The Cambuslang Revival - Rev Hugh M Ferrier
23 Nov 1998
I will in this paper endeavour, briefly, to point out some factors that influenced Scottish life and culture at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Then we will go on to consider the phenomenal work of the Holy Spirit of God, which occurred in 1742. And then we will end by saying something about some results that followed the revival.
There are certain dates in history that remind us of never to be forgotten events that have faded into the mists of time. The Battle of Hastings 1066 is a classic example. So too is the Battle of Culloden in 1745: the last battle to be fought on British soil. And then there is 1688, the year of the Glorious Revolution. 1688 is important because it marked the end of the Stuart dynasty, which had lasted from James the 1st in 1603 to James the 2nd in 1688. The Stuarts were a thorn in the side to the Puritans of England and to the Presbyterians of Scotland. They believed in the Divine Right of Kings, which meant for them that as God, in His providence, had placed them over the people, they had the right, not only to impose their political will, but their spiritual will as well, over those whom they governed. You see, it was a denial of the rights of the people, and it brought the monarchy into conflict with the Puritans in the south and the Presbyterians in the north.
The English Parliament invited William of Orange, who was married to a Daughter of James II to come to London, and to take over the throne of England, and to save the land from Popery; and William agreed to do so. That was in 1688, and then the following year the Scottish estates met in March 1689, and declared that James VII (although he was James II in England) had acted unconstitutionally and had exercised despotic powers to the subversion of the Protestant religion and the violation of the laws and liberties of the kingdom; and they went on to say, ‘He hath forefaulted the right to the crown, and the throne has become vacant.’ After pronouncing the nation free from Prelacy, and reformed from Popery, they went on to declare William and Mary, King and Queen of England, France and Ireland, be and be declared king and queen of Scotland. On the 7th June 1690 an Act ratifying the Confession of Faith, and settling Presbyterian Church government in Scotland, was passed; so that after years of religious strife, Scotland was now a Presbyterian country.
After the Revolution Settlement in 1688, it was hoped that a new day was about to begin for the Scottish Church. The Covenanting struggle was over. The ministers who had been ejected from their charges and persecuted during the killing times were allowed to return to their congregations. It was anticipated that with the return of old stalwarts to their pulpits, zeal and fervency would characterise the proclamation of the Gospel, but many of these persecuted men had been broken by the hardships they had endured. Many of them were prematurely aged, and unfit for pastoral duties, so that they did not survive for long. And there was also the problem of those who had embraced Episcopacy during the years of persecution. What was to be done with them? When King William came to the throne he asked the Scottish clergy to be moderate, and to allow the ministers who had embraced Episcopacy to remain in Church of Scotland benefices. This was reluctantly agreed to, but at a cost, for it meant that those who had upheld the crown rights of Christ, and those who had compromised on that principle, now had to work together, and this tendered to create division among brethren.
Queen Mary died in 1694, and King William in 1702 - they had no children - and with their demise, the crown passed to Mary’s sister, Anne, and it was during Queen Anne’s reign that the Union of the Parliaments took place in 1707. The crowns of England and Scotland had been united in 1603, during the Reign of James the 6th, who became James the 1st of the United Kingdom. Now the Union of the Parliaments in 1707 affected Scotland in a number of ways. London was now the capital of the United Kingdom, and London administered control over the political and economic life of the whole nation. Many customs and habits from England began to percolate into Scotland. Literature from the south in the form of poetry and prose, from writers such as Pope, Swift, Addison, Steel and Defoe, made its way north, and the circulating library of Alan Ramsay on the High Street of Edinburgh became a popular haunt of the Scottish Literacy, when London plays and novels of no high moral standing could be procured, read and studied.
And there also emanated from England, the philosophy of Deism, a teaching which was to have deleterious effects upon Scottish religious life and thought forms. Deism was embraced by David Hume, the renowned Scottish sceptic, who through his writings spread the contagion of Deism which won for his country the notorious tag, the Scotland was a nation of infidels. Deism doesn’t accept the God of the Bible, nor does it give place to supernatural religion, nor to Bible miracles. Deism has no place for special revelation: human reason is the law of all judgments. God and His creation are completely sundered, and go their own ways. To use an old illustration to explain Deism, the world is like a wound up clock, which is quite independent of God, who cannot interfere, nor intermeddle with it. Deism became popular, and it became acceptable to many clergymen in the Church of Scotland.
