An Inquiry into the Spiritual Character of The Revival of 1859, by Rev. William Hamilton (Hudsonville, MI: Reformed Book Outlet, 1993) 297 pp., $7.00 (paper). [Reviewed by Prof. Herman Hanko.]
A few explanations are probably in order before we briefly review this important book
While Rev. Gise VanBaren was working in the Covenant Reformed Fellowship during the latter part of 1992 and the first part of 1993, this old book, difficult to obtain, came to his attention. It impressed him as an important book both because it spoke to current problems in Northern Ireland and Great Britain at large, and because it struck a note which is almost impossible to find in any other book. The Covenant Reformed Fellowship agreed and thought it worth printing. After much discussion, the Reformed Book Outlet in Hudsonville, MI agreed to reprint the book and underwrite its costs, while the Covenant Reformed Fellowship would be chief distributor. We commend the Reformed Book Outlet for their willingness to engage in this work.
The book has to do, as the title says, with revivals, particularly with the revival in Northern Ireland in 1859. It is written by a man who was a minister in the Irish Presbyterian Church from 1836 to 1874, i.e., during the years when revivals were in full force. He was a witness to them. He did not, however, participate in them.
The revival began in Kells, Co. Antrim, the very village near which Rev. Ronald Hanko, missionary to Ireland, now lives. It swept Ulster and surrounding areas and was hailed by all as a mighty work of God. It has since been counted among those blessed works of the Spirit that came to England, Wales, and America in the 19th century.
Rev. Hamilton was, however, not impressed with the revival. Nor was he impressed with the joy and approbation with which it was greeted. He was not impressed by it because, as he says in his Preface, “No one, so far as I know, has brought it to the test of Scripture. This, from the beginning, I regarded as absolutely necessary.. . .”
When Rev. Hamilton put the revival to the test of Scripture, he found it wanting in all respects. He could find no good things about it by Scripture’s standard; he could recommend no part of it after every part was tested by the only rule of faith and life. This revival stands condemned.
The book is important. It is important, in the first place, because all the revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries were similar, if not identical, to the 1859 revival in Ulster. If that revival in Ulster is to be condemned on biblical grounds, the same is true of all similar revivals.
The book is important, in the second place, because many both in Reformed and Presbyterian churches look for the only possible salvation of the church today in some revival yet to come for which they earnestly pray. While this hope of revival may be stronger in the British Isles than in America, it can also be found here. Just recently I have seen in an official publication of a Reformed church an earnest call to God’s people to pray for revival. Perhaps those who now long and pray for revival will understand the wrong of it if they read Hamilton’s penetrating analysis.
Hamilton’s analysis is complete. He deals with the idea of revival as such, but also treats related issues such as a lay ministry, women teaching in the church, revival meetings, testimonies at public meetings, ecumenical cooperation in revivals, religious excitement as found in revival circles, and visions which those under the power of the revival claim to have had.
Yet these practical issues are weighed in the light of more profound doctrinal issues: the doctrines of the church and the ministry of the Word, of the person and work of the Holy Spirit, of conversion and Christian assurance, of the law and its place in the Christian life.
Hamilton’s conclusion, after weighing all the evidence in the light of Scripture and the historic Westminster Creeds, is that the revival was not the work of the Spirit at all, that it was in fact a movement destructive of the Christian faith and church, and that it is, therefore, to be condemned.
These things badly need saying, and we are grateful that a book which says them is now available. The book can be obtained in America from the
Reformed Book Outlet
Hudsonville, MI 49426;
or in the United Kingdom from
The Covenant Reformed Fellowship
7 Lislunnan Rd.
Kells, Ballymena, Co. Antrim
BT42 3NR, Northern Ireland.