THE passing away of a faithful, godly minister of the gospel is a great loss to the cause of Christ at any time. Such a grievous loss was sustained by the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, as well as by his family, when the Rev. Lachlan MacLeod died on Monday, 26th October 1998, at the age of 79.
A native of the Island of Skye, and the youngest of a family of eight, he was born on 24 November, 1918, in the village of Roag, near Dunvegan. Both his father, Kenneth MacLeod, and mother were loyal Free Presbyterians who belonged to the Glendale congregation, of which the Rev James MacLeod was the minister after 1920. Young Lachlan grew up under good instruction and had much respect and affection for the Church and its ministers.
He joined the Merchant Navy in 1938 and sailed on steamers on the Clyde coast. During his years on the Clyde he was able to regularly attend the preaching of Rev. James MacLeod in West Shaw Street, Greenock, little knowing that he was one day to be Mr MacLeods successor. (Rev. James MacLeod had been translated from Glendale to Greenock in 1932). Lachlan greatly appreciated and enjoyed Mr MacLeods preaching but did not come under deep soul concern until later.
When the Second World War broke out he sailed on various vessels in the service of the Admiralty, and then on the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth which had been requisitioned for war service and were used to transport wounded American servicemen. Having studied at James Watt Navigation School in Greenock in 1945, he became Third Mate on the Thermol.
It was during Lachlan MacLeods time at deep sea that he became truly anxious about his state as a sinner before God, and his need of salvation. A Christian sailor (whom he did not know at the time) left a tract lying where it would likely be picked up. Lachlan MacLeod picked it up and saw that it was a sound gospel tract based on Isaiah, chapter 53. As he read the tract the way of salvation was wonderfully opened up to him, especially from the words, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5), and he was led to close in by faith with Christ.
It would seem that at that time, or not long afterwards, he felt that the Lord was calling him to the ministry of the gospel. He was reluctant to go in that direction, for not only did he feel his unfitness for the work but also he had his heart set upon a naval career. Two of his brothers were already sea captains, and he always thought that the sea would be his calling also.
However, in the providence of the Lord, his navy career plans were interrupted. He was struck down by tuberculosis, invalided out of the Merchant Navy, and lay in Mearnskirk hospital for the first seven months of 1946. In his serious illness, and thinking that he would never be able to enter the ministry, he was greatly encouraged by the words of Psalm 118, verse 17,
“I shall not die but live, and shall
the works of God discover.”
At the beginning of 1947 he felt it his duty to profess the name of Christ, but was hindered by a sense of his own unworthiness. He attended the Inverness congregation communion season in January 1947, but instead of being encouraged he came to the conclusion that he had no grace. He decided to return home on Monday morning without waiting for the final service of the communion, but at family worship in the home where he was staying he was encouraged by these words, “What God has cleansed, that call not thou unclean.” He remained for the Monday service, and even for the usual prayer meeting in the evening. The late Rev. John Tallach, Oban, conducted the prayer meeting and gave a short address on the text, “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me” (Psalm 138:8). Lachlan MacLeod said later, “It was as if he knew my whole case, although I told it to no one.” It was a word in season to his soul. Nevertheless, on his return home he was hindered from doing his duty by another obstacle: certain people in the congregation, whom he regarded as godly, had not yet made a profession. “I remember,” he said, “when lying on my bed one night and feeling myself in darkness with regard to the matter, that this truth came with power, What is that to thee, follow thou me.” He added, “And so, by these providences and by the truth, the way was opened up.” At the Glendale communion in June, 1947, he was accepted by the Kirk Session as a communicant.
At another communion in Skye some time after that, a godly elder there, Donald MacAskill, saw a young man present at the fellowship meeting on Friday, whom he did not know. He wondered if it was Lachlan MacLeod, of whom he had heard. The young man was called to speak to the question (it was indeed Lachlan MacLeod). Feeling his unfitness, he simply read the portion of Scripture under discussion and quoted these lines from Psalm 40,
“Im poor and needy; yet the Lord
of me a care doth take.”
He then sat down. Donald MacAskill said afterwards, “My heart was knit to him from that day.” Their spiritual bond continued firm over the years.
Lachlan MacLeod, now 29 years old, moved to Kyle of Localsh to be the Mate on the Flamborough Head, an Admiralty vessel. While there, he and Mr Donald Malcolm MacLeod (later to become a minister of the Church) became close friends and enjoyed warm fellowship in the gospel. At that time, Mr D. M. MacLeod was the Churchs missionary in Kyle and Plockton.
While Lachlan MacLeod was in Kyle, he was prevailed upon to conduct a service in the church, and thus spoke on the Word of God in public for the first time. Although he had doubts and fears about his call to preach the gospel, he was being closed in more and more to offer himself as a student for the ministry of the Church. In this connection, the portion of Scripture which spoke powerfully to him and encouraged him then and afterwards was Revelation 3:8, especially the phrase “Behold I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.” On 27th July, 1948, the Western Presbytery received him as a divinity student.
