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Hector MacKinnon, A Memoir
Chapter VIII - Flowers on his Grave


WHEN Mr. Mackinnon was called home, the news fell upon his friends with all the shock of a sudden calamity. Many of them had seen him and spoken with him but a few days before, and when they read in the newspapers that he had passed away they could scarcely realize that he whom they loved had for ever gone from them. This sense of loss— from the public as well as from the personal standpoint —was expressed not only in the Press but also from many pulpits. Much as we should like to include in this memoir the many references to Mr. Mackinnon, and the appreciations of his life and work, it is quite impossible to do so, but one or two of these appreciations have been selected.

Writing in The Scotsman, the Rev. Norman Maclean, M.A,of the Park Church, Glasgow, paid the following beautiful tribute to his friend's memory:-

  When he died, though he had not been dead an hour, it seemed as if he had died a great while ago, such a distance there is betwixt life and death.'—Essays of Elia.

"\Vhen I heard that he was dead it seemed to me as if the day had turned suddenly dark. He was so big and so strong that one never thought of associating death with him. He radiated life; when he smiled it was like 'sun-shine in a shady place'; and he had that requisite of greatness—he could laugh with all his might. I have seen him enter a room full of his fellow-islanders----exiles in the city—and I have marked how every face brightened at his coming. That was the secret of his power. Men and women were to him full of inexhaustible interest; he met them on the ground of comradeship and gladness. What he received from them he rendered back fourfold. And as men knew him they marvelled at the joyousness of his face, and so desired to be numbered of his company. Thus it came that when he died men said one to another in dismay: 'Hector Mackinnon is dead.' I never heard him spoken of but after that manner—Hector Mackinnon.

"It was from the magic and the wonder of the western seas that he came. ' From the solitary place the springs come to drive the mill-wheels of the world.' His solitary place was Tiree. The first time he left it he was fifteen years old. He had to go to Oban to an examination for a bursary. The day was stormy; the boat was delayed; he only got to Oban on the second day. The examiner pitied him, and let him do the two days' papers in one. But he did not get the bursary. It could not be expected after that experience. Next year he was back again, and secured the prize. And that autumn he appeared at Inverness and joined the band of youths whom Dr. Alexander MacBain was training for the work of the world. It was there I first met Hector Mackinnon. Clean of limb and clean in mind, he had the joy and the music of life in his veins. He would wander by the banks of the Ness rolling forth the majestic periods of Milton from the store of an inexhaustible memory. They are scattered over the world now, that company among whom he was chief. Years afterwards one of them, a doctor, sent Hector a letter from far away China. 'Your religious divisions and contendings,' he wrote, 'look very small and laughable when surveyed from Canton.' And whenever anyone in the after years spoke of Donald Macaulay, Hector recalled that saying with gladness.

"He could have chosen any career, such were his gifts, but he chose the ministry of the Church of Scotland. There was an experience behind the choice—an experience in the solitary place. Through that he was led, not to the faith, but to its very heart of fire. Thus it was that forms and trappings were as nothing to him; he had felt the glow of the hidden flame. That indefinable, inexpressible something by which a spiritual contact is established between the human heart and the Unseen found him in the mystic isle of the sea, and he set his face like a flint. He would be a minister; he would make his own people share his high experience. And so great was the power of the man that when the church of his native isle fell vacant, his fellow-islanders chose him to be their minister. He was but a youth, yet the young prophet found honour in his own island.

"It has been my lot to hear many preachers, but I can truthfully say that I never heard any preaching which could sustain comparison with the impassioned eloquence of Hector Mackinnon preaching in his native language Gaelic. In the pulpit his eyes glowed with prophetic fire, and he stood forth the herald of the Unseen. The very tones of his voice vibrated with awe. '0 awful, awful name of God! ' exclaimed Thackeray once; 'light unbearable, mystery unfathomable; vastness immeasurable! Who are these who gaze unblinking into the depths of the light and measure the immeasurable vastness to a hair? O name that God's people of old fear to utter— who are these that are so familiar with it?' It was like that when this man stood in the sanctuary. Everything was mean and contemptible save Him—before Whom every faculty was prostrate. His preaching bore the hearer along like a flood. It was in vain to resist the spell. This man had something to say. He had a message from the land beyond the bridge. It was not the 'religious teaching of Browning' or the 'doubts of Arnold 'that he proclaimed. There are men who so conceive the ambassadorship of Jesus Christ. The religion they preach is a nervous complaint, but it is not the evangel. This man knew. There was that experience of the heart of fire, and his consuming passion was that everybody should feel that great and only reality, and his words wooed and urged, the heart of things was depicted in language so glowing that the hearers were swept out into oceans of feeling and wonder and awe—realms hitherto inconceivable to them. I will remember to the last, summer days long ago, when I accompanied him on a preaching mission in Sutherland- shire. We crossed kyles, and journeyed many lonely roads. But everywhere the heart went out to the preacher who spoke as one who descended from the Mount. I can hear still the sob that rose from the pew as men and women felt the electric contact with the Eternal. And as they gathered round him afterwards on the grass how his face would glow with radiance!

