NORTHERN IRISH REVIVAL OF 1859
A good description of the revival is in ‘God’s River in Spate’ by John T Carson, which was published for the 100th anniversary of the revival, but was re-published by the Presbyterian Historical Society. Carson describes how James McQuilkin came to the Lord.
“It was in the Spring of 1856 that a Mrs. Colville, an English lady from Gateshead near Newcastle-on-Tyne and one who had ‘time and money to spend for God’, arrived in Ballymena to engage in house-to-house visitation with a view to winning souls to Christ. She was joined in the summer by Lieut. Aikman, a ‘gentleman who gives his time and substance to God’, and whose preaching was favourably received in the town. Her work was not very fruitful, or at least, so she imagined, and when she went away in November she was ‘in low spirits thinking that God had not acknowledged her anxious labours’. She little knew of one small seed which she had dropped a few days before she left. It was on November 3rd when she was visiting a certain Miss Brown who lived in Mill Street. She found two ladies present who liked to talk about religious matters and especially about controversial subjects, which disputes seldom end helpfully. On this occasion she found them discussing ‘predestination’ and ‘freewill’ with a young man, James McQuilkin, who came from the townland of Connor about five miles from Ballymena and who worked in a linen warehouse in the town. He wished to know if she was a Calvinist or not, but she was a wise servant of the Master and not disposed to argue with them. Professing to be no more or less a Calvinist than the Bible required her to be, she spoke of the importance of seeking a personal interest in the Saviour and the need of the new birth. The seed dropped into the heart of James McQuilkin and not long after this he entered into the great experience of which she spoke under the preaching of Rev. William G. Campbell, a general missionary of the Methodists, who was holding special services in the town of Antrim.
Thus was James McQuilkin influenced for God by an obscure, earnest Christian lady who thought her work a failure. Heavy showers of blessing are often on their way when little is expected and when heralded only by a drop here and there.” McQuilkin returned home to his wife in Kells each weekend. His church was the Connor Presbyterian Church, and his minister was J H Moore, who was a good man. Moore encouraged his young people to serve God more, so McQuiklin began a Sunday School nearby at Tanneybrake. In September 1857 this extended to a prayer meeting and Bible study. The house was soon full of prayers, including future leaders of the revival, Jeremiah McNeilly, John Wallace and Robert Carlisle; the last two were recently converted by McQuilkin. These young men decided that these meetings required soaking in prayer, so they rented an old schoolhouse in Kells and met there regularly to pray.
September 1857 was also the month when Jeremiah Lamphier began to pray during lunchtime in New York. This time of prayer grew from one person to thousands and a great revival spread across the eastern side of America.
The prayer at Tanneybrake went on steadfastly, but results were slow to come. After several weeks one man came to Jesus and then slowly more followed, one by one. News trickled back from America of the great things going on there, which encouraged those praying. At the end of 1858 fifty men were taking part in the prayer meeting. S J Moore wrote in July 1859, “…The power of prayer began to be known, and felt and seen. The Spring Communion came on. Throughout the extensive parish, consisting of some thousand families, it was generally known that, lately, persons had been turned to the Lord, among them some moral and some wildly immoral. The services are peculiarly solemn. The Master’s presence seemed to be recognised, and His call heard. The old prayer meetings began to be thronged, and many new ones established. No difficulty now to find persons to take part in them. The winter was past; the time of the singing of birds had come. Humble, grateful, loving, joyous converts multiplied. They, with the children of God who in that district had been revived, are now very numerous. There are on an average sixteen prayer meetings every night in the week throughout the bounds of that one congregation, i.e., about one hundred weekly. The awakening to a sight of sin, the conviction of its sinfulness, the illuminations of the soul in the knowledge of a glorious Saviour, and conversion to Him—all this operation, carried on by the life-giving Spirit was in the Connor district for more than eighteen months. A calm, quiet, gradual, in some cases a lengthened process, not commencing in, or accompanied by any extraordinary physical prostration more than what might be expected to result from great anxiety and deep sorrow.”
In December 1858 the move of God reached nearby Ahoghill and from then on it spread over the whole of Ulster and then to Wales, Scotland and England, becoming the greatest revival the UK has known since at least the Great Awakening of 1735, with around one million coming to know Jesus as their Saviour. Unlike the rest of the UK the revival in Ulster was spread through converts from Connor and elsewhere, giving their testimonies, and as they did so the revival spirit poured out. There were no well known revivalists in Ulster, the revival came through word of mouth and through ministers visiting areas of revival and then bringing it back to their churches. Around 100,000 were saved in Ulster during 1859.
