By the Rev. Alex. Gregory, M.A., Anstruther
Cellardyke is a fishing town of about 1800 inhabitants, situated in the county of Fife, and parish of Kilrenny, on the northern shores of the Firth of Forth. It is occupied by a superior class of fishermen, who are distinguished for courage and enterprise in the prosecution of their arduous calling, and who have supplied the merchant navy with not a few skilful and successful seamen. They are in the main a church-going people. There is no church in Cellardyke itself; the bulk of the population worship in the parish church of Kilrenny, about a mile distant; the rest in the various churches in the adjoining town of East Anstruther, chiefly in the Free Church. As they have enjoyed the benefit for many years of a large and well-taught Sabbath school, most of those now about middle life are well instructed in the elements of Divine truth; while among their number may be found, in the capacity of church office-bearers, or private members, some as godly and useful Christians as any church possesses. Still, there has been too much cause to lament the prevalence, among certain portions of the community, of those vices which are common among most seafaring populations; but greatly more prevalent than these, a lifeless profession, a religion of mere formality, where Sabbath-day services and external rites were everything, while the heart was utterly dead to spiritual things.
From the time that the Irish awakening drew general attention in Scotland, namely, about the beginning of the summer of 1859, the subject of the revival of religion was in various forms brought under public notice in several of the churches in East Anstruther, and the duty and importance of prayer for the outpouring of the Spirit much insisted on; and such of the inhabitants of Cellardyke as attend those churches had their minds frequently brought into contact with these topics during the course of that year.
The work of God in the conversion of souls is, in every place, and in all cases, the same in essential things. But, with this similarity in essentials, there is great diversity in accidental circumstances; a diversity which appears not only in different places, but, as is well known, even in different individuals. Our awakening has been distinguished for the large proportion of persons of mature years, especially for the great number of men, brought under impressions, and also for an entire freedom from those bodily affections which have accompanied revivals elsewhere, and from those wild extravagances on the part of the subjects of the work, which have stumbled and offended sober-minded people and given “occasion to the enemy to blaspheme.” But, what is more to our present purpose, it was distinguished pre-eminently in the mode of its commencement. In other cases, the movement originated in visits, public or private, from parties who had been sharers in a revival elsewhere; a most natural and scriptural way for a religious awakening to commence. At the urgent solicitation of ministers and elders in other places, several of our most confirmed converts have gone forth to tell what the Lord has done for us, and God has blessed their simple story. It is both a natural and scriptural mode of awakening a new interest in the saving truths of the gospel. We simply state a fact when we say that it was in no such way as this that the work originated in Cellardyke. There came no distinguished preacher to arouse its population-no revivalist to excite us by artificial stimulants-no parties with revival fire to spread a kindred flame among us. In other cases the work commenced by a visit from man; with us it commenced in a visitation from God.
On Thursday the 8th day of December 1859, one of those calamities which are sadly of too frequent occurrence among seafaring populations, fell upon the town. One of our boats foundered at sea; out of a crew of eight men, seven perished, five of whom left widows behind them. The sad event-there had nothing happened like it in the place for ten years-was felt by the whole community as a terrible blow. It made a deep impression, which happily took the form of a desire to have a meeting for prayer in the town. Accordingly, next day, Friday, a request was transmitted to the writer of these lines to come and conduct a prayer-meeting in a neighbouring school-room that evening. To this we joyfully acceded; and how truly that request expressed the feelings of the great body of the fishermen, was plain from that crowded meeting of two hundred people, and these nearly all men. A more solemn assemblage we never witnessed; all seemed bowed as if under a heavy personal calamity; strong men have told us they never felt so near completely breaking down. The first song of praise in which the pent-up emotions of their bursting hearts found a vent was overpowering. It was long since such a meeting had been seen in the town. Some referred to those held at the time of the cholera; others said those could not compare with this one. In some respects, at all events, this meeting was different; in its being the first of a long-continued series of similar, and some yet more remarkable, meetings, and in the decided and most precious spiritual results which have flowed from it.
