Life Story

Wandering in Fields of Dreams

Peter Munro Chisholm was born on the 24th January 1884 in the village of Gravir, on the Isle of Lewis. His father was ‘Aonghas an ic Choinnich’ (Angus Chisholm), and his mother Isabella (MacPhail) (born Munro) Chisholm. He was the fourth of five children born to Angus and Isabella (known as Bella). Peter also had a stepbrother, John MacPhail. His father had married Isabella MacPhail, then a widow, in 1876. She was the daughter of Norman Munro and Isabella MacLeod of Valtos. Peter’s paternal grandparents were John Chisholm and Margaret MacRitchie, of 17 Old Gravir.

As a teenager it appears Peter Chisholm was a clever scholar and an avid reader. One day he received instructions to call at the manse of the local Free Church minister, the Rev. Hector Kennedy. Interestingly, Kennedy was a Skye man – born in Sleat in 1848 and the second minister of Park Free Church, Gravir, which had been built in 1882.[1] Peter takes up the story:

The result of my conversation with the Rev. Hector Kennedy terminated in a proposal that I should apply to Miss Rainy, Edinburgh, for an appointment as interim teacher with the Ladies’ Highland Association.[2] She replied, stating that I had been appointed to fill the temporary vacancy in one of their Schools in South Uist. Having informed the Secretary that we had arrived “safe” at our destination, she returned my letter with the term “safe” underlined in red ink – the severest castigation that I received during my ten years’ subsequent studies. When they paid my salary at the end of the quarter the noble but stern disciplinarian made some amends for this seeming severity by the addition of an extra pound, as the youngest teacher on the roll. As my pupils consisted of both Protestants and Roman Catholics, my sister, who was two and a half years my senior, made the stipulation, as a condition of her staying with me, that I should not punish any of the Catholic children; nor did she omit to give her reasons for this peremptory request, whether it was carried out or not. As a remarkable coincidence a gentleman who I met the other day, inquired if I knew him. I thought for a moment and, then, replied in the affirmative. This was one of my pupils whom I had not seen for fifty years.

The following summer was spent in the Association’s School beside the Free Church at Lochs, where, owing to a questionable estimate of physical prowess on the part of some of the boys, the teacher repeatedly had to exhaust his breath, ere we crossed in the birlinn from Eilean Shurdail. In the autumn I was offered a situation in a remote district on the Western seaboard, forming the boundary between Harris and Lewis. This proved to be a monotonous habitation secluded from all literary and stimulating aspirations, although settled among a warm-hearted, crofting community. The nearest church was some sixteen miles away at Miavaig, in the Parish of Uig; the termination indicating its Scandinavian origin.

The latter posting at Luachair, which is located on the shore of Loch Reasort on the border between Lewis and Harris was indeed very remote. Luchair and the nearby settlement of Dìreasgal had been resettled in 1885, by people from the island of Scarp. We know there was a Sgoil nan Leddies school in Luachair, also attended by the children from Dìreasgal. One Angus Duncan recalls that it was ‘visited every year by the Secretary of the founding organisation, a Miss Christina Rainy, who would always bring specially made up bags of sweets for each child, along with the school prizes.’[3] A path had almost been completed between Dìreasgal and Luachair, by the villagers for the schoolchildren, when the people were cleared from Dìreasgal in 1900.

Peter Chisholm is recorded as sharing the schoolhouse here with his sister Johana, at the time of the 1901 census. Also resident in the schoolhouse at the time of the census was an older cousin – John MacLeod. Peter’s story continues:

The Highlands were deeply embroiled in the pros and cons of the impending Union of the Churches, and in the dead of winter, I accompanied a young man to the Church, crossing a trackless moor of several miles, which brought us to the road which passes the Church some twelve miles distant. My friend was youthful and athletic, and, being occupied, probably, with the mid-day hour of worship, seemed wholly oblivious to the fact that the strain of keeping pace with him was becoming more and more a nightmare for his younger companion, I said nothing: sat on the heath, and, unloosing my footwear, slung them across my shoulders. Soon the leadership was reversed, and we, finally, took our place in the pew ere the minister had entered the pulpit. The day was short, the sermon was long, and darkness would overtake us before gaining terra firma. The Kinresort River had to be negotiated without stars or torches, or lanterns.

The initial part of the route taken by Peter and his companion on their journey to Miavaig is suggested in the map below. Travelling by daylight it must have been difficulty enough – but to travel by night with no torch seems to have been utter madness.

