Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Alexander MacColl

(This obituary originally appeared in the Inverness Courier and was later published in a small book called Highland Clergymen.)

The Rev. Alexander MacColl, Free Church minister of Lochalsh, died on the 22nd of January 1889. Mr MacColl was one of those influential clergymen of the good old school who attained eminence throughout the Highlands by their strong individuality, their earnest devotion, and the power and fervour with which they used their native Gaelic in addressing the hearts and experiences of their countrymen. Mr MacColl was best known in the West Highlands, where he held a position similar to that of Dr Aird in Sutherland and Ross, or of the late Dr Mackay in the neighbourhood of Inverness. For many years, in the time of the late Mr Sutherland, he assisted at the Communion services in connection with the Free East Church, Inverness; but to the younger generation in this quarter his presence was not so familiar. All who knew him personally were deeply attached to him, and speak of him with the greatest affection and esteem. His death at the age of seventy-five was probably due to the excessive labours of his early manhood, which undermined even his vigorous and elastic constitution.

Mr MacColl was a native of Lochcarron, born while the century was young, and baptised by the Rev Lachlan Mackenzie, a name still held in reverence in the Highlands. His father, who was a native of Appin in Argyllshire, acted as sheep-manager at New Kelso in Strathcarron. Alexander was educated at the parish schools of Glenelg and Fort William, and attended the Universities of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh, passing his last session under Dr Chalmers in the New College. Previous to being licensed, he taught the parish school of Uig, in the Island of Lews, from which he had to retire at the time of the Disruption. On receiving licence in 1844, he was appointed to take charge of Lochcarron, Applecross and Shieldaig, then without a settled minister connected with the Free Church. In this wide district he laboured with untiring zeal, nearly all the population in the three parishes being under his pastoral supervision. In making his circuit from place to place he became intimately acquainted with the people, and large congregations attended his ministry. Seeing the necessities of the district, Mr MacColl remained at his post for eight years, refusing repeated calls that came to him from other places. His work was accompanied by a religious revival, and by improvement in the habits and customs of the people. Taking a lively interest in education, he succeeded in obtaining a first-class teacher for Jeantown, at which school a number of young men who now occupy important positions received their early education. 

In 1852, Mr MacColl was settled in the extensive parish of Duirinish, in Skye, where he laboured for eighteen years. Here also there was a revival under his ministry. From Duirinish he was translated in 1870 to Fort Augustus and Glenmoriston, which then formed a united parish, and which had long enjoyed the services of Rev. Mr. Macbean, who was also an influential Highland clergyman. In this place Mr MacColl remained for seven years; but now in declining life he felt that the charge of such an extensive district to be a tax upon his strength. He perceived that instead of one, the parishes required the services of two ministers (which they now have). Accordingly, in 1877, he accepted a call to Lochalsh, where he spent the last eleven years of his laborious life. Though his health was failing for some years, he continued to preach till within a few Sabbaths of his death. His flock were greatly attached to him, and sincerely mourn his loss.

In personal appearance Mr MacColl resembled the late Dr Macdonald, of Ferintosh; and his pulpit style, both in matter and manner, also recalled that famous preacher. In his early days Mr MacColl excelled in earnest and powerful appeals to his hearers; but as time went on, he dealt more in doctrine and personal experience. He possessed a splendid voice, which in the open air could be heard at a long distance. At communion seasons his services were greatly sought for and appreciated. Though a good English preacher, he was, of course, at his best in Gaelic; it was in that language, indeed, that he could be describes as a true pulpit orator. The fruit of his work was outwardly most apparent in Lochcarron and Duirinish. In his latter days he became more of a student; gathering in less perhaps, but building up with unfailing gentleness and wisdom. His mental gifts were of a high order; and with all his natural fervour, the basis of his mind was solid and masculine. At the University he excelled in mathematics. It is scarcely necessary to say that his theology was of the Puritan type, but it was no mere echo of the views of other men. He was a good Hebrew scholar, and had a wide knowledge of Church history.

A friend who knew him well says – ‘Mr MacColl was a man of sound judgement and wise in counsel. In private intercourse he was one of the most amiable of men. Every one loved him, and children were specially fond of him. He took a great interest in young men, and encouraged those whom he believed to be suited for the ministry. As a companion he was always pleasant, agreeable, and instructive, and without obtruding his piety he was able to guide the conversation to serious matters. Though unmarried, he was eminently social. His hospitable manse was ever open to rich and poor. Every one who came was welcome; and to those in distress he gave prompt and generous relief. Young ministers found him a constant and affectionate friend. Mr MacColl adhered to the principles of the Free Church in their original integrity, opposing Union and Disestablishment. He was fond of quoting an expression of Lord Moncrieff, that the Disruption fathers never contemplated destruction, but reform. His memory will long be cherished by Highlanders alongside that of the late Dr Kennedy and the late Dr Mackay. 

Mr MacColl belonged to a type that is fast passing away. He was one of the last of a race of ministers who left their mark upon Highland character. ‘The old order changeth, giving place to new,’ but those who imagine that the old was feeble or unsuited to its time are entirely mistaken. In a broader sphere, mingling with a larger world, men like Mr MacColl would have attained distinction, and left a more abiding reputation. But they served their generation in the place which they occupied, and no man can seek a better record.

On Tuesday, the 29th of January, the remains of Mr MacColl were interred in the church-yard at Lochalsh, which is situated three and a-half miles from the Free Church Manse. An earnest desire had been expressed by many members of the congregation that the remains should be interred in proximity to the church, but the friends of the deceased decided that the remains should be laid in the public church-yard. The funeral was very largely attended by both clergymen and laymen, showing the high respect and esteem in which the deceased was held in Lochalsh and the neighbouring districts. Representatives were present from Skye, Gairloch, Poolewe, Applecross, Shieldaig, Lochcarron, Kintail, Glenshiel, Glenelg, Glen-Urquhart, and Fort Augustus. The Rev Dr Aird, Moderator of the Free Church General Assembly, conducted a short funeral service in Gaelic in the church, in presence of a crowded congregation. The coffin was laid in the grave amid symptoms of profound sorrow, many of those present shedding tears. By his will Mr MacColl left a sum of £250 to establish a bursary in connection with the Synod of Glenelg, for students who hold the original principles of the Free Church as at the Disruption.

