Sunday, 29 March 2009

Power in Preaching

In a letter to a friend John Love laments the lack of spiritual power observable in his own ministry and in the preaching of others. In doing so he makes insightful comments concerning himself.

It is peculiarly hard for public teachers to be pure from the blood of all men, in this great shipwreck of immortal souls. There appears little of the genuine light and fire of the Holy Spirit of God in most of our preaching. The awakening and conversion of a single soul is now become a wonderful scarcity....

That preaching which will awaken and save souls must be a strong and felt anticipation of the great day of the Lord, when the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. But how can I awaken others while I am asleep myself? How strange a thing is the spirit of slumber; how long must I cry against it!

I beg the help of your prayers for the awakening influences of the Holy Ghost.

Friday, 27 March 2009

John Macdonald on keeping a spiritual diary

Glancing through the biography of John Macdonald of Ferintosh, I noticed his comments on the value of keeping a diary. This is what he wrote:

'Among the many omissions of my past life [he was about 36] which I have to lament, that of not keeping a diary, containing some account of the Lord's dealing with my soul, and of the work of my ministry, is not the least. I was chiefly prevented from this by a false humility, and was not thinking anything done in me or by me worthy of being recorded; and as reckoning myself so far behind those who usually kept such diaries that it would be presumptuous on my part to attempt anything of that kind. I now find, however, that this was a mistake, and I have no doubt that Satan was at the bottom of it; for if the Lord wrought in me and by me in any measure, however unworthy I am -- and none is more so, as He knows, on the face of the earth -- His work deserves to be recorded, and some account of it might be serviceable to myself, useful to others, and conducive in some measure to His glory. I would, therefore, in future endeavour to keep some account of my labours, with anything in my own soul, in providence regarding me, or in my success in the vineyard, which may be deserving of notice. And I begin with this year (1816).'

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Jesus Revealing the Glory of God

In John 1:14, the author tells us that he beheld the glory of God when he looked at Jesus Christ. God’s glory was seen in a man. But it was seen in a man who was marked by humility. The places where John saw Jesus’ glory was not only in the halls of fame (such as palaces of rulers), not only in the religious buildings of significance (such as the temple), not only at the banquets laid on for the prominent and the important (although he did show grace to persons when they asked him to a meal). Jesus often did not have where to lay his head. His glory was revealed on the hillside where he used the provisions of a poor boy to feed the hungry multitude, in little villages in talking to poor men and women and children, in the synagogues where the common people gathered.
Leon Morris has summarised it well when he writes of Jesus: ‘When people needed help he helped them. Where they were sick he healed them. Where they were ignorant folk he taught them. Where there were hungry people he fed them. He was not found in the high places of the earth. All of his life he was among God’s little people, those who in one way or another felt their need. And wherever there was need he was found doing lowly service. And that is glory.’
Remember it is John who describes the incident in which Jesus stripped himself and put on a towel and washed his disciples’ feet (John 13). He did not have to do it; he could have asked Peter and John to do it. But it is glory when the One who did not have to do it did it.
God’s glory was also seen in a forgiving man. In 1:14 John says that Jesus was full of grace and truth. Throughout his life Jesus had shown grace and truth: to Nicodemus, the pompous teacher, who became his loyal follower when others abandoned him; to the woman of Samaria who became an effective witness; and to many others. And after his resurrection he showed grace and truth to Peter, who had been cowardly and fallen into using improper language.
God’s glory was also seen in a man who was their friend. These disciples had lived with him for three years. He had called them his friends. In John 1 we are told of how some of these friendships began (John, Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathaniel). Jesus entered into their lives and things became different. As they watched him, listened to him, and followed him their lives were changed.
We too can know the glory of God that is revealed in Jesus. Although now exalted and glorified, he still reveals the glory of God in humbling himself to meet with us, in conveying grace and truth to us, and initiating and developing personal friendship with us.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Jesus and Difficult Trials

When the Saviour heard of the report of the murder of John the Baptist he found a solitary place (Matt. 14:13); he did the same after the feeding of the 5,000 (Matt. 14:22). While the Bible indicates the consequence of these two solitary times (miraculous provision for the multitude and miraculous experience for Peter and the apostles on the sea), it seems that Jesus went by himself to strengthen himself in God no matter his situation, be it a harrowing one or a triumphant one. The obvious lesson is that we can only cope with and benefit from every situation, whether it be pleasant or sorrowful, by going to God about it.

As Jesus was praying to his Father he saw his distressed disciples in the storm (Matt. 14:22-33). Since they already had experience of being rescued by him in a storm at sea (Matt. 8:23-27), it could be argued that their previous experience should have helped them cope with the current storm. Perhaps it did, but they also needed a fresh experience of Jesus for the new situation, no matter how similar its contents were to previous ones. It is clear that Jesus wanted to help them and the ferocity of the storm could not keep him away from his disciples.

