Revival Reminiscences by James Slater


Some notes of a Spiritual Awakening, 1921 – 1923 with particular reference to Portsoy, Banffshire.

“There shall be showers of blessing;”

This is the promise of love;

There shall be seasons refreshing,

Sent from the Father above.

Showers of blessing.

Showers of blessing we need;

Mercy drops round us are falling,

But for the SHOWERS we plead.

“There shall be showers of blessing:”

Send them upon us, O Lord;

Grant to us now a refreshing,

Come, and now honour Thy word.

How often have these words, with the combination of the lively tune been sung with fervour in gospel meetings and services?

These words form a prayer that God may pour out His blessing in the salvation of men and women.

To experience the thrill of the fulfilment of the promise that “There shall be showers of blessing;” is indeed an occasion never to be forgotten.

The writer was ‘saved by grace’ over 60 years ago, during a period when this blessing was poured out upon Portsoy, and the memory of it stirs my soul to this day. Indeed, I would say in common with the apostle Paul, the remembrance of that event is brighter with the passing years.

In Acts chapter 9:3, he describes what he saw as a ‘light from heaven’, in Acts 22:6 it is a ‘great light’, while in chapter 26:13, it is a ‘light above the brightness of the sun.’

It was suggested to me that I should place on record some of the events that led up to that revival in Portsoy, and to tell of my own experience at that time.

To endeavour to do this is the purpose of the following notes, giving some fragments of what I can remember, and what I have gleaned from those whom God used on that occasion. We must make mention of those worthy servants of the Lord; but all glory is ascribed to God alone.

One of these servants, William Leed, was ‘Called Home’ on 11th June, 1967, and so too have a number who were converts of the revival.

In the autumn of 1921 the annual exodus of fisher-folk was made from ports all over Scotland, for the herring fishing season at Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.

Hundreds of men and women, yea the numbers could be counted in thousands who flocked there to work in all the varied occupations that were connected with the fishing industry.

During that season a work of grace was commenced under the preaching of a minister, Mr. Douglas Brown at Lowestoft, while at Great Yarmouth Jock Troup, a cooper employed in the herring curing, was used of God in the conversion of hundreds of fisher-folk. He was at that time a member of the Salvation Army.

It is worthy of note that around that time, two Salvation Army officers, Staff-Captain Albert Orsborn and Staff-Captain Gordon Simpson, came to Norwich in charge of a Charabanc Crusade of Salvationists, and as a result of their efforts over a hundred were converted in Norwich alone; and a great work was done by the Crusaders in the scattered villages of East Anglia.

Thus there were three evangelistic operations in progress in that part of the country: movements which the Salvationist, William Leed, who was one of the Crusaders, has termed ‘Divine Strategy’.

The flame kindled there had far-reaching results as the multitude of fisher-folk returned, at the end of the season, to their various homes in the towns and villages of Scotland.

This fire of revival was particularly felt in the north and north-eastern parts of Scotland, as the converts, in their new-found joy, went everywhere preaching the word.

Among the many converts from the East Anglian ports were a number of outstanding ‘trophies of grace’, one of whom was my late father-in-law, Jock Pirie, (Tartan). To see these transformed from their former lives of drink and dissipation to singing in public the songs of Zion, is surely true evidence that the ‘gospel is the power of God unto salvation.’

The effect of this too was that the Christians already living in these places were revived, and while the Salvation Army was prominent in the movement, most denominations felt the vigour of this out-pouring of the Holy Spirit.

At Cullen, that small seaport on the Moray Firth coast, a Salvationist called Reg. Woods came from Findochty to conduct some meetings. Some young folks were converted as a result of those services and the officer told them to ask their mothers to pray for them. One golden-haired girl did just that. Her war-widowed mother touched by the request replied, “My quinie, I canna pray for masel’ yet!” her daughter gave the simple reply, “Mither, ye can be saved too”.

Was it coincidence that led Lieut. Woods and his company to hold an open- air meeting the next day almost at her door?

