This is the second post examining the lives of two men from completely different traditions, one Catholic one Presbyterian, but who both, in their passion for intimacy with the living God, met him at the same level of grace, mercy, compassion and spiritual experience – including the supernatural. In our last post we looked at the life of Francesco Forgione, 1887 – 1968, better known as Padre Pio. For a summary of the life of this humble man of God please see the last post.
Today we look at the life of a contemporary but contrasting character, at least culturally and religiously – Murdoch Campbell.
Murdoch Campbell 1900 – 1974
Murdoch Campbell was born in the year 1900 in the village of Swainbost, Ness on the Isle of Lewis – a stone’s throw from where my wife was brought up, in the Outer Hebrides. As a very young child his dying grandmother Margaret Campbell called for the boy to be brought to her. With ‘her frail hand resting on his head she solemnly invoked the blessing of the triune God on his life.’ She died after these few words of prayer to ‘the Beloved’.
Margaret Campbell was marked as a woman of deep devotion, prayer and as one who knew ‘the secret of the Lord.’ Indeed, this was a family renowned for their intimacy with God. One of Margaret’s sons John was, it is said, the most marked by his love of solitude. The Barn, where he daily prayed, he called his ‘Divinity Hall’. It is said he enjoyed the almost constant enjoyment of God’s presence.
Murdoch’s father, Alexander Campbell, had come to faith as a young boy. One winter’s day, as a young man, having gone through a period with no felt sense of God’s presence, Alexander was walking across a moor looking for a stray sheep when he sat down to rest. Suddenly he found himself ‘on the fringe of another world’. He lost all consciousness of time and his surroundings and went through an intense experience of God’s glory. This was to be a life changing experience for the young man.
Murdoch’s mother was of a ‘retiring disposition’ but, like her husband deeply spiritual. On the night of her death in 1931 Murdoch had a dream in far away Fort Augustus. In it he saw her leaving this earth wrapped in a luminous cloud. He woke from the dream suddenly at 4am – the moment, he later discovered, she had passed away on the Isle of Lewis.
Murdoch was educated locally until the age of 12 then apprenticed as a shipwright in Greenock near Glasgow in the South of Scotland. In 1918 he was conscripted into the army during the First World War. After the war he returned to Greenock as a shipwright. And it was to be here, far from the land of his birth that Murdoch would come under serious spiritual concern.
He subsequently came to a living faith in Glasgow under the preaching of the Rev. Ewen MacQueen of the Free Presbyterian Church. Interestingly, Ewen MacQueen was the minister of the church my mother’s family attended in Inverness and he officiated at the wedding of my mother’s sister Margaret.
As Murdoch listened to MacQueen preaching on the love of God he silently asked God that he might know ‘the great and wonderful salvation proclaimed’. He takes up his own account –
‘It was then that something happened. It was as if Someone had opened the long shut door of my heart and just walked in. My whole inward being was, as it were, invaded by a power which was both sweet and life giving .. my consciousness was flooded by something like a gentle warm wave of light, life and love.’
In 1923 Murdoch entered theological training for the ministry of the Free Church of Scotland and in 1930 became the minister of Glenurquhart & Fort Augustus Free Church of Scotland in the Highlands. He remained here until 1934 when he and his family returned once more to the South of Scotland, he taking up the post as Minister of Partick-Highland Free Church (Glasgow).
Tragedy struck the Campbell family soon after arriving in Glenurquhart through the loss of their first child. In his grief Murdoch was able, sometime later, to bow to the will of God in the loss of his firstborn. He describes what happened at that moment –
‘No sooner did I whisper these trembling words (of submission) than I became aware of another Presence. For a moment I was filled with awe, but presently this gave way to a sense of unutterable comfort. A ray of holy light fell upon my spirit. It also appeared to surround me like a luminous warm light. It was then also that a Voice seemed to speak out of the stillness: ‘In my Father’s House are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you.’ These words were truly heard. I then knew it was well with my child, and that by God’s grace I would see him again in the Place where tears are unknown.’
On another occasion when Murdoch found himself in great distress God met him in a powerful way in a dream – giving him the assurance and strength to move on in the difficulties he faced. Indeed, Such experiences were not unusual in his life and ministry. He would later write –
‘Scripture, I believe, does not exclude the possibility of God communicating His mind to His people during the hours of sleep as He does during the hours of conscious existence. Has he, in fact, ceased to speak to men, and especially His own people, in this way? Has He closed the door through which He imparts His secrets to His people? No. He keeps all His doors open, this one included. Were we to say He has, we should not only deny that the Christian believer is spiritually in touch with the supernatural world of glory, but we should also contradict the overwhelming consensus of belief within the Christian Church, as this is reflected not only in the Gospels but also in Christian biography.’
