Baldernoch, Kirkintilloch, Muthill, &c. 1742-3
An attempt has been made, in the two preceding numbers of this series, to give a sketch of the state of religion in Cambuslang and Kilsyth, during the years 1742-3; and in the present it is proposed to give a brief account of the progress of the truth in other parts of Scotland during the same period; for the work of religion, revived in these parishes, could not but excite great interest in the districts and congregations around them. Multitudes flocked from all quarters; some attracted by curiosity, others to gain spiritual refreshment, and not a few to mock and to ridicule. At the memorable dispensation of the Lord’s supper at Cambuslang, for instance, on the third Sabbath of August, 1742, there were present many individuals from Irvine, Kilmarnock, Dreghorn, and other parishes in that neighbourhood; and it was afterwards ascertained that about sixty of these returned home seriously impressed with a sense of their sinfulness and misery, and not a few rejoicing in the grace of the gospel. These individuals were instrumental in awakening others. Prayer meetings were established; and then, by the preaching of the gospel, many other converts were added to those who had been awakened at Cambuslang.
In the parishes eastward of Kilsyth the revival was little felt. The people were keenly engaged in discussing the externals of Christianity, and were thereby prevented from studying very minutely the doctrines of vital religion. It has been found that keen party spirit almost necessarily destroys spirituality of mind. An anxious desire to obtain connection with a sect, is too frequently substituted for earnest solicitude to gain union with Jesus, the Saviour. Nevertheless, there were a few witnesses for God raised up even in these parishes. In Denny and Larbert, particularly, this was the case. The Almighty Spirit triumphed over the carnality of many nominal professors, and rendered them the living members of Christ. Not a few gainsayers were reclaimed, whose lives afterwards furnished a practical and ocular demonstration, that the work was of God, and not of man.
In the parish of Torphichen, to the eastward of Linlithgow, at that time under the ministry of Mr. Bonar, seven persons were awakened at the dispensation of the Supper of the Lord, on the first Sabbath of August, 1742, who afterwards were enabled to give scriptural evidence of being in Christ by a living faith.
The case of the parish of Baldernock deserves to be particularly noticed. Few of the people had visited those places in which the revivals had originated; and although for some years there had been no regular pastor, yet about ninety individuals were brought under the quickening influence of the Spirit of promise. Mr. Wallace, who had previously laboured amongst them in holy things for about fifty years, had been faithful and zealous; and perhaps the many conversions that now took place, might be remotely traced to his ministrations. The seed which lies long concealed may spring up in an abundant harvest. But in the absence of a regular ministry, God, who can accomplish His purposes of mercy with weak as well as with powerful means, raised up and qualified Mr. James Forsyth, who occupied the humble but honourable station of parochial schoolmaster, as the instrument of carrying forward in that parish, the good work that had made such advances in the surrounding country. He was evidently a good man. He had been long distinguished for godliness. His experience of the preciousness of Christ, could not but prompt him to embrace the opportunity, which his profession furnished, of diffusing the knowledge of that Name, and of that Salvation, which he knew to be essential to the true happiness of the people with whom he was brought in contact He partook of the joy with which the news of God’s dealings with his church was deceived by such as had themselves tasted that the Lord is gracious; and in the peculiar circumstances of the parish, he endeavoured, by every means in his power, to infuse the same spiritual life among the people. He spoke, more especially to the young, with earnestness and affection about their lost condition by nature and practice, about the love of God manifested in the gift of his Son for the salvation of sinners ready to perish; and the Holy Spirit was pleased to convey these simple but impressive truths to the hearts of his interesting charge, who,in their turn, were enabled to leave a testimony to the truth, in the consciences of the adult population. Would there were many such teachers of youth! Would that they felt that they and their youthful charge shall stand together in the judgment, and must render an account of their important stewardship!
