Banff U. P. Church - James Turner (1860-1862)

The U:P. minister of Banff came to see the work, and he has asked me to preach in his church on Monday first—cry to God for that place. I must say I feel unwilling to go to large towns, but this feeling may be from the devil, and if so I must try and conquer it. If the Lord had not saved souls in every place where I have been, I do not think I could have gone to Banff. There is not a day but, I get a call or letter to go to someplace to labour. I will have to go home by-and-bye to attend to my business, and yet I do..not see 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 that the Lord is giving me just as I need. Help me to give Him all the glory."

On Monday, March 5, 1860, he began his labours in the U.P. Church, Banff. On that same day he wrote to his wife and brother:—

"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 all 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 speak to the broken in heart.

"March 7.—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 in a loft, and nearly all present were brought to feel their state. We meet in the church to-night again. 0 for power with God! Do pray on! Tell Mr P— 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, Amen."

On leaving Banff he wrote thus to his brother:—

"I spent eight days in Banff. O 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 preach, 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 with 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, in the afternoon in the Free Church, Macduff; and in the evening in the U.P. Church of Banff.

By someone in Banff

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.

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 of 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 with a Rachel-like lamentation but from a different cause. Rachel weeps because her children are being ruthlessly torn from her side; the weeping here is 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 they 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.

When seen, he was found in every respect to be just such an instrument as God has ever wrought by, not great, not mighty, not noble, without even pretence to any one of these things - one of the weak things of the world - one who knew what it was to be despised - one who, in many instances, had borne the scoffings of the world, yet a man who seemed to have but one aim in life, and one object in view - the glory of God and the salvation of souls. To see him and know him was emphatically to see a worthy member of Christ's body; he had a heavenly fragrance about him which spoke of Jesus wherever he went. His holy and humble walk testified to the existence in the heart of a living union to Christ. He is thoroughly a man of work.

Like his Master - he is making it his meat and his drink to do his Father's will. Not only is he a man of work, but so impressed is he with the value of perishing souls, with the nearness of the great day of testing, and the need there is that men should turn from their sins and live, that, beyond the moral responsibility with which he knows himself to be chargeable before God, he is constrained by irresistible love to labour almost unceasingly for Christ. He counts his duties a privilege; and the most self-denying and flesh-crucifying action done for the good of souls and the glory of God is a labour of love. He lived in unbroken communion with God, with heaven and its pearly gates, its crowns of gold, its palm-bearing throng, and above all, its glorified Immanuel full in his view. To see him in his humble, everyday life was to recall to the mind some of those ancient worthies of whom we read, who have passed to their reward, and who being dead yet speaketh. He has joined in their sweet hosannas, and he, too, 'being dead yet speaking.' Such was the man.

A meeting is announced to be held in the United Presbyterian Church in the evening. The people at first are a little timid. Shortly, crowds flock together from all quarters, and ere the services have been held many nights, long before the hour of meeting the church is entirely crowded. Night after night the meetings are well attended, but with little manifestation of anything extraordinary, although kept up till late at night or early in the morning. Nearly a week has passed, the services still continue, and perhaps never in this town were such audiences convened for the purpose of listening to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. These audiences comprise all classes, the poor as well as the rich, the learned as well as the ignorant.

Mr Turner was in the pulpit what he was out of it - a stern reprover of sin in its every form and phase. His preaching very much resembled the strain of the Baptist, stern, inflexible, some might even think harsh. He dealt with the truth of God always in a practical manner. He exposed the prevailing sins of the day, and knowing much of the human heart by a wondrous experience acquired during many years of close walking with God, he revealed the hidden hatred to God and things divine that naturally lurks in every human heart. He was jealous for the glory of God, and, although a workman needing not to be ashamed, he was careful ever to ascribe the glory in conversion work to God alone. Though thus stern and uncompromising to everything having the least appearance of evil, he was not without a tender heart, and, where he thought words of soothing were needful for the benefit of the soul, he could pour in the oil and the wine, and with a heart glowing with love to Immanuel, point with John of old, and say, 'Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world.'

The meetings, once commenced, were continued, night after night, irrespective alike of the evident want of success and of the persecution of the ungodly. Almost single-handed, like a champion of the Lord on the field of battle, he laboured on, believing that God would not suffer his labour to be in vain. After being held for six or seven 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 to 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 of darkness and 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, nor a regret on account of the want of

'Tired nature's sweet restorer,

Balmy sleep.'

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.

Let me now turn attention for a little to the spirit with which the work was received, and the results of this revival in general.

The feelings with which it was hailed 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 nonetheless truthful 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 of their companionships, and that it was the skeleton in their scenes of midnight revelry and rioting; others hated it because some of their associates, who had been infected with the 'chimerical 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.

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.

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.

Let us now for a little look 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, 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 tardy. 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 I will not attempt any computation, suffice it to say that the great day of the Lord will declare it.

