The James Begg Society

The James Begg Society

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Memoirs of Rev James Begg, D.D., by Rev. Thomas Smith, D.D.



A FTER so severe a bereavement, Dr. Begg might well have claimed the privilege of withdrawing for a season from the conduct of public business. And no doubt he meant to do so. But as generally happens in such cases, engagements pressed upon him which he found it impossible to decline. So early as the 1st of October he took part in an important Conference which was held at Liverpool with the view of forming the EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE. In reporting to the Presbytery of Edinburgh the proceedings of this Conference, he said: "I may state that so deeply was I convinced of the great importance of that meeting, as bearing on the spiritual interests of the Church of Christ, that I went to Liverpool at a time when certainly I would have gone nowhere else." It is of importance to notice the position which he took up with reference to this Alliance, because a correct apprehension of it will enable us to understand his action at subsequent periods with respect to proposals of incorporative union between the Free Church and other Churches. That position is unmistakably indicated by a few sentences of his speech in the Presbytery:-

"The circumstances to which Dr. Candlish has already referred, no doubt contributed most materially to produce this perfect harmony, particularly the clear and unequivocal announcement that nothing like compromise was expected from any party. Indeed, no Christian man dares compromise what he holds to be the truth of Christ, even though it may seem to be a small truth; but there was a great difficulty in meeting with men as the representatives of denominations, if these denominations were such as we had been publicly testifying against; 20 and one great obstacle I felt was removed out of the way when the resolution was adopted that hereafter we should meet as individuals, and take every man on his own footing, and only on the ground of his own Christian character."

[Footnote 20: I suppose this referred primarily to the Established Church of Scotland. But the principle is applicable to other churches as well. - T. S.]

On the 1st of December, Dr. Begg spoke to the same effect in a public meeting in Edinburgh on the subject of Christian Union; and in the Assembly of 1846, when the constitution of the evangelical Alliance was formally impugned in a motion by Professor Gibson, Dr. Begg seconded a motion by Dr. Candlish in its defence, and supported it in a long and eloquent speech.

This ground is perfectly intelligible, and, I venture to think, perfectly tenable. That Christian men, differing from each other in their views of some points of Christian doctrine, may co-operate with one another in the promotion of Christian or philanthropic objects, is what, I presume, no one will dispute. That Christian churches, differing on matters even of material importance, may recognise one another's Christian constitution, and may heartily co-operate with each other, seems to me to be equally manifest. But the question is a totally different one which has to do with the union of two churches, which either hold opposite views on some material point or points, or one of which embodies these points in its Confession, and the other regards them as "open questions." In order to a union there must of necessity be a compromise of confessional testimony, in the former case on both sides, in the latter on one side. Of course, since no one ever held that a Church's Confession can contain, or ought to contain, all truth, it is always a legitimate question whether the points of difference are of so little moment that the relegation of them to the category of open questions would be either a good thing in itself, or a less evil than the continuance of separation; and this question cannot be decided on general principles, but must be considered with reference to actual cases as they occur. In the sequel we shall have to consider the question with reference to one and another case of actual occurrence. For the present we have to do neither with the union of churches, nor with the co-operation of churches with churches, but only with the co-operation of individuals with individuals. On the part of some Free Churchmen - notably on the part of Dr. Begg's specially loved and specially respected friend, the late Professor Gibson of GIasgow - there were grave doubts as to the possibility of effecting, save by compromise, even such co-operation as was contemplated by the Evangelical Alliance. But Dr. Begg seems to have held his ground; while he was probably more watchful than some others against the insidious approach of virtual compromise. In point of fact the Alliance, although it might not altogether fulfil the expectations of its founders, has on several occasions, with the help of God, accomplished much good, interposing with good effect on behalf of the persecuted and oppressed, while disclaiming any power but that of moral suasion, and the influence of Christianised public opinion.

