"All that I have taught of
art, everything that I have written, every greatness that there has been in
any thought of mine, whatever I have done in my life, has simply been due to
the fact that when I was a child my mother daily read with me a part of the
Bible, and daily made me learn a part of it by heart."—RUSKIN.
"THE Lord willing, we will
have a meeting for catechising in the house of Donald Ross, - line, on a
week from first Tuesday, at 3 o'clock p.m." Such was the pulpit intimation
which set the whole district referred to astir during the following week.
"Eh, my!" said Mrs.
MacTaggart to her neighbor, as they walked home from church, "will yon not
put Kirsty Ross all in a flutter? Ye ken she is no verra strong, and she is
afeard o' the minister."
"And I doot," said the
neighbor, "if she kens the Catechism very well."
Great was the overhauling of
things at the house of Mrs. Ross, in preparation for the catechising. One of
the three beds was removed to make room for the occasion. There were the
usual whitewashing, scrubbing, dusting, and rearranging of furniture,
commonly known as house-cleaning. The few simple decorations on the wall
were rearranged so as to show to the best advantage; and the broken corner
of the looking-glass was ingeniously concealed by a drape. All this work
Mrs. Ross did unaided, for her husband, though a kind-hearted man, was
occupied from dawn till dark, either threshing in the barn or chopping in
the woods. The evenings were occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Ross renewing their
acquaintance with the Catechism and the metrical Psalms. The two eldest
children, Robbie and Maggie, were also drilled on the "questions" as far as
the commandments, but the other three, Donald, Jennie, and Roddie, were
taught only the creed and the Lord's Prayer, or a part of it. Similar
preparation was made during the week throughout the whole district, and the
candle or the rush light was kept burning in many homes till a much later
hour than usual. Even the programme of studies in the public school was
arranged with a view to the catechising.
The day announced has come,
and for fully one hour before the time appointed the people can be seen
coming from all directions to the place of meeting. The children accompany
their parents, for there is no school to-day.
These catechisings were not
all public; some of them were in private. If a man who was not in the full
membership of the Church desired baptism for his child, he was required to
undergo special examination as to his religious knowledge and character. And
the examination was not always satisfactory. One, whom we shall call Donald,
went to the minister for such examination, but failed to pass. On his way
home he met another going to the minister on the same errand.
"Ah!" said Donald, "the
minister was hard on me th' day. She canna get no baptism."
"And what for no?" said his
neighbor. "What did he ask you?"
"Why, he axed me how mony
commandments there are."
"And why did ye no say ten?"
"Ten! ten!" cried Donald,
"She tried him with a hun'r (hundred), and he was no satisfied. Ye needna
try him wi' ten."
however, was the answer of a poor woman. Being asked a number of questions,
none of which she was able to answer, she made this reply: "Minister, I
canna speak weel for my Saviour, but I can live for Him, and I think I could
dee for Him."
In order to understand the
interest attaching to the catechising, it must be remembered that no person
in the world is prouder of his nationality than the Highlander. It was a
Highlander who said of the Queen, when her daughter was married to a
clansman, "She'll be a prood woman noo." The typical Highlander is also
intensely self-conscious, and wishes to stand well in the esteem of his
neighbors for his religious intelligence. Hence the close, patient study of
the Catechism before a public examination, and the chagrin when a question
was asked which he could not answer, and the many expedients resorted to in
order to avoid committing himself when in doubt as to the correct answer.
Back seats and concealed corners of the room were at a premium. Persons well
posted were in good demand as prompters. "You sit beside me, Johnnie, and
gie me a word when the minister speirs me the question, for you see my
memory is no sae gude as aince it was."
"Now" said the minister,
"John McDonald, we'll begin with you, as you are the man of the house."
"Oh, minister, please don't;
ask Peggy, my wife here, for she has more scripture nor me."
On another occasion a
somewhat difficult question was asked a woman. Contrary to expectations she
answered correctly. Then a still more difficult one was put. Again the reply
was quite correct. And so question after question followed, each more
difficult than the preceding, and every time came the correct answer. At
length it dawned upon the minister that there must be in the neighborhood of
his catechumen some unusually clever prompter. Quietly, and without the
slightest sign of surprise or disapproval, he asks, "Am Veil Eachann Ros na
shuidhe an sin?" ("Is Hector Ross sitting there?") Of course Hector Ross, an
intelligent and sympathetic elder, was sitting there, and, concealed from
the minister, was assisting the poor woman in her theological examination.
"Don't be bothering me," said
a short, stout, middle-aged man to those around him, when the question was
put to him. "If I go wrang will the minister himsel' no tell me?" This was
said as" a blind"; the man did not know the question, and as a matter of
fact there was no one prompting him; but he wished to convey the idea to his
examiner that his failure was owing, not to ignorance, but to the too great
eagerness of those around him to assist. The trick worked well, for the
minister at once said, "That's right, John, depend on yourself; here's the
question," and with this the good man repeated nearly the whole answer for
John, while a grim smile played over John's countenance, and his eye
twinkled at the thought of how he had cheated the minister.
Sometimes the answer to a
question was exceedingly though unconsciously droll, causing ill-concealed
amusement among the younger portion of the audience, while the old people
looked more than ordinarily grave. A boy, who had been specially trained by
his mother in good manners, was being examined on the following passage:
"We have all sinned."
