We have included this inspiring story to encourage those in smaller churches to exercise faith for an awakening in their own local churches today. We are often exposed to stories of amazing outpourings of the Spirit which affect hundreds or thousands and produce untold numbers of converts. Such stories are great to read, but perhaps not too helpful for those in smaller congregations. This detailed story traces a movement of the Spirit in a small church in Scotland which began with no known true believers and within 3-4 years numbered 70 true converts! May this step-by-step history ignite to do the same in your congregation!
Extracted, from a Letter by the Rev. Alexander Stewart, late Minister of the Parish of Moulin, afterwards of Canongate, Edinburgh, to the Rev. David Black, Minister of Lady Yester’s Church, Edinburgh.
Moulin, 1st September, 1800.
Mr dear Sir,
As you have signified to me the opinion of Dr. Erskine, Dr. Hunter, and other respected friends, that the happy revival of religion amongst us ought to be more generally known, and that it might be useful to publish an account of it, I shall now endeavour to give a circumstantial detail of its commencement and progress. I am able to do this with tolerable correctness, as my memory is assisted by written notes. I have no doubt that the concern about religion, which has been lately awakened in this place, is already the ground of much rejoicing among the angels before the throne. Pity it should not also engage, as extensively as may be, the praises of our Christian brethren on earth.
The inhabitants of the Highlands have, as you know, the Scriptures in Gaelic, their native tongue: the New Testament, the book of Psalms, and the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, have been long read in the schools. By these means, the people in this part of the country had some knowledge of the principal events in the history of the creation and fall of man, and of our Saviour’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension; they knew also some of the great outlines of Christian doctrine; but, in general, their knowledge of the principles of Christianity was superficial and confused, and their religious opinions were in many important points erroneous. Very few, indeed, knew the way in which the gospel informs us a sinner may be reconciled to God.
The opinion of their own works recommending them to the favour of God, and procuring them a reward from his bounty, was almost universal. It discovered itself in their ordinary speech, in their common remarks on more solemn occasions, and in almost every religious sentiment that was uttered. Their apprehensions of the demerit and consequences of sin were exceedingly defective. I have heard many on a sick bed, after acknowledging, in common form, that they were sinners, deny that they ever did any ill. And in the view of death, they have derived their hopes of future happiness from the reflection, that they had never wronged any person. Very few seemed to annex any meaning to their words, when they said that they expected pardon for Christ’s sake.
Being without the true knowledge of God, of Christ, of the gospel, of their own character and state, they lived, as might be expected, to themselves and to the world. They were not, indeed, addicted to open vice, if we except lying and swearing. They were rather distinguished for sobriety, industry, and peaceable behaviour. But they were destitute of religious principle. They attended church, and partook of the sacrament, and rested from their work on the Sabbath. But these outward observances were almost the only appearance of religion. There was little reading of the Scriptures at home; little religious instruction of children; hardly any family worship; no religious conversation; no labouring, in any manner, for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life. Even on the Lord’s day, most of the time was spent in loitering, visiting, and worldly talk; and on other days religion was scarcely thought of.
In narrating the means by which the people were brought to pay a more serious attention to their eternal interests, it is necessary to say something of my own case. I was settled minister of this parish in 1786, at the age of twenty-two. Although I was not a “despiser” of what was sacred, yet I felt nothing of the power of religion on my soul. I had no relish for its exercises, nor any enjoyment in the duties of my office, public or private. A regard to character, and the desire of being acceptable to my people, if not the only motives, were certainly the principal motives, that prompted me to any measure of diligence or exertion. My public addresses and prayers were, for the most part, cold and formal. They were little regarded by the hearers at the time, and as little recollected afterwards. I preached against particular vices, and inculcated particular virtues. But I had no notion of the necessity of a radical change of principle; for I had not learned to know the import of those assertions of Scripture, that “the carnal mind is enmity against God;” “that if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature;” and, that “except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” I spoke of making the fruit good; but I was not aware that the tree was corrupt, and must first be itself made good, before it could bear good fruit. The people, however, were satisfied with what they heard, and neither they nor I looked farther.