The last months of 1845 and the first of 1846 constitute an "epoch-forming" period in Dr. Begg's life. They were occupied in a visit to Canada and the United States of America, which gave a new current to his thoughts and feelings on many ecclesiastical and social themes, and furnished him with abundant illustrations to which he never ceased to recur in subsequent years. Several deputations had been sent by the Free Church to Canada and the United States. The most important of them was the mission of Dr Cunningham and Dr. Robert Burns, out of which arose the "Send-back-the-money" controversy, the interest of which has happily passed away with the abolition of slavery in America. To that controversy I have no occasion to refer, as Dr. Begg took no prominent part in it. Only he did on some occasions express his accord with Dr. Cunningham and others in the view that, utterly hating and strongly condemning slavery, we yet were not entitled to break off all communion with churches who had slaveholders among their members, and to treat them, not as churches of Christ, but as synagogues of Satan. The main object of Dr. Cunningham's deputation seems to have been to expound the principles of the Free Church to the Presbyterians and other Christians of America, so as to excite their sympathy, and to lead them to contribute to the various funds of the Free Church in her initial operations. In this respect the deputies were eminently successful. In Canada they had a different, rather an additional, task assigned them. The Canadian Presbyterian Church stood in a definite relation to the Church of Scotland. A large proportion of its ministers had been ordained by the Church of Scotland, and had been sent out the Colonial Committee of that Church. At the Disruption of the Scottish Church, there was, therefore, almost as matter of course, a disruption also of the Colonial Church. Of the Colonial ministers who adhered to the Establishment, a considerable proportion, aware that there were some 500 vacancies in the Home Church, deemed it their duty to come to the aid of their venerable Mother, and returned to this country, professing their willingness to accept some of these vacant charges! Thus in Canada there was a considerable number of congregations who, with their ministers, adhered to the Free Church, and a considerable number more who had been deserted by their ministers, several of the more prominent of whom had been strenuous Free Churchmen down to the date of the Disruption. These latter congregations did not feel any very strong attachment to the ministers who had so acted towards them, or to the Church to which their ministers had clung. But had it been otherwise, these congregations saw that the Established Church had it not in her power to send ministers to them. There was thus a loud call on the Free Church to exert herself on behalf of the Colonists, and it was in connection with this call that deputations were sent to Canada. Dr. Burns of Paisley, who had been convener of the Colonial Committee of the Established Church before the Disruption, was with Dr. Cunningham on the first deputation, and shortly afterwards he returned to Canada, and spent there the remainder of his life (which happily was prolonged to extreme old age) in noble work for the good of his adopted country and its Presbyterian Church. The first of the Free Church deputations to the American continent appears to have had mainly in view the United States and the work which, I have said, was to be done there, while the work in Canada, however important, seems to have been regarded as secondary. But the former was to be done once, and it was done. We got noble help from our American brethren in bearing the heavy charges connected with the beginning of our work; it would have been altogether wrong to depend on them for help in the conducting of our operations, unless unexpected emergencies should occur. Thus it happened that while the first deputation was appointed by the General Assembly, and was charged primarily with the work to be done in the States, and secondarily with that to be done in Canada, the subsequent deputations were nominated by the Colonial Committee, and were charged primarily with the work in Canada, and secondarily with what might still remain to be done in the United States. Such was the mission on which Dr. Begg was sent.

The first public announcement that I find of this appointment, is in the proceedings of the Edinburgh Presbytery on the 18th of November 1845, as follows:-

"Mr. Begg said - I have a matter to bring before the Presbytery. I have been requested by the Colonial Committee to go out to Canada for a short time to preach the Gospel in that country; and I have to request the permission of the Presbytery to do so; and not only so, but I have very earnestly to request that the Presbytery, if they grant me permission, will have particular regard to my congregation that I leave behind, and to the regular supplying them with ordinances; and also that I may go with the prayers of the brethren that my labours in that country may be crowned with success. That is the request I have now to make to the Presbytery. I may mention that the Colonial Committee, at a very early period, requested me to go to that country. There were difficulties in the way which are now removed, and I am now most willing to go to do what little I can for the purpose of supplying the destitution there, if the Presbytery grant me permission.

"Dr. Gordon said, that if the necessities of the country were such as he really believed they were, he supposed they could hardly refuse to allow their brother to go, although it would be a sacrifice on the part of the Presbytery and of Mr. Begg's flock. He was very sure the prayers of the brethren would go with him. They would certainly take care that his flock suffered as little as possible from his absence.

"Dr. Clason said they were aware of the personal sacrifices Mr. Begg would have to make, and he was sure they would all be glad to see that he was willing to forego all personal considerations in a matter in which the welfare of the Church was deeply involved. He was also sure that he would have the prayers of the Church, and he would humbly suggest that the Moderator, in a few words, should embody their feelings on the occasion.

"The suggestion was unanimously agreed to, and the Moderator, Mr. Bruce, offered up an impressive prayer."

The permission of the Presbytery was technically sufficient to justify Dr. Begg's temporary absence from his congregation. But in a matter in which they were so deeply interested, it was obviously fitting that the consent of the office-bearers and members of Newington should be expressed. Accordingly we find the following notice in the Witness of 3d December:

"NEWINGTON FREE CHURCH. - At a meeting of the elders and deacons of this congregation on Thursday evening last, the following resolution in reference to the mission of their esteemed pastor, Mr. Begg, to Canada, was proposed by Mr Noble, seconded by Mr. Forest, and unanimously adopted:-

"The elders and deacons of this congregation desire to register their grateful acknowledgments to Almighty God for the blessings bestowed upon them by the able and faithful ministry of their beloved pastor, Mr. Begg. They would also express their unfeigned regret for the temporary separation which, by the good providence of God, is about to take place. But considering the spiritual destitution of their countrymen in North America, and the gifts and graces of their minister, they are most willing that he should be absent from them for a time, to carry the glad tidings of salvation to those who are perishing for lack of knowledge. They therefore commend him to the Keeper of Israel, who slumbers not nor sleeps, praying earnestly that he may be preserved safe amid the dangers of sea and land, that his labours may be abundantly blessed, that he may be restored to his attached flock, doubly endeared to them after his temporary absence, and be long spared to go in and out among them, and be much honoured in winning souls to the Saviour.'