HISTORY AND CHARACTER OF THE PRESENT RELIGIOUS REVIVAL IN IRELAND. BY JOHN EDGAR, D.D., PROFESSOR OF DIVINITY, BELFAST.
THE origin of the present revival in Ireland can be clearly traced to one congregation, and one man, a plain, honest, faithful, and laborious Presbyterian minister, who uses wisely and powerfully God’s own means, and no other means, for effecting reformation. The work of revival had been making steady and large progress under his ministry before public attention was arrested; and by agents of his training, the good work of the Lord was prosperously and widely spread. Wherever it was spread, God honoured His own means; and His blessing accompanied the faithful application of His own truth to the understanding and heart.
A very satisfactory illustration has thus been furnished of two great facts—that for the conversion and sanctification of souls, the truth of God is a most suitable and powerful instrument; and that this instrument is made effectual to salvation by the energy of the Holy Ghost, in the exercise of sovereign grace.
SUBJECTS OF REVIVAL.
There are, it is true, most encouraging cases of conversion among the lowest outcasts—evidences, for example, among the vilest dens of pollution in Belfast, Ballymena, Coleraine, Derry, that ” publicans and harlots ” go into the kingdom of God before self-righteous Pharisees—but these are only exceptions, establishing the great general fact, witnessed by the town missionaries of Belfast, and by our ministers generally, that the overwhelming proportion of those believed to have been savingly awakened in this revival, are those who had received a religious education, Sabbath-school teachers and scholars, the children of religious parents, persons previously under the influence, more or less, of religious precept and example. It is not a fact, however, that those who have become the subjects of revival were perceptibly improving under the means of grace, or were in such state of mind as might be supposed to invite the presence of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, as recorded by Dr Elliot regarding the American Revival of 1802, much deadness prevailed; and though there were some faithful among the faithless, prayerful and hopeful, yet indifference had benumbed the hearts of many, and ministers were sad.
THREE RURAL CONGREGATIONS TAKEN AS SAMPLES.
For the practical illustration of this, I shall take three rural congregations—two of them located in County Down, the other in County Antrim—with which I am acquainted, and in which the work of revival has been carried on with wisdom and success. “Hitherto,” says the minister of one of them, our con¬dition was deplorable. The congregation seemed dead to God, formal, cold, prayerless, worldly, and stingy in religious things. Twice I tried a prayer-meeting of my elders, but failed; for after the fifth or sixth night I was left alone.” “There seemed,” says a second, “great coldness and deadness. So deeply did I feel this, that, on the Sabbath preceding the revival, I preached from Lam. v. 20, 21, and said that I had preached the gospel faithfully, earnestly, and plainly, for eleven years; yet it was not known to me that a single individual had been converted.” “The congregation,” says a third, “was in a most unsatisfactory state ; in fact, altogether Laodicean. “All along I believed that the faithful use of the means of grace would be followed by their effects, as certainly as the tillage of a field is followed by a good crop, or as diligence in any profession is attended with success ; and great was lily disappointment, as year after year passed, yet still no fruit —no outpouring of the Spirit. I wondered and was grieved at what seemed so mysterious. What alarmed me most Was the indisposition, almost hostility, of the people to meetings for prayer. They seemed mostly to think that they were well enough, and that I was unnecessarily disturbing them. I had never been so desponding or distressed as during the weeks immediately preceding the awakening. I had almost ceased to hope. I felt as if I was almost alone, no one mourning or praying with me ; and I told my people I was appalled at their determination to have no prayer-meetings, and that we would not have a drop of the shower of grace which was going round, but would be left utterly reprobate:, Such are the views of the ministers of these congregations regarding their spiritual state previous to the heavenly visitation.
The gracious promise of God is—” I bring nearmy righteousness, it shall not be afar off, and my salvation shall not tarry; and I will place salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.” On the ground of God’s promises, these faithful men could say, with Habakkuk, ” The vision is for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” Though sadly discouraged and tried, they did not distrust the word of a God of truth, or try any other means for converting souls than those of God’s own appointment. These wise and faithful men persevered, with all steadfastness, in the old catechising, the old pastoral visitation, the old prayers, with increasing earnestness, and the old preaching of the doctrine of justification by free grace through faith. They worked and prayed, and prayed, and worked, and waited. They worked, as though all depended on themselves; and they prayed and waited, in the full belief that all success is from God. In God’s own time He sent the blessing, bountiful and large, like His own heart.
