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REMINISCENCES OF THE EARLY TIMES OF THE
SECESSION HISTORICAL, BIOGRAPHICAL, AND
Rise OF THE SECESSION IN BUCHAN,-CRAIGDAM, &c.
In our last paper, under this title, we partly anticipated our present remarks, in regard to the rise and progress of the Secession in the North of Scotland. From the early period at which the Secession was introduced into Buchan, and the eminent position which the congregation at Craigdam for many years occupied, tradition has commonly held that it was the first organized congregation north of the Dee. That, however, is not strictly correct; for it appears that there were accessions to the Associate Presbytery from Ross-shire, as early as 1738 ; and that, in 1748, the Rev. Mr Troup was ordained minister of the congregation of Elgin and Boghole, where he had previously officiated for a considerable time; wbile Craigdam was not formed till several years thereafter. The congregation of Cabrach, too, must also be excepted from this supposition, for, if it was not settled before Craigdam, it derived its origin, at least, from another quarter.
About the middle of the last century, a farmer lived in the Cabrach district, distinguished above his fellows for intelligence, correct moral deportment, and that attention to the external duties of religion, which satisfied bimself and others that he deserved to be called a religious man, and was entitled to cherish a fair hope of acceptance with God. One day, a farmer from Morayshire was passing through the district, with a drove of cattle, on his return from some southern market. Finding some difficulty in conducting his charge across a stream, he was joined and aided by the party referred to, who happened to be a spectator of his movements. Thus accidentally introduced, they sat down on a stone to rest and enjoy some friendly conversation. In its course, No. XIII., VOL. II.
the Morayshire farmer asked his friend what sort of ministers they had in that neighbourhood, "Did they preach the Gospel ?” “ The Gospel !" said the man of Cabrach, "wbat else should they preach; isn't it the Gospel they are paid for preaching ?" And, " Had they good elders ?"" yes, very good; very attentive to the poor. “But did they visit the sick, and endeavour to instruct them in the way of salvation po'
Well, that he could not say ; but he had no idea that that belonged to their office." The Morayshire man, gathering from his friend's remarks that he was bimself ignorant of the true nature of the Gospel, and of true religion, led the conversation into a religious channel, and sought to explain to him the truth as it is in Jesus. The thoughtful farmer found himself introduced into a new world, with views altogether strange to him; and when the friend who had thus been thrown in his way was about to pursue his journey, he constrained him to stay in his house all night. Next day, he accompanied him twelve miles on the way, and parted, not without a specific agreement that, at a set time, he would repair north to Elgin, and hear more of this strange gospel. The time specified was the time of the communion among the Seceders, to whom the farmer Lelonged. The appointment was faithfully kept by the other, and there, by the ministrations he listened to, which fell like good seed on prepared ground, the impressions already made upon his mind were deepened and confirmed. He earnestly requested that this Gospel should be sent to Cabrach, but was informed that it was a rule among the Seceders to listen to no applications for sermon, unless presented in the name of three respectable persons, at least, belonging to the locality. He returned home, and endeavoured to find two willing to join him in the application, but all refused, through fear of the laird. At last, one of his neighbour farmers was prevailed upon to accompany him to Elgin, at the next Sacrament, that he might hear and judge for himself. He, also, was brought under the power of the truth, and soon a third was found, who joined in petitioning the Secession Presbytery to send one of their number to preach in Cabrach. The petition was granted, and that circumstance laid the foundation-stone of the congregation there. The Secession had thus leaped to the north of Scotland, and now found its way back to Cabrach.
Like the Reformation from Popery, which sprung up simultaneously in Germany, Switzerland, and in Britain, so did the Secession of 1733 make its appearance in various parts of the country, without any effort on the part of its founders; and, as has frequently been observed in other great movements, providence seems to bave employed a variety of agencies in accomplishing a particular result. Thus, as to its introduction into the fishing village of Rosehearty and its neighbourhood, some of the fishermen, members of the Established Church, were at Leith, in the prosecution of their secular business, and having heard much about the Seceders, and that the Communion was to be observed at Howgate, they resorted thither, and heard what they had never beard before, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They returned to their native place deeply impressed with glad tidings of salvation, which they had heard proclaimed by the Secession ministers, and immediately took measures for obtaining a regular dispensation of that which bad been blessed to their own souls.
