A Legend of Lochcarron
A Legend of Lochcarron
“He freely redeem’d with His blood
My soul from the confines of hell,
To live on the smiles of my God,
And in His blest presence to dwell;
To shine with the angels of light;
With saints and with seraphs to sing;
To view with eternal delight
My Jesus, My Saviour, my King.”
The name of Mr. Lachlan McKenzie, the eminent minister of Lochcarron, though little known in the South, is fragrant with spiritual interest among the Highlanders of Ross. Throughout the four Northern counties, indeed, there are very few of the Gaelic-speaking population to whom “the great Mr. Lachlan” is not more or less known as a godly though eccentric divine; but it is within the district of Western RossÂ—among the hills where he was born and lived, and laboured and diedÂ—that the savour of his name is sweetest, and that the recollection of his weighty words and deeds is most vividly preserved.
Not far from the manse of Lochcarron, there lived a wicked old sinner, who was supposed to have been guilty of every crime forbidden in the decalogue, except murder. Owing to her masculine dimensions, this woman was commonly known by the name of “Muckle Kate.” “She was an ill-looking woman,” Mr. Lachlan used to say, “without any beauty in the sight of God or man.” It is not surprising to hear that such a character never entered a church, and that effort on the part of the minister failed in inducing her to give even an occasional attendance at the house of God. Plan after plan was tried, but in vain; entreaties, tears, innumerable visits, and appeals to her conscience almost without end, all failed to move the heart of one who seemed to have reached that fearful point spoken of by the apostle when he speaks of those who are sensual, having not the Spirit, that they “cannot cease from sin.”
At length, Mr. Lachlan adopted a plan which could have occurred only to an original and eccentric mind, but which sets before us in the strongest light the intense desire of a devoted minister to save an immortal soul (James 5. 19, 20). It was customary among the Highlanders, during the last century, to assemble at night-fall in each other’s houses, and spend the long winter evenings in singing the wild Gaelic melodies, and relating to each other the legendary stories of the district. This practice is not yet extinct in some parts of the country, though, like most of the other old Highland customs, it is gradually wearing away. The women brought
along with them each her distaff and spindle, while the men were sometimes employed in mending their brogues, or weaving baskets and creels. This is called “going on kailie,”* and Kate used to devote herself to the practice with all the eagerness of an old gossip.
Well acquainted with Kate’s evening habits, Mr. Lachlan, who had a great turn for poetry (or rather rhyming), composed a Gaelic song, in which all Kate’s known sins were enumerated, and lashed with all the severity of which the composer was capable, This song Mr. Lachlan set to music, and privately sending for some of the young persons who were known to “go on kailie” with Kate, he took great pains to teach them the song, instructing them to sing it in her hearing on the first opportunity. It was a strange, and, as some may perhaps think, an unwarrantable way of attempting to win a soul; nevertheless, it was successful. The appeal went home to the old woman’s conscience, backed with all the force of astonishment; the suddenness of the stroke, coming as it did from so perfectly unexpected a quarter, gave both point and poignancy to the blow; the shaft had found the joint in the harness, and, driven hard home by the Spirit’s own hand, it sank deep, deep down into that old and withered soul which had hitherto resisted every impression.
Kate’s conviction was now as extreme as her careless hardihood had once been. Her agony of mind was perfectly fearful. The bleak scenery of Lochcarron was in strange unison with her feelings. Among the dreary mountains of that lonesome Western wilderness runs up the small estuary from which the parish derives its name; and as the long Atlantic billow breaks upon its shores, and the brown hills stretch on behind in one interminable sea of heath, the traveller scarce knows whither to turn that he may relieve his painful sense of solitudeÂ—to the waste of waters that stretch before him, till shut out by the frowning heights of Skye, or to the lonely moors that undulate behind him, dark and desolate and bare. It was among these dreary wilds that Kate now spent the greater portion of her time. And why did she seek these wilderness retreats? She sought, like Joseph, where to weep. The solitudes of Lochcarron were heard to resound for hours together with the voice of wailing, and well did the inmates of the lone bothies amid the hills know from whose lips those cries of agony were wrung. They were uttered by the solitary mourner of the moorsÂ—the once hardened “Muckle Kate.” She had looked on Him Whom she had pierced, and now she mourned for Him as one mourneth for his only son, and was in bitterness for Him as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.
” Dwell on the sight, my stony heart
Till every pulse within
Shall into contrite sorrow start,
And hate the thought of sin.
“Did’st Thou, for me, my Saviour, brave
The scoff, the scourge, the gall,
The nails, the thorns, the spear, the grave,
While I deserved them all?”
A long and fiery ordeal was appointed to the reclaimed profligate. Deep as her conviction was, it never seemed to subside: weeks, months, and even years passed away, and still the distress of the convicted sinner was as poignant and fresh as ever. “Never breathed a wretch like her; there might be hope for others, but oh, there was none for Muckle Kate!” This was wonderful, indeed, in one whose age was between eighty and ninety at the time of her conviction; for those who know anything of human nature are aware that, of all spiritual cases, the most utterly hopeless is that of one who has grown old in sin, whose conscience has become impervious to the truth, and whose whole soul is unimpressible by either the Gospel or the law. To produce feelings where the tender sympathies and moral emotions have been dried up by age and sin requires a miracle in the world of grace.
Kate’s was, indeed, a special case; she was a “wonder to many”Â— wonder to her neighbours, a wonder to unbelievers, a wonder to the Church, a wonder to her astonished minister, and most of all, a wonder to herself. But all has not yet been told. Are my readers prepared to hear that she wept herself stone blind? Yet this was actually the case, without exaggerating by a hairbreadth, she wept away her eyesight! Poor Kate! Those sightless eyeballs weep no more: the wail of thine agony no longer rings amid the solitudes of thy native hills; for God Himself hath wiped away all tears from thine eyes; and when the green graves of Lochcarron shall have disgorged thy blessed dust, thou shall tune with ecstacy thy voice to the harp of thy God, as thou standest on that crystal sea in the place where there shall be no more pain,
neither sorrow nor crying; for the former things shall have passed away.
The excellent minister on whose authority I relate this story, stated that he was called on to assist in dispensing the Lord’s Supper at Lochcarron on one occasion during Kate’s long period of darkness. While walking with Mr. Lachlan among the moors, he heard at a distance the moaning of a female in great distress.
“Hush!” said the strange minister, “do you hear that cry? What is it?”
Mr. Lachlan knew it well.
“Never mind,” replied he, “that woman has cost me many tears, let her weep for herself now.”
He kept his eye upon her ever afterward, however, and was exceedingly kind to her, watching like a father over every interest of the old woman, for time as well as for eternity.
During one of her visits to the manse kitchen, while waiting to converse with the minister, it is said that her attention was attracted by the noise of a flock of ducklings which drew near the place where she sat. Not aware of the presence of any other person,
the poor blind woman was heard to exclaim, “O my poor things, ye’re happy, happy creatures. Ye haena crucified a Saviour, like me; it would be well for Muckle Kate to be a duck like you; for, O, then she would have no sin to answer for; no sin, no sin!”
The anecdote may appear frivolous, if not ridiculous; not so the feeling which it expresses, for many is the awakened sinner that has shared in blind Kate’s desire, and would gladly have exchanged being with a dog or a stone, for then he would have had “no sin to answer forÂ—no sin, no sin!”
In the third year of her anguish, Mr. Lachlan was exceeding anxious that she should sit down at the Lord’s table, and accordingly urged every argument to induce her to commemorate the dying love of Christ. But nothing could prevail upon her to comply.
“I go forward to that holy table! I, who have had my arms up to the shoulders in a Saviour’s blood! My presence would profane that blessed ordinance, and would be enough to pollute the whole congregation! Never, never will I sit down at that table; the communion is not for me!”
The minister’s hopes, however, were to be realised in a way that he never anticipated. The communion day had arrived, the hour of meeting drew nigh, but Kate’s determination still remained unchanged. I am not acquainted with the exact spot where the Gaelic congregation assembled on that particular occasion; the tables were, however, spread, as is usual on such occasions, in the open air among the wild hills of Lochcarron. Did any of my readers ever witness the serving of a sacramental table at which there sat but one solitary communicant? Yet such a sight was witnessed on that long-remembered day, and poor Kate and Mr. Lachlan were the only actors in the scene.
The tables had all been served, the elements had been removed, the minister had returned to “the tent,” and was about to begin the concluding address, and all were listening for the first words of the speaker, when suddenly a cry of despair was heard in a distant part of the congregationÂ—a shriek of female agony, that rose loud and clear amid the multitude, and was returned, as if in sympathy, by the echoes of the surrounding hills. It was the voice of “Muckle Kate,” who now thought that all was overÂ—that the opportunity was lost, and would never more return! The congregation was amazed; hundreds started to their feet, and looked anxiously toward the spot from whence the scream had proceeded. Not so the minister; Mr. Lachlan knew that voice, and well did he understand the cause of the sufferer’s distress. Without a word of enquiry he came down from the tent, stepped over among the people till he had reached the spot, and taking Kate kindly by the hand, led her through the astonished crowd to the communion table, and seated her alone at its head. He next ordered the elements to be brought forward, and replaced upon the table; and there sat that one solitary blind being, alone in the midst of thousands Â— every eye of the vast multitude turned in wonder
upon the lonely communicant Â— she herself unconscious of their gaze.
