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Rev. Hugh M. Cartwright (1943-2011)

Category Articles
Date December 6, 2011

There have been better-known preachers of the gospel in Scotland than Hugh MacLean Cartwright but few can have been better loved by those whom they served. Among other features that distinguished his ministry was the way in which, by many published articles, he sought to keep alive the memory of Christians of former days.2 He never wrote anything about his own life and, while we regret it, he did not.

Hugh Cartwright, the eldest son of Thomas and Margaret Cartwright (née MacLean), was born in Motherwell, Lanarkshire, on October 22, 1943. It was the middle of the Second World War and his father was then serving as a sergeant in the Royal Artillery. At the end of the War the family were for a short time near his mother’s home at Dores, Inverness, with his father engaged in forestry, but a need for miners at Kennoway, Fife, took them south again, where Hugh went to Primary School, before one year of secondary education at Buckhaven High School. In 1956, when he was almost thirteen, the Cartwrights returned to Inverness-shire, this time to the beautiful valley of Glen Urquhart, and more forestry work for the father. Hugh joined the second senior year at Glen Urquhart Secondary School, near Loch Ness. It was one of the finest of rural schools in the Highlands, and still kept to the old ways with Latin as part of the curriculum and the Shorter Catechism well taught by Peggy MacPherson (a Free Church of Scotland woman who was the encourager of many). There were two classes per year in the senior school and the new arrival joined the ‘A’ class, where Morag Macleod, who sat behind him, remembers him as both ‘mischievous and very diligent’.

Two factors contributed to that diligence. In infancy he had suffered from polio and its effect would keep him semi-crippled with the need of a leg brace all his life. There was no possibility of his ever joining in a vigorous game of football, or of following in any of his father’s occupations. Providence thus guided him into an early love of books. Far more important, however, was what happened to him about the time of his first year in Glen Urquhart in 1955, and the only reference we know to this was a passing remark which he made when speaking in the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, May 21, 1997:

I think I can say before my God to anyone here who takes on himself to judge the hidden motives of the heart, that I am not here with a concern for my own reputation rather than the reputation of Christ. Since that day 42 years ago when I hope that grace enabled me to entrust myself to Christ, I have left my reputation in the care of One who is able to keep that which I have committed unto him in view of the great day of judgment.

At what point Hugh came to believe that Christ was preparing him for the gospel ministry we do not know. It would seem when he was still young. At Glen Urquhart School those seeking further education at the age of fifteen had to go to Inverness Royal Academy, and this may have contributed to another family move, this time to Farr, south of Inverness, where they attended the Free Church of Scotland at Daviot. It was in that congregation that Hugh first met Mina MacKintosh, his future wife. In the meantime there were six more years of study after school days in Inverness, first at the University of Aberdeen, where he took his MA in 1966, and then three more years preparing for the gospel ministry at the Free Church of Scotland College, Edinburgh. Another first-year student was David Compton from Canada, who has written of their friendship as follows:

I went to the Free Church College in 1967 as a mature student and widower. I had been taught and mentored by Rev. John MacSween in Toronto and I found I had more compatibility in theology and practice with Hugh Cartwright than with any of the other students. Although considerably younger than I was, he had a wisdom, maturity and Âhumility beyond his years. I was always impressed with the gracious and godly attitude he displayed when dealing with controversial matters that arose at times with the student body. His tremendous command of the English language, in which I believe he had obtained an honours degree, became very obvious. He would stand fast on his convictions but make his point in a humble, balanced and biblical manner. He was conservative but never self-righteous.

I knew he had polio and that he was often in pain and discomfort with his brace but he rarely complained and did not talk much about himself or his family. He was my Best Man at our wedding and I can truthfully say that he was the closest male friend I ever had.3

Student days completed, Hugh Cartwright was married to Mina MacKintosh on July 4, 1969, and together the following month they began twenty-one years of life in the church at Ferintosh, on the so-called ‘Black Isle’ of Ross-shire. In the mid-eighteenth century it had been known in the Highlands for its brew of Ferintosh whisky, but that reputation was supplanted through the ministries of Charles Calder and John MacDonald, ‘the Apostle of the North’. ‘Ferintosh’ came to stand for ‘gospel’ across the Scottish Highlands, hence the words, ‘Give them the real Ferintosh’, spoken by an Aberdeen minister to MacDonald who was preaching for him. Hugh loved ‘the real Ferintosh’. He did not share the mistake of some younger Free Church ministers who thought that traditions were a drag on the denomination’s progress; for him, they only needed to be suffused with new life. His settlement on the Black Isle was a major encouragement to older men who looked for better days.

