At this time, there lived in the parish of Portree, a person named Donald Munro. In childhood he had been the victim of smallpox, by which he had lost his sight. To gain a livelihood he had learned to play the violin; and being naturally of a pleasant disposition, this quality, with his musical talent, made him a general favourite. The calamity of his blindness engaged the sympathy of all, and his other qualifications secured their patronage. It was thought that the office of Catechist in the parish, to which a small salary was attached, might be superadded to his professional character with advantage to his circumstances. The inconsistency, if observed, was overlooked, and the benevolence implied in making a provision for Donald, concealed the incongruity of a blind fiddler being also a parochial catechist. The minister favoured him—the people were pleased with the arrangement, and a retentive memory enabling him to master the questions of the Shorter Catechism, and a few chapters in the New Testament, his qualifications for the office to which he was promoted were held to be complete. How often are we made to know, as the sequel of this man's history will illustrate, that "God's ways are not our ways"—that they are "past finding out" "for he giveth not account of any of his matters."
Donald's official character led him to hear Mr Farquharson —for where religious exercises, extra-ministerial, were held, there he conceived it his duty to be. Hundreds and hundreds had come to listen to the word of salvation; but, although serious attention was given, the preacher seemed to have "run in vain and laboured in vain." The Spirit was not poured out from on high, and no "blade" of heavenly growth was yet discoverable in that dry place. Nevertheless, God had sent him; and, although he was not, himself', to be the direct instrument of an abundant harvest, like the prophets of old, he was made the medium of the "unction from the Holy One," to another who was raised up to show how "the weak things of the world are made to confound the mighty—and base things of the world and things that are despised, yea, and things which are not, chosen to bring to nought things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence." "To me he was a messenger from God," declared Donald Munro many years after; and although in his Christian charity he expressed an opinion, that one or two besides were converted by his means, no evidence exists that faithful Farquharson's mission had any other direct fruit than that of the conversion of this remarkable man. He soon after emigrated to America, and his ministrations had no further connexion with the revival which took place in Skye.
The Catechist of Portree was no longer a pluralist. He had “got new views," to use his own language, of "Scripture truths, of himself, and of the practices of the inhabitants of his island;" and the light which had been given to him he did not put "under a bushel." His official situation afforded him opportunities of speaking in the name of Jesus; and, before he had been himself a convert for a year, he was made the instrument of turning three or four from the error of their ways to the faith and obedience of the glorious Gospel.
But the great awakening did not take place now, nor for a few years after this; nevertheless as the events which follow were connected with that manifestation of divine grace and power, and as they illustrate the ways of God's providence in promoting his purposes of love towards sinners, they are here recorded. In the first place, a prayer meeting was established. This was in Snizort, the neighbouring parish to Portree. A very few only attended at its establishment; but, in course of time, the numbers increased. The prejudice against it was strong; for nothing of the kind had ever before been heard of in the country, and an innovation of so marked a character was not readily tolerated. But it grew in popularity, and by its means many were induced to attempt to call on the name of the Lord. For two years it flourished. At the end of that time a Baptist preacher appeared in the country. The members of the meeting heard, and some were drawn after him. Eleven were baptised by him—division ensued, and the prayer meeting was in a short time finally dissolved.
In the next place, soon after the institution of this meeting, it pleased the Lord to bring "out of darkness into marvellous light" one of the ministers in the neighbourhood. The gentleman referred to was the late Mr Martin, then of Kilmuir, and latterly of the parish of Abernethy. The change in his doctrine, as well as life and conversation, soon attracted notice, and he was sought unto by those in the country who, by this time, had themselves tasted that the Lord is gracious. The cause of the prayer meeting was espoused by him; and as, even men who knew not the saving power of the Gospel in their own experience, esteemed him for his virtues, his countenance given it, secured either their neutrality or favour. As a minister, he was instant in season and out of season; reproving, rebuking, exhorting with all long-suffering and doctrine. The usual result followed—a desire among his parishioners to search the Scriptures, to see that the things which he declared were so. But the sacred volume was a wanting—and no supply was at hand to meet the demand which the preaching of Christ crucified by this good man had produced. What might have followed so prosperous a state of outward privilege no one can say. A very few, it is believed, were during the short period of Mr Martin's living ministry, savingly impressed; but as he removed from the island in about two years after the change in his own character, and the Gospel ceased to be proclaimed—although he left a pious Catechist behind him—no further additions of such as were "ordained to eternal life," were at that time made to the "Church of the living God."