Bishop Murdo Mackenzie

This short extract from a book called Historical and Traditional Sketches of Highland Families, and of the Highlands by John Maclean records the career of an Inverness minister during difficult days for evangelicals in the Highlands during the second half of the seventeenth century. The preacher concerned, Murdo Mackenzie, was willing to side with the government’s interference in the Presbyterian church and so became a bishop during the Covenanting period. The extract points to a possible origin of the Question Meeting (once common at communions) and also contains a rather strange response to one of Mackenzie’s sermons.

The Rev. Murdo Mackenzie. The above clergyman was a member of the family of Gairloch, and his first outset as a preacher was on being appointed chaplain to a regiment in the army of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden; after which he was settled minister of the parish of Contin, Ross-shire; and from thence translated to Inverness in 1640, where his ministrations were highly appreciated.

The ‘speaking on the question’, or the meeting of the ‘Men’, on Fridays before the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, originated with Mr Mackenzie – not in the church, however, but in his own house at Kingsmills, in which place, during his incumbency in Inverness, pious laymen were wont to assemble, edifying and instructing each other by stating their own Christian experience, as also their opinions of select passages of the Scriptures. Subsequently the meeting of the ‘Men’ became general throughout the Church in the North.

Although Mr Mackenzie had thus begun and established soul-edifying exercises in Inverness, yet he was so disgusted with the impiety of some of his parishioners that he determined on the first opportunity that presented itself to leave the parish. The following ludicrous affair heightened his resolution: Whilst addressing the Gaelic congregation from the important words, ‘Take up thy cross and follow me,’ a drouthy knight of the awl sat in the gallery in a state of inebriety, listening as attentively as he could to the impressive discourse of the preacher; and the words of the text attracting his attention, it occurred to him to turn them to a subject quite foreign to the purpose.

Accordingly, as Mr Mackenzie was returning home in the afternoon, and when ascending the Flesh Market Brae, he was suddenly alarmed by hearing moans and groans immediately behind him. Turning quickly round to his dismay he saw a man carrying a stout woman on his back. The bearer of the unwilling burden was the shoemaker, who, on Mr Mackenzie’s demanding to know why he behaved in such a manner to a female, was answered that he was hearing him that day in the Hielan’ Kirk, and that he (Mr Mackenzie) desired him to take up his cross and follow him, which he was just doing. The shoemaker had thus persisted in following the worthy minister, and it was only when the latter gave him a sixpence that he could get rid of him, desiring him at the same time to get out of his sight with his abominable cross.

Soon after this unhallowed affair, Mr Mackenzie, in 1645, was translated to Elgin, and on the restoration of Charles II., was consecrated Bishop of the diocese of Moray, on the 1st of May 1662; and in the end of the year 1676 was translated to the see of Orkney, where he died in February 1688.

Robert M'Watt

Another Disruption worthy, ‘a good minister of Jesus Christ,’ has gone to his rest.

Mr M’Watt was born at Inverness, of religious and reputable parents, in the year 1801. He received the rudiments of his education in his native town, where he was known as an apt and lively scholar. At a very young age he entered King’s College, Aberdeen, where he not only took a full curriculum, but a good place in his classes. He afterwards studied theology at the same university, and was duly licensed to preach the gospel. But though his vivacious youth, his glowing fervour, and his evangelical preaching made a deep impression wherever he preached, he had to wait a long time for a charge.

He acted as tutor for fifteen years in the family of Altyre, where he was held in high esteem, until he was presented by the Earl of Seafield to the church in Rothes in 1839. But he had scarcely set his manse in order when he felt bound in conscience towards Christ to leave it. Conservative in politics but thoroughly evangelical in religion, and true to the ancient polity and historical tradition of the Church of Scotland, he joined in 1843 the noble Disruption host, with whose contendings he was in fullest sympathy.

For several years both before and after this event he was so instant in season and out of season, preaching generally thrice on Sabbath, and frequently in the neighbourhood all round the week, that he sowed in his elastic and vigorous frame the seeds of the debility and pain of his later years.

He was not only the assiduous pastor, and even the medical adviser of the parish of Rothes, but, as the only Disruption minister in the parish of Aberlour, he either planted or watered all the Free Church congregations of the bounds. He also acted as Clerk of the Presbytery for twenty-seven years with singular courtesy, close attention to the business of the court, and much knowledge of Church law.

Towards the close of his long and laborious life he suffered from paralysis, and had the help first of a probationer, and latterly of an assistant and successor, for some time before his death, which took place at the manse on the 27th November, 1880.

As a minister of Christ, Mr M’Watt preached not only the old Puritan theology, but the gospel of God with great fervour, faithfulness and love. And we know that he was wise in winning souls to Christ, some of whom wept over his bier and bless his memory. He was beloved not only by his own people and co-presbyters, but by the congregations of the Presbytery and the whole community, who laid him in his new tomb with reverence and regret, feeling that they had lost a father in Israel. He was not only a man of culture, of polished manners and genial gentleness, but full of faith and of the fire of devotion, a good example of the Christian gentleman. Mr M’Watt, who was unmarried, was a brother indeed to the two sisters in whose society he lived, one of whom survives him.

(Dr Scott, Aberlour, Free Church of Scotland Monthly Record, June, 1881).

Alexander Munro of Durness

Alexander Munro grew up in Inverness, where his father was a dyer – the father was also Laird of Kitwell, in Kiltearn, and more importantly his home was marked by devotion to God. Although he had a Christian upbringing, it in itself did not make Alexander a Christian. But the Lord had his eye on him.

