REV. CHARLES NAIRN
(Died March 17,1873)
Author: Rev. Thomas Hill, Dundee
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, August 1, 1873, p.169
Author: Rev. Thomas Hill, Dundee
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, August 1, 1873, p.169
The Rev. Charles Nairn was born in Edinburgh, of pious parents, in 1803, and was educated in that city. While a student at its University he greatly distinguished himself, and won high honours in some of the classes.
Shortly after receiving license he became an assistant in Cupar-Fife, and there laboured with acceptance and success from 1832 till 1836, when he was settled in the parish of Forgan. Faithful to his trust, watching for souls, abundant in labours, he honoured his Master, blessed his people, and gained the confidence of good men.
When the Disruption came, he saw the path of duty clearly, and took it without hesitation. But the bodily fatigue and mental anxiety that he underwent at that period, in forming and fostering Free Church congregations in the parishes adjoining his own, so injured his health that he was obliged to resign his charge and sojourn for a while in Madeira.
While residing in that island, Mr. Nairn was privileged to further the blessed work of revival that the well-known Dr. Kalley had been honoured to begin. Awakened souls, converts from the Church of Rome, he took and “expounded to them the way of God more perfectly.” One and another of them he hid in his home, at much personal risk, from priestly vengeance and popular tumult.
On returning with restored health from his enforced absence, and after labouring at Newhaven and Gourock respectively for some months, he was inducted as minister of St. David’s, Dundee, at the close of 1849. The duties of that charge he faithfully performed for full twenty years with untiring diligence and zeal. In earnestness and prayer he gave himself to the work of the Lord. Carefully did he weigh the messages that he delivered to the people, never serving God in the sanctuary with that which cost him nothing. Deeply was he interested in the religious instruction of the young. Upon the afflicted, the sick, and the dying he expended much of his love and sympathy. His life, in short, was consecrated to his Lord, and his office was magnified by the unwearied discharge of its duties. I have often heard him say that he “felt increasing delight in his work the older he grew; so that when failing health forced him to retire from it, and hand over its prosecution to an able and excellent colleague, his soul was bowed down under the trial, though submissive to the Master’s will.
Mr. Nairn was a man of sterling worth. The better he was known the more he was respected and loved for his noble qualities of head and heart. His mind was clear, active, comprehensive, and always kept by him under good training. The knowledge that he had acquired by extensive reading was ever at his command. The views that he expressed were thought out for himself, never borrowed. While manly, independent in spirit, and unbending in principle, he was withal genial and loving — a true friend, a faithful brother, a stranger to all bitterness and meanness. Sincere was his heart; integrity and uprightness preserved him. He was honest in purpose and speech, sympathetic in nature, and stainless in honour; esteeming that which was right for its own sake, and doing it under a deep sense of responsibility to God. His religion was deep-toned, unostentatious, nourished by much prayer, sweet in its fragrance, “full of mercy and good fruits.” He walked with God, adorned the gospel which he preached, and was a living epistle of Christ so plainly written that all might read. Few men have so much public spirit as he had. All that concerned the cause of God and the highest interests of men concerned him. To the truths of his Confession, to the hereditary principles of his Church, he was ever leal-hearted, and ready to battle in their defence.
During the first half of his ministry he had great popularity as a preacher. Wherever he went the devout flocked to hear him, and were impressed and edified by the full and free gospel that he so earnestly proclaimed.
But dark days of sorrow came. Domestic trials, and latterly shattered health, crushed his spirit, impaired his powers, and lessened his efficiency. For the last sixteen years trouble and death had been almost constantly in his home. One after another of his children — to the number of seven — he laid in the dust. A short while ago his eldest son, a promising youth, the staff of his age, the prop of his house, was cut down by death. From that wound his heart never recovered. While patient in suffering, kissing the rod and blessing Him who hath appointed it, his intimate friends could easily see that his thoughts were constantly turned to the sorrowless land. For a few days before his decease, and when he did not dream it was near, he spoke much to his family of “the rest that remaineth.” On the last Sabbath evening he saw on earth, he read at worship the seventeenth chapter of John, and dwelt much upon it in his prayer. Next morning, after a brief struggle with death, he departed “to be with Christ,” leaving the heritage of a lofty Christian example to his stricken widow and the surviving members of his family. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”
REV. ROBERT NAISMITH, CHIRNSIDE
(Died 31st January 1891)
Author: Rev. John Torrance, Glasgow
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, August, 1891, Obituary, p.244
Grace does not run in the blood, yet there is a law of spiritual heredity by which it descends from parent to child. The God of grace is a covenant God, and while he freely proclaims his love to all men, he specially delights in “shewing mercy to thousands of generations of them that love him and keep his commandments.” Of this law Mr. Naismith furnished a notable illustration; for, like more of the excellent of the earth, he “served God from his forefathers.” He liked to tell the old story about the origin of his name. Far back in the time of Alexander III., a soldier who by his prowess had turned defeat into victory, undertook, in the absence of a smith, to shoe the king’s horse. In doing so the handle of his hammer broke, and he had not another; whereupon the king jokingly said to him, “You are a brave officer, but nae smith.” But he liked still better to tell of the godliness of some of his more immediate ancestors, through whom he had become a partaker of divine grace. One branch of the Naismith family long possessed the estate of Netherton, near Hamilton, but lost it in the time of the persecution for taking part with the Covenanters at Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge. Though reduced to humble circumstances, some succeeding generations retained their high Christian character and their attachment to the principles for which their ancestors had suffered. On account of the consistent Christian character of his father, Mr. Naismith used to say that he valued his descent from him, though a plain man, more than if he had been a titled nobleman of immoral character. His mother, too, was distinguished for Christian excellence.
Mr. Naismith was born in Cambusnethan parish on 4th August 1822, and was baptized by the venerable Dr. Mason of Wishaw. When a boy he was nearly drowned in the Clyde, and while under the water had experiences which left a lasting impression on his mind. While still young his family removed to Lesmahagow parish, where, owing to distance from any school, his education was attended with difficulties; but it was by no means neglected. He never remembered learning to read, but before he went to school he had done what many never do either at school or after leaving it—he had read through the whole Bible and nearly all the books he could lay his hands on. By his twelfth year he had undergone “a saving change.” This he attributed, under God, to the teaching and holy example of his parents, to family worship observed night and morning with unfailing regularity, and to the habit of praying in secret, into which he was carefully trained. What a boon it would be to the Church of God if all Christian parents would earnestly covet the high honour of being instrumental in the conversion of their own children! What a crown they lose by leaving this to be done by others!
At fifteen he entered a writer’s office in Glasgow, where his services were highly appreciated, and where he was urgently pressed to remain and qualify himself for the legal profession. This he declined, as his heart was set on preparing for the ministry, and he took to teaching as a more congenial way of supporting himself. For this he was blamed in later years by some of his friends who had grown rich in the profession he had abandoned. But though his income was small compared with theirs he never regretted his decision; for he loved the ministry, and esteemed it as the noblest occupation on earth. After a few years spent in teaching and attending college, he engaged in the work of the City Mission. This work was altogether to his taste, and he entered into it with great heartiness. Having completed the usual course of study in the university, he attended the Divinity Hall of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, where one of his professors, the Rev. Dr. Goold, testifies: “He pursued his studies uniformly under a sense of Christian principle, and commanded respect by his sincere devotedness to Christ, and by a strong sympathy with evangelistic efforts for the conversion of the lost.”
