James Haldane - Ayr (1798)

Encouraged by past success, and by the prayers and good wishes of Christians of many denominations, Mr. James Haldane and Mr. Aikman set off on their second extensive tour on Thursday, the 14th June, 1798, travelling by Peebles, Biggar, Hamilton, Greenock, &tc., into Ayrshire and Galloway, preaching the Gospel in all these districts, and finally completing their circuit home by way of Berwick. The attention which they excited was as great in the west and south of Scotland as it had been in the north. Multitudes flocked to hear the Gospel, and to the hearts of many it was brought home with power. In some places they encountered more opposition than before, and especially at Ayr, where James Haldane was interrupted in preaching at the market-cross, and summoned before the magis¬trates, who had been incited to interfere. But he had clone nothing unlawful, and he was not a man to yield to intimidation. He was threatened with imprisonment if he should preach on the following day, as he had announced; but he assured the magistrates that menaces without lawful sanction were of no avail. He would not indeed preach at the cross, or at any place to which just exception might be taken, but in preaching out of doors he infringed no law, and, on the contrary, was protected by the Toleration Act. "Depend upon it," said one of them,—" depend -upon it, that you will be arrested." The reply was characteristic, "And depend upon it, Sir, I shall be punctual to my appointment." He was on the ground at the appointed time and preached to a great audience without molestation. One of the gentlemen most eager in opposition was a county magistrate, lately returned from India with a large fortune. In the course of this altercation, having discovered who the preacher was and that they had mutual friends, he became more courteous, although still persisting in the deter¬mination to put down field-preaching. He appeared on the ground next day, with some other magistrates, as if intending to carry their threat into force. Mr James Haldane proceeded, fearless of their menaces. They listened in silence to a powerful address, offered no interruption, and went away seemingly awed, conscience-stricken, and solemnized. An account of his first sermon at the cross of Ayr has been written by a survivor, who himself owed his own soul to the blessed words which then for the first time reached his conscience. That good man, Mr Watson, afterwards a minister in Dumfries, and long a valuable itinerant round Edinburgh, and forward in every good work, writes as follows:—

"15, Calton-street, Edinburgh, April 9, 1851.

"Although unwilling to put in writing the unpremeditated narration made by me two years ago, at a public meeting held in the Tabernacle, yet at your urgent and reiterated request I comply, rather than assume a position of refusal in a matter relating in some respects more to your father than to myself. The facts are simply these:—

"In the year 1798, your late venerated father, along with the late Mr John Aikman, whose praise is in all the Churches, visited my native place, the ancient town of Ayr.

"On their arrival, one Saturday, intimation was publicly made by the town bellman that Mr James Haldane was to preach at the cross the same evening, at seven o'clock. I received this information from a good old woman, who asked if I would go and hear. I replied, 'No, no; I never go to hear men who preach in the streets for bawbees.' In answer to which she assured me they were independent gentlemen, who did na' preach for siller.' This appeared to me so extraordinary that I at once resolved to go and hear for myself, which I accordingly did.

"His sermon was delivered with such fervour and earnestness as to produce a deep impression on the listening multitude.

"Intimation was also given that he would again preach, with the Lord's permission, on the same spot on the following morning (Sabbath), at nine o'clock. I was at the cross, along with my father, before the hour, where large numbers soon assembled. The text was in John iii. 3, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.'

"About the middle of his sermon, the town-officers came from the magistrates, and said, You must go with us to the Council-room,' where the authorities were then assembled. Mr Haldane went, but requested the people to remain, as he hoped he should not be long detained. He soon returned, and informed the people that he was commanded to preach no more in that place, but he told them he would finish his discourse. Before doing so, however, the officers were again sent to stop him; but when they came near, instead of putting their orders into execution, they stood respectfully behind until he had finished, and they were heard to say that they were ashamed to execute the orders against such a gentleman.

"I should explain that the cross stands, or rather stood, in a corner of the street where there was an open space, which afforded accommodation for the assemblage, and therefore the thoroughfare was little, if at all, interrupted.

"On dismissing the people, Mr Haldane intimated that he would preach that evening on the other side of the river, on the Newton Green.

"The report of such treatment gave general offence to the inhabitants of the place and brought a still greater multitude to hear him in the evening. On Monday morning, Mr Aikman preached to a large assem¬blage on the Town Green. A private individual, who rented a part for grazing cattle, had with generous indignation offered his portion of the Green for the public accommodation. "In the following year Earl Haldane again visited Ayr, and the report of his former visit and treatment having spread over the county, brought together immense numbers to hear him.

