This is probably the most famous revival that has been experienced by the UK, possibly because it is the most recent being from 1949 to 1953.
The sad thing is that the revival did not spread to the mainland. There was a good reason for this in that the quickest journey to the mainland was seven hours by boat, which made it difficult to get news of the revival out and difficult for anyone to go and taste it. Accurate accounts of the revival are few; it is a shame that nobody recorded what happened at the time. We are indebted to Mary Peckham, who was at the revival and who grew up on the Island, for her book which was published in 2004.
Another mistake people make about the Hebrides revival is that it was a one-off on the island. This is far from the truth. There was probably an even bigger revival in 1939 with equally amazing manifestations and fruit, just before the second world war and in my research, I have found that there was a revival going on somewhere on the island for 40 of the 50 years prior to 1949, so the islanders would have been very familiar with the idea of a revival.
There were three denominations on the island, one was the Church of Scotland and then there was the larger Free Church that did not participate officially in the revival and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland who opposed it. In the 1950s virtually everyone went to church every week – the church was the centre of the community. Sundays were universally held in high esteem and set apart for God. Members of the church all attended weekly prayer meetings. These prayer meetings were not like ones most of us would know – there would be a few designated men only who would be asked to pray. Everyone at school learned large chunks of the Bible by heart. The influences of the many past revivals had an enormous effect on the lives of the islanders. Their respect for God meant there was hardly any crime on the island – difficult for us to imagine these days!
Church on the island is much the same today as it was 70+ years ago. There is no music; singing is led by a precentor who is a man and they often sing the Psalms. They have communion in each church twice a year. It lasts from Wednesday night to Sunday and they normally invite an outside minister to conduct the services. I have been to one where there was singing then the minister spoke, then singing again and the minister spoke again etc. They separated those who were card-carrying members of the church who were allowed communion and those who weren't. As a charismatic Christian, I hated the service and I asked God to get me out of there. He admonished me rather strongly, reminding me that He had started revivals in many of these types of services.
The Church of Scotland and the Free Church had given out an instruction that everyone should pray for revival. This was not difficult for the people were well practised. Prayer was the basis of the 1934 and 1939 revivals. Prayer was woven into the very fabric of the church in Barvas and many spontaneous prayer meetings would start as people met with each other in their homes. It was a community at prayer! ‘they came to know the secret of humility, of seeking the Lord, of depending on Him to work, of importunately laying hold of Him, of passionately pleading with Him.’ There were signs of revival early in 1949, with people being saved on the island. One pastor declared that it only needed a spark!
The minister at Barvas, James Murray MacKay (who sadly died in 1954), invited Duncan Campbell (his second choice) to come over and minister, but he was refused due to Campbell's busy schedule. Now there were two elderly sisters, one blind, who were amazing intercessors, who the minister respected greatly, and they told him that Campbell would come, so they and the church prayed and he arrived in Barvas, Lewis on December 7th 1949. There is a myth across the internet, that came from Campbell’s writings, that the Smith sisters prayed in the revival and were solely responsible for Campbell’s arrival. This story is untrue, the whole Island was praying in the revival and the whole church for Campbell to come.
Holy Spirit was not only encouraging people to pray; He also prepared Duncan Campbell. The missioner wrote sometime later. ‘After spending seventeen years in a barren wilderness, baffled and frustrated in Christian work and witness, I suddenly came to realise that God had made provision for clean hands and a pure heart. And on my face in my own study at five o’clock in the morning I came to know the recovering power of the blood of Christ… I know that in some small measure – the revival in Skye and later in Lewis, must be related to the experience of that morning. What was it that led me into this full realisation of glorious deliverance in the Holy Ghost? I answer in one word, a baptism from God. Explain it as you will, it was a baptism from God. That experience was in my case preceded by a spiritual hunger, a longing for God to do something.’
This was the Baptism of Fire that has prepared many leaders for revival. Holiness is always a vital part of revival as can be seen from the following account about members of the Barvas church.
‘Before the revival began some people prayed in a barn for six weeks until a young man declared that the prayers were wasted unless they were right with God. “Then he lifted his two hands and prayed, ‘God, are my hands clean? Is my heart pure?’ But he got no further. That young man fell to his knees and then fell in a trance and is now lying on the floor of the barn. And in the words of the minister, at that moment, he and his other office bearers were gripped by the conviction that a God sent revival must always be related to Holiness, must ever be related to Godliness. Are my hands clean? Is my heart pure?
This was just one example of what went on all over the area.
We now come to a very difficult part of the revival, the beginning. The start of the revival is a very well known story, mainly because a sermon of Duncan Campbell’s, setting out in detail the first night he was at Barvas, was recorded in 1968 and is all over the web.
