THE YEAR OF GRACE :
A HISTORY OFTHE ULSTER REVIVAL OF 1859.
BYTHE REV. WILLIAM GIBSON,
PROFESSOR OF CHRISTIAN ETHICS, AND MODERATOR OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN IRELAND.
THE REVIVAL IN COUNTY DOWN
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: – “
THE PALACE, HOLYWOOD, BELFAST,
February 13, 1860.
COMMUNICATION FROM THE BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE
“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 wonderful 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 respect.
“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 confirmed 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, “
ROB. DOWN & CONNOR & DROMORE.
“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. ]
THE REVIVAL IN CASTLEREAGH.
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 a little girl, formerly noted for timidity and nervous weakness, is now fearless and strong.
“By this great revival, ministerial life has to a large extent become quite a new thing. It is now a continued joy, and, instead of being dispirited by the obduracy of sinners and the seeming barrenness of pastoral effort, we are now daily, I might almost say hourly, gathering in a great spiritual harvest, and are constantly rejoicing in the abounding communion of the saints.”
The following additional statement by Mr Killen, of date 6th April, presents several striking illustrations of the character and results of the awakening. They are simply specimens of similar ones which might be adduced:-
“And, first, with regard to the physical manifestations, I may mention that some of these were of a very violent, I might almost say awful character, comparable to nothing I have ever read of, save the demoniacal possessions in the New Testament. I have seen, for instance, four strong men quite unable to hold or restrain a young lad of about eighteen years of age ; and I have known parties of this type, after the paroxysm had ceased, left so weak for a little that life appeared to be almost extinct ; -reminding me of the individual mentioned in Mark ix, 26, of whom it is said, that when the unclean spirit ‘ cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him, he was as one dead ; insomuch that many said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up ; and he arose.’ So also, in the instances referred to, I have noticed that strength soon returned, accompanied by a spiritual and delightful calm, which was all the more striking when contrasted with the moral hurricane by which it had been preceded.
“And here, in reference to these prostration cases, I cannot help remarking, that I do not consider these as features of the revival greatly to be deplored, or as requiring anything like apology. I am satisfied, from what I have been continually witnessing for the last ten months, that they have not only been exceedingly useful in the way of arousing and arresting the attention of both the Church and the world, but I am convinced that they have also been greatly blessed to the parties affected. This is a view of the matter to which public attention has not as yet been sufficiently directed, and therefore I am the more anxious that it should be noticed, as I consider it a very important one. Am I asked, then, In what way have these prostrations, which so weakened the body, acted beneficially on the soul?—I reply, By compelling those so affected to suspend for a time their worldly avocations, and to withdraw for a little from the world. By being confined a few days to bed, they were shut out from the world and shut up with God. Jehovah, as it were, in this way drew them aside into the wilderness to talk with them for a time, and by being thus left alone with God, the work was deepened in their souls, a thorough spiritual revolution was accomplished, so that, when they again returned to the society of their fellows, they returned-like Saul of Tarsus, after his three days of blindness and seclusion-new creatures, the subjects of a marvellous and mighty transformation, testifying, by their very looks as well as by their lips, the great things which God had done for their souls. Now, had there been no prostrations, and consequently no weakenings of the body, the parties might, indeed, have been awakened, but as most of them belong to the working classes, who can ill afford to lose time, they would, if strength had permitted, have continued at their usual employments, and would consequently, when under convictions of sin, have had their minds distracted with worldly cares, been tempted by ungodly companions, and been quite unable to give their . thoughts entirely for a time to the matter of their soul’s salvation. But by being forced, through want of bodily strength, to retire for a little from the world and commune alone with God, the work was allowed to go on powerfully and unimpeded ; and to these days of deep, silent, solemn, and uninterrupted communing with their own hearts and with their God upon their beds, at the very commencement of their spiritual career, I attribute very much of that decision of character, devotedness of life, and elevated tone of ` piety which are so conspicuous in many of our converts.
