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1742 A.D.:  The  'Ale' Preacher

  It is not an easy thing to be a preacher...and it never really has been.  Humans are a difficult species, and you have to deal with their idiosyncrasies.  One of their idiosyncrasies might be that they think you are not a very good preacher.  Others might be more involved with how the church should look, what sort of things the church members should do, what time the service should be, whether so-and-so should be allowed to stay in the church in light of what he has been caught doing, whether the preacher has noticed what a hateful woman what's her name is, and how she's always causing difficulties and nobody likes her.  The preacher's wife also is almost certainly going to come under fire...fair and unfair...repeatedly. People are no easy task to deal with. 

  But, as mentioned, one of the toughest problems is when they think that you are a very uninspiring preacher.  And when they also feel spiritually tasked to make it obvious to you that they think so.

  Such was the dismal and depressing fate of Presbyterian preacher William Mc'Culloch who was the leader of a church (kirk) and parish in Cambuslang, Scotland, which is very near Glasgow, in the year 1742.  Cambuslang means 'long bay' (Camas Lang) in Scotch Gaelic according to one source I found.  Pastor Mc'Culloch was a capable writer, skilled in reading the ancient Biblical languages, was also an able scholar in Math and Physics.  He had authored some pretty good sermons.  But, he was somewhat slow and deliberate and thorough in his delivery of his sermons.  His speaking style failed to thrill, deeply move, or actually even lightly impress his listeners for the most part. 

  To illustrate just how low he ranked in the estimation of his listening audience, here is a fact mentioned concerning him:  at this time, in Scotland, they sometimes had 'Scottish Sacramental Occasions' or 'Holy Fairs', and there a good sized group of local area churches and their congregants would gather into a great Christian company of believers, outdoors in a fair-like atmosphere and, among other things, they would listen to many preachers, even guest preachers from far away were sometimes brought to attend and deliver a sermon.  William M'Cullough had become a pretty well known figure at these 'Holy Fairs'.  The Scottsmen tended to call him 'The Ale Preacher', or more accurately, 'Lil Minister'.  When it was his turn to get up and deliver a sermon, it was time for them to leave, go find a nearby tavern, and have a few glasses of Ale (Lil) until Mc'Culloch was done.  That's why he was called 'The Ale Preacher'.  A preacher so bad to listen to that they had that special name for him.  The preacher whose preaching sent men off to the bars to drink.  Not too flattering. 

  It is on record that he actually 'confessed' to another minister - a Mr. Woodrow of Eastwood, at the time he had learned of his assignment to Cambuslang - that he had great doubts as to his suitedness for pastoral work.  He said that not only did his talents not seem to distinguish him for the work, but he had periods of time when he even doubted his own inner personal commitment to the work of God, and he had great mental depressions.  He felt himself a hypocrite, and when he listened to parishoners describe their breakthroughs with the Lord, he would think of how he himself had never experienced such a thing. 

  Not suited, by common and unanimous agreement?  Well, let's just say he was struggling.  And the local Scottish people weren't that fired up about going to church anyway, just then.  The church building in Cambuslang had even been vacant for quite a time just previously.

  But, in other places, things were better.  In the American Colonies, still attached fairly happily to England, there was a great awakening of zeal for God going on.  Oddly, it had been fired off in large part by Calvinist preachers from Scotland that were traveling about preaching in the open air.  They preached, along with other ideals from the Bible, that men were essentially equal and owning of equal consideration beneath the eyes God.  That it is the moral character of the man that makes him a great man or a not so great man, a great woman or a not so great woman.  Yet they also understood and preached that all of mankind was guilty before Jesus, and it was only His work on the cross that could achieve salvation for man.....we did good works, yes, as many as we could, in fact.  But, it didn't buy us even one square yard or meter of ground in heaven.  Only Jesus sufficed for a sinners salvation.

