Duncan Matheson

I first learned of Duncan Matheson from J. Edwin Orr’s book, “The Second Evangelical Awakening in Britain” where he was mentioned in connection with vast gatherings in Huntly which I had not previously known about. I managed to find and buy a copy of the 1871 book, “Duncan Matheson – The Scottish Evangelistby Rev J. Macpherson” which is the source of these extracts.

“Life and Labours of Duncan Matheson – The Scottish Evangelist” was written by his friend,

Rev John Macpherson in 1871.

Duncan Matheson travelled widely in his evangelistic ministry in different parts of Scotland and England and beyond. These extracts from the book concentrate on his ministry in north-east Scotland, and in particular the north-east coast during the revival years from 1859.

Duncan Matheson (1824-1869) was born and grew up in Huntly, Aberdeenshire.

“Immediately on his conversion (1846) he began to labour for the salvation of souls” (p49)

“I never believed,” he says, “in speaking sweet words and honeyed counsels to starving people. If you want to do them good, go to them with a loaf in one hand and the Bible in the other. Actions speak louder than words.” (p50)

“Visiting the sick…distributing tracts……. In a short space of time he established a great many cottage meetings, which he carried on with uncommon vigour and success. Solemn events occurred……. Great power accompanied the preaching, the people were seen running home from the place of meeting in a state of great alarm.” (p51,52)

In 1854, witnessing the departure of soldiers for Crimea, “he prayed and longed to go as a herald of mercy to the camp, the field, and the hospital in the distant East, to share his joy with the weary, the wounded, and the dying. How this could be brought about he had no idea. His desire was known only to God; but he believed in the Hearer of prayer, and continued to wait at the throne of grace.” (p62)

The story of how he got there is worth including here:

 The call for which he was praying came from an unexpected quarter, and it came stamped with the broad seal of a special providence. It happened in this way. One day he received a letter, which in substance ran thus: “If you are still in the mind to go to the East, reply by return of post, and please say when you could start.”

The letter was from the Rev J. Bonar, convener of the Colonial Committee of the Free Church—a gentleman whom Duncan Matheson had never seen, and did not know!

Surely, he thought as he read Mr. Bonar’s note, there is some mistake here.    Yet he felt as if the hand and voice of God were in it, calling him to the scene of conflict. He went and told the Duchess, (the Duchess of Gordon was at that time employing him “as missionary at a salary of forty pounds a year”p52) saying that there was clearly a mistake, but that he was willing to go. “How strange!” exclaimed her Grace; “I have been praying that God would incline you to go, and others have been praying also. If there is a mistake, I will send you myself.”

He wrote to Mr. Bonar, and ascertained that the letter was intended for another of        the same     name, a Gaelic-speaking licentiate of the Free Church, who had been employed for some time among the navvies. The Countess of Effingham, desirous of sending a missionary to the Highland Brigade, had requested Mr.   Bonar to find a suitable agent for the work.     

Mr. Bonar wrote to the Rev. D. Matheson; but the letter going astray, a clerk in the Post-office had written on it, “Try Huntly,” and so it came into the hands of the wrong Duncan Matheson, according to the proposing of man, but the right Duncan Matheson, according to the disposing of God.

Mr. Bonar, glad to find a fit man, ready to undertake so arduous a mission, requested him to come up to Edinburgh and arrange for taking his departure for the East, in connection with the British and Foreign Soldiers’ Friend Society.        

He whose “kingdom ruleth over all,” and who “holdeth the seven stars in his right hand,” overruled the mistake of the-Post-office for the accomplishment of a great purpose.

With characteristic decision, he went up to Edinburgh the day after he received Mr. Bonar’s letter, and without an hour’s delay, entered into engagements with the Society to go to the East as a Scripture-reader. At the same time, he received a commission from the Free Church Colonial Committee, and recommendation “to their brethren at Constantinople or other places where Providence may cast his lot.”            (page 62,63)   

This led to an extensive practical pastoral and evangelistic ministry in that part of the world from 1854 to 1857, also including distributing a huge number of tracts, Bibles and Christian books.

Following his return, he was invited to work as an evangelist in Whitehaven in Cumberland – and while there, in 1857 began a monthly periodical, “The Herald of Mercy”.

“Under his editorship, it held on its way till it reached a circulation of 32,000 a month… Its aim was the awakening and conversion of sinners.” (p138)

Page 140

In the spring of 1859 Mr. Matheson returned to Scotland, and took up his residence in the city of Aberdeen.  The great religious awakening of that period was just beginning: Tidings of the work of grace in America and Ireland stirred the hearts of Christians, and many were. in expectation of a similar blessing. The spirit of grace and supplication was poured down, and many a blessed scene wag now witnessed. The winter was indeed past, and, the time of the singing of birds was come. The beginning and progress of the work were everywhere characterized by a real faith in the efficacy of prayer, and the power that attended the testimony of Christians to Christ. In answer to prayer the treasured petitions of years seemed to be granted in one day. The simplest utterances of even babes in Christ were instrumental in converting sinners. In fact, the testifying of believers and its effect was a marked feature of the work. In teaching, the truth is set forth simply on its own merits. In preaching, there is an authoritative, herald-like proclamation of the gospel in the King’s name. In testifying, the speaker bears witness to matters of fact of which he is personally cognizant. The best preacher, doubtless, is, teacher, herald and witness all in one. But testifying has its place and power. Many were saying, “Christ is dead: Christianity is dead,” -when suddenly thousands arose, and with one voice declared, “Christ is not dead. He lives, and the proof is this, He has saved us: He has raised to a new life us who were dead in trespasses and sins.”

 “The Lord gave the word, and great was the company of those that published it”   

It is worthy of remark that the work began, at least in its more striking manifestations, in the fishing village of Ferryden, and quickly extended to the numerous little towns that dot the north-eastern coast. It reminded many of the-beginning of the Lord’s ministry in the fishing villages of Galilee, and the recent, gracious visit of the Lord Jesus to our own Galilean regions seemed to some like the return of an old love.

