The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire
by Rev. John Kennedy, D.D., of Dingwall
Hearers from Surrounding Parishes — Jane Bain — The Munlochy Meetings — Anecdote — John Gilmour — Blind Nelly — The Farmer's Wife — The Papist — The Kiltarlity Merchant — The Double Marriage — The Penny Smith — Little Hector — A Communion Season — Assistants — The Friday Speakers — His last days and death.
DURING all his ministry at Killearnan, many, from surrounding parishes, were among his stated hearers. These were a precious accession, for many of them were praying people, and were athirst for the gospel. Some had received their first impressions of the truth through his preaching, and the strong tie, thus formed, bound them to his ministry; and others of them found his doctrine to be suited to their cases, and resolved to attend where "a word in season" was spoken. A few regularly walked about twenty miles, each Sabbath, to Killearnan.
To one, at least, the Sabbath journey was nearly thirty miles; for she came from the confines of Sutherland. Leaving home about midnight on Saturday, she walked across the hills, regularly in summer, and often in winter, and generally without any companion by the way. After the service on Sabbath she returned to her home, and was ready to join in the labour of the farm next morning. On that condition alone, would her father allow her to come to Killearnan, being more anxious about the state of his croft than about the salvation of himself and of his family. It was surely owing to "the tender mercies" of the Lord that "worthy Jane Bain" was so long enabled to bear all this fatigue and exposure. Her soul thriving under the gospel, and her body kept from harm, she continued to grow in grace, till, dying in peace, she was removed to the land, whose inhabitants toil and suffer no more.
The parish next to Killearnan, on the east, is Knockbain. Mr. Roderick Mackenzie, better known as "Parson Rory," was its minister, at the time of my father's induction, and for more than twenty years thereafter. More ambitious of being popular as a "country gentleman," than of being acceptable as a gospel minister, he courted the favour and society of the lairds, rather than the love and the fellowship of the saints. Naturally amiable, and impulsively generous, few could apply to him in vain for relief, unless they were deserters of his ministry. For these there was no avenue to his heart. Almost all in Knockbain, who desired "the sincere milk of the word," attended on Sabbath at Killearnan. These were all known to "Parson Rory," and their names were on the black list in his books. For the preacher who drew them away he had no liking, and he was not careful to conceal that he had not; and no opportunity of appearing in the pulpit of Knockbain would be given to the minister of Killearnan.
A family resided not far from the manse of Knockbain, whose house was always open to the servants of the Lord. My father often spent a night in this house. His kind host, Mr. Munro, would of course ask him to conduct family worship. He could not be punished for doing so, nor could the minister for agreeing to his request. The house of Munlochy was able to accommodate many more than the members of the family, and it would have been very uncivil to exclude any of their neighbours who chose to attend. The barn was still larger, and to it, when the house could not hold them, the family and their friends were, on such occasions, in the habit of adjourning. Often had the barn been repaired to by others, when large parties had gathered for a feast and a dance, and they could scarcely be charged with a trespass, who used it for the worship of God. No law could be found forbidding the minister to lecture on the chapter which he read, even though the lecture should be quite as long as a sermon, and not very unlike one. In this way, a safe opening was found for preaching the gospel at Knockbain, for which not a few shall for ever give praise to the Lord.
Returning on one occasion from Cromarty, he was prompted to remain all night in Mr Munro's house, but, anxious to be at home, he resisted the suggestion and drove on. He had not gone many yards past the crossing, when his conveyance broke down, and he was compelled to turn down to Munlochy. The people, informed of his arrival, gathered in the evening to worship. Among his hearers was a youth, who amused himself a little before with caricaturing "the cronies," as he called the good people who were coming to the house. In all the levity of wanton indifference he entered the room, in which worship was conducted. Soon after the lecture began, a case, which he could not fail to recognise as his own, was described, and with such minuteness and authority, that the stricken youth imagined every eye in the room was upon him. To his surprise, on looking up, he saw that the eyes of the minister were closed, and that he was quite unobserved by all around him in the room. He then felt that the eye of the Lord alone was upon him, and that the words which were spoken were sent from on high. During a season of sifting temptation which followed, tenderly and wisely was he treated by him, through whom the Lord first spoke to his soul; and deep thereafter was their mutual love. He still lives, and I will not offend him by recording his name; but I cannot forget that he was the best friend on earth of my soul, in the day of my distress. To the end of his wilderness journey, may "the good Shepherd" preserve and guide him!
