Scotland’s 18th century revival will always be closely associated with Cambuslang, a small parish near Glasgow, where ‘a spark of grace set the kingdom on a blaze.’ In 1742 the heavens opened as God visited His people north of the border. Hundreds were added to the churches and by 1751 a third of the nation were communicants in the Scottish churches.
The writer focuses on two of the revivals leaders, William M’Culloch of Cambuslang and James Robe of Kilsyth, together with the ministry of George Whitefield who was a lifelong associate of the Scottish Evangelical leaders.
We have included 4 of the 12 chapters.
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 marked an epoch for the established church in Scotland; the Stuarts, infatuated with their theories of Divine Right, and insisting upon ‘No Bishop, no King’, had gone, and with very little stir. The inevitable coercions and intolerances bound up with their concept of kingship went with them, and men felt that they could breathe freely again. Before sailing from Holland to seek his New Kingdom, William of Orange had sent a Declaration to Scotland, offering to protect civil liberty and the Protestant religion.
William himself desired a religious settlement that would serve to bind together England and Scotland as closely as was possible. In the Northern Kingdom he wished to retain episcopacy, but modified to include Presbyterianism. His own native Holland had been the home of free thought in the seventeenth century; thither had come Descartes, Spinoza, Arminius and the followers of Socinus, driven out from Poland, with a medley of varying sects and persecuted exiles. Toleration had become a political necessity in order to achieve state security and prosperity.
This scheme of comprehension proved abortive — Scotland had suffered too much and too recently — and so Presbyterianism was established again, but with a difference. The Covenants were tacitly ignored, and excommunication was relieved of its civil penalties. It was enacted that the first meeting of the General Assembly was to be at Edinburgh the third Thursday of October next to come. But who was to constitute that body?
There were serious objections to any proposal to hand over ecclesiastical government to the whole body of clergy in the kingdom. Lord Crawford, putting one point of view, wrote that it was taking a great risk to give equal authority to conforming and non-conforming ministers alike, since prelacy had been abolished. He goes on: Can it be imagined we shall have Presbytery established, or that government continued, when the management is in the hands of men of different, if not opposite principles, but being three to one for number, would certainly in a short time cast out such as were not of a piece with them? * (Cunningham, J.: The Church History of Scotland. II p 87.) Such a decision would have been to fly in the face of history and forfeit what had been gained by our late sufferers.
On the other hand, what of the uncompromising adherents of the good old way, those into whose soul the iron had entered in recent bitter days? Would they not be disposed to extreme measures if they were entrusted with effective power?
Parliament decided eventually that only those who had been ‘outed’ for nonconformity since 1661 should exercise authority — sixty were left out of the ejected four hundred — and that they should have the power to co-opt such ministers and elders as they thought fit. As the time of Assembly drew near, prominent noblemen, such as the Earl of Crawford and others, wrote urgent letters to the leading ministers, pleading for restraint and caution.
On 16 October 1690, after an interval of thirty-seven years, the General Assembly met, and His Majesty’s Commissioner, Lord Carmichael, presented the royal message, short but succinct, its chief emphasis being ‘We expect that your management shall be such as we shall have no reason to repent of what we have done. A calm and peaceable procedure will be no less pleasing to us than it becometh you. We never could be of the mind that violence was suited to the advancing of true religion; nor do we intend that our authority shall ever be a tool to the irregular passions of any party. Moderation is what religion enjoins, neighbouring Churches expect from, and we recommend to you. * (Acts of the General Assembly. p 222 [published by Church Law Society].)
It was an impressive body of 163 men that met in St. Giles Church; men were there who had carried gun and sword at Rullion Green and Bothwell Bridge fighting for their faith; men who bore branded on their bodies the marks of the rack and the thumbscrew, and who could tell of the horrors of such loathsome dungeons as Dunnottar and the Bass Rock; men on whose heads the government. . . had set a price. * (Smellie, A.: Men of the Covenant. p 508.) There, back again from Holland, was the saintly Thomas Hog of Kiltearn; there too was Henry Erskine, father of Ebenezer and Ralph, exile and fugitive for his unyielding courage. Chief among them all, ‘primus inter pares’, was that greatest of churchmen serving Scotland, William Carstares, diplomat and disciple; his thumbs marked by the torturing screws. Although not actually a member of the Assembly, he exerted great influence behind the scenes.
Principle and policy alike dictated to William III that the many former Episcopalians of the days before 1688 must be, if at all possible, retained within the national church. Three hundred curates had been ‘rabbled’ out of their manses and parishes in the first flush of Presbyterian victory. He could not afford to have so large a number driven into dissent and starvation, thrown willy-nilly into the machinations of Jacobite intrigues. It was, therefore, laid down that those who took the oath of loyalty to the government and submitted to Presbyterian polity, should be secured in their livings, and admitted to the courts of the Church,
Thus there emerged a heterogeneous mixture of covenanting ministers who had bravely borne hardships, and of prelatic clergy, vicars of Bray, whose convictions about episcopacy were not sufficiently strong to induce them to abandon their livings. From these earliest days there was a serious cleavage within the national church, a dichotomy which was to widen and separate the two groups even more as the years went by.
Gilbert Burnet, bishop and historian, described in caustic terms the ministers who replaced the ejected Presbyterians after the Restoration: they were generally very mean and despicable in all respects. They were the worst preachers I ever heard: they were ignorant to a reproach; and many of them were openly vicious. They were a disgrace to their orders, and the sacred functions; and were indeed the dreg and refuse of the northern parts. Those of them who arose above contempt or scandal, were men of such violent tempers, that they were as much hated as the others were despised. This was the fatal beginning of restoring Episcopacy in Scotland. * (Burnet, G.: History of My Own Time [ed O. Airey]. I p 275.) Some of these men, who had been put into the priest’s office for a piece of bread, were among the ministers who stayed on within the established church after 1690.
Yet another Episcopalian, Sir Walter Scott, no great lover of the covenanting tradition, put into the mouth of David Deans what many were feeling: ‘Out upon your General Assembly and the back o’ my hand to your Court o’ Session! What is the ane but a waefu’ bunch o’ cauldrife professors and ministers, that sate bien and warm when the persecuted remnant were warstling wi’ hunger, and cauld, and fear of death, and danger of fire and sword, upon wet brae-sides, peat-haggs and flow-mosses, and that now creep out of their holes, like blue-bottle flees in a blink of sunshine to take the pu’pits and places of better folk — of them that witnessed, and testified, and fought, and endured pit, prison-house, and transportation beyond seas? A bonny bike there’s o’ them.’
James Hog of Carnock, exiled in Holland during the days of persecution, but now returned to take his place as one of the most zealous evangelical leaders in Scotland, tells of his astonishment and disappointment in his colleagues: We came to be crowded with a set of new Presbyterians, who had gone all the lengths of complians in the late times. They, with others who had sheltered under the indulgences of the last reigns . . . had, not-with-standing, a mighty influence in these days. Our temporary Presbyterians and sundry old persecutors who swayed with the times, were much caressed.
These men sought with all their power to ensconce themselves in the leading courts of the Church, and never failed to be at the General Assemblies, although Hog maintains that they utterly neglected inferior courts, and took no inspection of the congregations to which they belonged . . . Thus old sufferers came to be borne down.’ * (Hog, J.: Memoir [Edin. Christian Instr. 1838. p 454]) The old and the new were set for conflict, and clash was inevitable.
Lamartine once summed up the contemporary situation in his native land in the phrase, ‘La France s’ennuie’; if Scotland was not bored, she was at least tired of the incessant controversies which had filled the seventeenth century with angry words and violent blows. Respite was needed so that the national life could develop, and it was tacitly agreed by most that the stormy chapter should stay closed.
New opportunities were opening up for trade and commerce, and men preferred to divert their energies towards material progress rather than to controversy about the niceties of ecclesiastic government. Reaction had followed religious strife. Religion no longer constituted the warp and woof of the people, but became one of many diverse strands. The age of secular pre-eminence was dawning. The new generation did not appreciate sufficiently how great had been the price paid and the gains achieved in the tumult of the Church’s war; by deeds done, sufferings endured and principles hammered out on the anvil of controversy, great victories had been won for the cause of liberty, both civil and religious.
A marked change had come over the intellectual atmosphere also. In 1689, John Locke, one of the greatest English names in philosophy, wrote the first of his four famous letters on toleration, the ‘Epistola de Tolerantia’, at Gouda in Holland. This was a powerful argument for the right of separate religious groups to have freedom of worship, undeterred by civil penalties, and was a continuance of the cogent pleas of Locke’s own teacher, that great Puritan divine, John Owen. It was rapidly translated into Dutch, French and English; the close ties between Holland and Scotland must have made the book known in the latter kingdom, where many could not help but be impressed by the philosopher’s enlightened pleading.
This new spirit of toleration found a welcome from many in Scotland on the ground of its expediency. This was noted by James Hog. The heavy yoke of persecution by a chain of wonders was now taken off, and hereby many were inclined to easy courses; and an excessive aversion from what they apprehended might be irritating, and bring us into trouble, proved a snare. . . our settlement was in a weak and infant state, and our adversaries were many and strong; hence, such methods were thought advisable, that we might not too much provoke them. * (Ibid. p 456.)
It was merely a peace of exhaustion and, although prudence demanded compliance and compromise to ensure stability in church and state, many regarded the status quo as merely an instalment.
This uneasy truce of the first decade of the Revolution Settlement was not to last; the age-long separation between progressives and conservatives was soon made plain, especially since no outward pressures were compelling unity. The century which followed was to see the competing claims of the inviolability of the individual conscience set over against the over-riding authority of the supreme court of the established church. The contending parties were each so right — and, alas, so wrong!
Political issues tended to widen these divisions. At the Union of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland in 1707, although the bells of St. Giles in Edinburgh played, ‘Why should I be sad on My Wedding Day?’ and Chancellor Seafield noted ‘Now there’s ane end of ane auld sang’, for many it was a day of mourning rather than of joy. Many pulpits resounded with angry condemnation of this unholy alliance with the prelatical neighbour across the Border, and under the eloquent peroration of James Clark, * (James Clark, Minister of the Tron Parish Church, Glasgow, from 1702 — 1723. Fasti. III p 474.)‘Therefore be up and valiant for the City of God’, the people of Glasgow threatened the authorities and actually took possession of the city for some days. In 1712, there followed the Oath of Abjuration by which all ministers were compelled to swear that they would support, maintain, and defend the succession of the Crown . . . as settled by the English Parliament. Many of the Presbyterian ministers had covenanted to abolish unscriptural episcopacy; but could they do this, if they swore to protect it in the very Crown? Tremendous controversy was aroused, especially in the West of Scotland, and at least one-third of the Scottish clergy refused to take the prescribed Oath. * (Perhaps no subscription in the long history of the Church was ever the cause of such abounding bitterness [Boston, T.: Memoirs, ed G. H. Morrison. p XXIV])
Once again the disruptive forces that lead to schism were set loose, and there were many searchings of heart. Thomas Halyburton, professor of divinity at St. Andrew’s in 1712, was asked on his death-bed for his opinion about the Oath, and he replied that the peace of the church was the all-important matter * (Thomas Halyburton, professor of divinity at St. Andrew’s in 1710. Died in 1712, aged thirty-eight. Known as the ‘holy Halyburton’. Memoirs, conjointly published by George Whitefield and John Wesley in 1739. [Wesley Bibliography. R. Green. p 13]) — ‘with respect to the difference that is likely to ensue among ministers, with the greatest earnestness I say, My dear brethren, difference is a hot thing. There must be condescension, forbearance and tenderness; we must not fly at the ball. . . Follow peace. Peace is worth much. I would not have a hand in wounding the Church of Scotland for a world.’ * (Memoirs of Halyburton. p 238) In his last sickness, Halyburton dictated a note to his family: ‘Whereas we have a prospect of divided times . . . beware of interesting yourselves in that difference or entertaining prejudices against ministers upon the one hand or the other. There will be faithful ministers on both sides, and on either hand they will act according to their light sincerely. * (Ibid. p 255.)
Old established beliefs, hallowed by tradition, were no longer sacrosanct. Elizabeth Mure of Caldwell (1714 — 95) speaks in her diary of the remarkable change in manners with the casting off of many restraints that was to follow as a result of this increasing intercourse between England and Scotland. Young people met together in clubs and there they pulled to pieces the manners of those that differed from them; every thing was matter of conversation: Religion, Morals, Love, Friendship, Good manners, Dress . . . The subjects were all new and all entertaining. * (Scottish Diaries 1746 — 1846. pp 43, 72, 76.) From many sources, we learn of the amazing growth of these clubs, Robert Wodrow, minister of Eastwood, writing in 1724, expresses deep anxiety about the news concerning the young divinity students in Glasgow. Some years earlier he had known personally of seventy-two meetings for prayer in Glasgow, ‘and these now. . are sunk to four or five’. * (Anal. III pp 129 — 30.) The young ministers and students of divinity were falling in with the English fashionable way of preaching. . and love to call grace virtue. . . which differs much from our good old way in this Church. * (Ibid. III p 155.) In October 1724, Mr. Wallace of Moffat, later one of the leading Moderate ministers in Edinburgh, made a noise by his sermon on Faith without works is dead. The following year, Mr. Telfer of Hawick caused another furore at Glasgow. Wodrow, after noting that ministers such as Mr. Wishart copied their sermons from Tillotson, adds dryly, Mr. T——’s sermons are thought to be his oun make, and loose general, incoherent discourses, with some turns out of Shaftsburry, the Tatlers and Spectators, and such odd common-places for Ministers! * (Ibid. III p 167, 240.)
Students are ever prone to speculation and opposing the status quo, and such affirmations as those of Mr. John Millar, son of Wodrow’s friend and neighbour, the Rev. Robert Millar of Paisley, that there was a ‘set of young men coming up that would shake off the shackles of their education’ . . . and he hoped ‘some of them in a few years would stand before judicatorys, and make glorious appearances for truth’ sound familiar enough today, though they distressed Wodrow greatly. The latter diagnosed the problem as arising from the absence of the divinity professor from their unfettered discussions. The ‘origomali’ is suffering these rau, unripe youths, to medle with what they are unequall to, without a preses (i.e. a chairman) to keep them right; which was never allowed in my father’s time’. * (Ibid. III pp 179, 181.)