This incident is a picture of many occurrences in the Christian life. The disciples were in the storm because Jesus had sent them on their journey. They were in the path of obedience when the storm came. It is a mistake to think that obedience to God will remove difficult times in providence.

But just as Jesus had his eye on his disciples, so he has his eye on us. From the heights of the mountain he had the best overall picture of the situation that his disciples were in – they may only have seen what was near at hand but Jesus saw everything. It is the same with us – we can only see the immediate effect of the trouble but Jesus sees where it fits into his overall plan of blessing for our lives.

He came to the disciples at the right time. He wants to help us too. Just as the ferocity of the storm could not keep him away from the disciples, so the troubles that we face are not too big for Jesus to deal with. It is not the strength of the troubles that prevents Jesus coming to our aid; rather he knows best when to come and calm the storm that we may imagine is raging out of control. And when he does come, we will see that his timing was best.

Gethsemane

As Jesus approached the most trying time in his earthly life, he did as he had done before; instead of doing something unusual, he went to a location that was familiar to him and his disciples. Having arrived, he took Peter, James and John along with him as he prayed. As he walked with them, Mark tells us that Jesus began to be ‘sore amazed’. The word has the idea of ‘utterly surprised’ and ‘stunned with astonishment’. The Saviour had known previously that he was going to die, but now he received a fresh sight of it and he was overwhelmed.

He became ‘very heavy’; the word has the idea of being exceedingly distracted with terror. What a shock the disciples must have got! Never before had they seen their Master in such a state. Up till then, he had been strong and robust, facing opponents without fear. But here he was in great anguish.

Jesus turned to his disciples and informed them of the internal agony he had: ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ What was happening to cause such distress to the almighty Saviour? He was getting a foretaste of Calvary – and it filled him with terror.

Yet we can learn much from the way the Saviour prayed at that time. He had a childlike approach to his Father: ‘Abba’ is the term that Jesus taught his disciples to use in prayer. It reveals the attitudes of love, dependency and devotion. Jesus, in his hour of deepest trial, in this moment of previously unexperienced degree of distress, with a terrible future fast approaching, went to his Father.

This event is referred to in Hebrews 5:7. Jesus was putting all his energy into his prayers, for he uttered loud cries. Luke tells us (22:44) that ‘being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground’. Three times Jesus prayed. The imperfect tense in Mark 14:35 indicates that he was repeatedly falling down and rising up. He was not staying static but was physically indicating the intense anguish he was experiencing.

Yet he was determined to proceed, which is why he prayed that God’s will be done. He decided to do God’s will, no matter the cost. Fear of being separated from God on the cross was not a reason for him to disobey God.

Surprisingly, an angel came to strengthen him. What an honour was given to that angel! Various suggestions have been made as to how the angel fortified him. Some suggest he bowed in worship or that he told Jesus of his future exaltation. Another says that the angel brought a word of encouragement from the Father. Still another that the angel sang to him the praises he had heard in heaven before he came into the world. One suggestion that appeals to me is that the angel repeated to Jesus the words of Psalm 102:25-27 (which follow a prayer for help in verses 23 and 24). These verses are interpreted in Hebrews 1:10-12 as referring to Christ. And if these were the words, what encouragement they would have been to Jesus.

Jesus’ prayer was answered, not only by the presence of an angel, but by divine help given to him. Therefore, he left the garden, not as a victim helpless in the hands of his enemies, but as a king advancing to the field of battle. His words, ‘Rise, let us be going’ are not a command to run away; rather he is going to face the oncoming band who have come to arrest him. And John describes a most unusual incident when that band of soldiers and dignitaries fell down before Jesus after he had revealed who he was. They went backward and fell to the ground as he revealed to them that he was the eternal ‘I am’. But they still persevered in arresting him!

Friday, 20 March 2009

Letters of John Love on the Ministry (4)

Glasgow, 25th December, 1781

Dear Sir

As I supposed you would soon hear of my having communicated to Mr T_____ my acceptance of his offer, I have been the less anxious at the delay of my writing you, occasioned by various circumstances.

I ought to be ashamed that so much regard hath already been shown in your place to one such as I am. And when I compare the greatness of the work which I have undertaken to attempt, with my spiritual poverty and insufficiency, I have the sentence of death in myself; nor can I be relieved otherwise than by trusting in God who quickeneth the dead.

The motives which have determined my acceptance, I hope, have been, in some measure, pleasing in the sight of God. And it is comfortable to me to think that it is the way of God in his grace to choose the weak, foolish, and base things of the world, to be instrumental in the advancement of his kingdom, and to make his wisdom, power and glory to shine through these.