“In illustration of the above remarks, allow me to adduce a single case. An elderly woman, the mother of a family, who had been a careless, cursing creature, and one greatly opposed to the revival, was, sometime after its commencement, suddenly and violently prostrated on her own kitchen floor. When I first saw her, she was rolling on the ground and writhing with agony. Her appearance was certainly the most satanic I ever beheld. The bystanders were overawed-all felt that influences more than human were at work. A medical man was sent for, but he fled at the sight, declaring that it was a case for a clergyman and not for a physician. The unhappy woman was evidently the subject of a great spiritual conflict. Her cries for about an hour were terrific. She declared that Satan and all the devils in hell were round about her. Gradually her shrieks subsided, and as the paroxysms wore off, she settled down into a sort of despairing calm. For days she continued weak in body and distressed in soul, but at length the light broke her bonds were loosed-she saw and embraced Christ-obtained peace–and was filled with a joy unspeakable and full of glory ; and she is now one of the finest specimens of Christian character and of a mother in Israel I have ever known distinguished by her strong faith, her ardent love, and her Christian meekness, her sweetness of temper, and an almost uninterrupted realisation of her Redeemer’s presence, combined with a very profound reverence for Messiah’s character, a strong desire to promote His glory, and a most extreme sensitiveness lest she should do anything to forfeit the enjoyment of His love. ‘O sir, ‘ said she lately to me, ‘ I am just watching how I lift and lay down my feet, lest I should offend Him.’
Answers to Special Prayer. ” I may now mention one or two cases illustrative of answer to prayer. Soon after the revival commenced here, a neighbouring clergyman called on me one Saturday, and requested that I and our converts would pray for the conversion of his two sons, boys of ten and twelve years of age. I assented, and next morning, at our prayer-meeting, I proposed to the converts that we should make the conversion of the minister’s sons a special topic of supplication every morning during that week. On the following Friday evening this minister came over to assist me at our usual evening service, and with tears of thankfulness declared that God had already converted one of his children and entreated us to continue our supplications for the other. We did so, and in about ten days afterwards the same minister wrote, informing me that his other son was also converted to the Lord.
“Another instance, illustrative of the same fact, is that of a poor man, advanced in life and unmarried, who was converted in our congregation at the beginning of the work. As soon as he had embraced the Lord himself, he became most anxious for the conversion of the family with whom he resided, and of his fellow-workmen in the mill where he was employed . But all these were most ungodly; and when they saw the change which had taken place in him, instead of rejoicing in his joy, they mocked, swore, sung impure songs, and did all they could to thwart and distress him. He saw that remonstrances were vain, and he resolved to pray for them. He did so, but for a time no answer came, and he was sorely discouraged. Still he resolved to continue his supplications on their behalf; and suddenly one day the men in the mill were astonished at cries proceeding from their homes, which were hard by. The business in the mill was suspended, and when the men rushed to their houses to see what caused those cries, they found their wives and daughters prostrated under strong convictions, crying for mercy to the Lord. The hitherto despised convert was at once applied to, and, with a heart overflowing with gratitude, he led their supplications, and directed all to Christ. Soon the Lord vouchsafed His mercy; the weeping penitents became rejoicing converts, and wives and daughters were that day added to the Lord.
Scene in a Mill.- C. -‘s prayers were as yet, however, only partially answered. They were still to receive a more glorious fulfilment. Some days after the above occurrence, the mill had again to be stopped, but this time not because of the women, but the men. Husbands and brothers, whilst engaged at their work, were arrested, and smitten down whilst in the very act of attending the machinery. Some of the strongest men and greatest scoffers in the whole country fell powerless in a moment under the mighty and mysterious influence that was at work. Never had there been such a day in that establishment. Strong men might be seen prostrated and crying for mercy ; converted wives and daughters bent over them with tears of joy, whilst they returned thanks to God for the awakening of their husbands and brothers, and prayed that soon all might rejoice with one another as heirs together of the grace of life ; and such has been the case. Poor C- -‘s prayers have indeed been answered, for he has just been telling me that the seven souls in the house where he resides are now all converted, and that about nine-tenths of the workers in the mill have been visited by the Spirit of the Lord.