Being now required to undertake academic studies, he studied under Mr G. Ross, headmaster, Lochcarron, and in the British Educational Institute in Glasgow. Although he passed his university entrance examinations, he was prevented from pursuing university degree studies by the recurrence of ill-health. When his health was restored he took non-graduating university classes, and then completed his divinity course under the Churchs theological tutor, the late Rev. Donald Beaton.
In July 1953, and at the age of 34, he was ordained to the ministry of the gospel in the Free Presbyterian Church, and inducted to the pastorate of the Uig congregation in the Isle of Lewis. The call was signed by 211 people. The huge gathering of people included some from as far away as Inverness and even New Zealand. The Rev. J. A. Tallach, Stornoway, as Moderator of Presbytery, preached on 2 Corinthians 5:20, about the ambassadors of Christ. That evening, more than one speaker referred to the greatly blessed ministry of Rev Alexander MacLeod of Uig, in the previous century. Rev Lachlan MacLeod himself often thought and spoke of that fruitful ministry. On one occasion he wrote in his diary about being visited by a friend, “We spoke of the awakenings in Uig in Rev. Alexander MacLeods time. Thou art the same Lord still; do thou arise and plead the cause that is Thine own.”
Later that year, in September, he was married to Miss Jetta MacRae, Lochcarron, whom he first met in 1947 when he visited Plockton, where she was teaching in the Secondary School. They were eventually blessed with a family of seven children four sons and three daughters.
About a year after his marriage, Mr MacLeod became ill again, and had to be taken to Tornadee Hospital, Aberdeen. He was humbly resigned to this enforced separation from his congregation and family, and to having to remain in hospital for almost a year and undergo a major operation on his lung. His wife and baby son had to stay with her family in Lochcarron during that anxious time.
From his diary, written during that time, it is clear that he was constantly looking to the Lord. Many and earnest are his prayers throughout its pages, and the note of thankfulness is very prominent in them. While he was deeply appreciative of the kindness shown him by the medical staff, he found the Sabbaths in the hospital to be very trying because of the Sabbath desecration around him. “So much of the goodness of the Lord is seen in this very place where He is forgotten and His day trampled,” he wrote. “But His day will be victorious yet. O Lord, hasten the day when Thy glory will fill the whole earth when thy will shall be done on earth.”
In his kindly concern for the other patients, he prayed for them, gave them tracts and had interesting talks with some of them. “Help me, blessed One,” he prayed, “to witness for Thee in this place.” Of one patient he writes, “Had another talk with H. He is certainly looking for something. May he be led to Christ.” Of another he wrote, “C. goes home tomorrow. Ill miss him a lot. O! Lord, do thou bless our talks together. Make Thyself known to him. Be about us all for good.” The writer met a man at the time of Mr MacLeods death who said that he had been in Tornadee with him and never forgot his kindness. He remarked, “He was our minister in Tornadee.”
When Mr MacLeods condition worsened and an operation became necessary, we find this prayer in his diary, “Oh, blessed One, give me to be reconciled to thy blessed holy will. Thou knowest how far I am from that by nature. Teach me to be thankful for all thy goodness.” In the kindness of the Lord the operation was successful and he eventually returned to his family and congregation in October 1955. He continued as pastor of his beloved Uig flock for another ten years, despite having received many approaches from other congregations to be their pastor.
After almost 12 years as minister in Uig, he believed that the Lord was directing him to accept a call from the Greenock congregation. He was inducted by the Southern Presbytery to that charge on 3rd March, 1965. The Moderator of Presbytery, the Rev. Donald Campbell, Edinburgh, preached a very appropriate sermon on 1 Timothy 4:16, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” He emphasised the duties laid upon Timothy, and upon all ministers; and the fulfilling of the promise consequent upon the proper discharge of these duties. Those who knew Rev. Lachlan MacLeod saw that he was indeed a minister who took heed to himself, walking circumspectly, and who took heed to clearly, earnestly and lovingly set before sinners the doctrines of Scripture which was to the spiritual benefit of many.
The year before he settled in Greenock, he was appointed Moderator of Synod, and now, two months after his induction, and as retiring Moderator, he preached to the Synod on the words, “Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.” He emphasised the duty of waiting on the Lord in prayer for the needs of His cause, and of “keeping His way” by adhering closely to His Word and contending for the faith. “It is because there were men and women in Scotland in other days who did this,” he said, “that in our day we have, in the good providence of the Lord, Gods way of salvation still left with us.”He had the weighty responsibility of moderating the historic meeting of Synod in 1989, when the Synod upheld the decision of the Southern Presbytery to discipline an elder of the Church, Lord MacKay, for attending a Roman Catholic requiem mass. We recollect his earnest petition in prayer at that time: “Thy laws to know, give wisdom, Lord,” and how he was enabled to discharge his duties with dignity and in a gracious manner.
