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"A Goodly Heritage" (38): Widening Circles of Revival in Ireland

J Brown, Peterhead

Revival soon spread beyond Ulster to the south, and 1859-60 became a time of great gospel blessing in Dublin, especially among the Protestant population. An interesting aspect of the Revival in Dublin is that among the converts were a number who subsequently made their mark for God, and whose names remain well known.

Preaching in Dublin

Joseph Denham Smith had exercised a fruitful ministry in the Congregational Church, Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) since 1849.¹ He was a gifted evangelist, and his heart was freshly stirred by the great wave of blessing in Ulster. In the closing months of 1859 he saw many folk saved in Kingstown. He then commenced meetings in the Metropolitan Hall, Lower Abbey Street, Dublin in which over a thousand souls were saved in the course of a year. Denham Smith became convinced that he could better serve the Lord free from denominational constraints. He therefore resigned his charge in Kingstown and, encouraged by friends, including William Fry and Henry Bewley, continued to preach in Dublin. The need for a permanent centre for gospel testimony in the city was recognised and, in 1862, Merrion Hall, with a seating capacity for 2,500 people, was opened. This hall continued to be an assembly meeting place for over 100 years.²

It is no surprise that H Grattan Guinness was also preaching in the city, for he had been born nearby. George W Frazer, a young man of 20 years from Co Leitrim, was persuaded by his brother William to attend meetings held by Grattan Guinness in the Rotunda. Unable to get into the building because of the crush, the brothers climbed up to an outside window to listen. Again, on the second evening, Frazer could not get in but climbed a gutter and sat on the sill of a second storey window. As his feet hung over the heads of the standing-room-only crowd he heard Guinness reading "Yet there is room" (Lk 14.22). He went home deeply troubled about sin and his immortal soul. This continued for two weeks, until he laid hold upon the truth of 1 Timothy 1.15. He exclaimed "I'm a sinner, and Christ Jesus came to save such", and he simply took God at His word. It was the recollection of those amazing crowds that led him to write the hymn "Come! Hear the Gospel sound, 'Yet there is room'". In later years Mr Frazer published two collections of his hymns, Midnight Praises and Day Dawn Praises. Many of his hymns are still sung and enjoyed. Fruit remaining of those stirring revival times!

More Dublin converts

George Frederic Trench was another of the young men converted through the preaching of Grattan Guinness. George, a younger brother of John Alfred Trench, who became a well known teacher and writer among brethren, was a student at Trinity College and was preparing for Confirmation in the Church of Ireland. He became deeply convicted through hearing Guinness preach on John 3.7, and understood his need to be born again. He became a frequent contributor to Christian periodicals including The Witness, and also wrote a number of books.

During his time at Trinity College, George Trench formed a lifelong friendship with a fellow student named Robert Anderson, a son of Matthew Anderson, Crown Solicitor for the city of Dublin, and a prominent elder in the Irish Presbyterian Church. Robert Anderson described himself as "An anglicised Irishman of Scottish extraction". His forebears on both sides of his family had taken part in the heroic defence of Derry in the siege of 1689 by the army of James II. Robert had had a pious upbringing. Even in early years prayer was no mere form with him and he had delighted to read Scripture, but, at 19 years old in that Revival year in Dublin, he did not have assurance that he was converted. One of his sisters was saved through the meetings held by J Denham Smith, and new spiritual longings were awakened in his soul. One evening he escorted his sister to a meeting she specially wished to attend, but felt disappointed and vexed. The fact of her conversion still gripped him, however, and he cherished the thought that the following Sunday services in the Kirk might bring him blessing. Instead, though, the morning service left him more discouraged, and he resolved that if the evening one brought no relief he would give up his quest. This is how he described what happened:

The evening preacher was Dr John Hall. His sermon was of a type to which we are now accustomed, for he boldly proclaimed forgiveness of sins and eternal life as God's gift in grace, unreserved and unconditional, to be received as we sat in the pews. His sermon thrilled me. Yet I deemed his doctrine unscriptural, so I waylaid him as he left the vestry, and on our homeward walk tackled him about his 'heresies'.

Dr Hall met the challenge by quoting Scripture, and the story continued.

Facing me as we stood on the pavement he repeated with great solemnity his message and appeal: "I tell you as a minister of Christ and in His name that there is life for you here and now if you will accept Him. Will you accept Christ or will you reject Him?" After a pause I exclaimed, "In God's name I will accept Christ". Not another word passed between us, but after another pause he wrung my hand and left me, and I turned homeward with the peace of God filling my heart.³

As in apostolic times, converts soon became preachers, and Robert Anderson and George Trench laboured together in Mayo, Sligo, Cork and other parts of Ireland with great blessing in the years 1862-65. The character of the work is revealed in a letter from one who, after telling of his own conversion, went on to write

My four sisters and brother, four cousins, and a number of my acquaintances are now rejoicing in the Lord. It does not seem so strange that persons who have made themselves infamous by a life of immorality should awaken to a consciousness of their lost state. But it is passing strange that those who are looked upon by their friends and perhaps by themselves as religious should be brought to thorough conviction that, with all their amiability, morality and religion, they were sinners in the sight of God, being without Christ.

Anderson had a distinguished professional career and became Assistant Commissioner (Crime) in the Metropolitan Police. His services were rewarded when he was knighted on his retirement in 1901. Sir Robert Anderson KCB was a prolific author and an able defender of the truth. Many of his books such as The Gospel and its Ministry and The Coming Prince are still widely read and have been of lasting benefit to believers. Further fruit of those revival days!

The Kerry Revival

Far off from Dublin, revival spread to the south-west of Ireland through the work of three gentlemen known as the 'Three Kerry Landlords': William Talbot Crosbie of Ardfert Abbey, Richard J Mahoney of Dromore Castle, and F C Bland of Derriquin. Mr Talbot Crosbie was born in 1817 and saved when a young man. The Revival gave him fresh impetus, and soon meetings were arranged in his granary. These continued for many years, with the help of noted visiting evangelists. Mr George Trench married Miss Talbot Crosbie, and settled in Ardfert, where he regularly preached. Mr and Mrs Mahoney and Mr and Mrs Bland all rejoiced in the truth of eternal life in Christ following a meeting addressed by C H Mackintosh, when he preached on the closing verses of Titus chapter 2. Dromore Castle and Derriquin were neighbouring estates, and Mahoney and Bland had been bosom friends in boyhood play. Now they united in preaching to friends and neighbours. Blessing spread among the gentry through their efforts. Mr Mahoney built a small meeting room on his estate for an assembly composed mainly of his household and tenants. Another assembly was established in nearby Kenmare.

Years of strife in Ireland, the civil war and emigration brought many changes, and sad to say those assemblies in Kerry no longer exist. Nonetheless, in those happier times the work in Dublin and other parts of Ireland was both deep and real. A contemporary, the saintly J G Bellett, had believed it to be (to quote his own words) "a fresh energy of the Spirit".

¹ See 'A Goodly Heritage' (25), Believer's Magazine, February 2015.

² See more information in Merrion Hall Centenary from Brethren Archive.

³ A P Moore-Anderson, Sir Robert Anderson Secret Service Theologian.


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