And here we may be permitted to remark, how serious a consideration it may be for a minister of the Gospel to remove, under whatever solicitations, from a sphere where indications may be perceived of an incipient work of grace, such as a few years after distinguished this part of Skye. That Mr Martin should be exposed to much that might harass his spirit, under his change of views and character, in the place where his lot was cast—that "living godly in Christ Jesus" he should suffer persecution—may be readily believed, as the experience of another, but more undaunted "fellow servant" subsequently attested; but surely here was an opportunity to "endure the cross, and despise the shame," connected with the prospect of honouring his Master and promoting his cause, such as does not often occur, and which, not being embraced, is seldom a second time offered to any man. It cannot be wondered that Mr Martin, as we have heard, should in after years have felt and lamented his error.
It has been stated, that he left behind him, in the parish of Kilmuir, a pious Catechist. This individual also acted as schoolmaster. But besides his services, the parish now enjoyed the benefit of those of Donald Munro, who had been discharged from his office in Portree, and was therefore not confined in his labours to that locality. Under their direction and conduct, meetings, subsequently to the dissolution of the prayer meeting, were regularly held in the parish, attended by large multitudes; and much interest, apparently, was taken in the things which belonged to their souls. This state of matters, however, lasted not long. The new incumbent did not walk in the steps of his predecessor. The Catechist, disgusted with the new order of things, left the country; and Donald Munro stood single-handed without even the weight which his former official name afforded. He did not, however, cease his efforts; and, though under many inconveniences, this good man persevered in holding the meetings, encouraged by the great numbers who came desirous to listen to the word of life.
But the Lord raised up a new friend to the cause in the person of the late Mr John Shaw, who, about this time, was appointed minister of Bracadale, a parish in the neighbourhood, and situated in the same district of country. He had previously been the assistant of the minister of Diurnish, a parish also in this district; but, acting there in an inferior capacity, his influence, until now, had not been efficiently exerted. He was a holy and humble man—little acquainted with the ways of the world, and naturally little qualified to withstand its opposition, directed, whether insidiously or in open violence, against the interests of Sion. But, whatever his failing in this, his heart trembled for the ark of the Lord—its safety was the object of his deepest solicitude, and the theme of his importunate and constant prayers. He was consequently the friend of the friends of Christ, and, few and despised as they were in Skye, he constituted a rallying point and counseller, whose unwavering faithfulness, at least, seldom failed them in whatever emergency.
Mr Shaw secured for his parish the benefit of Society teachers, all of whom were godly men—one from the Society for propagating Christian Knowledge—another from the Gaelic School Society--and a third from the Inverness Education Society; by whose means a knowledge of the truths of the Scripture was extensively communicated. And not least in importance, as preparing the way for the work which the Lord was about to perform in this hitherto dark corner of the Church, the minister of Bracadale introduced to the country Mr. M'Donald of Urquhart, "whose praise is in the Gospel throughout all the churches," and whose rousing appeals to the assembled multitudes who congregated to hear him, caused " no small stir about that way."
It was about the year 1812 that the awakening, properly so called, had its commencement—about seven years after Mr Farquharson .first preached in Skye. It began in the parish of Kilmuir, of which Mr, Martin had been minister and where Donald Munro's services had been most uniformly bestowed and best appreciated. As there can be no doubt that the meetings held under his management were the means specially employed in the work, it may be proper to state the mode in which the services on those occasions were conducted. We are not here to defend the regularity of these meetings, if this be impugned. It pleased the Lord to bless them; and, considering the circumstances which gave them birth and caused their continuance, he will be a bold man who maintains that they ought to have been suppressed or that they are now to be condemned.
