EARLY EVANGELICAL REVIVALS IN AUSTRALIA
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WOLLONGONG. – For some time we have felt that our very life as a Church depended upon our experiencing a Revival of Religion, that nothing less than this could save us from being a comfort to evil-doers instead of a warning and rebuke; and so feeling, we were glad to have the opportunity of uniting with the various circuits of the colony in waiting upon the Lord for the bestowment of His converting and sanctifying grace, while we held in the circuit town during the latter part of April the special services arranged for at the last Conference.
But from these services failing to accomplish what we hoped from them, we were much cast down, and so feeling, thought the effort put forth utterly wasted – a mistaken judgment, as the judgment of despondency ever is; for subsequent events have shown that while the direct good we sought by these services was not gained, the indirect good of a keener sense of our own poverty and powerlessness, with a quickened condition of soul leading us to more earnest wrestling with God in private for His mercy for ourselves and the perishing about us, was certainly effected by them. And thus prepared for usefulness by the Lord the Holy Spirit, we have been permitted the joy of harvest. In Bulli, so fair in material beauty, so uncomely in moral aspect, for, whose blessing so many godly men have laboured, some of whom have gone home to rest, and some continue, with us to this day, we have been graciously allowed to gather of the seed they so faithfully sowed.
By the people of God in connexion with us there, Friday, the 22nd of June, will long be gladly remembered, for on the evening of that day, while we were bowed before the Mercy-seat, the Power of the Highest came down upon us, and within the walls of our beautiful house of prayer was heard the unwonted sound of penitents mourning over their sins, and crying for the Saviour; and anon rejoicing in the blessed experience of His nearness to those who truly seek Him, and of His power to save to the peace of pardon the lately-troubled guilty soul.
For the four evenings previously we had held special meetings, but though the attendance was encouraging and believers were blessed, we could get no response from those we anxiously desired to see coming to the Saviour; and so on till late on Friday night, when we were about closing this series of services, sad at heart for another apparent failure. Just after we had given a partial appeal and were going to our knees for a closing prayer, then the long winter was broken up and the gloomy night gave place to cheering day, for almost simultaneously a dozen persons – youths and maidens, men and matrons, came out as seekers of salvation, of whom more than half before the meeting closed were enabled to rejoice in the liberty wherewith He makes His followers free. The night following (Saturday) our good Brother Wynn led the meeting, and again pardon was the experience of the seeker. On the Sunday afternoon, Bro. J. Roseby, of Sydney, rendered good service by an earnest sermon on the freeness and fullness of Divine mercy. A crowded congregation gathered at night, upon whom a gracious influence manifestly rested, while the Rev. J. W. Brown spoke on the soul seeking work and the Lord seeking season. In the after meeting the alien found the sweetness of adopting grace, and the backslider had restored to him the joys of salvation. And so on during the week that followed; in every meeting the Lord was present to comfort the mourner and to heal the broken in spirit.
For the present we closed these services by a Fellowship meeting on Sunday afternoon, July 1st, at which nearly forty testified to their personal experience of the preciousness of Jesus and the blessedness of His salvation. Among this number were many who had been led into this experience through these special services, and their recital of the way in which the Lord had led them into His great peace filled our eyes with the tears of a grateful joy, and constrained from our hearts to cry –
“0 that all men might know
His tokens below;
Our Saviour confess,
And embrace the glad tidings of pardon and peace.”
At the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, which appropriately closed this service of testimony, some sixty persons renewed their covenant vows, and blessedly felt the Holiest realising in them the sign – ‘Infusing His life into the bread, His power into the wine.’
There are certain features of this gracious work worthy of special
1st. The absence of that form of excitement which frequently mar revival services. – Extravagant expressions and noisy utterances have not characterized these meetings. A solemn sense of God’s nearness has prevented such excesses.
