Iain Murray says that one of the great blessings of John MacDonald’s ministry was to see his own life and convictions so largely reproduced in his eldest son John, whose mother had died when he was a child. His father married again, and more children were born, but his closeness to young John was abiding. The son went to King’s College, Aberdeen to study, and no doubt on his father’s advice, was a serious reader of Jonathan Edwards.
While in the university, he was affected by the intellectualism of the academic life, as well as the dances and worldly life of the students, and pursued it all for a period. But as a result of his father’s spiritual influence, prayers and godliness, he came to see and express his growing disinterest in all that the world had to offer, writing on January 8, 1828: “I feel my mind becoming more and more dissatisfied with such things. I have no enjoyment in them. A flash of another world will sometimes strike upon me . . . .” — before the year ended, he had passed from death to life and had taken up the prayer to which his father had drawn his attention: “Lord, here am I, send me.” The answer to that prayer was unexpected. After a short period of serving the Scots Kirk in London, he left for the mission field of India in 1837.
Before this happened, there was a period of correspondence between the father and son, as John, Sr. was a hesitant father, whose heart was set on the mission field of the north of Scotland for his son. Murray says–
“To the reservations expressed by his father, John replied, ‘It has hitherto been a rule in the church that no ordained, tried or accepted minister should think of carrying the gospel out of his own land. But who made this rule? Should it any longer exist?’ Eventually the father came to see his son’s decision as the will of God. As John sailed on the ship Marion from Portsmouth, his father accompanied him on the first part of the journey. The younger John later wrote, ‘After the interval of an hour we were obliged to part, and thanks be to God, it was to some degree as conquerors: the last time I saw my beloved father, as the pilot boat moved off, he was smiling with one of his own sweet smiles, and I could not but smile too with joy that the love of Christ was still triumphant’.”
Calcutta, India was to be John MacDonald, Jr.’s “St. Kilda”. All his work was to be done there and at Serampore. In 1847, when his father was about to enter a pulpit in Glenlyon, a letter was put in his hand that he left unopened. Only the next day, traveling to Edinburgh, did he remember it, and then read the news of his son’s death. Commenting on this, his biographer said–
“A few tears from a fond father’s eyes, and the Christian [man] triumphed over the [natural] man, and with his heart he said, ‘It is well’. That was the text of his first sermon when he returned to Ferintosh. In the course of that sermon, referring to the son that his hearers knew so well, he said, ‘It is well that he was born; it is well that he was educated; it is better that he was born again; it is well that he was licensed to preach the gospel; it is well that he was ordained as a pastor; it is well that he went to India, and above all, it is well that he died; for thus, though away from us and absent from the body, he has secured the gain of being forever with the Lord’.”
Iain Murray says–
“Outstanding among the lessons from John MacDonald’s life and is the manner in which gospel preaching dominated the ministry. The free offer of a loving Savior was at the heart of their ministries and the provision of the atonement was pressed upon all for the acceptance. The warrant of Christ’s invitation to come was all that the unconverted needed. ‘The cross, I see, is that chiefly which moves the sinner’, MacDonald noted in St. Kilda in 1817. Years later, after a visit to his son John’s church in London, the latter wrote in his diary on March 7, 1832, ‘I bless the Lord for my father’s visit. It has refreshed and edified me much. I have learned that I have been very unfaithful as to the grand doctrine of the cross and the grand object of saving sinners’.”
The John MacDonalds, father and son, each had the missionary spirit, motivated by the love of Christ, to preach the gospel of the grace of God, both in Scotland, to the outer edges of the Scottish Hebrides in St. Kilda, and then all the way to India. It was that same missionary spirit that caused them to see one another no more on this side of eternity.
Is there any reason why we should not have the same spirit about us? We now, like they did then, serve the Lord of the harvest, who has sent us to tell of his love, mercy and forgiveness to all sinners. “Here am I, Lord, send me.”
– Mack Tomlinson [material taken from Iain Murray’s A Scottish Christian Heritage]