Glenlyon (1816-1818)

The set time to favour the district came during the ministry of Robert Findlater whose name is still remembered with reverence on Lochtayside after the lapse of nearly a century. This movement took place within the Established Church.

Like many Highland parishes, those of Breadalbane are of great extent. Fortingall includes the long stretch of twenty miles which forms the secluded valley of Glenlyon, as well as large tracts beyond its mountainous walls. Kenmore runs westward from the village of that name and almost encloses Loch Tay. It is beyond the power of the most energetic minister to do justice to territories of such extent, and special efforts were according¬ly made in many cases to accomplish their spiritual purposes by planting extra stations. The Royal Bounty Fund and the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge stepped in to help with resources of men and money. The pious Lady Glenorchy placed a chapel in Strathfillan and gave financial assistance in other cases. Since the beginning of the eighteenth century, the part of Kenmore parish near the western extremity of Loch Tay had been provided for in this special way. Both sides of the loch were put under the charge of a mission minister whose stipend was drawn from the funds available for the purpose. Each side had its own place of meeting: the church on the north side being at the Milton of Lawers, and that on the south side at Ardeonaig. The manse stood near the latter building.

In 1810 Robert Findlater came to take charge of the double station. He was a native of Kiltearn, in Ross-shire, and had been licensed by the Presbytery of Dingwall in October 1807 when he was only 21 years of age.' He was not a man of careful scholarship, but he was especially adapted for the work that lay before him. He was evangelical, devoted, prayerful, and diligent, and accordingly well fitted to carry on the tradition of Farquharson's work. The field, he discovered, sadly needed cultivation. The roll of communicants was large and out of proportion to the number of the population; yet Findlater had to say: "I have cause to fear I cannot make up so many as would form a society in this place for prayer and Christian converse." An earnest of his ministry, however, was soon given. "It is said that the very first sermon he preached at Ardeonaig resulted in the awakening of a young woman."'

Findlater began and carried on his work in the most systematic manner. Soon after he entered on his duties, he started a regular house-to-house visitation of his people for the purpose of catechizing them. He used the Shorter Catechism as the basis of his instruction. "My plan," he said, "is to cause them to say over the Question first, which I generally illustrate two at a meeting . . . I can, in public catechizing, talk from my own experience and observation and I have found that without knowing the individual, I have hit the peculiar character whom I was addressing. I find as yet the people are willing to follow my plans, and many are busy at present learning the Questions. It is a new thing to them, and I am told there are some who have not been catechized for about fourteen years." Within a twelve-month period, he had personally examined and taught 1,600 persons. Public worship was conducted on each side of the loch on alternate Sabbaths. Although Lock Tay is regarded as a dangerously stormy place, Findlater was prevented crossing on only one Sabbath during his eleven-year ministry.

He also tried other methods of creating an interest in religious things. In the summer of 1812, he began a Sabbath school at Ardeonaig. A year afterwards, he testifies to its success saying that he found "more pleasure in it than with the old people." A prayer meeting was also started, but it cannot have been a hopeful undertaking at the beginning, for, while he tells of its existence, he had to add, "We are very destitute of spiritual life." Indeed, during the first half-dozen years of his ministry, his letters are full of his sorrow over the hardness of his people's hearts. "I desire to be thankful," he writes on Christmas Day 1812, "that matters are on the whole not worse, some say there is an alteration to the better, but I fear the whole is from an open unconcern to formality, and though knowledge is acquiring, it would grieve a feeling mind to observe the vanity and want of concern of a rising generation."

In spite of these drawbacks, Findlater's ministry was not without its results. Interesting stories could be told of how persons, even at a distance, came under his influence. Perhaps the most important event was the appearance of the people of Glenlyon at his services. About 1813 a young man from the glen got into the habit of crossing the eastern shoulder of Ben Lawers to attend his church. Next year he succeeded in inducing others to accompany him. "In spring 1816 the group increased to the number of perhaps twelve or fourteen, and during the whole of that summer a goodly number went regularly every Sabbath." There can be no doubt that the evident earnestness underlying that weary trudge over the dreary moorland did much to prepare the way for the revival.

It is said that, as the summer of 1816 advanced, a more than ordinary interest was observed, especially among the men and women from Glenlyon. A largely-attended sacrament at Killin helped to deepen the impression. The same ordinance was to be observed at Ardeonaig in the month of September. Findlater, as if anticipating the event, secured the best preachers then to be had. The celebrated John Macdonald of Ferintosh had assisted him several years before, but the Apostle's fame had increased since that time. News had also come of wonderful awakenings under his ministry in the north. Now Findlater had secured his services again, and information about his coming was spread far and wide.

The whole preliminary services of that memorial sacramen¬tal season were impressive. On Friday evening, a special time of worship was held at Lawers. Dr Macdonald preached until the light failed. "Owing to the darkness of the night," says Campbell of Kiltearn, himself a native of the glen and living in it at the time, "the poor people of Glenlyon could not return home, and some of them were quite unfit for the journey, a sense of sin pressing so heavily upon their hearts. Those who were able to go home next morning brought with them the tidings of Mr Macdonald's arrival and of the effects of his preaching—news which excited an ardent desire to hear the extraordinary preacher and to witness scenes before unheard of in Breadalbane; while some desired to experience such influenc¬es themselves as were felt by others. The result was that the most of the Glenlyon people were at Ardeonaig on Sabbath."

That Sunday the size of the concourse that met at Ardeonaig Church was unusual. Findlater estimates the number at between 4,000 and 5,000, a number all the more remarkable in that there was no large centre of population nearer than Perth. The multitude was accommodated on the green braes of the hillside just above the present manse. Macdonald preached the action sermon. The discourse took nearly two hours and a half to deliver. The text was Isaiah 54:5, "For thy Maker is thine husband." The sermon was not only one which Macdonald frequently preached, but it was also one of his most famous efforts. Its effects on this occasion were notable. The whole multitude was moved. "The most hardened in the congregation," says Findlater, "seemed to bend as one man; and I believe if ever the Holy Ghost was present in a solemn assembly it was there. Mr Macdonald himself seemed to be in raptures. There were several people who cried aloud, but the general impression seemed to be a universal melting under the Word. The people of God themselves were as deeply affected as others, and many have confessed they never witnessed such a scene." A number dated their entrance on a new life from that afternoon. "A Gaelic teacher who was accounted a godly man by all who knew him, and who took a leading part in every good work in the district where he lived and taught, declared that 'he knew fifty persons who were awakened by that sermon at Ardeonaig, and that he was one of them himself "

Next day, room was made for Macdonald to preach again. His text was Luke 16:2. Findlater states that the sermon "was in no way inferior to the last, though there were not so many who cried out. Several were pierced to the heart, and some came to speak to him after the sermon. I have seen and con¬versed with some of them myself, and have every reason to believe that they are under the gracious operations of the Holy Ghost."

This was the beginning of a work which continued for the next three years with more or less intensity and fruitfulness. The sacrament took its place as part of the history of the district, and today is still remembered as "The Great Sacra¬ment." The following Sabbath, Findlater preached at Lawers, and the agitation among several of his hearers showed that the impressions made had not been evanescent. The interest spread far and wide. Parishioners from Kenmore, Killin, and Fortingall, flocked to Lochtayside in large numbers, attending either at Ardeonaig or Lawers, according as the services were held on the north or on the south side of the lake. So universal was the movement that Findlater could report, "there were few families without one, and some families two or three, professing deep concern about the salvation of their souls."