Among those who came to Killearnan from Knockbain, was a young man, whose case was peculiarly interesting. John Gilmour, while a tradesman in Aberdeen, was awakened under the preaching of Mr. Grant, then minister of the Gaelic Chapel in that city. His convictions were unusually deep and protracted, and, being utterly unfitted for any active employment, he was compelled to return to his native parish. For several years he walked on the very borders of despair. It was in the study of the old manse of Killearnan, the light of the gospel first shone into his soul. He had come to speak to the minister, but could only tell him of the misery of a soul lying "without hope," on the very brink of destruction. In course of conversation, and to illustrate the state of his soul in relation to the gospel, the minister rose, and closed the shutters of the window. When the room was thus darkened, he said, "Such is the state of your soul, John; this room is dark, not because it is not day-time without, and the light not ready to enter, but because the light that shineth so brightly upon it, is excluded by something within. It is so with you, in relation to Him, who is the light of the world." Then, while gradually opening the shutters, he preached Christ to his disconsolate hearer, and just as the light of day was entering into, and filling the room, the "marvellous light " of the gospel was penetrating into the broken heart of John Gilmour, till the desperate misery of that heart gave place to an ecstacy of joy. The liberty, then attained, continued, with but little inter mission, till he died; but so overpowering was his gladness, that he himself declared, his bodily strength was more reduced, by three weeks of his happiness, than by three years of the misery which he had previously endured. Rapidly growing in grace, and distinguished for the clearness of his views, as well as for the depth of his experience, he seemed one eminently fitted for serving the Lord in the church on earth. But while yet in his youth, he was suddenly removed to his place in the church in heaven. On the Sabbath after his death, my father's text was Psalm xlvi. 10. Having announced it he said, "I have searched the Bible throughout for a reason, why the Lord should suddenly, and, as we would think prematurely, remove, out of the church on earth, one who had given rich promise of usefulness there, but the Lord gave me no account of this dealing, and has only answered my inquiries in the words: "Be still, and know that I am God."
Urray is the next parish on the west; and its eastern boundary is not more than a mile from the parish church of Killearnan. A considerable number from the eastern district of that parish, came statedly to Killearnan on Sabbath. Among them were two who came always together while they lived, blind Nelly, and her guide and companion, old Nanny. Nelly was a lively Christian, with clear views of the truth, and a deep experience of its power. With more than ordinary cheerfulness, were combined in her much solemnity and courage. Living near to the Lord, and having more than ordinary prudence, she and her minister were on very intimate terms, and she was one of those whose visits to the study were always specially welcome. Returning from Killearnan on a Sabbath evening, Rory Phadrig, having missed Nelly from her usual seat in church, called at her house to ascertain why she was absent. Standing before the window of her room, he over heard her voice in prayer. "I cannot be silent," he heard her saying to the Lord, "till I know why I was kept from Killearnan, for thou knowest my soul used to be fed there, and that it greatly needed a diet to-day." Rory at once removed, and unwilling to disturb her, went on his way, and as he him self said, covered with shame by this proof of her, earnestness and boldness, in pleading with the Lord. Rory having on another occasion gone to Nelly's little bothy along with a friend, so soon as she was aware of their presence, she said: "I was sure the Lord was going to send two of his people to me to day, who needed food, for meat for three was sent to me this morning, by one who never assisted me be fore." Then, groping her way to her chest, she produced the food, which had been so seasonably provided. When death came to "blind Nelly," it found in her a body that old age had ripened for the grave, and a soul that grace had ripened for glory.
Among those who came from Urray was a woman, noted for her kindness to the poor, and for her love to the people of the Lord. Her husband was a farmer in comfortable circumstances, but he did not share in the fervent charity of his wife. Anxious on one occasion, to show kindness to a few Christian friends, whom she knew to be poor, she resolved be fore the Lord to slaughter the best heifer on the farm, and to divide it among them. On announcing her project to her husband, he laughed at a proposal that seemed to him so outrageous, and decidedly refused to allow her to carry her plan into effect. "I have given the heifer to the Lord," she said, "and if He comes to claim it for the poor of his people, you cannot withhold it." On entering the byre next morning, the farmer was not a little astonished to find his favourite heifer lying in the stall, and gasping its last breath. There was now no alternative but to bleed and to flay it; and he was too thoroughly frightened to prevent his wife from disposing, as she pleased, of the carcase.
Shortly before her death, this godly woman was sorely tempted to fear, that all her love had terminated in His people, and that none of it had risen up to the Lord Himself. Under the pressure of this temptation, she came to Killearnan on the Monday of a fellowship meeting, and called at the manse after the service in church was concluded. She told her fears to the minister. As she could not doubt her love to the people of the Lord, and as it was proved to her, that it was as the brethren of Christ she loved them, he reminded her of the words, "we know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren." As there was no simpler, he assured her there was no surer evidence of grace, than that there given; and after explaining to her, why she was more conscious of her love to His people, than of her love to the Lord, he declared to her, on Scripture warrant, his assurance of the safety of her state, in prospect of eternity. His words were blessed to her soul, and she was entirely delivered from her distress." There is nothing now left for me to do on earth, but to die," were her words, as she bade the minister farewell; and on the second day thereafter she died.
There were a few from Kilmorack, and after Dr. Bayne's death, from Kiltarlity, who statedly waited on his ministry. One of these had received his first impressions of the truth in rather remarkable circumstances. For several years, my father occasionally preached in Strathglass, a district peopled chiefly by Papists. Preaching, on one occasion, beside the river that flows through that lovely glen, a Papist, who dared not to join the congregation, but could not restrain his anxiety to hear, crouched in the thick brushwood that covered the slope of the opposite bank. While lying there, and quite able to hear the words of the preacher, the truth was applied by the Spirit to his soul. He lived to give satisfying evidence to all who knew him, that, on that day, he had begun "to know the grace of God in truth."
