Port Glasgow - Macdonald brothers (1828-1832)

TO THE EDITOR OF THE MORNING WATCH. Dear Sir,—You have requested me to state some particulars of what passed under the observation of my five fellow-travellers and myself during our recent stay at Port-Glasgow. I do not hesitate to comply; earnestly praying that the mere relation of facts may be made instrumental to the reception and understanding of the scriptural doctrine of the Holy Spirit, both in his power and in his love (for the Spirit is One), without which the manifestations, which we witnessed, of his gifts will be but as an idle tale. 

We spent three weeks (some of us upwards of a month), arriving in the latter end of August, in Port-Glasgow and the neighbourhood, and attended regularly while there at the prayer-meetings; which meetings were held every evening, and occasionally (those only attending who were not engaged in business) in the morning. The history of one of these meetings is the history of all: I may probably as well relate what took place at the first which we attended. The mode of proceeding is for each person who takes apart first to read a Psalm in metre, which is sung by the meeting; then a chapter from the Bible; and he then prays. On this occasion, after two other gentlemen, James Macdonald. read and prayed. His prayer was most remarkable. The sympathizing with the mind of our Saviour; interceding for a world which tramples on his blood and rejects his mercy, and for the church which grieves the Holy Ghost; the humiliation for sin, and the aspirations after holiness, were totally different from anything I had ever before heard. He then, in the course of prayer, and while engaged in intercession for others, began speaking in an unknown tongue; and after speaking for some time he sung, or rather chaunted, in the same tongue. He then rose, and we all rose with him; and, in a very loud voice, and with great solemnity, he addressed us in the same tongue for a considerable time: he then, with the same loudness of voice, and manner, addressed us in English, calling on us to prepare for trial, for we had great trials to go through for the testimony of Jesus; to crucify the flesh; to lay aside every weight; to put far from us our fleshly wisdom, power, and strength; and to stay us in our God. After he had concluded, a short pause ensued, when suddenly the woman-servant of the Macdonald's arose and spoke (for a space of, probably, ten minutes) in an unknown tongue, and then in English: the latter was entirely from Scripture, consisting of passages from different parts, and connected together in the most remarkable manner. The meeting concluded with a psalm, a chapter, and prayer from another gentleman. Immediately on conclusion, Mrs., one of the ladies who had received the Spirit, but had not received the gift of tongues (she received the gift while we were in the country), arose, went out of the room, and began speaking in a loud voice of the coming judgments. After she had spoken for about five minutes, M. Macdonald. commenced also speaking, and Mrs. instantly ceased speaking. It is impossible to describe the solemnity and grandeur, both of words and manner, in which she gave testimony to the judgments coming on the earth; but also directed the church to the coming of the Lord as her hope of deliverance. When she had concluded, we left the house.

Although unnecessary to give you a detailed account of succeeding meetings, I will, with your permission, add a few remarks, in the course of which I shall be enabled to mention various occurrences of which we were witnesses.

The prayer-meetings are strictly private meetings and for prayer. The rules they lay down for themselves do not allow of exposition, but simply the perusal of Scripture.

During our stay, four individuals received the gift of tongues; of these, two, Mrs. and M. Macdonald had repeatedly spoken in the Spirit previously to their receiving the gift of tongues.

The tongues spoken by all the several persons, in number nine, who had received the gift, are perfectly distinct in themselves and from each other. James Macdonald. speaks two tongues, both easily discernible from each other. I easily perceived when he was speaking in the one, and when in the other tongue. James Macdonald. exercises his gift more frequently than any of the others; and I have heard him speak for twenty minutes together, with all the energy of voice and action of an orator addressing an audience. The language which he then, and indeed generally, uttered, is very full and harmonious, containing many Greek and Latin radicals, and with inflexions also much resembling those of the Greek language. I also frequently noticed that he employed the same radical with different inflexions; but I do not remember to have noticed his employing two words together, both of which, as to root and inflexion, I could pronounce to belong to any language with which I am acquainted. George Macdonald's tongue is harsher in its syllables, but more grand in general expression. The only time I ever had a serious doubt whether the unknown sounds which I heard on these occasions were parts of a language, was when the Macdonald's servant spoke during the first evening. When she spoke on subsequent occasions, it was invariably in one tongue, which was not only perfectly distinct from the sounds she uttered at the first meeting, but wag satisfactorily established, to my conviction, to be a language.

