Alexander Macaskill was born in the year 1895, in North Uist. His father, a native of Uist, later became the Church’s missionary at Braes, Skye. His mother, who died when Mr Macaskill was but six years of age, was an eminently godly woman.
As a young boy, Mr Macaskill showed a readiness to comply in general with the wishes of his father. Yet, he admitted that he did feel some unwillingness when asked to sit in, on a weekday evening, and read Boston’s Fourfold State. The unwillingness, however, soon vanished after reading a few of its pages. He came to describe this book as “his treasure” and it proved to be a spiritual companion to him in later life.
As a young man he helped in the running of the croft. He could bear witness that the Lord, even then, answered his prayers. On one occasion when tending to his father’s sheep, two of them had strayed, and could not be found, although he had spent several days in searching the moors of Uist. Mr Macaskill prayed over the matter and that very night he saw, in a dream, the two sheep held fast in a particular bog, to which place he went the next day and found the sheep.
He had learned also to understand the rebukes of the Lord in providence. A neighbour had returned to the island, and Mr Macaskill was anxious to hear his stories. For this purpose he unyoked the horse early, and although it was the prayer meeting evening, that was to be laid aside in favour of his worldly interests. The horse was led to the well as usual, but the animal, which was remarkable for docility, proved intractable and kicked him. As he would say himself, “No one needed to tell me why I received that kick”.
When the First World War began, Mr Macaskill readily went forward to fight for his country. Like many another person confronted with the dangers of the front line, he was brought to make many vows and resolutions to the Lord. Eventually, Mr Macaskill returned to North Uist and it appeared as if these resolutions were forgotten.
The Lord reminded him of these matters and assured him that worse would come his way and then there would be no place for vows and resolutions. From now on the interests of his soul were made real to him. He was to pass through much and to learn thoroughly the work of the Holy Spirit in the new birth, in such a way that he could recall almost every step by which he was led. At one time, when he envisaged his appearance at the judgement seat of Christ, he felt that he would be able to defend himself against the sentence of God that he should be sent to hell. Thus began in his soul a rebellion against the law of God which proved severe and lasting. It would be hard to convey in words what his soul passed through during this trial.
The first easiness of mind experienced by him was, when he came to accept the sovereignty of God and this was prior to his having any sense of comfort arising from a hope of being converted. In his attempt to answer the demands of the law and to live without sin, he once imagined that he had succeeded in going a whole week without sinning, but this imagination was quickly destroyed. So hopeless did he see his case to be that he thought that there was no hope for him and he would perish. In this frame of mind he thought that to work was purposeless, and that he should “ground tools”. Here, however, it occurred to him that man’s duty was to work and so he carried on with his ordinary tasks. The Holy Spirit thus taught him that if ever he were to be delivered, it must be by the Lord alone and that of His free grace. He waited long for his salvation and no wonder he could speak so understandingly from the words of the psalmist in Psalm 40:1, “I waited for the Lord my God”. As far as I can remember, the words which ultimately gave him deliverance were the words in Psalm 4:8, “I will both lay me down in peace, and quiet sleep will take, because Thou only me to dwell in safety, Lord, dost make.”
I remember being with him on one occasion as he reminisced on the time of his deliverance and he quoted the words, “the fountains of the great deep were opened up”, and added, “Whatever others may say, as far as I am concerned, it was the open fountains of the great deep of the Covenant of grace”. It is little to be wondered at that he stressed so much in connection with the sinner’s salvation, “God is going to have all the glory”. He admired the grace of God and seemed to live out the truth he often stated, that grace would never be satisfied until it got back to the source from whence it came.
It could well be expected that Satan did not leave such a one alone. He had at this time a particularly sore trial which kept him many a night from his sleep. At last deliverance came in the words, “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part He is gloriﬁed” (1 Pet 4:14). What amazed him in this issue was that God could be gloriﬁed by anything concerning him.
Being exercised in his soul with regard to making a public profession, and having, on the one hand, such a high regard for his own father, in whom he saw vital godliness so clearly exempliﬁed, and, on the other hand, his own shortcomings and corruptions, he hesitated to take the step. On the Saturday of a Uist Communion, the late Rev D N MacLeod, latterly of Ullapool, was preaching from the words in Isaiah 40:11, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young”. Mr MacLeod went over the experience of Mr Macaskill stating all the fears and temptations with which he was then assaulted, and answered every one of them from the Word of God. Even while given such clear evidence, which he believed was from the Lord alone, as he sat and listened, he said within himself, “If only Mr MacLeod would mention the words which I hope were the means of my deliverance, I would go to the session.” This, however, was not given.
