BY THE REV. THOMAS TOYE.
WHEN the news of the great awakening in America reached Ireland, I resolved to establish a daily prayer-meeting for an outpouring of the Spirit in my congregation, and it was accordingly commenced, April 17, 1858. The people in general were indifferent, and the attendance was consequently small for several months, but there was still a determination on our part to persevere in the attempt.
In the end of May 1859, I invited three lay brethren (two of them recent "convert ") to come from Ahoghill to Belfast. They held meetings morning and evening for three days and excited remarkable attention. There were no screams nor prostrations during their addresses, but there appeared to be a deep and salutary impression.
In the month of June, the revival work broke out in an extraordinary way in this town. On Sabbath, June 19, there was a woman in deep distress of mind in Great George's Street Church, lest the Spirit had been withdrawn from her ; and on the following Sabbath, June 25, there was a girl labouring under deep conviction of sin, who found peace that evening through simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
On Wednesday, June 29, the great revival meeting was held in the Botanic Garden, and on the evening of that day, the glorious work may be said to have commenced with power in the congregation of Great George's Street. The Lord introduced it in a very unexpected way. The girl who had found peace on the previous Sabbath evening stood up, declared that she was happy in the Lord, and simply added the words, "Come to Jesus." The effect of her invitation was like the effect of an electric shock, and many sinners came that evening, weary and heavy laden, to Jesus, and found rest for their souls.
But this scene was soon to be eclipsed by another. The people gathered in such numbers on the following evening, June 30, that there was not accommodation for them; and there was one congregation in the church, and two in the street. After the service in the church began, there were piercing cries for mercy in every part of the house. There is a garden behind the church, into which there is an entrance from it, and several persons under conviction of sin were removed thither, while others were taken into my own dwelling-house. The season of the year and the state of the weather were very favourable for those taken into the garden; and it may be truly affirmed, that such a scene had not been witnessed in Belfast before. There were several groups of individuals. Some were exhorting those who were seeking salvation; some were weeping, and praying aloud for mercy; and some, with joyful lips, were praising God for having obtained salvation, and singing the converts' psalm:—
"He took me from a fearful pit, And from the miry clay,
And on a rock he set my feet,
Establishing my way.
He put a new song in my mouth,
Our God to magnify:
Many shall see it, and shall fear,
And on the Lord rely."
The usual time for dismissal came, but they were heedless about the hour of the night. The day brightened in the heavens, the morning star was succeeded by the rising sun, but they still remained exhorting, praying, and praising the Lord. They did not leave the spot till five o'clock in the morning, and it has been stated, that out of eight hundred persons professing to have been converted to God in this revival in Great George's Street Church, there were forty who underwent that great change that night in the garden.
I was scarcely dressed on the following morning, when I was sent for to visit a young girl who had been "stricken.” I hastened to her residence, and found her in bed, labouring under great weakness of body. As soon as she saw me, she said, "Oh, Mr Toye, that garden of yours has been the gate of heaven to my soul." I spoke to her about present free and full salvation received by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, while I could not help thinking that she was a fairer flower than the rose or the lily, or any other which the garden had ever displayed.
There was a family belonging to the congregation in which two girls were deeply affected by the importance of salvation. And there was another girl in the same family who remained unimpressed. The time to favour her, however, was now come. She confessed publicly that she had found Christ, of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write; and that when she had two sisters on the way to heaven, she would not stay behind them and go herself to hell.
Amongst the converts was a barber, who had been in the habit of shaving persons on the Sabbath-day. When he saw what he was required to do by the fourth commandment, he resolved at once to abandon the practice and placed a written paper in his window to inform his customers of his intention, and to prove to every reader that if he had done iniquity, he would do so no more.
One evening I was walking up the aisle of the church, repeating the text, "Prepare to meet thy God." A young man heard the words and was completely subdued. He stood up soon afterwards in a prayer-meeting and stated that he ascribed the change which had taken place upon him, under God's Spirit, to the simple utterance of that awakening passage of the Word of God.
A young man went one evening to get a ticket to go by the steamer to Glasgow. There was a crowd of people about the office at the time, and he could not procure it before the departure of the boat. As he had nothing else to do, he came to the prayer-meeting. He was both convicted of sin and converted to God before its termination.
A great number of Scottish friends visited us during the summer, and amongst them was a man and his daughter from Paisley. On the evening of our communion Sabbath, in August, a number of persons spoke (after the regular service) of the comfort they had experienced while they were sitting at the Lord's table. The girl to whom I now allude opened her mouth, and spoke out of the abundance of her heart. She said, with deep emotion, and with a sweet Scottish voice, that she trusted that Sabbath would be the day of her father's second birth and that he would prove to everyone that he was a new creature, on his return to his native land.
The revival movement continued to advance during the months of August, September, and October. The congregations were so large, that the people were not only obliged to sit and stand in the aisles of the church but, on some Sabbath evenings, I had individuals with me in the pulpit. The screams and prostrations became less frequent, but the presence of the Lord continued to be powerfully felt by the audience.
In the early part of November, I found that the work was not advancing with that rapidity which circumstances required, and I directed the people to consider two particular passages of Scripture—Ps. lxxxv. 6, and Mal. iii. 10. I entreated them to make these passages the subjects of prayer, and to pray over them in the prayer-meeting, in the family, and also in the closet. The Lord remembered the words unto His servants, upon which He had caused them to hope.
The work of revival appeared to begin afresh on Monday, November 28; and many of the converts were delighted by the thought that the scenes of July were about to return. On Monday night, five individuals were affected; on Tuesday night, five; on Wednesday night, eight; on Thursday night, three; and, on Friday night, I cannot tell the number.
On this last night, the people were so unwilling to separate, that they began to sing in the open air at the gate of the church; and, before they parted, a young woman was "stricken down." She was immediately brought into my dwelling-house, accompanied by a dear brother in Christ. He spoke to her, prayed with her, and remained by her side until she found peace.
The effect of these strikings-down, as they have been called, is wonderful. A man came into town that morning from the country on business. He was not able to return home so soon as he expected, and being in company with a person who was coming to the prayer-meeting, resolved to come with him. He saw the woman affected, and was scarcely able to stand upon his feet. He forsook his sinful ways, returned to his God, obtained mercy, and was abundantly pardoned. And, on his return to his family, he commenced to have family worship—a circumstance which astonished all his acquaintances around.
Nor was this the only result of the stroke. A young man, who belongs to a first-rate establishment in town, was amongst the people who remained at the gate. He saw the woman fall. He called on me soon after. He stated that he had never been so moved by any circumstance in all his life and that he had now resolved to seek the salvation of his soul. I feel, however, that I must not trespass too much on your pages, though fresh instances of conversion constantly occur which possess a peculiar degree of interest. In conclusion, I have to add that the prayer-meetings are held every night at eight o'clock, and will be, please the Lord, while three, or even two, will attend them. They are generally refreshing seasons. The Lord pours water on the thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground, and His people spring up as grass—as willows by the watercourses. I bless the Lord that I have lived to see such times. I always indulged the hope that I would see a revival before I died, but I never anticipated such glorious scenes as will be associated with the recollections of 1859. "Ye mountains and vales, in praises abound,
Ye hills and ye dales, continue the sound,
Break forth into singing, ye trees of the wood,
For Jesus is bringing lost sinners to God:'
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 Church was turned into a foundry in 1896.