It would appear that Peter Chisholm, at this point, made no claim to faith, but, as was the custom, followed the tradition of his community in attending the church. Indeed, he says of himself at this point, ‘Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do and the year 1902 found me bordering on this dangerous category.’ He also now entered a period of unemployment, and it is in this position he next comes to our attention – not in Lewis, but seeking work in the shipyards of Clydeside. He later wrote – ‘On one of those frosty December mornings on Clydeside, I followed the track of the unemployed to one of the shipyards, where I was taken on as an apprentice shipwright at the shillings a week.’ He was hard worked here – toiling from 6am to 6pm. This employment was, however, short lived and he soon found himself again out of work and almost penniless. Through what can only be described as a series of very interesting and unusual events, which included his being dissuaded by a total stranger from taking up offered employment in a city Bar and further being directed by that stranger to two employment possibilities as well as being given money by him for his travelling expenses, Peter found employment at the first business to which he had been directed – the Co-operative Baking Society – then the largest Bakery in Glasgow, employing almost 1000 people.

His new landlady in Glasgow, apparently a believer, and a number of his colleagues at the bakery who were ‘of the Brethren or Faith Mission’ (groups he would later criticise) had a strong influence on his life at this time – and he did in fact make a profession of faith one night at a meeting to which his landlady had invited him. However, he would later come to regard this profession as spurious, although he did in fact attend a Brethren Assembly for a short time. Thereafter, he entered a very dark period of deep spiritual depression and loneliness which drove him to the point of taking his own life. However, his attempt was thwarted, perhaps miraculously. He takes up his story:

One bitterly cold night in November I lay on a bare cement floor, with the minimum of clothes of any kind. None cared for my soul, nor for my life, for that matter, apart from my beloved mother. Even she did not know what bitter anguish was poured into my cup and I was glad she did not know. The time had now arrived when I should hear His voice. In the silent watches, the Shepherd of Israel, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, was near, and I did not know it. He now communicated to me the Word of Life … Almost simultaneously another matter was presented to me. Is it possible to study for the ministry? I don’t think the subject had at any time occupied my mind. In the circumstances, and before saying anything about it, I thought the best course was to go home for a period, ascertain the mind of the Lord, and observe his doings in providence.

Chisholm subsequently resigned from his employment at the Co-operative Baking Society with the intention of studying for the ministry. He goes on:

By this time I had made the acquaintance of several young men, who had recently become interested in matters pertaining to their eternal welfare. None of us were eager to emphasise the importance of being connected with a particular Church, and none of us knew much about 1893 or 1900 (matters relating to the Free Presbyterian Church). Our fellowship was with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. Having occasionally, along with some friends, gone to St Jude’s, (Free Presbyterian Church) Glasgow and afterwards attended regularly, I was admitted to full communion, and subsequently admitted as a student for the ministry.

But he was still concerned as to his own motivation for wanting to become a minister. He records:

In view of the spiritual torpor coldrifeness and formality abounding everywhere, and of which I had myself been the victim for close on three years, I sought the Lord for the spirit of awareness, enabling me to cast my burdens on Himself, instead of trusting in princes’ or men’s sons, in whom there is no aid. Already he had done great things for me, covered me under the shadow of His wings, and given me to experience His loving-kindness, which is better than life. The main qualification required in the choice of a minister to-day is some ability, by modern inventions, to gather a congregation. His character and fitness for the holy office of the ministry, and the soundness of his preaching, are matters of secondary consideration. From my diary I can gather that the varied attempts to frustrate my endeavour to study continued pretty much from the very beginning of my career. This served as a warning to seriously consider my ground and motives for entering upon such an high and holy calling. With this end in view, I set apart the time and place to seek guidance from the Lord, and rising early on a Sabbath morning I proceeded to a secluded piece of ground. While perusing the Scriptures, I was arrested by a passage in the 5th Chapter of Acts, verses 17-29. This was exactly the nature of the subject which occupied my mind at the time; and just as Paul construed the vision about Troas, I accepted it as the mind of the Lord.

While studying at the Glasgow Athenaeum College, Chisholm was approached by the Southern Presbytery of his denomination, who asked him to take charge of their Mission station in Edinburgh. He records:

As I was not willing to part with my friends in Glasgow, I resolved to make it a matter of prayer. The passage of Scripture, which seemed to meet the situation, was from Psalm 22. 30: “A seed shall serve him.” It was accompanied with such divine power, as, clearly intimated that it was my duty to comply. I immediately, thereafter, informed them of my acceptance. I was, also, fortunate in obtaining the London Highland Bursary of twenty pounds for three years, whilst my fee for supply (preaching) was increased to twenty shillings instead of ten, which was the standard rate, at that time.

