James Scrimgeour was born in the year 1757 in the vicinity of Edinburgh, Scotland. His mother, a member of the Secession Church, was known for her remarkable intelligence and piety, and raised young James in a godly home. Graduating from the University of Edinburgh in 1772, James prepared for the ministry under the tutelage of the renowned John Brown of Haddington, and Rev. Brown came to have a high regard for Scrimgeour’s abilities and gifting for ministry. In 1782 he was licensed by the Associate Presbytery of Edinburgh.
Rev. Scrimgeour supplied pulpits in various parts of Scotland for several years and then was settled as pastor of the Associate congregation of North Berwick, in 1784. Here he remained until mental and physical exhaustion overtook him, removing him from the pulpit in 1794.
In 1802, Dr. John M. Mason visited Great Britain, with the goal of finding ministers who would immigrate to the United States. Rev. Scrimgeour, having largely recovered his health, was among those who consented to the proposal, and upon reaching America he was installed as the pastor of the Scottish Church, in Newburgh, New York. Here he labored from 1802 until 1812. He then answered a call to serve the neighboring church in Little Britain, NY, and remained in that post until declining health forced his retirement. He lived but a few months more, and died on February 14, 1825.
Sprague’s Annals of the Presbyterian Pulpit provides some great anecdotes about various ministers. One such story regarding Rev. Scrimgeour says a good deal about his worth as a preacher:
“Those who knew him in the earlier years of his ministry have told me that he was then one of the most popular preachers in the denomination to which he belonged,–the Burgher Seceders; and, from what I know of the taste of Scottish Christians, as well as from my own recollection of his manner in the pulpit, I can easily credit the statement, and various reasons might be assigned if it were worth while to dwell upon the point, why his ministrations were not so generally acceptable in this country as in his native land. Not to mention others, his strong Scottish accent, if not positively distasteful, would not be particularly pleasing to most Americans;…His own people, however, were strongly attached to him, and, in other congregations, containing a large Scottish element, as in that of his old friend Dr. Mason, of New York, in Newburgh, and elsewhere, his appearance in the pulpit always gave pleasure to his audience. When he visited these places, he very well knew that he would be required to preach, and he always went from home with an ample equipment–that is, with from fifty to a hundred sermons in his portmanteau. On one occasion an excellent lady of my acquaintance travelled some fifteen miles to hear Dr. J. M. Mason, who was expected to preach in one of the Associate Reformed congregations, back from Newburgh. When she reached the church, to her great disappointment, she saw Mr. Scrimgeour ascend the pulpit. Her first impulse was to quit the place and return home, but the ‘sober second thought’ of the Christian kept her in her seat. You may well suppose that she was not in the most favorable mood for appreciating the preacher, (whom she had often heard) yet she afterwards declared that she went away quite captivated with the sermon, and fully persuaded that even Dr. Mason himself (whom she also knew) could not have better recompensed her for her long journey.”
Words to Live By:
To take a few words from a sermon by Moses Hoge,
“Do not expect too much from your Ministers.–Remember that they are men not angels. And were they even angels, they could do nothing for you without a diligent co-operation on your part. If the God of heaven has appointed Ministers to preach the gospel to you, will you not hear it and obey it, that you may not die but live for ever? Waste not the precious time given you for a much better purpose, in devising vain excuses. The time is not far off when you will be stripped of them all. And, surely, there cannot be a greater infatuation than to waste in this way your day of grace–the only season alloted for your repentance and amendment of life–the only season alloted for your preparation for an endless eternity.”