"Mr. Begg made a very appropriate and affectionate response, and the meeting, after arranging some congregational business, and engaging in praise and prayer, dismissed. The reverend gentleman met with the congregation on Monday evening for the last time previous to his departure. The meeting was numerously attended, and the utmost affection was evinced between pastor and flock. Mr. Begg, we understand, left town yesterday morning, and will sail from Liverpool to-morrow."

Dr. Begg gave a full account of his Canadian trip in the General Assembly, and afterwards in a series of articles in the Free Church Magazine. 21 In these days, when all of us go to America and all Americans come here, the account of a visit made less than forty years ago possesses somewhat of the antiquarian interest that makes the narratives of the old voyagers and travellers - the Marco Polos and the Sir John Mandevilles - so attractive. There could not be a better illustration of this than the opening paragraph of the first of the Magazine articles, which consists of an apology for steam navigation, showing the superiority of the steamer to the sailing vessel in respect of speed, safety, and other particulars. lt is remarkably well argued; but the amusing thing to us in these days is that it needed to be argued. So it is always with improvements, and indeed with changes and innovations which are not improvements. The most familiar objects of to-day were the speculations and projections of yesterday. The luxuries of the past are the necessities of the present. I was not quite a child when I first saw a lucifer match. A relative had brought a few from the Continent, and I well remember the wonder and admiration caused by their ignition, which was effected by dipping their points in some liquid or other; and now flint, steel, and tinder-box are to be found nowhere but in the museums of such collectors of "nick-nackets" as Captain Grose! Such is substantially the story of steam-travelling by sea and land, of electric telegraphy and electric lighting, of penny postage, and penny newspapers. First non-existent and unthought of, then thought of by one or a few and ridiculed by the many, then after a longer or a shorter time become so common and so indispensable that we can hardly realise that generations passed their lives in tolerable comfort without them. The fact that this applies to evil inventions, not less than unto good, gives double emphasis to the principleobsta principiis, or according to Dr. Begg's favourite and oft-repeated rendering of it: Take care of the thin end of the wedge.

[Footnote 21: "A few more Notes of a Visit to Canada," by the Rev. James Begg, Free Church Magazine, 1846, pp. 169, 202, 248, 374; and 1847, pp. 325, 341, 378.]

The mission on which Dr. Begg was sent to Canada was to preach the Gospel to those who were destitute of religious ordinances, to expound the principles of the Free Church, and to suggest means whereby the adherents of the Free Church might be organised into congregations, and might have the ordinances of religion brought within their reach. With a zeal of which only an ardent soul was capable, and amid the obstacles and difficulties of a Canadian winter, which a less powerful physical frame could not have encountered, he carried out the first two of these objects. As to the third his practical mind led him, both in Canada and after his return, strenuously to advocate the training of an indigenous ministry, again and again referring to the example of Dr. Duff in Calcutta, and pointing out that the Continental Committee, by sending out a minister to a Canadian congregation, did a comparatively small work which needed to be repeated after a short interval; whereas, by aiding such institutions as the Toronto College, and encouraging the extension of secondary education, they would sow the seed of a permanent and self-propagating benefit. He also strove to inculcate upon the colonists the duty and the privilege of self-help, and was not sparing in his denunciations of the spirit of dependence which was too prevalent among them.

Important as was the visit to Canada, both in its direct effects on those visited, and in its reflex influence on the visitor, I make no quotation from the speeches or articles in which he gave account of it, because a host of later travellers have seen far more of the country, and have formed a far more accurate estimate of the condition of the colonists and the resources of the colony, than it was possible for him to do in the course of a three months' visit during the depth of its severe winter. But I shall collect from the speeches and articles a few of the characteristic anecdotes by which they are enlivened.

At Halifax he found an old friend, Mr. Robb, the only minister adhering to the Free Church in Nova Scotia, the others having been expected to join it, but "for reasons known to themselves," having not done so. The Established Church had sent a deputation to Canada, and they had been in Halifax shortly before Dr. Begg's visit. Mr. Robb met a member of that deputation in the street, and thus accosted, asked "How do you do, Dr._____?" Dr. _____ intimated that he was well, but did not know by whom he was addressed. "Do you not remember me?" said Mr. Robb. "The last time we met you were speaking in favour of spiritual independence and non-intrusion at St. Andrews." The Doctor coloured, and changed the subject.

The following is an interesting bit of natural theology:-

"If one is properly dressed, there would be little danger even in going to the North Pole; and that simply because, owing to the manifest design of God, the parts which require to be exposed will not freeze. A man's eyes and lungs must be exposed, for a man must see and breathe,.... and these are just the parts that are not injured by frost. That is a very singular thing, and illustrates the truth that we are 'fearfully and wonderfully made.' One would think that if there was a part of the face more tender than another it was the eye; if there was anything more apt to freeze than another, it was the liquid of the eye, and that the same frost that would congeal mercury, and turn the naked hand very speedily into a piece of ice, would soon freeze the eye.... Now here is the proof of infinite wisdom, that the eye is altogether unaffected even by the extremest cold. Again, the coating of the lungs is more tender then the coating of the head or of the ears.... the singular fact, illustrative of 'the manifold wisdom of God,' is, that the most piercing cold, which makes you involuntarily put up your hand to discover if your nose and ears there, only exhilarates your lungs."

