The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire
by Rev. John Kennedy, D.D., of Dingwall
MEN" OF ROSS-SHIRE.
Origin of their Designation — Misrepresentations, and their Authors — Order and Body of "The Men" — Their Peculiarity — The Fellowship Meeting — Objections Answered — The Character of "The Men" — Specimens — John Munro, the Caird of Kiltearn — Alister Og, the Edderton Weaver — Hugh Boss of Kilmuir — Hugh Boss [Buie] — Donald Mitchell — John Clark — Rory Phadrig.
“THE MEN" were so named, not because they were not women, but because they were not ministers. It was necessary to distinguish between the ministers and the other speakers at a fellowship meeting, when notes of their addresses were given; and the easiest way of doing so was by saying "one of the ministers," or "one of the men, said so." Hence the origin of this designation; and speakers at religious meetings in the Highlands, who are not ministers, are those to whom it is applied.
An unfavourable opinion is entertained of them by some, because they know them not; but an unfair representation has been given of them by others, be cause they liked them not. Not a few have been accustomed to speak of "the men," whom perhaps it would not be impossible to persuade, that, if they caught a live specimen, he would be found to have both horns and hoofs. The name presents, to some minds, a class of proud, turbulent fellows, who will submit to no rule, and are always in a state of mutiny against all ecclesiastical authority. The idea of "the men," in other minds, is, that they are a set of superstitious and bigoted persons, who see visions and who dream dreams, and who think that their own straitened circle encloses all the vital Christianity on the earth. Nor have there been awanting those who would denounce them as mystics in their religion, and as antinomians in their practice. It is trying to have to notice these gross misrepresentations, when one looks back on the noble phalanx of worthies to whom they have been applied; but it is a relief to remember that those who have spoken "all manner of evil against them falsely," have but unwittingly proved, that "the men" were a people whom the Lord had blessed.
To various sources may be traced the prevalence of these mistaken estimates of the men. There is an anti-Highland feeling, that is apt to prejudice, unconsciously, the Lowlander against them, just because they speak in Gaelic, and are peculiar to the north. His incapacity to judge, owing to his ignorance of what may be said in Gaelic, and of what may suit the north, does not prevent his attempting to judge not withstanding. Conscious of superiority, it is difficult for him to believe, that what he cannot appreciate can possibly be good. Men will try to form a positive judgment regarding all they think to be beneath themselves, and when they are compelled to feel, that they cannot intelligently do so, they are very prone to vent their mortification in sweeping censures, or in expressions of contempt.
Not unfrequent have been references to "the men" and their ways in a tourist's sketches of the Highlands; and however unjust his verdict might have been, and however impossible it was that he could, have accurately described them, he found many who would both read and receive his opinions about them. In the uncivilized north, everything must, of course, lie within the ken of a wise man from the south, and the order, influence, and habits of "the men," with all else that may come in his way. He may have lighted on the place where a congregation met on the Friday of a communion season. Asking why the people were assembled, he would be told they were engaged in public worship. Curiosity would arrest Him, for a time, on the outskirts of the crowd. He sees one man after another rise up to speak, and he listens, with amused attention, to the strange gut tural sound which they emit. Remembering the service in a cathedral, in which he worshipped a few days before, what a contrast to its pompous ritual is presented in the scene before him! The bishop in his lawn, the altar, the organ, and the choir, the chaunted liturgy, and the well-delivered sermon, the fine attire, and the graceful genuflexions of the people who surrounded him, as he sat in his well-cushioned pew, all rise up in his memory; and who can wonder that he smiles with supreme contempt on all the actors and ongoings, and, excepting of course his own presence, all the circumstances of the scene before him? Betaking himself to his desk, onhis return from the place where he saw it, he would thus describe the hill-side gathering: - "I walked about, after breakfast, to-day, and lighted on a strange scene. A large crowd of men and women were seated, in a shaded hollow on the hill-side, engaged in public worship, after the grotesque fashion of the Highlands. There were two or three of their parsons confined in a wooden box, at one side of the congregation, as if the people had shut them in there, in order to take their own way of conducting the service. Their own way they, indeed, seemed to have; for I saw one man after another rise up among the crowd, each of them with long hair down to his shoulder, and a huge cloak down to his heels, and with a handkerchief wrapped round his head; and there they successively stood, uttering the strangest sounds through their noses, with as much solemnity and earnestness as if they were delivering the most edifying discourses. Like priest like people, is true in the Highlands as else where, for their hearers seemed quite as earnest, because quite as witless as themselves. Losing all patience at last, I turned away and left them."
