Edinburgh and its Forward Movement
Transcription of Article in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by S. Horton
The first time I saw Edinburgh was one beautiful Whitsuntide morning between five and six o’clock, while most of its inhabitants were still fast-locked in the arms of “Nature’s sweet restorer, balmy sleep.” Very fair indeed the city looked from Calton Hill, as she lay bathed in the sunlight. I could not but recall Milton’s description of Jerusalem:—
“There fair Jerusalem lifted high her towers;
But higher still the glorious temple reared her pile,
Far off appearing like a mount of alabaster,
Topped with golden spires.”
A city to be loved, to be proud of; a city to stir the pulse at the recital of the deeds of its heroes; to fire the heart of the young and ambitious by the remembrance of its citizens who have risen from obscurity into fame, and yet a city to be wept over, if one could but look down its closes, and filthy alleys. where human beings wallow in the slough of all filthiness. From where l stood I could see Heriot’s College, bringing to mind the shrewd old Scotsman who advised His Most August Majesty and God’s silly vassal, King James. St. Giles’ Cathedral spire recalled at once Jenny Geddes and her stool, the launching of which at the head of the Dean also launched a Reformation; while silently sleeping under the shadow of the Church in which he so often preached lies Scotland‘s Elijah — John Knox, whose highest praise it is that “he never feared the face of man.” Not far off is the little room where Burns retired after nights spent in wild mirth with the élite of Edinburgh, and which he shared with a friend; while looking down Princes Street the monument of Scott brought back the recollection of many a pleasant hour spent in reading “Waverley” and its companion volumes. But little did I dream then that I was to spend some of the best years of my life in Edinburgh. It is the unexpected that happens. During the sittings of the Grimsby Conference I met a deputation from a London Station, and accepted an invitation to go to the metropolis when my term in Hull was finished. I returned home very happy, for London is nearly as dear to me as it was to Dr. Johnson, and without going so far as to declare “Fleet Street to be the finest sight in the world,” yet it has a great and continuous charm for me. If I were commencing my ministry I would go to London in preference to any other place in the world, for it is the finest missionary field to be found anywhere. And when the Conference decided that I was to come to Edinburgh instead, I felt a keener measure of disappointment than I have ever expressed. I came to a struggling, almost despairing church. The isolation from all the usual sources of Connexional help and influence – and the continuous struggle to do what was next to impossible – pay their way – had chilled the ardour of the few faithful souls who were still holding on in the hope of better days. It is an easy matter to attach blame to ministers, and to officials, in case of failure, but God alone knows the agony the minister has who is struggling with an almost hopeless cause, with the consclousness that do what he may he cannot redeem the situation. I have heard some of my predecessors censured by men who knew but little of the circumstances that gathered round their ministry here. I am sure that if I had been left single-handed to grapple with the difficulties they had to encounter I should have lost both heart and hope.
I do not wish it, however, to be understood that we have failed in Edinburgh. It may be that in the great day of God it will be found that our little church has a history which will place it far before some more pretentious churches which have been able to tabulate increases from year to year, while it has steadily declined. In England we are able, to a large extent, to gather and keep the harvest of our sowing. In Scotland, if we gather the harvest it goes into the gamers of the other Churches. As Spurgeon put it, “We shoot the birds, but somebody on the other side of the hedge pick them up.” An eloquent tribute was paid to the work done by Primitive Methodism in the last National Convention of Christian Endeavour by the Rev. Muir, B.D., of Glasgow, in a very able paper on Home Missions. The Rev. John Pollock said, “We all know that Presbyterians are all the better for having gone through the Methodist mill.” And we have gone on milling rough corn into fine flour, and it has helped to fill the sacks of our Presbyterian friends — who are, and have ever been, our warm friends. Dr. Guthrie once stated “that he found people who had been converted in our Church in nearly every church in the town.” A similar testimony was borne by a popular Edinburgh minister at my own welcome meeting. Passing down a London slum one day l saw a little unpretentious Primitive Methodist Church. “What are they doing here? ” l asked of my companion — a devoted East End minister of another Church. “Oh! nothing very striking,” he said, “but that is one of the places that is helping to keep London sweet.” So, from the Terrace Church there have gone forth health-giving influences, and it has helped to keep Edinburgh sweet. I am sure that though some may feel inclined to write “Failure” across some recent pages of its history, God will not; for it has never been a surprising thing to see the penitent’s tear, or hear the sob of contrition within its walls, and that cannot be said, I fear, for far more fashionable and better attended churches.
