Boardmills First Presbyterian Church (1859)




BY THE REV. G. H SHANKS.

MY congregation is a small rural one, consisting of some one hundred and fifty families, and in about forty of these decided cases of conversion, so far as man can judge, have taken place, there being, in some instances, three, four, or more in one family; while I may safely say that every family, and almost every individual, have been stirred up to pray more fervently and frequently than before; and the two other Presbyterian congregations in the immediate neighbourhood have been also revived, perhaps to an equal degree.

For above four weeks a united prayer-meeting has been held every day, filling the largest of the meeting-houses, sometimes the house not holding them, and frequently a prayer-meeting being also held in the forenoon. Persons who formerly would have said they had not time to attend a prayer-meeting once a month, have had time to attend twice a day, with nearly all their household, for many days in succession. Physical manifestations have nearly ceased; but there appears no abatement of religious concern, nor cessation of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Nearly every schoolhouse around has a weekly prayer-meeting, with a crowded attendance, and several private dwellings have also similar meetings, besides the united prayer-meet¬ings every day in one of the churches.

Something like primitive Christianity has at last appeared. New Testament religion is once more seen. "Oh, Mr Shanks," said a woman to me at the beginning of the revival," is not this what you were all praying for? Sure, Mr Moffat prayed for this, and taught us it;"—Mr Moffat being the minister who, many years previously, had been the instrument of making the first religious impression upon her young heart." Why is His chariot so long in coming?" she continued. "Why tarry the wheels of His chariot?" As I conversed on the same day with another person who had been converted several years before, and with some of the recent converts, I felt as if I were among the early Christians—among those who had shared the Pen¬tecostal effusion of the Holy Ghost.

One person says, "Now, Mr Shanks, you are getting your prayers answered." Another, "Ministers and our forefathers, ever since I remember, have been praying for these times." Another says, " Now I will not have to go fifteen miles to Nancy Shields, or sister B., in order to converse with experienced Christians ;" adding, " And now I see the death of Christ is no failure," alluding to former converstions, in which the wonder was expressed that comparatively so few really shared in the blessings purchased by Christ's death.

"Oh, father," said a humble converted girl, the second that was struck down in my congregation, "talk not of people taking it,' as if it were sickness; it is no illness, it is just the soul receiving Christ." A little orphan boy, hearing his shopmates speak of the " sickness" that was going abroad, said, " We have had sickness many a time in the country, cholera, fever, &c., but it never made the people pray nor turn from their sins."

"Such a Saintfield fair," is commonly remarked; "scarcely a man seen drunk—scarcely an oath heard; a man felt himself odd if he went into a public-house." "You cannot go into Belfast without seeing a change on everybody." "The whole world is altered." A man who had drunk nearly all his property, till he is now living in one of his father's huts, meeting the publican at the close of a prayer- meeting, said, " Sam, I saw the time I would rather have been in your house than here; but" (pulling a Bible out of his pocket) " I would now rather have that than all in your house." He has now been several weeks without tasting a drop, gives every evidence of being a real convert; while "Sam" himself is closing his shop, "and the two other publicans at the same cross-roads will soon close also," everybody says, " for they can get nothing to do."

" I have forgot my Bible," said a young man going to cut turf early in the morning; " I must go back for it." "My father made a beautiful prayer for me last night, and another this morning," said a young woman, on the day after she had been awakened ; and I have heard he has had family worship ever since, although never before. Another woman said, with her Bible on her knees, bedewed with tears, "He," (her husband) " has been brought to his knees this morning, which I never saw before.

Family worship is now much more frequent than the absence of it used to be. I have almost as much difficulty in getting people to leave the prayer-meeting or public worship as I used to have in getting them to go to it, and in reminding them that they have bodies, as formerly that they had souls.

Attendance at public worship on the Lord's-day is vastly increased. Nobody now seems to have a bad coat, or hat, to be without shoes, or to be tired on Saturday, &c. &c.

In fine, two great things have taken place in this neighbourhood, and especially in my own congregation, namely, a great number of conversions, and a great number of revivals, in the proper sense of the term, that is, accessions of grace to those who were previously converted. Oh, what deep searchings of heart there have been among those who had the reputation of being pious! It seems not impossible that some who now date their conversion from this revival may have been converted before, but the increase of grace now received throws into the shade their conversion, and they may think it did not exist.

