A Sketch of the 1859 Revival

The Revival of 1859 ushered in a year of marvelous blessing! In the year 1857 “the spark” of Revival commenced but in 1859 it became “a blaze” that affected homes, villages, towns, cities, and countries. This was a Divine visitation by the Holy Spirit. This revival continued into the 20th century. Wales in particular was affected in the early 20th century.

The amazing work of the Holy Spirit in the 1859 revival reached glorious heights, sweeping like a mighty torrent throughout the land(s). It was headline news. It was most interesting that simultaneously the work of the Holy Spirit was moving in various areas across the British Isles. This established beyond doubt that this was the work of God. A rising generation can be easily swayed with a spurious work. The necessity to reflect on the marvelous interventions of the Almighty in genuine awakenings and conversions is therefore most timely. Let us ponder those days.

Prior to 1859 there were movements of the Holy Spirit, forerunners to the ‘59 revival. Scotland was blessed earlier in the 19th century by having Thomas Chalmer, the theologian and pulpit orator, Alexander Maclaren, called the prince of expositors, and Wm. Burns. These were mighty men of God. Robert Murray McCheyne, Andrew and Horatius Bonar and others were also holy instruments in revival times. Every young believer should read The Memoirs of R. M. McCheyne by Andrew Bonar. It is humbling yet inspiring reading! This unique vessel died before reaching thirty years! His conversion is summed up in the hymn he composed: “I once was a stranger to grace and to God.” His ten years of fellowship with God left indelible footprints on Scotland. Here are two quotes from his pen: “It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus,” and “A holy minister is a powerful weapon in the hands of God.” His life span was a brief thirty years (1813-1843). When he first went to Dundee, a city wholly given to the vilest form of depravity with card-playing, drunkenness, wife-beating, immoral behavior, and broken homes, he exclaimed, “Perhaps the Lord will make this wilderness of chimney-pots to be green and beautiful as the garden of the Lord.” He lived to see the day when below “the chimney-pots” (under the roofs) families praised God, read their Bibles, and sang praises to their Redeemer. The streets were filled with joy! Hundreds were reached through his ministry of ten years. This was revival! The Heavenly Sanctuary was the secret of his Christ-filled life.

In 1858 a revival came to Fulton Street, New York, among a few hard-working men assembled during their dinner hour for prayer! There is no evading the issue that men and women of prayer are the forerunners to revival. South America was also greatly blessed with heaven’s showers of blessing in the 19th Century. Spiritual legacies from holy men and women, some known, some unknown, were left to the generations to come. History unravels the gracious movements of revivals.

1859 marked memorable and refreshing days in Northern Ireland. It is interesting to note that an English lady, Mrs. Colville, was saved by the grace of God and such was her clear testimony she had to leave her home under severe persecution, rejected by her family. In 1856 this Christian lady came to N. Ireland and while visiting a home she testified to a dying woman of the need of salvation. A young man (James McQuilkin) overheard the conversation and the arrows of conviction entered his soul, resulting in a genuine awakening and conversion to God. Two others were similarly reached and this was the commencement of the great Revival! In 1857 in the little town of Kells, Co. Antrim, NI, under a thatched cottage, a remarkable event took place – a prayer meeting commenced! Important? It is paramount to Revival! Four young men – James McQuilkin, Jeremiah Meneely, Robert Carlisle, and John Wallace – joined in the holy occupation of prayer. Others were soon added. Prayer! What crying! What tears marked the walls of that little cottage! More important, those prayers and tears moved the hand that moves the world, for they reached the Almighty. As numbers increased the early converts moved from the humble cottage to an old schoolhouse nearby. This revival commenced not with the high and mighty of earth, but with humble, broken, and burdened souls. The warmth of God’s presence, fellowship, and pure love to God filled the house. These Spirit-filled vessels had not been to college, but they had been to Calvary. They were prayer-warriors ready to battle for God in rescuing souls from Satan’s domain. None had publicly preached before! So they decided among themselves as to who would announce the glad tidings. Jeremiah Meneely was chosen. Summing up those remarkable days he said; “They prayed! I yelled! God worked!” Formalities were unknown and what results! The revival was like a mighty river overflowing its banks. Such was the power of God that men and women pleaded with the preachers: “Tell us more.” Some have reckon that in Northern Ireland alone 100,000 souls were swept into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior. Coleraine town is worthy of mention. It is interesting that an old Bible in the Town Hall (the Bible has since been replaced) had these words hand-written on the flyleaf: “This is to declare to the generations to come that what took place under this roof of the Town Hall in Coleraine was the work of the Holy Spirit of God.” A number of ministers of the Gospel signed it. It is ironic that the Town Hall had just been built and was to be inaugurated with festivities, in particular a dance. But something happened! An evangelist had made his way to the Fair Grounds in Coleraine and with an open Bible in his hand preached the unsearchable riches of Christ. Thousands gathered! He preached until dusk! The Mayor of the Town offered him the Town Hall to continue. The Town Hall was packed to capacity with many outside. What a night, a memorable night! There were other outbreaks of blessing in various parts of the land taking place. Both Protestants and Roman Catholics were reached! Our prayer is, “Lord, send this anew!” These were balmy days of glorious visitation from the Eternal God, but not without opposition and persecution. Heaven has recorded all that was accomplished.

Scotland, England, and Wales came under those revival days, as many parts of Great Britain were visited. The results had far-reaching effects as converts from the Revival left their native lands to come across the Atlantic to preach the glad tidings, resulting in the planting of New Testament assemblies across Canada and the U.S.A. Part of our heritage can be traced back to revivals in the 19th and 20th centuries. We salute all those who were instruments in those days of divine visitations! The Revival of pure evangelism and the planting of “Scriptural gatherings” in the Lord’s peerless Name is a fascinating and inspiring story, a work of the Holy Spirit worthy of our attention and appreciation. Let us remind our hearts that we are in business for eternity. The challenge is stated in Jim Elliot’s immortal words: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Let us count the cost, face the challenge, and fulfill the commitment. Revive us again!