Part 1: Glory Filled The Land

Chapter 5: The Fruitful Twenties

Balintore 1923
Kilmaluag, Skye 1923-24
Partick Highland 1925-32
Skye 1928-32
The Silent Thirties (Avoch 1939)

 

Balintore 1923 1

  Because it was mainly involved with salmon fishing, few from the small coastal community of Balintore in Easter Ross followed the herring fishing to East Anglia in 1921-22, and therefore there was little direct connection with the dramatic revival that spread from that area. Nevertheless, a gracious movement began in Balintore just over a year later, when two Faith Mission workers who had been labouring in the county for some months, paid a visit. An evangelical presence had of course existed in the Fearn area for a long time, and the Kirk was the focal point of the community. Both morning and evening Bible studies were common place in a great many households.2

  Nevertheless, there were many in the community who knew not the ‘Way’ and so it was that the two male Pilgrims, themselves recently returned from National Service, came in early 1923, after having laboured for some time in other parts of Ross-shire. With the mysterious burning down of the local dance hall just prior to the mission, the two men sensed that they were walking in the footsteps of 'the God who answers by fire'. Perhaps due to an over-strict Calvinism prevalent among some, the Pilgrims found certain preconceived ideas hard to overcome. They were deeply saddened by instances like the young married woman who had been in soul trouble for about twelve months but could find no-one to point her to spiritual rest in Christ, many in the area considering it presumptuous to believe that one was ‘saved’.3

  After five long weeks, the missionaries sensed that the surface had barely been penetrated, and one night they felt unable to return to their temporary caravan home until, with tears, they claimed the villages for God in deep intercession. A few nights later, just after the close of the meeting, six young men came back into the hall and surrendered their lives to Christ. The movement had commenced!

  The following evening the customary cottage prayer-meeting was packed with new converts as well as with older Christians who had been stirred by hearing the news of the young men, and everyone prayed with liberty, joy and expectancy. An unusual number of decisions, averaging some thirty per week, were recorded over the next nine weeks. One could feel gusts of emotion sweeping across the hall as people of all ages surrendered to God. These meetings were often packed and could last for over four hours, while other people had prayer meetings in homes near the hall. They were standing on holy ground.

  Dozens walked, cycled and motored from nearby villages like Hilton, Shandwick, Fearn and Chapelhill, and so the blessing spread. To a great extent, the life of the villages was transformed in the process, with publicans getting next to no trade and concerts no longer being an attraction. A few other churches united to support the work and over £40 worth of Bibles  - an impressive amount at that time - was sold within a short space of time.

  It was to a young congregation made up largely of converts of this awakening that Duncan Campbell came as United Free Church pastor in 1930, and the people gave strong, vigorous prayer support to their new minister. Just one year earlier almost the entire community had voted to break their association with the neighbouring congregation of Nigg during the nationwide Union of 1929. The sense of adventure in belonging to an independent group, along with the arrival of an enthusiastic new minister led to an increased sense of spiritual interest in the community, and a new U.F.C building was opened in 1932. Being a community used to outdoor Communion services in a nearby field, Campbell felt it appropriate to engage in open-air meetings in the village, while he also delighted the elderly and infirm by conducting Gaelic services in their homes.

  But his chief work was among the young, and many new professions of faith were made during the ten years of Campbell’s ministry in Ross-shire. It seemed as if the Lord was preparing hearts for an early home-coming. One young girl had an experience of being ‘filled with the Spirit’ during a time of prayer in the manse, and became a zealous witness for His cause, drawing many to the Lord, before an illness led to her death at the tender age of 21. One youth died in a drowning tragedy shortly after, and another died of tuberculosis, while nine were killed on active service, including five crew members of the battleship ‘Royal Oak’, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat in Scapa Flow in October 1939. Despite all these setbacks, church membership increased steadily during Campbell’s ministry.4

 

Kilmaluag, Skye 1923-24 5

  Macrae mentions ‘another fruit of the 1923 movement in Kilmaluag. In the fall of that year she was awakened in the course of a sermon I preached down there, and in spring she got peace when reading the text, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved”, in one of Spurgeon’s sermons’. It was not till August 1931, during MacRae’s last Communion services of his Skye pastorate, that this convert made the bold step of joining the Church – much to her minister’s delight. 6

  Near the beginning of 1924, Macrae began to wonder, ‘whether I am really to have a fresh lease. I have felt a new preaching power – or a renewed preaching power – since Sabbath. Oh to be renewed and quickened and kept lively!’7 This was to prove a reality, and less than a fortnight later, preaching in Kilmuir, he found that, ‘liberty was unequal, but towards the end I was conscious of an unwonted power….’8 And, in February of the following year, ‘I was given unusual liberty and power, and attention was rapt. How gracious the Lord has been to me! I could not but notice the visible effect which pointed, personal application had upon my audience tonight. These services have been a success’.9

