FOR 56 years, from the age of 23 until his death in October 1998, the late Rev. Angus Mackay was a humble and faithful follower of the Saviour. For 40 of those years he diligently served the Lord as a minister of the gospel in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
He was born in Ness in the Island of Lewis on Tuesday, 1st June, 1919, the fifth of the seven children born to Donald Mackay, an elder in the Ness congregation of the Church, and his wife Annie. Being brought up in a Christian atmosphere, certain religious impressions were made upon his mind at an early age. For example, when he was seven he was much struck by his mother remarking, after completing a task on the croft, “Everything will come to an end except eternity.” From his childhood he had a high esteem for godly people, some of whom were praying for him. One such was another Annie MacKay of Ness, who prayed for him when his life was despaired of as a little child because he had pneumonia. She was not only led to believe that he would recover, but also that he would be raised up as a witness for the Lord.
However, more than twenty years were to elapse from that time before a saving change took place in young Angus Mackay. As he himself saw clearly in later life, his great respect for the godly, and the various impressions made upon him by the common strivings of the Spirit of God, could never be a substitute for the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. He went through boyhood, youth and into adulthood, still loving the world in his inmost heart.
When he was 18, and prior to the outbreak of war, he joined the Royal Naval Reserve, and then the Merchant Navy. On a return voyage from New Zealand he developed acute appendicitis and it seemed likely that he would die, but a medical student on board, who was going to London to complete his medical training, operated on him. In the goodness of God the operation was successful. While convalescing in a Woolwich hospital he read with deep interest a book given to him by his sister: Early Piety by Pyke. So impressed and moved was he by what he read that he came to the conclusion that he was now converted. However, he was soon drawn back to his worldly companions, and his impressions proved to be “as the early dew that passeth away”.
On the outbreak of the war in September 1939 he was called up to the Royal Navy, and served as a Leading Seaman. Again, spiritual impressions were made upon him occasionally in the providence of the Most High. First there was the death of his brother Norman, two years his junior, whose ship went down with all hands. Then there was the loss at sea of a friend, Donald Campbell, a Christian sailor from Ness, who used to speak to Angus about his spiritual experience, and who believed that Angus would yet be converted. To these sad losses were added his own experiences of extreme danger during the war. He sailed on one of the escort ships of the Atlantic convoy, and was present at the evacuation of Dunkirk. During these times of great peril his only consolation was that the Lord’s people in Ness were praying for him.
Halfway through the war, when he was 23, he became most dissatisfied with his worldly ways, and alarmed about his soul. The Holy Spirit was striving with him anew. At this time he received letters from a Christian friend who advised him to read his Bible and pray, and urged him to seek Christ. As he became more earnest in seeking the Lord, he became more convinced than ever of his lost state as a guilty and condemned sinner. He feared lest the Lord should cast him away, but was kept from despairing by these words, “I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew” (Romans 11:1, 2). He was also somewhat encouraged by the words of Isaiah 55:7, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
After about a month in this state of deep concern about his soul, he was one day ashore in Belfast. He went to the Y.M.C.A. centre and found a private place for reading his Bible and prayer. As he was thus engaged, this truth came with power and comfort to his soul: “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). That night, while he was in his hammock on board ship, it was made clear to him by the Lord through His Word, that his sins were forgiven, and that Christ was now his Saviour. At the same time he had the wonderful experience of being assured that as long as he lived in this world he would have Christ as his Friend also, and that when he would leave this world he would behold Him as his King of Glory in heaven. Indescribable joy was now his portion, and sleep did not come to his eyes for several hours.
Following this blessed experience, and as he attended to his duties on board ship, he enjoyed much of the gracious presence of the Lord — so much at times, as he said later, that he felt it was too great for him to bear. Nevertheless, he had his trials as he sought to “walk circumspectly” among his fellow seamen.
While on leave in Lewis in 1944 he was accepted as a member in full communion by the Kirk Session of the Stornoway congregation, the minister of which was the Rev. Malcolm Gillies. One of the elders present, Norman MacLeod, warned him that because he was now making a public profession of faith, Satan would be pursuing him more than ever before. Angus Mackay thought at the time, as he said afterwards, “If Satan will be after me more than he is at present, it will be dreadful,” for it was under much harassment from that evil tempter that he took the solemn step of publicly witnessing on the side of Christ. He was then 24. His life in the Royal Navy thereafter was a severe trial to him, for cursing and swearing among the sailors were common, and it seemed as if they swore more on the Sabbath than on other days of the week. He also had to face further dangers, when for example he took part in the landings at Salerno and Anzio.
