The 1742 Kilsyth Revival
It was early in the year 1742; when the Spirit of God remarkably visited the parish of Cambuslang, then under the pastoral care of the Rev. M’Culloch. It was computed that, by his instrumentality, aided by many pious ministers, about four hundred individuals were brought to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. This remarkable display of the Mediator’s power awakened great joy in the hearts of God’s people, and stirred up many pious ministers and people in other parishes to earnest persevering prayer that the Lord would carry on His work, and refresh his weary heritage over the land.
occasion was the Rev. Mr. Robe, minister of the neighbouring parish of Kilsyth. Like Mr. M’Culloch, he was a man of prayer, deeply aware of the responsibility attending his office, and anxiously solicitous for the eternal welfare of his people. Every time he visited Cambuslang he seems to have returned to his own charge as if “anointed with fresh oil,” resolutely determined to know nothing among them but “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” By this time he had laboured in the parish of Kilsyth for the space of thirty years, without being aware of any remarkable success having accompanied his ministrations. During that period, the parish had been visited with a severe fever, by which many, particularly of the godly, were suddenly cut off. That visitation was followed by a famine, and shortly after, in the summer of 1733, great loss was sustained by a destructive storm of thunder and lightning; but, instead of these judgments leading the people to think of God, whose displeasure they had incurred, and to seek Him “with weeping and with supplication,” wickedness seemed to increase. Mr. Robe, in his narrative, testifies that no one appeared to be affected with sin, the cause of all the evils that were complained of. On the contrary, the Societies for prayer declined, the love of many waxed cold, the spirit of formality seemed to prevail, and open transgression greatly abounded. In these painful circumstances the good man betook himself to prayer in behalf of his people, and continued still most faithfully to set before them “life and death—the blessing and the curse.” In the year 1740, he commenced a series of practical discourses on the doctrine of regeneration. He explained and applied, with all faithfulness and scriptural simplicity, the nature, the importance, the necessity, the evidences of this spiritual transformation, and although these discourses were listened to with apparent seriousness, yet no visible effects followed at the time. When Cambuslang and other parishes were sharing so copiously of the Divine influence, it was matter of grief and discouragement to Mr. Robe that not one of his people seemed as yet at all to be awakened. He continued to wrestle much in prayer, and still with affectionate earnestness to exhibit to his people a full and free salvation. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Like Jacob, he wrestled, and, like Israel, he prevailed—The Lord did in due time send a “plenteous rain.” The first symptoms were the reviving of many of the meetings for prayer, the institution of some new similar associations, and particularly of one composed exclusively of females, from ten to sixteen years of age. These movements were hailed as the harbingers of brighter days.
Mr. Willison of Dundee, “whose praise is in the Gospel throughout all the churches,” being on a visit to Cambuslang, spent a few days at Kilsyth, on his way home. Being requested to preach, he did so, and delivered “a distinct, plain, and moving sermon,” from these words:—”He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.” Many of those who were afterwards effectually awakened dated their first serious concern about their souls, from hearing that sermon. On the Sabbath following, 18th April, 1742, Mr. Robe preached from these words:—”My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” He experienced more than usual tenderness in reading the text, and could not refrain from tears. On the Sabbath immediately following, one woman was awakened to a very distressing sight of her sinfulness and consequent exposure to misery. She was observed by some in the congregation to be under great uneasiness. When the congregation dismissed, she was not able to proceed on her way home, and soon after was found in a field, crying out like the jailer, “what shall I do to be saved?” She was brought back to the minister, who conversed with her for a considerable time. She said that in hearing the sermon she was made to see that she was unlike Jesus Christ, and like the Devil, and altogether in a state of unregeneracy. She had strong impressions of the greatness of the wrath of God, to which, on account of sin, she felt herself liable. She parted with Mr. Robe considerably composed. She continued for some time to endure occasionally, very great mental anguish, but soon after obtained sensible relief, by an “apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ.” On Sabbath, the 9th of May following, five persons were awakened to a distressing sight of their sinful and lost estate. Mr. Robe, and the praying people around, fondly cherished the hope that this might be but as a few drops before the plentiful rain.
