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Chapter NumberIV
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1889-11-14
Page Number0
Word Count3241
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleIllustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)
Trove TitleJohn Muir, Pastor: The Story of a Clergyman's Colonial Life
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John Muir had not long to wait before receiving an appointment as Presbyterian minister in a rising town, a good many miles distant from Sydney. He received a very cordial welcome from the many Scotch families residing in the town and neighbour- hood, and he began bis ministry among them under decidedly happy auspices. The climate of Glen- cairn-a name given to the district by a Scotch settler in the early days of the colony-was cool and healthy, and the rosy cheeks of the children were in striking contrast to those he had observed in Sydney. Although there was very little culture among the people of G-lencairn, there was a good deal of quick intelligence, aptitude for business, and keen interest manifested in religious, social, and political affairs.

' The people here,' he wrote home, ' are very hearty ; to me, a total stranger, their kindness has been unbounded.' He soon became acquainted with, all the members of his flock, who soon came to appreciate the sterling worth of the man. Through, the liberality of a 'squatter,' who took to Muir from the first, aided by other friends, a commodious and comfortable house was soon built for the use of the new minister. A church had been built many years before, whose outward proportions and inner fittings spoke eloquently of primitive times.

'My church,' as Muir used to say, 'is very

simple, but I can hardly call it simplex munditiis.1 A staid elderly Scotchwoman .was engaged as house- keeper, the manse was neatly though not expen- sively furnished, and John Muir, though far away from old friends and early associations, felt himself tolerably comfortable on the whole. His stipend was £300, and it was paid regularly every quarter. Bachelor he ' still was, and; intended to remain. After being settled for some time, speculation began to be rife as to the minister choosing a help- mate to relieve the loneliness which it was thought he must necessarily experience in a large house, and also to help him in his work. An out-spoken old woman-a Mrs. McGregor, from Glasgow-gave expression to the general desire one day when Mr. Muir was ' visitingJ at her house, in the following terms : 'I'm glad to hear, Mr. Muir, that ye ha'e a fine manse and braw furnishin's ; it's a gey auld saying, "When ye get the doocote, ye'll sune get

the doo." '

' I'm in no great hurry for that,' Muir laughingly replied ; ' but perhaps the doo will come to the ark

in time.'

' The sooner the better, sir, for your ain sake ; a minister's house is a' the better o' having a sousie wife to keep things rieht.'

So said Mrs. McGregor. in pure Glasgow ver- nacular, which amused Muir exceedingly.

' But I've got Janet McIntyre to look after it and me,' he replied, with as much seriousness as he

could command.

'Weel, weel, Janet's a fine lass'-she was over fifty-'but a' thé folk here wad like their minister to tak' a wife. Ye ken what the auld buik says-" It is not good that the man should be alone." '

' I am quite aware of that,' said Mr. Muir, ' and I should like to see marriages more numerous than they are ; but some men and some women are far better single. I think I am one.'

'I thojht marriages were made in heaven,' re- torted Mrs. McGregor.

' I'm not so sure about that,' said Muir ; ' I fancy: I know of some which must have been made in well-Hades.'

' Whaur's that?' ejaculated the lady.

' I can't find out,' the minister replied ; ' but some people say it is only another word for hell.'

' Weel, sir, you're no' far wrang. Sandy Fraser and his wife can never agree, and their hoose is like that awfu' place that you scholars ca' Haddies.'

' Not Haddies, Mrs. McGregor-Hades !'

' Weel, sir, it does na' matter. If yours is not made in heaven, I hope you'll no get married ava,' said his persistent parishioner.

' So say I,' said John Muir. And the interview


The district in which he laboured was a wide and scattered one, and he undertook a good many extra sendees in places far remote from the centre of his work. He baptised many children in these remote localities ; and on being remonstrated with for doing so on the ground that their parents were not Church members, he was wont to reply, ' Am I to deprive those little helpless children of this rite, simply because their parents don't realise their duty ?' Muir had no faich at all in what is called 'baptismal regeneration,' but he always regarded the sacrament of baptism as a sacred and becoming mode of receiving little children into the Church of Christ. He was never known to break an engage- ment in which clerical duty was to be done, no matter how far the distance was. On one occasion he drove neatly forty miles to attend a funeral. He was offered a considerable sum for doing so, but in politely declining to accept it, he said with more than his usual gravity, ' No, thank you ; I've made up my mind never to take any fee for receiving a little child into the fellowship of the church, nor for consigning a poor fellow-mortal to that narrow house where we hare all to go at last.' In all cases of sickness, misfortune, and bereavement John Muir was ready to go, and to do his best to relieve suffering and to comfort the sorrowful. ' What's the use of a minister's life,' he was wont to say, ' if it is taken up with preaching Calvinism in the pulpit, and neglecting to preach Christ in daily duty ?' And to the best of his ability, it must be owned, he manifested by his life and conversa- tion that this interrogation proceeded from the heart. 'He went about doing good,' carrying sun- shine into many a darkened home, imparting com- fort to many a sad and weary heart.

