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Revival at Uig, Lewis, 1823-1835

Uig, Isle of Skye. Scotland

Uig, Isle of Skye. Scotland

Extracted, from a work recently published by Oliphant and Son, “History of Revivals of Religion in the British Isles, especially in Scotland” —a volume which ought to be perused by every Christian.

The following narrative relates chiefly to the parish of Uig, and gives a most interesting sketch of a work of divine grace which has been in progress there for the last eleven years, and which is still going on: and it plainly demonstrates that the gospel is “the power of God” in renewing the soul of fallen man, for to no other means can the happy results which have taken place there be ascribed.

Mr. M’Leod’s regular teaching at Uig

Very soon after the settlement of the present minister of Uig, an awakening took place amongst the people who had previously been mere formalists. Presently inquirers came to obtain private instruction, and the exigencies of the people led to the extension of religious opportunities— such as a lecture on Thursdays, and many regular prayer meetings, which still exist, and are attended with avidity. When Mr. M’Leod first entered on his office, all the people of a certain age were accustomed to flock to the table of communion, but as he had reason to apprehend that few of them discerned the Lord in the feast, he preached to them carefully for a year, before he ventured to celebrate that solemn ordinance. And so much had their light increased, that only a small portion of the old communicants presented themselves, and they with silent tears. It is very remarkable, that in the course of years wherein he acted as their pastor, he has scarcely been obliged to reject or keep back any one from this feast of love. Indeed, there are many whom their pastor would be glad to admit, who keep back, perhaps from some erroneous apprehension of the nature of the ordinance.

Extraordinary attendance

This is the case in several other Highland parishes. At the communion services of 1828, the island seemed to be moved with one emotion, for 9000 people flocked to Uig on that occasion. Then and subsequently, the days and nights, from the fast to the thanksgiving days, have been occupied in exhortation and prayer, by the various ministers and elders, amongst whom the name of John Macdonald of Farintosh or Urquhart, stands pre-eminent. In 1834, an immense concourse of persons attended, following and seeking the truth, from the Isles of Harris and Uist, as they had done for a year or two before; and the cautious pastor, speaking of this and similar occasions, describes to a Christian friend the “deep impression” which was then made, the “deepening work,” the “new and old converts,” the “liberty of the ministers in preaching,” the “refreshment of the people in hearing,” and the “fervent longing for another such season.” He also speaks of “the knowledge and experience of the people,” of the “Gospel prospering in Lewis,” and of “many new converts being brought in during the solemnities.”

It is not in our power to give much particular detail, the honourable and judicious caution of the faithful pastor, for the present declining to bring into public view the cases of individuals in whose real devotion to God he has much comfort. General results, however, are in the possession of the public, and may be thankfully and humbly stated, to the praise of that blessed Spirit who has wrought such changes.

Mr. M’Leod’s testimony

In proof of the minister’s own enjoyment of his scene of labour it is pleasing to state, that he remarks in 1834: “Ten winters have I passed here, all wonderfully short, pleasant, and delightful;” and his teachers are all so much interested in their occupation, that they would rather expend their lives in that retired region than remove to wealthier and more southern districts. We hope the faithful records preserved by him who watches for their souls, as one who must give account, will, at no distant day, be published to revive the drooping Church. In the meantime, all that we are about to relate of the general aspect of society there, we mention as detailed by witnesses much interested in stating the truth correctly.

1. The prayerfulness of the people

One gentleman, who annually visits the Lewis, mentions that he has often walked forth at eventide, to have his spirit refreshed by observing the devotional temper of the people of Uig— and that, at all hours, from eight o’clock at night till one in the morning, he has passed by and overheard persons engaged in prayer. Many a bush formed a shelter for a soul communing with its God; and along the brown ridges of the fallow, by stooping, so as to cast the figures between the eye and the clear margin of the horizon, dim forms might be discerned, either alone, or two and three together, kneeling and pouring out their wants at the footstool of mercy. The captain of a king’s ship, which lay for a considerable time off the island, who, in pursuing his sports, had crossed and recrossed the lands in all directions, bears witness that he never met any intoxication—any profanity, nor indeed a single person engaged in any occupation which might tempt him to wish to shrink from public inspection, except during their frequent retirements for prayer. He mentioned, in particular, his having entered a woodyard in the town of Stornoway, to enquire into the progress of some repairs making on his boat, when he saw two men retire behind the logs to pray together; and, though their Gaelic was unintelligible to him, their occupation, and obvious abstraction from the world, and solemn impression of the divine presence, softened and subdued the man of the sea, though not given to the melting mood. He said, “they are extraordinary people here; one cannot but be struck with their honesty, kindness, and sobriety. I am told they make a good deal of whisky for sale. It cannot be for home consumption, for I think I never met a drunk person out of the town. One hears of religion elsewhere, but one sees it here in everything.”