In Aberdeen, Mr. Matheson occupied the pulpit of Blackfriars Street Independent Chapel.  Joining his friends, Mr. Radcliffe and Mr. Campbell (minister of Free North Church), he threw himself heartily into the work. Not satisfied with ordinary effort, they set themselves to carry the war into the very camp of the enemy by open-air services in the streets and elsewhere. In writing to a friend, he says

“I have only time for a few words, and my object in writing is specially to ask your prayers that at this time the Lord may greatly bless me in the ingathering of souls. Yesterday, was one of the most remarkable days I have spent in my life. Mr. F—, the godly man who brought me to Aberdeen, was well yesterday morning. He went at two o’clock to the meeting in the County Buildings; read 16th of John, sang a psalm, engaged in prayer for the outpouring of the Spirit, sat down, cast his eyes to heaven, gave a deep sigh, and in a moment his spirit was with Jesus whom he loved. At eight o’clock Mr. Campbell and I preached to thousands in the open air. What a night! We had over and over again to preach. The crowds had to be divided, for they were too large. We could not till nearly eleven o’clock get away from the awakened. Mr. Radcliffe was unable to speak. Pray, pray for us. The Lord is doing great things. I believe almost every time one speaks souls are brought to Christ. Pray for me—for humility. The Lord bless you. I am weary.

Yours in Him, ,


Speaking of the work of grace in Aberdeen, in a letter of date 17th August, 1859, he says: —

After a residence of nearly five months in this city, and having come in contact with the work in all its phases, I have no hesitation in saying that a great and glorious work of grace has been felt here, and that it is still going on.  It is impossible to estimate its extent, or gather up one-half of the results. More, far more has been done than is apparent; and yet it is a fact that numbers have been more or less influenced by the truth, and that many, very many, manifestly have been brought to Christ. There can be no doubt of this, and as yet I have not met one case of any truly awakened returning to the world. The Lord has given a visible stamp to not a few, and the zeal, love, affection, prayerfulness, and humility of many of the young converts is remarkable. I never during my life saw more deep concern for souls than I have seen here, and the close clinging to each other, though in different churches, is refreshing—most refreshing. Groups of the young are to be found here and there throughout the whole city meeting for prayer; and one thing has struck me almost more than

 anything—the holy boldness in confessing Christ, and acknowledging what He has done for their souls. Another striking thing is this, that few have found Christ themselves, but they have been instrumental in the awakening of others. Many instances of this have come under my notice. A leading feature in the prayers of the young converts is the prayer offered up for the Christian ministry. One would often think they were burdened with the care of the ministry, and a high, deep respect for the ministers of the gospel, in so far as they are owned of God and devoted to his work, is manifest. We have had the revival, and the fruits are apparent to all who have mingled in the work. Often has it pained us, many going away, and saying, ‘I saw none.’ Nay, and how could they, if they did not go where it was, and if they did not ask those who do know it,?

 “The grace of God has been much displayed in not a, few instances that have come under our notice, of parties coming to spend a Sabbath in the city, going away to their homes deeply awakened, or rejoicing in Jesus, and becoming centres of blessing where they lived. I have passed through many parishes in the county, and found here and there anxious souls; and one thing is undeniable, that never was there a time when so many were thirsting for the Word, and that where ministers have taken advantage of this, and entered with intensity into this new state of things;

there a blessing has descended. At Chapel of Garioch, Banchory, &c., &c., the Lord has been working, but with much power at Chapel of Garioch; and I believe that there is not a parish around it but has its awakened ones. The truth that above all others seems to be owned is—’ You are lost. A Saviour has been provided. It is your duty to accept Him now.’ Ruin by the, fall, righteousness by Christ, and regeneration only by the Holy Ghost, are the leading truths of every address. They are uttered in much simplicity, from loving hearts (I speak of Mr. Radcliffe and the ministers well known engaged in the work), and in much dependence on the Holy Ghost, and the blessing does descend. We can convince no one if they will not believe. Hearts leap for joy, and songs of holy triumph are sung. The Spirit is breathing; the Holy Ghost is working; the gale is blowing; the tide has risen and is still rising. Blessed they that take advantage of it, and girding themselves for the battles of the Lord, go forth to preach Christ,

‘As dying men unto dying men’

But how sad to awake and find the opportunity gone, and hear, in the looks of hardened sinners, powerless sermons, and unheeded warnings, the voice, deep and solemn—‘Thou hadst a day.’

God bless you evermore.”

From Aberdeen he went frequently to the country, and found many of the rural parishes awakening as out of a deep sleep. Let us follow him to two or three places of interest. An awakening took place in the Free Church of Garioch in August, 1859. Mr. Matheson was present when the work began. “The prominent characteristic which ever attracted most our love for Mr. Matheson,” writes Mrs Bain, wife of the esteemed minister, “was his devoted and continual watching and working for the salvation of souls. I noticed this at my first meeting with him, which occurred in a stage-coach about 1848, on which occasion I was greatly refreshed while listening to a conversation in which I found my two fellow-travellers engaged when I entered the coach.

One, an elderly-man, was making objections to the doctrine of sovereign grace. The other, a young man, although evidently suffering under severe toothache, was using the opportunity to plead for truth wisely and lovingly. I felt so interested as to be constrained to enquire on reaching our journey’s end after his name, and found it was Duncan Matheson, then said to be a stonecutter, but evidently being prepared to use skilfully the hammer of the Word of God in polishing living stones for the great temple. Some years afterwards, being employed in missionary work in and around Huntly, he was asked to address a meeting here, which, I think, was almost the first of his evangelistic labours beyond his native district. From that occasion onward to his last visit, after his illness was far advanced, many were his kind and stirring visits to us and among us, and many have cause to bless God for them.