As he came away from the church, he was assaulted by the devil, who said to him that, although he would be in heaven, the Lord would never again shine upon his soul on this earth. This made him weep bitterly. Eight years were to pass before he professed the Lord, and this was following upon his revered father’s death.
Mr Macaskill left the croft and found employment in Fort William. From here it would appear he went forward to study for the ministry. We may rest assured that a man who held such a clear view of the solemnities of eternity did not rush upon such an office. He prosecuted his studies at the University of London. At one time he was encouraged in this work by the words, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God” (Rev 3:12). After successfully completing his course in London, he proceeded to study under the Church tutors, and many a time he was sorely tried so as to be nearly giving up. However, he continued, and in 1937 was inducted as the pastor of the Assynt congregation of the Church, where he was to labour for well over forty years. It was here that he married Miss Flora Matheson, the daughter of the late Mr and Mrs Kenneth Matheson, Dingwall. Mr Matheson was a worthy elder in the Dingwall congregation. Mr and Mrs Macaskill had a family of two sons and three daughters.
The labours of Mr Macaskill were not confined to Assynt, but, due to the gifts with which the Lord had blessed him and to the large measure of grace given to him, he was constantly called upon to give his services at communion seasons. His outward life answered well to his pulpit ministrations. For the pulpit he prepared much by prayerful meditation on the Word. He was well read in the works of the divines. Gifted with a keen intellect, he was able to study, grasp and expound the whole theological system of the Word of God, in a most balanced manner. The experiences through which he himself passed gave a flavour to his preaching which was inimitable.
His voice was clear and arresting. As he proceeded with the sermon, it often rose to great height, as he warned sinners not to be “dupes of the devil”, and assured them of the fact that Christ was free to them. Of man’s utter inability to help himself, he was by no means silent, but held it in the very forefront of his preaching. In prayer, it was evident that here was a man who had come from the secret place of communion with God. There was evident a sense upon his spirit of the deep separation sin had made between man and a holy God, and the consequent need for the Mediator. On the whole, he often refreshed the weary heritage of God’s elect and warned sinners of the danger of a lost eternity.
He bore his many trials meekly. The greatest of them was his own corruption. This sense that he had of sin increased with his years, although it was plain that from the very outset he was deeply aware of the presence of sin within him. When he first sat at the Lord’s table, he could truthfully say that he felt himself to be the greatest sinner there. He was much exercised in the Word of God and this was flowing from his love to Christ. He was a truly humble man and the very children could observe this. On one occasion, he was in the company of children who were about to have a drink of orange juice. The children hesitated, wondering if it was necessary to ask a blessing. On recognising the situation, he asked a blessing, remarking in it: “our great need of thanksgiving for what we might consider to be a small mercy – not a drop of cold water is given to a sinner in a lost eternity.”
In church matters he never put himself forward, but in the Courts of the church his counsel was waited upon. He held very clear and decided views on the position of the Church and never wavered about the stand taken in 1893. He seemed to have the highest regard for the late Rev Neil Cameron, a man, he said, whose words had such an edge upon them that none other whom he heard had.
Mr Macaskill was deeply concerned about the low state of things in the world and in the church. His belief was that matters would get worse and his reason for this view was that the Lord had applied to his soul the words of Scripture, “Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same” (2 Chron 34:28). The words borne into his mind were “all the evil”. He looked upon the fact that there was nothing to hinder sinners fulfilling their every lust, as a sign that we were nearing destruction. His view was that the church’s duty was to hold fast, even although it would appear as if she was doing nothing. He compared the situation to that of a certain time in France, during the first war, when, for a long time, the army seemed to be at a standstill, but in fact it was holding its position.
He was able to the end to perform his ministerial duties, while his preaching retained its life and solemnity. He passed away on 15 December 1982. We had reason to feel as he himself felt for many a day: “Woe is me! for I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grape gleanings of the vintage: there is no cluster to eat: my soul desired the firstripe fruit” (Micah 7:1).
His remains were laid to rest in Portree cemetery.
Rev A E W MacDonald
[This obituary was originally printed in the May 1984 issue of the Free Presbyterian Magazine.]