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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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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

1859 Revival series - No 4: The Features of the 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

Previous posts:

Acts 2:41-47: Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

Once again we are returning to consider some aspects of the 1859 Revival. We have already thought about the Need the Revival; the Origin of the Revival and the Spread of the Revival

This evening we want to consider the Features of the Revival. Rev William Gibson, who wrote a history of the Revival, which was published in 1860, said:
It is interesting to observe the marked coincidence between its leading features and those which characterised the working of the Holy Spirit in Apostolic times. Any work that claims to be of God must be measured up against the word of God to see whether it matches up with that which we already know to characterise God at work

Without further introduction we want to consider these features:
I. The Rise of Impassioned Prayer Meetings 
We have already noted the place that prayer had in the lead up to the Revival with the 100+ prayer meetings a week in the Connor congregation. When the Revival came prayer did not wane, rather it mightily increased. 

This is in keeping with what we observe in the New Testament Church. Great prayer meetings were the feature of that mighty move of the Holy Spirit, Acts 1:14: These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. This is prior to the day of Pentecost. 

Prayer continued after the day of Pentecost,  Acts 2:42: And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers; Acts 4:24: And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is; Acts 12:5: Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. Prayer is always a prominent feature of Revival

This was observed in 1859 Revival. Many prayer meetings sprang up all over the countryside. An eyewitness give three characteristics of the impassioned prayer that was offered during the Revival - [1] Fervency [2] Fluency [3] Frequency. This was what that eyewitness had to say: 
Fervency - which I may call the 'power of prayer' thaws the icy heart, breaks up the seared conscience, dispels doubts and annihilates scepticism and indifference. 
Fluency - I have sat confounded, humbled to the dust in the presence of these supplicants. In fact, the productions are quite beyond the powers of the human mind, whether renewed or unrenewed in its ordinary state. 
Frequency - some converts literally 'pray always' in the house and by the way - in solitude and in society. Some awake during the night in tears and in urgent prayer

After the Revival had reached Belfast there were weekly gatherings for prayer in the Music Hall. One of the greatest gatherings that took place was in the Botanic gardens in Belfast was on 25th June 1859. It was reckoned that between 35,000 - 40,000 people came from all over the country. The meeting was called as a great united prayer meeting. It was led by Rev John Johnston, moderator of the General Assembly. Here is what he said at the commencement of the day: 
Let us not give occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme by any levity, trifling or impropriety, unbecoming this occasion, let us set the Lord God before us and so realise His awful presence in this place, that good may be done and God may be glorified. We are especially met to do homage to the Holy Ghost, whose convincing and converting power has been so strikingly manifested amongst us for these several months; and let us not resist the Holy Spirit, nor grieve Him, but ask unanimously, earnestly and expectingly, that He will descend upon us on this day and He did on the day of Pentecost, in answer to the many prayers offered up, and to be offered, and that many sons and daughters may this day be born to the Lord Almighty
There sprang up as many as 20 separate meetings and it lasted for 4 hours. 

This praying was marked by intense pleading for souls. Rev S. J. Moore observed: 
I have fequently observed that immediately on securing, as they feel, safety in the Saviour for themselves, and in their deep and glowing gratitude, have ascribed to Him all the glory of their deliverance, they begin to plead with Jesus for poor sinners, that they too may come and enjoy salvation and glorify Christ

Fervent praying always precedes and accompanies anything that God does among His people. 

II. The Spread of Great Consternation over Sin 
In the days after Pentecost we read of 'great fear' coming upon the people, Acts 2:43; 5:5,11. They began as the Psalmist says: to stand in awe of God. This fear came both upon the members of the church, who were careful with their words and actions, and cautious and circumspect in their lives and conversations. It affected those who were without. It made them fearful of speaking against the disciples, or mocking at them, or of joining themselves to them, without being thoroughly satisfied that they should, and had a right, and were fit for do so. 

An overwhelming awareness of God and His holiness came down upon the people in 1859. The fear of God gripped the hearts and minds of many individuals. So much so that the 1859 Revival became known for its physical prostrations. These had been seen in other great awakenings. Jonathan Edwards wrote of similar events in 1741 awakening that came to New England. These physical prostrations were discouraged by the men involved in the Revival. It was not something they were seeking or put great importance upon. So unlike the Toronto Blessing, etc. 

However, great controversy raged around these 'strikings down' as they were called. As you can imagine the enemies of this work soon latched unto these happenings. 

