The Cunningham Memorial Presbyterian Church (1904)

There follows an account of a revival which took place in this church. It comes from a chapter in 'Glad did I live' by the minister at the time, William Corkey.

"For three years I worked and prayed and saw no signs of any deepening of spiritual interest in the Church. I learned, however, that people were listening to what I said. One Monday morning a woman called at the Manse, and I saw at a glance that she was upset. She said, "Why did you refer in Church yesterday to what has happened in our family?" I asked her what I had said and she replied, "You prayed for the family in the congre­gation which had special trouble during the week and our daughter left our home last week against our wishes to go to the city." I said I had not known about her trouble but thatI always remembered in prayer the family that had special trouble for 1 knew some family has such trouble every week. Or another occasion a visitor to the Church one Sunday evening remarked to a man coining out of the Service with him, No one need jump over a ditch with his sins on his back after listening to that sermon." I also had evidence of a deep sub­conscious yearning after God in the minds of the people. I noticed how difficult it was to get an audience for a concert or any other form of entertainment, but when I announced that I would give an exposition of the first eight chapters of Romans on the week evenings —to my amazement and great joy found the Lecture Hall crowded night after night, and I was asked by one and another for fuller information on Paul's great theme of "how to get right with God."

Encouraged by this experience I gave an exposition of the Gospel of Mark at my Sunday Evening Services, setting out a section of the Gospel story each evening for a number of Sabbaths. Later I gave an exposition of the 1st Epistle of Corinthians, showing how our fellowship with Christ enables us to solve every problem in Church life. It was arduous work for I had not only to master the meaning from the Greek text but also to have the chapters memorised so that I could speak with freedom and get the message across to my hearers. After about three years, when I was beginning to wonder if all my work was making any impression on the hearts of the people, I was told of several prayer meetings that were being held in the homes of members of my Church and which were being con­ducted by some of the older people of the congregation.

I decided to visit one of these meetings and went one evening to a home in the group of dwellings known as Harperstown. When I opened the door I found the large kitchen and living-room of the family, crowded with friends and neighbours. The person in charge of the meeting was one of the workers from the neighbouring bleaching establishment. He immediately invited me to address the meeting but I said that I had just conic to unite with them in their prayer meeting. I remember how he then cleared his throat with a cough, and continued, "Well friends, I was talking to you about the great salvation," and went on to give an earnest and simple Gospel message. After the meeting I was approached by some of those in attend­ance who were anxious to find for themselves this great salva­tion. I told them of Christ's assured willingness to receive them and of His power to enable them to overcome the evil in their hearts, after which I had prayer with them. That evening I was taken from one home to another in Harperstown to speak to men who felt they had been disappointed and defeated in life. I had never before met so many people eager to know, and willing to accept, Christ.

On the following Sabbath I invited all who wished to take part in a meeting for prayer to remain after the livening Service. I was amazed at what happened. The numbers waiting filled one of the side wings of the Church. I explained to those who waited that I had come to know that many people were anxious to be sure that they were right with God, and I thought that we should meet together to seek God, and ask His guidance upon all our work for Him. I then invited any who felt moved to do so to offer prayer, and in this way seek God's help and the enlightenment of His Spirit. Thereupon followed a most mar­vellous succession of earnest payers, mainly from the younger members of the audience. I was struck with the beauty of the language which many used in this spontaneous outburst of prayer. Some of the older members present told me afterwards that many of the petitions used were very similar in language to those used by Dr Buick, who preceded me and who was a very cultured and very earnest minister. I was now assured that there was an awakening in the hearts of the people. I announced Open-air Services during that summer in different districts on week-evenings. These were largely attended by the members of neighbouring Churches but I was disappointed in not being able to share the work with the other two ministers in the district. The minister of the Reformed Church, who was deeply interested in the work, was told by his Session that it would be against the principles of his Church for him to take part in Services in which hymns were being sung. The other minister of the United Presbyterian Church had been called to a new charge in Scotland.

Young men began to come to the Manse who were anxious to find Christ and be at peace with God. I assured such inquirers that the living and reigning Christ was ready to help all who come to him, and many surrendered their lives in prayer to Christ. I remember one young man who wanted to know what "believing in Jesus" meant and asked how he could come to Him. As I tried to explain he would always say, "I can’t see it." At last I said to him, "Jim, you are employed in the Maine Bleaching Works. You know what your employer wants you to do and you go into work every morning and do the job your employer wants you to do but you may never see your employer at all. It is something the same in being a Christian. Could you not be a servant of Jesus and work for Him every day even if you do not see Him?" "I can understand that," he replied, and I said, "Would you not like to kneel down and tell Jesus you wanted to serve Him?" He there and then knelt down and asked Jesus to take his life, and today as I write, fifty-four years afterwards, that young man, as he was then, is now one of the most devoted and beloved ministers in the City of Toronto in Ontario, Canada.