In former sketches on this subject, we have had occasion to remark, that the doctrines and principles for which Seceders contended found readiest access, and took deepest root, in those parts of the country where the clearest and most faithful exhibitions of evangelical truth were made from the pulpits of the Established Church ; and it sometimes happened that the impetus thereby given to the minds of the people went much further than its authors themselves were willing to follow, or wished their hearers to go. Several remarkable instances of this kind occurred in the locality of which we are writing, previous to the introduction of the Secession. The then parish minister of Old-Deer, the Rev. Mr Forbes, was distinguished for his evangelical views, and his opposition to the prevailing degeneracy of the Established Church. He was one of the “ forty-two
ministers who protested against the Act of Assembly anent vacant charges—the Act which influenced the famous Synod sermon of Ebenezer Erskine, in October the same year, and which may be characterised as the immediate occasion of the secession of the " four brethren" in 1733. His principles and public conduct in ecclesiastical affairs, naturally tended to produce in the minds of his people a sympathy towards the Seceders; and the first of his parishioners who took a decided step in that direction, were James Fergusson, of Kilmundy, and his wife, Elizabeth Deans. That worthy couple, having gone south for å change of air (in 1741), were led to join themselves to the Secession Church at Burntisland, under the Rev. James Thomson. There they met Mr Moncrieff of Abernethy, one of the “ four brethren," who assisted Mr Thomson at his communion. At their solicitation, Mr Moncrieff visited Kinmundy in the course of the following year, and preached there on Sabbath, and which, doubtless, was the first Secession sermon preached in that part of the country. An addition to Kinmundy House was then in the course of erection, and an old man, alive not many years ago, was present as a child on that occasion, and remembered playing, while the minister was preaching, with the shavings which the carpenters had made. For several years thereafter, Mr Moncrieff was in the babit of visiting Peterhead, for the sake of seabathing and its mineral waters, and the influence of his preachings on these occasions, and that of the Kinmundy family, multiplied the Seceders, and laid the foundation of the cause in Buchan. And it is believed to have been in the course of one of these journeys northward, that he preached first at Craigdam, in the open air, on a spot near which the church was afterwards built.
Similar influences to those already alluded to, had also been at work in the hand of providence in that locality, preparing the hearts of the people for receiving a purer gospel, and a more faithful administration of divine ordinances than they had previously enjoyed.
This is evident from the fact, that the Presbytery of Ellon was one of the bodies who joined in a representation in 1733, to the Commission of the General Assembly, urging delay in the case of the protesting brethren, and the Rev. William Forbes of Tarves, and others, though they remained in the Established Church, are still held in remembrance as having borne testimony against the corrupt proceedings of the times. As a natural result of the faithful ministrations of these men, we find that a partial revival of personal religion had taken place among the people, and that a number of praying persons were in the practice of meeting for religious exercises, at a retired spot near Craigdam, nader covert of night, to avoid the annoyance of their ungodly neighbours.
Mr Moncrieff paid his first visit to Craigdam in 1748 or 1749, and in the circumstances just related, we are not surprised to learn, that there were some prepared to give him a hearty welcome. Owing to the general odium wbich attached to the Secession movement, Mr Moncrieff bad to preach in the open field : he was attended, however, by a large assemblage of people, and although some mocked and went their way, others believed, and cast in their lot with the Seceders. The results of the sermon then preached were very remarkable. A religious society was immediately formed, and after their numbers reached to fourteen men and their families, they formally declared their adherence to the Secession, and applied to the Presbytery of Perth for a supply of sermon, which was readily granted. For some time, they continued to be supplied with sermon as the circumstances of the body could afford; but their progress was slow and discouraging, owing to the general hostility, and, in some instances, the positive resistance they had to encounter. These earnest Christians, however, were satisfied that it was the cause of truth for which they had lifted a testimony, and were enabled to hold fast the profession they had made.
