Helensburgh (1859)

This place, for several days past, has been the scene of a great, and what is to all appearance, a genuine religious awakening. On Sabbath evening last, a prayer-meeting was held in the Free Church, at which no fewer than 1300 were present. Meetings have been held every night since, in one or other of the churches, which have been filled to overflowing. Many have been convinced of sin, and several give evidence of having been savingly converted. Prayer-meetings have been formed among the young, who are eager for instruction.

From 'The Revival Newspaper,' Volume i, p91.


ONE day, early in 1859, a friend who takes a deep interest in the cause of Christ, and who has long taken a deep in­terest in the spiritual prosperity of this place, asked me to call at his office, as he wished to consult me about the pro­priety of having, in addition to the ordinary prayer-meet­ings connected with the different congregations, a general one, for the revival of religion. I waited on him as desired. I suggested that the meeting should be conducted chiefly by laymen, as they had too long been accustomed to trust to ministers exclusively to conduct such meetings.

This led to the formation of a union prayer-meeting, which the Lord was pleased in a remarkable way to bless. The overtures of grace had been long proclaimed, but with little visible effect. Now preachers began to witness, and hearers to feel its operations. Ordinances were no longer clouds without rain," or " wells without water." "Drops fell from heaven," and on some occasions, chiefly at the prayer-meetings, we could even say, "Thou, 0 God, hast sent a plentiful rain." It had been my desire and design to put on record a short history of the "Reign of Grace" here during the winter of 1859 and spring of 1860, but the state of my health forbids it. I am the less con­cerned about this, as Mr William Mackie, who has not only witnessed the work from its commencement but has been honoured of the Lord in many ways to forward it, has, at my request, agreed to do this for me. I have “confidence in him in all things," and can assure the Editor of the "Records of Revival" that he may have the same in any account he may send him of what, in this place, "God bath wrought "

The following is the account which Mr Mackie has been so obliging as to write for us:— In this town we have been favoured with a gracious work of the Holy Spirit, whereby the people of God have been revived and refreshed, and a considerable number have been brought from darkness into God's marvellous light. This merciful visitation has not come unsought nor un­expected. As an instance of this expectancy, the following may be mentioned:—An aged Christian woman frequently said to me, during the summer of 1858, " The Lord has a great work to do in this Helensburgh. I know it. I canna tell thee; but I'm sure it 's coming."

We have also had many months of public united prayer. The intelligence which reached us from America in 1858 stirred many hearts and led to prayer and earnest longing for a time of similar visitation here. A union prayer-meet­ing was suggested. The ministers wished this meeting to be conducted by laymen, that they might be led to take a deeper interest in the revival of the cause of Christ. The union prayer-meeting was accordingly commenced on the evening of 6th December 1858, in the Grant Street school, presided over by the chief magistrate, and several of the most influential gentlemen of the town took part in the solemn services of the evening, and they have continued to do so ever since. This meeting, and one at noon every Monday, increased in interest and solemnity, until, at the end of August, and in September 1859, Mr Anderson of the Free Church and myself gave accounts of the revival in Ireland, as we there witnessed it.

These accounts seemed to intensify the religious feeling which had begun to manifest itself. From this, onwards to the month of October, the awful solemnity which pervaded the meetings for prayer seemed to indicate the nearness of the longed-for shower. We did not wait in vain. The shower came. The meetings had now to be held nightly and were densely crowded. Then the churches were opened, and they, too, were filled. Careless and ungodly people— from the child of ten years old to the hoary head—cried out from an overwhelming sense of the sinfulness of sin, and an apprehension of the wrath of God, "Oh, what must I do?" "Oh, what will become of me?" "Oh, I am lost !" "0 Lord, have mercy on me—on me, a wretched sinner!"

Indeed, nearly the whole town seemed for a time awe­stricken, as if the angel of death had been seen hovering over us. It has been truly a time of life from the dead, and those ministers who took an interest in the great move­ment were wonderfully strengthened for their abundant labours.

Another very striking feature of the work here, as in many other places, is its effects upon the young. I think it was in the month of October last that sixteen boys called on me, requesting that they might have some place where they could meet two evenings in the week to hold a prayer- meeting. Several of them had been under deep conviction of sin. The session-house of the Free Church was very readily granted them, and I have met with them ever since, to instruct and direct them. A number of the boys take part in this meeting. Their prayers are very touching and very scriptural and brief. The attendance at this meeting has always been most encouraging. Sometimes as many as sixty have been present, and it is quite refreshing to hear their hearty singing of the psalms and their favourite hymns. They have also written exercises on the history of Joseph, the titles of Christ, &c.

There is also a prayer-meeting of young females, which has likewise been greatly blessed.

It may be interesting to state that at the communion in November last about fifty persons joined the Free Church, nearly all of them having been awakened during the revival immediately preceding, and about one-half of them were young people. Altogether it has been a wonderful tune. The Rev. Mr Anderson of the Free Church, and the Rev. Mr Arthur of the Independent Church, have both laboured here for up­wards of thirty years, and speak with admiring gratitude of the great change; and, truly, they have laboured con­stantly and lovingly together during this time of revival, and rejoice together in seeing the results of the work of the Holy Spirit among their people.

It is gratifying to be able to state that the interest still continues, although not to the same extent outwardly. There are not so many union meetings as before, for these were held at one time every evening,—in the Free Church, the United Presbyterian Church, and the Independent Chapel alternately. Still, however, there are, besides the usual weekly prayer-meetings in each congregation, on the Sabbath evenings at seven o'clock, a union meeting, held. in the Free Church, which is nearly always full. There is another every Monday at twelve o'clock noon in the In­dependent Chapel, and every Monday evening at eight o'clock in the Grant Street school-room, and in the same school-room every Saturday evening at seven o'clock.

Thus the work has been going on, and many are expect­ing and pleading for greater things, even for " abundance of rain." May the Lord, in His great mercy, fulfil these desires, and to Him be the glory! 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.

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