Ardeonaig (1802-1818)




One of Robert Haldane's 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 and 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. . . . Ithink, I see him still on his black pony, riding round Loch Tay and 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 and 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 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 neighboring 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 emigrated to America, where he shortly afterwards died. (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 though 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. Dr. 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. Ihave 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. Dr. 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!"