Orkneys - Haldane (1797)

The commencement of this missionary voyage is thus chronicled in James Haldane's Journal:

"August 11.?Left Elgin and came to Brough-head, where a good many of our friends from Elgin and the people of the village assembled, to whom we preached. We then embarked for Kirkwall. Several of our brethren accompanied us to the boat, and bade us farewell, most affectionately commending us to the grace and care of the Lord Jesus. Sailed with a fair wind. It fell calm in the afternoon, and the wind seemed likely to become foul, but by the kindness of Providence a fair and brisk gale sprung up, which brought us safely into Scalpa Bay, about a mile from Kirkwall, by eight o'clock next morning. The merchants who freighted the boat, and the sailors in general, behaved to us with much kindness and respect. Preached in the boat on Friday evening. They listened with much attention and frequently attended afterwards, during our stay at Kirkwall. "August 12." Arrived at Kirkwall. Were providentially directed to a friend of the truth (Baillie Jamieson), who received us with much kindness. Intimated sermon by the bell at half-past six in the evening, in the Palace Close, -where we (Mr Aikman) preached_ to a congregation of about eight hundred persons. This is a square, formed by a large and ancient edifice on the south, supposed to have been the palace of some of the Norwegian kings, and on the north by another, termed the Bishop's Palace. On the east is the church of St. Magnus, and on the west it is bounded by a wall. It is capable, probably, of containing ten or twelve thousand persons. Having heard that there had been only two or three sermons preached in the Island of Shapinshay (a few miles distant from Kirkwall), from the time of the last General Assembly, when their minister had left then, we resolved that one of us should spend the Lord's-day in that island, while the other remained in Kirkwall. The minister of Shapinshay was at this time detained in Edinburgh, as an evidence in a trial; but it is well known to be the practice of ministers from that country, to take a considerable vacation at the time of the General Assembly. "Before proceeding further in the account of our labours, we shall here offer a few remarks on the former and present religious state of Orkney. The islands of Orkney, according to our information, which is rendered strongly credible by what we actually witnessed, have been, for a period beyond the memory of any man living (except in one or two solitary instances), as much in need of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, so far as respects the preaching of it, as any of the islands of the Pacific Ocean. Many of the parishes comprehend two or three different islands. In each of these the minister should preach occasionally; but owing to the want of churches, or rather to the churches being in want of repair, as well as to the occasional trouble and difficulty of crossing the Friths which intersect these islands, to say nothing of the want of zeal, many of the people see their pastor but seldom in the course of the year. It is a fact, that in some cases where there are two islands in a parish, or two parishes annexed in one island, and a church in repair only in one of them, the minister preaches in it on one Sabbath, but the next, when it falls to the turn of the other island or parish, he neither preaches there, nor in his other church, though it may adjoin his manse. "It can occasion no surprise to those who know the Gospel and are acquainted with that enmity and opposition which the human mind naturally bears to its humiliating doctrines, to learn that the sermons of such pastors do not contain glad tidings to perishing sinners. At the same time, one would think that the most inconsiderate could scarcely fail to be struck with the strange inconsistency of teaching others that they will be saved by a diligent discharge of the duties of their station, while they themselves so openly neglect their own. The manners and conduct of the people, as in every other place, are corrupted in a due proportion to their ignorance of the Gospel, and to no part, in Orkney, as we learn, did this remark more justly apply, than it did about five or six years ago to Kirkwall, where, excepting two or three individuals, the great body of the people were utter strangers to the doctrine of justification by faith in the death and resurrection of Christ without works. It pleased God, however, in the riches of his grace, to look down with tender compassion upon the deplorable situation of this place, and to send them help out of his holy heaven. A native of Orkney, who had been apprentice to a pious tradesman in Kirkwall, went to Newcastle, where he attended with profit the ministry of Mr Graham, the Anti-burgher. He returned to Kirkwall, and having experienced the benefit of religious society in the south, upon finding another person of views similar to his own, he proposed a weekly meeting for prayer and religious fellowship. This was immediately formed. One and another, whose minds it pleased God, by means of conversation or reading books, which were put into their hands, to bring