The history of at Church as it is written in heaven must be wonderfully interesting reading. As men write it it is sometimes a tragedy.
The Sunderland Circuit first sent missionaries to modern Athens. Messrs T. Oliver and Clewer were the men selected for the task, and as they were too poor to pay coach fares they trudged all the way on foot. These travelling, preachers arrived at their destination on April 10, 1826, having preached at Morpeth, Alnwick and Belper on their way. It was in the Grassmarket – hallowed by the blood of hundreds of brave men who died for the Covenant and for Scotland’s freedom, that they opened their commission. In the Grassmarket Donald Cargill, and James Renwick, and Hugh McKail, and scores of others, of whom the world was not worthy, “glorified God,” and now sleep under the shelter of the city wall in Greyfriars Churchyard hard by. It was on the Grassmarlcet that Guthrie was gazing with pitying eye when Chalmers tapped him on the shoulder with the remark, “That it was a fine field of labour.” So our first missionaries seemed to have felt, for in the Grassmarket they preached and visited, and established a Mission. “The worst first,” was their working principle, and to the crowded ?ats in this neighbourhood they gave themselves unstintedly. The text of the first sermon was, “Is all well? wherefore came this mad fellow to thee?” Out of 429 families visited they found 200 heads of families out of employment, 70 poor widows, and other destitute persons, and 123 families without Bibles. A weaving shed, seating upwards of 600 persons, was taken as a preaching-room, and soon a flourishing Church was established. But alas! the Rev. N. West, who had charge of it, seemed to like his location so well that he refused to obey the mandate of Conference to remove to South Shields, and split the Church In twain. Mr. John Bowers was sent to take charge of the faithful few, but Mr. West’s blandishments proved too strong for him, and he went over and joined him. Through stress and storm the society held on its way, moving from hall to hall, as convenience or necessity dictated. Among others who laboured here in these early and trying times were some who were in after days to take high place in the ranks of our ministry, notably the Rev. J. Austin Bastow and the Rev. John Wenn. It was the Rev. John Vaughan who first faced the project of building a church. This was in 1866. It was a bold and brave undertaking for the little host who gathered around him, but it was done, and to this day there are many who remember the flaming earnestness of Mr. Vaughan and his successful ministry. “I recollect,” said a Baillie of the city to me, “Mr. Vaughan and his open-air addresses. He was a man of fire. Edinburgh owes a lot to him. I helped him, and I will help you,” and forthwith he promised to be a trustee for the Livingstone Hall. The new church cost £1,750, a large sum for a small church; we have sold it for £1,900 after thirty-five years’ service. Among the many names on the roll of its ministers I find those of the Revs. J. B. Rayner, Jas. Young, J. Cooper Antliff. D.D., Theo. Parr, M.A., H. Yooll, S. Blackshaw, W. Robinson, J. Everingham, W.C.T. Parker, R. Pattinson and T.W. White. Of late years the struggle to keep together a congregation has been increased by the changing condition of the neighbourhood, it having become more and more commercial and less residential, and also from the large number of mission halls which have been opened since Moody’s visit revolutionised many of the methods of Presbyterianism. We shall have no sad consciousness in moving away that the people are being neglected, or uncared for, for within three minutes of our door there are thirty-five churches and mission halls. The wisdom of getting out is justified by the example set us by the other Churches, some of which, like ourselves, have for a long time been on the look-out for a neighbourhood where they will have more elbow room. It will be interesting to many to know that St. Giles’ Church has had a mission in an upstairs room nearly next door to us, and the managers have purchased our property, so that the purpose for which it was built will still in some measure be fulfilled. We are glad that it has still to be a centre of religious instruction. About our new Hall it would be easy to write much. It is no exaggeration to say that we possess now one of the finest blocks of buildings in the Connexion. After converting the front into shops we shall have ample accommodation for all the purposes of our work. The large hall will seat 1,000 people, and has been in constant demand for lectures, concerts, etc. Then there is a small hall, which has seating accommodation for 300, and has folding doors so as to be easily divided off into three, and is specially adapted for Sabbath School work. There are besides, billiard room, ladies’ room, artists’ room, lavatories and hall-keeper’s residence, etc., etc. The buildings are lighted with electricity throughout, and cover a quarter of an acre of ground.