If there were any persons in the parish at the time who lived a life of faith, under the influence of pure, evangelical principles, I did not know them, nor was I qualified to discern and understand what spirit they were of. I have since had reason to believe that there were a very few spiritually minded persons; but their life was hid, and they had left this world, all but one or two, before they could acknowledge me as a brother.
While I was yet ignorant of the truth, and unacquainted with Christian experience, two persons, under conviction of sin and terrors of conscience, applied to me for advice. They supposed that one in the office of the ministry must, of course, be a man of God, and skilled in administering remedies for the diseases of the soul. They were widely mistaken in their judgment of me; for I had learned less of the practice than of the theory of pastoral duty. I said something to them in the way of advice; but it afforded them no relief. They were, however, under the care of the good Physician. He applied his own balm toThe writings of pious men, which were put into my hands by one or another Christian friend, were made the means of bringing me acquainted with the truths of the gospel. their wounded spirits, and “healed, and bade them live.” Being progressively and effectually taught of God, they are both now established, judicious Christians. These are the first that appear to have been converted since my incumbency; but they cannot be reckoned the fruits of my ministry.
The Lord was now preparing to gather to himself a fuller harvest in this place. He might have removed me, as a useless encumbrance, or rather an intervening obstacle, out of the way, and subjected me to the doom of the unprofitable servant; but he was graciously pleased to spare me, and visit me in mercy, and even to employ me as one of his instruments in carrying on his own work. Glory to his name who commanded light to shine out of darkness!
Among these, I may mention the works of the Rev. John Newton and Thomas Scott, as eminently useful to me. I was slow in receiving and embracing the doctrines maintained by these writers. By degrees, however, I was persuaded that they were agreeable to Scripture, and that no doubt they must be admitted as true. I therefore durst not preach anything which I conceived to be directly contrary to these doctrines; but I brought them forward rarely, incorrectly, and with awkward hesitation. The trumpet was sounded, but it gave an “uncertain sound.”
The biographical sketches in the Evangelical Magazine were principal means of impressing my heart, of opening my eyes to perceive the truth, of exciting a love to godliness, and a desire after usefulness.
The biographical sketches in the Evangelical Magazine were principal means of impressing my heart, of opening my eyes to perceive the truth, of exciting a love to godliness, and a desire after usefulness. The conversation and example of some persons of a truly spiritual mind, to whose acquaintance I was admitted, and who exhibited to my view what I found only described in written memoirs, conduced also much to impress on my mind the truths with which I was gradually becoming more acquainted. I cannot omit mentioning, in this connection, the blessings I enjoyed in the preaching, the prayers, and the conversation, of that much favoured servant of Christ, the Rev. Charles Simeon, of King’s College, Cambridge. He was a man sent from God to me; was my guest for two days in June 1796, preached in my church, and left a savour of the things of God, which has remained with us ever since.
From that time, I began to teach and to preach Jesus Christ with some degree of knowledge and confidence. From August 1797, to January 1798, I preached a course of sermons on the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, following, for the most part, the selection and order of texts in the tract entitled, “Short Sermons.”
The novelty of the matter, and some change in the manner of preaching, excited attention. People began to think more, and sometimes to talk together, of religious subjects, and of the sermons they heard. But I did not yet know of any deep or lasting impressions having been made. The two persons before mentioned as earliest converted, had by this time got clearer views of the gospel, were enabled to derive comfort from the word of salvation, and began to bear their testimony to the grace of God their Saviour.