I greatly need and earnestly desire the prayers of the pious people in your place. And the things which I would wish to be prayed for on my behalf are chiefly these:

1. A more pure, fervent, and heavenly zeal for the glory of God and for the souls of all sorts of people among you, old and young, godly and profane, rich and poor.

2. Wisdom to insinuate the truth of God into the hearts and consciences of every sort of persons – the truth of God in his law and in his gospel.

3. Indefatigable strength of spirit to continue unweariedly in private and public labours for the salvation of every one among you, according to my measure and opportunity.

4. A great measure of the spirit of supplication to produce a character corresponding to Isaiah 62:6-7: ‘I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence; and give him no rest till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.’

5. The revelation of the arm of God gloriously to attend and to succeed whatever poor endeavours, in public or in private, I may be enabled to make.

Our moments are flying away, and our eternal Judge is at the door: whatever is to be done for ourselves or others, must be done quickly and with our might.

May the salvation of God eminently come to your house! In this I shall greatly rejoice. J.L.

Letters of John Love on the Ministry (3)

Dear Sir

I ought to take it very kindly that you are pleased to make any enquiry after such a one as I ought to reckon myself. It is no great humility for me to think that I and my preaching deserve to be buried in oblivion and infamy, that is, with regard to what I am in myself, and what of my preaching comes properly from me.

However, it is no part of true humility to speak evil of what is wrought by the Spirit of God in us or by us. I wish I had much more of that kind to speak of than I have; which I might have if it were not my own perverseness and unbelief. It is the sad effect of unbelief to prevent Christ's doing many mighty works.

So far as I can judge, it does not appear that the Lord is at present using me as an instrument of doing great execution as to the work of conviction and conversion. The principal effect of my present labours seems to be with regard to some of the people of God, in their instruction, direction, and consolation, particularly in perplexed and distressed cases. But I think, so far as I am an instrument at all regarded by the Lord, he is rather preparing and polishing me than using me. Though he has had such bad materials to work upon in me, that it seems to require more pains at his hand than is taken with some, the more that this is the case, the greater glory will appear in him who is the great artificer in the kingdom of grace, who is able of stones to raise up children to Abraham; nor is it vain for a poor creature to wait upon him in that empty, hungry, distressed way in which it is ordinary for me to wait upon him. He with whom we have to do is one who brings the blind by a way that they know not, and who makes darkness light and crooked things straight. And, though it is a great thing to us, yet it is not also a great thing in his eyes, in a short time to make a rich compensation (I mean not in the way of death but of grace) for the on-waiting of many years.

I do not think it presumption to comfort myself with such expectations, as that though I may be allowed to seem to toil long to little purpose, yet he may train me up for being at length used as an instrument in an acceptable time, when the wind of the Spirit shall blow with more apparent quickening power than at present, and when trembling at the word of God shall not be so much out of fashion as it now seems to be.

The Lord can soon give such a draught of souls as will be matter of astonishing triumph through eternity. Surely it is worth while to wait long upon the possibility of this, and, with such hope, ‘in the morning to sow our seed, and in the evening not to withhold our hand.’

I have said enough as to myself; I acknowledge myself obliged to have a deep concern for the success of the gospel in your hands, and am desirous of acting much more up to this obligation in the way of earnest prayer than the wretched prevailing of spiritual death will frequently allow. None ought more especially to thank God through Jesus Christ than I, for the ample treasures of sin-conquering and fruit-producing grace.

It will be good news to hear of there having been much of the presence of God with you at your sacramental solemnity, which will probably be over before this comes to hand.

I humbly beg to be remembered in your prayers, JL.

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!’

Thursday, 19 March 2009

4. Highland Revivals (Rogart and Rosemarkie)

This post follows on from 3. Highland Revivals (Golspie)

Rogart
A weekly lecture at the request of the converts was held on Wednesdays, and a day of solemn thanksgiving was kept for the good work of grace vouchsaved to the parish. In the neighbouring parish of Rogart, where Mr. John Munro was minister, fifteen persons were awakened in 1740. In the following year these and other serious persons felt themselves ‘fallen under sad decays of soul’; and sorrowed over the indifferences that prevailed around them. Thereupon ‘they associated for prayer, and at their meetings mourned and wept over the cause of the Lord’s withdrawings from their own souls, and prayed earnestly for powerful days of the Son of Man.’ In 1743-44, about fifty more were awakened, who, in 1745, continued in a hopeful way.

