IT is a somewhat delicate matter to give an account of such a movement as that which has been going on among us for
some time. For obvious reasons, it is necessary to withhold many particulars that would probably possess the greatest interest for most readers; but I shall endeavour to state a few points that may serve to convey some idea of the gracious work with which God has been pleased to favour us.
So far as I can judge, there seemed to be no special preparation in the way of increased spirituality up till a week or two before the movement commenced. Indeed it had been deliberately stated from the pulpit that the spiritual condition of the congregation had not for years been at a lower ebb. The prayer meetings had been dwindling down, and there was à great deal of worldliness and deadness prevailing among us. Still, there were many godly people praying and earnestly longing for times of refreshing. But there was a desponding, unexpecting, hopeless tone about their prayers, very different from that which God has promised to bless. This despondent spirit, however, was broken in upon during the last week or two of 1873 by tidings of the awakening in Edinburgh. A Christian lady once connected with the congregation had written of what was going on there, and another on a visit had seen a good deal of the movement, and, filled with hope wrote warmly of the great things God was doing in Edinburgh. Having myself seen a little of the work there, I gave an account of it to my congregation one Sabbath evening in the end of the year. Great interest was manifested, and the spirit of despondency gave way to one of expectancy that the Lord would bless us also. We began to ask, "believing." The session resolved to hold prayer meetings during the ' Week of Prayer,' and to circulate papers giving an account of the movement. A considerable number met on the Monday evening and the attendance and interest increased every night during the week so that at the unanimous desire of those present we resolved to hold similar meetings the following week. Perhaps I should mention how these meetings were conducted. We had no assistance from outside. Two of our own office-bearers or members, along with myself, gave short addresses every evening. There was nothing to excite. The addresses were characterised by the utmost calmness. But as one after another stood up to speak for Christ, with a diffidence that was only overcome by a sense of the duty of bearing testimony for Him, there was a wonderful impression of solemnity and tenderness. For myself, I must say that I never enjoyed a fortnight as I did that; and over and over again others have expressed themselves in the same way. The Christian people seemed to get a new life - a very taste of heaven upon earth. Those who were present will never forget that fortnight. God's Spirit was felt to be present. The very place seemed sanctified. If this was not a work of God, I cannot conceive what is such. There were no external means, but the simple outflow of the Christian life of a congregation. We all felt it was done for us, not by us. It was the power of prayer rather than of speaking that moved men's hearts. Yet the fact that nearly thirty men--aged office-bearers and other members of the congregation - lifted up their voices as one man on the Lord's side had its own effect. That there were so many able to take part, we owe to the great awakening with which this place was visited fourteen years ago, of which some were the fruits, while others had their mouths opened in that stirring time.
In the beginning of the second week of these meetings, many were beginning to be under concern about their souls; and after some had spoken to me privately, we ventured, with great misgivings, to have an after-meeting. I shall never forget the joy of the office-bearers when, on the Tuesday, one remained, and on the Wednesday fifteen. Every face was beaming; for now, it was felt that old times had returned, so dear to them from their own experience. That week between 60 and 70 were personally spoken to about their souls. Those who first began to be moved belonged mostly to the best brought up and most respectable families of the district. Our communion fell on the following Sabbath. Of the preciousness of that day I shall not speak; for though the members of the congregation would feel that I was not overstating the reality, others might think I was exaggerating did I attempt to describe the tenderness and sweetness of our fellowship with Christ on that occasion.
Owing to an attack of illness, I was absent from the meetings for three weeks after it, and we had to depend on friends from other places, whose addresses were greatly enjoyed and blessed. The work went on, the Lord adding daily, I believe, to the Church of such as should be saved. Nightly for nine weeks, the meetings were continued, with no abatement of attendance or interest. But it began to be felt that our efforts should not be confined to the central village, and meetings were held at a village two miles distant, where, in proportion to its size, there have been remarkable fruits. At present, in another village, there are numbers of new inquirers at every meeting, and every prospect of the blessed work still going on.
