Though the origin of a movement of God cannot be fixed by man, many attribute the beginnings of Ireland’s 1859 Ulster Revival to a humble prayer group of four Christians. These men dedicated themselves to pray for their own edification and the salvation of others around them. Once the revival was underway, over 10,000 converts were made in the first few weeks, and by the end of the year 100,000 converts were brought into churches.
One minister said of this time:
From contact with this ‘wonderful work of God,’ and being honoured to take some little part in carrying it on, my spirit has been literally overwhelmed with a sense of my own deep unworthiness, and yet that God should ‘count me worthy, putting me into the ministry’ at such a precious time of abounding mercy to perishing men; and I have felt that all earthly honours pale into insignificance when compared with the highest God could confer on man, being a ‘fellow-worker with God, and with His Christ.’ It were worth living ten thousand ages in obscurity and reproach to be permitted to creep forth at the expiration of that time, and engage in the glorious work of the last six months of 1859. (Source)
What follows is one particular Ulster Revival story told by William Gibson, in his work The Year of Grace (paragraphing added).
“Coleraine—Strange Excitement in a School-room
“There is one incident so striking in the commencement of the movement in Coleraine, that it cannot be omitted in any the most cursory statement on the subject. It is impossible to present it in a better form than has been done by Mr. Arthur, in one of his Tracts on the Revival, in these words. After narrating an impressive scene witnessed by one of his brethren, a Methodist minister in the town, he says:—
“Not far from the spot where this took place stands a large school, belonging to the corporation of London, or that body connected with it, known as the Irish Society, who are landlords of Coleraine, and of much property around. In it a boy was observed under deep impressions. The master, seeing that the little fellow was not fit to work, called him to him, and advised him to go home, and call upon the Lord in private. With him he sent an older boy, who had found peace the day before.
“On their way they saw an empty house, and went in there to pray together. The two schoolfellows continued in prayer in the empty house till he who was weary and heavy-laden felt his soul blessed with sacred peace. Rejoicing in this new and strange blessedness, the little fellow said, ‘I must go back and tell Mr. ____.’
“The boy, who, a little while ago, had been too sorrowful to do his work, soon entered the school with a beaming face, and, going up to the master, said, in his simple way, ‘O Mr. ____, I am so happy; I have the Lord Jesus in my heart.’ Strange words, in cold times! Natural words, when upon the simple and the young the Spirit is poured out, and they feel what is meant by ‘Christ in you the hope of glory,’ and utter it in the first terms that come!
“The attention of the whole school was attracted. Boy after boy silently slipped out of the room. After a while, the master stood upon something which enabled him to look over the wall of the playground. There he saw a number of his boys ranged round the wall on their knees in earnest prayer, every one apart. The scene overcame him.
“Presently he turned to the pupil who had already been a comforter to one schoolfellow, and said, ‘Do you think you can go and pray with these boys ?’ He went out, and, kneeling down among them, began to implore the Lord to forgive their sins, for the sake of Him who had borne them all upon the cross. Their silent grief soon broke into a bitter cry. As this reached the ears of the boys in the room, it seemed to pierce their hearts, as by one consent they cast themselves upon their knees, and began to cry for mercy.
“The girls’ school was above, and the cry no sooner penetrated to their room than, apparently well knowing what mourning it was, and hearing in it a call to themselves, they, too, fell upon their knees and wept. Strange disorder for schoolmaster and mistress to have to control!
“The united cry reached the adjoining streets. Every ear, prepared by the prevailing Spirit, at once interpreted it as the voice of those who look upon Him whom they have pierced, and mourn for Him. One and another of the neighbours came in, and at once cast themselves upon their knees and joined in the cry for mercy. These increased, and continued to increase, till first one room, then another, then a public office on the premises, in fact, every available spot, was filled with sinners seeking God. Clergymen of different denominations, and men of prayer, were sought, and they spent the day in pleading for the mourners;—sweetest of all the toils that this earth doth witness, when men, themselves enjoying heavenly peace, labour in intercession for those who are now, as they were once, broken-hearted by a sight of their sins, and striving to enter in at the strait gate, in order to walk in the narrow way!
“Thus passed hour after hour of that memorable day. Dinner was forgotten, tea was forgotten, and it was not till eleven o’clock at night that the school premises were freed from their unexpected guests.”
Here ends the account. May God do as much in our midst.
For more information about the 1859 Ulster Revival, this web page provides a brief, favorable history; and the next page of this post contains a Presbyterian historian’s view, which is a bit more skeptical.