REV JAMES MURKER (19th June 1860)



Towards the close of 1858, the friends of the Redeemer of various denominations in Banff and Macduff, deeply anxious for a revival of the Lord's work, began to hold union prayer meetings. These meetings continued to be well attended and were felt to be refreshing. The visits of several lay preachers, such as Mr. North and Mr. Radcliffe were much owned in the locality as a means of quickening Christians and rousing the careless. The ministers of the different congregations became more practical and earnest in their public services. 

Tidings of the progress of the Lord's, work in America, and latterly in Ireland, stimulated the godly. Several young men began to feel concerned about their own souls and the souls of others. Three small prayer meetings of these young men spontaneously sprang up. Two lads commenced to pray together, in a wood near the town, after the toils of the day were over. They were joined by a third and fourth. They made a youth of their own age a subject of prayer for some time, and then spoke to him about his soul, inviting him to their meeting in the wood. If he complied, they began to pray for another. If he did not at first join their ranks, they persevered to pray until they succeeded - which they always ultimately did. By and bye they increased to a goodly band. 

By intertwining the branches of adjoining trees, they constructed a comfortable booth, where they poured out their souls for a revival of religion in the place. The early storms of October, 1859, drove them from this hallowed Bethel. Their meetings were then held for a time in their different lodgings, and subsequently in the vestry of the Free Church and of the Congregational alternately.

During the winter months their number increased to about forty, all earnest young men, although as yet the greater part of them had not found peace in believing. Tidings of the sound of abundance of rain in the distance stimulated them greatly. For a mighty movement was now heaving the entire population of many a village along the coast to the west of Banff, and the Spirit had begun to descend like a copious shower on parched places. 

The instrumentality of Mr Turner of Peterhead  - a laymen full of faith and fervent in spirit  - was owned of God to the conversion of souls to a remarkable extent at Buckie and other fishing towns on the coast. He came to Banff, on invitation, in the month of March. Meetings were held every afternoon and evening in the U. P. Chapel of Banff for weeks. These meetings were generally well attended, frequently the evening meetings were densely crowded. 

After a discourse from some minister and another from Mr Turner, protracted prayer meetings were held, continuing sometimes till two or three in the morning. Multitudes were aroused, and not a few converted. On the night between Saturday the 10th and Sabbath the 11th March, the meeting lasted from seven in the evening till about six of the following morning. Those who spoke or prayed on that occasion felt unusual freedom and enlargement. 

About one o'clock a spiritual power began to move the dense mass which crowded every part of the large chapel. Nine young men prayed in succession with great power and fervency, before there could be any opportunity for praise or exhortation. In their prayers they touched upon their own personal case, and the cases of their companions who had either found peace or were struggling hard after it. The scene was heart-melting exceedingly. There was weeping in every part of the house. Sobs and subdued shrieks, with a few prostrations, imposed a fearful solemnity. Men, women, and children prayed in succession, in a manner altogether unusual. Young people wept upon each other's necks, while they clung together in clusters of six or seven in a group. Yet there was no confusion; all was natural and peculiarly affecting. A spiritual power was grappling with saint and sinner. Still there were some hardened spectators looking on, who tried at the time, and afterwards, to turn the whole into ridicule. 

It is, however, believed by all who are qualified to judge, that hundreds got saving good to their souls on that night. Many of the young men and others, who had for months been seeking the Lord, were introduced into liberty, and publicly gave thanks. The steadfastness and progress of these converts, during a period now of three months, confirm the conviction of the amount of good accomplished. As yet there has hardly been such a thing as falling away on the part of such as were believed to be converted. 

Those who had long made a credible profession of religion, on witnessing the mighty power of God, and the marvellous attainments of recent converts, became sadly troubled about their own state before God. After a season of distress, they have started the Christian race anew, and are altogether different from their former selves. 

Since then the young men, to the number now of about one hundred, conduct crowded prayer meetings, both in the town and surrounding districts, with the best results. In the town, which does not contain over four thousands of inhabitants, there will be sometimes from ten to sixteen prayer meetings held all at the same hours, in different quarters. 

The amount of good cannot as yet be accurately estimated, but it is great, and has told extensively on the general face of society. Most of the converts were church-going people before, and they generally adhere to the same place of worship which they had previously attended. 

A great work is going on among the boys also, who hold prayer meetings of their own, which are exceedingly well conducted. A number of the youth between the age of twelve and seventeen give evidence of a new birth and can pray in public with great devotion, modesty, and propriety. They take a decided stand, and labour hard for the conversion their youthful companions; nor do they labour in vain. 

The flower of the youth of the town are on the Lord's side. Their love to each other, their union of cooperation, although belonging to different denominations, their manly decision, excite admiration. Being a powerful and united band, they are able to bear down opposition to a great extent. Who can estimate the effect of such an increasing phalanx of ardent young people so devoted and earnest? 

