THE EFFECT OF THE DISRUPTION ON THE RELIGIOUS LIFE OF SCOTLAND
Dangers in 1843
Danger of Re-action, of Controversial Spirit, of Boastfulness
Warning by Dr. Candlish
Dr. H. Grey
Rev. A. Gray
In the following sections our object will be to give some account of the work done by the Free Church in advancing the cause of true religion in the land. Already in these Annals we have seen the conflict through which she passed when the battle of spiritual freedom was fought and won. We have traced her after history, amidst those sacrifices and trials which followed the Disruption. And now we come to the more peaceful and less exciting scenes in which she was seeking to carry out the great work for which the Christian Church exists on earth – the upholding of the cause of Christ, and spreading among the people the blessings of salvation.
There were, it must be admitted, very serious difficulties in her way at the outset. For many months the anxiety and toil of the conflict had been excessive. Working at high pressure, with every power of body and of mind stretched to the uttermost, it was obvious that men could not long endure the strain – a time of reaction might be expected to set in, when those who had borne the burden and heat of the day might sink into lassitude and depression. If this fear had been realised, the warmth of spiritual earnestness which had carried them through the struggle would soon have grown cold – the tide of religious zeal which had been running at high flood would have been followed by the inevitable ebb, and the bright promise of spiritual blessing would have passed away.
The fickleness and instability of the human mind, might well have given rise to such misgivings, but there was still greater cause for anxiety, on looking to certain ominous warnings in the past history of the Church. Times of remarkable spiritual life and activity have not unfrequently been followed by times of degeneracy and decay. Among the Protestant Churches of the Continent there was, at the Reformation, a great outburst of religious earnestness; but, one by one, they lost their first love, and fell into coldness and deadness. In our own country, the marvellous awakening of the Second Reformation soon had its bright promise overcast; and, after the Revolution, our Church, which had stood the fierce fires of the long persecution, no sooner came forth from the furnace than signs of unfaithfulness appeared, and went on increasing till she sank into the depths of Moderatism. Thus it was that past experience might well suggest anxious misgivings for the future, lest what had happened before should happen again.
There was some reason to fear, also, that the spirit of controversy in the Free Church might prove hostile to her spiritual life. For ten years, controversy of a very serious kind had been unavoidable, and men had become inured to it. But the training which makes a good soldier is not that which makes a good agriculturist, and practised skill in the conflicts of religious debate might seem to be but an indifferent preparation for the work of ministering to the wants of human souls, and spreading among the people the blessings of the Gospel of peace. Apart, indeed, from the question of personal fitness, it might well have been doubted how far Godʼs blessing could be expected on her efforts. In Bible history, King David was not allowed to build the Temple, because he had been a man of war. The battles he fought were the battles of the Lord; but the mere fact that he had been a warrior was enough to set him aside, and no stone of the sacred building could be laid by his hand. And so, when it came to the great work of spreading spiritual religion among the people, might not the Free Church have been passed over? It had been a good fight for great Scriptural principles which she had fought, but the very consciousness of this had given a certain sternness to the conflict; and might not a Church which had been thrown into such an attitude have been made to stand aside, and leave to other hands the great practical work of spreading the blessings of salvation among the people?
But the greatest risk of all was the danger of a boastful spirit showing itself in the Free Church. The way in which she had risen from the ruins of the Disruption had filled both friends and foes with wonder. The deed of self-sacrifice at the outset, the energy of her subsequent proceedings, and the unheard-of liberality of her contributions, were everywhere spoken of. Congratulations came pouring in from so many of the Churches of Britain, America, and the Continent, that she found herself the observed of all observers. Most perilous of all, her ministers and members were looked up to as conspicuous examples of high-toned spirituality and religious earnestness. All this might have proved a fatal snare if the Free Church had given way to the spirit of boastfulness and pride, tarnishing the lustre of the sacrifice she had made, and bringing a fatal blight over all her prospects of spiritual usefulness.
It is interesting to observe how the men who were prominent in Disruption times were alive to the dangers of the position. “It seems to have fallen in the providence of God to the Free Church,” said Dr. Candlish, “to attract on various accounts the attention of other bodies, and we cannot but feel that this, among other circumstances, puts this Church in a situation of peculiar responsibility. If we are as a city set on an hill, and if we have been so moved and directed in the adoption of our measures as to call forth the regards and attract the sympathies of other bodies of evangelical Christians, – and, above all, if we have any reason to believe, as others are ready to believe, and some of us are constrained to feel that, as a Church, we have, in some measure, experienced the presence and power of the Spirit of God, – I say, all these considerations are fitted, not to fill us with exalted feelings of complacency, but rather to make us sensible of our deep unworthiness and heavy responsibility.”(761)
Dr. Henry Grey, Moderator of the Assembly of 1844, brought the whole subject before the Presbytery of Edinburgh in an elaborate paper(762); and Mr. Andrew Gray, of Perth, in a still more powerful address, gave an emphatic warning in the Assembly of 1848: while incidental statements in the same strain will be found scattered, from time to time, through the speeches of the more prominent leaders of the Church.
That the Free Church was able, in all respects, to keep clear of these dangers no one will allege. It was inevitable that among so many ministers and members exposed to the temptations incident to their new position, there would be errors in judgment, and shortcomings and failures in duty. And yet, amidst all such results of human imperfection, the Free Church was enabled steadfastly to hold on her course and do much earnest work for the cause of Christ. It may safely be left for future years to determine how far the Disruption of 1843 is destined to form a marking epoch in the religious history of Scotland. In the meantime, it will be our object in the following pages to show in what spirit the Free Church addressed herself to the work which God had given her to do, and what efforts she was prepared to make in carrying it forward.
The Churchʼs Testimony for Christʼs Headship
Dr. James Hamilton
Meeting at Dumfries
Dr. Angell James
The first great service which the Free Church rendered to the cause of true religion was the testimony which she bore to the sole headship of Christ as King over His Church. It fell to her to vindicate the crown rights of the Redeemer, while maintaining that no civil court must interfere in regard to things spiritual so as to prevent the Church from following out what she held to be the mind of Christ. It was to Him alone, in things sacred, she owed allegiance. Whatever Kings, or parliaments, or judges might say, One was her master, even Christ, whom she was bound to serve; and her single object must ever be to know His will and do it, despite of all interference. For this great principle she contended and suffered – the spiritual freedom and independence of the Church under Christ, her only Head.
It is strange to look back and see how, at every step of our Churchʼs former history, the same conflict has been going on from age to age.
At the Reformation, John Knox, with characteristic firmness, claimed for the Church entire independence in her spiritual functions. In 1567, he obtained from Parliament the formal sanction of this claim; and, subsequently, one great object of his life was to guard it from the insidious efforts of a hostile party in the Court.
Then came the reigns of King James and his son, Charles I., presenting to the historian one long conflict between the Church and the State – the King asserting his supremacy, and the Church standing out for her spiritual independence.
With the Second Reformation in 1638, and the swearing of the Covenant, it might well have seemed as if Scotlandʼs Church had achieved her deliverance; but the Restoration of 1660 soon saw her plunged deeper than ever into the sufferings of persecution, amidst which the civil and religious liberties of the country were alike overthrown.
Still the banner was upheld for Christʼs Crown and Covenant. On the scaffold and in the dungeon men gave their testimony, and sealed it with their blood.
Then came the Revolution of 1688, bringing the blessings of civil liberty, and the Church fondly believed – though there were misgivings – that her spiritual freedom was also secured on the Scriptural footing on which Knox and Melville and Henderson had placed it.
The century which followed was a time of spiritual declension, laxity, and deadness. A new enemy – Moderatism – rose within the Church, and the Seceders were driven out. But, while religious life was decaying, all through those years there was a noble band of faithful men who, in the face of adverse majorities, upheld the cause of spiritual freedom and evangelical truth in the Church – the Bostons, and Witherspoons, and Erskines, on to the time of Sir Henry Moncreiff, and Andrew Thomson, and Thomas Chalmers.
How the Ten Yearsʼ Conflict arose and ended we have seen already in these Annals.(763) The Church was seeking to give the people their due place and to advance the cause of evangelical religion, when she was assailed in the Civil Courts. We have seen how, step by step, the secular judges encroached on her spiritual functions, casting out ministers whom the Church had ordained, reponing to office those whom she had deposed, and claiming the right to prohibit the preaching of the Gospel in particular districts of the land. It was plain that if these things were submitted to, the Churchʼs claim to spiritual freedom and independence was gone – that great principle for which our fathers shed their blood was overthrown.
In these circumstances, the Free Church made her choice. The sacred functions with which the Church was invested by Christ she could surrender to no earthly king or civil court. The claim to spiritual independence must be vindicated on behalf of the Christian people, and for such a cause she was content to suffer the loss of all things.
Now, in following this course, it was her privilege not only to bear witness to a truth of vital importance as touching the honour due to Christ, but the peculiar circumstances in which she was placed enabled her to give it special prominence, bringing it out into public view in such a way that the attention of the whole country, and of many in other lands, was fixed on it.
At once, by general consent, it was felt that she was fighting the old battle of Reformation and Covenanting times. Dr. James Hamilton, of London, has well said that some who garnish the sepulchres of the Covenanters and build the tombs of the Puritans may grudge a stone to this modern cairn. “But when we consider that this Disruption of the Northern Establishment is the resuscitation of the National Church – the revival of the Kirk in the energy of its first Reformation, in the purity of its second Reformation, and in the catholicity of this, its third Reformation, we almost forget the privations with which it has been purchased.”(764)
In a different tone, Dr. Norman MʼLeod confesses “the Free Kirk are the descendants of the Covenanters,” and the Quarterly Review is still more explicit: – The Free Church is “the hard-favoured but manifestly legitimate descendant of Knox, and Melville, and Cameron, and Cargill. … The spirit which animated those men is … at this moment a living reality, though softened and attempered by the powerful influence of time to the age in which we live, yet still retaining some of the narrowness and some of the sternness, – with, as we believe, all the courage and all the fervour, – of its earlier and more renowned existence.”(765)
In Scotland itself the humbler classes of society – the working men – entered with keen sympathy into these memories of the past, and strange incidents sometimes served to show how readily their thoughts went back to Covenanting times. In January, 1840, for example, a Non-Intrusion Meeting was held in Dumfries, when Drs. Elder, Begg, and Guthrie spoke in the midst of much interruption raised by a body of Chartists. At the close of their addresses one of the leading Chartists of the town rose to reply, “in a very offensive way,” says Dr. Elder,(766) “bordering on profanity. Dr. Guthrie whispered to us, ʻWe are in a scrape with this fellow, and must watch our opportunity to get out of it.ʼ So after a few minutes the man came out with a sort of profane and obscene allusion to Scripture, when Dr. Guthrie, starting from his seat and raising himself to his full height, lifted his long arm above his head and exclaimed in a voice of thunder, ʻShocking! shocking! I call on all Christian men and women to leave this meeting;ʼ and as he strode out of the church he was followed by the chairman and the greater part of the audience.” The Chartists then attempted to put their leader into the chair, but at that point there rose from a seat close to the pulpit a woman belonging to the humbler ranks of life – Mrs. Ewart, the wife of a working mason – “a second edition,” says a local paper, “of Jenny Geddes, not flourishing her stool, but collaring” the proposed chairman, calling out, in no gentle terms, “Come doon – come doon;” and suiting the action to the word she summarily effected her purpose. She is described as “a powerful and vigorous matron,” and how completely public feeling was in her favour was seen from the applause with which she was greeted on the spot – the allusions at once made to Jenny Geddes, and from a testimonial afterwards presented “in approbation of her spirited and praiseworthy act.” Such incidents may serve to show how readily in the minds of the Scottish people the events of the present link themselves on to the memories of the past.
But there were scenes of a different kind in which these memories were more fittingly recalled. The opening of the Free Church at Glenkens – 21st September, 1845 – was very memorable. Dr. N. Paterson, Glasgow, preached, and was followed by his brother, the Rev. W. Paterson, Kirkurd, and Dr. Landsborough, of Stevenston, all natives of the parish. There was an immense gathering of the people, and during the services of the day reference was made to the time when “the Glenkens gave her testimony for Christʼs Crown and Covenant by acts which live in the annals of the country. Her MʼAdams and MʼMillans, her Semples, and Cannons, and Gordons, maintained the hated doctrines for which we have been exposed to trial, by the forfeiture of their goods and by the shedding of their blood.”(767)
Such appeals and reminiscences were all the more effective in a district where not a few of the inhabitants were actually the descendants – the blood relations – of those who suffered in Covenanting times. In the parish of Glencairn, for example – not far from Glenkens – there lived, up to the middle of the Ten Yearsʼ Conflict, as occupant of a small farm, a Mr. Thomas Tod, whose father was baptised by Renwick. He died in 1839, in his ninety-third year. It was no wonder that in the districts where such ties with former times were found, men cherished the memories of the martyrs, and the movement of 1843 found such ready sympathy. Mr. Todʼs family became zealous members of the Free Church.(768)
At Larbert, Dr. John Bonar, in preparing his people for the Disruption, “preached at Torwood in commemoration of Cargillʼs excommunicating the king and his unscrupulous agents, and he found ground for great comfort and encouragement as regards the temper and the convictions of the people. The service referred to was held on a Sabbath evening on the very spot on which, according to tradition, the sentence was pronounced. The congregation assembled numbered several thousands, gathered from the whole surrounding neighbourhood. Dr. Bonarʼs text was, ʻWe ought to obey God rather than man,ʼ and the sermon was in his freest and happiest style, embodying, as his wont was, with clear and express reference to current events and present duties, plain and full announcements of Gospel truth. The impression produced was very deep and very manifest, and to the present writer it appears that, looking back over the events which have intervened between that Sabbath evening and this present time, the battle of the Disruption for the Larbert district was won by the sermon then preached.”(769)
Thus all over Scotland the outgoing ministers found zealous support. “We were followed,” says Dr. Guthrie, “by a host of our countrymen whose enthusiasm had been kindled at the ashes of the martyrs, and who saw in our movement but another phase of the grand old days that won Scotland her fame and made her a name and a praise in the whole earth.”(770)
But, while such were the feelings of the Scottish people, the principles of the Free Church spread far beyond Scotland. All over Christendom, her testimony for the spiritual independence and freedom of the Church of Christ arrested attention and met with the most cordial response, the leading men of almost all Evangelical Churches coming eagerly forward to express their concurrence and their sense of the vital importance of the truths contended for.
Thus Dr. Angell James, of Birmingham, warmly responds to the Free Church sentiments, speaking as one of the great leaders of English Nonconformity: – “I have been much impressed by the felicity of a phrase adopted as the watchword by the champions who have lately achieved their spiritual freedom in Scotland – I mean the ʻCrown Rights of the Redeemer.ʼ It has floated on their banners, sounded from their lips, run along their lines, and done much to inspire their courage in fighting the battles of their Lord. They contended for Christ as the only Spiritual Head of the Church, and this was their war-cry – ʻThe Crown Rights of the Redeemer.ʼ That name was more potent than those of Wallace or of Bruce to their ancestors when fighting for their country, and that theme had more charms than even the precious, spirit-stirring note of civil and religious liberty. The success of their conflict was owing, in no small measure, to this glorious phrase. It was their zeal for Christ that was appealed to; it was this sacred and mighty sentiment which penetrated into their glens, echoed from their mountain-sides, and, floating over their border plains, roused all their piety as Christians as well as their energies as men, and brought out such a confederated sacramental host to the help of the Lord against the mighty.”(771)
At the Glasgow Assembly of 1843, the Rev. Mr. Edwards, Professor of Divinity, appeared as deputy from the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists. “They had heard,” he said, “that Christ was afflicted in Scotland [suffering in His members], and they sent him to visit them. He had come to see the bush that burned in the northern part of the island, and yet was not consumed. And he had seen it – he saw it now before him.” In Wales, they heard that the Free Church was reviled and persecuted as their own fathers in Wales were, and therefore they sympathised with them. One thing he wished to notice. All the landed proprietors in the neighbourhood from which he came were, at the commencement of the Calvinistic Methodist movement, persecutors except one. Now, he would only mention the fact, without attempting to explain it, that the name of all those persecutors had perished from the face of the earth, and their whole property had passed into the hands of those descended from the one who was favourable to them. The answer which Christ gave to his enemies was sufficient for us also: My Kingdom is not of this world. This the Free Church had said – not by words, but by deeds. “They had taken the field in the great controversy between the Lamb of God and the Man of sin; but truth is great and will prevail.”(772)
Page after page of such testimonies might be given, if needful, to almost any extent. We invite special attention, however, to the statement of one well able to look below the surface and estimate, as few in Christendom could do, the bearing of the Free Church testimony and its importance in the cause of true religion. Writing in the Princeton Review, Dr. Hodge says: “The truths which the Free Church is now holding up to the world, and for which she is bearing testimony by suffering, are truths essential to the vigour of spiritual life in the Church and its members. They are truths which we all admit, but which we have let slip. We have not felt as we ought, that Jesus Christ is our Lord. … We must live by faith, not only in His atonement and intercession, but also in His authority and protection. He is our Master, and we must have no other. Feeling, personally, our shortcomings in this matter, we have thought it might be useful to call the attention of our readers to the truths which this Scottish movement has brought so prominently to view. … With such principles at work, and with such men engaged in her service, we have no doubt of the success of the Free Church. Her cause is the cause of Christ, and must succeed.”(773)
When Dr. Cunningham visited America, he met with “one of the most eminent men in the States – a man of European reputation ” – who said that he could tell, in a single sentence, what he thought of the Free Church movement: – “My opinion is this. It is the greatest event that has taken place in the Church of Christ since the Reformation in Germany, and the reason is just this – it has brought out more fully and more impressively, and in a way more fitted to attract notice and command the respect of men than any other event, the great fundamental principles of the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the truth of the revealed Word of God.”(774)
The impressions thus made on the Christians of other lands were surely enough to show that the Ten Yearsʼ Conflict and the sacrifice of 1843 had not been in vain. The spectacle was that of a Church signalising her loyalty to Christ and appealing to Christendom on behalf of the great principle of spiritual independence and the freedom of the Christian people. Whatever her after history might be, this much was secured at the outset – she had borne witness for Christ as the only Authority and Head of the Church in things spiritual, and it was a service to the cause of religious truth which had made itself widely felt both at home and abroad.
The Call to Work
Dr. Chalmers Mr. Sym Robert Paul, Esq
It was a great thing for the Church to have lifted up such a testimony; but it was, at the same time, all-important that no wrong use should be made of what had been done. If the Free Church, for example, had attempted to live on the past, and fight over again for ever the old battles of the Disruption, the greatest injury would have been done both to herself and to the grand truths for which she had contended. Better than these vain contentions – better far than all other arguments – would be the spectacle of ministers and elders throwing themselves with energy into their own proper work, and manifesting the presence of Christ Himself in the Free Church as her living Head – the source of that spiritual power which she was enabled to put forth; most earnestly was she urged to make this the great object of her efforts and her prayers.
“Who cares about the Free Church,” Dr. Chalmers exclaimed, in one of those emphatic utterances in which he delighted, “compared with the Christian good of the people of Scotland! Who cares about any Church, but as an instrument of Christian good; for, be assured, the moral and religious well-being of the population is of infinitely higher importance than the advancement of any sect.”(775) Not that he did not care for the Free Church, for indeed it was on behalf of her principles he had given up his position and his income; but his thoughts for the moment were preoccupied with the evangelisation of the masses, and he would fain save his Church from sectarian narrowness.(776)
It would, indeed, have been a miserable result if the doctrine of Christʼs headship, which the Church had defended at such cost, had been taken apart from its practical influences and set up as the mere shibboleth of a sect – a form of words from which the life and the power had departed. During the Ten Yearsʼ Conflict, men were forced to feel the value of the truths for which they were contending. With the sacrifices of the Disruption in view, they were thrown back on the great realities of faith and hope, seeking that Christ their Master might be with them in the day of trial. But in after times, when the struggle was over, the danger was that the truth might be retained as the mere badge of a Church denomination, while its vital influence might have gone. It was to guard against such defections that the warnings of Dr. Chalmers and others were directed. We had better work to do than to be for ever assailing the Establishment which we had left, and exposing the Erastian encroachments of the State. The proper attitude of the Free Church, while ready to defend on all proper occasions her own position, would be to cultivate close communion with Christ her living Head; and as God had done great things for us to make it our desire and prayer that we might be enabled to do some service in advancing His cause on earth.
These were the sentiments which leading ministers and laymen were on all occasions eager to express.
“I have an earnest desire,” said Mr. Sym, of Greyfriars, Edinburgh, in the General Assembly, “that the Church which has been so eminent in fighting the battles of the faith should be no less distinguished in the way of doing good. You see a Divinity in the bush that burned and was not consumed; but is the Church in reality less Divine, or is her vocation less lofty, when scattering the Gospel blessings of holiness, peace, and everlasting life among the destitute around them; making the wilderness to be glad, and the solitary place to rejoice and blossom as the rose.”(777)
In responding to this statement, Dr. Candlish maintained that we were to prove our identity with the Church of Scotland from the beginning, not merely by historical evidence, but by the palpable evidence of present exertion. “I would despair for my Church, if we were to lie upon our oars, resting on the mere evidence which historical documents, or transactions founded on historical documents, may afford. If we have nothing more to show in proof of our being in very deed and truth the Church which from the beginning conferred essential blessings on Scotland, I should be ashamed of our Church – I should despair of our having Godʼs blessing on any steps we took … if we were to rely on such evidence, solely to prove our identity with the Church of Scotland from the beginning. No, sir, it is not by raking up musty documents; it is not by going back to old testimonies … that we are to establish really our claim to be the living representatives of our forefathers; but by showing that we have the life in us – that we are alive to the exigencies of the times in which our lot is cast, and that we are prepared to take the full responsibility of the Church of Scotland in reference to dealing with the spiritual wants of our countrymen everywhere.”(778)
And not less emphatic were the testimonies of our laymen, one of the ablest and most devoted of whom – Robert Paul, Esq., banker – declared: –
“Much as I love the Free Church – much as I am interested in all her doings – strongly attached as I feel to her principles, and greatly as I will ever rejoice in the testimony to vital and Scriptural truths which she has been honoured and enabled to bear, I look on all this as comparatively nothing, unless our Church shall be made a great instrument for maintaining and extending the cause of sound religion and vital godliness in the land.”(779)
With these views the Free Church was urged from the first to go forth to the work set before her by God, not merely contending for the truth, not merely relying on testimonies, but ready to labour in the vineyard and bear the burden and heat of the day. It would be impossible for her to flourish outwardly, if her inner spiritual life should decay. Her one grand object must be to preach the Gospel of the grace of God; faithfully to bear witness for the truth as it is in Jesus, and to save immortal souls. If such efforts were crowned with success she might well leave her cause in the hands of God.
The General Assembly of 1844
Dr. Charles Brownʼs Sermon
Rev. Andrew Gray
Dr. Elder, of Rothesay
Deputations sent out
Dr. Thomson, Paisley
During the spring of 1844 the meeting of the General Assembly was looked forward to with eager anticipation. Among the people there had been unwonted manifestations of religious earnestness, while among the ministers there had arisen a corresponding sense of responsibility, and a fear lest any backwardness or unfaithfulness on their part should mar the prospects of success. As the months went on this feeling deepened, and when the various Synods met at the usual time, there was a general movement to send forward overtures asking the Assembly to take up specially the work of personal religion, and to make the consideration of it the great outstanding feature of their proceedings.
Most cordially were these overtures responded to. Hardly had the Assembly met when Dr. Candlish, at one of its earliest diets, referred to the urgent need there was of something being done. “All of them,” he observed, “had found the people waiting on their ministrations with a seriousness, attention, and devotion, such as they never before observed, the young more open to instruction, the aged more anxious for consolation, the careless more ready to be awakened, the worldly more ready to be rebuked, the people of God expecting large advances in the Divine life. They had been meeting with congregations, all of whom laboured under the impression that something ought to come out of this great work of God; and, oh! it is a solemn question for each of us to ask, ʻHow much of all this has been counteracted by my unfaithfulness, by my want of an adequate sense of the importance of this most important event.ʼ” In view of such considerations it was agreed that Tuesday, the 21st of May, should be set apart as a day of humiliation and prayer – the sermon to be preached, and the opening religious services conducted, by the Rev. Charles Brown of Edinburgh, after which the members of Assembly should engage in religious conference. “I shall deeply regret,” Dr. Candlish added, “if we enter into any consultation as to what ought to be done before we have thoroughly and truly humbled ourselves in the sight of God, and spread out before Him our sins and failings.”
Among the cherished memories of those early years which men love to recall, none, it is believed, have left a deeper impression than the proceedings of that 21st day of May. The object of the meeting, as Dr. Brown stated, was “not so much to speak to one another as to speak to the Lord our God, and pour out our hearts before Him in sorrowful confession of our many, many shortcomings and sins, in order that, betaking ourselves to the fountain of Immanuelʼs blood, and taking hold of the strength of the good and holy Spirit of Christ, we may humbly and heartily offer ourselves to the Lord, that if He have any delight in us, and if we have found grace in His sight, it may please Him in infinite mercy to make some use of us as His instruments in the great work on which His heart is set, and for which the Son of God died.”
Very memorable was the sermon which these words served to introduce. Taking as his text Habakkuk 2:1, the preacher began by “assuming that the ministers and elders in that Assembly were Christians, although the Lord is witness that I assume it not as thinking it a matter of course – in reference to myself at least. It were a very salutary thing this day, be our state and character before God what it may, if we were bearing solemnly in mind that a man may preach the Gospel to others and be himself a castaway. Oh, it were well if we this day heard the great and gracious One addressing to each of us the inquiry, ʻLovest thou Me?ʼ Blessed if we are able in humble hope to answer, ʻLord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee!ʼ”
Starting from this point, he proceeded to lay open the low state of our souls as Christians, the low state of religion in our own hearts. We might have been awakened recently, and made some happy progress, and this very fact that we were not quite so far off as before might just be the secret of our now seeing more distinctly our sad distance from the mark of what Scripture requires.
This it was which weakened their whole ministry. “How is a minister to teach to others the ways of God unless he is walking close and straight in them himself? How shall he lay open the sins of others, not harshly but tenderly, unless he is seeing and mourning in secret over his own. The Word of God is the weapon we must wield, but the only way to get to the very heart of the Word is nothing else than our living on it ourselves in secret. What guilt lies on us in this matter. We who ought to have been ensamples to the flock, who have had so many and peculiar advantages for walking with God, alas, our distance from Him has all but paralysed our ministry We have not dwelt in the secret place of the Most High. His Word has not dwelt richly in us. What mischief have we thus done to souls – what good have we failed to do – what endless opportunities have we lost! ʻHave mercy on us, O God!ʼ”
Such statements, however, were not left in their vague generality. After striking this key-note, Dr. Brown followed out eight separate lines of thought, laying open various shortcomings and sins, and searching with keen analysis the secrecies of the heart, as well as the course of life and work in the ministry of the Gospel. If it was unsparingly done, there was yet the faithful tenderness and pathos of one who was feeling all the time his own full share of what he was addressing to others; and it was amidst deep, solemn melting of heart on his own part, and that of his audience, that he took up, in closing, the words of Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am undone; I am a man of unclean lips;” and then referred to the time when the live coal from off the altar touched the lips of the prophet, and the assurance was given, “Thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin is purged;” and this followed by the statement, “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I: send me.”
Thus the sermon closed in the midst of an audience of ministers and elders who were universally and deeply moved. Many a head was bowed, and here and there amidst the Assembly men were silently seeking relief in tears.
After praise and prayer, Dr. Chalmers rose to begin the conference. There was something inexpressibly touching in hearing the greatest preacher of his day expressing his earnest desire that these searching truths might sink deep into our hearts, so that with a sense of our own nothingness, our own helplessness, thus laid before us, we may learn henceforth to keep closer than heretofore to the great fountainhead of our strength. “Many are the temptations to which our profession is exposed, and of which our lay brethren and friends have no adequate conception. Our very familiarity with the topics we handle is itself a snare. The lesson of death is not given to the hackneyed grave-digger, conversant with the skulls and skeletons of the churchyard. Neither does it follow that because the great topics of salvation are present to our minds, they should tell practically on the heart. But if they do not soften us, is there no danger lest they harden us? Oh, that we were sufficiently impressed with the solemnity of our position, and were unceasing in prayer to heaven for that unction from the Holy One, without which we cannot save our own souls, neither can we save the souls of others.”
Dr. Chalmers sat down. It was in vain that the Moderator invited further discussion. Menʼs hearts were full; the Assembly remained for a time hushed in silence. It seemed as if members were afraid to disturb the solemnity of the scene; as if it would be best for each to retire and enter into his closet, and shut the door behind him. At a quarter past two oʼclock the blessing was pronounced, and men went to their homes.
That same evening a second conference was held, and again on one of the subsequent days the subject was resumed – the most honoured ministers and elders taking part, and deepening the impression. Many a powerful word was spoken. An aged minister, for example – Dr. Laird, of Portmoak – described himself as standing between the living and the dead. After a ministry of nearly fifty years, he could look back with regret on much loss of time and misapplication of talent. There were many in that Assembly in the full vigour of health and strength (three of his sons were ministers, and along with their father in 1843 cast in their lot with the Free Church), and before descending into the vale of years he would urge them on to the right discharge of their duty, assuring them that if they wrought with all their heart the blessing of God would descend on their labours.
Dr. Cunningham had just returned from a visit to the American Churches, and told how he found the ministers there animated generally by a distinct desire and confident expectation of their labours being blessed to the conversion of sinners and the edification of saints. In the course of his ministry, he regarded it as one of the many sins of which, in common with his brethren, he had been guilty, that he had often engaged in ministerial services without any distinct and positive and ardent desire of such definite results. In America it may have been carried too far, but we may have the use without the abuse.
As the Conference went on, the statements of Dr. Gordon, of Edinburgh; Dr. Brown, of Glasgow; Prof. Duncan, and others, with some from the more eminent elders, gave deeper and deeper impressiveness to the discussion. But the general result cannot be better expressed than in the words of Dr. Candlish. “One feels – I speak with all frankness – after what we have heard, as if till this day we had scarce known or realised our position as ministers of the everlasting Gospel, and the weight of our responsibility as appointed to wield an instrument of tremendous efficacy, whether for weal or woe. It is not that I wish to make any profession of my own feelings, but I think I am only giving utterance to the feelings of fathers and brethren in this Assembly when I venture to say that this night we are called on in the providence of God, and by the outpouring, as I trust and believe, of His Holy Spirit, to a new dedication of ourselves, soul and body and spirit, to God, declaring our purpose by His grace and strength, to be His servants, to spend and be spent in His cause. Oh, let it not be a rash resolution flowing from the impulse of temporary excitement. Once and again have these words burst from the lips of Godʼs servants this day – ʻThe place whereon we stand is holy ground;ʼ and if it so be, and if in any measure standing on that holy ground we have been enabled to put our shoes from off our feet, and to behold the Angel of the Covenant in the bush burning but not consumed, may we not, sir, led by the Spirit and constrained by the mercies of God, present ourselves anew to Him, and say, ʻLord, we are Thine; Thine, for Thou hast made us; Thine, for Thou hast redeemed us; Thine – shall we say? – Thine because Thou hast revived us. And now, Lord, take us and make us instruments in Thy hand; Lord, enable us to enter into Thy mind.ʼ”(780)
These scenes, it must not be forgotten, were in perfect keeping with what had been going on for years before. The leaders of the Free Church had been known to the public chiefly as eager combatants on the field of controversy, or able business men in building up the fabric of the Church after the Disruption. All the time, however, as the Diary of Dr. Chalmers, for example, fully shows, these engrossing conflicts and toils had been uncongenial work, from which they were glad to escape and find relief in seasons of devout and earnest prayer.
We see this in the case of the Rev. Andrew Gray of Perth, one of the Churchʼs most formidable champions on the field of argument. What nerved him for the struggle was the conviction that, “deep at the foundation of the Ten Yearsʼ Conflict lay the question whether godliness in its living power and genuine evangelical development was to prevail in the Church.” And hence the spirit in which his work was done. He was extremely solicitous about his peopleʼs prayers in connection with the Churchʼs struggles and his own part in them. While in Edinburgh, attending to his duties as member of Assembly, his practice was, during the years 1840-44, to write daily to the West Church prayer-meeting, so as to keep his people informed of the Assemblyʼs proceedings, “thus making their petitions on its behalf more pointed and precise than they would otherwise have been.” The direct breathings of his soul come out in these letters in connection with each step that was taken in the progress of the conflict. He frequently also acknowledges, in warm terms, the assurances which he receives of these prayer-meetings being numerously attended and pervaded by a spirit of deep earnestness and seriousness.”(781)
Another similar testimony, by Dr. Elder of Rothesay – at the time, of St. Paulʼs, Edinburgh – gives us an interesting glimpse into the private intercourse of those who stood in the high places of the field: “I cherish a warm and grateful recollection of a monthly conference held in each otherʼs houses by some twelve or fourteen brethren of the Edinburgh Presbytery at that time, and on to the Disruption, at which, along with earnest waiting on the Lord for light and guidance, all the various aspects of the Church question were discussed in a spirit of brotherly love and confidence. … We could not but regard it as a token for good, that the prayerful spirit seemed to increase as the time approached. I remember well how manifest this was in the case of our honoured leader, Dr. Chalmers, and of other prominent men, clerical and lay, who were chiefly called to bear reproach for the truthʼs sake.”(782)
With such feelings, men had come up to the Assembly of 1844 still further solemnised and quickened by the experience of the first year after the Disruption. Never, probably, did preacher address an audience with hearts more open, and never did preacher enter the pulpit better fitted than Dr. Charles Brown to rise to the full height of such an occasion. The general impression has been well described by Dr. Hetherington: “Seldom has a more solemn scene been beheld. The vast hall in which the Assembly met was crowded with ministers, elders, and a large number of earnest and devoted worshippers. And as the preacher prosecuted his great work, his faithful and searching confessions and admonitions, urged with all the impressive power of a heart thoroughly in earnest in his Master cause, and directed, as we fully believe, to the hearts of the assembled audience by the Spirit of God, the whole vast multitude were bowed and shaken like a forest of trees beneath a mighty wind – were melted and fused together like masses of golden ore in a seven-times heated furnace. Never will the remembrance of that day pass away from the hearts and minds of those who felt and enjoyed its humbling, searching, and yet refining and elevating power. And if, as may be hoped, and as has been earnestly implored, the ministers, elders, and private Christians who were present retain the impressions then made, and go forward to the discharge of their respective duties, in the strength of the grace then felt and sought, and with the resolutions then humbly formed, a time of much refreshing from the presence of the Lord may be hoped, and an era in the annals of religious revival, and the progress of vital and personal godliness, will be dated from that memorable day.
“Nor did the solemnising and hallowing influence of that day pass away and lose its power, among the many duties which the Assembly had to discharge. In every stage of its procedure that influence was felt, returning and hallowing every deliberation. Topics from the discussion of which some had almost shrunk, lest something like strife or disagreement might arise, were brought forward, investigated and determined with perfect harmony. And so strong was the feeling still entertained by all, that the Assembly prolonged its sitting for one day in order to receive the report of a Committee which had been appointed to take the subject into consideration, that something like a repetition of the same sacred and soul-subduing power might be again experienced. They were not disappointed. And, especially, when some of the elders spoke in the fulness of their hearts, both ministers and people felt constrained to thank God and take courage, believing that God not only would return and re-visit the vine which His right hand had planted, but that His presence and blessing were already realised.”
In the view of strangers from a distance, these scenes appear to have been not less impressive.
Thus a minister from Ireland states: “There was no attitude in which his soul felt more profound sympathy than on that memorable Tuesday, when, as a body, they bowed down before God, and when, instead of railing against their enemies, they confessed, in deep prostration, the plagues of their own hearts and the sins of their own lives, and in one universal cry that prayer arose – ʻGod be merciful to us sinners.ʼ We never witnessed a scene more solemnly sublime.”(783)
In similar terms Mr. Frederick Monod, of Paris, refers to one of the subsequent meetings: – “I will have much to say when I return to my own people, of what I have seen, heard, and experienced among you. Oh, how I wish that all those who do not understand, or who do not approve of the position you have been compelled to assume, had been present, as it was my privilege to be, on Friday night last. Ah, they would have seen – would have felt, that the Spirit of God, the Spirit of our great God, in His Son Jesus Christ, is with this Church – that this is not the work of man – that the whole will turn out to be the work of God indeed; and nothing can overthrow it. … Take courage, my dear Christian friends; go on in the strength of the Lord – go on in faithfulness to yourselves and charity towards those who do not go along with you. So long as your Church shall possess that faith so warmly expressed and so warmly responded to – so long as you have that faith, fear not; fear not. Here is a new era in the history of our blessed and glorious Reformation.”(784)
But, gratifying as all this was, those who guided the affairs of the Church knew well that the emotions of such a time might soon pass away. Even in regard to things the most spiritual they were practical men of business, and the question was how best to turn to account these meetings so as to make them a source of spiritual life and power over the land. Presbyteries were instructed to hold similar conferences for mutual edification. The bold resolution was taken that every congregation of the Free Church should be addressed by deputations of the most earnest and fervent of the ministers, who were to press home the offers of the Gospel, and make known the deep desire of the Church for revived spiritual life in all her borders. The next summer, accordingly, was a time of religious effort such as Scotland has seldom seen; and which, as many can tell, left a deep impression on the hearts and consciences of the people.