Wodrow’s father was the first professor of divinity after the Revolution Settlement; * (Divinity Professors &c. Reid, H. M. B. pp 171 — 203.) he was followed by John Simson, whose novel speculations and shuffling, vacillating explanations fevered his students and made him for a long time face charges of heresy in the church courts. * (‘Mr. Simson, a hotch-potch or bagful of Arian, Arminian, Socinian, Pelagian, old condemn’d damnable errors, infecting the youth, giving ground to fear it will spread further and leaven moe. . . he may justly be called the most wylie and subtile fox that ever Satan let loose into Christ’s vineyard in Scotland since the Reformation.’ [Walker, P.: Six Saints &c. I pp 149, 167.]) In 1729 the General Assembly suspended Simson ‘sine die’ and this sentence was continued until his death in 1740. Wodrow comments that Mr. Simson draws his salary, and the youth are without a teacher. * (Wodrow Correspondence. III pp 467, 469.) With such unsettling teaching, and eventually little teaching at all in theology for almost twelve years, things were far from well for the students of divinity in Glasgow. Of them Wodrow notes yet again: there is nothing like meetings for prayer . . . and many meet in other clubs, and for drinking. * (Anal. III p 514.) ‘Jupiter’ Carlyle in his memoirs, limns a picture of convivial life as a student in Glasgow, anticipating Thomas Carlyle’s outburst on him as that pot-walloping Sadducee. It was one of Simson’s students who was appointed professor of philosophy in the University of Glasgow, and by his teaching, which crowded his classroom with eager students, he became the father of Moderatism in the Church of Scotland. Francis Hutcheson set out to put a new face upon theology in Scotland. * (Letter of Hutcheson 31 May 1742, quoted J. M’Cosh The Scottish Theology p 64. Vide, Wodrow’s query at the appointment in December 1729. What influence his teaching here may have, time will discover. Anal. IV p 99.) Doctrinal exposition was not encouraged, nor was there to be any stirring appeal to conscience; instead, the Christian religion was set forward as a system of the highest morality, offering some hope of an immortality of bliss, but providing no pardon to the poor sinner anxious about the past. * (M’Cosh, J.: The Scottish Theology. p 64.) The new teaching took full account of ignorance but had little sense of sin; it did not offer enough! * (When Hutcheson preached for his father, the minister of Armagh who was sick, all the congregation except three persons left the service before the sermon ended. One of them told his father, Your silly loon, Frank, has fashed a the congregation wi’ his idle cackle: for he has been babbling this oor aboot a gude and benevolent God, and that the sauls o’ the Heathens themsels will gang to heeven, if they follow the light of their ain consciences. Not a word does the daf boy ken, speer, or say, abou the gude, auld, comfortable doctrine of election, reprobation, original sin and faith. Hoot, mon, awa’ wi’ sic a fellow. Stuart, J.: Historical Memoirs of the City of Armagh. p 488 — 9.)
Just as this Moderate section of the Church was coming under new moulding influences, so the more evangelical group also was undergoing a process of change. A new note could be heard in their preaching; something warmer and more welcoming. Awed by the Calvinist conception of the divine sovereignty, with its emphasis on election and predestination, for some the faith had hardened off into fatalism. There were many who questioned this theology, and especially the Episcopalians, who were strongly Arminian in Scotland. Duncan Innes, an Edinburgh shoe-maker who had left the Church of Scotland to become an Episcopalian, wrote several polemics on this subject. So, in 1742, one of the reasons for his decision to leave the church of his fathers was his rejection of the absolute, unconditional, irreversible and eternal Decree of Election of some, and Reprobation of the rest and far greatest Part of Mankind. He averred that this doctrine served only ‘to fill the Heads of some with groundless and presumptuous Hopes, fancying themselves to be among the Number of that happy Few . . . it is equally destructive to such as may have a melancholy Turn of Mind . . by instigating them to despair of GOD’S paternal Goodness, as not being among the Number of the Elect’. This scheme of salvation is like that of a State-Lottery where there are a great many Blanks, but very few prizes; where every one must venture, but only a certain Number can be successful. . . . Innes goes on: I shall only beg the favour of you . . . how you’ll reconcile your Election and Reprobation Scheme with these tender and passionate Calls and Invitations of our blessed SAVIOUR. * (A letter from a Layman to a Lay Deacon of the Kirk of Scotland, Containing the Reasons for his dissenting from the PRESBYTERIAN, and joining the EPISCOPAL Communion &c. MDCCXLII. A Defence and Vindication of his Action by D—- I—- I p 1 [Rosebery Pamphlets, Nat. Lib. of Scotland]. pp 1., 6, 8, 9.) In a later pamphlet, he sets out to find the number of the Beast, given in Revelation 13. 18 as ‘Six hundred, Threescore and Six’. Counting all the words in the Solemn League and Covenant, he sees that they add up to 666 and the problem is solved. Or almost, for he sums up: Now this is but a Conjecture, but then it is as reasonable a Conjecture as any other that was ever offered. * (The Sequel of a Letter from a Layman &c. p 26 .)
This doctrinal emphasis which so annoyed Innes was under-going modification. In 1645, at the time of the Westminster Assembly, a book was published in London entitled The Marrow of Modern Divinity, consisting chiefly of extracts from the writings of Reformed theologians, such as Calvin, Beza, Luther, Reynolds, Hooker, Goodwin and others who were at that time considered modern. Its aim was to show the complete freeness of the gospel offer of salvation, and to lead the guilty sinner straight to the Saviour’s mercy. It was written by E. F., often assumed to be a Gloucester gentleman, Edward Fisher, although the evidence for this is by no means conclusive. * (Vide: The Marrow of Modem Divinity. ed C. G. M’Crie, pp XVI — XIX for a discussion on this point.) Within three years seven editions of the book were issued; at the beginning of the eighteenth century it began its notable influence in Scotland. * (Samuel Rutherford may have read the book when in London and some copies had certainly reached Scotland.)
Thomas Boston, although dissatisfied with his personal religious experience, was ordained to the charge of Simprin, Berwickshire, in 1699. He began an eager search for something better, and gives an account of his discovery. ‘Meanwhile, being still on the scent, as I was sitting one day in a house at Simprin, I espied above the window-head two little old books; which, when I had taken down, I found entitled, the one The Marrow of Modern Divinity. . . These I reckon had been brought home from England by the master of the house, a soldier in the time of the civil wars. . . .’ Boston brought the book away, and eventually purchased it for himself. I rejoiced in it, as a light which the Lord had seasonably struck up to me in my darkness. * (Memoirs of Tomas Boston, ed G. H. Morrison. p 169.) This spark was soon to kindle a mighty flame in the land. Boston’s advocacy of the book to his ministerial friends set them searching eagerly for copies, and in 1718 the Marrow was reprinted with a preface by James Hog of Carnock.
It has been pointed out that the ruling conception of the theology of the seventeenth century was of God as Sovereign, rather than Father. The doctrine of the Marrow was to serve as a bridge between the belief that strengthened men to bear persecution in dangerous days and a more tender creed. * (Henderson, H. F.: Religious Controversies. p 2 I.) The doctrine of the Marrow was Calvinism, not universalism as its opponents were constantly asserting, for although it was in the main the original teaching of the great Genevan, it seemed to be something more than was often taught.
Puzzled about the range of the redemptive work of Christ, Boston read in the Marrow that Jesus Christ had commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel to every creature, that is, go and tell every man without exception. That here is good news for him, Christ is dead for him, and if he will take Him and accept of His righteousness he shall have Him. When Neo-phytus, one of the allegorical characters in the book, asks whether such boldness would not really display pride and presumption, the Marrow makes Evangelista reply: ‘To come to Christ by believing that He will accept of you, justify and save you freely by His grace, according to His gracious promise, this is neither pride nor presumption for Christ having tendered and offered it to you freely, believe it, man, it is a true humility of heart to take what Christ offereth you. * (The Marrow &c., ed C. G. M’Crie. pp 112 — 3, p 122.)
Boston, in his sermon ‘Christ gifted to sinners’, asks to whom Christ is given and answers: ‘to mankind sinners indefinitely. It is not to the elect only but to sinners indefinitely. . . sinners of the race of Adam without exception, whatever they have been, whatever they are.’ Quoting John 3. 16, he adds, You see here it goes as wide as the world, the world of men. And he said, Go ye preach to every creature. Again, in another sermon, Christ the Saviour of the World, he declares, ‘If you are not one of the devil-kind, but of sinful mankind, it was for you . . is not this love?’
J. Walker, writing of the theology of this period, notes that Boston and the Marrow men, first of all among our divines, entered fully into the missionary spirit of the Bible; were able to see that Calvinistic doctrine was not inconsistent with world-conquering aspirations and efforts. * (Walker, J.: Theology &c. p 60.) It was this faith that sustained Thomas Boston, the unforgettable as he has been well styled, and constrained him to pour out his whole life for his eighty-three parishioners in Simprin, and later, his flock at Ettrick. From Boston there issued a stream of influence that was to have tremendous consequences. This was the faith of the two Erskines also. It was Ebenezer who stood up in the synod of Fife when some were denying that salvation was for all mankind and said: Moderator, Our Lord Jesus says of himself, My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. This he uttered to a promiscuous multitude; and let me see the man who dares to affirm that he said wrong. * (Fraser, D.: Life of Eben. Erskine. p 242.)
The influence of Martin Luther is very obvious in the Marrow of Modern Divinity. (Art. Influence of Martin Luther on Scottish Theology in the Eighteenth Century H. Watt. S.C.H.S. VI pp 147 — 60.) He is ranked as equal with Calvin — So that we may assuredly conclude with Luther. . . indeed, as Calvin saith * (Marrow, ed C. G. M’Crie. pp 63 — 4.) — and in the first section of the book, Luther is cited forty-six times, more than twice as often as Calvin. Luther’s Commentary on Galatians was among the first parcel of books received by Boston, and remembered with gratitude; such outstanding Christian leaders as Fraser of Brea and Adam Gib were helped by this same book.
Another example of this Lutheran impetus in the revival movements of the eighteenth century may be quoted of John Wesley: 24 May 1738 — In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine . . . I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
Among the Laing Mss Div II (1732) in the University of Edinburgh there are some of the sermons of Robert Jardine, minister of Lochmaben (1732 — 49). * (Father of Dr. John Jardine, who became one of the most prominent ministers in Edinburgh and one of the royal chaplains.) On 10 July 1737 he notes: We had twelve Tables, 82 at every Table, but 30 at the last. In all about 930. Preached Ino. XXI. 15. We have the manuscript of this communion sermon:
‘What is your motive to Love? Do ye love him for himself or only for his benefits? To love him only for these is a mean self-love, like the multitude in John 6 which followed Christ for loaves, and like some marriages among men, where not the person but the portion is the object of affection.
Do ye love Christ wholly? Is everything in the blessed J[esus] desirable and amiable to you? . . . Do you love him not only as your prophet and teacher, as your sacrifice and advocate but as your L[ord] . . . I have a message from my L[ord], my M[aster] to you, to every one of you, even to tell you, that the great Lord of heaven and earth hath an only begotten Son to whom he has given all power in h. and E. . . this glorious one is willing to enter into a mar[riage] Covt. with the blackest and vilest sinner. . . and all he seeks is your love and affection and that you’ll give him your hearts.
I ask you in his name, will ye love him or not? Can ye find in your ht. to refuse so reasonable a demand? Mind, it is his cause I’m pleading for him. I ask your love. Slight, despise me his unworthy servt. as you will, but O do not despise him. Revile, contemn me as you please but only give Christ your hearts and I have got my errand. Love him and I have gained my design.
Lastly, what reason can ye give why ye will not Love him? What can ye object against him? Testify your love to him by sitting down at his table . . . it will blow up in thy heart a triumphant flame of love to a crucified Jesus. This sentiment anticipates the pleadings of Robert Cunningham, the prize-fighting butcher, turned evangelist, in the 1859 Revival: What ails ye at Christ?’
There were, however, some who objected violently to this new emphasis and, in 1720, the General Assembly passed an Act, naming the Marrow of Modern Divinity as being contrary to the Holy Scriptures, the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms, and all ministers were prohibited from recommending it by preaching or by printing and were instructed to warn their parishioners not to read or use it. * (A full account may be found in the Edin. Chr. Inst. in an article by Thomas M’Crie. 1831 — 2.) This sweeping condemnation was challenged at once, and a representation was drawn up requesting that the Act be revoked. This document was signed by twelve men, known as The Marrow Men or jestingly as The Twelve Apostles; in 1721 they refused categorically to accept the decision of the Assembly, in spite of rebuke and admonition from the Moderator. Deposition might have followed this defiance but for the intervention of government, who were apprehensive about invasion.
The Marrow Men trembled on the very brink of secession, but that step was made incredibly difficult by the historic assertion that there was but one kirk in Scotland. James Durham, who was beloved of all the earnest-minded Presbyterians for his courage — had he not defied Oliver Cromwell to his face? — and for his piety, had successfully healed a serious breach in the church during the seventeenth century by such vehement pleadings: ‘Never did men run to quench fire in a City, lest all should be destroyed, with more diligence than men ought to bestir themselves to quench this in the Church. Never did mariners use more speed to stop a leak in a ship, lest all should be drowned, than Ministers especially, and all Christian men, should haste to stop this beginning of the breaking-in of these waters of strife, lest thereby the whole Church be overwhelmed. * (Durham, J.: The Dying Man’s TESTAMENT to the Church of Scotland, or a Treatise concerning Scandal. Edin. 1659. p 313. Durham died at thirty-six years of age.)
Ninian Niving, preaching in December 1729, points out that we have been tossing and tumbling these many years in a poor shattered vessel, and no storms of persecution from without have been able to overwhelm us, but laments that we, contrary to all the motions of Grace, fall a quarrelling among ourselves, and are in danger of perishing every moment, thro’ a vain contention, Who shall sit at the Helm? After noting the passion for self-vindication by the two contending parties, he declares that the quarrels and divisions are completely unnecessary. The spirit of contention runs so high and yet the matter in dispute is so very small. So very small, that to forgive, and to forget, seem to be the only things that are wanting in order to a perfect peace and full reconcilement. * (Niving, N.: Considerations in the Time of Adversity [Rosebery Pamphlets]. pp 11, 19.) Nevertheless, although there was no open schism at this time, victimisation and discrimination followed the intransigence of the supporters of the Marrow doctrine. Their leading protagonists were hampered when they sought to move to other parishes; Ebenezer Erskine’s projected translation from Portmoak to Kirkcaldy in 1725 was refused because it would have augmented his influence in the church; Boston wished to move on account of his poor health, and all seemed well ‘till I fell under their displeasure in the affair of the Marrow, which I reckon to have staked me down in Etterick. * (Fraser, D.: Life & Diary of Eben. Erskine. pp 320 — 6.)