In connection with the support of the ministry by the colonists, the following anecdote is introduced:-

"At the same time it must be confessed that there are strong temptations to a worldly spirit on the other side of the Atlantic. Many of the colonists have been very poor, and have come through extraordinary hardships, which makes them cleave with extraordinary tenacity to their newly acquired wealth. The tales of these sufferings are like novels. I shall never forget the story which a most worthy man told me of his sufferings and shipwreck. The vessel in which he had sailed from Scotland having been wrecked off the coast of Nova Scotia, was deserted by its captain. The passengers were advised to try to escape by the boats. The boat was lowered amidst a dark and stormy sea, and they proceeded to attempt getting the passengers on board of it. Of course the females must be first put on board, and this man's wife was the first fixed upon. She was fastened to a rope and lowered over the ship's side. But lo! the fearful discovery was made that the rope was not long enough to reach the boat. There was not a moment to be lost, and one can imagine how a man's blood must have curdled when it was resolved to let his wife go, uncertain whether she was to alight in the boat or to go to the bottom of the sea. In the kind providence of God she did alight in the boat. By various plans the others were got down. No sooner had they left the ship at a little distance than she went to the bottom. The perishing emigrants were landed on a bleak shore; and the man who told us this adventure is now in very comfortable circumstances, and his wife, who passed through this strange ordeal, is alive and well."

From New Brunswick to Canada proper, Dr. Begg proceeded by way of the United States. Beyond a short account of a Sabbath in Boston, he gives us no details of his experience in the States, reserving this for a subsequent article, which, so far as I can find, he never wrote. In connection with this visit to Boston, we have the following sketch of Channing and Unitarianism:-

"I was anxious to hear something of Channing in his own city. There is in his writings a glow of earnestness which almost approaches to spiritual life; and this, coupled with his beautiful style and vigorous thinking, has misled many, and diffused widely the poison of his principles. I found, however, as I had anticipated, that, as a man, he was precisely like the rest, except perhaps more prominently zealous in behalf of those merely temporal objects which exclusively engross the anxieties of men whose eyes have never been opened to see the glories of Christ and the wonders of eternity. It is rumoured, however, and I earnestly hope, correctly, that his news became sounder immediately before his death. At the same time it may be noticed generally, that Unitarianism in Boston, so far as I could see, is not so much a controversial thing as a mere negation of religion. Its aspects are not unlike those of the worst forms of Moderatism in Scotland. It keeps up the sound of old associations; it boasts of the fathers; it is outwardly decent and kind; whilst in the absence of such a restraint as existed in Scotland in the Confession of Faith and law of the land, it has spoken out, in the way of heresy, all that was in its heart. Some Moderate ministers that could be named, of past and present times, would have manifested all the heresy, if not the talent of Channing, had they lived in Boston. The depressing effect of this system is seen in the whole city. There is a consequent coldness in most of the churches. The people sit listless and vacant; scarcely any of them sing; few of them seem to open their Bibles when the text is given out, and many of them do not take the trouble to stand or kneel at prayer.... The hired music of the churches is the only thing which seems to excite much attention. It is said that about 30,000 dollars a year is paid to hired singers in Boston, and that a common question on leaving the church is not, 'What did you think of the sermon? ' but ' What did you think of the music?' This struck me as going beyond what I had heard of a perfumed 22 Moderate minister in Scotland with a conceited precentor. The minister remarked one day that the church was full. 'Yes,' said the precentor, 'when you preach and I sing, the church is generally full!'"

[Footnote 22: Qu. "far-famed"? - T. S.]

The impression that Niagara makes upon those who see it for the first time is a psychological study. Allowance must of course be made for the varying condition of the object, by reason of season, weather, amount of water, and other causes; and for the condition of the observer in respect of health, spirits, expectations formed, and many other particulars. But it may be laid down as a general rule, that as the man is so is his impression by this mighty object; and conversely, as is the impression, so is the man. It ought not to be so difficult to solve this converse problem as to solve that which the naturalist encounters when he has to construct an animal, from the datum of a tarsal bone. To the skilful student of humanity, therefore, I am confident of rendering an acceptable service, by placing before him Dr. Begg's account of his visit to the great cataract:-

"It is no part of my intention to attempt a description of this great wonder of nature. This has been done so often and so well, that any such attempt is quite unnecessary; but I may say that in some respects the reality was considerably different from my previous anticipations. Niagara is, as my readers know, the river which links Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. These two vast inland oceans pour into each other through that river, 23 and over those tremendous falls, and therefore one may well anticipate a magnificent result. But I had somehow or other expected a more mountainous country; some rocks and hills, as in our mountain torrents, standing out in relief to give greater effect and prominence to the mighty rush of waters. Instead of this, the surrounding country is comparatively flat, the river Niagara moves smoothly along, and only increases in rapidity as it approaches the gigantic falls, till it suddenly digs out for itself, if I may so speak, a great trough 160 feet deep and three quarters of a mile broad for its tremendous leap. In order, therefore, to see it properly, one must get down into the bed of the river below the fall, and look up at the vast circuit and sweep of the wilderness of waters. It so happened that the river was frozen across immediately below the fall at the time of our visit, so that we could clamber down the steep sides and get upon it right opposite, and at a very small distance from the descending deluge, and although the ice was riven and torn in all directions, we pretty easily managed to walk over to the British side, and then leisurely to view all along the thundering cataract in all its perfection.