We do not doubt that it was with some regret that Hugh and Mina left the work, and the scenes they loved, to take up his denomination’s call to serve as Professor of Church History and Church Principles at the Free Church College, Edinburgh, in 1990. To that duty there would be added in 1993 the position of Assistant Clerk to the General Assembly. One of his students in the years which followed was David Murray (now a Professor at the Puritan Reformed Seminary, Grand Rapids). He summed up the feelings of others when he wrote to his former professor a few days before the latter died:

I will always remember you, my dear Mr Cartwright. I love you as a dear Father in the Lord. I will remember our precious times of fellowship in your College office. I will remember your godly reverence in worship. I will remember your gentle patience in the face of so much provocation. I will remember your plain and simple preaching of the Evangel “” never drawing attention to yourself. I will remember the little glimpses you used to give us of an impish sense of humour. I will remember your beautiful marriage to Mina. I will remember the compelling power of your conscience. I will remember your passion for the abused and the oppressed.

After the last sentence David Murray made reference to the painful controversy of the later 1990s when one of Hugh Cartwright’s duties in a church committee was to interview with others certain young women who were bringing moral complaints against a minister. One of these women reported afterwards to David Murray: ‘She was painfully distressed by the hostility of most of the questioners. Then she paused and asked me, “But who was the man with the kind eyes?”‘ She was speaking of Cartwright.

The Cartwrights settled in the congregation of Free St Columba’s in Edinburgh and, while he was not often heard preaching in the city, he frequently supplied other vacant causes such as Pitlochry and Aberfeldy. They became much valued members at St Columba’s and its minister, John J. Murray, has written, ‘His very presence and prayers were a benediction. He was hesitant at first to take up the duties of an elder, on account of the fact that his limited ability in walking could make house visitations difficult, but he did accept that office, and his loyalty and support to the minister gave great encouragement in difficult times. He had an ability to assess a situation and to come up with wise counsel at the right moment.’ I was in the St Columba’s congregation at the same period and my last memory of Hugh at a mid-week prayer meeting was of his moving plea that God would grant a greater unity among the churches in Scotland.

This is not the place to go over the circumstances that led our friend to leave his professorship and go to serve the Free Presbyterian Church meeting at Gilmore Place, Edinburgh in 1998. If he was greatly missed by Free Church friends, he and Mrs Cartwright were warmly welcomed by the people to whom they knew God had led them. He certainly had all the qualifications to teach history but in a day of comparative famine for good preaching it was happy for him when the pulpit again became his first work. From only about twenty regular attenders at Gilmore Place the numbers grew to around seventy, the majority being young people drawn by preaching which the Christian world at large would have judged too ‘old school’ to be of real usefulness today. Certainly, the sermon followed an old pattern, a text, an introduction, and three or four ‘heads’, but to sit under it was to experience much of what Scottish preaching had been at its best. Theology and spiritual experience, teaching and evangelistic urgency, were all in balance. It is noteworthy how often, in closing a sermon, he would say, ‘So it comes back to the same question “” What think ye of Christ?’ So averse was he to anything resembling histrionics that a raised voice or a raised arm were uncommon; the impact came from compelling argument, from the freshness and variety in which he took up great texts, and from the freedom with which he could cite relevant Scripture. He reminded us of John Brown of Haddington of whom it was said, ‘He preached the Bible as though he had never read any other book.’ Yet to say this is not to touch on the real mystery of preaching, seen in men anointed of God, and so speaking of his greatness and love that the listener becomes a worshipper.

We know nothing better to describe his preaching than a verse written about his predecessor at Ferintosh, John MacDonald,

But it was the fragrant unction that was his in measure rich
That gave him his meek contrition and his sweet refreshing speech;
And it gave him for each duty, as it came, a pointed word,
And in Christ’s own cause it made him stedfast ever to his Lord.