That night had been a troubled night for the lady, and when she heard the ‘Army’ outside she left her wash-tub, and into the ring with her arms uplifted, and dripping soap-suds, she cried out; “I want ye a’ tae ken that I accept the Lord Jesus as my Saviour.”

Thus was the spark from an already kindled flame brought to Cullen, and this was the commencement of a soul-saving work there that saw many brought into the kingdom of God.

Soon after this two young Salvation Army officers were appointed to take charge of a newly-formed Corps at Cullen. These were Capt. William Lead, a man well over six feet, whom the Methodist minister described as ‘the giant from the Burn Chapel’. His partner was Lieut. Albert Towns, and in later years both these men rose to high rank in the Salvation Army.

While the work of building up the Corps at Cullen kept them fully occupied, with meetings each night both indoors and in the open-air, Lieut. Towns had his heart set on visiting Portsoy.

Capt. Leed has told me of many occasions, in the night seasons, when the young Lieut. was on his knees before the Lord in prayer for Portsoy.

In the Spring of 1923, while collecting in Portsoy for ‘Army’ funds, they had several requests from townsfolk to come and preach the gospel there.

This caused quite some exercise in the heart of Capt. Leed as there was the responsibility of the work in Cullen, yet here in Portsoy was a pressing need.

Faced with this problem he brought the matter before God in prayer and asked of Him if it were His will for them to go to Portsoy the Lord would cause Lieut. Towns to offer to go there with some of the boys.

At the close of the service at Cullen on Sunday, and as they wended their way home, out came the divinely prompted question from Lieut. Towns; “What about letting me go to Portsoy next Sunday with some of the young folks?”

During the ensuing week arrangements were made for meetings to be held at Portsoy, an open-air service at the Shorehead, and a meeting indoors at the Christian Institute: the date March 25th 1923, I shall never forget.

As in the Acts of the Apostles, while the Lord was dealing with Peter in a vision on the housetop, so too was He preparing Cornelius at his home: and I am convinced that the Holy Spirit was working in Portsoy as in Cullen, in the momentous days of which I write. The word got around of the proposed meetings and a strange current of expectancy seemed to be in the air while many spoke of the coming visit of the ‘Army’.

As Sunday morning came I went as usual to the service in the ‘Auld Kirk’ but I must confess I always felt that something was lacking there; there was no power in the word.

In the evening I went, with some pals, walking on the high road, towards Cullen. This was a very usual route for this recreation; motor vehicles were rare at this time, so the road was a comparatively quiet high-way. Our walk at this time, however, was not in the nature of a pastime; we were out to meet the expected party from Cullen.

Soon we met them on their bicycles, (in those days a common mode of transport), and so we returned with them and were joined by others as we went, until at the Shorehead there was a multitude of men and women gathered to hear the gospel.

The open-air meeting commenced shortly after 6 p.m., and it followed the normal pattern of ‘Army’ services, lively singing, simple testimonies by the young converts from Cullen, a short message from Lieut. Towns, and an invitation to any who were listening to accept God’s offer of salvation.

I remember little of what was said on that occasion: it had dawned on me there that this was the ‘something’ for which I had been seeking.

Just then there was a movement in the crowd, a young man went forward and knelt in the ring, and a few minutes later he stood to publicly declare that he had accepted Christ as his Saviour. This man was lost at sea some years later while fishing on the Dagger Bank.

I could stand still no longer, I pushed my way into the ring, and as I knelt there I was told the way of salvation by Lieut. Towns, and I knew then ‘I was saved by grace’.

As I stood up I heard again the voice of the Lieut.: “Tell the folks you have accepted the Lord Jesus as your Saviour.” What a sea of faces confronted me as I gave my first few stammering words of testimony!

Another young man came forward after the same manner, and he too publicly confessed Christ as Lord. He too has since passed on, being accidentally drowned in the Firth of Clyde.

This open-air meeting was a tremendous experience for the young Lieut. as he saw what he had prayed and hoped for come to pass; especially so when we remember that those who were along with him were young converts.