[Footnote 23: That were indeed a "great wonder of nature." Of course, the writer meant that "one pours into the other." - T. S.]

"After all, vast and overwhelming as it is, I am not sure that it is the greatest wonder of the New World. The vast internal oceans, and the interminable forests planted by the hand of God, were, to my mind, even more sublime and astonishing. At all events, I think they are more thoroughly beyond the comprehension of a man who has only beheld the miniature scenery of our little island. A man who has seen Falls of Clyde and of Foyers, can, by an effort of imagination, have some distant conception of Niagara, but of the others he can form no idea."

Again and again there are references to the great forests of America, and always in the same strain. I have no doubt this extract will be generally accounted very prosaic, and so it is. Yet Dr. Begg was not an unimaginative man. May I suggest that if he had spent as many hours in gazing on the ceaseless pour of the cataract, noting the ever-changing aspects of its unchangeableness, as he was compelled to spend in travelling through the interminable forests, the former would have impressed him with as overwhelming a sense of infinity as did the latter.

I am not sure that the following extract is absolutely accurate as to the facts of the case - theLife of Dr. Candlish does not speak of an appointment having been actually made 24 - but the reflections are not the less appropriate:-

[Footnote 24: It is to be noted, however, that when Dr. Begg visited Dundas, he was the guest of Dr. Burns of Toronto, through whom the application had been made for colonial employment. If it was from him that Dr. Begg got his information - as most probably it was - it must have been correct. It should be noted further, that in Dr. Candlish's Life it is not said that the appointment was not made; it is only not said that it was made. - T. S.]

"I also visited a place called Dundas, in the neighbourhood of Hamilton, connected with which there is in my mind a very interesting circumstance. The very year before the great struggle began in Scotland, Dr. Candlish, who was then at Bonhill, in Dumbartonshire, applied to the Glasgow Colonial Society for an appointment abroad, being desirous to be more extensively useful. The society appointed him to Dundas; and, but for some providential circumstance, he would probably have gone and settled there. It is unnecessary to make the reflections to which this leads; they will occur to every mind. The circumstance is not unlike the arrest of Cromwell when about to sail for America; and it strikingly illustrates the wonderful way in which God overrules the desires of His servants, and marks out the bounds of their habitation. There be many purposes in man's heart, but the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand. The vastest results hang also upon what may appear to us the most trifling contingency; but there are no contingencies with God. Let us be silent and adore."

The preceding extracts are from Dr. Begg's articles in the Free Church Magazine ; the following are from his speech in the General Assembly of 1846, in which he gave an account of his mission. The account of a congregation at sea is graphic:-

"It was more difficult to stick to the pulpit than the text, and often it was not easy to say which end of the congregation was uppermost."

Equally graphic is his account of winter-travelling:-

"I travelled through that country at an inclement season I entered it at the beginning of the frost, and left it at the end of the frost, and for three months and more I saw nothing but snow, frost, and ice. The country was locked up in the strong embrace of winter - all waters frozen like a pavement. The rivers and arms of the sea were strong and solid ice. Travelling with sledges was the only mode of passing to and fro among the inhabitants; and you may have some conception of it when I mention that you travel in these sledges wrapped up in strong buffalo and other skins, taken from the beasts of the forest, and with the thermometer sometimes 20 or 30 degrees below zero. But you can scarcely imagine the cold, and you cannot have a vivid idea of the difficulties which present themselves in the way of a stranger, while a native is thoroughly accustomed to them, and thinks nothing of them. Let me mention one or two things that occurred to myself, to show how discouraging it must be for a man of little energy, and a stranger, to go out to that country. The first time I travelled across an arm of the sea, frozen like a pavement, I was in a sledge drawn by a single horse, under the charge of a very smart and intelligent boy. Only a few had crossed before we started, and we started with hesitation, as the ice was very weak. Having reached the centre of that arm of the sea, about a mile broad, I saw the horse strike his feet through the ice, and in an instant the boy, with the quickness of lightning, applied his whip to the noble animal, which; with one spring, cleared us of the difficulty, and started at a gallop for the opposite shore. The boy said, 'It is high time we were out of this.' I said, 'I think it is. If that horse,' said I, 'had gone down there, should we have got him out? ' He said, 'If we had got ourselves out, it is all that we could expect. And Dr. Donolly's horse,' continued he, 'went down through the ice last winter, and he did not see him again till March, when, I suppose, he was not much worth seeing.' This reminded me of the story of a boy who guided a man across the Solway sands, near Dumfries. The boy was asked by the man, who began to be apprehensive, if people ever were lost there. The boy coolly replied, 'My father was drowned here but we found him again.'"

