Rich Harvest Banff


– first-hand descriptions


 Revival in Banff – March 1860

compiled by Graeme Young from the books:

“James Turner – or How to reach the Masses” by E McHardie (published in Aberdeen in 1875)


“The Life and Labours of the late James Turner of Peterhead” by William Robbie (Aberdeen 1863)


North East Revival

In 1875, someone wrote:

The visit of Mr Turner to Banff about 15 years ago is fresh in the minds of many. Not a few still living in the community, as well as many who have gone abroad, will never forget it. After the spiritual awakening in America and Ireland, as well as in several parts in the south of Scotland, many a dweller in the north country was led to cry that the wave of spiritual blessing then passing over the land might be given to them. And God heard and answered their cry, and gave such a blessing as the part of the country visited has not since experienced the like awakening.

What had happened?

The year was 1859 and in the following years, there was throughout the north-east of Scotland, as in other places,

– a widespread awakening of people to their need to get right with God,

– a fresh realisation of the wonderful person that Jesus is,

– and powerful extraordinary experiences of the power of the Holy Spirit by which people were challenged, changed and amazingly blessed.

Among those involved was James Turner,  a 41 year old cooper from Peterhead, who decided to go preaching along the towns of the north-east. Here is what said about how it had come about:

James Turner – Revivalist

For the past four years my brother has been in company with me in the herring-curing line of business, and, by the blessing of God, we made a little money. And being both on the Lord’s side, we could spend a good part of our time in God’s work.

The fishing in 1859 being low, we kept all our stock and lost about £300. This laid us idle for about three months, so I thought it would be well for one of us to go along the east and west coasts, and hold meetings in all the fishing towns. My brother not being well, I left him at home and took the first turn myself.

For several weeks before I left home, the Spirit of God had been pressing me hard to get my business in such a way as I could leave it for a while. So I told my wife and brother about this, but I did not think that the Spirit was preparing me to gather in so great a harvest of souls. And not only was He preparing me but also the people all along the coast.

News of Awakening

His first meetings in December 1859 took him to St Combs, Charleston, Inverallochy, Cairnbulg, Braodsea, Fraserburgh, Pittullie and Rosehearty. After a month’s break he set out for Cullen, Portknockie, Findochty, Portessie, Buckie, Portgordon and Deskford.

Here is how that time is described:

In the fishing villages to the west of Banff the fallow ground first begins to be broken up. Intensely strange and interesting tidings, not unmixed with something or the ludicrous, reach us of their proceedings – men and women going almost frantic, and yet professedly the one desire of their hearts is to know God as a sin-pardoning God and as their Saviour. Strong men, we hear, are being prostrated before God, crying for mercy; women mourning, weeping because the soul is bowed down with a burden of sin it is unable to bear.

The tidings were received with almost universal incredulity, the few, who received and thanked God for them, being but solitary exceptions in the great mass of the people. Several parties, curious to know the real nature and workings of the revival going on in the west, paid a visit to the spot, not, indeed, for the purpose of receiving benefit to their souls, but for the purpose of criticising, and caricaturing the work, while all the while there is a deep-rooted consciousness that there is a reality in it after all. They found religion as the had never seen it before, and their almost universal verdict was that it was excitement, fanaticism, and enthusiasm, and that a very short time would suffice to stamp it out.

But the wave continues to swell in the west, and its influence to extend from village to village, many professing to be converted to God. By-and-bye it nears our environs – comes to the town. Curious to see him who had rendered himself thus conspicuous and notorious, and, according to some – useful in his day and generation, people flock to the meetings.

Invitation to Banff

From Deskford, James Turner writes:

We have had a good time here. Many have been brought to feel their lost state by nature, and I hope some have been saved. I addressed the scholars of the Free church School, and I think our meeting was attended with good results. O for the Spirit of god to rest on the people both old and young!

The United Presbyterian minister of Banff came to see the work, and he has asked me to preach in his church on Monday. O cry to God for that place! I must say that I feel unwilling to go to large towns, but this feeling must be from the devil, and if so I must try to conquer it. If the Lord had not saved souls in every place where I have been, I do not think I could now go to Banff. There is not a day but I get a call to go some place to labour. I will have to go home by and bye to attend to my business, and yet I do now know how I can give up the Master’s work for any secular calling. My soul is well – just a little child at the Master’s feet. I need great wisdom and the Lord is giving me just as I need. Help me to give him all the glory!

A Memorable Week Begins

The cause of God was rather at a low ebb in Banff when Mr Turner went there.  A few of the people of God had been stirred by hearing what the Lord had been doing in other places in the neighbourhood, but the great mass, even of the church-going population, were in a very cold and lifeless state.

