BY THE REV. JAMES BAIN, PASTOR OF THE INDEPENDENT CHURCH.
STRAID is a mountainous district in the county of Antrim —the people mostly small farmers and weavers. For some time previous to the commencement of the work of revival in this part of the country, the spirit of prayer became deep and manifest among the people of my congregation. This was evidenced by the enlarged attendance on the services of the sanctuary, and the fervency with which petitions were presented at the mercy-seat for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
In the early part of April 1859, tidings reached us of the strange things that were being experienced in other parts of the country, with varied conflicting opinions. We desired to see those things with our eyes of which we had heard so much. I felt a deep interest in what I had heard but it required the evidence of facts to be fully impressed with its divine character. To see the proud sinner stricken down in his pride of heart, and constrained to cry for mercy before an assembled multitude, was such an evidence of the heavenly origin of the work as to convince the gainsayer, and to give confidence to the sincere inquirer after truth. It was truly a wonderful manifestation of Divine power.
Slow at first to permit the interests of the revival to be recognised, I waited the evidences of its all-pervading power, that I might see my way in the path of duty. In this I was perfectly satisfied ere I took a single step in it; but since then I have thrown my whole soul into the great and godlike work, so that night and day I have been engaged in labouring for the spiritual benefit of souls.
The general effect upon society is most wonderful and important. Profanity, Sabbath profanation, and drunkenness are set aside. Many public houses are closed, a cockpit has become a preaching station, and families, where nothing but vice in its worst forms could be seen, have been brought to love and to adore the Lord with a zeal and a fervour which withstand all efforts of the enemy of souls to overcome; while the desire for the preaching of the gospel is everywhere pervading society. Indeed, the most of the people are full of desire to hear the gospel and attend in large numbers wherever it is preached, and the good done is very great. Many are now rejoicing in Jesus, to whom it seemed impossible to bring the truth, such was their unwillingness to hear and their hatred to the gospel.
The effect upon the Roman Catholics is very varied. Some, but very few, are full of deep hatred against all its manifestations, and say it is the work of the devil. But the more intelligent are favourable to it, and look upon it as a divine power; of such some are often found at our meetings. Several have been converted, and thus they bid a final farewell to Rome. The Bible and the society of Bible Christians are their joy and delight, and it is wonderful how they learn the sacred Word, and with what earnestness they love its truths. But they are greatly persecuted by their former friends. The priests first assumed a proud indifference, then threatened; they gave counsel not to attend the meetings, yet all in vain; and now, full of hate, and confounded, they know not what to do, while the work goes on. The demand for Bibles, tracts, and books has been most wonderful. I have given all I could lay my hands on, or find means to obtain, and still the cry is for more. Indeed, many of the converts are so poor that they have been roused up to serve, the Lord from a poverty as deep in temporal as in spiritual things; yet in this poverty they are not ashamed to own and serve the Lord.
Thus does the good work go on, and though we have had several weeks of this spiritual manifestation, it seems to increase and extend. But the effects of this, have been such as to press much upon the faithful ministers of Christ. One has fallen in the field. He visited a convicted sinner at three o'clock on Saturday morning; attended the prayer- meeting at. night; visited others during the day; felt unwell in the evening at worship; and died next morning at four o'clock. Such is the will of the divine Master. How mysterious and how different from man's ways; yet it is all well; and my prayer is, that the Lord would pour out the Holy Spirit in richer abundance until all this land shall be filled with His glory. Another excellent minister has been weakened in mind by over-effort in this continuous work. May the great God help and prosper His people at this time in His own work, and sustain his ministers in their arduous and incessant labours!
The love of the converts to each other is a prominent and beautiful feature in this work. It is like the primitive times. They love one another and seem greatly to enjoy fellowship one with another. For some time after their conversion they seem to forget that there is an outer world. The Bible, prayer and praise, with meetings for exhortation, are their food and drink. At our meetings it is almost impossible to get the people to separate until the morning, and then it is with songs and prayer. They go home in parties and sing as they go.
