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desecration which accompany its return, not only in the more southern parts of the island, but in the more densely thronged portions of Scotland itself. To the Highlanders, the fourth commandment is indeed no dead letter; and it is impossible while dwelling among them, and witnessing their solemn observance of what Jehovah has declared to be a sign between his people and Himself, not to feel that there is no region upon earth, where, outwardly at least, God is more honored.
The Highland parishes are of great extent; and it may be supposed that churches are but thinly scattered, in districts, where an ordinary question is not, “How many sheep will an acre feed?” but “How many acres will be required to feed a sheep?”
Steady and regular attendance at church by the dwellers in the remote parts of a parish, is therefore a matter of absolute selfdenial; it requires the sacrifice of rest on the only interval from bodily toil, and involves a walk over mountain and moor, which would give a London tourist something to talk of for the rest of his life ; and this not once or twice, but it is encountered Sunday after Sunday, with unflinching punctuality, and is indeed looked upon as much a matter of course as the rising and setting of the sun.
An old man was on one occasion pointed out to us whose weekly walk to and from church occupied no less than nine hours ; and the greater part of this was over ground where no road existed, and where, in winter, his steps had to be guided by a lantern which he carried for the purpose.
Do not for a moment suppose that I mean to intimate that all who do a right thing, necessarily do it from a right motive. Human nature is the same mingled web in every clime, and even where good customs so extensively prevail, it might startle us not a little to lift the veil, and observe the workings of the various springs of action by which even a Highland congregation is assembled. With some, the desire to see and be seen, is no doubt predominant. Others enjoy the gossiping rendezvous in "the auld Kirkyard.” With others, the force of early habit is all powerful; while a superstitious feeling of danger in neglect of, unaccompanied by any serious hope of benefit from, attendance,
doubt sways many minds.
Happy is it for us, that we are not called upon to sit in judgment on the motives which influence our fellow creatures, eager though we too often are to take that office upon ourselves. Of actions all can judge; but beyond that, we are wrong to venture.
We must all have felt what it is to have our good evil spoken of, at some time or other, and the recollection of such occasions should make us tender in our criticisims upon others.
This we know, and may without any breach of charity maintain, that though the outward form may exist, unaccompanied by the living principle of religion, yet that the reverse cannot take place. Man is not all soul. The body must worship as well as the spirit; and where God is loved and honored by the christian, he will be confessed by the lip, praised by the voice, and worshipped in His temples.
The formation of early habits in this, as in every other respect, is most important. Those who in youth are accustomed to absent themselves from the house of God for every trifling indisposition or showery day, will not in more advanced life, find that circumstances will be apt to be more favorable to them : on the contrary, difficulties will continue to multiply as years roll by, and even though the spirit may be increasingly willing, yet the physical impediments will become almost insurmountable.
I dare say you and Sarah have seldom reflected on the benefits which you have derived from having been accustomed from childbood statedly to attend church, nor how the habit which with you was so early formed, may spare you many difficulties and much remorse in after life.
Though I have made these remarks with reference to the Highlanders as a people, yet truth compels me to acknowledge that there are exceptions to the habit of which I have been speaking. We were in some places where Sunday seemed totally disregarded so far as its spiritual privileges were concerned ; though even in such, there was an absence of every thing that could interfere with those who were disposed to spend it properly : and even in the most favored parts of the country, there may always be many individuals found who can make excuses for their habitual negligence, which indeed in many cases are but too plausible.
The infirmities of age, and the necessary attendance upon the
wants of childhood, prevent many from attending the sound of the “church going bell” except as a very rare occurrence.
Some of my own most delightful associations with the Highlands are connected with the Sundays spent there. We could indeed seldom join in all the services, as one, at any rate is generally conducted in Gaelic, a language which few lowlanders have courage to attempt to master, and of which, birds of passage like ourselves can make nothing at all. Perhaps our enjoyment of what we could understand was rather heightened than otherwise by this circumstance. It sometimes happens that if a stranger, of sufficient importance, who does not understand Gaelic, is present at a service in that language, the sermon is re-preached in English for his benefit. This accords well with the established customs of Highland hospitality, but we never ourselves put it to the test, as when we ascertained that there was to be no English service we remained at home, not thinking it fair to put a clergyman to so much exertion in behalf of one party : but I have known many instances in which it has been carried into effect.