  And there were some pretty great preachers in that day......some deeply moving sermons were being preached.  They were tending to preach in such a style as to first bring to mind the sinfulness that each man actually has, focusing on the standards of God compared to the behaviours and acts of disobedience shown by man in return for Jesus' great sacrifice.  After that, after men and women were made to see how evil they truly were in the eyes of God, then they would remind them that there was a way, through Jesus, to be saved.  It was sharply edged preaching, and it was opening up a lot of guilty hearts to introspection, feelings of great guilt, fears of damnation, and a frightened realization that they must get right with God....and quickly, before it was too late.

  In America a great revival was taking shape...and it would be called part of the 'First Great Awakening.'  It would rise high, convert many, strengthen those who believed a very great deal, and it would travel to many lands.  Numerous preachers became part of this....those were very exciting times to preach.  The Holy Spirit was really working in the hearts of men. 

  But there was one man that God had equipped particularly well for preaching, and he was moving about all over the American colonies preaching, and crossing back across the Atlantic to Europe as well.  He traveled around 17 times across the Atlantic Ocean and back.  His name was George Whitfield (sometimes spelled 'Whitefield'.)  He faced his share of resistance....he spoke in letters of being heckled, of having a dead cat thrown at him, and pieces of rotted fruit, etc.  But....he also preached with power, the Holy Spirit's power, and it had great affect. 

  Whitfield had the distinction at one time in the 1700's for taking the longest horseback ride of any known man of European descent in America.  He took that ride while traveling from town to town preaching.  He rode from somewhere in New England to somewhere in the Carolinas via a zig-zagging course that took him from town to town.  He sent people that traveled in his group to the towns he planned to stop at, and they would advertise his coming and try to have a crowd waiting to hear him.  It was a time for stirring religious zeal in America, and he was apparently one of the greatest open air preachers of his day.  

  Remember that this is the 1700's in colonial, guess what size of crowds that he preached to.  What do you think would have been a large crowd for Whitfield to give his sermons to?

  It is recorded that sometimes it was in the tens of thousands.  No sound system speakers, no giant TV screens, no fireworks, but just the voice of a slightly built man who was noted to be cross eyed and happened to have a voice that reached a long ways.  Yet he preached so exceptionally well and he reached hearts and souls so powerfully that they came from the farms and the hills and the big cities and the small to hear him and be able to say that they had heard him as he preached again the message of Jesus Christ to the hearts of a needy people.  And he must not have left them disappointed, because in town after town, in colony after colony the people kept telling other people something like:  "You've just got to hear Whitfield preach!"  It appears that the Holy Spirit was with him in an especially affecting way.

  His preaching was not just important to the salvation of souls, but it also was fundamental in planting a certain message that he felt it was embedded in the scriptures and which it was important for people to hear:  that men are intrinsically equal, and that it is through their moral character and their accomplishments that one man exceeds another.  Not by the nobility of their birth, but by the righteousness by which they try to live their life.  That idea became a pretty important sentiment in the American heart in about 1776 and later, when it came to a boil in the face of what the American colonists thought of as oppressive abuses by a far away British King, George III.

  Benjamin Franklin - though sometimes described as a 'deist' - felt that Whitfield's preaching was so good and so meaningful to the colonists that he began devoting the front page of his 'Gazette' to Whitfield's sermons.  In all, he posted Whitfield's sermons about 45 times on the front page, and Franklin remained Whitfield's friend for life. 

  But, back to Scotland and Cambuslang.  There was a development of importance in 1742.  A pair of men from McCulloch's church - Ingram Moore - a shoe maker,  and Robert Bowman, a weaver - happened to be traveling in the Glascow area of Scotland when Whitfield was there traveling and preaching, so they attended his sermon.  They were deeply impressed, and returned with an idea.  They went about the local area to the attenders of Mc'Culloch's church, and gathered the signature of about 90 heads of families who's agreement they had gained for their plan:  they wanted Mc'Culloch to assign a day of the work week for the hearing of lectures by Christian speakers, and the people would come after work and attend outdoors sermons and be brought all the closer to the Lord through increased time spent together in the Word.

