Revival in Aberdeen & around Scotland

Towards the end of 1858 it became clear to the Radcliffes that God was beginning to open doors for him to preach the gospel in other parts of the country and that this would involve much absence from their beloved home in Liverpool, which was very precious to them. As Jane Radcliffe had decided that she would rather be homeless than husbandless, they decided to give up their house and together with their three children go wherever the Lord would call them, and after they did this Radcliffe felt so much more free to follow "The Pillar" as he described the Lord’s leading. Many places were visited, many addresses were given and many were brought to Jesus. His beloved Liverpool, however, was very much graven on his heart and wherever opportunity arose he returned there to preach to his countrymen, taking special meetings in either Liverpool or Birkenhead. He also, of course, had his business to attend to in Liverpool, although how he managed to do this effectively is not at all clear.

The spirit of prayer falling on the people.

In those days God was moving very powerfully in Scotland, and the call soon came for them to move up there to preach the Gospel, and in particular Aberdeen where he would become what was described as the chief human agent in the revival there. What needs to be stressed is the importance that prayer had in all this, both in their lives and that of their co-workers which is something that cannot be overstated. Prior to their trip there Jane Radcliffe recalls that, "in those days the spirit of prayer so fell upon the pleaders that the flight of time seemed forgotten. Strong men would be found stretched on the floor crying to God till bodily strength was exhausted. They had, however, the spirit of Jacob, and the language of their inmost soul was, ‘we will not let you go except Thou bless us.’" It was on such prevailing prayer that the Radcliffes were wafted to Aberdeen.

Small beginnings

They arrived in Aberdeen in November 1858 at the invitation of William Martin, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Aberdeen University, somebody whom Jane Radcliffe described as being a person who was humble, prayerful and full of faith. He had been a friend of Jane Radcliffe’s family for many years, and had heard from Jane’s brother of Radcliffe’s earnest desire to spread the good news of the gospel. Professor Martin had hoped to secure the use of an established church, but he was initially disappointed and for a time they had to content themselves with a small mission room in Albion Street and a few children to speak to. It was not long, however, before many of these children were converted and the change of heart and life at home, in the nursery, and at school was so evident that the parents began to attend the meetings also and they also were converted. The churches and the hearts of the ministers opened gradually and the people began to crowd into the meetings. The Music Hall was taken and day by day Radcliffe was surrounded by an increasing number of earnest workers, one of whom was Mr Grant of Arndilly, a noted revivalist in the 1859 Revival.

Meetings packed to capacity

The meetings soon became packed and no sooner had one service finished than the people crowded in and filled the churches again and again. Sometimes two churches close together would be crammed with people at the same time. All this, as Jane Radcliffe recalls, was just to hear the simple story of God’s love from a living tongue with three or four meetings on weekdays or five or more on Sundays, as well as conversations with anxious enquirers whether in churches or private houses. At times he was compelled to send the people away simply because his bodily strength gave way.

About the same time as the Radcliffes arrived in Aberdeen, Brownlow North, an aristocrat and relative of Lord North, the Prime Minister, arrived also to hold a two week crusade there. Although he had only been converted four years previously, he was being powerfully used by God in revival ministry. When he found out that Radcliffe was in Aberdeen he sought for his active co-operation in the meetings, which he willingly gave, and they saw a real harvest of souls during those meetings. At the first meeting of the crusade it took the evangelist some 5 minutes to squeeze his way through the crowd to the pulpit.

On the verge of a great work

It soon became evident to Radcliffe that he would have to prolong his stay in the city beyond the period originally thought of. It was necessary for Brownlow North to move on because of other commitments and he encouraged the people to rally around his "comrade in the fight." Radcliffe wrote at that time that he trembled there on the verge of a great work and that all he wanted to do was to lie in the dust and be guided from on high. He asked his friends to pray for "a poor worm." In this spirit he toiled on day by day, speaking several times a day and often several times at one meeting, so unwilling were the people to disperse.

The closing days of 1858 saw the work of God in Aberdeen becoming still wider and deeper. Radcliffe showed characteristic anxiety lest he should be lifted up in his spirit by reason of the honour put upon him as now the chief human agent. He entreated his friends to pray that he might be kept low, and desired that they should not speak highly of him. Others who worked alongside him in those days, besides Brownlow North, were Grattan Guinness, Peter Drummond, Hay Macdowell Grant and John Gordon of Parkhill.

The physical strain on him was great as he was being called on to give three or four addresses daily and on Sunday up to six or seven addresses and it was only the special sustaining power of God that preserved him in the midst of such incessant labour, mental and physical. Amidst all this giving out he was also aware of the need to keep lowly and be filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.

