But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)
I believe that it is vital that every Christian is able to clearly state how they came to believe in Jesus Christ.I know that God works in other people from the time of their birth and for that reason many have no definite date or time of conversion, but what follows is God’s personal dealing with me, and is unique to me. No two people come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour in exactly the same way. God is a loving Father to His Children, He knows we are not clones, nor does he want us to be. It is God who gave us our personality, our individuality, and who will in His grace use the different gifts and talents he has endued us with to His glory. So I offer these reflections, hoping they will edify all who read them and be of help to others,that God may have the glory.
I was born and brought up into a Christian home in the island of Great Bernera, a smaller satellite of the island of Lewis in the Western Isles of Scotland. Great Bernera ( not to be confused with Berneray near North Uist ) was at that time an island of some 300 plus persons with a fairly healthy primary school roll by today’s standards of over forty pupils. The main industries in my younger years were lobster fishing, crofting and in particular the rearing of sheep and cattle. Fish farming was beginning to become important in my late teenage years and is now one of the few real sources of employment left on the island , as the primary industries of fishing and crofting have declined drastically in the last twenty years.
My parents were both Christians, and had both been converted at a relatively young age. My father was converted in a huge revival that swept over Lewis in the years preceding World War Two. I remember him saying that in that little island of Bernera there were FIFTY new communicant members between the two Congregations ( Church of Scotland & Free Church) on the island in the one year ( 1936) . These numbers are staggering, and are hard to compare to the church of today – anywhere in our country at least. My mother was converted as a teenager in 1953 during what is sometimes mistakenly called the Lewis revival . I use the term “mistakenly” simply for the reason that there were so many times of revival blessing in our island in the past, that it is wrong to focus on just one. In the 49-53 revival as it is known in these islands, the main instrument God used was the Rev Duncan Campbell. For more information on this move of God please see ‘ Sounds of heaven ‘ by Colin and Mary Peckham which is in my opinion the most accurate of the plethora of books that have been produced on this move of God. More information on the late Colin and Mary Peckham and their work can be found here
I remember my mother saying to me that she first saw my father at a prayer meeting in Bernera during the revival, he had been called upon to engage in prayer and was shaking like a leaf, not through fear and nerves, but through the sheer power of the Holy Spirit in the meeting. Such were the days that both my parents came to know the Lord in, I hope to relate other instances in other posts, but sufficient to say, I became a Christian in very different circumstances.
I was always brought up to go to church and Sunday school, but that did not make me a Christian. My father was an elder and the Session clerk ( the lay administrator) of the Church in Bernera, and we were well acquainted with having visiting preachers,missionaries, and communion time visitors stay with us from time to time. Like many of my contemporaries I attended Sunday School where we taught the shorter catechism and memorise passages of Scriptures. I attended church regularly but again that did not make me a Christian . Teenage years saw many of my age group desert the church though never to come back, yet I kept going largely I suppose because I had to ! For that I am truly thankful to God .
The Church in Breaclet Great Bernera (known as Lochs in Bernera)
The reality of human mortality was brought home to me in 1984 when two good friends, indeed the only other boys on my class from Bernera were both drowned. Neil Calum Macaulay and Gordon Peter Maclennan were both lost when their fishing boat Orion sank off Gallan head on the West coast of Lewis . Both boys seemed indestructible aged 19 and 18 respectively, full of vigour, extremely popular and with the whole of their lives ahead of them. Yet they were gone, a truly dark day for our island. I took part in the shore search looking for any trace of them to no avail. I do not know how others reacted to this? I hope I am wrong, but sadly I believe that several hardened their hearts against the Lord at this time. I can only say that a softening took place in my own heart, and a period of real spiritual concern and searching began in my heart.
This was compounded by the events of the following year, late in 1984 my father was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. It was a huge body blow to us as a family, and if I am to be frank a blow to the church in Bernera from which it has not yet recovered. My father was given three months to live, and the doctors prognosis was sadly very accurate, he died in February 1985. This left my mother a widow and without much in the way of support except myself and my brother who was aged only 16 at the time. Thus began a spiritually desolate time in my life. I was still regular in church but miles away from God. I was so near, but yet so far. I went through times of spiritual searching and conviction of my sins, being shown how much I needed Jesus as the Lord of my life, but yet not prepared to wholly yield my life to him. Although I had attended church since my youngest days, very little of what I had heard made a huge impression upon me, and I can recall very little of what was said or happened in these meetings. There was still though an empty place in my heart that nothing could fill. Nothing can be a substitute for Jesus!