How truly he there proved the truth of Holy Writ, ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness,’ ……………’Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts,’ I quote here from a letter I received from him recently in which he made reference to this occasion. He says, “Frankly I do not know how I coped with the situation, nor with the meeting later in the hall, but nothing is more certain than that there was another Presence guiding and directing”.

From that open-air the crowd flocked to the Christian Institute, to see again the power of the Holy Spirit as six young folk there professed Christ as Saviour, their names I cannot now definitely recall.

This was the commencement of a spiritual awakening in Portsoy that continued for many weeks, during which time many turned to the Lord.

Those who came from Cullen to conduct the meetings had to cycle daily, in all weathers.

As for myself, Monday morning came, and now a young convert of 20 years of age, it was away to the cod fishing in the Dornoch Firth in a 40 foot boat with three other crew members. That day brought my first testing, and how well I yet remember it. We hauled the nets and then proceeded to a small seaport at the head of the firth, Portmahomack. This was really our headquarters for the cod fishing season, and after the fish were sold and the days work done, we sat at tea in the cabin. During that meal one of the local ‘worthies’ came aboard on one of his frequent visits to see the skipper. His name was George Tough; he was steeped in tradition, and had a knowledge of the Bible, not as a life-giving word, but as a subject for debate and controversy.

As the conversation proceeded it came round to my conversion on Sunday night, and this is where Geordie came in; “Here noo laddie”, he said, “I’ll gie ye a half-croon if ye can tell me whaur God cam’ fee”. Needless to say I lost that half-crown, the answer he wanted, and which I could not give, is to be found in the prophecy of Habakkuk, 3:3.

During the cod fishing season we usually had one week-end at home and the next week-end at Portmahomack. This serves to recall an incident which shows the fervour that was associated with the revival at Portsoy.

We were out from Portmahomack one Monday morning and were hauling our nets when we saw the ‘Mary Ann’ from the home port coming towards us. Her crew composed four brothers named Smith: George Alex; Jacob; William James; and Tom.

On meeting fellow-fishermen at sea, as on this occasion, the usual salutation is an inquiry as to the progress of the fishing; but not this time.

Up alongside came the ‘Mary Ann’, and then came a shout from William James giving us the names of those who were converted at the week-end meetings: fish and fishing were of secondary importance.

There are memories of outstanding personalities of these eventful days.

The stentorian voice of Jimmy Hay, (Sallow), so nicknamed because of his dark complexion, as he told how he used to sing in praise of Scotland’s bard; ‘The Star o’ Robbie Burns’, and that now he sang the praise of his Saviour, the Lord Jesus.

He came from Sandend and was one of a family of seven sons and four daughters; I quote from his youngest brother, Willie Hay, who was then twelve years of age, as he tells of the night of Jimmy’s conversion.

He says; “I was sitting by the fireside at our home in Sandend, when a neighbour came hurriedly in with news for my mother. “Tibby”, (a tee-name for Isabella), she cried, “your Jimmy was saved in Portsoy tonight.” “I cannot remember my mother’s reply, but I could sense her silent hope that her prayers had been answered as she waited for confirmation of the neighbour’s message. I had decided to stay out of bed to see the result of this turn of events.

In due course brother Jimmy arrived, and coming into to the house in his own boisterous way he cried,

“Mither, here’s a new man’ tae ye the nicht.”

Mother looked for a moment in silence, and then in the sweetest voice I have ever heard, she sang:—

Ring the bells of heaven; there is joy today.

For a soul returning from the wild;

See; the Father meets him out upon the way,

Welcoming His weary, wandering child.

“These happenings,” continues Willie Hay, “made a lasting impression on me as a young lad.”

Among the many that came from Cullen I recall two in particular: outstanding in the fact that they sang duets in lovely harmony. One of their ‘special’ items I remember well: it was ‘When peace like a river attendeth my way’, and this with testimonies like that of Jimmy Hay before an audience that literally packed the Shorehead at Portsoy.

A feature of these meetings was the simplicity of the Gospel message. There was no intellectual nor eloquent oratory, but the word was in the main the preaching of fishermen of whom others could say, as was done of Peter and John in Acts 4:13, “they were unlearned and ignorant men.” But! I would hasten to add, ‘unlearned’ perhaps as to educational ability, but as men that ‘go down to the sea in ships’, knowing much of ‘the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep,’ Psalm 107:24.