Opposition from the established Church

During all this he did encounter opposition, not from the people but from church leaders, particularly from the established church and most of them did not open their doors to him. Some said that the doctrine of instant pardon that he preached was a dangerous one, others accused him of abolishing the law, and others charged him with undue excitement and others prophesied that the converts would not stand. The fact that Radcliffe was a layman, however, was a matter of offence to many of them. The opposition that he experienced from the established church, however, actually helped, rather than hindered the revival, so far as the attendance was concerned. The people flocked to the meetings in crowds. When one service was over, some went away, but their places were immediately filled by those rushing in at other doors. Sometimes they would arrive at a church only to find that the doors had been locked against them. On such occasions they would preach from a cab, instead of the church pulpit, but the work went on all the same, with many people being converted. Radcliffe commented at the time that the whole of Scotland seemed white to harvest. Lord Kintore, a man of much repute in the Free Church, joined him also at this time, and sought to strengthen him in the work.

A mighty outpouring

Extraordinary things were happening all around. Groups of Christians going to and from the services made the streets of the city ring with their happy singing of the hymns which then came into such favour – ‘Oh, happy day that fixed my choice,’ ‘There is a fountain filled with blood,’ and many others.

Cottage meetings in various parts of the city, and gatherings in the surrounding villages, for the preaching of the Gospel, sprang up afterwards. The Aberdeen YMCA was then started – which subsequently proved to be a blessing to many, and a nursery of workers for the home and foreign fields.

Divinity students, medical and art students, young men in shops and offices, having themselves been blessed, became centres of blessing to others. Thus the light spread far and wide.

At a meeting in a boarding school for young gentlemen, a few simple words were spoken and the hearts of all were bowed down, so manifest was the power of God. Meetings were held for the rough boys at Old-Mill Reformatory with remarkable results. At a boarding school for girls, many of the girls, being about seventeen and eighteen years of age broke out, weeping bitterly. God poured out the Spirit as a mighty flood, sweeping away all self-reliance and laying souls prostate at the foot of the cross. From the city the movement spread out to Old Aberdeen, which had been proverbial for its spiritual darkness.

A remarkable incident

Dr R McKilliam testified, as follows, of a meeting that he attended in an exceptionally large building, which he said, was crowded. "People of every denomination, and from all parts, for many miles around, had flocked to hear him. I think most of us were disappointed. We had expected something entirely out of the ordinary in eloquence and learning. The address was short, and was simpler than what we were accustomed to. At the close, Mr Radcliffe invited those who were anxious to receive the salvation of their souls, to remain. Some of us, I regret to say, did not expect many to stay, after the disappointing sort of address to which we had listened, and we had what we expected – nobody remained.

Then we had such a rebuke, and such a lesson of simple faith in God, as the writer will never forget. That man of child-like faith stood up, and said to the handful of workers who had remained behind looking at him with blank disappointment written in every face, ‘Friends, have faith in God. Let us ask God to send them back.’ Then he prayed, as a child would speak to his father. While he prayed, one by one the people began to drop in; by-and-by in twos and threes, and later on in crowds, until, before the prayer was finished and a hymn sung, the big Kirk was again one-third full. (On their way home, the villagers had been stricken with conviction, as if a Divine hand had stopped them and compelled them to return.) ¹ Then what a night we had! There was a wondrous breakdown; boys, girls, young men and women, old, grey-haired fathers and mothers wept together like babies. Our brother was only able to be with us one night at the time. Yet, for many, many months we continued to reap, and the place was literally changed. For a long time the ordinary topics of conversation were forgotten in real, serious, spiritual talk; croquet parties, social evenings, etc., were set aside for prayer-meetings and Bible readings, and we never for a long time came together without expecting manifest blessing."

The power of communion with God

Rev H M Williamson testified that Mr Radcliffe used to wander in the woods alone with God. While thus holding communion with God, through His Word, some text or truth apprehended him so as to take possession of him. Thus held by the truth, when the evening came and the meeting was held, he poured it forth like torrents of lava, blistering the conscience, awakening the sleeper, terrifying the careless, and in the bright light of the Spirit revealing the Lamb of God. The Word at his mouth, was a hammer – it broke the rocks; it was a fire- it melted the hearts of men. Then followed the meetings for inquirers, when, with Divine wisdom and

tenderness, he was found binding up the broken-hearted, pouring in oil and wine, and pointing clearly to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.

Testimonials

Where is your faith?

Rev Alexander Forbes testified of an incident illustrating Radcliffe’s strong faith. "A group of us were being driven to a meeting and after prayer for a blessing, Mr Radcliffe said, ‘Now you will all be required tonight to speak a word to the anxious.’ I replied that I would be glad to do so if there were any. ‘Where is your faith?’ said the evangelist; ‘the church will be filled with anxious ones.’ Out of the congregation that evening three or four hundred remained to be spoken with in the after-meeting. It showed the power that accompanied the address, and the faith of him who delivered it."

What must we do to be saved?

