Tuesday, 31 December 2013

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.

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