In the providence of God, Robert Bruce, the minister of St. Giles in Edinburgh, was banished by James VI to Inverness in 1605, which at that time was a very small town of two streets in the shadow of a castle designed to oversee the area. While in Inverness, Bruce preached once every Sunday and Wednesday and took public prayers three evenings a week.

The king of Scotland may have banished Bruce to Inverness, but it was the King of heaven who sent him there. Soon large crowds gathered in Inverness to listen to him and they were drawn from all over the eastern Highlands, from Caithness down to Nairnshire. It was while listening to Bruce that Alexander Munro trusted in Jesus and became a Christian.

Alexander developed a strong prayer life and received very powerful impressions that he should become a minister of the gospel, and included among them was the awareness that he would become the minister of the parish of Durness in the north-west of Scotland. Initially he resisted the call from God, but eventually he consented and went to the University of Aberdeen to study for the ministry. Shortly afterwards, he became the minister of the parish of Durness.

The parish was very extensive, covering the area between Tongue and Scourie. It was inhabited by thousands of people, uncivilised in many ways, and one of the things that marked them was their ignorance of the gospel. Yet through Munro’s preaching, God brought a great spiritual revival into the parish, the effects of which lasted for generations. Two of his sons also became ministers: Hew followed in Durness and John was a minister in Alness.

Although Munro’s preaching was so blessed, nothing has survived of it. One feature, however, that did endure was his spiritual songs. When he went to Durness, he soon realised that his parishioners were very ignorant of the Bible. Their language was Gaelic, and the Bible had not yet been translated into that language. It is probably the case that most of them could not read, so they could not translate the English versions that were available. In order to help them develop a knowledge of the Bible, Munro composed many songs, based on biblical passages, and designed for individuals to sing at work and at home. Through this means, his people greatly increased in their knowledge of the gospel, and his songs were sung in private gatherings for generations.

There are many lessons to note from this story. One is that God’s providence is working in many ways at the one time. During the period in which Alexander was identifying his call, the king who had banished Bruce to Inverness had also arranged for a group of persons to produce the King James Version. His motives for the version were not all good. Yet God over-ruled him and he over-ruled him with regard to Bruce.

Second, we can see that there are many links in a chain. What would a person in Durness have thought in 1605 of the decision in Edinburgh to banish a minister? Not very much. But when that person later responded to the gospel preached by Munro, he would see that God had many links in his chain.

Third, Munro’s ministry is a reminder of the great blessing that God can bring through one man. It is true that every minister does not see such success. The point I am making is that our society today is not that different from the parish of Durness in Munro’s day, especially in its ignorance of the gospel. How many men does God need to use to transform an area? Munro’s experience tells us that the answer is one. No doubt others were praying for him, especially as his number of converts increased. Nevertheless, the necessary number of preachers is the same.

Fourth, Munro is a reminder that Christ’s servants should use their natural talents and flexible means in order to promote the gospel. Munro had the ability to turn large portions of the Bible into the kind of rhyme that could be recalled by others and sung by them wherever they were. And he was flexible enough to let them do so in their times of fellowship with one another.

Fifth, Munro is only one of many influential servants of Christ that are totally forgotten. There are only passing references to him in a few books. But the record of his achievements is on high, and it will wonderful on the final day to discover all that Jesus did through many unknown servants. And it will be wonderful as well to meet with the many individuals who discovered spiritual life through their ministries.

Northern Missionary Society

The Baptist Missionary Society, linked with William Carey, was formed in 1792. Three years later, in 1795, the London Missionary Society commenced (its first secretary was John Love). It is evident that there was a growing national interest in missions, so it is not surprising that attempts were made in 1796 to begin a collection within the Church of Scotland for foreign missions. The attempt failed, therefore the evangelical party within the Church of Scotland formed an Edinburgh Missionary Society. Almost immediately there was an interest expressed in this new society by two congregations in the north – Ferintosh (the minister was Charles Calder) and Moy (the minister was Hugh Mackay). Other congregations sent further financial support in the following year (1797) – Tarbat, Edderton, Fearn, Nigg, Logie, Rosskeen and Kilmuir.

This interest in missions was maintained, and in 1800 a group of ministers from Easter Ross met in Evanton (in the home of a Mr. Allan) to discuss the possibility of setting up a missionary society in the north. They did not want to take any unrealistic steps, so ‘being persuaded that the magnitude of the object required mature deliberation and serious discussion, they resolved to correspond with other ministers and private Christians, and to meet again for prayer, before coming to any determination in the matter.’ Several other ministers and private Christians approved of the scheme, so a statement was drawn up for distribution throughout the north, and signed by leading northern evangelical ministers. The statement referred to blessing of God on the formation of other missionary societies, pointed out that supporting missionary endeavour was a way of sending ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ to the poor heathen’, and urged that even the poor, in supporting the society, would promote ‘extensively the glory of God and the good of your fellowmen’. It also intimated that a public meeting would take place in Tain on Wednesday 27th August 1800 with the purpose of forming a missionary society. 

A large crowd gathered on this occasion. Dr. Alexander Fraser of Kirkhill preached in English in Tain parish church from Isaiah 32:8 (‘But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand’) and Dr. Angus Mackintosh of Tain preached outside in Gaelic from Isaiah 40:3-5 (‘The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it’). 

After the services were over, a meeting was held to form a missionary society. Dr. Alexander Fraser was the chairman of the first meeting. Its purpose was the spread of the gospel throughout the world. The Society was to last for forty-four years, until it was absorbed into the missionary agencies of the Free Church of Scotland in 1843. Fraser was its first president. He died two years later. Other presidents included Charles Calder in 1803 and John Macdonald in 1843. The society only ever had two secretary/treasurers: Dr. Angus Macintosh from 1800 to 1831 and his son Dr. Charles Calder Macintosh from 1829 to 1843 (he helped his father for two years).