The number of such seekers after salvation increased and a great desire arose among the young people to find Christ and definitely give their lives to Him. I was quite assured from my study of the New Testament and from my own experience that the Lord Jesus Christ was completely trustworthy, and when leading these young men and women to find peace with God I sought to lead them to be definite in their decisions for Christ and to pray, "Lord Jesus I give my life to Thee and I accept Thee as my Saviour and my Lord."

I gathered a large number of young men, many of whom had made this decision, into a Sabbath Morning Bible Class, and then I asked them to come and help me with an Open-air service on the main Street in Cullybackey on Saturday evenings. These meetings were largely attended and through the messages of the young men, many older men, some of whom had been very careless, came under the influence of the Gospel and made a profession of faith in Christ.

Those who professed to receive blessing preached best by their lives. Those with whom they worked remarked that they had ceased to use foul language, and had given up their indul­gence in strong drink, and renounced anything which they con­sidered hindered their fellowship with Christ. I knew one man, who came to our meetings, who even had also spoken several times in the Open-air Services with great earnestness, but who had not been practising what he preached. He was working with the night shift in the Bleach Works, where several of his companions, when they stopped work for their midnight meal, held a brief informal prayer meeting. One of those leading in prayer at this meeting one night besought the Lord to send them at their Open-air Meetings men of clean lips and pure hearts. At the close of the meeting this man turned to the man who had offered this petition and said, "John you told the Lord too much about me tonight." The simple prayer had brought home to him the conviction that his actions were not in harmony with his profession of faith, and he learned that such actions could not be condoned.

I need not say what great joy I had during this period in my pulpit Services. I can still remember the wonderful way in which everyone, young and old, gathered to the Church and joined in the Praise Service. I gave careful attention to pre­paration and was often nervous before the Church Service, but when I entered the pulpit I found great freedom. Many years afterwards I was called upon to go to a hospital in Belfast to sec one of the young men who had been a great helper in those days in Cullybackey and when he spoke to me of the experiences of that time he said," You know when we went into the Church in those days we rose on wings during the Service."

I invited Rev. Dr Henry Montgomery to conduct our Services one Sabbath and he was deeply impressed with the large and eager congregations. At the close of the Evening Service as a large number waited for a second meeting, Dr Montgomery suggested that we should speak personally to those who had remained in their pews for a second meeting. Many professing Christians were glad to say so. Some had doubts and a number of people decided that evening, but the effect of that Service made a deep impression on every member in the Church. They all felt there was a challenge which each must consider. In all this work 1 realised that no one is competent, on a person's mere profession of faith in Christ, to pass judgment on his personal relationship with God. I always refrained from doing so because I never considered I had such knowledge of a person's heart and secret thoughts as would enable me to pass such judgment. God alone can read the heart. My work was to preach the Gospel message; to tell men that Christ was willing to save and help all who came to Him and I endeavoured to bring individuals face to face with Christ. If they accepted Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour, and if their lives were in harmony with that profession, then our Church gladly acknow­ledged them as members in good standing because they had made "a credible profession"; and had joined the great body of professing Christians. All the younger people who professed conversion were gathered into my Bible Class and all those who wished to make a public profession of their faith in Christ were invited into the Communicants' Class, where they received as full instruction in the Christian Faith as I could give them. These young people claimed to have full personal assurance of their fellowship with Christ and had great pleasure in any service they could render their Lord and Saviour.

In one home where I imagined the family careless I discovered that it was impossible for any member to get to Church, but that each week in Ballymena they bought one of Spurgeon's sermons, then being published, and read it in the home on Sunday to supply the want of a Service. In another home where an elderly person was unable to come to Church, when I was about to pray I said, '' Do you believe Jesus will hear us?' She replied, "Isn't He one of our own kith and kin?" Another elderly person to whom I spoke about Christ said, "That was settled long ago. My mother taught me not to leave these things off to a dying day, a deathbed has enough troubles." I realised that I was living among a religiously minded community, although the people did not flaunt their religion before the world, or carry it on their coat-sleeve. On one occasion when I was about to have prayer with an elderly man who was seeking to make his peace with God I said to him, "Do you believe that Jesus will forgive you?" and he retorted, '' Do you think He would turn away a poor sinner looking for mercy?"

Related Wells