Account of a tour with Dr. M'Lauchlan and Mr.Meldrum

Written by Dr. M'Lauchlan

Soon afterwards, and before the end of August, (1850?) Dr. Candlish, accompanied by Dr. M’Lauchlan and Mr. Meldrum, visited the Countess of Sutherland and Caithness on behalf of the Education Scheme, and by the appointment of the Committee on Education. Dr. M’Lauchlan has put on record his reminiscences of the tour, which I gladly give in his own words -

"We travelled north in the month of August by Aberdeen, where we spent a night, and got on the second evening to the neighbourhood of Forres, where we staid at the house of the Rev. Dr. Mackay, Free Church minister of Rafford. On leaving the house next morning he said, in speaking of the family which had entertained him, ‘that is the picture of hospitality.’ We crossed the Moray Firth in a small steamboat to Golspie, and got on by a conveyance to Helmsdale, where the Synod of Sutherland and Caithness were met, and where we received a cordial welcome.

"Next day he addressed the Synod with remarkable power on the subject of our mission. The church was crowded in every part, a large body of the general community being present. The audience was a thoroughly appreciative one, and the reception he met with was enthusiastic. He insisted on my speaking in Gaelic, which I did; and after all was over we received very cordial acknowledgments from the Synod, led by a man who at the time exercised much influence over the religious community of Sutherland, - the Rev. John Macdonald of Helmsdale, - a man who was also a warm admirer of Dr. Candlish, and an enthusiastic supporter of the Education Scheme. Dr. Candlish was quite delighted with his visit to the Synod, and often said how much he felt encouraged by their hearty support.

"From Helmsdale we crossed the famous Ord Hill into Caithness, and spent the first night in the country in the Free Manse of Latheron, where we were most kindly entertained by the Rev. Mr. Davidson, at that time the minister. Dr. Candlish had never been in the quarter before, and he was quite interested in all he saw. The descent of the Ord, the beautiful valley of Berriedale, the magnificent sea views as we travelled onwards towards Dunbeath, called forth loud expressions of admiration, such as all who, knew him were familiar with in similar circumstances.

"For two days we were engaged in examining schools in Latheron, Lybster, and Bruan; and it was amusing and interesting to see the intense earnestness with which he examined the least child in those schools, setting himself to the work, in the thatched huts in which these Highland schools were taught, with as much zest as if it were in a great city institution. He examined a class in Greek at one place with great satisfaction, and he gave much time and attention to examinations on religious knowledge. In fact, religious education was his text during the mission. He maintained firmly and eloquently that without religion education was defective in its most important part, as failing to traia the conscience, and he was much satisfied to find that religion held so high a place in the teaching of these northern schools. For the high state of education in this district much was due to the late Rev. John Mackay, then minister of the Free Church at Lybster.
"At Wick he was warmly welcomed by the Rev. Charles Thomson. He preached twice on the Sabbath in the Free Church to large crowds. As I had to preach in Gaelic to the great congregation of Highland fishermen gathered at Wick, I had not the pleasure of hearing him, but it was said that he preached that day with unusual power.

"While in this northern town the Free Church community resolved to give him some token of the high esteem in which he was held by them, and they invited him, with Mr. Meldrum and myself, to a public breakfast. The attendance was large, and the feeling of those present most cordial. Among other things, it was stated by the Rev. Mr. Thomson, the chairman, That no one had appeared, for more than a hundred years, to whom Scotland was more indebted in the matter of education, than to Dr. Candlish. In the course of Dr. Candlish’s own address, he said that his one great aim and desire was that an ample provision be made for the godly upbringing of the children of the country. He was impressed with the conviction, and it was the opinion unanimously held by the members of the Free Church, that before their schools could obtain a religious character they must be under the management of a man who is himself deeply impressed with the importance of the things which belong to their salvation. As a Church they were not confined to one particular mode or another, but they held it as indispensable that this one object, - the godly upbringing of the children, - should be secured. In conclusion, he urged upon the meeting so to act in this matter as to issue a practical demonstration that they were indeed the Church of Scotland, and to prove to the world that in this Educational movement they were following in the footsteps of their forefathers.’