After being licensed to preach the gospel, he received several calls which he declined. On being called a second time to Chirnside, he accepted the invitation, and was ordained to the pastoral charge of the Reformed Presbyterian congregation there on the 2nd of May 1861. He had several opportunities afterwards of transferring his services elsewhere, but preferred remaining where God had already cast his lot. His thirty years of ministry in that delightful district were much enjoyed by him. He filled them in with diligent labour in every department of ministerial work. Till near the end he enjoyed uninterrupted health, and his great strength was ungrudgingly spent in preaching the gospel, and visiting his people, with whom he had the most friendly intercourse, and by whom he was held in the highest esteem. In 1876 he very heartily approved of the union of his small denomination with the Free Church. Though he would have liked better had it been more comprehensive, he hailed it as the healing of at least one of our divisions, and that, too, on terms compatible with fidelity to his own views of truth. While faithful to his denomination, Mr. Naismith was free from narrow sectarianism, and he has left on record his deep thankfulness to God that in all his labours he lived on terms of good friendship with his ministerial brethren.
Besides his more directly pastoral work, he took a deep interest in social questions. He was an earnest, judicious, and life-long advocate of temperance. In every way possible—by his personal example, by his writings in prose and verse, by his voice in pulpit and on platform—he did his best to induce men to be sober. He laboured much also on behalf of the young. From boyhood he composed hymns and songs for their use. Many of these have been published, and have received high approbation. His last printed work was a small volume of sermons dedicated to his congregation, in which he very clearly explains the way of salvation, and commends Christ to his fellow-men. At the communion table on the 25th of January, he addressed his people for the last time from the appropriate words, “To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” On the evening of the following Saturday, after conducting family worship with great fervour, he “fell asleep,” leaving a widow and eight children to mourn for a little his loss, but still more to anticipate the joy of reunion with him in glory. Thus Mr. Naismith died as he had lived and as his fathers had lived before him. We see the stream of God’s covenant grace following him all through life: first in the baptized infant, then in the early converted boy, next in the trustworthy clerk and the successful teacher, afterwards in the earnest missionary and the faithful minister, and last, not least, in the praying head of a Christian family.— “The Seed of the Blessed of the Lord, and their Offspring with them.”
REV. DAVID NEILSON, RENFREW
(Died November 7, 1890)
Author: Rev. George Davidson, Edinburgh
Source: The Free Church Monthly, February, 1891, Obituary, p.55
Mr. Neilson was one of the most widely known and influential of our country ministers, yet his voice was never heard in our Church courts, and his name was never seen in connection with any of the great questions which have agitated our Church. He was content to serve his generation in the quiet sphere where God had placed him; and although his singular talents made him capable of occupying, with distinction to himself and advantage to the Church, more prominent positions, he had no ambition to do so.
Mr. Neilson was one of those unique and many-sided men whom it is impossible to describe adequately except by the use of paradox. He was grave, for he never forgot that he was the minister, yet at times he was humorous and extremely entertaining. He was acute, for no one could more quickly read men aright, yet in many things he was boyish in his simplicity. He was most unbusiness-like in his manner, yet no one could be more business-like in his methods of work. He was utterly indifferent to public opinion, yet in his heart he treasured every kind word spoken of himself and of his work. He had a wonderful art of picking up new friends, for, as Mr. Scott of Arbroath said in the beautiful tribute which he paid to his memory at the funeral services, “wherever he went he captured somebody. … He caught men as apple-blossoms catch bees.”
Yet no one could be more constant to old friends. Deeply interested in all the questions of the day, so much so that a stranger might have taken him for a keen politician, he was a citizen of the world; but no one could be long in his company without feeling that his citizenship was in heaven, and that he was most at home when speaking of the heavenly home.
If I were asked what it was that gave him such a hold on men, I should hardly know how to answer. It was no quality in particular, but a happy blending of many qualities which forms that subtle something we call genius. Some might say his power was due to the magnetism of a warmly sympathetic heart; others might attribute it to the spell of a highly original and cultured mind, joined to a rare kindliness of manner; but those who knew the man would feel that there was still something unsaid, something which could not be expressed in words, but which made him so charming a companion and so loved a pastor and friend.
The leading facts of his life may be briefly told. He was the youngest child of godly parents, who early devoted him to the Christian ministry. Happily his own choice coincided with their wish. His first theological teacher was his mother, who imbued him with an ever constant love for Thomas Boston and the Erskines, the Puritan fathers and the Old English preachers. The library at the farm-house cannot have been large, but it must have been select, for among its treasures was a copy of Caussin’s “Holy Court.”
After passing through the usual curriculum of arts at Glasgow, and of theology in the New College, Edinburgh, the young licentiate acted as assistant, first at Greenock and then in St. Enoch’s, Glasgow. In December 1853 he was ordained as successor to the late Dr. McFarlan at Renfrew, where for well-nigh seven and thirty years he both preached and lived what formed the theme of his last sermon, “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” He knew no other gospel, and believed in no other means of salvation and life.
His people had his whole heart, and he was happy among them. When any one hinted that there were other spheres as desirable as Renfrew, he would say, with a pawky smile playing round the corners of his mouth, “No; heaven is first, and Renfrew is next.” In course of time the old Disruption church was replaced by the handsome Gothic building in which the congregation now worships. Nothing gave the minister greater gratification than the heartiness with which the necessary funds were raised: fully a third of the total cost was collected by himself among the many friends who gladly made this an occasion of showing their good-will to one so much beloved.
But if he had his joys, he also had his sorrows. Within ten years—1864-1874—he laid, one by one, his wife and four children in the grave. These bereavements, however, only made a naturally sympathetic nature more a heart-comfort to others; and his unwearied kindness and attention to the aged and afflicted will remain as a tender memory when other things are forgotten. By common consent he was the minister of the parish, for his care was not confined to his own flock, and his kindly presence was equally welcome in the homes of Protestant and Catholic.
Although for some time his strength had been visibly failing, the end came unexpectedly. Arrangements had been made that he should spend the winter in Algiers. Over £300 had been willingly subscribed as a present by the congregation and friends. The farewell meeting was fixed; but God provided otherwise for his servant. On the morning of the 7th November, Mr. Neilson passed into rest. The following Monday saw him laid in the quiet churchyard of Renfrew, beside his predecessor, Dr. McFarlan. Such a funeral is not often seen. That solemn procession which followed the body, borne on the shoulders of those who loved him, was a tribute of universal respect, and a sermon which will not soon be forgotten.
His departure was just such as he would have chosen; for, several months before, he expressed a wish to me that when God’s time came to take him home he might be spared a parting scene; and if it were God’s will, he would like to be one Sabbath in the pulpit and the next in glory. In both respects his wish was gratified.
REV. JOHN NELSON, D.D.,
FREE WEST CHURCH, GREENOCK
(Died January 26, 1878)
Author: Rev. William Laughton, Greenock
The Free Church Monthly, March 1, 1878, p.71
Dr. Nelson was born in Edinburgh in 1820. His father, whose name is associated with the eminent publishing firm of which he was the founder, was a member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church — a man not less distinguished by earnest piety than by enterprise and success in life. His mother was of a kindred spirit; with such a bright and happy disposition as gave a special charm to her Christian character. He owed much to parental influences; and the godly upbringing he had enjoyed might be traced, in its blessed effects, through the whole of his subsequent life. He was educated at the High School, and prosecuted his studies at the University of Edinburgh. As a student he was distinguished, especially, in philosophy, having gained the silver medal in the Moral Philosophy Class when scarcely eighteen years of age. At this early period, too, he began to show a remarkable capacity for public speaking and debate. His quick intelligence, his extensive information, and the readiness and force with which he expressed himself, made him generally admired among his fellow-students.
His views being directed to the ministry, he entered the Hall, and completed the ordinary course of study, in Divinity and Church History, under Chalmers and Welsh.
