BY JAMES MORGAN, D.D. FOR some time previous to the occurrence of the general awakening of the past year, there had been a preparation for such an effusion of the Divine Spirit as has been granted to us.
The tidings from the United States had awakened much attention, and impressed many hearts, and excited ardent hopes and earnest prayers for ourselves. This influence was increased by the proceedings in our Church courts, especially at the annual meeting of the Assembly in 1858, of which full reports were given in the public newspapers. I believe that the key-note of our revivals was struck at the special devotional meeting of the General Assembly of that period; for our ministers returned from it to their congregations deeply solemnised, and commenced holding similar meetings in their respective localities.
The effect was apparent in an increased attendance on the congregational prayer-meetings. It had been found difficult for some time before to sustain them, and the interest was feeble. Few attended them, but at the end of 1858 there was a marked change. It was found necessary to remove from a small to a capacious place of meeting. Throughout the concluding months of that year, and the whole of the past year, the prayer-meetings have generally been large, and lively, and profitable. There might be an average attendance of from four to five hundred persons, and at times there was difficulty in accommodating all who came.
It was, however, in the beginning of June last that the first decided case of revival occurred, and it appeared in the following circumstances. Two young men, from a neighbourhood in which the work had previously appeared, addressed our Sabbath schools. Their words were simple and earnest in tone, but not what we are accustomed to considerable or powerful.
One Sabbath, my attention was again drawn forcibly to the subject. After the public services of the day, I learned that some members of the congregation were much impressed in a family not very distant from my own house, and I went to inquire after them. I found a young man and his sister, both affected very much as the woman whom I have described. They had passed through the most agonising convictions of sin and had found peace in believing. As I left them, after having conversed and prayed with them, I was requested to visit another simiarly affected in the next house. Thence I was taken to a third, and subsequently to house after house, until my time and strength were completely exhausted. I believe there were there in that immediate neighbourhood not fewer than a hundred souls in the agony of the new birth.
I knew many of them and recognised them to be scholars of our Sabbath schools, either now or of former years. A large proportion of all who were affected were of that class. I have often gone among them since and made all the inquiries I could respecting them, and I am thankful to say, I believe there is the most satisfactory evidence of the genuineness of the work of grace, in the good conduct of its subjects.
At this period I felt it to be necessary to organise some system for attending to such as were or might be impressed. My elders entered cordially into the matter and laid themselves out to render all the assistance in their power. Some of them spent a large portion of their time in visiting the houses of the affected. I requested our Sabbath-school teachers to meet and adopt measures for .looking after their scholars, and the districts in which they resided. They did so and continued to pursue these labours with unabated zeal. Classes were formed for giving instruction on the week evenings, which are still continued. The work progressed. It appeared in all our associations, whether in the Sabbath assemblies of the church or the schools, and the history of it may be continued in connexion with these.
Our Sabbath assemblies were very pleasant and profitable. There was no undue excitement in them. Only two young women were ever stricken there, so as to cry aloud in the congregation, and to be carried out in prostration of body as well as in agony of mind. But a healthful spirit of inquiry arose in many, and the word was made effectual to them for salvation.
In the Sabbath schools, the work was more marked and general than in the congregation. The teachers were most assiduous and faithful. Many of the young were impressed. At the present time, the signs of spiritual good are as hopeful as at any previous period, perhaps even more so.
I meet a large class of young persons every Sabbath evening. At present it contains about seventy. Formerly I found occasional inattention, or lightness of conduct, but latterly there has been a uniform spirit of the deepest seriousness and attention.
Three evenings in the week we have long had a school for mill-girls, who could not attend at any other time. Formerly many of them were rude and unmanageable, but now they are devout, respectful, diligent, and in all respects present the most agreeable and encouraging appearance. There has been a gracious work in the souls of many of them.
The day schools have exhibited similar results. The scholars hold a weekly prayer-meeting, and some of themselves take part in the exercises. Lately, an application was made to us by some little boys for the use of a school¬room in which they might hold a prayer-meeting during the interval of public worship on the Sabbath-day. Of course it was granted, and I can hear their voices in devotional exercises while I am awaiting the hour of our afternoon service. A fortnight ago, it was announced that I was to preach my annual sermon to children, in the afternoon. During the interval the children held a special prayer-meeting, to seek the Divine blessing on my sermon.
I must add that I have abundant evidence of a similar work prevailing in other places ; for some of my congregation, who left us in the beginning of the summer careless and worldly, have returned in the autumn earnest and lively Christians, having been brought under the influence of the Divine Spirit in the places where they resided.
I will not presume to say how many may have been savingly influenced in all these ways and exercises, but I believe they amount to several hundred. And there are two things which I am constrained to testify of them,— that I never saw a case which suggested to me the idea of insincerity—and that I never saw an example of backsliding into open sin. I do know a few instances, but only a few, in which the glow of first love has abated, and in which, I fear, there never was a maturity of the Spirit's work ; but I have not been disappointed in any case where I had reason to believe there was a sound conversion to God.
In what I have written, I have confined my remarks to my own congregation; but I cannot conclude without ex¬pressing my belief and gratitude that the extent of the work has been almost as wide as the province.
In the town of Belfast there has been a very marked outpouring of the Spirit. There is an extraordinary change on many of its congregations. Some churches that were well-nigh empty are now filled. Sabbath schools are greatly increased. So are the communicants at the Lord's table. We have the prospect of five new congregations in the town in connexion with the General Assembly, chiefly the result of the present revival. Immorality has greatly declined. Peace and goodwill have prevailed. Party spirit has been swallowed up. Generosity in the cause of God has been increased. The annual collection for the Assembly's Foreign Mission was made on the 20th of November; and, in my own congregation, the offerings laid on the plate amounted to £412.
A similar influence is gone over the Church generally. Whenever I meet a minister from the country, his conversation is of the revival among his people. Many, of whose congregations there has been no notice in the public newspapers, can tell of the same results that have attracted attention in more prominent and public places. I met one lately, and on asking him if there was any good doing among his people, he replied, "Yes; a year ago I was preaching to the dead, but now I am preaching to the living." Another said, "The congregation has been revolutionised." A third told me they would be obliged to pull down, or enlarge somehow, their church, only lately built. Everywhere there has been an increase of communicants by a third or a fourth, and in some cases greater. These are specimens that might be multiplied throughout Ulster.
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 current building was built in 1905 and was the HQ for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, but it is now a shopping centre.