Friday, 20 March 2009

Revival in Lewis (1820s)


I was reading tonight about the initial revival in the Western Isles during the ministry in Uig, Lewis, of Rev. Alexander Macleod (he was ordained there in 1824). The account is found in a short volume, published in the nineteenth century, that refers to several different revivals that took place in Scotland. The following are some details, including features of the revival highlighted in the account, as well as a couple of paragraphs from it.
1. When Macleod arrived, most of the congregation, although unconverted, attended the Lord’s Supper (there were between eight and nine hundred of them). He delayed holding one for a year because he suspected few discerned the Lord while taking part in the Supper. When he did arrange an occasion, only a few participated and that with silent tears.

2. Signs of approaching awakening included inquirers wanting private instruction, an extra lecture on Thursdays, and increase of prayer meetings. Over the years, many who were converted did not come to the Lord’s Supper, a common response elsewhere in the Highlands, but also a defect in the religious life of the church. In 1828, over 9,000 attended the communion in Uig. One of the preachers was the well-known evangelist, John Macdonald of Ferintosh. A sea captain observed of this revival: ‘One hears of religion elsewhere, but one sees it here in everything.’

3. Five natives of Uig lost their sight in the army while in Egypt. They were converted on their return to Uig. Three of them became ‘active fellow-helpers in the extension of Christian truth and consolation’ and one was ‘a most efficient and effective elder’.
Some effects of the revival

1. The prayerfulness of the people. People prayed frequently on a daily basis, especially in the evening. Because their houses contained only one room, the people prayed where they were working (on land or at sea). Morning and evening devotions were held in their homes.

2. The uprightness of the people. This was illustrated in a year of famine. A boat carrying meal was forced ashore by the weather. The people did not raid the boat; instead they waited until each received a legitimate share. The minister gave a promissory note, based on his assumption that the landowner would not let him be impoverished.
3. One form of restitution was this: ‘It is a rule in this and other isles of the Hebrides that when a man meets a stray sheep on the moor, he is entitled to carry it home as his own, and obliged to make an equivalent offering in the collection for the poor on the Sabbath day. After the commencement of the revival in the Lewis, many came to confess to their minister the trouble of conscience they experienced by reason of what they called a black sheep in their flocks -- some having had them for several winters. The minister always directed them to make restitution now in the appointed way; and in one season, the sum of £16 was deposited in the plate. The number of sheep annually lost has wonderfully diminished since the commencement of the revival, leading to the conclusion, that the loss imputed to accident arose from dishonesty.’
4. The Christian liberality of the people. A collection was taken every Thursday for the needy people of the parish. They collected funds annually for the Gaelic School Society of £13 and above for many years. A poor man told the minister that he would part with one of his cows before parting with the teacher. One of the blind men (named Norman Macleod) mentioned above was converted through a combination of the Bible taught in the school and what he heard in church. He regularly gave a substantial amount from his army pension to help maintain a teacher. On another occasion (in 1835), the congregation noted that after a substantial collection (£20) for church extension work, they were favoured with a bountiful fishing harvest which more than repaid what they had given.

5. The revival affected old and young. Catherine Smith was observed to engage in voluntary prayer from the age of two. Malcolm Macleod was 95 before he repented. He was unable to attend church because of infirmity. In October or November 1834, his pious daughter repeated to him what she had heard in church. He became interested and eventually he developed spiritual practices, and praise and prayer became his principal food. His minister gave him private instruction and also preached at his bedside on the man who was 38 years at the pool. Four friends carried him to an occasion of the Lord’s Supper, where ‘with tears of sorrow for past profanation of that privilege, coursing each other over his furrowed cheeks, and of grateful love for present blessings. The whole multitude were moved, every eye glistening in sweet sympathy with his feelings.’

6. Revival continued in Uig for over a decade. In 1835, Macleod visited other islands in the Hebrides to see their state. He found that Tiree opposed the gospel. On reporting this state of affairs to his people in Uig, he noticed that those who were Christians increased their devotion, whereas others were brought under a state of concern for their souls and repented for having harboured the same outlook as the people of Tiree. In November, he observed much religious impression (silent tears) in the church, a feature which had been common previously when they met outdoors but which had subsided after the church had been built. ‘It is a fact worthy of observation, that during ten years in which this work of grace has made a steady progress, there has not been one outbreaking of enthusiasm, or delusion, or false doctrine, so that their minister expressed great astonishment and thankfulness, after reading Dr. Sprague’s work on American Revivals, that they have been so graciously preserved from the extravagance and error which has in some few instances broken in to injure the integrity of the work in America.’

Assessment of the author of the account
‘In considering the state of things in the parish of Uig, we are disposed to rejoice over it more than over any other Scottish Revival. Its calm, and deep, and prolonged flow, and its sincerity, may be imputed to some natural and obvious causes. God has vouchsaved to them for ten years the ministrations of a man, whose method is consistent, and now well understood by them. He has been preserved in prayerful humility as their watchman, and saved from in any way casting a stumbling-block in their way.... Though Uig be the most enlivened spot, the revival is by no means limited to that parish. There has been no variety of sects introducing controversy or strife, or withdrawing men’s minds from the essentials that concern their own souls, to fix them on the less weighty forms of church government, or questions of no profit. In this respect, truth has had fairer entrance to the mind, and prayer has not been hindered. At Arran there seemed to be a tendency in some to yield to bodily excitement and nervous emotions, which their results proved not to be genuine workings of the renewed heart. In Glenlyon, the spirit of controversy met and drove back the spirit of contrition. At Moulin, the removal of the faithful instructor left the sheep to be scattered. But in Lewis, hitherto the Lord hath upheld and sheltered his flock from such dangers, and the spirit of faith and prayer and a sound mind is preserved amongst them. May it never die away, but from this distant spot of our empire may the blessed wave of salvation swell and rise, till it shall overflow the land, and gather in every county, every parish, and every soul to the kingdom of our God and of his Christ!’

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