The announcement that the War was at an end came in May 1945 as his ship was sailing under Sydney Harbour Bridge on its way to the Pacific to engage in the Japanese conflict. When he was given a period of leave soon after, Angus visited the town of Grafton, and stayed with the late Miss Shaw and Miss Bailey, two godly women who belonged to our congregation there and lived in the house which was later to become the congregation’s manse. It was in Grafton that he first conducted a church service. “That was in September 1945,” he recalled later. “The worthy elder, Mr Donald Shaw, was sick and there was no one else to take the services on Sabbath. I remember reading sermons by M’Cheyne to the congregation.”
When he returned to Ness on being demobilised, he was appointed as a part-time home missionary of our congregation in Ness. Prior to that, the church services were conducted by Mr William MacLean, but he had just left Ness to study for the gospel ministry (and was to become minister successively of the congregations of Ness, Gisborne, Grafton, and then Ness again). Mr Mackay himself later felt led by the Lord to begin studying for the ministry and was accepted as a divinity student by the Outer Isles Presbytery in 1946. He then successfully completed a course of studies at Edinburgh University, and also his divinity course under the Church’s theological tutors. On 12th August 1953, when he was 34, he was ordained and inducted to the North Harris congregation, which had adressed a call to him signed by 300 people. In the following year he married Miss Catherine Mary Matheson of Uig, Lewis.
As a preacher of the gospel, the Rev. Angus Mackay could be both deep and clear, solemn and sweet, and he delighted in setting before his hearers those truths of Scripture which especially present the majesty of Immanuel, and the glory of Immanuel’s land. For example, several people have reason to remember with gratitude to the Lord, a sermon which he preached on the Sabbath evening of a Dingwall communion in 1958, on the text, “And Caleb said, He that smiteth Kirjathsepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife. And Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, took it: and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife. And it came to pass, as she came unto him, that she moved him to ask of her father a field: and she lighted off her ass; and Caleb said unto her, What wouldest thou? Who answered, Give me a blessing; for thou hast given me a south land; give me also springs of water. And he gave her the upper springs, and the nether springs” (Joshua 15:16-19). Having delineated the desires of the seeking soul as typified by Achsah’s request, “Give me a blessing,” he enlarged with great liberty on the person and work of Christ as typified by Othniel. We have reason to believe that there were other sermons preached by the Rev. Angus Mackay which were the means, under God, of the spiritual deliverance of several of the Lord’s people throughout the Church.
Many of the godly can also testify to the help that they received from Mr Mackay’s preaching in time of affliction. He himself was no stranger to tribulation. He had a particularly severe trial, in the form of spiritual depression, at the time of his first wife’s death in 1967 and for some time afterwards. As well as being bereaved of his beloved partner in life, he had the care of their six motherless children, aged from two years to twelve, lying heavily upon him while trying to carry out the duties of a weighty charge. In due time he was delivered from this trial and experienced a large measure of the comforting presence of the Lord. In 1969 he married Miss Kate MacRae of Lochcarron.
While continuing in his pastorate in North Harris, Mr Mackay visited congregations in New Zealand and Australia, as a deputy of the Church, for three months in 1981-2. His ministry was appreciated by our congregations there, as it was by our congregations in Canada when he preached in Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver for seven months in 1962-3.
Mr Mackay had a high view of the onerous work of a preacher of the gospel. He adorned his office with what one tribute rightly described as “that high degree of dignity which characterised his lifelong ministry”.
He served as Moderator of Synod in 1962 and 1980. In proposing him for this honour in 1980, Rev. A. F. Mackay said, “In appointing a Moderator more is involved than presiding over meetings of Synod. It is the greatest honour the church can bestow on any one of its members. Certain qualifications are required.” After specifying several qualifications he said, “This is all true of the minister I propose, the Rev. Angus Mackay, Tarbert.” In accepting the moderatorship Mr Mackay stated, “We live in perilous times but we are encouraged, for we have the Word of God – the doctrines of the Word preached in our congregations at home and abroad.” But prayer was necessary, he stressed. “We should pray for the Holy Spirit; that the Holy Spirit would be applying the preaching and the reading of the Word among ourselves, throughout our land, and in foreign lands also. We should be praying that the Holy Spirit would be blessing the Word so that the kingdom of Satan and darkness would be destroyed throughout our land and throughout the world, and that the kingdom of Christ would be advanced.” It was not necessary to be long in Mr Mackay’s company to realise that he himself was a man of prayer.
