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The Revival Preacher Circular No.9

Duncan Campbell (1)

The name of Duncan Campbell will always be associated with the outpouring of the Spirit of God in the Outer Hebrides from 1949 to 1953, where he was so remarkably used by God in that movement. What is not so well known are the many hardships and battles in his life that led to God being able to choose him and use him in that amazing work.

Duncan was born on 13 February 1898 on a farm near Connel at the mouth of Loch Etive, in Argyll, where his parents farmed rough land at Black Crofts. Duncan's father was Hugh Campbell, a stonemason, who had married Jane Livingstone from the nearby island of Lismore. Both of his parents were converted in 1901 when two young women belonging to the Faith Mission visited their village. This Mission had been established in Glasgow in 1886 by John George Govan with the purpose of carrying out evangelistic work in the rural areas of Scotland and Ireland.

Duncan, who was the fifth of their ten children, was only three years old at the time of his parents' conversion, and, therefore, had the benefits of a Christian upbringing from an early age. Family prayers, Bible reading and daily worship were regular features in their plain and simple home, despite the long hours of hard work by his parents. By nature, Duncan was a venturesome child who found the wild remote countryside around them provided ample scope for his energies, but he had to take his share in the work of the family croft, fetching water, cutting peat and tending the animals, in addition to walking three miles each way to school.

On leaving school, Duncan started as a cattle herdsman on the nearby moors until he became an apprentice in a grocer's shop at Connell on the opposite shore of Loch Etive. After his lonely existence looking after the cattle, he now found wider horizons, with new friends and new interests, particularly Scottish folk music. Duncan soon became an accomplished piper and he was often in demand at concerts and dances where he enjoyed the colourful tartans and stirring music. It was on one such occasion in December 1913, while playing at a charity concert, that the Lord answered the prayers of his parents for their son. Let us hear the story in the words of Duncan Campbell himself.

"My conversion happened under very strange circumstances. God didn't speak to me in a church or in a mission hall, though I went to church every Sabbath. God spoke to me at a dance. I happened to be a player and a step-dancer. I was very fond of bagpipe playing and just as fond of step-dancing. I was asked to play and dance at a concert and also to give several demonstrations of step-dancing. The concert had begun. I had already played several pieces when a minister came over to me and said, "There's a special request that you play ‘The Green Hills of Tyrone;’ one of our favorite Scottish tunes.
As I came to the second part of that great tune, I found my mind altogether wandering from the tune. My thoughts centred on another green hill. At family worship on the farm, we frequently sang: "There is a green hill far away." That was the green hill before my mind as I continued to play "The Green Hills of Tyrone." When I finished, I was so gripped by the Spirit of God and so distressed in my mind, with a deep sense of guilt, that I turned to the other players and said, "Boys, you carry on. I'm leaving the concert. One piper turned to me and said, ‘Are you not well?’ I said, "I'm very well in body, but I'm terribly disturbed in my mind.’"

On his way home, Duncan met a friend to whom he confided his feelings and, to his surprise, his companion admitted that he too had been experiencing a similar conviction of sin. However, when they came to the parting of their ways, his friend stated he would put off making any decision until a later time. In contrast, Duncan could not let matters rest and told his friend, "I'm going home to get right with God tonight."

As he passed the hall at Alt na mara where he had attended Sunday School as a boy, he was puzzled to see the lights on inside even though it was almost midnight. Duncan continued his story: "I had been away in business and had just come home to play at this dance. No one had told me that two workers of the Faith Mission were conducting a mission in the parish. And on that particular night, they were having an all-night prayer meeting in the church along with the minister of that parish. I was curious to know what was happening. So I went up to the door and listened through the keyhole. Someone was praying. I listened and who did I discover praying but my own father. I am sure he was praying for his wayward son at the concert and dance. Horses could not have dragged me past that church. I was in my piper's regalia with its buckles and plates and whatnots, two swords in one hand with which I had been demonstrating sword dancing, and a set of bagpipes in the other. I laid them down on the back seat and walked up the aisle and sat beside my father.