Let us suppose one of the worshippers, whom he saw on the hillside, returning the tourist's visit, and, after having been on a Sabbath in his grand cathedral, giving an account of what he saw. How would he describe the scene? "I entered," he would say, "a large building, that seemed made for any purpose but that of hearing, with windows daubed over with paint, as if those who made them were afraid the light of heaven would come pure on the people who might meet within. There were a great many strange things inside, that seemed made on purpose to be looked at, and to keep the eyes of sinners on mere wood and stone. I was not long seated, when in stalked a man, who seemed to have come straight from his bed, for he had on his night-gown, which fortunately happened to be a long one. The poor man must have been crazy, for who in his senses would have come in such a plight before a congregation? Turning towards the people, he began to read some gibberish out of a book; but what was my astonishment to see the people attending to what the poor creature was muttering, and kneeling as if they were praying along with him. All of a sudden he and they rose from their knees, and there came a sound like that of a pipe and a fiddle together from behind me. I thought when I heard the music begin, that the people had risen up to dance; but no, they stood quite still. On looking round I saw, instead of a pipe and fiddle, a large box with long yellow whistles stuck in the front of it, from which came the noise. The deluded people, it seems, as they did not like to praise the Lord themselves, and were afraid not to get it done at all, set this box to make a noise through its whistles for them. But by this time I had more than enough of it; and, remember ing it was the Lord's day, I hurried out of the place, right glad to escape from the synagogue of Satan."
Such would, probably, be the simple Highlander's account of the cathedral and its service; but it would be quite as faithful as the tourist s description of the fellowship meeting in the north. But the latter can write letters from the Highlands, which will appear in print, and which will be read and believed; and he has thus succeeded in giving such an impression of "the men" to many, that they always rise up before their mind's eye in long cloaks and with long hair, and with a napkin on their heads, pouring in a rough stream of gutturals, nonsensical cant through their noses, over a crowd of gaping barbarians.
But to strangers cannot be traced all the falsehoods spoken and written of "the men." They had bitter enemies at home, in the ungodly ministers of many Highland parishes. These they would not hear, and their influence secured to them a following, when they went to other places to hear the gospel. This was the only thing these ministers could urge as a reason for opposing them. But all the more virulent was their enmity, because "they could find none occasion nor fault" against them, "except con cerning the law of" their "God." As no manner of evil could be spoken against them truly, all the more ready were they to speak "all manner of evil against" them "falsely." Abuse of the men was sure to be mingled, in due proportion, with the copious after-dinner libations of every party of moderates. Some of them never appeared in print, but when they published a tirade against "the men," and never rose in a Church court, except to deliver an elaborate invective against them. In the measure in which they could give wing to their calumnies against these troublers of their peace, they succeeded in circulating false opinions regarding them.
"The Veto Act" brought out against "the men" the malice of another class of enemies. Preachers who had been trained with a view to stipend-lifting, began to feel that the influence of "the men" intercepted them from "the loaves and fishes." They felt it hard, that they could not live and preach as they listed, without endangering the prospect of a settlement, and that these "Gileadites took the passages before" them, and had "their senses exercised to discern" that "they could not frame to pronounce" the "Shibboleth." A loud blast against them has been sounded by an Ephraimite, whom they scared from the north. Confining attention to a coterie in Caithness, as distinct from "the men" of Ross-shire in their faults, as they were in other respects from himself, he offers a caricature of their failings as a description of all "the men" of the north. This was "Investigator's" form of attack, strong only in its malignity; though he assumed the airs of a victor, and found a lawyer who would write his pæan in the "Quarterly." His panegyrist is well known: and it is easy to determine under whose banner he fought, when the hand is discovered that gave him the laurel. But, louder than all the praises of his prowess, shall yet sound in his ears, the voice that from heaven proclaimed, "Woe unto that man by whom offences come."
There have been in the north, for half-a-century at least, a few cliques of separatists, quite distinct from the order of "the men." Specimens of the the former have often been taken as if fairly representing the latter. Among these separatists were men of eminent piety, and some of eminent gifts. Disgusted by the ungodliness, or driven off by the tyranny, of moderate ministers, they separated from the Church, and assumed an almost distinct position to themselves. Having begun to be leaders, in the first consciousness of power, they were unduly elated, and became the censors of some of whom they should have been the disciples. Some followed them, who had all their exclusiveness, with but little of their piety, and with none of their prudence. Sheltering themselves under the acknowledged godliness of their leaders, they became bold in their bitterness, and indiscriminate in their censures, against the good and the bad, among those with whom they had parted. Some of them became leaders in their turn, and though very different from the worthies, whose place they assumed, they failed not to secure a following of adherents. Extreme specimens, of this section of the separatists, might be found, who used an extravagant profession, as a covering over much pride and worldliness of heart, and some licentiousness of practice. But these could not be taken as fair specimens, even of the separatists, and were no specimens at all of "the men."
It would be a reproach, on the memory of such a man as the godly John Grant, to accept, as his fitting successors, some who seized upon his mantle after he was gone. A godly man, and blameless in his life was he, and much might be said to account for, if not to excuse, the exclusiveness by which he stinted his comfort and straitened his sympathies, and for which, he himself, ere he died, expressed his regret. More gifted, but less godly, than John Grant, was the famous Sandy Gair. Less watchful than the other, he was a Christian notwithstanding, and was decidedly a man of genius. No one, able to appreciate talent, could listen to one of his addresses, without admiring the originality of his views, and the clear terseness of his diction. In apt illustration, and in scathing satire, few could excel him. Twice only did the writer ever hear him, but one of his sayings he can not forget. Speaking of the advantage possessed by the Christian over the worldly in the security of his portion, he said, "It was not much that Jacob took with him, when he left the house of Laban to return to his kindred, but amidst the little which he brought away, Laban lost his gods; but though Satan stripped Job, till he left not even his skin on him, the patriarch still could say, "I know that my Redeemer liveth." Speaking, on another occasion, of the very different estimates, of their respective services, formed by the Christian and the hypocrite, he said, "Of the offering accepted on Mount Carmel, the fire from heaven left only the ashes to Elijah; but, had the priests of Baal survived, they might have fed them selves fat on their rejected sacrifice."
