Biography from "Disruption Worthies"

THE pen of Hugh Miller (editor of "The Witness" newspaper) delineates Mr Gray to the life, as he appeared among the leaders in the heat of the "ten years’ conflict".

"Now, mark that strongly featured man a few benches away. He is barely of the middle size, and stoutly made. The nose has an almost Socratic degree of concavity in its outline; indeed, the whole profile more nearly resembles that of Socrates, as shewn in cameos and busts, than it does any other known profile to which we could compare it. The expression of the lower part of the face indicates a man who, if once engaged in battling in a good cause, would fight long and doggedly ere he gave up the contest. The head is also marked by the Socratic outline in a singularly striking degree; the forehead is erect, broad, high, and the coronal region of immense development. He rises to speak. His voice, though not too finely modulated, is powerful; his style of language plain, energetic, and full of point - such a style as Cobbet used to write, and which, when employed as a medium for the conveyance of thoughts of large volume, is perhaps of all kinds of style the most influential. He is evidently a master of reason; and there runs through the lighter portions of his speech a vein of homely, racy humour, very quiet but very effective.

That speaker is Andrew Gray of Perth, one of the vigorous and original minds which the demands of the present struggle have called from comparative obscurity into the controversial arena, full in the view of the country. Mr Gray’s admirable pamphlet, "The Present Conflict," took the lead, we believe, of all the publications of which the unhappy collision between the civil and ecclesiastical courts has been the occasion; and it must be regarded surely as no slight proof of the judgment of the man, that of all the positions he then took up, not one has since been abandoned. He marked out the Torras Vedras of the question; and the lines have not yet been forced.

Mr Gray was born at Aberdeen, 2d November 1805, and he used to remark with pleasure, that most of the leaders in the controversy which ended in the Disruption, were born about the same time. As his parents were unable to meet the expenses of his education for the ministry, he had much hard work in supporting himself during his preparatory course by teaching privately and in schools. His father early dedicated him to the Lord’s work, and instilled into his mind the doctrines of the Reformation and the principles of the Presbyterian Church. This humble and singularly pious man spent his latter years under the roof of his son, in whose congregation at Perth he acted as an elder.

Even while a student Mr Gray was recognised as a man of mark. Although he entered Marischal College, Aberdeen, when religion there was at a low ebb, yet he found a few companions like-minded with himself, and great was his delight in them as well as his influence over them. He had all his life a keen relish for the company of men of his own calling. The reserve which he sometimes maintained in general society gave place, among his trusted brethren, to genial frankness and hilarity, especially when he recalled the happy years of his youth. Mr Milne of Free St Leonard’s, Perth, in preaching Mr Gray’s funeral sermon, mentioned that Mr Gray once led him out into the country, and spoke to him faithfully and affectionately about the state of his soul and the way of salvation; "the first time," added Mr Milne, "that any one had ever addressed me directly on the subject." This pleasing circumstance must have had a good effect on the relations between these men of God, who occupied the most important positions in Perth at the Disruption.

While Mr Gray was at college, the tide turned, and the evangelical section of the students which had been despised became most influential. He was largely instrumental in bringing about this change, and preserved in a book intimations of meetings and other memoranda of his activity among his fellow students. In after years, his exertions for the erection of a Free Church Divinity College in Aberdeen, led to differences with honoured friends, which, to the writer’s knowledge, caused Mr Gray intense pain. Aberdeen should remember him, for all that concerned her was to him most dear. When Dr Andrew Thomson remonstrated against the insertion of the Apocrypha in the bibles of the British and Foreign Bible Society, and the great questions of the canon and the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures came to be publicly discussed, Mr Gray, though only a student, wrote with unusual power against the loose views of Dr Thomson’s opponents.

But the controversy with which his name was most closely associated, and in which he best evinced the energy and determination which charactensed him, was what is called the "Chapel Question." While yet at college, he took the foremost place in assailing the unscriptural practice of excluding chapel ministers from the government of the Church, and even forbidding them to hold kirk-sessions in their own congregations. In 1825, when he had scarcely completed his twentieth year, he published, in the "Christian Instructor," an able vindication of the right of all ordained ministers to rule as well as to teach. Both Dr Andrew Thomson and Dr Chalmers opposed the movement for procuring the acknowledgment of this right by the General Assembly, in the case of ministers of Chapels of Ease.

Yet undaunted even by such opposition, Mr Gray kept the matter in various ways before the public mind, and stirred up those who had a voice in church courts to bring it forward, before he could procure a hearing in them himself. His ordination as minister of the Chapel of Ease at Woodside, near Aberdeen (1st September 1831), brought home to him very painfully, in his own experience, the restrictions which so anomalous a position imposed on the exercise of the Christian ministry. He delighted to tell tthat on his return from the Assembly of 1834, in which, greatly owing to his powerful speech at the bar, the evil was remedied, Mr Carment of Rosskeen recommended him to give out in Woodside Chapel, as their first psalm in their state of freedom, Psalm cxxix.