The minister looked at me and then he looked at the two girls on the platform with him. I'm sure they thought I was either drunk or mad. Whoever heard of a piper in full regalia walking into a prayer meeting? I sat down beside my father, who turned to me and said, "I'm glad to see you here." That was all. After that, a young woman from the Isle of Skye, Mary Graham, a worker in the mission, stood up and spoke for about ten minutes in Gaelic. She spoke from the text: "God may speak in one way, or in two ways, but man does not perceive it." The arrow of conviction struck home, and now I became fearfully distressed in my spirit, so much so that I was afraid I would create a scene in the church.

I walked out, left the others there praying, and made my way along the road outside of town, arriving home about three o'clock in the morning. If I prayed one time along that country road, I'm sure I prayed ten times, crying to God to have mercy on me. I saw myself so vile and sinful. Upon arriving at the farm, I found my mother on her knees by the kitchen fire. Oh, thank God for a Christian home! Thank God for Christian parents! Mother couldn't attend the prayer meeting because we had visitors on the farm that night. But she could pray at home, and there she was on her knees by the fireside. I'm sure she too was praying for her wayward son. I went over and told her my story, told her how distressed I was, and asked her to pray for me.

Like a wise woman, she said, ‘There are visitors with us this evening. Your cousins have come, and there's one occupying the bed in your room. I would suggest that you go out to the barn and tell God what you told me.’ I went out to the barn and knelt in the straw prepared for the horses in the morning. I still remember the prayer I uttered. It was in Gaelic. I'm thankful that God understands Gaelic! If He didn't, I wouldn't be saved today; for I had not a word of English then. I prayed, ‘Oh, God, I don’t know how to come and I don’t know what to do; but, if you'll take me as I am, I'm coming now.’ As I was praying, my thoughts were filled with the promise of Jesus, ‘He who hears my word, and believes on Him who sent me, has everlasting life, and will not come into condemnation; but has passed from death to life.’ (John 5:24) And God, in less time than I take to tell it, swept into my life. It was miraculous! It was supernatural! Never for one minute, since that hour, have I had any occasion to doubt the work that God did that night. With the joy of salvation flooding my heart, I hurried back to my mother, and together we thanked God for His goodness and mercy. Her heart was bursting with gratitude as she cried out, ‘O God, you are still the God who answers prayer.’ I knew nothing about the doctrine of simply believing, or about making a decision. My cry was, ‘God, come into my life!’ I was, that night, supernaturally altered, and so supernaturally altered that godliness characterized every part of my being, body, soul, and spirit."

The following day, Duncan met an old Sunday School teacher who had learned that he had been at the prayer meeting, and he asked Duncan why he had walked out without accepting Christ. Duncan eagerly recounted to him the experiences of the previous evening, and as he did so, he felt a glorious sense of assurance and he knew that he wanted to devote his life to God's service. "From that moment, salvation was real to Duncan Campbell. It was more than a decision. It was an encounter with the living God. After that, he could be satisfied only with this note of reality in preaching and experience….That miracle altered his character and conduct. He had reached the crisis of his history, and the course of his life was remapped. The pleasures of the dance hall and worldly popularity had no further place in his thinking." (Andrew Woolsey) On the following Wednesday, he walked seven miles over the hill to attend a prayer meeting.

The term ‘worldly Christian’ was anathema to Duncan. He became a total abstainer, and hated smoking and dancing. Straight away, he gave up playing the bagpipes, feeling that the associations with this would be a hindrance to spiritual progress. He learned that many things that are not obviously sinful, are spiritually defeating. Once he was tempted by his sister to play them again, and "immediately the light went out. Peace and joy fled from him. Pride had welled up in his heart, and grieved the Lord." (Andrew Woolsey) He threw down the pipes and never played them again.

The first result of his conversion was to support wholeheartedly the work of the Faith Mission, which was holding regular meetings in local cottages. Before long, Duncan had the joy of helping to lead his own cousin to the Saviour, and another who was converted at these meetings was Shona Gray, a young girl, whose family had recently moved to Black Crofts, and who was later to become Duncan's wife. When the Faith Mission Pilgrims left the district, Duncan helped to start a weekly Prayer Union meeting, and also, with other young people, held evangelistic meetings in barns and homes over a wide area.