  One evening at the start of 1923 Macrae, ‘held the Catechising in Kilmuir and was miserably disappointed – only 16 were out. Truly this place is terribly dead. Oh that the Lord would come with awakening power! Were it not for the other districts I am afraid that I would lose heart’.10 In March 1924, he preached to the Kilmuir congregation from Galatians 4:11, ‘showing them very forcibly their indifference as to spiritual things and the ill-success of my labours among them’.11 Later in the year he preached there to an audience of 105 from Matthew 4:4; ‘and brought it to bear so tightly upon the worldliness of some of the Kilmuir people as to rob me of my pleasure in the message. Yet it was greatly needed and I trust that it will do good. I do not suppose that ever they heard the truth concerning themselves more plainly put. Oh that the Lord would rouse them!’12

   The reason for such spiritual pessimism becomes evident from an entry in MacRae’s diary on 8th November, 1924, that he, ‘conducted the Kilmuir Prayer Meeting and spoke from Mark 5:21-43, but was grieved at an expression used in one of the prayers wherein it was evident that there was no expectation of blessing in this present generation. Most of the Kilmuir men put all hope of blessing to a far future date because a godly man has said that the dawn of the latter-day glory would break upon the sword of the butcher, red with the blood of the saints’.13 This reference was to ‘a renewal of persecution inspired by the Papacy. The opinion here expressed was the view of Lachlan Mackenzie (1754-1819) who was commonly gifted in the Highlands with prophetic powers.14

  Says Iain H. Murray, the editor of Macrae’s Diary; ‘It was a remarkable example of the sovereignty of divine grace that during the very period when Kilmaluag and also Staffin had been so spiritually refreshed, the church at Kilmuir, where the minister resided and spent the majority of his time, remained comparatively unblessed. Yet MacRae did not think that this situation was to be explained solely in terms of God’s will. On the contrary, he saw it as part of his business as a pastor to analyse the reasons for the relative fruitlessness in Kilmuir and to seek out the appropriate remedies. To this he gave extended thought and prayer. He had observed, for example, that there was a curious belief about unfulfilled prophecy in Kilmuir which had the effect of nullifying the Saviour’s promise, “According to your faith be it unto you”. Persecutions, it was thought, would have to precede a great revival in the latter days and, as no such persecution had occurred, revival could not them be expected! This was an error he laboured to correct. But as the error had its source in the prophetical views of one of the revered leaders of an earlier generation it is doubtful if head made headway against it’.15

 In May 1924 MacRae asked the Kilmuir faithful16 whether they were willing to hold special prayer meetings, ‘to plead for a blessing upon the preaching of the Word and the revival of the Lord’s Cause among us. I am more and more convinced’, he continued, ‘that the only hindrance to a revival of religion is the unbelief and unspriituality of the Lord’s people, and that the only progress towards it lies in their awakening to their duty, and their earnestly seeking the reviving influences of the Spirit. It is vain to look for a work of quickening among the careless till the Lord’s people first be roused. Hitherto I have directed all my preaching towards the first – and with little success. I believe that to aim at the latter in the first instance would be more profitable.17 Macrae had faithfully preached the gospel in Kilmuir since his arrival in the parish some years before. Indeed, as Murray states, they had been, ‘nursed, pleaded with and warned. For a general work of conversion among them their pastor had constantly looked. Yet as the years passed and he went over their names and cases he had to write in the diary; ‘”exercised about the fact that working on the basis of new communicants since I came here, two out of every three of my hearers will be lost. It is a very solemn consideration”’.18

 

Partick Highland 1925-32

  Peter Chisholm commenced his ministry among the Free Church congregation on the island of Coll in 1921. Here his preaching had a powerful effect and much fruit was reaped. The strength of Chisholm’s personality was quickly perceived, and it was probably here that his converts became termed ‘Chisolmites’. A colourful and earnest preacher, Chisholm was popular at Communion services in various parts of Scotland. In his personal diary, Kenneth MacRae speaks of him preaching at a Communion season in north Skye during a time of blessing there (see 'Glory in the Glen' pp184-5). Chisholm was noted as having been, ‘exceedingly good in Staffin and Kilmalug’ and ‘his prayer at family worship was beautiful’. On the Saturday, Chisholm preached ‘a sermon of extraordinary power’ from Isaiah 4:5. Macrae noted that he ‘never heard such originality, such flashes of doctrine, such depth of experience, and such power. A number in the congregation were overcome, and he (Chisholm) was overcome himself'’.19

  In the autumn of 1925 a call was received from the newly-formed charge of Partick Highland Free Church in Glasgow. Chisholm moved there and found a great hunger for the word of God. Chisholm said that ‘of those who heard the Word, many believed. Not a few retain pleasant recollections of their having tasted of the heavenly manna, whilst they “sat under His shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to (their) taste”’. The minister also believed that, ‘For gospel power Partick Highland was “facile princeps” and “when God shall count the people” those shall be remembered’. For over seven years, God’s blessing seemed to rest on the congregation and many conversions took place. Chisholm believed that, ‘of the number who professed faith in Christ, during and after those seven and a half years, none, as far as known to us, has brought any reproach upon their profession. For this unmerited favour we all give the glory to Him who “giveth power to the faint, and to those who have no might he increaseth strength”.