And now the period of peculiar favour to this parish was come—the time that God had set. Mr. Robe in his narrative states,—”On May 16, I preached, as I have done for some time, on Gal. iv: 19 My little children, of whom I travail in birth until Christ be formed in you.’ While pressing all the unregenerate to seek to have Christ formed in them, an extraordinary power of the Divine Spirit accompanied the word preached. There was a great mourning in the congregation, as for an only son. Many cried out, and these not only women, but some strong and stout-hearted young men. After the congregation was dismissed,” continues Mr. Robe, “an attempt was made to get the distressed into my barn, but their number being so great this was impossible, and I was obliged to convene them in the kirk. I sung a psalm and prayed with them, but when I essayed to speak to them I could not be heard, so great were their bitter cries, groans, and the voice of their weeping. After this, I requested that they might come into my closet, one by one. I sent for the Rev. Mr. John Oughterson, minister of Cumbernauld, who immediately came to assist me in dealing with the distressed. In the meantime, I appointed psalms to be sung with those in the kirk, and that the precentor and two or three of the elders should pray with them. The noise of the distressed was heard from afar. It was pleasant to hear those who had been in a state of enmity with God, despisers of Jesus Christ, and Satan’s contented slaves, crying out for mercy; —some, that they were lost and undone;—others, what shall we do to be saved;’ others, praising God for this day, and for awakening them; and not a few, not only weeping and crying for themselves, but for their graceless relations. And yet it would have moved the hardest heart, that many of them, like the Israelites under Pharaoh’s oppression, hearkened not when I spoke unto them, they were so overwhelmed with anguish of spirit, because of the spiritual bondage they felt they were under—There appeared about thirty awakened this day, belonging to this and the neighbouring congregations. About twenty of them belonged to this parish. Some few to the parish of Campsie, and the remainder to that of Kirkintilloch. But I have found since, in conversing with the distressed, that the number of the awakened far exceeds thirty.”
“On the Wednesday immediately following this day of the Redeemer’s power, there was a sermon for the first time on a week day. Mr. Warden, minister of Campsie, and Mr. M`Laurin, one of the ministers of Glasgow, preached on the occasion. The number of the awakened this day was as great as on the Lord’s day. The greater number was as from the parish of Kirkintilloch; there were also some from the parishes of Campsie and Cumbernauld. Nor did this movement of Divine grace soon terminate. The blessed work of conviction and conversion went on. The Redeemer did “ride prosperously because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness,”—His “arrows were sharp in the heart of the King’s enemies. The number of the awakened, belonging to this parish, amounted this week to forty.”
When the Revival commenced, such was the desire of the people to hear the word of God, that, as has been just stated, it was found necessary to institute a week-day lecture. Wednesday was the day selected for that purpose; and on that day there were sometimes two and even three discourses. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, were appropriated for conversing with the spiritually distressed. Notwithstanding such abundant labours, Mr. Robe was enabled to persevere—his bodily health suffered not, and his inward man prospered day by day. His friends sometimes tried to persuade him to relax his excessive labours, but, growing love to Jesus, intense compassion for perishing souls, ardent zeal for the promotion of God’s glory, constrained him to persevere in his arduous but interesting duties. “It soon became,” says he, “the pleasantest work in which I ever engaged. Though I was wearied when I went to bed, yet, like the labouring man, my rest was sweet to me. The Lord gave me the sleep of his beloved, and I was fresh by the morning. The way of the Lord hath been my life and my strength.”