Revival among Quarrymen.-” My space, already wellnigh exhausted, will only allow me to give another instance of the power and prevalency of the revival in this district. About two miles from this, near the outskirts of the parish, there is a quarry which was formerly notorious for the wickedness of those who wrought in it. It was, in fact, an emporium for all sorts of vice ; but when our revival commenced in Comber, it was such a strange and unheard-of thing amongst these quarrymen, that they resolved, through curiosity, to come and see how it was that people were so mysteriously knocked down. They accordingly attended the nightly prayer-meetings in our congregation. Gradually a change crept over them . Drinking was diminished, swearing was given up, seriousness and anxiety prevailed. I was requested, as I could not go in the evening, to go and preach to them during working hours in the middle of the day. I did so. Immediately on my appearance all work was suspended ; and at the very busiest time master and men attended for upwards of two hours. Whilst under the open sky, in a sort of large amphitheatre, formed by the excavation of the quarry, and surrounded by the mountain’s rocky walls, I proclaimed to them the glorious gospel of the blessed God. Much good, I understand, was that day effected. Prayer- meetings amongst the men were immediately established. The occupier of the quarry and head of the whole establishment soon announced to his men that he himself was entirely changed, and declared that he had resolved to live henceforth only for Christ. A marvellous alteration was soon apparent ; and such has been the effect produced, that Mr D— , the head of the establishment referred to, told me last week, that out of ninety six families in his employment, upwards of ninety have now established family worship. ‘ Drunkenness,’ he said, ‘ has disappeared, and neither oath nor improper expression is now heard in that quarry. As for myself,’ continued Mr D , ‘ I now look upon myself as a mere steward, having nothing of my own, and bound by feelings, both of responsibility and gratitude, to live for God’s glory.’
“Such, my dear sir, are some of the effects of the revival in this quarter. I might mention more, and dwell especially on its having caused family worship to be very generally, I may say, almost universally, observed amongst the families of my charge; but your space forbids, and I must close. ”
A few miles from Comber is Killinchy, celebrated as the scene of the faithful labours of Livingstone, one of the early fathers of the Presbyterian Church. This parish, during the summer months, was largely visited by the reviving influence. The Hon. and Rev. Henry Ward, for thirty- five years revered as one of the most devoted ministers of the Establishment, and rector of the parish, co- operated throughout with the Rev. David Anderson, the Presbyterian minister, ” the labour being divided,” to use his own words, ” between the ministers of the two denominations, no distinction being made, and the hearts of all knit together in one holy bond of Christian fellowship.” From a letter, dated March 31 , 1860, addressed by him to the Bishop of Down, I am permitted by his Lordship to give the following statement with reference to the abiding results in that wide district :-
“I am happy to inform your Lordship that, from my own experience, as well as from the testimony of the Presbyterian minister with whom I have been associated, more particularly in the revival work, most satisfactory fruits have followed the wide-spread confession of sin and profession of repentance. which attended the ministrations of the gospel during last summer in this neighbourhood. We might reasonably have expected to hear of many cases of relapse, and in some quarters of a reaction, during the winter season, when all extra meetings had to a considerable extent been suspended, and all physical manifestations had disappeared; but nothing of the kind has reached our ears. The extreme vigilance and jealousy of some who have watched the progress of the work more closely, have led them to fear the stability of one or two who made a profession; but this only proves, that if any cases had occurred calculated to throw discredit on the work, it could not have escaped observation. Weekly prayer-meetings are very generally held over the whole parish, conducted by laymen of piety and discretion, and are very well attended, and daily family worship is continued in houses where, up to the revival movement, utter ungodliness prevailed.
