Rosneath Parish Church - Robert Story (1828)



Robert Story (1790-1859) came to Rosneath Church in 1815. Story became good friends with J M Campbell the minister at the next-door parish of Rhu, so when he became ill and went down to London in 1827/8, Campbell looked after the parish. Both Story and Campbell, separately, came to the conclusion that salvation was for all and not just the elect as was preached throughout Scotland. 

'What we popularly term a revival, began in Rosneath; a revival, for which Mr Campbell's labours of love in Mr Story's absence had prepared the way, and which was now all the more thorough and lasting, that it entirely lacked the accompaniment of those painful and disorderly demonstrations, which have of late marked the progress of the so-called religious movements. There were no prostrations of the body, no outcries, no crowded midnight meetings, no public confessions and details of conviction and conversion; there was a quiet, earnest, prayerful seeking after God's truth — a vivid enlightenment — a living reformation. Nor was this confined to the members of his own flock merely — others elsewhere hearing of the work that was going on, came to witness it and to share the blessing.' (Many writers of the time were keen to show a revival was conducted in an 'orderly' way, inferring that such a revival was more genuine) In March 1828 Story wrote a pastoral letter to his people setting out his new theology, specifically, 'believe that in Christ your sins are forgiven.' It too created quite a stir in the area.

It was about this time that the enemy began to move against these new revelations and the revival that was spreading. 'Amid all opposition, Campbell's words had free course. The pulpits of the neighbouring clergy, one after another, were closed against Mr Campbell. The Greenock ministers (not including Scott) refused to take part in the services of the Seaman's Chapel, in that port, if Messrs Campbell and Story were allowed at any time to officiate, and their names accordingly were struck off the list of officiating ministers. In every way, distrust and resistance were displayed, but still his teaching prevailed.' Local ministers were unhappy that teaching went away from the norm of salvation only for the elect. 

The next stage of this story begins here with the life and death of Isabella Campbell, who lived at Fernicarry House at the edge of Story's parish. Isabella 'was one of his Sunday school scholars, and was by him admitted to the Holy Communion, and after many a long and painful struggle, she was able in God's light to see light and to enter into the glorious liberty of his children. While yet a girl in her teens a pulmonary disease attacked her, and gradually reduced her so low that at last she was chained almost entirely to her home at Fernicarry. While there her minister saw her constantly, and while he helped to instruct and comfort her, his own spirit was much quickened by its intercourse with hers; for during this illness she seemed step by step to enter into the very Holy of Holies, and to enjoy a most rapt and intense communion with her God and Saviour, to the peace and joy of which she bore perpetual witness by the exalted utterances of her faith and love. Her life was indeed hidden with Christ in God; its fountain was within the Veil; there, she felt as few are able to realize, were the realities, here the illusion. "I am not conscious", says one who went, as many did for the truth's sake, to visit her on her dying bed, " that I ever was made so to feel the reality of eternal things; their being had in possession. When I rode away from the house, I actually felt as if the firmament overhead, and your mountains and the lake at our feet, and the very ground over which we were yet sensibly passing, were all elusive, and as if I could have put up my hand to push them all aside, to make room again for the great realities which I seemed to have left with that wonderful girl."'

Isabella's life and death were an inspiration to many and people poured in to visit this godly girl. She died in November 1828 and Story wrote a short memoir about her - 'The Memoir of Isabella, though almost studiously divested of literary grace, or any interest external to herself depicted a life so consecrated by suffering, by faith, by prayer, by rapt, almost mystic, communion with its Divine source, that it produced a very vivid impression. It was immensely read in England and Scotland and was promptly reprinted in America, where it likewise had a wide circulation. To how many it was made by God's Spirit a messenger of peace and salvation, His day shall declare; but even had it produced no effect, save in those cases which became personally known to its author, the result would have been richly ample.' This memoir added to the revival that was going on, further stirring the population.  