A reminiscence of another of the hearers from the west, is connected with the circumstances of his death. Having attended at Contin on a Communion Sabbath, when my father officiated, after all the other communicants had taken their places at the table, he, for some reason which he did not live to reveal, still remained in his seat. The minister said, "There is still some communicant here who has not come forward, and, till that person takes a seat at the table, I cannot proceed with the service." An other verse was sung, but 'the merchant from Kiltarlity' did not come. He was not in the minister's eye, though there was someone on his spirit, when he said, "I implore you to come forward, for this is your last opportunity of showing forth the Lord's death, till he come, for, if I am not greatly mistaken, you will not reach your home in life after the close of this service." The merchant then came forward, and no sooner had he taken his seat at the table than the minister said, "we may now proceed with the service." On the dismissal of the congregation on Monday, the merchant set his face on his home; but, while crossing the ford of the Orrin, he was carried down by the stream and was drowned.
Among those who came from the west, was one of whom those who knew her used to say, that she was twice married in the same hour. During an excursion to the west, my father preached in Strathbran, which, though now a waste wilderness almost throughout, then contained a considerable population. A marriage party arrived before the hour appointed for preaching, and having a considerable distance to travel to their home, were anxious to start immediately after the ceremony. The minister agreed to marry them at once. During his address, while commending the love of Christ, and presenting first of all his offer of marriage to each of the parties, the Lord applied the word with power to the heart of the bride, and, before the marriage ceremony was over, she gave herself to the Lord. No persuasion could now induce her to leave the place till the sermon was over. Christ was now the supreme object of her love, and she would not lose the opportunity of hearing His praise. During the remainder of her life, she gave satisfying evidence of her having truly known "the love of Christ that passeth knowledge."
A few from Dingwall regularly attended at Killearnan on Sabbath. One of these was Kenneth Mackenzie, commonly called "the Penny Smith." He was one of the few who succeed in keeping their original shape under all the pressure of conventional usage, refusing to take the form and fashion of those who surround them. In his dress, manner, habits, and modes of thinking, he retained his own peculiarity, and would be neighbour-like in nothing. In his kilt and antique coat, he seemed to have just stepped out of the midst of the generation of the fathers. While his neighbours were engaged in idle gossip, or lounging idly by the fire, he was poring over an old Latin book, spelling through a Hebrew Grammar, or writ ing in characters of his own devising, some of his strange thoughts in a record. On the Saturday afternoon, his smithy was cleared of its iron and its tools, and seated with benches, on which, for an hour in the evening, sat the young men of the neighbourhood, while the smith gave them lessons in psalmody. Not fearing the face of man, it cost him no effort to administer a reproof, whatever the character, rank, and influence of the transgressor might be. Meeting the Sheriff on his Sabbath evening walk, "Law makers should not be law-breakers," the smith said to him, as he looked him boldly in the face. "My health requires that I should take a walk Kenneth," the Sheriff said by way of excuse. "Keep you God's commandment, and you can trust Him with the keeping of your health," was the smith's reply; "accursed must be the health that is preserved by trampling on the law of God."
Hector Maclean was another of the hearers from Dingwall. "Little Hector" he was usually called, for he was not four inches above five feet in height. In his youth he had been engaged in smuggling, as in those days was too commonly the habit. Having lost, by a seizure, the produce of a small quantity of barley, which he had purchased on credit, he was not able to pay for it. Determined, even then, to owe no man anything, he accepted of the bounty that was offered for a substitute, by one who was balloted for the army; and the sum that was given to him just covered the price of the barley. Soon after joining his regiment, he was sent to Spain with the army under Sir John Moore. He went through all the adventures of the memorable retreat, that terminated in the battle and victory of Corunna. Of all his regiment, there were only seven who, on landing in Britain, were healthy and unwounded; and Hector was one of them. Often did he look back on this fact with gratitude and wonder, after he had learned to acknowledge the goodness of the Lord.
Returning to Dingwall after the peace, he resided there till his death. Not long after his return, as he was dressing himself on a morning early in August, he was seized with an unaccountable desire to go to Cromarty. He had never been there before, and was conscious of no inducement to visit it; but he could not repress the feeling that had so suddenly seized him. He started on the journey, not knowing whither or wherefore he went. Reaching Cromarty before noon, he followed groups of people, who were gathering to an eminence above the town. It was the Saturday of a communion season there. My father preached outside in Gaelic, and Hector was a hearer. The doctrine preached that day, the Lord applied with power to his heart, and before the sermon was over, he had given himself to the Lord. Few lives were more unblemished than Hector's, from that day till his death, few witnesses for Christ more faithful than he, and in simplicity and godly sincerity but very few Christians could excel him.
These are but a few specimens of those who usually came to Killearnan on Sabbath. Almost all of them are now removed from the earth. They no longer require the wells in the valley of Baca, for Zion has been reached, where the Lamb is leading them to living fountains of water, and where they hunger and thirst no more.
During the first half of his ministry at Killearnan, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was dispensed only once a year, and generally on the first Sabbath of August. Great crowds were accustomed to as semble on such occasions. As many as 10,000 people have met on a communion Sabbath, and nearly 2000 communicants have sat at the table of the Lord. These large assemblies were, of course, in the open air. The place of meeting was a large quarry, not far from the church. In front of the rock, which, with the strata of earth that covered it, rose to a height of about a hundred feet, and between two mounds of the rubbish that had been removed during the process of excavation, the minister's tent was erected. There was level ground in front of it, on which the communion tables were placed, and on either side, tier above tier, rose the vast multitude of people. All were able to hear the voice of the preacher, and even its echo from the rock. Sometimes, a few adventurous people sat just on the edge of the precipice; but if the preacher was prone to be nervous, it was not safe for him to look up to the group on the gallery of the church in the quarry.