“As soon as the weather improves, we purpose resuming our extra meetings upon a large scale, which the still unquenched desire on the part of the people for hearing the word renders necessary.
” In no part of the province, so far as I can learn, has there been a more genuine work of grace than in the town of Newtownards. The following statement in regard to it has been furnished by Mr M. Harbison, the intelligent teacher of the National School in that place, who has had much to do in connexion with the revival, although he refers to his own labours in such a modest way that it is sometimes difficult to identify them :-
State of Religion Previously.-” Before giving you an account of the work of the Lord here, it is necessary that I should tell you something regarding the state of the town previous to that blessed awakening. Our population is about twelve thousand, and we are supplied with four congregations in connexion with the General Assembly, two Covenanting, two Methodist, and one Established Church. There is also a congregation of Unitarians, and one of Roman Catholics. The attendance on all these did not amount to more than twelve hundred persons on an average, and of these a considerable number came from the country districts around. From statistics made out by our town missionary, (there has been one employed for the past three years, ) we came to the conclusion that fully one-half of the population of the town had not even a nominal connexion with any place of worship. You will see from this that religion was in a very low state among us, and you will not be surprised to hear that this town of twelve thousand inhabitants supported some seventy public- houses, and more than a dozen pawn-shops. Their necessary pendants, Sabbath desecration, intemperance, and immorality, were fearfully prevalent. It is right to state, however, that the town missionary, in conjunction with a few ‘ who sighed and cried for the abominations ‘ committed amongst us, established and sustained a number of prayer-meetings, which were conducted weekly in the poorer districts of the town.
“Such was the state of things about the 1st of May last. Sometime previous to this, the attention of many had been directed to the accounts of the marvellous work that the Lord was doing in Connor, Ahoghill, and other places in Antrim. A schoolmaster, a native of that district, went down to see for himself the wondrous things about which he had heard so much. The reality exceeded the fame, and he came back deeply convinced that the finger of God alone could produce what he had seen. He engaged two young men-one a teacher, and the other a Scripture-reader to come to Newtownards and give an account of what the Lord was doing around them. They came about a week after, and, before a considerable audience, gave a narrative of the wondrous scenes they had witnessed. Many seemed deeply impressed; others were sceptical, on account of the physical accompaniments. They wished for a revival but were not reconciled to the modus operandi of the Holy Spirit. I should state that, about a week before the arrival of the young men, a united prayer-meeting had been established on the Wednesday evening, which was to be continued weekly. It commenced in one of the Covenanting churches, and was attended by about two hundred persons. This number, though but small, was looked upon by every one as something marvellous. One of our most popular divines could hardly have drawn together such an audience on a weekday evening a month previous. This prayer-meeting was changed from house to house, until it had gone over all the evangelical churches in the town, the audience gradually increasing. Still, few but churchgoers attended. The vast outlying population had yet to be reached. The gospel was yet to be preached to the poor; the lost were yet to be sought and saved. For this purpose the Spirit used His own instruments; and, in order that He might have all the glory, they were weak ones.