Often they walked as much as seven miles to conduct meetings, singing hymns on the way. When summer came, they helped to reinforce the Pilgrims open air meetings in Oban. He was disappointed, however, that the minister and members of the church his parents attended had not given wholehearted support to the Faith Mission Pilgrims, and were too lax in other matters. He voiced his opinions to his mother, who sympathized with him, but made a very wise comment. "Son, if God has lit a lamp in your life, let it shine in the darkness;" words we could all take to heart. However, within a few months, the First World War broke out in August 1914, and soon Duncan found himself caught up in its dreadful course.

Like most young men of his generation, Duncan was enlisted in the armed forces, and then sent to France. The brutality of army life and the senseless slaughter on the battlefield sickened Duncan until he could hardly bear any more. He made a promise to God, "Get me out of here, and I will serve you with my whole heart."

"It wasn't long," said Duncan, "before I discovered powers resident within me that were fighting against my desire for godliness and holiness, a power well entrenched in my nature, a power that battled against my best endeavors. So with the Apostle Paul I frequently cried, ‘Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death? The good that I would, I cannot do, and the evil that I hate, that I do.’ However, the day came when that was changed, and changed under very strange circumstances, when my mother’ prayers and my plea for deliverance were answered. I found myself severely wounded in a cavalry charge outside Amiens, the last cavalry charge of the British army, April 12, 1918. It is a terrible thing to be in a cavalry charge when machine guns are levelled at you, firing five and six hundred rounds a minute. That was what we had to face on that fearful morning. I lay wounded on the battlefield; the blood was flowing freely; I believed I was dying. I was very conscious of my unfitness to appear before the judge of all the earth. Two things troubled me: I felt so impure, and I knew that I hadn’t led any soul to the Saviour. We had often sung on the farm: ‘Must I empty-handed go? Must I meet my Saviour so? Not one soul with which to greet Him? Must I empty-handed go? Could I but recall them now, Oh, the years of sin I've wasted! I would give them to my Saviour. To His will I'd gladly bow.’

But I was dying, I thought. And then, a miraculous thing happened. The Canadian horses were called out to a second charge. They charged over that bloody battlefield toward the enemy in a body. Men were dying; men were lying wounded; the whole field was littered with men and horses in distress. A horse's hoof struck me in the spine. The mark is still there, and I must have groaned. In the providence of God, that groan was heard by a Canadian trooper. After the charge, again in the providence of God, that trooper came right to the place where I lay and saw that I was bleeding profusely. He lifted me as gently as he could, placed me on the horse's back, dug the stirrup right into the horse’s side; and that steed galloped with fury toward the casualty clearing station. Would I be alive to reach the casualty clearing station? Would my soul be in eternity before my body was lifted from the horse? These were the thoughts that coursed through my mind. As I lay on that horse's back, I remembered a prayer that my father frequently offered at family worship. I prayed the prayer from my heart, ‘Oh, God, I'm dying. Will you make me as holy as a saved man can be?’ It was Robert Murray M’Cheyne's prayer. Instantly the power of God the Holy Ghost fell upon me on that horse's back, bringing cleansing and renewal until I felt as pure as an angel." "The consciousness of God was so real that he thought he was going straight to heaven. But God had other work for him to do, and this experience was preparation for it...The sequel to this divine visitation gave him his first taste of the supernatural work that can accompany the touch of the Holy Spirit upon His people. (Andrew Woolsey) "Some people say that there isn't such a thing as a definite experience of the Holy Ghost subsequent to conversion," said Campbell. "My conversion was real; my regeneration was wonderful; but it paled before the revelation of Jesus that came to me on that horse's back.