The Society initially arranged for two services to be preached annually in Tain and in Inverness; in 1824, it increased the number to six by arranging for two sermons to be preached annually in Dingwall as well. These meetings enabled supporters of the society to have an annual conference, as it were, in each of those places. The sermons were delivered by the best preachers in the area, with John Macdonald of Ferintosh being a regular, preaching over thirty times for the Society. Collections were taken after the services for use by the Society.

Prayer was also an important aspect of these occasions and at other times. The first Mondays of May, August, November, and February were set apart as days of solemn prayer for the revival of religion at home and for the spread of the Gospel abroad. In each parish where the minister was willing, local branches were formed. They met for prayer, information about mission work was conveyed, and collections were taken. Some branches met weekly, others monthly, and still others met quarterly. These collections were usually handed in at the annual meeting in Inverness, Dingwall or Tain.

Some of the money was used to employ a native worker in India. Most of it, however, was sent to support other missionary agencies: among them, over £2000 was given to the Edinburgh Missionary Society and almost £1500 to the London Missionary Society between 1800 and 1843. The Northern Missionary Society also supported missions to the Jews, missions to Highland exiles in the British colonies, and missions to Roman Catholics in Ireland and elsewhere. After 1831, it also sent support to the Church of Scotland Indian Mission (for twelve years, they gave £50 annually). 

The standard set by the Society for potential missionaries was high: its aim was ‘to employ in the work of Missions such only as give satisfactory evidence of genuine piety, pure zeal for the glory of God, and fervent love for the souls of men, connected with a solidity of judgment, firmness of mind, clear views of Scripture doctrine, and a sincere disposition to spend and be spent in propagating the Gospel among infidel or heathen nations.’ It seems that the only missionary produced by the society was John Macdonald of Calcutta (the son of the Apostle of the North).
The Society ceased in 1843. At its final meeting it concluded unanimously ‘that the objects of the Society can henceforward be most efficiently carried out by means of each congregation contributing to the several schemes of the Church, agreeably to the instructions of the “Free” Assembly, or to other missionary objects entitled to Christian support, and therefore resolve that the usual annual meetings shall in future be discontinued.’ They did so anticipating ‘that increased exertions will be made by the friends of Missions in this part of the country for the promotion of the Gospel and the hastening of the coming of Messiah’s kingdom over all the earth’.

Of course, the final assessment of the contribution of the Northern Missionary Society will not be given until the Day of Judgement. Yet it is important to note that strong interest in the worldwide spread of the gospel marked Highland Christianity during the first half of the nineteenth century (and later), and who can tell the effects of their prayers and sacrificial giving.

Donald MacQueen, Highland catechist

Donald M’Queen was for seventy years catechist in Bracadale and Duirinish in Skye. A short book about M’Queen was written by his minister (James Ross) and published in 1891, perhaps surprisingly, by London-based company, Thomas Nelson. The author’s method is not to give a chronological account of M’Queen; instead he focuses on several traits that were prominent in the catechist. In fact, we learn more about Ross’ outlook than we do of M’Queen. We can also read about M’Queen in Roderick MacCowan’s Men of Skye in which a chapter is given to his life, and this chapter gives more biographical details as well as several anecdotes.

M’Queen died on 13th November 1885, when he was one hundred years of age. His father had been a farmer and an innkeeper in Skye and had been able to give his son a good education (including attending a school in Inverness), which enabled him in later years to read current literature and also to contribute effectively in church courts. After his schooldays, he returned to Skye and was a tutor in the families of wealthy persons. In his twenties, he heard James Farquharson, the Haldane preacher, who was instrumental under the hand of God in bringing many in Skye into the kingdom of Christ. M’Queen also was converted through this preacher (his wife also became a Christian through Farquharson, although the account does not indicate if the M’Queens  were married at the time).

In 1815, M’Queen moved to the parish of Bracadale when the minister there (Mr. Shaw) appointed him as the first English teacher on the island of Soay. For about twenty-nine years he was employed by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge as a teacher in several districts of the parish, and after the Disruption in 1843 he became a catechist for the Free Church. As a catechist he served for fourteen years in Duirinish before returning to Bracadale where he served until his death.

Shaw had come to Bracadale in 1814. When he began his ministry there, Skye was not in a healthy spiritual state. The gospel was not preached in many of its pulpits. Instead the people heard a form of legalism that indicated a person’s good works were sufficient for entrance to heaven. For the eight years that he had in Bracadale before his death in 1823, Shaw had a willing helper in M’Queen in bringing the gospel to sinners.

The ignorance of the way of salvation that prevailed in the community meant that M’Queen had to explain clearly the meaning of sin so that his listeners would understand and feel the plague of their own hearts. Of course, he realised that such conviction is the result of the work of the Spirit. Further he preached as one who knew the sinfulness of his own heart, and that is usually the kind of preacher that the Spirit uses to bring genuine conversions. On one occasion, a lady asked him what Bunyan meant by the Slough of Despond? His reply was, ‘Whatever Bunyan meant by that, I wish I saw you in it; I wish I saw you in the Slough of Despond.’ What M’Queen meant was that such an experience was a good way of getting rid of notions of self-righteousness and turning to Christ alone for mercy. His biographer cites with approval this statement by John Owen: ‘A poor ungodly sinner going to God with the guilt of all his sins upon him, to receive forgiveness at His hand, doth bring more glory unto Him than the obedience of an angel.’

A notable convert of M’Queen’s was John Maclean, a man who was one hundred years old. M’Queen called at his home and found him confined to bed and blind. Although he was in a bad way physically, he was worse off spiritually. M’Queen discovered that the man’s hopes for eternity were based on his own good works. However, through the words of M’Queen, the man was savingly changed and was given seven more years in which he witnessed to the grace he had received from God.