I conceive, that though a real language may possibly, to one unacquainted with it, sound like a jargon, yet a mere jargon, unless put together with skill—in other words, unless actually formed into a language—will sound like a jargon, and nothing else, to any person who is at all acquainted with the formation of languages; or, indeed, will consider that all the sounds of any given language are in the same key; and that a language is either inflected or, where uninflected, its roots must, in order to fulfil the purposes of a language, be combined with each other in an infinite variety. Now the voices which we heard (except upon the occasion last alluded to), were, in connection with each other, euphonous; many of them evidently inflected, and they conveyed the impression of being well-formed and cadenced languages.

One of the persons thus gifted we employed as our servant while at Port-Glasgow. She is a remarkably quiet, steady, phlegmatic person, entirely devoid of forwardness, or of enthusiasm, and with very little to say for herself in the ordinary way. The language which she spoke was as distinct as the others; and in her case, as in the others (with the exceptions I have before mentioned), it was quite evident to a hearer that the language spoken at one time was identical with that spoken at another time.

The chanting or singing was also very remarkable. James Macdonald's ordinary voice is by no means good, and in singing particularly is harsh and unpleasing, but when thus singing in the Spirit the tones and the voice are perfectly harmonious. On the morning after the day on which Mrs. (the lady to whom I have before referred) received the gift of tongues, I heard her sing stanzas with the alternate lines rhyming. The time was at first slow, but she became more and more rapid in her utterance, until at last syllable followed syllable as rapidly as was possible, and yet each syllable distinctly enunciated. The rapidity of utterance was such that a person would require considerable time to commit to memory stanzas in English so as to repeat or sing them with equal rapidity.

These persons, while uttering the unknown sounds, as also while speaking in the Spirit in their own language, have every appearance of being under supernatural direction. The manner and voice are (speaking generally) different from what they are at other times, and on ordinary occasions. This difference does not consist merely in the peculiar solemnity and fervour of manner (which they possess), but their "whole deportment gives an impression, not to be conveyed in words, that their organs are made use of by supernatural power. In addition to the outward appearances, their own declarations, as the declarations of honest, pious, and sober individuals, may with propriety be taken in evidence. They declare that their organs of speech are made use of by the Spirit of God; and that they utter that which is given to them, and not the expressions of their own conceptions, or their own intention. But I had numerous opportunities of observing a variety of facts fully confirmatory of this. Whatever might have been the apparent exertion employed, I repeatedly observed that it had no exhausting effect upon them; that neither loudness of voice nor vehemence of action discomposed or exhausted them. And we had a remarkable instance of this in M. Macdonald. who one morning, having in consequence of a severe cold, so entirely lost the use of her voice as to be unable to speak out of a whisper, yet on a sudden commenced, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. continued speaking in a loud voice—sometimes in intercessory prayer in the Spirit, sometimes in denouncing the coming judgments, and occasionally speaking in an unknown tongue—and at the end of that time she relapsed exactly into her former state, neither better nor worse than she had been in the morning, but without the slightest exhaustion from her long-continued efforts.

In addition to what I have already stated, I have only to add my most decided testimony, that, so far as three weeks' constant communication, and the information of those in the neighbourhood, can enable me to judge(and I conceive that the opportunities I enjoyed enabled me to form a correct judgment), the individuals thus gifted are persons living in close communion with God, and in love towards Him, and towards all men; abounding in faith and joy and peace; having an abhorrence of sin, and a thirst for holiness, with an abasement of self, and yet with a hope full of immortality, such as I never witnessed elsewhere, and which I find nowhere recorded but in the history of the early church: and just as they are fervent in spirit, so are they diligent in the performance of all the relative duties of life. They are totally devoid of anything like fanaticism or enthusiasm; but, on the contrary, are persons of great simplicity of character, and of sound common sense. They have no fanciful theology of their own: they make no pretensions to deep knowledge: they are the very opposite of sectarians, both in conduct and principle: they do not assume to be teachers: they are not deeply read; but they seek to be taught of God, in the perusal of, and meditation on, his revealed word, and to " live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty."

In giving you this statement, in answer to your request, I am only fulfilling the duty of an honest man; for, with my conviction on this matter, I cannot but testify, in all proper places and times, the things which I have heard and seen: and may God bless my testimony to all to whom it may please him that I should be enabled to give it, that He may be glorified, and His truth established!

I remain, dear sir, faithfully yours,


Bedford Row, London, Nov. 16, 1830.