The services, on the solemn and happy occasions of which we speak, began with praise and prayer; which were sometimes repeated in course of the occasion, and always concluded the duties for the time. The reading of the Scripture followed the opening of the meeting—large portions of which were read aloud without note or comment. The works of such authors as were to be had in Gaelic came next—viz., translations of Alleine's Alarm, Boston's Fourfold State, Baxter's Call, Bunyan, Willison, Gray and Edwards. Then a passage of the word of God was selected for exposition. Munro, usually, had this part of the service allotted to him: but although few, when he was present, were willing to occupy the place which became him so well, others also, at times, opened up the truths contained in the passage thus commented on. It has already been noted that Donald was a blind man: but, he required the aid of no reader. His memory was stored with the Scriptures; and he had become, literally, a living concordance. Whole chapters could be recited by him without the commission of the slightest error. References, for illustration, were made with a precision which never betrayed, in a single instance, those who followed him in his exposition by turning to the passages. His style of address was solemn and deeply impressive—the effect being not a little heightened by the visitation of Providence which had made him an object of sympathy to all, connected with the evidence in him of the riches of His grace who had come
-"To clear the inward sight, and on the eyeballs of the blind To pour celestial light."
He spoke as one "scarcely saved"—" a brand plucked out of the burning"—lately "dead in trespasses and in sins;" but to whom " the grace of the Lord had been exceeding abundant," and who now stood among those of his own country and kindred who knew his "manner of life from his youth," apparently by divine commission, to warn them to flee from the wrath to come; and to proclaim the truth, worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom he had been chief. A holy unction characterised—as a sound judgment ruled—all that he said: for his words were weighed in the balance of the sanctuary and were not found wanting. To witness his appearance on the occasions alluded to—if the heart were not melted—was sure to disarm prejudice; arid even bitter enemies, whilst they condemned the proceedings, acknowledged that Donald was a good man—honest and sincere in the cause in which he was embarked.
Three times, every Sabbath day, the meetings were held— in the open fields—in barns—or under such shelter as circumstances required and as at the time could be commanded. But not on the Lord's-day only: one stated meeting was held, weekly, at Donald's residence, on another day; and besides this, he travelled to other points in the country round, so that he was rarely disengaged.
Great power followed. When this came, the effects were striking in the highest degree; and filled Munro and the other leaders with adoring wonder. That it was the Lord's doing, not man's, soon became so evident that they were made to feel, and exulted to acknowledge, that they were not to be accounted of, and not worthy to be named in connection with the glorious manifestation which it pleased the Most High to vouchsafe of his redeeming love. "What are we and what is our Father's house!" was the language of their hearts while they contemplated the effects of the irresistible power now savingly exerted. It was a common thing, as soon as the Bible was opened, after the preliminary services, and just as the reader began, for great meltings to come upon the hearers. The deepest attention was paid to every word as the sacred verses were slowly and solemnly enunciated. Then the silent tear might be seen stealing down the rugged, but expressive, countenances turned upon the reader—the convulsive and half-suppressed sigh might next be heard— female sobbings followed—and, after a little, every breast was heaving under the unaccountable agitation which moved the spirits of the assembled multitudes. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof; but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth; so is every one who is born of the Spirit."
Sometimes those affected cried aloud, but this was not common: at other times they threw themselves upon the grass, in the utmost distress, and "wept bitterly." A spirit of prayer and supplication was granted, in a remarkable degree, both upon the leaders of the meetings and upon the people. After the services for the occasion, at any time, were concluded, they were to be seen, in all directions, on their knees, or stretched along upon the ground, calling upon His name with whom is "the residue of the Spirit." An insatiable desire to hear the Scriptures read and opened prevailed; and no length of service fatigued during those days of life and power.
Hours passed insensibly and the night was often "far spent" ere "note was made of time." The usual seasons for food were forgotten, and even necessary nourishment was some¬times neglected. The redemption of the soul is indeed precious. When the eyes are enlightened to perceive this truth, and the conscience is awakened, under the operation of the Holy Spirit, to testify the fearfulness of coming short of the great salvation; and when this occurs, not to an isolated individual, but to a multitude circumstanced, in all respects, as those of whom we now speak, who can wonder that such appearances, as have been described, should be exhibited—that such results should follow; nay, who that knows the word of God and the mind of man, but might expect that such occurrences should take place ?