Without any effort on his part to attract public notice, his fame as a good preacher and faithful pastor soon spread, and more than one offer was made to him to leave Glencairn. These offers he invariably declined, till at length, for reasons which we need not detail here, he accepted a flattering offer to become minister of St. George's, in one of the colony's leading inland towns. There were a good many other churches connected with the denomination to which John Muir belonged, but he had a conviction that there was room enough for them all. He was received by the people generally with great cordiality, though sinister rumours regarding his ' unsoundness ' in the faith had been studiously circulated even prior to his election. He was not long settled in his new sphere of labour till a nest of hornets swarmed around his head, and the hornet whose sting was the most venomous was, as he used, with a tinge of bitterness unusual with him, to say long afterwards, a brother minister.

' I can forgive the fellow's want of education, his dreary platitudes, and his pious whine ; but his attempts to undermine me and draw my congrega- tion from me are simply infamous. If that is orthodoxy, let me die a heretic !'

It was seldom Muir spoke in this strain, but when he was fairly roused it was difficult for him to restrain his emotion. He had heard of ministers against whose life or doctrine no charge could be laid, being literally ' starved out,' as the expression goes, because of offending the dignity of the most illiterate men in the congregation, or refusing to fall in with the latest ' fad ' of well-meaning but injudicious women; and his indignation was deeply stirred when such instances of cruel persecu- tion were brought before his notice. In all such cases he recalled to his mind the words of his great fellow countryman, Robert Burns

Thae mo vin* things ca'ed wife and weans, Would melt the very heart o' stanes.

' Thank God,' he used to say, ' I have neither the one nor the other; but I do sympathise with cultured men who, for the sake of wife and family, have either to endure every indignity from the most narrow-minded people, or be cast without a farthing on a cold and heartless world.'

Perhaps he erred in speaking his mind so freely as he usually did, but in all cases of what appeared to him glaring injustice and wrong, he felt that it . was a brave man's part to speak out, no matter what the consequences might be.

'There is a time to speak,' he was wont to say, 'and if it is not when educated and high-souled men, who work hard and do their duty faithfully for little more than a day-labourer's wage, are persecuted, harassed, and reviled, and their life made a living grave, without its rest, then I don't

know when it is.'

It soon began to be whispered abroad that John Muir was not exactly the man to suit the exquisitely orthodox tastes of the congregation of St. George's. It was sedulously bruited about that his theological views, if not quite heretical, were at least defective, and ' dangerous in their tendency ' ; that if he did not publicly assail the doctrines of his Church, he at least ignored some very vital ones, ' did not give them sufficient prominence in his sermons,' to quote the words of his pious neighbour, the Rev. Duncan McCallum, previously referred to, though not by


There can be no doubt whatever that this Duncan

McCallum fermented discord in Muir's congrega- tion, and urged members of it to take up an attitude of hostility-theyoalled it 'disaffection' towards their minister. The man whom he chiefly influenced in this way was one of Muir's office- bearers, named Jamieson, a person of no education and no refinement of manner, but of unbounded assurance. He had interfered with Muir repeatedly in petty details of Church management, and was occasionally offensive in the dictatorial style with which he gave his advice. Exasperated one day above measure by the peculiarly offensive nature of his interference, Muir said to him plainly :

' I am at present captain of the ship, and I do not intend to allow any of my petty officers or crew to dictate to me how I am to command it. ' Stick to your own business ; leave me to mine ; when I leave the ship you may do what you like.'

Muir nad borne with this man long, and had never spoken to him in that strain before ; but his

patience was now fairly exhausted, and for his own peace of mind he felt it absolutely necessary to take

a decided stand.

From that day onwards Jamieson pursued him with, implacable hate and insatiable revenge. To make matters worse, Jamieson had a wife who had many points in common with her husband. She was one of those ' gadding-about,' gossiping, mischief-makin g women who are voted social nuisances in everyday life, and whose connection

with churches is highly inimical to harmony and


Muir knew the pernicious influence this woman was exerting, and when in the course of conversa- tion she gave him a ' bit of her mind ' as to the way she considered he should conduct ministerial work, he looked her full in the face, and said : .

' Pardon me, Mrs Jamieson, for telling you the truth so bluntly ; but I think it may be for your own good if I say that if you thought more and spoke less the affairs of my congregation would go on much more satisfactorily than they are now


She never spoke to him again, but regularly attended Sunday services as usual, and the next day prayer meeting as well. She told an intimate friend that she liked Mr Mair, and that his sermons always did her good, but it was a pity for his own sake that he was so independent and refused to take the advice of his best friends. Jamieson did every- thing in his power to make the minister's position uncomfortable, and he had a considerable following in the congregation. After consulting with some of the disaffected, he waited on Muir one morning,

and thus addressed him :

' I am sorry, Mr. Muir, to inform you that people complain about your sermons.'

' Indeed ! I was not aware of it. What do they complain of ?' .

* Lots of things,' was Jamieson's reply.

' I'm glad to hear ¡Mr.'Muir, that ye ha'e a fine manne and bram furnishing ; Us a gey auld

saying, " When ye get the doocote ye'll stine get the doo." '

' Mention one,'said Muir.'