Next year, as retiring Moderator, he preached a very encouraging sermon on 1 Chronicles 28:20, “And David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed: for the LORD God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the LORD.” In concluding his sermon he said, “In the Free Presbyterian Church we have the Word of God, the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms the doctrines which were owned and acknowledged of God and blessed by Him in ages past, and which will yet be blessed in Scotland and throughout the world. May we as a Synod be encouraged by this tonight; and may we render our thanks to the Most High, who until now has enabled us, although we are numerically smaller, to hold fast that which He has committed to us. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
During Mr MacLeods ministry in Greenock he also had the care of the Dunoon, Kames and Dumbarton congregations. With help from heaven, and with the support of his godly elders, he was enabled to steer the Dumbarton congregation through great difficulties during two stressful periods in its history. He was also Interim-Moderator of the London congregation during two of the pastoral vacancies there.
From 1968 to 1972 Mr MacLeod was the convener of the Training of the Ministry Committee of the Church. His concern for the maintaining of the ministry of the Church was frequently indicated by his prayers that the Lord of the harvest would send forth labourers. How earnestly he pressed upon his hearers from time to time the duty of praying for the gospel ministry.
In 1981 he visited New Zealand and Australia as a Church deputy for a period of three months, and again in 1986 for six months. On two occasions he was sent, as a Church deputy, to the Chesley and Toronto congregations in Canada, and also accompanied Rev. A. McPherson on a visitation to the Vancouver congregation.
At the Churchs centenary meeting in Edinburgh in 1993, he read a paper on the history of the Greenock congregation. He gave an interesting insight into the Lords leading in the founding of the Free Presbyterian Church, and the warmth and strength of the spiritual bond which existed among the godly men who were to the forefront in making a stand for the truth then.
Mr MacLeod continued as minister of the Greenock congregation until the end of 1993, when, at the age of 75, he had to resign his pastorate on the grounds of ill health. It was with reluctance that the Presbytery accepted his resignation. The Presbytery records state, “Mr MacLeods relations with members of the Presbytery were of a most cordial kind. He was indeed a brother beloved, and it is with sadness we see his seat on the court becoming empty. The Presbytery wish both himself and Mrs MacLeod, who has been a true helpmeet to him, the Lords blessing on his retirement. It is hoped that the Lord will enable him to continue to preach the joyful sound of the Gospel as opportunity arises.”
He was in fact enabled to continue taking services when he and his wife retired to Dingwall the next year, which was a tremendous help to his brother ministers and elders. Not only did Mr and Mrs MacLeod become a most welcome addition to the Dingwall and Beauly congregation, but also Mr MacLeod became a useful member of the Northern Presbytery. As was stated at a meeting of Presbytery after he passed away, “His contributions to the deliberations of the Presbytery and other Church courts were characterised by mature wisdom and gracious warmth, and had a calming effect during difficult discussions.”
Mr MacLeods health so deteriorated in 1998 that he had to have an operation, but his condition worsened. After a comparatively long time of pain and weakness he passed away on the morning of Monday, 26th October, to enter into the eternal blessedness of those of whom Scripture says, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.”
Although this devoted servant of God is now gone, he yet speaks. His sermons were rich in Biblical content. His earnest appeals to sinners to prepare for eternity by repenting and believing the gospel will be long remembered. He was well fitted to speak a word in season to the godly in their trials, for he himself had much experience of the fulfilment of the Lords promise, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). He had thoughtful compassion for those in need, and sincere sympathy with those in trouble, and His words of encouragement to the Lords people are yet sweet in the memory of many of them.
We remember too that he was very much a “man of prayer” a feature of his life which has been remarked on by many of his friends. He waited on the Lord in prayer not only for himself, his loved ones, and his congregations, but also for the whole cause of Christ and for his friends throughout the Church and beyond. One could not but think, at the time of his death, of the words of Scripture: “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.”
As a minister of the gospel he sought and found grace to be ever obedient to the exhortation, “In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philip. 2:3). At the same time he would give way to no man in seeking to be faithful in what pertained to the glory of God, the welfare of His cause, and the benefit of precious souls.
His mortal remains were laid to rest, in the presence of many mourners, in Lochcarron Cemetery, close to those of his friend and brother-minister, Rev. Angus Mackay. (They both served at sea during the last war, studied for the ministry together, were ordained by the same Presbytery within a fortnight of one another, and passed away in the same month). Altogether, as was stated at his funeral, the Rev. Lachlan MacLeod, like Daniel of old, was “a man greatly beloved”. He faithfully continued in the path of duty to the end, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
We sympathise deeply with his sorrowing widow and family in their continued sense of loss, and commend them to “the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort”. May they experience much of what their late loved one experienced: that “the LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him” (Nahum 1:7).
Rev N M Ross
[This obituary was originally printed in the May 2000 issue of the Free Presbyterian Magazine.]