This is a longer post, take your time to read it! you will be blessed. The thing that encouraged me was, that at first there were 3 guys praying… we are 4 most times at prayer meetings. God can do this through us. And also they had the support of the churches in America, will you pray for us, here in Romania? just like them?
The Revival of 1859 by Matthew Ryan
The movement of God is miraculous in our
eyes, reviving the saved and awakening the
lost. It is the manifestation of the glorified
Christ. Individuals and communities are changed
as people yield to the working of the Spirit and
stop yielding to unrighteousness. There is a focus
on prayer and worship as people seek to know
God; they desire to commune with Him and to
declare His Gospel to all around. Such a revival
took place in the country of Ireland in 1859.
In the early 1600s, James I of England confiscated
the lands of rebellious Irish lords and granted them
to Protestant immigrants who pledged allegiance
to the crown. These Protestant immigrants then
formed the majority of the population in that
northern region of a Roman Catholic island. The
rest of the island, although not without some gospel
light, was in the grip of Roman darkness.
The revival movement of 1859 spread throughout Ireland, mainly
among those of the evangelical denomination: Presbyterians, Reformed
Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Baptist, Moravian, and Methodist. In
the years leading up to the revival, an important step of preparation
occurred in the Presbyterian churches whose clergy had been infected
with Unitarianism. Under the godly and determined leadership of Dr.
Henry Cooke, the Unitarian heretics were removed from fellowship
and the remaining members were united in doctrinal purity. All those
believers who responded to God’s moving then saw His blessing.
Though not directly related, knowledge of the physical condition of
Ireland at the time gives a little national context to the revival period.
In 1858 Ireland was only six years past the “Great Hunger” or “Potato
Famine,” caused by a fungus that affected the potato crops of 1845-
1852 at different levels of intensity. This famine had
reduced the population of the island from a little over
8 million to around 6 million. One in four people
either died or emigrated over that time.
Also occurring at this time was the Prayer Revival in
the United States. Many Irish ministers, aware of this
work of God in the United States, organized some
prayer times in their own congregations for the Revival
to spread into their land. Some representatives from
America came to testify of God’s marvelous working.
Specifically, two young Americans arrived in the Connor
district to see if anything good was happening in
the place which had specifically been prayed for in
their meetings. (Many Irish immigrants to New York
had come to the saving knowledge of Christ, and their prayer burden
was naturally drawn to their homeland.1)
These interactions and prayers no doubt fueled the desire for revival,
with many people seeing their need, both individual and national.
However, the actual breaking forth of the work of God can be traced
to a prayer meeting in the towns of Kells and Connor, about 25 miles
northwest of Belfast. In these towns the flame first caught as one young
man caught the burden to intercede for his people and led others in
that burden. His name was James McQuilkin.
James McQuikin was a man who was generally respected in his community.
His conversion resulted from the gospel declaration of an English
lady, Mrs. Colville, a missionary of the Baptist Missionary Society in
England. She had come to Ballymena, County Antrim, in November of
1856, where she evangelized door-to-door. As she was witnessing one
day to a dying woman in the town of Ballymena, she was overheard
Upon hearing this lady explain the need for a personal appropriation of
Christ’s atonement by faith, James was under deep conviction. Being
a strong Calvinist, however, James was afraid that this woman was not
teaching Calvinistic doctrine. He asked her directly
about the matter, to which she replied, “I would not
wish to be more or less a Calvinist than our Lord and
his apostles. But I would rather speak of the experience
of salvation in the soul. If one were to tell me
what he knows of the state of his heart towards God, I
think I could tell him whether he knows the Lord Jesus
James was too proud to continue this conversation.
But there was a woman there who began to speak to
Mrs. Colville about her personal need, which mirrored
exactly James’ own condition. When Mrs. Colville
heard the woman’s need, she replied, “My dear, you
have never known the Lord Jesus.”3 James again fell
under deep personal conviction with which he wrestled for several
weeks. After this struggle he trusted Christ as his Savior.
McQuilkin, finding his life in Christ, fully embraced it. He put off the
things concerning the old man and put on things concerning the new.