The services began on Monday, 5th March, 1860, in the U .P .Church, of which the Rev. Mr. Baxter is the minister. The first meeting was held at 2p.m. when about sixty persons assembled to hear him. He began as was his custom, by singing the hymn, “What’s the News ?”, but as neither the words nor the tune were at that time familiar to the people, he had to sing it almost alone.


Whene’er we meet you always say,

What’s the news ? What’s the news ?

Pray what’s the tidings of the day,

What’s the news? What’s the news?

Oh, I have got good news to tell!

My Saviour hath done all things well,

And trampled over death and hell,

That’s the news! That’s the news!

The Lamb was slain on Calvary;

To set a world of sinners free.

’Twas there His precious blood was shed:

’Twas there He bowed His sacred head,

But now He’s risen from the dead,

That’s the news! That’s the news !

To heaven above the Conqueror’s gone:

He’s passed triumphant to His throne.

And on that throne He will remain,

Until as Judge He comes again,

Attended by a dazzling train :

That’s the news! That’s the news!

His work’s reviving all around:

And many have redemption found,

And since their souls have caught the flame,

They shout Hosannah to His name,

And all around they spread the flame,

That’s the news! That’s the news!

The Lord has pardoned all my sins:

I feel the witness now within.

And since he took my sins away,

And taught me how to watch and pray,

I’m happy now from day to day,

That’s the news! That’s the news!

And Christ the Lord can save you now,

Your sinful heart He can renew..

This moment; if for sins you grieve,

This moment, if you do believe,

A full acquittal you’ll receive,

That’s the news! That’s the news!

And then if anyone should say,

What’s the news? What’s the news?

Oh! tell them you’ve begun to pray;

That’s the news! That’s the news!

That you have joined the conquering band

And now with joy at God’s command,

You’re marching to the better land;

That’s the news! That’s the news!

This meeting was conducted in the usual way, and another was held at eight o’clock the same evening, at which the attendance was about double that of the former part of the day, although as yet it did not appear to be generally known that he had come to Banff. There was nothing very observable at this meeting; only that many appeared to be wondering what all this could mean, and when it was intimated that it was intended to hold a succession of such meetings throughout the week, they seemed to think it rather a bold attempt.


By the next day, Tuesday, his presence and the proposed  meetings became widely known, and as his proceedings in the villages along the coast had been reported in the local newspapers and were matter of much speculation, great numbers  now flocked to the church – many truly seeking a blessing, but the majority, perhaps from curiosity to see and hear one whom they regarded as a fanatic and whose services they believed would afford more mirth than profit. It soon became evident, however, from the numbers that were brought to see their lost condition in the sight of God and to seek an interest in Christ, that the instrument he employed was the truth of God, and that the power by which it was applied was that of the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven.

That day he wrote a hurried letter to his wife and brother in Peterhead, it which he says – “It is clear we are to have the blessing in Banff too. To-day the U .P .Church was filled. Some ministers were present, but above an the Lord of Hosts was there. A good many were convinced of sin. I am going back to the church in half-an-hour, to meet with the broken in heart.”


On Wednesday he continued his letter:- “I did not get my letter finished yesterday, so I can tell you a little more. Last night we met again when the house was filled with rich and poor. Many were broken down, and a few found peace. I had another meeting today I in a loft, and nearly all present were brought to feel their state. We meet in the church to night again. O for power with God ! Do pray on! Tell Mr Peet (Wesleyan Minister in Peterhead) to pray, and the names I spoke of before: in short, all who have faith in God. My body is not strong, but the Lord is holding me up. O may God fill us all more and more with His Spirit for Jesus’ sake !”


The profound spiritual discernment of which Mr Turner was possessed, was now very apparent in the manner in which he directed anxious souls to God through the peace-speaking blood of Jesus. Enquirers became so numerous, that a meeting for prayer and conversation was opened during the day in addition to the evening meeting, which was nightly crowded to excess, and before the end of the week, the house, which is large, was literally filled with souls agonizing under a sense of unpardoned guilt. As there were only one or two believers, at first, who could or would assist Mr. Turner in guiding the anxious to the Saviour, the meetings were necessarily protracted to a very late hour , and, notwithstanding every effort to meet the most pressing cases, many had nightly to leave the place to pass sleepless  nights and sorrowing days, till they either found rest in Christ, or quenched the Spirit and rushed back to the pleasures of the world.