A single specimen may be given from the account of one of the respected fathers of the Church, to show how the work was carried on: “The late Dr. Henderson of Glasgow and myself(785) were appointed to Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire. Our duty was to preach every week-day evening for a fortnight, and twice or thrice on Sabbath. We commenced on the 21st of August, and concluded on the 5th of September, having visited between twenty and thirty parishes. At Thornhill, we took part in laying the foundation stone of the Free Church, after an eloquent sermon by Dr. Henderson to an audience of between two thousand and three thousand. At Keir, on the following day, Sabbath, I preached to nearly as many in a beautiful glen, where my pulpit was a country cart.” In this way all Scotland was pervaded by the earnest evangelistic preaching of chosen deputies. At the meeting of the Commission, in August, the subject was referred to in an elaborate report. The approval of it was moved by Dr. Candlish: “I cannot in too strong terms express my admiration. But admiration is not the word which such a report deserves at our hands. I trust it will tend, by the blessing of God, to promote that spirit of seriousness in our several Presbyteries and congregations – that spirit of serious anxiety regarding the state of vital godliness which it has pleased God to call forth among us.”
“In looking back,” says Dr. Thomson, “on the Disruption period, the events of which are as fresh in my remembrance as if they had happened but yesterday, I can truly say that it was a deeply interesting and solemn season, when the Gospel was prized, when brotherly love abounded, and when there was a manifest revival of the life and power of true religion. Consciences were awakened, hearts were stirred to their depths, the Holy Spirit was at work, many received a blessing to their souls for the first time, and others received a fresh baptism from above. The memory of these times is very pleasant and profitable, cheering and encouraging, and any hardships or trials endured were not to be compared with the rich consolation enjoyed and the abundant blessings bestowed. May a similar revival be granted to us now especially to the young, and may there be such an effusion of the Spirit on all the Churches, that every true member of them may see eye to eye, and be of one heart and one mind, so that the dispersed of our Israel may soon be gathered into one.”(786)
The Whole Members of the Church Invited
Roslin, Woodside, &c.
Mr. Melville, of Logie
Mr. Thomson, Prestonkirk
Kirk-Session of Dunnichen
Young Menʼs Societies
Appeals by Dr. Chalmers, &c
In the midst of this awakening of religious life, there was one point on which special stress was laid – the duty of all private Christians to work for Christ. Men were eager to strike while the iron was hot, and get the whole membership of the Church enlisted in active service. Like Nelson on the eve of battle, hoisting the signal, “England expects every man this day to do his duty,” the Free Church in the day of reviving religious zeal, sent the appeal through the ranks of her adherents, summoning each man to enrol himself among the workers and stand to his post amidst the pressing needs of the time.
In carrying out this proposal there was one advantage on the side of the Church – her communion had been purified to a large extent by the Disruption. A kind of natural selection had been going on by which the most earnest minds had been brought into the Free Church, while many of the more careless, and of those whose presence was a hindrance, were left behind. This was the subject of common remark in different parts of the country, as a few extracts will show.
At Roslin, Mr. Brown states, “The result has been very considerably to purge the communion roll.”(787) At Huntly they say, “We carried with us almost all the pious, and most of those who had any earnestness about Divine things.”(788) Sometimes it is with a feeling of thankfulness that such results are referred to. “The Disruption had the incidental effect (at Collace) of freeing our communion roll from all those in the parish who were communicants in former days, and who had not even the form of religion in their families.”(789) In the congregation of Woodside, Aberdeen, Mr. Forbes states, “Certainly one of the best results has been to lead to a purer communion. Generally speaking, the parties who left us were those whom we were least solicitous to retain in our membership.”(790)
“Before the Disruption there were many,” says Mr. Grant at Braco, “in communion with the Church, who were by no means a credit to religion, but upon whom we could not bring the discipline of the Church to bear. Often, indeed, have the office-bearers of my congregation expressed their thankfulness they were no more in communion with them.”(791)
Such statements from different parts of the country show what the general results were. Additional testimonies of a similar kind could be multiplied if needful, but it may be enough to give one from outside the Free Church, from the ablest, indeed, of those who appeared in defence of the Establishment. “The best ministers,” Dr. Norman MʼLeod states sorrowfully, “and the best portion of our people, have gone.”(792) Nor was he alone in this view. “A minister who remained in the Establishment wrote to me,” says Mr. Macrae of Braemar and Knockbain, “with sadness that all his good people had deserted him, and acknowledged that it was an immense advantage to the ministers of the Free Church that they had the countenance and sympathy of the piety of the land.”(793)
After Mr. Edgar of Memus had been called and fairly begun his work in 1843, one of the neighbouring ministers (Established Church) told him that “the Free Church had got all his good people and all who had contributed anything to the mission schemes of the Church.”(794)
All this might well make the Free Church feel more deeply the responsibility of her position.
“We have, in a great measure,” says Dr. Bums, “got free from worldly conformity, at least in one of its most ensnaring forms. May we have grace to improve our freedom and be kept from evils on other hands.”(795)
In Fife, Mr. Melville of Logie is said to have been remarkable for the godliness of his life. “While he was the humblest of the humble, all who came in contact with him felt the piety of the man. He told the writer of these notes (the clerk of the Presbytery) that the two things which God had most blessed to him were the death of his only son and the Disruption. He said that up to the Disruption he had at communions, and on other occasions, to associate with moderate ministers, and that their society was blighting to his soul; but that after separating from the Establishment he felt himself breathing a purer atmosphere.”(796)
In similar terms Mr. Thomson of Prestonkirk records his experience, looking back over an interval of more than thirty years: “On the whole, I believe I have been happier than I might have been had there been no Disruption. I have had a more select people, more intelligent and more religious to deal with; for, of course, it was for the most part such only that joined the Free Church. One great advantage to myself, personally, has been the being delivered from the constantly deadening influence of intercourse with the moderate ministers.(797) At Braemar the greatest encouragement arose from the appearance of the congregation. There was “a solemnity that never was observable before, and there was the irresistible impression that our cause was the cause of God. I felt that the position I occupied as a Free Church minister had many advantages. My situation as a minister of the Established Church had brought me often into society where I felt uncomfortable, being unable to receive or to communicate good, and often when it was felt to be a duty to observe the courtesies of life the observance was a bondage. From this the Disruption has set me free, and as freedom the change is certainly regarded. … Had our trials been greater they would have been unfelt amid the comforts we enjoyed. The general heartiness of the people, the solemn prayer-meetings, attended by so many respectable strangers from all parts of the kingdom, and the impression on the young, who, of their own accord, commenced prayer-meetings among themselves in the most retired places in the open air; such circumstances were calculated to encourage and animate our hearts, and to render light any difficulties with which we had to contend.”(798)
In many cases it was in the kirk-session of the parish that outgoing ministers found their chief support. In Edinburgh and Glasgow, and the other larger towns, we have seen how the office-bearers rallied round their outgoing pastors in such numbers, and in many cases of such high social position, as at once gave weight and importance to the cause of the Free Church. In many a country district also it is impossible to over-estimate what the Church owed to the adhering elders. Mr. Fergusson, for example, gives an account of the Kirk-Session at Dunnichen, and his statement would apply in greater or lesser measure to many another parish at the time: – “The outcoming elders of Dunnichen were joined by three elders from the contiguous parish of Rescobie, which had been ministered to by the Rev. William Rogers, a man of God, who had laboured and prayed for his flock for more than thirty years, and who left behind him not a few gracious fruits of his ministry to swell the Free Church congregations of Forfar, Dunnichen, and Aberlemno. The Free Kirk Session of Dunnichen comprised a body of country men, specially remarkable for gifts and graces – men of deep piety and constant prayer, distinguished by uncommon natural intelligence and sagacity – and, on the part of several of them, by extensive reading in the field of Puritan theology, and whose moral influence in the district was consequently prodigious. I remember a specimen of shrewd remark upon the part of one of them, which I record as not unworthy of the consideration of young ministers at the present day. A minister, who had preached at the moderation of a call, having remarked in the presence of some ministers and elders that he had written the sermon before he had selected his text, called forth from this elder the remark: ʻHoot, hoot, sir, surely thatʼs no the way avaʼ. ʻAnd how, John,ʼ remarked one of the other ministers present, ʻhow would you do if you were to write a sermon?ʼ ʻPerhaps,ʼ said the elder, ʻI should not give an opinion, but I think that I would first try to find out a text, then I would try to find out the meaning of it, and then I would stick to it.ʼ In this Kirk-Session of the Free Church of Dunnichen there were five men, any one of whom could (when, as frequently happened in these days, no ministerial services could be obtained) conduct Divine service in the congregation, reading a sermon of Newton, or Flavel, or some approved Divine, to the edification and satisfaction of an audience which contained several educated and intelligent members, so that the congregation came out as largely in such circumstances as when any of the members of Presbytery was officiating. A minister who visited the congregation after I had been translated elsewhere, remarked to me that he had never seen anywhere a kirk-session like it: composed of men all in the lower walks of life, and who yet, by their piety and prudence and consistent profession, were looked up to and revered by all classes of the community. The sole survivor of that cluster of elders is my friend, Mr. George Milne, who is now the chaplain of the Magdalene Asylum in Edinburgh, and who has adorned the office of the eldership since 1843.”
In these circumstances, the religious earnestness formerly to be found with the Establishment having to a large extent been transferred to the Free Church, it was the bounden duty of her ministers and elders to make the most of their opportunity. Not for many a day had there been such advantages. The pulse of spiritual life was beginning to beat more vigorously. The members of the General Assembly met in conference were earnestly seeking a new consecration of themselves to Godʼs service; but, while taking their own place and leading the way, the point most urgently pressed was that private Christians, one and all, ought to be workers.
As to this, the Moderator – Dr. Henry Grey – spoke out in plain terms in his address at the close of the Assembly: “There are hundreds of labourers, male and female, standing idle around us, who want to be enlisted in this interesting service. None should come into the vineyard to be idlers there. A useless Christian is like a cold fire or a dark sun – a contradiction in terms. Why might not our hearers be called out, classified, and engaged in work for their own improvement and the welfare of others?”(799)
Again, in the following Assembly the appeal was no less emphatic.
“It is the duty of as many as know Christ to commend Him to others, saying every man to his neighbour, ʻKnow ye the Lord,ʼ and that this should take place in an orderly and approved way. A Church of Christ ought to leaven the world not merely by means of its ministers and office-bearers, but by the testimony and influence and example of its ordinary members. When we look abroad on this country of ours, with its multitudinous population, never can we discharge our duty till every good man, woman, and child, who have a care for their own souls, shall also be engaged in caring for the soul of another. If every living soul would stir up one which is dead, the blessed work would go on by geometrical progression till believers would soon be increased an hundredfold. Oh, that every member of our Church was found relying on Christ, feeding on Christ, and growing in Christ, to the salvation of his own soul and that of his neighbour!”(800)
There was one class of her adherents from whom the Church received an early and most cordial response – The Young Men. In the Assembly of 1847 attention had been called to the societies of young men already formed in connection with various congregations, especially in the city of Glasgow, and the Court formally recommended the setting up of such associations. Peculiar interest attaches to the origin of this movement, and we gladly avail ourselves of the narrative of one of those who took part in it at the outset: –
“Early in the year 1842, and at the time when the Church of Scotland was in the midst of the throes of the Pre-Disruption controversy, a dozen young men met in a room in Glasgow to talk over the questions which were the absorbing topics of the day, when it was resolved that they should form themselves into a society, to be called ʻThe Young Menʼs Free Protesting Church of Scotland Society.ʼ The objects of the Society were for the mutual information of its members on the great question then agitating the mind of the country in connection with the Church, and for interesting the young men throughout the city and neighbourhood, and preparing them for taking their part in the work which seemed, by that time, to be becoming inevitable – viz., the organising and carrying on of a Church unconnected with the State, and free from all State control. In the course of a few months the organisation was so complete that a great meeting was held in the City Hall to inaugurate the Society.
“That meeting was addressed by Guthrie, Candlish, Cunningham, Buchanan, and others – the leading men in the Non-intrusion controversy. The result was the formation of a branch of the Society in connection with every congregation in the city. This was the origin of the Young Menʼs Societies in our congregation. Two of the original twelve young men who founded the parent Society were more or less connected with Laurieston Free Church – one of them is now a minister in the Presbyterian Church in England, and the other is a merchant in the city. Of the twelve young men who founded the parent Society, so far as is known to the writer of these notes, only six survive – two of them became ministers, and the other four are merchants resident in Glasgow. It may be interesting here to note that, after the Disruption, the societies then formed still continued to exist as young menʼs societies in connection with the various congregations in Glasgow, and long after the time when the original object for which they were founded had ceased to be the primary business, they became the nucleus of what, in the course of time, has become a great power, not only in Glasgow, but throughout the country and the whole Christian world – viz. ʻThe Young Menʼs Christian Association.ʼ”(801)
In this way, from the Disruption onward, has the Free Church summoned and welcomed all her people of all positions in life to “come to the help of the Lord.” There is no need for the Christian to leave his calling – to become a minister or to go abroad as a missionary to the heathen. In the neighbourhood to which he belongs he will find work enough to be done for Christ. There is ignorance, and drunkenness, and infidelity, and sin in the community, and with these he must contend, striving as he finds opportunity to win souls for Christ. In this way it is that the Church is to be built up and the world subdued, so that at the name of Jesus every knee may bow.
Outside the Free Church – beyond the limits of denominational work – there was a wide field where, as Christians, they would find scope for works of faith and labours of love.
Inside their own Church, on the other hand, there was no want of work waiting to be done. Collectors were needed for raising funds, and that in no secular spirit, but prayerfully and in faith, as a sacred duty to Christ. There were agencies for tract distribution, and district visitation; there were missionary associations, prayer-meetings, and fellowship meetings. Sabbath-schools also opened an inviting field in which private Christians could engage, not only giving instruction to the children of church-going parents, but gathering in those of the careless outside population, through whom the parents might be reached, and so they might influence the most careless. Thus, whatever a manʼs gifts might be, if only he had the desire, it would be hard if he did not find that the Free Church had some congenial work to put into his hands which would suit his tastes. All who were willing to work would find some recognised position in which they might give their help.
In the enforcing of this duty, no appeals were more urgent than those of Dr. Chalmers: –
“The bringing in of the lay element – drawing out all members of the Church and setting them to work – is of vast moment. I am sure many of the elders could officiate at congregational meetings, and give great satisfaction to the people. While talking on this subject, I am reminded of a circumstance which took place in the parish of Markinch a good many years ago. Old Lord Leven commenced very extensive ironworks in that part, at which a great many workmen were employed, and these the noble Earl thought proper to have opened with prayer. This was all good; but when the clergyman of the parish who was called upon to officiate was told so, he received the intelligence with some degree of suspicion, remarking that he saw no warrant in Scripture for opening an iron-house with prayer. Accordingly the company who had assembled on the occasion waited and better waited, but no minister appeared, upon which the venerable Earl, baring his head and exposing his grey hairs to the elements in the presence of all the gentry and peasantry, offered up a most impressive prayer. And so well did he discharge the duty that, as the story goes, one of the workmen, when it was over, addressing his neighbour, said, ʻMy Lord did better than any blackcoat oʼ them aʼ.ʼ”(802)
Such was the attitude taken by the Church when the keynote was struck in the early Assemblies, and as years went on it is important to observe that the point was pressed with ever-growing earnestness. It is remarkable how often men reiterated this admonition. “All that was required,” said Dr. Rainy, “was, that men should go forth and tell their fellow-sinners that they are perishing, and that they must come to Christ or they are lost. It really amounted to nothing else than that, man by man, they should go forth and say, not to the people generally, but to individuals, ʻYou must be converted and come to Christ.ʼ”
“They would never,” Dr. Roxburgh declared, “be in a sound condition until all the Christians of Scotland came to regard themselves as Christian missionaries in the spirit of self-denying, self-sacrificing love. Did every church-going family undertake the spiritual oversight of some one among the countless number of our prayerless and neglected families, did they make them the subject of daily prayer at their own family altars, what a blessed change would speedily be wrought.” How would the Church realise the character of the leaven that leaveneth the whole lump!
In the words of Professor Miller, “If each man and each woman were doing the Home Mission work what a help there would be given to the ministry of the Gospel. They remembered the wall of Jerusalem was built by every man building opposite his own door. Let that be the work – the work of laymen, church members, every one who had known something of what it was to be themselves taught under the influence of Divine truth.”(803)
This is one of the main causes of the success of our territorial churches. The best agency in them is found to be the humble hardworking men and women, who, having themselves tasted that the Lord is gracious, devote a portion of their time after working-hours to visiting and dealing with their careless companions and neighbours about the welfare of their souls.(804)
“Our Free Church has 250,000 communicants. Were all these alive to their privileges and duties, what a mighty force they would constitute. It is our part to urge on our people the imperative necessity of their breaking forth on the right hand and on the left to gather in the souls that lie around them.”(805)
Thus urgently did the Free Church continue to summon her members one and all to work for Christ. It was nothing more than John Knox had done at the Reformation. “In 1560 he found his country emerging from the darkness of popery. Getting round him a band of twelve fellow-labourers in the ministry, he called forth every man who could read the Bible, called him a reader, and set him to read to the people in public. If he could add some words of exhortation, he called him an exhorter, and thus prepared them step by step for the ministry. In seven years he had called into existence a body of 1200 workers, who took possession of the country. The Free Church was in far more favourable circumstances for calling out a willing agency.”(806) The Scotland of 1843 was in a far other condition as an educated country – thanks to what Knox had done. Still, the need for Christian workers was not less pressing, and hence her urgent appeal for men in all positions of life to give their services.
But indeed, the Free Church went beyond John Knox. It was a levée en masse which was contemplated – the enrolling of one and all her members as workers for the cause of Christ. In this sinful world there were on all sides of us open doors of Christian usefulness, and all were bound to give ear to the cry, rising on every hand, “Come over and help us! Come to the help of the Lord!”
Mr. Fraser, of Kirkhill, in Skye
Dr. Begg at Applecross
Mr. MʼBride, Rothesay
Torosay in Mull
One of the first demands most urgently pressing on the Free Church was the appeal which came from the Highlands for the supply of religious ordinances. The Celtic population, differing in language and customs from the rest of Scotland, and marked by many noble characteristics, had adhered to the Free Church in such numbers that they had a special claim on her regard. Of the 474 ministers who came out at the Disruption, there were 101 who were in the habit of using the Gaelic language in public worship. All over the mainland, beyond the Caledonian Canal, the population had joined the Church almost en masse, and though in some parts of Argyle and the Isles most of the ministers remained in the Establishment, and Moderatism had held their congregations in ignorance, yet after a time the light began to be diffused, and to a great extent the people rallied round the Free Church. “It is the testimony,” said Dr. Candlish in 1844, “not only of our friends, but of many who are not connected with us, that the Highland population are all but entirely on our side, and that at present the only limit to the number of our congregations arises from the scanty supply of labourers.”(807)
That this was no mere clerical movement was shown in various ways; the congregations, indeed, in many cases were in advance of the ministers. “The principles of the Church,” Dr Mackay states, “were rivetted on the souls of the people, and taught from generation to generation. The Church is the constant subject of conversation and prayer.” In Sutherland, he tells of a parish minister – a much-esteemed friend of his own – who, during the conflict, had been rather slow in announcing the course he intended to take, when, one Sabbath forenoon, on the eve of the Disruption, he was brought to the point. On approaching his place of worship, he was met by his whole congregation – “not assembled as usual, but standing round the outside of the church in a compact body; and as he drew near, the elders, in a band, came forward with this message: ʻSir, you must now declare to us what your resolution is. Are you to remain in the Establishment, or join the faithful band who are about to quit it? for, if you are to remain, we, as a body, have come to the resolution of never submitting ourselves, from this day, to your ministry.ʼ”(808)
In the midst of such a state of feeling in the North, it is not difficult to explain the almost universal adherence of the people to the Free Church. A few instances may be given to show the condition to which the Establishment was reduced.
In 1849, Sir George Sinclair(809) states: “It is but yesterday that a gentleman, himself an adherent of the Establishment, said to me, with a sigh, ʻYou are far better off here (Caithness) than we are in Sutherland. Our congregations are everywhere smaller. In one large parish there are none; in another, when I went to attend the induction (I think he said) of a new minister, the number of attendants was only two, and throughout whole districts of that extensive county our situation and prospects are equally discouraging.ʼ”(810)
At Kiltearn, Ross-shire, the whole people went out, except “two or three individuals.” “Only six persons were present in the old Church at the moderation of the call to the new incumbent, and the six included the Presbytery and the presentee.”
In the parish of Latheron, Caithness, with its six churches and 8000 of a population, there remained in the Establishment “not a single minister, elder, catechist, or teacher, and not even a single communicant, except one South-country grieve (steward). The teachers, in particular, who numbered twenty-one – including parochial, Assembly, Society, and adventure, male and female – all left in a body, several of them having the prospect of great hardships before them. … One of our most hostile proprietors remarked, with deep sadness, that we had made a clean sweep of the parish.”(811)
The case of the South-country grieve, however, was not overlooked. “A missionary, on the Royal Bounty, had been sent from Edinburgh by the Established Church to labour among a Gaelic-speaking population, who, to a man, had joined the Free Church. Strange to say, he had no Gaelic, and even if he could have spoken the language, he had no hearers to speak to. Sir George Sinclair, the proprietor, in a letter to the local papers, suggested that he knew of no better plan than for the stranger missionary to sojourn with the solitary shepherd, whose language he understood, and that the shepherd should adopt him as Micah did the Levite, saying, Dwell with me and be unto me a priest, and I will give thee thy wages.”(812)
At the Inverness Assembly, Dr. Buchanan remarked: “I remember Dr. Guthrie amusing us very much in Glasgow, by telling us of the state in which he found a footpath through a (Highland) churchyard. There was no mark of the path, but every blade of grass on what had been the footpath, was standing up as straight as a halberdierʼs pike. But he now tells me they are making an improvement on the pathways in the churchyards, by sowing them with salt, killing the grass so as to keep up the appearance of a road, even if there is none to travel it.”(813)
Gratifying as this general adherence was on the part of such a population, yet the demands which arose caused no little embarrassment. In October, 1848, it was reported at the Glasgow Assembly that in the Gaelic-speaking districts there were no fewer than 150 vacant congregations and preaching stations, all calling out for ministers, while not more than 31 preachers were available for supply. It was obviously impossible that the Church could leave such a body of supporters as sheep without a shepherd, and temporary arrangements were made at once. Twelve of the most eminent Highland ministers were set free from their congregations for six months to go forth with Dr. MʼDonald, “the Apostle of the North,” at their head, to itinerate and preach wherever the want was greatest. Added to these, there were about eighty Gaelic-speaking ministers who agreed to give similar service for a month; and for several years this arrangement was continued.
Thus, the most strenuous efforts were made to meet the immediate want, but a far more important object was to provide permanent supply, and with this view steps were taken without delay. Every minister in the Highlands was required to send in the names of promising young men, to be educated for the ministry. About eighty names were reported, but a large proportion of these being comparatively young, means had to be provided for having them educated and fitted for entering college and passing through the Divinity Hall. Under the fostering care of the Highland Committee, this work was carried out to some extent. After a time, however, another agency entered the field, destined to aid the Free Church in a way for which she might well be thankful. The ladies of Edinburgh and Glasgow formed associations, one object of which was the employment of young students in the work of education among the remote Highlands and Islands. The assistance rendered by these associations, however, was so important that we shall refer to it more at length in a subsequent section.
Such efforts, it was obvious, would require years before they could take effect. In the meantime, it was all-important that the deputations above referred to should be enabled to do their work in the most effective way. Many of the localities were remote and difficult of access, lying out of the usual line of communication. To save time and trouble, and to make the service of the deputies more effective, it was resolved to build a vessel specially adapted for the purpose, to be placed at the disposal of the ministers. The whole arrangements were put into the hands of Robert Brown, Esq., of Fairly,(814) who “devoted his great intelligence as well as much zealous attention to the subject.” Built under his skilful supervision the vessel – The Breadalbane schooner – proved to be “admirably suited for the purpose,” and was universally spoken of in the highest terms for “her comfortable accommodation, her remarkable sailing powers, and steadiness as a sea-boat.”
At the end of five years the Highland Committee bore grateful testimony to the great value of the service she had rendered.(815) Her log for 1846 is given in the Missionary Record,(816) and taking it as an example, it is interesting to observe how busily she was engaged from 11th May to 14th November. Clearing out from Rothesay, she takes on board Mr. Colin Mackenzie, of Arrochar, at Oban, and Mr. Mackenzie, of Beauly, at Castle Moyle, sails for Lewis, and lands them at Stornoway. – Mr. MʼInnes, of Tummelbridge, is conveyed to Ulva; Mr. Clark, of Aberfeldy, to Harris; Mr. Stewart, of Blair Athole, to Loch Spelvie; Mr. Maclean, of Tobermory, to Glen Borrodale; Mr. Stark, of Raasay, to Lochalsh. On 3rd August, Mr. Roderick MʼLeod, of Snizort, embarks for St. Kilda, where he lands on 5th August. In September she is off Oban, where Dr. Aldcorn and Dr. Campbell come on board requesting the schooner to proceed with them direct to Easdale on a medical visit to the Rev. Peter MʼBride, suddenly taken ill in the midst of his devoted labours. And so the narrative of these busy months runs on as the ship goes threading her way from island to island, and coasting along the shores of the mainland, landing ministers where help was needed and transferring them from place to place, till at last we find her lying wind-bound in Benbecula from 29th October to 10th November, on which date she sails for Oban, her last voyage for the season, conveying home Dr. Aldcorn and Mr. MʼLean, of Glenorchy, on his return after a five monthsʼ service in the Long Island.
The glimpse thus obtained of what was being done may give some idea of the efforts made for the supply of ordinances. The number of ministers conveyed during that summer by The Breadalbane was forty-six. And everywhere they met with the most cordial welcome. “The Breadalbane carries the messengers of Christ from island to island, and her blue flag is welcomed in many a creek where hitherto the Gospel has been a strange sound. You can have no idea of the feelings with which these islanders view the good schooner. I will never forget one evening when a party came from a distance, ʻjust to get a sight of the ship,ʼ and having examined her snug and comfortable cabin, one of them came to me, and with tears in his eyes said, ʻI now see the Free Church is determined to send us the preaching of the Cross, and to look after our souls.ʼ”(817)
While this was going on, there fell on Britain the famine of 1846, which was destined so seriously to affect the political and commercial destinies of the nation. Nowhere in Scotland was the calamity so grievously felt as in these remote Highlands and Islands, where the potato crops had almost entirely failed. The Free Church, to which the starving people chiefly belonged, were the first to come to the rescue, raising at once a sum of more than £15,000. In that crisis the services of The Breadalbane were invaluable; first on a voyage of inquiry, to ascertain where the pressure of want was most severe, and afterwards to carry the supplies of meal to the destitute. The twofold ministry went well together – the temporal and the spiritual. We can easily understand what one has stated, that the sensation in whole congregations and districts was very great when The Breadalbane, appeared in the offing. Many a day the sight of her flag had been a cordial to the hearts of the poor people hungering for the bread that perisheth as well as for that which endureth unto everlasting life.(818)
A general fund to meet the wants of the sufferers was afterwards raised by public subscription, and in this the members of the Free Church took their full share, notwithstanding their previous effort. It is believed that not a single person died of famine during the whole of that calamitous time.
Our chief concern here, however, is with the spiritual work of the Church, and her efforts while ministering to the religious wants of the people. Nothing was more remarkable at that time than the eagerness with which congregations assembled to listen to the Gospel. It had but to be announced that a Free Church minister had arrived in any district, and crowds flocked to hear him, and would sit the livelong day listening to him. They were thirsting for the Gospel.
“In those days there was no complaining of cold, no expressions of dissatisfaction with their uncomfortable position.(819) To wipe off the hoar frost or snow of a Sabbath forenoon from their seats and then sit down was almost a matter of course. Delicate persons, who under other circumstances would on no consideration run the risk of exposure to the elements, would come and sit out the whole service, forgetful of consequences. The truth is they felt that the cause was the Lordʼs, and that it was their high privilege to witness for it. But those were great times, to be held in everlasting remembrance. The shadow of Jehovahʼs mighty hand was over and around us. His power was felt in our midst. Souls thirsted for the Word. Preaching became delightful, and fatigue and exposure were little thought of.”
Some examples of these scenes deserve to be given.
Already in these Annals (p. 427) we have narrated the strange incidents connected with the iron church at Strontian, Argyllshire. Dr. Beith of Stirling was one of those who took a deep interest in the case, and has kindly furnished us with the following notes taken at the time. The reader will best appreciate his narrative by referring to the frontispiece of this Part, giving a view of the iron ship on her voyage up the Loch, showing the strange expedients to which the Free Church was compelled to have recourse where sites were refused.
“Loch Sunart runs far up, from the Sound of Mull and the open Atlantic, into the country, and possesses on its shores on both sides a large population. It was resolved to have a Floating Church, to be moored in Loch Sunart, to which the people might have access by boat from all quarters. A central spot was fixed on, and the effort was made. The enemies of our cause were incredulous, but we were in earnest. The good Graham Spiers entered with great spirit into the scheme. A sum of £2000 was speedily realised. The huge hulk, constructed of iron, was built, fitted up with pulpit and benches, small vestry, &c, and successfully towed from the Clyde round the Mull of Kintyre by one or two tug-steamers, and in the end safely moored in the appointed place. The exploit of her voyage over so dangerous a sea had not been without peril. The structure was so great and clumsy, withal so unmanageable, that more than once she had nearly dragged the tugs upon the rocks. By the kindness of an over-ruling Providence the risks were surmounted, a safe arrival at the intended destination was accomplished, and regular worship was established. As a place of worship the accommodation was very comfortable. The pulpit stood at the bow – under cover of course – having the vestry at one side. The entrance for the congregation was towards the stern; that for the minister near the bow. A passage on one side, running the whole length of the church, afforded access to the benches, which were ranged straight across ship throughout her whole length, and occupied the entire breadth, excepting what was required for the passage. About 750 hearers could be comfortably accommodated. Too large the church was for the neighbouring population, but sometimes it was quite filled, even crowded. A little experience taught the method of judging of the number present by the gauge provided at the bow-post. One number sank the church to a depth which was marked by the index. Another number sank it to a different depth. So it became a very simple question in arithmetic to determine whether the number at any time present at worship was two or four, five, or seven hundred.
“Here I preached thrice on the Sabbath – twice in Gaelic, once in English – to a very interesting congregation of Morvern and Argyllshire Highlanders. When we arrived at the ship by boat, and took our places about twelve oʼclock, the day was fine, scarcely a breath of wind, the floating leviathan heading up loch, and looking to the east. Our last look of the land – sloping beautifully up from both shores – before service, was obtained from that point of view. During the service I became conscious of some unaccountable change, from the altered position of the sunʼs shadow, and from the sound of water striking the outside of our place of worship with the swashy noise so familiar to oneʼs ears on shipboard. By-and-by I fancied I felt some slight motion, as of heaving and rolling. It was very slight, and disturbed nobody. By half-past three oʼclock the three services had been brought to a close. Meanwhile the sunshine had disappeared, and a rather deep shadow prevailed in our church nothwithstanding the numerous and large ʻskylightsʼ overhead. When we emerged from our under-water condition we found that the wind had quite changed, and that it now blew up the Loch from the south-west – somewhat sharply too – quite enough to expose the boats and their occupants, as they made their very frequent trips to and from the shore, to considerable showers of spray. All, however, got safe to land, after much time was consumed – no casualty, and no discomfort even, of any kind occurring to cause aught that was unpleasant.
“I was thanked by the office-bearers, and told that their church had never been so deep down in the water before!”
Here is another interior in different circumstances: “At Resolis, Mr. Sage and his people had to meet in an old dilapidated storehouse on the seashore, in an out-of-the-way corner of the parish. The building had once been used as a granary or meal store by the lairds of Newhall, at a time when the tenants paid rent in kind; but for years it had been unoccupied except by the rats. The place of meeting was the upper floor or storey, approached by an outside stair; and as there were no windows, the only ray of light was admitted through a solitary pane of glass in the roof, not over a foot square, directly under which the minister had to stand to enable him to read. The congregation, numbering several hundreds of people, – one could scarcely guess how many, the dim light barely serving to make darkness visible, – were packed as closely as they could sit or stand together. And as most of them had come long distances to hear the Word, it was not a brief hour and half of it that would satisfy them, but some four or five hours at least; in the course of which there were three services in succession, without any interval.” “The writerʼs impression is that the place of meeting was used only when the weather did not admit of their sitting with comfort in the open air. On the western side of the parish there was another place of meeting under the shelter of a wood. One of the elders remarked that what the Psalmist had said of the ark in the 132nd Psalm, agreed well with the experiences there of the Divine presence in the wood: –
The open-air meetings were often deeply impressive. Mr. Fraser, of Kirkhill, refers to his experience immediately before the Disruption at the crisis of the Ten Yearsʼ Conflict: –
“In October, 1842, it was reported that there was a great religious movement throughout Skye, and need of more ministers. Accordingly, I went to assist, accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Macdonald, of Urray. We found the people ready to assemble in eager crowds on week days as well as Sabbaths, whether the weather was wet or dry. One day, in Bracadale, the Rev. Mr. Glass and I rode to a remote mission station to preach. The day was so rainy that we looked for a very small audience; but, to our surprise, we overtook group after group wending their way, wet and draggled. We came to a rather broad and flooded stream, and, for a little, hesitated whether we should attempt to ford it, though mounted on strong horses. After crossing, we waited to see what the pedestrians would do. They ingeniously formed a chain, linking arm in arm, the strongest men at the head of it towards up stream. They then stepped in, the men first, bearing the force of the stream, supported by the rest leaning against them. They thus diverted the force of the current from the women, who formed the lower part of the chain. All got through, slowly but safely, and proceeded a mile further to church, wet and dripping. The little church was filled, and where there was such eagerness to hear the Word it was to be expected it would make some impression. So it was; for, about the middle of the service, all heads were down, silently weeping and wiping their eyes, but one hard-featured old man who, though he held up his head, had some tears running down his furrowed cheeks.
“One day we sent intimation that there would be preaching at Sconser. The day turned out wet, and there was no place for the people to sit with any degree of comfort, but on the shingle of the sea-shore when the tide was out. For a shelter and pulpit for the ministers, oars were set upon end and a sail thrown over them. The Rev. Mr. Macdonald preached with effect to an eager congregation, and we then wished to dismiss them, but they would not go away. They would insist on getting another sermon. I then preached; and, after a time, the tide was gaining upon us, so that those in front of the tent had to retire by degrees to the sides. Still they would not go away, until I intimated to them that I hoped to preach next day in the parish church at Broadford, some eight miles off, where they might go and hear more. This intimation spread far, and next day many came great distances to hear; but, unfortunately, the parish minister would not give the use of the church on that day, but offered to give it the following day, and word to that effect was sent to those assembling. We were much disappointed as well as they. Among them, a boatful of people came from Strathaird, who offered to take us to see the stalactite cave there on condition that we would afterwards preach in their mission church. We gladly agreed, and set off with them. After a time we landed the female passengers, who ran in various directions, intimating that there would be sermon at three oʼclock. At that hour the little church was crowded. After sermon, we proceeded to the boat to return to the manse by six oʼclock, as had been arranged; but the whole congregation followed us, and pled so earnestly for another sermon, many weeping as they spoke, that I agreed to remain, and preached, though at the risk of offending the parish minister, and being denied the use of the church next day, thereby disappointing hundreds. The minister was highly displeased, and went from home next morning without seeing me, but left the key of the church. The church is some distance from the manse, and, on arriving at it, we learned that a large congregation had assembled on the previous day, when we had gone to Strathaird, and, though disappointed of a sermon, they returned this day, and crowded the large church. During the sermon it was necessary to stop twice, and sing some verses of a psalm to calm their excited feelings, so impressible were their minds at that time. “What ordinary congregations would hear with composure affected them so that many trembled, others wept aloud, and some fainted. It was altogether a striking scene.”