Then, when a group is to break off in a different direction, a hymn is sung and a prayer offered ere they part, and their prayer and praise may be heard on the lonely brow of the mountains at midnight, in strains so full of faith and love to Jesus, that the heart would be hard indeed that would not be melted by the strangely-solemn sound.
Numbers of them cannot read, and, feeling themselves ignorant of divine truth, are most anxious to learn. Many attend a class taught by one of my daughters, and the scene is one on which the mind of the Christian looks with delight. Often do I stand and admire the desire on their part to learn, and the effort on that of my child to teach those who are themselves mothers of families. They always begin and end with prayer. On the Sabbath, my wife has a class, between the services, for the purpose of explaining the way of salvation more fully, and prayer and they stay in the chapel from nine in the morning until ten at night, often later, that they may enjoy the various means of grace. With the male converts I pursue the same mode of instruction between the services, and the Lord is blessing the souls of those who are taught. Yet how long I will be able to continue in this course is with me a very grave question; for there must be a limit to mental and bodily effort. The Lord will provide in His own way and in His own time the proper aid.
I need not go back upon my work, as I preach every night in the week. One Thursday, I preached at twelve noon in the chapel at Straid—in the afternoon, the female prayer-meeting of the converts, attended by Mrs Bain—in the evening, the revival service. The house was crowded to excess. I had no help. At nine o'clock I concluded the service, but the people still remained in prayer and praise until ten, when every heart seemed to feel the Divine presence, and many were crying aloud for mercy. Here the work had begun in the power of the Lord. Some had sunk down on the floor in a state of apparent unconsciousness, with their Bibles clasped to their bosom, and were carried out to the green to be cared for by their friends; others were crying aloud for mercy, and enduring the most intense agony. It is in this moment of intense interest that the intelligent mind of the believer is called upon to minister counsel and comfort to the mourners in Zion. Error here would be sad indeed. In this work I continued until midnight, and I tried to dismiss the congregation; but not until the dawn of morn did they think of departing, when, as usual, they went away in groups singing, as they went, the songs of Zion.
As many of the converts come from a distance and desire to remain all the day, they sometimes receive refreshments, to help them in their spiritual desire for the means of grace.
At last Sabbath morning's service the house was crowded, being communion Sabbath. Most of the recent converts sat down for the first time with us at the Lord's table. In all, twenty-seven have been added to our fellowship. May the Divine Head make them faithful to His truth. The service in the evening, being very large, was held on the green. Some of the converts told us of their conversion, while other friends prayed. I gave two addresses and prayed, during which the whole assembly seemed to be filled by one intense feeling of anxiety. Numbers cried for mercy. None would consent to depart until the morning, when they retired in their usual way, singing songs of praise, many accompanying, full of the joys of salvation, having found peace with God. And not a few were converted on their way home, having carried the arrows of conviction from the meeting.
On Monday morning, at two o'clock, I was called away to a house three miles distant, to see a young lad under conviction—who had been under conviction for two days— but whose agonies seemed to increase. He was convulsed from head to foot. The house was filled with people, some in prayer, others in praise. Some others—young lads who had come to see him—were also convicted prior to my visit. The house presented a most striking scene when I entered, such as I had never seen—one truly of great interest. For two hours I prayed and pointed those awakened sinners to Jesus until I beheld one after another praising the Lord for that peace which passeth all understanding. Five souls rejoiced believing in the Lord. On my return home I was called into other houses, where similar scenes claimed my attention, when bodily weakness constrained me to seek an hour's rest. In the evening I went, by request, to a part of the country, some miles distant, to see some anxious souls. The house was full of people. They were at prayer, while the cry for mercy rose up in mild tenderness to heaven. My voice was mingled with theirs at the mercy-seat. Opening my Bible, I turned to passage after passage for their guidance and encouragement. Then praise. Then prayer. The moments flew past. One o'clock came, and I must needs bid them farewell, and then did they join in one burst of gushing sympathy, and I left, and enjoyed a most delightful walk home, filled with sweet thoughts on heavenly things, my meditation unbroken save by the voice of praise which rose from some of the cottages above my path as I passed along.
