Across The Scottish Border
Proud of her religious liberty, secured by the life-blood of martyrs, the hardy Scottish race from the stormy days of John Knox, the reformer, down through the “killing” covenanting times, reveals a history which is marked by its deep reverence and loyalty to the Bible. And, before the dawn of the present century, there were few homes north of the Tweed where the family did not gather around the fireside as the day closed, for the reading of the Scriptures. The national bard in his epic poem,
The Cottar’s Saturday Night, calls to mind such a picture, where:
“The cheerfu’ supper done, wi’ serious face
They round the ingle form a circle wide;
The sire turns o’er, wi’ patriarchal grace
The big ha’-bible ance his father’s pride;
His bonnet rev’rently is laid aside,
His lyart haffets wearing thin and bare;
Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide—
He wales a portion with judicious care,
And ‘Let us worship God!’ he says with solemn air.”
With the march of time the customs of bygone years are fast passing into disuse, and the sacred heritage of our fathers is, alas, unappropriated and passed by.
In the town of Hamilton, Lanarkshire, somewhere about the year 1843,
the minister of the Congregational Church was the means, in God’s hands, of a work of grace in the neighbouring town of Wishaw which, though he little realised it, was destined to have far-reaching results. His were not the stereotyped duties of the order so frequently met with in the churches at that time as well as at the present, for John Kirk had cast aside the formalities required of him when “called” to the ministry, and the staid Scots people who attended those services were conscious of a reality in his preaching that did not permit of any of his congregation dropping oft to sleep during the sermon. The religious stir created in the town drew large numbers to hear John preach, not a few coming out of curiosity; but some “who came to scoff remained to pray,” Familiar though they were with the Bible, they never before had heard its stories unfolded in such a wonderful way, and before the services closed about sixty people had professed faith in Christ. These afterwards formed themselves into a church at Wishaw in connection with that particular “body.”
Full of the joy of salvation, and with a sincere desire for instruction and mutual edification, the new converts set about searching and reading the Word together. Thus they were not long in learning that the Church with which they had connected themselves, did not appear to be following the principles laid down in the New Testament. They made this known to their pastor, who endeavoured to dissuade them from holding such unorthodox views; but finding that no words of his could prevail he resorted to preaching against them from the pulpit, which led to several leaving the church. This took place on the 9th of April 1847, and on the following Lord’s Day sixteen of them came together for the breaking of bread in a workshop at Newmains. Thus, without the influence of a Darby or a Bellett, and solely through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Wishaw Assembly came into being. The little company continued to meet in Loudon’s workshop for a few months, afterwards renting what was known as James Watt’s Hall.
Church Record of April, 1847, we find the
“In much weakness, but in good earnest, we commenced study of the Word of God for our mutual instruction, and soon learned that the Church, in her primitive state, was ‘one body,’ with Christ the Head, and was known only by His name. This led us to acknowledge no other name but Christ, and to make our only tests of membership, union with Christ and peace with God by faith in Christ, and wherever we found a saved sinner there did we find a fellow-disciple, and members of one body, and therefore resolved to hold fellowship with all such who would hold it with us; and that nothing in the world would separate us from any individual member but the discovery of a want of Christianity in that individual. We also saw that it was the duty of every gifted brother to teach in the church what he believed God had taught him, though he might differ in opinion in some things. This principle obtaining amongst us, we could never think of differing in affection, and in this did we see the beautiful adaptation of New Testament Church order to restore and keep the Church in its primitive unity and purity.”
These principles have been recognised and acted upon by the assembly ever since.
It is not to be wondered at that none of those who had taken the courageous step of severing their connection with the Congregational Church, which, but a few years previously, they had mainly been instrumental in forming, had yet learned the truth of believers’ baptism. This knowledge was soon to come. Up to then there was much which to them appeared contrary to New Testament teaching. Reared in the religious atmosphere of the Scottish kirk, where the predominating figure was their ordained minister, they had, without question, accepted this time-honoured rule. But now they had been led to see that the Lord, as it had pleased Him, had given gifts to the members of His body which were to be used for its edification; that the Church should edify itself and that no single person possessed all the gifts needed.
In the study of the Scriptures the subject of believers’ baptism soon occupied their attention, and on Lord’s Day morning, 25th May 1848, four of their number were publicly baptized in the River Calder. This new sect holding such peculiar religious views, so unlike what the staid Scots folk had been accustomed to pursue, came in for some severe criticism and persecution. But despite the onslaught of their erstwhile religious friends, the little company continued to honour God, and not long after the first public testimony in the river, a large crowd gathered on the banks of the Calder to witness the baptism of twenty others at the same place.
For some years afterwards the assembly continued to go on happily, and with the exception of a brief period, when the enemy of the Church crept in and sought to bring about dissensions, a testimony for the Lord has been consistently maintained. The Victoria Hall, the meeting-place of the Wishaw Assembly, was opened on 29th August 1869, and has been the birthplace of hundreds of souls.
John Wardrop, Joseph F. Hyslop, John Loudon, James Loudon, and later William Paterson, Michael Greenshields and James Weir, were closely associated with the spiritual development of the assembly at Wishaw in the early days. Mr. Wardrop’s long and faithful service in the welfare of the Church, until his Home-call in 1892 at the advanced age of eighty-three, is remembered with affection, John McAlpine recalling his Sunday School days at Wishaw when Mr. Wardrop was a familiar figure in the town and a warm friend of the young folks, writes: “The vision of the old man with the long white beard presiding at the annual tea-meeting of the children, giving us kindly words of counsel and encouragement, has been indelibly imprinted upon my mind.”
James Weir was received into fellowship of the assembly fifty years ago during the memorable revival meetings conducted by Geddes and Holt, the well-known evangelists, when great numbers in the towns and villages of Lanarkshire were saved. From the time of his conversion, Mr. Weir was indefatigable in the work of the Gospel, and continued to take an active interest in the building up of the Church almost up to the time of his Home-call which took place in 1935 at the advanced age of eighty-five.
Thus over those long years a faithful and unbroken testimony has been maintained, and to-day the assembly, with a membership of about two hundred, continues its many activities in the Gospel, forsaking not the assembly of themselves together on the first day of the week to remember the Lord.
It was in the autumn of 1892 that a few Christian believers first gathered on Scriptural lines at Kirkcowan in Wigtownshire. During the previous winter, Arthur E. Hodgkinson, just home from Canada, conducted a series of meetings in the village Public Flail, when a number were saved and baptized. There being no one to instruct them further in the truths of the New Testament they continued in the kirk.
Among those with a zeal for the Gospel, William Henry is still remembered. For some years he had been preaching in his native village during the summer months and was frequently to be seen holding forth in the open-air, while in the winter he took his place in crowded cottage meetings. There were others like himself eager to study the Scriptures. He therefore invited all those who had a desire for deeper knowledge of the Word of God to meet in his home. Here they learned from the Scriptures that the early disciples “came together to break bread on the first day of the week.” With this happy thought revealed to them, those who loved the Lord decided to meet the next Lord’s Day according to New Testament teaching. Mr. Henry had a large room in his house which was used in the course of his business as a dressmaker’s workroom, so the little company cleared out the sewing machines and other business equipment every Saturday night, to be in readiness for the remembrance feast on the following morning. Here the assembly continued to meet for a few years until their removal to the Public Hall, where they still gather.
In Lanarkshire—Lark Hall
In the mining village of Larkhall, Lanarkshire, about seventy years ago, nine brethren came together to remember the Lord on the first day of the week. They were men in humble circumstances. Just previous to this they had passed through a time of spiritual revival and their hearts were filled with a joy unspeakable in the happy knowledge of untold riches in their new-found Saviour. The changed lives of those men at once manifested the reality of their conversion, a circumstance which set the village talking. With a desire to honour God they sought guidance from His Word, which became, in a very real way, their food and drink. Meeting together in the homes of one another for the study of the Scriptures, with no one save the Holy Spirit to point the way, they soon became conscious of the true meaning of believers’ baptism and the Lord’s Supper. As these truths were revealed to them, the religious traditions of their forefathers were cast aside that they might in all simplicity follow what was taught in the Word and practised by the early disciples. Thus those brethren, with a loyalty of purpose and fidelity to the principles and methods of the early Church, inaugurated the assembly now meeting at Hebron Hall.
The meeting-place of the infant assembly was in Walker’s Hall, where the little company—which included Samuel Chapman, Robert Miller and Tom Brown—were afterwards joined by other Christians. As numbers increased and their influence began to be felt in the town, those who had identified themselves with this peculiar sect became the target of much persecution. But their zeal and loyalty to the Word was proof against the insidious attention of the enemy and they continued in happy unity, their all-absorbing object being faithful obedience to the will of God and the furtherance of His kingdom. Cottage Gospel meetings were held, and many anxious ones were pointed to the Saviour. Bible readings, where the Scriptures were opened up by brethren of spiritual discernment whom God had prepared to feed and tend the flock, were arranged. Thus the newly-formed Church, many of whom were yet babes in the faith, received instruction.
As the assembly grew, it was more than ever realised that their choice of a meeting-place—that of a publican’s hall—had not been a happy one, and it was felt that by remaining there in an atmosphere usually polluted by the decaying fumes of strong drink, the testimony would suffer. Some premises in Raplock Street, consisting.of a large room and kitchen, became available, and the property was converted into what proved to be a comfortable hall. It was to this hall that Alexander Marshall, in the early days of his pioneer work, frequently came, seeking
to help and encourage in the work.
In his interesting story of the Hebron Hall Assembly, Robert Chapman, of Larkhall—to whom the present writer is indebted for much that is set down here—includes the names of a few worthies, trophies of grace, who in their own humble way witnessed for the Saviour who had so wonderfully transformed their lives.
A notable person who paid frequent visits to
the village of Larkhall was James Gilchrist, well known as the Chapel-town baker. When the ‘59 Revival swept across Scotland, Lanarkshire had an abundant share of the blessing, and James Gilchrist, a licensed grocer and publican, was soundly converted. It is said that the morning after his conversion when he entered his public-house, as he often told, “The whisky barrels stared me in the face, and I stood condemned before them.” There could be no half measures with James Gilchrist; the barrels were rolled into the street, and the contents poured into the gutter, while the signboard bearing his emblem as a publican was painted black the same day.
“One Sunday morning,” writes Mr. Chapman, “James Gilchrist caused some excitement in the neighbourhood. Clad in a black suit of clothes and mounted on his black horse, he bore a banner aloft, on which were displayed the words, ‘Prepare to meet thy God.’ As he travelled from Chapel town to Larkhall on his sombre-looking steed, the people living along the route gazed at him with wondering eyes and in solemn silence, while others declared that the Day of Judgment had surely come. Passing over the Avon Bridge and up through Millheugh, the sight of the black figure with the solemn text proved too realistic for a few who were awakened and made to think of these eternal matters in a way they had not done before.”
This valiant for the Truth, who in his day was known throughout the shire and was the means of leading many from the paths of sin to the Saviour, was the father of that devoted missionary, Jeanie Gilchrist, who laid down her life in Central Africa.
These were indeed stirring times, when souls were rescued from the power of darkness to come out boldly for the Saviour. A similar case, vividly illustrating the work of grace going on in that district, is that of Daniel Hamilton. He was a publican who, on taking his stand for Christ, promptly emptied his stock of intoxicating liquor into the street and closed his shop. The last time he preached in Frame’s Hall, Larkhall, Daniel was then a frail old man with shaking limbs and trembling voice, but his face beamed with a joy which old age had not bedimmed, as he told out of a full heart, of a Saviour he had known and proved for many years.
The reader who has followed the course of these records will at once observe the contrast between what is set clown here, and that of the early days of other assemblies, when men of learning and position were more in evidence. Larkhall is a mining community, and though the doings of brethren who took a prominent part in Church affairs may to those of ultra-fastidious taste appear crude and unorthodox, yet those men were none the less faithful to the tenets of the Word, and their lives manifested in a very practical way, the truths they so consistently sought to uphold. The assembly was largely composed of coal miners. Their working hours were long, often toiling underground from early morning till late at night, and during the winter months when the days were short they rarely saw daylight except on Sundays. And yet many of them seldom missed the evening meetings; and during winter when the kitchen meetings were held, the preacher for the night might have been seen hurrying home from the pithead, in time to take his place in those happy, soul-winning gatherings.
The removal of the assembly, in 1872, to Frame’s Hall was an eventful occurrence in its history, for it provided greater accommodation for a healthy Church, and having a hall to themselves-—a privilege they had not hitherto enjoyed—the liberty of arranging meetings to suit their convenience was a decided acquisition. The advent of a new hall drew considerable numbers to the Gospel meetings, and many were saved, baptized, and received into fellowship. It is of interest to record that open-air meetings commenced at the Cross by this assembly have been continued for over fifty years.
“For a time,” wites Mr. Chapman, “the assembly prospered, but, alas, in the midst of peace and blessing a great trial overtook them. It was thirty years before the Darby trouble reached Larkhall. A few left the assembly and commenced a small meeting in Morrison Hall, Raplock Street, in 1874. It is sad to think that lifelong friends in happy Church fellowship should be cut asunder from each other, in some cases for life, because of diversity of opinion and strife arising between two or three persons some hundred miles away. The progress of the assembly was greatly hindered by those seceding from it. It caused much grief and sorrow, sad hearts and broken ties. However, time is a great healer and the bad effects were gradually overcome. Progress was again made in the work of the Gospel, many being saved and added to the assembly.”
Thus they were cast upon the Lord in their helplessness. Most of the original members, still living, continued with the assembly, and it seemed hopeful that their influence and personality, with the all-sufficient help of God, would retrieve much that had been lost, and accomplish greater things for Himself. In a measure this was realised, and from the wreckage brought about by the enemy there came into being a healthy and vigorous assembly. In those days baptism received a prominent place in the ministry of the Church, and many were led to see this important truth. Nor were those desirous of obeying the Lord in this ordinance, deterred because of the lack of facilities in the meeting-place at which they were accustomed to attend, for public baptisms in the River Avon were frequent events in the village.
A visit in 1883 by William Montgomery, evangelist, was long remembered. Quite a revival took place when both saint and sinner received blessing. And not only were young converts seeking to be baptized but a few believers who had come into fellowship unbaptized were stirred up to the realisation of a joy which up to that time had not been theirs. One Sunday afternoon fourteen brethren were baptized in the River Avon at Millheugh, when a vast crowd gathered on the bridge and along the banks of the river to witness this unique spectacle. People came from the neighbouring villages, and it is estimated that about two thousand people were present. From that time considerable development has marked the forward movement of the testimony in this Lanarkshire stronghold, a pleasing feature being a progressive work amongst the young, where the register of the joint Sunday Schools contains the names of nearly one thousand children. To-day the Hebron Hail Assembly, Larkhall, with its many activities in the Gospel, is one of the largest in Scotland.
Lesmahagow: In The Early Sixties
Had a passer-by stopped outside a certain joiner’s workshop in a Lanarkshire village one Saturday night in the early sixties, and peered through the half-closed window shutters, the glimmering light of an oil lamp burning within would have revealed a scene reminiscent of what is recorded of the first public meeting of Brethren in Dublin thirty years earlier. Charles Millar, the owner of the little workshop, with his wife, had removed some of the stock-in-trade to one side and swept the place, for in the morning a little company would meet together in that humble apartment to remember the Lord for the first time. Those who sat round the table on that occasion were: James Anderson, draper; Gavin Cooper, weaver; and Charles Millar with his wife. They began breaking bread not knowing of any other meeting of the kind but taking the Word of Cod as their guide, carrying out what they believed to be the will of the Lord. These Christians in the village of Lesmahagow soon learned, however, that there were others like-minded to themselves meeting together in the same way. The powerful influence of the ‘59 Revival a few years previously, which brought untold blessing in its train, had not yet run its course. Thoughtful Christians were revealing a genuine desire for knowledge which did not appear to be dispensed from the Kirk pulpits. Thus the Bible became a new book, with an attractiveness which made an appeal they had not hitherto experienced.
The little company was soon joined by others which necessitated removal to larger premises, and after meeting in a weaver’s shop for a time, the assembly rented an old schoolroom, where better accommodation was afforded for the Gospel. Nor were their efforts in the Gospel confined to the meeting-room, for, despite carefully planned persecution on the part of some prominent business men in the neighbourhood, aided by a rather officious policeman, the band of Christian workers carried on an intensive open-air work in the public square. When later, the authorities interfered by removing them to a position where it was difficult to obtain a hearing, James Anderson closed his draper’s shop an hour earlier on Saturday nights and, with the help of others, preached from the doorstep. This opposition instead of damping their ardour had the reverse effect. Thus we find a letter written by Charles Millar to a friend, under date September, 1868, which, in homely language, tells us: “We have had a precious season here of late. The brethren held a camp meeting on Lord’s Day, 5th September. The Gospel Hall was filled to overflowing, there being as many as ninety Christians gathered to remember the Lord. Afterwards an open-air meeting commenced at three o’clock, when the Gospel was preached by brethren, Robert Paterson, John Wardrop and James Stone. There were never fewer than several hundreds anxiously drinking in the truth, and the power of the Lord was present to heal. The evening meeting was to have been held in the hall at six o’clock, but it was impossible to find accommodation for the great numbers who came and a start was again made outside, where the meeting was continued till dark. The Lord was working in our midst. Many, under deep conviction of sin, refused to go home. Anxious ones were led into the hall and pointed to the Saviour.”
A time of revival had begun, and for twelve months two evangelists—Pattinson and Henderson—preached every night on the streets or in the hall, where there were many remarkable cases of conversion. But it is not to be supposed that the enemy remained inactive during those days of blessing. This new form of worship, practised by the seceders from the Establishment, ran counter to the high ideals of the Church, whose minister went out of his way to denounce in scathing terms those “Unlearned, ignorant, yet well-meaning baptists.” But, writes one of the brethren—and one can visualise the writer of sixty odd years ago as with the zeal of the true soldier-worker he takes up his pen, that he might pass on the latest piece of news to a fellow-believer in some distant parish—“We have not time just now to engage in discussion. Like Nehemiah we are doing a work for the Lord, and we dare not come down to the plains of Ono in case the work should cease. But we will continue preaching and baptizing believers, both men and women, and we consider every immersion the best exposition of the truth of God that all their weak reasoning cannot gainsay nor resist.”
The old schoolroom which had been the meeting-place of the Lesmahagow Assembly for a number of years had now become too small and, through the practical interest and good services of James Anderson, a new hall to accommodate three hundred persons was built in 1876. By this time much of the bitter feeling and prejudice towards Brethren, which in former years existed amongst those of the denominations, was gradually breaking down. A testimony such as had been witnessed in their midst was surely an evidence of the Holy Spirit’s operation. The principle of welcoming all God’s people, notwithstanding their ecclesiastical connection, was acted on and maintained from the first. Thus godly Christians from other places of worship occasionally found their way to the Lord’s Table, where they were kindly welcomed. Quite a number received in this way never returned to their former places of worship.
In the early days, those who desired baptism were taken to the River Nethan, which flowed past the village, and in true apostolic fashion publicly confessed their faith in the risen Lord by immersion.
“An outstanding feature of the work of grace at that time,” writes John Anderson, who has been actively associated with Lesmahagow Assembly since 1874, “was the remarkable number converted through the instrumentality of Mary Paterson and Mary Hamilton. The Lord used these two unmarried sisters in a wonderful way in leading many precious souls out of darkness into the marvellous light of salvation.”
Others greatly used in the gathering in of lost ones were: Robert Paterson, Colin Campbell, Ebenezer Henderson and Arthur Massie.
In gathering information from various sources with the object of tracing the work of the Holy Spirit in the development of the Lord’s work in Lanarkshire, I have been struck by the amazing amount of evidence produced, showing how the Lord used those godly women in pointing men and women to the Saviour.
After the opening of the new hall, the Sunday School grew rapidly, and at one time there were four hundred names on the register with a staff of thirty-six teachers. Nor were the needs of the young believers neglected. During the week a special meeting was held for their instruction in the Scriptures, so that the young might be fitted to take their place in the activities of the assembly. This seemed to manifest itself in a very practical way. About this time Lesmahagow was a village with a population of one thousand four hundred, adjacent to which were ten other villages forming one extensive parish. Thus, from Lesmahagow workers went out to the villages with the Gospel, which resulted in assemblies being formed at Ponfeigh, Kirkmuirhill and Coalburn. In recent years owing to trade depression and adverse industrial circumstances, numbers have left the district to seek employment elsewhere. In consequence of this compulsory exodus the assembly has suffered considerably in numbers but the testimony continues.
It must have been about this time that a party of Brethren from Lesmahagow journeyed over to the village of Glenbuck on Sunday afternoons to preach the Gospel in the open-air. The meetings were continued during the summer months, and although it is not known whether anyone was saved during those weekly excursions, nevertheless this effort to spread the Good News in a district where there was very little Gospel testimony, was the first link in the chain which led up to the formation of the present assembly in that place.
Some years later the Ayrshire tent was pitched in Glenbuck by William Lindsay and William Hamilton, which resulted in considerable numbers being brought into the Kingdom, There was at that time an assembly of believers in the neighbouring village of Muirkirk, and many of the converts joined them and had fellowship there for some time. As the way opened up a hall was built at Glenbuck, and with the assistance and fellowship of the Muirkirk Brethren, an assembly was formed which to-day maintains a faithful testimony for the Lord.