We have pleasure in mentioning, as another example of the devotional habits of these people, what a friend who was rowed up the Loch Roag witnessed. The way being long, it is customary to stop to rest and refresh the oarsmen. When they had drawn their boat up into the little bay, and ceased from their toil, the men, before they tasted of their food, raised their blue bonnets, and united in prayer.

It may be proper to state, that the cabins of the inhabitants, consisting of but one apartment, furnish no opportunity of retirement; and this explains, in part, the custom of praying in the open air. There is, however, another and more affecting reason. The people want to repair far more frequently to the footstool of mercy than at morning and evening; and as their occupations are in general out of doors, or on the waves, so also are their prayers.

Uig Loch

Uig Loch

There are five natives of the parish of Uig who were enlisted when a regiment was raised on the island, and having gone with the army to Egypt, lost their sight by ophthalmy, and after their return have become acquainted with the doctrines of the gospel. It is common with them to bless God for having taken away their bodily eyes, since they regard that as one of the instruments in his hand for opening the mental sight, which was before in a state of darkness. Three of them are active fellow-helpers in the extension of Christian truth and consolation. One is a most efficient and zealous elder in the parish of Uig; of another we shall have occasion to relate a curious circumstance under the head of liberality.

2. The uprightness of the people

On occasion of a year of famine, the natives were put to great straits, and in danger of perishing for want. A vessel, laden with meal was driven upon their shores by stress of weather. Did the famine-stricken natives seize on the ship, and lawlessly apply her cargo to the supply of their necessities? If they had, hunger would have formed for them a plausible excuse. Twenty years before they would doubtless have done so, and held themselves guiltless. But now it was not so. Every portion was accurately weighed or divided; and, as their necessities were so great that they had nothing then to pay, their affectionate minister gave a promissory note for it, knowing well that the excellent lady whose property the lands are, would not suffer him to be impoverished. The people knew this also, but none took advantage of it, all were occupied in economising to the utmost, till one after another they had repaid their debt. Thus, they obtained not only the great blessing of necessary food, but preserved the still greater blessing of integrity, and a spirit free from covetousness.

It is a rule in this and the other isles of the Hebrides, that when a man meets a stray sheep on the moor, he is entitled to carry it home as his own, and obliged to make an equivalent offering in the collection for the poor on the Sabbath day. After the commencement of the revival in the Lewis, many came to confess to their minister the trouble of conscience they experienced by reason of having what they called a black sheep in their flocks—some having had them for several winters. The minister always directed them to make restitution now in the appointed way; and in one season, the sum of £16 was deposited in the plate. The number of sheep annually lost has wonderfully diminished since the commencement of the revival, leading to the conclusion, that the loss imputed to accident arose from dishonesty.

3. The Christian liberality of the people

It has long been the custom to make a collection at the Thursday lecture, for the most necessitous persons in the district where the lecture is held—and thus, without poor rates, these people support their own poor. For many years they have contributed £13 or upwards to the Gaelic School Society, sometimes £16, and one year, when the Society was in difficulty, the contribution amounted to £20. On transmitting £16, which was the sum collected in Uig in 1830, Mr. M’Leod remarks—”Considering the circumstances of the people, I bear testimony, that their liberality and zeal in this case have cause to provoke very many to similar duties. It was most delightful to see the hoary head, and the young scholar of eight or nine years, joining in this contribution. The will preponderates over our purse, so that we cannot do exactly what we would.” In 1831, Mr. M’Leod, while he petitions that a teacher may not be removed from his present station for another year, says, “a poor man in that station declared to me lately, that should the directors demand one of his cows, he would readily give one before he would part with the teacher.”

