BY THE REV. NATHANAEL MACAULAY BROWN.
NEWTONLIMAVADY is a fair and market town of considerable importance in the county of Derry.
It contains about four thousand inhabitants, and is next to Londonderry, and Coleraine in the county, for population and general importance. It is situated midway between these two towns, and can be reached from either in about an hour by rail. It contains three churches in connexion with the General Assembly—one Established Church, one Reformed Presbyterian, one Independent, one Wesleyan Methodist, one Unitarian, and one Roman Catholic. It is the seat of a Presbytery, which bears its name, in connexion with the Assembly, and which has the care and superintendence of twelve congregations. The great mass of the inhabitants of the town and of the surrounding neighbourhood, belong to the Presbyterian Church; and may be justly regarded as a shrewd, thinking, intelligent, prosperous, peaceable, Bible-reading, and Bible-loving people.
The vale of the Roe, in the centre of which the town stands, has been the scene of a wonderful awakening during the last eleven months. Few places in Ulster have experienced more of the Spirit's reviving influences than Newtonlimavady and the adjoining districts. The blessed effects of heavenly grace have in many a case been deep, noiseless, rapidly progressive, and full of glory to God and Presbytery to man.
The first noticeable signs of a decided awakening in our town manifested themselves in the second week of June last year. Several ministers and others, having heard of the wonderful workings of the God of grace in many towns and rural districts of County Antrim, had gone over to see these things and to judge for themselves. On their return they at once began to testify what they had seen and heard. Many very deeply interested in things so very strange and new, assembled to hear, and by the simple narrative, in many cases, deep and lasting impressions were made. After an open-air sermon by a minister of the Assembly, a prayer-meeting was held, at which a few cases of prostration occurred. This was on the Wednesday evening of the week already mentioned. On the following evening, an immense meeting was held in the 2nd Presbyterian church. Deep feeling and the utmost solemnity prevailed. The entire community was moved. Persons of all denominations were present, and numerous addresses of the most awakening and arousing character were delivered. No stricken cases occurred, but impressions were made in many cases which we believe to be lasting.
Next evening we met again in the open air. A gentleman from the Presbyterian congregation of Cullybackey, near Ballymena, addressed the assembled throng. He recounted the scenes he had witnessed in the neighbourhood he had just left. The people listened with wonder, humility, and awe. As they were about to separate, one fell to the ground screaming for mercy, then another, and another, till the fallen ones might have been counted by scores! Multitudes remained till the morning light, alternately engaged in singing and prayer.
On the following evening and night (Saturday) the results were somewhat similar; though the stricken cases were not so numerous nor the feeling so intense.
On the Sabbath evening, at six o'clock, an audience of some two thousand people assembled in the graveyard of Drumachose, the oldest Presbyterian church in town. The pastor, and some three others, addressed the audience: and in the course of the services, several strong men were stricken down, and were carried a little apart and laid upon the grass. Toward nightfall the meeting adjourned to the 2nd Presbyterian church. That entire night was spent in prayer and praise, and in ministering to the comfort of poor anxious and distressed souls. Screams were issuing from every portion of the congregation inside the house; and outside, groups, which filled the whole grounds, were engaged either in singing some of the sweet old Psalms, or pouring forth direct and fervent prayers. Little boys in many instances led the devotions. In the centre of each group, lay a stricken, form motionless, and still—the screams were hushed — the struggle was over: with fixed eye and uplifted hands, each looked as if away into eternity, which had come near. In every case the physical workings of the heart were fearful to witness. The deepest and strongest emotions wellnigh burst through the frail clay tabernacle! One of the greatest wonders of the revival is, how, after such a violent and overwhelming shock to the seat of life, man or woman could recover and live. Up till the end of August the excitement continued with little if any abatement. An aggregate meeting was held every evening at eight o'clock. The 1st and 2nd Presbyterian churches in Drumachose had the meeting in turn. All the places were well attended, and crowds waited upon devotional exercises and the ministry of the word every evening. A minister of the gospel presided almost invariably at the daily meeting, and delivered a short address from a portion of Holy Writ. Owing to the illness of Mr Wilson, the weight of the duties devolved upon Messrs Steen and Brown. The other brethren of the Presbytery were most zealous and active from the first manifestation of God's power in the vale of the Roe; and, by the blessing of God, the revival soon spread from the centre of the Presbytery to its entire circumference.
To mention the names of revival districts would be to name over the twelve congregations of the bounds: for all were refreshed less or more by the falling shower. Moreover, to affirm that the "outpouring" was confined to the congregations of the Presbyterian church would not be true. All the denominations of the district, to a greater or less extent, have conic in for a share of the "plenteous rain."
PROGRESS OF THE AWAKENING.