"At a large public meeting at night he advocated the cause of religious education with remarkable effect.
"On the Tuesday morning we left Wick for Castleton, on the north coast of Caithness. When within eight miles of the village, although it was only about eight o’clock, we observed groups of people on the road travelling in the same direction with ourselves. As we passed on the number of the groups increased, and at last he observed, ‘there must be a market hereabout to-day.’ I had, however, observed that the people carried bibles in their hands, and I said in reply, ‘these people are going to hear you preach.’ He said, ‘that cannot be, we are only going to meet the office-bearers.’ ‘That may be true,’ I said, ‘but the people have heard that you are to be here, and they are determined that you shall preach.’ Well,’ he replied, ‘but I have sent all my sermons on by the mail to Thurso. What am I to do?’ By this time we had reached Castleton, the street of which was filled with people crowding towards the Free Church. After breakfast and worship at the manse, we proceeded towards the church, of which the Rev. Mr. M’Kenzie was minister. On our way Dr. Candlish said, ‘It is clear that we must have public worship here this morning- Can you suggest a text I’ I was rather taken aback, but, on reflecting a little, I said, ‘Yes, you are here on the subject of bible education, take the passage in Psalm cxix. 9th verse - ’ Where-withal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to this word!’ He made no reply, but soon after passed through the great crowd that thronged the church to the pulpit. Having finished the preliminary exercises, to my great surprise notwithstanding the previous conversation, he announced for his text Psalm cxix., the 9th verse. I really did not know how he could preach without reading, and more especially without preparation, but a more masterly sermon I never heard. He riveted the attention of his congregation for more than an hour, and left them with all the impressions they had of his greatness as a preacher of the Word not only confirmed but deepened. I must acknowledge to having been deeply impressed myself with the power and success of the effort, knowing as I did all the particulars.

"At night we addressed a large meeting in Thurso in the Free Church, having first received a very hearty welcome from the Rev. Mr. Taylor and other brethren. At this meeting a somewhat curious incident occurred. I happened to speak briefly at the outset, and was in the pulpit when Dr. Candlish gave his address. As he proceeded, I thought I observed a face which I knew looking occasionally in at the door opposite us, but coming no farther. By and bye I thought that I recognised Mr. Hugh Miller, who was at the time geologising on the Caithness coast and I was right. Mr. Miller differed from Dr. Candlish on the Education question, but was anxious to hear what he had to say, and took this mode of satisfying himself. It showed that on the question of Education he could not go with us, although no man had done more than he to promote the interests of the Free Church; and he took occasion to refer to the statements made that night in articles which soon after appeared in the Witness newspaper. Dr. Candlish and Mr. Miller were in reality not so far apart in sentiment as they supposed at the time.

"From Thurso we proceeded westward along the north coast of Caithness and Sutherland to Tongue. The journey was new to Dr. Candlish, and he often expressed himself strongly in admiration of the scenery as we passed along. The weather was beautiful. The land of Orkney appeared clear to the north, the Head of Hey standing out in stern magnificence, presenting its bold front to the western ocean ; the bleak muirland of Caithness stretched away to the left; the interesting valleys of the Halladale and Strathy waters opened up on us; wild and weather-worn headlands disclosed themselves successively to the right, and in front lay the noble mountain-masses of the Reay country, including the giants Ben Loyal and Ben Hope. It was just the sort of scene to interest and to excite him.
"We called on the venerable Mr. Finlay Cook, then Free Church minister of Reay, and Dr. Candlish was charmed with the simplicity, cheerfulness, and earnest piety of the excellent old man, so long a man of note among the religious community of the north.

"We spent a night at Farr, in the manse of the Rev. David M’Kenzie, of the Free Church there, one of the most accomplished and estimable of Highland ministers. Dr. Candlish was quite taken with his fund of anecdote, many of his anecdotes having reference to men and measures in General Assemblies long before his own time. We preached both Gaelic and English to a large congregation here, Dr. Candlish preaching without paper to a deeply interested audience. Next day we left Farr ; and, as Mr. M’Kenzie accompanied us in his own conveyance, I suggested to Dr. Candlish that he should travel with him, as he could tell him all about the country we passed through. ‘I will, indeed,’ he said ; ‘he is capital company.’