  Mc'Culloch was hardly able to disagree, and so he began coordinating the details, and they held their first Sermon day outside in the large brae (open area) near the church building, at the edge of a gorge that was useful for addressing crowds.  The first meeting went as planned, but there was little interest in going afterwards to the manse (minister's home) to confess, or repent, or discuss. And the next meeting was much the same.  During the lecture time Mc'Culloch read letters out loud to them from America and England about the great and highly unusual spiritual revival that was flowering in those places.  The parishoners were becoming very interested in such reports. 

 The next Sunday, Mc'Culloch noted that the church members were especially keen to discuss such letters about the growing work of the Holy Spirit....the great revivals happening in other places had caught their imagination, and they were eager to pray about such things.  The local Scots had actually formed a great number of small prayer groups during an interem time back when Cambuslang was without a preacher, before Mc'Culloch had been assigned there.  Some of those groups had never quit meeting. 

  But then, the next time they met for their weekly lecture (they met in a tent sometimes, other times in the open, due to the church building's state of great disrepair) Mc'Culloch noted that there was especially great attention to the letters he read aloud from far away preachers, and the scripture from the Bible.  Something odd was building.  The Scotts of that area had a high literacy rate, and followed along closely in their own Bibles quite often.  

  M'Culloch reported that he finished his final prayer using part of Isaiah 53 and partially his own words, something like "Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?  Where are the fruits of my labor among this people?"  and suddenly several of the normally undemonstrative Scott congregants cried out aloud in spiritual anguish.  And after that meeting, there were many who gathered at the Mc'Culloch's manse.

  The Holy Spirit had landed upon Cambuslang, and the Sundays and the Thursday lectures began to be very, very powerful.  People seemed drawn from everywhere to attend them.  The grief, the repentance, the wounded hearts of sinners trying to come to grips with God were everywhere to be seen.  Great and powerful emotion!  In a few places in the world, at a few different times, the Holy Spirit has come down upon a people or an area like gangbusters.  It is usually described as being something wholly different than ordinary zeal.  It is a 'palpable presence'.  The Holy Spirit is one of the forms of our God, and God is powerful when he is closely present in this portion of His Personage.

  There soon wasn't room for all the people who began coming to Cambuslang.  From February to November of 1742 there was revival at Cambuslang.  There were crowds in the thousands upon thousands at times.  Mc'Culloch spoke and brought in many speakers, and the people attended with a vengeance. 

  Even George Whitfield actually came and spoke, which is ironic in that his preaching at a previous time and place nearby had inspired the two congregants to begin the Thursday lectures which so prepared the hearts of the people of this small parish for revival.  They say that around 30,000 people were there to hear Whitfield, and how very odd that God had decided to bring one of the world's most inspiring preachers to overwhelm a giant crowd of needy Christians at the church of a minister that had been thought one of the least inspiring of all ministerial speakers anywhere around.  And at a church whose physical architectural structure was so broken down that they didn't even use it, because the congregants were practical, tight fisted Scotts and just didn't quite see the need at that juncture in time to rebuild it. 

  As fall came, the revival cooled (well, the Scottish weather probably played a hand in attendance as well.)  But Mc'Culloch continued on as minister there for a long time....only now he was a well appreciated preacher!  His parishoners were quite proud to have had such a thing happen in their humble area, and their slow, careful, deliberately spoken minister had been a great part of it all, and they knew it.  Once unkindly derided, he was now a point of pride in their small community.  He was no longer thought of as the 'Ale preacher', though his preaching seems not to have changed.   

  He served his parish until he was so old that he had to be led by hand to the then renovated church from the then renovated manse.  And when he died, his parishoners affectionately placed the following words on his tombstone:

  "He was eminently successful in preaching the gospel"

  William McCulloch is a pretty good example of why we should persevere even when the days seem dark and our cause seems lost.  When God is involved, you never know how a thing might turn out.  Continuing in the doing of what is right when the skies are clear and the winds warm and at our back is fine.  But, he is no captain that has never sailed the storms.  It is pleasing to God when we press forward in times of great adversity, with faith as our shield.     



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