Rosemarkie
In several parishes in the Black Isle there were showers of blessing at this time. Rosemarkie, eleven miles north-east of Inverness, was the site of a Columban church Romanised by Boniface in the eighth century, and there about the year 1128 the bishopric of Ross was founded by David I. Several worthy ministers laboured in the parish after the Revolution. In 1734, Mr. John Wood, chaplain to Sir William Gordon of Invergordon, received a call to the benefice, and for forty-one years laboured with signal faithfulness and success. On the 1st May, 1744, he wrote to Mr. Robe:

‘The least [last?] gracious revival is the more remarkable to me, as I had been groaning under the burden of labouring in vain as to any considerable appearance of success for several years before. Of the few professors of serious religion in the place, the most lively and judicious were removed by death. In such melancholy circumstances it must be peculiarly refreshing that the Lord, of His own mere goodness, should in any measure have visited us. His coming was not, indeed, with observation, being attended with none of those more extraordinary circumstances, as in some other places, but in a gentle, gradual way. Since the communion here in July last, the bulk of the congregation seem to have a desire after instruction and the knowledge of the Gospel much greater than formerly. And this holds with respect to the more private as well as more public ordinances; for in the course of my examinations (catechisings) last winter and spring, I never had so little reason to complain of absentees, being crowded wherever I went by persons from other corners of the parish besides those assembled to be catechised. There are now about thirty persons of different ages and sexes who have come to me under convictions and awakenings of conscience through the Word. Upon conversing with them, I found several had been under some gradual work of this sort for a good time before -- some of them for two years -- though they never disclosed it till now. There are now four praying societies in the parish.’

He goes on to tell of other fourteen or sixteen persons who have given promising appearances of spiritual concern, but like the rest of the awakened, they were reluctant to make known their convictions ‘so long as they were able to conceal them’. He trusts that present appearances, owing to the intense and increasing earnestness manifested throughout the congregation, give promise of greater blessings to follow in the parish. He begs an interest in ‘the prayers of the friends and children of Zion’. He then refers to the revivals in Nigg, Logie-Easter, Kilmuir and Rosskeen in the presbytery of Tain. In the presbytery of Dingwall, Alness and Kiltearn -- so greatly blessed in the days of the Covenanting struggle under Hog and M’Killigan -- ‘revived as the corn, and grew as the vine.’ In his own presbytery of Chanonry, he writes that ‘there is at Cromarty as good number of lively, solid, and judicious Christians, gathered in by the ministry of their godly, judicious, and now aged pastor, Mr. George Gordon, and their number has considerably increased of late. The work of the Gospel is also advancing in Kirkmichael (Resolis). I hear likewise of some promising stir beginning in the parish of Avoch.’

The movement thus described by Messrs. Sutherland and Wood proved to be a genuine revival by the truly abundant and enduring ‘fruits of the Spirit accompanying’. The wave of blessing passed over a large part of the North, and the districts surrounding Inverness, Dingwall, Tain, Dornoch, and Thurso were pre-eminently favoured. A high-toned morality, a strict observance of the Sabbath and of family religion prevailed. Prayer and fellowship meetings sprang up everywhere, and in almost every parish there were many ‘men’ of fervent zeal, prayerfulness, spirituality of mind, and deep Christian experience, ready to take part in religious conference, and ‘speaking to the question’ with remarkable ability, and to the undoubted edification of the hearers. Of some of the ministers who carried on the work thus happily inaugurated, we hope to write in succeeding papers.

3. Highland Revivals (Golspie)

This post continues from 2. Highland Revivals (Rosskeen)

The blessed influence of the awakening extended northward into Sutherlandshire and southward into the Black Isle. It was powerfully felt in Golspie, a parish signally favoured in the ‘Far North’ for vital religion. In the seventeenth century, the Earls of Sutherland might be said to rival those of Argyll in unflinching devotion to Christ’s cause and covenant, and many were the devout refugees who found a quiet resting-place in the reign of terror, under the shadow of Dunrobin Castle, in Golspie.

In 1690, Mr. Walter Denoon, a native of Easter Ross, was inducted to the parish. He is more than once honourably mentioned by Wodrow in his history as a notable Covenanting preacher. On the 3rd September, 1678, he had the honour of being accused as a keeper of conventicles in his native county. On the 12th February, 1679, he was seized by the young Earl of Seaforth, and ordered to be transported from sheriff to sheriff till he arrived at the Tolbooth of Edinburgh. Six days after, Lord Brodie enters in his Diary: ‘This day Mr. Walter Denoon passed by, being taken by the Earl of Seaforth on the 12th, and sent from shire to shire. My soul grieved that this should be the first act of that young man’s life. Lord!, overrule and turn it to good.’ On arriving at the south ferry of Dundee, worthy Denoon was rescued by his friend, ‘that excellent young gentlemen, Andrew Ayton, younger of Inchardie,’ who, when little more than seventeen years of age, was an intercommuned fugitive in Moray, and so soon to win the martyr’s crown at Cupar.

