Arran Revivals

ARRAN REVIVALS

It was during the same summer of 1800, that, after visiting the little island of Cumbray and the beautiful shores of Bute, they sailed over to Arran and preached in all its villages. The ignorance of the Celtic inhabitants was great, and as an instance of their rude manners, Mr. James Haldane mentioned at his Jubilee Meeting in 1849, that on a sacramental occasion he had been present in a parish church where there was a pause and none of the people seemed disposed to approach the tables. On a sudden he heard the crack of sticks, and looking round, saw one descend on the bald head of a Highlander behind him. It was the ruling elders driving the poor people forward to the tables, much in the same manner as they were accustomed to pen their cattle at a market. Had this happened in a remote corner of Popish Ireland it would have been less wonderful, but the Gaelic population of Presbyterian Arran seemed accustomed to submit to this rough discipline without a murmur. During the years 1804, &c. but especially in 1812, 1813. By the Rev. Angus M‘MILLAN, Minister of Kilmorie.

THIRTY years ago, the state of religion in this island was exceedingly low. “Darkness covered the land, and gross darkness the people.” But, through the tender mercy of God, the day-spring from on high visited it. Divine light arose on them that sat in darkness, and the cause of Christ has gained much ground in this part of His vineyard since the year 1804. In that year, and the year following, many were awakened at the north end of the island, especially about the farms of Sannox and their neighbourhood. And although this awakening, as to its power and progress, was not of long continuance, yet a considerable number of the subjects of it testified, by their after lives and conversation, that they had undergone a gracious change. This day of small things was the commencement of the revival which followed. From this time, a change for the better might be observed in the religious sentiments and conduct of many among the people. Many seemed now to be awakened from the slumber of spiritual death; being disposed to attend to the things which belong to their everlasting peace. Their eyes were now opened to see the evil of their former wicked ways, their perishing condition as sinners and their need of Christ as a Saviour. They now began also to distinguish between truth and error; to relish evangelical doctrine; to attend with diligence on the means of grace; and, in general, to set up the worship of God, morning and evening, in their families. Religious meetings were also set up in many places; and, in the course of a few years, a kind of reformation was thus visible throughout many parts of the island. This was the case more especially, though not exclusively, in the parish of Kilmorie, which was at this time favoured with the ministry of the late pious and laborious Mr. M’Bride. It may be remarked, respecting his usual style of preaching, that he was by no means what might be called an alarming preacher, but rather the opposite. His sermons were frequently close and searching, but he dwelt more on the consolations of the Gospel than on the terrors of the law. The excitement seemed to be, in general, greater under the sermons in which the riches of divine grace and the consolations of the Gospel were exhibited, than under such as were more awful, and apparently better fitted to awaken. Mr. M’Bride’s manner of preaching was very much distinguished for seriousness, fervour and great zeal for the salvation of sinners; and this often led him to make very close appeals to the conscience. But the revival itself was not of a sudden. It was gradual, and spread from one place to another. Neither was it in all cases saving as to its effects. Many under it assumed a form of godliness, who were altogether destitute of its power. In other cases, however, there was something more deep and precious—even the quickening, saving and soul-transforming influence of the Holy Spirit. During its progress, a considerable number were accordingly brought under deep convictions of their guilt and unworthiness as sinners, of their liability to eternal misery and of their utter helplessness as concerned themselves. Now, they began in earnest to say, “What shall we do to be saved?”—and to count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus; for an interest in him. And the God of all grace, who thus visited them with the awakening influences of His Spirit, was pleased also to enlighten their minds as to the way of salvation; and thus to lead them by faith for peace and rest to the only Saviour of sinners. And being thus quickened, enlightened and comforted by the teaching of the same Spirit, they were also united together in the bonds of love and Christian fellowship, while they travelled together Zionward. The subjects of these spiritual influences were, however, only as a little flock, when compared with the multitude who remained yet stout-hearted and far from righteousness. And these, becoming impatient under the restraints which the late reformation had laid upon them with regard to unholy practices, began to break out anew with greater violence; so that in 1810 and 1811 many were bolder in sin, and more abandoned to wickedness, than they had been at any former period. The enemy of souls now came in as a flood and threatened to carry all before him. It is right, however, to observe that this was in no respect true of professors, or of such as there was reason to believe had been the subjects of divine grace. These were for the most part remarkably consistent in their walk and conversation. The breaking out of sin, here referred to, was among the bulk of the people, who made no particular profession of religion, and especially among the young who had been brought under temporary restraint. These circumstances stirred up the pious zeal of Mr. M’Bride and led him to be even more earnest in his warnings and remonstrances from the pulpit against abounding iniquity. The little flock of tender-hearted Christians scattered throughout his parish were, at the same time, moved with a sense of the prevalence of sin and the desolations of Zion. They felt an increased concern for the conversion and salvation of sinners, and a deeper interest in the prosperity