An unreasonable prejudice exists in the minds of strangers, against the great sacramental gatherings of the Highlands. They are associated in their views with endless confusion, and many positive evils. It cannot be denied that, where such large crowds assemble, there will necessarily be much, in the outward behaviour of some, that is offensive to those who are impressed by the solemnity of the occasion. But of what congregation, may not this to some extent be affirmed? There was more of this, however, in the days when these gatherings were most honoured by the presence of the Lord, than now, when "the Hope of Israel" is "as a stranger" in the midst of them. When the Lord was doing a great work, Satan was busy too. While souls were born again, and the quickened were refreshed, the enemy took his revenue by doing what he could, through the conduct of the openly ungodly, to grieve the hearts of the servants and people of the Lord. But would not that work of the enemy have been got rid of at too great an expense, if removed at the cost of losing that work of the Lord? At present much less will be seen, in the outward demeanour of a Highland congregation, in the open air, to offend right feeling, than in that of some congregations, in the fine temples of the south, that may be held up as models of propriety.
It has also been objected, that these frequent gatherings must encourage habits of indolence among the people, as they draw them so often away from their stated employments. That they have by some been thus abused, cannot be denied. But let it not be forgotten, that many of the people in the Highlands, had no stated employment, and no family to provide for, and were therefore free to search for "the bread of life," wherever they could find it.
They have been condemned too on the ground of their necessarily causing a vacancy in surrounding parishes, whose ministers must be present to assist where the sacrament is dispensed. But if the people attend there, what reason is there for their ministers remaining at home? They could only preach to their own people by leaving their own parishes on that day; and as it must not be supposed that there is any peculiar virtue in their own pulpits, they may be quite as useful to their people by preaching to them elsewhere. This takes for granted, what was usually the case in days past, that neighbouring ministers would find the whole body of their people in the great congregation before them.
There were two great advantages attending these "public communions," as they were called. An opportunity of fellowship was given by them to Christians from all parts of the country, who would not else have met or known each other on the earth; and the gospel was preached to a great multitude of sinners, by a variety of ministers, amidst the prayers of a great many of God's people. In other circumstances a narrow congregational feeling is apt to cramp the sympathies, even of Christians. Even in the same town, how few are the opportunities of worshipping together afforded to the people of several congregations; and any opportunity of sitting together at the Lord's Table have they not, during all their life on earth. The effect of this is, that each congregation becomes a detached self-contained sort of community, with a minister better than every other minister in the town, and who must be extolled at the expense of all others around him. One congregation says, "I am of Paul," and another says, "I am of Apollos," and jealousies arise, causing alienation, where there should be a community of interests and feelings. In widely scattered communities, such as are in the Highlands, there was all the more need of a prevention of this evil. There was, in the wide north, a greater tendency to rally round a Paul and an Apollos, and there was some there too— and in all ages they were the worst — who were prone to say, in a spirit of proud exclusiveness, "I am of Christ." But the opportunity which was afforded, on a communion occasion, of hearing all the good ministers of the district, the proofs given of the Lord's presence with each of them, the effect of a community of profit and enjoyment under their preaching, and the loving fellowship of such seasons, tended in a great degree to bring all these sections more closely together, and to expand their sympathies and hopes.
On these accounts, while desiring to have the sacrament of the Supper administered also more privately, my father resolved to continue the public communion once a-year. Feeling the desirableness of having it oftener than once, and it being impossible to find two days, with a sufficient interval, on which the people could comfortably assemble in the open air; and anxious, besides, to be rid of the distractions that necessarily attend the public communion, he resolved to dispense the sacrament of the Lord's Supper in winter. At that season a large number of strangers could not attend, and could not be accommodated even if they did; and it was called, on that account, "the private communion." A strong prejudice against it generally prevailed at first. It looked to some like an attempt to shut out strangers from the privileges of the sacred feast, and to those who viewed it thus it wore a most unchristian aspect. Forgetting that it was only added to the other mode of celebrating the ordinance, they opposed it as if it were its substitute. Some ministers, yielding to the unreasonable prejudice of their people, refused to adopt it; but, in course of time, the feeling against the private communion wore away, and what was at first a solitary and disliked exception, became afterwards the rule.
The same ministers, for many years, invariably assisted in conducting the services of the communion season at Killearnan. He himself usually preached on the Fast-day, alternately in English and Gaelic, choosing always for that day a different language from that in which he preached on Sabbath. His brother, the minister of Logie, always officiated in either language in the action service. There were always some to whom his presence and preaching were peculiarly acceptable. Himself often touching the two extremes of experience, there were a few to whose depths of distress, his was the hand to let down the cord, that helped them to rise up to light and liberty in Christ. Peculiarly searching and solemn, while systematic and clear, his manner quiet, and his style unadorned and simple, there were few who felt attractiveness in his preaching but such as relished the savour of its spirituality. His appear ance was very pleasing; and an air of meekness and dignity rested on his countenance, well befitting his position and his work. If there were others his superiors in pleading with men, there was none to excel him as a wrestler with God.
