Page images
PDF
EPUB

liberal--minded men of the north. On the one side was arrayed injustice and tyranny, and on the other, justice and forbearance. Our friends then had a good cause to defend, the cause of truth and right, and seconded by the thrilling eloquence of a Montgomery, they maintained the fundamental principles of the College inviolate, and averted a blow which was aimed at the non-sectarian character of the Institution. The aim of the orthodox Presbyterians seemed to be to convert the College into a seminary for the inculcation of their own peculiar sentiments, although far more than the one-half of the money originally subscribed for its erection, was contributed by the Unitarians. The Unitarians were loudly accused of robbing Christ of his glory, by men who showed no scruples in attempting to despoil them of their property.

These events show a healthy state of public feeling; they show too, that the struggles of the non-subscribing Presbyterians have not been in vain, and that they are destined to accomplish yet greater achievements for the good of their country.

Mr. Bridges of Glasgow then rose, and advancing to the President's table, proceeded thus to address the assembly:

Ladies and Gentlemen,-In rising to address you, on what I call one of the leading features of the evening's business, I could occupy the ordinary time allotted to a speaker, in apologising for my want of tact and ability to perform the task, in a proper and efficient manner. If I were so to occupy your time, I feel confident I should very much disappoint those gentlemen who have made me their organ of communication, and at the same time, should be pointing out to you what will be too obvious, my great unfitness to do justice either to the principal party, or the body who have so appointed me. However reluctantly I enter on my task, that reluctance is mingled with pleasure; and however my head may fail to supply ideas, or my tongue to utter them, if supplied, I can boldly assert, that my heart is as warm and sincere, and that my pulse beats as affectionately as the most enthusiastic admirer's.

In this enlightened age, and in this land of liberty, it is our boast that a man's religious tenets will not forfeit him the protection of the laws, and that we, as a body, are able to fill very high stations of worldly honour; but we must yet toil and hope to see the time, when we and all men shall be able to hold the highest offices known, without any religious or creed subscription distinctions; and it is for the celebration and advancement of these great, glorious, and free principles, we have met this night; and it is to honour and express our reverence of one of its ablest and sincerest champions, that I now rise before you. I thought I surmounted my greatest difficulty when I had apologised for my want of ability, but I find I have a greater one yet, that of speaking of a gentleman to his face; but he must bear with me if I raise a blush, and you, my friends, must bear with me if I do not say half so much of him as he deserves. I am deputed by the Committee who have taken charge of the subscriptions from the Unitarians of Glasgow, and other friends, to be appropriated as a testimonial to the Rev. George Harris, to present him with this silver Salver, and this Purse, containing One Hundred and Fifty Sovereigns. I find, from the inscription on the salver, it is in testimony of their “ approbation of his faithful and efficient services as the minister of the Glasgow congregation, for a period of sixteen years." On looking round, I see many who can testify the truth of this part of the inscription; and although it has not been my happiness to enjoy his ministry for so long a time as many around me, but having occasionally for the last ten years, and regularly for the last three, had an opportunity of judging, I can, as far as my humble experience goes, give my full and free approval, both to the efficiency and faithfulness of his ministry. Time will scarcely allow me even a retrospective glance at the great and varied characteristics that have marked his career among us; but speaking of the efficacy of his ministry, how many bright ornaments have we seen (for instance, our friend Mr. Forrest), who are spreading the pure principles of our profession, whose iron bonds of Calvinistic superstition were struck off through the power and force of his reasoning in the cause of Christian purity and truth. Of his faithfulness, is there any one who has been a faithful hearer—(for faithfulness is as necessary in a hearer as in a minister, to make that ministry efficient)—I say, is there any such one whose soul has not been stirred within him, even to repentance, at the awfully grand and solemn manner in which he has poured forth the displeasure of God against evil -doers ? It cannot be forgotten, the fatherly manner in which he has entreated us to repent and live; live, not as mere clods, but with that dignity which ought ever to mark us as intelligent and Christian people, whose minds rise above the commission of all that is low and debasing, and above the omission of any of the virtues we profess to admire. Need I remind parents, of the faithful manner in which their duty has always been pointed out to them, and insisted on? And to the young I say, did they never find the tear startle in the eye, when he has been setting forth parental love in its most anxious forms? Who has not listened with throbbing heart to hear him picture, the delight, the joy, the holy love, that surrounds the domestic hearth, where duty, fixed on religious principles, is acted up to? I confess, for one, that I have wiped away many a tear when listening to his enforcement of the domestic virtues, pleading for the sacristy of home.

I next find this Testimonial is for “ his eloquent advocacy of civil and religious liberty.” Even were I prepared to descant at length on the fruitful subject of civil and religious liberty, the hour of the evening, and standing here as I do, deputed by a committee for one ostensible object, that of pointing out the truth of the inscription, I should be obliged to decline; and, therefore, think the shortest way in which I can point out his advocacy of civil liberty, will be to read a very short extract from his celebrated sermon, preached on the afternoon and evening of the 5th August, 1832, after the passing of the Reform Bill. “ In advocating, on all occasions, the sacred principles of universal freedom—in labouring for the bodily and mental emancipation, not only of my fellow-countrymen, but of the race of which I form a portion—in adding my congratulations, on the manner in which the late eventful struggle of our country for the regeneration of its public institutions, was conducted, and on the triumph which has crowned that struggle-I only act in accordance with the cherished feelings of my childhood, the principles of maturer life, and the spirit and precepts of the Gospel of Jesus. To be a Christian, and not a lover of liberty, would be a contradiction in terms. To be a Christian minister, and not an advocate of man, would be a desecration of the office, and a violation of the religion professed to be inculcated.” This is only one of the innumerable instances wherein he has acknowledged this principle, and which it has always been his practice, in his own emphatic language, to enforce. His motto in preaching to you has been—“We will, we will go through, go through the gates, and prepare