One of the striking features of M’Queen’s character as a catechist was his patience. He persisted in preaching publicly and counselling personally those who showed no interest in the gospel. His dealings with the wayward were marked by wisdom and his policy was never to discuss the sins of one person with another person -- instead he spoke to each individually about his or her sins. Often he had to exercise patience with those who misunderstood his messages; his response was to let them speak so that he would discover their misconceptions and correct them from the Bible.

His patience was also revealed in his persistence in prayer for the gospel to be blessed; ‘if the answer was not given presently, he was kept in an elevated frame of mind waiting patiently for it.’ His colleagues recognised that his patient personality made him an ideal person for healing disputes between people; he ‘excelled in finding ways and means of restoring peace and in inducing those at variance to become reconciled.’

Patience was also seen in the way he responded to troubles: he regarded each ordeal ‘as a fatherly chastisement, designed for his good, and intended to increase his faith’. He knew that he needed daily grace to bear these trials patiently and he sought and obtained it. Personal failures in exercising patience caused him to mourn, which is a reminder that devout believers are strongly affected by such sins.

Angus MacIntosh of Tain

This brief biographical account of Dr. Angus Mackintosh of Tain is taken from the Historical and Biographical Introduction found in the volume about his son, Memorials of The Life and Ministry of Charles Calder Mackintosh, D.D. of Tain and Dunoon. The Introduction was written by Rev. William Taylor of Stirling.

Angus MacIntosh, D.D., was a native of Strathdearn, in Inverness-shire.(1) Early dedicated to God by devoted parents, and converted by his grace, he was ordained as minister of a Gaelic chapel in Glasgow in 1792, was translated to Tain in 1797, and died in 1831, leaving a reputation for piety and ministerial excellencies unsurpassed by any of the more recently departed worthies of the northern Highlands. His Glasgow ministry was brief, but largely blessed. To Tain he was called by the voice of the people prevailing over an attempt to impose on them, by force of patronage, a minister they did not esteem. The magistrates and elders of that town had, at every vacancy since the Revolution, resolutely resisted or ignored what they held to be the usurpation of patronage, and had practically made good their right of choice. And this right they had on each occasion exercised so as to secure a succession of evangelical and spiritually-minded ministers, and to preserve to the place its ancient character as a centre of religious influence.

Of those ministers, Dr Angus MacIntosh was probably the greatest. On his settlement he was ‘at once recognised by the many eminent Christians then in the northern counties as the master in Israel. “The great Ross-shire ministers now gone,” said one of these Christians, after hearing him a few times, “had each his own characteristic excellency. The preaching of Mr MacPhail [of Resolis] was experimental; Mr Fraser of Alness [author of an admirable work on Sanctification] was the systematic divine; and Mr Porteous [of Kilmuir Easter] was the expounder of Scripture, and my belief is that Mr MacIntosh combines the excellencies of all the three.”

‘When it was known that he was to assist at the communion in any parish, thousands came from great distances to be present. He almost always presided in the open air in Gaelic on the Lord’s day, while the smaller English congregation met in the church under the parish minister.... Dr MacIntosh enters the tent, and after praise he offers up a solemn, moving prayer. He reads his text, and for a time he is calm, with little action; and his deep-toned, melodious voice is heard by the most distant of eight or ten thousand people.

‘He begins by showing the great doctrines revealed in his text, and the great lessons taught in it. Then his application commences; his eye kindles, and his voice is louder; his very countenance shows how thoroughly he believes what he says. At one time you see deep, awful compassion – a cloud on the countenance; at another, the sun breaks through the clouds, and there is a beautiful smile.

‘He comes to the fencing of the tables and, after a few solemn truths addressed to the worldly professor, he deals with God’s children. He follows the perplexed inquirer through all his wanderings; he comes down to the first breathings of the divine life in the soul; and he encourages the weakest to come with all his darkness and perplexity to meet Christ at his table.

‘After the communion, he generally concluded with an address; and here he specially shone. After a few pithy words to the communicants, he turned to the thousands of the young and thoughtless before him, and he spoke to them God’s message with a power, and an unction, and an authority which made the most careless listen. In telling sinners of their danger, he spoke as one who saw it vividly; his fine eye was frequently filled with tears, and his voice and manner made them feel as if thunder were rolling over their head. This was followed up by holding forth Christ as the living, present, all-gracious Saviour; and by the most melting appeals to the worst and the vilest to come to him even now, with all their sins, that they might even now be saved. He seemed unwilling to part with them till they fled for refuge to Christ, and with a thorough knowledge of their own language and phrases, he plied them with illustrations and arguments.’ (2)

On these occasions, as he himself declared when near the end of his earthly course, he used to feel as if he were already breathing the very air of heaven; and so richly blessed were they, that for a long time after he came to Ross-shire, a number of persons from other parishes came to consult him about their souls. We have been told of one address of his at Nigg to communicants at the table which was so blessed to lookers-on, that Christian people named that service bord na trocair (‘the table of mercy’). Indeed, we have often heard it said that he obtained a far greater number of seals to his ministry in other parishes than in his own, though there also it was greatly blessed.

No man in the North united so much loving tenderness with so much ministerial authority. He won the confidence of the weakest Christian; the presumptuous and the insubordinate, to whom inferior ministers in outlying spots had given undue place in private intercourse or in fellowship meetings, were in his presence reduced to propriety or silence.

At the end of last century or beginning of this [written in 1859], the General Assembly of the Scottish Church, then under ‘Moderate’ sway, were scouting the idea of missions to the heathen world, so that zealous evangelical men in the South had no way of fulfilling Christ’s commission but by forming a Missionary Society outside the Church Courts. At the same time, Dr Angus MacIntosh took the lead in forming a ‘Northern Missionary Society’ for the like great ends.

