Brownlow North (1810-1875)
Brownlow North was born on January 6th 1810 at Winchester House, Chelsea in London. This was the home of his grandfather, the Bishop of Winchester. He was the only son of the Rev Charles Augustus North, Rector of Alverstoke, Hampshire, and Prebendary of Winchester. Brownlow was grand-nephew of Lord North, the Prime Minister of George III. He was also cousin to the Earl of Guilford, who had no son, and as his uncle had been in a childless marriage for years, on his birth Brownlow was heir to the earldom. Our future evangelist was therefore born into a position of rank and privilege.
He went to Eaton College at the early age of nine, remaining there for six years. He did not excel in his studies, but was a keen sportsman and popular with the boys, being known as ‘Gentleman Jack.’ His mother was a godly woman, ensuring that her son was taught the ways of the Lord, but had little influence on the wild boy. His father died in 1825, so he was taken out of Eton and sent to Corfu with the Earl. His cousin, who was Chancellor of the island, had founded a Theological College there, and hoped that North would continue his studies there. The Earl was unable to control his cousin’s high spirits, so sent him home. He was then sent on the ‘grand tour’ around Europe with a tutor, but he won at cards all the money that had been entrusted to his tutor, so no work was done on the trip.
On his return North went to live with his mother in Cheltenham, where he enjoyed dancing and riding to excess. He proposed to nineteen young women in one winter, and was accepted by them all! He then decided to go to Ireland, where he had some friends. While there he married Grace Anne, second daughter of the Rev. Thomas Coffey of Galway on December 12th, 1828. They were married for almost fifty years, having three sons, Charles Augustus, Brownlow who died shortly before his father and Frederic who died in early childhood.
North’s carefree and irresponsible life was to cost him dear. His cousin, the Earl, died and was succeeded by the childless uncle who had been married for thirty years. However, the new Earl’s wife died, and he decided to start a new family so that his profligate nephew would not inherit. He therefore married a woman twenty five years his junior, which led to the new family he wished for.
With no hope of the title, and with a wife and two children to support; North had to decide how he should live. However, he did have an income as a result of nepotism. His grandfather had appointed him, while still a boy, as registrar of the diocese of Winchester. The work was done by two solicitors, so he was able to receive £300 pa for doing nothing. Considering his way of life, this amount needed to be augmented, so North began to gamble. He lost so much money that he had to take his family away to France. After a while his funds ran low, so he sent his family to his mother, and went off to Portugal as a volunteer in Don Pedro’s army. After a few month the prodigal returned home, was forgiven, and set off to Abergeldie Castle in Scotland with his family and his brother-in-law in the summer of 1835. From then on Scotland was North’s home.
For the next four years North remained in Aberdeenshire, shooting in season and spending the rest of the time in Aberdeen. At this time he made a bet with Captain Barclay that he could ride between Aberdeen and Huntly, a distance of eighty miles, in eight hours. The bet was £50. It was generally agreed that this was impossible, so North took up another bet for the same amount, that he could do the same feat the following day. He proceeded to ride the eighty miles within the time allowed, on hard snow and frost, danced all night at a ball, and then achieved the same feat on the return journey the next day. North had tireless energy, walking for miles and shooting all day. He was a good shot; one season he shot nearly 2,000 grouse in six weeks.
Due to his godly upbringing, there were times when his conscience tried to break through his pleasure-seeking existence, but these occasions were always suppressed. Perhaps the deepest occasion happened in 1839 at the home of the godly Duchess of Gordon in Huntly. She told her pastor, “Mr North was staying in Huntly, engaged in shooting, and utterly careless and ungodly. Some friends of his wrote to me, asking me to take some notice of him, with the view of withdrawing him from his evil ways and companionships. I promised to do so, and gave him an invitation to dinner. When we were at dinner he sat beside me, and suddenly said to me with much gravity, ‘Duchess, what should a man do who has often prayed to God and never been answered?’ I lifted up my heart to God to teach me what to say. I looked him quietly in the face, and said, so as not to be heard by the others, ‘Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts’ (James 4:3). His countenance changed, he became very greatly moved, was very quiet during the evening, and thanked me ere he left.”