In 1845, Dr. Begg visited Applecross and preached to the people. “We were little prepared,” he says, “for the scene we were now to witness. The night was very chilly, and when we asked where the people were to meet we were led along to a place on the very shore, amidst the stones and tangle of the sea-beach, and which could only be approached by clambering over a precipice. Here the tent [pulpit?] was erected, and old and young assembled and sat without a murmur, singing the praises of God in these singularly wild and plaintive notes which melted all our hearts at the Inverness Assembly, and hearing the Gospel preached in the face of a biting wind, and with the waves of the Atlantic dashing at their feet. I question if the world, at this moment, can match such scenes as these. It seems that the people – nearly all of whom left the Establishment – had, at first, taken their station at the roadside. This was reckoned too good for them, and they were driven down to the place to which I have referred.” “A more noble people,” Dr. Begg states, “I have never seen, and the eagerness with which they listened to the preaching of the Gospel was indeed remarkable. We were particularly struck with one woman, who told us that, from her youth, she had occasionally walked fifty miles to hear the Gospel. ʻDeath,ʼ she said, emphatically, ʻhas reigned in this place for many years.ʼ She has still to walk fifteen miles to hear the Gospel; but, since the Free Church began, she walks that distance most cheerfully.”
“We announced a sermon at Shieldag the following day, a place at least ten miles from Applecross. The first thing I saw when I looked out in the morning was people starting for this sermon. The way was over a rough mountain without a road. We performed the journey on foot, and it was no easy task to climb so steep a hill, and to leap from point to point, over such rude stepping-stones. … A large congregation had been waiting for two hours, but this is thought nothing of in the Highlands.
“Here was another scene like that at Applecross. The tent (pulpit) was placed amid the naked rocks on the sea-shore, the sound of the Psalms literally mingled with the roar of the waves of the Atlantic. The tent was fastened down with strong ropes to prevent its being upset, and there were grey-headed men sitting uncovered in the cold, – and several of them with tears streaming down their cheeks, whilst Mr. Glass preached to them the blessed Gospel in their native tongue.
“Every new spectacle I witnessed deepened my impression of astonishment. These poor Highlanders must face all the storms of winter on the bare sea-beach, denied a single inch of land on which to erect a place of worship. Such a state of matters in Ireland would shake the empire, and it is Christian principle alone which has borne it so meekly. We were told by the catechist, a worthy and somewhat picturesque-looking man, called in Gaelic ʻWhite John,ʼ that there had lately been a revival of vital godliness in this district, especially amongst the young, and produced by the simple instrumentality of reading the Word of God; and the whole aspect of the congregation bore evident marks of the power of the Spirit of God.”(821)
Three years after this visit the people of Applecross had obtained a site; and, certainly, their anxiety to listen to the preaching of Godʼs Word had not diminished – assembling, as they continued to do, from distances of from twelve to eighteen miles. “During my stay there,” a minister who preached to them reports, “the weather was very wet, so much so, that I often observed, after sermon, females rising from the stones on which they sat, wringing the water out of their clothes before starting. But no weather, however unfavourable, could keep these people back from ordinances. Indeed, I never saw people more eagerly desirous to hear. Nor have I met, with any who seem more determined in their attachment to the Free Church, though the difficulties which they had long to contend with were many and trying.
“They are getting on but slowly with the building of their church, owing to the difficulty of carrying materials. I dare-say you are aware of one striking peculiarity in the economy of this district. There are no horses in it. In consequence of this, both men and woman carry the stones on hand-barrows and on their backs. The women are at heart as active and hearty as the men in carrying the materials. If the weather continue open, they may be under shelter by the middle of December.”(822)
“Last winter,” one of the catechists in another district reports, “it was with my plaid I kept the snow off my Bible while I was preaching to the people in the open air.”(823)
The earnestness with which the simple-minded hearers “received the Word” was sometimes touchingly expressed. “I inquired in one place at a woman whether a minister of the Free Church had not been present here last year, when I was informed that there had, and that he preached in a tent (pulpit) made up of a few sticks and a blanket. ʻYes,ʼ she said, ʻand many is the day that I have gone since, to recollect myself of what he was telling us, by standing in the place where the soles of his feet stood.”(824)
Such extracts might be multiplied, but it is enough to give the experience of Dr. Mackay, at a Highland communion in the spring of 1848, as showing the eagerness of the people.
A congregation of 6000 – some said 7000 – had assembled, many of them having come from a distance of twenty-five or thirty miles, on one of the coldest April days, and amidst one of the bitterest showers of snow. Beginning at eleven oʼclock, he was able to continue the service till seven oʼclock in the evening, when he dismissed the congregation, feeling himself “rather fatigued.” “To my astonishment I learned,” he says, “that after my departure the congregational services were continued till past twelve oʼclock at night.”(825) There was surely something more than Scottish earnestness and endurance in this!
It may well be believed that such hungering and thirsting for the Word of God would not fail to be followed by spiritual blessings.
In May, 1844, Mr. Macrae tells how he visited and preached in the district of Lochcarron, and the marked effects of the preaching. Old and young were brought under the power of the truth. It was felt almost universally that the way of justification freely by grace is the only way through which a guilty creature can escape the wrath of the righteous Judge. For the last fourteen months the good work has been making progress. A goodly number are feeding on Christ, the Bread of Life, while many others are standing with awakened consciences and humbled hearts anxiously seeking an interest in Christ.(826)
The following year, the Rev. Mr. MʼBride of Rothesay gave an account of the revival of religion in Knapdale. The awakening had been most remarkable and unexpected. From early winter till May he had gone down weekly, and the impression made at first had continued. Every new visit he paid he heard of new cases of awakening, and that among some who had scoffed at the beginning. Between 200 and 300 had been brought under serious religious impressions; of these a portion had found peace in Christ. There had been no going back rather it was found that some who were doubtful at first got more decided. There had been outcries and bodily agitation; but these were not the leading features. There was weeping, however, to an extent he had never witnessed. They readily acknowledged that the cause of this was sin. He was happy to say that their religious characters were emerging beautifully. There was a humbleness, a self-abasement, a love of the Saviour, and devotedness to the glory of God, which it was delightful to witness. The people were altogether free from extravagance. The only means he used was the open preaching of the Gospel. He regarded what had occurred as a token of encouragement – a proof that the Lord had not forsaken his people.(827)
It was at no slight cost, however, that such work was carried on. Dr. Elder, who succeeded Mr. MʼBride in his charge at Rothesay, referring to the circumstances just mentioned, goes on to say that “undoubtedly he (Mr. MʼBride) fell a sacrifice, while yet in the prime of life, to his great labours throughout the West Highlands at and after the Disruption. It is, however, a cheering reflection that his labour was not in vain in the Lord. There are good grounds for believing that many souls were quickened and brought to the Saviour under his earnest and widely extended labours.”(828)
The island of Mull may be taken as an example of how the work went on even under circumstances the most adverse. Before the Disruption the ministers all belonged to the Moderate party, and remained in the Establishment. There was a general state of spiritual deadness; and out of a population of 10,000, only a few joined the Free Church. In Torosay, as we saw, – the most sorely tried congregation in the island, – they had to worship in a gravel pit under high water mark, and there they were still meeting in 1848. “Hearts, however, have been warmed by the love of Christ in the cold gravel pit which now acknowledge Him as their only Lord; there are members of this congregation of whom the world is not worthy.”(829) At the same time congregations were formed at three or four other points in the island. “In 1857, Mr. Sinclair, of Lochalsh, dispenses the communion at Torosay. Great changes have taken place. Instead of the gravel pit, there is a neat, substantial, and well-finished, little church, with a vestry and belfry, within a few yards of the pit, built almost entirely by funds left for that purpose by the late Mrs. Campbell, of Possil, the niece and daughter-in-law of the gentleman who formerly declined giving a site. In that church the bulk of the piety and intelligence of the district assemble for worship.”(830)
Of the religious awakenings which took place at Islay, Coll, and elsewhere, it is not for us here to speak. Enough has been said to show the spirit in which Free Church ministers threw themselves into this work among our Highland population, and the results which followed their efforts. Already, in 1844, the committee state their conviction that the great Lord of the Vineyard has been in several districts, signally crowning the labour of our ministers, and blessing the means of grace for gathering sinners to Himself.(831)
In yet stronger terms, Dr. Mackay, who well knew the Highlands, and their religious history, summed up the results: – “I feel the strongest conviction that never since the first light of the Reformation dawned on the land of our fathers, has there been such a universal religious movement over the whole of the Highlands and islands as there is at this day. There, at this moment, we have presented to view a spiritual realisation of the prophetʼs vision of the valley – there is a moving and a shaking of the dry bones, and the Spirit of the Lord evidently going forth to work a work which shall be great in our day, and the effects of which eternity itself alone will unfold.”
Communion at Snizort
“The Menʼs Day” at Duirness
Dr. MʼLauchlanʼs View
Mr. Mackenzie of Farr
To understand the effect of the Disruption in the Highlands, it is necessary to take into account a peculiar class of the people known as “The Men.” They belonged, for the most part, to the working classes, and were frequently to be seen wearing a distinctive dress as a badge of their order – a long blue cloak, with a spotted cotton handkerchief bound round the head. Many of them were men of superior natural abilities, though with little education; but, having carefully studied the Bible, along with certain favourite Puritan authors, and having a high reputation for personal religion, they wielded, in some localities, a predominant influence over the popular mind. In the South of Scotland their position has often been misunderstood and misrepresented, but what chiefly concerns us here is the part which they took at and after the Disruption.
Two parties, it appears, had arisen in their ranks, widely different in spirit and aims, and serious mistakes have sometimes been made in attributing to the whole body what was true only of the less numerous and more unsatisfactory of the two sections.
The better class – the more devout and earnest – were spoken of by Dr. Candlish in terms of high commendation. “Unauthorised they might be of men, but the Head of the Church had owned and blessed their labours … all the more because they have known their place in the Church, – have intruded into no office, labouring, as God gave them opportunity, in reading and expounding. They have heartily co-operated with the ministers whom they esteemed, not weakening but strengthening their hands.”(832)
It was in connection with the Lordʼs Supper that “The Men” came prominently into view – those “sacramental occasions” which, all over the Highlands, were the great events of the year. Usually, in each parish, when the time came round, there were four or five ministers who met to give assistance. They lived together in the manse, enjoying much profitable ministerial intercourse, discussing any questions which might affect the cause of true religion at the time, and comparing notes as to the spiritual state of their various congregations. Among the people the greatest interest was excited, gathering as they did in crowds from wide districts of the country, and remaining for days together in attendance on the ordinances of the Church.
Of all these gatherings the most remarkable was the annual communion at Ferintosh (Urquhart), under the ministry of Dr. MʼDonald, where ten thousand hearers were wont to assemble in the glen. When the vast audience were seen hanging on the lips of the greatest preacher in the north, and fairly moved by his stirring appeals, the whole scene was such as no one who witnessed it was ever likely to forget.(833) As an example, however, of what was more frequently to be met with, we may take one of later date – the communion at Snizort, in Skye, presided over by the well-known Rev. Roderick MʼLeod. On the occasion referred to, he had as his assistants the Rev. Dr. Mackintosh Mackay of Harris, Mr. MʼPhail of Sleat, Mr. Kippen of Raasay, and Mr. Gualter of Hawick. On the Fast-day – 16th July – the people assembled “long before the hour of worship” to unite in prayer for a blessing on “the Word and ordinances.” The opening services were conducted by Mr. MʼLeod in Gaelic, after which Mr. Gualter preached in English, and Mr. Kippen followed in Gaelic, the whole service lasting four and a-half hours.
The meeting on Friday, however, which is conducted in Gaelic, and in which “The Men” take a prominent part, forms the great distinctive feature of a Highland communion. The object is to assist intending communicants in the duty of self-examination, the speakers endeavouring to point out the marks which distinguish the true Christian from the mere professor or hypocrite. So much is this kind of religious conference relished by the people that the Friday meeting – “The Menʼs day” – is usually very largely attended.
On the occasion referred to at Snizort, the church, which holds 1200 people, was quite full. The minister, the Rev. R. MʼLeod, presided, and opened the meeting with praise, prayer, and a short exposition. He then asked the brethren for “a question,” when an aged and respected elder rose and gave Eph. 5: 8, – “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord; walk as children of the light.” He asked the marks of those who are light and walk as children of light, distinguishing them from those who are still in darkness. Mr. MʼLeod then stated and opened the question, telling the people that it was most suitable for a day of self-examination and preparation for the Lordʼs table. He then called in turn upon six or eight elders, men of approved Christian character, to speak on the question. This they did with a wisdom and a power of discrimination between truth and error that gave evidence, not only of an intimate and experimental acquaintance with the truth as it is in Jesus, but also of a clear and sound knowledge of the doctrines of the faith and the writings of such eminent divines as Owen and Boston. The addresses were occasionally intermingled with praise and prayer; and the whole was ably summed up and improved in a few closing remarks from Dr. Mackay.(834)
Sometimes these Friday gatherings were held in the open air, and the following vivid sketch from the graphic pen of the Rev. Eric Findlater (Lochearnhead) will enable the reader to picture the scenes which were witnessed on such occasions. He is describing the meeting in his fatherʼs parish of Duirness, Sutherlandshire, as it used to be before the Disruption, and as it continued to be afterwards, with a change of place to the Free Church: –
“The old parish church of Duirness stands on a very picturesque spot. It is an ancient cross-shaped building, roofed with grey slate, and surrounded by the churchyard or burying-ground, which is thickly studded with graves and grave-stones, and overlooked by an ancient manor house, once the dwelling of the Barons of Reay. It is a July day, bright and warm and beautiful, and Balnakeel with its wide bay is seen to the best advantage. On the shore everything is green as an emerald – the wild flowers in full blow. If you look seaward you could perceive the white ships of various sizes, some under a full press of sail, standing out for the wide Atlantic, carrying perhaps to our distant colonies those who are now casting a last fond look on the bold coast of their native Scotland – others lying to, fishing among the shoals of cod that frequent the coast. If you turn your eye landward there is a range of hills – some of them upwards of 3000 feet in height – encircling the parish and standing as its giant guardians. In the churchyard, with its back to an old monument, stands the tent (pulpit), and before it are stones, stools, and various kinds of seats for the people. Shortly after ten oʼclock they may be observed making their appearance in twos and threes, generally the old and those from other parishes coming first to the place of meeting, and by-and-by these tiny streams, by accessions at every point, soon increase until at the two gates of the churchyard they flow in like a river. And you could observe the solemnity that spread itself over them all. This is not like an ordinary assemblage. The step, even of the elastic young, is slower and more staid, and all neither converse so much nor in so loud a tone as on other occasions. ʻThe Menʼ – i.e., those of an established religious character – are evidently, though unconsciously, the teachers; for as one or two of them walk slowly together – first, young inquirers might be seen at their side, silent auditors of the words falling from their lips; and next, the young and the thoughtless, by their proximity to such characters, subduing much of their thoughtlessness. At length the bell in the old belfry announces that the clergymen are at hand, at the hearing of which such as may have previously been conversing or standing in groups become silent and betake themselves to a seat – some sitting upon the grave-stones and others upon the graves, with a part of their plaids under them, and the remainder drawn over their face to screen them from the sun. The bell tolls again, and the ministers enter the tent (pulpit), threading their way cautiously, each hat in hand, through the lane of human beings before them. The oldest minister rises and gives out a portion of a psalm, in the singing of which all join. He then offers up an impressive and suitable prayer. After a short pause he again gets up, and briefly alluding to the well-known services of that day being one set apart for Christian conference, he asks if any of the people of God then present have a portion of Scripture upon which they would like to get the opinion of their fellow-Christians. Sometimes there is a considerable pause, while the silence is such that you could hear the twittering of the sparrow that sits upon the church roof – all eyes however are anxiously looking round. At length some Christian gets up and mentions some passage – such as, ʻBlessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, &c.,ʼ and wishing to have the Scriptural marks of such. Thus, then, the question is fairly launched. The presiding minister having turned up the passage, announces it again to the people, and opens it by making a few pertinent remarks as an introduction, and indicating the line of discussion which it is expected will be followed. He then calls upon such and such a man – some Christian from a neighbouring parish – to rise and give his opinion on the subject. This he generally at the first request refuses, but being told that he is setting a bad example for the day, he agrees; and having smoothed down his hair, adjusted his mantle or plaid, and taking his staff, he gets up, looks round, professes his own unsuitableness for the service, but gives what he thinks are true marks – generally from his own experience – and to this it is owing that there is generally so little hesitation in these extempore effusions. It is not theoretical but practical Divinity that is given forth, and that with an unction and a pathos that clearly shows they have not learned from books, but that they speak as they believe, and because they believe they have been taught of the Holy Ghost.
“A word in regard to the audience. It might amount to upwards of 1000, and of all ages. There might be seen an occasional sheep farmer, if a native of the district, but never a factor. There might also be seen the old and hardened in sin and the thoughtless youth; in short, the various elements of which an ordinary congregation is composed. As the speakers seldom exceeded a quarter of an hour each, there was no occasion for the attention to flag, and the variety kept it up during the whole time, which was from three to five hours according to circumstances. …
“If you will not be fatigued, I will continue my sketch: and here let me remind you that the individuals I mention are no fanciful creation, and that I give their real names, and, so far as I am able, their real characters. Many of them, alas! have gone to join the general assembly on high, but there are some of them still  living. ʻIs Niel Bain from Assynt here?ʼ asks the moderator, as he scans the faces of the congregation; all eyes instinctively are pointed to the spot where the worthy man is seated. Then, assured by this that he is, he says, ʻNiel, will you speak to the question?ʼ The individual thus appealed to unhesitatingly gets up – for he is a man in whose very countenance there is exemplified that ʻperfect love which casteth out fear.ʼ He is an aged man with a head bald on the top but encircled with a wreath of silvery hair. His eye is blue, his face round, his complexion clear, and a beautiful smile lights up not only his mouth but his countenance. He is dressed in a blue coat with gilt buttons, and in corduroy shorts, and over all is thrown a blue cloth mantle with a deep cape. He has no difficulty in speaking to the question – he speaks con amore – not for the love of speaking, but from his love to the subject which is treated of. I could not in those years resist a tendency I felt to associate the personal appearance of such ʻMenʼ with some of the Scripture characters, and worthy Niel Bain was to my imagination the beau ideal of the apostle John – the loving disciple. What he spoke had a wonderfully telling influence, for you felt he did not speak about the truth – he gave forth that which had permeated the faculties of his own soul.
“If Niel was the personification of the apostle John – the next who gets up, Angus Calder, is a very different person. He had what you would conceive as having been the look of Ezekiel. He was a tall dark-complexioned man, with a countenance which seemed as if cast in bronze, a sharp black eye deeply set in the head and surmounted by shaggy eyebrows. His hair was long and dark-brown, and he wore a greatcoat made of homespun cloth. His look was downcast, his voice was deep but not harsh, and though he knew the greatest of all the graces, like the individual who preceded him, he did not choose to follow this path. He took a deeper and darker one, and had a sort of morbid delight in revisiting the Slough of Despond, in again unmasking the hypocrites he had met with in his journey, or in threading again the labyrinth out of whose miry clay his own feet had been extricated; you felt that before you stood one who had deep experience in the Christian warfare.
“Who is that man who has just concluded that remarkable prayer towards the middle of the service? His name is Andrew Ross. He is a native of Ross-shire, but has been residing in the parish of Tongue during the greater part of his long life. As you may perceive, his outward man is now failing; but the inward is growing day by day. The shock of corn is fully ripe, and may at any time be brought to the garner above. He is one of the most spiritually minded men in the north. Did you not observe the extraordinary nearness of access which he had to God in that prayer which he has just offered up, and the peculiar expression he made use of in addressing the Almighty? – ʻEverlasting Loveʼ – and as often as the word escaped his lips the whole physical frame became agitated, his voice became choked, and his eyes rained down tears; but they were not the tears of remorse, but those of overpowering love. He is one whose spirit longs to be with Christ, which is far better – its very workings after emancipation will soon loose the pins of the frail tabernacle, and the soul of the man who stands before you will then find itself at rest and at home.
“George Campbell, a Gaelic schoolmaster, and a native of Sutherland, renews the discussion. He is a man about sixty, dressed in a camlet cloak, and with a head of long steel-grey hair, parted in the midst, and falling down in a mass behind. His features are well proportioned, and a quick intelligence courses over them as the aurora borealis does across his native sky. He is one of natureʼs orators; and so well toned was his voice, so harmonious his periods, and so graceful his action, that it was like music to the ear. But all this was sanctified; and as he discourseth of what the Lord had done for his soul, they would be indifferent indeed who could do else than listen; and though in general he showed the harmlessness of the dove, there were occasions when he could testify that he had the spirit of the lion. If he had but occasion to allude to ʻRadicalʼ [Separatist] principles, his denunciation of them had something tremendous about it. Our testimony to him would infer that he was a man who knew divinity not only experimentally but systematically.”(835)
Such were the Friday meetings and the men by whom they were conducted. The object was to prepare the minds of the people for engaging with benefit to themselves in the services which followed. Of the Communion Sabbath itself, and its peculiar solemnity, we give as an example what took place at Snizort: –
“In the kind providence of God, a bright, sunny day dawned; and though the wind was cold, and clouds began to appear, it was pronounced to be favourable for out-door services. At an early hour the people began to assemble; along the roads and by-ways, over hill and moor, they were seen flocking in companies to the house of God. It was a scene of thrilling interest, fitted to call forth the joyful admiration of every pious heart, to see so many thronging the roads for miles – coming up, like Israelʼs ancient tribes, to worship God; and the sight of the people at once suggested Davidʼs thought as the feeling of many that morning: ʻI was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.ʼ It is supposed that nearly 3000 people assembled together from all parts of Skye and the neighbouring isles. The audience would even have been much larger, but a great many of the men and some of the women were away from the island at the time, working at the fisheries or railways. Round the spot where the field-preaching was held, the fields and roads were lined with horses and ponies, gigs, carts, and vehicles of every description, which were used in conveying the people from a distance. Others, again, came in boats, which were lying at anchor in the neighbouring bay. The scene presented at the field-preaching was most impressive; one cannot imagine a finer subject for a painterʼs pencil or a poetʼs pen.
“The tent in which the minister stood was pitched at the foot of a sloping hill, gradually rising in an undulating form till it terminated in a heathery knoll. On a smooth sward, in front of the tent, the table, covered with clean white linen, was prepared. The whole face of the little hill was clothed with people, some lying on the green grass and on the slopes of the hill, others sitting on pieces of rock, or stools provided for the occasion. Round the outskirts of the crowd lay the little children and younger portion of the audience, who had come to witness the solemn scene. “Within this circle lay the older portion of the people, while nearer to the tent, and close to the communion-table, sat the catechists and elders. The Rev. Roderick Macleod preached to this large and interesting congregation from the appropriate words in Ps. 40:6-8. And during the time that the venerable Moderator was engaged in this Gaelic service, the Rev. Mr. Gualter was conducting the English service in the church to a smaller audience, consisting of those families in the neighbourhood who spoke the English language, and of strangers from Edinburgh and Glasgow, and other parts of the mainland, who had come to spend a few weeks in this beautiful island.
“At the conclusion of the service the English congregation left the church and joined the Gaelic congregation in the fields. Just as they approached, the invitation to come forward to the first Gaelic communion-table was being issued. After a few minutesʼ profound silence, a venerable old man wrapped in a shepherdʼs plaid came slowly forward and took his seat; soon after he was followed by others, who advanced to the table in the same slow and reverential manner, till it was filled with about forty communicants. And when seated, there was no staring about, nor appearance of thoughtlessness; but each head, wrapped in a mantle or plaid, was bent in solemn reverence, as if engaged in heavenly communion with Him whose death they were met to commemorate. The second table was served in English; and after this three other tables were administered in Gaelic. The whole services, which lasted about seven hours and a-half, were brought to a close by an earnest and impressive address by the Rev. Dr. Mackay. The immense audience then slowly dispersed; some returning to their homes, others to quiet retreats on the hill-sides to pray, while many others retired to the church, where a prayer meeting was conducted by the elders for other two hours.”(836)
The better class of “The Men” – as distinguished from the extreme party – without exception joined the Free Church. From his personal experience, Hugh Miller speaks of them in the highest terms: “We think we must know nearly as much about ʻThe Menʼ of the North as any one else. We have resided in districts in which they were comparatively numerous; we saw in early life our first parish minister (a good and wise man, who knew their value) surrounded by a session almost exclusively composed of them; at an after period we were tolerably intimate with a few very noble specimens of the class.”(837)
Others who are not identified with the Free Church have borne testimony not less decided. Professor Blackie, after full inquiry, records his opinion that they, were “thoughtful and serious Highland peasants, deeply impressed with the importance of religious and moral truth,” whose object was to stir up the people to “a loving consciousness and a consistent practice of the Christian faith which they professed.”(838)
A minister of the Established Church, while fully alive to certain drawbacks connected with the Friday meetings, yet gives it as his opinion that the general results were highly beneficial: “I learned from the speakers the best notes and sayings of the most noted divines in the country, and it was always the sayings of most pith and significance that obtained currency among the people. I may say that I got much more of real divinity from ʻThe Menʼ than ever I got at the Divinity Hall.”
It is right, however, that some account should be given of that class of “The Men” – the extreme section – who absented themselves from church, set up rival services, and sought to draw away the people. Dr. MʼLauchlan describes their origin: “The system is said to have originated in the parish of Kildonan, in Sutherland. About the beginning of this century it was the custom in the North Highlands to have the communion dispensed only once in the two years. With the growth of religious life, however, among the people, the desire was often felt to have the ordinance more frequently dispensed, and on one occasion this desire was strongly expressed by the good “Men” of the parish to the minister of Kildonan. He differed from them, and probably not liking the excitement consequent on a great gathering, he agreed on condition that only one week should elapse between the intimation of the sacrament and the day of its dispensation. This was, however, enough. Messengers were sent to all the neighbouring parishes to let the people know, and a great concourse of worshippers convened on the Sabbath of the communion. The ordinance was to have been dispensed in the church, but the building was not capable of containing one half of the people. The elders came to tell the minister that they must meet outside, as the people could not find room in the church. His reply was, ʻIf not, there are doors to keep them out.ʼ This was enough; a famous man, John Grant, with another like himself, withdrew with a host of followers to a neighbouring hillside, and kept a meeting of their own while the services were conducted in the church. The spirit which was generated that day continued and spread over large sections of the country, and led to the formation of a party strongly opposed to the Church and its ministers.”
The real cause of this disaffection was the state of the Church itself. On the highest authority(839) we are told that hardly any part of Scotland was more intensely moderate during the latter part of last century than Caithness and large portions of the neighbouring county of Sutherland. There was just one pulpit in Caithness from which the Gospel of Christ issued in its purity. Among the other parishes you might have found one in which the minister was so careless that he passed his lifetime with only three sermons, which he read and read till his whole parishioners found their amusement in rehearsing them; in another, there was the rankest heresy, while in another there was utter stupidity, if not gross immorality. Among the people true religion kept its hold, but they were disgusted with the ministrations of the pulpit, and when their religion was left to itself and allowed to train itself, what wonder if in many cases it ran wild? The people drew off, and began to set up in their secluded glens meetings of their own. The consequence was as might have been expected. In many cases a fanatical spirit manifested itself; all ministers were denounced, and church membership was repudiated. The misfortune was that the hostility was directed not only against ministers of indifferent character or those destitute of zeal and earnestness, but was cherished with equal intensity against many of the best and most faithful ministers in the country. So true it is that when party spirit enters it knows no bounds, but extends to everything that does not yield to itself.
At the time of the Disruption the party was not numerous. In Caithness, it was confined almost entirely to the two parishes of Latheron and Reay. In Ross-shire, there were a few in the parish of Fodderty, and some scattered individuals through parts of Sutherland. In Inverness and Moray, they had penetrated into the parishes of Daviot, Moy, and Duthil, and a small section of Kilmorack. In Arran, also, some traces of the same spirit were found, but over the whole 200 parishes which constituted the Highlands there were not so many as ten in which these parties had any real footing.
Among their number there were some who, like their leader, Alexander Gair, were sincere Christian men. But there were others of whom Mr. Findlater speaks as holding “Antinomian views, which at times they carry into practice.” Of their separatist meetings some account is given by Dr. A. Mackay the biographer of Mr. Davidson of Latheron, who writes from personal observation: –
“When such meetings were held during church hours the attendance was usually very small, for Mr. Davidson was greatly respected by the whole body of his parishioners. After the reading of Scripture, there were addresses, usually giving a highly allegorical interpretation of the passage read. The degeneracy of the times was much insisted on, and the prevailing fashions of dress were vigorously condemned. We well remember, when a student at college, going to hear Alexander Gair – by far the most gifted, original, and talented of these laymen – accompanied by two of our college companions. We were seated immediately behind the bench occupied by the speakers. Alexander Gair delivered the opening address, and fairly astonished us by the sparkling brilliancy of his oratory, by his wonderful acquaintance with Scripture – by the ingenious, original, but often highly mystical interpretations he assigned to many passages, by his scathing invectives against many classes of evil-doers, and by his awful denunciations of ʻgraceless ministers.ʼ Then, turning round so as to have the students fully in view, he exclaimed: ʻWhich of you young ministers will begin his first sermon with the words – May the curse of God alight on the ministers?”ʼ(840)
If the leading men of the party could speak thus, the lesser men, it may well be believed, were guilty of still greater extravagance, and sometimes of absurdity. An effort was made by a defender of the Establishment in Disruption times to collect the worst specimens of their sayings, which were represented as characteristic of the whole body of “The Men,” and then the discredit of them was attempted to be fastened on the Free Church as it existed in the North.
This was doubly unfair. That party of separatists was repudiated by many of “The Men” themselves – as by James MʼDonald, father of Dr. MʼDonald, William Calder, and many others who defended the Church and her faithful ministers. In fact, the party “were hemmed in by a body of intelligent Christian ʻmenʼ “who stood opposed to them. On this point Mr. Findlater expresses himself in decided terms: “The whole class are well known in the Highlands – every child there could draw the distinction between them and ʻThe Men.ʼ I am anxious that the distinction should be clearly understood.”(841)
The attempt to identify the Free Church in the North with the extreme party was, if possible, still more unfair. “Few of them sympathised with us during the controversy when it really became serious, and few of them joined us at the Disruption. Joseph Mackay, at Reay, their leader in the northern portion of Caithness, avowedly adhered to the Establishment, and withdrew himself altogether from the ministry of the Free Church there.”(842) Alexander Gair, also, already referred to, never appeared within the door of the Free Church at ordinary worship, but usually held rival meetings during the hours of Divine service.
At Farr, Mr. Mackenzie met with the same spirit: “Some who made a high profession of superior knowledge and zeal, and inveighed loudly and bitterly against the Church of Scotland before the Disruption, are now very cold towards the Free Church, and in some cases hostile.”
There was often much difficulty in dealing with this class. Mr. Carment, of Rosskeen, set his face determinedly against them, came to an open rupture, lost a few of his people, but so few that it made no perceptible difference in his large congregation, which continued till his death one of the largest in Ross-shire. In other parts of the country, where the party were resident in greater force, ministers in some cases felt that they would do more harm than good by any open attempt to put them down. We ask special attention, however, to the account which Dr. MʼLauchlan gives from his own experience of the difficulties of such a position, and of the way in which they could best be overcome:
“In the parishes of Moy, Daviot, and Duthil, the catechist was a native of Caithness, and belonged to this party. He was a man of talent and character, and was followed by a large section of the people. Most of these very rarely attended worship in the parish church, never joined in the communion, and were most unsparing in their criticisms on ministers and their supporters. In such circumstances, as might be expected, religion ceased to flourish, party spirit took its place, and parishes that had been distinguished for Christian life and earnestness, became gradually spiritual wastes. In the parishes of Moy and Dalarossie at least, the men who could take part in public religious meetings from being numerous came to be very few; while the communicants connected with the Church were latterly not above a dozen, and these not all of the number who were most esteemed in the parish for their religious character. … The church was attended chiefly by the young and careless, while the older people, and those who made a religious profession, either stayed at home or attended meetings of their own. There was some religious life, but it was narrow and exclusive in its character, and ready to be censorious in judging of anything that differed from itself, however earnest and sincere. In the earlier days of the writer, the ministers most esteemed in the quarter were the Rev. Dr. MʼDonald, of Ferintosh; the Rev. Donald Fraser, of Kirkhill; the Rev. John Kennedy, of Redcastle, and some others; but those most excellent ministers were not held in repute by the party to which I refer, and it was only on rare occasions that they would go to hear them. I am free to confess that I was at one time somewhat impressed by the views maintained by this section of the community. I thought them faithful, earnest, and anxious for the purity of the Church, and was somewhat disposed to sympathise with them. Time and experience, however, have led me to think differently”; and without denying to them in the least the merit of honesty in what they said and did, I believe they made a poor representation of a loving Christianity beyond their own immediate party, and afforded a poor specimen of the activities which should characterise the Christian life. …
“At the time of my settlement the parish was still divided, and there was much to discourage any young minister. There were a few good pious men, but they were chiefly among the dissentients, and the general state of religion was low. I set about visiting and catechising so soon as I could, after my settlement. It was rather an arduous undertaking, especially in winter, for some of the people were sixteen miles distant from the manse, and the winters were usually stormy. Still I overtook the work and found the benefit of it. The people began to frequent the parish church in larger numbers and the congregation increased manifestly in members and interest. There was a strong tide of prejudice against the ministry to contend with, but gradually the prejudice became weaker and was supplanted by a considerable degree of warmth.”(843)
The work which had thus been so effectively carried on the Disruption completed, dissension of every kind rapidly disappeared, “and there is not a more united people now within the Free Church of Scotland.”(844)
Mr. Mackenzie of Farr, we have already seen, had similar difficulties to encounter, and he too describes the softening effect of the Disruption: –
“We have continued this Friday exercise since the Disruption, and in regard to my experience in my own congregation, I can candidly declare I never had greater satisfaction in such exercises than during the three communion solemnities we have had since we left the Establishment. It seemed to me that worthy Christians had more than ordinary freedom in communicating the marks of Godʼs dealing with their souls, in converting and building up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation. There was an unction of brotherly love and unity which was truly gratifying, and a shrinking from every ingredient of the old leaven of division, which through the injudicious remarks of certain conceited speakers had on former occasions frequently disturbed the harmony which ought to prevail.”
Stornoway, Creich, and other localities are referred to by Mr. Findlater, where the people had drawn back from the Church and held meetings of their own; but after the sacrifice of 1843 they gave over the invectives in which they were accustomed to indulge against the Church, “returned within her pale, and are now among her staunchest supporters.”
Even Alexander Gair, after his life-long attitude of opposition and separation, gave way at last. Mr. Davidson, the minister, hearing that he was on his death-bed, went to visit him, and the interview is said to have been affecting. “The dying saint embraced him affectionately, assuring him that after the unambiguous testimony he had emitted at the time of the Disruption, and the noble sacrifices he had then made for Christʼs cause, he had become perfectly reconciled to him, believing him to be a true servant of the Lord who had the welfare of souls at heart.”
It is the testimony of one who well knew the whole circumstances, that “the Disruption and its consequences did more to put down the disorders connected with this class of men than all other agencies.”
The Ladiesʼ Associations
Ladiesʼ Associations formed
Favourable Educational Results
Nearly One Hundred go forward to the Ministry of the Free Church
Blessing to the People
The Church, as we have seen, was at the outset confronted with the difficulty of providing supply for 150 vacant congregations in the Highlands, while only thirty-one of her licensed probationers could use the Gaelic language. At her call eighty young men from those districts offered themselves for the ministry, but it was no easy task to provide for the long course of education required. Though some aid was given by the Highland Committee, the matter obviously required to be taken up in a more systematic and effective way.
To Dr. Mackintosh Mackay, then of Dunoon, the Church was indebted for the suggestion that the training of such students might be carried on in connection with a scheme for the education and religious improvement of the remote Highlands and Islands. At the General Assembly of 1850 he stated that there were “hundreds and thousands of children in the outer Hebrides and along the coasts of the mainland growing up in ignorance of the very elements of knowledge.” His idea was that aid-schools should be established in the more destitute localities, to be taught by students; and along with this a scheme might be devised enabling the young men to pass through the usual course of college training. The proposal thus made was not allowed to fall out of sight. Most fortunately, as the event proved, Dr. Mackay resolved to appeal for help to the ladies of Scotland, and more especially to those of Edinburgh and Glasgow. It happened to the writer to be present at one of the interviews in which he explained his views to the lady who, in future years, acted as secretary at Edinburgh, and has all along done so much for the cause. The clamant nature of the demand and the best methods of meeting it were dwelt on with great earnestness. In various quarters the subject was in this way fully considered in private; plans were matured, and the work was entered on with characteristic energy.