We have called those occasions happy. They were truly so; for there is no joy like that which is felt when a sinner, melted under a sense of sin and of the mercy of God, learns to weep from "godly sorrow" and a blessed persuasion that everlasting love is manifested towards him in the dealings with his soul which he experiences--when at one and the same time "repentance towards God and faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ" are produced within him by a power which he knows is divine. One striking trait, accordingly, in the character of the meetings was the life felt and manifested in singing the praises of God. The assembled multitudes engaged in the duty as with "one heart and one soul;" and often seemed as if they knew not how to stop. The utmost cordiality and brotherly love prevailed—every man feeling his heart more tenderly drawn out to his neighbour—and such as were savingly affected experiencing a holy influence leading them to testify for Christ, in the house, and by the way, in private conversation and by a devoted public procession.
For about two years the awakening was general. As already stated, it began in the parish of Kilmuir. Snizort next enjoyed the life-giving influence—then Bracadale, and finally Diurnish—all contiguous parishes. Wherever Donald Munro proceeded the effects described followed; and for a time, it was estimated, three or four individuals were savingly converted at every meeting where he presided. Not only so; but when these converts engaged in spiritual exercises throughout the country—for they often came from a distance, and returned to their remote homes laden with the "unsearchable riches of Christ"—great power accompanied their services. It was a "time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord" and by every event connected with it he forcibly announced to all: "Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit."
The effects were two-fold—of a primary or direct, and of a secondary or indirect, character. The primary effects were the genuine conversion of many sinners to the knowledge and obedience of the truth as it is in Jesus. In such a matter it is difficult, and may be dangerous, to speak of numbers: but it is well known that, during the general awakening, several hundred were brought "from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God." The genuineness of their conversion was evidenced by the change of life which accompanied their profession. Persons who had openly served sin, with their whole heart, did truly abandon it, embraced the cause of godliness, and walked, as those of them who still survive do, so as to "adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour by a life and conversation becoming it in all things. Some who had been noted for wickedness became eminent as Christians; and until this day they labour in the vineyard, in their various stations, as "servants who need not to be ashamed." Those are not, in any case, the results of a vain enthusiasm, any more than the fruits of the day of Pentecost were the effect of "new wine but "mockers" now judge by the same rule, as they did then, being blinded by the same evil influence.
Among the secondary effects may be stated, first, the suppression of the openly sinful practices common in the country As the image of Dagon fell mutilated before the ark of the Lord, so did they before the Divine power now present in the district where they had prevailed. Those practices were no longer in repute, but discarded and abandoned by such, even, as were still secretly "joined to their idols." Whilst the devil was certainly cast out of many "by the finger of God," so that he should never return to find a resting place in them again—he also went out of many more; and, for a time, the "house was swept and garnished."
In the next place, a large body was formed whose religion, instead of being a reflexion of the image of Christ, was no more than a reflexion of that of his people—the work in whom was not of God but of man. They constituted the tares among the wheat—the chaff among the true grain--the growth of the rocky ground contrasted with that of the good soil. They attached themselves to the others—appeared under the same circumstances, and thus, as in all revivals which have occurred in the various periods of the Church's history, offences, in course of time, came. These we believe were less numerous and momentous than the hatred of enemies represented them, and probably might have been made less of, but for the anxiety of the real friends of Christ to vindicate his holy work from the imputation thrown on it from such a cause. They might have remembered that the existence of such offences most truly declared the genuineness of the work of God among them; for where the good seed is made to take root, there the enemy will come and sow the evil?
