Alexander MacFarlane’s Gaelic Psalter
This book (8 x 13 x 4cm), in very poor condition, foxed and brittle, with the back cover missing, originated from the United Free Church at Baligrundle (see the Object for July 2014). It is one of the gifts to the archive from the Odling family, who owned the church and manse for several years.
It is, in fact, two different publications. Most of the book is an edition of the Psalms of David in Gaelic: Sailm Dhaibhidh, but the title page and the first six psalms are missing. What seems to be the title page is in fact the first page of a 1783 Gaelic edition of the Shorter Catechism, the set of questions deriving from the Westminster Confession of Faith (the foundation of Presbyterianism), which were used by ministers and elders to ensure that the people had a firm grasp of their branch of the Christian religion. “Approved Anno 1648, by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, to be a directory for catechising such as have made some proficiency in the knowledge of the grounds of religion, with the proofs from the Scripture.” It was important to know the answers by heart.
The following pages show some of the questions involving the concept of sin (peacadh). The tone of the catechism (including explanation of original sin and the doctrine of the elect) can be gauged from the English versions of some of the questions and answers:
Q14: What is sin?
A: Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.
Q15: What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?
A: The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit.
Q16: Did all mankind fall in Adams first transgression?
A: The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.
Q20: Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
A: God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.
Music during worship in the Reformed (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland was restricted to metrical Psalms of David sung, unaccompanied, by the congregation, led by a precentor. There were no hymns or organs. Donald Black records that Malcolm Connell, boatbuilder at Port Moluag, and the possessor of a “tenor voice of magnificent quality” was the last precentor to “read the line” in the Lismore parish church. He died in 1914.
In 1744, the General Assembly decided to widen the scope of the psalter to include versified versions of other parts of the Old and New testament (scripture songs), and in 1751, the Synod of Argyll commissioned Alexander MacFarlane, Minister of Kilninver, south of Oban, to translate the new material into Gaelic. The main part of this book is a MacFarlane Psalter, the result of his work. The page numbers show that it is not a 1753 first edition, but a later printing before 1800.
Source: Books in Gaelic in the National Library of Scotland, 1631-1800.