I will not speak of the numbers professing to have been converted; but this I may say, that since the New Year I have spoken to nearly 300 people under concern about their souls, and this exclusive of children. Backsliders have been restored, family altars have been reared, drunkards' children clothed and their wives made happy. Among the most careless men working in some of the neighbouring pits there is not a little awe, and in many cases outward reformation, though they have not been brought to the Lord. Parents tell me of the "change" that has taken place on members of their families, and masters and mistresses on their servants. "This," to quote the opinion of Dr Charteris regarding the work in Edinburgh, is verily "the doing of the Lord."
Calmness and deep earnestness have been the characteristic features of the work. The experience of those who have made a profession of Christ has been of a most satisfactory character, so far as my judgment goes. Like other ministers, I have had occasion in the usual course of my work to converse with sinners brought to anxiety by the ordinary preaching, and who are now consistent servants of Christ; and I find that the spiritual experience of those I have had to deal with at this time is for the most part exactly similar. All the difference is, that then it was one now and another again, at intervals, alas! too long; whereas now, there are very many, while the earnestness seems, if anything, deeper. I have been somewhat sceptical in the case of some few who were rather ignorant, and who seemed to close with Christ so easily as to make us fear a due sense of sin was wanting; but I have found that, under the training which these have subsequently received, their knowledge greatly devoloped and with it a deepening sense of sin and of the obligations of the Christian life. There have been special meetings, usually at the close of the ordinary meetings, at which addresses have been given specially to those who have made a profession of Christ; and these have been most helpful.
One thing I have particularly observed about the professing converts, viz. their teachableness and modesty. Never without being asked do they speak to inquirers at an after-meeting; they speak with their acquaintences privately, but never in a more public way. This they leave to the elders and others of tried Christian experience.
Let me add a word or two regarding the helps and hindrances the movement has met with. Humanly speaking, the great strength of it has been the fact of the awakening here about 1860 under Mr Burnet, now of Huntly. There are many in the district whose consistency and Christian character no one can impeach, who date their awakening at that time. I might just mention a statement made to me in several houses in a small village where there would be no prepossession in favour of such a work, for most of the people there seldom enter a church. They were all in favour of the "revival." My own congregation, who had received such a blessing at that time, were almost as one man eager for such a time returning; for it is a noticeable thing that congregations that have once been visited with such a movement are always ready to welcome another. Our favourite song was-
"The Lord of us hath mindful been,
And He will bless us still."
The absence of excitement has been very helpful in commending the present movement to those at first outside its influence.
But all has not been entirely smooth sailing, for, as usual at such a time, there has been opposition. People who have no religion themselves, of course, are bitter, and they find allies in quarters where other things might be expected; for even good men sometimes will not open their eyes to recognise the spiritual character of such a work. Among these there is a keen scent for cases of backsliding and short-coming of every kind, and a great capacity for ignoring real fruits. But already many, who at first opposed, have seen matters in a different light and are now warm friends of the work.
"Times of Blessing," May 7th, 1874.
I am sending some notes about the apparent permanency of the results of the recent spiritual movement here.
The interval has been so short, that one must speak with great diffdence. I could speak with more confidence of the
effects of the movement fourteen years ago under Mr Burnet, now of Huntly; to whom this district owes more than can be told, and who is so deservedly esteemed and loved by all.
Perhaps it might be interesting to state the results of that movement as they have partially come under my observation. Even at this distance of time with a shifting population, about one-sixth of the members of the congregation, including a large proportion of the office bearers, are the fruits of that revival. And these, I am safe to say, will bear comparison in the evidence of their Christian life with any like number of our members. Besides these, many have gone to other parts of the country and to other lands, of whom I have heard excellent accounts. I have myself visited on their deathbeds not a few who dated their conversion to that time. Of the permanency of that movement here there can be no question.
