A faithful minister of Christ
IN the ancient burial ground in Strathy, on the north coast of Scotland, there is a tall, granite gravestone with the following inscription: “Erected by the Free Church Congregation of Strathy and Halladale, in memory of the Rev. Christopher Munro, who was their Minister for 15 years. Mr. Munro was a native of Rosskeen, in Ross-shire, where he was born on March 2nd, 1817. He was ordained in Tobermory in 1857, and inducted to Strathy on July 13th, 1870, where he died, 1st October 1885, aged 68 years. Mr Munro had a very acute intellect, his pulpit ministrations were the result of mature thought, prayer, and devout meditation, and he applied the Doctrines of Grace with force and discrimination. ‘Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them’.”
Although that blessed servant of God lived a fairly uneventful life, the stamp of his faithful ministry was left on the parish of Strathy for many years after he died. His character is thus summed up by his biographer in Memorials of the late Rev. Christopher Munro: “As a theologian, he surpassed many; as an expositor of the Bible, he was safe and instructive; as a preacher, he was orderly, textual, and evangelical; and whilst deep and experimental, he was far removed from mysticism and anything approaching to superstition. . . Though it greatly disturbed him to witness wrongdoing, and though at times he would break out against it in indignation, he was a loving, tender, and true man.”
Christopher Munro had a privileged spiritual lineage. One of his forebears was John Munro of Kiltearn, who, because of his religious ignorance, was refused baptism for his child by his minister, the eminent Rev. Thomas Hogg. This refusal and Mr Hogg’s preaching were blessed to him, and after sermon one Sabbath he came to Mr Hogg in a most joyful frame. “Mr Thomas! Oh, Mr Thomas!” he cried, “Turn your prayers to praises, for this day salvation is come to my soul.”
From John Munro descended several who became eminent for piety, including the godly Rev. John Munro of Halkirk. Christopher Munro’s father, Hector Munro, became a teacher in Ferintosh, where the renowned Dr John MacDonald, the Apostle of the North, was the minister. Hector Munro was also an elder, precentor and catechist in Dr MacDonald’s congregation.
Despite his religious privileges, young Christopher Munro was quite neglectful of the needs of his soul. In his late teens, he lost an older beloved brother, John, and this blow led him to have solemn thoughts about appearing before God in judgement. Dr MacDonald’s preaching also affected him. “I sometimes felt alarmed, and at times, indeed, had strong convictions,” he said later, “but all these proved as the morning cloud and the early dew, which disappear before the morning sun.” However, his concern returned and increased, and he was in great soul trouble for a long time.
On Sabbath, 25th October, 1840, he was brought to faith in Christ and to joy and peace in believing. (See page 42). When one reads his own account of his times of great darkness of soul in the years immediately after that memorable Sabbath, one wonders if he had indeed closed in with Christ. But he was in fact recording the many fierce conflicts with unbelief which he began to have soon after his conversion, and the deliverance he had on each occasion. Christopher Munro was being led by the Spirit of God into deeper views of sin and of the great and only Remedy.
It was a consolation to him at such times that the Spirit of prayer was not taken from him. “For some years past,” he said, “when I felt bound in prayer for myself, I could pray more earnestly and feel more acutely for others, for the spiritually dead, for the tempted believer, for such as had a name to live and are dead; and so alive did I feel for all such, that at times I seemed to forget that I myself had a soul to be saved or lost. The case of such as had a form of godliness and were ignorant of its power, seemed to be the most deplorable and hopeless of all. I longed also to see true believers shining as lights in the world, enabled to rise above doubts and fears, strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, so that every stumbling block might be taken out of the path of those who were hesitating between two opinions, and ready to take offence at anything unbecoming in the walk of the followers of Christ.”
He had a renewed and particularly wonderful manifestation of the mercy of God in Christ at a thanksgiving service after a Communion Sabbath in Ferintosh. He wrote, “My own minister preached from John 10:9 [‘I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture’]; and, indeed, it was a day of power to me, for I was made to sing for joy, as on the day when I first came to know the glad tidings. At the time I could say that my cup was overflowing, so that the earthly tabernacle could hardly bear more, for I was favoured with another view of the Cross, and of Him who thereon made atonement for the sins of His people. I was enabled to lay hold of Him by faith, and to realise Him as standing in my room, suffering for my sins, and enduring the strokes of Divine justice, which should have fallen on my guilty head. What tongue can express the emotions which agitate the whole soul when favoured with such a view?”
Little wonder that such a man was well qualified to unfold to his people the truth of Scripture concerning sin and salvation. “Those who knew Mr Munro as a preacher” says his biographer, “will remember how much his preaching partook of Dr. MacDonald’s method, whilst there was nothing in the least approaching imitation. There was the same clear and concise and accurate enunciation of doctrine, with what was to many an attraction all its own, the fragrance of a broken spirit, the blended tearfulness and joy of one who had been taken by the New Testament David from the mouth of the destroying lion, and who well remembered his affliction, his misery, the wormwood, and the gall. There comes up to my recollection an action sermon I heard Mr Munro preach at Tobermory from Galatians 3:13, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (one of the ablest sermons I ever listened to in regard to doctrinal correctness and conciseness, and such as Dr. MacDonald might have preached). It was delivered with the brokenness of spirit of one who had spent the previous night sleepless, and wrestling with the angel of the covenant with many cries and tears.”
His seven years’ ministry at Tobermory was much blessed. Even his first sermon there led to a young woman being savingly changed. An inhabitant of Mull wrote about a certain gracious man in Tobermory, “I can say that by far the finest Christian I have met since my first acquaintance with Tobermory was, by common consent, the fruit of Mr Munro’s labours there.” His pastorate of almost seven years in Kilmuir, in Skye, was also fruitful. Even his farewell sermon, when he was to leave for Strathy, was a message of mercy to one woman. She lived near his church but had never heard him preach, so she thought she would like to hear his farewell sermon. His text was, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”, words most suited to the case of one who had been seeking rest in this world and found it not. (See page 36) “She found rest in the glorious Person presented to her in the text,” we are told, “and during the few years she lived after that she led a most consistent Christian life, and finally died a triumphant death.”
His labours in Strathy were also owned by the Lord. His successor there, the Rev. Walter Calder, said that a godly old catechist, who was intimately acquainted with Mr Munro in Tobermory, frequently spoke of him. “The impression that his conversation left on my mind was that Mr. Munro was a diligent student of God’s Word in the original languages; that he had a deep experimental knowledge of the work of grace in the soul; and that he lived in close communion with God. And the longer I live in Strathy, the more confirmed I am in the opinion I then formed. As Mr Munro’s successor in Strathy, I desire to bear testimony to the high esteem in which he was held by this congregation, and to the reverence with which they still speak of him. As a rule, when any of them speak of him, the statement to be made is thus prefaced, ‘The godly Mr Munro whom we had here . . .’
On the last Sabbath he preached in Strathy, his text at the Gaelic service was 2 Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” At the English service he continued his series of expositions on the Epistle to the Hebrews, having reached the words, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report” (Heb 11:1, 2). Several in the congregation felt that they were hearing him for the last time. Ten days afterwards he was taken away to be partaker of that glory of which he preached.
Just before he died, someone said to him, “You are very ill.” “Yes,” he replied, “the minutes are quickly passing away, and it is through much tribulation that we must enter the kingdom.” He then prayed. The last words that could be distinguished were, “The blood of Christ, the blood of Christ the Redeemer.” He then sighed deeply and was gone – gone to be with that Redeemer whom he loved dearly and served faithfully.