He put away his fighting cocks and other worldly means of entertainment.
Instead, he became a man of the Word and of prayer. The effects
of his conversion were noticed in his church.
James McQuilkin’s conversion and personal witness directly impacted
three others of his church: Robert Carlisle, Jeremiah Meneely, and John
Wallace. They were soon converted, and the hearts of these four were
knit together. They regularly met in an old schoolhouse in Kells [pictured
in article title on preceding page] to intercede for the outpouring
of the Spirit of God upon Ireland. These meetings
started in September of 1857, at the same time as the
New York Revival. As a result of their prayer, they saw
the first convert after the New Year.
Two books that greatly impacted McQuilkin were
George Mueller’s Life of Trust and Charles Finney’s
Lectures on Revivals. From Mueller he learned the
secret of prayer and from Finney he learned what to
ask for. From these testimonies of God’s desire, work,
and ability, three truths came to dominate the prayer
They believed in the Sovereignty of the Holy Spirit,
the Sufficiency of the Holy Scripture, and the
Secret of Holy Supplication, and these three great
truths not only characterized the Kells prayer meeting
but the whole subsequent revival movement.4
Slowly their prayer meeting grew. Some ladies also
wished to intercede, and they were encouraged
to hold a separate prayer meeting in a nearby cottage lest there be
false accusations of flirtation from those without. The meetings grew
throughout 1858 until there were fifty men taking part in the prayer.
During this time there were sixteen prayer meetings held nightly. The
reviving work was seen only in Kells and Connor during the year 1858.
There were incredible conversions, prayer meetings, and times of worship.
Everything of the spiritual nature to be seen later across the region
was first experienced for over a year by these towns.
Jeremiah Meneely was the preacher of the prayer group. God mightily
used him to spread the revival fire throughout the province. The first
public spread of the revival was to the neighboring town of Ahoghill,
nine miles northwest of Kells. A young man heard McQuilkin and Meneely
preach and came under great conviction. His conversion led to
the conversion of his family and opened the door for the lay preachers
to come to that town.
When the men came to preach in the village, the
building was so crowded that the meeting was moved
outdoors for concern of safety. So, they preached to a
crowd of 3,000 in the streets of Ahoghill. From there
the revival spread to Ballymena, a town of great importance
in that area. It became a hub for the further
spread of revival flame. Many godly ministers and laymen
who, like Simeon of old, had long awaited the
coming of Christ became leaders in this revival. Although
there were prominent men in the revival, including
the four intercessors, there was not one main
leader. God alone was recognized as the leader of
the revival, and there were enough men yielded to
the Head that the body functioned without problem.
This revival, or awakening, had a tremendous effect
on the unsaved. Hardened sinners were broken.
Some families were united by the Gospel; others were
divided. It is impersonal to talk only of statistics and
figures when there were individuals with personal stories
of how God saved them.
In a school in Coleraine there was a young boy who was visibly distressed.
The school master advised that he go home, as he was unable
to work, and “call upon the Lord in private.”5 He sent an older boy,
who had recently found peace with God, to accompany the lad home.
On their way home they stopped to pray in an empty house. They
prayed until that boy was saved and knew it. With an overflowing joy
the boy rushed back to school to tell his teacher.
