SIR PETER COATS
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Sir Peter Coats belonged properly to Paisley, but he lived more than twenty years in our neighbourhood, and we came latterly to consider him as one of ourselves. He died in Algeria, 9th March, 1890, aged 81 years, and was buried in Paisley. On the Sabbath evening after his death I paid the following tribute to his memory in Minishant Memorial Church :— 

"Last Sabbath night, about this hour, in a foreign land, there passed away peacefully from earth one who was well known amongst us as a man full of faith and of good works. He came to this district over twenty years ago, and ever since he has been in a certain sense the light of the countryside. He came here to rest a little after a busy life in town, but his idea of rest was a mere transfer of his energies from commerce to philanthropy. He came here with his help meet in life, both healthy and strong, but not long after, she passed away, and he commemorated her name by building this beautiful church in which we now worship. Before that, you may remember, ‘we worshipped in the small School-house by the burnside, now pulled down. The School-house could not accommodate more than forty persons or so, and it was the sight of so many persons turned away for want of room that induced him to think of erecting this building. Poor though the. accommodation was, Lady Coats and he attended service in that old School-house, and thither he brought his friend, Dr Taylor, now of New York, and others of like fame. For it was one of the delights of our friend to worship along’ with us, and he never missed a Sabbath evening’s services in Minishant when he was at home, and able to come. His generosity, of course, is known to all men. He had a passion for giving. No matter how many applicants came, no matter how often he was victimised, he was just as ready to help the hundredth as he was to help the first. Once he said to me as a reason for this—’ I wish to give away my money in my life-time; it is a great pleasure to me to do it, and it is better, I think, to give it away with one’s own hand than to give it away after you are dead.’ I suggested to him that he might do harm by giving, as well as good, but he thought the harm could be but little in comparison with the good, and so he gave on—his hand never wearied going to his pocket. Another thing about. his benefactions was that he gave without conditions. Having satisfied himself that the cause was good, he never’ made bargains about his donations. He gave out of hand, and had done with it. He had no desire to keep people dependent on him. Some people are generous without being kindly, but Sir Peter Coats was both. In fact, it. was his kindliness much more than his generosity that made him so beloved. The world heard of his generosity, but. we among whom he lived, saw and felt his kindliness in every act of his life. He never was happier than when making other people happy. He never was happier than when giving presents to the poor, or the young. And the kindly way in which he gave enhanced the gift, for his was none of those reserved natures which cannot stoop to the ordinary level. All his tastes were simple, and his joys homely. He never felt any difficulty in conversing, with the poorest, for all his interests were down among his fellow-men. He was very proud of the beauties of Auchendrane, and often declared that the banks of the Doon would compare favourably with any part of the world he had seen. But he never enjoyed it so much, I believe, as when he saw other people enjoying it; and often he urged me to fetch people down that they too might share in the joy he felt himself, and which Providence had enabled him to become owner of. Sir Peter, as is well known, gave largely to all schemes connected with religion. Personally he was a Baptist, as his father was before him, although he had connected himself latterly with the United Presbyterian Church. But he gave to all sections of the Christian Church, and to Mission Halls that were connected with no particular denomination. Once, however, that a new denomination had broken ground in Maybole, and claimed his aid, he refused, on the ground that it was a pity to multiply the number of sects in a town. He would give, he said, to reduce the number rather than to increase them. Very proud, in particular, was he of this Memorial Church of Minishant, which is served by ministers of all denominations in the various parishes around. It was a Union Church quite after his heart, and each of the ministers was equally honoured by him. For this was one of the leading traits of our friend’s character. There was no bitterness in him, either ecclesiastical or political. I never, during twenty years’ acquaintance with him, heard him say a bitter word against anybody—no matter how much they differed from him. Naturally, he was tolerant and large-hearted. He held his own views firmly enough, but he never thought the less of those who held views opposed to his; for he knew, as every man of sense knows, that a man is not to be measured by his views, but by something much more fundamental and important.

