There were several significant revivals in the nineteenth century in the area known as Breadalbane, specifically surrounding Loch Tay and along the Tay river to the east of the Loch. The revivals may well have spread further than recorded below, but these are the only accounts that I have found.
I believe the story begins in June 1796 when Charles Simeon and James Haldane were on holiday, touring the area around Blair Atholl. Due to bad weather they were forced to stay with the minister at Moulin (only around ten miles from Loch Tay) for two days. James Haldane had only recently come to the Lord, and was to learn a lot from the experienced Simeon as they travelled. The minister at Moulin was very impacted by the stay of the two men, and in fact became ‘born again’ during their stay.
The minister began to have a completely different attitude, and a revival broke out in his church which lasted from 1798-1800 (see Moulin Revival). I have no proof, but I believe that some people from the Loch Tay area could have found their way to Moulin sometime during the revival, or the other way around.
Over the next few years James Haldane began his evangelistic work around Scotland. His brother Robert Haldane, built Churches and began seminaries to train evangelical young men to become evangelists and ministers of his Tabernacle churches. One of his students was John Farquharson, who was born in nearby Glen Tilt. On account of his zeal and godliness he had been accepted by Haldane, but after six months’ trial he was rejected because his “capacity of learning seemed hardly to warrant his persevering in academic studies.” He was sent by the recently-founded Society for the Propagation of the Gospel at Home to Breadalbane “with the view of trying whether he might not be of use as a Scripture reader amongst the poor and uneducated Highlanders.” Farquharson, however, was of that type who do not need the imprimatur of any school of the prophets, whose call comes directly from God Himself. His sincerity, zeal and devotion overcame all obstacles, and he was successful from the first.
Years later, Principal Daniel Dewar of Aberdeen described Farquharson as “the most wonderful man he had ever known” and says, that while he preached almost every day, “he was remarkable in this respect, that he seldom preached without someone being awakened. . . . I think I see him still on his black pony riding round Loch Tay from farm to farm, carrying the message of salvation to the people. Divine power accompanied his ministry. There was an awakening all round the loch. Many were brought to Christ and continued steadfast and immovable in the gospel.” Further testimony to this good man’s zeal and success is equally emphatic. “From the accounts of him which still linger in the traditions of the people, we learn that he was continually going from house to house, from hamlet to hamlet, to make known the Saviour. Of Him he spoke on the road, in the house, in the assembly, wherever he could find listeners. He seemed as if there was no room in his mind for any other object.”
It is hardly believable that such labors should have been rewarded with envy and opposition, but thus it was. “So strong was the opposition of the Established Church ministers and the landed proprietors . . . that only three families in the wide Breadalbane district would receive Mr. Farquharson into their homes.” No inn would shelter him for a night, and all this unkind opposition occurred almost from the beginning of his labors. He started work at Killin, a village at the western extremity of Loch Tay, but his place of meeting was soon taken from him. A new start was made at Ardeonaig, several miles along the south shore of the lake. It was there and at Ardtalnaig and Acharn, still farther to the east, that the chief events of his ministry took place.
By the autumn of 1802, the results were of such importance that they could be spoken of as a revival. Farquharson was aided by two of his converts—John Campbell, a native of Ardeonaig, who afterwards became pastor of the Congregational Chapel at Oban, and James Dewar, afterwards minister at Nairn, whose father was a farmer on the north side of Loch Tay. The movement ‘began unostentatiously enough at Ardeonaig. It is said that those who were awakened endeavored to conceal their state from Farquharson and met in secret to support and encourage each other by prayer. But one day, while crossing the loch, a boatman informed the evangelist of what was happening in his absence. This seems to have brought the movement to the surface, and a corresponding increase of interest was shown. Men who were engaged in the work, or who saw it for themselves, made such reports as the following: “The manner in which many of them [the converts] were impressed was to be at first surprising—they were suddenly struck during the time of prayer; they fell to the ground and many of them, both young and old, continued speechless for twenty minutes or half an hour. From this place it spread to a space of about nine miles. They all flocked together and continued to go from house to house, praying and praising God, for eight or ten days and nights, with only two hours’ sleep each morning; and many of them were several nights without any sleep, busily employed conversing and comforting those who were impressed.”
“It was at meetings for social prayer that the most considerable awakening took Cartlechan, a most extraordinary influence was felt. Fourteen persons fell down to the ground crying for mercy. Worldly business was wholly neglected and whole nights were spent in prayer and exhorting one another.”
One of the immediate results of this attention to religion was the formation of a congregation of seventy members at Acharn in 1802, a number which was increased in the following year to one hundred.
Farquharson was ordained over them as their pastor, and members were drawn from all the neighbouring glens. Everything seemed prepared for a fruitful ministry, but unfortunately dissension broke out in the congregation in 1804. It is impossible now to discover the cause, but however extraordinary it may appear, it seems to have been connected with dissatisfaction with Farquharson’s preaching. (This looks like a classic case of someone working outside his gifting. We have already seen that Robert Haldane did not think him suitable to me a minister, and yet he took on the church. I have seen this many times; someone with a wonderful gift, trying to be a pastor.) Farquharson resigned and after ministering for a time at Killin, ultimately immigrated to America, where he died shortly afterwards. (but not before he made a considerable contribution to a major revival in Skye – see this website).