Before taking license, however, he spent more than a year in Germany, studying first at Berlin, and then at Bonn. His visit to Germany had an important influence both in his intellectual training and in the moulding of his Christian character. Such German influence was then, and is still, regarded with not a little suspicion. All students are not fitted to profit by it; to many it is dangerous. But in Dr. Nelson’s case it was turned to the best account. Not only did he become a thorough master of the German language, so as to have at his command all its stores of theological learning, but his mind received a powerful impulse by contact with university life in Germany; and, more especially, by intercourse with some eminent professors, whose teaching was pervaded wIth the life and warmth of personal religion. The influence of Neander, in particular, was attractive and stimulating in a high degree; and Nitzch, at Bonn, was another to whom he was specially indebted. On his return from the Continent, having taken license, he began public work as assistant to the Rev. Andrew Gray of Perth, continuing in that situation for six months. But he was soon called to a settled charge; and was ordained, in 1846, minister of the Free Church congregation at Newport, in Fife. Here he gave early evidence of his pulpit gifts, and of his diligence and fidelity in pastoral work. It was in 1851 that he received a call from the congregation of the Free West Church, Greenock; and he was settled there in the summer of that year. This was the scene of his life-work — his sphere of labour for more than twenty-six years.
The congregation was a large and influential one. Its former minister was Dr. Patrick McFarlan, a man of high character and eminent ability, who had taken a leading part in the events which issued in the Disruption, and had occupied a most influential position in the Free Church. Such a minister was looked up to by his people wdth the utmost confidence and respect. It was no easy matter to come after him, and secure a similar place in the respect of the congregation. Dr. Nelson, however, more than realized the hopes and wishes of his friends. Entering on a new field, which afforded ample scope for his varied talents — in the prime of life — his mind matured — his opinions formed — active, ardent, and hopeful — conscious of power, and having that kind of self-reliance which, instead of offending, inspires confidence on the part of others — it was not surprising that he soon took a high place in the esteem of his congregation, and of the whole Christian community of Greenock. The devotedness with which he gave himself to his proper congregational work was a most striking and instructive feature in his history. Fitted as he was to take a distinguished part in public questions, social and ecclesiastical, he never allowed himself to be so occupied with these as to have his pastoral engagements interfered with. Literary distinction was certainly within his reach; but he preferred the nobler work of the Christian ministry, and made that the business of his life. His pulpit gifts were of a high order. While his preaching was not wanting in those popular elements which are of such importance in addressing a general audience, it was especially marked by earnestness of tone, depth of feeling, vigour and freshness of thought, with great fluency of expression, always under the restraint of a severe taste. In his delivery there was much energy and fire; his voice, at least during the earlier part of his ministry, was remarkably rich and melodious; while his personal appearance was interesting and attractive in no ordinary degree. As regards the substance of his preaching, it was, in a word, the glorious gospel of the blessed God — salvation from sin, through the death of Christ, and by the Spirit of Christ. With his mind open to new aspects of truth, he never shifted from the old foundations, and was never weary of pressing on his people the most vital articles of the Christian faith. Whatever influence he owed to his pulpit gifts, not less was due to his assiduity and faithfulness in other departments of pastoral duty — to private intercourse with the members of his flock, and to the warmth of heart and tenderness of sympathy which he brought to them in their seasons of sorrow and suffering. This part of his work was more and more congenial to him, with his growing experience of life’s trials. At more than one period he suffered from attacks of illness of a threatening kind. His profiting under such discipline was very apparent in the deeper seriousness, the chastened tone, and tenderness of spirit which characterized him more as life advanced. To all his dealings with his people was added the influence of a blameless life. He was an example to the flock, encouraging them to be followers of him, as he was of Christ.
While thus making full proof of his ministry, Dr. Nelson was always ready to meet other calls of a public kind, so far as time and strength would permit. In educational and benevolent movements, as well as in the business of the Church, he took an active part. If he did not come forward so much as his friends wished and expected, that was simply owing to his paramount regard to the claims of his congregation. He travelled a great deal: it was the principal recreation by which he sought to recruit his energies — not the travelling of a mere idler, but of a most intelligent observer. He was well acquainted with the greater part of the Continent; he had visited the United States and Canada; and, a few years ago, made the tour of Egypt and Palestine. His intercourse with Christian men in Europe and America had its proper effect in widening his sympathies and imbuing him with a truly catholic spirit. In his attachment to the Free Church, he was decided and unwavering; but he was free from sectarian narrowness, and was on intimate terms with brethren of other denominations, some of whom, indeed, were among his oldest and most valued friends. As a channel of communication with foreign Churches, more especially, he was fitted to render the most important service to the cause of evangelical religion.
As regards what Dr. Nelson was in the private relations of life, it would be difficult to give adequate expression to the feelings of those who knew and loved him. He had many friends, to whom he was endeared by the genuineness of his character, by his manly frankness and independence of spirit, by his warmth of heart and unfailing sympathy, as well as by the genial tone — lively and often playful — which pervaded his conversation. The affections of family and kindred were very strong in him. To his mother especially he was most tenderly attached. In the mutual affection subsisting between that venerable parent and her accomplished son there was something very touching and beautiful. He was in the habit, for many years, of writing to his mother every Saturday, giving her his text for next day, with an outline of his discourse. Regular as the post the letter reached her every Saturday evening — a token of filial love and constant remembrance most grateful to a mother’s heart. It is an affecting circumstance that the death of this beloved mother took place only six weeks before his own. After so short a separation, he was laid by her side — mother and son, lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death not long divided.
Dr. Nelson’s last illness, though of some months’ duration, had a sudden and unexpected issue. He had an attack of something like congestion of the brain at Oban in September last. After removing to his mother’s house in Edinburgh, he seemed to be recovering; and though her death threw him back for a little, he rallied again, and gained strength so decidedly as to entertain the hope of soon resuming work to some extent. On Saturday, 26th January he seemed in the morning better than usual; and intended next day to test his strength by taking some part of the service in the church of his friend, Dr. Goold. But in the course of the forenoon he had another attack: medical skill was of no avail; about five in the afternoon he entered into rest.
His loss will be felt by his friends, by his congregation and by the Church at large. We can ill spare, in times like these, the influence of his mature experience and weight of character. But he has left a noble example — the most excllent gifts, such as might have won him fame or fortune in some other walk of life, all devoted, heartily and without reserve, to the service of Christ and the good of his fellow men.
REV. ROBERT B. NICHOL, GALASHIELS
The Record of the Free Church of Scotland, August 1, 1863, p.307
The Rev. Robert B. Nichol of Galashiels had been laid aside from active duty for more than four years, and although at times cheered by the hope of recovery, his departure, after so long an illness, did not much surprise his friends. In early life, as coadjutor with Dr. Gunn, he was for several years one of the masters in the Burgh School of Haddington, where he taught with much success, and won the affections of his pupils in a remarkable degree.
Warmly attached to evangelical views, he took license in the Free Church shortly after the Disruption, and was soon called to Galashiels. A diligent student and a painstaking minister, he gave himself very heartily to his Master’s work, and laboured, while health lasted, with much acceptance in his charge. He was an original thinker, and his happy openings of hidden meanings were often the theme of admiring comment. In him were combined great decision of character with the gentlest amiability, a manly bearing and a warm-hearted benevolence. In the geniality of his nature he had a place for every one, but his sympathies centred with peculiar delight upon the sons of toil. To counsel and to cheer the working man was ever to him a true joy, and his willing and practical advice was much sought and profitably followed.
As an able and devoted minister who loved and laboured for his flock, as an attached friend, as one who sought in every way the good of his fellow-men, his memory will be long cherished. With affectionate zeal he sowed the good seed of the word; the great day will reveal the blessed fruit of his faithful ministry.
