Brethren Archive


by John G. M'Vicker


As Mr. M'Vicker was so much blessed at the time of the Revival of 1859, and took so deep an interest in that work of God's grace, it is thought well to give his own account of its origin, as spoken at a Conference on Revivals in a large tent at Tottenham in 1898.
"Let me say a few words about the revival in Ireland in the year 1859, during the progress of which I myself found peace with God.
"For the encouragement of sisters in their work for the Lord, let me say at the onset that the first seed out of which that work grew, was sown by the hand of a woman. Mrs. Colville, of Gateshead, laboured in and around Ballymena, Co. Antrim, about the year 1857, for six months, visiting cottages and talking with the people about personal knowledge of salvation.
"She told me herself how trying those months were; few sympathized with her, and she saw little fruit from her work. But God gave her at least one soul for Christ, who might well have been called Gad---'A troop cometh.'
"A young man named James M'Quilkin, an unconverted church member, heard of her visiting among the people. He was a strong Calvinist, and he dreaded lest Mrs. C. should be spreading what he regarded as false doctrine among the people. At a tea-table where they met, he asked, 'Are you a Calvinist, Mrs. C.?' 'I would not wish,' she answered, 'to be more or less of a Calvinist than our Lord and His apostles. But I do not care to talk on mere points of doctrine. I would rather speak of the experience of salvation in the soul.' She added: 'If one were to tell me what he knows of the state of his heart with God, I think I could tell him whether he knows the Lord Jesus savingly.' This at once closed James's mouth. He felt that his heart was not right, and he dreaded exposing its true state if he spoke further.
"As God so ordered it, a lady present, began to unbosom herself to Mrs. C.; and had the Holy Spirit been revealing the state of James's heart, he himself told me that it could not have been more exactly described than in the words this lady used. 'I waited,' he said, 'with breathless expectation to hear what Mrs. C. would answer. After a brief pause, she said solemnly, 'My dear, you have never known the Lord Jesus.' I knew that she spoke what was true of me. I felt as if the ground were about to open beneath me and let me sink into hell. As soon as I could, I left the company. For two weeks, I had no peace day or night. At the end of that time, I found it by trusting the Lord Jesus.
"Christ 'could not be hid.' As soon as this young man received Him as his Saviour, he began to gather what were called 'prayer meetings,' and to speak of Him to others. This was in 1857.
"His first convert was one who still lives, whom I have known intimately for nearly forty years, Jeremiah Meneely. He had been for some time anxious about his soul; had begun family worship and attendance at a weekly prayer meeting and had even become a communicant at the Lord's Supper. But he had no power over sin; he had no peace. When he heard his friend M'Q. speak of the knowledge of pardon, he felt in his heart that James had got possession of something that he himself still lacked, and he determined that he would never rest until he obtained it.
"For a time his efforts were vain. But one day, in his room alone, he came on that verse in John vi.: 'Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out.' Kneeling down with his finger on the verse, and his eyes up to the Lord, he said, 'Lord, I have come to family worship, and the prayer meeting, and the sacrament, and I am unsaved yet. Now I come past them all: I come to Thyself, and here is Thy Word binding Thee not to cast me out.' He saw that the Lord had left Himself no way of escape. And there and then, the matter was settled by the Holy Spirit through faith in his heart, and settled forever.
"These two began to pray together, and they found two other young men, already believers, though feeble ones, who wished to join them in prayer.
"This is another point of great importance to be noticed in regard to that revival---the place that prayer had in originating and sustaining it. Night after night, these four gathered for prayer; and as others were converted, the numbers at the prayer meetings grew. What some of them had heard of Mr. George Muller's experience of God's answering prayer, greatly encouraged them. Their great petition was, 'Lord pour out Thy Holy Spirit on this district and country.' When told by some brethren that their prayer was a mistake, that the Holy Spirit had been poured out, they comforted themselves with the thought that God knew what they meant, and He did, and granted it; for the work spread more and more; at first quietly, then in a way that drew universal attention, till the fire spread over the whole of Ulster and far beyond it.
"I would like to call attention to another of the secret causes of the blessing granted in that work; the faith in God that marked the workers. I never met anyone who seemed to have it so deeply settled on his heart as a principle, that the way to honour God and to please Him, was to expect great things from Him, as James M'Quilkin. He delighted to speak of the great things God was about to do, and spoke of them as if he saw them done.
"I think I ought also to say that the previous religious teaching which the people had received, much helped the progress and stability of the work. The great mass of them were entirely devoid of spiritual life; but they had been trained to value the Scriptures and taught a sound theology. The wood was laid ready to burn and the breath of God kindled it.
"I might add in conclusion, that those whom God uses in His work, must be content to let Him have all the glory. When the Evangelical Alliance met in Belfast in the year 1859, and nothing was being spoken of, but the wonderful revival then going on, I sat beside the sister with whose quiet labours it all originated, and her name was not once even referred to. She got no honour. And she was content to have it so. She did not 'receive honour from men' but 'sought the honour that cometh from God only.'

