A pastor said the other day, a sure sign that people are falling away from true faith is that Christian books aren’t selling very much. I thought to start with that this was a comment with a vested interest – a commercialised comment on spiritual life. But it has to be said, when you study revival history, that God raises up certain individuals who he uses. And often, although the initial spark has come directly from the Holy Spirit into their hearts – sometimes from others (I think of Suzanna Wesley’s extraordinary and unparalleled personal devotion as an inspiration to John and Charles Wesley) – it is often key writings that have fanned the sparks into leaping flames, and driven ministers to become flames of fire.
Jesus Culture’s song: “We are the burning ones, we are consumed by you…Let our lives be like a fire, let our love be like a flame” often springs into my mind. Also the words of Wesley’s hymn: “Kindle a flame of sacred love on the mean altar of my heart.” As it says in Leviticus, the fire has to KEEP burning in our hearts. Those who read Matthew’s comment on my ‘Which revival to cover’ will see that he mentioned the brevity of the Welsh Revival. Nonetheless, Evan Roberts continued in prayer ministry for the rest of his life. At a much lesser rate, it is true, but that flame did keep burning away, and sometimes still in power.
The ’59’ revival in Ulster had some similarities to the Hebridean revival in the twentieth century; a small group of devout believers persisting in gathering together. According to Ian R. K. Paisley, James McQuilkin had been much inspired by George Muller’s ‘Life of Trust’, and also ‘the Life of McCheyne’ and Finney’s ‘Lectures on Revival’ had been influential. I wrote my first post on an earlier blog on the importance of Finney. It seems that molten soul after molten soul (to steal Ravenhill’s description of David Brainerd) has taken Finney’s Lectures down and been set alight by them, for example Keith Green in the late 1970’s. What a shame that a near revival there was quenched by Bible college authorities. If you have not read No Compromise, his wife’s biography of him after his tragic death, then you have a treat in store.
Let me give you a bit of narrative from Paisley’s account. Jeremiah Meneely is quoted at length: “The prayer-meeting was started in the autumn of 1857 and continued for three months before there were any visible results. Two more men joined in the prayer meeting during that time. one was an old man named Marshall and the other a young man named Wassan. on New Year’s Day 1858 the first conversion took place as a result of the prayer meeting, but after that there were conversions every night. At the end of the year 1858 about fifty young men were taking part in the prayer meeting.
“Women were not allowed in the prayer meeting during the first year and after that they had a prayer meeting of their own. We had so much opposition and persecution to encounter that we did not think it advisable to allow women in the prayer meeting. The world would have said that the meetings were held only for the purpose of flirtation.
“We did not allow the unsaved in the prayer meeting. It was a fellowship meeting of Christians met for the one great object of praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon ourselves and upon the surrounding country. This was the one great object and burden of our prayers. We held right to the one thing and did not run off to anything else.”
“…As the revival tide rose the old school house was crowded out and the four original members of the prayer-meeting found themselves the leaders of a band of converts, who were eagerly sought after by many, who wanted to hear the great things God had done for them…Jeremiah…said he would preach if they all promised to pray. This promise was readily given and as readily fulfilled. The meeting was a tremendous success and many were brought to Christ. Describing the meeting afterwards, the preacher said, “I yelled, they prayed and God worked.”
100,000 were saved in the period of one year. Public houses were closed, orange parades did not happen, 5,000 people attended a daily prayer meeting in Londonderry and there were open-air meetings of upwards of 20,000 people. Edwin orr has said that this revival had the greatest impact on Ireland since Patrick had brought Christianity there.
Thomas Toye in Belfast said: “The congregations were so large, that the people were not only obliged to sit and stand in the aisles of the church, but, on some Sabbath evenings, I had individuals with me in the pulpit.”
There were also incidents of extreme repentance and grief over sin, for example in Ahoghill, Antrim: “A man, apparently about thirty years of age…suddenly fell upon his knees, and alarmed the entire neighbourhood by loud and desperate cries, expressive of the most appalling agony. His despairing shouts were such as might be expected from a man who felt himself suddenly attacked, and sinking under the repeated and deadly stabs of an assassin. People ran to the spot from all directions, expecting to find that an unfortunate sufferer had become the victim of some terrible accident. The man continued his cries for the space of about ten minutes, after which interval he became more composed; and, being in a very weak and agitated state, he was assisted by some friends to the house of a relative in Bridge Street. on passing down Linen Hall Street, he was repeatedly heard to exclaim, “Unclean! unclean! – Lord be merciful to me a sinner!’
I could quote extensively from this book, but my impressions of it are that God was doing extraordinary things and stirring people up in extraordinary ways. (A recent history of the Ulster revival is The Ulster Awakening) And the inescapable conclusion is that God will come down, and change peoples’ hearts, in response to fervent, consistent, urgent and earnest prayer. Are we up for it? Do you want to blaze in a revival for God? A quiet room, on your knees, and passion and tears. The world can change again – and we know it needs to!