Ballykelly Presbyterian Church (1859)


HAVING heard of the work in Ballymena, I went thither on 30th May to see and judge for myself, and in the hope that an account of what I might see there, would, when I re­turned, be blessed to my own people. I spent three days in Ballymena, and on Sabbath, 5th June related to my congre­gation what I had witnessed, and appointed a meeting to be held on the following Friday evening for prayer for the outpouring of the Spirit. This meeting was attended by between 200 and 300 persons—our ordinary Sabbath at­tendance at the time being about 450. It was conducted by the Rev. J. Wallace, a missionary of our church from India, the Rev. R. Kennedy, who had, the previous day, re­turned from Ballymena, and who gave us an account of his own experience there, Dr Dill a layman, and myself. Dur­ing that week meetings had been held in Newtownlimavady every evening, and on several occasions many bodily pros­trations had occurred. On Saturday night I went to a large open-air meeting in Newtownlimavady, which is only two miles from this, so that many of my people in that direction attended the meetings there. At that meeting, and during the- night, while the people were broken up into little knots around the stricken persons, a great many were prostrated, so that I was kept there till nearly five o'clock in the morning attending to those who were stricken down. For the last two years I have conducted a Bible class every Sabbath after public worship, which consists of about 200 young persons whose ages vary from thirteen to thirty. That night eight of these were stricken one after another. Most of them found peace before they went home, but some went away troubled, and one especially in deep distress.

On Sabbath, 12th June, as I was preaching, one of the young men who had been prostrated the previous night was stricken again and carried out uttering loud cries for mercy. Another young man who had not been previously stricken soon followed, and then a young woman whom I had known to have been anxiously seeking Jesus for months, and who, so far as I know, had not attended any of the meetings in Newtownlimavady. Throughout the whole house there was a great commotion, and sighs and sobs were heard from every quarter, so that three times during the sermon I had to stop and engage in prayer to still the people. At the close I announced that the Bible class would meet that day, not for the ordinary catechetical ex­ercises, but for prayer. A number of the members of the congregation remained with them. One after another was stricken, until more than twenty were prostrated.

In the evening, I preached in the open air to about one hun­dred and fifty, at a distance of two miles from this, and at the close one of the converts from Newtownlimavady told his ex­perience, besought sinners to come to Jesus, and engaged in prayer. The servant of the lady in whose field we met, just as she was entering the door on leaving the meeting, was stricken down, and it was nearly an hour before she obtained peace. When I was leaving her, I received a message that another girl, who had been at the meeting, had, on her return, been prostrated in her father's house, at a little distance. I went to her; and found her and two other young women all lying on the floor crying for mercy. I had told my servant to follow me with my car to the entrance of the lane which led to the house where these young women were, and while I was with them, a man came running in to say that this boy was stricken on the car, and was crying loudly for mercy. He was carried into a neighbouring house, and, after some time, obtained peace.

That week we had meetings every evening, except Satur­day, in our church, when the ground-floor was generally crowded, and sometimes a number in the gallery. For the first three evenings especially, there were a great number of cases, so that it was one or two o'clock in the morning be­fore all the stricken ones could be got away, though the meetings were dismissed at a reasonable hour. The meet­ing of Tuesday evening was the most remarkable. The Rev. James Kennedy, the Covenanting minister here, preached in the open air, and, while he preached, several were stricken. We then adjourned to our church. After the meeting was opened there, a young married man, who had been stricken on Sabbath evening, stood up, and told what God had done for his soul—how his pastor had often wished him to keep family worship, but he had always neglected it till the previous Sabbath night, when he had erected an altar to God in his house; and then he besought sinners to come to Jesus, and engaged in prayer. He was followed by another, who had led a very careless life, and whom I could never persuade to attend public ordinances, but who now said a few words in great simplicity, and prayed very sweetly. The young woman who had been stricken at public worship on Sabbath, asked permission to tell her experience. I consulted my friend, Mr Kennedy, and we thought it would not be right to refuse her. She addressed the meeting briefly in a very tender and touching strain— told them how she had tasted the pleasures of the world. And found them unsatisfying, but had now obtained satisfaction and joy in Christ. Her face beaming with that radiance which generally lighted up the countenances of those who had just passed from the depths of dark despair into the light and liberty of Christian peace and joy, she pleaded with sinners very lovingly to come to her precious Jesus, and then she prayed humbly and earnestly for herself, for her young brothers and sisters in Christ, the unconverted, her pastor, and her father.