I have said that Dr. Begg seems never to have carried out his purpose of giving a full account of his visit to the United States. All the more valuable are the fragmentary references to it that he made on various occasions. The following I take from the Assembly speech:-

"Having finished that work, I returned to Montreal, and proceeded through the United States. I visited New York, and preached five times there, and went thence to Philadelphia. From Philadelphia I went to Washington, and there I had the privilege of preaching the Gospel to the Congress of the United States, standing in the Vice-President's chair. I had also the honour of an interview with some of the leading statesmen of that country, including the President 25 himself, who traces his descent from Scotland, and alleges that, by the mother's side, he is connected with John Knox. Whether he be in all respects a worthy descendant of the great Reformer I will not pretend to say, but at the time I can say that he treated me with great courtesy and kindness. His conversation indicated that he took an interest in the Free Church, and that�he also took some interest in the sanctification of the Lord's Day.... I afterwards visited the deeply interesting College of Princeton, and after reaching New York and Boston, where also I preached and addressed a meeting, I returned to this country."

[Footnote 25: President Polk. - T. S.]

Further on in the same speech he says:-

"I had some intercourse with Christians in the United States of America I saw many excellent men there; and I could bear my testimony, as I have done before, to this fact, that while our Voluntary friends in this country at one time, in my opinion, thought far too much of America, as if it were a perfect paradise, and without a fault, they have now swung to the other extreme, and many of them now think far too little of America. For my own part, I found many delightful Christians in America. I never spent a more interesting day, for example, than I did at Princeton, visiting the sepulchres of Jonathan Edwards and Wotherspoon, and holding intercourse with such men as Dr. Alexander, Dr. Miller, and Dr. Hodge. I afterwards received a letter from Dr. Miller from which I take leave to read the following extract."

[The extract is as to the relation of the American Churches to slavery, the interest of which has now happily passed away for ever. After reading it, the speaker entered with great earnestness into the "Send-back-the-money" controversy.]

"We shall not at present break our connection with the Christians - the multitude of noble Christians - on the other side of the Atlantic and their missionaries scattered over all parts of the world. We will not send back the money. We will not send back one farthing of the money. The money is not the worst thing that has come across the Atlantic. If I had the choice of what I would send back, I, as a friend of the slave, would send, and that right speedily, something else than the money, 26 and bring over some of the Christian men of America, the true friends of the slave, who, actuated by Christian principle, would speak like Christian men, and who take the Word of God for their guide. With these men we will cheerfully co-operate, not only in promoting the cause of Christ, but in maintaining that all the Churches of America are bound to take up, and to keep up, a testimony against that atrocious system, and never let that testimony down till the last manacle shall be struck from the last slave."

[Footnote 26: The special American import which Dr. Begg would gladly have had exported was doubtless an eloquent agitator who originated the controversy, and who afterwards became Member of Parliament for one of the districts of London. - T. S.]

All through his after life Dr. Begg very frequently referred to his preaching in the Congress Hall, and to his visit to Princeton. I am indebted to my friend, Mr. Salmond of Glasgow - himself a Princeton student - for a note addressed to him in answer to a request that he had made at the time of Dr. Hodge's death for some information respecting him:-

"50 GEORGE SQUARE, EDINBURGH, November 17, 1879.

"DEAR MR SALMOND, - I have often heard Dr. Cunningham refer to the late Dr. Hodge in the highest terms. He regarded him as decidedly one of the greatest theologians of modern times. My own visit to Princeton was brief, but to me very interesting. At that time fully thirty years ago - there were three pre-eminent Presbyterian ministers in the world, viz., Dr. Chalmers, Dr. Cooke of Belfast, and Dr. Hodge of Princeton, The two former I had the honour and privilege of knowing intimately, and I was anxious to see Princeton, partly as an old Paisley minister, to stand at the grave of Wotherspoon, but mainly to see Dr. Hodge. I preached to the students there - although, I hope, with due humility - the group of eminent professors being present. Dr, Hodge I found possessed of all the respect and influence to which his eminent talents and attainments justly entitled him, and yet, like all truly great men, marked by the utmost simplicity and unpretending humility of manner. The removal of such men seems a great loss to the Church below; but the great King and Head of the Church ever lives, and we must 'be still and know that He is God.' - Yours ever faithfully,


[To] "Rev. Charles A. Salmond."

In the poverty of materials for depicting my friend, not as he was in the pulpit, on the platform, or in the arena of ecclesiastical controversy, but as he was in his daily life among his friends, I am happy to be able to give some slight reminiscences of the Canadian tour by one of his associates in it, or rather in part of it. On application to my friend, the Rev. Mr. MacTavish of Inverness, I received the following:-

"CROMARTY, August 17, 1885.