" I see new beauties in the Bible," every one says, and no wonder; for they now read in their Bibles the religion at length experienced in their own hearts. The Bible and their own hearts now answer as face to face.

I had laboured some eighteen years apparently without much fruit. The revival came rapidly, and just as I seemed on the verge of.almost ceasing to hope for it.

Five months have passed since writing the above, and now, without hesitation, I can testify that the results have been even more satisfactory than I then dared to hope they would be; for, although I was then perfectly convinced that the work was God's, and that there would be much fruit to His glory, yet knowing what human nature is, even in its best state on this side heaven, and having studied a little the history of other revivals in different places and ages, I was prepared to expect partial evils, excesses, reactions, &c., &c. ; which, thanks be to God, have not taken place in this district.

The drunkard referred to, who had then been " several weeks without tasting a drop," has now been six months without tasting a drop, and continues to give every evidence of being a true convert—respected and loved by all, loving all, and useful in the neighbourhood. I know no mark of a real Christian which he does not possess, nor any of an unconverted man which he does possess.

And the publican alluded to has converted his establish¬ment into a grocery, haberdashery, and bookshop; " The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven," and such like, being seen in the window, instead of the allurements to vice which formerly filled it ; a weekly prayer-meeting being also held in his house, attended by hundreds, kept up chiefly by means of the reformed drunkard, who often procures a minister to preach; and two open-air meetings having been held at the place during the summer, attended by thousands, and addressed by ministers of various denomination; and in the very field where many a ferocious fight had been.

About two miles further on the road to Belfast, another public-house has been closed. The children of the house "took the revival," and soon afterwards the traffic ceased.

In different parts of the neighbourhood free classes have been instituted. Some time ago I visited one held every morning by a young woman, attended by about thirty persons, among whom I found a young mother busy at her "first book." "The young mother can read the Bible now," said the teacher to me, some time afterwards. The free classes, however, do not swamp the regular school; but rather serve as feeders to them. Persons acquire a taste for reading—they feel how far back they are, and they must get to school. I have been surprised to find large boys at school, who, at one time, had no notion of being there any longer.

The attendance on public worship in my own church is fully doubled, and the ordinary Sabbath collection is nearly doubled. There is not the falling off at the approach of winter that there used to be. Last Sabbath the cold was dreadful, yet the house was pretty well filled. Much greater liberality is manifested in the support of the gospel, of missionary operations, and charitable institutions. There appears far less poverty, and even less sickness and death, than ever before that I remember, notwithstanding the time "lost " (as it would have been called) at prayer-meetings and other religious exercises, and notwithstanding the spiritual distress and spiritual conflicts endured by many.

At my first revival communion, in August, there were about two hundred and twenty communicants at the table, (the families hitherto in connexion with the congregation being about one hundred and fifty;) and at the subsequent communion, in November, there were about two hundred and fifty.

In some large congregations around, there has been a much greater increase. In one, (first Ballynahinch,) there were two hundred additional communicants ; in another, (Kilmore,) the number was doubled, except eighteen ; in another, (Longhaghery,) one hundred and five persons were admitted for the first time, some of whom were very aged, and about thirty families were inquiring for sittings on one day.

The fraternal feeling subsisting among the members of the three congregations in this immediate neighbourhood is exceedingly gratifying, and a ground of great thankfulness, especially as there were circumstances connected with the origin and history of some of them calculated to produce an opposite feeling.

At the communion in August, the members of Mr Dobbin's congregation and of mine proposed to hold the communion unitedly in a field, which, however, was not done for fear of excitement and confusion; but on the subsequent Monday they met together for public worship.

A day of public thanksgiving for the revival was also held by the three congregations in September ; the several congregations meeting in their respective places of worship at twelve o'clock, and then at two meeting unitedly in a field, Mr Clugston, the minister of the Seceding congregation, presiding.

And on last Sabbath week, when my congregation made a collection for extensive repairs required on the place of worship, most liberal assistance was rendered by members of the other two.

A prayer-meeting in one or other of the three churches is held four times a week, including that of Sabbath evening; while on every day several prayer-meetings are held in different parts of the district.

The chief change as to attendance on prayer-meetings is this, that people attend now with some degree of moderation, so that I have not the difficulty which I once had, of persuading them to leave in due time, and to attend no oftener than was consistent with health and other circumstances necessary to be attended to.