HOW REVIVAL BEGAN.
I now proceed to show how the blessed revival came. One of the three congregations which I have taken as samples, had enjoyed, in succession, the services of three faithful ministers; and a church discipline of considerable strictness had kept it comparatively pure; yet its pastor was so deeply impressed with their want of spirituality, that, on the Sabbath before the commencement of God’s great work among them, he told them all his mind regarding their lifeless state, and his want of success. He felt deeply himself, and his people felt too. This led to much prayer and searching of heart before God; and on the Thursday after, at the prayer-meeting, the revival showed itself plainly, and one person was so deeply affected as to cry aloud for mercy. “I knew,” says the minister of another of these congregations, “that there were always a few praying people in the neighbourhood, and there were always attempts to keep up prayer-meetings among us ; but till the very week of the revival there appeared no general desire for them, and scarcely any better attendance on them, nor helpers to my ministry raised up, except that the Sabbath-school had been gradually increasing in scholars and teachers, and attendance on public worship had been a little improved.”
On Sabbath, June 19th, a prayer-meeting was held, at which more people than usual attended, and their pastor thought he saw a shaking among the dry bones. Before the dawn of next morning he was raised from bed, to visit a family who had been praying all night. Another prayer-meeting was held on the following Tuesday, larger than had ever been seen in the neighbourhood for any religious purpose, at which two persons screamed, and were carried out. Their pastor, before going to bed, was sent for to see a third, whose cries to Christ were piercing and loud. Another, and much larger, meeting was held on the following Thursday evening, which continued till daylight; after which, for five weeks, without interruption, a large meeting was held every evening, the house of worship being sometimes too small to receive them; while at the manse, by ten o’clock forenoon, crowds assembled, in deep spiritual anxiety. Some days every room in the house had an awakened one in it, surrounded by groups of praying friends; no bustle or noise—all calm, solemn, prayerful, reading God’s Word, or singing psalms. Thus the work went on; and it is remarkable, that the very first day the congregation met really to pray for the outpouring of the Spirit, that day they got it, most copiously and gloriously.
EXTENT OF THE REVIVAL.
Of the extent to which that power has been exerted, I desire to speak cautiously and humbly. It is too soon to count conversions; time will count them, and perhaps sadly reduce their number. I profess not to give general calculations, or to repeat what I have heard, on good authority, of the numbers awakened over large districts. The statement may be correct, that in connexion with the churches of a large country town, one half of the people have been converted, and in another, 300 in one Congregation; but my object is to give opportunity for forming a correct estimate of the whole, by specifying facts respecting three congregations, which I have presented as honest samples. “We have had,” says the minister of one of these, “about eighty of what are called cases of striking clown. These I have never encouraged for their own sake, though I value their indirect reflex influence. Besides these, I have known more than a hundred instances, where old and young, male and female, have come to me, after sleepless nights, asking, with tears, What must I do to be saved?'” “As to numbers,” says a second, “I could at present give no certain information. I have a list of two hundred, but I believe it is not half the number of those who have received spiritual good; and the number is increasing daily.” “I cannot speak precisely as to numbers,” says the third. “After the third day I lost count of them. I think that forty families of my congregation have been visited with what seems real conversion, two, three, four, or more in each being affected. The neighbouring congregations are in similar circumstances. Whole households are, to all human appearance, in Christ. There are nine of us now,” said a good Christian woman, last Sabbath. “The attendance on public worship is doubled. At the late communion there was an increase of sixty communicants, though the modesty of many of the young converts prevented them from coming forward.”
PROOF OF ITS REALITY.
The next subject to which I solicit attention, is the proof of the reality of this revival—the evidence furnished by its subjects of having undergone a real spiritual change. This spiritual change is not necessarily conversion; for many affected by the revival had given, long since, evidence of real conversion to God; but they have been quickened and elevated, filled with fresh warmth, and life, and energy; and they are filled more abundantly than ever with the graces of the Spirit. A revival from God awakens, enlivens, refreshes the living, and gives life to the dead. It gives new vigour, bliss, and power to God’s family, and increases their number.
Those thus added are not added to any man, as mere triumphs of his oratory, or to any sect, to minister to its bigotry or pride, but to the Lord, as believers in Christ, that Jesus may see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.
