Meran Mhor was her Gaelic name; in English she was known as Marion Macleod. She lived in Elphin, a little village in Sutherland, in the far north of Scotland. Under God’s hand she owed a great deal to a catechist named Donald Mackenzie (a catechist’s main duty was to teach the people the Shorter Catechism). The two names are linked together, so perhaps we should first of all say a little about Donald.
Donald Mackenzie was born in 1768 at Clashmore, Stoer, also in Sutherland. He was barely in his teens when his mother used to notice him praying alone. His uncle, Eachann Mor, a man of great piety, seemed to have had a great influence upon him. Donald joined the army before he was 20. At one time he was stationed in Leith, then just outside Edinburgh. He often went to hear John Colquhoun, one of the best ministers of the time. And he often spoke of how Colquhoun wounded him in the heart, and then healed him, through his preaching. He was later stationed in Northern Ireland and benefited from hearing a number of other preachers.
After returning home, he was appointed catechist in Assynt in 1801, and for 60 years the people appreciated his teaching. It was said that he had a vessel of oil for healing, rather than a quiver of arrows to wound. Some would say that he had not experienced much of the terrors of the law, but Donald would reply that he got both the law and the gospel at Calvary. He added that he died in Christ at Calvary, and that he rose to newness of life with Him. In spite of what was said of him, he could at times pierce the hearts of sinners with the sword of God’s Word in an awesome manner. One of the most noted instances of this was in Marion Macleod’s conversion.
The catechist usually preached in one of the homes in Elphin on Sabbaths. It was said of him that he often shed tears as he preached to sinners. The man he stayed with believed that Donald rose up very early on Sabbaths and he once stayed up all night to check if that was so. It was winter, and when the man looked out through the window very early in the morning, he saw Donald coming from the barn, where he must have gone to pray. And he was seen entering the barn several times that morning.
During the service that day, Donald took as his text the words of Jeremiah 22:29, “O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord”. One of his hearers was Marion Macleod, a young girl wearing a new frock, which she wanted all at the service to see, so she was late in going in. The arrows of the gospel pierced her young heart, and the beautiful frock was forgotten. So great was the effect on her that she had to be carried out from the place of worship. Ever afterwards she regarded Donald Mackenzie as her spiritual father.
Not long after returning from the army, the catechist married Christina Munroe from Achmelvich, near Lochinver. She was a godly woman, but he did not have her long as his wife. From the time of her death, Donald began to write spiritual poetry, and his first spiritual poem was in her memory. It told about God’s dealings with his wife and himself. He wrote 12 more poems, and they were eventually published as a booklet.
When he visited Marion Macleod at Elphin shortly before he died, he said it would be the last time he would visit the village. “What will become of us then?” she exclaimed. He answered, “The Lord is preparing another man for the office”, as catechist. This was so; another godly man, James Mackenzie, soon took his place. Donald Mackenzie’s last words were a blessing on the food he was to eat; he quoted from Psalm 16:5: “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup”. He died at Clashmore, aged 93.
Meran progressed in the faith and became well known for her gracious spirit. When she was old, Margaret Matheson, a girl of about 16 in Ullapool, was brought to the feet of the Saviour. But she soon became greatly troubled because of the spiritual warfare taking place in her soul. She concluded that this was because she was not spiritually mature and that it was something she must grow out of. She wondered if she could ever reach the spiritual maturity that Meran Mhor had come to. So she asked her parents for permission to visit Meran, whom they knew quite well, as they used to go to each other’s communions. When Margaret went to bed she made up her mind to listen to Meran praying, to see if that would help her in her spiritual dilemma. When Meran rose to pray, Margaret listened carefully and was shocked to hear Meran say, “Lord, save me from the hell within my heart”. The scales then fell from Margaret’s eyes, and she realised that all of God’s children experience spiritual warfare.
Many years later a young minister, whose roots were in Elphin, went to preach to Inverness. During the sermon he mentioned the incident about young Margaret Matheson. When he was coming out of the church, the minister’s wife went up to him and said, “You have told the story exactly as it happened”. “How do you know?” he asked. “Because,” she said, “I was that young girl.”
Rev Angus Smith
[This article was first published, under the title “Meran Mhor”, in the May 2006 edition of the Young People’s Magazine.]