Towards the close of 1859 he began to extend his evangelistic itineracy to Banffshire, preaching for the most part in the towns and villages along the coast. His labours were especially blessed in the burgh and seaport of Cullen. This little town is situated on the brow of a hill looking full in the face the blue waters of the Northern Sea, where it begins to narrow into the beautiful Frith of Moray, whose ample tide is bounded on the southern shore by wild, picturesque, and caverned rocks; whilst the lofty mountains of Sutherland and Caithness rise far upon the deep, like giant warders of the northern coast. Beneath the burgh proper lies the fishing village in a tumult of houses upon the beach, where the storm often breaks with Arctic fury, casting clouds of spray high into the air, and sometimes invading the cottages that line the shore.
Early in 1860 the whole place was moved as by an earthquake. Fear took hold on the sinners in Zion; trembling seized the hypocrites. Careless ones, whose shadow had not darkened the door of God's house for many years, found their way to church or chapel; and even worldly men talked to one another about the great question upon the streets. At first, the awful shadow of an angry God coming to judgment fell on many, and it seemed as if there was one dead in every house. Awakening was followed by conversion. The thunder of Sinai gave way to the peaceful sunshine of Calvary. Christians who had never known the liberty of the gospel were suddenly delivered from the spirit of bondage and ushered into the joyful assurance of acceptance in the Beloved.
Our evangelist visited Cullen just as the work of grace was becoming manifest, and preached frequently in the Free and Independent churches, receiving from the pastors a cordial welcome. On one memorable night he preached to a crowded congregation in the Free Church. His subject of discourse was "The Barren Fig-tree." From the beginning of the service a deep solemnity rested on the people, and the minds of many were in a state of strange expectancy.
On another memorable occasion he preached in the Independent Chapel. The little meeting-house is crowded to the door. The night is intensely cold and dark. The frost having rendered the ordinary lights unavailable, the darkness is made visible by a single candle, which the preacher holds in his hand. His text is "Remember Lot's wife,'
Our evangelist made his mark on the young men of the town. His broad, free, genial manners captivated their hearts; his talents, magnanimity, and uprightness commanded their respect. Many of them were converted at this time, and it was pleasing to see the finest youths of the place sitting in a company round about their father in the faith, and receiving his counsels as from an angel of God. For the young men he had a peculiar love: they were his joy and as his very life. He cared for their interests as a father for his children and cherished them as a nurse cherishes a babe. He guided them with skill, warning them against the errors of his own early Christian days; and having won their confidence, he strove to lead them to the highest idea of the life of faith. In particular, he ever urged upon them entire consecration. "Be out and out for Christ," he would say; "nail your colours to the mast; labour for God, and live for eternity." In this way he succeeded in stamping upon them the impress of his own decided and energetic character, and through the grace given him inspired them with an intense longing to win souls. One of them is now an ordained missionary in China; another labours in Turkey; a third preaches the gospel at home; a fourth is preparing to take the field as a medical missionary, and others are occupying their talent in the quiet corners of the vineyard.
From ‘Life and Labours of Duncan Matheson’ by John Macpherson, published in 1871. SIR,—My attention has just been called to a communication which appeared in your columns last month. Among other statements it contains the following:—"Cullen and Keith are in want of labourers. May the Lord send men to those places that stand out in the county as pillars of grief to all who have a heart to feel for the perishing." What your correspondent means by "these places standing out as pillars of grief" I do not exactly know, but I deeply regret that you should have given publicity to a statement reflecting so seriously on the parishes here referred to. You will be able to estimate its value when I assure you that in Cullen alone, with a population of 2000, there are no fewer than five statedly labouring in the work of the Lord, one missionary and four regularly ordained evangelical clergymen, some of whom have for years been greatly owned by the Master, and honoured with not a few seals of their ministry. In my own congregation upwards of sixty were admitted into the communion of the church at one time, as the result of Revival work, six of whom are at this moment prosecuting their studies with a view to the gospel ministry--a fact, I presume, without parallel not in Banffshire only, but in any other congregation in Scotland. Indeed it was in Cullen that the Banffshire Revival began. It was at the usual weekly meeting, conducted by myself, a few days after my return from Ireland, and after giving some account of the work there, that the first cry of soul distress was heard, "O my God, I am lost! lost! forever lost!" The startling cry proceeded from a young man who has since found peace in believing. From that moment the kingdom of heaven continued to make progress for a time, under various agencies, not indeed "with observation," but with silence and power. If the progress of the kingdom since then has been less satisfactory, I have my own theory on the subject, which, however, it is now unnecessary to state. I am aware there are some who have no faith in a divinely-appointed ministry, or whose confidence is chiefly placed in lay agency; I would, therefore, add that in addition to the stated labourers already referred to, this parish, during the last two or three years, has had an almost unbroken series of lay preachers, including the names of Turner, Radcliffe, H. McPherson, and D. Matheson. One of these evangelists indeed, who has devoted his attention to this locality as his special field of labour, has repeatedly testified in public that nowhere did the work appear to him to be of a more solid and substantial character; and I can add, with equal truth, that nowhere has there been greater discrimination in separating the precious from the vile, in endeavouring to conduct the Lord's own work on the Lord's own method, and in guarding against those irregularities and excesses which so greatly injure religion by their reaction, and by awakening the prejudices of the world.
I am, &c., JOHN MACKAY.
Free Church Manse, Cullen, Sept. 1862.
The building was being converted (May 2009).