On two occasions, one of them the licensing of an unworthy preacher, the other the settlement of an orthodox but, in the opinion of the people, worldly minister, he, with his evangelical brethren of the Presbytery of Tain, were on the brink of compulsory secession from the Established Church; and this event, which would have altered the whole complexion of the ecclesiastical history of the northern Highlands, was prevented only by providential circumstances that enabled them to escape by a hair’s-breadth from an actual violation of their consciences and an actual domination over the Christian people.

What was virtually his deathbed testimony was given during an illness in the year 1828, which he himself and all around him thought would be his last. ‘I am very weak, as weak as an infant,’ he said to a dear friend in the ministry, ‘but I know whom I have believed.’ ‘My kind friends would, if they could,’ he said to those who were endeavouring to relieve his bodily sufferings, ‘construct a bridge to take me over Jordan; but, oh! with what contempt I can look at everything else when I get but a glimpse of the finished work of Christ.’ He addressed loving words to the Christian friends who were admitted to see him, and by them sent messages to others. ‘Give my love to your dear partner,’ he said to one of his elders, after bidding him an affectionate farewell, ‘and tell her that I hope to meet her in Immanuel’s happy land.’

Contrary to expectation, he recovered. ‘I do believe,’ he wrote a few months after to a Christian friend, ‘that I was brought back from the gates of death in answer to the prayers of my own people, and of many others. Several of them who have most of the spirit of prayer, like yourself, never believed that I was to be removed by my late illness.... As for myself, I certainly did think that my change was come, and I was very willing to depart, expecting to be with Christ in another and a better world. The only time I have addressed my people since the fever left me, I could and did tell them that the doctrines I was sent to preach to them were the foundation of my hope and confidence when I thought myself ready to launch into eternity, and that I would not for worlds preach any other gospel than what I have formerly preached.’

He ministered to his people for two years longer. God saw it meet to make his servant pass through waters of deep affliction before his departure. The death in India of his eldest son, a young man of the highest Christian character and promise, was a peculiarly heavy blow; but he was sustained under it by the gladdening hope of so soon meeting him in the heavenly land. His last illness was short. ‘And,’ to quote again from Mr M’Gillivray, ‘amid sorrow deeper and more widespread than ever I saw in the North for any other death, the grave closed over Dr Angus MacIntosh.’

(1) Dr. Angus Mackintosh received his DD from Union College, New York, in 1850.

(2) This lengthy quotation was taken from Rev. Angus M‘Gillivray’s Sketches of Religion and Revivals of Religion in the North Highlands during the last century (published in 1859 by John Maclaren, Edinburgh).

Chased by a mob - John Porteous

This short extract from a book called Historical and Traditional Sketches of Highland Families, and of the Highlands by John Maclean records an incident in the life of John Porteous, one of the ministers of Ross-shire mention by John Kennedy in his book about religious life in Ross-shire.

‘The Rev. John Porteous. This eminent divine was born in Inverness in the year 1704, and was presented to the united parishes of Daviot and Dunlichity about the latter end of the year 1730.

‘The first place he preached at was Daviot, and although no obstruction was offered by those of that district of the parish, yet he was but coldly received. Next Sabbath-day, when he was to preach at Dunlichity, just as he was entering the church he was not a little surprised to be assailed with a shower of stones, and to his astonishment, he perceived upwards of fifty females, headed by a virago named Elspet Maclean, coming towards him with their aprons tied round their waists, in which were deposited a goodly supply of the article which slew Goliath.

‘Such unexpected treatment caused Mr Porteous to stand for a moment in suspense; but seeing the women approaching close to him shaking their hands, and also hearing their generalissimo Elspet vociferating, “Let us kill the Whig rascal,” at the same time issuing orders to her followers, he judged it the safest course to take to his heels. He ran down the strath towards Daviot, with Elspet and her lawless force in full chase after him, every now and then exclaiming, as she discharged a stone, “Another throw at the Whig minister.”

‘Fortunately for him, he could lay no claim to what is alleged of some of our London aldermen – he being a tall but slender person, which no doubt enabled him to outrun his pursuers, particularly for the first three miles, that is, to Tordarroch; at which place, on a little knoll, the curate of the district was holding forth to a large assemblage, and, as ill-luck would have it, Mr Porteous in his flight had to pass hard by this congregation, from whom a large and formidable accession, headed by Rory Macraibart the tailor, joined Elspet’s corps, but much to the credit of the curate he vehemently denounced their proceedings.

‘The reverend fugitive had now to redouble his exertions to escape with his life, and the chase was continued regardless of running streams, which presented no impediment to Elspet and the tailor’s fairy bands, until they came near Daviot. It is not a little remarkable that, although the stones were flying like hail around him, only two or three of the enemy’s balls struck him, the effects of which were no way serious.

‘His pursuers having desisted from following him further, he sat down at the roadside to draw breath, and no doubt to return grateful thanks to Providence for the wonderful and hairbreadth escapes he had made that day – a day never to be effaced from his mind. While he was thus musing, a pious venerable man came up who sympathised with him very much. In the course of their conversation, Mr Porteous said, “Well, well, one thing I will say, that seven generations shall pass away before the people of Daviot and Dunlichity will have a minister who will please them.” This prediction was fulfilled to the very letter.

‘About the year 1732, and after Mr Porteous had remained upwards of a year in his father’s house, he got a presentation to the parish of Kilmuir-Easter, in the Presbytery of Tain, where he met with a far different flock to that of Daviot and Dunlichity, and where he was the honoured instrument of much good. By his sound reasoning and advice he tended greatly to suppress the spirit of rebellion in 1745-46, and along with Lord President Forbes he was constantly urging upon the young Earl of Cromartie to take no part in it. Lord Lovat hearing of Mr Porteous’s influence in Easter-Ross, and suspecting the cause of the Earl’s backwardness in embracing the Pretender’s cause, was constantly despatching his confidential valet, Donald Cameron, with letters to him requesting him not to listen to any suggestions, but to stand firm, as he (Lord Lovat) was to get a dukedom, and was perfectly satisfied that the same title would be conferred on him also.

