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Hector MacKinnon, A Memoir
Chapter II - University


"Follow the Christ, the King;
Live pure, speak truth, right wrong, follow the King
Else wherefore born?

HECTOR MACKINNON'S university career must have brought joy to the hearts of his former teachers. He was, prizeman in several classes in Arts and Divinity, medallist in the Celtic class, and held the Gillian Maclean, the John Mackay, and the Highland Society of London bursaries. His certificates from year to year tell of class work "faithfully and well done," "in a highly satisfactory manner," and "in all respects to my entire satisfaction." Industry, perseverance, and an intense interestedness are clearly shown in all his college notebooks. Genius, we are told, is a "transcendent capacity for taking pains," and is "no use without grit." He had both, and— something more. And knowing all, it was easy to understand the deep pathos with which he would sometimes, in after life, repeat the lines--

"Oh, lone Tiree, yet dear to me,
Thy rock-bound coast and stormy sea,"

for here it was he had listened in the solitudes and had heard the sound of that wind which "bloweth where it listeth," and "thou canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth." He had been "born of the Spirit"; and with the quick impulsiveness which characterised him, he had thus early laid at the feet of his divine Master time and talents, all he was, and all he might ever hope to be. The deep, abiding joyousness of his whole life had its springs here:-

Once for the least of children of Manasses
God had a message and a deed to do,
Wherefore the welcome that all speech surpasses
Called him and hailed him greater than he knew.

Asked him no more, but followed him and found him,
Filled him with valour, slung him with a sword,
Bade him go on until the tribes around him
Mingled his name with naming of the Lord."

F. W. H. Myers.

That he exercised a lasting influence for good over his fellow-students is abundantly set forth in letters written by many of them after he had passed away. Amongst hundreds of others none are more precious. The following are extracts from some of them:

"Your husband and I were fellow-students during our whole College course, and were always the best of friends. Stationed far apart, we have not seen much of each other since we left the University; but on the few occasions on which we met it was always a pleasure to see him again and talk of old times. The last occasion we met was in June of last year, when he presided so ably and genially at our class reunion dinner. How little did we think that of that happy gathering he would be the first taken! By all his fellow-students he was always liked and esteemed. We all recognised his intellectual abilities, and his sterling Christian character, and looked upon him as the most distinguished amongst us in pulpit oratory, and general ministerial work. God has taken him early, and his passing is a real loss to the Church he served so well. But no doubt higher work is given him to do where he is gone.

* * * * * *

"In common with most of Mr. Mackinnon's fellow- students, I had a sincere personal regard for him, and we all felt some measure of satisfaction at the position which one of our number had taken, and was increasingly taking, in the work of the Church. During the sitting of last Assembly, the students who passed through the Divinity Hall together, and who finished their curriculum in 1891, met together in a social capacity; and we counted ourselves happy, through the circumstance of his being the senior ordained man among us, in having Mr. Mackinnon in the chair. Little did any of us imagine that before another Assembly had come round, our dear chairman's work on earth would be over.

* * * * *

"I think of our college days together, and the happy, breezy, strong personality of your husband, our fellowstudent—the unalloyed pleasure it was to know and meet him. Then his rapid promotion from one sphere to another—all so deserved and so blessed, and yet taken so humbly and unaffectedly. Nothing gave me greater pleasure to come to Glasgow than to meet him and again renew our friendship. He was just the same old ' Hector of his college benches—a big-hearted, happy Christian man."

In 1889 the young student had his first experience of ministerial work, on his being sent to conduct a summer mission at Melness, in Sutherlandshire. His services were so much appreciated, that the following summer he was again in charge of the same mission. In the manse of Tongue he found warm friends whose kindness and hospitality he never forgot. Writing of him some time ago, the minister of Tongue said, He was the kindest man I ever knew."

Six years ago it was a great joy to revisit the scene of his early labours, in order to assist Mr. Lundie with the Communion services at Tongue and Melness. We spent a perfectly happy week in the manse, but the boisterous weather made it impossible for the ladies to accompany the ministers across the ferry to Melness, as we had so much hoped to do. By the people of Melness he is still, at the distance of twenty-three years, "lovingly remembered "; and it is noteworthy that amongst his books was found a large copy of the latest revised edition of the Gaelic Bible, on the flyleaf of which was written, " For use in the pulpit at Melness."

In the summer of 1891 he was sent to Lochranza, in Arran, as a student-missionary. He had a genius, not only for making friends, but for keeping them. Amongst those he met here was the Rev. William Hutchison, of Coatbridge, who, with his wife and family, was holidaying at Carradale.

Walking one day with Mr. Hutchison on the pier at Carradale, the young student remarked what a fine place it would be to speak to the people—just like the place where our Lord spoke from a boat. Mrs. Hutchison tells how her husband took the matter up :-

"The parish minister, Mr. Levack, was consulted, and it was arranged that an open-air meeting should be held next day, at three o'clock, at the pier head. I see the scene vividly before me; the fishermen and the summer visitors sat on the rocks as in an amphitheatre, tier above tier. Sir David Carrick Buchanan, Mr. Levack, Mr. Hutchison and Mr. Mackinnon stood on the level ground. It was a broiling hot clay, and Sir David sheltered the heads of the speakers with his umbrella. Hector Mackinnon prayed in Gaelic, and it was as if an electric shock passed over the people. Every heart was touched and bowed to melting heat. To this day the fragrance of that meeting remains in Carradale. But all those who then stood as witnesses for the truth, Sir David, Mr. Hutchison, Mr. Levack, and Mr. Mackinnon, have each passed within the veil."

In the diary of Lady Victoria Campbell, written during this same, year, as we see from the Memoir by Lady Frances Balfour, we find that her ladyship makes similar reference to Mr. Mackinnon's power in prayer :-

Mr. Hector Mackinnon prayed; one felt it was a prayer in which he carried the people with him. The proof of this was emphatically given in the almost involuntary 'Amen,' unfortunately too little heard in our Scottish silent gatherings."

And we remember, as in a far-off time, a dreary, dingy mission-room in a squalid part of a great city, where some forty or fifty broken men and women were gathered, with here and there the wan, wondering face of a little child. And into this vitiated, unholy atmosphere stepped a young Highland student, like a fresh cool breeze from the hills. And the withered faces of the women brightened, and the men sat up, for his voice had an arresting ring, and the soft cadence as of a mother with a wayward child, while he read out the opening paraphrase—

"Come, let us to the Lord our God
With contrite hearts return."

And when he rose to deliver his message, what they seemed to grasp most at was that God had power, not only with the sins that are past, but with the sins of the present and the future ; and that only as we allowed God to working us by His power, could we hope to overcome and live clean, pure lives. It was a new thought to some of these baffled men and women, who were treading the devil-haunted paths of life; and voices here and there were shaky as they sang the closing hymn—

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel's veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains."

Then the speaker stepped down from the platform, shook hands shyly with the men and women, smiled on the children, and passed out into the sweet air of Heaven as swiftly as he had come, for the mountaineer loves not the murk. And the people said, "would he come again?" But lie came not again, for the isles were waiting for him, and God had much to teach him in the deep silences of the far-away places.

The same liberality of spirit which characterised Mr. Mackinnon in later life was manifested by him in his student days. He did not confine himself to the ministrations of his own Church, but sought out and attended those of the most efficient preachers and teachers he could find, of whatever denomination, and he used often to tell how much he had been helped by some of these.


 


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