Writing of those early years of the eighteenth century, Professor Donald MacLean (who was one of our Professors in the Free Church College) said in his book, Aspects of Scottish Church History, “the latitudinarianism of England, the enlightenment of Germany, and the Newtoniansim of France were sending waves to Scotland whose impact threatened to drive the Church from her moorings in the creed and theology of the Reformation. Christian theology and even Christian religion were openly denied. Human reason was rapidly becoming the sole arbiter of all beliefs.” The age of the Moderates in the Church of Scotland had begun. Instead of preaching salvation to lost sinners, moderate ministers proclaimed a cold, lifeless morality.
Chalmers, the great leader of the Free Church, describes the period as ‘the dark night of the Church of Scotland’ and his description of a moderate sermon is worth noting: “A moderate sermon is like a winter’s day: short, clear, and cold. The brevity is good, the clarity is better, but the coldness is fatal.”
“And”, said Chalmers, “moonlight preaching ripens no harvest.” You see, the moderates abhorred religious enthusiasm. Instead they craved popularity with the upper classes of society. They chose the Church as their profession, because it offered them security of position, and a reasonable income, and some of them were not averse to acting on the stage. A satirist of the time has aptly expressed their creed in the words:
I do believe in stone and lime,
A manse of large dimensions,
Broad acres for a glebe and farm:
that is my church-extension.
My folk may perish, if they like,
Christ’s name I rarely mention.
I take the stipend due by right,
To men of good intention.
But despite the spiritual darkness caused by the blight of Moderatism, there were stars in the old Church of Scotland who shone for the glory of God. Thomas Boston, minister of Ettrick, was one of them. He was, by and large, a self-taught man, who laboured in an obscure parish, with few facilities to advance his studies; but he became a competent Hebraist, and outstanding theologian. Among the many books Boston authored was Human Nature in its Fourfold State, and that takes up primary place. It brought from the famous American theologian, Jonathan Edwards, the high compliment that Boston was “a truly great divine”. Boston was also the first Scotsman to publish a Hebrew Grammar. He was also responsible for republishing Edward Fisher’s book, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, which emphasised the free-offer of the Gospel. The book caused a furore among the Moderates, and it was condemned by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1720, as antinomian heresy, and that it breathed the spirit of arminianism; but the Marrow was only a restatement of Evangelical belief.
Others who shone in that day were the Erskine brothers, Ebenezer and Ralph. And along with them, there were William Wilson, Alexander Moncreiff, James Fisher, Thomas Gillespie. They were Marrow Men, and all of them, but Boston, became seceeders. [ED: Boston died in 1732, before the Secession took place.]
In God’s scheme, however, it wasn’t going to be a period of prevailing spiritual darkness. The Holy Spirit works how, and when, and where He pleases. Across the Atlantic Ocean, God had prepared an instrument who was to be used mightily for the glory of God in Northampton, in North America. Jonathan Edwards was raised up, and he was, as I have already said, a mighty theologian, and a great evangelist, at the same time. He was endowed with a massive intellect, and above all, he was a Christ centred man. From 1739 and onwards, his preaching was in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Great Awakening, as it has been called, took place under his ministry, when innumerable numbers were fraught under conviction of sin, and made to cry out like the Philippian Jailer, “What must I do to be saved?” To read Edwards’ famous sermon called, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God gives one an idea of Jonathan Edwards’ preaching. In the revival that followed, there were manifestations in the form of people weeping openly, crying aloud for mercy and deliverance from sin, fainting and swooning, under the power of the Holy Spirit. The church was alive, and many were brought out of darkness, into God’s marvellous light.
