thing is certain they were not insensible of the value of education. In the year 1791 Mr. Gray's Session made a representation to the congregation as to the deficiency of the means of education in the town, and recommended that something should be done in the matter. The suggestion was taken up with spirit, and they resolved to get a teacher and open a school for the ordinary branches of a common education. They rented a room at first, but the movement had so prospered that in 1798 they built a comfortable school on the end of their own property, and on the benches of which
not a few of the sons of Brechiners obtained a good ordinary education. This was a bold and noble step for a small Seceder congregation to undertake. It reflected much credit both on Mr. Gray and his people, and was the means of doing much good among the young in the place. The little establishment was also favoured in the selection of its first master. Dr. M'Crie, the celebrated historian and author, was then a student of fifteen or sixteen years, and held that position for several years. His success as a teacher can only be gathered from the popularity and reputation of the little school over which he presided. One thing we feel certain of, that although a mere youth, he would discharge his duties with earnestness and fidelity. In the course of years many changes occurred, and other heads and hands did the work of training the young idea. Some forty or fifty years ago a Mr. Hebenton was head of the school. It was then popularly known as “Hebbie's Skule.” By this time it was largely attended, and in the winter time, the feeling of rivalry that existed between it and the “ New Skule," as the grammar school was called, led to “snaw-ba" battles among the boys.
This Mr. Hebenton, according to our informant, who privileged to sit under his rule,“ was a decent bodie, a pedagogue not by any means to be despised. My impression is that he was a teacher of fair ability, so far as the possession of a certain measure of ruling power, and an aptitude to impart instruction in primary branches were concerned ; and my personal recollections of him enables me to say that though his bodily presence was weak, he being little of stature, or, rather, painfully deformed, through curvature of the spine, he was yet by no means contemptible as a disciplinarian.
He could without any trouble put a big fellow of a dunce away into an elevated corner of the school with a fool's cap on his head, a species of humiliating punishment which many a teacher of greater presence' would have had some difficulty
a in carrying out."
But however comfortable and happy Mr. Gray may have been among his people, older and younger, clouds began to gather and lower in the Secession horizon which could not fail to throw a feeling of anxiety into his mind. Political and religious notions of a revolutionary and dangerous character had been imported from France, and insidiously circulated in Scotland. They were readily embraced by numbers, in both branches, of the Secession, and at length found their way among the ministry and into the Church courts.
Objections were taken to the Confession of Faith, to the public Testimony of the Body, to the Covenants, and to other matters of a public nature, all indicating a desire to relinquish those reformation principles which it had been the object and the glory of the Secession to maintain. At the meeting of the General Associate Synod, in 1791, overtures on these subjects were laid on its table. One of them was from the Presbytery of Forfar, in which, among other things, they prayed the Synod to simplify and extend the Testimony in opposition to prevailing errors and evils. These matters were fully considered at a meeting of Synod in October 1793 ; when a committee of seven ministers was appointed to prepare the draft of an Act for extending the Testimony, the simplification being delayed, among whom we find the name of Mr. Gray of Brechin. The result of this appointment was a draft of the “Narrative and Testimony," and which document was presented to the Synod in April 1796. The revisal of the Narrative and Testimony was the “weighty work” of eight years, and before its completion Mr. Gray was called away to the better land, to the church above, where strife and division, the fruits of human imperfections, are unknown.
How Mr. Gray might have acted, had he lived to see the New Testimony adopted, it is impossible to tell.
This much we can say, that he lived and laboured, and died a consistent adherent of the Original Secession Cause, and was preserved from the snares and defections into which many of his brethren fell. We purpose resuming the narrative of these events in connection with the Brechin congregation at a future time, and close at present with a few notices of the personal character and public work of Mr. Gray.
We have referred to the employment of Dr. M'Crie at Brechin as a teacher. The young schoolmaster and the aged minister appear to have assorted well. Both detested and shunned games of chance, but both were fond of the draught-board, and often had a game together. Mr. Gray was a genial and social man, and could relish and enjoy the company of an intelligent youth like Thomas M'Crie. At their first onsets over the board, the minister carried everything, but it was only a temporary victory. M'Crie resolved not to be beaten. So, having heard of a shoemaker in town, who was a celebrated player, he ferreted him out, says Dr. Guthrie, and finding how much money he could earn per hour at his employment, he agreed to pay him the value of the time he would occupy in teaching him the secrets of his skill in draughts. Keeping this strictly to himself, he became master in time of the shoemaker's tactics, sits down on an afternoon with the minister, who expected his usual triumph, and leaves the old gentleman staring in amazement and mortification at the boy who had plucked the laurels from his grey-hairs, and swept him clean off the board.
Another incident connected with this harmless recreation has been
communicated to the writer. A commercial traveller, also an enthusiast at draughts, had been in the habit of visiting Brechin on business. Hearing of Mr. Gray, he introduced himself or was introduced, and thereafter the two occasionally met to enjoy their favourite game. The stranger it seems was an irreligious man, Mr. Gray discovered it, and the fact had been spoken of in the family, and understood by the younger members. When in Brechin on a Sabbath, he nevertheless attended public worship in Mr Gray's church. On one of these occasions he called at the Manse on the Monday following, and being shewn into a room where a little girl, one of the family, was alone, he commenced talking to her in a kindly manner. Among other things he said: "I saw you in church yesterday.” “Yes," was the reply, “I was in church yesterday.” “I suppose,” he continued, “you think you are in heaven when you are in church?” "No," she said, “I saw you there.” That, it is said, was his last visit to the Manse.
Little has been left on record, or remembered, as to Mr. Gray as a preacher. One writer, however, bears testimony to his having " for thirty four years sustained the character of an able and popular minister of the gospel,” while another good man who sat under his ministry when a boy, in some personal recollections of him, extols his preaching very highly, and speaks of him as “a most earnest and devoted servant of God, who, as a preacher, was thoughtful and impressive, and remarkable for the enforcement of Christian doctrine upon his hearers.”
Mr. Gray's ministry was well attended, the church at the evening services being often crowded to the door. As a good and faithful minister he occupied a warm place in the affections of his flock, and was also much respected by all classes in the community, while at sametime he stood very high in the estimation of his brethren in the ministry, who appear to have looked upon him as a man of wisdom and understanding," in whose counsel and judgment they might confidently repose.
It is related that on the occasion of his last sermon—which was preached in somewhat singular circumstances—the effect produced upon the congregation was very touching. At the time we refer to, he was an invalid in his last illness, but he insisted on preaching once more from Col. ii. 10, “Ye are complete in him.” It was a Sacramental Sabbath, and he was assisted to the pulpit by his two sons, James and John. But this last effort appears to have over-tasked his little remaining strength. His illness was of short duration and rapid. Entering the dark flowing river, he realized, in his own sweet experience, the sustaining power of that “precious faith,” and that “ blessed hope" in Christ, which through life he had so earnestly