At Edinburgh the first steps were taken. A list was made of twelve of the principal Free Church congregations; one lady in each was asked to invite ten or twelve others belonging to the congregation; and the result was that a large attendance was present to meet with Dr. Mackay in the old Bible Societyʼs Rooms, York Place, on the 20th of November, 1850, when the Edinburgh Ladiesʼ Association was formed. In the following April the work was begun with the opening of five schools in the island of Harris. Similar steps were taken at Glasgow, where an association was also formed, and down to the present day the work goes on with unabated zeal. Never did Christian ladies meet with a more congenial sphere of work, never were their efforts conducted with more devoted zeal or with more practical wisdom, and never were they crowned with more signal success. In all this, it is right to say, they received from Dr. MʼLauchlan, of Edinburgh, most valuable counsel and aid.
Certainly the educational destitution of many of those outlying districts in the Highlands and Islands was very great. Even so late as 1872 – before the passing of the Education Act – it was reported by a Royal Commission that in the whole range of the Hebrides only twenty-four out of the 1000 of the population could sign their names. Twenty years previously – at the time when these Associations began – the state of the people was much worse. “When the island of Eriskay, in the Southern Hebrides, was visited by an agent of the Glasgow Ladiesʼ Association, he took a careful census of the whole island, and found that out of a population of over 300 only three persons could read, and there was only one copy of the Scriptures on the island, with the fragment of another copy. … In the island of Rum, with a considerable population, there had been no school within the memory of man until the Association (Glasgow) planted a school there.”(845)
It was to meet such a state of things that these Ladiesʼ Associations began their work. The plan proposed by Dr. Mackay was that schools should be set up in neglected localities, to be taught from April on through summer and autumn by students from the Highlands who, during winter, should attend college, passing through the regular course of education for the ministry. Their absence from these schools for five months in the year was no doubt a disadvantage, but usually they devoted special attention to some promising pupil, whom they trained to act as a paid substitute, interchanging between the different schools, and carrying on the work in their absence. This was the more easily done because in many localities, owing to the great distances and the state of the roads, the attendance of the younger children in the winter months was much diminished. The substitutes, of course, were coming forward ultimately to take the place of the teachers when their course of study was finished, and so a continuous supply of students was kept up.
Even the absence of the teachers during the college session was not without compensating advantages. As a rule, they were young men of ability and of devoted Christian character; and when they came down each returning spring, fresh from the mental stimulus of university life, they were found to throw themselves into the work with all the ardour of youthful zeal. The course of instruction was adapted to each locality, Gaelic being invariably the language of the school, especially in teaching the Bible and Catechism. English was also included, and, for the most part, some of the usual branches of an English education, instruction being at the same time given, according to the use and wont of Scotland, in Latin,(846) Greek, and mathematics, wherever there were advanced pupils prepared to profit by it.
The result was satisfactory to a high degree. Strangers from a distance – Englishmen and others – who visited these schools so humble in outward appearance, were often taken by surprise, when they found what was going on, and in some cases wrote to express their approbation in the strongest terms. It may be enough, however, to refer to two authorities whose opinion is entitled to the greatest deference.
The first is an elaborate Parliamentary report, prepared by Alex. Nicolson, Esq., Advocate, on the state of education in the Hebrides. After referring to certain defects – the limited income of the Associations, and the absence of the teachers during winter – he goes on to speak of the schools: “I can only attribute their generally high character to the prevalence among the teachers of something of that missionary spirit which I have elsewhere spoken of as demanded in these regions. They are all young men, and though many of them have received no special training as teachers, they often make up for the want of it by a large amount of the earnestness and activity still more essential to the life of a school.”(847)
Not less emphatic is the testimony of Dr. Duff, referring to a visit to one of the schools in Harris: “I can only say that I was at once delighted and astonished at the progress of the pupils in circumstances so unpropitious, considering the singularly rugged and uncouth materials on which the teacher had to operate. The order, the discipline, the amount of solid instruction, and especially Bible instruction, imparted within so short a time, was such as to justify the fullest expression of confidence in him, and of thankfulness to God on account of the inestimable benefits conferred by your Society. On the spot the involuntary exclamation was, – Would to God that the operations of the Society were similarly extended over all these destitute isles.”(848)
The poverty of the people made it impossible to charge fees, and the teaching accordingly was free. Indeed it was necessary to provide clothing for many of the children, if they were to attend school. This led to much attention being given to the industrial department, and sewing mistresses were attached to many of the schools “so as to teach the young women needlework and knitting.” In this part of the work many of the ladies took a special interest, and when the young students teachers went North at the end of each college session, they usually took with them “large parcels of clothing.” This department has gone on increasing so that in the year 1882 upwards of fifty packages were despatched; “but that is nothing in comparison with the boon conferred on the girls who attend these schools by teaching them to sew and make clothes for themselves. A most wonderful change has been wrought, not only in the outward appearance but in the whole habits of the young people.”
Invaluable as all this was, the educational work was only a means to a higher end – “the religious improvement” of these remote localities, and the bringing forward of Gaelic-speaking young men for the work of the ministry. Strictly speaking, the schools were missionary schools. The young men were preparing for license, and they in very many cases gave themselves to missionary work in the midst of a neglected population. Very generally they were young men of devoted piety, and the school became a centre of religious life. Among the outlying hamlets far from church they visited the sick, held religious meetings attended by young and old, gaining experience which fitted them for the future work of their lives. These services were highly prized, and in some cases much spiritual blessing is known to have followed.
Outside the Highlands, comparatively few are aware of the scale on which this work has been carried on.
The Edinburgh Association have had schools for longer or shorter periods at 116 stations, and given aid at 17 others – 133 in all. The great object was to select the most necessitous places all over the Highlands and Islands. Even in 1882, after the work has been interfered with by the Parochial School Boards, a large number of stations are still kept up, and will probably continue to be required in localities too remote for School Boards to reach.
In these pages, however, our main object is to record the help given to the Church in recruiting the ranks of the ministry.
The number of students employed down to 1882 has been in all, 307.
Of these –
30 are now employed as probationers, teachers, and medical men;
27 are on the present staff;
87 were licensed and ordained as ministers of the Free Church, of whom 5 have died, leaving 82 at present in full work.
Of the others, a large proportion went to the Colonies, where in some cases they are known to have been eminently useful.
In Glasgow a similar association was formed contemporaneously with that of Edinburgh, and though on a less extensive scale, it has yet been enabled to render important service in the same cause. The especial field of its operations was South Uist, Benbecula, and the neighbouring islands, where the great majority of the population are Roman Catholics. In these localities – among the most destitute in Scotland – about fifty young men have been employed, sixteen of whom have gone on to the ministry, for the most part in the Free Church, but a few in the Colonies. Four are doctors of medicine, and one a medical missionary, “giving promise of great usefulness.”
All this required considerable outlay. There was the expense of keeping up the schools, finding an income for the teachers, and clothing for many of the children; and there was the money needed to support the young men while attending college. The remarkable thing is that, without any grant from the Church, the whole funds were raised by the ladies in the form of private subscriptions and legacies. In Edinburgh, the income for the first year was £378 and this gradually increased till it rose to about £2000 annually – a sum which in some instances was exceeded. The whole amount for the thirty-one years has been £44,684, 8s. 10d.; and to this must be added the cost of a considerable amount of clothing – an absolute necessity in some localities if the little Highland children were to be able to attend school.
It is hardly possible to over-estimate the blessings which these schools have conferred on the population of these remote localities. “The object aimed at” – one who knew them well has said – “was to give a Christian education to the young, both in English and Gaelic, and thus enable them to work their way in the world. To a very large extent this has been accomplished. In these districts a very large proportion of the people – especially the younger portion of them – can read and write and understand English and speak it. Large numbers of the young men have been able to work their way to the Lowlands, to the sea and the Colonies, and young women to make their way into domestic service. Besides, those who traversed the Roman Catholic islands thirty-two years ago, and who have traversed them again recently, are forcibly impressed with the improved moral tone of the community and the manifest softening of the animosity arising from different religious beliefs, and the appreciation, in some measure, of the gentle and loving spirit of the New Testament.”(849)
For more than thirty years these two Ladiesʼ Associations have wrought harmoniously side by side. Recently they have resolved to combine their forces, and the united Association has now a staff of seventy teachers, including sewing mistresses, maintained for the year 1882 at an expenditure of £1792, 6s. 11½d.
Their work, however, is by no means finished. “The Education Act (1872) has undoubtedly been a great boon to the Highlands, as well as to other parts of Scotland. … But the villages and hamlets in many parts of the Highlands are so scattered, and the land so poor and the rents so small, that no reasonable rate laid on the rental can enable the School Boards to meet the educational requirements. Take, for example, the large parish of South Uist, about thirty miles long, with a low range of uninhabited mountains running through its entire length, separating the flat and more densely-populated plain to the west from the fishing villages on the lochs and bays of the east. All the public schools are on the flat plain to the west, and the villages on Lochuskevagh, Lochcarnan, Locheynart, Lochskipport, and Lochboisdale, have no public school within reasonable distance. Unless in so far as the Ladiesʼ Association cares for the educational wants of these villages, they are uncared for.” This example – and there are other localities in which the same thing holds good – may serve to show that the work which has been so blessed in the past will still be required in the future.(850)
But, apart from these educational results among the people, there is the outstanding fact that so many young men able to speak the Gaelic language have been trained for the work of the ministry. Besides medical men and professional teachers, there have come forth from these schools nearly one hundred who have been ordained over Free Church congregations, and no one can look over the list of their names, and take note of the important positions which many of these young ministers hold, without feeling how much has been done for the cause of true religion, and what a debt of gratitude the Free Church owes to these Ladiesʼ Associations. So quietly and unobtrusively have their operations been carried on that very many of our ministers and members are hardly aware of what has been done. No names must be mentioned here, but the friends who have taken the lead in this labour of love are well known in many a distant home, and will be long held in grateful remembrance by every friend of the Highlands.
Dr. MʼDonald of Urquhartʼs Visit
Church and Manse built
People join the Free Church
Deprived of Church and refused a Site
After Ten Years get use of the Church
It has sometimes been asked how the population of the Highlands came to have such decided views on the questions which led to the Disruption. Did they really understand the headship of Christ, and how it was involved in the Ten Yearsʼ Conflict? The people of St. Kilda, for example, when they adhered to the Free Church, was their adherence intelligently given?
The island, as is well known, lies out in the Atlantic, far away beyond the Outer Hebrides – its bare rampart of precipitous rocks rising in rugged grandeur from the sea, inaccessible save where on the east there is an opening at which in certain states of the weather it is possible to land. Twenty years before the Disruption this loneliest and least-known portion of the British islands was inhabited by a population of 108 persons, among whom there was only one man – John Ferguson – who “could read to any purpose.”
It was in the year 1822 that Dr. MʼDonald, of Urquhart (Ferintosh), whose evangelistic labours were well known all over the North, resolved to pay a visit to St. Kilda,(851) at the instance of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. On his way he went to see a minister in Harris, who stated that St. Kilda was part of his parish, but owned that he had never seen it. For a long course of years the people had been left destitute of religious ordinances.
The vessel in which Dr. MʼDonald sailed belonged to “the tacksman” of the island, who went annually to receive his rents. On the 15th of September they sailed from the Long Island at 4.30 a.m., and though the voyage was somewhat delayed, yet by two oʼclock they reached St. Kilda, where they were warmly welcomed, and the best accommodation which the island could afford was at once put at their disposal. That evening at six oʼclock the whole population met in a barn, used as the school-house of a Gaelic teacher recently appointed, and Dr. MʼDonald preached, taking as his text the message of “good will to men.” It was the busiest season of the year – the scanty harvest of the island was being cut – the young solan geese, on which the people depended for their livelihood, had to be collected; but it was resolved that for the ten days during which the vessel remained, public worship should be held, at which they should all attend, every evening when the work of the day was over.
Now, we ask attention to the subjects selected by the preacher on that occasion. The sermons would be delivered with all the warmth and fervour by which Dr. MʼDonaldʼs preaching was distinguished; but the reader will observe they form a connected course of religious instruction, in which the hearers are carried forward through the most important truths relating to sin and salvation:
16th Sept. – His discourse was on Rom.3:12: Showing the evil and the extent of sin. “Some of the hearers discovered signs of being affected, as if the view presented was new and alarming.”
17th Sept. – The text was Rom. 3:19; compared with Gal. 3:10: Showing manʼs natural state as condemned under the law. “All listened with uncommon attention, and some were evidently impressed.”
18th Sept. – The subject was taken from Rom. 3:20: The impossibility of being justified by our own good works. “I could perceive that some were affected, and disposed to ask, What must we do?”
19th Sept. – The fourth sermon was on Rom. 3:21: The righteousness of Christ as the ground of a sinnerʼs forgiveness and acceptance. “While speaking of the Redeemerʼs sufferings, some appeared to be deeply impressed; there was something like a melting under the Word. The Cross, I see, is that which chiefly moves the sinner.”
20th Sept. – Preached from Rom. 3:22, on The manner in which the righteousness of Christ becomes ours. “Some, both old and young, were affected to tears, among others an old man upwards of sixty years of age.”
21st Sept. – Preached from Rom. 5:1, on The effects of justification. “The Gaelic teacher told me that he saw this morning one of the people engaged earnestly at prayer in one of the fields – a new thing in St. Kilda.”
22nd Sept. – Preached on The work of the Spirit. “At one time almost all were in tears.”
While this course of sermons was going on he went freely among the people in private. All who ever met Dr. MʼDonald know how frank and genial his nature was, and can well understand how welcome such intercourse must have been. One day, for example, he finds the whole population out in the harvest-field, every family busy cutting down their own small crop. They were eager for giving and receiving news. “I endeavoured to gratify them as much as I could, and they in return entertained me with all the little tales of their island. I found this gave me readier access to their minds.”
One afternoon there was a diet of catechising held, which was pretty numerously attended. “Spoke to them of the excellence of the Shorter Catechism, heard the people most of the questions, and found that though they could not read they could repeat them with tolerable accuracy, but were deficient in their knowledge of the meaning of them.”
It was to rouse and awaken their intelligence as well as to reach their hearts that the above course of sermons was delivered. Dr. MʼDonald was the greatest Gaelic preacher of his day, dealing as none but he could with the minds of his Highland countrymen; but his grand object was to present Godʼs truth objectively, so as to convince the reason, and through the reason to impress the heart.
This style of preaching was sought and relished all over the North. However much or however little of secular education the people might have, yet on the great principles of Divine truth it was no vague or superficial mode of treatment that would satisfy them. It is surely a striking illustration of this which meets us here, when Dr. MʼDonald is breaking ground in St. Kilda, and asking these simple-minded people to enter into the strong arguments and powerful appeals of the great apostle.
It was at the close of the services, however, that they began to show how the truth had taken hold of their minds. His last two sermons were from 2 Cor. 5:17. Many were much impressed – some in tears – among others, the old man formerly referred to. “On my hinting that this would be the closing sermon, they all began to weep. The scene quite overcame me. I concluded abruptly.”
Next morning the whole – men, women, and children – came down to the shore, and amidst cries and tears, in which my landlord and I were obliged to share, we shook hands. After we got under weigh they ascended the brow of a steep hill and sat, following us with their eyes, till our little bark became no longer visible.”
During next winter his thoughts were often dwelling on St. Kilda, and the following May found him on his way to revisit the people. On catching sight of his approach they flew down to the shore, and when he stepped on land “they all pressed round me,” he says, “and grasped my hand, each in his two, till I thought they would have wrung the very blood out of it.” Few words passed, but there were tears – “God knows my heart was full.”
On this occasion they had service twice a-day, with a still more systematic course of religious instruction, both doctrinal and practical – the details of which need not be given.
A resident teacher had been appointed by the Gaelic School Society, and Dr. MʼDonald held an examination of his school. The scholars numbered fifty-seven, including fifteen or sixteen married persons – fully half the population of the island. “The appearance they made was wonderful.”
On this second visit the hearts of the people were more open to receive the Gospel. The old man previously referred to had lost his eyesight. “On my saying it would be well if his mental eyes were opened –
“ʻI trust they are,ʼ he said.
“ʻBut what then do you see?ʼ
“ʻThat I am blind – that in myself I am a ruined sinner, but Christ is an Almighty Saviour.ʼ
“ʻBut what if He is not willing?ʼ
“ʻWilling! would He die for sinners if He were not willing to save them? – No! no!ʼ”
The impression seems to have been general. “It was delightful in the evening, between nine and ten oʼclock, to hear the praises of God and prayer ascending from almost every family – a new thing in St. Kilda.”
It now became necessary to think of some provision being made for the regular supply of religious ordinances. Dr. MʼDonald went forth over the country and succeeded in raising a sum of £800 for the erection of a church and manse. It was not till the summer of 1830, however, that the buildings were ready – when Mr. N. Mackenzie was appointed as an ordained missionary, and Dr. MʼDonald went to introduce him to his flock. After a warm and cordial welcome and a fortnight of religious services as on former years, the parting came. In his last sermon he “sought to lead their views to the cross of Christ and fix them there, and told them I felt both joy and sorrow – joy that I left with them a Gospel minister – and sorrow that on this very account I should in all probability see them no more. After this the whole house became a Bochim” (a place of weeping).
Trained for twenty years in these views of Divine truth, the men of St. Kilda were not unprepared to appreciate the questions which arose in 1843. Within four years of that last visit of Dr. MʼDonald the great struggle had begun. Mr. Mackenzie, the resident pastor, was one of the evangelical party, and is said to have kept the people well informed as to the course of events. When the Disruption came, he disappointed his former friends by leaving his post and going over to the opposite party – seeking a living within the Establishment; but the whole people of St. Kilda without one dissenting voice resolved to attach themselves to the Free Church.
As in many other cases, they had trials to encounter at the hands of the proprietor, who locked up church and manse to keep out any one belonging to the Free Church, and refused ground on which the people might build for themselves.
There were peculiarities in the case which made it a hard one. The building had been erected, not by the heritor or proprietor, but by money raised from the public by subscription. It had been subscribed expressly for the benefit of the St. Kilda people, and now they were locked out. It is quite possible that the proprietor, having given the site, had the legal right to do what he did; but it was a strong step to take, to shut out Dr. MʼDonald, who had built the church, and the people for whom it was built.
There was, however, a more serious question. The whole island belonged to this single proprietor. The nearest land was sixty miles off, across a sea so stormy that for the greater part of the year landing at St. Kilda is all but impossible. In such a case the question is forced on us whether a proprietor is entitled to deny a site. He has his right to the soil, but is he authorised to push his right so far as to refuse the people the means of worshipping God according to their consciences? Was not the proprietor of St. Kilda practically suspending the law of religious toleration?
Yet for ten years this went on. No noise was made. Quietly and patiently the people continued tilling the inhospitable soil – paying their rents and determinedly adhering to their principles, while church and manse, which were theirs in equity, stood locked up and empty.
Meantime, an effort was made to draw them into the Establishment. Their former pastor, who had himself gone over, arrived at the island, prepared to use all his influence. They received him kindly, but utterly refused to accept religious ordinances at his hands. Their resolution was calmly to wait the time when their own Church could come to their aid.
At the outset, the numerous demands which came on the Free Church made it difficult to give supply to St. Kilda, but at last a catechist was sent. Again and again he was driven back from these stormy shores, and when at last he landed, he found that, notwithstanding the unanimous adherence of the people, manse and church were locked up, and no accommodation was to be had. “When he was about to leave the island the people besought him, telling him they would do anything to keep him, and reminding him that our blessed Lord Himself had not where to lay His head. That man stayed and preached the Gospel to this interesting people.”(852)
For the next five years, however, owing to the refusal of the proprietor, no regular supply of Christian ordinances could be given, except that stated religious meetings were held by the elders – a body of devoted Christian men. Once a-year, however, an important event took place – The Breadalbane yacht arrived off the shore, bringing a deputation of ministers to preach and dispense the ordinances of the Church.
Mr. Angus MʼGillivray, of Dairsie, describes his visit in 1849: “Our first view was anything but inviting.(853) The wind was strong and the swell heavy; the drifting mists concealed the tops of the hills, and the sea dashed wildly against the rocks. Next morning the weather moderated. … During the whole of our stay it was lovely – the sea calm as glass – the sky cloudless – and when at night, from the deck of the little vessel, we viewed the lofty peaks of the island standing out in bold relief from the northern twilight, and the rays of the moon dancing on the slight ripple with nothing but the ocean around us, the whole combined to form a scene which a painter might have envied.”
The people, he found, were intelligent and deeply serious. The population “is at present 109, – last year it was 106; but there have been three births and no deaths.” As regards social comfort, they seem equal, if not superior, to their neighbours on the Long Island. There is no want of food, and though their clothes being homespun are coarse, you never see even a child in rags – a sight too common in the Uists and Barra.
The following year – 1850 – he again formed one of a deputation, along with Dr. MʼLauchlan. Arriving on the 3rd July, they met with the elders, a body of “excellent and highly intelligent men, who stated that the whole community were as firmly attached as ever to the Free Church; and that from us alone holding the principles which they did, could they receive sealing ordinances.” On the day of arrival one sermon was preached in the evening, and for the five following days there were sometimes two and sometimes three sermons, the Lordʼs Supper being dispensed on the Sabbath. Of seven who applied for the first time as young communicants, three were admitted after examination to sit down at the table. “The people were much affected during the communion services, their sobs at one time almost drowning the voice of the speaker. They have universally a deep reverence for the truth, and many of them seem to have felt its power.”
After sermon on Monday the deputation explained how every means had been used to obtain permanent supply. No reflections were cast on the proprietor, to whom the people seemed grateful and attached; but without a site the Free Church could do nothing. The people declared their belief in the principles of their Church, and that nothing would shake their attachment to them. The deputation were convinced that they are intelligent Free Churchmen, and any effort at turning them aside will be utterly vain.(854)
This conviction at last forced itself on the proprietor, who, in 1853, handed over church and manse; when at once Mr. Duncan Kennedy was appointed resident catechist, and sailed in September along with Mr. MʼGillivray (Dairsie), who went to introduce him and dispense the sacrament. With great joy they were welcomed by the people. Sabbath was appointed for the communion, and Thursday kept as a fast day, when four children were baptised, two of them a year old. Even then, however, at the very time when a resident catechist was welcomed, the importance of this plan of ministerial supply was seen. On Thursday the wind began to rise. The captain dared not risk his vessel in the open bay of St. Kilda, lifted his anchor, and, after beating for two days in the offing, was forced to run for the coast of Sutherland, where they came to anchor in one of the heaviest gales Mr. MʼGillivray was ever out in. “We felt deeply that for a whole year the people have been deprived of the ordinance of the Supper.”
The labours of the catechist and the visits of such deputations were much appreciated by the people; but in 1863 they urged the appointment of an ordained minister. Through the effective appeals of Dr. MʼLauchlan, convener of the Highland Committee, a sum of £500 was raised as an endowment, which, added to the other allowances, enabled the Church to send a minister, and in 1865, Mr. John Mackay was ordained by the Presbytery of Skye and Uist as missionary to St. Kilda. Thus after long delay, and privations patiently borne, the Church has been enabled to plant among her faithful adherents in St. Kilda one from whose hands they can receive all religious privileges and ordinances.(855)
Dr. Ramsay Davidson
Mr. Hutchison, of Uddingston
Mr. Cormick, of Kirriemuir
We must now speak of those rural districts in the Lowlands, to which the Disruption brought the most signal blessings. The need in many cases was very great. At various points the opening of iron works and large factories had drawn together masses of workmen, under circumstances most adverse to their moral and religious welfare; while in many of our retired rural parishes moderatism had long held sway, and had brought the people into a low state of indifference and carelessness. This was the result, even where the moderate clergy were personally respected.
In many cases there was such laxity of doctrine among them, and such coldness and indifference on the subject of religion, as could not fail to have a most injurious effect on their people. In the Disruption Mss., for example, one is referred to who, for upwards of fifty years, held a prominent place in an important provincial town. “After preaching for him,” the writer says, “while a very young man, the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which had been stated in the sermon, was impugned by him in private as having no foundation in Godʼs Word, and a conversation, or rather discourse – for he was the only speaker – having arisen as to what should be a young manʼs studies and mode of preaching, his advice was given, with a warmth approaching to bitterness, to shun all systematic theology – to study such books as tend to enlarge and liberalise the mind, and it was closed with this sentence, too memorable to be forgotten as coming from the lips of one who had signed the Confession of Faith – ʻI do not mean that you should fly in the face of public prejudice, but, whatever a man preaches, he may have his own opinions.ʼ”
Without giving more of these details, however, it may be enough to refer to the statements of Dr. Duff, the great Indian missionary, who knew the whole party well, having gone familiarly among their manses from 1835 to 1840. His reminiscences, as given in his biography by Dr. Smith,(856) show only too plainly the state in which he found them. They were farmers and politicians whose conversation was divided between agricultural talk and political criticism. “I do not remember,” he said, “of their volunteering any remarks on the vastly higher subject of the spiritual culture of the human mind.” He gives a sad picture of the intemperance and other evils which he found prevailing among them, especially in the Highlands. At the upper end of a long strath, for example, there lived a parish minister who was scarcely ever known to be sober. Another parish was a preserve of smugglers, whose rendezvous was the kirk, where the little barrels of Highland whisky were concentrated before despatch to the south. Further north, Dr. Duff found himself the inhabitant of a room in the manse which was curiously stained. On asking an explanation he was told that, as the most secure place, the attics had long been the storehouse of the smugglers of Hollands and small sacks of salt. … The manse had been arranged for the purpose of receiving the contraband articles, which were hoisted up by a pulley swung from a hook projecting from the window in the high-pointed gable. The plaster of the roof below was saturated with salt, which appeared in moist weather.”
With such men as its representatives, religion itself must have been in danger of dying out, and in such parishes one can well understand how cordially the Disruption was welcomed by the most earnest-minded among the people. “The restraints and delicacies of the old parochial system,” says Dr. Grierson of Errol,(857) “have been removed. The Gospel has been fully and energetically proclaimed in many a neighbourhood and many a house to which it had been practically denied.”
In entering on their work, Free Church ministers in such localities had sometimes strange evidence presented to them of how much their services were needed.
Dr. G. Ramsay Davidson – Lady Glenorchyʼs, Edinburgh – mentions a singular welcome which he met with in the North, on entering a private house for the purpose of holding a religious service. “An old woman, a warm sympathiser with our work, accosted me – ʻCome awaʼ, sir, weel a wat yeʼre welcome here! Aye, yeʼre like your work,ʼ – looking hard at him, – ʻyeʼre no like the red-cheekit anes that we hae here aboot.ʼ”(858)
Mr. Hutchison of Uddingston, afterwards of Johnstone, had gone among the iron-workers of an Ayrshire parish, and tells how on meeting one of the miners, and asking what religious denomination he belonged to, the man replied with all frankness: “I belong to the horse religion.” “Well,” said Mr. Hutchison, “I know a little of the different religious sects, but that is one I never heard of. What may its tenets be?” Again the man frankly answered: “Work aʼ week and grass iʼ the Sabbath.” It was a state of matters calling for the most energetic efforts, and it was not long before a Free Church congregation began vigorous operations in the place.
In a rural parish in the North, a minister who had preached with much acceptance reports the impressive saying of one of the people. At the close of his service, an old man came up and said: “Sir, we were but ill prepared here for the Disruption. We were in a sad state when it occurred, but it has given us a chance of eternal life,” – a simple remark which came home with startling effect on the mind of the preacher.
Even before the Disruption, there were parishes in which the preaching of evangelical ministers was hailed with delight as a foretaste of better things. “I remember when I was a boy,” writes Mr. Hall, farmer at Braehead of Leslie, Aberdeenshire, in a letter to Dr. G. Ramsay Davidson, “any time that you, Mr. Manson of Fyvie, or Mr. Garioch of Old Meldrum, got into the pulpit, the tremendous difference I felt. I do not mean to say that I distinguished between the Gospel truths spoken by you, and the dry moral nonsense – neither law nor Gospel – we were accustomed to; but your intense earnest manner and the grasp it took of my soul, together with the remarks of my parents going home, brought me in love with the evangelical ministers, which has never for one moment cooled, and never will while reason retains her seat.”
The urgent requests made for the services of such ministers pressed heavily on their energies. “When I look back,” says Dr. G. Ramsay Davidson,(859) “on the incessant demands made on my time and strength in those days, and from so many quarters, I marvel now how I possibly could have stood it. By notes I have in my possession, I find that, on one occasion, I rode on horseback more than forty miles and preached three times the same day. Returning on Saturday from Rhynie, where I had been preaching, and doing like work in other parishes during the week, I had just remarked to my wife that this would never do – I must now give the bulk of my work to my own people. On reaching home, however, I found ʻa man from Culsalmond waiting for me, entreating me to come over on the morrow, for there would be a great gathering.ʼ I objected so far as I could, reminding he himself had a brother, a probationer – why not send him? This, he said, was out of the question: the people would be so disappointed. It was the first Sabbath of the year, and I had resolved to preach to my own people at Drumblade. Finally, we settled it that his brother should come over to preach to my people in the morning, and announce that I should preach in the afternoon. When I reached Culsalmond, I found such a concourse gathered that the grain loft intended for the service would not nearly accommodate them. There was nothing for it, therefore, but that I must preach in an open stack-yard, the snow falling the most of the time. I blessed God for that service, for many were not merely impressed at the time, but I have had reported to me by letter, years after I removed to Edinburgh, the saving fruits of that day.”
As the town of Keith was the most important in Strathbogie, special attention was directed to it, and for the first celebration of the ordinance of the Lordʼs Supper a select number of elders were sent to officiate. “I do not remember the whole, but I know that James Hog, Esq. of Newliston, L. Craigie, Esq. of Glendoick, and Robert Bruce, Esq. of Kennet, were of the number. On one of the days I preached in the gardens adjoining. The subject was the call and conversion of Zacchaeus. On describing the scene of Christʼs approach and his address to Zacchseus in the tree, being in the open air, and seeing close by a tree of thick foliage, I said, naturally enough, that it might be such a tree as that to which I pointed. I observed a peculiar look and smile pass over the countenances of my hearers, which I could not understand at the time; but it turned out that one of the Old Church adherents, anxious to spy the land, had been discovered by them perched within the branches of this very tree, to which, unconscious of his presence, I had pointed, and I was told that for long afterwards he was known by the name of “Zacchaeus.”
“I preached the action sermon from a tent placed on the market muir outside the town, and then adjourned to hold the table services in a Secession church, kindly placed at our disposal for the day. I was assisted on that and the other days by the Rev. David Thorburn, of Leith; Mr. Davidson, of Broughty-Ferry; and Mr. Patrick Miller, afterwards of Dundee. It proved a most interesting and solemn occasion. On the Thursday before serving out tokens, every room in the house we occupied was filled with anxious men and women, many of the stoutest men in tears, confessing their past sins, and the sin especially of unworthy communicating. The place was verily a Bochim.”
For some time after the Disruption, all that the Church could do was required to meet the spiritual wants of her own adherents; but in 1846 it was felt that some systematic effort must be made to reach the outside rural population. Twelve ministers were sent on a preaching tour among the more necessitous districts, and after the work of a month reported that, besides private pastoral visitation, 240 sermons had been preached, and with results so encouraging that next season the number of deputies was increased. It was the commencement of a work which has since continued and been prosecuted with much success.
Sometimes the reports of the deputies disclosed a sad state of religious destitution. In one of the mining districts, for example, a population of 70,000 were found living together, among whom, it was reported, there was almost universal deadness in regard to spiritual things. “I have visited thirty or forty families in a row of houses, not three of whom went to any church. Many who once attended church elsewhere, had given it up. Their state is truly deplorable. One cannot overrate the necessity of such districts being energetically dealt with. I preached forty-five times, in churches, schoolrooms, and the open air.”(860)
The work required peculiar qualifications in the preacher. “It must be an earnest, aggressive agency. You must carry the Gospel to them: they will not come to you for it. You must go and seek them in their own homes at meal times; in the evening, after their dayʼs toil is over; at the forge, the furnace, the mine head, the quarry. You must continue patiently and lovingly to seek them, before you will find them for good, and lead them to God and to His house, and His holy heaven.”(861)
It may be right to give an example of how these operations were carried on. “I began on the 14th July, and continued to the 28th of same month. During these two weeks I visited 300 houses, spending more or less time with the resident families. I had the opportunity of preaching fourteen times, twelve times out-of-doors and twice under roof. The audiences varied from 80 to 150. On one occasion there were 250 present, and on another no fewer than 820 in attendance – mostly all the class sought – viz., non-church-goers. It was deeply interesting to watch the appearance and behaviour of these people. The countenances of some of them betokened the vacancy of their minds, and plainly showed that they had long been unused to a preached Gospel. Others seemed anxious to understand the meaning of the words spoken, and looked as if they were comprehending it. A few shed tears, as if the remembrance of other days were melting their hearts. Indeed, the large majority were most attentive, and appeared to be most impressible, so that one could not but rejoice to have such a soil on which to cast the good seed of the kingdom.
“These out-of-door meetings are becoming well understood in the neighbourhood. Soon as the preacher arrives in the evening, at the row or the square where he has been visiting during the day, some one is ready to bring out a table and a chair for his use. All at once the people begin to gather – women with their stools, workmen without their coats, little children in groups. By the time the psalm is sung, and a short prayer offered, your congregation is assembled, and arranged in all possible postures and attitudes. One seats himself on the ground, another lies on it as if he were about to swim, a third reclines on a hedge or leans on a wall, while a fourth stands bolt upright, and fixes his eyes upon you during the whole of the service. All are respectful, and usually, at the close of the exercises, some of the hearers remain to express their thanks and invite you back again. On one occasion, a few papists stood at a little distance and made a considerable noise, as if for the purpose of disturbing us. No attention was paid to the interruption, and it soon ceased. On another occasion, two drunken men placed themselves a few yards from my table and commenced to utter all sorts of discordant sounds. I was very much put out. At length, a sturdy-looking labourer in the audience removed the two disturbers to a neighbouring house, and returned to his place. All the while, the attention of the people was never lost. I mention these circumstances to show the thorough hold we get of these out-door audiences.
“The last meeting I addressed was the most interesting I ever saw. I had said to the people the evening before, that I had seen habits and practices among them about which I should like to speak to them before leaving. At the hour appointed there were upwards of 120 working men present, besides women and children.