On Tuesday evening, I preached on Ballynure fair hill— a hill in this neighbourhood of considerable elevation and noted for its historic interest, and it's being the scene of cockfighting, drinking, and similar vices. From the place where I stood I could, see the hills of Scotland gilded by the golden beams of the evening sun, and the deep sea rolling between. Beneath, and down to the sea-shore, lay the most beautiful valley with all its diversities. Around me, and down the hill-sides, were the people coming in groups to the summit, which was covered with a carpet of grass, enriched with the heather bell, then in flower. Here, lying out from the rock, was a large boulder with a projecting ledge which served me as a pulpit and a seat. In front the rocks rose up with steep ascent in shelves and formed an amphitheatre, down whose grey front the grass and heather mingled in festoons, adding to the beauty of the whole, from the top to the base. Here, with upwards of three thousand souls seated around me on the grass and on the shelves of the rock, I preached the everlasting gospel. The first part of the service continued for three-quarters of an hour. One of the converts gave out a psalm and prayed, and I again addressed the people in pointed language for half-an-hour. Towards the end of the address several were convicted and removed to another part of the ground. As I pronounced the benediction every soul was touched, and all seemed unwilling to depart. Many were now anxious. I went among them and spoke to them words of comfort. There did we stay in prayer and praise until the silvery beams of the moon gave interest and beauty to the scene. Many were made anxious, and not a few found peace of mind through faith in Jesus, of whom I continue to hear in my walks through the country.
I give, as a conclusion, an extract from a letter I sent to a gentleman in London, the Rev. John Ross, dated October 17, 1859:-
"On Lord's-clay, 9th inst., at the prayer-meeting held by the children from eight to twelve years of age, as they were engaged in prayer, eight were brought under conviction; such a scene I have never witnessed. By and by they were all convinced of sin—and convinced, also, that no hope was to be found but in the blood of Jesus,' and, under that conviction, they poured forth their cries for mercy with indescribable earnestness. Just as I was going into the morning service, Mrs Bain came to me in the porch, saying, 'Will you come in and pray with the children, for eight of them are under conviction?' I went and prayed —my youngest daughter followed, and such a prayer for a child! Leaving the whole to the children themselves and Mrs Bain, I began the service in the chapel, and when near its close, we heard the song of praise, as they came from my own house, where their meetings are held— entering in a band—all happy in Jesus—taking their seats before the pulpit—twenty in number. At the evening service, the scene was equally striking—eight were converted, and others were convicted, and during the week others were added to the number. Thus does the Lord work in our midst in this great work, converting one after another to Himself; many of whom we only hear of as circumstances call them forth to tell the story of their new birth."
I might enlarge on this glorious work of grace and mercy; but, praising the Lord for His great love, I conclude, praying it may be continued and enlarged. It is now Christmas, in the depth of one of the most severe winters we have had for many years, and yet the work of revival goes on, though not so open and striking as it was during the summer; yet by the still small voice many are brought to Him in whom to believe is life. May the Lord be more and more manifest amongst us by the convincing, converting, and sanctifying power of His Spirit! Amen.
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 revival has extended from the parish of Connor to that of Ahoghill, then to Portglenone, and round by Tully, Largey, Grange, Straid, Slatt, Galgorm Park, Killalers, Cloughwater, Clough and Rasharkin. Nor is it yet showing any symptoms of decline – on the contrary, it is moving on with amazing Power. Every day, almost every hour is bringing tidings of conviction. The interest is more and more awakening and extending. From a statement by Rev Frederick Buick on 18th May 1859.
Ebeneezer church was built in 1857.