Am I Stirring Up Hatred?

I grew up hearing people shout insults and then, when challenged for their hate, retort that 'it's a free country.' They may have been saying nasty things, and they may have been nasty people, but they were quite right - it was a free country. But, as we wake up today following the passing of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland Bill) in the Scottish Parliament last night, will that still be the case? In all honesty, I'm not entirely sure.

Hate Crime and Free Speech

Undoubtedly, the Bill has been improved since it was introduced to Parliament in April 2020 (see article: Scotland's New Blasphemy Laws - Kinloch Free Church ( However, there are still serious concerns with regards to how it shall be prosecuted. The offending section is Part 2 of the Bill. The explanatory notes summarise the section as follows:

Part 2 creates offences of stirring up hatred against a group of persons based on the group being defined by reference to a listed characteristic (age, disability, race (and related characteristics), religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics). It also creates offences of possessing inflammatory material with a view to communicating the material in circumstances where there is an intention to stir up hatred or it is likely that hatred would be stirred up.

The sharp edge has arguably been removed from this section by an amendment by Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins which seeks to guard the freedom of speech. In his own words, the amendment would make sure that

You are not committing a hate crime unless you cross that threshold of saying something that is not only offensive, but saying something that a reasonable person would hold to be threatening or abusive in a manner that intends to stir up hatred.

This is certainly a helpful clarification, and it's good that it was included. However, it is not foolproof. For example, where exactly is that threshold? What defines a reasonable person? In our polarised day, what is hatred? What does it look like to stir it up? Many of the key words in this debate have been left worryingly undefined.

Humza Yousaf tried to reassure the man on the street by saying,

To those who think they may accidentally somehow fall foul of the law... because they believe sex is immutable, or they believe an adult man cannot become a female or they campaign for the rights of Palestinians... or those that proselytise that same-sex relationships are sinful, none of these people would fall foul of the stirring up of hatred offence for solely stating their belief - even if they did so in a robust manner ... Why? Because solely stating any belief, which I accept may be offensive to some, is not breaching the criminal threshold.

Interesting use of "proselytise."

So, clearly, at least according to the drafters of the law, 'solely stating any belief ... is not breaching the criminal threshold.' One wonders, then, not only how this crime will be prosecuted, but also who it will satisfy? One group will be constantly looking over their shoulder, worried that they may have broken a taboo, and another group will be frustrated that those who disagree with them, offend them, and therefore arguably hate them, will not be prosecuted, shamed and silenced. How, then, is this Bill going to deal with the, apparently systemic, hatred at the grassroots level of society?

The fact is that you can't have a free speech provision in a Bill that is, in its very essence, designed to curtail free speech, and still expect the Bill to do what it was designed to do in the first place. That is a confusing sentence, but its is a confusing piece of legislation.

Stirring up Hatred

Most people are not in a position in which they could stir up hatred even if they tried. As a minister, however, I feel a bit nervous. It is, after all, my job to stir people up. The Apostle Peter wrote to the Church in his own day saying,

This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour. (2 Peter 3:1-2)

His intention is to sir up the minds of the people to remember the words of the prophets and the commandments of the apostles. Bear in mind that, in Biblical terminology, to 'remember' something isn't simply to recollect it - it's to act upon it. Peter was stirring up the Church to action.

And so it is with the preacher. Not dissimilar to the comedian who wants to make you laugh, or the singer who wants to move your emotions, so the minister preaches for a response. It is our job to stir you up to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and to go out and live a consistent Christian life in the public sphere while you 'contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.' (Jude 3) Can we still do this?


With regard to the protected characteristics under this legislation, there are significant points of tension. In terms of religion, I will continue to preach that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven. I will encourage my congregation to promote this view and to witness to people of all faiths to embrace Biblical Christianity. Is this stirring up hatred?

With regards to sexual orientation, I will teach that the only legitimate place for sexual relations is in a lawful marriage between a man and a woman. I will encourage my congregation to live in accordance with this teaching and to promote it in their own spheres as the only legitimate moral position. Moreover, the elders of the Church will deny membership to any who defy that Biblical principle. Under this new legislation, will myself and the elders who serve alongside me be illegally stirring up hatred?

With regards to transgender identity, I will continue to teach the congregation, in the words of Jesus, that 'from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.' (Mark 10:6) I will teach that there are two  sexes and two genders and that what we are born with is simply the hand that God has dealt us - to deny that or to seek to alter it is both sinful and unnatural. Not only will I teach this but I will also call my congregation to hold to it and to promote it. Will that be stirring up hatred?

To the, arguably legitimate, anger of some, sex has not been included as a protected characteristic under this Bill. Should it be introduced, as it is expected that it will be, I will continue to preach that men and women are, in many cases, naturally suited to different but complementary roles. I will expound the Bible's teaching that, although women are invaluable to the Church, they are not to hold office in it (i.e., be ministers, elders or deacons). Will I be stirring up hatred?