The work of the Spirit of God wasn’t confined to North America; it was in evidence in England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. In England, a group of students at Oxford University, which included the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, along with George Whitefield and others, became dedicated to God, and they set themselves to live lives that conformed to God’s standard of holiness. And they also gave themselves without reserve to the study of the Bible. They became the butt of endless jibes and nicknames. They were laughed at as ‘bible moths’ and bigots. They were dubbed as ‘The Holy Club’ or ‘the Supererogation Men’. Many other terms were coined, and at length they were called ‘Methodists’. The Wesley brothers did a phenomenal work in England; and so too did Whitefield in England, America, and Scotland; and particularly at Cambuslang as we shall see. Something unusual was happening in the western world.
Cambuslang is now a district in the city of Glasgow, but in the 1740s it was a community on its own. It was about five miles south west from the city. In those days, a walk from Cambuslang to Glasgow took you along country roads to the busy and growing metropolis. The greater part of the inhabitants were employed in farming, but there were also the colliers and the weavers. The men who worked in the coal mines had to work in conditions that were laborious, hazardous and disagreeable, with the result that they became a separate group, with a language and habits of their own. The other main industry at Cambuslang was the weaving of fine linen.
The Parish minister of Cambuslang from 1731 to 1771 was William M’Culloch, who was presented to the parish, amidst controversy, by the Duke of Hamilton, and here M’Culloch remained until his death in 1771. We are informed by Professor Burley, who was a professor in the Church of Scotland, in his Church History of Scotland, that M’Culloch was no leader, but a simple and earnest parish minister. And that is true: that’s all that M’Culloch was - a simple and earnest parish minister. It took M’Culloch some time to get to know his parishioners; nor did M’Culloch find it easy in his dealings with his Kirk Session (just like many another minister today, doesn’t find it easy). There was a problem - we have no clear idea what the problem was - but it was sufficiently serious to lead some of his Elders to resign from the Session. Dr Fossett in his book on the Cambuslang Revival says that about 1745, when a better day had dawned, that the Session considered it wouldn’t answer any valuable purpose of edification to transmit to posterity the remembrance of that unhappy breach. And so they destroyed all the papers connected with the matter, and desired that it might be buried in oblivion. And that’s why we know so little of the controversy in the Kirk Session at Cambuslang.
Apart from the anarchy in the Kirk Session, there were unusual events occurring in the realm of nature. For example, gales of tremendous ferocity, causing extensive damage took place around the Glasgow area in 1739. In the following year, January 1740, there was a devastating hurricane, the like of which had never been experienced before. People were bewildered, and they were afraid, and these events led M’Culloch to preach an extraordinary sermon from Psalm 148:8, “Fire, and hail; snow, and vapour; stormy wind fulfilling his word”. So impressive was his sermon that a young man called Andrew Falls could never forget the preacher, who solemnly proclaimed in his sermon, “Will neither the voice of God in the tempest of the air, nor in the threatenings of devouring fire and everlasting burnings awaken you?” Falls began to think about eternal things in a new light.
Another thing that happened after the catastrophic anger of the hurricane was that there came weary, famine stricken months of dreadful hardship, when cold and hunger reigned supreme, not only throughout Scotland, but England as well. Many were reduced to the point of starvation; and on the 4th of June 1740, the Presbytery of Glasgow appointed the 12th of June to be ’a day of solemn humiliation, fasting and prayer, to be observed in all the churches of the Presbytery’. M’Culloch was a humble and seriously minded man of God, and as he viewed the problems that were everywhere around him, and when he heard of the spiritual awakening of America, and of the amazing results of Whitefield’s ministry, a new note of seriousness entered into his own preaching. For about a year before the revival at Cambuslang, he began to preach on the nature and necessity of regeneration; what is a Christian? how do you become a Christian? what is it to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? what is true Christian behaviour? and so on. And people began to think about these things as they had never done before.
Some of the Elders who had remained with M’Culloch came to him with a request that prayer groups should be set up throughout the parish, and this was agreed to. It was, however, decided that only those who were really in earnest and would commit themselves to regular attendance would be admitted to such prayer groups. As the interest of the people in their minister’s preaching grew, the Elders came with another request, that he should have a mid-week sermon as well. You see, there was now a hunger and a thirst for the Word of God, and the souls of the people were now like the hart that pants after the water brooks; and we are told that an air of expectancy was increasing throughout the parish of Cambuslang, as the winter of 1741 wore on.
