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Whose faith follow: William Mackenzie (1858-1925)

Evangelist of Inverness

"Who went about doing good" (Acts 10.38), and "always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Cor 15.58), sum up the life of beloved William Mackenzie, evangelist, whose home-call took place at Inverness on 17th July, 1925. He was born near to Nairn, in the north of Scotland, but spent most of his early life in New Zealand, where he was converted to God, and began to serve the Lord in spreading the gospel.

Mr Mackenzie tells the story of his own conversion, as follows.

"I was born in the Highlands of Scotland, and brought up respectably and religiously. When I was three years old, my father died. The following year, I was sent to the Sunday School where I was taught that if I was ‘good’ I would get to heaven, but if I was ‘a bad boy’ I would be banished to hell. I confess I was far from being happy then, for the thought of having to meet a holy God in my sins, made me wretched and miserable. Death, judgment, and eternity were all very real to me then, but no word of hope in the gospel ever reached my ear.

At the age of twelve, accompanied by my mother, I emigrated to New Zealand. In my new surroundings, as I grew older, I became absorbed in the world’s pleasures and amusements, and tried to forget God. Had I been asked, "Are you a Christian?", I would have replied, "I am trying to be one". I worked hard at this. I was then looked upon as a religious young man, and was asked to take part in Sunday school and church work. In this I became busily engaged, but no inquiry was ever made as to whether I had been ‘born again’. There was no interest in bringing the gospel before me and I was ignorant of God’s truth in relation to my soul.

There came a time when I was brought to the gates of death by a severe illness, and, as I was recovering, my mother died somewhat suddenly. Shortly after my recovery, it pleased God to bring me in contact with two earnest Christian workers, who confidently affirmed that they were saved, and knew it. I found that they had a spring of perennial joy and peace, to which such as I was a stranger, for I had only a lifeless ‘religion’ while they were possessed of God’s great salvation. I determined then that I would not rest until I was certain that my soul was saved and my sins forgiven. One day I received a letter from one of these Christians, asking if I could obtain our schoolroom for a gospel meeting, and pray for him, that he might be ‘filled with the Spirit’, to deliver his message to the people. I replied that I would secure the school, but was unable to accede to his other request, and asked him to pray for me, ‘a poor, lost sinner’. He then expressed his surprise at my statement, and said he thought that I was a Christian. I replied, "I have been trying to be a Christian for a long time, but have discovered that I am still unconverted". Day by day I pleaded with God for deeper conviction of sin, and for ‘saving faith’, and I especially besought God to show me if I was one of ‘the elect’ - a very common wish among religious people in the Highlands of Scotland, then and now. My mind at this time was directed to the words of the Saviour in John 6.47 – "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, hath everlasting life". At last, I rested my soul on the finished work of Christ, and then could truthfully say, as John 3.16 teaches - God loved, and God gave, I believe, and I have everlasting life.

Salvation is not obtained on the ground of what you do for Christ, but on what He has done for you. For it is written, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities’ (Is 53.5). And what Christ has done, is enough, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved’ (Acts 16.31)".

Before returning to Scotland, Mr McKenzie spent some time in the South Sea Islands. In connection with his service there, his name is mentioned in Frank Paton’s biography of Lomai of Lenakel. A year or two after the turn of the century he returned to Scotland, and had purposed going back to New Zealand after he had regained his health, which had been undermined by various attacks of malaria whilst serving the Lord in the New Hebrides. The work in Scotland, however, drew him and he decided to remain in the land of his birth.

The Scottish Highlands had been sadly neglected in spreading the gospel, especially among the agricultural workers, and isolated farm population. The bulk of this people were supposed to be inaccessible through the effects of hyper-Calvinism as taught and believed there. Dr Bonar, after a visit to the Highlands, remarked that "he had found God’s sovereignty so preached in every sermon, that the trembling soul was afraid to touch the hem of Christ’s garment, lest he should be doing that which is only human". Mr Mackenzie was so stirred in his soul, with the need of his native Highlands. He embraced every opportunity at assembly meetings and conferences of the Lord’s people, of reminding them of the counties and districts in the Scottish Highlands, where there was great need for dealing by personal effort. He encouraged evangelists to leave the beaten tracks, and go forth into those distant northern parts, presenting a full and free salvation to "every creature" (Mk 16.15), as the Lord has commanded. Doubtless these difficulties would be great. But Mr Mackenzie knew, and had personally proved, that God is greater than all such difficulties. In the year 1909, the present writer spent a few weeks with him in the Highlands and, seeing some thing of the great need, joined him in work in his new wooden-sided tent the following year. This association with him has continued more or less, all through the intervening years. In villages, towns, and in small country communities, to large groups and to small, he preached the sinfulness of the human heart and the salvation to be found in the Saviour. During these years, the town of Inverness stands out as the place where most precious fruit was gathered. The tent was pitched there in February 1911, and was continued until July. Every home in the town was visited with tracts. Mr Mackenzie was a great visitor, and he had a personality that gave him ready access to the homes of the people. Because of this he found great favour with the people. About thirty souls professed conversion then, most of whom giving evidence of a real work of grace in their souls. The assembly had its beginnings at that time.

In 1912, he was married, and settled in Inverness, where his home was a welcome haven of rest to all the Lord’s people. During the last few years, he was greatly interested in the need of the West Highland coast. In fact, he was never happier than when visiting and preaching in those districts, where the feet of an evangelist had never trod. Mr Mackenzie also carried on a good work in posting gospel literature to people in out of the way places. This he was enabled to carry on during his long, lingering illness, until about a month before the Lord took him home. The full results of all this will only be known in the day of Christ. Just before he passed away, we were able to tell him of a nurse who had found peace, twelve and a half years ago, coming from one of his meetings in Munlochy, in the Black Isle. Such fruits of his earnest labours will, we are assured, be found after many days.

A large and representative company, from all parts of the North of Scotland, was present at the funeral, which took place in Inverness on Monday, 20th July, 1925. He was a mighty warrior for God in the preaching of the gospel, and there were many who dated their salvation to the day when they heard him preach.

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