The boy, who, a little while ago, had been too sorrowful to do his
work, soon entered the school with a beaming face, and, going up
to the master, said, in his simple way, “O, Sir, I am so happy: I have
the Lord Jesus in my heart.” Strange words, in cold times! Natural
words, when upon the simple and the young the Spirit is poured
out, and they feel what is meant by “Christ in you the hope of
glory,” and utter it in the first terms that come! The attention of
the whole school was attracted. Boy after boy silently slipped out
of the room… [On the playground the master] saw a number of
his boys ranged round the wall on their knees in earnest prayer,
every one apart. The scene overcame him… Their silent grief
soon broke into a bitter cry. As this reached the ears of the boys in
the room, it seemed to pierce their hearts: as by one consent, they
cast themselves upon their knees, and began to cry for mercy. The
girls’ school was above, and the cry no sooner penetrated to their
room, than, apparently well knowing what mourning it was and
hearing in it a call to themselves, they too fell upon their knees and
wept. Strange disorder for schoolmaster and mistress
to have to control! The united cry reached
the adjoining streets, and soon every spot on the
premises was filled with sinners seeking God.6
There was an old soldier, whose regiment had been
disbanded after the battle of Waterloo, who came under
intense conviction during the opening prayer of a
service. He did not, however, outwardly voice it at the
time. The conviction worked on him throughout the
night, but early on Monday morning his wife came to
ask Mr. Simpson, the local minister, to come and help
her husband. As Mr. Simpson witnessed,
He was in a most awful agony of prayer. He was
sitting up in bed with hands clasped and tears
falling from his eyes in torrents—tears which he
made no attempt to wipe away…He exclaimed
repeatedly, “What a wretched sinner I have
been…Oh, blessed Saviour of this world, melt this hard heart,
this wretched heart. It is a heard heart, a wretched heart. Oh,
blessed Saviour pour out the Holy Spirit on every wretched sinner
like me.” And then he said, “Oh, heart pressed down!” I asked
him, “What is it that presses down your heart?” He replied, “Sin,
Satan!” He then resumed his supplication thus: “Oh Saviour, free
me! Oh, wash me in the fountain opened; oh plunge me in it. I
know that ‘He will not put my soul to shame, nor let my hope be
lost!’ Oh, blessed Savior, I will not distrust thee one jot! Oh, dear
Saviour—dear Lord and Saviour—forsake me not!”7
This unlearned man had a very eloquent prayer for salvation in such an
atmosphere of Holy Spirit presence.
That atmosphere of conviction by the Spirit was so intense at this time
that some people were affected physically. During these occurrences,
people were overwhelmed with the conviction of their wretchedness
and fell down in torment of soul to cry out to God for mercy. This
lasted for lengthy periods of time, sometimes hours or even days.
These prostrations, as they came to be known, were attacked as hysteria
or works of Satan by those not touched by the revival. Enemies
of the revival, Roman Catholics and Unitarians, used the prostrations
as propaganda to scare people away from the gospel meetings. The
priests sold holy water as a cure for this “work of Satan.” Even some
believers, who had not witnessed the work of God, questioned the
genuineness of the conversions because of this unusual physical state
that occurred frequently in the large meetings. However, in the entire
scope of this revival, out of thousands saved, almost all lived their lives
without backsliding. Below is an observation of a retired Colonel of the
Indian army with regards to the accusations.
Are men to be cast down when an earthly calamity befalls them,
and is there to be no manifestation of alarm, no mental or bodily
depression, when the realities of the eternal world are brought
suddenly before them in all their vivid signification, when the
awakened soul feels itself hanging over an unfathomable abyss of
The prostrations were simply a physical response to
the working of the Spirit in conviction of sin and judgment.
Instead of vice and drunkenness, modesty and sobriety
became the normal behavior. Throughout that
region of northern Ireland public houses were closed,
either for lack of custom or due to the conversion of
the owner. At the Maze racecourse, where crowds of
10,000 were normal, there were only 500 spectators
at the October meeting. The shipbuilding company
Harland and Wolff, from whose shipyard came the Titanic,
also felt the effects of the revival. The employees
became convicted by the Spirit for their thievery,
and they began returning stolen tools and materials.
The management had so many items returned that
they needed to build another tool shed and asked that
there be no further returns of stolen property! Clearly,
there was an awareness of the presence of God that impacted people’s
In the six northern counties of Ireland the population was less than a
million. Of this population 100,000 were saved. The move did have
an impact outside of the predominantly Protestant counties. Donegal,
Monaghan, Cavan, Carlow, Limerick, and Dublin all were affected in
some measure by the move. In addition, the close ties between the
north of Ireland and Scotland allowed for the communication of the
revival to that land. In Scotland, 300,000 were saved out of a population
of three million.
