BY THE REV. ADAM MAGILL. IN the summer of 1856, four young men in my congregation resolved to establish a social meeting for prayer, to be called the Sabbath-school Teachers' Prayer-meeting. Little interest was felt in this meeting for several months; yet these young men, having felt the power of religion on their own hearts and lives, and knowing how little success they could expect as teachers in winning souls for Christ without His Spirit, continued to meet from time to time to implore a blessing on their labours and on the gospel preached.
In the month of July 1857, I delivered a course of lectures on the work and necessity of the Holy Spirit, which were blessed in the conversion of some souls, but more especially in awakening a greater interest in attending public worship and listening to the word preached. But no marked, prominent feature of a revival of religion appeared.
Early in the spring of 1858, tidings of a great revival in America reached us. As the great awakening in New York and elsewhere was evidently in answer to prayer, and as the Spirit of God is distinctly promised to those who ask, we felt strongly induced to urge from the pulpit the necessity of additional meetings for prayer, besides the one already in existence, conducted by the Sabbath-school teachers.
As a mark of God's blessing on this proposal, eight prayer-meetings sprang up within the bounds of the congregation and were zealously conducted by young men. At these meetings the Scriptures were read, and fervent prayers offered up for the minister, and for the Holy Spirit to be poured upon the people.
At first, these meetings were thinly attended, but gradually the interest increased, and the attendance became more numerous, and it became manifest that the Lord was blessing them, as several persons were led to the Saviour through their instrumentality.
All the important information that could be collected in the meantime on the American revival was communicated from the pulpit, which appeared to impress the minds of the people with some such feeling as this—" I wish the Lord would visit us in a similar way."
Prayer-meetings grew larger, the attendance on public worship increased, more earnestness and a deeper solemnity marked the worshippers. The Spirit of the Lord was evidently at work, striving with men's consciences, evinced in the silent tear that was occasionally wiped from the eye, as if the person were ashamed it should be seen; and from the fact that persons were found stealing at night, for fear of discovery, into a barn, or behind a hedge, to pray. I saw evidently the mountain of sin yielding a little to the hammer of the gospel; still, no great awakening appeared; we had nothing that could be termed a revival.
On the 11th of June 1859, at a prayer-meeting in Glen-con way schoolhouse, the Lord made bare His holy arm in sight of all the people. A young convert from County Antrim add addressed the meeting earnestly and solemnly on what the Lord had done for his soul. The people listened with deep attention, tears stole down many a cheek, hearts pent up with silent grief were ready to burst, and at the close six persons were plunged into the most heart-rending anguish I ever witnessed.
The cry of all was to the same effect—" Oh, my sins! my sins !—I am going to hell !—Jesus, have mercy on me !"
One cried, "Lord Jesus, have mercy on my wicked father and mother!"
Two young men shed tears bitterly, and, with the arrow of the Lord in their souls, they went from the meeting to a graveyard, and there spent all night in wrestling with the Lord for pardon. They are now candidates for the ministry.
It was thus evident the Lord was in the midst of us answering the earnest and fervent prayers for His Holy Spirit, offered in the name of Christ in that very place on many a previous occasion.
The following day, June 12, was the Sabbath—a day which will never be forgotten by many in this parish. Oh, with what power and majesty Jehovah walked amongst us! Zechariah xii. 10, was wonderfully fulfilled to us. When the usual time for public worship came, the church was so crowded that we were obliged to retire to the churchyard and conduct the services in the open air. The crowd became immense, the minister and congregation of Scriggan having joined us, and a more solemn assembly never met on earth.
During the services, the tears and suppressed sobs of many spewed that it was no ordinary occasion—that it was the day of God's power—that the Spirit of power was dealing personally with men's souls. When the benediction was pro¬nounced, a few retired, but the great majority lingered— stood, in fact, as if held in a vice, or bound with a chain— and in a moment, as if struck with a thunderbolt, about a hundred persons were prostrated on their knees, sending forth a wail from hearts bruised, broken, and overwhelmed with horror, such as will never be forgotten, and which, perhaps, for solemnity and awe, will never be surpassed until the judgment-day. Oh, what must the wailings of the lost in hell be, when the discovery is made that their lamps are gone out, that the day of mercy is past, and the door of hope shut fo,ever! For hours these stricken, smitten, bleeding souls remained on their bended knees, unconscious of everything but their own guilt and danger, and need of a Saviour, pleading and praying with an intensity and fervour which surpasses all description.