Harsh treatment was administered to candidates for the ministry who were suspected of similar leanings. Wodrow, who was far from approving of the Marrow men and their doctrine, tells of one, John Craige, chosen unanimously by the parish of Kinross to be their minister. It was reported that he ‘favoured the Marrow’, so Principal Haddow and Mr. A. Anderson had a committee appointed from the Synod of Fife to join the Presbytery in examining him. They formed twenty queries from the Marrow and gave Craige only until that afternoon to answer them. All were answered except the last, whether he approved of the act of Assembly against the Marrow. He asked to be excused this and owned it to be the deed of the church, but the Committee insisted on an express answer in writing. Begging them not to insist, he inclined to have been silent but he declared, according to his present light, he was of the sentiments of the Representers and was content to stand and fall with them. This was what they wanted. They then voted to Stop his trials . . . a most imprudent and unhappy step. Ralph Erskine says: whenever any student or candidate was supposed to be tinctured with the Marrow, that is with a Gospel spirit . . there was no quarter for such; queries upon queries were formed to discourage them, and stop their way, either of their being entered upon trials or ordained unto churches. . . many pious youths . . . had the door of entrance into the ministry quite barred against them. * (Erskine, R.: Faith no Fancy. A similar official imprimatur was evidenced in the case of Howell Harris, a truly apostolic figure, in Wales. Whitefield, his friend, says that Harris was twice refused admission to holy orders on the pretence that he was not of age. He is now above 25 years of age. Above a month ago he of offered himself again, but was put off [Tyerman, L.: Life of George Whitefield. I p 188].)
Matters came to a head over an Act passed by the General Assembly in 1731 which provided that in exercising the ‘ius devolutum’, Protestant heritors and elders were to ‘elect’, instead of to name and propose, a minister, and the congregation, as embodied in the heads of families, came into the process only in order to concur. * (Campbell, A. J.: Two Centuries of the Church of Scotland. p 53.)
This was a return to the procedure of 1690, and Ebenezer Erskine led the opposition against it. On 16 May 1732 he spoke in the Assembly: I know of no ecclesiastical authority under heaven, but what is derived from Christ, the exalted King of Zion. . . His authority as a King, is the alone foundation of all church government and discipline. * (Fraser, D.: Life and Diary of E. Erskine. p 358.) On 10 October of that year, he preached as Moderator of the Synod of Perth and Stirling on ‘The Stone rejected by the Builders’; he spoke strongly against this new wound given to the prerogative of Christ and the privileges of His subjects. * (Erskine, E.: Works. ed D. Fraser. I p 472.) This so annoyed his brethren that they judged him deserving of a formal rebuke. Supported by three other ministers, Erskine appealed to the General Assembly of 1733. Angered by the tone of this protest, that body ordered the four brethren to withdraw this appeal and, upon their refusing, the Commission of Assembly first suspended and then excluded them from their ministerial functions. On December of that same year, the four brethren, Ebenezer Erskine of Stirling, Alexander Moncrieff of Abernethy, William Wilson of Perth and James Fisher of Kinclaven, met at Gairney Bridge and formed the Associate Presbytery, closing their first Testimony with the words: ‘And we hereby appeal to the first free, faithful and reforming General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. There were many who felt that the General Assembly had gone too far, and for six years attempts were made to heal the breach. The sentence of suspension was repealed; the offending Act of 1731 was also repealed — but all to no purpose. The Seceders had evidently determined to separate unless they could secure far-reaching measures of reform. Finally, on 15 May 1740, Ebenezer Erskine and his colleagues, now eight in number, were solemnly deposed.
If the Seceders had anticipated that such of their colleagues as John Willison of Dundee (one of those sent by the General Assembly in 1734 to petition Parliament in London for the removal of the grievance of Patronage, but, to his sorrow, without success) and John Currie of Kinglassie, who had supported their efforts to remedy grievances, would join with them, they were disappointed. It was different with the laity. From all parts of the country, groups of people; especially members of the many societies for prayer, wrote asking for sermon. * (McKelvic, W.: Annals and Statistics of the U. P. Church. (Edin. 1873) pp 2 — 4.) The demand for a more spiritual ministry was far greater than could be supplied. Inside the established church there remained a small group who were in the church but not of it. They supported the aims of the Seceders, but conceived it sinful to become schismatics. Henry Davidson of Galashiels and his friend and neighbour, Gabriel Wilson of Maxton, both Marrow men and close friends of Thomas Boston, never again dispensed the Lord’s Supper in their congregations after the Secession. They formed a small group of supporters, akin to the Independents, and for over twenty years observed the sacrament with then. * (Memoir: Letters to Christian Friends by the late Henry Davidson .)
Around the year 1740 the situation was indeed critical for the Church of Scotland. Within it was a new and growing generation of ministers who were more concerned about culture than conversions — a group of ‘Senecan’ clergy who spoke of their Covenanting forbears with contempt and amusement. At the time of the controversy over Professor Simson, an anonymous writer compiled an unpublished ‘Letter to a Reverend Clergyman in Scotland’, a minister with scruples about the confession and formulae of the church. ‘You ought not for this to divulge your private opinions and be deposed for your pains. Think with the Wise but Talk with the Vulgar . . . print books without prefixing your names. . . by the use of a little banter in your conversation, you may ridicule the errors in vogue. . . And who knows but ere twenty years you may have a majority even in a General Assembly and then you may venture to act above board . . Above all, do not contradict the Received Doctrines in your sermons. You will defeat them better by letting them fall into Desuetude . . do not foolishly expose [yourselves] to sufferings thro an unwise boldness in a good cause. * (Laing Mss. II p 620. Robert Wallace, whom we have already noted for his Moderate sympathies, had this manuscript in his possession and commented 29 December 1767: ‘Here are many acute and just sentiments. . . written by a wise and prudent man.’) Outside the established church, there had existed for fifty years the extremist Cameronians, but their appeal was very limited. Now there was this other attraction: an active, popular group of ministers of earnest evangelical spirit, the first Seceders from the Church of Scotland (although they maintained that they were only withdrawing from the prevailing party), who answered a very real need and widespread demand. Their success was considerable. Within a quarter of a century, it was estimated, in the Schism Overture of 1766, that there were 120 meeting-houses with 100,000 members in the country. * (Morren, N.: Annals &c, 1752 — 66. p 307 ff.) The issue would have been very different indeed had it not been for the revival that broke out in the parish of Cambuslang in 1742. It was this event, and the associated movements that spread over Scotland, that rallied other evangelical ministers of the national Kirk and inspired the hesitating laity to stay within the borders of the national church and serve her by the will of God. It was, once more, the story of a little leaven which permeated the church of the future.
On 26 January 1731, Mr. Henderson, the minister of Blantyre, reported to the Presbytery of Hamilton that he had carried out its instructions to him ‘to conveen the Paroch of Kambuslang and try Their inclinations with respect to a Settlement’. He told his brethren that a great many had declared their inclinations to have Mr. M’Culloch to be Their Minister’. After hearing a deputation from that parish, most of whom concurred, it was decided to call a meeting at that place, for Electing and Subscribing a Call to one to be Their Minister, and that upon Thursday the 18th of Febry Next. * (Hamilton Pres. Recs.) On Thursday April 29, he was duly received by the parish of Cambuslang as their minister.
Thus was brought to an end the long-drawn-out struggle by the people of Cambuslang against the principal heritor in the parish, his grace the Duke of Hamilton; after six years they had secured their claim to have no minister but one of their own choosing. The previous minister, the Rev. Archibald Hamilton, had been unwell and unfit for his duties for several years before his death in 1724. An assistant had been employed by him from October 1721 and, on 3 September 1723, Hamilton intinated to the heritors and session that he was willing, upon their choice of a good and well-qualified person, to demit his charge, and to quit one half of his stipend to the one who should succeed him. While negotiations were proceeding for a suitable man, the valetudinarian minister died.
On 30 March 1725 the Presbytery records state: ‘Compeired Thomas Hutton Writer in Hamilton and signified My Lord Duke Hamilton’s inclinations with respect to the Settlement of Kambuslang’. The heritors and elders from that place presented a petition, requesting the Presbytery to ‘deal with his Grace. . . to concur with them for a comfortable settlement of the Paroch’. Two ministers interviewed the ducal patron but reported on 22 February 1726, that he declared Himself firm to His first choice of Mr. Thomas Findlater to be Minister of Kambuslang. * (Ibid.)
Thomas Findlater was the son of the minister of Hamilton, who had become the centre of a controversy in the church courts about this time. In October 1725 Wodrow mentions this unhappy affair of Mr. Findlater at Hamilton, his scandal of adulterous carriage breaks out. * (Anal. III p 237.) A year later the people who had offered to provide evidence against him withdrew their charges ‘which they say came from the Dukes [of Hamilton] gratifying them about some lime’. * (Ibid. III p 334.) The great majority of Findlater’s session maintained that he had not visited his parish for at least eighteen years, and his open Sabbath-breaking was notorious. * (Ibid. IV p 5.)
Whatever truth there was in these complaints, the parish of Cambuslang was resolute in refusing to have his son to be their minister, even with the fullest backing from the patron. Dead-lock resulted. In July 1728 the Duke of Hamilton gave the parish of Cambuslang ‘a peremptory answer, that he would give no other to them than Mr. Findlater’ s son, his Minister. The people have withstood him these five or six years, and will never come in to him. . . I know not a parish in the West of Scotland in such a taking as Cambuslang and Hamiltoun, Cambuslang has been on the matter, vacant these fourteen years; and I an told there is not one under sixteen years who ever has been catechised. . . . Promises have been made for Mr. M’Culloch, the people’s choice, and matters are still staved off. * (Ibid. IV p 5.) This state of impasse went on for yet another two years, and no way out of it was found until Mr. Findlater, the unwanted presentee to Cambuslang, was forced upon the parish of West Linton, in the Synod of Lothian, in January 1731. This could be achieved only by sending out a posse of soldiers who took six or eight of the parishioners as prisoners to Edinburgh. * (Small, Robert: History of the U.P. Church. I p 563.) Wodrow comments sadly: ‘This is turning a common thing. . . . Our troubles are grouing as to settlements. . . I am affrayed, if things continou at the rate they are, Presbitry and Ministers loss the affections of the common people by thir setlments. . . and when we loss the inclinations of the people, we are not much to lean to the affections of the noblmen and gentlmen, men whom we now strive to please.’ How prophetic were these forebodings!’
Although this meant loss for West Linton, it brought gain to Cambuslang, for in that same month of Findlater’s forced induction, the Duke of Hamilton gave his consent to the proposal that M’Culloch should be invited to become minister at Cambuslang. * (Anal. IV p 188.) So, in spite of opposition by the most influential resident heritor in the parish of Cambuslang, viz Hamilton of Westburn (an antagonism kept up for more than twenty years), William M’Culloch at forty years of age was ushered in to his first charge, the charge where he was to close his days forty years later. The earliest description of the rural parish to which, after a long waiting, William M’Culloch was inducted is that of Mr. Hamilton of Wishaw, an Antiquary of no little fame. He writes in the first decade of the eighteenth century: Cambuslang . . lyeth upon the south-west syde of the river of Clyde. . . . It is a pleasant and fertile soill, with a good salmond fishing. . . the lands of Greenlees . . . where there is coal considerable. There is also in. . . the lands of Coatts, Chapel and Moriston. . . good coal. * (Hamilton, Wm.: Description of the Sherifdom of Lanark. XII pp 19, 23.)
Dr. James Meek, successor to M’Culloch as minister of Cambuslang (1774 — 97), supplied the description of the parish for the First Statistical Account of Scotland in 1793, in which he compares local conditions in 1750 and 1790, and thus furnishes an excellent picture of the community about mid-century. The kirk, he notes, ‘is 5 miles S.E. from Glasgow and 6 miles W. from Hamilton, standing in a district of beautiful scenery, with a number of hills and valleys and fertile land. From the top of the hill of Dichmont, there is certainly one of the finest inland prospects in Scotland. The pellucid Clyde flowed from the upper ward of Lanarkshire, passing through the extensive woods and plantations near Hamilton, and bounded the parish for almost three miles. It was from 200 to 250 feet wide, but was easily forded. Quite a number of those who came to Cambuslang during 1742 spoke of walking over the river. * (‘Old Statistical Account’ (ed Sir John Sinclair 1793). v pp 242 — 3. Of this period and district, Janet Hamilton sets down her grandfather’s memories that salmon were then so plentiful in the Clyde and were so much used as an article of food in the farmer’s houses in its vicinity that servants made it a part of their hiring stipulations that they should not be required to eat salmon more than once a day. Janet Hamilton: Poems of Purpose Etc. p 177.)
The main road, busy with travellers and trade, passed through the parish from east to west; it was narrow and rough, scarcely passable with carts in the summer, and in the winter so deep in mud as to be hardly passable with horses. * (Old Statistical Account. v p 253.) In 1753, legislation was enacted to improve the deplorable state of this road, described in the Glasgow Burgh Records as very dangerous to travellers. * (‘the road leading from the village of Gorbals to a place called the Chapel of Cambuslang, in the county of Lanerk much frequented by travellers, of great consequence to the commerce of the Country, and the convenient marching of His Majesty’s troops, and the foresaid roads, by the deepness of the soil in some places, and the narrowness and ruggedness of the road in others, are in many places become impassable in winter for wheel carriages and horses, and very dangerous for travellers. Authority was vested in trustees with power to levy tolls. 26 George II C.28 [quoted in Glasgow Burgh Records 1739, 1759. VI p 590].) Although the property of the parish was divided among eleven heritors, two-thirds of it belonged to the only non-resident heritor, his grace the Duke of Hamilton, who also received the produce of considerable coal-workings.
The population numbered less than a thousand people, with about two hundred separate families, * (The census taken by Dr. Webster in 1755 reported 934 persons in the parish.) and these were engaged mainly in agriculture and the expanding industries of coal-mining and weaving.
Most of the farms were worked on the run-rig system, with wasteful baulks between the various ridges, full of stones and bushes. As yet there were very few enclosures. Such feudal customs still obtained as the obligation of a tenant ‘to lead his landlord’s coals, and give him some days work in seed tine and harvest’. Wheat and potatoes were not planted in the open fields until about 1760.