On the Sabbath following, the distressing accident was used for instruction in all the places of worship in the neighbourhood. In the Free church a special sermon was preached in the evening on the words-“Come, and let us return to the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up;” which was listened to by a deeply-solemnised congregation, crowded with fishermen. For several months, almost every week, we conducted the prayer-meeting in Cellardyke, which had been commenced in circumstances so affecting and, when the boats were not at sea, always with a large attendance. After an exposition of some portion of God’s Word, it was our practice at these meetings to read revival intelligence. It so happened that about this time a work of grace began in the towns of Eyemouth and Ferryden; and several letters on this subject from fishermen in those towns to friends in Cellardyke were read, and excited great interest. The outpouring of the Spirit formed a topic of conversation, and a subject of prayer in every house that winter in the course of our pastoral visitations. The thoughts and desires of God’s people ran strongly in the direction of a similar work among us; and it was most affecting and heart-stirring to hear our praying fishermen in the midst of a crowded meeting of their fellows, pleading with Jacob-like earnestness that God would not pass them by, but be pleased to visit them as He had visited others of like occupation. During this time, the town began to wear a more quiet and sober appearance; a fishermen’s social prayer-meeting, which met each Lord’s-day, increased from eight to nearly thirty; some praying women assembled in each other’s houses for the same purpose; and two or three young men were known latterly to be in great anxiety about their souls. Still there was no general manifestation of any strong religious feeling. But it was the belief of some that this was not to be long delayed.
About the beginning of March, a very remarkable work of grace appeared in the town of Newhaven. A young man from Cellardyke went to spend a few days in that place; and, on his return, excited deep interest among his praying friends by a recital of what he had
seen. On the morning of Sabbath, the llth March, the fishermen’s
fellowship meeting was unusually solemn. They resolved to hold another in the evening, which was marked, if possible, by still greater solemnity-a solemnity which was increased by a young man present being awakened; his sister, about the same time, also exhibiting spiritual concern. On Monday the young man went to sea, where his mental distress went on increasing in intensity. It happened that he had a praying skipper, (an elder of the Free Church), and a sympathising crew; and for three days that boat presented a scene such as probably was never witnessed in a boat before-the anguish and cries of the heart-stricken lad, the tears of his companions, the tender earnestness of the skipper, as he alternately directed him to the Saviour, and pleaded with God on his behalf. At length, in the afternoon of the third day, and while the crew were standing round him in prayer, the young man suddenly sprang up from his prostrate posture in the bottom of the boat, and declared, with tears of joy, that he had laid hold on Christ. An indescribable tumult of emotions at this relief, after three days of intense anxiety, filled the breasts of the crew. They could attend to nothing; and how their boat drifted safely into the harbour they cannot yet tell. The skipper sat buried in deep thought as he reflected on those three days of agonising earnestness, and now looked on the visible change on the face of the young fisherman. His mind passed through a conflict. And was this indeed-just this which had happened in his own boat, just this which he saw before his eyes-was this the outpouring of the Spirit, the work of God, which he had so long prayed for? He carefully surveyed the evidence. Doubt and unbelief at length gave way; and the mental struggle ended by his adopting the words of Peter,-“What was I, that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11.17).
While this was going on in the case of the brother at sea, the sister and her friends were similarly employed on shore. And when the news of her brother’s relief was brought to the house of another Free-Church elder, where they were assembled, she was ready to say, “I have found Christ, too.”The joy of the meeting of these two young people and their mutual friends may be imagined. Crowds gathered in and around the house to witness the scene or learn the cause of the commotion; and for several days that elder’s home was the focus of an intense religious interest and a powerful religious movement.
That day, Thursday, 15th March, we were asked to conduct a meeting in the schoolroom already mentioned, at 2 p.m. A crowd filled the place, and at the close of the meeting several persons remained behind in deep spiritual concern. On the forenoon of Friday great numbers throughout the town were known to be burdened with a heavy sense of sin, and earnestly desirous of spiritual consolation. At the close of the meeting at 2 p.m. that day, upwards of a hundred of all ages and both sexes remained to be conversed with about their souls’ interests. At the first word that was spoken to them, they gave way to tears and sobs, presenting a most affecting sight. It was fortunate that the several ministers present agreed in calming their agitation and in counselling them to self-control.