Religious instruction was made to hold a prominent place in the school under the charge of Mr. Forsyth; and for the encouragement of all in like circumstances, these instructions were rendered instrumental for the conversion of many. God countenanced his feeble endeavours, and made him the honoured instrument of winning many souls to Christ. His own account of the matter is detailed in letters to Mr. Robe, and will be felt deeply interesting and animating by all who have any love for ardent piety or disinterested zeal. In a letter dated 17th July, 1742, he thus writes — “Since the first of February last, I endeavoured, to the utmost of my power, to instruct the children under my charge in the first principles of religion — that they were born in a state of sin and misery, and strangers to God by nature. I pressed them, with every argument I could think of, to give up their sinful ways, and flee to Jesus Christ by faith and repentance; and by the blessing of God, my efforts were not made in vain. Glory to His holy name, that that which was spoken in much weakness, was accompanied by the power of His Holy Spirit. I likewise warned them against the commission of known sin. I told them the danger of persisting contrary to the voice of conscience, and the plain dictates of the word of God; assuring them, that if they did so, their sin would one day find them out. These exhortations, frequently repeated, made at last some impression on their young hearts. This was used as a means in God’s hand for bringing the elder sort to a more serious concern, and a greater diligence in religious duties. One of the school boys, who went to Cambuslang in March, was the first awakened. He, in a short time thereafter, asked permission to meet with two or three of the other boys in the school-room, for the purpose of praying and singing psalms. I had great pleasure in granting this request. Very soon after, a few more of the boys manifested deep concern for their souls; and in fourteen days after the opening of this youthful prayer meeting, ten or twelve were hopefully awakened; none of them were above thirteen years of age —a few of them were so young as eight or nine. These associated together for devotional duties. Their love for these services increased; so much so, that they sometimes met three times a-day, — early in the morning, — at noon, during the interval of school hours, — and in the evening. These soon forsook all their childish fancies and plays, and were known to their school companions by their general appearance, by their walk and conversation. All this had a happy effect upon the other children. Many were awakened through their means. They became remarkable for tenderness of conscience. A word of terror occurring in their lessons would sometimes make them cry out and weep bitterly. Some of them could give a most intelligent account of their experience of divine truth. They were sensible of the sin of their nature, of their actual transgressions, and even of the sin of unbelief; for when I would exhort them to believe in Christ, who was both able and willing to save them to the uttermost, they would reply, in the most affecting terms, that they knew He was both able and willing, but their hearts were so hard that they could not believe aright of themselves, till God gave them the new heart—that they could do nothing for their hard hearts.”
It has been often illustrated, that “out of the mouths of babes and sucklings God perfects praise.” What heart that reads this narrative can feel unmoved at the striking illustration thus furnished of this scripture saying, in the case of the youth of the parish of Baldernoch, under the care of Mr. Forsyth! Who would not pray that all teachers of youth were blessed with piety like his, with zeal like his, with success like his!
Respecting the people in general, Mr. F. thus writes— “Some were awakened at Cambuslang, others at Calder and Kirkintilloch, but the greater number at the private meetings for prayer held in the parish. These meetings were held twice a-week, and all were admitted who chose to attend.”—These meetings were eminently countenanced. Many who attended were blessed with the communications of Divine grace, and made to experience the image and the earnest of the fellowship that is above. “Two young women,” says Mr. Forsyth, “who had been at Cambuslang, and who brought back an evil report, saying, that they wondered what made the people cry out, on the 22d of June, came to one of these meetings in Baldernoch, as was supposed, with no good design. Before a quarter of an hour had elapsed, they were brought under serious convictions, and continued in distress during the remaining exercises of the evening.”
These details of the awakening in Baldernoch furnish an impressive commentary on these words of scripture— “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord:” “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion”—and should stimulate every Christian, in his own sphere, to labour for Christ, trusting that the Divine Spirit will come “and leave a blessing behind Him.”
Respecting the case of Baldernoch, Mr. Robe has the following judicious remarks;—”I have been the more particular, that we who are ministers of the gospel may learn not to be lifted up by any success we may have in our ministrations; though the Lord maketh especially the preaching of the word an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building up them who are converted, yet he also blesseth the reading of the word, Christian communion, and religious education, by parents, schoolmasters, and others, for the same blessed ends, and, also that he sometimes makes use of weak and inconsiderable instruments for beginning and carrying on a good work upon the souls of men, while men of great gifts are not so successful. The people are not the less careful to attend upon public ordinances; their meetings do not interfere with the public means of grace in their own congregation, nor with the same privileges in the neighbouring congregations, when deprived of them in their own church, in consequence of there being at present no regular minister.”
At the parish of Killearn, about sixteen miles north from Glasgow, at that time under the pastoral inspection of Mr. James Bain, there was a considerable awakening at the dispensation of the Lord’s supper, on the third Sabbath of July, 1742. This was particularly the case on the Monday, when sermons were delivered by Mr. Michael Potter, professor of divinity in the University of Glasgow, and Mr. Mackie, minister of St. Ninians.