What Next?

It is my job to stir people up to specific views on all of these issues. I will never do so out of hate but, rather, out of love. Indeed, I hope that I would give the shirt off my back for those who disagree with me and are living lives which Scripture deems to be sinful and dishonouring to God. They are all welcome in the Church and they are welcome at my dinner table.

However, without a shadow of a doubt, there will be feminists, homosexuals, members of other religions, and transgender people who will believe that I am stirring up hatred against them. Does this legislation give them a grounds to say that? Does it give a judge a legal basis to charge me? Will 'speaking the truth in love' (Ephesians 4:15) be deemed hate speech in 21st century Scotland?

I hope not. However, in all honesty, I am not sure. This new legislation has certainly made it a worrying possibility, if not yet a reality. I suppose time will tell.

One thing is for sure - in this increasingly transparent day, there will be new fears and anxieties as ministers preach on such moral issues in the future. Not just that we might offend someone in the congregation, but that we might have a policeman knocking at the door on Monday morning. However, regardless of what the future holds, I hope that, like thousands before us, ministers will continue to understand that 'we ought to obey God rather than men.' (Acts 5:29)


As always, these opinions are my own and do not necessarily represent those of Kinloch Free Church or the Free Church of Scotland. 

News: Suspension of Services

The Kirk Session of Kinloch Free Church met on Friday evening to discuss the implications of the Western Isles being placed under Tier 4 COVID-19 restrictions. Given the escalating situation, it was decided that all services of public worship would be suspended until further notice. In the meantime, services will be broadcast on YouTube at 12 noon and 6pm on the Lord's Day and the prayer meeting will meet on Zoom at 7.30pm on Wednesday evening.

The decision was that of the Session alone and was made willingly, not under compulsion from the Scottish Government. The Kirk Session would like to emphasise their belief that the civil magistrate has no jurisdiction in the courts of Christ’s church, but only to give advice.

In light of the current dark providence in both our island and nation as a whole, the Session encourage the congregation to dedicate themselves to thorough self-examination, prayer and repentance, and to give diligent attention to the Word of God, both read and preached.

News: Resumption of Corporate Worship

Dear Congregation,

On Thursday 9th July, the First Minister announced that it would be safe for places of worship to resume congregational services as of Wednesday 15th July. As such, the Kirk Session of Kinloch Free Church met and agreed to open the Church building for public worship as soon as would be practical after that date.

It was felt that opening the Church for the prayer meeting on Thursday 16th July would not allow sufficient time for preparation. However, we are glad to intimate that we hope to have the Church open for public worship on Lord’s Day 19th July at 12 noon and 6pm. In order to facilitate cleaning requirements, the prayer meeting will be temporarily moved to Wednesday nights at 7.30pm (beginning 22nd July). Other congregational activities, including creche, sabbath school, youth fellowship, WfM, toddler group, Bible studies, etc., remain closed for the time being.

Initially, our services will be slightly different to what has been customary. 2 metre distancing must be maintained inside and outside of the building. There will be no congregational singing. Pew Bibles will not be available so you are advised to bring your own Bible. You will be both seated and led out of the Church at the direction of an office-bearer. Families/bubbles are encouraged to arrive and be seated together in order to save space. Windows will be open to increase ventilation so please dress accordingly.

You are advised to take your own temperature before leaving home to ensure that you do not have a fever. On entering and exiting the Church, you are required to use sanitising hand-wash. Throughout the service, please practice good personal hygiene, especially with regards to sneezing and coughing.The Government is not requiring that face-masks be worn during congregational worship. However, we encourage you to wear one if at all possible. Cleaning between services is an important requirement so we ask you to touch as little as possible while in the building.

At present, the Government is advising that attendances be restricted to 50 people. As such, in order to stop us having to turn people away, we ask that those intending to attend services would let me know in advance which service they hope to attend and, if both, what their preference would be (morning or evening) in the unlikely event of over-subscription. Please let me know by email or phone by Friday night. If you fail to get a hold of me on the phone, please indicate your intention to Donnie Macleod, elder. If you do not have contact details, please respond through the contact page of this website.

Note that the Government is asking us to keep a register of attendees for contact tracing as part of NHS Scotland's Test and Protect. By stating your intention to attend, you are agreeing to us keeping your details (name, address, contact) on record for 21 days in line with GDPR.

Those who are showing symptoms of COVID-19, as well as those self-isolating, are advised to stay at home. Those who are shielding or in any of the ‘at-risk’ categories are also advised to stay at home. If you begin to feel unwell during a service, you are advised to leave immediately. People from outwith the district of Kinloch are strongly discouraged from attending services at Kinloch Free Church at the present time.

