The Kilsyth Revival by James Hutchison

 The Coat of Arms

 The coat of arms of Kilsyth provides at a glance a panorama of the history of the burgh. The cross-swords reminds us of the battle of Kilsyth, fought on the 15th August 1645, between Royalist troops under the command of the Marquis of Montrose and the covenanting army of General William Baille.  The weaver’s shuttle and the miner’s lamp speak of the prominent role played by handloom weavers and coal miners in the economic development of the town.  And last but not least the open Bible denotes the vitality of the Christian faith throughout many centuries.

 Early Christianity

 The earliest established place of worship in the Kilsyth area dates from the 4th and 5th centuries AD when Celtic missionaries such as St. Ninian and St. Mirren spread the gospel message from their base at Whithorn in south-west Scotland.  Their achievements are commemorated in numerous place names and illustrates the power of a living Christ maintained against the background of a pagan age.

 The Ministry of John Livingston

 In December 1560 the national convention of the Scottish reformation met in Monyabroch (Kilsyth) parish when Alexander Livingstone was one of the first ministers appointed by the first general assembly of the reformed Church of Scotland.  His grandson John Livingstone was to become one of the earliest preachers of his generation.  On the 21st June 1627, he preached at the famous Kirk o Shotts revival with such effect that over 500 people turned to God for salvation. During the covenanting period he was chaplain to the Presbyterian armies and was highly commended by Oliver Cromwell.  An observer commented that, “When the troops came to their quarters, there was nothing to be heard throughout the whole army but the singing of Psalms and prayer and the reading of scripture!” His youngest son Robert, after a colourful career sailing with the notorious pirate, Captain Kidd, established a vast estate on the Hudson River and founded one of the leading families in New York.  His grandson Robert Livingstone of New York appears alongside John Adams and Benjamin Franklin when the declaration of American Independence was signed on 4th July 1776 at Philadelphia.

 The Rev. James Robe and the Great Revival of 1742-43

 During the 1730’s, the Parish was stricken by a number of natural disasters.  In 1733, 60 people died of pneumatic fever in a period of just 3 weeks and later that year violent rainstorms swept away houses, drowned livestock and destroyed most of the cornfields in the parish.  Many people were on the brink of starvation.  Such times of adversity brought people closer to God.  During a series of dramatic services in 1742 and 1743 at which James Robe preached, many people acknowledged Christ as their Lord and the entire character of daily life of the people of Kilsyth altered radically.  These revival meetings were characterised by hundreds of men and women weeping, moaning and crying out to God for forgiveness. 

The lasting impact of this revival was in evidence in 1751 when James Robe was able to present to the Kirk Session a list of over 100 people converted at the time who “had maintained a walk and conversation befitting the gospel!”

 William Chalmers Burns – The Kilsyth Revival of 1839

 When Rev. William Burns was appointed in 1821 the Parish was in spiritual decline. In the words of the chief heritor “the Apostle Paul himself could not bring the people of Kilsyth out in full meeting three Sabbaths running.”  The seeds of revival were carefully sown over a period of 20 years with a programme of house visits, prayer groups, adult Bible classes and Sunday school.  Strong links were also forged with the Glasgow evangelicals led by some of the finest preachers of the day.  During the summer of 1839, the minister’s son William Chalmers Burns, then assistant minister at Dundee to the great evangelist Robert Murray McCheyne, preached on a number of occasions with startling results; at one open air service held near the church an estimated 10,000 people attended.  It was common for several hundred people to meet in the market square before going to work – many of them catching the 7.30 canal boat for Glasgow at Auchinstarry.  William Chalmers Burns was to conduct revival meetings throughout Scotland and in Canada before devoting himself to pioneering missionary work in China.

  “As in the Day of Pentecost” – The Revival of 1908

 In 1896 the Kilsyth United Evangelical Society was established to liaise between the largely unchurched mining community and local ministers.  Services were held in the Wingate hall in Wesport Street, a former theatre and workingmen’ club.  The church grew rapidly and in 1908 a series of remarkable revival meetings took place where many manifestations of divine power were witnessed such as faith healing and speaking in tongues.  No fewer than 28 young people offered themselves for missionary service.  Kilsyth became a centre for those seeking knowledge of the Pentecostal experience and played a major role in the development of the Pentecostal movement at home and abroad.

 Spe Expecto

 As a ‘native’ of the town and a Christian I have found it to be an enjoyable, enriching and sometimes thought provoking experience to turn back the years and pages in the history of the community and gain an entrance to the thoughts and lives of the past generations.  Presbyterians, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals and the Community Church all play their part in weaving the diverse tapestry of local religious life and the constant thread of faith that has pervaded the community for centuries.  The motto “Spe Expecto” which accompanies the burgh coat of arms translates “I look forward with hope” and relates to the confidence and certainty of those who have put their faith in the risen Christ.  Surely an inspiring and ever relevant message as we face the challenges of the 21st century.

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