Then the horse stood at the casualty clearing station. Loving hands lifted me and laid me down on a stretcher. The place was crowded with wounded and dying, mostly Canadians. I was immediately aware of a sense of great power bearing me up. While being treated for my wounds, a nurse began to sing in Gaelic, ‘There is a fountain filled with blood’, and I responded by trying to sing in Gaelic, and what I sang was a psalm: ‘Oh, thou my soul, bless God the Lord; and all that in me is, be stirred up. His holy name, I will magnify and bless.’ Oh, I was weak. My voice wasn't strong. I began to talk about Jesus in Gaelic. There wasn't a man there who could understand me. To them it was a strange language, but a strange stillness and peace came upon the whole casualty station. One young lad said, ‘Trooper, can’t you speak to us in English? We are seeking Jesus.’ Men with little thought of God, moved by the Spirit of God, making His impact upon sinners. God swept in and within an hour, seven Canadian wounded soldiers were deeply convicted of their sin and trusted in Christ. That's why the baptism of the Holy Ghost in its final analysis is the revelation of Jesus. I know that when that baptism of the Holy Ghost came upon me on that horse's back, the supreme reality was Jesus. Oh, how wonderful it was! There in the casualty clearing station, wave after wave of divine realization swept through; sinners cried to God for mercy and sinners found the Saviour." "In his weakness," wrote Woolsey, "Duncan praised God for His wonderful goodness and felt an overwhelming desire to see His power displayed in such glorious acts of mercy…He realized then, that while our present surroundings…are the fields in which we fight the battles of faith, it is in the spiritual realm that we win. This is the secret of spiritual power. Consequently, a new thirst for God, a thirst for revival, a thirst to see repeated manifestations of God’s saving power, took hold of Duncan Campbell, as he left an earthly battlefield to devote himself to the spiritual war from which there is no discharge."

After a period of convalescence in a military hospital at Perth, Duncan Campbell was demobilised from the army and returned home to Black Crofts. As he recovered his strength, he began visiting the scattered villages of Argyllshire, stopping to read the Bible and pray in the homesteads along the way. His parents cherished the hope that he would enter the ministry and wanted him to undergo training, but Duncan felt unwilling to embark on a long period of study at college and decided to apply to the Faith Mission, which held intensive courses lasting nine months as preparation for mission work. Under the watchful guidance of John George Govan, students were directed towards becoming effective witnesses and soul-winners. JG wanted to send out those who could endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, so discipline, diligence and disentanglement from worldly pursuits were expected of each student. This suited Duncan very well, but his lack of formal education and ignorance of English were all too apparent, as he was clearly more at ease speaking Gaelic than English, but nevertheless his chief desire was to testify what God had done for him to all he met. As a result, he had no hesitation in doing door-to door visiting, distributing tracts and speaking at open air meetings on the streets of Edinburgh. His plain and direct manner of personal witnessing was effective, and he had the joy of seeing some come to faith in Christ.

When his course at the Training Home ended in 1920, Duncan was assigned to Northern Ireland, and, although he would have preferred to work among his fellow Scots, he threw himself into the task in his usual whole-hearted way. He and a colleague started with evening meetings in a garage and then a school in County Antrim, and, despite violent opposition, conversions took place. However, his time in Ireland was cut short when he was sent back to Scotland to conduct similar missions in the "Highlands and Islands". This was the work close to his heart, and Duncan set about it without delay. Starting on the Isle of Mull and moving through Argyll, he and a colleague spent several weeks visiting homes in remote areas, getting to know the people and gaining their trust by helping them in practical every day tasks, as a prelude to the evangelistic meetings which were held in any convenient building. The young men met with indifference and opposition, and many nights were spent in prayer for the next day's work. Duncan and his usual companion, George Dunlop, preached with such boldness that conversions were frequent and recorded, and these even included people who were known in their localities as "hard" and "difficult" characters.

From Iona in the west to Fort William in the north, then back to Oban for the final open air meetings, the mission was so remarkably blessed that some reports were published of a spiritual awakening in Argyllshire in 1921. Thus encouraged to go on, Duncan continued this work for a further three years until he visited the Isle of Skye in 1924. After initially meeting with a very hostile reception, "the mission leaders gave themselves to prayer, fighting the battle on their knees. They also walked along the roads at night time, asking God to intervene and destroy the work of the devil. One night they prayed all through the night. At midnight one of the missioners was given the assurance that God was going to work, but that they had to pray right through, so she went to tell the others. They continued in prayer until six in the morning, and the next night the power of God fell upon the meeting. Souls groaned under the convicting power of the Spirit of God. Attendance at the meetings increased, and the presence of God was felt throughout the entire community. Whole families were brought to Christ." (Woolsey) The ministry of the Holy Spirit was so powerful that people were saved not only in the preaching services, but also in houses and by the roadside where Duncan stopped to speak to them. One man on his way home to Skye from Australia, was gripped with conviction of sin on the boat, and was converted before he reached the island.