The ordinance of the Supper was as usual, dispensed on the second Sabbath of June, and was attended by the happiest results in the experience of many. The blessed work of conviction and conversion continued greatly to increase after that solemn communion service, and it was intimated to the minister in the middle of September following, that a general desire existed among the people for; another and an early opportunity of observing that ordinance. After much prayer and conference on the part both of the minister and the people, it was resolved that the death of our Lord should be a second time celebrated that year; which was accordingly done on the third Sabbath of October. the account given by Mr. Robe of that interesting solemnity is truly heart stirring. “I was assisted on the occasion by the Rev. Mr. M‘Laurin of Glasgow, Mr. James Warden of Calder, Mr. John Warden of Campsie, Mr. James Burnside of Kirkintilloch, Mr. James Mackie of St. Ninians, Mr. John Smith of Larbert, Mr. Spiers of Linlithgow, Mr. Thomas Gillespie of Carnock, Mr. Hunter of Saline, Mr. MCulloch of Cambuslang, and Mr. Porteous of Monivaird. Upon the Fast-day, sermon was in the fields to a very numerous and attentive audience, by three ministers, without any intermission, because of the shortness of the day. Upon the Friday evening there was sermon in the kirk, and there was a good deal of concern among the people. Upon Saturday there was sermon both in the kirk and in the fields. Upon the Lord’s day the public service began about half-past eight in the morning, and continued without intermission till half-past eight in the evening. I preached the action sermon, by the Divine direction and assistance, from Eph. ii. 7. ‘That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness towards us, through Christ Jesus.’ There were about twenty-two services, each consisting of about seventy persons. The evening sermon began immediately after the last table-service. And though I desired that the congregation in the fields should be dismissed after the last service, yet they chose rather to continue together till all was over. During all the services there was the most desirable frame and observable concern among the people, that had ever been any where seen. It began to be considerable, when Mr. Warden of Campsie preached, and it continued and greatly increased while Mr. Spiers preached, who concluded the public work of the day in the fields. On Monday there were sermons both in the Kirk and in the fields. There was a good deal of observable concern; and several were brought under spiritual distress in the fields. In the evening, two ministers preached to the numerous distressed convened in the kirk. On Tuesday morning there was a sermon preached, and a discourse by another minister, containing suitable instructions and directions both to the awakened, and to those who had never attained to any sight or sense of their sin and danger. The spiritual fruits of this solemn and extraordinary dispensation of Word and Sacrament were truly animating. Many secure sinners were awakened. Zion’s mighty King brought the wheel of the law over them, and sent them home with broken and contrite hearts. Some who came hither in a state of spiritual distress and law-work, felt such a time of the Mediator’s power as enabled them to embrace Jesus Christ with such distinctness, as to know that they had done it. Many had the love of Christ so shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, that they could not contain, but were constrained to break forth in floods of tears in the most significant expressions of their own vileness and unworthiness, and of the deep sense they had of the exceeding riches of God’s grace, in his kindness towards them by Christ Jesus.”
It is delightful to contemplate the solid nature of this work of Revival. It was far removed from enthusiastic fanaticism on the one hand, and presumptuous Antinomianism on the other. Although some who seemed to be awakened ultimately fell away, yet the experience of many made it unequivocally manifest, that “the Lord himself had given the word.” Deep humility, hatred of all sin, love of holiness, aspirations after conformity to the image of God, fervent prayers and endeavours that others might he brought to the same ‘views and the same enjoyments, characterised the greater number of the individuals with whom Mr. Robe was called to converse. Indeed, the views of sin, and of the way of salvation, entertained by the individuals brought under the power of this blessed work of the Spirit, were, generally speaking, of the most scriptural and enlightened description. One man being asked “what he took closing with Christ to be;” made this most intelligent reply:—”I take closing with Christ to be a receiving of Him as a Prophet, to teach me the way of salvation; as a Priest to atone for me, and to be my righteousness in the sight of God; and, as a King, to rule over me, and to subdue sin and corruption in me: and that without Christ’s righteousness imputed, I can never be accepted in the sight of God.” One woman, after she was brought distinctly to receive, and rest alone upon Christ for salvation, thus expressed herself:—”Worldly thoughts are away from me now, and oh that they would never return again! Ten thousand worlds could not give me the love and joy with which Christ now fills me.” When asked some questions by Mr. Robe, she said, “Sir, though you put questions to me, as was done to Peter, Christ, who knows my heart, knows that I do love Him, and I am resolved, in the strength of imparted promised grace, to show my love to Him by keeping His commandments.” She sometimes gave utterance to such words as these—” He is my sure portion, whom I have chosen for ever. Oh, what bath he done for me! I desire to have all the world brought to Him, that they too may partake of His rich and sovereign grace.”