REV. ARCHIBALD NICOL, SHISKAN, ARRAN
(Died December 11, 1876)
Author: Rev. A. Stewart, Whiting Bay
The Free Church Monthly March 1, 1877, p.69
Mr. Nicol was one of a band of able, devoted, and godly Disruption ministers, who went forth from the island of Arran to labour in various parts of the Highlands — fruits of the remarkable revivals which occurred in that island in 1803-4, and 1812-13; namely, the Revs. Finlay Cook of Reay, Archibald Cook of Daviot, John McAllister of Nigg, Peter Davidson of Brodick, Peter McBride of Rothesay, and Alexander McBride of North Bute — all of them gone to their reward.
Mr Nicol was born in the year 1797 in Leckiemore, a small upland farm at the south end of the island. He was, when about fifteen years of age, brought under the saving influence of the gospel during the revival of 1812-13. His parents, though very respectable, were not by any means in affluent circumstances; and he remained with them working on the farm till he had fully come to man’s estate, having only received such education as was then commonly given at the parish school. After much serious reflection, and prayer to Him who can guide aright, he resolved on devoting himself to the service of God in the gospel of his Son. With this view he entered a grammar school, and resolutely began to prepare himself for entering the university. After passing through the regular course of study at the university and divinity hall, and receiving license, he laboured for a considerable time as a missionary in the city of Perth, and afterwards, with much acceptance, among the Highlanders in the town of Saltcoats.
In 1836 he was ordained to the pastoral charge of the congregation of Coll, where he laboured earnestly and faithfully for a period of sixteen years. He was greatly respected and dearly beloved by the simple inhabitants of that remote and lonely island. Nor need this be much wondered at, when we know the fact that, while he acted the part of a loving and faithful pastor in seeking their salvation and feeding their souls with the Bread of Life, he at the same time, with the most self-denying generosity, during the period of famine which ensued on the failure of the potato crops in 1846-47, spent the greater part of his by no means large stipend in procuring for their famishing bodies the bread which perisheth. Often did those who were ready to perish call down blessings on their kind, generous, and compassionate minister, who so frequently denied himself to relieve their wants.
As might be expected in one who from his youth lived under the power of true religion, he from the very beginning of his ministry joined the Evangelical party in the Church. And when the hour of trial came in 1843, he was one of the 474 men, faithful and true, who, in order to preserve a good conscience in faithfully maintaining the crown rights of the Redeemer and the Christian rights of the people, cheerfully left their churches, manses, glebes, stipends, and status — all which they received from the State — that they might continue to be the Church of our fathers — the Church of Knox, Melville, and Henderson — the historical Church of Scotland — the Church of Scotland free. All honour to the noble band! The memory of these men should and shall be held in everlasting remembrance. Shame upon the recreant crew who, though now actually reaping the advantages arising from the Christian patriotism of these men, hesitate not to declare that the self-denying and God-honouring step they then took was a blunder and a mistake!
In 1852 he was translated from Coll to the congregation of Shiskan, the largest in Arran, where he continued to labour till his death, a period of fully twenty-four years. About the latter end of August he was laid aside for several weeks by what proved to be a slight shock of paralysis. Contrary to the advice of his friends, he resumed his Sabbath duties, and continued them for about six weeks, when he had a second attack in the pulpit. He lingered on, suffering no pain, till on the 11th of December he gently fell asleep in Jesus. Need we hesitate to say that his released and happy spirit received from the great Master the joyful greeting, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”
Asa preacher, he was powerful, faithful, and impressive, but the grand, massive, scriptural, old Puritan theology — ruin by the fall — redemption by Jesus Christ— and regeneration by the Spirit. While dwelling much on the effects of the Fall, and the sovereign love of God in the gift of his Son, with what animation and delight did he open up the way of salvation through the obedience, sufferings, and death of the Son of God, in all its fulness and freeness! With what clearness did he speak of the necessity of the Spirit’s work in the application of the redemption purchased! With what solemn earnestness did he beseech sinners to be reconciled to God! With what sympathy and tenderness did he seek to administer comfort to the distressed! With what care and assiduity did he always endeavour to feed the people of God with the finest of the wheat! In short, he was a “workman that needed not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
As a man, he was kind and hospitable in the extreme – genial, cheerful, and even jocular in disposition — generous and liberal to every good cause. He left behind him a greatly attached flock to mourn their loss. His removal will be much felt not only by them, but over the whole island. His remains were followed to the grave by a great concourse of people from every part of Arran. May a gracious God raise up others worthily to fill the places of those faithful Disruption ministers who are being so rapidly removed from among us.
REV. H. NICOLL, M.A., AUCHINDOIR
(Died October 14, 1891)
Author: Rev. T. Laing, Auchindoir
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, June, 1892, Obituary, p.148
Mr. Nicoll was born in 1812, in the parish of Kildrummy, Aberdeenshire. Like many Scottish students, he was early thrown on his own resources; and after a distinguished career at Aberdeen University, he became parochial schoolmaster of Auchindoir, the parish adjoining that of his birth. He studied divinity while holding that appointment, in accordance with the custom of those days, a substitute taking his school duties during his necessary absences at the Hall. Many of his old pupils testify to his excellence as a teacher. He early showed fine scholarly taste, great scholarly acquisitions, and a power to inspire others with something of his own enthusiasm in scholarly pursuits. Of his strong literary instincts he gave practical evidence by spending almost every penny he could save from his small income in the purchase of books.
At the Disruption, the Presbytery of Alford was the only unbroken Presbytery in the Established Church of Scotland. Of its thirteen ministers not one had the faith or the fortitude to come out; and only one probationer within the bounds of the Presbytery cast in his lot with the Free Church. That probationer was the subject of this notice. When the crisis came, Mr. Nicoll took a very decided position on the non-intrusion side. This led to his having to quit his position as a parochial schoolmaster; but he never swerved from the path of what he considered to be his duty.
The adherents of the Free Church in Auchindoir and neighbourhood agreed to give him a call to the holy ministry among them, which he accepted; and the Free Presbytery of Aberdeen ordained him on Thursday, the 17th August 1843. The first Free Church minister in the district of Alford, Mr. Nicoll thus became, in a true sense, the father of the Presbytery.
Mr. Nicoll’s work was that of a pioneer over a great part of the Alford Presbytery. He was prominent in the formation of congregations at Alford, Towie and Cushnie, Strathdon, and Glenbucket. In attending services and meetings, his journeys were nearly all accomplished on foot; and only those who are acquainted with the hilly and scattered nature of the country in these regions know how fatiguing such labours must have been. In the practical work of the Presbytery he was thoroughly at home, and took his full share of the general Presbytery and Synod business. From his knowledge of ecclesiastical procedure, he performed the duties of Presbytery clerk for many years with the utmost accuracy and faithfulness.
The most outstanding feature of Mr. Nicoll’s career and character was his consuming love for literature of all kinds. The wonderful library he had gathered around him, and the amazing knowledge of the vast number of books he possessed, were the envy and admiration of all who knew him. Among his compeers, he was admitted as an authority on all questions of Biblical criticism; and his own expositions of the Word of God were reverent, sound, and impressive. Speaking of him, Principal Brown said to us: “He never opened his lips to myself or in my presence without impressing me with the conviction that he was not only an omnivorous reader, but that he was a thinker; and his convictions, which were firm, he expressed with a readiness and force which made me say every time I heard him, ‘I wish I could get a talk with that man oftener, for he always says something worth the hearing.'”
“It would no doubt,” says the Aberdeen Free Press, “surprise most readers to be told that in the quiet manse of a Free Church minister in an upland part of Aberdeenshire there was a library containing some sixteen thousand volumes, and all accumulated by the living possessor of it. Yet such a library had been formed by Mr. Nicoll. And it was not only that he had managed the matter of collection; the library—really a good representative one— was in such order that he could always put his hand on any volume he wanted in the dark. He was an omnivorous and incessant reader of thoroughly catholic tastes, and he knew well his books, which included an extensive collection of the best theological works, while he, at the same time, kept himself fully abreast of current political and other questions.”