"MY DEAR SIR, - I regret much that all the information which I can give is of no great value. Dr. Begg, Mr. Stevenson, Pulteneytown, and I sailed from Liverpool in December 1845, for Halifax, Nova Scotia, where we arrived after what was counted a good winter passage of twelve days. Dr. Begg was confined part of the time to his berth, and refused to try the effect of air and exercise, saying that was for a man in health, and not for one who was sick. The only incident of the voyage which I remember in which he took part was:- As we three, with one or two others, stood round the capstan with, he swore, and we without any remark turned and walked away. I did not hear another profane remark from him. In Halifax Dr. Begg and I lived in separate houses, but met daily at the Rev. Mr Robb's. A public meeting was held at which Dr. Begg and I both spoke. We did so at some length, with the effect of impressing the meeting with a deeper sense of the wrong done to our Church, and of the faulty position occupied by those who submitted to the decisions of the judges and the conditions imposed by them and sanctioned by Parliament.

"Dr. Begg, being much interested in education, wished Mr. Robb to accompany him to Upper Canada - now the province of Ontario - to study its educational system. Their plan was that I should remain and supply Mr. Robb's place in his absence. This, however, I refused to do, as I was sent out specially in the interests of the Gaelic-speaking people. I left Halifax as soon as there was snow enough. Dr. Begg followed a few days later, and I had the pleasure of hearing him preach in Pictou to a considerable congregation. The next day he left for St. John's, New Brunswick, and we met no more on that continent. I remember his telling me in Pictou that he could recall every sermon that he had preached.

"I regret that this statement is so meagre. Mr. Stevenson, who met Dr. Begg again in Montreal, may be able to give you more information. My intercourse with Dr. Begg since my return to Scotland was very limited - confined almost entirely to the stairs of the Free Church Offices, and concerned mainly the rationalistic tendencies of the day, and the condition of the agricultural classes. We differed, as you know, widely as to what should be done with the Established Church; but, on those other questions our views were, I believe, in accord, Yours very truly, JOHN MACTAVISH.

[To] "Rev. Dr. Smith."

Having thus given in considerable detail an account of the American trip, I must notice some of Dr. Begg's proceedings after his return. On the Monday preceding the meeting of the General Assembly of 1846, the foundation stone was laid of the Knox Monument, and in connection therewith a great meeting was held of the "Friends of the Reformation." Very naturally Dr. M'Crie, son of the biographer of Knox, was the chief speaker. Mr. Thomson of Banchory, a descendant of Knox, was in the chair. To Dr. Begg it was assigned to "make a few observations on the subject of education in connection with the Scottish Reformation." In an eloquent speech he detailed the educational plan of the Scottish Reformers, and advocated a strong effort for its fulfilment. The following extract is of permanent interest in itself, and as striking the keynote, which he kept up all his days in the advocacy of the union of religious and secular education, and the extension of its blessings to all our people:-

"There are three points in the plan of Knox which I think worthy of notice. First, he goes on the idea, the clear perception, that all men are infinitely valuable, as being possessed of immortal souls, and proper subjects of that Gospel which the Lord Jesus Christ has enjoined to be preached to every creature, to the poorest of the poor as well as the greatest of the land. On this ground he repudiated, on the one hand, the Popish maxim - which is still the Popish maxim, notwithstanding all professions to the contrary - that 'ignorance is the mother of devotion;' and on the other, the maxim of the infidel, that men should be left to themselves in regard to spiritual knowledge; that they should be taught only secular knowledge, that spiritual knowledge would come afterwards, thus leaving Satan in full possession of the field; thus leaving the field to grow a crop of tares, and then leaving to ministers the task of planting the good seed of the Word. On the other hand, Knox maintained that all men being equally possessed of immortal souls, and equally the objects of the Divine command, 'Preach the gospel to every creature,' should be taught spiritual knowledge from the very first. Not only so, but it is most important to observe that, coupled with this, the plan of our great Reformer embraces plans of the utmost moment in regard to wholesome secular knowledge. It is a rule that there can be no inconsistency between the works of God and the Word of God; and so it is not the amount of information that Christianity has to dread, but the deficiency of information.... It was the principle of the Reformers, and they maintained it strongly, that there should be higher secular education, and that the sons of the poorest of the people, if possessed of talents, should be trained to fill offices of eminence in the State as well as in the Church."

In the Assembly of 1846 the promoters of the Evangelical Alliance were put on their defence, a motion being made by Professor Gibson, virtually disapproving their action, in mild terms indeed, and giving them all credit for good intentions. The defence was conducted mainly by Dr Candlish and Dr. Begg, who did not ask that the Church should sanction the action of the Alliance, or of its own ministers and members who had joined it, but only that it should be left to all, on their own responsibility, to take part with the Alliance or to forbear. The discussion was exceedingly animated, but was conducted in admirable spirit and temper. The following is the closing paragraph of Dr. Begg's speech in seconding Dr. Candlish's motion:-

