WE are informed that our Creator, who gives to all “life, and breath, and all things”, has, in His holy sovereignty, set the bounds of our habitation, numbered our days, and, accordingly, appointed our time to be born and our time to die. Alexander Morrison, the subject of this obituary, was well aware of this and often quoted Peter Grant’s couplet:
“Nuair thig an t-àm dhaibh an saoghail fhàgail, Mas tinn no slàn iad, cha tàmh iad uair.”
“When the time comes for them the world to leave, Whether in health or sickness, they will not remain for an hour.”
In his case the time to be born was the eleventh day of May, 1925, and the place of his birth was Europie, in the parish of Ness. The time to die came on the evening of Saturday, the sixth day of March, 1999, in the North Uist manse, when it pleased the Saviour suddenly to call him to his everlasting rest. Ness ever had a warm place in his heart and it is not surprising that his desire was to be laid to rest there, within sight of the home where he was born. It is well for him that in between birth and death he found Christ as a Saviour and that, having found Him, He was led by Him in that highway that leads to Zion where pilgrims are tried, proved and brought to know what is in their own hearts.
The son of God-fearing parents, he was brought up in a home where by precept and example he was taught the way in which he should go. That the bonds which bound him to parents and siblings were strong and tender was evident at times when death came to sever them as was true not only in the case of his parents but also of four brothers (one of them his twin) and his only sister. Those in a position to know the circumstances still remember how broken he was at such times of sorrow. However, in the Most High’s inscrutable providence, it was the first breach made by death upon his family circle in the removal of a dearly-beloved brother that was to lead to his entertaining for the first time deeply serious thoughts in regard to his soul’s eternal salvation.
At the time he was a seafarer. As did many of his contemporaries in Ness, he, at the age of sixteen, joined the Merchant Navy and because it was wartime he was called upon not only to brave the ordinary perils of the sea but also the dangers stemming from exposure to enemy submarine and bomber attacks. The sad news of his brother’s death was conveyed to him in a letter from his father. Up to that point he seems to have lived as others in a state of nature careless and indifferent, unaware of the value of his soul and that the one thing needful was salvation. At the time, island seamen “signed on” to man ships which sailed from Glasgow to foreign ports and as a rule their absence from home extended to the period of a year or even longer.
Although we are unable to piece together in clear chronological order these events in his spiritual experience which were eventually to lead to his deliverance from the power of darkness and translation into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, it is clear that a ship-mate – Calum Morrison from South Harris, later to be well-known as a bright Christian and able lay-preacher – was of help to him as a spiritual guide and confidante. All that can be said is that it would seem that a prolonged period of time was to pass before the Physician applied His healing balm to the young seaman’s stricken soul.
He first appeared at a Free Presbyterian service in Edinburgh when the Rev Neil MacIntyre was the minister. His ship having docked at Leith, he made his way to Gilmore Place on a prayer-meeting evening and he often spoke of how congenial he found the company gathered there. Later, while pursuing his studies in Edinburgh, he became better acquainted with men such as Peter Anderson, James MacKay and Andrew Pottinger, whose like-minded wife hailed from Ness. These were Christians which he held in the highest esteem. It was, however, in Ness that his attendance on our Church services made the greatest impact. The regular presence of so promising a young man in the means of grace was a great encouragement to the Lord’s people and they immediately took him to their bosom.
Mr William MacLean MA, who had been Alexander’s teacher in Lionel School, was now the Ness missionary, having been constrained to take on that office and the responsibility of keeping the services after the death of Mr Andrew Finlayson. Acquaintance was renewed but how changed the circumstances! Mr MacLean departed in 1946 to pursue theological studies but returned to Ness to be settled there as pastor in August 1948. Meantime, the Rev Donald Campbell having been inducted in Stornoway in January 1947, took over the Interim-Moderatorship of the Ness Kirk Session, and Alexander Morrison would tell you that if he ever had the experience of being present when the Gospel preached was accompanied by Divine power it was while listening on one occasion to Mr Campbell.
Alexander Morrison’s name was the first to be added to the Ness communion roll after Mr MacLean’s settlement, and being recognised as having the gifts required, he was, within two years, appointed a part-time missionary by the Outer Isles Presbytery and began to take services in rural congregations such as Breanish and Achmore. We believe that it was not without much thought that he took on these duties. He was firmly of the view that the call to preach the Gospel was indissolubly linked to the ordained ministry, but, at the time, he had so low a view of his own abilities that entering the ministry seemed to be beyond his reach. But he was wrong in thinking so, and when he was moved to take the steps necessary to study for the ministry the Session and Presbytery had no difficulty in accepting him.