Mr. Matheson was engaged to preach here on the evening of August 4th, 1859, Mr. Bain being then in Ireland, drawn over by the great revival there. Some days before, I received – an intimation from Mr. Radcliffe of his willingness to come and address our people; and spend some time here, which

being accepted, Mr. Matheson’s previous engagement proved a very gracious arrangement in providence for leading him to be present, and giving his most valuable assistance on that remarkable night of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the people gathered from the surrounding district, his previous knowledge of not a few of them giving him an advantage in dealing with the many souls awakened on that memorable occasion.

“After the market-preaching began, Mr. Matheson came to us for several years on the Sabbath nearest the Whitsunday and Martinmas terms. These visits were looked forward to with desire, and much prized by our people. On one of these Sabbaths the power of God was manifest upon the souls of many, especially in the afternoon. Mr Bain being absent, I was called out of church after the close of the first service, and while a prolonged meeting was being held on account of the agitated state of some young persons. I found at the church door a lad who had long been in my Sabbath Bible-class, and who up to, the morning of that day had been, as far as I could see, entirely hard and careless, answering questions with perfect ease and indifference, so that I found it necessary, in order to keep him in his own place, to frame questions of some difficulty for him. My amazement was great to see his usually hard face pale, his whole frame trembling. And when I asked the cause, he could only gasp, ‘My sins! my sins!’ I brought him and his sister, also awakened, to the Manse, and advised them, after other efforts to help them, to cry to God. ‘I cannot pray,’ he said, in great distress. I left them a little, and then returned, when I found him wrestling in an agonizing way to find the words which were gradually coming out of his lips. Mr. Matheson took much interest in this case, which, after some time of deep distress, appeared to issue in a new birth and consistent profession. The young man having left this neighbourhood, I have not seen him for several years.

“Mr. Matheson’s influence over the people here was great, as may be judged from the fact that, after the revival in 1859-60, he one day threw out while preaching a suggestion that the young men of our congregation should agree to support a native Chinese evangelist under Mr. Wm. Burns. A few took up the idea, and ever since the yearly salary has been gathered, although he who suggested and some who began the work now rest from their labours.

“Mr. Matheson’s preaching was wonderfully attractive in most places to some whose position and previous training would not have led one to expect a Scottish lay-evangelist to be listened to with pleasure. But I believe the secret of his power lay in his deep heart-yearning over souls, and dealing with God in secret for them in connexion with the sanctified wisdom and tact with which the Master gifted him as a fisher of men.

He was engaged in this work in season and out of season, in secret and in public. On one occasion, while walking alone in this neighbourhood, a lady passed on horseback, whose general bearing and talents had led him to feel interested in her while yet a stranger to saving grace. He retired into a wood, then and there, knelt down, and cried to God for her conversion; and I doubt not this was one of the links in the appointed chain of circumstances by which ere long she was drawn by the cords of divine love to God, and became for a few years, till called to the home above, a bright Christian.” (page 140-147)

Towards the close of 1859 he began to extend his evangelistic itineracy to Banffshire, preaching for the most part in the towns and villages along the coast. His labours were specially blessed in the burgh and seaport of Cullen. This little town is situated on the brow of a hill looking full in the face the blue waters of the Northern Sea, where it begins to narrow into the beautiful Firth of Moray, whose ample tide is bounded on the southern shore by wild, picturesque, and caverned rocks; whilst the lofty mountains of Sutherland and Caithness rise far upon the deep, like giant warders of the northern coast. Beneath the burgh proper lies the fishing village in a tumult of houses upon the beach, where the storm often breaks with Arctic fury, casting clouds of spray high into the air, and sometimes invading the cottages that line the shore.

Early in 1860 the whole place was moved as by an earthquake. Fear took hold on the sinners in Zion; trembling seized the hypocrites.  Careless ones, whose shadow had not darkened the door of God’s house for many years, found their way to church or chapel; and even worldly men talked to one another about the great question upon the streets. At first the awful shadow of an angry God coming to judgment fell on many, and it seemed as if there was one dead in every house. Awakening was followed by conversion. The thunder of Sinai gave way to the peaceful sunshine of Calvary. Christians who had never known the liberty of the gospel were suddenly delivered from the spirit of bondage, and ushered into the joyful assurance of acceptance in the Beloved.

Our evangelist visited Cullen just as the work of grace was becoming manifest, and preached frequently in the Free and Independent churches, receiving from the pastors a cordial welcome. On one memorable night, he preached to a crowded congregation in the Free Church. His subject of discourse was ‘ The Barren Fig Tree’. From the beginning of the service a deep solemnity rested on the people, and the minds of many were in a state of strange expectancy.

Unveiling the truth, the preacher describes a community favoured with the light and privilege of the gospel. Privilege after privilege is enjoyed. Sabbath follows Sabbath in peaceful succession. Opportunity after opportunity occurs, and sermon on sermon. Mercy presses on          the heels of mercy, like the bright days of summer chasing time to its wintry close. The sharp dispensations of the 

providential pruning-knife come again and again. But all     is in vain. The sunshine and the rain have been to no purpose; the digging and the dunging have been in vain. The Father’s love has been to them as nought. The blood of the Son has been despised. The grace of the Spirit has brought forth no fruit in them. Forbearance and intercession have yielded no result but failure. After the resources of the Godhead in the gospel of Christ, what then?  

The people know that He is drawing their portrait with unmistakable resemblance. Feeling they are found out among the trees of the garden, they tremble and listen with breathless attention. The sonorous voice of the preacher, grows thrillingly solemn and tender as he proceeds, till at length he pours out his last warning in a torrent of compassionate feeling. His eye glances with an awful light, as if he is looking into eternity, while he lifts his hands and pronounces the sentence with a mighty and judgment-like voice, “Cut it down, why cumbereth it any longer the ground? “

Never did woodman aim a better stroke. God is in the Word. Old rotten trunks are crashing beneath the blow. One and another are saying with irrepressible alarm, “It is I! it is I!  God be merciful 

to my soul!” The results are with Him who knoweth all things; but there is reason to believe that some of the audience will remember that night and the felling of the barren fig tree amidst the songs and joys of eternity.