The late Mr. Fraser of Kirkhill was always one of his assistants while he lived; and by none was he more loved and appreciated than by my father. His sermons, always remarkable for lucid arrangement, cogent reasoning, and vivid illustration, were peculiarly so in Killearnan. Generally on Saturday he preached in Gaelic on some subject bearing on the priesthood of Christ; and on Monday in English, on the life, privileges, duties, or prospects of believers. These latter were always specially acceptable to the people of God, and oftener than once they were blessed for the conversion of sinners. Mr. Fraser's sudden death, which occurred a few years before his own, deeply affected my father. The tidings reached Killearnan after he had gone out to church, on the day of the monthly lecture. To the surprise of all, he expressed in public prayer that day, his persuasion, that a breach had been made on the walls of Zion in the north, by the removal of one of the eminent servants of the Lord. On coming out of church, and being informed of Mr. Fraser's death, he said: "I was prepared for this."
Dr. Macdonald was invariably there. He usually preached on Saturday in English, and on Monday in Gaelic. His share of the work was always heartily given, and always heartily relished; and the communion season at Killearnan used to be to himself a time of peculiar enjoyment.
The only survivor of all his assistants is Mr. Sage of Resolis. Comparatively young, and always given to seeking a lower place than would be assigned to him by his brethren, his portion of the work was usually as small as he could contrive to make it. He contributed his share as if he might be ashamed to present it; but he himself was the only one who wished it were omitted. Yet among us, a representative of other and better days, may the evening of his life be brightened by the light of his Father's face, and may a rich blessing from on high rest on his last works in the vineyard.
What a goodly company of the Lord's people were wont, in the earlier days of his ministry, to meet at the communion in Killearnan! Many pious men and women from Sutherland, the flower of the worthies of Ross-shire, the most eminent Christians in Inverness-shire, and not a few from greater distances, would meet together there. How precious were the loving fellowships, and the wrestling prayers of these saints; and how many proofs were given, ere they parted, that the Lord was in very deed in their midst !
On Friday, the difficulty in these days would be to select, and not as now to find "men;" so many would be present who were qualified to speak, and who would be acceptable to their hearers. Each one, who was called to speak, knowing this, and unwilling to occupy the time of another, was invariably concise. Hugh Buie would be the first speaker, and clear, full-fraught with thought, and unctuous his remarks would be. Alexander Vass, himself in tears as he spoke of the love of Christ, would move all others to tears by his melting words. Hector Holme, less remarkable than these as a speaker, would be listened to as a man of God, and the unction of his utterances would be sweet to many hearts. John Finlayson, with an experience of the power of the gospel deeper than his knowledge of its doctrines was clear, would speak a word in season to the simple, broken-hearted Christian. John Gordon would catch the attention of his hearers by some striking allegory, and would be sure to leave some saying in their memories. Donald Fraser would carefully dissect the question, and bring it closely home to the conscience. When Alexander Hutcheson spoke it was as if the alabaster box of ointment were broken in the midst of the assembly. John Clark, with a grace and dignity of manner quite remarkable, would command the respectful attention of all who heard him. In a few broken but savoury sentences, Daniel Bremner would follow him. When Angus Ross rose, all were eager to listen. A few searching sentences of rebuke, addressed to the hypocrite, would be followed by a few sweet words of comfort to "the poor in spirit," and he would be soon on his seat again. John Fraser, unconscious of his gift, spoke with peculiar precision and fluency. Roderick Mackenzie, in spite of his rude manner and rough voice, would have earnest listeners, for all knew his thorough integrity, and many felt the point and unction of his remarks. John Munro would speak, deliberately, clearly, and to the point. Angus Munro's untutored genius would prove its power, in presenting, in bold striking words, a view of the subject, not seen by any other, till suggested by himself, and even then appreciated only by a few, owing to the intensely metaphysical cast of his thinking. David Ross would always have something to say, at once fresh and striking. And John Macdonald would determine the state of the question with marvellous precision, and would apply it with rare skill. These and some others would have spoken to the question in these days.
Of all these, the two whom my father most fer vently loved, were Alexander Hutcheson and Angus Ross. Of them he used to say, that of all the Christians he had ever known, except Donald Macpherson, they lived nearest to the Lord.
Alexander Hutcheson was catechist in Kiltarlity during Dr. Bayne s ministry there, and thereafter till the infirmities of old age no longer permitted his en gaging in his work. He was but eleven years of age when he felt the first impression of the truth. Engaged in tending his father's sheep, one night, as he was shutting them up in the fold, he was strongly moved to kneel down and pray. There, in the midst of his little flock, he fell on his knees, and ere he rose he thought that Christ had won his heart. The impression then made gradually wore away, till he had fallen back into the lethargy that preceded it. Just a year had elapsed, when the same feeling was again excited, and in the same circumstances as before. This, once more, in course of time, wore away. The listlessness which succeeded continued till, one night, just after he lay down in bed, an impression of his guilt and danger as a sinner, was made with irresistible power on his heart. So sudden and so over powering was the awe that came upon his spirit, that he had sprung out of bed, to rush out to the hill, when, as suddenly, the light of the glorious gospel illumined his soul. Never from that hour did Alexander Hutcheson return to the ways of sin, and thus began his Christian life. Enjoying unwonted nearness to God, he was at the same time a most humble, loving, tender-hearted Christian. It was a fine sight to see him, in his old age, when he rose to speak to the question, as he leant on some one for support, while tears gushed from his eyes at every reference to the love of Jesus.