of the people, and cast up, and cast up the highway of knowledge, and gather out the stones of error, and misrule, and superstition; ay, till not one shall be left on another, but, in their stead, a standard shall be lifted up for the people, and its banners of improvement and of freedom shall wanton in the pure breezes of heaven for ever.” So much, though not half enough, for his advocacy of civil liberty or bodily emancipation. Now for a glance at his advocacy of religious liberty. You must all be familiar with the forcible style and energetic manner in which he invariably advocates the rights of conscience, and enforces the exhortation of the Apostle“Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." It is not many years since Dissenters were deprived holding civil offices; but I flatter myself, that with such advocates as we have in our respected and reverend Chairman, it will not be many years before religious opinions, as such, will cease to have any weight in the eligibility of persons to fill offices of state, and that morals and intellect, and fitness for office, will be the standard by which men will be judged and chosen.

the way

We next come to our rev. friend's “ missionary exertions.” If we take a retrospective view of the state of Únitarianism in Scotland, I allude to those parts more immediately connected with Glasgow, and then compare it with the growing up of the spirit of inquiry that is now going on, “the exercise of individual judgment, and the rejection of all human authority in matters of religion,” and ask how this has taken place, I think you will have little difficulty in agreeing with me, that in a great measure, it is attributable to the earnest missionary spirit and great exertions of our reverend and esteemed friend and late Pastor. The history of his missionary labours would fill a volume, deficient perhaps in the attacks that some foreign missionaries experience from wild beasts, but much more fraught with attacks from

Savage men, more savage still than they." In his advocacy of the truth as it is in Jesus, he has stood as it were in the pillory of scorn, to be pelted at by fools; and yet by the force of his eloquence, the power of his reasoning, and the truth of his arguments, he has not only tamed them into hearers, but in many instances has converted them into inquirers. I would refer you to particular instances to prove what I have said, but as you have heard the Report, and are conversant with the facts, that congregations have sprung up, that chapels have been built, ministers appointed, on what was thought a few years ago, barren ground, and all through his instrumentality, I think I may leave this part of my subject in your hands. But the brilliancy of his missionary character shines far more gloriously nearer home. The character of our reverend friend is well known to those whose lot in this world has been poverty and toil; the mansions of the great have not been the exclusive fields whereon he has laboured, he has gone forth into the high-ways and bye-ways, and into the humble dwellings of the most humble of his people, there to sow the rich seeds of consolation—consolation that all the splendour and all the wealth of the world are unable to bestow. Where is the mother or father whom he has visited in the hours of affliction, whose sorrows have not been softened by his affectionate sympathy, when they were mourning over all on which their brightest hopes were set? Where is the husband or wife that can forget the thrilling picture he has drawn of domestic love, the horrors of its separation, and yet the bright consolations he has poured into that blank in nature? This is where he has sowed and reaped, and shone; but why continue these pictures of sorrow on this night of rejoicing? I call it a night of rejoicing, in spite of our separation, as it gives us an opportunity of testifying the high sense in which we estimate his character; and although it may be our loss, it will be gain to others like the wind that wrecks the benighted mariner on one shore, and drives away the pestilence from another. My friends, accept my apology for detaining you so long; but a few words on “ the happiness we have enjoyed in his friendship.”

.”—On this point, you can all bear me out, when I say, a more desirable friend no man can wish. It is impossible to associate with him and not receive an influence. Let the petty tyrant, either male or female—let the fond, foolish parents of uncontrolled children, or those who govern by stripes; let the disobedient child, let the wrangling brother and sister, let the querulous, generally, enter into his domestic circle, and there they will see all the virtues that adorn life, clustering together in father, mother, brothers, and sisters, the fruit of

pure and undefiled religion, which must have an influence for good on all who witness it, until the sun ceases to warm the earth and bring forth its fruit. On this subject, we might dwell—dwell on past happiness—dwell on separation; but time will not allow. Let us fondly recollect all his virtues, and the great happiness we have enjoyed in his friendship, trusting, that though we are to be absent in body we may frequently be present in mind.

And now, my dear Sir, allow me, in the name of the Subscribers and the Committee, to present you with this Testimonial, wishing that every blessing may attend

you family, and all in which you take an interest.

Frequently was Mr. Bridges interrupted by the applauses of the meeting; and on the close of his address, on handing the Salver and Purse to Mr. Harris, the cheering was redoubled.

The cheering was renewed again and again, when Mr. Harris rose to return thanks. He briefly noticed the various points of the inscription on the salver, dwelt on the priceless worth of the principles they were associated to uphold and diffuse—and above all, their practical power and vitality-conjuring his friends to hold fast their advocacy of truth, freedom, piety, benevolence, and to adorn that advocacy by holy, blameless, spotless, lives-commending them, one and all, to the blessing of Almighty God the heavenly Father.

A hymn was then sung, and the meeting closed with the Lord's prayer and a benediction by the President.

and your

« PreviousContinue »