Sometimes Murdoch’s dreams had a wider prophetic significance. One in particular, just after the end of WW2, seems to have a still future and fearful application. Again he recounts his own experience –
‘Before I awoke I dreamt I was in one of our Scottish cities. The evening was calm and bright and thousands moved unconcerned on its streets. In a moment the skies darkened as if the shadow of something unutterably dreadful had fallen on the land. It came bearing upon the city – an avalanche of destruction from which there was no escape. I saw the city being swept away by an inconceivable horror of fire and storm .. Ever since that night I have never stood in the famous and historic city (Edinburgh) without being deeply awed by those dread events which lie hidden in the womb of Providence, but which in the appointed the, must surely come to pass.’
A few years later while visiting the city he had a confirmatory experience of his previous dream in the words from a Psalm – ‘Before Him fire shall waste, great storms shall compass him about.’
Yet Murdoch continued to rest and hope in the God who is love. Shortly before the death of his father – he had, once again, an experience of the overwhelming presence of that God –
‘No sooner had I closed the door (to his bedroom) than a soft, warm, mantle of love and peace was let fall on my soul. Surprised by this sweet and sudden spiritual enjoyment I stood still. ‘It is the Lord,’ was all I could say in my inward heart. In holy awe, and with my head bowed, the Lord’s presence was not only unspeakably solemn but overpowering in its blissful effects. I went down on my knees ..’
On another occasion Murdoch, in a dream, found himself sitting in a church building when – ‘A plain pulpit appeared, and in it a plain looking man whom I recognised as C.H. Spurgeon. With his hand upraised he cried in a marvellous bell like voice ‘Behold, behold the everlasting love of God in Christ for his own people.’ He goes on – ‘Slowly the voice and vision faded, and I awoke. When I came to full consciousness I was quite melted and overcome by a sense of that sweet and unutterable love which Spurgeon proclaimed. It was preeminently the unspeakable joy of God himself.’
If Murdoch was blessed by a preacher from the past appearing in a dream/vision – there were others, similarly, who were blessed when he appeared to them in dreams. One such involved an unidentified lady from Glasgow who recounted how he had appeared to her in a dream. In the dream Murdoch asked her to read Psalm 112. This Psalm speaks of the kindness of the Redeemer who ‘dispersed abroad’ His unsearchable spiritual riches to ‘give to the poor.’ On awakening she read the Psalm, which the Holy Spirit deeply impressed on her mind. Murdoch takes up her story –
‘The following night she dreamt again that I stood in her presence and earnestly exhorted her to read a passage from the Gospel according to John. This she did, wondering in her own mind what these things should mean. On the following Lord’s day she went to one of our Church services at which the congregation sang the Psalm, and during which I read the words which, in her night vision, I had asked her to read from the Gospel. From that day she began to seek ‘the Kingdom which fades not away’. Her death, which came unexpectedly, was marked by great nearness to the Lord, and by the exercise of that hope ‘which makes not ashamed’.’
One Wednesday evening, at a weekly Prayer Meeting, Murdoch preached on the words – ‘If I may but touch his clothes I shall be whole.’ Unbeknown to him there was a lady present who had a severe skin condition and was suffering from severe exhaustion as a result. During the meeting she felt ‘a curious sensation pass over the surface of her body.’ At that moment she was completely healed.
On another occasion, visiting a member of his congregation who was on her deathbed, and after having prayed with her alone, the lady asked him if he had seen ‘the others’ in the room. Thinking she was referring to other family members who may have entered as he was praying he asked her if it was her daughter and husband. She replied – ‘O, not them; but the others who have been with me for many hours.’ Murdoch perceived immediately that the lady was aware of heavily visitors in the room. She was, he asserted, in full control of her mental faculties.
Following his ministry in Glasgow, in 1951, Murdoch returned once more to the Highlands – this time to Resolis in the Black Isle, north of Inverness. Of His time in here he noted – ‘My greatest source of consolation was that the Lord followed me there with the joyful sound of His Word. He continued to visit my soul in the night.’ However, also here, he was deeply saddened that, in an area where ‘the Lord had once reaped a great harvest, the land was now almost spiritually barren.’
