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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Sunday, 26 January 2014

1859 Revival Series - No 5: The Impact 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:

Psalm 126 v 2,3  - the Lord hath done great things
In returning to our series commemorating the 150th anniversary of the 1859 Revival we are coming to consider the Impact that the Revival had.

It has to be confessed that it certainly had a mighty impact around the country. Wherever the Revival fires burned individuals and wider society did not remain the same. They were changed and changed for the better. As in this Psalm it was the confession of both saints and sinners that the Lord had done great things.

Spiritually the Revival made a tremendous impact. Socially and morally the Revival also made a significant impact. It may well be argued that the Revival had a major impact politically as well. It laid the foundation for the resistance of the Home Rule Bills which were initially pushed by William Gladstone, the British prime Minister. Charles Stewart Parnell had been campaigning for Home Rule for Ireland since the 1870s. The first Home Rule bill was introduced in April 1886. It became the cry of northern Protestants that Home Rule was Rome Rule and would not be tolerated.


As with the sermons on the other topic there is a limit what we can cover in one sermon. We are only able to deal with the major impacts that were made by the revival. Consider the impact of the 1859 Revival:

I. Marvellous Conversions
It is estimated that 100,000 souls were converted during the time of the 1859 Revival. That figure came from Rev Noel, who was a distinguished Baptist pastor, when he addressed the Evangelical Alliance Conference in 1859. When God begins to work remarkable things happen. The unexpected, and never expected, take place, like Saul of Tarsus being saved during the days of the early Church. None are too hard for the Lord. This is what need in our times. Among that 100,000 were many remarkable stories.

Carnmoney. Rev Joseph Barkley of Carnmoney wrote: Another remarkable case is that of a tradesman, who was regarded by all who knew him a few months before the Revival as a hopeless and irreclaimable drunkard. He seldom, if ever, went to a house of worship, but was to be found every Lord's Day, either in the taverns or staggering along the public highway, or lying in a ditch, dead drunk. He was led to attend a prayer meeting addressed by a layman, and was more disposed to mock than to profit by what he heard; but just as the speaker was about to close, he pointed to a tree hard by and said: That tree will testify at the day of judgment that salvation has been offered to you and you have willfully and wickedly rejected it. These words went like an arrow right into his soul, and never permitted him to rest day or night until he gave himself to Christ.

When he found peace he said to his aged mother, who had kept up family prayer: Mother, many a time you have prayed for me and I ran out of the house to get away from you and your prayers, but they are heard at last.

He is now a sober, steady Christian man, and may be seen every Lord's day in his house of worship, sitting at the feet of Jesus, and clothed in his right mind. No earthly inducement could now prevail upon him to enter a public house; and already the blessings and benefits of religion are manifest on his outer man and the exterior of his dwelling; for the money that formerly went into the till of the publicans is expended on the purchase of comfortable clothing and in making additions to his premises. Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?

Carrickfergus. Rev James Warwick records the case of an infidel. He is a man of upwards of thirty years of age, and had not been thirty times in God's house. He is one of some eight or ten persons who reside in the parish, and who frequently met together to discuss and propagate deistical views. He is a man of intelligence and had often read the Bible that he might be able to prove that one part of it contradicts the other. He ridiculed the idea of a revival, when it began first to be talked of. A few days previous to his conversion, as one of my elders and he were reasoning on the subject, he said: that if there were such a thing, and if it were so great a blessing, God would not lose it by sending it on Carrickfergus, so that this place would be passed over.

An evening or two afterwards, his servant girl attended one of my meetings. After she went home, she became affected and cried for mercy. A Christian friend in the neighbourhood went to pray with her, and direct her mind to Jesus. He knelt down to pray with her, and just when the prayer was being offered up, the sceptic who was present, was smitten with the arrow of conviction. He cried out: Oh cursed unbelief. He prayed for mercy and he found peace in that Saviour he had formerly slighted.

We want to see a work of God that brings about conversions like that.

II. The Reforming of Society
A tremendous change affected society as a result of this great awakening.

A new spirit of temperence prevailed. As mentioned before 'the whisky demon' ruined many lives. It was found at weddings and funerals, market days and fairs. It was the parent of many ills. For example the village of Connor had nine public houses, the town of Ballymena one hundred and twenty. The Revival brought a change for the better. The sales of alcohol significantly reduced as the result of the Revival. So much so that publicans went out of business.

In Connor two of the public houses were closed by the conversion of their owners. A third was forced out of business by a complete loss of trade. The total business done by the remaining 6 did not equal the trade of any single one before the Revival.

In Ballymena one of the publicans declared that no man could live by his trade any longer. At Coleraine on a market day it was confirmed that not a single glass of wisky was sold up to three o'clock. In Cookstown it was said that the market day resembled more a Sabbath than a market day.

Rev William Magill minister in Dundrod related an interesting story in this regard. He reported that one of the largest public houses in the district closed. The man later testified that even before the Revival came his heart was being troubled about the trade he engaged in. He could not reconcile his profession as a Christian with the trade he practiced. He dared not come to the Lord's Table. The Revival came to Dundrod and the man's heart was dealt with. He went to speak to Rev Magill to tell him he was going to close shop and ask what he should do - close immediately or wait and sell his stock? Rev Magilll give his opinion and the next morning every puncheon of whisky, every barrel of ale and beer, every bottle and glass and every article used in that wicked trade disappeared. In their place were barrels and bags of meal and flour and sides of bacon.