  Mary Maclean went to Glasgow from Lewis at the age of sixteen, where she began attending the Partick Church. It wasn’t, however, until the age of 23 that she ‘got through fully with the Lord’. This occurred while she was thinking of Ephesians 2:13-14 when on her knees one day washing the floor. As she walked with a friend to the Saturday Communion service, Mary’s friend said she intended, ‘going to the session tonight to go forward for Christ’, and she urged Mary to go forward too. Mary felt unsure about that, though she was grateful that it was Chisholm who started the service that night – the prevailing practise was that a visiting minister preached at the Communion services. At the close of the meeting, as was the custom, the minister invited anyone who wanted to go forward to the Communion table the next day to make their way to the session. He seemed to be looking directly at Mary as he added, ‘And you who are here tonight before me saying that you don’t belong to Christ wherever you put that hand-writing, don’t say, “No” when Christ says, “Yes”’. As he spoke he struck his hand on the pulpit. Mary felt compelled to walk forward. She recalled; ‘I got to a stage when I was no longer worried about what Mr. Chisholm might question me on. I was past thinking of him; I was going forward for Christ that night’. An elder came to lead her to the session, where Chisholm asked her what had made her go forward. She replied that she wanted to go as far for Christ as she could. The minister seemed satisfied and handed Mary the Communion token for the next day’s service. To Mary’s surprise, no more questions were asked.20

  Mary exulted over her new life in Christ. ‘The peace was wonderful’, she said. ‘It was as if I was walking on air for two years…It was a wonderful time’. On the night of her joining the church, Mary heard the voice of Jesus waking her. She saw a vision of him with his hands raised and saying, ‘Father, that which thou has given me, I will that, where I am, they also may be with me’ (Jn. 17:24). This turned out to be the first of a number of remarkable visionary experiences that Mary had from time to time over the rest of her Christian life.21 Mary clearly recalled that Chisholm strong in his denunciation of sin. ‘He was my favourite preacher. He came down very hard on all forms of sin and I appreciated this. He stirred me and I wanted to be stirred’.22

  Though it continued for a substantial time, the period of special favour at Partick Highland was to ebb off in the early 1930s, after considerable fruit had been reaped. Chisholm wrote: ‘Like many other congregations today in which “the Lord will make a short work on the earth”, one had, perforce, to come to the unpleasant conclusion that “the power of the Spirit” was waning, and that in his inscrutable purpose further blessing was being gradually withheld’.23 His health deteriorating, Chisholm removed to the quieter charge of Lochalsh in the West Highlands in 1932.

 

Skye 1928-33

  The island of Skye, which had already witnessed two remarkable revival movements in the 1920’s, was to play host to yet another season of spiritual blessing before the end of the decade. D. T. Mackay paid an evangelistic visit to the ‘Misty Isle’ in 1928. He records; ‘A very precious work of grace took place in the large parishes of Kilmuir and Staffin. At Valtos quite a number of young and old turned to the Lord and are now members of the Church. One old man of 70 is now a bright light. He did not go to church before’.24

  Just prior to this, towards the close of 1927, things had looked hopeful in the Free Church congregation of Kilmuir, which district its minister Rev. Kenneth Macrae had for years despaired of, due to its lack of spiritual vitality, even when other parts of that large parish, especially Kilmaluag, were being signally blessed. At last it seemed that a much needed quickening was imminent and the minister noted in his diary that, ‘Surely Kilmuir is looking up at last and the Lord is about to revive this long barren section of the congregation’.25 Iain H. Murray refers to this as a time of ‘warmth and attention’, though it appears not to have resulted in the full showers of blessing which Macrae so longed and prayed for.

  However, a spiritual outletting was soon to come upon the wider parish, although not before Macrae left Skye in 1931 to take the reins of the largest Free Church in Scotland, the charge of Stornoway. Macrae’s departure may in part have prompted the awakening that followed, causing as it did, much sorrow and considerable outbreaks of emotion among his people. At the close of a meeting in Kilmaluag, Macrae, ‘spoke re the Stornoway call and the place became a Bochim. I almost gave way, but with a struggle managed to regain control of myself’. 26 Even in the days just prior to his departure, Macrae had cause for some joy. For, during the last communion of his Skye pastorate, four females came to the Session expressing their desire to confess Christ for the first time. All four were accepted.

