Portgordon - James Turner (1860-1861)

Feb. 17, 1860.—I have come over to Portgordon this forenoon to make arrangements for a meeting on Saturday night for the first time in this place. I have faith for this place Mr is just like the others when the Master sent me to them. O, pray for Portgordon. You will get this letter about nine o'clock on Saturday night, and I trust to feel you then. I will be in the work all night Mr if my body Mr able to stand it—pray for that.

"Portgordon, famed for drunkenness, has been brought down. The Lord sent me to it ten days ago. That was on Saturday week. I spoke that night, but not a move. It was a hard night's work, and I gave it up at twelve o'clock. I called a meeting next morning at eight o'clock, only a few came, but I carried on the meeting the whole day. At six in the evening the house filled and many could not get in. The Spirit was largely poured out, and many were smitten down under the mighty power of God. Those who were nearest the door were carried out, others had to lie till they got power to rise. I staid among them a week, and we had the Spirit's presence the whole time. Country people came down to scoff and to make sport of the work of God, but painful convictions seized upon many of those also, and they would fain have left the meeting but they could not walk. They staggered like people drunk and had to be helped into the meeting again. Some of them con­tinued all night in that state—oh that they may all find peace in believing!

Nov. 25, 1861.—You will think it strange when I tell you that I am once more busily engaged in the Lord's work, seeing that I was so weak and ill when you heard last. I went to Buckie to engage boats, not intending to have any meetings. After I had the boats engaged, I left Buckle and went to Portgordon to bid the people of God good-bye, everyone to leave it that night again; but they dot me persuaded to hold a prayer-meeting, saying they would not press me to speak. So I went to the school where the meet­ing was to be, and a great number of people first;. Of course, in such circumstances I could not be silent, and before we separated there were many indications of the Spirit's presence in our midst. I have now been three nights here,, and the movement is as at my first visit. I left the meet­ing this morning at two o'clock, and the broken in heart were kneeling on the streets, praying to God to have mercy on them. I am to begin this night's. allowed; in about an hour. Oh for strength of soul and body! My cough is much better since I came here, and I actually think the work is making me better. I do not know what Dr. Pirrie will think of me for this step—but it is the Lord and not sue."

From 'James Turner, or how to reach the masses,' by E McHardie, page 36.

He was first led there through the instrumentality of an old woman. Some years before, his brother George had been in Portgordon, and  lodged in her house. Now, hearing what was being done in Buckie through his brother James, whom she also knew personally, her cry was, 

"I would like to see him before I die—I would rather have him than a minister."

At length a letter was written inviting him to come to them for a day, to rest himself, and cheer his old friend. This note was committed to the care of a young woman who went daily to the meetings in Buckie, and so careful was she to execute her mission properly, that she would give the letter into no hand but his own, which she did when he was in the desk in the U. P. hall in Buckie. 

He opened the letter at once, and on reading it, he said, "I thank God for this; I am greatly in need of a day of rest, and this letter has secured it to me. Tell them," he said to the girl, "that I'll be over at Portgordon by eleven o'clock to-morrow."

The old lady's daughters, who were only at that time professors, not possessors of religion, felt somewhat doubtful about his coming, and hearing about the strange things that had been done in Buckie and other towns along the coast, were afraid to come near him lest they should be affected too.

But the very first words I heard him speak, said one of them, affected me much; they were- "Y'er nae doubting Him, are ye, Granny?"

"Na, I never doubt Him, I'm only doubtin' mysel'."

"Well, ye canna doubt yourself too much, if your trust in Him be siccar." 

And then turning to me, he said, "and how's your soul?" 

I didn't give him an answer, so he took no further notice at that time. He went back to Buckie that night, but on Saturday he came back to begin the meetings, and I was very happy to have him in my house.

The first night there was nothing done to speak of. After the meeting was dismissed, Miss M___ came down to the house after him. She came for the purpose of asking him to let the meetings out at an early hour - 

"It was a dangerous thing," she said, "to keep them so late, and so many young people."

"I'll see what the Master will say," was his reply. 

She still talked away, so he just turned to her and said, 

"When were you converted, ma'am, if you please?"

The answer she gave was one which led to very faithful dealing on his part, and she did not again attempt to interfere with his meetings

That night proved a memorable one to me. The whole of it was spent by him in wrestling with the Lord in prayer. 

"Ah!" thought I, "if that holy man needs to pray so much, what will become of the like of me?"

Like one of old, he had power with God. When at breakfast, he said – 

"The King will be here in His beauty tonight, and the Spirit of God will prowl through every corner of Portgordon."

"I hope so."

"It will be so, I've faith for it." and that Sabbath night, it was just as good as he said. 