Among these proofs of a saving change, I do not include falling down, no matter how or where; for many have fallen from weakness, or nervous excitement, or fainting, or disease. Though, in many cases, falling is connected with conversion, yet, as it is not necessary to it, and as not a few of those who have been stricken—repeatedly stricken down—are giving no evidence of change of character, there¬fore mere falling, even in most peculiar circumstances, is no proof of having been added to the Lord.
Neither do I furnish as proof of conversion the seeing of visions, though certainly not charging with imposture those who profess to have seen visions.
A young woman, for example, tells you that she saw Christ, or Christ and the devil contending for her, and she denies that it was mere imagination; and yet she will not assert that it was really Christ or Satan that she saw.
In both she is right. It was not mere imagination, it was more,—it was the deep impression on her mind of great and solemn truth, so deep that, according to a simple law of mind, she referred to the outward organ of sight the feeling which she was accustomed to receive through the eyes. God gives no new revelation; He expressly declares that He will make no attempt at conversion by raising the dead. When the Holy Spirit converts, He uses the truth already revealed; He takes of the things of Christ and spews them.
Neither do I furnish any such proof of conversion as being struck deaf or dumb, or sleeping and awaking at specified times, or incapacity for muscular effort. These things are well worthy of consideration. But, at present, my subject is the reality of our revival as a genuine work of God.
The proofs of this are many and various.
I. One is a wide-spread, earnest attention to the worship of God.
“Our attendance,” one minister says, “is increased from two hundred to five hundred, the aisles being full, and many outside. Where the sessional prayer-meeting died out twice, we have now a congregational one of two hundred and fifty every Friday, however pressing the field labour, besides large district prayer-meetings every other night of each week, and a special meeting every Saturday evening, to ask for blessings on the sacred services of the Sabbath.”
A united prayer-meeting of another of these three congregations, with a congregation adjoining, struggled on, with an attendance of from thirty to fifty, till after the revival spread, when it rose to two hundred, then to three hundred, and again to fifteen hundred.
In the third of these congregations, there are several prayer-meetings every day in one district of it there are five,—these springing up spontaneously everywhere, with out any prompting of the minister; and common day- labourers may be heard conducting some of them with great fervency and power.
II.A second proof is, a greatly increased taste for religious reading, especially the Bible.
“The Bible is read much,” says one, “and above all other books; in fact, it is the chief book now read throughout the country. In our Depository, more Bibles and Testa¬ments were sold during the last nine weeks than formerly in a whole year. Sabbath-schools and Bible-classes have greatly increased.” The avidity for God’s Word, according to another witness, is uncommon—in the bog, on the har¬vest ridge, at the loom, everywhere the Bible is seen.
III.A third and very interesting proof is, the blessed change which has taken place on the character of individuals.
“Some of the vilest characters,” one minister says, “have come to me weeping, asking me to pray for them, and with them. One man, who was so godless that he would not let his pious wife go out on the Sabbath, is never absent now from a Sabbath service or prayer-meeting.” Whole families are changed, parents and children all praying and rejoicing together. Four grown-up brothers, in each of two neighbouring families, are all converted. Even little boys are holding meetings together for reading and prayer.
A spirit-seller has nailed a board over the word spirits, and has substituted haberdashery on his sign, resolved, as he says, to clothe his neighbours, instead of stripping them naked. Books, such as “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” and James’s “Anxious Inquirer,” can now be procured from the same shop, which, before the revival, sold whisky. To celebrate the change, its proprietor assembled a prayer- meeting, at which about two thousand persons attended, on the very spot where there had been many a ferocious fight.
One of the most active in arranging for the meeting, is a young man, who had been often in the hands of the police, and who, reduced to poverty and wretchedness, lived in a miserable hut. Yet his was one of the happiest faces there. He had, six weeks previously, given his heart to God.
What love and comfort there are in families now—happy wives, happy mothers, happy children! “I never knew the happiness of married life till now,” said a man, whose wife had been lately converted.
IV. A fourth proof of the reality of the present revival in Ireland is, the zeal and faithfulness with which the converts pray and work for the conversion of their neighbours.
When one of a family becomes impressed, it is not easy for the others to resist his smiles and tears, entreaties and prayers. When a young man, on entering his Sabbath-school class, was surrounded by a number of his scholars, taking hold of his hands, and saying to him, “Have you found Jesus? Oh, come to Jesus!” he was completely overcome. “Dear sir,” said a convert to her minister, who was concluding his prayer, “don’t rise from your knees till you pray for my dear brother John.” “My cousin met me,” said a young man, “and charged me to seek an interest in Christ. While he told this he sobbed and wept.”
