Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The spreading flame

Fire is often used to describe the growth of a revival. This is nowhere more true than the rapid spread of the flame in 1859. From sparks in the lives of 4 men to the whole of Ulster & beyond in less than a year!

One story from early on in the revival shows this better than anything else. Samuel Campbell from Connor attended a meeting led by the instigators, McQuilken & Meneely. It is reported that he was so overwhelmed by an awareness of his sin during the meeting that he fell onto his knees & cried out for mercy. The following morning he was led to Christ whilst reading his bible.

This is wonderful, but what happened next is characteristic of story after story in Ulster. It is the catalyst factor which turned a time of blessing into a full blown revival.

Having found his own peace with God, Campbell became increasingly distressed about his relatives in the nearby town of Ahogill. Just 3 weeks later, after praying with others, Campbell visited his family home to plead with his mother & sister to 'flee from the wrath to come.' He went out to find his brother John at a shooting match & told him, 'I have a message for you from the Lord Jesus!'

John decided to accompany his brother back home to Connor that evening (probably to make sure that he went & to talk some sense into him!)However, Campbell would not stop praying out loud for his brother who walked alongside him, & after a while, John began to feel an incredible power & terror sweeping over him. In his own words, 'I saw heaven on the one side & hell on the other. The conviction flashed upon me with overwhelming power that I deserved hell & such horror did the thought produce that every joint in my body quaked.'

John managed to struggle home, now crying out loud for mercy all the way. During the same night, his mother awoke, also crying out in terror, suddenly aware of her sin for the first time. The sister was aroused, & she too came under the same conviction. Mother & daughter prayed together until God brought them peace & salvation.

The next day, brother John was still in turmoil, in fact, he continued for 3 weeks in agony over his sin. Then, whilst working at his loom his heart was 'suddenly filled to overflowing' Paisley comments, 'So powerful were the waves of love which overwhelmed his whole being that he was forced to stop his work & fall on his knees before the throne of grace.'

At the same time, a son in law of Mrs Campbell also visited the house. Anthony Huston heard the account of his mother in law, & he too was overcome, bursting into tears & weeping bitterly for his sinful past. Soon Huston's wife was also converted.

The remarkable & rapid change in these 2 families became the talk of the town. People that knew them, could see the immense change which had taken place. It was decided to hold a revival meeting in Ahogill to see what may happen.

An enormous crowd gathered, too big for the largest hall in town. As people pushed to the front under conviction of their sin they were directed out into the streets for fear that the gallery in the hall would collapse!

Over 3000 now stood in the rain as Meneely exhorted them to 'receive Christ & the Holy Ghost.' Eye witnesses say it was as though the entire crowd became paralysed. On streets covered in mud, converts began to fall on their knees in prayer. From that night on, the revival wave which started with Campbell's burden for his family, swept over the entire district.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A confectionary rant

First it was the Marathon bar, then Opal Fruits. This creeping globalisation & re-branding of our favourite childhood sweets simply because Opal Fruits means 'Panda farts' in Mandarin. Who are these mystery executives in their corporate towers that make these life changing decisions?

If we're honest with ourselves even back then, we knew really that our silence would only allow greater evils to emerge. It's true. We were sidelined, shaking our heads as Wagon Wheels got smaller & smaller. This was once a mighty product which began life in the wild west as an actual sized meringue & choclate covered wagon wheel.

The mystery men are at it again, & now they have my all time favourite in their sights. Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you the Sherbert Fountain! It's the kind of product that would never be allowed today, would never get through the focus groups & the fanatical PC commitees that now hold sweet makers hostage in the top floor of their sweet factories.

Everyone has a Sherbert Fountain story to tell, usually an accidental explosion or breathing in incident. Is there any confectionary today which is able to make you wheeze & could give rise to lung related insurance claims later in life?

In one swoop they have taken away everything which makes the Fountain so good. The glue over the top is replaced by a screw lid. The cylinder which was once lovingly made from strange smelling paper wrapped around used toilet roll tubes, is now plastic.

Never again will you be able to scrunch up the bottom of the packet to expel the last few clouds of sherbert. Never again will the saliva soaked paper fall apart, allowing sherbert all over your school jumper. Never again!

I am a realist. I know there are far more important battles worth fighting. But surely someone ought to be doing something about this sherberty shenanigins, this fountain fiasco! For the sake of our children & their right to breath puffs of choking confectionary! Will you join me?

