BY THE REV. JAMES WARWICK,
JOYMOUNT PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, CARRICKFERGUS. As the operations of the blessed Spirit have been felt very extensively in Carrickfergus,' both in awakening sinners and reviving many of God's children who had become lukewarm, I will confine myself to the revival work in this parish, and chiefly to that aspect of it which affects the members of my own congregation. In order that this paper may be more intelligible, I will arrange the facts under different heads:— SPECIAL SERVICES. Lieutenant W. R. Allman, a devoted servant of the Lord, who has devoted himself to the service of Christ, and preached the gospel in various places in England and Scotland, visited Ireland in 1858. He came to Carrickfergus in November 1858 and from that time continued to visit us frequently until the spring of 1859. At each visit he had special services for four or five evenings in succession, and on the Sabbath had three services. These services, in conjunction with the stated preaching of the gospel, impressed the mind of the people with serious religious feelings. Mrs Colville, a sister in Christ, who also labours along with Lieutenant Aikman, held meetings for prayer among the females. She came to Carrickfergus on several occasions. Her meetings were also well attended, and some came to my house to converse with her about the state of their souls. These special meetings, which had been held to pray for the outpouring of God's Spirit, were continued after they left. The female prayer-meeting continued to be held weekly, in the vestry of my church, from January 1859 until the revival burst forth in June.
Thus in the autumn of 1858, and beginning of 1859, a few of God's children in Carrickfergus were looking, praying, and waiting for a revival.
Towards May 1859 more excitement on the subject began to prevail, in consequence of reports of the work the Lord was doing at Connor. And on the first Sabbath of May, on the occasion of the administration of the Lord's Supper, a solemn feeling was visible over the worshippers, and deep anxiety seemed to pervade the people. We had not, however, any bodily manifestation accompanying the work until about the 5th June, when the first of the striking cases, as they were called, occurred. On that Sabbath I preached from Joel iii. 14, " Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision." There was a very large congregation present. There was great religious excitement in the parish, as sonic converts from Ballymena and Connor were to address a public meeting in the open air.
The good work of the Lord being thus commenced, meetings were held every evening. Elders, Sabbath-school teachers, converts, and others threw themselves into the work. The Presbytery of Carrickfergus did not remain inactive when the Lord's gracious work required their extra labours. They held three revival meetings within their bounds. The first was held in Carrickfergus on the 9th August. The good work of the revival, under the Divine blessing, was thus fostered by these services, and at the same time kept clear of anything to prejudice any against it. DOCTRINES PREACHED.
The doctrines faithfully preached among my people were those that are termed Calvinistic. Indeed the doctrines preached by all our ministers generally are the doctrines of God's Word, as contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the larger and shorter catechisms. They are thus the great doctrines of the sovereignty of Divine grace which God has so manifestly blessed in the recent revival. Lieutenant W. R. Aikman in his discourses preached almost exclusively the doctrines of free grace. He exalted God in man's redemption. He spoke in very severe terms against a fleshly religion. His whole preaching was directed to the casting down any hope which the flesh might place in works, and holding forth Jesus Christ as the all in all of a sinner's salvation. God has therefore honoured and glorified His Son Jesus in blessing such preaching to the pulling down of the strongholds of sin and Satan.
There were some extraordinary cases of conversion in my congregation. I may recite a few of the particulars in reference to one or two of these:—One was that of a deaf and dumb boy of about fifteen or sixteen years of age. He is a pupil of the Belfast Deaf and Dumb Institution. He was then at home for the midsummer vacation, and came with his parents to public worship on the Sabbath. It was the last Sabbath of July. Part of the service was over when he was smitten. The first psalm had been sung, and morning prayer offered. I had read the chapter. He was able to follow me in the reading by a friend pointing to him in his Bible the verses as I read them. When the reading of God's Word had been finished, I gave out a psalm to sing, the friend pointing it out also to him. It was during the singing of the second psalm that he shouted out in that way peculiar to the dumb. His friends did not know what was the matter; but on his removal to the outside of the church, he told them what was wrong with him. A member of the congregation, who knew the deaf and dumb alphabet, as also his mother, told him of the invitations and promises of the gospel. Though he could not hear, yet an elder offered up prayer on his behalf to that God who can make the deaf to hear. He found peace in Christ, and now rejoices in his Saviour. This I think one of the most convincing proofs of the revival being the work of God's Spirit that we have. It establishes that it was not the result of exciting preaching, as no declamation could reach him, as he was both deaf and dumb; yet he is awakened, and, under a sense of sin, is led to call out for mercy, and finds peace from Christ's own words of grace.