The Schoolmaster turned Preacher. ” On the Lord’s- day after the visit of the young men, the schoolmaster, (Mr H., ) who had invited them, was much pressed in spirit by observing the Sabbath desecration which was so prevalent in the street in which he lived. It was a lovely evening, and the people were spending it standing idly at their door, talking about the world and the things thereof their children, meanwhile, playing noisily before their eyes. Both young and old seemed to have forgotten that their Creator had ever commanded them to keep His day holy. Mr H. went out about half-past six P.M., and called on a number of the people, inviting them to come to his schoolroom at seven o’clock, as he wished to talk and pray with them. Among others, he visited the bellman of the town, (J. K., ) notorious for his drunkenness and profligacy. Many of them promised to attend; but after waiting half-an- hour beyond the appointed time, only two children made their appearance! It suddenly occurred to Mr H., that if they would not come in to hear him, it was his duty to go out and speak to them ; and although unaccustomed to public speaking, and naturally of a timid disposition, he felt he was moved by an impulse which he could not resist. He went out to a place where two streets crossed, opened his Bible, and commenced to sing a psalm. The novelty of the preacher, who was well known to the people, drew together in a few minutes more than a hundred persons. Mr H. addressed them from the parable of the barren fig-tree, (Luke xiii. 6-9.) The speaker was helped wonderfully, and all seemed deeply impressed. One heart, at least, was opened to attend to the things that were spoken, that of the drunken bellman, who, to the surprise of all, was present. He did not cry out at the meeting, nor was he prostrated, but for some days after he could neither eat nor sleep. He was in darkness and in heaviness; a strange weight pressed upon his soul; a yearning for something, such as he had never felt before, occupied all his thoughts. A few evenings after, Mr H. asked him out to take a walk with him, and then he told him of the love of Jesus, and that He had died to save him. The man stopped and lifted up his hands in an ecstasy of joy. The darkness and the heaviness had vanished, and a flood of light, love, and peace, filled his soul. Ten months have since elapsed, but J. K. still continues steadfast. Although often tempted by his former wicked companions, he never since has entered a public house. Under his humble roof, which once resounded with oaths and imprecations, a family altar has been erected, upon which is daily offered that sacrifice which is never despised when presented by our great High Priest. Instead of abusing his wife and children, as was formerly the case, he is now a kind husband and father ; and whoever is absent from the church or the prayer-meeting, J. K. is sure to be in his place. Such, as far as known to us, are the first- fruits of the revival in Newtownards.
The Work Spreads.-” The open-air meeting, so auspiciously begun, was continued from Sabbath to Sabbath in the same place. The attendance rapidly increased, until, instead of hundreds, thousands were present. About three weeks after it commenced, the Scripture-reader before mentioned had been appointed to the situation of town missionary. He was asked to address this meeting. As he had come from the district where the revival had made most progress, and as his labours had been greatly blessed, there was much anxiety to hear him, and the meeting was a large one. A young woman, whose clothing was so deficient that she could not go out to the street, heard him from the window. The Spirit carried the word in power to her heart, and she was deeply convinced of sin. She rose from her seat, got down on her knees beside her loom- for she was a weaver-and cried, in the most heartrending tones, God be merciful to me a sinner ; ‘ ‘ Lord, save me.’ She remained in this position for the greater part of the night. The house was crowded with anxious faces. Sin and salvation seemed to be the all- pervading subjects of thought with every one present. How to escape the one and obtain the other, was the inquiry of many hearts. One man present—a soldier, and a Unitarian—was observed with the tears trickling down his cheeks. The work had now fairly commenced, and during the week it spread rapidly. A considerable number of similar cases of awakening occurred in almost every street in the town. Among others, a number of prostitutes were convinced of sin, and were heard crying for mercy. The public excitement was great. Every face wore an expression of awe. In thousands of hearts, and on hundreds of lips, was the question, ‘ What must I do to be saved ? ‘ On Wednesday evening, the largest church in the town was crowded, ground- floor and gallery, pews and aisles. Hundreds could not get admission, and would not go away. The lawn in front of the church was densely filled ; some one in the crowd gave out a psalm ; and prayer and praise ascended to the throne of God, from the outside as well as from the inside of the church. More than four thousand persons must have been present at that prayer-meeting.
The Street Meetings.—“ An incident worthy of note occurred about this time. On a Monday morning, some of the very persons who had been invited a few weeks previously to attend the prayer-meeting in the schoolroom, but did not, called and asked the master to conduct a meeting in the street, as the people were thirsting for the word. The missionary complied with their request, and it seemed as if nearly all the people residing in that street were present.