Norman M’Leod

The journal of the superintendent, in stating the examination of one of the schools in Uig, mentions the case of a man, named Norman M’Leod, who is one of the many hundreds of souls on the isle of Lewis, that have come out of gross darkness, into the sweet and blessed light of the knowledge of God, partly by means of the Gaelic schools, and partly by the ministration of the truth. “Norman M’Leod is a native of this parish, and at an early age enlisted into the army, went abroad, and was in several engagements.” “Balls,” says he, “whizzing about me in numbers, but the Lord directed them so that they did me no harm.” He was in Egypt, and there lived in drunkenness and profligacy. “There,” says he in his native Gaelic, “the Lord took from me my bodily sight. I came home, and on the way was wonderfully preserved. At length I found myself in my native land. Here I found things not as I left them. I found the Bible of God, of which I was totally ignorant, among my friends; and schools amongst them for teaching the knowledge of that blessed book. I found such a work among them with Bibles and schools as was altogether new to me. Nay the very children would correct and reprove me, though an old man. In one of these schools the Bible caught my ear; it sunk into my heart; it there opened an eye that sin had ever kept sealed; it read to me my deeds; it led me to trace my former ways; yea, times, places, and deeds that were quite banished from my memory, were recalled into full view. It recorded a black catalogue against me, and seemed to fix my portion amongst the damned. I thought my case altogether a hopeless one, but the same Bible brought to my ears tidings of unutterable worth—salvation through a crucified Saviour.”

The superintendent mentions this as a preface to a little story, which, were the honesty and simplicity of the old man known to the reader, would be considered more interesting still.”

“I began,” said Norman to his minister, “to think how these Gaelic schools came to be planted in my country. I thought on the state of my country when I knew it before in my youth, and on the blessed fruits of these schools among my kindred. I contrasted both, and wondered, and thought, and wondered again. Said I, what is this? What a change of things! Blessed God! Blessed Bible! Blessed people, that sent these schools! and blessed schools, that teach the Bible of God to perishing sinners! and blessed teachers, men of Christ! I thought what would my poor country be, but for the Bible and these schools. I was led into their history, and traced them to a Society in Edinburgh. They engrossed my attention, and I thought them really the schools of Christ. I thought I would pray for them, and so I did; but this, thought I, is not enough.

Old house on the Isle of Lewis

Old house on the Isle of Lewis

When the Lord took away my eyesight, he gave me a pension; I thought I should give some of that to help his schools. A public collection was proposed by you. I felt happy at this, and prayed that the Lord might open ‘na sporain dhubha’ (that is, the black purses, an appellation given to the purses of greedy worldlings), and I myself gave two shillings. When a collection was proposed this year, ‘I think,’ said I to myself, ‘I shall give this year four shillings—double what I gave last.’ ‘It is enough for you,’ said something within me, ‘to give what you gave last year—two shillings.’” Here follows a long and most original debate, between Norman with the enlarged and melted heart, and the old worldly-wise Norman. Sometimes he would give double, then five, then ten, then back to five. During all this debate he was in great agitation, having, as he felt, lifted up his hand to the Lord that he would give so much. He thought of Ananias and Sapphira, and dared not go back; while the same inward voice asked him, “‘Ah I Norman, what are you about, you are now going crazy altogether; you are a poor blind man, you cannot work, you have a family of seven to support, and the money God gave you as a provision for your family, you should apply to the object for which it was given, which will be most acceptable to Him,’ &c.

 

“I then began to ruminate on the whole process, and at length I thought my opposition might be the suggestion of Satan, to keep me from giving so much to the cause of Christ. On reflecting on this for a while, I felt convinced it was he. I started upon my legs, and, lifting up my hand with defiance, I said, ‘Ah! you devil, I will give a score of them. I will give a pound note every year I live, so the farther you follow me, the more you shall lose.’ From that moment the temptation ceased.”

God rewards generosity

In 1835, when in addition to all their usual collections, they in one day at church gathered £20 for church extension, they were favoured with such a successful fishing season, as enabled them to supply all the wants of the winter. The fishing had for many years failed; and the people observed that, by means of this wealth bestowed on them from the sea in 1835, they were amply repaid for all they had been enabled to give. This is another of those facts which we note to the glory of Him who is nigh unto all them that fear him. He knoweth what we have need of, and they who scatter in faith shall still increase. Let not any of those contributors shrink from this mention of the gracious dealing of God with them. The effort of their liberality was known to those interested in the Church Extension Scheme, and the plentiful fishing was told in the newspapers. May those who see the divine hand give Him the praise!

Kitty’s story

One feature of this revival peculiarly interesting, is that souls of all ages have been affected, from the infant of three years to the man verging on a hundred. We present a notice of the youngest, and one of the oldest within our knowledge.