‘Mr Porteous never married, and it was supposed the cause lay in the conduct of the fair sex at Dunlichity. He lived to a good old age, and died greatly lamented by all who knew him. He was cousin to the notorious Captain Porteous whom the mob in Edinburgh hanged in the Grassmarket.’

The Heart of Jesus - Charles Calder MacIntosh

If we would see the heart of Christ, let us contemplate Him on the day of His resurrection. He had burst the prison gates and come forth a conqueror; He stood the head of a redeemed world; He had spoilt principalities and powers; a name above every name awaited Him; the hosts of heaven longed for His ascension that they might fall down and worship Him; – and how was He employed?

Behold Him first ministering consolation to a poor mourning disciple – Mary Magdalene. See Him next enlightening the ignorance and confirming the weak faith of the two travellers to Emmaus – conversing with them until their hearts burned within them. Then we find Him appearing to Cephas; he who had denied Him was singled out for this gracious visit, as specially needing it to assure him that he was graven on Christ's heart still. Afterwards He appeared to His assembled disciples, and despite of their ignorance and slowness of heart to believe, despite of their desertion of Him in His hour of agony and distress, saluted them with 'Peace be unto you.'

We have here the heart of Christ disclosed to us, His love and pity for His people, His zeal for their interests, His fixed purpose of saving them, and His determination that none of them should perish, and that none should pluck them out of His hand. And Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever (From a sermon by Charles Calder MacIntosh on John 21:15-17)

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Sunday Thoughts - Winsome persuasion

‘Come with us, and we will do good to you, for the Lord has promised good to Israel’ (Num. 10:29-32). This invitation to Hobab by Moses is well known and has often been used in preaching the gospel. It is likely that Hobab already was a believer in God, being a son of Jethro. Although he initially refused to go with Moses, he went later (Judges 1:16; 4:11).

How did Moses go about persuading Hobab to join them? In Moses’ method, there are four lessons for us regarding how to witness to others.

First, Moses, as he talks to Hobab, speaks as one who has experienced the redeeming power of God that was revealed when Israel were delivered out of Egypt. Hobab had not experienced that for himself, but Moses assures him that if he aligns himself with the people of God then he and his family will have their full share in the blessings of the promised land. In this, Moses is a picture of a believer urging another person to make the same choice as he himself as made.

Second, notice also that Moses is prepared to repeat the invitation. He did not think that telling Hobab once was sufficient. Not only did he repeat the invitation, but the second was more warm than the first. The second contains an element of pleading. Moses realised that Hobab would be the loser if he went home instead of continuing with the Israelites. Experience tells us that it is harder to resist an affectionate offer than a clinical one.

Third, Moses requested that Hobab would use his talents for the benefit of the people of God. He pointed out to Hobab that he could be useful in helping the Israelites cross the desert. True, they had the pillar of cloud and fire to guide and protect them, but Hobab would be useful in warning them of dangers and of providing them with shelter. Similarly, we can ask an individual to use his talents in the service of God rather than for promoting something else.

Fourth, Moses reminded Hobab that the Lord had made many promises of good to Israel. These promises are many: there was the promise of forgiveness of their sins, of divine protection on the journey, of God’s presence with them, of their prayers being answered. In addition, he assured Hobab that all the people would help him and share with him. And we can witness to the many blessings and benefits connected to the Christian life.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Sunday Thoughts - Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea showed his love for his Saviour at a crucial time and buried him in his own tomb. He is a reminder to us that God has his person for every emergency. Joseph is an example of a person who has been in the background spiritually but who comes to the fore when the cause of Christ seems to have been abandoned by everyone else.

The only details we have about Joseph are in the incident recorded in connection with Christ’s burial. No mention is made of him elsewhere in the New Testament. Arimathea, his hometown, has not been found with certainty. His life can be summarised as follows: he was a prominent man because he was an honourable counsellor; he was a pious man because he is described as being good and just; and he was a hopeful man, waiting for the coming of the kingdom of God.

Joseph served Jesus at an unlikely time. The cause of Christ was at a low point. All his disciples had fled. There seemed to be no one to take care of the body of the Saviour. Despite all the good he had done, it was too dangerous to identify with him.

Joseph was an unlikely disciple. He was an important man, a member of the Sanhedrin. He was also a rich man. He had his reputation to think about. Yet he used his position for Jesus – he had access to Pilate and so he went and asked for permission to take down the body of Jesus from the cross.

John’s Gospel was written last of the four Gospels. By the time it was written, about AD 90, Joseph is not remembered for his status in society or for his riches, but for what he did for Jesus. At the end of the day, that is what each of us will be remembered for.

Joseph was also an unlikely disciple from another point of view. Involving himself in the burial of Jesus would have made Joseph ceremoniously unclean, so he was depriving himself of participating in the Passover. This was an important occasion, something that he no doubt valued. But he was prepared to put Jesus before his own interests. In this he is a challenge to us.

Joseph’s actions also involved him in taking part in an unusual gathering. When he and Nicodemus went to the cross they would have met there the Roman centurion and the penitent robber. It is not too much to imagine that they would have told Joseph all that had taken place. The penitent thief could speak of his assurance of heaven because of the promise of Jesus. The centurion could describe how watching Jesus led him to realise that he was the Son of God. Nicodemus would recall his evening meeting when Jesus spoke to him of the new birth. In a sense, this gathering was just like a church, in which different people tell what Jesus has done for their souls. It is a picture of the spiritual unity that exists, between Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, noble and ignoble, all forgiven by the Saviour who died for them.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Samuel Rutherford, the preacher

From The Scottish Pulpit by W. M. Taylor, writing about Samuel Rutherford

In the writings of his contemporaries, and those who immediately followed them, we get some interesting glimpses of the preacher and his manner. Thus Patrick Simpson says, ‘He had two quick eyes, and when he walked it was observed that he held aye his face upward and heavenward. He had a strange utterance in the pulpit; a kind of shriech (shriek or scream) that I never heard the like of. Many times I thought he would have flown out of the pulpit when he came to speak of Jesus Christ, and he never was in his right element but when he was commending him.’