"When we reached Tongue we were cordially received by the Rev. George Mackay, and we found the church crowded to hear what we had to say. I preached Gaelic first, Dr. Candlish occupying a place in the elder’s seat during the service. I had suggested that he should remain in the manse until the Gaelic was over. But he said, ‘No, I want te give countenance to the Highlanders and their worship, although,’ he added, laughing, ‘it is a great exercise of self-denial’ He has more than once alluded since to the patience he exercised on that occasion on asking me to do something that required a little effort And very patiently he did it He preached after in English with great power; and expounded, to the satisfaction of the people, his views on religious education.

"We travelled that night from Tongue up the valley that stretches for eighteen miles by Loch Loyal and the main stream that feeds it, to the inn of Altnaharra, at the head of Strathnaver. I travelled in the same conveyance with him. The evening was calm and soft, and he was quite in a mood for conversation Among other subjects on which he talked was the brick church in the Lothian Road which my congregation occupied at the time; and which was built at the Disruption for him and the congregation of Free St. George’s. He expressed a deep interest in the building, saying that the happiest days of his ministry were spent in it. He expressed the hope that it might never be used for another purpose than that of a place of worship. In this his desire was gratified. I said that he must have felt it very painful to leave old St. George’s at the Disruption. He said, ‘Quite the opposite; there were men who sat in the elders’ seat who had no sympathy with me, and I am glad to be separated from them.’ Among other things the state of religion in the Church was talked over, and in connection with it the proceedings of the General Assembly when the report of the Committee on the State of Religion was given in. I said that many were surprised that he never spoke on the subject. I said, ‘You set other men up to speak on the subject; good men, no-doubt, but there are not a few who have as much confidence in your own personal religion, and your interest in these matters, and they would like to see you take your place. It is not good to confine this matter to one peculiar school in the Church.’ His reply surprised me as evidence of a humility for which he did not always get credit : ‘Ah, I have such a consciousness of my own shortcomings in the matter of personal religion that I often fear to open my mouth on the subject’ On hearing these words I said nothing more, but they did not make me think the less of his personal religion, however much the more.

"We spent a very pleasant evening at Altnaharra, our hosts Mr. Harry Munro, being a firm Free Churchman, and a warm admirer of Dr. Candlish, although he had never seen him before, doing all he could to contribute to our comfort. Next day, when the bill was called for, no bill was forthcoming, Mr. and Mrs. Munro saying that they felt proud to entertain Dr. Candlish in their house, and that they hoped they might soon see him back again. In addition to this they sent a conveyance with us to Lairg, a distance of twenty-one miles. Dr. Candlish was quite struck with this instance of Highland hospitality, saying that it showed the hold which the Free Church had taken of the conscience and heart of the Highland people.

"On the way to Lairg we passed through a region entirely devoted to the rearing of sheep. Hardly is one human dwelling to be seen all the way. We had a long talk as we passed along on the subject of the Sutherland clearances, on which he spoke very strongly. Among other things he said, looking at some lambs that frisked by the wayside, ‘I could conceive that the figure of a lamb, used as applicable to our Saviour, would not impress the popular mind here as it does elsewhere. Here it must convey impressions of a painful kind. The people can have no pleasant associations with a lamb.’

"We visited Golspie and Dornoch, in both of which he preached to large bodies of people, addressing them on the subject of our mission. Our last public meeting was in Tain, where, on a week-day evening, he addressed an immense congregation in the Free Church. Sitting together in the evening at Tain we conversed on the subject of the Disruption struggle. He spoke very strongly on the subject of the difficulty in getting many men who favoured the non-intrusion cause to sympathise fully with the principle of popular rights. He said it was far easier to get men to acknowledge the rights of the Church than the rights of the people, but that, for his own part, he had all along felt that the liberties of the Christian people were as clearly derived from Christ as those of the Church, and that he had uniformly taken that ground. In this, he said, he occupied the very ground occupied by his predecessor Dr. Andrew Thomson, of whose memory he spoke with high admiration. He said he thought he was the greatest man the Church had produced in modern times.

"Next evening, at Inverness, we separated. He and Mr. Meldrum were to leave in the morning for the south. I had, at an earlier hour, to take the coach for the east. We had had our evening worship in cur room in the hotel and some time after we were taking leave for the night, when he said, ‘I don’t think we three should part without prayer,’ which he asked me to offer up. I said, ‘No, there should be prayer, but you must offer it up.’ He did so, and I shall never forget that prayer.”

FROM "Memorials of Dr.Candlish" by Wm. Wilson

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