Thursday, 19 March 2009

2. Highland Revivals (Rosskeen)

This post follows on from 1. Highland Revivals (Nigg)
The parish of Rosskeen, referred to by Mr. Balfour, lies on the north shore of the Cromarty Firth, a few miles west of Nigg. The curate, Mr. William Mackenzie, never conformed to Presbyterianism, and a fifty years’ incumbency ‘died in the enjoyment of the benefice’ in March 1714. After a vacancy of three years, Mr Daniel Beton (or Bethune) was called by the Presbytery from Ardesier, where he had earnestly laboured for four years, and settled in Rosskeen on 25th April, 1717. Here, as in other parishes under Prelatic supervision, ‘Sabbath was profaned without remorse.’ It was the practice of the people to meet at Ardross, in the upper part of the parish, on the Lord’s Day, to play at shinty, and to this practice the faithful minister determined to put a stop.

A certain man noted for his activity and strength was the acknowledged chief and leader of the shinty players. Mr. Beton sent for the popular hero, and solemnly proposed to make him an elder! He was, of course, startled at the proposal, to which, however, after some persuasion, he consented. After duly calling him to the eldership, Mr. Beton informed him of the various duties of his new office, and very particularly of the obligation he was under of putting at end to the shinty playing on the Sabbath. The man promised to do so, and next Sabbath he was foremost on the field of action, armed with a stout cudgel. Then, addressing the assembling players, he declared that if one of them dared to lift a club he should forthwith feel the weight of his cudgel. The result was the retirement of the disconcerted players, who never more met for shinty on the Lord’s Day. Doubtless, some of them were persuaded to accompany the valiant ruling-elder to the long-deserted church.

‘As pastor of the congregation, Mr Beton was faithful, diligent and assiduous, had the happiness of seeing many good effects from his labours, and not a few benefited by his instructions. Nor were his labours confined to those only, as he had a happy knack in composing differences and animosities.’

After labouring in this populous parish for four years, he resolved to hold the Communion; but only six or seven parishioners were admitted to the Lord’s Table. Of course, all who did not make a credible profession of faith were excluded. In his statement published in Robe’s Monthly History for 1744, he tells that for nine or ten years after that first Communion ‘there was a pleasant appearance of good in his parish’. Sinners were gathered to Shiloh, and they continued growing in grace and in the maintenance of love and holiness. ‘But from the year 1732 to 1742 things were much at a stand, comparatively; though during that time some were engaged to the Lord…. But from the harvest of 1742 to Martinmas 1743 (which he reckons the most remarkable period of his ministry) there came a surprising revival and stir among the people of this parish. About six and thirty men and women felt under concern about their salvation. Some weeks thereafter they were received into the monthly fellowship meeting in the parish.
‘Several of them were admitted since that time to the Lord’s Table, and others of them are to be admitted if the Lord shall spare them and their minister, who is much broken in his constitution by sharp afflictions of different kinds. He found, by conversing with these persons, that the subjects the Lord blessed most for their awakening, drawing and encouragement (together with close catechising through his parish) were Hosea 13:13 (‘He is an unwise son; for he should not stay long in the place of the breaking forth of children), Galatians 4:19 (‘My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you’), and John 3:3 (‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’). But especially the first of these subjects was the principal means of the first stir. In general, some of them were plunged in the deeps of fear and despondency, and are still for most part; others have attained to more courage in the way of believing; and all of them as yet walk suitably to their profession. And it is hoped the Lord has not ceased to add to the number of those; for this season some few are coming to the minister, in a private way, to communicate the afflicted case of their souls, by reason of their sin and misery; and honest people in the parish tell him that others are on the way of coming.

‘Some children, boys and girls, in the east end of the parish (about twelve in number and between nine and fifteen years of age) began last winter to meet every Sabbath evening and Monday night in the house of a poor godly widow. There they exercise themselves in prayer by turns, with singing and conferring about what they hear in public. They keep strict discipline, and admit none into their society but such as undertake to pray with them. Some of the serious people of the place overhearing them, without their knowledge, were greatly surprised and affected with their massy, sound expressions, and the savour they found with them in prayer. And now one or other of the serious people join often with them. They watch over the behaviour of each other. They are constant hearers of the Word, and examine each other about it. Their outward deportment is grave and quiet, without any childish levity. They are illiterate, but fond of learning.’

This prayer meeting held by the Rosskeen children resembles one kept about the same time in Kirkintilloch by sixteen children who ‘were observed to meet together in a barn for prayer; the occasion of which was that one of them said to the rest, What need is there that we should always play; had we not better go and pray? Wherewith the rest complied. Mr. Burnside, their minister, as soon as he heard of it, carefully enquired after them, and met frequently with them for their direction and instruction. And, as I am informed, they make progress, and continue in a hopeful way. This made much noise in the countryside, and deep impressions both upon young and old’ (Robe, Narratives).

Mr. Beton continued thus to labour in Rosskeen until his death on 15th March, 1754, in the seventy-sixth year of his age. Mr David Carment (a well-known Disruption minister) was inducted into this parish in March, 1822. In 1838 he wrote of Mr. Beton that ‘he was a man eminently pious and successful in winning souls to Christ’. Mr. Carment’s regular congregation was from 1,200 to 1,400. He remarks: ‘We have no dissenters…. As for voluntaries, we know nothing about them. They cannot vegetate here. The Highland soil does not seem favourable to the growth of Voluntaryism. We do at times get a solitary importation from the South, but they do not thrive, and become quite quiescent after a few months residence in the North…. The number of communicants is about 120. We have thus fewer communicants than our southern neighbours; but we are inclined to believe that we have more religion and more morality, and are more inclined to fear God and honour the king, and less disposed to meddle with those who are given to change. But still, we must confess that there is a manifest departure among all ranks from that strictness and integrity, and genuine holiness, which in the olden time characterised the natives of our northern clime. We would pray for a revival of religion in every corner of our land.’

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