The Manse, Sept. 1859.
My Dear Sir—At your request I now beg to furnish you with some information with regard to the "Revival," so far as we have seen and felt it in this neighbourhood. I do not think that I could better express my feelings now than by using the language of the 126th Psalm: "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing. The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad." Yes, truly the Lord hath done great things for us, for no power but the Holy Spirit could have caused such a blessed change as has taken place among our dear people in and around Saintfield. In fact, it is so far beyond anything we had expected, that it would appear to us like a dream, were it not that we see and feel its influence. The change which has taken place in many respects is marvellous, reminding one far more of Pentecostal times than of anything which has been witnessed in previous years. As to prayer-meetings, people now delight in coming to them who could not be induced to do so before. In fact, so little interest was taken in the weekly prayer-meeting for some time previous to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon our people, that it was about to be given up. My brother minister, Mr. Hamilton, and myself, called the members of our Young Men's Society together, and having conversed with them, they engaged to aid us in carrying on a united prayer-meeting of both the Presbyterian congregations here. For several weeks our attendance averaged about forty persons. The gracious work of God in America, and in some districts of Ulster, was brought before the people at the meeting, and they were urged to be earnest in prayer to God that we in this place might also receive a copious shower of divine grace. To my own congregation I was in the habit of reading frequently any tidings I could procure concerning the work of God either in America, "Wales, Scotland, or Ulster. I have reason now to believe that such intelligence was useful in awakening a spirit of inquiry. Several of God's people in both congregations were earnestly praying for the descent of the Holy Ghost; yet things remained much as usual with us—great carelessness and indifference with many, until the month of June. Our prayer-meeting then suddenly increased in numbers, and was held more frequently than formerly; but still no change appeared beyond this. I confess I was in deep anxiety and fear lest we should be passed by, and that while other places were being blessed, we should not share with them. With these feelings I preached to my people on the Sabbath before the first case of conviction appeared, from these words: "Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time? Turn thou us unto thee, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old." (Lament, v. 20, 21.) I then said I had preached to them for eleven years, (if I knew my own heart it was with a sincere and earnest desire for the salvation of their souls,) and yet it was heart-breaking to think that during all that time I did not know of a single soul converted under my ministry. I felt deeply humbled at this thought; for some time past it had been pressing heavily upon me; and I now brought it before them to inquire why it was so. I besought them to go to their closets; to be much in prayer for the Holy Spirit, and God would hear. My brother minister was also anxious about the state of matters, and much prayer was made to God. At length our prayers were answered. One young woman, who had been much in prayer, was stricken down, calling for mercy; and yet in the midst of her misery beseeching others to come to Jesus. And so one and another was stricken— some in their own houses, others at our meetings, until at length above two hundred were stricken down, the greater number of whom say they have found peace in the Lord Jesus Christ. The prayer-meeting then became crowded; so that I have seen twelve hundred people in attendance night after night. For the first ten days or a fortnight my brother minister and myself were incessantly engaged praying and speaking with anxious souls, and conducting three prayer-meetings daily, one in the morning at nine o'clock, another at twelve, noon, for the aged, and in the evening one at seven. Several of our young people, who had been blessed themselves, aided us much—and we needed it—for day by day, and far on in the night, we could not get to our beds, such was the anxiety to hear and speak with us. Some found peace soon, and then with hearts full of love to Jesus, and countenances beaming with joy, they ran to pray and speak with others who were anxious. I can never forget the expressions of some of them when they saw others calling for mercy. "O James" or George, or Mary, as the name may have been—"and are you too coming to Jesus?" One of the most interesting cases— among many such—was that of a young lad, son of a respected elder of my church. He was in awful distress, and caught my hand, sobbing and saying, "O Mr. Mecredy, my sins, my sins!" He remained thus for nearly an hour, and then suddenly started to his feet, and cried loudly, "O come all of you to the Saviour! O he is so precious, and so lovely, and willing to save!" Then he cried out, "Lord, bless Mr. Mecredy! Many a day he preached and prayed for this, and besought us to come to Christ; but our hearts were too hard; but now, Lord, you are bringing us—make him thankful." And he prayed for me in such a way, that I was so rejoiced I could not refrain from weeping under that prayer. He then turned to his brother beside him, who was also impressed, and laying his hand upon his head, said, "Ch___y, my man, bless God you were ever born for such a night as this—you'll bless him to all eternity.
O look to Jesus, for he is willing to save you!" When asked to go home, he said, "What do we care about the day or night now?—mysoul is saved, and that is better than anything!"
This is but a specimen of cases, though one of the most remarkable, considering the previous retiring conduct of the lad—the depth of his distress, and then his sudden peace, joy, and exhortations to others around to come to Jesus.
I might give other cases; these, however, will suffice.
Now such is the anxiety about divine things that there is not atown land around us which has not its prayer-meeting, conducted entirely by the people themselves; and truly, the sweetness, unction, and scriptural character of many of those prayers—even from young lads, and from some who never almost prayed before—is astonishing, causing us to exclaim, "Truly, the Lord hath done great things!"
