In speaking of the gracious revival of the Holy Spirit in the Hebrides, I shall direct your attention to three aspects of it - how it began; what are its main features; and what it accomplished in the Church and in the community.
In October, 1949, the Free Church Presbytery of Lewis met in the town of Stornoway; they met to discuss, among other things, the appalling drift away from the Church, especially of the younger people of the island. They were there also to consider the dearth of conversions in their congregations. A resolution was passed calling upon their faithful people to view with deep concern the inroads made by the prevailing spirit of the age. I am here this afternoon to declare with absolute certainly that in one congregation at least there were men and women who were deeply burdened. I refer to the parish church of Barvas, where the revival broke out.
Here were men and women baptized into a sense of the need and the condition of men; men who were labouring under a burden, men and women who could have said with Hezekiah of old, "I have made a covenant in my heart with the Lord God of Israel." And this was the covenant that they made; that they would not give rest to their eyes - quoting from Psalm 132 - nor slumber to their eyelids, until they found a place for their God, the God whom they believed in, the God of revival.
I take you now to a barn in the town of Barvas and here in this barn I find men on their faces before God. They have gathered to pray, but this is no ordinary prayer meeting. Here are men, led by their minister, who were there to do business with God, and at ten o'clock at night they knelt among the straw, to spend the night on the walls of Zion; to plead with God that He would come and make bare His holy arm.
For months they waited, for months they gathered in this barn three nights a week, and waited on their faces before God until four and five o'clock in the morning. One night a young man, a deacon from the Free Church, rose and read Psalm 24, "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive not a blessing, but the blessing of the Lord." He read it again, and then faced his praying companions with the words, "Brethren, we have been praying for weeks waiting upon God. But I would like to ask now: Are our hands clean? Is the heart pure?"
I cannot take time to go into all that happened, but that night, or rather the following morning, God swept into that barn. Had you gone there at four o'clock in the morning you would have found three men prostrate on the floor in a trance; they had prayed until they passed out of consciousness.
My dear people, this is no fairy tale. Here are men moving out of the realm of the common and the natural into the sphere of the supernatural; and that is revival. That very morning in their little cottage, several miles distant, two elderly sisters are on their faces before God, one 82 and other 84 years of age. They know that the others are waiting upon God, and in this cottage something happens. Heaven swept down and glory crowned the place; they knew that revival was near. The older sister, addressing her younger sister, said, "This is what He has promised - 'I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground'; and we are dealing with a covenant-keeping God.
So convinced was she, that a message was sent that morning to the parish minister with a request that a wire be sent to the Faith Mission. Why did they communicate with the Faith Mission? Here is the answer: forty-five years ago the two sisters were led to Jesus Christ through D.M. Miller, working in Lewis under the auspices of the Faith Mission. How wonderful our God is in His sovereign purposes! Away back, forty-five years ago, He had His plan and programme for Lewis.
To make a long story short, I received a wire in Skye, where I was labouring, and where God was graciously moving. I replied saying that it was impossible for me to go to Lewis, as I was then preparing for a holiday Convention in another parish; but that I would put Lewis on my programme for the following year. That reply was brought to the sisters, and here is their reaction to it: "That is what man has said. God hath said that He is coming, and He will be here within a fortnight." Now I cannot go into the details as to how it was necessary for us to cancel the Convention. Alii can say is that the Tourist Board swept in and commandeered the hotels and the boarding-houses we were counting upon to give accommodations. Peggy's prayer was answered; but behind her prayer were the sovereign purposes of God.
Within a fortnight I was there. I shall never forget that first meeting in the parish church of Barvas, and the spirit of expectancy. I was met by the elders, and assured that God was going to do something. A deacon from the church came and said, Mr. Campbell, God IS hovering over, He is going to break through." Here were men who dared to believe that there is a God who will fulfill His promises to those who pass into the realm of prevailing prayer.
But nothing happened in that meeting; it was a very ordinary meeting - the singing was good, there was a measure of liberty in prayer, but nothing more than that. But at the close of the service this deacon came again to me, and said, "Do not be discouraged He is coming; I hear already the rumblings of heaven's chariot wheels." Here were men who knew something, and could talk in heaven's language.
Then he suggested that we go and spend the night in prayer. So we went to a cottage nearby, and there we waited in God's presence. About thirty of us had gathered; God was beginning to move, the heavens were beginning to open, we were there on our faces before God. Three o'clock in the morning came, and God swept in.