While never more truly in his element than when among his books, Mr. Nicoll was most attentive to the public duties of the Church. He did not neglect his pastoral work to become a mere bookworm. A typical Free Church minister of the old school, he believed in duty first of all; and it is no small testimony to his worth that in a rural district where there is the continual flow of young people to larger centres, he maintained the steady strength and prosperity of the congregation to the end.
In private, Mr. Nicoll was most genial and pleasant. The extent of his information on every conceivable subject, his rich and sparkling conversation, made his company very agreeable. He possessed a strong vein of humour; and the happy, racy, and humorous, while at the same time instructive manner in which he could address or conduct a social meeting was a rare treat. In this department, at least, he shone without a rival.
In December 1886 a union was brought about at Lumsden between the United Presbyterian and Free Church congregations—the United Presbyterian congregation joining the Free Church. Mr. Nicoll, in the spring of 1887, was relieved of the full responsibility of his charge by the appointment of a colleague and successor, and after that the junior minister undertook all the active duties of the pastorate. But the senior minister continued to preach occasionally until within a few months of his death. His last illness was of short duration. Up to within a few weeks of his death, when his strength seemed rather suddenly to give way, Mr. Nicoll, for a man in his eightieth year, was in the enjoyment of very good health. When the end came, he passed quietly and peacefully away, assured that Jesus was his guide in passing through the shadow of death’s valley.
It only remains to be said that in 1851 Mr. Nicoll married Miss Jane Robertson, niece and adopted daughter of the late Rev. William Robertson of the Free Church, Aboyne. Mrs. Nicoll died in 1859, at the early age of thirty-one. Their family consisted of three sons and two daughters. His eldest son, Rev. W. Robertson Nicoll, LL.D., of London, is well known as an author and editor. His second son died in infancy; while his youngest son, Henry J. Nicoll, who died a few years ago, at the early age of twenty-seven, gave great promise as an author and journalist. The younger of his two daughters died a good many years ago; the eldest is married to Mr. Logan, a well-known business man in Kelso.
REV. JAMES NICOLL, M.A., FRIOCKHEIM
(Died 18th November 1893)
Author: Rev. J. Kennedy, B.D., New College, Edinburgh
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, September, 1894, Obituary, p.214
James Nicoll was born October 1, 1840, in the parish of Marykirk, where his father was a farmer. The prevailing moderatism of that region only served to strengthen the convictions of those in whose minds evangelical truth had taken root; the faithful few who adhered to Free Church principles were anything but a “feeble folk.” The sacrifices made by those who contended for the honour of Christ and the freedom of his church naturally formed the theme of many a lesson given to young Nicoll by his parents, while their living example of a simple and sincere piety made on his mind a deep and lasting impression which helped to determine his later career.
After receiving his early education in the Free Church school at Laurencekirk, four years were spent at Montrose in the office of a solicitor. Here he gained invaluable experience, especially that training to habits of neatness, accuracy, and method which remained with him to the end. But the study of law merely formed a preparation for the preaching of the gospel. Leaving Montrose for Edinburgh, he passed through the curriculum in arts at the university there; then, having taken the degree of M.A., he proceeded to New College, where, at the close of a distinguished career, he obtained one of the Cunningham fellowships. After a period of travel, profitably spent on the Continent, chiefly in Italy, he was licensed and appointed assistant to the late Mr. Mitchell of Holborn Church in Aberdeen, where his work among the young proved particularly fruitful. In 1872 he was ordained minister at Cluny in Aberdeenshire, whence he was translated in 1883 to Friockheim. The Presbytery of Arbroath, soon discovering and appreciating his peculiarly obliging disposition and business capacity, appointed him their clerk on the retirement of Mr. Masterton while his scholarly attainments and practical interest in the important work of the Duncan Bursary Scheme procured for him, in due time, the additional honour of the convenership.
During the summer of 1893 his health, never robust, began to show decided symptoms of decline. In the hope of restoration through rest and change, he proceeded first to Forres and then to Edinburgh; but here his busy and useful life closed peacefully on the 18th of November. In death, as through life, he exemplified that unwavering trust in the Redeemer which he had rejoiced to urge on others.
Some prominent features in Mr. Nicoll’s life and character claim special notice. His untiring industry and faithful discharge of duty were but an index of the homage he rendered to his Lord and Master, and all his sterling work was free from ostentation. Remarkable also were his constant efforts not merely to keep up his attainments but also to make continuous advance; to the end he was a methodical student, seeking to learn from the present as well as from the past. His most notable characteristic, however, was his constant cheerfulness—one might almost say, his buoyancy of spirit: he carried sunshine everywhere, and was essentially a happy Christian; and to this disposition may largely be attributed his attractive influence, especially over the young. Texts from which he was well qualified and entitled to preach are such as these, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice,” and, “The joy of the Lord is your strength”—it certainly was his.
By his co-presbyters Mr. Nicoll was greatly esteemed and beloved; while it is well known how highly his own congregation appreciated and benefited by his ministrations both in the pulpit and by the sick-bed. His is now the gain. A widow and only son remain behind to mourn their loss; but his Lord also remains to comfort and sustain them.
REV. JAMES NICOLL, M A., ST. STEPHEN’S, GLASGOW
(Died August 28, 1887)
Rev. Robert Howie, M.A.
Source: The Free Church Monthly, December 1, 1887, Biographical Notices, p.370
A profound sense of loss has been created by the decease, at the age of fifty six, of this talented and amiable minister. Mr. Nicoll was a man in whom those who knew him best discerned so much that was fitted to call forth admiration and affection, that it is difficult for them to refer to him without seeming to those who knew him not to use exaggerated language. Had not the state of his health and his natural modesty stood in the way, he would certainly have been one of the best known ministers in our land. While he was “a burning and a shining light,” he made no effort to shine, and indeed he “wist not that his face did shine,” giving another proof that the brightest forms of beauty, genius, and goodness are not self-conscious.
He was not an ecclesiastic. The only speeches he ventured to deliver in the presence of his brethren in the Church courts had a bearing either on the teaching of theology or on the maintenance of what he regarded as vital truth. But in these there was ample evidence of his extraordinary gifts and attainments. On his resuming his seat, after nominating Mr. Bruce for a professor’s chair, the late Mr. Arnot warmly grasped his hand, and, in the hearing of not a few, exclaimed, “You should be the professor yourself!” Referring to the same occasion, a correspondent of the Glasgow Herald, understood to be a D.D. of another Church, made the following statement:—”Mr. Bruce was proposed by Mr. Nicoll of St. Stephen’s in a speech of great power, in which he revealed at once a remarkable acquaintance with the higher regions of theological thought, and an equally remarkable ignorance of the policy of Church work. He wins admiration, but he does not command votes. The making of such a speech in this Assembly marks an epoch in the history of theology in Scotland.” To his intimate friends that speech occasioned no surprise. It appeared to them but the natural outcome of his rare gifts and unusual attainments.
Born and educated in Dundee, he became a very distinguished student of St. Andrews University, while in the newly-opened Free Church College of Glasgow he took a foremost place as a scholar, a thinker, a writer, and a speaker.
