Golspie Church (1744)

[From Mr Balfour's Letter, dated May 2nd, 1745?.—Robe's Monthly History for 1745: N ° 3 page 61.]

It will no doubt be very agreeable to you, and our other friends and brethren, to hear that I had yesterday a letter from Mr Sutherland at Golspie, in which he writes thus, "I often regretted to you the wretched situation of my parish in former times; but since the beginning of November last, the Lord has in his wonderful mercy granted cause of praise and thanksgiving: for from that time there have been about, or upwards of sixty persons come to me under kindly awakenings of conscience, many whereof have since that time been helped so to advance and increase in knowledge and experience, that the work appears to be from the Spirit of God. Sundry of them have felt such shocking temptations from the malicious spiteful enemy that I must still conclude, it must be a work destructive of Satan's interest." Thus far he; and I shall offer but one remark about it, which is, that the commencement and progress of this blest event falls in with that of the concert', and I think should be improved for our encouragement in prosecuting it, as I hope the Lord will afford many more such encouragements.

[From Mr Sutherland's Letter, dated Golspy Aug. 8th, 1745. Robe's Monthly History for 1745. No 3. page 130, &c.] R. and D. B. I was favoured with yours, &c.—This parish of Golspie, in the county of Sutherland, was for some time before the year 1688, become a sanctuary (by means of the family of Sutherland's steady adherence to the interests of religion, and by means also of their residence in the parish) to sundry eminent Christians persecuted from a neighbouring county, for their non-compliance with the grievous impositions of the times. These refugees might with safety have returned to their native country immediately after the happy revolution; yet such was their gratitude to the aforesaid noble family, that they chose rather to spend the remainder of their days in their respective callings, under the wings that covered them in their distress. Hereby, through the blessing of God, religion flourished in the parish during the forty years ministry of Mr Walter Denune, my immediate predecessor, who also, before his settlement, suffered much from the fury of the period above-mentioned, as Woodrow's History narrates. At my admission to the ministry in this parish in the year 1731, there was a goodly number of devout Christians in the place, some whereof were the results of these refugees. But in a few years after my said admission, sundry of the serious people were called to the joy of their Lord; whilst we who survived them found cause to bewail that, but few were wrought upon to fill up their places. It is true, in that long period of time from the year 1731, to the year 1744, there were some awakened, who, to this day, adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour, yet their number was so very small, and the scandals of others amongst us so frequent and heinous, that I often concluded my time and labours were almost lost.

In this uncomfortable state of things, and amidst my greater fears than hopes, I took care to notify to the people, the blessed and wonderful success of the gospel in the British colonies of America, so soon as I had certain accounts of it, by the printed declarations of Messrs. Edwards and Cooper, and others. I likewise communicated to them the displays of divine mercy and grace, your congregation (Kilsyth), that of Cambuslang, and sundry other congregations in the West and South of Scotland were so highly honoured with, immediately after I found that blessed work so well attested by you, by Mr Willison of Dundee, Mr Webster of Edinburgh, and by sundry more of our brethren of unquestionable credit. After my return from the assembly 1743, I also reported to them, what with great joy I had myself observed of the Lord's work, when with you at Kilsyth, and at Muthil, and Cambuslang, in my way to that assembly; is by their means I might provoke the people to emulation, yet no success was observed. In the month of August 1743, after the administration of the sacrament of the holy supper at Nig, at which I assisted, for some short time thereafter I lamented, to our dear and worthy brother Mr. Balfour, the wretched security of the generality of the people of my parish, and my unsuccessful ministrations amongst them. He thereupon reported, how much cause he had to bless the Lord, for the success of the gospel amongst his people, from the time he had constituted societies for prayer in his parish: immediately I resolved to essay the like means in imitation of his successful example; and, in consequence thereof, and on my return to my charge, I communicated this design to some of the serious people of my parish, and directed them to meet in three distinct societies on Saturday evenings, with earnest recommendations to them to pray for the influences of the Spirit of God to accompany the ministration of gospel-ordinances in the place. This number called the rest of the communicants together, and soon set about the duty according to recommendation; but could observe no remarkable change wrought on any for the space of a year thereafter. But when our hopes were almost gone, the great and bountiful God, whoever does wonders, was mercifully pleased to breathe upon a number of dry bones, and to visit them with his salvation: for, from the beginning of November last, to the date hereof, there were upwards of seventy persons came to me under various exercises of soul. November last, told, among other things, that they had been for sundry months bowed down in Spirit under a sense of their aggravated guilt; but, for reasons they mentioned, could not get themselves prevailed with to disclose their sad circumstances to any till then.