The next case was that of an infidel. He is a man of upwards of thirty years of age and had not been thirty times in God's house. He is one of some eight or ten persons who reside in the parish, and who frequently met together to discuss and propagate deistical views. He is a man of intelligence and had often read the Bible that he might be able to prove that one part of it contradicted the other. He ridiculed the idea of a revival, when it began first to be talked of. A few days previous to his conversion, as one of my elders and he were reasoning on the subject, he said, "that if there were such a thing, and if it were so great a blessing, God would not lose it by sending it on Carrickfergus, so that this place would be passed over." An evening or two afterwards, his servant girl attended one of my meetings. After she went home from the meeting, she became affected and cried for mercy. A Christian friend in the neighbourhood went to pray with her, and direct her mind to Jesus. He knelt down to pray with her, and just when the prayer was being offered up, the sceptic, who was present, was smitten with the arrow of conviction. He cried out, "Oh, cursed unbelief!" He prayed for mercy, and he found peace in that Saviour he had formerly slighted. He is now a consistent follower of Jesus. The only other extraordinary case of conversion that I will mention, is that of a Roman Catholic. She is a young woman of upwards of twenty. She is a quiet, well-conducted young woman, but had been brought up to attend the Roman Catholic chapel. She had regularly attended mass. She had attended some of my open-air preachings. At one of these, the Word of God brought conviction to her soul. When under conviction of sin, she requested that I should be sent for. I immediately went and spoke to her of Jesus—of His preciousness—of His willingness to forgive sins—that He was the only Saviour—that there was no other name given under heaven among men whereby we could be saved but that of Jesus Christ. She believed and found peace. She prayed fervently to Jesus to enable her to believe on Him alone, and neither in the Virgin Mary nor in saints. She has joined my Bible class and attends my church.
The effect of the revival on the morals and life of those who experienced it has been most blessed. In the public works, the workers are quite changed in their conversation. In the public works at Woodburn and in Carrickfergus, in the former of which there are more than 400 employed, you very rarely hear now any profane or obscene language, which is not the case in many places where large numbers of workers are assembled. Immorality does not now exist to such an extent as formerly, as a number of the most abandoned were led to see the awful wickedness of the lives they were leading, and to all appearance are changed.
At the Duncrue salt mines, a considerable number of men are engaged working at the bottom, some 500 or 600 feet below the surface. Their practice formerly at meal hours was to amuse themselves, and some of them occupied their time in gambling. Instead of this, they now occupy their spare time in religious exercises—in reading the Scriptures or tracts, in singing psalms, and prayer. Few of these men, if any, were stricken down. They passed through the change silently, without any bodily manifestation accompanying it. But they nevertheless evidence by their conduct that they have been renewed.
One gentleman, who employs upwards of 400 in his works, expressed to me his delight at the happy change in the behaviour of his workers since the revival; and now, when at their work, instead of the profane song, they will join in singing the songs of Zion.
Some drunkards have been reclaimed as a consequence of the revival. Many who had been addicted to the moderate use of ardent spirits, and who could not be altogether classed as drunkards, have given it up since the revival, and become members of the Total Abstinence Society. On the 27th July, a meeting was called in the Joymount Presbyterian church, for the purpose of forming a total abstinence society in connexion with the revival, and enrolling the names of all those who felt the influence of the Spirit of God on their souls, and were willing to give up the use of ardent spirits. To this 114 appended their names, and I believe they have adhered firmly to their pledge, and that they are also consistent followers of Jesus. Many joined other total abstinence societies in the other districts of the parish.
CIRCULATION OF THE SCRIPTURES.
Another blessed result of the revival is the desire that now exists in this place for the Word of God. All seem desirous for a copy of the Scriptures, and scarcely a convert is to be found without it. A considerable number of family Bibles have been purchased by the people and large numbers of smaller copies of the Scriptures.
