William Chalmers Burns (1815-1868) was a Scottish Presbyterian revival preacher and missionary to China. He preached in Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s church in New Dundee, Scotland when M’Cheyne was away in Israel. It was there that St. Peter’s in Dundee came into a grand revival through Burn’s ministry. Eventually Burns was called to go to China. He ministered there planting churches and schools and preaching the Gospel to the Chinese people from 1847 until his death. Michael McMullen has done us all a great favour in providing a biography of Burns and selections from his journals and letters and sermons titled, God’s Polished Arrow: W. C. Burns Revival Preacher. In reading the book a little bit last week I noticed an interesting entry from his journal which highlights the providence of God. This can be found on pp. 197-198 of McMullen’s above book. The entry is listed as Grandtully, Wednesday, September 16, 1840
Being tired last night, and having told the servant that she need not awaken me in the morning, I slept until past ten a.m.m, and got up, fearing to be too late for the Lochlomond coach, which passed up to Grandtully on the other side of the Tay at eleven o’clock, and trembling at the thought of being hurried so quickly through my secret duties. I got hastily ready, and without taking any breakfast got my luggage ready and set off. On reaching the ferry-boat I learned to my grief that the coach had passed fully a quarter before the usual time, and was already out of sight, and that thus I was left to walk a distance of six miles.
I went on with my bag in my hand, thinking that the Lord might have some design of a gracious kind concealed under this frowning occurrence, and when I had gone about one-and-a-half miles, and was passing through the little village of Balnaguard, I discovered one which fully explained his mysterious intention. For after I had passed a great number of people engaged under the burning sun in cutting down and also in gathering in the plenteous fruits of the earth, two men in the primeof life came running to meet me, evidently under concern about their state, and pointing to a schoolhouse besid us, the shurtters of which were shut in consequence of it being the harvest season, pressed me to meet the people there though it were but for half an hour.
I went in, and in the course of not more than seven minutes the room was crowded to the door by people of all ages, from the child of seven to the grandfather of seventy. We prayed; I read the 70th Psalm in the metrical version, and made a few remarks on the last eight lines; we then prayed again, and I came away leaving these dear people in as solemn frame, to all appearance, as I have ever witnessed any audience.
There could not be fewe than 120 present, and amongst these I hardly saw one that was not shedding tears. The wonderful providence by which we had been brought together affected us much, and I was so much struck with the dealing of God in this this and in the state of the people, that I intimated another prayer meeting among them or Friday afternoon, when I expected to pass them on my way to visit Dowally a second time. During the time of our meeting I noticed a farmer of the name of M’G of H, of Grandtully, come in and stand listening with the most riveted attention to what was aid. He was a rough-looking man, and one whom I noticed in this character the first night that I was at Grandtully, saying to myself, ‘How wonderful it would be to see that man brought under conviction of sin.’ From his appearance at Logierait on Sabbath, and now at this meeting, I entertained a hope that this might be the case.
When I came out and met him, my hope was agreeably confirmed. Having to go from home on business, and being anxios to be at our meeting at Grandtully in the evening, he had set out very early and was now returning in the utmost haste. When he heard that I was at Balnaguard he sent home his horse that he might be present and accompany me home. We accordingly had a good deal of solemn converse on the way. He semed under deep concern, and pressed me to go in, though my time was nearly gone, and pray with them. I did so, and hardly had I entered when the room was filled with old and young, collected from the harvest-field. Without saying a word we joined in prayer, and so remarkably was the presence of God granted that all were in tears, and some cried aloud.
After prayer I left this scene, which was certainly one that displayed the finger of God as much as any one in which I ever was, and walked home in company with RD, a stepson of M’G’s, and the boy cried out in the church at Grandtully on the first night that I was there. He seems to continue under deep concern, and has got some comfort since that time. He went, dear boy, with me to carry my bag. When we had got to a considerable distance, a number of those who had been affected in the hosue came running acdross the fields to mee tus again, weeping bitterly, but I did not encourage this, and sent them to secret prayer.
I arrived at Grandully by five o’clock, and hardly conscious of fatigue. ‘The Lord will give strength to his people.’ ‘As thy days, so shall thy strength be!’