' You nèver preach about the devil and hell-fire. . "We -would like to hear your "views" on these - Bolemn subjects,' said Jamieson, with imperturbable


' I have1 no objection,' replied the minister with great deliberation ; ' but I think there are many other things to preach about of infinitely more im- portance.'

'But do you believe in a devil and hell?' asked Jamieson, as if deeply concerned about his minister's spiritual condition.'

' As a general rule, I decline to answer all such questions, especially if they are put by my enemies to entrap me : but I" have no objection to give a plain answer to your plain question. Most em- phatically I do.'

' I am glad to heàr'it, and it will be a great relief to me and others to hear you state that next Sab-


To which speech Mr. Muir replied :

'If I choose j and when I choose,' adding the words, ' but I'm afraid the sermon treating of these mysterious subjects will hardly satisfy you. Your devil and my devil, yoiir hell and my hell may be essentially different. '

' Never mind that,' said Jamieson ; ' it's better, to have any devil and any hell than-no devil and no hell at all.' .

On mature reflection,'Mr. Muir resolved not .to preach a sermon -<>n. the topics. ' He . felt that it would do no good to his people, and that it would only magnify Jamieson- a little more in his own estimation, if that were possible, than he had previously been. ' Silence is golden,' he was wont to quote, though he did not at all times obey the in junotion. On the Sunday question he spoke out fearlessly. He had been enjoined by his Church to preach against Sabbath desecration, and his sermon on that subject gave great offence. He was bound by his ordination vows to read from the pulpit any pastoral letter which his brethren, duly con- voked, might agree upon. The pastoral letter anent Sabbath observance was read by him on a certain

day appointed for the purpose. He stated to his congregation that loyalty to his Church compelled him to read the letter, but loyalty to his own deepest convictions constrained him to dissent from many of its statements. Its first sentence was : ' The insti- tution of the Sabbath is as old as the creation of the

world ' ; and in commenting on this extraordinary statement, he said :

' I do not believe it. As an honest man, what- ever happens, I must tell you that.'

In the course of his sermon he told his congrega- tion frankly that the old Sabbath law had no binding force on the Christian conscience, and that there was no intelligible reason, to his mind, why picture galleries and museums of art should not be opened during certain hours on Sunday. One of his elders-a highly respectable man, and personally

one of Muir's most intimate friends-waited on him after the delivery of this sermon, and said :

' Your sermon to-day will drive off some of our

oldest and best families.'

'1 am sorry to hear it,' said Muir ; 'it was no wish of mine to say what I did. But when men deliberately pen words for me to utter which I do not believe in, I am bound as an honest man to say so.'

' You need not have said it so emphatically,' said good old Dr. Playfair.

'The more emphatically the better,' said his pastor.

With clouds thickening, and opponents becoming more numerous and determined, the life of John Muir had now become anything but a bed of roses. For the credit of humanity and religiou, some of the best men and women of the congregation stuck to him faithfully ; but the opposition of the minority was constant, vehement, and resolute. To make matters worse, his clerical brethren, with one or two honourable exceptions, turned against him, especially the Rev. D. McCallum, whose orthodoxy and piety were alike unchallenged, and whose influence over

people of antediluvian prejudices was simply enor-

mous. This man did his best to bring about a crisis. which, even without his aid, could not have been very long deferred.

' Muir must be got rid of at all hazards,' was the one article of his creed to which he could subscribe

without any approach to mental reservation. The ' faith of McCallum and his zeal were largely bound up in poor John Muir's discomfiture. McCallum was an ignorant man ; Muir was highly educated, and had mixed in the best society of Scotland. And yet this ' pious platitudinarian,' as Muir once called him, when it reached his ears that McCallum, in his most solemn tones, had designated him as a Most latitudinarian,' had sufficient influence to keep up irritation, and help to make a good man's life


; 'I may not be so orthodox as he,' said Muir'; ' but I've, always been fond of alliteration. If am a "lost latitudinarian," he is a " pious platitudin- arian " ; and I would rather be the former than the


'If you go on like this,' said the friend with whom whom this conversation took place, ' I'm afräid there will be a revival of the Ariah heresy.'

' A worse pun than that I hare never heard a sensible man make,'said Muir.

' My experience has been different,' retorted his f rierd. 'At any rate, a pun of this kind neither breaks bones nor hurts feelings ; " desipcre in loco "

is a fine old Hóratian maxim.'

'Yes,' said Muir, who was a great admirer of Horace ; ' but some people now-a-days; think that it is profane to laugh, and poor Horace, with his Sabino farm and Falernian wine, his broad sympathies and keen sense of humour, would hardly be tolerated in our ecclesiastical circles.'

'No,' said his friend; 'tut let us be thankful that all tastes are not alike, that the earth is large and wide, and that human happiness is not quite dependent on creed, or Church, or clergy;'

'As one of the clergy,'a member of the Church, and a believer in its creed, I cordially say amen to that,' said Muir, with emphasis.