Again I see about a dozen men and women prostrate on the floor, lying there speechless. Something had happened; we knew that God had taken the field, and the forces of darkness were going to be driven back, and men were going to be delivered. We left that cottage at three o'clock in the morning, to discover men and women seeking after God. I walked along a country road, and found three men on their faces, crying to God for mercy; there was a light in every home, no one seemed to think of sleep. The Spirit of God was moving, and it will not surprise you when I say that when we gathered at the church the following day the place was crowded, a stream of buses having come from the four quarters of the island. Who told them? I cannot tell you. God has His own wonderful way of working. A butcher's truck brought seven men from a distance of seventeen miles away, and the seven men were gloriously converted that night.
We gathered in the church, and I spoke for about an hour. The Spirit of God was at work. All over the church men and women were crying for mercy and I could hear them on the road. There are some in this meeting tonight who were at that second service. They, I am sure, can again picture the scene: men and women were crying, some falling into a trance, some swooning, many crying, "Ch, God, is there mercy for me?" A young man beneath the pulpit prayed, "Ch God, hell is too good for me."
This is the desperate need in the field of evangelism today - conviction of sin that will bring men on their faces before God.
I closed the meeting with the benediction, and the people moved out. As the last person was about to leave the building, this young man began to pray, and he prayed for almost three- quarters of an hour - just think of it, three-quarters of an hour in prayer - and as he prayed, the people kept gathering, and now we had twice as many around the church as in it. They had come from everywhere, word having gone round that meetings were to be held right through the night; they had come from Stornoway, from Ness, and different parishes. When this young man had stopped praying, the elder gave out Psalm 132, and as that vast congregation sang the words of that wonderful Psalm, they streamed back into the church again and the meeting went on until four o'clock in the morning.
Leaving the church at four o'clock, a messenger came, saying, "Mr. Campbell, people are gathered at the Police Station, from the other end of the parish; they are in great distress; can anyone here come along and pray with them?" I went along to the Police Station, and can never forget the scene that met our eyes. Under starlit sky, with the moon gazing down upon us, and angels, I believe, looking over the battlements of glory, where men and women on the road, by the cottage side, behind a peat stack, crying to God for mercy. Yes, the revival had come! For five weeks that went on - in one church at seven o'clock, in another at ten, in a third at twelve, back to the first church at three o'clock, and home between five and six, tired, but glad that we found ourselves in the midst of a God-movement of the Holy Spirit. I spent five weeks in this particular parish, and then it spread to the neighboring parishes; and what we saw there in Barvas we saw in the other districts.
That was how it began. Now let me deal with one or two features of the movement.
First of all, I would say the outstanding feature is this deep sense of God, this consciousness of the Eternal, men moved with bowed heads, the realization of God in the midst so overwhelming that sometimes they dared not move. People are here who can tell you how true what I am saying is. It may help you to understand what I am trying to get at when I tell you this - do not misunderstand me - a young woman came to me from Lewis yesterday and said, "Mr. Campbell, what is wrong?" I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "I am missing that consciousness of God, I am missing that sense of the Eternal; I am missing the subduing presence and power of the Holy Sprit." My dear people, do not misunderstand me, I am speaking just now of an island, of a community in the grip of God, and men bowed before him. The outstanding feature is the tremendous sense of the subduingPresence of God.
One who came into saving and covenant relationship with Jesus Christ spoke on the following evening to a young man. Suddenly conviction grips him, and he begins to tremble and try to shake it off; he goes to the town of Stornoway and enters the tavern to get away from this overwhelming sense of the presence of God, and when he enters the tavern he finds there men speaking about their lost and ruined state. He says, "This is no place for a man anxious to shake this off; I will go to a dance." That night he went to a dance, and was not in the hall five minutes when a young woman came to him and said, "Oh, where would Eternity find us if God struck us dead now?" The sense of God was everywhere. That evening that young man found the Saviour; he could not escape God.
The second outstanding feature is this deep sense of sin. This is terrible to behold. Let me illustrate it by telling you something that happened in the village or township of Arnol. Here we were met with a measure of opposition. Do not run away with the idea that all was plain sailing. Oh, no, we have been met with opposition, and meet with opposition still; but our God is a conquering God. In this community of four to five hundred souls, very few came to our meetings. The church was crowded with people from other districts; and again we gave ourselves to prayer. An elder from a neighboring church prayed for this township, for this village was dead; not a single young person darkened the doors of the church, the Sabbath was given over to the tavern and poaching. I am talking about facts that cannot be gainsaid.
We pray until past 12:30, and again something happens, and we move out of the realm of the ordinary and natural into the sphere of the supernatural, and God lets His power loose. We leave that meeting, and the first person to meet us is a woman with a stool in her hand, who said, "Is there a corner for me in the church?" It t was crowded by the people of the village. I went into a neighboring house to seek some refreshment, having preached for three hours, before I went to the prayer meeting. I went into that house for a glass of milk, and the lady of the house was on her knees with seven other women around her. Here were eight women in great distress of soul.
Within forty-eight hours the tavern was closed, and will be closed forever. Today it is boarded up, and were you to go to that village you would find great strong men, pillars of the Church of Jesus Christ. Going through the village, an old elder of the Free Church drew my attention to this house that was the tavern of this village, and he said, "Fourteen of the young men who frequented that den of iniquity were praying in the prayer meeting last Thursday." Oh, men and women, it was God at work. Today they require a bus to take them to the church service. Were you to go to that village today you would find three prayer meetings during the week; you would find a group of men on their knees before God at midnight - they gather at ten and wait until one o'clock in the morning, praying for the spread of the revival. That village, as some of you who are from Lewis know, is completely changed. You cannot enter that township today and not feel this wonderful sense of the Lord. There is not a single young man between the age of 18 and 35 who is not praying today in the prayer meeting. Oh, dear people, this is God at work.
From there we went to Bernera. I think I must relate the wonderful story of the young man spoken of so frequently as the Evan Roberts of Lewis, who came in during the first wave. He was a young lad who went to the church carrying a chair to sit on. God met with him that night; the following night he led his father to Christ; the following evening he led his mother to Christ, and I can see him now beneath the pulpit, saying, "This is where father found Jesus last night, this is where I found the Saviour the night before." This young lad was endued with the power of the Holy Ghost.
In Bernera things were difficult; the stream of Christianity was running low, the churches empty, there were no prayer meetings. So I sent a wire requesting the praying men of Barvas to come and assist me in prayer, and making this special request that little Donald be brought with them. They came, and in a meeting at which about eighty people gathered, I was preaching from the text, "And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to hell." That has been the burden of the message from the beginning to this day, when God is sweeping through the isles. The burden of the message has been the severity of God in judgment, the glories of heaven and the terrible reality of doomed souls in a burning hell. Listen, you preachers of the Gospel: I am convinced of this, that we have to get back to this emphasis and the terrible reality of doomed souls n a burning hell. Listen, you preachers of the Gospel: I am convinced of this, that we have to get back to this emphasis; we have been soft-pedalling far too long, and the soul-destroying doctrine of Universalism is eating at the vital part of our message. Half-way through that address I stopped, and, looking down at this lad, I said, "Donald, will you lead us in prayer?"
He stands; he is not praying more than five minutes when God sweeps into the church, and there is the congregation falling almost on top of each other; others throw themselves back and become rigid as in death. Do not ask me to explain these physical manifestations; I only state that again we are moving into the realm of the supernatural. But the remarkable thing about that great meeting is this, that while that was happening in the church fishermen out in their fishing boats, men behind their looms, men at the pit bank, a merchant out with his van, school teachers examining their papers, were gripped by God, and by ten o'clock the roads were black with people seeking after God who were never near me. I went along that country road and found in one place three men lying on their faces, so distressed about their souls that they couldn't talk to me; yet they were never near a meeting that I held. This is revival! Just another word. Mr. Tom Rees, of Hildenborough, visited Lewis some time ago; several minister friends were visiting at the same time. Both parties were there to ask questions - were lives changed? Were communities changed? What impact did the revival make upon the church? Here I quote for the local Press, THE STORNOWAY GAZETTE: "More are attending the prayer meetings in Lewis today than attended public worship on the Sabbath before the outbreak of this revival."
That is the impact on the Church; but what about the community? I make this statement. Social evils were swept away as by a flood in a night, and today in the communities touched by this gracious movement you have men and women living for God, family worship in every home, five or six prayer meetings a week in the parish, the ministers and elders doing their utmost to build the young men and women in the faith. At a conference of ministers recently I discovered this: I put a question to them - how are things in your different parishes, in your respective districts; how are young converts getting on? Of the hundreds that professed during this gracious first wave of the Holy Spirit, right up until that visit of mine to this particular district, only four young women have ceased to attend the prayer meetings, only four of the hundreds that came to know Jesus Christ.
Oh, dear people, here was a manifestation of God, something greater than planning, something more wonderful than a new approach, something more convincing than a new dynamic in the realm of evangelism. God at work; and I say that is the only answer to the problems that face us today. We may organize, we may plan, but until we get on our faces before God and do business with a covenant-keeping God, we shall not see revival. We can have our conventions and our conferences, and speak of our wonderful times, but what we want, and what we need, is a fresh manifestation of the mighty power of God that brings men down in deep conviction to seek the Saviour. The main emphasis has been on the severity of God; but this remarkable thing has to be noted -eighty-three hymns have been written by the converts, some as fine as anything we have in our Gaelic literature, and without one single exception every hymn has been on the love of Jesus or the wonder of the Saviour.
The above article was material for a series of broadcasts by Lorne Sparks over Radio Station WCBC. Great Commission Schools, Inc. Box 727 Anderson Indiana