Meetings were held after this every evening; and as stormy weather kept the crews on shore during the whole of the immediately following week, the schoolroom and other adjoining apartments were crowded to suffocation. At the close of each meeting anxious inquirers presented themselves in great numbers, and eager crowds gathered in private houses, where ministers and others were actively engaged in administering direction and comfort to wounded spirits, while some collected round one in the streets, to drink in the simplest truths of the gospel, as if they were hearing them for the first time. The awakening in the town was the all-absorbing topic. And it was an easy matter to engage any person in frank converse about the nature of his own feelings, and the state of his soul. These things were almost the only subjects of conversation. The scenes of that time will not soon be forgotten. The distress of those bowed down with an insupportable load, their earnest cries for relief,-“Oh, that God would have mercy on my sinful soul!” “Oh, that the Lord would come to my heart this night!”-the more silent and not less heavy grief of others, the look of piercing eagerness with which inquiring ones listened to the household expositions of the plainest truths of the Word, and the radiant joy of such as had found relief in some precious promise, the face actually gleaming with a most heavenly beauty, were sights which made an impression on the beholders, which, we believe, will never be effaced.
With the kind assistance of others from a distance, the ministers, elders, and private Christians of the place and neighbourhood, by public meetings and household visitation, promoted the good work, which went on with little interruption for many weeks. The reading of the psalm, the singing of a hymn, the words of the text, an expression in prayer, the preaching of the gospel, and the exposition of the truth, and, not less than any of these, the recital in a few broken sentences of his own feelings and experience by one of the fishermen themselves, who had just passed from darkness to light, were all employed by the Spirit of God to impress, awaken, enlighten, or comfort, and so to extend and continue the movement. But at the first, and all along, there was another influence of exceeding power for this effect. This was the sight or the mere report of the change which was passing, or had passed, on neighbours-the deep distress, the agonising struggle, and then the excessive joy when deliverance came. It seemed as if God had imparted a higher degree of these feelings than is known to the experience of the majority of His people, on set purpose to furnish a potent instrument for impressing men in great numbers. Not a few who had attended none of the meetings, and some of those persons in whose houses neither minister nor Christian adviser had been till weeks after the awakening began, and others who were confined to bed with sickness, were at an early period led in this manner to serious thought and deep anxiety, which ended in a change as decided and hopeful as any. And, indeed, very generally, the first thought was, “Why should such a one be in distress more than I?” or, “Why is it I have not such another’s joy?” This question led the inquirer to the Word of God, to the prayer-meeting, to the spiritual counsellor, and to the throne of grace.
We have referred to the great degree of joy possessed by many of
the converts, which we have observed, at a certain stage of the mental process, to be as common and powerful a means as any for quickening and strengthening religious desire. This, however, was not without some practical inconvenience. “The light” that others had got was with many the one great object of their wishes. More frequently, in the case of the more anxious, it was to “find peace.” This expression, at a very early period of the movement, we felt it necessary to discourage. There was a danger of accepting the mere subsiding of agitated feeling, the natural reaction from excited emotion, for the peace of the gospel. There was great danger of substituting peace or joy for Christ, as the object of desire and search, and so of vitiating and misdirecting the whole aim and strain of the soul’s eamestness. “What are you anxious about?” we have asked. “Oh, to get such a one’s joy.” “Suppose,” we have said in reply-“suppose I were to offer you such a one’s joy, but without Christ?” After a pause-“I wouldn’t have it, sir.” “Right,” we have said: “now, suppose I were to offer you Christ, but without such a one’s joy?” Another pause-“Ah,”-and then-“that would do.” “Right,” we have said again: “that person’s joy may be gone already; at all events, it is a thing which will come and go. But if the heart has received Christ, He will never depart. Set your heart, then, on getting Christ, and leave it to Him to give you what joy He sees to be good for you.” In a similar manner we had to deal with burdened souls, who gave every evidence of having embraced the Saviour, but could take no comfort from this, because, as they said, “the burden was not away yet; they had not the peace or joy of others.” We were wont to be met with this when urging such persons to take the comfort of the truth, that as soon as they embraced Christ the entire load of sin and guilt was on Him, and no longer on them; and we have had to remind them that if a strong man took a crushing weight off their shoulders, they would probably have bruised and sore feeling, as if the load were still there, for some time after it was removed; and to draw attention to the distinction between “peace with God”-reconciliation, covenant-friendship with Him, which Christ, in the heart, makes ours-and the tranquil feelings of our own breasts-a mere pleasant sensation, which must not be confounded with the high blessing of friendship with God, the inalienable and unchanging heritage of every believer.