” It was found that one meeting in the week was not enough, so, in addition, almost every church in the town was opened for prayer, every evening in some cases, and two or three in the week in others. Besides all these, street- meetings became numerous, and were everywhere well attended. In order to secure an audience at any time, all that was necessary was to go into the street and commence to sing a psalm, and nearly all the people within view would be present in five minutes. The effect upon the entire community was very observable. Drinking was almost entirely given up, drunkenness almost unknown. Streets and lanes formerly thronged at certain hours of the night by strange women and their associates, were deserted. In passing through districts where the ‘ noisy laughter of the fool,’ or the impure language of the profane was wont to be heard, the voice of psalms caught the ear in all directions. The 12th of July, the anniversary of Satan as well as of the Orangemen, came and went, and left no trace behind. ‘Not a drum was heard,’ not an arch was erected, not a shot was fired. The prayer-meetings took place as usual-were thronged as usual.
“Not only was the influence of the revival felt in the assembling of the people for united prayer, but also in the regular meetings of the churches, which were filled to overflowing. Sitting room could hardly be obtained, and in most instances the aisles were crowded. The vacant pews were speedily, let, and in some churches many applicants could not be accommodated. The communion-roll, also, in some instances, was doubled-in all, largely increased ; while the candidate class was never so numerous in the recollection of aged ministers. Young men and women, formerly careless and giddy, might be seen, with anxious faces, listening greedily to the tale of that dying love which it was their desire for the first time to commemorate. ” The sale of religious tracts and books, but especially of Bibles, was greatly increased. Parcel after parcel was obtained from Belfast, hundreds of copies were sold, and hundreds were given gratis to those who were unable to purchase. A society also was organised for the purpose of leaving a tract monthly in every house in the town.
The Awakened.- “With regard to the manner in which parties were impressed, I suppose it was much the same here as elsewhere ; perhaps fewer cried out at meetings with us than in other places. Indeed, such were rather the exception than the rule. It was generally in their own houses, often in their beds, that they first began to feel anxious about their souls. One man, a militia serjeant, was arrested while throwing a bullet on a bet for drink. His hand fell by his side, and he was unable to raise it. He has since been one of the most hopeful of the converts. Another man was awakened at his loom. He had been a drunkard and a blasphemer, but has become a useful and intelligent Christian-has assisted in organising a total abstinence society, and is forward to every good work.
“One little girl, about twelve years of age, the child of godly parents, was reading on the Sabbath-evening to her mamma the hymn, ‘ What’s the News ? ‘ When she came to the lines,
‘ The Lord has pardon’d all my sin, I feel the witness now within,’
her mamma stopped her, saying, ‘ I doubt you can’t say that, dear. ‘ It was a word in season. It reached her conscience, and in a moment she was on her knees crying for mercy. For some hours she was in awful agony of soul, using such expressions as, ‘ Oh, what a dreadful sinner I am ; ‘ ‘ Lord, wash away mysins in Thy blood.’ After remaining in this state for about two hours, the light all at once broke in upon her soul, and she clapped her hands for joy. She repeated, with remarkable emphasis and expression, M’Cheyne’s hymn, ‘ I once was a stranger to grace and to God.’ It seemed the very language of her soul. A few days after, she requested to be allowed to distribute Bibles and tracts, and has since been letting her light shine before men. The teacher of the school that she attended, on the following morning told the children what he had heard her say, and immediately about ten of them cried out very bitterly for mercy. They have since given evidence of a change of heart.
“There were, perhaps, fewer of the converts with us than almost anywhere else who manifested a desire for addressing a meeting, so that very little lay agency was employed. Indeed, they all seemed more anxious to learn than to teach; more desirous to be hearers of the word than preachers of it. Many of them were very ignorant; could not even read. Several classes on week-day evenings have been organised for their instruction. Among others, a considerable number of married persons attend, who were ignorant of the alphabet when they came. Their progress is astonishing. Many of them in three months have learned to read the Word of God.