One great hindrance to anxious  souls resting on Jesus seemed to be that they did not think their convictions of sin sufficiently deep; but it was a remarkable feature of the movement that, some nights, when a blessed power was resting on the meeting, numbers were enabled simultaneously to lay hold on the Saviour, – and went through the meeting telling all that the struggle was now past, and how Jesus had set them free. Thus, although Mr. Turner had few to assist him in the work at the outset, the labourers soon became plentiful, for as soon as he knew of a soul finding peace, he sent that person through the meeting to search out and direct other seeking souls to the Saviour, and it was in this way that many were early led into the Lord’s work, in which not a few of them have ever since continued to labour.

Blessing for the Minister

One night after the meeting, the minister, Mr Baxter came home with him in a deeply depressed state of mind. As he afterwards stated publicly, he had been converted when he was eighteen, but had fallwen into spiritual indifference. He had asked Mr. Turner to come to his church in the hope that his people would get good through him, but as for personal blessing, that was out of the question. He thought that had James Turner been a learned, or great man, there would have been a chance, “but,” said he with streaming eyes, I did not expect to get it through a poor cooper. ” Such was the case, however, and this was the night.

After supper, he wished to go at once to bed, but James Turnerer said, “No, Mr. Baxter, Mrs –  will clear clear away the things, and we will go down to our knees and get a baptism of the Spirit.” The table was cleared. and Mr. Baxter asked to pray. He knelt down at an arm-chair, and the Spirit of God so fell, and on Mr. Baxter especially, that he never rose from that chair until four o’clock in the morning. At times he appeared to he quite in ecstacy. “What am I, a poor worm !”, he would cry, “Only to think of the Lord of Hosts doing the like of this to me, poor Tom Baxter!”

The Rich Harvest

The most memorable evening for the manifestation of the divine power was Saturday the 10th, when many a heart was opened to receive Christ, and many a mouth to show forth His praise, especially among the young men. The life-giving Spirit, like a cloud of glory, filled the Church, striking every one present with awe, and quickening dead souls to life in and by Jesus. It is believed that there were few anxious souls in the church who did not experience a gracious deliverance on that occasion.

The description of one who was there says:

After being held for several consecutive evenings the meetings began to manifest signs of God’s presence, souls were awakened and the interest deepened and extended each successive meeting until the 10th of March, when a climax was reached. Prayer has not only been heard but answered, and one after another is prostrated on the ground in agony of soul, and then, in a very short time, the cry for mercy is changed into exultant rejoicing in the Lord Jesus Christ – the countenances of the saved beaming with the light of heaven while telling of the happy change that has passed within.

None witnessing the scene presented to them on that famous 10th of March can ever forget the spectacle. Between eleven o’clock at night and five in the morning one individual after another gave vent to their pent-up feelings in cries, tears, and paroxysms of grief, while others lay utterly prostrate and helpless as little children, many speaking of the terrible struggle between the powers or darkness the messengers of peace that is being carried on within them. Hearts that had never known anything of God. but how to blaspheme His name, now began to see their real state and to cry for deliverance to that very God whom before they had despised, and whose salvation they had neglected. Sometimes the cry for mercy was uttered by more than one, and sometimes here and there might be seen little groups of persons deeply and audibly engaged with their God in matters of the most momentous importance. To a fastidious eye this might appear to be nothing but confusion and chaotic irregularity, but which in  reality is only the breaking up of the fallow ground prior to the gathering in of the rich harvest of golden grain. It is but scattering the fragments of the devil’s unholy and unlawful superstructure prior to the rearing of the temple of God with that very same stones, although now changed, with which the devil sought to construct his edifice. The scene is undoubtedly one of irregularity, but it is only the confusion created by a vanquished, fleeing foe, ere yet the triumphant Conqueror has had full time to

establish  Himself on the throne of the usurper, or the soul to examine the wondrous transformation that has taken place in its feelings and desires.

During this time, many of the most notorious sinners found repentance and life through Jesus, and were enabled to rejoice in the pardoning  grace of a crucified yet risen and exalted Redeemer..

A very strange circumstance, and one which, in personal conversation, I have heard corroborated by more than one party, is to be found in the fact , that, although the meetings had been attended by them during the whole week, very often far into morning, yet the body was not exhausted as at other times, neither was there a feeling of weariness.

It was also remarkable  to see the humble, child-like confidence with which the lowly instrument of this blessed work leaned upon God, and to observe the absence of everything like boasting or self-glorifying when the shower of the Holy Ghost was given.

A Young Man’s Story

I was a goodless, ill-less kind of boy, liked fun of all kinds, but nothing that was positively wicked. When I grew up a bit, I thought I would like to be without restraint, and got away from my father and mother. I continued, however, to go to the Chapel; but all the preaching went over my head – it never touched my heart, nor found me out to be a guilty sinner.