  A lay preacher came to fill the vacancy in Kilmuir as an 'interim', until Hugh MacKinnon was inducted to the parish in 1933. Meanwhile, a period of awakening began in the nearby district of Uig in the early 30's, which spread to the Kilmuir parish as well as to Portree. There occurred a good number of conversions, including a surprising number who went on to study for the ministry. Indeed, from Portree, two converts who were brothers became ministers, as did two more from each of Kilmuir (one entering the Free Church, the other the Church of Scotland) and Uig districts, with yet another who entered theology studies from the latter parish later leaving to take up teaching careers.27

 

The Silent Thirties (Avoch 1939)

A movement in the Ross-shire community of Avoch later in the 1930s is related, not so much because of its intensity and influence, but because of its singular occurrence in the latter part of this otherwise silent decade. The attractive fishing village of Avoch, blessed by times of revival on several occasions in the recent past, was again visited with divine favour in 1939 (the same year as God was moving mightily in Lewis). Pilgrims from the Faith Mission conducted a campaign in the Congregational Church, and at the nightly prayer meetings stalwart fishermen met with them to plead the promises of God. By the end of the second week, just after a morning prayer meeting had also been intimated, the break came, and several souls came out for Christ. This was the beginning of great things; for nine nights souls sought the Lord, with others yielding later. At one after-meeting following the main service, 'Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb' was movingly sung. Tears began to flow and soon there was evidence of deep conviction; some breaking down completely. Eleven souls found peace with God that night. During the final week, nearly all the converts - over 30 - stood and testified to the saving power of Christ. The villages of Fortrose and Rosemarkie also shared in the gracious quickening, and a few months later the converts were said to be showing real keenness and were already winning others to their side, with a new Prayer Union also having been formed.28

 

1 Most of the information for this account was taken from ‘Bright Words’ 1923, p45, 110-112; 1924 pp6-7

2 Jenny Vass, a young girl who grew up in Balintore during the 1920’s, recalled that the Wednesday evening prayer meetings in the Free Church were well attended by adults, for which the men dressed in navy blue suits and the women invariably in black. Most of the latter were widows from World War I (www.geocities.com/shoanour)

3 The work of the Faith Mission in the area was in fact opposed by one or two ‘religious leaders’ who ‘set themselves against God’s messengers and studied to prejudice others against them’ (‘Bright Words’ 1923 p111)

4 Woolsey, ‘Channel of Revival’ pp85-91

5 Delightfully, though unusually, the memory of this localised awakening has been preserved by the day-by-day relating of its progress through the eyes of the man most intimately involved in it, Kenneth MacRae. Because of the uniqueness of this record, I describe the main features of the movement in some detail.

6 Ibid. p227

7 Ibid. p186

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid. p188

10 Ibid. p179

11 Ibid. p188

12 Ibid. p194

13 Ibid. pp194-195

14 Ibid. p195

15 Ibid. p220

16 Among these were several trustworthy elders whose loyalty MacRae often spoke of. One, Roderick Gillies, was a man of outstanding ability’. When he died in 1942, MacRae wrote of him, ‘He does not leave his like behind, and the Lord’s cause in Skye is greatly weakened’. (Ibid. p229)

17 Ibid. pp189-190

18 Ibid. p220

19 Murray ‘Diary of Kenneth Macrae’ pp191-192

20 Hugh B. Black ‘The Clash of Tongues with Glimpses of Revival’, Greenock 1988 pp139-142. Interestingly the girl who told Mary she was ‘going forward’ that evening waited another two years before taking that step. Mary was the only person who went forward on that occasion.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid. p139. But, as Iain H. Murray commented, ‘Chisholm was somewhat unequal in his preaching’. When he spoke at some meetings in Lewis in the spring of 1934, Kenneth Macrae, who had previously shown great appreciation of his ministry, noted that he was ‘full of denunciations, stripping poor struggling souls of every comfort, banging and kicking the pulpit in a ridiculous fashion, and continuing inordinately long’. Macrae felt it had been a waste of time travelling ‘to hear such a diatribe’. He concluded that ‘when Mr Chisholm is in good trim he is a very helpful preacher and has rich food for the Lord’s people. I find few so profitable – although when he goes off the rails he does so with a vengeance’(Murray ‘Diary of Kenneth Macrae’ p271)

23 Peter M. Chisholm ‘Wandering in Fields of Dreams’, Inverness 1952 pp45-46

24 RC-UFCS-H&I 1929 p10

25 Murray ‘Diary of Kenneth Macrae’ pp220-221

26 Ibid. p226

27 Personal communication with Mary Macleod, daughter of Kenneth Macrae, 21/09/2002. The Rev. Alastair Smith, who ministered in Kilmuir (and Stenscholl) from 1971 to 1978, knew a number of converts from this period of awakening

28 Bright Words’ 1939

 
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