20 September 2017

The Promise

“My word…will not return empty” (Isaiah 55:11)

In the spring of 1856 the English Baptist Missionary Society sent one of their workers, Mrs. Colville, to mid Antrim to engage in the work of personal evangelism through conversation and door to door visitation. On 3 November Mrs Colville visited two ladies who liked to talk about religious matters and who, on this occasion, were discussing predestination and free will with a young man, James McQuilkin, who came from the village of Connor, about five miles from Ballymena. In the course of their conversation Mrs. Colville commented on the worthlessness of such debate if they did not have personal knowledge of the Saviour. These words “took deep root in the heart of James McQuilkin” and after struggling with this conviction for a few weeks he came to personal faith in Jesus Christ, under the preaching of Rev. W.J. Campbell, a Methodist missionary, who was holding meetings in Antrim.

McQuilkin began to serve the Lord with great enthusiasm and in the Spring of 1857 two members of his Sunday School Class were converted. He prayed for a companion to help him in the work and in a short time three of his friends, Robert Carlisle, John Wallace and Jeremiah Meneely, were converted. The four young men belonged to Connor Presbyterian Church and their minister, Rev. J.H. Moore, counselled them to do “something for God” and so they agreed to meet regularly to pray for the conversion of others in their village. The weekly prayer meetings in the old Schoolhouse in Kells began in September 1857 and soon the four young men were joined by others, their number rising to fifty by the end of 1858.  In addition, cottage meetings were arranged and when numbers were too great they met in the open air. Rev. Moore organised a network of prayer meetings in homes throughout his congregation until eventually there were approximately sixteen meetings every night. At the beginning of January 1858 a child in the Sunday School “was so overpowered by the Spirit that its body was prostrated and it suffered greatly in consequence. This astonished them, as it was the first they had ever seen or heard of, but still they went on with their prayer meetings and God blessed their efforts in a remarkable manner.”

By May 1858 about 16 or 17 had been converted, the numbers increasing as time went on, “at length so prosperous did it become that, in a short time, it numbered its hundreds, now thousands, and in all human probability tens of thousands will be the result of that small beginning.” So began that great movement of the Spirit of God which swept across Northern Ireland in 1859 bringing multitudes from death to life.

But what about Mrs Colville? The first months of her work in mid Antrim were full of discouragement and  “many an evening came home to her lodgings much cast down because of the spiritual deadness.” During the summer of 1856 she was joined by another worker, a Lieut, but in November they decided to return to England. Mrs Colville was in “very low spirits” thinking that her work had all been in vain. At that time she didn’t know and would never have believed that she had been God’s instrument in preparing the way for the great blessing about to be poured out on
N. Ireland.

“Sow your seed in the morning, and in the evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” (Ecclesiastes 11:6)

N.J. Gault