But in Ross-shire, at no period were there many of the class now referred to, nor did the few who were, attain to a name and an influence, that make it necessary to notice them. This is accounted for by the fact, that there was a succession of ministers there, who commanded the respect of all classes of the people, and whose influence was paramount, even in the parishes not favoured with the gospel.
Who, then, and what, were the men? A fair answer to this question is all the defence they require, for theirs is a character that can only suffer by being hid.
When a godly Highland minister discerned a promise of usefulness in a man, who seemed to have been truly converted unto God, he brought him gradually forward into a more public position, by calling him, first to pray, and then "to speak to the question," at the ordinary congregational meetings. According to the manner in which he approved himself was the prospect of his being enrolled among "the Friday speakers " on communion occasions. It was thus the order of "the men" was established, and thus the body of "the men" was formed.
The only peculiarity about them, besides their godliness, was their service in the fellowship meeting. This has, to some eyes, the wild look of a great irregularity. It is thought that "the men were pushed forward, into the position of public speakers, by the current of popular feeling, and that the ministers were compelled to share with them their own place, in order to reserve any part of it to themselves. Than this there cannot be a greater mistake. The peculiar service of "the men" was not thrust upon those ministers, who were what ministers should be. By such it was freely and deliberately adopted, and none of them had ever cause to regret that it was. "The men" were never found to be enemies to due ecclesiastical order, though they failed in learning to submit to undue ecclesiastical tyranny. They were influenced by no feeling of disrespect to the office of the ministry, nor were they disposed to take a place in the house of the Lord, not given them by the Lord of the house. It was not in their heart, it is true, to esteem the individuals, who found it their interest to hold, while it was their practice to degrade, the office of the ministry; but it is only in their respect for the office itself that the true reason of this can be found. Valuable was the help, and cheering the encouragement, which a godly minister always received, from their prayers, their counsels, and their labours.
The great object of the fellowship meeting was the mutual comfort and edification of believers, with a special reference to the cases of such, as were exercised with fears as to their interest in Christ. And how was it conducted? At first, only communicants were present; but, latterly, admission became indiscriminate. The minister presides, and, after prayer, praise and the reading of a portion of Scripture, he calk on any one who is anxious to propose a question to the meeting, to do so. This call is responded to by some man who rises, mentions a passage of Scripture describing some feature of the Christian character, and expresses his desire to ascertain the marks of those whom the passage describes, and the various respects in which they may differ from merely nominal Christians. The scope of the passage of Scripture is then opened up by the minister, and the exact import of the question founded upon it is explained. He then calls by name, successively, on such as are of repute for piety, experience, and gifts to "speak to the question." One after another rises, as he is called, states briefly his view of the question, and without attempting either to expound Scripture, or to deliver an exhortation, or venturing to parade his own experience, speaks from the heart what he has felt, and feared, and enjoyed under the power of the truth. Thereafter, the minister sums up all that has been said, correcting, confirming, and expanding as may be necessary, and makes a practical improvement of the whole. The person, who proposed the question, is then usually called to engage in prayer, and, with praise and the benediction, the meeting is closed. Such was the fellowship meeting in the good days of the fathers in Ross-shire.
"The men" seem, to some, to have been taken out of their proper place, when called to address a congregation, and to have assumed work properly and exclusively the minister's. They must be quite ignorant of "the men" and of their work with whom this objection can have any weight. If they were accustomed to expound, or if they attempted to preach, it might be said, that they were stepping out of their proper place, and invading the province of the minister: but they who were worthy of a place among "the men" never attempted to do so. They but spake to one another, of their mutual fears and trials, hopes and joys: and the position, as office-bearers, held by the most of them, and the gifts which the Lord had conferred on them all, entitled them to do so, in the more public position of the fellowship meeting. Never was a godly minister's office less endangered, than when he was countenancing and directing their service in "speaking to the question," and often has the time thus spent by him been, to his own soul, a season of refreshing.
There are many who think, that uneducated persons, such as "the men," could not possibly deliver addresses that might edify their hearers. Those who required "the excellency of speech and of wisdom in order to be pleased, would certainly not be gratified at the fellowship meeting, but those who "desired the sincere milk of the word that" they "might grow thereby," would as certainly be profited. Of such learning, as makes one proud, "the men" had none; but they knew their Bibles as few besides have known them. Their clear view of the Gospel system might bring a blush on the face of some professors of divinity if they heard and understood them; and some doctors, however learned, might sit at their feet, as they spake of the sorrows and the joys of the Christian's life. Some of them were men of distinguished talent, and all their mental vigour, untrammelled by learning, they brought to bear upon the things of God. Never, surely, is there a more attractive exercise of intellect than when, divested of all literary acquirements, it enters directly into "the mysteries of the kingdom," and comes forth in a panoply of Scripture truth. Light from heaven then irradiates all the gifts of the speaker. Traces of learning, mingled with the halo of this light, would be spots of darkness. Some of "the men" were able speakers. Orators they were, without attempting to be so, and utterly unconscious of their gift, who could powerfully affect the feelings of their hearers. Some of them gave utterance to sayings that could not be forgotten, and a few of which would earn a fame for genius in a more public sphere.