Catherine Smith was a native of Pabay, a small island in Loch Roag, where dwell seven families. From their insular situation and poverty, it has not been in the power of the parents to educate their children; but little Kitty is an example of the truth, that all God’s children are taught of him; for, when only two years old, she was observed to lay aside her playthings, and clasp her little hands with reverence during family worship; and at the age of three she was in the habit of repeating the 23rd Psalm, with such relish and fervour, as showed that she looked to the good Shepherd in the character of a lamb of his flock. Her parents taught her also the Lord’s Prayer, which she repeated duly, not only at her stated times, but often in the silence of the night. She frequently pressed the duty of prayer, not only on the other children, but on her parents; and she told her father that, in their absence, when she would ask a blessing on the food left for the children, her brothers and sisters would mock at and beat her for doing so.

The Rev. J. Macdonald of Farintosh having preached in the parish of Uig, Kitty’s parents were among the many who went to hear him. On their return they mentioned what he had said about the formality of much that is called prayer, and the ignorance of many as to its spirituality; they stated, according to their recollection of the sermon, that many had old useless prayers, and greatly needed to learn to pray with the Spirit. The child observed this, and two days after, said to her mother, “it is time for me to give over my old form of prayer.” Her mother replied, “neither you nor your prayers are old;” but she rejoined, “I must give them over, and use the prayers which the Lord will teach me.” After this she withdrew to retired spots for prayer. At one time her younger sister returned without her, and on being asked where she had left Kitty, she said, “I left her praying.” Her father says that he has often sat up in the bed listening to her sweet young voice, presenting this petition with heartfelt earnestness, “Oh, redeem me from spiritual and eternal death.” From the remoteness of her dwelling, Kitty had never attended any place of public worship,—but the Sabbath was her delight,—and often would she call her brothers and sisters from the play in which they were thoughtlessly engaged, asking them to join in prayer and other devout exercises, and warning them, that if they profaned the day, and disliked God’s worship, they must perish. Her mother observing the intent gaze with which she looked on a large fire, enquired what she saw in that fire? She replied, “I am seeing that my state would be awful if I were to fall into that fire, even though I should be immediately taken out; but woe is me, those who are cast into hell fire will never come out thence.” Another day, when walking by the side of a precipice, and looking down, she exclaimed to her mother, “how fearful would our state be if we were to fall down this rock, even though we should be lifted up again; but they that are cast into the depths of hell will never be raised therefrom.”

One day her mother found her lying on a bench with a sad countenance, and addressed some jocular words to her with a view to cheer her. But the child’s heart was occupied with solemn thoughts of eternity; and instead of smiling she answered gravely, “Oh, mother, you are vexing my spirit, I would rather hear you praying.” In truth, eternity was very near her, and the Spirit of God was preparing her for it. As she got up one morning, she said, “Oh, are we not wicked creatures who have put Christ to death?” Her mother, curious to hear what one so young could say on such a subject, replied, “Christ was put to death, Kitty, long before we were born.” The child, speaking with an understanding heart, said, “Mother, I am younger than you, but my sins were crucifying him.” After a pause, she added, “what a wonder that Christ could be put to death when he himself was God, and had power to kill every one, indeed they only put him to death as man, for it is impossible to kill God.” She used often to repeat passages from Peter Grant’s spiritual songs, such as, “It is the blood of the Lamb that precious is.” When she came to the conclusion of the verse, “It is not valued according to its worth,” she would, in touching terms, lament the sad truth, that His blood is so lightly thought of. Being present when some pious persons spoke of those in Rev. vii, who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, she said, “Is it not wonderful that, while other blood stains what is dipt in it, this cleanses and makes white?”

Murdoch M’Leod being engaged in the valuable duties of a Scottish elder in the little island of Pabay, Kitty wished to hear him, but from bashfulness was ashamed to enter the house where he was employed in worship; she therefore climbed up to the window and sat there till all was over. Being asked what she had heard, she said she was amazed to hear that Christ offered himself as a Saviour to many in our land who rejected him, and that he was now going to other and more remote quarters to win souls. She then added with the pathos of a full heart, “Oh, who knows but he may return here again!”

Soon after she had completed her seventh year, she was attacked by that sickness which opened her way to the kingdom of Heaven, and in December, 1829, this lowly child was carried from her poor native island to the blessed region where the redeemed of the Lord find their home; and her name has left a sweet perfume behid (sic) it.