" From: "Selected Letters with Brief Memoir of J. G. M'Vicker"

The Revival in South Wales is by its intensity making many church members and even ministers and office bearers feel that their Christian profession has not been real. Such was the case of the late John G. M'Vicker in the revival of 1859 in the North of Ireland. With much sincerity, but with constant dissatisfaction, he endeavoured to fulfill his duties as a Presbyterian minister, for which he had diligently prepared himself, but he then found that he had never been truly "born again." The record of his experience and the letters as given in his Memorial Volume might be helpful to many who now are learning that they have lacked the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.


More than a Century ago, the desire of a young girl in Wales to possess a Bible and the efforts she made to obtain one, led to the formation of the Bible Society, which has supplied most of the nations of the world with the Scriptures.
Wales itself has not only been well provided with copies of the Bible, but its general use in Sunday-schools is remarkable, for people of all ages continue to attend school. Yet with all these advantages, the wide profession of Christianity in Wales—almost every one being a church-member—is admitted to be on the whole, formal and powerless.
Under such circumstances, God has been pleased to use a young man of South Wales to arouse the people to a sense of their need; and in the light of the Word of God, this choice of an instrument is not strange (1 Sam xvi. 11). Having got the ear of his people, this young student tells them in plainest words that their religion is vain, and presses the immediate need of conversion through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Church members, and even some ministers and deacons, have been brought to see that their profession has been an empty one, and the ordinary services have been overturned. In certain places, organs are not heard, choirs are silent, ministers do not take the lead, but prayer, exhortations to repentance and faith in Christ, calling upon God for mercy, outbursts of song, and praise for salvation, are general in the crowded chapels.
The love of God is of course the great theme, but the need of the Holy Spirit's work in the heart is ever insisted on, this being the great lack among the many who are mere professors. New-born souls are zealous for others in a way that may well put older Christians to shame. The besetting of public-house frequenters, the meeting of persons as the theatres are emptied, and above all the appeal to footballers on the play-ground by their converted fellows, tell of an earnestness of soul that carries conviction to many.
But we need not attempt to give details. Strange to say, the public press does so abundantly, and whatever be the motive, people of all classes have now brought before them in the daily papers, the great questions of eternity and of meeting God. This again leads to opportunities in trains, and indeed everywhere, of introducing the great truths of the Gospel, for which we should be most thankful.
It is well for us to consider the danger to which the young Welsh student is increasingly exposed, and to remember him constantly in prayer, for "his fame is noised throughout all the country"—a temptation that threw Joshua off his guard and led to disastrous results (chap. vi. 27; vii. 6, 7). More than once, we are told of the Lord's fame being "spread abroad," and though there was in Him no response to the temptation of being lifted up, He sets us an example of retiring then for prayer.
This awakening spreads, apart from the presence of the young leader, and one marked feature is that in many places far away from Wales, even in lands where foreign tongues are spoken, Christians are stirred to wait diligently upon God. In one place here, six hours were spent in prayer on a Lord's-day in addition to the usual meetings, and blessing from God was given. The spirit of prayer is perhaps one of the most helpful results of this movement, as it was in 1859, and might surely be everywhere sought for and yielded to. While numbers are desirous of seeing what is happening in Wales and are visiting the chief places of revival, the simpler course will be to turn to God and seek to know, according to Hebrews iv. 12, the piercing effect of His Word, so that we may learn wherein we have failed in being blessed and made blessings.