" To the honour of my friend and then minister, the late Dr Peebles, let it be told, when sermon was announced on one of the evenings unfa¬vourable to out-of-door preaching, he offered Mr. Haldane the use of his church (the Newton parish church upon Ayr), where he accordingly preached to a full house, from 1st Peter i. 18, 19, Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and with¬out spot.' These were seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, and long remembered by many. "Mr Haldane's visits to the west of Scotland were the means of awakening not a few out of their spiritual slumbers, and of infusing fresh life into the languishing souls of many of God's own people connected with other denominations.

"Although more than fifty years have run their course since these things were done, the remembrance is as fresh on my memory as if they were only the transactions of yesterday. In my imagination, I see Mr. James Haldane's manly form and commanding attitude, in youthful but dignified zeal, pouring out of the fulness of his soul a free, full, and ever¬lasting salvation to the wondering multitude, who by the expression of their faces seemed to say, We have heard strange things to-day.'

"And I may well remember that first sermon of Mr Haldane's, in 1798, standing as he did on the steps of the old cross of Ayr, as it may be said to have been the pivot on which the events of my after-existence all turned. It was that sermon that led me to Christ, and eventually- to the relinquishment of my business and other engagements in Ayr. It was that sermon that led me to your uncle's academy at Dundee and Edin¬burgh, from thence to the pastorate of the Congregational Church at Dumfries, which I voluntarily resigned after Mr Robert Haldane's change to Baptist sentiments, a circumstance which more than forty years ago brought me again to Edinburgh, where I have since resided. It is far from my wish to convey the idea of any undue interference on the part of your late respected uncle, as proprietor of the Chapel. That gentleman ever acted towards me as a friend and a Christian.

"And now, my dear Sir, allow me to close this narration with my earnest prayer that the Lord God Almighty, who blessed Abraham and your father also and made them blessings, may also bless you and yours, and all the house of your father, both small and great. And for his sake, I remain, " Your most affectionate friend and well-wisher, " WILLIAM WATSON.*

From'The Lives of Robert & James Haldane' by Alexander Haldane, p200-3 It was on the 9th June 1800, that, pursuant to the pro¬posed plan, Mr James Haldane set out on his fourth summer campaign, accompanied by Mr Campbell. The usual request for the prayers of the Lord's people, which always preceded these excursions, is inserted in the "Missionary Magazine," "that the Lord of the harvest may render the important object of this journey effectual in the conversion of many sinners." The next number of the same magazine, dated 21st July, men¬tions that the journey appeared to be prosperous, " by the will of God;" that, after leaving Edinburgh, they had preached that evening and next morning in Peebles, and proceeded by Biggar and Douglas to Ayr, preaching every day in the intervening towns and villages. In his Journal, Mr Campbell, in his usual graphic style, writes: "I hope I shall bless God forever for this journey. We are really a gazing stock to men. Wherever we go in a town, doors and windows are everywhere thrown open to allow those within to examine our appearance as we pass along. When we enter a town we generally disperse a few pamphlets, to notify that the missionaries are arrived, then, after putting up our horses, we take a walk through the town, to tell the people of the sermon. This, along with drum, horn, or bell (according to the custom of the place), makes our intention generally known. Last night I heard some of the hearers, after the sermon, expressing their surprise that there was no collec¬tion. They cannot be poor men,' said another. I cannot tell what they are,' said a third." The reader will remember the magisterial opposition which Mr James Haldane had, two years before, encountered and surmounted at Ayr. There he now spent two Sundays, and instead of experiencing opposition, was recognised and welcomed by one of the magistrates, whilst the people flocked in crowds to hear, so that congregations in the open air, amounting to 3,000 and even 5,000 souls, " heard the word with much attention." On one of these occasions Dr M'Gill, whose Socinianism had brought a scandal on the Church of Scotland and the General Assembly, was amongst Mr Haldane's audience. It was of Dr M'Gill that it is reported that he proposed to sign the Confession of Faith with the letters E. E. appended, meaning, errors excepted. At Ayr, on Sunday, 29th June, Mr Campbell writes  " Mr H. preached in the evening to about 4,000. Many of the gentry were present. His text was 1 Cor. i. 18. God gave him the opening of the mouth. He told them part of his own history. I sat at the outside. I believe not above forty people went away till after the blessing was pronounced, which was at nine o'clock. Afterwards, a gentleman called on Mr H., who had been much affected by the sermon. Understood that a good many had been brought under concern about the world to come by the last visit of Mr Haldane and Mr Aikman." At Ballintrae, "the Excise officer said, that since Mr James Haldane's last visit the people had become much more orderly on the Sabbath." "

From 'The Lives of Robert & James Haldane,' by Alexander Haldane, p280-1