Many further advanced in years onward to old age also give evidence of a spiritual change. The converts are characterized by their deep sense of the evil of sin, the value of the Saviour's work, the necessity of the Spirit's influences, and the importance of holiness and Christian consistency, with a warm zeal for the welfare of souls. 

Some of them were for weeks and even months in distress of soul, others on their first awakening were introduced instantaneously into the glorious liberty of the children of God. But what most of all strikes every observer is their rapid advancement in the knowledge and experience of divine things. Most of them, having been well trained in Sabbath schools and Bible classes, derive vast advantage now from their previous knowledge of the Scriptures. 

Whilst these remarks have reference to the town of Banff, somewhat similar and almost equally interesting statements could be furnished respecting Macduff, Portsoy, and other localities along the coast.

There have been many improprieties associated with this great movement but the remembrance of these will soon pass away, whilst a vast amount of good will permanently remain. Prostrations of every phase have been numerous, but no evil seems to have arisen from these.

People at a distance who never witnessed these prostrations, profess to be able to account for them; but those who have seen and considered them candidly confess their inability to say how they are produced or what they are; only one thing is certain, there is always a great amount of good going on where they take place. 

In this quarter some were struck down in their workshops, others in their own houses when alone, as well as, in other cases, in crowded assemblies and more private prayer meetings. Some have remained for hours, others for a shorter period, speechless and motionless. Some were conscious all the time, others were unconscious. Some underwent the great change during the time of prostration, they being conscious of the spiritual change taking place all the while; others have not given evidence of a new life although they had been struck down. In the great majority of cases, the subject, however, gives indications of being renewed by grace, either at the time or subsequently.

The good work is still going on, but with less noise, and fresh life pervades the churches, which are receiving considerable accessions to their membership. Twenty-five additions have been made to the Congregational Church in Banff during the past six months, and there is the prospect of more soon. Some of these recent additions are the fruits of the great movement, but others are not directly so. Lay agency, prayer meetings, and personal conversations have been especially honoured in this work.

J. MURKER. BANFF, 19th June, 1860

From 'James Turner or how to reach the masses,' by E McHardie, pages 57-61, 259-61

"I had a meeting in Banff on Tuesday, such as I never saw in my life. I never saw so many of the people of God in one place. It was a precious season — nearly four o'clock in the morning ere we separated."

(This was written on his return towards the end of 1860.)

"The Life and Labours of James Turner," by William Robbie.

In Banff Revival meetings are still held as frequently, and attended as numerously, as formerly. In fact, instead of abating, the ardour of those who have been brought to the knowledge of the truth seems to be increasing. The young men especially are labouring with the greatest zeal. Among almost all classes, even of the most degraded, a spirit of anxiety prevails; and in some parts of the town you could scarcely enter a house in which you would not find two or three, and some­times the whole family, in deep concern. Friday, the 25th May, was the day of the Banff Feeing Market, and during the earlier part of that day, young men, in twos and fours, stationed themselves at all the entrances to the town, and the railway station, for the purpose of distributing tracts among the country people as they entered to the market. During the whole day, in the market, addresses were delivered by ministers and others, and everyone, as he had opportunity, was putting in a word for Christ. There is evidence that the services were abundantly blessed. Nor are the young men confining their efforts to Banff, but are visiting different parts of the country round. Boyndie, Castleton, and other parts of King Edward have been frequently visited. Two deputations have been sent into the Millseat dis­trict, and several meetings have been held at and around that place, and within two or three miles of it. Considerable im­pression has been made there, and numbers are in a state of anxiety. In Macduff, too, the work was going on with much vigour; meetings are held frequently, and numerously attended, and great good seems to be the result.—Aberdeen Free Press.

From the 'Revival Newspaper', Volume II, page 197.

The revival of the Lord's work took its hold on the public mind about three years ago. Our coast towns, from Aberdeenshire on the one side to Morayshire on the other, have all been moved, each place having had such strange and wonderful things done in it, that I need not attempt in one letter to give particulars. The county town, Banff, has become a wonder in the history of revival, by the amount of conversions on the one hand, and the sanctification and power dwelling in believers' souls on the other. It does one's heart good to visit this town, to be welcomed by bands of young men of one heart and one mind, to hear of the power that attends female prayer meetings of all classes, to see the crowded meetings, listen to the fervent prayers, and observe the shining, happy faces of hundreds, or to enter the homes of the poor, and oft hear the stirring tale of their conversion to God, and enjoy the kindness, and see the wealthiest, in not a few instances, giving all up to the service of Jesus. The blessing has fallen, too, in almost every parish from Tomintoul to Banff, and every town and village shared more or less. Cullen and Keith are in want of labourers. May the Lord send men to these places that stand out in the county as pillars of grief to all who have a heart to feel for the perishing. Open-air meetings are abundant, addressed by living ministers or earnest laymen, and day after day some are found pressing into the kingdom.

From the 'Revival Newspaper', Volume VII, page 79.

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