“Such prayers and blessings have I heard for myself,” said one of these ministers, “that I have often wept for joy. I have had more joy, for some time past, than I ever expected on earth.”
V.One delightful influence of our revival is, to bind ministers and people more closely in love than ever. No¬thing so truly prosperous ever befell our faithful ministers as the present revival.
Thus the good work of the Lord spreads from man to man, and from congregation to congregation, and agents for good are all abroad. No wonder that revival spreads, and that “much people are added to the Lord!” One man says to his neighbour, “Come;” and he says to another beyond him, “Come;” and thus the whole district is soon all aroused ; like when the Highland chieftains, in ancient times, sent across moss and moor the fiery cross.
VI.Another illustration of the reality of this great work is, the general beneficial influence exercised by it. One portion of this is the prevalence of a relish for religious conversation, even among those who were most profane. Another is a remarkable diminution of profanity and drunkenness; and a third, the spread of conciliation and love; so that in five cases in the neighbourhood referred to, where petty-sessions, and land-agent, and minister could not settle disputes, the parties are not only in peace, but they meet for social prayer.
I had a pleasing illustration lately in Philadelphia of the happy influence of even the recital of such facts. A gentleman told me that, at the close of a sermon of mine, he saw a person with whom he had not been on speaking terms for years. He went up to him, holding forth the right hand of reconciliation, which was at once cordially grasped, and their enmity is no more.
In the three congregations six spirit-shops are closed, and in one of the very worst of them a prayer-meeting is now held twice a-week.
VII.The same revival spirit that keeps away from the public-house, and brings to the house of God, has given to the subjects *of revival a greatly-increased generosity,—a delightful proof of which has been lately furnished; for the collections made by a deputation on behalf of one department of our Presbyterian Home Mission, are, in sonic cases, double, and in others much more than double what they formerly were.
VIII.The congregations I have selected for illustration are not in Roman Catholic districts, yet Roman Catholics have been converted. In one district, three have come out from Rome. “Could you not have been saved in the chapel? a, priest said to one of these. “I’ll not say,” she replied; “for though I often heard of the Virgin Mary there, I never heard of Christ: and, with God’s help, I ‘ll never go back again.”
“We are now lying down and rising up,” said another of them, ” in the fear of God, which we never did before.”
THE GENERAL CHARACTER OF- THE REVIVAL.
Strange Bodily and Mental Phenomena.
The people among whom the awakening has come with heavenly power and happy fruit are not fanatical or ignorant, or inflammable by wild fire, but, on the contrary, well educated and sober-minded. And the means of religious teaching and impression employed with them are not such as to create slavish fear or animal excitement, but to bring forth the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory of God.
There have been, it is true, a goodly number converted among the very lowest and most degraded victims of vice, and it is not at all strange that, amid such subjects of the power of conviction, there should be strange exhibitions of human thought and feeling; but it does not follow that there is no real religion, because, amid great agitation of the human mind, there are certain phenomena we do not understand, or of which we do not approve. Besides, it is well known that there are certain diseases, especially mental diseases, which are greatly modified by the prevailing state of public feeling. Various forms of nervous disease take a peculiarity of character from some great absorbing subject of public interest; and, therefore, we are not surprised, when the public feeling and conversation are religious, that cataleptic, hysteric, and similar nervous patients, should, in much of their conversation, feeling, and action, resemble those influenced by genuine religion.
RECORDS OF REVIVAL.
There is nothing lost to the strength of evidence for the reality of our revival, by admitting that delicate females were stricken down on whose consciences and hearts there were no saving impressions; that considerable numbers were stricken down, some dozen or score of times, so as to leave no ground for attributing the phenomena to gracious spiritual influence; and that, under the influence of error and mere animal feeling, some attended meetings in the hope of being struck down.
EXPLANATIONS OF PHYSICAL AND MENTAL PHENOMENA.
Besides, as shewn by the whole history of great mental commotions, there is much yet to be learned respecting the nature, causes, and relations of phenomena, both corporeal and mental. Mind acts on body, and body on mind, in ways beyond the present reach of philosophy. Much, however, has been learned on the subject connected with religious revivals.
The great Edwards, in his lifetime, learned to attach much less importance to mere bodily manifestations than he once did, and, since his death, the Christian world has become wiser still. It is now an established portion of Church history, that bodily manifestations occur most frequently in the lowest stages of civilisation; that they should be discountenanced, and may be restrained ; and that the best and most lasting form of revival is characterised by their absence.
