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The Eminent Preachers of Ross-shire

When I was in Scotland I spent one day on an impromptu and informal church history tour of the highlands. It was one of the best days I have ever had. We made many stops along the way and saw many relics of days gone by. At one point we parked beside an old graveyard and passed by many old tomb stones in order to stand by the grave of John Kennedy of Dingwall. Here is an excerpt from a book he wrote (Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire) in which he commemorates the ministers of that area. I cannot judge whether or not he remembers them accurately, but he certainly lays down the challenge to all who would call themselves ministers of the gospel.

There are some who preach before their people, like actors on a stage, to display themselves and to please their audience. Not such were the self-denied preachers of Ross-shire. There are others who preach over their people. Studying for the highest, instead of doing so for the lowest, in intelligence, they elaborate learned treatises, which float like mist, when delivered, over the heads of their hearers. Not such were the earnest preachers of Ross-shire. There are some who preach past their people. Directing their praise or their censure to intangible abstractions, they never take aim at the views and the conduct of the individuals before them. They step carefully aside, lest their hearers should be struck by their shafts, and aim them at phantoms beyond them. Not such were the faithful preachers of Ross-shire. There are others who preach at their people, serving out in a sermon the gossip of the week, and seemingly possessed with the idea that the transgressor can be scolded out of the ways of iniquity. Not such were the wise preachers of Ross-shire. There are some who preach towards their people. They aim well , but they are weak. Their eye is along the arrow towards the hearts of their hearers, but their arm is too feeble for sending it on to the mark. Superficial in their experience and in their knowledge, they reach not the cases of God’s people by their doctrine, and they strike with no vigour at the consciences of the ungodly. Not such were the powerful preachers of Ross-shire. There are others still, who preach along their congregation. Instead of standing with their bow in front of the ranks, these archers take them in line, and, reducing their mark to an individual, never change the direction of their aim. Not such were the discriminating preachers of Ross-shire. But there are a few who preach to the people directly and seasonably the mind of God in His Word, with authority, unction, wisdom, fervour, and love. Such as these last were the eminent preachers of Ross-shire.

Their preaching was remarkable for its completeness. It combined carefulness of exposition, fullness and exactness of doctrinal statement, a searching description of experimental godliness, and close application of truth to the conscience. The admixture of these elements, in wisely adjusted proportions, constitutes the true excellence of preaching. Careful to ascertain the mind of God in his Word, they were not content merely to prefix a passage of Scripture as a motto for their sermon. Their zeal for sound creed was at least equalled by their desire for a godly experience and a holy life. They loved ‘the form of sound doctrine,’ but they also loved ‘the power of Godliness’. They insisted on a clear understanding of the former, but they also insisted on a deep experience of the latter.


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