The converts are very steady. With only two exceptions (and they can scarcely be called exceptions) I have not been disappointed in a single instance.

It is true, there is not now the intense religious excitement which disables people from working; children can now attend school generally, schoolmasters can teach, persons of both sexes can vigorously prosecute their industrial occupations; and, no doubt, some souls are still unreached—perhaps more hardened than before; and others who may, at one time, have been roused to think that they, too, should seek for mercy, and press into the kingdom of heaven, may perhaps have succeeded in ridding themselves of their impressions, and may now be at "ease in Zion," content with a mere form of godliness; but after all, I have no hesitation in asserting that the results of the revival in this neighbourhood are, in a moral, social, and spiritual point of view, satisfactory to a degree far above what I supposed we had reason to expect. They are glorifying to God and beneficial to man.

I am far from wishing it to be supposed that no evil tendencies have appeared in the course of the revival move¬ment. God's work is perfect; but in the affairs of the Church He works with human instrumentalities, and therefore there is always much imperfection. From the very first, I knew it was necessary—and so did my ministerial brethren, Messrs Dobbin and Clugston— to give warning, to make " explanations," to give " cautions," and make observations, in order to prevent " mistakes," " misconceptions," &c., &c.; and I have reason to thank God for the complete success of such endeavours.

At one time there were " sleeps," " visions," " predictions," and such like, in neighbouring districts, and I thought it necessary even to write in the newspapers against such excrescences and abuses; and while, at first, I gave some offence to a few, yet in a short time all was put right, and a complete extinguisher placed upon all the excesses and irregularities which were setting in. Very foolish things were published, from time to time, by zealous but injudicious friends, against some of which I remonstrated; and I can easily conceive that, in places where ministers would stand aloof, or be too few thoroughly to inspect and superintend the movement, it would fall into the hands of well-meaning but over-zealous and inexperienced persons, and so be accompanied with great abuses, errors, and evils.

From all these we have been kept completely free in this part, owing greatly, under the Divine blessing, to the unanimity and co-operation of the several ministers, who appeared all to see with one eye, although there never was any preconcerted arrangement among us. A superior Power seemed to make the arrangement, and we had only to fall in and follow in the direction in which the finger of God pointed. But great caution, humility, prayer, keeping close by Scripture direction and Scripture authority, are exceedingly necessary. Never was there a time when there was more need of wisdom, counsels and experience—of men, like "the children of Issachar, that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do." Notwithstanding, however, all my sensitiveness about abuses, excesses, &c., I am free to declare solemnly, that, upon the whole, my surprise is that there has been, throughout the whole extent of the movement, so far as known to me, really so little extravagance, and so much of substantial, lasting, unmixed good.

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 gracious doings of the Spirit of God are sensibly experienced in this place. The wave of spiritual blessings which, a few weeks ago, broke only upon a corner of our district, has now, happily, rolled over the whole neighbourhood. God is doing great things for us, "of which we are right glad." A great revival open-air meeting was held here on Thursday evening last. The Rev. James Young, of Belfast, who has been indefatigable in the work of revivals, happened to be present. By request, he addressed the assembled audience, taking for his subject Matthew xi. 20-25. Many were stricken down ere the conclusion of the discourse. Every attention was shown to the awakened. The sensation produced through the district is deep and wide-spread.

From ‘The Revival Newspaper,’ Volume i, p42, Sept 3rd, 1859.

"The work progresses very favourably here. On Saturday morning no less than seventy persons, professing deep spiritual concern, waited on the Rev. Mr. Hanks at his own residence. At the prayer meeting the same evening there were many who, after strong conviction, gave evidence of a change of heart and went away, some at a very late hour, rejoicing. On Sabbath evening Professor Gibson addressed an immense audience — the largest ever witnessed in that neighbourhood — in the Rev. Mr. Dobbin's church. So great was the attendance that Rev. Mr. Dobbin had to conduct an extra service at the same time in the adjoining schoolroom. At the close there were many interesting cases, although comparatively few were characterised by any extreme agitation. The movement at Boardmills seems to be, for the most part, calm and solemn. Those who are brought under conviction are speedily emerging into a state of peace and joy. The entire neighbourhood is pervaded by the deepest feeling on the subject and by a general desire to improve the season of gracious visitation."

"The Banner of Ulster" 28th June 1859


Related Wells