BY THE REV. JOSEPH BARKLEY.
THE history of the revival here may be given in few words. Accounts of the Lord's work in other places having reached us, many were thereby led confidently to expect, and earnestly to pray, in the family and in the closet, for an outpouring of the Spirit on ourselves; and the answer, in the mercy of God, was not long withheld.
On the first Sabbath in June 1859, a day long to be remembered in this place, a Christian merchant in Belfast, (about four miles distant,) felt, as he said himself, unaccountably constrained to come out and seek permission to address this congregation, which, as he was personally unknown to me, was granted somewhat reluctantly; and that evening two females were affected with a deep sense of sin in their own homes, accompanied by great bodily weakness.
On the Tuesday evening following, the same gentleman addressed a crowded meeting in the church, and although there was neither pith nor power in his address,—nothing, in fact, seemingly calculated either to move or to melt an audience,—yet he had spoken only a few sentences when one and another were crying for mercy, and at length so loud and general were the outcries that further speaking was impossible ; and, before morning, it is computed not fewer than fifty souls bad found peace in believing.
A few weeks later, a still more illustrious display of Divine grace was witnessed at a meeting addressed in the same place by the late Rev. A. Pollock. of Ballyeaston, Mr Ormsby of Rothesay, and the two young men from Connor; for so manifest was the Lord's power and presence, and so signally did He make bare His glorious arm on that occasion, that upwards of one hundred souls rejoicing in Christ may be regarded as the result of that single meeting. It was a. night of sorrow and of joy—some crying for mercy; others rejoicing in Jesus; and from that, up to the present time, the good work has been going on steadily, though. latterly in a more imperceptible manner than heretofore.
The parties professing to have found peace in this place since the commencement of the awakening, eight months ago, cannot be fewer than from three to four hundred; all of whom, with barely an exception, are walking worthy of their profession, whilst the effect on the Lord's people themselves, in stirring them up to greater zeal and devotedness in the service of Christ, is not less remarkable. Life, in its various forms of love, and joy, and activity, and prayerfulness is visible everywhere. The valley of dry bones is in full motion, the breath of the Spirit has passed in a gale of saving health over it, and a revived Church is now bringing forth the fruits of righteousness.
While I write, twenty prayer-meetings and upwards are being held weekly within the bounds of this single congregation—the tastes and the habits of the people have been completely revolutionised—attendance upon Sabbath schools, public worship, and ordinances greatly increased—drunkenness and open profanity have all but disappeared—temperance and total abstinence associations are being formed on all sides—engine-men and others employed in bleaching establishments carry their Bibles with them, for reference or perusal at leisure moments—factory boys and girls are meeting for prayer, or repeating portions of Scripture to each other at their work ; while, in passing from house to house in pastoral visitations, I am oftentimes amazed at the intense earnestness of the people about their souls, and the extreme tenderness of conscience manifested by them in regard to spiritual subjects;for it is a rare thing to converse with them on religious topics—topics now of thrilling interest to them—and not witness the tear starting to their eyes, and the look of joy irradiating their countenances, as they are led to believe and rejoice in a present salvation, and more especially in the assurance of it.
In a word, so great is the change that has passed over the whole moral landscape within the last few months, that I have often been constrained to exclaim, "What bath God wrought!" But that the reader may form an idea of this for himself, we subjoin a few cases out of hundreds of remarkable conversions.
W— is a pensioner, between fifty and sixty years of age who was greatly addicted to drink and other vices prior to the revivals. At the very beginning of the movement, he was brought to feel that he was a lost sinner, and, after several weeks of deep and distressing conviction, to lay his sins on Christ; and now he is devoting all his spare time and energies in distributing tracts and total abstinence cards, and urging upon sinners the necessity of closing immediately with the great salvation. The following characteristic anecdote has just been told me of him. A day or two ago, a policeman called upon him to sign the total abstinence pledge. " There is no use, my man, in doing that," said W"unless you pray for grace and strength to keep it ; for I have tried it many a time, and have found my resolutions to be but straws without Christ's assistance." "I am a Roman Catholic," said the other, "and cannot pray." "Well, you may as well not sign it then," replied W.; and with that the poor fellow fell on his knees, and prayed to the Virgin to enable him to keep it. After some further conversation, in which our friend, we may be assured, tried to set him right in regard to prayer, the other took his departure, requesting to be apprised of the prayer-meetings, and promising to attend them.