The evening of Wednesday, June 15, was appointed for prayer, and long before the hour for commencing the service, the church was crowded. The awful sadness in every countenance bespoke the deep earnestness within; even the most ungodly were overawed, and wore a solemn sadness on their faces. Had a pestilence swept over the neighbourhood, leaving one dead in every house, greater awe would not have been produced. At the close of the services, several efforts were made to dismiss the congregation, but without avail; and it was not until four o'clock in the morning that the people could be persuaded to go home. Multitudes were again, on that night, steeped in awful sorrow, and stung with the most poignant remorse for sin. Such unutterable horror overwhelmed one young man, that the blood streamed from mouth and nose. Another man, who all his life was a profligate, had such a vivid view of the horrors of hell, and the pains of hell took such hold of him, that he cried like a demoniac, that a hundred devils were dragging him to the bottomless pit.
On the morning of Sabbath, June 19, nearly all the children in the Sabbath school, to the number of a hundred, were plunged into the same deep, sinking, sorrowing sense of great guilt and unworthiness.
For several Sabbaths the services of the sanctuary had to give way to the sobs and cries of pierced souls, and though every lawful effort was made to suppress all excitement, yet the agony and sorrow within were too great to be repressed, and frequently the audible cry broke forth for mercy.
Numbers of cases of conviction of a very interesting nature took place in private, in the family, or elsewhere. Some were struck with a sense of sin in the field, when working —some on the highway —some when conducting family worship, and others in their beds. One person told me, when he awoke in the morning he found his pillow wet with tears, and his whole frame feeble and exhausted. One strong young man, when working alone in a turf bog, was prostrated with a spade in his hand, and for hours he there wrestled in prayer to God, and all the succeeding night, in his house, the cry for mercy went up from a broken heart. It was not till the morning he found peace, when his powerful muscular frame was shaken and exhausted, as if he had been rising out of a protracted and severe fever. So powers fully and generally did the Spirit of God work both in the public sanctuary and in private, that few in this neighbourhood were unawakened. Would to God I could say they were all converted!
The space allotted will not permit me to enter further into detail; I shall therefore close this paper with a few practical remarks.
What has been the primary cause of this great religious awakening, sweeping from family to family, and producing an anxiety about the salvation of the soul, such as has never been experienced by any preceding generation in this neighbourhood? The answer is, God's Spirit has been signally dealing personally with the consciences and hearts of the people. The mass of our church-going people were cold, dead, formal, and prayerless—living and dying in sin, and going to the judgment-seat and to eternity unblessed, unconcerned, and unsaved. The ministration of the word had become feeble and powerless; the lamentation was going forth from many a godly minister, "Who hath be¬lieved our report?" "The bellows are burned, the lead is consumed of the fire, the founder melteth in vain; for the wicked are not plucked away." Suddenly, as on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit shook the "dry bones," awak¬ened the slumbering conscience, and impelled men to flee from the wrath to come.
What stronger evidence of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit than the dread of sin overwhelming the soul; "When He is come, he will reprove the world of sin." This was one most prominent feature in the awakening here. The aspect of anguish, the deep groan, the piercing cry of horror, and the intense earnest appeal, "Lord Jesus, have mercy upon my soul!" is the most distinct and demonstra¬tive evidence that God was waking up the soul to feel how intolerable the burden of sin was; and oh, if intolerable upon earth, where there is hope, how will the sinner endure it in its full, crushing, and overwhelming power in hell, where there is none!
A large number of my congregation were stricken to the earth, as if suddenly pierced with a spear, whilst others were distressed and perplexed with an awful sense of unworthiness. The effects in both cases were similar, being manifested in the earnest, prayerful devotedness of their lives, teaching us to submit to whatever way the Spirit of the Lord may please to work.
If I dare venture an opinion on the bodily distress many endured, arising, no doubt, from a sense of guilt pressing on the mind producing great anguish of soul, it would be this, Professors of religion had become so hardened in sin—so " gospel-hardened "—so utterly impenitent, and the habit of resisting the most powerful appeals from the pulpit had become so confirmed, that God saw that an extraordinary remedy was necessary for an extraordinary emergency ; and I believe the loud wail coming from the lips of the sinking, perishing sinner, preached with greater power to a careless people than the most eloquent sermon that could be delivered. And, therefore, regarding the physical features of the revival here, I feel constrained to bow, and say, "It is the Lord, let him do as it seemeth him good."
A striking feature in the people here is their insatiable thirst for prayer. Prayer, the most earnest and persevering, preceded the revival here, and now it is sustained in its vigour by prayer ; and, at the present moment, the district prayer-meetings, which are numerous, are crowded every night—God fulfilling His promise, that when He would pour out the Spirit of grace, lie would accompany it with the spirit of supplications also. The congregation is composed of about two hundred families, one hundred and eighty of whom worship God daily, not with the cold, formal prayers of other days, but with burning hearts and burning words. A young man or a young female, in many cases, leads the family devotions, they being the converted persons in such families.