O for the pen of Bunyan or of Boston, to trace the tumult of feelings that chased each other through that swelling, bursting breast! The secrets of that heart have never been revealed: but right confident am I, that if there be one text of sacred Scripture which more than another embodies the uppermost emotion in her mind during that hour of intense and thrilling spiritual excitement, it must have been the sentiment of one who knew well what it was to have been humbled in the dust like Kate:
“THIS IS A FAITHFUL SAYING, AND WORTHY OF ALL ACCEPTATION, THAT CHRIST JESUS CAME INTO THE WORLD TO SAVE SINNERS, OF WHOM I AM CHIEF ”
(1 Timothy 1. 15).
The words which Mr. Lachlan chose as the subject of his address were well nigh as extraordinary as any part of the occurrence. They were the words of Moses to Pharaoh (Exodus 10, 26):Â—
“There shall not a hoof be left behind”
Â—a manifest accommodation of our Lord’s declaration to His Father, “Those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost” (John 17, 12). I regret that I cannot furnish the reader with any notes of that wonderful address, in which, however, the speaker obtained wonderful liberty. But the leading strain was, that all who had been given in covenant by the Eternal Father to the Son, were as safe as if they were already in heaven, and that not one soul should be forsaken or left to perishÂ—”No, not so much as Muckle Kate!”
“O Love, how Thy glories swell,
How great, immutable, and free,
Ten thousand sins as black as hell
Are swallowed up, O Love, in Thee.”
This extraordinary service was ever afterwards known as “Muckle Kate’s Table;” and it is said that by that single address no fewer than two hundred souls were awakened to spiritual concern, which ripened in many instances to deep and genuine growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The minister to whom allusion has been made was himself acquainted with nine of these inquiries, who traced their earliest impressions to that table service, and all of whom were, at the time of his acquaintance with them, eminently godly characters. “Muckle Kate” herself lived about three years after her first communion, possessed of that “peace which passeth all understanding,” and manifesting all the marks of a close and humble walk with God.
Her death is described as having been peculiarly happy. The departure of the wicked is often peaceful. He may “have no bands in his death;” and sympathising friends and neighbours may buoy
up the bereaved family with that most fatally delusive of all consolations, that he “died like a lamb,” when the horrors of a vast eternity have flashed with lightning-suddenness upon the now undeceived soul, whose fatal slumbers had continued so fearfully complete until broken only by the shock of its final plunge into the unfathomable gulf of woe. The established Christian, again, like his Pilgrim type, may lose his long-possessed assurance in that hour of solemn change, and the gloom that broods upon his spirit may still enshroud him to the last; yet the darkness of a dying moment will serve but to enhance the glory of that bright contrast which awaits him when his redeemed and ransomed spirit exchanges the overwhelming doubts and horror of a well-nigh exhausted faith for the thrill of ecstasy that absorbs the enraptured soul as it passes into the unexpected joy of its Lord.
In regard to both these cases error may exist. The calm quiescence of the sinner may be taken as a comfortable evidence of his safety; while the cloud under which the real believer has died may unsettle the hopes of surviving mourners, and give rise to the most poignant of all sorrowÂ—a sorrow without hope. But while I have heard of a false peace, and an overwhelming despondency, I have never yet heard of a mistaken triumph in the hour of death. So entirely opposite is the testimony of all my information upon this point, that I think we may reckon a triumphant death well nigh the most absolutely certain experimental evidence of a glorious eternity.
Such was the death of “Muckle Kate.” Not only was she satisfied in regard to her eternal safety, but she had also reached that enviable point at which assurance had become so sure that she ceased to think of self; and so wholly was she absorbed in the glory of her Redeemer, that even to herself she was nothingÂ—Christ was All in All. The glory of Christ was her all-engrossing motive. The inexpressible joy that was vouchsafed her, served but to quicken her departing soul to more rapturous commendations to others of that Saviour Whom she had found; and when at length the welcome summons came, and she stood upon the threshold of eternal glory, ere yet the gate had fully closed upon her ransomed spirit, the faltering tongue was heard to exclaim, as its farewell effort in Christ’s behalf,
“TELL, TELL TO OTHERS THAT I HAVE FOUND HIM.” Lay the emphasis upon the “I,” and behold the world of meaning condensed into those dying words. Compress into that “I” those ninety years of sin, and you catch its full force.
“Tell them that the worst of sinnersÂ—the drunkard, the profligate, the Sabbath-breaker, the thief, the blasphemer, the liar, the scoffer, the infidelÂ—tell them, that I, a living embodiment of every sin, even I, found a Saviour’s person, even I have known a Saviour’s love.”
*I give the word as an English reader would pronounce it. The true spelling, however, I understand is cheillie.