An English merchant, during the Protectorate, describing some of his experiences in what was probably a business tour through Scotland, said, ‘I went to St. Andrews, where I heard a sweet, majestic-looking man (Blair), and he showed me the majesty of God; after him I heard a little fair man (Rutherfurd), and he showed me the loveliness of Christ; I then went to Irvine, where I heard a well-formed, proper old man, with a long beard (Dickson), and that man showed me all my own heart.’ That was a very remarkable and a most accurate discrimination; so accurate that, as Wodrow says, ‘the whole General Assembly could not have given a better character of the three men.’

The ideal preacher, no doubt, should combine the three in himself; yet we may not refuse the palm to him who dwelt upon the loveliness of Christ, for that in the end will lead to the discovery of the other two. Now that was Rutherfurd’s distinctive excellence in the pulpit. He might and did deal with other themes, but these he only possessed; this one, on the contrary, possessed him, and whenever he entered upon it he was carried away with it.

We read that, ‘One day when preaching in Edinburgh, after dwelling for some time on the differences of the day, he broke out with “Woe is unto us for these sad divisions that make us lose the fair scent of the Rose of Sharon”; and then he went on commending Christ, going over all his precious styles and titles about a quarter of an hour,’ upon which one of his hearers said in a loud whisper, ‘Ay, now you are right; hold you there.’

Grosart says of his practical discourses that their one merit is ‘that they are full of the exceeding great and precious promises and truths of the Gospel’, and that ‘they hold forth with wistful and passionate entreaty a crucified Saviour as the one centre for weary souls in their unrest, and the one hope for the world.’

But, after all, is not that the ‘one thing needful’ in all preaching? And it is for that especially that I would hold him up for an inspiration to you. Like him, preach the living, personal Christ, once crucified, but now risen and reigning as the Saviour and Sovereign of men. Unfold His loveliness. Proclaim His merits. Hold up Himself. Let the truth which you declare be the truth as it is in Him. Let the faith to which you urge be faith in Him. Let the loyalty which you enforce be loyalty to Him. Let the heaven which you hold before your hearers be to be with Him, and to be like Him. ‘Hold you there,’ and let your words be such as love to Him shall inspire, then you shall not lack hearers, and shall not need to lament the absence of results.

John the Baptist by Edward Payson

1.       From this subject we may learn who are, and who are not, the real preachers of the gospel, the true ministers of Jesus Christ. You need not be told that among those who claim this title great differences prevail. Some preach one thing, and some another; and it is of infinite importance, of no less importance than your everlasting happiness, that you should be able to ascertain who are right; who are the true guides whom God hath appointed to conduct you to heaven. By attending carefully to the conduct and character of John the Baptist, you may learn how to do this.
2.        We know that he was divinely commissioned and taught; for we are told that he was a man sent from God; that he was a prophet and more than a prophet. We may therefore conclude that all, who are sent of God to preach the gospel, will resemble John in their preaching. And what did he preach?
3.     I answer, he preached repentance toward God. ‘I, indeed,’ says he, ‘baptize you with water unto repentance.’ ‘In those days,’ says the evangelist, ‘came John the Baptist preaching and saying, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ This he preached to all classes and characters alike. He also taught his hearers to manifest their repentance by a corresponding life: ‘Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance; for the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.’
4.        But while he inculcated repentance, he taught his hearers not to trust to their penitence, nor to baptism, nor to any outward privileges for salvation, but to Christ alone. To exalt Christ and turn the attention of sinners to him, seems to have been the great object which he always kept in view. Especially was he careful to teach his disciples that he could not himself save them. All who came to him he sent to Christ. He seems to have considered himself only as a waymark, whose business it was to stand with extended finger and point to the Saviour, crying, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world.’ He told the people that they should believe on him who should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. In all his preaching still he held up Christ to view as all in all, and like St. Paul testified to all his hearers of every description, repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
5.   That they might know how repentance and faith were to be obtained, he taught them the necessity of divine influence, of being baptized with the Holy Ghost as a purifying fire; and informed them that Christ alone could baptize them in this manner; that without this they would be no better than chaff, and as such would be burnt up with unquenchable fire.
6.     Thus he made Christ the whole subject matter of his preaching, and represented him as the beginning and ending, the author and finisher of our faith. Thus then will all preach who, like John, are sent of God. They will determine to know and to make known nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified, and will teach all men to honour the Son even as they honour the Father. They will not seek their own glory but the glory of Christ. They will strive to draw disciples not to themselves but to him, and will feel no apprehension of exalting or teaching others to exalt him too highly. Nor will they fail to insist much on the necessity of divine influences, of being baptized with the Holy Ghost, saying with our Saviour, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot see the kingdom of God.’
7.    In the second place, all true ministers of the gospel will imitate John in their temper and conduct; especially in his humility. Highly honoured and distinguished as he was, you see how meanly he speaks of himself in comparison with Christ. He felt his need, as a sinner, of being baptized with his baptism. He felt unworthy to stoop down and loose the lachet of his shoes, a plain intimation of his readiness to cast himself and all that he possessed at his Saviour’s feet. Similar will be the temper of all who truly preach the gospel. They will learn of their Master to be meek and lowly in heart; and though, in consequence of his removal from this world, they cannot perform menial services for himself in person, yet they will be ready, in imitation of him who washed his disciples’ feet, to perform the meanest and most laborious offices of kindness for the lowest of his followers.
8.    Such, my friends, will be the mode of preaching, such the temper and conduct of the true ministers of Christ. When you find such you may safely follow them, for they are the followers of John, of the apostles, and of Christ; and those who refuse to follow such guides would have refused to follow Christ and his apostles, had they lived in their day.