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THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF NOVA SCOTIA.
Nova Scotia, in its most extensive meaning, is a province of British America, bounded by Canada, the Gulf of St Lawrence, the Atlantic Ocean, and the United States of America. It was divided in 1784 into two provinces, that of New Brunswick, and that of Nova Scotia proper. Nova Scotia, in this limited sense, is a peninsula joined to the Continent of America by a narrow isthmus, and is about 240 miles in length, by 30 to 60 in breadth, and lies to the west of New Brunswick. Prince Edward Island, 117 miles in length, with a medium breadth of 20 miles, lies near the Northern Coast of Nova Scotia, to which government it is annexed. Cape Breton is an island not much less than that of Prince Edward, from which it is separated only by a narrow channel called Northumberland Straits. All these regions are to be understood as embraced, or in course of being embraced, by the Church whose designation furnishes the title to this chapter, but which was originally known as a branch of the Secession Church in Scotland.
From what has been said under our narrative of the “Secession Church in Ireland,” it will be seen that the Church so named gained a footing in that country very early in its history, and spread rapidly, especially in the counties of Antrim, Donegal, and Londonderry. Seceders, along with other Presbyterians from these districts, emigrated to Hampshire in America, now the United States; thence they removed to Truro, in Nova Scotia, about the year 1761. In May 1764, a petition signed by 60 of these persons was presented to the Associate (Burgher) Synod, setting forth their “destitute condition through the prevalence of Popery and the great want of the Gospel; and craving them to send a competent number of able ministers to that province, for erecting Christ's throne of discipline in it, and, in the meantime, to appoint one of their number to come over to dispense word and Sacrament among them.” In compliance with this request, Mr Kinloch, probationer, proceeded, by appointment of Synod, to that country in the spring of 1766. He was called to Truro, but declined the call. He returned to Scotland in 1769, and was soon ordained over the congregation of Abbey Close, Paisley.
About the same time with the other branch of the Secession, the General Associate (Antiburgher) Synod began to take interest in Nova Scotia as a missionfield. They sent out, as their agent, Mr James Murdoch, who, after preaching a short time at Windsor, removed to Musquodoboit, where he was unfortunately drowned.
The Rev. Daniel Cock of Greenock and the Rev. David Smith of St Andrews, succeeded Mr Kinloch as agents from the Associate (Burgher) Synod, the latter of whom settled in Londonderry, and was the first minister belonging to this branch of the Secession who actually 'entered upon a permanent charge in Nova Scotia, though the other was called before him, and afterwards settled in Truro. These were the only Presbyterian ministers in the district till 1785, wlien Mr Hugh Graham, a licentiate of the Associate (Burgher) Synod was settled in Cornwallis, and thus increased their number.
In 1786, these three ministers formed themselves into a Presbytery, called the Presbytery of Truro, which was subsequently enlarged by accessions of congregations in the colony, and by ministers from the mother country. Mr James M'Gregor,* missioned by the General Associate (Antiburgher) Synod,
Afterwards Rev. Dr M‘Gregor. See “History of the Secession Church in Nova Scotia," by Rev. Dr James Robertson, Glasgow, pp. 75-185.—EDS.
arrived in the country shortly before the Presbytery of Truro was formed. On the occasion of its formation he was present, but did not account himself a member of it. Very soon after he discontinued attending its meetings. In 1795, along with Messrs Brown and Ross, who belonged to the same branch of the Secession with himself, and, like him, had come to the country under its sanction, he formed the Presbytery of Pictou. These Presbyteries acted separately till July 1817, when they united, and assumed the appellation of the United Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia. The union, as then formed, comprehended the whole of the Presbyterian ministers of the province, excepting Dr Gray of Halifax, whose congregation was averse to it, although he himself continued on friendly terms with the Synod which had thus arisen. This Synod was now divided into three Presbyteries, namely— Truro, Pictou, and Halifax. That of Truro consisted at the time of 9 congrega- . tions, 7 of which had ministers ordained over them, and 2 were vacant. That of Pictou had 13 congregations, 8 of which had ministers, and 5 were vacant; and that of Halifax had 4 congregations with ministers, and one vacant; making in all, 27 congregations and 19 ministers.
The Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia does not now include all the Presbyterian ministers in the country, as when the Synod was originally formed, and assumed the appellation it now wears. After the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843, there were 4 ministers who continued in that connection, 3 of whom were in Nova Scotia, and 1 in Prince Edward Island, and 12 who attached themselves to the Free Church, 5 of whom were in Cape Breton. According to the census of 1851, out of a population of 276,000 souls in Nova Scotia, about 73,000 were Presbyterians of the Scotch school. Of these, 19,000 are designated as belonging to the Established Kirk of Scotland, 25,000 to the Free Church, and 29,000 to the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia. The Presbyterian Church, as now defined, consists at present (1854) of 4 Presbyteries, namely-Pictou, Truro, Halifax, and Prince Edward Island. In the Pictou Presbytery there are 12 congregations with ordained ministers, 2 vacancies, I station, and 19 churches. In the Presbytery of Truro, there are 7 settled congregations, i vacancy, 7 stations (which, when wanted, are expected to form 2 or 3 congregations), and 16 churches. In Halifax Presbytery there are 6 settled congregations, 1 vacancy, 4 stations, and 12 churches. In the Presbytery of Prince Edward Island, there are 6 settled congregations, i vacancy, 3 preaching stations, and 15 churches. The number of churches is stated as well as congregations, because several of the ministers have 2 and others 3 churches in which they officiate in turns.
This Church has 4 professors employed in training young men for the ministry, two in the theological, and 2 in the classical and philosophical department. There are 11 students in the former, and 12 in the latter. The place of meeting is at present at West River. This seminary has already supplied a number of ministers to the Church-natives of the colony-and bids fair to provide a supply equal to the demand, while places may also be found for preachers and ministers from the mother country. There is also a Board of Missions in connection with this Church, which has already sent one agent of its own into the mission field, and will go on increasing the number as the funds permit. Nova Scotia is pre-eminently a Scottish colony, and the Presbyterian Church—the off-shoot of the Secession—is the leading denomination in it. May it continue so in moral power, as well as in civil influence and numerical strength !
T HE Commission of the General Assembly which met in November 1733 having
U declared the Rev. Ebenezer Erskine of Stirling, the Rev. William Wilson of 25 Perth, the Rev. Alexander Moncrieff of Abernethy, and the Rev. James Fisher
w of Kinclaven, no longer ministers of the Church of Scotland, these “ Four Brethren ” met at Gairney Bridge, near Kinross, on the 5th December following, and with much prayer and solemn deliberation, constituted themselves a Presbytery, apart from the judicatories of the Established Church, under the general designation of “The Associate Presbytery.” They continued to act in this capacity till the 11th October 1744, when, along with the ministers and representative elders of the congregations which had become connected with them in the interim, they formed themselves into a Synod, embracing three Presbyteries constituted at the same time, under the designations of the Presbyteries of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Dunfermline. The Presbytery of Edinburgh included all the congregations in the south and south-east of Scotland, with two which had arisen in England, the Frith of Forth being its northern boundary. It was made up at first of 14 congregations, 10 of which were supplied with ministers, and 4 were in a state of vacancy. The territory then assigned to it now embraces 8 Presbyteries. The Presbytery of Glasgow embraced the west and south-west of Scotland, from Falkirk to Urr in Galloway. It was made up at first of 12 congregations, 8 of which were supplied with ministers, and 4 were in a state of vacancy. The territory assigned to it now contains 10 presbyteries. The Presbytery of Dunfermline embraced all the congregations north of the Forth, being then 17 in number, 8 of which were supplied with ministers, and 9 were in a state of vacancy. The territory assigned to it now contains 13 presbyteries. In speaking of existing Presbyteries, those of the Relief as well as of the Secession are included ; but only according to the arrangement made since the union of both in the United Presbyterian Church, when they were all recast, and divided or extended as circumstances demanded. How this was done will be shown in the sequel, as each Presbytery comes in alphabetical order before us.
PRESBYTERY OF ABERDEEN.
At the Breach occasioned by the Burgess Oath Controversy in 1747, the only Secession congregations north of the Tay were Dundee (Kirk Wynd), Buchan (now Craigdam), Elgin (First), and Ross (now Nigg), all of which were in a state of vacancy, and not even fully organised. Previous to that time, they were all
under the inspection of the Presbytery of Dunfermline, in which Dundee afterwards continued, as adhering to the Associate (Burgher) Synod, while the other three, having taken the opposite side in the controversy, were included in the General Associate (Antiburgher) Presbytery of Perth, which was then formed. With this Presbytery, these three remained connected, with a short interruption, till the year 1770, when, with the congregations which had arisen in the interim, they were disjoined from Perth, and formed into the Presbytery of Elgin, which included all the congregations north of the Dee. This Presbytery was divided in 1780, into the Presbyteries of Aberdeen and Elgin. In 1788, the Associate (Burgher) Synod formed a Presbytery of Perth, which included all the congregations in and north of that city, which they divided in 1806, by forming those north of Montrose into the Presbytery of Aberdeen. The respective Presbyteries of Aberdeen continued to act apart till 1820, when they were amalgamated by the Union which was then effected between the two great branches of the Secession. The quondam Relief congregation in Aberdeen, which had previously belonged to the Relief Presbytery of Dundee, was added to the Presbytery of Aberdeen at the Union of the Secession and Relief Churches in 1847.