We hope to continue to broadcast services on YouTube in the short-term for those unable to attend at this stage.

A copy of our full Risk Assessment will be made available by request. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with myself or one of the other office-bearers.


Rev Paul Murray


A Challenge to Self-Centred Christianity

Christianity is, in the first place, a personal relationship with God. We must be saved, not in a group, but alone. This individual pursuit of being right with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ ought to be the great goal of our lives because, if we fail in it, we perish eternally. In this pursuit, then, we ought to be self-centred. We cannot afford to put anything or anyone before that all-important goal.

Yet, once saved, the Christian is not to be self-centred. An emphasis on personal spiritual needs, of course, continues. However, the focus radically broadens to embrace the needs of others - temporal and spiritual - in obedience to the full teaching of Scripture.

The nature of the Christian life, as perfectly exemplified by the Lord Jesus Christ, is one of selflessness rather than selfishness, of self-giving rather than self-obsessing, of self-denial rather than self-gratification, and of bearing crosses rather than securing comforts.

Peter reminds us that Christ's life was an example for us, 'that [we] should follow his steps.' (1 Peter 2:21) The Apostle Paul, too, called the Christians in Philippi to adopt the mind of Christ by 'looking out not only for [their] own interests, but also for the interests of others.' (Philippians 2:4) Paul, himself, adorned this posture of humble selflessness by 'not seeking [his] own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.' (1 Corinthians 10:33) The salvation and good of others far outweighed his own gain.

We, too, as Christians in the 21st century, are to be selfless rather than selfish. Our primary concern, after God Himself, is others, not ourselves or our own. How are we following our Saviour in this regard?

In 1878, J. C. Ryle wrote:

There is a generation of professing Christians now-a-days, who seem to know nothing of caring for their neighbours, and are wholly swallowed up in the concerns of number one - that is, their own and their family's. They eat, and drink, and sleep, and dress, and work, and get money, and spend money, year after year; and whether others are happy or miserable, well or ill, converted or unconverted, travelling toward heaven or toward hell, appear to be questions about which they are supremely indifferent. Can this be right? Can it be reconciled with the religion of Him who spoke the parable of the good Samaritan, and bade us "go and do likewise"? (Luke 10:37) I doubt it altogether.

If that was true almost 150 years ago, how much greater is the temptation in our day of rife individualism?

As we examine ourselves in response to God's Word and providence, we have to ask some serious questions about what has, hitherto, characterised our Christianity. Have we cared about others, or have we been swallowed up in our own concerns? Has our Christianity been active and sacrificial, or has it been individualistic and comfortable?

As we prepare to enter what is being called a 'new normal,' what will our new Christian normal be? If God has been speaking to us through this pandemic and calling us to change, what will have changed? Will repentance make us look more like Jesus who continually 'went about doing good' (Acts 10:38)? Or will the new normal be like the old normal?

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Matthew 16:24-26a)

News: Food Bank Update

We are glad to report that, in response to our initial appeal for items for the food bank (see, we already have sufficient stores to get up and running. As such, unless items have been specifically bought for the purpose, we are asking people to hold back from making new donations. Future appeals will be made when stocks run low or when specific items are required, so please keep checking the blog. Monetary gifts will still be accepted (see instructions on the old blog post).

We can also report that volunteer positions have now been filled. If the food bank has to scale up in future, however, we will be looking to recruit new volunteers so please feel free to register your interest.

The Deacons' Court of Kinloch Free Church would like to thank all for their prayerful interest and charitable spirit with regards to this new work.

News: Kinloch Food Bank

At the beginning of 2020, the Deacons’ Court of Kinloch Free Church agreed in principle to set up a food bank. With the outbreak of COVID-19 and its impending  economic impact, it has been decided to fast-track the plans and get it functional as soon as possible


We are looking for prospective volunteers for organising and delivering food. If you are interested in getting involved, please get in touch with the minister before Friday 29th May.


We are also beginning to collect the following items:


Tinned Fruit/Veg/Meat/Soup/Fish/Beans/Lentils/Pulses

Tinned Pudding/Custard

Jars of Sauce




Tea Bags




Stock Cubes

Long Life Milk/Juice

Non-Perishable Spreads (Jam, Marmalade, Peanut Butter etc.)

Toilet Roll

Toiletries: deodorant, shower gel, shaving gel, shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, tooth paste, hand wipes, sanitary towels, tampons

Household Items: laundry liquid detergent, laundry powder, washing up liquid

Baby Supplies: nappies, baby wipes, baby food

Please ensure that all items are non-perishable, in date and well wrapped.

