John Kennedy of Dingwall

Rev. John Kennedy, D.D., of Dingwall

This website is dedicated to the works of Rev. John Kennedy, D.D., who was minister of the Free Church of Scotland in Dingwall (in the Scottish Highlands) from 1843 until his death in 1884.


The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire

by Rev. John Kennedy, D.D., of Dingwall


W HILE I was engaged in preparing for the press, I did not expect that a second edition would ever be required. I was writing merely for a district, and even there, I expected a reading of my book, only from a few, whose hearts were clinging fondly to the days gone by. When it appeared, it was so vehemently assailed, that I expected it never would have run through even the first edition. But a second and a third time it has run the race; and it is now starting for the fourth time.

The call for a fourth edition finds me so occupied, that I have no leisure for careful revision. Though not in the least disposed to alter any statement, or to modify any opinion, contained in the book, I might, if I had time, dress it up more carefully. But, being a very old-fashioned sort of thing, both in its stories and its notions, perhaps it is more suitably attired in the rude garb, in which it first appeared. The very extent to which it seemed to require, served to prevent my attempting a thorough recasting of my work. Mine seemed so like another highlandman's gun, which needed "new lock, stock, and barrel," that I shrunk from the task of renewing it. But believing that it was charged with truth before, and having no desire to change or to reserve my amunition; and many hard blows, which were meant to shatter, having failed to dis able it, it is now for the fourth time loaded, and is ready to go off.

DINGWALL, December 1866.


T HE field, on which I gathered materials for this book, would afford to a careful gleaner, a rich collection of interesting matter. I had not time to pass leisurely over it; and even the scanty handful which I picked up in my haste, I lacked the skill to arrange into a pleasing sample. But if I cannot now, with out shame, examine the result of my labour, it is a relief to be assured that the toil of it is over; and if this pioneer effort affords no pleasure to my readers, I will yet be content, if its very rudeness shall make it easier for others to come after me.

I offer no apology for directing attention to the subject of this volume. If I required to do so, I would be offering, as an excuse for having written, what I should have used as a reason for not writing at all. I heard the Lord saying, "the memory of the just is blessed," and I saw that the righteous fathers of Ross-shire were already being forgotten, and that a lifeless formality was taking the place of their godliness. I could not therefore refrain from an effort, such as I could make, to revive their memory, and to turn the eye of a backsliding generation to their good old ways.

I am not very anxious to excuse myself for the manner in which, any more than for the subject on which, I have written. I might plead that I never wrote with care before, and that I had but little leisure for my first attempt, but if I did not do the best I could, I ought to have done nothing. Amidst my usual employment, when in health, I found no time for "making books," and it was not, till laid aside by sickness from my wonted work, that the purpose of this book was formed. But health returned ere I had begun to write, and, being afraid to abandon my design, I gave, to its execution, such snatches of time, as were left unoccupied by labours which I could not abridge.

I cannot account for the omission of a reference to the honoured name of Dr Stewart. I fully intended to have given him his place among the eminent ministers of Ross-shire, though the memoir of his life and labours which has been published, made any attempt to describe him by me unnecessary. The oversight was certainly not due to any want of veneration for the memory of one, than whom there were few men more amiable, few Christians more humble and holy, few preachers more faithful, and few pastors more watchful and wise.

If I had not the hope, that none would be disposed to refuse him a place among the eminent ministers of Ross-shire, and that the account, which I have given of him, might be accepted as a specimen of how they lived and laboured, I would not have ventured to append the memoir of my father. It required no labour to collect information regarding him, and it was therefore easier to construct a memoir of him, than of any other of the fathers. But it would be dishonest to pretend, that it was not my love to him, as my own father, which thrust into print the materials that lay in my memory. At the same time, the impulse of that love I would certainly have repressed, if I thought the position I claimed for him, would not be conceded by all.


I  ANTICIPATED all the censure, and none of the praise, bestowed upon my little book. I would have been quite as much disappointed, if it did not displease a certain class of readers, as if none at all had been found to commend it. I therefore feel, that I have no cause to complain of the reception it has met with; for by those, whose censure I would reckon praise, it has been most heartily abused; and some friends of Christ have been moved to say of it, "the Lord bless it," and to say to me, "Be of good courage."

I expected that its Highland tone, and its seemingly anti-lowland spirit, would have exited prejudice in some minds against it. Its thorough Highlandism I neither tried, nor was I able, to prevent. I was very often translating from Gaelic as I wrote, and I could not quite hide the tartan under the English mantle. I was acting, too, on the defensive. It was not my vocation to be searching for Highland faults; I was engaged in warding off Lowland blows. I had so often, in speaking to Highlanders, pointed out their blemishes, that, in my first attempt to write about them, I thought I might refrain from doing so, especially as the fault-finding had been done, usque ad nauseam, by others.

I knew, too, that I would seem to some to whine, with unreasonable regret, over the degeneracy of the present, as compared with the days of the fathers. Those who think they dwell where the wilderness is being transformed into a garden of the Lord, ought not to judge of Ross-shire by their experience, for here, alas! the process is just reversed. I referred to Ross-shire only; and I cannot conceive how any who desiderate, and can discern, vital godliness, who are acquainted with the past and present of this county, and who look beneath the surface, can form a more sanguine estimate than that which I have given. There are some, I know, whose eyes are so dazzled with their own lustre, that they cannot conceive of brighter days than those in which they shine. These may be angry; I care not to conciliate them. I point to their shining as a proof that I am right. The sky has surely become dark, when such lights as these appear.

I expected that many would count me credulous, some call me superstitious, and a few denounce me as fanatical, because of some anecdotes I gave, to prove how near to God were the godly men of former days. I knew that they would excite the anger of those, whose religion is but a cloak for men to look at. I counted the cost of being ridiculed be cause of these strange stories. I was quite prepared to take the place that would be assigned to me among those who are "behind the age." I anticipated too - and I do not announce this in support of a claim to the gift of prophecy - that some graceless ministers would lead the choir of scorners.

To some, the rarer attainments of the godly furnish an opportunity, for such an expression of their enmity against vital religion, as will not damage their credit in the church. They are offensive to them, merely because they are more palpable evidences of the reality of communion with God. Yet they can attack them under cover of superior enlightenment, and even of a regard to the credit of Christianity. "Of course," they will say, "only men who are not up to the times would be so credulous as to believe these things;" whereas the more extraordinary instance of credulity, by far, is their believing that they themselves are capable of forming any right opinion on the subject. If the occasion seems to require it, they can shake their heads, very wisely, over the supposed imprudence of exposing to ridicule the cause of true religion, by the record of such things; but when they do so, it is but to conceal, that, while having a form of godliness, they deny its power.

Such things being unusual in the experience of God's people, it may be asked, why they should be found among the attainments of Ross-shire Christians, while they are unknown elsewhere?

It is enough in reply to say, that they were not ordinary Christians of whom these things are affirmed. Judged by their clear views of "the truth as it is in Jesus," by their deep experience of the power of godliness, by the holiness of their lives, and by their great usefulness in the vineyard of the Lord, they must be reckoned as peculiar, even among the godly. Their position, too, was such as to allow of their devoting themselves to closet intercourse with God, as other Christians could not, who were placed in a busier sphere. More palpable evidences of their nearness to God might therefore be justly expected.

But even if these things be connected with some defect in the pious Highlander, that will not render them at all incredible, nor furnish any presumption against the hand of God being in them. Whether they indicate a love of the marvellous, arising from ignorant superstition, or a craving after palpable evidences of God's favour, arising from obstinate unbelief, on the part of the Highland Christian, they may be veritable proofs, at the same time, of the reality of his communion with God, and of the gracious condescension of his Father in heaven.

It is not the Celt alone who is prone to superstition. The immortal soul, be it in the breast of Celt or of Saxon, feels desolate while shut out from the invisible. It has a feeling of dependence on some thing higher than sense informs it of, that keeps it leaning towards the supernatural, even when all in that sphere is, to its apprehension, dark and confused as chaos. Left to itself, it will conjure, out of that benighted region, the spectres of a bewildering superstition with which to people an imagined world. The quickened soul, while seeking things above, looks to them only in the light of Scripture, and believing, leans on God as He has revealed Himself in His word. But if the pious Highlander is still exceeding prone to seek beyond the limits of the light of revelation; if his spirit is ever stretching itself beyond the boundary line, that separates between the revealed and the "secret things," becomes it not the condescension of the Lord to meet him, just on the very verge, with such manifestations of His mind as others crave not, even the most extraordinary, that can be given him, without quite departing from the rule of His communion with His children on the earth.

Or, if every pious Highlander is a Thomas in unbelief, ought we to be surprised, if the class experience the condescension of Him, who adapted himself to the weakness of the individual, who was their prototype? May not their very infirmity secure to them tokens of His care and presence to which other Christians are strangers? I allow the Southern to remind me, that "blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed;" and let me be content, if these strange things are regarded, as proofs of the Lord's gracious condescension, rather than of any high attainment on the part of those who are its objects.

But, after all, what is there in these things to render them incredible? To aliens, the communion of God with His people must be all a hidden mystery. To them all the facts of that secret intercourse must seem incredible. This kind of proof of its reality is more offensive to them, just because it is more palpable. They wish it to be untrue, and it is this which moves them to decry it as incredible. There are some, who are no strangers to a life of godliness, though their own experience has never furnished them with a confirmation of the reality of such things. Not having thought with sufficient care on the subject, they deem them inconsistent with the standing rule of God's communings with His people, "in these last days." A pious dread, of attaching a rag of superstition to the fair form of Bible religion, moves them to cast all such things aside. They seek them not for themselves, and they will not allow them to others.

But may not such manifestations, of His mind by the Lord, be explained, without the introduction of any element not found in the process of His ordinary intercourse with His people? Besides the operation of the Spirit on the soul, and the seasonable presentation and application of the truth, nothing is required to account for the occurrence of these "strange things." The mind is directed to a certain case and a passage of Scripture is applied to that case; and the seeming prophesying is the result.

But, however they may be explained, these strange things are true; and it would be more rational employment, to be inquiring into the reason of them, than to be howling over the record of them. If the examples of these things, which I have given, are not true, there is no verity on any page of history, no thing credible in the testimony of men who were never known to lie, nothing reliable in the clearest evidence of the senses, and nothing trustworthy in the plainest intimations of consciousness. Let men receive or reject them; let them awaken the sneers of the scoffer, or be received unquestioned by the credulous; let them provoke the enmity of the hypocrite, or stimulate the desires of the Christian after more nearness to God; let them confirm the faith of the child, or prove a stumbling-block to the alien, they are at least as true as they are strange.