This account tells of him going directly to the 7.00pm meeting, the meeting was good but not exceptional and it ended at 10:45pm when people left. A deacon then prayed for God to act and a blacksmith comes in to show them the outside of the church where 600 people are waiting. 100 of them came from a dance where suddenly the presence of God fell and they all knew they had to go to the church. The meeting started again and went on until 4:00am with many crying out to God and giving their lives to the Lord. He then walked a mile to the police station passing young people at the side of the road on their knees and then finding 400 people crying out to God.
An amazing, wonderful story, but in my opinion untrue. It pains me to say this of such a respected man, but for some reason Duncan Campbell added everything from the end of the meeting at 10:45pm. Perhaps he put together several experiences into one evening or perhaps his memory was going (he was 70 when he told the story) – I don’t know.
In the book ‘Sounds from Heaven’, there is noted Campbell’s own report to the Faith Mission, at the end of the first week.
'I began my mission on Wednesday night in the parish church. People gathered from all over the parish and we had a congregation of over 300. The meeting began at 7.00 pm and ended at 10.45 pm. I preached twice in the evening. This was repeated on Thursday and Friday. Yesterday, I preached in three different churches to crowded meetings. at the last meeting (on Sunday at Shader), the Lord manifested His power in a gracious way and the cry of the anxious was heard all over the church. I closed the service but people would not go away, so I gathered the anxious ones beneath the pulpit and, along with the minister, did what we could to lead them to Christ.'
There is no mention of anything after 10:45 pm and no mention of Holy Spirit at work. I do not believe for a second that Campell would have left out of the report something as amazing as he described twenty years later. In the same book the Barvas minister wrote that the revival broke out in Shader on the Sunday. There are two other similar testimonies in the book which is why I have come to the conclusion I have.
It is so disappointing that this erroneous report, as well as the one about the elderly sisters, has been accepted all around the world. However, it is a good lesson for us – never accept anything on the web as truth!! You always need to get more than one source for a story.
Someone wrote about that first week. ‘The Spirit of God was resting amazingly and graciously on these two townships (Shader and Barvas) at that time and His resting was glorious. You could feel him in the homes of the people, on the common and on the moor and even as you walked along the road through the two townships.’
The revival spread but one town in Lewis was not responding to prayer for revival. Arnol is two miles from Barvas and extra prayer was called for, so Duncan Campbell and others went to have an extended prayer meeting in someone’s house.
“It was a hard battle as one after another attempted to breakthrough in prayer. Sometime after midnight, Duncan Campbell called upon John Smith (a leading intercessor on the island) to pray. He had not prayed all night. He rose and prayed for some time and then he said, ‘Lord, I do not know how Mr. Campbell or any of these other men stand with you, but if I know my own heart, I know that I am thirsty. You have promised to pour water on him that is thirsty. If You don’t do it, how can I ever believe You again. Your honour is at stake. You are a covenant-keeping God. Fulfil Your covenant engagement.’ It was a prayer of a man who was walking with God. At that moment the house shook.”
The intercessors on the island were travailers, they pulled heaven down to earth. Someone wrote, ‘they have come to learn the secret of pressing through into the courtroom of heaven and of touching the throne.’ Two unsaved neighbours who were listening were saved that night. The meeting had ended and on leaving the house they saw people carrying chairs to the meeting hall, expectant of a revival meeting. The revival in Arnol had begun.
Campbell came across a woman praying by the side of a road at 5.00am one morning. He joined her in prayer for two hours when he discovered she was burdened for revival for her village. Fourteen young men were trying to decide how much drink to bring into the village for the weekend. In a little while all fourteen were converted.
The revival was Bible centred, Campbell used to say, ‘Preach the Word, sing the Word, live the Word.’ Someone said, ‘The presence of God was so powerful that you were constantly living in the expectation that something was about to happen.’
The 1904 Welsh revival was all about love, but this one was like the revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries; it was all about people weeping as they were convicted of sin, they knew that outside of Christ they were damned. They realized their desperate need for God’s mercy and salvation. Some might weep for days before they got through to God and knew the joy of His forgiveness.
The revival was all about the presence of God. Someone said that she felt the Spirit of the Lord was in the very air she was breathing. Whether they were in a meeting, walking along a road, in a boat, in a cinema, working in a field – the presence of God was everywhere!
Singing was another important aspect of the revival. As mentioned they sang the Word of God and the singing was full of Holy Spirit. One person remarked, ‘the singing was like fire going through my whole being.’ And ‘the singing was simply glorious, it was almost supernatural, full of joy and spiritual power.’
Love and unity was another result of the revival. A contemporary said, ‘We loved everybody! They were all enveloped in the wonderful love of God! We just loved them all.’
Interestingly there was no sign of healings or tongues as far as I can see.
It was a glorious revival, but the last one we have experienced in the UK. Let what we have learned here help us to bring about an even more powerful one!
'Sounds from Heaven', by Colin and Mary Peckham, published by Christian Focus.