It is not to be forgotten, however, that the bodily manifestations, which in newspapers occupy so prominent a place, are very different from each other in their nature, and should not be confounded. Some of them are truly the effect of the influence of mind on body, and others can be accounted for on simple natural principles.
A newspaper, for instance, reports that at a meeting an able-bodied man fell, as though he had been brought down by a rifle. This is true, but it is only part of the truth; and hence the difficulty, and the source, too, of unbelief and ridicule.
The man’s whole case was this, as could be shewn by a multitude of example:—His conscience had been awakened, the terrors of God’s fiery law were on his soul; he carried about for days a millstone-weight of the deepest anxiety on his spirit—the burden of his sins was more than he was able to bear. He perhaps, as one man said, left plough and horses in mid furrow, to go to the corner of the field, and throw himself down in humble prostration before God. Or like another man, in the same state of mind, he again and again stood erect in his cart, to look all around for something striking, which might withdraw his mind from terribly preying on itself. But all in vain. His distress increased, the agony of his mind was more than the poor broken body could bear ; and, at length, in public worship, or in his own house, or, perhaps, at his customary work, he sunk down utterly powerless.
In all this—and all this has happened in a multitude of cases—there is nothing miraculous or unnatural, nothing inconsistent with the soundest philosophy—a philosophy which easily finds explanations where, in similar cases, tremendous effects are produced on the body by such strong passion, as love, or fear, or joy.
Mere falling down, therefore, is neither to be accounted a positive proof of fanaticism nor of religion. A man under deep conviction may fall down, and be no fanatic; he may fall, and be no Christian.
Similar explanations may be given respecting seeing visions and hearing words. We know the cases of Newton, and Berridge, and Gardiner, and Tennant ; and we have, in connexion with our revival in Ireland, very many cases of visions of Christ, of Satan, of heaven, and of hell.
As to seeing in a great variety of forms in the dark, or with the eyes closed, all are acquainted with this; and those acquainted with the laws of mind have no difficulty in finding an explanation. or example, I heard, some time since, of a pious man telling that such was the power of prayer, while he and the members of a large family, since converted to God, prayed for each other, and specially for a convicted brother, that he thought he felt the wind blowing in the house; and a minister to whom this was told, said that he and one of his brethren had on occasions a similar feeling.
When I told this to one of the most talented and excellent ministers of our day, he said he fully understood it, because that, since he had a fever, excitement at times produces such sensations in his ears, that he feels like a rustling of leaves; and the step is easy between the rustling, and the wind which causes the rustling.
Whether or not this be the true explanation, we can easily explain the seeing of visions and hearing of words, by appealing to the well-known law, that we naturally refer ideas strongly impressed on our minds to the outward organs of sense through which these ideas are conveyed.
There is among the mass, even of the truly pious, a morbid craving, especially under excitement, for the miraculous; and ministers, in times of revival especially, are under temptations to pander to it, for fear of bringing suspicion on their Christian character. Time makes sad havoc on the spuriously miraculous.
The breaking out of the revival in one of our congregations was at the close of a sermon by a young minister, in a country church, built in an old Danish fort, far from any dwelling-house. Two women were stricken down—one of them lay in the aisle; and the people were so deeply impressed, that they remained without any light long after it had become pitchy dark. The woman lying prostrate exclaimed, “I see the Shekinah of the Divine glory!” The minister immediately interposed, warning the people to beware of any mistake or folly, because there was no doubt some light outside. He looked around as he spoke, and everywhere there was impenetrable darkness; but happening to turn his eye to the ceiling, he saw distinctly there, in flaming light, what completely overwhelmed him. There, indeed, as he believed, was a miraculous manifestation so indisputably clear, that he felt distinctly the hair rise on his flesh; and what the consequences to him or the congregation would have been he cannot imagine, had not a man whispered to him, “Shall I bring out the candle?” The dread mystery was solved. A man had set down a common stable tin lantern, pierced with holes; and on account of its being in a narrow pew, it shed light merely on the ceiling above it, and none on the surrounding darkness. Had it not been for this discovery, a miracle would have been proclaimed, many would have honestly testified to its truth, and its foundation would have been as good as any Romish or other miracle of modern times.