and enlargement of the kingdom of Christ. They began to be more frequent and earnest in their supplications atthe throne of grace for a time of revival—of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. Several little parties of them, by mutual consent set apart some days for private fasting and prayer sending up their united supplications to the Hearer of prayer, for the down-pouring of the Spirit in his awakening and converting influences on sinners around them. They kept several such days for nearly a twelve¬month before the commencement of what is generally called, “The Revival of Religion in Arran.” In these devotional exercises, some of them enjoyed uncommon nearness to God and great freedom at the throne of grace when pouring out their hearts in earnest supplication for the manifestation of divine power and glory in the sanctuary, especially in the congregation with which they were themselves connected. Their minds were much stirred up to press after these things in secret and at their fellowship meetings, and also when attending public ordinances. They seemed to be animated by the spirit of Him who said, “For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.” While this little flock of Christ with their pastor at their head, were thus engaged about the beginning of March 1812, the Lord began to work in an unusual way among them, a way inwhich they had notany expectation which accordingly, caused some surprise. It was at this time that the outcrying commenced which was afterwards so common for a considerable time. It began at first in some private meetings, but afterwards extended to the public assembly under Mr. M’Bride’s ministry. What made the thing the more remarkable was that it made its first appearance among the people of God. Yea, the most tender, humble and spiritual minded among them, were the first affected in this manner, and it continued for a short time among them only. But the influence which appeared first moving on them in this unusual way, was soon extended to others; and the next subjects of it were those who had been before seriously disposed, or who had been at one time or other under serious impressions. But soon after, it was extended to the gay and thoughtless, the moral and the openly wicked. Persons of almost every description and age, from nine years or under, to that of sixty or upwards were affected; but the number of old people was small compared with that of the young. The crying at first,while confined to the people of God, was attended with very little bodily agitation; but after others were affected, it was generally attended with these—such as panting, trembling and other convulsive appearances. The writer of these pages did not reside in Arran till about six months after the commencement of this revival, but he inquired particularly concerning the beginning of it from such as were best able to inform him, and is satisfied in his own mind that the Spirit of the Lord was at work in preparing for it—that his mighty power was revealed in the commencement of it—and that he had a gracious and merciful design in ordering the circumstances of it. Although this revival did in some measure degenerate latterly through the weakness and folly of men, yet the beginning of it was truly the doing of the Lord, and marvellous in our eyes. Some among the first affected told the writer that they had not the most remote idea of crying out before they were constrained to do so. So much was this the case that they said they could not have refrained, even if they had been threatened with instant death. They added that their outcryings and bodily agitations arose entirely from the state of their minds when powerfully impressed and affected with a sense of divine truth. But it is proper to observe that the writer is here speaking only of such as were lively exercised Christians previous to this revival. On examining others who knew nothing of Christian experience before the beginning of this work, he found that the first impressions of many of them were accompanied with deep convictions of sin, with a painful sense of their helplessness and misery as sinners, and also with earnest desires after an interest in Christ; which it is to be hoped many of them attained. But it must be acknowledged that the accounts given by all were not alike satisfactory. Many were deeply affected externally, who could give little account of the matter. Their affections were moved, but convictions of sin did not take any deep hold on their hearts and consciences, and so their awakenings soon passed away; at least, it was so with some. But if there be joy in heaven over even one sinner that repenteth, we have reason to think that there must have been much joy in that world of light and love over many that were brought to true repentance in this place during the progress of that work. About the beginning of 1812, the awakening became general, and continued to make progress about three months. After this, it seemed to be at a standstil until the beginning of the following December, when it again revived and continued to spread considerably for about three months more. During this period it extended over a great part of the parish of Kilmorie,nearly thirty miles long, and it extended also to some parts of the parish of Kilbride. The writer cannot pretend to give the exact number of the subjects of this awakening; but the number, from first to last, was very considerable. It must have amounted to two or three hundred persons, old and young taken together. He may state them at two hundred and fifty; which is rather below than above the real number. But he does not mean to insinuate that the whole of these proved true believers. This will appear from the statements already made. For some months after the commencement of the awakening, the subjects of it manifested an uncommon thirst after the means of grace. Both old and young flocked in multitudes to hear the word of God. His house, and the place employed for private meetings, were frequently so crowded that the people, as it were, trod one on another. To travel ten or fifteen miles to hear sermon was considered as a very small matter; and after sermon was over, it was no uncommon thing for many of them to meet together in private houses, or in barns, and to spend