The Year Of Grace: A History of The Ulster Revival of 1859 by The Rev. William Gibson

Excerpt taken from: CHAPTER XII.


The Bishop of the Diocese-His Interest in the Work-Original Communication from him-The Revival in Castlereagh-The Cripple Man-The Farmer’s Wife-” Remember Lot’s Wife”-Comber- Great Increase-Few Sudden Conversions-Bodily Health Improved-The Physical Manifestations-Answers to Special Prayer-Revival among Quarrymen-Killinchy-Statement of the Hon. and Rev. H. Ward -Newtownards – Previous State -The Work Begun-United Prayer meeting -The Schoolmaster turned Preacher-The Drunken Bellman-The Town Missionary-The Militia Serjeant-The Converted School girl-Other Cases-The Cry to her Father The Unbeliever in the Work-The First-fruit of the New Year.

I CANNOT more appropriately introduce the narrative of the revival movement in County Down than by inserting in this place a communication with which I have been favoured on the subject by the esteemed Bishop of the diocese, although part of his ecclesiastical domain lies in the County Antrim. It has been already mentioned that at an early period his lordship lent his countenance to the work, both by the sanction given to his clergy in their labours in connexion therewith, and by his presence at one of the first united meetings for prayer held in Belfast. His correspondence subsequently with Bishop M’Ilvaine, of Ohio, in the United States, exhibited his anxious desire to have the sustaining sympathy of those occupying an influential position in the Episcopal Church of America, who had been familiar with the history of revivals in that land ; while the prominent part he took at the Annual Conference of the Evangelical Alliance at a still later period, when he bore emphatic testimony to the reality and good effects of the revival sufficiently attested his appreciation of this great work of God. Knowing that in the course of the season he had directed a communication to be addressed to all the ministers in his diocese, making particular inquiry in relation to the several phases of the movement, and having had abundant experience of that courtesy and catholicity for which he is distinguished , I took the liberty of requesting of his lordship a brief statement of the result ; and, further, desiring his permission to avail myself in the present publication of his testimony. To the request he
was pleased to accede, in the following terms : –
February 13, 1860.

“MY DEAR SIR,-It affords me very great pleasure to comply with your request to furnish you with the result of some of the queries which I issued to my clergy in reference to the religious awakening, which, in the good providence of God, has visited this Province, making many a barren spot fruitful, and many a sorrowing heart glad.
“To my queries, I received from my clergy one hundred and six replies ; seventy-five of which bore the most gratifying testimony to the spiritual blessings which followed the ‘ revivals ‘ in their own parishes-such as the careless aroused, the impure made pure, the drunkard reformed, the prayerless prayerful, and every means of grace eagerly attended.
“I enclose you a copy of a few of the answers which I have received to two of my queries, shewing the nature of this won￾derful religious and moral reformation, and the truly spiritual character of this great work, as testified by faithful, zealous, and earnest clergymen in my dioceses ; and I feel satisfied that the evidence of the clergy of your own Church, which your high official position will enable you to procure, will fully corroborate the same. To their zealous labours, also, in this our day of ‘ great things,’ I would, in passing, pay the just tribute of sincere
I cannot conclude without mentioning the result of my late confirmations in Belfast, as it marks the deep impression and devotional feeling which the Spirit of the living God, moving
over this portion of our land, has kindled. The numbers con￾firmed annually by me in the parish of Belfast have averaged about two hundred and fifty, but last year it reached seven hundred and five, and never since I have administered that rite of my Church have I witnessed such solemnity of manner and deep feeling as was exhibited by all whom I then confirmed.
“And now, my dear Sir, may the word spoken by us all be blessed by God’s Holy Spirit to those among whom we minister, that, in the true revival of a sanctified life, they may become ‘ living epistles ‘ of Christ, ‘ known and read of all men.’-Believe me, with sincere respect, yours truly and faithfully,
“To the Rev. Professor Gibson,
Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. “
[ For the returns referred to in the above communication, see
Appendix D. ]