Of the question, "How far lay agency may be employed for the edification of the Church," the wisest practical solution has been furnished in the service of the fellowship meeting. It is surely desirable, that, if there are talented and godly men in a congregation, an opportunity should be afforded, for securing to others, the benefit of those gifts, with which the Lord has endowed them. If He has made them "apt to teach," an opportunity to teach should be given them by the church. This should be provided, so as not to invade the province of the ordained teacher, and so as to conserve and support the authority of his office. By no summary process ought a man to be converted into a preacher, however shining his gifts, and however eminent his godliness. But is he therefore to be kept silent? May no opportunity be given him to exhort his brethren, publicly as well as privately, so as to secure, to the Church at large, the benefit of his stores of Christian knowledge and experience? All these conditions have been met, in the service of the fellowship meeting. There an opportunity, to exercise their gifts, for the good of the Church, and without the least prejudice to the position and influence of the minister, was given to such as the Lord had qualified. How strange it is, that some, who neglect to avail them selves of such an arrangement, and who are disposed to frown upon it where it has been adopted, should not hesitate to exalt into the position, even of evangelists, neophytes, with crude views of the doctrines of the Gospel, owing subjection to no ecclesiastical authority, and furnishing no security whatever for the prudence and the purity of their doctrine and their life.
The service, in which "the men" were employed, was useful as a test. In the good days of the fathers, the discernment of the Church was keen, and very rarely could a man, who was a stranger to a life of godliness, be approved at the fellowship meeting. Satan required to do his utmost in making a passable hypocrite in these days. He sometimes, even then, succeeded in foisting a counterfeit on the confidence of the Church, but it was not often that he tried it. Usually, "of the rest durst no man join himself to them." Through this ordeal the eldership had to pass, ere they found a place in a session, over which a man of God presided. It would be well if this kind of trial were universal. The application of such a test might, in some cases, allow no session at all; but it may be fairly questioned whether this is a valid objection to its use. Now, and in some places, let a man's religion be all on the outside of him, if it is only a decent garb to look at from a distance, and if he is a man of influence, or of money, or of talent, this is quite enough to win for him an elder's place. An uneducated, but godly and praying elder, would be better than a host of such men as he; but better still, the man, in whom the gifts and the influence of the one were sanctified by the grace given to the other.
It is partly true, that "the men" were peculiar in their dress, but it is not at all true, that they adopted any kind of badge, or that they wore a uniform that distinguished them as a class. In the circle in which they moved, there were attempts made, by the careless and worldly, to follow, at a distance, the mutations of fashion in their attire. The men would not, and, merely, on that account, their dress was peculiar. It was often the case, that they wore long hair, partly, because a regard to appearances did not remind them of cutting it, and, partly, that they might discountenance the attempts at clipping and combing "after the fashion," by which many around them evidenced their conformity to the world. It is true, also, that they often appeared with a handkerchief on their heads, but so did many besides them, who met to worship under a scorching sun, and regarded it as unbecoming to have a hat or a bonnet on their heads. If their dress seemed peculiar, it was only because it was old-fashioned, even in the highlands. Its singularity was not owing to any affectation, or to an undue regard to what was external and trivial.
Of the orthodoxy of "the men" of Ross-shire no defence is required; on the ground of alleged un-soundness in the faith, none of all their enemies ever ventured to bring a charge against them. A strong aversion to any deviation from the authorised standards of doctrine, characterised them as a class; and often have the ministers, who ventured to challenge their views, been forced to feel, in an encounter with them, how little, as compared with "the men" they themselves knew of their Bibles, or had studied the standards which, to win stipends, they subscribed. A few of them once were present, when a sermon was preached, giving a faulty exposition of the text, and containing an infusion of Arminianism. On the next day, there was a fellowship meeting, at which the minister, who preached that sermon, presided. According to a preconcerted plan, the text of the Sabbath sermon was proposed, as the passage, on which the question should be founded, at the meeting. The minister demurred, but could not succeed in getting the question replaced by another. One man after another spoke, exposing the unsoundness of the doctrine delivered from the pulpit. The result was, that the preacher betook himself, in self- defence, to the Bible and to "the Confession of Faith;" but the weapons, which he found in that armoury, instead of being used by himself in beating down "the men," were employed by the Spirit of the Lord in overturning his own views, in slaying his former hopes, and in laying low his soul at the footstool of mercy. From that day, this minister never preached, as he had preached before.
It is due to their memory to add, that they "adorned the doctrine of God their Saviour in all things." By the purity of their lives, they constrained all, who observed them, to regard them as Christians. Their enemies did call them "bigots," "enthusiasts," and "fanatics," but they did not dare to say they were not Christians. They were compelled to acknowledge that they were "sincere, "upright," and "well-meaning," though "very straitlaced," and " righteous overmuch."
And they loved one another. Their position being one of greater eminence than that of mere "private Christians," and opportunities, of sowing discord among them, being all the more manifold, because of the peculiar service in which they were employed, it is quite marvellous, how few instances of unseemly quarrels their enemies can record against them. Sometimes differences would arise, but they were felt by them all as a family affliction would be felt. In such cases, a peace-maker would always be found. Sometimes, his task would be made an easy one. One of them, hearing of a quarrel between two of his brethren, set off at once to make peace. Meeting one of the offenders, he asked, "Is it true that you and James have quarrelled?" Oh, yes; alas ! it is quite true," was the reply; "but James is not to be blamed— the fault is all mine." "If I find James," he remarked, "in the same state of mind, I expect very soon to see you at one again." On reaching the other, he said, "I am sorry to hear that you have quarrelled with John." "Oh, yes," he replied, "but it was my hasty temper that did all the mischief." "Come with me, then," the peace-maker said, "and confess your fault to your brother." He at once agreed to accompany him; and, no sooner did the separated brethren meet, than they embraced each other, mutually forgave and were for given, and continued ever after "in the bond of peace."
Two of them, happening to differ about the proper interpretation of a passage of Scripture, lost temper, and as, alas, too often happens, quarrelled over the Bible. For sometime, thereafter, they would not speak to each other. Some of their brethren interfered, but they found them implacable. At last, it was agreed to refer the matter to the arbitration of Hugh Ross of Kilmuir, and Hugh Buie. A meeting took place, at which the two who had quarrelled, and the two arbiters, only were present. After engaging in prayer, one of the Hughs said to the other, "Brother, we must be on our guard against being led into adopting instead of settling the quarrel of these men;" and in token of their love, and to seal their resolution still to love, they embraced each other. The sight of these two godly men locked in each other's arms, quite overcame the disputants, who were looking on. The thought arose simultaneously in the mind of each of them, "These are true Christians, for they love one another; and if we were like them we would not have quarrelled." Looking at one another, they could not refrain from following the example which was given them; they rushed to a mutual embrace, all strife was at an end, and their hearts once more united, they found it easy to "see eye to eye." The arbiters succeeded, by the example of their love, in securing a result, which they would have failed to achieve by all their tact and influence.
The earliest traditions of "the men" are clustered around the name of John Munro, the celebrated caird of Kiltern. An interesting account of his conversion is given in the memoir of Mr. Hogg, to which the reader is referred. One anecdote of him only will be given here.
The case of a pious man in the parish of Tarbat, having been pressed upon his spirit, his anxiety about him became so great that he could not refrain from going to visit him. On a stormy winter day, he started on his journey, and with considerable difficulty reached the house of his friend. No sooner had they saluted, than his friend threw himself on a seat, and burst into tears. "This is not the welcome I expected," John said ; "I had hoped you would have been glad to see me." "What grieves me," was the reply, "is, that after you have come so far on such a stormy day, I have no food that I can set before you." "I know now why I have come," the caird said ; and throwing on the table a piece of bread which he had carried in his pocket, he hurried out of the house. Setting his face on the west again, not a house by the way, in which he knew there was a friend to the poor, did he pass on his journey back to Kiltern, without entering it, and telling of the poverty of his friend, urging them all at once to send him a supply of food. In the morning of the morrow, horses, laden with creels full of provisions, began to arrive at the empty house in Tarrel; and before that day was closed, a supply of meal, and butter, and cheese, was stored up in it, that sufficed for "a year and a day."
Before the death of John Munro, the famous Alex ander M'Leod, better known as Alister Og, the godly weaver of Edderton, was born, and perhaps "born again." He just outlived the first quarter of the eighteenth century, but as he was an old man when he died, the greater part of his life must have been passed in the century before.
Even in his day there were favoured spots in Ross-shire, that were beginning to be as the garden of the Lord, and his great eminence was not owing to his being a solitary witness for God. There was then in Edderton a minister by whose doctrine even Alister could be fed, and there was a lady of Balnagown who deemed it an honour to have the godly weaver as her guest. Anxious inquirers, too, from surrounding districts, used often to visit him for advice.
On one occasion, there came a pious man to consult him about the meaning of the counsel, "Pray without ceasing." On his arrival, he found Alister busy digging his croft. "You are well employed, Alister," he said, on coming up to him. "If delving and praying, praying and delving be good employment, I am," was his answer, which met the inquirer's difficulty before he had stated it.
Once late at night, a stranger applied at Alister's door for a night's lodging. His wife was unwilling to admit him, but Alister, "not forgetful to entertain strangers," at once invited him to come in, and gave him the best his house could afford. On rising next morning, the wife found that the stranger had gone, and had carried off a web which her husband had just finished to order. "Didn't I tell you," she said, after hurrying to Alister with the tidings of the theft, "not to admit that man; you yourself will now be suspected of doing away with the web, and what will become of us?" "I admitted the stranger," was her Imsband's reply, "because the Lord commanded me; and if there is no other way of defending His cause, He will send the man who stole the web back with it again." That day was very misty, and the thief spent it, wearily wandering, with the web on his back, over the hill of Edderton. After nightfall, as Alister and his wife were sitting by the ingle, they heard a knock at the door, on opening which, whom should they see on the threshold but their guest of the night before. He had wandered, not knowing whither, till his eye was arrested, and his course directed, by the light that twinkled in Alister's window ; and now, much to his surprise and confusion, he finds himself throwing the web off his back in the house from which he had stolen it.
