It is with sincere regret that we record the death of Donald Mackenzie (Domhnuill Tailear), Elder, North Tolsta, Lewis, which took place on 2 March 1922. There were, perhaps, few men in the Free Presbyterian Church better known to outsiders, owing to the fact that his pert sayings were frequently quoted by ministers and others in public.
No sketch of his life, however perfect, can give any adequate conception to strangers of what a unique man he was. One would require to know him privately to understand his deep, simple, honest piety. He was about the last, if, indeed, not the last, of a former class of Christians who, by real godliness in life and conversation, won, without seeking it, a place in the estimation of the people. Donald felt himself like “a sparrow on the house-top,” his former companions having passed before him to their eternal rest.
Donald was born eighty-nine years ago, at North Tolsta, where he lived all his days, except when away at the East Coast fishing. He had the great advantage in his boyhood of being brought up in a home in which the Lord was feared and worshipped. His father was a noted and prominent Christian in his day, and there were giants in grace then. No example or training, however, will change the lost state or ruined nature of man, and so Donald grew up a careless sinner, until he was about 18 or 20 years of age.
The instrument used in the Lord’s hand in bringing him to a sense of his lost condition was that eminent servant of Christ, the late Mr MacMaster, then minister of Back. The portion of Scripture which found a joint in Donald’s harness was Psalm 16:2, “My goodness extendeth not to Thee.” After passing through fire and water of deep conviction, he was delivered from the fearful pit and miry clay through the same person, Mr MacMaster.
He related to a friend some time before he died, that the day on which the Lord visited his soul with the “peace that passeth all understanding”, though one would tell him he would get a vessel full of sovereigns at the door of the church, he would not move from his seat, in case he would lose one word of what Mr MacMaster said.
The enemy, who is ever on the alert to harass God’s children, did not allow poor Donald to enjoy his peace very long, but soon cast him into great darkness by suggesting to him that he had put a wrong interpretation on the passage by which he was awakened, and therefore that he had nothing but a delusion. This temptation kept him for several years from making a public profession.
When he did come before the Session, with a view to admission as a member in full communion, the Rev Mr Maclean, Mr MacMaster’s successor, said that they would not examine him, and that they expected him long before then. Donald insisted on being examined, but the Session absolutely refused. This action of the Session was a source of temptation to him all his lifetime, the Enemy often insinuating that had he been examined he had not what would stand the examination even of his fellow-men, and that no-one was ever admitted as he was. He was greatly relieved, however, some years ago, when a friend, not knowing Donald’s trouble casually told him in conversation that he had been received in the above manner, and that it had been a source of great temptation to him. He referred to this conversation on his death-bed, as being of much comfort and help to him.
Donald had a most fascinating manner, gentle and simple, which endeared him to young and old. When he rose to speak to the “question” [on the Friday of a communion season], all present would be most attentive, expecting to hear some apt illustration of his own experience. Though not endowed with great mental powers, yet he always showed a mind deeply exercised in spiritual things, and could express himself in very choice language. He seldom referred publicly to Church matters, but he had a clear and distinct understanding of the reasons why he became a Free Presbyterian, and could state these clearly when occasion demanded. To the position he took up in 1893 he firmly adhered without wavering to the end.
The prosperity of Christ’s cause at home and abroad was ever near to his heart, but he was particularly interested in its welfare in North Tolsta. When the congregation took practical steps to rebuild the church which was demolished by the terrific gale which passed over the Island in the Spring of 1921, Donald, though very feeble, could be seen making his way every day, in whatever kind of weather, to see how the building was progressing. It was his great desire to see the house opened for public worship before he died, and this desire was granted him. He was also much concerned as to how the cost of the building would be met, and this concern he showed in act when on several occasions he presented himself at the treasurer’s house with his Old Age Pension, just as he received it from the paying officer.
We have already mentioned, that Donald was particularly well known for his apt illustrations. We instance the following from among many.
In speaking of his own experience as an awakened sinner, he said:-
“When a boy, I one day got into a boat, and while amusing myself, I did not observe that the boat had drifted away from the shore, and, the wind being off the land, was being carried out to sea. To my horror and consternation, I saw there was a considerable leak in its bottom. I began to bale with all my might, but, for all my efforts, the volume of water was increasing until at last the sea was freely coming in and going out again over the gunwale. The boat was now sinking under me, and it was useless to continue my efforts any longer. I was lost. At that moment another boat appeared on the scene, and saved me from my perilous position.” This he applied to the futile efforts of an awakened sinner labouring under the covenant of works. When, however, he had given himself up as lost, the Spirit revealed Christ to him in the covenant of grace to his joy and salvation.