What will be the issue of this revival, which in extent exceeds that which some remember forty-five years ago? The north of Ireland, where the latter began, shows now no very manifest effect of the operation of God's Spirit, and it is quite possible that what in Wales was begun in the Spirit, may degenerate into being perfected in the flesh (Gal. iii. 3). Unless the Spirit of Truth is given His place, it will ever be so, and that which He uses as a sword (Eph. vi. 17), for testimony (John xv. 26, 27) or for edification (Acts ix. 31), is the Word of God. Emotion has its part in the things of God, but unless it is accompanied with the deepening effect of the truth in the heart (John viii. 31), it will fail and may give place to serious reaction. Only by the Holy Spirit can anyone truly call Jesus Lord; see 1 Corinthians xii. 3. But this chapter and the two which follow, contain needful instructions regarding the body of Christ—the only body we should recognize-—the use of gifts in the church by the Spirit, and that which is more excellent than gifts, namely Divine love.
The mere reading of the Scriptures in Welsh Sunday-schools has not profited those who attended them even to hoar hairs, and what is wanted is the Word of God in power to direct and regulate all the ways of those who believe, individually and collectively. If in the Sunday-schools and at other times, the teaching of the Spirit of God from the Word is waited for and then followed—human tradition giving place to "all Scripture"—there will be great and abiding results.
For every step, the power of God is needed. Our subtle adversary will put forth all his wiles and counterfeits in proportion as the Spirit of God is working, and therefore the present revival may end in confusion and reproach unless the exhortations to lowliness of heart, godliness of walk, and continuance in the truth are heeded. Indeed, if we turn from the Word of God, which is our sufficiency for all things, we enter the paths of the destroyer.
Where perhaps numbers of God's people have failed in the past, is in resting satisfied with a measure of regard to the letter of Scripture, and the stress laid in Wales on the work of the Spirit of God is therefore timely. Not only is this all-important in the matter of true conversion, but believers must ever be "led of the Spirit," the outcome of which will be the constant bringing forth of the fruit of the Spirit in contrast with the works of the flesh (Gal. v).
The thought of some, doubtless, is that the present revival may lead on to the world's conversion, but the sure word of prophecy tells of a far different issue. God gave to Israel times of reviving, two of which are well known, under Hezekiah and under Josiah. For a while, Judah, and even many of Israel, were moved, and the passovers under those kings showed how deeply the people were affected, but let us bear in mind 2 Chron. xxxvi. 14-21. Within thirty-six years after Josiah's passover, like to which there was none kept since the days of Samuel—that is, during all the time of the kings of Israel and Judah—the temple of God was burnt, Jerusalem was destroyed and her people carried away captive. The revival was not maintained by continued fear of God and obedience to His Word; hence corruption more than ever ensued until there was "no remedy" (2 Chron. xxxvi. 14-17).
The grace of God is still exceeding abundant, and we know not how widely blessing may yet spread if we seek unto God and walk in His ways, but let us remember that our Lord, who is coming to receive unto Himself, all who are His, will surely execute judgment on all that is false in Christendom before His reign over Israel and the world begins. God must have realities.

From: "Echoes of Service" 1905

Ciarán Ó Coigligh said ...
Dear Brethren Archive Representative
Greetings from Dublin on a windy and wet Thursday morning.

I am working on a dissertation on the Theology of Ian Paisley who as you will know wrote 'The 1859 Revival', in which reference is made to Mrs. Colville, of Gateshead, who 'laboured in and around Ballymena, Co. Antrim, about the year 1857, for six months, visiting cottages and talking with the people about personal knowledge of salvation' as your piece on the 59 Revival has it.
I have found no reference to Mrs Colville which includes her Christian name. I am very anxious to afford Mrs Colville the acknowledgement which is her due and I would like to include her Christain name. Do you know it or where I might find reference to it?