On the 31st of January 1742, M’Culloch preached to his congregation on the abundance of Divine consolation, based on 2 Corinthians 1:3,4. As he closed his sermon he said, “When I look around me, blessed be God, I see marks of more apparent concern about salvation than in times past in some of you.” And then he went on to say, “Beware of noisy or ostentatious religion.” “And at the same time,” said he, “take heed that you run not to the opposite extreme by endeavouring to stifle the convictions you may feel. Follow on to know the Lord, and He shall come to us as the latter and former rain unto the earth.” Floods of blessing were not far off.
A woman who had listened to M’Culloch preaching on regeneration throughout that winter became troubled, but she thought her feelings were foolish. She said, “People about me will think I’m grown light in the head! And I may cast myself into some sickness or distemper and what will come of me, having nobody to take care of me?” She wasn’t far from the kingdom. At a later sermon when M’Culloch was still on the same theme of regeneration she said, “At the close of the sermon the minister charged us to go home to a retired place and fall down upon our bended knees before God, and with all possible earnestness, ask for life; to beg of Him His Holy Spirit to renew and change our hearts and natures; and take no comfort in anything worldly, till we get it.”
On Sabbath 14th February 1742, Cambuslang Kirk was filled to capacity. Many were standing for want of seats, when something extraordinary happened. M’Culloch again preached on the theme of regeneration. Once more he preached from the words, “Except a man be born again. . .” A woman called Catherine Jackson became extremely distressed; and she along with her two sisters had to be assisted from the church and conveyed to the manse by two men, and Fossett says “It was this incident, in all probability, that proved to be the spark which ignited the ensuing blaze.” It was typical of what was to follow, and M’Culloch wrote a very detailed account of what happened, because he had been greatly impressed by the event. Fossett quotes M’Culloch thus:
In the manse she cried out three times, “What shall I do?” And he called on her to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved”. Bitterly weeping, she declared that her sins were so many, and that He would not receive her. “But He will,” said the minister. “If you be willing to come to Him and accept of Him, I can assure you in His name, He is willing to accept of you. Whatever you may have been, whatever you have done, come to Him, and He will not reject you. When there is a willingness on both sides - He is willing, and you, I think, are willing - what should hinder the concluding of the blessed bargain? the match between Christ and your soul?”
To each of her many semi-hysterical outbursts, M’Culloch replied with some word of promise from the Scripture. “Come,” said the minister, “shall we pray for a pull of God’s almighty arm to draw you to Christ?” “Oh, yes, yes!” said she, and got up on her feet. Some of the company said she would not be able to stand (which was the posture for praying at that time). “There is no fear of that,” said one standing by. “I will take care of that.” So he took hold of her arm, and during the prayer she told the person who was supporting her, “Christ says to me, He will never leave me nor forsake me.” repeating it over and over. And immediately after she said, “He is telling me, He has cast all my sins behind His back.” There were many people present in the room, including several young women, who were her personal friends, weeping and crying out. . . She immediately turned to them and said in the most moving and feeling manner, “My beloved is the chief among ten thousand, yea, He is altogether lovely. Oh, sirs, will ye come to Christ? If ye cannot cry to Him, Oh long after Him.” At this there was a great stir. The joys of some were plainly transporting, and almost too strong for them to contain; and there was a sound of weeping among others, that might be heard at a considerable distance. Then M’Culloch called on the company to compose themselves, and they all sang together the first eight verses of Psalm 103, before separating. That was a night indeed.
