The term ‘revival’ is often used in Christian circles but it can mean different things to different people. In America it might refer to a type of evangelistic meeting. Elsewhere it generally refers to a sovereign move of God. Though the two definitions can easily be confused in the Christian media. Depending where you live in the world Christians tend to look back at those revivals that impacted the most on their own heritage. The Welsh look back to the events of the 1904 revival in Wales. Others might go back to the 1859 revival which broke out in Ulster and spread to other parts of Britain. It spread from Ireland to south-western Scotland during the late summer and early autumn and reports began to appear in the press, an extract from the Ayrshire Express appeared in the Inverness Advertiser on 13th September 1859:-
“The Ayrshire Express, in the notice of Saltcoats, says that multitudes have suddenly and simultaneously became anxious about their state in relation to a future life is a great fact that cannot be denied, whatever may be the inference therefrom. Meetings are held throughout the town almost every night, and sometimes during the day. These meetings are protracted until the night is far advanced. The meeting places are crowded; churches are filled to overflowing. Unable to gain sitting accommodation, men and women congregate in the lobbies, throng the passages and line the pulpit stairs. The religious services at these meetings are not of an exciting nature, but conducted with the utmost decorum, and general singularly free from extravagances. The meeting is opened in prayer by the pastor of the congregation, after which he calls on the clergymen present, in turn, to read a portion of Scripture, and address a few words to the meeting – generally clergymen from the place, or, as it may happen, a minister from a distance. No critical exposition of the passage read is attempted; but the simple and fundamental truths are clearly stated, and a few earnest exhortations and counsels given. True, these pastors talk solemnly and earnestly – and so they ought. In general, no undue excitement has been manifested by the speakers, and yet scarcely a night goes by but one or two are “stricken down,” prostrated, powerfully affected in body and mind, and made to cry out in anguish of spirit, although the movement is now beginning to assume a milder form, and the manifestations of physical excitement have become less violent. A marked change in the whole walk and conversation of many who have been affected is henceforth visible – plain and palpable to all men.”
Despite the natural scepticism of the journalistic profession the evidence was such that they could not dismiss this as mere “bubble and froth.” Of course if you ere to go there today you might say where is the evidence today? There is another reason why I chose this piece, it is because I found out a couple of years ago I found out that one of my great-grandfathers was born in Saltcoats in 1857. Obviously, he was too young to be affected by it himself, but what about his mother? [His father was a seaman and may not have been by away when the revival broke out.] In the early 1970s my mother was reading a publication called ‘Missionary Circular,’ when she read out to me a letter; it was written by an old lady who recounted an incident when she as a young girl and staying at her grandmother’s house. One day she came downstairs and came upon her grandmother praying in the kitchen and she heard her pray that her grandchildren would become missionaries. I cannot remember all the details but the letter went on to say that while the writer herself had not become a missionary, she stated the number of the grandchildren and their children who had gone out to be missionaries. My mother said that the writer was a cousin of my grandmother. Therefore, that ‘grandmother’ was my great-great-grandmother who had lived in Saltcoats. That is the real evidence of having been in a revival – a prayer life that is vibrant and that it has carried on for 40 years or more. Note, also that the prayer was for future generations and not for herself. One can expect that there will be those that were caught up in the moment of it and they will fall away once the novelty has worn off. But what matters is that at the end of the day there should be evidence that we have run the race.
You can stage a meeting and you can can it a revival but it is no guarantee that a genuine revival will take place. One can argue that with all the distractions that there are in today’s world that it is almost impossible for the scenes of the past to be repeated. Revivals often broke out where the lifestyle was such that whole communities could come together and seek God, but these days with the tendency towards the 24/7 society half the community tends to be at work when the other half are at leisure.
David Rose, 2014.