From Lesmahagow the Gospel was carried by a few brethren to Leadhills, on the border of Lanarkshire, notable as being the highest village in Scotland. That was just sixty years ago, when there was at that time very little real Gospel testimony in the neighbourhood. This intrusion upon the sacred precincts of the Establishment by a number of strangers, having what were considered to be very peculiar religious views, was hotly resented by the villagers, at whose hands the visitors received a storm of opposition and were stoned whenever they attempted to preach in the streets. But the seed was sown. A few Christians stood by those who had dared to carry the Gospel into the enemy’s camp. One man who found peace confessed the Lord in baptism. Soon afterwards a few others were led into the light of Scriptural truth and began to break bread in the house of a brother. Thus was laid the foundation of an assembly: a testimony for the Lord, whose light, through times of stress and difficulty, has been kept burning for more than half a century in that remote Lanarkshire village.
The origin of the testimony at Motherwell dates back to the beginning of the seventies when a few Christians met to break bread in the home of Hope Vere Anderson. A removal to larger premises soon became necessary, and a room—used on weekdays as an infant school—was granted for use on Lord’s Days by the proprietor of the collieries. It was actually a two-apartment miner’s house with partition removed to make a single room. In the Motherwell Almanac of that period intimation was made that: “The Christian Brethren meet at Number 17 Watsonville Rows, to eat the Lord’s Supper, for mutual comfort and edification and for Scriptural exhortation.” It was further mentioned that a Sunday School was held every Lord’s Day, and parents were invited to send their children.
Mr. Anderson, upon whom mainly fell the responsibility of ministering to the spiritual needs of the company of believers, proved himself to be a faithful pastor. He had in association with him Henry Close, in business in the town as a joiner, and James Muir, a coal miner: men of Christian character and integrity.
There were limitations in the use of the schoolroom, and the worshippers increasing in number it was felt that a better meeting-place was desirable and necessary. The present hall, with accommodation for three hundred and fifty persons, was therefore built and opened in September, 1874. It was indeed a great venture of faith for those early brethren, but it showed remarkable foresight in building a comparatively large hall on the edge of some fields with few dwellings beyond it. It is true that the estate management showed plans of development in buildings and streets, but such development seemed unlikely at the time. However, the plans materialised in course of years, and the Roman Road Hall, as it is called, now stands in the midst of a good working-class population, from which the Sunday School children are mainly drawn. This work has been specially owned of God to the increase and upbuilding of the assembly, many of the present elders having passed through the Sunday School and Bible Class in their young life.
Numbers in the assembly continued to increase, and in 1909 there were three hundred and fifty-six in fellowship. As the town was extending and many of the believers, principally in the south part, were living at a distance from the hall, it was decided that another testimony should be raised. Therefore, in April, 1909, the Shields Road Hall was opened, nearly ninety going from the parent meeting, which had agreed to bear a share towards the cost of the building. This assembly has also prospered and increased. “The blank made by this number leaving for Shields Road,” writes Mr. Robert Morton, who was actively associated with the assembly for many years, “was in a good measure made up, rising to upwards of three hundred. During the rush of American emigration, between eighty and ninety left for the United States and elsewhere, but despite this there are at the present time over two hundred and seventy in fellowship.”
A few years ago some families left to form the nucleus of an assembly at Carfin—two miles distant—augmented by Christians from New Stevenston and Newarthill. The work here began with a Sunday School carried on by Roman Road Hall at the mining village of Ravenscraig, two miles away. The village became derelict and the school was transferred to the care of Carfin Assembly. “To meet the need of school and other service,” continues Mr. Morton, “a hall was built at Forgewood in 1936. This was done by voluntary labour. Plans were prepared by a young architect in the assembly, work of erecting done by the Christians, helped greatly by others from neighbouring assemblies; while tradesmen friends not associated with us as a community also gave kindly assistance.”
A Sunday School of between three and four hundred children is a sure indication of a healthy and prosperous assembly. This is eloquently exemplified in the assembly at Roman Road Hall, Motherwell, and is emphasised by the practical interest taken in the Lord’s work in other lands. The assembly is represented by Joseph Adam, Denmark; Robert McCrory, U.S.A. and Canada; John Rankin, West Indies; Mrs. McPhie, Angola; Mrs. Ed. Buchanan, India; and Duncan M. Reid, San Domingo.
The early brethren have long since gone to their reward, yet the Lord has now, as in the past, raised up men to care for and lead the saints in the ways of Christ, and to carry out the order of the Holy Scriptures in the Church.
Early Days In Ayrshire
When the spiritual Movement reached Scotland, and a standard was unfurled in a Lanarkshire village in 1843, its
progress across the country does not appear to have been rapid. The staid Scots folk with characteristic caution were slow to set their hand to a new doctrine which, on the surface, did not exactly coincide with their religious principles. To them the kirk, with its dominant ties of religion and tradition, was indeed part of their everyday life. It was not, therefore, till somewhere about the year 1864, that the influence of this spiritual awakening made itself known in the neighbouring shire, where a testimony was commenced in the town of Ayr. In the same year an assembly was formed at Dairy. From that time the power of the Holy Spirit became manifest in a very pronounced way. In less than ten years there were no fewer than twelve assemblies established in Ayrshire,1 among the earliest being the gatherings at Kilmarnock and Irvine.
At Dairy the testimony commenced in a house in Garnock Street, the home of Samuel Dodds, a North of Ireland man, who had come to Dairy as Free Church Missionary for the district. Possessing a well-equipped knowledge of the Scriptures, Mr. Dodds did not long continue with the Free Church, for he realised that God was pointing him to paths along which He would have him direct his footsteps. A circumstance which first aroused him to a sense that continuing in his present position must be displeasing to God, was the large number of unconverted Church members who were received to the Lord’s Table. With a consistence which was characteristic of the man, he visited those who were about to be received as communicants. Knowing them to be unconverted, he took with him the message of salvation, warning them of the judgment passed by God upon those who unworthily partook of the bread and wine. Though blind, he was a man of remarkable energy and influence, and was endowed with gifts which marked him out both as a preacher of the Gospel and an expositor of the Word. He had received a fairly good education and was a fluent and sympathetic reader, which revealed to the listener his sincerity of purpose, as his fingers silently moved over the Braille type of his Bible.
With a view to encouraging his less fortunate brethren in the study of the Scriptures, he held Bible readings in his own home, which led up to the formation of an assembly. It was about this time that another North of Ireland young man came to Dairy as district missionary and found lodging at the house of Mr. Dodds. His name was William Thomson. The two being of like mind, and having a heart for the work, which they felt had been planned by the Lord, it was not long before the new arrival threw in his lot with Mr. Dodds. They laboured together in happy fellowship seeking to build up the newly-formed Church and to carry the Gospel to the outlying districts. Mr. Thomson afterwards went out evangelising, and for many years his name as a faithful soul-winner was well-known throughout the South of Scotland.
The missionary duties of Samuel Dodds, when he was associated with the Free Church, were to visit and preach in the surrounding villages and farmhouses. This he continued to do almost up to the time of his Home-call, which came in 1931, at the advanced age of ninety-six. His natural infirmity of blindness was no deterrent when it came to visiting the sick in the homes of the poor, for Samuel could make his pastoral calls at almost any time and under conditions which might otherwise have been embarrassing, without the least fear of perturbing the good housewife, who might at the time of his visitation be in the midst of her domestic duties.
Among visiting brethren who gave help in the early days of Dairy Assembly, and whose names are familiar as pioneers and exponents of the Word, are: Jeremiah Meneely, John G. McVicar and William Lindsay. The latter witnessed throughout the West of Scotland and far beyond for over fifty years without a break. He eventually made his home at the Ayrshire town of Prestwick. The assembly for the most part consisted of brethren of the mining class, whose energies in the Gospel were not confined to regularly appointed services, but where opportunity was afforded, many of them were to be found holding kitchen meetings or proclaiming the Gospel in the neighbouring villages.
“In those days,” writes Mr. George Campbell, who has been actively associated with the assembly for over fifty years, “it was more a time of sowing than reaping, although there were quite a number of outstanding conversions; and thus the assembly was built up. When I arrived at Dairy in 1880—not out of my teens—the assembly was meeting in a room in Vennell Street known as the Pique Shop.” The meeting afterwards removed to various parts of the town as the work among the young increased, until in 1911, the present hall, with a seating capacity of about three hundred, was built.
Troon And Peter Hynd
At Troon the assembly had its inception through the visit of two Glasgow business men, William Caldwell (father of J. R. Caldwell) and Thomas Cochrane were in the habit of spending their summer holidays at this Ayrshire seaside town. There being no assembly of believers, the two brethren met each Lord’s Day morning in the house of Miss Pearson, a Christian lady, for the purpose of breaking bread. And as the three sat round the table and passed the sacred emblems to one another, they realised, as never before, the sweetness of His promise: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” From this obscure beginning an assembly came into being which steadily increased in numbers until about the year 1872, a small cottage in Academy Street was acquired and altered to serve the purpose of a meeting-room. In that place the testimony was continued for a number of years.
Bethany Hall, the place where the assembly now meet, was at one time a church, and subsequently a public hall, but through the interposition of God, at a time when the assembly’s need for greater accommodation was pressing, the property passed into their hands. At that time other arrangements were in progress, and indeed plans had been prepared for a new building. But difficulties arose, and in the end it was clearly seen that the Lord’s hand was in this, as the public hall came into the market and it was found possible to procure it at a very” reasonable figure. The central position of the hall in one of the main streets of the town, affords every facility for the furtherance of the Lord’s work in a healthy assembly, which had its beginning in circumstances so far removed from the activities which now happily exist.
It was at the town of Troon that John Ritchie, founder and editor of
The Believer’s Magazine, spent the closing years of a long and devoted life, the greater part of which was spent strenuously upholding the principles of Truth, both by pen and speech, while building up the publishing business at Kilmarnock which still bears his name. He was laid to rest there on 22nd March 1930, by the side of his wife, who predeceased him. His eldest son, John, spent about twenty years at Troon and gave much help in the assembly.
One is apt, in the recording of an assembly’s activities, to unwittingly pass by those who avoid the public glare, but are, nevertheless, as truly “chief men” as those whose names are written large in the annals of Church history. There are in every assembly many of such: faithful men and women whose names and works are known only to the local assembly to which they belong, and to the One they lovingly serve. Harry Adams, one of the oldest members in Troon Assembly, first broke bread over sixty years ago. Keenly interested in the young, he was for over forty years actively associated with the Sunday School.
The brother most prominently identified with the Movement from the early days at Troon was Peter Hynd, one whose name was known throughout Ayrshire and over a much wider area. An able and gifted teacher, he was happiest when ministering to the Lord’s people, whether on a conference platform or to believers meeting around the Lord’s Table in some out-of-the-way assembly. He was a tower of strength in the Troon Assembly, whom he tended with the sympathetic care and watchful eye of the shepherd; and though located there, yet his energies sought a more extensive field. In the difficult days of the ‘seventies, when small and struggling assemblies were to be revived and strengthened, and when new meetings were springing up in various parts of the shire, it was then that his wise counsel was sought and the voice of the true shepherd heard among those primitive gatherings.
Of his power as a minister of the Word a close friend of Mr. Hynd gives in a few well-chosen words a true pen-picture, which recalls to our mind the once familiar voice: Peter Hynd had a quiet style of ministry; but as he had always ‘something to say,’ he commanded attention. His matter was always interesting, and it was always given out in an orderly way that unfolded itself much in the same way as a panorama passes before the eye. He proceeded on the principle of ‘line upon line, precept upon precept.’ A wonderful amount of instruction was conveyed, even in a single address. His subjects took a wide range, according to the known need of the place he was visiting, or the burden of some particular line of truth upon his own spirit.” Mr. Hynd stood out boldly for the Truth, and when, during a critical period, the enemy of the Church sought to bring about dissension, his firm yet tactful handling of a difficult position effectively succeeded in thwarting the evil designs of the aggressor. He was a strong advocate for the great principle that all children of God are “one in Christ Jesus,” and that we should recognise a believer, not because he belongs to a particular assembly or church body but because he belongs to Christ.
The passing of Peter Hynd of Troon to his heavenly rest, in January, 1904, removed an outstanding personality amongst Brethren—a ‘man of wide sympathies and great toleration for those with whom he might differ on minor points.
A few Christians met in Loan Hall, Stevenston, Ayrshire, for Bible readings, about the year 1870. Soon afterwards, an assembly was formed, among those who first came together being: Thomas Hynd, father of Peter Hynd of Troon; Alex Park and Henry Hynd, who later went out to serve the Lord in Africa.
Kilmarnock And John Ritchie
The testimony at Kilmarnock commenced about seventy years ago. John Stewart, a prominent business gentleman in the town, began breaking bread with a few others in a small hall erected and maintained by him in Nelson Street. To this meeting the saintly John Dickie, of Irvine, who lived in the town from 1858 to 1878, often resorted, and here he ministered to the young assembly, exercising with power and unction the spiritual gifts with which God had so richly endowed him.
The outstanding personality of Mr. Stewart as a Christian, together with the tender and gracious disposition of Mr. Dickie—surely a beautiful combination—largely contributed to the blessing which attended the early years of those gatherings. Ever kind and ready to help the poor and needy, Mr. Stewart had many interests towards their welfare both in soul and body. Thus his association with the noble work of the Ashley Down Orphanage brought him in close touch with George Müller who, on several occasions, along with his wife, broke bread at those little gatherings.
The meeting begun and continued in the hall in Nelson Street, though full of spiritual enthusiasm for the Master, did not exactly observe what we now know to be the true Scriptural principles. Still, those were times when there were fewer privileges of sitting under sound doctrinal teaching such as we enjoy to-day; besides, those believers were faithful to the Truth in so far as they had received light through the Scriptures. They realised their rightful place at the Lord’s Table outside the denominations, believing that God would guide them into paths well pleasing and honouring to Him. It was given to Hugh Lauder to shepherd the young assembly at a time when the flock was seeking spiritual nourishment in unfenced pastures. Indeed, it was mainly through his wise counsel and discernment that the assembly life in Kilmarnock began to take shape.
From what can be gathered, the history of Kilmarnock does not appear to claim distinction because of outstanding events in the building up of this Ayrshire stronghold of Brethren, but rather on account of its associations with not a few stalwarts of the Faith, who in their day and generation added their quota to the spiritual structure and passed on. Thus we find that among the first places visited by Alexander Marshall, soon after being commended to the Lord for the work in the Gospel, was Kilmarnock. This was in the year 1876, when the future pioneer-evangelist, whose name among Brethren is a household word, was just twenty-nine years of age. His untiring zeal in the Lord’s work and his deep concern for the souls of the perishing, which characterised Mr. Marshall to the closing days of his long and useful life, had its early manifestation at that time. Large numbers were drawn to hear the Gospel, and many were added to the Church.
Three years later—in 1879—there came to the town another young man whose name, because of his manifold works, will always be linked with the place of his adoption and the scene of his life labours. His arrival followed a time of spiritual blessing, when a great ingathering of souls had taken place under the preaching of Rice T. Hopkins and Alexander Marshall. Thus John Ritchie came at a time when his youthful zeal and gift received an impetus for the work of the Lord which the passage of years did not impair.
As the names of John Ritchie and Kilmarnock have almost become a synonymous term, it is fitting that a brief sketch of his life work be given here. Born in the village of Meldrum, Aberdeenshire, in 1853, he was reared in a typically Scots
religious atmosphere. The Free Church of Scotland, which John attended as a lad, had for its minister a sincere believer in the “new birth”; thus he had the inestimable advantage of hearing the Gospel story from his earliest years. This made a lasting impression. When he was eighteen his employment took him to Inverurie. Donald Munro was conducting Gospel meetings in the town at that time, and though there was tremendous opposition, crowds flocked to hear the preacher. There was evident manifestation of the Holy Spirit working mightily, and in one week about twenty young men and women confessed faith in Christ—among them was John Ritchie.
At the close of the mission and the departure of the evangelist, the young converts returned to the ministrations of the pulpit, but feeling the dearth of Christian fellowship and the utter absence of spiritual food they resolved to come together for mutual edification in the study of the Scriptures. It was not long before there was revealed to them the teaching and practices of the early believers, showing the path God would have them follow. In the neighbouring village of Old Rayne, Donald Ross was meeting with a few others to remember the Lord. Hearing of this, several of the young converts walked over on a Lord’s Day morning and joined the little company around the Lord’s Table. And so it came about that soon afterwards they publicly obeyed the Lord in baptism, and commenced breaking bread in the simple manner which had just been revealed to them. This marked the starting point in a life henceforth devoted to the work of the Lord. Beginning in a quiet way to witness for his Master at kitchen meetings and in barns, it soon became evident that the young grocer’s assistant was endowed with the gift of the evangelist. Thus John Ritchie “increased the more in strength,” until through his powerful and fruit-bearing preaching he was called to wider spheres of labour.
“In the years of young manhood,” writes a brother who lived in close touch with Mr. Ritchie, “the preaching of the Gospel was his forte, and there were few who excelled him in holding the attention of an audience by his incisive presen- tation of the foundation truths of the Faith, illuminated as his addresses were by striking phrase, illustrated by telling incidents, interspersed by frequent flashes of homely humour and yet always thrusting for the consciences of the hearers…His avidity for the Word of God, his wonderfully retentive memory, his fluent and flaming appeals to the consciences of his hearers, his indomitable zeal in the service of his Master, combined to mark him out as a ‘vessel unto honour.’” As he launched further into the work, he began to realise that material duties which were now hampering the claims of spiritual activity would have to be relinquished, and receiving the wholehearted fellowship of his brethren, John Ritchie gave himself entirely to the service of the Lord.
His arrival in Kilmarnock opened out an altogether new sphere of labour, for it was revealed that he had the pen of a ready writer; and from small beginnings in the little home, where the editor acted as his own clerk and packer, there went forth the first copy of the
Young Watchman, to be followed at a later period by
The Sunday School Workers’Magazine, The Little Ones’ Treasury and
The Believer’s Magazine, the latter being edited by Mr. Ritchie for the long period of thirty-seven years. He was a prolific writer, and besides successfully conducting his various monthlies, his fertile mind produced over two hundred volumes and booklets in addition to hundreds of tracts. His more ambitious writings, such as
The Tabernacle, Egypt to Canaan and
Foundation Truths, have run into many editions, and have been translated into various Continental languages.
In the midst of the rapidly increasing work of writing and publishing, he still found opportunity to give freely of his time in ministering to the people of God, not only in his home assembly at Kilmarnock, but in many parts of the country where he was a familiar platform speaker at conferences.
Mr. Ritchie was succeeded as editor of
The Believer’s Magazine by J. Charlton Steen, at whose Home-call, alter a comparatively brief term of office, the reins were taken up by William Hoste, B.A., of London.
A Biblical expositor of rare ability, William Hoste takes a prominent place amongst Brethren. He was the son of General D. E. Hoste, C.B., whose residence during the boyhood of William was Dover Castle, an ancient stronghold dating back to Saxon times. Educated at Clifton College, Mr. Hoste proceeded to Cambridge University, where, under the direction of Dr. Handley Moule, he took a theological course with the intention of entering the ministry of the Church of England. When, however, the time drew near for his ordination, the young student found himself unable on conscientious grounds to subscribe to the doctrinal formulas.
“From his studies in the Holy Scriptures,” writes A. W. Phillips in
A Brief Life Sketch of William Hoste, B.A., “he was convinced that the Church of England was in grievous error on such matters as baptismal regeneration, episcopacy, apostolic succession, and the whole conception of the ‘clergy’ as a class among God’s people distinct from the less privileged ‘laity.’”
He had arrived at the crisis of his career; but his mind was made up, and at the sacrifice of earthly prospects, valued friendships and present gain, he determined to abandon all thoughts of ordination. Thus he left Cambridge to enter on a pathway of service, depending on the never-failing guidance of the Lord. Soon after leaving the Church of England, it was his joy and privilege to be baptized by immersion and to identify himself with assemblies gathered only to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Eager to serve the Master in the Gospel, the thoughts of Mr. Hoste were directed across the Channel, where he would be able to utilise his excellent knowledge of European languages; and he spent several years in evangelical work in France, Italy and other Roman Catholic countries. Mr. Hoste’s interest in missionary work led him to undertake extensive tours in India and other countries for the encouragement of workers. He also made two journeys to
Central Africa in days when travel in that dark continent was attended by dangers and discomforts almost unknown to-day. It was, however, as a teacher and expositor of the Holy Scriptures that William Hoste excelled; and as editor of
The Believer’s Magazine—a
position he ably filled for several years—he found abundant scope for his prolific pen in the exercise of his singular gifts. Mr. Hoste was called Home in the Spring of 1938.
With this digression we return to Kilmarnock. This Ayrshire town was also the home of William J. Grant, M.A., whose name is still remembered and revered amongst Brethren throughout the British Isles. He was a Baptist pastor in the town, but owing to his loyalty to the principles of Scripture his position became untenable, and eventually led him to give up his ministerial calling that he might be identified with the local assembly of believers. Of a gentle and kindly disposition he was also a man of devout character and an able preacher and expositor of the Word.
In the early days, after a period in the Temperance Halls, the assembly gathered in various meeting-places, the most outstanding being the Wellington Hall, where there were over four hundred believers in fellowship. In recent years as the work developed, the Elim Hall and later the Central Hall were built, where the testimony continues.