This man rendered the cause of religion the greatest of all services. He made men realize that the gifts of God were not restricted to this or bound up with that. For fifty years the Church of Scotland in great stretches of the Highlands was a wilderness. Great men had arisen within it—the Macleods, Cameron Lees, Blair—but they could not endure the desolation. The South claimed them. Thus many said: 'There is no gift, no grace, in the Church Established. The way of salvation is not to be found there.' Then Hector Mackinnon came, and when men heard him they said: 'God has visited again the Church Established; a prophet is raised up within her; she cannot be so bad as we thought she was.' I do not say too much when I say that this young preacher, in his ceaseless journeyings, in his incessant labours, rehabilitated the Church of Scotland in the respect and affection of the Highlanders whithersoever he went. 'I never expected in this world,' said an old man with tear-stained face, ' to hear the Word preached with such power within the walls of this Church.' People felt that God had visited the valley of the dry bones. The Word had broken forth again, and the breaking forth was in the desolate places. God had not forsaken the desolate. And ministers who had grown disheartened heard Hector Mackinnon and felt as if they had received a revelation of what preaching ought to be. And they, too, began to preach. The power of the man wakened the dead.

"But Hector Mackinnon came too late. Slowly and sadly he realized it himself. The Highlanders were riven and divided into opposing factions. Not even an Apostle could level these walls of separation. Like others before him, he realized that only in the Lowlands could his word have free course. And he gave up the preaching of Gaelic and came to Glasgow to toil in the East End. Thus did the Highlands lose the greatest Gaelic preacher that had appeared for fifty years. And the prophet who drew his inspiration from the sea and the wind blowing over the heather was set to climb the weary stairs and breathe the fetid air of closes. And now he is dead. For in our day the Church is so blind that when a prophet appears the Church prescribes for him this duty—the climbing of stairs. And the prophet dies ere the fountain of his prophecy runs wholly dry. With him the fountain ran not dry.

"He was just coming into his kingdom when he died.. In a great city such as Glasgow it takes a long time for a man to make himself felt. But when you begin to hear men speak of anybody without using any prefixes to their name you know that these men are becoming a force. And Glasgow was beginning to speak of Hector Mackinnon just when lie died. I remember him standing up in the Presbytery, a fearless figure four-square, and the words of his denunciation cut like a knife. It was the strange advertisements of Church services that he condemned. 'By these unworthy means,' he cried, 'you can bring an audience into your churches; but you will never gather a Christian congregation.' A Presbytery is a strange court; and the atmosphere of a city Presbytery does not often suggest that it is a depository of the Christian faith. But whenever this man spoke the Presbytery awoke and listened to him. There was reality in him ; he had been near the heart of fire; they could not but hear what he had to say. And he had so much to say because he had so much at heart. How his face would light up when the hope of Church Union was discussed ! He saw the good day coming when there would be a place yet for a Gaelic preacher. He might go north yet when that great day of the Lord would come. And far out to the ends of the earth his vision wandered, and he saw with a leap of the heart heathenism transfigured by the glory of Jesus Christ. How his eyes would glow then! And now he is dead.

"Had he lived, there is no honour the Church has to bestow which would not in due course have been his. Every great cause is poorer and weaker because he is gone. It is almost incredible that he is dead. Gone just when he was coming to fruition. But it is because he is thus gone in the height of his power that the great truth he loved to preach—that of immortality—becomes credible. The sowing must come to fruition somewhere. 'We are all,' said Frederic Myers, 'booked for such a good thing in the next world that it matters comparatively little how we fare in this.' It is because nothing this life can give is to be compared to that which is now his that those who knew Hector Mackinnon can bear the thought of his death."

