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What Started the Irish Revival of 1859?

In the 1850s, many began to pray for the Holy Spirit to visit and revive the church in Ireland. It started with the visit of a Christian lady, Mrs. Colville, of Gateshead, England, to the town of Ballymena, Ireland. Mrs. Colville was gifted with courage and faith to lead people to Christ. In the course of visitation and tract distribution, she began sharing Christ with a lady. A young man, Jeremiah McQuilken, overheard her graciously say to a woman, "You have never known the Lord Jesus." The words went like an arrow to McQuilken's heart. He was smitten with the thought that, professing Christian as he was, this truth applied to him. For two weeks, he had no peace, day or night. Then, he found it in Christ. His first convert was a friend named Jeremiah Meneely, and these two began to meet with two other men for prayer, John Wallace, and Robert Carlisle. These four began to pray for the Holy Spirit to come in an awakening in Ireland. The Revival flame began to kindle. People were crying for mercy in open-air meetings. A singing-class was turned into a prayer meeting, and many met to pray, on occasion, all night.

It was with extraordinary fervor that the movement spread into Ahoghill and other parishes. In barns, schools, and private houses, meetings were conducted and addressed by converts, and multitudes of people attended the gatherings. At Ballymena, the whole town seemed suddenly to arouse. "The difficulty used to be to get the people into the church," wrote a minister, "but the difficulty now is to get them out." The closing prayer would be pronounced again and again, but each time the irrepressible petitions of the praying people would burst forth again. The cry of the penitent, mourning over sin, would break upon the ear, and so the meeting would of necessity be protracted—perhaps into the early hours of the morning.

The extraordinary character of the spiritual revolution that was happening in Ballymena is demonstrated by the testimony of Rev. S. Moore, who said: "On my return, after two days' absence at a Meeting of Synod, I found the town in a state of great excitement. Many families had not gone to bed for two or three nights. While passing by dozens of houses, night and day, you would hear loud cries for mercy from those under conviction, or the voice of prayer by kind visitors, or the sweet, soothing tones of sacred song. Business seemed at a standstill."[1]

I share these accounts to give you an idea of what happens during a time of revival. One thing that stands out to me is that when God moves supernaturally during a time of revival, there is no rational explanation for how it happens. At times like this, I am sure that people outside of the kingdom of God were unable to explain the phenomenon.

When there is a true Holy Spirit led revival, the fruit is evident in changed lives with many people coming to Christ and turning from sin, repenting, and confessing Christ as Savior. In my opinion, anything short of that is not a real revival. God is in the business of salvation. He has not come to merely give us a feeling, a spiritual high, or even physical healing, but complete redemption. I love it when God visits us with His presence in a substantial way, i.e., when we see healings and the gifts of the Spirit at work, but primarily God's will is for people to come to know Him. He wants His house to be full, and He will work through us if we make ourselves available. How did it start? With a woman boldly sharing her faith.

I want to close our meditation by focusing on what we can do to be part of the move of the Holy Spirit, how we can be available to God to bring change to those around us.

1) Draw near to God. We can do this in prayer and in reading His Word.

2) Confess whatever the Holy Spirit brings to your attention. Do not harbor un-forgiveness or bitterness in your heart, as this is a roadblock to the Spirit of God.

3) Study the Word of God and especially the words of Jesus, which will afford the Holy Spirit the opportunity to use what is stored in your heart (Psalm 119:11). At the moment of opportunity, He will bring to remembrance what we have hidden in our hearts.

4) Place yourself in fellowship with the body of Christ. When the Spirit moves in power, He comes to where His people are in unity. This does not have to be a large gathering, for many a revival has started with just a small group of people. Do not think you can experience the Christian life on your own and of your own choosing. Be with the family. Seek unity. Join your hearts in prayer.

5) Do what you know. Obey what is clear in Scripture and seek God for the rest. Jesus promised us that the Holy Spirit will be our guide, our Teacher.

These writings on revival are from a series on the Holy Spirit’s working through His people. It is found on the All Studies page. Scroll down until you come to On Fire with the Holy Spirit. Click on Holy Spirit Revival.

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