The Hebrides Revival

The Hebrides Revival

If Duncan Campbell was alive with us today, he would emphasize the importance of having a clear definition of revival. He would distinguish it from all of our best evangelistic efforts, from our missionary campaigns, and from all of our special services and programs. He would not necessarily criticize these engagements, but he would vehemently insist that they are not to be confused with revival. Revival is the highest plane of Christian experience. This term is to be reserved for those select periods in history when God has descended upon a community, bringing conviction of sin and hunger for Him, in very dramatic ways. It is also when this conviction and hunger translates into personal conversions and spiritual life. Campbell says, “Revival is a going of God among His people, and an awareness of God laying hold of the community … the fear of God lays hold upon the community, moving men and women, who until then had no concern for spiritual things, to seek after God.”1 Such an occurrence can fairly be called revival; such was the experience of Duncan Campbell and the inhabitants of the island of Lewis during the Hebrides Revival of 1949. 2

The island of Lewis truly experienced an awakening out of spiritual darkness and depravity, into spiritual victory and life. In the years preceding the revival, the population of the island had digressed into either impiety or empty mechanical religion. Campbell says that “the stream of vital Christianity appeared to be running low.” 3 Many pastors on the island were not unaware of the condition that the community had sunken into. They were pained by what seemed to be a hopeless situation. This pain resulted in a voiced concern as the Free Church Presbytery of Lewis published the following statement in the local paper:

The Presbytery of Lewis having taken into consideration the low state of vital religion within their own bounds, and throughout the land generally, call upon their faithful people in all their congregations to take a serious view of the present dispensation of divine displeasure manifested, not only in the chaotic conditions of international politics and domestic economics and morality, but also, and especially, in the lack of spiritual power from Gospel Ordinances, and to realize that these things plainly indicate that the Most High has a controversy with the nation. 4

 This challenge was left with the community with the sincere hope that spiritual recovery and restoration would be known in Lewis.

This burden for spiritual recovery was especially held by two elderly women in the Parish of Barvas. These women, one eighty-two and the other eighty-four years of age, committed to pray two nights a week for revival. They began praying at 10:00 P.M. and would usually continue until three or four in the morning. One scripture that they especially clung to, and frequently quoted in their prayers was; “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: …” (Isaiah 44.3). These women were thirsty for revival, and they would not let go of the hope for it, until it would be poured upon Lewis like a mighty flood. During this time, one of the women saw a vision in which the church of her father was packed with young people and a strange man was standing in the pulpit. She shared this vision with her pastor, insisting that he needed to act on it. She said to him, “You’ve tried missions. You’ve tried special evangelists. Mr. McKee, have you tried God?” 5 She requested that he, along with others, should gather to pray for revival. If not in the same home as theirs, at least they could meet at the same time.

The pastor took the women’s request very seriously, and gathered others along with him to pray and wait on God. In one of these meetings a deacon spoke out, reading the following words from Psalms: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; ….” (Psalm 24.3-4). Next, he exclaimed to the others with him, “It seems to me to be so much humbug to pray as we are praying, to wait as we are waiting, if we are not rightly related to God.” 6 Then he cried out, “God, are my hands clean? Is my heart pure?” 7 He immediately fell onto his knees and went into a trance. Coinciding with this, Campbell says that the power of God swept in, and the community was gripped by an awareness of God.

This sweeping through of God’s Spirit had a profound affect upon the community. Men and women began experiencing a spiritual hunger which expressed itself in many ways. Prayer meetings were held in churches and cottages, running until any hour of the night or following morning. There was a great impartation of faith, in which believers were gripped with the conviction that God was a covenant-keeping God, and that He must pour the water of His Spirit upon their thirsty souls. They would be content with nothing less than a flood of revival. Campbell comments on this “spirit of expectancy” by saying, “Here I found a group of men who seemed to be living on the high plane of implicit confidence in God.” 8

