Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Story of the Life of MacKay of Uganda
Chapter III - Transmitted Impulses

"Things of high import sound I in thine ears,
Dear child, though now thou mayst not feel their power.
But hoard them up, and in thy coming years
Forget them not,"


THE life of Alexander Mackay is not a story of self-help in the common acceptation of the phrase. The atmosphere of his early home was high and pure, and his surroundings were very stimulating to literary cultivation, Until he was fourteen years of age he was never sent to school, but enjoyed the valuable instructions of his father, who was conservative in his ideas of education, and believed a good classical and mathematical grounding to be of the greatest assistance, not only in learning English and modern languages, but for science and general literature also. His father was very apt at making instruction interesting, yet he never gave his pupil much to learn by rote, but taught him to apply his reasoning powers to what he read. Indeed, after seven years of age, his reading lesson was the leading article in the newspaper, which was explained to him paragraph by paragraph. Thus he had a great variety of subjects, and his mind expanded beyond his immediate surroundings. Nothing delighted the father more than to satisfy the boy's intense craving for knowledge, and in their walks abroad nature became an open book affording many a captivating study.

The hum of the bee in the golden summer air would suggest a lesson on the important part that insects play in the wonderful mechanism of nature, and the unerring wisdom which adapts each created thing to its own special purpose; the hoar-frost on the ground, on a wintry morning, one on aqueous vapour and its results; while excursions to the neighbouring sandstone quarry, armed with geological hammers, were red-letter days in the boy's memory. Frequently he accompanied his father to cottage prayer-meetings, and to " catechisings" in the various districts of the parish. Weather permitting, they lingered on the way gathering botanical specimens; after a sumptuous tea in the hospitable home of one of the "elders" they adjourned to the barn, or gathered round the fire of the low-roofed kitchen, where, after religious exercises, the doctrines contained in the Shorter Catechism were practically opened up; and on the way home his father stimulated his interest in astronomy by teaching him to distinguish the fixed stars, by their twinkling and pale silvery light, from the mellow, steady ray of the planets. Thus the boy was initiated into many of the mysteries of nature, by the close and minute observance of every object which attracted his attention.

There is no doubt, however, that, as in the case of Dr. Moffat, the influence which biassed the mind of Alexander Mackay towards missionary enterprise was the gracious example of his godly mother. Piety does not run in the blood, but it frequently runs in the line; and it was so in this case, even through generations. Margaret Lillie was alike remarkable for her elevated principles as for her prudence, tact, and thrift. Her sympathies were far-reaching and her affections deep, and her memory is still fragrant in Rhynie, although it is now over a quarter of a century since she entered into the joy of her Lord. She was a true helpmeet to her husband in his literary pursuits, and had great facility in the acquisition of languages. Indeed, during the two years subsequent to her marriage she made considerable progress in the study of Hebrew, under her husband's guidance. Her father, Mr. Alexander Lillie, occupied an influential position in Banff' [Banff is a small town on the Moray Firth, and is well described in the "Life of a Scotch Naturalist," by Dr. S. Smiles.]  He was a Disruption elder, and was sent to represent the Presbytery of Fordyce at the first general assembly of the Free Church. Her venerable grandfather, Mr. William Lillie, ["Died, at New Deer, 25th February, 1840, at an advanced age (eighty-three), Mr. William Lillie, elder, who had been for nearly forty Years precentor in the congregation at Whitehill, and for more than sixteen years an elder. Mr. Lillie was a good, praying man, was much attached to the cause at Whitehill, a most regular attender upon ordinances, and understood the Gospel well …… The old are dropping off. May a race be brought forward to do more than fill their places - a race more public-spirited and devoted to the extension of Christ's kingdom at home and abroad!" - "Autobiography and Journals of the Rev. Adam Lind, Whitehill, edited by his nephew, the Rev. Adam Lind," ] resided at New Deer, Aberdeenshire. He belonged to the Original Secession Church, and was an eminently godly man, as most of those old Seceders were.

The Lillies are descended from a Huguenot family who fled from France, after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, "rather than live a daily lie to God by forswearing the religion of their conscience." The tradition is that the name was originally De Lille, and that they came from the town of Lille in the country of the French Walloons.