But a harbinger of what was to come could be seen on the horizon:

Already in some of the outlying stations, in which I was occasionally asked to preach, rumblings of dissatisfaction with the discriminating nature of my discourses had been observed. I dreamed that, along with three or four of my choice companions, who were hired hands in a fishing boat, we had set out to cross the sea to the mainland. There was a rowing boat on board, and in the hold a complete set of herring nets, which were to be used upon our arrival at the fishing grounds. At the helm, where I stood, sat the Rev. Neil Cameron, Glasgow. From the outset we discussed something, about which we differed. As we sailed along the shore with a full sail, and a strong breeze, we noticed a small island or rock, with a passage between it and the shore. I expostulated with my friend about the danger of attempting to take the channel, but he did not think there was any danger. As we were rapidly closing down upon the narrow channel it was becoming more evident to me, at least, that my consternation was correct, and felt quite nervous, but it was of no use. Into the channel she plunged, then struck the bottom, and broke asunder, without as much as a bit of wood left on the surface. I shouted to my young friends: “Now, boys, put the nets into the small boat, and let’s proceed.” Not a trace of the big boat, or any of its owners, could be seen.

A short time after this dream Chisholm was invited to supply the St Jude’s pulpit in Glasgow for six months, during the minister’s absence. He wrote of this time:

I may observe that, while conscious of much spiritual and temporal assistance, and appreciating the fellowship of quite a number of gracious men and women, I had, hitherto, taken very little interest in the squabbles about the various denominations, which, with the large majority of the worshippers, seemed to be far more important than the salvation of their souls, or the administration of the divine ordinances.

After preaching at St Jude’s one Sunday evening and while relaxing in the manse, Chisholm was ‘without any warning, enveloped in a horror of great darkness, accompanied with an unusual, spiritual, depression.’ After briefly conducting family worship with the manse family he retired to bed – but he would not find any rest that night. He takes up his own story:

My mental and physical powers seemed to collapse, all at once. I lay in this semi-comatose condition for over an hour, when, suddenly, several passages of God’s Word were brought home to me with sweet persuasiveness. The first was from Isaiah 25. 10-12: “For in this mountain shall the hand of the Lord rest, and Moab shall be trodden down under him, even as straw is trodden down for the dunghill. And he shall spread forth his hands in the midst of them as he that swimmeth spreadeth forth his hands to swim, and he shall bring down their pride together with the spoils of their hands. And the fortress of the high fort of thy walls shall he bring down, lay low, and bring to the ground, even to the dust.” The passage which immediately followed was from Matthew 27. 18: “For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.” The panorama, which was indelibly fixed on my mind, consisted of the Free Presbyterian Church in its decline and fall. The term “mountain” signifies the proclamation of the Gospel. The “hand of the Lord ” refers to the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Godhead, which maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word an effectual means, etc. “Moab,” which is trodden down, refers to the enemies of the Lord’s heritage. “Their pride” and the “fortress of the high forts” are the religious subterfuges of unregenerate, professing people.

Whether this incident was brought to the attention of the congregation or not we do not know. However, Chisholm goes on to allege that leaders within the church ‘published false statements’ in relation to his ‘discourses’ in St. Judes. He appears to have considered the sin of envy was involved in all this writing:

“Envy,” remarks Dr John Duncan, is an unhappy feeling with regard to the good of our neighbour, a desire that he should be stripped of it, and we put in possession of it. And if that does not take place, then a grudge. Now love does not do that; ‘ love envieth not does not behave itself unseemly.’

Towards the end of his placement in Glasgow and shortly before returning to Edinburgh, it fell to him to take a prayer meeting in the same church:

As it was customary to make a few comments on some passage in the portion read, I waited upon the Lord for some guidance. Later in the day my mind was directed to Achan’s transgression (Joshua 7. 1-9). I felt a strong reluctance to meddle with this subject, and, having attempted to choose some other portion, it was strongly impressed upon my mind that I should read the chapter, and make a few remarks on the thoughts presented to my mind, at the time. Having committed my way unto the Lord I proceeded to the meeting. I had some reason for believing all along, that some of the elders were not pulling their weight in my favour. I did not mind that very much, as I was neither an elder’s man, nor a minister’s man.

After the preliminaries I read the chapter, when I felt that I was more agitated than usual. As I proceeded with the exposition I got a vision – not a dream this time – of what appeared like a black cloud moving slowly above the people from the back of the hall, and coming directly towards me. For a moment I was nonplussed, but it soon became perfectly evident that it was “a messenger of Satan.” Realising that it was the aim of the Adversary to confuse my mind, I held on to my subject. Such was the pull in that direction that I was in danger of losing the thread of my discourse. When it had reached my forehead I experience a most unpleasant, suffocating, sensation, but in a second or two my mental equipoise was restored, and I proceeded with my address with composure and liberty. When I came to the point which dealt with the transgression “in the accursed thing” (Joshua 7.1-9) I observed that the New Testament equivalent of the chastisement inflicted is the ordinance of Church discipline, according to the Word of God. I noticed that one of the office-bearers who sat in front of me was extremely agitated, and, in a few seconds, his countenance was changed into the form of our conception of the evil one.