Throughout that week there were gatherings in different homes where people were greatly affected by the Gospel. Thursday the 18th of February 1742 became a memorable day, when M’Culloch lectured from Jeremiah 23:6 “And this is the name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS”. One who had listened, thought and could say that “the sermon was almost a new Gospel to me.” A young man wept almost all the time. A young woman was so affected that tears ran down her cheeks as she listened. Another woman, called Mary Mitchell, also wept and said afterwards, “My heart beat so violently that I thought it would have leaped out of my side; but I did not cry out in the Kirk”. Nor did any cry out that day. After he had lectured, M’Culloch said in his closing prayer, “Where are the fruits of my poor labours among this people?” After the lecture ended a number of men and women who were in considerable distress went to the dining room in the manse for prayer and conversation with the minister. Several had difficulty getting into the hall because of the crowd of people, and for the rest of the day and throughout the night, M’Culloch was busy exhorting the people, talking to them individually, and interspersing the proceedings with Psalm singing.
When news of what was happening at Cambuslang became known, hostile critics rushed into print and condemned the work as nothing more than religious fanaticism. But at Cambuslang there was no clapping of hands, beating of breasts, terrible shakings, frequent faintings or convulsions as the critics claimed. It was simply a matter of deep sorrow over sin, and a longing to be cleansed and purified by Christ the saviour. After such and eventful night as we have been describing, people began to flock to Cambuslang. M’Culloch now required assistance from fellow ministers. James Young and Alexander Duncan, two probationer ministers helped day and night: teaching, and counselling the ever growing crowds. Then the more experienced ministers were drafted in, such as John Willison of Dundee, who was an outstanding and highly respected minister. There was also John MacLauren, one of Scotland’s great theologians, along with Mr Gillies from Glasgow, Bonar from Torphecan, Webster from Edinburgh, and others. One of the first to hear of the beginnings of the Cambuslang revival was George Whitefield, and he was invited by M’Culloch to come north. M’Culloch wrote to him, “Oh, Mr Whitefield, why are you so long a’coming to poor Scotland again? How many say, ‘When is he coming?’ For the Lord’s sake, do not lay aside thoughts of coming, whatever work you may have in England.”
The changes to be seen at Cambuslang were obvious. People once described as very wicked and scandalous were wonderfully changed: they became mild and subdued. Willison could say with joy, “Upon the whole I look at the work at Cambuslang to be a most singular and marvellous outpouring of the Holy Spirit.” In less than three months, about three hundred souls had been awakened, and more than two hundred of these were hopefully converted. About April or May 1742, M’Culloch wrote, “Some have computed the hearers these last two Lord’s Days to have been nine or ten thousand.” The Cambuslang revival was well under way.
George Whitefield was one of the greatest preachers to have been raised up by God in this land of ours. He had a fine presence, a gripping eloquence, a powerful voice, a tremendous grasp of Bible truth, and above all he was a holy man who was on fire for God. He could sway multitudes as few have ever done. In writing of him, Dr Marcus Loane (who was Archbishop of Sydney for a number of years) tells us he could be heard without effort by a crowd of thirty thousand, and that Plymouth people used to say that he was often distinctly heard at a distance of a full mile across the stretch of water which lies between Tor Point and New Passage.
Dr Loane also tells us that he could describe a scene, or illustrate a point, in such graphic style that it seemed to live before his hearers eyes. Loane tells us of his great picture of a ship caught in a storm at sea, with masts gone, hull down. And it came to a trilling climax when his voice rang out with a bewildered cry, as though he was at a loss to know what next to do, and the sailors in the vast crowd thundered as one man in reply, “The longboat! Man the longboat!” Or there is his famous picture of the blind man skirting the edge of a precipice, decrepit by age, deserted by his dog, moving on. Then his staff slips through his nerveless fingers, and as he stoops down to retrieve it, bending all unaware over the cliff; and then stumbling forward... And Lord Chesterfield sprang from his seat in Lady Huntingdon’s chapel with the cry “Good God! He’s gone” (I state this with reverence, because these are the words that are quoted.)
