Sutherland: I’m sure everyone reading this is familiar with the location. In case you are an exception, Sutherland is a county in the far north of Scotland with, uniquely, eastern, western and northern coastlines.
The author of this book, Rev. Donald Munro, was a minister of the Free Church of Scotland. He lived from 1860 until 1937 and spent the whole of his ministry in Sutherland.
The book itself has an interesting history. It might easily never have been. When Dr Munro died, he left behind a pile of notebooks filled with material about Sutherland’s Christian history. His first editor notes that he had obviously written hurriedly, ‘with no thought of niceties of language or literary style, but desiring solely to put on record an exact and faithful rendering of the information which had been communicated to him’ (p.v).
Sorting, transcribing and editing was a Herculean task, but the result is a series of sketches of more than 100 outstanding Sutherland believers. Given that, on average, only two or three pages are devoted to each one, there is relatively little that we are able to learn about them.
The focus is on their conversion, Christian usefulness (many were catechists and church elders) and aspects of their walk with God. A recurring note is their participation in the long and greatly blessed Communion ‘seasons’ that were so prominent a feature of Highland Christianity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The book makes humbling reading. There is no attempt to portray these believers as perfect. However, they did enjoy a close walk with God, were eminent for holiness and lived lives that were a blessing to others.
This new edition of the Records, published by the Scottish Reformation Society, is no mere facsimile of the first. It has been newly type-set and includes some additional features, such as an introductory sketch of Dr Munro himself, a number of photographs and helpful index.
In the opinion of this reviewer, two things would have enhanced the value and usefulness of this book. Firstly, an overview of the social and ecclesiastical history of the Highlands during the period covered would have been useful.
Secondly (and more importantly), some assessment of the so-called ‘secret of the Lord’ would have been valuable. Why were many of these Sutherland Christians able to speak about things that had happened (or were about to happen) without possessing any prior knowledge of them?
Did this knowledge come directly from the Lord on account of their extraordinary closeness to him, as is supposed? Or is there another explanation? It would have been helpful if this had been addressed.