However, the work was not without its cost, and Duncan's health was seriously affected by his exertions, and he was confined to bed in his lodgings, where a medical examination showed suspected tuberculosis. He was not expected to recover, but one young woman was not going to accept this. Even though "he looked as if he would never occupy a pulpit again, she knelt to pray. Her prayer was simple and to the point: ‘Lord we invited him here,..but Lord, You are going to heal him, and when you do, look after him, for the dear man hasn’t the sense to look after himself.’ From the moment she said Amen, a change came over the patient. His strength gradually returned, and the following night he was back in the pulpit preaching with his old fiery zeal, and urging sinners to seek the narrow way." (Woolsey)

But the strains of the work were taking their toll, so Duncan was sent to Glasgow to consult a radiologist, who told him that he had a strained heart, and that he was not only physically ill, but at the point of nervous exhaustion, so J.G.Govan invited him to return to the Training Home in Edinburgh for recuperation.

While he was recovering, Duncan considered his future, as to whether it should be with the Faith Mission. Three months at the mission training home restored his physical ability, but he was still uncertain about the future. He attended the Keswick Convention where he renewed his acquaintance with Shona Gray, the young lady to whom he had been so attracted more than ten years earlier. She had recently returned after working with the Algiers Mission Band, and the following year they were married in Glasgow. By this time, 1925, Duncan had resigned from the Faith Mission and as a result he was free to accept an invitation to take charge of the United Free Church at Ardvasar on the Isle of Skye where they spent their honeymoon. For the next four years he worked hard as pastor to a widely scattered congregation in the south of the island, but in 1929 when proposals were made for a merger between the United Free Church and the Church of Scotland, Duncan disapproved of the scheme, and therefore accepted a call to lead a small group of Christians at Balintore on the northern shore of the Moray Forth.

Most of this congregation had been converted during Faith Mission meetings in 1921, and they preferred to form their own independent fellowship at the time of the merger. At first they had only a dilapidated building for their meetings but there was a strong response to Duncan's faithful ministry and within two years they had built a new church building and manse. His work amongst the young people at Balintore was particularly blessed in the ten years that he spent there, and he left behind a strong and well-established church in 1940 when he moved to Falkirk. Two years later, he was ordained as a minister of the United Free Church, but he found the industrial town to be hard ground, and although he worked with his usual zeal, the lack of response caused him to question his own spiritual condition. Because of his experiences during the missions in Argyll, Duncan had become well- known and had often been invited to speak at churches and conventions throughout Scotland and Ireland. But he was no longer seeing fruit in his ministry, and he began to think that he had deliberately stepped out of the will of God when he left the Faith Mission. Listen to his words. "I realized that during that period, I had drifted far from God in my mind and in my heart. Oh, I was still evangelical. I was an accepted minister, and for seventeen years had ministered to two congregations. I was Campbell of the Mid Argyll Revival and the Skye Revival; and I would be asked to address conventions and conferences. Oh, the deceit of the human heart! I knew how unfit I was. No longer did I feel ‘as pure as an angel.’ I knew that I was clinging to the decaying threads of past experiences, and striving vainly to maintain a reputation built upon them. I tried to live consistently, but I knew barrenness in my spirit. Prayer had become a burden and the Word of God a dead word. Oh, brother, have you had that experience?

Then one day, oh, how I thank God for that day, my young daughter, a girlie of sixteen years of age, came to me and said, "Daddy, I would like to see you in your study. I've been praying for you." And she took me to my study, and she put her arms around my neck, and I can still see the tears streaming from her eyes, as she said, ‘Daddy, when you were a pilgrim in the Faith Mission, after the First World War, you saw revival in Scotland. Daddy, how is it that God is not using you in revival today? Tell me, Daddy, when did you last lead a soul to Christ?’ Thank God for faithful daughters! I tell you, dear people, that shook me. Campbell, a convention speaker...Campbell, the evangelistic minister; in his study, smashed and broken by a question from his daughter.

