Title & Purpose

Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble:

for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand, Joel 2:1.


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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

1859 Revival series - No 1: The Need of Revival

This is an outline of a series of sermons preached, one per month, January - June 2009, marking the 150th Anniversary of the 1859 Revival in Ulster

Psalm 119:126: It is time for thee, LORD, to work: for they have made void thy law. 
Virtually everyone is aware that the year 2009 marks the 150th Anniversary of the 1859 Revival. That mighty outpouring of the Spirit of God began in Kells, Co Antrim and spread out over most of Ulster. The influence of the revival was also felt further afield to greater and lesser degrees.

Many of us, if not all of us, have heard of the prayer meetings that were commenced in the school house in Kells where the four men prayed. The names of these men are James McQuilken, Jeremiah Meneely, Robert Carlisle and John Wallace. Encouraged by Rev J.H. Moore, minister of the nearby Presbyterian church, these four young converts began to meet on a weekly basis for prayer and Bible study. They met in the old national schoolhouse.

These meetings for prayer and Bible study, which were held on Friday evenings, continued from September throughout the winter of 1857 and into 1858. Each man is reported to have taken an armful of peat for the fire and in the other carried his Bible. It was among this little group that the fire of God fell and kindled a blaze which spread throughout Ulster and swept approximately 100,000 souls in the kingdom of God.

The purpose in considering these things is at least twofold:
[1] To increase our awareness of what happened at that time of great awakening. We are to remember our past and certainly God's merciful dealings with our forefathers. 
[2] To stir our hearts to seek another mighty outpouring of God's Spirit in our own times.

The first subject I propose we deal with is the need of revival. We will look at the state of society preceding the Revival. The specific purpose in considering this subject first is to demonstrate that times prior to the revival were no different to today. If God can work then He can work today. The cry of the text before us is for the Lord to work because they have made void his law. The phrase 'they have made void' is one word and it has the meaning of 'breaking'. It is the word that is used in the Old Testament for breaking a covenant [9 times]. It very properly describes the sinful condition of mankind. They are covenant breakers. We want to consider this evening the making void of God's law prior to 1859:

I. The Spiritual dearth that prevailed for many years prior to the Revival. 
Spiritual life in Ulster prior to the Revival was at a low ebb.

Professing Christianity had a name to live but was dead. Deadness, formality and indifference characterised the vast majority of Church members. There was no concern for themselves or awareness of their own need or for anyone else either. The best testimony is that which comes from the pen of people who lived prior to the revival. Here are the thoughts of some ministers of those times:

[1] Hitherto our condition was deplorable. the congregation seemed dead to God, formal, cold, prayerless,worldly nd stingy in religious things. Twice I tried a prayer meeting of my elders, but failed; for after the fifth or sixth night I was left alone.

[2] There seemed great coldness and deadness. So deeply did I feel this, that, on the sabbath preceding the Revival I preached from Lam 5:20,21 [Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time? Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old] and said that I had preached the gospel faithfully, earnestly, and plainly, for eleven years; yet it was not known to me that a single individual had been converted

[3] Another minister reported: what alarmed me most was the indisposition, almost hostility, of the people to meetings for prayer.

Of the congregation in Connor where it all commenced it was said: The congregation is one of the old stern Calvinistic school, long in unbroken enjoyment of an evangelical ministry, yet often lifeless and cold, with many mere formal professors, and many more not having even a name to live. Things were no better here. There was a making void of God's truth among the people in those times prior to the Revival.

Ecclesiastical life was no better. For over a hundred years prior to the Revival there was working among Presbyterianism in Ireland the insidious leaven of Arianism or Unitarianism. They believed that God the Father alone was eternal and that His Son was the first creature He created out of nothing. They therefore denied the doctrine of the Trinity and the deity of the Son of God.

A half hearted attempt was made to exclude them by putting them all in one presbytery - the presbytery of Antrim. This was of no use. The cause was not helped by the fact that subscription to the Westminster Confession was not required.

Because of this unorthodox theology Presbyterianism split with the formation of the Secession Church in Ulster. However God raised up a champion for orthodox Christianity. His name was Henry Cooke. He realised the deadening effect false doctrine had upon the Church and people and set about to champion the cause of truth.

When he spoke out at first many did not like it. He was denounced as a rash enthusiast who would rend the church. His reply was: If you can convince me from scripture that Trinitarians, Arians and Socinians [Christ was a mere man with no existence prior to Bethlehem] can form a Scriptural Church, and cordially unite in licenising and ordaining one another, I shall resign my present views, and unite with you in preserving our present constitution.