Much now must remain unsaid. It would be well if someone would give to posterity a full portrait of the man. The old Glen Urquhart pattern of ‘very diligent’ was with him to the end. Near and far, he had many avenues of service, including: two visits to Detroit (where he declined a unanimous call); his work as a theological tutor (in Greek and New Testament) for the Free Presbyterian Church, and his active role in the magazine and on the Publications Board of that denomination. Without children in their own marriage, family relationships meant a great deal to him. He spoke of his indebtedness to his parents, ‘who, from the time that they knew the Lord, endeavoured to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.’ His father died in 1995 and his mother in 2001. He felt deeply the sudden and unexpected home-going of his wife on Saturday night, September 22, 2007, ‘a true helpmeet to me personally, and an ideal minister’s wife’. Mina Cartwright had brightened their home and the lives of many for some thirty-eight years. Her death, he wrote,

has occasioned such expressions of affection and support as have made me feel utterly unworthy to minister to such a people. The Edinburgh Congregation has been a great encouragement to me and I hope I can say that although I have never preached as I would desire, I have found it a great privilege to do so here and in other congregations of the Church to many who seem to hunger for the truth.

It is indicative of the family affection with which the young people at Gilmore Place regarded him that, unwilling to see him return alone to the manse on a Lord’s Day evening after Mrs Cartwright’s death, they rallied to join him, and from the time of her passing there was a weekly gathering there for spiritual discussion, prayer and praise. A plentiful supper was also provided and it was a considerable surprise to some of us to discover that this was all prepared by Mr Cartwright himself! I should add that there was no age limit on the welcome given to those who came to this gathering. Only yesterday my wife and I received a letter from one of his ‘young people’ which said, ‘Our dear Mr Cartwright was really like a father figure to so many of us.’

On the evening of August 14, 2011, he preached from, ‘How long halt ye between two opinions?’ He closed the sermon with the urgency of God’s command to repent. Christ beseeches and shows himself ‘in the most attractive light to sinners, with encouragements that he will receive all who turn, however long they have halted between two opinions’. We did not know then that at the age of sixty-seven he had preached his last sermon. His cough and tiredness had a more serious cause than any hearer could have known. After missing only the following Lord’s Day from his pulpit, he was admitted to hospital where cancer was diagnosed. Many visited him before he died on September 20. To a friend of another denomination his last words were, ‘We are all one in Christ’. On the first Lord’s Day morning of this same year he had preached from John 17:24, ‘Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory’, in the course of which he said:

Be where he is! Believers now enter now into the holiest of all, but with much imperfection attached. The future is a place where nothing will come between the full enjoyment of God for the millions of the redeemed “” all will have intimate communion, and be consciously embraced. There will be no queue in which to wait. We do not know what is ahead this year, but what a blessed thing it is that the prospect is glorious. The grave is not the end. Death is just the end of a stage of life; we are going to live forever; we had a beginning but will never have an end. This is just a moment in our existence. As the Lord’s people we look forward and look beyond. We should not mourn those who have fallen asleep. They are in the presence of Christ, as he said to the dying thief, ‘Today thou shalt be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:43).

So he preached and so he lived. At his funeral, on September 29, many hundreds gathered from several denominations. It is customary in Scottish Presbyterian circles that for the funeral hour, at least, we cease to be divided into denominations. Let us take up God’s servant’s prayer for a greater continuing unity here, and in so doing we shall be preparing for the world to which this faithful servant of Christ has gone.5


  1. Reproduced from The Banner of Truth magazine for December 2011 (Issue 579).
  2. He contributed, for example, 14 of the entries in the Blackwell Dictionary of Evangelical Biography 1730-1860, 2 vols (Oxford; Blackwell Reference, 1995).
  3. Letter of 7 October 2011 to the writer. John MacSween (1910-82), a close friend of Professor John Murray, was one of the leading preachers of the Free Church of Scotland in the last century, serving both in Canada and the Hebrides.
  4. From a lengthy elegy, originally written in Gaelic, and translated into English by Principal John MacLeod, and kept by Mr Cartwright’s bedside in the manse. See John Kennedy, ‘The Apostle of the North’, Life and Labours of Dr M’Donald.
  5. I am indebted to several friends for their help in supplying information used above. It may well be that some who read this short account will have memories or letters of Mr Cartwright which should be preserved. If these are sent to the Edinburgh office we will see they are stored together for any possible use by others. A Baptist pastor visiting Edinburgh and given an audio cassette with one of Hugh Cartwright’s sermons, listened to it three times before the end of his car journey home. His sermons were recorded but have never been in general circulation. It will be of blessing to many if this can be rectified.

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