Ballycarry Presbyterian Church (1859)


IN this extensive district, the cradle of Irish Presbyterianism, we have had a great religious awakening. God has been in our midst working wonders. After more than seven months' experience of His gracious "revival," I can boldly and fearlessly bear my testimony to its blessed fruits and marvellous results. It is impossible to- witness the worship of our crowded assemblies, to look down from the pulpit on the sea of upturned, animated faces, and to come constantly in contact with the spiritual life of individual Christians, without exclaiming—" What hath God wrought !" The Holy Spirit, in the outgoings of His love, visited us early in the summer of last year, and all at once there was a vast increase in the congregation. The spare pews in the church were taken, and the aisles covered with forms, which were soon crowded with earnest, anxious, solemnised hearers. Preaching now became a real luxury. Society seemed to be stirred to its lowest depths. I had before me a people hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Our communion, on the first Sabbath of June, was truly a "feast of fat things." Never before had we experienced a day of such sweet refreshing from the presence of the Lord. The first drops of the heavenly shower had begun to fall, and now the shower descended in right earnest.

Such were the multitudes which attended my evening services in the church, or in the open-air, when no church could contain them, and such was the seriousness and anxiety of the people, that for forty-two successive nights I preached, conversed with anxious inquirers, and frequently prayed over " stricken ones," till the first streaks of young day warned us to retire from the solemn scene.

At every week-day evening meeting, and generally during every Sabbath service, persons were "stricken." Sometimes four, sometimes ten, sometimes twenty. Then arose the wild, unearthly cry for mercy, "My soul, my sinful soul, Lord Jesus, have mercy on me!" One little maid, whilst tears flowed fast, cried, "0 Jesus, give me the faith of the dying thief! Oh, give me the faith of the centurion! O Jesus, Saviour of the jailer of Philippi, have mercy on me!"

Great numbers were "prostrated" in their own houses, and many laboured under deep conviction for several days before they were enabled to rejoice in Jesus. All ages, from the child of ten and twelve, to the man and woman approaching the " threescore years and ten," have been brought under the influence of this gracious " awakening ;" and the cloud of Divine mercy has settled upon many a house, where heretofore there was no fear of God and no concern for the soul. About two hundred persons in con¬nexion with my church have been the subjects of "bodily prostration;" but of the larger number awakened by the "still small voice," I cannot at present form an estimate. I rejoice to say the good work is still progressing and deepening. The wave of mercy still rolls on. Blessings have descended like dew, and the fertility and fruit which followed have astonished even the sceptic and the scoffer.

I should think that at the several week-night prayer-meetings in connexion with my congregation, which are still on the increase, more than a thousand persons attend. These meetings are conducted for the most part by godly laymen, and many tears are shed there, and many hearts there experience emotions of solemnity, and a desire after better things, to which heretofore they had been strangers. No one can be present at those meetings, and witness the deep devotion, the wondrous gift of prayer, and the earnest pleadings of the converts, without being convinced that the work is not of man, but of God.

During the past summer and autumn, I might say of the revival, in the words of the prophet, "It grew like the lily; now it is casting forth its roots as Lebanon." Among all who were "stricken down" I do not yet know of a single backslider. So far as I am enabled to discover, they are being "conformed" to the image of Christ, and are presenting to the world a living portraiture, more or less, of that life which was in Him. " God has done great things for us, whereof we are glad." Instead of the coldness, and deadness, and formality of former times, we have now life, and light, and heat, and earnestness, and energy.

In the Sabbath school the attention of both boys and girls is far more marked than it ever was before. The number of teachers and scholars has been more than quadrupled.

The candidates for admission to the Lord's Supper in October were seventy in number, whereas the former average was only ten. The entire number of communicants was about four hundred, being nearly two hundred more than on any former occasion. The only difficulty is to find a room large enough to contain my Bible class.

During the past seven months forty souls have, by the good hand of God, been brought from under the chilling influence of Christless Unitarianism, and added to my church; and among these converts there is a love of Jesus, and a spirit and power of prayer, which nothing but the Holy Spirit of God could have planted in their hearts.

