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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Monday, 10 February 2014

1859 Revival Series - No 6: The Heritage 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 16:6: The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.
The last subject we want to consider in remembering the mighty moving of God in 1859 is that of the Heritage or the Legacy of the Revival. Any work which is really of God will stand the test of time. If the Revival was all of the flesh, and not of God, then it would disappear as darkness does before the rising sun.

I believe we can see many evidences that the Revival was indeed of God and that its effects did last. No work of God continues for ever. God moves at a particular time and revives His cause and over time the decline sets in once again and there is need for the Lord to revive once again. That is why we read of the Psalmist praying: Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee? Psalm 85:6.

One generation cannot hand on revival blessing to another. Each generation must pray through and prove God for themselves. What is passed on are something of the benefits which have been received from the Lord's gracious hand. A parent may pass on to their children part of an inheritance that they have come into themselves. It is thus in the spiritual realm. There are some outward benefits which the generations coming afterwards received from those who witnessed the mighty outpouring of God that took place in 1859. Consider:

I. The Heritage of Evangelical Religion.
Like the Psalmist, in this text, those succeeding generations in Ulster can say the lines have fallen unto us in pleasant places. Yea, we in Ulster do have a goodly heritage.

Northern Ireland has had a great heritage of gospel witness and gospel preaching down through these past 150 years. There has been an adherence to old fashioned Christianity, and to Biblical Protestantism. This has been evident in the proportion of born again believers there have been, and presently are, within the population; the Bible based morality that greatly existed and the public morals that has underpined life in this province for many years.

It is very true that there have been times when this heritage was not as vibrant and pure as it should have been. We certainly must confess that presently; things not what we would desire them to be. This is why we pray for revival in our days. Nevertheless we cannot deny the fact that this heritage has existed. We rejoice in it and thank the Lord continually for His mercies towards us.

In no small part this gospel heritage is due to what took place 150 years ago in this Province. The renewed emphasis upon prayer; conversion to Christ and holiness of life that came with the Revival fueled the evangelical religion that has been a feature of this Province. It has often been described as the last bastion of Protestantism in Europe.

Why have we not gone the way of other parts of Europe and the United Kingdom before now? In a great measure it was because of the heritage of that mighty awakening 150 years ago and subsequent movings of God since then, such as in the days of W P Nicholson in the 1920s. We ought to be thankful that we were born into a land where there has been so much gospel preaching. We could have been born somewhere where there was not a fraction of gospel witnessing.

II. The Resistance to Home Rule
The heritage of the Revival is to be observed in the political developments of the second half of the 19th and early part of the 20th century. The 1859 Revival most definitely laid the foundation for the resistance that developed against the four Home Rule Bills. which were initially pushed by William Gladstone, the British Prime Minister. Our Protestant, evangelical forefathers believed that these Home Rule Bills were going to have a spiritual implication. The political world that we live in is not some sort of neutral sphere upon which the Bible has nothing to say and where Bible principles are never to be applied. The Scriptures have a great deal to say about political life. It used to be one of the points of criticism by the opponents of the Free Presbyterian Church!

Charles Stewart Parnell began campaigning for Home Rule in Ireland in the 1870s. The first Home Rule bill was introduced by William Gladstone in April 1886. Upon the announcement of the proposed Bill, a special meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland was called, at which resolutions were unanimously passed denouncing, in the strongest manner, the prospect of a separate Parliament for Ireland and a weakening of the link with Great Britain. The following year, in June 1887, at the regular General Assembly meeting the subject was revisited and once again the resolutions were passed opposing Home Rule.

Three further Home Bills were introduced, 1894, 1914, 1920.

Ulster's strong resistance. The original Ulster Volunteers were formed by Edward Carson and James Craig, as the tensions mounted at the potential success of the third Home Rule Bill. At the start of 1912 Unionists and members of the Orange Order started drilling. On 9th April 1912, Easter Tuesday, Edward Carson and Conservative leader, Andrew Bonar Law, reviewed 100,000 Ulster Volunteers marching in columns in Belfast. On 28th September 1912, 237,368 men signed the Ulster Covenant pledging to use all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland. These men were supported by 234,046 women who signed what was known as the Ulster Declaration.

The setting up of Northern Ireland. The strong resistance to the final Home Rule Bill brought about the concession that the northern counties in Ireland would be permitted to set up their own Parliament. This was done primarily because of the religious implications of what was otherwise proposed. This spirit of resistance came about because of the belief that Home Rule for Ireland was Rome Rule and would not be tolerated, no matter what the price.

