Tiree Parish Church (1874)

For the last five weeks there has been a great and unprecedented religious movement in this island. Special nightly meetings were begun at that date in the Balmartin Baptist Chapel by its worthy pastor, the Rev John M'Farlane. The interest was spreading and deepening each night. New cases of awakening were daily met with, and the work became so heavy, that the Rev. Duncan M'Farlane, from Tobermory, came to his brother's assistance. When tidings of the movement reached the neighbouring island of Coll, the Rev. Alexander Fraser, the esteemed minister of the Free Church there, came on at once to the help of the other brethren here. Meetings were held nightly for about a fortnight in the Balmartin Baptist Chapel and the Cornaig Independent Church (the Rev. Mr Farquharson), Mr Farquharson, who has laboured in this island for upwards of forty years with great zeal and no small success, has thrown himself very heartily into the work. The crowds who attended the services then became so great, that there was no way of accommodating them in these churches. The Rev. Mr Campbell, of the Established Church, has not been able, from the state of his health, to take any part in these special services, but on application being made, he readily and courteously gave the use of his churches. 

Dr M'Lauchlan of Edinburgh, to whom the people in these parts always look for help in all church matters, having been communicated with, requested me during the day to visit the island, as I was acquainted with it in my student days. 

Leaving Port Ellen on Monday evening, the 21st ult., I spent two days in Colonsay, where I addressed three meetings, which were small but interesting. I got the steamer Dunvegan Castle on Friday morning, arriving here at 8 PM. - On landing, I learned there was a meeting in the Established Church of Gott, about a mile and a half distant, where I hastened, and found a large meeting under the presidency of Mr Fraser, whose hands have been full of work for the past three weeks. I was at once asked to address the people, which was certainly a privilege, such was their desire to hear the word of life. The second meeting for the anxious was large and deeply interesting. On the same evening, in the west end of the island, there was another large meeting, under the presidency of the Rev. Duncan M'Farlane, whose labours have been incessant for the past month, and who has been much owned of God in this work. But here it will be well to give your readers an idea of the island itself. It lies, as will readily be seen by consulting a map, in the Atlantic, to the west of Mull, and about twenty-five miles from the far-famed islands of Staffa and Iona. It is thirteen miles long and contains a population of about 3,000 souls. The people are on the whole comfortable, when compared with the state of some of the more northern islands. They reside chiefly at the two extremities, the centre being a large flat, called 'the reef, which is noted for its grazing. On this account the different denominations have churches in both ends of the island. The Free Church use for their services the two schools belonging to that excellent Society, the Edinburgh Ladies Association, whose schools have been of unspeakable benefit to this island, as well as to many of the other islands and districts of the Highlands of Scotland. The Established Churches, in which the meetings are now being held, are very large, and most conveniently situated. 

On Saturday, as I intended leaving on Tuesday, we drove round the island, calling on all the ministers, and heard most gratifying and heart-stirring accounts of what has been done in the different districts.

In the Independent Church at Cavlis, where Mr Fraser and I held our forenoon service, the church, as an Irishman would say, was filled outside and in. 

In the evening, the meeting was held in the Gott Established Church, which was crammed to the door. This was truly a solemn service. At the second meeting about 200 remained; many of these were already decided, rejoicing in a Saviour's love, and some of them old Christians, who felt that this time of blessing was to them like life from the dead. Personal conversation being impossible, we had prayer and a short address. In closing, the 24th and 25th verses of the 73d Psalm were sung with such heart and feeling that I can never forget that service. But a third meeting was necessary when we had personal dealing with about 30, who lingered in their pews, some of whom we found were anxious for weeks, while others acknowledged that they were led for the first time that evening to ask, "What must I do to be saved?" I understand our brethren in the west end had also a crowded church and very profitable services, particulars of which we hope to hear

The fields here are white unto the harvest, so that I feel constrained to prolong my stay over this week, in the hope that some others may be forward by that time to help to carry on this blessed work.

As in other parts, the movement has been free from any outward demonstration. You will indeed observe one weeping bitterly, and hear occasionally the sigh of another agonizing in secret prayer as the truth is presented, but nothing of what was wont to be called the extravagances of former awakenings, I am not able to give figures as to the numbers under concern, or who have made a profession to having received Christ, throughout the island, nor would I deem it prudent to give such statistics had I them at hand.

Suffice it to say, that among the anxious there are of all ages and classes, and of both sexes,- boys of fourteen, and old men of sixty; young girls in their teens, mothers with infants in their arms, and women far on in life's journey. It was but yesterday that a man of sixty, who formerly trusted in his honest living, said emphatically, with tears streaming down his cheeks, "Morality won't do. I find nothing will satisfy but the blood and righteousness of which you have been speaking." Another hoary-headed man acknowledged that anxiety was first awakened when he found himself outside the inquiry room, remembering the solemn words in the parable of the virgins, "And the door was shut."

But I must forbear giving details as to cases. The Lord be praised that there is no meeting held but there are new cases of awakening met with. For this week it is arranged that nightly meetings be held in the two Established Churches. About these I may send you some notes on a future occasion. The work here we believe is but beginning, and there is very much to be done, not only in reaching those outside, but in the guiding and instructing of the young converts.

"Times of Blessing," Oct 22nd 1874.