They were in use occasionally of visiting a poor infirm woman, who had long walked with God, and who now lived alone in a mean cottage in the neighbouring village. It was proposed that they should come together to her house at a time appointed, and that I and some of my family should join them, and spend an evening hour or two in reading, conversation and prayer. In process of time, different persons, who were enquiring after the one thing needful, hearing how we were employed, and believing that God was with us, were, at their own request, admitted of our party. In this poor woman’s little smoky hovel, we continued to hold our weekly meetings to August 1799, when she was called away to join the general assembly of the first-born above. Her growth in grace had been very conspicuous, and her death was triumphant.
In summer, 1798, the Lord’s supper was dispensed in our congregation, at the usual time of the year. For some weeks before, I endeavoured, in preaching, to explain more fully, and with more application to the conscience, the nature of the ordinance, and the character of those who, under the denomination of disciples, were commanded to keep it. The exhortations and warnings then given appeared to be accompanied with a divine blessing. Some of the ordinary communicants, judging themselves to be in an unconverted state, kept back of their own accord from partaking of the sacrament. Others, after conversing with me privately on the subject, took the same resolution. And many of those who might otherwise have applied for admission, forbore to apply, there being a much smaller number of applicants than in previous years.
Although the number of communicants was thus for the time diminished, yet the number of those who were brought under concern about their eternal interests was increasing. This concern showed itself chiefly among the younger people under twenty-five or thirty. Their knowledge was yet imperfect. A natural shyness often hindered their long from discovering to others what they thought or felt. They had as yet no friend or intimate whom they judged able, from experience, to understand their situation, or to give them counsel. Some of them began to visit one of the two earlier converts formerly mentioned, from whose reading and conversation they derived considerable benefit. By means of this common friend, they were brought more acquainted with each other. One might now observe at church, after divine service, two or three small groups forming themselves round our few more advanced believers, and withdrawing from the crowd into the adjacent fields, to exchange Christian salutations, and hold Christian converse together; while a little cousin, or other young relative, followed as a silent attendant on the party, and listened earnestly to their religious discourse.
As the sacrament of the Lord’s supper had been much abused, by admitting, without strict examination or special instruction, all candidates who could give a tolerable answer to common questions, and who were free from grosser immoralities, so it must be confessed that the sacrament of baptism had been still more profaned. Nothing but one kind of scandal was understood to preclude a man from admission to this ordinance. Gross ignorance or immoral behaviour, only laid a man open to some admonition or reproof, or, at most, laid him under the necessity of procuring another sponsor, but hardly ever hindered the baptism of his child. Nothing subjects a man to greater disgrace and obloquy among us, than to have his child remain unbaptized. The dominion of custom in this matter is so despotic, that most parents would choose rather to carry their children a hundred miles to be baptized by a popish priest, than to be refused baptism when they demand it. The superstitious notions, and other abuses, attending our celebration of this sacrament, called loudly for reformation. Last year, I preached a short course of sermons on baptism; at the same time, agreeably to a recent resolution and recommendation of the presbytery to which I belong, I revived the laws of the church, which had fallen into disuse, relative to this ordinance, particularly that which prohibits private baptism.
In February, 1799, it pleased God to call home my dear wife, after we had been married little more than five years. She, too, had been growing in grace during the last two years of her life. She laboured for some months under a gradual decline, which impaired her strength, and occasioned sometimes a languor of spirits; but her faith and trust in her Redeemer were, on the whole, uniform and steady. Her dismission from the body was gentle, without pain or struggle. Her meek and humble behaviour, her growing love to her Saviour, and the joy she expressed at the prospect of being soon with him, were blessed to the edification of our pious neighbours, who often called to visit her.