"Now, my boy," said the
minister, "does that mean that every one of us has sinned?" putting the
emphasis on "every one."
The boy hesitated, fearing an
affirmative answer, lest he might cast a reflection on the character of his
pastor. But, upon a repetition of the question, the lad replied:
"Every one has sinned except
yoursel' and the elders." He saved his manners at the expense of his
It may here be explained that
while the minister presided at these meetings, putting such questions and
making such remarks as he saw fit, the questions were usually asked, not by
the minister, but by one of the elders. There was tact and wisdom in this.
The elder selected on this occasion was one who could not read, but who was,
nevertheless, thoroughly conversant with the Catechism and with his Bible,
and a man of intellectual power and native eloquence.
"Johnnie Dougall," said the
elder, "give us, the twenty-third Psalm."
The Psalm is repeated from
beginning to end without a slip:
"The Lord's my shepherd, I'll
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green: he leadeth me
The quiet waters by."
"Now," said the minister,
addressing himself to the father of the young man who had just recited,
"your son has done well. I trust the words he has repeated are the testimony
of his heart concerning the Lord's goodness. But you are a man of
experience; you can look back upon a life of many ups and downs. Can you
give us this beautiful Psalm, changing the time of it from the present to
the past?" With some kind help from his minister, and an occasional word
from young Willie Saunders, the father repeated as follows:
The Lord has been my shepherd,
and I have not been in want.
He hath made me to lie down in green pastures; he hath led me the quiet
"My soul he bath restored
And he hath made me to walk
In the paths of righteousness,
Even for his own name's sake."
The change in the tense of
the Psalm conveyed an entirely new idea. The minds of the aged men and women
present went across the ocean to the heather hills of Scotland and the old
kirk, to the parting with friends, and the long sea voyage, and the journey
into the unbroken forest, and the varied experiences of years. And, as they
thought of these things, tears came to the eyes of some while the testimony
was borne, "The Lord has been (not 'is') my shepherd."
"Well," said the minister,
"if Jehovah has been your Shepherd in the past He is your Shepherd to-day,
and He will continue to care for you unto the end, and you will dwell in His
house for evermore."
Among the Shorter Catechism
questions, of course, "effectual calling" was not overlooked.
"Catherine Macintosh," said
the elder, "will you tell us what is effectual calling?"
At once, in a clear, sweet
voice, that could be heard distinctly by everyone in the house, came the
"Effectual calling is the
work of God's Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery,
enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills,
He doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us
in the Gospel."
"This," said the minister,
"is a great question, and contains a complete account of the scheme of human
redemption." Then in a plain, simple way he comments upon each clause of the
question. "And now let us see how many here can bear personal testimony to
these blessed truths. Let us use the singular number and the past tense,
instead of the plural number and the present tense, as in the Catechism. Who
can repeat the question with these changes, and thus make it the expression
of their own experience?" The pastor's idea was a little further explained,
and then it was quickly apprehended. One head after another was bowed in
humility. Still none ventured to respond. Again the question was asked:
"Is there no one who can bear
clear personal testimony to the truth of his effectual calling?"
Slowly a young man rose from
his seat. His frame shook with emotion. His voice trembled, and tears filled
his eyes, while he repeated the question with the change suggested.
"Effectual calling is the
work of God's Spirit, whereby He hath convinced me of my sin and misery,
enlightened my mind in the knowledge of Christ, and renewed my will and
persuaded and enabled me to embrace Jesus Christ freely offered to me in the
While the young man was
speaking there was a solemn silence, and as he sat down there was an audible
sigh of praise, with here and there an expression of" Thank God." A profound
impression was produced, for all present knew the lad as one of noble
Christian character. He had a genuine spiritual experience, and he told it.
"Go home to thy friends," said Christ to the man healed, "and tell them what
great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee."
And now the benediction was
pronounced. There was much handshaking, and many were the inquiries as to
the welfare of the children away from home, and "friends ayont the sea." The
minister, one or two elders, and a few of the more intimate friends of the
family, remained and partook of the "hamely" but hospitable meal.
These occasions are gone, and
few of those who took part in them are now with us, but the good effects are
still to be seen. We have occasionally heard Mr. Mackenzie charged with
remissness in looking after the young of his congregation. This is a great
injustice to the memory of a good man. Mr. Mackenzie carefully sought the
godly upbringing of the young, and that he sought it not in vain the history
of the congregation amply testifies, But he secured this end, not so much
through the Sabbath school, as by taking pains, in private and in public
catechising, to teach parents and children their duties to God and each
The men from Zorra who have
become missionaries, ministers, lawyers, doctors, and Christ tian workers,
of all kinds, received their early religious education, not so much in the
Sabbath school as at the fireside, and from their parents, God's own
specially appointed teachers. It is quite possible to abuse a good thing,
and there is reason to fear that we are at the present day allowing the
Sabbath school to supersede parental effort.
Dr. Guthrie ascribes the
mental vigor and business tact of the Scottish people largely to their
familiarity with the Book of Proverbs. And so we hesitate not to ascribe a
large measure of the material, mental, and moral worth of Zorra to the
faithful training of their children by the pioneers, an important part of
which was connected with the catechising, so faithfully attended to by the
Rev. Donald Mackenzie.