A revival could hardly survive such an experience, the more especially as petty disputes also arose in the district over unimportant points in ritual and church government. The final blow was administered when the Haldanite discussion on baptism threw everything into confusion, and those whom the revival had called into spiritual life became the fiercest of sectarians. “Thus the interesting churches at Acharn and Killin were diminished in number and weakened in influence, and shortly afterwards . . . they became as sheep without a shepherd. Four Baptist Churches subsequently emerged from the general confusion.” However sad this result was, it would be a mistake to suppose that the work was made totally without effect. It was the first rough ploughing of unbroken land. When the next sowing took place, the harvest was plentiful.
The set time to favor the district came during the ministry of Robert Findlater, whose name is still remembered with reverence on Lochtayside after the lapse of nearly a century. This movement took place within the Established Church.
Like many Highland parishes, those of Breadalbane are of great extent. Fortingall includes the long stretch of twenty miles which forms the secluded valley of Glenlyon, as well as large tracts beyond its mountainous walls. Kenmore runs westward from the village of that name and almost encloses Loch Tay. It is beyond the power of the most energetic minister to do justice to territories of such extent, and special efforts were accordingly made in many cases to accomplish their spiritual purposes by planting extra stations. The Royal Bounty Fund and the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge stepped in to help with resources of men and money. The pious Lady Glenorchy placed a chapel in Strathfillan and gave financial assistance in other cases. Since the beginning of the eighteenth century, the part of Kenmore parish near the western extremity of Loch Tay had been provided for in this special way. Both sides of the loch were put under the charge of a mission minister whose stipend was drawn from the funds available for the purpose. Each side had its own place of meeting: the church on the north side being at the Milton of Lawers, and that on the south side at Ardeonaig. The manse stood near the latter building.
In 1810 Robert Findlater came to take charge of the double station. He was a native of Kiltearn, in Ross-shire, and had been licensed by the Presbytery of Dingwall in October 1807 when he was only 21 years of age.’ He was not a man of careful scholarship, but he was especially adapted for the work that lay before him. He was evangelical, devoted, prayerful and diligent, and accordingly well fitted to carry on the tradition of Farquharson’s work. The field, he discovered, sadly needed cultivation. The roll of communicants was large and out of proportion to the number of the population; yet Findlater had to say: “I have cause to fear I cannot make up so many as would form a society in this place for prayer and Christian converse.” An earnest of his ministry, however, was soon given. “It is said that the very first sermon he preached at Ardeonaig resulted in the awakening of a young woman.”’
Findlater began and carried on his work in the most systematic manner. Soon after he entered on his duties, he started a regular house-to-house visitation of his people for the purpose of catechizing them. He used the Shorter Catechism as the basis of his instruction. “My plan,” he said, “is to cause them to say over the Question first, which I generally illustrate two at a meeting . . . I can, in public catechizing, talk from my own experience and observation and I have found that without knowing the individual, I have hit the peculiar character whom I was addressing. I find as yet the people are willing to follow my plans, and many are busy at present learning the Questions. It is a new thing to them, and I am told there are some who have not been catechized for about fourteen years.” Within a twelve-month period, he had personally examined and taught 1,600 persons. Public worship was conducted on each side of the loch on alternate Sabbaths. Although Lock Tay is regarded as a dangerously stormy place, Findlater was prevented crossing on only one Sabbath during his eleven year ministry.
He also tried other methods of creating an interest in religious things. In the summer of 1812, he began a Sabbath school at Ardeonaig. A year afterwards, he testifies to its success saying that he found “more pleasure in it than with the old people.” A prayer meeting was also started, but it cannot have been a hopeful undertaking at the beginning, for, while he tells of its existence, he had to add, “We are very destitute of spiritual life.” Indeed, during the first half-dozen years of his ministry, his letters are full of his sorrow over the hardness of his people’s hearts. “I desire to be thankful,” he writes on Christmas Day 1812, “that matters are on the whole not worse, some say there is an alteration to the better, but I fear the whole is from an open unconcern to formality, and though knowledge is acquiring, it would grieve a feeling mind to observe the vanity and want of concern of a rising generation.”
In spite of these drawbacks, Findlater’s ministry was not without its results. Interesting stories could be told of how persons, even at a distance, came under his influence. Perhaps the most important event was the appearance of the people of Glenlyon at his services. About 1813 a young man from the glen got into the habit of crossing the eastern shoulder of Ben Lawers to attend his church. Next year he succeeded in inducing others to accompany him. “In spring 1816 the group increased to the number of perhaps twelve or fourteen, and during the whole of that summer a goodly number went regularly every Sabbath.” There can be no doubt that the evident earnestness underlying that weary trudge over the dreary moorland did much to prepare the way for the revival. It is said that, as the summer of 1816 advanced, a more than ordinary interest was observed, especially among the men and women from Glenlyon. A largely-attended sacrament at Killin helped to deepen the impression. The same ordinance was to be observed at Ardeonaig in the month of September. Findlater, as if anticipating the event, secured the best preachers then to be had. The celebrated John Macdonald of Ferintosh had assisted him several years before, but the Apostle’s fame had increased since that time. News had also come of wonderful awakenings under his ministry in the north. Now Findlater had secured his services again, and information about his coming was spread far and wide.
The whole preliminary services of that memorial sacramental season were impressive. On Friday evening, a special time of worship was held at Lawers. John Macdonald preached until the light failed. “Owing to the darkness of the night,” says Campbell of Kiltearn, himself a native of the glen and living in it at the time, “the poor people of Glenlyon could not return home, and some of them were quite unfit for the journey, a sense of sin pressing so heavily upon their hearts. Those who were able to go home next morning brought with them the tidings of Mr. Macdonald’s arrival and of the effects of his preaching—news which excited an ardent desire to hear the extraordinary preacher and to witness scenes before unheard of in Breadalbane; while some desired to experience such influences themselves as were felt by others. The result was that the most of the Glenlyon people were at Ardeonaig on Sabbath.”