Monday, 16 November 2009

'I yelled, they prayed, God worked!'

150 years ago the Ulster Revival had an impact not only in the Province but around the world. I'm continuing today with some stories from this great breakthrough which came almost 50 years before Asuza. Here you will find a few insights that don't make the headlines, but which any would be preachers may understand.

Jeremiah Meneely was one of the original gang of four from the prayer meeting in the Old Schoolhouse. As the revival grew, these four became reluctant leaders of an increasing band of converts. No one was more surprised about this than Meneely himself.

Whilst travelling to one of their first meetings, they argued about who should preach. Eventually, after all had expressed their reluctance, Jerry stepped forward & said that he would on the condition that they pray. Describing the meeting afterwards, Meneely reported, 'I yelled, they prayed, God worked!' In this unassuming way they had inadvertantly hit upon a successful formula!

Meneely took his zealous preaching to Ballymena, where one story characterises his approach. I'll leave biographer Ian Paisley to tell you in his own words (imagine his voice as a rising angry growl being hawked & spat through a mouth full of gravel)

'The whole day he was kept busy for the Lord, & finding himself late had to run part of the 5 miles to the meeting place. When he arrived the place was literally crammed with a teeming multitude.
Jerry preached with his usual ardour & when he had finished the people refused to leave. He then preached a second time & attempted to dismiss the gathering. They again refused to go.
After 4 or 5 such attempts he left the platform, & going aside, took off his coat & waistcoat, removing his shirt & wrung out a stream of sweat. Attiring himself, he re-entered the hall & preached for another hour, after which he walked the 5 miles home.'

These snapshots serve to give us an insiders view on the pace of the revival, & the constant readiness these men lived under. A few minutes after returning, his door was knocked on by a man seeking the way of salvation. Jerry immediately went to call on his next door neighbour to see if he would help in counselling this seeker. By now it was late into the night & the neighbour was in bed. Undaunted, Jerry hammered on his door all the harder, yelling, 'Get up! Lying in your bed whilst there are souls seeking Christ!'

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The 1859 Ulster Revival

150 years have passed since the Ulster Revival of 1859. This significant revival had connections with the awakening the previous year in the US. There is little of the story in print right now, with most concerning themselves with the more recent centenery celebrations from Wales,then Asuza Street & the birth of Pentecostalism.

What we see in Ulster is a genuine pentecost 40 years before Asuza. Over the next few posts I shall give you some excerpts, most of which come from the unlikely source of the Rev Ian Paisley. Better known to English readers as the florid faced Presbyterian ranter who always seemed to get on the news in the 1980's with something bad to say about the Catholics. Whatever his political leanings, Paisley has written a long out of print account of the '59 revival which remains stirring to this day.

It all started with four new young converts - James McQuilkin, Jeremiah Meneely, Robert Carlisle & John Wallace. They agreed to meet weekly on a Friday night to pray through the long winter of 1857-1858 in the Old Schoolhouse near Kells.

They took armfuls of peat for the fire in with them & in Paisley's words 'The peats made a fire in the schoolhouse grate & warmed their bodies from the winter chill, but their prayers brought down unquenchable fire from heaven which set all Ulster ablaze for God, & warmed with saving rays at least 100,000.'

Jeremiah Meneely described their meetings as follows: 'The prayer meeting was started in the autumn of 1857 & continued for 3 months before there were any visible results.' Only 2 more men joined them during that time, but on New Years Day 1858 their first conversion took place. After that, their records show they saw salvation each friday night through the year. By the end of 1858 there were 50 young men taking part.

Meneely continues: 'Women were not allowed in the meeting during the first year & after that they had a prayer meeting of their own. We had so much opposition & persecution to encounter that we did not think it advisable to allow women in. The world would have said that the meetings were held only for the purpose of flirtation.'

There was clearly a remarkable momentum building. We'll see next time how this overflowed into the nearby towns around the province. Meneely put it this way: 'Our one great object at the meetings was to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon ourselves & upon the surrounding country. This was the one great object & burden of our prayers. We held right to the one thing & did not run off to anything else.'

Many people ridiculed their stance, telling them that God poured out His Spirit at Pentecost already. Meneely retorted, 'The Lord knows what we want & we kept right on praying until the power came!'