Yet – there was still evidences that the Lord of the harvest was working. In one case an older man, Robert Grigor came to faith and in the short time that remained of his life he grew so close to God that it was marked upon in the community. On the day Robert died Murdoch was standing by a window in his home looking towards Springfield where Robert lived. Suddenly words from Psalm 103 came powerfully to his mind – ‘And of the place where once it was it shall no more be known.’ (Psalm 103) He turned to his wife and said – ‘Robert Grigor is soon leaving us.’ He passed away that same evening.
Due to ill health Murdoch Campbell retired from active ministry in 1968. He died, aged seventy-three years, in January, 1974. One of his sons recorded this of his father – ‘Growing up in Resolis I was often privileged to observe my father, Murdoch Campbell, at his times of personal devotions. So far as we read the heart in the face, his awe, joy and love in converse with God were undeniable.’
As I hinted in our last post there are a number of similarities between the lives of Francesco Forgione (Padre Pio) and the Rev. Murdoch Campbell as well as in the lives of many we have thought about in the last few posts.
As far as Francesco and Murdoch are concerned, both were brought up in humble circumstances in remote communities. Both had loving and devout parents who were passionate for God – and both went on to harbour that same devotion and hunger for Him in their own lives. Both were spiritual men whose hearts were open and available to God through which to work and minister to the needs of others – sometimes in miraculous ways. Both experienced comfort, strength, guidance and revelation in dreams – and both spoke prophetically. The most striking example of the prophetic in the life of Murdoch Campbell must be in relation to the future catastrophe involving Edinburgh – while it is said Francesco Forgione predicted world devastation at some point in the future. There is also evidence that both men appeared to others in dreams and that there were healings under their ministry. Finally, both also had a number of seasons when they experienced the overwhelming presence of God.
I am not suggesting that Murdo Campbell experienced all of the above to the extent that it is recorded in the life of Francesco Forgione – what I am suggesting is that all these things and more are available to those who diligently seek God and his glory.
There is no direct evidence that Murdoch Campbell experienced the same vitriol and persecution from his Church in relation to his supernatural experiences and beliefs as Francesco Forgione – although are are subtle hints in his writings that he was not immune from such. However, his experience being of a more private and devotional nature this comes as no surprise – and he was only experiencing what hundreds before him had within the confines of his spiritual heritage. However, and it’s a big however – even although he served as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland in 1956, were he alive today and living in the same realm of the supernatural and writing about it there are those within his denomination who would laugh him out, or at least vote him out of his pulpit.
Today within Murdoch Campbell’s denomination such experience are looked upon with severe disapproval by some of its most prominent leaders – and some drift very close to the ‘no fly zone zone’ of attributing such things to the realm of the demonic. Indeed, one wise old man I read about said, in relation to people who hold such views – ‘I do not discuss these matters with the other (cessationist) brothers. If I did I would cause them, for them to remain consistent, to attribute to Satan what may in fact be the work of the Holy Spirit’.
It appears to me that there are two diverse opinions in the Free Church of Scotland today regarding these matters. On the one hand we have some like Professor Donald Macleod who would hold no tack with the experience of Murdoch Campbell or the famous Free Church man Dr. John Kennedy of Dingwall, writing –
‘Dr. John Kennedy in The Days of the Fathers in Ross Shire extolled those who had ‘the secret of the Lord’: the ‘Men’ who got verses from Scripture which they took to be personal communications from God; supernatural discernment which enabled them to know whether an applicant for Communion really was born again; premonitions warning of death or disaster; revelations guiding them to the right minister for their vacant congregations; direct divine calls to the ministry or to moving to a new congregation. Such in the Christian world was ‘the secret of the Lord’; and its affinities with what the secular world called ‘second sight’ were too close for comfort.’
It is MacLeod’s contention that the subordinate standard of his denomination, the Westminster Confession of Faith, precludes such revelation, stating ‘that God’s former ways of revealing himself have now ceased.’ These include, according to Macleod, among other things – ‘theophanies, dreams, visions, voices, prophecies, tongue-speakings and, not least, the living voice of Jesus himself.’