That Sunday the size of the concourse that met at Ardeonaig Church was unusual. Findlater estimates the number at between 4,000 and 5,000, a number all the more remarkable in that there was no large centre of population nearer than Perth. The multitude was accommodated on the green braes of the hillside just above the present manse. Macdonald preached the action-sermon. The discourse took nearly two hours and a half to deliver. The text was Isaiah 54:5, “For thy Maker is thine husband.” The sermon was not only one which Macdonald frequently preached, but it was also one of his most famous efforts. Its effects on this occasion were notable. The whole multitude was moved. “The most hardened in the congregation,” says Findlater, “seemed to bend as one man; and I believe if ever the Holy Ghost was present in a solemn assembly it was there. Mr. Macdonald himself seemed to be in raptures. There were several people who cried aloud, but the general impression seemed to be a universal melting under the Word. The people of God themselves were as deeply affected as others, and many have confessed they never witnessed such a scene.” A number dated their entrance on a new life from that afternoon. “A Gaelic teacher who was accounted a godly man by all who knew him, and who took a leading part in every good work in the district where he lived and taught, declared that ‘he knew fifty persons who were awakened by that sermon at Ardeonaig, and that he was one of them himself. ”
Next day, room was made for Macdonald to preach again. His text was Luke 16:2. Findlater states that the sermon “was in no way inferior to the last, though there were not so many who cried out. Several were pierced to the heart, and some came to speak to him after the sermon. I have seen and conversed with some of them myself, and have every reason to believe that they are under the gracious operations of the Holy Ghost.”
This was the beginning of a work which continued for the next three years, with more or less intensity and fruitfulness. The sacrament took its place as part of the history of the district, and today is still remembered as “The Great Sacrament.” The following Sabbath, Findlater preached at Lawers, and the agitation among several of his hearers showed that the impressions made had not been evanescent. The interest spread far and wide. Parishioners from Kenmore, Killin, and Fortingall, flocked to Lochtayside in large numbers, attending either at Ardeonaig or Lawers, according as the services were held on the north or on the south side of the lake. So universal was the movement that Findlater could report, “there were few families without one, and some families two or three, professing deep concern about the salvation of their souls.”
The men of Glenlyon were particularly assiduous in their attendance, for the revival had its stronghold among them for as long as it lasted. When the fervor had to some extent passed away, it was reckoned that only five or six families in the whole glen had been left untouched. “These families were looked upon as objects of pity.” During September and October of 1816, few remained at home who could face the rough road between them and Loch Tay. “One hundred persons might be seen in one company, climbing the hill separating these two districts of country, having to travel a distance of from nine to fifteen miles, and some even farther.”
About that time, however, the glen secured an evangelist for itself. In 1806 the Rev. James Kennedy had been ordained as Independent minister at Aberfeldy. He had done much to keep alive gospel truth in the whole surrounding district. Hardly knowing the full extent of what had taken place, he came in the course of his work to Glenlyon in October 1816. He found the valley aflame. So eager were the people that three weeks passed before he returned home, driven away by sheer exhaustion. During that time, he preached sometimes as often as three times a day, and hardly a service was held but “some new case of awakening occurred.” As opportunity offered, he returned again and again to the glen and proved an able and anxious coadjutor of the work. Several picturesque descriptions are given of his services. No adequate place of meeting was possible, and the crowded congregations had to seek what accommodation was to be found on the hillsides or in the woods. One wood in particular was used. In later days it was spoken of as “a place which the divine presence had rendered venerable.” We read of the people listening eagerly to the gospel message, “sometimes amid bleak winds and drifting snows, with their lamps suspended fairy-like from the fir trees.” Writing to Kennedy’s son, the Rev. David Campbell of Lawers, a native of Glenlyon and one of the fruits of the revival, said, “I have seen your father stand almost knee-deep in a wreath of snow, while at the same time it was snowing and drifting in his face all the time he was preaching, and the people gathered round him, patiently and eagerly listening to the fervent truths that proceeded from his lips.”
During the winter of 1816 and the whole of 1817, the general attention to religion continued. The people still resorted in large numbers to Ardeonaig and Lawers. A temporary difficulty sprang up with the minister of Glenlyon who thought that his brethren, Findlater and M’Gillivray of Strathfillan, a man of like evangelical spirit, were too zealously interested in his parish and too little concerned with what was due to himself as its religious overseer. The difference, however, was of short duration, and soon after Findlater was assisting him at his sacrament. Mr. Macdonald preached at Loch Tay in April 1817 and helped at the sacrament in September, each time with manifest seals to his ministry. One discourse which he delivered on the Monday of the sacrament is still remembered, and the Hog’s Park near the present pier of Lawers where the service was held is still pointed out because of its fame. “This appeared,” says the record, “to be one of the most powerful and effective sermons he ever preached in Breadalbane. The fervent eloquence and the pathetic appeals near its conclusion seemed to move and constrain even the most careless. Many were deeply affected and agitated both in mind and body.” “I have heard old people speak of his sermon,” says Mr. Macgregor of Dundee, a native of the district. “One man who was present told me that the weeping towards the end reminded him of the bleating when lambs are being weaned—loud, general, as if the whole hillside were bleating!”