The men of Glenlyon were particularly assiduous in their attendance, for the revival had its stronghold among them for as long as it lasted. When the fervour had to some extent passed away, it was reckoned that only five or six families in the whole glen had been left untouched. "These families were looked upon as objects of pity." During September and October of 1816, few remained at home who could face the rough road between them and Loch Tay. "One hundred persons might be seen in one company, climbing the hill separating these two districts of country, having to travel a distance of from nine to fifteen miles, and some even farther."

About that time, however, the glen secured an evangelist for itself. In 1806 the Rev. James Kennedy had been ordained as Independent minister at Aberfeldy. He had done much to keep alive gospel truth in the whole surrounding district. Hardly knowing the full extent of what had taken place, he came in the course of his work to Glenlyon in October 1816. He found the valley aflame. So eager were the people that three weeks passed before he returned home, driven away by sheer exhaustion. During that time, he preached sometimes as often as three times a day, and hardly a service was held but "some new case of awakening occurred." As opportunity offered, he returned again and again to the glen and proved an able and anxious coadjutor of the work. Several picturesque descriptions are given of his services. No adequate place of meeting was possible, and the crowded congregations had to seek what accommodation was to be found on the hillsides or in the woods. One wood in particular was used. In later days it was spoken of as "a place which the divine presence had rendered venerable." We read of the people listening eagerly to the gospel message, "sometimes amid bleak winds and drifting snows, with their lamps suspended fairy-like from the fir trees." Writing to Kennedy's son, the Rev. David Campbell of Lawers, a native of Glenlyon and one of the fruits of the revival, said, "I have seen your father stand almost knee-deep in a wreath of snow, while at the same time it was snowing and drifting in his face all the time he was preaching, and the people gathered around him, patiently and eagerly listening to the fervent truths that proceeded from his lips."

During the winter of 1816 and the whole of 1817, the general attention to religion continued. The people still resorted in large numbers to Ardeonaig and Lawers. A temporary difficulty sprang up with the minister of Glenlyon who thought that his brethren, Findlater and M'Gillivray of Strathfillan, a man of like evangelical spirit, were too zealously interested in his parish and too little concerned with what was due to himself as its religious overseer. The difference, however, was of short duration, and soon after Findlater was assisting him at his sacrament. Dr Macdonald preached at Loch Tay in April 1817 and helped at the sacrament in September, each time with manifest seals to his ministry. One discourse which he delivered on the Monday of the sacrament is still remembered, and the Hog's Park near the present pier of Lawers where the service was held is still pointed out because of its fame. "This ap¬peared," says the record, "to be one of the most powerful and effective sermons he ever preached in Breadalbane. The fervent eloquence and the pathetic appeals near its conclusion seemed to move and constrain even the most careless. Many were deeply affected and agitated both in mind and body." "I have heard old people speak of his sermon," says Mr Macgregor of Dundee, a native of the district. "One man who was present told me that the weeping towards the end reminded him of the bleating when lambs are being weaned—loud, general, as if the whole hillside were bleating!"

In October, a preacher who does not give his name, visited Glenlyon and conducted a service at Invervar. His report is interesting. "As we could not," he says, "like Mr Kennedy once before, preach at night by candlelight in the open air, the people applied for a large flour mill which was near, and though busy at work, it was instantly stopped to give place to the bread of immortal life. When the broad two-leaved door was thrown open by the eagerness of the people to gain admittance, the press was so violent that we feared what might be the consequences; a vast number for want of room stood contentedly before the door, beaten by the high wind and pierced by the cold. . . . I was so wedged in where I stood that some of those behind had their chins placed almost on my shoulders. . . . It was ten o'clock when we dismissed." By this time about a hundred persons in Glenlyon alone professed conversion since the preceding harvest.

For more look under the biography for Breadalbane Revivals

Additional Information

This church would probably have been built as a result of the revivals.

Glenlyon is a remote area, not a town. It runs along the River Lyon and runs roughly parallel with Loch Tay, but with a mountain range in between. This was the centre of the revival, although they all came down to Loch Tay for the meetings.