The schoolhouse, was crowded, and from every part of it rose the cry for mercy. There were many cases of prostration, and many also rose to tell that they had found Jesus, people that we knew perfectly well had never thought of Him, and would not have known how to speak of Him had they not done so. And I believe it was just as he said – "the whole town seemed that night to get a special call" - young and old were moved to serious thought, at least for the time being, and to very many the call was effectual.

I was greatly amused one day by a woman that came in from the country to see what was going on. I asked if she was going to the meeting.

"Well. I would like to ging, but I'm feart."

"What are you feart for?"

"I'm feart for the chloroform. They say he has a white pocket-napkin full o' it, an he just tak'st oot, as ye gae by him, or him by you, an' comes a puff across yer nez wi't, an' yer jist awa 'ere ever ye ken, an' I wouldna' like to be knockit doon in a strange place."

From 'James Turner, or how to reach the masses,' by E McHardie. pages 210-1.

After a visit to Portgordon, Mr Baxter, in a sermon preached in Banff, Feb., 1860, remarked -

Repentance had in many instances been succeeded by peace in God, the most transporting joy and blessed hope. Self-denial had been willingly undergone when called for. Business for a period had been sacrificed; and the house of the publican, but a few days ago the constant scene of dissipation and uproar, had been converted into a house of prayer. Old feuds had been forgotten, wrongs confessed and forgiven, and malice gave place to love.

In Portgordon, parties long at enmity were seen walking arm-in-arm, and showing their neighbours that they had been changed. No terms could be found strong enough by which to express gratitude to God, and love and admiration of the Lord Jesus Christ. Humility has taken the place of pride and pretension. Singular decision and heroism had been in some instances shown when persecution had exposed young converts to trial; genuine concern for the good of relatives and neighbours had been crowned with success. The spirit of hospitality was ungrudgingly shown. Brotherly love was strong, and there was a zeal which indifference may brand as enthusiasm. On, the whole, I think the movement ought to draw forth gratitude in every Christian heart to God, whose work I believe this movement to be.

He (Mr Baxter) had been at Buckie and Portgordon at the end of the week before, and that was the opinion he gave. - Banffshire Journal.

From 'James Turner, or how to reach the masses,' by E McHardie, page 209.

When James Turner came back to us again (Nov 1861) he was in a very bad state of health. We did not wish him to speak, but we did press him hard to make his appearance merely at one of our meetings. 

"If I go," he said, "I am sure to speak."

And he did speak with great power, his words were like fire, searching and burning the spirits of the people, such as were in a state of backsliding seemed to be particularly affected, and many of them cried aloud for mercy.

The second night, however, was the memorable one. The Spirit of the Lord was present in an extraordinary manner. There was nothing visible the eye, but there certainly was a mysterious sound - as of a mighty rushing in at one corner of the school - onward it swept over all the school from that one corner to the other. Everyone in that room was conscious of the presence and working of some mysterious power, all were moved by it, simultaneously moved, to decision for God. One young girl alone, of all that was in that room, resisted the Spirit of God. Every heart in that room was melted that night but her's, and James Turner made the remark that she seemed to be possessed with seven devils.

At the close of that service he was very much exhausted. But he sat down and exhorted the people to follow on to know the Lord, and to abstain from all appearance of evil. How we hung upon his words of sympathy and encouragement; we knew it would be the last, and though our mouths were filled with thanksgiving and praise, yet, like those of old at their final parting with the one who was their spiritual father, we sorrowed that we should see his face no more. 

"Dear Friends," he said, "attend your meetings regularly, and I would advise you to keep together. The body of Christians that I belong to meet together in classes to tell their experience, and then there is a leader in every class, and he asks them round to tell their experience, and I would commend these meetings to you. You have all experience that you can tell here to-night, make this the first class meeting."

We did so, and wonderful experience was related that night as one by one, with melting heart and strangely softened countenance, rose to tell what God had done for them.

From 'James Turner, or how to reach the masses,' by E McHardie, page 226.

Additional Information

“he held his services in what was then the village school hall, a small building situated at the corner of East High Street, near the present U.F. Church hall.” - That is what is now the Church of Scotland.

The most prominent building in Gordon Street is the |Methodist Church. In 1860 James Turner preached in the school hall in East High Street. He was so successful that Portgordon, which had previously enjoyed a reputation for drunkenness, lost 6 of its 10 public houses either through the conversion of the publicans or the loss of business resulting from the new interest in religion. A congregation was formed with the services held in a garret at 31 Gordon Street (AB56 1JJ ) until 1874 when the present “handsome and commodious” church was opened.”

(Buckie and Area Past and Present – Moray district libraries 1987)

Related Wells