The following month, March, 1799, I began a course of practical sermons on Regeneration, which I continued to the beginning of July following. These were attended with a more general awakening than had yet appeared among us. Seldom a week passed in which we did not see or hear of one, two, or three persons, brought under deep concern about their souls, accompanied with strong convictions of sin, and earnest inquiry after a Saviour. It was a great advantage to these that there were others on the road before them; for they were seldom at a loss now to find an acquaintance to whom they could freely communicate their anxious thoughts. The house of one of our most established Christians became the chief resort of all who wished to spend an hour in reading or conversing about spiritual subjects. Some who had but newly begun to entertain serious thoughts about religion, and who had not yet come so far as to speak out their mind, would contrive an errand to this person’s house, and listen to her talk. She was visited at other times by those who were drawn only by curiosity or a disputatious spirit, who wanted to cavil at her words, or draw her into controversy. Such visitors she did not avoid, and at last they ceased to visit her.
Seldom a week passed in which we did not see or hear of one, two, or three persons, brought under deep concern about their souls, accompanied with strong convictions of sin, and earnest inquiry after a Saviour.
Other experienced Christians among us have been extremely useful to their younger brethren or sisters. Their conversation and example have been principal means of turning the attention of the young to religion, and of edifying those who have been already awakened. Such persons I find most serviceable auxiliaries. If they be neither prophets, nor apostles, nor teachers, yet their usefulness in the church entitles them to the appellation of helps: 1 Cor. xii, 28. Nor do I think an apostle would hesitate to acknowledge them, both men and women, in the relation of fellow-labourers: Phil, iv, 3. Nor has success in this divine work been confined to instruments raised up among ourselves. The same happy effects have, in a certain measure, attended the preaching, the prayers, or conversation, of pious brethren, who have assisted at. the celebration of the Lord’s supper, or made us other occasional visits.
It is observable that the work of conversion has been begun and carried on among this people in a quiet manner, without any confusion, and without those ungovernable agitations of mind, or convulsions of the body, or shrieking or fainting, which have often accompanied a general awakening in other places. One young woman was so much moved in church, in March, 1799, that she wept bitterly, and her friends thought it prudent to convey her out a little before the congregation was dismissed. She was for five or six days unfit for going about her usual work. In June following, at the time of our sacrament, she felt emotions of joy, for a few days, to such a degree as to withdraw her regard in a great measure from sensible objects. Spiritual affections were unusually strong in her, and spiritual objects appeared visible and near; but her sentiments were quite correct and scriptural. A few days afterwards, when her emotions had subsided, she told me that she was at the time sensible that her mind was somewhat unsettled, but that she found comfort in recollecting the apostle’s words, “If we are beside ourselves, it is to God.” This was exactly her case. She continues an humble, lively Christian, and, except these two short intervals, she has regularly performed her ordinary work as a maid-servant, to the satisfaction of her master and mistress, in whose service she still remains. Another woman, the mother of a family, in April last, was so much moved in hearing sermon, that of her own accord she left the church. Excepting these two instances, I know of none whose emotions, under the preaching of the Word, discovered themselves in any other manner than by silent tears.
I find their number about seventy. The greater part of these are under thirty years of age; several are above forty; six or seven above fifty; one sixty-six; and one above seventy. Of children, under twelve or fourteen, there are a good many who seem to have a liking to religion
Having lately made an enumeration of those of our congregation, whom, to the best of my judgment, I trust I can reckon truly enlightened with the saving knowledge of Christ, I find their number about seventy. The greater part of these are under thirty years of age; several are above forty; six or seven above fifty; one sixty-six; and one above seventy. Of children, under twelve or fourteen, there are a good many who seem to have a liking to religion; but we find it difficult to form a decided opinion of their case. Of persons who have died within these twelve months, three we are persuaded, and we hope two or three others, have slept in Jesus.