Someone who, by his own admission was ‘neither an elder’s man, nor a minister’s man, and believed he had seen the ‘decline and fall’ of the Free Presbyterian Church due to the ‘religious subterfuges of unregenerate, professing people’ within its ranks was on a sure fire crash course with its leaders. And so it would shortly prove. However, there is another side to the story not recorded by Chisholm. Historian, Norman Campbell, has noted:

Objections arose – mainly among the elders at St Jude’s – to his criticism of the practice of ruling elders speaking from the Word of God when conducting services. In a later defence of his position, Chisholm stated that he had no objections to elders speaking at Fellowship Meetings, or making “general and hortatory remarks” at prayer meetings, “without presuming either to preach from the text or give a lecture”.[4]

It would appear in this and from other available information that the Free Presbyterian Church was not as restrictive or as conservative as Peter Chisholm would have wanted. It also appears he had even agitated for a ban of ‘musical instruments and pictures’ in the homes of those in membership of the church.

A short time later he had another dream:

I dreamed that I was worshipping in St Jude’s Church, and the minister was preaching. Although it was only between 12 noon and 1 p.m. the day began to fade away, and soon almost everybody was lulled to sleep, and one could hardly hear the voice of the minister. Suddenly a voice rang out at the main entrance, “Fire.” A few rushed into the passages, and soon the commotion became general-rushing and crushing, and trampling one another. As I was among the first to reach the door, I gave a quick glance towards the pulpit, when I saw several men struggling with a long ladder which they had placed against the front of the pulpit. The minister stepped on to the ladder which was then raised almost perpendicular and proceeded to pass out through the roof. At this moment as we were rushing out, the roar of the fire upstairs, and splinters of glass and slates flew all around while the people, wrapping their faces, fled in terror. The import of this vision was fully realised in the breaking up of the congregation into two halves, some years ago. [5]

Shortly after the above dream Peter Chisholm was summoned by the Rev. Neil Cameron, minister of the St Jude’s congregation.[6] He expressed his disapproval of remarks Chisholm was alleged to have made in ‘connection with certain church procedures’ and was called upon to ‘regret the same’. However, as Chisholm did not have a copy of statements apparently made against him he declined until such were produced. Despite these being promised they were never, according to Chisholm, forthcoming, and he was subsequently removed as a student of the FP church without, again according to his own testimony, any opportunity of defending himself.

However, Norman Campbell again records:

The Southern Presbytery decided to stop him from taking services, although he retained his divinity student status, until he apologised for remarks made on several issues, including the question of ruling elders speaking from the Word. Chisholm then appealed against this decision of the Southern Presbytery to the supreme court of the Free Presbyterian Church, the Synod (which met in November 1912). Synod rejected his appeal and after refusing to withdraw from his opposition to Church practices, he was removed by Presbytery from the roll of divinity students.[7]

Peter Chisholm subsequently completed his ‘Arts’ course and thereafter attended Divinity Classes in the United Original Secession College, Glasgow for ‘four sessions’. Little is known of this period in his life of which he simply records:

During those years I was asked to give occasional supply in various congregations throughout the Church, besides giving occasional supply to a number of young people who severed their connection with the Free Presbyterian Church at that time.

What we do know however is that at some point after his leaving the Free Presbyterian Church he also began taking services in his home district in Lewis, and, that as a possible result of these, as well as other factors, several households severed their connection with the Free Presbyterian Church and formed a group which would become known as the ‘Chisholmites’. Norman Campbell notes – ‘It seems from Chisholm’s 1913 book that he may initially have entertained hopes of gathering a permanent following and perhaps eventually of founding a functioning denomination.’[8] Campbell continues:

The practice of boycotting Free Presbyterian church services out of sympathy for Chisholm was given its own Gaelic name in Achmore: “Creideamh Chisholm” or “the Chisholm Faith”. John Mackay of 9 Achmore seems to have had some form of leadership within the village among pro-Chisholm people. Nicknamed locally as the “Lord” he spent his working life as a gamekeeper on the Grimersta Estate. He was married to a woman called Joan who had professed faith in her early teens. She is remembered to the present day for composing spiritual songs, some of which bemoaned the state of the visible Church. One man in another household – Norman Mackay at croft no 2 is believed to have joined the Chisholmite boycott (although this was strengthened in later life through sympathy for the separation of Rev Ewen MacQueen from the Free Presbyterian Church in 1938). His wife Lizzie continued to attend the Free Presbyterian services.[9]

In 1919 Peter Chisholm was resident in 314 Renfrew Street, Glasgow. On the 13th of February that year, at Porterfield Road, Renfrew, he married one Mary Ann Beaton (1879 – 1962) then resident at Ruchill Hospital. Mary Ann had been born in Applecross. Her parents were Christopher and Cath Beaton (nee MacDonald). Mary Ann was one of four children.