There were to be heard the earnest pleading of the believer for the present salvation of those still ‘ignorant of the blood which bought their pardon on the tree;’ there were to be heard the sobs and deep prayers of the sorrowful and anxious; and anon the praises of those made happy in the Divine favour; but from the sound and fury which too often signify nothing but animal heat and passion, we have been mercifully spared.
2nd. The wide-spread influence of this work – not individuals alone, but whole families have been blessed. Among the very touching incidents of the service of testimony was to see a young married man rise to praise God for converting grace just lately found, and when he had resumed his seat, to hear a similar testimony from his wife – and these followed by a father and mother and daughter just entering upon womanhood, exalting the Redeemer’s name and exulting in His love, to which, within a few days, they had been strangers. Not persons only who usually attend our Church have been thus blessed, but adherents of other Churches have shared in that blessing, have professed publicly their personal experience of salvation through faith in Christ.
3 rd. The revived interest in religion this work has caused throughout the circuit; a degree of expectancy has been aroused by it where something like indifference has long existed, and from this quickened state of feeling among the professors of religion with us we are hoping great things. Out of that stationary condition, which is ever the characteristic of a Church not godly enough to be prosperous, we trust that we are moved into that higher state of experience wherein we may increase and profit by the increase.
In closing this notice of the revival at Bulli it should be said that the brethren of the neighbourhood threw themselves heartily into the work; notably Bro. Wynn and Bro. Cornford, local preachers on our plan, helped by their public addresses; and with Bros. Wiseman, McDonald, Poulter, and others, from Wollongong, rendered service by their presence, counsels and prayers.
The numerical results of this work we are not yet able to give. Some thirty persons came out as seekers of salvation. It is probable that twenty of this number will remain in fellowship with us. The rest belong to other Churches, and of them we hope that they will go to their own homes and show what great things the Lord has done for them.
The Circuit Quarterly Meeting was held last week. There was a large attendance. The Superintendent reported the formation of two new classes at Bulli, and a Christian Improvement Society for men. The finances showed a credit balance of five pounds over ordinary expenditure.” (1.) Wollongong
Since my last communication we have been blessed with times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, both at Dapto and Marshall Mount.
At each of these places we have held a week of special services, with very encouraging results. In both these parts of the circuit our cause had very much declined, principally from the removal of our members to other parts of the colony, but their places vacant for many years are now filled by those who we believe are really in earnest about saving their own souls and the souls of others. As the result of these efforts, our old members have been borne forward on the rising tide of Divine influence to a higher experience of godliness. Twenty-six new members, whose ages range from 16 to 60 years, have been gathered into the classes. Seven catechumens have been placed under the care of the Leaders, and members of other Churches have been blessed. Of those to whom tickets on trial have been given, one-third are heads of families – a most pleasing feature in this work; for if the fathers and mothers will consecrate themselves to Christ, we may reasonably expect the children rising up to call Him blessed, and to engage heartily in His service. Father J. Graham, with characteristic devotedness, was with us every evening to assist us with his counsels and prayers, and valuable assistance was rendered by Bro. W. Piper of Marshall Mount, and the brethren Wiseman, McDonald, Poulter and Sanson, from Wollongong. The pastor’s wife accompanied him and was made very useful in singing the Gospel, and directing her guilt -burdened sisters to ‘the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.’ Our best service at Marshall Mount was on the Thursday evening when thirteen persons penitent for sin came out as seekers of God’s forgiving grace. That same evening at Bulli a number of those who were blessed during the late revival services there met for the purpose of praying for a blessing on us, and while they waited upon God for this – while they called – He answered, and gave the knowledge of sins and the experience of pardon to many at Marshall Mount, who for a long time had been most unconcerned about their soul’s salvation. We are hoping that the tide of revival blessing will reach us at Wollongong, where indeed it is much needed. During the last week we held the Church Sustentation and Extension Society meetings through the circuit, being favoured with the advocacy of the General Secretary, the Rev. G. Hurst, whose sermons on the Sabbath at Wollongong and Bulli were much enjoyed by large congregations, and whose public addresses at Dapto, Mount Keira, Bulli and Wollongong should have the effect of exciting a very deep interest in and sympathy with the Society, whose claims he advocated. We are glad to be able to say that the collections for the funds are much in excess of the amount contributed last year.” (2.)