I was booked to address the Keswick Convention that year. I went to the convention. Oh, the deceit of the human heart. I went to the convention and I gave my address. I was so thankful when it was over. The words kept ringing in my ears, "When did you last lead a soul to Christ? Then God in His own wonderful way moved Dr. Tom Fitch to depart from the address that he had prepared and give his own personal testimony. Feeling unfit to be on the platform, I cried to God where I sat, ‘O Lord, give me back the years that the locusts have eaten. Remake the marred vessel.’ I went home resolved that unless God would do something for me and give me back what I lost, that I certainly would resign from the ministry. So, as we went home, I said to my wife and daughter, ‘I'm going to my study and I want you to leave me alone. I'm going to seek a meeting with God.’ I had spent the past 17 years in a barren desert, and I was not going to continue any longer.

And I went to my study. I shut the door. I put the rug down on the floor in front of the fire and I lay on the rug. I cannot take time to tell you all that God said to me in that hour. I'm thankful to say that He spoke to me the word of pardon, and the word of forgiveness, and the word of re-commission. I cried, ‘God, won't you give me again what you gave me on the battlefield?’ And He did!

My daughter came in at 2:00 in the morning. She got down beside me and she said, ‘Daddy, whatever it costs, go through with God. And I said, ‘Sheena, I'm going through whatever it may cost.’ On my face, I battled with the powers of darkness. The devil whispered that I was finished, and God had no further use for me, but the Lord put a verse into my mind:

‘The Lord will not cast off His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance.’ This was followed by another word: ‘Who forgives all your iniquities and heals all your diseases.’

It came to 5 o'clock in the morning, and then I learned about the restoring power of the Blood of Jesus Christ. While I was praying, I realised that God had made provisions for clean hands and a pure heart. As I lay there, God the Holy Ghost came upon me. The inner cleansing I had experienced thirty years before, was a reality once more, bringing healing to my spirit and power to my soul. Wave after wave came rolling over me until the love of God swept through me like a mighty river! So much so, that there were moments when I was so wrought upon by the Holy Ghost that I cried and I laughed and I prayed. My daughter got down beside me, put her hands on my shoulders, and she prayed, ‘Oh, God, let Daddy keep his reason,’ but I was never more sane in my life."

"Duncan now found himself deeply burdened for the people of the Highlands and Islands, and he knew that God was calling him back to the work of evangelism that had been so blessed earlier in his life. The Lord gave him a vision in which he was gazing into caverns of death, witnessing the agonies of hell. With horror, he saw thousands from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland drifting to their doom, and he heard a voice calling ‘Go to them, go to them.’ Campbell had always believed in the existence of hell, but from that moment on, it was an unquestionable reality. Lost souls were really lost, and he must warn them. He must tell them of the only way of escape through Christ. As he yielded to the way of the cross, peace stole over his heart again, assuring him that God would fit him to take up the ministry he had left years before." (Woolsey) God knew what He was doing, calling him back to the work. Only a broken and surrendered man with the wisdom and maturity of age and experience could have led that demanding work in the Outer Hebrides. This is why God was able to choose him for the work, and later tell Peggy Smith that he was the one chosen.

"If God in His mercy has been pleased to use me in some small measure since that hour," wrote Duncan Campbell, "I can trace it back to that moment, when Sheena said to me, ‘Whatever it costs, Daddy, go through with God.’"

"As the Lord moves upon your heart," wrote Harold Vaughan, "like Duncan Campbell, you must seek a meeting with God. Examine your heart before Him. Determine the motives of your heart, as revealed by that which tempts you. Identify the worldly pleasures that distract you from Christ. Seek to know how you have grieved God's Spirit. Realize that God observes and weighs every thought, word, attitude, and deed of your life. Define the specific teachings of God's Word which you are violating. The convicting work of the Spirit of God is always sin-specific; that is, the Lord does not produce a general feeling of wrong, but a very specific labelling of our words, attitudes, actions, or motives as sin in the light of the dazzling white righteousness of Jesus Christ. Bare your heart before the Lord; then seek His forgiveness, and that of others. Make necessary restitutions. Be willing to humble yourself and to go to any lengths to set things right before God and others. Open yourself to the Holy Spirit.

God will meet with you, as He met with Duncan Campbell. He will take your failures and wash them in Christ's precious blood, then fill you and re-commission you for His service. Will you dare to join Campbell and ‘go through with God’"?