There were about a hundred awakened in the parish of Campsie; and about the same number in the parish of Calder, in the immediate neighbourhood. The circumstances connected with the revival at Calder are somewhat remarkable. Mr. Warden, the minister, was accustomed to give a weekly lecture in a small village at some distance from the church. The attendance had become so very inconsiderable, that he had resolved to discontinue it. The evening he went to make this announcement, to his great amazement he found the room crowded. Dismayed at such a multitude, and as he had prepared no subject of exposition, he retired into a wood at a little distance, earnestly imploring Divine direction and blessing. Immediately he returned to the people, and preached from these words which had been suggested to his mind while in the wood — “Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of men,” Prov. viii. 4. From this text he opened up the fulness, the freeness, the grace of the gospel proclamation. The Holy Spirit accompanied the word spoken with power. Many were brought under His humbling influence, and ultimately made to bow to the sceptre of Jesus. On a subsequent occasion there were about fourteen persons brought under great concern and anxiety about their spiritual and eternal state.
About this time about sixteen young people in the town of Kirkintilloch were observed to meet in a barn for prayer. This took place at the suggestion of one of the older boys, and was cordially acceded to by the rest. This incident coming to be known, seemed to make deep impressions both upon old and young. The minister of the parish was rejoiced by this movement, inquired after the little prayer meeting, and frequently joined the society, for giving direction and instruction. At the dispensation of the Lord’s supper, in May following, Mr. Maclaurin of Glasgow, and Mr. Robe of Kilsyth, preached on the fast-day preparatory to the celebration of that solemnity. Mr. Burnside, the minister of the parish, preached in the evening of the same day. The work of conviction was general and powerful. In the words of Mr. Robe, “Zion’s mighty King did appear in His glory and majesty, and His arrows were sharp in the heart of His enemies.” About a hundred and twenty applied to the minister, anxiously seeking the way to Zion, evidently with their faces thitherward. About the same time there were fourteen or fifteen awakened at Cumbernauld, under the preaching of Mr. Whitefield; and about eighty individuals by the ordinary ministrations of their own pastor Mr. Oughterson.
At the dispensation of the supper, in St. Ninians, on the first Sabbath of August of the same year, there were several awakened by means of the sermons on the Saturday many more on Sabbath, and a far greater number on the Monday, which was, on the testimony of Mr. Robe, “one of the greatest days of the Mediator’s power ever beheld.” On Thursday immediately following, at the usual weekday lecture, a considerable number more were awakened. Mr. Mackie, the minister of the parish, was instrumental in leading many of the inquirers to the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world. Sometime after, Mr. Mackie states, “that impressions upon the people are far from wearing off. Their behaviour is such that their enemies themselves cannot find fault with. It gives me great pleasure to hear them pray and converse. Our audience is most attentive to the preaching of the word.”
In the parish of Gargunnoch there were about a hundred awakened, the greater number of whom were brought to a state of concern for their souls, while attending the dispensation of the supper at Kilsyth, on the second Sabbath of July, or the dispensation of that ordinance at Campsie, on the last Sabbath of that month, or at St. Ninians, on the first Sabbath of August. At the week-day lecture, on the 5th of August, there were eighteen awakened; and in the week following many more. In a letter of date 17th March, the following year, Mr. Warden, the minister of the parish, writes — “The concern in a great measure continues; fellowship meetings increase; and even the meetings for prayer among the children. The impression among the people, in general, is still apparent, by a diligent attendance upon ordinances, love to our God and Redeemer, and to all the children of our Lord’s family; crying to Christ, and rejoicing in Him ; and all this associated with a sober and blameless walk and conversation. A few are under spiritual concern in the parish of Kippen, and there is some stir in the parish of Monivaird.”
About the same time, this wondrous work of the Lord extended to the parish of Muthill, in Perthshire. Mr. Halley, the minister, gives the following account, in a letter, addressed to Mr. Robe, dated March, 1743. “The work of God is going forward in this parish. Many seem truly awakened to a sense of their condition, as connected with eternity. All those with whom I have conversed, appeared to be touched to the very quick, the arrows of the Almighty shot to their very hearts; trembling like the Jailer, crying out against sin, and breathing and thirsting after a Saviour. My bowels were moved for them, and, I hope, the bowels of a compassionate Redeemer were yearning over them, when they were with Ephraim bemoaning themselves. As a token for future good, a praying disposition among the people, not only continues, but is upon the increase.
