Trinity Church Belfast (1859)


IT has frequently been asserted, and not without apparently just grounds, that the Ulster religious awakening commenced at Connor, a parish in the heart of the county of Antrim, about two years ago, and that from thence, as from a centre, it spread until it reached Belfast. It is true that at the time stated it did first appear in that parish, and extended its influence, almost without observation, for many months, until at last it became so general as to attract the attention of the public. The local newspapers detailed its progress; considerable excitement, as a natural result, ensued, which in due course affected the neighbouring parishes, and at length increased to such a height as to develop itself in certain bodily effects, differently styled physical prostration, physical affection, physiological phenomena, physiological accidents. But long before this, now more than two years, if not three, the awakening had commenced here, and was progressing satisfactorily, as evidenced by increased seriousness and devotion in God's house, so marked as to attract the attention of strangers, more than one of whom mentioned it to me. The attendance also increased, and communicants were not only more numerous, but more regular and frequent at the Lord's table.

During this time, that is, prior to May 1859, the Lord also vouchsafed more numerous instances of His blessing on the seed of life sown among the people, than previously.

Many cases might be specified, were it necessary, especially among young men.

To one only shall I particularly refer. It is that of a profligate and infidel, who, hearing the sound of the evening church bell, was led by it, unconsciously, to the church door, and, as he expressed it, "an irresistible impulse forced him into the church." He retired to his lodging an altered man; his infidelity had given way, and, after a short time, he could look up to his Saviour, and find "joy and peace in believing."

It was, however, in connexion with our Bible class that I perceived the most undoubted proofs of the awakening. The class meets from October to May in each year; the instruction is imparted conversationally. , and

When we assembled in October 1858, I saw, from the very opening of the session, the manifestation of a deeper interest in the Scriptures, and also an increased attendance. When the close of the session arrived, May 1859, far from a wish to separate, the desire of the class was to continue its meetings through the month of June; the numbers, too, were larger than at the beginning of the term. On the 2d of May I drew up and circulated an address "To my flock;" the suggestion contained in it was gener¬ally complied with, and in private, family, and social prayer, the outpouring of the Spirit was supplicated.

In this minute detail I have this end in view—to present such evidence as must command assent, evidence of a work entirely independent of and prior to any physiological phenomena which have helped to strengthen the incredulity of many.

One feature of the evidence is worthy of note. Young men chiefly are the subjects of the revival. A groundless assertion has been hazarded, that only young women have felt its influence, and "therefore," it has been argued, "it cannot be of God." We have learned that "in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female;" so that, even if it were so, the conclusion is unscriptural. But the fact is, that at the first young men, and subsequently both men and women, young and old, were and are awakened, and many of them are above, some far above, the class of the ignorant and the simple.

One of the strongest arguments in favour of the Divine origin of the revival movement is, that it prospers notwithstanding all the evils with which it has had to contend. It is surmounting them; it triumphs over them; and, like a mighty giant, strong in the purposes and strength of Jehovah, goes forth " conquering and to conquer." Neither the scoff of the unbeliever, nor the coldness of the worldling, the opposition of the enemy, nor the injudicious conduct of its friends, nor all together employed by Satan, can stop the work. God is bringing good out of the evil, and many sinners are turned to Him; nay, He is making the very evil itself subservient to the good.

Another objection is contained in the well-known question of old, "Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed on Him?" It can scarcely be credited, yet even ministers of our Church have seriously asked, " Have any respectable people, any gentlemen or ladies, been affected?" How we forget the teaching of the Bible! "To the poor the gospel is preached." And while the upper classes, the scribes, Pharisees, and priests—" the builders "—rejected the counsel of God against themselves," the common people heard Him gladly." Just so is it now. Men of the world in the higher walks of life, men of pleasure and of rank, unsound Churchmen, whether ministers or people, all are combined, along with Arians, and. Infidels, and Roman Catholics, in an unholy opposition, an unrighteous bond of brotherhood, to malign and crush the work, if possible.

In answer to the objection, cases can be specified in the upper walks of life; but, for obvious reasons, they are not chronicled in the public prints like others.