McD— was a Roman Catholic soldier, who had lost his health in the Crimea, and was discharged in consequence, but without a pension. The wasting hand of consumption was upon hint, and it was evident to all that he had but a short time to live. A young man, who had himself been brought to Christ during the revival, took a lively interest in the temporal welfare and eternal salvation of the dying soldier. Night after night he sat by his bedside, reading and praying with him, and pointing him away from every other saviour and every other mediator to "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." "The Lord opened his heart to attend to what was spoken," and never has it been my privilege to witness more unfaltering faith in Christ as his one and only High Priest, "all his salvation and all his desire," than was exhibited by the Crimean soldier. His little cabin was emphatically a place of prayer and praise months prior to his death; for the converts loved him as a brother, and delighted to meet there for religious exercises. He at length sweetly fell asleep in Jesus, after leaving strict injunctions on his wife to live in the faith in which he died, if she would meet him in heaven, and not to permit the priest to visit him in his last moments; and now the subject of this brief sketch is with Jesus in glory.
M— is a poor servant-girl, totally uneducated, and, until lately, a Roman Catholic. She came to the neighbourhood a few years since, an unfriended orphan, with no one to care for her, and, out of pure compassion, was taken into a Presbyterian family, where she has lived ever since. She was brought, at one of the prayer-meetings, to see her sins, and to look alone to Jesus for forgiveness, and although at that time she barely knew a letter of the alphabet, yet, by dint of application since, her progress in learning to read, and in acquiring a knowledge of Scripture doctrine, has been truly astonishing. I examined her for admission to the Lord's Supper, and seldom has it been my privilege to meet with one more thoroughly "made up" in regard to the nature of the ordinance. A few months ago, she was a benighted Papist; now she is not only an enlightened Presbyterian but a steady, amiable, consistent Christian. And here it may not be out of place to add, that there is another Roman Catholic girl, whose history is so similar to the above that it need not be repeated.
T— is a tradesman, who passed his Sabbaths, not in the sanctuary, but in the tavern, and who spent every copper he could earn in drink. The Lord at length was graciously pleased to awaken him at one of our prayer-meetings, from which he returned home with the arrows of the Almighty sticking fast in his conscience. Day or night there was no rest for his soul, until the hand that inflicted the wound healed it, and all of a sudden he became an altered man. His old habits have been laid aside, his former associates discarded, and he is now a constant frequenter of the house of God and prayer-meetings, sitting at the feet of Jesus, "clothed and in his right mind." His first words to his poor old widowed mother, after his conversion, were, —and they may not be without comfort and encouragement to parents under similar circumstances,—" Mother, many a time I ran out of the house to get away from you and your prayers, but they are heard at last." Wrestle on, wrestle on, ye praying mothers, over your profligate children, for prayer has power with God, and prevails!
A—, B____ _, C are young men of respectable connexions, who were not only leading reckless and dissipated lives themselves, but were influencing others by their example and otherwise to follow their evil practices. Few in the congregation were more hopeless, or less likely to be reclaimed ; but, as if God would make a display of His sovereign power and grace,—what seems to be a distinguishing characteristic of the present awakening—He arrested them in the very midst of their sin, and plucked them as brands out of the fire. They are now as active on the side of Christ as they formerly were in the service of Satan—instructing their former associates in the ways of righteousness, and seeking, by precept and example, to lead them to the Saviour. Ancient Christianity is again reappearing in the case of these and other converts: Andrew seeking Simon and bringing him to Jesus—Philip, Nathanael—the woman of Samaria, her fellow-citizens, and conducting them to Him, who, by sounding the depths of her heart, made it manifest that He was indeed the Christ.
We must stop here, for to go on in our enumeration of remarkable cases were to fill, not a chapter merely in the history of the revival, but a volume. The work of the Lord is still gloriously progressing in this congregation. Even while I write, sinners are seeking the Saviour, and flying to Him "as the doves to their windows." Since this sheet was commenced, another case, seemingly as hopeless, and equally remarkable with any that have yet occurred, has taken place. The last step was about to be taken—the last plunge to be made—when the arm of the Lord was stretched forth in mercy, and another trophy gathered, to grace the brow of redeeming Love throughout eternity. Roll on, roll on, thou great river of God, that is full of water, until every district of our beloved island "shall rejoice and blossom as the rose!"
From ‘Authentic Records of Revival, now in progress in the United Kingdom, published in 1860, re-printed and edited in 1980 by Richard Owen Roberts.
There has been a church here since 1670.