If you are willing to make a donation, please bring it to the main door of Kinloch Free Church on Friday the 22nd and 29th May between 2-3pm, ensuring that you maintain social distancing. If you are unable to make that time, please let someone at the manse know and they can organise delivery. Monetary donations are also welcome – envelopes should be marked ‘Food Bank’ and cheques should be made out to ‘Free Church Kinloch Congregational’.


A committee is currently discussing the best way to distribute food and hope to release details over the next few weeks. However, if anyone is in current need, please phone the manse or get in touch via the contact page of this website. Confidentiality is assured.

Scotland's New Blasphemy Laws

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, we would be forgiven for missing it but, on Friday the 24th of April, when the mind of the nation was on other things, the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament.

The proposed legislation, which is largely based on Lord Bracadale's Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation in Scotland, 'seeks to modernise, consolidate and extend existing hate crime law ensuring it is fit for the 21st Century.' Additionally, the Bill recommends the abolition of abeyant historic blasphemy laws.

But is Parliament just replacing one form of blasphemy with another?

"The Milestone"

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has called the new Bill 'an important milestone' and argued that

By creating robust laws for the justice system, parliament will send a strong message to victims, perpetrators, communities and to wider society that offences motivated by prejudice will be treated seriously and will not be tolerated. Stirring up of hatred can contribute to a social atmosphere in which discrimination is accepted as normal. Our legislation, if passed, would offer greater protection for those who experience this kind of behaviour. We all have a responsibility to challenge prejudice in order to ensure Scotland is the inclusive and respectful society we want it to be.

Mr Yousaf majors on prejudice as the key motivation in hate crime. The offending prejudices, as defined by the Bill, are those relating to race, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation and variations in sex characteristics, with a clause to add misogyny in due course.

Hate Crime

If these are the protected categories, what does hate crime look like in these instances? The Bill is, unfortunately, vague on what hate crime actually is:

There is no single accepted definition of hate crime with different definitions produced for different purposes, however Lord Bracadale stated in his review: “Hate crime is the term used to describe behaviour which is both criminal and rooted in prejudice”.

Lord Bracadale is arguing that hate crime is a current crime (murder, assault and breach of the peace are listed as examples) which is committed because of prejudice, rather than, for example, gain or revenge. In other words, you can only commit a hate crime as part of another crime. If you do so out of prejudice, that will count against you in court.

Thus far, most people would not have a great deal of trouble with the proposal. We may not agree with some practices or ways of life, but neither would we agree that crimes against such people should go unpunished.

Stirring up Hatred

What, then, is the "milestone"? For the first time, apart from in cases of racism, it will be unlawful to stir up hatred against anyone on the basis of the aforementioned prejudices. Hate crime will include conduct which is either threatening or abusive to those in the protected categories, or language which appears to promote such conduct.

The problem is particularly with the term 'abusive'. The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘abusive’ as ‘extremely offensive and insulting.’ In Westminster's laws on racial hate crime, the similarity between the terms 'abusive' and 'insulting' resulted in the removal of the word 'insulting' on the basis that it was superfluous. In every case where somebody had been insulted on the basis of race, they were deemed to have been abused as well.

As such, it will be illegal, not only to encourage conduct which is threatening on the basis of the above - most would probably agree with that - but also to share thoughts, ideas and teachings which are deemed to be abusive or insulting. What is more, the explanatory notes explain that such hatred can be stirred up intentionally or as a likely consequence of the material which was communicated. In other words, you can do it without knowing that you are doing it and then be prosecuted for it.

It takes very little to insult people in Scotland today. No doubt, many will interpret such insults as abuse.

Free Speech

That is certainly a milestone. If passed, it will most certainly be the death of free speech as we have known it in Scotland.

Freedom is something that we hold dear in this country. Historically, it is something that people have died for. Today, as a democratic nation, we feel that we have a right to it.

In his classic On Liberty, John Stuart Mill wrote that human liberty demands

absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral, or theological. The liberty of expressing and publishing opinions ... [is] practically inseparable from it.

Mill argues that both freedom of thought and freedom of expression are integral to a healthy democracy. When they are impinged upon, democracy moves axiomatically towards becoming the tyranny of the majority. People's consciences are violated as fear of being found out becomes the order of the day. Without freedom of information, the people run the risk of being kept in a state-imposed ignorance which, among other things, hinders their ability to vote intelligently. That works well in a dictatorship, but it negates a healthy democracy.

This Bill might look as if it is just trying to stop a minority of bad, old-fashioned people saying some bad, old-fashioned things. However, it could signal the beginning of the end of our free society.

The legislation does contain a section on free speech. However, the refusal to heed the recommendation of Lord Bracadale to include provisions on its protection as robust as those implemented in Westminster over a decade ago shows that it is little more than lip-service. How could it be anything else? You cannot legitimately protect free speech in a Bill that is designed to stop people saying things.