....I have hitherto written of the revival in connexion with the physical phenomena, not that this is the only or the main phase in which it presents itself: Far from it. This may be said to be exceptional. The affection is purely an accident. The revival is irrespective of it altogether. I felt it to be my duty from the first to warn my congregation against desiring it, or confounding it with conversion; but that if it were God's will to afflict them with it, to see that it did not pass away and leave them unblessed. It is my happy privilege, in common with others, to know that God's grace is turning many to Him, with no other outward ma¬nifestation than what we might naturally expect. Many, both male and female, have applied to me, in deep distress of soul, for spiritual advice. In every case, I have seen the application of some portion of God's Word revealing Christ blessed, speaking peace, and sending the penitent on his way rejoicing. The following note is a sample of the applications made weekly to me for some time:—

"August 1, 1859. " REV. SIR,—Having felt most deeply, and I hope sincerely, after the immortal concerns of my soul's salvation, I feel most desirous to speak to you upon a subject fraught with so many serious considerations. I am a Presbyterian, but I feel assured that you will not deny me the privilege of an interview for this reason. I will be very happy to wait upon you, dear Sir, after the prayer-meeting is concluded.—Yours respectfully, -- -- "Rev. T. CAMPBELL."

....Gradually and silently among many has the work proceeded; young and old have felt the influence of the truth, who exhibit, as its fruit, a desire for scriptural instruction, constant attendance in God's house and at His table, until, in my own case, the congregation is overflowing, and more than half are com¬municants. A weekly prayer-meeting in the school-house, such as I never expected to see, not in any respect the result of undue excitement, speaks volumes for the deep religious feeling existing. It is conducted by myself or some brother clergyman. At first, one school-room and about half the second were occupied, but night after night the numbers increased, until both rooms were completely filled. After the first excitement, occasioned by the stricken cases, had subsided, the interest increased, and at the last meeting, what I had not witnessed before, every individual knelt during prayer.

The young people of our congregation and schools requested permission to meet in the school-house for prayer and reading God's Word, and singing His praises, at eight o'clock every Sunday morning, and at four in the evening. They have not abused the permission; far from it; this means of grace has increased their anxiety for God's house and instruction in His Word, and has led to a more regular attendance at Sunday school. No impropriety marks their proceedings. From the first, I will bear my testimony, I have not witnessed nor heard of the slightest breach of the strictest decorum and propriety that should mark our intercourse with each other, and I know from experience that my authority and position as their minister is respected by all.

Perhaps I ought to state that at our annual confirmation this year my numbers were one hundred and sixty-one, while the average of former years may be stated at twenty. All of these, with perhaps half-a-dozen exceptions, have come to the Lord's table. During the confirmation many of the candidates were deeply affected, and could scarcely restrain their feelings. Of these one hundred and sixty-one, only sixteen were "stricken" cases.

As to the general effects of the revival: one of the most cheering is the readiness with which almost all men will speak on the subject of religion, and listen to a minister's advice. I do not include the Roman Catholics or Arians in this. Indeed very few of these religionists have been affected by the movement, except to opposition; yet the few who have been reached have rejected the errors of their respective creeds. Some were physically affected whose hearts were not touched by the truth. These have remained, as was natural, in their Church, and I have heard are the most determined foes of the revival.

Immorality has decreased. Drunkenness also; though, in a town like Belfast, with 140,000 inhabitants, and daily increasing, it cannot be so perceptible as in small villages and towns. It has been stated that the revival has led to drunkenness and other vices. This is a rash statement. "The wish is the father of the thought." The committals in the police-court happened to be more numerous the three months the excitement was at its height than in the three preceding months; therefore, said the enemy, the revival is the cause. It is a conclusion without, or rather from no premises whatever. There is no connexion between the increase and the revival, and none has been shown. Besides, the class of persons in Belfast affected by the move¬ment are not those usually brought before the magistrates, —the lowest of our people. It is deeply to be regretted that but few of these have as yet come under its power. There are also between thirty and forty thousand Roman Catholics, most of whom are of the humblest of the people, from whose ranks the sojourners in our jail are mainly drawn. Until it can be shown that the preaching of the gospel, and the Holy Spirit's work on the heart, can produce crime, the charge that the revival has caused the increase in the committals is a gross libel on the grace of God. Our Lord was called "a gluttonous man and a winebibber." It is no wonder, then, that the counterparts of the infidels of His day, among ourselves, should bring a charge of similar import against His truth now. Within the limits of my observation a vast improvement has taken place. Sunday- evening promenades have been deserted for the house of God. A mill-owner informed me that not an oath nor indelicate expression is now heard from end to end of his mill.* Another gave me similar testimony. A third was compelled to think well of the movement from what he witnessed among his workers.

What, then, is the conclusion to which I am forced to come from the evidence before my eyes, and to which every unprejudiced man who reads this paper must come? What but that which I have already stated, that the work is of God, stained, indeed, by human infirmity, and endeavoured to be marred by Satanic cunning, but that, regardless of all, it goes on in its native, because Divine strength, accomplishing the will of the God of our salvation.

* Last week, making inquiry about the workers in this mill, I ascertained that but one drunken man was seen about it at Christmas.

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.

Additional Information

The church was destroyed by a bomb during the war.

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