In October, a preacher who does not give his name, visited Glenlyon and conducted a service at Invervar. His report is interesting. “As we could not,” he says, “like Mr. Kennedy once before, preach at night by candle light in the open air, the people applied for a large flour mill which was near, and though busy at work, it was instantly stopped to give place to the bread of immortal life. When the broad two-leaved door was thrown open by the eagerness of the people to gain admittance, the press was so violent that we feared what might be the consequences; a vast number for want of room stood contentedly before the door, beaten by the high wind and pierced by the cold. . . . I was so wedged in where I stood that some of those behind had their chins placed almost on my shoulders. . . . It was ten o’clock when we dismissed.” By this time about a hundred persons in Glenlyon alone professed conversion since the preceding harvest.
One episode of November of that same year stands out by itself. Macdonald had promised to preach at Ardeonaig on Sabbath, November 23rd. As usual, the news of his coming had been spread far and wide. Saturday, however, passed and the preacher did not arrive. An immense congregation gathered on the following day, but still there was no word of him. Findlater had made no preparation for preaching himself. As the hour of worship approached, he was almost overwhelmed at the prospect of having to take the place of the great preacher. Compelled at last to start the service, he was so agitated that he could hardly stand. He began by giving out the Psalm:
“My flesh and heart doth faint and fail”—
when, overcome, he had to sit down. Recovering somewhat, he rose to his feet again with the cry:
“But God doth fail me never!”
In saying this he received such strength that he was able to go on with the service. His text was “Behold the Lamb of God,” and he began by saying, “He taketh away the sin of the world, and He taketh away a world of sin!” From that moment, he held the congregation in his hand. One who was present said: “Such was the holy unction with which he spoke and the deep interest manifested by the congregation that I never witnessed a more affecting scene. There was not so much of that crying aloud and agitation of the bodily frame as had been sometimes felt and seen under Mr. Macdonald’s preaching, but the greater part of the congregation seemed to be melted into tears, a gentle, sweet mourning in every corner.” Findlater himself remarked, “The Lord was with us indeed. The scene was melting: it was Bochim, for I never witnessed such a scene under my own poor preaching.”
And so the work went on into 1818.
By this time much interest had arisen over the country regarding the spiritual condition of the Highlands. For the first time, the more favored Lowlands seem generally to have realized the religious poverty of their fellow-countrymen in the north. Several societies had been instituted whose main object it was to carry gospel ordinances and evangelical influences into these waste places. This anxiety was greatly intensified by the meager accounts that slowly reached the south country regarding the good work that had been done in Breadalbane, and especially in Glenlyon. Among others, the Associate (Burgher) Synod awoke to its responsibilities and resolved to send deputies to the Highlands whose duty it was to bring back firsthand reports of the religious condition of the districts they visited and to preach when opportunity offered.
The first of these deputies was the venerable Rev. John Brown of Whitburn who made a journey through the Perthshire Highlands in the autumn of 1818. On his return he published a short account of what he had seen. He has much to say of the Breadalbane Revival and particularly of what had taken place in Glenlyon. Speaking of the latter, he says, “Everything about it wore the impress of divine influence, and its consequences have been of the most satisfactory kind. As one of them, it may be mentioned that an intimation of sermon, which a few years ago would with difficulty have drawn together a dozen or two, will now collect the inhabitants by hundreds.” Brown, however, saw that the people as a whole needed instruction and strongly recommended the institution of libraries of evangelical literature in their midst.
The Rev. Samuel Gilfillan of Comrie, the father of the more famous George Gilfillan, visited the glen in the following year in company with Young of Logiealmond and Kennedy of Aberfeldy. They actually had the happiness of starting the library for Glenlyon. “Upwards of sixty persons gave their names as befriending and supporting the institution. The ministers (who were visiting) promised a donation of books as a commencement.” Associations with a like purpose were formed at about the same time at Killin, Lochtayside, and Fortingall.
As is apparent from the foregoing narrative, the earlier stages of the movement, both on Loch Tayside and in Glenlyon, had been marked by cryings out and even more pronounced bodily agitations. It is generally acknowledged, however, that they never rose to excess or continued long. In January 1818, Findlater writes that he had been reading Jonathan Edwards’ sermon on the marks of a true and saving work of the Spirit and adds: “There was a number of things in his congregation which we have not had, as effects on the body, &c. It is a mercy to us that nothing has yet appeared like delusion or enthusiastic fanatical feelings.”
William M’Gavin, the well-known champion of Protestantism, twice passed through Glenlyon in the latter half of 1817. His testimony on this point is equally clear: “It is one pleasing feature of this revival, that it is in a great measure free from the extravagance which is said to have accompanied a revival in some other places. When the work began indeed under the preaching of Mr. MacDonald, it was attended by something of a similar nature. Some were under violent agitation when first awakened to a sense of their guilt and danger; and I am far from saying this is either extravagant or unnatural. There was, however, so little of this, as scarcely to be remembered. It was, in general, rather a silent melting under the preaching of the Word; and those who did appear under violent agitation at first, never exhibited such symptoms after they believed and received the comforts of the gospel. I made particular enquiry, but did not hear of one instance of periodical or mechanical agitation, or any sort of indecorous behavior during divine worship, by those who made a credible profession of the faith. It is not uncommon indeed to see a large congregation melted into tears. This is not only consistent with a sober reception of the truth, but it may be considered as a pleasing accompaniment of the tenderness and ardour of first love; and such has been the effect upon the preacher himself, that he has had to stop and weep with them.”
Kennedy noted that the people of Breadalbane showed themselves most accessible to the sweeter influences of the gospel—the love of Jesus Christ—whereas the men of Strathardle, among whom he also did a notable work, were mostly moved by the terrors of the law. The visitors were, in fact, struck with the eager quietness and the profound attention with which the people listened. “It was truly a delightful spectacle,” say Gilfillan and Young, “to those who are favored to behold and enjoy it, to see a people once so indifferent to religion, now so earnest in hearing the news of salvation by Jesus Christ. There were no commotions, no bodily agitations apparent among them, as had happened formerly in some instances, but a quiet fixed attention to God speaking in His Word.”