So, it appears for such, they have a silent God who cannot interact with humanity other than through the letter of what is written in the Bible and the Westminster Confession of Faith (also according to which the Pope is the Antichrist – so Padre Pio wouldn’t stand a chance!). However, Murdoch Campbell would strongly disagree with MacLeod’s stance –
‘There are others who might say that it is contrary to Scripture to believe in ‘mere dreams’ even when they come within the context of God’s holy Word. If however we concede, as we must, that God did in other ages use such means as one way — however subordinate and secondary — of elucidating and interpreting His Providence and of communicating His grace and presence to the soul, the question arises as to whether this door of converse or communion with the unseen world is now closed. Has He in fact ceased to speak to men, and especially to His own people, in this way? Has He closed this door, through which He imparted His secrets to His people in other ages, both in the Old and New Testament times? No. He keeps all His doors open, this one included.’
Thankfully there are others within the Free Church of Scotland today who are more sympathetic to the prophetic and to the denominations own history in relation to the supernatural. Such make a distinction between being a ‘cessationist’ and a ‘strict cessationist’ – the difference being that a ‘cessationist’ still allows for experiences like those recounted by Murdo Campbell, John Kennedy and others. Well known Free Church Blogger the Rev. David Robertson writes –
‘The Free Church, like most Reformed churches, does not believe that we still have apostles, prophets and healers in the church today – (at least in the sense of offices – indeed the Reformers also argued that the office of ‘evangelist’ no longer existed). However, this does not mean that we believe that prophecy, healing and evangelism no longer exist. Scottish Church history does not support his (Prof. MacLeod’s) position either that the Scottish church denied dreams and visions. George Gillespie, one of the Scottish Westminster Commissioners was not a strict cessationist. We should reject the excesses of much of charismatic theology and practice, but we should not throw out the baby with the bath water. God is sovereign and he can do as he pleases – without being restricted by our theological understanding, or anything other than his nature and revealed will (which as far as I can see does not reveal that he will never use dreams or other forms of revelation again).’
Interestingly both men claim to represent the view of the Free Church. Which one, if either, has the definitive authority to do so is a mute point. I will link both Donald Macleod and David Robertson’s articles below for any who are interested.
However, we will leave the last word on this matter to the man we have been thinking about, Murdoch Campbell –
‘Dr John Kennedy of Dingwall in his great sermon on ‘The secret of the Lord ‘shows that this ‘prophetic’ element which enriches the Christian experience of many believers has been continuous within the true Church of God from the beginning. A mere nominal Christian is a stranger to such intimations of the Lord’s will by the special application of God’s Word. He thinks that in his approach to the Hearer of prayer the speaking is all on his own side. But it is otherwise with those who truly fear the Lord. It is when they hear the Lord’s voice speaking to themselves that they can venture to utter words of faith and hope. Their prayer is, ‘Cause me to hear thy loving kindness in the morning, for in Thee do I trust’. ‘Be not silent unto me.’ His own people speak to Him about His doings and He speaks to them. Shall they not, therefore, know the bearing of His providence as others cannot? Shall not such, by His Word thus given, penetrate, as with a seer’s eye, a future which is all dark to others, while in all truth and honesty they may claim to be ‘neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet’? They are little acquainted with God, as the godly Dr Love remarked, who think that He has ceased to give His people assurance as to future events. God has not bound Himself in this manner; and there have been many things intimated and made known to some of His people before such things came to pass. Those who dismiss all kinds of intercourse with the Invisible God as a claim to the gift of prophecy or as faith in dreams and visions, and who speak of those who claim the privilege of communion with God as deluded fanatics, should remember that the standing ground of their hope ever is — ‘Thus says the Lord.’
‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.’
All quotations relating to Murdoch Campbell are from – Murdoch Campbell , ‘Memories of a Wayfaring Man’.
One author has written – ‘Murdoch Campbell was arguably the greatest Scottish Devotional writer of the the 20th Century. His books simple style have comforted many of the Lord’s People. I must admit that Memories of a Wayfaring Man is probably one of the most cherished and beneficial books I have ever read.
Donald MacLeod’s article – https://donaldmacleod.org.uk/dm/is-the-free-church-an-non-cessationist-body/
David Robertson’s article – https://theweeflea.com/2018/08/13/is-the-free-church-cessationist/
Books by Murdoch Campbell –
Everlasting Love, Devotional Sermons.
Gleanings of Highland Harvest.
Memories of a Wayfaring Man.
In All Their Affliction.
From Grace to Glory: Meditations of the Book of Psalms.
The Loveliest Story Ever Told.
The Suburbs of Heaven: The Diary of Murdoch Campbell.
Some of his Gaelic Poetry has also been translated.