He was also a lover of both the Puritan and Scottish divines, including Samuel Rutherford and Thomas Boston. Samuel Rutherford’s Letters were especially precious to him, and he read from them every day for a long period during his Tarbert ministry. He read extensively, could retain much of what he read, and was able until two weeks before his death to quote readily from what he had read. His paper on Boston’s Fourfold State for one of the Church’s theological conferences demonstrated his thorough grasp and warm appreciation of Boston’s theology.
In 1982, Mr Mackay’s health failed when he suffered a stroke. Although he recovered, he was laid low by a life-threatening septicaemia in the following year. Again he recovered, but recurring ill-health necessitated his resigning his 32 year-long pastorate of the North Harris congregation, and retiring to Lochcarron in 1985. His health improved sufficiently for him to resume preaching, which he did for another seven years. He also visited New Zealand and Australia again as a Church deputy for four months in 1988. His brethren in the Western Presbytery, of which he was now a member, were very grateful to have his help at communion seasons and in supplying vacant congregations. However, in 1993 he suffered a massive stroke and was confined to his home, where he was lovingly nursed by his devoted wife. His meek resignation to the Lord’s will was very evident.
The public work of the ministry of the Church was now beyond his ability, but he did not cease the important work of carrying the cause of Christ upon his heart at the throne of grace. The branch of the church of Christ in which he was born, brought up, and in which he served the Lord, was especially dear to him. At the secession of 1989, for example, there was no doubt about the Rev. Angus Mackay’s support for the stand of the Church. At the same time, he loved all who truly feared the Lord, wherever their lot was cast.
Although confined to a wheelchair, Mr Mackay was taken to church when possible, and as recently as June 1998 sat at the Lord’s Table. Attending the means of grace gave him great pleasure, and his presence and prayers were a support to those who had to conduct the services. His brethren could testify to the fact that after they had preached he knew how to speak a word of encouragement to them when necessary, without being flattering.
He had another severe stroke on Sabbath, 20 September 1998, when he was transferred to the Howard Doris Centre in Lochcarron, where he was tenderly nursed by the staff and attended on by his family to the end. For the last days of his life Mr Mackay had no speech but had an awareness of the presence of his loved ones, and responded to speech and prayers. His marked composure in his great trouble was evident for most of the time. Shortly before he sank into a comatose state his wife said to him, “We say good-bye in this world but we have the hope of meeting in heaven.” He firmly replied, “Yes.” His last response, a few hours before his end, was to open his eyes and smile peacefully. On Tuesday, the first day of October, as dawn broke, he passed into the presence of his Lord, and into the glory of the heavenly country. He was 79.
Mr Mackay often preached about heaven, and in his last years he often talked of his longing to be there. One day, during the last months of his life he was speaking to his friend and brother-minister, Rev. Lachlan Macleod, (they both served at sea during the last war, studied for the ministry together, and were ordained by the same Presbytery within a fortnight of one another). “Soon we shall be gone from this world,” he said to Mr Macleod, “and then we shall be in heaven together.” And so it happened, for within the same month of the year they departed this life, entered into the joy of their Lord, and as to their mortal bodies were buried close to each other.
Not long before Mr Mackay died he was speaking to his wife about what might yet happen to him before he died, and he said, “Whatever will be before us, Jesus will be with us.” Speaking of the valley of the shadow of death, he said, “Our Saviour went there before us, and He will be there with us, and then it will be home!” Next day, commenting on the question in Revelation 7:13, “What are these in white robes and whence came they?” he emphasised their coming out of great tribulation, and added, “That is one robe that will not require washing — the robe of their imputed righteousness.” Latterly, he was thinking much of the return of Christ, and also of his own rising from the dead. He was joyful in prospect of seeing Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the redeemed in heaven. “But above all,” he added, “I long to see Christ.”
His desire has been granted. He is now experiencing the fulfilment of the promise, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). His mortal remains were laid to rest in Lochcarron cemetery, where they await the morning of the resurrection, when “the dead in Christ shall rise first” to a blessed resurrection.
We sympathise with his sorrowing widow, sons, and daughters, and other members of the family, in their great loss, and pray that they will be enabled by grace to hope in God, as did the Psalmist — and as did their loved one whose passing away they mourn:
“Thou, with thy counsel, while I live,
wilt me conduct and guide;
And to thy glory afterward
receive me to abide”
(Psalm 73:24, metrical).
[This obituary was originally printed in the May 1999 issue of the Free Presbyterian Magazine.]