Two years after their marriage, in 1921, Peter Chisholm joined the Free Church of Scotland. What bearing, if any, his marriage had in his decision we do not know. However he was immediately called to be the minister of the Free Church on the Isle of Coll. He records:

Here I laboured until the autumn of 1925, when a call was presented by the newly-formed charge of Partick Highland (Glasgow). I have always retained a warm corner in my heart for the congregation of my first love. No people ever parted with their minister with deeper sorrow, and none more faithfully continued their attachment, until this day. During twenty-seven years some of them have written either one or other of us each year. In Partick the enthusiasm of the young folk for a new place of worship knew no bounds, The ladies worked particularly hard, and contributed far beyond their quota. Beginning with only a couple of hundred pounds in hand, a new Church, costing over three thousand pounds, was erected, and declared free of debt at the opening service. Hundreds of young men and women from the West Highlands and Islands attended, particularly, on the Sabbath evening. Of those who heard the Word many believed. Not a few retain pleasant recollections of their having tasted of the heavenly manna, whilst they “sat under His shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to (their) taste.” Of the number who professed faith in Christ, during, and after, those seven and a half years, none, as far as known to us, has brought any reproach upon their profession.

Having already seen that Peter Chisholm had taken his sword to the Faith Mission, the Brethren and the Free Presbyterian Church – it is heartening to see that he appears to have found peace, contentment and a measure of fruitfulness within the walls of the Free Church of Scotland at Partick Highland. However, sadly, this would also soon change.

In 1932 it appears Chisholm was medically advised to move to the country for the sake of his health. After having preached in the spring of that year at a Communion weekend in Kyle of Lochalsh, he found himself settled there by August of the same year. Soon after his arrival, he would later record,

Through the intrigue of less than half a dozen persons, and, as most of the worthies of bye gone days had gone “the way of all the earth” we were attacked insidiously and relentlessly in various ways. The power of the evil One rushed through unexpected channels like a torpid stream from the lower regions, and manifesting itself in inveterate hatred against the Gospel.

Again he would experience a dream of great significance in the circumstances he faced:

I wrestled at a throne of grace where none pleads in vain – with agonising importunity. Still the hosts of wickedness advanced. I dreamed that they were closing in upon me, whilst I slowly retreated. There were a number of spectators intently awaiting the result. Behind me there stood a stone wall, which would soon bar my way of retreat; and probably bring the contest to an end. I thereupon, as it were for the last time, scanned the horizon. In doing so what dimly appeared like a bird could be seen very far away. Then I thought it was an angel, and fixing my gaze steadily upon the object, which drew nearer and nearer, I discovered it was a human form standing erect. It stood at my right side, suspended, at some distance from the ground. Such was transcendent brightness with which it was clothed, that, immediately it was directed upon my pursuers, they begun to fade away, until not a shadow of them remained. When I awoke the import of the vision darted into my mind, and is substantially as follows. The party represented by the human visitor had passed way a short time previously. No one knew better who were the enemies and what their designs were, and this was the result of the prayer of faith in her wrestling with the Lord to save her minister. Her prayers were now answered.

Despite this victory it appears that any enchantment Peter Chisholm may still have had for the Free Church of Scotland, was now fading fast. Recalling a time shortly after this event he would write:

Peter McBride, who was a minister of the gospel in Rothesay about the time of the Disruption, is reported to have remarked that he should not be surprised although the Free Church should turn out to be a persecuting Church. Considerable annoyance from the Church rulers, causing him such grief as hastened his demise. While still a probationer, he happened to deliver a discourse in the hearing of two worthy elders. After the service, one of them asked his companion what he thought of the young preacher. “I am disposed to think,” he replied, “that a council has been appointed among the spirits of darkness, with the design of frustrating his labours in the Gospel, and it proceeds on this wise. The prince of darkness presides over the council. The first evil spirit proposes that they would incite the ungodly world against him. No, that will not do it, replied the prince. The second evil spirit proposed they would move the graceless, professing, members against him, and that, in this way, his labours would be of no effect. No, that will not perform it either. Finally, a third evil spirit proposes that they would rally a number of persons, who were regarded as true believers, inspired by evil motives, possibly envy, to attack him, in various ways, mercilessly. That will suffice, said the prince; that will destroy his usefulness as a minister of the Gospel, and shorten his life.” Furthermore, it is recorded that with respect to those who took part in this malevolent conspiracy clear indications of the Lord’s displeasure, and a marked feature of divine chastisement, were noted in each case before they left the world. Peter McBride died at a comparatively early age.