"I do not say that I am very sanguine, or that I expect great results from the movement which has taken place. It may not lead to any great ultimate object; but the movement itself is in the right direction. I rejoice that we started in that movement. I never will but bless God that I was privileged to be present at the Liverpool meeting; for a more solemn meeting - a more heart-stirring, refreshing, reviving meeting than that - I never had the privilege of witnessing. And I thank God that when we see the common enemy approaching on every side, and when we hear the crush of the hedge, which declares the presence of the boar in the vineyard, many who hold a common faith and a common object are come together to look one another in the face, and can speak to each other, and in concert consider what may be done with the view of healing our long existing divisions. Sir, I conclude just as I began, by saying that I do not ask others to take the same view as I do; but I ask to be allowed to form my own independent judgment, and to act as a free man. I hope there will always be free discussions allowed in our Church. The question is not 'Do you agree with us? ' The question is, 'Will you not permit us, will you prohibit us from using our liberty in this matter, and will you adopt a principle which by and by may lead you to expel us from your communion?' It is a solemn thing you are called upon to do. The motion of Mr. Gibson is, no doubt, not very distinct; but if it means anything different from that of Dr. Candlish, it will form a principle which will lead to censure and discipline, the result of which will be to make Presbyterianism itself indefensible, by making it the means of thwarting the cause of Christ, and destroying that liberty with which Christ has made us free."

The vote of the Assembly was 311 to 7, a majority of 304 favour of Dr. Candlish's motion.

This appears to have been the first discussion in the Free Church Assembly that amounted to a debate. It was the first occasion on which we see a tendency to the formation of two currents of thought, which afterwards developed into two parties. It is noteworthy that those whom Dr. Begg opposed on this occasion were afterwards influential members of the party of which he was the acknowledged leader. This naturally suggests that either he must have changed his ground or they must have changed theirs, for how else could those have come to be united who were then opposed? The supposition is a natural one, but I am persuaded that it is erroneous. Dr. Gibson and his supporters certainly did not alter their position. The course which they adopted in 1846 was in the same direction with that which they followed in subsequent years. In fact the arguments employed by Dr. Gibson against the Evangelical Alliance in 1846 were substantially those which he employed against union with the United Presbyterians in 1863. I have no doubt that at the earlier date Dr. Begg would have opposed as strenuously as Dr. Gibson a proposal for ecclesiastical union with those with whom he heartily co-operated in the Evangelical Alliance. But no such proposal was made. And when such a proposal was made twenty years later, Dr. Begg could oppose it as consistently as could Dr. Gibson. In point of fact Dr. Begg in 1876 went heartily into the formation of the Pan-Presbyterian Council, which approached nearer to union, in some respects, than did the Evangelical Alliance. I suppose that in 1846 Dr. Begg would not have been less unwilling than Dr. Gibson to go so far as they both refused to go in 1867. Only Dr. Begg at the earlier date was willing to go further than Dr. Gibson.

At the same assembly Dr. Begg spoke strongly in giving in a report as to the claims of the Established Church to the chapels or quoad sacra churches. The greater number of these had been built not long before the Disruption, at the expense of persons of whom many, in many cases most, and in some very nearly all, were now Free Churchmen. The ministers and office-bearers also had generally "come out." But the Established Church claimed the property, and rejected all proposals of compromise. Their plea, of course, was that it was not in their own interests that they claimed it; but they had no right to consent to the alienation from the Church of property which legally belonged to her, and of which they were only the trustees. The claim was allowed by the Court of Session in one or two test cases, and the Free Church gave up the contest, convinced that if law was against her, equity was to a large extent on her side. There were some cases of more special hardship than others. The General Assembly had very properly made it a condition of the sanction of these churches that they should not bear any burden of debt. In some cases, therefore, individuals had made themselves personally responsible for considerable sums. The churches, of course, were claimed by the Establishment without reference to such obligations; and so men were obliged not only to hand over the churches which they had built, but to meet obligations of several hundreds of pounds! The Assembly appointed a committee on the subject, with Dr. Begg as convener. But it seems to have been felt from the first that the matter was a forlorn hope that success was unattainable, and that all that could be done was to protest strongly against a flagrant wrong. Dr. Begg reported, on behalf of this committee, to the August Commission, and proposed that an effort should be made to obtain an Act of Parliament for the redress of so great a wrong. He closed by stating: "I have been told, upon what I reckon good authority, that there are many laymen in the Church Establishment who are most anxious to assist in this matter, because they regard it, at least in reference to some churches, as so equitable, that they are anxious that we should obtain a measure which will secure the churches for the objects for which they were believed to be built. However that may be, I think we should leave no stone unturned by which to secure this object." The action of the Established Church in this matter was both "a crime and a blunder." Some of the churches from which Free Church congregations were ejected remained for years unoccupied. I believe some are so to this day. It is not advantageous to the Established Church to have their desolate walls exhibited as monuments of a dog-in-the-manger policy!

Dr. Begg was present at a meeting of the Evangelical Alliance in London in the end of August, but took very little part in the proceedings.

On the 25th of November 1846 Dr. Begg married Miss Maria Faithfull, daughter of the Rev. Ferdinand Faithfull, of Headley Rectory, Surrey. There was a good deal of gossip at the time - with more of truth in it than gossip on such matters generally possesses - as to love at first sight, a romantic courtship, and a speedy engagement. All that I have a right to say, all that the public has a right to know, is, that if it was a case of hasty marrying, it was not one of leisurely repenting.