Rev John Maciver and the Carloway Revival

A picture of the Rev. John Maciver "On 21st August 1924, Rev. John Maciver was ordained and inducted to Carloway. In his last year at College, Mr Maciver was preaching in the Carloway congregation. Being up in Callanish, which was then part of the Carloway congregation, he was requested to visit a man who was very ill and was troubled with insomnia. Mr Maciver had thoughts at this time of leaving the ministry, but he promised to visit the man. Before going, he vowed to himself that he would pray to God to grant this man rest and sleep that night, and that he would take it as a mark for himself to return to the College if the Lord answered that prayer. Having prayed with the man who was curled up in front of the fireplace, he stayed that night in Callanish, and next morning before leaving he was anxious to hear how the sick man had passed the night. He was informed that he was much better, and had slept soundly all night. Mr Maciver, although pleased, did not however take any comfort from this.

After being settled as a minister in Carloway, he went to see the man, and enquired about his health. The man said that a miracle happened the night that Mr Maciver had prayed with him. 'I not only slept well, but I knew also why you had prayed.'

During the first ten years of Mr Maciver's ministry an average of four communicants per annum were added to the Roll. Thus each year he enjoyed tokens of the Lord's favour, although generally speaking the congregation appeared to be in a somewhat torpid condition, especially when compared with the exhilarating experience of the next five or six years. These early tokens appeared to be drops before the showers but Mr Maciver himself, at times, felt very despondent, although he expected times of refreshing on the basis of a certain encouragement from the Lord. On more than one occasion he had been tempted to accept calls from other congregations, and as a preacher he had been in great demand at Communion seasons, being one of the most gifted ministers in the Church, with an unction that was uncommon, and which often left his audience in tears as he spoke of the sufferings and glory of his Redeemer."

The Revival

In the six years up to the Second World War the Isle of Lewis, in Scotland's Outer Hebrides, was visited by a remarkable Christian awakening. The parish of Carloway, on the west side, was deeply affected by the movement, which worked through all denominations in the district. The minister of Carloway Free Church at the time was Rev. John Maciver (1887-1946).

"In 1934, a stirring among the dry bones became noticeable, not only in some young people beginning to attend the prayer meetings, but also in the liberty Mr Maciver enjoyed in his own preaching, a liberty also enjoyed by those called upon to engage in public prayer. Attendances increased, and there was an earnest expectation to be observed among young and old. Mrs Macleod, 2 Carloway... told me that when the first two young lads came to the prayer meeting for the first time,, (Duncan, 10 Garenin, and John Macleod, 31 Carloway), Calum, her husband, turned round in his seat, and, on seeing them behind him, he burst into tears while her own reaction was of her heart feeling as hard as flint. She had been a member since 1916, and he since 1922, so by 1934 both were experienced Christians. The husband could in no way be classed as emotional, but there are times when such experiences are more to be noticed than understood.

The work of the Holy Spirit was from then on progressing steadily but calmly, with little external excitement, except the eager attention with which young and old listened to the preaching of the Word. In both denominations, the movement spread through the whole district from Dalbeg to Garynahine. In September 1934 there were 4 admissions to the Lord's Table; in March 1935, 7; in September 1935, 12; in March 1936, 6; in September 1936, 10; in March 1937, 6; in September 1937, 8; in March 1938, 13; in September 1938, 16... There was a total of 101 new members in ten years. Thus it is evident that by 1940-41 the movement had abated. Also many of the young had been called up to the armed forces...

When we came back from the war in 1945 we immediately noticed the difference. Not only had the revival run out of steam, but the people, on coming out of the services, immediately rushed home, whereas, during the revival, you could observe them in groups either discussing what they had heard or else enquiring where they would gather that evening. Now, however, gatherings, except on special occasions, had ceased to exist. During the revival itself visiting ministers were greatly uplifted, and older Christians were on the top of Pisgah. Adherents, too, were nonplussed as to what all this would come to, since football, badminton, concerts and dances had lost their most ardent supporters.

As the movement had spread to other congregations such as Bernera, Park, Kinloch, Lochs, Knock, Barvas and Cross the number of visitors gathering at the Communion season was enormous. The churches were full, and the solemnity at those services was awe-inspiring as the Word of God went as fiery darts to the consciences and hearts of the unconverted. Wherever the people met, whether in a house or on the road, at peats or in the field, at fanks or on buses, the subject of conversation was the work of the Lord in our district and those who had been converted. "Bha 'n aite air ghoil..." (The place was agog.) Some families had four or five converted, others two or one, and a few none at all. It is remarkable how dark some families remain even in the midst of a revival.

At worship where a death had occurred, the names of two people were called on to pray between singings, and it was not unusual to hear twelve to fifteen prayers during worship. I remember one house prayer meeting where seventeen, almost all recent converts, were called upon... Today I would feel two or three longer than the seventeen. Whenever young converts visited homes, tea was immediately prepared, mainly with a view to hearing the young converts asking a blessing or returning thanks. Of this tea recent converts were quite apprehensive.

By the end of the revival there were unusual prostrations, which came mainly as a result of a visit by a busload of young converts and a few old Christians from Shader, Barvas, where raising of hands and praying aloud, almost shouting, had become the custom. Some of us felt as if we were being severely rebuked for having come to spy on these prostrations and activities. As far as I can remember, there were no new converts at Carloway during or after these prostrations, and when the revival ended the prostrations ended too, and the subjects affected became excellent witnesses for their Master...

During church services both the minister and the congregation were so visibly affected that the services were veritable Bochims. Some showed signs of great concern and some signs of distress as the Law of God pricked the conscience, constraining them to say as at Pentecost, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37) They were thus very reluctant to depart from the church after the service, and often sang some verses of their favourite Psalms outside the main door of the church, so that the sound of their uplifted praise echoed throughout the surrounding villages. What joy was experienced by the Lord's people when these new converts appeared in the prayer meeting!

The whole counsel of God was declared from the pulpits, and no attempt was made to cater for the stirred feelings of the listeners. The effects on their life were a deep conviction of sin; concern for their eternal state; a sense of their own unworthiness; earnest prayer for mercy; a careful walk and conversation in their daily life; a thirst for more and more knowledge of the Word – together with endless questions as to the deep spiritual meaning of certain verses of Scripture which they had either read or heard, but did not fully understand. As they cried for mercy and grace to help in time of need, some felt as if they were groping in the dark to find true peace in Christ. Some were in this state for a considerable time so that, if they heard any speaker at a fellowship giving marks which they could not follow, they were ready to conclude that their was little hope for their salvation. Others were carried as if on the crest of a wave into the haven of peace, comfort and felicity as they closed in with Christ in full assurance of faith. Many felt like the father of the epileptic boy, crying, "Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief." (Mark 9: 24) They could well understand the apparent contradiction in his request through their own experiences, as they felt more conscious of their unbelief than their faith.

The effect on the life and conversation of the young converts was remarkable – a hatred of sin, an abandonment of their former lifestyle, a longing for holiness, with a dread of bringing any blemish on the cause of Christ. They often brought truths they did not understand to their elders, and very often had clear answers to their problems from the pulpit, so that they felt sure someone had informed the minister.

The revival did not touch the very young, though some converts were in their mid-teens. Neither did it appear to touch many of the hard and aged adherents, but it certainly strengthened many who were semi-lapsed, and those 'following afar of'. This was the case in both denominations in the district."

(Excerpted and slightly edited from "The Burning Bush in Carloway: Its History and Revivals", by Rev Murdo MacAulay.)

Fellowship and House Meetings...