A class of phenomena connected with our revival, on which some have eagerly seized as miraculous, are those in which young women predict that they will fall asleep and awake at certain times, and during their sleep, when furnished with a Bible, they point to certain texts, which are held to be marvellously suitable and instructive. These cases gave, for a time, much vexation of spirit to our godly ministers, and caused no little confusion and evil, by the multitudes of travelling sight-seers and other hunters for the romantic, who, with note-book and pencil, thrust themselves unceremoniously into the humble homes of the poor. I shall not take advantage of the mistakes committed by some of these girls, in attempting to satisfy the curiosity of the lovers of the miraculous, when they pointed, for example, to a verse of a hymn, instead of a text of Scripture, or to the only blank leaf in the Bible; nor shall I enter on the discussion, either of the question of animal magnetism, as connected with the present subject, or of the strange disease, well known to medical men, which mimics other diseases, as the mocking-bird mimics the notes of its companions in the grove,—I deal merely with facts, and allow facts to speak for themselves. One of my brother ministers, of eminent wisdom and worth, had, some time since, ten of these sleeping cases within ten minutes’ walk of his church. While sitting at the bedside of one of them, he remonstrated with her against giving way to delusion, and told her she must resist it. She denied that she could, and said that she must fall asleep at the appointed time. While he conversed with her, her head fell back on the pillow, and there could be no doubt of her being asleep. After remaining still for a little, she began to grope about on the bed-quilt, and somebody put into her hand a Bible, with the wrong end up. She immediately reversed it, and turning over the leaves carefully, her eyes being closed, and her face turned up from the book, she pointed to the passage, “He showed His signs among them.” She then lay quiet a little; and once more taking the Bible, and turning carefully its leaves, she fixed on the words, “You will not believe.” Notwithstanding all this, my worthy brother considered it his duty to warn his people against it from the pulpit, though thus he opened against him the mouth of calumny; and to visit, in affectionate faithfulness, the young sleepers belonging to his flock. With one of these he conversed earnestly and long, admonishing her of the dishonour thus done to God and His cause, beseeching her to strive against temptation and delusion; and having invited her to join in prayer, he prayed earnestly that God would grant her grace to be vigilant, steadfast, and faithful. She gave him no satisfactory pro¬mise, and he left her. Next day, while passing the door, the mistress of the. house rushed to him, saying, ” Oh, sir, your visit yesterday was most useful! She strove against the sleep, and it did not come on ; and she has been very happy ever since.” When I last saw him, he had visited nine of the ten, and had succeeded with them all.
REVIVAL INDEPENDENT OF PHYSICAL PHENOMENA.
In the three congregations which I have selected for illustration, the simple matter of fact is that, with the exception of simple cases of prostration, there have been no bodily manifestations. Some have been long weak in body and dark in mind, others have found peace and joy soon. Some, who suffered most and longest, were never struck down. Some, for weeks, were anxious and prayerful, and were struck down at last; the mental struggle went on to its crisis; the poor clay tabernacle fell by the terrible tossings and writhings of the troubled tenant within. But while such prostrations were acknowledged to be a natural though not necessary effect of great mental conflict, everything beyond this was from the first carefully checked; and warnings were faithfully given, that the physical manifestations were no part whatever of conversion, though in some cases it pleased God that they should accompany it; and the people were exhorted not to pray to be smitten down, but for the Spirit’s aid to bring them to Christ. The one thing needful became, at times, so all absorbing, that nothing else could be attended to. Many could neither work nor eat. Labour was suspended for some days, schools were thinned, schoolmasters could not teach ; yet it is remarkable that the cases of sickness in the district were very few; notwithstanding crowded meetings, and great mental anxiety, and bodily prostrations, the health of the people, both in body and mind, was remarkably good. This would be an answer, were an answer required, to a falsehood published in a Belfast paper, that nine cases of madness had been, as the result of the revival, brought into the lunatic asylum ; while the simple fact is, that of seven cases of what is termed religious melancholy, three had been in the asylum previously, one who died never made the least allusion to religion, another had been ill long before the revival began, and not one of them could be proved to be the result of revival. In conclusion, we affirm that nothing could be more fully established, on the most abundant evidence, than that this great, good, and glorious work of revival in Ireland. is pre-eminently the work of the Spirit of God, carried on in sovereign grace, by His almighty power, through the truth of His Word, and in connexion with, and in answer to, effectual fervent prayer. To Him be glory! From ‘Authentic Records of Revival, now in progress in the United Kingdom, published in 1860, re-printed and edited in 1980 by Richard Owen Roberts.
The following gives a good comment on the Revival about 15 months after it began.