My spiritual torpor was at last broken up by one of our ministers asking, “Young man, have you given your heart to God?” I had not, but from that time I was, like the young man mentioned in the Gospel, trying to do what I could to inherit eternal life. Other two young men, in pretty much the same condition, often met with me for prayer; and one night, previous to James Turner’s visit, we had a special meeting. We were all very earnest and prayed, one after the other. We prayed on until we got melted down so completely that not one of us had a word to say – the heart was the mouth-piece; and we had all the inwrought conviction that we were going to be blessed.

After James Turner came, we felt sure that now the time had come when we were to get the blessing, and in this spirit of expectancy we went to the meetings. First one, and then another of my friends found the pearl of great price. Surely, I thought, it will be my turn now; but I remained much the same, excepting that my anxiety was greater. I told Mr. Turner my state. “Dear me,” said he, “I can’t understand why you have been so long unhappy – I am sure God is willing.” I was still more perplexed at this, my feeling being that it was not my fault, for I thought I was willing.

In this state I continued until the 10th of March – a night never to be forgotten. It seemed as if there was a pitched battle between the powers of light and darkness. Up till nearly 12 o’clock it was something awful. A clog hung on the meeting. I remember seeing one young man go out and in several times, he could neither stay out nor in, the contest was so fierce, and the issues so apparently doubtful. Another stalwart man sat between me and another young man, His frame was shaking as if he had been holding on by a galvanic battery; he not only shook himself but made us shake also – every now and then a shaking went through our frames that made it truly awful – and yet I am sure he felt quite isolated from us and every other human being; it was God and Satan with whom he was having to do. Sometimes he would say, as if in desperation, “Yes, Lord, I will believe, I do believe”, and then came the tremendous struggle, as if Satan was determined to hinder him. At last he went out like a demented man; but the Lord finally got the victory, for he became a most exemplary Christian.

From eight o’clock in the evening until six in the morning this meeting continued, but the battle was won about midnight – then came a glorious morning when victory was declared on the Lord’s side. About the turning-point I felt awful. I was on my way out of the meeting, unable to stand it longer, when the thought came to me forcibly that, by going out, I was in reality giving way to Satan, and helping him to the victory. I turned back and went in again. Shortly afterwards James Turner said that this was a solemn time, and that he had often experienced that those who waited upon God as we were doing now, found the early morning hours afforded glorious opportunities of getting near to God, “and you”, he said, “ who have not found peace will never have a better opportunity than you have now, so I would advise you to try Him at once – couldn’t you risk it?” And just as he spake I was enabled to risk it. I felt like one about to take a plunge – it was either sink or swim – now or never, I thought, and took the leap; and, praise the Lord, I did not sink!

For one to describe what I then felt is impossible ;- but glory be to God, the Rubicon was past – and I knew it. The change in my heart was so tangible, and powerful, that it seemed rather physical than spiritual, and I turned to the lad that was beside me and said, “It’s awa noo,” that is, the burden of sin and alienation from God which had so long oppressed me.

After my own deliverance, my next thought was for my relations –  father, brothers, etc.  Having found safe rooting for myself I sought it for them. So occupied was I with pleading for them that I have only a general impression of the meeting afterwards – that it was just like a field of battle after victory, and many were the slain of the Lord upon it. I am sure from twenty to thirty were to be found lying all at one time completely prostrate, and, by the time that these arose like men from the dead, the same mysterious power had as many more levelled to the dust in like manner, Thus it became utterly impossible to clear the meeting until, as I have stated before, six o’clock in the morning.

Out of the 700 then assembled, 100 at least were brought to Christ and I scarcely have heard of any belieing their profession..

Ongoing Blessing

Next day being Sabbath, was a solemn day in Banff, scarcely one moving out of doors but to the house of God, and many were blessed in their own homes. Several became anxious, and came to the meeting, who had not been attending before; and, on that and the following days, many continued to be added to the band of heaven-bound travellers.

On the following Monday, when the town and district were thus mightily moved, Mr Turner was compelled to leave for another village, where he had engaged to speak. The meetings, however, were continued daily for three weeks longer in the United Presbyterian Church; and the Free Churches of Banff and Macduff were also opened for special services. During the Second week, perhaps, more who were awakened embraced the truth than in the first.

