Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

In Search of Truth 1

Dr. Halliday Sutherland wrote about his religious journey in A Time to Keep. Two chapters — In Search of Truth and My Path to Rome — will be presented over the coming months. These articles display Dr. Sutherland’s story-telling, intellect and sense of humour.

Frosted snow covered the countryside and the roofs of the scattered houses in a Highland parish. The night sky was clear, the snow sparkled under the light of the moon and stars, and the wind was freezing. In the manse the minister, an elderly bachelor, was sound asleep in his feather bed and the hour was midnight. He was awakened by a loud knocking on the front door, and grumbled as he rose. If anyone was so ill at midnight as to seek spiritual comfort, he or she had been ill during the day. That was the time to send for him, and yet sick folks often waited until the terror of the night was upon them. Then they wanted to hear him pray by their bedside and restore their faith in God. The minister lit a paraffin lamp, went downstairs, and opened the door.

Holding the lamp aloft in his left hand, he recognised his caller. It was Donald, a parishioner whose worst fault was a love of whisky.

“Well, Donald, what it it?”

“Minister, I canna sleep.”

The icy wind blew between the minister’s legs and ballooned his nightshirt.

“That’s no reason for disturbing me. Go on to the doctor’s house, and see what he says to you for disturbing him at this hour of the night, when all decent folk should be abed.”

“No, no, Minister, ye dinna understand.”

“What don’t I understand?”

“The dochter’s no use. It’s a spiritual trouble.”

“Well, what is it?”

“I canna sleep for thinking of all the awful schisms the Kirk of God. There’s the Frees, the Wee Frees, the Seceders, the U.P.’s, the Episcapolopians, and the Roman Catholics. It’s awful to think of the schisms in the Kirk of God.”

“Well, Donald,” said the shivering minister, “I’m glad, whatever the circumstances, that you’re thinking of the things that matter. Now see here. Come and see me at four in the afternoon and we’ll talk it over in my study” – but see that you come sober.”

“No, no, Minister, ye dinna understand.”

“What don’t I understand?” shouted the minister.

“Ye dinna understand that when I’m sober I don’t care a damn about the schisms in the Kirk of God.”

In my childhood there was a schism in the Free Church of Scotland when the Church in the General Assembly abandoned the doctrine of Predestination, namely, that millions of people are born Predestined to Everlasting Hell for the glory of God. Many believed in predestination and nevertheless led good lives. That implied great moral courage, because if you were predestined to be damned, damned you would be even if you have led the life of a saint. That was perhaps the only new doctrine formulated at the Reformation. In the main, the reformers selected as much of the Catholic faith that suited their faith, and rejected the rest. Very soon the reformed churches began to split, and now there are hundreds of Christian sects each holding a particle of the Faith and proclaiming that particle to be true and all else false. Many of them now regret the bits chosen by the reformers. The reformers chose hell and rejected purgatory, but their descendants do not like the idea of hell, and hanker after purgatory. I do not blame them. If there be an after life, the idea of purgatory, a place of purification, seems reasonable. Of those now dead whom I once knew, none seemed so perfect as to enter heaven, and none so bad, at least in my generous moments, as to merit hell.

From A Time to Keep (1934) by Dr. Halliday Sutherland.

Photo by Jens Johnsson from Pexels

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This entry was posted on 2 April 2021 by in A Time to Keep.

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