Notwithstanding bitter opposition from some influential individuals in the neighbourhood, Mr Gray’s labours in his first charge were highly successful. The congregation, of which he was the first minister, became numerous, and five hundred scholars attended the Sabbath school. Conversions gladdened his heart, especially among the members of his bible class. Woodside was a field which the Lord was blessing up to the time of Mr Gray’s removal to the West Church, Perth (14th July 1836). In this new sphere he was soon the acknowledged leader of the evangelical party in the church courts of the district, while the congregation becanie much larger than it had ever been, though he found it in a flourishing state. He began weekly prayer meetings, and during the sittings of the Assembly great numbers met every evening to hear a letter from their minister, when the struggle became serious, and to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Aided by a munificent member of his congregation, he erected a handsome parish school, and, amid far greater difficulties, he built, after the Disruption, another school and teacher’s house. His preaching was of a very high order, as his published sermons prove, and those who loved a pure gospel rejoiced in the simplicity and fervour with which he proclaimed salvation. It was to him a painful trial that his work for the church at large, coupled with his frequent ill health and consequent absence from home, prevented him from accomplishing the amount of pastoral visitation he felt to be due to his people. Of his lack of service in this respect, and of his own shortcomings as a man, he had a deep and lowly conviction. "A minister’s sins are so aggravated," he once exclaimed, and burst into tears.

But few, if any, rendered more valuable service to the Free Church. Dr Candlish, as well as Hugh Miller, assigns to Mr Gray’s pamphlet on the conflict between the civil and ecclesiastical courts, the merit of marking out the precise ground which was subsequently taken by all the leaders on the evangelical side. He says it became the text-book of the controversy. Dr Chalmers pronounced it "one of the most masterly and conclusive reasonings that ever issued from the press." It is not therefore surprising that after the Disruption Mr Gray was requested to draw up a Catechism for the instruction of the young in the principles of the Free Church. If some of the answers in that Catechism are rather over-long, many are both short and pithy. Thus, having quoted from the authorised "Proceedings" of the Established Church Assembly of 1843, that the Assembly appointed a committee to draw up a full and formal answer to the Protest of the Free Church, and report to the Assembly on Saturday, he asks,
"What happened on Saturday "
Ans. "There was no report." He then records that the committee, having been enlarged, did, in August, give in a report to the Commission, and quotes from the "Proceedings" that the Commission agreed to consider this report "at their meeting to-morrow." We then have -
Ques. "What occurred on the morrow?"
Ans. "No quorum appeared, and the Commission. did not meet."
Ques. "What became of the answer to the Protest?"
Ans. "It was never heard of more!"

Mr Gray would gladly have retained the benefits of an Established Church, could he have done so with a good conscience. He confessed that, as an endowed minister, he felt more at rest in regard to his income than at Woodside, or after the Disruption. It was chiefly owing to him that the large congregations of the Free Church in Perth were content with humble structures for themselves, more aid being consequently given to country churches. The claims of the Sustentation Fund were vehemently urged from his pulpit, while congregations had not yet learned to look on the things of others, though his personal interests might thus have suffered, He was himself a liberal contributor. His labours for the Free Church in his own Presbytery were most abundant; and he took a leading part in the Assembly, ‘both in the arrangement of its business and in its legislation.' His profound sagacity and knowledge of Church law made his advice much sought and followed in the many perplexing questions that arose both before and after the Disruption. He was the first to suggest the scheme for the evangelisation of the masses in Glasgow which has been so marvellously successful ; and the Assembly made him Convener of the Committee on that scheme as long as his health permitted him to take charge of it.

In the prosecution of this great and difficult undertaking, he was separated for weeks together from his own congregation, and subjected to toils which seriously injured his constitution. No one more clearly saw the danger to which the Church is exposed, not only from the encroachments of the State on its freedom, but from the, prevalence of ungodliness in our great centres of population. Strict as he was in his views of ecclesiastical order, he reckoned it expedient in the circumstances of our overgrown cities, to employ effective speakers, chosen from the ranks of working men, to reason with their neighbours, "of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come."

Had his life been spared, he would have developed original and valuable ideas and modes of operation in the department of Home Missions. Revival work always lay near his heart; but a suspected undervaluing oî the ministerial office on the part of some who were active in its advancement rather alarmed him, though he rejoiced at the co-operation of ministers and gifted members of different churches in giving addresses. From the time of his coming to Perth to his death (March 10. 1861), he was labouring under chronic bronchitis, which often brought him very low, and made public speaking, especially such vehement oratory as his, a perilous task. He said he made men think rather than feel; but as his weakness increased, his pulpit addresses became very touching. In his eyes the preaching of the gospel always seemed the best and noblest work to which he was called. If his abrupt manner repelled strangers, those who enjoyed his friendship found him true as steel, and of a generous disposition.

He had a great desire to visit the Exhibition in London in 1851, but to an old fellow-student who asked pecuniary aid from him at the time, he gave the sum required for his own expenses, and stayed at home himself. Yet perhaps in public life he was apt to be too eager in the pursuit of the objects he sought; and he himself looked on his afflictions as a curb on this natural impetuosity. Once, after a severe paroxysm of coughing, he said to a friend, "I would have been a terrible fellow had the Lord not put some such restraint on me."

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