On September 1st 1813 John Macdonald became the minister at Urquhart. His predecessor was the eminent and godly Charles Calder, who did much good work in the parish and who was much loved. It was a well run and gifted parish, where virtually every parishioner attended church. Because it was in such a good condition Macdonald did not have to spend all his time building up the parish, so he could spend a good deal of time elsewhere. Sometimes when he had been away for six weeks, there would be murmurings of complaint, but as soon as they heard his preaching and were greeted by his smile; the murmuring was forgotten.
He is described by his biographer as, ‘Short in stature; his complexion dark, his physical frame compact, instinct with animation, his face with features well defined and regular, a brow broad and high; and eyes dark and quick of glance, kept expressive by an active intellect, and ever beaming with fresh love and cheerfulness. The Highlands had at that time a number of good evangelical ministers, particularly at Kingussie, Kiltarlity, Kirkhill, Lochcarron, Dingwall, Tain, Tarbat and Nigg. Other places too had experienced evangelicalism, but the Highlands was a large area, with many remote spots, and many Moderate ministers such as the one who baptised him. Gaelic schools had been planted in many areas as well, with some bring the beginnings of light into the area. There were few roads yet in the area, so ministering there involved long rides or walks. This was the mission field of Macdonald, who came to be known as the ‘Apostle of the North.’ In his first year at Urquhart his wife died, but he insisted on performing the annual communion service that was due to be taken. This was celebrated in a natural amphitheatre called the ‘Burn of Ferintosh.’ Around 10,000 attended the service there. The congregation, knowing the loss of their pastor, were quiet and often tearful as he spoke. According to his biographer this was the beginning of an awakening, ‘in the evening he appealed to the unconverted…The excitement at last was very great, the groans and outcries of the stricken ones sometimes drowning the voice of the preacher. During the closing services on Monday the same scene was repeated. In his diary, which he began at the start of 1816, he notes that within two years 58 came to the Lord, with only 12 from his own parish. This does not seem to be much of an awakening. However, it was enough to encourage Findlater, the minister in Breadalbane (see this website), to hear about it and want a revival in his area. After praying for a while the revival began, so Findlater called on Macdonald for help at the Communion at Ardeonaig for 1816. The minister of Kiltearn was an eyewitness. Tidings of the awakening at Urquhart reached Bread¬albane. Mr Findlater then occupied a missionary station there. He was a godly man, a faithful fervent preacher, and the lack of learning and talent in his discourse was well supplied by the unction of a broken heart. He was stirred up by the good news of the Lord's work in Ross-shire to seek an outpouring of the Spirit on Breadalbane. Prayer-meetings were set up, and not long after the "dry bones" began to move. One after another came to Mr Findlater asking, "What must I do to be saved?" He wrote to Mr Macdonald, imploring his assistance at his next communion, and he agreed to go. Of that communion season at Ardeonaig the following account is given by the Rev. D. Campbell, Kiltearn, who, along with his brother, the Free Church minister of Lawers, looks back on that time as the dawning of a better day.