But not only was Peter Chisholm disenchanted with the Free Church of Scotland, he was now, apparently, becoming  concerned for the very future of Presbyterianism itself. In his book, which is the title of this article, ‘Wandering in Fields of Dreams’ he records ‘Vision 5’ as follows:

I was walking along a dyke, inside of which lay the burnt and charred debris of all the Scottish Presbyterian Churches. Arriving at a gap in the dyke, I walked in, and crossed over to a conspicuous monument, some yards away. As I closely examined it, and wondered which Church had stood there, a Free Presbyterian gentleman, carrying an ordinary work man’s shovel, cane along and spoke to me as follows:- “Although you see our Church, which stood here, burned like the rest, nevertheless, the foundations are perfectly secure, and, if you come along with me, you can verify this for yourself.” I followed him across to the dyke, where he began to clear away the ashes and debris, in order to reach the foundation. After he had digged for a short time, and, as I was looking on, the flames betched out. He walked away and said nothing. Whatever the iniquitous “image of jealousy” may be which rivals Jehovah in his House, and represents the predominating wickedness of the land, it provokes the Holy Spirit that “he should go far off from his sanctuary.” The fact of His departure provides the signal for a visitation of wrath. “I will not be with you any more except ye destroy the accursed among you.” This was the passage of Scripture by which the Most High warned the present writer of the deterioration of the Free Church, and which considerably agitated his mind for several months before he was informed of the sad state things obtaining to the Church.

The next chapter in this book is entitled ‘ICHABOD – THE GLORY IS DEPARTED’. The first paragraph reads – ‘The name may be retained, but “the glory is departed.” What is a Church without the glory, but a spiritual grave?’

Some time later Chisholm recorded, in a chapter of the book entitled – VENGEANCE IS MINE SAITH THE CHURCH:

Having had already preached on an average thirice each week during forty-five years, my feet showed signs of overwork. My doctor advised a prolonged rest from pulpit engagements. I, thereupon, decided to apply for a Colleague and Successor. Although I stated in my application for retirement that I would be willing to be put on the panel for occasional supply, I was entirely unaware that it was necessary to apply to the Supply Committee for that purpose. When I communicated with the Committee in order to ascertain why they had asked me to take service only once, I was put off with one evasive excuse or other. Subsequently they informed me that I would be sent to any congregation which requested my Services.

Whether or not Peter Chisholm actually preached in any other Free Church of Scotland congregation after his retirement is not known – he certainly makes no mention of it in his writings.

It appears that Chisholm now returned to Lewis, taking up residence, it is believed, for a time at least, at Glaic Mor House, Keose. Settled, once again among his own people, he preached –

In the Achmore schoolhouse at occasional week-day evening services. These he arranged so as not to clash with the prayer meetings in either the Free or Free Presbyterian Churches in the village, and he continued to hold them into the 1950s. The Chisholmites would also attend services at which Chisholm preached to packed audiences in the Stornoway Town Hall. These were organised by a Nessman called Kenneth Morrison, nicknamed “Spriga”, who ran a successful watchmaker’s business on Kenneth Street in the town.[10]

What was it like to listen to Chisholm preaching? The famous Free Church minister, Rev. Kenneth MacRae of Stornoway, recalled hearing him preach while minister of Coll Free Church in 1924. He recorded:

Mr Chisholm preached a sermon of extraordinary power from Isaiah 45 on the words “thar a’ ghlòir uile bithidh comhdach.” I was amazed at such a sermon. I never heard such originality, such flashes of doctrine, such depth of experience, and such power. A number in the congregation were overcome, and he was overcome himself. I had to struggle hardest to keep from betraying my feelings.[11]

It is said that despite ‘Chisholm’s various eccentricities’ Kenneth MacRae held him in high regard until the end of his life. Free Church theologian, Prof R. A. Finlayson, once commented that he had never heard a preacher like him. Rev Angus Finlayson of North Tolsta and Prof G. N. M. Collins had a very high view of his abilities. People frequently found that his preaching was suitable to their spiritual situation and “notes” of his sermons circulated for many years after his death. Stories also abounded of Chisholm’s insight into the character of people with whom he dealt.’[12] It was also noted of him that ‘no Gaelic preacher in the Highlands could attract and command the attention of his hearers as he could.’

