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OF A LATE
REVIVAL OF RELIGION.
MY DEAR SIR,
MOULIN, let Sept. 1800. I
was by no means surprised to find, by your late letters, that the communications which I had made to you, from time to time, concerning the state of religion in this part of the country, had been highly gratifying to our friends in Edinburgh. As you have signified to me the opinion of Dr Erskine, Dr Hunter, and other respected friends, that the happy revival of religion amongst us ought to be made more generally known, and that it might be useful to publish an account of it; I shall now endeavour to give a more circumstantial detail of its commencement and progress. I am able to do this with tolerable correctness, as my memory is assisted by written notes. I have no doubt that the concern about religion, which has been lately awakened in this place, is al., ready the ground of much rejoicing among the angels before the throne. Pity it should not also engage, as extensively as may be, the praises of our Christian brethren on earth.
The inbabitants of the Highlands have, as you know, the Scriptnres in Gaelic, their native tongue. The New Testament, the book of Psalms, and the Assembly's Shorter Cae techism, have been long read in the schools. By these means, the people in this part of the country had some
knowledge of the principal events in the history of the creation and fall of man, and of our Saviour's life, death, resure rection, and ascension : They knew also some of the great outlines of Christian doctrine; but in general their knowledge of the principles of Christianity was superficial and confused, and their religious opinions were in many important points erroneous. Very few, indeed, knew the way in which the gospel informs us a sinner may be reconciled to God. The opinion of their own works recommending them to the favour of God, and procuring a reward from his bounty, was almost universal. It discovered itself in their ordinary speech, in their common remarks on more solemn occasions, and in almost every religious sentiment that was uttered. Their apprehensions of the demerit and consequences of sin were exceedingly defective. I have heard many on a sick-bed, after acknowledging in common form that they were sinners, deny that they ever did any ill. · And in the view of death, they have derived their hopes of future happiness from the reflection that they had never wronged any person. Very few seemed to annex any•meaning to their words, when they said that they expected pardon for Christ's sake. Being without the true knowledge of God, of Christ, of the gospel, of their own character and state, they lived, as might be expected, to themselves and to the world. They were not, indeed, addicted to open vice, if we except lying and swearing. They were rather distinguished for sobriety, industry, and peaceable behaviour ; but they were destitute of religious principle. Men may love and adore an unseen God; but they cannot love or serve an unknown God. They may dread, pain, or death, or eternal; misery; but that is not to fear God.. Our people were strangers
alike to the true fear and to the true love of God. They had evidently little concern about the present or the future state of their souls. They attended church, and par. took of the sacraments, and rested from their work on the
Sabbath. But these outward observances were almost tlie only appearance of religion. There was little reading of the Scriptures at home; little religious instructing of children ; hardly any family worship; no religious conversation ; no labouring, in any manner, for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life. Even on the Lord's day, most of the time was spent in loitering, visiting, and worldly talk; and on other days, religion was scarcely thought of.
In narrating the means by which the people were brought to pay a more serious attention to their eternal interests, it is necessary to say something of my own case. I was settled minister of this parish in 1786, at the age of twenty-two. Although I was not a “ despiser” of what was sacred, yet I felt nothing of the power of religion on my soul. I had no -relish: for its exercises, nor any enjoyment in the duties of my office, public or private. A regard to character, and the desire of being acceptable to my people, if not the only motives, were certainly the principal motives, that prompted me to any measure of diligence or exertion. I was quite well pleased when a diet of catechising was ill attended, be cause my work was the sooner over ; and I was always satisfied with the reflection, that, if people were not able, or did not chuse to attend on these occasions, that was no fault of mine. I well remember that I often hurried over that exercise with a good deal of impatience, that I might get home to join a dancing party, or to read a sentimental novel.. My public addresses and prayers were, for the most part, cold and formal. They were little regarded by the hearers at the time, and as little recollected afterwards. . I preached against particular vices, and inculcated particular virtues. But I had no notion of the necessity of a radical change of principle ; for I had not learned to know the import of those assertions of Scripture, that “ the carnal mind is enmity against God;" that “ if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature;" and, that “except a man be born of water and af
the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." I spoke of making the fruit good ; but I was not aware that the tree was corrupt, and must first be itself made good, before it could bear good fruit. The people, however, were satisfied with what they heard, and neither they nor I looked farther. Almost -the only remark made by any one on the discourse, after leaving church, was, “ What a good sermon we got to-day!" to which another would coldly assent, adding, “ Many good advices do we get, if we did but follow them.” Such a heartless compliment was all the improvement made of the discourse, and, I believe, all the fruit of my preaching. The hearers readily gave me credit for a desire to do my duty; and they as readily took credit to
themselves for a willingness to be taught their duty. But whether any improvement was actually going forward; whe ther there was any increase of the fruits of righteousness, was a point which gave neither minister nor people much
If there were any persons in the parish at that time who lived a life of faith, under the influence of pure evangelical principles, I did not know them, nor was I qualified to discern and understand what spirit they were of. I have since had reason to believe that there were a very few spirituallyminded persons; but their life was hid, and they had left this world, all but one or two, before they could acknowledge me as a brother. I was in a great measure ignorant of the peculiar doctrines of Christianity, the corruption of the human will, the fulness and freeness of the redemption which is in Christ, justification by faith, and the necessity of the Holy Spirit's agency on the human soul; and what I knew not myself, I could not declare to others. I never thought of praying for divine direction in my search after divine truth. I believe I had read the Confession of Faith of our church before I declared my belief of its contents ; but I had taken little pains to compare it with the Scriptures. I cer