Irvine And John Dickie
In a former chapter it is stated that Dairy Assembly was thought to be the first to be formed in Ayrshire. It has since been discovered that previous to that time, five believers were breaking bread at Irvine, in the sitting-room of a dwelling-house situated a few yards from the site of the present assembly hall. This was about the year 1860. Those present were James Holmes and his brother Alexander, with their wives, and James Watson. When it became known that meetings to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, without the presence of an ordained minister, were being held in a private house during the hour of Church service, there was much opposition, and those who attended became the objects of bitter persecution. Notwithstanding such provocative attentions the little company continued, happy in the thought of a Father’s smile upon His obedient children. As the object of their coming together became known others were added, among them David Gibson, a man endowed with the boldness of Peter and the tenderness of John. He, along with James Holmes, became intensely concerned about the souls of the unconverted, and the two made regular excursions to the neighbouring parishes, preaching in the open-air and visiting the cottagers in their homes. David was a noted character and rarely missed an opportunity of testifying for the Master, frequently accosting passers-by with a searching enquiry as to their eternal welfare.
The first hall occupied by the young assembly at Irvine, not unlike many of such before and since that time, was to be found through the proverbial close and up a stair in High Street. “I can remember as a small boy,” writes Alexander Wilson, who is still in fellowship at Irvine, “being taken by my mother, who was in fellowship, to a small hall rented by the Brethren, known as Boyd’s Hall. That would be about the year 1871. The company by that time had increased, there being among them men whom God had raised up and whose power and influence in the Gospel was a living reality, not only in the town of Irvine but in the outlying districts of the shire, where they went preaching the Word.”
About this time there came into the district a young man who entered wholeheartedly into the work of the Lord. His name was Robert Campbell. He had been associated with a little company of believers in Glengyron, and had also been instrumental in forming an assembly which first met in his home at Auchinleck. His coming gave an impetus to the growing assembly, who at that time were featuring aggressively in Gospel work. Boyd’s Hall had now become too small to accommodate the numbers who were drawn to those services, and the Templars’ Hall was hired.
The Lord’s hand was manifestly with them, so that by the year 1894 the believers set out on a big scheme of faith—to build a hall of their own. The assembly at that time consisted mainly of working-class people, but in a comparatively short time the present substantial building, known as Waterside Hall, was completed, and has since been the birthplace of hundreds of souls. The opening of the new hall marked the beginning of a steady development of spiritual activity, the work among the young receiving particular attention. Kitchen meetings and open-air services were notable features; and there are still those who retain happy memories of the days when John Houston, at the head of the popular marches through the streets, led the singing of the old-time Sankey
hymns. God honoured the faithful testimony of those days, the fruits of which still remain. Nor has the spiritual interest of the assembly diminished, for during the past few years the number in fellowship has been considerably over two hundred, and the Lord has graciously raised up a number of gifted brethren whose ministry has been blessed not only in the local assembly but elsewhere.
The name of John Dickie, of Irvine, is so well known that it seems fitting that a brief record of this saintly man should be given here. Of a sensitive and retiring temperament, accentuated by a delicate constitution, his early years, spent at this invigorating seaport town on the Firth of Clyde, seemed to share little of the brightness known to youth; and the leisure hours which might have been spent in healthful bodily exercise, found him poring over his books in laborious study. In this pursuit he made rapid progress, and in the year 1841, when just eighteen, the lad entered Glasgow University. Soon after entering upon his scholastic career, he became deeply disturbed and concerned about the hopelessness of his spiritual condition before God. This led him to the only Source of peace and lasting happiness, and the great crisis in the life of John Dickie had its consummation in a complete surrender of soul and body to the Lord.
His desires were set upon becoming a minister of the Gospel, and with this in view he entered, the Divinity Hall; but before completing his theological course, the young student had a serious breakdown in health, which gave rise to grave fears of a premature close to a promising life. Dispirited and depressed, and yet not without a ray of hope that the Lord would yet use this frail form, he returned to the more friendly air of his native Irvine.
Instead of being revived in body he slowly became worse, and for a long period his voice, consequent upon the harassing chest trouble, completely failed, so that he was unable to converse with his friends except by means of the dumb alphabet. A visit to London to consult a distinguished specialist gave no hope of his recovery. “Turning his back on the capital,” says the writer of a brief record of John Dickie, “he said to himself: ‘If it is God’s will, notwithstanding this verdict, I shall survive; if not, His will be done.’ Studying his own constitution, he adopted a system of dietetics which he believed suitable, and lived a life of extreme abstemiousness. This treatment was doubtless the means of prolonging a singularly useful life for a period of over forty years. His health improved considerably, and for several years he found a sphere of much usefulness as a missionary in his native town.”
As has already been stated, John Dickie removed to Kilmarnock, where he resided for about twenty years, during which trying period he was rarely free from physical weakness and disability. And yet, despite his infirmity, he was seldom idle, going about ministering to the sick and needy in their homes, as well as carrying the Gospel to the haunts of the ungodly, where his labours were honoured in the conversion, among others, of a notorious drunkard named Philip Sharkey, whose subsequent life and testimony in the town was a remarkable triumph of the Gospel. It was at Kilmarnock that most of his hymns and poems were written; a particular ministry which has proved a channel of blessing and a means of comfort to many.
In the year 1878 Mr. Dickie returned to his native town of Irvine, where he resided until his Home-call in 1891. For a few brief years, though in great physical weakness he sought in a quiet way to serve the Lord as his failing health per- mitted, his habit being to rise at four o’clock in the morning that he might commence the day with prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. Four years later, the little strength left in the frail body gave way, and the brain which had outrun an overtaxed constitution, was threatened with a severe form of nervous irritation, This mental distress necessitated the invalid remaining in the loneliness of his room, and seeing only those who ministered to him in his affliction, It was during this “shut in” period that the greater number of his letters were written, which afterwards appeared in two volumes under the title,
Words of Faith, Hope and Love.
Villages In Ayrshire
In the gathering together of notes relative not only to the early days of the Movement, but to more recent times, it is intensely interesting and invigorating to the soul to glance back over the years, and all unconsciously breathe again the spiritual atmosphere of those days. In our search for material in an endeavour to place on record a faithful, unvarnished story of the humble beginnings of many of our assemblies, not infrequently there comes by mail, conveyed in a letter from some unknown correspondent, just that homely touch which is ever pregnant with a multitude of hallowed memories. From Maryfield, in far-away Saskatchewan, Canada, where there are seventeen in the little meeting, and distant by two hundred miles from the city of Regina, the nearest assembly, comes this homely note: “Just after our family reading this morning,” says the writer, “I picked up one of our monthlies sent from the homeland, and noticed the few lines concerning the assembly at Catrine in Ayrshire. Immediately my mind was flooded with memories of long ago, for I spent my boyhood days in the old village. My parents moved there from Auchinleck when I was quite young. That would be about the year 1886, and I believe it was then that the assembly at Catrine was started. My father, the late John Hogg, along with a dear brother of the name of James Young, and an old lady whom we knew as Granny Clark, were the three who first came together to remember the Lord. The meeting was held in a side room of the Wilson Hall and afterwards in a hall in Wood Street, or rather behind the street, as we had to go through a close to get there. Though I was a very small boy I well remember going regularly with my parents, my father taking my hand all the way there and back.” The writer mentions several names of those who afterwards joined the little company; tells in homely language how the Lord blessed the humble testimony; of the help and encouragement received from the assemblies in Ballochrnyle, Auchinleck and Old Cumnock; and wonders whether after all those years there are any of the same name—related to those he mentions—in the assembly to-day. The writer informs us, too, with a touch of tender affection and unconcealed pride, how that his mother was used through the Spirit of God in leading a neighbour of the name of Mrs. Campbell to the Saviour. He is reminded of this event by a brief note in the same paper recording the Home-call of the sister referred to. Our correspondent also recalls a visit of Dan Crawford to Catrine, and later James Anton—the latter having a connection with the village—previous to their going forth as missionaries to Central Africa. And so from a Scottish emigrant in an isolated settlement in Canada, I learned how and when an assembly in Ayrshire was formed half a century ago.
As has already been stated, there are at the present time fifty-seven assemblies of the Lord’s people known as Open Brethren in Ayrshire, the following being a list given in chronological order of those commenced over fifty years ago. In a few cases, where no records have been preserved, the dates are approximate:
1870 or earlier.
1872 or soon after.
Each assembly has its own particular story to tell; its times of sowing and reaping; its trials and triumphs; its seasons of spiritual blessing; its joys and sorrows. It is not, however, the purpose of this book to give a record of every assembly: the exigencies of time and limitations of space at our disposal at once preclude such indulgence, interesting and edifying though it may prove to be. We will, therefore, proceed on our journey to other Scottish shires after a short visit to the Ayrshire villages of Kilbirnie and Ann bank.
Of the latter assembly there is little of special note to record, other than what one may expect to find in the upbuilding of the average Church, which dates its birth from small and insignificant beginnings in far-off and almost forgotten times. And it is not improbable that Annbank, a village lying between Ayr and Mauchline, would have been passed by with but a casual reference, but for a tiny photograph I received, which to me had a peculiar appeal. It is the picture of a humble whitewashed cottage with the appended words: “This is the house where the meeting started fifty years ago.” A somewhat commonplace picture bearing a seemingly commonplace phrase, which might otherwise have called for no special remark; and yet that dwelling had once been a royal abode, for was it not the very house of God? Nor is this an isolated picture, for in our survey it must have been observed by the reader that from such obscure beginnings, there came into being many of our present-day thriving assemblies.
When the village of Annbank was remodelled, modern houses were built behind the two long rows of but-and-bens. When, with the march of time, those humble dwellings were demolished and a wide street and square formed, the Gospel Hall, occupying a prominent central position, was allowed by the authorities to continue the testimony begun in the whitewashed cottage seen in the picture.
Although the date of the first meeting for the breaking of bread in the mining village of Kilbirnie is given as 1889, the circumstances leading up to the commencement go back about seven years earlier, when what was then known as the Blue Ribbon Gospel Army—which had its headquarters in London—came to the village. Gospel meetings were begun in the Good Templars’ Hall which was hired for the occasion. This new departure in religious services received a rather mixed reception, and from the start was met with opposition. Nevertheless, large numbers gathered to hear the itinerant preachers. On the night previous to the opening meeting there had been a theatrical performance in the hall, and the scenery was still in position on the Sunday night. Thus amid these surroundings the Gospel was preached to a crowded audience and a remarkable work was begun. Almost from the opening meeting the power of the Holy Spirit became manifest, and many who came to those services indifferent as to spiritual matters, but curious to know what was going on, had their consciences awakened and were led to put their trust in the Saviour.
At the close of the mission the young converts came together with the object, not only of continuing the Gospel testimony but for the study of the Scriptures. This spiritual exercise of soul led a number of them to the truth of believers’ baptism and the remembrance of the Lord’s Supper. Not all of those who up to that time had been united in the work of the Gospel, could see their way to sever a connection with the denominations to which they were still attached. This meant a separation which was keenly felt on either side. The first company that came together to remember the Lord numbered fifteen. Since then the testimony has been wonderfully honoured of God, and at the present time there are over two hundred and seventy in fellowship, with a Sunday School of about four hundred scholars.
It may have been observed in following the course of assembly life in Scotland, that a notable feature of Gospel activity has been the conducting of kitchen meetings during the winter months. And many a Gospel preacher whose name is familiar amongst us to-day, received his early training at those homely gatherings, where anxious souls were won for the Master, and where it was indeed a rare occasion that the Holy Spirit’s power could not be felt in a very real way. In the early days aggressive Gospel work, mainly in the kitchens of the working-class people, was an outstanding characteristic of Kilbirnie, and the remarkable development of the assembly and Sunday School is due in no small measure to this particular activity.
From Kilbirnie there went forth to serve the Lord in the foreign field: James Clifford, Argentine; Matthew Brown, India; Dr. Robert Kennedy, West Indies; and Miss Maggie Barclay, Central Africa.
Kilbirnie was the birthplace of James Clifford, whose Home-call, at the close of forty years’ service for the Lord in South America, removed a prominent figure from the great harvest field. The little but-and-ben in which he was reared, stood on the ground now occupied by the Kilbirnie Assembly Gospel Hall. Jamie was saved in the old Free Kirk during a special mission by the Ayrshire Christian Union. He was then in his early teens. Soon afterwards he became identified with the assembly, which at that time had amongst its leaders such men as John Barclay and John Peebles. Very early in his Christian experience Jamie manifested a keen desire to serve the Lord, and entered wholeheartedly into the many activities of the assembly. Of a genial and kind disposition, his life was characterised by a sincerity of purpose which marked him out as a chosen vessel, eminently suited for the great work to which in later years he was called.
The life work of James Clifford, across the measureless tracts ‘of the Argentine, which constituted his vast parish, is so well known that it is necessary only to make a passing reference here. From a fellow-labourer comes this testimony: “He was known and beloved from the Bolivian border in the north, right to Montevideo, one hundred miles beyond Buenos Aires up the River Plate: over a thousand miles! He had a knowledge of the Scriptures that enabled him always to minister and refresh and build up the saints, with such ministry as was invaluable.” James Clifford lived to see the fruitful results of his labours in a great ingathering of souls, and in the establishment of assemblies of Christian believers throughout that dark priest-ridden country.
Early Days In Glasgow! The Marble Hall
Not till a coming day will the full story of the ‘59 Revival be told. Nor shall the hand of time efface its Divinely marked-out course, or remove its hallowed landmarks. Taking in its wake both city and hamlet, that God-sent wave of spiritual revival swept across the country unhindered, invading the hall of the rich as well as the kitchen of the poor. Smouldering embers of pent-up fires were fanned to a living flame, bursting forth at the clarion call of the Gospel into an endless chain of beacon lights. Begun in the North of Ireland, where scenes of unparalleled religious fervour were witnessed, it quickly spread to Scotland, and Glasgow was caught in its irresistible tide. Churches in many parts of the city were thrown open to laymen preachers of the Gospel, and from the plush-lined pulpits of the orthodox ecclesiastics, as well as from the austere rostrum of the Calvinist persuasion, the old Gospel was faithfully proclaimed to congregations thirsting for the living Word.
Public buildings and other places were brought into service. A large canvas tent at the foot of Saltmarket Street, used during the Glasgow Fair week as a circus for performing horses, was hired by Gordon Forlong—a Christian gentleman gifted as an evangelist, whose name is notably associated with revival times—and became the spiritual birthplace of many souls, On the removal of the tent, some of the converts met for a time in a hall close by, and later moved into Qontine Reading Room, which was situated at the foot of High Street, near Glasgow Cross, where an assembly was formed. “This reading room,” writes Robert Barnett, “opened from a covered piazza where, on week days, recruiting officers marched to and fro, seeking to enlist young men for the army. Here on Sunday evenings Gospel meetings were held and much blessing was granted.”
In other parts of the city Brownlow North, Gordon Forlong, and other stalwarts, besides many lesser lights whose names are long since forgotten, were drawing large crowds, and many remarkable conversions took place. Those were times when the city seemed laden with a religious atmosphere, which all unconsciously arrested the careless and ungodly, and sent thoughtful Christians to their Bibles.
It was through the ministry of Gordon Forlong that two men (in later years so powerfully used in the Lord’s service) were led to a knowledge of the Truth. They were John R. Caldwell, teacher and expositor, and for many years editor of
The Witness, and Alexander Marshall, evangelist and author of
God’s Way of Salvation and nearly a thousand other tracts. Other notable men whose powerful preaching moved the City of Glasgow in those memorable days of evangelistic fervour, were Harry Moorhouse, Russell Hurditch, John Vine and Harrison Ord.
It was about this particular time that the Movement which has engaged our attention began to make itself manifest in the city. A number of brethren rented what was then known as the Marble Hall, 85 Dumbarton Road (now 927 Argyle Street) for Sunday School and Gospel work. The hall derived its rather ambiguous appellation from the fact that the premises had originally been used as a marble workshop and showroom. While this work was being carried on, the brethren engaged in it came together to remember the Lord on the first day of the week in a small hall in West Campbell Street. This is said to be the first meeting for the breaking of bread, as we know it, in Glasgow.
Thus the year 1860 marks the laying of the foundation of a spiritual structure, which, during the seventy odd years that have passed, has increased so that to-day there are thirty-six assemblies of Christians in the various districts, which constitute this vast metropolis of the Clyde. A study of the history of assembly life in Glasgow, at once presents a formidable task to one who sets out to disintegrate and place in chronological order the assemblies which followed the little gathering in West Campbell Street. If, therefore, the thread is taken up and it is found expedient to divert into other channels in our search of sequence, we crave the patient indulgence of the reader.
With this necessary digression we return to the company of believers which formed the first assembly. As most of those who had been saved and brought into fellowship as the result of this Gospel effort resided in Dumbarton Road neighbourhood, it was decided, after much prayer and exercise of heart, that the meeting-place for worship and the breaking of bread should be at the Marble Hall. Among the brethren who gathered around the Lord’s Table at the Marble Hall on this memorable occasion, which was destined to be the forerunner of many happy gatherings in years to come, were: William Caldwell and his son John R. Caldwell, Thomas Cochrane and George Young. This meeting was the outcome of Bible readings held in the home of William Caldwell, where the Scriptures were carefully examined and various doctrines discussed, with the result that J. R. Caldwell, then a young man of twenty-one, along with his friend and future business partner George Young, followed the Lord through the waters of believers’ baptism.
From this humble gathering, composed of believers who were at that time feeling the bondage and spiritual dearth in sectarianism, there sprang up in many parts of the city similar companies. Nor were their activities in the fulfilment of His will, according to the new revelation, confined to the hour spent around the Lord’s Table on the first day of the week, for their zeal found ready expression in channels which were opened to the call of the Gospel.
The visit of D. L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey to Glasgow in 1874, brought in its train a wave of blessing reminiscent of the revival times fourteen years previously. Followed by a series of united prayer meetings, the great mission started with a meeting for Sunday School teachers, held at nine o’clock in the morning in the City Hall, which was attended by about three thousand people. The evening evangelistic service was advertised for half-past six, but more than an hour before that time the City Hail was crowded, and the waiting multitude outside repaired to the three nearest
churches, which were soon filled. The city was stirred to its foundations. Thousands flocked to hear the Gospel, and large numbers were brought into the Kingdom. Dr. Andrew Bonar thus referred to the meetings not long after they started: “Men are coming from great distances to ask the way of life, awakened to this concern by no directly human means but evidently by the Holy Spirit, Who is breathing over the land. It is such a time as we have never had in Scotland before. The same old Gospel as of aforetime is preached to all men: Christ who was made sin for us, Christ the substitute, Christ’s blood, Christ’s righteousness, Christ crucified; the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation.”
At the close of the campaign the converts were taken into the circle of the various places of worship. Under such shepherding care not a few, in the flood-tide of their first love, having a zeal for the Master, sought spiritual sustenance and guidance in an intensive study of the Scriptures. This led many to the truth of believers’ baptism, and men and women were brought into contact with those Christians who were gathering in New Testament simplicity. Thus the great mission by the American evangelists gave new life and an impetus to the young assemblies gathering in different parts of the city, and their numbers and spiritual influence in and around Glasgow increased perceptibly.
About forty years after the opening of what was regarded as the premier assembly in Glasgow, a meeting was convened in the Marble Hall, to which the original members, who were then alive, were invited. “The purpose of this meeting,” writes George Milne, “was, as Israel of old (Deut. 8:2), to remember all the way the Lord had led them during these forty years, and to return thanks and praise to the Lord as they caused to pass in review all His faithfulness, goodness and grace. At this meeting George Young recalled the fact that shortly after the opening of the hall, they found the words, ‘A band of hope who have no pope meet here on Sundays,’ chalked on the outside wall of the building.” The numbers increased, and steady aggressive work continued until the year 1907, when, owing to the building falling into an unhealthy condition, it was decided to remove to what was thought to be a more suitable hall. The valedictory address was given by Duncan McNah, who faithfully laboured for thirty-four years with the Caledonian Bible Carriage, and the assembly removed to Albany Hall, 534 Sauchiehall Street. Situated in a fashionable part of the town, the rent was high and became a drain on the assembly funds, preventing them from having the practical fellowship to the extent they desired with the Lord’s servants labouring at home and abroad. Negotiations were opened with the believers meeting in Union Hall, Graham Street, which ultimately resulted in an amalgamation of the two assemblies. William Kyle, a brother of revered memory, was connected with the Marble Hall in the early days, and continued with the assembly throughout all its wanderings, being at the helm of its affairs for many years previous to his Home-call in June, 1923. Among other well-known brethren formerly associated with the Marble Hall were Alexander Marshall and Henry Pickering,
Among the first assemblies to be established in Glasgow after the formation of the West Campbell Street meeting, was the one which met at Buchanan Court Hall. This was about sixty years ago. Since the inception of the parent assembly there was a manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s power amongst His people, but it would appear that it was not till about this particular time that there were any evident signs of marked development along these lines. Crossbill was then a rising suburb, and believers living on the south side of the river, realising the need of a Gospel testimony in that district came together in Buchanan Court Hall, where the Lord’s Table was eventually set up. Dr. James Wardrop and Thomas McLaren, with other brethren who had the gift of ministry as well as a keen desire for the souls of the unsaved, are remembered for their faithful and consistent labours, not only in the early days of the assembly, but in later years when difficulties and times of trial confronted the growing Church. For many years it ran well, with times of happy fruit-bearing, and from its increase in numbers there was formed the Elim Hall Assembly.