To imply, as some might so far have surmised, that Peter Chisholm only predicted or witnessed, in his dreams and vision, the destruction of the Church would be wrong and misleading. His last two recorded visions paint a very different picture. The first is as follows:

Another vision or dream which augurs well for the Church of God in the near future was graciously vouchsafed, at a time when there was so much need for it. I was walking along in a beautiful plain of the richest pasture well known to me in my early days. Some distance ahead I observed a most unusual object in the forum of a most beautifully engraved stone of majestic proportions and exquisite workmanship. It was slightly raised from the ground, and suspended upon two arms of equally exquisite design. While admiring its magnificently rare design, and wondering where it had come from and for what purpose, a gentleman casually approached and said, “This is the stone of Joshua,” to which reference is made in Zechariah 8. 10. “Hear now, O Joshua, the high priest, thou and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch. For, behold, the stone which I have laid before Joshua, upon one stone shall be seven eyes; behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree.” I noticed that as I moved round the stone each facet appeared to surpass the preceding one in glory. Then slowly, gracefully, and almost imperceptibly it revolved down the field, until it passed out of sight when I awoke.

His last recorded vision appears in a chapter entitled – THE RETURN OF THE GLORY:

I was walking along the sea-shore towards some destination further along. The shore consisted of enormous boulders, while the storm was raging with huge billows lashing against the rocks. On the left and in the direction of my objective stood a towering elevation, the face of which was almost perpendicular, beholding which one felt a nasty shudder gripping him. As it was impossible to get along by sea the only alternative was to ascend the cliff. Drawing closer to the foot of the hill, I noticed that a ladder had already been placed against the face of the rock, which extended to the very summit at an enormous height. To climb on that ladder was terrible in the extreme, but it had to be attempted if I were going to reach my destination. What was the nature of the terrain beyond, it was impossible to ascertain. I stepped on to the ladder and began the ascent. When I had gone more than half way I looked back. and saw my brother following me. This increased my trepidation, as I realised that if I lost my hold I should drag him along with me. Cautiously I resolved to carry on as I had not far to go and finally stepped on to terra firma again. The scene which confronted us was entrancing. The sky, sea and land were absolutely calm with bright sunshine and an exhilarating warmth in the air. It was symbolically “new heavens and a new earth, and the former shall not be remembered nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create; for behold, I create an new Jerusalem (the universal Church of Christ a rejoicing, and her people a joy” – the Millennial Church which will now bear ‘the glory’ and bring healing to the distracted nations of the earth (Isaiah 65:7).

Peter Chisholm died on the 1st of July 1957 aged 77 and is buried in his home village of Gravir on the Isle of Lewis. It is believed he was resident in Broadford, Skye, at the time of his death. His wife Mary Ann died on the 25th of March 1962 aged 82. There is no record of the couple having any children.

It is said that the last of the Chisholmites died in Lewis during the 1980’s. Margaret (Peggi) passed away in July 1982 and Christiana Ann in July 1986, both well into their 90’s. [13]


Peter Chisholm was a man of his time, generation, family, community and religious background. None of us can escape these – no matter how hard we might try – and he must be viewed in the light of them. He was obviously clever, even as a child, deeply spiritual, insightful and kind. Norman Campbell has recorded – ‘He was noted for extreme kindness, particularly to the poor, and was known to have handed over clothes of his own from the drying pulley to poor people who arrived at the manse door in Glasgow.’ But he was also eccentric, introspective, sometimes irritable and unreasonable, overly critical (IMHO) and appears to have been prone to bouts of depression – perhaps even, in today’s terminology, a man who struggled with mental health issues. But then so did the Prophet Elijah and countless other men and women of God throughout the ages.

Norman Campbell records of him in this regard –

His eccentricity was mainly seen in occasional sharp-tongued remarks over minor irritations: on one occasion he is said to have refused to proceed any further with a service because the window behind his pulpit was shut and the sun was hot on the back of his neck, whereas a few weeks earlier it had been open and emitting a cold draught. He was willing to criticise in public the pulpit efforts of ministerial colleagues, including those of the calibre of Rev. Murdoch Macrae (Kinloch) and Rev. John MacSween (Point). Those who knew how to deal with him could defuse difficult situations. As senior assistant at the Shawbost communion on one occasion, he had refused to get out of bed on the Sabbath morning. The local minister told the worried household that he knew exactly how to solve the problem. Chisholm leaped out of bed when the Shawbost minister told him that the junior assisting preacher was quite happy to take his place leading the main service of the day; he went on to preach a sermon spoken of for many years. Chisholm is widely remembered for saying that he believed he was not converted when he first began to preach; but it is not now clear which stage of his early ecclesiastical activities he was referring to.

For me the main issue though would have been his ultra conservatism and legalism – especially his writing off and condemnation of those people and groups he did not agree with. But God is gracious and merciful to all – and I am still struggling to temper my own judgmentalism – so am really in no position to criticise others.