On another memorable occasion, he preached in the Independent Chapel (Cullen). The little meeting-house is crowded to the door. The night is intensely cold and dark, the frost having rendered the ordinary lights unavailable, the darkness is made visible by a single candle, which the preacher holds in his hand. His text is “Remember Lot’s wife.” The narrative receives a graphic handling. The clear sky of early morn suddenly darkens, a cloud of appalling blackness throws the shadow of approaching judgment upon the cities of the plain. Then a gleam of more than lightning

vividness kindles all the air, a whirlwind of fire sweeps down upon Sodom and wraps its four corners, its every street and suburb, its every house and chamber, its every man and woman, in the very, winding-sheet of hell. Ah! now the inhabitants of the doomed city wake to find that their damnation slumbereth not. But a little band of four escapes. An angelic saviour leads them on. Well may they hasten, for the devouring fire sweeps fast along the plain. One of the four lingers, only a little, but a little is at this awful moment decisive of much. God’s wrath is abroad. Is this a time to trifle? The fiery tempest suddenly closes her round, and there she stands under an eternal arrest, a pillar of salt.

 Some such picture is before the eye of the people’s imagination as the preacher proceeds to the more important part of his discourse—its application to the consciences of the hearers. God enters by little, lowly doors into men’s hearts. The Spirit uses little things to make and deepen impressions of the unseen and the eternal. The darkness of the place; the solitary candle throwing a dim, pale light- on the preacher’s countenance, and giving it a strange, weird look; the deep-silence, broken only by a sigh or a sob, and the solemn tones of a voice speaking, as it were, out of the invisible, and warning every trifler with the soul and with God to “remember. Lot’s wife,” conspired, in the hand of the Holy Spirit, to bring about one of those supreme moments of crisis when souls must and do decide their destiny for eternal weal or eternal woe.

Our evangelist made his mark on the young men of the        town.            His broad, free, genial manners captivated their hearts; his talents, magnanimity, and uprightness commanded their respect. Many of them were converted at this time; and it was pleasing to see the finest youths of the place sitting in a company round about their father in the faith, and receiving his counsels as from an angel of God. For the young men, he had a peculiar love: they were his joy, and as his very life. He cared for their interests as a father for his children, and cherished them as a nurse cherishes a babe. He guided them with skill, warning             them against the errors of his own early Christian days; and having won their confidence, he strove to lead them to the highest idea of the life of faith.                                                      In particular, he ever urged upon them entire consecration.  “Be out and out for             Christ,” he would say; “nail your colours to the mast; labour for God, and live for eternity.” In this way he succeeded in stamping upon them the impress of his own decided and energetic character, and through the grace given him inspired them with an intense longing to win souls. One of them is now an ordained missionary in China; another labours in Turkey; a third preaches the gospel at home; a fourth is preparing to take the field as a medical missionary; and others are occupying their talent in the quiet corners of the vineyard.

An instance of the way in which the fire was then spreading may be here given.      James Wilson, a native of Cullen, and an accomplished classical scholar, was at that time master of a school at Aberfeldy, in Perthshire. Hearing of the work of grace in his native town, he was deeply moved. Previous to this he had regarded earnestness in religion as a mere extravagance; but now “the name to live whilst dead” satisfied him no longer. The work of God began in the village, and the minister of the Free Church was frequently assisted by Mr. Matheson. The teacher was led to take a decided stand for Christ, and thenceforth all his learning and influence were given to the work of the Lord. His school became a nursery for the church and the divinity hall. Remarkable success attended his labours among the youths, some of whom, after a brilliant academic career, have entered on the work of the ministry with much promise of usefulness. The course of the devoted teacher was terminated by an early translation to glory.                             

Cullen lay much on the heart of the evangelist. For years he continued to visit it, labouring to win its inhabitants to Christ. On his way thither, many a weary mile did he trudge, often amidst the rains and snows of winter, receiving no pay and seeking no reward but “souls.” Divining his motives, the shrewd fishermen said, “That man fishes by the cran;” that is to say, he is no mere hireling:he labours not for a comfortable living, but finds his reward in the number of souls saved.

(A cran, in use from at least as early as the 18th century, was a unit of measure of landed uncleaned herring used in the North Sea fishing industry. In 1852 it was defined to be the equivalent of one standard box of about 37.5 imperial gallons – typically around 1200 fish, but varying anywhere between 700 and 2,500.)

 Often was his stentorian voice heard ringing from the centre of the town to its circumference in the quiet of the evening, when the deepening shades added solemnity to the preacher’s word; and strong men were known to tremble at their own fireside as the question fell upon their unwilling ears, “Who shall stand before this holy Lord God?”         

(in a letter of 27th May 1867 Duncan Matheson writes – “Cullen still retains the blessing”(page 282)

In most of the villages that stud the Banffshire coast, a stranger in those days had but to signify his willingness to preach the gospel, when suddenly, as if by magic, the whole population, men, women, and children, would assemble to hear the Word of God. To see the great crowd kneeling reverently on the grass, amidst the deepest silence, broken only by a groan, a sob, a loud cry for mercy, to be followed by fond, enthusiastic demonstrations of love and hearty songs of praise, characteristic of these impulsive children of the sea, was a sight impressive beyond description, and never to be forgotten. From such scenes Duncan Matheson, like one refreshed with the new wine of the kingdom, was wont to come away singing his favourite psalm—

When Zion’s bondage God turned back,

– Like men that dreamed were we;

Then filled with, laughter was our mouth,

Our tongue with melody.”