In 1680, Denoon was so obnoxious from holding conventicles that the Privy Council on 6th March, wrote a virulent letter to Alexander Mackenzie, Sheriff-Depute of Ross, to suppress conventicles in that shire. After referring to the king’s care to suppress such meetings, and to Ross-shire as a district purged of infection, they add, ‘Yet some bold and presumptuous persons, setting aside all fear of God and respect to their sovereign and his laws, have adventured to intrude themselves in a pretended ministry, and thereby to debauch weak men and silly women, drawing them into those rebellious methods, particularly one Mr. Denoon and Mr. Hepburn; we cannot expect but you will use all diligence to apprehend them or others, and dissipate their meetings with all severity.’

So determined were the Council to create a solitude and call it peace, that in less than a week (12th March) they sent another peremptory letter to the Earl of Moray, urging him ‘to use all diligence to preserve the northern shires from this infection’. Mr. John Hepburn, mentioned by the Council as the coadjutor of Denoon, was the son of a persecuted Covenanter who lived in the neighbourhood of Forres. Father and son are often mentioned as guests at Brodie Castle. After the Revolution, Mr. John Hepburn became minister of Urr, Dumfries, and was a noted and persistent contender against defections in Church and State. Denoon was a member of the Assembly in October 1690, and one of the Commission of Assembly for visiting on the north side of the Tay. ‘His last appearance,’ records Dr. Scott, Fasti, ‘is on the roll of Synod, 19th June, 1728, when he is said to have been nearly a hundred years old, and in the 76th of his ministry, having been for many years the oldest minister in the province.’

He was succeeded in Golspie by Mr. John Sutherland (son of Mr. Arthur Sutherland of Edderton) in 1731. Sutherland was a devoted Gospel minister, a zealous champion of the rights of the people in opposition to the moderatism that was beginning to poison the life of the National Church. ‘He greatly encouraged opposition to the settlements of those ministers who did not have the popular voice in their favour, and gave sealing ordinances to such as withdrew from their regular pastors; so that he exercised the office of universal bishop in their bounds.’ He was eager to join in ‘the concert for prayers’, entered into on the part of leading ministers in America and Scotland in 1744.
On the 8th August, 1745, he wrote an interesting letter to Mr. Robe, which was published in his Monthly History of that year. He begins by bearing testimony to the piety and patriotism of the noble Sutherland family, in serving the interests of true religion in the parish. The Covenanting fugitives, instead of returning to their old homes after the Revolution, evinced their gratitude and attachment to the family of Dunrobin by remaining for ‘the rest of their days in their respective callings under the wings that covered them in their distress’. They and their children became a blessing to others. ‘At my admission in 1731,’ he tells, ‘there was a goodly number of devout Christians in the place, but in a few years sundry of them were called to the joy of their Lord; whilst we who survived them found cause to bewail that but few were wrought upon to fill up their places.

‘In this uncomfortable state of things, and amidst my greater fears than hopes, I took care to notify to the people the blessed and wonderful sense of the Gospel in the British colonies of America, so soon as I had certain accounts of it by the printed declarations of Messrs. Edwards and Cooper and others. I likewise communicated to them the display of Divine mercy and grace, your congregation, that of Cambuslang, and sundry other congregations in the west and south of Scotland were so highly favoured with, immediately after I found that blessed work so well attested by you, by Mr. Willison of Dundee, Mr. Webster of Edinburgh, and sundry more of our brethren of unquestionable credit. After my return from the Assembly of 1743 I also reported to them what with great joy I had myself observed of the Lord’s work with you at Kilsyth, Methil, and Cambuslang, in my way to that Assembly; if by these means I might provoke the people to emulation, yet no success was observed.

‘In August 1743, after the administration of the sacrament of the Holy Supper at Nigg, at which I assisted, I lamented to our dear and worthy brother, Mr. Balfour, the wretched security of the people of my parish, and my unsuccessful ministry among them. He thereupon reported how much cause he had to bless the Lord for the success of the Gospel among his people from the time he had constituted societies for prayer in his parish. Immediately I resolved to essay the like means in imitation of his successful example, and on my return home communicated this design to some of the serious people of the parish, and directed them to meet in three separate societies on Saturday evenings, with earnest recommendations to them to pray for the influences of the Spirit of God to accompany the ministration of Gospel ordinances in the place. This number called the rest of the communicants together, and soon set about the duty according to recommendation, but no remarkable change could be observed on any for the space of a year thereafter.