On another occasion, in giving marks of grace, he said:-
“I was one day at sea, and was caught in a terrific storm. The boat capsized, and all on board were cast into the sea. When struggling in the water, my first and only thought was for my own safety. No sooner, however, was I rescued than my mind reverted to my poor companions, and the question then was – ‘Would they be saved?’ It is true,” he continued, “of all the Lord’s people that when they can entertain a good hope through grace for their own salvation, they have a longing desire to see their former companions and fellow-sinners saved also.”
Referring to the temptations and difficulties of a convicted sinner, and the improper use Satan would make of certain passages and doctrines of the Word of God, and particularly of the doctrine of election, he used the following illustration:-
“One day we were caught in a heavy storm at sea, and were driven before the wind. As we were being furiously carried along, we saw to our great alarm that we were about to be driven on to a point of land which, to all appearances, would bring about our destruction. If wishing could have done it, I would have torn that promontory out of existence, for, thought I, had it not been there, there would be some hope of our being saved. It seemed, however, that it was to be the principal cause of our doom. In the merciful providence of God, we were able to get round it safely to the lee, or sheltered side, and now, instead of being our peril, it was our best protection. I tell you, there was not at that moment a bit of the whole creation that I loved more than that point. So was it with the child of God and the doctrine of election.”
It will perhaps be necessary to explain for the information of strangers, that Donald was a fisherman, so that the above illustrations were from actual incidents connected with his daily calling.
Speaking of the sad state of the believer, when the Lord hid his face, he said:-
“I remember on one occasion losing a certain thing (probably his spectacles), which to me was indispensable. Being alone in the house, I took the liberty of searching all corners and turning up everything in it. I suppose it did not get such a turning up since its foundation was laid, but all to no purpose. As I sat disconsolately by the fire, mourning over my loss, I happened to put my hand in my pocket and to my great surprise and relief, found there what I had been searching for. I had the article in my possession all the time, although for the moment I could not lay my hand on it.”
In making a distinction between the hypocrite and the true believer, he said:-
“Chickens whenever hatched may be seen running about the dunghill, but the young brood of the lark will be weeks before they are able to leave their nests. But wait a little,” he added, in his own quaint, inimitable way, “and you will soon see the young lark high up in the sky, singing the praises of the Creator, while the chicken is still on the dunghill. Such is the case with the true believer and the hypocrite.”
Though Donald retained his mental powers unimpaired to the end it was evident to all for a number of years back, and especially since the death of his son John, that his physical health was rapidly declining. The severe blow he received in the death of his beloved John, who was killed in France [in the First World War], weighed heavily upon him. John, as the most of our readers are aware, was one of our most promising students [for the ministry], and to him his father was deeply attached. Though he felt his death so keenly yet he never complained, but resigned himself submissively to the will of Him who doeth all things well. The first time the writer went to see him after the sad news had come, he expressed himself pleased to see how wonderfully Donald was upheld under the heavy blow. He seemed quite bright and cheerful. “Well,” he said, “Satan himself did not take upon him to say that John was not with Christ in heaven, and if I believe, as I have every reason to believe, that he is with Christ, should I not be proud rather than sorry that one of my offspring is with Him? I cannot think of John as dead, but as alive with Christ.”
During his last illness, while confined to bed, he suffered little or no pain. When asked if his bed was easy and comfortable, he answered, “Yes, and I will soon have an easier one, for I shall shortly be free from all trouble and sorrow, for my hope rests firmly on Christ’s finished work.” The day before he died, he mentioned that he had seen Murchaidh Ruadh, Crowlista, Uig, in his sleep, but could not get near him, as there was a ferry between them. “Murchaidh” was an eminent Christian who died in Uig some years ago. He said he also spoke to his father, who looked so beautiful that he felt ashamed of himself in his company. Donald has now gone to be with his heavenly Father and Elder Brother, where there is neither sin, shame, nor sorrow. By his removal a great blank has been made in the congregation and Church at large. May the Lord in His mercy heal the wide breach.
To the sorrowing family and congregation we tender our sincere sympathy, and pray that the children be raised up instead of the father.