Angus Ross, more talented than Alexander Hutcheson, was also much more impulsive. The first sermon he ever heard my father preach, proved to him peculiarly seasonable. Living in a district once highly favoured, but then again a desert, he was just on the eve of seceding from the Establishment. He had gone so far as to be quite ready to join the Secession Church on the very next Sabbath. Hearing that a stranger, who was well reported of, was to preach in a neighbouring parish church, he went to hear him. The text was, "If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds tents." During the discourse, all Angus difficulties were so minutely described, and his whole case so thoroughly met, that he was filled with surprise; and accepting as of God the counsels that were given him, he finally abandoned, then and there, his intention of joining the Seceders. An at tachment was that day formed between him and the minister who preached that sermon, that knew no waning while they lived. It was his habit, ever after, to come occasionally all the way from Auldearn, to hear sermon at Killearnan.
As a speaker, always pointed and lively, Angus never failed to be interesting. His statements of doctrine were always exact, his practical remarks suitable and searching, his reproofs very penetrating, and his counsels specially apt and discriminating. His prayers were very remarkable for childlike freedom and burning earnestness. During thirteen years of his life, he enjoyed a continual assurance of his interest in Christ. Happy were these years, spent under the light of his Father's face. Not long before his death, the Lord laid His afflicting hand on his body, and withdrew the light of His face from his soul. For a season, he walked amidst terrors in "the valley of the shadow of death," but emerging into light and liberty again, he went singing across the river to the heavenly city.
John Macdonald, Urquhart, was the Turretine of "the men." Trained in early life under a powerful gospel ministry, his views of the plan of salvation were peculiarly clear. He was intolerant of any deviation from the strictest accuracy in a statement of doctrine, but was intensely practical withal. Often have his luminous and unctuous addresses been blessed "for correction and instruction in righteousness" to the people of God; and not a few received their first impressions of divine things under his teaching. On the Friday of a communion season, he was generally the last speaker; and often has he excited the admiration of his hearers by the dexterity with which, after determining the exact state of the question, he would explain or rectify some of the remarks of those who preceded him, and employ for practical uses the bearings of all that had previously been spoken.
"Donald Fraser of the Haugh," as he was called, from the name of the street in Inverness in which he resided, was well known and highly respected. "My minister," he always called Dr. Fraser of Kirk- hill, for it was under his preaching he was trained in his youth. After the first impression of eternal things was made upon his mind, he was tried with a peculiar temptation. Satan would insist that only great sinners could warrantably expect to be saved, and that as he had been kept from all flagrant transgressions, he ought not to apply for salvation to Christ, till he had first qualified himself by committing some crime. Pressed by the tempter, he had almost yielded to his suggestion, when the Lord broke the snare of the fowler. The light of the law's spirituality shed into his soul, soon discovered to Donald guilt enough to entitle him to rank with great sinners, without his adding one other to the list of his transgressions. His temptation thereafter was, that he was too great a sinner to have any reason to expect that Jesus would receive him. But, on the right hand as on the left, the Lord was near to deliver him, and guided his feet into the way of peace.
Of all, who usually spoke at the fellowship meeting in Killearnan in those days, Angus Munro alone survives, retaining at fourscore years and five, much of the fire of his genius, and all the fervour of his love. These righteous ones shall be held in everlasting remembrance. Their several histories shall not be left buried in the dust of the past, but, written on their memories, shall be read over in their heavenly home, to the praise of His wisdom, faithfulness, and love, who kept and guided them by the way. Assembled worlds, too, shall yet hear as much, regarding their life on earth, proclaimed from the great white throne, as the glory of their God requires to be made known.
Towards the close of my father s life, the only change that could be observed, and that was evident only to a few, was his growing abstraction from the things of time, and the increased heavenliness of his doctrine. His bodily health was not impaired, nor was his natural strength abated, and he abounded in labours to the end.
Always deeply interested in all that concerned the welfare of his church and of his country, he was peculiarly so during the latter years of his life. Being resolutely opposed to Catholic emancipation, many a groan was wrung from his heart by the Act of 1829. He often referred to it in public, and many incredulously listened to his forebodings of the sad results of that measure. Regarding papists, not merely as the members of an anti-Christian Church, but as the subjects of a foreign prince, who aspires to establish, as the dominant power, in all countries, his own temporal as well as spiritual sovereignty, all his loyalty and patriotism, as well as his protestantism, revolted against giving them a place in the legislature. His forebodings were but too well founded; for whether, as the natural result of the increase of its political power, or as a judicial award, from the hand of the Highest, to the nation that gave so much of its "power to the beast," popery has, since 1829, made greater progress in this country, than during the whole century which preceded. The plague of mawkish liberalism, which prevailed at the time, smote the great majority with blindness as to the true nature and results of the measure, and the few who protested against it were regarded as bigots. Opinion has changed since then; and the concession has lately been wrung from those once loudest in denouncing them, that the bigots were right.