Where there are two services, they succeed each other with merely an interval of a few minutes between them. You will at once see the reason of this. When people come from so great a distance, it is impossible for them either to go home and return in the interval, or to reach home in time to exchange with other members of the family. The first service is generally in Gaelic ; and little change is made in the congregation, except by the addition of the small portion of the parishioners for the time being who only understand English.
What strikes the eye particularly at first, is the number of women without bonnets, wearing nothing but a cap. This is fast dying out, however ; and is gradually confining itself to the more aged. In some places, the dogs form a considerable portion of the audience. They are so accustomed to be with their master, on the mountain sides through the week, that they will not even leave them at the church door. In one church in a pastoral district which we visited, we were surprised to find that the congregation remained seated during the final blessing, and on our afterwards expressing our surprise at such a thing, we were told, that an unusually large number of dogs frequented that church ; indeed they were almost as numerous as the human
beings there. These animals had discovered that the blessing immediately preceded the breaking up of the congregation, and were in the habit of commencing such a clamour that the clergyman's voice was completely drowned, till this expedient was resorted to for maintaining quietness till the moment of dismissal,
One Sunday, after the usual service in the church, we were gratified by hearing that there was to be an additional service held that evening, in a school room in a hamlet about two miles from our temporary home. We were only too happy to avail ourselves of this additional opportunity. Our walk was through some of the loveliest scenery which I had ever passed ; although our enjoyment in the bowery avenue through which a considerable part of our walk lay, was somewhat diminished by the threatening aspect of the sky which looked as if a thunder storm would take place before many hours were over. However we reached our destination in safety. The state of the atmosphere by this time was stilling, and added to the fatigue of our walk, we anticipated a rest at the end with feelings of great complacency. To enter the room, we found however was quite impossible—so crowded was it with those who certainly had a prior claim to ourselves, to the accommodation it afforded. I should have told you that a large supernumerary population was for the time being collected in the neighbourhood, consisting of persons employed in thinning the oak woods which are numerous in many parts of the Highlands. A great number of females are employed in barking the trees, and as none of these strangers ever made their appearance in the church, this service was held expressly for their benefit, and well had they responded to the invitation held out to them. We procured large stones which we placed as seats outside the open windows, and thus were enabled to hear all that passed within, in much greater comfort, as we had the benefit of the air, such as it was, which was wafted lazily from the beautiful lake spread before us. The scene was one never to be forgotten, and the simple truths of the Gospel as set before that rude and tattered audience, and illustrated by the familiar scenes and objects before them, seemed as if they must come home to every heart. The text was the message to the church of the Laodiceans contained in Revelations iii. 20, “Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with
We were told to consider the speaker, the persons spoken to, and the message delivered. We were exhorted to consider that, standing at the door implies that though there is a readiness to enter, there is also a readiness to depart if the invitation to open is not complied with. And then a picture was drawn, of what would be the feeling of any one in that audience, if after repeatedly hearing some one knocking at the door of their cottages without paying attention to it, they had discovered that their Sovereign had in her excursions over this beautiful country, been suing for admission. Had this occurred but once, would they ever cease to regret it so long as they lived? And yet how often had the King of kings knocked in vain-knocked by His Word-His ordinances—His providences ? He was even knocking now,—perhaps for the last time; for if rejected He might never return!
But some might say, they had never noticed any one knocking. And then, we were shown how we are by nature spiritually deaf, and how He has graciously promised to give a hearing ear to those who ask Him for it.
I must hasten to conclude ; but I will mention one simile that was used, which struck me as singularly appropriate to the place and people. When speaking of the believer's union with Christ, the speaker reminded them of the imagery which our Saviour himself used as illustrating it,--the union of the branches with the living root; and then he went on to tell them how they need to be covered with the righteousness of Christ as the branches are covered by the bark, and how, when it is stripped off, they wither and die, and can no longer resist the influences of the weather.
I never saw a more riveted audience, and I have often thought that some of these stranger wood-cutters may have cause to bless that evening through all eternity.
Whenever a large congregation disperses, one must always have the feeling that its members will probably never all be reassembled in this world ; but in one formed of the materials I have described, we know that the idea involves an impossibility.
Yet we shall all meet once more—"in that day when the