A very considerable number are friendly to religion, and countenance and defend the truth, even while they do not as yet appear to live under its power. A few among ourselves did for a while jeer and deride the godly; but such persons are left in so very small a minority, that they have ceased to be troublesome. The Scriptures, too, are so generally read and referred to, that the truth itself serves to stop the mouth of scoffers. We are sometimes told that the sentiments and language of our people are much misrepresented, and are the objects of much wonder, and ridicule, and invective, in other places. But we only hear of such things; they are hardly permitted to come nigh us. The chief opposition arises from those who possess superior scholarship and acquaintance with the Scriptures. These contend that there can be nothing substantial or necessary in that experimental knowledge which illiterate persons may pretend to have attained; and that it is mere ignorance in them to imagine that they can have a larger share of saving knowledge than men who are greater scholars and better versed in the Scriptures. “Are we blind also?” has ever been the indignant language of carnal wisdom, of literary pride, and of self-righteous presumption.
It is evident that the Scriptures represent all mankind as divided into two classes. These are distinguished from each other in the most explicit manner; and the distinction is marked by the strongest language, and the most significant comparisons. They are called the children of God, and the children of the devil, (1 John iii, 10); the children of the kingdom, and the children of the wicked one, (Matt, xiii, 38); the just and the wicked, (Matt, xiii, 49); they who are dead in trespasses and sins, and they who are quickened together with Christ, (Eph. ii, 1—6). They are compared to wheat and tares, (Matt, xiii, 25); to good and bad fishes, (Matt, xiii, 47, 48); to sheep and goats, (Matt, xxv, 32). In the general tenor of my preaching, especially in discussing the important doctrine of regeneration, I have endeavoured to keep in view this distinction, and to exhibit it clearly to the notice of my hearers.
Many have been not a little offended at such a discrimination; have found fault with the preacher; have complained of uncharitable judgment; pleading that it was God’s prerogative to judge the heart; that they hoped theirs was good, though they did not make such a parading profession of religion, &c. The truth has prevailed, however; and some have confessed to me, that their first serious thoughts about the state of their souls, arose from the surprise and resentment they felt on being classed under the character of unbelievers, along with murderers and idolaters: Rev. xxi, 8. But in giving such offensive, though necessary warnings, I had much need of the spirit of Christ, to repress all asperity of language and manner, to awaken tender compassion for those whom I addressed, and to enable me to speak the truth in love.
I observe among our young converts a considerable variety of frames, but a striking uniformity of character They are dejected or elevated, according as their regard is more fixed on their own deficiencies and corruptions, or on the glorious sufficiency of Christ. But all of them are characterised by lowliness of mind, by a warm attachment to each other, and to all who love the Lord Jesus, and by the affections set on things above. I know no instances among them of persons trusting for comfort or direction to dreams or visions, impulses or impressions: and hardly an instance of seeking comfort from external signs or tokens, arbitrarily assumed by the inquirer, after the example of Abraham’s servant, (Gen. xxiv, 14), and of Gideon, (Judges vi, 36—40).
We have not yet to lament any great falling off in those who appeared to have once undergone a saving change. There may be persons who were for a time enquiring, with some apparent earnestness, and afterwards fell back to their former unconcern. I have reason to suspect that there may be several in this situation, though I have not access to know the exact state of their minds. May the Lord discover it to themselves in time! But all, so far as I know, who seemed to have been once truly humbled for their sins, and made to feel in their hearts the grace of God in the gospel, continue thus far to maintain an humble, spiritual, conscientious walk. They have a constant appetite for the sincere milk of the word, and for Christian fellowship with one another. The younger sort have lost their former levity of speech and behaviour, and are become devout and sober-minded; those more advanced in life have laid aside their selfishness and worldly-mindedness, and are grown humble, contented, and thankful.
They have a constant appetite for the sincere milk of the word, and for Christian fellowship with one another. The younger sort have lost their former levity of speech and behaviour, and are become devout and sober-minded; those more advanced in life have laid aside their selfishness and worldly-mindedness, and are grown humble, contented, and thankful.
