On our first consideration of the 1859 Revival we dealt with The State of Society. There we noticed that the days prior to the Revival breaking out were very much in keeping with the Word of God as recorded for us the Psalmist's prayer: It is time for thee, LORD, to work: for they have made void thy law, Ps 119:126. It was a day of the breaking of Gods law.
We want now to consider The Origin of the Revival. Where, how and with whom did it all commence?
Generally the times were bad prior to 1859 but here and there the Lord had a remnant that had not bowed the knee to Baal. Here and there believers were to be found who yearned for the Lord to come again and do something. In February 1853 an article appeared in a magazine entitled: The Irish Presbyterian bearing the title: Do we need a revival? There were those who desired and sought for a move of God.
The story of a missionary from the Baptist Missionary Society. The origin of the Revival takes us back to consider the actions of a lady called Mrs Colville. Many are aware of the four men in Kells schoolhouse, not many know of the part played by Mrs Colville.
In the Spring of 1856, Mrs Colville, a woman 'with time and money to spend for God' arrived in Ballymena from Gateshead in the north of England. She came with the purpose of engaging in a door-to-door visitation desiring to bring the Gospel to the needy. She walked many miles, talked of salvation to many and returned home in November 1856 without seeing much outward fruit or so she thought.
A seed was sown. The Lord was pleased to use Mrs Colville to plant a seed which would ripen into a mighty harvest. One day, 3rd November, she was visiting the home of a Miss Brown in Mill Street, Ballymena where she found two ladies who were involved in spiritual conversation with a young man, called James McQuilken, who came from the townland of Connor about five miles from Ballymena.
They were discussing 'predestination' and 'freewill'. He wanted to know whether she was a Calvanist or not. She was more interested in knowing whether he had a personal saving interest in Christ and an experience of the new birth. Her words were like a seed dropped into good ground and in due course it brought about the conversion of James McQuilken. His conscience had been pricked and he felt a deep conviction of sin. However, he was a proud man and it was only after weeks of struggling under great agony of soul that he at last found peace and rest through trusting in Jesus Christ as Saviour.
Insignificant beginnings. This man James McQuilken, who would go on to play a most important part in the Revival, was influenced for God by an obscure, earnest Christian woman who thought her work was a failure when she returned home to Gateshead. How wrong she was! Little is much when God is in it. We are to take heart, God is able to do much through our weak labourers. Let it be remembered particularly that there is a great work for godly woman to do for God, cf. Romans 16:1,6; Philippians 4:3.
The salvation of James McQuilken's three companions. One night Jeremiah Meneely, Robert Carlisle and the schoolmaster, were walking home together after a meeting in the school about restoration work. Robert Carlisle began to speak about the great change that had come over James McQuilken and how he had changed so much that he had got rid of the fighting cocks for which he was notorious in the area.
All three decided that this was just a passing fad for McQuilken. However Jeremiah Meneely remarked: I would give the world to know my sins forgiven. The others agreed. Shortly afterwards Jeremiah Meneely sought out James McQuilken and after a long conversation became convinced that something genuine and miraculous had truly transformed him. Meneely now wanted peace with God and one day as he sat in the kitchen of his home he was reading John 6:37: All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. Slapping his knee he jumped up exclaiming: I see it now. God had spoken and he was wondrously converted. Soon Robert Carlisle and John Wallace were also drawn to Christ.
'Do something more for God'. Rev J. H. Moore, minister of the Connor congregation, spoke to some of the young men in his congregation and sought to encourage them to take up some active part in the work of God in the Connor congregation. The words he spoke were: Do something more for God. Could you not gather at least six of your careless neighbours either parents or children, to your house or some convenient place on the Sabbath, and spend an hour with them, reading and searching the word of God?
These young men responded and a Sunday School was commenced. It was felt among the teachers that meetings for prayer were needed to seek the Lord's blessing upon this new venture. The first such prayer meeting took place in September 1857 and soon increased in numbers. Among those present were: James McQuilken, Jeremiah Meneely, Robert Carlisle and John Wallace.
These four young men felt that further prayer was required and because they lived a distance from each other chose the Schoolhouse at Kells as a central place to start another weekly prayer meeting. These meetings, which were on Friday evenings, continued from September throughout the winter of 1857 and into 1858.