The movement of last year commenced during a fortnight of special meetings, conducted by members of our own congregation along with myself. With the aid of kind friends we were able to continue nightly meetings for nine successive weeks in the school adjoining the church, and afterwards for eleven weeks at two outlying villages. As the immediate result, besides the quickening of Christian people, I had the opportunity of speaking to upwards of 300 persons in concern about their souls. A considerable number of them, we suspected at the time, were merely under the influence of a temporary excitement, or the delusion that somehow they might be saved in a cheap and easy way, without being willing to part with their sins. Of course it was no surprise to find these falling away after a time. But a large proportion of the whole did profess to accept the Saviour. Not to speak of members, fifty professing converts were admitted at the following dispensation of the Lord's Supper; while twenty more had joined the communicants' class but left the district before admission, and a good many joined other congregations. It is a source of the deepest gratification for me to be able to say that the walk of most of those who really seemed to experience a change gives very satisfactory evidence of the reality of their conversion. Alas! indeed, already, with sorrow must be said, there have been failures not a few, and these naturally attract more attention than more
satisfactory cases. These failures may be chiefly attributed to three causes. Foremost in evil potency, perhaps, comes drink. Side by side with this, and generally the cause of it, are surrounding ungodly influences. So tremendous is the strain of temptation arising in this way on such as have not formed settled habits, and are unable to extricate themselves from associations previously formed, and take a decided stand against the pernicious customs of those with whom they are forced to mingle, that no one can. be surprised that some are overcome. On the other hand, the steadfastness of many who have been exposed to the full sweep of these evil influences has often filled me with wonder and led me to feel that nothing but the mighty grace of God could have achieved such a victory over the habits and associations of a past life and the power of present temptation. A third cause of failure has been the lack of constant Christian instruction and supervision. This has been particularly noticeable among the mining population at some distance from church. Many, who made a profession have been entangled in the tide of abounding iniquity around them. Much of the lasting effect of such movements depend on the extent to which the means the means of grace can be brought to bear upon those who have been awakened. It is too much to expect that all at once men should conquer their past, and start forth in a Christian life without spot or blemish, in which
they should remain steadfast in the midst of circumstances the most unfavourable.
I am thankful to say, that while there is, as we expected, a dark side, there is also one that is truly bright. We have lately had a fortnight of nightly meetings addressed chiefly by office bearers and members of the congregation, which we have been cheered to see an attendance not less than at this time last year, and composed largely of those who then professed Christ, and who still maintain an undiminished interest in spiritual things - and that when there were no extraneous speakers to attract. At our communion on the 17th, with more than an average attendance, fully every fourth face was that of a recent convert. On a very sober estimate, nearly one-third of those who sat at the Lord's table had professed Christ within the year. This fact, for which I can vouch, tells its own tale and affords reason for sanguine hopes of abiding results. Others might be mentioned which are not less suggestive. The attendance at church, for example, has been larger than ever before; and
very tangible evidence has been given in the increase of ordinary church door collections by a fourth, as compared with previous years. Perhaps to the minister, not the least satisfactory effect is the greatly increased heartiness and healthy tone which it has begotten in the congregation.
It has been my privilege to stand by the deathbeds of several who departed in a blessed hope, resting in simple faith on the Saviour whose grace had reached their hearts during the movement. One aged woman, just before she died, summoned up with an effort her expiring strength to tell of the night on which she had been drawn to the Saviour by some remarks on the lines:
"Just as I am, Thy love unknown
hath broken ever barrier down."
when the barrier of her heart had yielded to the constraining power of His love. And never to be forgotten was the testimony of a young man who died the same week. Over and over again he expressed his gratitude to God that the movement had occurred by which, humanly speaking, he had been brought to the Saviour, before he was laid down to die. He was particularly concerned for the salvation of young men.
"Times of Blessing," Feb 25th, 1875.