Sanday Free Church -Orkneys (1860-1861)

During the past week the revival movement has reached a remarkable crisis in the island of Sanday and as much interest is felt in the subject and many rumours are afloat, we give the following narrative compiled from information gathered on the spot. For some time past there's been a spirit of earnest enquiry in this island company, accompanied with an increase of prayer meetings in private dwellings. The free Church Minister, the Reverend. Matthew Armour, was the first to notice the matter publicly, which he did by intimating to his congregation on sabbath the seventh October, that on the following Sabbath afternoon they should "set themselves as a congregation to wait for the promise of the Father." Much anxiety was felt by his people during the week and some of them longed for the arrival of the sabbath. In the forenoon of sabbath the 14th nothing unusual occurred; but in the afternoon, while Mr Armour was addressing a word to the congregation, one of the members who had lately been ordained to the Deacons office, rose up in his place and lifting up his hands prayed with singular earnestness "for the Spirit to come down and revive the whole congregation." Previous to his rising there have been much earnest feeling, but when he rose the whole congregation was filled with cries and weeping. This continued though in a more subdued form, throughout the rest of the service. On the way home the people were weeping and crying "Lord have mercy upon us." When the children assembled for the sabbath school, the same individual who had prayed in the church, gathered them at the door and addressed them with great earnestness and during all this time many of them were crying bitterly and during the whole time of the sabbath school the weeping and crying continued. The prayer meetings in private houses continued and were often protracted to the very late hour. The prevalent feeling being that they could not break up such pleasant meetings.

On sabbath, the 11th of November, was the communion in the free church of Sanday, when Mr Armour was assisted by the Reverend MP Rose of Rothesay. On the sabbath and preceding days the feeling was very strong and excitement great, but it reached the culminating point on Monday evening. Mr Rose preached and the service was a protracted one, as the people listened so intently and earnestly that it seemed as if they would never weary of hearing the word of life. After Mr Rose had concluded, Mr Armour addressed the people for about a quarter of an hour and as they seemed unwilling to depart, intimated that they would meet again after a short interval. 

When the ministers returned to the church after the interval, the scene was publicly indescribable. Outside the church people were leaning against the wall crying for mercy. The vestry was crowded with persons in deep earnestness, some crying for mercy on themselves some pleading earnestly for others and offering such exclamations as "come, come, sweet Jesus!" On entering the church the seen baffles description and the first feeling was one of fear at seeing hundreds of people in such a state of excitement. This was speedily succeeded by feeling of awe at seeing so many human beings groaning and crying, and strong men writhing in agony under a sense of their guilt. Some who had newly found peace were singing, "happy day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away." Young and strong men were shouting with an almost superhuman voice, declaring "what God had done for their souls." Many were lying prostrate round the pulpit and all through the church, so that it was hardly possible to move without treading on some of them. The ministers found it impossible to address the assembly while such excitement continued; but they employed themselves in speaking to individuals labouring in distress and this they continud to do during the night. It was with the greatest difficulty that the people could be advised to depart to their homes and it was between four and 5 o'clock in the morning when they finally dispersed. Many relate that they slept none that night, but went to their houses and gathered in groups for prayer; and they say it was the happiest night they ever spent in their lives. It was remarked that some of those most deeply affected were young men who had formally been cold and even care less about religious matters. Little children were observed with clasped hands and eyes uplifted in prayer. Among all it was observable that they spoke with the fluency and a correctness and a scripturalness remarkable in men who had never opened their lips publicly before.

On Tuesday morning the people obtained the key of the established church and held a meeting there in the fore noon. The day was very wet but not with standing this the area of Mr Almour's Church was filled by 4 o'clock in the afternoon the time appointed for meeting. Mr Armour gave an address to aged sinners during the whole time occupied by the address, prayers in a suppressed tone audibly breaking forth throughout the church; but Mr Armour had not proceeded far when they burst forth into loud cries till his voice was completely drowned and he was unable to proceed further. The scene became similar to what it had been on the previous night, but the excitement seemed now more general and young men seemed to be more brought under the power of the spirit. This continued till about 4 o'clock on Wednesday morning.

Another observation -

I had the privilege of being present on Wednesday evening last and I will not easily forget the sight presented. To see a large congregation labouring under a great excitement regarding their eternal interest is no ordinary sight, to hear the fervent agonising prayers put up by those who are in deep depression on account of the enormity of their sins is a very affecting one and to see the heavenly joy beaming from the countenances of those who find relief through Christ redeeming Grace, must surely be to all an intensely interesting one.

I find in Kirkwall that the interest felt in these revivals is very great And as I have no doubt your readers at a distance will be equally anxious to have something of them, the more especially as some, even ministers of the gospel, endeavour to throw ridicule on it. I will state how it commenced and endeavour to give them an idea of what I saw and heard and leave them to draw their own conclusions as I have done myself.

The sacrament was dispensed in Mr Armour's church last sabbath. Then Mr Armour informed me that he had seen the signs of this movement approaching for a considerable time, no great outward manifestation of it took place until the Monday service, when after sermon an intense excitement took place, not only amongst those who were communicants, but also amongst members and hearers of other denominations who were present. This excitement continued more or less until 5 o'clock next Tuesday morning. During the whole of that day work was at a standstill in some parts of the island, the neighbours calling and praying with each other in their respective houses. On Tuesday night a still greater meeting was held and evidently the movement was increasing. They did not part till 4 o'clock next morning.