The story of the purchase is worth telling, but perhaps the time has not yet come to tell it. It will be sufficient to state that the Committee that came down for the purpose, the Revs. R.W. Burnett and J. Ritson, Messrs. T. Robinson, Henry Adams and A. Chippendale, were convinced that it would not be obtained for anything like the amount stated, as the upset price, and were prepared to go to a considerable sum beyond it rather than lose it. But we had it on good authority that £15,000 would be given by a syndicate, who were prepared to run it as a billiard saloon and club. The Committee was represented at the sale by the Missionary Secretary, and Messrs. Adams and Chippendale, and to them largely the credit is due, not only that we got it at so small a price, but that we got it at all. How the leading men of the city regard it may be gathered from the following testimonies, which are only a sample of many others. Dr. Whyte, in an interview, said, “Tell your people I am heartily in favour of your project. I could not be otherwise. l will come some night and give you a talk about Wesley. Am only sorry that I cannot be with you at the opening.” Dr. John Smith expressed himself in similar terms, and promised to preach for us. Prof. Marcus Dod says, “I cordially rejoice in your purchase, and wish you much success.” The Rev. George Jackson, M.A., says, “I am delighted. If you think my name is of any use in commending your scheme to the Christian public, you are heartily welcome to it.” Prof. Simpson, M.D., sent a cheque for £5 with his best wishes. Dr. Robertson Nicoll writes, saying, “That there is no Church I am more in sympathy with than the Primitive Methodist provided it stands by its old lines, as I believe you are prepared to do, I think a great work can be done in Edinburgh by the simple preaching of the Gospel. With heartiest sympathy for your great work in Edinburgh.” And so my heart has been encouraged to go forward. It is evident that the men who are making the pulpit life of Scotland believe in us and our work. Let us believe in ourselves. We have crossed the Rubicon. We cannot turn back. Upon the support the Connexion gives to this important venture will depend the whole of our future in Scotland. Will every reader of the Aldersgate kindly send a contribution, if it is only a small one?
The name we have adopted was first suggested by a splendid statue, standing in the lobby, of the great African missionary by Mrs. D.O. Hills, who is a sister of Sir Noel Paton. It has a special interest, as it is the only statue Livingstone ever sat for. Mrs. Bruce, Dr. Livingstone’s daughter, was approached, and at once consented to the adoption of the name. We pray the future of the Mission may be worthy of its name.
As to our programme, we intend to make the “Livingstone Hall “ a centre of spiritual influence. We want “holiness to the Lord ” to be inscribed on its walls. We have already refused something like £140 per annum for a billiard room and dancing classes, and shall refuse all such offers. We stand or fall by a spiritual Church. We have not lost faith in the attractive power of the Cross. In all holy service we will try and help the city. The future is with God. But He expects us to work with Him. May I venture to ask that those who do not believe in the wisdom of our venture will help us at least by not talking it down, and those who have faith in it will assist by talking it up – and bank their faith by such works as writing us a cheque, or purchasing a postal order and forwarding it at once.
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1901/369