Other Testimonies

The Story Of Duncan Macphail

The work of revival is more than conversion; the Lord's people, weary or aged and sometimes backslidden, are encouraged and revivified. The experience of old Duncan MacPhail is warmly related by Rev. Murdo Macaulay. Mr Macaulay's well-known interest in sheep husbandry is well apparent; Free Church ministers do not now, in these more enlightened times, encourage the unhealthy habit of smoking...

"Duncan MacPhail, 39 Carloway, died in 1941, aged 86 years, and when he died we may say that the revival died with him. When the revival came he was then in his eightieth year and had been admitted as a member in September 1896, and ordained as a deacon in 1914. Before the revival his Christian life seemed to be of a very low key, yet not one of the older Christians seemed to be as much revived as he was when the new converts appeared. We have often seen in May a lone sheep leaving the rest and skipping with the lambs, and we noticed that this was due usually to its being in better condition than the rest after a hard winter. So it appeared to be with Duncan.

Duncan's younger brother Malcolm, the father of dr Norman and Dr Angus MacPhail, had served as a lay missionary in various stations of the Free Church – at Bernera, Kinloch, Gravir and Snizort – and in my young days he gave an occasional lecture at Carloway. I still remember him preaching on the text, 'Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift,' (2 Corinthians 9:15) and we thought he acquitted himself well.

Malcolm, however, was naturally a regimental character, and totally different from his brother Duncan. If the revival touched Malcolm at all, it was by no means as noticeable as it was in Duncan. To hear Duncan praying was a treat in itself, for as he spoke of the glorious work of the Redeemer his thoughts would spread to the four corners of the earth. Thoroughly evangelical, he fervently prayed for 'na daoine dubha 's na daoine buidhe; na h-Innseanaich, agus daoine do'n a h-uile dath..." ("...the black people, the yellow people, the Indians, and people of every colour...) Mr Maciver, the minister, once remarked to a friend concerning Duncan, "If Duncan had died before the revival, I would have been doubtful as to his state, but now there is not a livelier Christian in the whole congregation."

The minister had a very soft spot for him, and he always made sure that he would be present when the Foreign Mission boxes were opened at 27 Carloway. Not that he was an indispensable asset during counting, but Mr Maciver knew his heart was in the work, and at the end he would always ask Duncan to pray. This he did somewhat in the following vein, 'We cannot go with the Gospel to you, but we can send tracts, or rather we shall give some money so that others can send you both Bibles and tracts, that you may taste the sweetness of the Gospel as we have tasted it ourselves.'

Mr Maciver once sent him a pipe as a present, with the words, 'To a lively Christian.' Practically every old man smoked a pipe then, but no woman smoked, at least publicly, as they do today. The young converts used to call for Duncan and, even though over eighty years old, off he would go with them wherever they would gather for fellowship and worship that evening. When they brought him home, sometimes late, the last thing he said was, 'Where are you going to gather tomorrow night?" and requested them to be sure and call for him.

When they gathered in his own house they would get him to ask God's blessing on a cup of tea. Sometimes he would stand with the cup and saucer in his hand and, as he spoke of the glorious Trinity and of the wonders of God's grace, he got carried away so that he would shift the cup and saucer from one hand to the other, while everyone waited for it to crash to the floor, or spill all over him. A sigh of relief arose as he ended his thanks with both cup and saucer still intact.

On one occasion they were sitting at the table and, as he rambled on, his wife tried to shift the cup from his swinging hands, lest the worst would happen, for dishes were precious in those days. Duncan, however, slapped her hand and said in the middle of his grace, 'Bi modhail,' (behave yourself), and then carried on with his pleadings as if nothing had happened. On another occasion, in his own house, he himself was asked to conclude in prayer during worship. After a while he came to a sudden end with 'Amen' and immediately after it, 'Cuir air an coire,' (put the kettle on.) At prayer or at grace he had a habit of making sweeping gestures with his hands, whether he was addressing his Maker and Saviour of the wide world as his mission field, or sometimes even the Evil One himself. Although his actions appeared comical, his words were even more so, so that everyone's attention was foccused on him, wondering what would come next.

When praying, Duncan would talk to certain characters of Scripture as if they were beside him. 'Seadh a Pheadair chuir iad do'n phriosan thu, agus chuir iad da slabhradh ort, agus bha duil aca gun robh thu aca, ach cha robh fios aca co ris a bha an gnothuich, oir bha gnath-uirnuigh air a deanamh leis an eaglais ri Dia air do shon. Ach 'nuair a bhuil an t-aingeal do thaobh thuit do cheanglaichean dhiot, agus cha robh fhios aig do-luchd-coimhead gun d'fhalbh thu. O nach Tu tha curamach mu do shluagh!" (Yes, peter, they put you into prison, and put two chains on you and they thought that they had you but they did not know with Whom they had to reckon; for persevering prayer was made to God by the church for you. But when the angel smote your side, your chains fell off and your keepers did not know that you had gone. Oh, aren't Thou watchful over Thy people?"