Although the greater part of the inhabitants were employed in farming, there were many colliers and weavers. The coal seams were many feet deep at the river, out-cropping to the surface almost a mile and a half away. There were no pumping facilities and so coal had to be wrought when wet, the work being laborious, hazardous and disagreeable. * (Old Statistical Account. VI. pp 252, 257.) Added to the hardships of their toil was the further degradation of slavery. Until 1799, all colliers and salters in Scotland belonged to the owner of the workings where they laboured, passing along with any other property to the new owner. Wives, daughters and sons continued in this humiliating condition, forming a separate and avoided group, with language and habits all their own. * (Erskine, J.: An Institute of the Law of Scotland. Book 1. Ch. VII pp 2, 61.) Some of them were compelled to wear brass collars around their necks as the badge of their servitude. There were many such people in Cambuslang, yet even this despised community came within the reach of the church’s activities, and we have reports of the conversions of Mary Lap, daughter of George Lap, Collier. . . and of David Logan, an old soldier, now a collier in Cambuslang. One of the elders in the session was John Arbuckle ‘coal hewer in Coles’.
The other main industry in the parish was the weaving of holland or fine linen, begun about 1730: the weavers bought the yarn, wove it into cloth, bleached this cloth and carried it to market. * (Old Statistical Account. V. p 258.)There are frequent references to young women reading their Bibles whilst at the wheel. It was in such a place and within such a community that the new minister began his life-work in 1731. It is now time to look at his own background and try to envisage the influences which were moulding his early days.
William M’Culloch was born in 1691 at Whithorn, in the countryside hallowed by the famous Candida Casa of St. Ninian; his father was the parish schoolmaster, who had once lived in Anwoth (where saintly Samuel Rutherford was minister) but in later years he moved to Wigtown. * (Anal. III pp 132, 134.) Of William M’Culloch’s own childhood, we have only meagre information; his son, in a Memoir prefixed to a posthumous volume of his father’s sermons, tells us that he received the rudiments of his education from his father, who perceiving his studious disposition, sent him to the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. * (M’Culloch, W.: Sermons on Several Subjects. [Memoir by Robert M’Culloch.])
There can, however, be no doubt that the early years spent in remote and rebellious Galloway left their stamp upon the studious youth, whose adult disposition was ever to look, too far into things. All around him were evidences for his eyes to see and experiences for his ears to hear of his local countrymen, who had resisted episcopacy to financial ruin and martyr graves. Only six years before M’Culloch’s birth, David Grahame, brother of the infamous Claverhouse, reported to the Scottish Privy Council that there were as many elephants and crocodiles in Galloway as loyal and orderly persons. * (Agnew, A.: History of the Hereditary Sheriffs of Galloway. p 425.)
Kirkcudbright and Wigtonshire were the Jerusalem and Judea of the Covenant, wrote Andrew Symson, editor of the Register of the Synod of Galloway from October 1664 to April 1671, and his records make plain the resistance of ministers and people to the Episcopal regime. Letters of Banishment were put into execution against many of the former ministers who were still dwelling in the diocese. *(Register of the Synod of Galloway from, October 1664 to April 1671, (ed A. Symson). pp 34, 37, 49.) Several ministers within the Presbytry of Kirkcudbright are defective of Sessions by and through the unwillingness of their parishioners to joyne with them. * (Ibid. p 55.) And Symson himself, a man of learning, ability and kindly disposition, complained that his own congregation had dwindled to one, and even this man lost his life by a fall from a horse in March 1682. In a ‘funeral Elegie’ to this friend, Synson mourns:
He, HE alone, WERE my parishioners,
Yea, and my constant hearers! Oh! that I
Had pow’r to eternize his memory. . . . * (Agnew, A.: ut supra. p 407.)
William M’Culloch, when a boy, must often have listened to stories in his home that both chilled and thrilled his heart. The decade before his birth was crammed with memorable incident. On 19 January 1682, John Grahame of Claverhouse was appointed Sheriff of Wigtown, and the next month outlined his policy to his superiors: I will threaten much, but forbear severe execution for a while. * (Ibid. 392.) But he soon began, with ruthless efficiency, to apply his policy of thorough. From the beginning of 1685, conditions became almost intolerable for the people of Galloway, who were treated with all the severity that might have been expected had they been rebels in arms. Soldiers, the riff-raff of the people, were billeted throughout the countryside and searched homes and such open-air refuges as the mountain-cave or forest-shelter, seeking to discover and destroy the covenanters. Suspicion spread over the district like a pestilence and normal intercourse of man with man was brought to an end.
Says William Mackenzie, the historian of Galloway: Multitudes were murdered every month, without the tedious formality of a trial; for ‘inter arma silent leges’. Hanging, shooting, drowning, torturing, and cutting off the ears were works of constant recurrence. Some were sent to Jamaica and sold as slaves, whilst others were immured in unwholesome dungeons, where watchful soldiers stood in endless succession to keep then from sleeping. The highway and the desert, the fruitful field, and the barren moor, were alike subject to danger. * (Mackenzie, W.: The History of Galloway. II pp 261, 262.)
Field preaching was punishable with death, and the sentence had to be carried out within three hours after judgment; at the drum-head courts martial which served as tribunals to enforce church attendance, the possession of a Bible was accepted as direct evidence of the owner’s nonconformity. * (Agnew, A.: ut supra. p 396.) On 23 January 168, James Dun and five other men of the parish of Minnigaff, about eight miles from Wigtown, were surprised by a party of soldiers whilst engaged in prayer and shot out of hand. * (Mackenzie, W.: ut supra. p 265.) Less than four months later, ‘Margaret M’Lachland of Kirkinner paroch, a woman of sixty-three years of age. . . was taken off her knees in prayer and carried to prison.’ A young girl of eighteen, Margaret Wilson, who had been hiding in the mountains with her younger brother and sister, was also taken at the same time. The judges ‘sentenced them to be tyed to palisadoes fixed in the sand, within the flood mark of the sea, and there to stand till the flood overflowed them and drowned them’. So reads the session record of Penninghame.
This sentence was carried out on Wigtown sands on 11 May 1685. There can be little doubt that William M’Culloch must have met many who saw this judicial murder, for, as one eye-witness averred, ‘the hail sands war covered wi’ cluds o’ folk, a’ gathered into clusters here and there, offering up prayers for the two women while they were being put down’. * (Agnew, A.: ut supra. p 431.) One of the Kirkcowan elders, Gilbert Milroy, could have told of the days when he fled from the parish and his wife was tortured by lighted matches placed between her fingers. He only escaped having his ears cut off because the surgeon passed him by as a dying man, and then he was shipped in fetters to Jamaica and sold into slavery, until the events of 1688 restored him to liberty and home. * (Mackenzie, W.: ut supra. pp 278 — 9.)
The young boy’s mind must have been filled with such harrowing stories; there were also tales of the adventures of the field-preachers. John Welsh of Irongray, the great-grandson of John Knox and ‘the first of the field-preachers’, * (Fasti. II p 287.) preached at New Luce in Wigtownshire before he fled to London after the battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679. That strange mystic, Alexander Peden, the most celebrated of them all, was a minister of that same parish of New Luce (1659 — 86). * (Ibid. II p 345.) In his outdoor preaching one day, Peden encouraged his harried parishioners, ‘A poor believer gets never a bonnier blink of Jesus Christ than when the cross lies heaviest between his shoulders. * (Johnstone, J.: Alexander Peden, the Prophet of the Covenant. p 207.) The wistful, ardent James Renwick, the last of the martyrs, executed in February 1688 at twenty-five years of age, was a native of Moniaive in Dumfriesshire. * (Mackenzie, W.: ut supra. p 290.)
Not only were evil men resisted in the south-west of Scotland — evil spirits were defied. Not far from M’Culloch’s home was the parish of Kirkcolm, haunted by the ghost of Galdenoch, who set the thatch on fire, ‘washed grannie in the burn, and laid her on the dyke to dry’, and resisted all efforts at exorcism by neighbouring clergymen. But the stentorian Alexander Marshall, minister of Kirkcolm (1700 — 43), pitted his mighty lungs against the ghost and sang the psalm-tune Bangor throughout the whole night until ‘an unearthly voice, husky and weak — whined, “Roar awa, Marshall, I can roar nae mair”. Thus, runs the tale, did the minister triumph and secure peace for his flock. * (Agnew, A.: ut supra. pp 457 - 60.) Such an exploit ran round the countryside. There were other stories that could only be whispered. In 1698, the seven-year-old son of the schoolmaster at Whithorn would doubtless hear of the burning near Kirkcudbright of Elspeth M’Ewen, the witch. * (Mackenzie, W.: ut supra. pp 342 - 3. Appendix, 37 - 40.)
On all sides there were places made sacred by hallowed names: Anwoth, ever associated with the seraphic Rutherford, and Stranraer, scene of the labours of the saintly John Livingstone, to whose communion occasions and evening devotions boat loads of worshippers rowed across from Ireland. Not all the struggles were past history, however, for there were living leaders, extremists and rebels against church authority, who were active in Galloway as M’Culloch grew up. John Hepburn, minister of Urr in Dumfriesshire (1680 — 1723) was the inspiration of a large number of scattered Hebronite societies who met for prayer and fellowship. * (MacMillan, William: John Hepburn and the Hebronites.) Nearer than Urr was the parish of Balmaghie in Kirkcudbrightshire, with one of its preachers John Macmillan who stayed in the district to minister to the Cameronian societies until 1727. * (Reid, H. M. B.: A Cameronian Apostle.)
All around M’Culloch were the living influences of the warring present and the recent past. On all sides were to be seen, pondered and remembered:
Grey, recumbent tombs of the dead in desert places,
Standing stones on the vacant wine-red moor,
Hills of sheep, and the howes of the silent vanished races,
And winds, austere and pure.
And he would have well understood the wistful words of another Scot of a later date, sick and exiled in distant Samoa:
Be it granted me to behold you again in dying,
Hills of home! and to hear again the call;
Hear about the graves of the martyrs the peewees crying,
And hear no more at all.
When but a boy of seven, M’Culloch began to be serious about religion, and remembered later how he was brought into further concern when about thirteen years of age under the preaching of Mr. Ker, minister at Wigtown (1701 — 29). About this time he became a communicant. * (Anal. IV p 279.)
At the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, he laid the foundations of sound learning, graduating from Glasgow on 26 April 1712. He was a man of uncommon abilities, excelling in languages and mathematical subjects, and had unusual skill in Hebrew. * (Preface to M’Culloch mss. vol. I.) For a time he taught numerous classes of young men in Glasgow, constructing his own models for the classes in astronomy and geography. * (M’Culloch, W.: Sermons &c. Memoir.) Dean Stanley pays his own tribute to M’Culloch’s gifts and disposition when he asserts that ‘he was no wild fanatic, but a learned, unostentatious scholar, a slow, cautious and prudent parish minister’. * (Stanley, A. P.: The Church of Scotland. p 137.)
Despite his above-average scholarship, however, he had little gift for the pulpit. His own son writes that ‘he was not a very ready speaker; though eminent for learning and piety, he was not eloquent. . . his manner was slow and cautious, very different from that of popular orators’. * (M’Culloch, W.: Sermons &c. pp 15 — 16.) He was given the nickname of ‘yill or Ale-minister’ for, when he rose to speak, many of the audience left to quench their thirst in the public house. * (New Statistical Account. VI p 426.)
He was licensed to preach the gospel by the Presbytery of Wigtown in 1722, and lived mainly with Mr. Hamilton of Aithenhead, Cathcart, where he served as chaplain and tutor. This was a familiar and convenient arrangement whereby probationers supported themselves whilst waiting for a call to minister in some parish. * (Thomas Boston was with the Bruces of Kennet; Leechman with the Mures of CaIdwelI.) In 1723, Mr. Paul Hamilton, a planter and church official in Carolina, came to Glasgow, seeking for two ministers who would be willing to labour in that state. At first there was great difficulty in finding anyone, and on 6 February 1724 M’Culloch offered himself for this overseas work, but two candidates, John Deans and William Maxwell, had already been ordained for this ministry and so he was not accepted. * (Anal. III pp 131, 132 Glasgow Pres. Recs. 22, 23 January, 6 February, 1724.) The Presbytery of Glasgow was unwilling to ordain him in the absence of any definite vacancy in Carolina, in spite of his great inclination to go abroad. Seven years later, M’Culloch spoke of this episode to Robert Wodrow who commented that ‘he was made very much to question matters, and came to a peremptory resolution to leave the country, and go where he was not knouen’. When, however, M’Culloch opened the Bible at the first chapter of Jonah, he was dumbfounded and abandoned his purpose. [His only son Robert lived as a merchant in America before returning to Scotland to study for the ministry * (Anal. IV p 279. M’Culloch’s only son Robert turned first to the mercantile profession and went to America where he lived for a short time before returning to Scotland to complete his suspended studies in divinity. So writes his daughter (Memoirs &c of Mrs. Coutts. p 10)].
In the following year, 1725, M’Culloch was singled out for honour. Thomas Crawford of Crawfordsburn had endowed a yearly sermon to be preached by a probationer named by the ministers of Glasgow. This discourse, A Sermon against the Idolatrous Worship of the Church of Rome, Preached in the New-Church of Glasgow, the Fifth of November 1725, was the only one published by M’Culloch himself and was ‘done entirely in Compliance with the Unanimous Desire of the General Session of this City; without which all Private Sollicitations of Friends had been to no Effect’.
Printed by Robert Sanders of Glasgow, the sermon, consisting of forty-eight printed pages, had for its text, ‘Then Jesus answered and said Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve (Matthew 4. 10). M’Culloch began by drawing attention to the ‘Popish Pretender, sitting under the Pope’s nose at Rome, who does not want [lack] his Powerful Friends abroad, and . . . too many Well-wishers among our selves, and our unhappy Divisions, Parties and Factions have not a little strengthned that Interest. * (M’Culloch, W.: A Sermon against Idolatrous Worship &c. p 3.)
The tone of the sermon is extremely moderate, in view of the times, and without biting invective. The fine distinctions made between ‘latria’ and ‘dulia’ are discussed, and extensive quotation made from prominent Roman Catholic writers, Bellarmine, Cajetan, Thomas Aquinas and others, with several lengthy excerpts from the Council of Trent. In truly modern style, he argues from philology: ‘’Tis true indeed, the word ONLY is not in the Hebrew Text from whence our Saviour cites this Law . . . But the order of the words in the Original requires this Addition . . . that the Reader may be appriz’d of this peculiar force. Accordingly, not only the ‘Seventy’ but the ‘Vulgar Latin’ read the words there, as our Saviour does here.’ * (Ibid. p 34.)
