The Huntly Meetings 1860

THE HUNTLY MEETINGS 1860-1863 (10,000+ attending!)

extract from “Duncan Matheson – the Scottish Evangelist” by Rev J Macpherson 1871

chapter 7 The Diocese of the Open Air page 169

The Huntly meetings played an important part in connection 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 1 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

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.

The greater number came by rail….
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. …

The services were characterized 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 inquirers. 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 hand, 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 connection 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 every thing.
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 goodwill 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, righteousness 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.

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