The Cottage Meetings.-” I must not omit to mention another means of usefulness, not altogether originated by the revival, but mightily strengthened by it. I refer to ‘ Cottage Meetings ‘ for prayer, praise, and the reading and exposition of God’s Word. In almost every street in the town one of these is conducted weekly. About twenty of such meetings are in existence at the present time, attended by from thirty to fifty individuals on an average. In this way the gospel is brought into the very houses of the people. About eight hundred of our population have weekly the privilege of hearing its joyful sound, many of whom are unable to attend upon public worship. The missionary visits these meetings in rotation ; in the intervals they are conducted by intelligent laymen.
“The revival is now ten months old among us, so that we have ample time to test its results. The excitement has passed away, but the great majority of the awakened manifest, by a ‘ life and conversation becoming the gospel,’ that they have indeed ‘ passed from death unto life .’ Those who were merely frightened into a temporary sobriety, have, as might be expected, returned to their old habits, and, in consequence, the haunts of vice have rallied a little ; but after making deductions for all this, there is much cause for thankfulness to the Father of mercies for the abundant shower of Divine grace with which we have been visited.
” Illustrative cases of a deeply interesting character are supplied by a young lady who has been one of the most energetic and assiduous in her attentions to those who have been the subjects of the awakening in her native town. She mentions that many even of a later date than the last of the subjoined might have been given. From a large number of such I select the following :-
The Cry to the Father.-” M. M’K. was a merry, lively girl. She had not attended any meetings. Her case is the first I have either seen or heard of that addressed petitions to the Father. She lay nearly an hour unconscious to all around, pouring forth her petitions in the following strain : -‘ Father, dear ! look down upon me this night ! Father, mark me with grace ! Lord Jesus, take away my heavy sins ! Father, I own I have been a heavy sinner ! Lord Jesus, come to my arms ! Father, renew my wicked, wicked heart ; give me a new one, and mark me with grace ! O Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake, come to me ! Father, dear, relieve me ! Have mercy upon me, my God, have mercy upon me !’
The Unbeliever in the Work.- “J. W. for twenty years never entered a church ; and for fourteen, never bowed his knees in prayer, nor read his Bible. He was a drunkard, and did not believe in the work. He was struck, but went to his work, and got drunk, trying to quench the Spirit. He was prostrated for nearly a week. A fortnight after he was visited, he again thought Satan was at his side wanting him. Next day he came to his pastor to ask him to pray for more of the love of God, and for strength to overcome his besetting sin, drink.’ He is now a Sabbath- school teacher, and a leader in prayer-meetings, and is sometimes up for nights visiting the stricken and praying with them.
The First-fruit of the New Year-January 1, 1860.—“ S. W. had been a most abandoned character. She was noted everywhere for her cursing and immodest language. She had been anxious for months, and had given up most of her wicked habits-was attending prayer- meetings, and was praying to be visited. On Sabbath she had prayed before going out to a prayer-meeting, ‘ Lord, I am clear of nothing ; wash me in one drop of Thy blood. (I thought when I got that, I would get more. )’ She was struck under the verse, ‘ Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground ? ‘ She found peace next morning, singing the 116th Psalm. She said, ‘ I am the vilest, wickedest, miserablest sinner that ever lived. I am clear of nothing -not even murder. I have murdered my own soul. For forty years I hated God, and served Satan. There never was such a sinner. I could take every one in my bosom now to bring them to Jesus. I will do all in my power for Him the few remaining years of my life. To think that Jesus should save such a sinner as me ! Now He is my all in all. My beloved is mine, and I am His.’ The neighbours say they are sure any one may be saved after her. she not a trophy ?
She is the first-fruit of the New-Year. Is “We had not, so far as is known, three spurious cases. We have had some who have fallen away a little, and some very much ; but we still hope the Lord has His hook in their nostrils. But I am sure the whole does not amount to twelve, out of a population of twelve thousand, and many hundreds of prostrations. We never had any ‘ trances, ‘ or ‘ sleeps,’ and only five cases that appeared for a time like demoniac possession. No stress was laid upon visions. ”