One young man, W. N—, brought up under this sys¬tem of frozen Deism, and somewhat addicted to irregular and dissipated habits, having been sent for on a certain evening to come to my church to assist in conveying home his sister, who was stricken down under terrible conviction of sin, expressed in a very sinful way his opposition to the revival. Next day, whilst engaged in field labour, he began to feel the burden of sin insupportable, and again and again repaired to a secret place to pray. In the evening, still overwhelmed with anxiety about his soul, he retired to rest, but could find no repose; he wrestled with God in prayer ; he cried to his Redeemer for mercy, and in his excitement he imagined he saw a stream of blood flowing, and a brilliant and beautiful star above him, whose light flashed upon his face; he arose and importunately pleaded for pardon through the shed blood of the Divine Redeemer, when he felt his burden removed, and was able to realise a Saviour precious to his soul. Next evening he said to his father, "You must commence family worship to-night." "I cannot," said the father, I am not qualified to pray." The young man then took his Bible, read the precious word, and, in, and prayer at once beautiful and fervent, led the devotions of the family; and pleaded, with all the ardour of a new-born soul, for the conversion of his parents, his brothers, and sisters. He is now one of my most efficient assistants in every good work, growing every day in grace and in knowledge. His father thus expressed himself to a friend, not long since—" Before the revival, in which I had no faith, my house was like a wee hell; now, it is like a wee heaven!"

E. D—, a girl who, by her own confession, had led a wicked life, attended a prayer-meeting and was stricken on the highway during her return. Her loud screams for mercy being heard, she was carried by some ten or twelve of the converts to my house and laid upon the parlour sofa. I never witnessed anyone under such excruciating mental torture. She imagined Satan was dragging her down to hell; she screamed, "Keep him off; keep him off." It required five strong persons to hold her down. For a moment or two she would be calm, and then she prayed earnestly for forgiveness; then she would cry, "There he is; don't you see him I" and her struggles were superhuman and desperate. In this way she passed the entire night. In the morning she was removed to the house of her mistress, where she lay in great bodily weakness for some days, pleading for mercy. She at length found peace in believing, and is now, so far as I can see, an humble and con¬sistent Christian.

These are but two of a large number of cases I could detail. Blessed be the God of all grace for those precious days of refreshing we have had! Never shall I forget the brilliant eyes and radiant faces of all those brothers and sisters, and children beloved, who found pardon, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.

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 Rev. John Stuart, minister of this place, who has been so exhausted by his recent excessive labours as to be obliged to seek restoration of health in change of air and scene, writes us :—"God in his rich mercy has abundantly blessed us with the copious outpouring of his Holy Spirit. Since the beginning of June, we have truly had a sweet Pentecostal season. Hun­dreds have been "stricken down," or otherwise brought under deep conviction of sin, and are now rejoicing in Jesus. The church cannot contain the worshippers. In all the school­houses, over an extensive district, prayer-meetings, attended by hundreds, are most efficiently conducted by the converts; and then such prayers! So earnest—so scriptural—prayers like those of the old Puritans, which go up like red-hot bolts to heaven' In many instances family worship is conducted by very young persons. The other day I asked a young girl to pray beside the bed of a dying invalid, and certainly I never heard one more appropriate presented at a Throne of Grace. A considerable number of Unitarians have been stricken down,' and brought to Christ, and their houses are now houses of prayer. God's right hand and his holy arm are still winning victories. The gracious work still prospers; to every one the Bible is now a precious treasure, and the Sabbath the pearl of days.'

From ‘The Revival Newspaper,’ Journal i, p66, Sept 24th, 1859.

"The refreshing dew of the Holy Spirit is still falling upon us. That cloud of mercy inflated with Heaven's choicest treasure which, in its onward and brightening chorus, visited our district some two months ago, still continues to pour upon us showers of blessings. Though the manifestations are not as so numerous as before, the presence and converting graces of the blessed Spirit are powerfully and effectually experienced by many. The attendance at religious worship is still on the increase and there is, so far as man sees, an almost universal enquiry, 'What shall we do to be saved?'

"On Monday evening the Rev. Mr. Watson preached on the ‘Fairgreen' to a large and mostly attentive audience, when a scoffer, supported by a few youths, brought out from his residence a big drum. During the solemn period of praise and prayer walked about the congregation beating it violently, exceedingly mad, as many are towards God's work in the conversion of souls. Ballycarry could not have produced a second character to act in a similar way." "The Ballymena Observer" 20th August 1859

Additional Information

This is the oldest Presbyterian congregation (1613) in Ireland and the church dates from 1830.

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