Cellardyke (1860)



BY THE REV. ALEX. GREGORY, M.A., ANSTRUTHER.

CELLARDYKE is a fishing town of about 1800 inhabitants, situated in the county of Fife, and parish of Kilrenny, on the northern shores of the Firth of Forth. It is occupied by a superior class of fishermen, who are distinguished for courage and enterprise in the prosecution of their arduous calling, and who have supplied the merchant navy with not a few skilful and successful seamen. They are in the main a church-going people. There is no church in Cel­lardyke itself; the bulk of the population worship in the parish church of Kilrenny, about a mile distant; the rest in the various churches in the adjoining town of East Anstruther, chiefly in the Free Church. As they have enjoyed the benefit for many years of a large and well-taught Sabbath school, most of those now about middle life are well instructed in the elements of Divine truth; while among their number may be found, in the capacity of church office-bearers, or private members, some as godly and useful Christians as any church possesses. Still, there has been too much cause to lament the prevalence, among certain portions of the community, of those vices which are common among most seafaring populations; but greatly more prevalent than these, a lifeless profession, a religion of mere formality, where Sabbath-day services and external rites were everything, while the heart was utterly dead to spiritual things. From the time that the Irish awakening drew general attention in Scotland, namely, about the beginning of the summer of 1859, the subject of the revival of religion was in various forms brought under public notice in several of the churches in East Anstruther, and the duty and import­ance of prayer for the outpouring of the Spirit much in­sisted on and such of the inhabitants of Cellardyke as attend those churches had thus, in common with others, their minds frequently brought into contact with these topics during the course of that year. But as the religious movement to which this account refers took place chiefly, almost exclusively, in the town of Cellardyke, we confine ourselves to that town in narrating the preparatory steps by which God was pleased to introduce this most manifest work of His grace.

The work of God in the conversion of souls is, in every place, and in all cases, the same in essential things. But, with this similarity in essentials, there is great diversity in accidental circumstances; a diversity which appears not only in different places, but, as is well known, even in differ­ent individuals. Our awakening has been distinguished for the large proportion of persons of mature years, especially for the great number of men, brought under impressions, and also for an entire freedom from those bodily affections which have accompanied revivals elsewhere, and from those wild extravagances on the part of the subjects of the work, which have stumbled and offended sober-minded people and given " occasion to the enemy to blaspheme." But, what is more to our present purpose it was distinguished pre-eminently in the mode of its commencement. In other cases, the movement originated in visits, public or private, from parties who had been sharers in a revival elsewhere; a most natural and scriptural way for a religious awakening to commence. At the urgent solicitation of ministers and elders in other places, several of our most confirmed con­verts have gone forth to tell what the Lord has done for us, and God has blessed their simple story. It is both a natu­ral and scriptural mode of awakening a new interest in the saving truths of the gospel. We simply state a fact when we say that it was in no such way as this that the work originated in Cellardyke. There came no distinguished preacher to arouse its population—no revivalist to excite us by artificial stimulants—no parties with revival fire to spread a kindred flame among us. In other cases the work commenced by a visit from man; with us it commenced in a visitation from God.

On Thursday the 8th day of December 1859, one of those calamities which are but of too frequent occurrence among seafaring populations, fell upon the town. One of our boats foundered at sea; out of a crew of eight men, seven perished, five of whom left widows behind them. The sad event—there had nothing happened like it in the place for ten years—was felt by the whole community as a terrible blow. It made a deep impression, which happily took the form of a desire to have a meeting for prayer in the town. Accordingly, next day, Friday, a request was transmitted to the writer of these lines to come and conduct a prayer- meeting in a neighbouring school-room that evening. To this we joyfully acceded; and how truly that request ex­pressed the feelings of the great body of the fishermen, was plain from that crowded meeting of two hundred people, and these nearly all men. A more solemn assemblage we never witnessed; all seemed bowed as if under a heavy per­sonal calamity; strong men have told us they never felt so near completely breaking down. The first song of praise in which the pent-up emotions of their bursting hearts found a vent was overpowering. It was long since such a meeting had been seen in the town. Some referred to those held at the time of the cholera; others said those could not compare with this one. In some respects, at all events, this meeting was different, in its being the first of a long-continued series of similar, and some yet more re­markable, meetings, and in the decided and most precious spiritual results which have flowed from it.