Alister had once a sore battle with self — a giant who has been found, by all who ever encountered him to have "seven lives, seven guises, and seven hands." Nothing would satisfy his enemy but to wrest from poor Alister his all of experience, service and suffering, leaving nothing with him for Him who had bought him with His blood, and to whose service he was sworn. The conflict was severe, and Alister, though he would not yield, found his strength to be but weakness and his wisdom but folly in the fight. He resolved, therefore, to call for help from above, and he devoted a day to fasting, heart-searching, and prayer on the summit of the hill of Edderton. The Lord came to his help, and Alister was delivered from the grasp of his enemy, and he gave himself without reserve anew to the Lord. In the flush of victory, he began to descend the hill, and on coming near his house, and observing his neighbours closing a busy day's work on their crofts, the thought at once sprung up in his mind, "how very much better I have been employed to-day than these." Telling the story him self afterwards, and referring to this suggestion, he added, "the fellow I thought I had left stark dead on the top of the hill of Edderton, I found as lively as ever in my heart."
As he was standing, one morning, in front of his house, his wife, looking out through the window observed him smiling with joy. Anxious to know what amused him she came out to inquire. Pointing to his cow, which lay dead before the door, he said, "I was rejoicing because mine was a God that could not die like yours."
His minister, in one of his sermons, pressed strongly upon Christians the duty of seeking and the profit of attaining "an assurance of God's love." Alister was deeply affected by that sermon; and, instead of returning to his house on that evening, he repaired to his usual haunt on the hill. There he remained all that night, and a day and a night besides, pleading with the Lord and examining himself, till he attained the assurance which he sought. On Tuesday he descended from the hill, and went straight to the manse. Meeting the minister, he at once asked him, "Did you preach your last sermon according to your own experience? The minister was able to assure him that he had. Alister then solemnly said, "Not many sermons more will you ever preach." And so it happened ; for in a very short time the minister died, and not long after Alister followed him to the " Father's house."
Hugh Ross of Kilmuir represents the generation of "the men" that succeeded Alister Og and his cotemporaries. He was a man of considerable mental vigour, of singular godliness, of an unblemished life, favoured with great nearness to God, and with a manifest blessing resting on his labours. During the years of his ignorance, he was known as a powerful handsome youth, glorying in his symmetry and strength, the leader of the shinty matches, and the best dancer in the district. Getting a new Highland dress, which he thought very fine, and which he was anxious to display, he went, on the Saturday of a communion season at Fearn, to show it off before the congregation. Choosing the most conspicuous seat, there he showed himself in his pride before the eyes of all. Mr. Porteous preached on that day; and before the sermon was over, an arrow, shot "at a venture," had found a joint in the proud youth's harness, and pierced him to the heart. Deep were his convictions thereafter, and for months he walked under the shadow of death. Each Sabbath now found Hugh at church, but across its threshold, he would not venture to pass. He stood alone and desolate outside, each time he came, the drops from the eaves often falling on his head, and sometimes, in winter, congealing into clusters of icicles from his hair. But what affected merely his body he felt not. He was listening to the Word of God, with an immortal soul at stake, and as if each sermon he heard was to decide its destiny for ever. One of the elders, an aged and godly man, felt the warmest interest in the stricken and desolate youth; and on a Sabbath of snow and drift, as Hugh was standing outside as usual, he crept up towards him, pushed him across the threshold, and shut him in. But his time of deliverance had now come, and in proportion to his former bondage was the thoroughness of his liberty, and to his former dis tress the intensity of his joy. He became "a burning and a shining light," was chosen catechist of Kilmuir, and was highly honoured and blessed in his work. Three of the children of the old elder were brought to Christ under his instructions, and he thus received from the Lord a most precious reward for his kindness to Hugh in the day of his distress. It is said that, on one occasion, no fewer than seven, and on another twelve, persons were awakened under his teaching, who were afterwards approved followers of the Lamb.
Perhaps of all "the men" of Ross-shire the most famous was Hugh Ross, commonly called Hugh Buie. It was in Alness he resided when, before his twentieth year, he first "knew the grace of God in truth." He removed afterwards to Rosskeen, and his last days were spent in Resolis.