The landward parishes, were not overlooked by the great Redeemer as He marched along the sea-coast in glorious majesty: from his bountiful hand the blessings of his grace were now being scattered far and wide. The reapers on the field, from the master to the gleaner, were known to lay aside at noonday the urgent labours of the harvest to attend to the more pressing business of the soul. Jesus was gathering golden sheaves into his garner. Matheson at this period, strong to reap rather than patient to sow, lent his powerful aid in every place. Few in all that region missed hearing the jubilant voice of our sturdy reaper, and seeing the gleam of his sharp sickle among the yellow corn. Prompt in word and deed, skilful above most men to strike the iron while it was hot, brooking no restraints of mere policy or empty form, and impetuous almost beyond measure, he was in his proper character an Arab in the service of the King. Hungering after great results, having capacity for work and fatigue enough for two men, and withal possessing that rare and dangerous power of will by which strong souls, can indefinitely postpone the season of rest, the unwearied spirit keeping the wearied flesh up to its own high mark, our evangelist moved from one place to another with the rapidity of a courier in the crisis of battle. Seizing the opportunities that will not tarry for the timid or the too cautious, he launched on the full tide when others were laying down canons for discussing the conditions of its ebb and flow. The very air seemed full of elements deeply solemn and heart-touching. A divine presence rested everywhere, and men were compelled for a time to breathe the atmosphere of eternity. Doors that might soon close were opening on every side, and the energetic lay-preacher was not slow to enter in. Pushing along the coast as far north as Moray and Nairn, he bent his steps into the interior, and visited Dufftown, Tomintoul, and Braemar. Sweeping southward to the counties of Forfar and Perth, he gradually extended his circuit until it embraced the whole country from John o’ Groat’s to the English border. (page 147-154)


The Huntly meetings played an important part in connexion with the work of grace in the north of Scotland. They had their origin in a thought of Duncan Matheson’s, and to him under God they owed

no small part of their success. One day, pondering the best means of promoting the good work, the thought of gathering the people from the surrounding country for a great field-day of the gospel in the Castle Park flashed across his mind. After prayerful consideration of the scheme, he mentioned it to his fellow-labourers, Mr. Williamson and Mr. Bain, as they were all three returning from Cullen feeing market, where they had been preaching. They resolved to lay the matter before the Lord. There and then, wearied though they were, they betook themselves to the throne of grace, and as the train was speeding on its way, they cried to God for light to guide them. Light was not withheld:

the scheme was settled at the mercy-seat. The use of the Castle Park, with suitable aid in other respects, was freely accorded by the Duchess of Gordon, and preparations were made, the burden of which mainly rested on Mr. Matheson and his pastor. The labour thus entailed was extremely

great, and our evangelist was well-nigh crushed beneath the load of responsibility and care. After a sleepless and prayerful night on the eve of the Huntly meetings, he said to me, “I feel as if I were breaking down. I have been putting up blood, and feel very ill. Sometimes Satan tempts me to take it easier, and do less for souls: he whispers when I am speaking in the open air, ‘You had better take it easier, or you’ll burst a blood-vessel.’ But I just reply, ‘Never mind if I do; I could not die in a better cause.”

The object of these meetings was stated in a printed request for special prayer.  “We do not believe,” said the pastor and the evangelist, “in any special virtue in meetings in the open air. We put no confidence in any peculiar form of address, neither in any instrument. But we do believe in the power of prayer: we believe ‘the hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.’ We believe it a good thing and ground of hope to see a number of the Lord’s people met together ‘with one accord in one place.’ And we most firmly believe that the God of all grace may be expected to honour such meetings and efforts, when preceded and accompanied by earnest and united prayer for the outpouring of his Spirit.

“We, therefore, most earnestly ask secret, social, and united prayer, that the arm of the Lord may be revealed; that Jesus may be lifted up, and draw all men unto Him; and that throughout eternity many may have cause to bless God that they were present at these meetings and found salvation.”

The first meetings were held on the 25th and 26th July, 1860, and were renewed for three successive summers. Many thousands assembled year by year in the Castle Park, with its hoary ruins towering amid the softest scenes of sylvan beauty. Here of old the Gordon clan were wont to gather in preparation for some distant and bloody raid. Now another clan assembles for very different ends. The children of Zion gather themselves together to meet their King; the soldiers of the cross rally around the standard of Christ. The coming and going of the people to serve God amidst the loveliest retreats of nature reminded one of the conventicles of the Covenanters in some remote glen or dewy hollow, and of the still more memorable scenes when multitudes gathered round the Prince of open-air preachers by the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Here nature and grace embrace each other in true fellowship, and the works of God throw a peculiar charm around his word and worship. The lofty canopy of heaven reminds you of the true tabernacle which God hath pitched, and not man. The fair landscapes on every side picture heavenly things to the sense, and shadow forth in natural form and hue, the invisible glories of the spirit-world. The grassy plains suggest the green pastures where the Good Shepherd feeds his flock, and makes them rest at noon. The sighing of the wind among the trees, and the warbling of the birds, seem like the rusting of angels’ wings, and the stir of ministering spirits sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation. The pure air, comes to wearied pilgrims like deep, refreshing draughts from the Creator’s wine-cup. The sweet sunshine is to faith but the visible radiance of the Redeemer’s face; and the alternations of light and shade are like the mysterious comings and goings of our God in his sanctuary. The very sound and shock of the falling rain carry into the believer’s heart symbolled thoughts of grace far more true to nature than the peal of organs or the swell of pompous choirs. Altogether there is a naturalness, a simplicity, and a freedom more akin to the spirit and privilege of new-covenant service than is often realized in those dull, artificial caverns in which custom and the rigours of climate compel us to worship. Sitting under the shadow of cumbrous roofs and dingy walls, and too oft fettered by form, there truth, love, joy, and praise, pine away like caged birds; but out in the open, unbounded expanse, where form is simplest and sense is purest, worship is the more free and unrestrained.