After lamenting that many Disputes and Controversies among Protestants have been managed with undue Heat and over-eager Contention, he comes to a conclusion that is characteristic of the man, in its appeal to reality in practice. In the last paragraph he warns his hearers that, although they might detest popish idolatry, they should also take heed ‘they be not involv’d in another sort of Idolatry, no less ruining and destructive to the Soul. A Man may renounce Romish idolatry and may seemingly have a great deal of Zeal for Gospel Purity, and be often talking of the Pattern in the Mount, and yet if he have the World set in his Heart, if he say to Gold, Thou art my Hope, and to fine Gold, Thou art my Confidence; if he trust in uncertain Riches, and not in the Living God, he is as rank an Idolater as the Papists that worship Saints and Angels: nay, as the Pagan that bows to Stocks and Stones.’ * (Ibid. p 47.)
One is left to wonder what the captains of industry and the leaders of the city’s life, ‘the princes of the Plainstones with their scarlet cloaks and gold-headed canes, growing richer every day by the lucrative tobacco trade * (Strang, J.: Glasgow and its Clubs. pp 40 — I.) and other industries, thought of the peroration. It does reveal in the preacher utter sincerity and courage, one who could speak the truth, and speak it in love.
It may well be that this printed sermon drew the attention of the parish of Cambuslang towards the preacher, for on 8 April 1726 the Presbytery of Hamilton noted that the ‘Paroch of Kambuslang. . . having applyed for a hearing of Mr. M’Culloch Chaplain to Aithenhead. . . did invite the sd. Mr. M’Culloch to preach before Them at yr next meeting at Hamilton and to bring His Testimonials with him.’ * (Hamilton Pres. Recs.)
Five years later, after being a probationer for nine years, M’Culloch found himself at the threshold of his life’s work as minister of Cambuslang. He could never have foreseen, nor could any have predicted, what were to be the fruits of this long- deferred task.
When the new minister entered upon his duties in the parish, it was in the face of formidable difficulties. We have already seen how the feeble health of his predecessor had led to wide-spread neglect of the spiritual interests of the people, and the bickering preceding M’Culloch’s settlement, which had antagonised his leading heritor, was followed by continuing friction.
For the first three years he did not dispense the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the parish and, when the Presbytery investigated this matter, his defence was that in 1731 he had not sufficient elders; in the following year, he deemed it necessary to instruct his flock and to get to know them better; in 1733, he was sick. One writer suggests that his excuse reads rather lamely, * (Brown, J. T.: Cambuslang &c. p 46.) but we do know from his session records that in 1733 he suffered from a sore Rheumatic fever, and two years later a committee of masons and wrights reported about the state of the manse at Cambuslang that it needed the low floor next to the kitchen pavemented, and the windows needed storm-shutters to keep out rain. * (Hamilton Pres. Rees, 12 November 1735.) The neglected state of the parish must have had a depressing effect upon him and there is a very full record of how, four months after his ordination, he unburdened himself to Wodrow, the minister of Eastwood, whose inquisitive mind, percipient eye and fellow-feeling for all that is human have so enriched our knowledge of his times. Tortured by doubts about his own fitness for the sacred office, he sought out his senior colleague in August 1731.
‘He asked me whither I thought it warrantable and laufull . . for a Minister who knew he was not called of God, and who was nothing but a hollou hypocrite, to demitt his Ministry, and give way to another, who might be usefull? He opened his mind very fully to me. The main problem was that since his ordination, he has been preaching on Conversion, and the nature of it. . . and nou he thinks he is perfectly a stranger to this great work’.
Wodrow ‘presumed to say he had more of a call to the Ministry than severalls had atteaned to; and I took him to be of a thinking, melancholy disposition, and ready to dip too farr into things’ and pointed out to the troubled enquirer that it was thoughtful, studious persons who were chiefly haunted by doubts.
In his pastoral duties, M’Culloch had been compelled to examine his own experience. ‘He is also much damped in conversation with his people, and their telling him experiences he has been a stranger to. . . I hope the Lord has good to do by Mr. M’Culloch and is training him to be usefull’. * (Anal. IV pp 279 — 81.)
It is easy to sneer at the miracle-mongering minister of Eastwood and to dismiss him, as the prejudiced Henry Grey Graham does, as ‘an inquisitive, garrulous, credulous man whose ears were erect at every tale of wonder’; * (Graham, H. G.: Social Life of Scotland &c. p 347. For an unbiased appreciation of Wodrow vide articles by W. J. Couper [Records S.C.H.S. III pp 112 — 34.; v pp 238 — 50]) but, is there not something almost prophetic about this opinion on so unpromising an evangelist, whose success Wodrow never saw?
Nor can we doubt the wisdom of Wodrow’s advice to his troubled colleague, who was suffering from ‘a violent pain in his hind-head with the rack of thought and contrary tydes. I advised him to riding-exercise. . . but that, it seems, he much declines and gives himself too much to thought and solitude’.
Five years after his ordination, M’Culloch married Janet Dinwoodie, daughter of a Glasgow merchant; * (In the Register for the Widow’s Fund, Presbytery of Glasgow, she is known as Janet Dinwoodie. M’Culloch was admitted as a Burgess and gild brother of Glasgow on 14 September 1744 [Glasgow Burgh Records. VI p 184.]) William Hamilton, son of the former minister of Cambuslang, and minister of Douglas in the Presbytery of Lanark (1721 — 69), was married to Christian, also a daughter of Robert Dinwoodie. Hamilton was to be one of the band of ministers who helped his brother-in-law during the revival days. The parish of Cambuslang had had a long connection with evangelical religion, and the new minister would find in the records of the kirk session and the history of the parish much to remind him of the price paid by both ministers and people in former days. On all sides, he would meet the very namesakes and direct descendants of these sufferers for the truth.
There was the bold John Howison, minister of Cambuslang (1580 — 1618), a champion of the popular cause who, when moderator of the Presbytery, preached in Glasgow Cathedral in June 1582. At the behest of the provost, he was dragged from the pulpit, ‘smote on the face, pulled by the beard, one of his teeth beat out, and put in the tolbuith lyke as a theefe by the provost, and bailies and their complices’. * (Brown, J. T.: ut supra. p 22.) Two years later, preaching this time in Blackfriars, Edinburgh, he attacked the ‘Tulchan’ bishops and affirmed: ‘There is ane heid of the kirk made; there being nae heid but Jesus Christ, nor cannot be’. Then, warming to his subject. . . ‘For my ain part I ken I will be noted, I regard not. What can the king get of me but my heid and my bluid?’ * (Original in MS State Paper Office, Accusation of Howison [quoted Brown. p 26. Fasti. III I 234 — 6]) For his outspokenness he was imprisoned in Falkland Palace. So bold a man could not fail to mould his parishioners, amongst whom he was to die in 1618. Nor did his reputation depend entirely upon fearless polemic. Under his dour boldness was a kindly heart. He founded the first public school in Cambuslang; in 1613 he endowed a bursary in the University of Glasgow to help needy students, which still continues the work he thus began.
Upon the shelves in M’Culloch’s library we may be sure there was a copy of The Fulfilling of Scripture, published in Rotterdam by a former minister of the parish, Robert Fleming. He had come to Cambuslang in 1653 as a sickly youth of twenty-three, and was one of the many ministers outed in 1662 for refusing to abjure the Covenant. Conventicle preacher, prisoner and exile, he was a devout and pious man. . . full of love and of a peaceable temper. * (Fasti. III p 237; W. Stevens: History of the Scots Kirk, Rotterdam. p 113.) The Episcopalian minister who took Fleming’s place, David Cunningham, found the parish in an almost continuous state of uproar and during his incumbency (1666 — 88) there are no minutes of any meeting of session. * (Wilson, J. A.: History of Cambuslang. p 85.) The era of persecution had begun and, in 1662, two of the leading parishioners were fined £600 and £1000 Scots, and one of these, Gabriel Hamilton of Westburn, was committed to prison in 1676 and fined £1000 merks ‘for keeping conventicles’. He was still in prison seven years later.
Two of Fleming’s elders were brought to account. In 1664 John Corsbie (or Crosbie) in Easter-cotes was driven from his home for refusing to assist the new minister in cases of discipline. Robert Hamilton in Spittal in 1666 was ‘put to the horn’, i.e. outlawed, and his house searched and spoiled. * (Wodrow, Robert: History of the Sufferings Etc. II p 3.) At the first meeting of session after the reestablishment of Presbyterian church government, 15 June 1690, these two were named as elders. * (Quoted Wilson: ut supra. p 88.) With them is one John Arbuckle, a name associated with the eldership of Cambuslang for over a hundred years.
In 1687, fifty men and two officers of Athol’s Highland Host were billeted on John Corsbie for eight days and twenty-two men on James Jackson (another name found in the list of elders in 1742). In 1679, more soldiers were settled at Cambuslang for five weeks and levied £861 from the parish.
M’Culloch’s ministry began among a people who had had direct and, in some cases, personal experiences of suffering for their faith. This long-continued resistance to civil and ecclesiastical tyranny brought some less desirable consequences in its train, and a legacy of extremism was left to trouble the life of the parish. The ministry of M’Culloch’s immediate predecessor, Archibald Hamilton, would do little to discourage this spirit.
The flames of ecclesiastical controversy, which had been damped down a little during the reign of William III, blazed out again in the closing days of his successor Anne, owing to the imposition of the Abjuration Oath in 1712. We noticed earlier how this measure became a source of violent discord throughout the land.
Robert Wodrow was a declared non-juror, and wrote on 5 November 1712 that it would be sinful for him to take the oath; he was honest enough to say that he dared not go to the length of condemning his brethren who thought otherwise. ‘I firmly believe them men of conscience, and of the same principles with me, and many of them live and lie much nearer God than I do. . . . If you think me lax and latitudinarian, I cannot help it. O scientia charitas!’ * (Wodrow: Correspondence. I p 330; also I p 340 fn.)
But he does express strong dissatisfaction with the somewhat irresponsible conduct of many who, like himself, refused the Oath, and especially mentions the minister of Cambuslang. The last day for subscribing the Oath was 28 October 1712, but on 30 October Hamilton read out from his pulpit the reasons for which he could not take it. ‘This makes some noise here, and I wish had been foreborne’, * (Ibid. I pp 339 — 40.) writes Wodrow, who conjectures that this will be misconstrued as an attempt to curry favour with the people. I am informed some of his hearers were much satisfied. * (Ibid. I p 350.)
There were at work in the west of Scotland more inflammatory influences than Mr. Hamilton. Mr. Addison (or Adam-son), a Perthshire catechist, came into the Hamilton Presbytery in April 1713. Preaching upon the blind man who came to Christ and cast away his garments, he told his audience what garments they ought to cast away. He began with the garment of the Union, that of the Patronages, that of the Tolleration, that of the Oath of Abjuration! These are his common topicks, and render him very popular. * (Anal. I pp 242 — 3.)
This peripatetic enthusiast created a sensation in the west. He refused to take collections gathered for him, apart from as much as was needed to get a new suit of clothes. At Kilbride, Addison declared: ‘that as among the twelve Disciples there was one Judas, soe nou among twelve Ministers there could be found eleven Devils! he cryes out against the Revolution as built upon a heap of dirt’. Almost two years later, July 1714, we learn that Mr. Adamson is raging like a madman in his sermon, in Hamiltoun, Lanerk and Air Presbytery. . . . ‘He is soe violent, he cannot continou long.’ * (Anal. II pp 244, 263, 285.) Eventually this wild work in the bounds of Glasgow and Hamilton . . nauseous stuff * (Wodrow: ut supra. I p 529.) was brought to an end when Addison refused to appear before a commission of the Assembly, and turned Independent.
The fanaticism of Addison and the impetuosity of Hamilton had its own peculiar appeal to the ultra-Covenanting faction, with their almost anarchic defiance of authority. In 1720, a Protest and Testimony was handed in to the session of Cambuslang by Hugh Cumin. He inveighed against ‘all defections contrary to the Word of God and our Covenant engagements, National and Solemn League and Covenant’ and protested about the character of some scandalous persons who had been made officers in the kirk. If things were rectified, Cumin concluded: ‘I promise to hear the Gospel in this place, as witness my hand at Coates the twentieth of April 1720’.
Hugh Cumin became an elder at Cambuslang, and was honoured as Presbytery elder in 1733 and 1737; he was to be a storm-centre for several years. It was Cumin, and other extremists in M’Culloch’s session, who eventually brought about a crisis that culminated in an open breach. Couper, writing in his Scottish Revivals, says: It is now impossible to discover what was the subject of dispute or to follow the proceedings taken. About 1745 when a better day had dawned, the session considered that it would not ‘answer any valuable purpose of edification to transmit to posterity the remembrance of that unhappy breach and destroyed all the papers connected with the matter, especially as all “partys . . . signified their desire that it might be buried in oblivion”.’
Fortunately for the historian, the session was unable to mutilate the records of the Presbytery of Hamilton, and within its pages there is a very full account of these events. If we bring to view again what these good men wished to obliterate, it will serve to make even plainer something of M’Culloch’s problems with his strong-minded leaders, and also show what a reconciling power was inherent in the revival of 1742.
On 26 February 1740, John Bar, Presbytery elder for Cambuslang, gave in to the Presbytery of Hamilton a ‘Petition and Complaint against His Brethren Elders of the sd. Paroch’. After asserting that he had behaved inoffensively towards all men since his ordination as an elder at Cambuslang seven years before, Bar tells how he visited the kirk at Mearns on Sacrament Sunday, 27 May 1739.
We take up Bars own story as told to the Presbytery of Hamilton: ‘Upon the Thursday following being the fast day preceeding the sacrament in Cambuslang my Brethren Elders being mett in Session charged my being att Mearns as an high misdemenour, a breach of office, a Crime worthy of Censure and declared Their resolution of deserting Their office if I should officiate . . . Upon the Sabbath when the Minister desired the Elders to do Their duty, They refused and keept their seats till I, conscious of no crime worthy of such treatment, purely for the peace of the Congregation and Decency on such occasions left the Church and went to the Tent to the great grief of my mind and scorn of many beholders.’ * (Hamilton Pres. Recs.)