The big question for some will, I have no doubt, centre round his experience of dreams, visions and the prophetic interpretation and importance he placed on them. That some of these had validity and a fulfilment seems obvious to me – and he is simply tapping in here to the spiritual stream of traditional Highland Christianity. Men with a Free Presbyterians heritage such as Gabriel MacKay, Saval, and Norman MacLeod, Leverburugh did likewise. That he saw (at times literally) demonic activity at the root of some of the issues he had to deal with within the church, likewise, I believe possible in a way I also suspect is far more common than most of us realise. And yet, as with all such phenomenon, there is the danger of moulding the dream/vision to fit our circumstances – although I am not suggesting that here – as, ultimately, none of us can judge such a matter for another.

Peter Chisholm was once shocked himself by those to whom denominational squabbles, and the following are his words, ‘seemed to be far more important than the salvation of their souls, or the administration of the divine ordinances.’ I somehow suspect he may have fallen in to this trap in later life himself.

His assertions of a church operating as such without the presence of the Holy Spirit, may likewise raise some eyebrows. However, the biblical record makes it quite clear that this is possible. The church at Sardis (Revelaton 3:1) was a church of the living dead. That such a thing exists today in many places I have absolutely no doubt. Interestingly, his dream in this regard ,mirrors that of Gabriel MacKay’s 1926 dream of a tree, studded with gold lettering. As I have already noted Gabriel was also a Free Presbyterian who lived in Saval, near Lairg in Sutherland.

I look forward to the day he envisages in the ‘most beautifully engraved stone of majestic proportions and exquisite workmanship.’ I strongly suspect it will be very different to what he might have envisaged as far as its fulfilment is concerned – especially as I also believe that among those in the ‘Millennial Church’ to which he refers, will be many that he himself might not have expected to see there – even perhaps some from among the Faith Mission and Brethren!


[1] Park Free Church of Scotland was built in 1882 and had a seating capacity of approximately 750. During its construction, the local population helped in whatever way they could. Many of the materials used in the construction like the wood and slates were brought by ship to the jetty in Gravir and then taken by horse and cart through the village and up to the church. The stones were quarried from the Leac Bhain just above the church and taken from a dismantled corn mill at 42 Gravir. The sand was brought from Loch a’ Gaineamhaich on the way to Lemreway by the women of the village who carried it on their backs. (Hebridean Connections)

[2] The Ladies Highland Association Schools began in Lewis and between 1854 and 1872, Sgoilean nan Leidies schools were set up in Gravir, Cromore, Balallan, Achmore, Kershader and Lemreway. After 1872, schools were opened in Airidhbhruaich, Raernish, Crossbost, Grimshader and at Seaforth Head, which was the last “Ladies” School and ran until 1901. From 1872 the Education Act provided for new public schools to be built through the islands and these had gradually replaced the Ladies Schools. (Hebridean Connections)

[3] Joan Cumming, 2014. (

[4] Norman Campbell, The Chisholmites of Achmore, (Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal, Vol. 2 2012), p. 276

[5] Rev. Roderick MacKenzie (1864-1958) was inducted to the St Jude’s congregation in December 1932. After 12 years, he resigned on the grounds of ill health. He had had a difference of opinion with the Synod and in 1945 a large section of the congregation who sympathised with his position began to hold separate services in another building in the city. Mr MacKenzie ministered to these people until his death. By this move, the St Jude’s congregation was much reduced in size. (

[6] In November 1893 Neil Cameron, Divinity Student, was placed in charge of the St Jude’s congregation of the Free Presbyterian Church in Glasgow.  He was licensed to preach on 9 December 1895 and on 9 January 1896 he was ordained and inducted to the charge, the call being signed by 730 people. Rev. Neil Cameron remained minister of St Jude’s for 36 years until his death, aged 77, on 9 March 1932.

[7] Norman Campbell, The Chisholmites of Achmore, (Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal, Vol. 2 2012), p. 276

[8] Ibid., p. 282.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., p. 284.

[11] Ibid., p 285. Quoting, lain H. Murray (ed.), Diary of Kenneth MacRae (Banner of Truth, 1980), pp. 191-192.

[12] Ibid., p. 278.

[13] Ibid., p. 286.

All personal quotations from Peter Chisholm are taken from his book – Wandering in Fields of Dreams (The Northern Counties Newspaper and Printing and Publishing Company, Limited, Inverness – 1952) His foreword to the book was written in Broadford, Isle of Skye, where he appears to have been resident at the time.

In a number of places online and in family records Peter Chisholm is identified as having been a Free Presbyterian minister. This is incorrect – as he never reached the point of ordination within the denomination. That he was an ordained minister of the Free Church of Scotland there is no doubt.

For further study please see Norman Campbell’s, article – The Chisholmites of Achmore, which can be purchased online (Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal, Vol. 2 2012. The link is here –



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