Applying himself with diligence and determination to his studies, he first completed the prescribed course in Arts at Edinburgh University and then, under the Church’s Tutors, the course in Divinity. On the twenty-first day of July 1959, he was licensed to preach the Gospel by the Outer Isles Presbytery and in the same year, on the fourth day of November, he was ordained and inducted to the charge of the North Uist congregation. There, notwithstanding many approaches to remove to other charges, he was to labour until, in the fortieth year of his ministry, he entered into the joy of his Lord.
Charles Hodge points out that the great thing required of ministers is fidelity: “Fidelity to Christ as servants; not arrogating to themselves any other than ministerial power, or venturing to go beyond his commands. Fidelity also to the people, not failing to dispense to them the truths which God has revealed, nor mixing those truths with their own speculations, much less substituting for those doctrines human knowledge or wisdom.” We believe that these are the standards by which Mr Morrison sought to discharge his duties. Law and Gospel received equal emphasis and when he felt it necessary to rebuke sin he did not fail to lift up his voice like a trumpet in doing so. Mr Morrison was certainly not wont to shrink back from preaching what he considered to be profitable to his hearers. His preaching revealed close study of the Word and full acquaintance with the writings of Puritan divines.
His own spiritual experience leading up to his receiving and embracing of Christ in the Gospel was intense and his abhorrence of all that savoured of Arminianism or man-centred religion was expressed with the conviction of a man who had been brought face to face with eternal realities himself. He had no time or place for that godliness which denies the power thereof; that godliness which the Reverend Archibald Cook spoke of as found in that man who had the tongue of the new birth but who was still in the womb of a natural state. Treating lightly the deep things of God was grieving to his spirit.
He loved the testimony of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and over the years and in difficult times, his loyalty to it remained unswerving. He was not one to compromise and he had no time for those given to change. Over the years, his services were much in demand at communion seasons and this led to him becoming well known, loved and respected throughout Church. Most bilingual hearers would agree that he was most at home in Gaelic, his mother tongue, but he was fluent and articulate in English as well.
To his own flock in North Uist he was a true pastor, visiting the sick and comforting the bereaved with unfailing regularity. Many homes outside his own congregation were also visited in times of bereavement or sickness and on at least one occasion he even visited a Roman Catholic home in South Uist to comfort a father bereaved of a son in tragic circumstances. On being asked to do so, he prayed with the sorrowing parent and on Mr Morrison taking his departure the man profusely expressed his gratitude to him. His removal has left a great blank in North Uist and our sympathy is extended to the congregation there. We trust that the seed sown among them will yet bring forth fruit. The high esteem in which he was held by the wider community was reflected in the large number who attended the family worship held in the North Uist church prior to the removal of his remains to Lewis.
Mr Morrison was naturally possessed of a friendly, engaging personality and having a keen sense of humour, he was a most amiable companion. He was, as many will testify, kind and generous to a fault. In 1959 he was joined in marriage to Miss Marion MacLeod of Swordale, a true helpmeet and one who proved to be of one heart and mind with her husband. Over the years the Manse in North Uist became well-known for the kindness and hospitality shown alike to Church visitors and strangers from many backgrounds. Mr and Mrs Morrison raised a family consisting of two sons and two daughters. For a year or so before his death Mr Morrison was to an extent incapacitated as a result of kidney failure, but expertly nursed by his wife he was able to continue in the work of the ministry and death thus found him still in harness.
On Tuesday 12th January, after family worship in the Stornoway church, attended by a vast number of people, Mr Morrison’s mortal remains were laid to rest in Habost cemetery in very close proximity to the grave of the late Rev William MacLean. There, together making up “a knot of bonnie dust”, they now sleep on, undisturbed by the ceaseless surge of the nearby ocean, awaiting the sounding of the trumpet and the call to arise and to meet their Lord, who will then acquit them at His judgment seat and make them “perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.”
To his sorrowing widow and family, and also his sole surviving brother, we anew extend our sympathy. May He who wept at the grave of Lazarus comfort and sustain them.
[This obituary was originally printed in the November 1999 issue of the Free Presbyterian Magazine.]