How did Campbell come to Lewis to make this observation? Through the promptings of one of the two elderly women, the pastor of the church in Barvas sought to find the “strange man” who, in the vision, was seen standing in the pulpit. An invitation to Campbell was made which Campbell, due to other ministry commitments, apologetically declined. Upon hearing this, the elderly woman exclaimed, “That is what man is saying, but God has said otherwise.” 9 Remarkably, a series of unexpected circumstances developed, resulting in Campbell’s ministry schedule being cleared up. He took this as a sign from God that he should accept the invitation, and proceeded to the island of Lewis. Upon arriving, an elder said to Campbell, “Mr. Campbell, I would like to ask you a question. Are you walking with God?” 10 Campbell, impacted by the seriousness of the question, humbly answered, “Well, I think I can say this, that I fear God.” 11

The elder accepted Campbell’s answer and asked him further if he would be willing to address a crowd of about three hundred persons who had gathered in the church that evening. Campbell agreed and they proceeded to the meeting. Campbell was also experiencing the same spiritual hunger that the inhabitants of Lewis so deeply felt. He cried out to the congregation:

What shall I do?’ The history of man is the history of enquiry. Man down through the ages has been out on a great quest, the sum of which is to know God. Away back in the distant past Job cried: ‘Oh that I knew where I might find [h]im[!] that I might come [even] to [h]is seat!’ (Job 23.3). I would go as far as to say that the initiative of the honest soul is not towards self-realization but toward God-realization, and in this verse of Scripture we have the language of a young man in search of reality. He is tired of the tinsel and toy of earth’s vain show. 12

 

Campbell, after his closing address, proceeded down the aisle. However, at least one young attendee was not ready to leave the meeting. He looked up to God and prayed aloud, “God, You can’t fail us. God, You can’t fail us. You promised to pour out water on the thirsty and floods upon the dry ground. You can’t fail us.” 13 The young man then dropped to his knees and fell into a trance. Campbell was impacted by the unusual events which were beginning to happen. Standing just outside the front doors of the church was a crowd of about six hundred people. Why were they there? They had come up from the community after, somehow, being struck with a deep awareness of their need for God. A hundred of them were young people who had been attending a dance that evening; they left the dance under a strong compulsion that they needed to get their lives right with God. They saw the lights on in the church and moved towards it, until they reached its doorway. Everyone was ushered inside, the meeting was resumed, and they continued until 4.00 A.M. An intense awareness of personal sin was felt by attendees and they began crying to God for mercy. One young woman, who was a teacher in the community, lay prostrate on the floor, crying to God, “Oh God, is there mercy for me?” 14

What was happening in the parish of Barvas? It would be better to ask, “What was happening in Lewis?” A move of God was sweeping through the island, and scenes like the one above were occurring in other parishes as well. Souls were experiencing both conviction and relief and Campbell comments on one such meeting:

There was a moving scene, some weeping in sorrow and distress, others, with joy and love filling their hearts, falling upon their knees, conscious only of the presence and power of God [W]ho had come in revival blessing. Within a matter of days the whole parish was in the grip of a spiritual awakening. Churches became crowded with services continuing until three o’clock in the morning. Work was largely put aside, as young and old were made to face eternal realities. 15

 

Revival was here, and awakened men and women were moving with it.

On one evening, a group of between two and three hundred persons, pressed with this awareness of eternal realities, journeyed to the police station in town. 16 They had to find relief from the internal strain that they were experiencing and they knew that there was a policeman there who was a strong, committed Christian. Campbell was informed of this gathering, and proceeded there himself. On the way, he continued to witness unusual scenes, one being of four men praying by the roadside, overwhelmed with a sense of their need for God. Arriving at the police station, Campbell could hear people crying to God for mercy. One man in the crowd, seeing his wretched condition, repeatedly exclaimed, “Hell is too good for me.” 17 Another man was seen on his knees, with his mother crying out beside him, “Willie, are you coming at last? Willie, are you coming at last?” 18 Campbell stood in awe at these scenes of such deep conviction.