The year 1838 saw the arrival of a layman, John Vidler, in the IIIawarra area, to work as a farm labourer. “He held his first service some time before Christmas, 1838, in his own hut, built of blankets on a rough frame, work; his congregation being his wife, himself, and his brother James.
Holding occasional services at Dapto, he met Mr. William Bursall and Mr.
Robinson, who had been praying for the arrival of a Wesleyan, so they said, for seven years. Next year he took a farm at Dapto, preaching regularly in his own house. A revival soon broke out, when thirty persons were converted and formed into a Society which Mr. Vidler met.” (2.)
Persecution soon developed, from the Anglican minister in Wollongong, who complained that Vidler was stealing his congregation. The minister prevailed upon the owner of the farm that Vidler rented to terminate his use of the property. Another land-owner offered Vidler one of his farms free of rent, but his generous offer was declined, and Vidler moved across to a farm in the Campbelltown area, near the Cow Pastures, for seven or eight years. This is where we will meet him again, a little later in our story.
“Some of the local preachers and leaders in Sydney and Parramatta were men of great spiritual power, men “rho believed in prayer and fasting, and who did not depend upon a stranger coming now and then to hold special services and bring sinners to Christ. They believed in the Holy Ghost, and pleaded for His coming in connection with the ordinary services. As a result, there were “showers of blessing”, glorious revivals, wonderful displays of the Holy Spirit’s power in convincing and saving men. We used often to see a whole congregation broken down and unable to leave the church; and numbers, night after night, coming to the house of God and finding salvation, and this no matter who was conducting the service.” (3.) He then proceeds to give some information about some of these events.
“The first revival in Parramatta that I know of was in 1840.
Religion had been in a low state. The minister of the Circuit was a good man, but old and nearly worn out. He was greatly opposed to noise, and marked the men who were very much in earnest. It was the custom then to call by name a few persons to pray in the prayer meetings, and any who were at all noisy were never asked. Two of our most excellent and devoted local preachers, who were always seeking to save souls, were placed on the list of persons not allowed to take part in the prayer meetings. Very soon I was added to the number.
One day the two brethren to whom I have referred said to me, ‘We are going specially to pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the revival of God’s work, and we want you to join us. This is our plan: Every morning and evening and at midday to spend some time in pleading with God to pour out His Spirit; to observe every Friday as a day of fasting and prayer; to sit together in the meetings, and, though not permitted to pray aloud, silently to plead for the coming of the Holy Ghost.’ I think they were a little afraid of me, as they gave me this caution: ‘Now mind, you must not say a word against our minister, or have any unkind feeling toward him, because he does not allow us to take part in the meetings. He knows what he is doing, and has his own reasons for it. If we complain, or speak against him, the Lord will not hear our prayers.’ We carried out our plan for one, two, three weeks, no one but God and ourselves knowing what we were doing.
At the end of the fourth week, on Sunday evening, the Rev. William Walker preached a powerful sermon. After the service the people flocked to the prayer meeting, till the schoolroom was filled. My two friends were there, one on each side of me, and I knew they had hold of God. We could hear sighs and suppressed sobs all around us. The old minister of the Circuit, who had conducted the meeting, was concluding with the benediction, ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God’ here he stopped, and sobbed aloud. When he could speak, he called out ‘Brother Watsford, pray.’ I prayed, and then my two friends prayed, and oh! the power of God that came upon the people, who were over- whelmed by it in every part of the room! And what a cry for mercy! It was heard by the passers-by in the street, some of whom came running in to see what was the matter, and were smitten down at the door in great distress. The clock of a neighbouring church struck twelve before we could leave the meeting.