As a general rule, the onset of distress was followed by a sharp struggle, which issued in relief and joy. But there was much variety under this general uniformity. In most instances the conviction of sin was sudden and deep; but a few exceptions to this presented either a slowly-increasing spiritual concern, sometimes subsiding and returning, or a long process of breaking down, carried on by a slow series of steps. In some the relief came very quickly, in others after a more protracted struggle. In some, too, with little or no help of man, in others only after much converse and counselling, and repeated dealings with the case. Not a few, after the light of hope shone upon their minds, were visited with anxieties and fears which were as distressing as their first spiritual trouble, and which required much tender and skilful treatment, while some, who were early impressed, appear to walk in darkness to this hour.
The following cases-a few out of a great many-will illustrate some of these varieties of experience. In many others the change was quite as decided and satisfactory; and it is to be remembered, in regard to all of them, that, like the writer and reader of these lines, they are still in the place of trial, and that it is only by a life of holy watchfulness and striving that any, whether recent convert or advanced Christian, can evince the genuineness of a work of grace on the soul.
The first case which we shall give is that of a fisherman, who is the father of a family, and in the prime of life. He was a man of correct life, and great respectability; religious, too, a church-member, and regular in attendance on ordinances; but that earnestness which should have been given to the vital concerns of spiritual religion he spent exclusively on his worldly occupation, to which he devoted himself with all the energies of a powerful body and strong mind- he and his crew being looked up to by the whole town as models of enterprise and skill. When we first visited him, we found this strong man bowed down with sore spiritual distress, and meek and gentle as a little child. His heart, and that of his partner, were still bleeding from a recent domestic bereavement; but a deeper sorrow now afflicted both. Our words brought no comfort that day, nor the next. On the morning of the second Thursday of the awakening, he went to sea, a heavy-laden man. His distress became intense. A brother of his told us that he had on former occasions seen their boat half full of water without one of the crew wincing; but that day, when they saw the anguish of their stout-hearted skipper, though they had little sympathy with his feelings at that time, there was not a dry cheek in the boat. He was impatient to get ashore. On landing, to the astonishment of all who knew how engrossed the man had been in the world before, he told his brother to draw up his boat on the beach, and bade his crew go and engage themselves to another, for he would not go to sea again till he got relief from this terrible burden; though a boat came in full of sovereigns, he would not go and take them out; the world was as chaff to him now. Scarcely taking time for necessary refreshment, he hurried to the place of worship where he learnt the writer of this statement was to be found. Soon after he entered, it so happened that we gave out to be sung the following lines:-
“Fools for their sin and their offence,
Do sore affliction bear;
All kind of meat their soul abhors;
They to death’s gates draw near.”
At the close of the service, the strong man, bent and stooping with the weight of his anguish, anxiously asked us how it was that he who liked so well to sing could take no part in the singing of the above words. The reason was plain, as we told him; those lines described his own case so exactly, (he had been unable to eat or sleep for several days,) that the emotions excited by them had choked his utterance. He bemoaned himself as “a wretched and sinful man,” for having gone to sea that day, and so withdrawing himself from those opportunities which might have been the means of peace to his soul. He told us what he had said to his crew; and we found, at the close of a half-hour’s conversation with him, in which we endeavoured to exhibit Christ to him in all simplicity and freeness, that one remaining anxiety of his heart was whether he should resign himself to sleep or not that night. Must he not keep awake till he found Christ? What if he should sleep away his spiritual concern? We counselled him to take rest; body and mind required it; and God did not deny him it; “so He giveth his beloved sleep.” God would keep his spirit. And considering his honesty of purpose, and intense earnestness, we ventured, for his encouragement, to express the conviction that he would not be long in finding rest in the Saviour. On his way home, as he afterwards told us, pondering what had been said to him, he experienced a blessed relief; it was then, as he believes, he embraced Christ, who has ever since been his hope and joy. “This is a new house now, sir,” his partner united with him in saying on the occasion of our next visit. “We are a happy house now. We were happy enough before, too, but it was nothing to this. The Bible is new, prayer is new, the Sabbath is new.” His great anxiety now was how to preserve his new feelings amid the battle of worldly business, and how to be of any use in the cause of Christ. His zeal in endeavouring to bring friends and relatives to the Saviour knew no bounds.