Castlereagh is a rural district not far distant from Belfast. It was visited by the awakening soon after its manifestation in the latter place. For six years previously there was a marked improvement in spiritual things ; and now that the revival has come, a great enlargement has been experienced, while no case of apostasy or backsliding is known.
The Rev. Dr Given supplies the following incidents :—

The Converted Cripple.-” Among the early cases of revival within the bounds of my congregation was a cripple man, who had been in the habit of visiting the various places to which his business led him, by means of a donkey-cart, though he could not be persuaded to use the same mode of conveyance to bring him to the house of God. Many a time as I met him by the way, or found him in his own house, I had endeavoured to prevail on him to attend public worship, but was usually met with the same stereotyped excuses, -his lameness, the awkwardness of the thing, the inconvenience it would cause himself, and the trouble it might occasion others. In vain did I labour to remove such pretexts, and urge on him the importance of making at least an equal effort to come to the sanctuary as to reach the place of business. He could attend to the perishing interests of the present passing world, while to the realities of a future and a better he remained utterly indifferent. Years of carelessness had rolled away. Conscience would sometimes trouble him, but he soon quieted it. The thought that God, in depriving him of the use of his limbs, had exonerated him from attendance on His service, would from time to time silence the still small voice within, and confirm him in his guilty neglect. At length he was apprehended of Christ, and arrested in his course. He had heard of the revival in the neighbouring county, and talked of it as a matter of news with others. He had been attending no religious meeting, hearing
no gospel sermon, nor listening to any stirring address ; but one night, on retiring to rest, the Spirit of God brought his sins very vividly before his mind, and putting the desire in his heart, and the words in his mouth, constrained him to cry aloud, and for some time continue to cry, ‘ Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.’ He remained under deep convictions of sin till the Sabbath following, when, to the amazement of neighbours
and acquaintances, he was seen approaching the house of God.
The sermon that day was blessed to him ; and that same Sabbath night, after much wrestling, earnest prayers, deep agony, and many tears, he obtained the peace that passeth understanding. Since then he has possessed new light, new life, new love, and not one Sabbath since have I missed him from his accustomed place in the house of God. Great has been his joy in believing ; his conduct and conversation also have been most consistent. He loses no opportunity of testifying for God, and
recommending to others the Saviour whom he himself has found.
As his change was a marvel to many at the time it occurred, so has his behaviour ever since been truly an ensample, and him- self a living epistle, seen and read of all. From Sabbath to Sabbath he is carried in and out of my church, without ever breathing an excuse, or hinting a difficulty, or uttering a complaint in regard to his infirmity, but grateful to the kind friends who are ever ready to attend to him ; and rejoicing in God his Saviour, he goes on his way, feeling by personal experience, and practically illustrating the truth, that wherever there is a will
to serve the Lord there is sure to be a way.

The Farmer’s Wife.–” A second case of much interest was that of a respectable woman, the wife of a farmer. Though not far distant from the church, and though often invited to attend, she could never make it convenient to do so. Light-hearted and thoughtless, she seemed an entire stranger to the value of the soul, the worth of salvation, and the importance of spiritual things. She had long ‘neglected the one thing needful, and greatly undervalued the things that belonged to her peace.
Her husband was careless as herself ; and so they lived without God, without Christ, and without hope in the world. She came in early summer to some of our open-air services, in all probability from no higher motive than mere curiosity at the first. Soon, however, her attention was fixed, the word spoken came with life and power to her soul, she was cut to the heart, and smitten to the earth under the mighty hand of God. From that time till the present Christ has been very precious to her soul, the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely in her estimation. She loves much, for much has been forgiven. Prayer is now her delight, praise her element ; while at the public worship of God, from which she is never absent, her earnest look and serious demeanour are observable even amid thoughtful fellow-worshippers. She has felt God’s love to be better than life, and from the overflowings of a truly thankful heart, she utters aloud His praise. Nowhere could you find a Christian more meek, docile, devout, and in all respects exemplary.