several hours in religious exercises. Some of them spent even whole nights in this way. They also longed for the return of the Sabbath. They rejoiced when it was said unto them, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” They eagerly sought after renewed opportunities of receiving spiritual instruction. Their desire was so great as not to be easily satisfied. In our religious assemblies at this time, some might be seen filled with divine love, others with fear; some rejoicing in hope of the glory of God and others trembling lest they should come short of it; some crying out in accents of praise,others indicating by their cries, their dread of everlasting wrath. At this time, our meetings were frequent, and well attended;almost every sermon seemed to be effective in awakening, quickening, or refreshing. Satan and his agents, indeed, made strong efforts to counteract the designs and operations of the Spirit of God by throwing all manner of stumbling-blocks in the way of his people; but, notwithstanding all the opposition of earth and hell, the word of the Lord grew and multiplied. Some who were lively Christians before, enjoyed at this time much of the refreshing influences of the Spirit, and were often filled, in an extraordinary measure with peace and joy in believing. As illustrative of this, I may mention that in the spring of 1813 I was catechising one day at a particular farm speaking of the character of Christ as the Redeemer of God’s elect and attempting to describe the preciousness of his blood and the riches of his grace, when an excellent Christian, who is now in the world of spirits, cried out in an elevated tone of voice, “O the infinite virtue of the blood of Christ—the preciousness of his blood. What am I, what am I, that he should ever spend one thought concerning me! O my nothingness, my nothingness, my nothingness!” Soon after, she exclaimed, “I shall soon be with thee, I shall soon be with thee—be for ever with the Lord!” I have seen others also, on various occasions, affected much in the same way. And these ecstasies of spiritual joy among the people of God were generally accompanied with great humility and tenderness of spirit. Instead of being puffed up, they were, on the contrary, bowed down to the very dust under a sense of their privileges. When the glory of the King of Zion was manifested to their souls in the light of the Spirit, they were ready to exclaim with Job, “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” I have heard others, under awakenings of conscience cry out, “O what shall we do? what shall we do? Wash us from sin; let us not deceive ourselves, for we cannot deceive thee.” It was pleasing thus to see many of them really afraid of self-deception, and earnest in their inquiries after the only sure foundation, the only hope set before them in the Gospel. In the spring of 1813 this awakening, however, began to decline, and ceased very soon after; but those who were truly Christians continued to enjoy, both in secret duties and at public ordinances, renewed and manifest tokens of the divine presence and favour. This was especially the case on sacramental occasions; at which they were favoured with the assistance of some of the most pious ministers of the day. Most of these having now departed this life, I am enabled to name the greater part of them without making any reference to the living. The late Rev. Messrs. Bayne of Greenock, and Robertson of Kingussie, formerly of the Chapel at Rothsay, assisted here constantly for many years. The late Rev. Dr. Love of Anderston assisted here occasionally, about the time of the revival; and the late Rev. Mr. M’Kenzie of Gorbals, formerly of the Gaelic Chapel, Duke Street, Glasgow, assisted also occasionally, but chiefly before the commencement of this work. These, along with the late Mr. M‘Bride himself, were considered, and I believe justly, among the most pious ministers of their day; but they have ceased from their labours and their works do follow them. The more regular or occasional labours of these men were often blessed as seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. It is doubtless true that, as the awakening declined, some of those who appeared at one time much affected and much engaged in religious pursuits began to grow cold and remiss in spiritual duties, to fall into divers temptations and to slide back into conformity with the world. Like the stony-ground hearers, the religious impressions of many were slight and transitory —their convictions were not of a spiritual or abiding nature; and, having no root in their hearts, they soon withered away without bringing forward any fruit to perfection. But, although many did thus turn as the dog to his vomit, and soon got rid of their religious impressions, a considerable number of the subjects of this work continue to the present day, bringing forth fruit meet for repentance and manifesting their faith by their works. It is due, however, to acknowledge that, even in respect of the best of us, the zeal, fervour and liveliness, manifest during the time of our revival have suffered some decay; and that, instead of these, coldness, deadness and formality in religion are now too preva¬lent among us. We have, therefore, much need to be earnest in our supplications for another season of refreshing from the presence of the Lord—to pray, with the devout Psalmist —” Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease.- Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee? Show us your mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy Salvation.” THE above narrative of what is usually called ‘the Arran Revival’ was drawn up by the Rev. A. M’MILLAN, Minister of the Parish of Kilmorie, during the summer of 1830. M’Millan was based at Lochranza, where there was a missions church, and it was on a visit to him in July 1814 that M’Bride took ill and died. This was tragic for the revival. His successor actually stood in the pulpit and said regeneration was not necessary. The faithful refused to be under such a ministry, worshipping in a cave until the minister was succeeded by M’Millan in 1821. This account is taken from ‘Narratives of Revivals of Religion in Scotland, Ireland and Wales.’ Published in 1839.

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