North’s heart was further softened by the dangerous illness of his son Brownlow. He had also read a book that the Duchess had given him. He was determined to change his way of life, deciding to study at Oxford, with a view to becoming a vicar in the Church of England. With great application he went to Magdalen Hall, Oxford, getting his degree in 1842. It must have been difficult for a man of thirty, who had always ignored his studies and lived only for pleasure. He led an exemplary life at Oxford, and had been promised a curacy at Olney, the former parish of John Newton, when the Bishop of Lincoln received an anonymous letter from someone, setting out some of the excesses of North’s life. It seems that he realised that the condition of his heart made him unfit for holy orders. Although he was aware of his sinful nature, and wanted to turn to God, he told someone, “I never apprehended Christ, I never accepted him as my sin-bearer and my righteousness,”
His time at Oxford was not wasted. The mental discipline and religious training were very useful to him, and his degree made it possible for the Free Church of Scotland to allow him to preach when the time came. But sadly this was still some years away; for now North backslid into his old life of pleasure and sin. In 1845 he again took to the moors of Scotland; this time in Glen Spean, Inverness, for three years and then Dalmally in Argyllshire. In 1850 he took a house in Dallas, Morayshire. North had long forgotten God, or at least ignored him. His life continued to be one of looking for pleasure. He was not devoid of good, as he had a generous and kindly nature and was very honest. An excerpt from a letter to a relative shows his spiritual condition at this time: “To die the death of the righteous we must live the life of the righteous, dear Auntie, and I am not prepared for that yet.” This way of life continued until the autumn of 1854.
North told students at Edinburgh University what happened to him. "It pleased God, in the month of November, 1854, one night when I was sitting playing at cards, to make me concerned about my soul. The instrument used was a sensation of sudden illness, which led me to thnk that I was going to die. I said to my son, "I am a dead man; take me upstairs." As soon as this was done, I threw myself down on the bed. My first thought then was, ‘Now, what will my forty-four years of following the devices of my own heart profit me? In a few minutes I shall be in hell, and what good will all these things do me, for which I have sold my soul?’ At that moment I felt constrained to pray, but it was merely the prayer of a coward, a cry for mercy. I was not sorry for what I had done, but I was afraid of the punishment of my sin. And yet still there was something trying to prevent me putting myself on my knees to call for mercy, and that was the presence of the maidservant in the room, lighting my fire. Though I did not believe at that time that I had ten minutes to live, and knew that there was no possible hope for me but in the mercy of God, and that if I did not seek that mercy I could not expect to have it, yet such was the nature of my heart, and of my spirit within me, that it was a balance with me, a thing to turn this way or that, I could not tell how, whether I should wait till that woman left the room, or whether I should fall on my knees and cry for mercy in her presence. By the grace of God I did put myself on my knees before that girl, and I believe it was the turning-point with me. I believe that if I had at that time resisted the Holy Ghost—of course, I cannot say, for who shall limit the Holy Ghost?—but my belief is that it would have been once too often. By God's grace I was not prevented. I did pray, and though I am not what I should be, yet I am this day what I am, which at least is not what I was. I mention this because I believe that every man has in his life his turning-point. I believe that the sin against the Holy Ghost is grieving the Spirit once too often."
The next day he told his friends that he was a changed man. He tried to find God’s forgiveness and peace, through prayer and reading the Bible. North spent many months wrestling with God. On one occasion he was really convicted about smoking, something he had been addicted to since he was twelve. He took the cigar out of his mouth and never smoked again. Most of his friends thought that his decision was only a passing fancy, and Christians did not believe it. His struggle to know God was intense. He would not read anything but the Bible, and he was so absorbed with his struggle with the lord that he had no idea that the Crimea War was going on.
In December North went to see his mother who was obviously overjoyed with the news of his conversion. She told him, “Brownlow, God is not only able to save you, but to make you more conspicuous for good than ever you were for evil.” It was during this prolonged wrestling with God that he received many of the insights that he was to later preach on. In March 1855 he rented out his house and moors, moving to Elgin to be close to Donald Gordon, the minister of the Free Church there. One of the congregation wrote, “Mr North on his arrival in Elgin, seemed in great distress of mind, so overwhelming was the sight of himself which he had got….the subject of the lectures that came in course seemed to suit Mr North’s case so startlingly, that I think I see him now with his eyes riveted on the speaker, and sometimes for very gladness of heart I have seen the tears run down his face in church.” A relative commented on how he would get up in the middle of the night and pray agonised prayers.
The Rev. Adam Lind, United Presbyterian minister in Elgin, wrote: "For some time after coming to Elgin, he lived in great retirement, deeply engrossed with his Bible, and abounding in private prayer. I saw him occasionally, and had ample opportunities of observing the workings of his mind; and the mark of true grace which struck me first in his case was the spirit of profound humility, penitence, and adoring gratitude. He seemed like one unable to get out of the region of wonder and amazement at the sovereign kindness of that benignant Being who had borne with him so long in his sin, and such sin, and so much sin; and not only borne with him, but shielded him, and held him back from self-ruin, at length arresting him in his career of folly and wickedness, and bringing him to Himself, a pardoned penitent, a returned prodigal."
During this time North often had to fight the idea that God did not exist. He often would repeat over and over again while walking, “God is, there is a God.” John 6:37 was a text that he often read. ‘..whoever comes to me I will never drive away.’ Eventually, he received the forgiveness and peace he was looking for. He described what happened:"I had risen from my bed in my soul agony, for I was many months in trouble about my soul, though I need not have been as many hours, if I had only had faith to believe in Jesus Christ, and to make my own heart a liar; but my own heart told me that I was the chief of sinners, that Paul, who called himself the chief, was not to be compared—no, neither was he —to me, and that there could be no hope for me; and for months I believed my own heart. One night, being unable to sleep, I had risen and gone into my closet to read the Bible. The portion I was reading was the third chapter of Romans; and as I read the twentieth and following verses, a new light seemed to break in on my soul. ‘By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in God's sight.' That I knew. But then I went on to read, ‘But now, the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference.’With that passage came light into my soul. Striking my book with my hand, and springing from my chair, I cried, ‘If that scripture is true, I am a saved man! That is what I want; that is what God offers me; that is what I will have.' God helping me, it was that I took: THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD WITHOUT THE LAW. It is my ONLY hope.”
After this North spent two months praying, to work out what he should do to serve God. He thought he might hand out tracts, but he was afraid that people would laugh at him. He tried it, finding that nobody laughed at him; in fact after fourteen years he only found one person who refused to take a tract from him. Even many years later, he still found it difficult to build up the courage to give someone a tract. He also began visiting the poor. A friend wrote, "I remember his supplying the very poor and bedridden with many little comforts, such as introducing gas into their cheerless rooms, and paying for it himself. I have myself gone with him to see some of these poor creatures and I shall never forget some of these visits, one in particular, to a poor wretched old body, who had been unable to leave her bed for years. Mr. North would take a little stool, sit down at her unlit fire, and peel oranges for her and this in a room where the surroundings were too disgusting even to mention. After that time, I, for one, felt that I could not be in his company for a quarter of an hour without being benefited by it. We all loved him much."
The first time North spoke to anyone about the Lord was in November 1855. He was asked to go and see a dying girl, but the girl in fact wanted him to speak to her father who was a bad man. He spoke to her parents, returning several times to visit. The father became a reformed man, and once the news got around the neighbourhood, people would flock into the man’s house whenever they knew that North was visiting. One of the women present asked him if he would speak to her husband, who was also a bad man. He went to see this man as well, and on leaving the house the husband said he would ask a dozen of his friends to come and hear him the next time North visited. He spoke to the little group, and they asked him to speak to them again one evening. On arriving at the appointed time, he found fifty or sixty crammed into the room. He soon found himself doing a cottage meeting every day of the week, once speaking to two hundred in a granary. A widow went to one of these meetings and said that she had not heard anything like it since she heard her father-in-law, John Macdonald of Ferintosh, the Apostle of the North, speak.
North was concerned that by speaking at these meetings he was trespassing on the work of the minister, so he asked the Lord to close the door if this was not His will. On a visit to London North went to see an acquaintance who had been radically saved. This man was about to go and preach in the street, so he asked North to accompany him. The man’s words were not welcomed by those listening; in fact he received a torrent of abuse from some. A few voices then asked North to speak, which he did. The people really liked what he had to say, one old man saying, “Sir, your words should be written in letters of gold!” This experience helped North to realise that he had a gift in speaking, and that the Lord wanted him to use it.
His health was not good after so many meetings, so North went to Dallas to recuperate. On Sunday he went to the Free Church, but the minister was away, so there was not to be a sermon. He was asked to speak, but was loath to do so as he was not ordained, but finally agreed if an elder took the service and invited him to speak. The following day two little girls drowned in the river, and North was asked to address the mourners, which he did. The minister returned, but was soon asked to speak elsewhere, so he asked North if he would preach on the Sunday. The people flocked into the church to hear North for the third time. At the meeting were two men from Forres, who reported what they had heard, and consequently an invitation came from the Free Church for him to speak. North did several evening services to a packed congregation, resulting in much spiritual good.
A friend asked him what he planned to do; his response was, “I have done all the harm I could in Scotland, and now I intend to remain there and do all the good I can.” North set his mind and his heart on trying to undo the harm he had done. As an example, one Christian woman asked him to visit her brother-in-law, a former friend in the days before he turned to the Lord. He was loath to do this, and was quite pleased when he lost the address. One day he found the note in his pocket as he was driving to the station to go to Glasgow. He immediately changed direction to go to speak to his old friend.
Many Christians who had known the old North questioned his conversion, but they only needed to hear his story, or hear him preach, to know the truth of it. One minister who had travelled with North in Europe in 1826 first heard of his conversion through reading a magazine. He wrote, “…Brownlow North preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Did my eyes deceive me? Could it be the same Brownlow North with whom I was so well acquainted? What could be the meaning of his preaching? Was it some mad or impious jest? What could have tempted him to this? Very naturally I had no belief in his sincerity until shortly afterwards we met in Edinburgh, when he recounted to me the remarkable history of his conversion. From that moment I never entertained a doubt that he was a truly converted man…”
North knew that the Lord had called him to preach the Gospel. In these days this did cause problems, because he was not ordained. James Haldane had been an itinerant, unordained preacher in 1800, with the result that the Church of Scotland banned anyone preaching without being ordained or invited by the local minister. This law had since been revoked, but it was still an unusual occurrence. North realised this, and did not want to cause offence, but he really had no choice; he had to preach. He owed a debt to his Saviour that had to be paid.
Scotland was in a reasonably dark state spiritually at this time. Moderatism from approximately 1750 to around 1830 had blighted the country, so that many ministers were more interested in a moral life and intellectual pursuits, rather than preaching the Gospel. Although there was a revival in 1839, this only touched certain areas, so there were many people living in darkness. North was in the right place at the right time. Within three years he would be in the middle of a revival that Scotland had scarcely seen before, only possibly in the days of John Knox. It is likely that the spiritual atmosphere in the nation was already changing, which would have aided North’s preaching. After speaking in Forres, he was invited to speak in many places around the neighbourhood, and for the rest of the year he preached wherever he was invited. Written statements by ministers of the Established, Free, United Presbyterian and Independent Churches all testify to the deep impression made upon the congregations by his message.
From the very beginning there was fruit from North’s ministry. One man wrote that since his visit all his servants (about eight) were affected in some way. They were all reading the Bible and other religious books, wanting to know more. On his first visit to Aberdeen, a woman who had known him well before, went to his meeting in a much prejudiced frame of mind, but she was converted. During this visit two students were converted who later became ministers. Also, a lady, who had thought she had been converted a few weeks earlier, went to hear him with two friends. The two friends were converted, and she was “struck and startled with the faith of his first prayer. I thought, what is my religion worth? I can’t say ‘Father’ to God, as that man does.” The lady went through a dark period after this, but then came through, thoroughly converted.
People noticed the energy with which North ministered, his natural eloquence, his earnestness and the originality of the way he presented the truths of the Gospel. A newspaper comments on North’s first address in Stirling: "The intense earnestness of his manner, indicative of the deepest feeling of compassion for the perishing, was obviously the grand secret of his tremendous moral power. The most common truths appear to be unheard-of realities because they are manifestly the utterance of a mind to which they are real, present, and momentous, and they enter many a startled ear because pronounced with burning lips as a message from the Majesty of heaven, the reception or rejection of which might there and then decide the eternity of those hearing. The great source of all spiritual success is doubtless the Holy Ghost, but, humanly speaking, the delivery of acknowledged and elementary truth in an agony of earnestness will never fail to arouse, rivet, and impress a Scottish congregation."
Brownlow North's personal appearance was likely to be remembered by any who heard him preach. Somewhat under middle height, he was overweight, deep-chested, broad-shouldered; he was well spoken, and his bearing aristocratic. His manner in private, as well as in public, was marked by dignity and gravity. Though he dressed in dark clothes, generally in black, his attire was that of a country gentleman, and was not in any way ministerial or professional. He used an eyeglass for reading. His lower jaw was square and heavy, his forehead well developed and thoughtful. He had a massive head covered with curling locks of very dark hair, afterwards tinged with grey; and his features, though by no means handsome, were striking and impressive; and in his dark and sparkling eye there was earnestness, penetration, and gentleness.
In March 1857 North preached at New Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh. The minister told his congregation to get there thirty minutes early so as to get a seat, but on the service starting he could only see around six of his congregation who had managed to get in the building. After such a short time his fame had spread to the capital. A reporter writes of one of his meetings, "Brownlow North, Esq., a connection of the great Lord North, and hitherto a gay and careless 'man about town,' has been preaching in various Free Church and Baptist pulpits during the week. On Sunday evening he held forth in Dr. Candlish's church to one of the largest audiences it ever contained. He is a man apparently about forty years of age, as destitute of pulpit airs as when he was a leader of fashion and a keen hand for the turf: but in spite of his short shooting-coat, and the negligent tie, and the gold eye-glass dangling on the breast of his tightly-buttoned coat, there is tremendous energy and force in his preaching. There is something contagious in a man who is terribly in earnest. North begins his service with a low faltering voice; but before he has got half through the opening prayer, his breast begins to heave with a convulsive sobbing, his whole frame is agitated, and the tears stream over his cheeks. There is then no faltering. The words come quickly, and all the graces of a natural orator are developed. He becomes a great example of the truth that there is no teacher of elocution like the heart. When he implores his audience, with tears, to forget all about the messenger in the message; when he graphically sketches the position of the gay worldling, evidently picturing from experience, but scarcely ever alluding to his own past career; when he breaks out abruptly, in the middle of a sentence, with a radiant smile, and states the happy conviction that some souls are being saved; and when, with unaffected simplicity, he asks the prayers of the congregation on his own behalf, that he may be supported in the extraordinary position in which he finds himself, no unprejudiced spectator can doubt that he is a man in earnest, and that we may yet expect to hear great things of the work which he has begun. There is a significance in his appearance at this time which affects the future of the Church. As a spur to the regularly educated and regularly appointed ministers, and as a powerful living commentary on some of their most prevalent and fatal defects, Brownlow North seems destined to exercise a wide influence as a reformer."
Considering his status it was remarkable that so many doors opened so quickly for him. In Edinburgh he spoke in several churches of different denominations. He seemed to have around him men and women who could sow into his life, and due to his humble spirit he was able to receive their counsel and benefit from it. He also made friends with several gentlemen who had time and means to help him in his labours. Within a year he had gone from wrestling with God in his room to becoming the most popular preacher in Scotland. This alone tells one that he must have been carrying some very special anointing from the Lord that enabled the Holy Spirit to touch people’s hearts and change their lives. Such success would have turned many a person’s head, but pride was not one of North’s weaknesses.
One of the reasons that North was accepted by most denominations is that he was not trained in the doctrines of any Scottish Presbyterian Church. He came from the Church of England, so he had no alignment with any party, which made him free to embrace all, much as Whitefield did a hundred years earlier. He decided that Acts 8 gave him the authority to preach as a lay-person: at the time of persecution the saints, without the Apostles, dispersed from Jerusalem and went everywhere preaching the Word. However, he wholly supported the need for parish ministers etc. He would warn people about sitting under an unconverted minister, but would never make any sweeping statements denouncing groups or classes of ministers. His training to be a vicar in the Church of England and the power of his preaching both contributed to his acceptability. There became a general feeling that North had all the qualifications necessary to be formally recognised as an evangelist, and therefore to be formally welcomed into the pulpit. It was the Free Church of Scotland that took this up, and in May 1859 North was formally made an evangelist of the Free Church. This action merely formalised North’s position, but made everyone feel just a little more comfortable.
At his appointment at the annual Assembly, North spoke of four reasons why the Holy Spirit was so little in the land. Firstly, the lack of united prayer; secondly; that many elders of the Church did nothing for the glory of Christ; thirdly, that ministers came into the Church without knowing Christ as their Saviour; and lastly, that ministers did not spend enough time during the week speaking to their parishioners about the condition of their souls. (This was a very brave thing to say to the governing body of a large Church. I wish someone would stand up and say the same things today).
Giving such recognition to a lay-person did huge good for the national lay effort. He was the first of many.
North was thought of as a theologian, despite receiving little training. One minister said, “He was one of the best theologians among them all, and that his preaching of Christ for Christ’s own sake, accompanied by the Spirit’s power, led those who hung upon his lips to open their whole hearts for a whole Christ.” He was a great doctrinal preacher, giving a fresh impetus and influence to the old truths of the Church which had been lost over time. His favourite topics were ‘God Is,’ the existence, personality and presence of God; ‘It Is Written,’ the inspiration and divine authority of the Bible; ‘You Are Immortal,’ the immortality of the soul, and the eternal duration of spiritual life and death; ‘Born Again,’ the necessity for the Spirit’s work on the intellect, emotions and will; and ‘Faith and Feeling,’ the doctrine of Justification by Faith.
The general revival that had started in America in 1858 arrived in Ireland in 1859. Many ministers from Scotland went over to Ireland to see what was happening, with many, no doubt, hoping to bring the revival back to Scotland. North visited Ireland in June 1859, shortly after the beginning of the revival, staying for two months. He ministered daily with obvious success. Jonathan Simpson, one of the ministers of Portrush, in describing how the revival broke out in that place at the beginning of June, 1859, wrote, "Brownlow North, Esq., visited most opportunely, and, by his earnest and thrilling appeals, largely contributed to advance the glorious cause. He preached twice in the Presbyterian Church, Portrush, and addressed two open-air meetings, one in the town, and the other at Dunmull. The latter was the noblest meeting ever seen in the neighbourhood; the very sight was grand, apart from its bearings on eternity. Mr. North, accustomed to large audiences, computed it at seven thousand; and so many were stricken that day, that the people in the neighbouring houses never got to bed the entire night. So many hearts were bleeding under a sense of sin, and weeping over a pierced Saviour."
During his time in Ireland North spoke approximately fifty times, often to thousands of people. His gifting as an evangelist combined with a revival atmosphere would have been very potent. During a revival there are often a great number of physical manifestations, and emotions are very full, so North’s main thrust in his talks was to encourage people not to rely on their feelings, but on the Word of God.
At the end of the year North went to minister in London with Reginald Radcliffe. It was their hope that they could bring the revival anointing to London, but although some good was done, the revival never really caught fire in the city. There was a concentrated effort by some to reach the masses, with only limited success. He stayed in London for five months, ministering in theatres and halls, which was still quite a novelty at that time. Because of his noble ancestry, meetings were arranged in Willis’ Rooms for him to talk to ‘society’ people. After the meeting he would meet privately with some of the people who had been stirred by what he had said. These ‘after-meetings’ were new, but would become very popular when D L Moody conducted his meetings fourteen years later. Because of his society connections, North considered that he was called to speak to people of his own class and would do this at private dinners or anywhere when God prompted him.
This letter shows how he could be used in ‘society.’
"SCHWALBACH, NASSAU, July 17th, 1862.
“I have great news to tell you about what has been happening here since I came. First of all, I was greatly surprised to find Lord and Lady Kintore here, dear Christian friends of mine, and also a Mr. and Mrs. Mahoney, and Mr. Jenkinson, the Vicar of Battersea. I could not help thinking the Lord had brought us all together for some special purpose. And so I think still. It was arranged that I should give an address in Lord Kintore's room. It was crowded. Many were in tears, and after it was over a Prussian general and aide-de-camp to the emperor, and his sister, came to speak to me; also a Dutchman, chamberlain to the king of Holland. Finding Kintore's rooms too small, we took the large room in the hotel for the next week; this was also filled, and amongst the hearers the three Princesses of ---, whose brother is next heir to the throne of —. After the service, they asked to be introduced to me, and I had an opportunity of giving them some tracts, which they took. They afterwards sent Lord Kintore to my rooms to ask me for more tracts to get them translated into German, and since then they have sent to ask me to go and see them, five miles off from here, and I have been, and had a most interesting conversation with their old mother, the good Duchess. All this is remarkable, for where may not these foreigners carry the seed? They were in again at the meeting on Tuesday, and are to be, God willing, on Friday. I feel all this is of the Lord. Oh may He keep me out of myself and in Christ, and work by me and in me, that I may bring him great glory and do great good. .. . I do think I am better and stronger, though of course this work is hardly giving the waters a fair chance. Still it is too valuable to be missed, and I cannot but think I was brought here to do it."
During the revival North was powerfully used by God. He would usually speak to packed churches and many were led to Jesus. After the revival, and for the remainder of his life, churches were normally full when he was known to be the speaker. Even though the revival anointing may have gone, North still preached to good effect. Unfortunately, there are no figures at all about the number of conversions under his ministry, but there must have been thousands. An indication of the success of his ministry is an account by a friend, who said that on one occasion North stayed six weeks with her in Edinburgh, and there was not a single day when someone did not write or come in person to thank him for leading them to the Lord.
For the first ten years of his ministry North largely preached in Scotland, but after that he accepted invitations to speak in the larger towns of England and Wales. He would go home to Scotland regularly to rest. It is often the case that anointed revivalists drive themselves very hard, until they get sick. It is understandable, as it must be wonderful to see many coming to the Lord as a result of one’s ministrations, but it is not godly, as our bodies are a temple to be cared for. During this time of rest, North wrote several books based on his messages. Some of them are still in print today.
A lot of North’s preaching was warning people that they were going to hell if they did not come to know Jesus, but he also conveyed a sweet, assuring, and overpowering sense of Christ’s love to broken hearts. He would very often give his own testimony at the meetings. It was a powerful testimony, one that led many to Jesus. North was undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best, preacher of his generation. He loved speaking to large congregations, but he would also go to speak to small groups if prompted by the Holy Spirit. Someone once said to him, “You must feel it a great responsibility to address so many thousands.” He replied, “I feel it a great responsibility to address half-a-dozen people.”
