Revivals in the Highlands and Islands by Alexander Macrae. Published by Tentmaker Publications, paperback, 165 pages, £5.95.
THE story of God’s special grace in pouring out His Spirit in revival on the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is a story which is well worth telling. In this book, first published in the early 1900s, Macrae concentrates on revival movements in the nineteenth century.
The book begins with a description of the remarkable work of grace which began in Arran in 1804. Angus M’Millan, one of the ministers on the island, summed up: “Although this revival did in some measure degenerate latterly, through the weakness and folly of men, yet the beginning of it was truly the doing of the Lord and marvellous in our eyes.” Among the fruits of this mighty work of God in Arran were the brothers Archibald and Finlay Cook, who were themselves to become faithful ambassadors of Christ in the Highlands and Islands.
In Aberfeldy, at one point in the early nineteenth century, it was said that “scarcely a sermon was preached but some new case of awakening occurred”. And the minister might have to stand knee-deep in snow with fresh snow being blown onto his face, yet “the people gathered round him patiently and eagerly listening to the fervent words that proceeded from his lips”.
In place after place, there appears the name of John Macdonald of Ferintosh, known as the Apostle of the North because of his great evangelistic labours throughout the Highlands. On the the Sabbath morning of a communion at Ardeonaig in Perthshire, he preached for over two hours on the words, “Thy Maker is thy husband.” “During the whole sermon,” we are told, “there was hardly a dry eye. Eagerness to attend to the Word preached was depicted on every countenance… The most hardened in the congregation seemed to bend as one man, and, I believe, if ever the Holy Ghost was present in a solemn assembly, it was there. Mr Macdonald himself seemed to be in raptures.”
These evidences of the presence of the Holy Spirit are reported from many areas. Districts which were until then without an evangelical ministry now enjoyed the privilege of hearing pure and powerful preaching. Such accounts should bring us to cry earnestly to the Lord that He would grant such days among us again, when the gospel would exert its power on the hearts of large numbers of sinners.
But other parts of the book are less satisfactory. A significant part of the book is occupied in describing the effects of the preaching of D L Moody in various parts of the Highlands. At this point in time one cannot do better than refer to John Kennedy’s contemporary analysis in his Hyper-Evangelism: Another Gospel, Though A Mighty Power. Kennedy applied his powerful and discriminating mind in 1874 to the whole movement. While he acknowledged, “I most persistently continue to hope that good has been done”, his main objection to Moody’s teaching was that it “ignores the supreme end of the gospel, which is the manifestation of the divine glory, and misrepresents it as merely unfolding a scheme of salvation adapted to man’s convenience”. Kennedy supported this assertion with the following points: “1. That no pains are taken to present the character and claims of God as Lawgiver and Judge, and no indication given of a desire to bring souls, in self-condemnation, to ‘accept the punishment of their iniquity’. 2. That it ignores the sovereignty and power of God in the dispensation of His grace. 3. That it affords no help to discover, in the light of the doctrine of the cross, how God is glorified in the salvation of the sinner that believeth in Jesus.” (See the biograhical sketch of Dr Kennedy, A Prince Among Preachers)
Accordingly, there is little doubt that Macrae was placing too much confidence in the quality and permanence of the results of evangelistic efforts in the latter part of the nineteenth century. M’Millan’s comments on the Arran revival are much wiser. Those last years of the nineteenth century were years of declension. Kennedy could see that clearly, but it is highly questionable if either Macrae or Moody understood properly what was happening in the contemporary situation. A further defect in Moody’s evangelism was the endeavour of Ira Sankey, his associate, to present the gospel in song, in spite of the fact that there is no scriptural authority for doing so; in any case, singing in public worship is to be confined to the Psalms.
Macrae was a minister in Sutherland who belonged to the United Free Church, a denomination whose constitution allowed for serious departures from the Westminster Confession of Faith. In his introduction, the author expresses the desire that “the fires of sectarianism should die out”. We too would long for a situation, in the Highlands and beyond, where all professing Christians were totally united, but only if such a union involved a holy and consistent conformity to the Word of God. One must assume that Macrae was not unduly concerned about how the Scotland of his time was being affected by an increasing disregard for a clear witness to the full authority of Scripture. With such attitudes, his book leaves much to be desired, good though it is in parts. A thorough and discriminating account of the great works of God in reviving His Church in Scotland would be a useful work indeed.
Rev. K. D. Macleod