After the saving power of God was first manifested in our midst, the progress of the awakening was very rapid. Nothing was heard of but meetings everywhere—in houses of worship, in private houses, and in the open air; and scarcely was there a single one of these meetings held, without several, often many, cases of conviction of sin, and loud and bitter cries to God in Christ to have mercy. The Sabbath services for many weeks were interrupted from beginning to end by prostrated persons being carried out to the open air. Most of these became peaceful and calm in the course of half-an-hour or so, and in the course of another hour were able to walk to their own homes with the help of a friend's arm in each case.
At fairs, and markets, and all public assemblies, nothing else was talked of but the revival—the revival. Thus the news of God's wondrous doings spread, and great fear came upon even the reckless portion of the community. Solemn awe was depicted on the faces of even buyers and sellers. The debauches gave up his cups and gross improprieties; and men who seldom went home sober, transacted their business with promptitude, and hurried home to their families in their right mind.
One striking feature of all meetings was the unction and freshness of all the prayers. Men prayed who never prayed before, at least in public: boys prayed: and with very few exceptions, no one who was asked to pray refused. The prayers were all remarkable for their earnestness, directness to the throne, newness of sentiment and of expression, "deep confession of sin, and thankful acknowledgment of God's mercies."
No one was permitted to address meetings but a minister of the gospel, or a qualified person, whose soundness in the faith had been previously ascertained. Young converts bore themselves with great meekness and humility; and proved themselves invaluable in many cases in conducting meetings for prayer, praise, and exhortation.
The evangelical ministers of the town and neighbourhood stood firmly to their post—maintained a daily meeting, where some of them were always present: kept their eye upon everything that savoured in the slightest of disorder, error, or heresy; checked at once the growth of such dangerous plants; and with a firm and scriptural oversight, directed the minds of all inquirers into a clear and saving knowledge of the truth. Hence it is that our spiritual prosperity has been attended with peace; and that "miracles," "signs," and "lying wonders" never sheaved themselves. Stricken ones were, no doubt, the objects of much marvelling, and of deep interest for weeks and months. All looked at them, and listened to them with more than ordinary attention. They carried in their aspect, and in their very tones, something striking and out-of-the-way, indicative of the ordeal through which they had passed. But in process of time this ceased to be noticed; and though the inward impression still remained, the outward man was as calm as before.
Our town was visited in the autumn by those two eminent evangelists Brownlow North and IL Grattan Guinness. The former preached four times to us, and the latter once. Their sermons produced deep and lasting impressions, especially the massive and practical addresses of Mr North. The blessed consequence of his appeals can only be known when "the day will declare it." Realisation of present sin— wrath and condemnation of a present God—and of a present salvation through the Sacrifice "once offered," constituted his great theme.
A special communion was held in the month of August, throughout the bounds of the presbytery; and in all the congregations almost, an incredible number of communicants were admitted to the Lord's table for the first time— some of them almost mere children in years, and some of them hoary-headed, frail with age, and to all appearance ripe for the grave.
PRACTICAL AND BLESSED RESULTS.
Individuals are changed—families are changed—churches are changed—the whole face of society is changed. Men pray who were strangers to the duty a year ago. Lads who hid themselves when a minister approached their dwelling, are now happiest in the presence of God's servants, and seldom absent from the sanctuary, Sabbath school, or prayer-meeting. There are few young men in the entire town who would refuse to lead the devotions, even in the largest assembly. A family where there is no prayer and praise is now the exception and not the rule. Congregations are increased. Careless ones of many years' standing have been constrained to connect themselves with a house of God. Communicants, of apparently the most devout cast, have flocked to the Lord's table, "as doves to their windows." The drunkard in many a case has given up his glass, and the smoker his pipe—and denying themselves, have taken up their cross to follow Jesus.
What blotted word a signboard, as you come into our good town from the west? Ah! there is the same word brushed out "Spirits:" and the proprietors of the houses in question are determined to have nothing more to do with intoxicating liquors. Men that have been long indulging in the unrestrained gratification of their lusts and passions, are giving up their sinful practices, submitting to the most rigid ordeal of discipline, and are begging to be received once more into the communion of the Church.
Prayer-meetings have sprung up all over the land, like stars in the firmament, and are sources of light and guidance to many in their own particular spheres. So many as fourteen can be enumerated as belonging to one moderate-sized congregation. Teachers in most cases now are furnished from the lists of the "awakened." Crime cognisable by law has almost entirely disappeared. The assistant barrister for the county got no fewer than two pairs of white gloves crown cases to try. And these were not the first emblems of empty jails he had received since the beginning of the revival. We pray they may not be the last. May we "all have our fruit unto holiness, and the end ."
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 Newtownlimavady, and the surrounding district, the movement is 'spreading gently and steadily. Divested, to a great extent, of those outward phenomena which were only a part of the Revival, but which, infinite wisdom saw necessary as an awakening agent, we are enabled to view the working of the Spirit in a calmer, and, perhaps, a more pleasing aspect.
From ‘The Revival Newspaper,’ Volume i, Oct 15th, 1859.
"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 Banner of Ulster" 21st June 1859