North’s home was at ‘Knoll,’ on the banks of the Lossie River in Bishop’s Mill, Elgin. He had been given this lovely home in 1860 through the generosity of a group of friends who raised £2,000 for the purchase. This was reward for his not asking for any money when ministering, and to provide a place where he could rest and a home for his wife. He felt a tie to his locality, and was aware that due to the intensity of his labours, he could not minister to them much so he raised the money for a Mission Hall to be built near the gates of his home, to help locals who found it difficult to travel into Elgin.
All through his twenty years of ministry North spent his time ministering or resting in order to be strong to take on the next round of ministry. The secret of his success was the same as most of the revivalists I have researched; time with the Lord. He would spend three hours each morning with the Lord, either in prayer or studying the Word. Unquestionably time with the Lord is directly proportional to the power of the ministry. He would also always conduct family prayers each day, whether he was at home or staying with someone on his travels.
The last two years of his life were largely spent ministering in Glasgow. In 1874 D L Moody and Ira Sankey came to Britain, bringing revival to Scotland and other places: they were in Glasgow when North was there. North was ministering in Govan, Partick and Hillhead, with considerable success. He spoke at Kelvinside Free Church for three nights a week for the month of March. Moody spoke at the same church during that period. North began with his ‘Rich man and Lazarus’ talk which he often used when beginning a series of meetings. The church was crammed, and at the close of each Sunday service, four or five hundred remained in prayer, with increasing numbers seeking guidance from those able to give help.
Despite the pre-eminence of Brownlow North, it was Moody and Sankey who were all the rage at this time. They had made an enormous impact in Edinburgh, and continued to do so in Glasgow. It must have been difficult for North, who had been the centre of attention for so long, to be overtaken by a couple of Americans. The following letter shows how he felt and shows how unwell he felt. SANDFIELD PARK, WEST DERBY,
"LIVERPOOL, March 4th.
"MY DEAREST KINTORE,-I was very glad to get your two kind letters, as was Mrs. H . I am getting older and uglier and deafer every year, not attractions with which to make new friends, so I am more jealous of the old ones, and I should be sorry to lose many of them if I could help it, and none more so than yourself, dear Kintore, for we have travelled together as friends over many a long year of good report and evil report. My ending, I suspect, is not very far off, for I am full of gout and rheumatism, added to which Sir William Gull, whom I consulted, says I have a weak heart and enlarged liver. Notwithstanding all this, however, I had accepted an invitation to speak in the enormous hall here, built for Moody and Sankey, on next Sunday, but fortunately for Liverpool and myself, they are not ready for them in London, and we have got them here for another Sunday. Their success is a miracle, perfectly superhuman! Every service crammed, and after every service the inquiry room also. Of course the devil rages, as he always does when God works: and He is working, I most firmly believe, mightily. I cannot tell you how sorry I am to hear of dear ---- being such an invalid.
"The whole household are gone in to hear Moody and Sankey, or I am sure would send you every kind message. I am sipping barley-water in single blessedness. I am so glad to hear ---- got such a blessing from M. and S. May the Lord increase it more and more! For she has had much trial lately.
“Always and ever yours most affectionately,
North continued his full time employment, and went to Alexandria, Dumbartonshire, for a series of meetings on October 21st,1875. On Sunday the 24th he preached in the Public Hall to around 1200 people. He then preached in the Free Church on the Wednesday and Friday evening. North would preach despite pain and sickness. The doctors had warned him that his heart could go any time while he was preaching, and yet he continued without ceasing. On the Saturday he was taken ill, and Brownlow North died on November 9th, 1875, aged 65. So he did what he loved to do up until ten days before his death. He was buried in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh.
As good a testimony as any was given by Dr Tait, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who wrote to a friend, "We have been reading the account of Brownlow North which some one sent to us. He will leave a great blank among those for whom he laboured. No one could know him without seeing that his heart and life were devoted to his Master's service, and that he burned to preach to others what he had found so precious to his own soul."
This essay was taken from ‘Brownlow North, His life and work,’ by K Moody-Stuart, first published in 1878.