‘But when our hopes were almost gone, the great and bountiful God, who ever does wonders, was mercifully pleased to breathe upon a number of dry bones, and to visit them with His salvation; for from the beginning of November last to the date hereof, upwards of seventy persons came to me under various exercises of soul. A few of this number, who had visited me in or about November last, told, among other things, that they had been for sundry months bowed down in spirit under a sense of their aggravated guilt, but, for reasons they mentioned, could not get themselves prevailed upon to disclose their sad circumstances till then. Soon after this hint I showed to the congregation, in a doctrinal way, that it was the duty of awakened sinners, next to their application to a throne of grace, to lay open their sense of sin and misery to ministers and experienced Christians, lest through want of appointed helps Satan and lusts might get advantages of them. This public notice so far encouraged such as were awakened before or after that date that they afterwards resorted to me frequently as their occasions required.’

After describing the exercises and temptations of the awakened, he proceeds: ‘With regard to their conversion I may affirm that the change to the better is evident in their lives, as their neighbours testify of them. This work was advanced in some by quicker and in others by slower degrees; yet in both a decent, grave and solemn deportment, or shedding abundance of tears, which they concealed as long as they were able, were all the visible signs we had in time of hearing of the inward concern of their minds. And by reason of the silence and calmness that accompanied this work in its beginning or progress hitherto, we have heard of none that returned to reproach it. About forty of them have with weeping eyes and trembling hands received tokens for the Lord’s Table at the late solemn ordinance here, and it is hoped the rest will be encouraged to follow their example in a little time. With respect to the effects produced on their bodies, some have told me that they had been deprived of many nights’ rest, others of many hours of almost every night, in which they were deeply exercised with apprehensions of the wrath of God, or much comforted. Some for a time lost nearly all appetite for food, or forgot to eat at their set meals. Others felt their bodily strength and health much impaired; and a few had tremblings on some occasions without any other effects on their bodies.

‘I must further remark that, since the beginning of this work, those of long standing in religion have been sensibly revived and enlarged, and are much comforted now with what they observe in others, and are very helpful to them. Even the secure multitude attend ordinances better, and seem to listen to the word preached with greater attention than before. Most of the awakened are between twenty and fifty years of age; few are under twenty, and only four from sixty to seventy. They are farmers or tradesmen, or their wives and servants. Seven are widows in low circumstances. The terrors of the Lord denounced in His Word against the wilful transgressors of His holy laws, and the impenitent, unbelieving despisers of His Gospel grace; the impossibility of salvation on the score of self-righteousness; the absolute necessity of the efficacious influences of the grace and Spirit of God in order to a vital union with Christ by faith for righteousness and salvation; that all the blessings of the New Covenant freely given by the Father to the elect, and purchased for them by the sufferings and death of Christ the Son, are effectually applied to them by the Holy Ghost -- these were the doctrines insisted on to the congregation. Those wrought upon have told me that a course of lectures on the Gospel according to Matthew, especially the conclusion on the sufferings, death, [and] resurrection of Christ, together with sermons on Deuteronomy 31:21, 22; Ephesians 4:30; 1 Peter 4:17-18; 2 Peter 2:9; Ephesians 5:14; [and] Matthew 12:4; were the means the Lord had blessed to their edification.’

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.’

1. Highland Revivals (Nigg)

The following post (first of several) is part of an account of revivals which occurred in the north of Scotland in the eighteenth century. The account is found in the magazine of the Original Secession Church.

It was well on towards the middle of the eighteenth century that the best days of the religious life of the North Highlands began. After the Revolution Settlement [1688], Church Courts struggled on amid manifold difficulties to supply Gospel ordinances, but the labourers were few. Along the shores of the Moray, Cromarty and Dornoch firths some very eminent ministers were settled, and by them ‘prayer was made without ceasing’ for a revived work, and times of refreshing.

One of the first parishes to share the abundant blessing vouchsaved in answer to united prayer was Nigg, in the Presbytery of Tain. The worthy Mr John Balfour, a licentiate of the Presbytery of Caithness, was ordained minister of Logie-Easter in 1716, and was translated to Nigg in March 1729. He found the people sunk in gross ignorance and iniquity. Sabbath was devoted to athletic games. ‘They had a leader, a strong, bold man, to whom all looked up. Mr Balfour watched for his opportunity. Having to attend the General Assembly he sent for the champion of the Sabbath sports, and told him that, as his duty called him from home, he left the east end of the parish in his charge, and would hold him responsible that the people spent the Sabbath, not in games and rioting, but in prayer and reading and hearing the Word. ‘You are surely aware, sir,’ said the athlete, ‘that of these games, I myself am the leader, and the first to begin; how then can you ask me to stop them?’ ‘I charge you before God to do so,’ said the minister; ‘let the guilt of a refusal lie upon your conscience.’ ‘Well, sir, if it must be so,’ replied the man, ‘I’ll try what I can do.’ He was as good as his word. The Sabbath games were discontinued, and the ringleader himself became a devoted Christian’ (Sage, Mem.).

