Tuesday, 31 December 2013

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.

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