“The evil practices discoursed upon were drunkenness, profane swearing, Sabbath breaking, neglect of public ordinances, family mismanagement, &c. All present were living in one or more of these sins. Still they listened with much apparent earnestness to a very plain condemnation of them. May God lead to a forsaking of these great evils.”(862)
Sometimes strange incidents served to test the earnestness both of preacher and hearers. “I preached a third time,” says another, “in the open air. About an hour before the service commenced, we had a heavy thunder-shower, so that I feared we could not expect a large audience on the wet grass; but, on proceeding to the green, I found a more formidable obstacle in the way. The spot which I intended to occupy was in possession of a clown and harlequin, who were surrounded by a dense circle of gaping and wondering auditors, while peals of laughter from time to time showed that their interest was awakened, and that they were not in the fittest state of mind for listening to things belonging to their everlasting peace. I resolved, however, to make the attempt, and took my station within 100 yards from the crowd, so that the two speakers could distinctly hear the sound of each otherʼs voices. On giving out the first psalm a slight shower fell, and strange to say, whether it was owing to one or both of these causes, the clownʼs circle was immediately broken up, and not only his whole audience but himself, after washing the paint from his face and slipping off his fantastic dress, came to hear the sermon, and waited patiently and listened attentively till the service was concluded. Finding that the ground was deserted, I immediately took possession of it. The number present could not be less than 300, and most of them were men. I never saw a more attentive audience, and several young men especially attracted my notice by their earnest and eager looks. It was a scene that would have warmed the coldest heart, and roused the most sluggish spirit.”(863)
There were great benefits arising out of this work, not only to the people but to the ministers who were engaged in it. “They were all in great danger,” as Dr. Main, of St. Maryʼs, said, “of falling into a routine perfunctory style in the discharge of duty, satisfied with doing their best without aiming directly and immediately at the conversion of the souls of men. He knew nothing so fitted to shake a man out of that style as to set him with the highway for his pulpit and the open firmament of heaven for his canopy, to deal face to face with men whom he had never seen before and might never see again, having but a few short days to dwell among them. He is made to feel that whatever he means to do, he must do with all his might. A man in that position is driven back to the great central truths of the glorious Gospel, and to bring these to bear directly and immediately on the consciences and hearts of men. He would cease to reason before them and begin to reason with them in the way of earnest and pleading importunity, striving to prevail with the people in regard to preaching, just as the old patriarch did in regard to praying, – for as the one hung on the Almighty and said he would not let Him go unless He blessed him, so would the other hang on the people, unwilling to let them go until they had surrendered their hearts to the Lord Jesus.”(864)
In this way, what Mr. MʼNaughtan, then of Paisley, says of Dr. Macfarlane, of Renfrew, was equally true of many of his brethren: – “The Disruption produced a most evident and, I believe, a most beneficial change in the pulpit ministrations of our beloved friend. His style of address became decidedly more popularised. From the cast of his mind, his discourses had been somewhat metaphysical in their structure. His new position, however, – the necessity of addressing men in barns, in fields, and on the mountain side, – seemed wondrously to simplify his style of thought and manner of expression and hence, while his sermons gained largely in the qualities that rendered them more generally useful, they lost nothing of that richness of illustration, that depth of thought and fulness of exposition, that rendered them so acceptable to the scholar and the advanced Christian.”(865)
One other example we give, from the experience of one of the deputies, Mr. Cormick, of Kirriemuir, a youthful minister whose early death was a cause of lamentation to many. He had gone, on the 16th July, 1848, on a preaching deputation, returning home on 9th August, after conducting service twenty-eight times. “So far as God gave me grace,” he says, “I endeavoured, with all the tenderness and earnestness in my power, to deal with the souls of men, in order that all who heard the Word from my mouth might be led to serious consideration of the things that pertained to their peace. What the result will be, the day will declare; but if there has been even one soul awakened and brought to Christ, I will rejoice.” “I preached thirteen times in the open air. After sermon I distributed some tracts, and spoke to the people as often as I could about their souls. This gave me an opportunity of knowing something of their spiritual state.” The whole district, so far as I could discover, is very barren. Oh, what a call is made to us ministers, to preach for eternity!(866)
The work carried on in this spirit might well be expected to be crowned with success. Instead, however, of giving any general statements on the subject, it may be best to take one or two actual examples of how the good seed took root even in the most unpromising localities.
Among the ironworkers at Muirkirk, Ayrshire, the beginnings of the movement were discouraging. After the Disruption, the parish was visited by Mr. Hutchison of Uddingston, who preached and gave addresses. A few of the people were formed into an association to see what they could do in the way of providing for ordinances; but at first the success was not great. Between the 2nd August and 25th September they had collected a sum of only 16s. 7d. Still, in the face of difficulties, the work was carried on. In December, Mr. Hutchison dispensed the communion, when about ninety persons joined. Thereafter the appearances were more promising. In March, a prayer meeting was begun; in April, three elders were ordained; in May, a site for a church was got; in July, 120 persons sat down at the communion. On the second Sabbath of April the church was opened, the collection being twenty guineas, and by the end of 1845 they had an earnest minister ordained over the congregation, with 6 elders, 8 deacons, 166 communicants, and the funds steadily increasing.(867)
Another example, very different in its incidents, we take from a rural parish in the North. The minister had belonged to the evangelical party, and had voted with them during the conflict – a good man who had little force of character, and who failed in the day of trial.
In a remote corner of the parish there lived a godly elder, a small farmer, who kept a Sabbath school and was much respected. Along with a few of his neighbours, he left the Establishment at the Disruption, and joined the Free Church in a neighbouring congregation.
“One of the largest farms in the parish was held by a gentleman of the old school, a man of influence in the district. He was a Conservative in politics and wrote ably on that side, and being an elder in the Established Church, he was accustomed to speak much of the duty of holding up the law of the land against the Non-intrusionists. No one could have thought that ere long he himself would take a Free Church station under his wing, give it help, and ultimately become a member. A few months after the Disruption, his eldest daughter was the means of beginning the Free Church movement in the place. An old house was got which had formerly been a dwelling-house, and was then used as a carpenterʼs shop. Preaching was begun, the neighbouring Free Church ministers coming to officiate. The godly elder formerly referred to, along with his neighbours, at once joined, and very soon the old house assumed a new appearance. When first taken possession of, it was rough enough. One half of it formed the carpenterʼs shop, the other half was a byre; so that in conducting the service, the preacher took his stand beside the old, fire-place, he and his audience being in one end of the house, and the cows and straw in the other, with only a wooden partition five feet high between. This was soon changed. The house was cleared, a wing was thrown out, and the whole neatly lined with wood – roof and sides. It looked like a good cabin in a large ship, holding 150 to 200 hearers, and was very comfortable.
“Among others who came to officiate was Dr. MʼLagan, Professor of Divinity in Aberdeen, and on some one remarking to him that children had been born in the old house, he quietly said, in his earnest, beautiful way: – “Well, I hope that of it the Word may be true, – that, in the highest sense, this man, and that man was born there.”
“Ere long the work began more decidedly to take shape. The services of a preacher were obtained, a Sabbath school and Bible class were begun, the number of adherents increased, and the station continued to advance.
“It had been said by the supporters of the Established Church that the whole movement depended on the two elders above referred to, and when the one was “awaʼ and the other was deid, the Free Kirk would come to naething.” Both events occurred. The elder who first joined emigrated to Canada, where, after a long life of Christian usefulness, he died at the age of eighty-two. The latter died a few years after he joined the Free Church, and his family removed from the parish; but the station continued to develop self-sustaining powers. A new Free Church was built, and ere long a comfortable manse was added, and the congregation, with a roll of 150 members, has taken its place as a sanctioned charge of the Free Church.”
It would be easy to multiply examples, showing how, in this way, from small beginnings, the congregations of the Free Church rose into importance. It is of more consequence, however, to refer to the beneficial results of such movements. As an example, we take the experience of a minister settled in 1844, who in 1864 describes the favourable change which he has witnessed. The moral tone of the people, he says, is better. Every way they stand on a higher platform than they did twenty years ago. The social immorality of the district had been advancing at a fearful rate. It is the sin of the district. There have been nineteen illegitimate births last year in the parish, with the population of 2600; but of these nineteen only two were in connection with the Free Church congregation, which numbers about 1260 of the population. For the last two or three years the above is the proportion of illegitimate births in our congregation. “The sin of drunkenness has greatly decreased in the district. I believe it is less by one-half within these twenty years. We have not a public-house in the parish, only a good inn. Twenty years ago, there were six public-houses, besides the inn.”(868)
It was not the mere multiplying of congregations, or adding to the number of adherents that was the object at which the Free Church aimed – it was the conversion of sinners and the awakening of a warmer spiritual life among professing Christians who belonged to her communion.
Sir A. Agnew
Appeals by Mr. Nixon and Dr. Chalmers
One of the first subjects in connection with which the revived life of the Church showed itself was the desire for a more strict observance of the Lordʼs Day. Not long before the Disruption the Christian public of Scotland had been agitated by the proposal to open the railways for Sabbath traffic, and no sooner had the Free Church made good her position in the country than the question was zealously taken up. The Scottish Church had from the first in her catechisms and Confession laid down the duty of Sabbath observance more fully than any of the other Churches of the Reformation, and in practice there had been a corresponding strictness among the people. To a great extent, indeed, this had begun to be relaxed, but when the Disruption took place the hope was fondly cherished in many quarters that the event might be the means of bringing back much of the spirit and practice of better days.
It might seem indeed as if the change of 1843 had placed the Free Church at a disadvantage. Parish ministers had, or were supposed to have, a certain power of legally enforcing the duty of Sabbath observance, and this of course had passed out of their hands. It was soon felt, however, that in the Free Church they really stood on a higher platform, when they rested their appeals, not on the ground of Statute law, but on the claims of morality and religion, and on the duty which men owed to their own souls and to God. It was well known, indeed, that the most zealous friends of Sabbath observance had usually been found among the Seceders. “In our boyhood,” Dr. Candlish said, “dissenter was another name for one who was peculiarly strict in his observance of the Lordʼs Day.” This view had been confirmed at a former period by a prominent minister of the Established Church, Dr. Irvine of Dunkeld. “I think,” he says, writing in 1810, “the members of the Secession are, generally speaking, more attentive to the sanctification of the Lordʼs Day than others. I am afraid some of us are rather lax in this respect, and God knows I do not exempt myself from blame. As our Church is sanctioned by law, we might, if we did not fear to offend men, with more propriety call upon the magistrate to do his duty. But from one reason of expediency and another time passes on, the evil increases, morals are corrupting, piety is undermined, and society ripening for heavy chastisements.”(869)
At the Glasgow Assembly of 1843, Sir Andrew Agnew, one of the noblest of our Christian patriots, who had unflinchingly in Parliament upheld the cause of the Sabbath, made a powerful appeal, urging ministers and people to “give life to the excellent standards” of the Church. It was the zeal of the Free Church for the Sabbath that made him love her. To Principal Fairbairn, then of Salton, the Assembly was indebted for a singularly able report on the subject, as judicious in its recommendations as it was powerful in its appeals. The Free Church, he showed, owed it to her people to make known her views for their guidance. It was due also to other Churches that she should define her position; standing conspicuous as she did in the view of Christendom, her testimony on the Sabbath question could not fail to be influential over a wide circle. Accordingly the great principles on which the duty of Sabbath observance rests were distinctly set forth, and the ground was laid for any subsequent procedure which might be necessary. Thus from the first year of our Churchʼs separation from the State she was enabled to show her concern for the due observance of the Lordʼs Day.
Two years afterwards the struggle began. The railway system was on the eve of a great development, connecting us more closely with England, and bringing laxer ideas and new influences to bear on Scotland. Plausible reasons were given for running a single Sabbath train. Then, after the minds of men had become familiarised with it, a second was added, and so the evil gradually advanced, threatening to break down the sacredness of the Lordʼs Day as hitherto observed in Scotland. “I feel the thing in my own mind,” Dr. Candlish exclaimed; “I desire to strive and pray against it.” On the general population the sight of these railway trains traversing the great lines of traffic, and penetrating every district of the country, could not fail to have a most injurious effect.
In view of such dangers, Christians of different denominations combined, resolving to use all their influence to arrest the evil. At one time it seemed as if there were good prospects of success. In 1847, the directors of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway resolved to stop the trains hitherto running, and the following year the Scottish Central opened with the resolution that no Sabbath traffic should be allowed on their line.
In the Free Church Assembly these announcements were joyfully welcomed, but it soon appeared that such rejoicing was premature – the progress of adverse influences was too powerful, and railway trains were soon running where they had been stopped. The battle, however, was not given up. “It is not for the servants of God,” Mr. Fairbairn said, “to despair(870) but resolutely to work, doing what they can to leaven the public mind with sound principles,” so that, if the Sabbath traffic cannot be altogether arrested, it may be restrained and its evils minimised.
In connection with the Post-Office, also, various efforts were made. In 1848 there were – besides letter-carriers – about 1000 persons employed in the post-offices of Scotland, and three-fourths of these had to work on Sabbaths. As if this were not enough, an attempt was made to introduce a Sabbath delivery of letters in Edinburgh all over the town; but on this occasion the friends of Sabbath observance were successful – all classes of the community rising to resist it.(871) In 1850, when Lord Ashley brought in a bill to abolish Sabbath work in the post-offices throughout the kingdom, the Town Councils of Glasgow and Edinburgh petitioned in favour of it – the former unanimously; while in the Edinburgh Merchant Company the same motion was carried by a majority of 60 to 13. Such movements were not confined to any denomination, but the Free Church put forth all her influence in their support.
The whole subject excited the liveliest interest. Almost every Synod had its separate committee charged to watch over the observance of the Lordʼs Day in the district. An annual sermon was appointed to be preached on the same day all over the Church. Young Menʼs Sabbath Observance Societies were formed, the more energetic members of the congregation being thus enlisted in the cause; and from time to time the subject was brought forward in tracts and pastoral addresses distributed among the people.
In this way the Church sought to do her duty as guardian of the sacredness of the Lordʼs Day. The pulpit, the platform, and the press were all called into requisition. The object was to have the claims of this great cause made to take a firmer hold on the minds and consciences of the people – setting forth the principles involved, in such a way as to raise the standard of Sabbath observance. It was thus, by exercising her influence for good, and not by appealing to the law of the land, that the Free Church strove to meet the evils of railway trains and post-office work. If the minds of her own members could only be imbued with right views and feelings, and if in their own lives there was consistent Sabbath observance, they were sufficiently numerous and influential to make the power of their example to be felt in the land. Year after year the subject occupied a large share of attention at the meetings of the Assembly. It was felt that Scotland and the Free Church were on their trial. The due observance of the Lordʼs Day was an object the importance of which it was impossible to over-estimate. “Everything dear to us,” Mr. Nixon exclaimed, “is at stake. What but the Sabbath keeps up the knowledge, worship, and fear of God in the land? What but it preserves in remembrance the finished work and glorious resurrection of Christ? What else can secure the cultivation and practice of all the personal and social virtues? What else can be so efficacious an instrument in leading the people to prepare for death, and for the services and joys of heaven? No one can exaggerate the calamities which would follow the destruction of our Scottish Sabbath. If the Sabbath depart from us, the religion and morality of our people will depart along with it. The favour of God, which has hitherto rested so remarkably on our beloved country, will forsake it, and it will go down under His just displeasure.(872)
The alarm with which Dr. Chalmers viewed the encroachments of Sabbath desecration in the country was emphatically expressed: “It should be recollected,” he said, “that there is not a peasantry in Europe who have been so trained by the good old habits and observances of other days to look on the Sabbath as forming an integral part of Christianity, or in whose minds the Sabbath law is so bound up and associated with the obligations of deepest sacredness. You cannot, therefore, bring down this law from its wonted authority without an utter dislocation, or rather dissolution, of the religious character of the people of Scotland, and the inevitable result on every principle of human nature must be a more rapid and ruinous degeneracy than perhaps has ever taken place in the melancholy decline of communities and nations from the virtues of their older and better times.”(873)
Impressed by these views, the Free Church has not ceased to call on all her ministers, office-bearers, and members to maintain and defend the sacredness of the Lordʼs Day. Privately, in the intercourse of domestic and social life – publicly, by means of all the influence and efforts which could be brought to bear, it was their duty to maintain this great cause with which so many interests were bound up. In view of the world – in view of all the Churches – they were bound to honour the “Lord of the Sabbath,” – to “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”
House of Commons appealed to
In close connection with Sabbath observance, the subject of Intemperance was earnestly taken up. In our larger towns especially, the desecration of the Lordʼs Day and the degeneracy of the masses was to a large extent due to the drinking habits of the people. Thus, in Glasgow it was ascertained, as the result of careful inquiry, that on the evening of Sabbath, 22nd November, 1846, there were 1337 places open for the sale of intoxicating drink, and many of the scenes witnessed in these dram shops and spirit shops were deplorable. The evils of drunkenness, especially in connection with Sabbath desecration, were “simply appalling.”
Already the subject had been pressed on the General Assembly. In one of the earlier reports on the state of religion, intemperance was denounced as the great hindrance to the spread of the Gospel; the Free Church was reminded that her very position demanded that she should deal with this stumbling-block; she was a city set on an hill, and some testimony as regards this crying evil was due to society, and due to her own members, if she would be faithful to the cause of her great Master.(874)
In 1846 the subject was again brought forward, and the Assembly was reminded that the Free Church was the Church of the people – that her own members were anxiously watching her movements; and others interested in the temperance cause were looking wistfully to see whether some decided step would be taken. Accordingly, a day was appointed on which all the ministers were enjoined to preach on the subject, and a tract warning the people against the evils of intemperance was prepared for distribution at the same time.
Again, in 1847, a still more decided course was taken. Immediately before the meeting of Assembly a conference was held of those ministers and elders who were specially interested in the cause, and it was resolved to ask the Assembly to appoint a standing committee charged with the duty of dealing with the subject. The language of the report becomes more emphatic. Intemperance stands in the way of every attempt to reclaim the irreligious. In many cases it is not unlike the demoniacal possessions common during our Lordʼs public ministry. Something must be done to cast out the demon of drunkenness. The Free Church is spoken of as standing between the living and the dead; “God seems in a very pointed and impressive manner to be saying to this Assembly: ʻCast ye up; cast ye up; prepare the way; take the stumbling-block out of the way of my people!ʼ”
To give effect to these views, the Committee was strengthened, and from time to time various suggestions were offered. Temperance societies and abstinence societies had for many years been at work, and in all their best efforts we ought to bid them God speed. For the Church, however, in her Assemblies and other courts, it was necessary carefully to consider what was incumbent. Dr. Cunningham, speaking as one who had long supported the temperance cause, laid down the principle that the Church, in her character as a Church, should abstain from broaching schemes or plans except in so far as they had the express sanction of Godʼs word.(875) It was the duty of the Church to give more attention to the subject than she had yet done, in order that she might see her way calmly, deliberately, and conscientiously, to the adoption of the principles and plans of action best fitted for dealing with the evils of prevailing intemperance.
Year after year the subject was brought forward, and different lines of action were suggested.
The Committee of the Assembly was enlarged in order to have in every Synod a sectional committee instructed to counteract the evils of drunkenness, each in its own district seeking at the same time to enlist the sympathies of the general public in the cause of temperance.
The House of Commons was approached with a view to having a better licensing system introduced.
The ministers of the Church were enjoined to give prominence, in their pulpit ministrations, to the Scriptural denunciations of the sin of drunkenness.
Kirk-sessions were called upon to exercise greater faithfulness in dealing with such offences, guarding the purity of the Church and her members from such vicious indulgence.
Ministers, and office-bearers, and people were solemnly admonished to give the testimony of their personal example in favour of temperance, leading lives of strict sobriety, and bringing all their influence to bear for the suppression of the enormous evils of intemperance.
Thus the Free Church, in the commencement of her work, sought to deal with this gigantic evil, which every one felt was the great obstacle in the way of all movements for the moral and religious welfare of the community. It was impossible to contemplate without the deepest pain that widespread ruin which intemperance was causing among large masses of a degraded population – its fatal influence in paralysing and making of no effect the efforts of the Church and the ministry of the Gospel. The great duty lying on all Christians to combat these evils has been steadily kept in view, and never has it been more deeply felt than it is at the present day. As time passes on, men are becoming more alive to the great urgency of the demand that the whole Church should combine in one united movement, striving, by their efforts and their prayers, to suppress the widespread evils of intemperance.
Mr. William Dickson appointed Convener
A New Departure in 1869
New Yearʼs Contributions
During the first year of her separate existence, amidst the toils and cares of the Disruption, the Free Church was enabled to show the deep interest which she took in Sabbath schools. When her great scheme for week-day scriptural education was set up in May, 1843, a committee was at the same time appointed with instructions to “direct special attention to Sabbath schools as one of the stated congregational means of grace.” At the Glasgow Assembly in October the subject was again referred to, and in 1844, amidst the fervour which followed the memorable sermon of Dr. Charles Brown, a report was given in, and a memorial was at the same time presented from 176 male teachers in Edinburgh, calling attention to the great importance of the work.
During the following year efforts were made to obtain fuller information, and returns were received from 420 congregations, who reported that they had 916 Sabbath schools in operation, with 50,472 scholars and 4248 teachers, while in not a few cases manifest tokens of spiritual blessing were spoken of in connection with the work.
Again, in 1846, progress was reported by the Convener, Mr. Manson, who described the deep and prayerful interest awakened throughout the Church, and the large amount of earnest labour which was devoted to Sabbath schools. At that time, however, it was felt – as ever since it has been – that the work of the Committee was not so much “to undertake separate operations of their own” as to endeavour “to excite a deeper interest in the spiritual welfare of the young,” keeping the subject before kirk-sessions and the higher courts of the Church.
In 1849, a change took place, when Dr. Candlish was appointed Convener, with Mr. Maitland Heriot of Ramornie as Vice-Convener. Fresh energy was thrown into the work. Presbyteries were corresponded with to stir up their interest; ministers were appointed to preach to the young; normal classes were formed for the training of inexperienced teachers; helpful books were supplied to the teachers and cheap Bibles to the scholars, and aid was given for the formation of libraries; and last, not least, the editing of the Childrenʼs Record, which had been begun in 1845, was in 1850 entrusted to Mr. William Dickson, whose life-long labours have been devoted in its pages to the godly upbringing of the young.
It was not long, however, till Mr. Dickson was called to take a more prominent place, having been induced in 1855, on the personal solicitation of Dr. Candlish, to undertake the Convenership of the Committee. The difficulty which hampered every movement was the want of funds, and for some time little could be done beyond issuing an occasional circular, gathering statistics, and presenting an annual report to the Assembly.
In 1860-61, a season of revival came – a time of blessing for Scotland; a marked work of grace appeared among the young, and at once the interest of the Church in her Sabbath schools received a new impulse.
One effect of this was seen in 1868, when the Assembly took the strong step of enjoining ministers, presbyteries, and synods to see that complete returns of the work should be sent up from year to year. This injunction took effect, and Mr. Dickson, in the report of 1869, was able to begin a practice which more than anything else has stimulated and advanced this department of the Churchʼs work. In the annual schedule of queries, information had been asked on all points affecting the management of the schools – how the teachers were trained – the lessons prepared – prayer meetings held – missionary contributions raised – the Childrenʼs Record circulated – what hopeful indications there were of spiritual results, &c. &c. On these and many other points, statements were received full of most valuable details, setting forth the methods which had been found most effective in the different localities.
But how was all this information to be turned to account? It occurred to Mr. Dickson that the most important hints and practical suggestions scattered through the various returns might be digested and classified, and embodied in the Annual Report in such a way as to awaken the interest of the Church. No sooner was this done than Mr. Kidston of Ferniegair, himself a veteran Sabbath-school teacher, on reading that first report (1869), saw the importance of putting a copy into the hands of each of the teachers who were actually engaged in the work, and at once offered to defray the needful expense. The practice thus begun has ever since been continued, and in this way every practical hint which the yearly report contains – many of them fresh and suggestive – has been brought under the notice of every teacher, all new ideas of any practical value being at once made known in every Sabbath school throughout the Church. The Report now embraces returns from more than 3000 Sabbath schools and Bible-classes, and is put into the hands of 17,000 teachers. In many cases it has been the custom, shortly after the Report has been circulated, for the minister to have a conference with his teachers for the purpose of going over the suggestions, and considering how far any of them might be utilised in their own school. The work has come to be one of no common magnitude, and the results have been in the highest degree advantageous.
It may not be without interest to record the names of those generous friends of the cause who have year by year enabled the Church to present all her Sabbath-school teachers with this small but kindly recognition of their loving labours –
1870 Mr. W. Henderson, Aberdeen.
1871 Mr. John Muir, Glasgow.
1872 Mr. James Stevenson, Glasgow.
1873 Mr. P. D. Swan, Kirkcaldy.
1874 Mr. John Cowan, Beeslack.
1875 Mr. George Martin, Auchindennan.
1876 Mr. Robert Watt, Airdrie.
1878 Lord Kintore.
1879 Mr. James S. Napier, Glasgow.
1880 Professor Simpson, Edinburgh.
1881 Mr. James White, Overtoun.
1882 Mr. George F. Barbour, Bonskeid.
In tracing the history of the movement, as shown in the reports, and in the yearly statement of the Convener to the General Assembly, there are various respects in which a marked improvement may be observed.
Details cannot here be given, but one or two points of interest may be noted.
In the training of teachers, for example, and the preparation of lessons, a great advance has been made. At first one great cause of discouragement was the difficulty, especially in remote and small congregations, of procuring properly qualified teachers. The choice seemed to lie between engaging some who were but ill fitted for the work, and having no Sabbath school at all. Year by year that want is being rapidly remedied. Ministers are training teachers for themselves. A ʻpreparation meeting,ʼ on a week evening, is very commonly held, for going over the lesson, and otherwise promoting intelligence and efficiency. It is interesting to observe that for several years past, this old complaint, so common in former reports, is not once to be found.
Another gratifying circumstance is the increase in numbers and in religious earnestness. In the report presented to the Assembly, 1882, it was shown that the Free Church had then more than 17,000 Sabbath-school teachers, and more than 200,000 young people under Bible instruction.
“That our numbers should have gone on so to increase, in the face of such influences as many of our Sabbath schools are exposed to, is a fact that may well arrest the attention of the Church, even if regarded merely as a means of feeding her congregations, and ultimately of reinforcing her office-bearers and her ministry. But, as we were impressively reminded in the Moderatorʼs opening address, mere numbers in a Church, or in a department of Christian work, are of themselves no necessary sign of prosperity. Important as those figures are, there is an element manifest throughout this report which cannot but be regarded as a far deeper and surer ground of encouragement. I refer to the earnest scriptural tone of the teaching which is brought to bear upon that great multitude of young people. Everywhere in that teaching, as the report so clearly shows, there is perceptible the throb, the glow, the yearning prayerfulness of soul-seeking spiritual life. For this, far more than even for our numbers, though these are this year higher than they have ever been before, have we not cause to thank God and take courage? Prayer, prayer, everywhere prayer, seems to be the watchword among our Sabbath schools.
“Much of this progress, both in practical efficiency and in earnestness of spirit, is, doubtless, to be accounted for, under God, by the great increase of interest shown in the young, not only by the Church generally, but by individual ministers. One can remember when many of our Sabbath schools were very much left to take care of themselves; when a request for an address to the children was too often met by the answer, ʻOh, children are not in my way; I donʼt know how to speak to children.ʼ But now in this work, turn where we will, we find the minister at the front, encouraging, fostering, directing. Do we not in this see the precious fruit of the training through which, now almost universally, our students pass, by the Sabbath school and missionary work engaged in during their theological course?
“A student thus continuing in his prayerful care and personal dealing may find, when he leaves the Divinity Hall, and leaves his scholars, that while engaged in this humble work, he has been passing through a course of pastoral practice, and of pastoral theology, which is likely to be of use to him all the days of his life. It is after an experience something like this that many of our students now pass on to the work of the ministry. If this be so, can we wonder that it should soon show itself in our Sabbath schools? No longer kept away by a painful consciousness of inability to interest, the minister loves to be where the children are, for he has found it to be the bit of his vineyard which, as it were, lies most sweetly to the sun. And then, what a joy he finds in sustaining and being sustained by the sympathy of his fellow-labourers! He knows the heart of a Sabbath-school teacher, for he has been a Sabbath-school teacher himself.”(877)
Better accommodation for our Sabbath schools is another matter about which, in recent years, some stir has been made. The remonstrance was not without reason, and good has come of it. While much consideration, and rightly, was given to the comfort of a church, almost any place, however inconvenient, was thought good enough for a Sabbath school. In 1876, the case was thus put before the Assembly. “Many, especially of our missionary schools, are held in places utterly unfit for the purpose; ill-lighted, ill-ventilated, depressing alike to teachers and to scholars. A case was discovered by the Assemblyʼs evangelistic deputies last autumn, where a Free Church elder had kept a Sabbath school for thirty years with no better accommodation than a cave in a rock on the shores of Argyleshire. Things ought not so to be. If the teacher gives his love and his labour, surely the Church should see to his proper accommodation. The Sabbath school, like the visible Church, has a body as well as a soul. It is well for us to say to it, ʻDepart in peace, be ye warmed and filled;ʼ but if, notwithstanding, we give them not those things which are needful for the body, what doth it profit? Let kirk-sessions, in their care for the schools, see that the best available accommodation be provided; and let deaconsʼ courts see that rents and all expenses are paid, and not left to come out of the pocket of the teacher, as hitherto has sometimes been the case. When a new church is built, let the Assemblyʼs Building Committee, and all contributors, stipulate that there shall be a fit place for the Sabbath school. We donʼt turn our cellars into nurseries; are we not glad rather when we can give up the brightest room in the house for the little ones? Shall the Church do less for her children?”(878)
There is no feature in this whole movement, however, more remarkable than the care taken to foster among the young an interest in the cause of Missions. Even in the first report, given in by Mr. Lewis at the Assembly of 1844, this was put in the foreground. Every Sabbath school, he said, ought to be in fact a juvenile missionary association. If they hoped to realise the character of a Missionary Church, it would be by beginning at the beginning – infusing with the first breath of spiritual life into our children the missionary spirit. It might surprise those not in the habit of reflecting on what Dr. Chalmers called ʻthe power of littlesʼ to learn that the children had raised upwards of £500 for the Orphan Refuge in India, besides their contributions to other missionary schemes.(879) The keynote thus early struck has been faithfully followed up. By facts and incidents conveyed through the Childrenʼs Record, it has been sought to make the young familiar with our missions and missionaries, and thereby to foster an intelligent interest in the whole mission work of the Church. As regards juvenile contributions, the result has been remarkable. The amount for all missionary purposes raised during the year by the children, and reported for 1881-82, was £4806, 0s. 2d., being nearly £300 in excess of the previous year. This is inclusive of a “New Year Offering” of £648, 2s. 4d. for Medical Mission Buildings at Madras. For these “New Year Offerings” on behalf of special objects, the contributions of the young people, in response to appeals made to them through the Childrenʼs Record during the thirteen years ending 1882, have been as follows:
1867 Waggons for Nagpore £315
1870 School for Lovedale, South Africa £312
1871 Mr. Narayan Sheshadriʼs “Bethel” at Jalna £334
1873 Jewish Mission Girlsʼ School at Constantinople £633
1874 Iron Mission Church, Baillieston £670
1875 Hospital for Santal Mission £840
1876 Waggons for Africa £1005
1877 School and Dispensary for Lebanon £750
1878 Childrenʼs Books for Waldenses and Bohemia £800
1879 Steamer and Cloth for Livingstonia £532
1880 Home and Printing Press for Poona Orphans £600
1881 New “Floating Bethel”for Genoa £725
1882 Medical Mission Hall, Madras £648
“Besides the great material help thus supplied to these various missions, and to the comfort of the missionaries, can it be doubted that the collecting of that £8000 must have had an important educational effect upon those who collected it? Is it nought that the children of the Free Church should be remembered, as they very surely are, with gratitude and affection by native communities in so many distant parts of the mission field and of the world?”(880)
Up to 1869, when the statistics began to be annually printed, it is difficult to ascertain correctly the amount of the juvenile contributions. But for the fifteen years from 1869 to 1883, as shown in the yearly reports, the givings of the children of the Church, for all missionary purposes, have together amounted to considerably more than fifty-two thousand eight hundred pounds.
Looking back now on those forty years of Sabbath-school work in the Free Church, no one can fail to observe the advance which has been made, and the different position in which the whole subject now stands. It has been the aim of the Committee to have these schools of the Church incorporated as an integral part of her regular ecclesiastical organisation, and this has now been practically accomplished. All over the Church the cause is being cared for and fostered, and returns sent in from kirk-sessions, presbyteries, and synods. These returns form the basis of the yearly reports, in which the work, in all its breadth and importance, is from year to year presented before the view of the General Assembly.
And other significant signs may be seen of the ever-deepening interest which is taken in the young. In the stated pulpit services of the Sabbath, for example, there is now usually a portion for the children. And at family worship on Sabbath mornings, a practice, recommended by the General Assembly (1868), is very commonly observed in households belonging to the Free Church – prayer is specially offered on behalf of Sabbath schools.
But of all these tokens of encouragement, the most remarkable was the appointment by the General Assembly, 1882, of a particular day, – Sabbath, the 5th of November, – in which the whole public services throughout the congregations of the Church should have reference to the young. Never before had such an appointment been made; but more remarkable and more cheering still was the heartiness with which it was taken up, and the impressiveness and success, for the most part, of the services which were held. As years pass on, the interest grows, and more than ever the Church seems to be taking to heart the words of our Lord, “Feed my lambs.”
United Original Seceders in 1852
The Reformed Presbyterians in 1876
Testimony to Free Church Principles
It is remarkable how the Disruption, while directly causing division, was yet the means of healing former breaches by gathering into one various divided sections of Scottish Presbyterianism. Four years before the separation, one of the branches of the Original Secession – the Old Light Burgher Synod – had been drawn within the bosom of the Establishment, avowedly on the ground that the Evangelical party were in the ascendant and had brought the Church into the position to which their forefathers looked forward.
Another union of the same kind took place in 1852, when the United Original Seceders – the body to which Dr. MʼCrie and his friends belonged – cast in their lot with the Free Church, adding upwards of thirty congregations to the roll. Previously, at the Glasgow Assembly in 1843, when they appeared with other Churches to express their sympathy with the position of the Free Church, Dr. Candlish suggested that the address which they presented should be separated from the others – the principles on which it proceeded were in such “perfect practical agreement” with those of the Free Church as to “point to an incorporating union.”
Negotiations were accordingly entered on; but time was required before a complete understanding could be come to, and it was not till Tuesday, the 1st of June, 1852, that the union was actually carried out. The motion on that occasion was made by Dr. Candlish and seconded by Sir George Sinclair in language of peculiar warmth and fervour. “I cannot express to you,” Sir George remarked, “the sentiment of joy with which I contemplate this event. I estimate the importance of the venerable body which has united itself to ours by their excellence and not by their numbers. In the days of ancient warfare, any general would have hailed with much more satisfaction the junction to his ranks of 300 Spartans with Leonidas at their head than if Mardonius had presented himself with 100,000 followers.” Alluding to the dead, he continued, “I cannot mention without feelings of deep emotion the venerated name of MʼCrie, a man gifted with a most powerful intellect, and at the same time with the most profound humility, possessing the most undaunted courage and the most unostentatious simplicity. Never was there a man so qualified to delineate for the admiration and example of every subsequent generation of Scotchmen, the virtues, the sufferings, the trials, and triumphs of our ancestors.”(881)
Dr. MʼCrie, the younger, in reply, declared: “For myself I shall only say that much as I respect the memory of the Erskines, the Fishers, and Moncreiffs of the Secession, still deeper is my veneration for the worthies who have adorned the history of the Church of Scotland. And I confess that my heart rejoices – I may say leaps for joy – in the act of returning as I do to the Church of Knox, and Melville, and Henderson – the Church of Thomas Boston, of Andrew Thomson, and of Thomas Chalmers.”(882) Mr. White of Haddington reciprocated the sentiments of Dr. Candlish, that this union was matter of rejoicing because it was a union in the truth. For himself, personally, he did not rejoice because he was a Seceder – “No, I have ever been far more in heart and soul a Church of Scotland man than ever I was a Secession man. I became a Seceder just because I was a Church of Scotland man, and I cease to be a Seceder just because I can be a Church of Scotland man, out and out, within the Church of Scotland. I believe that Knox, and Melville, and Henderson, if they had lived in the days of the Erskines, would have become Seceders, and I believe that Ebenezer Erskine and W. Wilson, if they had been living, would this evening have ceased to be Seceders by joining the Free Church of Scotland.”
Thus heartily did the brethren express the feelings with which they took their place within the Assembly, and with no less warmth did the Assembly respond. “I do rejoice,” said Dr. Duff, “with exceeding great joy, that by their vitalising accession, the Free Church, which we and they maintain to be the ancient, veritable, reformed, covenanted Church of Scotland – the Church founded by Scotlandʼs dauntless reformers, fed and nourished by Scotlandʼs holiest confessors, and cemented by the blood of Scotlandʼs noble army of martyrs – may be still further consolidated and perpetuated to the ages of latest posterity.”(883)
Again, in 1876, there took place a union with the Reformed Presbyterian, popularly known as the Cameronian, Church. Before the Revolution of 1688, they were part of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and were the strength of that body during the days of persecution. Their great principle was not only a Free Church in a free State, but a Christian Church in a Christian State, and the covenants by which Scotland had bound herself to this principle they held to be still in force. When the Established Church, therefore, accepted the Revolution Settlement, it seemed to them an unfaithful compromise, and they stood out on the old ground on which the whole Church of the Second Reformation had previously stood.
The accession of such a body was thus an event well fitted to excite the deepest interest among all parties. From the first they had been strongly attached to the Free Church, expressing at the Glasgow Assembly (1843) their admiration of what she had done in separating from the Establishment. “In our opinion no event of equal importance to the interests of religion has occurred in our land for a century and a-half.” It will “constitute a memorable epoch in the page of history.”(884)
Such sentiments might well have seemed to pave the way for a speedy incorporating union, but public bodies move slowly, and there were strong reasons why the Reformed Presbyterians, looking to the past, should cling tenaciously to their separate existence.
They had, indeed, a very noble history – their ancestors were the Covenanters on whom had fallen the sufferings of martyrdom during that long persecution, when with unflinching faith they struggled for the civil and religious liberties of Scotland, and kept the banner flying for Christʼs crown and covenant. No body of Scotchmen had done so much to bring about the Revolution, and when it seemed to be imperilled by the battle of Killiecrankie, it was they, with the gallant Colonel Cleland at their head, who volunteered in its defence, and turned the tide of war in the valley of Dunkeld.