As was to be expected, such a general and widespread attention to religion soon had its effect on the common conduct of the neighborhood. M’ Gavin reported: “The character of those who appear to be under the influence of the truth (and there are many such) is that of affectionate earnestness with regard to their eternal interests. So far as I could learn, there is not one, of whose conversion there was satisfactory evidence, who has fallen from his profession, or done dishonour to the cause of truth. A visible change has taken place in the temper and conduct of great numbers. As an instance, there is a man who was so quarrelsome and so noted a fighter that he was called the Lion of Glenlyon. He is now quiet as a lamb; and an acquaintance whom we met with at Aberfeldy told us that she had seen him a few days before driving along in his peat cart reading the Bible.”
One of Findlater’s correspondents, writing after Findlater had left the district in 1821, says that “the low and debasing sins of drunkenness; rioting, especially at fairs and other public meetings; swearing, and irreligious and profane talking were not for a considerable time so much as seen or named among them.” It was left to Major-General Stewart of Garth, who took his territorial title from an estate in Glenlyon, to deplore the events that had wrought such a change. In his description of the Highlands, he speaks at length of the state of religion as it then was, and doubtless referring to what had taken place at his own doors, continues: “In this respect, their (i.e. the people’s) character and habits have undergone a considerable alteration since they began to be visited by itinerant missionaries and since the gloom spread over their minds has tended to depress their spirit. The missionaries, indeed, after having ventured within the barrier of the Grampians, found a harvest which they little expected and, amongst the ignorant and unhappy, made numerous proselytes to their opinions. These converts, losing by their recent civilization—as the changes which have taken place in their opinions are called—a great portion of their belief in fairies, ghosts, and second-sight, though retaining their appetite for strong impressions, have readily supplied the void with the visions and inspirations of the ‘new light,’ and in this mystic lore have shown themselves such adepts as even to astonish their new instructors.” He adds in a footnote: “Thus have been extirpated the innocent, attractive, and often sublime superstitions of the Highlanders.” Possibly a devotion to antiquities and folklore could go no farther!
During 1819 there were signs that the revival had spent its force. In the preceding year, Glenlyon had the unhappy experience of seeing some go back on their profession. As 1820 opened, evidence of decline in interest around Loch Tay was convincing. In April, Findlater had to write: “It is to be noted that the Lord’s work is at a stand as to new instances persons brought under concern.” The dying fire did occasionally thereafter show expiring flickerings, but 1820 apparently saw the end of this special dispensation of grace.
There was something sad about the closing days of memorable movement. It is generally acknowledged that, as in the case of its forerunner, sectarianism and embittered controversy on ecclesiastical and doctrinal questions helped to bring the movement to a close. The work attracted at least one fanatical preacher to Glenlyon, but he does not seem to have done much damage and his stay was short. Opposition, however, came from quarters that should have been more friendly, complaint reached the ears of the Presbytery itself. An inquiry was made into the allegations in March 1819, but Findlater seems to have had no difficulty in convincing his brethren that the irregularities complained of had no foundation in fact. All these things, however, tended to pain and sorrow, and prevented the movement from spreading and continuing. The results achieved by the revival were more than local. The year 1816 was one of great physical scarcity. That, and other circumstances increased the stream of emigration towards America. The good seed was accordingly carried to that distant land, and in numerous townships its fruit was gathered after many days.
Among the converts was a notable trio of brothers belonging to Glenlyon: Patrick Campbell was brought to Christ on the Monday after the “Great Sacrament” and did good service in his native glen as schoolmaster and voluntary evangelist. Duncan entered the Church and was successively minister of Lawers, Glenlyon, and Kiltearn. He dated his conversion from one of the sermons on Jeremiah 8:22 which Findlater preached during January and February 1817. The third brother, David, also entered the Church and succeeded Duncan as minister at Lawers. Twenty years later the religious awakening which began at Kilsyth found prepared soil for it in Breadalbane.
(Memoir of Findlater, 1840, this volume is the chief source for the facts of the Breadalbane Revival. Unfortunately, its author had not the faculty of orderly narrative. The book is consequently a strange welter of dates and repetitions.)
This account is taken from “Scotland Saw His Glory,” by Richard Owen Roberts. He has taken the account directly from a book from around 1900, but I am not sure which one. The Findlater book is not easy to get hold of. The copy in the British Library had never been looked at, but fell apart when I started reading it. There does not seem to be a version on the web – yet.
ANOTHER ACCOUNT OF THE 1816/7 BREADALBANE REVIVAL
The following account of the revival on Loch Tayside is extracted from the Life of William M ‘Gavin of Glasgow, the justly celebrated author of “The Protestant.” He narrates that which he himself witnessed. The character which he gives of the style of preaching of John M’Donald of Urquhart is most just and striking. The effect of his preaching in Glenlyon is similar to the results that have followed it in many a Highland glen, where we have heard of persons travelling seventy miles, attracted by the power of the Spirit which accompanies his words. Even the remote and lonely St Kilda has, through his zealous instrumentality, been made to “stretch out her hands to God.” His name and influence recur continually when awakenings in the Highlands and Islands are the theme. But without his own authority, and without evidences of the abiding effects of those great emotions which have very generally accompanied his toilsome labours on many a mountain side far from his own flock, we are imprudent, and perhaps presuming, to give any details. Let us hope that great as his exertions are, his energy still enables him to keep memoranda of the striking occurrences which follow his preaching, and that the Church will one day be refreshed by the detail of what the Spirit has wrought by him.