On the Sabbath following, the distressing accident was improved in all the places of worship in the neighbourhood. In the Free church a special sermon was preached in the evening on the words—" Come, and let us return to the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up ;" which was listened to by a deeply-solemnised congregation, crowded with fishermen. For several months we conducted the prayer-meeting in Cellardyke, which had been commenced in circumstances so affecting, almost every week, and when the boats were not at sea, always with a large attendance. After an expo­sition of some portion of God's Word, it was our practice at these meetings to read revival intelligence. It so happened that about this time a work of grace began in the towns of Eyemouth and Ferryden; and several letters on this sub­ject from fishermen in those towns to friends in Cellardyke were read, and excited great interest. The outpouring of the Spirit formed a topic of conversation and a subject of prayer in every house that winter in the course of our pastoral visitations. The thoughts and desires of God's people ran strongly in the direction of a similar work among us ; and it was most affecting and heart-stirring to hear our praying fishermen in the midst of a crowded meeting of their fel­lows, pleading with Jacob-like earnestness that God would not pass them by, but be pleased to visit them as He had visited others of like occupation. During this time, the town began to wear a more quiet and sober appearance ; a fishermen's social prayer-meeting, which met each Lord's- day, increased from eight to nearly thirty ; some praying women assembled in each other's houses for the same pur­pose ; and two or three young men were known latterly to be in great anxiety about their souls. Still there was no general manifestation of any strong religious feeling. But it was the belief of some that this was not to be long delayed. We found the other day that so early as the 1st January we had expressed in writing the hopeful conviction that the fishermen's prayer-meeting was a promise of good.

That day, Thursday, 15th March, we were asked to con­duct a meeting in the schoolroom already mentioned, at two P.M. A crowd filled the place, and at the close of the meeting several persons remained behind in deep spiritual concern. On the forenoon of Friday great numbers through­out the town were known to be burdened with a heavy sense of sin, and earnestly desirous of spiritual consolation. At the close of the meeting at two P.M. that day, upwards of a hundred of all ages and both sexes remained to be conversed with about their souls' interests. At the first word that was spoken to them, they gave way to tears and sobs, presenting a most affecting sight. It was fortunate that the several ministers present agreed in calming their agitation and in counselling them to self-control.

Meetings were held after this every evening; and as stormy weather kept the crews on shore during the whole of the immediately following week, the schoolroom and other adjoining apartments were crowded to suffocation. At the close of each meeting anxious inquirers presented themselves in great numbers, and eager crowds gathered in private houses, where ministers and others were actively engaged in administering direction and comfort to wounded spirits, while some collected round one in the streets, to drink in the simplest truths of the gospel, as if they were hearing them for the first time. The awakening in the town was the all-absorbing topic. And it was an easy matter to engage any person in frank converse about the nature of his own feelings, and the state of his soul. These things were almost the only subjects of conversation. The scenes of that time will not soon be forgotten. The distress of those bowed down with an insupportable load, their earnest cries for relief,—" Oh, that God would have mercy on my sinful soul!" "Oh, that the Lord would come to my heart this night!"—the more silent and not less heavy grief of others, the look of piercing eagerness with which inquiring ones listened to the household expositions of the plainest truths of the Word, and the radiant joy of such as had found relief in some precious promise, the face actually gleaming with a most heavenly beauty, were sights which made an impression on the beholders, which, we believe, will never be effaced.

With the kind assistance of others from a distance, the ministers, elders, and private Christians of the place and neighbourhood, by public meetings and household visita­tion, promoted the good work, which went on with little interruption for many weeks. The reading of the psalm, the singing of a hymn, the words of the text, an expression in prayer, the preaching of the gospel, and the exposition of the truth, and, not less than any of these, the recital in a few broken sentences of his own feelings and experience by one of the fishermen themselves, who had just passed from darkness to light, were all employed by the Spirit of God to impress, awaken, enlighten, or comfort, and so to extend and continue the movement. But at the first, and all along, there was another influence of exceeding power for this effect. This was the sight or the mere report of the change which was passing, or had passed, on neigh- , hours—the deep distress, the agonising struggle, and then the excessive joy when deliverance came. It seemed as if God had imparted a higher degree of these feelings than is known to the experience of the majority of His people, on set purpose to furnish a potent instrument for impressing men in great numbers. Not a few who had attended none of the meetings, and some of those persons in whose houses neither minister nor Christian adviser had been till weeks after the awakening began, and others who were confined to bed with sickness, were at an early period led in this manner to serious thought and deep anxiety, which ended in a change as decided and hopeful as any. And, indeed, very generally, the first thought was, "Why should such a one be in distress more than I?" or, "Why is it I have not such another's joy ?" This question led the inquirer to the Word of God, to the prayer-meeting, to the spiritual counsellor, and to the throne of grace.

We have referred to the great degree of joy possessed by many of the converts, which we have observed, at a certain stage of the mental process, to be as common and powerful a means as any for quickening and strengthening religious desire. This, however, was not without some practical inconvenience. "The light" that others had got was with many the one great object of their wishes. More frequently, in the case of the more anxious, it was to "find peace." This expression, at a very early period of the movement, we felt it necessary to discourage. There was danger of accepting the mere subsiding of agitated feeling, the natural reaction from excited emotion, for the peace of the gospel. There was great danger of substituting peace or joy for Christ, as the object of desire and search, and so of vitiat­ing and misdirecting the whole aim and strain of the soul's earnestness. "What are you anxious about?" we have asked. "Oh, to get such a one's joy." "Suppose," we have said in reply—" suppose I were to offer you such a one's joy, but without Christ?" After a pause—" I wouldn't have it, sir." "Right," we have said: "now, suppose I were to offer you Christ, but without such a one's joy?" Another pause—" Ah,"—and then—" that would do." "Right," we have said again: "that person's joy may be gone already at all events, it is a thing which will come and go. But if the heart has accepted of Christ, He will never depart. Set your heart, then, on getting Christ, and leave it to Him to give you what joy He sees to be good for you." In a similar manner we had to deal with burdened souls, who gave every evidence of having embraced the Saviour, but could take no comfort from this, because, as they said, "the burden was not away yet; they had not the peace or joy of others." We were wont to be met with this when urging such persons to take the comfort of the truth, that as soon as they embraced Christ the entire load of sin and guilt was on Him, and no longer on them ; and we have had to remind them that if a strong man took a crushing weight off their shoulders, they would probably have a bruised and sore feeling, as if the load were still there, for some time after it was removed ; and to draw attention to the distinction between " peace with God"— reconciliation, covenant-friendship with Him, which Christ, in the heart, makes ours—and the tranquil feelings of our own breasts—a mere pleasant sensation, which must not be confounded with the high blessing of friendship with God, the inalienable and unchanging heritage of every believer.

We have mentioned the extensive and powerful influence of the deep distress, or the excessive joy of the awakened, in impressing and stirring the hearts of others. Along with this, it was most satisfactory to notice, particularly at the commencement of the work, the almost universal recogni­tion of the agency of the Spirit; "only He had wrought those convictions in their breasts, and only He could bring them relief." In some cases we had to guard against the abuse of the doctrine of effectual grace, to explain what was meant by "waiting" on God, and how they were sin­ning their greatest sill, and resisting the Spirit, as long as they did not embrace the Saviour. With others, unfor­tunately, more superficial views began to find favour, which spoke of faith as a slight thing, made conversion easy, and treated sin lightly,—sentiments which seemed in strange contrast to the state of a town agitated to its very depths by powerful religious convictions. In consequence, we had to insist much on the heart accepting Christ, God's gift to sinners, and trusting Him as a living Friend, and on the doing of this with the whole soul, and with a heart deeply grieved for the injuries which the past life had heaped on that long-dishonoured Jesus, making much use of Zech. xii. 10.

As a general rule, the first illapse of distress was followed by a sharp struggle, which issued in relief and joy. But there was much variety under this general uniformity. In most instances the conviction of sin was sudden and deep ; but a few exceptions to this presented either a slowly-in­creasing spiritual concern, sometimes subsiding and return­ing, or a long process of breaking down, carried on by a slow series of steps. In some the relief came very quickly, in others after a more protracted struggle. In some, too, with little or no help of man, in others only after much converse and counselling, and repeated dealings with the case. Not a few, after the light of hope shone upon their minds, were visited with anxieties and fears which were as distressing as their first spiritual trouble, and which required much tender and skilful treatment, while some, who were early impressed, appear to walk in darkness to this hour.