I have great admiration for the Brethren and I am very friendly with a wonderful Christian man from outside Ballymena who is of the Brethren.

Thank you for the important work you are doing and may God greatly bless it. I look forward to hearing from you at your concenience and shall be grateful for any assistance you may be able to proffer me.

I am, yours in Christ and the Truth

Ciarán Ó Coigligh
Thursday, Oct 29, 2020 : 16:23
Tom said ...

Hi Ciarán,

I moved your comment here as makes it easier if anyone else wants to reply.

Surprised that no-one else has looked into this over the years ... I've just done quite an extensive search myself but not been able to find antyhing definite.

Anyone else have suggestions?


Friday, Oct 30, 2020 : 17:17
Tom said ...

Yale have PDFs of the Annual Reports of the Baptst Missionary Society (of whom she was apparently sent to Ulster by).


I had a look through a few of them but no refernces to Colville yet sadly.

Friday, Oct 30, 2020 : 18:18
Nicholas M. Railton said ...
Ciarán, I have published a book on 1859 and given talks on the topic. I have been trying to find out about her for years and have a file on her. (I have some info but you have realised the problems in finding out her identity.) Send me a mail. Nick
Wednesday, Nov 25, 2020 : 23:49
Marty said ...
In November 1856, a Mrs. Colville, an English lady, visited Ballymena. This lady had a remarkable testimony. She had been religious but unregenerate, then one day the grace of God visited her, bringing salvation to her heart. She immediately testified of the great things God had done for her soul. Her relations were very angry and said she had "gone mad." So embittered did they become that she had to leave her home and become a "wanderer."
This persecution, however, did not quench her zeal for Christ. Like the apostles of old, she could not but speak the things which she had seen and heard. She became a missionary of the Baptist Missionary Society in England. Her work brought her to Ulster and to County Antrim where she went from door to door telling forth the message which had brought such peace to her heart.
One day she visited a home in the town of Ballymena, where a young woman lay dying. Mrs. Colville spoke to the dying woman and those of her girl companions who were gathered round her, concerning the things that pertain unto eternal peace. She described the nature of true conversion to God and pointed out that they were strangers to it and still "in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity."
Her words were overheard by a young man named James McQuilkin, and the barbed arrows from this bow drawn at a venture, fastened with a mighty pricking upon his conscience. He rose and hastily made his way homewards in deep anxiety of soul. This anxiety increased and became so unbearable that he was forced to seek out Mrs. Colville and have further conversation with her. Mr. Jeremiah Meneely, a neighbour and close associate of Mr. McQuilkin, takes up the story: "Mr. James McQuilkin was a strong Calvinist and he feared that Mrs. Colville was not teaching straight Calvinistic doctrine. He asked her whether she was a Calvinist or not. 'I would not wish,' she replied, 'to be more or less a Calvinist than our Lord and His apostles. But,' she continued, 'I do not care to talk on mere points of doctrine. 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 savingly.' "
"James felt that his heart was not right toward God, but he was too proud of his head-knowledge to admit the fact and he at once dropped the conversation. A woman who was present then began to unbosom herself to Mrs. Colville. Her spiritual condition was so much like that of James McQuilkin that he felt as though he could not have described his own condition more perfectly. He waited with almost breathless expectation to see what Mrs. Colville would say to the woman regarding her spiritual condition. After a brief pause, she said, 'My dear, you have never known the Lord Jesus.' James felt that this was true concerning himself, and the reply sent conviction like a dagger to his heart. After weeks of struggling under great agony of soul, he at last found peace and rest through trusting Jesus."
The experience of forgiveness of sins flooded his whole being with a ray of celestial light. Immediately he began to testify of the Saviour whom he now knew personally.
"The "Fifty Nine" Revival" by Ian R. K. Paisley 1958
Saturday, Oct 14, 2023 : 05:29

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