But a time of testing came when the subtle attentions of the enemy of the Church brought about discord among the believers, which threatened the peace of the assembly. It was evident that to continue in this unhappy state the testimony was in danger of an unfortunate breach taking place. But God intervened by opening another door at Eglinton Hall, where an assembly was formed. The remnant remaining at Buchanan Court Hall continued for a time, but ultimately the hall was closed down. God manifested His approval of the work at Eglinton Hall in a marked degree. Many well-known names appear on the roll. Amongst them we mention particularly: William Inglis (one of the founders of Pickering and Inglis), James Anton, father of James Anton of Central Africa, Robert Gunn, Alexander Harris, R. F. Beveridge of Gospel song fame, and C. H. Judd of the China Inland Mission.
When the Eglinton Hall Assembly first came together in 1892, there were sixty at the breaking of bread. Fourteen years later, when, owing to lack of sufficient accommodation, the assembly moved to Wellcroft Halls, the number in fellowship had increased to one hundred and sixty. These halls, which formerly constituted the premises of an Independent Church, were purchased by Mr. R. G. McInnes, who had the interior of the building remodelled and suitably furnished.
At the opening conference in 1906, at which Dr. McKilliam and David Steel were the speakers, the hall was crowded. ‘‘And thus,” writes one of the brethren present on that occasion, “there was inaugurated that which for a number of years was one of the happiest meetings in the city of Glasgow. Not only was the work in the Gospel carried on in the hall, but kitchen meetings and open-air services were held in the neighbourhood, while the inmates of Greendyke Street Lodging House were visited regularly with the Gospel, the blessing of the Lord being clearly visible in these activities.”
The wise and sanctified leadership of Dr. Wardrop and Mr. McInnes was manifested not only in the growh of numbers but in the spiritual atmosphere which pervaded the assembly gatherings. Although Dr. Wardrop was not what might be termed a front rank man in the sense of being a preacher, there were few who so continuously and diligently spread the Gospel by personal effort as he did for well over sixty years. A consistent believer in the influence of the printed message, it was rarely the good doctor went on his rounds without a supply of attractive Gospel tracts, which found their way, accompanied by a kindly smile and a word of cheer, into the homes of the poor and the well-to-do. In public as in private, the good seed was sown in this way, for as a tract distributor he excelled, mingling with the theatre crowd and with the idlers around the public-house door.
James Wardrop was born in Glasgow, and early in life, while groping about in the twilight of uncertainty, he found peace and satisfaction for his troubled soul by an implicit trust in the Saviour. As a young man, while pursuing his daily calling, he spent much of his spare time serving the Lord among the canal workers and their families in the northern part of the city, where he was encouraged in this service by many tokens of blessing. In later years, in the midst of the arduous toil of his profession, while ministering to the body and its ills, this devoted worker sought also to bring spiritual life and health to the soul. In this, the Christian physician has an opportunity of service entrusted to few others to administer the healing balm of the Gospel to the weary sin-sick soul of the sufferer. “His ready help,” wrote John Ritchie at the time of Dr. Wardrop’s Home-call, “was ever at the call of the poor and needy, in whose homes he appeared as a ministering angel. To recognise God and kneel by the bedside of his patient was no uncommon experience with him, nor did he fail to bring the message of salvation to the soul while seeking to relieve the pains of the body. In his hospitable home, in which servants of Christ of many lands found a welcome, the old-time habit of singing the Psalms of David, reading the daily chapter of the Word and kneeling in prayer, continued throughout the doctor’s long life, and many who shared it will recall the godly savour of that hour of worship.”
A man of unremitting energy and spiritual zeal in the service of his Master, he continued to take part in active Christian work when beyond his four-score years. It was while attending a baptismal service at the close of the weekly-prayer meeting in Wellcroft, and while engaged in leading in prayer, that the stroke of paralysis came, which was the messenger to call him Home, in his eighty-seventh year. The doctor will live in the memory of those who were associated with him as a gracious personality of the old school and a brother beloved.
In the early eighties a number of brethren in fellowship at Buchanan Court Assembly became exercised about the spiritual need of the people living in Oatlands district of Glasgow, and after much prayer for guidance they commenced open-air meetings. They afterwards rented what was known as the Cooking Depot in Sandyfaulds Street for the Gospel on Sunday evenings, following up this effort with kitchen meetings in the homes of some of the brethren. God gave His blessing, many were drawn to the Saviour through the Gospel and the meetings increased in numbers so that it was found necessary to remove to other premises. A large shop at the corner of Polmadie Road and Wolseley Street was rented and converted into a Gospel Hall. Thus the foundation was laid for an assembly of the Lord’s people, and on 26th February 1882, eight believers—among them John Faulds, David Hill and Sandy Burns—came together in fulfilment of our Lord’s loving injunction: “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye
do shew the Lord’s death till He come” (1 Cor. 11:26).
The young assembly gave early indication of its spiritual life and vitality, and with the willing help of such brethren as Robert Duncan and Thomas McLaren, from the Buchanan Court Hall, the Church made considerable increase, so that after twelve years a hall large enough to accommodate three hundred persons was built in Rutherglen Road. For a number of years notable progress, especially amongst the young, continued with encouraging results, and as the Sunday School became overcrowded it was decided to build on the present site a hall capable of seating five hundred persons. Here, in the midst of a needy working-class population, many of them indifferent to the claims of God, the Wolseley Hall testimony continues.
The Springburn Assembly in the north-east of Glasgow was formed in the spring of the year 1881, when a number of brethren, who up to that time had been actively associated with assemblies already mentioned, and who resided in the district, came together in a shop which had become vacant in Millerbank Street. This they rented and had it converted into a Gospel Hall. From the first the little company was active in the spread of the Gospel, there being a manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s power and presence, and many conversions took place.
In the summer of 1884, W. J. Meneely, a North of Ireland evangelist, arrived in the Springburn district with a Gospel tent. He was then in his prime. Meetings were large and fruitful in real conversions, and greatly heartened and helped the young assembly. The corner shop with the double window, which proclaimed to passers-by that the Gospel was preached here, now became too small, and the meeting was removed to a larger hall in Cowlairs Road, where the assembly remained for a number of years.
As the work of the Gospel developed and the Church of God continued to grow, it was decided to build a new hall. A piece of ground in Hillkirk Road was secured and the present spacious hall was erected. Here the assembly, which is one of the most active and aggressive in the city, continues. Springburn Assembly, with a membership of between two hundred and fifty and three hundred on the roll, ranks among the largest on the Clyde-side. Among the last living links of the early days is William Renfrew, who, as a boy of fourteen, came with his mother on the second Sunday after the assembly was formed, having previous to this associated with believers gathering at Union Flail.
Six years after the commencement of the Springburn Assembly, two Christian men became deeply concerned regarding the spiritual needs and the apparent dearth of any real Gospel testimony in the neighbouring district of Garngad. They bore the same name—James Wilson—and for some years previously had been fellow-labourers in the Gospel, itinerating Glasgow, holding kitchen meetings and preaching in the open-air. Their first connection with Garn-gad district was in the autumn of 1888, through a visit paid to a man who had recently been saved in the old Bridgegate Mission. But we will let our brother—the James Wilson who is still actively associated with the assembly—tell the story in his own words: “Garngad was a new district to me. On my first visit, having some time to spare, I took a walk up and down several of the streets and was greatly impressed by the lack of any evidence of Gospel work among the people. This so gripped me that during the ensuing winter months, along with two other brethren, we met weekly in my home for long periods of prayer. Assuredly gathering that God was calling us to
make an effort to reach the people of Garngad with the Gospel, we rented a small shop at the top of Cobden Street. After purchasing some timber, I, along with another brother, on Saturday afternoons, made twenty seats and a platform. The whole furnishings cost the sum of £5
, which at that time represented practically our all.”
The meeting-room was opened on the first Saturday of May, 1889, with a tea meeting. A start had been made, and although for some time the gatherings were small it was felt that the Lord’s smile was upon them. Usually the open-air meetings consisted of two brethren, their wives and five small children. Their task was made no easier by the fact that the only Christian person known to them in the district, an Irish Presbyterian, spread it abroad that those who were carrying on the work in the Cobden Street meeting-room were “dippers”; being thus uncharitably dubbed because they were at that time associated with the Baptist Church. “Our sole aim,” says Mr. Wilson, “was to preach Christ; so we hammered away at Ruin by the Fall, Redemption by the Blood and Regeneration by the Holy Spirit, counting upon God by the power of the Spirit to do His own work.”
At first the meetings were not so encouraging, the few who attended being mostly women, the wives of the working men of the district, who came wearing shawls and without hats. Afterwards a few men came. The first convert was a woman whose profligate habits had earned for her considerable notoriety in the locality. She was a real trophy of grace, and for upwards of twenty years bore a bright and faithful testimony to the manifold grace and keeping power of God. During the first two years a goodly number of men with their wives, who had no connection with any religious place of worship, were brought to the Saviour. As numbers increased, the workers were faced with the problem of what to do with those who had been brought into the Kingdom, as up to that time their chief concern had been the salvation of the lost. The young converts were now seeking spiritual nourishment for their souls, and they looked for guidance to those who had led them into the fold. Thus they met together to consult the Scriptures, and from the only true source of Divine guidance, those who had come to be taught, as well as those who sought to teach, learned for the first time the truth of gathering to His name in the simple and unostentatious way so clearly defined in the Scriptures.
Singular though it may seem, the little company of Christians knew nothing of the people known as Brethren, and had been coming together to remember the Lord, for some time, before they were aware that there were similar gatherings of the Lord’s people in Glasgow, who were meeting in like manner. Their first association with assemblies was in 1892, when a tent was pitched in the district for five weeks. James McAlonan, an evangelist, was the preacher, and at the close of the mission many who had been saved in the tent were added to the Church. Two years later the assembly removed to larger premises in Turner Street. It was about this time that John Ferguson arrived for a fortnight’s Gospel meetings, but so evident was the manifestation of the Spirit’s power in their midst that the meetings were continued for six weeks. It was a time of remarkable spiritual revival. Over fifty professed faith in Christ, the greater number of whom were baptized and received into fellowship.
A notable feature among assembly activities in Glasgow, which has had such wonderful results, is the work of distributing tracts in hospitals and other institutions in the city. How the work began is an interesting story. A remarkable conversion which took place in connection with the Garngad Assembly was that of Allan McKenzie, a seafaring man. His two children attended the Sunday School, where they heard the sweet story of Jesus. The elder girl fell sick and was dying. As the grief-stricken father sat by the bedside of his child, the little girl sang so sweetly the hymns she had learned at Sunday School, that the hardened heart of the seaman, which cyclone, storm and shipwreck could not move, was touched by the tender appeal of the hymn; and God, through the words of the child, led him to see his exceeding sinfulness. The following Sunday McKenzie came to the hall and was saved. Shortly after his conversion, his wife became ill and was removed to the Royal Infirmary. During his visits to the institution, Mr. McKenzie took the opportunity of distributing tracts to the patients. After his wife’s recovery he approached Dr. Thomas, the Superintendent of the Infirmary, and received the doctor’s permission to visit the institution and to continue the distribution of tracts. From this small beginning the mission of spreading abroad the Good News by means of the printed message, and of holding Gospel services in the various hospitals in the city, continues to the present time.
During the last fifty years the district has undergone a considerable change, more than half the population now being Roman Catholic. Though this circumstance has increased the difficulties in reaching the people, nevertheless a living testimony is still maintained. At the Garngad Fortieth Annual Conference, W. J. Grant, when told that God had sustained the assembly all those years in a district where the Salvation Army had twice tried and failed, glorified God for His faithfulness to His Word.
Allusion has already been made to a testimony for the Lord in the Crosshill district of Glasgow, begun in the late ‘seventies, Towards the end of the year 1882, between twenty and thirty Christians, the fruit of this earlier gathering in the neighbourhood, met together in a small room at 22 Allison Street, Crosshill, to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread. From this meeting a letter went forth to the neighbouring assemblies requesting their fellowship and prayers in this new effort to spread the Gospel, and in the carrying out of Church principles according to Scriptural teaching.
The little company was happy in having among them one whom God raised up as a leader of the flock in the person of Robert Duncan. A man of commanding appearance and gracious manner, he was ably fitted for the task of directing the new assembly in its various activities. “As the work continued,” writes a brother who has made a careful record of the assembly’s life-story, “the numbers increased until the meeting-room became too small, and in order to carry on the Gospel work more effectively it became necessary to look for larger premises. About this time, in the year 1889, the way was opened up for the assembly to remove to the building at 5 Prince Edward Street, vacated by the Baptist Church. To-day on this site has been raised the new Elim Hall, a handsome and commodious building capable of seating seven hundred people. On the morning of the first day of each week nearly two hundred and fifty believers gather together around the Lord’s table, and in the evening the large hall is filled with eager listeners to the glad Message of the Gospel.
Besides Robert Duncan, other brethren prominently associated with the assembly in the early days were: James Morton, Fred A. Leith, John McDermid, Matthew Garrey, and a little later Robert Fyfe, remembered as a leader of praise of true musical ability. He was eminently a sweet singer whose soul was attuned to the One he ever sought to magnify in spiritual song. Born at the Ayrshire village of Kilbirnie, Mr. Fyfe came to Glasgow in his youth. Having received a godly upbringing, he associated himself with religious work in connection with Cunninghame Free Church, where he became choir leader. It was not, however, till some time later that the religious young man passed through the experience of the New Birth. This all-important event, as he was wont to relate, took place under a street lamp at the top of Renfield Street in the city of his adoption.
Full of life and vigour and with a new song in his mouth, Robert thereafter flung himself wholeheartedly into the work of the Master. His connection with the Elim Hall Assembly began shortly after it moved to Prince Edward Street. Mr. Fyfe acted as precentor, and under his able leadership Elim Hall held a high reputation for the excellent quality of its singing. As leader of praise at Glasgow half-yearly conferences, which are attended by Christians from many parts of the United Kingdom, he was a prominent figure. Mr. Fyfe was indeed a master in the leading of praise, and the remarkable freedom and ease with which he led the singing of those vast audiences, unaided by organ or choir, gave evidence of the gift of this particular ministry with which he was endowed.
The testimony at Elim Hall now began to reach out beyond its borders, and in the year 1900, with the fellowship and help of the assembly, F. A. Leith and John Fyfe with a few other brethren commenced Gospel meetings in Cathcart Road, Govanhill. The building in which the work began was called Bethany Hall, but owing to its being confused with a hall of the same name in the east end of the city, it was later changed to Hermon Hall. Much blessing attended the labours of these brethren, which resulted, a year or two later, in a worship meeting being started for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In 1907 they were joined by Archie Fraser. For many years a successful work was carried on, and from this testimony came the nucleus of the assembly which now meets in the Victoria Hall, Langside Road, in the Govanhill district. This assembly, meeting in one of the finest Brethren halls in Glasgow, is noted for its vigorous Gospel activities. Particularly is this so amongst the young folk, and as an evidence of the interest taken in their welfare, it may be remarked that at the Annual Sunday School soiree, the largest public hall in the district, accommodating over twelve hundred people, is insufficient to seat all who wish to be present.
But to return to Elim Hall. “Few assemblies have prospered and increased in the work of the Lord in the same measure, and this to a large extent can be attributed to the able leaders who have been given to this Church since its inception. They have been men of God,” continues our brother, “men of ability, men of intelligence and men of grace. A marked and outstanding feature of the assembly has always been, and still is, their willingness to welcome to the Lord’s Table all Christians who are sound in the faith, and who in their daily walk are consistent with their profession.”
About forty years ago Henry Pickering came to reside in the district, and the growing activities and welfare of the Elim Hall at once engaged his constant thought and care. A prominent figure among Brethren, his presence in the assembly was immediately felt. A man of outstanding-ability, cheerful in disposition and renowned as a Gospel preacher as well as a voluminous writer, he proved to be a valuable asset to the assembly. During the years of his residence in the district the meeting grew rapidly, was a centre of much blessing and exercised considerable influence upon meetings far and near.
On the departure of Mr. Pickering to London, in 1922, the leadership fell on Alexander Bayne, M.A., a brother of considerable erudition yet withal of a very meek and gracious disposition; one who shrank from publicity, who coveted not the place of honour, and yet the place of honour was literally thrust upon him. The gift of ministry was his in a very special way; his words of comfort and exhortation were an inspiration, not only in Elim Hall but to the Lord’s people in many parts of the country. His services were in constant demand at home and away; but God’s ways are not our ways, and in 1928, in the midst of his labours at the comparatively early age of fifty-six years he passed into the presence of the Lord.
The assembly was again fortunate in having one among them, in the person of William Dalrymple, suitably gifted to undertake the responsibility of leading so large a gathering. On Christmas Day, 1935, Mr. Dalrymple was called Home very suddenly, after giving faithful service to the assembly for twenty-six years.
The call to labour in the foreign field had its ready response, and from Elim Hall four of its members passed out to service in Central Africa: Dr. Barton, Miss Euphemia Dunbar, Charles E. Stokes, M.A., and Mrs. Stokes, while Miss Janet Wilson sailed for China.
The Albert Hall Assembly, Shawlands, is an off-shoot of Elim Hall, and had its origin about thirty years ago in a weekly Gospel meeting held in the kitchen of the home of John Sinclair and his wife in Baker Street, Shawlands. This homely gathering, begun by a few Elim Hall brethren, attracted the people of the neighbourhood, and some who came seeking an hour’s rest after their daily toil found a peace of soul that passeth all understanding. There were many tokens of God’s gracious approval, and as the kitchen of the worthy Christian couple soon became taxed to its utmost capacity, it was felt that the work should be extended. Most of the brethren who had taken a practical interest in these kitchen meetings resided in the neighbourhood, and they accordingly met to consider the formation of an assembly in the district.
The way being opened up, it was decided to go forward looking to the Lord for counsel and guidance in the step they were about to take. A hall in Skirving Street, Shawlands, suitable for its central position and excellent accommodation was found to be available, and with the hearty goodwill of the parent assembly, as well as the full fellowship of the neighbouring Pollokshaws meeting, the Albert Hall Assembly came into being. On the first Sunday in June, 1909, thirty brethren and sisters joined in breaking bread in remembrance of the Lord.
Among the early leaders of this assembly were George Young (partner of John R. Caldwell), John Steel and William Dykes.
The origin of the Porch Hall Assembly, Glasgow, may be traced to a Gospel mission begun by John McLachlan in a disused shop in Gateside Street situated at the corner of Duke Street. The premises were acquired and suitably altered for the purpose of holding meetings, and became known locally as McLachlan’s Hall. This was in the early eighties. Gifted not only as a convincing preacher of the Gospel but as an able exponent of the Scriptures, Mr. McLachlan drew the people of the neighbourhood to hear him, and many happy cases of conversion were placed on record. As the work of grace developed there was a manifestation of spiritual interest amongst Christians who had joined in the activities, and it became evident that fresh responsibilities had fallen upon the shoulders of those who had the care of the little mission.
By this time Mr. McLachlan was joined in the invigorating exercise of soul-winning by a few helpers, among them being John Paton, Andrew Hamilton and Thomas McAulay. Thus they began to study the Scriptures, infused with a desire to learn the Father’s will towards His children. And so they were led to the truths of believers’ baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This caused those who were loyal to the Word to dissociate themselves from the various places of worship they had up to that time attended as Church members, and they began to meet in His name, counting on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as in simple faith they gathered to remember the Lord in loving obedience to His will.
In the summer of 1887 a Gospel tent was pitched on a vacant piece of land at the corner of Duke Street. The preacher was William Montgomery, well known as an evangelist. He was then in the prime of life, full of vigour and “mighty in the Scriptures.” A memorable rime of revival took place which was felt throughout the district, the canvas walls of the tent being witness of the new birth of many who attended the services. To the believer in happy communion with God, the telling again of the “Old, old story,” and the soul-stirring spectacle of lost ones seeking the Saviour, is indeed a tonic far above the mysteries of the apothecary’s art. Thus it was that the mission of the Gospel to the district, proved to be a source of strength and a real spiritual stimulus to the .little company of Christians gathering in the meeting-room near by.
About this time a small church built in the days of the Disruption in Scotland, and latterly used as a place of worship by the E.U. Church, became vacant. It was in the immediate vicinity of Gateside Street, and, as the assembly had considerably increased in numbers, the brethren rented the building. It became known as the Porch Hall, the name being derived from the not altogether unusual architectural feature of a porch entrance. It was John McLachlan who casually remarked when a name was being considered: “Believers were together in Solomon’s Porch; why not call it Porch Hall?” Thus it was named, and has since been a place of rest and blessing to all who sought sanctuary within its sacred walls. It was from Porch Hall that James Anton went forth in 1902 to Central Africa.
Through the help of Mr. E. Tainsh, who for long years has been actively associated with believers in Glasgow, we are able to sketch a brief summary of dates and other details from the formation of the Round Toll Hall Assembly, until their reunion with Christians gathering in Union Hall, West Graham Street—covering a period from 1889 till 1926. Confident of the guidance of God, a number of believers in happy fellowship went out from Union Hall, and after a journey covering thirty-seven years round the northern district of Glasgow, came back as one man—although numbering about one hundred and fifty—to
Union Hall, the place where their tent was pitched in the beginning. Here is the story. Close on half a century ago a few Christian people with a heart for the perishing around them, were privileged to hold forth the Word of Life in and around what was known as the Black Quarry District, Round Toll. At that time there was little or no Gospel evidence in the district, and meetings for the preaching of the Gospel were convened during the summer and winter, both in a large tent pitched in the neighbourhood and in a music hall hired for the purpose when it was available. The campaign proved to be a time of intensive sowing and reaping, and was carried through with the generous and stimulating help of such preachers as John Ritchie, W. J. Meneely and Henry Downie. It was a time productive of much fruit, and souls were gathered into the Kingdom. Many of the converts found their way into Union Hall.