In the third place, there followed from this awakening that abandonment of ordinances, as administered by the parochial clergy, which at present attracts the eyes of the supreme Church court to Skye and the adjacent districts. All the professors of religion—both real converts and others—remained devotedly attached to the national establishment, and resisted efforts made to draw them aside—in which mind they continue. But the evident and striking countenance granted to the meetings attracted the people to them and secured their reverence for their services. The churches were, in consequence, very much forsaken. In these circumstances, the clergy began to refuse sealing ordinances to those who did not hear them; and, on the other hand, the "professors" lifted their protest against the clergy by refusing to accept ordinances as by them administered—Mr. Shaw being the only minister excepted, at that time, from the application of this rule. Hence, especially from this latter cause, it soon ceased to be matter of reproach to live in the non-enjoyment of the ordinances. More than this, it came to be counted an evidence of seriousness not to apply to the clergy—or a mark of carelessness and irreligion when application was made. And thus have we, in the bosom of the Church, the anomalous state of things of a large body of professing Christians, distinguished for the fervency of their piety, the purity of their lives, and the warmth of their attachment to her constitution, still maintaining their union with us under the deprivation of ordinances which they earnestly long for—receiving them, when permitted to do so, from ministers whom they approve and with whom, they conceive, they can hold Christian communion—and justifying separation not from the Church, but from her ordinances, on the ground of their alleged prostitution by those who ought to be the guardians of their purity! This is not the place to discuss a question beset with many difficulties; but those who seek the true reformation of our national Sion, throughout her whole extent, will do well to pause ere they condemn so many of the "excellent of the earth" who, under much obloquy, have never let down their solemn protest, raised against abuses which they declare exist—whether more in Skye than else¬where they know not—nor abandoned their pledged attach¬ment to the Church of their fathers.
A few additional particulars must conclude this narrative. The good work related above was not hindered by any divisions. Enemies attempted to take advantage of the offences alluded to; which, however, but the more closely united the friends of truth: and as all were of one mind on the question regarding the ordinances, neither did this oppose any obstacle to the progress of the Word of Life. We have stated that the parish of Diurnish was the most lately visited by the Divine influence. The awakening there took place a few years after the general revival in the country, and also by means of the meetings already described. The same effects, both as to external appearances and permanent good, followed in the one as in the other; and a great number, for the extent of the population, were turned unto the Lord. The desire to hear, and be benefited by, the word of salvation equalled now what existed in the earlier revival; and it was often a stirring sight to witness the multitudes assembling during the dark winter evenings—to trace their progress, as they came in all directions across moors and mountains, by the blazing torches which they carried to light their way to the places of meeting. The word of the Lord was precious in those days; and personal inconvenience was little thought of when the hungering soul sought to be satisfied.
The awakening now, as during the period of the greater effusion of the Spirit, was principally confined to those not much advanced in life—of the age of fifteen, and under, to thirty, both married and unmarried. But there were some striking exceptions to this rule on both occasions. One man, eighty years of age, was brought under great concern, lived a few years as a professed Christian and died, it is believed, in the Lord. A still more wonderful instance of the power of Divine grace was afforded in the case of a poor man, residing in the parish of Bracadale, above one hundred years old, who, in the judgment of charity, passed from death to life; having, from being ignorant and unholy, renounced his dependence on a covenant of works, and embraced the faith which purifies the heart and overcomes the world. The conversion of an idiot, or rather half-witted person, who afterwards emigrated with his relations to America, constituted another triumph of that grace which was so bountifully communicated in this hitherto barren wilderness. But time would fail to enumerate all the instances of this kind which occurred—including some, of persons little known, during their life, to be more than mere professors, who on their death-bed evinced the reality of the change that had been wrought on their souls. These are mentioned as illustrative of the sovereignty of God in the communications of his grace, and to encourage all who plead for them to remember that with him nothing is impossible —that he doth "wonderful things," and that his "counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.'
In 1823, Mr. Shaw died; but the Lord had prepared one to do more than fill his place, in the person of Mr. Roderick M'Leod, who was appointed to succeed him in Bracadale. As a missionary in the neighbourhood, he had for a few years filled the office, without possessing the spirit or doing the work of an evangelist; but when thus "far off, it pleased God to "call him by his grace, and to reveal his Son in him' —so preparing and qualifying him to preach the "glorious Gospel." With his change of views and practice, as a minister of the New Testament, he adopted the sentiments, prevalent among the religious in the country, on the question regarding the ordinances. His unflinching adherence to these, and a consequently unusual strictness in the rule of admission, soon involved him in troubles in the church courts, whilst it endeared him to all those in the country who had turned from their idols to serve the living God. If any one thing could have succeeded in separating forever from our church this valuable body of devoted adherents, it would have been the deposition of this estimable man. Let us hope that the days have gone by when such a risk might exist, nay, let us hope that the time has come for the calm discussion of the principle of such vital importance to the interests of true religion, for which he has so long contended.