A further testimony was given by a Rev J More as follows:- A number of earnest Christians were driven over with Mr Radcliffe in the private omnibus of the Duchess of Gordon. I very vividly remember that the journey was filled with a succession of prayer and praise. It was like the march of Jehoshaphat and his followers to the battlefield. It was a dismal, rainy, northern night, yet the church was crowded to its utmost capacity. Never having seen any one but a trained and ordained minister in a pulpit before, I remember still the peculiar and uncertain feeling that I had when Mr Radcliffe, in a light tweed suit, appeared in the pulpit. He read the Epistle to the Laodicean Church, and began his address in a very halting manner. I listened with increasing excitement, because I felt sure he would 'stick';’ and sure enough it seemed as if he did. ‘Ah,’ thought I, ‘that comes of his not having gone through the college.’ He covered his face with his hands as if ashamed, and the silence for a few minutes was oppressive. Then he burst into tears, and exclaimed in a voice trembling with emotion: ‘Oh, dear friends, how can a poor worm like me describe to you the glory of my Lord Jesus Christ?’ His mouth was opened, and for twenty minutes the truth poured from his lips like a torrent. At the close of the address hardly anybody left and the workers proceeded to converse with the anxious. I had never attempted such work before, but a beginning had to be made. There was witnessed a sight, which must be a precious memory in heaven: these hard-headed unemotional people were sobbing all over the place, and were literally asking, ‘What must we do to be saved.’

Standing the test of time

The following testimony from Dr Gauld, a medical missionary, some years after describes how the converts from these crusades stood the test of time: -" Many were the decisions for Christ brought about; and most of them have stood the test of after years. Some have become preachers of the word at home (a few of them are still in the front rank of such); others have gone to make known to the far distant heathen the unsearchable riches of Christ; and not a few are still holding honoured and influential positions in business and in municipal affairs as well as in church."

In the spring of 1859 Radcliffe’s health broke down through the work in Aberdeen and it was necessary for him to have a period of prolonged rest, and he gave his farewell address leaving a weeping congregation before the service was over. John Gordon of Parkhill who lived about 8 miles from Aberdeen gave him somewhere to stay where he could enjoy complete rest for a period of time. Somebody else who gave him hospitality at this time was the Duchess of Gordon, an earnest Christian who had followed the work with a close and growing interest.

Around Scotland

After Radcliffe had left Aberdeen he travelled for some time around other parts of Scotland including Dundee, Greenock, Perth and Edinburgh. Everywhere he went there were crowds waiting for him, eager to hear the Word of God. At Crief he was joined by Richard Weaver where they addressed a large crowd of people in a field. After the appeal was made they offered to speak with any anxious ones a short distance away. Hundreds seemed to follow them across the field including an old woman who had for years been seeking peace and when she found it she was so overjoyed that she could not express her happiness. One of their colleagues told them afterwards that whole families had remained awake all night for joy. At Braco as they drove up they found the villagers assembled, Bible in hand, just waiting for a passing word. A great work was done by the two evangelists in Edinburgh where for 6 weeks they spoke night and day among all classes of people. There were no fewer than 2,000 people in attendance at the meetings held in the Assembly Hall as well as in the Alhambra Theatre, so much so that the halls were found to be too small for the people that were attending. On one night when there were hundreds who could not get in they stood on the large flight of steps and on the flags below and these were addressed separately with the gospel message. Of the special meetings that he took (including those for children) one was held for cabmen and ostlers of which 400 attended, besides many of their wives. There were 100 enquirers from this meeting alone. On two occasions he visited Carlton Gaol with Richard Weaver and many found salvation after hearing them preach, including one young boy who had intended to hang himself.

Inverness

One day at a market in Inverness Mr Radcliffe from the market steps tried to address the multitude. In vain! They gave no heed! Guided by Divine wisdom, he said to a man standing by, ‘Can you sing?’ Replying that he could, Mr Radcliffe added, ‘For the Master’s sake sing in Gaelic a part of the twenty-third Psalm.’ He did so, and in a moment every eye was towards them; and the multitude took it up, and in that grave, slow, sweet melody they sang that Psalm which has entwined itself around the heart and memory of every Scotchman. They then received it with gladness.

Rothiemay

At a meeting in Rothiemay, the church was crowded, and he commenced his address; but as he went on, those who had come with him felt the absence of the power of God, and with sinking hearts began to call upon God. He too felt that God was not speaking through him. He suddenly halted and said that they must appeal to God, and he poured forth his soul in prayer. As he prayed, the house was as if shaken; every heart was moved; a great awe of God fell upon all, and God wrought mightily. As there was no possibility of dealing with the many anxious people that night, to the astonishment of the more timid, Radcliffe announced a meeting of inquirers, at an early hour the next morning. The Lord rebuked the weak faith of many, and honoured the faith of His servant, by filling the church the next morning with inquirers after God and His salvation.

Rev H M Williamson, Presbyterian Minister gave the following testimony:-

"The great secret of the blessing which came from God to the awakening of whole districts, the quickening of Christians and the salvation of multitudes, was prayer, continued, fervent, believing, expectant. There was never anything very striking in Mr Radcliffe’s addresses, in the way of depth of thought, or freshness of illustration, or novelty of interpretation. Through communion with the living Christ, the Word came forth with living and life-giving power. It was simply a chariot of light and fire, in which Christ rode in conquering power into the hearts of men."

¹ This information (in brackets) came from two other accounts about this incident

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