On Brexit Day in January, the Scottish Parliament suggested that one of its four great aims was to 'embody progressive, democratic values on the world stage.' On the contrary, this Bill shows them to be leaving democratic values behind and regressing towards a form of despotism. Sadly, if you dig deep enough into Scottish history, you will find that despotism is not new and never popular.

The Enemy of Individuality

In Leftism Revisited, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn argued that political-correctness was the very antithesis of democracy. When there are certain things that we are not allowed to say, or even think, our freedoms are surrendered and our individuality forced to give way to a state-agreed form of equality.

Political-correctness has gained ground in 21st century Scotland and is now in the process of being passed into law. In the name of diversity, Parliament is threatening to criminalise diverse thought - that is, thought which doesn't conform to the state-agreed dogma. Although on the one hand it is taking the side of the individual - or at least the offended individual - on the other, it is wanting us all to think the same and is prosecuting us for promoting a different perspective.

Where does this leave those who have a different perspective? Where does it leave those who believe in a different form of truth? Where does it leave those whose concept of right and wrong differs from that of Parliament? Presumably, in a very precarious position.

Where will the new laws leave old ladies who refuse to be washed by a carer who is a man? Where will they leave women who refuse to share changing facilities with transgender women?  Up until now, such parties have had the right, not only to their opinions, but also to express these opinions publicly without fear that they will be marginalised or criminalised. They may have offended people with their different opinions, but being offended comes part in parcel with freedom and individuality.

And, of course, to offend of insult someone does not mean that you hate them. On the contrary, difficult truths and different perspectives often do us good.

The Enemy of Religious Freedom

Where will the new laws leave religious groups in Scotland? Can Churches still make truth claims about issues such as gender roles, sexual ethics and marriage? Will it be criminally misogynistic to refuse to ordain women? These things are, without doubt, insulting to some, but many Churches hold them to be absolute truths from God.

Can the Christian minister still preach that the only way to Heaven is through personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Can the Muslim Imam still proclaim that the only way to Paradise is through following the teachings of Mohammed? Can the New Atheist write books saying that all religion is superstition and, therefore, irrelevant to public life?

Such teachings cannot but be mutually exclusive and, therefore, potentially insulting to those who don't agree with them. Should they be criminalised? The details are vague but, according to this proposed legislation, yes they should.

The New Blasphemy

The repealing of the blasphemy law as part of this Bill is so ironic that it cannot but be intentionally so. The report explains that this has come about as a response to calls from the Humanist Society of Scotland, the National Secular Society of Scotland and 45 individuals (who probably belong to the aforementioned groups). The only explanation given for the abolition is that

The offence has not been prosecuted in Scotland for more than 175 years and no longer reflects the kind of society in which we live.

If anyone needed proof that Scotland was no longer a Christian country, there you have it. But we thought that we had become a secular country, not a totalitarian country.

Does our Parliament's top-down legislation reflect our society, or is it the fruit of the liberal elite's attempt to shape it through fear, intimidation and, now, the law? What they have done is hammered the last legal nail into the proverbial coffin of the old morality and replaced it with a new morality which promises to be far more fierce and unforgiving than the old ever was. To speak out against it will be political blasphemy.

Better a historical blasphemy law that isn't prosecuted than a Hate Crime Bill which, in all likelihood, will be.

News: Kinloch Baby Bank

Financial challenges aren't evident in Kinloch in the way that they once were. Many, however, are stretched to the limit with mortgages, loan repayments and credit card debt. As such, it can sometimes be difficult to make ends meet at the end of a month.

It is for this reason that the Free Church and the Church of Scotland in Kinloch have decided to operate a baby bank to serve the district. We are working in conjunction with Oisean a' Chalman Baby Bank who are based in Uig (see poster below but note that the contacts are different for Kinloch).

Among other items, we are able to supply the following:

  • Nappies
  • Wipes
  • Baby Milk
  • Clothes
  • Others relevant items

In due course, a letter will go out to each family in the district detailing who the contacts are. However, if you are in current need, please get in touch via the contact page of this site. All enquiries are completely confidential.

Plans to open a food bank are underway and it is hoped that it will be in place before too long. However, if you are in need in that way, please get in touch and we will be happy to help.

Rev Robert Finlayson (1793-1861) - Part 2: Revival in Lochs

Prefatory Note

This article is the second of two articles on Rev Robert Finlayson which first appeared in the Bulwark, the magazine of the Scottish Reformation Society. It appears here with minor changes.