Along with this awareness of God's holiness came a deep awareness of sin. Subjects of this conviction were of all ages, the young and the old alike were smitten. The majority however were young. Men and women cried out in despair over their sins. S. J. Moore said: 
Usually the bodily distress and mental anguish continue till some degree of confidence in Christ is found. Then the look, the tone, the gestures instantly change. The aspect of anguish and despair is changed for that of gratitude and triumph and adoration. 
The language and the looks and terrible struggles and the loud desperate deprecations, tell convincingly, as the parties themselves afterwards declare, that they are in deadly conflict with the old serpent. There is no appetite for food; many will eat nothing for a number of days. They do not sleep, though they may lie down with their eyes shut

This led to increased holiness of life among the saved. S. J. Moore said: I have seen persons again and again thrown into distress almost as great as in their first conviction by the discovery of some sin committed by themselves, and even by witnessing great wickedness in others; and for hours they will remain in great weakness of body and in bitter weeping, not through fear of condemnation, but for the injury, the wrong done, the pain given to Jesus - the holy, the tender, the sensitive One - the beloved, the adored of their souls. They knew that Jesus would forgive them, but they cannot forgive themselves

God's people realised the important of holiness in their lives. Something that is lacking today. It can only be recovered by a consciousness of the holiness of God. That can only come about by an working of the Holy Spirit. 

This led to deep agony among the unsaved. One example is given of what Happened in Berry Street Church: 
Suddenly a strong, powerful man raised in the midst a loud and bitter cry, and fell down. He was carried speedily out of doors. … Indeed as he lay helpless on the ground, extended on his back, and the people gathered, around someone remarked that he was quite conscious.… This was a remarkable case. It was not that of one who had been of profligate habits He had been for some years a recognised member of a Christian Church, and a teacher in the Sabbath School. But he had been led to a deep and awful conviction that he had been a formalist and a self-deceiver

Dr Gibson noted four stages in these physical prostrations:
[1] The first stage was characterised by 'an awful apprehension of impending evil, a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation'; 
[2] In the second stage there was 'a transition from the deep depression before experienced to a calmer state of feeling and some object stood before the view'; 
[3] The third stage was 'that of sensible relief, a lightsome and liberated feeling, of which the chief ingredient was the assurance of forgiveness'; 
[4] The fourth and final stage was 'the langour and exhaustion which was the natural reaction from the intense excitement by which the frame had been agitated and by reason of which strong and stalwart men were for days unfitted for any manner of work'

In some cases this went on for hours and days. Again Rev S. J. Moore is on record saying: One person I have seen quite speechless about three hours one occasion and six hours on another occasion. Yesterday I saw a girl recover from being dumb exactly twenty-four hours. Today I visited a third party, who had been entirely dumb these last twenty days

III. The Sound of Passionate Preaching 
Passionate preaching marked the days of the early church. We had Peter on the day of Pentecost itself. The sound of preaching was to be heard in the homes where they met for worship. Those who were converted continued in the Apostles' doctrine, Acts 2:42

The Revival was not about great preachers or evangelists or personalities. That is not to say there was no great preaching. You can have great preaching without great preachers. The Revival was marked by the sound of passionate preaching. 

The preaching was characterised by the great issues affecting the human soul. One visitor quoted in the London Morning Advertiser remarked that the preaching was marked by great simplicity: 
The doctrines dealt with were the universal inherent depravity of human nature, the fearful enormity of sin in general, the aggravations of each individual's guilt, the consequent peril to which all are exposed, and the absolute certainty of utter and irretrievable ruin if they do not repent and believe the Gospel. And while the lost condition of all is thus pointed out with great plainness, but with all earnestness and unction of men who are profoundly impressed with the terrible importance of the message they are called to deliver; a full free and finished salvation for all, even the guiltiest of the guilty, is pressed on the acceptance of the crowds who assemble

The preaching pressed for a response from the hearers. Passionate preaching became personal preaching and personal preaching looked for a response. An immediate response to the preaching of the Gospel was encouraged and the danger of delay was clearly set forth. A maid in answer to a question as to what led her to accept Christ at a Gospel service said: It the 'me' and the 'now'. In other words it was personal preaching calling for an immediate response. 

Since the soul's danger was real and vivid it is only expected that the exhortations and invitations broke through the conventions of those days and took a new and unexpected turn. 

IV. The Increase of Spiritual Perception 
Those in the New Testament Church who were converted continued daily with one accord, Acts 2:46,47

This was also a marked feature of the 1859 Revival. Converts wanted the company of converts and spent considerable time singing, praying and studying the Scriptures. 

Another fascinating feature is that the quickening of the memory of those who came under the influence of the Revival. It was said: Sins long forgotten are remembered with the freshness of yesterday. Religious instruction and divine promises and other passages of the Word, which may have been read or heard in youth but which were never committed and which in earlier or latter years could have been only half spelled, half read, are recollected and repeated with a vigour and an accuracy, and a fluency and a suitableness altogether astonishing

These holy enjoyments were occasionally interrupted apparently by some hostile agency. Rev S. J. Moore is on record as saying: Then the countenance wears and angry aspect; the hands are energetically moved, as if to motion the intruder away; and these or such words are uttered: No I won't - I won't go with you - away, away!

Such were some of the features of the 1859 Revival.

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