ATTENDANCE AT PUBLIC WORSHIP AND THE LORD'S TABLE.
Another practical effect of the revival is that the house of God is much better filled than formerly. The people love to hear the gospel preached, and do not seem wearied at the close of the service, even when protracted. Indeed, many also attend a revival prayer-meeting, which they themselves conduct, both morning and evening, at the close of the service. And, as an evidence of the increased attendance and liberality of the people, the Sabbath collections last year amounted to nearly double the sum of the former year. One of the most blessed of the many results of the awakening is the desire manifested to partake of the Lord's Supper by many who had hitherto neglected or despised it. At our last communion, in October, there were 480 communicants forward at the tables, while the largest number forward before on any previous occasion was 206.
After the revival, I had 137 in the communicants' class preparing to go forward to the Lord's table for the first time at our last sacrament in October. Sixty of these were married, and some of them grandfathers. They had reared their families to be men and women, and were very seldom in God's house, and never at His table, until the Lord reached them with His grace. PRAYER- MEETINGS. Another blessed result of the outpouring of God's Spirit is the large increase among the people of the gift of prayer. Social meetings for prayer are now very numerous in comparison with what they were formerly.
Before the revival, I knew of only four members of my congregation, and three of these were elders, who were willing to pray in public or hold prayer-meetings; and each of these men conducted a prayer-meeting in their respective districts of the congregation—two of them weekly, and the other fortnightly. Now there are not fewer than sixty or seventy engaged in this good work. It is gratifying to the minister, and cannot but be pleasing to the Head of the Church, to witness the willingness and zeal with which these new labourers in the Lord's vineyard go to the work. And such is the interest of many in the Lord's cause, that in two or three districts where the want has been felt, and where the revival has been blessed, houses are about being erected for the accommodation of Sabbath schools and prayer-meetings, and also to serve as preaching-stations.
A vast change has also passed over the congregation in reference to family prayer. Previous to the awakening, I was aware of only about twenty or thirty families of the congregation who kept up family worship. Now nearly every family offers up to Jehovah their morning and evening sacrifices.
Such are a few of the blessed practical results of the revival of the past year. The fruit of the Spirit's operation is evident in the moral and religious conduct of the people. The results are manifest—upon individuals—upon families and upon the congregation. We have got rid of strifes, and animosities, and jealousies among its members, which often prevent the growth and progress of vital religion in a congregation, and mar its harmony. Love and joy and peace are diffused among the people. What gratitude, then, should we feel to the blessed Spirit for these hallowed results!
He that can bestow the blessing, saith, "Be faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." Nearly all who have received the blessing have been steadfast. It may be said of them as of the early Christians after the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, they all "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." One or two have fallen, but that might have been expected. Those who have drawn back are but a very small percentage of those who continue firm. I entertain very strong hopes that they will continue to persevere. Probably the most hopeful cases of all are the ones who felt the awakening without any bodily manifestations. These were very numerous, and nearly 200 such cases occurred in my own congregation. They were chiefly those of strong men who had been spiritually dead, and scarcely ever in the house of God unless to obtain baptism for their children. Many of these have been so awakened, without being "stricken," as to attend the house of God on the Sabbath, to observe the sacrament of the Supper, and engage in holding prayer- meetings. Of such, it may well be said, "This my son was dead, and is alive again; was lost, and is found." A member of my congregation says, " It is to these as much as any other cases it is owing that the churches are so well filled, the prayer-meetings so well attended—that the voice of prayer and praise is heard in the retired cottage after the labour of the day is over—when the invocation of blessing is the last sound that is raised before retiring to rest, and the first before entering on the labours of the day. When blessings are thus regularly and devoutly asked, blessings are sure to be bestowed."
Let the people of the Lord, in all countries, be very earnest in entreating Him to pour out His Spirit on all flesh; supplicating God to bless other places as He has blessed the north of Ireland, and that He would bless us still more abundantly.
Reader, have you felt the blessed change—have you been born again, and felt the power of the Spirit in your soul? If not, remember, that if you die in your present state, you will be lost.
If you have been awakened and brought into the number of God's children, then labour for the extension of Christ's kingdom, and entreat the Lord not to stop His good work while one sinner is unconverted. So grant it Lord, and hasten it in Thy good time. Amen.
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.