But while everything connected with churches and religion found in him a friend, there was another cause that lay perhaps nearer his heart than churches, and that ‘was Institutions for the relief of distress. He was a notable specimen of the Good Samaritan in these modern days. To help the needy, to tend the sick and helpless, to lift up the fallen, and with compassionate hand pour in the oil and the wine, and bring him to an inn, and take care of him—that was the form of service to God that came most natural to him. He never heard a cry of distress in vain. He never saw a wounded man lying by the road and passed by on the other side. God has made us all different from each other, and it is well that it is so, for otherwise the work of the world could not be carried on. But surely the man who goes about doing good must be like the Master. Christ was the greatest philanthropist that ever lived, and, after preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, was never more at home than in healing the sick and feeding the hungry. And so was it with our friend. After his love to God came his love to man, and his love to man was the channel through which his love to God found chief expression.

But coming nearer the inner spirit of the man, I would say that another of Sir Peter Coats’s leading characteristics was his peaceableness. He abhorred anything that savoured of a quarrel. He would suffer rather than fight for his rights. He submitted to much, that he might live at peace with all men. I believe that after living more than twenty years among us he has passed away without leaving an enemy behind him. Of course, some people do this simply because they have no force of character, or don’t live a conspicuous life among their fellow-men; but this was not the case with our friend. He was a leading man in this district, and yet he was friendly with every one, and the ‘reason lay in his strong desire for peace. "Follow peace with all men" is a text that Sir Peter Coats was a living exemplification of. He was ill-used by some, but he never retaliated. He never took offence, and he strove never to give occasion of offence, and in this way his presence in the district made continually for harmony among all classes. Before his pleasant face and kindly word, passion and malice hid themselves as ashamed. And in days to come I believe his presence will be missed more in this respect than perhaps in any other. Other people may give as largely as he, but the blessing of the peacemaker will hardly descend so richly on any one who will succeed him.

Once more, I would like to notice his contentedness, which was visible to every one. His was a cheerful spirit, and cheerful because contented. He was not ambitious, nor miserable because he could not attain something not yet reached to. He was too grateful for what God had given him to be discontented about anything that had been denied. When thwarted, he always looked on the bright side of things, and, as we say, "made the most of it." He never moped over anything. He enjoyed what he had with a thankful spirit. In his younger days, he used to tell me he had wrought very hard, and now in his old days God had given him the great pleasure of helping his fellow creatures, which was the greatest pleasure on earth to him.. He had always much of the spirit of a child in him, and relished much the society of children. He did not trouble’ himself about the great problems of existence, knowing that~ we could not solve them, but he set himself calmly and gladly to solve the problems of human suffering as he saw these around him, and tried his best to leave the world a. little better than he found it.

Finally, his humility was conspicuous, and he grew iii grace as he grew in years. Nobody who has ever seen him worshipping in this church near the spot where I now stand could fail of noting his deep heart-reverence. His was truly the blessedness of the man "who feared the Lord alway." But now he has gone, and the place that knew’ him will know him no more. "He has come to his grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season." This district may well hold his memory in honour. Who but he would have built such a handsome church for our accommodation? And who but he could have secured the services of such a large number of ministers of different. denominations to serve us? And who but he would have thought of providing a Free Library and Reading Room, with lectures and concerts in the winter, for such a small, village and thinly-peopled district? But there was even more than these—for he gave his personal sympathy to every one of you. No matter how poor, no matter how little claim on him a person might have, everybody in the district knew that he had a friend at Auchendiane, who was willing and able to help in a time of need. Other friends this district has who have proved their friendliness in many ways, but he was the oldest and the most easily accessible. He liked to be appealed to. As he once said to me—" It is enough for these people to put themselves to the trouble of asking, without my sending them away with a surly answer." And he was busy to the last. "I am getting auld, and I mann yin," was the answer he gave me when I remonstrated with him latterly as to his own work. It was written on the tomb of an old Greek warrior—" We missed him in the day of battle;" and so will it be said in, days to come of Sir Peter Coats of Auchendrane. He was. no orator, but he was a doer, which is better; and all his deeds had heart in them. They were prompted by a. desire for the good and happiness of his fellowmen; and that is an element which disarms criticism, and makes men think lightly of faults. Auchendrane will now pass into other hands, and other faces will be seen about it, but it will be long aire we see a face the district will respect so highly as the kindly, humble one that has just passed from us. He had been so long among us that we had come to think of him as belonging to us. But this was wrong. He did not belong to us but to God, and He has now taken. him to Himself.

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