After all this the Revolution Settlement excluded them, as they believed, from the Established Church, unless they were prepared to sacrifice those very principles, adherence to which had carried them through the struggle. It was a poor reward, but with unflinching steadfastness they faced their new position. Patient martyrs in the days of persecution, gallant soldiers on the field of battle, they now consented to be left outside, – actually for a time they were sheep without a shepherd, till they formed themselves into a regularly constituted Church. Then came long years of comparative obscurity, in which their flocks stood by their principles and by each other with a tenacity worthy of the highest admiration. Their views in regard to the civil magistracy might seem to many to be extreme – but their ministers were, in many cases, men of talent, and their members, as a rule, were known for the consistency and godliness of their lives. No branch of the Presbyterian Church enjoyed a larger measure of public respect.
Of the negotiations which preceded the union it is not needful that we should speak. Ultimately, in 1876, when they were brought to a successful issue, it was found that among the thirty-eight ministers who belonged to the Synod there was all but complete unanimity. The 25th of May, 1876, was a day to be remembered, when that Synod, as a body, entered the hall of the Free Assembly and the union was consummated, the two Churches taking their seats side by side as brethren in Christ. The scene was one which called up solemn memories of Cargill, and Cameron, and Guthrie, carrying the mind away to the days of Henderson, and Melville, and Knox – memories associated with the banner so long upheld by the strong arms of our covenanting fathers, “of which,” Dr. Goold remarked at the time, “no ridicule will ever make us ashamed, as no persecution ever made us relax our grasp – riddled with the shot of Claverhouse and Dalzell – consecrated with the blood of martyrdom, and inscribed with the imperishable legend ʻFor Christʼs Crown and Covenant.ʼ”
The event was not only welcomed by the Free Church, but was felt to be an important testimony to her position in connection with the religious history of Scotland. In 1839, the Original Burgher branch of the Secession Church had joined the Church of Scotland when the evangelical party had established their ascendency. In 1852, the Anti-Burgher branch had cast in their lot with the Free Church – these two bringing with them the testimony of the Erskines, and Fishers, and MʼCries. And now the Reformed Presbyterians came to add the suffrages of covenanting times. All along, the Free Church felt that they were contending for the same great cause for which our godly forefathers struggled and died, and here were the stricter Presbyterian Churches in Scotland – the men who had inherited most fully and held most firmly the principles of former days – not only uniting to testify that the Free Church was the modern representative of former witnesses for Godʼs truth, but actually finding their own proper home and resting place in the bosom of that Church. Once and again, and yet a third time, the most strict and uncompromising of the old Presbyterian communions joined the Free Church, and when they were seen identifying their cause with hers, the testimony which they bore to her position was in the highest degree important in the view of all thoughtful men. She might well thank God and take courage.
The Larger Cities – Home Mission Work
Other Cases in Edinburgh
The Wynds, Glasgow
The larger cities of Scotland, with their masses of neglected and degraded inhabitants, have all along been an object of special concern to the Free Church. A stranger passing along the more conspicuous streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow, admiring the architecture of their crescents and terraces, could have little idea of the dark closes and “wynds” where so many of the people are sunk in poverty, and living amidst physical and moral debasement, all the more painful because in so many cases they had formerly known the outward decencies of a Christian life. It was to these classes that the Free Church from the outset specially directed her efforts.
In some unfriendly quarters it had been loudly proclaimed that such localities would be forsaken when the Establishment was left. The Free Church having no endowments, would have to go where money was to be had, and must confine her attention to those well-to-do people who could afford to pay for her services.
Men ought to have known Dr. Chalmers and his fellow-labourers better. For many a year the elevation of these sunken masses had been to him an object of anxious solicitude, and with this feeling the Free Church fully sympathised. Into these poor localities where the population was densest, and the leaven of sin and sorrow most active, they sought to enter, striving in some measure to follow the steps of Him who went amongst publicans and sinners. Assuredly, it was not to gather money, or seek self-aggrandisement, that such obscure districts were chosen. It was that in the strongholds of poverty and sin they might reclaim some of the lost sheep, and gather from the off-scourings of the people immortal souls, who might shine one day as jewels in the Saviourʼs crown.
In this, as in so many departments, it was Dr. Chalmers who led the way. Hardly had he seen the Free Church well afloat when casting aside everything but his professorship, disentangling himself from convenerships and every other kind of Church occupation, he concentrated all his energies on his loved Home Mission work. Within a year of the Disruption he was already looking round to see where lay the worst district in the city of Edinburgh, in order that he might make it the object of his care. It was on the West Port that he fixed his choice.
The place some years before had become infamous as the scene of a whole series of cold-blooded secret murders, the discovery of which, with their circumstances and objects, had sent a thrill of horror through the community. The population of the district was two thousand, of whom fifteen hundred had no connection with any Christian Church, living chiefly in filthy closes where drunkenness and vice prevailed. There were four hundred and fifty children of school age, two hundred and ninety of whom were growing up untaught and utterly neglected.
Here was a district wholly to the mind of the great philanthropist, on the reclaiming of which he could fairly set his heart. The effort, he confessed, was too great for his “declining strength and means” but gladly would he make it the concluding act of his public life, if he could only succeed in showing how such a locality could be rescued from the moral wilderness, holding it up as an example in the view of all Christian churches, and leaving it behind him as “a model and normal specimen,” “a made-out experience” of successful territorial work.
It was in July, 1844, that the ground was first broken. Gathering around him a band of Christian friends, Dr. Chalmers mapped out the West Port into twenty districts, assigning one to each visitor, with instructions to go round the families every week, reading the Bible if they got opportunity, conversing with the people, and showing a kindly interest in them and their children. Once a-week, also, they were to meet on Saturday evening to report progress, and pray over the work; and in these meetings he was himself to preside, infusing into them his own ardent zeal.
It must be confessed that at first the progress was not encouraging. At the end of January a tan loft was opened for public worship, the first sermon being preached by Dr. Chalmers in the forenoon. “We were present,”(885) says Dr Hanna, “in the evening of that day, when the city missionary officiated, and when we looked round and saw that the whole fruit of the advices, and requests, and entreaties which for many previous weeks had been brought to bear upon all the families by the visitors, was the presence of about a dozen adults, and these mostly old women, we confess to strong misgivings as to the result.” There was a maxim, however, which was often on the lips of Dr. Chalmers, that prayer and pains with faith could do anything, and it was in this spirit they were resolved to go forward.
Accordingly much prayer was offered. Page after page of the secret diary of Dr. Chalmers, as Dr. Hanna states, bears witness to the deep and devout earnestness of these supplications. “There may have been other works of his hands, upon which a larger amount of labour was bestowed – but there was none over which so many prayers were offered.”
Along with this there was much strenuous effort. By a most fortunate selection Mr. Tasker was chosen to take charge of the station, and many an urgent appeal was addressed to him and other friends by Dr. Chalmers. “We are not worthy of having entered on the experiment if not capable of persevering with it, under the discouragement of many alternations, and for a time – if so it pleased God to exercise our faith and patience – of reverses.”(886)
Fostered in this way, it was not long till the promise of abundant fruit began to appear. The meetings increased, a church seated for 520 hearers was built, and largely attended – the great bulk of the communicants being from the closes of the West Port. Writing to his friend, Mr. Lennox of New York, Dr. Chalmers expressed the gratification which he felt. “I wish to communicate what to me is the most joyful event of my life. I have been intent for thirty years on the completion of a territorial experiment, and I have now to bless God for the consummation of it.” To Mr. Tasker he said: “I have got now the desire of my heart – the church is finished, and the schools are flourishing, our ecclesiastical machinery is about complete, and all in good working order. God has indeed heard my prayer, and I could now lay down my head in peace and die.”
And even such was the result. Hardly had the new church at West Port been opened, when all Scotland was called to mourn the death of the noblest of her sons. But how thoroughly that last part of his work had been done was seen from the fact that not even the removal of his guiding hand retarded its progress. Year by year increasingly the congregation prospered. The place became too strait, the accommodation was enlarged, and the whole expense of religious ordinances was more than met by the freewill offerings of the people themselves. There was not a child of all the families who was not at school. The whole aspect of the West Port was changed, and when men saw such a result wrought out within a time so brief and at a cost so small, many felt that the appeal was irresistible to go and do likewise.
The Presbytery of Edinburgh more especially could not remain passive. Dr. Candlish and his people had been beforehand with the Presbytery, the congregation of Free St. Georgeʼs having already taken up the work at Fountainbridge. But the Court resolved that some systematic effort must be made. Every congregation in the city was formally called upon to consider the duty of selecting some destitute locality as a field for Home Mission operations, and ere long a whole array of these territorial movements was in progress. Besides Fountainbridge on the Canal, and the West Port at the one end of the Grass-market, another church – that of Cowgatehead – was planted at the other. Further to the east, Dr. Charles Brown and his people took up the Cowgate. Dr. Guthrie and Dr. Hanna, in St. Johnʼs, selected the Pleasance. There was Moray Church and Holyrood, and various others carried on, till the more densely peopled districts of the city were penetrated by a whole chain of territorial charges.(887) Wherever poverty and wretchedness were most to be found, there the Free Church was seen planting her churches, and bringing all her energies to bear on the evangelisation of the masses. How the blessing of God rested on many of these efforts was well known both by the Church and the general public. Fountainbridge, for example, under the remarkable pastorate of Mr. Wilson, ere long overflowed and gave off a separate congregation for Barclay Church; and again, under the no less successful ministry of Mr. Morgan, it has given off a second swarm to form the Viewforth Church, thus establishing two of the largest and most flourishing congregations in Edinburgh.
But after all, it was in Glasgow that the Home Mission efforts of the Free Church produced the most striking results. The enormous increase of the population in that city had brought about a state of matters with which it was difficult to deal. The church extension movement, which took place before the Disruption, had done much, but there still remained 80,000 people with no church connection, living in practical heathenism. The Free Churchmen in Glasgow, with the example of Dr. Chalmers before their eyes, could not possibly allow such a state of matters to continue. Dr. Lorimer tells how his congregation, avowedly following the West Port movement, selected a district – Dempster Street and its neighbourhood – which popularly bore the name of “Botany Bay,” and in which the carelessness and the obduracy of the people were appalling. Into that locality they threw a band of office-bearers and Christian workers, and Dr. Lorimer, writing in 1846, describes the prospects of the undertaking as full of promise.(888)
Of all these efforts, however, the most conspicuous was that begun in the Tron Church Parish by Dr. Buchanan and his congregation. Mr. MʼColl was chosen to take charge of the movement, and proved himself fitted for the work in a very high degree. The district of the parish where his operations began was known as “The Wynds,” covering a space of twelve acres, and inhabited by a dense population of about 12,000 souls. Under the guidance of a friend who had previously done good work in the place, Mr. MʼColl tells how he paid his first visit to an upper room, which was reached by climbing half-a-dozen dirty crazy stairs, where, from the upper window, they could see the old crow-stepped gables and broken chimneypots over many a roof. The work of visiting he found was by no means pleasant to the eyes, or to any of the senses. In the hot summer days, among ill-ventilated rooms and badly-drained closes, it required considerable courage to face such well-defended walls; and often by the bedside of the dying, it was painful to see the coverlet crowded with flies, and not a hand to keep from the clammy face the tormentors that would admit of no repose. The cases of typhus and cholera were the most trying, especially when, entering some low cellar, you were met by the salvo of an infected atmosphere, well rammed home, with no possible escape but by the way you entered.
But worse than all else was the moral condition of the people – there were “so many dark devious dens to which the thief and the harlot, like beasts of prey, could retire, and from which, as night came down, they might creep forth and seek their prey. The sober, industrious inhabitants left the place – whisky-shops multiplied – there were the wild orgies of Saturday night, and the saturnalia of the Glasgow Fair; and in the midst of these evil influences, ʻThe Wyndsʼ were getting worse and worse every year. I shall never forget my first impressions of the houses I visited, and the people gathered out to be taught, nor the remark with which I was greeted among my first efforts, by an experienced Sabbath-school teacher: ʻAh, sir, its awfuʼ work this. The folk here are like rotten wood – they winna hold the nail.ʼ” Into the midst of this district, with all its difficulties, Mr. MʼColl cast himself, and went to work with a zeal and tact which soon led to very remarkable results.
Among the methods he pursued, and which we cannot here describe in detail, there was one thing deserving special notice – the way in which he got all hands to work.
At first it was his own personal labour that was required; and certainly it was given with unsparing zeal – “I often visited thirty or forty houses in a day, – now standing beside a woman with her washing-tub, speaking about the things of her peace until she would dry the soap-suds from her arms and then from her eyes; and then sitting beside the tailor and shoemaker – urging them to seek the Lord.”(889)
Labouring on thus with all his might, it was not long till a band of devoted Christian workers gathered round him. They undertook to visit the district each Sabbath between sermons, leaving tracts in the houses, and inviting people to Church in the afternoon. Forty visitors were thus employed; and before the end of the first year, the effect of their work began to be seen.
Still more remarkable was the movement that followed. “It was in the beginning of our second winter that another agency, of prime importance to us, was started – our Sabbath evening services for people in working clothes. Some of the visitors came to me, headed by my friend David Cunninghame, who was one of the first few sent to us. ʻWe cannot longer,ʼ they said, ʻget people to follow us into church in the afternoon, because, they say, we are all now so well dressed?ʼ ʻWhat do you propose then?ʼ I asked. ʻCould we have a short service in the evening specially for this class?ʼ I at once answered that I would make a beginning. I would preach again in the evening, if they would come out in their working clothes, so as to induce others to do the same. The tame elephants, as in jungle hunting, might thus bring in the wild. This was at once agreed to, and about thirty visitors – the young women putting aside their nice dresses and bonnets, and the men their broadcloth, and coming out in the dress which they wore at work, went round and gathered the first evening thirty others. We now instituted what we called our Night Brigade, a band of male visitors armed with bullʼs-eye lanterns, who penetrated the dark closes and stairs a little before the service began to get promises fulfilled. The second evening we had ninety present, the third about a hundred and fifty, and soon we had the church half-filled, sometimes crowded, when some of the visitors would peep into the vestry before service, and say, ʻWe have swept the closes clean to-night.ʼ
“From the very first this service was to me the most impressive I had then seen. It was very short, never exceeding an hour or an hour and a-quarter, and conducted with the same attention to details as the other church services. But the audience affected me profoundly. They taught me how to preach. There they sat, many of them in rags, some of them unwashed, some brought in from their firesides as they sat after their Saturday nightʼs dissipation. Many had never in their life been within a church door, many had not been for ten or twenty years. And there they sat, as I stood up to preach, looking into my eyes with eager search as if for light, waiting to know if I really had any good news for them. They seemed to say: ʻWe have come for once at any rate within your reach, and we shall listen to-night till youʼre done. Say your best. Do your utmost. We are dead hopeless creatures. We know weʼre lost, you need not tell us that. We believe in hell; we have been there. But is there salvation for us? Can you do anything to save us? For Godʼs sake try!ʼ And I did try. But for a little I lost sight of them in tears. For my words were broken and mingled with sobs. But as it happened, my emotion moved them. Some of them were softened, and their hearts took away impressions from the truth. I told them in the end that I had been preaching Christ, and now I preached myself, their servant, for His sake. I offered them the church; I offered them myself as their minister; I offered them, if they would rise and follow the Lord with us, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and such help as was promised us of God. We spoke to them as they came in and went out, and tried to make them feel at home. We had in those days no Dorcas Society. We had to say like Peter and John, ʻSilver and gold we have none, but what we have give we; in the name of Jesus Christ, rise up and walk.ʼ Soon we saw those who had lain for years at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, mere lame beggars from their birth, rise up as we said, ʻLook on us,ʼ and especially when we ʻtook them by the handʼ and helped them to rise. They were seen going into the temple, leaping and praising God. How soon, when they sat at the feet of Jesus, they were ʻclothed and in their right mind.ʼ”
The Church now began to fill more rapidly, and then it was when the congregation began to overflow that we reach the point of deepest interest. A new aggressive movement was resolved on, the locality selected being the Bridgegate, noted for its rioting, the very centre of the popish population of Glasgow. A church was built; 448 members and 6 elders, with Mr. MʼColl at their head, moved off to commence work in the new locality, and there it was not long till the same success attended his efforts.
But the most wonderful thing was that the Wynd Church, where 250 of the old members had remained, soon began once more to fill under the pastorate of Mr. Howie. Ere long it began a second time to overflow, and a new disjunction to take place. A site was got in Charlotte Street. Trinity Church was built, to which 400 members followed Mr. Howie, and within three years the numbers on the communion roll had risen to 1100.
Still, the old Wynd Church held on its way. The Rev. J. Wells had succeeded Mr. Howie, and soon found the place again too strait. The process had to be repeated, the old hive sending off yet another swarm. This time a site was got in the Barony Parish at an expense of £3000, and a handsome church erected at a cost of £7000 additional, the money being contributed chiefly through the munificence of two of Glasgowʼs most generous merchant princes, the Messrs. Burns, son and grandson of the well-known Dr. Burns, who for sixty years had been minister of the Barony Parish. The new church was associated with his name, and intended to keep alive his memory.
Looking to all this, Dr. Buchanan once remarked that only they who had known the Wynds in their former state could appreciate the change. Many a day, as minister of the parish, he had walked sadly and sorrowfully up and down those closes, and climbed dark and filthy stairs, where it was difficult to get any one to listen, and where it seemed to be all sowing and no reaping; but now, what a difference! He had gone into these lanes, in one of these churches, on a week-day evening, when he could hardly get to the church door for the crowd that was gathered round it. “That Wynd district, that was the opprobrium of the city, to which strangers, curious in such sights, were taken that they might see to what depths it was possible for human beings to sink – that very district had become within a few years literally a centre of moral and religious influence in the great city of Glasgow.”(890)
While all this was going on, other congregations were not idle. Within a very few years twenty additional Free Church congregations were formed in the Presbytery of Glasgow. The whole narrative of work connected with the Wynd Church is one to which it would be difficult to find a parallel in the history of Christian effort. But what gives it tenfold interest is the earnest spirituality which pervaded the whole operations. It was the winning of souls that was the one grand object in view. If adherents were gained for the Free Church, and churches were built and congregations formed, these were secondary results. Here was a degraded population perishing in wretchedness and vice, and the one grand question was how to reclaim those backsliders, and to rescue those of our own flesh and blood who were ready to perish.
It is impossible for us here to attempt any sketch of what was done in Dundee, Aberdeen, and other towns, but these two examples – of the West Port in Edinburgh, and the Wynd Church in Glasgow – will enable the reader to understand how such territorial work was carried on. Though the results were not in all cases equally striking, yet over the whole field there were tokens of blessing for which men might well thank God. The Church, Dr. Roxburgh declared, “was not sufficiently aware how much of that measure of Christian usefulness to which she had attained was due to these territorial operations. He could name twenty-six of these stations, which within the last very few years had risen into congregations, some of them most vigorous and flourishing – some of them shining as centres of light in the midst of the darkest and neediest districts.”(891) It was a noble thing to listen to him when, as Convener of Home Mission Committee, year after year he laid before the Assembly a review of this work, thrilling them with his appeals and making men feel how truly this was the proper work of the Christian Church. All too soon his failing strength forced him to retire from his post, yet not less did the work continue to prosper, and Dr. Wilson, his successor, was able to say: “We are adding year after year to the number of such missions, and year by year God is showing how wide and effectual is the door open to us for obtaining access to the masses of the population crowding the lanes and closes of our large cities. And if I may venture to say it, nowhere in the field of missions at home or abroad in connection with the agency of the Free Church has such an abundant blessing been poured out as in connection with these territorial missions.”(892)
Results of the Disruption – Spiritual Fruit
Mr. Wood, of Elie
Dr. John Bruce, of Edinburgh
Mr. Taylor, of Flisk
Cases of Conversion
Mr. Rattray, Glenisla
Case in Breadalbane
It was the great hope of the Free Church that the Disruption, with all its trials, would yet prove a blessing by awakening men to a sense of the reality and power of vital religion. Such an event could not fail to have a powerful effect for good or evil. All Scotland had been shaken – every circle of society had been agitated; and now, when we look back, it may well be asked, How far did the cause of religion gain or lose? Various statements bearing on this occur in the Disruption Records.
The remark of a working man – “a pious weaver, a student of his Bible” – is mentioned by Dr. Burns of Kilsyth. For some time he had been expecting what took place. “The Church,” he said, “including the different denominations,” had become “very dormant,” and much in need of being stirred up. The Lord behoved to touch the mainspring. He had begun at the house of God – the ministers.
Cases have occurred, says Mr. Innes of Deskford, Banffshire, in which individuals have traced their first serious impressions to the Disruption, with its accompaniments – but especially where individuals, well disposed before that event, have had their ideas of the reality and importance of vital religion greatly enlarged and strengthened.(893)
Such instances confirm the remark of Dr. Burns, that the Disruption, as “a practical demonstration of the power of the truth,” was “better than a new treatise on the evidences of Christianity.”
At Larbert, when Dr. John Bonar, as all men expected, proved true to his colours, and took part in the Disruption, the effect on the parish and throughout the district generally was to beget and spread abroad a conviction as to the power of conscience and the practical force of truth which itself was, as the present writer knows, and has good reason to say, a powerful means of grace. They had had in that parish some experience of forced settlements and of the coldness of a Moderate ministry, and they questioned whether the ministry could be anything but Moderate and time-serving. Many of them did so; yet all, with beautiful and most natural inconsistency, thought better of their own minister, and it came to them like a pleasing proof of the correctness of their judgment, whilst it was an evidence also that religion is real and has power, that he and many more were valiant and true in the hour of trial. We happen to know that a thought and course of reasoning of this kind had very strong and blessed influence in Larbert; and we believe also that in many other parts of the land as well, Disruption bravery and consistency were in this way made a blessing. Men saw therein the power of religious truth and the living reality of evangelical piety, and the sight availed for bringing them “under the powers of the world to come.”(894)
Still more were these impressions confirmed by the course of Christian usefulness to which the Church devoted herself. In December, 1862, nearly twenty years after the Disruption, a member of Parliament, representing one of the largest counties in Scotland, wrote to a minister of the Free Church: “At one time I thought that you and the able men with whom you acted were wrong. … But no impartial observer can look round and see the number of new churches and new schools which have been built, and the increased number of ministers and teachers, without frankly admitting that the formation of the Free Church has been a great blessing to Scotland.”(895)
How the Disruption roused the Church in her own proper sphere was obvious even to strangers from a distance. DʼAubigné, for example, is struck by the life and earnestness apparent in the very aspect of the General Assembly: “The hall at Canonmills is low, but under its bare rafters and rude beams there was assembled an enthusiastic auditory, filling the vast area. A Scottish assembly is no gathering of cold, impassive listeners, as those in Switzerland and the Continent too often are; it is a living body of extreme sensibility, ready to respond to every touch. These multitudes feel an interest in the discussions affecting the cause of God, and the religious interests of mankind, more keen than the world does in political debates. Neither in the Houses of Parliament in London, nor in the Palais Bourbon in Paris, is to be seen anything like what is witnessed in the Canonmills at Edinburgh.” The world “sneers at the Church; but it is right to show that she can feel more enthusiasm for the cause of Christ than the world does for political and material interests.”(896)
In country districts even the most remote much of the same earnestness was manifest – conspicuously in the Highlands, as we have seen; but in many a Lowland parish also men were thirsting for the Word. Thus, in the Synod of Merse and Teviotdale, with its seventy parishes, only seventeen ministers came out. Mr. Wood, of Elie – then of Westruther – was one of the number, and much of the burden of giving supply was laid on him. The work was heavy, but full of encouragement. “There was at the time a very great willingness to hear the Gospel. I had but to send a message to a farm-steading in the forenoon of a week-day, and I had a good congregation assembled in the evening to hear the Word.”(897) In this way the supply of ordinances was kept up till better arrangements could be made.
To meet this state of mind, ministers everywhere were putting forth all their powers. Before the Disruption, when they were prohibited by the Court of Session from preaching in Strathbogie, the sainted Robert MʼCheyne, one of the interdicted, gave this reply: “I can say with Paul that I have preached the Gospel from Jerusalem round about unto Illyricum, and no power on earth shall keep me from preaching it in the dead parishes of Scotland.”(898) And if the ministers were thus resolute, the audiences were equally sympathetic. A survivor from these times in Strathbogie states: “There was a reverence and anxiety to hear the Gospel that struck all that attended those meetings. The preachers were not only men of ability, but they preached what they appeared to feel; and it came home with power, so that many, young and old, were led to the knowledge of the truth.”(899)
And as in Strathbogie, so it was generally over the country after the impulse of 1843.
“We enter the tent,” says Mr. Hastings, of Wanlockhead, “with more earnestness and seriousness in meditating upon our own responsibility; and the people seem to listen with a greater degree of attention and self-application.”(900)
At Ardoch “there has been a greater spiritual concern manifested, and much greater solemnity in hearing the Gospel, than before the Disruption, especially on sacramental occasions, when the sufferings of our Lord brought nigh made His people forget their own. Indeed, I may say that never did minister or people enjoy such seasons so much before.”(901)
“The building of the new church [Larbert] was at once proceeded with, the style to be pure Tanfield Hall architecture; and in the meantime a tent was erected on the ground, where regularly, Sabbath by Sabbath, the usual services were conducted with a fervour and earnestness that made that time the happiest to himself, we believe, of all John Bonarʼs ministry, as certainly it was, for quickening, to the people the most markedly blessed. The stated congregation was as large as had been the average attendance in the parish church, and with scarcely an individual exception, contained all within the bounds of the parish who had at any time given evidence of true graciousness of mind. This was true less or more, we believe, of the general constituency of the Free Church throughout all the parishes of Scotland at the time; but in Larbert it was very specially noticeable – a thing which, indeed, throughout the whole of John Bonarʼs ministry made itself manifest. While gathering the godly around him, he had the effect somehow of making others stand apart and separate themselves – a state of things, we remember, heightened greatly at the time when Mr. MʼCheyne was his assistant, and arising, we do not doubt, from subtile and fundamental resemblance between the two men. Anyhow, the minister was cheered by seeing from his new pulpit the faces of, we may say, all the godly whom he had been wont to address, and, by-and-by, of many more besides, in whom even he must have thankfully wondered at seeing spiritual life getting developed.”(902)
At Kenmore there was a vacancy of nearly three years after May, 1843, but under the influence of the Marquis of Breadalbane, able ministers were brought to supply the pulpit, and Mr. Sinclair, on entering on his labours in the spring of 1846, had “abundant evidence” that the preaching had been blest to not a few of the people. The first communion in the summer of 1846 was a precious and refreshing season – a time of revival. “So was the next communion in the winter following. In particular, on the Sabbath, and during a powerful and affecting address in Gaelic by the late Mr. MʼRae of Knockbain, there was an impression so deep and general that it has left its memories to this day  in the hearts of the people.”(903)
Such earnestness on the part of ministers and people might well be expected to yield fruit. One result frequently observed was the impulse given to meetings for prayer and Christian fellowship among the people. In the East Church congregation, Aberdeen, “there has been a large increase in the number of prayer-meetings since the Disruption.”(904)
In the parish of Monkton, Mr. MʼFarlane states, “many of the elders hold prayer-meetings, and preside at fellowship meetings, in their several districts, and many of the people have formed themselves into fellowship associations, meeting once every fortnight. There is a great increase in regularity of attendance on ordinances. We thankfully receive these things as tokens for good.”(905)
Along with this there were other encouraging results.
At Galston, Mr. MʼIndoe states, “there are several cases well attested of individuals who have become sober and orderly in their conduct since their adherence to the Free Church.”(906)
“I have no doubt that by Godʼs grace it was a time of spiritual quickening to many, instances of this kind having come under my own observation. The spirit of Christian love, unity, and liberality which prevailed, powerfully helped to sustain and animate us in the great and onerous work then laid to our hands.”(907)
But what men longed to see were the true fruits of the Christian ministry – the actual conversion of souls; and this blessing was not withheld. Sometimes it was given as the result of private dealing on the part of the people themselves.
“A young woman, whose parents were both exceedingly hostile to the Free Church movement, happened at the Disruption to be a servant in the house of an old farmer, who was a man of decided piety, and cordially attached to our cause. In this house she was first taught to think seriously, and pray to God for her soulʼs salvation. She went along with her master, and became a member of our Church. This step was so repugnant to the feelings of her parents that they would scarcely permit her for a time to come under their roof. One day her father said, “Your master has deluded you, and led you astray.” She replied, “Father, I got much good from my master; he put a question to me you never put; he asked me if I ever prayed to God, and was in earnest about my soul.” Her father, whose house was a stranger to the exercises of family worship, made no reply. This youthful disciple has continued firm and faithful, though her old master is now in his grave. (908)
More frequently such cases of conversion were met with in connection with the preaching of the Gospel.
Mr. Gibson, of Kirkbean, has no doubt, from what had come under his own observation, that the Disruption has been “in its own sphere instrumental in producing the conversion of many souls. … Many are under deep impression, and are asking the way to Zion.”(909)
Mr. Fergusson, of Dunnichen, laboured not only in his own parish but among the other congregations in the Presbytery of Forfar: – “We had a busy time during that summer  and autumn, but I believe that the Spirit of the Lord was honouring the means of grace as I have seldom, if ever, seen them honoured before or since. ʻI believe,ʼ says Mr. Edgar [of Memus] in a letter to me, ʻthat there are souls who trace their conversion to the sermons in the cart-shed at West Memus;ʼ and perhaps there was not one of these congregations that had not trophies of Divine grace among them as the result of those post-Disruption ministrations.”(910)
It was in these results that ministers found their best comforts in the midst of trial. One of those who belonged to the South of Scotland, refers to this experience:
“As for house accommodation I had for two years a poor, thatched cottage with two rooms and a closet; – the ceiling of neither of the rooms being above six feet in height.” In one of them the ceiling stooped so much at the sides that “I had to stoop low to see out of the small window.” And illness came, and death, making that small cottage a scene of sore bereavement. As years went on the prospects brightened. “Means were provided for a comfortable old age. I not only never regretted for one moment the sacrifices I had made, but even in the darkest hours of poverty, bereavement, and distress, I could say, and can say still, He hath given me ʻan hundred-fold more, even in this present life,ʼ than all that was given up, in satisfaction, and peace, and a competent portion of the things of this life, with the good hope, which is far better, in the world to come of life everlasting. But more still, – He has given me jewels to place in Christʼs crown, – some of the brightest and purest, dug out of the earth, and some out of the mire, polished by the hand of God himself.”
Some of the most eminent ministers of the Church visited Strathbogie, and preached in all the seven parishes of the suspended ministers.
“The Gospel was a new thing in these congregations, and the ministrations of the evangelical ministers were accompanied by a rich blessing, which had the effect of awakening a deep interest in spiritual matters, and resulted in the saving conversion of many souls.
“There was one elder in Keith, Mr. Mitchell, who had long been praying for a blessing on that place, and finding few in the Established Church who were willing to join with him in prayer, had formed a united prayer-meeting consisting of Independents and United Presbyterians. One of the two Secession churches in Keith happened to be vacant, and this church was used by the congregation adhering to the principles of the Free Church as a place of worship. That church was the birth-place of many souls. Such was the desire for prayer that in the parish of Keith, where in 1840 only one elder connected with the Established Church was found to take part in a meeting for prayer, in 1842 seven prayer-meetings were held every week in various districts of the parish, conducted by members of the congregation, in addition to the weekly prayer-meeting held in the church, and a Sabbath morning meeting, attended by upwards of a hundred, in the house occupied by the probationer.
“The first communion dispensed in connection with the General Assemblyʼs ministers, as they were called, was a very memorable occasion.
“Sixty young persons applied for admission to the Lordʼs table, and a great number of them gave most satisfactory evidence of having given their hearts to the Lord. Mr. MʼDonald, of Blairgowrie, now Dr. MʼDonald of North Leith, assisted on the Sabbath, and such was the interest awakened under the preaching during that season, that on Tuesday morning, at seven oʼclock, the church was crowded to receive a parting word from Mr. MʼDonald, before he left by the coach at nine oʼclock. That communion was the beginning of a work of grace, the fruits of which are yet apparent in the life and conversation of many who are now office-bearers and members in the congregation. Some who are now honoured and faithful ministers of the Free Church attended the Sabbath school and Bible classes held during these years in Keith.”(911)
An Independent minister wrote Dr. Guthrie to say that he had a brother who had gone astray, and was sent abroad that he might not disgrace his friends. Years afterwards, in a distant land, that brother had been reached by the grace of God – been plucked as a brand from the burning; and it was a sentence in one of the sermons which Dr. Guthrie had preached many years before in Strathbogie which had been blessed as the means of his conversion. The seed of the Word had sprung up into eternal life.(912)
One remarkable circumstance was the frequency with which Free Church ministers were called to attend the death-beds of those who had been opposed to them during life.
In Covenanting times this had been the experience of the persecuted ministers, as in the well-known case of the Duke of Rothes, who sent for some of them to comfort him in his dying hours, giving occasion to the remark of his friend the Duke of Hamilton: “This is melancholy work; we banish these men from us, and yet when dying we call for them.” Something of the same kind was no infrequent experience after the Disruption.
At Stanley, Perthshire, for example, Mr. Mather of Stanley was often sent for to visit the dying not connected with his “denomination, and even by those who were unfriendly to it. To these calls he was always ready to respond, deeming it sufficient reward if he should be the means of cheering the dying, and of throwing light upon the dark valley through which their spirits were about to pass.”
In no case was this more remarkably seen than in the experience of Dr. John Bruce of Edinburgh. Before the Disruption “he was pastor of a congregation which had long been under a succession of able Moderate ministers, having as members of it the Lord President of the Court of Session and other legal functionaries, as well as non-professional men of high social position, most of them strong in their conservative tendencies, as well as gentlemen of excellent personal character.”
When the Disruption came, the parting between pastor and people had been more than usually painful. “It is an instructive fact,” says Mr. Burns in his interesting “Biographical Sketch,”(913) “that though none of Dr. Bruceʼs old elders in St. Andrewʼs Church ever came to hear him after their separation, several of them, and these the most conspicuous, as well as other private members of the congregation, were at their own request ministered to by him on their death-beds.”
At Huntly, Mr. Sinclair found that his visits as a Free Church minister were welcomed by the adherents of the Establishment. Especially were those visits welcomed in times of sickness where death seemed to be in the cup. One case he mentions of the daughter of a man in good position, a leading supporter of the Establishment, who was attacked by severe illness. She professed to have examined the Church question, and adhered on principle to the Established Church. Under the hand of disease her conscience was awakened, and her mind filled with distress as to her spiritual state. The visits and exhortations of her own minister gave her no relief, and Mr. Sinclair was sent for. The Church question was of course left in abeyance, “both she and I feeling that we had other and more important business in hand.” Finding the state in which she was, Mr. Sinclair sought to probe the wound, exhibiting at once her guilt and the remedy, and the result was an almost immediate closing with the offer of salvation in Christ. She grew rapidly in grace, her spirit naturally was deeply humbled, and all who saw her wondered at the heavenly sweetness which her very looks exhibited. She felt it her duty to see her former pastor, and give her testimony that “should she recover she could no longer adhere to his ministry, but must go to the Free Church.”(914)
Mr. Taylor, of Flisk, mentions an instance in his experience. The daughter of a neighbouring landholder had been taken suddenly ill. She was about eighteen or nineteen years of age, when symptoms of consumption showed themselves, and he was asked to call: – “For eight or nine months I visited her, speaking to her as an invalid, and praying with her. It was only at the very last that I saw the impression which had been produced. All along there had been great gentleness and willingness to enter into the exercises; but she was able to walk out and sit up all day, and being naturally reserved, she had not expressed to me anything which indicated real concern. It was for my last interview this was reserved. Her brother was sent up to tell me that she had become rapidly worse. I rode down quickly and saw how hastily the disease had hurried on. Death was busy changing her beautiful countenance and glazing her soft eye. I repeated some passages of Scripture and prayed with her, and then it was that, in the most simple manner, she gave utterance to her feelings, and begged me, after she was gone, to continue my visits to the family. It was a most touching scene, and I yet remember the part of the road where, on returning on horseback, I lifted up a full heart in thanksgiving to the Lord. I need not particularise more cases; but I may remark that when a minister goes to a sick-chamber with the simple aim of speaking a word in season to the weary sufferer, and when in answer to the silent uplifting of his soul on the way, he is guided to a right diagnosis of the case, and the Lord has sped him in the visit, few parts of the ministerial work are more solacing and instructive to himself. To several individuals belonging to the Established Church I have been privileged thus to minister; and in one or two cases the widows, seeing how these visits have been viewed, have, with their families, connected themselves with the Free Church.”(915)
The subject is not often referred to in the Disruption Mss., but the above are instances of what was no unusual experience all over Scotland, giving to the ministers of the Free Church many an opportunity of usefulness of which they gladly availed themselves.