under impressions of the infinite worth of their immortal souls, were added to their little meeting. Their numbers continued, from time to time, to increase. These persons now began seriously to feel their state of bondage, with regard to religious privileges. They found it was a yoke which they were not able to bear, and therefore determined, looking up to God for his countenance, to open a subscription for erecting a place of worship, where they might enjoy the blessing of the preaching of the Gospel. Their means were indeed but very slender, and appeared little likely to accomplish the end, especially in the view of that opposition, with which they knew they must contend. But he, whose glory it is to choose the weak things of this world to confound the mighty, appeared most eminently in their behalf, and they were enabled both to begin and to finish a house for the worship of God. They then applied to the Antiburgher Synod for a minister to preach to them. A minister was accordingly sent, and others successively since that time, all of whose labours appear to have been remarkably blessed. Many who were living altogether careless of Divine things, since the Gospel vas preached in the new church, as it is called, have been brought under serious concern, and give good evidence, by their conduct, that they are passed from death unto life, and some who were avowed enemies have become the friends of the cause. The Lord appears evidently to have been preparing a people in this place for himself, and it is remarked, that since the time that this uncommon concern has been excited, a very considerable external reformation has taken place, even amongst those who do not appear to be under the influence of the truth. That the Lord's arm hath been made bare in behalf of these destitute isles in no common way, will appear from the fact, that two hundred persons were admitted to the Lord's Supper, upon the first celebration of that ordinance in the new church, in July last, after a strict and individual examination, in which the ministers enjoyed, as we are informed, ranch satisfaction. Several also were kept back, of whom good hopes are entertained. When the circumstance just stated is contrasted with the situation of Kirkwall but four or five years since, the friends of Christ may well exclaim with joy and gratitude, "What bath God wrought!' 'The wilderness hath truly rejoiced; it hath 'blossomed as the rose. The Lord's hand is not yet shortened that it cannot save, neither is his ear heavy that it cannot hear.' " On the next Lord's-day Mr Aikman preached twice, to con?gregations of twelve hundred and three thousand persons, whilst Mr. J. A. Haldane, who was always the first, to undertake the more laborious duties, for which his physical health and energy also better fitted him, crossed over to Shapinshay, in a boat sent for the purpose by the people, and preached twice by the sea-side, to congregations comprising the greatest part of the population of the island. But this visit was rendered memorable by the conversion of an old man, of ninety-two, who had been born in the reign of Queen Anne and was now confined to bed. Mr J. A. Haldane visited him after the sermon and found him hardly able to speak, although quite sensible. In the Journal he says, "Asked him what was to become of him after death? He replied, he was very ignorant, could not read, but had sometimes prayed to God. On being asked, whether he knew anything of Christ, he acknowledged his entire ignorance." The old man stated, that he remembered how, when a lad, herding cattle, under a sense of darkness as to his future state, he once prayed to God that some teacher might be sent to enlighten his ignorance. This prayer seems to have entered into the cars of the Lord of Sabaoth, and, after being treasured up for nearly eighty years, was answered almost at the last hour of parting life. James Haldane was to the old man as the messenger of peace, and preached to him the Gospel, declaring that now the Lord was waiting to be gracious, and that if he believed what the Word of God testified of his guilt and misery, and of the person and work of Christ as that of an Almighty Saviour, he should be saved. He "seemed much affected, and grasped the speaker eagerly by the hand. He cried to God for the pardon of his sins; and being informed that his prayers could only be heard through Jesus Christ, who Caine to save the very chief of sinners, he called upon the Saviour for mercy, and repeatedly exclaimed, I believe, I believe. This recalled strongly to our mind the case of the blind man, who, as soon as he knew the Son of God, worshipped him." The same evening Mr J. A. Haldane returned to Kirkwall but did not fail, as we shall presently see, once more to visit Shapinshay and the dying old man. It was a case to which he often referred in after-life, and it was obviously near to his heart.

From 'The Lives of Robert and James Haldane,' by Alexander Haldane p168/9

Additional Information

James Haldane and Mr Aikman went all over the Orkneys, bringing revival with them. Haldane went there several times over the next ten years.

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