It was pleasing to witness the assembling of the people in the Castle Park; old and young, rich and poor, master and man are there. Yonder the honest cotter, with his wife and bairns in the rude cart consecrated to the service of God, it may be for the first time, jogs cheerfully along not far behind the gig of the well-to-do farmer, whose wife and daughters are looking forward to the ongoings of the day with deeper and stronger feelings than any they ever felt on their way to kirk or market. Some are trudging on foot, and all are talking with more or less personal interest in the great event of the time—the Revival. Listen to yon knot of ploughmen and farm-lads. One wonders “what it’s gaun to come tae.” Another “kens weel aneuch what it’s a gaun to come tae, for ‘he has fan’t in his ain hert; it has brocht him to Christ, an’ it’ll bring him to heaven.” A third admits that “a wonderfu’ change has come o’er Jake Tamson; for there was na a rocher chiel in a’ the country side, an’ noo he’s as hairmless as a stirk, an’ sings an’ prays instead o’ swearin’ an’ fechtin’ as he used’ to do.” “Eh, mon,” says a half-grown lad, “gin ye only heard my brither Jock! he prays like a minister; in fack, his prayer is ilka bit as gude as the pairish minister’s prayer on the Sacrament Sunday.”        

“Do you ever take God’s name in vain?” asks a minister of the gospel of one of these herd laddies.

“Na, na, sir; God’s children -never sweer.”

“You are one of his children, then? When did that come about?”

“Weel, sir,” says the lad, “it was at the Mertimiss term last year, when I gaed hame to see my father’s fouk. I wonnert when I saw a’ things sae sair changed. My father was changed, an’ the hoose was changed-like. An’ my father, he prayed afore the supper an’ after the supper, an’ he never used to say a grace at a’. An’ syne he said, ‘Fesh ben the buik;’ an’ he read, an’ he sang, an’ syne they a’ ‘gaed doon upon their knees, an’ I never saw that afore. An’ my father he prayed, an I grat, an’ we a’ grat, an’ I was convertit that nicht. That was Mertirniss last year, ye ken, an’ I never could sweer sin’ syne.”

The full meaning of all this can be comprehended only by those who know what a northern bothy used to be.  There, if anywhere on earth, Satan was wont to have his seat; now, however, to some extent the “strong man’ has been displaced by a stronger than he.

The greater number carne by rail, which, in this way serving God as well as man, seemed to anticipate the day when “holiness to the Lord’ shall be upon the bells of the horses, and doubtless also on the whistles of the engines. In one carriage prayer is being offered for a special blessing on the meetings. In another the Word is read with comments, homely enough, but well-seasoned with a devout spirit and a gracious experience. In a third a distressed soul is being lovingly dealt with; difficulties are cleared away, and the cross lifted up before the eye of the afflicted sinner. High over all, and above even the din of the train, is heard the voice of holy song. One group is singing “Rock of Ages, cleft for me;” in another part of the train you can hear the splendid burst of the ancient church,

“All people that on earth do dwell, sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.”

A traveller who has left his religion at home—perhaps because it was scarcely worth the carriage—is to be pitied, for in escaping from one compartment to another he finds that he is only out of the pan and into the fire. It would be a curious turning of the tables if some day this poor foolish world should be so filled with purity, goodness, and the love of God, that the few remaining sinners, to escape the gentle persecution of light and grace, should flee for refuge to dens and caves of the earth. Then, indeed, the        church would be “fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and — – terrible as an army with banners.”

The services were characterised by the fervour and simplicity of the prayers, the heartiness and jubilance of the praises, and the variety, directness, and power of the addresses, full as these were of the richest truths of the gospel, and fragrant with the perfumes of the one great Name. In love, joy, and unanimity, the believers seemed to anticipate the general assembly of the Church of the

first-born in heaven, and the triumphant services before the throne. On the other hand, the deep shadows of eternal verities seemed to rest on the minds of the unconverted, not a few of whom found Him whom they sought after, and sometimes, ere the tears were dry on their cheeks, were beginning to “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

The testimony of an eye-witness, a venerable minister of Christ, may be here given. “During each day,” he writes, “numbers were personally spoken with and specially prayed for, in every stage of religious concern. Not a few were awakened for the first time during the time of the meetings, principally by witnessing the great earnestness manifested in prayer in behalf of the unconverted, as well as by listening to the pointed and soul-searching appeals addressed to the various classes. Others, who had previously been under great spiritual distress, had come some of them twenty and even thirty miles, as well as lesser distances, seeking relief to a conscience ill at ease. In the case of others who came under our notice, former convictions that had well-nigh died out were revived with double power. The superficial observer could form no correct estimate of the amount of impression by merely looking at the appearance of the assembly; for there was comparatively little manifestation of emotional excitement; nor by simply looking at those in the tent and marquee, who professedly took their place among other enquirers. We found numbers of the most interesting cases of this class at a distance from the crowd, either holding intercourse with God alone, and breathing into his ear their noiseless grief; or in some by-corner holding close conversation with some godly friend who sympathized with them; or in the midst of little groups among the trees, where spiritual things were freely talked over by those with open Bibles in their hands, following up conversation with prayer. We conversed with several persons, some of them considerably advanced in years, upon whose minds something like the dark shadow of despair had been brooding for months. They could distinctly tell what was the matter with them, and what they needed; but somehow they stumbled at the simplicity of entering upon the way of life as sketched in the charter of human salvation. Of the above-mentioned cases a considerable number, before they left the meetings, were enabled to leave their sins and their sorrows within the shadow of the mercy-seat at the foot of the cross, and went home in possession of a good hope through grace. All who took pains to make themselves acquainted with what we have stated are firmly persuaded, and on good grounds, that in connexion with these meetings, ‘to Satan many captives were lost, and to Christ many subjects were born. ‘”