At the close of the meetings it was decided to continue a Gospel testimony in the district, and to do this after a godly fashion it was thought expedient that an assembly should be established, who would be responsible to the Lord for the continuance of the testimony. Among those called, to share in the undertaking and who thus formed the nucleus of the Church were: James Kelly, William Taylor, Henry Davidson, Robert Kerr, Tom Dryden and Dan Turner, still remembered as “Happy Dan.” Later, the ranks were augmented by Robert Leggat and others, during which time numbers were saved and added to the assembly.
For over four years the testimony was maintained before removing to Camperdown Hall, where the assembly remained for ten years. Many were the miracles of grace during those years; notably a drunken mason who persistently disturbed the open-air meetings, yet God wondrously saved the profligate and he lived for many years to proclaim from platform and street corner his unbounded faith in the Gospel he once sought to defame. Then another call came for the assembly to remove to Garscube Hall, the place once occupied by what is now The Tabernacle, St. George’s Cross, and latterly by the Union Hall, as a Gospel testimony. Such stalwarts of the Faith as Alex Marshall and David Rea, with others, unfurled the banner of the cross with lasting results. After ten years the assembly returned to Round Toll Hall, still under the able leadership of James Kelly and Robert Leggat, where, following a testimony of eighteen years, circumstances came in which made another removal necessary. This time back to Union Hall, where twenty of their number, with others, had started the testimony in Round Toll at the beginning. It was in this assembly that Alexander Stewart so ably ministered for many years. He was the author of “O Lamb of God we lift our eyes,” and “Lord Jesus Christ we seek Thy face,” hymns sung by assemblies of believers the world over.
An aged brother, who for over half a century has been actively associated with assemblies in Glasgow, gives this testimony: “We are commanded to remember our guides,” he writes. “Looking back, the writer sees three outstanding men whose personality and ministry were most markedly used of God in supplying spiritual food for edifying babes in Christ, as well as those of more mature experience. These were: John R. Caldwell, Alexander Stewart and Thomas Cochrane. The ministry of these brethren was most edifying and uplifting. But there was a something about their demeanour and movements which impressed one even more than their addresses—a fact which indicates that the man is more than his message; and is explained by the Great Woman of Shunem’s words to her husband concerning the prophet Elisha: ‘Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually’ (2 Kings 4:9). Elisha’s character was perceptible in his personal demeanour. So it was with these elder brethren, whom we will do well to remember and seek to imitate as they followed Christ.”
It must be obvious to the reader that the purpose of these records has not been to chronicle the birth, progress and spiritual life of the thirty-six assemblies in Glasgow. To attempt such a formidable task would run far beyond the limits of space at the disposal of the writer; nor would we presume upon the patience of the reader in pursuing a course which in a variety of instances must of necessity lead along parallel avenues. Since the early days when the fire was first kindled in Campbell Street, remarkable development in the upbuilding of the Church of God and the furtherance of His Kingdom has taken place; so that to-day, probably no other body of Christians wield so powerful an influence in the spread of the Gospel in the city than the various assemblies of believers known as Brethren.
The assembly at Dumbarton was commenced about seventy years ago, the first meeting for the breaking of bread being held in the home of a sister by name Mrs. Miller. Their path at the beginning appears to have been rather a chequered one, but despite the inroads of the enemy to sow discord, a testimony was established which God has since been pleased to sustain.
Fifty-three years ago, the only Gospel testimony in the village of Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, was under the care of Mrs. Brown of Old Hall, a Christian lady whose love for the souls of the perishing was ever her constant thought. In the work of soul-winning she had the fellowship and able assistance of Mr. Martin, Town Clerk of Paisley, who resided in the village. Gospel meetings, held twice a week, were well attended, and God honoured the work in many conversions taking place. About this time, David Wight and his wife took up residence in Kilmacolm and at once cast in their lot with the few Christians.
There was no Sunday School, although there always seemed a plentiful number of children playing about the streets who might be willing enough, if invited, to come to hear Bible stories on Sunday afternoons; so Mrs. Wight gathered some of them together. Before many weeks had passed, the numbers had increased to nearly a hundred. Thus began a fruitful work which developed in a remarkable way. As time went on, many of the young people were led to trust the Saviour and became helpers together in the Gospel mission. There now came a desire amongst the believers to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in the apostolic simplicity of the Scriptures. This was carried out, but only once a month, until the arrival in Kilmacolm of William Farquharson (brother-in-law of Alexander Stewart, of Glasgow), and family, when they began to come together to remember the Lord on the first day of every week; and the testimony has since continued active in the work of the Gospel and faithful to the principles of gathering in His Name.
Bridge Of Weir
Bridge of Weir, in the same shire, whose name will always be associated with Quarrier’s Homes for Children, has an assembly which was begun just over forty years ago, following a Gospel mission in the village. David Wight had recently come from Kilmacolm to reside in the district, and with the help of his wife together with a few Christian friends, was the means of building a hall in the centre of the village for the preaching of the Gospel. It was opened with a conference, when William Quarrier and Alexander Stewart ministered words of encouragement to those who had put their hands to the plough. This was followed by a two weeks’ mission conducted by Alexander Brown. Among those who were saved was a blacksmith, well known in the village for his intemperate habits. He immediately went and paid all his debts for drink and began to testify, showing by his changed life his newly-found joy. Soon afterwards his wife and only son were converted. Thus began a work of grace. People were attracted to the meetings in such numbers, that one of the ministers in the village was heard to complain of the members of his congregation forsaking his Church for the meetings in the hall.
As the interest increased, those who had found the new life began to read their Bibles. In this, the seekers after spiritual food received refreshment by the visit of J. A. Garriock, who ministered the truth of believers’ baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the outcome being that a good number obeyed the Word. Thus a company of believers began to break bread on the first day of the week.
In The Scottish Capital
In the recording of the work of the Holy Spirit relative to the formation of assemblies of Christian believers during a particular period of last century, one cannot fail to observe, in a considerable number of instances, the lack of documentary evidence as to when and where the first stone of a present-day thriving Church was laid. To the historian whose sensitive mind has been trained along lines of authenticity and exactitude in the fixing of day and date, the absence of such records may present a difficulty. But Brethren in earlier years, so it would seem, were more concerned about fundamental truths in the building up of a spiritual structure, than of recording upon stone or parchment what to them appeared to be a non-essential.
Thus in Edinburgh comparatively little is known of the early days of Brethren, and although the original meeting-place is said to have been in Bank Street, only a few fragmentary facts can be gathered as to the actual founding of the Movement in the Scottish Capital. As in other parts of Scotland about the time of which we write, the Holy Spirit had been preparing many hearts to receive a fresh enlightenment of the Scriptures. Pioneers had fearlessly proclaimed the Truth, and the ground was being broken up for the time of sowing. Reports of what was taking place farther south had reached Edinburgh, and were gladly received by a few with a prayerful desire for a fulfilment of the Scriptural mode of assembling themselves together in the Name of the Lord. Thus when the saintly Robert Mitchell came to Edinburgh, sometime in the late sixties, he found quite a number of earnest Christians of like mind to himself, whose spiritual outlook had recently undergone a great change.
Among the early leaders—and these included such stal- warts as Donald Ross, Albert Boswell, Henry Groves and Colin Campbell—Robert Mitchell was, in many ways, outstanding. An Ayrshire man, he had spent some years in England, where he was on terms of happy fellowship with Lord Congleton and other “chief men among the Brethren.” He came to Edinburgh in order that he might study languages and otherwise prepare himself for missionary work in the foreign field. The Lord willed it otherwise. A severe illness supervened, and the lifework of Robert Mitchell was mainly in the shepherding and building up of the Lord’s people in the homeland. “He was an old man as I remember him,” writes Mr. Robert G. Mowat, who has kindly furnished the present writer with much of the information relating to the Edinburgh Assemblies, “and the years had mellowed his winsome character so that we young folks loved him for himself, while we revered him for his knowledge. He was, in the truest and best sense of the word, a saint—simple yet profound, full of gracious dignity, with a charming personality which Divine love had rendered truly beautiful. Of him it could rightly be said that the radiance of the sanctuary glowed on his countenance and hallowed his speech, so that we who listened were hushed with the sense of the Sacred Presence: for he dwelt much in the secret place of the Most High.”
Robert Mitchell was a Biblical scholar of considerable standing, and collaborated with Robert Young in the preparation of his monumental work,
Young’s Analytical Concordance. During his residence in England he formed one of that circle which included Dr. Maclean, Henry Groves, Lord Congleton and others who came together by arrangement, to read and study missionary news and letters. As the circle grew and interest in the Lord’s work in the foreign field increased, so there became a real need for a periodical containing reports from overseas, which might reach a wider community. And as we have already seen in a former chapter, in the year 1872 the
Missionary Echo, forerunner of our missionary monthly
Echoes of Service, was first published.
The little company at Bank Street went on happily for some time. But it is not to be supposed that the arch- enemy of the Church would remain inactive in the presence of such a spiritual renaissance in Edinburgh, without casting about in a subtle endeavour to break up the harmony of the young assembly, and it was not long before serious doctrinal trouble arose, and the meeting was divided. This naturally led to a corresponding loss of power and blessing over a considerable period, though we are thankful to be able to add that unity has now for some years been reestablished. Soon after this a small hall at 16 Picardy Place was acquired, and another at Lochrin Place, thus suiting the convenience of believers who had previously met at Jamaica Street, Melbourne Place and Greenside Place. “From that time,” writes Mr. Mowat, “the work began to prosper. The meeting-room at Picardy Place became a truly hallowed spot to many a soul who was won for the Lord there. With steady increase of numbers the hall was enlarged, and such was the spiritual vigour of believers that it seemed as though nothing could stay their enthusiasm as the work developed. There was a happy family feeling of fellowship, and all, both young and old, were on fire for souls. Thus the good work spread.”
At the seaport of Leith, a mile or two from the city, an assembly was established about this time. Henry Mowat and Ernest Gerrie began the work in the Blackburn Hall there, Mr. Mowat remained for several years to give pastoral care until the infant assembly was built up, after which he returned to take his place in the Picardy Place meeting. Ernest Gerrie was afterwards called to devote the whole of his time to the Lord’s work, and became well-known in many parts of the country as an evangelist. The activities of the various companies of believers in Edinburgh continued to bear fruit. The blessing spread to the near-by village of Davidson’s Mains, and later to Portobello where, under the guidance of James Straiton, an assembly was formed.
A feature of the Picardy Place Assembly, which was attended with much blessing, was the going forth of singing parties to carry the Gospel in song and story to hospitals and other institutions. A zealous band, led by Henry Mowat, also engaged in a constant war of aggressive evangelism, not only in open-air services, but at various times small halls were engaged in needy districts of Edinburgh and Leith, where some wonderful cases of conversion were recorded. The assembly at Picardy Place had already removed to a larger hall but even this became inadequate,” and at the outbreak of the Great War when the German Chapel in Rodney Street became vacant, this handsome and commodious building was acquired and was given the name of Bellevue Chapel.
At Lochrin Place there was also steady progress, and the assembly increased in numbers until its removal to the present hall in Lauriston Place, where the testimony continues. Since those almost forgotten days when the Lord so wonderfully came in, dispelling the cloud which had for so long overshadowed the path of His people, there has ever been present in the various assemblies that atmosphere of happy fellowship, which has in no small measure contributed to the remarkable development of the testimony in and around the historic Scottish Capital.
Loanhead, Near Edinburgh
When Donald Ross visited Edinburgh in 1876, he carried his pioneer work to
the districts lying within easy distance of the city. At the mining village of Rosewell, where his tent had been pitched, he was joined by John Scott, of Shrewsbury, and a remarkable work of grace followed. Here the evangelists were met with bitter opposition, the chief instigator being the local clergyman. On the first night of the meetings, the ropes were cut and the tent brought to the ground. This necessitated a watch being kept, and the evangelists were obliged to take turn about each night. Nevertheless, the Lord honoured the faithfulness of His servants and when the tent was removed, those who had found the Saviour met together under the care of Donald Ross to break bread. As all the suitable places in the village were in the hands of the enemy, the meeting was held in the workshop of a joiner, who, along with his wife and some members of his family, had been saved at the tent meetings. Thus they continued in happy fellowship for some time. Subsequently a number of the Christians removed to Bonnyrigg and Penicuik, these places being a few miles from Rose-well in opposite directions; the result being that the meeting at Rosewell became extinct, while testimonies were raised in each of the two towns named.
In the spring of 1889 the assembly at Bonnyrigg decided to remove their meeting-place to Loanhead, about two miles distant, as nearly all those forming the assembly lived in that locality; and here they have continued to gather in His name. During recent years there has been a fresh testimony at Bonnyrigg, where a few believers gather to remember the Lord on the first day of the week.
At the village of Chirnside, Berwickshire, in the early seventies, a few young men—some of them recently saved—commenced a diligent study of the Scriptures. It was not long before there was revealed to them the truth of believers’ baptism and of gathering to the Lord’s Name alone. Thus they began to break bread, although they knew of no other similar meeting. Shortly afterwards Colonel Molesworth came to Chirnside, and through him they heard that there were other such gatherings and they became identified with them in fellowship.
In The Highlands Of Scotland
The assembly of Aberlour in Banffshire was mainly the result of a visit paid to that district by Donald Ross. This was in the beginning of the year 1869. He was then Superintendent of the North-east Coast Mission, an organisation whose sphere of service extended from Ferryden in the south to Thurso in the far north, a distance, following the coastline, of probably five hundred miles. In this vast field Mr. Ross laboured continuously for some years before freeing himself from what he felt was an organisation which fettered his Spiritual activities.
At that time Donald Ross knew nothing of gathering in the name of Jesus; indeed had not even heard of it. “We heard of ‘Brethren,’” he wrote, “but only as bad, bad people, and we resolved to have nothing to do with them. Our information, however, came from the parsons.” Associated with him in the mission were many devoted men, among them Donald Munro and John Smith, who in the years that followed, became powerful in publishing the Gospel at home and abroad.
The unpretentious presentation of the old Gospel by these itinerating preachers, captured the ear of the country folk who came in numbers to the meetings. But this aroused the jealousy of some of the clergy, who denounced in scathing terms the unorthodox doctrine and methods of those who had invaded the territory of the Established Church. Ever fearless and outspoken, Donald Ross met the onslaughts from the pulpits with a tract which he wrote and published as a challenge “suggesting to the ministers to go on strike for a year or more and allow nine pairs of evangelists to be let loose on Scotland, pledging our word that more conversions would be seen through the eighteen than through all the ministers put together in the same time.”
It was about this time or soon after that Mr. Ross took a definite step for the Truth revealed to him in the Scriptures. He had preached one evening at a place near Aberlour, on the text, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17). At the close of the meeting a brother, an elder in the Parish Church, laid his hand on the preacher’s shoulder and said: “All true, dear brother Ross; but where are we to go?” “That is just what is troubling me,” came the unexpected reply. And that was really the case.
A Lord’s Day At Old Rayne
A living pen-picture by John Ritchie, eloquently descriptive of a primitive gathering around the Lord’s Table in a Highland village about the time of which we now write, is worthy of recounting here. “It was on a summer Lord’s Day morning,” he writes, “that four of us started on foot to Old Rayne, where we had heard that a company of believers had begun to gather, outside of all denominations, to worship God and to shew forth the Lord’s death in the breaking of bread. We had seen this to be our privilege in the Word and were anxious to see it in practice. After a delightful eight-mile walk, a rest by a spring of clear water, a Psalm from the Word, and a little season in prayer, we started on the last stage of our journey and arrived at the village a quarter of an hour before the hour of the meeting. We were told the gathering was in a workshop which was easily found. A few brethren were standing at the door, who gave us a hearty welcome. A brother who had been in Inverurie during the week, and had gone to reside in that district, introduced us to the elder brethren, and we were received as ‘young believers from Inverurie, where as yet there is no gathering.’ We got a royal welcome.
“It was a wonderful gathering—the first of its kind we had ever seen. The place was a country joiner’s shop, with whitewashed walls, plank seats supported by cut logs of wood, a plain deal table covered with a white cloth on which the bread and wine stood near the centre; there was no platform, no chair, no chairman. We had often gone to hear the Lord’s servants and to seek His blessing on the Word spoken by them; here we had come to meet the Lord Himself, to hear His voice, to see no man save Jesus only. The seats filled up, mostly by middle-aged country people all plainly clad; there were no flowers or feathers, no gold ornaments or sparkling jewels there. When all had assembled, the door was shut and we felt that we were shut in with God.
“There was true worship there that day, such as has to be shared to be understood: it cannot be explained. Never before had we heard such singing—possibly never shall we hear it again till we go to Heaven—not the music, but the heart that was in it—true melody, produced by the Spirit operating in the hearts of the worshippers. It is not to be expected that everything was done ‘after the due order,’ for these believers were groping their way out of the mazes of worldly Christianity and following light as it dawned upon them from the Word. A critic would have seen plenty to find fault with. But there was heart and soul in all that was said and done; the prayers led you right into the presence of the Lord, the praise was like a fountain springing up,
and whatever words of ministry were given, were fresh as the manna freshly gathered from the dew and newly fallen from Heaven. The bread and wine passed round—it was the first time we had handled the sacred symbols. We stood as we partook of them, like Israel in Egypt—some of the old farmers literally staff in hand—and when the hymn was raised and sung, still standing—
‘Come, Lord, we wait for Thee,
We listen still for Thy returning;
Thy loveliness we long to see,
For Thee the lamp of hope is burning;
Come, Lord, come!’
it actually seemed as if we were on the move upwards; we certainly were waiting for the call.”
Towards the end of 1870 there was a remarkable work of grace in Dufftown and Aberlour, which resulted in a number of believers publicly confessing Christ by being baptized in the River Spey. It was not, however, till the first Lord’s Day in 1872 that an assembly was formed in the parish of Aberlour. For a time the meeting-place for the breaking of bread was in a farmhouse, but as a number of believers came over from Dufftown and Boham to join the little company, as well as others who left the Parish Church, a hall was taken in the village of Aberlour, where a testimony has since been maintained.
Just over fifty years ago, four men, members of the Free High Church, Inverness, then under the godly ministry of Dr. John Black, were much perplexed and exercised in heart regarding their position as believers at the Lord’s Table, partaking of the sacred emblems with unconverted people; so they left the Church. Three of these brethren rented a room in Church Street, and the Lord’s Day following, being Communion Sunday at the Churches, they spread the table in apostolic simplicity, in preparation of remembering the Lord’s death. As in the case of many other Christians at that time, they knew nothing of the Brethren Movement but were solely guided by the Holy Spirit through a diligent study of the New Testament.
On this particular Sunday, Frank Edgar, who had come out with the others, not knowing where to go and unaware of the intentions of his friends, left home after asking God to lead him where He would have him go. Whilst walking along Church Street he seemed to hear a voice telling him to stand still. He stood where he was and noticed that the time on the steeple clock was five minutes to eleven. “I’ll stay here for five minutes,” he said to himself; “then I’ll go over to the Wesleyan Church.” Looking over the street he saw Alexander Mackenzie, one of his Free Church friends, standing with his Bible under his arm.
“Is that you, Frank? And where are you going?” he said.
“I don’t know,” was the young man’s reply.
“I’m going to a room in Church Street to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread with Murdo Campbell and James Grant,” said his friend. “Will you come?”
“Yes, I’ll come,” was the ready response. Those were the beginning of eventful days in Inverness.
But these faithful believers, loyal to the Word and true to the dictates of their conscience, very soon became the target of the enemy. The following Sunday, and for some time after, most of the pulpits in the Highland Capital were preaching against this new sect, who, in the eyes of the Establishment, had committed gross sacrilege by presuming to participate in the Holy Sacrament outside the sacred precincts of the Church, without the presence of an ordained minister.
Days of persecution followed. Alexander Mackenzie, whose master was a prominent elder in Dr. Black’s church, received a fortnight’s notice to terminate his employment. The others were slighted by former friends and threatened in many ways. This bitter persecution against those who dared to come out boldly for the Truth continued for a considerable time, until the assembly increased to a membership of fifty. The storm from without had long since abated, and a real manifestation of spiritual activity had become evident in the growing assembly, when, almost without warning, came the rumbling sound of strife from within. Inspired by the subtle and assiduous authority of Brethren hundreds of miles distant, who probably had never heard of this little assembly in the North of Scotland, the enemy of the Church came in. The flickering light which had braved the tempests of early years, and through times of difficulty and opposition had become a bright illuminant, was almost quenched. Barren years followed, until the arrival in the city, of William Mackenzie of New Zealand, when the remnant of a once healthy Church gathered together in the house of one of the brethren, who in the early days had “come out” in defence of the Truth.
This was the beginning of happier times, and through the weary cloud which for long lost days had cast an ominous shadow, there came once again the sunshine of a Fathers smile. To-day there is a large and active assembly in premises of their own, where the fruits of their labour may be observed in an aggressive Gospel testimony, and a happy and hopeful work amongst the young in the two Sunday Schools which are maintained by the Ebenezer Hall Assembly.