Rev Robert Finlayson was, perhaps, pre-eminently a preacher. In the previous article, we saw the effect of his preaching in Aberdeen and in Knock – it was no less effective in Lochs. His preaching, says Norman C. Macfarlane, ‘abounded with parable, allegory and dialogue, and in pictures of the spiritual life.’ It was characterised by clarity and sincerity and it brought weighty and eternal doctrines to bear upon the consciences of the Lochs people. John Macleod explains that ‘His sermons, rich in illustration and pithy saying, were as entertaining as they were arresting, and as captivating as they were solemn.’

Finlayson’s statistical account of the parish in 1833 tells us that, at this time, the people in Lochs were largely illiterate. Half of those between 12 and 24 years of age could read in Gaelic because of the influence of the Gaelic schools; however, only 12 in the whole parish could write. A few of the men could speak broken English but the common tongue was Gaelic.

And so Finlayson, without compromising his message, explained the gospel to them in picturesque and illustrative language. So much so that one of his co-presbyters in Lewis, the Rev. Duncan MacGregor, minister in Stornoway Free Church from 1849 to 1854, recalls that they used to call him ‘the Bunyan of the Highlands.’ Indeed, it is said that he carried Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress always in his pocket and in his heart. And so, in bringing the message to the people, he brought it to them using terms, concepts and pictures that they could understand. Macfarlane explains that

He made the men of old spring into life before the eyes of his congregation, and his hearers were fascinated as he clothed those ancients in the Lewis tweeds and made them speak in the Lewis accent. The scenery of his picture was invariably local and vividly painted.

By way of illustration, he was once preaching on the prodigal’s return to his father and, particularly, the ‘best robe’ with which he was clothed:

The Father calls his servants to bring forth the best robe and the servants come and he asks them, ‘What robe is this?’ ‘It is the robe of unfallen man’s righteousness,’ the servants answer. ‘Ah, it’s very beautiful, but that is not the best. In that garb Adam fell.’ Another, white and more shining, was brought. ‘What,’ asked the Father, ‘is this?’ ‘This is the robe of the Angels that surround the Throne and adore their Lord.’ ‘Ah, it’s very fine, but there is a better.’ At length one of exquisite loveliness was brought, and the Father asked, ‘What is this?’ ‘This was woven amid the awful splendours of Calvary. Its every thread was a pang. It is the choice robe of Thy Son’s sufferings. It is the righteousness of Christ.’ ‘Yes,’ said the Father, ‘that is the best robe. Put it on this, my lost son, who has come home again.’

His sermon on the completion of Noah’s Ark is also striking in its illustration and application:

When the Ark was finished a group of the carpenters called in for their wages. They knocked and Mrs Noah came to the door. ‘Is Noah in?’ ‘No, he’s away at the stormy Butt of Lewis far a bull for the Ark.’ A few days later they called again. ‘Is Noah at home?’ ‘No, he’s away to hilly Uig for a ram.’ They came again and found Noah at home. They asked for their wages, and he paid them. Then they went to Stornoway and called for whisky and brandy, and they drank themselves into wild revelry. They were shouting and singing their songs and dancing their drunken dance when – lo! – a thunderbolt crashed and the rains began. What peal of thunders! The like was never heard before. The heavens poured in torrents. The public house was flooded and a river rushed through it and rose with appalling rapidity. Then did the mocking carpenters cry. But the Ark was closed and Mercy’s day was gone. O people of Lochs, God’s Ark stands open for you today. But the day of the closed door is coming.

This was preaching that the people could understand, that they could relate to, and that cut to their very hearts. It brought home to them the message of the Bible, a message which had been so obscured under the ministry of Rev Alexander Simson - a message which was now blessed to countless souls in Lochs. And the message was bolstered by the holiness of the man who preached it, so much so that MacGregor could say ‘Never did we feel the power of personal holiness in re-enforcing the truth spoken from the pulpit more than when hearing him.’ Macfarlane recalls how his mother, who was a member in Lochs during Finlayson’s ministry, would speak to him in later years of how the tears would fall freely down the minister’s face as he leaned over the pulpit to plead with unsaved sinners to come to Christ.

Pastoral Work

As well as preaching, Finlayson would catechise the people. Twice a year, he would turn up in every village and the people would gather to be questioned on the Shorter Catechism and general Scriptural knowledge. Rather than this being a dreary affair, the people loved it and even looked forward to it. Through these meetings the people, young and old, were taught in a more interactive atmosphere and the minister became more acquainted with his people and their spiritual state.

Pastoral visitation was an important part of his work. He literally crossed land and sea in order to be with his people, in order to question them about their souls, and in order to personally seek to apply to them the balm of Gilead. He was always about the work of the gospel; he seemed to have an interest in little else. That was his passion – his own physical safety and comfort were nothing, as was evidenced by the numerous times that he went out to the other side of the parish against his wife’s wishes, saying:

Macedonia was no further from Paul when he saw the vision in Troas as Eisgean was from Crossbost. O, my wife, souls at Gravir are calling me today and I cannot stay. It’s easier to battle with the elements than to silence the cries that ring though me.