The petitioner then went on to tell of his long search for some happy expedient to bring peace — and almost nine months had passed since his being boyeotted at the Sacrament — yet all to no purpose, for no concession by me, pains by others or length of time can prevail, but on the contrary by some pretended sentence or supposition of a sentence of my Brethren, I am either Deposed or suspended from my office by Them without ever the least conviction of a Crime. Bar, therefore, laid his case before the Presbytery, asking that he might suffer suitable punishment if adjudged criminal and ‘if innocent, I may be acquit and my innocence appear and I do Protest that this my complaint does not flow from any resentment or Divisive Design’.
Certain elders from Cambuslang were cited to the next meeting of Presbytery, viz Archibald Couper, Hugh Cumin, Archibald Fyfe, John Strang and Andrew Fyfe. On 10 April 1740 these men gave in their written reply, complaining that John Bar refused to give a satisfying answer when asked whether he had been at Mearns. His going there was ‘Invading the Elders office’ — he had helped to gather the collection for the poor — and by doing so he had given offence to the congregation and session at Cambuslang.
Immediately after this complaint, apparently so trivial, the elders revealed stronger objections: ‘Therefore We desire the Presbytery may let us see that Patronage is agreeable to the word of God or else we can not in conscience Joyn with John Bar Psal. 74, 5, 6 but now they have broken down the Carved work with axes and hammers’, and they go on to declare that they had been denied a free voice in the session at Cambuslang. Apparently, at the sacrament when the breach became evident, M’Culloch had called on the ministers present, Mr. Connell of East Kilbride and Mr. Henderson of Blantyre, to bear witness should any elder draw back through needless scruples. ‘Therefore he’, goes on the written reply, ‘reckoning that to be needless scruples which others reckon matter of conscience We let the Presbytery know that we are not wearied of our Master’s service but Lament we cannot exercise government in God’s house. We could keep Session with our Neighbour ministers if the Presbytery appointed one to Moderate with us.’
After a long discussion with the elders, who persisted in the same mind, the Presbytery unanimously asserted the innocence of John Bar and declared that M’Culloch should administer a ‘Very Particular Rebuke’ to the elders who were introducing various dissorders and confusions in this church, contrary to the Spirit of peace, holyness and Love. But the obdurate elders ‘refused to submit to the Rebuke and Appealed to the Tribunal of Christ’.
The kirk session, including John Bar, was appointed to meet on Thursday, 8 May, but M’Culloch had to report that only John Bar and James Jackson had attended, and the latter had said that ‘in his own mind he had no difficulty as to His sitting in Session with John Bar yet being afraid of the Clamour of the People of the Paroch he declined to sit in Session with him at this time’. Evidently there were rigorists in the congregation as well as in the session. On 24 June the Presbytery deposed the objecting and recalcitrant elders from their office.
On 29 July 1740 a long paper was brought to the Presbytery by Archibald Couper on behalf of the deposed elders; he asked permission for it to be read and inserted in the records, which was done. In it they speak ‘of the affair betwixt Mr. M’Culloch and us and also betwixt John Bar and us’ and complain that the Presbytery had ignored their previous request to let us see that Patronage is agreeable to the Word of God.
Reference is made to the resistance shown by the parish to the proposed settlement of Mr. Findlater, the binding obligation of the Confession of Faith and to both the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant. Any deviation from these would be a ‘betrayal of our late sufferers and even to any at present whether Ministers or Christians that are setting up for Reformation Principles. If we should go in with the guizers of the time as they now occurr to us we must necessarily go contrary to our own light and likewayes to both publick and private Engagements. . . Therefore we desire through Grace to own all our Covenanted Principles and Especially Christ’s Headship in His own House and we reckon whatever invasions be made by any Judicatory upon His Kingly office must be Void and Null in itself.’
After this there is reference to the defections of the times and the denial of the Presbyterian principles . . ‘so that we being driven to this extremity by Ecclesiastical oppression and considering that so many honest Ministers are Deposed for owning the same Reformation Principles we cannot think that those Decisions can possibly agree with the Word of God and our approven standards’.
In the final paragraph of this lengthy justification, they deny and defy the prerogatives of the Presbytery as a superior court. ‘We further Protest that this unwarrantable sentence shall no wayes alienate our office and Character as Elders and office-bearers in the Church of Christ. . . and we have as full liberty and Power to exercise the same when called thereto as if no such sentence had been passed, and that our office and Character shall no more come under the Cognizance and inspection of the Presbytery untill They come to own Reformation Principles . . . we hereby Decline Them as not acting as a Lawfull and Right constitute Court of Christ the alone King and Head of His own Church. . . and we hereby may Apply or Appeal unto the first Lawfull and Right constitute Court of Christ for redress . . . Sic Subts.
Archibald Couper How Cummin Archibald Fyfe
James Turnbull I. S. (John Strang?) Andrew Fyfe.’
In the following year, 1741, there was no elder appointed to Presbytery from Cambuslang, but on 22 April 1742, after the revival began at that place, there came before the Presbytery Archibald Fyfe. . . and professed his Dissatisfaction with what he had done. Both M’Culloch and the Laird of Westburn sent letters pleading for him, and the sentence of deposition was accordingly removed.
Embodied within the ‘reasons of Protest, Declinature and Appeal’ given by the deposed elders, are further evidences of another of the problems facing M’Culloch. The reference to Ecclesiastical Oppression and that so many honest Ministers are Deposed for owning the same Reformation Principles points directly to the controversy around the Secession of 1733. Here are the very echoes of Ebenezer Erskine’s famous sermon at Stirling. The Seceding Brethren, now eight in number, had been solemnly deposed by the General Assembly on 1 May 1740, only two months before the protest of the Cambuslang elders. Adherents to their cause were already meeting in Glasgow.
At first there was no fixed place of assembly in that city for those who sought fellowship with the Seceders. One venue is designated Rochesay, the property of William Letham of the Barony parish; others are Bogton, near Cathcart; Balscragrie, the modern Balshagray; Petershill in the Springburn district and Dildue, now Daldowie. These places are named in the minutes of those societies for prayer which were later to form the first Secession church in Glasgow. * (Historical Sketch, Greyfriars Church. p 28.)
In June 1739 a sympathiser, ‘William Thomson, Esq., of Corshill in the parish of Cathcart’, offered the lease of a piece of ground where public worship might be regularly held, and a session was formally constituted in February 1740. To this spot there travelled continually many members of the Cambuslang congregation. The three daughters of the elder already noted in Bars case, James Jackson, were all in the habit of going to ‘hear the North Country Ministers at Corsehill’ of whom they ‘had a great opinion’. Another young woman, Mary Mitchell, went to hear the Seceders because ‘I saw Many others going’. This must have given M’Culloch * (M’C. Mss. vol. I p 94.) some anxious thought; yet, in spite of the problems facing him, the disruptiveness of extremists and the counter-attractions of the Seceders, there were also many things to warm his heart. It was during the first decade of M’Culloch’s ministry that the fresh winds of revival began to blow in several countries, in some measure providing an answer to the indifference begotten of that age of light without love.
At Freehold, New Jersey, there began an awakening in 1730: this was the first place in the East-Jersey to be settled with a gospel ministry and this was owing . . . under GOD to some Scots People, that came to it, among whom there was none so painful in this blessed Undertaking as one Walter Ker; who in the Year 1685 for his faithful and conscientious Adherence to GOD and his Truth as professed by the Church of Scotland, was there apprehended, and sent into this Country, under a Sentence of perpetual Banishment. . . He is yet alive (October 11, 1744) . . . being in his 88th Year. * (Letter in The Christian History written by Rev. Wm. Tennent, ed T. Prince 1744. pp 298 — 9. ‘Vide Register of the Privy Council of Scotland. vol. XI (third series) 168 — 6 ed H. Paton, p 173, for edict of banishment.) In 1734 there followed the Great Awakening at Northampton under the leadership of Jonathan Edwards.
From about 1730, Wales heard and sang the new music of the gospel as brought by men like Griffith Jones, and from 1735 by Daniel Rowland, Howell Harris and Howell Davis. George Whitefield was, as he wrote in his Diary, ‘brought into the Knowledge of His free grace’ about Whitsun 1735 and soon began his apostolic labours. John Wesley heart was strangely warmed on 24 May 1738.
There was a breaking-out of new life in many places; a spiritual spring-tide. News of these unusual events was carried far and wide by printed pamphlets, and never was there such an age for voluminous letter-writing. It is not easy to trace any definite connection between these movements and the little community in Cambuslang, and yet there is something infectious about such happenings, and earnest men must have longed and prayed for some new throbbing of power within their own sphere.
We have hinted at the probability of Robert Fleming’s book, The Fulfilling of Scripture, being in the manse at Cambuslang; in it there was much to inspire, with its record of previous similar spiritual awakenings. In its pages M’Culloch would read of ‘that large measure of the Spirit, and out-letting thereof which did convincingly follow the Gospel and ministry of the word in these last times . . . no lesse than in the first planting of the Christian church’. * (Fleming, R.: Fulfilling &c. p 241.) Fleming was writing in 1669.
First he tells of events about the year 1625, during days of persecution, which ‘by the prophane rabble of that time was called the Stewarton Sickness’. At ‘lrwine and Stewarton’, under the ministry of Mr. Dickson, ‘many were choaked and taken by the heart. . . that in hearing of the word, they have been made to fall over, . . who after proved most solid and lively Christians’. Many then alive recalled that ‘few Sabbaths did passe without some evidently converted’.
How the heart of the earnest pastor at Cambuslang must have stirred as he read on: ‘and truely, this great spring tide which I may so call of the Gospel, was not of a short time, but for some yeares continuance, yea thus like a spreading moor-burn, the power of Godliness did advance from one place to another’! * (Ibid. p 243.)
Fleming then goes on to tell of that solemn Communion at the Kirk of the Shots, June 20 1630, at which time there was so convincing an appearance of God, and down-pouring of the Spirit. . . that it was known, which I can speak on sure ground, near 500 had at that time a discernable change wrought on them, of whom most proved lively Christians afterward. It was the sowing of a seed through Clidesdeal [ie Clydesdale], so as many of the most eminent Christians in that countrey, could date either their conversion, or some remarkable confirmation in their case from that day’. * (Ibid. p 244.) The account of John Livingston’s reluctance to preach, the many hundreds spending the whole night in prayer, and the testimony of Livingston that success was mainly due in getting his heart brought into the right disposition must have made a powerful appeal to one of M’Culloch’s temperament.
This account by Fleming of the fruitfulness of the ‘out-lettings at Stewarton and Shotts’ was also corroborated by a contemporary of M’Culloch, Patrick Walker (1666 — 1745), the Cameronian pedlar, the packman writer of vivid simple prose. In his book, Six Saints of the Covenant, he quotes his friend, George Barclay, a Covenanting preacher, as saying that ‘above all places in Scotland, he found the greatest gale upon his spirite upon the water of Clide: which he attributed much to the plentiful successful prayers of some of the old Christians, and their offspring, who got a merciful cast of free grace, when casts were a dealing at the Kirk of Shotts, the 20th of June 1630, which perfumed and gave a scent to the overward of Clidesdale above all other places, but, alas! is now much gone. * (Walker, P.: Six Saints &c. vol. I p 337.)
All M’Culloch’s own experience would lead him to endorse this judgment of Walkers, for Cambuslang itself was in Clydesdale and had its own witnesses to the continuity of that work of a hundred years earlier. His brooding, earnest spirit would have accepted Walkers verdict, set forth in the Preface to his Life of Peden, ‘being perswaded that if ever the Lord pity this weather-beaten Sardis, Laodicean Church, and send forth a thaw-wind, and spring-tide day of the gospel, to thaw the frozen face of affairs, as was at Stewartoun, and spread through the west of Scotland as muir-burn. . . a hundred years since, and at the kirk of Shots five years thereafter. . . many other things that now are wersh [Scots, insipid] and unsavoury, will come in request again’. * (Ibid. vol. I pp 4I — 2.)
One thing at least was certain; in these former classic examples of powerful movements of the Spirit, prayer was central in each situation. Fleming had instanced John Welsh, associated with M’Culloch’s own native south-west, as giving eight hours out of every twenty-four to prayer, spending days and nights in fasting and intercession. ‘It was his use on the coldest winter nights, to rise for prayer. . . he hath been found lying on the ground weeping, and wrestling with the Lord. . . once, overcharged with grief he told his wife he had that to presse him which she had not, the soules of 3000 to answer for, whilest he knew not how it was with many of them’. * (Fleming, R.: Fulfilling &c. p 250.)
This was one step that could be taken by both minister and congregation, and so we are not surprised to learn that societies for prayer began to be revived in Cambuslang.
M’Culloch himself remembered in 1751 ‘that in 1731, when I came to this parish, there were 3 of these meetings in it. In 1742, they encreased to a dozen or more. * (Kilsyth Narrative. p 316.)
It is time for us to investigate these societies for prayer, to see their composition and practice, and to make some assessment of their place in the revival of 1742.
The renaissance emphasis on the value of the individual was taken over by Luther and other Reformation leaders in the sixteenth century, giving strength to the doctrine of the priest-hood of all believers — the one great religious principle which lies at the basis of the whole Reformation movement, as Principal Lindsay once said in his History of the Reformation. * (Lindsay, T. M.: History of the Reformation. I p 444.)
Luther himself breaking with the ecclesiastical hierarchy of his day, found strength in, and gave help to, the laity. Says the historian of the Reformation, quoting Luther: ‘All believing laymen “are worthy to appear before God, to pray for others, to teach each other mutually the things that are of God”. Even in the celebration of the holiest rites, there was no distinction . . . At the Eucharist . . “we all kneel beside him (our priest or minister) and around him, men and women, young and old, master and servant, mistress and maid, all holy priests together . . . We are there in our priestly dignity”.’ * (Ibid. I pp 443 – 4) Luther proposed to establish religious societies throughout Germany, consisting of small groups of believers, enrolled by name and meeting for prayer, reading the Scriptures, administering the sacraments and engaging in works of charity. No elaborate liturgy was laid down, but Christian laymen with short and proper means directed all in common to the Word and prayer and charity. The aim was to nourish inward religion.
In the following century, when Lutheran orthodoxy had ossified into a narrow formalism, Philip Jakob Spener (1635 — 1705) called his congregation in 1669 to seek after a righteousness greater than that of mere conformity to the commonly accepted external pattern. Soon large numbers of his people were meeting in small groups in various private homes to discuss practical religion. They were the ‘ecclesiolae in ecclesia’. * (Vide. McGiffert, A. C.: Protestant Thought before Kant. pp 155 — 62.)