Thirteen Societies for prayer, have been recently instituted, and a new one is about to be established. I cannot express how much I am charmed with the young people. They have now three prayer Societies. The members of one of these made me a most agreeable visit upon the first Monday of the year, a day which young people especially, usually spend in mirth and folly. Upwards of forty attended, and continued in prayer and other exercises, till about ten at night. And oh! to hear the young lambs crying after the great Shepherd, to hear them pouring out their souls with such fervour, with such beautiful expressions, with such copiousness and fulness, did not only strike me with admiration, but melted me into tears. I wished in my heart that all contradictors, gainsayers, and blasphemers of this work of God, had been where I was that night.” In a subsequent letter, Mr. Halley thus writes — “The concern in hearing the word still continues, though not with such a noise and outcrying as formerly. And though the public awakenings are not so discernible as they were sometime since, yet few Sabbaths pass, but there are some pricked in their hearts, and with great anguish of spirit, crying, What shall we do? A law-work is still severe and of long continuance with many, but the Lord is supporting, helping to wait, and keeping them thirsting after relief in Christ.”
In the parish of Crief, then under the pastoral care of the Rev. Mr. Drummond, there were many awakened, and ultimately made happy, in knowing and believing the truth. Several praying Societies were formed.
In all the parishes in which this Revival made any progress, a corresponding increase of practical godliness immediately became apparent. Fellowship Meetings were instituted, family religion everywhere revived, Sabbath desecration was discountenanced, open profanity, for the most part, disappeared. The virtues of honesty, industry, and sobriety, characterised the people, and amongst the peculiar subjects of the revivals, instances of restitution not unfrequently occurred. These fruits of holiness must have tended to remove the cavils of the “enemy and the avenger,” during that interesting period, and to this day, attested as they are by irrefragable evidence, furnish the most satisfying proof, that the work was of God, and not of man. “Godly sorrow for sin, universal hatred at it, renouncing their own righteousness, and embracing the righteousness of God, by faith in Jesus Christ, embracing him in all his offices, universal reformation of life, a superlative love to the blessed Redeemer, love to all who bear his image, love towards all men, even to enemies, earnest desires and prayers for the conversion of all others — “These,” says Mr. Robe, “are the happy fruits of this blessed work, and sufficiently demonstrate that it is of the operation of the Spirit of God.”
This may be better illustrated by one or two examples of individual experience, taken from Mr. Robe’s narrative. “L. M., aged about twenty-eight years, and formerly of a blameless life, was awakened by conversing with his brother under spiritual distress. On that night he was so deeply affected that he could not sleep. Next morning, his distress was increased by reading that passage of ‘Alleine’s Alarm,’ in which he discourseth of God’s being an enemy to unconverted sinners, which passage he met with at the first opening of the book.” Mr. Robe continues — “ he was brought to me the following day, and though he was a very strong man, I found his mental disquiet had greatly affected his body. I observed that his reason was clear and undisturbed, as he was able to give a distinct account of himself. He was impressed with particular sins, and in a lively manner felt himself to be a guilty condemned sinner. He had a deep impression of original sin and corruption, as rendering him liable to eternal wrath, even though he had not been guilty of actual sin. He had also a deep sense of the hatefulness of sin, as committed against God, and the sin of unbelief, as hardening his heart against the voice of Christ, in the reading or hearing of His Word. He was struck with dreadful fears of falling into the state of torment, and saw the great goodness and long suffering of God, in not cutting him off in the midst of his iniquity. He was supported sometimes by views of the remedy, Christ Jesus, that He had come into the world to save sinners, which he desired to lay hold of, for the ground of his hope. He soon attained to some composure of mind, in essaying to close with Jesus Christ.” Conversing with L. M. again, eight days after, Mr. Robe writes — “He declared that when engaged in prayer, he felt his soul going out in the acceptance of a whole Christ as his only Saviour; his Prophet to teach him by his Word and Spirit; his Priest to reconcile him to God by his sacrifice; his King to subdue his sin, sanctify, and rule him. He disclaimed all confidence in his duties, and desired to rely on Him alone for salvation; withal, giving himself to the Lord to be saved, upon his own terms, to live unto him, and to serve him in newness of life—resolving also, in the strength of Jesus Christ, to live a holy life to his glory, and yet not to rest on it as a ground of peace and acceptance. He said, he was greatly afraid lest he should fall back unto sin, and be a scandal to religion, after what God had done for him, He was exercised with the fears of hypocrisy and presumption in receiving Christ, against which it relieved him to look unto Christ anew who came to save the chief of sinners, and who is offered to him, in common with all others.”
“L. M.,” says Mr. Robe, “who was before this blameless in his life, is now spiritual, edifying, and exemplary in his ordinary conversation and deportment.”