The salvation of his people was his ruling thought and his chief desire.

As another said of Samuel Rutherford, it was just as true of Finlayson, that he prayed all day long as if he did nothing but pray; he preached all day long as if every hour was filled with preaching; and he visited so persistently as if the whole time was occupied with visiting.

And yet, although Finlayson was a gentle and kind-hearted man, he was not afraid speak directly and issue rebukes where that was required. There was not an ounce of fear in him while he carried out his Lord’s work. A few examples can be given.

When he first came to Lochs, one of the elders in the congregation asked if the new minister wanted to hear him pray. ‘Certainly,’ replied Finlayson. The man began with the Lord’s Prayer, added his own medley in the middle, and then finished with the Lord’s Prayer again. He then asked the minister how he enjoyed his prayer. Finlayson replied,

It had a beautiful beginning and a beautiful ending that shone like the splendid marbles of the Temple, but in between there was a heap of wood, hay and stubble!

The mission house at Eisgean had a leaky roof and it wasn’t really fit for its purpose. Finlayson addressed the situation by saying to them that, as he walked in the Eisgean road, he met the Bible and he said to it,

Oh Bible why are you so sad and where are you going?’ ‘Oh, I’m leaving Eisgean meeting house. The big drops of sooty rain that fall on me there blacken my pages and waste me badly.

That very week, the mission house roof was repaired.

On another occasion he was preaching in the village school in Balallan; Balallan, at that time, was a spiritually hard and careless spot. He addressed the people:

O Balallan, you are the Devil’s kitchen where he cooks his meals. He may dine elsewhere, at Keose, or Cromore or Crossbost, but it is here he cooks. O Balallan, throw water on those cooking fires.

After revival had swept through the village, however, he could say, ‘O Balallan, the Devil’s former kitchen, you are now become a Bethel, a house of God.’ He was not afraid to chastise them for their sins in order to bring them to a realisation of their need of a Saviour.


Certainly, there seem to have been some converts in Lochs before Finlayson’s arrival. The village of Aline, which was part of the parish, had experienced revival in the early 1820s through the ministry of a school teacher. But the revival was not widespread in Lochs and the people remained, largely, in spiritual ignorance until Robert Finlayson came.

When Finlayson arrived in Lochs, he did so with the specific intention of evangelising the people, of bringing them to the knowledge of the truth; of leading them out of darkness and into Christ’s marvellous light. And the effect of Finlayson’s ministry was as he had intended and as he had prayed for; to put it simply, the effect was large-scale awakening. ‘Under the blessing of God,’ says Donald Beaton, ‘the wilderness soon showed signs of becoming a fruitful field. Prayer meetings were set up in every township.’ A desire was ignited in the hearts of the people do ‘hear what God the Lord will speak’ (Psalm 85:8) to them. Macfarlane argues that

Not more passionately did the devout in Israel regard their Sion than the men of this parish the church and manse at Keose. Their very dust became precious. Stormy seas were crossed, and dreary miles of bog-land were traversed by souls eager for regaling. They wished Sabbath came round more quickly.

There was a thirst for the Word of God, to know more of it in their minds and to feel more of it in their hearts. Lives were changed; indeed, the focus of the whole community was changed. Soon, family worship was conducted in every home and, as in many places in Lewis at that time, you couldn’t walk through a village from 7pm onwards without hearing God’s praises being sung or His name being called upon in prayer. Jesus had said concerning Zacchaeus that ‘This day is salvation come to this house.’ (Luke 19:9) When Robert Finlayson came to Lochs, salvation came to the district. Murdo Macaulay writes that:

The good pastor of Lochs had been, perhaps, made the happy instrument of more numerous conversions, and more extensive quickening within his own sphere of labour, and throughout the whole Island of Lewis than any other minister of his time. His record at Lochs was a bright one. By his pastoral oversight, his earnest faithful preaching and prayers, and his unique catechising, the whole parish became so transformed as to cause “the desert to blossom as the rose”. He exercised a powerful and lasting influence upon the religious thought, and spiritual life of the island.

Superstition, which was largely prevalent throughout the island before the revival, was also dispelled. Dr Charles MacRae, minister in Stornoway, once jokingly asked a boy from Lochs if there were still fairies in his home district. ‘No,’ came the solemn reply, ‘they all left when Mr Finlayson came.’ The revival was as deep as it was wide and left no stone unturned. It affected the outward as well as the inward, the mind as well as the heart, a man’s morals as well as a man’s prayers. The sons and daughters of the revival were recognised by their works; they were known for godliness, for prayerfulness, for zeal, for kindness, for evangelism. That was the effect that Finlayson’s God-owned ministry had upon the people of Lochs for 25 years and that district is still benefiting from its fruit today.

