First Thurso Free Church (1859)

In August of 1869, Mr Macdowall Grant resolved to follow up this movement, and it is with pleasure that I present my readers with Mr Hay Aitken's graphic recollections of his tour in the far north.

About this time my uncle informed me of his intention to pay a visit to the extreme north of Scotland. Mr Brownlow North was to have accompanied him; as my uncle believed it to be a right thing that two should go together. This arrangement, however, fell through, and my uncle invited me to be his companion. I was then only seventeen years of age and felt the responsibility of assisting in so important a work a very heavy one, but he encouraged me in his own kind way. On the 23d of August, we found ourselves at Thurso, the most northerly town in Scotland. Here we commenced holding services in the Free and Independent Churches. Mr Grant addressed the grown-up people, and I took the children, amongst whom a considerable work soon began. Many a little face brightened up as the * tidings of great joy ' seemed to reach their hearts. After the meeting was dismissed, I remember, a little girl, whose heart was very full, found her way down to a quiet spot behind some trees by the river-side, followed by two or three companions, and there knelt down and poured out her soul in prayer. Two or three rough boys from the streets offered her some molestation, but the little maid was not to be diverted and only prayed for them. Two elders of the Free Church stole up behind the trees, and their testimony was: — "Weel, we've heard many a minister pray in our time, but never did we listen to such a prayer as cam fra that wee lassie." 

I remember that a little later, an earnest Christian lady, whose timidity prevented her from opening her lips in prayer before others, had occasion to visit some of her Sunday scholars. She was surprised to hear that they were "upstairs praying." She crept in silently and knelt down. When the last had prayed, the eldest girl looked up timidly, and said, "Won't you pray?" "I couldn't refuse", the teacher afterwards said, — "so I threw myself upon God, for words and power. The difficulty vanished, and I have never suffered from it since." Meanwhile, my dear uncle was getting a firm hold of the adults, and although there was a good deal of hardness at first, the work soon began to extend and prevail. So great was the stir that, by the following Sunday, a crowd computed at four thousand met in the open-air to her addresses from us. I remember being astonished at the physical power with which he spoke for over an hour to that immense gathering. There were many anxious inquirers and some clear cases of conversion. The work went on during the week. The following Sunday my uncle had arranged to visit the neighbouring town of Wick, and to leave me at Thurso. 'One soweth and another reapeth.' It was my lot to reap the harvest where he had been sowing the seed, and it was on that Sunday that the power of God seemed to come down upon the place.

The services were crowded, many failing to obtain admittance; numbers of anxious inquirers remained to be spoken to, whom we admitted by twenties at a time into an inner room, while the meeting was continued in the larger one; until upwards of a hundred were spoken with, most of whom seemed to go home rejoicing.

Meanwhile, my dear uncle was faring very badly at Wick. On his arrival there on the Saturday he found the whole town in a state of uproar. A riot had broken out between the High- land fishermen and the townsmen, and knives had been freely used. Several people had been stabbed. The Provost had prohibited any religious gatherings on the Sunday, as it was thought the Highlanders would take advantage of the occasion to renew the disturbance. In spite of all representations, my uncle's meetings had to be given up. This led to his return to us sooner than he intended, and I shall ever remember the unfeigned joy with which he heard on the Monday, of the blessing which had accompanied the work in his absence. Night after night the churches continued to be crowded. Indeed, the whole place was stirred, as I think I have never seen a place stirred before or since. My dear uncle was indefatigable in his work. We used to breakfast at Thurso Castle every morning with dear old Sir George Sinclair, where Lady Burdett Coutts was staying at the time, and then we used to set out and visit, almost without intermission, till four or five o'clock in the afternoon; proceeding to the meeting at half-past seven, and seldom returning before eleven. The ministers, who were at first doubtful, at last threw themselves, heart and soul, into the movement and the unity which prevailed was delightful. It was touching to see one dear old minister's happiness. Tears filled his eyes as he stood there and saw one face after another brighten with joy, as they saw and accepted by faith the * Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.

From, "Hay Macdowall Grant, his life, labours and teachings", by Margaret Maria Gordon, pages 69-71.

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