Since that time, we have had two or three meetings in our church every week, sometimes an open-air meeting in a distant part of the parish, and then on Thursday even­ings a number of social prayer-meetings in the different districts. Cases of prostration still occur at the majority of the meetings; many of them repetition cases; a few new ones. The greater number of the new cases latterly have occurred in the houses of the parties, and some of them in the fields. The attendance at the meetings is considerably decreased. We had on the 24th ult. a special communion, when we admitted fifty-one persons for the first time to the Lord's table, of whom thirty-nine had been stricken. It was felt to be a solemn and profitable season. Since the commencement of the movement, I know of about one hundred and fifty members of my congregation who have been stricken, besides a good many Episco­palians and others who attended our meetings. Some of these, I am sure, were Christians before, but their graces and joy have been greatly enlivened. Of the rest I trust that a considerable majority have been savingly converted, and of the greater part of the remainder I am not without hope, though I could not speak decidedly. A number, I am sure, have as yet experienced no saving change.

Besides those stricken, a very considerable number have been brought into deep anxiety about their souls, and many of them, I believe, have been savingly converted. There has been also, a feeling of deep solemnity on the minds of the people generally, and very many have been considerably im­pressed. Few have escaped without some slight impressions. Many have established family worship in their houses, or from observing it only once a day, or on Sabbath, now attend to it morning and evening. The attendance at pub­lic worship is now about six hundred. Intemperance has considerably decreased. Persons whom I never saw in the house of God before, may be seen there now. The revival is the great topic of conversation in all companies. Persons who formerly dreaded a visit of the minister, now welcome him heartily. Those who could scarcely be induced to say a word of their religious experience, now speak freely on the subject. Parties who have not spoken to each other for years, have rushed into one another's arms and kissed each other.

...I have thus given you a brief account of the work in this place. May God in mercy pour out His Spirit still more abundantly! We have had a shower: oh that He would send us floods, for the ground that has been watered bears a very small proportion to that which is still dry!

[The above statement was written on August 9, 1859; the following was furnished by Mr Killen, on December 20, 1859.]

The excitement which prevailed in summer gradually passed away, but the blessed fruits of the awakening still continue, to the praise and glory of God. Since the winter set in, the attendance at our congregational prayer-meetings has greatly decreased; our people, who are scattered over a large district of country, and some of whom live two and three miles from the church, not being able to come so frequently in the dark evenings. We have now only one congregational prayer-meeting during the week, with an average attendance of 150 persons. It is opened with singing and prayer, and an exposition of scripture by the minister; after again singing, some Christian layman is called on to pray, then revival intelligence is read, and after another song of praise an elder offers our closing prayer.

One feature which has characterised these meetings has been the number of requests for prayer presented both at them and our ordinary Sabbath services, sometimes for the party presenting the request, and sometimes for an uncon­verted friend. It had been customary, before the revival, to ask the prayers of the congregation for persons at the point of death, but it was a thing unknown among us to make the spiritual condition of oneself or friends the subject of a request for special prayer. Many of these requests clearly exhibit the deep anxiety and holy fervour which glowed in the hearts of those who presented them.

...Besides our congregational prayer-meeting, we have a number of district social meetings. Before the revival, it was almost impossible to induce our church members to commence and steadily maintain such meetings; we had then only six of them within my bounds, but now we have twenty-one in all, with an attendance upon each, varying from twenty to eighty persons. Besides these meetings for adults, we had for a time two children's prayer-meetings, commenced and carried on by the children themselves, without any prompting or aid from their seniors. One of these has lately been given up, as the children could not attend in the dark evenings.

