BY REV. J. BARBOUR JOHNSTONE, WOLFLEE.
THE scene of this mission is a close, or wynd, running off from the High Street. It is one of those places in the Old Town of Edinburgh which are full of old associations, and interesting in an antiquarian point of view. But this close, like many others, has a solemn interest in the eyes of those whose hearts have been led to care for their fellow- creatures, sunk in sin and degradation.
This mission owed its origin specially to a movement on the part of the Sabbath-school Teachers' Union. Imitating a similar movement in England, they determined, by a careful canvass, to ascertain the number of children not attending any Sabbath school. The revelations resulting from this investigation were so sad, that they saw that active measures of an aggressive character were imperatively called for.
Carrubber's Close, which lies in the very centre of the city, was found to have no Sabbath school in or around it. Mr James Gall, and certain zealous coadjutors, determined to take action there. A rallying point, or base of operations, was found in an old chapel in the close. This chapel had had a varied history, having at different times been occupied by Roman Catholics, Unitarians, and Irvingites. Not seldom it had been used as a dancing saloon and for penny theatricals. At the very time when Mr Gall and his friends got a lease of it, they had to eject a club of Atheists.
There, on Sabbath morning the 30th of May 1858, they commenced operations. Kneeling down within the empty walls of the chapel, they consecrated themselves and it to a great work. Rising from their knees, they allotted to each his work. Then they sallied out into the close and the High Street, and, by dint of coaxing and importunity, succeeded in bringing down to the chapel a few children whom they found playing about, and who became the first scholars of this Sabbath-morning school. Inviting the same children to return, and to bring with them as many companions as they could, they met again in the evening in larger numbers, and thus inaugurated their Sabbath-school system, which was to be the backbone of their experimental mission. Their numbers at first were small, both of children and teachers, but their doors were opened wide to all, and they soon increased.
Thus commenced, they soon extended their operations, until their labours took almost every form of Christian enterprise and philanthropy. Every age and class in the population around were embraced in their mission. At the close of one year, so greatly had their efforts been extended, that they could report in full operation Sabbath morning and evening schools, week-day classes for young men and women, a monthly mothers' meeting for prayer, a reading club for families, and an "Excelsior Institute, or Home College,' for the improvement of young men.
There was thus much to encourage from their first year's labours. Their second year, therefore, began hopefully, and from a much higher platform. They had now upwards of thirty enthusiastic labourers, all giving their zealous efforts gratuitously to this great work. More extensive labours and greater fruits were at hand.
The Lord was doing a great work in Ireland; and many in Scotland, seeing and hearing of His mighty doings there, were stirred to seek His reviving grace. Mr Gall, during the summer, passing through Glasgow to the Western Highlands, remained for a few days in that city, to become acquainted with the missionary operations of the Wynds' Territorial Church, under Mr M'Coll. "I was then," says he, " for the first time privileged to see with my own eyes what an awakening was, and to take part in the solemn exercises of that solemn time. Carrubber's Close was not forgotten by the Wynds' Church. Earnest supplications were poured out on its behalf that the Lord would visit it also with a gracious revival."
During his absence, as if the answer to prayer were already being bestowed, the weekly prayer-meeting began to shew signs of life. It so increased in numbers that they determined to hold it twice a week. Then it became their practice for one of their number to preach at the head of the close, and, having attracted an audience, to bring them down to the meeting in the chapel.
During a hurried visit on business to Edinburgh, in August, he told what he had witnessed in the Wynds' Church in Glasgow. His friends were so stirred by the tidings that they determined to hold their meetings nightly, as in Glasgow.
During the first month of their nightly prayer-meeting it was a work of faith—the only encouragement being a steady keeping up of the attendance. By and by the countenances of the people bore marks of earnest attention and some degree of feeling. But yet they had to wait. Does not the husbandman wait for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain?
Thus they prayed and laboured for sometime when they thought they -would try the result. Anxious souls were requested to remain for prayer and converse at the close of the meeting. "A number sat down," says Mr Gall; "but, alas ! it was only to let the crowd depart, and as the chapel began to empty, one by one they rose and left, and—left us all alone. I did feel discouraged." Yet they set themselves, -with increased determination, to labour and pray, and patiently wait for the Lord's time. Two cases did, indeed, encourage them, but it was not till Friday, the 14th of October, that the shower came on.
They met on that evening as usual. All seemed greatly solemnised, and, before the concluding prayer, each one was urged to decide that very night whether he would accept Christ or no. Again, any who were anxious were requested to remain. Three accepted the invitation—an old man, a young man, and a young woman. "From that night," says Mr Gall, "when the first anxious inquirers remained behind, there has not been a day on which we have had none. Night after night they increased in number, until, even with the help of many friends, we are not able to deal with them all individually. Night after night, also, the careless became earnest, the earnest became convicted, and the convicted at length found peace in the blood of Jesus, so that conversions really became a nightly occurrence." "We may confidently say that there have been hundreds who date their spiritual birth from the meetings in Carrubber's Close and its branches and that thousands have been revived and spiritually invigorated by their visits to Whitefield Chapel. . . Those who would wish to form an estimate of the amount of work that is done have only to visit the chapel any one night out of the seven, and to calculate that what he sees is to be seen night after night, and has continued so for upwards of six months without interruption."