Breaking away from the tradition of the systems where it was felt that the liberty of the Holy Spirit was being hindered, a few Christian men, about the year 1887, commenced what was called the “Brechin Christian Union,” in the village from which the Gospel Mission took its name. They had as their object the preaching of the Gospel and the study of the Scriptures, which they resolved to accept as their guide. Unfettered by ecclesiastical rule, they soon learned the true meaning of being gathered in His Name. James Soutter had some time previous to this been baptized in the river and, along with three others, he sought the fellowship of the Montrose Assembly in the spreading of a table to the Lord’s Name in Brechin. This was realised in the spring of 1891, when these four, with three sisters, broke bread. George R. Masson, of Aberdeen, hearing of this, came along and spent three weeks ministering the Word, which greatly cheered and encouraged the little company of believers. Before he left, four were added to the assembly, and seven publicly confessed the Lord in baptism.
The meetings for the Gospel and ministry were held in what was known as the Masons’ Hall, while the gathering to remember the Lord’s death took place in “the home of one of the brethren. In 1904 the old Town Hall became vacant, and, as numbers increased, it was rented for sixteen years, the name being changed to Gospel Hall. The assembly next moved to the Congregational Kirk, an-iron building which was offered for sale and purchased by the Brethren. Believers were added from time to time, yet the numbers have never reached a high figure, many of the younger people in fellowship having to move farther afield in quest of employment.
From the little assembly there have gone forth to serve the Lord in other lands: A. Whitelaw, who went out to China; W. G. Smith, whose itinerating work in the United States of America resulted in the founding of a few assemblies; and Dr. W. R. Soutter, who sailed for Manchuria to join J. H. Brewster in the Lord’s work there. Since the founding of the assembly at Brechin, the burden of the work and of the ministry rested principally on the shoulders of James Soutter. Loyal to the principles of Scripture, he proved to be a tower of strength amongst those who have ever been faithful to the testimony of the Gospel.
Towards the end of the year 1894 Mr. and Mrs. Meiklejohn opened their house to receive Brethren to the Lord’s Table, and were later joined by others. This attempt to establish a permanent testimony failed owing to the ill-health of Mr. Meiklejohn and other causes. In the spring of 1899 William Ness, of St. Andrews, arrived in Nairn, and a few months later, the Lord’s Table was spread in a room in the Public Hall Buildings. Since then there has been steady and consistent progress.
In the burgh of Ballater, not far from the royal residence of Balmoral Castle, three maiden sisters, relatives of a distinguished British soldier, with a few other Christians came together to remember the Lord on the first day of the week over fifty years ago. They were on a visit to the Highlands, but so charmed were they with the beautiful scenery and the peaceful valley of the Dee, that they eventually took up residence there. Some years later the brothers Logg pitched a tent in the neighbourhood, and this invasion aroused considerable interest in the Gospel. Before the evangelists left, the Misses Haig became exercised as to continuing a Gospel testimony, and decided to convert the stable belonging to the mansion into a meeting-room with suitable accommodation for a baptistry. The sisters visited throughout the parish from door to door, and with a kindly word invited the people to come. So remarkable was the response that the “meeting-room” had to be enlarged by taking in the coach-house and the laundry.
It was evident that the Lord was with those who sought to uphold the Truth, there being a number of men and women,
who, following the divine order, were baptized and added to the assembly. Bible readings were arranged and help in the exposition of the Scriptures by brethren from Aberdeen, was the means of stimulating the assembly. A Sunday School was commenced, and some who were long past day-school age attended. Thus the good work continued for many years, until one after the other of the aged sisters were called Home, leaving those whom the Lord had raised up to follow in the path marked out by Him.
In later years, through various circumstances, numbers were reduced, but the testimony begun by those saintly women, is still kept alive in the village where their name will long remain a fragrant memory.
In the summer of 1907 Francis and Matthew Logg pitched their Gospel tent in the corner of a field in Dingwall, and before the season closed, several believers broke bread under the canvas roof which has been a silent witness of the blessing that accompanied the labours of God’s servants.
On the removal of the tent the friends took a small room in the district of the town where the work had been carried on. In the following year William Robertson, with his wife and family, took up residence in Dingwall and proved to be a stimulus to the struggling assembly, who continued in different meeting-rooms until 1926, when a new hall was built. Here a testimony has since been maintained.
Peterhead And The ‘59 Revival
Delving into the past in an endeavour to trace the source of what is now a living stream of spiritual life, one cannot but be forcibly impressed by the tremendous religious influence of what is still affectionately referred to as the ‘59 Revival. What that immeasurable wave of blessing brought in its course as it swept across the country, can never be estimated, nor shall we know its full story till some future day. Thus we find that here an assembly and there an assembly, separated it may be by hundreds of miles, had each its own individual existence, and spent the early days in an atmosphere pregnant with the Holy Spirit’s power.
In the north-east corner of Aberdeenshire, about this particular period, there was great spiritual activity. James Turner, a man full of zeal for the Master, became a prominent figure. He gathered together a band of faithful workers, who went out preaching the Word in public and from house to house.
To him may be attributed the founding of a sound and vigorous Gospel testimony in Peterhead, in which the need of the. Holy Spirit’s power and guidance was emphasised. The effects of this were later seen, as light on Scriptural principles was given.
It is said that anyone who heard James Turner pray must have been convinced that he was on intimate terms with the living God. Largely attended meetings for prayer were held in Peterhead and Boddam, which were composed mainly of fishermen. And
such prayer meetings: “No cold, formal recitations of theology or doctrine, but men laying hold on God, demanding that He would fulfil His promises, pleading for the salvation of sinners, and the awakening of whole towns and parishes for hours upon end, while tears flowed down their cheeks in torrents.” As may well be supposed, those faithful souls, on fire for the Gospel, were branded as religious fanatics. James Turner became marked as a dangerous leader, and was turned out of the Kirk in Peterhead for no greater offence than publicly praying that God would awaken all the unconverted ministers and elders in the town. But the ardour of the praying band was in no way damped because of such treatment at the hands of their fellow townsmen. With the kirk door shut against him, James Turner gathered with his faithful followers in his fish-curing yard, where they could preach and pray to their hearts’ content.
Gospel meetings were convened in a large fish-curing shed, dimly lighted with two crude oil-lamps, and having rough planks of timber for seats. It was in this place that Gordon Forlong preached on more than one occasion, his pulpit being formed by an inverted herring barrel overhung by a small and smoking oil-lamp. Those were marvellous times. The power of the Spirit of God became manifest among the people, strong men were broken down in tears of repentance, and many in anguish of soul found peace and eternal repose in the cleft Rock of Ages. A great awakening had begun. Work almost came to a standstill, and for days at a time fishermen did not put out to sea. Such was the beginning of revival days in Peterhead.
Among younger workers was William McLean, afterwards well known as an evangelist in the North of Ireland. He was a Scotch Baptist, and was led to sever his connection with that denomination through a seemingly casual remark of a Christian lady visiting Peterhead. William had told this lady that he was a Baptist, and she remarked: “Do you not think that the names given us in the Word of God should be sufficient for a believer?” Further conversation led to exercise of heart, and he became enthusiastic over the oneness of all believers in Christ Jesus. He realised that no denominational walls should divide what God had joined together in eternal union. The sufficiency of the Word and Spirit of God as Teacher and Guide, to provide for all the spiritual needs of any company of Christians, became increasingly impressed on his mind and heart, and this led to action.
So it came about that in 1868 an advertisement appeared in the local newspaper announcing that the Church of Christ in Peterhead would meet in a room at No. 1 Rose Street. On the day appointed, over a dozen believers were seated in the best room of Mr. McLean’s own house, over his place of business, when two ladies entered. Mr. McLean rose to welcome them. The younger of the two, one of the first Mildmay deaconesses and a warm friend of Mr. and Mrs. Pennefather, as also of Mr. Denham Smith, whispered to Mr. McLean: “We saw your advertisement.” Then her keen eye ran over the room as if taking in its dimensions, and she said: “Was it not rather a big claim to make—‘the Church of Christ in Peterhead,’ to meet in this room? But,” she continued, “I believe you really meant, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.’” “Yes, yes,” was Mr. McLean’s ready reply, “that is exactly what we meant.” This lady afterwards gave Mr. McLean many helpful suggestions from the Scriptures and the assembly was launched.
“That room,” writes Mr. Robert Stephen, who has for over fifty years been associated with the activities of Peterhead Assembly, “was often as the very gate of Heaven to the little company. Often a statement something like this was made in the early years: ‘We can lay claim to nothing great, for we are but a fragment of the great Church on earth. We seek to carry out primitive order while acknowledging all who are the Lord’s, who do not meet with us; and welcome all whose walk and doctrine would not exclude them. So we cannot be a sect, unless we claim what does not belong to us: a position which disowns all others.’”
Believers’ baptism was taught and practised, and Mr. McLean had a baptistry placed in his drawing-room. Here, many recently saved, as well as a few Christians from other places of worship, passed through the waters in obedience to the teaching of Scripture, which, through the faithful exposition of Mr. McLean, was revealed to them. In 1869 the assembly was moved to a hall in Maiden Street, where it continued, with the exception of one brief interval, till the present convenient and commodious hall in Prince Street was occupied in the mid-eighties, in which there are now over two hundred in Church fellowship.
When William McLean moved to the North of Ireland, James Napier, one who was at the first meeting or Brethren in Peterhead, greatly helped the assembly for many years. Those pioneers were men of God who closely studied the Scriptures and applied their teachings to the daily life. Such gatherings were despised for the “peculiar” way of meeting, but those identified with the assembly were highly respected by the people of the town. They bore that best of all testimonies—godly and consistent lives.
Donald Ross And Aberdeen
The name of Donald Ross, which shall always remain indelibly imprinted across the record of pioneer evangelists among Brethren, first came to be known about the time of which we now write. And as we shall see, it was mainly through the labours of this giant for the Truth that a work which was to reach far beyond the boundaries of his native land was begun. In a great measure the history of the early days of assembly life in Aberdeen is bound up with the story of his life and labours. A man of pronounced native talent, a good judge of character, strict and rigid in doctrine, blunt and fearless in expression, yet deeply spiritual withal, he was known throughout Scotland, and his quaint and pithy sayings were the frequent subject of common remark. When the spirit of revival reached Aberdeen in its passage northward, Donald had just recently been appointed to the position of Superintendent of the North-east Coast Mission, Aberdeen. The city at that time was being stirred by the preaching of such men as Reginald Radcliffe and Brownlow North, and Donald Ross at once threw himself heart and soul into the invigorating and healthful exercise of soul-winning. With his soul on fire for the perishing around him, he felt that his present position greatly restricted his usefulness to his fellow-men. After a time he found himself out of sympathy with the churches, and becoming convinced of the necessity of being free from everything in the shape of human organisation, he resigned his position that he might devote himself to evangelistic work in what was known as the Gallowgate Chapel.
And now we approach the inception of the first assembly of “Open Brethren” in Aberdeen. Up to this time there had been no recognised meeting for the breaking of bread as we now know it. The revival had given a spiritual warmth and vigorous incentive to believers in the city, which created a desire for a deeper and more practical knowledge of the Bible; and following some informal meetings where an intensive study of the Scriptures was a prominent feature, a meeting was formed in the old Record Hall (or Dispensary) in Castle Street about the year 1870. The company consisted of a few men and women, without any brethren of outstanding ability to minister. A number of them attended Donald Ross’s meetings in Gallowgate, and Donald Ross in turn joined the Castle Street company in the breaking of bread on Lord’s Day. After fraternising in this way for some time, John Ritchie, the leader of Castle Street meeting, suggested that the two meetings should come together, to which Donald Ross readily agreed. So the two companies became one, with the Gallowgate Chapel as headquarters.
The Gallowgate Chapel—which was destroyed in 1904 through a fire which originated in some adjoining property—became the scene of a great revival movement, when people from all over the city were drawn to hear the Gospel.
Donald Ross continued to take a leading part in evangelistic work, and was untiring in his energies in building upon the foundation he had been mainly instrumental in laying. In 1879 he removed to America, settling for some time in Chicago. Later on he travelled across country to San Francisco, afterwards pioneering the thousands of miles from west to east, and finally returning to Chicago, where he made his home until called to higher service in 1903, at the advanced age of seventy-nine.
So rapidly did the work in Aberdeenshire prosper that in course of time the Gallowgate Chapel was found to be too small for the company, and another meeting-place had to be sought. The hall in St. Paul Street with seating accommodation for two hundred people was secured, and would also have proved inadequate long ago had there not been a frequent “hiving-off” to the various districts in the city. The work in Aberdeen, which is characterised by vigour and activity, continues to grow, so that there are now assemblies at Footdee, Holburn Hall, Torry and Woodside, all of which are offshoots from the parent assembly in St. Paul Street Hall, and still in fellowship with the company of believers there.
Early Days In Ireland
When John Nelson Darby crossed from Dublin to Plymouth in 1830, carrying with him the glowing embers of a spiritual fire destined to light its way to many lands, he left behind an infant assembly as yet nameless. That assembly had already become an historic landmark. And yet, while subsequent years revealed a remarkable development in the work of the Holy Spirit in England, there appears to have been little, if any, marked progress in the region which claimed to be the birthplace of the Movement. Nor can we find any tangible trace of similar assemblies having been established in the neighbourhood of the Irish Capital consequent upon the historic meeting in Aungier Street. It is true that Darby made frequent excursions across Ireland to Limerick for the purpose of holding Bible Readings—or what was then known as Reading Meetings—but no evidence can be found of an assembly having been formed in that place at that particular time.
The present testimony at Limerick is unable to trace its origin to those visits, although it is not at all improbable that some connection must have been maintained. It is known that a small assembly existed in the city somewhere about eighty years ago, for it is on record that a rather famous preacher amongst Christians known as Friends—Evans by name—went over to the Brethren. This fresh infusion of life into the struggling assembly greatly increased their influence in the city. About this time many of the leading business men in the district appear to have been associated with the assembly which, between fifty and sixty years ago, met in the present hall in Mallow Street. Both Darby and C. H. Mackintosh are known to have ministered here on several occasions.
The fact that Dublin figured so conspicuously in the early days of the Brethren Movement must surely have been the outcome of a series of circumstances, brought about by the divine will of God, at a particular period, consequent upon a world-wide state of religious unrest. As has already been hinted, spiritual activity and development in Dublin following the epoch-making meeting alluded to, did not rise to the degree attained in more distant parts of the kingdom, and it was not until about the time of the ‘59 Revival that there was a definite manifestation of the working of the Holy Spirit throughout Ireland in general and Ulster in particular.
We must, therefore, look beyond to Northern Ireland, and in our search we find in a country cottage, some four miles from the village of Banbridge in County Down, what is supposed to be the earliest Brethren meeting in Ulster. It came to be known as the Clare Meeting, and here the Lord’s death was remembered from the year 1 840—eighteen years before the ‘59 Revival. Recalling the early days of which we now write. Dr. W. J. Matthews, who for over half a century did much arduous pioneer work, preaching the Gospel, establishing and building up assemblies throughout Ulster, told the writer that during a visit in 1882, he became acquainted with the Cairns family, who were among the last survivors of the little assembly. At that time there were three aged members of the family, one of whom was blind, and she told Dr. Matthews that the Lord’s death had been celebrated in the breaking of bread in that little room for forty-two years. There were then only two of these sisters there, also a niece, and one old brother to keep the feeble light burning. Soon afterwards the aged sisters died, and what remained became absorbed in another assembly which was established, following a season’s Gospel meetings, in a parish near by. “The meeting referred to in Miss Cairns’ house,” says Dr. Matthews, “was the first in Northern Ireland so far as I know, and must have been composed of only a very few members, including old Mr. Plunkett, a customs officer, Mr. Patrick McKee, a bank manager in Banbridge, an old man named Kenaran, and the father of the old Cairns sisters. These would be about all; and after their decease, visitors from Lisburn in later years, and from Banbridge, kept alive the testimony till we arrived in the district in 1882, and formed the assembly near by, which picked up the remnant that was left. Mr. Plunkett was a very frail old man when I first knew him about 1880; probably he was the first to lead the Cairns family into the Truth.”
That notable work of grace in the year 1859 began near Kells, County Antrim, through the exercise of several young brethren, amongst them being Jeremiah Meneely. The Movement spread far and wide, one of the first districts to be reached being near the town of Randalstown, County Antrim, where many were saved through the ministry of the renowned C. H. Mackintosh and a brother called Moore. Some time soon afterwards, perhaps about 1860, a meeting was formed at a place called Groggan, two miles from Randalstown, in a little two-roomed house heated by a peat or turf fire.
The principal brethren connected with the assembly were Boyd McDowell, Robert Vance, Joseph French, and a very well-known character, Rodger Luke, who is the subject of a tract written by W. H. McLaughlin. Rodger was a very wild character in his unsaved days, well known to the police, but when “subdued by Sovereign Grace,” he preached to all and sundry, including Roman Catholic priests. Gospel work was carried on constantly in his home.
After some time at Groggan, the assembly was moved to a district, more central for believers, called Clonkeen, where a wooden hall was built in which the assembly met for over fifty years, only recently moving into a splendid new hall near by.
Shortly after 1859 a few Christian men and women, whose hearts had been stirred by the wonders God had wrought in their midst during the great spiritual revival, which had invaded both Church and home, met together in a private house in Belfast to read the Scriptures and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Among them were Martin Shaw and his wife, Francis Moore and John Marshall. The little company were later joined by C. H. Mackintosh, who arrived in the city from Westport. He intended remaining in Belfast, but finding that these brethren would not go with him in his exclusive circle, he removed to Coleraine and took up residence there. Later on these few met in what was known, as Abercorn Rooms, where they continued until about 1874. In that year a new departure took place, James Campbell and James Smith, two pioneer evangelists, commenced Gospel meetings in the city, and by means of tent and schoolrooms, people were drawn to hear the preachers. The outcome of this fruitful effort was the ingathering of many souls; and those who had been reached by the gospel were taught the truth of believers’ baptism and gathering unto the Lord. By this time the Abercorn Rooms meeting had grown considerably, and it was found needful to acquire larger premises. Victoria Hall was secured, and here for a time the assembly met, W. H. McLaughlin, saved shortly before this time, cast in his lot with them and became a lively helper. Other leading brethren who ministered to the spiritual needs of the Church, were Charles Lepper and Samuel Spence.
The advent of the Moody and Sankey mission, when there prevailed an atmosphere of spiritual revival, reminiscent of the stirring times in Northern Ireland, was the means of bringing many into the fold. From that time there was a steady increase, and as the work among old and young developed on every hand, it became essential that another place large enough adequately to accommodate a thriving assembly should be sought out. This was done, and a building in May Street, known as the Music Hall, was purchased and suitably adapted. The name was changed to Victoria Memorial Hall. At the close of the Great War there were just under two hundred in fellowship. At the present time there are twice that number on the assembly roll. It is of interest to mention that Mr. A. Hamilton, who is still in fellowship, has been actively associated with this assembly since 1878, when the little company of believers met in the Victoria Street Hall. In the early days, he gathered together’ the children of the district into old King Street Hall, and formed the first Sunday School amongst Brethren in Belfast.
About the time of which we write, another assembly commenced in Queen Street, Belfast. Relative to this meeting there is rather an interesting case respecting R. M. Henry, M.A., a well-known clergyman belonging to the strict orthodox Church of the Covenanters. He was then Moderator of the Covenanters. The year he resigned his Church, he called the clergy and elders together, and told them he had been reading his Bible in Hebrew and Greek for years, but failed to find anything in Scripture to warrant the baptizing of infants. This unexpected declaration of Scripture truth was like a bomb dropped in their midst. There was a long silence. The first to jump up was John G. McVicker of Cullybackey, a fellow-clergyman. “What nonsense, Henry,” he cried; “doesn’t Jesus say, ‘Suffer little children to come unto Me’?” “Yes, Mr. McVicker,” was the reply; “but if you substitute baptism for the Lord, you can make anything you like out of the Scriptures. A thousand commands to bring children to Christ is not one to baptize them.” He was then asked when he would preach his farewell sermon to his church. Nor must he mention baptism in doing so. “It is not likely I will mention baptism,” was Mr. Henry’s quiet reply, “but if I have to enter the pulpit muzzled, I will give no undertaking.” The result was, he never got preaching his farewell sermon.
Mr. Henry then joined the Baptist communion, but a few years later associated himself with the assembly of believers who were then meeting in King Street Hall, where he continued, ministering to the spiritual needs of the little flock for many years. The assembly now meets in a more commodious hall in Apsley Street.
After The ‘59 Revival
As we have already seen, the Brethren Movement in Ulster had its beginning, to a large extent, in the Revival of 1859, when there was peculiar evidence of a visitation of the Lord, attended by a remarkable ingathering of souls. The land had lain in spiritual darkness for centuries, when, all un- heralded, the light of a new era pierced the gloorm and spread over the country, apparently with little human instrumentality. Very little clear Gospel truth was known save to a few who received the new birth about this time, or a little before.
Side by side with real work for the Lord, another element crept in. It was what came to be known as ‘‘being stricken,” and rather took the form of an epidemic. For instance, during the course of a meeting, people in different parts of the building would suddenly fall down with screams and shoutings, and have to be carried out, many of them crying to God for mercy.
