I recently finished reading Revival on the Causeway Coast by Nicholas M. Railton. This is one that has been on my shelf for a couple of years and I am glad I got round to reading it. Railton tells the story of the 1859 revival which broke out around the town of Coleraine in Northern Ireland. Though I don’t know anything about the author’s own background, it is clear that the stories of revival are told from the perspective of one who believes that the revival was the work of God. Despite this Railton is not afraid to give voice to the cynical – most of whom were fellow-Christians!
Read it and pray for more!
It is a remarkable tale of how, without any prior planning or scheming on man’s part, there was an outbreak of spiritual awakening in and around Coleraine. This was not really propagated by the clergy of the region but in the most part was down to lay men and women (and children) sharing simple testimony of what Christ had done for them. The stand out feature of such a revival was the sense of the presence of God and, necessarily, the overwhelming sense of sinfulness that this produced within people. This led to people being prostrated on the ground and calling out for mercy. These prostrations took place regardless of the time of day, or whether the meeting was held in a church hall or even outdoors in the rain. Being what some might term a ‘conservative evangelical’ my eyebrows were raised at this kind of manifestation, but probably because I have seen the physical manifestation become the aim of some meetings, missing out the necessary first step of consciousness of sin. I think it is this sense of sinful unworthiness that caused the apostle John to fall down at the feet of the glorified Christ “as though dead” (Revelation 1:17) and is a probably reliable marker of the genuineness of such an experience.
Some estimates put the number of people who had been directly touched by the revival in that region at one hundred thousand, which even if slightly over-estimated is a formidable outpouring of the Spirit of God. The account of the way the revival continued for a number of months and so effectively moved from town to town was very exciting, but a few things stood out to me. First of all, I was impressed with how the revival was rooted and grounded in prayer. It was prayerfulness that not only provided the opening for the revival to break out, but the commitment to prayer throughout the revival which seems to have kept it going. In a sense this is a great encouragement to persevere in prayer, but it is also saddening when I reflect on how, on the whole, prayerless the church of today is.
It is not difficult to see that prayer was a major feature of the 1859 revival in Coleraine as it has been the central feature of all revivals that have periodically occurred since the day of Pentecost. Alongside the central prayer meeting were numerous other prayer meetings which sprang up during the first week of revival. (p. 81)
I was very interested to read the chapter entitled The Fruit of the Revival. The tales of the revival were full of stories of conversion, but this chapter looked at what Coleraine and the surrounding region looked like in the years following. In 1859, Railton can point to pubs closing, Orange marches ceasing and the 12th of July passing peacefully (read into that what you will!), criminality markedly decreasing, increased Bible sales, church attendance increasing…the revival made a big impact on the community. However, as Railton traces these same markers over then next few years, the trend is not maintained. Of course there are a lot of confounding factors in such an analysis (rising economic prosperity, declining population etc.) but much of what was observed in 1859 had reversed within a few years. Many lives had been touched by the Spirit of God, but many had not persevered in the faith. Another notable mark of the revival was the unity of Christians whether they be Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist etc. In fact some point to the loss of unity as one of the main contributors to the revival ending:
…unresolved conflicts and rivalries which must have had an impact on worship and prayer meetings… People had rekindled old hostilities and returned to old habits of thought and behaviour. (pp. 192-193)
The unexpected nature of the revival and the unlikely characters used by God to propagate it surely give us good reason to pray to Him that He might move again. In the same year there was a revival in the northeast of Scotland. A few years ago there were some events to mark the 150th anniversary of that revival. A friend of mine wondered whether there should have been a day of mourning that it had been 150 years since such a movement of God’s Spirit was seen in Aberdeen. Quite.
I will close with some of Railton’s conclusions from his book:
The encouraging point is that one does not need to be a well-educated, rhetorically gifted individual to be used by God. A life of prayer and a willingness to serve and be used are the hey prerequisites. (p. 204)
What is required is a divine visitation, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the whole community which will lead, inevitably to a deepened sense of the power and authority of God as well as a deepened sense of our own unworthiness to approach such a God. This is the real core of any revival. (p. 205)