Saturday, August 23, 2014

John Badbea Sutherland - One of ‘The Men’ Part C

John Badbea is described on the Memorial Cairn as one of ‘The Men’. What does this mean?

The Disruption

The Patronage Act of 1712 attempted to reintroduce a system of Patronage into the Church of Scotland. This meant that the local landowner, or Patron, and not the people would choose the minister of a church. This was highly unpopular with the congregations as the patron did not always have the best interests of the church at heart. In 1843 this conflict caused the church to split. Almost 500 ministers walked out of the Church of Scotland General Assembly to form the Church of Scotland Free (later the Free Church of Scotland). This is known as the Disruption. Many of these ministers and their families faced extreme hardship as a result of their commitment to the Free Church.  The Free Church was then faced with the huge task of providing churches, manses, schools and ministers for all its congregations.

The Men

There was a group of itinerant lay preachers who were known as 'na daoine' or 'The Men' who gave support to the Free Church Ministers. One commentator suggests that ‘The Men’ were so styled not because they were not women but because they were not ministers. There were also pious Christian women who were revered.

‘The Men’ were:
  • Eminent Christians, not usually highly educated but they had an extensive knowledge of the Bible.
  • Had a profound sense of personal unworthiness – the chief of sinners in their own esteem. This characteristic is very evident in John Badbea’s letters.
  • Men of prayer
  • Received intimations of present and future events

The Men were regarded as important people at the communion occasions which were usually held annually in local communities and were a several day event. Communion services were a focal point of the church year for the Scottish Highlanders who were an intensely religious people. Because they no longer had the use of the buildings of the established churches, whole families would walk twenty or thirty miles to a communion. Sometimes up to one thousand people or more attended communions with meetings often having to be held outdoors.

‘The Men’ were much anticipated, often travelling long distances on foot to these services. Each wore a long blue cloak as a badge of their order and a blue bonnet or spotted handkerchief round their head and kept a humble look.

A Communion meeting in a forest

The Communion

  1. Thursday was known as ‘Fast day’ when little or no work was done.
  2. Friday was the ‘question’ day when a verse of scripture was presented for discussion and explanation. The elders and ‘The Men’ would respond to questions raised in light of their own Christian knowledge and experience.
  3. Saturday was preparation day when tokens were issued to communicant members before the Sabbath Communion service. The Men assisted the congregation in the duty of self-examination before taking part in Communion.
  4. Sunday the sacrament was dispensed.
  5. Monday would often be a service of thanksgiving

Refusal of Site at Strontian. Preaching on the banks of Loch Sunart 1846

As a younger man John Badbea walked to the church services but as he got older he was severely restricted by poor health. He continued to welcome friends to his house where he would commune with them and encourage them in the faith. John Badbea also held regular meetings in his own home when neighbours would come for worship.
Meeting for Worship in a small hamlet at Ballater


John Badbea also conducted a considerable correspondence with friends all over Scotland. Extracts of about thirty-three letters are on the website. Unfortunately they have been edited by an unknown person. Transcripts of twenty-two letters are in the North Highland Archive.
The introduction to these letters comments:
‘The only defect that appears in these letters is a tendency on the part of the writer to dwell almost exclusively upon the darker side of his own case, and of the case of the times in which he lived. John Sutherland was a choice spirit and a blessed man of God, and so we must not accept altogether his low estimate of himself.’