The love of religious liberty, the self-reliance, the valour, piety, earnestness, and other characteristic traits of the French Protestant refugees, and the cruel persecutions [Two most interesting books on this subject are "The Huguenots in England and Ireland," and "The Huguenots in France," by Dr, Samuel Smiles.] which drove them from their native land - the land which is so inexpressibly dear to the heart of every Frenchman - were often and touchingly narrated to the boy by his mother, with the injunction,

"O ye who boast
In your free veins the blood of sires like these,
Lose not their lineaments."

 The impress seems to have been graven deeply, for at an early age he knew all about the "Church in the Desert," while the Tour de Constance, the Bastile, and the galley-slave were familiar words to him.

After the departure of old Annie, his mother became the boy's more immediate associate, and thus his character training fell chiefly into her hands. She had a great regard for the sanctification of the Lord's Day; at the same time she used every endeavour to make it a specially happy day, and one to be looked forward to all the week. For the Sunday evening lesson, of course, the Bible and the Shorter Catechism were the text-books, and if the boy knew his lesson well, the reward was a missionary story. Entertaining books on missions were scarce in those days, but she always managed to glean something fresh to arouse his interest in what she considered a great and noble work.

Let us take a peep into the manse study on one of these Sunday evenings. The minister has gone to preach at some distance from home. The night is wild, and hail and sleet beat against the shuttered windows. The lesson is evidently over, for the boy claps his hands and exclaims,  

“Now for the story. Mother! tell me to-night the one beginning,

“ ‘Hark! Hark! - 'tis the sainted Martyn's sigh
From Ararat's mournful shades.' “

“We talked of Martyn last Sunday, did we not?" 

“Yes, but that was about his life in India, and I remember Mrs. Sigourney's lines you taught me :-

“Light on the Hindoo shed I
On the maddening idol-train;
The flame of the suttee is dire and red,
And the fakir faints with pain,
And the dying moan on their cheerless bed,
By the Ganges laved in vain.'

Well, let us begin at the beginning, and tell me again how you were first interested in missions, mother. It was through your grandfather's minister, was it not?"

"Yes, through the Rev. Adam Lind, an eminently godly man, and well known in the north for his public spirit and world-wide sympathies. I was at New Deer on a visit to my grandfather. Sunday evening came, and I remember it so well - a lovely June evening. Roses filled the eye with colour and the air with fragrance. I was only a little girl then, probably about twelve years of age. It was the annual missionary sermon, and I felt deeply interested, as I had heard that Mr. Lind was anxious to go to the foreign field himself, but that his congregation declined to let him. We went early to get a good seat, where my grandfather could hear. I expected some dry statistics and facts about Canada, Old Calabar, Jamaica, etc., where the missionaries of the Secession Church were vigorously working; but I said to myself, 'I must listen, for Mr. Lind is always so kind and good to me : whenever he sees me he pats my head and strokes my hair. Yes, I will listen.'

“Presently the minister entered the pulpit, and he had such a beautiful look on his face: his whole soul seemed to be on fire. The text was, 'If ye love Me, keep My commandments,' with which he coupled our Lord's Ascension command to His disciples - 'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.' It was a most affecting and resistless appeal as to our duty and responsibility with regard to the work of missions. The burning words of his concluding prayer I shall never forget: 'Oh, what an honour to be an ambassador to the heathen, and to be an instrument to gather sinners to the Redeemer! Lord, raise up many to visit the dark places of the earth! Oh that we may be honoured to do something in stirring up some to this work of the Lord! Determine many to occupy a place in Thy vineyard - men prepared by Thyself, full of faith and love, and of the Holy Spirit. The Sun of Righteousness has arisen on many dark lands, and the cry becomes louder and louder, “Come over and help us." Arise, O Lord, and plead Thine own cause.'

"That night I could not sleep. When the dawn came I rose, opened the window, and looked out. A gentle breeze was blowing across the hay-field, and each time it fanned my flushed cheeks it seemed to echo the preacher's words, 'None of us can shirk our responsibilities.' But what could I do? I was only a little girl, and so helpless! And yet I felt sure the preacher looked at me as if the message was to me personally. I lay down again, but with the first sound in the house I rose, dressed, got my sunbonnet, and went out. The carolling of the birds, the tinkling of the sheep-bells, and the merry sound of the mowers whetting their scythes, together with the bracing morning air, revived my spirits and seemed to make me see things differently. Though I could not go to heathen lands myself, yet I might stir up others, and I might help to get money to send out good men. There is Mr. Lind: when quite a young man he came under the liberalising influence of the enthusiasm for foreign missions. He went through the University and Theological Hall with the intention of going as a missionary to the United States of America, but the Lord sent him here. He has been the means, however, of sending a nephew to the work in India, and he has started the Buchan Missionary Society, which sends annually from £30 to £45 to missions; perhaps I too can be of some use. And I went home comforted, and found my grandfather concerned at my absence. I think he must have had his own suspicions, for his grey eyes looked at me keenly. But he merely said, 'Sunday's food will not serve all the week. We need daily bread, worship, and breakfast every morning.' "

"What field do you consider most important, mother ?"

