Spiritual revival is possible today, just it was in generations past. As I and our Evangelism Committee now prepare for the launch of our new church-wide prayer initiative, it is good to remind ourselves of how God has moved in years past in order to lift our eyes with faithful expectation. Following is one such example.
James Grant (1802 – 1879) traveled to Ireland in 1859 to witness the events of the Ulster Revival, a remarkable period in the history of the British Isles when many thousands of people came to faith in Jesus Christ, and large numbers of professing Christians experienced great advances in their walk with God. As the gospel changed people, so the society in which they lived was transformed. Grant’s pamphlet on the impact of the revival is a remarkable witness to the moral and social change that the power of God brings to communities. He writes:
“This extraordinary movement continues to make rapid progress in all parts of the North of Ireland. It is not only the most wonderful movement in our day, but, all things considered, it has, perhaps, no parallel since the days of the Apostles . . .
But the great test of the reality and worth of any moral or spiritual change which has been wrought upon the minds and hearts of men, is the effect it produces on their conduct. Tried by this test, the religious movement in the North of Ireland must be confessed to be of Divine origin. Nothing but Almighty power ever could accomplish such complete changes in the human character as those which are hourly witnessed. The drunkard gives up his habits of inebriety; the swearer ceases to take the name of his Master in vain; he who was addicted to the utterance of falsehood speaks the truth, and nothing but the truth; the man who stole, steals no more; and he who delighted in everything that resembled the savage nature of the tiger, becomes gentle and harmless as the lamb. Husbands who ill-treated their wives, and acted unnaturally towards their children, are suddenly, as if by a miraculous agency, transformed into the best of husbands and kindest of fathers. The aspect of society in the districts where the progress of the Revivals has been most decided has, in a word, undergone so thorough a change, that no one could believe it who has not been a witness of it, seen it with his own eyes, and heard the wonderful things with his own ears . . .
Let me repeat the expression of my full belief, that, taken altogether, the history of the Christian Church contains no parallel to these Revivals in the North of Ireland. And when we witness their blessed effects, morally and socially, as well as spiritually, we can well imagine what a happy world this would become—how it would, in at least a moral and social sense, be transformed into a perfect paradise—were the same principles universally adopted and embodied in practice, as have produced and are producing such a marvellous reformation in the North of Ireland.”1
1 James Grant, Personal Visit to the Chief Scenes of the Religious Revival in Ireland (London: J. Snow, 1859) cited in Benjamin Scott, The Revival in Ulster: Its Moral and Social Results (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1859), 45-46. Emphasis in original.