One feature in the conduct of those who have been converted is their loveto Jesus, love to one another, and their love to souls. One woman sent for me to ask if it was not her duty to go out with her Bible in her hand to tell her neighbours of Christ's preciousness and loveliness. This woman was the mother of a large family. Another awoke in the morning so filled with the sense of the love of Christ, that she told me she felt so joyous she could contain no more. And a lad, when I said to him, "Now, William, should not you try and commend Christ to others, when he has done so much for you?" His reply was, with a beaming countenance, "Ah, sir, how could I help doing it?" Hence it is that they are all anxious to bring others to Jesus; a true scriptural mark this of vital religion in the soul, but one also too much neglected among all the members of our churches until lately. "Sir," said a woman to me (her husband had been brought to Jesus after much trouble,) "we are only just now beginning to live." Her little son, about eight years old, was found by her at night having his little Testament open on a chair, and weeping bitterly over the 51st Psalm. A few days after, he said to his mother, "I would not part with Christ for the whole world."
There are now crowded congregations upon the Sabbath; many come out to hear who for years did not. Our Bible classes are very much larger than they ever were; so are our Sabbath schools: and now people instead of shunning religious conversation with their minister are anxious for it. To a large extent, drunkenness has disappeared from our neighbourhood. I can safely say that I remember to have seen in one day more drunken men in Saintfield, some time ago, than I have seen for the last two months, if all put together. So much have matters changed in this respect that even the Constable of Police here, a bigoted Roman Catholic who mocked at the work, confessed to me that he never witnessed anything like the change, and, if it would last, he said it was a most blessedone. Two publicans have resigned their business, and I have often heard it said others may follow them, as they are getting next to nothing to do. I am now happy to say that in my congregation there is not a single publican, and I do hope there never will be one, as I look upon their trade as pernicious to themselves, and a curse to the community.
I find also that the sins of Sabbath-breaking, profane swearing, and strife, have very largely decreased. The family altar is now erected in many families in which it was not found until a few weeks ago. Men now feel that there is a reality in religion and in religious experience; that the gospel is the mighty power of God unto salvation, and they now hear with greater interest. An old man, a member of my church, said to me yesterday morning, "Untillately the preaching seemed to pass over my head; it is not so now." It is exceedingly interesting to us as ministers to find people coming and saying, "Sir, will you please to remember me in prayer;" another, "Ask that God may bless my husband, or my children, or sister, or brother," as the case may be. These things are quite common, and O how cheering they are to a minister after long years of deadness, and coldness, and formalism!
The Lord has done for us great things. He has awakened a great number of sleeping souls who were lying in the arms of the wicked one; and he has led many of them to Jesus. Far more have been blessed who have not been stricken down, than those who have. Much has been said about this part of the work—many foolish, sinful things, I believe. I know that these prostrations and fearful cries for mercy have struck terror into the hearts of many hardened sinners, and thus led them to think about the state of their souls, who in ordinary circumstances, to all human appearance, would not have done so. We never encouraged them, but always tried to impress the minds of all, that conviction was not conversion, and that it was quite likely several would cry out thus who would stop short of surrendering themselves to Jesus; that nothing but believing upon Jesus would save the soul.
God has also blessed his own people among us by reviving them. If the others were sleeping, dead sinners, these were sleeping saints, if I may be allowed the expression. I mean that they were living so far below their privileges, andwere doing so little for Christ more than others, that one was in doubt in what class to reckon them. Yet the seeds of grace were in the soul; the little spark there has been now kindled into a flame of love, and they have awaked to newness of life, and to a new phase of spiritual experience; so that we have now come up to a higher elevation of practical Christianity than heretofore; the line between the godless and the godly is now more conspicuous. The children of God and of the devil are now ranged more under their respective ensigns than formerly. This I esteem, for many reasons, a blessed change.
I might write you much more did my time permit, or were it at all necessary. I now conclude by praying the Holy Spirit to continue to bless us as he is now doing, until many that are still out of Christ may be brought to him; and that he would graciously hear the prayers ascending up continually for the South and West of our poor benighted island, and bless our poor misguided countrymen so abundantly with the showers of his grace that our land may soon be what it is said to have been once, "an island of saints."
And now, praying also that God may bless you, and fit you more and more for your evangelistic labours, and give you many more souls as the reward of your labours, I am yours in Christ Jesus,
Henry Grattan Guinness, The Revival in Ireland: letters from ministers and medical men in Ulster on the revival of religion in the North of Ireland, (Philadelphia: William S. Alfred Martien, 1860), pp. 7-16.
"We are happy to be informed that the good work is still going on in Saintfield. The meetings for prayer held each week in the Presbyterian churches alternately are still largely attended, and every night there have been cases of conviction of sin. Several young men and young women have been stricken down and heard to cry for mercy. Some old men are also now rejoicing in Christ Jesus. All undue excitement is discouraged and all are cautioned against mistaking conviction for conversion. Family worship is now established in many families where it was previously unknown. One of the most cheering sounds which a man could hear is the singing of Psalms by the different groups of people going to their own homes after the prayer meeting closes.
"The whole face of the country is changed. Drunkenness has, to a large extent, ceased. One publican has given up his trade and others are about to follow his example. Would if some of those ministers of the Church of England, who appear to be opposing this movement, could hear the language and the prayers of some of the people! It would lead them to change their views and, if they will not aid the work, at least lead them to speak more charitably concerning it. The other evening the people were warned against the statements of such men as Mr McWayne and asked to pray for them, that the Lord might lead them to change their views of the work and lead them to think more seriously of the use which Romanists and others are making of their foolish and unguarded statements."
"The Banner of Ulster" 12th July 1859