The extent of his information, even in his student days, on almost every conceivable subject was marvellous. With the various systems of philosophy he was thoroughly familiar. Not only was he able to discriminate between the true and the false in the theories of others, but he ventured to grapple in an independent manner with the problems they endeavoured to solve. He had also an extensive acquaintance with the leading discoveries of modern science. In the fact that to the last he kept abreast of these, and had also keen powers of observation, we find an explanation of the great ability he showed in pointing out the numberless correspondences between the works and the word of God. Not less remarkable was his knowledge of ancient and modern history, which he turned to most profitable account in his preaching. In the department of English literature he was facile princeps. With a most retentive memory, he was able, on the spur of the moment, to make the most apt quotations from the writings of the best English authors. With a fine literary taste, he could fully appreciate their beauties. His own style was formed after the best models. “So impressed,” says a fellow-student, “was Professor Spalding with the critical insight and deft literary skill displayed by Mr. Nicoll, even in a class production, that he predicted his becoming, if he devoted himself to literature, one of the first literary men of the day.”
As a speaker in the literary and theological societies he so charmed all his fellow-students that, when he could be persuaded to get on his feet, he was welcomed with the quiet hearty applause which indicates the certainty of a delightful treat. “But perhaps more remarkable even than James Nicoll’s literary and oratorical power were,” this same fellow-student adds, “his modesty, lovableness, and breadth of sympathy. He was the most unassuming and genial of men. It was curious to see how he had intimate friends among all sorts of men. If a man was honest and true, James Nicoll would have him as his friend, though he was the dullest student in his class; and he would never be made to feel his inferiority, or that he was receiving any special favour. Nicoll was so simply human and many-sided that all kinds of men felt as if he were just one of themselves. … I have never known in any other such a combination of remarkable ability with unassuming kindliness. Fellow-students would go in on him at all hours and find a welcome, though an essay had to be given in the next day; and after they had gone, at some late or early hour, he would sit down to reel off currente calamo the exercise which, in spite of all, would easily head the list of honour.”
His theological curriculum was rendered more eventful than he desired by the prominence given to his productions in what is described in the Assembly papers of 1859 as “the Glasgow College Case.” Having passed the exit examination with highest distinction, he was in 1860 licensed to preach the gospel by the Presbytery of Dundee. Soon thereafter he had the choice of several spheres of labour. Mainly, however, on account of the state of his health, he did not accept any call until he was settled in Alva in 1863. Thence his fame soon spread abroad, and before the close of the first year of his greatly appreciated ministry, he was called simultaneously to St. Peter’s and St. Enoch’s, Glasgow.
Shrinking from the full responsibility of a city charge, and desirous of enjoying for a time the counsel and co-operation of the saintly and cultured Dr. Henderson, he preferred the latter sphere. In 1868 he, on a second invitation, accepted the pastorate of St. Stephen’s Church.
There the charm of his personality and preaching soon drew together one of the largest and most intelligent of the Free Church congregations in Glasgow. It clung to him to the end in spite of his feeble health, which greatly limited his pastoral and pulpit work. He attracted all classes, but especially thoughtful young men. His sermons to the children on the first Sabbath of each month were greatly prized, being noted, so say his session, for “their simplicity, tenderness, and pointedness.” For freshness of thought, wealth of illustration, beauty of diction, range of spiritual vision, exalted conceptions of God, intimate knowledge of the human heart and the temptations and trials that enter into human life, tender brotherly sympathy, powerful delineations of the evil of sin and of the guilt and misery of the sinner, clear exhibitions of the gospel way of salvation, in pathetic appeals urging to instant decision for Christ, his sermons were so distinguished that he was regarded by those who knew him as one of Scotland’s greatest preacher.
Some time ago, one who is a good judge described him as “the one natural orator possessed by the Free Church.” And popularity did not arise from the novelty of the doctrines which he preached. While the best sense of these terms both broad and high—while his creed was as broad as the revelations of God to man, and while he soared to heights of contemplation rarely reached by man—he was an evangelic of the evangelicals.
Although he was ever bringing out of his treasures things new and old (the new in this case ever preponderating over the old) he showed that breadth of culture and intellect, and great attainments in scholarship, are perfectly consistent with steady loyalty to the Word of God and intense loyal to the truth as it is in Jesus. He was never ashamed of what has been sneeringly described as the “blood theology.” Against the text, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of Christ,” he has written on the margin of his pulpit Bible the words, “God’s glory and my glory too.”
His session speak of the growing “spirituality, fulness, and richness,” of his teaching and preaching as the years rolled on, and his closer dealing with the hearts and consciences of his hearers. All this, doubtless was the outcome of his own spiritual growth. His preaching was throughout the genuine expression of what he had himself seen and felt. Indeed, he never could preach with comfort on any theme until he had made it part of his own personality, and had vividly realized it in his own experience.
And the prolonged discipline of affliction through which he passed, doubtless, contributed not a little to his marked growth in grace, and to the vividness with which he realized the verities he handled iu the pulpit. His spiritual vision thus became more clear and his yearnings for communion more ardent, and his consecration more complete as the time drew near. Referring lately to the death of a child in the congregation who passed away saying, “Lift me higher, higher, higher,” he said that these words expressed his own deepest longings.
REV. WILLIAM NIXON, D.D., MONTROSE
(Died January 24,1900)
Author: Rev. George S. Sutherland, St. Paul’s, Montrose
Source: The Free Church Monthly, June, 1900, Obituary, p.139
Dr. Nixon, the father of the Free Church, and the oldest minister of any denomination in Scotland, so long outlived all his contemporaries that no one of the many noble men who knew him intimately in his prime, and with whom he was closely associated in the public labours and struggles of the church, survives to write a befitting obituary notice of him in our Church Monthly.
Mr. Nixon was born at Camlachie, near Glasgow, on the third of May 1803, and he was thus in his ninety-seventh year when he was called home on the twenty-fourth of January 1900. He received his early education in the parish school of Camlachie, and entered Glasgow University in his eleventh year, where he studied with distinction from 1814 to 1825. On completing his theological course, he acted as assistant in one or two Presbyterian churches in the north of England, thereafter receiving a call to Hexham, where he ministered for a few years with much acceptance. In that town, at a crowded and excited meeting of Dissenters and Chartists, the young Scotch minister first realized his prowess as a debater, when he stood up, “a man of war from his youth,” and defended national religion and the principle of Establishment, challenging the leaders to meet him in debate the following evening. The result was a memorable discussion, in which he vindicated the principle of a free and faithful Establishment, which all his life long he eloquently and stoutly defended.
In 1833 he was translated to St. John’s, Montrose, at that time a chapel of ease connected with the Established Church, where he soon gathered a large and influential congregation. In the Ten Years’ Conflict he took an active part, and for his bold and fearless advocacy was widely known as the Lion of St. John’s.
At the Disruption he threw in his lot with the Evangelical party which seceded from the state and formed the Free Church. His congregation, which included the leading merchants and manufacturers in Montrose, almost unanimously followed him. His labours at this period were extensive and untiring. Wilson of Dundee, Lumsden of Barry, Gray of Perth, and Nixon of Montrose, men of might and energy, co-operated in enlightening and rousing the eastern counties of Scotland, where in nearly every parish they addressed meetings on the principles of the Free Church and on the great central doctrines of the gospel.
Mr. Nixon took a leading part in laying the foundation of the Free Church in Forfarshire and Kincardine by his wise and helpful counsels and faithful preaching. He was eminently a powerful preacher of the gospel—the guilt and need of man, the person and work of Christ, the sovereignty of God, and the freeness and fullness of salvation by grace, forming his continual theme. The volume of his published sermons, Christ All and in All, furnishes some idea of his effective popular style, marked by rich thought, lofty diction, and illumined throughout by appropriate and telling Scripture quotation. He was a strong believer in expository preaching, going through many books of the Old and New Testaments. In handling special topics his manner was striking and varied: at times a quiet, calm delivery; close, argumentative reasoning; mingled with sudden outbursts of impassioned and thrilling eloquence. So intensely was his whole soul thrown into his preaching, that frequently after two, if not three, services, he would seem so exhausted on Sabbath evening and on Monday that it appeared as if he could never officiate again; but by Tuesday his remarkably recuperative constitution had recovered its wonted vigour.