Cooke would not rest until he had driven Arianism out of the Church. The Ulster synod required all ministers to subscribe to the confession of faith. The purifying of the Church doctrinally led to the unifying of orthodox Presbyterianism in Ireland. This paved the way for the Revival to come. 

Even at the time of the revival this dearth was apparent. A Presbyterian minister called Isaac Nelson published a bitter attack upon the Revival entitled: The Year of Delusion.

II. The sheer ungodliness that prevailed for many years prior to the Revival. 
The years leading up to the Revival were times of great sinfulness. We sometimes look back with rose tinted glasses and mistakenly believe that times then were much different and much better than they are now. Not necessarily so.
Man is ever the same no matter what generation he has lived in. Without the influence of the gospel he degenerates into behaving like a brute beast. In the mid 1850’s the villages of Ulster such as Kells and Connor were rough godless places. There are many historical accounts of frequent brawls in the streets, of wild drunkenness even at funerals and of the general low moral condition of many of the people.

Dr William Gibson, Moderator of the General Assembly in 1859 and author of a history of the Revival gives an interesting account of the state of society prior to the time of this awakening: Many forms of evil had existence in the community not infrequently in connection with a religious profession and under the very shadow of the sanctuary. Foremost amongst all these, and parent of most of them, was intemperance. At fairs and markets, sometimes even at funerals, the 'whisky demon' held his horrible carnival; while party brawls and battles, mingled with fearful yells and imprecations often closed the scene.
Some things are worthy of note from these words:
[1] Sin was widespread. Many forms of evil existed in the community.
[2] Sin was practiced by those who made professions of religion. It was not just the irreligious that engaged in these things.
[3] Sin was practiced openly. It was done under the shadow of the sanctuary. It was not the practice of some hidden away back street cellar. It was the commonly accepted behaviour of the main street.
[4] Drunkenness was rift. At the root of mush of this ungodliness was whisky. They had their parties and their brawls afterwards and their bad language.

Drunkenness is the root cause of so much ill in society. Remember the teaching of God's Word about the harvest of drunkenness: Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright, Prov 23:29-31.

I suggest to you that those times are very much a parallel to our own days. The days of temperance are needed again. The curse of drunkenness is in growing in our own times. Even among professing believers the taking of alcohol is no longer frowned upon. Something dramatic was needed then to transform the situation and the Lord did not disappoint when He sent this great awakening. God is able to revive in the most ungodly of times. He is not restricted to moving in upright times. Let us take heart!

III. The skepticism of Darwinism was raising its ugly head prior to the Revival. 
There is another anniversary that is being marked in 2009. It is being marked, not by believers who love the truth of God, but rather by those who reject the Bible and want to replace God with man. It is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book: The Origin of Species. He was born in February 1809 and published his book in Nov 1859.

Darwin did not come up with anything new. In fact many who support his views acknowledge that he failed to give credit to others who went before in articulating these views. What Darwin did was to publicise these views. Natural selection is accepted by both Creationists and evolutionists. Darwin however propagated the idea that natural selection could also lead to new species being form and that therefore we have all come from one common ancestor.

It is not strictly true that Darwin taught that we all had come from monkeys. He taught we have a common ancestor which is somewhat different. The days prior to the 1850s was a time when skepticism was rift.

God had an answer to this increasing unbelief. The skepticism and unbelief of ungodly men is no barrier to the Lord working. The Lord is not hindered when men shake their fist in His face and say we will not accept the teaching of the Bible but will come up with another explanation for the origin of the earth. The God of heaven laughs at the folly of rebellious sinners, cf. Ps 2.

That answer was not only intellectualism but an almighty outpouring of God's Spirit that leads to experimental Christianity. There is a place for apologetics in the work of God, but it has a limited place. Organisations that counteract the lies of Darwinism do great work and ought to be praised, however, it is possible to win the argument about Origins but that will never change one person's thinking or change society. 

What is needed is for the truth of God to reach a person's heart and change them. This work is done alone by the Holy Spirit. That was God's answer the skepticism of the age. It is not intellectual arguments that we need alone today but a mighty outpouring of God's Spirit. It is not intellectual preaching that is needed but Holy Spirit anointed preaching. 

I trust that the matters we have considered will stir our hearts by demonstrating that the Lord is able and has worked in ungodly days before.

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