Mr. James Fraser of Alness was his father in Christ. After the death of that eminent minister, a preacher was presented to the parish of Alness, whom Hugh opposed with all his influence. This man having been thrust into the church, Hugh was greatly distressed, and was so violently excited that, being naturally keen tempered, it was easy for the Tempter to persuade him, that all his agitation was but the sinful fretting of his temper, and that there was no exercise of grace at all in the ferment of his spirit. On the first Sabbath after the induction, he resolved to go to hear Mr. Porteous. But a parish intervened between him and Kilmuir, and if he went by the usual road, he would meet the people as they were assembling to the church of Rosskeen. So he determined to walk along the sea-shore, that he might reach Kilmuir unobserved. This was then comparatively easy, as the villages now built along the shore were not then in existence. Mr. Porteous preached that day on "the hidden man of the heart" (1 Pet. iii. 4). To illustrate his subject, he referred to the ark and its coverings in the wilderness. "Its out side covering was made of badgers skins," he said, "and the fur of this animal always points against the wind, and as one looked on it, rough and ruffled as a breeze was blowing on the tabernacle, it seemed very unlikely that under it the precious ark was hidden. Thus is the 'hidden man of the heart' often hidden under a fretful temper; and there is one now present, who has lately felt his mind so ruffled under a trying providence, that he finds it impossible to believe that 'the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit' can be his at all. But let us raise this covering and examine what is under it;" and then removing one covering after another, he conducted Hugh at fast to the 'hidden man of the heart' within himself, and the Holy Spirit sealed to his soul, by the truth, a satisfying evidence of grace. Cheered by this seasonable comfort, he returned home by the public road, declaring, after his return, that he was now ready to go to Kilmuir, in the face of all difficulties, and under the eyes of all observers.
Over eighty years his Christian course on earth extended, and during all that time he continued to "adorn the doctrine of God." He was unable to read even his Bible, but he knew it well, and believed, loved, and lived its precious truths. But though quite uneducated, he was a man of rare talent. As a speaker he was peculiarly clear and concise. In a few terse and vigorous expressions, fraught with thought and seasoned with grace, he conveyed more instruction than could be derived from many a learned and laboured treatise on the subject on which he spoke.
He was always slow to rise when called upon to speak. Having on one occasion, to go with some cattle to a remote place on the hills of Lochbroom, he was obliged to remain all night in the house of the farmer to whose care they were consigned. His host never bent his knee before his household, and, without doing so on that night, he offered to conduct Hugh to his bed. His guest at once refused to go till they had read the Word of God together and joined in prayer. The farmer agreed to allow family worship, if Hugh himself would conduct it, but, according to his usual custom, he declined, and urged the farmer himself to do it. The latter at last consented, but such was his prayer that Hugh was quite shocked and sickened before it was over, and sorely repented of his refusal. He slept none on going to bed, and, starting at the dawn of next morning, he reached the house of Hector Holm in the evening. Remaining there all night, he was present at family worship. After the reading of the chapter, Hector asked his friend to pray; and expecting the usual delay, he set himself slowly to close the Bible and to fold his spectacles. But to his surprise, scarcely was his request uttered, when Hugh was on his knees and the prayer begun. So soon as it was over, his host asked him to account for the change that had come over him since he saw him last. Hugh then told the story of the night before. Dr. Macdonald, hearing the story, would ever afterwards say to him when he did not rise at once on being called, "I find we must send you again to Clascarnich."
Removing in his last days to Resolis, he sat under the ministry of Mr. Sage. Seated in his usual place in Church, on his last Sabbath, which proved to be his last day on earth, he seemed unusually happy, his countenance radiant with the light of the joy of his heart, as his soul was feeding "on the bread of life." After sermon, he accompanied the minister to the manse. Having sat at the dinner-table, he asked a blessing in his own clear unctuous way; and having taken up his spoon, he quietly laid it down again, leant back on his chair, and without a moan or a struggle, fell "asleep in Jesus," in the ninety-ninth year of his age.
Seldom has a lovelier Christian character been developed than that of Donald Mitchell, the celebrated catechist of Kilmuir. Amiable in disposition, vigorous in intellect, knowing in early youth "the grace of God in truth," and trained under a powerful gospel ministry, he entered on his public career, as a witness for God, with an equipment for his work, to which but few attain. As a speaker, he was peculiarly solemn, clear, and pathetic. His words came carefully weighed from his well balanced mind, while coming fervent with love, from his broken heart. At the fellowship meeting, he has often carried "a word in season" to a weary soul. As a catechist, he was quite unrivalled. Hector Holm used to say of him, that, "as a Friday speaker, he had his ups and downs like other men, but that as a catechist, he was always excellent." Patient, when he met with ignorance or error, discriminating accurately between the various dispositions with which he had to deal, clear and pointed in examination, and skilful in bringing the truth by the right course to the con science, he is generally regarded as the model catechist of Ross-shire. No greater boon could be con ferred on a godly minister, than the aid of such a man as the godly and judicious Donald Mitchell.
John Clark, Cromarty, may be claimed as one of "the men" of Ross-shire, for it was there he usually heard the Gospel, and there alone he had stated opportunities of taking part in the fellowship meetings. He was a noble looking man. When his tall figure became erect, as he rose up to speak, and when with both his hands he threw back his white flowing locks, exposing his expressive face, he looked a man that might have graced a senate. As a speaker, he was deliberate, clear, and persuasive. Never tedious, and never trifling, he arrested and sustained the solemn attention of his hearers.
There was a young man in Resolis, who was subject to dreadful fits of epilepsy. His father bethought him of bringing a few praying Christians together to plead with God for the recovery of his son. Before doing so, he consulted his minister, who, after ascertaining that he was influenced by no superstitious feeling, and actuated by no improper motives, allowed him to carry out his project. John Clark, and two others were invited to meet, and agreed to the distressed father's proposal. John was the first who engaged in prayer when they met, and it pleased the Lord to grant him such nearness to Himself, and such encouragement to ask what there was no general warrant to seek, that, ere his prayer was concluded, he expressed his assurance that his petition would be granted. And so it was; for the young man was never afterwards attacked as he had so often been before.