Glasgow, 1st Jan. 1818.
“I presume most of your readers have heard of the revival of religion in Breadalbane, and some other parts of the Highlands of Scotland. As information on this subject must be interesting to everyone who desires the prosperity of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and as it was my lot, in company with a few friends, to visit some of those parts in September, and again in December last, I shall, without farther preface, proceed to relate such particulars as I was informed of on the spot, and what came under my own observation.
“This revival began just a year before my visit in September, at the dispensation of the Lord’s Supper at Ardionick, on Loch Tayside, and chiefly under the preaching of the Rev. Mr M’Donald of Urquhart. Ardionick is a missionary station, supported by the royal bounty, or by the Society for promoting Christian Knowledge, in connexion with the Church of Scotland. It is on the south side of the loch, about half way between Killin and Kenmore. There is no chapel here; but a tent, constructed of a few rough boards, serves to shelter the minister while preaching, and the congregation stand exposed in all weathers on the side of a hill.
“Here, at the above mentioned period, a great number of people had assembled to hear the word, many of whom had come from a distance. The preaching of Mr M’Donald was accompanied by a power such as they had never witnessed before. The whole congregation seemed affected by a singular movement. I suppose it was something like what the prophet saw in vision, — a shaking among the dry bones in the valley. The first impression was a deep conviction of sin in the minds of many, accompanied by an earnest enquiry about the way of escape from the wrath to come. Some indeed were agitated by strong emotion when thus awakened to a sense of their guilt and danger; and it is not doubted that several were led by the Holy Spirit to embrace Christ as the Saviour of their own souls. The impression of that day was carried in many a bosom to distant parts of the country, and into remote glens, in which, perhaps, the sound of salvation had never before been heard.
“The Rev. Mr Findlater, the minister on this station, has his residence at Ardionick, and the tent is close by his house; but he preaches also on the opposite side of the loch, where there is a small chapel, called Lawers Kirk. We had a letter of introduction to this gentleman, but regret we did not find him at home, as he would no doubt have communicated many interesting particulars. We had some conversation, however, with a very intelligent servant, who told us they had ‘a great day’ there the week before. It was the time of dispensing the Lord’s Supper, and it might have been called the anniversary of the first revival. Mr M’Donald had preached; and many, chiefly among the young, seemed to be seriously impressed. The congregation was estimated at between eight and nine thousand, who were all able to hear the preacher’s voice. The place could contain ten times that number; and it is not easy to say how many might be able to hear in such a situation; for I was convinced, by subsequent experience, that it is easy to speak so as to make people hear upon the rising side of a mountain.
“About four miles east on the same side of the loch, there is a tent erected for preaching by ministers or missionaries of the Tabernacle connexion.
“Mr Findlater preaches, I believe, every second Sabbath at Lawer’s Kirk, on the north side of the loch. Indeed, this and Ardionick may be considered the same station, the kirk being on one side of the loch, and the manse on the other; and such is his zeal and diligence, that sometimes after having preached twice on one side of the loch on Lord’s days, he goes over to the other side and preaches in the evening. The awakening has been chiefly among people on the north side; and Lawer’s Kirk, as might be expected, is well attended. To this place the Glenlyon people resort, coming round the bottom of Ben Lawers, a distance of fifteen or twenty miles, and some a great deal farther; and besides travelling thus far, they must ferry across the loch, which is here about a mile wide, when the preaching is at the tent. The country is very populous on both sides of the loch, notwithstanding the late emigrations; and I believe there are as many people on the north side alone as would fill five such houses as Lawer’s Kirk.
“There is an Independent church in Aberfeldy, the pastor of which has laboured much, and been very successful in preaching the Gospel in Glenlyon. We took up our quarters for a few nights at Weem, or Taybridge Inn, as it is now called, which is about a mile from Aberfeldy, where we found ourselves as comfortable as we would have been in any inn in the kingdom. We got ourselves introduced to Mr Kennedy, the pastor of the church in the above village, who was kind enough to offer to accompany us to Glenlyon on the following day.
“When we came to Fortingale, which is a kirk town near the opening of the glen, we met an old man on horseback, with whom our companion was acquainted. Three of his children, we were told, had lately been the subjects of a gracious change. The old man himself seemed very desirous of hearing the word; and taking us for ministers, he said he hoped we were going to the glen to preach. Indeed he begged that we would, and said we might depend upon collecting a few, though most of the people were at the hill working with their peats. All the male part of our company was indeed stated or occasional preachers; and the writer was chosen to do duty on the present occasion. We rode five or six miles farther to Invervar, which was as far as a carriage could well go. This place is by the side of a wood, in which Mr K. sometimes preaches on winter evenings by lights suspended from the trees. This gentleman had left word at a few cottages as we passed that there was to be sermon, and also made it known at the houses which compose the small village. It was true most of the people were at work on the hill, but in a short time about forty persons were collected; and, to our great surprise, the old man whom we met at Fortingale had rode two or three miles farther down the country, had done his business, and was back at Invervar before the worship commenced. After the discourse in English,
Mr K. gave the substance of it in Gaelic, chiefly for the sake of the old people, who understood little English; for those of middle age, as one of them told me, understood me pretty well. During the whole time they heard with grave attention; but I could not help observing the difference when Mr K. began to speak in Gaelic. Every eye beamed with intelligence and interest; and the very children, who had been comparatively listless before, were all alive the moment they heard the sound of their own dear language of the mountains. I never spoke in a more interesting and melting situation. The gloomy grandeur of the surrounding mountains — the rich verdure of the valleys — the winding of a copious stream — the numerous patches of corn waiting the sickle, and the multitude of sheep on the hills, suggested the subject of discourse, which was the last five verses of the 65th Psalm, and which I endeavoured to improve, by directing the attention of the people to the abundance of spiritual blessings exhibited to sinners by the Gospel. When I saw the lively attention with which they listened to the words of eternal life, and heard the rude fervour of their music, I thought of the accomplishment of the prophet’s prayer, — ‘Let the inhabitants of the rock sing; let them shout from the top of the mountains.’
“The appearance of the people indicated a state of great poverty. They suffered much from the failure of the crops in 1816; and it is worthy of remark, that it was at the very time when this calamity overtook them, that the Lord was pleased in so remarkable a manner to visit them with the blessings of his Gospel. Glenlyon, like Loch Tayside, is very populous. It is richer, in point of soil and verdure, than most Highland glens. We passed many fields of oats and barley nearly ripe, and some in the process of cutting down. The people are, of course, more dependent upon the weather than mere graziers, or those who inhabit more barren spots. Their ordinary fare is potatoes and milk, and they sell what grain they raise for the purpose of paying rent, buying clothes, and other necessaries. Having little grain the preceding year, and losing even a great part of their potato crop, they must have been reduced to great distress; but amidst their deep poverty, the Lord was pleased to visit them with the riches of his mercy. When I visited the same place in December, I was happy to find that all their crops had been safely got in. The valley is well sheltered and warm; and the grain was sooner ripe than in many extensive districts of the low countries.
“The character of those who appear to be under the influence of the truth (and there are many such) is that of affectionate earnestness with regard to their eternal interests. So far as I could learn, there is not one, of whose conversion there was satisfactory evidence, who has fallen from his profession, or done dishonour to the cause of truth. A visible change has taken place in the temper and conduct of great numbers. As an instance, there is a man who was so quarrelsome, and so noted a fighter, that he was called the Lion of Glenlyon. He is now as quiet as a lamb: and an acquaintance whom we met with at Aberfeldy, told us that she had seen him a few days before, driving along in his peat-cart reading the Bible.
“Highland fairs used to be scenes of revelling and wickedness; at least I used to find them so in other places. It happened to be the fair-day when we arrived at Kenmore; and most of the people there must have been from Loch Tayside, Glenlyon, and the neighbouring glens. Among the hundreds, nay, I may say the thousands whom we saw there and met on the road going home, there was only one who showed symptoms of intoxication. The inn was full of people transacting business and taking refreshment. A number of tents were erected for selling liquor. Many may have taken too much, but the above was the only instance of having drank to excess which came under our observation; and we mixed familiarly with the people, and entered into conversation with many of them. Dancing had begun at the inn, but it continued only for a few minutes, and the musician sat idle in the lobby the remainder of the evening. One of the ladies of our company gave him a few tracts and some good advice to comfort him for his want of employment, but I am not sure that he was satisfied with the result of the day’s business. The crowd retired by degrees, and by nine o’clock there was scarcely a vestige of the fair to be seen.
“It is one pleasing feature of this revival, that it is in a great measure free from the extravagance which is said to have accompanied a revival in some other places. When the work began indeed under the preaching of Mr M’Donald, it was attended by something of a similar nature. Some were under violent agitation when first awakened to a sense of their guilt and danger; and I am far from saying this is either extravagant or unnatural. There was, however, so little of this, as scarcely to be remembered. It was, in general, rather a silent melting under the preaching of the word; and those who did appear under violent agitation at first, never exhibited such symptoms after they believed and received the comforts of the Gospel. I made particular enquiry, but did not hear of one instance of periodical or mechanical agitation, or any sort of indecorous behaviour during divine worship, by those who made a credible profession of the faith. It is not uncommon indeed to see a large congregation melted into tears. This is not only consistent with a sober reception of the truth, but it may be considered as a pleasing accompaniment of the tenderness and ardour of first love; and such has been the effect upon the preacher himself, that he has had to stop and weep with them.
“As Mr M’Donald has been honoured by the great head of the Church to be eminently useful, we were at some pains to ascertain the peculiar character of his preaching. His strain is evangelical, and his peculiar excellence is said to be that of bringing home the word of God to the hearts and consciences of his hearers. He shows them to themselves; he turns their hearts inside out; he makes them see that they are ruined, perishing sinners, and exhibits the finished work of Christ as the only ground of hope to the guilty. This is the kind of preaching which God has honoured, and will always honour as the means of bringing sinners to himself.
“The origin of this work may, however, be traced to a period somewhat more remote than the preaching of this gentleman. There was, as usual, a dawn before the morning — a few drops before the shower of blessing. There was a Mr Farquharson, who preached here about twelve or fifteen years ago. He was supported by the Society for Propagating the Gospel at home; and after having laboured some time in Breadalbane, he went to America, where he died. His labours were blessed to a few, most of whom are still alive, and who have been helpful to the more recent converts, by the instruction which they have been enabled to communicate.
“I cannot allow myself to forget the gentleman who accompanied us to Glenlyon, who, if he had no part in the work at its commencement, has been eminently useful in helping it forward. He possesses more of the spirit of a missionary than any man I ever knew. His labours in Glenlyon are abundant, and they have been wonderfully successful. On our return from the glen, we met several young persons whom he introduced to us as his children, and whose countenances showed the affection with which they regarded him. It is not easy to conceive the privations he must have suffered while labouring among the poor people. At one time he staid among them three weeks, preaching once or oftener every day; and such was their eagerness to hear him that he could scarcely get leave to return to his family and charge.