“After a Sermon preached on the Monday of the Sacrament, by Mr. Webster of Edinburgh, a young woman was brought to Mr. Robe, who found her so filled with a sense of the love of God to her soul, and with love to Jesus Christ, that she was all in tears, and could not refrain from weeping with joy. She had been awakened at Kilsyth about the beginning of July, but had obtained no sensible relief till she heard Mr. Webster. Before her awakening, she was of a blameless life, but when brought to feel the spirituality of God’s law, she was tilled with alarm on account of the coming wrath. Sometime after, hearing Mr. Webster, she was enabled to state distinctly the consolation she experienced in taking hold of Christ in all his offices. Her subsequent conduct in life was of such a kind as to make it manifest that she was now born from above.”
These examples are produced from among the many that might be selected, and furnish decisive evidence that the instructions delivered by the Pastors, and the experience of the people, were of the most scriptural kind; but it may be interesting to state, in Mr. Robe’s own words, what was the doctrine that was so zealously propagated, and which God’s Holy Spirit honoured so much:— “I feared to daub or deal slightly with my people, but told great and small that they were by nature the children of the Devil, while they were in the state of unbelief; and, that if they continued so to the end, I told them, in our Lord’s plain terms, they would be damned. I resolved that I would cry aloud, and not spare, and preach with the seriousness and fervour of one that knew that my hearers must either be prevailed with or be damned; and so that they might discern I was in good sadness with them, and really meant as I spoke. Aware that the greater part of every public audience is secure, unconcerned, and fearless, I preached the terrors of the law in the strongest terms I could, that is to say, in express scripture terms. Yet I ever delighted to follow up such statements with a declaration of the gospel of the grace of God. After the law had done its office, I have seen the congregation in tears of joy when the law of grace from Mount Zion was proclaimed.” Such statements as these, full of earnestness and faithfulness, and scripture simplicity, joined with believing prayer, are ever accompanied more or less with Divine power, and in the instances now related, were so abundantly blessed, as to make it manifest that they are not the doctrines which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; — the true sayings of God.
The preaching of the other Ministers was in perfect agreement with this outline, and the very names of many of them are a sufficient guarantee for the soundness of their doctrines. — Mr. M’Laurin Mr. Gillies of Glasgow, Mr. Willison of Dundee, Mr. Bonar of Torphichen, Mr. Whitefield, and many others, were severally engaged in promoting the work, and have severally attested the truth of the facts that have been related. They are still well known to the Church by their able and judicious writings. These men acknowledged that the work was of God. They had the means of examining the experience and character of those who were its subjects. They laboured and prayed that the good work might spread over the land, that it might fill the whole earth. And besides, there is the evidence of Dr. Erskine of Edinburgh, who was ordained in the parish of Kirkintilloch, in the year 1744, and continued there till 1754. During that period he must have had sufficient opportunity of knowing the doctrines that had been preached, and the views and character of those who had been awakened, and he has given his recorded testimony to the reality of this work; and to the fact that the subjects of it in that parish lived as became the followers of the meek and lowly Jesus. — “The memory of the just is blessed.” The men who were honoured of God to edify the church during this interesting period of Scottish history, have long since gone the way of all the earth. “They rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.” As they that have turned many to righteousness, they now shine as the stars for ever and ever.
It is now nearly a century since the Revival, which has just been related, took place; but the traces of it still remain—many Prayer Meetings exist, and not a few of them in Glasgow, that can date their institution from the period now referred to. The work of the Lord has been going on, though silently, in Scotland ever since. Many have been the faithful pastors that have been instrumental in gathering strayed sheep, in feeding “the flock of God, which He has purchased with his own blood.” It is the earnest and increasing prayer of the friends who issue these Tracts, that the number of such faithful men may be greatly increased, that the zeal of church rulers may be extended, that the exertions and prayers of the Christian people may be rendered more abundant, and more fervent; that so the church in this land may be revived, and may yet appear “fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.”
Let everyone into whose hand this Tract may come, be assured, that he is by nature dead in trespasses and sins, and that without the experience of the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, he must for ever perish. Let him know that there is “a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness let him understand that that fountain is the Redeemer’s blood. Let him, without delay, repair to it. Let him “wash and be clean.” Then, being freed from the curse of the law, invested with the Redeemer’s “robe of righteousness,” dwelt in by “the Spirit of promise,” he will look abroad over the earth, and earnestly breathe out the simple, yet sublime prayer of the Saviour — “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
This is a chapter from Narratives of Revivals of Religion in Scotland, Ireland and Wales published in 1839.
Compiled from Robe’s Narrative of Revival at Kilsyth—Gillies’ Historical Collection and Life of Whitefield.