In some instances, as already hinted, it is difficult to say whether the spiritual change was riot rather a second con­version; a supply of new life to one already a true Chris­tian, but in a state of backsliding, lifelessness, or lukewarm­ness. That the awakening produced this effect in not a few of God's people, we know well. At the very com­mencement of the movement, it struck us very forcibly that the words of Simeon, spoken over the infant Jesus, would, in all likelihood, receive verification among us,—" Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; . . . . that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." There has been no lack here, as elsewhere, of the "sign which shall le spoken against," revealing in many hearts—what thoughts ?—hostile, bitter thoughts, to which it might have been supposed those hearts were strangers. Other thoughts, told, have been revealed in many hearts to the fall and ris­ing again of these. We were astonished at the number of such cases, which crowded upon us on our visiting the chief scene of the awakening. Christians of long standing were powerfully moved in various ways in connexion with their own personal relation to God. It seemed to be a mere mark of spiritual sensibility, that wherever the least spark existed, it could exhibit itself by new stirrings and kindlings at this time. Some were ashamed and humbled at the sight of the deep earnestness of those awakened souls. Some were searched and shaken to the foundation. If others had such distress, could their con­victions have been deep enough? If faith produced such peace and joy, could their faith be genuine? Scarcely any of us, who made the least pretensions to vital godliness, but were thus broken down ; and only after a longer or shorter struggle, by laying hold on Christ as for the first time, were we raised up again. Established Christians, gray-haired patriarchs, as we have heard in other places, have thus spent hours in anguish of mind and secret prayer, and when the sharp conflict was over have declared that they thought they never knew the Lord before. In others it took a different form. Some sin was detected, confessed, and abjured, which a slumbering conscience had tolerated for years. Or the thought of some neglected duty now flashed vividly and painfully on the mind amid a time of higher spiritual life. We were met on the street one day by a member of our flock, whom we had long known as a meek and humble-minded Christian, and who addressed to us these words, while tears ran fast down his cheeks,—" I have been wanting much to see you, to tell you something. It is more than twenty years since I knew the truth, and all that time I have kept my light under a bushel for fear of persecution. Oh! was it not cruel to Him, so long to hide His love? It is a blessed time that has come to our town; and I am happy at it. But this is a bitter, bitter thought to me this day. Oh, it was cruel, cruel to Him, to hide His love all this time!"

As to the results of this time of religious earnestness in Cellardyke, we may mention that while over three hundred persons (not including children) have evinced more or less concern about their souls, probably not fewer than the half of these have professed to have accepted of Christ, and are living a new life. There is a visible change on the town; there is a restraint on evil; there are fewer brawls; there is less drinking. A common remark is, "It is a different town now, and a blessed town." It was the spontaneous confession to us of a supporter of the abstinence movement, "This work has done more for temperance in a few weeks, than our society has done in many years." We can point to individuals, formerly irreligious and immoral, visibly and decidedly reformed. But the great majority of cases are those of persons of correct life and religious habits. And how does the change appear in those who had no vices to abandon, having been all along respectable religious for­malists? It appears in the fruits of the Spirit, of which brotherly love is one of the most conspicuous. "When I used to see a man I had a grudge at, on the street," said a fisherman, when giving an account of his new feelings," I would go anywhere to get out of his way. But now, I have no such to any one. I could take every man I meet into my arms." "I had many a spite and grudge before," said another, "but now I love everything I see—I love the very stones under my feet." And this is no mere piece of sentiment. It takes the most practical shape. Old quarrels have been made up, bad debts have been paid, and injuries have been repaired, which were not known to have been inflicted. It appears also in the spiritual form of earnest solicitude for the welfare of the souls of others--in parents for children, children for parents, and friend for friend. There is much delight, too, in the Word of God, in the exercise of prayer, in His ordinances, and in all the parts of spiritual religion. The fishermen's Sabbath prayer-meeting, which had risen from eight to thirty, now numbers above a hundred; smaller meetings of a similar kind abound in the town; there is much secret and family prayer, while from not a few boats at sea, where religious exercises are observed, the voice of " holy melody," of prayer and praise, is wafted over the surface of the deep, mingling sweetly with the sighing of the wind and the murmuring of the waves. Our awakening has produced also some beautiful specimens of Christian character, which strike all who have eyes to discern spiritual things with the singular loveliness of their heavenly tempers and graces. " I never expected," said a person of education and Chris­tian intelligence, when referring to the spiritual feast a few friends had enjoyed while entertaining some of our fisher­men at the close of a public meeting—" I never expected to see so much of heaven on this side of time, as I did that evening."

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.


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