There is a great improvement as to family worship. For­merly it was observed by little more than one-third of the families of my flock. I believe that now about two-thirds observe it with more or less regularity. In some cases I found that boys and girls of fourteen or fifteen years of age conduct the exercises. Our Sabbath attendance at public worship is very considerably increased, and the attention paid to all the exercises much greater. We had our ordinary communion in October, when we admitted 20 persons for the first time, in addition to the 51 admitted in July. About 480 in all partook of the ordinance, in­stead of 410, which had for some time been about our average attendance.

I believe that a much larger number were brought under conviction and savingly converted than those actually stricken. Thus, for instance, I have lately visited 50 families of my congregation, and have conversed in them with 154 indi­viduals, of whom I find that 20 were stricken, while 79 others processed to have been affected—some more slightly, and others with deep and long-continued concern regard­ing their salvation. I can as yet form no idea of the whole number who have been hopefully converted in my congregation, not having yet completed a regular visitation of all our families since the revival began. I find, however, that a different and more elevated tone of religious feeling prevails very generally among our people, manifested, for example, in the fact that, whereas formerly it was almost impossible to maintain anything like religious conversation —the introduction of which usually produced a complete and painful silence—or to draw from them any statement of their Christian experience; now they expect to be dealt with closely about their spiritual condition, and are not only willing but sometimes anxious to unbosom themselves to their pastor, and often meet him, not as occasionally be­fore with some knotty but useless point of controversy to discuss, but with some difficulty in regard to their own experience to be solved.

Not only were the awakened during the revival brought under deep convictions of sin; some, both of the converts and of old Christians, experienced strong temptations, and were assailed by Satan's fiery darts more violently than I had ever witnessed before. One young girl who was, I trust, savingly brought to Christ in the commencement of the re­vival, and admitted for the first time to the Lord's table in July, though she had comfort in the observance of the ordinance, was very soon after assailed with sore temp­tations, and continued for weeks in deep distress. She was tempted to fear that the Spirit of God had forsaken her; that she was passed by, and her salvation hopeless; often she complained that her heart was so hard nothing could break it, and feared she was about to be given over to judicial impenitence. For a time her mind was so per­plexed and confused that, when reading the Word of God, she could apply nothing, and appropriate nothing to her­self; it all seemed a blank to her. She fancied she had no love for Christ, and could not love Him—no faith in Him, or in His word of promise. Now, however, she has attained more peace, and the very fashion of her countenance is changed. It is almost impossible for one who did not see her to conceive the anguish of soul through which this young girl passed, and which was long pictured on her face. In another case, a man who had long regarded himself as a Christian was assailed with the fear that after all he was but a sinner, a hypocrite in Zion, and tempted to think that he had sinned away his day of grace and to give up prayer as useless in his case. While in this state his agony was unspeakable, and during the silent watches of the night, his chamber echoed the deep sighs and bitter groans which burst from his almost breaking heart.

I have been often struck with the tenderness and impres­sibility of heart manifested by the people when the Spirit of God was moving among them. It was so different from their wonted coldness and immobility. Sometimes it mani­fested itself in the fears of the awakened, lest they should be saying "Peace, peace," to their souls while there was still no peace; sometimes in the love and rapture of the young Christians. One evening, when the congregation was dis­persing after Mr H. W. Guinness had preached, I observed a young woman leaning on a scat with her hand over her face and a number of her friends gathering around her. I went forward and discovered that it was one who had been stricken several months before. Thinking that perhaps her conviction had returned upon her, I said, "Well, Mary, what is the matter to-night?" "Oh," replied she, "I'm so ravished with His love that I cannot leave this place." A few days ago, I asked a boy who. has, I trust, been brought to Christ, and now wishes to devote himself to the ministry, what motive led him to desire to do so, and his answer was, " When He has done so much for me, I would like to do something for Him." "I love Him," was the tearful reply of a poor woman the other day, with deep earnestness, when I asked if she had any love to Jesus, "but I would like to love Him far more."