CONGREGATIONS IN THE PRESBYTERY OF ABERDEEN.
1.-CONGREGATIONS IN THE CITY.
NETHER KIRKGATE (Now Extinct). Mr John Bisset, one of the ministers of St Nicholas Parish, Aberdeen, co-operated with the Seceding brethren in their protest against patronage and other defections of the Established Church, but did not deem it expedient to secede with them. He continued, however, to be so dissatisfied with his ecclesiastical connection, that he wrote a letter to the Associate Presbytery in the summer of 1740, proposing a conference at Montrose with any of the members who might be appointed to meet him. With this view, the Rev. Messrs Wilson, Moncrieff, and Fisher, were sent thither on the 23d of July of that year. On their arrival there, they found a letter from Mr Bisset, apologising for his non-appearance and the trouble he had given them ; intimating, at the same time, that he did not now see his way clear to follow out the course he had proposed to himself when writing to them. He continued, notwithstanding, to afford them countenance in several ways, particularly in their opposition to the ministrations of Mr Whitefield in Scotland, when they came to understand his feelings towards them. Mr Bisset's colleague had invited Mr Whitefield to preach in St Nicholas Church. Mr Bisset officiated in turn on one part of the day, and in the course of the prayer, referred by name to Mr Whitefield, whom he knew to be present, entreating the Lord to forgive the dishonour that had been put on them, when that man had been invited to preach in that pulpit. He referred to him again in the course of his sermon, by reminding the people that the person thus called to address them was a curate of the Church of England, and by quoting some passages from his printed sermons, which he said were grossly Arminian. These acts, conjoined with others of a similar character, led to the belief that sooner or later he would withdraw from the Established Church. Under this impression, and conceiving that no other recourse was left him than to join the Secession already existing, the Associate Presbytery abstained from supplying sermon to certain members
of his congregation who applied for it, holding them as joining their testimony, while they continued under Mr Bisset's ministry. Shortly after the Breach, in 1747, Mr Bisset opened a correspondence with the Rev. Ebenezer Erskine, in which he expressed his sympathy with him and his brother Ralph in the trying circumstances through which they had passed in the recent controversy, and intimated that “if they would return to their old terms of church-fellowship” (which Dr Fraser, in his “Life of Ebenezer Erskine,” understands to mean, if they would cease to require the swearing of the bond) “he and several clergymen in the north would join them.” Whatever was implied in this proposal, the Secession brethren to whom it was made deemed it not only inexpedient to comply with it, but held it as cutting off all expectation of Mr Bisset's ever connecting himself with them, and therefore granted sermon to the persons under his ministry favourable to their views, on the renewal of their application. The party thus forming the First Secession congregation, Aberdeen, worshipped in a hall in Virginia Street till 1772, when they removed to a church they had built for themselves in the Nether Kirkgate, containing 700 sittings.
Ist Minister.—ALEXANDER DICK, from the first congregation, Kinross ; called to Torphichen and Aberdeen. Ordained 7th December 1758. Died 17th February 1793, in the 64th year of his age, and 35th of his ministry. A volume was published anonymously in 1852, entitled, “Sermons and Notes of Sermons, by the late Rev. Alexander Dick, First Secession Minister in Aberdeen; with a Sketch of his Life, and of the Origin of the Secession in Aberdeen.”
2d Minister.—WILLIAM BRUNTON, from West Linton. Ordained 22d April 1795. The Old Light Controversy arising shortly after Mr Brunton's ordination, led to a division in his congregation, previously weakened by the supporters of another candidate having withdrawn at his settlement. The majority adhered to the Original Burgher Synod, and raised an action before the Sheriff of Aberdeen to have Mr Brunton and the minority adhering to him ejected from the place of worship, of which they had retained possession. The Sheriff decided in favour of the pursuers, on the sole ground that they were the majority; holding the question as to which of the parties adhered to their original principles as not before the Court, and as not a proper subject of cognisance by it. The case was appealed to the Court of Session. The Judges were much divided in opinion, but the majority adhered to the Sheriff's opinion; and the case, “Dunn and others versus Brunton, Ioth May 1801," is often referred to as a precedent in questions affecting Dissenting Church property. Mr Brunton being thus required to remove, and his people deeming themselves incompetent to erect another place of worship for him, he resigned his charge, and did not obtain another. He taught a school for a short time in Dundee, but relinquished it and emigrated to America, where he died in 1839, in the 67th year of his age. After Mr Brunton's resignation, the party who had adhered to him broke up and dispersed themselves among different denominations in the city. The party obtaining possession of the property continued in connection with the Original Burgher Synod till 1839, when, with the majority of that denomination, they connected themselves with the Established Church ; from which they again separated at the Disruption in 1843, and now form Melville Free Church.