"Christ died for all. 'What we must pray for is the evangelisation of the whole world. All are important, although the eyes of many are now being turned on the land of dusky Ham, and the cry is -

“ ‘Will not some daring spirit born to thoughts
Above his beast-like state, find out the truth,
That Africans are men?' "

" Would you like me to go as a missionary to Africa, mother?"

"If God prepares you for it, my boy, but not unless. You must first come to Him, and if He has need of you, He will call you in a way you will not mistake. You can throw your soul into the missionary enterprise and yet stay at home; but if the message comes, 'Depart, for I will send thee far hence,' take care you do not neglect it. Remember what Jonah got for his pains. But, as I have heard Dr. Duff say, 'The advancement of the missionary cause is not only our duty and responsibility, but it is an enjoyment which those who have once tasted would not exchange for all the treasures of the Indian mines, for all the laurels of civic success, for all the glittering splendour of coronets. It is a joy rich as heaven, pure as the Godhead, lasting as eternity!' "

"I do not think I could like black people."

"Not pity the poor captives - who

" 'start at every word
As meant to mock their woes, and shake their chains,
Thinking defiance which they dare not speak'? "

"Oh, yes, I could pity them, and would like to help them, but to love them - I don't know about that."

Perhaps considering whence the mother came it is no matter of surprise that she was a diligent reader of the Bulwark, and that she earnestly sought to impress on his youthful mind that the Reformation is a great trust handed down to us by our forefathers. She spent much time in explaining to him the prominent errors and the lying legends of Popery, so that when occasion offered he would have no difficulty in unmasking its face and exposing its craftiness.

In the spring of 1858, as the father was driving to Gartley station, on his way to Edinburgh, he said to Alexander (who was accompanying him to the railway station in order to take home the conveyance), " Well, what book shall I bring you home from Edinburgh?"

"I think, at this stage, father, I ought to have a printing-press."

The father dropped the reins, and in a tone in which disappointment and disgust were mingled, exclaimed, -

“A printing-press! What do you mean by a printing-press? The thing is to become a good scholar, and if you have anything to say worth writing, anyone will print for you. When at the manse of Keig, the other day, I saw one of Mr. Smith's sons [Now, Professor W. Robertson Smith.] lying on the study floor poring over a great Hebrew Bible; and you talk about wasting your time with a printing-press."

"I do not think it would be wasting time, father. Skill takes no room in the pocket nor in the travelling-bag, and some day I might find it useful."

"My dear boy, you know that the desire of my heart is to see you become a preacher of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ."

" Well, but, father, Martin Luther says that 'printing is the latest and greatest gift by which God enables us to advance the things of the Gospel.'"

It was train time, however, and with a hasty "good-bye" the father was soon out of sight. "What could have put a printing-press into the boy's head?" he pondered. "I expect it is the part it played in furthering the Reformation. I know he has been reading D'Aubigne. He devours every book he comes across. Euler's Algebra, which I brought him home last year, has been a fairy-world to him; and yet every now and then this hankering after miscellaneous crafts crops up. He does not play, like other boys; every spare hour at his disposal, I find, is spent in the smithy or carpenter's shop, handling tools of all kinds, and on occasion lending a helping hand. I must endeavour to remove him from his surroundings. Meantime I shall search for a good book to divert his attention,"

With this end in view, the father on arriving in Edinburgh made an early visit to Messrs. Blackwood's choice assortment of new books, but not finding exactly what he wanted, he unburdened his mind to his publisher, who laughingly replied, "My dear sir, don't worry yourself: it would be a queer world if we were all parsons. No doubt he means to strike out a course for himself. Give him a free rein, and all will come right. You get the printing-press, and we will be most happy to supply the types; but tell him he must not publish your books as well as print them!"

The Messrs. Blackwood were as good as their word, for in due time a large and varied assortment of types, etc., arrived at the manse; but little did the donors or anyone else think then what the destination of their present would be, or how it would, in Luther's words, "advance the things of the Gospel" on the shores of the sunlit Nyanza.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus