D L Moody - St John's Edinburgh (1874)




The Rev. John Kelman of Leith heard from his brother in Sunderland of the good work done in that town. He went to England to see it for himself and was so impressed with the power the evangelists displayed and the manifest results that followed that he personally invited them to visit Scotland. Requests for services also reached them from Edinburgh and Dundee. Such invitations could not be set aside and Moody agreed to come and begin work at Edinburgh as the best centre.

Only six weeks were allowed for preparation. A daily prayer meeting was immediately begun, to which ministers and others were invited. It grew in interest and numbers. "The meeting was to some extent thrown open, the prayers were brief, pointed, earnest supplications for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and were alternated with frequent singing of sweet songs which are now so much prized as the tender utterance of faith and joy and spiritual affection." The form of the meeting achieved a double result it accustomed the public to the expectation of blessing, and it initiated them into the peculiar methods to be employed during the mission. Great care was also bestowed upon outward organization. A large committee, representative of all the churches, with Dr J. H. Wilson at its head, was formed to make the necessary arrangements.

The first service was held on the Sabbath, November 23. Edinburgh had in the past stood aloof in a somewhat marked way from revival work. It seemed to have received Whitefield with open arms, but never betrayed much enthusiasm for any of the other movements that approached its walls. Although special meetings were held in the city in 1839, the bulk of the population was unmoved. The Revival of 1859-1860 was scarcely felt. But now all was changed. The proud city capitu­lated to the gospel. The largest available hall was crowded, and although Moody himself was unable to be present because of illness, there never was, from that first day, any doubt as to the success of the effort to be made.

A week or two after the beginning of the mission, a circular was sent to all the ministers in Scotland calling attention to the great and hopeful work that was going on in the capital and asking for united prayer that it should continue and spread over the whole country. It was a remarkable document in many ways. It was signed by thirty-eight of the chief ministers and laymen of the city, representative of every denomination and even of every learned rank and profession. Besides suggesting a special week—January four to eleven—for this combined prayer, it sketched the progress of the work already underway. "Edinburgh," it says, "is now enjoying signal manifestations of grace . . . God is so affecting the hearts of men that the Free Assembly Hall, the largest public building in Edinburgh, is crowded every day at noon with a meeting for prayer; and that building, along with the Established Church Assembly Hall, overflows every evening when the gospel is preached. But the numbers that attend are not the most remarkable feature. It is the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit, the solemn awe, the prayerful, believing, expectant spirit, the anxious inquiry of united souls, and the longing of believers to grow more like Christ—their hungering and thirsting after holiness. The hall of the Tolbooth Church and the Free High Church are nightly attended by anxious inquirers. All denominational and social distinctions are entirely merged. All this is of the God of Grace." The description is not exaggerated; the whole city had indeed been moved to its foundations.

Every day except Saturday the work went on without intermission. The services were usually conducted in local churches, with larger gatherings in the Assembly Halls on Sabbaths. Several meetings were frequently carried on at the same hour. Moody did his best to be present at as many as possible. Everywhere, Sankey's singing was welcomed. The noon prayer meeting so increased in attendance that at last the large hall alone sufficed for it. Special week-day evening meet­ings crowded places that were never intended for such work: the Corn Exchange provided accommodation on one occasion for 5,000 men. Two meetings stand out with notable promi­nence. One was the crowded Watch-Night service that filled the Free Assembly Hall on the closing evening of the year. For five hours the huge congregation waited the advent of 1874. Moody announced that "anything that is worship will be in order, and when I am speaking, if anyone has an illustration to give, or would like to sing a hymn or offer prayer, let him do so." Five minutes before midnight, "kneeling or with bowed heads, the whole great meeting, with one accord, prayed in silence, and while they did so the city clocks successively struck the hour. The hushed silence continued five minutes more. Mr_ Moody then gave out the last two verses of the hymn, Jesus lover of My Soul, and all stood and sang. .. . There probably never was a New Year brought in at Edinburgh with more solemn gladness and hope of spiritual good."

The other was the Convention held on January four­teenth—an American institution which proved useful in spreading the influence of the work done in Edinburgh to other parts of the country. The Assembly Hall was inadequate for the multitude that desired entrance and the gates had ultimately to be locked. Ministers and others came from long distances both to hear at firsthand of the good work done in the capital and to ask questions. Reports of further progress made were received from the English towns where the evangelists had been labouring, and Scottish ministers told how in their own towns and parishes evidence of awakening was showing itself on all hands. The Convention had a double effect: it focused the work that was being done, and it provided a means by which the glad news could be carried to distant parts of the country.

And so the good work went on. Never had Edinburgh experienced such a Christmas and New Year. A General Election was pending, but it provided no counter-attraction to the gospel. One or two things marred the perfect happiness of the time. Several stories discrediting the evangelists were spread by enemies of the movement, but in every case, investigation cleared away the calumnies. By the whole movement, Edin­burgh vindicated its right to be the capital. It became the religious centre of the country in a way it had not been since the days of Knox and of the Covenant. When the evangelists left the city on Wednesday, January twenty-first, they had earned, by God's providence, the privilege of entrance to every town and village in Scotland.

From 'Scotland Saw His Glory,' edited by Richard Owen Roberts.

Additional Information

This Church is now (2009) 'The Hub'. It used to be the Established Church Assembly Hall.