Relevance for Today

In conclusion, we have to ask, what does it all matter? History is, of course, empty, unless we apply it and learn from it. What do we learn from Robert Finlayson and his ministry?

Darkness Precedes Light

We learn that darkness in a community, as was the case in Lochs before Finlayson’s ministry, is often the precursor to light. Revival often comes when things are at their most spiritually dark. That is something that we must consider as we observe the spiritual darkness in our country today and, indeed, in many of the churches of the land.

A Godly Ministry

We see also the effect that a godly ministry can have. Finlayson was, undoubtedly, a gifted preacher. However, what marked him out was not great preaching but the fact that he was holy, prayerful, zealous and sincere, having a love for his people which compelled him to spend all of his energy in seeking to bring them to the knowledge of Christ. Oh how we need this today; godly ministers who will dedicate themselves to God and to their people; men who will choose

rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season,’ who will esteem ‘the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt. (Hebrews 11:25-26)

What a challenge to ministers in 21st century Scotland! Do they love God above all else? Do they love their people more than themselves? Or do they seek popularity, power, wealth and an easy life? It is also a challenge to congregations in 21st century Scotland – what do we look for in a minister? Is it great gifts or great likeness to Christ?

A Pattern for Ministry

We see also in Robert Finlayson a pattern for ministry. He was a man of prayer and this spirit of grace and supplications immersed his every effort in gospel ministry. He believed in preaching; that was his preeminent outward work – to preach from the pulpit 'the unsearchable riches of Christ'. He believed also in pastoral visitation; he was amongst his people – he knew their physical state and he knew their spiritual state and so he was more qualified to preach to them and to pray for them.

This is the tried and tested pattern of ministry and is, generally speaking, the pattern that God blesses with true, deep, spiritual revival. It is the pattern that brought awakening to Lochs in the 19th century and it is the pattern that will bring awakening to Scotland in the 21st century. Let us, then, prayerfully stick to it and pray that God will visit us again in grace.

Reliance upon the Holy Spirit

Finally, we learn from Robert Finlayson’s ministry that the Church is always dependent on the Holy Spirit to bring quickening, revival and awakening. Nobody in Lochs was more aware of this than Finlayson himself. Robert Finlayson was no more sincere or faithful than Isaiah, who himself saw little to no outward blessing. But, in God’s gracious providence, He saw fit to bless Lochs with the outpouring of His Spirit in a way which, for a time, was withheld even from Judah. The awakening was the Spirit’s work – Finlayson was but an instrument in God’s hands, whose preaching and pastoral ministry was blessed by the Spirit to the souls of many men, women, boy and girls.

Let us then pray for that same Spirit who blessed Lochs in the 19th century to bless our districts in like manner. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is no less powerful or able today than He was then. Let us, therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest with humility and confidence, with the words of the Psalmist: ‘The Lord of us hath mindful been, and he will bless us still; He will the house of Israel bless, bless Aaron’s house he will.’ (Psalm 115:12)

Coronavirus-Induced Loneliness

This week, I had intended to write on the subject of loneliness. It is not a new problem, but it's one that has been exacerbated in our current COVID-19 climate. People are having to come to terms with solitude who have never had to do so before and are, as such, completely unprepared for it.

John Piper: Fighting Loneliness in the Coronavirus Outbreak

What is the Christian response to Coronavirus-induced loneliness? This morning, I read a transcript of an interview with John Piper in which he deals with this issue very appropriately. Instead of saying the same things a different way, I have decided to post a link to his blog. Read or listen here:

Duty of Care

I would add one thing to John Piper's blog. I recently listened to a sermon on Moses at the burning bush by Rev Mark Macleod of South Harris Free Church. He pointed out that a central part of Moses' training for leadership was spending forty years tending to sheep in relative isolation. It was this training, with its associated loneliness, which qualified him to minister to the Children of Israel. He used what he had learned to lead them with wisdom, sympathy and understanding through their own wilderness wanderings.

In terms of application, it was pointed out that isolation is no new thing to many in our congregations and communities. For many who are elderly or unwell, it is a part of life. That will, no doubt, be intensified in these days. However, it's likely that those who have been dealing with loneliness for years will be better equipped, not only to deal with Coronavirus-induced loneliness, but also to minister to those who are struggling through a relatively new experience. The wisdom, advice and encouragement of those who have learned to deal with loneliness before now will be invaluable in these days to those who have not.

If you are newly isolated and are struggling, pick up the phone and speak to someone who can help you. If you have been historically isolated, pick up the phone and speak to someone who you can help. We owe a duty of care to each other, in both physical things and spiritual things.

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

You can listen to the full sermon here: