The Kirk of Shotts Revival (1630)
This brings us to the Narrative of the Revival at Shotts. This Parish is situated in the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire and seems to have enjoyed in these troublous times the rare privilege of having a stated minister amongst them disposed to promote the interests of religion. Of his pastoral labours nothing is now known, except in connection with this remarkable Revival. The manse, says Gillies in his Collections, was at this time situated where the public inn now stands, and being far from any place of entertainment, was often resorted to by strangers. Some ladies of rank, who had occasion often to travel that way, received at different times civilities from the minister, particularly on one occasion when their carriage broke down near to the manse. He kindly invited them to alight and remain at his house till it could be repaired, so as to enable them to proceed on their journey. During their stay in the house, they noticed that it had little accommodation, and was much out of repair. In gratitude for his kind attention to them, they got a new manse built for the minister, and in a better situation. Mr. Hance, on receiving so substantial a favour, waited on the ladies to thank them for their kindness and wished to know if there was any thing in his power he could do to testify his gratitude. The ladies loved the Gospel and the persecuted ministers who were faithfully witnessing for its purity. They therefore gladly seized the opportunity of asking Mr. Hance to invite such of them as they named to assist at the sacrament, in order that they might enjoy the benefit of their ministrations and also give an opportunity to others to partake of so precious a privilege, at this time rarely enjoyed. To this the minister gladly consented; and information of it spreading abroad, brought together an immense number of choice Christians from all parts of the country to attend the dispensation of the ordinance, which was fixed for Sabbath, the 20th June, 1630.
Nothing is now known of the names of the ministers who conducted the preparatory exercises, nor of the subjects to which they directed the attention of the people, but this: that the venerable Mr. Robert Bruce was one of their number, and that the Holy Spirit was evidently at work in the hearts of the worshippers, much of their time being spent in social prayer and spiritual conference. Their prayers for the ministers were heard in their own happy experience; for with great power were they enabled to witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. Much of the Spirit of light and love was imparted on the Sabbath of communion. So filled were they with joy and peace in believing, that instead of retiring to rest on the evening of the communion Sabbath, they joined together in little companies and spent the whole of the night in devotional exercises. There is no doubt that while their hearts were thus filled with the love of Christ, they would be touched with the tenderest pity for the situation of those perishing around them strangers to this love, and that many fervent petitions would be presented in their behalf at a throne of grace.
It had not been usual in those times to have sermon on the Monday after the dispensation of the Lord's supper, but God had given so much of his gracious presence on this occasion, and afforded his people so much communion with himself, on the preceding days that they knew not how to part on the Monday without thanksgiving and praise. While their hearts were thus warm with the love of God, some expressed their desire of a sermon on the Monday, and were joined by others, till in a little the desire became general. Mr. John Livingstone, chaplain to the Countess of Wigton, (at that time only a preacher, not an ordained minister, and about twenty-seven years of age,) was with difficulty prevailed on to give the sermon. The night before had been spent by him and most of the Christians present in prayer and conference. But when he was alone in the fields in the morning there came upon him such a misgiving, under a sense of unworthiness and unfitness to speak before so many aged and worthy ministers and eminent and experienced Christians, that he was thinking of stealing away.He had actually gone some distance and was just about to lose sight of the kirk when these words, "Was I ever a barren wilderness or a land of darkness?" were brought into his mind with such an overcoming power as constrained him to think it his duty to return and comply with the call to preach. He accordingly preached, with much assistance, for about an hour and a half on the points he had meditated, from Ezekiel xxxvi. 25, 26—" Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh."
As he was about to close the discourse, a heavy shower came suddenly on, which made the people hastily take to their cloaks and mantles. He proceeded to speak to the following purpose:—" If a few drops of rain so discompose you, how discomposed would you be—how full of horror and despair, if God should deal with you as you deserve? And thus he will deal with all the finally impenitent. God might justly rain fire and brimstone upon you, as he did upon Sodom and Gomorrah, and the other cities of the plain. But, for ever blessed be his name! the door of mercy still stands open for such as you are. The Lord Jesus Christ, by tabernacling in our nature, and obeying that law which we have wickedly and wilfully broken, and suffering that punishment we have so richly deserved, has now become a refuge from the storm and a covert from the tempest of divine wrath due to us for sin. His merits and mediation are the lone defence from that storm, and none but those who come to Christ just as they are, empty of every thing, and take the offered mercy at his hand will have the benefit of this shelter." In such expressions, and many others, was he led on for about an hour, (after he had finished what he had premeditated) in a strain of exhortation and warning, with great enlargement and melting of heart and with such visible impression on his audience as made it evident that the power of God was present with them. And, indeed, so great was the power of God manifested on the occasion that about 500 persons were converted, principally by means of this sermon.
Of this day's exercises Mr. Livingstone has himself left the following memorandum:—" The day in all my life wherein I found most of the presence of God in preaching was on a Monday after the communion in the churchyard of Shotts, June 21, 1630. The night before I had been in company with some Christians who spent the night in prayer and conference. When I was alone in the fields in the morning, before the time of sermon, there came such a misgiving of spirit upon me, considering my own unworthiness and weakness, and the multitude and expectation of the people, that I was consulting with myself to have stolen away and declined preaching; but I thought I durst not so distrust God, and so went to sermon, and got good assistance about one hour and a half upon the points which I had meditated on. And in the end, offering to close with some words of exhortation, I was led on about an hour's time in a strain of exhortation and warning, with such liberty and melting of heart, as I never had the like in public all my lifetime. Some little of that stamp remained on the Thursday after when I preached at Kilmarnock; but the very Monday following, preaching at Irvine, I was so deserted, that the points I had meditated and written, and which I had fully in my memory, I was not able to get pronounced—so it pleased the Lord to counterbalance his dealings, and to hide pride from man."