The Preacher’s Report

On leaving Banff he wrote very briefly to his brother :-

I spent eight days in Banff. Oh that proud place! But the Lord has shaken it, and there has been a great movement among rich and poor, young and old. A young man came one night, as he himself confessed, “to hear that fool Turner and get a little sport.” On Sabbath night, I had to point him to the Saviour, and he found peace. Many scoffers have been brought to the Master’s feet, last week in Banff. The last night I was there, the church was not only filled of all classes, but the crowd extended across the street. truly we can say – “the Lord bath done marvellous things, His right hand and His holy arm hath gotten Him the victory.” On Sabbath forenoon I preached in our own Chapel (Methodist); in the afternoon, in the Free Church, Macduff ; and, in the evening, in the U .P .Church of Banff. We have been compelled to carry on the meetings nearly all night. On Sabbath morning it was daylight before we broke up. It is hard work but sweet work.”


During 1860 and 1861, Mr Turner paid several visits to Banff, and laboured a great deal there till his health gave way. On these occasions he spoke more especially to the people of God, seeking to stir them up to a greater measure of holiness, and holding up faith in the atoning blood of Jesus as the grand power whereby the soul is purified and made to grow in the likeness of Christ. Repeated cases of conversion also occurred on the occasion of.these visits, and many received strength to confess Christ more openly before men, rising up in the meetings and stating how and when they had found the Saviour.

Reactions to the Revival

The feelings with which the work was received were diverse indeed.


To those who sighed and cried for the coming of the Lord in power, the work ,was heartily welcomed, and an earnest desire was awakened in their souls to profit by the blessing which the Lord had sent among them, To those who had participated in the blessed effects, the revival was looked upon as the most glorious work that had visited the land for many years; by such it was looked upon as an incomprehensible, but none the less  truthfu1 fact, that God had indeed in love visited the land, and that many were feeling His power in their hearts.


 By others the work was regarded as a nuisance, excitement, mere fanaticism.The reasons for thus regarding it were various. Some hated it from a deep-rooted enmity to all that was good and God-like; others hated and caricatured it on account of its effects, in that it had severed many or their companionships, and that it disturbed their scenes of midnight revelry and rioting; others hated it because some of their associates, who had been infected with the ‘delusion,’ were continually molesting them with such questions as, ‘Have you found Christ ?’ ‘Is your soul saved ?’ and such like. Others hated it because it disturbed the long and peaceful slumber of carnal ease in which they were indulging. They had peace, they had comfort, they had a religion that pleased themselves and, for the time, calmed down the fears of an awakened conscience, and anything that would molest them in their supposed security is looked upon as one of their deadliest foes.

On the fence

Others there were who viewed the awakening with not a little suspicion and distrust, half believing that it was really the work of God, and yet in doubt as to the fact after all, almost constrained to join in it and lend a helping hand, and yet afraid that, notwithstanding the visible outward manifestations, it would all end in smoke.

The Town

Perhaps the feeling most prominent in every heart, was wonder and astonishment. Those who had themselves been made to feel the power of the truth wondered at the sudden transformation that had taken place in their feelings, hopes, and desires; others who merely looked on, without realizing anything of that struggle of which some spoke, wondered at seeing so many in such a state around them, and like the Pentecostal shower with which the preaching of the gospel of Jesus was inaugurated, all wondered at the marvellous things which had come to pass.

Lasting Results

In looking at the results of the revival, and in viewing these, the belief is not for one moment to be entertained that all who attended the meetings received lasting impressions, or even that all those who had been moved would prove to be genuinely converted to God. While the Lord was working the devil was not idle, and it was only to be expected that, mingled among the good grain, much useless chaff  would be found.

Many did receive lasting benefit. Not a few there are alive at the present moment (1875), scattered abroad as evangelists throughout the world, who can look back with joy and gratitude to the scene in the United Presbyterian Chapel in March, 1860, and date their conversion to God. from that time. The power of the truth both in convincing and converting was felt in many hearts, and some grasped at the truth, and had a soul-saving view of Christ as if it were in the twinkling of an eye, while in the case of others the process was more gradual. It, however, speaks loudly for the genuineness of the work that, in the midst of many conflicts, many still hold fast their confidence in God and continue fighting on until the present day in the good ways of the Lord. Of  this number we will not attempt any computation, suffice it to say that the great day of the Lord will declare it.


How many of the conditions in 1860 still apply today? – Low ebb? Cold? Lifeless? Proud Place? Some people sighing and crying for the coming of the Lord in power? A breaking up of the fallow ground? Banff’s testimony from the past is that within weeks or even days of such conditions, there can come “a rich harvest of golden grain”, so that again it will be said, “It is clear that we are to have the blessing in Banff too!”

Permanent link to this article: