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Memoir of the Rev. Wm. C. Burns, M.A.
Labours at Aberdeen


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THE ample details which have been given in the three last chapters from Mr. Burns’ own journals, of the nature of his labours, and the scenes amongst which he mingled, at Kilsyth, Dundee, and Perth, will render it unnecessary to give such extended extracts with reference to his evangelistic work at Aberdeen. The spirit in which he laboured, and the results which followed, were here in all essential respects identical with what we have just described elsewhere, and might be said to be simply the continuation of what was there begun. The same unresting activity, intense earnestness, and vivid realization of the unseen world on the part of the preacher—the same mighty and gradually swelling tide of interest, inquiry, irrepressible emotion, on the part of the throngs that waited on his ministry and hung upon his lips—were here as there the salient features of a movement which was the subject of solemn joy to one part of the community, and of wonder, consternation, scorn, or anxious misgiving to the other. Sermons to densely crowded audiences in three several churches on each Lord’s-day; prayer-meetings in the morning and afternoon, and a public address in the evening of each week-day, with generally an additional hour of counsel, instruction, and prayer, for those whose intense anxiety still detained them after the long service was over, with words by the wayside and conferences with inquirers and young disciples at all other available hours, constituted the daily history of his work, so far as it can be written by man, for weeks together. An occasional sermon, too, in the open air—in Castle Street, or at the foot of the Barrack Hill—startled and scandalized a Christian community, which has since seen the same self-denying service done, with no other feeling than that of admiration, by so many others. Even his brethren in the ministry, who in all other respects approved and furthered his work, with one single exception deprecated a course which all the existing conventions condemned, but which, by its remarkable results, in sounding the depths of a class of society which no other agency had reached, more than justified itself:—

“In the evening,” says he, “I (April 26) preached in Castle Street to an immense audience, chiefly men, on the willingness of Jesus to save the chief of sinners, from the ‘thief on the cross.’ I felt more of the divine presence than on any former occasion in Aberdeen, and laboured to pull sinners out of the fire. The impression was very deep; many weeping, some screaming, and one or two quite overpowered. At eight o’clock we adjourned to the North Church, where Mr. Wilson from Belfast was preaching, and when he had concluded we remained with a crowded audience for another hour in exhortation, prayer, and praise. After this we dismissed the people; but a great many were so deeply moved that we could not get away, and accordingly I returned with Mr. Murray, who addressed along with me about four hundred, from the precentor’s desk. After prayer and singing, we dismissed about ten o’clock. Getting with difficulty out of the crowd, I went down to Albion Street, and addressed in a school-room about seventy of the poorest and vilest of the people in that degraded district. They were very solemn and interested to all appearance. We separated about eleven. Though this was a day of uncommon toil, yet, praise to the Lord! I was not worn out, but felt strong as ever on my way home.....I may here record that none of the ministers were in favour of the street-preaching but Mr. Parker. He and his session all went to Castle Street; though I felt that I did not need human countenance, having so clear a conviction of the duty, and being so conscious of the divine support in this effort to advance the glory of Jesus.”

Other tokens besides the immediate sense of the “divine support,” and the access opened to him to “ the poorest and vilest of the people,” soon appeared to confirm his conviction that he was in this matter in the right line of action. “When walking on the links,” says he in his journal of next day, “in the afternoon I met some poor lads, with whom I prayed among the sand-banks. They were very serious for the time, and one of them said he had been in Albion Street school the night before. He said that many were praying for the first time, and he among the rest, after I went away.” We are not surprised, accordingly, to find him soon again on the same battleground, renewing the charge from the same point at which he had already effected so wide a breach. The scruples of his brethren, too, soon gave way, as they witnessed and gladly hailed the good results of the bolder course from which at first they had shrunk:—

“Tuesday, April 28th.—In the evening I preached, to an immense audience at the foot of the Barrack Hill, including multitudes of the worst people in the town. I was hoarse and the situation was very unfavourable, owing to its vicinity to the public road; yet with all these disadvantages the audience were most fixed and solemn in their attention, and I was encouraged to intimate a similar meeting in the same vicinity for Thursday night, though I had previously proposed to leave Aberdeen on the afternoon of that day. This afternoon I had also at half-past five a meeting in the barracks with about thirty of the soldiers. They seemed much impressed, and some of them shed tears when I came away.

“Wednesday, April 29th.—I preached in the evening in Holborn Church; an immense audience, the result of the outdoor preaching, as Mr Mitchell granted with good-will, his mind seeming to be a good deal changed on this point. Mr. M., Mr. Parker, and Dr. Dewar all took part in the services.

“Thursday, April 30th.—I was again at the barracks in the afternoon; appearances just such as on the former day. I preached thereafter at the foot of the Barrack Hill to an immense audience. I had been thinking on the subject of conversion, but I was led in the time of the opening prayer to think of Matthew xi. 28, and I preached on it with perhaps more of the divine assistance than I had done at any time before. Towards the end especially, many were screaming and in tears. ... I felt as if 1 could pull men out of the fire; indeed, I never had more of this feeling than this evening, and on Sabbath evening in Castle Street. In order to escape the crowd I slipped into the barracks, and after walking up and down in concealment a little, I went up to some of the men and spoke to them of Jesus and salvation. I got a good many of them to come and have a last prayer-meeting before our parting, which we had accordingly. When going up to the room I met dear J. C.1 standing with streaming eyes alone. He had run up Union Street, thinking to overtake me, but not seeing me, and being obliged to be in by nine o’clock, he returned disconsolate, thinking that he might never see' me again, the regiment being to leave Aberdeen for Paisley on Tuesday first. Our meeting was sweet indeed, and our parting affecting, but full of the hope of meeting in the presence of the Lamb. Glory to his matchless name!”

Of the after-history of individual souls amongst those neglected multitudes in Albion Street and Barrack Hill, to whom the gates of the eternal kingdom were thus opened for once at least, so widely, but few and broken fragments can be gathered from the records of earth. The names of some of them occur in connection with the labours of a committee of inquiry soon after appointed by the presbytery of the bounds, and the cases of others are doubtless well known to individual ministers of the city, under whose ministry the seeds of life then sown were cherished and ripened to holy fruitfulness. With his friends amongst the soldiers, however, he was destined to meet again in other and deeply interesting circumstances, when, five years afterwards, they rallied round him, and acted as his gallant body-guard amid the rude assaults of the ruffianly mob at Montreal.

Throughout these manifold and arduous labours Mr. Burns had enjoyed, as ever afterwards in Aberdeen, the valuable countenance and co-operation of several of the ministers of the city, and particularly of Dr. Murray of the North Parish, Mr. Parker of Bonaccord Church, and Mr. Mitchell of Holborn, in one or other of whose churches most of his meetings both on Sabbaths and on week-days were held. The two former have since died—leaving behind them the rich savour of a revered and blessed memory. Mr. Parker was a man of deep, thoughtful, and even severe piety, with peculiarly profound and solemn views of the holy law and sovereign grace of God—who had been recently translated to his present charge from a chapel in Dundee, where he had laboured for several years with remarkable acceptance and success. Dr. Murray was a ripe scholar, a sound divine, a brave and godly man, and especially during his earlier ministry, in Trinity Chapel, a stirring and successful preacher. He lived to a good old age, and0 passed away amid the universal respect of a community that had for long years honoured him as one of its most worthy and true-hearted citizens. Both loved and befriended the young evangelist with that peculiar and beautiful affection which one sometimes sees in those of more advanced years towards the young.

On Tuesday, May i, he left Aberdeen for a season, in order to fulfil some other pressing engagements—thus briefly summing up the result of his labours there during the past month:—

“I am now come to the end of my sojourn in Aberdeen, and must notice a few general features in what met my eye and ear. We had meetings every 'morning to the end, in Bonaccord Church, which were very sweet and solemn, and increased in size towards the end. I also continued to meet almost every afternoon, from one to three, with anxious inquirers. Many that came to these meetings, as well as many that called at the house, seemed in a most promising state, and altogether, upon a review of all I saw of this kind in Aberdeen, there seemed to be very hopeful symptoms of an extensive awakening. And now, Lord Jesus, grant me and all thy people there, the Holy Ghost as a Spirit of praise for all the tokens of thy glorious and gracious presence there; and may those who were impressed by thy power not be left to fall back into their former security beneath the abiding wrath of God, but be brought to wash in thy blood, and put on the glorious wedding-garment of thy righteousness, and adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour by a life and conversation becoming the gospel; and to thee be all the glory! Amen.”

His retirement from Aberdeen, however, was only temporary. Neither in his own judgment nor in that of the brethren who had laboured with him, had he yet made full proof of his ministry there; and accordingly, after an absence of five months, we find him again in the field, prosecuting with equal devotedness and zeal, and with even still more remarkable results, the work which he had before begun. For two months together, on weekdays and Sabbath-days, the attendance at the meetings continued unabated, and the number of inquirers increased. I find on one of the last pages of his Aberdeen diary specific mention of the 200th case of spiritual anxiety with which he had had to deal since the commencement of his visit; and those who sought him out on this errand, and with whom he was able to converse, were of course only a fraction of those who were more or less affected by the general and wide-spread impression. So great at one time was the number of the anxious, that appointments made for their special behoof would be responded to by such crowds, that individual instruction became impossible, and the inquirers’ meeting grew into a congregation. Meanwhile the intensity of feeling manifested by those who were the more especial subjects of the movement was often very great, and found vent to itself in the case of those who were of a more impressible nature, and were least habituated to self-control, now in silent weeping, and now in loud sobs and cries. There was undoubtedly at this time a good deal of what is called religious excitement. The solemn impressions of eternal things renewed night after night, in crowded congregations composed in large measure of the same individuals, and under the spell of a voice that seemed as if the very echo of eternity, gradually grew to an intensity which became at last altogether uncontrollable; and as this aspect of the movement attracted a good deal of public notoriety at the time, and formed the subject of a special inquiry on the part of the presbytery of the bounds, it may be right to give one or two extracts illustrative of its nature:—

"October 2'id.—In the evening I preached in Trinity Church at seven to a full church, from the Pharisee and the publican. The impression was solemn. At an after-meeting a great many remained, and the impression became deeper, many being in tears. We parted at ten, but as we were leaving the session-house many crowded round us, and one mill-girl cried aloud, so that I had to return to the session-house with the concourse. The place was filled in a few moments, and almost all fell on their knees and began to pray to the Lord. I continued to pray and sing and speak with these until after twelve o’clock, having frequently offered to let them go, but finding that they would not move, and feeling in my own soul that the Lord was indeed in the midst of us. This was the most glorious season, I think, that I have yet seen in Aberdeen. Many poor sinners lay weeping all the night on their knees in prayer, and some of the Lord’s people present seemed to be filled with joy.

“October 23d.—In the evening I met from three to four hundred in the Albion Street school, chiefly mill-girls, and spoke chiefly from the beginning of Luke xv. I was enabled to speak very awfully of the lost state of sinners, and the enormity of many sins abounding among us at one particular time; and the impression was so great that almost all were in tears, and many cried aloud. This impression seemed so deep and genuine, that it continued the whole evening afterwards, and though I dismissed them three or four times, hardly any would go away, the greater part crying aloud at the mention of dispersing. Accordingly we remained until after eleven, and even then the greater part remained behind me, and the beadle could not get some of them away for a long time after this. It was indeed to all appearance a night of the Lord’s power, and I trust a night of salvation to some.

“October 2%th, evening.—I met with anxious inquirers in the North Church session-house, but so many came (they could not be fewer than two hundred and fifty) that we had to go to the church; of these two-thirds were mill-girls. After speaking to them all together until half-past nine, I kept the mill-girls behind and took down about half of their names. Some of them seemed in the deep waters, and a great many were weeping silently. A few only seemed unmoved. I found that there were individuals among them from all the mills in town, as far as I am aware. Surely the Lord is dealing with some of these souls. I would not doubt it, though my past experience of the deceitfulness of almost all appearances makes me hesitate in regard to individual cases. At the Saturday evening meeting a good man who works in Hadden’s mill told me that he had seen that day what he never saw before, a number of the workers bringing their Bibles with them to their work! Sweet token!

"November 19th.—At eight, Albion Street school; full attendance, though I did not intimate at the mills. What a sweet contrast the meeting presented at the time I came in to the appearance of these dear young people when we first met in this place! Glory to the Lord! The subject, ‘Behold what manner of love/ &c. I desired to speak in an awakening way, which is my natural bent, but could not; and was enabled in some degree to speak for the comfort, examination, and instruction of those who are under concern. Many wept tenderly during the whole meeting. There was great solemnity and earnestness in prayer, and when we dismissed at a quarter past ten many were almost unable to go away. Indeed, a great number went into the lower schoolroom, in the dark, and remained there for a considerable time in prayer, Miss C., the excellent teacher of the infant school, being with them. I was told to-day by Mrs. M. that a person had said to her, though he was not particularly favourable, ‘ I am persuaded there is much good doing.’ It is said that now on a Saturday night there is not one for ten that there used to be of these young women walking in the streets! Praise!

"November 22nd., evening.—I preached for Mr. Foote in the East Church at six o’clock: a collection for his infant school. The sermon was therefore advertised. The church was choked as soon as opened. There could not be fewer than two thousand five hundred, a great number of whom were men. ... I preached from Romans ii. 4, 5. At eight o’clock, I had to divide the subject in order to allow those to retire who needed. As many nearly came in as went out, and we continued till nine. I saw no men go away. There was a fixed and solemn attention to plain and momentous truths throughout, and some girls cried out. Praise to the Lord! . . . When I came out I heard a young man in the street, with a curse, saying, ‘There is the rascal himself.’ I went and spoke kindly to him, saying he did me no ill, but himself a great deal. He went along with me and spoke a ittle more seriously, saying, ‘Perhaps I’ll turn to God too.’ Turn him and he shall be turned. Praise!

“November 23d evening.—At eight we met in the church Bonaccord with anxious inquirers, but in consequence of the movement so publicly seen on Saturday night, there were so many came as nearly to crowd the church, and among these many gentlemen drawn by curiosity. I read the 12th of Zechariah beginning with verse 9, and spoke upon it at first more textually, and afterwards with greater variety and latitude, and I obtained so great liberty that I spoke in a manner I have hardly ever done before. We remained speaking and praying until half-past eleven P.M., and hardly one even of the scoffers went away; many, even gentlemen, remained rivetted to the spot, evidently having a witness in their consciences to the truth. There were some avowed infidels present! Glory to the Lord! There would have been a great outcry among the young people, had I not at the beginning, and frequently as I went on, debarred them from crying out that others might hear and be benefited. Many sighed and wept aloud.

“Wednesday, November 25th.— Heard that the Dudhope Church is open to me at Dundee. At the prayer-meeting spoke on the last chapter of 1st Thessalonians. Tender weeping among many, nay almost all, when I intimated my proposed departure. We fixed Friday for a day of fasting. Oh! may it be indeed so. Many shook hands with me, young and old, rich (‘not many’) and poor, when I came out with tender weeping. Praise! Praise! Oh! may the week that remains to me here be pentecostal! Come Jesus! Amen.”

It cannot certainly be matter of surprise that manifestations like these, occurring in the midst of a great Christian community, should have attracted a large measure of public attention, and should have been thought deserving of serious consideration and inquiry on the part of those intrusted with authority in the church. They were sure to be variously, and by many severely, judged. Not only were those to whom every expression and sign of religious earnestness were but as the raving of fools sure to turn away from such scenes with contemptuous scorn, but even some, to whom the struggles of the interior life were a great and blessed reality, might question whether a spiritual movement, attended by such a tumult of emotion, were likely to prove in the highest degree solid or lasting. It was not that the spiritual concern of those whose souls were most powerfully stirred by the melting and thrilling words of the preacher was in itself too solemn or too deep. No amount of solicitude in regard to interests so stupendous as the favour and love of God, and the eternal life of the soul in him, could be regarded as either unreasonable or extreme. Of such solicitude, whether called by the name of excitement, or enthusiasm, or the awakening of the spiritual life, well might it be said with President Edwards: ‘-If such things are enthusiasm or the fruits of a distempered brain, let my brain be evermore possessed of that happy distemper! If this be distraction, I pray God that the world of mankind may be seized with this benign, meek, beneficent, beatifical, glorious distraction.” But the question still remained, whether a course of such continuous and exhausting excitement of the feelings were not fitted rather to hinder than to help spiritual inquiry in the highest sense—by preventing quiet thoughtfulness, and possibly issuing in a reaction of deeper carelessness and apathy. Grace, it was urged, while in itself supernatural and divine, yet works ever according to the essential laws of our moral and physical constitution; and whatever in any degree runs counter to those laws must tend in that degree to hinder or to mar that work. Of those laws the healthy equipoise of the different elements of our nature—the reason, the conscience, the feelings— is one of the most fundamental, and therefore any undue or exclusive predominance of one of these to the suppression or abeyance' of the others must tell with more or less of injurious influence upon all. It was alleged too that the excitement then prevalent was in many cases an excitement of fear rather than of love or moral feeling, and for that reason also the more liable to prove evanescent, or to issue in morbid and unsatisfactory results. It was not enough to say in answer to these considerations that the work was, as most Christian men fully believed, in its essential nature and substance a work of the Spirit of God; for a divine work was all the more sure to be more or less marred by the erring touch of man; and that work, it was maintained, would have been helped not hindered, and the spiritual birth or holy progress of souls furthered, had the public meetings and protracted and exciting services been fewer, and the hours of still and meditative retirement more.

There was some truth, doubtless, in these considerations; but probably not so much as those who urged them were disposed to think. It was not enough considered that such a season of general awakening to the sight and sense of eternal things was in its nature exceptional and temporary, and that the intense excitement with which it was at first attended was sure, in the course of nature, soon to die down into a more quiet and tranquil condition of things. Whatever effects of a permanent kind might result from the earthquake shock, in startling souls from the sleep of death, its immediate tremor and concussion would soon pass away. Neither in the public mind generally, nor in the history of individual souls, would the tumult of emotion last long enough to produce, at least to the full extent, that revulsion or paralyzing exhaustion of feeling that was apprehended. Many of those who were most deeply moved by the prevailing influence very soon passed the crisis of their anxiety, and through that sore agony and travail of soul entered into a state of calm peace and rest in God, which was the very opposite of all tumultuous excitement. The same power that was mighty to wound was mighty also to heal, so that “the bones which” that divine unseen hand “had broken” were speedily made to “rejoice.” There was the gentle and reviving south wind, as well as the biting north—the time of the singing of birds, as well as the winter and the rain. Thus those whose desires after God, the living God, were deep and real, did not long fail of the object of their quest, and with it of that holy calm which can alone effectually still the tumults of the heart; while in the case of those whose natural sensibilities alone were stirred, there was enough in the cares of the world and the pressing exigences of daily life soon to blunt the edge of excited feeling, and preclude the danger of a too intense or long-continued anxiety. Those in short who had then been roused to momentary seriousness, would either inevitably soon sink into slumber again, or have their eyes opened to the sight of Him, the beholding of whom alone can permanently keep the soul awake, and in whom there is not only life everlasting but peace unspeakable.

It should be remembered, also, that those to whose benefit Mr. Burns’ labours were at this time for the most part directed, belonged to that class whom it is most difficult to arouse to any thought or care about eternal things at all, and who when they are so roused, are then only led to think when they have been first made to feel. Those rude and untaught hearts in Albion Street and Barrack Hill, or amidst the crowds of factory workers, who were brought to weep and wail aloud at the thought of God and eternity, might never get beyond those mere sobs and tears—might catch only a momentary glimpse of a higher world, and then pass again into darkness; and yet surely the very state of mind which made them capable of such tears had already raised them far above their former state of stolid indifference and moral debasement, and brought them at least several steps nearer the kingdom of God than they were before. There are those—let us never forget it—whose deeper nature must be reached, primarily and chiefly, not through the head, but through the heart.

It was a time doubtless of high but in the main of sacred and salutary excitement. Occasionally no doubt the tide of feeling was too unrestrained—more continuous and less subjected to regulative control, than with a view to solid and enduring results would have been desirable. There was not indeed too much feeling; but there was perhaps too little thought—not too much of the whirlwind and of the fire, but possibly too little of the still small voice.

Without any less of the religion of the heart, there might have been more of the religion of the informed judgment, the educated conscience, and of the disciplined will. It is hard in any case, and under any ministry, fully to reconcile and combine what may be called the stimulative and the educative functions of the gospel message—to give full scope at once to the powers that stir and to the principles that should guide and control the spiritual nature. I do not say—least of all would the subject of this memoir have said—that in the present instance this reconciliation was perfectly attained. In the great lack, too, of wise guides of souls, and in the comparative inexperience in such work even of tliose who were most fitted for it, it is not wonderful if a spiritual movement, at once so extensive and profound, should have got occasionally somewhat beyond control; and if some portion of its good results should thus have been lost or have passed away into impure and morbid forms. Even a Divine work in human hands partakes ever and necessarily more or less of the imperfection and the error of that which is human. In the main, however, and with every reasonable allowance for such imperfection and error, we believe this remarkable movement to have been a real and most blessed work of the Spirit of God—a true awakening, through His heavenly breath, of the spiritual nature, and quickening of the springs of highest life in multitudes of human souls. If it was an enthusiasm, it was an enthusiasm of faith, of love, and of holy endeavour and aspiration.

Still let it be admitted that the dangers apprehended from excessive and too continuous excitement, if often exaggerated, are nevertheless real, and that so far as they can be avoided, they are, in the interest of the work itself, and for the honour of Him whose work it is, to be sedulously and anxiously guarded against. “There being a great many errors and sinful irregularities,” to use again the words of Edwards, “mixed with this work of God, arising from our weakness, darkness, and corruption, does not indeed hinder it from being very glorious. Our follies and sins in some respects manifest the glory of it. The glory of divine power and grace is set off with the greater lustre by what appears at the same time of the weakness of an earthen vessel. It is God’s pleasure to manifest the weakness and unworthiness of the subject at the same time that he displays the excellency of his power and the riches of his grace. And I doubt not but some of these things which make some of us here on earth to be out of humour, and to look on this work with a sour countenance, heighten the songs of the angels when they praise God and the Lamb for what they see of the glory of God’s all-sufficiency, and the efficacy of Christ’s redemption. And how unreasonable is it that we should be backward to acknowledge the glory of what God has done, because the devil, and we in hearkening to him, have done a great deal of mischief.” Still none the less error is error, and sin is sin, and both are to be with the utmost watchfulness and care guarded against, so that the work which we recognize as divine may not only be, but be seen to be, “honourable and glorious,” and that no needless stumbling-block may be thrown in the way of any true though feeble seeker after God.

Whether, then, and to what extent, any such incidental evils had appeared in the present case, was a most fair and important subject of inquiry; and a committee was accordingly appointed for that purpose by the presbytery of Aberdeen, moved thereto chiefly by some very unfair and one-sided accounts of some of the meetings which had appeared in one of the public prints. The result was eminently satisfactory. The proceedings were conducted on the whole—as Mr. Burns himself most cordially admitted—with candour and fairness, and in such a manner as fully to elicit the essential elements of the truth. To the convener of the committee in particular, the Rev. Wm. Pirie, he felt himself under deep obligation for the kindness and courtesy with which he conducted his own examination, when called personally to appear as a witness. A part of his evidence it may be proper here to give, both as illustrating his general character and views, and the light in which he regarded the special matters then in question. We may only further premise, in order to the clearer understanding of some of the questions, that the newspaper attack referred to consisted partly of a professedly verbatim report of the proceedings at one of the meetings, and partly of a leading article, commenting thereon with great bitterness and severity:—

“Q. Could you state those peculiarities of the Herald’s report which makes it, as you have said in your letter to Mr. Mitchell, a ‘caricature’ of what was spoken by you on the occasions referred to?

“A. Among these peculiarities, I may mention the following as occicrring to me at the moment:—1st, The manner in which the whole is printed, by the use of hyphens, and the parenthetical insertion of remarks by the reporter. The reason of my speaking with peculiar slowness on the occasion referred to, was to prevent, if possible, the charge of trying to excite the people being brought against me by the enemies of the work present. 2d, The omission of sentences throughout which are necessary to exhibit the true connection of what was said, and the consequent bringing together, and in some cases mixing up, of things which, as spoken, stood apart. 3d, The entire omission of what was said during the last hour of the address, the insertion of which is indispensable to give a just impression of the whole service. 4th, The omission of some introductory remarks, in which the speaker explained his reasons for addressing those who seemed to have come as spectators, rather than those ‘anxious inquirers’ for whom the meeting was intimated—a circumstance this which led the speaker to leave the text on which he was to have spoken, and to enlarge in a remonstrance with those whom he supposed to have come from questionable motives.

"Q. Assuming it to be as a religious exposition delivered from the pulpit, by a licentiate of the Church of Scotland, would you hold the report in the Aberdeen Herald (supposing it to be correct) as becoming, decent, and in conformity with Scripture?

“A. I have no hesitation in saying that the report in the Herald, if read under the idea of its being accurate, and without a knowledge of the particular circumstances in which these meetings took place, would seem open to the charge of being incoherent in the connection of its meaning, and not well fitted to edify the hearer. Indeed, I have myself met with judicious and godly friends who have been led to fear that the speaker had been imprudent in the case referred to; while, on the other hand, I have not met with any serious person of sound judgment, who was present at the meeting and thought that anything unscriptural or unbecoming in the circumstances had been said or done. Nor do I myself, in the recollection of what took place, know of anything which ought to be condemned by those who hold sound views of Bible truth.

“Q. You admit that the words, ‘This is the outpouring of the Spirit were used by you; how did you know that at the time?

"A. This was my own deliberate conviction at the time, and continues to be so. The grounds on which I was convinced of this were, not merely those appearances of deep solemnity and a humbling sense of sin which were manifested by many of the people, but also my general knowledge of the state of many of them, from private conversation and the testimony of others. No one can see the propriety of introducing such a statement, unless he had been present and had witnessed the circumstances in which it was made.

"Q. How did those appearances of deep solemnity and humbling sense of sin, to which you have referred, manifest themselves in the hearers at the time?

“A. The appearances to which I have alluded are, that deep solemnity which one can judge of when present, and all the usual outward marks of grief and humiliation. It is no doubt difficult to judge of such a matter from visible tokens, and specially so in regard to individual cases. But, as I have already said, the conviction which I expressed was not founded solely on the appearances visible at that time, but also on the grounds stated in answer to the previous question ; nor would I think it safe to judge of such a matter by almost any appearances, if taken apart from the causes which produced them and the effects by which they are followed.

“Q. When you used the words referred to, ‘This is the outpouring of the Spirit/ how was it possible for you, in conformity with the explanation given in your last answer, to tell what the effects would be?

“A. I am fully convinced that it is a matter of the utmost difficulty to judge, in regard to a particular individual, that the concern which that individual feels is the effect of special and saving grace; but, at the same time, I have no doubt that any one who is acquainted, from Scripture, and especially by experience, with the saving work of God’s Spirit, can on good grounds conclude that the Spirit of God is working remarkably among a people, even before time has fully proved the effects of that work upon the lives of individuals.

“Q. Did you know a great proportion of the parties beforehand?

“A. I was accustomed to meet them almost day by day; to converse privately with those who were anxious; and, in this way, had an opportunity of obtaining a general knowledge of their religious state. I also heard, from various quarters, of the state of some of them when at work and when at home, and thus could more confidently judge that they were really impressed by divine truth.

"Q. Did you witness any physical manifestations on that night?

“A. If by ‘physical manifestations’ be meant the indications of grief alluded to in such texts as in Zechariah xii. 10, ‘They shall look on me whom they have pierced, and shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born’—if this be meant, I did see such indications of feeling, and I would desire to see them on a far larger scale.

"Q. It is meant, did you hear sobs, crying, screaming, or did you see any one faint or fall into convulsions?

“A. I certainly did see, and expect to see in such cases, much weeping, some audibly praying to God for mercy, and occasionally also individuals crying aloud as if pierced to the heart. I don’t remember that any one fell down or fell into convulsions on the night referred to, although I have occasionally seen such cases, both in Aberdeen and in other places, and among these, strong men in the prime of life.

“Q, Do you think persons so excited can by possibility further benefit from pulpit ministrations?

"A. I should think that the most direct means of composing persons under such spiritual concern, is the calm and tender ministration of the gospel of Christ. Of course, if the bodily frame is so much affected as to prevent the intelligent hearing of the word, no benefit can be derived from it. When people have fallen into a swoon, the latter is the case, and such persons had better be removed; but where there is much weeping, there may be, at the same time, the best preparation for listening to the exhibition of Christ.

“Q. Am I to understand you, when you said, in a foregoing answer, that you did see persons weeping and audibly praying to God for mercy, and occasionally also individuals crying aloud, as if pierced to the heart, that you considered these as sure evidences that the Spirit of God was savingly working upon these persons?

“A. I have already stated very fully the grounds of my conviction that the Spirit of God was at that time powerfully working among the people taken as a whole, but I have a firm and growing conviction that there often are, at such seasons, individuals who manifest a great degree of feeling, and yet afterwards show that they continue in their natural state.

"Q. Do you not think public meetings protracted until ten, or eleven, or twelve o’clock at night, likely to give offence, to interrupt family worship, interfere with family arrangements, cause family disputes, and to be hurtful to the interests of religion?

"A. I confess I am more and more convinced of the great importance, in general, of a sacred regard to the ordinance of God in regard to family and secret worship, and of the importance consequently of having public meetings, as far as possible,-concluded at an early hour; at the same time, I have no doubt that there are cases in which it is for the glory of God that public worship should be more protracted. In places where the people cannot meet earlier than eight o’clock I have generally found that we could not end before ten o’clock, and this is the hour at which, generally, the public meeting has been dismissed, although, in a few cases, it has seemed necessary to remain to a later hour with those who were anxious about their souls.”

Besides these oral statements, the following written replies to some of the questions proposed by the presbytery seem to me worthy of permanent record:—

“Q. Have you had many opportunities of seeing persons in different places affected at religious meetings in the way in which the persons referred to were affected in Bonaccord Church?

“A. I have had many such opportunities.

“Q. What have you found to be the result generally, in as far as the religious state of those persons was concerned, as displayed in their after-conduct?

“A. I have known cases in which persons so affected, even to a great degree, have turned out ill; though I believe they were at the time really affected with a sense of their guilt and danger. In the generality of cases, however, I have had good reasons to hope that such persons underwent a saving change. They were at least greatly changed to the eye of man.

“Q. Have you carefully inquired as to such results?

“A. I have been careful to inquire as to these results, and often feel a burden of concern on my soul about the case of such persons, using all the means in my power to ascertain and to insure their consistency, and their growth in the knowledge of God.

“Q. Have you found that, when persons have not been strongly affected, to all appearance, in religious meetings, they had been awakened to any great concern about their spiritual state?

“A. I have found many who have been brought to a deep, spiritual, and abiding sense of sin, without manifesting their concern to those around any farther than by silent tears or deep seriousness of demeanour. Such cases, if really deep, are in general, I think, to be marked for stability.

“Q. What sort of persons have you generally seen much affected at such meetings? Were they those who had been utterly careless about religious truth, and very ill acquainted with the facts of religion, or those who had been accustomed to pay some attention to religious ordinances, and had an acquaintance with these facts?

“A. They have been of both the classes mentioned in the question. I do not know that persons of little knowledge are harder to bring to a sense of sin than others better informed; the Spirit of God worketh when and where he pleaseth. But I think that I have found those persons generally most stable after they were awakened, who had full religious knowledge, and especially who lived in godly families. Yet I know remarkable instances of persons becoming eminent for godliness in the most disadvantageous circumstances, and who seemed rather to get good than evil from seeing the wickedness of their relations around them.”

One or two extracts from letters to the convener of the Committee will complete the account of the part borne by him in this deeply interesting and important investigation.

Allow me, also, here to express the kindness shown to me, by the Committee and by the Convener, at my appearance before them. The truth will always bear examination. In this case I fear nothing, except a superficial or prejudiced consideration of the facts. A close and holy scrutiny will indeed expose the emptiness of the work of mans but the work of Jehovah, like his inspired Word, the more it is examined will appear the more clearly to be worthy of his own infinite perfections. . . .

“I may take, also, this opportunity of explaining more clearly than I was able to do in my examination before the Committee, my deliberate opinion of the grounds on which I would feel warranted to judge of the reality of the Holy Spirit’s work among a people, or in the case of an individual.

“The full and complete evidence of His work, whether in the case of a people or of an individual,' is to be drawn from the manner in which they are affected under the preaching of the gospel, taken in connection with the truths by which they are so affected, and the effects which are afterwards habitually manifested in their temper of soul and outward conversation. It is the safe method, as a general rule, to judge of any real or supposed work of God among a people from these sources taken all together; and in the case of individuals, except the instance be very remarkable indeed, I would not think it safe to decide that a saving work of the Holy Ghost had taken place, until the spiritual, consistent, and permanent character of the individual had made it evident. I am, however, fully convinced that a minister of God, if experimentally acquainted with the saving work of God on his own soul, and especially if he has had opportunity of witnessing the work of the Holy Spirit on a large scale, may be warranted, in remarkable cases, to conclude that God’s Spirit is at work among a people, before time has fully proved the work by its permanent effects; nay, that he may even do so from witnessing the power of the truth on the minds of an audience at a public meeting, and without particular previous knowledge of the state of individuals, and yet not be liable to the charge of rash and unwarrantable judgment. I conceive, for instance, that the apostles must have been convinced that the Holy Ghost was remarkably outpoured on the day of Pentecost, when they saw the mighty power of the gospel on the souls of thousands. I have no doubt that Mr. Livingstone, and other ministers and people of God, were convinced, at the Kirk of Shotts, of the same things, without needing to wait until the permanent fruits of the work were developed. I could myself have no more doubt of this than of any Scripture truth, on that memorable day when the work of the Lord began in so glorious a manner at Kilsyth. On many other occasions, also, I have considered myself warranted in coming at the time to the same general conviction; and have never yet found that this general conviction was weakened, much less destroyed, by after-experience. In the meeting referred to, in Bonaccord Church, on Monday the 23d November, 1840, I could have no doubt, from the nature of the truth spoken, the manner in which I felt supported of God’s Spirit in speaking it, and the evident effect produced by it on the minds of many of the audience, and, more or less, on the minds of almost all, that the Holy Ghost was then exerting his gracious power among us; at the same time, as I stated to the Committee when examined, it is a matter of fact that my judgment, expressed in the words which I felt called on to use, ‘This is the outpouring of the Spirit,’ was actually founded, not merely on the circumstances I have just stated, but also on the knowledge which I had previously obtained regarding the state of many persons under deep concern about the salvation of their perishing souls.”

The committee of presbytery very properly extended their inquiries beyond the sphere of their own immediate jurisdiction, to some of the other scenes of Mr. Burns’ labours, where a religious movement essentially similar to that at Aberdeen had taken place, and where from the lapse of time its real nature and tendency could be the better tested. The result was a remarkable concurrence of weighty and impressive testimony aljke to the depth and extent of the influence at work, and of the holy and enduring fruit in the hearts and lives of multitudes of its subjects. Some portions of that evidence will be given in the Appendix to this volume. It may be enough here to present the general result of the presbytery’s investigation, as embodied in the deliverance adopted by them, on a full consideration of the whole facts and bearings of the case:—

“The Presbytery, having taken into their solemn consideration the evidence on revivals of religion received by their Committee on that subject, resolved,

“1. That a revival of religion, consisting in the general quickening of believers, and the conversion of multitudes of unbelievers, by the Holy Spirit, cannot but be an object of most earnest desire to every follower of the Lord; that the genuineness of such a revival is chiefly to be tested by the nature and permanence of the effects by which it is followed; that it can only be expected to flow from the use of the appointed means, accompanied with the abundant outpouring of the Spirit of God; that it should be made a subject of fervent and persevering prayer; and that, when such a revival takes place, it should not be dreaded or spoken of with levity, but should be carefully and seriously marked, and acknowledged with devout thanksgiving.

“2. That the evidence, derived from answers to certain queries sent by the Committee to ministers and others in different parts of the country, amply bears out the fact that an extensive and delightful work of revival has commenced, and is in hopeful progress in various districts of Scotland— the origin of which, instrumentally, is to be traced to a more widely diffused spirit of prayer on the part of ministers and people, and to the simple, earnest, and affectionate preaching of the gospel of the grace of God; that this work in the districts referred to, many of which are locally far distant from others, has been attended with few of those evils which have generally more or less characterized seasons of great religious excitement; and that, on the whole, an amount of good has been accomplished, which loudly calls for gratitude and praise to Him ‘who turneth the hearts of men as the rivers of water.’

“3. That in the case of Aberdeen, to which the evidence more especially refers, it clearly appears, so far as the test of time can be applied to the subject, that a very considerable number of persons, chiefly in early life, have been strongly, and it is hoped savingly, impressed with the importance of eternal things, and. are in the course of further instruction; that many of all ages have been awakened to a more serious concern about Christ and salvation than they formerly felt, and have been quickened to activity in well-doing; and that the labours of Mr. W. C. Burns, preacher of the gospel, are peculiarly discernible in connection with these results. At the same time, the Presbytery cannot but regret that such an exclusive reference should have been made to two particular meetings at which Mr. Burns presided, where the services were protracted to a late hour, and where much outward excitement prevailed—circumstances obviously liable to much inconvenience as well as misconception—while it appears from the evidence that many other meetings were held for religious instruction, through the same instrumentality, which could be liable to no such misconception, and where much good was wrought. And, upon the whole, the Presbytery are convinced that, if it had entered more into the nature of the inquiry to ascertain simply the extent of the awakening that has been effected in this city and neighbourhood, the evidence of a favourable kind would have been such as to lead to increased thanksgiving.

“4. That the Presbytery having considered the whole evidence that has been laid before them on this unspeakably important subject, feel themselves called upon to recommend to all ministers, preachers, and elders within their bounds, in their respective spheres, to labour more and more diligently and prayerfully, in the use of all scriptural means, to promote the cause of vital religion, which needs so much to be revived among us; and they would also exhort and entreat all the private members of the Church to study to grow in grace, to abound in all the fruits of righteousness, and to plead more earnestly with the great Head of the Church that he would pour out of his Spirit more plentifully upon us, and bless his appointed ordinances, that the wilderness may become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest.”

Before the commencement of the investigation, Mr. Burns had already closed his labours at Aberdeen, having been called to take the temporary charge of a new church at Dundee. He left for that town on the 5th of December, at early dawn; but not too early to find awaiting him at the place of departure a number of those who had learned to look to him “ even as an angel of God,” and who parted from him with many tears:—

"Saturday, December 8th.—Though I was very late up last night (this morning), and had but a short time for sleep, I awoke of my own accord at the proper time quite refreshed, and set out at twenty minutes to seven with the Dundee mail. A number of my young friends had found out the time of my departure, and stood by on the pavement in tears. The mockery of many around made our tongues silent: we looked at each other, with Jesus in our hearts’ eye I hope, and wept.”


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