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Revivals in the Highlands

Angus MacGillivray

Published by Reformation Press

Reformation Press are to be commended for bring this rare and excellent little book back into print. It is written by a highlander, who was born in 1805 in the mission house at Achness in Sutherland. McGillivray’s father would become the minister at Lairg and at the age of 22, Angus would follow his father into the ministry. He ministered at Strathy in Sutherland and Dairsie in Fife and was one of those who left in the Disruption of 1843. This book predated the Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire from Dr Kennedy or Memorabilia Domestica from Donald Sage, and was originally published with the title ‘Sketches of Religion and Revivals of Religion in the North Highlands during the last Century’.

It is a very readable and short book that would make an excellent gift. It begins by charting the growth of Christianity in the Highlands in the post-Reformation period. He begins his accounts with the work of John Balfour in the parish of Nigg, north of Cromarty. After Nigg, he moves across the Dornoch Firth to Golspie, with the ministry of Walter Denune and John Sutherland. I appreciate that in our own day, some are not keen to acknowledge when the ministry in the pulpit of their own church lacks power or truth. Sutherland, clearly did not make an immediate impression on his congregation, but rather than pretend all was well they gathered together in the house of the local catechist to pray for the minister and the Lord would give him what they felt he lacked. Sutherland accidentally overheard one of this prayer meetings, rather than try to chastise his flock, he put aside his own pride and simply sought to join them in these prayers. Afterwards, his ministry was much blessed to his congregation. Surely, this presents a real lesson to both congregations and ministers in our own generation.

After Nigg and Golspie, the attention turns to Strathnaver in the parish of Farr, where Mr Robertson and later George Munro would minister. MacGillivray records the view of his own father, that ‘I never knew any place where the religion of Christ so shone and flourished and pervaded the community as it did in Strathnaver’.

Following Strathnaver he moves to Tongue and the work of William Mackenzie. Mackenzie begins to despair of the speed with which his Gaelic speaking congregation were careless in relation to his preaching and would often miss the Gaelic service. He speaks to the congregation directly and lays out his heart and then weeps in the pulpit, afterwards his ministry sees a real outpouring of the Spirit.

He then gives examples of the men of the highlands. In a day, when we can be apt to forget that we hold to two and not three offices, and that ministers and elders hold the same office within the church, then it is helpful to be reminded of the way that these stalwarts upheld the truth for young or injudicious ministers. The real men of the North didn’t despise the ministry, but they were its strength and its support.

The ministers and men had an effect on their communities. He gives the amusing account of a wicked person who prosecuted a Christian. After the case had failed in the law court, the disappointed litigant said, he would wait for the court above to do justice. The magistrate asked him if he was appealing to the court of session, to which he responded no, but to the Lord of All. At this point, the magistrate said, ‘Poor blockhead, I knew you to be a knave, but I never till now thought you fool. For whatever chance you might have against Gordon in a court composed of poor sinners like me, you have no chance whatever against him in that court.’

The last section, was one that I enjoyed very much, and gives short portraits of a few Christians. I found the account of the life of Jane Mackay a very helpful one, especially in the practical nature of her faith and a fortitude amongst life’s trials.

This book is only 65 pages long, but it is a beautiful insight into the religious landscape of the highlands 200 years ago. I would urge you to buy it, to read it and to be exercised by the religion that it portrays.

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