The Missionary Spirit, Part 1 – John MacDonald of Scotland

[The Daily Thoughts over the coming days will focus on the “missionary spirit”, the ongoing reality of being constrained by the love of Christ to the point that we carry a fresh burden to advance the gospel and its message any way we can–at home–overseas–anywhere, whether by prayer, finances, sending others, or going ourselves. Do we have the missionary spirit? In the days ahead, as we are reminded of this through seeing some lives and examples of the constraining love of Christ, may we be more transformed to walk as the one great missionary, the Lord Jesus Christ, who came on the great mission of mercy, to save a multitude which no man can number. – Mack Tomlinson]

The Missionary Spirit, Part 1 – John MacDonald of Scotland

Robert Morrison, pioneer missionary missionary to China and the first to translate the Bible into Chinese, said concerning missions, “The missionary of Jesus will have cause to reproach himself that he served not his Lord more fully, but not that he was a missionary. O, Calvary, Calvary, when I view the blood of Jesus streaming down thy sides, I am amazed at my coldness of affection towards the Lord, and of my slothful performance of the duties which the authority of God and the love of Jesus impose upon me. Yes, O Father, Thy love in sending Jesus and O my Saviour, Thy love in giving Thyself for me, and Thine, Holy Spirit, in applying the salvation of Jesus to my guilty conscience, unitedly overcome me, and constrain me to live, not to myself, but to Thee.”

Such a missionary spirit was in Scotland in the early 1800’s, in the life of John MacDonald Sr. He had come preaching in the north of Scotland, and as Iain Murray says, “Almost immediately an unusual degree of usefulness attended his ministry first at Ferrintosh.” In 1814, a week before preaching at his first large season of preaching and communion in that places, his young wife died suddenly, leaving him with three children, all under the age of eight. His elders told him he did not have to preach, but he insisted, saying, “No, no, let not my wife’s death interfere with commemorating the death of my Saviour.”

On the day appointed, MacDonald preached in the open air to a crowd estimated to be ten thousand from Hosea 2:19–“I will betroth thee unto Me forever.” His biographer, John Kennedy, says, “Unthinking of his own distress, he gave himself up to the praise of Christ.” Preaching with unusual power, his brethren persuaded him to preach again that evening, which he did from Psalm 45:10–“Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear.”

Iain Murray says, “MacDonald called his hearers to faith in Christ and with extraordinary fervor urged the question, ‘Wilt thou go with this man?’. (Genesis 34:58) An eye witness reported that the great congregation broke down. It was a scene never to be forgotten. Such was the weeping, crying, and the commotion among the people, that the preacher’s voice was drowned out.”

In 1822, the SPCK (Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge) called on MacDonald to travel to the island of St. Kilda, beyond the outer Hebrides islands of northern Scotland, to take the gospel there. There were 108 people who lived there which had no gospel preaching or teaching at all. One local minister in Harris, where MacDonald was preaching as he was enroute to the island, claimed that St. Kilda was part of “his parish”, though he had never even been there.

On the sea journey to the island, MacDonald wrote these words–

‘Thinking of the island, so remote and lonely, care and sorrow awoke within me, as I remembered the danger of the people. They are as sheep without a shepherd to lead and pasture them . . . . are we guiltless if these people perish before us, and we preach not to them the gospel of peace, which shows the only way of life? Hard as flint is the heart that melts not in pity over their sad case. Oh, for the wings of a dove to carry me to them at once! Hunger and hardship I would bear, and the dangers of the sea and storm, that I might see the people and preach to them the gospel of grace.’

So during the month of September, 1822, MacDonald preached on St. Kilda thirteen times, beginning with the angel’s message, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy’. (Luke 2:10) Again Iain Murray comments–

‘MacDonald understood too much to be discouraged when there was no response as he had seen elsewhere, writing in his diary, ‘These poor people cannot read and know not how to pray, as the lack of knowledge is a sad bar [hindrance] to conversion . . . . the doctrine seemed new to the people.’ But he had faith in the seed sown and had so endeared himself to the people that when he returned two years later, he could write, ‘The people flew down to the shore to meet us’. He later told the people that the Society’s intention to send them a minister. They were overjoyed and said, ‘We hope they will send us a good minister.’ When MacDonald asked what kind of minister they would want to be sent, they responded, “One that will tell us of our danger and preach Christ to us.’ MacDonald went back to these much-loved people again in 1827 and for the last time in 1830.

MacDonald had the ‘missionary spirit’, as did his son, John Jr., whom we will consider next time.

– Mack Tomlinson (material taken from Iain Murray’s A Scottish Christian Heritage, published by the Banner of Truth)

Speak Your Mind