But for nothing in his public ministry was Dr. Nixon so remarkable as for his power in prayer. The solemnity, fervour, and chaste language of his prayers, so full of tenderness and sympathy, and so all embracing, deeply impressed the hearers as he poured out his soul in supplication to Heaven.
Not only in the ministerial and pastoral work of his congregation was he laborious, specially caring for the sick and the aged and the interests of the young, but also he was no less active in promoting the interests of the community in which he lived and in the public work of the church. In Montrose he was, in his prime, a great centre of activity and influence. Montrose and Nixon were always spoken of in the same breath. He did much for the social, educational, and spiritual advance of the town, and many to-day are living witnesses of the fruits of his labours.
In the general and public work of the Free Church he bore a leading part, taking a prominent place in the discussions of his Presbytery, Synod, and the General Assembly. He was a powerful advocate of Sabbath observance, of parental instruction in families, of religious teaching in our day schools, and of union with other Presbyterian bodies in consistency with maintaining the principles of the church both as regards spiritual independence and national religion. He was a leading constitutionalist, and strongly opposed to theoretical voluntaryism.
In 1864 he was appointed Convener of the Educational Scheme in succession to Dr. Candlish, and for many years strenuously laboured to uphold the successful working of the six hundred schools of the Free Church prior to their being merged into the national system. A merely secular education was in his eye a godless education; and when the Liberal Government introduced in 1872 the present system, he went through the country, along with Dr. Begg, Dr. Kennedy, and others, addressing large meetings, to secure in the Bill provision for religious instruction in all our Board schools.
In 1868 the church for which he had done so much conferred her highest honour upon him by appointing him Moderator of the General Assembly.
In the public controversies of the church he was ever to the front as a courageous defender of what he considered the truth. He was recognized as a man of deep convictions, of powerful intellect, with gift of ready utterance, and accordingly a controversialist it was no easy matter to meet. He feared God, and knew no other fear. While his language sometimes was even violent, his measures were mild and conciliatory. A well-known co-presbyter, who met him occasionally in debate, afterwards remarked, “I usually found in the end that Nixon was right, and proved far-sighted and wise.” In his private life he was remarkably kind-hearted, affectionate, and hospitable—a lion in the pulpit, a lamb in the manse. To any one who appealed to him in distress or whose back was at the wall, his sympathies were too readily won, and he would go through fire and water to defend such, and often to his own hurt.
In 1876 he retired from his charge in Montrose and went to reside in Edinburgh, where he remained till 1892. After that he settled in Burntisland, where he enjoyed much quiet and Christian fellowship.
Dr. Nixon was twice married. By his first wife he had a large family, several of whom died young, three of them within ten days of each other during an epidemic of fever in Montrose—a blow which told severely on Dr. Nixon and his partner in life, and which elicited widespread sympathy for them among all classes of the community. His eldest son John became minister of Barrhill, where he remained for some ten years. He resigned on account of ill health, and died in Guernsey. His only surviving daughter is Mrs. Wason, Mertonhall, Wigtownshire. Dr. Nixon’s second wife predeceased him in 1891, her death taking place when he was on a visit to Montrose. On the preceding Sabbath he officiated for the last time in his old pulpit in St. John’s with surprising vigour, preaching for an hour on the text, “One thing is needful,” and making the large church resound with his voice, although in his eighty-eighth year.
On his last visit to Montrose, a few months before his death, he was greatly enfeebled. From Montrose he went to close his days at Mertonhall, where he passed some months in peaceful repose, tenderly cared for by his own loved and loving daughter, and by an old and faithful servant of his Montrose manse. He departed this life on the twenty-fourth of January 1900, surrounded by those already mentioned, and by his grandchildren, on whom one by one he placed his hands like an aged patriarch and blessed them, commending them all in prayer to the care and love of our gracious God and Father.
Dr. Nixon’s remains were laid in his family burying-ground at Montrose, after service conducted, in St. John’s and at the grave, by ministers of the presbytery and of the different churches in the town, amid a large concourse of friends from a distance, and of the congregation and leading inhabitants.
REV. ANDREW NOBLE, M.A., LOUDON
Author: Rev. D. Landsborough, Kilmarnock
Source: The Free Church Monthly, May 1, 1882, The Last of the Ayrshire Pre-Disruption Ministers, p.138
The last of the Ante-Disruption ministers residing in Ayrshire has passed away. The Rev. Andrew Noble, M.A., of Loudon was born in 1808, in the parish of Stobo, Peeblesshire, where his father, farmer, and the lessee of a slate-quarry, was an elder. In the parish school of Drummelzier “he showed good talents and great diligence;” while amid sports for which the silver Tweed and the surrounding country afforded abundant scope, a sound constitution was developed into strength, vigour, and manliness. Here, also, in early youth, God was pleased to visit his soul and make him acquainted with the powers of the world to come.
When twelve years of age, Mr. Noble was transferred from Drummelzier to the High School of Edinburgh, where, among compeers many of whom afterwards became distinguished, he kept a high place in his various classes. This was one of the happiest periods in his life. He was ever proud of the High School, and delighted to converse on the years he spent there and the companions with whom he was there associated.
From the High School he passed to the University of Edinburgh, where he gained a prize for an essay on dramatic poetry. In the Divinity Hall he enjoyed the inestimable privilege of having as his instructor the illustrious Chalmers. His college courseof study closed, being at the time a tutor in Shandwick, he was licensed by the Presbytery of Tain. After license, as was the practice in these days, Mr. Noble devoted several additional years to teaching, being for some time tutor at Stobo Castle, and afterward superintending the studies of his pupils at college. In 1840 he became assistant to the Rev. Dr. Elder, St. Paul’s, Edinburgh. In 1841 he was settled in Blairingone, a church extension charge in the parish of Fossaway, Presbytery of Auchterarder. The young minister devoted himself to his charge and prospered. But these were troublous days to the Church of Scotland. The civil rulers, intruding into what is spiritual, claimed to decide who were to be taken on trial for license: where ministers were to preach who were to rule as ministers or elders at Christ’s house; and who were to be deposed from office. The crown rights of the Redeemer were assailed. They were so in Mr Noble’s own person.
On the 1st of May 1843 an interdict (now before the writer) of the Court of Session was served upon him, in which, “in Her Majesty’s name and authority – he was interdicted, prohibited, and discharged from sitting, voting, or in any way whatever acting as member of the Synod of Perth and Stirling.” In the name of earthly majesty Mr. Noble was forbidden to do what by a court of Christ’s Church, constituted in the name of Heavenly Majesty, he had been solemnly set apart to perform. Mr. Noble could not hesitate. The interdict bearing the name of Queen Victoria, was respectfully received, but was not the less firmly resisted and resolutely violated though by so acting he rendered himself liable to fine and imprisonment. Soon he had an opportunity of showing how desirous he was of being delivered from a position where he could not obey Christ without disobeying what had been declared to be the law of his country.
On the ever-memorable 18th of May 1843, Mr. Noble was one of the 474 ministers, and a corresponding number of elders, who, having renounced State connection, walked from St. Andrew’s Church to Canonmills. On the first day of the following June he was married to Williamina, fourth daughter of Captain Kenneth McKay of Torrboll, Sutherlandshire. It was now spring-time in Mr. Noble’s home. It was also spring-time in the Church; for it was a season when God the Spirit largely granted his quickening power, and when love and joy and zeal greatly abounded.
It was Mr. Noble’s privilege to labour in this season, and he did not spare his strength.
Another interdict, however, was in reserve for him. His church was an extension one. As in the case of all these churches, one of the express conditions upon which subscriptions for their erection had been asked and given was that, quoad sacra—that is, in all that is spiritual—they should be as parish churches, having kirk-sessions, the sacraments dispensed, and their ministers and representative elders seats in Church Courts. By the decision of the Court of Session these conditions could no longer be carried out in the Established Church; and as most of the money for their erection had been given by those who were now Free Church, the just and reasonable course would have been to have returned their money to those subscribers who had remained in the Established Church, but that the churches should have been given to the Church in which alone the conditions upon which they had been erected could be fulfilled. The course adopted by the Establishment was more simple. It was to seize upon all of the churches, though it should be to shut them up; to pay back no money, but to demand that where there was debt it should be paid by the trustees—that is, in most instances, by those from whom the churches had been taken—so that the Establishment might have them free of debt. The latter part of this programme was not carried out, as it was so monstrous that even the Court of Session, the faithful ally of the Established Church in all other respects, refused to this its sanction.
With what gross injustice and cruelty the rest of this plan was administered examples are given in that most interesting and admirable book, “The Annals of the Disruption.” In Part III, p. 83, we read how this plan was carried out at Blairingone: “On Saturday evening, 17th February 1844, the Rev. Mr. Noble and seven of the nine managers of his church were served with an interdict. No attempt was made to turn out the congregation till the stormy weather set in, and the communion was fixed for the Sabbath following. At the same time an interdict, with the attendant annoyance and expense, was altogether uncalled for, as in December the Presbytery were officially informed that while the congregation would do nothing to compromise their right to the building, they would deliver up the keys if demanded. The sole object of the movement, it would seem, was to inflict trouble and expense on the adherents of the Free Church, who, with a few exceptions, embraced the whole population. See Witness newspaper, 24th February 1844.”
Mr. Noble was ever highly esteemed by the general public, and specially by his brethren in the ministry. The Presbytery of Kinross showed their sense of his ability and worth by electing him their Clerk. This position he was not long to retain. In 1847 the congregation of Loudoun, in Ayrshire, was formed. It was of much importance to secure for it a man of tried worth and ability. Mr. Noble received a unanimous call, which he saw it his duty to accept. Here he commended himself as a true man and an earnest minister of the gospel, and speedily gathered around him a numerous congregation. He did not, however, confine himself to it, but interested himself in every benevolent and Christian scheme, in all which he was warmly seconded by Mrs. Noble. Very special was the interest taken by both in education.
In 1864 Mr. Noble lost his beloved partner, which visibly told upon him. In 1870 he had a severe illness, from which he never fully recovered. In 1881 it became necessary to secure a colleague, and the Rev. Mr. Fowler was appointed. Now the strong man had become weak. He bore the change with much resignation, and resting with perfect confidence on his Saviour, he awaited God’s will. On the 12th of January, in the seventy-fourth year of his age, he entered upon rest. His remains lie in the quiet churchyard of Darvel, beside those of his wife. At the distance of about six miles is Drumclog, where the Covenanters fought and conquered. In another hard-fought battle, when the banner of Scotland’s Church with its glorious motto, “The Crown Rights of the Redeemer,” was again thrown abroad upon the breeze, Mr. Noble was one of those who rallied round the standard, shared in the victory won, and had his name enrolled in the annals of Scotland’s Church as one of her Disruption worthies.
REV. JAMES NOBLE, POOLEWE
The Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, January 2, 1865, p.710
The Rev. James Noble, minister of the large and important congregation of Poolewe, was a native of Killearnan, near Inverness. He studied both at King’s College, Aberdeen, and at the University of Edinburgh, and took a high place in classics, philosophy, medicine, and theology. His knowledge and practice of medicine were extensive, and eminently useful in the secluded district in which his lot was latterly cast. Without disparagement to any one, it may be said confidently that few medical practitioners in the Highlands were more frequently consulted than Mr. Noble. His first charge was Lybster, a thriving village in Caithness, where he had a large and much-attached congregation. From Lybster he was translated to the Gaelic church of Edinburgh.
It was during his incumbency of this charge that, in 1843, the Disruption took place. Mr. Noble had not a moment’s hesitation in casting in his lot with the Free Church, and his congregation to a man followed their faithful pastor. It would be difficult to convey even a faint idea of the labour and toil which the Disruption imposed on the minister of the Gaelic congregation of Edinburgh. Dr. McKay of Dunoon, now of Harris, was Convener of the Committee on the Highlands and he was a host in himself, but no man single-handed could overtake the arduous duties of the Committee at that trying period. In Mr. Noble Dr. McKay found a congenial and able assistant. There was scarcely a congregation in the Highlands that did not devolve some duty on Mr. Noble. In the midst of unparalleled difficulties he exhibited a wonderful amount of patience, prudence, and conscientious desire to carry out what seemed to be for the best interests of the Church. The day alone will disclose how much he laboured at that time in selecting, encouraging, and assisting Gaelic-speaking students in their efforts to study for the ministry. In him they found a friend and benefactor, and in his house a home. The poor but deserving student never appealed to him in vain, never met with a frown, never was sent empty away. He has been often heard to express his surprise and gratitude that, during the whole of his stay in Edinburgh, he never appealed in vain for funds for relieving the wants of students.
In 1849 Mr. Noble accepted a call from the Free Church congregation of Poolewe, where he had first begun life as tutor in the family of one of the old proprietors of the parish. The step was viewed by the whole community as one of self-sacrifice unsurpassed in even the annals of the Disruption. Everyone acquainted with the circumstances felt that removing from Edinburgh to Poolewe was something like exchanging a palace for a hut. The congregation had neither church nor manse, and the poor people, though anxious for the means of grace, had hardly emerged from a state of destitution bordering upon famine. At first his family had to reside at a distance of ninety miles from the scene of his labours; but, through the kindness and liberality of friends all over Scotland, a manse and two churches were speedily erected. On the subject of education Mr. Noble was perfectly enthusiastic, and in this his efforts were cordially seconded by the Ladies’ Association, and by the Gairloch family, who are doing much to educate the people resident on their extensive estates, and one of whom built a very handsome school for girls, in connection with the congregation of Poolewe, and supports it wholly at his own expense.
As a preacher, Mr. Noble excelled in clear and forcible exposition of the Word of God, in faithful and earnest appeals to the conscience, in masterly solution of doctrinal difficulties, and in presenting truth in a fresh and striking light. His family visitations and district catechisings were exercises in which he had much enjoyment, and they were highly appreciated by his people. As a friend, he was kind and constant. The duties of hospitality he discharged with more than Highland freeness. His personal appearance was tall and commanding. His face beamed with intelligence and benevolence. His conversation was most entertaining and full of animation. His manners were those of a perfect gentleman. Wherever he went his presence commanded respect. So winning was his manner with children, that they always rejoiced at seeing him; and at his death the children of the parish cried as for a father. He was indeed a father to all his people, taking a deep interest in their temporal as well as their spiritual welfare.
Endeared to his people by many sacred ties, the time of his death was extremely affecting. Having visited Strathpeffer for the benefit of his health, the waters did him more harm than good. He returned home to die, having previously appointed the 23d of October for dispensing the Lord’s Supper in the congregation. The solemn services had begun and the public work of Thursday was over, when, amidst the tears and prayers of his people, his afflicted family, and the brethren that had come to assist at the communion, the pastor was taken away to sing the song of Moses and the Lamb. Mr. Noble died in the fifty-ninth year of his age and twenty-fifth of his ministry. At last General Assembly, before which he preached by appointment, he was to all appearance in his prime, full of life, happy in meeting so many of his brethren; and he seemed to give promise of many years of active service in the Church. But the Master thought otherwise. He has called His servant to his rest and reward.