Mighty Outpourings of the Spirit – Puritanism in Ireland

Carrickfergus, the home town of James Glendinning
Carrickfergus, the home town of James Glendinning

The breakout of passionate evangelistic preaching in the 1620’s in Ireland was accompanied by the power of the Spirit.

The ‘least gifted’ minister sparks a revival!
The eccentric puritan James Glendinning began preaching in Ulster and God seemed to touch the peoples’ hearts. The people began to respond despite Glendinning’s rough style (his sermons, we’re told, tended to focus primarily on the judgement and wrath of God).

One rather uncharitable author writes,
‘God often works by weak instruments, that the glory may be all His own. Of the ministers who had settled in Ulster, James Glendinning was the least gifted, yet God made use of him to begin the revival.’ (Matthew Kere, The Ulster Revival of the Seventeenth Century, 1859)

Glendinning was encouraged to relocate to a more remote place, and went to Oldstone near Antrim.

Andrew Stewart, an eye-witness of the awakening, described the preacher and the work in this way:

‘He was a man who would never have been chosen by a wise assembly of ministers, nor sent to begin a reformation in this land, yet this was the Lord’s choice to begin with him the admirable work of God, which I mention on purpose that all men may see how the glory is only the Lord’s, in making a holy nation in this profane land, and that it was not by might, nor by power, nor by man’s wisdom, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.’ (quoted by Kere)

‘Behold the success!’
Iain Murray also quotes the eye-witness Andrew Stewart’s report:
‘Behold the success! For the hearers finding themselves condemned by the mouth of God speaking in His word, fell into such anxiety and terror of conscience that they looked on themselves as altogether lost and damned;

and this work appeared not in one single person or two, but multitudes were brought to understand their way, and to cry out, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved?’

I have seen them myself stricken into a swoon with the Word; yea, a dozen in one day carried out of doors as dead, so marvelous was the power of God smiting their hearts for sin…

And of these were…some of the boldest spirits, who formerly feared not with their swords to put a whole market town in a fray; yet in defence of their stubbornness cared not to lie in prison and in the stocks.’ (Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope, Banner of Truth, p.30)

‘The people had a vehement appetite for the Word…no day was long enough, no room large enough!’

Robert Blair, another contemporary witness wrote,
‘So mightily grew the Word of God, and His gracious work of conversion was now spread beyond the bounds of Down and Antrim, to the skirts of neighbouring counties, whence many came to the monthly meetings…

The Lord was pleased to bless His Word, the people had a vehement appetite for it that could not be satisfied: they hung upon the ministers, still desirous to have more; no day was long enough, no room large enough.’ (ibid. p.31)

These eye-witness testimonies show us that although the puritan movement was concerned with personal holiness, it was intentionally evangelistic. It was a ‘revival’ movement. In fact it was the fruit of Holy Spirit empowered evangelism that created sanctified lives.

The Christian preaching that laid such significant cultural foundations in Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the 17th Century was preaching accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Their goal was not only the individual sanctification of those already converted, but the transformation of the nation through gospel preaching, ie, through actually communicating convincingly with the non-believer.

Any impulse that over-focusses on sanctification to the detriment of actual evangelism is already adrift of the missional impulse of both Reformers and Puritans.

And the gracious Head of the Church, while changing us by grace, is still recruiting us into His mission to ‘seek and to save that which is lost.’ (Luke 19:10)

Read the next post, on ‘Shaping the Culture – the literary legacy of the Puritans’

You can purchase Iain Murray’s ‘The Puritan Hope’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

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