In early 1741, McCulloch began to preach a series of sermons on the subject of spiritual regeneration, including within his addresses selected excerpts from published reports of the revival then occurring in the American colonies through the ministries of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. During this same year, in July, evangelist George Whitefield conducted his first preaching tour of Scotland, ‘where he abode some time, and preached many awakening sermons in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and other places’. Some members of the Cambuslang parish, including two prominent elders, Ingram, More, and Robert Bowman, were strongly impressed by the preaching of Whitefield at meetings they attended at the High churchyard in Glasgow. More and Bowman subsequently ‘went through the Parish, and procured about a hundred Subscriptions to a petition desiring the Minister [McCulloch] to preach to them every Thursday, which he, at their Request, complied with’.
About the beginning of March 1742, I came to Cambuslang & heard a minister on that text, what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world & loses his own Soul, or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul at the hearing of which I began to turn thoughtful and concerned, about my soul & my eternal salvation, and thought that I had all along before that, lived without any thought or concern about it: And for a long time after, when I was at home, that word, what shall a man give in exchange for his soul, came every now & then into my mind, & made me look on all worldly concerns as nothing compared to soul-concerns. I came frequently to Cambuslang but nothing I heard there further touched me, till toward the End of April 1742, when hearing a minister on a Thursday preach on that text, They shall look on him whom they pierced & mourn, at which I was made to see that I had been along my life piercing and wounding Christ by my sins, and was made to weep and mourn and melt on that account.
There was scarcely a single person in the town, old or young, left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world. Those who were wont to be the vainest and loosest, and those who had been disposed to think and speak lightly of vital and experimental religion, were now generally subject to great awakenings. And the work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing manner, and increased more and more; souls did as it were come by flocks to Jesus Christ.
In this town there has always been a great deal of talk about conversion and spiritual experiences; and therefore people in general had formed a notion in their own minds what these things were. But when they come to be the subjects of them, they find themselves much confounded in their notions, and overthrown in many of their former conceits. And it has been very observable, that persons of the greatest understanding, and who had studied most about things of this nature, have been more confounded than others.
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