The conflict that terminated in the Disruption of the Church of Scotland from the State, had been going on for seven years before his death. He never hesitated as to the part he should act in that controversy. On the question of the spiritual independence of the Church, he had no difficulty in forming a judgment. The people's right to elect their own pastors he asserted most strongly, but he, at the same time, expressed his fear, that they were not qualified to use it. That, however, he did not regard as a reason for retaining it from them; for as it was given them by Christ, no other power had a right to withhold it. His anticipations of the result of the conflict were very alarming, and to some seemed prophetic. Often did he distinctly announce the event of the disruption. Dr. Macdonald has told me, with what surprise he heard him once say, while preaching in the church of Ferintosh in 1829, "This crowded church will yet become a place into which none who fear the Lord will dare to enter," adding, "not long before this change takes place, I shall be removed to my rest, but many who now hear me shall see it." From that period till his death, his anticipations were more and more vivid. The coming crisis seemed to emerge before his eyes, more and more distinctly out of the mist, that lay on the future, and that hid its secrets from the eyes of others; and his solicitude, in prospect of the Disruption, wrung more groans from his heart, than the actual experience of the trial from the hearts of many who survived it.
His anticipations an to the state of religion in the north, during the next generation, were extremely gloomy. Often did he declare ihis persuasion, that the people were wearying of a spiritual ministry, and of a purely preached gospel. Like the Israelites, in the wilderness, they had begun to count as "light bread" what was sent to them from heaven. "Few and far between," he expected the faithful preachers of the gospel to be, in the generation that succeeded; and when the decay of religion had converted "the garden of the Lord," almost into a wilderness again, he expected a season of trial to come, during which "the man of sin" would again have supremacy, and the witnesses of Christ be few, feeble and hidden, and through which he could only look with a tearful eye, to the prospect of the glorious millennium, whose bright morning was seen dawning beyond it.
The religious awakening which, a short time before his death, spread over various districts of Scotland, he did not regard with much hopefulness and pleasure. He expected but little permanent fruit as its result, and was much pained by the countenance given, in the excitement of that time, to manifest delusions. The experience of all his life tended to make him distrustful as to all awakening accompanied with violent bodily excitement, and he never failed to repress any such exhibitions, when ever they appeared in his presence. His anticipations were, alas! too fully realised. The rich flush of blossom, that then appeared, withered prematurely, and almost entirely away, and bitter disappointment awaited those who formed a more sanguine estimate than his of the fruit that might in the end be produced.
Shortly before his death, he took a peculiarly warm interest in the case of a woman in his parish, whom he frequently visited. While engaged with others in planting a piece of moorland, she observed, within the broken walls of a ruined cottage, part of a lady's veil protruding out of a heap of rubbish. Taking hold of it, she was unable to pull it out with out removing the stones and turf around it, in doing which a woman's face appeared. The shock caused by this discovery was such, that she was almost distracted with terror. The horrid sight of the murdered woman's face — for such it proved to be — was the last her eyes ever saw, for from that moment she was quite blind. Laid aside on a bed of sickness, she remained a helpless invalid till her death. But her reason survived the shock which deprived her of vision, and the Lord visited her with His salvation in the day of her distress. Her pastor's visits were greatly blessed to her, and she was one of the last whom he was the means of turning "from darkness unto light." Precious to the blind as well as to others, were his lectures in her house, and the time spent beside her was to himself a season of peculiar enjoyment. Her Christian course was short, but it seemed to all who knew her to be indeed "the path of the just."
His last pastoral visit was to a pious couple in the east end of his parish, who were apparently dying and very anxious to see him. The husband was one of his elders, but both in intellect and in spirituality excelled by his wife. Among other questions, he asked them individually, "Do you believe that your affliction was appointed by God in the everlasting covenant!" The wife was first addressed, and her reply was, "I believe that it is permitted by God in His providence, but I have not attained to believe that it was ordered in the covenant." The husband's answer was, "I cannot even say what my wife has just said." "You are a step behind her, Donald," his minister said, "and as surely as she is before you in this, she will be before you in heaven." And so it happened; though the husband was both older, and a greater invalid than his wife.
After leaving this house he passed into the parish of Knockbain, to visit a woman who had been for many years one of his stated hearers, and whose soul had profited by his preaching. She was enduring great agony under the gnawing of a virulent cancer, and her soul's hope was, at the same time, sorely tried by the tempter. Her case had for some time lain closely on his heart, and his frequent and earnest references to her in family prayers indicated how intensely he desired her deliverance from her deep despondency. Much of his interview with her was strictly private. Its result was her complete deliverance from the fetters in which Satan, for a season, bound her. She was enabled, ere they parted, to declare her assurance of salvation, her contentment with her lot, and her willingness to leave the event of her death in the good hand of Him to whom she had committed her spirit. Her eye was moist with tears, but her face was bright with joy, as she bade him farewell; and, before a fortnight passed, they met, for the next time, in their eternal home in heaven.