The only other case of which we shall give some particulars, is that of one of the five widows whom the calamity of the 8th December 1859 bereaved of their husbands. There was not one of those five widows on whom the stroke did not fall most heavily. The one to whom we now refer was the very picture of woe. Beneath the terrible storm which struck her, she bent like a broken reed. She knew the promises and hopes of the gospel; she was comforted, too, by Christian friends, and by her own godly father; but no gleam of light or consolation visited her desolate heart till the awakening came, and it brought joy to her by first plunging her into deeper grief. Her convictions were peculiarly sharp and powerful. “My distress at the loss of my husband,” she said, “was very great”-it was visible to every one how true indeed that was; “but oh, it was nothing to this-to this distress on account of my sins.” Her anguish became greater than she could bear. She must have relief. Under the pressure of her sore trouble she repaired to a dark cellar which she had never been able to bring herself to enter since her husband’s death, and there she wrestled in solitary prayer for hours, till she at length “prevailed,” and light broke upon her darkness through the words of the psalm, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” She could not sleep for joy that night. From that time her deep-brooding sorrow of spirit was gone, and a calm, sweet heavenly joy lit up her countenance, making her in this respect so completely a new creature, that one could scarcely recognise at first the desolate widow in that rejoicing Christian. God had turned her mourning into dancing; He had put off her sackcloth, and girded her with gladness. Her joy could hardly be restrained; and one form in which it expressed itself was very touching. Her thoughts reverted to one of the widowed number, a former acquaintance, whom she had not seen since their common affliction. She was seized with a strong desire to visit this sister in tribulation, who was now also a sister in Christian faith and hope,- she, too, having undergone a happy change, and who felt a similar wish to exchange greetings with her friend. With this purpose, each left her own home to go to the other’s. They met in the street, threw themselves into each other’s arms, and gave way to the most lively expressions of joy at the new happiness they had found.
As to the results of this time of religious earnestness in Cellardyke, we may mention that while over three hundred persons (not including children) have evinced more or less concern about their souls, probably not fewer than the half of these have professed to have received Christ, and are living a new life. There is a visible change on the town; there is a restraint on evil; there are fewer brawls; there is less drinking. A common remark is, “It is a different town now, and a blessed town.” It was the spontaneous confession to us of a supporter of the abstinence movement, “This work has done more for temperance in a few weeks, than our society has done in many years.” We can point to individuals, formerly irreligious and immoral, visibly and decidedly reformed. But the great majority of cases are those of persons of correct life and religious habits. And how does the change appear in those who had no vices to abandon, having been all along respectable religious formalists? It appears in the fruits of the Spirit, of which brotherly love is one of the most conspicuous. “When I used to see a man I had a grudge at, on the street,” said a fisherman, when giving an account of his new feelings, “I would go anywhere to get out of his way. But now, I have no such ill-will to any one. I could take every man I meet into my arms.” “I had many a spite and grudge before,” said another, “but now I love everything I see-I love the very stones under my feet.” And this is no mere piece of sentiment. It takes the most practical shape. Old quarrels have been made up, bad debts have been paid, and injuries have been repaired, which were not known to have been inflicted. It appears also in the spiritual form, of eamest solicitude for the welfare of the souls of others-in parents for children, children for parents, and friend for friend. There is much delight, too, in the Word of God, in the exercise of prayer, in His ordinances, and in all the parts of spiritual religion. The fishermen’s Sabbath prayer-meeting, which had risen from eight to thirty, now numbers above a hundred; smaller meetings of a similar kind abound in the town; there is much secret and family prayer, while from not a few boats at sea, where religious exercises are observed, the voice of “holy melody,” of prayer and praise, is wafted over the surface of the deep, mingling sweetly with the sighing of the wind and the murmuring of the waves .Our awakening has produced also some beautiful specimens of Christian character, which strike all who have eyes to discern spiritual things with the singular loveliness of their heavenly tempers and graces. “I never expected,” said a person of education and Christian intelligence, when referring to the spiritual feast a few friends had enjoyed while entertaining some of our fishermen at the close of a public meeting-“I never expected to see so much of heaven on this side of time, as I did that evening.”