Under Mr. M‘Leod’s ministry the good work was prolonged, and, from time to time, through his instrumentality, many were "added to the church of such as should be saved." A door was still kept open for Mr. M'Donald of Urquhart, whose apostolic visits continued to be regularly paid, and whose faithful ministrations, during the whole progress of the work, had been evidently acknowledged. Still, more recently, another door was opened for him in Snizort, where Mr.M'Lachlan, now of Cawdor, during a short ministerial course, zealously preached the doctrine of the cross, and did not run in vain. In 1830, Donald Munro died—a man highly honoured of the Lord, and whose memory will be had in everlasting remembrance. It is impossible to reflect on his career without being impressed with the truth that God is "no respecter of persons," and that the distinctions, of which men are apt to make so much, are often lightly set by of him. He can choose his instruments from the most unlikely materials, and, in performing his works of wonder, strikingly prove that "the excellency of the power is of himself." He once selected a child of tender years, through whom to speak to his people, passing by a regularly appointed and aged servant; and not more forcibly did he then announce, than he has done among us, by the history of Donald Munro: "Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed."
This good man's services, although principally confined to Skye, were riot exclusively so. He sometimes visited the mainland, especially on sacramental occasions; but wherever he proceeded the same holy influence was made to accompany him, and the Lord honoured .him as the means of promoting his cause. A little anecdote, well known, will illustrate his zeal and manner of proceeding during such solemn occasions as we refer to. In this district of the Highlands, immense numbers from incredibly remote points assemble to the ordinance of the Supper, where faithful preaching or esteemed ministers are expected. They are usually accommodated at night in barns or large outhouses—the males occupying one department of the building, the females the other. A stranger who had never heard of Donald came to attend, on an occasion, at Lochcarron, during the ministry of the late Mr Lachlan M'Kenzie, a man most eminent among his own people in his day and generation. The stranger had his bed allotted him in a large barn with a multitude accommodated in the same way. During the darkness of the night, he was aroused from his slumbers by a voice calling aloud "awake, awake!" The summons seemed to be obeyed, as if expected, judging by the movement which he perceived all around him. He then heard: "Let us sing to the praise of God," pronounced by the same voice. Several verses were distinctly enunciated amidst the darkness and the stillness of the night. They were sung, each line being regularly announced, with thrilling effect. Prayer was then offered up, the stranger perceiving all his fellow lodgers on their knees, and instinctively following their example. This duty ended, and a long portion of Scripture was distinctly pronounced. He was amazed; but much more was this the case when he listened to a striking and powerful exposition, with references to other scriptures, in proof or in illustration of doctrine, concluding with an irresistible appeal to the consciences of all who were present. It is not said that the stranger had "come to scoff "—but it is to be feared an idle curiosity, which too often guides many to such places, had led him thither: there is reason to believe, however, that he "remained to pray." The Lord had conducted him by a way which he knew not, when He directed his steps to the place to which he had come—He had touched his heart— and, from that day forth, this wanderer on the mountains of vanity, sought Sion with his face thitherward.
See Skye Revivals
Roderick MacLeod became 'born again' in around 1821 and Munro was a major influence in his life. They were like father and son, and MacLeod's theology was molded by his relationship with Munro. MacLeod went on to have a wonderful 15 years of ministry in Bracadale. He said, 'I expect to spend eternity in Donald's society.'
On one occasion John Macdonald and MacLeod were debating a point of Scripture, and they decided to call Munro in to get his view. Munro told them that they were both wrong, and they agreed.
For a more modern story of Munro's life see, ‘The Skye Revivals,’ by Steve Taylor, published by New Wine Press, p25-36.