Up until the end of 1858 this mighty moving of God was centred upon the parish of Connor, Co Antrim. In December of that year it began its outward flow and during the course of 1859 it reached virtually every county in Ulster. The only exception was County Fermanagh. It did not come with the same force to this county as to others in Ulster. This in part may be due to the fact that it was largely the Presbyterian ministers and their people who embraced this Revival. While many, but not all, Episcopalian ministers and their people shunned it. County Fermanagh had only a small Presbyterian population.
Rev John Crockett, a Presbyterian minister in Tyrone at the time of the 1859 Revival, had this to say:
With this exception noted the revival work began to outwards flow. This outward flow was very much like the picture presented to us in Ezekiel 47:1-5, where the prophet Ezekiel saw the vision of the waters flowing out of the Temple. The further he went away from their source, in the house of God, the wider and deeper the waters were. First, there were waters were to the ankles, v3; then the waters were to the knees, v4; then the waters were to the loins, v4; then finally the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over. v5. The source of these waters was traceable back to a fountain at the south side of the altar, v1. This is an apt illustration of the outward flow of the Revival which began in the little village of Kells in the parish of Connor in County Antrim in 1858/59.
In considering the spread of the Revival outwards from Kells and Connor we will seek to do more than just read out a list of the places where it came. Although you will appreciate that we can only cover the spread of the Revival in a very limited fashion in one sermon. Nevertheless, may it stir our interest to read and learn more and desire a mighty outpouring in our day.
1. God is in the practice of using human instruments. He blesses His own dear people and then in turn He makes them a blessing to others, cf. Ezekiel 34:26: And I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing. This is certainly how it was during the spread of the 1859 revival.
When God does a work in a person's heart that person has a desire to speak of it to others. This was how the New Testament Church began to spread, Acts 8:4: Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word; Acts 11:19-21: Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. This refers to what happened with the common people as we are told that the Apostles remained in Jerusalem. The Lord puts the treasure in earthen vessels and uses those earthen vessels to spread His truth. This model was followed in the Revival.
2. The first place that the Revival spread to was Ahoghill. At the end of 1858 one of the converts in Kells, called Samuel Campbell, who worked in James Ross' linen mill in Kells in the district of Connor, became concerned about the extended members of his family living in Ahoghill. On Christmas day 1858 he decided to visit his family and friends. Through his urgency and prayers the Holy Spirit began to work. His sister, and then his mother were all awakened to a sense of their sins and converted. His brother also came under deep conviction of sin. This man was to be the first of a strange phenomena associated with this Revival, namely intense physical anxiety and distress.
These new converts in turn became missionaries to their neighbours and friends and by the middle of February Ahoghill was ablaze with revival fire.
In part this was to do with the limited movement of people compared with today. People travelled very little as walking was the chief means of getting from place to place for the majority of people. There were no cars, motorcycles, telephones, etc. But there were others reasons for this was well:
1. God in never in a hurry. He is a God of order. All His works follow a predetermined plan. The Revival was part of that sovereign plan and purpose and it reflected the nature of God Himself. God's works glorify His name and nature. That is why we are commanded to follow this pattern in all the matters that relate to Christ's Church, 1 Corinthians 14:40: Let all things be done decently and in order.
God is not the author of confusion. It is the mark of counterfeit Christianity for there to be disorder and confusion. That is the difference between true revival and something like the Toronto Blessing!
2. The orderly onward spread of the Revival. We have already mentioned the Revival spreading to Ahoghill. From Ahoghill in December of 1858 it next influenced Kellswater and Drummaul near to Randalstown. The first public record of the Revival in Ballymena was a letter in the Ballymena Observer dated 26th March 1859. However it was the month of May before the first signs of the Revival were witnessed in Ballymena itself. To quote one of the records:
The trickle became a flood tide by now. Westward to Portglenone, and then on to all the districts around Ballymena. Northwards it came to Cullybackey and Broughshane. Simultaneously it reached Ballyclare going south and then on to Belfast, here it seemed to break all the banks and over flowed. The river of God was full of water.
3. Some idea of the timing of the spread of the Revival. By the beginning of June the Revival had reached Ballymoney; Coleraine by 7th June; Londonderry by 12th June and thereafter to Limavady, Moneymore and Ballykelly.
South-eastward it reached Belfast by the end of the month of May. From Belfast it spilled out into the surrounding neighbourhoods, to Carnmoney by 5th June; then Ballycarry, onwards it flowed to Ballyeaston, Dundrod, Saintfield, Ballynahinch, Comber, Banbridge and Newry.
After the end of June it was impossible to keep accurate track of its continuing progress. Onwards it went through the counties of Tyrone, Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan. One of the last counties this Revival blessing reached was County Armagh but by no means the least.
Traces of the Revival are to be found in Silgo and Mayo and as far south as Tipperary. In Dublin the Presbyterian Presbytery set aside 14th September as a day of special prayer and humiliation to seek God for its onward flow. Their record of the Presbytery meeting explains the reasoning:
1. This too is in keeping with the Scriptural pattern. The great work that took place in the days of Hezekiah was marked by its suddenness, cf. 2 Chronicles 29:36 And Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, that God had prepared the people: for the thing was done suddenly. This same characteristic is attributed to the movings of God on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:2: And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. Paul's conversion was sudden; Acts 9:3: And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven. God's moving in Philippi was equalled described as sudden, Acts 16:26: And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.
God's works in an orderly fashion but He also works suddenly and unexpectantly.
2. Suddenness was certainly a feature of the 1859 Revival. To illustrate this point I want to take one example explaining how it arrived in the town of Coleraine in County Londonderry. The records reads:
This was repeated throughout the Province as the Revival arrived in one location after another. God works suddenly and mightily.
1. When the Revival did come to a locality preaching was to the fore, as it should be. Preaching was an important part of the spread of the Revival. Whatever town or district the Revival came to great preaching meetings took place. Sometimes these were held in the open air because of the large crowds that attended.
More often than not converts from other places would come and address the crowds gathered. Jeremiah Meneely particularly became the great evangelist of the Revival. He was a truly great preacher who preached with great zeal.
2. Christ Jesus was the theme of their preaching. As you would imagine other converts also spoke as well. One account of the preaching at these meetings says:
3. This was how the Revival came to Belfast. It was the last weekend of May 1859. Four crowded meetings took place in St George's Street Presbyterian Church where the minister was Rev Tommy Toye, on the Friday and Saturday. These meetings were addressed by two converts from Kells who told of what the Lord had done for them. On that same Sunday some more converts from the Connor congregation were speaking in Linenhall Street Presbyterian Church and there began a remarkable week as the Lord came down in revival blessing upon the city of Belfast. Within days the Belfast Newsletter reported that evidence of the Revival was to be found everywhere.
May God be pleased to do so again!