Immorality was dealt a blow. This was a companion with drunkenness in blighting society. Harlots were saved and society cleansed. From Ballymena, Coleraine, Newtownards and Belfast came reports of modern day Rahabs being brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Dr Hugh Hanna reported that many a sinful woman had come to sit at Jesus feet. A Rev Campbell stated: With regard to the social evil, some of the unfortunate women have come to my house imploring me to do something to take them off the streets. One woman of herself specified the revival as the cause; and a companion, a Roman Catholic, joined her in this. They are both of them so far reclaimed. I know of six others who have given up their unholy calling. I have been requested to go to a house where three young women of their class lived and when speaking to them of the Gospel, the tears have flowed down their cheeks.

Men and women living together out of wedlock were married while other undesirable associations of this kind were broken up.

Public decency increased. The impact of the Revival is clearly witnessed in the decline in the number of people appearing before the Magistrates. Dr Gibson reported figures: At the Quarter Sessions for County Antrim in Oct 1859 the number of prisoners presented for trial had halved. At the Ballymena quarter Sessions held in April 1860 not a single case of indictment is found upon the record. This pattern was observed wherever the Revival came. White gloves were given to the magistrates to mark the significance of the occasion when so few cases came for trial.

At the Quarter Sessions in Belfast in April 1860 the Assistant Barrister was reported to have said: Gentlemen of the grand jury of this division of the County Antrim, I have been enabled in the first two towns of the county in which I have held the Sessions to congratulate the grand jury upon having nothing to do. Gentlemen, I cannot exactly offer to you the same amount of congratulation, because you have three cases to try; but still I think we can congratulate ourselves on having such a small calendar, all of a trifling character.

Cock fighting ceased. This was a scourge on society and illustrates the debauched tendencies of the sinful heart. The Crea Rocks district on the road between Ballymena and Toome, about 2 miles out of Ahoghill, was notorious for cock fighting. Every year, on the day of the Ahoghill Old Fair, people came from near and far to indulge in this cruel sport. Card playing and drunkenness accompanied it.

It was decided by some of those involved in the Revival to hold an open-air service at Crea Rocks at the time of the fair. It began at 10:30 and lasted until 3pm. Rev David Adams was one who spoke and he took as his text: Matthew 26:75: And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.

It was estimated that 2,000 people had gathered and souls were visibly moved. So moved that it was the end of cock fighting at Crea Rocks. On the very site there was later erected a Mission Hall for the regular preaching of the Gospel.

Social peace and a higher standard of living. Rioting and disturbances in smaller towns were a frequent occurrence before the Revival. But under the influence of the Revival these disturbances passed out of existence and bigotry was severely curbed. Rev Hugh Hanna, a staunch Protestant, wrote: A new spirit animates the Protestant mind. Love has taken the place of rankling enmity, and although the Romanists do not reciprocate in the same spirit, they are quiescent from the utter absence of all provocation.

The remedy for similar modern day ills is still the same!

III. The Stirring of the Churches
One of the results of the impact of the Revival was that churches were overcrowded on Sundays. Dead formal ritualism was replaced by powerful direct preaching and fervent praise.

New congregations were formed. Connor Presbyterian Meeting House became too small to meet the needs of the congregation after the Revival. Only 1,000 could be accommodated and that was not enough for the 900 families who now claimed connection to the congregation. As a result Ballymena Presbytery received a deputation on 4th February 1873 from 'the intended New Congregation of Kells'.

Ballymena town and district saw two new congregations emerge, namely, West Church and 2nd Broughshane.

There were five new congregations commenced in Belfast, Great Victoria Street, Clifton Street, Duncairn, Elmwood and Belmont. Rev J H Moore of Connor became the first minister of the new Elmwood congregation. Dr Hugh Hanna had to build a new church at Carlisle Circus to accommodate the increase to his congregation.

Fifty year testimony. Time tests any work whether it is of God. Dr Gibson's book Year of Grace was republished fifty years after the Revival. At that time Rt. Hon. Thomas Sinclair listed some of the benefits that had evidently flowed from that Revival:
[1] An immediate accession to her professed membership reckoned to be many thousands. 
[2] A great increase of the sense of responsibility on the part of Church members in respect of active Christian work 
[3] An overflowing stream of candidates for the ministry, the high level of which lasted for many years; 
[4] A very considerable development of most necessary Church extension 
[5] A forward movement in missionary enterprise. 
[6] A generous loyalty to the local Church which helped to overcome the withdrawal of the Regium Donum.

The Belfast Newsletter had this to say about the Revival: That a genuine revival of religion, in the best sense of the phrase is afoot, all who have calmly examined for themselves admit. It has resulted in an enormously increased attendance at religious services, both on Sundays and weekdays; in a decrease in drunkenness and depravity of every kind; in a more serious feeling pervading the general community; in many special conversions of noted evil doers; in the conversion, also of numerous Roman Catholics; and if these results are to be approved, on what principle can the movement be condemned?

May the Lord be pleased to do it again!

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