In his ‘Pia Desideria’ which appeared at Frankfort in 1675, Spener advocated the earnest study of the Bible and the co-operation of laymen in the spiritual guidance of the congregation as means to the reviving of religion. Largely a lay movement, this new school of ‘pietists’ established their influence in the newly-founded university of Halle, established in 1694, to which one of their leaders, Francke, was appointed as professor of theology. Thousands of students flocked there from all parts: pietism became the dominant force in German religious life. Francke promoted in Halle ragged schools and orphanages, which were much later to inspire George Muller to a similar venture in Bristol; to Halle, the king of Denmark sent men to be trained as missionaries, and the great work at Tranquebar in India began in 1706; the Moravian leader, Zinzendorf who organised the ‘Unitas Fratrum’ in 1727, was Spener’s godson and pupil. When the two Wesley brothers sailed for Georgia in October 1735 there were twenty-six Moravians from the ‘Unitas Fratrum’ on board, whose courage in time of storm impressed John Wesley greatly. On 6 November he began to read a new book, the ‘Pietas Hallensis’ by A. H. Francke. * (The Journal of John Wesley (ed Curnock). I p 116.)
Similar movements to that in Germany were taking place in other European countries, and especially in Holland, which had provided asylum for so many religious refugees in the latter half of the seventeenth century. One group of exiled ministers met weekly for prayer, and included Mr. Howe, famous for his intercessions. About 1686, at one of these gatherings, it was Mr. Howe’s turn to pray; he did so with such fervour ‘that the sweet haled doun. Mrs. Hou his wife, knouing his manner, and that it would not divert him, in the time of it, stepped to him gently, took off his wigg, and with her naphin dryed the sweet, and put on his wigg again. * (Anal. III p 303.) James Hog, later of Carnock, writing in his memoirs under the name of Philomathes, tells of his studies at one of the Dutch universities, and of meeting with those who conversed together about the great salvation, and poured out their hearts unto the Lord in prayer with one accord. *(Memoir of James Hog (ed Bruce) 1798. p 10.) As a tutor in a noble family there, he associated with excellent ones of the earth who met in societies . . . several of considerable quality. * (Ibid. p 22.)
Religious societies, meeting for prayer and Bible reading, were also to be found in England during the seventeenth century. When Robert Baillie was in London for the Westminster Assembly, he wrote home to Scotland on 10 August 1645: ‘Truely the godly here are a praying people’, * (The Letters & Journal of Robert Baillie (ed D. Laing). II p 305.) and he notes that many met often in private houses. Writing in 1724, about eighty years later, Wodrow speaks of the news from his friend Mr. Kemp who lived in London. There ‘he joyned in a privat fellouship-meeting, who conveened every Munday, about six of the clock, and spent some hours in prayer and conference, where he was much refreshed. He adds, that ther are multitudes of these meetings, both of young men and elder persons in London. * (Anal. III p 371.)
In 1727, Wodrow recorded with sorrow that his friend John Stirling, Principal of Glasgow University, had died; for seventeen years, they had ridden together three times each year to Assemblies and Commissions in Edinburgh. * (Ibid. III pp 444 — 6.) In the library of the University of Glasgow there is a slim volume, An Account of the Rise and Progress of the Religious Societies in the City of London by Josiah Woodward, D.D., Minister of Poplar, 3rd Edition, printed in 1701. It is a very full and exact account of the remarkable growth of societies for prayer in London. Written in ink on the title-page is ‘Ex Libris Bibliotheca civitatis Glasg: Empt prop Acced sumpt 1702 Jo: Stirling Principle’. Was this little book ever in the pocket, or saddle-bag, of the Principal of the University as he jogged along with Wodrow to do the business of the church in the capital?
These societies of which Woodward wrote began in London about 1678, although there were some in other places who knew nothing of these London-Societies. Similar groups had brought great benefits to the Sister-Kingdoms of Scotland and Ireland. Dr. Frank, Professor of Divinity in the City of Hall in Saxony, had written on 21 January 1700 to inform Woodward that his book had been translated into German, and that encouraging news was to hand from France, Switzerland, and the Rhineland. * (Woodward, J.: Account of the Rise of the Religious Societies. pp 4, 6, 7 - 9. [Vide also an excellent modern study, Voluntary Religious Societies 1520 - 1799. F. W. B. Bullock, 1963.])
The inspirer of this development in London was Dr. Anthony Horneck (1641 — 97), who came from Heidelberg to England about 1661, and was appointed preacher at the Savoy. Some young men who were disturbed by his preaching discussed the matter with him, and drew up some rules of conduct ‘whereby Poor Families have been reliev’d, some Poor People set into a way of Trade, sundry Prisoners set at Liberty, some Poor Scholars furthered at the University, and several Orphans maintain’d’. * (Ibid. pp 23 — 4.)
During the reign of James II they paid for public prayers to be said at St. Clement Danes every evening and, when persecution became more intense, rather than endanger their friends, ‘they adjourn’d to some Publicke-House where they could have a Room to themselves; and under the Pretext of spending a Shilling or two, they conferr’d seriously together as formerly’. Evangelistic in spirit, they resolved to try and bring one friend each to their various meetings, and Woodward records that there were forty distinct groups at the time of writing. * (Ibid. pp 28 — 9, 40.)
Some criticised this development as the beginning of yet another sect, but every member of the societies had to confess himself of the Church of England, frequent communion was obligatory upon them, nothing was permitted without the express consent of their minister and they had the blessing of the Bishop of London. They were active supporters of the Honourable Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. . . setting up about 40 Schools in this City and Suburbs. . . where over a thousand children were taught freely. Hearing of ‘The Reverend Doctor Bray’s pious Intentions of improving the Knowledge and Practice of the Gospel in our Plantations’ they had ‘readily contributed One Hundred Pounds’. * (Ibid. pp 94 — 5.)
Similar societies had been set up in Oxford and Cambridge; * (Ibid. p 46.) about twenty years later, the two Wesley brothers were at Oxford, where the ‘Methodist’ society was started. Whilst admitting the deep in influence exerted by Henry Scougal of Aberdeen upon John and Charles Wesley, it is probably going too far to assert, as D. Butler does, that in spirit and conception, the Oxford Club owed its inspiration to Henry Scougal, and the early origin of Methodism is to be found in the northern university town. * (Butler, D.: Henry Scougal and the Oxford Methodists. p 142.) As we have seen, such societies were already in vogue at Oxford before the Methodist undergraduates arrived there.
In a recent study of Samuel Walker and the eighteenth century revival movement in Cornwall, G. C. B. Davies has revealed how much this work was inspired by prayer societies on the pattern described by Woodward. At Truro the minister himself took charge of a group of mature Christians and taught them first; then they acted as lay-leaders to teach others in companies of five to eight persons. John Martyn, father of the famous missionary, Henry Martyn, was a member of Walker’s society. * (Davies, G. C. B: The Cornish Evangelicals 1735 — 1760. passim.)
When Principal Stirling read of the work of these societies in London, he would have no difficulty in recognising their kinship to a parallel movement in Scotland.
The Lollards of Kyle had met in groups towards the end of the fifteenth century to read a vernacular edition of Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible, made by Murdoch Nisbet. Later, copies of Tyndale’s translation were smuggled into Scotland by merchants trading chiefly from Leith, and read at dead of night in private houses. * (The Life of John Knox, ed T. M’Crie. p 16.) John Knox discloses how real was the value of such small groups meeting together for fellowship. Writing in 1558, he declared that despite ‘the tyranny of the Papisticall Kirk . . . the knowledge of God did wonderouslie increase within this realme, partlie by reading, partlie by brotherlye conferance, which in those dangerouse dayis was used to the comforte of many’. * (Knox, J.: Works (ed Laing). I p 61.)
In 1556 Knox was called to Geneva to pastor the church there; from the Continent he wrote a letter, 7 of July, 1557, to be circulated in the places where he had preached. First he pointed out that ‘the use of Godis hailie (i.e. holy) word’ was as necessary for them as nourishment and sunshine. . . . ‘And thairfoir, deir brethrene, yf that you luke for a lyfe to cum, of necessitie it is that ye exercise yourselves in the buke of the Lord your God. Lat na day slip over without sum comfort ressavit fra the mouth of God.’ * (This letter is printed in full in ‘The Life of Knox’, ed T. M’Crie. pp 349 — 52.) Family prayers are enjoined at least once a day for ‘within your awn housis ye are bishopis and kingis, your wyms, children, and familie ar your bishoprik and charge. . . thairfoir, I say, ye must mak thame partakeris in reading, exhortation, and in making commoun prayeris’. He then goes on to speak of his wish for weekly ‘assemblies of brethren’ and offers several practical instructions. After opening in prayer and invoking the help of the Holy Spirit, let ‘sum place of scripture be planelie and distinetlie red . . . whilk endit, gif any brother have exhortation, interpretatioun, or dout, lat him not feir to speik and move the same, sa that he do it with moderatioun, either to edifie or be edifeit . . Multiplicatioun of wordis, perplext interpretatioun and wilfulnes in reasonyng is to be avoydit at all tymes. * (Ibid. pp 350 — 1.)
In that Book of Common Order, commonly known as John Knox’s Liturgy, under the heading ‘Interpretation of the Scriptures’, it is laid down: ‘Every week once the Congregation assemble to hear some place of the Scriptures orderly ex-pounded. . . . at the which time it is lawful for every man to speak or enquire, as God shall move his heart and the text minister occasion, so it be without pertinacity or disdain, as one that rather seeketh to profit than to contend. * (Book of Common Order: John Knox’s Liturgy [ed Sprott]. p 19.) Even at this larger meeting of the congregation, the same aims were to be served as in the smaller groups.
During the bitter struggle to establish the first Reformation in Scotland, the leaders announced in 1558: It is thought ‘necessare, that doctrin, preacheing, and interpretatioun of Scriptures be had and used privatlie in qwyet houssis, without great conventionis of the people tharto.’ * (Knox: Works. I pp 275 — 6.) In that same year, Knox, facing opposition from the Queen Regent and the prelates, began to seek for some remedy, and decided ‘that the Brethren in everie toune at certain tymes should assemble togidder, to Commoun Prayeris, to Exercise and Reading of the Scripturis’.
This method proved to be so successful that within a few months elders were appointed to guide these groups for ‘at that tyme we had na publict ministeris on the worde; onlie did certane zelous men . . . exhorte thare brethrein, according to the giftes and graces granted unto thame’. Knox singles out five by name for special mention, and ‘these early and zealous friends of the Reformation, who undertook the office of Exhorters, were all laymen, with perhaps the exception of Robert Hamilton’. * (Ibid. pp 299 — 300. fn 2.)
Thus, from its earliest days, the reformed church in Scotland drew strength and inspiration from meetings for fellowship, which included prayer and Bible study, where all might contribute, if they were so minded, and where laymen of tried gifts taught with acceptance. If we have dwelt at some length on the influence of John Knox, both in precept and practice, it is because his shadow falls across the whole course of Scotland’s religious development.
In the troubled years of the seventeenth century, the small group served as a mainstay in time of stress. Thomas Hog was born in Ross-shire in 1628, and was later venerated as Hog of Kiltearn, a saintly man who prayed ‘tanta reverentia, ut si Deo, et tanta fiducia, ut si amico’ * (Memoirs of Mrs. Wm Veitch, Mr. Thomas Hog, &c. p 88.) [with as much reverence as if he were speaking to God, and with as much boldness as if he had been speaking to his friend]. It was under his inspiration that the ecclesiastically unofficial, but religiously recognised, order of evangelical laymen (the Men) came into being. * (Vide McInnes, C.: Evangelical Movements &c. pp 22 ff.) It was whilst Hog was a student at the University of Aberdeen, boarding in a private house, that he joined in worship daily with his fellow-boarders. One of these was a probationer for the ministry and acted as leader. After reading a portion of Scripture, he used to propose questions and difficulties to the rest from what they had read . . . He frequented praying societies. * (Memoirs of Mrs. Wm Veitch, Mr. Thomas Hog &c. pp 71 — 2.)
Henry Scougal (1650 — 78), the saintly Professor of Theology in King’s College, Aberdeen, memorialised in the University Chapel, where he lies buried, as ‘caeli avidus et caelo maturus’ (eager for heaven and ripe for heaven), had a somewhat similar experience to that of Hog. Scougal in his early days was made constant president among his fellow-students at their private meetings for prayer. * (Scougal: Life of God &c. (ed 1747). p 274.) Fervent Presbyterian and pious episcopalian were at one here.
A similar development to that in the north-east was also taking place in the south of Scotland. Praying societies became an expression of popular religion and a stimulus to it. There were some leaders of the church who sought to prevent them, fearing Independency, but the support of Samuel Rutherford, Robert Blair, David Dickson and John Livingstone prevented the Assembly of 1639 from taking too severe measures against ‘religious exercise in families’.
During the persecutions of the later Stuarts, the small groups meeting for prayer played a noble part in sustaining faith and courage. Religion was compelled more and more to become personal and inward. Alexander Peden, preaching in the open air at Glenluce in 1682, declared: ‘He is not worth his room in Scotland that prayeth not the half of his time . . O sirs! ye must pray ploughing, harrowing, and shearing, ay and at all your labour.’ At another similar occasion he said: ‘Sirs, I’ll tell you where the Kirk of God is — wherever there is a praying lad or lass at a dyke-side in Scotland.’
For many these were the oracles of God, and the popular heroes were the men who practised this preaching. The reputation of such ministers as Peter Kid, imprisoned on the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth for sixteen months, * (Fasti. III p 285.) has been handed down in the epitaph carved in the churchyard at Carluke:
A faithful, holy pastor here lies hid,
One of a thousand, — Mr. Peter Kid;
Firm as a stone, but of a heart contrite,
A wrestling, praying, weeping Israelite.
John Welsh of Irongray wrote his pamphlet ‘Fifty and Two DIRECTIONS’ to advise his congregation in days of persecution. * (Reprinted at Glasgow ‘by Alexander Miller and Sold in his Shop opposite to the well Salt Mereat’ c 1740.) In Direction XIII, he urges that the time which used to be set apart for worship on the Sabbath and other days should now be devoted to worship at home: ‘seeing publick Opportunities of hearing Preachings is taken away from you; lay a Law upon your selves, that what Time ye were used to spend in going to the Kirk, sitting in it, and going home, that ye spend that Time betwixt God and you in secret, and in your Families, either in Prayer or Reading the Scriptures, or Book of Martyrs.’ * (Ibid. p 24.)