A few of this number, who had visited me in or about November last, told, among other things, that they had been for sundry months bowed down in Spirit under a sense of their aggravated guilt; but, for reasons they mentioned, could not get themselves prevailed with to disclose their sad circumstances to any till then. Soon after this hint I showed to the congregation in a doctrinal way, that it was the duty of awakened sinners, next to their application to a throne of grace, to lay open their sense of sin and misery to ministers and experienced Christians, lest through want of appointed helps, Satan and lusts might get advantages of them. This public notice given, so far encouraged such as were awakened before or after that date; that they afterwards reported to me frequently as their occasions required. [After speaking of the exercises and temptations of the awakened, he adds] With regard to their conversion, I may affirm, that the change to the better is evident in their lives, as their neighbours testify of them. This work was advanced in some by quicker, and in others by slower degrees; yet in both a decent, grave and solemn deportment, or shedding abundance of tears, which they concealed all they were able, were all the visible signs we had, in time of hearing, of the inward concern of their minds. And by reason of the silence and calmness that accompanied this work in its beginning or progress hitherto, we have heard of none that ventured to reproach it. About forty of them have, with weeping eyes and trembling hands, received tokens for the Lord's table at the late solemn ordinance here, and it is hoped, the rest will be encouraged to follow their example in a little time. With respect to the effects produced on their bodies, some have told, that they have been deprived of many nights rest, others of many hours of almost every night, in which they were deeply exercised with the apprehensions of the wrath of God, or much comforted. Some have for some time almost lost their appetite for their natural food or forgot to eat bread at their set meals. Others felt their bodily strength and health much impaired, and a few have owned, they had felt bodily tremblings on some occasions; but besides, heard no other effects on their bodies. I must further remark, that since the beginning of this work, those of a long-standing in religion, have been sensibly revived and enlarged, and are much comforted now with what they observe in others, and are very assisting to them. Even the secure multitude attend ordinances better and seem to listen to the word preached with greater attention than before. The far greater number of the awakened are of ages from twenty to sixty years; few of them below twenty, and four only from sixty to seventy. They are of the farmers and tradesmen, or their wives and servants, and but few of their children; and amongst them are seven widows in low circumstances. The terrors of the Lord denounced in his word against the willful transgressors of his holy laws, and the impenitent unbelieving despisers of his gospel grace; the impossibility of salvation on the score of self-righteousness; the absolute necessity of the efficacious influences of the grace and Spirit of God, in order to a vital union with Christ by faith, for righteousness and salvation; that all the blessings of the new covenant, freely given by the Father to the elect, and purchased for them by the sufferings and death of Christ the Son, are effectually applied to them by the Holy Ghost, were the doctrines instilled on to the people of this congregation. Those wrought upon have told me, that a course of lectures on the Gospel according to Matthew, especially the conclusion, that narrates the sufferings, death and resurrection of Christ, together with sermons preached on Deut. xxxi. 21,22. Eph. iv. 30. i Pet. iv. 17, 18. to which I subjoined 2 Pet. ii. 9. Eph. v. 14. and Matthew. xxii. 4. were the means the Lord had blessed to their edification. To conclude, the change on sundry amongst us was so remarkable, that we saw good cause to set a day apart for thanksgiving to God, for what of his work appeared to us I entreat you to assist us to praise the bountiful hand that hath, in some measure, been opened to supply our great pecessities already, and that you continue your supplications for our country-side; and for this flock in particular.- I offer my hearty respects to our dear brother Mr. M'Laurin of Glasgow. I kindly salute the two pleasant societies I saw at Kilsyth. I am, &c. John Sutherland,