The Formalist.-“The third instance of the reviving grace of God, to which I would refer, is that of another female, but one altogether different from the former, one who had from early youth attended the house of God with regularity, and who had often partaken of the Supper of the Lord. Still she had only the form of godliness, and wanted the living power. She had never closed with Christ, though she had united herself to His people. She had often thought of death, and always with alarm .
The consideration of her latter end, which often forced itself upon her, filled her with terror. To her those words of Scripture literally applied- Through fear of death ‘ she had been ‘ all her life subject to bondage.’ At length deliverance came. It is a pleasant Sabbath morning in the month of August ; the sky is clear, the air balmy, and the fields waving with golden grain.
Little groups of worshippers are leisurely wending their way to the church that crowns the neighbouring hill,’ and the individual referred to is among them. What from the mildness of the weather, the scenery around, the companions by the way, her heart was lighter, and her thoughts more cheerful than usual.
Arrived in the sanctuary, there was nothing that interested her more than on other occasions, till the announcement of the text. It was contained in the words, ‘ Remember Lot’s wife, ‘ and chosen as the groundwork of remarks which I deemed suitable to be addressed to the many in connexion with my congregation, who, I knew, had been recently the subjects of a saving change, and whom I was anxious to warn against looking back after having put their hand to the plough, or turning back to the old ways of sin and death. The text at once riveted her attention, and as the sermon proceeded, her memory reverted to
the sins and faults of youth, the inconsistencies of riper years, the hollowness of outward profession without inward principle or corresponding practice. A burden pressed sore upon her heart. Tears flowed copiously, and, mingled with big drops of perspiration, wetted the shawl that lay around her shoulders.
She felt extremely weak, but, anxious to escape observation, made an effort to get out of the church. She had only succeeded in leaving the pew when I observed her face become deadly pale, and she sank apparently unconscious in the aisle. It was no fainting fit, as she has positively and repeatedly assured me since. At the close of the service, and during prayer with her, she thought she saw the Saviour, clothed in a white garment reaching down to the feet, approach her.
Be that as it may,whether it was fancy or fact, one thing is certain, she has found the Lord, the fear of death has been removed, the Word of God is understood and appreciated by her as it had never been before. Her life, at the same time, as far as I have been able to judge, is in perfect harmony with the change. “

The neighbourhood of Comber was the very earliest visited by the revival in the county in which it is situated. For about fourteen years previously, meetings had been held for the purpose of seeking a revival of religion, and when the Spirit at length came upon the people, it was with wondrous power.
Hundreds were awakened and savingly turned to God. “We have had,” says the Rev. J. M. Killen, “ no very sudden conversions amongst us. True, those under conviction in the course of an hour or two generally got relief, which at first some were wont to mistake for true peace in Christ, but they mostly soon found out their mistake ; and I had at a very early stage of the work to warn them against being satisfied with
anything short of Christ himself, and to urge them to make sure, first of all, of Him, and that then He would give them pardon, peace, and all other blessings they might require. The consequence has been, that those awakened have not generally found true peace in less than a week. Many have been several weeks under conviction before they could say that they were truly converted, and some, though greatly changed in life and conversation, will not yet venture to say that they have found the Lord. The truth is, that for the most part they appear to
be very jealous of themselves, and to be afraid of deceiving themselves ; and the consequence has been, that the work, when
effected, appears to be of a very thorough and decided character, and I am happy to state, that from what I am daily witnessing, I believe that the converts, as a body, are growing very rapidly in humility, and in the other graces of the Christian character.
“In not a few cases the bodily health has been greatly improved, as well as the soul saved. One woman, who was almost blind, has had her eyesight restored to her, and can now read the Bible, which she was unable to do for ten years before.
Two others that were almost always confined to bed for years, are now quite convalescent in body, and rejoicing in spirit. A boy remarkable for stammering can now speak quite well : and…………………..

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