This is certainly a very striking testimony, and I certainly can corroborate its outward features. Coming fresh from seeing the work of God in Ireland, and in the Wynds' Church in Glasgow, in December last I visited the chapel in Carrubber's Close. There I found the same great features indicative of the presence of the Divine Power. I found the chapel quite full. There was nothing to excite the mere emotional feelings. All was characterised by solemn fervour and truthfulness. The people seemed greatly impressed, and many remained for converse at the close. Again, some two months afterwards, I had an opportunity of attending, and found the place filled, as before, with eager souls, evidently stirred to spiritual concern, and earnestly calling upon the name of the Lord. Well knowing, from sad experience, how hard it is, in ordinary circumstances, to draw out even the members of our churches on week-nights for prayer, I could not see Carrubber's Close thus attended, from month to month, and night after night, by those who were so indifferent to all these things before, without exclaiming, " This is the hand of the Lord!" As was to be supposed in the circumstances, they have come much into contact with women of the town. Many such ply their sinful calling all around them and the blessed gospel has reached many of their hearts. "There was no class," says Mr Gall, " that appeared more hopeless than they, and yet the first agonising cries of contrition that ascended to heaven from Whitefield Chapel escaped from their lips, and the very last feat of daring that was accomplished by two of our number was the clearing out of a house in the Canongate that has long been a very Sebastopol of the enemy. We have had many failures, but we can also count a goodly number of our fallen sisters, who, by our means, have been rescued from pollution, and have either been admitted into reformatories or obtained respectable situations.
Perhaps the numerous labourers raised up to help in this good work is as striking a proof that the Lord is with them as any. All give their untiring services gratuitously to the work. All kinds of gifts find their own proper work—distributing tracts, visiting the families around, teaching, conversing with inquirers, preaching, praying, printing handbills, door-keeping, &c., all have to be done, and there are some fitted for all. "One of our most useful labourers," says Mr Gall, " is a girl who goes out to sew in families at a shilling a day; and wherever she goes, her great anxiety is to win souls to Christ." "A number of milk-girls," says Mr Jenkinson, a great helper in this work, " were brought under deep conviction, and although not able to teach like the other converts, have been very useful in telling servants of the meetings, and the joy they have experienced since they found the Saviour. Their simple and earnest appeals to the servants, to whom they give the milk, have been the means of bringing many of them to the meetings; and not a few are rejoicing in Jesus as their Saviour." One young woman, after she had been brought to the Saviour herself, at once determined never to rest until she had brought all the young women in the warehouse to the enjoyment of the same peace. One after another was given to her by the Lord, nor did she rest satisfied until she had good reason to rejoice in believing that the last of them all had dedicated herself to Jesus.
Thus the Lord has been enabling His servants to do a great work for His name, and many have been added unto the Lord. Yet the work goes on and spreads greatly. Newhaven, the Water of Leith, and other places, have had branch-meetings begun in them, which have been so blessed that they also have become centres of revival. An interesting and important step has been taken of late in their securing the Old Theatre Royal, before it is pulled down, for holding meetings. The Lord, in many ways, is invading Satan's kingdom and setting many of his captives free. I cannot forget a night I spent there shortly since. Looking down from the gallery where I was, it was a strange scene in such a place,—strange to hear the psalms of David there, and humble supplication addressed to God, and men earnestly entreated to come to Jesus our Saviour. I saw many, who evidently had been drawn in by the novelty, strangely awed. They may have come to laugh, but they were controlled by a higher Power, and it was pleasing to see how devoutly they seemed to join in the earnest prayers for the Divine mercy which were offered. One such found his way, at one of their meetings, behind the green curtain on the stage. He evidently did not know well what to make of it. "Will you answer me one question?" said he to one of the friends engaged. "Certainly, I am here for that purpose." "Tell me, then, what is all this praying for? Is it a sham, or is it in earnest?" "It is in earnest." A conversation followed, in which the young man confessed, that though his parents had been godly, and had often counselled him aright, he had often been in the theatre, wild and careless. "But," said he, "I feel arrested, for I never felt religion to be such a reality as I feel it tonight. I am determined from this time forth to turn over a new leaf." He was told that it was impossible ever to "turn a new leaf," until he had first turned to Christ as his Saviour. He was asked to join in prayer. "I never prayed before," said he, "but most gladly will I join with you." They both knelt down and prayed, and on rising from their knees, he shook hands, evidently much impressed, and promised to return.
From ‘Authentic Records of Revival, now in progress in the United Kingdom, published in 1860, re-printed and edited in 1980 by Richard Owen Roberts.
I cannot discover where in the Wynd the church was located.