Of the effects of this work, Mr. Fleming, then minister of Cambuslang, writes—"I can speak on sure grounds that about five hundred had at that time a discernible change wrought in them, of whom most proved lively Christians. It was the sowing of a seed through Clydesdale, so as many of the most eminent Christians in that country could date either their conversion, or some remarkable confirmation from it; and this was the more remarkable, that one, after much reluctance, by a special and unexpected providence, was called upon to preach that sermon on the Monday, which was not usually practised. And the night before being spent in prayer, the Monday's work might be discerned as a convincing return of prayer."
The following particular instance of the mercy of God on this occasion is well attested:—On that remarkable Monday, three young gentlemen belonging to Glasgow had made an appointment to go to Edinburgh, to attend the public amusements. Having alighted at Shotts to take breakfast, one of their number proposed to go and hear sermon, probably more from curiosity than any other motive. And for greater expedition, they arranged to come away just at the end of the sermon, before the last prayer. But the power of God was so felt by them, accompanying the sermon that they could not come away till all was over. When they returned to take their horses they called for some refreshment before they mounted. When it was set upon the table they all looked to one another, none of them daring to touch it till a blessing was asked, and as they were not accustomed formerly to attend to such things, one of them at last remarked, " I think we should ask a blessing." The others assented at once to this proposal and put it on one of their number to do it, to which he readily consented. And when they had done, they could not rise until another should return thanks. They went on their way more sedately than they used to do, but none of them mentioned their inward concern to the others—only now and then one would say, "Was it not a great sermon we heard?" Another would answer, "I never heard the like of it." They went to Edinburgh, but instead of attending the amusements they kept to their rooms the greater part of the time they were there, which was only about two days. Being all quite weary of Edinburgh, they proposed to return home. Upon the way home, they did not discover the state of their minds to one another and after arriving in Glasgow they kept their rooms very much, coming seldom out. At last one of them made a visit to another and declared to him what God had done for him at Shotts. The other frankly owned the concern that he had been brought under at the same time; both of them proceeding to the third, they found him in the same state of mind. They all three agreed immediately to begin a fellowship meeting. They continued to have a practice suitable to their profession for the remainder of their lives and became eminently useful in their day and generation.
Another instance, equally well authenticated, is related of a poor coachman in Glasgow employed by a lady to drive her conveyance to the Shotts. During the sermon he had taken out his horse to feed at a small distance from the tents. When the power of God was so much felt during the latter part of the sermon, he apprehended that there was a more than ordinary concern among the people. He felt something strike him in such a way as he could not account for. He hastily rose up and ran into the congregation, where he was made a sharer of what God was distributing among them that day.
The following important testimony to the after life and conversation of many of the persons brought under the power of religion on this remarkable occasion is given by Mr. Andrew Gray of Chryston, an eminently pious old gentleman, in a letter embodied in Gillies' Collection:—
"Notwithstanding the blessed Reformation from Popery, which God brought about by the endeavours of a few, the bulk of the country continued in much ignorance and immorality. But two springs of the revival of religion in this corner were the famous sermon at the Kirk of Shotts, and the labours of Mr. Robert Bruce. At the sermon at Shotts a good number of people were by grace made acquainted with the life and power of religion—many of them became eminently good men, and remarkable not only for a pious inoffensive behaviour, but also for abounding in all the good fruits which pure and undefiled religion enables its sincere followers to perform. Among other good fruits, you cannot doubt a strong inclination to promote the spiritual good of others was a principal one. As the labourers were then few in this part of God's vineyard, he seemed to have inspired these private Christians with an uncommon degree of love for the souls of men—inciting them to labour, by all proper methods, to bring others to the knowledge of that grace which had produced such blessed effects on themselves; and their labours were not without a considerable effect. They were called the Puritans of the Muir of Bothwell, perhaps by way of reproach, by those who were ill-affected towards them. Some relations of mine were much the better for having conversed with them. I have seen some of those people myself, who lived to a great age, and have conversed with many good people at this house who had been very well acquainted with them."
In conclusion, it is very worthy of notice that previous to the revival at Shotts there had been much fervent prayer on the part of the preacher and prolonged social prayer on the part of the people. And it has been well remarked by a late writer that, while God sometimes works without his people, he never refuses to work with them. Certain it is, that when the hearts of' his children are united and enlarged in prayer for a blessing on the ministrations of their pastors, the blessing will not be withheld. God is more ready to give than we are to ask. And it may truly be said, that if we have not now such glorious displays of God's power, it is simply "because we ask not," or asking, we "ask not in faith," forgetting the Saviour's solemn promise, "Verily, verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name; ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full."
Reader are you a stranger to the exercise of believing prayer? Remain not a moment longer, we beseech you, in such an awful condition. Know that to you is the word of salvation now sent, and for your encouragement we tell you from the Bible—God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
This account is taken from ‘Narratives of Revivals of Religion in Scotland, Ireland and Wales.’ Published in 1839. This in its turn has been largely taken from ‘Historical Collections…’ by John Gilles in 1752.