An Ulster Revival Story


From A History of the Irish Presbyterians by William Thomas Latimer

“The year 1859 is remarkable in the history of the Irish Presbyterian Church for a great revival of religion. It began in the neighbourhood of Ballymena, and spread throughout all the districts where Protestantism is powerful. More than three-fourths of the Irish Presbyterian clergy rendered aid to the movement, and not one in ten offered it any active opposition. Vast crowds attended numerous evangelistic meetings; and, for the first time in the history of Ulster Presbyterianism, laymen became prominent as preachers.

“The rude appeals of uneducated labourers, who thought the thoughts and spake the words of those whom they addressed, moved the feelings of the multitude more than polished addresses from the clergy. Many were suddenly stricken down, and, crying aloud for mercy, had to be carried out of the meetings. But, whenever they were enabled to exercise faith, fear gave place to joy, and their feelings were often raised to the highest pitch of enthusiasm. These converts, in their turn, would sometimes, in a few days, become preachers themselves, and, by intense ardour, raise in the minds of others feelings similar to their own. Many ministers were completely carried away by the religious excitement which prevailed; and, on some occasions, a grave clergyman permitted an uneducated girl in her teens to address his people from the pulpit. In connection with these meetings, it is certain that many were brought from darkness to light, from the service of Satan to the service of Christ; but others, mistaking conviction for conversion, soon went back to the sins which they had professed to forsake.

“The amount of credulity and even superstition that was exhibited in connection with this movement is altogether astonishing. A pamphlet was issued by one Alexander McCann to prove that often the body of a stricken-down convert was “operated on” just as if a steel pen were “pricking the arm;” and that the affected parts would be covered with words and phrases clearly marked on the skin which ” no power on earth, nor all the soap and water in the universe could obliterate.” Many converts claimed to possess a supernatural power of interpreting Scripture, foretelling future events, and judging the spiritual condition of their neighbours. Even clergymen seem to have lost their heads. A Presbyterian minister in County Antrim, “Taking the hand of a prostrate and supposed-to-be insensible girl, said to her: ‘In the name of Jesus of Nazareth rise up and walk,’ and she did get up and walked.” A County Monaghan minister stated in a Belfast newspaper, that during a prayer-meeting in his church a dark cloud formed on the ceiling, and a number of forms bursted out. One was of human appearance, and it descended to a pew in which was a young woman rejoicing.* Many other miracles were reported by ministers, who had lost their heads in the excitement that prevailed.

“But while there was much unreasoning excitement and many delusions, it is certain that a great number who had previously lived in the service of Satan were enabled, with ” grief and hatred of sin, to turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after new obedience.” The Assembly of 1859 adopted resolutions expressing their thankfulness to God for having poured out His Spirit on so many of their congregations.

“This revival was the chief cause in producing two permanent results. It has tended to make our form of worship more emotional, and it has strengthened almost all the smaller sects of religious enthusiasts.

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“Our General Assembly has failed to grapple with the new conditions arising from this revival. It is true that many converts became Sabbath school teachers, and a few entered the ministry, but unfortunately a great number joined other denominations, and afterwards assailed Presbyterianism with all the animosity of apostates. We want an organization by which converts will be provided with work suitable for their talents, and their enthusiasm used as a power for good and a means of advancing the principles of Presbyterianism.”

(I would add that Presbyterianism is still wanting of the same)

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By Mike

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Let us think of Him perpetually. Let us put all our trust in Him. I have no doubt that we shall soon receive an abundance of His grace, with which we can do all things, and, without which we can do nothing but sin

— Brother Lawrence