You see, this was dramatic rhetoric, but it was sanctified rhetoric. This was the man who was invited by the Associate Presbytery of the Seceeders to come to Scotland, in the hope that he would strengthen their cause. They expected Whitefield to confine his preaching to their own houses, but Whitefield couldn’t in all conscience adhere to their request. And when M’Culloch invited him to come to assist him at Cambuslang, he couldn’t refuse. He arrived at Cambuslang on Tuesday the 6th of July 1742 at midday. Now just think of it - he must have been tired from travelling, but on that same day he preached at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, at 6 o’clock in the evening, at 9 o’clock at night. At about 11 o’clock that summer night, there were scenes of uncontrollable distress. A description given at the time said that it was like a battle field. Many were carried to the manse, like wounded soldiers. M’Culloch himself preached till one in the morning; and then he tried to persuade the people to depart, but his please went unheaded. The voice of praise and prayer was heard in the fields throughout the night.
The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was observed on Sunday the 14th of July in a field near the church. According to the number of tokens handed in it was reckoned that about 1700 communicated, and that the gathered congregation numbered about 20,000. So impressive was the sacramental occasion, that it was suggested to the Kirk Session that another Communion Sabbath be observed as soon as possible. This was agreed to by the Kirk Session, which appointed the 15th of August following for the purpose. The crowds that gathered for the second sacramental occasion were greater than ever. It was said at the time, “none ever saw the like, since the Revolution in Scotland, or even anywhere else at any sacramental occasion.” Some have called them 50,000; some 40,000; the lowest estimation was upwards of 30,000. From near and far, people flocked to Cambuslang. They came from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kilmarnock, Irvine, Stewarton and many other places, including people from England and Ireland.
M’Culloch lists the ministers who assisted as Whitefield, Webster from Edinburgh, MacLauren and Gillies from Glasgow, Robe from Kilsyth, Currie from Kinglassie, M’Kneight from Irvine, Bonar from Torphichen, Hamilton from Douglas, Henderson from Blantyre, Maxwell from Rutherglen, Adam from Cathcart. What a communion! Worship began at 8:30am, on Sunday morning, and the last table was being served at sunset. Whitefield preached to the people in the churchyard at 10 o’clock that night. It was noticed by people who were there, that when the great evangelist was serving the tables, he appeared to be almost carried away in an ecstasy. Services were again held on Monday with large crowds attending and more than twenty-four ministers and preachers present. One of the ministers was Rev John Bonar, who in 1721 presented a petition to the General Assembly in defence of Boston’s reprint of The Marrow of Modern Divinity. Bonar was now an old man coming to the end of his days. For over 50 years he had been minister of Torphichen, and he was the ancestor of one of the most distinguished evangelical families of the nineteenth century, the Bonar brothers: John, Andrew, Horatius, who were Free Church ministers, were direct descendents of old Mr Bonar.
When he heard of the stirring events at Cambuslang, he seemed to acquire a new lease of life. M’Culloch records, “Old Mr Bonar, though so frail that he took three days to ride 18 miles from Torphichen to Cambuslang, yet his heart was so set on coming here, that he could by no means stay away. And when he was helped up to the tent [that is a wooden pulpit construction in the open], preached three times with great life, and returned with much satisfaction and joy.” When the old minister left Cambuslang, and bade his farewell, it was with the words of Simeon, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”
The second communion at Cambuslang, we are told, represented the high water mark of the revival. Of such unforgettable days, Whitefield wrote, “Such a Passover has never been heard of.” And as Fossett tells us, “Whitefield had spent his days among revivals, yet he testified that this was the greatest he had ever witnessed.” When M’Culloch closed his account of that wonderful communion day he wrote, “May our exalted Redeemer still go on, from conquering to conquer, until the whole earth be filled with His glory!”
What were the results of this amazing work?
Fossett tells us that many places are known to have been affected, in greater or lesser degree by the revival at Cambuslang. Irvine, Stewarton, and Kilmarnock in Ayrshire; Bothwell, Blantyre, and East Kilbride, adjacent to Cambuslang; Glasgow, and the nearby parishes of Cadder, Baldernock, Kirkintilloch and Campsie. With the extension of the revival, however, certain other places acquired more than ordinary significance. If Cambuslang was the focus of the movement, it is equally true that these places became the loci of analogous developments. The Cambuslang revival can be likened to a stone thrown into a pool, which causes concentric circles to develop, in an increasingly wider radius. The revival affected Kilsyth, St Ninians, Ungergonoch, Muthol, and even north in Nigg, and even overseas.