“Glenlyon, which occupies about one-third of the parish of Fortingale, is twenty-eight miles in length. The plain at the bottom is very narrow, and some of the highest mountains in the kingdom rise on both sides of it. Several villages are so embosomed on the north side of the hills, that the sun does not rise on them for three months in the year. There being no carriage road through the whole glen, it has not been much visited by strangers, but I think it must now become interesting to Christian travellers. Here they will find much to gratify a taste for the sublime and beautiful, and they will be delighted to witness the influence of the Gospel on the minds of the formerly rude inhabitants” *
* From the Memoir, of the late William M’ Gavin, p. 285.
We have heard of another account of the revival of Glenlyon, as the Breadalbane country is commonly called, but have not been able to obtain it. The report of the present condition of that populous strath is not encouraging, though in perfect conformity with the experience of those who are conversant with revivals. It is said that some zealous Christians, who were attracted to the interesting spot, were so ill advised as to introduce a controversial subject. Perhaps it was the baptismal controversy. But, whatever it was, from the hour that attention was withdrawn from the condition of their own souls, and occupied with controversy, the converting influence was arrested, meltings of heart ceased, and no new souls were won in Glenlyon. It is matter of humble gratitude that the old ones continue consistent and faithful, honouring their profession as becometh saints. But may this impediment to the progress of the Spirit’s work act as a caution to zealous Christians of all denominations to adhere in their dealings with new converts to the great points that touch salvation, lest they have to answer for the loss of souls !
Taken from ‘Revivals of Religion in the British Isles, Especially in Scotland’ by Mary Grey Lundie Duncan.
Tidings of the awakening at Urquhart reached Breadalbane. Mr Findlater then occupied a missionary station there. He was a godly man and a faithful fervent preacher, and the lack of learning and talent in his discourse was well supplied by the unction of a broken heart. He was stirred up by the good news of the Lord’s work in Ross-shire to seek an outpouring of the Spirit on Breadalbane. Prayer-meetings were set up; and not long after the “dry bones” began to move. One after another came to Mr Findlater asking, “What must I do to be saved?” He wrote to Mr Macdonald, imploring his assistance at his next communion, and he agreed to go. Of that communion season at Ardeonaig the following account is given by the Rev. D. Campbell, Kiltearn, who, along with his brother, the Free Church minister of Lawers, looks back on that time as the dawning of a better day.
“On Thursday Mr Russel of Muthill preached in English from 1 Kings viii. 38; and Mr Macdonald in Gaelic from John xvi. 9. During the Gaelic sermon an extraordinary degree of attention was excited, and towards the close of it a young woman from Glenlyon cried out, being unable to repress her feelings. Mr Macdonald preached an evening sermon at Lawers from Ps. xxxii. 6. Owing to the darkness of the night, the poor people of Glenlyon could not return home; and some of them were quite unfit for the journey, a sense of sin pressing so heavily upon their hearts. Those who were able to go home, next morning, brought with them the tidings of Mr Macdonald’s arrival and of the effects of his preaching; news which excited an ardent desire to hear the extraordinary preacher, and to witness scenes before unheard of in Breadalbane;while some desired to experience such influences themselves as were felt by others. The result was that the most of the Glenlyon people were in Ardeonaig on Sabbath. Mr Macdonald preached the action-sermon in the tent that day to an assembly of people more numerous than had ever met before in Breadalbane. His text was Isa. liv. 5, ‘Thy Maker is thine husband.’ The sermon was accompanied with an extraordinary outpouring of the Spirit. Some cried out; others were melted into tears; while many laboured in vain to suppress their feelings. The place was then ‘no other than the house of God and the gate of heaven.’ Mr Macdonald preached on Monday from Luke xvi. 2, a sermon by which many more were awakened; so that this occasion proved to many in Glenlyon, and to some in Breadalbane, to be like the month Abib to Israel, the first of all the months.”
Account by Rev D Campbell, Kiltearn.
This account is taken from ‘Narratives of Revivals of Religion in Scotland, Ireland and Wales.’ Published in 1839.
1840. There is unfortunately only a little of Macdonald’s diary still existing. From what there is it can be seen that he went to Breadalbane each year from 1835-7. Although things were much quieter than when he was there during the revival of 1816/7, there was still much evidence of the Spirit at work. Congregations were large and attentive. At Fortingall, the minister invited him to speak in his church. This was extraordinary considering the same minister, during the revival, had told him that he would never speak in his church. He spoke in the church on each visit, the church being packed on his third visit. This could have been the early signs of the revival that was to come in 1840.
William Burns, the son of the minister in Kilsyth, was used by God to start a revival in 1839. The following year he came to Breadalbane to preach in the places that had seen revival before, he wrote, “I could have supposed that I had been in Breadalbane for a month instead of a week; the events that had passed before me were so remarkable and so rapid in succession. It had been indeed a resurrection of the dead, sudden and momentous as the resurrection of the last day.”
A Bonar wrote ‘At Lawers, Mr. Campbell, their pastor (who has now fallen asleep in Jesus), spoke of the awakening as “like a resurrection,” so great and sudden was the change from deadness to intense concern. On several occasions, the Spirit seemed to sweep over the congregations like wind over the fields which bends the heavy corn to the earth’
After Burns left Breadalbane the revival continued, with many places experiencing crowds coming to the meetings.
The area was also touched in 1874 as a spill over from the move of God that accompanied D L Moody’s meetings at that time. You might be interested to read ‘Scotland saw His Glory,’ edited by Richard Owen Roberts.