The joy exhibited by the converts when they them­selves found peace was wonderful, and so, too, was that of Christian friends and parents, when their friends, or espe­cially their own children, were brought to Christ—resembling closely that joy which is felt in heaven over the returning penitent. Generally, they could not be satisfied till they had poured the tale of their triumph into their pastor's ear and led him to rejoice with them in their joy. And never do I expect to taste, on this side heaven, purer, and sweeter, and holier joy, than that which these tidings of sinners saved have caused to thrill through my soul during the last summer. "You will be glad to hear," said a father to me one evening," that at last salvation has come to my house. ----- and — have now found peace in Jesus, and for myself I can say what I could not have said before, ‘My beloved is mine, and I am His.' "Sometimes, when they had not an opportunity of telling me verbally of their joy so soon as they desired, unable to withhold the news till they would see me, they wrote me an account of what had been passing in their souls.

The wondrous scenes we have witnessed during the past nine months have shown us how dependent both ministers and ordinances are for their success upon the presence and aid of the Holy Spirit. I trust they will lead us to seek, not only an occasional visit, but the continual presence of this heavenly visitant. I hope God's people everywhere will pray, not only that God would pour His Spirit upon those places still unwatered, but continue to send down fresh supplies upon those which have enjoyed some showers or droppings of His grace, that He may carry on the work He has begun, and not suffer His people to relapse into lukewarmness and worldliness. May He revive His work still more and more!

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.

"In Limavady and its surrounding district the deep feeling on the subject of religion, which has been appearing in other places, has manifested itself with great intensity. The first cases of deep anxiety of mind, manifested visibly by the bodily weakness and agony which arrest the thoughtless, occurred in Limavady on the 8th. At meetings on the 10th and 11th there were still more. On Sabbath the 12th and subsequently in Limavady, Ballykelly, Largy, Bovevagh, Myroe the feelings of religious anxiety have been intense. Prayer meetings are held every night and such is the feeling of the people that, generally, they will not break up 'til after midnight. At these meetings sometimes as many as forty or fifty have fallen down, some screaming for mercy and others remaining for hours in speechless agony. “Even in rural districts there is the same desire to meet and wait on God and the same remarkable manifestations. Those who had been thus suddenly arrested and brought under strong convictions of the horrors of sin, to Christ, speak afterwards of their great joy, and great earnestness in inviting others to come to Jesus and in praying for them. Their simple addresses seemed to be particularly acknowledged. Their desire to tell what God has done for their souls seemed almost irrepressible. The language used by one young man will give an idea of the feeling of all. Speaking of the change that had passed on him he said, 'At the beginning of the week, if my minister had told me that I was on the road to Hell, I would have been so angry that I would have left his church. Now I would rejoice to stand up in the public congregation and tell them what a sinner I was, and what a Saviour I have found.' "Some of the worst characters in the place had been convicted of sin and brought, as it were, to the Saviour. The sensation produced was great, beyond description; preacher and people both seemed, for the time, overpowered by a sense of the peculiar presence of God. The meeting was addressed by the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ballyclare by one of the new converts, by a friend from Belfast (an elder in Rev. Mr Toye's congregation), and by the Methodist minister of the town, by whom the outdoor services of the evening .were concluded. During the time of service, the friends and 'spectators, who crowded into the church to assist or observe those who were labouring under the terrible influences of conviction, so filled the building that it became heated almost to suffocation, and to avoid the consequences naturally resulting from such an atmosphere — consequences which had begun to appear, as several fainted where they stood — it became absolutely necessary not only to refuse admittance to those who were anxious to enter, but also to request all who were merely spectators within to withdraw.

"After some struggling and wrestling with God in prayer, many, we have reason to know, found peace and joy in believing and returned to their homes rejoicing; but not 'tile the late hour of midnight did the voice of praise and prayer cease to be heard within the House of God and far on into the morning; and from houses, where such sounds never issued before, might be heard the singing of Psalms and hymns, falling upon the ear with a heart-softening power, as it broke the solemn stillness that reigned around. Wonderful, indeed, is the change that has been produced upon this town — so wonderful, that even the ungodly and indifferent have been constrained to say, The Hand of the Lord has wrought this."

"The Ulster Banner" 21st June 1859

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