Malcolm M’Leod – 95 years old

From this most satisfactory and authentic account of the blessed state of one of the youngest souls brought to Christ, during the revival at the Lewis, which strongly reminds us of the narrative of a child of equally tender years detailed by Jonathan Edwards, we turn to an aged man named Malcolm M’Leod. Malcolm had reached the great age of 95, without experiencing repentance unto life. Infirmity had for some time prevented him from attending public worship, and as far as man might judge, his decaying faculties were fast shutting up the avenues to the soul, and he was less likely than many to become the subject of converting grace. But the Lord saw it not so. In October or November, 1834, his pious daughter brought home notes of a sermon she had been hearing, which were made the means of serious impression to her father, and he is going on in a very promising progress in the divine life. Though he is becoming blind with age, his mental faculties are entire, and the whole man is enlivened, having received a stimulus which arouses his attention, sharpens his understanding, and interests his heart. Instead of dozing away his hours, he now sleeps very little; prayer and praise have also become his principal food. His glad pastor says of him, “He is a most interesting sight, caught at the eleventh hour; O how wonderful are the ways of sovereign grace!” With his usual faithfulness, Mr. M’Leod ministers to him in private, and lately preached at his bedside, on the man who was thirty-eight years at the pool. And at the last season of communion the venerable man was borne by four friends and placed at the table of his Lord, with tears of sorrow for past profanation of that privilege, coursing each other over his furrowed cheeks, and of grateful love for present blessings. The whole multitude were moved, every eye glistening in sweet sympathy with his feelings. When we hear such things, may we not justly exclaim, “what has God wrought!”

The effects of the isle of Tyree’s waywardness on the people of Uig

In 1835, the Rev. A. M’Leod visited some of the other western isles to ascertain their state, and was much moved to see the isle of Tyree in particular, fortified against gospel truth, by the opposition of those having influence, and the natural ignorance and corruption of the people. His heart has not found rest without suggesting means to “assault the ancient garrison,” so that they may in the Lord’s good time subdue and “drive the Canaanite out of the land.” But that which brings the visit to Tyree under our peculiar notice, is the effect produced on the people of Uig, when their pastor again reached home, and related to them what he had witnessed.

He frequently had occasion to observe, that after a short absence, not only was the love of his people increased, but their zeal to run their Christian course also. On hearing of the deplorable ignorance and wickedness to be met with in the isle of Tyree, several of Mr. M’Leod’s people who were then as careless as they, were brought under concern; and when they heard of the religious views entertained by some of these islanders, they were convicted with having secretly cherished similar opinions, although they were daily favoured with gospel ordinances. Since November in particular, there has been much religious impression amongst the people, silent tears, in general, pervading the whole congregation. This used to be the case during the long time that worship was held in the field, while the church was building, but had subsided in a degree since they occupied the new church, till this fresh awakening has melted many new hearts, and refreshed many who had been previously awakened. It is a fact worthy of observation, that during ten years in which this work of grace has made a steady progress, there has not been one outbreaking of enthusiasm, or delusion, or false doctrine, so that their minister expressed great astonishment and thankfulness, after reading Dr. Sprague’s work on American Revivals, that they have been so graciously preserved from the extravagance and error which has in some few instances broken in to injure the integrity of the work in America.

The widespread influence of the revival at Uig

In considering the state of things in the parish of Uig, we are disposed to rejoice over it more than over any other Scottish Revival. Its calm, and deep, and prolonged flow, and its sincerity, may be imputed to some natural and obvious causes. God has vouchsafed to them for ten years the ministrations of a man, whose method is consistent, and now well understood by them. He has been preserved in prayerful humility as their watchman, and saved from in any way casting a stumbling block in their way. The ministers who have been placed in the neighbouring churches (two of which are government churches that have within a few years been opened on the island) are men who greatly strengthen his hands by preaching not “another gospel” but the same doctrine with himself, thus avoiding distraction and perplexity. Though Uig be the most enlivened spot, the revival is by no means limited to that parish.

There has been no variety of sects introducing controversy and strife, or withdrawing men’s minds from the essentials that concern their own souls, to fix them on the less weighty forms of church government, or questions of no profit. In this respect, truth has had a fairer entrance to the mind, and prayer has not been hindered. At Arran there seemed to be a tendency in some to yield to bodily excitement and nervous emotions, which their results proved not to have been genuine workings of the renewed heart. In Glenlyon, the spirit of controversy met and drove back the spirit of contrition. At Moulin, the removal of the faithful instructor left the sheep to be scattered. But in Lewis, hitherto the Lord hath upheld and sheltered his flock from such dangers, and the spirit of faith and prayer and a sound mind is preserved amongst them. May it never die away, but from this distant spot of our empire may the blessed wave of salvation swell and rise, till it shall overflow the land, and gather in every county, every parish, and every soul to the kingdom of our God and of his Christ!

This article is a chapter from Narratives of Revivals of Religion in Scotland, Ireland and Wales published in 1839.