The past week here has been one not soon to be forgotten. It is seldom, even in these parts, that the
storm rages so long and violently. The steamer for which we were all wearying, having had no communication with friends for a fortnight, was sixty hours behind time. I never was exposed to such piercing winds and drenching rains. On the evening of Wednesday, 30th September, when following our host taking a shortcut through a field, we were completely bewildered. The night was dark, the rain incessant, and the wind tempestuous, and for full ten minutes we lost sight of our guide, and could hear nothing but the noise of the rolling waves as they dashed on the shore. But while storms like that of the past week may have been, we believe that in its spiritual history the island has never had such a week. We doubt not its blessed results are recorded on high. 

On Monday evening Mr Fraser and myself held our meeting in the Gott Church, where we were on the Sabbath. The church was full, and the impression made very deep. The meetings were continued in this district during the week with most gratifying results by the Rev Duncan M'Farlane, Tobermory, assisted by Mr M'Dougall and Mr M'Neil, natives of the island, who have been engaged in mission work for some time. On Tuesday we moved westward, being in the Moss Church on the evenings of Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. This church, as its name indicates, is situated in the midst of what was once the peat-cutting part of the island. Its situation is central, but there are no houses within the radius of a mile all round. Many of those attending came a distance of four and five miles in the face of the storm, of which they never seemed to think. The interest and attention manifested in listening to the gospel I never saw equalled. The second meeting on Tuesday evening will never be forgotten. Having taught in this district as a student, my heart was deeply moved to meet with many of my old scholars, some of whom were awakened that very evening, whilst others were rejoicing through having found the pearl of great price some weeks before. Addressing one, and asking how matters stood between himself and God, he answered, "I trust I have got a hold of Christ, but my cousin is here, and he is still without peace." We could not but think of the early disciples, - of Andrew seeking his brother Simon, and introducing him to Christ, and of Philip, who persuaded Nathanael to "come and see." We were so occupied with the numbers remaining under anxiety each evening that we seldom got to our homes before midnight. On Friday we joined the Rev. John M'Farlane at Balmartin. The storm was this evening
at its height, yet the chapel was crammed. The audience was deeply moved; the Lord's presence was felt. Cases met with in the after-meeting were most interesting. One was sorely tempted, saying that Jesus would not have her because she had quenched former convictions; also by the thought, "Why would God save me while others are being lost?" But she has been brought to see that it is all of grace. On Saturday evening large meetings were held in other parts of the island. Sabbath was looked forward to with great expectation, and we were not disappointed, for much blessing was enjoyed in the different congregations. As we neared the Gott Church in the morning, it was most cheering to see groups wending their way from all quarters towards the church, reminding one of the marriage processions sometimes seen in the Highlands, as the younger folks were helping the older ones to face the gale. The evening services on Sabbath, Monday, and Tuesday surpassed all the
others, both as regards attendance and the impression produced. Every corner of the church, which is seated for 750, was crammed. And when it is remembered that there were two other crowded meetings in the West, and on each of these evenings, one will come to see how thoroughly the whole island has been moved. On Monday evening upwards of 300 remained for the second meeting for prayer, when 64 of those waited for conversation. Tuesday was a busy day. From four till half-past five, Mr Fraser and myself were engaged with anxious inquirers in the schoolroom adjoining the church. At half past five we had a service for children, the third within the fortnight. Many among the lambs are seeking after the Good Shepherd.

Details of the most interesting kind could be given, did your space permit of such. The following are a specimen. A man who was in deep distress for six weeks, on hearing the remark, "A seeking sinner and a seeking Saviour are sure to meet," spoke out, saying, "There is hope for me yet, then. Another, nearing his threescore years and ten, said, "Praise the Lord, He
hath accepted of me at the eleventh hour. Last week I was like David in the 116th Psalm, 'The pains of hell got hold on me,' but now I am on the Rock." An aged woman, when asked as to her state, remarked, "I am here with the sins of sixty years on me." A young disciple gave as the ground of hope, "The Lord laid on Him the iniquities of us all" Another described her experience, declared, "I never could rest until come out of myself;" and nothing could be more delightful than getting into conversation with the young men and hear them relate their experiences.

Wednesday, the 7th, my last day there, will be ever memorable. A meeting for conference and prayer among all engaged in the work was arranged to be held in the Scarnish Temperance Hotel, at twelve noon. To all present it was most refreshing. It might almost be called "The Western Isles Convention;" as we had representatives there from the islands of Arran, Islay, Mull, Tyree, Coll, and Skye. By the time we got through with our conference, we had a congregation of 500 waiting for us in the open air for a parting meeting. They took their position at what is known as M'Lean's Hillock, a sheltered spot in front of the bay where the steamer was lying at anchor. Mr M'Farlane, Tobermory, presided and opened the meeting,
when Mr Blacklock, of the Independent Church, Arran, who arrived on the Monday previous, gave a stirring address from Matt 11:28, when I followed with my parting address, from the words, "There remaineth a rest for the people of God."

The brethren remaining have arrangements made for carrying on the meetings in the different districts. But I must not forget to mention that the names of our beloved American brethren, Messrs Moody and Sankey, are very familiar to the people. Some of them wonder if they could not be prevailed on to visit their island, forgetting the dificulty about the language. Parting
with the people was no easy matter. But I return to my own flock greatly refreshed, and with my faith mightily strengthened in the truth that "there is nothing too hard for God."

"Times of Blessing," Oct 29th, 1874.

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