It is fitting for us to rejoice at the 10 percent of the population that
were saved in the north, but we must ask why so relatively few in the
rest of the country. It is plainly evident that God’s presence impacted
the region of the north of Ireland, the area where the majority of the
Protestant population lived. As was the case with the Great Awakening
and Jonathan Edwards, there were many unregenerate Protestants who
needed salvation. There were also many Roman Catholics who got
saved, in fact, probably the most during any one period in Ireland’s history.
9 However, the defenses of Satan stood strong against the working
of God in the rest of the country. Roman Catholicism and Irish Republicanism
rose strong to keep the Irish blind to the light of the Gospel.
Just as the outpouring of the Spirit on the northern communities was
granted in response to prayer, could not the blinding of Satan in Catholic
communities also have been accessed through intercession? It is
possible that there may have been a lack of understanding on praying
through to victory in spiritual warfare. The view on the doctrines of
election and predestination that makes God a respecter of persons may
have excused this lack of persistence
in intercession. While
there were many ministers who
sought the evangelization of the
Catholic Irish, they seemed to
make no great impact. Their activities
among the Roman Catholic
Irish could well be described
as the attempt to spoil a strong
man who was free to defend
his palace. Had there been focused
intercession to bind Satan
and break his strongholds, as with James O. Fraser and the pagan Lisu
tribes,10 Ireland’s history may have been quite different. Let us then be
sure that when we see God’s blessing outpoured, we see all of God’s
will done on earth as it is in Heaven. Faith pleases God. When God’s
presence is manifest, let us venture out in faith, as did Caleb, and take
the best-defended and most intimidating mountain in the name of Jehovah.
The vista has changed in Ireland. Catholicism and Republicanism are
now impotent, compared to their strength in 1859, because Satan has
instead pointed the people towards materialism and selfishness. The
need in Ireland is great, north and south, for an outpouring of the Spirit
today. Will you pray for God to fully pull back Satan’s grip in Ireland
and to replace it with the influence of His Holy Spirit?
Growing up in a missionary-planted Baptist church in Dublin, I did not
have much knowledge of the work that God had done previously in my
land. Without a link of heritage or direct communication on this issue,
the revival did not impact me. One thing that God has kindled in me
since my childhood, however, is my desire to see Him pour out His
Spirit upon entire regions. This desire, combined with my concern for
my countrymen, has produced a recent interest in the 1859 Revival in
Ireland. If God responded to the cry of four men in a schoolhouse 150
years ago, why would He not now? I believe that it is prayer that will
access an outpouring for my land. Having learned of this gracious work
of God in 1859 and recalling the ministry of the Evangelist Patrick, my
heart no longer cries, “Lord, do it!” but “Lord, do it again!”
1 Ian R. Paisley, The “Fifty Nine” Revival. Belfast, Northern Ireland: Martyrs Memorial
Free Presbyterian Church, 1958, p. 19.
2 Ibid., 15.
4 Ibid., 17.
5 John Weir, Heaven Came Down: The 1859 Revival. Belfast, Northern Ireland: Ambassador
Productions, Ltd., 1987, p. 109-110.
6 Ibid. 109-110.
7 Ibid., 117.
8 Ibid., 101.
9 The conversions under the ministry of the Evangelist Patrick were in a pagan Ireland.
10 See Mountain Rain by Eileen Fraser Crossman.
Will you pray for
God to fully pull
back Satan’s grip
in Ireland and to
replace it with the
influence of His
Matthew Ryan is a native of Ireland and graduate of
Baptist College of Ministry whose burden in ministry is
intercession. He may be reached at matthew.ryan@
When faith gives way to unbelief
And focus shifts from God to man;
When all seems hopeless for the cause,
Remember God’s reviving plan.
When compromise invades the church
And darkness hovers o’er the land;
When Satan seems to mock the truth,
Remember God’s reviving hand.
Look unto Jesus, Healer still,
Let faith be built, let hope ignite;
God still delivers those who will
Remember God’s reviving might.
Remember now the works of God,
The greater works that He has done;
Remember now His mighty acts,
The victories that He has won.
–John R. Van Gelderen
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