Preaching in Paisley Abbey, the Rev. A. M. Maclean, B.D., made reference to Mr. Mackinnon's departure, and at the conclusion of his sermon on the text, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? " he said:-

"I have been moved to speak to you to-night of this consoling doctrine by the seemingly untimely death of one of the very best ministers of the Church of Scotland. I do not suppose many of you knew Hector Mackinnon, but in this ancient and historic church it is always fitting to remember those who have deserved well of their country, and who have rendered exceptional service to the Church of Christ. He died last week at the early age of forty-six, in the full maturity of his powers—a man amongst men, so radiant and strong that it is impossible for those who knew him to realize that he is gone. Had he lived he could scarcely have failed to become one of the most commanding figures of his time. Short as his life has been, he made an impression upon his countrymen which is sufficiently remarkable. He was laid to rest last Friday amid such scenes of sincere and unaffected emotion as are very rarely witnessed. Thousands upon thousands lined the long mile from his church to his grave. All business was suspended. Public works were closed. And far away in the isles of the west, and in the straths and glens of the north, wherever the Gaelic tongue is still spoken, multitudes of men and women bowed their heads in sorrow, and were present in spirit, as Hector Mackinnon was borne to his Lowland grave; through the wail of the pibroch ringing along the silent streets, one seemed to hear the passionate lamentation of his race. What had this man done to move men's hearts with a sorrow so strange and rare? He was a good minister of Jesus Christ. That and nothing more. He did the one thing that was given him to do with all his might, and he had his kingly reward. His first parish was the parish where he was brought up as a boy. Those who knew him best were the first to perceive his worth. And wherever he went he struck home with his heart of fire, his passion for truth, his devotion that never grew weary or faint. How he despised the men who seek to win an audience by the trick advertisement of incongruous themes ! The Gospel of Jesus Christ was good enough for him, and in his native Gaelic he flamed out his message with a concentrated power which won for him the name of the Spurgeon of the North. He came to Glasgow for a season, and when men met him on the streets they saw in dreams the bloom upon the heather and the opal tints of the plunging Hebridean waves, so reminiscent of his race was this strong son of the sea. Yet the Lowland folk took to him like his own countrymen, though they, perhaps, never understood the witchery of the mountains and the sea that made him what he was. But they did understand his message—the love of God in Jesus Christ, and for that they loved him as if he were their own. Faint hearts in these days often lament the growth of religious indifference, and mourn over the declension of the age. Such a life as Hector Mackinnon's should be enough to shame them into silence. Preach the Word which you believe, preach it fearlessly, preach it lovingly, preach it as the Word of God unto salvation, and the multitudes will listen greedily enough. Out of the Rock of Eternal Truth this man hewed his message, and he built it into the lives of men and made them strong, and against the Temple of his work the idle theories of a passing day are but the spume that breaks upon the reefs and cliffs where the Atlantic comes surging shoreward against the sunset isles. Who shall say that this man died untimely? He did his work and God took him because he had need of him elsewhere—and for the rest the Church of Christ in Scotland gives thanks to God for that he lived, and until they meet him in the lovelit land he will never be forgotten by the multitudes whom his spiritual genius quickened."

To the British Weekly the Rev. A. W. Fergusson, B.D., of Dundee, contributed the following :-

"Like leaves in wintry weather ; so has it seemed to some of us during those last months—some of us who were in the Divinity Hall of Edinburgh University in the early 'nineties. "Three months ago it was Rollo of Springburn and Buccleuch, cut down in the midst of his abundant labours. Last month, in Heidelberg, after a long, rough road of pain, it was Frazer, son of Blair Atholl Manse, and brother of Sprouston—Ian, the chivalrous, the gallant; as sweet of blood and pure of heart as any we have ever known; a knight of the Table Round, who sought for heavenly truth as those of old did for the Holy Grail. And now, this last week, as in a moment, " Hector," as all men called him—Hector Mackinnon; of pneumonia; aged forty-six.

When I remember all
The friends so linked together.

"Overwork. Taking too much out of himself. The sword fretting its scabbard to decay. There lies all the secret of his untimely going.

"Just think of his ordinary Sabbath day's journey, as one of his great flock gave it to the writer the other night. 'He would never miss the morning fellowship, and would always say something. Then, at twelve, he had his service in yon big church—every bit of it, and he never spared himself. Often he would have to go into the city for some afternoon service; they were always wanting him, and he was always willing. Back home again, and into the Sabbath-school to see us all. And his full evening service to finish the day with—though that didn't always finish it. For often he would be visiting his sick folk on the road home.'