Mr William Brown (who afterwards became their minister), was then a very young man, and a probationer under the Presbytery of Perth and Dunfermline, and on a petition from the people of Craigdam, he was sent north to preach to them, and at other places, as opportunities might offer, Mr Brown's public appearances were highly acceptable to Seceders in Buchan, and, notwithstanding their fewness in number, being only twenty-four, their poverty, and the ridicule, they well knew they would be subjected to, they at once resolved to call him to be their minister. But their knowledge, alas ! of how such matters should be conducted, was equally meagre as their outward circumstances. They appointed John Harvey, one of their number, commissioner to the Presbytery to call Mr Brown, but with no other credentials, than the simple request of his brethren. He was questioned by the Presbytery as to how they were to support a minister; but neither had those simple-minded Christians ever thought of the matter of stipend. John Harvey, however, was a good man, and knew his Bible, though little acquainted with business matters, and feeling the difficulty he was in, rose and replied to the Moderator's question,-" The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of Hosts." That was enough ; Mr Brown was present, and instantly declared his acceptance of the call to Craigdam, and the Presbytery sustained it, to the great joy of the worthy Commissioner. In a short time thereafter, the desired end was realised, by Mr Brown being ordained minister at Craigdam, on the 230 July 1752.
The congregation had no proper meeting-house when Mr Brown was settled among them, but they were now encouraged to advance a step farther, and build a church. A site could not be obtained at the desired spot; but the then Earl of Aberdeen, unlike the neighbouring proprietors, in a most liberal manner granted them a piece of land for that purpose, and his decendants have continued to countenance the Secession there to the present day. The exact site on which the church was built, was pointed out, according to the current belief of our fathers (so important did the event appear to them), by angelic music heard by night at the spot. But whatever importance we may attach to that, one thing is evident, that the finger of God was in the work; for from Craigdam the Gospel of Christ, under the Secession banner, within a few years, shed its benign lustre over all the surrounding country.
For a number of years, Craigdam was the only settled Secession congregation in the extensive range between the Dee and the Spey; and the numbers that regularly resorted thither on foot to enjoy ordinances under Mr Brown, and the distances that some of them would have travelled, would appear not merely utterly impracticable, but almost incredible, in the degenerate and inkewarm times in which we live. The most remarkable of these were the bands that came up from Rosehearty and its neighbourhood, a distance of twenty-five miles. The germ of the Secession there appears to have been produced by the emigration of some fishermen from the coast of Ayrshire, who had been connected with the Secession, and carried their principles with them. These men worshipped on Sabbath at Craigdam, and when their laborious occupation is considered, we will have some idea of the amount of their self-denial for the sake of ordinances. One of these worthies, when an old man, on being questioned as to the practicability of such a journey every week, and attending to their avocations, stated: “That they prepared for the Sabbath by going early to bed on Saturday; got up in time to leave about three in the morning, and would have reached Craigdam in time for a little rest and refreshment before the hour of public worship. That they remained till the services of the day were concluded, and, after some refreshment, resumed their journey homeward. That sometimes they did not reach home till an early hour on Monday morning ; and when the state of the tide required it, in place of getting to bed, they had to go out to sea.” Another band came up from Peterhead, and the east ; another from Huntly, and the west; another from Aberdeen, and the south ; and from other quarters equally distant. Many interesting anecdotes are still preserved connected with the midnight journeys, and extraordinary exertions of these pious persons, both men and women, for the sake of public ordinances on Sabbath. They would have arranged to meet at crossways leading from various parts of the country; and as band met with band, like the ancient tribes of Israel on their way to Shiloh or Jerusalem, they sat down to rest, and share the enjoyment of social prayer. One of these resting-places, long known as the praying kenowe, has now been appropriately occupied as the site of Artam church. The privations and personal fatigue endured by these parties were astonishingly great, but they were not unmingled with the sustaining sweets of