The preaching of one worthy would serve to show simplicity carried to an extreme. He was a fisherman from Buckie, his name was George Wilson (Doddie Bainie), and he was a member of the Salvation Army. His preaching was most unconventional, and always interspersed with much peculiar witticism. On one occasion I heard him, in his quaint Buckie dialect, make this statement to his audience: “There are nae lobsters in the sleuchs (clefts) o’ the Rock o’ Ages.”

The Christian Institute proved too small for the indoor meetings, and what was then the Town Hall was hired, later to be purchased by the ‘Army’.

The Salvationists cycled to and from Cullen every night to conduct the services, and one incident is worthy of note in this connection. They were cycling home one stormy night, and soon after leaving Portsoy the lamp on Capt. Leed’s bicycle went out. It was then decided to place him between two of the others and continue the journey. Just as they reached ‘Boggierow’ the long arm of the law was laid on them, and despite all pleas and apologies the Captain was ‘booked’. Soon he had to appear in court at Banff, and was fined 10/-, and when this became known, so many friends sent him money to pay the fine that there was sufficient to buy new hymn books for the services.

A Corps was formed at Portsoy and the first two officers appointed to this post were, Capt. Frank Stark (a former Merchant Navy officer), and Lieut. Sidney Lee. The latter was a talented musician and under his leadership a local band was formed. Our earliest training sessions were held in a small upstairs room in the Institute, and I can yet remember the first tune we were taught. It was called ‘Prepare to meet thy God’, and was set to a hymn containing those words.

All twelve of that enthusiastic band, including myself, knew nothing of music, and I can realise now how exasperating it must have been for Lieut. Lee to listen to the discord produced by us as we endeavoured to put what was on the tune sheet into the required harmony. We did however, emerge as a worthwhile band and we provided the music for the local services as required and we were in demand for meetings in the neighbouring towns and villages along the coast. Our means of transport was Willie Macdonald’s lorry. This man owned the local Lemonade factory, and he was associated with the Brethren assembly at Sandend. The lorry, one of the first motor vehicles in Portsoy, had a portable canopy fitted with seats, and this transport was always provided free to the ‘Army’ band.

Two occasions come to mind as I recall my period of service with the Salvation Army band.

We went one night to the railway station to meet a high-ranking officer of the ‘Army’ who was on a visit to Portsoy.

It was a wild winter night, with a howling blizzard of wind and snow, but we were not easily daunted. While we waited, the valves of some of our instruments had frozen so that when our eminent visitor arrived we were unable to provide the music, so we had to escort him to the arranged meeting in the Hall, singing as we marched.

Hogmanay – that pre-eminent day in Scotland, brings a memory. We turned out in strength with the band, and with a goodly number of supporters we marched round the town just about the time the public houses would be closing for the night. Our numbers increased as we went, as the revellers from the various hotels joined the throng.

The destination was the ‘Army’ Hall, and there those that had been celebrating Hogmanay were treated to a good strong cup of tea, and then when in more sober mood, they heard the gospel in word and in song.

The events I have sought to place on record occurred over 60 years ago, but what of today? The ‘Army’ is still here, but with a mere handful of adherents. As already stated, many of the converts have since passed away, a number still continue in testimony in other-denominations, some have gone to live in various parts, at home and abroad.

What of the promise of God with which our notes commenced? This stands unchanged in Ezekiel 34:26.

Some reader may seek the reason for the lack of this spiritual power today: my own conviction is that the present-day conditions of affluence and luxury, that generally obtain in our land, are not conducive to spiritual prosperity, in fact it is not difficult to prove that these conditions breed unrest and discontent.

There may be readers who think that the events that form the subject of these notes are the result of sentiment and emotion. From my own personal experience I can assure them that this is not so.

In every religious revival there has always been an element of emotion, but true Christianity such as I have proved, is a life to be lived, and enjoyed, even now and eternally hereafter.

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