A desire for the conversion of souls still perishing, is very strongly manifested. I have seen a young female, full of love for the Saviour, kneel on the highway-side, and there pray with a fervour I shall never forget for the conversion of her father.
Young men, after a hard day's work, often walk six or eight miles to hold a prayer-meeting in some backward district, or to pray with and warn some ungodly family. But I must hasten to a close, with the following important fact:
1. The greater number of converts are among those who regularly attended the means of grace. How necessary, like blind Bartimaus, to be in the way when the Saviour passes by! 2. God's people here were praying for and expecting, a day of quickening long before it came. How important, like the apostles, to wait for the promise of the Father, and to continue waiting on the spirit of prayer and supplication! 3. A larger proportion of the young than those in middle or old age have been converted. What a lesson to the young to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and become converted before sin hardens and blunts the soul! 4. There are more females than males, seemingly, converted, teaching us that as men are more involved in the world, they are in more danger of its blighting and withering influence on the heart.
I have thus given a few of' the facts and features of the revival of religion in this congregation, and I have confined my observations strictly to what came under my own observation. May this imperfect narrative of God's great work here be acknowledged by the Holy Spirit, and may we all, as minister, Sabbath-school teachers, and elders, pray more, labour more, and expect more, as I believe we have only had a sheaf of the great harvest, a shower of the Spirit, leading us to look out for and continually to expect the flood—the flood upon the dry ground. Holy Spirit! descend upon a dry, unfruitful Church, and on a cold, dead world, and may righteousness go forth as a light and the salvation of our God as a lamp that burneth
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.
"In Limavady and its surrounding district the deep feeling on the subject of religion, which has been appearing in other places, has manifested itself with great intensity. The first cases of deep anxiety of mind, manifested visibly by the bodily weakness and agony which arrest the thoughtless, occurred in Limavady on the 8th. At meetings on the 10th and 11th there were still more. On Sabbath the 12th and subsequently in Limavady, Ballykelly, Largy, Bovevagh, Myroe the feelings of religious anxiety have been intense. Prayer meetings are held every night and such is the feeling of the people that, generally, they will not break up 'til after midnight. At these meetings sometimes as many as forty or fifty have fallen down, some screaming for mercy and others remaining for hours in speechless agony. “Even in rural districts there is the same desire to meet and wait on God and the same remarkable manifestations. Those who had been thus suddenly arrested and brought under strong convictions of the horrors of sin, to Christ, speak afterwards of their great joy, and great earnestness in inviting others to come to Jesus and in praying for them. Their simple addresses seemed to be particularly acknowledged. Their desire to tell what God has done for their souls seemed almost irrepressible. The language used by one young man will give an idea of the feeling of all. Speaking of the change that had passed on him he said, 'At the beginning of the week, if my minister had told me that I was on the road to Hell, I would have been so angry that I would have left his church. Now I would rejoice to stand up in the public congregation and tell them what a sinner I was, and what a Saviour I have found.' "Some of the worst characters in the place had been convicted of sin and brought, as it were, to the Saviour. The sensation produced was great, beyond description; preacher and people both seemed, for the time, overpowered by a sense of the peculiar presence of God. The meeting was addressed by the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ballyclare by one of the new converts, by a friend from Belfast (an elder in Rev. Mr Toye's congregation), and by the Methodist minister of the town, by whom the outdoor services of the evening .were concluded. During the time of service, the friends and 'spectators, who crowded into the church to assist or observe those who were labouring under the terrible influences of conviction, so filled the building that it became heated almost to suffocation, and to avoid the consequences naturally resulting from such an atmosphere — consequences which had begun to appear, as several fainted where they stood — it became absolutely necessary not only to refuse admittance to those who were anxious to enter, but also to request all who were merely spectators within to withdraw.
"After some struggling and wrestling with God in prayer, many, we have reason to know, found peace and joy in believing and returned to their homes rejoicing; but not 'till the late hour of midnight did the voice of praise and prayer cease to be heard within the House of God and far on into the morning; and from houses, where such sounds never issued before, might be heard the singing of Psalms and hymns, falling upon the ear with a heart-softening power, as it broke the solemn stillness that reigned around. Wonderful, indeed, is the change that has been produced upon this town — so wonderful, that even the ungodly and indifferent have been constrained to say, The Hand of the Lord has wrought this."
"The Banner of Ulster" 21st June 1859