Wednesday night I was present. On approaching the church we found some parties leaving it engaged in singing devotional hymns and around it and at the Dyke sides others were engaged in prayer. On entering the church The scene presenting itself was almost overpowering. It is impossible adequately to describe it, and I think it is equally impossible to resist the conviction that God's Spirit is manifesting itself in overwhelming power. The passages of the church were crowded with those who had found relief rushing about as if drunk with the Spirit, enquiring for father, mother, brothers or sisters and on finding them, emploring them to come "to Jesus, sweet Jesus!" The pews were well filled some in the bottom Lying prostrate engaged in deep fervent prayers, others on their knees returning their thanks in chosen language for their great deliverance. Others were engaged in groups singing hymns. 

'The Orkney Herald', 20/11/1860.


Another account from someone in the Established Church I think, it carries on from the account above.

That the work going forward is the work of the Spirit, I have no doubt and it seems to me to be in some respects more striking and wonderful than any revival I have read or heard of, unless it could be that which has taken place in some parts of Ireland. The account given in the Herald of the 20th of the scene in the Free church on Wednesday is not exaggerated, if indeed it comes up to the reality; and the meeting that took place in our church on the following evening was in some respects, still more astonishing and the excitement greater than it had ever been.I cannot describe it to you, apart altogether from my want for space and time, my pen cannot. I believe no pen could give you a full idea of it. But I shall endeavour to present to you what will be but a faint sketch. The church was filled in all its parts by the hour of meeting, 5 o'clock. The devotional exercises were begun and proceeded with for some time without interruption. These exercises consisted of praise and prayer, the latter conducted by two individuals who have been deeply impressed and portions of scripture were read between the services by myself and Mr Armour. As these were proceeded with I perceived symptoms of great excitement all around me. Some were trembling from head to foot; others rubbing and wringing their hands. Some were whispering in an agitated manner to their neighbours and others starting as if about to rise and then trying to settle themselves down again. A portion of scripture was about to be read and in introducing the subject the name of Jesus was mentioned, when a young man who had been deeply impressed and who was sitting before the pulpit, started up and stretching out his arms and looking eagerly in the direction in which he pointed, cried out in ecstasy, "Jesus! Jesus! See him! See him! He is glorious and holiness! He is the chief among 10,000! He is altogether lovely!" – And turning to the audience he proceeded with great Fluency and power to speak of Jesus' suitableness as a Saviour for sinners. But his voice, although a stentorian tone, was soon drowned by a tremendous outburst of feeling – piercing cries of agony – loud acclamations of joy – prayers uttered audibly and with great earnestness; and persons rushing through the passages and addressing friends and acquaintances on the great interests of their immortal souls. The whole proved a scene such as I never witnessed and was to me perfectly overpowering. I think I can restrain my feelings as well as most people, but on this occasion I was completely overcome, I laid my head my face upon the desk and sobbed for awhile and I'm sure I was not alone. 

During the part of the evening that followed (and the meeting was protracted till near midnight) the excitement continued unabated and its leading features much the same as I have described – all were more or less impressed, but very differently. Some were on their knees praying and others lying on their faces groaning in agony. Some running about apparently wild with Joy and others in Groups singing hymns and psalms of praise. The session house has been set apart for those who wished to retire, but to be there was no great retirement, for it was crowded during the evening with praying people and so were the porches of the church and the back seats of the gallery and many were found prostate on the floor of the church, between the seats and in out of the way corners, in great mental agony; and I have seen two or three little girls apparently about eight or 10 years of age kneeling on the floor with their faces on the seat board, – and one of their number, about the same age, praying this earnestly over them and for them; and there were many such instances of juvenile earnestness. As many had left the Free church during the meeting of the previous evening, for the purpose of being more completely alone than they could be in any part of the church, I was anxious to know if anything of the kind was occurring this evening and on going out and looking about me, I found many about the church and Dyke-side, some of them standing, but many kneeling on the cold wet ground, praying earnestly, the most of them audibly, some with a suppressed voice and others so loudly as to be easily heard at a great distance. In the corner of the back Garden, there issued forth a girl's voice evidently, greatly suppressed at first, but gradually waxing louder and she was bewailing the sins and shortcomings of herself and her companions, some of whom would like be with her from the way she spoke. In short the spirit of supplication was remarkably displayed throughout the evening and was one of the best features of the whole scene. There were several instances of persons being struck down and of bodily prostration, but time would fail me to tell you the particulars of the cases.

There have been several meetings both in Mr Armour's church and ours since then; and although the excitement is a little subsided the audiences are increasing to such an extent that the church cannot conveniently contain them – the movement is now universal – all the denominations attending.

'Orkney Herald', 4/12/1860.

From communications received from the Reverend John Paul we learned that the movement in Sanday progresses most hopefully. Exclusive of public meetings, there are no fewer than 20 district prayer meetings existing in the island.

'Orkney Herald', 8/1/1861.


Additional Information

I do not know where the Free Church was.

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