Of those cases of conversion which were met with in Disruption times not a few occurred in remarkable circumstances.
While attending a meeting of the General Assembly, Mr. Wood of Elie, not long before his death, was walking in the corridor, when he was addressed by an elder from the country. “You will not remember me, Mr. Wood. The last time we met was in February, 1843, at Dinwoodie Green.”
“I remember the meeting well, but I cannot recall having met you.”
“Ah, we were both young then; we are changed now. But I want to tell you that that meeting was the means of my conversion.”
Of the interesting conversation which followed, Mr. Wood did not mention the details; but he referred to the great pleasure which the interview had given him.
A Dumfriesshire minister, however, the Rev. Mr. Smith of Half-Morton, who knows the circumstances, supplies fuller information. The parishioners of Applegarth – as told in a former section of these Annals – were engaged in the game of curling, when their minister called them to aid him in opposing the Non-intrusion deputation. The young man was one of the company who left the ice and crowded into the barn. Nothing unusual occurred during the singing of the psalm or prayer, but when Mr. Clark, of Half-Morton, was reading the 4th chapter of Acts, a strange feeling came over him – a sense of sin such as he never had before experienced. Every successive sentence seemed to strike a new chord of feeling in the young manʼs heart, and before the twentieth verse had been reached, he felt himself standing naked and defenceless in the very presence of the Lord. With difficulty he restrained his emotions, and would have made his escape from the meeting if the dense crowd had allowed him to do so without disturbing an assembly of men in whom the light of subdued and solemnised feeling was already displayed. The same spirit that led him to look into the darksome abyss of sin, showed him Christ in the richness of His grace. He became a changed man, and has continued for these forty years to walk worthy of his calling. As a Christian, his hand has been ready for every good work. As an elder of the Free Church, he has striven in every possible way to advance her interests and maintain her honour. Mr. William Brockie, whose portrait many in Annandale will recognise in these statements, has said in regard to that meeting: “How many like myself were convinced of sin I never got to know; but of this I am certain, that there was a power greater and higher than the arguments of the deputation, convincing though they were – a power moving on the hearts of that meeting, constraining them to disobey the order of their much respected minister to leave the meeting at the end of his own address.”
These were not the only results. Multitudes flocked to a service conducted by Mr. Wood on the following Sabbath, in the church of the neighbouring parish of Dryfesdale. The truth was felt in much of its power over the district. The settlement of Mr. Hugh MʼBryde Broun at Lochmaben, and Mr. Thomas Duncan at Lockerbie, contributed to deepen and extend the impression. The cause of Christ was greatly revived in connection with their varied services on Sabbath days and week days.
The meeting at Dinwoodie Green should not be dismissed without referring to another fact. The three ploughmen on the farm gave in their adherence to the Free Church in consequence of what they heard and felt on the occasion; and what is far better, furnished evidence of having given their hearts to Christ.
At Jedburgh, Mr. Purves records a noble instance of God honouring a firm adherence to principle, when apparently expediency of the highest kind, and human and even Christian affections would point in the opposite way. All the particulars are from the partiesʼ own lips. In a manufacturing town about ten miles from this, lived a couple not equally yoked. The wife is one of the excellent of the earth, meek, gentle, Christian, devoted. Her husband, a large manufacturer, naturally very fiery and imperious in his temper, had quarrelled with the parish minister, and made this a pretext for deserting all church-going habits, and abandoning himself to open ungodliness. Both his and her friends having resolved to remain in the Establishment themselves, seized on the circumstance of his hatred to the parish minister, one of the convocationists, as affording the finest opportunity for retaining her in the Church. “Now,” they said, “is the salvation of your husband in your own hand? if you remain in the Church he will return with you to the house of God whenever Mr. _____ leaves.” Nothing could be more likely, nor more desirable to all the natural and Christian affections of a wife. She felt the temptation to be very strong, the more especially as the retiring minister had never been very profitable to her. She resolved on her knees to consider the point of duty, and to cry for grace to follow it. The result was a firm conviction that the truth of Christ was with the party leaving the Establishment, and that with them she must cast in her lot, come what might either to herself or others dear to her. She did so. On the second Sabbath after the Disruption her husband came down to Jedburgh on some business, and to see a friend away. We then met in a room in the Inn, for the Dissenters did not look on us with a more kindly eye than the Establishment. The novelty of the place made him an auditor, and an attentive one he seemed to be; but no very decided impression was left on his mind. Next Sabbath morning, rising early, as his practice always was, and walking out to see his horses, “What shall I do with myself to-day?” he asked, when suddenly the thought darted like lightning into his mind, “Iʼll go down to Jedburgh again.” His gig was got instantly ready, and a second time he appeared among us. And a blessed time it was to him and all his house. The very place, the psalm, the prayer, seemed to bring a strange, unwonted awe upon his mind, as he afterwards told me, and the sermon ten-fold deepened the impression. The sermon was on the joy of believing the Gospel. I saw the strange and arrested face, and noticed the unconscious, involuntary signs of deep emotion. The arrow went to his heart. He returned to his home, an awakened, changed being, and made open avowal of it there. It may be well conceived what must have been the feelings of his pious wife, half afraid her leaving the Church might result in the ruin of her husband, when on the third Sabbath thereafter, he came home to her, Saul like, a new creature. The change produced a deep sensation in the whole place, his previous carelessness had been so conspicuous, and the revolution now effected standing out to every eye. With characteristic boldness he avowed his change to everybody. Every Sabbath, he who never entered a place of worship at his door, was seen to set out on a ten-mile journey to the house of God. Numbers used to turn out at the early hour to assure their eyes of a fact so strange. Though he liked to be fed, however, at the place where he was born again, and these four years has scarcely ever once been absent summer or winter, trying also to bring as many with him as he can, it should be mentioned as an evidence of the genuineness of his change, that he immediately went and was reconciled to the minister with whom he had been at war, and now presents the beautiful spectacle of helping that minister in any of his schemes, and in driving him in his gig whenever on a week-day he has occasion to go from home to preach. And, perhaps, a still more unequivocal evidence is afforded in the saying of his wife to an intimate, who mentioned it to me: “What a change now in our house; it is like heaven in comparison with what once it was!” How much better to follow the plain path of principle and duty at the risk of every consequence, than to give ear to the plans of human expediency, or even the pleadings of Christian, yet mere affection. This good woman followed God, dark to nature as the step seemed to be, and immediately all was light. The heavens dropped down fatness on her.”
The late James Miller, Professor of Surgery in the Edinburgh University, was at first strongly opposed to the idea of a Disruption from the Established Church. His father and elder brother being both ministers in the Church, and his house in Edinburgh being their home during Assembly times and on other occasions when they came to Edinburgh, Mr. Miller frequently heard and joined in discussions on the principles of the evangelical and moderate parties in the Church. Though both his father and brother held the evangelical principles strongly, Professor Miller did not agree with them, and always maintained that it was both a foolish and wrong thing to leave the Establishment for a mere fancy or idea. His opposition was due to the fact that he had never studied the question, and also to the fact that at that time he was not a converted man. But as he was not of a mind that could long remain unacquainted with what was interesting so keenly others around him, he determined to examine the whole matter for himself, and go to the fountain-head of all truth. Accordingly, he resolved to study the Bible with a view to ascertain whether the doctrine of the headship of Christ had Scriptural foundations or not. The result was as might be expected. He became convinced that the evangelical party in the Church were right; but not only so – in studying the Word he found Christ Himself, the doctrine of whose Headship he afterwards maintained by joining the Free Church.
“His studying of the Scriptures was conducted secretly, and though it was known and talked of among his family that something was engrossing him, and that he was studying some book very earnestly, yet it was not known till afterwards that it was the Bible; and also the fact of his change of opinion as to the propriety of leaving the Establishment was not known till he joined the Free Church. On the day of the Disruption he was confined to bed; but on hearing of the event, and of his father and brother being ʻout,ʼ with a sigh he said to one of his sisters who brought him the news, ʻWell, I must go out too.ʼ
“It was thus that the events connected with the Disruption were the means of bringing about, in Godʼs providence, the conversion of Professor James Miller, a man who among all his friends was considered a typical Christian, active, earnest, and joyous.”(916)
Another memorable instance was that of Mr. Rattray of Brewlands, in Glenisla. “He was the second largest proprietor in the Glen, and was like a father to the people of that sequestered strath, residing in the midst of them – the wise counsellor and kind helper of all who needed advice or assistance.
“At first he was by no means favourable to the Free Church, but the circumstances which have already been referred to in these Annals led to his taking up the cause. ʻHis hospitable house was opened to the ministers who preached in the Glen; and his intercourse with them awakened in his mind a deep interest in evangelical truth. He listened with great delight to the preaching of the Gospel – the old old story, which since the days of Martin had rarely been heard in that district. He was greatly instrumental in the organisation of the congregation and the erection of the church and manse, the completion of which, free of debt, he was permitted to witness. In all these efforts for the advancement of the cause of Christ he received the cordial co-operation of Mrs. Rattray, and his liberal spirit had the effect of stimulating the congregation to efforts similar to his own.”(917)
Dr. Wilson of Dundee – now of Edinburgh – was one of those to whom Mr. Rattray opened his mind. “I was invited,” he says, “to go to the Glen and expound to the people the principles of the Free Church, and the conditions under which the present Established Church was constituted. There was a large meeting, which was held in the open air on a fine summer evening, and I have since been told that no person, young or old, who attended that meeting continued to adhere to the Established Church. I was the guest of Mr. Rattray, and remember being very much impressed with what he said in the course of the evening, as indicating that the cause of the Free Church, which he had espoused, was not, at the root of it, an ecclesiastical or political movement, but in the deepest sense religious. He spoke with trembling tones of the new interest he felt in the Gospel of grace, and of the new sense of indebtedness to Christ which had been awakened within him. He said that some of his old friends had been representing to him how much his adherence to the Free Church would cost him, what large demands would necessarily be made upon him for the building of a new church and manse, and for giving a site for both, besides for the maintenance of a minister of the Free Church from year to year. He said he was by no means blind to these facts, and had his mind been in the same state as formerly they might have diverted him from the course he was pursuing. ʻBut,ʼ he added, ʻthese people do not know that these things are a great inducement to me to persevere. I cannot tell what pleasure it gives me to be called upon to give, and to be able to do it. It has been to me a new and delightful sensation to give – to know that the Lord Jesus is conferring on me the privilege of doing some little thing for Him to whom I owe all.”
Animated by such principles, he was, as might have been expected, liberal in his gifts. Besides subscribing for the erection of church and manse, he paid off all the debt remaining on the buildings after they were finished. He gave the site for church and manse along with five acres of land as a glebe, at a merely nominal feu-duty. Half the cost of building the congregational school was paid by him. By will he left a property valued at £6000 to certain mission schemes of the Free Church, besides £20 a-year to the congregational school. And finally he bequeathed £50 a-year as a permanent contribution to the Sustentation Fund of the congregation in Glenisla.(918)
It was not long before his end that these generous arrangements were completed, and soon affliction came. His only son – a most promising boy – was removed by death about a week before himself. “I visited him,” says Mr. Bain, of Coupar-Angus, “on his dying bed at Bridge of Allan, where he had gone for his health, and I was greatly cheered to find how abundantly the Lord had rewarded him for his efforts in advancing His cause by the calm peace and full assurance which he possessed; ʻI found Christ,ʼ said he to me, ʻin that tent,ʼ referring to the temporary erection which had been put up before the church was built.”
Father and son were laid in the same grave, and his memory is still cherished with the deepest affection in the Glen, where he had been so long and so universally loved.
One additional example may be given from the Presbytery of Breadalbane: “In a populous parish in the Presbytery, one solitary member of the kirk-session came out. He was a farmer, a steady man of good moral character; but, as he afterwards declared, ʻit was cruel to make him an elder at all, for he was not a Christian.ʼ What moved him to come out was the conviction, which he felt strongly, that the God-fearing people joined the Free Church, and that, therefore, it was his duty and safety. He became an elder of the newly-formed congregation of the Free Church, over which a young minister had been ordained. Some months after, he sent in a letter resigning his office. Without accepting it, the minister was requested by the session to confer with him. The elder said with tears: ʻThe sermons I have been listening to of late have shown me my utter unfitness. I am a lost sinner!ʼ He was for weeks in deep distress of soul, and earnestly seeking the Saviour. At the following communion season, the Lord revealed Himself to his soul in the glory of His love. His bonds were loosed. He was filled with peace and joy, which he could scarce refrain from giving public expression to. Ever since, he has consistently maintained his profession – a lively Christian and warm-hearted office-bearer. ʻI will bring the blind by a way that they knew not.ʼ”(919)
Thus it was all through the conflict and turmoil of Disruption times. God was giving testimony to the word of His grace. Even in the hottest of the fight the sermons and addresses were finding their way to the hearts of the people, and impressions were made and results obtained for which many a hearer will have reason to bless God in time and in eternity.
Longing Desires for Revival
Statement by Mr. Sym
Elders at Kirkbean
Experience of Mr. Glen, of Benholm
New Church opened
Course of Sermons on Revivals
During the years which followed the Disruption there prevailed generally throughout the Free Church an eager desire for such a revival of religion as had been seen in 1839 at Kilsyth and Dundee. “In temporal things God has prospered us,” said Mr. Sym, of Greyfriars, Edinburgh, “beyond our most sanguine expectations; but is it not notorious that many of the more devout among us are waiting for the outpouring of the Divine Spirit, and wearying for a revival of pure and undefiled religion?”(920)
At Kirkbean: “The office-bearers and members are like a band of men whose hearts the Lord has touched. Many souls are under deep concern. The Session have special meetings for prayer for the outpouring of the Spirit, and are looking out for a time of soul-refreshing and soul-reviving. Lord, when shall it be? How long, O Lord! Send the breath of the Spirit.”
If the secret communings of many a manse and many an eldersʼ meeting could be opened, it would be seen that this was the object for which men laboured and prayed to an extent of which the public were little aware.
As an example of this, we shall take the case of a Kincardineshire minister, Mr. Glen, of Benholm, who lived and died in the midst of his people comparatively unknown. A regular attendant at Synod and Assembly, he never let his voice be heard in their debates. He was a classical scholar of cultivated tastes – a faithful preacher of no common gifts; but, above all, a man whose force of character and transparent simplicity and godly sincerity won the respect of all classes in the community – one of those devout and devoted men who are the true strength of any Church. The manuscript notes which he has left behind will enable us to give some indication of the earnestness of his desires. It may be well, however, in the first instance, briefly to sketch the trials through which he passed. It was no easy thing in those days to be a Free Church minister.
After the meeting of Convocation in November, 1842, where he gave in his adherence without reserve, it was necessary to make known to the congregation what he had done. “The Lord guide me,” he says, “and my people in these trying times. May I not be rash or self-confident. Oh, for daily supplies of heavenly grace!”
On the 9th of January, the Kirk-Session met in the Manse – all the ten elders being present – to consider what course must be taken in consequence of the minister having signed the Convocation resolutions binding himself to leave the Establishment. After prayer for light, the elders were left by themselves to deliberate. “When I returned, it was intimated to me that the Session unanimously and strongly approved of my conduct, and resolved to hold by my ministry, and yet, when the form of concurrence was produced, only four elders found themselves at liberty to sign it. Another has agreed this day [10th]. The result of this meeting is somewhat discouraging, but we must lay our account with difficulties.”
The next step was an appeal to the people. “On the evening of 19th February, we had a meeting in the church to hear addresses from a deputation of ministers on the Church question. The evening was most unfavourable – wet, dark, and stormy – and yet there were a good many people in the church. The addresses were good. Mr. Lumsden, of Barry, gave a short history of the present conflict, and the gradual encroachments of the civil courts. Mr. Wilson, of Carmylie, took a Scriptural view of the subject, hinting that those who remained in the old Establishment, which was about to disclaim the headship of Christ, may be putting themselves in a position in which they cannot expect the blessing of God. This idea he brought out very strikingly, drawing his illustration from John 14:22, 23. We got more adherences than I expected. The step I have now taken has subjected me to the persecution of the heritors of this parish. I pray God to give me grace to bear it meekly without returning reviling for reviling, but contrariwise, I would ask all blessings on my opponents.”
In this spirit he went forward. Men have admired the courage with which parish ministers in the country gave up their all; but little did the public know at what cost – in many cases – it was done. As the crisis approached, there was a dark cloud hanging over the Manse of Benholm. When the elders held that meeting in the manse on the 9th of January, and Mr. Glen left them to deliberate on their course, he retired to another room to hang in trembling anxiety over the sick-bed of a beloved child lying between life and death. Next day hopes of recovery revived. “Our little boy has been better, and our hearts are beginning to be lightened.” The following week there was a change: “Alas, the clouds have returned after the rain.” The illness was such that the doctor intimated there was no hope, and “we endeavoured with all earnestness to commend our little one – our boy – into the hands of God. This was a very solemn transaction when we went to prayer, the poor mother having her apparently dying child on her knee. This was my birth-day (21st January); at one time I thought my birth-day might have been the dying day of my son.” Again there was a brief interval of reviving strength, but on the 26th of the month the end came. We saw that he was fast dying, and “in a few trembling words I endeavoured to commend his departing spirit into the hands of God. His breathing was now quick, and within two or three seconds of the time I ceased to speak he gently fell asleep on his motherʼs knee.” Then came the funeral – “a day never to be forgotten by me, in which I laid the head of my beloved child in the dust. Oh, how humbling – how crushing to frail humanity – a motherʼs delight – a fatherʼs right hand taken from our warm embrace and laid in the cold earth. Oh, how could nature endure the thought, had we not the sure hope of the soulʼs salvation that while the dust, according to the Divine decree, has returned to its kindred element, the soul redeemed by the precious blood of Christ has gone to glory.”
If we have drawn aside the veil from these scenes of domestic sorrow, it is only that the reader may know what the trials were which had to be endured, and how at the very time when the sacrifice of the Disruption must be made, personal grief added bitterness to the cup. Mr. Glen could not flinch, but his feelings were naturally keen, and it was no wonder that the strain told on his health. Pulpit duty began to press heavily: “I am well aware that the troubles in which I am involved are preying upon my spirits and impairing my strength. Oh that the Lord would show me the path of duty, give me a clear conscience, and that peace in Himself which the world cannot impart!” “It is sometimes painful to flesh and blood to anticipate a speedy separation from the mass of my people, and even to leave this sweet abode. Lord, give direction and support.”
Calmly in the midst of these feelings he held on his course, but he was not insensible to the sacrifice: “Oh that I were duly impressed with the solemn circumstances in which I am placed; if spared likely soon to be stripped of all my earthly substance, and cast on the bounties of Godʼs providence. The Lord has wonderfully provided for me hitherto, and I would humbly trust that he will not forsake me.(921) Oh that I were enabled to act with greater singleness of heart on the present trying occasion, committing my way to God, and casting my wife and children on His care!”
The 18th of May, 1843, accordingly found him in his place at St. Andrewʼs Church: “I was in the street in the midst of the concourse of people, and never can I forget the moment when a shout from the crowd announced that the retiring members were making their appearance without. The rending asunder of the Church of Scotland was a truly solemn event, but it has become inevitable. Mingled feelings of sorrow and joy struggled in my breast, but joy I think predominated.”
On Sabbath, 28th May, the farewell sermon was preached in the church at Benholm. “I was carried through to the last beyond all expectation; but after the blessing was pronounced I was a good deal affected while the people were retiring.”
On the following Thursday the manse was left; and as we have so few examples of these scenes in the Disruption Mss., we ask attention to the narrative: “Our family, on the 1st of June, removed from the manse to the farm-house of Ballandro. In some respects this is a very sad event, but in truth I did not feel it as such. The Lord was pleased to give me such assurance that I was in the path of duty that I could take part in preparing ʻstuff for removing,ʼ and see all carried away without almost any emotion. I bless the Lord for His kindness to me and mine on this memorable day. My sister-in-law and our two little girls went off in the forenoon in one of the carts, not to return again to that sweet abode. My poor wife and myself set off on foot before one oʼclock, having seen all carried out and put on the carts. We went away in a solemn frame of mind, but by no means downcast. The Lord gave my wife great firmness, and she shed not a tear till she began by the way to speak of the grave which held the remains of our dear little boy. His dust sleeps there, but his soul is in heaven.
“A very wet afternoon, but people were kind to us, and we got all our things safely under roof; and when we sat down to tea amidst trunks and boxes, our hearts were full of gratitude to God that He had given us such an abode in existing circumstances. ʻBless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits!ʼ”
Meantime his health, never robust, began to feel the strain of Disruption trials, and the work that was needed in surrounding parishes.
One Sabbath, he says: “Very feeble; have cause to wonder that I am able to preach at all.” Another time: “Had little strength this day. I sometimes fear that my vigour is so impaired that it may never be restored to me.” Again: “Preached but feebly to-day by reason of bodily infirmity. Oh, that my inefficient services may not injure the cause of Christ among my people.” Once again: “Painful feeling in my head, which often greatly unfits me for public duty. This is indeed at present my thorn in the flesh.”
In the midst of these feelings there was another cause of anxiety which lay heavy on his heart – the low state of spiritual life, as he considered it, in the parish, and the fear lest his own defects and shortcomings might be to blame. Many a sentence in these notes tells of the sensitiveness of his feelings on these points and the severity of the standard by which he judged himself.
“Weak this day. Had little comfort, and I fear gave little satisfaction.
“Had but little power this day. The Lord forgive my great unworthiness.
“Considerably embarrassed all this day. Oh, that the Lord would pity me, for I am weak.”
Bodily weakness was thus combined to some extent with mental depression; but all through those records it is striking to observe how bravely, under a sense of duty, he goes on doing his work.
The opening of the New Free Church took place on the 10th of December, 1843, and is noted as a memorable day in the parish of Benholm. “I was permitted to preach in the forenoon on Gen. 28:17; a poor sermon as written, but I was enabled to add some useful passages in delivering it; and I do bless the Lord for the gracious support given me. Mr. Nixon of Montrose, preached afternoon and evening, both able and faithful discourses. He baptised our little Margaret at the former diet. Oh, that the church which we endeavoured to consecrate to God may indeed be one of His own temples – a Bethel, a house of God! Oh, what cause of thanksgiving to God, that He has so provided for a handful of poor people in this place! The Lordʼs name be praised!”
Now it was that his longings for the revival of religion began more prominently to show themselves. The awakening of religious life, which was so marked in various districts of Scotland, had stirred up in the minds of many ministers an intense desire that “the shower of blessing” might visit their own part of the vineyard; and we give Mr. Glenʼs experience as an example of what was really a very widespread feeling in the Free Church at the time.
The opening of the church was followed at once, on Monday evening, by a prayer meeting, which he addressed from Ps. 85:6: “Wilt Thou not revive us again?” “I wish to press the subject of a revival on my people. The Lord revive His work in my own soul!”
Next Sabbath “took up the point that a revival of religion is needful. I bless the Lord for the countenance shown me throughout this day.”
Again, during the same month, he returns to it, preaching on the efficient cause of revivals: “Oh, that the Lord for His own glory may own this feeble attempt to revive His work in this place! Were my own piety more genuine and high-toned, I have cause to believe that my influence might be greater.ʼʼ
From this time forward he gives a long course of sermons on the subject. It formed, indeed, the great theme of his preaching during the year which followed, as he went on expounding and urging home his views with all the earnestness of a man of God who looked and longed for the blessing from on high. The spirit which prompted these appeals comes out from time to time as the series goes on. “Was enabled to speak with considerable energy from Ps. 119:93. The congregation very large. Oh, that I truly felt the solemnity and responsibility of my station when called to address large assemblages of my fellow-sinners! Oh, that the Spirit were poured out to touch the hearts of many!”
The outward success of the congregation pleases but does not satisfy him. In March he finds there has been an addition to the number of communicants. “The cause of the Free Church is, therefore, as yet gaining ground in this place, and I do bless God for so much encouragement. Oh, that we saw still more cheering encouragement in the true conversion of many souls!”
To such longings, however, there seemed for a time to be little response, and at the end of four months he is led to great searchings of heart. “To all appearance, the long series of sermons on revivals has been productive of no good. There must be something wrong in myself. The Lord show me how I may be more useful, if it is His holy will to spare me a little longer for His service.”
Still the earnestness does not relax, and signs of encouragement are not wholly withheld.
“Not very well; speaking with some difficulty. I leave what was said in the hands of God. A very large audience drawn together – I know not for what cause. I trust God has some gracious end in view.”
“Great freedom given me this day. Oh, how easy it is to preach when God is pleased to give gracious support!”
“Greatly assisted this evening, and wonderfully upheld. The audience seemed much affected.”
After his return from the Assembly of 1844, he gave some account of the proceedings connected with Dr. Charles Brownʼs sermon: “Some little excitement among the people. The Lord increase it more and more.”
“Oh, that I saw more fruit of my labours; or, rather, oh, that there were more fruit whether I see it or not!”
Such earnest longings on the part of a good and faithful servant are none the less impressive because he was called to go on sowing the seed, faithfully, ably, prayerfully preaching the Gospel and watching for souls, but destined to prove the truth of the saying that “one soweth and another reapeth.”
These notices of Mr. Glenʼs personal experience and inner life may give some indication of the religious earnestness which prevailed in Disruption times. Few, indeed, were so devout as he. Few led a life of such close walking with God. But generally among the manses of the Free Church there was no small measure of the same state of mind. It was a season of religious awakening, in which men were feeling the impulse of quickened spiritual life, and all over the Church there were prayers going up to heaven, and longing desires cherished that God would come amidst scenes of revival to “refresh His heritage when it was weary.”
Revival in Ireland (1859)
Awakening in Scotland
Professor James Buchanan
Mr. Brownlow North
Ferryden in 1860
Permanence of the Results
Dr. Robert Buchananʼs Estimate
The Free Church, if true to her antecedents, might well cherish those longing desires to which we have referred. She “had been nursed,” as Dr. Charles Brown once reminded the Assembly, “in the bosom of religious revival.” It was in 1839, the year in which the fatal Auchterarder decision was pronounced, that William Burns preached at Kilsyth, when that great spiritual movement began, the effects of which were felt all over Scotland down to the time of the Disruption. Even amidst the turmoil and struggle of 1843 the impulse was not lost, as the memorable meeting of Assembly in 1844 sufficiently proved. During the years that followed, amidst the earnest, evangelical preaching of deputations and the more ordinary means of grace, there were tokens of spiritual blessing in various localities. At Ferryden, for example, not far from Benholm, on the same line of coast, Dr. Brewster was permitted in 1846 to see among the fishermen something of that religious movement which Mr. Glen was praying for and longing to see among the people of Johnshaven. “I spent three hours,” says Dr. A. Bonar, “speaking with anxious souls in private, and preached to them twice. The scene one day reminded me of Dundee times. They were so easily moved to tears and sobs, though their faces were those of hard rough fisher-women. There are about thirty very deeply convinced of sin, and many more under the Spiritʼs strivings. Dr. Brewsterʼs female teacher has been remarkably useful.”(922)
But though individual cases of this kind were met with here and there over the country, it was not till a later period that the movement assumed such proportions as to arrest general attention.
A great religious revival had, in 1859, spread over the north of Ireland; its influence was felt among the Scottish Churches; the Carrubberʼs Close Mission was begun in Edinburgh; the whole religious state of Scotland was full of promise, but signs of excitement had shown themselves, and the question arose as to what the Free Church must do. Was this a genuine Revival? men asked – was the hand of God truly in it? In the words of Mr. Nixon, of Montrose, was it “a God-given or a man-made Revival”?
As time went on these doubts were removed. The Church was, in reality, longing and eager to welcome any signs of reviving spiritual life, anything betokening the approach of a season of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. This was the reward she coveted after all her sacrifices and trials, and it soon appeared that she was not left to look for it in vain.
It was during the year 1860 that Scotland generally experienced the power of a decided religious awakening. The mining districts and fishing villages of the East coast were the first to show the effects of the movement, which, however, soon made its presence felt in the towns and rural parishes. At the following Assembly there were returns from more than 160 congregations, reporting either a decided awakening or a great increase of spiritual earnestness among the people. “I never,” said Dr. Roxburgh, “was more solemnly and gratefully impressed than with this evidence of a widespread, genuine revival of religion in the land.” And year after year the work continued to advance.
From Dumfriesshire, we have the experience of Dr. James Buchanan, Professor in the New College, who, with his calm mind, would have been the last man to over-estimate the reality. “A venerable ancestor of mine attended the revival at Cambuslang, and was spared to the ripe age of ninety years; and it was from his venerable lips, and most exemplary character, that I was first led to take a delight in the writings of Owen, Traill, and Witherspoon, which were his daily companions. More recently, I have been privileged to witness the effects of the revival in the country district in which I reside in summer. For the last seventeen years, during which I have had the summer at my own disposal, I have been in the habit of preaching regularly, on the Lordʼs day evening, in the open air in Dumfriesshire. During the whole of that time I have had the attendance of members of all religious denominations – Episcopalians, United Presbyterians, Established Church people – who would not come to any Free Church, but came to my tent. During these seventeen years, I had no evidence, though I had no doubt that the good seed sown was not thrown altogether away; but I could not put my hand upon a single case of decided conversion. Last year, suddenly, and without apparently any human instrumentality to account for it, the whole district was visited with an outpouring of the Spirit of God. Now, in my immediate neighbourhood, I can point to many households where, for the first time, family worship has been established and is now regularly maintained. The whole morals of the district seem to have undergone a complete change; and, as the police expressed it to me, their office was, so far as serious crimes were concerned, all but a sinecure. Some of those who came under religious impressions at that time may possibly have gone back, and therefore it would not be right in us to report all these cases of transient awakening as if they were cases of true conversion to God. We must judge of them by their subsequent fruits; but, at the same time, I know intemperance and profligacy of all kinds have been checked, and that the minds of the whole community have become impressed and awed by a sense of Divine things.”(923)
At Carnwath, Dr. Walker mentions a fellowship meeting which had been held in the village of Quothquan for thirty or forty years, and to which the year 1860 brought a great quickening of spiritual life, the effects of which were felt over the neighbouring districts of Peeblesshire and Lanarkshire. He records various striking cases of conversion,(924) among which the experience of one woman is especially mentioned, – “Though there was no physical prostration, it might be truly said that she had been stricken. For several days there was scarcely a ray of hope. The minister of the church with which the sufferer was connected was sent for. He warned her against going to the “prayer meetings;” but she declined to promise. He spoke of her being brought to the asylum. “If God brings me to the asylum,” she replied, “I hope He will save my soul.” Through weeks of agony she bore on – her eye still in the one direction – her thoughts and longings still Christwards – willing to suffer anything rather than go back – recognising in what had come upon her Godʼs great mercy. No great joy had yet been found; but some degree of calm – of hope in Christ. Through the secluded country parishes which had been chiefly acted on by the Quothquan awakening, he knew of from forty to fifty persons who had professed either to have given themselves to the Saviour, or to be earnestly seeking Him. An interesting class of these consisted of the young farm lads – youths perhaps thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen years of age.”(925)
In Fife, Mr. Taylor, of Flisk, states: “In 1860-61, the years of revival, I could count up about eighteen in one little congregation as sharing in the benefits of that awakening. Persons that had kicked against faithful and tender dealing, have submitted themselves; stillness, and reverence, and expectancy characterise our Sabbath meetings. As it is my daily prayer, so it is my hope that the Lord is doing us good in His good pleasure.”(926)
Kilsyth was once more the scene of religious awakening. “For three months,” Mr. Black states, “the meetings continued. There was no excitement, certainly nothing approaching to extravagance. At our communion in November, between fifty and sixty were admitted to the Lordʼs Table – nearly every one of whom professed to have been brought out of darkness into light. They were of all ages, from seventeen to fifty or sixty. The tone of piety was raised among the professedly religious. The whole aspect of the place was changed, the decency and decorum of the streets presenting a very pleasing contrast to the former state of things.”
At Deskford there was a remarkable movement. “A special work of the Lord has been going on in this congregation for upwards of seven months. A very striking case of conversion occurring more than two years ago, exercised a great influence in preparing for it, and gave confidence in the reality of the change wrought by the effectual application of the truth to the heart. The Lordʼs own hand has been recognised throughout the whole progress of the work, no special importance being attached to any particular instrumentalities. There has been great variety in the mode of the Spiritʼs operation, bringing out very strongly the truth that a human judgment on this subject can be rightly formed only upon a careful observation of actual facts. In by far the majority of cases, the change produced was marked by nothing beyond the natural effect of the application of the truth of God, by the Spirit of life gradually and most surely leading the burdened soul to find peace and rest in Christ. In a few, the details of which are sufficiently striking, the immediate presence of God was more vividly realised, and in a manner fitted to produce the most powerful impression on others. In all these, it was made very evident what was the purpose which this was designed to serve. The circumstances in which they occurred entirely precluded the idea of human agency or mere human emotion.”(927)
One more example we take from a rural parish in Forfarshire. In the spring of 1868, signs of awakening showed themselves among the people, who, of their own accord, made their state of mind known to the minister. It was not till the end of autumn, however, that meetings were held, but at once a deep impression was made – men, women, and children, all sharing the blessing. At the close of one of the sermons in the month of February, all those were asked to remain behind who had derived benefit from the work, when from 120 to 130 did so; but these, it was believed, did not amount to half of those who had been really awakened. The blessing descended manifestly on some of the farms in the neighbourhood.(928) On one large farm there was scarcely a family which had not been moved, besides two or three of the young ploughmen in the bothy.
One remarkable circumstance was the prominent position taken in these revival movements by laymen, some of whom did not belong to the Free Church, but whose aid was none the less cordially welcomed. Perhaps the most distinguished of these lay preachers was Mr. Brownlow North, an Episcopalian, the son of a rector, the grandson of an English bishop. After passing through the great spiritual change, he took up the doctrines of the Christian faith according to the Calvinistic view, preaching a free gospel, and setting forth the message of salvation with a freshness and power which has not often been equalled. Though a decided Episcopalian, yet he had such a fellow-feeling with the Free Church, and co-operated so cordially with many of her ministers, that it was proposed to give him some recognised position as an evangelist. The matter was brought before the Assembly; a committee was appointed, including some of the most strict adherents of orthodoxy, and, after full conference with Mr. North, there was a unanimous decision in favour of the proposal. His doctrinal views were so entirely in accordance with those of our Church, and his gifts and graces had been found to be so singularly fitted for impressing the minds of men, that Episcopalian though he was, all parties agreed to recognise him as a fellow-labourer whose services were to be welcomed by the ministers of the Free Church. Dr. Cunningham was Moderator of Assembly and most cordially gave Mr. North the right hand of fellowship. Revival work was all the more welcome that it was felt to be a platform on which earnest men of all denominations could meet and co-operate.
While the rural districts of Scotland were thus, as we have seen, largely sharing in the blessing, the same results to a great extent were met with in towns, and especially among the newly formed territorial charges. Thus at the West Port, Mr. Tasker writes: “At this moment I have nearly sixty candidates for communion, two-thirds of whom date their serious impressions within the last three months. At present we have at least sixty persons who hold district prayer meetings in almost every close of the West Port.”(929)
At the Pleasance, Mr. Cochrane reports: “The year 1860 will be ever memorable in the history of this congregation. Since last Assembly the increase in the membership is 203.(930) At the close of the usual weekly services on some occasions four, five, six, and upwards, have remained in deep concern to speak about the state of their soul. Meetings for prayer have been held by the people themselves, while not a few of the awakened and hopefully converted have taken part in these along with the minister and others. Were the question put, Who have been most instrumental in building up and adding members to the congregation? the reply would be, The people themselves.
So also in Glasgow, Mr. Howie at the Wynd Church reported that since the New Year the number of those impressed at their meetings and Sabbath services had been very great, and the increase had been due to a remarkable outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Of those added to the congregation about eighty were communicants for the first time, and with only one or two exceptions were able to give a clear, intelligent, and satisfactory account of their conversion. The moral and spiritual change wrought in many of them was so marked as to astonish and confound those who were most sceptical.(931)
At Finnieston, Dr. A. Bonar states: “The population of the district is about 4000, and we are able to point to dwellings in every part of it in which some soul has been born again, so far as man can judge. In the two streets nearest our church we know of fifty persons at least, regarding whom there is reason to believe that they have passed from death to life during the last three years. Last summer it was the Bible lesson in the day school that seemed to be specially owned of God to the conversion of six or seven, and to the awaking of many more. One marked case of conversion resulted from discipline in the session. Some cases of apparent and satisfactory awaking have occurred in connection with the visits of elders.(932)
But gratifying as all this was, no cases were more remarkable than those in the fishing villages.