Duncan had great respect for Catriona, Dhonnchaidh Mhoir, who at the beginning of the revival was in her mid-thirties. She was a peerless Christian, who could repeated Mr Maciver's sermons almost word for word, and so often refreshed the hearts of young and old as they discussed these sermons in their fellowships. Someone asked Duncan what he thought of this girl, knowing full well that he was very attached to her. It was in his own home, so he looked round to see if any of his own family were present, and then said, 'You know, my friend, even if I heard that she had lapsed into public sin I would still believe she was a Christian.'

Duncan had strong views on the efficacy of the Atonement and, discussing its extent, he would strongly resist any attempt made to limit this so that Satan would appear to have more at the end than the Lord himself. He lectured about a book he was reading in which the author's view on this subject coincided with his own. In his lecture he turned on the Devil, addressing him as if he were present. "Thusa a' gabhail ort an Tighearna do Dhia a bhuaireadh. Nochd thu dha uile rioghachdan an domhain agus an gloir, mar nach biodh eolas sam bith aigeasan, ach beagan mar tha agad fhein; agus ghabh thu ort a radh 'Iad so uile bheir mi dhuit ma thuiteas tu sios agus ma ni thu aoradh dhomsa...." ("You, taking upon you to tempt the Lord your God. You showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory as if he had no knowledge but a little like yourself; and you dared to say: 'All these will I give you if you will fall down and worship me.' You bad rascal, you have little claim on them.)

Everyone present burst into laughter as they heard this severe rebuke being given to the Adversary...

Other Testimonies

"The first minister of the Free Church at Carloway was the Rev. John MacLean who was known locally as 'am Ministear Ban' [the fair-haired minister]. Born in Islay in 1825, he was ordained at Muckairn in 1856, and was translated to Carloway in 1858; to Stratherrick in 1863 and to Back in 1877; to Shiskine [Isle of Arran] in 1880 and to Tarbert [Harris] in 1885. He died in 1900...

His ministry was greatly blessed in Carloway and elsewhere. The 1859 revival was not only on the mainland of Scotland, but also spread through the whole island of Lewis. It met with much opposition and criticism. In September 1860 Mr MacLean had 33 new admissions to the Lord's Table. The total on the Roll was then 82. In 1862, 29 were added to the Roll.

We get an insight into the strict discipline exercised by the first minister and his Session from the case of a lady who was disciplined on December 6th 1858. The sentence imposed was a public rebuke one Sabbath a month for six months.

The strange facts surrounding the lives of two young Carloway Christians, who were among the first converts of the 1859 revival under his ministry, are worthy of a place in the history of the Carloway congregation. These young men were Angus MacNeill, of 18 Carloway, and John MacLeod, od 3 Borriston, known locally as Aonghas Fhionnlaigh Aonghais and Iain Dhomnaill Tailleir.

From childhood I was accustomed to hearing the unusual circumstances which preceded the tragic drowning of Angus MacNeill. He lived on the croft next to our own and both his parents were pious people. They were among the thirty-three members who professed their faith in Christ for the first time in September, 1860.

Angus was the only son of Finlay and Christy MacNeill and it was related that, when he was only eight years old, he happened to be tending his father's cattle at a place called Cnoc Ian Ghleadhairean, about a mile out from the main road between Carloway and Dalmore. At the height of the day he saw a vision in which the upper half of a man appeared in dazzling white clothes. This person asked the boy if he was accustomed to praying, to which Angus replied that he was. The man then said to him, 'I am Gabriel, the Archangel of God; and fifteen years from today I shall call for you.'

From that day on, Angus used to retire every night [to pray] to a kiln [a small drystone structure used for drying threshed grain before milling] near the Druidical stones which were then on their own croft, but are now on 20 Carloway – about 200 yards from his home. As he arrived at the door of the kiln he used to see every night a black ram rushing out... into the dark.

When Angus grew up he became a member of a local [fishing][ boat crew. There were eight in the crew and they were John MacArthur, 21 Knock, who was the skipper and aged 48; John MacPhail, 27 Carloway, who was 35; Norman MacPhail, his brother, 39 Carloway, who was not in the boat when she was lost; Donald MacLeod, 22 Carloway, who was 36; Malcolm MacLeod, 23 Carloway, 39: John MacNeill, 30 Carloway, 31; John MacLeod, 41 Park Carloway, 38; Angus MacNeill, 18 Carloway, 23; and John MacLeod, 3 Borriston, substituting for Norman MacPhail on this fatal trip.

John MacPhail, Angus MacNeill and John MacLeod (3 Borriston) were all converted before the tragedy took place. Young john MacLeod had been converted at a Communion at Uig. At that time, and until the 1940s, it was customary for unconverted people to attend the neighbouring Communion seasons. Angus and John were very close friends and often visited one another. On one occasion when Angus was visiting John in Borriston, John came with him as far as the Old Post Office (16 Carloway). After stopping there for a while, no doubt conversing on spiritual things, they suddenly saw a ball of fire moving from where they stood and going up Upper Carloway, where the homes of five of the crew were almost side by side at numbers 18, 22, 23, 27 and 30 Carloway.