Although the greater number, like the awakened at the day of Pentecost, or like the convicted jailer at Philippi, were made to cry out, under a sense of sin and apprehension of coming wrath, and could not conceal their distress, yet many were brought to Jesus in a more gentle and silent manner, whose cases were not made known to Mr. Robe till they had obtained peace in believing. Two or three instances of this kind may be given, nearly in Mr. Robe’s own words, from among the many that might be quoted:—A woman who was brought to concern on 16th May, waited upon Mr. Robe the following week, manifesting great anxiety for the salvation of her soul. “I was,” says he, “much pleased with the character of her convictions, with her knowledge, and the longing desires she expressed after Jesus Christ. I said to her, essay to accept of Christ, bestir yourself, rise up at his call, and invite Him to enter into your heart, into your soul.’ Without intending or meaning what she did, she arose with great composure, stood and prayed in a most scriptural style. She acknowledged sin, original and actual, her utter want of righteousness, the wonderfulness of God’s patience to her. She prayed for mercy to be drawn to Jesus Christ, and that she might be clothed with His white raiment. Sometimes in her address, she would say—’Sweet Jesus;” He is precious;’ He is altogether lovely.’ She first came to sensible relief from a sermon I preached on John xvi. 10, ‘Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more.’ In her return home that day, these words were strongly impressed on her mind—’My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise.’ She fell down upon her knees; her heart being filled with joy in the Lord, and her mouth with His praise.”
“C. D. came first under convictions by hearing the doctrine of regeneration stated, as it is the writing of God’s law upon the sinner’s heart, from Heb. viii. 10. He was made distinctly to see that it was lot as yet written upon his heart, and that if he would be happy hereafter, it was indispensably necessary that it should be so. Upon the evening of the day when he received his first impressions, he conversed with a friend concerning the resurrection, the general judgment, and the sad state in which impenitent sinners must be throughout eternity. By such converse his impressions were deepened. Every sermon and every awakening experienced by his neighbours was blessed for the same end. He told me that he could apply to himself the greater part of a sermon he heard from me concerning the Spirit’s convincing the world of sin; such as, that he usually begins with one sin, and after that proceeds to convince of particular sins. He was convinced of the sins of his heart, and of the evil nature of sin. He was not so much distressed about sin, as exposing him to hell, but he felt particularly grieved as it was an insult offered to a holy God. He got such a sight of the filthiness of sin, as to loathe himself on account of it. He was also convinced of the great sin of unbelief, of the sinfulness of the least thought of iniquity, though not consented thereto; of the evil of self-conceit, a sense of the sinfulness of which stuck as long with him, as he termed it, as any thing else. He was also sensible of his inability to help himself, of his own want of righteousness, and that he could not work out a righteousness for himself. He was brought to see the sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness, and that He, to use his own words, was always ready, if he would but trust in Him. Seeing that he had not informed any one of his spiritual distress till he got relief by believing in Christ, I asked what it was that kept up his spirit under fear and trouble of mind, continuing so long. He told me that when his heart was like to burst in prayer, that word came constantly in his mind, and encouraged him to wait for the Lord with patience and hope I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry.’ His first relief came in this manner. In the Society for Prayer of which he had become a member, he inquired, ‘What was the most proper exercise for a person under convictions?’ to which it was replied by a very judicious Christian, That it was to behold the Lamb of God.’ which he essayed to do.—When I gave, in a public discourse, the marks of those who had Christ formed in them, he said that by the help of the Spirit he could apply them all to himself, and that during prayer and after sermon he was in a frame surprising to himself; that his whole heart and affections went out in closing with Jesus Christ, and that he was filled with rejoicing and wonder at His love.”