People not only gathered in churches and at the police station but, on one occasion, a crowd of seekers was found waiting in a field. Campbell went to them and was moved to see two teenage girls, who had recently been converted, counselling a deeply distressed older man who was crying out to God in prayer. The man happened to be the school headmaster and the girls were encouraging him to persevere in his seeking for God. 19 One of them could be heard saying to the schoolmaster, “The Jesus that saved us last night can save you now.” 20

People from every walk of life, from a schoolmaster to farmers, were affected by the revival. A certain farmer, Donald McLeod, who was apathetic to spiritual things and had not been to church for twelve years, told Campbell that he might come out sometime to one of the meetings. He did so, and because it was so crowded, McLeod had to sit on the steps to the pulpit, right where Campbell was preaching. He came under intense conviction of sin and left the meeting for home. McLeod had a godly wife and daughter and word was brought to Campbell that McLeod was in great distress of soul. Campbell came to the farmhouse and found a number of others there praying for the farmer. They were worried that if he did not find relief, he would go insane. His wife exclaimed, “Oh, may God have mercy on the mighty sinner.” 21 Campbell found him in a room and heard him praying, “God, can You have mercy on me? God, can You have mercy on me?” 22 McLeod, not receiving relief that night, called for a prayer meeting for the next evening and, on the morning following, he experienced a glorious conversion.

Campbell found himself ushered from churches, to a police station, to a field, to farm houses and other places, almost continuously. On one occasion, Campbell was asked to speak at another parish. He was already committed to speaking elsewhere on Lewis, but said that this parish could have him between one and two o’clock in the morning. Upon arriving there, he found the church crowded to capacity, with many persons standing outside. He ministered a word to the congregation and, as he left, he heard behind him hundreds crying out to God. 23

While some were calling for Campbell to come to their parish, others were telling him to go further afield. The elderly woman, mentioned above, told Campbell that he needed to go to a certain island and minister there. Campbell declined, being unsure that it was the Lord’s direction. The woman responded, “Mr. Campbell, if you were living as near to God as you ought to be, He would reveal His secrets to you also.” 24 Not offended by these words, Campbell asked to spend time in prayer with the woman the next morning. She agreed, and in that meeting she prayed these words, “Lord, You remember the conversation that we had this morning at 2 o’clock, and You told me that You were going to visit this part of the parish with revival, and I’ve just spoken to Mr. Campbell about it and he’s not prepared to think of it. You’d better give him wisdom, because the man badly needs it.” 25 Campbell responded by going to the island and there he found five ministers and a large crowd of between three and four hundred gathered around a house. Almost everyone packed inside the house and he proceeded to minister.

On another occasion, fourteen men were discussing how much beer they should purchase for their next Friday together. After a moment, one of the men exclaimed that this might be the last time that beer would come to this parish. One of the others asked him whether he meant that revival was going to come there. The first man answered back, “I cannot say what is going to happen or what is going to come, but something is happening to me.” 26 All fourteen men became very uncomfortable and fell to their knees. Remaining on the ground for over an hour, all of them experienced a glorious conversion. Eleven of the fourteen went on to be office-bearers in the church.

As a result of many glorious conversions, such as these, prayer meetings on the island became packed. One local paper announced that there were more people attending prayer meetings during the revival, than attended public worship on a Communion Sunday. 27

Another island community which was swept by the revival was that of Uig. Of one meeting, Campbell comments in these words:

I wish I could describe the scene, and impart something of the overwhelming sense of the subduing Spirit of God on the night that the windows of heaven opened. The parish minister, the Rev. Angus MacFarlane, was in his own pulpit and was leading in prayer, when suddenly a consciousness of God came over the congregation, and we were lifted out of the realm of the ordinary, to realize a spiritual impact that could not be explained from any human point of view: revival had come. 28

 

While revival had come to Uig, it also came to Uig’s neighboring village that very night. To journey to the meeting in the church there:

All lorries and vans available were put into service to convey the people to the place of worship, yet many were forced to walk miles; but distance did not matter, and at any rate they knew that the meetings would continue: if they were not in time for the first, they were sure of getting the second or the third. So they came across the moors and over the hills, young men and maidens, their torches flashing in the darkness, intent upon one thing, to get peace from a guilty conscience, and refuge from the storm in their bosom, in the shelter in the rock of ages. 29

 

This great desire was satisfied in the lives of many seekers and Campbell comments that, even after the events of this revival, this church continued to be “throbbing with young life.” 30

The Hebrides Revival was truly a spiritual awakening which superseded ordinary evangelistic, missionary and religious activity. The vision of the elderly woman found a glorious fulfillment and multitudes of souls were brought under conviction and ushered into spiritual release and spiritual life. The serious prayers of desperate men and women rose up to God. They wanted clean hands and pure hearts. The intensity of this desire drove them to seek for God until they found Him. God had promised to pour out water on the thirsty and they expected the flood. They left their homes, their streets and their dance halls in search of something higher and greater, knowing that their only deliverance from the misery of a life of sin was genuine Christian conversion and surrender to God. Many found both conversion and deliverance and could be heard joyfully singing, “When Zion’s bondage God turned back, As men that dreamed were we, Then filled with laughter was our mouth, Our tongue with melody.” 31 They had been given the spiritual freedom of revival and were forever marked by the experience.

ENDNOTES

 

1. Duncan Campbell, The Lewis Awakening(Toronto: Evangelical Publishers, 1954), 14-15.

Taken from The Lewis Awakening – used by kind permission of The Faith Mission, Edinburgh

2. The Hebrides Revival is sometimes referred to as The Lewis Awakening.

3. Duncan Campbell, The Lewis Awakening(Toronto: Evangelical Publishers, 1954), 11.

 

Taken from The Lewis Awakening – used by kind permission of The Faith Mission, Edinburgh


4. Ibid., 11.

Taken from The Lewis Awakening – used by kind permission of The Faith Mission, Edinburgh

5. Duncan Campbell, When God Stepped Down From Heaven, Audiocassette 6024.

6. Duncan Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, compact disc.

7. Ibid.

8. Duncan Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, 16.

Taken from The Lewis Awakening – used by kind permission of The Faith Mission, Edinburgh

9. Duncan Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, compact disc.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Duncan Campbell, God’s Answer (Fort Washington: Christian Literature Crusade, 1967), 8. I have corrected his misquote of Scripture.

13. Duncan Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, compact disc.

14. Ibid.

15. Duncan Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, 18.

 

Taken from The Lewis Awakening – used by kind permission of The Faith Mission, Edinburgh


16. Duncan Campbell, When God Stepped Down From Heaven, Audiocassette 6024.

17. Duncan Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, compact disc.

18. Duncan Campbell, When God Stepped Down From Heaven, Audiocassette 6024.

19. Duncan Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, compact disc.

20 Duncan Campbell, When God Stepped Down From Heaven, Audiocassette 6024.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. Duncan Campbell, When God Stepped Down From Heaven, Audiocassette 6024.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid.

28. Duncan Campbell, The Lewis Awakening,27.

Taken from The Lewis Awakening – used by kind permission of The Faith Mission, Edinburgh

29. Ibid., 27.

Taken from The Lewis Awakening – used by kind permission of The Faith Mission, Edinburgh

30. Ibid., 28.

Taken from The Lewis Awakening – used by kind permission of The Faith Mission, Edinburgh

31. Duncan Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, compact disc.

 REFERENCES

Campbell, Duncan. God’s Answer. Fort Washington: Christian Literature Crusade, 1967.

Campbell, Duncan. The Lewis Awakening. compact disc.

Campbell, Duncan. The Lewis Awakening. Toronto: Evangelical Publishers, 1954.

Campbell, Duncan. When God Stepped Down From Heaven. Audiocassette 6024.

Scripture taken from the King James Version.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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