This belief owed a great deal to the influence of the 1859 Revival on Ulster Protestants and the new, fervent, evangelical mindset that it brought to the people of Ulster.

III. The commencement of the Brethren Movement in Ulster
The early 1800s saw the development of what we now call the 'Brethren Movement'. In 1827 the first Brethren meetings took place in Dublin and the work soon spread to England.

These type of meetings were commenced by those desirous of distancing themselves from the divisions between the established Church and the dissenters. People in this new movement wanted simply to meet together in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, without reference to denominational differences or names.

The first English assembly was commenced in Plymouth in 1831 and thus developed the name 'Plymouth Brethren'. The movement was organised primarily by George Wigram, Benjamin Wills Newton and John Nelson Darby. The movement soon spread throughout the UK. By 1845, the assembly in Plymouth had over 1,000 members in fellowship.

Growth in Ireland. In Ireland the early growth of Brethrenism was inspired by A. N. Groves, J. N. Darby, and Edward Cronin. This new development was given a much needed boost by the Ulster Revival of 1859. Thereafter Brethrenism's greatest strength lay in the north of Ireland.

A dissenting view on baptism. Jeremiah [Jerry] Meneely, one of the original prayer warriors in Kells, became convinced that the only fit subjects for baptism were believers and that the only proper mode of baptism was immersion. He was consequently baptised by immersion in Lough Neagh, near the town of Antrim, not far from where the Revival commenced. A number of other converts from Kells were also 'led' to be baptised in this way.

Brethren meetings in Ulster. These immersed believers met each Lord's Day during 1859 in a cottage in the district of Fernisky to 'break bread', as they called it. Later on a place was sought to accommodate the growing numbers. A dwelling house in the district of Ballymacvea was purchased, outside the village of Kells. This dwelling house was fitted out as a hall and in 1860 was opened for the Sunday morning 'breaking of bread' and a gospel service at night. Later on it was enlarged to accommodate a Sunday School. Thus began the first Brethren meetings in Ulster.

This hall at Ballymacvea subsequently became known as 'Jerry's Hall' after Jerry Meneely who was looked upon as the leader of the believers who first worshipped in the hall. Jerry Meneely had become the great evangelist of the Revival. He was a truly great preacher, renowned for speaking with great zeal. He was used of God to carry the gospel throughout the towns and villages of Ulster, into the whole of Ireland and across the sea to Great Britain. He was called home on 24th March 1917 and was buried close to the little schoolhouse in Kells.

Rev. John G. McVicker joining the Brethren Movement. John McVicker was the minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Cullybackey and was converted in his own pulpit during the Revival. He subsequently developed Baptist tendencies and left the Reformed Presbyterian body and built the Baptist Church in Hill Street, Ballymena, where Pastor Paisley later went to be the minister. Rev McVicker later left the Baptists and became a member of the Brethren Assemblies, and was responsible for the erection of the Wellington Street Gospel Hall in Ballymena. Such were the beginnings of Brethrenism in Ulster and their connection to the 1859 Revival.

IV. The belief that God is able to revive again
There is one other heritage that is associated with the Revival. It is that of the spirit of prayer for God to revive His work again. This desire for revival has often been fueled by remembering what God did in this Province in 1859. 

There is always need for God to send Revival. Sadly as the years pass decline sets in. The zeal and fervency of former times lessens. Worse still outright departure from God takes place. When we pray for Revival we are acknowledging that these things have taken place. That is not popular among some Christians today. Many want revival but they are not willing to admit that departure from God has taken place that necessitates this revival.

God's answer to dark days like those we live in is revival. We still live in days when it is possible for God to revive. We are not like the Dispensationalists who say that we are in a dispensation when it is not possible for God to revive. This is plain wrong. These are the days of God's Spirit. It is the Spirit's work to send revival.

The memory of God working in 1859 had often encouraged God's people to pray that He would do so again. The word 'again' in Psalm 85:6 has considerable importance in this Province. How often has it happened, and not only this anniversary year, that God's people have prayed for revival and mentioned what God did 150 years ago as an encouragement to believe that God is able and willing to do so?

This is one of the purposes God has in recording His mighty acts of the past in the Scriptures. We are to take heart, be encouraged and pray that He might do it again.

The need of revival. In closing this message, and this series, I want each one of us to seek to pray more than ever for revival. We desperately need revival in our days, for the good of ourselves, our families, the Church of Jesus Christ and society at large. Pray that God, in His infinite mercy, would revive us personally and revive each believer in this congregation and that the overflow will reach out into this neighbourhood. May our prayer be: Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee? Psalm 85:6.

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