With what prayerful zeal he laboured thereafter may be learned from his own words published in Robe’s Monthly History for 1744: ‘The revival of religion in the parish of Nigg has been on the advance since the year 1730, though for most part in a gradual, slow way, and with several stops and intermissions at times. As to new awakenings, the most considerable concern appeared in 1739. Then several persons awakened (and who had never done it before) applied to the minister about their spiritual interest, each day in the week, for one week, Saturday not excepted.’
He goes on to show that the awakening ‘has continued still in some desirable measure’, attended by ‘the accession of such as did not before profess or declare a religious concern’; and that there were ‘no unusual bodily symptoms’ as narrated in other places. ‘Very few, not one in forty, who have been awakened have fallen off from a religious profession, or given open scandal to it. The general meeting for prayer and spiritual conference, which sometimes consisted only of the members of session, and a few others, became at length so numerous that, about three years ago, it was necessary to divide it into two, each of which is since considerably increased.
‘Besides these general meetings (which convene in two places in the parish at a proper distance every alternate Monday, and presided over by the minister) there are ten societies which meet in as many places in the parish every Saturday for prayer, and other religious exercises. Care is taken that, in each of these societies, one or more of the elders, or some Christians of distinguished experience, be always present; and nothing as yet appears about them but what has a tendency to promote the most valuable ends and interests of religion. Besides those who have applied for access to the meetings, and who are not admitted till after giving some account of their concern to the minister and also to some of the elders, and other Christians in their neighbourhood, the body of the parishioners seem generally to be under serious impressions of religion.
‘Worship is kept in all the families in the parish, except three or four. The Lord’s Day is very solemnly observed. After the public worship is over, there are meetings in all parts, where neighbouring families join in prayer, reading, and repetition of sermons; and yet care is taken that such meetings and exercises do not interfere with, nor hinder the more private exercises of religion in each family apart. Ordinances are very punctually attended on the Lord’s Day; and diets of catechising, in whatever part of the parish they are kept on weekdays, are much crowded by people from other parts.
‘The civil magistrate has had no crimes here to animadvert upon for many years; and the kirk session has very little else to do, but to inform and consult about the religious concerns of the parish, and to concert how these may be looked after and managed to greatest advantage. And it is specially to be remarked that the people are very diligent and industrious in their secular callings, and more forward in the business of their husbandry that their neighbours in other parts of the country.

‘There is the like appearance of success to the Gospel in other parishes in this country, particularly Rosskeen and Kilmuir-Easter, of which the ministers may give information, as they are known to have the advancement of the great interest of the Gospel much at heart…

‘As notes have not been taken in writing of past occurrences and cases, it is judged the safer way to give this general account of matters only at this time; though it is not doubted if particular cases and instances were recollected, with their special circumstances, a narrative of them would be entertaining and edifying to all that have a relish and value for such subjects.’

In the following summer (June 20, 1744), Mr Balfour writes: ‘Since February the work of awakening has proceeded upon subjects more currently that in any former period, and still continues to the praise of free grace. With several it appears to be more distinct and lively than formerly. The far greater number that profess religion in this parish are illiterate, and understand only the Gaelic language. All that I shall say of this language is that it is no disadvantage to their education and instruction in religion. I never conversed with more intelligent, savoury, and distinctly exercised private Christians than some illiterate men in this district, or that challenged and got more respect on a religious account from all sorts of persons of their acquaintance. It is surprising to observe with what industry many, especially of the younger sort, endeavour to acquire reading. Some read the Psalms in Gaelic metre, and teach others in the same way, without knowing or attending to the power of letters, or the use of syllabication, by considering words as complex characters which are always to be pronounced in the same way. Some of the elder sort likewise recover their reading which they had been taught young, but neglected and forgot afterwards. But as the generality are still illiterate, that disadvantage is much made up to them by hearing others read the Scriptures and other good books, which they translate currently as they read, and without any stop.
‘This ready way of reading is one of the exercises performed in the several weekly meetings for prayer, as also in many families. By these means the knowledge of the Scriptures and practical religion is greatly increased. It is really astonishing to me to observe what a copious and pertinent use of the Scriptures many illiterate persons have acquired, and with what a readiness and fluency they pray in Scripture language. I love not to make comparisons nor at all to exaggerate things, but I must be allowed to declare ingeniously, they often make me blush when I am among them and hear them praying, as well as speaking to religious cases. Thus in the most literal sense “faith comes by hearing”. The unlearned rise and take heaven by force. The men of letters dispute heaven -- these live it.’