Mr. Davidson of Latheron was, as we have seen, a devoted labourer in his Masterʼs service, and it is gratifying to find the last days of his ministry brightened by scenes of revival. The accounts of the Irish movement in 1859 had awakened among his people “a feeling of solemnity and expectation.” There were prayer meetings thrice a-week in the schoolroom, which held 200, but soon they were compelled to seek larger accommodation in the Church. The people were thirsting for the Word. It was a pleasure to preach on Sabbath, and the attendance at the prayer meetings increased to an average of 400.
“It was now the beginning of February, at which season several boatsʼ crews from the opposite coasts of Moray and Banff are in the habit of annually taking up their residence here, in order to prosecute the white fishing during the spring. As it was well known that the revival had been very marked and very extensive over that district of country, much anxiety prevailed, and many inquiries were made on their arrival here. Never were the habits of men more changed. Formerly they were as a class utterly regardless of religious duties, while drinking and profane swearing were common. Now they seemed new men as different from their former selves as can well be conceived; for not only did they abstain from desecrating the Sabbath, or entering a public-house, or uttering an oath, but they seemed to “call the Sabbath a delight,” and to abound in religious duties on all days of the week, when not at sea. These crews landed on different parts of our coast, and the report of their altered habits greatly strengthened the impressions already existing as to the reality of the work. By-and-by they found their way to our meetings, and took part in them. Hitherto there had been no violent demonstrations, though a good deal of subdued feeling was manifested by tears and sighs, but soon several became so affected as to relieve their pent feelings in loud cries and fervent prayers for mercy and pardon, and this too from night to night, for now the meetings had become nightly, and often continued till morning. Many of both sexes were wont to stand up in rapid succession as if under an irresistible impulse, and to utter the most earnest and fervent supplications, both for themselves and others, so that it was with difficulty that order could be maintained. This violent agitation, however, only lasted for a few nights, during which there were some cases of prostration and fainting. Afterwards, matters assumed a more quiet and edifying appearance, and the work went on calmly and agreeably. Some of these strangers were judicious men, but others of them were boisterous, and evidently spoke for effect. This required to be checked, but it was wonderful how little of this appeared among men formerly unaccustomed to take part in religious exercises of any kind.
“The effect produced by this state of matters, not only on those who professed to have come under the power of the truth, but also on the population generally, was very great. As to the former, they never wearied of spiritual duties. It became their meat and their drink to be so engaged. The Bible was seldom out of their hands at every spare hour. The attainment of Scriptural knowledge seemed to be their great delight, and prayer and praise their element. They prized fellowship with one another, and frequent conference with all who were willing and able to counsel and direct them in the path of duty. Their whole manner and conduct much resembled those of old, when ʻmen took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.ʼ”(933)
Still more striking was the case of Ferryden, near Montrose, in which Mr. Nixon took the deepest interest, and of which we have a valuable account from his pen. Speaking of the results among the people, he says: –
“No one that comes in contact with them can fail to be struck by the general consistent seriousness of their deportment. Visit them in their houses, talk with them as they are working inside or outside of their dwellings at their lines, exchange a few words with them as you meet them on the way, or overhear their conversation as in twos and threes you at any time find them conversing with each other, and the likelihood is that, in nine instances out of ten, you will find their attention taken up with the Word of God, with the work of Christ, with the realities of faith and of eternity. There has been in fact a solemnity in the midst of that people for months that renders every day in the midst of them like a Sabbath-day, and causes you to feel the intrusion of the ordinary conversation current in the world to be offensive trifling.
“Have the people, then, been generally converted to God? I am far enough from meaning to affirm anything like that. In an orchard in spring you may see a wonderful display of beautiful blossoms. But by-and-by many of them are blighted and perish; and it is only a moderate proportion of them that ripen into full-grown healthy fruit. So has it generally been in regard to any wide awakening in any part of the Church. So may it turn out even in regard to this corner of the vineyard. Yet in Ferryden the work of the Lord has been comparatively a work of singular extensiveness and power. One excellent judge declared that he had seen nothing more decided in Ireland lately or formerly in Kilsyth. Upwards of one hundred applicants were admitted in December, for the first time, to the communion – a large proportion of whom professed and appeared to have come, in a greater or less degree, into the light and liberty of the Gospel. Not a few who were regular in attendance on Church ordinances for years, have come to feel that they were mere formalists, and profess to be now quickened from their state of death in trespasses and sins. Some believers of other years have been baptised anew by the Spirit of God, and visited with a blessing which they felt as if they had not room enough to receive. The elders, and other intelligent Christian men of the village, after examining into the matter as well as they could, told me some time ago that probably there were two hundred or more, giving something like evidence that they had lately come under the power of saving grace; an opinion which was modestly given, and which of course remains to be tested by time and experience.”(934)
As to the work itself he states: “If, however, one thing has been more remarkably characteristic of the work than another, it has been the little that man has had to do with it. The hand of man has scarcely been seen in it. The Lord has signally taken and kept the work in His own hands; and the folly of attempting to confine the Spirit of God to this or that man, or to any half-dozen of men, has been emphatically rebuked, in this instance by the sovereign way in which the Lord has done His great and gracious work without much direct and ascertainable use of any specially extolled, or any other human instrumentality whatsoever.
“There were two remarkable weeks in the history of this work of the Lord at Ferryden – the first from Monday 7th to Saturday 12th of last November; the second from Saturday the 12th to Sabbath 20th November . The first of these weeks was one of deep widespread conviction of sin and misery, during which they were in their restlessness, constantly going into each othersʼ houses, speaking of their burdened and intolerable state, declaring that they could not live if they did not get Christ, and salvation in Him; and by all this incessant intercourse and outspokenness, exciting a deeper sense of sin and misery in each othersʼ hearts, till, toward the end of that first week, they reached such a state of general excitement, as to be ready, on the first occasion of any gathering, for an unrestrainable outbreak.
“Such an outbreak accordingly took place in the church on Saturday evening, without anything to excite it in what was being said by the excellent and earnest layman from the North, who was then addressing them. And then, on the Sabbath, and at some subsequent meetings, this effervescence of their wrought-up feelings gradually spent itself. These and some other outward and physical manifestations, were, however, mere accidents of the work, not essentials of it. The Lord was graciously pleased to deliver and preserve the susceptible people, to a great extent, from confounding these accessories with the substance of the work, and to direct their minds to the true nature of that great salvation which they needed and were led to seek for in the Lord Jesus Christ. And therefore, though in the crisis of their overwhelming excitement, some were shaken, and even prostrated, yet in the great majority of cases there was happily little or nothing at all of this bodily prostration in those who passed from death to life.
“Such a transition was apparently accomplished in not a few during the week beginning with Saturday the 12th, and onward to Sabbath, the 20th November. This was a week of deliverance, as the other had been one of conviction. One young married woman, who had been at no meetings, and, as she said, sought and found the Lord in her own house, was to appearance savingly converted shortly after midnight on Saturday morning, the 12th. And as her case shows, the report of her having got as it were the start of the burdened sinners around her, brought them in crowds to her house during the Saturday from an early hour, and caused them to feel greatly increased distress, as they gazed on her emancipated state, and contrasted it with their own continued and terrible bondage. She was thus the most powerful of all the sermons they heard. And, indeed, if one instrumentality rather than another is to be condescended on, it seems to me that then, and at all stages of the work, the converse which they held with each other, anent their sorrows and their joys, was among the most easily recognised means by which the Lord carried on His work of grace in the midst of them. The second week having so auspiciously begun by the conversion already mentioned, at every successive hour of it, ministering angels seem to have got fresh messages to carry to the courts above, concerning the repentance of another and another sinner which fills all heaven with gladness. And ere that second week had passed, many a heart that had been bursting with its sorrow, was breaking out in songs of rapturous joy.”
While these things were going on in town and country, the ministers of the Free Church felt it to be their duty to throw themselves heart and soul into the work, seeking to guard it from evil, and prayerfully to carry out those great ends for which it had been given. Many a grateful testimony is borne to the happy results which remained after the first fervour had passed away, how family worship was observed, prayer meetings multiplied, church attendance increased, and the whole tone of religious life was elevated.
One of the most gratifying circumstances has been the stability and permanence of the work in many of the congregations, Mr. Bain, of Chapel Garioch(935) mentions that when the revival took place, they had seventy new communicants added to the congregation, and speaking at the distance of five years, he is able to say that there had been very little going back among them. At a recent election of elders, they required seven, and five of those chosen had been the subjects of the revival movement. Subsequently they had an election of deacons, and of the eleven elected seven were subjects of the revival. Others had become Sabbath-school teachers, and some young men were studying for the ministry. A number of persons had been reclaimed from drunkenness. One of the fruits of the revival was that “the young men had undertaken the support of a native catechist in China, and the young women the education of a girl in India.” In very many districts it is believed that similar experience has been met with. Among the Sabbath-school teachers and office-bearers in many a congregation, there is a large proportion of the most zealous workers who received their first saving impression of Divine truth at the time of that memorable revival, and who have steadfastly held on their course.
The facts thus far stated will give some indication of the religious state of Scotland at the time, but they must be taken as mere examples of what was taking place in many localities, too numerous to mention. In the Assembly of 1860 a whole day was given up to the consideration of such details, and the more the subject was inquired into, it was found there was the more to tell. Summing up the result, Dr. Buchanan stated from the Moderatorʼs chair: “Time absolutely failed for recounting the Lordʼs wonderful dealings in almost every part of the land. We had thought, many of us, that the whole extent of the present religious awaking was already generally known. But how striking, and how delightful, was it to find that the half had not been told. In the course of that long and most refreshing day that was occupied with this blessed subject, as one brother after another rose to address the House,(936) the fact became increasingly manifest that in countless districts of which no public mention had ever been previously made, the Spirit from on high had been dropping as the rain and distilling as the dew, to refresh Godʼs weary heritage and revive His work in the midst of the years. From East Lothian to the Outer Hebrides, from the shores of the Moray Firth to those of the Solway, and all through the great mining and manufacturing districts of the kingdom, we heard of scenes which carried us back to the days of the Lordʼs wonderful doings at Shotts, Stewarton, and Cambuslang.” And very gratefully and joyfully were such tidings welcomed. At a great price the Free Church had sought to be found faithful in bearing her testimony for Christ, and the desire which above all else she cherished was to receive some token of His favour in the revival of her spiritual life. Many prayers had been offered, and when the blessing was actually bestowed, and sinners were turned to the Lord, and congregations were revived and quickened, men might well have their hearts filled with gratitude and their lips with praise. The Lord had done great things for us, whereof we were glad
The Disruption the Lordʼs Doing Some of its Results and Lessons
In closing these Annals, we can now look back on the Disruption at the distance of forty years, and estimate in some measure its abiding influence in the Church and on the world. Our first impulse is to linger over the memories of the great leaders who wielded such influence among their brethren – men gifted with powers of intellect and eloquence which fitted them to guide the Church through her days of trial, when scenes were witnessed and deeds were done which can never be forgotten. There was Dr. Chalmers, standing out before all others a true “king of men;” and Dr. Candlish, with his brilliant intellect and fascinating powers of speech; and Dr. Cunningham, strong in the manly force of his overpowering logic; and Dr. Robert Buchanan, with his sagacious counsels and polished eloquence; and Alexander Dunlop, distinguished for his mastery of constitutional law and high-minded chivalry; and a host of others – a long list of those who stood high in the view of the Church and the country. Sometimes it seems as if it were but yesterday that they were moving and acting in the midst of us with all their commanding influence: “But our fathers, where are they, and the prophets – do they live for ever?” They served their generation according to the will of God, and with few exceptions they have gone to their rest.
The Christian who believes that God is in human history, guiding the course of events, may well see a Divine hand conspicuously manifest in the Disruption. The event was brought about by the agency of those who “meant not so, neither did their heart think so.”
The Evangelical party – afterwards the Free Church – in claiming for the people a voice in the calling of their ministers, wished to do what was right, and at the same time to strengthen the Establishment; but the end was that they were themselves driven out, and a heavy blow inflicted on the Establishment, which they had wished to strengthen.
The Moderate party – afterwards the Establishment – wished to defend Patronage, and rather than have it limited they preferred the risk of Disruption. But that Disruption which they caused, has compelled them since to ask from Parliament the abolition of that very Patronage which they had striven at such cost to defend.
The Government of Sir Robert Peel were Conservative; but when they refused any concession – refused even a committee of inquiry – they shattered what all men knew was the most conservative institution in the country.
Thus all the different agents were led by a way which they knew not. The Disruption itself, in its providential aspects, as well as the whole train of circumstances that led to it, was evidently “the doing of the Lord.” While man proposed, it was God who disposed; and if so, it is obvious that a heavy responsibility has ever since been lying on the Church, to inquire with what design God brought her into this position, and how best she is to carry out His purposes.
It is right to bear in mind that strong efforts were made by the Evangelical party to avoid the catastrophe. In 1841, for example, a movement was made in Parliament to “close the yawning breach, and avert the threatened Disruption.” If the Moderate party in the Church had supported the effort of the then Duke of Argyll, it would have been successful. It fell to Dr. Candlish, in the Assembly, to speak for his side, and he bent the whole powers of his eloquence to bring about mutual concessions. If the anti-Patronage men would cease to press for anti-Patronage – and this they were willing to do, – and if the Patronage men were willing to consent to some modification in favour of the people, all parties might meet on common ground. For eight years the Moderate party had administered the Veto Law without any scruple of conscience; and would they not, he asked, unite in intimating to Parliament that it was a thing they could – for the sake of saving a Disruption – submit to, though they did not approve of it? In appealing to them with this view, Dr. Candlish broke forth into a strain of eloquence, so generous towards his opponents, so touching in its personal references, so full of noble sentiment, as he pointed to the consequences of a coming Disruption, that the whole Assembly was pervaded by a feeling of “solemnity and tenderness.” “His address,” says Dr. Buchanan, “shook the house as if it had been a mighty rushing wind, and for a brief interval it did seem as if it had swept all opposition before it.” But such was not the will of God; no concession could be obtained, events held on their course, and the Disruption was consummated.
During these forty years since our separation from the State, many changes have taken place; but one duty is still as imperatively binding as ever on the Free Church – her testimony for Spiritual Independence – “the Crown Rights of the Redeemer” – must at all hazards be maintained and vindicated.
It is true that Patronage has been abolished in the Establishment, and this was a remarkable tribute to the power of the Free Church and her principles.
It is also true that if this, or even less than this, had been conceded at an early stage of the conflict, it would have prevented the Disruption, because the constitution of the Established Church had not then been fixed on an Erastian basis.
But it is equally true that as things now are, the Free Church must stand by her principles, and uphold her testimony for the Headship of Christ.
As to the Act by which Parliament abolished Patronage, we have the conclusive evidence of the Duke of Argyll, and other leading promoters of the measure, that it did not concede the Free Church principle of spiritual independence, and was never meant to concede it. It may be enough if on this point we add the well-weighed opinion of Lord Ardmillan, who belonged to the Free Church, but who writes in no partisan spirit – his feelings towards all that is good in the Establishment being of the most cordial nature. “It is alike,” he says, “the part of wisdom and of duty, to hold fast the principles vindicated at such cost in the Disruption, and to maintain the position of Nonconformity; for that is our true position, since Nonconformists all Free Churchmen became when they quitted the Establishment in 1843. The recent alteration in the law of Patronage does not affect our position. It may or may not be satisfactory to the Established Church. Of course we cannot approve of Patronage. We have never done so. It was not in the Evangelical party that Patronage found support, nor can it find support in the Free Church. But the new statute, whatever it does, does not remove the causes of separation; it does not secure, and was not intended to secure, the spiritual independence of the Church; and after thirty yearsʼ experience of Disruption life, all thoughtful Free Churchmen must have been taught that Evangelical Nonconformity has in it a charm and a power which the State cannot bestow, and must have been taught also that the Church is freer, safer, and purer when depending only on the free-will offerings of the Christian people.”(937)
This is the duty, then, which lies on the Free Church, in the Providence of God; the great principle for which she made the sacrifice of 1843 must be maintained. It has, indeed, the most sacred hereditary claims on her loyal support. “Among the first words,” says the Rev. Andrew Gray,(938) “uttered by our Church, when she awoke out of Popery three centuries ago, that testimony was claimed as her own. To the Parliament of the kingdom, and in the hearing of Christendom, she said: ʻWe confess and avow Christ Jesus to be the only Head of His Kirk, our just Lawgiver, our only High Priest, Advocate, and Mediator; in which honours and offices, if man or angel presume to intrude themselves, we utterly detest them as blasphemous to our Sovereign and Supreme Governor, Christ Jesus.ʼ Thus spake the Scottish Church by the mouth of John Knox, and while yet in her cradle. Providence must have guided her words. They announced her peculiar vocation from God, and presented an epitome of her history from that day to this. She did not forget the lesson her lisping tongue had learned. ʻThe Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King,ʼ formed her watchword from generation to generation. In courts, in prison, on the scaffold, at the stake, she cried: ʻThe Pope is not our head, the prince is not our head, our only Head is Christ.ʼ To the Church of England, to the Church of Holland, to the Huguenots of France, to the Protestants of Germany, the language of her struggles and manifold sufferings was: ʻGive not the things of God unto Caesar, nor the prerogatives of Christ to the civil magistrate; let kings be your nursing fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers, but let Christ alone be your Lawgiver and Head.ʼ It is no light matter to inherit such a testimony – a testimony in itself so great, and that was so maintained. Especially is it no light matter to have such a testimony committed to us at a time like this. Everywhere, both at home and abroad, the Churches of Christ are astir, and looking into their constitutional foundations. All over Europe the relation between Church and State as it has existed for centuries is becoming unsettled, and the servants and people of God are daily growing more free and willing to consider what the true and proper relation is. The Churches to which the Scottish testimony has made its appeal so long, are now at last in a favourable condition for listening to it. Who knows but that God had an eye to this crisis when he raised up the Church of Scotland, and appointed both her recent baptism of tears, and her former baptisms of tears and of blood. Let us then, through the grace of God, keep our banner aloft, that it may be seen from afar on these Scottish hills, among which martyrs used to dwell, drawing hope and confidence from the cross of Christ; let us hold forth with one heart and soul the testimony for His crown!”
But while this is a duty imperatively demanded, it would be an evil day for the Free Church if her strength were chiefly given to such contendings. While our people should know the principles of their Church, and be able on fitting occasions to render a reason, yet a Church has other work to do, and in looking forward to the future, we may be allowed to cherish the hope that all the sections of our divided Presbyterianism in Scotland may yet be gathered into one. It may even be that the Disruption of 1843, in the mysterious Providence of God, may be designed to prepare the way for such a result.
Already, as we have seen, three unions have taken place on the ground of these common principles. The original Synods of both branches of the Secession, and the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, have made common cause with the Free Church. But apart from such ecclesiastical movements, the tendency of events in Scotland, ever since the Disruption, has been step by step to place all different Churches on the same level.
Within two years after 1843, a change was made in the administration of the poor-law, by which the Established Church lost much of the influential position she formerly held.
Another change was the abolition of the tests by which all University Professors were bound to attach themselves to the Established Church. What brought the question into prominence was an attempt to expel Sir David Brewster from the office of Principal in the University of St. Andrews. He was the leading man of science of his day in Scotland; but no sooner had he joined the Free Church than the Presbytery rose in arms, and took action, on the 6th of June, within less than a fortnight after the first Free Assembly. The most eminent advocates were engaged, and a remarkable correspondence took place(939) between the Presbytery and one of their counsel, Mr. Inglis, now Lord Justice-General, whose opinion was adverse to the proposed prosecution. The Presbytery were resolute, however. After “a long and anxious conversation with Dr. Cook,” they wrote that they had come to the resolution to libel Sir David Brewster. It was a question “involving, as we think, the very existence of the Establishment.” They were ultimately persuaded – not without difficulty – to refrain from prosecuting the case.
Other cases occurred; public attention was called to the whole subject, and by Act of Parliament the Professors, other than those in the Faculty of Divinity, were set free, the Established Church losing the jurisdiction she claimed.
A still more serious change was made in regard to the parochial schools. We have seen with what relentless severity all teachers adhering to the Free Church were expelled, and how our great scheme of education was set up. But soon the need of a national system became apparent. The Free Church threw her influence into the scale; the public took the matter into their own hands, the present School Boards were set up, and the exclusive control of the Established Church came to an end.
In these different changes something was due to the effect of the Disruption. In connection with such national questions, the position of the Establishment had become untenable. It was one thing to claim exclusive control in the days when nearly the whole population belonged to a Church truly national, but it was different when a majority of the people were outside its pale. Step by step the course of events has been moving in the direction of religious equality.
The Disruption, whose history we have endeavoured to trace, has, it is obvious, left behind it many important lessons which well deserve the careful consideration of every thoughtful mind.
The simple duty of faith in God, for example, was enforced in a way that was very memorable. Often in the midst of the conflict the path of duty was dark. The world was full of scornful mockery as to the folly of expecting that churches could be built, and incomes provided for the outgoing ministers; and many a time, in our secret minds, we were inclined to agree with the world that it was all very hopeless. The only thing clear was that we must “do the right.” In mercy there was grace given for the day of trial; and now, in looking back, the Free Church has simply to tell of the faithfulness of a faithful God. This, then, is one message which, in the most emphatic way, the Disruption brings to all men of all Churches, – that, if only they walk in the path of duty, they will not be forsaken. Many a time, in the midst of these Disruption experiences, menʼs hearts have overflowed with gratitude as they were able to set up their Ebenezer and say, “Hitherto the Lord hath helped us.”
But there was one subject on which the Disruption cast most unexpected light – the power inherent in the Christian Church to sustain by her own free-will offerings all the ordinances of religion. When the money was seen at first pouring into the treasury, we were often like men who dreamed. Worldly men outside the Church wondered what it could mean. Even Christian men in some cases were incredulous. Dr. Duff tells of an Episcopalian congregation in England, fifteen hundred strong, who used to welcome the annual deputation of the Church Missionary Society, and after two or three sermons had been preached, they were accustomed to announce that the “handsome” – sometimes they said “munificent” – collection of six or seven pounds had been made(940) When some of these “rich folks” were shown the announcement that £750 had been got at a collection in Dr. Millerʼs church, Glasgow, they refused to believe it; there must be a figure too many – it must be £75, or £50, and even that seemed to them incredible. Both in, and out of the Establishment, men had the most inadequate ideas of how much they were bound to give for the cause of Christ. The fountains of Christian liberality needed to be broken up, and in the Providence of God this was what the Disruption was sent to do. Under the quickening power of the Spirit of God, menʼs hearts were enlarged, and they began to give of their substance as they never gave before.
The first outburst of this liberality was wonderful; but more wonderful is the fact, that it proved to be no temporary convulsive effort. Continuously flowing with steady current for forty years, the liberality of the people has placed an amount of wealth at the disposal of our Church greater than that which she possessed while within the Establishment. At first men gave largely, in 1843, under the generous impulse of the Disruption; but the impulse has become a habit. Referring to the Sustentation Fund, Dr. Buchanan said: “The revenues of the Crown do not come into the nationʼs treasury with greater steadiness and regularity than does this Fund of ours.” To many it has come as a new discovery – this power of Christian principle to call forth the continuous liberality of the people; and surely it is no small service which the Disruption has thus rendered: rousing the latent power of our own congregations and reacting on others, it has influenced the whole Christianity of Scotland, bringing home to all the members of all the Churches the duty and privilege of contributing of their substance to the cause of Christ. Comparing the scale of giving before the Disruption with that which has prevailed since, it is hardly too much to say that it has effected a revolution in the finances, not of the Free Church alone, but of other Churches also. It is not meant that the Free Church has reached the full standard of giving. There are latent powers yet waiting to be developed, but there has been enough of self-sacrificing, generous liberality to make the scale of her contributions to be spoken of throughout the world.
In these Annals it has been our part to describe the past and not to forecast the future. As years pass on, every new generation has its own peculiarities; new advantages are enjoyed, new temptations and dangers must be encountered, and in the face of these the Church must do her great work for God and man. But in the midst of all changes, the Church of the future, we may feel assured, will find her safety and her success just where she has found it in the past.
Nothing can be more certain than that the strength of the Church in Disruption days lay in the full and faithful preaching of the Gospel of Godʼs grace. In all its length and breadth our ministers rejoiced to set forth Godʼs truth in regard to sin on the one hand and salvation through Christ on the other, and the work of the Spirit on the souls of men.
But along with this there was, as these Annals have abundantly shown, an awakening of religious life and zeal which made itself everywhere felt. It was there in the sphere of religious effort that the effect of the Disruption was specially seen – the new life thrown into every department of Christian work. It has been our object in these pages to show how far this was realised – how men who had been noted before for faith and zeal toiled as they never toiled before, and how their hearts were often cheered by the blessing which rested on their labours.
It was this that in a great measure won for the Free Church her position in the land – this enthusiastic devotedness and unhesitating self-sacrifice. Her struggles and her testimony for the Headship of Christ had been much, but her zeal for the conversion of souls was more. The evangelical fervour of the Churchʼs best days seemed in some good measure restored, and while sinners were saved and saints were refreshed, men thanked God and took courage.
It should never be forgotten that the measure of the Churchʼs success is not the amount of her contributions, nor the number of her members, but the degree of progress she is making in winning souls and subduing the world for Christ. It is by the faithful preaching of the Gospel, and by the presence of a living Saviour, visible in the midst of her, that this is to be done. If the Church is to gain over the world, men must recognise her faith and zeal and self-sacrificing love, and in these trace the evidences of Christʼs abiding presence with her as her living Head. In Disruption times this was what men lived and prayed for, and they did not pray in vain. May a yet larger share of the same spirit be given to our Church in days to come, and may generation after generation of her faithful sons be heard as in days past, pouring forth their hearts in the devout and hallowed aspiration: –
Peace be in thee, Iʼll say,
And for the house of God our Lord
Iʼll seek thy good alway.”
761 Commission of General Assembly, August, 1844 – Witness newspaper
762 Free Church Magazine, 5, 65
764 Farewell to Egypt
765 Quarterly Review, vol.77, p.222, December, 1845
766 Memoir of Dr. Guthrie, 2, p.26
767 Witness newspaper, 1845, 1st October
768 Statement by the Rev. D. Landsborough, of Kilmarnock
769 Disr. Mss., 64
770 Life, vol. 2, p.60
771 Free Church Magazine, 1, 331
772 Blue Book, Glas. Ass. pp.95-96
773 Blue Book, 1844, pp.70-71
774 Blue Book, 1844, p.69
775 Memoirs, 4, p.394
776 Within three weeks of his death, his testimony on behalf of the Free Church was given in the strongest terms before the Committee of the House of Commons on Sites.
777 Blue Book, 1852, p.228
778 Blue Book, p.231
779 Blue Book, 1850, p.274
780 Blue Book, 1844, p.92
781 Memoir of Rev. A. Gray, p.63
782 Disr. Mss. 71, pp.2, 9
783 The Rev. Mr. Johnston – Blue Book, 1845, p.34
784 Blue Book, 1844, p.217
785 Rev. J. Thomson, D.D., Paisley, Disr. Mss. 57
786 Rev. J. Thomson, D.D., Paisley, Disr. Mss. 57
787 Disr. Mss. 14, p.5
788 Disr. Mss. 10, p.13
789 Disr. Mss. 21, p.4
790 Disr. Mss. 27, p.11
791 Disr. Mss. 13
792 Memoir, Edinburgh, 1878, p.119
793 Disr. Mss. 70. p.33
794 Disr. Mss. 78, p.12
795 Disr. Mss. 29, p.18
796 Parker Mss. Presb. Cupar
797 Disr. Mss. 65, p.2
798 Disr. Mss. 70, pp.18-24
799 Blue Book, 1844, p.269; Ass. Proc. 1844, p.269
800 Blue Book, 4, 98-110
801 Union Free Church Monthly Record, March, 1881
802 Blue Book, 1844, 252
803 Blue Book, 1860, p.76
804 Blue Book, 1868 – Report on Religion and Morals, |pp.4-5
805 Blue Book,1868, p.18.
806 Dr. Hetherington, in Free Church Mag., 2, p.47
807 Blue Book, 1844, p.195
808 Blue Book, October, 1843, p.68
809 As yet a supporter of the Establishment
810 Witness Newspaper, 21st November, 1849
811 Latheron, Parker Mss. p.5
812 Latheron, Parker Mss. pp.10-12
813 Blue Book, Inverness, 1845, p.64
814 Blue Book, 1843, Glasgow, p.115
815 Blue Book, 1848, p.242
816 Missionary Record, 1846, p.552
817 Missionary Record, Sept., 1845, p.202
818 Missionary Record, 1846, p.351
819 Disr. Mss. 67, pp.2-3
820 Disr. Mss. 80, pp.14-16
821 Free Church Mag. 2, 370-71
822 Missionary Record, March, 1848, p.357
823 Blue Book, 1848, p.232
824 Blue Book, 1848, p.240
825 Blue Book, 1848, p.240
826 Blue Book, 1844, p.199
827 Blue Book, 1845, pp.101-102
828 Disr. Mss. 71, p.18
829 Blue Book, 1848, pp.241-242
830 Missionary Record, 1857, p. 210
831 Blue Book, 1844, p.199
832 Blue Book, Inverness, 1845, p.113
833 Life, by Dr. Kennedy, p.79
834 Miss. Record, 1863, pp.351-352
835 Disr. Mss. 56
836 Miss. Record, 1863, p.353
837 Witness, 8th November, 1851
838 Altavona, p.332
839 For the facts stated in this and the following paragraph, we are indebted to a valuable letter, signed “M.,” which appeared in the Witness newspaper of 10th March, 1852. It is from the pen of the Rev. Dr. MʼLauchlan.
840 Life of Mr. Davidson, p.184
841 Disr. Mss. 56, pp.18-20
842 Dr. MʼLauchlan – Witness, 10th March, 1852
843 Disr. Mss. 49, pp.4-6
844 Disr. Mss. 49, p.12
845 Statement by Rev. A.C. Fullarton, Glasgow
846 This was taken advantage of. In the schools of South Uist, for example, there were fifteen pupils learning Latin – four in the parish school, eleven in the schools of the Ladiesʼ Association. – Parliamentary Report, by Alex. Nicolson, Esq., Advocate, p.41
847 Report on the State of Education in the Hebrides, by Alex. Nicolson, Esq., Advocate, pp.91-92
848 Missionary Record, March, 1853, p.207
849 Statement by Rev. A.C. Fullarton, Glasgow
850 Statement by Rev. A.C. Fullarton, Glasgow
851 Life of Dr. MʼDonald, by Dr. Kennedy, pp.110 and those following
852 Blue Book, 1848, pp.232-233
853 Witness Newspaper, 18th August, 1849
854 Free Church Record, January, 1851, p.191
855 Blue Book Report, 1866, p.7
856 Life, 2, pp.5-7
857 Disr. Mss. 11
858 Disr. Mss. 58
859 Disr. Mss. 58, p. 9.
860 Blue Book, 1847, pp.182-183
861 Home and Foreign Miss. Record, December, 1857
862 Missionary Record, March, 1859
863 Missionary Record, December, 1857.
864 Blue Book, 1860, p.78
865 Life of Rev. D. Macfarlane, D.D., p.132
866 Blue Book, 1848, p.237
867 Disr. Mss, 3
868 Blue Book, 1864, Report, p.7
869 Biographical Notices of Rev. W. Taylor, by the Rev. J.W. Taylor, of Flisk, p.156
870 Blue Book, 1845, p.19
871 Blue Book, 1845, p.256
872 Blue Book, 1848, p.260
873 Blue Book, 1864; Report, p.4
874 Blue Book, 1845
875 Blue Book, 1847, p.245
876 In this section we have been largely indebted to notes kindly furnished by Mr. William Dickson, whose labours for the last forty years deserve the grateful acknowledgments not only of the Free Church, but of every friend to the cause of Sabbath schools.
877 Blue Book, 1882, p.193
878 Blue Book, 1876, p.264
879 Blue Book, 1844, p.171
880 Blue Book, 1881, p.195
881 Blue Book, 1852, Appendix, pp.22-23
882 Blue Book, 1852, Appendix, p.25
883 Blue Book, 1852, pp.27-33
884 Blue Book, Glasgow Assembly, p.43
885 Memoirs of Dr. Chalmers, 4, p.404
886 Memoirs of Dr. Chalmers, 4, p.408
887 It should be stated that the movement at Cowgate Head was begun by Lady Effingham, and the church built by the trustees of William Whyte, Esq., bookseller; Holyrood was begun by St Lukeʼs Congregation, and largely aided by the Duchess of Gordon.
888 Disr. Mss. 1
889 Work in the Wynds, page 34, by the Rev. D. MʼColl
890 Blue Book, 1861, p.107
891 Blue Book, 1859, p.203
892 Blue Book, 1865, p.79
893 Disr. Mss. 15
894 Disr. Mss. 64
895 Blue Book, 63, p.7
896 Free Church Mag. 5, p.25
897 Disr. Mss. 50, p.35
898 Life of Duchess of Gordon, p.230
899 Notes by Mr. Robb, Keith
900 Disr. Mss. 19, p.11
901 Disr. Mss. 13, p.7
902 Disr. Mss. 54, p.8
903 Disr. Mss. 63, p.6
904 Disr. Mss. 24, p.3
905 Disr. Mss. 34, p.4
906 Disr. Mss. 35, p.6
907 Disr. Mss. 71, p.12
908 Disr. Mss. 31
909 Disr. Mss. 23, p.8
910 Disr. Mss. 78, p.13
911 Disr. Mss. 84
912 Memoir, vol.2, p.20
914 Disr. Mss. 10
915 Disr. Mss. 37, p.10
916 Statement by Dr. A. Miller
917 Disr. Mss. 85
918 Statement by the Rev. Mr. Simpson, of Glenisla
919 Disr. Mss. 60, p.3
920 Blue Book, 1852, p.227
921 In this he was not disappointed. A few weeks before the Disruption, while he was yet at a loss for accommodation, the farm-house of Ballandro was vacated. As the farmer, Mr. Webster, resided on another farm in St. Cyrus, be was able to place it at Mr. Glenʼs disposal, and there he resided for seven years till the site for a manse was got, Mr. Webster declining to receive rent except for the first year. Mr. Glen once stated to the writer that he could not explain how it was, but if ever he wanted money for any purpose, it seemed somehow to come more readily to his hand after the Disruption than it used to do before.
922 Letter dated 18th September, 1846; Miss. Record, 1847, p.218
923 Blue Book, 1862, p.184
924 Record, July, 1860, p.288
925 Missionary Record, 1860, p.288
926 Disr. Mss. 372, p.19
927 Missionary Record, 1860, p.288
928 Rep. on Rel. and Mor., App. 1869, pp.1-2
929 Blue Book, 1861, p.98
930 Blue Book, 1861, p.98
931 Blue Book, 1861, p.101
932 Blue Book, 1861, p.100
933 Life of Rev. G. Davidson, pp.173-75
934 Account of the work of God at Ferryden. By Rev. N. Nixon. 1860, pp.12-16
935 Blue Book, 1865, p.18
936 Blue Book, 60, pp.271-272
937 Disruption Worthies, Introd., p.20
938 Blue Book, 1848
939 Jurisdiction of the Church over Universities, &c., &c., Edinburgh, Macphail, 1844
940 Life, vol.2, p.195
941 14th March, 1833
942 June, 1837
943 17th December, 1841
944 June, 1835
945 30th October, 1833
946 5th September, 1839
947 25th August, l837
948 Note that he is said to have died on 31st December, 1859, according to the Fasti of the Church of Scotland: www.archive.org/stream/fastiecclesiaesc03scot#page/53/mode/1up
949 5th August, 1836
950 18th July, 1839
951 21st April, 1842
952 11th February, 1841
953 22nd December, 1842
954 25Th September, 1829
955 24th August, 1830
956 20th May, 1839
957 15th September, 1836
958 20th September, 1838
959 7th May,1839
960 18th July, 1839
961 15th June, l837
962 25th August, 1837
963 5th November, 1838
964 17th December, 1835
965 14th June, 1831
966 19th March, 1835
967 June, 1839
968 14th September, 1837
969 10th June, 1836
970 3rd December, 1835
971 17th November, 1836
972 28th November, 1837
973 28th November, 1829
974 14th June, 1838