Kilsyth is situated about nine miles north of Glasgow on the road to Stirling. The parish minister was Rev James Robe, who for thirty years, had laboured without much success. He became gravely discouraged, and began to pray more earnestly for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Symptoms of a growing earnestness among his people were to be seen, and subsequently several hundreds were converted, and gave evidence that day, that they were born again. This happened in 1742, the same year as the Cambuslang work began, when Robe, himself, went to see and experience the work of God for himself. In that spiritually barren period of long ago, the words of the prophet Isaiah came to life:
“the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes. And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. . . . the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35:5-10)
A young man who attended the Cambuslang revival and was influenced by it, was John Erskine. He became a minister, and it is with him that we trace the resurgent Evangelical party in the Church of Scotland, which emerged toward the end of the eighteenth century. What a man Dr John Erskine was; the man who at the General Assembly said to the Moderator, “Rax me that bible,” [give it to me]; and he it was who read the passage where the Gospel is shown to be not for polished people, but for the ignorant and for the pagans as well. And this is what Dr Robert Buchanan says of him in The Ten Years Conflict:
“During even the palmiest of Moderate ascendancy, when to be Evangelical was to be accounted and treated almost literally as the filth of the earth, and as the offscouring of all things, the name of Dr Erskine was still a rallying point for the Evangelical cause. His learning so varied, his piety so deep, his preaching so impressive, his labours so incessant, his life so unblemished, his whole character so instinct with honour and integrity, made it impossible even for dominant Moderatism to treat with contempt the cause with which Dr Erskine was identified.”
What a trophy of grace! This man, who owed so much to Cambuslang! But there were many others, who although they never attained similar distinction in this world, yet nonetheless, they shine as the stars for ever and ever. As in all cases of revival there were many who were temporarily affected by the religious excitement of the time, and then fell away. Our Lord mentions such in the parable of the sower: those are they that hear, then cometh the devil and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock, are they which when they receive the word with joy, these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But these cases don’t diminish from the wonder and the glory of God’s grace in days when God’s favour is experienced, as was the case at Cambuslang and Kilsyth in 1742, when (as it can be said) the seed entered good ground, and because of that in an honest and good heart, heard the word, kept it and brought forth fruit with patience.
Today we need revival, more than anything else. Our nation has turned its back upon God, and His displeasure is in evidence. How? By a famine of the Word of God. And His displeasure is in evidence in the way that His restraints have been withdrawn from our society, so that people do what is right in their own eyes, instead of doing what is right in the eyes of God. There is also a frightening pride and an alarming arrogance abroad which mocks the Almighty, which treats him with distain and as a total irrelevance, and which continuously, day after day, blasphemes His holy name. Oh, may God have mercy upon our generation, and turn us from our foolishness, lest we be consumed in some awful and awesome cataclysmic judgment. “When,” as the Psalmist puts it, “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh, the LORD shall have them in derision. Then shall He speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sure displeasure.” Oh, God have mercy upon us. Like M’Culloch and Robe and their like, let us take on a new seriousness. Let us wait and pray earnestly for God to arise and lay bare His mighty arm in power, in grace, and in glorious revival.
This article has been transcribed from a recording of “The Cambuslang Revival”, a lecture given by Rev Hugh M Ferrier, at a public meeting of the Inverness Branch of the Scottish Reformation Society, on Monday, 23 November 1998.
SCOTTISH REFORMATION SOCIETY
The Scottish Reformation Society was founded in 1851, following a protest against the re-establishment of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England. The original constitution of the Society set out its objectives as being “to resist the aggressions of Popery; to watch the designs and movements of its promoters and abettors; and to diffuse sound Scriptural teaching and information on the distinctive tenets of Protestantism and Popery”.
To these aims, the Society has maintained and promoted a faithful witness to the present time. A quarterly magazine, The Bulwark, is committed to the same principles as the Society and the material is drawn from a wide source of Reformed teachers and writers past and present.
Enquiries can be directed to:
The Scottish Reformation Society
Telephone: 0131 220 1450
Visit the Scottish Reformation Society website.