Letters of John Badbea

The 1838 letter is the earliest I have a transcript of. John would have been about 43 years old. 
To Mr Sinclair, Thurso.
BADBEA, 12th July, 1838.
I have nothing particular to write you—only I know that you are lonely, and I have heard that you are poorly. You need not expect to get free of these as long as your pilgrimage will be in this weary wilderness—neither will I. Although I cannot put myself among the true sojourners that are going Zionward, mourning as they are going, and enquiring for the way, yet I know that the heritage and weariness are
A shelf in the ruin of a Badbea house where the Bible was kept
connected with each other, and cannot be separated as long as we will be in the valley of tears; but happy are those that it is said of them, "They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." Alas! alas! poor me—my sighing and mourning are not running in the true channels. Christ was the fountain, or well of sorrows in this wilderness—" a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." My proud heart will not submit or bow so low as the stable or the manger, to see the blessed Babe in Mary's lap. The wonderful sight caused the wise men to open their treasures, and pour forth frankinsence and myrrh; but I have Herod in my bosom, that slew all the children, that slew every tear and sigh. I cannot weep now, and no wonder. He knoweth what I was doing with them. The gentleman (pride) wanted tears to satisfy self; seeking self-interest, self-credit from the church, and to be esteemed in this cold day; and that made my fleece dry, when others are wet and full of dew.
Give my kind respects to Mr and Mrs Taylor. Tell Mr T. that I am farther from what he was wishing me to do than I was when he saw me.* Let him look for another. I believe that there is not any man so miserable as the man that would take a public call in the church, and not be called from above. Best wishes to Mrs Mackay, Hotel *. I hear that her son is very poorly. "In patience possess ye your souls." I would be glad to hear from you. My afflicted sister is in great distress.
I am, my dear Friend,
Your affectionate
* 'John was wished to become a catechist in Thurso.

MARCH 15, 1855
I am delicate in body from my youth, and now I am old and full of days and I have been most of this cold winter bedfast. It is of His long suffering and forbearance that I am spared to this date. Oh, to be adorned in His righteousness.
P. S. Oh, the desolation in every quarter through the calling home of His own. Oh, the blank that Alexander Gair’s death caused in the Highlands of Scotland. 

AUGUST 15, 1855
I am not writing much, but I was waiting to see if it would be permitted to me to see Reay once yet, and for His own name’s sake it was granted to me to countenance the communion there on 5th inst. I have not seen worthy Mr. Cook since two years. I saw him, as faithful to immortal souls as ever, but he is suffering much in the night season by his complaint…. I am a dark, ignorant sinner, and those that were concerned of my soul and body are put far from me, as the Psalmist said. There is plenty religion in Glasgow, but too much of that spirit, “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, and I am of Cephas”. Let you mind the bible and the closet (private prayer), and let it be known that you have been in the great John Grant’s College. I fear that most of the leaders of this day are quite strangers to the closet, which was a chamber of wine to others…
I am almost confined to the house, since I came home from Reay. I have been dull in hearing since seven years, but since I came home from Reay I am totally deaf. The weather was very wet, and I could not endure any dampness from my youth. I was lodging at Janet Macleod’s**. She is remarkably kind to me, and it is with her I have lodged for 20 tears. She is wonderful on her bed of languishing.(This last is one of my favourite comments of John Badbea's)

*Mrs Mackay, Hotel, came to reside in Thurso where she long and prudently conducted the hotel. She lived in close fellowship with the Christian ‘fathers’ Mr Sinclair, Mr Gordon, etc. .. Christians who came at any time to Thurso from a distance found in her house a ready refuge and a warm welcome.
** Janet Macleod, Sandside Reay, was a well-known and worthy woman of great warmth of heart and although confined by bodily infirmity for many years, of large public spirit…Her house which stood near the line of hills that separate Caithness from the Reay country was a halting place where many turned aside and received from Janet a heart-felt God-speed.

Sources: Janet Macleod and Mrs Mackay, Ministers and Men in the Far North, by Alexander Auld, 1869 Refusal of Site at Strontian – preaching on banks of Loch Sunart 1846
'Annals of the Disruption’ by Rev Thomas Brown (1893)
John O Groat Journal Dec 25 1926 pg 13 Signatures
John O Groat Journal Dec 25 pg 30 1924 Dress of 'The Men'
GB1741 P111 Letters of John Sutherland Badbea to Alexander Sinclair and others 1840- 1857. Published in Free Presbyterian Magazine (unknown dates) North Highland Archive

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