The crew had decided to procure a new boat, and before they departed to Stornoway from where they intended to sail her round the Butt [of Lewis] to Carloway, John MacLeod said to his parents that he too was going to Stornoway. His mother replied, 'I know why you are going to Stornoway. It is so that you can get a sail in the new boat with Angus MacNeill!" – and of course that was his reason for doing so.

When the crew arrived in Stornoway, John MacPhail bought a new chair for the use of Kenneth Ross, the Carloway catechist, when conducting meetings in various houses; the chair was meant to follow the catechist from house to house.

The night before they sailed, these three young Christians attended a prayer meeting in Benside [in Laxdale, near Stornoway] and, while they were there, those present observed that their countenances were shining as with a heavenly light. When the meeting ended, one of the local elders asked another his opinion of the Carloway lads. The other replied, 'It is my opinion that either the Lord is to use them as His own servants or else He will soon take them home to be with Himself.'

When the time came for sailing, Norman MacPhail refused to join the crew for some unknown reason. Some said his wife, Chirsty, was expecting a child, and therefore he could not go; others maintained that he had some premonition of the coming disaster and therefore refused to go with them. Young john MacLeod was only too pleased to be given the opportunity to join the crew in Norman's place, and thus have the fellowship of his friends on their way home.

Two boats left Stornoway together – the new one with crew as mentioned above; the other belonging to Donald MacAulay, 17 Carloway, but on this occasion skippered by his elder brother, Angus. The day was cold and stormy, and they took shelter at Tolsta Bay. The MacAulay boat drifted, dragging her anchor, so her crew raised sail to go out to deeper water. The other crew seeing this thought they were leaving and themselves sailed away; the first then followed. Having passed Tolsta Head they made for the Butt, but in heavy showers and gusty squalls they lost sight of each other and the new boat was never seen again.

No trace of the boat was ever found except that the rower's bench – 'tobhta' – came ashore at Thurso [Caithness] with the chair for Kennetyh Ross strapped to it. The chair was eventually returned to John MacPhail's house. The tragedy took place on the night of 17th to 18th March 1860, and none of the bodies was ever recovered. The significant thing was that this happened fifteen years to the day as revealed to Angus as a boy.

Donald MacLeod, John's father, was a pious man, and on the morning of the drowning he was going over the Borriston hill with his creel for peats. Suddenly the following words were spoken to him from above: 'Seadh an tughadh tu fhein seachad d'uaon ghin mic mar a thug Abraham seachad Isaac?" Donald stopped in his tracks, and after a while replied, "Bheireadh, 'nam biodh creidimh Abraham agam...' [Would you give up your only son as Abraham offered Isaac? Yes, I would if I had Abraham's faith...] He soon learned from experience that this was no easy task, even if he had Abraham's faith, for whatever measure of faith we get it will be tested to the full. Donald's wife, Chirsty Martin, found it difficult to accept the loss of her only son, and she was continually blaming Norman MacPhail for John's drowning. 'Tormod Ruadh mo chrich...' [Woe is me because of Red Norman] she repeated day after day. Her husband's reply was, 'Oh, be quiet. Look at myself having daily to share out the catch of the boat with him...'

When no word of the crew was heard, Finalay MacNeill used to walk every day down to a high hill at the shore, Ard a' Gobhainn, near the boundary between Dalmore and Garenin, to see if he would catch a glimpse of the boat, or see some wreckage floating, fir no one knew what had happened to her. After some time with still nothing seen nor heard, the two fathers, Finlay MacNeill and Donald MacLeod, decided to go down to Barvas to find out if there was any news there. When they reached Dalbeag, the Word of the Lord came to Finlay with such power that they decided to proceed no further. The text was Isaiah 63: 14 – 'As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord caused him to rest.' In Gaelic, the plural is used: 'Mar a theid an spreidh sios do 'n ghleann, thug Spiorad an Tighearn' orra fois a ghabhail.'

Rest in Him from affliction, sin and corruption, fron enemies and temptations, from the angry sea to swim for evermore in the ocean of His infinite love!

Finlay and Donald returned home immediately, and when they arrived at Carloway Finlay's wife asked him why he had turned back so soon. He replied that the Lord had told him that they had gone to their eternal rest.

The MacAulay families were living next door to Finlay, and it was well known that their hilarious laughter could often be heard in Knock, but after this tragedy the whole neighbourhood was so stunned that the MacAulays' laughter was not heard for a full year so as not to offend their sorriwing neighbours.

This story we have given as brought down by tradition to the descendants of the afflicted families and their neighbours. We think it is worthy of being recorded, for although Providence is mysterious it is full of wonders in which we see both the goodness and the severity of God. It is said that for the Christian every stroke of suffering here doth but beautify the crown. How unsearchable are His judgements, and His ways past finding out; yet we believe that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose..."

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