His references to his death were frequent in his preaching during the last year of his life, and his appeals to his hearers were peculiarly earnest and solemn. His anticipation of death was so assured, that he could not refrain from referring to it, and he himself preparing, he desired to prepare his people also, for the parting which drew near. He would announce the subject of a course of sermons, and open it up; but instead of resuming it next Sabbath, he would mention a new text. This again would be laid aside for another. He was thus hurried over a series of texts, in such pressing haste, that he could not but direct the attention of his people to the fact, entreating them to observe how his Master was urging him to fulfil his ministry with all haste, as the end of it was near. One of his last Sabbath texts was Rev. iii. 20. His sermons on that verse were very remarkable, and were, indeed, like the utter ances of one who was just going to step across the threshold of eternity.
For a few weeks before his death, he preached every Tuesday evening from the words, "We are come to God, the Judge of all." This text was the announcement of his death to his people, and his sermons contained much of his own feeling in prospect of that event. His last sermon in church was preached on the Tuesday evening before his death, and it closed the series of discourses on the text last mentioned. At the close of the service he announced that on Thursday he would preach in the schoolhouse in the eastern district of his parish, in order to take that last opportunity of wiping off his skirts the blood of the people who resided there. The congregation was then dismissed by him, under the assured persuasion that he and they would never meet again on earth. On coming out of church, he stood tor a few minutes looking to the people as they were retiring under the clear moonlight. "My poor people," he was heard exclaiming by one who came up beside him, and whose approach caused him to turn away, and to hurry on to the Manse.
All this time he was in perfect health, his step almost as firm and elastic as when he was in the prime of his manhood. The usual indications of approaching dissolution were entirely awanting, and yet his persuasion of death being nigh, was quite assured. His sermon on Thursday was on spiritual worship, and in preaching it, his whole soul seemed to go out in aspirations after the pure service of heaven. Friday his throat became affected. Inflammation set in, and continued to make progress. He expressed no anxiety, and uttered no complaint, and his family had no distinct anticipation of danger. Remaining in bed, he seemed lost in contemplation, an expression of placid joy resting on his face. He had calmly laid himself down to die. His work was done; he knew that his eternal rest was nigh; and with eye fixed on the glory that was dawning on his vision, he awaited with joyful expectation the coming of death. His only reply to all inquiries about hil health was, "I'll soon be quite well." While his wife and a pious friend were sitting in his room, not till then excited by alarm as to the issue of his ill ness, their attention was suddenly arrested by sounds of the sweetest melody. Such was the softness of the strange music, they felt as if it could not have been a thing of earth, and while it lasted, they could only listen in solemn silence. When the spell was broken, Mrs. Kennedy hastened to ask him if he had heard any strange music. He gave no answer, but beckoned her to be silent, with an expression of absorbed attention and of ecstacy on his face. Her rising fears then grew strong, and, in a crushing foreboding of her loss, closed upon her heart. The medical man arrived soon thereafter, and with the utmost kindness and with all his skill, applied the fitting remedies. His patient meekly submitted to the prescribed treatment, but the disease was quietly though surely making progress, and, on Sabbath evening he fell asleep in Jesus.
The week on which he died was very stormy. Snow had fallen to a great depth; but many of the Lords people, from all districts of the country hurried on hearing the tidings of his death, to take a last look of his body. A large crowd attended his funeral; and amidst the tears of his people, and under a frowning sky, his mortal remains were laid in the grave. Many of the people hovered around his closed grave as if they shrunk from realizing that they had parted with him, and that they should see his face no more on earth. Dr. Macdonald, who was standing beside the grave, knowing well the feeling that detained the mourners, turned to them and said, "You will never see John Kennedy again, till you see him on the last day."
His bereaved flock testified their respect for his memory, by enclosing his tomb, and erecting beside it a tablet, which bears the following inscription:—
TO THE MEMORY OF
MINISTER OF KILLEARNAN,
WHO DIED, JANUARY 10TH, MDCCCXLI.
A MAN OF GOD
SENT FORTH INTO THE VINEYARD
WITH THE FULNESS OF GOSPEL BLESSINGS,
THE PECULIARLY HONOURED AMBASSADOR OF CHRIST,
THROUGH WHOM SHONE FORTH THE EXCELLENCY OF THE POWER
IN THE CONVERSION OF MANY A SOUL TO GOD,
THE JOY OF THE LORD WAS HIS STRENGTH,
THE MINISTERIAL GIFTS AND GRACES OF PRIMITIVE TIMES
WHEN ON THE GLORY OF ZION THERE WAS DEFENCE,
IN HIS PERSON WERE SEEN REALISED,
ATTRACTING THE LOVE OF BELIEVERS,
AND IN EVERY UTTERANCE REFRESHING THEIR SOULS.
THEY WERE GLAD IN HIS LIGHT.
IN EVERY ORDINANCE OF THE SANCTUARY,
RICHLY REPLENISHED IN SPIRIT BY CLOSE COMMUNION WITH GOD
OF INTIMATE STANDING IN THE MIND AND COUNSEL OF CHRIST;
WITH HOLY UNCTION, FERVOUR, WISDOM, AND LOVE,
HE WATCHED, WARNED, AND NOURISHED THE HERITAGE.
SINNERS IN ZION WERE AFRAID.
FULL OF FAITH AND OF THE FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT,
ABOUNDING IN LABOURS,
AND RIPENED FOR GLORY,
HE FELL ASLEEP.
THIS PARISH MOURNS.