He once caused no small commotion at Cromarty, by declaring, very emphatically, at a fellowship meeting, that not a builder or tailor in Cromarty could be saved. All the masons and needlemen were vastly indignant, not understanding that John referred to "the builders" who rejected the "chief stone of the corner," and to all who were patching with rags a righteousness for themselves.
There is one who, stretching his memory across more than thirty years, to the days of his boyhood, can recollect a part of one of John's addresses at a fellowship meeting. The homeliness of the illustration drew the attention of the boy, and falling into the mistake of the Cromarty tradesman, he was ready to cry at the prospect held out, as he thought, to himself, and to be angry at the prophet of evil. "I don't pity you," he said, "while, yet a child in your father's house, your mother places your food at stated times before you, and you know not the pain of anxiety, the pinching of want, nor the drudgery of labour. But wait a little, and these pleasant days will be gone, and you will have then to set out to your daily toil, in the morning, with your mattock on your shoulder, and a barley-cake in your pocket as your daily bread." The use of this illustration the reader is left to determine for himself; but it has afforded no unprofitable matter for reflection to him who first heard it as a boy.
Several members of his family having emigrated to America, he, in his old age, resolved to follow them, much to the surprise of all who knew him, and to the sorrow of all who loved him. He reached the land of his adoption, shone there as a light amid the darkness for a few years, but pined till he died amid the memories of the land of his birth. His body now lies in the soil of America, and his spirit is resting in its mansion in glory.
Roderick Mackenzie, better known by the name of Rory Phadrig, was a man of sterling worth. With a horror of affectation, that made him afraid to shew in his manner the warmth of his heart, a stranger would have thought him to be an impersonation of rudeness. "I m but an rude crabbed bodach;" he used to say of himself, and, to those whose religion he suspected, he never tried to be otherwise. His manner as a speaker was quite peculiar. He had a voice that could not be tamed into melody, and he was not the man to make an effort to subdue it. It was not loud, but deep-toned and harsh. He was never tedious when he spoke, and what he said was always to the point. He would omit no opportunity of warning the hypocrite, and of commending to the Christian, watchfulness and prayer. The carnal mind was always referred to, in a way that indicated the deadly war that was ever waged between it and Rory; and he always reserved his harshest tones for expressing his feelings in reference to its workings. In prayer, or in an address, he soon came to the cross, and fresh and unctuous were all his utterances regarding the love of Jesus.
There were three classes of professors in whom it was very difficult for Rory to see any good; those who, elated with spiritual pride, became disaffected to the stated ministry of the Gospel; the affected sentimentalists, who made a parade of their feelings; and those who might be suspected of having all their religion in their heads.
It was under the preaching of Mr Macadam, during his ministry in Cromarty, that Rory was first brought to a knowledge of the truth. Not long thereafter, he removed to Strathconon, where he was at a great distance from the ministers whom he most loved to hear. "Beware," he once said at "a Friday meeting," "that you don't make idols of your ministers, it was this that banished me to the bleak hills of Strathconon."
He frequently went to Lochcarron, to visit and to hear Mr Lachlan. By that eminent minister he was greatly beloved, and many an hour of sweet and profitable converse have they spent together. The only time Rory ever succeeded in infusing music into his voice, was when repeating as he often did in an ecstasy of spiritual enjoyment, Mr Lachlan's poem on Redemption; and his only attempt at poetry, was composing an elegy in verse in his praise. To the minister of Killearnan he was devotedly attached, and his love was fully returned. Few of the cares and sorrows of either were unshared by the other. In his distant highland glen, Rory would know when Mr Kennedy was in distress; and when he came to Killearnan, all his own fears and sorrows were told to him from the pulpit. "I had just two days of heaven on earth," he once said, "when Mr Lachlan preached on the Babe in Bethlehem, and Mr Kennedy on the Covenant of Grace. The one helped me to find the child Jesus in the vile stable within me; and the other helped me to read the name of Rory Phadrig, in the list of the chosen, for whom Christ became surety in the Covenant."
Throughout his Christian course, he was much given to prayer, watchful in his conduct, industrious in his calling, wide and warm in his sympathies. During the last few years of his life, he was employed as Catechist in the parish of Urray, and so acquitted himself in his work, as to disappoint all the fears, and to exceed all the hopes, of those who appreciated and loved him. It was his mellowed old age he gave to this work; and while retaining still the peculiarities of his manner, he mingled his faithfulness with much affectionate tenderness. Death found him on his knees, on the scene, and in the midst, of his last labours of love.
Were there no reason to believe, that one, more qualified for the work, will undertake a minuter description of the men, and a more comprehensive record of their sayings, the sample now given would have been greatly enlarged. The time was, when, in a single parish, twenty could have been found, any one of whom would, in our day, be ranked amongst "the first three," whom the whole county can produce. "The king's mowing" has long since taken away the rich produce of the best days of Ross-shire. "The latter growth" is rapidly disappearing; and desolate will be its spiritual aspect, and dismal the prospect of its future, if "the men" shall be utterly removed from the north. Verily, it is high time to cry, "By whom shall Jacob arise? For he is small."