Throughout the counties of Antrim and Derry, the work gave striking evidence of the prevailing power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Districts where Satan held sway, and over which indifference and cold religious formality had cast its mantle, gave ear to the clarion call of the Gospel. “It is well worthy of notice,” says a writer of that time, “that in many cases, the work of conviction was carried on without reference to any special agency in the shape of ministry. In the field, by the wayside, in the home, souls were stricken in a moment, and led to cry, in excessive anguish, for mercy. Convicted souls were led to see the fulness, the extent, the efficacy, the infinite preciousness of the sacrifice of the Cross.”
Another notable feature of this remarkable Revival may be observed. In almost every locality the Lord seemed to lay hold of some notorious character as if He would have a signal monument of grace to hold up to the view of the enemy. Some person who had been the pest of the neighbourhood was stricken down by the convicting power of the Spirit of God, and brought to sit at the feet of the Saviour, “clothed and in his right mind,” and then sent forth among his old associates to tell what great things the Lord had done for him. So mightily was the power of God felt at that time, that a public-house keeper in Coleraine was heard to lament that on Saturday, the first weekly market day after the Revival commenced, there had not been a
measure wet in his house the whole day. Thus in such an atmosphere of spiritual effulgence, not a few New Testament churches came into being; for many of those who were saved through a diligent reading of the Scriptures, having learned the truth of gathering simply in the name of the Lord, to remember His death, formed themselves into little assemblies.
Such was the case in Ballymena district, where a testimony—which is still maintained—was established. This would be about the same time as the beginning in the city of Belfast, but the testimony here never took shape aggressively in definite Gospel work (to be followed by the gathering of believers into assembly life) until 1872-73, when William McLean came from Peterhead in Scotland. He was the first evangelist to live with the people in their homes, going out daily to visit and minister to them by their firesides. This homely form of pioneer work was continued as the warm-hearted Scotsman, with soul on fire, journeyed from place to place, preaching and scattering the good seed in cottage, or hail, or by the wayside, wherever opportunity came his way.
Still the district of Ballymena had not altogether been neglected, for, in a measure, the long grass had been trodden down by such men as Jeremiah Meneely and John G. McVicker. The latter, whom we recently found in warm debate with his friend Mr. Henry, over the vexed question of infant baptism, had continued his ministerial duties in the Church of the Covenanters at Cullybackey, until his conversion, which came about in a remarkable way. He was preaching from the pulpit of his Church one day, when suddenly the light of the Gospel broke in upon him. The congregation saw the change at once and thought their minister had taken leave of his senses. “It was a mercy I did not wreck the pulpit,” he afterwards said. But John was saved and the countryside soon realised it.
He gave up his Church and moved into Ballymena, where he joined the few already gathered there; and went round the countryside preaching. A large hall was built, and Mr. McVicker took his place amongst a goodly number of Christians who gathered there to remember the Lord. The ministry of John McVicker was of an order that was appreciated all over the country. After many years in Ballymena he moved to London to a wider field of usefulness; and it was there that we first introduced him to the reader in an earlier chapter.
As the assembly at Ballymena grew, little companies branched off to meet in like manner in different places. Thus we still find a testimony at the village of Kells, four miles distant, and another at Ahoghill.
Newonards And The Ards Peninsula
In the year 1860, James Patton, a Newonards watchmaker, while on a visit to Dublin accompanied by his sister, attended a meeting for the breaking of bread. As the service proceeded, the presence of the Lord became blessedly real, and the young woman, visibly impressed by what was taking place, was heard to whisper to her brother, “James, this is just what we have been looking for.” On their return home a meeting was commenced in a private house.
Isaac Finlay, then a young man in business, had only recently been converted, and on reading his Bible made the startling discovery that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ should be baptized by immersion and meet together to remember the Lord on the first day of the week. He found that, contrary to the traditions of the Church in which he had been reared, this was possible without the presence of a clergyman; in fact, Isaac saw that Paul had no notion of such an ecclesiastical dignitary in the New Testament. Thus shortly after his conversion Isaac, along with one or two others, joined the few who were meeting in the private house referred to.
The little company afterwards moved to a hall in Mill Street, and later (about the year 1890) a grain store was rented and reconstructed for use as a hall. During those years an aggressive Gospel testimony was maintained and a Sunday School was commenced. This fresh development eventually necessitated a
new hall being built, which was opened in 1921. At the present time there is a thriving assembly with about two hundred in fellowship, and a Sunday School of upwards of five hundred.
In the early eighties Mr. Patton, when on a trip to Stranraer, made the acquaintance of a young man named John Walbran. When the latter crossed over to Ireland at the invitation of Mr. Patton, he was taken by his friend to a hill overlooking the Ards Peninsula. As the two men stood gazing across the fertile stretch of country, Mr. Patton, with a touch of pathos in his voice, remarked to the young man: “There, before you, is a district of eighteen miles in length without spiritual light.” John Walbran took up the challenge and did pioneer work there for many years. Butterlump Assembly—afterwards moved to Portavogie—was commenced, and the Gospel was preached throughout the peninsula. Besides Portavogie there are now assemblies at Cardy, Ballywalter, Ballyhay, Scrabo and Comber. James Patton was taken home in 1888; Isaac Finlay lived to be ninety and passed away in 1916.
Ten or twelve miles east of Belfast, on the County Down coast, lies the town of Bangor. Early in the seventies, W. H. McLaughlin and John C. Graham, who usually spent the summer months of each year in Ballyholme, started a little meeting there. They were joined later by R. McClay and G. Lowden. These two brethren were greatly used in Bangor and district and through the Ards Peninsula, where at cross roads, in barns and halls the voice of these pioneers was heard proclaiming the Gospel. With many Christians coming from Belfast, they deemed it expedient to move to Bangor, where more accommodation was found in Holborn Hall. Here these brethren continued with H. B. Thompson, J. Anderson and the Watt brothers. This fresh impetus to the little assembly created a lively spiritual interest, and with the increase in numbers it became necessary almost to rebuild the hall. There are at present three assemblies in Bangor: Holborn, Central and Ebenezer.
About this time a meeting was commenced by Robert Sparks in the little town of Holywood, on the main road to Bangor and about four miles from Belfast. He was then solicitor to the Ulster Bank Head Office, Belfast, which position he later relinquished to share in the world-wide missionary responsibilities of
Echoes of Service at Bath.
Previous to the commencement of the assemblies in the neighbourhood of Belfast just referred to, a few brethren were meeting to remember the Lord’s death in the house of Mr. Hermon in Young Street, Lisburn, a town about ten miles from the city. After a time they moved to a hall in Conns Yard. About the year 1874, Robert and James Stewart, mill owners and thread manufacturers, purchased the Methodist Hall in Market Street, where a testimony was maintained for some years. Following the death of Robert Stewart, the property passed into other hands, and the brethren subsequently built the present hall in Wallace Avenue, where there is still a progressive Gospel testimony.
In the autumn of 1873, following a visit to America, James Campbell arrived in County Down. He was accompanied by John Boal, a Presbyterian elder, who had been saved through the preaching of Mr. Campbell in America. Energised with the zeal of a first love, the young convert, on the return to his native country, became deeply concerned as to the salvation of his relatives in Ballymaconaghy, near Belfast. This he made known to Mr. Campbell, who about that time was joined by Mr. James Smith, of Aberdeen. An intensive Gospel campaign followed, and large numbers were brought to the Saviour. Among them were the relatives of the young convert. This season of general awakening, when old and young were roused from a spiritual lethargy which seemed to have become part of their daily lives, became a starting-point from which radiated Gospel activity, that continued all over the North of Ireland. But Campbell and Smith were men of much prayer, full of the Holy Ghost and very active Gospellers. And through their labours for the Master may be attributed, not only the laying of many foundations, but the building of not a few Churches which to-day are a living testimony. Thus from the circumstance of the fervent prayer of a young convert, accompanied by a remarkable work of grace, an assembly was formed in the
district of Ballynraconaghy, the meeting-room being in the house of the relatives of John Boal, who were among the first to be saved.
The two evangelists now moved to Belfast, and having obtained the use of a schoolroom from a Christian clergyman who also gave assistance in the work, they carried the Gospel into the homes of the people. This was followed by a summer campaign, when a tent was pitched on Donegal Pass. Then in the autumn of the same year came the Moody and Sankey visit to Belfast, when the city was stirred as never before and hundreds of souls were brought into the Kingdom. An important feature of the work of grace during that memorable year, was the large number of young men saved and afterwards gathered into the assemblies of Christians, of which there were four or five in Belfast at that time.
Pioneer Work In Ulster
From the city of Belfast the activities of Campbell and Smith extended to Dromore, Crossgar and other districts of County Down. As a result of their visit to the neighbourhood of Crossgar, an assembly was formed, the first meeting for the breaking of bread being held in the house of Mrs. McCleery at Ballywoollen, near Crossgar, in June, 1874. Shortly afterwards, the meeting was moved to a loft behind the house, when twenty members gathered around the Lord’s Table. On the first Lord’s Day it was held there, the roof had not been completed, so that the remembrance feast was celebrated under the open sky. Here they continued for two and a half years, after which the assembly moved into the present hall at Crossgar.
The converts were baptized in the stream that runs beside the house at Ballywoollen. Where the river crosses the road, it was dammed at the bridge, and the volume of water allowed to increase till of a sufficient depth to suit the purpose of baptism. When the neighbours saw the stream being dammed up they knew what was about to happen, and people gathered in large numbers to witness the ceremony.
At one particular baptismal service, a large crowd, mostly Roman Catholics, gathered and threw stones and sticks at the converts. Mr. Campbell, who was baptizing the believers, was cut in the face, while several others received injury from missiles thrown during the ceremony. The house was then attacked and most of the windows were broken. Despite this persecution, which was urged on by the priests, twelve converts were baptized that evening. Nor did the little company of Christians suffer depression of spirits because of the cruel treatment received at the hands of the enemy. On the contrary, such wanton acts of violence seemed only to give them fresh impetus. On one occasion when Campbell and Smith had been preaching at Ballywoollen, the audience continued singing hymns outside till late into the night, and it is said that the singing was heard two or three miles away. As the meeting continued, one after another confessed faith in Christ, to occasion a fresh outburst of praise.
The Crossgar Assembly in its hey-day numbered about seventy to eighty, but it gradually diminished as one family after another migrated to the colonies. Many of the young men who went out preaching on the Lord’s Day, gathered on Saturday night at the house of a brother in Belfast. A prayer meeting would take place, after which it was decided where they should go preaching the following day, going out in apostolic fashion, two by two, to the small country assemblies.
James Smith was called Home in 1878. His fellow-labourer in the Gospel continued full of work for nearly thirty years after. We come now to another remarkable development of the work in which, undoubtedly, James Campbell was the chief promoter and pioneer. For the first three years since his coming to Ireland he preached almost every night. Burdened with the great need, so evident on every hand, Campbell constantly prayed the Lord to raise up more labourers. Young men whom he considered well fitted for service, he encouraged to give themselves to the work. This in time bore fruit. One after another was raised up of the Lord to go forth on the same lines, pioneer- ing all the time; for there were few assemblies to go to for help in those days.
About this time Dr. W. J. Matthews felt the call of the Gospel, and became greatly exercised in soul at the overwhelming need of men ready to go forth with the message of salvation to the outlying districts yet unreached. He had just graduated in medicine at the Royal University of Ireland, and, after long inward constraint, decided to give up his newly acquired profession, to go preaching without salary or means. This he continued to do uninterruptedly for upwards of half a century. From the first, God seemed to bless the work, and not only was he used in the conversion of a vast number of souls, but in later years was an outstanding figure in assembly life in Northern Ireland, having been the means of the founding and the building up of Churches in many parts of Ulster. Dr. Matthews was joined by Thomas Lough, a draper, who took a fortnight’s holiday to lend a hand in the Gospel, and continued for twenty-four years, till the Lord called him Home. Others went out about the same time, and all continued for years. Possibly the last survivor is John Knox McEwen, who went forth about fifty-seven years ago, and though now advanced in years is still preaching.
Almost all were unmarried young men who had no family responsibilities, and were thus able to go on year after year. There were times when the pioneer labourers were faced with almost insuperable difficulties, not a few occasions arising when it was with difficulty money was found for the week’s lodging. But the Lord never failed to supply their every need. The work went on and considerable numbers were brought to a knowledge of the Truth. Assemblies were formed throughout the province, and this development continued with the passage of years, till at the present time there are about one hundred and fifty assemblies in Ulster alone, out of perhaps a million and a quarter population.
The next district to be opened up about this time was County Armagh, through the labours of William McLean and David Rea. The latter had for some years been associated with the Irish Evangelisation Society, which he left that he might obey the whole Word of God. In doing so he gave up a salary, to trust in God alone for support, and be free to follow the Lord in believers’ baptism and in the breaking of bread. He was joined by Mr. McLean in 1878. From that year onwards, the two pioneers carried the Gospel to those who lived in religious darkness, and made known the unpreached truths of the New Testament throughout the scattered districts of Portadown, Armagh and Keady, with lasting results. Assemblies gathered in various places, and the Ahorey annual believers’ meeting, which was commenced about that time, continues to the present day, with a company of about six hundred attending for fellowship and the ministry of the Word.
During the summer of 1882 John Halyburton, a Scottish evangelist, accompanied by Alexander Scott, the son of an Irish farmer and gifted as a Gospel preacher, arrived in the neighbourhood of Dunadry and pitched a Gospel tent on some farm land there. Their reception, although not exactly hostile, was far from cordial, for these itinerant preachers had landed amongst a people of the staunch Presbyterian type, who, though devout enough in their form of worship, thought it sheer presumption that anyone could be sure of being saved. It is not to be wondered, therefore, that when these men preached after the manner of the Puritans, keeping the three R’s—Ruin, Redemption and Regeneration—prominently to the fore, there was no small stir in the countryside. But the hand of the Lord was with His servants, and men and women were convicted by the Holy Spirit, and soon afterwards brought to Christ. Then as these preachers, faithful to the text of the commission, sought to teach the converts to observe all things, those who sought to follow the Lord began to know something of bearing His reproach, and suffering shame for His name.
A number were baptized in what was then known as the Old Lodge Hall, Belfast, and in the following year they gathered in the capacity of an assembly in the home of Mrs. Boyd, a widow, who herself had been saved some time prior to the coming of the tent to Dunadry. Here they con- tinued for some years, until the present modest hall was built.
David Rea’s steps were directed to the village of Killeen, through a letter received from his friend William McLean, who had recently been there. He had preached in the Orange Hall, and could only remain one night, but he assured his friend that he would find the hall filled with people, “sitting like little birds in a nest, waiting and hungering for the Gospel.” David Rea responded to the call. Night after night the building was packed, many being unable to gain admission. Soon afterwards he was joined by Mr. McLean and the meetings were continued for six months, during which time the Spirit of the Lord moved mightily upon the people, and large numbers were truly converted to God.
The evangelists now gathered together those who had been saved and instructed them in the doctrine of baptism by immersion, and the breaking of bread on the first day of the week. To some who had been brought up in the Church and reared on its ecclesiastical creeds, this was quite new teaching and caused much bitterness. The first to be baptized was a man named James Henderson. Mr. Rea had been told that this brother wanted a conversation with him on the subject He called upon him and enquired if he wished to speak on the question of baptism. “Not now,” was the ready reply, “I have been to the Word, and I now want to get to the water.” He was baptized soon afterwards in a river near by. Thus the foundation of a new Church was laid at Killeen.
On another occasion, during a mission at Karvagh, a baptism took place in the river, when six converts, among them being the daughter of a clergyman, passed through the waters. “A man threatened to shoot me if I dared to immerse anyone in this locality,” says David Rea, in his interesting biography; “and while the baptism was taking place, he came armed with a gun and concealed himself adjacent to the river bank; but the Lord prevented him from carrying his threat into execution.”
In The Villages Of Ulster
In the early eighties Gospel concentration was made upon the central district of County Down. The responsibility fell to the lot of Dr. Matthews and a brother named Oliver, who for several years laboured together all through those parts, where at that time there was no testimony at all. God signally owned the labours of these men, toiling upon virgin soil, in the raising up of true believers and the formation of several healthy assemblies. A pleasing feature was the attendant circumstance that many saved during this time were raised up to carry the Gospel to other parts of the world. Through lack of employment in the old country, considerable numbers from time to time emigrated to the colonies, and there are assemblies in. Canada and New Zealand, as well as in the United States of America, who can trace their origin to those pioneering days in Northern Ireland.
About this time, the Omagh district in County Tyrone was visited by James Campbell and William Matthews and an aggressive campaign was carried on, attended with much blessing, meetings being held in tents and barns through lack of more suitable housing accommodation. In the process of such work at this period, it should be remembered that these labourers in the Gospel, going out in true apostolic fashion, did not enjoy the comforts and comparative luxury that fall to the lot of some of the present-day evangelists; and their means being scanty, it frequently happened that it was with difficulty they were able to make ends meet. One feature, however, prevailed, then which, possibly because of changed conditions, does not appear so much in evidence to-day, and that to the extent of assisting each other during a difficult and trying period. Thus, when one labourer had more than necessary to meet his present financial requirements, he would share with others. Especially was this the case towards those who were labouring in isolated parts, breaking up new ground. In this way a close fellowship and brotherly love in the truest sense existed amongst the little band of pioneer workers, which linked them together and in a powerful measure contributed largely to the success which attended their labours in the laying of a foundation upon which succeeding generations have built a spiritual structure.
During the summer of 1879, Campbell and Matthews pitched a tent a mile out of Cookstown on the Moneymore road. Almost from the first night of their arrival there was a continuous work of grace, productive of blessing in the conversion of souls. After two months the tent was moved to Agulas, about a mile and a half on the other side of the town. Here the Gospel meetings were followed by Bible readings, where the Scriptures were opened up and New Testament truths revealed to those who had recently experienced the new birth, and were now thirsting for a fuller knowledge of the divine will of God. Soon afterwards a few believers gathered to remember the Lord Jesus in the breaking of bread. Through the summer large numbers were brought to the Saviour, and by the month of October the number gathering around the Lord’s table had increased to about seventy. Mr. Campbell rented the upper room of a store in the town, but this apartment in course of time became too small and a hall was built in Cookstown.
“Campbell and Matthews had meetings in Guilley,” writes an aged sister, “but it was Dr. Matthews who started the morning meeting. He stayed at our home, and I went with him across the country as he did not know the way. Someone always accompanied him at night; one who knew the district led the way, Dr. Matthews next, and about ten or twelve followed behind. We went through fields and over by-roads, which would have puzzled a stranger. However, God blessed the Word and many people were saved.’’ Recalling the memorable visit of Campbell and Matthews, my aged correspondent writes with the zeal of youth in her vivid description of those stirring times, when many of the country folk walked six or eight miles to the meetings, arriving back home about midnight, or soon after. This happy exercise of soul and body was continued three nights a week for six weeks.
Campbell and Matthews laboured in season and out of season, in busy city, country town, lonely hamlet, and rural district throughout the unreached parts of the North of Ireland. “Fairs and markets were visited,” says another writer, “open-air meetings held, thousands of pointed messages distributed, and numbers dealt with personally about their eternal welfare. Souls were saved and churches planted in very many parts, the crowning time in soul-winning being in Cookstown district in 1879-80, hundreds being led to Christ. As a father in the faith and a true shepherd of souls, no name is more cherished in these parts than that of beloved James Campbell.”
In the summer of 1893 County Donegal, which is largely Roman Catholic, was visited by James Megaw and George Watt. The evangelists pitched a Gospel tent at Ramelton, a village not far from Letterkenny. Later they were joined by Dr. Matthews. From the start they were faced with tremendous opposition, and the fortresses of Rome appeared almost impregnable. The pioneers, therefore, reluctantly confined their attention to isolated Protestant districts where, amid difficulties and discouragement, the two brethren laboured assiduously for two years. At Letterkenny their efforts in the Gospel were rewarded in seeing a number of men and women brought to the Saviour. An assembly was formed, and after much difficulty, fostered by local prejudice, a suitable hall was secured, where there is still a living testimony, surrounded by the forces of Roman Catholicism. Afterwards some useful pioneering was carried into the enemy’s camp by Hugh Crichton and others, but it was chiefly upon the shoulders of Dr. Matthews and James Megaw that the burden of pioneering in Donegal was borne.
Later a survey was made of County Derry, Coleraine and Limavady, and it was decided to launch a Gospel effort, chiefly in the outlying districts. In Coleraine, two brethren with a few women began to remember the Lord. For a time the assembly was cared for by visiting brethren. As the testimony grew, God raised others locally who have since kept the light burning.
Limavady is a district lying between Derry and Coleraine, and had not yet been reached by the Gospel, until in 1901, when Dr. Matthews, accompanied by a young man named R. McCracken, pitched a tent in the neighbourhood. While the work was in progress the doctor’s health gave way, due to the prolonged strain, and the reins were taken up by his brother, Abram Matthews, who continued the work in the tent with fruitful results. Here again, the New Testament truths of believers, baptism and. the Lord’s Supper were taught to those who had recently confessed faith in Christ, and an assembly of believers was formed. From such beginnings a prosperous assembly now gathers in a splendid hall, once the old Court House of the town.
Somewhere in the early seventies a few Christians met in a private house in the town of Lurgan. About this time Lord Carrick, from the South of Ireland, came along with Charles Inglis, of London, and a brother from Dublin known as Fiddler Joss. The Mechanics’ Institute was hired for Gospel meetings and a remarkable work of grace followed, many being converted to God. Soon afterwards a company of believers commenced to remember the Lord’s death.