Isabella had a sister called Mary, who developed the same disease as her sister (large abscesses on the lungs) early in 1830. Like her sister she was beautiful and she spent a lot of time seeking God. She became locally famous from the selling of the memoir about her sister and she had many visitors to Fernicarry. Mary had a great desire to become a missionary, she had had a fiance who died, with whom she was going to go abroad as a missionary. 

Mary had heard Irving speaking about healing and she had heard Scott teaching on the Gifts of the Spirit late in 1829 when he was visiting his father's manse in Greenock. One Sunday in March Mary was suddenly filled with Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues for about an hour. 'The handmaiden of the Lord, of whom he made the choice on that night (a Sunday evening at the end of March), to manifest forth in her His glory, had been long afflicted with a disease which the medical men pronounced to be a decline, and that it would soon bring her to her grave, whither her sister had been hurried by the same malady some months before. Yet while all around her were anticipating her dissolution, she was in the strength of faith meditating missionary labours among the heathen; and this night she was to receive the preparation of the Spirit; the preparation of the body she received not till some days after. It was on the Lord’s day; and one of her sisters, along with a female friend, who had come to the house for that end, had been spending the whole day in humiliation, and fasting, and prayer before God, with a special respect to the restoration of the gifts. They had come up in the evening to the sick- chamber of their sister, who was laid on a sofa, and along with one or two others of the household, they were engaged in prayer together. When in the midst of their devotion, the Holy Ghost came with mighty power upon the sick woman as she lay in her weakness and constrained her to speak at great length, and with superhuman strength, in an unknown tongue, to the astonishment of all who heard, and to her own great edification and enjoyment in God. She has told me that this first seizure of the Spirit was the strongest she ever had; and that it was in some degree necessary it should have been so, otherwise she would not have dared to give way to it.' ('The Life of Edward Irving.' Volume 2, page 129, by Mrs Oliphant).  There were several people present and they tried to discern which earthly language she was speaking, not realising that she spoke a heavenly language. This was the beginning of the first move of God that released the gift of tongues in the United Kingdom.  

Obviously, something so new would bring opposition and so it did. The attack was in two directions, against the ministers who preached that salvation was available for all and against the idea that people could speak in tongues or be healed. The most obvious person to attack was Mary Campbell. As the first person to receive tongues and the second to be healed in this move of God; if you could discredit her, you could argue against the whole movement. Unfortunately, Mary had weaknesses that made her an easy mark. Most of the criticism against her came from her own pastor, Robert Story. In the biography by his son, Story suggests that Mary's head was turned by all the attention she received after the death of her sister. He points out that she was very selfish, telling the story of how despite her brother dying upstairs, she continued to sing hymns and pray loudly with friends downstairs, making so much noise that her brother could not sleep. She later married and went down south to be with Irving for a time and on one of her trips back to Scotland she seems to care little for her poor family while dressing in silks herself. Story met her and wrote a long letter to her, pointing out where she was going wrong and urging her to get back on the right path. Mary had told him that the Lord wanted her to be a missionary but now she showed no inclination of doing so. Story also writes that Mary admitted to him that some of the prophecies she uttered were from her own imagination. I want to be generous towards her here because people in those days must have wondered what was going on if a prophecy they spoke was not fulfilled. They did not have the experience we have these days, knowing that we prophesy in part and that the timing of God is different from ours. 

Once her own minister was known to question what happened to Mary, it was easy for others to do the same. Her healing and Margaret's were easily discarded by some by saying that they were on the mend anyway. I think it unfair to discard what happened to Mary. She may have not had a perfect character and led away by the world but I do not think that diminishes what she experienced which was witnessed by several people. 

The Church of Scotland did the enemy's work quite well moving against the ministers involved. In 1831 the General Assembly found J M Campbell guilty of teaching heretical doctrines and deprived him of his living. His heresy was saying that salvation was available to all. Robert Story very nearly received the same fate as his friend. He defended Campbell but after the judgement of the General Assembly the issue died down.

Robert Story remained at Rosneath until his death in 1859 and is buried in the graveyard of the existing church.

The above mainly comes from 'Memoir of the life of Rev Robert Story,' by his son in 1862

Additional Information

The current church is at a different site a few yards down the Clachan.