Other prayer meeting sprang up in the district. On New Year’s Day 1858, the first conversion that could be directly related to the prayer meetings took place, but after that there were conversions every week. By the end of 1858 some fifty young men were taking part in the weekly prayer meetings. Others prayer meeting were commenced at this time. It has been stated that over 100 prayer meetings per week were taking place in the Connor Congregation leading up to the revival breaking out. So significant was this move of God in stirring up prayer that at the General Assembly in July 1858 Rev Moore was asked to report on what was taking place in his Connor congregation.
The Fulton Street prayer meeting. In July 1857 a group of new York ministers met to appoint a lay missionary to work in the city. The man appointed Jeremiah Lamphier. At first he did not know what to do so he engaged in prayer. He believed the Lord would have him commence a prayer meeting for revival from noon - 1.00 pm, once a week. On 23rd September 1857 the first prayer meeting took place. No one turned up until 12.30 pm. By the end there were six people in the prayer meeting.
These prayer meetings led to a remarkable outpouring of divine blessing upon the eastern half of the United States and also into Canada. The blessing that came to Chicago subsequently touched the heart of a young called Dwight L. Moody.
News reaches those praying in Kells. Rev J H Moore, minister in Connor brought the story of what was happening in America to those who were praying in Kells, Co Antrim. When the news of the awakening in America reached Ireland all those who were praying earnestly for revival took heart and hope. They wondered if it was the purpose of God to give to them in Ulster the same outpouring as on the other side of the Atlantic.
The more they heard, the more they realised that the prayer meetings in Kells commenced in the same month and year as the prayer meetings in New York, ie. September 1857. They also noticed that God was pleased to bless the labours of laymen in Amercia. Could it also be God's intention to bless James McQuilken and his praying friends in Ulster? It turned out to be a set time to favour Zion in both places.
The Bank panic of 1857. Prior to the awakening in America there was a collapse of the banking system in America that spread to Europe. Due to the long, hard winter of 1856-1857, transportation and trade transactions were delayed. The spring brought some relief, but by the end of summer, businesses had begun to collapse. Before September 1857, the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company of Cincinnati, with a branch in New York City collapsed causing panic.
Some banks refused to redeem their promissory notes, while others suspended operations altogether, including eighteen of New York City's leading banks. On the 14th October, 1857, the extensive banking system of the United States collapsed bringing ruin to hundreds of thousands of people in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and the industrial centers of the nation.
The Panic caused rich men to go broke literally overnight. Suicide and murder increased, and people roamed the streets in the cities destitute.
A special session was set aside to discuss the news coming across the Atlantic and the possibility of revival in Ireland. It is recorded that the church was crowded and a feeling of profound solemnity pervaded the audience. The outcome of these discussion was the drafting of a pastoral letter to be sent all ministers, elders and members of the Presbyterian Church.
What then are we to do? How are we to seek an awakening among ourselves? Not certainly by mere imitation of the American meetings; not by any mechanical process of new and laborious measures, productive of little else than a transient and barren excitement; not by any instrumentality apart from individual consecration of the heart and life unto God.
Dear Brethren, if you really wish to see a solid permanent work of God advancing amongst us, begin with your own souls. Seek a revival there. When you complain as sometimes do, of the low state of the church, you are generally disposed to look away from home for an explanation. You are prone to find fault with ministers and elders with the Synods and Assemblies. You seldom think of estimating your own particular share in the amount of the our general delinquency. Let every member of the Church put away the beam from his own eye, and then shall he see clearly to take the mote from his brother's eye.
Again look to the state of religion in your own households. What have you to say of family prayer? Of family catechising? Of your efforts to bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Put away the strange God's that are among you, if you would be prepared to meet and to hold communion with the Lord.
Further, consider that as members of the Church you are sacramentally pledged to be fellow-labourers in Christ for the emancipation of your fellow-countrymen from the bondage of Satan and of sin, and for the establishment of the kingdom of God over the whole earth… Beloved brethren, we have much to do in our hearts, much to do in our own homes, much to in our own Church, much to do in our own country. Let us regard these as our primary duty.