Many of these societies that passed through the fires of persecution followed the lead of Cameron, Cargill and Renwick, to become the ‘United Societies’ as the intransigent Cameronians were pleased to call themselves. These persisted into the days of the Revolution Settlement of 1689, and refused to merge their identity in a church that had not sworn the Covenants.
But there were many other less extreme groups who chose to remain within the established church, holding their regular meetings in private houses on weekdays. Of them it has been finely said: ‘It is not hard to picture the men and their meetings. A lonely thatched cot on the moor, reached by miry roads and uncertain paths — the long trudge through the darkness, with hearts lifted up at the sight of the distant yellow light which marked their destination — the grizzled men, bowed with the weariness of unending labour, and the strong, silent women, still wearing the plaids which had sheltered them from the rawness of the night air — the humble furniture, and the dim light of the cottage, and the reverence which sat on every face and shewed itself at every word and in every gesture. When they met, they hardly greeted, and when they parted it was with the dryest words of farewell. For strangers they would have even a scantier welcome. They had not met for social amenities. The business which brought them from distant homes was prayer and the searching of Scripture and the discussion of the points of pure doctrine. Their theology was Calvinism, tempered by the tenderness of the theology of the Marrow, and their aim was personal holiness.’ * (Article by Prof Davidson (U.P. Magazine 1899) p 253.)
Many of the prayer societies must have conformed to this description, but it is far too sweeping a generalisation. Every kind of social class was to be found within them. Wodrow says of the Presbytery meeting in November 1729 that ‘we agreed that Ministers should meet for prayer, with their Sessions, monethly. . . we agreed to set up meetings for prayer among ourselves’. * (Anal. IV p 92. Vide The Carrick Class of Ministers [New Stat. Acc. V p 375].)
In the diary of Alexander Johnstone (1723 — 26) we have the chronicle of this overseer of roads in east Stirlingshire. A prominent elder in Bothkennar Church, he sat in the General Assembly. On Wednesday, 3 September 1723, his entry reads: ‘Met with the society for prayer, who had appointed this day from ten in the morning to six at night, to be spent in religious duties . . . The members present were Mr. Michael Menzies, advocate, Mr. John M’Cartney, Mr. George Andrew, mert, Thos. Ellot, writter, Mr. Halbert Munro, Mr. Charles Logan, student of divinity and myself.’ Here were men from the professions, some of the social leaders of the community. * (S.C.H.S. Recs. IV pp 266 - 72.)
Although both sexes must have been present in some districts, the custom grew up for men to meet with men, and women with women. Further divisions are made at times between married and single persons, and there is abundant evidence of meetings of children, run by the children themselves.
During his student days at Edinburgh University, John Erskine was connected with a society meeting weekly for prayer. It consisted of about twenty members, some of them belonging to families of considerable rank. * (Christian Repository 1819. pp 420 — 5. Review of The Life of Erskine.)
The primary business of the prayer societies was of a devotional nature, to read the Scriptures, to discuss practical doctrine and to pray. But often there were other developments; action took place at the level of aspiration. In 1731, Wodrow paid tribute to John Dundas of Philipstown, ‘Clerk to this Church twenty-eight years’ who was ill with jaundice, and with his name coupled that of Niccol Spence, his colleague in the management of church business. ‘These two, with Sir H. Cuningham, Sir Francis Grant, afterward Lord Cullen, James Steuart, Clerk of Edinburgh, Commissar Broady, Dr. Dundas, Sir Francis Pringle, Mr. George Meldrum, and some others, wer members of a Praying Society. . . about 1698.’ * (Anal. IV p 235. Wodrow speaks of a Manuscript Record of their weekly meetings and hopes to examine this and transmit the facts to posterity.) This privat meeting laid the first foundation of that noble designe of reformation of manners in King William’s time. . . about ten years after, they gave the first beginnings to the Society for Propagation of Christian Knouledge and Reformation of the Highlands and Islands, which has come to so great a lenth. Hou great a matter doth some times a little good fire kindle! They concerted subscriptions, they formed the charter to be expede by [the] Queen, and brought the matters to an excellent bearing; and all as a little weekly society for prayer and conference upon Christian purposes! There wer but eight or ten members, lauers. . . nou and then, some of the Ministers of Edinburgh met with them, and all they did was in concert with them, joyned with prayer.’ Thus was one of Scotland’s greatest educational, evangelical and missionary enterprises in the eighteenth century born!
Sometimes they took action concerning current affairs in church and state. In June 1712, Wodrow wrote: ‘I find addresses propagating up and doun the country; there is one from the Societys in Kilbride, Cambuslang, Carmonock, Gorbells, and Govan, in correspondence. One from the Praying Societys in Glasgow, James Aird is at it; anothere there from Rugland [ie Rutherglen]. These two last are very plain in declaring the Oath of Abjuration contrary to our knouen principles’. * (Anal. II p 55.)
If the societies were sometimes constrained to make protests about the action of government, they also rendered homely domestic ministries. Janet Hamilton, writing of the period around 1733 relates how, in cases of unusual suffering or distress, neighbours would assemble at the home of the sufferer, if this was convenient, and then, moved by strong compassion, each one would pray in turn for the one in need. *(Hamilton, Janet: Poems &c. p 188.)
In the second decade of the eighteenth century, the government of many of these societies was tightened up by the setting down of definite rules to cover the admission of members, their subsequent discipline, and guidance about topics for discussion.
On 29 October 1714, Ebenezer Erskine, his session clerk and fifteen others signed a list of rules drawn up to control the praying society of Portmoak in Fife. Meetings were to be held on the fifteenth and the last day of every month; a Moderator was to be chosen each half-year to take care of procedure. Privy censures, i.e. pointing out any faults to one another, usually the work of the kirk session, were instituted; reasons had to be given by members in the case of absence from the meetings, and several absences without due cause involved expulsion.
‘For admission into our Society, we shall not be too strict, nor too large’, says Rule 7, and so the weak in gifts were welcomed, whilst the unsound in principle and practice could be kept out.
If the numbers increased, the society was to divide into two groups. All meetings were secret and nothing was to be divulged. Rule 11 laid down: ‘The members of the Society shall pray by turns, according to the alphabetical order of their names: and at every meeting three, and at most five or six, shall pray; except when Providence calls for more than ordinary wrestling. In each meeting there was to be reading from the Scriptures and a chapter from the Confession of Faith, as subjects for discussion. Also a question of practical divinity was to be proposed for the next meeting to discuss, or a controverted point, a case of conscience or some difficult place in Scripture. * (Fraser, D.: Life & Diary of Eben. Erskine. pp 523 — 6.) An almost identical set of rules was adopted by a young men’s society which met at Kinesswood, and these principles were preserved by one of the members, David Pearson, of the Bruce-Logan controversy. * (U. P. Mag. 1899. p 253. fn.)
Three years later, on 11 May 1717, a praying society was organised at St. Andrews; eighty-four members signed their names to the foundation. * (Art. by D. Hay Fleming. The Praying Society of St. Andrews [Original Secession Mag. January 1879. pp 38 — 50]) Meetings were held weekly; ‘none of us shal absent or withdraw ourselves fm our meetings, except in cases of necessity’ and then a stated reason was obligatory at the next meeting. ‘For keeping our society fm being pested with persons that ought not to be admitted’, examination and trial were incumbent upon all who wished to join.
In the small manuscript volume of its records, there is a list of all the questions proposed by members to the society; 571 in all are enumerated. The first was: What advantage is to be had in, and what warrant is there for, waiting on God in fellowship meetings? Others were: Q. 13 — What are the most proper means for attaining assurance? Q. 55 — What are the reasons why the petitions of God’s people were more remarkably answer’d of old than now? Q. 8 — What’s meant by conversion? Q. 168 — How shal a person attain to true and saving faith? The last question was recorded in 1733.
After the Secession of 1733 the main support for the Erskines and their friends came from members of praying societies up and down the land. On 13 December 1738, a petition was signed by eighty-three persons, members of such societies in and about Glasgow, and out of this the first Secession church in Glasgow was formed on 9 February 1740.
In Buchan, the praying societies were closely organised before 1733. Each society investigated any ‘fama’ against its members, and new members had to join the society for their own district. The meetings were often presided over by elders. The great majority of the members adhered to the Seceders. * (Findlay, J. T.: Secession in the North. pp 6 — 8.)
In view of the invaluable support given by the societies to the Associate Presbytery, as the Seceders called themselves, it is not surprising to find that body recommending the formation of such societies in one of their first Acts, 1740. In 1756 they issued a pamphlet under their imprimatur ‘Rules and Direction for Fellowship-meetings, By the Reverend Mr. John Hepburn; Late Minister at U.R.R. in Galloway’. These rules were definite and even more coercive than the others we have noticed. A fixed place was prescribed, equally distant for all the members. Questions were to be proposed from the Confession of faith or the Shorter Catechism. . . ‘let no jars or needless debates get place’. Were this to happen, however, ‘it is fit they break of and go to prayer again’. The members submitted to an even more rigorous discipline: ‘no member should take on him any public office. . . nor yet go to law, without acquainting the meeting, and seeking their advice and consent’. Two or three delegates were to interview any prospective members. * (Article by Hugh Watt. The Praying Societies of the Early Eighteenth Century. Orig. Sec. Mag. February 1934. pp 49 — 53.)
One of the major centres of the 1742 revival was Kilsyth, and we are fortunate in having within the records of the kirk session of that town, a complete list of rules, drawn up to govern the proposed prayer societies. ‘An Overture for the Setting up of Societies in the Congregation’ was read, considered and approved by the session on December 1721, whereby it was ‘Enacted by the session, That Societies for prayer and Christian conference be Sett up in the Congregation. . .’ We give them almost verbatim:
1. That praying persons of a blameless conversation be pitched upon and divided in Several Societies throughout the parish. . . Accordingly the Minr gave in a list of persons, which was approven.
2. That they meet at least once in the month . . . that they begin with prayer.
3. Where it can be conveniently done, a part of a psalm be sung. . .
4. Then let one pray.
5. Then let them read a portion of the Lord’s Word, at least one chapter beginning at the New Testament.
6. After reading, let another pray.
7. After this, let one of the Society ask three or four questions out of Vincent’s Catechism, which the Society are to be advertised of at their former Meeting to prepare to answer.
8. Upon the back of this, One of their Number having prayed, if any present desire the Advice of the Meeting anent their own Spiritual State, or anent what may be sin or duty. . . let it be kindly given, and if the Society observe any thing exceptionable in any member, let them admonish the sd. member thereof in tenderness and love.
9. Let no curious questions be proposed that are either above the capacity of the Society, or do not tend immediately to the advancement of practical Religion. . .
10. It would also be helpfull in the way of duty to confer either now or at any other time during the meeting anent the sins of the congregation in general . . . that they may be bewailed and mourned over before the Lord.
11. That no member talk abroad any thing spoken or done in the Society.
I 2. That absent members give an account of the reason of their absence, which, if not sustained, are to submit themselves to the admonition of the Society. . .
13. That each Society make choise of one of their Number Monthly to Correspond with the Minrs. Society.
14. That non afterwards be admitted into these Societies without express allowance from the Minrs. Society and that non but members be allowed to be present at these Societies. * (Kilsyth. K.S.R.)
One striking feature of this organisation at Kilsyth was the central place held by the minister’s society, which seems to have acted as an executive, controlling all the others. There were obviously very real dangers of inquisitorial action and censoriousness. When we come to look at the revival in Kilsyth, we shall see how these societies, set up in 1721, flourished, then died away, but were quickened once more about the time of the awakening in 1742.
These prayer societies were widespread and their activities inspired Christian thought and practice. Their very vigour served to draw upon them opposition and criticism. Lord Elchies, a famous Scottish judge, writing to his estate agent on 10 January 1728, says ‘I have heard a complaint that Wm. McKondachie keeps a meeting-house, forsooth! in his house, and, as I’m told, drains the Kirk pretty much; and I doubt not it may have that effect; mankind is commonly given to novelties, and for the most part likes what is forbidden them. However you’ll discharge that practice in time coming; there must be no meeting-house in my ground; and whereever else it is, all my tennents must keep the kirk. * (Letters of Lord Elchies. p 36. McConachy was one of the two most important tenants on the estates. Vide p 226.)
Lord Elchies sought to put down the praying societies by the strong hand — religious conformity by coercion. There were others who sought by mild ridicule, or superciliousness, to damn the movement with faint praise. Dr. Robert Wallace, minister of Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh, wrote a treatise ‘Christian piety Illustrated and certain Mistakes concerning it Detected’ (now among the Laing manuscripts in the University of Edinburgh)., in which he attacked enthusiasm. * (Laing Mss. II p 976.) ‘Many of you are much disposed to erect yourselves into little societies or fellowship meetings as they are called. . . they are thought mighty usefull in advancing piety.’ But he doubts ‘whether it is proper. . . for the young, the weak, the unexperienced to enlist themselves. . . Whether it is suitable to that modesty and humility which ought to shine in their behaviour.’ Even if these young people had sound and distinct notions, they are not able to express distinctly what they think. ‘Their hearts are much better than their heads.’ Instead of correcting one another’s errors, they only confirm them; they raise unnecessary doubts and perplex one another. Realising that not all the members of these societies were as unlettered and ignorant as he hinted, Wallace points out that he ‘knew one of these societies which was composed of persons who meant as well and from their education and circumstances might have been presumed to know as much as most who are members of such societies att present . . . I could never perceive that they increased in knowledge, on the contrary’. If anyone charged him with raillery, then all he could say was that ‘you deserve it in some degree for your preeposterous gravity and engaging in prospects which are above your strength. I mean nothing but your reall advantage and to save you from the ridicule of some who will not make so many allowances for you as I can do.’
Yet, in spite of the dangers inherent in such fellowship (and the evangelical ministers well knew that these were very real) and the professional denigration of them as religious amateurs by Moderates like Wallace, these groups, scattered over the country, were not without significance. Many men and women, from every rank of life, questing after personal holiness and endeavouring to watch one another’s souls, did much to warm the spiritual atmosphere of the land. They were in truth preparing a highway for the Lord.
1. The Religious Situation in Scotland
2. M’Culloch comes to Cambuslang
3. Problems of the Parish
4. The Societies for Prayer
5. Books and the People
6. ‘The Cams’lang Wark’
7. The Two Communions Cambuslang
8. Kilsyth - and Beyond
9. Danger Points
10. Results: Individual and Immediate.
11. The Evangelical Party
12. The Concert for Prayer and the Missionary Movement