The almost universal change produced in the parish -- evidenced in high-toned morality, strict Sabbath observance, earnest desire for instruction, unwearied attendance upon ordinances, and hungering and thirsting for the bread of life -- contrasts marvellously with the old prevailing barbarism. The worthy Mr. Lewis Rose, who wrote the statistical account of Nigg in 1836, bears striking testimony to the undoubted genuineness of the revival under the ministry of the godly Mr. Balfour.
‘A chosen generation then appeared, men of God and of prayer. These were a Donald Roy and an Andrew Roy, a John Noble and a Nicholas Vass, and others, whose names may be forgotten on earth, but whose record is on high. Vital godliness prevailed, the Day and House of the Lord were revered, the commandments of God were obeyed, and the character of the people afforded a wonderful contrast to the common abominations that characterised the preceding generation. The records of the kirk session for the thirty years succeeding 1705, while they afford abundant evidence of the zeal and faithfulness of ministers and elders in checking vice of every description, are disgusting in the extreme, as exhibiting a frequency and a grossness of vice among the people, which the succeeding generation would shudder to contemplate. And yet, be it added, the favourable change was produced by the blessing of the Holy Spirit upon the heaven-appointed means, which an authoritative ministry and eldership were indefatigable in employing.’ As Mr. Rose was the highly respected minister of the parish from 1818 to 1835, when he was called to Glasgow, he had full and accurate knowledge of what he described.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Letters of John Love on the Ministry (2)

Dear Sir

I ought to take it very kindly that you are pleased to make any enquiry after such a one as I ought to reckon myself. It is no great humility for me to think that I and my preaching deserve to be buried in oblivion and infamy, that is, with regard to what I am in myself, and what of my preaching comes properly from me.

However, it is no part of true humility to speak evil of what is wrought by the Spirit of God in us or by us. I wish I had much more of that kind to speak of than I have; which I might have if it were not my own perverseness and unbelief. It is the sad effect of unbelief to prevent Christ's doing many mighty works.

So far as I can judge, it does not appear that the Lord is at present using me as an instrument of doing great execution as to the work of conviction and conversion. The principal effect of my present labours seems to be with regard to some of the people of God, in their instruction, direction, and consolation, particularly in perplexed and distressed cases. But I think, so far as I am an instrument at all regarded by the Lord, he is rather preparing and polishing me than using me. Though he has had such bad materials to work upon in me, that it seems to require more pains at his hand than is taken with some, the more that this is the case, the greater glory will appear in him who is the great artificer in the kingdom of grace, who is able of stones to raise up children to Abraham; nor is it vain for a poor creature to wait upon him in that empty, hungry, distressed way in which it is ordinary for me to wait upon him. He with whom we have to do is one who brings the blind by a way that they know not, and who makes darkness light and crooked things straight. And, though it is a great thing to us, yet it is not also a great thing in his eyes, in a short time to make a rich compensation (I mean not in the way of death but of grace) for the on-waiting of many years.

I do not think it presumption to comfort myself with such expectations, as that though I may be allowed to seem to toil long to little purpose, yet he may train me up for being at length used as an instrument in an acceptable time, when the wind of the Spirit shall blow with more apparent quickening power than at present, and when trembling at the word of God shall not be so much out of fashion as it now seems to be.

The Lord can soon give such a draught of souls as will be matter of astonishing triumph through eternity. Surely it is worth while to wait long upon the possibility of this, and, with such hope, 'in the morning to sow our seed, and in the evening not to withhold our hand.'

I have said enough as to myself; I acknowledge myself obliged to have a deep concern for the success of the gospel in your hands, and am desirous of acting much more up to this obligation in the way of earnest prayer than the wretched prevailing of spiritual death will frequently allow.

None ought more especially to thank God through Jesus Christ than I, for the ample treasures of sin-conquering and fruit-producing grace.

It will be good news to hear of there having been much of the presence of God with you at your sacramental solemnity, which will probably be over before this comes to hand.

I humbly beg to be remembered in your prayers, JL.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Letters of John Love on the Ministry (1)

Dear Sir (written in 1779)
I hope it is from a good design that I trouble you with this letter; which it will be worth your while to read and mine to write, if thereby you are led to think more seriously than ever on these three things.
1. The vast difficulty of the work of the ministry. I know something of this now by experience. I feel how difficult and supernatural a thing it is to feel in my heart holy love to God and man, so prevailing as to keep self-seeking as to applause etc. in its proper distance from such holy work.
2. How glorious a thing it is to be enabled to preach the gospel from divine supernatural views of it, and from divine supernatural ends, that God may be glorified in the salvation of sinners! If it had not been a glorious thing, Christ would not have been engaged in it, nor would he have made such promises to those who attain to it!
3. How full and free are the treasures of grace in Christ!
I have been preaching as an assistant in R_____ for some time, and have continued for eight Sabbaths past, with a view to the public state of matters, on Habakkuk 3:16: 'When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble: when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops.'
I beg your help at the throne of grace in the work in which I am engaged.