The meetings were held for two successive days every summer, from 1860 to 1863 inclusive. Duncan Matheson was the presiding genius of the arrangements: he was everywhere and in everything. Here speaking to an afflicted soul, there encouraging a young Christian; now pouring out his quaint, spirit-stirring speech amidst a group of youths, and a moment after gravely settling some deep experimental question with an aged pilgrim. Almost at the same point of time he is providing lodgings for his friends, and making suggestions of the most sagacious character as to the programme of religious services. Now he is leading the devotions of the great assembly in his own impressive and Elijah-like manner, and in less than five minutes he is in the outskirts of the crowd, endeavouring by wise, kind words to hush some rising controversy. At every juncture, he knows what to do. When the people were hurrying away on account of a thunder-storm, he stopped them by reminding them that the Covenanters could stand a shower of bullets, and that God can stay the rain in answer to prayer. Prayer was offered, and the rain ceased. “Look!” exclaimed, the evangelist. “Behold the bow of promise spanning the heavens! emblem of God’s good-will to earth.”

All eyes were turned to look on the rainbow, “like unto an emerald around the throne of God.” Revealing itself just as the thunder-torrent swept over the horizon of the distant hill, as if chased away by the sudden outburst of sunshine, it symbolized to many the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, in whose cross mercy and truth are met together, righteous ness and peace have kissed each other. Many who have forgotten the preaching, remember the lesson of the evangelist, who, with hand uplifted to heaven, bade the vast multitude read the gospel in the sky, and see the beauty of Jesus in the bow with its matchless hues.

It was a good work to bring together so many thousands of Christians to sing the same song, to mingle faith, hope, and charity in the same prayer, and to encourage one another in the common Lord. It was the gathering of all the live coals into one great fire, whose flames were bright enough to illuminate no small part of Scotland. In this way, the evils of sectarianism were mitigated, and the bonds of Christian brotherhood strengthened. Young converts, suffering from isolation and the lack of fellowship, were refreshed and sent on their way rejoicing. The poor starved sheep of Christ’s flock were fed on green pastures and strengthened to endure. Persecuted believers, reproached by friends, scorned by neighbours, cast off by companions, and frowned upon by carnal pastors, were emboldened to fight the good fight of faith. Many who were halting between two opinions, being uncertain as to the nature and tendencies of the great movement of the time, had their doubts and fears cleared away. Many earnest and faithful ministers of the gospel went home from those happy scenes to labour in their own quiet vineyards with a still holier zeal, livelier hope, and deeper joy. Many saints returned to walk more closely with their God; and some whom we knew received at the Huntly meetings a double meal, like Elijah in the wilderness, in the strength of which they went, and came even to the mount of God. To many it was the starting point of their pilgrimage to Zion, and the sweet memories of those gracious espousals and first loves will merit and inspire “nobler songs above.” In short, thousands live to praise God for the open-air meetings in the Castle Park, and similar meetings elsewhere, of which the gathering at Huntly was at once the parent and the broad distinct pattern. (page 69-177)

James Turner

(At a “conference on the subject of the present religious awakening” held in the Free South Church, Aberdeen Aug 15th 1861)

Duncan Matheson says:

Mr. Ross has spoken about the coat I know a great deal about the coast, and upon this coast no one has been more honoured than Mr. Turner of Peterhead. That man’s footsteps, speaking after the manner of men, I have been able to trace all round the coast. Look at Banff—what a work he has done there; and at Portknockie, Buckie, Portgordon. (At the same time that James Turner was in Banff, Duncan Matheson was in the next town, Macduff!) You see the Lord taking that instrument and using him; he was used for a time, and then put aside. It is a solemn thing when God uses a man for a time, and then puts him aside. (page 181) (James Turner was seriously ill at that time, but recovered enough to continue “for a brief season”) 

The Rev. H. M. Williamson, Belfast, who was at once the pastor and fellow-evangelist of Mr. Matheson, writes:

“Confining myself to what I have witnessed, I would like to give you a brief sketch of his labours in the north of Scotland. He used to map out a district, and arrange for an evangelistic tour, extending over six or eight days. I frequently accompanied him on such expeditions. Starting perhaps on a Monday, we were accustomed to preach generally twice each day, holding meetings in all conceivable places, —in barns, on the squares and streets of villages, under the trees of the woods, sometimes in various churches     placed at our disposal. He thoroughly knew the feelings, habits, and prejudices of his countrymen, and with singular sagacity he employed that knowledge to gain the attention of his hearers and a favourable hearing for the gospel. He was never at a loss, and full of hope; he had a remedy for every difficulty, and was ready for every emergency.

 Let me give you as an illustration a scene which occurred on one of our preaching expeditions. We had arranged to hold a meeting in the- streets of a certain village. The place was drowned in drink, and consequently spiritually dead above most places. At the appointed hour, we made  our appearance, and having made our way to the square of the village, and having borrowed a chair for a pulpit, we were prepared to proceed; but audience there was none, save two or three ragged children, who gathered round and stared at us as a curiosity. It was certainly a situation exceedingly trying to flesh and blood, and one that gave ample room for the exercise of faith. Matheson, by the grace of God, was equal to the occasion. I think I hear his cheery words, as he said to me, speaking in his broadest Doric, ‘Haud on, haud on, Mr.  Williamson, for a wee bit as weel as ye can, an’ I’ll fetch out the folk wi’ the help o’ God.’ He started off, leaving me on the chair — no-envied position, I assure you—with the children for my audience. He started off, and beginning at the extreme end of the village, he knocked at every door, and cried aloud as he could cry, ‘Come awa’ out, come awa’ out; the gospel is come to the town;’ and using at the same time, with his usual sagacity, the children he met as his agents, he said, ‘Rin, laddie, rin; and tell yer mither to come awa’ to the square, and hear the preaching.’ We had a meeting—a successful meeting—we adjourned in the evening to a church in the village; and I have good reason to believe that redeemed souls in eternity will bless God for that meeting.

“There are few parishes in Aberdeenshire and Banffshire in which the name of Duncan Matheson is not known and loved, and very few in which he has not preached the gospel. The extent of the blessing which rested upon his labours shall only be known on that day when the secrets of all hearts are made manifest. I regret exceedingly that the account of all these labours is now lost for ever. Had he been spared to give it, it would have been a record of the Lord’s doings of thrilling interest, and well fitted to strengthen every labourer in the Lord’s vineyard. Many incidents attending his work were of a very remarkable nature, and if they had been recorded would have been pregnant with instruction and encouragement. I remember while holding a meeting one night in a certain place, an occurrence, which made a deep impression upon me at the time, and which I had occasion to mark afterwards. The meeting was crowded, and better still, it was full of spiritual power. Many souls were deeply wounded under the sharp strokes of the Holy Ghost. Some smitten ones were crying out, ‘What must we do to be saved?’

“While we were going about among the anxious, seeking as we were enabled to point them to the Lamb of God, the individual who had control over the place of meeting began to urge the people to go home, and to crown his advice he proceeded to put out the lights. I think I hear Matheson as turning to me he said, ‘Mr. Williamson, mark my words, you will see something happen to that man —the Lord will put out his candle!’ Matheson, though pretending to no spirit of prophecy, knew how dangerous it is to meddle with the work of the Holy Spirit. And so it came to pass. Matheson lived to see that man disgraced – and dishonoured, and driven from his position.  But if I persevere in calling up the events of these years of blessing  my letter will swell into a volume.

“The great gatherings for Christian fellowship and for preaching the everlasting gospel with which Scotland, and especially in the northern parts, was favoured in past years are closely connected with Duncan Matheson.

“Shortly after the work of the Spirit began to be manifest in the awakening and conversion of sinners in Aberdeenshire in the years 1858-9, a conference of ministers was held at Huntly Lodge, under the auspices of the late Duchess of Gordon. That conference brought out the fact, that the

work of God was much more extensive and thorough than anyone had supposed. The work still made progress under opposition of various kinds and from all sources. Matheson traversed almost every parish of Aberdeenshire and the district around, everywhere preaching the gospel, and much blessing was added.

“Returning from one of these preaching expeditions, he proposed to me the idea of a grand gathering at Huntly, seeking the aid of men of all churches, both lay and clerical, whom God had honoured in the work of revival. The proposal took shape. It was approved of by the Duchess of Gordon, and by others whose good judgment, spirituality of mind, and zeal for the cause of God we could trust. The whole arrangements of the meetings were put into Matheson’s hands, and the results were great and blessed. Multitudes of believers from every corner of the land were refreshed and strengthened, and multitudes of the unsaved brought to Jesus. He had a singular gift for organizing such meetings. He thoroughly knew the people, as I have stated, —their mode of life, their habits, their prejudices on religious subjects, their wants, and their religious position. And with all this knowledge, when the meetings were assembled, he arranged accordingly with wonderful tact — he put the right man in the right place. He aimed at the conversion of sinners as the great end of the meetings, and in carrying out this end he exhibited marvellous spiritual instinct in selecting the right speaker at the right time to give, under the Holy Spirit, the message which would bring about the blessed end. He knew too the men that were mighty in prayer, and endeavoured to keep them, with praying companions, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting.

And in this matter, he suffered no respect for persons to interfere. The men he believed were likely to be the instruments in the hands of the Spirit to do the work needed at any particular time in the services, these he brought forward.   

“You and I have seen, in other cases and at similar gatherings, the whole work marred, and the fruit almost completely lost, because those who conducted such meetings deemed themselves bound to put forward speakers in a prescribed order, because of their social position or ministerial standing in church connexion.

” Matheson never for a moment allowed such considerations to influence him. The result corresponded. As he sought to honour the Holy Spirit, and kept a single eye on the great end, the salvation of souls, much fruit appeared.

“His efforts in preaching the gospel in the feeing-markets of Aberdeenshire were also attended with a very abundant blessing. It is a question upon which, perhaps, Christian men form different opinions. I think it admits of no controversy with all who are taught of God, that whenever men are willing to hear the gospel, then the gospel should be preached to them. Now, it is also a fact beyond dispute, that for some years the Lord poured such a spirit of hearing upon the people that they were willing to hear; and this also I may add, I have seen as marked and manifest fruits of the Spirit’s presence and power attending these market-preachings as I have ever witnessed on the Sabbath and in the most solemn assembly. This market-preaching was a department of labour for which Matheson was in many ways singularly fitted. Ready for every emergency, and with a tact which usually disarmed opposition, with a courage that never faltered, and with a voice like the tongue of a trumpet, he laboured in this field most laboriously, and in it I feel persuaded reaped many sheaves of the harvest of the Lord.  I have met many in later years who have testified that they would have cause to bless God for ever for these market-preachings.

“Alas, the band of labourers in that field are now widely scattered! What sweet and solemn memories of these days and of the beloved fellow-labourers who wrought in this work with us! The saintly Macgregor and the good soldiers of Jesus Christ, Colonel Ramsey and Major Gibson, and the fearless Matheson—a prince of evangelists—all gone to their test and their reward.” The devoted pastors, Bain and Forbes, and Fullarton and Campbell (tried and true helpers), Tytler, and Macpherson, and Anderson still ‘with us, and many other beloved brethren who have never been ashamed of the gospel of Christ.

But this letter is drawn out far beyond what I intended, and yet I feel as if I had said almost nothing concerning the labours of our departed friend. Let me add, he was one of the. most unselfish of men; he would and often did share his last shilling with a poor saint. He was ever ready to commend the gospel to the careless and the scoffer by deeds of generosity and liberality. What the church owes to Matheson has never been acknowledged. His share in elevating the standard of religious profession in the land, and especially in the northern part, has never been justly estimated. But his reward is on high. ‘They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. ‘” (page 185-190)

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