The external effects of a general concern about religion, have appeared in the behaviour even of those who do not seem to have experienced a change of heart. While the younger people attended a Sabbath school, those who were grown up, used to spend the evening of that day in sauntering about the fields and woods in gossiping parties, or visiting their acquaintance at a distance, without improving their time by any profitable exercise. Now, there is hardly a lounger to be seen, nor any person walking abroad, except going to some house, or meeting, where he may hear the Scriptures read. Swearing, profane talking, foolish and indecent jesting, have in a great measure ceased. At late wakes, where people assemble to watch by the body of a deceased neighbour, the whole night used to be spent in childish, noisy sports and pastimes. Even the apartment where the corpse lay was the scene of their revelry. This unnatural custom, which is still pretty general over a great part of the Highlands, is almost wholly discontinued in this part of the country. They still assemble on such occasions; but they pass the time in reading the Bible, or some religious book, and in sober conversation.
I have mentioned, that almost all our converts have been brought to serious concern and inquiry, in a quiet, gradual manner. To an intelligent observer, the change in the conversation, temper, deportment, and the very countenance of individuals, is striking; the change, too, on the general aspect of the manners of the people, is conspicuous. The effect is thus, on the whole, obvious; yet there are few particulars in the case of each person, which, taken singly, will appear uncommon. We have no instances of persons remarkable for profligacy of manners, or profaneness of speech, who have been reclaimed from such enormities; because there were none of that description to be found in our society. The change has been from ignorance and indifference, and disrelish of divine things, to knowledge, and concern, and spiritual enjoyment. Neither are there among us examples of persons suddenly struck and impressed by some alarming event, or singular interposition of Providence. The word of truth, proclaimed in public, or spoken in private, has been almost the only outward means of producing conviction of sin, and confidence in the Saviour. In every single case, the power of God is visible in the effect produced; but there is little “diversity of operation.” Instead of endeavouring to paint the beauties of holiness in the scene around me, I rather wish to prevail with you and other friends, who know how to enjoy such a spectacle, to “come and see.”
We still have the happiness to find, from week to week, that the same concern and awakening is spreading around, and extending to some neighbouring congregations. Within these few weeks, persons from six or seven miles distance, have called here on a Sabbath morning, under evident concern about their souls. On a succeeding Sabbath, the same persons have called again, introducing a relation, or fellow-servant, under similar concern. All of these, so far as can be judged from present appearances, are in a hopeful way. Such is the manifold grace and lovingkindness with which it has pleased the Lord to visit this corner of his vineyard. I trust that all our Christian brethren, who may receive the joyful intelligence, will join us in praying, that God may continue to water, with showers of blessings, “this vine which his own right hand hath planted and that no boar from the wood may be allowed to waste it, nor worm at the root to smite it that it wither. I am, &c.
In the preceding most interesting narrative, as in others of a similar kind, the connection between the prayers of the people of God, and the remarkable visitation of mercy recorded, is one of the most striking features. Mr. Stewart had known the truth in its power, and preached it for a considerable time before it was attended with any visible success; and it is not till he has informed us of his weekly meetings for prayer, with three pious persons in the parish, that he proceeds to give an account of the general awakening which followed. Thus it ever has been, and will continue to be. Them that honour God in prayer, he will honour with his blessing. Let those, then, who now desire to see “times of refreshing,” such as were experienced at Moulin, be stirred up to imitate the example of these three humble, but Christian individuals, who, in “a mean and smoky hovel,” assembled from week to week, with their minister, to supplicate the blessing of the Spirit, and who, doubtless, in secret, poured out many a fervent “breathing” into the bosom of their gracious and loving Father, on behalf of their ungodly neighbours. And praying in the Spirit, they may expect to be favoured with similar results. God will not turn away their prayer. The present is a season when there is a peculiar call to prayer, and when these encouraging words in the Prophecy of Hosea should be engraven on every heart, and their spirit infused into every soul, - ”IT IS TIME TO SEEK THE LORD, TILL HE COME AND RAIN RIGHTEOUSNESS UPON YOU.”
This is a chapter from Narratives of Revivals of Religion in Scotland, Ireland and Wales published in 1839.