"Remember all this. And that he preached with overwhelming, overpowering energy—his whole being aflame with spiritual passion; a light and a torch to others indeed, but to himself wasting and destruction. Remember also that he was busy all the week besides, in parish, presbytery, and what not. For he was a father in God to all the 1,700 members of his flock. And, like Johnson, and unlike not a few Highlanders, he loved business, loved to have his wisdom actually operate on real life. An excellent committee man. For some years the honoured and trusted chairman of his School Board. And remember, above all, that Glasgow is full of Highlanders—that none are so clannish as the Highlanders of a great city—and that there was never a meeting of them all that was complete if 'Hector' was not there, Hector, the 'biggest human' of them all—as big as Shettleston Kirk. Hector with the laugh of a giant and the heart of a big boy.

"So that though he was a very rock of a man, and knew not the meaning of fatigue, slowly but surely all this overstrain must have been eating in on his capital funds—and when the pinch came he had no reserves of vitality sufficient to carry him through.

"Licensed in 1891. Ordained next year to his native parish of Tiree, which he left two years later for Stornoway. Three years in Stornoway, and then colleague to Dr. Russell in Campbeltown till 1905, when he was called to succeed the present minister of the Barony in the great and growing parish of Shettleston. This is the abstract and brief chronicle of that big, brave, passionate, tender ministry of his—that ministry which meant more than will yet be told for many days to the Church of Scotland in the Western Isles. For this was the great outstanding feature of his life's service—that he revived the work and the name and the fame of the 'Established Church' in the Highlands during these latter years.
"He was the greatest preacher of his generation in Gaelic. Of that those who are best able to judge have left us in no doubt whatever. And of that the pride and joy in him of every devout Highlander that one has ever met, and the way in which they flocked to hear him, have been more emphatic proof. A son of the people, he could lay his mind alongside theirs with the most extraordinary sympathy and understanding. Deep in the general heart of the Gael, his fame was laid and will survive. 'The Spurgeon of the North'—that was their name for him.

At college he told one of us how much better he loved to preach in his native tongue.' You could just lean over the pulpit, and re-e-eason with the people in Gaelic.' So we may fancy he would lean and reason to begin with on the Sabbath day. But as he warmed to his subject, there was no more leaning, and the reasoning became the appeal of the whole man aflame with heaven, and rapt in the vision of the Unseen. A whirlwind of moving eloquence. A torrent of passionate appeal, on the breast of which men were carried, whether they would or not, into the very Presence Chamber of the Father.

"It was something of a surprise when he came to Shettleston, but every one felt that it was the best possible appointment. For there had been sore fighting with some of the heritors for years over a new church—fighting that had issued in the erection of that beautiful church costing some £14,000. And now that the fight was over, the opportunity had come for the man with a 'healing disposition.' And Mackinnon was that man. And from the beginning his word was the word of Peace. There can have been few ministries so richly blessed as his in Shettleston these last eight years.

"And now this crowded hour of glorious life and service for the Master is over, here. But only here ; in some higher sphere of love and opportunity he must surely be carrying on his beneficent work. And not even here; for in the hearts of a great host his work will live on, increasing, fructifying. In the lives of those made better by his presence—heartened by his life and message—redeemed by his simple Evangel."

AN T-URRAMACH EACHANN MAC FHIONGHAIN NACH MAIREANN.
By the Rev. Donald Lamont, M.A.

At the annual gathering of the Clan Mackinnon, with which the late minister of Shettleston was so closely identified, the Chief of the Clan, the MacKinnon of MacKinnon, Dalcross Castle, made the following reference in his speech from the chair :-

"The outstanding event of the past year, as affecting the clan, has been of a very sad nature, as it records the death of the late Rev. Hector Mackinnon, the most distinguished clansman. I think I may say, of our day. Wherever he was able to be present he elevated the tone and character of the meeting, while his eloquence and evident sincerity first attracted and then won the confidence and affection of all those with whom he came in contact. His life affords a pattern and example to all those of our young clansfolk who have entered, or who are just entering, the threshold of their careers. Hector owed nothing to social position, wealth, or influence. He was a country lad, born in Tiree, determined to make the best use of the abilities with which the Almighty had endowed him. By sheer hard work and perseverance, he had won bursaries to the extent of and step by step he mounted the ladder, until he became the minister of one of the most important churches in Glasgow. He died in the prime of his life, for he was but forty-six years of age; but even then he was one of the pillars of the Church, and undoubtedly he would have gained the highest post in the Church of Scotland had God been pleased to spare him. I was present at the funeral and had the honour of being one of the pall-bearers, and I shall never forget the attitude of parishioners and friends who lined the road from Shettleston Church to the cemetery, a distance of over a mile, and who showed, by their tearful faces, that they were drawn there not out of curiosity, as is so often the case, but because they had come to bid one last farewell to one who had ever been their friend and sympathizer in all their joys and in all their sorrows, Hector Mackinnon."


 


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