“R. S. was first touched with convictions on the Lord’s day, May 16. He heard sermons upon the Wednesday at Kilsyth, and upon Thursday at Kirkintilloch. He spent the greater part of the last mentioned evening in the fields, crying out under a deep sense of sin. He came to me on the following day in great mental distress. He had a distressing sight of particular sins, such as Sabbath-breaking, cursing, swearing, evil thoughts, &c. He was grieved for sin as an offence against God; and said with great earnestness, he would give a thousand worlds for Christ. He saw that he had a vile corrupt nature, and mourned over the sin of so long despising Christ through unbelief. I endeavoured to instruct him in the nature of faith and the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. On a subsequent occasion, when conversing with him, he said he had endeavoured to close with a whole Christ in all his offices, and counts all things but loss and dung, for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and that he may win him. He said that he had now an inclination to Christ, and that his heart flutters in him like a bird when he thinks of him.”
It is emphatically said by an inspired writer, that “the grace of God which bringeth salvation, teaches to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present evil world.” This declaration of Holy Scripture, received remarkable illustration at Kilsyth. The number of individuals who were awakened in the parish, and who afterwards publicly professed the faith of Christ, was upwards of three hundred; and by various authentic documents, recorded in Mr. Robe’s Narrative, it is ascertained that the life and conversation of these, with fewer exceptions than might have been expected, were such as became the Gospel. The moral influence on the parish generally, was remarkable.
Mr, Robe thus writes—”Among the instances of the good fruits of this work upon the people, may be mentioned visible reformation from many open sins, particularly cursing, swearing, and drinking. In social meetings, edifying conversation has taken place of what was frothy, foolish, or censorious. Instead of worldly and common discourse on the Lord’s Day, there is that which is spiritual and good to the use of edifying. There is little of what was formerly common, strolling about the fields, or sitting at the doors of their house on that holy day. There is a general desire after public ordinances. Before this, I could never prevail with the best to attend the preaching of the Word during the week, and therefore could have no stated weekly meeting for expounding; now, however, they desire it, and the generality of the people attend as regularly as upon the Lord’s day, The worship of God is set up and maintained in many families who formerly neglected it. There are many new societies for prayer, composed of individuals of all ages, and not only of those who have been lately awakened, but of those who before had a character for seriousness. Former feuds and animosities in a great measure laid aside and forgot, and this hath been the most peaceable summer amongst neighbours that was ever known in this parish. I have heard little or nothing of that pilfering and stealing that was so frequent before this work began. Yea, there have been several instances of restitution, and some of these showing consciences of more than ordinary tenderness. The change on the face of our public meetings for worship is visible: there was never such attention and seriousness seen in them as now. The change is observed by every one who formerly How the parish. One observing person said to me, that there was no more gained by this wonderful work of the spirit, there was at least a great increase of morality.
This account was taken from, ‘Restoration in the Church, Reports on Revivals 1625-1839’ published by Christian Focus Publications. This is a copy of an earlier nineteenth century work.
In addition, Robe wrote on April 18th 1743 that, ‘public and discernible awakenings continue in this congregation, reaching even some of the elder sort, particularly yesterday when there appeared a general concern upon the congregation.’ There seems to have been another significant time at the Sacrament service in July as there were 1,600 communicants and in December 1743 Robe wrote, ‘the Lord is yet remarkably among us.’ There were still cases of conversion throughout 1745, but the revival had tailed off by then. In 1751 Robe reported that one hundred in his parish were still running strongly with the Lord, but a number had backslid or become lukewarm.
There are many books on the Kilsyth Revival. Two of the more modern ones are, ‘The Cambuslang Revival,’ by Arthur Fawcett, published by the Banner of Truth Trust, 1971 and ‘Scotland Saw His Glory,’ compiled and edited by Richard Owen Roberts and published by International Awakening Press.
‘Narratives of the Extraordinary work of the Spirit of God at Cambuslang and Kilsyth begun 1742,’ by James Robe is a detailed account of the two revivals by the minister at Kilsyth and can be found at http://www.archive.org/stream/narrativesofthe00robeuoft.