Some years after this, a young Christian named Dr. Darling came to reside at Lurgan, and rapidly established an extensive medical practice. His coming proved a great help to the young meeting. Dr. Darling had the inestimable blessing of a godly upbringing, and at the early age of ten—as recorded in his diary—he was brought to a saving knowledge of his Lord and Saviour. To the little meeting he became a tower of strength, and was much used of the Lord in ministering to the growing Church. For many years David Rea and Archibald Bell laboured in this district, and greatly encouraged and strengthened the believers in and around Lurgan and Portadown.
The assembly at Kilmore, in County Armagh, about three miles from Lurgan, had its origin in a barn, which had been hired for the purpose of Gospel meetings, by the two evangelists, about the year 1888. At the opening meeting, although it was a bleak winter night with snow lying thickly on the ground, about forty people gathered in the cold barn to hear the Gospel. The Lord gave much liberty, and a fruitful time of sowing and reaping followed. Recalling that eventful night, which was the beginning of a remarkable work of grace in the district, David Rea relates that after the first meeting, he and his fellow-workers were leaving the barn when a young woman came running out of a house near by, and in an excited manner shouted to them to stop and come into the house. They went in, and there on the floor knelt three women and a young girl with arms upraised imploring God to save them. The two brethren knelt down beside them and asked God to reveal Christ to their anxious souls. In a few minutes one of the women rose to her feet and went out praising God for having saved her. By this time a number of people had gathered outside the door, and when the brethren left, they joined those in the house and remained until after midnight.
On their return to the meeting in the barn the following evening, the evangelists were met by seven women and a young man. They had trusted the Saviour in the house into which the two brethren had been called the previous night. This was the beginning of a time of revival in that district. Those who had been gathered into the Kingdom met together on the first day of the week to remember the Lord. A Sunday School was commenced, and the Lord manifested His power in the salvation of many of the young folk.
At Bessbrook, County Armagh, a village with a population of about three thousand four hundred inhabitants, the foundation of an assembly was laid amid stormy scenes and violent opposition. This was about sixty years ago. Though known as “the model village of Ireland,” because of the fact that it possessed neither public-house, pawnshop nor police barracks, the reception given by the inhabitants to the messengers of the Gospel of peace, did not exactly accord with the rather dubious appellation assigned to that particular Irish village. David Rea and Francis Logg arrived in the district with a Gospel tent, and for two months toiled under disheartening conditions. At times the evangelists were obliged to obtain the assistance of the police from a neighbouring town for protection. Several attempts were made by the mob to pull down the tent while the meetings were going on. Stones and other missiles were thrown upon it, and on one occasion the canvas was set on fire. And yet, despite the furious onslaught of the enemy, the Lord manifested His power and grace in a number of remarkable conversions.
The baptism of ten believers in the river near by was the occasion of a hostile demonstration by an unruly crowd, who gathered to witness the ceremony. Then in the evening, as if to give vent to their derision, a bonfire was kindled, when there was a further display of the hatred and contempt with which the evangelists were assailed. With a prelude, accompanied by such violent scenes, when the preachers were constantly beset with danger and difficulty, it would seem almost beyond belief, but for the wonder-working power of God, that at the close of what proved to be one of the most trying Gospel campaigns, David Rea was able to write in his diary: “We gathered together the converts on the first day
of the week to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread. It was our privilege to have the assistance and fellowship of James Stewart, who was very helpful in ministering the Word to the young believers and establishing them in the truth.” Surely a striking instance of the triumph of the Gospel in the armed camp of an unsleeping enemy.
In Southern Ireland
The history of the Movement in Southern Ireland forms reading less soul-exhilarating than that of its neighbour, the thriving northern province of Ulster. The circumstance of the first public meeting of Brethren having been held in the Irish capital does not appear to have inspired the countrymen of Darby and Bellett with the same spiritual zeal which lent courage and conviction in the carrying out of the dictates of conscience by the breaking down of ecclesiastical barriers, reared by the traditions of their fathers. It is true that isolated companies of Christian believers were meeting on Scriptural grounds, but few got beyond the embryonic stage; and the process of time pave evidence of meagre growth. The spiritual decadence of the Movement, due principally to political and religious conditions, has been singularly marked during the difficult times through which the unhappy country has passed.
The existence of a company of believers breaking bread in an improvised meeting-room in Aungier Street, Dublin, where the lamp was first lit (which was destined to cast its unbroken beams across the world), was of comparative brief duration, and almost a quarter of a century had to pass before the broken link was taken up by another generation. We will, therefore, leave the Irish Capital for the present,-to return again in the course of events.
For some years, interest was focused mainly upon the southern counties of England, radiating from an axis ranged upon the old-time seaport which gave its name to that stretch of water known as Plymouth Sound. To the reader who has unweariedly sojourned with the writer the names of the early brethren and the days to which we now allude are familiar history. Thus, as we observe, a notable development in the progress of the divine plan in England, we will turn aside to follow the operation of the Holy Spirit in a distant corner of the Emerald Isle.
While John G. Bellett is universally recognised as one of the earliest Irish exponents of the revived truths for which the Brethren Movement stands, the name of his brother, George Bellett, a clergyman of the Episcopal Church, is not so well known. The latter was curate in the parish of Bandon, County Cork, between the years of 1830 and 1840. He was a man of sterling character and high Christian principles. A sister, now in her ninety-sixth year, who is still in fellowship in Bandon Assembly, states that on frequent occasions she heard her father say that the clear expositions of the Truth propounded from the pulpit by George Bellett, marked the beginning of a work in the consciences of many to whom he ministered; and although Mr. Bellett himself maintained his connection with the denomination to the end of his life, several whom he led into the light and liberty of Scriptural Truth were unable to remain with him. Thus, it would be towards the end of his curacy, or soon afterwards, that the Bandon Assembly was formed. An old assembly pass-book is still in existence, which recounts the expenses for rent, coal and other commodities, its first entry falling under date 1843.
In the years of the Kerry revival, three-quarters of a century ago, the preachers from that county visited Bandon regularly. By this time very few of the first generation of believers were left in the little meeting. The visit of the preachers resulted, under the blessing of God, in a further accretion to the assembly, there being about thirty saved and added to the Church. Possibly the only notable visitor spoken of in connection with the very early days was Dr. Tregelles the distinguished Biblical scholar. Later in the ‘seventies, several well-known men were numbered among those who gave spiritual sustenance and exerted a vast influence for good in spite of the dominant power of Romanism. These included F. C. Bland of Derryquin Castle, Richard Mahony of Dromore Castle, Sir Robert Anderson (at that time a student), George Trench of Ardfert, and later, the Earl of Carrick and Lieutenant Mandeville of the Royal Navy. Periodical visits by such gifted brethren not only built up and stimulated the little assembly but, as meetings were frequently held in the Town Hall, a much wider circle was reached and the work was productive of lasting blessing.
While the Protestant population of Southern Ireland is now less than that of the early days, still the meeting has continued, although in recent years numbers have been seldom over thirty. During the period of the civil war in Ireland, emigration from the country took away a considerable number of men and women, with their children, and only by God’s watchful care was the assembly kept alive.
About forty-seven years ago, through the generosity of the late Gordon Oswald, a building since known as Bridge Place Hall was provided as a place of worship. The new hall was opened with an evangelistic campaign conducted by Alexander Marshall, who was then in the vigour of youth. Previous to this time the meetings for believers had been held in a private room, while the Sunday School was conducted in the ballroom of an hotel.
Among the assembly’s activities, the welfare of the young has been the constant thought and care of those who watched for souls; and for over sixty years, often amidst much opposition and discouragement, a Sunday School has been carried on with a membership fluctuating between fifty and ninety. During the years of the Great War, the hall was made available as a home for soldiers, and there was a real work of grace during that period of Gospel opportunity. In this particular work the sisters did valiant service, and with the assistance of other local Christians, gave of their time and substance in-caring for the men and seeking to lead them to the Saviour.
A distinguishing feature of the Irish revival, which in due course reached the Southern provinces, was that it changed the whole aspect of many aristocratic Protestant families. In County Kerry many of the leading gentry, to
whom we have already alluded, became obedient to the teaching of the Word, and in a remarkable manner were the means, in God’s hands, in the conversion of considerable numbers, and to the establishing of small assemblies of Christians.
From an Irish emigrant in South Africa, there has come to me a letter relative to the Movement in Kenmare. It has just that homely touch reminiscent of bygone occurrences which in a peculiar way remain fixed on the mind, to be unconsciously flashed on the screen of remembrance, at an unexpected moment, upon the recurrence of some particular circumstance. “The influence of the Revival,” writes my correspondent, “first began to be felt in the far South in the ‘sixties. In 1861 my father was in County Kerry. He had made up his mind to have a really good time in Galway, where he could attend places of amusement all through the winter months and enjoy himself to his heart’s content. God ordered that he should go to Kerry, At Kenmare he was asked by a gentleman to tell Mr. Mahony of Dromore Castle that they were having times of much blessing and that God was bringing souls into the Kingdom. As might be expected, my father, being unsaved at the time, was not at all keen on taking such a message, but he managed somehow. At the time he gave the message, Mr. F. C. Bland of Derry-quin Castle was present. Mr. Mahony remarked that he did not see why they should not have something of the kind there, in Sneem, whereupon Mr. Bland promptly suggested that the school where my grandfather was master should be engaged. The meetings began, and I believe C. H. Mackintosh was one of the first speakers. It was on this occasion that Mr. Bland and his wife were converted. Another convert was George C. Needham, afterwards well known as an evangelist in America. He was then a young fellow of about eighteen. One night when my father was at the meeting, this lad stood up and testified that he was saved, and was as sure as he stood there that if God called him away he would go to Heaven. ‘What presumption,’ thought my father, who had always been taught to believe that no one could have this assurance till afterwards; ‘it’s a wonder God does not strike him dead.’ That very night, however, my father was gloriously saved.”
At Kenmare, Ardfert and many other places, little assemblies sprang up. Alas, since then how many candlesticks have been removed! For those who were faithful to the Word had ever to contend against the forces of Romanism; and Protestants of all denominations were compelled to find sanctuary in other lands.
In the town of Kenmare, a few believers, among them Joseph Mansfield, John Milne, Townsend Trench and John Brennan, met for the breaking of bread and for ministry. John Milne had come to Ireland from Aboyne, Aberdeenshire, to fill a situation under Lord Lansdowne, who had extensive estates in County Kerry. Saved before leaving home, John was a bright Christian, and full of enthusiasm for the spread of the Gospel. The opportunity afforded by the fellowship of brethren with a heart for the perishing, presented an outlet for his pent-up energies, and so an effort to win souls for the Master was successful in bringing some into the Kingdom. A few believers were meeting for about six months in Mr. Milne’s home at Kenmare before they heard of Christians known as Brethren, and it was a great joy to them when they learnt that many others had been led to carry out the simple principles of the early Church, as they themselves had learned from the Scriptures, Townsend Trench, who was an outstanding personality, associated himself with the little company at Kenmare, and entered heartily into the work of the Lord. The truth of the Second Corning of the Lord so gripped his heart, that he travelled far and near proclaiming the great event.
Mr. Mahony of Dromore Castle, six miles from Kenmare, built a meeting-room on his estate for an assembly, which was composed mainly of his household and tenants. Another assembly was formed at Ardfert, and William Talbot Crosbie and George Trench became a power for God in that district. F. C. Bland of Derryquin, a country gentleman of culture, grace and gift, preached the Gospel and ministered with great acceptance among these young assemblies.
Recalling the work of the Lord in the early days in Kerry, a brother who visited Townsend Trench in London shortly before his Home-call, told the writer that Mr. Trench, with tears streaming down his handsome face, exclaimed, “There was much sunshine in those wonderful years!” A recollection of happier times, tinged by a note of sadness. Alas, all those assemblies have ceased to exist, and darkness has again settled down where the light and peace and joy of the Gospel of grace once held sway. “The last time the meeting-room at Dromore Castle was used for a Gospel meeting,” writes Mr. Robert Milne, of Aberdeen, “Mr. Archie Bell, of Lurgan, and I preached in it. The castle was empty, and the agent allowed us the use of the building. Kenmare, the last assembly in Kerry, went out of existence only a few years ago, through the death of Mr. A. Mansfield, whose revered father saw the commencement of the testimony in that place.”
There was much spiritual darkness and but few saved people in the village of Greystones, in County Dublin, when, in the month of January, 1888, a man gifted as a preacher of the Gospel arrived and rented a small room in the centre of the village. He commenced Gospel services which, for a time, were continued on alternate Sunday evenings. There was little encouragement and much persecution; but the Lord blessed the efforts of His servant and gave him the joy of seeing many turn from sin’s bondage unto God. As the work prospered, the enemy stirred up opposition. For a time the position became almost untenable, and some were hindered from attending the meetings. But God was with the faithful soldiers of the Cross and their forces increased, until a year or two after the start, a little company gathered each Lord’s Day morning to remember His death.
As the infant assembly gained strength a special Gospel mission was undertaken, when even the most prejudiced people were brought in—some coming two or three miles from the country districts. The meeting-room became filled to overflowing, and the presence and power of God were manifestly experienced in many conversions taking place. Soon afterwards the call came to gather in the children and a service was held on Sunday afternoons, where willing helpers sought to lead the little ones to know and love the Saviour. This initial effort amongst the young folks, largely due to the untiring labours of Miss F. Buckley, who tended the lambs with unceasing care, was productive of much real and lasting spiritual fruit. “Many of the children who were converted here,” says one writer, “are grown up, and to-day are scattered far and wide throughout the earth, bright witnesses for the Master. One has been a missionary in Burma for the past five years, while another is to-day in training for work in the foreign field.”
From Greystones the Gospel was carried to outlying districts; but as the activities of the little assembly increased so did their difficulties, and it soon became evident that amongst a people hostile to the Word of Truth, there were few halls available for the purpose of preaching the Gospel of grace. This difficulty, however, has been overcome by the provision, in answer to prayer, of a portable wooden hall which could conveniently be taken from one district to another. Thus many of the isolated parts, hitherto untouched by the Gospel, had the message of Salvation brought within hearing of their dwellings, as well as having it told by their own firesides; for the visitor to the homes of those humble Irish country folk invariably met with a kindly welcome.
The building of a new hall to meet the needs of a growing assembly, was by this time engaging the attention of the little company of Christians, although they had not as yet definite guidance as to the structural erection, nor had they in hand the necessary funds. Night after night for several months, the believers crowded into the small meeting-room, with hearts burdened in prayer for what at that time seemed a thing almost impossible to perform. It was indeed a time of patient waiting upon God, as His never-failing purposes were slowly but surely being unfolded. A site was chosen, and on an appointed day soon afterwards, possession of the ground was taken. On the following morning a letter arrived from Switzerland containing £10 for the Lord’s work. It was the first sum of money sent in. Other sums followed just as the need arose for the purchase of the building materials. Stones and sand were freely given, while horses and carts were lent for conveying the materials. “Night and day,” we are told, “the workers laboured; those who could not work with their hands, labouring in prayer. The walls rose rapidly, for, as it was in the days of Nehemiah, the people had a mind to work. The passers-by looked on, and while one or two questioned, what do these poor men? and thought it presumption to attempt such a building, yet others perceived that ‘this work was wrought of God.’” Five busy months passed, and God granted the workers the long-cherished desire of their hearts. The hall, a substantial building, capable of seating three hundred people, was completed. And they sang:
“We believe God answers prayer,
We are sure God answers prayer,
We have proved God answers prayer!
Glory to His name!”
Throughout the years that have passed, the hand of God has been upon the work carried on in Ebenezer Hall, a testimony to the power and grace of a never-failing Lord and Saviour, whose remembrance feast on the first day of the week is indeed a sweet and refreshing oasis in a desert land. And so the witness at Greystones goes on, sowing and reaping until the Lord of the harvest comes, when sower and reaper shall rejoice together in His presence, as they cast their sheaves at the feet of Him Who has called and chosen them for His service.
Dublin And Merrion Hall
Of Southern Ireland comparatively little remains to be set down here. In thought we take a last look back to the momentous years which immediately followed the first quarter of last century. Strange though it may seem, the candle that was destined to give light to the world, became pale beside its more illustrious luminaries on the other side of the Irish Sea and, gradually weakening, it flickered for a time and went out. On the other hand, before a decade had passed by, Plymouth, Bristol and London, to whom it had transmitted the first germ of spiritual life, in turn loomed largely on the horizon of this new and irresistible spiritual influence. Thus Dublin, the birthplace of the Movement, for a period of time lay dormant; and while there would doubtless be those away from the public gaze, who chose to carry out God’s will in humble obscurity, still it was not till the early sixties that the mists of uncertainty were dispelled by the penetrating beams of the Gospel light, bringing in its train a joyful return to the carrying out of New Testament teaching.
The re-birth of the testimony in Dublin may be traced to the days of the great revival. Mention has frequently been made regarding the power of the Holy Spirit in those stirring times. As in Ulster, so this spiritual visitation was experienced in and around Dublin in a very marked degree, consequent upon which multitudes of souls in the bondage of sin, were brought into the conscious enjoyment of the peace of God, while many of His own people were awakened to a fuller knowledge of their spiritual blessings in the Risen Christ.
J. Denham Smith—whose revered name will ever be associated with the ‘59 Revival—was at that time pastor of a Congregational Church in Kingstown. When this remarkable outburst of spiritual blessing swept across the land, it very soon made itself felt in the Kingstown church. Impelled by a loving desire and a yearning for souls, Denham Smith responded to the call of the Lord and left his church for Dublin, where the old Metropolitan Hall, Lower Abbey Street (on the site of which the Christian Union Buildings now stand), was engaged by William Fry, a well-known and highly esteemed Dublin solicitor. Here, with the help of friends of like mind, Denham Smith commenced evangelistic services such as had never before been known in the Irish Capital. It is said that “thousands flocked together in the morning and remained hour after hour—many without refreshments—until ten and eleven at night. Careless ones were awakened, anxious ones led into peace, and persons of all classes rejoiced in a newly-found Saviour.”
A brochure published in 1913, at the close of fifty years, gives a brief history of the assembly, and is a fitting tribute to the memory of the early pioneers of the Gospel. The inception of the now famous Merrion Hall came about, through frequent consultations between Henry Bewley, William Fry and J. Denham Smith, as to the best means to adopt whereby the great masses of the unsaved might be reached with the Gospel. The first proposition was to secure the Metropolitan Hall, and remodel it so as to render it suitable as an evangelistic centre. This was subsequently found to be impracticable, and finally it was determined to erect an entirely new building. The suggestion, as expressed in the prospectus issued at the time, was the erection on a suitable site, of a building to be an Evangelising Centre for the whole country, in 1862 a most eligible site was secured in Lower Merrion Street, adjoining Merrion Square, considered to be one of the best positions for the purpose, in the City of Dublin. It was decided forthwith to erect a hall which would accommodate two thousand five hundred persons, and this was accordingly done, at a total cost for building and furnishing of over £16,000. The opening took place on the 26th of August 1863, and thus Merrion Hall started on its career of blessing. Before proceeding further, it should be mentioned that in the year 1878 the hall became the property of the assembly, and was vested in trustees on their behalf.
It has already been stated that Merrion Hall was primarily built to be a centre of evangelistic effort, and this original intention has never been departed from. During all these years the preaching of the glorious Gospel of God’s salvation for sinful men has been kept well in the forefront. In early days the Gospel was heralded from its platform by such stalwarts as Denham Smith, Richard Weaver, Grattan Guinness, Shuldham Henry, Harry Moorhouse, George Müller, F. C. Bland, Dr. Barnardo, besides others whose names are as household words. Nor has there ever lacked a supply of gifted preachers to proclaim the message of salvation in Merrion Hall. It is computed that the congregation gathered each Sunday evening under the sound of the Word, has for many years been one of the largest to be found in any Protestant place of worship in Dublin; and eternity alone will reveal the numbers of whom it may truly be said that “this and that man was born there.” From this assembly many have gone forth to various parts of the world, serving God as evangelists and missionaries who owe their salvation to the Word they heard preached in Merrion Hall.
Although the preaching of the Gospel and the ingathering of souls has from the start, over seventy years ago, occupied a foremost place, it by no means exhausts the record of the work of the assembly. This is revealed by its various activities, notably amongst the young life which constitutes a large Sunday School. It is worthy of note that the workers in these services for the Lord, are for the most part themselves fruit of the work.
The assembly at Merrion Hall has ever maintained a clear testimony for the truth of God and the authority of His Word. “Thus,” says the writer of the brochure referred to, “through His grace the unity of the Spirit has been kept in the bond of peace. The old paths have been firmly adhered to, and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ has been found to be sufficient. No extraneous aids have been resorted to, and the Word of God unmixed with human novelties has proved effective to secure the accomplishment of God’s purposes of blessing for both saint and sinner.”
With the story of Dublin, our narrative of the rise and progress of the Brethren Movement, principally during the last century and the opening of the present, draws to a close. Our journey, leading along the avenue of years, may have been long and tedious to the patient reader, and yet, one is hopeful that in our sojourn together through days of sunshine and shadow, the flowers gathered by the wayside may yield a sweet and lasting fragrance at the remembrance of all the way the Lord has led His people.
1 At the present time there are fifty-seven assemblies in Ayrshire.