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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter XI. - Religious Revival


THE revival movement in the south which is particularly connected with the names of the two brothers, Robert and James Haldaue, met a ready response, or evoked a corresponding "dusgadh" or awakening, over a large part of the Highlands. The ground for this "dusgadh" was prepared by the evangelical preaching in churches, the teaching in Sunday and week schools, the publication of the Gaelic Bible, and the institution of family worship, which, beginning with the elders, soon came to be general, and if not held daily, was held at least once a week. I cannot remember how I came to learn to read Gaelic, for it was not taught in our day school, but I have no doubt I and many others learned it very young from looking at the books at family worship. The religious revival took a great hold in Breadalbaue, Glenlyon, and in Rannoch also. It had passed from its missionary stage to its separatist one before Glenlyon and Rannoch were made into parishes with ministers and sessions of their own. At first there was no intention of forming new religious bodies. But it came to that. Although in other respects there was no difference between the doctrines preached by evangelical parish ministers and those of the revivalists, a fulcrum for separatism was found in the question of baptism. It was indeed a double question. Should not baptism be by immersion instead of sprinkling Should it not only be administered to adults who gave evidence of being converted and took the vows on themselves? The Haldane brothers on these two questions accepted the teaching of the English Baptists, and many of their followers in Highlands and Lowlands joined with them in forming Baptist congregations. Small congregations of that kind were formed in many places between the Forth and the Spey. We had one in Glenlyon which continued to exist and do good until its excellent minister, Mr Donald Maclellan, died at a very advanced age about twenty years ago. The unpaid pastor of this small congregation in my early days was Mr Maclellan's father-in-law, the fine, genial old Highlander, Archibald Macarthur, our miller, who in the Sunday school worked harmoniously with our minister, Mr David Campbell, although argumentative enough on the baptism question. A rich mine of local and traditional lore was the worthy Muilear Mor. He made Scripture scenes, characters and incidents, seem all real and vividly alive to us youngsters by throwing over them the glow of his poetic imagination in graphic Gaelic. The Grantown- on-Spey hymn-poet, Mr Peter Grant, and Mr William Tulloch from Atholl, used to come as visitors and field-preachers to the Glen in the miller's time of leadership, and so did Donnachadh Chalum Thaileir, a glen Highlander from Paisley. Baptist congregations have now, I believe, ceased to exist in Breadalbane, Glenlyon, and Rannoch. When the missionary revivalists split up into parties, the majority of them remained in the Church of Scotland, into which they introduced a hotter and more intolerant spirit than many of her best evangelical ministers wholly approved of. They deterred worthy people, who could not honestly say they had gone through a process of conversion and obtained an assurance of forgiveness, from becoming communicants. Hypocrites who made loud professions imposed upon them until they were found out. They looked upon men with life-long blameless records, including elders of the old stamp, as being devoid of the unction of grace, and little better than heathens. Hysterical revival epouters called the old people who had only a good record of morality and humble practical faith, "Gray Egyptians," and later on "Black Moderates." I was without a brother, and although I had plenty of boy cousins, and enjoyed boyish pranks and school play and scrapes, I felt lonely at times, and liked nothing better than to sit at the feet of the "Gray Egyptians" and listen attentively to their talk. They were full of stories of the olden times, which hugely delighted me. They gave the revivalists credit for good intentions, but said they were doing evil unconsciously in denouncing innocent enjoyments such as dancing and singing of songs, practised by the preceding generations. They unfavourably compared the morality of the revival period with that of the last twenty-five years of Mr Macara's spiritual superintendence, during which they said there had been only two illegitimate children born in Glenlyon. They regretted that there were no resident landlords in the Glen to modify, by their influence, the new religious tyranny, which, with all the good it was doing or intending to do, was being pushed to a height of intolerance which would only end in evil. The "Gray Egyptians" agreed with Duncan the Fool, who, when an enthusiast from a field-service came into the farmer's house where he was staying, and, without sitting down, began to sermonise, drew near the old mother of the family and whispered, "Biomaid taingeil do Dhia gu'n d'fhag e ar ciall againn" "Let us be thankful to God that he has left us our reason!"

But the religious revival was a genuine force which had far-reaching consequences. The result first seen was that the awakening made the Church of Scotland stronger and more zealous in good works than had ever, in the Highlands at least, been the case before. The hiving off by small Baptist communities and the formation of a very few congregations of Independents only stimulated the activity and increased the power of the national Church between 1810 and 1843.

The custom of having only one communion a year in each parish had been long established throughout the Highlands. It was a necessity in the early days of the Reformation when Gaelic speaking ministers were rare, and even readers, who could not baptise or officiate at communions, were not sufficiently numerous for holding ordinary services of prayer, scripture reading, and exhortation in all parishes. Few Highland places were so well equipped as Glenlyon with its converted and married clerk, Niven, and Fortingall with Mr Duncan Macaulay, who, for some years, had also Dull, Kenmore and Killin apparently under his superintending care. The custom which arose out of a temporary necessity rooted itself like a tree of life in the habits of the Highland people. It replaced the pre- Reformation pilgrimages and suited their social instincts ; for it brought together gatherings of people from neighbouring parishes to the field preaching connected with the dispensing of the communion inside churches. There was much decorus hospitality and the visiting went round, for the holding of communions was so arranged that ministers could assist one another on those occasions, and the parishioners could follow their ministers in crowds to the places where the communions were held and the field preaching took place. In the contentious years before the Disruption I often listened to the tent preaching of Mr, afterwards Dr, Macdonald of Ferintosh, whose eldest daughter was the wife of our minister, and who was an annual visitor to Glenlyon and Breadalbane at the com- munion season. We called him the "Domhnullach Mor," or Great Macdonald, but he is best known in the Ten Years' Conflict annals by the designation of "The Apostle of the North." It is true that I was young and susceptible, but I think he was, in Gaelic, the most wonderfully eloquent, poetical and mesmeric speaker I ever listened to, and I may add that I heard most of the other Disruption celebrities and afterwards many of England's famous orators, clerical and political. Peace be to his ashes! I do not remember that be ever introduced into his sermons the controversial topics of the day. He spoke more like an inspired evangelist than an ecclesiastical partisan. His presence at a communion always caused a huge multitude from far and near to assemble.


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