Our congregation in Bernera were vacant for much of the 1980s and as a result we often had visiting preachers, some of whom really grabbed my attention. I began reading my Bible at night I remember it was the parts others would find boring that grabbed my attention, so I started in Kings and Chronicles which I admit is unusual.
As our congregation was vacant it was planned that a summer mission would be undertaken there by a three man team from the Faith Mission . My mother was ecstatic at this prospect, I was less so ! They came in the summer of 1989 , and began a two week mission to the island of Bernera. We very soon befriended “the pilgrims” as they were known, and got to know them. I enjoyed going to the services, and indeed did not make excuses as I had done on previous other occasions for not going to church I wanted to go. Indeed I was not afraid to be seen going to church . That might sound strange to some who have an idealised view of the religious life of a place like the island of Lewis. Why would anyone be afraid to be seen going to church? Especially in a island that in certain areas liked to think of itself laughably as “the last stronghold of the pure gospel ” ? I can assure you it is very much the case that to go to church in a place like Lewis carries an even greater stigma than in most other places, and to be seen walking to church on a Tuesday evening in summer carrying a bible is in itself making a very clear unspoken statement !
Yet that is what I was doing , with none of my own peer group there at all. At one particular meeting a call was given to the meagre congregation by the evangelists that if anyone wanted to remain behind and speak to them about the condition of their soul they would be glad to listen and help. That call was made to me ! I know that for this simple reason, there was no-one else it could have been addressed to. The rest of the congregation were elderly Christians . Yet I did not respond, I turned for home, once again reluctant and defiant in equal measure.
The mission ended and the words of Jeremiah 8:20 were an accurate summary of my spiritual condition
20 “The harvest is past, The summer is ended, And we are not saved!” (Jeremiah 8:20 NKJV)
I continued to attend mission meetings in other places , acting as chaffeur to my mother and other older Christians from Bernera as a pretext so I could hear the word . We went to Barvas and to Tong missions where again the turnout was very sparse.
This dear reader is partly what I meant when I said that I became a Christian in a very different day and very different circumstances from my parents. They came to faith in large gatherings and the spiritually supercharged atmosphere of full blown revival where not only the church , but the entire community is God conscious and aware of the Kabod the brooding weighty presence of Almighty God drawing near.
“You met God on meadow and moorland, you met Him in the homes of the people, God seemed to be everywhere ” Rev James Murray Mackay minister at Barvas at the time of the 1949 revival , quoted by Rev Duncan Campbell.
The mission ended and life got back to normal for me. or so I thought, God in His mercy knew better. On a Sunday evening in August 1989 the vacant pulpit of our church was filled by one of the Faith Mission workers , they were leaving Lewis the very next day on the early ferry. The preacher preached a fire and brimstone sermon , searching , convicting and leaving no-one in that church under any doubt that there was a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. His emphasis was on the verse from Genesis 6:3
And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever... (Genesis 6:3 NKJV)
And during that service arrows of conviction lanced my hard heart. I did not hear the voice of a man, but the voice of God the Holy Spirit . After the meeeting I invited the ‘pilgrim’ back to the house for tea , and bid him good bye with the words ” God bless you David” . it was the first time I had ever had the strength and confidence to say such words and mean them from my heart. I could not escape God’s relentless pursuit of me that night. My brother was playing the U2 album ” Rattle and Hum’ on a CD player . The song ‘When Love comes to town” was playing where Bono and BB King sang a famous duet. One particular verse greatly challenged and convicted me of my own sins.
” I was there when they crucified my Lord I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword I threw the dice when they pierced his side But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide”
By faith I was taken to the Cross and shown that in the light of my own sinful condition, I was shown the extent of Jesus Christ’s love for me. The breadth, length, depth and height of this love that surpasses knowledge ( Ephesians 3:18-19). Finding no peace I made my way upstairs to my bedroom, and found beside my bed a gospel tract that I had not noticed before . It was called ” Let Him in ‘, by Evangelist Noel Grant from Bangor Northern Ireland. ( A tribute to Noel Grant can be read here ) In that little booklet I was shown not only my condition, but also the cure, the redeeeming love of God in Jesus Christ. That night I confessed my sin to God, and asked Him to save me , and in my tears of repentance I also knew tears of joy and with it the assurance that He loves me and gave Himself for me upon the Cross . A great verse from John 6:37 gave me great help and assurance at that time and continues to do so yet. I hope it will bring similar help to others like me.
37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37 ESV)
To be continued