DEAR Sir,—When I wrote to you from Dublin, I promised to forward you some account of the state of the Revival in the north. It is very different from that which I witnessed last summer and those who do not understand. the work, and those who hate its holy results, are continually repeating that it is dead. It has simply entered upon a new phase, such as those best instructed. in those things anticipated and predicted. The bustle, excitement, and running to and fro, which the first outburst of this very remarkable work occasioned, have, to a great extent, subsided. The public do not have it obtruded on their attention, and take little pains to inquire into it or to look for its results; while Christian ministers, and labourers of various kinds in the gospel harvest fields, are too much engrossed. with the cares of providing for the fruit gathered, to devote their time and energies to sowing for a fresh harvest. Church and chapel building, education of the young and ignorant converts, sedulous visiting of those recently added to the flock, engross the thoughts and almost exhaust the energies of those who have been privileged to labour in such a work.
To afford you some idea of the pressing nature of this work, I will just mention that, in the counties of Antrim and Down, the scholars added to the schools in connexion with the Irish Sunday School Union (to say nothing of other schools) have been within a few of ten thousand; and 993 additional gratuitous teachers have been added in these counties in the course of the past year. Returns from 300 out of some 500 Presbyterian churches give over 10,000 new communicants at the first communion after the commencement of the Revival, and thousands have been added since, and are under examination. The Wesleyans have admitted 15,000 members. The Independents and Baptists are not numerous in these parts, but their increase has been at least proportional. In this town, from which I write, the Independents have doubled their number of members and trebled the congregation. The Episcopalians publish no returns by which the effects of the Revival on their churches can be clearly ascertained.; but the Bishop of Down and Connor has confirmed 750 in the town of Belfast, against 250 in former years, showing an increase of two hundred per cent.
Now all this gathering of fruit involves a vast amount of labour; and I may report generally that clergymen and ministers who have entered into the work and have sympathised with it, so as to be “fellow-workers with God,” are gathering their harvest, and securing it in places of safety. Let it not be supposed, however, that the “harvest is past and the summer is ended,” as regards this district; God be praised. it is not so. The world has ceased to wonder. Christian labourers have been constrained. to take rest, and to turn their thoughts to gathering and securing the fruit; but the sowing time is not yet Passed.
The true earnestness of the people is the same as ever; the hungering and thirsting for the water and bread of life are in no ways diminished: of this I can testify. The people, notwithstanding the saturated earth, and the overcharged clouds of heaven, will gather by hundreds—yea, by thousands —round anyone who will tell the story of redemption by the blood of Jesus; their earnest, rapt attention, their fixed gaze, and the falling tear, unmistakably revealing the prepared state of their souls. It has been my privilege to share in the work of proclaiming the gospel, and. no words can express the thankful attention by which such ministrations are received, or the heartfelt conviction that such labours are abundantly rewarded.
Prostrations are still occurring in connexion with the preaching of the Word, but they are not so numerous as formerly. While a minister from Surrey and myself were speaking to about 500 people this week, at a place called Edwagarny, Co. Down, some six cases occurred; and the people having detained us, and even besought us to leave the cars and return to them at ten o’clock at night, fresh cases occurred upon our giving out the hymn,— “There is a fountain filled with blood.” Near the same place some twenty were stricken some three weeks since.. Oh, for more labourers in this blessed harvest, for truly the fields are white ! “The Belfast Newsletter” Wednesday, 1″ June 1859 The Revival Movement in Belfast “Every minister of every evangelical denomination in town seems in favour of the movement and identifying with it, with a single exception; namely one Presbyterian minister being, to some extent, opposed to the whole matter. His congregation, which happens not to be either large or influential, is generally treated to a discourse condemning the movement and everything connected with it. At the present time, sectarianism should not be known and, rather than stir up in any way the sectarian spirit, we refrain from naming the individual in question. But, on Sunday last, he let his bigotry and sectarianism so overcome him that, in both his morning and evening sermons, he referred to the union prayer meeting and declared his intention not to be present, as he could not sit on the same platform with ministers of the Anglican Church. The meeting could not display a better spirit than by offering up special prayer on his behalf, that the Spirit Who is at work amongst the people, might touch his heart. “The union prayer meeting, to be held in the Music Hall at one o’clock today, is expected to be one of the best meetings which has yet assembled in Belfast. The Lord Bishop will preside. A large number of ministers of all denominations will attend and no doubt, the only difficulty will be the want of sufficient space for the public.