Seagull - Scalpay, Isle of Harris
(Photo: M. Caimbeul)

Who was John Baillie? In a previous blog entry I mentioned John Baillie, author of The Idea of Revelation in Recent Thought (1956). I had never heard of him and it was quite by chance I came across his work. I bought some books in a charity shop in Inverness and his was among them. It wasn’t till I started reading about him that I realized he was the son of a minister of the same name, Rev. John Baillie, who was a Free Church minister in Gairloch. When I was working in Gairloch I had heard of this John Baillie through the collecting work of the Gaelic scholar the late Dr Roy Wentworth.

The Rev. John Baillie, Gairloch (1829 – 1891)
The Rev. Baillie had three sons John, Donald and Peter – but more of them anon. The Rev. Bailie died in 1891 while on a visit to England and his congregation made sure his remains were taken back to Scotland for burial. According to Dr Wentworth, a local lady Jessie MacDonald composed a song lament for him in Gaelic while at her spinning wheel. The song was preserved in oral tradition and later written down.

The White Cow’s Bed
Verse 7 of 10 mentions ‘Leabaidh na Bà Bàin’ – ‘the White Cow’s Bed’ and goes as follows:
‘S ann ort fhèin bhiodh an fhaoilt / An Leabaidh na Bà Bàin Dihaoin’ / Nuair a thigeadh a ‘bhean chaomh’ / Le daoine bho na machraichean.
You would be full of joy / In the White Cow’s Bed on Friday / When the ‘dear bride’ would appear / Along with people from the low-lying lands.
Leabaidh na Bà Bàine is a green hollow, now part of Gairloch Golf Course, where communions would be held outdoors, as at communion time the church couldn’t accommodate all the people. The ‘dear bride’ is a spiritual reference to the church as the bride of Christ as, for example, in Rev. 21:2. The ‘machraichean’ or ‘low-lying lands’ refer to the flatter east side of Ross-shire, in contrast to the mountainous west.

(Photo: Scott Murray)

John Baillie, jr (1886 – 1960)
John Baillie, the author of the book I found in the charity shop, was a renowned theologian, churchman and scholar and held many important church and academic posts, including Professor of Divinity at New College, Edinburgh, Chaplain to the King in Scotland and later to the Queen. He was Co-President of the World Council of Churches 1954 – 1960. He wrote many scholarly and popular works on Christian themes. Of his books, I have only read the one I mentioned. What I find fascinating is how a son of the Free Church manse engaged with philosophers like Spinoza and Kant and theologians like Tillich and Barth and came away with a strong and lively faith in Jesus Christ as the revelation and incarnation of God. I hope to discuss this with Simply Rational later.

Donald Baillie (1887 -1954) and Peter Baillie (1889 – 1914)
Donald, John’s younger brother, was himself a theologian and scholar. A minister with the United Free Church, he later held various academic positions, including Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of St Andrews. The youngest brother Peter, himself in the United Free Church, was a medical doctor who went as a missionary to Jalna, India. While on a language course in Mahableshar, he was the victim of an accidental drowning.